The Anubis Gates
"You know our Gods are gone. They reside now in the Tuaut, the underworld, the gates of which
have been held shut for eighteen centuries by some pressure I do not understand but which I am
sure is linked with Christianity.
BOOK ONE - The Face Under the Fur
PROLOGUE: FEBRUARY 2, 1802
BOOK TWO - The Twelve Hours of the Night
CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 15 EPILOGUE: APRIL 12, 1846
BOOK ONE - The Face Under the
PROLOGUE: FEBRUARY 2, 1802
“Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are…”
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson
From between two trees at the crest of the hill a very old man watched, with a nostalgiclonging he thought he'd lost all capacity for, as the last group of picnickers packed up theirbaskets, mounted their horses, and rode away south-they moved a little hastily, for it was agood six miles back to London, and the red sun was already silhouetting the branches of thetrees along the River Brent, two miles to the west.
When they'd gone the old man turned around to watch the sun's slow descent. The Boat of
he thought; the boat of the dying sungod Ra, tacking down the western sky toMillions of Years,
the source of the dark river that runs through the underworld from west to east, through thetwelve hours of the night, at the far eastern end of which the boat will tomorrow reappear,bearing a once again youthful, newly reignited sun.
Or, he thought bitterly, removed from us by a distance the universe shouldn't even be able toencompass, it's a vast motionless globe of burning gas, around which this little ball of aplanet rolls like a pellet of dung propelled by a kephera beetle.
Take your pick, he told himself as he started slowly down the hill…But be willing to die for
He had to walk carefully, for his Japanese clogs were awkward on the uneven dirt and grass.
Fires were already lit among the tents and wagons, and a weaving of wild odors whirled up tohim on the cool evening breeze: a sharp, earthy reek from the tethered donkeys, wood smoke, andthe aroma of roasting hedgehog, a dish his people particularly relished. Faintly, too, hethought he caught a whiff of stale breath from the crate that had arrived that afternoon-amusty fetor, as of perverse spices meant to elicit aversion rather than appetite, almostshockingly incongruous when carried on the clean breezes of Hampstead Heath. As he approachedthe cluster of tents he was met by a couple of the camp dogs; as always, they backed away fromhim when they recognized him, and one turned around and loped purposefully to the nearest tent;the other, with evident reluctance, escorted Amenophis Fikee into the camp.
Responding to the dog's summons, a dark man in a striped corduroy coat stepped out of the tentand strode across the grass toward Fikee. Like the dogs, he halted well short of the old man.“Good evening, rya,” he said. “Will you eat some dinner? They've got a hotchewitchi on thefire, smells very kushto.”
“As kushto as hotchewitchi ever does smell, I suppose,” Fikee muttered absently. “But no,thank you. You all help yourselves.”
“Not I, rya-my Bessie always loved cooked hotchewitchi; so since she mullered I don't eat itanymore.”
Fikee nodded, though he obviously hadn't been listening. “Very well, Richard.” He paused asthough hoping for an interruption, but none came. “When the sun is all the way down, have someof the chals carry that crate down the bank to the tent of Doctor Romany.”
The gypsy scratched his oiled moustache and shifted doubtfully. “The crate that the sailorchal brought today?”
“Which crate did you think I meant, Richard? Yes, that one.”
“The chals don't like it, rya. They say there's something in it mullo dusta beshes, dead manyyears.”
Amenophis Fikee frowned and pulled his cloak closer about himself. He had left the last rays ofsunlight behind him at the top of the hill, and among these shadows his craggy face seemed topossess no more vitality than a stone or tree trunk. At last he spoke: “Well, what's in it has
seen dusta beshes, certainly-many many years.” He gave the timorous gypsy a smile that waslike a section of hillside falling away to expose old white stone. “But it's not mullo, I'm…I hope. Not quite mullo.”
This did nothing to reassure the gypsy, who opened his mouth to voice another respectfulobjection; but Fikee had turned away and was stalking through the clearing toward theriverbank, his cloak flapping behind him in the wind like the wing-case of some giganticinsect.
The gypsy sighed and slouched away toward one of the tents, practicing a limp that would, hehoped, earn him a dispensation from actually having to help carry the dreadful crate.
Fikee slowly picked his way along the darkening riverbank toward Doctor Romany's tent. Exceptfor the hoarse sighing of the breeze the evening was oddly silent. The gypsies seemed torealize that something momentous was in the wind tonight, and were slinking about as silentlyas their dogs, and even the lizards had stopped hopping and splashing among the riversidereeds.
