National Novel Writing Month – Chapter 6
Just wanted to share the remainder of National Novel Writing Month. It’s definitely a draft and could use some more work, but it was still fun.
Peleus stood on the wooden deck of the merchant’s ship. Achelos stood beside him. The crew nervously shuffled back and forth. More than a few of them wore bandages, signs of the attack they had suffered. A tall dark skinned man watched the two hoplites carefully, keeping a hand on the hilt of his khopesh. The old man, the one whom Peleus had defended, spoke to them.
“I am truly sorry, but I cannot take you back to Khem,” said the man in Egyptian, spreading his hands wide. “You have my apologies.”
“I don’t understand,” Peleus said. He swallowed and pulled his helmet more tightly under his arm. He had been certain that the Egyptian would have allowed them to return with them. “We will help defend you if you are attacked. We ask for nothing more than a chance to travel with you. We can offer money to pay for our food. We will pay for your passage. We are Corinthians and come from a city of sailors. We have strong backs and can work your oars.”
A breeze blew across the sea and the Egyptian vessel gently bobbed back and forth in response. The older man stayed silent, and for the first time in years, Peleus doubted his command of Egyptian. Had he misspoken? Did the man understand him?
The crew stood quietly, waiting for their master’s response. The man’s brow furrowed and he rubbed his beard, then looked back at Peleus.
“Again, I am sorry. Please understand that I am not a merchant hoping to bring back goods to trade. My name is Sohar. I am a priest. The treasures that I brought with me are sacred and must be protected. We are now in exile.”
“In exile from Khem? Why?”
“There is no Khem anymore, not truly. The land has fallen to Set, the lord of evil, master of scorpions. With foul treason and deathly poisons, he has murdered the pharaoh of the gods, the spirit of Khem, mighty Osiris himself. The pharaoh of the gods is the spirit of the land itself. I thank you for defending me, but I cannot return. I am entrusted with the treasures of the gods. Khem has fallen.”
Beside Peleus, Achelos cleared his throat. Not understanding a word of Egyptian, he asked, “Is everything going well? No one looks happy.”
Peleus said quietly in Greek, “It’s fine. I’ll explain later.”
Priest Sohar nodded to Peleus, his eyes filled with understanding and sadness. Peleus was surprised that the priest didn’t find Achelos’ interruption insulting. When Sohar spoke, he gazed out over the sea as if he were witnessing the events that he spoke of. “The battle of the gods has ended, in a terrible final conflict. Legions of warriors fought on both sides. The Nile herself ran red with the blood of the fallen. Other terrible things rose out of the river and crawled from the desert to battle for each side. Swarms of scorpions stung men to death, only to have their stingers break on the backs of Sobek’s children. Sorcerers and magicians flung curses back and forth, and above all of it, the gods themselves waged war.”
Sohar wiped his eyes, and his shoulders sagged. He seemed to age as he stood in front of Peleus. A few of the crew members moved protectively toward him. Peleus now noticed that many of them had sacred tattoos and shaved heads. He wondered if they all were priests.
“Osiris died. It was Set’s blade that pierced him, cutting open his heart and filling his veins with black poison. The god of life is dead. The pharaoh of the gods has fallen. The minions of Set ravage the land. The dead rise from their resting places. Apep, the dread serpent, hungers to devour the sun itself. The land itself is tortured with sandstorms, locusts and plagues. The ground itself shakes in agony. All has been lost. These relics that I possess must be kept safe until the forces of Set are driven away or until time itself ends. I have failed even in that. So many things were recovered, but others have been lost.”
“Is there any hope?”
“Perhaps Ra has strength, but Apep taxes his power each night as the serpent tries to devour the sun. I do not know where to find hope.” Sohar waved his hand over his head. “These events are beyond even a man such as myself.”
“What do you mean?”
Sohar paused. “I am a priest of Osiris.”
“The sun god, Ra, who I know as Helios, spoke to me in a dream. I know it was him. I need to go to Khem. I believe he wants me to go.” Peleus felt sick. Why should he go to a land that had fallen? What good could he do there? Would it be better to face the Furies?
Then a thought struck him. Perhaps he could do something that would lead to redemption. Maybe he could find a way to appease the Furies. If he could serve Ra, serve his true father, then perhaps he could prove to the Furies that Helios was his father. Maybe they could forgive him for what happened. Even if they didn’t, wasn’t the power of a god far greater than that of the Furies?
Sohar nodded. “Helios is the Hellene name for Ra. Go to him. Unfortunately, I cannot travel with you. I must serve Osiris as best I can, and that is by remaining here in exile and keep his memory alive. And here, I will give you something.” He reached into the folds of his clothes and drew forth a golden necklace. “An amulet with the sun disk, blessed by a priestess of Isis. Wear it as a sign of your devotion to Ra. May it protect you. As for your travels, there are many ships in this harbor. If you cannot find a vessel going to Khem, I know that there are traders who sail to Rhodes. The worship of Helios is strong there. If he guides you, he will provide your passage to Khem.”
Peleus held the amulet in his hand. It was heavy, a sure sign that it was gold. The bright disc caught the true light of the sun in the heavens above. Peleus took it as a good omen. He handed his helm to Achelos and then put on the amulet.
“Thank you. I will send word when you can return to your homeland. May the gods watch over you, Sohar, priest of Osiris,” said Peleus.
Peleus walked off the Egyptian vessel and onto the docks with Achelos following. Achelos handed him his helmet.
“So,” said Achelos, “I’m guessing that we aren’t going to start our heroic odyssey on an Egyptian ship?”
“That’s correct. He’s planning to stay. There’s been a war between worshippers of Set and Osiris. Osiris lost.”
“So, how does he fit in?”
“He’s a priest of Osiris.”
“Okay. So, now what?”
“We find a ship to Rhodes,” said Peleus.
“May I make a request?”
“Let’s not take an Egyptian ship. They may be an ancient people with lore and wisdom from the days of the Titans, but they don’t know how to sail the way Hellenes do.”
Peleus had to agree with Achelos. The Egyptian ships didn’t cut through the water the way a true Hellenic ship would, yet another reason why Corinth and Athens both made arguments that each city ruled the waters. In any event, the Persians wouldn’t argue with either one.
Fortunately, Peleus and Achelos saw some slaves transporting amphorae filled with olive oil onto a ship. A few inquires and an exchange of coins later and both men had booked passage to Rhodes.
“Perhaps, friend Peleus, you will have good fortune in Rhodes. You know that men call it the Isle of the Sun.”
“I like the sound of that. It’s strange, isn’t it, Achelos? Yesterday, I knew the exact course that my life would take. I would inherit the business that my mother has run…”
“May I point out that technically it’s your business since it’s under your name?”
Peleus laughed. “True enough, but everyone knows that it’s my mother’s. Besides, no one would expect me to weave.”
“True enough,” replied Achelos.
“Anyway, who could have guessed that I’d be fleeing my home and heading into the middle of a war in Egypt.”
“Ah, my friend,” said Achelos, “the Fates have their own plans. Besides, you needed to get into trouble. After all, it’s my destiny to be a glorious hero. But, make sure you have your shield to guard my side.”
They both laughed. “I promise,” said Peleus.
The two passengers went below decks. Peleus was suddenly tired, but he wasn’t sure that he wanted to try to sleep.