Horus: Chapter 14
THE TRIP UPRIVER took about a week. True to Upuat's word, the cliffs closed in on the river, leaving only a narrow strip of land along which to travel. Horus and Upuat rode in front; Horus occasionally looked back for Anubis, who appeared now to prefer riding with the Apsiu. He tried to avoid thinking too much of what Isis had told him. What he knew of Anubis already seemed to prove he would never turn against him, though the look on his face lately was strangely familiar. Especially the look in his eyes. Horus knew he'd seen it somewhere before, recently.
Eventually the island came within sight. As they rode closer Horus frowned. In the haze the island appeared to be changing constantly, one moment small and bare, the next larger and covered with lush vegetation. He didn't doubt it was enchanted somehow. They passed on its west side and Elephantine solidified; as they dismounted and searched for a convenient place to leave their animals, the island loomed large and green in the river.
"I've found a spot," Khenti called, bounding toward them. He pointed with his nose. "A little plot of green land, just a bit further to the south. The Sha can get food there."
"The Apsiu can stay with them," Upuat said. "It would be pointless to bring everyone across unless we need them. They can take care of the animals while we're gone, though we'll need a few to help carry some supplies. We might be here an hour, we might be here a week."
Horus hoped it wouldn't have to take that long, but waited while Upuat selected Antakh, Janaa, Tarua, and several others to accompany them. Lashing their weapons and supplies firmly to their backs, they trudged upriver until they came within view of the First Cataract. Horus's fingers tightened their hold on the lashes holding his lance and other equipment.
He'd never seen a cataract before. This wasn't what he'd expected. It wasn't tall, like some of the waterfalls in the Moru oasis; but judging from the water roiling and foaming around the jagged rocks, it was deadly. He imagined the lower jaw of a crocodile with all its jutting teeth, or perhaps some spirit-riddled region of the Duat. They clambered down to the edge of the river, shielding their eyes against the spray, and wondered what to do next.
"Which way?" Khenti had to shout.
"None of it looks safe," Upuat yelled back.
"We can only find out if we try to cross," Maftet shouted. She shifted her bow and arrows upon her back and stepped carefully into the water.
"Maftet!" Upuat started forward. Antakh pulled him back and held up a hand.
She turned back.
"I think the other Moru have some rope with their supplies," he said. "Perhaps enough that we could tie ourselves in a line to cross."
Upuat muttered. "I should have thought of it myself. Khenti, run back and bring the rope with you."
The wolf dashed off. The group rested near the river, slowly getting drenched, but no one wanted to be the first to move away. After some time Khenti came back, a rope coiled around his neck, part of it trailing along behind him. He staggered beneath its weight.
"I--hope--this--is--enough," he wheezed, shirking his head out and dropping the coil.
"This will do." Upuat took one end and started to tie it, but Sobek took it from him. They looked at each other.
"I'll go first," Sobek said, looping the rope around his waist. "I've had more experience with the river than anyone here, except Horus. If he wishes to go first--"
Horus opened his mouth to decline. "Of course not!" Sakhmet filled in for him. "You think we'd send him first? In my opinion he should stay here and be safe!"
"He's coming, isn't he?" Upuat muttered. "Give me the rope. I'll go second, then he can follow."
Horus waited for them to tie themselves, feeling like a spirit eavesdropping at its own funeral with how they talked about him as if he weren't there. He secured the rope around himself, passing it on to Maftet, then Sakhmet; Khenti Amenti took the very end, and as they finished Sobek turned back to the river and plunged in. He waded toward a rock and clambered atop, finding foot- and handholds on the slippery surface and carefully pulling himself across its back. Upuat followed, and as Sobek disappeared on the other side he climbed up.
Horus chattered with cold, clinging to the rock like algae. This wasn't the same river he was used to. It was nothing like the tranquil waters of the Delta, the waters which gave life. This river was ready to take life.
Very slowly, they made their way across. The rocks were treacherously slick, and several times someone would slip and scrape a knee or twist an ankle. By the time they were about two-thirds across everyone was scratched or bleeding in some way. All they could do was ignore their injuries and keep going.
Horus found a hold on one rock and pulled himself up, each muscle in his arms screaming with pain. He was exhausted already, barely able to see through the water in his eyes. He stood on wobbly legs and started to step down the other side.
The rope jerked on his waist, and he heard a yell. Maftet, Sakhmet, and Anubis went down where they were. Antakh fell and grabbed onto the rock to avoid being dragged in. In the water, Janaa flailed, screeching wildly.
Everyone turned to look at him.
Barely taking time to think, Horus loosened the rope and slipped out before Upuat could stop him. He jumped from rock to rock, trying to imagine them as being floating skiffs. He landed wobbling but quickly caught his balance, ascending Antakh's rock and pulling his lance from its wrappings. He pressed himself flat to the stone and stretched out his arms as far as he could, feeling Antakh grab his ankle.
Janaa stopped flailing and attempted to reach the lance, paddling toward it and grabbing hold of the shaft. The first time he slipped and quailed, but grabbed again and caught it, holding on tight. Horus pulled back. Antakh pulled on him, his wings flapping at the air. Together--with the help of the others, also pulling on the rope--they dragged Janaa from the river. He scrambled up and lay on the rock a while, sucking in air and spitting out water. When he felt well enough to give Horus a grateful look Horus smiled and patted his shoulder, replacing his lance and making his way back to the open space in the rope. Upuat gave him an evil look but said nothing as he tied himself back in, and they continued on their way.
Once they were in line with the island they plunged into the shallower water on their left and, shivering and soaked up to their chests, waded across.
When Sobek reached the shore he stood and guided Upuat in, who helped Horus, each of them helping the next until they all sat on dry ground trying to catch their breath. They untied the rope and rewound it; Tarua slung it over his arm and they started looking around.
"He told me we have to find Lord Khnum," Horus said, rubbing his aching arms. "He said Elephantine."
"He lives here," Upuat confirmed. "But we've never visited him."
"I have," Khenti said. He sniffed at the ground and trotted toward the trees. "He lives in a cave that goes deep beneath the island. I think it's nearby. Follow me."
They trailed after him, rubbing sore muscles, to a part of the island edged by rocks. A roaring sound came from here; only when they were practically on top of it did they see the cave, its entrance yawning wide, the water roiling around its base making the noise.
"Here we go!" Khenti called cheerfully. He scuttled across the rocks and disappeared within. A moment later his voice drifted back to them. "Come on! We're not getting any younger!"
They followed, over the rocks and into the cave. Once inside the rock beneath their feet sloped downward, carved into rough steps. The occasional spray of water from above had coated them with a fine layer of slime, so the group had to tread carefully, reaching for grooves cut into the wall.
The way down was long, but eventually they could see a dim light growing ahead, and after a while could make out Khenti's shadow. The steps grew less slimy and steep and they came to an entrance, carved out of the rock, from which the light came. Khenti went inside. The others followed--and paused.
Before them was a cavern, not very large but almost perfectly rounded, oil lamps set into notches in the wall lighting the room. Several kilns stood at one side. In the middle, by a single natural pillar connecting roof and floor, sat a ram-headed god at a potter's wheel. But it was none of this that caught the group's attention. What caught their attention were the other rooms.
Several smaller caverns--niches, actually--lined the walls, all lined with rough shelves. And upon these shelves stood hundreds of tiny statues, all men, women, and animals, looking perfectly real but for the fact that they were made of clay. At the right side of the room, a sort of tunnel opened into another cavern which, when they drew nearer, they could see contained even more statues, these ones fired. It looked like a roomful of small people staring back out.
The ram god lifted his head to look at them, curiosity in his large brown eyes. His horns corkscrewed and spread flat out to the sides. He dressed simply, as Horus had in the Delta, in a plain kilt and sandals, his only decoration a modest necklace of clay beads colored turquoise. The potter's wheel at which he worked was like none Horus had ever seen; it turned of its own accord, rather than being moved by hand. A lump of river clay rested on it right now.
"Khnum!" Khenti greeted, trotting around the room. "Long time no see. You doing well down here?"
Khnum frowned. "A lot better, without you switching hearts in my statues."
