Excerpt: Sunworshipper by Medini Summers
Author: Medini Summers
Genre: Historical fiction
Plucked from obscurity in the deeps of the harem, Akhenaten Wa’enre, a callow youth, accedes to the throne of Egypt, the mightiest power of the lands of Middle Earth, Africa and Asia together. Nefertiti becomes his ‘Great Wife’ and spiritual companion.
The boy king is disinclined to shoulder the mundane business of kingship. His senior statesmen, Ay, Panhessy and Perennfer must bear the burdens of governance on his behalf. Akhenaten does not, however, forego his rights to the vast treasury of Egypt or to the gold that inflates his coffers from the mines of Nubia and Asia.
Wa’enre is not a king in the traditional sense – athlete, hunter, smiter of the Asians; his reign has a priestly flavor rather than a military one. His ambition is to return Egypt to the religion of older times, the worship of the Sun God Re, and the ‘First Principles’ of Maat – tolerance, truth, justice and balance.
In accordance with her woman’s nature Nefertiti yearns for a depth of passion that Akhenaten cannot inspire in her. Her indiscretion with the treacherous Captain Horemheb is to haunt her for the length of her tenure as Queen of Egypt, a mistake which will invest the rule of Akhenaten with terrors and pitfalls.
Once the Aten temples have been established at South Karnak, Akhenaten launches his career as a zealot king in support of the religion of Re, its temples and priesthood, fomenting rebellion and dangerous assassination plots.
Medini Summers has been an author for twenty years, in which time 9 books have been created. Four fiction books of an ancient history cycle and one historical novel of 1850 are now available on Amazon Kindle Books. There are two collections - Fairy Tales and Animal Stories for Young and Old.
Medini lives in the reburbished Christchurch, New Zealand, and shares her house with a flatmate and three precious felines.
Droplets of hot sweat slip down the valleys of my ribs into the folded sash of my linen skirt, like raindrops on the bare bones of rock. Though it makes me shiver it does little to alleviate the cloying heat of mid-evening summer. I have shrunk into the shadow of a gauntly-weathered stump to listen, my thin arms scrabbling at the tree, the manicured nails of my soft fingers splitting. Carefully I suppress the wheeze of my breath so that I can detect a crackle of leaves or a breaking of twigs. That? What is it?
With terrifying force a whine of wind passes my head in a flurry. An arrow is embedded into a tree directly in front of me. My cautious flight is abandoned. I burst from cover and dash heedlessly through the dense forest, thrashing wildly at the spiny shrubs. A tamarisk tree cuts my arm deeply with one of its fierce thorns. Where I am fleeing to I do not know. Is there anywhere that is safe? My sense is that only in flight, in swiftly outstripping my murderers, is there any hope. This forest is endless, and I am trapped in its bounds.
Amongst a pile of rocks a dark hole, so low I have nearly missed it. ‘Tis only large enough for a jackal to squeeze through. I drop down and wriggle on my bony elbows into the earth burrow, lacerating my skin. Then twist myself round until I am facing the exit. I wait, my breathing stilled. Now I am truly terrified, for I am penned in a trap of my own making. Within seconds the soft slip-slap of the hunter’s grass-sandled feet. I make as though I am dead as the two appendages stand contra-posto a cubit from of my bulging eyes. If I was of a mind I could reach out and stroke the knobbly toes. Then begins an evocative dance as the feet shuffle this way and that. My eyes bulge, helplessly captured by the graceless shimmy. The assassin’s thoughts are loud and angry. He thinks me a creature of air, so mysteriously disappeared from sight. I hear a frustrated huffing as he gives up the chase and moves away. Might I soon be safe?
With a tortured moan, I wake. The cursed nightmare again. I am scrunched into a ball. My linen bed cover is sticky with my sweat, my arm has a small puncture wound that spots the buff-colored sheet. In my extremity, I see that I have scratched myself with my long nails. Relief at my deliverance is so sweet that I luxuriate in a sense of safety, a feeling almost euphoric; but what does this precursor mean? I determine that the effect of my dread vision will not haunt my days and nights for time to come. Within moments the dreaming sequences are fading back into the night landscape of the Otherworld.
