It’s been a week, so that means a new short story to debut here. This time we’re heading to Ancient Egypt for a sword and sorcery tale that went on to become one of my favorites of all the short stories that I’ve written. This setting and it’s main character were both used in an earlier story that I had published in a print anthology with Pulp Empire, a story titled “Fangs Beneath the Sand.”
I wrote both stories during a sword and sorcery kick that I was on years back while I was binge-reading Conan the Barbarian adventures by famed author Robert E. Howard. One of the most enjoyable parts of writing the two stories for me was the extensive research I did on Ancient Egyptian life and culture, which helped me better understand the world I was loosely basing my setting around. As you read this, you’ll come across several nods and influences from that ancient time period- a world of along ago that I’ve always been fascinated by.
As always, I hope you enjoy.
THE RAPIDS TO ETERNITY
Yafeu descended a short flight of stairs which lead into the Tide Breaker’s deep hull. After slinking about the tiny hallway to make sure he was all alone below deck, the young man slipped into the cargo hold.
“Musim, where are you?” Yafeu whispered.
“Over here,” a weak voice answered.
Yafeu spotted a trembling hand rise above several leather sacks resting in one corner of the cargo hold. He hurried toward it, coming upon another Egyptian who lay on his back, sprawled across the floor. The man was only a few years older than Yafeu, but he looked to be nearly at death. His skin, normally like bronze, was considerably pale, and coated in sweat. His breaths were intermittent, and any time he exhaled for longer than a few moments, his already uncomfortable expression twisted in further agony.
“I…I still cannot believe that you managed to sneak me onto this ship…” Musim said, trying to form a smile on his face as he fought through the pain.
“I’ve been a stowaway on countless trading ships before; you could not have had someone better to get you on here without the crew knowing,” Yafeu replied, showing a hint of mirth to please his friend.
“Good thing…I do not think that even your tongue would have persuaded them to allow a dying man onboard…” Musim said.
Any sign of mirth vanished from Yafeu’s face, and they went quiet for a few moments. “How do you feel?” he eventually asked.
“It would be…much easier to deal with if the ship would stay still,” Musim answered with a soft laugh, and at that instant the cargo hold shook as the Tide Breaker pressed on down the Nile.
“Do you mind if I see the wound again?” Yafeu asked.
“Sure, my friend…but I imagine that it is even worse than you last remember it.”
Yafeu crouched down towards Musim and gingerly began to remove the moist, blood-stained bandages on his waist. Before Yafeu uncovered even half of it, he saw that Musim surmised correctly. The gash still bled slightly, but worse was the sickly colored pus which oozed out and had caked the sides. There was no doubt that the wound was infected, and made no better by the sweltering heat in the desert.
“Be honest with me, Yafeu…how bad is it?” Musim asked.
Yafeu had to avert his eyes as he covered up the wound once more. “Not good, it is not good at all…” he said with deep regret.
Musim nodded his head ever slightly, clearly understanding what the near future held for him. “At least we stand a chance of…reaching Egypt,” he said.
“Yes, and there is no better ship than this one to make it there swiftly,” Yafeu added, and they went quiet.
Musim was a good friend of Yafeu’s, one he met years ago during his many travels throughout Egypt. Like Yafeu, he was skilled warrior in the art of Egyptian weaponry, and he accompanied Yafeu on many of his journeys along the Nile.
Their most recent adventure took them to the Buhen Fort, where they served as mercenaries to reinforce the prodigious garrison against attacking Nubians and Cushites. During the siege, Musim was struck by a Nubian’s spear and badly injured. Although Musim withstood the blow, he and Yafeu both knew that the wound was dire, and soon enough, it would take him from the Earth.
But they were in the southerly kingdom of Nubia, beyond Egypt’s borders. And among their people, it was believed that if one was to die outside of their homeland, their ka—an Egyptian’s incarnation in the Afterlife—could never enter the afterlife known as the Land of Eternity.
“I know that we have spoken…about this before…” Musim suddenly started. “But I cannot thank you…enough for what you do for me. I know that you do not…believe in the gods or Afterlife quite…quite as I do…and you risk so much just…just to appease my ways, which you do not believe are right.”
