KHAMSIN, The Devil Wind of The Nile (Book 1 – Legends of the Winged Scarab)
By Inge H. Borg
“Rih al-Khamsin! It was an eerie howl rather than a cry. It multiplied and it traveled fast.”
This historical novel plays out in the colorful settings along the Nile during the reign of Aha, Second King of the First Dynasty of the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt (3080 BC). It is an engrossing saga of court intrigue, forbidden love, ferocious battles, betrayal, murder and redemption.
The characters in this multi-faceted epic range from compelling to fascinating, from likable to ambitious to suspicious, to plain unsavory. In the fore is the munificent Ramose, High Priest of Ptah, mentally exchanging poisoned lances with the vile Vizier Ebu al-Saqqara, as both vie for power over a weak king and his young heiress.
The narrative begins with a poignant prologue, and ends in a thought-provoking epilogue. Meticulous research of ancient sites and the way of life of those enigmatic Nile dwellers lends authenticity to this pre-Pyramid, pre-Pharaoh era of the Two Lands.
Also see Excerpt of Book 2: Sirocco, Storm over Land and See
Targeted Age Group: General Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction-Ancient Egypt
The Book Excerpt:
Excerpt – Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile
by Inge H. Borg
Seka sensed the threat from behind. He pivoted and without a thought for his own safety threw himself back to back with his King. A whirring shadow sped toward him.
“Ahgrrr,” the Ka-priest gurgled. Warm blood spurted from his lips as a strangling coldness stilled his heart. Seka slumped to the ground.
“By Horus …” Aha turned. His eyes met Keheb’s who also spun around. Before the Colonel found the source of the choking sound he spied Nebah just as the Watch Captain lowered his empty throwing arm, his fingers still splayed from the forceful thrust. Their stares locked. Then, with lightening agility, Keheb yanked the protruding lance from Seka’s chest and lunged at Nebah.
“Die, vermin!” he snarled and rammed the dripping point through the Watch Captain’s chest. Nebah hung in space, held aloft by Keheb’s rage. With a sound of disgust, the Colonel released his grip and kicked the King’s would-be assassin into his mortal fall. Nebah hit the ground face down, his dead weight forcing the lance shaft through his chest until the tip reemerged from his back; a bloody standard of swift punishment. Even Barum forgot the battle for an instant. At a flick of his fingers, Nebah’s men were ringed.
Aha at last grasped the implication of Seka’s sudden death. “He saved my life,” he whispered to Tuthmose. “He will be missed. You shall serve as Hemu-ka from now on.”
Tasar knelt down to pound life back into Seka’s stilled heart. After some tense moments, he shook his head.
Tuthmose bent to close the dead Ka-priest’s glassy eyes. Even in death, they questioned, Why? As if to answer them, Tuthmose said quietly, “Your soul was recalled by the god you served so well. May Osiris welcome your Ka.” Then he added with a clearer voice, “Colonel, if the assassin is still alive I must question him. Others may be behind this blatant attempt.”
Quick prodding of the outstretched captain confirmed that Keheb had stabbed true. The young colonel bit his lips in frustration that his better judgment had been blinded by his rage.
“How stupid of me to kill the man outright,” he confessed and added in disbelief, “To think: one of our own! What would pressure a loyal officer into such desperation?”
“You did what you thought just, Keheb. Best question his men,” Barum sighed.
The dead Watch Captain’s squad of guards stood motionless, uncomprehending. Despite intensive questioning, it was apparent that the simple soldiers had no knowledge of their Captain’s darker dealings.
“Was he in touch with anyone from the outside,” Colonel Keheb asked.
“No one that we know of,” one of the men offered after much prodding from his peers. “Except for the Archer. The one who brought the scroll. The Captain read it to us aloud. It contained a commendation to elevate the Archer Pase to Chief Archer. We all celebrated his promotion.”
Pase? Barum wondered. The same Pase he had entrusted with his own vital message? He recalled having asked the man for his captain’s name. ‘The Watch Captain Nebah,’ had been the reply. Barum looked at his aide. Keheb’s brows were knotted in consternation. So, he too remembered.
“Fetch the Archer Pase!” Keheb bellowed. The runners sped away. An afterthought struck Keheb, “Search the traitor!”
