River God by willber smith -part 2

part-2

Before nightfall Pharaoh sent Aton to fetch me to an audience.

Even my old friend Aton was strained and reserved in my presence.

He leaped away nimbly when I tried to touch him, as though my hand
might pass through his flesh like a puff of smoke. As he led me along
the path inquisitive faces watched me from every window and dark corner
as we passed.

Pharaoh greeted me with a curious mixture of respect and nervousness,
most alien to a king and a god.

“Where have you been, Taita?” he asked, as though he did not really
want to hear the answer.

I prostrated myself at his feet. “Divine Pharaoh, as you yourself are
part of the godhead, I understand that you ask that question to test
me. You know that my lips are sealed.

It would be sacrilege for me to speak of these mysteries, even to you.
Please convey to the other deities who are your peers, and particularly
to Anubis, the god of the cemeteries, that I have been true to the
charge laid upon me. That I have kept the oath of silence imposed upon
me. Tell them that I have passed the test that you set me. ” His
expression glazed as he considered this, and he fidgeted nervously. I
could see him forming question after question, and then discarding each
of them in turn. I had left him no opening to exploit.

In the end he blurted out lamely, “Indeed, Taita, you have passed the
test I set you. Welcome back. You have been missed. ” But I could
see that all his suspicions were confirmed, and he treated me with that
respect due to one who had solved the ultimate mystery.

I crawled closer to him and dropped my voice to a whisper. “Great
Egypt, you know the reason-I have been sent back?” He looked
mystified, but nodded uncertainly. I came to my feet and glanced
around suspiciously, as though I expected to be overlooked by
supernatural forces. I made the sign against evil before I went on,
“The Lady Lostris. Her illness was caused by the direct influence of.
” I could not say the name, but made the horn sign with two fingers,
the sign of the dark god, Seth.

His expression changed from confusion to dread, and he shivered
involuntarily and drew closer to me, “as if for protection, as I went
on, “Before I was taken away, my mistress was already carrying in her
womb the treasure of the House of Mamose when the Dark One
intervened.

Due to her illness, the son she was bearing you has been aborted from
her womb. ” Pharaoh looked distraught. “So that is the reason that
she miscarried, ” he began, and then broke off.

I picked up my cue smoothly. “Never fear, Great Egypt, I have been
sent back by forces greater than those of the Dark One to save her, so
that the destiny that I foresaw in the Mazes of Arnmon-Ra may run its
allotted course. There will be another son to replace the one that was
lost. Your dynasty will still be secured. ” “You must not leave -the
side of the Lady Lostris until she is well again. ” His voice shook
with emotion. “If you save her and she bears me another son, you may
ask from me whatever you wish, but if she dies.. . ” he stopped as he
considered what threat might, impress one who had already returned from
beyond, and in the end let it trail away.

“With your permission, Your Majesty, I shall go to her this instant. ”
“This instant!” he agreed. “Go! Go!”

MY MISTRESS’S RECOVERY WAS SO SWIFT

that I began to suspect that I had unwittingly invoked some force
beyond my own comprehension, and I felt a superstitious awe at my own
powers.

Her flesh filled out and firmed almost as I watched. Those pitiful
empty sacs of skin swelled into plump, round breasts once again, sweet
enough to make the stone image of the god Hopi which stood at the
doorway to her chamber burn with envy. Fresh young blood suffused the
chalk of her skin until it glowed once more, and her laughter tinkled
like the fountains of our water-garden.

Very soon it was impossible to keep her to her bed.

Within three weeks of my return to Elephantine, she was playing games
of toss with her handmaidens, dancing about the garden and leaping high
to reach the inflated bladder above the heads of the others, until,
fearful that she might overtax her returning strength, I confiscated
the ball and ordered her back to her chamber. She would obey me only
after we had struck another bargain, and I had agreed long with her, or
teach her the most arcane formulas of the s” boo board which would
allow her to enjoy her first victory over Aton, who was An addict of
the game. my Aton came almost every evening to enquire about
mistress’s health on behalf of the king, and afterwards to play the
board-game with us. Aton seemed to have decided at last that I was not
a dangerous ghost, and although he treated me with a new respect, our
old friendship survived my demise.

Each morning my Lady Lostris made me repeat my promise to her.

Then she would reach for her mirror and study her reflection “without
the faintest trace of vanity, assessing every facet of her beauty to
determine if it was ready yet to be looked upon by Lord tonus.

“My hair looks like straw, and there is another pimple coming up on my
chin, ” she lamented. “Make me beautiful again, Taita. For tonus”
sake make me beautiful. ” “You have done the damage to yourself, and
then you call for Taita to make it better, ” I grumbled, and she
laughed and threw her arms around my neck.

“That’s what you are here for, you old scallywag. To look after me. ”
Each evening when I mixed a tonic for her and brought the steaming bowl
to her as she prepared for sleep, she would make me repeat my promise
to her. “Swear you will bring tonus to me, just as soon as I am ready
to receive him. ” I tried to ignore the difficulties and the dangers
that this promise would bring upon us all.

“I swear it to you, ” I repeated dutifully, and she lay back against
the ivory headrest and went to sleep with a smile upon her face. I
would worry about fulfilling my promise when the time came.

FROM ATON, PHARAOH HAD A FULL report of Lostris” recovery and came in
person to visit her. He brought her a new necklace of gold and lapis
lazuli in the form of an eagle and sat until evening, playing
word-games and setting riddles with her. When he was ready to leave,
he called me to walk with him as far as his chambers.

“The change in her is extraordinary. It is a miracle, Taita.

When can I take her to bed again? Already she seems well enough to
bear my son and heir. ” “Not yet, Great Egypt, ” I assured him
vehemently. “The slightest exertion on the part of my mistress might
trigger a relapse. ” he no longer questioned my word, for now I spoke
with all the authority of the once dead, although his previous awe of
me had worn a little thin with familiarity.

The slave girls also were becoming accustomed to my resurrection, and
were able to look at my face without having to make the sign.

Indeed, my return from the underworld, i@ was no longer the most
popular fare of the palace gossips.

They had something else to keep them busy. This was the advent of
Akh-Horus into the lives and consciousness of every person living in
the land along the great river.

The first time I heard the name Akh-Horuswhispered in the palace
corridors, I did not immediately place it. The garden of Tiamat beside
the Red Sea seemed so remote from the little world of Elephantine, and
I had forgotten the name, that Hui had bestowed on tonus. When,
however, I heard the accounts of the extraordinary deeds ascribed to
this demi-god, I realized who they were speaking about.

In a fever of excitement, I ran all the way back to the harem and found
my mistress in the garden, besieged by a dozen visitors, noble ladies
and royal wives, for she had so far recovered from her illness as to
resume once more her role as court favourite.

I was so wrought up that I forgot my place as a mere slave, and to be
rid of them I was quite rude to the royal ladies. They flounced out
from the garden squawking like, a gaggle of offended geese, and my
mistress rounded on me.

“That was unlike you. What on earth has come over you, Taita?”
“tonus!” I said the name like an incantation, and she forgot all her
indignation and seized both my hands.

“You have news of tonus! Tell me! Quickly, before I die of
impatience. ” “News? Yes, I have news of him. What news! What
extraordinary news. What unbelievable news!” She dropped my hands and
picked up her formidable silver fan. “Stop your nonsense this instant,
” she threatened me with it. “I’ll not put up with your teasing. Tell
me, or I swear you’ll have more lumps on your head than a Nubian has
fleas. ” “Come! Let’s go where nobody can hear us. ” I led her down
to the jetty and handed her into our little skiff. Out in the middle
of the river we were safe from the flapping ears that lurked behind
each corner of the palace walls.

“There is a fresh, clean wind blowing through the land” I told her.
“They call this wind Akh-Horus. ” The brother of Horus, ” she breathed
it with reverence.

“Is this what they call tonus now?” “None of them know it is tonus.

They think he is a god. ” “He is a god, ” she insisted. “To me, he is
a god. ” “That is how they see it also. If he were not a god, then
how would he know where the Shrikes are skulking, ho else would he
march unerringly to their strongholds, how would he know instinctively
where they are waiting to way-lay the incoming caravans, and to
surprise them in their own ambuscades?” “Has he accomplished all these
things?” she demanded in wonder.

“These deeds and a hundred others, if you can believe the wild rumours
that are flying about the palace. They say that every thief and bandit
in the land runs in terror of his life, that the clans of the Shrikes
are being shattered One by one.

They say that Akh-Horus sprouted wings, like those of an eagle, and
flew up the inaccessible cliffs of Gebel-UmmBahari to appear
miraculously in the midst of the clan of Basti the Cruel. With his own
hands, he hurled five hundred of the bandits from the top -of the
cliffs.. . ” “Tell me more!” She clapped her hands, almost capsizing
the skiff in her enthusiasm.

“They say that at every crossroads and beside every caravan route he
has built tall monuments to his passing. ” “Monuments? What monuments
are these?” “Piles of human skulls, high pyramids of skulls.

The heads of the bandits he has slain, as a warning to others. ” My
mistress shuddered with delicious horror, but her face still shone.

“Has he killed so many?” she demanded.

“Some say he has slain five thousand, and some say fifty thousand.

There art even some who say one hundred thousand, but I think those
must be exaggerating a little. ” “Tell me more! More!”

“They say he has already captured at least six of the robber barons.. ”
“And chopped off their heads!” she anticipated me with ghoulish
relish.

“No, they say that he has not killed them, but transformed them into
baboons. They say he keeps them in a cage for his amusement. ” “Is
all of this posible?” she giggled.

“For a god, anything is possible. ” “He is my god. Oh, Taita, when
will you let me see him?”

“Soon, ” I promised. “Your beauty burns up brighter every day.

Soon it will be fully restored. ” “In the meantime you must gather
every story and every rumour of Akh-Horus and bring them to me. ” She
sent me to the shipping wharf every day to question the crews of the
barges coming down from the north for news of Akh-Horus.

“They are saying now that nobody has ever seen the face of Akh-Horus,
for he wears a helmet with a visor that covers all but his eyes. They
say also that in the heat of battle the head of Akh-Horus bursts into
flame, a flame that blinds his enemies, ” I reportedt her after one
such visit.

“In the sunlight I have seen tonus” hair seem to burn with a heavenly
light, ” my mistress confirmed.

On another morning I could tell her, “They say that he can multiply his
earthly body like the images in a mirror, that he can be in many
different places at one time, for on the same day he can be seen in
Qena and Kom-Ombo, a hundred miles apart. ” “Is that possible?” she
asked, with awe.

“Some say this is not true. They say that he can cover these great
distances only because he never sleeps. They say that in the night
hours he gallops through the darkness on the back of a lion, and in the
day he soars through, the sky on the back of an enormous white eagle to
fall upon his enemies when they least expect it. ” “That could be
true. ” She nodded seriously. “I do not believe about the mirror
images, but the lion and the eagle might be true. tonus could do
something like that. I believe it. ” “I think it more likely that
everybody in Egypt is eager to set eyes upon Akh-Horus, and that the
desire is father to the act. They see him behind every bush. As to
the speed of his travels, well, I have marched with the guards and I
can vouch for.. . ” She would not allow me to finish, but interrupted
primly.

“There is no romance in your soul, Taita. You would doubt that the
clouds are the fleece of Osiris” flocks, and that the sun is the face
of Ra, simply because you cannot reach up and touch them. for my part,
I believe tonus is capable of all these things. ” Which assertion put
an end to the argument, and I hung my head in submission.

IN THE AFTERNOONS THE TWO OF US REsumed our old practice of strolling
through the streets. and the market-places. As before her illness, my
mistress was welcomed by an adoring populace, and she stopped to speak
with all of them, no. matter their station or their calling. From
priests to prostitutes, none was immune to her loveliness and her
unfeigned charm.

Always she was able to turn the conversation to Ak hHorus, and the
people were as eager as she was to discuss the new god. By this time
he had been promoted in the popular imagination from demi-god to a full
member of the pantheon. The citizens of Elephantine had already begun
a subscription for the building of a temple to Akh-Horus, to which my
mistress had made a most generous donation.

A site for the temple had been chosen on the bank of the river opposite
the temple of Horus, his brother, and Pharaoh had made the formal
declaration of his intention to dedicate the building in person.

Pharaoh had every reason to be grateful. There was a new spirit of
confidence abroad. As the caravan routes were made secure, so the
volume of trade between the Upper Kingdom and the rest of the world
blossomed.

Where before one caravan had arrived from the East, now four made a
safe crossing of the desert, and as many set out on the return journey.
To supply the caravan masters, pack-donkeys Oere needed in their
thousands, and the farmers and breeders drove them into the cities,
grinning at the expectation of the high prices they would receive.

Because it was now safe to work the fields furthest from the protection
of the city walls, crops were planted where for decades only weeds had
grown, and the farmers, who had been reduced to beggars, began to
prosper again. The oxen drew the sledges piled high with produce along
the roads that were now protected by the legions of Akh-Horus, and the
markets were filled with fresh produce.

Some of the profits of the merchants and the land-owners from these
ventures were spent in the building of new villas in the countryside,
where it was once more deemed safe to take their families to live.
Artisans and craftsmen, who had walked the streets of Thebes
and-Elephantine seeking employment for their skills, were suddenly in
demand, and used their wages to buy not only the necessities of life
but luxuries for themselves and their families. The markets were
thronged.

The volume of traffic up and down the Nile swelled dramatically, so
that more craft were needed, and the new keels were laid down in every
shipyard. The captains and crews of the river boats and the shipyard
workers spent their neww earth in the taverns and pleasure-houses, so
that the prostitutes and the courtesans clamoured for fine clothes and
baubles, and the tailors and the jewellers thrived and built new homes,
while their wives prowled the markets with gold and silver in their
purses, looking for everything from new slaves to cooking-pots.

Egypt was coming to life again, after being strangled for all these
years by the depredations of Akh-Seth and the Shrikes.

As a result -of all this, the state revenues burgeoned, and Pharaoh’s
tax-collectors circled above it all with as much relish as the vultures
above the corpses of the bandits that Akh-Horus and his legions were
strewing across the countryside. Of course Pharaoh was grateful.

So were my mistress and I. At my suggestion, the two of us invested in
a share of a trading expedition that was setting out eastwards into
Syria. When the expedition returned six months later, we found that we
had made a profit of fifty times our original investment. My mistress
bought herself a string of pearls and five new female slaves to make my
life miserable. Prudent as always, I used my share to acquire five
plots of prime land on the east bank of the river, and one of the law
scribes drew up the deeds and had them registered in the temple
books.

THEN CAME THE DAY that I HAD BEEN dreading. One morning my mistress
studied her reflection in the mirror with even more attention than
usual, and declared that she was ready at last. In all fairness, I had
grudgingly to agree that she had never looked more lovely. It was as
though all she had suffered recently had tempered her to a new
resilience.

The last traces of girlishness, uncertainty, and puppy fat had
evaporated from her features, and she had become a woman, mature and
composed.

“I trusted you, Taita. Now prove to me that I was not silly to do so.
Bring tonus to me. ” When tonus and I had parted at Safaga, we had
been unable to -agree on any sure method of exchanging messages.

“I will be on the march every day, and who can tell where this campaign
will lead me. Do not let the Lady Lostris worry if she does not- hear
from me. Tell her I will send a message when my task is completed. But
tell her that I will be there when the fruits of our love are ripe upon
the tree, and are ready for plucking. ” Thus it was that we had heard
nothing of him other than the wild rumours of the wharves and
bazaars.

Once again it seemed that the gods had intervened to save me, this time
from the wrath, of my Lady Lostris. There was a fresh rumour in the
market-place that day. A caravan coming down the northern road had
encountered a recently erected pyramid of human heads at the roadside”
not two miles beyond the city walls. The heads were so fresh that they
were stinking only a little and had not yet been cleaned of flesh by
the crows and vultures.

“This means only one thing, ” the gossips told each other.

“This means that Akh-Horus is in the nome of Assoun, bprobably within
sight of the walls of Elephantine. He has fallen upon the remnants of
the clan of Akheku, who have been skulking in the desert since their
baron had his head hacked off at Gallala. Akh-Horus has slaughtered
the last of the bandits, and piled their heads at the roadside. Thanks
be to the new god, the south has been cleared of the dreaded
Shrikes!”

This was news indeed, the best I had heard in weeks, and

I was in a fever to take it to my mistress. I pushed my way through
the throng of sailors and merchants and fishermen on the wharf to find
a boatman to take me back to the island.

Somebody tugged at my arm, and I shrugged the hand away irritably.

Despite the new prosperity sweeping the land, or perhaps because of it,
the beggars were more demanding than ever. This one was not so easily
put off, and I turned back to him, angrily raising my staff to drive
him off.

“Do not strike an old friend! I have a message for you from one of the
gods, ” the beggar whined, and I stayed the blow and gaped at him.

My heart soared as I recognized the sly grin of the erstwhile robber.
“What are you doing here?” I did not wait for a reply to my famous
question, but went on swiftly, “Follow me at a distance. ” I led him
to one of the pleasure-houses in a narrow alley beyond the harbour that
provided rooms to couples, of the same or of mixed gender.

They rented the rooms for a short period measured by a water-clock set
at, the door, and charged a large copper ring for this service. I paid
this exorbitant fee and the moment we were alone, I seized Hui by his
ragged cloak.

“What news of your master?” I demanded, and he chuckled with
infuriating insolence.

“My throat is so dry I can hardly speak. ” Already he had adopted all
the swagger and insolent panache of a trooper of the Blues.

How quickly a monkey learns new tricks! I shouted for the porter to
bring up a pot of beer. Hui drank like a thirsty donkey, then lowered
the pot and belched happily.

“The god Akh-Horus sends greetings, to you and to another whose name
cannot be mentioned. He bids me tell you that the task is completed
and that all the birds are in the cage. He reminds you that it lacks
only a few months to the next festival of Osiris and it is time to
write a new script for the passion play for the amusement of the king.
” “Where is he? How long will it take for you to return to him?” I
demanded eagerly.

“I can be with him before Ammon the sun god, plunges beyond the western
hills, ” Hui declared, and I glanced through the window at the sun
which was halfway down the sky. tonus was lying up very close to the
city, and I rejoiced anew. How I longed to feel his rough. embrace,
and hear that great booming laugh of his!

Grinning to myself in anticipation, I paced up and down the filthy
floor of the room while I decided on the message that I would give Hui
to take back to him.

It WAS ALMOSt. DARK WHEN I STEPPED ashore on our little jetty and
hurried up the steps.

One of the slave girls was weeping at the gate, and rubbing her swollen
ear.

“She struck me, ” the girl whimpered, and I saw that her dignity had
suffered more than her ear.

“Do not refer to the Lady Lostris as “she”, ” I scolded her.

“Anyway, what have you to complain of? Slaves are there to be struck.
” None the less, it was unusual for my mistress to lift a hand to
anyone in her household. She must indeed be in a fine mood, I thought,
and slowed my pace. Proceeding warily now, I arrived just as another
of the girls fled weeping from the chamber. My mistress appeared in
the doorway behind her, flushed with anger. “You have turned my hair
into a hay-stack.. . ” She saw me then and broke off her tirade. She
rounded on me with such gusto that I knew that I was the true object of
her ire.

“Where have you been?” she demanded. “I sent you to the harbour
before noon. How dare you leave me “waiting so long?” She advanced
upon me with such an expression that I backed off nervously. “He is
here, ” I told her hastily, and then dropped my voice so that none of
the slave girls could hear me. “tonus is here, ” I whispered, “the day
after tomorrow I will make good my promise to you. ” Her mood swung in
a full circle and she leaped up to throw her arms around my neck, then
she went off to find her offended girls and to comfort them.

AS PAR?” OF HIS ANNUAL TRIBUTE THE

M11 vassal king of the amorites had sent Pharaoh a pair

Ai of trained hunting cheetahs from his kingdom across the Red Sea.

The king was eager to run these magnificent creatures against the herds
of gazelle that abounded in the desert dunes of the west bank.

The entire court, including my mistress, had been commanded to attend
the course.

We sailed across to the west bank in a fleet of small river craft,
white sails and bright-coloured pennants fluttering.

There was laughter and the music of lute an sistrum to accompany us.
The annual flooding of the great river would begin within days, and
this expectation, together with the prosperous new climate of the land,
enhanced the carnival mood of the court.

My mistress was in a gayer mood than any of them, and she called merry
greetings to her friends in the other boats as our felucca cut through
the green summer waters at such a rate as to deck our bows with a lacy
white garland of foam and leave a shining wake behind us.

It seemed that I was the only one who was not happy and carefree.

The wind had a harsh, abrasive edge to it, and was blowing from the
wrong quarter. I kept glancing anxiously at the western sky. It was
cloudless and bright, but there was a brassy sheen to the heavens that
was unnatural. It was almost as though another sun was dawning from
the opposite direction to the one we know so well.

I put aside my misgivings and tried to enter into the spirit of the
outing. I failed in this, for I had more than the weather to worry
about. If one part of my plan went awry, my life would be in danger,
and perhaps other lives more valuable than mine would be at risk.

I must have shown all this on my face, for my mistress udged me, with
her pretty painted toe and told me, “Son glum, Toira? Everyone who
looks at you will know that you are up to something. Smile! I command
you to smile. ” When we landed on the west bank, there was an army of
slaves waiting for us there. Grooms holding splendid white riding
donkeys from the royal stables, all caparisoned with silk.

Pack-donkeys laden with tents and rugs and baskets “of food and wine,
and all the other provisions for a royal picnic. There was a regiment
of slaves in attendance, some to hold sun-shades above the ladies,
others to wait upon the noble guests. There were clowns and acrobats
and’ musicians to entertain. them, and a hundred huntsmen to provide
the sport.

The cheetah cage was loaded on a sledge drawn by a team of white oxen,
and the court gathered around the vehicle to admire these rare beasts.
They did not occur naturally in our land, for they were creatures of
the open grassy savannah, and there was none of this type of terrain
along the river.

They were the first that I had ever seen, and my curiosity was so
aroused that for a while I forgot my other worries and went up as close
to the cage as I could push through the crowd without jostling or
treading on the toes of some irascible nobleman.

They were the most beautiful cats that I could imagine, taller and
leaner than our leopards, with long, clean limbs and concave bellies.
Their sinuous tails seemed to give expression to their mood.

Their golden hides were starred with rosettes of deepest black, while
from the inner corner of each of their eyes, a line of black was
painted down the cheek like a runnel of tears. This, with their regal
bearing, gave them a tragic and romantic air that I found enchanting.

I longed to own one of these creatures, and I decided on the moment to
put the thought into the mind of my mistress. Pharaoh had never
refused one of her whims.

Too soon for my liking, the barque carrying the king across the river
arrived on the west bank, and with the rest of the court we hurried to
the landing to greet him.

Pharaoh was dressed in light hunting garb and for once seemed relaxed
and happy. He stopped beside my mistress and while she made a ritual
obeisance, he enquired graciously about her health. I was filled with
dread that he might decide to keep her by his side throughout the day,
which would have upset all my arrangements” However, the hunting
cheetah caught his attention and he passed by . without giving my
mistress any order to follow.

