“Is this enough blood?”
Sa-Nyarlat, born Senwosret, high priest of the ancient complex of Huut-Nyarlat, gazed down from the height of the valley temple. Once, the plains behind him and across the river’s gorge had been lush and wet with rain. There had been no valley temple then, and no need for one. Men had ridden freely on roads that cut through meadows and forests to bring them to the temple overlooking the river. Sa-Nyarlat knew, for he had seen it, lying at night in the god’s heka-barge and breathing in the durhang fumes.
There had been sacrifices, yes. And the sacrifices had been effective. Blood had whet the god’s appetite, and his saliva had watered the plains and raised the emmer, the einkorn, the barley, and the sheum that had given life to tens of thousands.
Now, below the gates of the valley temple, angry men took each other’s lives, in tens of thousands. The incense-stink of hot blood filled Sa-Nyarlat’s head with giddy delight. Almost, he had visions on the spot.
When the new gods had come, the plains had dried up. Other sanctuaries to the god had been burned but not sacked, their treasures left to rod and tarnish as cursed. The sands had come and covered the land. The roads had been lost, and the river had become the road. Then the valley temple had become necessary, a gate at the river of the level that opened into a passage between long sandstone walls leading up to the temple at the bluff behind it.
The valley temple had become necessary, and the deception. Sa-Nyarlat, who rejoiced in a name bearing his god’s blessing and the glorious titles Helmsman of the God’s Black Barge, Feeder at His Father’s Teat, and Lector of the Black Book, passed before the world as the humbler, poorer Senwosret, Keeper of Secrets of Sebek the Crocodile.
It was Sebek’s image that adorned the valley temple, in two immense statues flanking the valley temple’s gates, and in plaster-and-paint murals within it. To a careful observer, an eye learned in the ancient signs, the statues and murals would have revealed something else: a Sebek hexed and impotent, a puppet, and behind him, a true, ancient, and hungry power.
But there were few such eyes that might see the statues and murals, and fewer still that were not themselves adepts of the temple. Most of the traffic through the valley temple, up the long passage and into the Forecourt, consisted of supplicants of the crocodile, and they had no idea who really heard their prayers.
Heard them and laughed.
Even of the temple’s staff, the large majority did not know whom they truly served. Even Pa-Ankhi, Captain of the Gate, the burly Asiatic at Sa-Nyarlat’s side.
“Enough blood for what, Pa-Ankhi?”