Another dark night softly envelops the cold streets of the ancient city, Thebes. All signs of the living have vanished into the void of the silent city, only the creeping shadows walk the corridors of the capitol. They are only as loud as the silence they break. Peasants, traders, all citizens have already retreated to their dwellings in anticipation, for tomorrow is that glorious day which every single inhabitant of Egypt knows by heart and eagerly awaits all year long. It is the day his holiness illuminates this sacred land and outshines all that exists on earth. Tomorrow the Pharaoh God walks the holy grounds to perform the sacred ritual of revival. His divine power has the will to twist the heavens and shower this land with abundance. Rain will descend from the skies and overwhelm the fields for months bringing joy to every man and child in Thebes. The ritual constitutes the cornerstone of the peasants’ doctrine; Egypt’s source of prosperity and euphoria. For ages, the people of Egypt have enthroned the royal pharaoh dynasty as their gods and kings. Many generations have been brought up with a firm belief in the supreme will of the pharaohs. Years have passed and a myth has given birth to a cruel dictatorship. More ironically, the Egyptians have never bothered to question the pharaohs. They gladly welcome this domination in which they have found security and peace of mind despite the miserable conditions in which they are forced to live.
Not all of Thebes sleep hard tonight. The royal palace reeks of anxiety. Inside the busy palace, in the observatory, the old shaman Ankh and two of his disciples are immersed in some scheme. One of them appears to be writing down some equations on a papyrus scroll, while Ankh and the other seem to be adjusting a complicated looking device with a huge lens on its peak. The magnificent metal telescope shines under moonlight like a sniper rifle, loaded and ready to fire at the moon and crack it in two. Their three bewildered faces are soaked in exhaustion, tension and loss. Their work should be flawless. The success of tomorrow’s ritual depends to a great extent on the fruits of their endeavor. The shaman must utilize his knowledge of the celestial realm to determine the appropriate atmospheric conditions for rain. A difficult task as it is, it is not of any hindrance to Ankh. He carries in his veins the blood of a great lineage of shamans, the best the entire human civilization has ever known. He has inherited the wisdom of generations old, the knowledge which many astrologers travel around the globe to seek. Since Ankh became the royal shaman, he has never misread the signs, each year, the ritual brilliantly reaches fruition. Yet tonight, something peculiar is amiss. The puzzlement on their faces speaks of the sleepless nights they have spent working on this particular reading.
“Master, the expected, perfect alignment is still not at reach. Our weather forecast this time is subject to a great deal of inaccuracy. We cannot venture a risk”
“I believe I am in charge of this operation, you often seem to forget that you are here to assist me and not to instruct me”
“My apologies master. My outburst is nothing but a sincere concern for the image and reputation of our Lord. I cannot even begin to comprehend the consequences if the people doubt, or question for a second the divine authority of his highness. The lands have gone dry for a while and the serfs are desperate for water. Trade has stopped and the army is demanding more supplies every day, now that the Persians are planning another assault on the eastern front”
“Since when is the army satisfied?! For all I know the only thing preventing the Persians from invading Egypt so far is the domestic upheaval which plagues the Persian Empire. The last encounter with the Persians has proven our army’s disadvantage against their far, more superior chariots which have blown our forces to smithereens. If only his highness would invest more in the technological development of warfare rather than satisfying those sadistic military ranks, Egypt would have been a colonial power by now. We have only the bless of Geb to thank for this fertile land which sustained its people for centuries”
Abruptly, the conversation is interrupted by a heavy knocking on the door. It appears to be some royal guard with a message from the Pharaoh. He requests the presence of the old shaman in his quarters effective immediately. Ankh and his disciple share a silent gaze by which the latter understands that their earlier conversation must remain a secret from everyone in the palace. Ankh hastily regains his composure, collects his thoughts and exits the observatory while the other two resume their work, hopefully awaiting any secret sign this black, infinite vacuum has to concede.