We lost ourselves in the throng and made our way to where a donkey was
being held for my Lady Lostris. While I helped her to mount, I spoke
quietly to the groom. When he told me what I wanted to hear, I slipped
a ring of silver into his hand, and it disappeared, as though by
magic.

With one slave leading her and another holding a sunshade over her, my
mistress and I followed the Vanguard and the sledge out into the
desert. With frequent stops for refreshment, it took us half the
morning to reach the Valley of the Gazelles. On the way we passed at a
distance the ancient cemetery of Tras which dated from the time of the
very first pharaohs. Some of the wise men said that the tombs had been
carved from the cliff of black rock three thousand years ago, although
how they reached this conclusion I could not tell. Without making it
obvious, I studied the entrances of the tombs keenly as we passed.

However, from so far off I could make out no trace of recent human
presence around them, and I was unreasonably disappointed. I kept
glancing back, as we went on.

The Valley of the Gazelles was one of the royal hunting preserves,
protected by the decrees of a long line of pharaohs. A company of
royal gamekeepers was permanently stationed in the hills above the
valley to enforce the king’s proclamation reserving a the creatures in
it to himself. The penalty for hunting here without the royal
authority was death by strangulation.

The nobles dismounted on the crest of one of these hills overlooking
the broad brown valley. With despatch the tents were set up to give
them shade, and jars of sherbet and beer were broached to slake the
thirst of their journey.

I made certain that my mistress and I secured a good vantage-point from
which to watch the hunt, but one from which we could also withdraw
discreetly without attracting undue attention to ourselves.

In the distance I could make out the herds of gazelle through the
wavering watery mirage on the floor of the valley. I pointed them out
to my mistress.

“What do they find to eat down there?” my Lady Lostris asked.

“There is not a trace of green. They must eat stones, for there are
enough of those. ” “Many of those are not stones at all, but living
plants, ” I told her. When she laughed in disbelief, I searched the
rocky ground and plucked a handful of those miraculous plants.

“They are stones, ” she insisted, until she held one in her hand and
crushed it. The thick juice trickled over her fingers, an she
marvelled at the cunning of whatever god had devised this deception.

“This is what they live on? It does not seem possible. ” We could not
continue this conversation, because the hunt was beginning. Two of the
royal huntsmen opened the cage and the hunting cheetahs leaped down to
earth. I expected them to attempt- to escape, but they were tame as
temple cats and rubbed themselves affectionately against the legs of
their handlers. The cats uttered a strange twittering sound, more like
a bird than a savage predator.

Along the far side of the brown, scorched valley bottom I could make
out the line of beaters, their forms tiny and distortedb distance and
mirage. They were moving slowlyy in our direction, and the herds of
antelope were beginning to drift ahead of them.

While the king and his huntsmen, with the cheetahs on leash, moved down
the slope towards the valley bottom, we and the rest of the court
remained on the crest. The courtiers were already placing wagers with
one another, and I was as eager as any of them to watch the outcome of
the hunt, but my” mistress had her mind on other matters.

“When can we go?” she whispered. “When can we escape into the
desert?” “Once the hunt begins, all their eyes will be upon it. That
will be our opportunity. ” Even As I spoke, the wind that had blown us
across the river and cooled us on the march suddenly dropped. It was
as though a coppersmith had opened the door of his forge. The air
became almost too hot to breathe.

Once again I looked to the western horizon. the sky above it had
turned a sulphurous yellow. Even as I watched, the stain seemed to
spread across the heavens. It made me uneasy. However, I was the only
one in the crowd who seemed to notice this strange phenomenon.

Although the hunting party was now at the bottom of the hill, it was
still close enough for me to observe the great cats. They had seen the
herds of gazelle which were being driven slowly towards them. This had
transformed them from pets into the savage hunters they ‘truly were.
Their heads were up, intent and alert, ears pricked forward, leaning
against the leash. Their concave bellies were sucked in, and every
muscle was taut as a bowstring drawn to full stretch.

My mistress tugged at my skirt, and whispered imperatively, “Let us be
gone, Taita, ” and reluctantly I began to edge- away towards a clump of
rocks that would cover our retreat and screen us from the rest of the
company. The bribe of silver to the groom had procured for & a donkey
that was now tethered out of sight amongst the rocks. As soon as we
reached it, I checked that it- carried what I had ordered, the
water-skin and the leather bag of provisions. I found that they were
all in order.

I could not restrain myself, and I pleaded with my mistress; “Just one
moment more. ” Before she could forbid it, I scrambled to the top of
the rocky outcrop and peeped down into the valley below.

The nearest antelope were crossing a few hundred paces in front of
where Pharaoh held the pair of cheetahs on the leash. I was just in
time to watch him slip them and send them away. They started out at an
easy lope, heads up, as if they were studying the herds of daintily
trotting antelope to select their prey. Suddenly the herds became
aware of their rapid approach, and they burst into full flight. Like a
flock of swallows they skimmed away across the dusty plain.

The cats stretched out their long bodies, reaching far ahead with their
forepaws and, then whipping their hindquarters through, doubling their
lean torsos before stretching out again. Swiftly they built up to the
top of their speed, and I had never seen an animal so swift.

Compared to them, the herds of gazelle seemed suddenly to have run into
swampy ground and to have had their flight impeded. With effortless
elegance, the two cats overhauled the herd, and ran past one or two
stragglers before they caught up with the victims of their choice.

The panic-stricken antelopes tried to dodge the deadly rush.

They leaped high and changed direction in mid-air, twisting and
doubling back the moment their dainty hooves touched the scorched
earth. The cats followed each of the convolutions with graceful ease,
and the end was inevitable.

Each of them bore one of the gazelle to earth in a sliding, tumbling
cloud of dust, and then crouched over it, jaws clamped across the
windpipe to strangle it while the gazelle’s back legs kicked out
convulsively, and then at last stiffened into the rigor of death.

I found myself shaken and breathless with the excitement of -it all.
Then my mistress’s voice roused me. “Taita! Come down immediately.
They will see you perched up there. ” And I slid down to rejoin her.

Although I was still wrought up, I boosted her into the saddle and led
the donkey down into the dead ground where we, were out of sight of the
company on the hilltop behind us. My mistress could not sustain her
irritation with me for very long, and when I slyly mentioned tonus”
name again she forgot it entirely, and urged her mount on towards the
rendezvous.

Only after I had placed another ridge behind us and was certain that we
were well clear of the Valley of the Gazelles, did I head back directly
towards the cemetery- of Tras. In the still, hot air, the sound of our
donkey’s hooves clinked and crackled on the stones as though it were
passing over a bed of broken glass. Soon I felt the sweat break out
upon my skin, for the air was close and heavy with a feeling of
thunder. Long before. we reached the tombs, I told my mistress, “The
air is dry as old bones. You should drink a little water.. . ” “Keep
on! There will be plenty of time to drink your fill later. ” “I was
thinking only of you, mistress, ” I protested.

“We must not be late. Every moment you waste will give me that much
less with tonus. ” She was right, of course, for we would have little
enough time before we were missed by the others. My mistress was so
popular that many would be looking to enjoy her company once the hunt
was over and they were returning to the river.

As we drew closer to the cliffs, so her eagerness increased on until
she could no longer stand the pace of her mount. She leaped off its
back and ran ahead to the next rise. “There it is! That is where he
will be waiting for me, ” she cried, and pointed ahead. ” As she
danced on the skyline, the wind came at us like a ravening wolf,
howling amongst the hills and canyons. It caught my mistress’s hair
and spread it like a flag, snapping and tangling it around her head.

It lifted her skirts high above her slim brown thighs, and she laughed
and pirouetted, flirting with the wind as though it were her lover. I
did not share her delight.

I turned and looked back and saw the storm coming out of the Sahara. It
towered into the sullen yellow heavens, dark and awful, billowing upon
itself like surf breaking on a coral reef. The wind-blown sand scoured
my legs and I broke into a run, dragging the donkey behind me on its
lead.

The wind thrusting into my back almost knocked me off my feet, but I
caught my mistress.

“We must be quick, ” I shouted above the wind. “We must reach the
shelter of the tombs before it hits us. ” High clouds of sand blew
across the sun, dimming it until I could look directly at it with my
naked eye. All the world was washed with that sombre shade of ochre,
and the sun was a dull ball of orange. Flying sand raked the exposed
skin of our limbs and the backs of our necks, until I wound my shawl
around my mistress’s head to protect her, and led her forward by the
hand.

Sheets of driven sand engulfed us, blotting out our surroundings, so
that I feared I had lost direction, until abruptly a hole opened in the
curtains of sand, and I saw the dark mouth of one of the tombs appear
ahead of us.

Dragging my mistress with one hand and our donkey with the other, I
staggered into the shelter of the cave. The entrance-shaft was carved
from the solid rock. It led us deep into the hillside, and then made a
sharp turn before entering the burial chamber where once the ancient
mummy had been laid to rest. Centuries before, the grave-robbers had
disposed of the embalmed body and all its treasures.

Now all that remained were the faded frescoes upon the stone walls,
images of gods and, monsters that were ghostly in the gloom.

My mistress sank down against the rock wall but her first thoughts were
for her love. “tonus will never find us now, ” she cried in despair,
and I who had led her to safety was hurt by her ingratitude.

I unsaddled our donkey and heaped the load in a corner of the tomb.

Then I drew a cup of water from the skin and made her drink.

“What will happen to the others, the king and all our friends?” she
asked, between gulps from the cup. It was her nature to think of the
welfare of others, even in her own predicament.

“They have the huntsmen to care for them, ” I told her.

“They are good men and know the desert.. ” But not well enough to have
anticipated the storm, I thought grimly. Although I sought to reassure
her, I knew it would go hard with the women and children out there.

“And tonus?” she asked. “What will become of him?” “tonus especially
will know what to do. He is like one of the Bedouin. You can be sure
he will have seen the storm coming. ” “Will we ever get back to the
river? Will they ever find us here?” At last she thought of her own
safety.

“We will be safe here. We have water enough for many days. When the
storm blows itself out, we will find our way back to the river. ”
Thinking of the precious water, I carried the bulging skin further into
the tomb, where the donkey would not trample it. By now it was almost
completely dark, and I fumbled with the lamp that the slave had
provided from the pack, and blew upon the smouldering wick. It flared
and lit the tomb with a cheery yellow light.

While I was still busy with the lamp and my back was turned to the
entrance, my mistress screamed. It was a sound so high and filled with
such mortal terror that I was struck with equal dread, and the courses
of my blood ran thick and slow as honey, although my heart raced like
the hooves of the flying gazelle. I spun about and reached for my
dagger, but when I saw the monster whose bulk filled the doorway, I
froze without touching the weapon on my belt. I knew instinctively
that my puny blade would avail us not at all against” whatever this
creature might be.

In the feeble light of the lamp the form was indistinct and distorted.
I saw that it had a human shape, but it was too large to be a man, and
the grotesque head convinced me that this was indeed that dreadful
crocodile-headed monster from the underworld that devours the hearts of
. those who are found wanting on the scales of Thoth, the monster
depicted on the walls of the tomb. The head gleamed with reptilian
scales, and the beak was that of an eagle or a gigantic turtle. The
eyes were deep and fathomless pits that stared at us implacably. Great
wings sprouted from its shoulders. Half-curled, they flapped about the
towering body like those of a falcon at flight. I expected the
creature to launch itself on those wings and to rend my mistress with
brazen talons. She must have dreaded this as much as I, for she
screamed again as she crouched at the monster’s feet.

Then suddenly I realized that the creature was not winged, but that the
folds of a long woollen cape, such as the Bedouin wear, were flogging
on the wind. While we were still frozen by this horrible presence, it
raised both Its hands and lifted off the gilded war helmet with the
visor fashioned like the head of an eagle. Then it shook its head and
a mass of red-gold curls tumbled down on to the broad shoulders.

“From the top of the cliff I saw you coming through the storm, ” it
said in those dear familiar tones.

My mistress screamed again, this time with wildly ringing joy.
“tonus!” She flew to him, and he gathered her up as though she were a
child and lifted her so high that her head brushed the rock roof.

Then- he brought her down and folded her to his chest. From the cradle
of his arms, she reached up with her mouth for his, and it seemed that
they might devour each other with the strength of their need.

I stood forgotten in the shadows of the tomb. Although i had conspired
and risked so much to bring them together, I cannot bring myself to
write down here the feelings that assailed me as I was made reluctant
witness to their rapture.

I believe that jealousy is the most ignoble of all our emotions, and
yet I loved the Lady Lostris as well as tonus did, and not with the
love of a father or of a brother, either. I was a eunuch, but what I
felt for her was the love of a natural man, hopeless of course, but all
the more bitter because of that. I could not stay and watch them and I
began to slink from the tomb like a whipped puppy, but tonus saw me
leaving and broke that kiss which was threatening to destroy my soul.

“Taita, don’t leave me alone with the wife of the king.

Stay with us to protect me from this terrible temptation. Our honour
is in jeopardy. I cannot trust myself, you must stay and see that I
bring no “Shame to the wife of Pharaoh. ” “Go, ” cried my Lady Lostris
from his arms. “Leave us alone. I’ll listen to no talk of shame or
honour now. Our love has been too long denied. I cannot wait for the
prophecy of the Mazes to run its course. Leave us alone now, gentle
Taita. ” I fled from the chamber as though my life was in danger.

I might have run out into the storm and perished there. That way I
would have found surcease, but I was too much of a coward, and I let
the wind drive me back. I stumbled to a corner of the shaft where the
wind could no longer harry me, and I sank to the stone floor. I.
pulled my shawl over” my head to stop my eyes and my ears, but although
the storm roared along the cliff, it could not drown the sounds from
the burial chamber.

For two days the storm blew with unabated ferocity. I slept for part
of that time, forcing myself to seek oblivion, but whenever I awoke, I
could hear them, and the sounds of their love tortured me.

Strange that I had never known such distress when my mistress was with
the king-but then on the other hand not so strange, for the old man had
meant nothing to her.

This was another world of torment for me. The cries, the groans, the
whispers tore at my heart. The rhythmic sobs of a young woman that
were not those of pain threatened to destroy me. Her wild scream of
final rapture was more agonizing to me than the cut of the
gelding-knife.

At last the wind abated and died away, moaning at the foot of the
cliffs. The light strengthened and I realized that it was the third
day of my incarceration in the tomb. I roused myself and called to
them, not daring to enter the inner chamber for fear of what I might
discover. For a while there was no reply, and then my mistress spoke
in a husky, bemuse voice that echoed eerily down the shaft. “Taita, is
that you? I thought that I had died in the storm and been carried to
the western fields of paradise. ” ONCE THE STORM HAD DROPPED, WE HAD
very little time remaining. The royal huntsmen would already be
searching for us. The storm had given [ us the best possible excuse
for our absence. I was sure that the survivors of the hunting party
would be scattered across these terrible hills. But the Indian
search-party must not discover , us in the company of tonus.

On the other hand, tonus and I had barely spoken during these last
days, and there was much to discuss. Hastily we made our plans,
standing in the entrance to the shaft.

My mistress was quiet and composed as I had seldom seen her before. No
longer the irrepressible chatterbox, she stood beside tonus, watching
his face with a new serenity.

Her eyes never left his face, and occasionally she reached out to touch
him, reminded me of a priestess serving before the image of her god. as
if to reassure herself that it was truly he.

When she did this, tonus broke off whatever he was saying and gave all
his attention to those dark green eyes.

I had to call him back to the business we still had not completed.

In the presence of such manifest adoration, my own feelings were base
and mean. I forced myself to rejoice for them.

It took longer to finish our business than I deemed wise, but at last I
embraced tonus in farewell and urged the donkey out into the sunlight
that was filtered by the fine yellow dust that still filled the air..
My mistress lingered, and I waited for her in the valley below.

Looking back, I saw them emerge from the cave at last.

They stood gazing at each other for a long moment without touching, and
then tonus turned and strode away. My mistress watched until he was
gone from her sight, then she came down to where I waited.

She walked like a woman in a dream.

I helped her to mount, and while I adjusted the saddle girth, she
reached down and took my hand. “Thank you, ” she said simply.

“I do not deserve your gratitude, ” I demurred.

“I am the happiest creature in all the world. Everything told me that
your love is true. Please rejoice for me, even though.. . ” she did
not finish, and suddenly I realized that she had read my innermost
feelings. Even in her own great joy, she grieved that she had caused
me pain. I think I loved her more in that moment than I had ever done
before.

I turned away and took up the reins, and led her back towards the
Nile.

ONE OF THE ROYAL HUNTSMEN SPIED US A from a far hilltop, and hailed us
heartily.

“We have been searching for you at the king’s command, ” he told us, as
he hurried to join us. “Was the king saved?” I asked.

“He is safe in the palace on Elephantine Island, and he has commanded
that the Lady Lostris be brought to him directly she is found. ” As we
set foot on the palace jetty, Aton was there, puffing out his painted
cheeks with relief and fussing over my mistress. “They have found the
bodies of twenty-three unfortunates who perished in the storm, ” he
told us with ghoulish relish. “All were certain that you would be
found dead also.

However I prayed at the temple of Hopi for your safe return. ” He
looked pleased with himself, and I was annoyed that he tried to claim
the credit for her survival for himself.

He allowed us only time enough to wash hastily and anoint our dry skin
with perfumed oil, before he whisked us away to the audience with the
king.

Pharaoh was truly moved to have my mistress returned to him. I am sure
he had come to love her as much as any of the others, and not merely
for the promise of immortality that he saw in her. A tear tangled in
his eyelash and smeared the paint on his cheek as she knelt before him,
“I thought you were lost, ” he told her, and would have embraced her,
had etiquette permitted it. “Instead I find you prettier and livelier
than ever. ” Which was true, for love -had gilded her with its special
magic.

“Taita saved me, ” she told Pharaoh. “He guided me to a shelter and
protected me through all those terrible days.

Without him I would have perished, like those other poor souls. ” “Is
this true, Taita?” Pharaoh demanded of me directly, and I assumed my
modest expression, and murmured, “I am but a humble instrument of the
gods. ” He smiled at me, for I knew he had become fond of me also.

“You have rendered us many services, But this is the most valuable of
them all. Approach!” he commanded, and I knelt before him.

Aton stood beside him, holding a small cedar-wood box.

He lifted the lid and proffered it to the king. From the case Pharaoh
lifted out a gold chain. It was of the purest unalloyed gold, and bore
the marks of the royal jewellers to estimate its weight of twenty de
ben att The king held the chain over my head and intoned, “I bestow
upon you the Gold of Praise. ” He lowered it on to my shoulders, and
the oppressive weight was a delight to me. This decoration was the
highest mark of royal favour, usually reserved for generals and
ambassadors, or for high officials such as Lord Inter. I doubted that
ever in the history of this very Egypt had the gold chain been placed
around the neck of a lowly slave.

That was not the end of the gifts and awards that were to be bestowedu
on me, for my mistress was not to be outp done. That evening’ while I
was attending her bath, she suddenly dismissed her slaves and, standing
naked before me, she told me, “You may help me to dress, Taita. ” She
allowed me this privilege when she was especially well pleased with me.
She knew just how much I enjoyed having her to myself in these intimate
circumstances.

Her loveliness was covered only by the glossy tresses of her sable
hair. It seemed that those days she had spent with tonus had filled
her with a new quality of beauty. It originated from deep within her.
A lamp placed inside an alabaster jar will shine through the
translucent sides-, in the same way, the Lady Lostris seemed to glow.

“I never dreamed that such a poor vessel as this body of mine could
contain such joy.. ” She stroked her own flanks as she said it and
looked down at herself, inviting me to do the same. “All that you
promised me came to pass while I was with tonus. Pharaoh has bestowed
the Gold of Praise upon you, it is fitting that I also show my
appreciation to you. I want you to share my happiness in some way. ”
“Serving you is all the reward I could wish for. ” “Help me to dress,
” she ordered, and lifted her hands above her head. Her breasts
changed shape as she moved.

Over the year I had watched them grow from tiny immature figs into
these round, creamy pomegranates, more beautiful than jewels or marble
sculptures. I held the diaphanous nightdress over her, and then let it
float down over her body.

It covered her, but did not obscure her loveliness, in. the same way
that the morning mist decks the waters of the Nile in the dawn.

“I have commanded a banquet, and sent invitations to the royal ladies.
” “Very well, my lady. I shall see to it. ” “No, no, Taita.

The banquet is in your honour. You will sit beside me as my guest. ”
This was as shocking as any of the wild schemes she had thought up
recently. “It is not fitting, mistress. You will offend against
custom. ” “I am the wife of Pharaoh. I set the customs. During the
banquet I will have a” gift for you, and I will present it to you in
the sight of all. ” “Will you tell me what this gift is?” I asked,
with some trepidation. I was never sure of what mischief she would
dream up next.

“Certainly I will tell you what it is. ” She smiled mysteriously.

“It is a secret, that’s what it is. ” EVEN THOUGH I WAS THE GUESt. OF
HONour, I could not leave the arrangements for the banquet to cooks and
giggling slave girls. After all, the reputation of my mistress as a
hostess was at stake.

I was at the market before dawn to procure the finest, freshest produce
from the farms and the river, I promised Aton that he would be invited,
and he opened the king’s wine cellar and let me make my selection. I
hired and rehearsed the best musicians and acrobats in the city. I
sent out the slaves to gather hyacinth and lily and lotus from the
banks of the river to augment the masses of blooms that already
decorated our garden. I had the weavers plait tiny arks of reeds on
which I floated coloured glass lamps and set them adrift on the ponds
of our water-garden. I set out leather cushions and garlands of
flowers for each guest, and jars of perfumed oil to coot them in the
sultry night and drive away the mosquitoes.

At nightfall the royal ladies began to arrive in all their frippery and
high fashion. Some of them had even shaved their heads and replaced
their, natural hair with elaborate wigs woven from the hair which the
wives of the poor were forced to sell, in order to feed their brats.
This was a fashion I abhorred and I vowed to do all in my power to
prevent my mistress from succumbing to such folly. Her lustrous
tresses were amongst my chief delights, but when it comes to” fashion,
even the most sensible woman is not to be trusted.

When, at the insistence of my mistress, I seated myself on the cushion
beside her, rather than taking my usual position behind her, I could
see that many of our guests were scandalized by such indecorous
behaviour, and they whispered to each other behind their fans. I was
just as uncomfortable as they were, and to cover my embarrassment, I
signalled the slaves to keep the wine cups filled, the musiCians to
play, and the dancers to dance.

The wine was robust, the music rousing, and the dancers were all male.
They gave ample proof of their gender, for I had ordered them to
perform in a state of nature. The ladies were so enchanted by this
display that they soon forgot their decent outrage, and did justice to
the wine. I had no doubt that many of the male dancers would not leave
the harem before dawn. Some of the royal ladies had voracious
appetites, and many had not been visited by the king in years.

In, this convivial atmosphere my mistress rose-to her feet and called
for the attention of her guests. Then she commended me to them in
terms so extravagant that even I blushed. She went on to relate
amusing and touching episodes from the lifetime we had spent together
.

The wine seemed to have softened the attitude of the women towards me,
and they laughed and applauded. A few of them even wept a little with
wine and sentiment.

