River God

'River God'

By Wilbur Smith


-----River God is by far the most popular novel Wilbur has written according to the response I receive from visitors to this page. It is also one of my five favorites. The emotion that eminates from this novel affects you every day as you read. I had trouble thinking of anything else except how Taita, in all his self given glory, was going to save Egypt the next time I picked up the novel.

-----Taita is one of the most intriging characters anyone has ever created. You can't help but love him, even if he is arrogant, self centered, and the sole reason that the Egyptian civilazation is not completely wiped off of the earth. Taita is a slave who serves and loves Lostris, a young, beautiful, well respected lady who is destined to rule Egypt in its time of greatest need. He also adores Tanus, Lostris' only love and leader of Egypt's armies. Sometimes it seems Taita's only goal in life is to make these two lovers happy, and he seems to succeed, in this and everything else, much more than he fails (although he is the teller of the story and, you soon realize, his own biggest fan).

-----Tanus has been given the order to rid the land of the Shrikes, a murdering band of thieves who charge taxes to travel the roads, and rape and pillage travellers unwilling to pay. Tanus and his second in command, Kratus, have lured the villians into a trap where they have most of their army disguised as woman, which the Shrikes plan to fight to the death for.

-----Below the alter, Kratas had drawn up his men into a single rank. and they also had strung their bows and faced the entrance to the square. They made a pitifully small cluster around the alter, and I felt a lump rise in my throat as I watched them. They were so heroic and undaunted. I would compose a sonnet in their honor, I decided on a sudden impulse, but before I could find the first line the head of the mob of bandits burst howling through the ruined gateway

-----Only five men abreast could climb the steep stairway into the opening, and the distance to where Tanus stood on the alter was less than forty paces. Tanus drew and let his first arrow fly. That single arrow killed three men. the first of them was a tall rogue dressed in a short kilt, with long greasy tresses of hair streaming down his back. The arrow took him in the center of his naked chest and passed through his torso as cleanly as though he were mearly a target cut from a sheet of papyrus.

-----Slick with the blood of the first man, the arrow struck the man behind him in the throat. Although the force of it was dissipating now, it still went through the neck and came out behind him, but it could not drive completely through. The fletchings at the back of the shaft snagged in his flesh, while the barbed bronze arrow-head buried itself in the eye of the third man who had crowded up close behind him. The two Shrikes were pinned together by the arrow, and they staggered and thrashed about in the middle of the gateway, blocking the opening to those who were trying to push their way past them into the courtyard. at last the arrow-head tore out of the third man's skull, with the eye impaled upon the point. the two stricken men fell apart, and a throng of screaming bandits poured over them into the square. The small band around the alter met them with volley after volley of arrows, shooting them down so that their corpses almost blocked the opening, and those coming in from behind were forced to scramble over the mounds of dead and wounded.

-----It could not last much longer, the pressure of warriors from behind was too great and their numbers too overwhelming. Like the bursting of an earthen dyke unable to stem the rising flood of the nile, they forced the opening, and a solid mass of fighting men poured into the square and surrounded the tiny band around the alter of the god Bes.

-----It was too close quarters for the bows now, and Tanus and his men cast them aside and drew their swords. "Horus, arm me!" Tanus shouted his battle-cry, and the men around him took it up, as they went to work. Bronze rang on bronze as the Shrikes tried to come at them, but they had formed a ring around the alter, facing outwards. No matter from which side they came, the Shrikes were met by the point and the deadly sword-play of the guards. the shrikes were not short of courage, and they pressed in serried ranks around the alter. As one of them was cut down, another leaped into his place.

-----I saw Shufti in the gateway. He was holding back from the fray, but cursing his men and ordering them into the thick of it with howls of rage. His blind eye rolled in its socket as he exhorted them, 'Get me the Assyrian alive, I want to kill him slowly and hear him squeal.'

-----The bandits completely ignored the woman who still cowered on their sleeping-mats, their heads covered, wailing and screeching with terror. I wailed with the best of them, but the struggle in the middle of the yard was too uncomfortable for my liking. By this time, there were over a thousand men crowded into the confined place. choking in the dust, I was kicked and pummlled by the sandalled feet of the battling horde, until I managed to crawl away into a corner of the wall.

-----Even as I watched, Tanus killed another one of them with a straight thrust through the throat. Then he jerked his blade free of the clinging flesh and stepped back. He threw back his head and let loose a bellow that rang from the crumbling walls around us. 'On me, the Blues!'

-----On the instant every one of the cringing slave girls lept up and flung aside their trailing robes. Their swords were already bared and they fell upon the rear of the robber hoard. The surprise was complete and overwhelming. I saw them kill a hundred or more before their victims even realized what they were about, and could rally to meet them. But when they did turn to face this fresh attack, they exposed their backs to Tanus and his little band.

-----They fought well, I'll give them that, though I am sure it was terror, rather than courage that drove them on. However, their their ranks were too close-packed to allow free play with the sword, and the men they faced were some of the finest troops in Egypt, which is to say the entire world. * (pg.251-253)

-----Eventually Tanus does wipe out this band and the many others that are scattered around Egypt. Once again in the good graces of the Pharaoh, Tanus is accepted back into society and rewarded with the greatest honors Egypt has to bestow.

-----Tanus, now leading an army sent to the front line to deal with a new, unknown threat, is about to face the fact that maybe his army doesn't own the title of 'World's Best.'