Minutes later, Ankh arrives at the throne room. The squeaking sound of the giant door shutters shakes the very being of the old shaman. It is true; he has been the royal shaman of the throne for years now. Still, he is psychologically tormented by the thought that the pharaoh has become completely hypnotized by his god-like position. The pharaoh has been reduced to a lustful, self-absorbed, egocentric, scornful tyrant whose heart can no longer feel compassion towards mankind, a man who sees no value to human life whatsoever. Just the thought that Ankh’s destiny hangs in the balance before a lunatic whose decadent, vengeful mind knows no bounds, troubles Ankh. The shaman’s heart races and the beating accelerate like a war drum as he crosses the large hall. His eyesight is fixed below him on the finest red carpet made from rich Venetian silk, stretched in-between the most fascinating design of gold pillars which are beautifully lined up in a dazzling formation. Even the greatest architects in Greece can never design it. Walls, ceiling and floor are all made of crystal glass. Neither a dream could withstand such heavenly creation, nor could wizards produce such marvelous magic. It’s a place where one feels utterly suspended in time and space. A perfectly matched line of royal guards stretches all the way to the throne, standing as motionless as statues. Not a sign of human emotion can be detected on their sharp facial features. Ahead, lies the colossal velvet throne where the pharaoh is seated most graciously, drunk with both wine and power. The smell of some exotic fragrance drifts through the air. A pile of naked maidens crawl beneath his crossed legs. The pharaoh notices the entry of the shaman as he draws nearer. He snaps his fingers and the slave women retreat to a nearby chamber. Ankh kneels before the pharaoh who shows only apathy towards the shaman.
“How are the preparations for tomorrow? Is everything proceeding as planned?”
“Indeed your highness. According to my calculations, the rotational system of the Earth by tomorrow will provide the desired position for the sun to…”
“Spare me your tedious details. What I want to hear from you is that tomorrow’s ritual will go uninterrupted”
“So it shall your holiness. The forces of the Earth combined cannot disrupt your ritual”
“You have always been my father’s best shaman and I hate to be disappointed in my father’s choices… Do not fail me, shaman”
“There is nothing I dread more your highness”
“You may excuse yourself now”
The drunken pharaoh devours the remaining sips of wine and consequently a servant rushes to refill his chalice. Ankh humbly bows and slowly pulls himself out of the pharaoh’s sight. The shaman may be known around for his honest loyalty to the Pharaoh and only the pharaoh. However, what constitutes the very essence of Ankh is his passion for science. He dreams of traveling around the world, collecting data, experiencing each possible adventure out there, to understand the diversity of human life this universe has to offer. Alas, he is forever bound to the pharaoh. The shaman’s predecessors vowed to devote their bloodline to the absolute service of the royal dynasty. His dream is the taboo which he is prohibited from pondering. It is also too late for him to become the prodigal son. He is to be confined in this palace till the end of his lifetime. This is only one of the many reasons behind his secret hatred towards the pharaoh. Everything about the pharaoh is despicable to the shaman, his character, behavior, perception, discourse, choices. To the shaman, the pharaoh manifests everything he detests about human nature and its weaknesses. The pharaoh is a man who is willing to starve countless children to afford yet another useless commodity, a man who thinks he has transcended into a god but the fact is he has metamorphosed into a hideous demon.
The long prophesied day is finally at hand. All nearby villagers have already gathered around the sacred grounds where the ritual is to be performed. A sea of whispers travels among the excited crowds. Children’s laughter dances all the way up to the sky where a flock of sparrows glides across the vast desert. The royal guards are disbanded across every corner of the grounds. Some are making a formation of tight human blockade, shielding the entry of the great pharaoh and his entourage. Musicians are setting up their instruments in preparation for the grand performance. The music plays and the crowds gradually cheer and chant as black knights’ cavalry enter the premises. Their footsteps shake the ground below them in rhythmic accordance to the drum beats. Next, the pharaoh enters on his diamond ornamented throne which dozens of slaves carry on their backs. The seat is decorated with innumerous number of Emeralds, Sapphires and Opals. A monstrosity of radiance shines in the morning sun which rests right above the pharaoh’s head. Like a burning angel, the false messiah sparkles in his gold hair dress and collar. Not a being on this earth can gaze upon this glistening deity and not fall prisoner to his enchanting beauty. Every single, present soul kneels before the pharaoh as he stands up to address the masses.