At last my mistress commanded me to kneel before her, and as I did so,
there was a murmur of comment. I had chosen to wear a simple kilt of
the finest linen, and the slave girls had dressed my hair in the
fashion that best suited me. Apart from the Gold of Praise around my
throat, I wore no other ornament. In the midst of such ostentation, my
simple style was striking. With regular swimming and exercise I had
kept the athletic body which had first attracted Lord Inter to me. In
those years I was in my prime.

I heard one of the senior wives murmur to her neighbour, “What a pity
he has lost his jewels. He would make such a diverting toy. ” This
evening I could ignore the words that in other circumstances would have
caused me intense pain.

My mistress was looking very pleased with herself. She had succeeded
in keeping me ignorant of the nature of her gift. Usually she was not
so adroit as to be able to outwit Me. She looked down on my bowed head
and spoke slowly and clearly, wringing the utmost enjoyment from the
moment.

“Taita the slave. For all the years of my life you have been a shield
over me. You have been my mentor and my tutor. You have taught me to
read and to write. You have made clear to me the mysteries of the
stars and the arcane arts. You have taught me to sing and to dance.
You have shown me how to find happiness and contentment in many things.
I am grateful. ” The royal ladies were once more beginning to become
restive. They had never before heard a slave praised in such effusive
terms.

“On the day of the khamsin you did me a service that I must reward.
Pharaoh has bestowed the Gold of Praise upon you. I have my own gift
for you. ” From under her robe she took a roll of papyrus secured with
a coloured. thread. “You “knelt before me as a slave.

Now rise to your feet as a free man. ” She held up the papyrus.

“This is your deed of manumission, prepared by the scribes of the
court, From this day forward, you are a free man. ” I lifted my head
for the first time and stared at her in disbelief. She pressed the
roll of papyrus into my numbed fingers, and smiled down at me fondly.

“You did not expect this, did you? You are so surprised that you have
no words for me. Say something to me, Taita.

Tell me how grateful you are for this boon. ” Every word she spoke
wounded me like a poisoned dart.

My tongue was a rock in my mouth as I contemplated a life without her.
As a freed man, I would be excluded from her presence for ever.

I would never again prepare her food, nor attend her bath. I would
never spread the covers over her when she prepared for sleep, nor would
I rouse her in the dawn and be at her side when first she opened those
lovely dark green eyes to each new day. I would never again sing with
her or have the pleasure, to dress her or hold her cup, or help her or
have the pleasure of gazing upon all her loveliness.

I was like one whose life had reached its end. , and I stared at her
hopelessly.

“Be happy, Taita, ” she ordered me. “Be happy in this new freedom I
give You. ” “I will never be happy again, ” I blurted. “You have cast
\me off. How can I ever be happy again?

Her smile faded away, as she stared at me in disbelieve. “I offer you
the most precious gift that it is in my power to give you. I offer you
your freedom. ” ” I shook my head. “You inflict the most dire
punishment upon me.

You are driving me away from you. I will never know happiness again. ”
“It is not a punishment, Taita. It was meant as a reward.

Please, don’t you understand?” “The only reward I desire is to remain
at your side for the rest of my life. ” I felt the tears welling up
from deep inside me, and I tried to hold them back. “Please, mistress,
I beg of you, don’t send me away from you. If you have any feeling
towards me, allow me to stay with you. ” “Do not weep, ” she
commanded. “For if you do, then I will weep with you, in front of all
my guests. ” I truly believe that she had not, until that moment,
contemplated the consequences of this misplaced piece of generosity
that she had dreamed up. The tears broke over my lids and streamed
down my cheeks.

Stop it This is not what I wanted. ” Her own tears kept mine good
company. “I only thought to honour you, as the king has honoured you.
” I held up the roll of papyrus. “Please let me tear this piece of
foolery to shreds. Take me back into your service. Give me leave to
stand behind you, where I belong. ” “Stop it, Taita! You are breaking
my heart. ” Loudly she snuffled up her tears, but I was merciless.

“The only gift I want from you is the right to serve you for all the
days of my life. Please, mistress, rescind this deed. Give me your
permission to tear it. ” She nodded vigorously, blubbering as she used
to do when she was a little girl who had fallen and grazed- her knees.
I ripped the sheet of papyrus once and then again.

Not satisfied with this destruction, I held the fragments to the lamp
flame and let them burn to crispy black curls.

“Promise me that you will never try to drive me away again. Swear that
you will never again, try to thrust my freedom upon me. ” She nodded
through her tears, but I would not accept that.

“Say it, ” I insisted. “Say it aloud for all to hear. ” “I promise to
keep you as my slave, never to sell you, nor to set you free, ” she
whispered huskily through the tears, and then a beam of mischief shone
out of those tragic dark green eyes. “Unless, of course, you annoy me
inordinately, then I will summon the law scribes immediately. ” She
put out a hand to lift me to my feet. “Get up, you silly man, and
attend to your duties. I swear my cup is empty. ” I resumed my proper
position behind her, and refilled the cup. The tipsy company thought
it all a bit of fun that we had arranged for their amusement, and they
clapped and whistled and threw flower petals at us to show their
appreciation.

I could see that most of them were relieved that we had not truly
flouted decorum, and that a’slave was still a slave.

My mistress lifted the wine cup to her lips, but before she drank, she
smiled at me over the rim. Though her eyes were still wet with tears,
that smile lifted my spirits and restored my happiness. I felt as
close to her then as ever I had in all the years.

THE MORNING AFTER THE BANQUEt AND my hour of freedom, we woke to find
that during the night the river had swollen with the commencement of
the annual flood. We had no warning of it until the joyous cries of
the watchmen down at the port aroused us. Still heavy with wine, I
left my bed and ran down to the riverside. the banks were already
lined with the populace of the city. They greeted the, waters with
prayers and songs and waving palm-fronds.

The low waters had been the bright green of the verdigris that grows on
bars of copper. The waters of the inundation had flushed it all away,
and now the river had swollen to an ominous grey. During the night it
had crept halfway up the stone pylons of the harbour, and soon it would
press against the earthworks of the embankment. Then it would force
its way into the mouths of the irrigation canals that had been cracked
and dry for so many months. From there it would swirl out and flood
the fields, drowning the huts of the peasants, and washing away the
boundary markers between the fields.

The surveying and replacement of the boundaries after each flood was
the responsibility of the Guardian of the Waters. Lord Inter had
multiplied his fortune by favouring the claims of the rich and the
generous when the time came round each year to reset the marker
stories.

Fromupstream echoed the distant rumble of the cataract.

The rising flood overwhelmed the natural barrages of granite that were
placed in its path, and, as it roared through the gorges, the spray
rose into the hard blue sky, a silver column that could be seen from
every quarter of the nome of Assoun.

When the fine mist drifted across the island, it was cool and
refreshing on our upturned faces. We delighted in this blessing, for
it was the only rain we ever knew in our valley.

Even as we watched, the beaches around our island were

+

eaten up by the flood. Soon our jetty would be submerged, and the
river would lap at the gates of our garden. Where it would stop was a
question That could only be calculated by a study of the levels of the
Nilometer. On those levels hung Prosperity or famine for the whole
land and every person. I hurried back to find my mistress and to
prepare for the ceremony of the waters, in which I would play a
prominent role.

We dressed in our finest and I placed my new gold chain around my neck.
Then, with the rest of our household and the ladies of the harem, we
joined the spontaneous procession to the temple of Hopi.

Pharaoh and all the great lords of Egypt led us. The priests, plump
with rich living, were waiting for us on the temple steps. Their heads
were shaven, their pates shining with oil, and their eyes glittering
with avarice, for the king would sacrifice lavishly today.

Before the king the statue of the god was carried from the sanctuary,
and decked with flowers and fine crimson linen. Then the statue was
drenched in oils and perfume while we sang psalms of praise and thanks
to the god for sending down the flood.

Far to the south, in a land that no civilized man had ever visited, the
god Hopi sat on top of his mountain and from two pitchers of infinite
capacity he poured the holy waters into his Nile. The water from each
pitcher was of a different colour and taste; one was bright green and
sweet, the other grey and heavy with the silt which flooded our fields
each season and charged them with new life and fertility.

While we sang, the king made sacrifice of corn and meats and wine and
silver and gold. Then he called out his wise men, his engineers and
his mathematicians, and bade them enter the Nilometer to begin their
observations and their

calculations.

In the time that I had belonged to Lord Inter, I had been nominated as
one of the keepers of the water. I was the only slave in that
illustrious company, but I consoled myself by the fact that very few
others wore the Gold of Praise, and that they treated me with respect.
They had worked with me before, and they knew my worth. I had helped
to design the Nilometers that measured the flow of the river, and I had
supervised the building of them. It was I who had worked out the
complex formula to determine the projected height and the volume of
each flood from the observations.

Our way lit by flickering torches of pitch-dipped rushes, I followed
the high priest into the mouth of the Nilometer, a dark opening in the
rear wall of the sanctuary. We descended the incline shaft, the stone
steps slippery’ with slime and the effusions of the river. From under
our feet, one of the deadly black water. cobras slithered away, and
with a furious hiss plunged into the dark water that had already risen
halfway up the shaft.

We gathered on the last exposed step and by the light of the torches
studied the marks that my masons had chiselled in the walls of the
shaft. Each of the symbols had values both magical and empirical,
allotted to it.

We made the first and most crucial reading together with extreme care.
Over the following five days we would take it in turns to watch and
record the rising waters, and time the readings with the flow of a
water-clock. From samples of the water, we would estimate the amount
of silt it bore, and all these factors would influence our final
conclusions.

When the five days of observation were completed, we embarked on a
further three days of calculations. These covered many scrolls of
papyrus. Finally, we were ready to present our findings to the king.

On that day Pharaoh returned to the temple in royal state, accompanied
by his nobles and half the population of Elephantine to receive the
estimates.

As the high priest read them aloud, the king began to smile. We had
forecast an inundation of almost perfect proportions. It would not be
too low, to leave the fields exposed and baking in the sun, depriving
them of the rich black layer of silt so vital to their fertility. Nor
would it be so high as to wash away the canals and earthworks, and to
drown the villages and cities along the banks. This season would bring
forth bountiful harvests and fat herds.

Pharaoh smiled, not so much for the good fortune of his subjects, but
for the bounty that his tax-collectors would gather in. The annual
taxes were computed on the value of the flood, and this year there
would be vast new treasures added to the store-rooms of his funerary
temple. To close the ceremony of the bles ing of the water in the
temple of Hopi, Pharaoh announced the date of the biennial pilgrimage
to Thebes to participate in the festival of Osiris. It did not seem
possible that two years had passed since my mistress had played the
part of the goddess in the last passion of Osiris.

I had as little sleep that night -as when I had kept vigil in the shaft
of the Nilonieter, for my mistress was too excited to seek her own
couch. She made me sit up with her until dawn, singing and laughing
and repeating those stories of tonus to which she never tired of
listening.

In eight days the royal flotilla would sail northwards on the rising
flood of the Nile. When we arrived, tonus, Lord Harrab would be
waiting for us in Thebes. My mistress was delirious with happiness.

THE FLOTILLA THAt ASSEMBLED IN THE )” harbour roads of Elephantine was
so numerous that it seemed to cover the water from bank to bank.

My mistress. remarked jokingly that a man might cross the Nile without
wetting his feet by strolling over the bridge of hulls. With pennants
and flags flying from every masthead, the fleet made a gallant show.

We and the rest of the court had already embarked on the vessels that
had been allotted to us, and from the deck we cheered the king as he
descended the marble steps from the palace and went aboard the great
state barge. The moment he was safely embarked, a hundred horns
sounded the signal to set sail. As one, the fleet squared away and
pointed their bows into the north. With the rush of the river add the
banks of oars driving us, we bore away.

There had been a different spirit abroad in the land since Akh-Horus
had destroyed the Shrikes; The inhabitants of every village we passed
came down to the water’s edge to greet their king. Pharaoh sat high on
the poop, wearing the cumbersome double crown, so that all might have a
clear view of him. They waved palm-fronds and shouted, “May all the
gods smile on Pharaoh!” The river brought down to them not only their
king, but also the promise of its own benevolence, and they were
happy.

Twice during the days that followed, Pharaoh and all his train went
ashore to inspect the monuments that Akh-Horus had raised to his
passing at the crossroads of the caravan routes. The local peasants
had preserved these gruesome Piles of skulls as sacred relics of the
new god. They had polished each skull until it shone like ivory, an
they had built shrines over them and appointed priests to serve these
holy places.

At both these shrines my mistress left a gold. ring as an offering,
joyously accepted by the self-appointed guardians.

It was to no avail that I protested this extravagance. My mistress
often lacked the proper respect for the wealth that

was so painstakingly amassing on her behalf. Without my restraining
hand, she would probably have given it all away to the insatiable poor,
smiling to the grasping prie as she did so.

On the tenth night after leaving Elephantine, the royal entourage
camped on a pleasant promontory above a bend in the river. The
entertainment that evening was to include one of the most famous
story-tellers in the land, and usually my” mistress loved a good story
above most other pleasures.

Both she and I had been looking forward to this occasion and discussing
it avidly since leaving the palace. It was therefore to my surprise
and bitter disappointment that the fatigued and out of sorts Lady
Lostris declared herself too tired to attend the story-teller.
Although she urged me to go, and take the rest of our household with
me, I could not leave her alone when she was unwell. I gave her a hot
draught and I slept on the floor at the end of her bed, so that I could
be near if she needed me during the night.

I was truly worried in the morning when I tried to wake her.

Usually she would spring, from her bed with a smile of anticipation,
ready to seize and devour the new day, a glutton for the joy of
living.

However, this morning she pulled the covers back over her head and
mumbled, “Leave me to sleep a little longer. I feel as heavy and dull
as an old woman. ” “The king has decreed an early start. We must be
aboard before the sun rises. I will bring you a hot infusion that will
cheer. you. ” I poured boiling water over a bowl of herbs that I had
picked with my own hands during the most propitious phase-of the last
moon.

Do stop fussing, ” she grumped at me, but I would not let her sleep
again. I prodded her awake and made her drink the tonic. She pulled a
face. “I swear you are trying to poison me, ” she complained, and
then, without warning and. before I could do anything to prevent it,
she vomited copiously.

Afterwards she seemed as shocked as I was. We both stared at the
steaming puddle beside her bed in consternation. “What is wrong with
me, Taita?” she whispered. “Nothing like this has ever happened to me
before. ” Only then did the meaning of it all dawn on me.

“The khamsin!” I cried. “The cemetery of Tras! tonus!” She stared
at me blankly for a moment, and then her smile lit the gloom of the
tent like a lamp. “I am making a baby!” she cried.

Not so loud, mistress, ” I pleaded. “tonus” baby! I am carrying
tonus” son. ” It could not be the king’s infant, for I had
successfully kept him from her bed since her starvation sickness and
her misc arriage.

“Oh, Taita, ” she purred, as she lifted her nightdress and inspected
her flat, firm belly with awe. “Just think of it! A little imp just
like tonus growing inside of me. ” She palpated her stomach hopefully.
“I knew that such delights as I discovered in the tomb of Tras could
not pass unremarked by the gods. They have given me a memory that will
last all my lifetime. ” “You race ahead, ” I warned her.

“It may be only a colic.

I must make the tests before we can be sure. ” “I need no test. I
know it in my heart and in the secret depths of my body. “, “We will
still do the tests, ” I told her wryly, and went to fetch the pot. She
perched upon it to provide me with the first water of her day, and I
divided this in to two equal parts.

The first portion of her urine I mixed with an equal part of Nile
water. Then I filled two jars with black earth and in each of them
planted five seeds of dhurra corn. I watered one jar with pure Nile
water, and the other with the mixture that my mistress had provided.

This was the first test.

Then I hunted amongst the reeds in the lagoon near the camp and
captured ten frogs. These were not the lively green and yellow variety
with leaping back legs, but slimy, black’s. Their heads are not
separated from their sluggish, creature fat bodies by a neck, and their
eyes sit on top of the flat skull, so that the children call them
sky-gazers.

I placed five of each of the sky-gazers in two separate jars of river
water. To the one I added my mistress Is intiission and I left the
other unadulterated. The following morning, in the privacy of my
mistress’s cabin on board the galley, we removed the cloth with which I
had covered the jars and inspected the contents.

The corn watered by the Lady Lostris had thrown ten green shoots, while
the other seeds were still inert.. The five sky-gazers who had not
received my mistress’s blessing were barren, but the other more
fortunate five had each laid long silvery strings which were speckled
with black eggs.

“I told you so!” my mistress chirruped smugly, before I could give my
official diagnosis. “Oh, thanks to all the gods!

No more beautiful thing has happened to me in all my life. ” “I will
speak to Aton immediately. You will share the king’s couch this very
night, ” I told her grimly, and she stared at mein bewilderment.

“Even Pharaoh who believes most things I tell him, will not believe
that you were impregnanted by the seeds of the khamsin wind. We must
have a foster-father for this little bastard of ours. ” Already I
considered the infant ours, and not hers alone. Though I tried to
conceal it behind my levity, I was every bit as delighted as she was.

“Don’t you ever call him a bastard again, ” she flared at me. “He will
be a prince. ” “He will be a prince only if I can find a royal sire
for him. Prepare yourself. I am going to see the king. ” LASt.
NIGHt I HAD A DREAM, GREAt Egypt, ” I told Pharaoh. “It was so amazing
that to confirm it I worked the Mazes of Ammon-Ra. ” Pharaoh leaned
forward eagerly, for he had come to believe in my dreams and the Mazes
as much as any of my other patients.

“This time it is unequivocal, Majesty. In my dream the goddess Isis
appeared and promised to counter the baleful influence of her brother
Seth, who so cruelly deprived you Of your first son when he struck down
the Lady Lostris with the wasting disease. Take my mistress to your
bed on the first day of the festival of Osiris, and you will be blessed
with another son. That is the promise of the goddess. ” “Tonight is
the eve of the festival. ” The king looked delighted. “In truth,
Taita, I have been ready to perform this pleasant duty all these past
months, had you only allowed me to do so.

But you have not told me what you saw in the Mazes of Ammon-Ra. ”
Again he leaned forward eagerly, and I was ready for him.

“It was the vision as before, only this time it was stronger and more
vivid. The same endless forest of trees growing along the banks of the
river, each tree crowned. and imperial. Your dynasty reaching into
the ages, strong and unbroken. ” Pharaoh sighed with satisfaction.
“Send the child to me. ” When I returned to the tent, “my mistress was
waiting for me. She had prepared herself with good grace and humour.

“I shall close my eyes and imagine that I am back in the tomb of Tras
with tonus, ” she confided and then giggled saucily. “Although to
imagine the king as tonus is to imagine that the tail of the mo use has
become the trunk of the elephant, “Aran came to fetch her to the king’s
tent soon after the king had eaten his dinner. She went with a calm
expressio nand a firm step, dreaming perhaps of her little prince, and
of his true father who waited for us in Thebes.

BELOVED THEBES, BEAUTIFUL THEBES OF

the hundred gates-how we rejoiced as we saw it appear ahead of us,
decorating the broad sweep of the river-bank with its temples and
gleaming walls.

My mistress sang out with excitement as each of the familiar landmarks
revealed itself to us. Then, as the royal barge put in to the wharf
below the palace of the grand vizier, the joy of home-coming went out
of both of us, and we fell silent. The Lady Lostris groped for my hand
like a little girl frightened by tales of hobgoblins, for we had seen
her father.

Lord Inter with his sons, Menset and Sobek, those two thumbless heroes,
stood at the head of the great concourse. Of the nobles and the city
fathers of Thebes that waited upon the quay to greet the king.

Lord Inter was as handsome and suave as I had imagined him in my
nightmares, and I felt my spirits quail.

“You must be vigilant now, ” the Lady Lostris whispered to me.

“They will seek to have you out of their way. Remember the cobra. ”
Not far behind the grand vizier’ stood Rasfer. During our absence he
had obviously received high promotion. He now wore the headdress of a
Commander of Ten Thousand and carried the golden whip of rank. There
had been no improvement in his facial muscles. One side of his face
stillp sagged hideously and saliva dribbled from the cornero his
mouth.

At that moment he recognized me, and grinned at me with half his face
across the narrow strip of water and lifted his golden whip in ironic
greeting. “I promise you, my lady, that my hand will be upon my dagger
and I will eat nothing but fruit that I have peeled with my own hands
while Rasfer and I are” in Thebes together, ” I murmured, as I smiled
at him and returned his salute with a cheery wave.

“You are to accept no strange gifts, ” my mistress insisted, “and you
will sleep at the foot of my bed, where I can “protect you at night.
During the day you will stay at my side, and not go wandering off on
your own. ” “I will not find that irksome, ” I assured her, and over
the following days I kept my promise to her and remained under her
immediate protection, for I was certain that Lord Inter would not
jeopardize his connection to the throne by putting his daughter in
danger.

Naturally, we were often in the company of the grand vizier, for it was
his duty to escort the king through all the ceremonies of the festival.
During this time, Lord Inter played the role of loving and considerate
father to the Lady Lostris, and he treated her with all the deference
and consideration due to a royal wife. Each morning he sent her gifts,
gold and jewels and exquisite little carvings of scarabs and god lets
in ivory and precious woods. Despite my mistress” orders, I did not
return these. I did not wish to warn the enemy, and besides, the gifts
were valuable. I sold them discreetly and invested the proceeds in
stores of corn held for us in the granaries of trustworthy merchants in
the city, men who were my friends.

In view of the expected harvest, the price of corn was the lowest it
had been for ten years. There was only one direction it could go, and
that was up, although we might have to wait a while for our profits.
The merchants gave me receipts in the name of my mistress which I
deposited in the archives of the law courts. I kept only a fifth part
to myself, which I felt was a very moderate, commission.

This gave me some secret pleasure whenever I caught Lord Inter watching
me with those pale leopard’s eyes.

That look left me in no doubt that his feelings towards me had not
moderated. I remembered his patience and his persistence when dealing
with an enemy. He waited at the centre of his web like a beautiful
spider, and his eyes glittered as he watched me. I remembered the bowl
of poisoned milk and the cobra, and despite all my precautions, I was
uneasy.

Meanwhile the festival rolled on with all the ceremony and tradition,
as it had for centuries past. However, this season it was not tonus”
Blues but another squadron that hunted the river-cows in the lagoon of
Hopi, while another company of actors played out the passion in the
temple of Osiris. Because Pharaoh’s decree was observed and the
verSion of the play was mine, the words were as powerful and mavin2.

However, this new Isis was not as lovely as my mistress had portrayed
her, nor was Horus as noble or striking as Lord tonus. On the other
hand, Seth was winsome and lovable in comparison to the way that Rasfer
had played him.

The day after the passion, Pharaoh crossed the river to ispect his
temple, and on this occasion he kept me close at hand throughout the
day. On numerous occasions he openly consulted me on aspects of the
works. Of course I wore my golden chain whenever it was proper to do
so. None of this was missed by Lord Inter, and I could see him musing
on the favour the king showed to me.

I hoped that this might further serve to protect me from the grand
vizier’s vengeance.

