Book 3

Volume II


F O R T Y - S I X



6 0 9 8

1 A Second OP?

Totally unforeseen, a glowing orb like the Second Moon’s raced across the night sky over Ibbatha. At the perihelion it would have left Earth’s atmosphere but it paused, circling. Suddenly, it expanded, throwing out showers of dazzling, golden color extending hundreds of miles. After drawing upwards the attention of many people, startled from their beds by the brilliant light in the heavens, the spectacle increased. It turned slowly on its axis as if displaying the plumes of a gigantic peacock in rut, then slowly descended toward the city and Temple of Pher. People began running toward the Temple where the splendid light was seen to settle. Far off to the south in the capital Avaris, Chill-nather II, the Hyksos Per-aa, turned restlessly in bed. He awoke with a start, staring into the darkness. As if he were besieged by assassins slashing at him with daggers, he flung out of bed and screamed for the guards. They rushed in and found nothing threatening in the royal chambers, not even a scurrying mouse. To shore up royal prestige, however, extra guards were posted in and outside the palace. Humiliated and angry, the badly ruffled potentate went back to bed. He could not imagine what could have disturbed his slumbers so greatly. Up to now his palace and kingdom had been overflowing with revenues and wealth, harmony, peace, and tranquillity, even years after the great old Grand Taty Joseph had died aged one hundred and ten and left his Hebrew people (and nearly an equal amount of Mizraimites) mourning for many days. Up to now! Unknown to the troubled and bewildered ruler, the entire world had been shaken to its core by some unknown intruder. Peace and tranquillity, the commonweal, had flown away in an instant--perhaps forever! The Hyksos sovereign lay in bed, unable to sleep again, but in a few hours there would be no room for such things anyway after the night watch officers of the commander of the palace began receiving disturbing the first reports from Ibbatha--that city of sacred cobras and river cows where troublemakers were always stirring up things to unsettle his realm. This time, however, it would not be the usual thing--claimant Per-aas and their noblemen supporters. No, this was far worse and less easily put down. Spies speeding on horses on the high road to Avaris, careless of attracting Ibbathan patrols in their haste, carried the highest state of alarm coded, “The bellows of the sacred river cows are disturbing the king’s sleep.” Hundreds of miles distant, no royal ear could possibly hear Ibbatha’s river cows, of course, though it is true they had been the first to herald the event by making a fuss no one in river-girt Ibbatha could ignore. The spies’ alarm could only mean that the impossible had happened--an event for which there was no prepared solution. Indeed! What could be more terrible for the Hyksos than that an ancient gods of Mizraim was rising up against the Hyksos? Confirmed later by accounts of many witnesses, the specter of a hostile Mizraimite god’s emergence threw the whole Hyksos court into a panic.

The late Sequen-pher Tao’s heir, Ahmoseh, had been one of the first in the household to run outside to see what was causing all the river cows to roar in unison and so he saw the great, shining star fall from heaven. “Like Pher’s all-seeing eye!” he thought, recalling the huge, bejeweled god in the Inner Temple’s Chamber of the Opening of the Sacred Mouth. His father, permitted by the chief priest, had taken him and his older brother Kamose as child-communicants. They placed an unusually rich offering before the god, then quickly retired, for normally only the Per-aa and the high priest were allowed into the god’s presence. At the time he had wondered why priests, who were commoners, could see the god anytime and as long as they liked. He did not know that attending priests did not count as mortals. They were “ministering ka-s” who daily bathed, clothed, fed, and ritually “opened the mouth” of the god for eating, drinking and speaking and giving oracular answers to suppliants while the chief priest saw that everything was done according to the book. No one in Ibbatha, city or temple, could get any sleep after the golden light dropped in their midst and all the river cows sang its praises continually. Whoever could, ran to the Temple, to the Gate of Sacrifice, two pylons where a altar was set conveniently just inside the Temple precincts for the common, ritually unclean people to present offerings without having to undergo weeks of purification. Ahmoseh, successor of his brother Kamose (honorably slain in battle against the foreigners) and conscious of his princely rank among noblemen, dressed in a black robe of mourning for his father and brother and black adamas pectoral, traditional garb in honor of the deceased. Since he was not yet reigning officially, he left off the blue kepresh, the War Crown, preferring only a wig. He proceeded a little less quickly but with more dignity to the Temple as Ibbatha’s highest ranking nobleman ought when going to such a place frequented by the lower classes. Attended by the household steward and chief servants in a second chariot, he went in this