Besides writing, I love roleplaying, board games and miniatures. I use the games as inspiration for my writing as well as playsets for game designs.
For something different, I thought I’d share a few things currently on my painting table.
First, I recently received Zombicide: Black Plague from a kickstarter. The image shows a few of the heroes who are in progress. I really like Xuxa who is a Xena homage on the left. I need to get her face done. She’s amazing in the game. I have a number of others calling to me.
I’ve also been on a mythical Egypt theme for a while. I apologize for the blurry picture but that’s a Wargods of Aegyptus Asar heroine surrounded by some Reaper Bones mummies. You can see a British looking wounded Games Workshop wounded Praetorian with his legs sticking out behind a mummy and a Wargods elephant in the background. Read the rest of this entry
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.
Okay, I am a firm believer that writing over long periods has more to do with sleep management than anything else (except for time sitting in front of a keyboard). Anyway, I got some sleep and finally started catching up. To quote one of my favorite people “Allons-y”!
Chapter 5 – Leaving Corinth
Peleus caught his breath as he passed inside the long walls of Corinth proper. Since he had woken in the eastern port on the Sea of the Ionians, he had paused only to dress, tell his commander that he had served his time guarding the Diolkos, and then run the miles to Corinth proper.
He needed to find his mother. He had to know the truth about what he had done. Had Iphicles been his father? Did Macedonian blood flow through his veins?
Would the Furies come for him?
Once his throat felt as if his heart was no longer pounding inside of it, he pressed on. The Acrocorinth loomed above him, a great rock upon which stood the mighty temple of Helios and the temple of Aphrodite herself.
It did not take long to arrive at his mother’s workshop. Slaves aplenty were already bringing in wool and dyes, and a gray-haired Phoenician and his entourage were negotiating with Peleus’ mother.
“Peleus!” she shouted as she saw him. She waved her hands quickly. “Fortune favors us, my friends. My son has arrived, and his command of your language is far better than my own.”
Peleus saluted the visitors as he took a steadying breath. He wasn’t sure if his heart beat because of the speed which he had crossed the isthmus or out of anticipation of confronting his mother.
“Has there been an attack?” asked the merchant in Phoenician, directing the question to Peleus.
Peleus was surprised by the question. He gripped his helmet tightly as he held it under his arm, aware of the horsehair crest against his skin. “An attack?” he replied in Phoenician. “No.” He paused, “Why do you ask?”
“You seem out of breath. Since you are a soldier, I thought that there might have been an attack. My apologies, but it seems that you Hellenes are always fighting wars. I have trouble keeping track of the alliances. Corinth remains allied with Sparta, doesn’t it?”
“We have been allied with Sparta in the past against Athens, though some would say that Sparta was fortunate to have Corinth as its ally. They may have strength on land, but only our warships can challenge Athens. However, we don’t support their recent attacks against Thebes nor their willingness to lead expeditions into Persia herself,” said Peleus, feeling a sense of pride in his city, but wishing that he knew how to say something than sounded less like the words of a strategos and more like the intelligent response of a diplomat. “But, my apologies for being out of breath. I was in a hurry, as I have some news for my mother, but it will wait. How may we help you?”
His mother glanced at him, obviously able to follow the conversation. He knew she wondered what news he might have, but she was willing to let it wait.
“Ah,” said the Phoenician, now only interested in business, “I have some expensive dyes to sell, and I think that with the announcements regarding the temple, your mother will have the opportunity to make a good profit off of them, as I’m sure that there will be a festival.”
“What announcements?” asked Peleus in Phoenician. Before the merchant could answer, Peleus looked to his mother in surprise and asked her in Greek. “The merchant speaks of an announcement regarding the temple.”
Peleus’ mother looked concerned, but spoke plainly. “Word has come from Delphi that the Oracle has said that the one who we worship as Helios is not a Titan at all. The priests say that Apollo himself watches over Corinth, and the temple will be rededicated and the priests shall offer their services to Apollo instead of Helios.” She added, “I will speak to you about it more, but it means that the sun on your shield represents Apollo himself.”
Peleus fell silent. The Olympian, Apollo, worshipped instead of Helios? The priests said that in the days before Corinthos himself, when the mighty city-state had been but a collection of villages, still men had gathered on the Acrocorinth to sacrifice to Helios and praise the sun. This was a ploy, a lie, a grab for power by Delphi, perhaps engineered by the corrupt leaders of Athens, the jealous merchants of Argos or even vain Sparta. The affairs of cities and countries were not something he could change, but now, they affected his god, his father.
He felt his face flush, but he let his breath out slowly, forcing himself to become calm. There was a merchant here, and he managed a smile. “Indeed,” he said in Phoenician, “the Fates weave many opportunities.”
The conversation continued through dyes and fabrics and turned to the delivery of shipments and the exchange of gold. For Peleus, the talk gave him a chance to let his emotions subside and gave him time to think about the revelations of the morning and the day before. He had no answers, but he felt that he might be able to let reason guide him instead of his passions. Finally, the Phoenician departed, seeming pleased, and he was able to retreat to a back room in the workshop and speak to his mother.
“Thank you, my son. If you didn’t have to spend so much time behind your shield, you would earn great wealth for our family. You have such a gift for speech and for reading and writing. You know, I was often told that you should join the priesthood.” Her voice was soft and she gently touched him on the shoulder.
