The Son of the Sun
Chapter 3 - The Meeting
The inundation has come and gone several times since the day I pleaded with the spirits in the House of Many Thresholds. My body is changing and growing and day by day I seem to be a different person. Sometimes I am consumed with restless indignation at my plight, at others I am indifferent to what happens to me. I live in the crowded precincts of the Temple of Amun and come in contact with many more people than I ever have before. Some of them are women and young girls and I dream of touching them but never dare to do so. Ma-nan still has an extraordinary hold on me. Whether it is by his orders or because there is something about me that repels others, I am somehow still alone. I have noticed on more than one occasion when I have tried to befriend someone that they withdraw from me with something like fear in their eyes. I am nameless. I am an oracle. My body is a vehicle inhabited by the gods from time to time. They are made uneasy by my presence and do not want to get too close to me. Sometimes I wonder if I was not better off alone in that house in Men-nefer than I am now, lonely in a crowd.
Ma-nan finds it necessary to control me with charms and hypnotic spells and more and more frequent use of the smoke. My only comfort is Khurahtaten. He and I speak many secret words together, and l learn it is almost time for me to show my strength and find my living partner for the task. My spirit companion tells me that charms and spells and smoke will have no effect on me when my time comes, and I must abide till then in patience, storing knowledge against the time it will be needed. When I ask him who my partner will be, he tells me to be patient. He will find me, and I will find him, when the time is right.
Meanwhile day follows day and at least there is a great deal of activity in the community in which I find myself, even if I take no part in it. The temple itself is sacrosanct and no one enters unless he or she has a specific role to play in the elaborate rituals of the day. Even the sweeping of the floors with brooms of soft green reeds is done by an initiate priest. But in the cluster of buildings kept separate from the city by vast mud-brick walls there is a microcosm of the world outside. Here there are rivalries and jealousies as people jostle to improve their status in the temple hierarchy. Here there are loves and hates, courtships and disappointments, intrigues, frustrations and triumphs. Farmers bring in a proportion of the produce of their labours to be offered to the god and consequently consumed by the huge temple staff. Scribes record what is brought in and what goes out, contrasting strongly in their crisp white linen kilts and their clean and perfumed bodies, with the rough and dusty workmen of the fields. Cattle are brought in and driven, lowing, to the cattle pens, stirring up the dust with their hooves. Geese cackle and honk on the sacred lake. Gardeners shout to each other as they tend the gardens, while novices squabble and adepts debate. My favourite sight and sound is a group of young girls, chantresses of the temple, walking together with their flimsy robes floating out behind them, lotus blossom in their hair, laughing and chattering as they leave the temple for their dormitory quarters, pretending to ignore the admiring whistles of the builders who are almost constantly working in the area, but giving covert glances over their shoulders to see whether the whistler is handsome or not. Sometimes I meet the eyes of one of them as they pass me and fancy I see a spark of interest there, a curiosity that is not as unfriendly as usual. Nothing more ever happens but I begin to dream and my dreams keep me awake at night.
The higher orders of priesthood have their dwelling houses outside the temple precincts, but usually close by. Most of them have other houses as well on the outskirts of town or in the country huge mansions rivalling the palaces of the king, with storehouses and columned halls, with lily ponds and shady walkways of sycamore and palm. They retain quarters in the precincts as well, but when the days work is done I see them striding out between the guards at the gate, glad to get away from the hubbub surrounding the gods house.
I long to go out into the town, but am not allowed. It is continually impressed on me that I must stay ready, and absolutely pure, for the moment when the god or his representative, the High Priest, wants to use me. Whenever I make an attempt to stray beyond the areas that have been allotted to me, I find someone there to turn me back.
The preparations this year for the Opet Festival, Amun-Ras journey from his great sanctuary at Ipet-Esut to Ipet-Resut in the south where his consort, the goddess Mut, has her sanctuary, have been as elaborate as usual. The young Prince Amenhotep, in whom Ra-Horus glories, and who will succeed his father to the double crown, is to be present; his father being, at this time, confined to bed with an illness that has been troubling him more and more lately. I have been instructed as usual in the words I am to speak as Oracle, Ma-nan manipulating my mind with the power of his dark and piercing gaze, his smoke, his incantations. I wait, in the darkness of the chamber behind the sanctuary of Mut, dazed, scarcely thinking, the words Ma-nan having fed me lying dormant, to spring forth when he gives the signal.