silver-plated chariot to see “Pher’s eye” for himself. Somehow the thought that it was possibly Pher’s sacred, living eye preceded him and penetrated all the way to the private chamber of the chief priest. Sleep was out of the question. Sitting up in bed, his leopard skin of high priestly office thrown hastily around his shoulders, the thoroughly alarmed chief priest received reports of what was upsetting the river cows and making their huge nursery in the bow of the River roar with the philharmonic thunder of a thousand bellowing beasts. Priests by the dozen scurried back and forth carrying information. One reported that the wondrous star fallen from heaven was the cause, and taking its seat on Pher’s altar it now appeared like an eye. “An eye, you say?” the chief priest prompted him. “Yes, Excellency of Pher, it turned this way and that as if looking at us to take our measure! For when we dared lift own mortal eyes to it, we felt we were being observed in turn!” A terrifying experience for them! They didn’t tell the chief priest but many wet their fine robes. So they crawled away and only then got up and ran back into the Temple. “‘Pher’s, my!’” the chief priest continued to muse. “But why has it left the god in heaven and set upon my outer altar? Does he not know we have better altars than that, covered with fine gold and jewels? Have we somehow left out an important sacrifice and the god is angry with us?” Since the “Eye” rested on the public altar of the Court of the People, that would be a reasonable deduction. He rose and dressed, calling for records from the archives that might tell of similar happenings during past administrations. Before he had finished dressing, he could hear the clamor of gathering crowds outside the Temple walls. Should he keep them waiting? What if the chief nobles of the city were among the people wanting in? No, he had better go and see. But first he needed to decide what to do about the appearance of the Divine Eye on the altar (he had concluded that it was, indeed, the god’s eye). The new curator came--a replacement for the recently retired Benohe-Pheres--but the man could find nothing that compared with the present event. “Third rump of a donkey!” the chief priest hissed, though the priest was a scholar-priest of mature age. “Where is Benohe when I really need him! He knew where everything was and would find something to the point!” Cast utterly on his own resources, he was much annoyed, disturbed, and worried as he saw the trouble that was rapidly accumulating in his very lap. Not since Joseph’s time had there been such a raw demonstration of divinity, he knew. But that had to do with a foreigner’s god, not Mizraim’s chief moon god. Sadly, people had turned to the newcomer-god and neglected the altar of Pher. Revenues from the people had declined considerably for many years, slowing to a mere trickle. Meanwhile, the “God of Joseph” gained thousands of followers, who met in homes all over the city without the Temple’s permission. The chief priest’s eyes brightened with a happy thought. Perhaps.... Attended by fan-bearers and priests, the chief priest decided he must go at once to the gate. It behooved him to show the people he was not cowering in his bedchamber but fully able to meet with this great public revelation of Pher’s reviving majesty and power. He would act as if times had changed, the declining fortunes of Mizraim’s gods had reversed, and a new age had dawned! Report came of noblemen and chariots, not to mention a crowd of hundreds of frantic suppliants whose shouts his ears could hear without difficulty. As the chief priest hurried to the gate to receive Ahmoseh and others he saw greater numbers surging templeward. The whole city, evidently, was coming! “Wonderful!” the chief priest thought. “What offerings would pour in now! He saw a chance to turn things completely around for the Temple Treasury for years to come. There was one problem. To reach the gate, which consisted of towering pylons and a brass barricade manned by Temple guards, he had to pass the people’s altar on which the Eye was blazing. As he was carried toward it on a palanquin, the dawning sunlight seemed to draw back from the burning splendor. Clouds of smoke--which could not be incense, since no priest had gotten that close to throw any on--nearly enveloped the altar. But the plume-like rays that pierced the clouds fanned out in every direction, sweeping across Temple, walls, gate, barricade, and the pushing, shoving, screaming, weeping, cursing multitudes of citizenry. It was one thing to receive reports of it, yet another to see it in person and hear the awesome sighs and groanings that issued from the mighty stones of the altar. Growing rather frightened, the chief priest wanted to turn back and devise another strategy, but it was too late. A thunderous shout went up from the people at the sight of him coming. The noblemen, too, had seen him. No, he had to go through with it and somehow show that he had things under control. Otherwise, they might take him as a coward and incompetent. They were fifty paces from the altar when the cause of the smoke suddenly revealed itself. The stones and brass clamps could only take so much heat and swelling. The altar exploded.

