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Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor

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Great Pharaoh is in his city of a thousand red gates. In the morning, he goes to the great pillared temple of Mighty Amun-Ra. Great Pharaoh prays the sun, his father, into the sky. He prays the light into the world.

The wide green Nile flows through the two lands. Upper and lower. Red and white. Vulture and cobra. Ankh and flail. The entire world sails upon the river that flows down the middle. Great Pharaoh sends ships down the river and into the seas that wash the world beyond the two lands. The washed world sends back tribute and trade from across the seas.

Serpent eyed Amathaunta coils restless in her sea. She pushes the tides and the waves with her movement. Her scales are blue and green and they glitter gold in the sun's light.

Mighty Ra sails his golden ship across the fierce blue sky. In the morning, he is born from Sky Arching Nuit, whose dark skin glitters with stars. He sails his golden ship and lights the world. He sails his ship and in the evening, he grows old and dies. He slips past sky arching Nuit and into the world of the dead.

Everything is in its place. Everything is as it should be. It is good.

Neco is at sea. He is sailing home.

The little boat, the Heron, bobs in the dancing blue water as the men row.

Each morning, Neco and the other men sail out to catch wind and waves and fish.

The fresh wind in Neco's face is the sweetest of perfumes. The blue water white with foam, Ra's light shining down, are Neco's lapis-lazuli, his ivory, his gold. Then each afternoon, he sails home to his treasure.

Everything is in its place. Everything is as it should be. It is good.

The drummer beats his drum. The men pull the wide oars through the lapping, sparkling water to that beat. The old wooden oar is smooth beneath Neco's hands. The air is full of sea and salt and sweat. Today, the Heron's hold is full of fish.

Into the harbor of Kosseir, past the white breakwater, the drummer beats his drum and the men pull the oars.

They jump from the boat to the white stone dock, throwing ropes and laughing. Laughing they carry the fish to be sold at market. The catch has been good.

Neco goes to the busy market by the white stone docks and buys some grain meal. He goes to the tomb of his ancestors. He lights a fire and makes an offering of fish and grain to his mother and his father, to those who have come before. Neco prays.

He walks fast down the red clay street to his red clay house and he is home. He puts down his part of the day's catch. Neco calls out to his treasure.

Little Sepu, fat and naked, runs to the door and gurgles. Neco picks up Sepu and holds him high. Little Sepu waves his fat little arms and smiles. He has one tooth. His youths-lock is just a wisp of hair.

Little Kirti is tugging at Neco's linen kilt. She wants papa to help her fly. So, after a hug and a kiss for Sepu, he picks up Kirti. She is almost too big for this. In another year, she will be too heavy. Neco holds her up as long as he can, but it has been a long day at sea. Soon, he must put her down.

They walk through the house to the back. He carries little Sepu on his shoulders. Sepu beats Neco's head like a drum. Neco holds Kirti's hand in his as they walk. He asks Kirti if she has been good. If she has helped her mama watch Sepu. She chatters about her day. She brewed beer with mama. Sepu said, "Goo." She kneaded dough that mama is making into black bread.

They step into the red clay courtyard behind the house. It is shaded by a red brick wall, but it is still hot and bright. There is fresh bread on a stone. He smiles at his Mara, who is cutting onions for stew. She smiles at her Neco

Everything is in its place. Everything is as it should be. It is good. For now.

Tomorrow, Neco will sail away.

The Lord of the Door to the South has decreed that a ship will sail to Pharaoh's gold mines with one hundred and fifty men with stout hearts. That the Great Horus in Flight, a mighty ship one hundred and fifty cubits long and forty cubits wide, will sail south. That in Huweitat, the men will go down into the earth to mine gold beneath the yellow cliffs. Go down until the Great Horus in Flight's hold is full of gold. The men will go down away from Mighty Ra in his heaven and Restless Amathaunta in her sea. Down into the earth away from Mara with her stew and Kirti as she grows too tall to fly and Sepu as says his first word that is not "Goo."

A year.

