The son of the sun, the daughter of the moon; two children--one destiny.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I decided to write the prologue to the great unfinished novel I keep talking about, City Of The Sun. Synopsis? It's a story about what happens when the pettiness of the gods rubs off on the mortals they rule over. Dissent and disorder in the divine realm spills over into the mortal one, leading to all sorts of unrest. When mankind rebels and the gods decide there's no option left but to destroy them all, a small band of those from both worlds--part divine, part human--god, and yet not god--decides to try to settle things for both sides. What side do you choose, when you belong to both, and yet neither?
This story, of which this is the only part so far, is based upon the myths of the Name of Ra and of the Destruction of Mankind:
* * * * *
THE HORSE SLOWED just as it reached the city gate. Foam streaked its flanks and its sides heaved; it was obvious to the guards atop the wall that it had sped a long way. The cloaked figure atop it descended and hurried to the doors, pounding upon them with one fist. They took their time answering, for they could tell, even with the dark heavy cloak the figure wore, that it was merely a woman. Probably a trader of some sort, or someone's wife from outside the city, coming to check up on her husband.
When they opened the doors she brushed past them with hardly a welcome, earning an annoyed look. Her footsteps carried her directly to the great temple that lay at the other side of the city, its giant pylon visible from anywhere within the walls.
One of the guards rolled his eyes at the other. "Probably just looking to get her fortune told. Women, superstitious bunch."
The other nodded sympathetically and they returned to their posts.
The figure hurrying toward the temple lifted her head slightly to take in the great pylon. It was made of mudbrick, hardened to the consistency of stone; it had been whitewashed with gypsum and painted with bright pictures of the neteru going about their daily tasks. Two giant statues, men bearing the heads of hawks, sat flanking the entrance, colored standards flapping atop the wall. She lowered her head again quickly and made a protective gesture at the air. She shifted the bundle she carried under her other arm and picked up her pace.
She was allowed through the main courtyard of the temple without protest. This she knew would be easy enough. It was entering the temple proper that presented the greatest challenge. Before she could reach it a priest dressed in white was already approaching, holding up his hands to stop her. She slowed, but came to a halt only to avoid running into him. He was an older man, head shaven bare as the rest of his kind, and he cocked it at her with a puzzled look.
"Hold now! Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"I come from the north," the figure spoke, and now it was clear, if it hadn't been before, that it was indeed a woman. She clutched the bundle to her tightly.
"What brings you to Iunu?"
"I came to seek the Great Temple of Ra. I wish to speak with the high priest."
"This is impossible. He's a busy man, and he can hardly go about speaking with every strange woman who sets foot through the gate. Why do you not speak with me instead? I report to him, I could tell him your news."
Most of her face was shielded by the cloak and hood she wore--very strange clothing, for a Kemeti--but he could see her bite her lip. She glanced over his shoulder into the temple before sighing and letting her shoulders slump.
"May...may we speak inside, Lord? I do not feel safe, out here..."
"Of course. Follow me to the library. I believe it's empty in there right now."
He turned, gesturing for her to follow. She did, and they disappeared within.
* * * * *
"I had hoped to speak with the high priest," she stated again, as they entered the temple library, little nooks in the walls filled with rolled-up papyri. "It's very important. I know he would want to hear it."
"As I said, Lady, he is most busy at the moment, and not allowed to consort with...well, with your kind. We have our regulations. Please, be seated; tell me, what bothers you? What news brings your heart such trouble?"
She sat down as offered, yet said nothing for a moment. He could see her lip tremble.
"I came to bring something to the temple. It belongs here."
"Belongs?" The priest frowned. "You have something that belongs in our possession? How is this? Was it stolen?"
"No, Lord...not stolen. But it belongs here just the same. It needs safekeeping."
"Well, all right, I suppose this can be done. Where and what is it?"
She held up her arms, and he could see now the bundle she held, wrapped in cloth. He gave it a puzzled look and she lowered it again.
"It was left with us, and we know we cannot keep it. It does not belong to us. It belongs better here, in the temple. We know your people can care for it. We are afraid..." She trailed off, seemingly wanting to say something else, yet left the sentence unfinished. For some reason it carried more weight that way. The priest crossed his arms thoughtfully.