Yafeu’s face was etched with conviction. “What I believe in is no matter. I made the decision many years ago not to devote my life to the gods as the rest of our people do. I may not be concerned with whether my ka reaches what Eternity holds for us, but that does not mean that I look down upon anyone who believes otherwise, especially you.”
“You may not choose to worship them anymore, but I am certain that…the gods look upon you proudly for your courage,” Musim commended.
“Perhaps they do,” Yafeu said.
Again there was silence between them for a short time, until Musim began to chuckle.
“What makes you laugh this time?” Yafeu asked, both curious and amused by his friend’s good spirits.
“I just find it funny, I suppose…that I travel aboard a ship to my death, and then soon after…I will sail on another ship in the Afterlife to meet with the gods,” Musim explained, smiling.
Musim referred to the Egyptian belief that the ka would ride a ferry across a vast realm of water, where evil spirits would test the ka along the way, before it came to the gods and their judgment.
Although hearing his friend speak of his own death pained Yafeu, he could not suppress his own smile. “Just be careful of the fire-breathing reptiles and serpents that the legends speak of,” Yafeu said. “I would think that they are far more dangerous than any Nubian.”
Musim started to laugh once again, but then the entire cargo hold began to tremble violently. The floors and walls shook as numerous containers rattled about, telling the two Egyptians that the Tide Breaker was entering powerful rapids.
“We must be at the last stretch of the cataract,” Yafeu said, looking up as he tried to imagine what was happening above on deck. “I’ve got to go see where I can help. Will you be alright?”
“I’ve made it this long and this far…I don’t intend to pass just yet,” Musim declared through clenched teeth, his indomitable vigor not yet defeated.
Forging a smile across his face, Yafeu softly patted his friend on the chest, and hurried out of the cargo hold.
The hallway within the hull of the ship quavered, and he nearly stumbled face-first into one of the walls. Again he almost toppled as he ascended the small flight of stairs, and at last made it out into open air.
Yafeu did not have a chance to survey the chaos when he first stepped foot on deck. A wave thrown out of the cataract crashed across the deck, engulfing Yafeu and hurling him along the planks. When the arm of water passed, and he came to, Yafeu found another crewman lying alongside him, having been swept from the other side of the Tide Breaker.
“Are you alright, kid?” the man asked, recovering much faster than Yafeu, despite having been tossed like a clay pot across the ship.
“I think so…” Yafeu answered while he regained his composure. When he stood back up, the young Egyptian wobbled from head to toe as the boat struck a mighty rapid and shuddered. It was then that he finally got a look at the furious cataract which the Tide Breaker struggled to pass through.
The Nile flowed with the awesome power of a waterfall, turning the once cerulean waters into torrents of white fury. Even most ships were at danger of being drowned by the Nile’s rapids, and those which could withstand them were still at risk of being mutilated by the beds of razor-sharp granite rocks which the waters rode over.
But the Tide Breaker was a supreme Egyptian craft, and its captain had survived the same rapids unscathed more than once before. Yafeu turned around to spot him standing on the aft deck of the boat, lending one arm to help steer the ship through its huge rudder and using the other to help dictate orders as his voice hollered over the roar of the Nile. He appeared totally fearless, hardly blinking even as pillars of water constantly slammed upon him and the boards beneath his feet quivered ceaselessly.
Yafeu was about to head toward him and ask where he was be needed, until out of the tail of his eye he noticed a group of crewmen standing beneath the ship’s sail, which had been released and hung along the mast.
The sail did not lay flat to cover the whole rig, but was angled at a north-easterly direction by the crewmen who pulled it in place and held it through the use of thick ropes. It was a technique that the Egyptians employed to keep a ship from slipping out of the open rapids and drifting closer to a shallow bank or layer of rocks, as they would tilt the ship ever slightly in the desired path through the rig. For although the Tide Breaker was as durable as any ship built by human hands, having been crafted out of cedar trees from the distant land of Phoenicia, even its own hull was vulnerable to the blade-like boulders which jutted out of the rapids.
