A captain agonizes over which he should choose: his king, or the one chosen by destiny...
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama.
SUMMARY: A captain agonizes over which he should choose: his king, or the one chosen by destiny...
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2001.
LENGTH: 3900+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult language.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Certain characters are from Egyptian mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Egyptian mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2001 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
RELATED STORIES: "The Book Of The Gods; Or, Tales Of Kemet" (short stories), "Horus" (novel), "The Ameni Chronicles" (serial--ADULT CONTENT), "Related Tales" (short stories--ADULT CONTENT)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the other Kemet short stories and/or the Kemet/Egyptian mythology as I make use of it in my writing; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This was meant to be a short, first-person version of a longer, third-person story, a sort of followup to Horus, which I decided not to write as this version turned out good enough. I wanted simply to explore what this would be like from a point of view different from what I usually write. (It's also in present tense, something I generally revile and avoid for good reason.) This story is from the point of view of one of the highest-ranking Kana in Set's former army, a captain elite named Djeretu. SPOILERS--it takes place immediately after the defeat of Set's Apsiu Kana army in the novel Horus, and right before Set and the Kana are sent into exile in the desert (the final scene in the novel). Horus, being a just king, goes before the surrendered Kana to give them the chance to join his army, rather than face banishment. The Apsiu Kana are a proud, stubborn race, and those who surrender face the potential fate of becoming Moru--flightless slaves, the worst punishment a Kana may receive. So, of course--exile in the desert, or possible loss of all their rights and respect should their tenure with Horus's army fall through--the decision isn't an easy one to make. Some explanations of terms used in the story in case you haven't read Horus--the "pretender king" is Osiris; the "whelp prince" is Horus; the "bastard prince," Anubis; the "sun god," Ra; the "queen," Isis; the "captain," Sobek; the "lieutenant," Upuat; and the "vizier," Thoth; the one whose name is not spoken is Antakh, a Moru who once masqueraded as a Kana and is hated for this. It all makes more sense if you've read Horus, trust me. An error--I wonder how Djeretu manages to salute Horus when his arms were previously bound...? *puzzles over this*
* * * * *
I KNEEL UPON the floor, my head hanging and eyes closed. This is the only way to maintain a bit of dignity considering our position now. It is still difficult to believe what has become of our army, and our kingdom; it seems only yesterday that the whelp from the north arrived to seek vengeance for his father. He is barely a man, yet still he defeated us all. I cannot comprehend how he did it.
He did have assistance from others. The bastard prince, the former first lieutenant to the dead pretender king, his captain, and his vizier as well; and those who say the queen had no hand in his victory must be naive. I knew from the moment that I first saw her that she would be trouble for us. She is simply too powerful for anyone to control.
And the sun god...whom I had never even been certain existed...well, we know for certain now, that he does exist. And we know whose side he is upon.
Still, our army was the best in the land; how could we have been so quickly defeated?
I'm certain many of us are attributing this to pure luck, nothing more...the whelp lucked out.
I do not know where my king is. I have not seen him since the beginning of the battle. I heard that he faced off against the whelp prince, but what became of him, I do not know. Is he alive or is he dead? The stories all differ. Some say he was killed. Many more say he escaped, and he will return for us. This disgusts me. Why would he run and leave us here? He would never do such a thing. That leaves only two options. He was captured, as we were, or he is dead.
Neither option I like much.
I did not even see the end of the battle. It seems that one moment we were in the thick of it, and the next, it was ended, and we were being held at spearpoint. I kept my sword raised, expecting a fight to the end; we are not meant to surrender. But the whelp's men did not kill me, nor any of those with me who did not actively resist them; somewhere, the word was spread to spare us. The whelp prince was offering mercy to anyone who asked it.
I did not ask it.
They spared us anyway.
Already I feel as if I am covered with filth, fit to sleep in Moru pens; this is not right.
Still, I did not fight them; not even when they took my sword, once the weapon of my father, away.
Why did I let them do this? Why did I not fight back, die valiantly? Is it because I felt it would be pointless, that perhaps, this was something that was meant to happen?
Or did I not fight back because I am a coward, a sniveling Moru?
I cannot decide which.
My head hurts now, and I do not wish to decide.
My mind grows hazy afterwards. Perhaps I was numb. I know that we were all separated according to rank, and I heard that it was the whelp's captain who suggested this. The crocodile-one. He is much more intelligent than he looks. I remember seeing him fight before, and I remember him from when the pretender king was killed. He is no one to fool with. Why they separated us? At first I did not know, even though the other captains asked me. There are fourteen of us surviving, most of us from different tribes, having been called together to serve the king while the whelp was still away; I do not know the number of lieutenants nor of sergeants and common soldiers captured. Though I heard that many of us surrendered, in the end.
