And we have an April release . . . JOURNEY, the last of the three books in the Legacies of the Ancient River series. This is a re-release from Steeple Hill. (You can order it here.)
His younger brother will be greater than he…
With those words, Menashe’s dreams collapse. As Yosef’s eldest son, his position had seemed secure. But now Efrayim—bold, charming Efrayim, who’s everything Menashe is not—is taking his place. With their people. With the pharaoh. With Jendayi, the slave Menashe loves.
Efrayim, meanwhile, sees his dreams confirmed. Surely it’s his destiny to unite the Egyptians and Hebrews. To marry a princess and achieve splendor surpassing that of his brother.
Then Menashe’s dreams take a dangerous twist as he becomes obsessed with returning the Hebrews to their homeland. If he succeeds, he’ll restore their heritage. If he fails…he could destroy them all.
I hardly ever write prologues, but I wrote one for this book. Here ’tis:
She heard the murmuring sounds of water, felt the deck under her feet rise and fall, and thought: now I am finally dead.
Borne by an insistent wind, the ship pressed forward, slicing through the silk black water that ran along its side. Jendayi clutched at the railing, then lifted one hand and held it before her widened eyes. She could see every line of her palm, scrubbed and cleaned, her fingers tipped with a harpist’s neatly trimmed nails.
She shifted her gaze to the glassy surface of the inky river and felt the wings of tragedy brush past her, urging a shiver up her spine. The images of this place did not mesh with the faded visions of her mortal memory. When the gift of sight had been hers, she had looked on a bright and vivid world, but a crimson hue tinged everything in this region, as if the malevolent fiery eyes of Ammit colored everything in his domain.
The boat slid onto a mounded levee, rocking with a soft thump that nearly knocked her from her feet. Jendayi reached for the rail as the bark began to turn. Massive black rocks roared up from the water’s edge; no grasses, crocodiles, or hippos lived along these shores. This, after all, was a place of gods and ghosts.
She heard the soft sound of sandals shuffling toward the ancient river, then tiny pairs of invisible hands locked onto her arms and propelled her from the boat. She gasped at the first shock of coolness on her bare feet as she stepped from the bark into the water. The impish beings pulled her through the water toward the soft sand where a pair of enormous pillars thrust themselves forward from a pale and gleaming stone structure.
Jendayi swallowed, trying to steady her erratic heartbeat. Strange that she should still feel it beating in her chest. Stranger still that she could feel and yet not see the beings that dragged her forward. But she was not afraid of the dark. Being blind had taught her not to fear anything . . . on earth.
The crimson darkness around her felt threatening, yet she padded after her ghostly escorts and strained to maintain her fragile control. As she neared the twin columns, the dank smell of sun-starved stone filled her nostrils. The hands urged her from the dampness of earth to the paved portico of a temple. The twin pillars, carved to resemble the eternal lotus blossom, loomed before her. Two torches, one thrust into the wall beside each pillar, pushed at the gloom. Some immortal inhabitant of this place had inscribed the columns with passages from the Chapters of Coming Forth by Day, but Jendayi could not read all the hieroglyphs.
Her invisible escorts withdrew. A silence settled about her, an absence of sound that had a physical density. Of course. Each being must take his place in the silent halls of death unaccompanied; no one could reckon with the gods for the soul of another.
A doorway had been carved into the wall between the two pillars, and its edges seemed to glow as she considered the black void beyond the opening. “We will not allow you to enter past us–” the jambs of the door buzzed–“unless you say our name.”
Jendayi paused, searching her memory for the myriad lessons she had been forced to learn. “Accurate Plumb-bob,” she whispered, her voice fainter than air, “is your name.”
A fiendish giggle rent the stillness, sending a little spasm of panic across Jendayi’s chest, but she pressed her lips together and waited. They could not trick her.
“I will not allow you to enter past me,” said the right lintel of the door, gleaming phosphorescent in the dark, “unless you say my name.”