As Yafeu ran to join the men controlling the rig, another wall of water rose above the deck and washed across it. Had it not been for a nearby railing which he took hold of just in time, Yafeu surely would have been swept up and thrown to an unknown part of the Tide Breaker—maybe even off of it.
But when the wave crashed and he could open his eyes again, Yafeu saw that one of the men helping to direct the sail had not been as fortunate. The mass of water which the Nile hurled from the cataract took the man clear off his feet, and left him struggling to hold onto the rope that he clung to.
“No, NO!” the man shouted in terror, realizing that he was about to lose his grip and risk being tossed across the deck. “Horus, strengthen my hands!!”
Perhaps the revered Egyptian god of Protection listened to his plea that day, and responded in the form of Yafeu’s swift action. Just as the man’s hands were about to slip off the rope, Yafeu came to his aid, grabbing onto the rope with one hand and clasping the other about the man’s arm.
“I’ve got you, just hold on!” Yafeu assured as he strained every muscle in his body to maintain his grip on the desperate man and the heavy coil at the same time.
The Tide Breaker bore through the cataract for several more minutes. The violent currents continued to pound against the hull and assail the deck with enormous columns of white water, yet the grand vessel was never overpowered by the ferocity of the Nile. And though it often hovered only mere feet from the dangerous granite boulders, the men aboard always steered the boat clear and kept it from receiving a single scrape along its hull.
In time, the waters calmed, and the blade-like rocks dissipated from the river. The Nile stretched wider as they traveled, while its surface grew steadier and once again took on a wondrous cerulean hue. Soon the Nile flowed with a sort of grace in its mighty rapids, and at last those aboard the Tide Breaker knew that they escaped the treacherous cataract.
Many of the men let out a long sigh of relief, while others dropped to the deck out of sheer exhaustion. The captain was finally able to rest his arm as he let go of the ship’s rudder, while Yafeu and the others who maintained the rig could finally release their hold on the sail. No longer did any man have to struggle to control the Tide Breaker; they simply let the Nile’s leisurely flow carry them downriver, towards their homeland of Egypt.
No sooner than Yafeu let go of the massive rope did the man whom he had saved earlier gotten to his feet and cupped his hands about the young Egyptian’s.
“Thank you, my young friend, thank so much for your bravery,” he said amiably as he bowed his head at Yafeu. “May the gods look down on you with favor after you have saved my life this day.”
Yafeu smiled, and bowed at the man respectfully. “Then I hope the gods may heed your words, as I could use their good graces very much at this time,” he replied with a hint of humor.
The man laughed heartily, and struck Yafeu on the shoulder with a friendly slap before walking off back to his duties.
Still catching his breath, Yafeu made for the Tide Breaker’s bow, and let his youthful eyes scan the tremendous Nile. The flood came early and strong that year, widening the river’s banks and drenching the parched earth around it. A heap of lush foliage was reborn in the wake of the flood, surrounding the mighty Nile with walls of bright green—entire marshes filled with papyrus reeds, and glades of palm and sycamore trees. No more than two months ago, the same ground was dry and barren, occupied only with irregular weeds which struggled to survive under the blistering desert sun.
Yafeu knew that if the flood had brought such life to the banks of the Nile in the southerly kingdom of Nubia, where the land was never very prosperous, then it surely would have brought an even greater blessing to the shores in his homeland of Egypt. He was not sure when the Tide Breaker would return there, but Yafeu hoped it would be soon. Even with the cataract behind them, the Nile’s flow was strong in those parts. The Tide Breaker’s crew did not bother to display the sails, nor did any of them toil under the oars.
Yafeu believed that there was still hope for Musim.
“Never sailed through one of the cataracts before this day, have you?” Yafeu heard a voice call out behind him.
The young man turned to see the captain, who wore a harmless smirk on his face while he walked over to join Yafeu.
“I’ve only sailed on the cataract southward before this,” Yafeu answered. “I must confess that was not enough for me to become accustomed to these waters.”