How could we have been so weak?
Or do we merely know the truth?
I do not know what the truth is anymore...I was always certain that we would win, that our king would remain king, as it was meant to be. Yet now, he is king no more...the whelp's men have taken over the city...and the people cheer for him...how could this have happened, if we were meant to be the ones in command? Was I wrong--were we wrong, this whole time?
How could we have been?
I cannot even think...
A noise. Someone is whispering. One of the other captains has caught word that they are speaking to the groups of us, each different rank. How and where did he hear this? Why would they want to speak to us again? We are their prisoners now. They may do with us what they wish.
He whispers again. Now I hear the word that fills me to brimming over with disgust and remorse.
The two different meanings of the word strike me now more than ever.
I believe I know now why the whelp king and his others have decided to separate us. Our common soldiers are among the least trained. Some have had only several months' worth of training, whereas captains elite such as myself may have trained our entire lives. They do not want us to have an influence over our inferiors while they are speaking to them.
How many of them will defect to the whelp's side?
How many lieutenants?
How many of us?
Already my fellows are sneering and baring their teeth with revulsion. Apparently the thought of serving in the whelp's army is as distasteful to them as it is to myself.
But...do I find it distasteful? As distasteful as I try to think I do?
I must. To feel otherwise is foolish! I have served the true king my whole life! He belongs upon the throne, not this pretender whelp from the north. This one came from the swamps! He was raised by snakes and scorpions! How can the people want him as their leader?...
The others hush. I can hear footsteps approaching, and keep my head lowered. I know the moment has finally come. They are to speak with us now.
My comrades bare their teeth as the great doors to the chamber we are in swing open, and in comes the whelp prince--the new pretender king--and his followers. His captain, and his two lieutenants--the wolf-one and the bastard--are with him, as is the one whose name we will not speak. Several of those around me hiss and spit on the floor when they see him. I restrain myself, though my revulsion is strong. The way he stands and dresses as one of us, when he is one of them, fills me with loathing.
They come toward us and I lower my head again. To protest, to even show my disgust, is in vain. I will not lower myself to that level.
Besides...who am I to protest...when I am now Moru?
I can still feel the pain in my left wing. A most unfortunate sword cut, slashing clean through the membrane, has rendered me earthbound. I will no longer be able to fly. I suppose that those few Kana who have spoken to me since either have not noticed this wound, or have not accustomed themselves to it yet. Many of the others have already. I caught the hateful looks of several of my own subordinates as we were rounded up, and one or two of them spat at me as well. No matter that several hours ago I was one of them, I was in command over them...now I am not...I am one of those that I despise, as is the one I looked upon just a moment before.
How had I forgotten this? Shame wells up inside me. It appears I too have yet to become accustomed to this turn of events. Fate has been most cruel to me today...firstly, the army of my king is defeated, and secondly, now I have become less than nothing. A fitting punishment, I suppose, for the enemies of the new pretender king.
I can see several pairs of sandals stop not too far from me as the new ones pause to look us over. I allow myself to look up to the level of his knees; I look at the rest of him out of the corner of my eye only, when he moves to the side to look at the rest of us. He has not changed since the battle, and his clothing is bloody and dusty. He looks...different somehow. His eyes. They are not quite the same as when I last saw them...at least...I believe they are not. I may be wrong. He wears the sacred uraeus and vulture upon his head, the symbols of kingship, and carries his lance strapped over his shoulder. He is trying to hide it, yet I can tell he is uncomfortable, not used to this procedure. Yes, I was correct. Sheer luck. Such a fresh face to war would never have been able to make it on his own.
He turns his head and murmurs something to his captain, who says something in reply. A captain second class off to my left hisses and spits and shouts out an expletive which I'm certain they cannot understand, except for he whose name cannot be spoken. He casts a glance over at the captain, before whispering something to the bastard. The bastard prince frowns and passes it on to the whelp, who looks at the offender. Then he turns and looks toward--me.
Damn me, I had lifted my head to stare at him. I drop it again, hopefully before he can notice my stare. I do not think he did, yet he turns and I can hear him coming my way. My lip curls. I do not think I can bear to be near him.
Why am I filled with such hate?
He is the pretender's son. He does not deserve the throne of Kemet.
Yet I find that I am not angry with him...
Why is this?
I should hate him beyond imagining. I should loathe him as I loathe the Moru, as I loathe those of he whose name we cannot speak, who still stands before me dressed as I am, pretending he is something he is not.
This would mean I have to hate myself as well.
As I am one of them.
Merely one of them.