“You mean the priesthood that has betrayed my father, Helios, and given over all of his works to Apollo at the behest of some drug-ridden priestess from a far off land?” Anger filled his words, and he regretted the tone immediately. He didn’t want to vent his anger or even his fear upon his mother, but something inside him inflamed his tongue and forced the emotion out of him.
“Peleus, I know that you understand that Helios isn’t your true father. All the boys without a father are said to be sons of Helios, just as all the girls are said to be daughters of Aphrodite.”
“And what of a Macedonian mercenary named Iphicles who once loved a priestess of Aphrodite named Dione? What of him?”
The silence was dreadful. Peleus felt as if Zeus himself had thrown a thunderbolt down in the room, yet there was no sound at all. His mother’s face was strange, as if she were a statue and the sculptor who carved her had not known what expression to create and had tried to show everything and nothing at the same time.
“How do you know of him?” she whispered. She blinked several times, and her eyes became wider with each blink. “How? Was he involved in the incident yesterday?”
“Yes,” said Peleus, now blinking himself. His words came out more slowly now, though his face flushed again. “As was I.”
“I feared you might be, but after all this time, I’m not going to close the workshop to find out if you were hurt every time blood is spilled on the Diolkos. Is he…?”
“He is dead.”
She gasped. “No.”
“I killed him.”
“What?” She flew to her feet. “You killed him?” The strange lack of expression was now replaced by the most terrified look Peleus had ever seen.
“I killed him.”
“Peleus, he was your father!”
“Mother, Helios is my father! He has always been my father. He is the only father I ever knew.”
“No, no, no,” she said.
“Why didn’t you tell me his name? Why couldn’t you have warned me?” he asked, gesturing dramatically. His helm fell from where he had held it beneath his arm with a clatter. “You knew! I didn’t.”
It was as if his mother had aged decades in moments. She kept shaking her head. “Aphrodite, why have you let this come to pass? What curse have you placed on me for leaving your service? Why didn’t you torture me? Why did you let this horrible thing happen to my son, my only child, my baby?” She leaned her head back and gazed at the ceiling. Tears swam down her cheeks. “Why?” She started choking and coughing, and then slipped slowly down into a heap on the floor.
Peleus bent down to her. “Mother, what is done is done. I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Last night, a dream came to me, a terrible horrifying dream that seemed as real as you are now.”
She continued to sob. If she heard him, she gave no sign.
“Mother, the Furies tried to take me.”
A sob caught in her throat. “The Furies? No! Aphrodite, no! Son, you cannot escape them. You know the stories of their unquenchable thirst for justice. You will die for your crime, a crime that I could have prevented. He didn’t know. I thought he must have been killed, but now, I have killed you both.”
Peleus knelt down in front of his mother. He tenderly embraced her. “Mother, dear wonderful Mother, I do not blame you for what has happened. The strands of my life are woven by the Fates. We cannot change the past. I know the stories, and I know that many men have fled the Furies.”
“But none ever escaped.”
“Perhaps there is no escape forever, but the thought of traveling to other lands, to use my gifts and experience the world has an allure to me. I will take the time that I am given, but I am not so sure that the Furies are unstoppable. If my crime is killing my father, then I will argue with my last breath that I am innocent. Helios has always been my father. He is the one I spoke to in my heart when I struggled. When I stare at his statue, I feel his inspiration. I have tried to prove worthy of him, just as any son wishes to make his father proud.”
“Helios cannot protect you.”
“He already has. I called to him in my dream, and he drove off the Furies.” Peleus squeezed her a little more tightly, careful not to press her too hard against his armor. “Helios will protect me.” He chose not to mention the woman who spoke Egyptian. “Mother… did you love him? Iphicles?”
A bitter sound came from his mother. “We loved, and he showered me with gifts and fortune, but then he left and he never returned. I loved that he gave me you, but if I had loved him, truly loved him, you would never have doubted who your father was.”
“I never have doubted who my father is. I know.”
They both stood. She wiped her tears away. Resolve filled her face. His mother had always been strong and now, she was so again. “If you are to flee, you must do so. The Furies will not hesitate, they will not pause, and they will pursue you until the ends of the earth, until the end of your days. I will give you gold, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
“I’ll gladly take the gift of gold, and I will carry with me my provisions and equipment from campaigning. Please explain when my time of service comes and I am not found that I will return to serve Corinth when I am able. I love my city, and I always want to know that I could return. And I will return.”
“Aphrodite took Iphicles because I told her that I would leave her service. Now, she takes my son.”
Peleus decided not to argue. All of the talk of the gods made him think of his dream and the lashes of the Furies. It was time to leave. He picked up his helm.
His mother gave him a pouch of coins, all marked with the Pegasus of Corinth. Peleus briefly wondered if such coins would become strange to him after years of travel, but he quickly dismissed that thought. This was the time to flee the Furies, not to contemplate all that he was losing.
He said farewell to some of the slaves who he respected and liked. He considered that he was not much different from those whom the Fates had placed on the wrong side in the wars with Athens and her league. He shared a last embrace with his mother.
“I love you, Mother. I will return.”
“I love you, my son. May the Fates be kind.”
He walked the road back to the sea of the Ionians. He had passed out of the gate of Corinth proper, when he encountered a familiar figure.
“Thank the gods that I didn’t have to scour the entire Peloponnesus for you. Was there a problem at home? Is your mother okay?” asked Achelos. “Or were you trying to explain that you killed a mercenary captain? You know that I’m sure she had heard already.”
“Achelos, we have been friends all of our lives,” Peleus started, continued to walk along the road.