“Peasants, bask yourselves in the warmth and mercy of your god for today is that holy day in which I bring you salvation. Every man, woman and child will witness my miraculous, godly power. I will shake the far heavens themselves and bring forth water and prosperity to the land. Your children will hunger no more. I shall bestow my mercy upon all of you. Agony shall be vanquished. Drought will no more haunt the fields. Dismal, helpless humans…behold the power of your only god and savior”
The pharaoh shouts with all his might and stretches his arms upwards in a dramatic fashion with a sinister smile drawn upon his face. The hypnotized, kneeling peasants are grabbing tightly to the soil, like hounds before their master, desperately waiting for the feel of any rain drops on their skin. Meanwhile, Ankh shivers and trembles in fear. The success of this phony ritual lies in jeopardy. The Clouds are not dense enough to produce water and the unsuspecting, hundreds of peasants are looking up to the sky praying for water to wash away this dry season and its casualties. These poor peasants work all year and what they get of the production is merely scraps. They have lost a lot this year and hope is the only thing sealing their wrath. The only reason they never revolt against this ruthless, autocratic regime of the pharaoh is because they are deluded into the belief of his divinity, that he truly is a god capable of manipulating natural forces and controlling the flow of fate. This common belief is the glue keeping this system together. In fact, the ritual is the only weapon at the pharaoh’s disposal. Not the army and certainly not his wealth and gold. All these simpletons ever demand is sustenance and as long as they think that the pharaoh is the source of all life, they will blindly follow his every command and accept subjugation. The ritual is not just a test of their obedience but also a stability test for the system which has only one blind spot, one loophole, and that is Ankh’s responsibility. The question, however, remains. Does Ankh know from the start that rain conditions do not match those of today? Has Ankh subconsciously misguided the pharaoh? Does he want to close the curtains on this classic play? Or is nature itself revolting against the pharaoh and his minions? Whichever the answer is, the reputation of the pharaoh is at stake. Ankh’s confusion is nothing compared to that of the pharaoh who is by now, starting to heavily sweat. His arms are shaking and his heavy breath echoes amidst the silence of the masses. The pharaoh slowly begins to acknowledge the failure of the ritual. He stands motionless before the questioning crowds whose doubtful whispers are starting to circulate among them. Inaction drives the pharaoh to lose both his posture and temper.
“You incompetent fool…!”
. He fiercely yells these words at the silent shaman who has failed his only, yet most crucial task. Ankh immediately and surely knows that his failure will not meet tolerance. He becomes aware that the death penalty awaits him and that the pharaoh will not rest unless Ankh’s head is delivered to him on a silver plate. For the very first time Ankh implores the existence of an actual god to help him through his dilemma. For a second the old shaman shuts his eyes in the hope that he wakes from this horrid nightmare. Today, the ritual’s true nature is revealed in front of the people, that it is just a hoax, a scam and has always been one. What the shaman is in dire need now is a true miracle. Those few seconds seem like a lifetime as Ankh anxiously awaits his retribution. Awkward silence dominates the area, not a single motion, like an idle scene upon an idle painting.
“This man is an imposter! He is not our holy pharaoh god”
The voice echoes from afar, followed by a sudden, slashing sound. Ankh opens his eyes to see an arrow piercing through the pharaoh’s chest. The disillusioned, wounded pharaoh drowsily totters as he turns around to get a clear look at his shooter. “Treachery” is the only word he utters as he breathes his last. With his fading, blurry vision, he tries to identify his murderer while his soul gets squeezed out of him. The murderer reveals himself to be none other than the commander in chief of the army, the mighty Djoser. Djoser draws faster towards the terrified crowds on his powerful, black horse; Both Djoser and his horse are fully dressed in silver, chain mail. The silver knight has now eclipsed the sun god. A bunch of black knights follow him most casually, heading towards the throne to carry the corpse of the fallen pharaoh along with the shaman inside the royal palace. The shocked, traumatized peasants are speechless before Djoser who confidently walks among them.
“People of Thebes this is not your pharaoh. This is a Persian spy who has managed to infiltrate our forces and impersonate our pharaoh using foreign witchcraft. Fear not for our god is safe and sound in his chamber as I speak. Rest assured. Such heinous crime shall not pass unpunished. The ritual shall be postponed until further notice due to the current circumstances. You may retire to your fields for the time being. Do not despair, the will of our lord has not given up on us yet, let us all join voices in prayer and let him know that we are his humble servants in need for his light to guide us through this dark, malicious abyss. We must also ensure the security of our holy god. The wicked Persians will pay for their misdeed. The army will not rest until this evil empire is reduced to ashes. All hail the pharaoh god”
The silent crowd burst with cheers, praising the pharaoh. The same people, who have just been mourning their dead god, are falling for Djoser’s trickery. It is easier for the brainwashed to believe a complicated lie than to learn and accept the simple, naked truth. Djoser has managed to mesmerize them and drive enthusiasm into their hearts with his Opium like declamation, sedating those poor, suffering people. Playing on their false faith in a god that does not exist and their fear of the Persians succeeds in stabilizing the circle of power which seconds ago was in disarray. The crowds shower their hero with praise. He whispers something to one of his knights who immediately nods and calls out to his squad to secure the palace entrance. The royal guards escort the excited masses out and then scatter themselves around the city to keep an eye on the people and report any suspicious activity. Victorious, Djoser closely watches the crowds as they depart and rides up the hill, retreating to the palace. Today the commander manages to avert a great disaster, even greater than the Persian army combined, a disaster not even his late superiors have ever faced before in their military history. The gates of the palace close behind him, veiling the dark secret which has been hidden from the public for so long.