The captain of the Tide Breaker laughed. “Well, you certainly held your own before,” he said, “Not only did you save your hide, you even managed to save one of my crew, too!”
“Maybe next time I’ll take your spot at the rudder,” Yafeu said sarcastically with a chuckle.
The captain laughed again, and while he threw his head back, Yafeu could not help but marvel at the poise that he maintained. The man’s legs barely shook above the rocking deck of the ship, as if the waters which they passed through were as still as those in a temple’s pool.
Yafeu was also in awe of the man’s physique. Yafeu himself featured a lean, well-defined body, but Chenzira, who towered over him by a head or more, wore muscles that looked as though they were chiseled out of the hardest granite.
“I meant to ask you before, but what’s your name, kid?” the captain eventually asked, reclaiming Yafeu’s attention.
“It’s a pleasure, Yafeu,” the captain said as he stuck out his hand, and Yafeu shook it graciously. “My name is Chenzira, and I’m sure you know already that I’m the captain of this beauty of a ship.”
“I do,” Yafeu confirmed with a smirk.
“So, kid, where are you from within Egypt?” Chenzira asked next.
“Nowhere in particular; you could say that I am a wanderer,” Yafeu answered. “I spend more days in Thebes than anywhere else, though, so I suppose you could say that is my home.”
“Thebes is a magnificent city; the Pharaoh has turned it into a real wonder,” Chenzira added. “I was just there about a month ago, before I took the ship down here into Nubia to pick up a few loads of melegueta pepper and salt.”
“You’ve sailed in these parts of the Nile many times, haven’t you?” Yafeu asked.
“I have led more trading voyages into Nubia and Cush than any other man in Egypt— that is why I know precisely how to navigate a ship through the cataracts without it becoming a floating pile of splinters,” the captain boasted. He snickered quietly, stifling more laughter. “But I have to assume that you are in these parts for business other than trading.”
Yafeu smiled, almost amused by Chenzira’s intuition. The young man looked like any ordinary Egyptian, save for his dangling locks of jet hair, and his garb was traditional; leather sandals, a long kilt of white linen, a red sash wrapped about it, and a collar of garnet and amber jewels beneath his throat. With the exclusion of the collar and sash, his attire was hardly different from Chenzira’s and the rest of the men aboard the Tide Breaker.
But a Khopesh scimitar hanging at one hip, and a pair of straight daggers hanging at the other—those were quite uncommon aboard a trading vessel.
“I was recruited to join reinforcements at the Buhen Fort,” Yafeu explained. “Word reached the Pharaoh that the Nubians and Cushites were increasing their attacks on the fort, with greater numbers and ferocity than before. He had no additional troops within the military to send, so he gathered as many citizens as he could to serve as mercenaries.”
“And the Nubians and Cushites have been driven off, now?”
“I would not be traveling back to Egypt if they still stood outside Buhen’s walls,” Yafeu answered with a smirk.
Chenzira laughed once more, his heartiest of all. “You’ve definitely earned enough of my respect, kid,” he said. “I knew there was something special about you, otherwise I would not have let young mercenary onboard my ship as a passenger.”
Yafeu turned his eyes away from the Nile and looked over at the captain. “Again, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to travel back with you,” he said graciously.
Chenzira grinned and patted the young man on the shoulder. “No need, it is the least I can do for a warrior of Egypt,” he replied.
The captain was just about to walk off towards the boat’s stern before a loud shout interrupted the peace on deck.
“Captain! We found a stowaway!!” it bellowed from the cabin above the ship’s hold.
Yafeu felt his insides sink. Every man on deck turned towards the cabin to see a pair of crewmen hauling Musim out from underneath the ship. Despite clearly being wounded, Musim was manhandled by the sailors, who dragged him by the arms out into open air before dropping him onto the boards. Before anyone could speak another word, Yafeu fought his way through the crowd over to Musim, and drew his Khopesh in a flash.
“Lay another one of your filthy hands on him, and I’ll lay this blade into your throat,” he threatened as he pointed the sword at the two crewmen who had discovered Musim.
“Yafeu…do not endanger yourself merely for me…” Musim whispered to him.
