Exile in the Desert

Scribe’s Note 10-05-14: This draws on the mythos that Wesir was buried in the Faiyum, which I didn’t know about until I began reading about Sobek in the Faiyum recently, and discovered His connections with Wesir and Heru, and the Wesir mythos. More on that later.

The river where Heru was born was not safe for long. Word came that the Usurper was coming, burning down all the reeds along the banks to chase out where we were hiding. He had heard about Heru, and his rage was unspeakable. I could smell the smoke in the air as he approached, and the Lady and her son were afraid. But no one knows the waters like I do, and I took them away, beneath the land, through the secret river, to a place not even the Red Lord would ever find.

We took Wesir’s body with us. The Lady would not have me leave it behind. She insisted he should be buried properly, far away from the lands were the Red Lord now ruled to keep it safe. She didn’t want any further harm coming to him. He was laid in a sarcophagus, and tended to gently as we travelled.

Finding an oasis in a desert is not an easy thing to do, though my heka kept us hidden. As we were almost as weary as Wesir, we found a place to rest, a paradise from the sand and dead land all around us. A river flowed there from the south, feeding a rich array of vegetation and fruit. There were high cliff walls, and caves, and I made the land productive for us.

We were so far away from Kemet. The beautiful Nile, and the rich black land, were a long distant memory, left far beyond the dunes. We missed it terribly, but knew it would not be safe to return there for many years. Young Heru felt it all an adventure. He played in the shallow water, and chased the fish that swam there. His joy was unbounded, and neither the Lady nor I could bear to make him miserable by telling him why we had fled.

Giving Wesir a proper burial was the first thing we did. We made a tomb in the caves, hiding his body away. We prayed over him, returned him to life wherever he was, and made offerings to him. We spoke heka to bind his body and keep him safe. We sung to him, called his name, made sure he was not forgotten.

The Lady rarely left the tomb in those first few weeks. Heru stayed with her sometimes, and listened to the stories his mother told about his father. Other times, Heru played with me in the river. He would bear such a terrible burden, but the young boy splashing about in the water showed none of that yet. His eyes, sharp and focussed, showed nothing but life and joy.

We spent many long years there in our little oasis. The Lady built a shrine for Wesir, and we made offerings there every day. Sometimes, Wesir would come and speak to us, but mostly, we just felt his thanks. He would smile when he saw Heru proudly offering a loaf of bread to him.

My messengers were in regular contact, letting us know what was going on back in the kingdom. It had become a wasteland. The people starved, the crops failed, and river was not flooding. Many had fled to other lands, driven away by the Red Lord’s grief. Some even made their way to our little oasis. We took them in, and cared for them.

I can still remember the sight of them coming over the dune and seeing their faces smile as they saw the river. There were twenty of them, all that had survived the long journey through the desert, along with three donkeys and a small dog. Seven children had managed to survive, and Heru ran to them, glad to have others to play with.

We fed them and offered them shelter. They told us stories from Kemet that backed up what my messengers had been telling me. It made my heart heavy to hear what had become of the lands we loved. I could feel it in their hearts too. They wept for their land, just as we had done.

The Lady and I taught them many things. These people, wherever they had come from, were now all we had, and they looked to us for guidance and help. Many were poor farmers and potters, who had never known any other kind of work. They built us temples, and made houses, and began to farm the productive land. I taught them to read and write. The Lady taught them to fish and hunt and farm animals. I taught them how to make fish nets and traps.

The Lady asked for nothing but their devotion and trust, and they gave it willingly. I taught them to make papyrus, and grind ink, and cut pens to write with. The Lady taught them to read the stars, and how to tend to the icons in the temple. We taught them the festivals, and the rituals, and the prayers, and the hymns. Then they taught us some of their own. A god is a god, but a god is nothing without worshippers. Together, we built a small village, and as it grew, so things began to feel better. Another group of exiles arrived, and we gave them shelter. We made sure there was enough for everyone. The people thrived, and more children were born. It became a sanctuary from the terrible world outside.

Heru was still a young child when the first group arrived. It had been left to me to tell him about his father, and the land we had fled from. I didn’t feel he would ever be ready to hear the news, but he was a wise if impetuous boy, and I knew he would have to find out one way or another. He had always known about him, but we felt him too young to understand what had happened.

Heru was growing into a strong man, as young as he appeared. He had sharp eyes, and a deep perception of the world around him. He could tell I had something to discuss with him when I approached him. He was by the river again, sitting in the shade, trying to spear fish for dinner. Perhaps he had always known what I had wanted to tell him for years, but kept it secret from me. It was never easy to tell with him.

I moved next to him, watching how he followed the fish as they swam about, before knowing just the right time to throw the spear, catching the fish. He had half a basket full of fish now, and some would be smoked for later. I knew part of his luck was because of who he was. Even a young god can be extraordinarily skilled, and Heru’s powers were beginning to grow. His human appearance belied his divinity.

“It’s about my father, isn’t it? Everything is always about my father. Does he require more offerings?” Heru said, still focussed on a fish he could see slipping past him.

“Do you know why we offer libations to your father? Do you know why we remember him?” I asked.

Heru didn’t reply until he’d speared the fish. “Mother said he died a long time ago, that he drowned in the river. Is that true?”

I considered his words, and my own reply, wondering how much I ought to say. “It is true enough. Perhaps if his death had been an accident, that it had just been another death like the fish you have just killed, maybe it would be easier for you to understand. You may not understand the reasons why it had to happen for many years, until you are much older than you are now, and it is for this reason that I do not wish to tell you. You will be angry, and rightly so, but you are not yet ready to avenge him. The day will come, yes, but you are still too young.”