The tent stood in a clearing, at the focus of enough lines and rigging-slung from every nearbytree-for a good-sized ship. The angling ropes, assisted by a dozen upright poles, supported theflapping, bulging, many-layered randomness of Romany's tent. It looked, thought Fikee, likesome huge nun in a particularly cold-weather habit, crouched beside the river in obscuredevotion.
Ducking under a couple of ropes, he made his way to the entrance and lifted aside the curtain,and stepped through into the central room, blinking in the brightness that the dozen lamps caston the draped carpets which formed the walls, floor and ceiling.
Doctor Romany stood up from a table, and Fikee felt a wave of hopeless envy. Why, Fikee askedvenomously, hadn't it been Romanelli who picked that short straw in Cairo last September? Fikeepulled off his drab cloak and hat and flung them in a corner. His bald head gleamed likeimperfectly polished ivory in the lamplight.
Romany crossed the room, bobbing grotesquely on his high, spring-soled shoes, and gripped himby the hand. “It's a great thing we-you-attempt tonight,” he said in a deep muted voice. “Ionly wish I could be here with you in person.”
Fikee shrugged, a little impatiently. “We are both servants. My post is England, yours isTurkey. I completely understand why it is that you can be present tonight only”-he wavedvaguely- “in replica.”
“Needless to say,” Romany intoned, his voice becoming deeper as though trying to wring anecho out of the surrounding carpets, “if it happens that you die tonight, rest assured youwill be embalmed and entombed with all the proper ceremonies and prayers.”
“If I fail,” Fikee answered, “there won't be anybody to pray to.”
“I didn't say fail. It could be that you will succeed in opening the gates, but die inaccomplishing it,” the unruffled Romany pointed out. “In such a case you'd want the properactions taken.”
“Very well,” said Fikee with a weary nod. “Good,” he added.
There was a sound of shuffling feet from the entry, and then an anxious voice. “Rya? Wherewould you like the crate? Hurry, I think spirits are coming out of the river to see what's init!”
“Not at all unlikely,” muttered Doctor Romany as Fikee instructed the gypsies to carry thething inside and set it down on the floor. This they hastily did, making their exit as quicklyas respectful deportment would permit.
The two very old men stared at the crate in silence for a time, then Fikee stirred and spoke.“I've instructed my gypsies that in my… absence, they are to regard you as their chief.”
Romany nodded, then bent over the crate and began wrenching the top boards away. After tossingaside some handfuls of crumpled paper he carefully lifted out a little wooden box tied up with
string. He set it on the table. Turning back to the crate, he knocked away the rest of theloosened boards and, grunting with effort, lifted out a paper-wrapped package which he laid onthe floor. It was roughly square, three feet on each side and six inches thick.
He looked up and said, “The Book,” unnecessarily, for Amenophis Fikee knew what it was.
“If only he could do it, in Cairo,” he whispered.
“Heart of the British kingdom,” Doctor Romany reminded him. “Or maybe you imagine he couldtravel?”
Fikee shook his head, and, crouched beside the table, lifted from under it a glass globe with aslide-away section in its side. He set it on the table and then began undoing the knots on thesmall wooden box. Romany meanwhile had stripped away the package's paper covering, exposing ablack wooden box with bits of ivory inlaid to form hundreds of Old Kingdom Egyptianhieroglyphics. The latch was leather, and so brittle that it crumbled to dust when Romany triedto unfasten it. Inside was a blackened silver box with similar hieroglyphic characters inrelief; and when he'd lifted away the lid of that one a gold box lay exposed to view, itsfinely worked surface blazing in the lamplight.
Fikee had gotten the little wooden box open, and held up a cork-stoppered glass vial that hadbeen nested in cotton inside. The vial contained perhaps an ounce of a thick black fluid thatseemed to have sediment in it.
Doctor Romany took a deep breath, then lifted back the lid of the gold box.
At first Doctor Romany thought all the lamps had been simultaneously extinguished, but when heglanced at them he saw that their flames stood as tall as before. But nearly all the light wasgone-it was as though he now viewed the room through many layers of smoked glass. He pulled hiscoat closer about his throat; the warmth had diminished too.
For the first time that night he felt afraid. He forced himself to look down at the book thatlay in the box, the book that had absorbed the room's light and warmth. Hieroglyphic figuresshone from ancient papyrus-shone not with light but with an intense blackness that seemed aboutto suck out his soul through his eyes. And the meanings of the figures darted clearly andforcefully into his mind, as they would have done even to someone who couldn't read theprimeval Egyptian script, for they were written here in the world's youth by the god Thoth, thefather and spirit of language itself. He tore his gaze fearfully away, for he could feel thewords burning marks on his soul like a baptism.