They found the crumpled scroll deep in Nebah’s quiver. Colonel Keheb smoothed it on his thigh to read it. An ordinary commendation, Keheb saw and let it flutter to the ground.
* * *
Pase returned with one of the runners. Having traveled with the King at close quarters for a good cycle of the moon, the young Archer stepped in front of his Supreme Commander in anticipation to be entrusted with another important task. He would welcome a leave from the battlefield where the dust was so dense that one could hardly distinguish friend from foe. Pase glanced at the two dead men, blood still draining from their fatal wounds, recognizing both of them.
“Chief Archer Pase.” Barum’s face was screwed into something akin to pain. “You gave a message to your Captain?”
“Indeed, my General.” Pase looked again at the bloody scene. What message might they ask him to deliver in connection with this obvious calamity?
“Who entrusted you with that message?” Barum asked, and Pase thought: His stare is cold. Sweat broke through his pores. Not the sweat he shed freely under the sun but the kind that pours forth with numbing cold; it tightens the chest and parches the mouth. Pase ran his tongue over his lips but the salt of his perspiration only stung his tongue rather than relieve the dryness of his mouth.
“The message was given to me by the Vizier, my General. Just moments before I boarded the temple boat in Ineb-hedj. It was not sealed, so I asked the High Priest to read it to me in case the scroll was lost.” Pase sought out the eyes of the young priest. “Please, Priest Tasar, attest to this.”
Tasar picked up the scroll and stepped carefully over Seka’s body to join the others. “The Archer speaks the truth, my King,” he bowed. “The High Priest and I studied both messages several times as, for some reason, Ramose was uneasy about their text. However, we were unable to discern anything unusual within the profuse wording. Although,” Tasar shook his head as if to dispel his own gnawing suspicion, “now I wonder why your name, Great Hor-Aha, would be mentioned in the ordinary context of both messages.”
“What do you mean by ‘both messages’?” Keheb jumped in and poked Tasar hard enough for Barum to place a restraining hand on his aide’s arm. “Keheb! Let him explain.”
Tasar did not waver under the rough punch. “The Vizier gave Pase two scrolls.”
“What about the second?” Keheb now challenged Pase.
“I do not recall its exact words, my King,” Pase’s speech turned panic-strangled. This was turning into an inquisition. “I was instructed to deliver the other message to the Royal Tax Collector, which I did. A few days after our arrival in Nekhen. Like the High Priest told me to,” he croaked, eyes popping.
“What did the High Priest have to do with your orders?” Barum interjected.
“I remember,” Tasar broke in. “The second message was an equally rambling litany for the Tax Collector to prepare for the arrival of the King and the Royal Heiress.”
“The Vizier did not know about the King’s secret journey?” Barum asked, incredulous.
“No one did,” Aha interrupted. “Go on, Tasar. What else do you remember?”
“The message commanded Tesh to re-provision the troop barges and to dispatch them to the First Falls. And,” Tasar squinted, trying to recall each flowery phrase. “Oh yes … the Tax Collector was to see personally to the comforts of the Royal Heiress during her stay at the old palace. For security reasons, Ramose asked Pase to delay Tesh’s message for a few days. What struck both the High Priest and myself as peculiar was that the Vizier emphasized so urgently for Tesh himself to take special care of the Princess. As if one would expect less. There was, however, no mention or concern about Prince Dubar; surely the Vizier knew that the Royal Prince went to Nekhen as well.”
Tasar mused almost to himself, “I cannot fathom why both messages emphasized your royal names so strangely.”
“It cannot be!” The vein on Aha’s right temple reared like an angry cobra as he howled in helpless fury. “To think that the driveling swine had the audacity to ask me for her hand! Nothing must happen to Nefret!” Aha’s outward explosion carried an inner prayer to any god who cared to listen. Nothing. Not when I just started to love this child of mine.
“Do you hear me! Nothing!”
Tasar’s face lost all color. Nebah’s message mentioned the King. And now an attempt had been made on his sacred life! The Tax Collector’s message spoke of Nefret! His Nefret! In mortal danger at this very moment! Was she to die, ignobly, from the dirty hands of an assassin unleashed through a message delivered by the Archer?