Since I had left Thebes, another architect had been placed in charge of
the temple project. It was perhaps unfair that Pharaoh should expect
this unfortunate to be able to maintain the high standards that I had
set, or to push the work forward at the same pace.

“By the blessed mother of Harris, I wish you were still in charge here,
?” Pharaoh uttered. “If she would part with you, I would buy you from
your mistress, and keep you here in the City of the Dead permanently to
supervise the work. The cost seems to have doubled since this other
idiot took over from you. ” “He is a young man, ” I agreed. “The
masons and the contractors will steal his testicles from him and he
will not notice that they are missing. ” “It is my balls that they are
stealing, ” the king scowled.

“I want you to go over the bill of quantities with him and show him
where we are being robbed. “I was of course flattered by his regard,
and there was nothing spiteful in my pointing out to Pharaoh the lapses
of waste that the new architect had perpetrated when he red et the
pediment to my temple facade, or the shoddy signed craftsmanship that
those rogues in the guild of masons had been able to slip past him.

The pediment was permeated with the decadent Syrian style that was all
the rage in the Lower Kingdom, where the common tastes of the low-born
red pretender were corrupting the classical traditions of Egyptian
art.

As for the workmanship, I demonstrated to the king how it was possible
to slip a fragment of papyrus between the joints of the stone blocks
that made up the side-wall of the mortuary temple. Pharaoh ordered
both the pediment and the temple wall to be torn down, and he fined the
guild of masons five hundred de ben of gold to be paid into the royal
store-rooms.

Pharaoh spent the rest of that day and the whole of the next reviewing
the treasures in the store-rooms of the funerary temple.

Here at least he could find very little to complain of. In the history
of the world never had such wealth been assembled in one place at one
time. Even I, who love fine things, was soon jaded by the abundance of
it, and my eyes were pained by the dazzle of gold.

The king insisted that the Lady Lostris remain at his side all this
time. I think that his infatuation with her was slowly turning into
real love, or as close a facsimile of it as he was capable of. The
consequence of his affection for her was that when we returned across
the river to Thebes, my mistress was exhausted, and I feared for the
child she is carrying. It was too soon to tell the king of her
condition and to suggest that he showed her more consideration. It was
less than a week since she had returned to his couch, and such an early
diagnosis of pregnancy even from me must arouse his suspicion.

To him she was still a healthy and robust young woman, and he treated
her that way.

THE FESTIVAL ENDED, AS It HAD FOR CENturies past, with the assembly of
the people in the temple of Osiris to hear the proclamation from the
throne.

On the raised stone dais in front of the sanctuary of Osiris, Pharaoh
was seated on his tall throne so that all the congregation could have a
clear view of him. He wore the double crown and carried the crook and
the flail This time there was an alteration to the usual layout Of the
temple, for I had made a suggestion to the king which he had been
gracious enough to adopt. Against three walls of the inner temple he
had ordered the erection of timber scaffolding. These rose in tiers
halfway up the massive stone walls, which provided seating for
thousands of the notables of Thebes from which they had a privileged
and uninterrupted view of the proceedings. I had suggested that these
stands -fronds, to hide their ugliness must be decorated with coloured
bunting and palm guise It was the first time that these structures were
built in our land. Thereafter, they were to become commonplace, and
they were built at most public functions, along the routes of royal
processions and around the fields of athletic games. To this day they
are known as Taita stands. competition for seats upon There had been
much bitter, these stands, but as their designer, I had been able to
procured myself. We were the very best for my mistress an directly
opposite the throne and a little above the height of the king’s head,
so we had a fine view of the whole of the inner courtyard. I had
provided a leather cushion stuffed with lamb’swool for the Lady Lostris
and a basket of fruits and cakes, together with jars of sherbet and
beer, to sustain us during the interminable ceremony. in the land, All
around us were assembled the nobles fashion.

The generals lords and ladies decked out in high udly flaunt and
admirals carrying their golden whips and displaying the honours and
standards of their regiments, the guild SI the priests and the
ambasmasters and the rich merchant they were all sailors from the
vassal states of the empire, here.

In front of the king extended the courts of the temple, one opening
into another like the boxes in a children’s puzzle-game, but such was
the layout of the massive stone walls that the gates were all perfectly
aligned. A worshipper standing in the Avenue of Sacred Rams outside
the pylons of the main gate could look through the inner gates and
clearly see the king on his high throne almost four hundred paces away.
the courts of the temple were packed with the multitudes of the common
people, and the overflow spilled Outd onto the gardens beyond the
temple into the sacred avenue an walls. Though I had lived almost my
entire life in Thebes, I had never seen such a gathering. It was not
possible to count their numbers, but I estimated that there must have
been two hundred thousand assembled that day. There rose such a hubbub
of sound that I felt myself but a single bee in the vast humming
hive.

Around the throne was gathered a small group of the highest
dignitaries, their heads at the level of Pharaoh’s feet.

Of course one of these was the high priest of Osiris. During the past
year the old abbot had left this transitory world of Ours and set off
on his journey through the underworld to the western fields of the
eternal paradise. This new abbot was a younger, firmer man. I knew
that he would not be so easily manipulated by Lord Inter. In fact, he
had collaborated with me in certain unusual arrangements for today’s
ceremony that I had put in hand while supervising the erection of the
Taita stands.

However, the most impressive figure in the group, rivalling Pharaoh
himself, was the grand vizier. Lord Inter drew all eyes. He was tall
and stately in bearing, handsome as a legend. With the heavy chains of
the Gold of Praise lying weightily upon his chest and shoulders, he was
a figure from the myth of the pantheon.

Close behind him loomed the hideous shape of Rasfer.

Lord Inter opened the ceremony in the traditional manner by stepping
into the clear space before the throne and beginning the address of
welcome to the king from the twin cities of Thebes. As he spoke, I
glanced Sideways at my mistress, and even. though I shared her
loathing, I was shocked by the expression of anger and hatred that she
made no attempt to conceal, and that she directed openly at her own
father. I wanted to warn her to make it less obvious to all about her,
but I knew that in doing so, I might merely draw further attention to
her burning antagonism.

The grand vizier spoke-at length, listing his own accomplishments and
the loyal service he had rendered Pharaoh in the year past. The crowd
murmured and rustled with boredom and discomfort. The heat was rising
from so many bodies, and the rays of the sun beating down into the
crowded courts were trapped within the temple walls. I saw more than
one woman in the press swoon and collapse.

When at last Lord Inter finished speaking, the high priest stepped into
his place. While the sun made its noon overhead, he reported to the
king on the ecclesiastical affairs of Thebes. As he spoke, the heat
and the stench increased; perfume and fragrant oils could, no longer
disguise the odour of hot, unwashed bodies and running sweat.

There was no escape from the crowd to attend urgent bodily functions.

Men and women simply squatted where they stood. The temple began to
stink like a sty or a public latrine. I handed my mistress a silk
kerchief drenched in perfume which she dabbed to her nose.

There was a sigh of relief when at last the high priest ended his
address with a blessing on the king in the name of god the Osiris, and,
with a deep bow, retreated to his place behind the grand vizier. For
the first time since it had begun to assemble before dawn that morning,
the crowd fell completely silent. The boredom and discomfort was
forgotten, and they craned forward eagerly to hear Pharaoh speak.

The king rose to his feet. I wondered at the old man’s fortitude, for
he had sat all this time like a statue. He spread his arms in
benediction, and at that moment the hallowed chalice of custom and
tradition was shattered by an event that plunged the entire
congregation-priests, nobles and commoners-into consternation. I was
one of the few in the crowd who was not surprised by what followed, for
I had done more than my share to arrange it all.

The great burnished copper doors to the sanctuary swung open.

There seemed to be no human agency to the movement, it was as though
the doors opened of their own accord.

A gasp, a sigh of expelled breath passed like a wind through temple
courts, and rustled the densely packed ranks as though they were the
leaves of a tamarind tree. Then suddenly a woman screamed, and
immediately a groan of superstitious horror shook them all. Some fell
to their knees, some lifted their hands above their heads in terror,
others covered their faces with their shawls so that they should not be
struck blind by looking on sights that were not for mortal, eyes.

A god strode out through the sanctuary doors, a tall and terrifying
god, whose cloak swirled about his shoulders as he moved. His helmet
was crowned with a plume of egrets feathers his features were grotesque
and metallic, eagle and half-man, with a hooked beak and dark slits for
eyes.

“Ak Horus!” screamed a woman, and she collapsed “in a dead faint upon
the stone flags.

“Akh-Horus!” the cry was taken up. “It is the god! “Row after row,
they fell upon their knees in the attitude of reverence. Those on the
high tiers of stands knelt and many of them made the sign to avert
misfortune. Even the group of nobles-around the throne went down. In
all the temple only two persons remained on their feet. Pharaoh posed
on the steps of his throne like a painted statue; and the grand vizier
of Thebes stood tall and arrogant.

Akh-Horus stopped in front of the king and looked up at him through
those slitted eyes in the bronze mask, and even then Pharaoh never
flinched. The king’s cheeks were pained “dead white, so I could not
tell whether he blanched, but there was a glitter in his eyes that may
have been either religious ecstasy, or terror.

“Who are you?” Pharaoh challenged. “Are you ghost or man? Why do You
disturb our solemn proceedings?” His voice was strong and clear. I
could detect no tremor in it, and my admiration for him was enhanced.

Weak and aging and gullible perhaps, but still the old man had his full
share of courage. He could face up to man or god and stand his ground
like a warrior.

Akh-Horus answered him in a voice that had commanded regiments in the
desperate din of battle, a voice that echoed amongst the stone pillars.
“Great Pharaoh, I am a man, not a ghost. I am your man. I come before
you in response to your command. I come before you to account to you
for the duty that you laid upon me in this place on this very day of
Osiris two years ago. ” He lifted the helmet from his head, and the
fiery curls tumbled down. The congregation recognized him instantly.

A shout went up that seemed to rock the foundations of the temple.
“tonus! tonus! tonus!” It seemed to me that my mistress screamed the
loudest of them all, fairly deafening me, who sat so close beside her.
“tonus! Akh-Horus! Akh-Horus!” The two names mingled and crashed
against the temple walls like storm-driven surf.

“He has risen from his tomb! He has become a god amongst us!” It did
not abate until suddenly tonus drew the sword from his scabbard and
held it aloft in an unmistakable command for silence. This was obeyed,
and in the silence he spoke again.

“Great Egypt, do I have your permission to speak?” I think by now the
king could no longer rely on his powers of speech, for he made a
gesture with crook and flail, and then his legs seemed to give way
beneath him and he dropped back on his throne. tonus addressed him in
ringing tones that carried to the outer court. “Two years ago you
charged me with the destruction of those viperous nests of murderers
and robbers who were threatening the life of the state. You placed in
my trust the royal hawk seal. ” From under his cloak, tonus drew out
the blue statuette and placed it on the steps of the throne. Then he
stepped back and spoke again.

“In order better to carry out the king’s orders, I pretended my own
death and caused the mummy of a stranger to be sealed in my tomb. ”
“Bak-Her!” shouted a single voice, and they took up the cry until
tonus once more commanded silence.

“I led a thousand brave men of the Blues into the deserts and the wild
places and sought out the Shrikes in their secret an fortresses.

There we slew them in their hundreds and piled their severed heads at
the roadside. ” “Bak-Her!” they screamed. “It is true. Akh-Horus
has done all these things. ” Once again tonus silenced them. , I
broke the power of the barons. I slaughtered their followers without
mercy. In all this very Egypt of ours there remains only one who still
calls himself a Shrike. ” Now at last they were silent, gobbling up
every word he said, fascinated and intent. Even Pharaoh could not hold
his impatience in check. “Speak, Lord tonus, whom men now know as Akh
-Horus. Name this man. Give me his name so that he may come to know
the wrath of Pharaoh. ” “He hides behind the name of Akh-Seth, ” tonus
roared.

“His deeds of infamy rank with those of his brother, the dark god.

“Give “me his true name, ” Pharaoh commanded, rising once more to his
feet in his agitation. “Name this last of all the Shrikes!” tonus
drew out the moment. He looked around the temple slowly and
deliberately. When our eyes met, I nodded so slightly that only he saw
the movement, but his gaze passed on with ut a pause and he looked
towards the open doors Of the sanctuary.

The attention of all the congregation was so fixed upon Lord tonus that
they did not at first see the file of armed men that is sued swiftly
and silently from the sanctuary. Although they wore full armour and
carried their war shields, I recognized most of them under the helmets.
There were Remreni and Astes and fifty other warriors of the Blues.

Swiftly, they formed up around the throne like a royal bodyguard, but,
without making it obvious, Rem reM and Astes moved up behind Lord
Inter. As soon as they were in position, tonus spoke again.

“I will name this Akh-Seth for you, Divine- Pharaoh. He stands
unashamedly in the, shadow of your throne. ” tonus pointed with his
sword. “There he is, wearing the Gold of Praise about his traitor’s
throat. There he stands, Pharaoh’s sole companion who has turned your
kingdom into a playground for murderers and bandits. That is Akh-Seth,
governor of the nome of Thebes, grand vizier of the Upper Kingdom. ”
An awful hush fell upon the temple. There must have been ten thousand
or more in the congregation who had suffered grievously at Lord Inters
hands and who had’ every reason to hate him, but not a voice spoke out
in jubilation or in triumph against him. All knew just how terrible
was his wrath, and just how certain his retribution. I could smell the
stink of their fear in the air, thick as the incense smoke.

Every one of them understood that even tonus” reputation and his mighty
deeds were not sufficient for his unproven accusation to Prevail
against such a person as Lord Inter. To show joy or-open agreement at
this stage would be mortal folly.

In that hush Lord Inter laughed. It was a sound full of disdain, and
with a dismissive gesture he turned his back upon tonus and spoke
directly to the king. “The desert sun has burned his brain. The poor
man has gone mad. There is not a single word of truth in all his
ravings. I should be angry, but instead I am saddened that a warrior
of reputation has fallen so lo He held out both hands to Pharaoh, a
dignified and loyal gesture. “All my life I have served Pharaoh and my
people.

My honour is so invulnerable that I see no need to defend myself
against these wild rantings. Without fear I place my trust in the
wisdom and justice of the divine king. I let my deeds and my love of
Pharaoh speak, in place of my tongue. ” I saw the confusion and
indecision on the king’s painted face. His lips trembled and his brow
was furrowed, for he was not blessed with a swift and incisive mind.

After a moment he opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter
any fateful or irredeemable judgement, tonus lifted his sword again and
pointed beyond the throne to the open doors of the sanctuary.

Through the doors came another procession of men so unusual that
Pharaoh gaped at them with his mouth still open. Kratas led, with his
visor raised and a sword in his right hand. Those who followed him
wore only loin-cloths their heads and feet were bare. Their arms were
bound an behind their backs, and they shuffled like slaves on their way
to the auction block.

I was watching Lord Inter’s face, and I saw the shock assail him and
force him to flinch, as though he had received a blow in the face.

He had recognized the captives, but obviously believed that they were
long dead, and that they were Skulls grinning at the roadside. He
darted a sideways glance at the small sacristy door in the wall that
was almost hidden by the hanging linen bunting. It was his only escape
from the crowded inner court, but Remrem moved one pace to his right
and blocked his path to the doorway. Lord Inter looked back at the
throne and lifted his chin in a confident and defiant gesture.

The six bound captives lined up before the throne and then, at a quiet
order from Kratas, dropped to their knees and bowed their heads.

“Who are these creatures?” Pharaoh demanded, and tonus stood over the
first of them, seized his bound wrists and hauled him to his feet. His
skin was studded with old healed scars of the smallpox and his blind
eye reflected the light like a silver coin.

“The divine Pharaoh asks who YOU are, ” tonus said softly.

“Reply to the question. ” “Great Egypt, I am Shufti, ” he said. “I
was once a baron of the Shrikes before Akh-Horus scattered and slew my
clan at the city of Gallala. ” “Tell the king who was your overlord, ”
tonus insisted.

Akh-Seth was my Overlord, ” Shufti replied. “I swore a blood-oath of
allegiance to Akh-Seth, and I paid a bounty of one-quarter of all my
plunder to him. In return Akh-Seth gave me immunity from the forces of
law, and provided me with information on my intended victims. ” “Point
out to the king the man you know as Akh-Seth, ” tonus ordered, and
Shufti shuffled forward until he faced Lord Inter. He filled his mouth
with spittle and spat it on to the grand vizier’s gorgeous uniform.

“This is Akh-Seth” he cried. “And may the worms feast on his
guts!”Kratas dragged Shufti to one side and tonus lifted the next
captive to his feet. “TelL the king who you are, ” he ordered.

“I am Akheku, and I was a baron of the Shrikes, but all my men are
killed. ” “Who was your overlord? To whom did you pay your bounty?”
tonus demanded.

“Lord Inter was my overlord. I paid my bounty into the coffers of the
grand vizier. ” Lord Inter stood proud and aloof, showing no emotion
as, these accusations were hurled at him. He offered no defence as,
one after the other, the barons were dragged before him and each made
the same declaration.

“Lord Inter was my overlord. Lord Inter is Akh-Seth. ” The silence of
the multitudes in the temple was as oppressive as the heat.

They watched in horror, or in silent hatred, or in confusion and
disbelief.

However, not one of them dared yet to speak out against Lord Inter, or
to show emotion until Pharaoh had first spoken.

The last of the barons was brought forward to confront the grand
vizier. He was a tall, lean man with stringy muscles and sun-blasted
skin. There was Bedouin blood in his veins, for his eyes were black
and his nose beaked. His beard was thick and curling, and his
expression arrogant.

“My name is Basti. ” He spoke more clearly than any of the others.

Then call me Basti the Cruel, though I know not the reason why. ” He
grinned with a raffish hangman’s humour. “I was a baron of the Shrikes
until Akh-Horus destroyed my clan. Lord Inter was my overlord. ” This
time he was not dragged away as the others had been. tonus spoke to
him again. “Tell the king. Did you know Pianki, Lord Harrab, who in
former times was a nobleman of Thebes?” “I knew him well. I had
dealings with him. ” “What were these dealings?” tonus asked, with
death in his voice.

“I plundered his caravans. I burned his crops “in the fields.

I raided his mines it Sestra, and I slew the miners in such using
fashion that no others ever came to work the copper mine there. I
burned his Villas. I sent my men into the cities to speak evil of him,
so that his honesty and his loyalty throughout that state were
tarnished. I helped others to destroy him in the end he drank the
poisonous Datura seed from his own cup. ” I saw the hand of Pharaoh
that held the royal flail shake as he listened, and one of his eyelids
twitched in a manner that I had noticed before when he was sore
distressed.

“Who was it that ordered these things?” “Lord Inter commanded these
things and rewarded me with a takh of pure gold. ” “What did Lord’
Inter hope to gain from this persecution of Lord Harrab?” .

“Lord Inter is grand vizier, Basti grinned and Lord Harrab is dead. It
seems to me Lord Inter achieved his purpose. ” “You acknowledge that I
have offered you no clemency in return for this confession? Do you
understand that death awaits you?” Never been afraid of that..

“Death?” Basti laughed. “I have needed It in the flour of the loaf I
bake. I have fed it to countless others, so now why should I be afraid
to feast on it myself?” I wondered, as I listened to him, Was he fool
or brave man, or both. Either way, I could find neither pity nor
admiration for him in my heart. I remembered that Pianki, Lord Harrab
had been a man like his son, and that is where my pity and my
admiration lay.

I saw the merciless expression in the eyes of tonus. I knew that he
shared my feelings, and his grip upon the hilt of his sword tightened
until his fingers turned as white as those of a drowned man.

“Take him away!” he grated. “Let him await the king’s pleasure. ” I
saw him compose himself with an effort, then he turned back to face the
king. He went down on one knee before him.

“I have done all that you asked of me, Divine Mamose, god and ruler of
Kemit. I wait for you to command me further. ” His dignity and his
grace closed up my throat so that I could not swallow. It took an
effort to compose myself.

The silence in the temple persisted. I could hear my mistress’s
laboured breathing beside me and then I felt her take my hand and
squeeze it with a strength that threatened to crack my finger-bones.

At last Pharaoh spoke, but with dismay I heard the doubt in his voice,
and I sensed intuitively that he did not want any of this to be true.
He had trusted Lord Inter so deeply for so long that it shook the
foundations of his faith.

“Lord Inter, you have heard the accusations against you.

How say you to them?” “Divine Pharaoh, are these indeed accusations? I
thought them merely the fantasies of a young man driven insane with
envy and jealousy. He is the son of a convicted criminal and a
traitor. Lord tonus” motives are plain to see. He has convinced
himself that the traitor Pianki might have become grand vizier in my
place. In some perverse fashion, he holds me “responsible for his
father’s downfall. ” With a wave of his hand he dismissed tonus. It
was so skilfully done that I saw the king waver. His doubts were
stronger.

For a lifetime he had implicitly trusted Lord Inter, and it was
difficult for him to adjust his thinking.

He wanted to believe in his innocence.

“What of the accusations of the barons?” Pharaoh asked at last.

“What reply do you make to them?” “Barons?” Lord Inter asked.

“Must we flatter them with such a title? By their own testimony they
are criminals of the basest kind-murderers, thieves, violators of women
and children. Should we look for truth in them any more than we should
look for honour and conscience in the beasts of the field?”

Lord Inter pointed to them, and they were indeed half-naked and bound
like animals. “Let us gaze upon them, Divine Majesty. Are these not
the kind of men that can be bribed or beaten into saying anything for
the sake of their own skins? Would you take the word of one of these
against a man who has served you faithfully all his life? I saw the
small, involuntary nod of the king’s head as he accepted the reasoning
of the man he had, looked upon as a friend, the man upon whom he had
heaped trust and rewards.

“All you say is true. You have always served me without vice.

These rogues are strangers to truth and honour. It is Possible that
they may have been coerced. ” He vacillated, and Lord Inter sensed his
advantage.

So far I have had only words thrown at me. Surely there must be some
other evidence to support such mortal charges against me? Is there one
person in this very Egypt who will bring evidence against me, real
evidence and not mere words? If there is, let him come forward.

Then I will answer this charge. If there is no one who has this
evidence, then I have nothing to answer to.

His words troubled Pharaoh deeply, I could see that. He gazed about
the hall as if seeking the evidence that Lord Inter demanded, and then
he obviously reached a decision.

“Lord tonus, what proof do you have of these things, apart from the
words of murderers and criminals?” “The beast has covered his tracks
well, ” tonus admitted, “And he has taken cover in the densest thicket
where it -is difficult to come at him. I have no further evidence
against Lord Inter, but there may be some other who does, somebody who
will be inspired by what he has heard here today.

I beg you” Royal Egypt, ask your people if there is not one of them who
can bring forth anything to help us here. ” “Pharaoh, this is
provocation. My enemies will be emboldened to come out of the shadows
where they lurk to attack me, ” cried Lord Inter in vehement protest,
but Pharaoh silenced him with a brusque gesture. “They will bear false
witness against you at their peril, ” he promised, and then addressed
the congregation.

