Horus: Chapter 16
"YOU REALLY WOULD go this far."
Set could see Isis behind him in the polished copper of the mirror. His eyes narrowed and he nearly scowled, dropping the mirror with a clatter on the table before him.
"Who let you in?"
Isis stepped toward him. She wasn't wearing the flowing gauzy robes she donned for public appearances, wearing instead her slim blue dress. The hawk pectoral still graced her neck; he felt like tearing it off for all it reminded him of Horus.
"You would go to war over this?" she asked, her voice deadly quiet. "Over something you have no right to fight for?"
"I have every right!" Set whirled on her, fist clenched before her face. She flinched away a little but didn't leave. "Whatever went before doesn't matter now. I promised you I'd kill Horus. I'm not about to go back on my word now!"
Isis briefly looked trapped before anger entered her eyes again, overriding it. "It wouldn't matter if you swore on it or not. You'd still kill Horus--or whoever else might get in your way." Her voice lowered. "But let me tell you something, Set. Except for your detestable Kana everyone in this palace is against you. Even if you killed Horus today someone else would take his place tomorrow. While you're ruling Kemet you'll never know peace of mind. You'd better just pray to Ra that the same thing you did to Osiris, someone doesn't do to you."
He flung a hand up toward the door. "Get out!"
She stared him in the eyes a moment before lifting her head, the sunlight flaring up outside. "Funny how, whenever I speak the truth, you can never face it." Before he could reply she turned and left, passing by the two uncomfortable shadows standing at the side of the room, both of them ducking their heads as she went. The guards outside shut the door behind her.
Set promptly turned to the table and swung his arm at it, sending splinters of wood flying every which way with a CRACK. Kusef and Mahai ducked their heads again, baring their teeth with fear. Set stalked out to his balcony and tried to see if anyone approached along the river, in reality only going over in his head what Isis had said.
He might not have allies in the palace, but he certainly had them in the city. That Merisu, for example. If there was one, surely there must be others. They'd have to show their colors once he got rid of the threat. With the help of his Apsiu, he would know who was against him and who wasn't. He wouldn't let something like what had happened with the traitor Tarua happen again. He dug his nails into the balcony ledge, watching clouds roll in to ward off the sun.
He sensed movement behind him, and knew that either Mahai or Kusef drew closer, tentatively trying to get his attention.
He knew Mahai shrank away, then crept back to be beside him. His ears were pressed back, close to his head, which he kept lowered. Set hated the groveling gesture, though he knew it was something that came with being afraid. He ground his teeth together.
"Majesty...if Goddess Isis causes you such trouble, you always have the power to...remove her from her position."
"Fool," Set hissed. "You know what I told her. Even if I did break my promise the city people would never go along with it. I'd have to give them your head on a stick to make them happy."
Mahai flinched. "Then...perhaps Your Majesty could persuade someone else to do it. Someone the people would hesitate turning against, like...Prince Horus, perhaps."
Set gave him a vicious look. "What do you mean, persuade? Do you think I'm stupid?"
Mahai backed away as Set advanced on him. He held up his hands and started to babble. "With all due respect--think about it, Majesty. Horus is young. He has just recently learned that he is a god. He doesn't understand all his powers yet. You can easily read his emotions. It wouldn't be too difficult for Your Majesty to influence him, without his knowledge. Under your influence, he could put an end to Isis."
"You think he'd kill his own mother?" Set snapped. Then he paused. A thoughtful tone crept into his voice and he turned away from the cowering Mahai. "Yes, maybe he would. I'd have only one chance to try it out on him before he caught on, but perhaps I could persuade him...." He shot Mahai a look over his shoulder. "You could have thought of this earlier, and saved me a lot of trouble."
"With all respect, Majesty," Mahai said again, "it struck me as being a plan of last resort."
"I suppose you're right. Trying to sway even one as simpleminded as Horus will take a lot of energy. Still, it's something I believe I can use." He nodded. "Thank you, Mahai. You've come up with yet another good idea, unlike certain others." Kusef, still at the side of the room, scowled with chagrin. "If you somehow manage to come up with a way to get rid of Thoth, I'll appoint you to his position."
Mahai bowed, containing his pleasure. "Life, strength, and health, Great King, and thank you for hearing the advice of one so low."
Set winced and waved him away. Mahai turned to leave his quarters. As he passed Kusef, the Kana general bared his teeth in a silent snarl. Mahai smiled back, which only caused Kusef's look to grow uglier.
Kusef watched Mahai disappear out the door, hate filling his heart and his claws digging so deep into his palms he bled.
Hekanakht stood outside the pylon of the temple, watching the Kana troops jogging through the streets toward the main gate. The other city people gathered to watch them also. They'd apparently been outfitted at the palace armory; each was dressed in full battle gear, carrying their axes, swords, spears, and daggers. The Kana had few archers; these came through last, the arrows rattling in the quivers on their backs. Only a slight murmur arose from the people watching.
Hekanakht knew what was happening. His sister had told him about the scrolls she'd seen in the palace. If the Apsiu meant the temple to be destroyed, then they were getting ready for war.
She'd begged him to leave, said that Pendua had told her they could find a way out of the city despite the guards. Hekanakht knew this much was true, even if Pendua didn't; there were tunnels hidden underneath the temple which led beyond the city walls. This was how Lord Sobek and the other gods before him had escaped the city undetected. However, Hekanakht refused to leave the temple, and when Pendua and Hetepet had heard this they'd refused his request that they leave the city.
"I can't go because I live here," he'd said to them in the courtyard. "I've worked here all my life. If anybody wants refuge, I have to be here to take them in."
"Then we're not leaving, either," Hetepet had replied. "We'll stay right here and help you."
"Hetepet, the king knows where to find you, and Pendua also. Somehow, somebody told him about you."
They'd both fallen silent. He had no idea they were thinking of Merisu.
"We're staying in the city then," Pendua had said after a moment. Hetepet looked at him. "All these people are on the edge. They know there's going to be war, and civilians or not they'll have to choose sides. We should be here to make sure they choose the right one."
Hekanakht had sighed. "If you're going to stay, I can't stop you. But be careful, and if you must rally the people do so quietly, where the Kana can't see you. I'm certain there'll be a few left in the city."
Pendua nodded. "We'll be careful. Though I'm sure we have the majority on our side. Good luck, Hekanakht."
"Goodbye." Hekanakht had watched them go, Pendua taking Hetepet's hand and the two of them disappearing down the street. His heart twisted; he could tell they'd grown close. He just hoped they would all make it through this. If not, he would gladly give up his own life just for the certainty that they would live.
Why is it always this way? he thought, watching the Kana as they passed. We being mere humans, always somehow caught in the middle, like a fly trapped in the water between two currents. Is this all part of the gods' plan, or are the gods themselves helpless to prevent it, also part of a plan larger than themselves? What could be greater but Maat itself?
His mind wasn't equipped to answer. All he could do was make a protective sign in the air, and return to the temple where he'd spent his life.
The few Apsiu guarding the city couldn't prevent some of the people from gathering atop the walls to watch the armies assembling below where the fields approached the city. The Kana atop their Sha poured from the gate, spreading out in a long line from east to west; Kusef and his captains led the Apsiu army in its formations. From the north came a second army, five figures in resplendent armor leading their units. They were still too far away for those on the walls to make them out, but Kusef, from his vantage point at the front, recognized them almost immediately.
"Upuat, Sobek, and Anubis," he muttered to the captain nearest him. "And that fool Antakh. Pfft, they let a Moru lead them."
He didn't mention the name of the fifth figure, who rode carrying his head high, his lance strapped to his back, the golden uraeus gleaming on his forehead even under the clouds. Kusef ground his teeth with rage to see that he wore the gold and blue nemes headcloth reserved for royalty, and wondered where he could have gotten it. What he disliked most, though, was how all five of them--even Antakh--looked every inch a god, in their gleaming, burnished armor, their eyes lined in sparkling green and blue. Their faces were set, determined, without a trace of fear. Kusef watched them vainly for even a second's hesitation.
"They have only Moru to fight for them," he said to the captain, as if in reassurance. "Moru and farmer-humans, one and the same."
The armies stopped their advance, leaving a wide swath of land between them. They fell silent, the colored streamers on their standards fluttering in the breeze. For a moment or two they simply stood staring across at each other, as if uncertain what to do next.
Horus watched the Sha start to part to both sides, shuffling away to clear a path. Even Kusef and his captains moved aside, and Horus could see why.
Coming up the path was another Sha, bigger than the rest, its neck adorned with streamers like those upon the standards. Its rider was dressed all in black armor, the vulture and uraeus on his brow. He reached the head of his army and brought his Sha to a halt.
"Welcome back, Nephew," he called.
"This doesn't feel like a welcome," Horus called back.
Set only smiled. "You came prepared as well. I doubt you expected a friendly hello." He swept his hand through the air. "I hope your people realize what will happen to them if I win. All of them, every last one, will be tried for treason and executed. No matter what your mother says."
The people looked around at each other uneasily. Horus turned his head.
"Any of you who want to leave do so now," he said. "No one will be executed."
They fidgeted a little atop their horses but didn't leave.
Horus turned back to his uncle. "I guess your threats don't mean much to them."
"They will, soon enough." He looked at Anubis, off to Horus's left, and his smile grew. "Lord Anubis. Or should I say Prince Anubis. You'll remember what I told you. You have a place beside me if you wish to take it. The decision is yours, and it's best made now."
Horus looked at Anubis. His brother was staring back at Set with a blank look on his face. He didn't say anything.
The moment seemed to stretch on forever. Anubis slowly turned his head to look at him. Horus plainly saw the pain in his eyes, and though he wanted to speak he said nothing. This wasn't his choice to make, and interfering would do no good.
He could hear Sokar's voice in his head. Two people will try to betray you, one of them closer to you than you could ever know.
Did he mean Anubis? My own brother?
A hard look entered Anubis's eyes, and Horus remembered where he'd seen it before. In his uncle's own eyes. The resemblance between the two of them was startling.
Anubis turned away to look back at Set. He took up the reins on his horse and it snorted and lifted a hoof.
And stepped back.
An ugly look crossed Set's face. "Fine. If you believe they'll ever have any use for you, stay. But remember I'm the only one who ever told you the truth."
"No." Anubis's voice was level but clearly carried across the divide. "You lied to me just as much. You don't even know what truth is." His horse snorted and pawed the ground, and he lowered his voice. "You forget. Osiris was my father also."
Set snarled and drew his sword. The rest of the Kana followed suit, bringing their weapons up before them.
"You made your choice, as foolish as it is," he hissed. "I hope you're prepared to stand by it."
Horus answered, "We all are, Set."
Set gave a bitter grin. "It's your mistake." He raised his sword and swung it forward over his head, letting out a yell. The Kana howled and kicked their mounts' flanks, surging forward. The ground trembled.
Horus held up his sword straight into the air. His troops fidgeted, seeing the black wall roiling toward them. As the Kana bore down on them he brought the sword down, and the humans and Moru alike howled, breaking into a gallop. The gap between them closed, and with a harsh ringing of metal on metal the enemy armies met.