A young bowman is given the most dangerous task in creation to hunt down the rampaging lioness-goddess Hathor-Sekhmet, the Destroyer of Humankind sent by an angry Ra.
Then he meets a mysterious young woman, a crawler in the reeds.
What had he heard? Something was dragging itself through the reeds. Crocodile? Or that other force of elemental chaos, a hippopotamus?
In a smooth, protective action, he drew an arrow from a quiver, attached to a belt around his kilt, and nocked it to the string of his bow. He searched the base of the thicket, looking for the scale-net pattern of a crocodile’s flank. He drew the bow to be ready, edging nearer, using the tip of the arrow to move aside a tall papyrus stem, its umbel a feathery triangle like the delta of a woman.
The bowman’s eye, narrowing to focus beyond the bronze arrow tip, widened in surprise. Instead of an animal, he found himself regarding the slithering form of a young woman on her belly. She was moving down the bank to the water. He went still closer, parting the reeds with an elbow. She was splattered with blood.
Someone - still alive.
A fish jumped. A dragonfly darted away. He saw her stretch her neck. Long hair swung down in lappets to trail in the water, hiding her face. He heard lapping and sucking. Was she a chance survivor or another dying victim of the pestilence? A dying one, he guessed. She must be injured for she was splattered with blood. The soles of her feet were crimson as if stained with henna, but it was blood. There had been no other survivors in the trail of destruction he had been following for days.
Maybe he should end her suffering quickly with an arrow. All it would take would be a slackening of his fingers. Oblivion would slide into her body with little more shock than the cold ache of water going into her stomach.
But his spirit had become stretched taut as his bowstring against death. No more killing. It was as if he had been walking through the scene of a battlefield for weeks. Bodies of the dead choked villages and towns and fields like rising mud-waters of the inundation.
He could taste death along with dust in his throat. The desert that on two sides hemmed in a land that was green and sweetly verdant - the oasis civilization of Egypt - was now like the sides of a coffin entombing a dying people. Too late, inhabitants had fled to the hills to hide, but the scorching eye of destruction had followed them there too, striking with claw and with fever, leaving some to die in their own blood, others in the rictus of plague. The path of destruction was moving upstream, the hunter observed.
He watched the survivor. A young woman, probably a noblewoman or a temple priestess, judging by the remnants of a sheer linen dress, now blood-splattered and clinging to her body, and by the turquoise bracelets on her arms. She made soft gasps and snuffles as she drank.
Here was Egypt, all of beautiful, dying Egypt, captured in one young woman crawling on her belly to suck at Mother Nile. Unexpectedly tender feelings stirred and grasped the strong young man, like the thicket of papyrus plants that crowded him, murmuring and shushing as though to calm a distressed child.
(Excerpt from "Hunting Hathor' (Kindle). This story also appears as a tale within a novel, in "The Smiting Texts" (Amazon Kindle and paperback)