Friday, 5 August 2011

Twilight of the Gods - An Egyptian Tale

In my local writing group HAC (Huddersfield Authors Circle) our annual competition theme is Light and me being a person with a keen interest in history and mythology have ventured off vikings a little and delved into the Egyptian pantheon and lands of Pharaohs. During my basic introductory research I came across the historical life of the one and only heretic Pharoah, Akhenaten, formerly known as Amenhotep the Sixth. He was a heretic because upon the fifth year of his relatively peaceful reign he embarked on a major spiritual revolution across his kingdom. Now the Egyptians had many if not more gods than the Vikings, each with their own animal mask, powers and purpose to the daily life of average egyptians. What Amenhotep did is do away with his name with originally meant (Amun is pleased) - Amun being the God of Pharaohs - and rename himself Akhenaten (Satisfier of the Aten). Now the Aten was the Sun Disk, a small god in its own right, being Egypt its hardly unlikely for the people of those hot desert lands not to associate anything with the Sun, but Akhenaten believed that Aten was the most powerful and most benefical of all the other Gods. So he changed his name, the name of his Queen, Nefertiti too, to link with the Aten and then sent teams of soldiers and masons out across the land to excise any and all mention of the other gods from monuments, statues and temples. He was effectively doing what Christianity did to Astaru (viking pagan beliefs) which took centuries, but over a few years and upon his own people. Akhenaten even went as far as to build a whole new capital city for his kindgom in a virgin peice of land in the desert and name it and build it in honour to the Aten. So not only did an awful lot of people have to adjust to new beliefs being enforced upon them but a lot also had to move several hundred miles away!
I can reveal however that this new religious regime only lasted as long as Akhenaten was alive, as soon as he died the whole system was reversed under the reign of the even more famous reign of Tutankhamun (he also had a former Aten-styled name but changed it to the one know in order to distance himself from his father's past - yes Akhenaten was his father, Tut's mum though was probably one of his many wives.)
It made me think what would it be like to be a Priest of one of the many gods to awake one day and find you have to renounce all your beliefs and worship a new god? Would you be able to go through with it? Would you be happy with it? What would be the reaction of the local people? Or maybe how do the soldiers feel about carrying out what seems to be sacriligious acts?
So I had a go at writing a short story about this dramatic shift in religious and political power with my usual mix of mythology and history. I don't think it is yet totally finished but I have just about got it under the 2000 word count. Hope you enjoy this little detour into history and do please tell me what you think - any thoughts and ideas are greatly encouraged and welcomed - be it good or bad. It is still a rough draft so I have probably made many mistakes be it with cliches, grammar, punctuation, spelling, lack of tension etc. Hence why I would like feedback.