Streaks of pale light grope like searching ghosts through the high slit of the embrasure. Noting that dawn is close, I shake my head, trying to dislodge my incoming thoughts. Finally the weight of what this day has to offer disposes of my dreaming woes. Illogically, I now want to retreat into sleep once more. But I must face up to my challenges. There is to be no avoiding. Day has laid claim to me.
I know that I would not appear so inadequate to the business of proving my manhood with my dear Mery and Ahm beside me. We three are scholars and dreamers, friends and adventurers. Our minds follow different courses to those my father has set for me. Let me never be separated from them again.
This tour of inspection of the Nubian fortresses by Commander May is the ground for my training – for the melding of a son into his father’s image; as so handsomely depicted in stone – the hunter, athlete, soldier, subduer of the Asians – the ever powerful – Nebmaetre, Amenophis iii, Golden Horus, King of Upper and Lower Egypt. Alas, if anyone were to match that description with me, also called Amenophis, it would only appear comical, for I am in every way opposed to these warriorlike characteristics. But, if the truth be known, these endowments do not apply to my father, either. It is all so much plumping of his aspect to make him appear fearsome and to awe the populace.
If anyone were to be interested, and they are not, I would let them know that I am against all this fighting and hunting nonsense. It is all about my father’s will and no one else’s. But when I inherit the kingdom, when I am a king in fact, I will change the nature of things. I will create a better world, one in which all things are equal, and in which I will appear as a person of consequence. Yes.
The pleasant dreaminess upon wakening has drifted off. In its place come less than happy thoughts. “My Thuthmosis, I miss you,” I whisper, though there is no one to heed me. My beautiful brother was in the vigor of his early manhood when he sickened. The pain of his loss by early death is constantly with me. Thuthmosis was strong but affectionate, brave but sweet. Although we were the opposite of each other we fitted. I was the necessary, awkward shadow of his fine, personal accomplishments. He, who embodied the ideals of society and of kingship. And yet, he did not think me lesser or weaker than himself, but protected me from the ridicule of others with the ferocity of deep attachment.
There were no maddening visions in my brother’s time. Only since his death have they appeared.
Perhaps I should have made the journey to Amenti with Thuthmosis, to the Judgment Hall of Osiris, the Hall of Truth. Surely that reality would be more familiar for me than this very place. Our hearts weighed together in the Great Balance would have been equal to the Feather of Truth, – Anubis the jackal, ghoul dog of the dead, steadying the pointer of the balance and Thoth, the wise one, scribing on his palette with his reed pen the movements of the balance upon each of our denials of wrongdoing. – ‘I have done no evil. I have not robbed. I have not coveted.’ *1 Behind them, shadowlike, would be Ammut, the devourer of wicked souls. Once the judgment of Osiris was made to our benefit, we would proceed to the ‘Sekhet-Hetep,’ ‘The Fields of Peace’ with the blessings of the gods. My brother and I might have lived there free of care, – ‘Pure of Voice, Justified.’ *2
Most hopefully, when all was over, we would have ascended to the abode of Re. To join him in his Manjet Barque of a Million Years, to sail across the firmament, ‘rejoicing in the Horizon as Re Harakhty in his aspect of light which is in the Sun-disc.’ *3
This is how he sends his blessings to the world in the time between times, and this is what I believe.
Since my beloved one was snatched from me, my whole being has craved a different existence – one in which the burdens of this reality can be dissolved into something more kindly, more at one with who I am.
I drag my mind back from its source. Today they will try to teach me how best to kill a man; and how best to avoid the same fate, myself. Tomorrow they will attempt to teach me how to outwit a wild beast and then how best to kill it. But hunting is not my sport, killing is not my pleasure. I could not despoil or hurt any living thing. I love earth’s creatures. Wishing they could see that I am not the one my father wants me to be, I sigh regretfully.
The gray tendrils of light are suffused with gold, streaming through the aperture above the bed. The oval-shaped wine jar, suspended from its triangular, wooden stand, offers comfort. But, no, another desire swiftly outstrips that one. I rise from my bovine-legged bed and scramble across its taut, leather-woven base to a low table positioned below the opening, trying to ignore the headache that is crunching into the back of my spine and the sharp squalls of my dreaming that still clutter the edge of my mind.