-----A small movement below me caught my attention, and I looked down just as Tanus took one step forward and flung up the great bow, Lanata. He loosed an arrow and it rose in a high arcing trajectory against the milky-blue sky. the Hyksos was out of range to any other bow, but not to Lanata. The arrow reached it's zenith and then dropped like a stooping falcon, full at the center of the Asian king's chest. The watching multitude gasped with the length and power and aim of that shot. Three hundred paces it flew, and at the very last moment the Hyksos threw up his bronze shield and the arrow buried its head in the center of the target. It was done with such contemptuous ease that we were all amazed and confounded.

-----Then the Hyksos siezed his own strangely shaped bow from the rack beside him. With one movement he nocked an arrow, and drew and let it fly. it rose higher than Tanus had reached, and it sailed over his head. Fluting like the wing of a goose, it dropped towards me. I could not move and it might have impaled me without my attempting to avoid it, but it passed my head an arm's length and struck the base of pharaoh's throne behind me. It quivered in the cedar strut like an insult, and the Hyksos king laughed again and wheeled his chariot and sped away, back across the plain, to rejoin his own host.

-----I knew then that we were doomed. How could we stand against these speeding chariots, and the recurved bows that so easily outranged the finest archer in our ranks? I was not alone in my dreadful expectations. As the squadrons of chariots began their final fateful evolutions out on the plain and sped towards us in waves, a moan of dispair went up from the army of Egypt. I understood then how the forces of the red pretender had been scattered about without a struggle, and the ursurper had died with his sword in its scabbard.

-----On the run, the flying chariots merged into columns four abreast and came directly at us. Only then did my mind clear, and I started down the slope at full pelt. Panting, I reached Tanus' side and shouted at him." The pennant lances mark the weak points in our line! Their main strike will come through there and there!"

-----Somehow the Hyksos had known our battle order, and had recognized the laps in our battle formation. Their king had planted his pennants exactly between our divisions. the idea of a spy or a traitor occured to me even then, but in the urgency of the moment I thrust it aside, and it was for the moment forgotten.

-----Tanus responded to my warning instantly, and shouted an order for our pickets to race forward and sieze the pennants. I wanted him to move them, so that we could receive the enemy on our strongest front, but there was no time for that. Before our pickets could reach and throw down the markers, the spear head of flying chariots bore down upon them. Some of our men were shot down with arrows from the bouncing swerving chariots. The aim of the enemy charioteers was uncanny.

-----The survivors turned and raced back, trying to regain the illusionary safety of our lines. The chariots overhauled them effortlessly. The drivers controlled the galloping, plunging teams of horses with a lover's touch. They did not run their victims down directly, but swerved to pass them at the length of less than a cubit. It was only then that I noticed the knives. They were curved outwards from the spinning hub of the wheels like the fangs of some monsterous crocodile.

-----I saw one of our men struck squarely by the whirling blades. He seemed to disolve in a bright cloud of blood. One of his severed arms was thrown high in the air and the bleeding chunks of his mutilated torso were dashed into the rocky earth as the chariot flew on without the least check. The phalanx of chariots was still aimed directly at the lap in our front line, and though I heard Kratas yelling orders to reinforce it, it was far too late.

-----The column of chariots crashed into our defensive wall of shields and spears, and tore through it as though it were as insubstantial as a drift of river mist. In one instant our formation, that had stood the assault af the finest Syrian and Hurrian warriors, was cleaved and shattered.

-----The horses spurned our strongest and heaviest men under their hooves. The whirling wheel-knives hacked through the armour and lopped off heads and limbs, as though they were the tenderest shoots of the vine. From the high carraiges the charioteers showered arrows and javelins into our tightly packed ranks, then they tore on through the breach they had forced, passing entirely through our formations, fanning out behind us and driving at full tilt along our rear files, still hurling their missles into our unprotected rear.

-----When our troops turned to face this assault in the rear, another phalanx of racing chariots crashed into them from the open plain. The first assault split our army in twain, dividing Tanus from Kratus on the right wing. Then those that followed so swiftly cut up the two halves into smaller, isolated groups. We were no longer a cohesive whole. Little bands of fifty and a hundred men stood back-to-back and fought with the courage of the doomed.

-----Across the plain on wings of swirling dust, the Hyksos came on endlessly. behind the light two-wheeled chariots followed the heavy four wheeled carts, each carrying ten men. the sides of the carts were screened with sheep fleeces. Our arrows slapped ineffectually into the thick, soft wool, our swords could not reach the men in the high body of the carts. They shot their points down into us and broke up the confused masses of our fighting men into scattered knots of terrified survivors. When one of the captains rallied a few men to counter-attack them, the war carts wheeled away and stopped out of range. With their awful recurved bows, they broke up our gallant charges, and the moment we waivered, they came rolling back upon us.

-----I was intensely aware of the moment when the conflict ceased to be a battle and became nothing more than a massacre. The remains of Kratas' division out on our right flank had fired the last of their arrows. The Hyksos had picked out their captains by the plumed helmets and shot nearly every one of them down. The men were disarmed and leaderless. They broke into rout. They threw down their weapons and ran for the river. But it was not possible to outrun the Hyksos chariot. *(pg 380-382)

-----This novel has everything. War is a constant part of Egyptian life. Intrigue, betrayal, love, and hate. It is really a joy to follow the remnants of the civilization as it works its way back to prominance in the world and prepares to retake what the Hyksos drove them from.

To Read Moose's Visitor Review Click Here

"River God" Smith, Wilbur. St. Martins. New York, N. Y. Published 1993.