I feel my wings sink. My head sinks with them. I cannot pretend any longer, the way that they do. The truth is obvious what I am. I am no longer a captain elite. Nor am I even Kana. A sword slash took that away from me, a single, stupid sword slash that could have been dealt to anyone, may even have been from one of my own men. Who is to say now. The result is the same. I suppose that my fate as a prisoner of the whelp king would be better than my fate among my own kind. Though I tried always to be fair to my Moru, I know such is not true of all of us...all of them...
Golden sandals stop before me. I don't lift my head.
I expect to hear him say something, command me to lift my head or some such; yet he says nothing, only stands before me. What is he expecting me to do? Disrespect him? Perhaps I would have, had I still been Kana. But knowing that I am a lowly Moru drains the will away from me. I stay where I am and say nothing, only wait for him to leave.
He moves and his hand touches my wing.
I jerk and stifle a gasp. What is he doing--? I feel his fingers press against the torn membrane, grasping it as if he were grasping at cloth. For the briefest moment there is a twinge of pain from the still-tender skin, but then--a warmth--spreading through my wing, up to the top, down to the tips--from the corners of my eyes I can see the other Kana, even those who had spat upon me, staring at me with surprise. The pain vanishes from my wing and a dim golden glare that had filled the air begins to die before disappearing entirely. The warmth dissipates.
His hand lets go of my wing. Instinctively I stretch and flex it, and hear the other Kana gasp. I break my own vow to lift my head and look at it, and immediately feel the same shock that they must be experiencing.
The wound...the tear...the sword slash. It is gone. Vanished. My wing is...whole again. I stretch it a second time, testing the membrane, and it feels even stronger than before, than my uninjured right wing is at this moment. How...how can this be? What has he done to me?
I look up at him, and see that he stares down at me, into my eyes, with those strange eyes of his own. They are blue, like lapis submerged in water. I cannot hold his stare, yet I do not have to. He turns away from me before I can break it, and walks before all of us.
"Your king has been defeated," he says, his voice clear, carrying across the room. "I will now sit upon the throne as the king of Kemet. The subjects of Set are now the subjects of Horus."
A soft hissing. The other captains bare their teeth at him but do not speak.
He tips his head slightly, stopping his pacing and looking at all of them. "I have offered two choices to the men of the Kana army. One, is you may be released to go to the desert with your leader. You will not be executed, but neither will you be allowed to return to this city. Should you try to do so, you will be punished. The desert will be your home, no matter how difficult the living may be. As I have said before, you may squabble among the scorpions and hyenas."
Someone near the back spits again, but still they do not speak aloud. Perhaps they, like I, sit and wait to hear what he has to say? Why do I want to know?
"Your second choice," the whelp continues, his voice lowering, "is you may leave Set's army to join my own, and serve as my men. Once you have proven your worth you will be put in command of guarding the city walls and the palace, or you will find a place in my army. I know that all of you would make excellent soldiers and guardsmen. The decision, however, is yours to make."
He falls silent and looks back and forth at the fourteen of us, now that the hideous words are out, the horrid offer to defect, to betray our king. I briefly wonder how many of our lieutenants, how many of our lower soldiers have accepted his offer. How many of us will be left in the desert?
Gods, why am...why am I considering...?
I must remove this evil thought from my head...
"Your decision?" he prompts, and I shut my eyes. It sounds as if he is addressing me alone. Perhaps this is only my guilt.
Hissing and snarling surrounds me. My comrades spit out insults and make rude gestures, considering their arms are bound behind their backs. Several of them kick pretend dust on the floor toward him, or swipe their tails in an offensive gesture. The name Moru is heard more than once, in every vile combination possible.
He stands and watches them impassively. They are only doing what is right. They are defending their king.
I feel my face flushing with shame. Why am I setting myself apart from them so? Am I not again one of them, now that my wing is healed? Am I not Kana?
But who was he who healed my wing, who made me Kana once more?
I stare at him, unable to look away. He does not seem to see me anymore, though I cannot be certain what he's thinking. He watches the others as they insult him, and waits for their decision. I know what their decision will be. They will not join him. They will go to the desert with their rightful king.
But I, I...what shall I do?
For some reason, I...I cannot decide.
My disgust fills me again. Why is this even difficult! All of my life--I have served just one. I have loved him as my king, and I would have given my life for him. I gave up my Kanahood, serving in his army, fighting for our city. But...the whelp gave what I had lost back to me. Damn him, he gave it back! He had no right!
Why did he do this? I agonize inside, trying to figure out why. I am his enemy, and he is mine. He is only a pretender. He is only a boy! He could never rule Kemet as our king did!
Yet he won...with luck on his side...and we lost...and my wing...