The silly, cross-hatched stools with leather seats are scattered about. I have always found them uncomfortable, too flimsy to be useful. A half-moon, sleeping headrest has also been discarded by me. It feels spartan. I have found a soft pillow to replace it. My table beside the bed is loaded with papyri for my perusal. ’Tis many years since I first took the path of scholarship.
The flaking paint on the walls bothers me; gold and ivory inlays in the furniture have long disappeared, roughly dug out by some fortune hunter; blue lapis and blue faience bead inlays in the walls give what little color the room will allow. I do love a little color. It creates a mood. Tiles of faded fish and birds have covered the floor for many decades. Some are chipped and over by the door one is missing, prised from the floor intact. These apartments were built in the Middle Kingdom for the use of the royalty on tour. Obviously they have not been refurbished since then – a very long time ago.
It is not what I am used to. My suite at the Malqatta Palace on the East Bank at Thebes is not opulent, but it is so much better than this, clean and in good order. This poor accommodation demonstrates to me that I still have nothing to declare my status. Just a little effort to tidy and beautify would have reassured me.
I can’t quite see through the gap above my head. More height is needed. A drab, leather, wall hanging catches my eye, a faded representation of some remote pharoah of the Middle Kingdom when the fort was built. Snatching it down, I bring down a shower of plaster. Doubtless this will be reported to May. My conduct is to be monitored. The roll the cloth makes gives me a hoist to afford a perfect view.
Before me is the L-shaped fortress that has been built into a natural, rocky hill. There are apartments surrounding a courtyard, skirted by massive mud-brick walls. The first of these is forty-five royal cubits tall by twenty-five thick. My God, that is the height of fifteen men by eight men. Flanking it, the second is lower with an inner courtyard between the two. Below the fortifications is the village. On my way up to the fort I noticed a temple, some fields of crops, temple cattle, local goats and sheep and an aggregate of acacias, tamarisks and one sacred ished tree. Though it has all the ingredients to support life, this little town is still an alien, barren place. Beyond the village is the Nile, flowing lazily as it awaits the kiss of the Sun God.
I have been urged to observe the local practices. The science of agriculture and of food growing has been a part of my curriculum. It seems that the peasants here use the acacia’s seed pods for fattening the cattle and its wood for making excellent bows and arrows for the use of the Ta Seti archers.
The eastern desert brightens. Its mounds are tipped with rose. Rays of the sun begin to penetrate the land. I long for them to lighten my spirit, to seep through my veins as wine does. “Ah!” I sigh – Re has found me. Slowly, serenely, I am penetrated by the long, slanting arms of the Disc; within minutes unwanted burdens drop away, the demons of the night world dissipate, my headache dissolves. This is who I am. I am not the other confused youth; I am in my element; my element is fire – the fire of life. I want to be a Son of Re – in all his attributes, undaunted, omniscient and worthy of admiration.
In this moment of the splendor of the God Re, I am boldly interrupted. Though I did not hear him knock, Commander May strides into the room, thrusting the day’s activity right in my face. He looks at me strangely then says, “Amenophis,” ’tis time to take the morning exercises before breaking fast.”
“Huh! Uh!” I reply with little aplomb. Sighing deeply, I regard him with sad affection, and inquire, “So what delectable sport have you devised for my amusement this day, my uncle?”
Seeming not to know whether to pity me or to think me foolish, May answers, “Young Prince, I think you know. You must learn proficiency in each of the arts of war – spear throwing, close contact axe-fighting, sling-shooting and archery, both from a standing point and from a racing chariot.”
A profound sigh escapes me. “Oh, my! And all before breakfast.”
May does not respond to my jibe but remains remote and authoritarian. “Come along, Amenophis.”
“Just give me a minute,” I beg.
He allows me some moments to attire myself. As I follow May from the room, the power of Re is still in me; therefore I am hopeful of acquitting myself with some merit. I do wish to please my uncle May, thereby my father – the King. I would have their admiration sooner than their censure. So I patter along behind the sturdy back and graying locks of Commander May. Alone amongst the Egyptian nobility, he does not affect the prevailing fashion in wigs and headdresses. His hair is cropped short and straight; military, it looks. And he wears a drab tunic, short to the knee.