Achelos joined him and sighed. “Yes, well, that’s true, but I’ve never really liked you.”
Both men laughed.
“That man that I killed yesterday wasn’t just a mercenary captain.”
“I know. He sired you, and you killed him.”
Peleus stopped. “How did you know?”
Achelos looked down and cleared his throat. “I realize that you were unaware of anything but your duel, but I was next to you and I did hear him whisper the name Dione when he was dying, and I know your mother’s name, oh, and then there was the way you didn’t speak or say anything afterward and returned to the eastern barracks and went to bed though it was barely afternoon. Now, I understand that I might not be a great philosopher, but I’m not an idiot either.” Despite the hint of a mocking smile on his face, Peleus saw nothing but concern and sympathy in his friend’s eyes.
“I need to find the Egyptian merchant.”
“That’s easy enough. So, are you going to be okay? I mean, considering what normally passes for okay when it comes to you – practicing overly hard against invisible opponents while trying to make up words so that even Persians pretend to understand you, and staring with wonder and amazement at ships moving across the isthmus, that sort of thing.”
“I’m doing my best,” answered Peleus.
The two men walked together beneath the blue sky, past green scrub and brown hills. They said nothing, but Peleus found Achelos’ presence reassuring. They reached the port, passing the Pillar of Theseus which marked the separation of Ionia and the Peloponnesus, all too soon.
“I need to go. The gods spoke to me. The Furies pursue me. I have to leave Corinth, even Hellas itself. You don’t have to come with me, Achelos.”
“I know I don’t have to, but we are friends and well, I found you and dragged you into this mess. There’s the Egyptian ship ahead. The gold has been returned to them, but I think most of it went into warehouses. Some, of course, will be used to pay for our services in protecting him from the pirates.”
“What happened to the mercenaries?” Peleus asked.
“A few were sold into slavery, but most are going to stand on the border. Things are growing worse with Sparta. Thebans came to speak to our leaders and you know their opinions of the Spartans. We might even ally ourselves with the Athenians before all is said and done. The Persians are said to approve of an alliance between ourselves and Thebes. They haven’t forgotten the tales of Leonidas and the 300 any more than we have.”
Peleus sighed. He understood why the Phoenician merchant couldn’t keep track of the alliances of the city-states. He wasn’t sure if anyone could.
“I’m going to Khem.”
“May the gods watch over you. I’m sure the merchant will take you.”
“Are you coming?”
“Of course, I’m coming. As you said, we’ve been friends forever. I can’t leave you.”
“Achelos, you don’t have to do this.”
Achelos smiled. “You’re right, and I’m sorry, but I’m not. I’m not going. Just a last joke. I want to come with you, Peleus, but Furies? Egypt or Khem or whatever they call it? They have people there with animal heads. I’d be lost. Besides, I’m a Corinthian. I’ll be here, but I will promise to do one thing for you. I’ll watch out for your mother.”
Peleus chuckled. He wanted Achelos to come with him, but he understood. Leaving Corinth was madness. “Thank you, Achelos. I’ll miss you, my friend.”
The two men grasped forearms. “We are soldiers, we are brothers, we are Corinth,” they said together, repeating one of the many phrases said by the phalanx.
Peleus finally turned away and headed for the Egyptian ship. It was time to leave.
Another day and another post. I’m about 10,000 words off the pace, but strangely that seems about par for me at this point in the month. It just means that everything will get exciting at the end. Here’s the raw form of Chapter 4. Enjoy!
“High Priestess, wake up. Please, wake up. We need you.”
Azura opened her eyes slowly. Something cool pressed against her lips as gentle hands helped to raise her into a seated position. She saw familiar pillars and tiles, covered in hieroglyphics praising the gods. The gentle sound of the holy fountain welcomed her. Though she didn’t know how, she had made it home.
“Please drink, High Priestess. You need water,” said one of the young priestesses, holding a golden cup to her lips. She was more a girl than a woman, and Azura couldn’t remember her name at first. Truthfully, she could barely remember her own name. The water crossed her dry lips, and she felt it run down her throat, soothing and cooling her.
How long had she been without water? How had she returned from the Pinnacle of the Phoenix? Had she climbed the thousand stairs to the peak? Or had it been just a dream?
“There are enemies, High Priestess. We need you. You must inspire the temple guards to victory,” said the young priestess. Her name was Sakhmet. Azura smiled – pleased that her thoughts were returning.
She gazed over at the wall. Isis stood behind Osiris as he battled with Set. An emptiness grew inside Azura. She trembled.
“Child,” said a woman whose strong voice she recognized. It was Nakhat, another priestess, and currently one of the women supporting her. Nakhat addressed Sakhmet, “the High Priestess has no strength. She is wounded. Another of us must invoke the gods to aid the guards in their battle.”
Azura turned her attention to Nakhat, a tall beauty, adorned with gold bracelets, jet black hair falling straight on her shoulders. The woman had a gleam in her eyes which left Azura feeling unsettled.
“You know that it must be me, High Priestess,” Nakhat said. “Let me take the wings as my own. Let me channel the power of the gods.” She quietly whispered, “If they have any strength left to give.”
Azura tried to speak, but it was so hard. She felt as if she had fallen from the heavens and though her body had returned, her mind still soared high above. Her lips moved, but no words came out. She sipped at the water again.
“The gods still endure,” she managed.
“What did you see?” asked Sakhmet, holding the cup close to Azura.
“I reached the pinnacle. The flame burns. The sun god still has strength.”
