Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hunting hippos in ancient Egypt - what was it like?

Queen of Heka starts with a scene in which my heroine Iset (the goddess Isis as a girl) tries to show up her mother by killing a hipppo. I used this piece of art as an inspiration for the piece.

But what does it really look like when a hippo charges you? Check out this recent video.

This is a snippet from the opening scene with the hippo hunt. Did I capture it?

“Get me there first.”

The chief oarsman glanced at Mother, and I was almost certain he was about to pretend he hadn’t heard me. I tried on Mother’s face. The look that says if you challenge her you might as well go ahead and offer yourself up to the Great Serpent.

“Go, go, go.”

A lull in the drumming sent my voice ringing up and down the river road. All the boats except Mother’s came to standstill. Hundreds of courtiers swiveled their heads in my direction. Their shocked expressions spurred me on.


They rowed. I stood between the benches, using the spear to keep my balance. My boat closed the gap, blocking Mother. Her rowers gaped. That was the sign I wanted to see.

Mother shook her head, an almost imperceptible movement. For a heartbeat, certainly no longer, I considered calling a halt. I’ll slit your throat. I barked a command. “Faster.”

My boat skimmed the waves like a hawk on the wind. I kept my footing even when the hippopotamus’s warning bellow rattled my bones. Its maw gaped wider than the entrance to the underworld. I wiped my sweaty palms against my thighs and hoisted the spear, waiting, waiting, waiting until we came into range.

I threw the spear, burying the copper tip in the river cow’s eye. The wooden shaft vibrated with each outraged roar. Whispering a prayer to any god that might be listening, I grabbed a second spear. It found a home beside the first.

“Oh, yes, yes, yes!” The words spurted from my mouth. Someone thrust a bow and arrow into my hands.

The hippopotamus reared, flailing its front legs and exposing the rapid pulsing of its pale, distended belly. I risked glancing at Mother. The disbelief on her face made my heart soar.

The hippopotamus plunged under water. My stomach came up into my throat, bitter, burning. Sometimes, mad with pain, these beasts resurfaced under a boat, shredding the wood with their curved fangs. I took deep breaths just like the priests taught me. In. Hold. Out. A dreamlike calm settled over me, and I nocked back the first arrow. The air sang with the sound of its passage. I held my breath until it struck the broad back. The river cow reared again. Two. Three. Four arrows followed in quick succession. Each one to the heart.

A low death rattle reverberated in the hush, but the body remained as upright as a mountain for what seemed like a million years. When it collapsed, waves crashed against the skiff, buffeting us from side to side. The chief oarsman caught me; my face was a mere hand’s span from the churning, bloody water.