People of the Tower (Ark Chronicles 4)

BOOK: People of the Tower (Ark Chronicles 4)
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Novels by Vaughn Heppner:

 

THE ARK CHRONICLES

People of the Ark

People of the Flood

People of Babel

People of the Tower

 

LOST CIVILIZATION
SERIES

Giants

Leviathan

The Tree of Life

Gog

Behemoth

Lod the Warrior

Lod the Galley Slave

 

HISTORICALS

The Great Pagan Army

The Sword of Carthage

The Rogue Knight

 

Visit www.Vaughnheppner.com for more information.

 

People of the Tower

(The Ark Chronicles IV)

 

by
Vaughn Heppner

 

 

Copyright © 2010 by the author.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.

 

Pharaoh
’s Palace

 

 

There was s
ilence, darkness. Ham shivered before lifting his chin from his chest. Nothing pressed upon his blind orbs—nothing he could see. He smacked his lips and readied to speak. Then he touched softness around him. He lay in a bed unlike his own, made for royalty, or at least somebody very wealthy.

He heard the drip of a water clock, a
clepsydra
. It was near his head. The Egyptian timepiece, he knew, looked much like a flowerpot with a hole near the bottom. Water filled it, and as the liquid trickled out, marked-off lines appeared on the inside of the pot. As with many things concerning science and innovations, the Egyptians had already attributed the invention of the
clepsydra
to the jack-of-all-trades god, Thoth. In reality, a rare Antediluvian invention had survived the passage of time, making it to the new world.


Where am I?” Ham whispered.


Ah,” Pharaoh wheezed. “You’ve revived.” He snapped his fingers and feet shuffled near.

Someone poured from a pitcher into a goblet
. Ringed fingers clattered against a jeweled cup. “Here, my lord.”


Taia?” Ham asked.


Drink,” she said. “It is the will of Pharaoh.”


What’s wrong, Taia?” Ham asked. “Why does your voice tremble with fear?”


Never mind,” Pharaoh told him. “Drink, and then finish your tale.”


Where am I?” Ham asked.


In my bed,” Pharaoh said. “I suppose where you’ve always wanted to be.”


I have no pretensions to greatness,” Ham said.

Pharaoh coughed,
a wet and ugly sound. Soft-sandaled men shifted around him. “Back, you hens,” Pharaoh said. “That wasn’t my death rattle, but my pitiful attempt to laugh at the old one’s joke.” Pharaoh cleared his throat and spat into a bowl. “Drink, you old snake, and then finish your tale. No more trickery and guileful lies.”


My lord,” Taia said, pressing a cup against him.


What is this, Pharaoh?” Ham asked. “What is in the cup?”


A remedy.”


I don’t understand,” Ham said, blind but not stupid. Why did they always think the two went hand in hand?


Your tale has revived me, old one, as you predicted it would,” Pharaoh said. “Now I’m eager you finish, even though daylight approaches. Though it takes until the next night I will hear the end of your story.”


I weave no spell,” Ham said. “This is not magic.”


Ah, you subtle liar. Of course you do and of course it is. Why else do I feel better?”

Ham considered
that, puzzled, until a reason revealed itself. He nodded.


So, you admit I’m right,” Pharaoh said.


No,” Ham said. “Not as you think.”


Impudence,” a man said, “Pharaoh. Shall I have him flogged?”


I’ll have you flogged, Chamberlain. He lies in my bed, does he not? He drinks from the royal chalice. Why then shouldn’t he contradict me? No more cackling from you or…”

Ham couldn
’t see Pharaoh’s gesture, but he heard robes sweeping the floor and knew the chamberlain bowed low and backed away, surely in fear, maybe in terror.


Taia,” Pharaoh said. “How many times must I say it? Give him the drink.”


Please.” She pushed the goblet against Ham’s arm.


I’m old and tired,” Ham whispered, ignoring the cup. His bones ached and a chill told him his old foe fever had returned. These long years dying in bed had witnessed many a bout between them. “Tomorrow I will finish—”


No,” Pharaoh said. “I will hear the tale now.” Silence greeted his words. “Do you wonder at my urgency, old man? Perhaps you of all people can grasp my horror. I loathe being ill. I’m sick of being sick. I would be well, old one, and I would be well
now
.”


