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Favorite Part of Stealing Fire

I have so many parts of Stealing Fire that I love. One thing I was really excited about was that at last I got to write battle scenes. There wasn't much scope for that in Black Ships or Hand of Isis, limited as I was by what my main character would logically see, and for someone originally trained in military history writing the campaigns of Alexander and their aftermath is one of the classic challenges. My editor, Devi Pillai, commented that this scene was the "coolest scene in the book!" It's certainly one of my favorites too, as it mixes both the military history and the numinous stuff. But more than that, it shows who Lydias is at the core -- brave but not foolhardy, clever like a fox, absolutely dogged, and above all inspired in the original sense of the word, in-spirited.

"We ride through the night," I said. "Anyone who can't keep up, fall out and come along as you may."

By midnight, when the stars were high, I wondered if it would be me. I rode in a waking dream, the pain in my arm throbbing like distant drums. But my horse followed after the others, and as long as I could stay on her I should ride. She, at least, was sound.

Spirits came beside us. I saw a lean black dog loping along beside the hearse like a shadow, its golden eyes bright as stars. Above, against the distant stars a white ibis flew by night, its wings ghostly under the moon. A lioness paced us, her padded feet silent on the stones, ever watchful, looking behind.

I saw them by moonlight, and the lioness nodded to me gravely, her green eyes bright as Bagoas'.

The gilded hearse glittered palely under the Huntsman rising, Sothis lifting clear of the hills in the sky before dawn. On the roof of the hearse was a hawk, its wings folded and head down, Horus bound to Alexander's body as the gods of Egypt escorted him home.

"Ride," I whispered. "Help me ride, Lady of the Desert."

The lioness paced beside my horse, Her head at my knee. "I will help you, Son of Egypt. I will walk with you. I will be there when you kindle fire."

"Fire," I whispered. I was made of fire, and the night was made of whispers.

"The powers of the Black Land rest in your hands," She said. "Powers of earth and air, powers of water and fire. You guard Horus Undescended, and yours is the strength to wield it."

"I do not know how," I said.

The lioness looked at me, and I wondered if a cat could smile. "You do," She said. "You will remember when you need it."

The sky paled. Morning was coming. From the high cliffs a hawk lifted calling, spreading his wings in the clear bright air.

"They are behind us," I said. I could feel them, as though the ground beneath their hooves was my own body. "They will be here soon."

I pulled myself up on my horse. "Glaukos! Send the hearse ahead at all possible speed. We will go to that incline and wait. Get in line to receive cavalry!"

Glaukos looked startled, as we had not had scouts come in.

"Hurry!" I shouted.

Now I saw the incline better. The wadis opened out. Beyond, there was a smooth decent and the green of plowed fields not far away, the lazy line of the Damietta Branch of the Nile meandering through. The road turned north again to meet it, toward the pale half shell line of the sea in the growing dawn. Where road and river and sea met was a dark lowering shape -- the walls of Pelousion, now less than twenty miles distant.

I heard the drivers pushing the exhausted oxen, exhorting them with whips. We formed up. Glaukos took the commander's position, and I stood behind. I could not fight with my useless hand at all. My fingers would not even close about the reins. We stood, and behind us the hearse rattled downhill.

And then I saw them, halfway across the plain, a dark streak on the road, like a snake against the green land, Ptolemy's phalanx in column, marching toward us at double time. But they were still five miles distant at least.

The blood thundered in my ears. I stood above all on the breast of the wind, soaring like the hawk over the land. I could see them coming down the wadi at a quick trot, Perdiccas' cavalry still some eight hundred strong.

"Stand to receive!" I shouted, feeling myself jolt back into my damaged body.

Glaukos looked back at me worriedly, as we had so far seen nothing to receive.

I looked straight back at him. I could feel them riding down the wadi, preparing to go into the wedge the moment they were clear of the confining walls.

"Stand to receive!" Every man did so, six hundred or a bit more.

The game was up, I thought. Even if they overwhelmed us, the infantry would catch them in a day once they were burdened with the hearse, and they'd never stand against a thousand heavy infantry.

Whether I lived or died, I had already won.

"Ready to charge!" I shouted. We would not receive. We'd charge them in column before they were clear.

Horses stomped, each man falling into position, Glaukos on the point.

The sun rose from behind the wadis before us, glittering on my sword point and on the distant sea.

Fire, and the memory of fire.

It seemed I could shape it, craft it like a lance. The first rays of the sun blazed off the Victory that adorned the hearse, rattling down the hill behind us.

"For Ptolemy and Egypt!" I shouted.

At that moment the first cavalry came clear of the wadi and checked. They had expected to come down on our rear as we hurried away, not to meet a charge.

We stood like an arrow to the bow. The air trembled around me, waiting for the word forward.

I raised my sword and fire ran down the blade. To kindle fire, She said. To throw it like fear, like a lance into their hearts. The power of Egypt ran through me, blue and gold, licking along the edges of the blade, as though I were nothing but a channel for the mighty flood.

My horse stamped. If I swept the sword forward, I would loose the arrow. The wave would break. We would charge as one man.

The fire ran through me, light and clear and painless as water. Ptolemy and Egypt.

And they checked. They stopped at the mouth of the wadi.

Before them we waited on the road, six hundred strong, ready to charge on their first cohorts. Beyond, the hearse labored. And beyond that, coming closer every minute, the infantry at their best pace, sun glancing off the bright points of their sarissas.

I saw Polemon. And I saw what he saw. He had already lost.

His eyes met mine, and he nodded gravely, one Companion to another. And then he wheeled his horse around and kicked it, cantering back into the wadi. His men followed.

"Stand to receive!" I heard Glaukos shout, changing our formation in case they changed their mind.

It was the last thing I heard before I slipped from my horse insensible.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 31st, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
I love love LOVE the visual of the fire of Egypt, running down his sword blue and gold. It's gorgeous and wonderful and vivid and POWERFUL.
Feb. 1st, 2012 12:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's always blue and gold to me.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
My favorite part of that book is the giant crocodiles!
Feb. 2nd, 2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
Hee! There's a joke about the giant crocodiles! There were originally giant crocodiles in Hand of Isis, but I thought they came off really hokey and so I performed a crocodilectomy and removed them with the promise they could be in Stealing Fire instead. For a while I had an icon that said OMGWTFBBQ CROCODILES!
Feb. 6th, 2012 01:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, I love this scene. In some ways, it's the closest Lydias comes to Gull's awesome moment at the avatar of the Lady of Death, when she stops Xanthros from gutting her brother. It's when the character gives his or her entire being over to the Goddess, so completely that it manifests materially. Love it!
Feb. 7th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
That is the moment when Lydias gives himself over completely, yes. The first time, the second being when he lets Alexander use his body.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )