Red Land, Black Land
A comprehensive retelling of the Egyptian myths surrounding the pantheon.
In the dark of the night, the only thing visible in the Nile valley was the river itself, a great silver band through the blackness. On a moonless night such as this, black magic and evil deeds were doubtless being perpetrated, but elsewhere, in cities and temples. Here, where the thickness of the night was so great that not one of Nut's stars penetrated it, and only the barest light of Aah's moon, even the forces of evil seemed intimidated. Only the most desperate would brave such a night.
A rustle and a small cry echoes from the papyrus. The noise was not loud, but it seemed huge, in the overwhelming silence of the Nile banks. It was as though the entire Valley had paused to listen, and then, to watch.
A woman pushed out of the papyrus, hasty, even frantic. She wore dark colors, a dark veil, but they were almost unnecessary, for her skin and hair were nearly as black as the night. Her eyes flashed up to the heavens momentarily, fearful, revealing glowing purple irises. She clutched a bundle to her chest, a bundle no larger than a few wheels of bread.
The woman eyed the water's banks, scanning for some ripple to betray a boat, or a wild beast. Nothing. She hiked up her skirts and walked to the middle of a stretch of bank, empty of papyrus reeds. Still looking about suspiciously, she knelt down and placed her bundle in the sand. Satisfied it was well placed, she stood up, and whispered a strange word. There was a flash of purple glitter, and she was gone.
In the papyrus thicket, a creature now stirred. It was a wise old red ibis, standing one-legged in the reeds. Now, the sagely bird spread its wings and flew away, down the Nile, in the direction of the moon. The bundle stirred. The baby inside, only a few hours old, began to fuss, and a dark-skinned head, a thatch of already thick black hair already atop its head, poked out.
A jackal, scavenging nearby, scented something amiss on the wind, and trotted towards the Nile. His path crossed the ibis' as the bird flew overhead, and with no verbal utterances, the urgency of the situation was conveyed from one to the other, and the jackal quickened his pace. Nose to the ground, he weaved back and forth, trying to catch the promised scent. Finding no trail on the ground, he raised his slender snout to the wind and sniffed.
There, the scent on the wind. The jackal broke into a gallop, lithe form bounding across the sands. When he came within sight of the bundle, the child, on the ground, he stopped short. The scent he had been following was that of a jackal, one of his own, but this creature here was a human baby… the jackal edged closer warily. Poking his nose into the bundle, at the child's head, he inhaled deeply. No doubt, not only did the baby carry the scent of the jackal very strongly, but also the deeper, more subtle scent of godhood.
The lone jackal sat in the sand by the bundle for a moment, to think. He gazed up at the moon, and had no doubt that the only god who could be trusted in a matter like this was being informed. Thoth would tell them what to do. In the meantime, the jackal must take the child back to the clan, to keep it alive. There was a young mother at the oasis who had just lost her first litter to a rogue wildcat. She would keep the child fed until they knew what to do with it.
Resolved, the jackal picked up the bundle carefully in his teeth. It would be weary, carrying it all the way back to the oasis, but it must be done.
The black-skinned woman with the purple eyes hurried through the torchlit halls of the royal palace, trying to be as silent as possible, trying to avoid detection. She preferred to avoid one person above all, so was going out of her way to avoid his chambers.
"Nepthys. Bit late, isn't it?" drawled the one person she wanted to stay away from. He had appeared, leaning on a pillar to her right.
"I wanted air. I slept in the sedan during the procession today," Nepthys said, avoiding her husband's gaze. He stepped towards her, his deathly pallor turned only mildly flesh-like in the torches.
"You don't need to explain," he breathed slowly, taking another step. Nepthys almost started in shock. Usually all he ever wanted was explanations. The goddess of death and sleep turned to the god of destruction and storm.
"Set…" Nepthys began, but Set put up a hand to silence her. He stepped closer still, and gently, almost fearfully, reached up to touch her cheek.
"I'm sorry, Nepthys. I've realized now that what I ask of you… it was not meant to be. I.. want to start over," he said, haltingly, eyes not gazing at her, but focused at the floor. Nepthys noticed, not for the first time, that his eyelashes were bright copper red, in striking contrast to the black kohl lining his eyes.
"Start over?" she breathed, hardly daring to believe he was suggesting what she thought he was. "You mean…"
"I want to make a fresh start of it," Set murmured, lifting his gaze now. His piercing jet eyes stared through her own violet ones, and she shuddered involuntarily. Set reached out to steady her. "All these years I've been selfish—it's always been about my goals and ambitions. I never gave any time to consider you, for who you are. Now, most of my goals are coming to fruition, and you are my only concern… I want to treat you how I should have, from the very beginning," he whispered, bringing his mouth close to her ear. Nepthys stood rigid, hardly daring to breathe.