Aaho-pher, a regal-looking matriarch with a stark naked slave girl carrying a golden bowl, entered Ahmoseh’s chamber and laid a cool hand dipped in lotus-perfumed water on his forehead. Loathing the weakness that came from kindness, he swept it away. “I’m all right, mother.” He rose up, then groaned as the pain from his heavily bandaged chest and arms erupted. “Listen to me!” Lady Aaho-pher said. “You must rest these bad wounds! I knew you should not have gone to the Temple with the rabble! But tell me, what did you see? Is it truly the Eye of Pher come to earth?” Ahmoseh ignored her. He knew the servants had already described in detail all he witnessed at the Temple gate--the incomparable, shining light on the altar, the crowds of weeping and shouting people, then the coming of the chief priest to greet the ‘Eye of Pher,” as it was being called by everyone. Beyond that, his mind refused to go. Everything fell apart at that point. He recalled being trampled, then dragged back into the chariot and, agonizingly, driven back home. He heard many screams of pain as his wheels overrode arms and legs. His chariot and rearing horses had to back up and take a different route to get through debris and masses of frightened and weeping people, but they escaped. Despite the agony, Ahmoseh struggled out of bed as his mother held her breath and servants gasped. He got to the window and nearly collapsed, but gripped the casement and leaned out. He had to see if the Eye still shone at the gate. He saw only black smoke swirling round the shattered tops of the gated pylons. Then shafts of golden light shot through, circling the sky and showing beyond doubt that the Eye was unhurt amidst the tumbled altar stones. “Is that nasty, old rogue, Nasa-Lashavah, dead?” his mother inquired of the chief priest, coming in her gilded slippers to stand behind him. “I heard from the servants he was struck down by flying altar stones. What will we do now? The whole sepetet is in an uproar. Will the Usurper send an army here to sack the city and restore order? What will he make of our great, shining Eye? We must have a fresh, new chief priest to meet him properly when he comes. Son, what is your mind on these things? I must hear your thoughts. Why do you also insist on keeping your own counsel at such times as this. Your father was just the same. How maddening!” “I don’t know, mother,” he said savagely. “Send a servant to find out how the first of priests fares if you must know! Perhaps he is not dead but recovering in his chamber. Then we need not find a replacement.” Ahmoseh could not care less about the chief priest’s skin anyway! He had more important things to think about. Ignoring his mother’s alarmed stare, he hobbled back to his bed, sat carefully down, then called for his scribe, robe and pectoral. Trembling, the man came in and sat down while Ahmoseh was carefully robed. His face pale and lips taut with pain, Ahmoseh turned to the scribe. “Write letters to all the highest families and generals. Tell them Sequen-pher Tao and Kamose’s heir is calling a kirbet. Tell them they must come here to our house! At once!” He heard a sigh behind him and turned as the scribe began to scribble furiously on papyrus. His mother’s eyes gleamed with approval and something more ferocious. “Ah, you are a true son of the loins of your noble sire!” the widow exclaimed. “I know his ka will not rest until our fortunes are restored and the foreigners thrown out of our sacred land! Is that what you are about, my lord? Tell me! Then my firstborn’s death too will be avenged!” Like him she was robed in black, with gold bracelets and gold settings gleaming round the black mourning jetstones of her pectoral. Determined to mourn until she went into the grave to meet her beloved dead, she would wear black all the rest of her days. Ahmoseh’s face expressed annoyance, but inwardly he was pleased by her words. “Wait and see, daughter of Da-min-Umirah, wait and see.” “Aren’t you going to render homage to the god before you rise up to smite the foreigner and cast him out like a harlot’s dirt in the street?” Ahmoseh seemed to hesitate at the challenge. “But you must go again soon, my jewel! Are you afraid? Surely, the god’s eye will not strike you dead as it struck commoners, when you take and present baskets of fine gold. You went in haste and took no gold with you. That is the reason for his wrath. With gold you will gain his favor, so that you can cleanse our holy city of the defilement of foreign worship. Beyond doubt, the god’s wrath will then fall on them and pass over our heads!” “Yes, mother! You need not speak of it. I will go to the god’s Eye and ask help concerning the foreigner. I will take much gold from our mines.” “Yes, do that! But do not forget the scorpion nest of foreign infidels in our midst. It too must be torn up, root and branch, and thrust out with the Usurper and his people! I think I loathe them even more than the Dog-headed god’s people. These--these Hebrews! Why, they fasten their black mouths on our sacred land like leaches and worms and blood-ticks sucking the life out of her, growing ever stronger and numerous, the paps of their nursing womenfolk gushing like fountains, while we--” She clapped clawlike fingers over her flat and withered chest. “Enough of your woman’s tongue in men’s affairs!” said Ahmoseh. “They can be taken in hand and made useful to us after the Usurper is gone. Why should we turn them out, they and their able-bodied men and women? You speak foolishly. They will make fit slaves. But as for the foreign ruler, yes, that stinking clot of filth coughed up by a necropolis dog must go! He must go now! That is why I have called this secret kirbet!” Then he rose. Brushing aside the arms of men-servants, he went alone and sat in the jeweled, electrum chair wreathed with gold and black sacred cobras and set at the head of a lotus-columned hall. As soon as he was seated, the scribe’s letters were flying via racing couriers to the nearby homes of the chief nobility. Later, at the end of the kirbet, he would be wearing the Kepresh, the Blue Crown of War and Victory the astute, eagle-eyed Aaho-pher was even now holding in readiness.

