by Ancient One
This is the introductory pages of my novella "The Ankhs".
Egypt: Second Dynasty
This desert land is exceptionally dear to me. Its warm sands resound in the drumming beats of my eye-lashes. The sultry wasteland engulfs fresh oases with water that is pure; it pulses and it pulsates. It throbs like the beating of a living heart; Pharaoh's beating heart. It is the heart that beats for Kemet.
I grew up in Salhagaar. Those were days when "Daddy" was the fiery desert, and "Mommy"; the cooling Nile. Sinoueh and Seena are my parents.
"I don't know how she bears to be out in the sun," my mother said from inside the house, "the glare is blinding!"
"The girl is born of the desert and the Nile, Seena, are you so surprised?" my father smiled lovingly at the woman who had captivated his soul since forever.
"Daddy, Daddy, I found a pretty jasmine in the garden!" I said, running to place the white blossom in his hand."
"It's beautiful, Torri, go find me another one for Mama," said my father.
I started to run out of the door when I paused and called back through my giggles, "Daddy, stop calling me Torri, it's not my name!"
"It's not???" my father would feign surprise as I disappeared out the door.
"She cannot keep wandering the way she does," said my mother, her cool blue eyes heavy with worry, "what if she gets hurt?"
Sinoueh turned to Seena and spoke to her in gentle kindness, "Can you hear yourself, Seena? She will not be hurt. Let the child play, it is her time."
"But the proph-," my mother started again anxiously.
"She'll be fine," my father interrupted more seriously, "I know why you worry, Seena, but this is her time."
"I know, Sinoueh..I'm trying," Seena returned calmly, adding, "it's just.. she's only a small child."
"Come," my father said soothingly, "we'll have a walk in the garden."
Our family lived in a beautiful house with soaring ceilings and marble floors. The sheer curtains always danced in the towering archways of our walls, even when the shutters were closed. Their sheer material was lighter than air.
The garden pathway leading into our home was lined with sweet scented jasmines; ivory white. The blossoms led to an open courtyard, whose center held a water fountain encrusted entirely with blue and yellow crystals. On thousands of nights, I watched my mother and father lock in a wondrous embrace at the edge of that fountain.
Inside, the Great Hall extended with golden pillars that carried a colorful, mosaic ceiling. The pictures were never trapped in the bright mosaic. My vivid imagination willed them to morph and tells me many stories. Our house was large enough to host the entire village, but no one ever came to visit on account of my mother's preference for perfect privacy. And as for my parents, they only like to go out when the sun wasn't absolutely glaring.
I cannot recall all the details of my childhood. Sometimes the distant memories only exist as still images in my mind; even their colors change. But I remember how I used to walk into my neighbors' houses, unannounced, and silently watch them bake bread. It was a lifestyle of which my mother hardly approved. She was fiercely antisocial, but she was kind and I loved her dearly. The memory of her voice that once soothed me as a baby now plagued me at the age of ten as I was relentlessly ordered not to talk to the strangers on the streets. "It's not appropriate for a young girl such as you to be wandering into people's houses," she would say to me over and over again. But the people of Salhagaar were so lively; and some of them told such wonderful stories!
Sadly, though, I came to realize that I was commonly disregarded by the general mass of the laboring public. They feigned to be blind to me as they shuffled through the market places; the shoe-makers, the wig-makers, the glass-blowers, the boat builders, even the shop-lifters! Whether they were working or flirting; they always seemed too busy to entertain a wandering child. At times, they even pretended not to hear me when I spoke to them.
"Good morning, Akha Bitaah," I greeted the steel bender.
Unlike the other laborers in Salhagaar's vast marketplace, Akha Bitaah wore a wig; his braids were unnatural. Most other men in our village shaved their heads bare. In all of Kemet, only the noblemen wore wigs; Akha Bitaah was not a nobleman, but his father was. He moved to Salhagaar from the distant village of Menufia, and the women here absolutely pine for him! People said that, years ago while he was traveling, the Persian hoard attacked his village.
"..they killed his family," Nahu, our neighbor, told the story at a women's gathering in her house, "mother, father, two brothers, baby sister, and wife were slaughtered."
"So I should thank the hoard," said Luna, with a wicked smile. The women gasped at her nerve. Luna was intent on claiming Bitaah as her own. She was often seen wearing audacious dresses with slits as high up as her waist and walking slowly, the way cats do by his shop. She'd stare at Akha Bitaah as he worked hoping to provoke him the way she did every other man on the street.
"He abandoned his wealth and deserted the remnants of his village," continued Nahu as she poured tea for her guests that evening. The women lamented his loss and cried for him, except Luna who rolled her eyes at their 'malleable minds'.
The Man with the Bleeding Heart is what the people called him when he first came to Salhagaar years ago. He came with very little, and wears the wig to honor the family of nobility he was born into.
Akha Bitaah's strong arm yielded a hammer that no one else could ever dream to lift. Its powerful blast was fashioned for his hand alone. Some people swore that it was made for him by another race of beings, one that was stronger than our own. But I always felt that he fashioned it himself.