If this, this declaration that bordered on love, had come from Set a year, no, a few months earlier, Nepthys would have accepted it gladly. But now, with the weight of what she had done, where and how she had spent the past months, when she was supposed to be participating in the gods' tour of the Upper Kingdom, weighing heavy on her conscience…
But perhaps she could still take this gift. What Set never learned could never hurt either of them. Nepthys leaned closer to her husband, letting him take her in his arms.
"Convince me you're sincere," she whispered, reaching up to tangle her night-black fingers in his flame-red hair. Set's long, usually morose face split into a slightly feral grin, showing extra-long canines.
"If it pleases you," he said, and swept her up in his white strong arms, like a new bride. Nepthys let out a small, startled, but genuinely delighted cry. The god bore his wife out of the colonnaded hall, towards his—their—bedroom.
"He looks funny. He's almost as dark as a Nubian. Why's his head so big?" asked the white-haired boy, head cocked to the side like a confused dog. Perhaps the comparison was not far off, for the boy's ears were long, gray, and fluffy, much like a wolf, and his plume of a tail the envy of his packmates. He was still a child, but a lithe, wiry child, and destined to be handsome. The strange contrast of his gray-white hair and blue eyes against his brown skin was enough to ensure that.
"He is still a baby. You looked like that when you were his age," smiled Iadi gently, bending her sharp muzzle to lick the forehead of the small, dark infant stuck to her teat. The jackal had been a nursing mother until recently, when a wildcat had slain her first litter. There was still milk in her and the mothering instinct was strong, so Kha had come first to her when he brought back the child.
"I never looked like that," said the boy, sniffing. "I was a wolf when I was born."
"You were in a wolf skin when you were born, Wepwawet," snorted Mayat, butting her flank against the squatting boy's shoulder. The shaggy wolf matron had raised Wepwawet much in the manner Iadi was now caring for the new child.
"I still do not understand why we have been called into this matter," the voice of the wolf chieftain, Ruiu, echoed across the oasis from the Council Rock, where the two alpha males were in conference with their elders.
"Because you have a foundling of your own. We will want him to teach this one when it is old enough," replied Kha, the jackal's leader, very calmly. "And the lady caring for it needs to know things from the lady who cared for your boy."
"So? Why is it so urgent that you secure this deal? A full council at Midday? Some fuss for a business more easily conducted at our leisure. I am not that hard to find; we share the same hunting grounds and oasis," snapped Ruiu, circling the placid jackal.
"Ah, my friend, you do not know all. The child is a god," said Kha measuredly. Senenmut, Ruiu's tan, scruffy beta, snorted derisively.
"So? So is Wepwawet; a hunt god, spawn of the desert and the tears of Tefnut as she wandered the red sands," growled the wolf. Inebni, Kha's slender beta, stepped forward.
"Speak to my alpha only when spoken to," said Inebni, placing a paw in Senenmut's path. The two glared at each other, so Kha spoke for himself.
"Djehuti, the ibis, Thoth's emissary in these parts, gives it to me on the Moon's authority that this child is the illegitimate son of Nepthys, wife of Set, and Osiris, King of men and gods on earth," said Kha. His words spread silence like a wet mat falling on top of the gathering.
"If Set finds—" a voice from the midst of the crowd of elders began, but was abruptly silenced.
"So you see, we need your help. This child's presence here must be guarded," said Kha. Ruiu growled, but he knew his duty.
"We shall aid you. Our clan will protect this secret with you," he said roughly. "Mayat and Wepwawet will remain here with you to help, for the time being. Now, if you will excuse us, we have hunting to do," growled the wolf, and turned to leap off the rock. Senenmut followed, glaring over his shoulder at Inebni, who returned his stare with equal ire.
Kha let out a small sigh of relief as the crowd dispersed. He leapt off the rock himself, and trotted across the clearing to where Iadi lay, in the shadow of a grassy outcrop of granite.
"You two will be our guests at the oasis for a while," he said to Wepwawet and the lady wolf, nodding at them. Mayat ducked her head in deference to an alpha, but Wepwawet did not, speaking to the chieftain as an equal.
"Look at the baby's head, Kha. He has ears like mine!" exclaimed the wolf-boy, pointing. Iadi leaned back to allow Kha a better view. The child's ears were indeed pointy and furry, the same black as his sparse hair.
"Not like yours, I think… they are jackal ears," said Kha, pointy face splitting in a canine grin.
"Weird," said Wepwawet, rocking back on his heels.
"Have you named it yet?" Kha asked Iadi quietly. She looked up at him serenely.
"It's not an it, it's a boy-child," replied Iadi. "And yes, I think I have named him. He's a royal child, isn't he? Even among the gods?"
"As royal as a bastard foundling can be," muttered Kha darkly. Iadi smiled briefly.