Twilight of the Gods: The Reign of Pharaoh Akhenaten

Rasui found himself far from his bed, far from the Temple and far from the Nile. Yet he wasn’t afraid, for Amun-Re was with him.
The man with a falcon-head stood still, in the same pose of his statue in the Temple Sanctum. The God wearing a double plumed crown held the life-giving Ankh in his left hand and rulers crook in the right, both arms crossed against his bare chest.
Rasui placed his body flat upon the warm sands, palms up to the skies and the Gods.
    “Hail Amun-Re, King of Gods and Father of Pharaohs’. What do you command of your servant?”
Rasui could feel his heart pounding as loud as the drums on festival days, as unseen hands touched his and gently guided him back to his feet. He kept his face lowered, awaiting command. He felt another hand cup his face, although he could see none were physically touching him, but he allowed it to return his eyes upon the God he had devoted much of his life to.
Amun-Re had remained in the same pose but he no longer carried his divine Ankh and kingly crook. The God’s arms slowly unfolded and his right hand pointed to where his human ears would be and his left pointed to his glimmering falcon eyes.
Rasui nodded and kneeled in acknowledgement of this command. It was the one Amun-Re always gave to him when they met. It was very simple and clear to understand. Rasui was to watch and was to listen.
Amun-Re clapped his hands loudly to his left, then above his head and to his right. There was the roar of thunder and before Rasui now stood not Amun-Re but three Gods of old. Aten, the sun disk hovered and throbbed with light and warmth. Amun, a man wearing a double plumed crown; and Re, the body of a man with the head of a falcon.
The three divine beings joined a crowd of the other Gods and Goddesses, all with their own unique powers, roles and animal guises, who were sat feasting and drinking. Rasui watched in awe as the Gods and Goddesses he worshipped acted as a large family around the table.
Then something new and unexpected occurred upon the scene Rasui was watching. His cousin, the Pharaoh Amenhotep the Sixth, whom had continued his father’s peaceful reign the past five years, walked into and amongst the crowd of Gods and Goddesses. The divine gathering halted in their actions and watched, almost nervously, as Pharaoh Amenhotep walked towards the seat of Aten. It was only when Pharaoh Amenhotep bowed in homage to Aten that Rasui noticed the large basket of fruit and pot of wine which his cousin carried. The Pharaoh placed his offerings directly beneath Aten, whose glow turned to that of molten gold in acceptance. Pharaoh Amenhotep quickly began to take food and drink from the table and placed it on and around Aten’s seat. The Gods and Goddesses shook their fists, banged the table and spat in the Pharaoh’s face. Aten grew in size and brightness as his seat became covered in offerings. Soon there were just crumbs and spilt wine left upon the feasting table and Aten hovered above all the mess, as large as the temple columns.
A new sound then broke the eternally silent scene. Pharaoh Amenhotep, unharmed by the harsh light and burning heat of the large form of Aten, scrambled onto the table and became a blurry silhouette against the sun disk.
    “Pharaoh Amenhotep the Sixth is dead!  All Hail the Aten!” He cried out, the power of his words pushing the overthrown pantheon to cower in the sands.  “All Hail the Aten!”
    Something hit Rasui across his face.
    “Rasui! Wake up! Please!”
It took another slap before Rasui was released from the dream vision. The panic in his Priest’s eyes told him the chaos had only just begun.
    “Oh thanks be to Amun! Rasui, the Pharaoh’s guards, they are here to destroy the temple! They...”
    “Take me to them!” High Priest Rasui staggered out of bed, still haunted by the vision he had witnessed. His heart racing with anxiety and disbelief. He could hear the moans and yells of his small retinue of Priests quarrelling with the group of guards standing in the Temple hallway. “Who is your Captain?” Rasui commanded in his strong and booming voice.
    A member of the guards stepped forward. “I am High Priest, my name is Bomani. I have been commanded to lay claim upon all the statues of the old gods in temples in this district. Pharaoh’s orders.” He handed Rasui the small piece of papyrus scroll bearing the commandment of the exact same words. But there was a set of marks in the command that Rasui did not recognise.
    “This is not Amenhotep’s seal, whose is it?”
    “Pharaoh Amenhotep has been reborn by the glory of Aten. He has taken upon the name Akhenaten; he is our King and Pharaoh.”
    “Blasphemy!”
    “Only Amun can give Pharaoh’s rebirth!”
    “Amenhotep’s gone mad!”
    “We will not forsake Amun!”
The gathering of priests shouted in defiance and horror at this sudden change from the one man with enough power to be closer to the Gods then they were.
    “Hush brothers, Captain Bomani is only doing as he is being commanded. He knows not to question the Pharaoh’s orders or pass judgement on his decision. Hanif, please escort the guards through to the feast hall and give them drink, me and Captain Bomani have matters to discuss before anything is handed over.” Rasui gave Hanif a comforting grip on his shoulder and gestured for Bomani to follow him along the open walled corridor towards the temple lake.
