Chapter 7 of Scions of the sphinx is now up on Wattpad.com and my site at RScottBoyer.com/blog. This is a big scene where we get our first real, in-depth look at the ancient kingdom that Bobby keeps flashing back to in his visions. Not only is there a heat wave and draught, but a plague as well. Talk about a bad time to visit (even if it’s just in his dream).
At first Bobby thought it was his garden back home. The trellis against the back wall held golden trumpets and scarlet morning glories, just like the ones his mother planted in the spring. However, the wall behind it was wrong. The wood lattice in his backyard stood up against the side of the house by the kitchen window. This trellis here appeared to be made of some kind of net and leaned up against a cobblestone wall.
The girl Bobby had seen in his vision at the Eagle’s Nest knelt among the delicate flowers, picking a bouquet of daisies. Devoid of a hijab, she raised her delicate chin and looked straight at him. Bobby froze, unsure if she saw him or not.
The girl flashed a brilliant smile that turned slowly to consternation. “What is it, Osiris?” Her words were foreign and heavily accented, but somehow he understood them.
Bobby frowned, unsure how to respond. The girl continued to watch him.
“You’re making me nervous. Is something wrong?”
Confused, Bobby took a step back and tripped over a planter box at his heels. Dropping to one knee, he discovered supple calfskin boots in place of his normal black-and-white-checkered Vans. His forearms were wrapped in leather bracers wrought with gold. In fact, all of his clothes looked strange; from the wide-linked belt to the low-cut tunic, he looked like a character from a medieval Renaissance faire.
“Is everything all right, my love?” The girl tucked the bundle of flowers under her arm and stood up. “Perhaps we should adjourn for the day.” Taking his hand, she guided him carefully out of the delicate garden.
Bobby stumbled along after her. These surroundings, they appear foreign, yet somehow familiar…
High overhead, granite cliffs towered over them like giant stone sentinels. Where their broad shoulders met, cerulean water cascaded from up high, draping the city in an almost unbroken curtain of shimmering mist.
Bobby’s mouth fell open. “We’re in a valley surrounded by waterfalls?” he asked.
The young woman followed his gaze then let out a musical laugh. “Sometimes I forget just how lovely the Seven Sisters truly are. Other days, I try not to think about how rapidly they are dying. Even the water here in the palace recedes at an alarming rate.”
At Bobby’s feet, the banks of a tiny pond rose two feet above the shallow water within. Nearby, a half dozen orange and black koi circled in the narrow confines of a similarly shrunken pool, cut off from the rest of their intended terrain.
The girl sighed. “Soon, what little water remains will be gone. After that, I fear we will face the same fate as those outside the castle’s walls.”
They walked together for several minutes, winding their way through open courtyards and hooded walkways. Soldiers practiced swordplay in the yards. Couriers in colorful livery raced through the halls. Ladies dressed in satin and lace strolled among the gardens. Decorative fountains lay scattered throughout the landscape, their bone-dry basins a testament to the drought. One giant fountain sprouted the barest of trickles, the listless water dripping down the cracked stone to form a mere half-inch pool in the trough.
Bobby opened his mouth to ask a question and then shut it. So many things around him didn’t make sense that he didn’t know where to begin.
An inner gate loomed up ahead, its thick iron bars black and stoic. Bobby and the girl passed over a portcullis spanning a dry ditch that had clearly once been an aquatic moat. Walking beneath the stone archway, they entered a long hallway lined with ancient tapestries and coats of arms. As they made their way past a row of polished shields, Bobby caught a glimpse of his reflection.
The boy, or more accurately, the man, in the image resembled him and yet was not him. Clearly older, perhaps in his early twenties, the reflection looked darker and more distinguished. In place of Bobby’s short crop of pale blond hair, the man in the mirror had perfect chestnut curls.
Bobby gasped. The face, his face, was similar but not the same. This face was more refined—the cheekbones higher, the jawline tighter and sharper. Only the eyes were the same—light blue with just a hint of green. The sensation of looking at this other man both terrified and exhilarated Bobby. Somehow, his consciousness was inside someone else’s body!
Bobby swayed on his feet as vertigo gripped him. “Perhaps you should lie down,” said his guide. “But first we need to make a quick detour,” she said, pulling him into a wide hall lined with statues.
They came to an arched doorway guarded by two soldiers armed with poleaxes and scimitars. Both men hastened to open the thick oak doors. “Princess Isis,” said the man on the left with a curt bow.
Hooking her arm in Bobby’s, Isis flashed the guards a bright smile and swept into the vast chamber beyond. A dozen men in a mix of royal and military garb stood around an enormous oval table covered with charts and maps.