My mind rails against him. Damn you! My decision was so simple. It was not even a decision at all. To serve my king, was all I ever wished to do. To die fighting for him. To give my life for his cause, for his kingdom. To oust the pretender and restore his glory. To defend the throne from any other whelps who may try to seize it.
Yet here you came, and you took my decision away from me! You gave me back the one thing I wanted more than to serve my king. You gave me back...who I was before. This should not be more important! My king should be the most important thing in my life!
I am not perfect. I am not the perfect Kana. How can I be so flawed? I am a captain elite! I should be more than this!
And yet...even though I am whole again...even though I am what I was before...I am something different now. Something less. And yet something more.
What am I now? Who am I? Who do I serve? When my king is defeated, when the one I believed--I knew--would be king forever--who was favored by fate--has been cast out into the sands, and when a boy takes his place--the son of the pretender--a mere swamp whelp, favored by the gods--who do I serve? What is right?
What do I do?
He peruses the group of us. "You have a decision?"
A barrage of insults and invective. Several of the Kana turn their faces away from him as if to blot him from existence. The crocodile-one murmurs to the wolf-one. "I believed this would be the result..."
The whelp is losing interest. He sees the angry, hateful faces, and I see resignation enter his eyes. He knows he will not sway any of us. He begins to turn away, back toward the doors.
Without thinking--without planning it ahead--I feel my knees unbend, my legs pushing me up so I stand. The rest of the Kana immediately cease snarling to gape at me--indeed, were I one of them, I would be gaping at myself. The others, the whelp and his men, stare at me as well. What am I doing? Why am I standing? Have I decided to insult him, to lower myself to that level, after all?
He cocks his head at me, eyes cold blue. He seems to wait for me to speak.
My voice is failing me. I open my mouth, yet the words do not wish to come out. I had been looking at his face, but not directly into his eyes. I do so now, and for just a moment, it is as if the Kana, his men, no one else is there but himself and me.
I find my voice.
"I have decided," I say, and the conviction, the strength of my own voice surprises me. They stare at me still, waiting. "I will serve the rightful king of Kemet."
One of his eyes twitches, just barely. The other Kana still stare at me, a few with mouths hanging open. They are not certain whether to howl with triumph or snarl with fury.
He tips his head and his eyes narrow. "The rightful king being--?"
My insides twist. How can he make me say this? I had thought he was merciful, but this is almost more than I can bear. Perhaps he is not so young and naive as I had thought. Perhaps he is more cunning than I, than any of us had given him credit for.
Perhaps this is a good thing, for him. I will not serve a weak, ineffectual king. I suddenly realize what I will serve. I will serve someone who can serve Kemet. My country. My home.
Lord Set was my king...yet he failed his kingdom, twice over...first he let it go to waste...and then he could not even defend his own throne against the golden one, favored of the gods...
Perhaps I have been wrong, all along.
I do not know for certain.
I will have to find out on my own.
His eyes bore through me. I look away from them. I almost wish I were Moru once more, so decisions would not matter so badly.
"The rightful king being he who sits upon the throne of Kemet. The heir of Iunu. The crown prince, son of the true king. Lord Horus."
He--blinks. He is--stunned?
Around me now, a rising, strengthening, hideous scream, thirteen throats shrieking, voices raised in rage and hatred. I jump back and try to shield myself as several of my former comrades launch themselves at me, teeth tearing, eyes mad. The lieutenant and the captain move forward with sword and spear drawn, driving them back. Someone--who?--the bastard?--the nameless one?--pushes me forward, toward the king. My...my king. He nods at me, one short, curt nod, with cold blue eyes. I find myself crossing my arm to my breast, bowing numbly. I cannot believe I am doing this.
"MORU! FILTHY MORU SCUM!" the captain second class screams. The others echo him.
"EATER OF DUNG! FECES SWILLER! MUD-SUCKING MORU!"
I ignore them. At least, I appear to, on the outside. The whelp...the king...turns away, toward the doors. I stall, fearing I'll be left behind to be torn to shreds, only to feel someone--now I see, it is the bastard prince, brother of the whelp--nudge on my arm. He glances at me, but not for long. I sense his distrust, and I do not blame him. Yet he motions me toward the doors, after the king. I am meant to follow him, out of this place, away from these Kana.
"Eat droppings from the hooves of a donkey, MORU TRAITOR!"
I raise my head--I am a Kana--and follow. The others follow with me, as if I am one of them. I know I am not. Perhaps one day, I will be. At the moment my heart is sick and twisting in my chest. The slurs stab through me like knives, like the sword through my wing. They have the same effect upon my spirit. For a moment, I wonder if, by this very act, this decision, I have not become Moru once more.
This is not for me to wonder, nor to decide.
He made the decision for me.
Whether I am Kana or Moru, I will follow and serve him, now.
It is my duty.
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