“The people talk about the Red Lord’s savagery. They say he killed my father out of jealousy, that he wanted the throne for himself. The land is suffering because of it. I can feel it in my bones, Lord Sobek, I can feel the land crying out to me in my dreams.”

“That’s because it is rightfully yours, and it cries for its king. Yes, the Red Lord did kill your father, because he asked him to do so, in order to make a life possible for the people after they die. The people who didn’t make it to our oasis, they reside with your father now, in his kingdom, under his care. Before Wesir died, there was no death. But there must always be death, as well as life. Your father understood that intimately. That is why he died. He trusted no one but his brother to take his life.”

Heru waded out to spear another fish as he thought about my words. I watched him miss, and the fish swim away, as his composure broke. The spear lay sunk into the sand, the water breaking against it in protest.

I approached him and brought him into my arms, holding him close. He resisted for a moment, but gave in.

“No one will tell you this, because they will want you to hate him for what he did, but the Red Lord refused at first. He did not wish to kill his beloved brother. Whatever anyone tells you, be sure that he loved your father. He did not act out of spite or jealousy, but out of love. And now, his name will be cursed for all eternity. The strongest of the gods, the defender of Ra, he will be cursed and spat on, and his name scratched out for the rest of time because of what he did. He will be exiled, and your father will be venerated. Death brings forth life brings forth death. One does not exist without the other.”

I could feel the anger and confusion in his body. He wasn’t old enough to understand. Perhaps if it had been done out of spite, maybe it would have been easier, but sacrifice is always hard to understand when the loss is so deep.

The Lady, Heru’s mother, never stopped grieving while we lived out at the oasis. She tended his shrine, and cared for the people, and she cared for Heru, but she cared not for herself. She did not see the point.

I would often find her sitting by the river at night, gazing up at the sky. She would never speak, but she would reach out and touch me when I approached, knowing I was still there. I promised never to leave her or her son, and I would not break my word. I found her there the night after I had told Heru of his father’s fate. The air seemed heavier then, and I knew Heru would need some time to deal with what I had told him.

“What is it you think of, my Lady, when you gaze up at the vault of Nut?” I asked.

“I talk to the stars. Sometimes I fear they are my only company in this wretched land. The Throne is far away from the Black Land, and I know it will be many more long years before we are back there again. Perhaps it would have been easier to bear if my brother had been with us. Life, at least in exile, would have been joyful,” the Lady said.

I could hear the grief still in her voice, but said nothing more. Silence came between us. The thin crescent moon shone down on us, and the night air was growing particularly cool as winter approached. It was hard to tell the seasons with nothing but our small fertile island to watch. We had no flood to herald the beginning of the year, no way to know when the harvest would begin, or when to plant. Sopdet would rise in strange places and at strange times. The rhythms of this strange new land in this endless desert ruled our lives, and the lives of the people living with us. We were used to it by then, but it never felt like home.

“I have told him about his father,” I said.

“Yes, I can tell. Thank you, my Lord. I would have done it myself, but – I was not certain I had the strength,” the Lady said.

“You have my strength, my Lady, whenever you have need of it,” I said.

She looked at me then, and moved closer to me. I held her, that was all, as she wept. In the distance, I could hear Heru’s cries as he threw his spear into the water. Our little settlement was not a happy place that night.

Heru found me emerging from the river at dawn the next day. I had never seen him look so determined before. I had seen him run into Wesir’s shrine the night before, and he looked as though he had spent the night praying there, talking to his father. He still had his spear, though now he held it as a weapon of war, not as a hunting tool. He stood, then, more like the warrior he would become.

“Lord Sobek, you told me my father would be avenged when I was ready. You are knwon for your viciousness, Lord. Teach me what I must know. I will not let the land suffer any longer than necessary. I felt it crying to me all night. I yearn to return to it and claim it back. That is all I care about now. I will return home, and exile the Usurper. He will never step foot in the kingdom again,” Heru said.

I considered his words as I joined him. I wasn’t sure his attitude was wise, but he was not old enough to know better what he ought to do. He was the rightful heir, after all. Of course the land was calling for him. I could almost feel the Red Lord’s curse descend upon him as he spoke. Heru’s speech was powerful enough to bring forth his desires. They rippled across the land, laying the foundations for what was to come. And yet, to exile the strongest of the gods, the only one who can defeat the evil serpent each night… Perhaps, in time, when he was older, he would understand better what he had done.

“I cannot blame you for wanting to claim the throne back. It is rightfully yours, after all. You are far from being ready, though. Your youthful anger will not make you a good king. You will not heal the land with that attitude. You have your own grief to deal with, and it will do you no good to pretend you are fit to rule anyone, not now, not when you are so young. One day, yes, you will be ready, but you have a long way to go before that day is here. If you have any sense at all, you will take all the time you need to prepare, or your vengeance will be for nothing. Do you understand this?” I said.

I could see he was doing his best to process it. He was not bereft of wisdom, and I knew he was not, at that moment, the focused spear fisher, but existing in a world where nothing made sense.

He knelt before me, the spear dropping from his hand. “I am lost and afraid, my Lord Sobek. I am hurt and sick and alone, and you and my mother are all I have now. But I will be strong, and I will learn from you. I cannot do this without you. Teach me everything.”

I searched his heart as he sat there, and felt he was not as angry as he had been the night before. The senselessness of it all had been turned into anger with a purpose. An injustice had been done, and it was down to Heru to redress it. In time, he would come to rule the two lands once more. But at that moment, he was merely a son who had lost his father, and didn’t know what else to do. I held him close, and hoped he would be ready for the battle.

2 comments on “Exile in the Desert

  1. […] Exile in the Desert […]

  2. Stuart Goodwin says:

    Great work

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