2 Pher’s New Army

Since the fearsome Eye continued to reside at the gate amidst the rubble of the altar and did no further damage, Dishne-Ashallem, Ahmoseh’s appointee to the seat of the chief priest, enjoyed more time to consider the situation than was given his unfortunate predecessor. The chief priest arranged for the suppliants to present offerings at another gate, rather than risk more confrontation with the glowering Eye. Above the altar was raised a banner with the Eye drawn in gold rays radiating from it, just as the real thing appeared at the shattered and still smoking people’s altar. Inside the very thick walls of his Temple apartment, the chief priest conferred with fifty elder priests from the Sacred College of the Temple Ministries concerning various knotty, theological problems. How could Pher reside in two places at one time--in the Inner Temple and also what remained of the People’s Altar? Another troubling thing was the likeness of “Pher’s Eye” to the Second rather than the First Moon. Who could shake the truth of it out of the tangle of possibilities like a rip fig from a many-branched tree? Fortunately, Ahmoseh’s choice came from the ranks of the learned priests, and this one displayed a pronounced theological turn of mind. Unlike his predecessor who hated theology, and considered talk of an afterlife silly speculation, this one enjoyed long inquiries on points of doctrine that could consume half a day or more. He might never extract a real fig, it is true, but he delighted in giving the tree of divine knowledge a thorough shaking to the point of pulling it, root and branch, from the ground. “Since we witness his corporeal manifestation in the Inner Temple, what we see outside must be the god’s incorporeal essence,” concluded the chief priest after a prolonged report from a trembling, glum-faced elder who always followed a windy speech with another that was even longer. “As for the likeness of the Eye to the Second Moon, it is a difficulty resident in our own limited, mortal vision. If the Second Moon is brighter, it is because it is closer than the First. So too the Eye, closest of all, is brightest. The First Moon, it follows, is the farthest out from us and its glory is lesser to our eyes.” The Fifty nodded in unison, with no idea what he was talking about. Fifty of their number had just recently been slain by the Eye, and the survivors were all bruised and heavily bandaged. Yet one thing they knew. It would appear from the destruction of the Court of the People’s Altar (or the Vulgar Gate, as it was also known) and the loss of life of the former chief priest, entourage, and many common people that the god was displeased about something. This needed to be addressed as well. But the chief priest proved not at a loss. “We will perform splendid sacrifices on the new altar and see what he wants of us, and if he is displeased, then perhaps he will relent and not do us any more harm because of the richness of our offerings and the number of our prostrations. It might even be safe enough then for us to invite the Eye to one of our nicer altars within the Temple.” A wand of office was raised and the chief priest nodded to the next elder wishing to speak. “O Excellency and Living Emanation of Pher!” cried an old priest with a bandage covering his head like a sand rambler’s turban. “The Temple, now for the first time in years, can well afford to spread rich offerings, thanks to the generosity of the people who continue to come, day after day, in repentance and thanksgiving to the god.” This was good news for everyone still living, and countenances brightened. Though many colleagues had been lost, increased incomes could go a long way to lessen the sense of loss. Another wand went up, this time from an ascetic who possessed four palatial estates and could care less about being rich and comfortable. “But is it not sacrilege to permit the people to conduct their usual affairs while Pher’s celestial eye resides amongst us?” “Of course, that is not right,” acknowledged another elder priest, hoping to head his colleague off. “We must do something quickly to rectify the defiling sacrilege. What is your mind on this, Inerrant Aperture of Pher?” The chief priest, though his mouth was quite small in a very fat, sleek face, possessed a fervor of faith and a sharpness of wit his late predecessor seemed to have lacked. Though given to theology, he now had an opportunity to show his true mettle. His eyes, not much of which could be seen, narrowed even more between thick folds as he regarded the eldership for a moment. Then he raised his own wand of office, which meant a decree was going forth. “All things considered, I proscribe all mortal endeavor such as common labor and commerce. Such things must cease in the public markets and at the river port until the god is given ample satisfaction at his new altar.” Ample satisfaction, indeed! The silence in the chamber was like drumming thunder. The elders turned, eyeing each other, and amazement and admiration shone in their faces. Obviously, this new leader was a godsend after the recent fiasco at the Vulgar Gate. “Brilliant fellow!” was the general estimation of him. “We’ll all go far, hitched to his star!” A scribe, writing