“My people! Citizens of Thebes! You have heard the accusations made
against my trusted and well-beloved grand vizier. Is there one of you
who can provide the proof that Lord tonus lacks? Can any of you bring
forward evidence against the Lord Inter? If so, I charge you to speak.
” I was standing before I realized what I had done, and my voice was so
loud in my own ears that it startled me.

“I am Taita, who was once the slave of Lord Inter, ” I shouted, and
Pharaoh looked across at me and frowned. “I have aught that I wish to
show Your Majesty. ” “You are known to us, Taita the physician. You
may approach. ” As I left my seat on the stand and went down to stand
before the king, I looked across at Lord Inter and I missed my step.

It was as though I had walked into a stone wall, so tangible was his
hatred.

“Divine Egypt, this thing is a slave. ” Lord Inters voice was cold and
tight. “The word of a slave against a lord of the Theban circle, and a
high officer of the state-what mockery is-this?” I was still so
conditioned to respond to his voice and to succumb to his word, that my
resolve wavered. Then I felt tonus” hand on my arm. It was only a
brief touch, but it manned and sustained me. However, Lord Inter had
noticed the gesture, and he pointed it out to the king.

“See how this slave is in the thrall of my accuser. Here is another
one of Lord tonus” trained monkeys. ” Lord Inter’s voice was once more
smooth as warm honey. “His insolence is unbounded. There are
penalties laid down in the law codes.. . ” Pharaoh silenced him with a
gesture of his flail. “You presume on our good opinion of you, Lord
Inter. The codes of law are mine to interpret or amend. In them there
are penalties laid down for the high-born as well as the common man.

You would be well advised to remember that. ” Lord Inter bowed in
submission and remained silent, but suddenly his face was haggard and
drawn as he realized his predicament. Now the king looked down at me.
“These are unusual circumstances, such as allow of unprecedented
remedy.

However, Taita the slave, let me warn you that if your words should
prove frivolous, should they lack proof or substance, the
strangling-rope awaits you. ” That threat and the poisonous bane of
Lord Inter’s gaze upon me made me stutter. “While I was the slave of
the grand vizier, I was his messenger and his emissary to the barons.

I know all these men. ” I pointed to the captives that Kratas held
near to the throne. “It was I who carried Lord Inter’s commands to
them. ” “Lies! More words, lacking proof, ” Lord Inter called out.
but now the edge of desperation was in his voice. “Where is the
proof?”

“Silence!” the king thundered with sudden ferocity. “We will hear the
testimony of Taita the slave. ” He was looking directly at me, and I
drew breath to continue.

“It was I who carried the command of Lord Inter to Basti the Cruel. The
command was to destroy the estate and the fortune of Pianki, Lord
Harrah. At that time I was the confidant of Inter, I knew that he
desired the position of grand vicier to himself. All these things that
Lord Inter commanded were accomplished. Lord Harrahw ( was estroyed,
and he was deprived of Pharaohs favour and so he drank the Datura cup.
1, Taita, attest all these things. ” “It is so. ” Basti the Cruel
lifted his bound arms to the throne. “What Taita says is the truth. ”
Tab-Her!” shouted the barons. “It is the truth.

Taita speaks the truth. “”Still these are only words, ” the king
mused.

“Lord Inter has demanded proof. I, your Pharaoh, demand proof. ” “For
half my lifetime I was the scribe and the treasurer of the grand
vizier. I kept the record of his fortune. I noted his profits and his
expenses on my scrolls. I gathered in the bounty that the barons of
the Shrikes paid to Lord Inter, and I disposed of all this wealth. ”
“Can you show me these scrolls, Taita?” Pharaoh’s expression shone
like the fall moon at the mention of treasure. Now I had his avid
attention.

“No, Majesty, I cannot do so. The scrolls remained in the possession
of Lord Inter. ” Pharaoh made no effort to conceal his chagrin, his
face hardened towards me, but I went on doggedly, “I cannot show you
the scrolls, but perhaps I can lead you to the treasure that the grand
vizier has stolen from you, and from the people of your realm. It was
I who built his secret treasuries for him, and hid within them the
bounty that I gathered from the barons. It was in these store-rooms
that I placed the wealth that Pharaoh’s tax -collectors never saw. ”
The king’s excitement rekindled, hot as the coals on the copper smiths
forge. He leaned forward intently.

Although every eye in the temple was fastened upon me, and the nobles
were crowding forward the better to hear each word, I was watching Lord
Inter without seeming to look in his direction. The burnished copper
doors of the sanctuary were tall mirrors in which his reflection was
magnified. Every nuance of his expression and every movement he made,
however slight, was clear to me.

I had taken a fatal risk in assuming that his treasure still remained
in the secret places where I had stored it for him.

He might have moved it at any time during the past two years. Yet
moving such quantities of treasure would have been a major work and the
risk of doing so as great as letting it rest where it lay. He would
have been forced to take others into his trust, and that was not easy
for Lord Inter to do. He was by nature a suspicious man. Added to
which was the fact that, until recently, he had believed me dead, and
my secret with me.

I calculated that my chances were evenly balanced, and I risked my life
on it. Now I held my breath as I watched Lord Inter’s reflection in
the copper doors. Then my heart raced and my spirits soared on the
wings of eagles. I saw from the pain and panic in his expression that
the arrow I had fired at him had struck the mark. I had won. The
treasure was where I had left it. I knew that I could lead Pharaoh to
the plunder and the loot that Lord Inter had gathered up over his
lifetime.

But he was not yet defeated. I was rash to believe it would be so
easily accomplished. I saw him make a gesture with his right hand that
puzzled me, and while I dallied, it was almost too late.

In my triumph, I had forgotten Rasfer. The signal that Lord Inter gave
him was a flick of the right hand, but Rasfer responded like a trained
boar-hound to the huntsman’s command to attack. He launched himself at
me with such sudden ferocity that he took all of us by complete
surprise. He had only ten paces to cover to reach me, and his sword
rasped from its scabbard as he came.

There were two of Kratas” men standing between us, but their backs were
turned to him, and Rasfer barged into them and knocked them off their
feet, so that one of them sprawled across the stone flags in front of
tonus and blocked his path when he tried to spring to my aid.

I was on my own, defenceless, and Rasfer threw up his sword with both
hands to cleave through my skull to my breast-bone. I lifted my hands
to ward off the blow, but my legs were frozen with shock and terror,
and I could not move or duck away from the hissing blade.

I never saw tonus throw his sword. I had eyes for nothing but the face
of Rasfer, but suddenly the sword was in the air. Terror had so
enhanced my Zsenses that time seemed to pass as slowly as spilled oil
dribbling from the jar. I watched tonus” sword turning end over end,
spinning slowly on its axis, flashing at each revolution like a sheet
of summer light but it had not completed a full turn when it struck,
and it was the hilt and not the point that crashed into Rasfer’s head.
It did not kill him, but it snapped his head over, whipping his neck
like the branch of a willow in the wind, so that his eyes rolled back
blindly in their sockets.

Rasfer never completed the blow he aimed at me. His legs collapsed
under him and he fell in a pile at my feet.

His sword flew from his nerveless fingers, spinning high in the air,
and then fell back. It pegged into the side of Pharaoh’s throne, and
quivered there. The king stared at it in shocked disbelief. The razor
edge had touched his arm, and lit the skin. As we all watched, a line
of ruby droplets oozed from the shallow wound and dripped on to
Pharaoh’s cloud-white linen kilt. tonus broke the horrified silence.
“Great Egypt, you saw who gave the signal for this beast to attack. You
know who was to blame for endangering your royal person. ” He leaped
over the downed guardsman and seized Lord Inter by the arm, twisting it
until he fell to his knees and cried out with pain.

“I did not want to believe this of you. ” Pharaoh’s expression was
sorrowful as he looked down on his grand vizier.

“I have trusted you all my-life, and you have spat upon me. ” “Great
Egypt, hear me!” Lord Inter begged on his knees, but Pharaoh turned
his face away from him.

“I have listened to you long enough. ” Then he nodded to tonus.

“Have your men guard him well, but show him courtesy, for his guilt is
not yet fully proven.” Finally Pharaoh addressed the Congregation.

“These are strange and unprecedented events. I adjourn these
proceedings to consider fully the evidence that Taita the slave will
present to me. The population of Thebes will assemble once again to
hear my judgement in this same place at noon tomorrow. I have spoken.
” WE ENTERED THROUGH THE MAIN DO ORal way to the audience hall of the
grand vizier’s palace. Pharaoh paused at the threshold. Although the
wound from Rasfer’s sword was slight, I had bandaged it with linen and
placed his arm in a sling.

Pharaoh surveyed the hall slowly. At the far end of the long room
stood the grand vizier’s throne. Carved from a solid block of
alabaster, it was hardly less imposing than Pharaoh’s own in the throne
room at Elephantine. The -high walls were plastered with smooth clay
and on this background were painted some of the most impressive
frescoes that I had ever designed. They transformed the huge room into
a blazing garden of delights. I had painted them while I was Lord
Inter’s slave, and even though they were my own creations, they still
gave me a deep thrill of pleasure when I looked upon them.

I have no doubt that these works alone, without consideration of any
other of my achievements, would support my claim to the title of the
most significant artist in the history of our land. It was sad that I
who had created them was now to demolish them. It detracted from the
triumph of this tumultuous day.

I led Pharaoh down the hall. For once we had dispensed with all
protocol, and Pharaoh was as eager as a child. He followed me so
closely that be almost trod upon my heels, and his royal train fell in
as eagerly behind him.

I led them to the throne wall and we stopped below the huge mural
depicting the sun god, Arnmon-Ra, on his daily journey across the
heavens. Even in his excitement, I could see the reverent expression
in the king’s eyes as he looked up at the painting.

Behind us, the great hall was half-filled with the king’s train, the
courtiers and the warriors and the noble lords, to say nothing of the
royal wives and concubines who would rather have given up all their
rouges and paint-boxes of cosmetics than miss such an exciting moment
as I had promised them. Naturally, my mistress was in the forefront.
tonus marched only a pace behind the king. He and his Blues had taken
over the duties of the royal bodyguard.

The king turned back to tonus now. “Have your men bring forward the
Lord Intell” Treating him with elaborate and icy courtesy, Kratas led
Inter to face the wall, but he interposed himself between the prisoner
and the king and stood with his naked blade at the ready.

“Taita, you may proceed, ” the king told me, and I measured the wall,
stepping out exactly thirty paces from the furthest corner and marking
the distance with the lump of chalk that I had brought with me for the
purpose.

“Behind this wall lie the private “quarters of the grand vizier, ” I
explained to the king. “Certain alterations were made when last the
palace was renovated. Lord Inter likes to have his wealth close at
hand. ” “Sometimes you are garrulous, Taita. ” Pharaoh was less than
captivated by my lecture on the palace architecture.

“Get on with it, fellow. I am aflame to see what is hidden here. ” ,
“Let the masons approach!” I called out, and a small band of these
sturdy rogues in their leather aprons came down thE aisle and dropped
their leather tool-bags at the foot of the throne wall. I had summoned
them across the river from the work on Pharaoh’s tomb. The white
stone-dust in their hair gave them an air of age and wisdom that few of
them deserved.

I borrowed a wooden set-square from their foreman, and with it marked
out an oblong shape on the clay-plastered wall. Then I stepped back
and addressed the master mason.

“Gently now! Damage the frescoes as little as you can. They are great
works of art. ” With their wooden mallets and their chisels of flint,
they fell upon the wall, and they paid little heed to my strictures.

Paint and plaster flew in clouds as slabs of the outer wall were
stripped away and thumped to the marble floor. The dust offended the
ladies and they covered their mouths and noses with their shawls.

Gradually from under the layer of plaster emerged the outline of the
stone blocks. Then Pharaoh exclaimed aloud and, ignoring the flying
dust, he drew closer, and peered at the design that appeared from
beneath the plaster skin. The regular courses of stone blocks were
marred by an oblong of alien-coloured stone that followed almost
exactly the outline I had chalked upon the outer layer of plaster.

“There is a hidden door in there, ” he cried. “Open it immediately!”
Under the king’s urging, the masons attacked the sealed doorway with a
will, and once they had removed the keystone the other blocks came out
readily. A dark opening was revealed, and Pharaoh, who had by now
taken charge of the work, called excitedly for torches to be fit.

“The entire space behind this wall is a secret compartment I told
Pharaoh, while we waited for the torches to be brought to us. “I had
it constructed on Lord Inter’s orders. ” When the torches were
brought, tonus took one of them and lit the king’s way into” the gaping
secret door. The king stepped through, and I was the next to enter
after him and tonus.

It was so long since I had last been in there that I looked around me
with as much interest as the others. Nothing had changed in all that
time. The chests and casks of cedar and acacia wood were stacked
exactly as I had left them. I pointed out to the king those cases to
which he should first devote his attention, and he ordered, “Have them
carried out into the audience hall. ” “You will need strong men to
carry them, ” I remarked drily. “They are rather heavy. ” It took
three of the biggest men of the Blues to lift each case and they
staggered out through the jagged opening in the wall with them.

“I have never seen these boxes before, ” Lord Inter protested, as the
first of them was carried out and laid on the dais of the grand
vizier’s throne. “I had no knowledge of a secret chamber behind the
wall. It must have been built by my predecessor, and the cases placed
there at his command. ” “Your Majesty, observe the seal on this lid.
” I pointed it out to him and the king peered at the clay tablet.

“Whose seal is this?” he demanded.

“Observe the ring on the left forefinger of the grand vizier, Majesty,
” I murmured. “May I respectfully suggest that Pharaoh match it to the
seal on this chest?” “Lord Inter, hand me your ring if you please, ”
the king asked with exaggerated courtesy, and the grand vizier hid his
left hand behind his back.

“Great Egypt, the ring has been on my finger for twenty years. My
flesh has grown around it and it cannot now be removed. ” Lord tonus.
” The king turned to him. “Take your sword.

Remove Lord Inters finger and bring it to me with the ring upon it. ”
tonus smiled cruelly as he stepped forward to obey, half-drawing his
blade.

“Perhaps I am mistaken, ” Lord Inter admitted with alacrity. “Let me
see if I cannot free it. ” The ring slipped readily enough from his
finger, and tonus went down on one knee to hand it to the king.

Pharaoh bent studiously over the chest and made the comparison of ring
to seal. When he straightened up again his face was dark with anger.

“It is a perfect match. This seal was struck from your ring, Lord
Inter. ” But the grand vizier made no reply to the accusation. He
stood with his arms folded and his expression stony.

“Break the seal. Open the chest!” Pharaoh ordered, and tonus cut away
the clay tablet and prised up the lid with his sword.

The king cried out involuntarily as the lid fell away and the contents
were revealed, “By all the gods!” And his courtiers crowded forward
without ceremony to gaze into the chest, exclaiming and jostling each
other for a better view.

“Gold!” The king scooped both hands full with the glittering yellow
rings, and then let them cascade back between his fingers. He kept a
single ring in his hand and held it close to his face to study the mint
marks upon it. “Two de ben weight of fine gold. How much will this
case contain, and how many cases are there in the secret store-room?”
His question was rhetorical, and he was not expecting an answer, but I
gave him a reply nevertheless.

“This case contains.. . ” I read the manifest that I had inscribed on
the lid so many years before. “It contains one takh and three hundred
de ben of pure gold. As to how many cases of gold, if my memory serves
me well, there should be fifty-three of gold and twenty-three of silver
in this store.

However, I have forgotten exactly how many chests of jewellery we hid
here. ” “Is there no one I can trust? You, Lord Inter, I treated as
my brother. There was no kindness that you did not receive from my
hands, and this is how you have repaid me. ”

At MIDNIGHt THE CHANCELLOR AND THE

chief inspector of the royal taxes came to the king’s chamber where I
was changing the dressing on his injured arm. They presented their
final tally of the amount of the treasure and Pharaoh read it with awe.
Once again, his emotions warred with each other, outrage vying with
euphoria at this staggering windfall.

“The rogue was richer than his own king. There is no punishment harsh
enough for such evil. He has cheated and robbed me and my
tax-collectors. ” “As well as murdering and plundering Lord Harrah and
tens of thousands of your subjects, ” I reminded him, as I secured the
bandage on his arm. It was perhaps impudent of me. However, he was by
now so deep in my debt that I could risk it.

“That too, ” he agreed readily enough, my sarcasm wasted upon him.

“His guilt is deep as the sea and high as the heaven. I will have to
devise a suitable punishment. The strangler’s rope is too kind for
Lord Inter. ” “Majesty, as your physician, I must insist that you rest
now. It has been a day that has taxed even your greatj strength and
endurance.” “Where is Inter? I cannot rest until I am assured that he
is well taken care of. ” “He is under guard in his own quarters,
Majesty. A senior captain and a detachment of the Blues have that
duty. ” I hesitated delicately. “Rasfer is also under guard. ”
“Rasfer, that ugly drooling animal of his? The one who tried to kill
you in the temple of Osiris? Did he survive the crack that Lord tonus
gave him?”

“He is well if not happy, Pharaoh, ” I assured him. “Did Your Majesty
know that Rasfer is the one who, so long ago used the gelding-knife
upon me?” I saw the beam of pity in the king’s eye, as I blurted it
out.

“I will deal with him as I deal with his master, ” Pharaoh promised.

“He will suffer the same punishment as Lord Inter.” Will that satisfy
you, Taita?” “Your Majesty is just and omniscient. ” I backed out of
his presence and went to find my mistress.

She was waiting for me and, although it was after midnight and I was
exhausted, she would not let me sleep. She was far too overwrought,
and she insisted that for the rest of the night I sit beside her bed
and listen to her chatter about tonus and other topics of lesser
importance.

DESPITE THE DEARTH OF SLEEP, I WAS

bright and clear-headed when I took my place in the temple of Osiris
the following morning.

If anything, the congregation was even largerr than it had been the day
before. There was not a soul in Thebes who had not heard of the
downfall of the grand vizier, and who was not eager to witness his
ultimate humiliation. Even those of his underlings, who had most
prospered under his corrupt administration, now turned like a pack of
hyena upon him, who devour their leader when he is sick and wounded.

The barons of the Shrikes were led before the throne in their rags and
bonds, but when Lord Inter entered the temple, he wore fine linen and
silver sandals. His hair was freshly curled, his face painted, and the
chains of the Gold of Praise hung around his neck.

The barons knelt before the king, but even when one of the guards
pricked him with the sword, Lord Inter refused to bend the knee, and
the king made a gesture for the guard to desist.

“Let him stand!” the king ordered. “He will lie in his tomb long
enough. ” Then Pharaoh rose and stood before us in all his grandeur
and his rage. This once he seemed a true king, as the first of this
dynasty had been, a man of might and force. I, who had come to know
him and his weaknesses so well, found that I was overcome with a sense
of awe.

“Lord Inter, you are accused of treason and murder, of brigandage and
piracy, and of a hundred other crimes no less deserving of punishment.
I have heard the supported testimony of fifty of my subjects from all
walks and stations of life, from lords and freemen and slaves. I have
seen the contents of your secret treasury wherein you hid your stolen
wealth from the royal tax-collectors. I have seen your personal seal
upon the treasure chests. By all these matters your guilt is proven a
thousand times over. “I, Mamose the eighth of that name, Pharaoh and
ruler of this very Egypt, hereby find you guilty of all the crimes of
which you are accused, and deserving of neither royal clemency nor
mercy.” Long live Pharaoh!” shouted tonus, and the salute was taken
up and repeated ten times by the people of Thebes.

“May he live for ever!” When silence fell, Pharaoh spoke again.

“Lord Inter, you wear the Gold of Praise. The sight of that decoration
on the breast of a traitor offends me. ” He looked across at tonus.

“Centurion, remove the gold from the prisoner. ” tonus lifted the
chains from Lord Inter’s neck and carried them to the king. Pharaoh
took the gold in his two hands, but when tonus started to withdraw, he
stayed him with a word.

The name Lord Harrab was tarnished with the slur of treason. Your
father was hounded to a traitor’s death. You have proven your father’s
innocence. I rescind all sentences passed against Pianki, Lord Harrab,
and posthumously restore to him all his honours and titles that were
stripped from him. Those “honours and titles descend to you, “his son.
” “Bak-Her!” shouted the congregation. “May Pharaoh live for ever!

Hail, tonus, Lord Harrab!” “In addition to those titles which now come
down to you as your inheritance, I bestow upon you new distinction.

You have carried out my charge to you. You have destroyed the Shrikes
and delivered their overlord to justice. In recognition of this
service to the crown, I bestow upon you the Gold of Valour.

Kneel, Lord Harrab, and receive the king’s favour. ” “Bak-Her!” they
cried, as Pharaoh placed the jangling gold chains, that had so recently
belonged to Lord Inter, but or pendant of the warrior’s to which he had
now added the st decoration, about tonus” neck. “Hail, Lord Harrab!”

As tonus withdrew, Pharaoh turned his attention back to the
prisoners.

“Lord Inter, you are deprived of your title as a lord of the Theban
circle. Your name and rank will be erased from all the public
monuments, and from your tomb that you have prepared in the Valley of
the Nobles. Your estates and all your possessions, including your
illicit treasure, are forfeited to the crown, except only those estates
that once belonged to Pianki, Lord Harrab, and which by fell means have
come into your possession. These are now returned in their entirety to
his heir, my goodly tonus, Lord Harrab. ” “Bak-Her! Pharaoh is wise!
May he live for ever!” the people cheered wildly, and beside me my
mistress was weeping unashamedly, but then so were half the royal
women.

Very few of them could resist that heroic figure whose golden hair
seemed to dim the chains upon his breast.

Now the king took me by surprise. He looked directly at where I sat
beside my mistress. “There is one other who has done the crown-loyal
service, the one who revealed the whereabouts of the stolen treasure.
Let the slave, Taita,

stand forth. ”

I went down to stand before the throne, and the king’s voice was
gentle. “You have suffered unspeakable harm at the hands of the
traitor Inter and his henchman Rasfer. You have been forced by them to
commit nefarious deeds and capital crimes against the state, by
conniving with bandits and robbers and by concealing your master’s
treasure from the royal tax-collectors. However, these were not crimes
of your own inspiration. As a slave, you were forced to the will of
your master. Therefore I absolve you from all guilt and liability. I
find you innocent of any crime, and I reward you for your service to us
with a bounty of two takhs of fine -gold to be paid out of the treasure
confiscated from the traitor, Inter. ” A murmur of astonishment
greeted this announcement, and I gasped aloud. It was a staggering
amount. A fortune to match those of all but the wealthiest lords in
the land, enough to buy great tracts of the most fertile land along the
river, and to furnish magnificent villas upon that land, to buy three
hundred strong slaves to work the land, enough to fit out a fleet of
trading vessels and send them to the ends of the earth to bring back
more treasure. It was a sum large enough to boggle even my
imagination, but the king had not finished.

“As a slave, this bounty will be paid not to you, but to your mistress,
the Lady Lostris, who is a junior wife of Pharaoh. ” I should have
guessed that Pharaoh would keep it in the family.

I, who for a fleeting moment had been one of the richest men in Egypt,
bowed to the king and returned to my place beside my mistress.

She squeezed my hand to console me, but in truth I was not unhappy.

