“No,” the priest said.
“But why? I thought you—”
“If you choose this path,” the priest interrupted, “Osiris will command your children to live in this world once again. He will turn the Nile back to a River of Life and allow your fields to become fertile. Do you accept this honor?”
Manu-hotep hesitated. To disobey the Pharaoh was one thing, but to assassinate
As he wavered, the priest moved suddenly, thrusting one end of the flail into the fire beside the altar. The leather strands of the weapon burst into flame as if they were covered in oil. With a snap of his wrist, the priest flicked the weapon downward into the dead husks and leaves scattered by his followers. The dried chaff lit instantly and a line of fire raced along the trail until a circle of flame surrounded both the living and the dead.
Manu-hotep was forced back by waves of heat. The smoke and fumes became overpowering, blurring his vision and affecting his balance. When he looked up, a wall of fire separated him from the departing priests.
“What have you done?” his wife cried out.
The priests were vanishing down a stairwell behind the altar. The flames were chest-high and both the mourners and the dead were now trapped in a circular blaze.
“I hesitated,” he muttered. “I was afraid.”
Osiris had given them a chance and he’d thrown it away. In mental agony, Manu-hotep glanced at the amphora of poison on the altar. It blurred in the heat and then vanished from sight as the smoke overcame him.
Manu-hotep woke up to a stream of light pouring in through open panels in the ceiling. The fire was gone, replaced by a circle of ashes. The smell of smoke lingered and a thin layer of residue could be seen on the floor as if the morning dew had mixed with the ash or perhaps a thin, misty rain had fallen.
Groggy and disoriented, he sat up and looked around. The huge doors at the end of the room were open. The cool morning air was wafting through. The priests hadn’t killed them after all. But why?[email protected]@@@[email protected]@@@@=======
As he searched for a reason, a small hand with tiny fingers trembled beside him. He turned to see his daughter, shaking as if in a seizure, her mouth opening and closing as if she was fighting for air like a fish on the riverbank.
He reached for her. She was warm instead of cold, moving instead of rigid. He could hardly believe it. His son was moving also, kicking like a child in the midst of a dream.
He tried to get the children to speak and to stop shaking but could accomplish neither task.
Around them, others were waking in similar states.
“What’s wrong with everybody?” his wife asked.
“Caught between life and death,” Manu-hotep guessed. “Who can say what pain that brings?”
There was no thought of wavering now. No hesitation. “We do as Osiris commands,” he said. “We blind the Pharaoh.”
He got up and walked through the ash, rushing to the altar. The red amphora of poison was still there, though it was now black with soot. He grasped it, filled with belief and conviction. Filled with hope as well.
He and the others left the temple, waiting for their children to speak or to respond to them or even to hold still. It would be weeks before that happened, months before those who’d been revived would begin to function as they had before their time in death’s grip. But by then, the eyes of Akhenaten would be growing dim and the reign of the heretic Pharaoh would be rapidly drawing to a close.
Aboukir Bay, at the mouth of the Nile River
August 1, 1798, shortly before dusk
The sound of cannon fire thundered across the wide expanse of Aboukir Bay as flashes lit up the distant gray twilight. Geysers of white water erupted as iron projectiles fell short of their targets, but the attacking squadron of ships was closing in fast on an anchored fleet. The next barrage would not be fired in vain.
Headed out toward this tangle of masts was a longboat, powered by the strong arms of six French sailors. It was making a direct line for the ship at the center of the battle in what seemed like a suicidal mission.
“We’re too late,” one of the rowers shouted.