Saturday, October 6, 2018

King Aha's Malicious Vizier

Ebu al-Saqqara, Vizier to Hor-Aha, the Falcon-King of Egypt 
Being Interviewed by Helen Hollick

Helen: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you perhaps like a cup of ancient thick beer or precious wine from the island of Crete? You’ll find a copper bowl of fresh figs on the table next to you. Please do help yourself.

I believe you are a character in Inge H. Borg’s novel about Ancient Egypt, Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role? 

al-Saqqara: I am Ebu al-Saqqara, Vizier to Hor-Aha, Fighting-Falcon King of our newly unified Red and Black Lands of the Nile. I am also the kingdom’s Premier Magistrate, Chief Justice of the Kenbet, and Regent in the King’s absence - or after his death. I further serve as Quartermaster of the Royal Armies. My hordes of scribes enforce the levy of new taxes, checking up on those crafty local tax collectors  throughout our united Nomes.

Hence, after the King, I am the most important person in the realm. Well, there are some who dispute this. But they’ll get their just deserves as soon as my brilliant plans unfold. But, please, not another word about it yet. 

Helen: What genre is the novel and what is it about? 

al-Saqqara: You modern folk call it Historical Fiction. To me, there is nothing fictional about the audacious plans I have laid out for my secret followers, the Usurpers of the Crown. We are very real. One of these days, I shall overcome all obstacles and grasp the throne. Our fat lazy King is an easy target. His oldest son Dubar has already fallen under the spell of my narcotic hemp brew. Alas, there is Nefret, Aha’s headstrong young daughter, soon formally to be introduced to Court as the Royal Heiress. If Aha won’t let me take her to my bed (horrible thought; I prefer stroking the smooth thighs of young boys), I shall have to eliminate her. She might actually prefer that as I have heard it say I might appear downright ugly to a fair maiden. 

Helen: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!) 

al-Saqqara: How dare you, a mere common mortal, judge me! I shall stay in power despite not having been born of noble blood. Just look at my name. My father was the overseer of the royal mastabas at Saqqara. With death all around him, he instilled his grim character in me from an early age on. 

Helen: Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy.

al-Saqqara: Ha! Don’t remind me of that High Priest, Ramose. A scourge, if ever there was one, to me and my brilliant strategies. I have tried to insinuate to the King he may not have fathered our lovely Princess Nefret. Hasn’t he noticed she has sky-lit eyes just like Ramose’s? By Horus, I don’t call that a trick of nature. But our dim-witted King seems smitten with the unctuous priest and has even charged him with Nefret’s education. Treason! That’s what Aha should be charging Ramose with. 

Helen: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series? 

al-Saqqara: Glad you are changing the subject before I explode with venom. I only had to suffer my enemies in Book 1 of the “Legends of The Winged Scarab” series (3080 BC). What they did to my Ba, my eternal soul, is outrageous. Luckily, I don’t have to rattle through Books 2-5. There is another sinner’s Ba to do that. Small consolation, now that I can never enter into the Afterlife. 

Helen: What is one of your favorite scenes? 

al-Saqqara: The barges victoriously return from our war with the Kush and the Wawat in the South. Riding low upon the waters of the Nile, they are laden with trophies and prisoners. But the crowning achievement of my schemes lie stretched out on the dais of the Royal Bark: Two royal siblings. My breast swells with pride when they land in Ineb-Hedj (you people now call it Memphis). I cannot suppress a grin when I am told that Nefret had gravely sinned against our strict laws of Ma’at. So, the spoiled girl’s Ba now is destined to be reborn as another sinner’s soul. How delicious.
[A fleck of white spittle forms in the corners of al-Saqqara’s mouth.] 

Helen: And your least favorite scene you appear in? 

al-Saqqara: Imagine: I, the all-powerful Chief Justice of the Kenbet, our highest court, am being dragged in front of my own judges like a common criminal. Who had the temerity to accuse me? And of what? I knew this was Ramose’s doing. May Seth fling his evil curses upon him. 

Helen: Tell me a little about your author. Has she/he written any other books? 

al-Saqqara: As I mentioned briefly above, there are more books in her series – four more, as a matter of fact. In those, the main characters are now modern-day Egyptologists from Boston having been summoned to Cairo by the autocratic director of the Cairo Museum, Jabari el-Masri. If you think all they do is dig in the sand brushing dirt off old pottery shards, you are dead wrong. Their adventures take them to many foreign lands; and, always, death lurks close-by. 

Helen: Is your author working on anything else at the moment? 

al-Saqqara: Rumor has it (okay, I peeked), she started work on another historical fiction novel taking place in Ancient Crete; and I mean, so ancient they still had pygmy hippos and dwarf elephants. It looks as if she has those people wind up on a green and lush Sahara … By Seth! I hope my forefathers weren’t some pygmy hippo-herders. 
Helen: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?

al-Saqqara: It has become much harder to be noticed in a sea awash with writings where anything goes.

Historical Fiction, of course, is not everyone’s bowl of beer. It takes reader-curiosity and, dare I say, intelligence, not only to want to enjoy a good story, but in the end having learned something about a bygone era. Thank Horus for those dedicated – and knowledgeable – readers who truly enjoy Historical Fiction based on excellent research rather than “boys get girls.” They always do; or, come to think of it, maybe they don’t …

Specialized readers’ groups on Facebook are only a small venue. It would be greatly helpful if readers left more constructive reviews.

The answer lies in marketing/advertising i.e., laying out lots of money for book-ad services. Not exactly a sound business plan for the average author. Blogging, too, seems to have waned.