Our destinies were so entwined that I was a part of her, and I knew
that we would never again want for any material thing. I was already
planning how I would invest my mistress’s fortune for her.

At last the king was ready to pass sentence on the line of prisoners,
though he looked only at Inter as he spoke.

“Your crimes are unparalleled. No punishment before meted out is harsh
enough to fit your case. This then is the sentence I pass upon you. At
dawn on the day after the end of the festival of Osiris, you will be
marched through the streets of Thebes, bound and naked. NWhile you
still live you will be nailed by your feet to the main gate of the
city, with your heads hanging downwards. You will be left there until
your bones are picked clean by the crows. Then your bones will be
taken down and ground to powder and cast into Mother Nile. ” Even
Inter paled and swayed on his feet as he listened to the sentence. By
dispersing their earthly bodies so that they could never be embalmed
and preserved, Pharaoh was condemning the prisoners to oblivion. For
an Egyptian there could be no harsher punishment. They were being
denied for all eternity the fields of paradise.

WHEN MY MISTRESS EXPRESSED HER DEtermination to attend the executions
and to watch her father being nailed upside-down to the main gate, I do
not think that she truly realized the horror of what she would witness.
I was equally determined that she should not be there to see it. There
had never been a sadistic streak in her. I believe that her decision
was influenced by the fact that most of the other royal women were
going to the diverting spectacle, and that tonus would be in command of
the execution. She would never pass up an opportunity to gaze at him,
even from a distance.

In the end I persuaded her only by employing the most poignant argument
in my” arsenal. “My lady, such cruel sights, as these will certainly
affect your unborn son. Surely you do not wish to blight his young
unformed mind. ” “That is not possible, ” she faltered for the first
time in our argument. “My son could know nothing of it. ” “He will
see through your eyes, and the screams of his dying grandfather will
pass through the walls of your stomach and enter his tiny ears. ” It
was an evocative choice of words, and they had the effect I was
striving for.

She thought about it at length, and then sighed. “Very well then, but
I shall expect you to bring me back a full description of it all.

You are not to miss a single detail.

Especially I will want to know what the other royal wives were wearing.
” Then she grinned at me wickedly to prove that she had not been
totally gulled by my arguments. “You can whisper it all to me, so the
child sleeping in my belly cannot overhear us. ” At dawn on the day of
the execution the gardens of the palace were still shrouded in darkness
when I left the harem.

I hurried through the water-gardens, and the stars were reflected in
the black surfaces of the ponds. As I approached the wing of the
palace where Lord Inter was being held in his own quarters, I saw the
blaze of torches and lamps lighting the windows, and heard the frantic
yelling of orders and invective from within.

I knew instantly that something was seriously amiss, and I broke into a
run. I was almost speared by the guard at the door to Lord Inter’s
private quarters, but he recognized me at the last moment before he
skewered me, and lifted his weapon and let me pass. tonus was in the
centre of the ante-chamber. He was roaring like a black-maned lion in
a trap, and aiming blows with his-clenched fists at whoever came within
range. Even though he had always had a stormy temper, I had never
before seen him so incapacitated. by rage. He seemed to have lost the
power of reason or of articulate speech. His men, those mighty heroes
of the Blues, cowered away from him, and the rest of the palace wing
was in an uproar.

I went straight up to him, ducked under another wild punch, and shouted
in his face, “tonus! It is I! Control yourself! In the name of all
the gods, are you mad?” He almost struck me, and I saw him wrestle
with his emotions and at last take control of them.

“See what you can do for them. ” He pointed at the bodies that were
scattered about the ante-chamber as though a battle had raged through
it..

With horror I recognized that one of them was Khetkbet,

a senior captain of the regiment and a man I respected. He was curled
in the corner clutching his stomach, with such agony etched on his
rigid features that I hoped never to see again. I touched his cheek
and the skin was cold and dead.

I shook my head, “He is past all help that I can give him. ” I lifted
his eyelid with my thumb and gazed into his dead eye, then I leaned
forward and smelled his mouth. The faint musty odour of mushrooms on
it was dreadfully familiar.

“Poison. ” I stood up. “The others will be the same. ” There were
five of them curled on the tiles.

“How?” asked tonus, in a tone of forced calm, and I picked up one of
the bowls piled on the low table from which they had obviously eaten
their dinner, and I sniffed it. The smell of mushrooms was stronger.

“Ask the cooks, ” I suggested. Then, in a sudden access of anger, I
hurled the bowl against the wall. The crumpled bodies reminded me of
my pets who had died the same death, and Khetkhet had been my friend.

I took a deep breath to calm myself before I asked, “No doubt your
prisoner has escaped?” tonus did not reply, but led me through into
the grand vizier’s bedchamber. Immediately I saw the painted panel
that had been removed from the far wall of the empty room, and the
opening behind it.

“Did you know that there was a secret passage?” tonus demanded coldly,
and I shook my head.

“I thought I knew all his secrets, but I was wrong. ” My voice was
resigned. I think that in my heart I had known all along that we would
never bring Inter to justice. He was a favourite of the dark gods and
enjoyed their protection.

“Has Rasfer escaped with him?” I asked, and tonus shook his head.

“I have him locked in the arsenal with the barons. But Inter’s two
sons, Menset and Sobek, have disappeared. Almost certainly they were
the ones who arranged this murder of my men, and their father’s escape.
” tonus had full control of that wild temper of his once more, but his
anger was still there beneath it. “You know Inter so well, Taita. What
will he do? Where will he go? How can I catch him?”

“One thing I know, he will have made plans against such a day as
this.

I know he has treasure stored for him in the Lower Kingdom, with
merchants and lawyers there. He has even had commerce with the false
pharaoh. I think that he sold military information to him and his
generals. He would receive a friendly welcome in the north. ” “I have
already sent five fast galleys to the north, with orders to search all
vessels that they overtake, ” tonus told me.

“He has friends across the Red Sea, ” I said “And he has sent treasure
to merchants in Gaza on the shores of the northern sea, to be held for
him. He has had dealings with the Bedouin. Many of them are in his
pay. They would help him to cross the desert. ” “By Horus, he is like
a rat with a dozen escape-routes to his hole, ” swore tonus.

“How can I cover all of them?” “You cannot, ” I said. “And now
Pharaoh is waiting to witness the executions. You will have to report
this to him. ” “The king will be angry, and with good reason. By
allowing Inter to escape, I have failed in my duty. ” But tonus was
wrong.

Pharaoh accepted the news of Inter’s escape with remarkable equanimity.
I cannot fathom the reason for this, except perhaps that vast quantity
of treasure he had acquired so unexpectedly had mellowed him. Deep in
his heart he may still have cherished some sneaking affection for his
grand vizier. On the other hand, Pharaoh was a kindly man, and may not
have truly relished the prospect of watching Lord Inter being nailed to
the city gates.

It is true he showed some passing annoyance, and spoke of justice being
cheated, but all the time we were in his presence, he was
surreptitiously studying the manifest of the treasure. Even when tonus
admitted his responsibility for the prisoner’s escape, Pharaoh brushed
it aside.

“The fault lies with the captain of the guard, and he has already been
sufficiently punished from the poison bowl that Inter provided for him.
You have sent galleys and troops in pursuit of the fugitive.

You have done all that can be expected of you, Lord Harrab. It remains
only for you to carry out my sentence on these other criminals. ” “Is
Pharaoh ready to witness the execution?” tonus asked, and Pharaoh
looked about him for an excuse to remain with his manifests and
tax-collectors” reports.

“I have much to do here, Lord tonus. Proceed without me. Report to me
when the sentences have been carried out. ”

SO GREAt WAS THE PUBLIC INTERESt. IN

the executions that the city fathers had erected a Taita stand in front
of the main gates. They charged a silver ring for a seat upon it.
There was no lack of customers, and the stand was packed to capacity.

The crowds who could not find a seat upon it overflowed out into the
fields beyond the walls. Many of them had brought beer and wine to
make a celebration of it, and to toast the barons on their way.

Very few of them had not suffered from the ravages of the Shrikes, and
many of them had lost husbands or brothers or sons to them.

Stark naked and bound together, as Pharaoh commanded the condemned men
were led through the streets of Karnak.

The crowd lined their way and hurled dung and filth at them as they
passed, screaming insults and shaking their fists. The children danced
ahead of the procession singing bits of doggerel made up on the spur of
the moment: Nails in my too ties bare burn to the sky, I am a baron,
and that’s how I die.

Obedient to my mistress’s wishes, I had taken up a place on the stand
to watch the sentence carried out. In truth I had no eyes for the
clothing and jewellery of the women of fashion around me when the
prisoners were at last led through the open gates. I looked instead at
Rasfer and I tried to revive and inflate my hatred for him. I forced
myself to recite every cruel and wicked act that he had ever committed
against me, to relive the agony of the lash and the knife that he had
inflicted upon me. Yet there he stood with his white belly sagging
almost to his knees, his face and with excrement in his hair and filth
streaking running down his grotesque body. It was difficult to hate
him as much as he deserved.

He saw me on the stand and he grinned up at me. THe paralysed muscles
on one side of his face made it only a sardonic grimace, and he called,
“Thank you for coming to wish me godspeed, eunuch. Perhaps we will
meet the fields of paradise, where I hope to have the pleasure of
cutting off your balls once again. ” in That taunt should have made it
easier for me to hate him, but somehow it failed, although I called
back to him, “You are going no further than the mud in the river
bottom, old friend, The next catfish that I roast -on the spit I will
call Rasfer. “He was the first prisoner to be lifted on to the wooden
gate. It took three men on the parapet of the wall, straining on the
rope, while at the same time, four more shoved from below. They held
him there as one of the regimental armourers climbed the ladder beside
him with a stone-headed mallet in his fist.

There were no more jokes from Rasfer when the first of the thick copper
nails was driven through the flesh and bones of his huge, callused
feet. He roared and swore and twisted in the grip of the men who held
him, and the crowd cheered and laughed and urged on the sweating
armourer.

It was only when the nails had been driven home and the harnmerman had
climbed down to admire his handiwork that the flaws in this novel form
of punishment became evident.

Rasfer howled and roared, swinging upside-down, with the blood
trickling slowly down his legs. The hang of his pendulous paunch was
reversed, and the huge hairy bunch of his genitalia flapped against his
belly-button. As he twisted and struggled, the nails slowly ripped
through the web of flesh between his toes, until finally they tore
entirely free.

Rasfer fell back to earth and flopped around like a beached fish.

The spectators loved the show, and howled with mirth at his antics.

Encouraged by the spectators, his executioners lifted him back on to
the gate, and the armourer with his hammer climbed back up the ladder
to drive in more nails. In order to pin Rasfer more securely and to
prevent him struggling, tonus ordered his hands as well as his feet to
be nailed to the gate.

This time it was more successful. Rasfer hung head down, his limbs
spread like some monstrous star-fish. He was no longer bellowing, for
the mass of intestines in his belly were sagging down And pressing on
his lungs. He struggled for every breath he drew, and had none over
for shouting.

One at a time, the other condemned men were lifted on to the gate and
nailed there, and the crowd hooted and applauded. Only Basti the Cruel
made no sound and gave them poor sport.

As the day wore on, the sun beat down upon the crucified victims, and
the heat grew steadily stronger. By noon the prisoners were so weak
with pain and thirst and loss of blood that they hung as quietly as the
carcasses on butchers” hooks. The spectators began to lose interest
and drifted away. Some of the barons lasted longer than the others.

Basti went on breathing all that day. Only as the sun was setting did
he take one deep shuddering breath and finally hang inert.

Rasfer was the toughest of them all. Long after Basti was gone, he
hung on. His face was filled with dark blood so it swelled to twice
its normal size. His tongue protruded from between his lips, like a
thick slice of purple liver. Once in a while he would utter a deep
groan and his eyes would flutter open. Every time this happened, I
shared his agony.

The last of my hatred for him had long ago shrivelled and died, and I
was racked with pity, as I would have been for any other tortured
animal.

The crowd had long ago dispersed, and I sat alone on the empty stand.
Not attempting to hide his disgust at such a brutal duty thrust upon
him by the royal command, tonus had stood to his post until sunset.
Then finally he had handed over the death watch to one of his captains,
and strode back into the city, leaving us to our vigil.

There were only the ten guards below the gate, myself on the stand and
a few beggars glyin like bundles of rags at the foot of the wall.

The torches on either side of the gate guttered and flickered in the
night breeze off the river, casting an eerie light over the macabre
scene.

Rasfer groaned again, and I could stand it no longer. I

took a jar of beer from my basket and climbed down to speak to the
captain. We knew each other from the desert,

and he laughed and shook his head at my request. “You are a
soft-hearted fool, Taita. The bastard is so far-gone, he is not worth
worrying about, ” he told me. “But I will look the other way for a
while. Be quick about it. ”

I went to the gate, and Rasfer’s head was on a level with my own. I
called his name softly, and his eyes fluttered open. I had no way of
telling how much he understood, but

I whispered, “I have a little beer to wet your tongue.

He made a soft gulping sound in his throat. His eyes Were looking at
me. If he still had feeling, I knew his thirst must be a torment of
hell. I dribbled a few drops from the jar over his tongue, careful not
to let any of it run back into his nose. He made a weak and futile
effort to swallow. It would have been impossible, even if he had been
stronger;

the liquid ran out of the corners of his mouth and down his cheeks into
the dung-caked hair.

He closed his eyes, and that was the moment I was waiting for. I
slipped my dagger out of the folds of my shawl.

Carefully I placed the point behind his ear, and then with a sharp
movement drove it in to the hilt. His back arched in the final spasm,
and then he relaxed into death. I drew out the blade.

There was very little blood, and I hid the dagger in my shawl and
turned away.

“May dreams of paradise waft you through the night, Taita, ” the
captain of the guard called after me, but I had lost my voice and could
not reply. I never thought that I would weep for Rasfer, and maybe I
never did so. Perhaps I wept only for myself.

At PHARAOH’S COMMAND THE RETURN -of the court to Elephantine was
initially delayed for a month. The king had his new treasure to
dispose of and was in buoyant mood. In all the time I had known him, I
had never seen him so happy and contented. I was pleased for him. By
this time I held the old man in real and warm affection. Some nights I
sat up late with him and his scribes, going over the accounts of the
royal treasury, which now emitted a decidedly rosy glow.

At other times, I was summoned by Pharaoh to consultations on the
alterations to the mortuary temple and the royal tomb that he was now
better able to afford. I calculated that at least half of the recently
revealed treasure would go into the tomb with Pharaoh. He selected all
the finest jewellery from Inters hoard and sent alMOst fifteen takhs of
bullion to the goldsmiths in his temple, to be turned into funerary
objects.

Nevertheless, he found time to send for tonus to advise him on military
matters. He had now recognized tonus as one of the foremost generals
in his army.

I was present at some of these meetings. The threat from the false
pharaoh in the Lower Kingdom was ever present and preyed on all our
minds. Such was tonus” favour with the king that he was able to make
the most of these fears and to persuade Pharaoh to divert a small part
of Inter’s treasure to the building of five new squadrons of war
galleys, and to re-equipping all the guards regiments with new weapons
and sandals-although he was unable to persuade the king to make UP the
arrears in pay for the army. Many of the regiments had not been paid
for the last half-year. Morale in the army was much boosted by these
reinforcements, and every soldier knew whom to thank for them. They
roared like lions and raised their clenched right fists in salute, when
tonus inspected their massed formations.

Most times when tonus was summoned to the royal audience, my mistress
found some excuse to be present. Although she had the good sense to
keep in the background on these occasions, she and tonus directed such
looks at each other that I feared they might scorch the false beard of
the Pharaoh. Fortunately nobody but myself seemed to notice these
flashing messages of passion.

Whenever my mistress knew that I was to see tonus in vote, she burdened
me with long and ardent messages for him. On my return I carried his
replies which matched hers in length and fire. Fortunately these
outpourings were highily repetitive, and memorizing them was not a
great hardship.

My Lady Lostris never tired of urging me to find some subterfuge by
which she and tonus might be alone together once more. I admit that I
feared enough for my own skin and for the safety of my mistress and our
unborn child, not to devote all my energies and ingenuity to satisfying
this request of hers. Once when I did tentatively approach tonus with
my mistress’s invitation to a meeting, he sighed and refused it with
many protestations of love for her.

“That interlude in the tombs of Tras was sheer madness, Taita. I never
intended to compromise the Lady Lostris” honour, but for the khamsin,
it would never have happened.

We cannot take that risk again. Tell her that I love her more than
life itself. Tell her our time will come, for the Mazes of Ammon-Ra
have promised it to us. Tell her I will wait for her through all the
days of my life. ” On receiving this loving message, my mistress
stamped her foot, called her true love a stubborn fool who cared
nothing for her, broke a cup and two bowls of coloured glass, hurled a
jewelled mirror which had been a gift from the king into the river, and
finally threw herself on the bed where she wept until suppertime.

APARt FROM HIS MILITARY DUTIES, which included supervising the building
of the new fleet of galleys, tonus, these days, was much occupied with
the reorganization of his father’s estates that he had at last
inherited.

On these matters he consulted me almost daily.

Not surprisingly, the estates had never been preyed upon by the Shrikes
while they belonged to Lord Inter, and accordingly they were all
prosperous and in good repair. Thus tonus had become overnight one of
the most wealthy men in the Upper Kingdom. Although I tried my best to
dissuade him, he. spent much of this private fortune in making up the
arrears in pay to his men and in re-equipping his beloved Blues. Of
course his men loved him all the more for this generosity.

Not content with these profligate expenditures, tonus sent out his
captains, Kratas and Remrern and Astes, to gather up all the crippled
and blinded veterans of the river wars who now existed by begging in
the streets of Thebes. tonus installed this riffraff in one of the
large country villas that formed part of his inheritance. although
slops and kitchen refuse would have been too good for them, he fed them
on meat and corn-cakes and beer. The common soldiers cheered tonus in
the streets and drank his health in the taverns.

When I told my mistress of tonus” mad extravagances, she was so
encouraged by them that she immediately spent hundreds of de ben of the
gold that I had earned for her, in buying and equipping a dozen
buildings which she turned into hospitals and hostels for the poor
people of Thebes. I had already earmarked this gold for investment in
the corn market, and though I wrung my hands and pleaded with her, she
could not be “moved.

Needless to say, it was the long-suffering slave Taita who was
responsible for the day-to-day management of this latest folly of his
mistress, although she visited her charity homes every day. Thus it
was ” sible for any loafer and pos drunkard in the twin cities to
scrounge a free meal and a comfortable bed from us. If that was not
enough, they could have their bowl of soup served-to them by my
mistress’s own fair hand, and their running sores and purging bowels
treated by one of the most eminent physicians in this very Egypt.

I was able to find a few young unemployed scribes and disenchanted
priests who loved people more than gods or money. My mistress took
them into her employ. I led this little band on nocturnal hunts
through the back alleys and slum quarters of the city. Nightly we
gathered up the street orphans. They were a filthy, verminous bunch of
little savages, and very few of them came with us willingly. We had to
pursue and catch them like wild cats. I received many lusty bites and
scratches in the process of bathing their filth encrusted little bodies
and shaving their hair that was so thick with lice and nits that it was
impossible to drag a comb through it.

We housed them in one of my mistress’s new hostels.

Here the priests began the tedious process of taming them, while the
scribes started on the long road of their education.

Most of our captives escaped within the first few days, and returned to
the gutters where they belonged. However, some of them stayed on in
the hostel. Their slow transformation from animals to human beings
delighted my mistress and gave me more pleasure than I had suspected
could ever come from such an unlikely source.

All my protests against the manner in which my mistress was . g our
substance were in vain, and I vowed that if I were to be embalmed and
laid in my tomb before my allotted time, the blame would surely rest
entirely with these two young idiots whom I had taken under my wing,
and who rewarded me by consistently ignoring my best advice.

Needless to say, it was my mistress and not me whom the widows and the
cripples blessed and presented with their pitiful little gifts of
wilting wild flowers, cheap beads and tattered scraps of papyrus
containing poorly written texts from the Book Of the Dead. As she
walked abroad, the common people held up their brats for her blessing
and tried to touch the hem of her skirt as though it were some
religious talisman. She kissed the grubby babies, a practice which I
warned her would endanger her health, and she scattered copper pieces
to the loafers with as much care as a tree drops its autumn leaves.

“This is my city, ” she told me. “I love it and I love every person in
it. Oh, Taita, I dread the return to Elephantine. I hate to leave my
beautiful Thebes. ” “Is it the city you hate to leave?” I asked.

“Or is it a certain uncouth soldier who lives here?” She slapped me,
but lightly.

“Is there nothing you hold sacred, not even love that is Pure and true?
For all your scrolls and grand language, you are at heart a barbarian.
” THUS THE DAYS PASSED SWIFtLY FOR all of us, until one morning I
consulted my calendar and discovered that over two months had passed
since my Lady Lostris had resumed her marital duties on Pharaoh’s
couch. Although she still showed no evidence of her condition, it was
time to apprise the king of his great good fortune, his approaching
paternity.

When I told my mistress what I intended, only one matter engaged her
consideration. She made me promise that before I discussed it with the
king, I must first tell tonus that he was the true father of the child
she was carrying. I set out to fulfill my promise that very afternoon.
I found tonus at the shipyards on the west bank of the river, where he
was swearing at the shipwrights and threatening to throw them into the
river to feed the crocodiles. He forgot his anger when he saw me, and
took me on board the galley that they had launched that morning.
Proudly, he showed me the new pump to remove water from the bilges, if
the ship should ever be damaged in battle. He seemed to have forgotten
that I had designed the equipment for him, and I had to remind him
tactfully.

“Next you will want me to pay you for your ideas, you old rogue.

I swear you are as stingy as any Syrian trader. ” He clapped me on the
back, and led me to the far end of the deck where none of the sailors
could overhear us. He dropped his voice.

“How goes it with your mistress? “I dreamed about her again last
night. Tell me, is she well? How are those little orphans of hers?

What a loving heart she has, what beauty!

All of Thebes adores her. I hear her name spoken wherever I go, and
the sound of it is as sharp as a spear thrust in my chest. ” “There
will soon be two of her for you to love, ” I told him, and he stared at
me with his mouth agape like a man

&

suddenly bereft of his senses. “It was much more than just the khamsin
that struck that night in the tombs of Tras.” He seized me in a hug so
powerful that I could not breathe. “What is this riddle?

Speak plainly, or I shall throw you into the river. What are you
saying, you old scallywag?

Don’t juggle words with me!” “The Lady Lostns is carrying your child.
She sent me to tell you so that. you should be the first to know it,
even before the king, ” I gasped. “Now set me free before I am
permanently damaged. ” He released me so suddenly, that I almost fell
overboard.

“My child! My son!” he cried. It was amazing how both of them had
made that immediate assumption of the poor little mite’s gender.

“This is a miracle. This is a direct gift from Horus. ” It was clear
to tonus in that moment that no other man in the history of the world
had ever fathered an infant.