“So, the young warrior here is an accomplice to the rat!” one of the crewmen said.
Chenzira found his way through the cluster of sailors and stopped behind Yafeu. “What in the world is going on here!?” the captain barked.
“The man there with all of the bandages lay within the cargo hold, he must have snuck aboard at the last port we visited,” one of the men explained.
“And the kid here must have helped him get on if he is so protective of him,” the other added.
Chenzira looked over at Yafeu, who still glared fiercely at the pair who had brought Musim on deck. The captain stepped towards the young warrior. Gently pressing down on his arm, he made Yafeu lower his Khopesh.
“Yafeu, do my men assume correctly?” he asked.
Yafeu slowly turned his eyes towards Chenzira, and could only look him in the face for an instant. He lowered his head, and nodded gravely. “Forgive me, Chenzira, but I indeed did help this man sneak aboard the ship just as they say,” he began. “It was only a night ago, while you were docked at the Port of Serra. He has been a good friend of mine for many years, and he was at my side while we helped to defend the Buhen Fort. During a battle, he was badly injured, and we did all that we could to treat his wound, but it has been futile. My friend here is dying, and he will not last much longer. I’ve only hoped to help him reach Egypt so that he may die in peace within our own kingdom, so that his ka may be able to reach Eternity.”
“No one at Buhen would help you?” Chenzira questioned.
Yafeu looked up at the captain once again and shook his head. “Our military there told me that they did not have the manpower to provide us any travel back to Egypt, and every other sailor that I begged in the ports refused to depart if it meant carrying a dying man with them.”
Yafeu was stunned when Chenzira rested one of his massive hands on his shoulder.
“Yafeu, I wish you had spoken to me before we sailed and told me of all this; I would have seen to it that your friend be as comfortable as possible for the trip,” Chenzira said with a hearty smile, and then released a deep chuckle. “I’ve could never be offended at someone acting as a stowaway for a reason like that.”
Yafeu looked back up at the captain with a surprised, although thoroughly relieved expression on his face.
“Thank you for understanding, Captain…” Musim said graciously as he slowly lifted himself up to his knees.
Chenzira went over to Musim and helped bring the man to his feet. “No need, my friend, I could never in good conscious deny a fellow Egyptian his way into the Afterlife,” he told him. “I promise you, this ship will get you to Egypt so that you may find your way to the gods and what wondrous things lie with them.”
Yafeu felt another one of the sailors pat him on the back, and when turned his head towards him he saw that the man wore a smile just as warm as Chenzira’s. He glanced about and saw that many of the men looked the same, and a few even came to Musim and offered their bodies to help him stay standing.
A warm smile crept across Yafeu’s face. He began to slide his Khopesh into its sheath, but halted just as another sailor spoke up.
“Captain, I do not mean to insult your judgment, but you would put this ship and every man aboard in unthinkable danger by sailing any further with this dying person,” he said warningly. “Journeying with him will attract Ammit to our boat, and doom us all to her hunger.”
Chenzira’s eyes narrowed resentfully. “Do not try to scare me with tales of a demon, Maskini,” the captain declared.
The man named Maskini crossed his arms. He held a defiant stare. “You must know what the legends of Ammit say; she sits with the gods in Eternity, and is at their side for every person’s judgment. Those beings whose hearts are deemed unclean are devoured by her, and their kas are forever destroyed by her insatiable hunger. But she does not feast only on our spirits; also our own physical bodies when she sees need to.”
“Do you mean that Ammit can enter our own world to devour us?” another man gasped.
Maskini nodded sternly, and his eyes darkened. “Indeed, and a dying man aboard this ship is a calling to her. Ammit will often venture into our worldly realm to cleanse the Nile of the deceased who litter its sacred waters.” Maskini aimed his callous glare at Yafeu. “You have been told all of this before, haven’t you, boy? You heard it when many of the sailors at Buhen and the Port of Serra refused to allow you and your friend aboard their ships, am I right?”
Yafeu’s eyes flamed with incalculable fury, but he had no answer for Maskini. Another man spoke up in his place.