Khenti laughed nervously. "Heh heh, ah, funny, Khnum. It was only once, and I won't do it again, I promise."
Khnum looked back at the others. One of his ears cocked.
"Lord Khnum," Upuat said. "This is Prince Horus, son of Isis."
Khnum's eyes widened. He brushed off his hands, leaving the wheel, and approached. "Oh," he said, studying Horus's features and nodding. "I remember you now. Yes, I have your statue just in the next room." He disappeared momentarily, coming out with a clay statuette in his hands. Horus took it and saw it was himself, hawk head and all. He stared at it until Khnum took it and replaced it on its shelf.
"You made all these?" Horus asked, awed.
Khnum smiled and nodded. "Every one. It's not that difficult, really. All I have to do is sculpt it and hollow out the chest, and put in the heart." He paused, then went to the side of the room to retrieve a box. "I can see you wonder what I mean. Take a look in here."
He opened the box. Inside were four compartments, each filled with small objects shaped like hearts, made of gold, stone, clay, and glass. Horus picked up one and examined it.
"Each one of those contains a soul," Khnum explained. "After the statue is finished, all I have to do is breathe life into it through a reed, and it exists." He took back the heart, placed it in the box, and set it by the kilns. "Well, you most certainly didn't come all this way just to hear me talk about what I do for a living. Who sent you?"
"Lord Osiris," Upuat said.
Khnum's eyes widened again. "Oh. It is important. Well, I know what you need. Wait just a moment."
He went back to his wheel and sat down, pushing it once before it started spinning. He dipped his hands in a jar of water sitting nearby and set to shaping the clay, the others drawing nearer to watch.
The clay didn't shape like a normal pot would. It seemed to sparkle as he touched it, growing, stretching, even shaping itself. A form, a creature, began to emerge. Khnum's fingers moved deftly over the surface, carving out a groove here, rounding an edge there. Gradually the wheel began to slow, and as it stopped, Khnum pulled his hands away. The others crowded closer to look.
A stately creature, four legged and graceful, stood upon the wheel. In build it resembled a kudu, only its body was sturdier, its head longer and triangular, without horns. It had a mane and a tail of what looked to be long silky fur.
"What is it?" Horus whispered.
"This creature," Khnum answered, "won't be known by the people of Kemet for another thousand years or so, and then only when invaders bring it into the land. But that's not for us to worry about now." He gestured at the statue. "This is a horse. It's strong as a Sha, maneuverable as a kudu, and resilient as a donkey. With this, you can surely outperform Set's army." He sounded pleased, almost proud of himself.
"But this is only one," Horus pointed out.
Khnum chuckled. "You think I'd wait till you showed up to get started? Go up above, to the island. You'll find what you need there. It's my gift. For you."
Horus bowed. "Thank you. Believe me, I'm grateful for this."
He turned as the others bowed and started for the entrance.
"Oh," Khnum said. Horus looked back. The ram god fidgeted a bit, then said, "Don't be too angry, Prince, but your Moru have been busy up above. They remembered something else on the island, something you might also be interested in. Your father left it a long time ago."
Horus's face lit up. Upuat touched his arm.
"I think I know what he means. As I remember, there should be something up there we can use."
"Thank you," Horus called again, and they left the room, ascending the steps.
Khenti had gone on ahead of them and he waited on the rocks, hopping from paw to paw. "Those Apsiu are up to something," he said as they emerged one by one. "They all kept coming across--I guess they left the Sha behind--but they've been inland looking around for something. I tried asking them what was going on, but all they kept saying was hn'khraku--whatever that means."
"Ships," Antakh said, looking inland.
They trudged into the grass and were soon surrounded by trees. Along the way several Apsiu met them, chattering, leading animals with ropes. Horus recognized them as horses, and stepped forward, touching one's muzzle. It snuffled at his hand and he smiled.