quickly, took down the decree and it was soon given the chief priest’s mark of imprimatur and taken out by courier to be presented to the city’s rulers and chief nobility. Thus, with Temple slaves and priests performing the sacrifices of oxen and bulls, the Eye was placated from dawn to dark, while choirs of hierodules and gelded youth sang continual praises. To further the cause, five or six hundred boy mistresses of the Fifty were commissioned to swell the their ranks, and they added a special touch, with all their finery and good looks. Revival of the old time religion of Mizraim was in full swing! While all this restoration was going on at the Temple, Crown Prince Ahmoseh wasted no time. Even if the chief priest’s directive had not mentioned war-making, he would have ignored it. At the recent kirbet he had successfully countered the few objections of some old noblemen of his father’s age, and the majority rose immediately to his banner and pledged their lives and fortunes. In silence all watched as the Dowager Mother Aaho-pher entered with servants blowing horns. She was still garbed in mourning black, but she wore her matriarchal, queenly diadem, signifying she was a king’s daughter, born in the line of the Royal Divine Secret. Despite the sorry loss of the Secret and with it a promising new Per-aa, Narmer II, due to the treachery of a relative, the infamous Princess Asenath who had committed a public indiscretion in Machitha, the new chief priest had come forward, before being appointed and taking office, with something almost as good and legitimate. “Two pillars gird the house of the Per-aa,” he said to her and her son in a private audience. Claiming a god had shown him to the “true and original” Royal Secret in a long-forgotten, bricked-over oratorio of the Temple, which according to the Per-aa’s name placed it far beyond the Lord Petepheres’s in antiquity, he phrased it for them after all the servants were sent out of the chamber and forbidden entrance on pain of death.

Two pillars most ancient gird thy Throne, O Per-aa! The Papyrus and the Lotus look to the Might and Radiance of Pher! A pylon so strong the ages will not cast a stone of it down, Two pillars guard a Secret never found: Two kingdoms of the Two Ladies are wed from birth to thee; Oh! their sacred crocodile waxes fat and merry, for he has devoured the god Pher’s auspicious liver lining deposited in the mouth of the River’s rising. Beware! Whoever dares divulge this Secret will be torn in Holy Mizraim’s guardian jaws! Profane foreign seed sought to covet it and a glance of Pher smote them to ash; even shepherd kings will bear upon their heads and shoulders the Per-aa’s whip lash! Foreigners flee from the ascendant Per-aa’s cause, for Pher, highest of gods, has decreed the Secret inviolate by divine laws.

How could they not prevail with so potent a Throne-Secret in hand to combat the foreigner in Mizraim’s midst? Smiling, she held out the sacred Double Crown, for she alone, by right of her lineage on her mother’s side, had the right to bestow kingship on a prospective Per-aa. Not angry this time at her daring intrusion into men’s affairs, Dauphin Ahmoseh took it and put it on. Lady Aaho-pher, her task completed, took her place by Ahmoseh’s side. Now they had a Per-aa, no longer a prince! The room fairly danced with excitement and thirst for war. “We will sweep the blasphemous, infidel Usurper into the sea!” the newly crowned Ahmoseh declared as the nobility and war chiefs of Ibbatha thronged enthusiastically before his thronelike Chair of the Sacred Cobra. The vigor of his announcement seemed to heal the prince’s battered body all the quicker. Within days he was taking his chariot out, visiting armories and chariot-houses, with scribes writing furious notes in his “New Army of Pher Book.” Soon he had one thousand, then two thousand footmen being trained out on the High Desert, careless of Hyksos spies that hovered round the area like jackals circling when lions are feasting. It would not be long at that rate before he had ten and twenty thousand. Everyone pressed to join. And the chariots and warships! With ample gold from his own treasury and that of the nobles he ordered hundreds of iron-plated chariots and ships. What they had already on hand was sufficient to equip his army, but he wanted hundreds more for future campaigns, to replace any lost the coming investiture of Avaris. No longer in mourning black, emboldened by his Throne-Secret, Ahmoseh wore the gilded armor and robe of a commanding Ibbathan marshal or Per-aa. Everyone thought of him as the new Per-aa already. All waited for him to declare it openly. He did not disappoint them with his words. “First, I will lead my warships down the River to the robber-city, while the chariot corps take the fortresses and redoubts along the way,” he told his generals. “Then, when the foreign dog-king is overthrown and his nobles and army flung like excrement and a butcher shop’s offal into the sea, I will take the double crown of my fathers upon my head.” That was well said (and planned) for a twenty three year old with ambition. It was also a self-fulfilling prophecy for this savior of Mizraim, with considerable help from Pher’s magnificent “Eye.”