When he worked, the translucent beads of sweat trickled down his skin as though his body produced its own personal rain storm. The veins in his arms and face pressed against him from the inside out every time his hammer head beat down over steel; he bent and shaped it into anything and everything. I've seen Akha Bitaah speak with people, but he never looked at them. Everyone said that his eyes...well, that they were different. I never knew for sure since he didn't look at me either.
Across the street from Akha Bitaah, a woman named Sita Mirr-Ha baked bread for the locals to buy. She only ever drank water when it was mixed with a little honey, I thought she was enchanting.
"Hello Sita Mirr-Ha," I would say with a smile as I ran by her arched doorway. Her girdle had always caught my eye. It wasn't yellow, it shone more like gold. But it wasn't made of gold either, it was brighter. It dazzled as if it wanted to audibly speak and say that it was forged from the light of the great Sun, itself!
But, like the others, Sita Mirr-Ha didn't return my greetings. She was always serenely engaged in her baking, her sweet water, and Akha Bitaah across the street. But if I remember correctly, he didn't even look at her, not even when she brought him fresh bread.
Every day, I would linger around their shops and silently watch. She would carefully place the bread in a fine, hand woven basket as soon as it had come out from the oven and cross the street to where he was. He would simply rest his hammer yielding arm perfectly still, smile and say "Dua Netjer en etj" Thank God for you. She wouldn't speak to him, though I think she wanted to, but she'd simply lay the basket beside his resting arm and leave. Even though I am ignored by the villagers, at times they have the capacity to be so sweet.
Perhaps my little voice is too soft for them to hear, but I know Anaka, the neighborhood bully feels my foot when I purposely trip him and run! He was a horrible child; always cheating at sport, beating smaller children and I even saw him stealing sugar lumps, once, from Akha Kerah's sweet stand.
Come to think of it, the only one that ever really pays attention to me is a street Mau; my companion, my only friend. Everywhere I go I am sure it will appear from behind some street corner or rooftop. Purrrr. I love the sound it makes. Mau always finds me wherever I am. When we walk together, I pretend that he is a lion, and people shy away from us because they're afraid of him.
"They don't speak to me or even look at me, Mau," I confided in my companion, "Why don't they like me?"
Mau curled up to my leg and purred.
"I love you, Mau," I said in my little voice.
As the years passed, I accepted the silence and the status of outcast. My lonely childhood paved the way to a curious state of adolescence. I lived without a care in the world and, my goodness; my legs could outrun the swiftest West Wind....
The speed held in my legs carried me as if I had wings and could fly. How many dawns have they taken me along the banks of the Nile, where I watched the Earth come alive as the first light met the ripples of the great river?
This was a very special time of the day. It was one moment and I had to wait for it when, in an instant, the Earth would freeze completely; raindrops suspended, ripples hanging. This was a time when, in the Earth's poised statuette, I heard the eagles crying, the bears of the North ice waking; and the whistle of each crop leaf sway in rumination.
In this glorious music, I heard the echoes of a distant drum beating inside of a living chest. The sound captivated and soothed me. But as the moment passed, the drumming faded.
It was regarded, in all the land, as a great honor to serve the great Pharaoh of Kemet. I remember watching the young boys play in the desert sand; they raced to see who was fastest, and wrestled to boast who was strongest. They nourished their bodies with food, fresh water, and loquat fruits. They molded the fiber of their bodies; fashioning themselves with strength, speed and agility. Blindfolded and barefoot, they stepped into a world where play was sensory.
"Shhh," mouthed one of the crouching young boys, never lifting his steady gaze from the blindfolded child in the center of the human ring. One of the much younger boys couldn't help but let out a soft giggle.
Immediately, the child in the center braced one hand on the hot sand and in a single deliberate movement, swept his leg beneath the young boy's two feet landing him to the floor. In the blink of an eye, the blindfolded child was hovered over the little one; his very breath felt on the boy's skin. To complete his performance, the victor stood up straight, removed his blindfold, and extended an arm out to lift the little one back to his feet.
These young boys dreamed to, one day, be trained in the service of the Sekhrey; Pharaoh's royal guard, and well-learned in the ancient arts of spiritual and physical protection.
Amongst the people of Kemet, it was the common practice of men and young boys to shave their heads. It kept the lice away. But for the children who mimed every move of their childhood heroes, mother's grooming blade invoked un-consenting tears.
The Sekhrey grew their hair past shoulder length, black and strong, and their backs bore the immortal mark of their initiation; Udjat, the sound eye of Horus. It was the mark of healing and protection that was painted into their skin forever. Horus was the sky, he carried the sun in one eye and the moon in the other. When the great falcon flew, Udjat, his inward eye, was all-seeing.
Pharaoh's guard was widely acknowledged by friends and foes as fiercely invincible in combat; free of fear, and each endowed with the strength of twenty men. The Sekhrey took no prisoners. These men were taught well to utilize the four gifts of the world: earth, air, fire, and water. They were the loyal and sworn protectors of the one great ruler of Kemet, Pharaoh Hetep-sekhem-wy.