Meanwhile, the old shaman is being kept inside a dark cell in the dungeon. Some dim light escapes the cracks in the wooden door where Ankh could barely see beyond his hands. His situation cannot possibly get any worse. His fatal miscalculation has caused the pharaoh his life. Djoser’s unexpected plan to assassinate the pharaoh has never crossed the mind of the shaman. Now, in the light of the pharaoh’s murder, Ankh cannot help but wonder how disposable his life is if the pharaoh’s is so easily disposed of. Another thought bewilders the old shaman. This error which has led to his downfall, is it really out of his hand? Has he truly misread the signs? Have the universal forces forsaken him? Or does he, deep inside, want to be a martyr whose self-sacrifice may open people’s eyes? To light a spark of revolution in the hearts of those poor, oppressed and misguided people. Maybe the shaman subconsciously does this for selfish reasons; maybe he wants to die and escape his predicament. The shaman possesses no answers to his troubling questions and all he can do now is to wait, oblivious to his destiny.
By midnight, a couple of royal guards open the cell door and take the shaman outside. They are heading to the conference hall, a place where he has never set foot before. The hall is restricted only to the highest military ranks and the pharaoh. Hundred candle flames illuminate the huge, chilly, dark hall. In the center, twelve military officers are sitting on a roundtable. They are murmuring some words to each other which the shaman fails to decipher. Their whispers echo simultaneously across the large, gloomy hall. Each echo stings the shaman’s ears, like serpent bites. The leaders grow more silent as the guards release the shaman before the table and exit the hall just as quickly. The old shaman cannot identify their faces, his eyes burn due to the sudden exposure to light. Yet, he recognizes the voice of Djoser which echoes loudly as he begins to address the shaman.
“Old shaman, you realize the drastic consequences of your grave mistake. You have caused me to dispose of our pharaoh. Your mistake could have shaken people’s faith in the pharaoh who serves as an overpowering icon. You do realize the importance of this ritual, to trick people into believing that the pharaoh is in control of their life and everything around them. I am sure you are curious why are we keeping you alive until this moment? But first let me tell you something about the shadow of the history of Egypt. I speak of the system which the entire country is subject to, the system which every Egyptian, including me, are part of. The sole purpose behind my existence is the maintenance of the system. Such system must never collapse. With it, we harvest the power of the people and make use of it as we see fit, for the survival of this country and in turn the survival of the system itself. Creating a god for the people to worship has always been a significant element of our plan. Surprisingly, today, I discover an even more important element. It is you Ankh. Today’s unprecedented event has opened our eyes to your importance. The pharaoh has always been just an image, a mask behind which we all lurk. A puppet can never die as long as its master lives on. Unlike the pharaoh, we value your worth. That is why you must understand that our survival means your survival and vice versa. Your mistake must never be repeated again. Despite today’s unfortunate accident, we have decided that you remain the royal shaman of the new pharaoh who will be selected carefully and shortly. The people will not detect any difference thanks to their blind faith in him. Remember, you cannot look your god in the eye and kneel at the same time. I trust that you will keep our conversation a secret. I am always two steps ahead of you so keep that in mind at all times. You may now return to the observatory and resume your royal duties.”
Speechless, Ankh tries to make sense of this unexpected climax. He bows before the leaders and turns away but Djoser’s words stop him at his pace.
“Consider yourself lucky to be at a relatively, high level in the chain of command which governs our world and not down there with the peasants. Your knowledge is your power. Cherish it. Even in your failure it saved your life”
Djoser’s words echo in the troubled mind of Ankh as he exits the conference hall, never to set a foot in it again. Life sure is absurd. The shaman, who is supposed to be executed, now walks the corridors which he has thought he will never see again. Today, he realizes that his life is more valuable than the pharaoh himself. He also realizes that the lives of those peasants are even far more precious than all the wealth of the pharaoh, or the strength of the army. That is why those elites poison their thoughts with misinformation and disability. If only everyone would break free from this delusion and their disbelief in themselves, they will become an unstoppable force, capable of changing the course of history, their history. Egyptians need to realize that the pharaoh is not god. They must understand that god lives inside each one of them. Together they can unleash his power to bring forth peace and tranquility to this land. Paradise is not lost. It was hiding all along.
By: Ahmed Fathy