“The blood,” he rasped, and even the capacity of the air to carry sounds seemed weakened.“Our Master's blood,” he repeated to the dimly seen figure that was Amenophis Fikee. “Put itinto the sphere.”
He could just see Fikee thumb aside the hatch in the side of the globe and hold the vial to theopening before uncorking it; the black fluid spilled inside, falling upward, staining the topof the glass globe. The moon must be up, Romany realized. A drop fell up onto Fikee's palm, andmust have burned, for he hissed sharply between his teeth.
“You're… on your own,” croaked Doctor Romany, and lurched blindly out of the tent into theclearing, where the evening air felt warm by comparison. He blundered away up the riverbank,yawing and pitching on his peculiar shoes, and finally crouched, panting and bobbing, on aslight rise fifty yards upstream and looked back at the tent.
As his breathing and heartbeat decelerated he thought about his glimpse of the Book of Thoth,and shuddered. If any evidence were needed to document the inversion of sorcery during the lasteighteen centuries, that prehistoric book provided it; for though he'd never actually seen itbefore, Romany knew that when the Prince Setnau Kha-em-Uast had, thousands of years ago,descended into the tomb of Ptah-nefer-ka at Memphis to recover it, he had found the burialchamber brightly illuminated by the light that radiated from the book.
And this spell, he thought unhappily, this tremendous effort tonight, would have been almostprohibitively dangerous even in those days, before sorcery became so much more difficult andpersonally costly to the sorcerer, and, despite the most rigid control, unpredictable and
twisted in its results. Even in those days, he thought, none but the bravest and mosttranscendently competent priest would have dared to employ the hekau, the words of power, thatFikee was going to speak tonight: the words which were an invocation and an invitation topossession addressed to the dog-headed deity Anubis-or whatever might remain of him now-who, inthe time of Egypt's power, presided over the underworld and the gates from this world to theother.
Doctor Romany let his gaze break away from the tent and drift across the river to the heatherylandscape that rolled beyond it up to another rise crested with trees that seemed to him tootall for their girth, waving their emaciated branches in the breeze. A northern landscape, hethought, stirred by a wind that's like flowing gin, sharp and clean and smelling of berries.
Reacting to the alien qualities of these things, he thought of the voyage to Cairo, he andFikee had taken four months before, summoned by their Master to assist in the new crisis.
Though prevented by a startling disorder from ever leaving his house, their Master had forquite a while been using a secret army of agents, and an unchartably vast fortune, in an effortto purge Egypt of the Moslem and Christian taints and, even more difficult, to throw out thegoverning Turkish Pasha and his foreign mercenaries, restoring Egypt as an independent worldpower. It was the Battle of the Pyramids four years ago that provided the first realbreakthrough for him, though at the time it had seemed the final defeat-for it had let theFrench into Egypt. Romany narrowed his eyes, remembering the rippling crackle of the Frenchmuskets echoing from the Nile on that hot July afternoon, underscored by the drum-roll of thecharging Mameluke cavalry… by nightfall the armies of the Egyptian governors Ibraheem andMurad Bey had been broken, and the French, under the young general Napoleon, were inpossession.
A wild and agonized howl brought Doctor Romany to his feet; the sound rebounded among the treesby the river for several seconds, and when it had died he could hear a gypsy fearfullymuttering protective cantrips. No further sounds issued from the tent, and Romany let out hisbreath and resumed his crouching position. Good luck, Amenophis, he thought-I'd say “may thegods be with you,” but that's what you're deciding right now. He shook his head uneasily.
When the French came into power it had seemed like the end of any hope of restoring the oldorder, and their Master had, by hard-wrought sorcerous manipulation of wind and tides, lentsubtle aid to the British admiral Nelson when he destroyed the French fleet less than two weekslater. But then the French occupation turned to their Master's advantage; the French curtailedthe arrogant power of the Mameluke Beys, and in 1800 drove out the Turkish mercenaries who'dbeen strangling the country. And the general who took command of Cairo when Napoleon returnedto France, Kleber, didn't interfere with their Master's political intrigues and his efforts tolure the Moslem and Coptic population back into the old pantheist worship of Osiris, Isis,Horus and Ra. It looked, in fact, as though the French occupation would do for Egypt whatJenner's cowpox was evidently doing now for human bodies: substituting a manageable infection,which could be easily eliminated after a while, for a deadly one that would relent only uponthe death of the host.