The battles between the Sekhrey and Kemet's enemies were the source of wide-eyed bedtime stories and the substance of legends. One night, around a campfire, some of the boys in Salhagaar gathered to share their knowledge of the legendary protectors. I sat quietly in the shadows, and listened.
"Have you heard the story of the Attack of the Northern Desert?" one boy started, his golden skin complementing his bright green eyes and full eyebrows. He was the son of a rich merchant in Salhagaar, Akha Okar.
Okar had chosen a mate from beyond Kemet, a woman he met on his travels, no doubt. Of all the places they had visited together, she chose our village as the place to make her home. At first, the people didn't know what to make of her. They'd never seen such a woman, but she was kind, strong, and respected our ways. She was accepted by the village, and so was their only son. He was born and raised right here in Salhagaar. The boy's name was Tonah.
Some boys shrugged, others sat perfectly still. As the flames of the campfire flickered, light and shadow danced over them.
Tonah continued, "..the only thing our people know about the Men of Cold Air is that they are real. They are massive brutes that wear the skins of long haired beasts; white, black, red, and brown. It was on the sandy north shore, where five Sekhrey warriors stood looking out into the sea."
Imagination and wonder overtook their minds.
"Do you want to know what they were looking at?" Tonah asked the circle of young boys.
"Yes!" chorused the younger ones, while the older ones nodded or sat silent with their eyes fixated on their storyteller.
Tonah continued as the group stared in wonder and amazement. "..out in the sea, two hundred enemy ships were ready to attack. United as one, the Sekhrey stepped into the crashing waves until the water reached their waists and in an instant, the water receded!"
He looked over at the faces of his audience, and then continued, "it receded until all five of the Sekhrey were standing on dry land, though they had not moved a foot in any direction.. and it didn't stop.. the water kept going back and back and back until the ships were no longer on water. They rested on the dry sea bed. In an instant the Sekhrey extended their arms towards the water, they lifted it up in a giant wave to the sky-"
"Yes!" interrupted another boy, nodding at the rest of them around the campfire, "on that day, in the battle of the northern desert, the water eclipsed the great Sun, itself!"
"It wasn't a battle," one other boy, offered, "no one fought. Right, Tonah?"
"You are right, Tarin," answered Tonah and continued to narrate the story, "in an instant, their powerful arms came down, and so did the water."
"Then what happed, Tonah?" asked Sanu, one of the younger boys, in complete awe.
"There were no more ships, Sanu, no sign that anyone was ever there; just desert and ocean."
"But what about the five warriors? Did they drown?" asked the little boy who was obviously concerned and saddened by the thought.
"Idiot! The Sekhrey don't drown!" Anaka was always quick to unleash his tongue.
"Do not speak to him that way, Anaka, Sanu is still among the sheltered," ordered Tonah staring into the flames. He then raised his gaze to Anaka and spoke with conviction, "either hold your tongue or leave this circle immediately."
Tonah was highly regarded by his peers, not just for being a fantastic storyteller, but also because he was the eldest among them and had excellent character. In Kemet, any child below the age of seven was considered among the sheltered. The purity of a child's soul is a sacred treasure. This meant that no one was to harm their ears with distasteful language; it darkens the child's heart.
Anaka knowing well that he was no match for Tonah, rolled his eyes and sat back in silence.
"Tonah, what happened to them?" asked Sanu again, desperate to know what had become of the great protectors.
Tonah looked around at the stares of the young boys and then spoke as though summoning a distant memory, "when the water became calm, five men emerged from it; tall, strong, unstoppable."
Sanu smiled and let out a soft sigh.
"Those were the five most powerful Sekhreys in Kemet's history," Tonah added, "some refer to them as the Ankhs."
"What's that?" asked Sanu.
"Just a name they came up with, to honor those five, years and years and years ago."
Strange. I knew many stories about the Sekhrey. I even heard my parents speak about them, like that they were chosen, gifted, and would always be here to protect Kemet. But I never heard them refer to Ankhs.
Time sleeps for no one. The years passed and at fifteen, I am now a woman. Younger than me, are joyful mothers nursing their young. I, though, had no interest in marriage, at least not to anyone here in Salhagaar.
Though no change had transpired in my life, I was stricken with a sudden emotional ailment. Unlike before, I felt no joy in the things I did. I didn't want to run anymore, or stroll through the streets, or roam into houses, or watch the passersby, or play with Mau. I wished to see no one.
Boredom overtook every aspect of my time. Countless days and nights were now spent circling around our garden. In time, I retreated indoors staring up at the still mosaic colors of the ceilings. It wasn't long before I slipped into a relentless state of lethargy, refusing even to come out of my chamber room.
"Torri, your mother and I are making dinner, won't you join us?" asked my father from my chamber door. With my eyes transfixed on him, I shook my head, turned over on my side and the tears came slowly.
In the privacy of my chamber room, I stared up at my brightly stenciled ceiling. What once felt like a huge living space seemed to close around me; suffocating me. A dead sorrow consumed the very fiber of my flesh and twisted at my insides, leaving me hollow and in pain.