Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ah, Anubis, we hardly knew ye!

Anubis, one of my favorite Egyptian gods. He of the uncertain origins. Is he Wepewat, the god of cemeteries, repurposed? Another version of Khentamentiu? The son of Osiris and Nephthys? Or was it Set and Nephthys? Was he abandoned Nephthys and raised by Isis? Certainly, he must have helped Isis make Osiris into the first mummy. Then, Osiris usurped his role as Lord of the Underworld. Ingrate!

Anubis always lived in the shadow of death as a protector of graves, an embalmer, and the god who ushered souls into the underworld and attended the Weighing of the Heart.  One of the most ancient and most frequently depicted and mentioned gods in the Egyptian pantheon, Anubis played almost no role in Egyptian myths.

To celebrate the greatness that is Anubis. a video.

In my novel, Queen of Heka, Anubis was originally a major character. Through subsequent drafts, he became less and less prominent. (Are we seeing a pattern here?) Finally, reluctantly, I am removing one of my favorite scenes (reproduced here) that is told from his POV, a scene that takes place before he is a god, but hints at his future role.  Maybe someday, Big A will have his own novel, and I can use it again.

      Nubis powdered his hair gray and blackened out his front teeth with a resin. He smeared white clay over his face to replicate the weary pallor he saw in the streets. When the face in the mirror looked nothing like him, he went outside where frankincense from the temples mingled with beer and vomit.
      Statues of Min held court in every quarter of the city. The three-day festival honoring the god of pleasure and fertility spawned a single benediction. 
      A blessing to you, Min, who fertilizes the mother. Deep is the secret of what you did to her in the dark.
      Women, desperate to conceive, placed flower garlands on the statues. Men, seeking godly vigor, poured offerings of strong beer for the god who wore the double-plumed crown and a shroud out of which an enormous black penis emerged.
      As night shrouded the city, Min’s gold-flecked eyes perused the crowd with deific indifference. Smoke from guttering torches floated above the taverns and tenements. Nubis found the Queen celebrating in a tavern by the river. Yuya hovered nearby, making sure no one crowded her. Nubis sidled up to him.
      “I thank you.” Yuya quaffed the beer Nubis offered in Min’s name.
      “A good festival this year,” Nubis said, elated that his disguise duped the usually observant Yuya. Or maybe, as Seti taunted, Yuya had simply forgotten him.
      “Can’t say I know. Been with her the whole three days.” Yuya arched his eyebrows toward the Queen. “She’ll be about the city until sunrise, then I’m off to my own bed.”
      That was all Nubis needed to know, but the long night still stretched out before him. They drank another bowl of beer. 
      “Gods!” Yuya made a rude noise with his lips. “This one, Min. Should I fall on my knees just because his rod’s bigger than mine? Then, there’s other one with the lion head."
      "Sekhmet,” Nubis said.
      “Sekhmet, yeah, Sekhmet.” Yuya’s tone was suddenly belligerent. “They say she killed people and guzzled their blood until even Ra ran and hid. Someone, maybe some other god, I don’t remember anymore, gave her a barrel of wine. She thought it was blood and drank until she passed out.”
      Nubis nodded; it was an old story. 
      “Are them gods better than us?” Yuya gulped beer and belched. “They live longer. They kill us on a whim. Damn me if that makes them better.”
      “We deserve better gods.”
      Nubis had never agreed with Yuya before now. He dismissed the thought, because next he might start regretting what he had to do. Down that path, a debacle.  As Yuya rambled, the level of the water clock sank. Finally, Nubis excused himself and walked to a tavern owned by a man named Het where Yuya’s woman served beer. He loitered —wishing there was some other way to get into Yuya’s house — until she left. Then, he tracked her, staying in the shadows until they passed the last tavern.
     “Name yourself.” Her hand slipped inside her bodice and withdrew a knife.
      “Someone who wants to be a friend. Het said you might be looking for a friend.”
      “Nubis Bakh?” She squinted in the darkness and came close enough to brush the hair out of his face. “What are you hiding behind that white hair?”
      “Ah, you’re a clever one.” A pity. He had planned to spare her, but recognition sealed her fate. “Het said Yuya was busy tonight.”
      “Always on the Queen’s business that one,” she said, diverted as he intended. “As you might be, except you chose sand and scorpions. Gods above, the tales they tell about you.”
      Nubis knew most of them, had even started a few.
      “Did you really kill a lion when you was still a boy and suckle at a jackal’s tit? Isn’t that why they call you the Jackal Lord?” Lotus had always been a talker.
