Chapter 4 – Touching the Sky
The Stonemaker halted his weary band in the shade of the rocky escarpment, allowing them too much water from the team’s meagre supplies. It had been a long march from the banks of the Nile, where their boat lay tied up to stout wooden stakes, recently cut and driven deep into the banks of the fertile river.
This was to be the last of their visits to the rising tower in this remote part of Egypt. They had only one evening and two days to complete their work. The leader knew that what lay ahead would have to be forced, but saw in the eyes of his team a determined look that spoke of their understanding of the royal command. Royal, yes, but not from the usual source of the Pharaoh Seti or his vizier – this instruction had come from Seti’s son, the King-in-Rising, Rameses, second of that name and heir to all that Seti had built, against the background of an Egypt that had seemed, two generations ago, to be falling apart.
Now, it wasn’t; and the feeling of renewal was palpable. No-one doubted that the young Rameses had been raised to be a capable and determined warrior and statesman. There remained, however, among those who had worked closely to bring Seti’s visions to life, a sense of unease, as though they could feel the seething forces that were said to lie just beneath Rameses’ efficiently quiet exterior.
The stone-workers carried with them the plans for the final, topmost section of the Tower of the Sun, which had been neatly drawn on parchment by the young regent. The royal tower neared completion, standing proud and gleaming with its casing of smoothed limestone. The monument was being built on the ruins of an older foundation, one that Rameses seemed strangely fond of. No-one knew why. It was part of an estate that the royal house had taken in payment of a longstanding debt from the past.
Sarkur, the leader, and master architect of the stone-working team, had taken the liberty of letting slip their increasing workload on the tower the last time that he and Seti had strolled through the royal gardens at Pi-Ramesse. They were discussing the progress on some of the more advanced water-channels that were to supply the newly created oasis, rising, like a vision, out of the Nile delta’s marshes. The response had been emphatic. “Give him what he wants, old friend,” Seti had instructed. “Egypt is his now, though I wish he could feel the love with which that is given …”
Sarkur had winced at the pain in his beloved Pharaoh’s eyes. Although they were from very different backgrounds, the master architect and craftsman had excelled and come to his King’s attention. After many years of mutual trust, their work together had become the most valued thing in the Stonemaker’s life.
“I am dying, Sarkur,” Seti had said, in simple and honest tones, in response to his friend’s enquiring glance. “My son knows that, though he is uncharacteristically absent at such a propitious time…”
Sarkur had forced himself to smile at his Pharaoh’s expression of irony. Dying he might have been, but his mind was as sharp as ever. Seti had risen from humble origins and had gained his ascendancy as a result of brilliant military campaigns, which had restored and extended the frontiers of the black land. His latter years had seen a more peaceful Pharaoh, as the great man’s mind turned to what he wished to leave behind as legacy.
Now, Sarkur raised his head from the shadow of the ominous tower into the evening’s still-potent heat and dismissed the memory of that last conversation. He knew that he was unlikely to see Seti, again; and that the execution of the Pharoah’s last instruction was therefore of prime importance. How poignant that the task had taken the stone-workers so far from the royal palace at this time of transition.
Sarkur looked into the eyes of his dark-skinned foreman, Mereuka. The huge man was unpacking the chest of tools with which they would make precision cuts into the selected limestone blocks before them. Constructing anything round was always a challenge, and the upper floor of the Rameses Tower was now twenty cubits above them, accessed only by an internal spiral stone staircase.
Mereuka studied his leader’s worried face and picked up one of the massive hammers. “We can do it,” he said, flexing the hefty bronze tool. “If we will it like this!” He drove the hammer into the edge of a discarded block, hitting it so hard it split long its length. Everyone looked at the results of the blow. It was as though the giant had known exactly where to strike the rock to find the tiny fault lines within the stone’s structure. For long seconds, the shattered rock seemed to vibrate with the intent of Mereuka’s blow. When it settled, the air around them had changed.
“Yes,” said Sarkur, nodding gratefully at his friend. “Just like that…” He began to smile. Around him the stone workers were hauling themselves to their feet, taking the tools offered by their foreman and beginning the ascent of the strange tower of the Pharoah-in-Rising.
None of them knew why the tower was so important, but all of them knew it would be finished as commanded by the severe young man who would soon rule Egypt.