Nakhat squeezed Azura’s shoulder, leaned closer and said, “Osiris is dead. The pharaoh, the living god, has died. The strength of the Nubian lords has failed. Set rules Khem now. Even if Ra still sails the heavens for now, how long before even he falls, before the sun fails to rise at dawn? Our only hope is to struggle, to hope that the spells of Isis protect us and that we die with our souls intact that we may travel to the land of the death and serve Osiris for eternity. I will don the wings and go to meet the enemy in your stead.”
Azura shook her head. This was wrong. “No. No. Who is this enemy? Are they the legions of Set? Who are they?” She paused, uncertain of what else to say. Images and memories swirled around her. “The necropolis,” she whispered, not exactly knowing why, “Are they from the necropolis? Are they living or dead?”
“They are not the legions of Set. They are rapacious Hellenes, mercenaries who failed the pharaoh,” said another priestess who had a familiar face with pleasant eyes, and yet, her name completely escaped Azura.
Azura had a memory of a Hellene, a criminal punished by his own gods, and yet, he called on Helios, the name which the records claimed that the ancient rulers of the rocky lands of those northern city-states had used for Ra. Had it been a vision or something that truly happened?
“Only I may wear the wings of the goddess,” said Azura with a forcefulness that felt odd, but at the same time, strength had returned to her limbs, so she stood. Perhaps this was a gift from the goddess.
“How did I return to you?” she asked the other priestesses. From outside, she could hear the shouts of the guards.
“You were found outside the temple walls, moaning and lying in the sand. We saw the burns on your shoulders and thought you had been attacked,” said young Sakhmet.
Azura reached to her shoulders, crossing her arms in front of her chest. On each one there were marks, burns that had not been there before. “Do you know what these are?”
“No,” said Nakhet. “We do not.”
Something about her tone gave Azura a sense of danger. She stared hard at Nakhet and stepped toward her. The other woman backed away.
Azura wasn’t sure of what she was about to do, but it seemed right. She hoped that her feelings came from divine inspiration and not desert-induced madness. She pointed at Nakhet. “You have betrayed Isis. You have betrayed Khem. You have whispered prayers to the god of scorpions and jackels, dread Set himself. You would despoil the sacred wings. You would give all of our souls to the lord of darkness.”
Nakhet’s reaction was sudden and fierce. She did not even try to deny the accusation. “And if I would? Set has won. The new pharaoh will be filled with his spirit, not that of Osiris. We should serve him and revere Nephthys, his wife, rather than fallen Osiris.”
With a scream, the girl Sakhmet charged into Nakhet. The older priestess tensed, and the girl drew back, but as she did, all of the priestesses saw a blade hilt jutting out of Nakhet’s stomach. An ever-widening red stain spread across her white clothes. Nakhet grasped the hilt of the blade, but fell before she could draw it out.
“Forgive me, High Priestess,” she gasped, “but there is no hope for us.”
Azura heard Sakhmet sobbing softly, and yet, the girl had done what was right. “Her soul must be weighed in judgment and she took on the burden of betraying all of us and the gods themselves. I fear we shall not see her in the afterlife.”
Azura went over to Sakhmet. “You have done well, defending Isis and all that is good even in this time of dread.” She hugged her, and the sobbing stopped. After she let go of the young priestess, she looked to the others. “I will need the wings if I am to face our enemy. I will need the signs of the gods painted on my flesh. My strength has returned. I am ready.”
Continuing on with National Novel Writing Month… I’m way behind, but that’s pretty typical for me at this stage. I’ve cleared 5000 words but should be around 12K. 🙂 We’ll see, but for now, here’s chapter 3.
The clamor of battle echoed through the fog all around Peleus. Shadows of men with swords and spears appeared and disappeared in the thick mists, illuminated by unseen firelight. Above, a baleful moon glared down, larger than Peleus thought possible. Cool air caressed his sweat-slicked skin, and as this realization crossed his mind, he saw that his own sword was drawn and covered in bright red blood.
“A dream… this must be a dream,” he said, and it seemed to him that the mists devoured his words, lending truth to them even as they did.
The shouts and warcries changed to shrieks and screams. A terrible cracking sound that seemed to belong between the horrific sound of a snapping mast, the terror of all sailors, and Zeus’ fearsome thunderbolts made him whirl about and set his heart racing.
Someone cried, “Nooooo…” until the word died in the wet noises of the red ruin of war.
His hair stood, and his muscles tightened. His fingers grew white around the hilt of his blade. With his left hand, he drew his shield up and felt a sense of hope from it. “Helios, protect me from this nightmare,” he whispered.
The sounds and images continued, but slowly, ever so slowly, he heard the clamor grow quieter. As it did, it sounded less like war and more like torture. Peleus swallowed hard, then forced himself to inhale and exhale slowly, willing his heart to slow.
He tried to concentrate on battle, turning, keeping his weight on the balls of his feet, shifting to confront whatever enemy would step from the shadows to face him. He reminded himself that his armor was strong and blessed by the gods. He had trained for war, he had fought in war, and he would find courage to face whatever was to come.
The cracking sound occurred again and again, growing louder with each strike.
The wait seemed to take hours. He constantly kept up his guard, even as the sounds of terror grew louder. Men cried for mercy, begged for their mothers and pleaded for their lives, yet he saw nothing of them, not living hoplites or dead corpses. He moved cautiously, always at the ready, through the fog, hoping that he would come to an end of this field of battle. He hoped all the more that he would wake up, for this dream was unlike any he had ever known.