Idly, my minds eye follows the progress of the procession of Amun-Ra. There will be thousands upon thousands of people to see the journey; more than usual because of the illness of the king, and their curiosity to see Prince Amenhotep, who was not born to wear the double crown, but became heir only on the death of his elder brother, first-born and beloved of the king. They expect the prince to ask for the oracles pronouncement on his fathers health, and for confirmation of his own right to succeed him.
At the quay the god, safe in his curtained shrine, will be placed on a gilded barge, beautiful with fluttering feathers and ribbons, and towed from Ipet-Esut to the southern sanctuary, the crowds following on the towpath, children running and jumping, adults shouting and cheering, traders selling ribbons and fans, and small effigies and amulets. Everyone is happy at last to be near the great god or at least because this is a holiday and the musicians are playing lively tunes.
Once disembarked, the chief prophets of Amun-Ra, now a tremendous power in the state, walk ahead of the procession. The bearers of the jewelled model of the sacred boat in which Amun-Ra sails towards his beloved are all relatives of the king. One is the prince himself, older than I, but smaller, thinner and round-shouldered. His coronet, his pectoral collar, the stiff and jewelled apron that overlays his kilt, all seem too heavy for him, dwarfing him in some way, making him look outlandish and ungainly. Beside him walks his uncle Ay, the brother of his mother, the Great Royal Wife, Queen Tiye. Ay has been many things to the old king, from household confidant and steward to Master of the Kings Chariots. He has carried the ceremonial fan and sat at the kings table when feasting was in favour. Having chosen his queen from one of the minor noble families instead of from the royal line, King Amenhotep Neb-maat-Ra has always been at pains to honour his wifes brothers almost above anyone else. Other priests from Ipet-Esut walk behind, while Ma-nan and Na-aghte, responsible for the Amun Oracle on loan to the Temple of Mut for the day, wait with the priests of Mut in the great courtyard of the southern temple for the procession to arrive. They stand almost as still as the statues of the pharaoh-as-god that guard the entrance.
The darkness is very silent in this chamber. I can almost feel it, touch it, as though it were solid. I am seated on a gilded chair raised on a platform, carved with devices from the earliest days, the magical formulae of my trade. My fingers read them as a blind man would, tracing their shapes, bored with the time of waiting. I wish I could see the crowds, the sunlight glinting on the silver and precious jewels of the bark and the divine effigy. I am looking forward to seeing the prince again. I still sometimes puzzle about that dream I shared with him. I have beard that he is something of a weakling, nothing like his father. The rumour is that his father was bitterly disappointed in the death of his eldest son, and barely tolerates his younger. It is to his mother, Tiye, that Amenhotep must look for encouragement; it is said that there are times when she half smothers him with her love.
I have seen the king twice, once when I was on my way to, the House of Many Thresholds, and a year ago at this same ceremony. He had looked into my eyes as I declaimed the words Ma-nan had put into my mouth, and his expression had been very strange. For the second time I had tried to fight the spell I was under and say the words that I believed needed to be said, rather than the words that had been prescribed. For the second time I had failed.
The configurations on the chair are beginning to give me strength. Khurahtaten has taught me many things about the ancient texts that the priests these days seem to have forgotten. The saying of names is not enough, the drawing of signs, the carving of figures you have to know the inner meaning of the names, the signs, the figures. As my sightless fingers work I feel the circle that is the wholeness of all things, the spot inside the space within it that is the dimensionless moment from which all things grew... Who sees, when they see me, that I am many? Who sees, when they see me, that I am One?
I find the shape of a falcons eye and remember that Horus gave his eye to his father, that blind Osiris might see. It was given with love, and with it the seeing is clear and true. There is a left eye and a right eye. The eye of the moon: the eye of the sun. The one to illumine the secrets of the heart: the other to illumine the secrets of the mind. Slowly, slowly I work around the chair as far as my fingers will reach, my mind gradually clearing of Ma-nans spells as I do so, my own mind taking over.
I hear the distant cry of the crowd and know that I have not much time left. The sign I touch is Maats feather, that which is weighed against the heart in the Halls of the Two Truths, after the first death, the death of the body. I remember inscriptions on the walls of tombs thought to mislead and placate the forty-two assessors:
O thou being, broad
of stride, who comest forth from Yunu,
On the walls of my tomb, if I have one, there will be no such inscriptions. I know no words can turn aside the last judgement, no green heart-scarab of stone prevent the real heart speaking for itself. It cannot lie, once it is free of its physical sheath, no matter how loud one cries: O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my mother! O my heart of my transformations! Do not stand up against me as a witness! Do not create opposition to me in the council! Do not cause the pan to sink in the presence of the keeper of the balance! The secret motives that have lain hidden in the heart will out!