From deep in the jungle, someone howled. The horse snorted and shied slightly, stamping a hoof. Horus followed the sound, drawing his sword and chopping away the undergrowth as he went. Up ahead, a large clearing loomed, boiling with activity as Moru moved back and forth, apparently carrying things and pulling on ropes. Horus could make out what seemed to be a tall tree with only one branch at the very top, sticking out from side to side. As he watched, someone else yelled, a group of Apsiu pulled on a rope, and the branch--unfolded.
Horus gaped. A huge white cloth--painted with a giant wadjet--unfurled, revealing a sail. The group entered the clearing, which was filled with Apsiu and horses milling every which way, to see the hull of a boat, larger than any Horus had ever known--and made of wood. A pair of eyes had been painted on the prow, as if the ship were to see where it was going. Behind it sat the bodies of four other ships, two of them in disrepair, the horses and Apsiu dragging in boards and lashing them back together, patching up holes and mending the torn sails.
"A fleet?" Horus murmured.
"Lord Osiris left them here on one of his journeys up and down the river," Upuat explained. "They were dismantled and brought inland, then reassembled by Apsiu. I'm not certain how your father knew they would be needed here at a later time."
Horus stared at the emerging ships for a while before replying. "He is the All-Seeing."
They worked for the better part of that day and into the morning of the next, repairing the ships and rounding up the horses scattered over the island. They cleared a trail to the north side of the island, pulling the ships along on rollers they'd cut from the trees. The work went quickly; the Apsiu knew what they were doing, and the presence of the horses helped as well. They managed to bring back the Sha and kudus, swimming them through the water attached to ropes. Gathering as much grass as they could, they stored it, along with the animals, on four of the ships. The fifth was kept open for the rest of the supplies as well as Horus and his crew. The Moru were examining the rudders and oars when Maftet stood, looking downriver.
"Wait a minute," she called.
The Apsiu paused, then continued what they were doing when the gods turned their attention to her.
She pointed. "We have to sail downriver. But the wind comes from the north. Whether it picks up or dies down we'll still be rowing."
"That's right." Upuat looked stricken. "Why did I never think of any of this before? It'll take us longer to get back than it did to get here."
"Set's probably getting an army together by now," Khenti said.
Horus paused. He turned to look over the island. After some time his eyes fell on what he'd been looking for, what he'd briefly noticed during the clearing. A mass of stone ruins half lost in the undergrowth. Stone. A temple.
"Whose temple is that?" he asked, nodding at it.
They all looked. "It's a temple of Ra," Khenti answered.
"Who controls the wind?"
"That would be Lord Shu," Upuat said. "Son of Ra and uncle of your mother."
Horus seized a rope and climbed down off the lead ship. He made sure his sword was in place and headed off through the trees.
"Where are you going?" Sobek called after him.
"To ask for a favor," Horus shouted back, disappearing into the jungle.
The temple was small, at least for a temple. Horus approached it with caution. Weeds and moss encrusted what used to be a pylon. Horus passed into the crumbling courtyard open to the sun. He hesitated before the inner hypostyle hall, nervously fingering the pommel of his sword.
God Ra was grandfather of Isis, his mother. Which meant Ra was Horus's great-grandfather. They were directly related. Still, he'd never known Ra as anything but an unreachable, unknowable force, responsible for raising the sun and seeing souls off to Amenti. Would Ra even listen to him? True, he was a god now, but he still felt insignificant entering the sanctuary.
He'd been taught that only kings and high priests could enter the Holy of Holies. Today, however, was different; he figured he counted as acceptable, at least. Before him, shrouded in shadows, he could make out the shrine, a box with a small door which hung open, ready to fall off. He couldn't see the statue inside but knew it was there.
He knelt and stared at the shrine.
He cupped his wadjet in his hand the way he had at the gate to the Hall of Double Justice. No voice filled his mind, but he did feel himself calming a little. He looked up at the shrine again, half lost in the darkness, and took a breath.
"God Ra," he said. He didn't know how else to address him. "I'm here. I need your help."
A moment passed. Then, from inside the box, two tiny blue lights glowed. Who speaks? a deep, echoing voice asked.
"Horus," Horus replied. "Son of Osiris and Isis, Prince of Kemet."
