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The boy-king, Shi-shi, can defeat his enemies if the generals will follow him. He will survive plots by ambitious priesthoods, if the gods smile upon him and if he can find the right woman amidst the wreckage of a looming dark age, he just might found a vital new dynasty.
3 (an excerpt)
The barge was strong and ornate. It was fit for a king, but Shi-shi did not like the feel of a ship, even on the great river. The Hapi could be so fickle and every prominent figure knew it was an unsteady foundation. That it was rising to flood stage also made him uneasy, but it was a strong current and that made it good. Much water and rich red silt was yet to come.
Storytellers named this season long ago. It was the time a mysterious island disappeared beneath the waves and the Shipwrecked Sailor returned to his queen bearing gifts from the wise Serpent King of Punt. The harvest was in, a celebration due. And then the Queen of Heaven would send the Sailor out again with a fine ship and 300 of Qemt’s best seamen. In two more months, the ship would founder in a storm and all the sailors, save our hero, would be drowned. But magically, an island appeared out of the water and the shipwrecked sailor crawled to safety. This corresponded to the receding of the Hapi, and the reemerging farmlands. Planting took place then, while the Sailor wandered the island, finding no ‘inhabitants’ (crops) but after four months a huge, wonderful serpent with a long beard appeared and thundered “I am the King of Punt and you are welcome in my land.” “Thank you, O King,” the Sailor responded, and noted that the land had become fertile and ‘well populated’. “If you will provide me a ship, I will return to my homeland and sing your praises, then return with gifts from my monarch.” “O, no,” the serpent replied. “In four months a ship will appear to take you home in only two months. Then this island will disappear. In the meantime, journey among my subjects, get to know them ... befriend them.” The Sailor did and saw that it was good. And sure enough, the ship appeared, just as the king had promised. When the Sailor embarked the king sent with him all manner of gifts for his monarch and the gifts included cotton, wine, wild and domesticated animals, furs and other wonders and especially grain, chick peas and beer. Then the island disappeared again beneath the water. And so, in two months, the Sailor returned to his queen, just as Shi-shi did now, on the rising Hapi and its milky, nectarine tide.
It was a simple story, a calendar any farmer, even a child could read in the starry heavens. And it was as old as the first villages which grew up along the great river.
In four months the planting season began. Shi-shi’s campaign against Hattusha would have to be finished by then, so his infantry could disband and become farmers again. And so, like the immortal Sailor, the boy-king rode the earthly reflection of heaven on yet another adventure.
The send off was well behind him. He was away from the massive pillars which hid so much while they told the adoring history of every succession, every ascension. The gods were pleased.
But the empire already missed its workers, women’s hearts fluttered as their men vanished into the bowels of warships, children cried at the unusual, fearful tensions.
“Victory!” the people shouted, in spite of themselves.
Enjoy the free read of my book and drop me a note in the 'Review' section if you wish. I'd love to know what you think. Best, Jan