I hear chanting now, and know that the procession must have passed under the protective winged sun above the entrance gate and have entered the great courtyard. Most of the people would have been left outside the walls of the holy precinct: only a few privileged ones are allowed through to participate further in the ceremony.
The sounds are muffled and very distant. I think I hear a drumming, but it is my own heartbeat. I have decided that this day will be the day I make my stand, partner or no partner.
After what seems a very long time, the pitch of distant sound rises again, and I know the next stage has begun. The uninitiated people will be left outside, and the small group of initiates, including the prince, will enter the antechamber. Prince Amenhoteps training as a priest was at Yunu in the Mysteries of the Sacred Nine, though no doubt he has been instructed in the rituals of Amun and Mut. Once in the antechamber they will all be sprinkled with holy water, while the incantations for cleansing are made. Then they will come into the first hall. Their progress through this will be slow, for they will stop every few steps by some particular inscription, while the priests of Mut intone sacred words and the priests of Amun utter the responses. Once they reach the sanctuary, the chamber immediately in front of the one I am in, the ritual will take even longer.
What are they thinking, I wonder, these priests mouthing these words, making these ancient gestures? Do they think the gods are children taken in by make believe, enjoying the same bedtime story over and over again?
My hands begin to sweat.
I try to pace out the ritual in my mind so that I will know exactly when my time is come.
Now they will be placing the effigy in its costly boat beside his consort Mut, on the plinth kept ever ready for it...
Now they will be bowing...
Now they will be praying...
Now the offerings will be brought and laid before the god and goddess. I wonder what rich gift the young prince has brought.
Now the two high priests will be preparing to lead the prince, in his role as representative of the pharaoh, through the door to me.
I hear Ma-nan breaking the seal that had been placed over the lock when I was led there early in the morning. I compose myself. I sit as straight and still as a statue, the paint so thick on my face it feels and looks like a mask. I hold so tightly to the sign of the ankh, the symbol of eternal life carved on the chair, with the one hand, and to the sign of the seeing eye of Horus with the other, that my knuckles hurt.
As the light from the tapers shines into them, my eyes are momentarily blinded. I cannot see the figures that enter and take up their positions in the small dark room, but I know the prince will be in front of me, priests of Mut and Amun on either side, a step or two behind the prince. I know Ma-nan will be looking at me, anxious to see whether the spell he has put on me has stayed confident it has, but checking nevertheless. I keep my face still, my eyes staring straight ahead, trying to fool him.
Gradually my eyes adjust, and I can dimly make out the figures, the small flames grotesquely accentuating noses and the hollows of the eyes. I can feel the young princes fear at the same time as I can feel mine. We both suddenly know that this is a significant moment in our lives and are afraid of it.
Ma-nan has instructed me under spell to promise the prince the life of his father, in exchange for unbelievable amounts of bounty. But he has worded the lists of gifts for the god so carefully, and made it so complicated, that if the king dies it could be claimed that it was because the prince had omitted something from the bargain, not because as Oracle I had failed.
Prince Amenhotep speaks the asking prayer, and I notice that his voice is faltering. His face is so sensitive it is almost luminous, his eyes deep-seeing, his lips full.
I stay silent for the required amount of time, taking my cue for speaking from the signal Ma-nan always gives me, the raising of his hand.
I pause slightly longer than usual after the signal, gathering my strength. It is not easy to push aside Ma-nans powerful spell and I know the effort to do so could destroy my sanity. My companion and counsellor, Khurahtaten, has given me advice for the chosen moment and I try to follow it, knowing that if my mind wanders a second from the task in hand I could be destroyed.
I visualize a tremendous source of light beyond and outside everything I have ever known, yet infusing everything I have ever known, just as my soul saw it in the House of Many Thresholds, our own sun dark compared to it.
I visualize the secret source of the river and in its turbulent spring I plunge and wash myself, the water as clear as the clearest crystal, colder than the coldest stone at dawn. I visualize myself rising from the spring washed clean of everything that has gone before... And then, and only then, I begin to speak.