The Two Serpents, Part I

Announcing Lords Kalos, Hermos, and Zelos--ambassadors from the gods, or so they styled themselves! Landing in a sky-chariot that dwarfed the largest ship at the port, the ambassadors looked about the territory. Despite the kingdom’s location on the reborn island-continent, which in shape but not present appearance brought forth powerful emotions from these long-wandering sons of Atlantis, they were so offended by the smells, dust, and flies that they might have departed for Hattasus, the much larger capital of the imperial Hatti to see what they might arrange there--but chariots, send by the king, full of golden gifts, arrived just in time from the king of the city of the Ludim, and they changed their minds. They had once before--five millenia before this time--given a “gift” of great power to this city’s ancestor, but what had come of it? The mission had failed its purpose when the Ludim of that time squandered their opportunity, delaying the construction and deployment of the death ray satellite so long that the city’s enemies managed to think of a clever way through the city’s conventional defenses. So much for treating with humans! But now, after five millenia, after some spotty success in between with various barbarian cultures, they thought to try again with a culture that, in organization, best suited their own instincts of how society should be managed. It was fortunate for everyone concerned that an oracle of the temple had proclaimed a week before that they might expect just such a visitation. A priestess with the gift of divination had babbled of “Ambassadors from the Tarshish of the Stars” coming to visit them soon. They would fly down in a “sky-chariot.” Hearing the oracle, along with the warning codicil that spoke of a “two serpents twice, one pillar wrong, a lion comes comes to grief, hunted by his lice” the king ordered a watch to be set for the ambassadors, and days passed and he had just about decided to put the priestess to death in boiling oil for giving him a false prophecy when the visitors arrived. Crowds of awestruck Ludim gathered reverently around the sky-chariot, and many people worshiped the ambassadors as gods, and the visitors received their homage and gifts. They seemed particularly pleased with the golden articles, the fine craftsmanship of the city’s metalsmiths that both men and women took from their necks and arms and presented to them. How could the envoys of gods and the children of men communicate? Well, a small crystal of great cunning spoke for them in the language of the people, so that they were understood when they began speaking in their own heavenly language. The Ludim, in turn, marveled at the “Speaking Jewel,” the tall stature of the ambassadors and their Mizraimite garb, with two of the ambassadors appearing close in likeness of face that they could be brothers. Yet the sky-chariot excited attention most of all. About the size of a mechant ship, though carrying no mast and sail, it had drifted down from the heavens lightly as a feather--though everyone could see how its weight was so great that it crushed the grassy ground down half a cubit. The way it shone its lights, brighter than the sun, and made scarcely a sound--how smoothly and noiselessly it flew compared to a land-chained chariot! Its skin, too, was a marvel--there were no bolts or sharp edges, it was entirely seamless, as if the sky-chariot had been fashioned by the gods in one piece. The king and his court, having sent his most noble-blooded ambassadors, ceremoniously invited the gods’ messengers to the royal palace on the hill within the walled fortress-city. Attended by all the pomp the Ludim could manage--and that was quite sufficient, from beautifully plumed fans of Mizraim, priests of high rank covered in gorgeous ceremonial robes , naked imported Nubian giants carrying huge cymbals and banners, and musicians, and dancing girls and flower-strewing children--the ambassadors from the gods proceeded up the plain on golden litters carried upon carpets spread before them continuously to the royal city on the heights. For such exalted guests of the Ludim everything fine and good was poured out--the king held back nothing to please so great an embassy. He could not know what serpents he had taken to his bosum. These noblemen from the sky-chariot were not servants of gods but Atlanteans, a fallen race who had lost their homeland in the long-ago, when the island continent, Atlantis, broke, blew up, and sank beneath the sword of the Almighty, straight into the depths of the sea! For ages since the survivors searched for another such homeland, but there was none to be found like it until a second island-contient had arisen. So they remained nomads, a race without a country, yet aspiring to rule the Earth as they had ruled her before. The only problem was that they were noble-blooded but too few in numbers now to form a full-blown, working empire--they required the subsidiary, supporting classes--mainly human vassals and human inhabitants to make a revived Atlantis. To form such an empire, they also needed to communicate to humans, not just order them about as slaves. That had worked once, but now the humans were the most numerous, and so the Atlanteans were obliged to parley with them. To do that, concessions had to be made on both sides, with the Atlanteans stooping as far as possible toward respect of primitive local pieties, none of which they could actually share with humans, since they had left piety toward anything religious far, far behind after settling on mechanistic Atomism as the explanation for everything. The king of the Ludim, fervent devotees of the long-revered Goddess