Forever.

Away.

Tomorrow.

Tonight, Neco is in his red clay house holding his Mara. Mara is on her reed mat bed holding her Neco. Close. Closer.

 

Great Pharaoh is in his city of a hundred great temples. But Great Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maatkare, Daughter of Ra, Khenmet-Amen Hatshepsut is far away.

The wide muddy Nile flows through the middle of the world, but the Nile is far away.

Serpent eyed Amathaunta is in her seas. Her daughters are restless.

Mighty Ra is in the heavens. Each night Bright Burning Ra fights the dire serpent Apophis in the underworld. Mighty Ra fights so he can be reborn from Sky Arching Nuit. Be reborn to light the new day.

It is tomorrow.

Neco is sailing away.

The drummer beats his drum and the sailors, the best who have seen heaven and earth, pull the oars. The captain had said that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none and indeed there is none.

It is calm as the sailors pull their wide oars through the green waters. Past the white rocks where the daughters of Restless Amathaunta sit, combing their hair. Neco glances at them.

They are ugly. Strange. Their heads are not shaved. They have long green hair, tangled with shells. Their skin is not brown. They have white skin, which shimmers like the underbelly of a shark. Their pale hips blend into fish tails that glitter in the sea spray. They call to the sailors by name.

One of the women slides into the water and swims along side the ship, just out of reach of the oars. She smiles at Neco. Her eyes are yellow and slit like a cat's. They bulge slightly like a frog's. She reaches out pale white arms to Neco. She calls to him. She whispers that there is a cool white palace of pearl beneath the green sunlit waves waiting for him. That she longs for Neco in her red coral bed. That it will be dark beneath the stone. Don't go. Don't leave her. Slip into the water so that she can hold him in her arms. Come into the water so that she can cover his face in kisses. She has so many things to show him. So many things to tell him.

One of the sailors jumps into the water.

In a tail flip flash, the woman has the sailor in her thin white arms. Is pressing small white teeth to his sun weathered face and neck. He is smiling as she pulls him under the waves. The sailor does not resist as the woman's sisters swarm into the waters. Churning the waves to a white froth with their tails that glitter in Ra's light.

Neco shivers at his oar in the warm morning sun.

The ship has paid Serpent Eyed Amathaunta a willing due. The wind begins to blow from the north.

Neco feels the smooth wood of the deck beneath his bare feet as he runs to raise the sail. He is alive.

The green cotton sail catches the wind. Bells out and forward and the ship dances away from the white rocks where the daughters of Restless Amathaunta like to sit combing their long hair.

 

The days pass. Neco counts them.

Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One day left. Tomorrow, they will reach the yellow cliffs where the sailors will go down into the dark earth to mine great Pharaoh's gold.

Mighty Pharaoh is in his city of wide smooth roads. Neco is on the ship. The Great Horus in Flight is sailing fast before the wind on the waves. The wind is in Neco's face. Ra's warm gaze is on his back.

They had said that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none.

As the ship approaches the port of Huweitat, as the yellow cliffs come into view, the wind rises, and throws up waves eight cubits high. For the first time in Neco's life, in anyone's life, the hot blue sky turns dark. Fierce. Black clouds dare to hide Mighty Ra's light and icy water drenches down from the angry sky.

Black waves toss the ship. Jagged lightening fingers slash the clouds. The sailors struggle to guide the Great Horus in Flight.

The waves grow higher.

The shrieking weeping wind slams the ship. The great mast cracks like a twig and falls away. It smashes five sailors as it tumbles into the sea.

Neco grabs hold of a broken wooden plank as a wave casually plucks him up and into the sea. Swept down into a deep valley of water. Carried up to the top of a wave twenty cubits high, Neco can barely see the sailors scrambling as the ship snaps in two. When Neco reaches the top of the next wave, the ship is gone.

Neco is alone in the black sea, clinging to a bit of wood.

Neco thinks he sees mighty serpents flying on the howling winds, playing tag with the lightening.

