Fiction: “Venom in The Eye” by Rohan Healy

Venom in The Eye
by Rohan Healy

Ra set torrid waves of heat down towards a ragged man as he inched his way through the whirling sands. He wore a white shawl that gave the feeblest protection from the stinging sand. His khopesh hung at his side swaying gently, its edges marked by dried crimson. A dripping sack hung above his Kush shield, leaving a similar trail behind him. The arrows in his quiver rattled with each heaving step. He laboured up a steep crescent shaped dune. Iment now materialised out of the baking winds. He let out a deep rasping breath, bending over to support himself. Lake Mareotis formed an opaque blue crown around this paltry town in the shadow of the jewel that was Alexandria. Sliding down this final dune, his agility at odds with his frame.

Amun be praised, never did I think this place could bring joy.

The market place he passed through was alive and writhing like a snake disturbed from its slumber. The air was dense with the earthy aroma of coriander, the blighting of sheep and the ruckus shouting of merchants. His khopesh alerting others to make way as he approached a red-faced merchant. The merchant dressed in a blue pleated garment flung a sandal at a bystander. “Don’t ever attempt to deceive me again!” The last remnants of a failed bartering.

“Masud, I had no idea that you gave others as much harassment as you do me.”

“Only to those who try selling mock-up Persian cloth at 150 drachmas a piece!” his stern demeanour unfolded as he turned toward the approaching man.

“May you live a thousand years brother. I found your ledger and cloth.”  The brown sack cloth emerged from behind the strange tall man. “And the hand holding it.”

“You never knew subtlety Rudamun. May Serapis grant you this one day.” Masud laughed back while gingerly picking up the cloth.

Rudamun retorted, a grimace uncurling along his face. “That Greek imposter is no god to me.”

“Forgive me brother, I forget this of you. Pressing on here, the 75 drachmas we agreed upon?”

“At least with you I can count on a decent payment.” Rudamun placed the coins in a pouch on his right side.

“Well medjay, you are one of the few left whom people can trust. Your work lets me sleep easier.”

“You speak too highly of me, but I have to bid you farewell.” Rudamun placed his hand upon his breast.

“Amun guide your path. Pass by here soon, brother.”

Rudamun looked back as Iment slowly faded into the desert’s blurred edges. An eagle soared ahead of him rising steadily into the sky, circling in a wide arc. The great protector still watched over Egypt even it patrolled the sky’s alone. Alexandria waited ahead for him. The city of enlightenment. Home of scholars. He scoffed at the idea as it crossed his mind. There is nothing so noble about that city. Far heftier than his previous mount, Masud’s parting gift trotted along the path leading to the city. His legs finally had a chance to rest as they dangled from either side of his ashen stead. How can a place be called enlightened when this crown jewel rests only on the heads of some and not others? Where Greeks look at Egyptians the same way a man does at a rat chewing straw. Look past its beautiful fountains and halls, you will see the sick disease festering in its belly. A sudden neighing and heavy thudding shook him from his vexed thoughts. Just ahead beyond the dunes and rows of palms trees, he spotted a billowing black pillar rising into the crystal blue sky. No medjay knows rest until the Duat calls him. The words echoed in him as the braced his mount for a hard gallop.

***

“Neema! Stay back there’s nothing we can do.”

An elderly man tightly gripped a struggling young girl, now wailing with such deep anger that it almost engulfed the flames that consumed the brick and thatch of their home. “It’s all my fault. Those bastards did this because I…”

“Please. Hush my child, this was not your doing my child.” He cut her off, trying to comfort her.

The man cradled the trembling girl in his arms gently, pulling her back from the biting flames that roared in hunger for more sustenance. The towering palm trees were but mere kindling to the fire, a final course to finish the great feast already enjoyed. Beyond this, a blackness like that of Anubis was rising above them. All while the flames cackled and cracked.

The elderly man looked down the road and began to brace himself. As a ashen horse was galloping at great speed towards them. There were few things left not swallowed by the flames save for a rotted tilling fork.

“I mean no harm upon you. Lay down your arms elder.” His comforting tone at odds with his large and imposing figure. He strode over, placing himself between them and the eager flames. Only now did the man make out a familiar symbol etched in bronze upon the stranger’s buckle: The eye of Horus, protector of Egypt.

“You’re a medjay?” he finally managed.

“Indeed, I am. What happened here? I sense this was all no accident.”