“You are to blame for this!” he cried, overwrought by fear, ripped apart by pain. Before anyone could restrain him, he wrested his sword from its sheath and cleanly rammed it through the stunned Chief Archer. In vain clinging to the imbedded shaft for support, Pase dropped to his knees. His eyes fastened on his misguided attacker.
Tuthmose rushed to cushion the Archer’s slow collapse. As Pase lay dying in Tuthmose’s arms, the older man held Tasar’s gaze with a long searching look. The others attributed the young man’s precipitous attack to loyalty for his Royal Heiress whose life he had saved twice. Tuthmose, however, sensed something else behind the crazed loss of self-control, so unthinkable for a trained priest. “Watch yourself, young Tasar,” he hissed at the capable youth he had come to like so well.
“Yes, you watch yourself, young fool! This was not the Archer’s doing,” Aha said between clenched teeth. He spat his bitterness toward the others, “Al-Saqqara is behind this treachery! The revenge of a slighted suitor.”
Everyone was stunned at the open accusation against the powerful Vizier. Too late to have prevented the Archer’s death, they could only pray for his Ka. The proud absolution of his duties had become the very cause of his senseless demise.
* * *
The sound of war clanged into focus. The raging battle could no longer be ignored. Nearby, stretcher bearers scurried toward the infirmaries, and submissive Kush were herded into captivity.
Barum was the first to find composure. He had to bring this sorry episode to its conclusion for them to return to the pressing business of winning the war. “We have no proof that the Royal Heiress is in any danger at this time,” he offered to calm Aha’s fears.
“No proof? No proof! What is it you want, Barum? My daughter’s death mask on a platter?” Aha shouted and Barum stepped back a pace to escape the King’s hot breath. It was a father’s helpless fury against the nearest one at hand.
Aha tried to regain control and sighed, “All I can hope for now is that Ramose keeps a watchful eye on her in Nekhen.”
“As will Amma. The Royal Convoy must have arrived by now,” Tuthmose offered.
Aha looked up, a rueful smile on his lips. “Ah, my good Tuthmose. You remember Amma as she was when you and I first met her. During the days, when I courted my lovely Mayet. I was more afraid of Amma than I was of my bride’s sharp-tongued mother. The years have taken their toll on our old nurse. Though even to this very day, I tend to mind her.”
Tuthmose inclined his head and smiled, “Amma may have grown old, Hor-Aha, but I assure you she is still as fierce as ever when it comes to protecting her cherished Princess.”
“Nevertheless, you must implore the gods that she is successful in her task.” Aha looked at Tuthmose. The brief, almost intimate, interchange between the two men broke the tension at last, and everyone breathed easier. Except for Tasar, who was deathly pale. Unlike Aha, he could not cry out aloud in anguish. Nefret and the ugly Vizier! It pierced his heart with a thousand lances. How could that be! Al-Saqqara was not even interested in women! Tasar had heard the whispers of the Vizier’s lustings. How could the disgusting man be so deadly offended by Aha’s refusal? Tasar wished there was a way to alert Ramose.
Far to the east of the King’s War Command, Hapi’s First Falls rumbled over boulders ground smooth by the tumbling waters. Laden with fresh food for battle-weary troops the supply barges were to anchor there and wait to take the King back to Nekhen. They might board in three to four days from now, depending on the outcome of the battle. Oh, great Horus, let us be victorious, Tasar prayed. Then he looked down at Pase and thought of Safaga. How could he tell her of her brave archer’s senseless death?
“Priest Tasar,” a deep voice called to him. He turned.
Senmut and his Bowmen restrained several captives. Very dark, and very naked, they held themselves proud despite their profusely bleeding wounds. Their ebony skin made the gaping cuts appear redder, deeper; somehow a grosser infraction against their perfect bodies.
Two of the captives stood out from the dark group by their lighter skin. Tribal dress proclaimed them to be nomads. The taller of the two had startling eyes the color of the sky. The other – Tasar’s eyes widened in surprise – was a young woman whose flowing robes could not belie her slender limbs. She looked at Tasar with such defiance that he glanced at Senmut and, for an instant, felt that the other man, too, was thinking back to a certain starry night – when the Archer Pase had been one of them, so happy with his pretty lover.
“Yes? What is it?” Tasar asked in an attempt to break the enigmatic pull of the woman’s liquid eyes.