Finally, as all about him fell silent, even the horrid cracking sound, he found his own courage. He knew Achelos would call it foolishness, perhaps hubris itself, but he could no longer endure waiting. If he was to die in this place of nightmare, he would do it with honor as a warrior of Corinth.
“I am Peleus, son of Helios, soldier of Corinth, face me, vile spirits or begone!”
The shadow of a hoplite appeared with shield and blade, and when he saw the image, Peleus’ heart rose. He was willing to face a foe on the field of battle, even if it was one of the greatest warriors of Sparta. As the mists parted before him, he faced no son of Sparta, Athens, Thebes or any other city-state.
A tall helmed woman stepped from the fog. She wore the armor of a hoplite, but instead of fabric or bronze, it was a metallic crimson set off by her ivory skin which caught the strange moonlight and seemed to glow. Her shield was mirrored and within the reflection, Peleus saw not himself, but the image of his blade driving into Iphicles. The woman’s sword shifted into a long barbed whip, or perhaps it always had been a whip – Peleus couldn’t be sure. Her eyes burned with rage and anger. She shook the whip, and he heard the terrible cracking noise. Blood red lips parted and she spoke, “Peleus, you slew your own father. You belong to us.”
Peleus stepped back as she advanced on him. The whip lashed out, and he barely brought his shield up to deflect the strike. Although his shield took the strike, he felt pain tear across his left forearm. It was as if his muscles had torn away from his bones.
“Fight,” she hissed, “try to win. Struggle and hope. It will make your defeat all the more painful.” She laughed coldly. She lashed out at him again, and this time he stepped to evade the lash, but he was too slow and it caught his thigh, flaying the skin and leaving a bloody gash.
The pain made Peleus clench his teeth to avoid crying out. He channeled the agony into action and thrust his sword at her chest. The point of the blade hit the center of her chest, but as it struck, a shock carried back through his arm, knocking his backward. The suddenness caused him to yell out, his voice now sounding like so many of the other cries that he had heard before.
His mind raced as fast as his blade struck and his shield blocked. Each of her blows sent pain through him even as he deflected them, yet none of his strikes, even one that should have cut open her pale forearm did anything to her. He had never fought a woman, but during the briefest of thoughts that he had as she advanced and he retreated, he thanked the poets for singing tales of fierce Amazons battling heroes in the days of Troy. Those prepared him, though he had never met any of that legendary people, so he didn’t hold back or struggle with guilt, though this certainly wasn’t an Amazon he faced.
He knew that she was one of the Furies, seeking vengeance for his terrible crime.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter that this was a dream. If this was a punishment from the gods, surely it could kill him in a dream as easily as the flesh. As his blood continued to flow and the pain from each lash of the whip that he blocked became worse, he imagined himself, dead in his barracks, Achelos shaking him, trying in vain to wake him. His blade, coated in the blood of his own patricide, did no harm to the spirit of justice before him.
He threw his blade to the side and caught her whip arm with his bare hand. With his shield, he smashed his body into hers and the two of them fell into the dirt stained with his dripping blood. Peleus let rage fill him – the rage of the pain he suffered, and the rage that he had always kept inside, the rage that came from being a boy without a father. She fought back with a terrible ferocity, but he had the advantage and the pain he felt was so great that nothing she did seemed able to increase it. His forearm pressed against her slender throat. She gasped.
Peleus hesitated, and the rage ebbed. He didn’t want to kill her. The pain stole his strength and his head swam. He blinked.
“I told you that you could win,” she taunted. “And you almost did.” Her eyes reflected the full moon above.
A lash wrapped around his neck. He wanted to scream, but no sound could escape his throat. He was pulled backward and off his foe. He saw two other women, clad in the same blood red armor as the first.
“We are sisters,” the three said as one.
He managed to pull the whip from his bloody throat, cutting open his fingers as he did. Peleus gasped as he struggled to regain his feet and stand. He choked out, “I did not kill my father. My father is and has always been Helios.”
The Furies hissed and each one cracked her whip. The one which he had fought stepped in front of him, but she moved slowly. “Now, it is time for your defeat. These are your last agonizing moments, your punishment for your crime.”
“Helios is my father. Father, save me!” he tried to shout, but he wasn’t sure if he was even coherent. The bitter taste of blood filled his mouth.
A faint rustle came from behind him, the sound of metal on metal as though the wind blew through the leaves of a bronze tree. A bright warm light shone from that direction and the Furies moved away from him as their faces contorted in anger.
A woman spoke, “He is mine.” Her words were in the language of the Egyptians.
“We claim him in the name of Olympus. He shall be punished for his crime.” The Furies spoke as one using Greek, but seemed to have no difficulty understanding the Egyptian.
“I speak with the authority of Ra, god of the sun, a power far older than your Olympians. This one fought for the treasures of my people. He claims to be the son of Ra, invoking the name by which he is known among the Hellenes. We claim him.”
“If your god claims this one, let him speak.”
The light became blinding, and the Furies shrieked. Peleus heard no words. Instead, he felt as if the light itself was the god’s response. The warmth gave him strength and at some point he realized that the pain he suffered had subsided.
He looked up and the Furies were gone.
“You must come to Khem, the land you call Egypt, if you wish to be free of them. Ra needs you. I need you. You must find me.”
Peleus turned his head to see the outline of a woman with massive wings for arms. He couldn’t make out her features, as the brilliant light behind her left her in shadow.
