******chapter two: men From the Past
Water! Must have water, came his all-consuming thought. Slowly, painfully, Carson dragged his protesting body towards the life-giving source, scooped up the cool refreshing liquid and slaked his thirst with relish. Never did he think that such a simple thing could taste so sweet.
Carson restrained himself, slowed his consumption, realizing that to drink too much at once would make him sick, hoping his vaccinations would protect him from the harmful microbes he was no doubt swallowing. He paused, splashed his face and looked about. The body of water before him was a large ornamental pond festooned with lotus blossoms whose delicate perfume filled the air, as did the scent of other flowers in the elaborate garden that surrounded him.
Gazing across the pool he beheld a home of whitewashed mud brick whose high windows vented heat from the airy rooms, some of which opened upon a broad loggia at one side. The front door, shaded by a portico whose timber pillars had been carved to represent stylized papyrus, completed the graceful design.
Good Lord, thought Carson, as he looked with amazement at the building. If Iím not mistaken thatís the home of an ancient Egyptian nobleman, Middle Kingdom period. But thatís impossible. I must have stumbled onto a movie set.
This desperate rationalization, a frantic attempt to make sense of the impossible, was quickly shattered when Carson noticed something strange about the light. Looking up, he beheld the firmament, and his jaw dropped with the shock of what he saw, for it crushed all hope of any mundane explanation. No blue sky arched above him in comforting familiarity, no blazing sun shone down upon him. As far as his disbelieving eyes could see, was a dome of swirling opalescent mist whose roiling elements glowed in sinuous undulations like some strange preternatural aurora of mystic light.
Doubts about his own sanity were uppermost in Carsonís mind as he gazed upon the strange phenomenon. But the reality of the firm earth beneath his knees belied his fear that all about was mere hallucination engendered by exposure to the desert sun.
Snap out of it, man, he thought in self-chastisement, as he continued drinking. Youíre badly dehydrated. Better concentrate on survival and fill your belly with water, not your mind with fruitless speculation.
Feeling that the mystery of his strange surroundings would be resolved in time, Carson stripped, shook the sand from his clothes, emptied half the desert from his boots, or so it seemed, and entered the pool. He relaxed in its cool waters; drinking sparingly, and soon felt customary healthful strength returning to his weary limbs.
He looked warily about. The place was deserted, but the well maintained house and garden bore silent testimony to the presence of its owners, and he knew they could not be far away.
A sound came to Carsonís ears, as if in response to his prophetic thoughts. Turning, he beheld three men approaching. They were dressed in kilt-like garments of white linen; their chests were bare, the skin being reddish brown in color. Weighty staffs were grasped firmly in their strong hands.
Horu and his servants cautiously approached the foreigner as he exited the pond and hastily donned his garments. The man was of a strange appearance Ė straw colored hair, pale skin, though somewhat reddened where his outlandish clothes left it exposed to the Sun Godís fiery gaze. Was he human, or a demon of the wilderness? The nobleman had no answer to that question. They were all living in strange times and Horu felt that anything was possible. Best do his duty and seize the fellow as commanded.
Carson stood gazing uncertainly at the nobleman who shouted something at him. The American had studied the language of ancient Egypt and was conversant with its words and grammar. But his learning was from books, not the living tongue, and the strange swift accent made what was said difficult to understand. That, and the shock of seeing these men from the past whose bones should be dust, not clothed in living flesh, left his mind a whirl of thoughts.
Horu drew near. Mistaking Carsonís silence for arrogance and annoyed at the invasion of his home, he thrust viciously at the Americanís belly with his staff.
The wood grazed Carsonís ribs as he twisted aside, the sudden and unexpected assault bringing him to his senses. Grabbing the staff, he jerked his opponent off balance, sending him tumbling into the pond with a startled yell.
Horuís servants fell upon the stranger with swinging blows, seeking to avenge the indignity heaped upon their master, who spluttered curses as he floundered in the pool. Carson ducked one whirling staff, stepped close and smashed the manís groin with his fist.
The Egyptian collapsed with a whimpering cry, the American hurling his limp form upon the other. Both assailants went down in a tangled heap, falling heavily upon the paving as Horu hauled himself from the water and lunged at Carsonís back, knocking him to the ground.
Both men rolled, wrestled desperately, each seeking the advantage as with straining thews they fought like wild bulls. Both fell back into the pool with a tremendous splash, Carson forcing Horu beneath the surface, hands locked about his throat, fearing he must kill or be killed.
The less injured servant struggled to his feet, saw his master was in peril of his life, leapt into the pond and wrapped one burly arm about Carsonís neck, forcing him to relinquish his strangling grip.
Horu burst from the water, gasping air, eyes ablaze with fury. He saw Carson, both hands wrenching his opponentís constricting arm. The nobleman slammed his blocky fist into the Americanís jaw. Once, twice, a third time, and the fight was over.
The victors dragged Carson from the pond, quickly bound his arms behind his back with leather thongs and hauled him to his feet. He stood swaying drunkenly, eyeing his battered protagonists who were breathing heavily from their exertions, as was he.
Looks like Iíve made quite an impression on the locals, he thought, glumly. Unfortunately, it's not the one I had in mind.
As for the victors, they regarded Carson with grudging admiration, for they saw in him a worthy foe. Even so, he was an enemy and they knew where their duty lay.
Upon the noblemanís command, his men linked their arms through Carsonís and marched him out of the garden, through the slender portal piercing the propertyís enclosing wall, and onto the narrow twisting street that eventually debouched upon one of the broad avenues that divided the city into quarters.
Other Egyptians, similarly dressed, traversed the dusty boulevard, treading lightly in the cool shadows of tall palms that lined the way. With fearful eyes they cast wary glances at the American, as if some nameless menace overshadowed them, suspended by a slender thread that might snap at any moment and crush them beneath its terrible weight. It seemed to Carson as if dread stalked the city, lashing the hapless people with unknown terrors, and he wondered as to the cause of it.
What fate awaited him Carson did not know, nor was he all that eager to discover. Death by torture? He steeled himself for such an end, and listened carefully to the whispered conversation of his captors, their speech slowly becoming more intelligible to him with the passing minutes. Apparently he was being taken to someone who styled herself as the Sorceress.
A strange title, thought Carson, wondering as to what it could portend. I could try and fight free, but Iíd be one man against a city of thousands. Best I try and reason with this woman.
After a time, the American and his guards came to the temple complex built upon a butte in the Metropolisí eastern quarter. Mounting the acclivity via a ramp, they emerged upon a paved plateau dotted with imposing buildings constructed on titanic scales.
Carson gazed in awe at these mighty works, which stood forth proudly, not in ruins, but in untarnished splendor - their soaring pillars; their high walls festooned with hieroglyphics and carvings, all pregnant with the mystery that is Egypt.
A sprawling structure loomed before them. They passed like ants between giant sphinxes that guarded in stony silence the entrance of its monolithic faÁade. Passing down a long colonnaded hall they came before a statuesque woman seated upon an ornate throne. She was adorned with wondrous jewelry, and her garment - a tight fitting sheath - clothed her graceful body from just below naked breasts to shapely ankles in filmy folds of pleated linen. She gazed upon Carson with dark eyes; her patrician features a cool mask that revealed not her inner thoughts, unlike her gaggle of courtiers who gazed upon him in open speculation.
Carson drew a sharp breath at the sight of her. Not at her beauty, which was considerable, but at the strange aura that wrapped her figure in a penumbra of soft duskiness.
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)