"Well...all right. But again, you have to let me know what it is. Where did you get it from?"
Her fingers clenched.
"From God Ra."
The priest blinked. His brow furrowed.
"God Ra? You claim you have something--something that he left with your people?"
She nodded, and again held up the bundle.
"If he gave it to you," the priest said, with a humored tone, "then I should think you should keep it. You can hardly claim it belongs to us, if he gave it to you."
"It is too much for us to care for," she murmured, then stood abruptly and set the bundle gently down upon a small table to her side. "If you'll please forgive me, Lord, but I have to go. I cannot stay within this city longer. This foreboding, this darkness looms over me."
"You are in the City of the Sun!" the priest laughed. "Surely you cannot feel too much darkness--?"
But she had bowed to him already and turned to hurry from the room. "Wait a moment--!" he cried, hastening to follow. She slipped out the door and went running off down the hallway, sandals clacking. He reached the door and was just darting out when a sound from inside the room drew his attention and made him freeze with astonishment. He gripped the doorframe and leaned back into the library, eyes wide, focusing on the bundle that had been left behind. It sat on the table where she'd left it, a mere roll of swaddled cloths.
* * * * *
"A child? She left a child with us--?"
The lower priests gathered in the library, crowding and looking at the bundle their leader held with an awkward look upon his face. Within the bundle, a small face now peered out, tiny hands waving. It grinned and wriggled and cooed, and the men could only stare down at it in disbelief.
"She claimed he belonged to us," the first priest murmured, wishing very much now that he'd never allowed the strange woman into the temple.
"How can she just leave her child behind? What sort of mother is she!"
"From the way she spoke--I sensed he was not hers. She seemed to be on an errand for another."
"So the mother herself cannot even see the last of her baby. What a witch!"
"At least one mother of importance abandoned her child before," said another. "Watch who you call a witch."
"Why did she say he belonged to us, Nebka?" a young priest at his elbow asked. "Why would she say that?"
Nebka could only frown and shake his head. "She said...he belonged to Ra."
"To Ra?" Now all of the men started murmuring and looking at each other with puzzlement. One of them snorted.
"She's obviously insane."
"I don't know..." the young priest said in a small voice. "I've heard stories, before..."
"And that's exactly what they were, stories. Mind your tongue, pup! You're hardly older than the child!"
Part of the cloths slipped down from the baby's shoulder as he wriggled and laughed. The young priest gasped and stood up straight, pointing at him.
"What is that--?"
He pushed aside the covering to reveal a golden chain. Tugging on it brought forth a glistening pendant of gold and lapis and jade. It fell out of the bundle and the priests gawked at it.
"It's an amulet," the young priest said, needlessly.
Nebka caught it in his hand, cradling the baby in the other arm, and frowned at the gem, turning it over in his hands. "A winged scarab..."
"Why would a baby be wearing one of those...?"
"She said she came from the north," Nebka said softly. He turned the scarab over in his palm. "Yet there are no great cities to the north of us where she could have obtained such a jewel as this, with the emblem of Ra. Where could she have gotten it, if not from Iunu...?"
"Maybe she told the truth," the young priest murmured, and made a protective sign with his fingers. The other priests rolled their eyes and nudged him.
"Oh, knock it off, simpleton!"
"Silence," Nebka commanded. They immediately fell quiet. "I must think over this. All of you go back to your own rooms and leave me be."
There were a few mutters, but most of them obeyed with minimal argument. The young priest stared at the baby a bit longer before bowing and backing out. Nebka sighed and set the amulet down on the table, holding the giggling baby out before him and pondering what to do with it. Another noise at the door made him scowl.
"I thought I told you..."
"Lord Nebka? I was told to deliver an important message to you."
He turned with a start. The voice was breathless, tired, one he didn't recognize. Before him, in the entrance to the library, stood a man dressed in the clothing of a messenger; the other priests crowded in the hallway behind him, peering in with curiosity. Nebka wished to shoo them away but nodded at the messenger instead.
"Yes? I am Nebka. What is it?"
"Lord, I come from Khemennu. I was told to bring you news of something that happened there several days ago. I came as quickly as I could. The priests of Thoth claimed that your people of Ra were to be told news of the City of the Eight whenever it should occur?"