“Pan for Weighing Truth is your name.”
More sinister laughter broke out, and Jendayi steeled herself against the sense of inadequacy that swept over her. She had learned the answers to these questions; she was prepared for death.
“I will not allow you to enter past me,” said the left lintel of the door, glowing softly, “Unless you say my name.”
“Offering of Wine is your name.”
More laughter, hoarse and bitter.
“I will not allow you to pass over me,” murmured the threshold, bright against the dark floor, “unless you say my name.”
Jendayi did not hesitate. “Ox of Geb is your name.”
The diabolical voices dimmed. The doorway shone with an even brighter brilliance, and Jendayi took a step forward, pausing when the floor beneath her bare feet flashed red. “I will not allow you to tread on me,” said the floor, its voice a sleepy purr. “Unless—”
“You are the Hall of the Two Truths,” Jendayi interrupted.
“Yes,” the floor answered, its tone coolly disapproving, “but I do not know the names of the feet with which you will tread on me.”
“Flames of Ha,” Jendayi answered, “is the name of my right foot. Wnpt of Hathor is the name of my left.”
“You know us,” the voices of the door recited in unison. “Enter in over us.”
She walked, compelled forward by her dislike of the demonic guardians of the hall and by her wish to be done with what lay ahead. As she walked, the floor brightened, spreading outward in a wave of golden tiles that culminated at black walls to her right and left. Shadows canopied the distant ceiling, and a progression of thickset columns appeared in front of her, each inscribed with the name and image of a god, each pillar glimmering with radiance. She knew the columns and images were supposed to intimidate her into confessing her wrongs. Jendayi refused to look up as she passed, but walked with her eyes focused on her hands, forcing her mind to avoid the interview that lay ahead. Her hands were nothing special, merely a composite of bones, connective tissue, and flesh, yet they had served as her greatest asset in life . . .
A sudden bright light flared before her. She threw up her arms to shelter her face, and then slowly lowered them. A cold knot formed in her stomach when she recognized the chamber into which she had wandered. She stood now in the judgment hall where the immortal ones waited, called from their duties to hear her confession.
Shadows wreathed the spacious chamber. In the wavering light cast by a series of rush torches, the images of Egypt’s gods danced on the painted walls. The images did not frighten her, but every nerve leaped and shuddered when she saw the three gods. At one side of the room sat Thoth, the scribe of the gods, a reed stylus in his hand, his fierce eyes glowing as he stared at her. A man with the head of the ibis, he waited to transcribe the results of this interview, to record for all eternity whether Jendayi had passed into eternal life or suffered the second death. She knew she ought not fear him, for he loved virtue and hated abomination; he would record the truth.
But behind Thoth sat Ammit, the Eater of the Dead, a creature with the head of a crocodile, the foreparts of a lion, and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus. If Jendayi failed the gods’ test, Ammit would devour her body so that no part of her might pass into the Other World.
In the center of the room, behind the golden scales, stood Anubis. The ears of his black jackal’s head twitched as he stared at Jendayi, and his man’s hand gestured to draw her in. In the motioning hand he held the ankh, the symbol of eternal life, in the other he gripped a walking stick. As the Opener of Roads for the Dead, he would send Jendayi on her way to eternal joy or everlasting damnation.
She stepped forward, her heart thumping, knowing they wanted her to confess her sins in their presence. Pharaoh’s priests had taught her the words to say when arriving at the Hall of the Two Truths; she had also been forced to repeatedly recite the phrases that would purge an individual from all the evil he or she had committed.
Those words rose to her tongue now, tripped over her fear, and tumbled out of her mouth: “I have not acted evilly towards anyone, I have not impoverished associates; I have not done evil instead of righteousness; I do not know what is not correct. I have not committed sins. I have not set tasks at the start of each day harder than I had set previously. I have not reviled the god. I have not robbed the orphan, nor have I done what the god detests. I have not slandered a servant to his master. I have not made anyone miserable, nor have I made anyone weep. I have not killed, nor have I ordered anyone to execution. I have not made anyone suffer. I have not diminished the food-offerings in the temples, nor have I damaged the bread-offerings of the gods. I have not failed to observe the days for offering haunches of meat. I have not kept cattle from the property of the god. I have not opposed the god at his procession.”