Neco thinks he sees the maiden, Amathaunta's daughter, reaching out to him with her white arms.

Neco thinks he sees a great serpent's head, just beneath a black and silver wave. Its giant yellow eye staring at him as he floats helplessly.

Neco makes himself see Mara and Kirti and Sepu and holds on.

Hours. Days. Forever.

Neco hears the sound of waves crashing on the shore. He kicks his bare feet in the cold water. He can barely feel them. He is so tired. He doesn't dare let go of his piece of wood, water logged in his cold arms. Holds on and closes his eyes and kicks in the direction of the roar.

He tumbles onto the sandy shore. He crawls up the powder fine beach. Above, there is the arch of Curving Nuit's night sky skin and her glittering stars. Gentle Hathor's full round moon shines pale blue on the beach and waves. Neco looks out at the sea. He can see lightening and clouds. He closes his eyes and sees no more.

 

In the morning, Neco wakes to see Mighty Ra high over head. Neco looks out at the sea. He looks out at the place where black clouds roil. Where lightening stabs clouds. Where rain and fierce wind laments some almost heard name. A storm ten cubits out from shore and clear sunlit skies.

A white flake floats free of the storm. Neco catches it. It is cold and turns to water in his hand.

Neco's mouth is dry with salt. Neco's eyes are red with waves.

Neco pray to Serpent Eyed Amathaunta in thanks for sparing him. He prays to Sweet Kebechet for water, that Great Amathaunta's mercy might not be in vain. He prays for the sailors who sank beneath the waves. Men whose Ba's and Ka's might never be reunited. He prays to Amathaunta to send them to Great Osirus. He prays that Restless Amathaunta pity them and guide them to the land of the dead. Take them to where their Ba's and Ka's can become one. Where they will become light, be reborn as Akh in the land of the dead.

Then he walks north along the shore. He must find water and food soon. He walks until he comes to a small cold stream that bubbles to the sea. Falls to his knees and drinks the cool clean water. He drinks life in gulps. A white fig tree grows next to the stream. Its limbs are heavy with plump purple fruit. He gobbles them up. Tiny seeds catching in his teeth, juice running down his chin, he eats.

Ten cubits from shore, the storm still rages. Lightening slashes. Black waves toss beneath black clouds. Rain and wind wail.

Neco looks away from the storm.

He takes off his linen kilt. He gathers up figs in its folds. He walks down the shore. He passes cold streams. He passes fat orange melons growing ripe on green vines. He passes waving fat golden grain. He walks by splendid birds with blue and green and red feathers. He walks until he comes to the little bit of wood that had saved his life. Neco knows that he is on an island in the eye of a storm ten cubits out from where the waves meet the shore.

Neco sits on the hot white sand. He listens to the howling wind. He looks at the slashing falling water and the moving, unmoving clouds.

Neco weeps.

Then he walks back to the first stream. If he is to see his family again, he must stay alive.

Next to the cool stream, he lies down in a dark thicket and a shadow covers him. For three days, he is alone, without a companion beside his own heart. He hears it beating in his chest. He hears the sound of the sea.

He makes a stone axe. He cuts down palm trees and lashes them together with seaweed. He sits on the sand and stares at the storm. It is black with clouds. It is silver with falling water where Mighty Ra's light hits the storm's edge.

He stares and stares and sees a woman walking from the storm. She wears a long woven skirt of many colors. It is ripped. She is walking on the water. Her breasts are bare and bleed from where she scratches at them. She is weeping. Her black curling hair appears to have once been gathered high on her head, in the manner of Knossos. Now it is wild and streaked with ash. She walks over the waves. She walks onto shore.

Neco bows down to the woman and says, "Great Lady what distresses you so?"

The woman looks at him, her shore green eyes empty, "My daughter, my Kore. I am looking for my daughter. Have you seen my little girl?"

Neco looks up at the woman, "Great Lady whose grief so reflects my own, I wish I could give you news to gladden your heart, but I have seen no maiden since I was cast ashore upon a wave of the sea. When was she taken? What does your daughter, your Kore, look like?"