"Yes, yes, what is it?"
"The high priest of Thoth wished for you to know. A short while back a villager entered the temple and demanded to speak with the high priest. He did so and left a child with him."
"Yes, Lord, a baby. Very young and small; a girl child. He claimed she belonged to the temple of Thoth, and left before he could be questioned."
Nebka's face went white.
"Did he say anything--anything specifically? About the child?"
The messenger appeared to rack his brain. "Well...all the priests could tell me was he said she belonged to them. He could not care for her."
"Where did she come from?"
"Oh. I apologize, Lord. He claimed she was a gift from Thoth, or some sort. And then he left her, and left the palace. The city's men have been searching all about for him with no success. None recognized him, and none had had a child of that description any time recently." He bowed. "I was told to inform you of this, Lord, as the cities of Iunu and Khemennu are as brothers. The priesthood believed you should know."
Nebka nodded slowly. "Yes...yes, thank you, son. Hold...hold just a moment, I will prepare a message for you to take back to Khemennu."
He gestured for the young priest, who hovered outside, to come back in and take the child from him. He did so and Nebka snatched down an empty papyrus, digging out a reed pen and palette and hurriedly crushing and dampening the ink. He chewed on the reed, dipped it in, and started scribbling on the crackly surface. The others stood waiting as he did so.
The messenger turned to peer at the other priests waiting behind him, giving them a questioning look. They stared back at him but none of them spoke. After a moment Nebka finished scribbling on the papyrus, rolled it up, and sealed it shut with the stamp of the temple of Iunu. He pressed it into the messenger's hands before steering him from the library.
"Take this to the high priest in Khemennu. Let no one else see it but he, or his second. Understood?"
"Go now. Quickly."
The messenger nodded and bowed, departing with a confused look upon his face. Nebka put a hand to his forehead and watched him go, the other priests doing the same. He let out his breath and only now realized that he was shaking.
The young priest turned back to him. "It's...it's the prophecy, isn't it?"
Nebka glared at him. "What do you know of a prophecy?"
"I read it once, while I was copying some of the texts--the son of the sun, the daughter of the moon, an end to maat, Isfet released upon the world--"
"Silence. Do not speak that name," Nebka ordered, and the young priest immediately ceased talking. "Any prophecy you read is just superstition. Do all of you understand this? Written years ago by ignorant ones. I am concerned only because there are two young children who have been left without their parents, at a most inopportune time. We will attempt to contact the mother of the boy."
"And I will tell the high priest of this myself. The rest of you, back to your duties, whatever those are at this hour. You, take the child to the kitchens, get him some milk to drink."
The priests parroted in unison. "Yes, Lord." They left the library.
As soon as he was certain they were gone, Nebka let out his breath again and leaned upon the little table. His hands trembled. It would have been easier to hide his emotions, had he been the only one who'd ever seen that papyrus. Had the prophecy upon it not even existed at all.
These children...he was right. They were not gifts from the gods. They are of the gods. The son of the sun, the daughter of the moon. Thoth and Ra. A boy and a girl.
He dreaded to remember the rest of the prophecy. The exact words, in his fear, failed him; yet the idea came to him all too clear. A sudden darkness; rebellion and upheaval; a fire in the sky; a desperate journey across the land; pain and destruction; a sea of blood; everything going topsy-turvy; and then an end to maat, to order itself...and the last part...the release of Isfet, the great chaos, turbulence, the end of everything, even the gods themselves...
Nebka shut his eyes. He couldn't bear to think about it. It was just a coincidence. That was all. After all, all that had happened was the birth of two children...a boy and a girl...that was it. None of those other things had happened...yet.
He went to the doorway and peered out into the hall, searching for any bit of sunlight. Of course it would not reach this deeply within the temple...but he wished more than anything that he could see it now.
Nobody will know. We will not tell them. The boy will become one of us...nothing more. He will not learn who he is. We cannot let him know. For our sakes.
His fingers clenched on something smooth and hard, and looking down he realized he again somehow held the scarab pendant. He clutched it again so he couldn't see it, so it was hidden from his view. He shut his eyes tight.
Please God Ra...please let me be wrong.
More to come...?
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