“All I made out were masked men. Bandits. They came from the hills. Set upon us.”

The young girl’s trembling had not ceased. Rudamun could see her eyes now. They were bloodshot and her mascara had formed a thing black trail down her face. What truly intrigued him was her mumbling. “Fault.” The only word he could audibly make out among her soft mumbling

“Your arm elder, it is blackened… hold still.” Rudamun left off his horse and began wrapping a damp cloth above the man’s elbow.

The man winced in pain. “It has been a long time since I have seen this badge, last time I was much less frail and had not seen as much of this life.”

“With your age comes wisdom elder, I have very little of that. Otherwise I would not wear as many scars.” he smiled as he finished tying a knot to keep the cloth in place.

“This I cannot deny, you are a shield that must be battered and pierced so the people behind you may not know such pain.” The old man spoke solemnly looking at his arm and then towards the young girl.

“What are your names?” Rudamun asked as he stepped back to fix his saddle.

“Atef and my youngest Neema.” Replied the old man weakly.

“Youngest? There were others tilled this land with you?”

“My son, Medjay. They gutted him and threw him in there.” Atef’s voice cracked as he said so.

“Osiris will see him to the fields of Aaru. Do you have anywhere to go? I will deal with whatever is needed here.”

“A sister in Iment. But medjay, they are bandits. You will not catch them. There is nothing to find here.”

“Have more faith, my friend. Now go. Take the main road.”

As the fires finally subsided and the smoke cleared later that evening, Rudamun began sifting through what wasn’t singed black. The air was still so heavy with soot that he had to lay his hand over his mouth, despite the shawl he wore. He soon came across a body still smoking from the fire, but it was in an odd place. Laid out behind the house, he could faintly make out strands of rope that bound him. Out in the front, he noticed tracks that led away from the house, but these were not just the cloven hoofs from horses. These were chariot marks.

Bandits have deep purses these days to afford such things.

“These tracks head towards the city, perhaps our dear Phylakitai has the answers I seek.”

Rudamun made his way towards his horse. As he passed by a rock he saw a cobra quickly dart into the deserts sands. It was clutching a small rodent in its jaws.

***

Alexandria was just as he remembered it. Loud and degenerate. The walls rose high into air and the cobbled main road made a spectacle of it all. Guards adorned with plate armour and red sashes gave him ill looks as he approached the gates. They escorted him towards a large white building jutting out of the great city walls. Inside, he found himself in a wide room filled with papyrus rolled up in stacks along the wood lined walls. The back of the room housed a large chair and desk with ink wells and a full jug laid out on it. In the centre stood a man in crimson armour with his arms folded. He was greeted in the usual manner by this stone-faced Greek who wore his pride a little high up.

“Egyptian, you are definably a Medjay. The few of your people who forget their place in this land.”

“You forget this land was never yours, Greek. I am here on business.” Rudamun’s voice was curt and he showed nothing one could consider as hospitable.

“Well, seeing as your coinage bears my language and your pharaoh surrounds himself with my people, I would greatly reconsider such a statement.” The man wore a smug look as he strolled over to a chair one of his men prepared for him. “Next time you will address me as Phylax Sophocles, Egyptian. Now state yourself so you may leave.”

“A farm just 5000 cubits past the walls was burned to ashes and a young man was killed. The tracks led me to your humble city.” Rudamun made sure his gaze never left that of Sophocles.

Sophocles responded in kind. “Bandits most likely. My men will search the slums of the city. I don’t need your kind disturbing the peace.” He stated bluntly.

“A murder has taken place under your watch and you treat it with such indifference.” Rudamun could feel his fists clench as the words left him, though his demeanour did not otherwise betray his sentiments.

“Egyptians are murdered all the time. Tis news to me as wind blowing from the sea in the morning.” Sophocles gestured waving his men to remove Rudamun from the room.

As Rudamun rode passed the walls, Ra was creeping slowly down into the seas beyond Alexandria. He felt a sense of bliss watching Khonsu rise from his travels in the depths. He would need the traveller’s light as he hastened towards Iment. The air was cool and the night was silent, save for his stead’s beating strides. He turned down past the dune that led to the remnants of Neema’s home. He felt a tinge of guilt creep inside him. He was a protector appointed by Horus himself to be there for the people in his stead. I am just a man: my sight does not stretch as far, and my arm cannot shield as much.  In that moment he could not tell whether it was this guilt or the hunger that had soured him so.