Yes, Pharaoh.”


So drink.”


I will drink,” Ham said. “Once I learn what is in the cup.”


Taia. Tell him.”


Please…” she said.


Tell him!” Pharaoh said.


Grandfather,” Taia said, “the elixir revives the body. You fell asleep even as you finished the tale of Nimrod and Gog’s wrestling bout.”


And?” Ham asked. “Tell me everything.”


The elixir is made of mead, nightshade and—”


Nightshade is a poison,” Ham said.


Sometimes that is true,” Pharaoh said. “But it is also a stimulant. Is that not so, Physician?”


Yes, Pharaoh,” a soft-spoken man said, the high priest of Sekhmet.


It is always a poison,” Ham said. “Stimulant or not, nightshade kills.”


There are other ingredients in the cup offsetting the effects of the nightshade,” Pharaoh said.

Ham grinned, toothless and drooling, he knew, but he didn
’t care.


Now what?” Pharaoh asked. “Why do you grin like a ferret stealing chickens?”


I give you life and you give me death.”


Not so,” Pharaoh said. “You must trust me.”


Lying is unworthy of you, lord of Egypt. Especially lying to the one who holds your life in his hands. Besides, I have faced the greatest liars and boldest warriors of Earth.”


You old goat,” Pharaoh said. “You will drink of the cup or…”


Or what?” chuckled Ham. “You will not kill me, surely. Because then you too shall die.” Ham took the goblet, and he would have dropped it except that Taia still held on.


Don’t spill it,” Pharaoh said.


Do you give me your word that this drink will not kill me?” Ham asked.


How can it kill you?” Pharaoh asked. “You’ve quaffed the ancient elixir of life. Oh, don’t think you’ve fooled me. I’ve listened to your tale. Gilgamesh is a Babylonian hero, the king of Erech, say the old stories. He spoke to the old man of the isles and learned the secret of immortality. He swam to gain it, only to lose it… Hmm, I’ve forgotten what the legend says. Yet you’ve admitted to being a contemporary of Gilgamesh. Perhaps you have quaffed this elixir, the reason you’ve plagued Egypt all these years.”


Poor blind Pharaoh,” Ham said. “You’ve heard nothing if that is what you think.”


What riddle is this?
You
call me blind?”


Their eyes are blind and their hearts deadened, so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts or they would be healed. Yet…as I speak you’ve been strengthened. That revives me as much as this.” Ham lifted the chalice and quaffed the sweet potion.


Ah,” he said, “it’s tasty.” He knew Pharaoh lied about the concoction. But that wasn’t the issue. Abraham and Sarai were, and Jehovah’s path, Jehovah’s way. He—Ham—might yet save one of his children from destruction.


Would you hear of Semiramis and Nimrod, Gilgamesh, Opis and Uruk, Odin, Beor and Hilda, Kush, Canaan and Shem, and what became of Babel and its infant Tower?”


Yes,” Pharaoh said. “Tell me.”

 

Stairway to Heaven

 

 

1.

 

Hilda wept for Gog, her dearly beloved, slain by Nimrod
. The death stunned all of the people at Festival. On a bier of crossed spears, four men hefted the woolen-draped corpse. With a slow step, they carried it out of the Festival grounds.

With a shawl hiding her features
, Hilda followed, weeping. Her father’s strong hands kept her from collapsing. A moment of clarity, of hatred for her father, flashed powerfully through Hilda. She wanted to scream at him that he take his murderous hands off her. Then she burst out crying again, shaking her head, knowing that it hadn’t been her father’s fault. It hadn’t been Nimrod’s fault either. Fate had stolen her beloved. She couldn’t believe that Jehovah would allow Gog such an early and stupid death. Why had he died at such a young age when he was strong and powerful, the best wrestler in the world?

She followed the four men as they marched up a hill
. Behind her and her father followed all the people of Festival, the joy and merriment departed just like her beloved.

They buried him on the hill, one wind-swept, without pines but rocky.