“We are not even within Egypt, we are out of the gods’ reach here in Nubia,” the man argued.
“If you believe that, then you must forget that Ammit is no god, but an unholy monster who is bound to no one kingdom,” Maskini explained. “Her influence flows wherever the Nile flows, and she will surely find our ship if there is a dying man amongst the waters, so that she may rid the river of his decaying body.”
“Let her come, and I will drive her back so that she will never again leave the gods’ side,” Yafeu challenged. “I do not fear the Devourer of the Dead.”
“You would be a fool, boy,” Maskini spat. “Your Khopesh and your daggers are no match for a demon of her power.”
“And though Ammit herself may not come to eat the dead, she has many servants who prowl the Nile to do her bidding,” another man added, and was surely in agreement with Maskini. “They are terrible beasts—menaces of the water that are far more frightening than any creatures we see in the desert.”
“We will not simply toss this man into the river and forsake his ka to wander aimlessly forever,” Chenzira said resolutely as he motioned at Musim, and at the same time struck a powerful stance. “By my orders as captain of this ship, we will see to it that this man reaches Egypt before he passes, and that is decided!”
“But Captain, he’s going to die anyway…why should we put ourselves at so much risk to protect a man who may not even be alive in a few hours?” one man asked, and sounded quite unnerved.
“Agreed, why should any of us get ourselves killed for a man we do not even know!?”
“There have always been huge beasts which lurk within the Nile- having a dying man on board won’t put us at any further risk of them!”
“I do not want to even see what monster may come for him…”
“Throw the dog overboard before it is too late!”
Arguments sprang up across the deck of the Tide Breaker, and the entire crew became divided over what should be done with Musim. The crowd eventually broke into two clusters, with Maskini and many others on one side screaming to have the ship rid of the dying Egyptian. Yafeu, Chenzira, and the rest of the sailors who followed them stood on the other, surrounding Musim to guard him from the hostile group, which gradually advanced upon him.
Yafeu grew increasingly nervous the whole time. If what they feared because of it was their own peril, they could easily be driven to unthinkable acts—even abandoning another man to his eternal doom.
Just as it seemed that violence would break out aboard the boat, a thick growl tore through the air and silenced every man on the Tide Breaker. For an instant, every person became like stone as the primeval sound reverberated around them. Their heads turned in every possible direction, yet no one could discern where it emanated from. It was only when a few of the men ran up to the aft deck that its origin was spotted.
“Captain…there’s something near the side of the boat!” a man stammered in dismay.
Chenzira and several others ran to the railing where the man had pointed. They peered over and saw a great deal of motion on the surface, as if something of tremendous size once swam there.
“What was it?” Chenzira called out, looking up at the man on the aft deck.
“I don’t know, it looked like a giant green rock just floating in the water…” the man answered. “And then it simply sank…”
Another crewman grabbed Chenzira by the shoulder and pointed ahead at the river. “Captain, look…” he gasped.
The water stirred violently out in the Nile, as if boiled by hellish heat. Out of the commotion emerged an immense mass of jade scales, which grew longer and longer as it rose above the surface of the water. When a gigantic head opened wide to reveal a frightening maw filled with teeth, every man knew that the thing was no rock.
It was a massive crocodile, easily as long as the Tide Breaker herself.
“What did I tell all of you?” Maskini snarled as he slowly backed away from the railing. “I told you that Ammit would see to it that the river be rid of the dying man with us…and this minion of hers is what we now must face…”
With one powerful lash of its tail, the crocodile slapped at the water and sent an enormous wave charging at the Tide Breaker. Before most of the men could move even three steps, the wave crashed into the ship and staggered it. A heap of water raced across the deck, taking men clear off their feet and tossing them across the planks. As they fought to avoid being thrown off the boat by the crocodile’s swell, no man but Yafeu saw the beast dive below the surface of the Nile and launch itself their way.
“Away from the railings!” Yafeu yelled as loud as his throat would allow him. The Tide Breaker trembled once again when the crocodile struck, bending and cracking the hull merely with its snout. Most of the crew had time to heed Yafeu’s warning, but two unfortunate men tumbled over one side of the boat and dropped to the waters below.