“Wake now, and find the priest who you defended. He will help you voyage to Khem. When you find me there, the will of the gods will be revealed.”
Peleus lowered his head. “Thank you, my father.” He lifted his head to look up at the woman. “You saved me. I will find you.”
“It is the will of Ra,” she said, and with that, everything became far too bright for Peleus’ eyes, and the world grew to a dazzling white.
He woke up.
Okay, here’s the raw writing as it comes off the presses. Fighting my way slowly and behind schedule to 50,000 words.
Chapter 2 – Death of a God
The sun gleamed off the waters of the Saronic Gulf, and Peleus stared as the oxen strained and pulled along with dozens of slaves to pull a trireme from the waters. The ship creaked as it slid up on the great wooden platform on its massive rollers. Water dripped off the sides of the vessel.
He wanted to be among the slaves for reasons that he was sure would cause his honor to be questioned. Although he was soldier of Corinth, a hoplite, armed with a bronze chestplate, a fine round shield emblazoned with a gleaming golden sun on a red background, a mighty spear, and a Corinthian helm with a horsehair crest painted in red and yellow, he longed to be among the slaves, pushing a ship across the Diolkos, the great paved path that stretched from the Saronic Gulf in front of him to the Gulf of Corinth to the west. It never failed to awe him when a ship sailed the Diolkos, when a vessel meant for the sea crossed land. He felt it made Corinth special, gave his city-state something that neither Athens nor Sparta could match. Only Corinth carried ships across land.
A strong hand clapped him on the shoulder. “The harbormaster needs you if you are done staring at the ships.” Achelos laughed softly. He was a sun-bronzed man, and while it was doubtful that he was the equal of legendary Achilles from the Trojan War, the hero that he had been named in deference to, he certainly cut a formidable figure. Even though Achelos’ dark curls fell on his shoulders, his beard was thin enough to be that of a boy instead of a man. He was also Peleus’ oldest friend.
“What do they need? There are plenty of soldiers about,” said Peleus as he heard the great wooden rollers moaned again under the weight of the ship. The prow was shaped in the image of the god Poseidon, and Peleus could make out its mighty trident.
“They need someone to speak with an Egyptian merchant. They don’t need your skill with the spear, just your gift for languages. Believe me, if it had to do with fighting, I would have handled it.” Achelos said with a smile that reached his eyes.
The mention of a foreigner drew Peleus’ attention. His mother had taught him the languages of the Persians, the Egyptians, the Etruscans and even some of the mysterious words of the Northerners. He loved learning languages, and his ability had enabled him to make a living working for the merchants. He always took any opportunity he could to speak to travelers from the distant empires and learn their ways.
Achelos was still talking. “Of course, if I was fighting a Cyclops or something, I’d come get you. I’m only named after a hero. You on the other hand, are the son of the titan Helios himself.”
It was Peleus’ turn to laugh. “If only I were the true son of Helios, rather than just one of the hundreds of children of the gods who live in Corinth.” Something bitter came out in his voice, and he saw the fun teasing fade from Achelos’ eyes. It was true that Peleus, like so many men and women who had no fathers, was one of the children of the gods. In his case, his mother claimed that Helios had visited her from his temple high on the great Acrocorinth, but he had heard her curse his father who had abandoned her before he was born. He only knew that the man was a soldier, and that he had probably died in one of the endless wars between the Spartans and the Athenians or in combat on the far frontiers in one of the colonies. He wondered if the man had been a foreigner. He hoped that his true father wasn’t a Persian, but the few times he had asked his mother, she had told him nothing.
Of course, she had been a priestess of the goddess of love, Aphrodite, and he knew, as the rest of the world knew that the priestesses of Aphrodite received many donations from thankful men who enjoyed the blessings of the goddess during a night with her priestesses. His mother had gained enough funds during her career to support the two of them without having to return to being a priestess after his birth. Now she was a weaver of some note, a career path that Peleus felt had much more longevity.
“She did say that you were a son of Helios instead of Aphrodite. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it’s worth something,” offered Achelos. “I’ll show you where the Egyptian is.”
“It may be, but there are so many who want us to give up the worship of Helios and recognize him as Apollo instead.”
“Jealous Athenians and Thebans who wish Corinth hadn’t sided with the Spartans years ago, that’s who I think they are. True Corinthians believe in Helios. You know, Helios is still worshipped in Rhodos as well. Don’t worry about what the poets and travelers say about the Olympians defeating the Titans. I suspect that they are all being paid by priests at Olympia.” Achelos made his way down the rocky path to the water where Peleus could see a number of men gathered.
The harbormaster and a number of Corinthian soldiers face a large group of mercenary hoplites while an Egyptian man gestured dramatically at the mercenaries. Peleus didn’t like the way the mercenaries gripped their spears.
“I can speak Egyptian,” shouted Peleus as he came close.
“Fine,” said the harbormaster, a middle-aged man who had long lost his hair and had a bit of a belly beneath his tunic as a sign of his wealth. “I want to know what this Egyptian is saying.”
An older mercenary warrior stepped forward. His voice contained a hint of gravel. He had hard gray eyes, leathery skin and more than a few scars, but he had a full head of yellow hair. Peleus himself had light brown hair, but it was not often that he had seen a man with yellow hair. A muscled bronze chestplate provided his protection and he was tall, about the same height as Peleus. The way the others stepped aside for him left Peleus with no doubt that he was the leader. The man spoke, “You can’t trust Egyptians. He’s spreading lies because he’s concerned that our ship will cross the Diolkos before his.”