“Mekh’s Amazing Forces captured these,” Senmut said and pointed to the dark group, one of them a good head taller. Tasar noticed that not all of the man’s blackness was his own. A glistening black pelt lay wrapped around his upper torso. It fitted him like a second skin down to the waist. Below that, he was naked. Tasar’s eyes strafed the curious tube and he wondered if it would be bothersome in battle. I’d rather wear my leather flap, he thought, bemused by the odd contraption. The tall man stepped into the fore.
“He could be one of their shamans,” Senmut explained and pushed the tethered Noba toward Tasar. Something about the dark warrior caused even Senmut to manhandle him less roughly than the other captives. Soon, everyone from the War Command crowded around the exotic man who held himself with such noble bearing.
“Get me an interpreter,” Keheb ordered.
Before someone could follow his command, the captive surprised them. “I know how to speak your pale tongue.”
The King and Barum became aware of the exchange and they, too, approached the group.
“Then tell us, Noba! Where is your ally, the Ruler of the Kush? I might reward you for this information,” Keheb said hoping the man understood.
Without hesitation, the proud man replied, “One of your over-zealous riders struck the brave Kush down.” A disdainful sneer appeared on the fleshy, almost purple lips. Gradually, however, his arrogance evaporated as he recalled the negligible wound the Ruler of the Kush sustained. And still, he fell dead within an instant. To hide his fear of such awesome magic, he stared ahead. After some time, he looked at his captors with renewed insolence. His eyes came to rest on Aha. He guessed the King’s identity and bowed. There was mockery in his reverence and when he spoke, it was with haughtiness.
“King of Kamt, hold me captive, torture me. You shall learn nothing from me. I am Ogoni, King of Nobatia.”
“I greet you, Ogoni,” Aha answered bowing negligibly, mainly to cover his delight over the opportune capture. “And I regret the death of your brave ally,” he added and wondered why the light-skinned Kush, whose race was so closely related to Aha’s own, had allied himself with this magnificent savage. Greed, he decided, for Ogoni’s yellow nub.
While the others continued to stare at the man who proclaimed himself the feared Ogoni, Keheb prodded without ceremony. “We know all about your new mine. How far is it from here?”
“That, soldier, you shall never know!” A sonorous laugh rose from within Ogoni’s muscular chest. He could endure their most excruciating torture and would rather die than divulge this information.
Ogoni could not guess the meaning of the brief smile that passed between the King, his general and a young priest. The latter nodded imperceptibly and fingered an amulet dangling from his neck. Oh yes, Tasar thought, you will divulge it all too soon, proud warrior. And afterward, I shall obtain the King’s permission to take you to Ramose. What a resplendent specimen for his experiments you’ll make.
“Put four guards on him. Give him food and drink, if he accepts it. Tasar will deal with him later,” Barum ordered. He started to follow the King who had turned his attention back to the battle below.
Chief Senmut call out, “General, what about these two?”
In their exuberance to have captured the legendary King of Nobatia, they had ignored the rest of the prisoners. Barum looked again at the group of captives and was startled when he recognized Yadate staring back at him with sky-hued insolence. Then, Barum saw the girl.
When she felt his look upon her, she swayed her hips seductively.
“What now, my General?” she taunted. Her dark eyes bespoke of old promises. They also begged for a love-starved general to spare her life.
Barum stood frozen in place, his mind ablaze. While she had thrust her supple body toward him, and while he had dreamed aloud, she had listened, and betrayed him. Just as the sly tribesman had fed him unimportant bits of news and, accepting his generous rewards, the man had also spied for the Kush!
How could I have been such a fool! Disgusted with himself, Barum turned and walked away.
“General, what shall I do with them?” Senmut called after him, this time louder.
“Kill them,” Barum growled back over his shoulder.
“The girl as well?”
“The girl as well!” Barum spat and pretended to shade his eyes from the sun to hide his shame-reddened face. Clenching his teeth so that his jaw jutted squarely out, he reassured himself, she meant nothing to me. Do you hear me, old fool! Nothing!
The battle below seemed to command Barum’s complete concentration when Keheb stepped up behind his general. For a long time, neither man spoke. When they finally did, it was business as usual. Their business of war.
* * *