Noah spoke, as did Japheth and Magog. Europa spoke as well. And Nimrod begged the sons of Japheth, begged Magog for the favor of speaking at Gog’s funeral.

The Mighty Hunter cleared his throat
. Gog lay in the hole, with fresh dirt beside it. Nimrod stood at the head of the grave, with the people circled around him. Noah coughed as he sat on a stool, shivering, with a heavy blanket around his shoulders. From under her shawl, Hilda watched with red-rimmed eyes. She felt hollow, empty. She debated throwing herself into the hole and stabbing herself to death, to join her beloved in the afterlife. Beor towered over her. She knew he studied Nimrod.


I am shamed,” Nimrod said. He shook his head and stared at the grave. Then he grasped his tunic, a fine linen one. With his strong hands, he tore it in half, exposing his muscled chest. He bent near the fresh dirt, scooping some in his hands. He poured the dirt on his head. “I weep for Gog. I grieve. He was a noble warrior. I hate the spirit of fury that fell upon me and caused his death.”

Fresh tears welled
from Hilda’s eyes.

The Mighty Hunter
’s eyes were bloodshot. With his torn tunic and dirt in his hair, he stepped before her, kneeling. “I beg your forgiveness, Hilda.”

She touched his dirty hair
. Hatred like a disease welled in her heart. It almost made her physically ill. “I forgive you,” she whispered, and she felt the hatred drain out of her, leaving her gasping.

Her father clenched one of his big fists, raising it.
Nimrod bowed his head, waiting. Beor’s fist shook. He finally lowered it and looked away.

After a time
, Nimrod rose. With a slow tread, he moved in front of a stony-faced Magog.


You are forgiven,” Magog said, without looking at Nimrod. “It happened in the heat of wrestling. It was an accident. I don’t blame you.”

Nimrod took Magog
’s right hand, kneeling, kissing the back of it.

Magog placed his hand on Nimrod
’s head. “He is forgiven. I do not wish for a feud. This contest between us is over.”

Hilda watched the Mighty Hunter rise and back away into the crowd
. Earlier today, at Magog’s tent, Nimrod and his Hunters had taken many sacks, placing them before the tent. In several sacks had been bronze knives, hammers and broaches. In others had been woolen garments, spools of flax thread and sealed jars of date palm honey. Then Nimrod had brought donkeys, bringing them four at a time, until at the twentieth Magog had come out of the tent.


No more, Nimrod. You cannot buy back the dead.”


My bloodguilt is heavy,” Nimrod said. “I want to atone.”

At the
gravesite, Hilda watched Lord Japheth step up. “I do not hold Nimrod guilty. There is no more bloodguilt for him to pay. Let there be peace among the children of Noah.”


Peace,” said the people, ending the funeral. Most turned away and filed down the hill. Hilda waited until the last clod was shoveled onto the grave. She set flowers on the dirt. Magog placed a chiseled tombstone. Then they too filed down the hill.

The next few days passed in a daze
. The sons of Ham left, as did those of Shem. Before returning home, the sons of Japheth held a meeting. Hilda’s father went to it. Magog, once his strongest supporter, turned against Beor.

Beor reported later that Magog wouldn
’t look him in the eye. “You are the cause of Gog’s death, Beor, you and your feud with Nimrod. You never should have made his Hunters slaves. You are no longer welcome at Magog Village, neither you nor your Scouts.”


Where will we go?” Hilda whispered. Her father spoke to her at the gravesite, three days after the funeral, as wind stirred his beard.


We will go with Noah,” Beor said. “I have agreed to help him home, to see that he arrives safely.”


What about our things in Magog Village?” Hilda asked. “What about our house?”


Yorba will fetch the things,” Beor said. “We have lost our house.”


What about the other Scouts?” she said. “Where will they go?”

Beor compressed his lips, staring at the clouds.

Later, Hilda learned that several of the Scouts had decided to move to Babel. They no longer wished to stand against their fellow Hamites. They were tired of the conflict, of being, in effect, outcasts among their own. Once again, Nimrod had beaten her father.

 

BOOK: People of the Tower (Ark Chronicles 4)
10.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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