The Egyptian turned to Peleus. He wore a golden ankh and his hair was shaved. His robes were white with blue edges and many golden and bejeweled rings glittered on his fingers. “These men are pirates that attacked and sunk three of my vessels. Only my greatest barge made it to Corinth ahead of them,” he said in Egyptian.
Peleus nodded, then turned to the harbormaster and spoke in Greek. “He says these mercenaries are pirates. I recommend we check their holds for Egyptian goods before we allow them to the cross the Diolkos.”
At the mention of piracy, a murmur had gone up from the men of Corinth. Little was worse to a nation of merchants who made their living by the sea than the thought of piracy. The clattering of shields and spears from the mercenaries left Peleus with little doubt that the Egyptian’s accusations were true.
“By Zeus’ thunderbolt, do you dare accuse my men of piracy, boy? We have goods from Egypt, but we earned them in raids on the coast by the strength of our spears and the might of our shields. This Egyptian wants to steal our treasures for himself, and you have probably been bribed by him.”
Peleus turned in surprise. His face flushed bright red with anger. He didn’t expect to be accused of anything. He swallowed. “What city are you and your men from?”
“We call no city our home. I was born in Macedonia ages ago, but spent time in Thebes, Olympia and Ephesus herself.”
“I would have your name,” said Peleus.
“Iphicles, son of Telemon.”
“Well, Iphicles, I am Peleus, son of Helios, and citizen of Corinth. I will have no man accuse me of accepting bribes. So, either take back your false words or be prepared to accept the point of my spear.”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Peleus regretted them. He didn’t know what possessed him, but he wasn’t willing to have a group of mercenaries accuse him of taking bribes to lie to the harbormaster. Bribes alone were one thing, and Peleus knew many soldiers who would be willing to accept payment to allow rules to be bent or broken. To accuse him of lying to a leader of Corinth was another matter entirely. All of his life, Peleus had needed to earn the respect of others around him, for his sake and his mother’s. He didn’t have a powerful and well-respected father’s deeds to grant him a station. He had earned what he had through valor on the battlefield or his efforts translating for merchants. Still, he wasn’t completely sure that he was ready to die here over the dispute between this Egyptian and these mercenaries.
“Boy, I’m more than ready to deal with you. Let the gods judge you by your skill with weapons. I doubt you’ve seen much battle.”
“Wait,” said the harbormaster, but it was too late for that.
“I’ve fought Athenians,” said Peleus.
Iphicles laughed. “You’ve got to do better than that. I’ve battled Spartans.” Without saying anything more, he threw down his spear, drew his blade and lunged for Peleus.
Peleus didn’t have time to don his helm, but tossed it to the side along with his spear. His shield deflected the older man’s thrust, sending it off to the left, and Peleus gave him a hard kick in the leg as he drew his own blade.
To Peleus’ surprise, no one else interceded in the duel. He slashed at Iphicles, but the mercenary parried and countered. Fortunately, the counter-thrust only clanged against the bronze rim of Peleus’ shield. Unfortunately for Iphicles, the element of surprise had faded.
Peleus found his balance and caught his breath. He stopped thinking and simply fought. As a boy without a father, he had trained himself as hard as he could to learn to fight. He had asked soldiers to show him how to hold a spear and a blade, and for as long as he could remember, he had practiced with whatever he could find. Thousands of shadows had died on the end of broken branches in his hands or even fought with him while he held nothing but air. He had asked warriors from the ends of the world to show him how they battled when he was a boy. Most had thought nothing of showing off for a lad, but he had watched, memorized and returned home and practiced. When he had earned coins enough for weapons of his own, he had trained all the harder. Those that had seen him in battle against the Athenians might well believe that he was, in truth, the son of a Titan. Certainly, Iphicles, the mercenary, was unprepared for Peleus’ onslaught.
Their swords caught, but Peleus swung with enough force to throw the mercenary off-balance. A breath later and his blade went through the man’s shoulder. A blow from Peleus’ shield to the face of the mercenary was enough to drop him, and then the point of his sword pierced Iphicles just below the breastplate. When Peleus withdrew his sword, it was bright red and a crimson puddle spread on the ground beneath Iphicles’ body.
“I am slain. Avenge me,” he called out.
Peleus looked over at the mercenaries. They moved back and away from the Corinthians. Iphicles chuckled.
“Betrayed so soon,” he gasped. “It’s what I should expect.” He coughed and flecks of blood and white foam sprayed on his beard. “Peleus, I ask a boon.”
The mercenary muttered something. Peleus leaned close, watching the man’s hands to make sure that he wasn’t trying to take Peleus down to the realm of Hades with him.
He whispered. “Boy, there is a woman, a priestess of Aphrodite, named Dione. I once gave her a chest of coins because she was the finest woman in all the world. Tell her that her sun god never made it back to Corinth.”
With that, Iphicles died.
As Peleus stood, the world started to spin around him. He felt a terrible twisting inside his guts, and though the harbormaster and others began talking, he couldn’t hear them. All he hear were his own thoughts, repeating his mother’s name. “Dione, Dione, Dione.”
Welcome to November 2012. National Novel Writing Month has begun.
Every November, I commit myself to writing 50,000 words in a month along with thousands of other people around the world. It’s amazingly fun and really pushes my writing and time management to the limit. It’s given birth to the Crimson Hawks, Krueger and some others. This year I’m attempting a novel called Son of Helios, Champion of Ra. It’s the tale of a Greek Hoplite from Corinth going to mythological Egypt. It’s a mythological as opposed to historical tale, but it’s set roughly-ish around 400 B.C.E.