Then, of course, it began to go wrong. Some lunatic from Aleppo stabbed Kleber to death in aCairo street, and in the ensuing months of confusion the British took up the slack; bySeptember of 1801 Kleber's inept successor had capitulated to the British in Cairo andAlexandria. The British were in, and a single week saw the arrest of a dozen of the Master'sagents. The new British governor even found reason to close the temples to the old gods thatthe Master had had erected outside the city.
In desperation their Master sent for his two oldest and most powerful lieutenants, AmenophisFikee from England and Doctor Monboddo Romanelli from Turkey, and unveiled to them the planthat, though fantastic to a degree that suggested senility in the ancient man, was, heinsisted, the only way to scorch England from the world picture and restore Egypt's eons-lostascendancy.
They had met him in the huge chamber in which he lived, alone except for his ushabtis, fourlife-size wax statues of men. From his peculiar ceiling perch he had begun by pointing out thatChristianity, the harsh sun that had steamed the life-juices out of the now all but dry husk ofsorcery, was at present veiled by clouds of doubt arising from the writings of people likeVoltaire and Diderot and Godwin.
Romanelli, as impatient with the antique magician's extended metaphors as he was with mostthings, broke in to ask bluntly how all this might aid in evicting the British from Egypt.
“There is a magical procedure-” the Master began.
“Magic!” Romanelli had interrupted, as scornfully as he dared. “These days we'd getheadaches and double vision-not to mention losing about five pounds-if we tried to charm a packof street dogs out of our way; and even then as likely as not it'd go awry and they'd allsimply drop dead where they stood. It's easier to shout and wave a stick at them. I'm sure youhaven't forgotten how you suffered after playing with the weather at the Bay of Aboukeer threeyears ago. Your eyes withered up like dates left too long in the sun, and your legs-!”
“As you say, I haven't forgotten,” said the Master coldly, turning those partially recoveredeyes on Romanelli, who involuntarily shivered, as always, before the almost imbecilic hatredthat burned in them. “As it happens, although I'll be present by proxy, one of you mustperform this spell, for it has to be sited very near the heart of the British Empire, whichwould be the city of London, and my condition forbids travel. Though I'll provide you with allthe strongest remaining wards and protective amulets, the working of it will, as you suggest,consume quite a bit of the sorcerer. You will draw straws from the cloth on that table, and theman with the short straw will be the one to do it.”
Fikee and Romanelli stared at the two stubs of straw protruding from beneath a scarf, then ateach other.
“What is the spell?” queried Fikee.
“You know our gods are gone. They reside now in the Tuaut, the underworld, the gates of whichhave been held shut for eighteen centuries by some pressure I do not understand but which I amsure is linked with Christianity. Anubis is the god of that world and the gates, but has nolonger any form in which to appear here.” His couch shifted a little, and the Master closedhis eyes for a moment in pain. “There is a spell,” he rasped finally, “in the Book of Thoth,which is an invocation to Anubis to take possession of the sorcerer. This will allow the god totake physical form-yours. And as you are speaking that spell you will simultaneously be writinganother, a magic I myself have composed that is calculated to open new gates between the twoworlds-gates that shall pierce not only the wall of death but also the wall of time, for if itsucceeds they will open out from the Tuaut of forty-three centuries ago, when the gods-and I-were in our prime.”
There was a silence long enough for the Master's couch to move another painful couple ofinches. At last Fikee spoke. “And what will happen then?”
“Then,” said the Master in a whisper that echoed round the spherical chamber, “the gods ofEgypt will burst out in modern England. The living Osiris and the Ra of the morning sky willdash the Christian churches to rubble, Horus and Khonsu will disperse all current wars by theirown transcendent force, and the monsters Set and Sebek will devour all who resist! Egypt willbe restored to supremacy and the world will be made clean and new again.”
And what role could you, or we, thought Romanelli bitterly, play in a clean new world?
“Is,” Fikee said hesitantly, “is it still possible, you're certain? After all, the worldalready was young that way once, and an old man can't be made into a boy again any more thanwine can go back to grape juice.” The Master was getting very angry, but he pressed ondesperately, “Would it be completely out of the question to… adapt to the new ways and newgods? What if we're clinging to a sinking ship?”
The Master had gone into a fit of rage, drooling and gabbling helplessly, and so one of the waxushabti statues twitched and began working its jaws. “Adapt?” shouted the Master's voice out