For myself, I like to be up to the moment. A short, braided, Nubian-style wig hugs my shaved head. I am painfully aware of my unusual, flattened, elongated skull. Why I am made so different, I don’t know. Neither Tiye, nor my father, have any such characteristics. It makes me wonder if I am their true son. But, no, that is a dangerous assumption. I cannot afford to think in those terms. Anyway, the wig hides all that.
I wear a white, pleated skirt with a sash at the waist. This sash is fulsomely wide and falls to my knees. A generous, wide, wesekht collar, with lapis and carnelian stones, faience and gold, is heavy in this heat but it makes me look the part. Carnelian is obtained from pebbles in our own eastern desert. Lapis-Lazuli, with its brilliant blue hue, comes from Eastern Asia. Gold snake armlets slither around my upper arms, disguising the lack of biceps. And fine leather sandals complete the picture. Caring enough to look well is part of a noble bearing – kohl-lined eyes and blackened eyelashes, with a touch of frankincense behind the ears.
May has not found the time to do the same, I can tell. He has a musky tang which communicates masculinity.
I trail behind him, wondering if he would make a good first choice for my new retinue. I feel a foundation of trust taking root between us. He has been a faithful servitor of my father these many years.
We exit the barrack building. Within the battlemented and bastioned walls is a courtyard, about half the area of the whole fortress. Ta Seti archers of Nubia are practicing shooting at targets with their bows, their burnished skin darkening yet further under the blazing sun. Each one cocks an eye toward May, their Commander. Their Medjay brothers, fierce warriors all, are using wooden, practice spears and axes in hand to hand jousting. A major part of the army in this area is comprised of the local Nubian lads. They also make good policemen and can be found in most of the cities of Egypt.
The sling-shot soldiers are without the wall, honing their formidable skills. Each and every one of the soldiers wears a short skirt with wide sash, the colors of which pertain to their particular army battalion. Their hair is undressed, cropped short. The whole scene is frightening, causing me to shudder.
In a moment of clarity May turns to me, “Which of the disciplines do you think you might have an aptitude for? Is there a preference?”
I pause, feeling bewildered. When have my feelings ever been consulted before? My mind registers a blank. When it clears sufficiently, I am able to make a choice, “The archers who are charioteers; they interest me. Perhaps I might try the composite bow.”
“Ah, a good choice, but a hard one. The composite bow is difficult to master.”
“Then I will be its friend,” I say wistfully.
“Would you like to make another choice?”
“Hum, ah, I don’t know, perhaps; what do you think?”
Before I can wilt any further, May presents me to Ikht, a youth of the fort, who is in training for the most junior rank of soldiery. I watch as Ikht shows me the finely-crafted, composite bow, its twirled ends supporting the pig-gut cord. The horn centre-piece strengthens the weapon, giving extra volition to the arrow. Ikht demonstrates by unleashing an arrow at the target. It strikes the outermost circle of the blackened, target board.
Faking confidence, I grasp the instrument purposefully. But it is difficult to suppress the tremors which are raking through me. Having notched an arrow, I draw back on the cord; back, back, inch by inch, then release. With a juddering twang, the arrow drops to the ground. “Uh, Uh!” I mutter, my wry humor having fled. My shoulders heave and my eyes dive.
“Try again. Don’t give up,” May encourages.
So, again I try. With the same result – over and over. My thin arms lack the strength to stretch the bow taut. On the tenth try the arrow advances a few paces then falls to the dirt. A number of conscripts are gathering to watch the spectacle. Some are laughing and pointing. Do they really think that I am not aware that I look like an idiot? Knowing I am a figure of fun, I keep on. Though I hate this, I cannot afford to give up. On the twentieth attempt, finally, I hit the target.
A concerted “Oh!” rises from those unkind spectators, who then go back to their proper pursuits.
Putting down the bow with deliberate care, I say quietly, “I believe I am ready for the war axe.” My face is downcast, my cheeks radiating. I suffer for my lack of dexterity.
This is how it goes throughout the next hour. With an inability to follow the teacher’s instruction, I teeter through the exercises. In each I achieve a minimum of skill at high cost to myself. Before the clamor of the morning meal bell, I am exhausted and crumpled. May escorts me to my rooms and shuts me in with my anxiety.