      “I’m just some hired sword.” Nubis fell in step with her. The perfume cone in her hair had slumped from the heat and left an oily trail on a clump of curls. “It’s the festival of Min. I most desperately need a frolic. Are you willing to frolic with the Jackal Lord?”
      “Maybe.” She squeezed his arm. “What do you have for me?”
      They both knew Yuya’s rage wasn’t worth risking for a few debens of copper, so             Nubis held up a silver ring to catch the moonlight.
     She nodded and tucked the ring and the knife into her bodice. “My house isn’t far.”
      Their house was almost in the desert. Nubis let the small falsehood stand, so she wouldn’t suspect he’d canvassed her home. Several nights earlier, under the cover of darkness, he scaled the walls, because there were no windows. From the roof, he counted four small rooms that opened into a tiny central garden, patrolled by a brute of a dog. Yuya was nothing if not careful.
      When they arrived, Lotus slipped a key into a knot hole in the door’s cross beam. The wood pins rasped against wood sockets. She locked it behind them before pulling off her shift. Leaning against the wall, she arched her back. A little bag, heavy with copper, hung between her breasts. A low growl came from the corner. A black hound padded toward them, almost filling the small room.
      “Shut up, Tum.” Lotus cuffed the beast; her breasts jiggled.
      Nubis dropped to his haunches and stretched out his fingers, letting the dog smell him and lick his face. He scratched its ears.
      With a gruff command for the dog to stay, Lotus motioned Nubis to follow her across the garden into the bedroom. She put the bag of coins in a carved box and carefully locked it before grabbing at his kilt. He avoided the lunge.
      “What about a bath?” Nubis asked. “I need a lovely, cool bath.”
      She licked her lips suggestively and ushered him into a cramped alcove with a serviceable copper tub. She uncorked the spout connected to the outside tank. Water trickled into the tub. He took her arm and helped her into the tub.
      “Ah, that feels good.” She slid down until the water lapped at her chin.  He knelt, planting kisses along her spine and massaging her shoulders. Her cheek rubbed the back of his hand. His fingers crept higher until he had her head locked between his hands.
      “I am sorry, Lotus.”
       It was a quiet sound, the jolt of flesh and bone giving way to copper when he smashed her head against the tub. She went heavy in his hands. Beneath the tangled hair, blood trickled from a finger-wide gash. He released his grip; she slid beneath the water.  
    A dollop of oil from the perfume cone glistened on the water and drifted into a lazy spiral. He kept a slight pressure on her forehead, holding her beneath the surface until there were no more air bubbles.
      Bowing his head, Nubis recited a Prayer for the Dead, a custom he scrupulously observed whenever he killed someone. “I pray thee, travel safely on thy way. May the Spirits give ba unto you instead of water and air and the longings of love; let quietness of heart be given unto you instead of cakes and ale. Look upon the face of Khenti Amenti and may the power of Khenti Amenti purify you and make you whole.”
      Lotus’s hair floated around her face. Her eyes, fixed in death’s single-minded stare, were incredulous. He had observed the same expression in the eyes of every single person he killed.
      In the distance, a single voice offered a final salute to Min. Deep is the secret of what you did to her in the dark.
      Nubis left Lotus in the tub. Water might save her body from the fire he meant to start so her family could bury her. His quarrel was not with her; he saw no reason to begrudge her making the journey to the Realm of the Blessed Dead.
      He went to the kitchen. The larder held a haunch of smoked beef against which he tested the sharpness of his blade. “Tum.”
      The dog came directly and gobbled a hunk of meat. Nubis sat on a small stool. The dog nuzzled between his legs, wiggling with happiness as Nubis alternately scratched his head and fed him. Tum’s guttural noises became a single yelp when Nubis snapped his neck.
      Dawn brightened the sky. The house lay silent as a tomb. Then, he heard the lock’s rasp. Yuya, reeking of beer, staggered through the door and down the hall. Nubis caught him outside the bedroom, the knife nothing more than a flicker in the gray light of dawn. Blood, hot and thick, filled the air with its coppery stink.
      For good measure, Nubis recited a curse that condemned Yuya for a million years. “Terror of the Living; Angry Spirits of the Condemned Dead, I write thy name, Yuya. I burn thy name in flames, Yuya. I kill thy name, Yuya, and thus thee are accursed even unto the underworld where I will kill thee again.”  
      Then, he piled furniture and rags into a heap and set a blaze fierce enough to destroy Yuya’s body along with his name.