At the head of the table sat a regal old man with piercing blue eyes and a gold crown upon his brow. As Bobby and Isis walked into the room, the king stood up and spread his arms, welcoming them both with a warm smile. “Ah, the young lovers, so good to see you both. Please, join us. The council was just discussing plans for the evacuation.”
“Father,” Isis said with a short bow. “We can’t stay. I just came to inquire if you’ve given any more thought to my request.”
The king’s sunny countenance turned cloudy. “Oh how I wish you would forget this nonsense about seeking to aid in the relief effort,” he said with a sigh. “You and Osiris are two of the last descendants of the Pure Ones. It’s why our two families were destined to marry before either of you were even born. Neither this kingdom, nor I, can afford to lose either one of you.
“Besides, now there is this matter with the rebels to deal with. Their leader is spreading ridiculous rumors about knowing how to cure the plague—as if my counselors and I haven’t tried everything. They’re amassing an army out in the countryside. I’m sorry,” said the king, shaking his head sadly, “but I’m afraid you both must remain here where it is safe.”
“I can take care of myself,” protested Isis. “Besides, I am far less susceptible than others. I can help treat the sick. I might even be able to cure those that aren’t too far gone—”
The king threw up his hands in exasperation. “I love you with all my heart, daughter, but you are as stubborn as a mule. Just because you are less susceptible than most does not mean you can’t catch the crimson plague. Other Pure Ones have already died. If you are weak from treating others, you may not be able to heal yourself.”
“I am willing to take that risk. Please, father, I can’t sit inside this castle, day after day, picking flowers in the garden, pretending that the citizens of our nation aren’t dying outside its walls. I can help. I know I can!”
“Not unless you’ve found a way to change the weather. This accursed heat fuels the illness. At this point, the only solution is to leave this land and hope the illness does not follow. Those who are still healthy can head south and find someplace to rebuild.”
“Enough!” said the king, hanging his head as if embarrassed by his admonition. “We are doing all we can. One more person will not make a difference. The great project is nearly complete. We will leave behind the repository, guarded by the watcher, and depart this place.”
“Please, Amun-Ra, I beg of you—”
The aged monarch put a hand to his temple, rubbing fiercely. “Osiris, do you have nothing to say about your betrothed’s desire to risk her life playing nursemaid to the citizens infected by this gods-forsaken plague?”
Silence hung heavy in the room. Bobby stood there, puzzled. The king and several others around the council table looked at him. Bobby nearly jumped when he realized Amun-Ra had been speaking to him and expected a response. “Um, no, Your…Your Highness…I think that she is strong willed…”
The king paused for a moment, his face unreadable. Then he threw back his head and laughed so fiercely it shook the hall. “So formal today, my future son-in-law. ‘Strong willed.’ Ha! As if you just found that out!”
“I’m sorry, Amun-Ra. I don’t quite feel myself at the moment.”
“Tell me you aren’t ill.”
“It’s nothing like that,” said Isis, jumping in quickly. “We just got a bit too much sun out in the garden. Isn’t that right, Osiris? He just needs to lie down for a while. We won’t bother you any further.” she turned, clasped Bobby by the elbow and steered him toward the door.
King Amun spoke to her back. “Very well, daughter. Rest well and remember that I love you both.”
Bobby let Isis lead him out of the chamber and down the hall. When they were far removed, beyond earshot of the guards, Isis stopped and spun Bobby around to face her. “It’s not true, is it?”
“Is what true?” asked Bobby.
“You’re not feeling ill, are you?” she asked, raising a hand to his forehead. “You don’t have any rashes or sores? Or—”
“I’m fine,” said Bobby, removing her hand and stepping back. “Like you said, I probably just need to lie down. Why don’t you help me to my…er, our room?”
The smile Isis gave him could have warmed the coldest winter night. “I await that day with all my heart, but you know we are not to share a bed until after our vows.” She took his hand, entwining her slender fingers with his dark, foreign ones.
Princess Isis led Bobby up a broad staircase lined with intricately carved banisters and broad tapestries depicting picturesque landscapes—mountains and rivers populated with soaring eagles and majestic stags. At the top of the landing, they made a left, heading past half a dozen doors to a massive bedroom in the southeast corner. A giant bearskin rug lay splayed in the middle of the stone floor, its glass eyes staring sightlessly at them as they made their way to the massive four-poster bed set against the far wall. Isis guided Bobby to the edge, where he collapsed onto a pile of thick furs.
No sooner did Bobby’s head hit the soft pillow than a tremendous weight descended upon him. Isis leaned over and kissed him lightly on the forehead. “Sleep, my love, and feel better, for the world’s troubles will still be here when you awake.”
Through hooded lids, Bobby watched Isis tiptoe out of the room. Then his eyes slid shut, and sleep washed over him.