At first, what I say is no more than the expected words anyone would use honouring the prince and his forbears, but then I startle them all by breaking tradition and standing up. I begin to speak my own words, telling the prince that his fathers time for death has not yet come, but that from now on he will not be as strong as he has been, and the prince must prepare himself for the day when he is pharaoh.
When this day comes, I say in a voice that seems louder than any I have ever known, When this day comes you will have a task that is mightier than the expulsion of the Hyksos, mightier than the conquest of Nubia.
Open-mouthed he looks at me. I cannot afford to make a long and subtle speech, for Ma-nan is already recovering from the shock, and is reaching into the small pouch I know he keeps hidden in his kilt.
Turn the people round, beloved of god, I cry, set them to search their own hearts for the meaning behind the ancient texts, set them to listening for the voice that speaks in the silence. Behind the many names of the gods is the one beyond all names. No man can give it to you. No man can take it away from you.
I feel the icy prickling on my skin that tells me Ma-nans demons are near. I am determined to look neither to the left nor the right, where they are lurking in the shadows, but stare, as before, only in to the eyes of the prince. Above his head it seems to me I see the light in all its splendour. I cry out in awe of it, holding up my arms. Around me I hear the rustling of wings and feel the air stir with their beating. Is it Muts vulture, or is it the Horus hawk? With eyes blazing, Ma-nan leaps forward waving the resin smoke that I dread in front of my nose. The instant it enters my nostrils I stagger, my body twitching convulsively, my tongue cleaving to the roof of my mouth.
Prince Amenhotep moves forward, reaching up to me, in astonishment and alarm; but two of the priests take him, one by each arm and, whispering urgently but soothingly, lead him out of the room. He looks back over his shoulder, but I see that his eyes are rolling strangely. It is more than likely the resin fumes have affected him too.
Ma-nan gives me a look of fearful malevolence, and backs out of the door after them, clanging it shut behind him. I try to get off the chair to open it before the bolt is drawn, but I cannot move. I am slumped half-on the chair, half-off, and around me in the dark I hear the howling of his familiars and see their ghastly eyes.
No, I scream. No! No! But they are already clawing at me, and my skin is coming away from my bones like the grey rotting skin of a corpse.
The dark beasts almost make me forget that I am man and have within my flesh that which is not flesh, that which cannot be touched by man or demon.
Take my flesh, I cry, trying to stop whimpering with pain. I dont need it. All that was ever mine I still have, and all that ever will be, you cannot touch.
Why do I see Djehuti here, the ibis-head, and Khnum with his potters wheel consorting with demons? Anubis with jackal-head; the wolf-head Wepwawet, and many others whose presence should give comfort. These are gods from the regions of the other world who should record with wisdom, guide and guard. Why do they consort with Apep the serpent of non-existence? Why with Ammut the Devourer, Set and Sekhmet? Round they go, their howling chilling me to the heart... demons all... all demons! Who shall I pray to if the gods are demons! Who shall be my help when there is no help?
I know Khurahtaten is trying to reach me; like a trapped golden hawk he flutters against the ceiling of the chamber, bruising his wings, his beak like the flashing of a blade moving for my benefit, pecking at an eye here, ripping an ear there. Snarling, my tormentors turn on him and leave me alone. Feathers fall from his wings as jaws snap and teeth tear. His screeching is beyond any sound the ear can hear. There is no human word can give expression to what I witness.
Shuddering, I pull my grey skin from the floor and wrap it round me like a cloak. It warms me, comforts me. It is familiar.
His claws sweep close and then are gone, the flesh of demons dripping from them.
I am alone in the dark chamber, sobbing.
What is the meaning? I plead for meaning. I as man cannot live without meaning. Without it my limbs have no strength, my heart no power. I fall back into the first chaos and know nothing.
Khurahtaten in his human guise stands before me, strong and whole.
You have seen the meaning of things corrupted. You have seen the image and the cipher take the place of those truths they were chosen, in the ancient time, to represent. Priests now play the gods like counters in a game of senet: kings move them like the knuckles of their own hands. You have been tormented by the shadows of shadows, the withered shell of a good that has lost its goodness; of a protector that no longer protects; of a teacher who does not understand what he teaches; of a recorder who records what he has not witnessed...
Help me to bring back meaning to the gods, I cry.
I will help you, if you help yourself. I must not play you like a counter in the game of senet. I must not move you like the knuckles of my hand.
I will help myself, if you help me.
This bargain is well struck. See the light is a seal on it.