She paused, breathless. She knew some of her statements were not entirely true, for every man and woman sinned at some time, but the gods would overlook her faults if she had recited the formula correctly. And another, more telling test was yet to come.
The ebony eyes of the jackal looked at her, blinked.
“No evil shall befall me in this land in this Hall of the Two Truths,” Jendayi stammered, recalling the rest of the ritual, “because I know the names of the gods who exist in it, the followers of the Great God.”
When Anubis moved his head, she thought she saw approval in his jet black eyes. From where he sat, Thoth did not look up, but scratched on his papyrus, the stylus making tiny tsk-tsk sounds in the silence of the hall.
Behind Anubis, Ammit the eater growled, then opened his mouth in a slow, intimidating yawn. Jendayi shivered at the sight of so many jagged crocodile teeth.
She stepped toward the golden scales. In the left pan rested the feather of Ma’at, the symbol of cosmic harmony, justice, order, and peace. Into the right pan Jendayi must place her heart.
She lifted her right hand to her left breast and was not surprised when a cold and solid substance slid into her palm. Her heart was no larger than her fist, a stone organ of veined marble, slightly pink in the torchlight of the chamber.
Anubis dipped his head, his round eyes intent on her movements, and Jendayi lowered her heart into the empty pan of the scale. As it clattered there, Thoth and Ammit lifted their heads. The feather of Ma’at twisted as if blown by a breath of wind, and the horizontal arm of the scale creaked. As Jendayi watched, the beam shuddered and tilted. Then the weight of her heart sent the pan crashing to the marble floor.
Jendayi’s blood froze in her veins as a gouging, ripping mayhem filled the Hall of the Two Truths. Anubis lifted his jackal head in a mournful howl; Thoth looked at his papyrus and cawed in dismay. Ammit the eater roared in fiendish glee; even the floor and doorways wailed in horror.
“Your heart is a stone!” A stentorian rumbling filled the hall. Jendayi wanted to cover her ears, to run and hide within the darkness she had known in her mortal life. But though that darkness had always been inside her, she could not hide in it now.
“The principles of Ma’at are not in you,” the voice roared, quaking the pillars of the chamber, “for your heart is dead!”
“I can’t help it,” she whimpered, cowering behind her hands. A rush of cold air brushed the backs of her legs, and beneath the heaviness of her wig her scalp tingled. “The gods have not dealt fairly with me. They took my sight; they took my freedom. How can a heart live within a slave in Pharaoh’s house, within a blind harpist?“
“Foolish girl, be silent!”
She covered her eyes, preferring the familiar darkness to this harsh red light, then realized that the gesture might anger the great god further. Gathering her slippery courage, she peered through her fingers. Thoth, Ammit, and Anubis stood silent and still, awaiting orders from the unseen entity that roared from the walls.
“You have loved nothing, you are nothing, you have nothing! I leave you, foolish child, to Ammit! You shall not enter the Other World!”
Paralyzed in the grip of terror, Jendayi breathed in short, painful gasps as the monstrous Eater of the Dead lumbered forward. She struggled to run, but the treacherous floor held her feet. Falling backward, she felt her thin arms hit the tiles, then the floor imprisoned her hands, too, holding her more tightly than the grave cloths of a mummy. She threw her head back, opened her mouth to release a guttural cry of terror . . .
And felt the tiles beneath her hands soften to the texture of linen.
As the nighttime sounds of the slaves’ chamber crept into her consciousness, Jendayi drank in deep breaths, silent but for the pounding of her grateful heart.
Tomorrow: How the idea germinated.