He shook his head in wonder. He was grinning “My son!” lies like an
idiot. “My woman and my son! I must go to them this very moment. ”
He set off down the deck, and I had to run to catch him. It took all
my powers of persuasion to prevent him from storming the palace and
bursting into the royal harem. In the end, I led him to the nearest
riverside tavern to wet the baby’s head. Fortunately a gang of off
duty Blues was already drinking there. I ordered and paid for a butt
of the tavern’s best wine and-left them to it. There were men from
some of the other regiments in the tavern, so there would probably be a
riot later, for tonus was in a rumbustious mood and the Blues never
needed much encouragement to fight.

I went directly from the tavern to the palace, and Pharaoh was
delighted to see me. “I was about to send for you, Taita.

I have decided that we have been too niggardly with the entrance-gates
to my temple. I want something grander.. . ” Pharaoh” I cried. “Great
and Divine Egypt! I have wonderful tidings. The goddess Isis has kept
her promise to you.

Your dynasty will be eternal. The prophecy of the Mazes of Ammon-Ra
will be fulfilled. The moon of my mistress has been trodden under the
hooves of the mighty bull of Egypt! The Lady Lostris is bearing your
son!” For once all thought of funerals and temple-building was driven
from Pharaoh’s mind, and, like tonus, his very first instinct was to go
to her. Led by the king, we rushed through the palace corridors, a
solid stream of noble’s and courtiers turbulent as the Nile in spate,
and my mistress was waiting for us in the garden of the harem. With
the natural wiles of the female, she had composed the setting perfectly
to show off her loveliness to full effect. She was seated on a low
bench with flower-beds around her and the broad river behind her. For
a moment I thought the king might throw himself to his knees in front
of her, but even the prospect of immortality could not cause him to
forget his dignity to that extent.

Instead, he showered her with congratulations and compliments and
earnest enquiries after her health. All the while his fascinated gaze
was fastened on her belly from which the miracle would in the fullness
of time emerge- Finally he asked her, “My dear child, is there anything
that you lack for. your happiness? Is there anything I can do to make
you more comfortable during this trying time in your life?” I was
filled once more with admiration for my mistress.

She would have made a great general or corn trader, for her sense of
timing was impeccable. “Your Majesty, Thebes is the city of my birth.
I cannot be truly happy anywhere else in Egypt. I beg you in your
generosity and understanding to allow your son to be born here in
Thebes. Please do not make me return to Elephantine. ” I held my
breath, the siting of the court was an affair of state.

To remove from one city to another was a decision which affected the
lives of thousands of citizens. It was not one to be made on the light
whim of a child not yet sixteen years of age.

Pharaoh looked amazed at the request, and scratched his false beard.
“You want to live in Thebes? Very well, then, the court will move to
Thebes!” He turned to me. “Taita, design me a new palace. ” He
looked back at my mistress.

“Shall we site it there, on the west bank, my dear?” He pointed across
the river.

“It is cool and pretty on the west bank, ” my mistress agreed. “I
shall be very happy there. ” “On the west bank, Taita. Do not stint
yourself in the design. It must be a fitting home for the son of
Pharaoh. His name will be Memnon, the ruler of the dawn. We will call
it the Palace of Memnon. ” With such simple ease my mistress saddled
me with. a mountain of labour, and accustomed the king to the first of
many such demands in the name of the child in her womb.

From this moment on, Pharaoh was not disposed to deny her aught that
she asked for, whether it was titles of honour for those she loved or
liked, alms for those she had taken under her protection, or rare and
exotic dishes that were fetched for her from the ends of the empire.
Like a naughty child, I think that she enjoyed testing the limits of
this new power she wielded over the king.

She had never seen snow, though she had heard me speak of it from my
fragmentary childhood memories of the mountainous land where I had been
born. My mistress asked for some to be brought to her to cool her brow
in the heat of the Nile valley. Pharaoh immediately commanded a
special athletics games to be held, during which the hundred fastest
runners in the Upper Kingdom were selected. They were despatched to
Syria to bring back snow to my mistress in a special box of my design,
which was intended to prevent it melting. This was probably the only
one of all her whims that remained unsatisfied. All we received back
from those far-off mountain peaks was a damp patch in the bottom of the
box.

In all other things she was fully accommodated. On one occasion she
was present when tonus presented a report to the king on the order of
battle of the Egyptian fleet. My mistress sat quietly in the
background until tonus had finished and taken his leave, then she
remarked quietly, “I have heard it said that Lord tonus is the finest
general we have. “Don’t you think it may be wise, divine husband, to
promote him to Great Lion of Egypt and place him in command of the
northern corps?” Once again I gasped at her effrontery, but Pharaoh
nodded thoughtfully.

“That same thought had already occurred to me, my dear, even though he
is still so young for high command. ” The following day, tonus was
summoned to a royal audience, from which he emerged as Great Lion of
Egypt and the commander of the northern wing of the army.

The ancient general who had preceded him was palmed off with a
substantial pension and relegated to a sinecure in the royal household.
tonus now had three hundred galleys and almost thirty thousand men
under his command. The promotion meant that he stood fourth in the
army lists, with only Nembet and a couple of old dodderers above him.

“Lord tonus is a proud man, ” the Lady Lostris informed me, as if I
were completely ignorant of this fact. “If you should ever tell him
that I had any hand in his promotion, I shall sell you to the first
Syrian trader I come upon, ” she threatened me ominously.

All this time her belly, once so smooth and shapely, was distending
gradually. With all my other work I was obliged to relay daily
bulletins on this progression, not only to the palace, but also to army
headquarters, northern command.

I BEGAN WORK ON THE CONSTRUCTION of the Palace of Memnon five weeks
after Pharaoh had given me the original instructions, for it had taken
me that-long to draw up the final plans. Both my mistress and the king
agreed that my designs exceeded their expectations, and that it would
be by far the most beautiful building in the land.

On the same day that the work began, a ace runner who had succeeded in
bribing his way past the fleets of the red pretender in the north
docked in Thebes with a cargo of cedar wood from Byblos. The captain
“was an old friend of mine and he had interesting news for me.

Firstly, he told me that Lord Inter had been seen in the city of Gaza.
It was said that he was travelling in state with a large bodyguard
towards the East. He must therefore have succeeded in crossing the
Sinai desert, or he had found a vessel to carry him through the mouth
of the Nile and thence east along the coast of the great sea.

The captain had other news that at the time seemed insignificant, but
which was to change the destiny of this very Egypt and of all of us who
lived along the river. It seemed that a new and warlike tribe had come
out of an unknown land to the east of Syria, carrying all before them.
Nobody knew much about these warrior people, except that they seemed to
have developed a form of warfare that had never been seen before. They
could cross vast distances very swiftly, and no army could stand
against them.

There were always wild rumours of new enemies about to assail this very
Egypt. I had heard fifty like this one before, and thought as little
of this one as I had of all the others. However, the captain was
usually a reliable source, and so I mentioned his story to tonus when
next we met.

“No one can stand against this mysterious foe?” tonus smiled. “I
would like to see them come against my lads, I’ll show them what the
word invincible truly means. What did you say they are called, these
mighty warriors who come like the wind?” “It seems that they call
themselves the Shepherd Kings, ” I replied, “the. Hyksos. ” The name
would not have slid over my tongue so smoothly if I understood then
what it would mean to our world.

“The shepherds, hey? Well, they will not find my rascals an easy flock
to herd. ” He dismissed them lightly, and was much more interested in
my news of Lord Inter. “If only we could be certain of his true
whereabouts, I could send a detachment of men to arrest him, and bring
him back to, face UP to justice. Wherever I walk on the estates that
once belonged to my family, I feel the spirit of my father beside me.

I know he will never rest until I avenge him.. ” “Would that it were
so easy. ” I shook my head. “Inter is as cunning as a desert fox.

I don’t think we will ever see him in Egypt again. ” As I said this,
the dark gods must have chuckled to themselves.

AS MY MISTRESS’S PREGNANCY ADvanced, I was able to insist that she
limited her many activities. I forbade her to visit the hospitals or
the orphanage, for fear of infecting herself and her unborn infant with
the vermin and the diseases of the poor. During the heat of the day I
made her rest under the barrazza that I had built in the water-garden
for the grand vizier. When she protested at the boredom of this
enforced inactivity, Pharaoh sent his musicians to the garden to
entertain her, and I was persuaded to leave my work on the Palace of
Memnon to keep her company, to tell her stories and to discuss tonus”
latest exploits with her.

I was very strict with her diet, and allowed her no wine or beer.

I had the palace gardeners provide fresh fruits and vegetables each
day, and I carved all the fat off her meat, for I knew that it would
make the child in her belly sluggish.

I prepared each of her meals myself and every night when I saw her to
her bedchamber, I mixed a special potion with herbs and juices that
would strengthen her infant.

Of course, when she suddenly declared that she must have a stew made
from the liver and kidneys of a gazelle, or a salad of larks” tongues
or the roasted breast of the wild bust aid the king immediately sent a
hundred of his huntsmen into the desert to procure these delicacies for
her. I refrained from telling Lord tonus of these strange cravings of
my mistress, for I dreaded to learn that rather than prosecuting the
war against the false pharaoh, the northern army had been sent into the
desert to hunt gazelle or larks or bustard.

As the day of her confinement approached, I lay awake at night
worrying. I had promised the king a prince, but he was not expecting
his heir to arrive so expeditiously. Even a god can count the days
from the first of the festival of Osiris. There was nothing that I
could do if the child turned out to be a princess, but at least I could
prepare Pharaoh for her early arrival.

Pharaoh had now conceived an interest in the subject of pregnancy and
parturition, which temporarily rivalled his obsession with temples and
tombs. I had to reassure him almost daily that the Lady Lostris”
rather narrow hips were no obstacle to a normal birth, and that her
tender age, far from being prejudicial, was highly favourable to a
successful conclusion to our enterprise.

I took the opportunity to inform him of the interesting but
little-known fact that many of the great athletes, warriors and sages
of history had been prematurely exposed to the light of day.

“I believe, Your Majesty, that it’s rather like the case of the
sluggard who lies too long abed, and thus wastes his energy, while the
great men are invariably early risers. I have noticed that you, Divine
Pharaoh, are always about before sunrise. It would not surprise me to
learn that you were also a premature birth. ” I knew that he was not,
but naturally he could not now contradict me. “It would be a most
propitious circumstance if this prince of yours should imitate his
sire, and start early from his mother’s womb. ” I hoped that I had not
be laboured my point, but the king seemed convinced by my eloquence.

In the end, the child cooperated most handsomely by overstaying its
allotted term by almost two weeks, and I did nothing to hurry it along.
The time span was so close to the normal that no tongues could wag, but
Pharaoh was blessed with the premature birth. that he had come to
believe was so desirable.

It was no surprise to me that my mistress began her labour at a most
inconvenient hour. Her waters broke in the third watch of the night.
She was not in the habit of making matters too easy for me. At least
this gave me the excuse of dispensing with the services of a midwife,
for I had little faith in those hags with the black, dried blood
crusted under their long, ragged fingernails.

Once she had begun, my Lady Lostris carried it off with her usual
despatch and aplomb. I had barely time to shake myself fully awake,
scrub my hands in hot wine and bless my instruments in the flame of the
lamp, before she grunted and said quite cheerfully, “You had better
take another look, Taita. I think something is happening. ” Although
I knew it was much too soon, I hurnered her. One glance was enough,
and I shouted for her slave girls.

“Hurry, you lazy strumpets! Fetch the royal wives!” “Which ones?”

The first girl to answer my call tottered into the room half-naked and
half-asleep.

“All of them, any of them. ” No prince could inherit the double crown
unless his birth had been witnessed, and it was formally attested that
no exchange had taken place.

The royal women began to arrive just as the child revealed itself for
the first time. My lady was seized by an overpowering convulsion, and
then the crown of the head appeared. I had dreaded that it might be
surmounted by a shock of red-gold curls, but what I saw was a thick
dark pelt like that of one of the river otters. It was much later that
the colour would change and the red would begin to sparkle in the black
locks, like points of polished garnets, and then only when the sun
shone upon it.

“Push!” I called to my mistress. “Push hard!” And she responded
lustily. The young bones of her pelvis, not yet tempered to rigidity
by the years, spread to give the infant fair passage, and the way was
well oiled. The child took me unawares. It came out like a stone from
a sling-shot, and the tiny, slippery body almost flew from my hands.

Before I had a good hold on it, my mistress struggled up on her elbows.
Her hair was plastered to her scalp with sweat and her expression was
desperate with anxiety. “Is it a boy? Tell me! Tell me!” The
roomful of royal ladies crowding around the bed were witness to the
very first act the child performed, as it entered this world of ours.
From a penis as long as my little finger, the Prince Memnon, the first
of that name, shot a fountain almost as high as the ceiling. I was
full in the path of this warm stream, and it drenched me to the skin.

“Is it a boy?” my mistress cried again, and a dozen voices answered
her- together..

“A boy! Hail, Memnon, the royal prince of Egypt!” I could not speak
yet, for my eyes burned not only with royal urine, but with tears of
joy and relief as his birth cry rang out, angry and hot with temper.

He waved his arms at me and kicked out so strongly that I almost lost
my grip again. As my vision cleared I was able to make out the strong,
lean body and the small, proud head with the thick pelt of dark hair.

I LOSt. COUNt LONG AGO OF HOW MANY

infants I have birthed, but there had been nothing in my experience to
prepare me for this. I felt all I was capable of was love and devotion
of which crystallized into that moment. I knew that something which
would last a lifetime, and which would grow with each passing day, had
begun. I knew that my stronger life had taken another random turn, and
that nothing would ever be the same again.

As I cut the cord and bathed the child, I was filled with a sense of
religious awe such as I had never known in the sanctuary of any one of
Egypt’s manifold-gods. I feasted my eyes and my soul upon that perfect
little body and upon the red and wrinkled face in which the signs of
strength and stubborn courage were stamped as clearly as upon the
features of his true father.

I laid him in his mother’s arms, and as he found and latched on to her
swollen nipple like a leopard on to the throat of a gazelle, my
mistress looked up at me. I could not speak, but then there were no
words that could frame what passed silently between us. We both
knew.

It had begun, something so wonderful that as yet neither of us could
fully comprehend it.

I left her to the joy of her son and went to report to the king. I was
in no hurry. I knew that the news would have been carried to him long
since. The royal ladies are not renowned for their reticence.

He was probably on his way to the harem at this very moment.

I dawdled in the water-garden, possessed by a dreaming sense of
unreality. The dawn was breaking, and the sun god, Ammon-Ra, showed
the tip of his fiery disc above the eastern hills. I whispered a
prayer of thanks to him.

As I stood with my eyes uplifted, a flock of the palace pigeons circled
above the gardens. As they turned, the raysy flashed like bright of
the sun caught their wings and the jewels in the sky.

Then I saw the dark speck high above the circling flock, 4 even at that
distance I recognized it immediately. It was a wild falcon, out of the
desert. It folded back its sharp wings and began its stoop. It had
chosen the leading bird in the flock, and the dive was deadly accurate
and inexorable.

It struck the pigeon in a burst of feathers, like a puff of pale
smoke.

The bird was dead in the air. Always a falcon will bind to its prey
and drop to earth with it gripped in its talons.

This time that did not happen. The falcon killed the pigeon and then
opened his talons and released it. The shattered carcass of the bird
fell free, and, with a harsh scream, the falcon circled over my head.
Three times it circled and three times it uttered that thrilling
warlike call. Three is one of the most potent magical numbers.

From all these things I realized that this was no natural occurrence.
The falcon was a messenger, or even the god Horus in his other form.

The carcass of the pigeon fell at my feet, droplets of its warm blood
splattered my sandals. I knew that it was a token from the god.

A sign of his protection, and patronage for the infant prince. I
understood also that it was a charge to me. The god was commending him
to my care.

I took the dead pigeon in my hands, and lifted it to the sky.

“Joyfully I accept this trust that you have placed upon me, oh Horus.

Through all the days of my life I will be true to it. ” The falcon
called again, one last wild shriek, and then it banked away and on
quick, stabbing wing-beats, flew out across the wide Nile waters and
disappeared into the wilderness, back towards the western fields of
paradise where the gods live.

I plucked a single wing-feather from the pigeon. Later I placed it
under the mattress of the prince’s cot, for good luck.

PHARAOH’S JOY AND PRIDE IN HIS HEIR were unbounded. He declared a
nativity feast in his == honour. For one entire night the citizens of
Upper Egypt sang and danced in the streets, and gorged on the meat and
wine that Pharaoh provided, and they, blessed the Prince Memnon with
every bowlful that went down their gullets. The fact that he was the
son of my Lady Lostris, whom they loved, made the occasion of his birth
all the more joyous.

So young and resilient was my mistress that within days, she was well
enough to appear before the full court of Egypt, bearing her infant at
her breast. Seated on the lesser throne below that of the king, she
made a picture of lovely young motherhood. When she opened her robe
and lifted out one of her milk-swollen breasts and before the assembled
court gave the infant suck, they cheered her so loudly as to startle
the infant. He spat out the nipple and roared at them in scarlet-faced
outrage, and the nation took him to its heart.

“He is, a lion, ” they declared. “His heart is pumped up with the
blood of kings and warriors. ” Once the prince had been quieted again,
and his mouth stopped up with the nipple, Pharaoh rose to address us,
his subjects.

“I acknowledge this child to be my issue and the direct line of my
blood and succession. He is my first-born son, and shall be Pharaoh
after me. To you noble lords and ladies, to all my subjects, I commend
the Prince Memnon. ” The cheers went on and on, for no one amongst
them wanted to be the first to fall silent and bring his loyalty into
question.

During all of this I stood with other servants and slaves of the royal
household in one of the upper galleries which overlooked the hall. By
craning my head, I was able to pick out the tall figure of Lord tonus.
He was standing in the third rank below the throne with Nembet and the
other military commanders. Although he cheered with the rest of them,
I could read the expression on his broad, open face that he strove to
disguise. His son was claimed by another and it was beyond his power
to prevent it. Even I, who knew and understood him so well, could only
guess at what agony he was suffering.

When at last the king ordered silence and he had their attention he
continued, “I commend to -you once more the mother of the prince, the
Lady Lostris. Know all that she sits now closest to my throne. From
this day forward she is elevated to the rank of chief consort and the
senior wife of Pharaoh. From henceforth, in name she will become queen
Lostris, while in precedence and preferment she ranks after the king
and his prince alone. Further-more, until the prince has reached the
age of his majority, she will stand at the head of the nation in my
stead. ” Queen Lostris shall act as my rege when I am unable to do
so.

I do not think there was a soul in all the Upper Kingdom who did not
love my mistress, except perhaps some of the royal wives who had been
unable to provide the king with a male heir, and who now found
themselves outranked by her and superseded in the order of precedence.
All the rest showed their love in the acclaim with which they greeted
this pronouncement.

To end the ceremony of the naming of Pharaoh’s heir, the royal family
left the hall. In the main courtyard of the palace, Pharaoh mounted
the sledge of state, and with Queen Lostris seated at his side and the
prince in her arms, they were drawn by the span of white bullocks down
the Avenue of Rams to the temple of Osiris to make sacrifice to the
god.

Both sides of the sacred avenue were lined a hundred deep by the
citizens of Thebes. With a mighty voice they demonstrated their
devotion to the king and their love for the queen and her new-born
prince.

That night; as I waited on her and the child, she whispered to me, “Oh,
Taita, did you see tonus in the crowd? What a day of mixed joy and
sorrow this has been. I could have wept for my love. He was so tall
and brave, and he had to watch and listen when his son was taken from
him. I wanted to jump to my feet in all that throng and cry out, “This
is the son of tonus, Lord Harrah, and I love them both. ” “I am
pleased for the sake of all of us, Your Majesty, that for once you were
able to restrain that wayward tongue of yours. ” She giggled. “It is
so strange to have you call me Your Majesty.” “it makes me feel like
an impostor. ” She transferred the prince from one breast to the
other, and at the movement he released from both ends of his tiny body
a double blast of air which in volume and resonance was. truly
imperial.

“It is apparent that he was conceived in a windstorm, ” I remarked
drily, and she giggled again and then immediately afterwards sighed
dolefully.

“My darling tonus will never share these intimate moments with us.

Do you realize that he has not yet held Memnon in his arms, and it is
possible he never will? I think I am about to cry again. ” “Restrain
yourself, mistress. If you weep, it might sour your milk. ” A warning
which was untrue but effective in bending her to my will.

She sniffed back her tears.

“Is there no way that we can let tonus enjoy our baby as we do?”

I thought about it for a while and then made a suggestion which caused
her to cry out with pleasure. As if to endorse what I had said, the
prince broke a resounding wind once more. ?” The very next day when
Pharaoh came to visit his son, the queen put my suggestion into effect.
Dear and divine husband, have you given thought to selecting official
tutors for Prince Memnon?” Pharaoh laughed indulgently. “He is still
only an infant.

Should he not first learn to walk and talk before he is instructed in
other skills?” “I think his tutors should be appointed now, so they
can grow to know him, and he them “Very well. ” The king smiled, and
took the child on to his knee. “Who do You suggest as” scholars.

“For his schooling we need one of our great Some person who understands
all the sciences and mysteries. ” The king’s eyes twinkled.

“I cannot think of one who answers that description, ” and he grinned
at me. The child had altered Pharaoh’s disposition; since Memnons
birth, he had become almost jovial, and for a moment I expected him to
wink at me. However, his new, congenial attitude did not extend quite
that far.

The queen continued, unruffled by this exchange, “Then we need a
soldier well versed in the warlike arts, Trustworthy, and good
breeding. then He should, I think, exercise of arms to train him as a
warrior and be young and ofg course loyal to the crown.. ” “Who do you
suggest for that position, my dear? a few of my soldiers answer to all
those virtues. ” I do not think there was any guile or malice in
Pharaoh’s question. She inclined her head gracefully but nevertheless
my mistress said, “The king is wise, and knows who, from all his
generals, best suits that role. ” At the very next assize the king
announced the prince’s sible tutors. The slave and physician, Taita,
was to be responsible for Memnon’s schooling and deportment. This
surprised very few, but there was a buzz of comment when the king went
on, “For his training in arms and in military tactics and strategy, the
Great Lion of Egypt, Lord Harrab, shall henceforth be responsible. ”
Accordingly it became the duty of Lord Harrab, when he was not on
campaign, to wait upon the prince at the beginning of each week.

While my mistress waited for her quarters in the new palace that I was
building across the river to be completed, she had moved from the harem
into a wing of the grand vizier’s palace that overlooked the
water-garden I had built for her father. This was in accordance with
her new status as the senior wife and consort. The weekly audience
that Prince Memnon held for his official tutors took place under the
barrazza with Queen Lostris in attendance. Very often there was a
score of other officials or courtiers present, and occasionally Pharaoh
himself arrived with all his train, so we were under considerable
constraint.

However, once in a while there were just the four of us present.

On the very first occasion that we had such privacy, Queen Lostris,
placed the prince in his father’s arms for the first time and I was
witness to the incoherent joy with which tonus looked down into the
face of his son. Memnon rose to the occasion by puking down the front
of his father’s uniform, but even then tonus would not relinquish
him.