I look around and the dark room is light. I have confidence. I can see. But Khurahtaten, my counsellor and friend, my defender and mentor, is no longer there.
I look at the heavy wooden door. I know the huge bolt will be in place on the other side. Ma-nan will want me dead.
I sit back in the oracles chair. I compose myself; calming my breath; straightening my back; my arms lying on the two arms of the chair. My ka, half in my body and half out, folds its luminous wings around me like a healing cloak, its head resting on my head, its eyes looking through the door, through the carved walls of the shrine in the sanctuary to the silver statue of Amun-Ra resting in its jewelled boat. Amun the Unseen, ceasing to be as soon as seen. Amun the creator of multiplicity out of potential: become the destroyer out of greed. My gaze is so intense that the metal seems to melt and run, until there is nothing left in the shrine but a shapeless pool of molten silver and a few deformed gems, their crystal shapes mutilated by the jeweller.
My next task is to release the inspiration that in the beginning brought Amun into existence.
My fleshly brows are frowning, but the soul-bird who rests his head upon my head, is smiling. The joy of recognition darts from his heart to the heart of the god, and, from horizon to horizon, the images of Amun give forth the song they were meant to sing. In temple after temple, horrified, the priests shut their ears, slam shut the doors, trembling as the pillars of the holy halls shake and rumble, the statues of mighty kings tumble down.
Here at Waset in the southern sanctuary I hear footsteps running, and see the priests gathering in the hall, approaching the shrine with cries of astonishment as light blazes out of it.
The shaking of the building dislodges the bar across the door of my prison. Ma-nan, Na-aghte, Ay and the other priests gasp as I stand before them, the wings of my soul spread above me with feathers of light. My eyes, my own two, and the one Horus has lent me on my forehead, seeing into the roots of their souls, the shrine doors opening, and from them the Unseen gliding away like a breath of wind, the shrine left empty.
HE RETURNS WHERE HE BELONGS, IN THE ONE.
Are these my words? They come from my mouth like thunder. Yet I have not spoken.
I begin to shiver, remembering suddenly that I have no name.
The eyes of my body gaze across the chamber, and see the young prince once again. He has heard what Not-I have said. He has heard.
The wings of my soul are folded in my heart once more.
I walk with careful dignity across the room to the far side that leads out from the sanctuary to the great hall. If I do not look back perhaps they will not stop me. I intend to leave the prison of the temple and go out freely into the great world.
I hear the shout, but do not stop moving.
The prince is close now. He looks pale and bewildered but he is Pharaohs heir, and no one dare touch him.
I put myself under your protection, my lord, I say quickly to him. He looks from me to the angry faces of the priests approaching. Behind them the shrine is closed, no longer emitting light. Shadows are gathering close again.
He looks back at me, frowning, confused.
Please, my lord, I whisper urgently. It is in your gift.
He seems to make up his mind suddenly and straightens up, looking into Ma-nans fierce eyes with something of his fathers commanding strength at last.
He is to come with me, he says. He is under my protection.
He is Oracle, my lord, and cannot be taken from the temple, Ma-nan says smoothly.
I am son of Amun-Ra and to be Pharaoh of the Two Lands. I say he is to accompany me.
Ma-nan tries to control him with the magic of his gazing, but I take the prince by the arm and turn him quickly away.
My lord, I whisper urgently, there is danger here. We must go.'
He turns with me, and we walk out together.
We both know we are breaking every kind of temple rule and that we are taking a great risk, but he, as well as I, seems convinced that now it is the only course to take. We try not to hurry. We try to give the impression that we are walking out in perfect command of ourselves and with a perfect right to do so, yet I can feel by the tautness in the muscles of his arm under my hand that he is as nervous as I am.
The priests follow a little way behind. They seem nonplussed. There is no precedent for this. No rules laid down.
We do not look back until we are safely through the final courtyard and almost ready to pass under the great pylon. Then I cannot resist turning my head to look at my old enemy.
He is standing very stiff and straight, his eyes blazing at me, and, as clearly as though he were saying the words aloud, I hear his thoughts: You are dead, Nameless One. And in your death there will be no journey to the kingdom of Osiris. You will be dead beyond all death, and I will see your soul pinned for ever to your rotting bones. There will be no going out and coming in. No travelling through time and walking in other bodies on this earth. You without a name, will never have a name
I shudder. The curse is the most fearsome I have ever heard, and I believe he has the power to implement it.
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