of the Lud, had no idea these great lords visiting him and his kingdom possessed not the slightest interest in gods--in fact, they believed in “No God”--that Nothing ruled at the heart of Creation. They had come to think that all life came from Nothing--No Thing--and returned ultimately to no-thing-ness. This “No God” of “No-Thing-Ness” was their religion. As a pillar of their temple they erected Materialism, and there all development of their race stopped. Without God, worshipping No-God, there was no point in progress, in pressing ahead into new knowledge and new heights of achievement. Instead, they drew on past intellectual and cultural capital. With nothing to discover of any greater worth than they already possessed, the Atlanteans attempted no new scientific works. They became living fossils, but their high state of technology kept them “advanced” above a half-barbarized, half-civilized Bronze Age Earth. In the struggles for the Earth and the Universe, the Atlanteans still employed considerable powers, thanks to their ancient forebears. They also supposed they could teach the lowly human race a thing or two, as a reward for arranging to give them certain supplies of “ambrosia,” the nectar of the gods. Now the “Priam” or ruler of the City of the Ludim could see great advantage to be seized if he could ally his city and kingdom with divine ambassadors who flew above the earth in a magnificent sky-chariot. He gave into every demand of the visitors for the sake of learning and gaining some of their evident great powers. The blood of Achaean slaves--certainly! He sent orders immediately for the ambassadors to be supplied with all they could carry away in their sky-chariot. Future supplies? Yes, he agreed to that too. Then he made his first and perhaps greatest mistake--though no one would have known it at the time, nor for ages afterwards, just how fatal a slip it was. He invited the ambassadors to view a sacrifice in the Great Temple of the Goddess. When all the nobles and priests were gathered in the Temple adjoining the Palace, the solemn sacrifice began. Achaean slaves, male and female, were led out bound from the temple storehouse, and then pushed down before the altar. The ambassadors watched fascinated as the ceremony proceeded, with the captives throats pierced and the blood collected in a golden utensil that, when filled, was lifted to the image of the Goddess by priests. Using golden ladles, they appeared to be feeding the maw of the Goddess, but that was mere ceremony, for after a few such motions the two priests poured the whole container down the open mouth of the Goddess. All this was agreeable to the ambassadors, who seemed to appreciate the ritual, but one thing only displeased them--the image of the Goddess. Why was she a pig? And those shoats attached to her multiple breasts--it was gross to them, so much so that they brought out a cunning device to show the king. Looking into the curving mirror, for it resembled one to him, he saw flashing, bright pictures of a land he thought must be the land of the gods themselves--so glorious it was, so full of marvels in buildings and flying sky-chariots. But, after telling the king that he should expect to see what a Goddess really was, the pictures turned to various notables of the realm of the gods--and a queenly woman appeared in the gazing mirror. Her imperious face, white as ivory, and her arms, entwined with golden serpents--proved a revelation to the king. Thunderstruck by the thought that his religion was wrong--that his people were so primitive as to mistake the real goddess for a nursing sow--the king was so overcome that he had to be helped by his retainers to his throne in the palace. Mystified, the priests continued the ceremony without him, though wondering what had happened to their sovereign. The ambassadors departed with the ambrosia of the gods, with promises to return. They did not leave without imparting gifts to the king, however. “ If the Achaeans should turn unruly and refuse to give up their people to you, then you may use this device--weapon--against them,” they told the king. They showed him what they had, but would not leave it. Instead, they left instructions on how to fashion his own, which was less powerful but would do what was needed to subdue the Achaeans once the need arose. A pact was signed to this effect, that the alliance would continue as long as the gods in heaven approved the Ludim and their king. The alliance rested, of course, on faithful supplies of ambrosia. They would come again and take a fresh supply at another time, the king was informed. Still overcome by the image he had seen in the gazing mirror, the king conceded everything demanded of him, and when they had departed he fell sick and then died. It remained to his royal son to take up where he left off. The son, appalled at his father’s worship of the pig-goddess--for he had seen the image of the “True Goddess”--ordered the pig-goddess buried beneth the foundation of a new temple, and a wonderful image of the Goddess, reborn in the likeness of the one seen in the gazing mirror--was installed. For years the son awaited the ambassadors’ return, but they failed to come. The instructions for the Achaean destroyer was put away in the temple archives and forgotten, though not entirely--since the temple archivist knew of the tablets and the royal seal placed on them. For several reigns nothing was done about them. But the Achaeans, who were continually pressing upon the Kaphtorim and their island-base, finally succeeded, when an earthquake reduced the power of the mighty Kaphtorim sufficiently for the Achaeans to seize control. Now the Achaeans were supreme in