Index to previous chapters:
Introduction to River of the Sun
In April 2015 a group of people gathered in the Derbyshire hills to enact the Silent Eye’s annual Mystery Play, entitled, The River of the Sun. The five-act mystical drama formed the backbone of that Spring weekend, and told the fictional story of a clash of ego and divinity set in an Isis-worshipping temple located on an island in the Nile, during the the fascinating period of the 19th dynasty, the time of Rameses the Great.
The 18th and 19th dynasties were a time of upheaval for ancient Egypt on many levels. The reign of the ‘Heretic King’ Akhenaten saw Egypt’s religious structure torn apart, as the revolutionary Pharaoh became what Wallis Budge called the ‘world’s first monotheist’; re-fashioning the power of the many Gods with one supreme entity – the visible sun disc, the Aten, for which Akhenaten, alone, was the high priest. Many have pointed to the failure of the ‘herectic’ Pharaoh’s politics, but few have doubted the sincerity of his religious vision. He will, forever, remain an enigma.
Whatever the nobility of his goal, the actions he took were ruthless, and included the shutting down of the annual deity festivals which were the sole point of ritualistic contact between the ordinary people of Egypt and their locally-worshipped gods. In addition, Akhenaten paid little attention to the domestic and military affairs of Egypt, allowing the country’s enemies to encroach on its borders, greatly weakening Egypt’s power at that critical time for the region.
After Akhenaten’s brief reign, culminating in the Pharaoh’s mysterious death, shadowy military forces took control of Egypt, instigating the 19th dynasty in the persons of Rameses I and, soon thereafter, Seti I, whose throne name derives from the god Set – often considered the ‘evil one’ because of his slaying of his brother, Osiris.
Seti I is judged by modern historians as having been one of the greatest-ever pharaohs, yet his importance in the 19th dynasty was eclipsed by the actions of his second son, the brilliant Rameses II, whose long reign of over sixty years included much self-promotion and the alteration of Egypt’s recent history. Both Seti and Rameses II (Rameses the Great) were passionate about the evisceration of the last traces of Akhenaten’s ‘chaos’, as they saw it.
But, although, by the 19th dynasty, the the ‘Son of the Sun’ was long dead and the buildings of his embryonic and doomed city of Tel-al-Armana were reduced to rubble, something of that time remained in the Egyptian consciousness. A new kind of connection between Pharaoh and God had been established, one which elevated mankind, if only in the being of the Pharaoh, to be someone who ‘talked with God’. It was, at the very least, a bold experiment and, though the world would have to wait until the 19th century to re-discover the ‘erased’ pharaoh, the philosophical waves of that period rippled out and dramatically affected the way the incoming 19th dynasty had to repair the worship of the Gods, uniting the people of Egypt under a trinity of Amun-Ra, Khonsu and Mut.
Our fictional story is a tale of politics, friendships, mind and faith. It is set against an historically accurate background, and at a time when Rameses was due to take the throne from the dying Seti .
Returning to Thebes in his swift warship, crewed by his fearsome Talatat mind-warriors, Rameses decides to mount a surprise night-time raid on the island-based Isis temple which has prospered under the sponsoring reign of his father. Rameses suspects that the inner teachings conducted by the revered High Priestess and Priest conceal views that relate to the thoughts of the heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten. He plans to insert himself and his warriors of the mind into the islands’s Spring rites as the high priest and priestess begin a cycle of initiation for a chosen apprentice priest who has proved himself worthy of special advancement.
The resulting clash draws everyone, including the young Pharaoh-in-Rising, into a spiralling situation where each is forced to confront their own fears as well as living out the roles which life has allocated them. River of the Sun is the story of a spiritual and political encounter from which none emerge unchanged, including the man who will shortly be Pharaoh, the mighty Rameses II, whose secret name for himself is ‘the unchosen’.
Through the eyes and minds of those surrounding the chosen priest and the ‘unchosen’ Pharaoh, the River of the Sun takes us on a tense and compelling journey to the heart of power and its eternal struggle with truth.
The chapters of the book will be serialised in this blog. The finished work is planned to be available in paperback and Kindle by the end of the year, and will contain the full novel plus an appendix of the dramatic rituals used to enact the story in April 2015.
Index to previous chapters:
River of the Sun, serialised here, and its associated images, is the intellectual property of Stephen Tanham and is ©Copyright material.