The one thing for my author to do is to keep writing – because she loves the energy and eventual satisfaction of having created something good – or even great – like me. Am I not a fascinating, albeit much hated, character? 

Helen: Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion. Does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?

al-Saqqara: Receiving the IndieBRAG Medallion was an absolute thrill for her. My author treasures it. The folks at IndieBRAG are wonderful in their desire to promote good writing. 

Helen: Thank you, Ebu al-Saqqara. It was, ah, eye-opening talking to you [Helen pulls a face]. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? 

al-Saqqara: Thank you for letting me sound off, My Lady with the golden hair. May Horus hover over you and protect you from - shall we say - characters like me.

And, yes, here is a brief excerpt to show you the ignoble manner in which I was treated for my service to free my country from an inept ruler (and his heirs).

[al-Saqqara fondles his empty bowl of beer.] 

Helen: Now, chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill?

Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honoree!

Excerpt from Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile,
by Inge H. Borg

Dragged from his villa like a wine-marinated pig, al-Saqqara quieted down for fear of drawing sleepy neighbors from their beds. After the cold night air cleared his mind some more, he envisioned his Kenbet. He knew his Council well; his Kenbet would surely side with him as none of his carefully selected judges were particularly predisposed toward the meddling priesthood. Had Aha connected Hent’s death to him? Nothing could be proven. Or had Nekhen’s stupid Tax Collector spilled his stinking entrails?
It was debasing to be dragged along the Great Road, by night, like a common criminal. Where were these baboons taking him anyway? Most likely, Ramose had managed to discredit him. It would be his word against the detested priest’s. Al-Saqqara shivered. It had to be the lying charlatan’s doing, he riled inwardly.
Al-Saqqara was relieved they were headed for the palace rather than the temple. So he was to be brought before the King. Reaching the columned portico, the duty guards averted their eyes as the Vizier was dragged through the Grand Foyer. His captors headed for a side door. Al-Saqqara was only all too familiar with the small opening. From it, a narrow corridor led to several dank cubicles. These dungeons held the worst offenders against the laws of Ma’at prior to their public trial.
Locking his knees, al-Saqqara tried to dig his heels in. Acquainted with the tactics of desperate criminals, the guards grabbed him under the arms and pushed him before them like a stiff board.
Cold sweat broke from al-Saqqara’s pores with the smell of rancid wine. He struggled against being forced into the small cell. Once the door clanged shut, the darkness was impenetrable. There were no floormats to escape the crawling vermin.
“My defense!” he screamed and drummed on the heavy door. “I insist on counsel preparing my defense!”
When his fists could take their punishment no longer, he slumped onto the dank clay floor pounded into pungent slickness as each prior occupant had let his steaming water flow in terror. Alone in the terrifying darkness, al-Saqqara now did the same. He sat there, slumped against the rough wall. His stomach protested with unpleasant queasiness and he damned himself for having drunk so much the night before.
Suddenly, the door was flung open. A tall figure filled the dim frame and a sonorous voice intoned, “Al-Saqqara, I come to speak in your defense.”
Of all the pissing nerve! “Out of my sight, damnable charlatan,” al-Saqqara screeched and struggled to his feet. “To be defended by you is the last thing I wish for. I shall speak on my own behalf. As soon as my judges learn of the despicable untruths you have spread about me, my Kenbet will acquit me.”
“As you wish, al-Saqqara. But you should know I am not your accuser.” Ramose, High Priest of Ptah, was relieved as well as ashamed of his harsh thoughts. He turned and walked out.
* * *
The Kenbet’s Head Judge stood up and pounded the table with his short staff. Its hollow sound echoed through the Grand Foyer.
“The Kenbet of the Two Lands is assembled to judge Ebu al-Saqqara, Vizier and Quartermaster of Hor-Aha, our godly King. The accused has waived counsel. How, then, does he speak for himself?”
The Head Judge sat down and hoped his part in this mock-trial would be brief. Even though several of the judges were still sympathetic to the ugly man’s plight, not one of them had entertained the notion of sending word to the condemned man. This was not a time to stand by dangerous loyalties.
Al-Saqqara’s heart jumped at the unpromising start of the proceedings. Despite his resolve to fight for his life, his knees shook and he could barely think. After several attempts, he croaked, “What is the accusation against me?”
The Head Judge stood up again and tapped the table.
 “Ebu al-Saqqara, you are charged with High Treason.”
A collective sigh rippled through the stunned audience. Imagine: High treason, the gravest of all crimes!
The blood drained from al-Saqqara’s face. He felt faint and knew he had to challenge this abomination at once; he must proclaim his innocence with vigor and conviction lest he not see another dawn.
When quiet was restored, Lord Makari spoke. “Nekhen’s former Royal Tax Collector bears witness against you, Ebu al-Saqqara.”
The Vizier’s head jerked up in surprise. The thieving vermin! He should quickly point a finger at the stupid provincial’s avarice, at his pilfering from the royal silos. Tesh was trying to save his own hide by conjuring up false accusations. Why, then, had Aha involved himself? Just when al-Saqqara felt he had a plausible defense, he saw Ramose point a finger at the other prisoner.
“The Tax Collector is not your accuser, Ebu al-Saqqara. He only bears witness against you.”
The air in the Grand Foyer grew stifling.
Al-Saqqara summoned his reserves and demanded much too loudly, “Then who dares accuse me? Who dares accuse the King’s Vizier Ebu al-Saqqara?”
“I do.” The voice boomed down from the Window of Appearances.

* * *
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