Nobody onboard had even a brief opportunity to give aid. Just as the doomed sailors resurfaced, gasping for breath and in total panic, the crocodile emerged from beneath. Its jaws engulfed them and slammed shut, devouring the men in one horrifying motion.
Although many of the crew continued to run about in disarray, several men chose to take whatever action they could to defend the ship. After grabbing what spears and bows they could collect, they gathered at the port side where the crocodile rose from the waters. They commenced a desperate attack against the beast, firing arrows in dozens and hurling spears with every bit of strength in their arms.
But the missiles simply bounced off the crocodile’s plated hide, failing to graze even a single scale.
“Its skin is too thick to pierce, strike at its eyes!” Yafeu shouted as he drew his arm back and flung a spear at the beast. His aim was off just slightly, and the javelin scored the bony ridge above its right eye. Yet when it struck, the creature shut its eye instantly, telling Yafeu that it at least felt the blow. Several more spears and arrows assailed its face, and the crocodile quickly seemed to grow frustrated by the crew’s efforts. It first sunk its head into the waters, and then the rest of its body followed before it was completely submerged once more.
Without delay, the men retreated from the railing toward the center of the Tide Breaker, and braced themselves for when the crocodile would assault the ship next. Their eyes darted in every direction, and their bodies were as tense as drawn bowstrings while they waited to see where the monster would reemerge.
Nearly a full minute went by without any sight or sound of the beast. A small party who stood atop the aft deck scanned every inch of the river’s surface, but the only movement in the water appeared where the Tide Breaker parted it.
“Where could that thing have slunk to now?” Chenzira grumbled aloud.
“Perhaps it swam away,” one man chimed in. “Maybe we managed to drive it off with that attack.”
“That is impossible; no man-made weapons could triumph over Ammit or one of her minions,” Maskini stated, and started towards the starboard side of the ship.
“You fool, do not step any further to the railing!” one sailor cried.
But Maskini ignored the call, and only stopped when he came to the very edge of the Tide Breaker’s side.
“The only way we can live to still see Egypt is to recite one of the spells from the Book of the Dead, in hopes that we may ward the beast off,” he said, utterly lost in his faith to the Egyptian dogma. He lifted his head to the sky, and spread his arms apart before he began the chant. “Get back, retreat! Get back, you dangerous one! Do not come against me, do not live by my magic! May I not have to tell this name of yours to the great god who sent you; ‘Messenger’ is the name of the one and ‘Fury’ is the name of the other…”
“Does that madman truly believe a song is going to save us?” one sailor shouted, while Maskini continued to shout the hymn as found in the Egyptians’ most sacred text. “Those incantations are for the journey to Eternity, not for here on Earth.”
“I do not believe that this thing is actually Ammit herself, or even one of her minions,” Chenzira said. “It’s merely a giant beast of the river; we were just unfortunate to have stumbled upon it today!”
Just as Maskini declaimed the final words of the enchantment, the long snout of the crocodile rose up from beneath the hull and fell upon him. Rows of fearsome teeth smashed through the wooden frame of Tide Breaker. Along with an entire chunk of the deck, Maskini was swallowed whole.
The gargantuan crocodile was not finished. After devouring Maskini and a portion of the Tide Breaker, it slammed its belly onto the ship, resting its upper half on the deck as it tried to clamber on top of it. Its unimaginable size and weight threatened to roll the entire boat over and sink it, or perhaps even shatter the vessel beneath its bulk.
A handful of sailors were courageous enough to challenge the creature. They ran forward to meet with the crocodile, although they could hardly approach it without putting themselves in reach of its gaping maw.
While they kept the crocodile at bay, Yafeu spotted an object which perchance could harm the monster. A huge splinter—longer than any sycamore tree along the Nile—lay on the ship’s floor nearby. After being ripped from the Tide Breaker’s body when the crocodile sank its teeth into the deck, the wooden plank became a nightmarish spike which could surely impale even the largest of living creatures in Egypt.
Yafeu pushed through the throng and made his way to the massive splinter before wrapping both of his arms about the middle of it.