Something whistled passed the brace on his left shoulder. He flung himself around. Four horsemen emerged from the desert sands. A slight pain on his right leg, an arrow landed ahead of him. Several more came his way but they flew wide of him. Amateurs. Instinctively his readied his bow, and tensed the string of his bow with two arrows. He was trained for this kind of combat, even from this far he saw his assailants struggling. He loosened his grip and listened as arrows sang through the air.

They found their mark.

One rider shrieked before plummeting off his horse into a dusty heap. The second barely made a sound as the arrow pierced his jugular creating small spout of maroon. The final two now drew alongside him, xiphos drawn and ready to swing. His shield blunted one awkwardly weak blow while he used an arrow to impale the other. The first man’s horse swayed away for a moment allowing Rudamun to steady himself. He unsheathed his khopesh and pushed closer to the final attacker as he twirled his blade in a downward arc. The man’s arm flew into the air, accompanied by a shrill cry that echoed in the winds. Rudamun gave heed to end his pain by sending him plunging into the sand. His body contorting into a misshapen mess upon the sands. He noted something in the dark brown of the sand as he looked to his assailant. A bright red.

***

Neema sat staring out into the night sky. It was all that consoled her. She had refused all offers of food and she could not bring herself to even fall asleep. Her mind was enveloped with haze and a tangled web, refusing to recede into the shadows. Kames’ face drenched in red. His cries as boots and fists drove him to his knees. The sick smile that crossed his face, as he slit Kames’ throat. Vermillion streaking and mudding the sand where he lay. How the men had howled like wild dogs when they set their family home ablaze. The way he spoke softly to her as it all fell apart. “This is what happens when a little Egyptian whore fails to keep her mouth shut.” The smell of his beer-soaked mouth and the glint of his eyes.

Her father rushed over to her as she again began to tremble and seize up for the fifth time today.

“It’s ok, Neema. I promise on my life that you will be safe. Your brother watches us now. I know he does.” His words were not as assuring as he felt them to be.

“It’s never going to be safe. Not after what happened. I should have said nothing. I…”

She was cut off by a large imposing figure coming in from the doorway of the small clay house. Rudamun stepped in and dropped to a knee in front of Neema and her father.

“Whatever has befallen you involves the guards from Alexandria. What happened Neema? I cannot proceed without this knowledge. Please.”

She looked at him with a fear and trepidation that almost shook Rudamun’s stoicism. Her voice grew more fractured and hoarse with each word.

“Father had me and my brother travel to the market in Alexandria … we had to sell that year’s harvest. One of the guards kept … staring. They pulled us aside into a guard house.  One held my brother down, while the other … he ripped…” She broke down into a heap on the floor, sobbing wildly.

Her aunt rushed into the room to her niece. Holding her tightly, easing her up. She shot a look towards Rudamun, staring deeply into his eyes. He felt himself tense and his throat grew tight at this girl. The room suddenly sunk away and time itself appeared still.

“Make those snakes pay.”

Atef placed his hand on Rudamun, ushering him out of the house. The house was on the outskirts of the village, facing towards the great Mareotis. The winds from the lake almost calmed the fires that raged inside. Almost.

“I am assuming you met the one called Sophocles?” the elderly man asked timidly. “He was that boy’s father.”  Atef’s voice was low and anger sifted through like steam in a furnace. “Vile bastards the both.”

“So, it is clearer now. But surely that is not enough for him to rob you of your home and son?” Rudamun’s voice and head lowered in thought.

“It wouldn’t be … If Kames had not convinced his sister to go to the nomarch of Alexandria. I don’t know what he expected … he was much like you, Medjay. Unafraid.” He voiced croaked as tears traced down his furrowed cheeks, sobbing weakly into the night.

“I must go, old man. I hope that Amun will grant you peace before your time has passed. Tell Neema I bid her farewell.” Rudamun helped the man to his feet and embraced him before heading towards his horse.

These Greeks will know what it means to feel fear so strongly it rips apart their hearts. I will see the face Anubis, but I will make sure I am not alone. Horus protect them.

As his horse began to pick up speed along the dusty road, Rudamun saw an eagle dive down into the black desert beyond him, it was clutching a writhing snake in its talons what kind he could not make out. Suddenly in flash he saw them both plummet from the sky and disappear into the sands below.

Medjay only knew peace when the Duat called them.

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