    Now it was quiet Rasui could allow his heart beat to subside. In the tranquillity of the stars and the Moon, upon the undisturbed surface of the lake, Rasui felt a touch of peace and calm. He glanced over at Bomani more closely by the light of burning braziers and could see dark stubble around his face making him re-estimate the captain’s age. He noticed how Bomani clutched his spear close to his body and wouldn’t look at Rasui as they walked. To Rasui it meant three things. Either Bomani was nervous being around a High Priest alone or Bomani was nervous of not achieving his Pharaohs’ commands; or better yet, that Bomani feared the dramatic shift in power, not just with the emergence of Akhenaten, but the overthrow of the Gods themselves. It showed that Bomani was very aware of how dangerous his actions might be if he defied the new Pharaoh or the Gods he still undoubtedly believed in.
     “Tell me Captain, when was my cousin Pharaoh Amenhotep the sixth reborn as Akhenaten?” High Priest Rasui asked gently, slowing to a stop close to the water’s edge, its form a black obsidian oval in the shadows of the night.
    Bomani seemed to take confidence in being spoken to using his official title. “Yesterday at sunrise I believe, at least, that was when the stone workers came to change his name mark upon the palace walls.”
     “What of Queen Nefertiti and her daughters? Has this new Pharaoh accepted them as the royal family?”
    “Queen Neferneferuaten as she is now known remarried the new King only last night. The palace household have all renewed their vows of allegiance and loyalty.”
    “This just leaves the kingdom’s masses to appease with this change. I, myself am pleased we still have a Pharaoh, regardless of name; it means the Gods haven’t entirely deserted us yet, but why does he wish for their statues to be removed? Have his own Priests not warned him about such action?”
    “Pharaoh Akhenaten will only listen to those who follow and worship Aten. He has already issued by royal command that no more offerings should be made to any other God but Aten. It is Aten, he says, that gave him a second life, not Amun-Re, despite what we have all been told.”
    “The people will find this very hard to accept, let alone priests of the other temples, such as my own. You saw how angry they were when you arrived; I can’t say many others will be as kind to as merely hurl words at you. Some may not even believe you. The common worshippers may well revolt over what you and your men do tonight. And I must say I do not know how this new Pharaoh intends to insure everyone worships only Aten. Some may well resort to doing it in secret regardless of how many statues you seize.”
    “The Pharaoh knows about that and he has already made plans.” Bomani sighs long and deep, casting a look of sadness and regret to Rasui.
    “What does he plan to do?”
    “He’s been shown a vision by Aten. In that vision was a city which will be named in the Gods honour. That city will become the new capital of Egypt. Several teams of builders and workers have already been sent to the location to begin work on the new royal palace.”
    Rasui shivered as the madness of his cousin was revealed to go deeper than he thought. “That will take at least two seasons to build let alone any new temples or noble houses of Thebes. What disciplinary rule does he intend to use in the meantime to insure worship of Aten?”
    “Besides removing statues from all major and minor temples, masons will work across the lands from the next sunrise to excise their names and images from any visible stonework. They will also create new images of Aten showing his blessings upon Akhenaten and his family.”
    “Reminding us all that the true way to the Gods is through the Pharaoh. I can only pray that Pharaoh deems that the service of my brothers is still needed.” Rasui turned and grasped Bomani’s hands and felt them tremble. “Where are the God’s statues being taken to?”
    “To the Royal temples at Thebes, I’ve heard that they will be remade into the image of the Pharaoh and then Aten’s High Priest will bless them again to be fit for temple worship once more.”
    “Don’t fear me Captain; I will not hinder your tasks set by the Pharaoh. I wish no one hurt during this awkward time. Everyone has got many new changes to adjust to and I know it won’t be easy for many. You and your men can escort our Amun-Re statue to Thebes. As for the other holy items, inform the new Pharaoh’s overseer that I will present them to him myself.”
    “Thank you High Priest, I will make them aware of how much you are co-operating with us on this matter and I will guarantee that my men will not desecrate the statue on its journey.” Bomani smiled with relief as the prospect of having to use force faded from his mind. He saluted Rasui and turned to march back to his men, he paused at the entrance to the Temple building. “Is what the Pharaoh claims true? Is Aten, the most powerful of all the Gods?” He hesitantly asked, not meeting Rasui’s look.
    “I don’t know Bomani. All the Gods have their own powers and own purpose in the world. The reign of this Akhenaten will show whether it is best to worship one and not all.”
    “What if....”
    “Our new Pharaoh is wrong? It is possible, although his soul is sent by the gods his mind is still that of a mortal man. But if the Pharaoh has made the mistake I fear he has, then keep prayers to the Gods in your heart. That way they may still bestow small blessings upon you and you may just avoid the vengeance they perform when and if they return to the heavens. They will undoubtedly punish all that have renounced them for the sun.”

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