“Help me lift this!” he shouted to the other men.
Sight and action were simultaneous for Chenzira and six other sailors. They ran over to join Yafeu around the dreadful shard, and with four men on each side, the group heaved the cedar spike up off of the deck and pointed it at the crocodile’s yawning mouth.
“On my command, aim at its mouth, and run straight ahead!” Yafeu yelled, readying himself and allowing the others to prepare for the attack. When they were all in position, and while the crocodile lazily let it jaws hang open, they charged.
“Now!!” Yafeu roared. Spurred onward, the men sent their feet into motion and rushed directly at the monster of the Nile. They lifted the splinter high above them and threw it forward as if it were a lance—plunging it into the roof of the crocodile’s mouth.
With a gurgled cry, the enormous beast fell backward, toppling clear off of the Tide Breaker and back into the river with a tremendous splash. A crimson cloud swirled within the Nile, spreading all about the surface of the once azure waters.
As the sun blazed high above all things in the desert, the huge, dark shape of the crocodile could be seen skulking along the bottom of the river. The beast moved faster than ever before, scampering in the opposite direction of the ship as blood continued to seep out of its mouth and rise to the face of the river. Before long, the monster was lost to all eyes amongst the crimson and cerulean waves of the Nile.
Reactions amongst the crew were divided. Many men cheered and celebrated when the crocodile retreated, while plenty wore scowls across their faces. They directed their glares at Chenzira, Yafeu, and even Musim, who sat against the exterior of the ship’s cabin as he struggled merely to keep his body erect.
Yafeu did not join with either party, but instead hurried over to his friend’s side.
“I-it just could not have…been easy for me to die, it seems…” Musim said with a glint of humor in his tired eyes.
Yafeu smiled for a moment, but in another it was gone as he saw all of the joviality leave Musim’s face.
“Yafeu…I can feel it, I am…nearly there…I will be going on my journey t-to the gods very…soon…” Musim managed to utter.
Yafeu’s face trembled, and fighting back his sorrow, he gently placed his hand warmly over Musim’s.
“Yafeu!” Chenzira’s call rang out. Yafeu turned his ahead to see the captain standing at the edge of the bow, pointing to the horizon. “Look on ahead!” he told him.
Not far in the distance, a massive island sat within the middle of the Nile. A long wall detailed by intricate markings sat on the tip of its banks, each marking written on its stone surface rising higher than the last.
It was the Nilometer, the ingenious invention of the Egyptians used to measure the Nile’s floods every year.
Beyond it lay granite quarries, and then rows upon rows of fruit trees which collected into what was nearly a forest. In the center of the island was a town of many clay-built houses, and in that center towered a great stone palace, one nearly as grand as that of the Pharaoh’s. But it was not even the tallest of objects ahead of the Tide Breaker, as to westerly side of the island rose mountains of rock which formed into mighty cliffs that hung above the river some hundred feet beneath it.
Yafeu’s eyes glowed as he looked upon the island of Yebu—the entry to the kingdom of Egypt.
“We have come to Yebu, Musim!” he said excitedly. “We have managed to return home at last!”
Musim’s lips curled into a faint smile. Although it seemed that he wanted to speak one more time, only a soft breath escaped his body. Moments later, his face froze in that same expression, and his entire body went still.
There was a strange, unearthly feeling on the deck of the Tide Breaker when Musim passed. Every man aboard, whether he was as near to Musim as Yafeu was, or at another end of the ship, seemed to realize at the same time when Musim’s ka left his body began its journey to the Afterlife. Chenzira bowed his head somberly and held his fist to his heart, as if reciting a silent prayer for Musim’s good fortunes. Many other men did the same, even some of those who once sneered at Musim and demanded he be thrown into the Nile.
Yafeu eventually stood, and turned his eyes away from Musim’s body. He looked up at the glittering Egyptian sun as tears formed in his eyes—but not from the brilliant rays which shone upon him and rest of Egypt.
“Good luck, my friend,” Yafeu whispered with a smile. “Perhaps I will see you again, one day.”