"I'm naming him Anpu," said Iadi. "It means royal child, doesn't it?"
"That sounds silly," said Wepwawet. "It doesn't sound like a god's name."
"Who are you to call other people's names silly?" wuffed Mayat, nudging Wepwawet's shoulder playfully.
"Call him Anubis. It means the same thing, just said in the fashion of another language. It is more elegant," said Kha, deciding the thing. Iadi fondly snuffed the newly named infant's head.
"Anpu to me, Anubis to everyone else. So shall it be," she said, and curled up around her foster child, covering him with the rich black plume of her tail. Kha, Mayat, and Wepwawet stayed a moment more before realizing mother and child were asleep, and edging away.
Nepthys woke to an empty hollow next to her on Set's expansive bed. She didn't let it worry her, but stretched and sat up to look for him lazily. Her husband was standing by the window, white form entirely naked, squinting at the sunlight streaming into the room. His silky red hair hung loose to his waist, having escaped from the tie it was usually kept in. Nepthys shivered as she recalled how it had felt in her hands last night, slippery and rich, how his hair had mingled with her own wiry black locks, fire and night.
She slipped out from under the linen sheets and padded to his side, twining her arms around his waist and pressing herself against his back. The goddess stared down at the stark contrast between her black, warm skin, and his pale cool flesh. They were so different. What madman had ever thought a union between them would work in the first place? Oh yes, the madman called Ra, who had decreed it before they were even born…
Looking up at her husband's face, she noticed how pensive he was. His usual expression was one of brooding ill humor, it was true, but he seemed exceptionally strained.
"What's bothering you, my love?" Nepthys whispered into his cool shoulder. The shoulder's muscle twitched under his skin as Set heaved a sigh. He was silent so long Nepthys didn't think he would answer.
"I have a plan to kill Osiris. Tomorrow. At the party," he said, very sharply. Nepthys gasped, feeling as though her stomach had dropped out her feet.
"No…" she whispered, shutting her eyes tight, suddenly wishing to be miles away, anywhere but here.
"I know he is our brother, but he is weak and soft in the head. It is I, who was always the stronger brother, who should rule. And I've always hated him, more or less," said Set by way of explanation. Nepthys loosed her arms from his waist, drawing back. Set turned around.
"You must realize this is how it must be," he said, a frown line appearing between his eyebrows. Nepthys couldn't breathe.
"You can't kill him, he is—he is—" she gasped.
"Our brother. I know, but I am resolved," Set finished for her grimly. Nepthys shook her head and sank to the floor, sobbing wildly.
Osiris is the father of my child, her treacherous mind tried to force her to speak. You can't kill him, he's the father of my child.
The child I killed last night.
Her brain burning, Nepthys sobbed harder. She had thought it was over. She had thought things would be all right. Things had almost, finally, turned out the way they were supposed to…
Set knelt by his wife, tried to take her in his arms, tried to dry her tears, comfort her. She pushed him away and curled up against the side of the bed, burying her face in her arms. Set remained for a few moments before standing, as unable as any man to help a woman who is crying. He picked up his linen kilt and sash, belting the garment around his waist as he walked out of the room. In a few hours, he would be a murderer. He still had matters to attend to.
Nepthys cried until she fell asleep, dreaming dark visions of thundering white waterfalls, dark tombs, and the lithe bodies of baying jackals all around.
Hoo. Hooooooo boy. Okay, here's the deal on this one.
I've been wanting to write this for a long time… well, at least since first trimester, when the creepy kid in my English/History block class gave me a Who's Who of Egyptian Mythology… but that's an entirely different story, and probably boring unless you know the parties involved and just how creepy they are.
Anyway, this is a retelling of a lot of Egyptian mythology. Of course it's not a retelling of all of it, that would take, like, years. It's just mainly the basic Osiris and Isis arc, and then the Set and Horus arc, but told from a different point of view. The point of view of an illegitimate child of the god of life and the goddess of death, abandoned at birth and raised by jackals in the necropolis outside Memphis…
Yes, readers, this is the story of Anubis. The Grim Reaper of Egypt, the Guardian of the Dead, and the sexiest deity in the entire freakin' Egyptian pantheon (barring, perhaps, Set, if you go for villains instead of just anti-heroes). The conditions of his birth, his childhood, his friends, his alliances, and his deeds. They skated over him far too much in the original telling. I'm going to stick to the general plot of the arcs, but I've taken a few liberties as to ages, who knew who, and who liked who… it's kind of hard to explain what I'll do… you'll know when I come to it.
Prepare, reader, for murder, betrayal, adultery, necrophilia, rape, sodomy, genocide, war, lawyers, incest, and destruction; in other words, the ingredients for any good mythology. Also, prepare for a rating elevation in later chapters… sweatdrop