The woman's hands scratch at her arms, "She is my golden haired Kore." The woman's hands pull at her hair. "She is my blue eyed daughter." Her fingers tear at her face. "She is my pale, sweet little one. My springtime dove." She wails. The storm wails back.

Neco sighs, "Great Lady, my heart weighs heavy against the truth that I must tell. I have seen no little girl with golden hair or blue eyes or pale skin like a dove before or after I was cast into the sea." Neco looks for some thing to offer this woman who walks over water, "But Great Lady, pray do not grieve so. I am but a poor shipwrecked sailor, far from my family, but there is cool water to clean your cuts and ease your thirst. There is fruit to ease your hunger. There are trees to shelter you. Great Lady, may it please you to rest a moment that your search might go easier."

But the woman does not hear him. She turns and walks back out into the storm. Neco watches her. Watches as her shape slips over waves and through falling water. Watches as she disappears from view.

Neco considers a moment, his face thoughtful. Neco stops working on his raft.

He makes a little throwing club for catching birds. Neco makes a little spear to catch fish in the stream. Neco gathers figs and melons and grain. He digs a pit and lights a fire. Puts birds and fish and figs and melons and grain into the fire and makes a burnt offering to the gods. He prays that Great Pharaoh may long rule in his city of electrum and temples. He prays that the Serpent Eyed Amathaunta will cause the Reed Sea to calm. That Mighty Ra will sail across fierce blue skies unmarred by clouds. That Fierce Horus will seek out the lost Kore with his immortal eye. That the world will be as it had always been. Everything good and in its place.

As he prays, Mighty Ra travels across the blue sky from east to west. His ship slides from view behind black clouds and the sky turns pink and orange and gold.

Suddenly, Neco hears a noise as of thunder. Not out at sea in the howling winds. Not in the crashing waves.

The trees shake. The earth shudders. Branches fall.

Neco falls to the ground and covers his face. When the noise stops, he looks up.

A great serpent towers over him. It is thirty cubits long and its beard is more than two cubits in soft floating length. Its body is as a statue overlaid with gold and its color is that of true lazuli.

The serpent coils itself before Neco, who hurriedly bows face down as if before a great prince. The serpent, in a voice like sweet metal striking metal, says, "What has brought you, what has brought you, little one, what has brought you? If you say not speedily what has brought you to this isle, I will make you know yourself. As a flame you shall vanish, if you tell me not something I have not heard, or which I knew not, before you spoke."

But before Neco can raise his head and say a word, the serpent takes Neco in its mouth and carries him to a cool shady spot beside a white lotus filled pool. Carefully as a cat with her kitten, the serpent lays Neco down on the green grass without a scratch. Neco checks his arms and legs, but they are whole and sound, and nothing is missing.

Then the serpent says, "What has brought you, what has brought you, little one, what has brought you to this isle which is in the sea, and of which the shores are in the midst of the waves?"

Neco bows face into the grass and replies, "I was sailing to the mines by the order of Great Pharaoh, in the Great Horus in Flight, a ship one hundred and fifty cubits was its length, and the width of it forty cubits. It had one hundred and fifty sailors of the best of Egypt, who had seen heaven and earth, and the hearts of whom were stronger than lions. They said that the wind would not be contrary, or that there would be none. A storm came upon us while we were on the sea. Hardly could we reach to the shore when the wind came yet greater. As for me, I seized a piece of wood, while those who were in the boat perished without one being left with me for three days. Behold me now before you, for I was brought to this isle by a wave of the sea."

The serpent says, "Fear not, fear not, little one, and make not your face sad. If you have come to me, it is the gods who have let you live." And at this, the great serpent slowly winks one great yellow eye, "For surely it is they who have brought you to this isle of blest souls, where nothing is lacking, and which is filled with all good things." The great serpent coils on itself and rests its great head upon the grass, "Converse is pleasing, and he who tastes of it passes over his misery. As for you, if you are strong, and if your heart waits patiently, you shall return to your house which is full of all good things, you shall see your land, where you shall dwell in the midst of your kindred."