the Western Isles, and posed their first major threat to the city-kingdom of the Ludim on the mainland. The Hatti, of course, being a powerful people, every bit as tall and broad as the Achaean race in body, would not have been alarmed, but the smaller-bodied Ludim knew their time would come next to face the Achaean warriors. Alert to the danger the kings made search of any possible defense, and there was none they had not already employed--a strong navy, a strong wall-fortress city for the capital, a standing army of trained soliders supplemented by hired mercenaries and also contingents of Hatti, and the geographical position of the city itself--set on easily-defended heights, while facing the life-giving sea that supplied the city its trade and a large portion of its wealth. Commanding this redoubt, the city could not be surprised and captured by a raiding force of Achaeans. It could suffer a siege, but the city was prepared to withstand any the Achaeans had heart to organize--and the Achaeans were notorious for their inability to stay with one line of attack for very long if it didn’t soon succeed. The heros of the Achaeans were world-renowed, but each was out for his own glory and his city’s glory in close second--his nation and race--they held in low regard, whereas the Ludim thought of their race and nation first, and placed small stock in individual heroes. Two world-views, two ways of society, two races--the Ludim and the Achaeans traded but always with a sharp eye to catch any trickery or taking advantage. Relations were uneasy at best, especially after the Achaeans began turning their eyes toward the Ludim’s city, increasingly coming to the same unified view that the city was the foe of their people, and if crushed would yield heaps of women, gold, and slaves. Why not attack it? The Achaeans had overcome the Kaphtorim, whose seventy cities with great walls and uncountable warships guarding their coasts could not save them from being overcome by Achaean arms. Even the gods had turned against the Kaphtorim, in sending a Great Shaking that knocked down their high walls and fortresses! Would the gods not do the same against the Ludim in turn, since they were related to Kaphtorim? Thinking this way, the Achaeans began to resent the yearly tributes from their cities to the naval captains of the Ludim’s fleet--and especially did they resent how their people were sold or captured by the Ludim and then sacrificed to their new Goddess. The new Goddess of the Serpent Arms impressed them--but why should she demand only Achaean blood-sacrifices? the Achaeans wanted to know. As more of their people came from the north to join them in the south, the Achaeans of the Western Isles began to think more of themselves as a people and nation than ever before. They were not mere scattered bands, but the possessors of cities and many ships. They had overcome the Kaphtorim. As a people, a nation, their sensibilities and pride were quickened. And to meet this grave threat, the Ludim also geared up their defenses, hoping for the best. But would they be enough? The king of the Ludim, Zanthus, or Priam Zanthus, turned to his chief counsellors for an answer one day. Chief Cupbearer turned slightly pale beneath his facial cosmetics--for the Mizraimite custom had been imported to the court and the nobility. “O Great King, O Priam of the people, we--” He faltered, then turned to the priests he had brought, in case he needed something desperate like temple knowledge and wisdom--and surely he was desperate enough now to ally himself with the priestly caste! “Yes, Your Majesty, we have an answer here. Just the thing to stop the Achaean barbarians in their tracks!” The Cupbearer escorted the temple archivist priest to the throne, and the king stared down at the tablets the man carried in his arms. Taking a tablet, the Cupbearer, who could not read a word of them, showed the old record to the ruler, and he could make no sense of it. There were dozens of tablets held by the archivist, a heavy load, and he was dropping a number while waiting for the high official to get through with the explanation. “It is very simple, Glorious Sire,” the Cupbearer went on. “I know the language of the gods well, but this is our own language, as you no doubt ascertain. It says that your royal forebear, Priam VI, signed a sacred pact with ambassadors of the gods in the Year of the--” The king nodded, unable to comprehend until the tablets the priest held containing drawings and instructions were shown him on how to restore a sky-chariot that was reserved for them in a special, northern location. It was sealed in ice, the ambassadors had recorded, so that ice picking was necessary to release it from its berth. He could send ships to the spot, using the maps provided, with plenty of axes. This was something he could grasp-- a great sky-chariot of their own to destroy the Achaeans! A war weapon like none other the world knew--the gods had favored his people the Ludim with the means to wipe the Achaeans from the earth if the king wished it! His warriors could fire down arrows on the Achaeansor pour boiling oil and set it aflame, all done with no risk to themselves since they would have the mobility and speed of the gods! Besides all this, the sky-chariot’s skin no doubt was imperious to return fire from the Achaean bowmen. The king beamed at the news. Yes, he did indeed wish it! Adjourning all other court business, the king went directly to the port to get an expedition going. project. He poured all the kingdom’s resources into it, and was not satisfied until everything was done strictly according to instructions.

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