Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Temple Plot Fragment 5

The night before we passed in serenity. Gods know how. The night before I held the princess close and felt courage in her bones, the pristine surface of her skin. I listened in the darkest hour for the wind to whisper that our liberation would be soon. I experienced the bravery of hope.

The night before ended with the screech of batwings, echoing in my mind. A rough hand shook my shoulder, waking me from longing, waking me from any safety. Still befuddled by sleep I looked beyond the shadow of my captor to the entrance of the cave that had been our shelter. Behind and between the men crouched at the opening, the kaleidoscopic landscape stretched out. Alien to the princess and I, and where we were being forced to go. She still slumbered. I touched her with a low 'be brave my dear' and she stirred, giving a little moan...

...I am Merytaset, high priestess, God's wife of Amun at Thebes, and I am impotent. Useless. My heka has failed me. The reign of the Queen to which I owe my life is over. Incredulity, doubt and ignorance of the signs until it was too late meant that I failed to save the Pharaoh from the assassins' blades. That was many suns ago and I wonder at the fate of Alexandria.

Have they chosen peace under a new oppressor or risen up against those who murdered Cleopatra? I push at the carnage of memory, the image of her lifeless body, cut in many places, the wings of life torn from her breast. I recall searching for the orphan child who now lies in my arms. Our crazy, my crazy notion of flight which ended with our apprehension by Ragnorakh and his men.

...why are we still alive? And what do they mean to do with us now? Do they recognise the child as Cleopatra's daughter or has my flimsy attempt at disguise held? I must quell all these questions and take each day, each minute as it passes. I must bury grief, ignore the absence that burns like hunger in my Ba, and look to the child. Her safety, her redemption is all that matters.

'Happiness can be a choice,' my mother oft said. I will find that choice even here, Isis willing, I told myself, getting to my feet, and lifting Isidora to hers.


Though the princess had slept, I saw the shadows of the night under her eyes. It is an abiding memory, that look of implication in her limpid blue pools. A gaze that would reduce to rubble any subterfuge. It is that which perseveres when I try to crystallize my mix of feelings on that morning. The morning of the day when innocence died in her proud, aristocratic face. All my priestly eloquence, all adoratrice artifice could not hold back time. There are things that men make and do, that break us.

Ra was well into his passage, a satellite of love forgotten crossing the sky when the men tethered us to the horse. We began the journey down the mountain to what I was now convinced was our final destination. A city whose walls reflected marmalade, radiant in the sun. In other times it would have been, no doubt, an invitation, the lantern of a friend welcoming one home.

But our home, the princess's and mine, was far away, two deserts and more. A fresh wind came came up at our backs, and I was thankful for my resolve was failing. Thankful, for I wanted to be at this city, wanted our fate to be minted upon our brows. So, Isis willing, I could face it.

There was a forest that graced the foot and the lower slopes of the mountain, trees thick in places. Ragnorakh and his men scythed with ease through it. I had my wish. Soon, we emerged from scrub to a short trail that led to a brindly assortment of buildings, half constructed and half demolished walls. The edge of this unknown but obviously ancient city was also home to various travelling peoples camped outside.

As we slowed and passed them, they came out of their homes, curious at the latest visitors. Behind the settlements, all higgle piggle, and a myriad of coloured fabric roofs, a grove of cedar wood trees wafted their scent in the breeze. From a tent nearby, a lament was being plucked on an instrument my ears could not place. But its melody captured my heart with dread. The princess, sensing my distress, squirmed on the saddle in front of me and I gripped her ever tighter.

Looking ahead, I saw a large hole in the city wall. Tall, ebony men with weapons were guarding it. Our means of entry I presumed. It too had been repaired in a makeshift way. The remains of a huge statue that had, some time past, marked the city entrance, were scattered in front of the men. A familiar and strange sight. The broken forearm was at least thirty feet long. It was wedged in the ground, the fingers of its hand all perished except one that pointed to an unforgiving sky. The enormous head of a Goddess lay on her side nearby. Empty eyes stared straight at me. I knew then that faith had fled this city. The wind of a sudden gusted, bringing fear to my bones.


Copyright Gabrielle Goldsmith 2014

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