Neco bows in obeisance. Touching the ground before the serpent, "When that comes to pass, I shall tell of you to all who will listen. I shall make known your greatness, and I will return and bring to you sacred oils and perfumes and incense of the temples with which all gods are honored."

The great serpent smiles in its long beard and says, "I know that you are a poor sailor. You are not rich in perfumes. As for me, I am a prince of the land of Punt reborn as a serpent as you see. When you depart from this place, I will give you gifts that will turn your Great Pharaoh sweet to you. When you shall depart from this place, you shall never more see this isle. It shall be changed into waves. Now then let us speak of our homes that are far away."

The serpent tells Neco of its seventy-five children, who once dwelt with it in the far off land of Punt. Of houses on stilts and fat queens and plump baboons. Neco speaks of Mara brewing beer sweet with broom and bitter with hops. He speaks of Kirti leaping from rocks to fly. He speaks of Sepu with his tooth and youths-lock.

The serpent tells Neco the story of Se-Osiris, the child magician who journeyed with his father to the land of the dead. Neco tells the serpent the tale of the wise judge and the donkey. Stars wink on Dark Nuit's skin as she arches over her husband Cackling Geb, the earth. Gentle Hathor's moon sets into the trees. Neco, curling in a nest of the serpent's long beard, sleeps.

In the morning, Mighty Ra is reborn and the man and the serpent sit and converse by the lotus pool.

The days go by.

Weeks.

Months.

And in the third month, the wind stops. The black cloudy sky clears its expression and smiles. Mighty Ra in his ship sails over clear green waters lapping in his light.

And in the fourth month, the dark curve of a ship slips into view.

Neco calls out to the men on the ship. The men call back and wave. It is the Heron.

Neco turns to the great serpent, but it is gone. In the hollow where it coiled, there are chests of ebony. The chests are full of incense and perfume. They are full of lazuli and ivory and gold.

Neco laughs and the men of the Heron swim to shore.

He tells them of the Great Horus in Flight. Of the island. Of the weeping woman. Of the serpent with its gifts.

They tell him how they came to sail to this island. They had been fishing when the black clouds gathered. They had been gathering their nets when the black waves rose. They could only cling to the Heron and let the wind carry them. As they despaired, a mighty serpent of the sea took hold of the Heron in its mouth. A great serpent took hold of them, but far from devouring the Heron, it carried the boat to a sheltered cove lined with caves.

These three months, they sheltered in the rock. Sheltered in the kind dark earth as balls of solid water the size of a man's head fell from the sky. As the wind knocked trees and rocks like chaff. They sheltered until the sky smiled again.

Set sail to where the wind would take them. The wind has brought them here.

They fill the Heron's hold with Neco's treasure and sail away from the island. Neco glances back, but the island is not there. There are only waves. But it seems that from beneath that blue wave, a yellow eye winks and then slips from view.

The wind is good. It blows in the direction that the men need to go. They sail west. They follow Mighty Ra as he sails across the sky.

 

Great Pharaoh Khenmet-Amen Hatshepsut is in his tomb. The offering lights are lit. Everything is in its place.

The year count is reset to year one. Debts are forgiven. Prisoners are released.

Everything is as it should be.

Great Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt, Kheperkare, Son of Ra, Sanakhte is in his city of a thousand gates.

The brown Nile rises to spread black wealth.

Serpent eyed Amathaunta sleeps in her seas.

Mighty Ra sails his golden ship past white clouds, which dot the vast blue sky.

It is good.

Neco is at sea. He is sailing home.

Into the harbor of Kosseir, past the white breakwater, the drummer beats his drum and the men sing as the wind carries them home.

They jump from the Heron to the white stone dock, throwing ropes and laughing. Laughing they carry Neco's treasure to shore. Their families are gathered. Mara and Kirti and Sepu stand on the white stone dock. There are hugs and it seems that Kirti is not too big to fly.