In order to shed light on the process, I thought I’d post the raw material for the first chapter that I wrote starting at 12:03 am this morning.
Son of Helios, Champion of Ra
Azura climbed the sandstone stairs of the Pinnacle of the Phoenix with her hands as much as her feet, gripping the sides of the rock and pulling herself skyward, ever skyward. Her legs and back cried out at the effort, begging her to stop, begging her to rest, if only for a moment, but she didn’t dare rest. Time, something that the endless pharaohs of old had once mastered, was not her ally. If she stopped, she didn’t know if she would be able to continue. The hope left in her heart flickered like a candle flame at the end of a wick. She tried not to think as she pushed her body up another step and pulled herself up the one beyond that. Her breath came in ragged gasps.
Memories assailed her. She thought of the sun, the bright glowing life-giving sun. She imagined its heat warming her bare arms, its rays kissing her face. She remembered staring at the sun over the waters of the sea, using its light to watch the horizon as she had done so many times. Without meaning to, she turned her head to look for it, gazing off the stairs into the haze-filled sky.
She saw a faint blurred orb struggling to penetrate the storms of sand. Though it was nearly at zenith, and she had climbed to heights that rivaled the great pyramids, still the shadows stretched to cover it.
Despite herself, she paused. She hadn’t wanted to stop, but there was no help for it. Her heart clashed with her will, and her heart felt more desperate, so her willpower relented. Staring directly at the sun, she uttered silent prayers, first to Isis to keep her strong, second to Ra to have some reserve of power left to aid her. She prayed that he held some last secret strength to help all of the people of Khem. She wiped some of the sand away from her arms and face, shaking some of it free of her black hair.
Her eyes fell away from the sky, lower now, to the churning dark clouds near the earth. Angry shapes boiled forth from the black shroud that hung as far as her eyes could see, and her sight had been once compared to that of a falcon’s. There was nothing visible in any direction but the great sandstorm, a sign of the doom that had come.
Azura fought tears. The great battle was over. The war between good and evil had ended, and Set, Lord of serpents and scorpions stood triumphant, and Lord Osiris, father of the pharaohs, lay dead, mutilated and his allies and their forces had been swept away. Evil had won. Nothing was left but darkness and despair. No pharaoh lived to rule the land, to protect the gleaming Nile with his divine person. No high priest remained with a faith strong enough to drive the storm and the shadows away. Even if such a priest did live, what was there to have faith in? The gods had fallen and even the strength of her own goddess, Isis, wife of Osiris, was lost.
“My strength is the strength of Isis,” she said to herself. Her voice was raspy from lack of water but firm.
Her eyes fell to the stairs below her. They stretched down, incredibly far, until the darkness consumed them as well. How many had she climbed? A thousand? A thousand thousand?
She looked up the stairs, wondering how many more there could be. She expected to see a thousand more reaching up into the sky, but to her amazement, there were only a handful more to go. Her heart pounded with excitement. She started to count the remaining stairs, but forced herself to climb instead.
She didn’t consciously realize when she reached the summit. Instead, she found herself standing in front of a great basin of gold, held in the golden talons of a phoenix which reached toward the heavens with its wings lifted. She wished that she had worn her ceremonial wings, that she could feel their comforting weight on her arms, even though she knew full well that she never would have completed the climb wearing them. She felt a connection with the phoenix, a bond that somehow eased her burden.
Carefully, she untied the sealed jar of sacred oil which she had carried on her journey. She opened it with some effort, and then poured out the oil into the basin. She watched as it spread over the inside of the bowl and a feeling of peace and calm rose within her. After the last drop left the jar, she gently set it down on the smooth tiles that covered the summit of the Pinnacle of the Phoenix.
She steadied herself, speaking entreaties to Isis, and grasped the Mirror of the Heavens from its place in the sun disc at the front of the basin. She bit her lip with the effort, even as she gave thanks that everything here was as it had been written in the temple. Trembling, she held the mirror in place above the basin and waited for the sun’s rays to ignite the oil.
The rushing sound of the black clouds echoed up from below. It reminded her of the sea when it fled from a storm in the heavens, but the thunder beneath her was the victory cry of Set. She shuddered even more. Memories of battles against the horrors bred by such evil threatened to steal her will and her hope.
“Oh great Ra, help this daughter of Isis. I will not surrender the lands of your people to the armies of the enemy. If there is no strength left in Khem herself, then let it come from Nubia, Libya, Kush or even the conquerors from Persia who ruled here in the time of my grandmother’s mother. Please show me the will of the gods. Please give your people hope that we may rise again, as we have so many times over the centuries.”
She did not know how long she held the mirror or how many times she prayed. The obscured sun did not give enough light, and the oil simply sat in the basin. When the solar barge had sailed far enough from the peak of the heavens that she feared the storm below would consume it, the winds hesitated and the light shone on the mirror, which focused and reflected it into the oil. A moment later, and flames burned in front of the golden phoenix.
Azura lacked the ability to cheer, but her heart felt lighter. She gently set the mirror down and studied the flames. The sun god remained unconquered.
She sat down next to the phoenix and hoped that the gods would send her a vision. As her eyes fell closed, she decided that even if she didn’t receive a vision, sleep was welcome enough.
Her last sight was the phoenix gleaming in the light of the fire.