Prince Horus. A light grew in the shrine, enveloping the small hawk statue within. It started swirling until it grew so bright it hurt Horus's eyes; he tried to shield them and watch at the same time. The blue light blazed from the shrine to strike the floor, taking on human form. Horus crossed his arm to his chest as it faded and a hawk-headed god looked down at him through eyes that glowed blue as lapis. He held a tall ankh-headed staff in one hand. A sun disk encircled by a snake surmounted his head.
Horus bowed his own head. He heard footsteps, and a golden sandal came into his field of vision. The staff thumped the floor once.
"Horus," said the same voice, only this time from directly in front of and above him.
He lifted his head hesitantly to look up.
The god stared back down at him. A faint light, and a faint breeze, seemed to surround him, stirring the pleats in his kilt and the hairs on the bull tail hanging in back. His pectoral was brilliant gold inset with multiple semiprecious stones, a sun disk with the wings of a hawk extending over his shoulders. His eyes glowed blue; the glow appeared to spin rapidly from one corner of his eye to the other, like the sunlight striking rippling water, and then it was gone, the eyes now jet black. Horus felt he was looking at a younger version of Harakhte, an older version of himself.
He gaped. The god held out his hand. Horus took it and stood so they looked at each other face to face. His throat worked desperately but nothing came out.
"Grandson," Ra said, informally. He turned away to approach the decrepit naos. "You enter my temple like a penitent. If only the mortals were so considerate." He looked at Horus over his shoulder. "No one's been in this temple for years. I've had snakes and baboons as my worshippers." He turned back to the naos and touched the dangling door with one finger, watching it swing back and forth.
Horus swallowed. He stepped forward.
"I'm your great-grandfather, Horus." Ra still didn't look at him.
The younger god swallowed again. He took a breath. "Grandfather." He paused. "I've come to ask for a favor."
"I know." Ra finally turned back to face him, and though he didn't smile Horus sensed his reassurance and started to relax. Ra came toward him, staring into his eyes. "You need to return to your city. Your father's ships won't sail with the wind blowing from the north, and you need to get back more quickly than by rowing." He looked at his staff, and Horus saw the ankh glowed luminous gold. "My son Lord Shu commands the winds. He'll summon Shehbui, the south wind, to assist your journey. You'll be back at the city within several days."
Horus bowed his head. "Thank you, Grandfather."
Ra looked at him a moment before replying. "It's about time someone decided to stand up to Set. The mortals are all too frightened by him. I should have known it would take a god to face him."
Horus looked bewildered. "I thought you knew all."
Ra smiled wryly. "That's Thoth's domain. I simply take his advice. You'll take it too, if you know best."
"Your battle," Ra said, and Horus tensed inside as he came closer. "When you return you'll find Set has already prepared his men for war. He won't let you take the throne from him without a fight. You'd better hope your Moru are a good enough match to fight back."
"They are," Horus said, without thinking.
Another wry smile. "I'll take your word for it. However, if you should happen to need help, you won't hesitate to call on me again. Set doesn't understand that families should fight for each other, not against each other. He's fought against me every single day I rise. The mortals may be imperfect, but they deserve better than to starve. Your mother knows this."
"You'll fight for me?" Horus asked.
"If you call me, I will," Ra replied. He held up his staff and the blue light reappeared, swirling and winding around him like a snake. Horus backed away and shielded his eyes again. Ra's voice echoed in the small room, bounding off the walls and seeming to fill the whole temple with its presence.
Call my name, and I'll be there.
The light exploded. The sanctuary was plunged into blackness.
Upuat, Anubis, and the others whirled around, weapons drawn, to face the island from the deck of the lead ship. Lightning cracked in the air; a fiery form appeared, hovering over the stern, a lion-headed man with wings the colors of a rainbow sprouting from his outspread arms.
He flung his hands forward, aiming at the mast; light crackled around him again and the sail, still unfurled, suddenly billowed out, the giant wadjet shining in the sun, as a strong breeze arose from the south. Before the group even had time to be surprised the winged man vanished, the air crackling all around them. A ball of light ascended the mast and disappeared with a flash at the top. Then, in the sudden silence, the gods stared with awe at the painted sail snapping and surging in the wind.