From then onwards we reserved any special event in the child’s life for
when tonus was with us. tonus fed him his first spoonful of gruel, and
the prince was so startled by this unaccustomed fare that he screwed up
his face and spat the offending mess down his chin. Then he howled
loudly for his mother’s milk to wash the taste from his mouth.

Queen Lostris took him on her lap and while tonus watched fascinated,
she gave him the breast. Suddenly tonus reached across and tweaked the
nipple from the tiny mouth. This amused everybody but the prince and
me. Memnon was outraged at this cavalier treatment and made that fact
known, while I was shocked. I imagined the king arriving unexpectedly
to find the Great Lion of Egypt with a right royal handful which he
seemed in no hurry to relinquish.

When I quite rightly protested my mistress told me, “Don’t be such a
prim old woman, Taita. We are only havIng a little innocent fun. ”
“Fun, yes. However, there is some doubt as to the innocence of it, ” I
muttered, for I had seen both their faces light up at the intimate
touch, and sensed their mutual passion like thunder in their faces. I
knew that they could not restrai themselves for much longer, and that
even tonus” sense of duty and honour must in the end succumb to so
great a love as theirs.

That very evening I visited the temple of Horus and made a generous
sacrifice.

Then I prayed and asked the god, “may the prophecy of the Mazes be not
too long delayed, for they cannot help themselves. It will mean death
and disgrace to all of us. ” Sometimes it is best for men not to
attempt to interfere with destiny. Our prayers can be answered in ways
which we do not expect and do not welcome.

I WAS PHYSICIAN TO THE PRINCE, but IN truth he had little need of my
medical skills. He was blessed with his father’s rude and abundant
health, and precocious strength. His appetite and digestion were
exemplary. Anything placed in his mouth was devoured with leonine
voracity, and promptly re-emerged from his nether end in the desired
shape and consistency.

He slept without interruption and woke bellowing for food.

If I showed him a finger, he would watch it move from side to side with
those huge dark eyes, and the moment it came within range he would
seize it and haul himself into a sitting position. In this he
succeeded sooner than any other child that I had attended. He raised
himself and crawled at the age when others had only begun to sit up.
He took his first tottering step when others would only begin to crawl.
tonus was present on that remarkable day. He had been on campaign for
the past two months, for the forces of the” red usurper had captured
Asyut. That city was the pivot on our northern de fences turned, and
Pharaoh had ordered tonus down-river with all his fleet to retake the
city.

Much later I heard from Kratas just how terrible had been the fighting,
but in the end tonus breached the walls and was at the head of his
beloved Blues when they broke in.

They drove the pretender from the city and back beyond his own borders
with bloody losses. tonus sailed back to Thebes and the gratitude of
the kingdom.

Pharaoh laid another chain upon his shoulders, the Gold of Valour, and
made up the back-pay of all the troops who had helped him achieve this
victory. tonus came almost directly from the king to the barrazzaw in
the water-garden where we were waiting for him. While I stood guard at
the gateway, tonus and my mistress embraced with all the fire that had
burned up so brightly while they had been apart. At last I had to
separate them, for that embrace could lead in only one direction.

“Lord tonus, ” I called sharply, “Prince Memnon grows impatient. ”
Reluctantly they drew apart, and tonus went to where the infant
sprawled naked on a robe of jackal skins that I had spread for him in
the shade. tonus went down on one knee before him.

“Greetings, Your Royal Highness. I bring’ you tidings of the triumph
of our arms.. . ” tonus mocked him lovingly, and Memnon gave a happy
shout as he recognized his father, and then the sparkling gold chain
caught his eye. With a mighty heave he hoisted himself to his feet. He
took four lurching steps, seized the chain and clung to it with both
hands.

All of us applauded this feat, and, supporting himself by the chain,
Memnon beamed about him, accepting this praise as his due.

“By the wings of Horus, he has as sharp an eye as you do for the yellow
metal, Taita, ” tonus laughed.

“It is not the gold that draws him, but the winning of it, ” my
mistress declared. “One day he too will wear the Gold of Valour upon
his chest. ” “Never doubt it!” tonus swung the boy high, and Memnon
shrieked with pleasure and kicked his legs to urge tonus to further
rough play.

Thus, for tonus and me, the child’s advances seemed to mark the change
of seasons, just as surely as did the rise and fall of the river. On
the other hand my mistress’s life revolved around those hours spent
alone with the child and the man. Each interval between tonus” visits
seemed too long for my mistress to support, each visit too short for
her to bear.

THE INUNDATION OF THAt SUMMER WAS as benevolent as any that we had
forecast at the ceremony of the waters in Elephantine.

When the flood receded, the fields glistened under their new coat of
black mud. In their turn, they were soon obliterated by the dense
green stands of corn and fruit. By the time the prince took his first
upright step the granaries of Egypt were brimming, and the larders of
even the poorest of her subjects were filled. On the west bank the
Palace of Memnon was taking shape, and the war in the north was running
in our favour. The gods smiled on Pharaoh and all his realm.

The only discontent in all this was that the two lovers, though close
enough to touch, were cleaved apart by a gulf wider than the valley in
which we lived. Each of them on separate but numerous occasions taxed
me with the prophecy of the Mazes of. Ammon-Ra, as though I were
personally responsible for the fulfilment of the dream visions. It was
in vain to protest that I was merely the mirror in which the future was
reflected, and not the one who moved the stones on the boo board of
destiny.

The old year died, and the river began to rise once more, completing
the endless cycle. This was the fourth flood that the Mazes had
foretold. I, as much as any of them, expected my vision of the Mazes
to be fulfilled before the end of the season. When this did not
happen, both my mistress and Tan us taxed me severely.

When will I be free to go to Tonus?” Queen Lostris sighed. “You must
do something, Taita. ” “It is not me, but the gods, whom you must
question. I can pray to them, but that is all I can do. ” Then
another year passed without any change in our circumstances, and yen
tonus was bitter. “So much faith I have placed in you that I have
based my future happiness on your word. I swear to you-, Taita, that
if you do not do something soon.. . ” He broke off and stared at me.
The threat was all the more forceful for not being spoken.

Yet another -year drifted past, and even I began to lose faith in my
own prophecy. I came to believe that the god had changed their minds,
or that what I had seen was my own wishful fantasy.

In the end Prince Memnon was almost five years old and his mother
twenty-one, when the messenger came flying wild-eyed from the north, in
one of our scouting galleys.

“The Delta had fallen. The red pretender is dead. The Lower Kingdom
is in flames. The cities of Memphis and Avaris are destroyed.

The temples are burned to the ground and the images of the gods thrown
down, ” he shouted to the king, and Pharaoh replied “It is not
possible.

I long to believe this despatch, but I cannot. How could this thing
come to pass without our knowledge? The usurper was possessed of great
force, for more than fifteen years we have been unable to overthrow
him. How has this been accomplished in a day, and by whom?”

The messenger was shaking with fear and exhaustion, for his journey had
been onerous, and he knew how the bearers of disastrous tidings were
treated in Thebes.

The red pretender was destroyed with his sword still in the scabbard.
His forces were scattered before the war trumpets could sound the
alarm. ” “HOW was this accomplished?” “Divine Egypt, I know not. They
say that a new and terrible enemy has come out of the East, swift as
the Wind, and no nation -can stand before his wrath. Though they have
never seen him, our army is in full retreat from the northern borders.
Even the bravest will not stay to face him. ” “Who is this enemy?”
Pharaoh demanded, and for the first time we heard the fear in his
voice.

“They call him the Shepherd King. The Hyksos. ” tonus and I had
jested with that name. We would never do so again.

PHARAOH CALLED HIS WAR COUNCIL into secret conclave. It was only long
afterwards that I learned from Kratas all that transpired in those
deliberations. tonus, of course, would never break his oath of
secrecy, not even to me or my mistress. But I was able to worm it out
of Kratas, for that lovable, brawling oaf was not proof against my
wiles. tonus had promoted Kratas to the rank of Best of Ten Thousand,
and had given him the command of the Blue Crocodile Guards. The bond
between them was still as solid as a granite stele. Thus, as a
regimental commander, Kratas was entitled to a seat on the war council,
and although at his lowly rank he was not called upon to speak, he
faithfully relayed all that was said, to me and my mistress.

The council was divided between the ancients, headed by Nembet, and the
new blood of which tonus was the leader.

Unfortunately the final authority lay with the old men, and they forced
their archaic views upon the others.

“Tonus wanted to draw our main forces back from the frontier and to set
up a series of deep de fences along the river. At the same time, he
intended sending forward scouting and reconnaissance parties to assess
and study the nature of the mysterious enemy. We had spies in all of
the northern cities, but for some unknown reason no reports from them
had as yet been received. tonus wanted to gather these in and study
them, before he deployed his main force to battle.

“Until we know whatw we are facing, we cannot devise thee correct
strategy to meet it, ” he told’ the council.

Nembet and his faction countered any of tonus” suggestions. The old
admiral had never forgiven tonus for his humiliation on the day he
saved the royal barge from destruction. His opposition to tonus was
based on principle rather than on reason or logic.

“We will not yield a cubit of our sacred soil. To suggest it is
cowardice. We will meet the enemy and destroy him wherever we find
him. We will not dance and flirt with him like a gaggle of village
maidens. ” “My lord!” roared tonus, incensed by the suggestion of
cowardice. “Only a fool, and an old fool at that, will make a decision
before he knows the facts. We have no scrap of intelligence to act
upon.. . ” it was in vain. The seniority of the three generals above
tonus on the army lists prevailed in the end. tonus was ordered north
immediately, to steady and rally the retreating army. He was to hold
the frontier, and make his stand on. the boundary stones. He was
forbidden to make a strategic withdrawal to the line of hills before
Asyut, which was the natural defensive line, and from which the city
walls -provided a second line of defence.

He would have the fleet and the northern army corps under his direct
command, with three hundred warships to provide the transport, and to
command the river.

In the meantime, Nembet would bring in the rest of the army, even those
regiments on the southern border with Cush. The black threat from the
African interior must be ignored now -in the face of this more pressing
danger.

As soon as they were assembled, Nembet would rush these reinforcements
northwards to join up with tonus.

Within a month, there would be an invincible army of sixty thousand men
and four hundred galleys lying before Asyut. In the meantime, tonus
must hold the frontier at all costs.

Nembet ended with a strict injunction. “Lord Harrab is further ordered
to hold all his forces on the border. He is not to make raids or sc
outings north. “My Lord Nembet, these orders blindfold me, and bind my
sword-arm. You are denying me the means of conducting this campaign in
a prudent and efficient manner, ” Tonus protested in vain. Nembet
sneered with the satisfaction of having forced his authority upon his
young rival, and in having gained a measure of retribution. On such
petty human emotions pivots the destiny of nations.

Pharaoh himself announced his intention of taking his rightful place at
the head of his army. For a thousand years the Pharaoh had been
present on the field whenever the decisive battles of history had been
fought out. Although I had to admire the king’s courage, I wished he
had not chosen this moment to demonstrate it. Pharaoh Mamose was no
warrior, and his presence would do little to enhance our chances of
victory. There might be some bolstering of morale when the troops saw
him in the van, but on balance he and his train would be a greater
hindrance than assistance to Lord tonus.

The king would not travel northwards to the battle-front alone.

His entire court would attend him, including his senior wife and his
son. The queen must have her retinue and Prince Memnon his tutors, and
so I would be going north to Asyut and the battle-front.

Nobody knew nor understood this enemy. I felt that my mistress and the
prince were being placed in unnecessary danger. On the other hand, the
safety of a slave was account, except to the slave himself. I slept
little the night before we sailed northwards on the flood of the river
for Asyut and the battle-front.

THE FARTHER NORth WE SAILED, THE more numerous and troublesome were the
rumours and reports coming down from the front to feed upon our
contentment and confidence, like locusts upon the standing crops.
Often during the voyage, aboard our vessel, ostensibly tonus came to
discuss these with me. However, on each visit he spent some time with
the prince and his mother.

I have never held with the custom of women following the army into
battle. In times of peace or war, they are a marvelous
distraction–even a warrior of tonus” calibre could be diverted from
his main purpose. All his mind should have been on the task ahead, but
when I told him so, he laughed and clapped my shoulder.

“They give me a reason to fight. Don’t worry, old friend, I shall be a
lion defending his cub. ” Soon we encountered the first elements of
the retreating straggling groups of deserters who were looting the arm
villages as they fled southwards along the banks of the river.

With very little ceremony and no hesitation at all, tonus beheaded
several -hundred of them and had their heads spiked on spears and
planted along the bank as an example and a warning. Then he gathered
up the others and regrouped them under reliable officers. There were
no further desertions and the troops stood to the colours with a new
spirit.

Our flotilla came to the walled city of Asyut, overlooking the river.
In defiance of his orders from Nembet, tonus left a small strategic
reserve of five thousand men here under the command of Remrem. Then we
sailed on northwards to take up our positions on the border, there to
await the approach of the mysterious Shepherd King.

The fleet lay at anchor across the river in its battle formations, but
the vessels were under skeleton crews. The fighting men were
disembarked with the main body of infantry and deployed upon the east
bank of the river.

I prevailed upon Pharaoh to allow my mistress and the prince to remain
on board the large and comfortable barge that had brought them here. It
was cooler and healthier out on the water, and their escape would be
swift if our army met with any reverse of arms.

The king went ashore with the army, and set up his camp on the higher
ground above the inundated fields. There was a deserted village here;
years ago the peasants had fled from this disputed border with the
false pharaoh. There were always foraging troops and bloody little
skirmishes hereabouts, and the farmers had given up any attempts to
work these fertile but dangerous fields. The name of the derelict
village was Abnub.

The flood of the Nile had begun to subside some weeks prior to our
arrival at Abnub, and although the irrigation canals were still running
strongly, and the fields were morasses of black mud, the main waters
had retreated back between the permanent banks of the Nile.

Within the restrictions placed upon him by Nembet, tonus set about
preparing to meet the threat. The regiments encamped in their order of
battle. Astes commanded the fleet on- the river, tonus himself had the
centre with his left flank anchored on the Nile, while Kratas had the
entire right wing.

The desert stretched to the eastern horizon, dun and forbidding.

No army could survive out in that burning, waterless waste. It was our
right flank, secure and impregnable.

All that we knew of the Hyksos was that he had come overland, and that
he possessed no fleet of his own. tonus expected to meet him on land,
and to fight an, infantry engagement. tonus knew that he could prevent
the Hyksos from crossing the river, and so he should be able to bring
him to battle on the field of his own choice. Ideally, this would not
have been at Abnub, but Nembet had made that decision for him.

The village of Abnub stood on a low ridge with open untended fields
around it. At least it commanded a good view, and the enemy would be
under our observation long before it could engage and drive in our
pickets. tonus had thirty thousand of the finest troops in Egypt under
his command. I had never seen such a large force.

Indeed, I doubt that an army of this size had ever before been
assembled in the valley of the Nile. Soon Nernbet would arrive with
another thirty thousand. Then it would be the greatest army in
history.

I went with tonus to inspect them, and the troops” morale had soared
since he had taken command in person. Perhaps the presence of Pharaoh
in the camp had also helped to steady them. They cheered tonus as he
strode along their massed ranks, and I felt much encouraged and
relieved at the multitudes of their host, and the spirit in them.

I could not imagine an enemy powerful enough to overwhelm us There were
twelve thousand archers with polished leather helmets and padded
leather breastplates that would stop an arrow, except if it were fired
at very short range. There were eight thousand heavy spearmen, with
long shields of hippo-skin as tough and hard as bronze. The ten
thousand swordsman in leopard-skin caps were also armed with
sling-shots, the stones from which could split a skull at fifty
paces.

I felt more confident with each day that passed, as I watched tonus
exercising these huge masses of armed men.

Yet it worried me that we still knew so little about the HykSOS and the
forces that he commanded. I pointed out to tonus that the war council
had forbidden him to send land forces forward to reconnoitre, but had
said nothing of vessels being used for this purpose.

“You should have been a law scribe, ” tonus laughed, “you can make
words dance to any tune you play. ” But he ordered Hui to take a
single squadron of fast galleys northwards as far as Minieh, or until
he encountered the enemy. This was the same Hui whom we had captured
at Gallala, and who had been one of Basti’s Shrikes. Under tonus”
favour, that young rogue had advanced swiftly, and now commanded a
squadron of galleys.

Hui had strict orders to avoid action and to report back within four
days. Dutifully, he returned on the fourth day.

He had reached Minieh without seeing another ship or encountering any
resistance. The villages along the river were all deserted, and the
town of Minieh itself had been sacked and was in flames.

Hui had, however, captured a handful of deserters from the false
pharaoh’s shattered army. These were the first persons we had
questioned who were actually witnesses of the Hyksos invasion.

However, none of them had ever stood to engage and actually fight the
Shepherd King. They had all fled at his first approach. Their reports
were therefore so far-fetched and garbled as to be completely
incredible.

How could we believe in the existence of an army that sailed across the
open desert on ships that were as swift as the wind?

According to our informants, the dust-clouds that hung over this
strange fleet were so tall as to obscure their numbers and to strike
terror into any army that watched their advance.

“These are not men, ” the prisoners reported, “they are fiends from the
underworld, and they ride on the devil winds out of the desert. ”
Having questioned the prisoners carefully, and finding that even hot
coals on their heads could not make them alter their stories, tonus
ordered their summary execution. He did not want these wild tales
circulating and spreading despondency amongst our forces who had only
recently regained their courage.

ON THE TENTH DAY OF WAITING At ABNUB,

we received word that Nernbet was at last on his way with
reinforcements, and that he expected to reach Asyut within the next two
weeks. The effect on the men was marvelous to behold. They were
transformed at a stroke from sparrows to eagles.

tonus issued an extra ration of beer and meat to celebrate the news,
and the cooking-fires were a field of stars upon the plain before
Abnub. The luscious odour of burning mutton fat filled the night, and
the sound of laughter and singing only died away in the final
watches.

I had left my mistress on board the barge with her son, and had come
ashore in response to a summons from tonus.

He wanted me to attend the final war council with his regimental
commanders. “You are always a well of ideas and wisdom, you old
rascal. Perhaps you can tell us how to sink a fleet of ships that
comes sailing over dry lands” Our deliberations went on until after
midnight, and for once I was able to contribute very little of value.

It was too late to return to the ship that night, so tonus gave me a
straw mattress in the corner of his tent. I awoke before dawn, as was
my habit, but tonus was gone from his bed, and beyond the coarse linen
wall of the tent, the camp was already astir. I felt guilty of
indolence, and hastened out to watch the dawn breaking over the
desert.

I climbed the hill behind the camp. From there I looked first towards
the river. The blue smoke from the cooking fires was smeared out
across the surface, mingling with the streamers of river mist. The
riding lamps on board the ships were reflected in the dark waters. It
was still too dark and far to pick out the vessel upon which my
mistress lay.

I turned then towards the east and saw the light bloom over the desert
with the nacreous glow of pearly oyster shells The light hardened and
the desert was soft and lovely, the hillocks and dunes shaded with
mauve and soft purple. in the limpid air the horizons seemed close
enough to touch with an outstretched hand.

Then I saw the cloud suspended on the horizon beneath the unblemished
aquamarine sheen of the sky. It was no larger than the end of my
thumb, and my gaze wandered past it and then drifted back to it.

I felt no initial alarm, for I had to stare at it for a while before I
realized that it was moving.

“How strange, ” I murmured aloud. “The beginning of the khamsin,
perhaps. ” But it was out of season, and there had been no charging of
the air with those malevolent forces which herald the desert storms.

The morning was cool and balmy.

Even as I pondered it, the distant cloud spread and grew taller.

The base of the cloud was upon the earth, not suspended above it, and
yet it was too swift and wide to be of any earthly origin. A flock of
birds might move that fast, locusts may rise that thickly to the skies,
but this was neither Of these things. not The cloud was ochre-yellow,
but at first I could” believe it was dust. I have watched herds of
scimitar-homed oryx galloping through the dunes in their hundreds upon
their annual migrations, but they had never raised a dust cloud such as
this. It might have been the smoke from a fire, but there was nothing
out there in the desert to burn.

It had to be dust, and yet I still could not wholly believe it.

Swiftly it grew, and drew ever closer, while I stared in wonder and in
awe.

Suddenly I saw reflected light twinkle at the base of the towering
cloud. Instantly I was transported back to the vision of the Mazes of
Ammon-Ra. This was the same scene.

The first had been fantasy, but this was reality. I knew that those
beams of light were shot from war armour and from blades of polished
bronze. I started to my feet, and alone upon the hilltop I shouted to
the wind a warning that nobody heard.

Then I heard the war trumpets sounding in the camp below me. The
pickets. on the heights had at last seen the approaching dust-cloud
and sounded the alarm. The sound of the trumpets was a part of my
vision. Their urgent warning shrilled in my ears and threatened to
split my skull, it thrilled my blood and chilled my heart. I knew from
my vision that on this fateful day a dynasty would fall and the locusts
from the East would devour the substance of this very Egypt. I was
filled with dread, and with terror for my mistress and the child that
was part of the dynasty.

in

The cap below me was a tumult of men running to arms.

Their armour glinted and their spear-heads sparkled as they brandished
them on high. They were bees from the overturned hive, massing and
swarming in disarray. The shouts of the sergeants and the rallying
cries of the captains were almost drowned by the braying horns.

I saw Pharaoh carried from his tent in the centre of a knot of armed
men. They hustled him up the slope of the hill to where his throne was
set amongst, the rocks, overlooking the plain and the wide sweep of the
river. They lifted him to the throne and placed the crook and the
flail in his hands and the tall double crown upon his head.

Pharaoh sat like a marble statue with an ash-white face, while below
him his regiments fell into their battle formations. tonus had trained
and exercised them well, and out of the confusion of the first alarm,
order swiftly emerged.

I ran down the hill to be near the king, and so rapid was the response
of Lord tonus” divisions that by the time I reached the foot of his
throne, his army lay upon the plain like a coiled serpent to meet the
menace of that boiling yellow dust-cloud that swept down upon it.

Kratas stood with his division on the right flank. I could recognize
his figure on the first slope of the hill. His regimental officers
were grouped around him, their plumes nodding and waving in the light
morning breeze from the river. tonus and his staff were directly below
me, close enough for me to overhear their conversation.

They discussed the advance of the enemy in cool academic tones, as
though this were a sandbox problem at an officers” training course.
tonus had disposed his force in the classical formations.

His heavy spearmen formed the. front ranks. Their shields were
interlocked and the spears” butts grounded. The bronze spear-heads
sparkled in the early sunlight, and the men’s demeanour was calm and
grave. Drawn up behind them were the archers. Their bows were strung
and ready. Behind each man stood his quiver boy with bundles of spare
arrows.

During the battle they would gather up the expended arrows of the enemy
to replenish their own bundles. The swordsmen we rem reserve, light
and quick troops that could rush in to stop a breach or to exploit a
weak point in the enemy formations.

The moves of any battle were like those of the boo board.

There were classic openings with set de fences that had been developed
over the centuries. I had studied these and written three of the
definitive scrolls on military tactics that were the prescribed reading
of officers training in Thebes.

Now, reviewing tonus” dispositions, I could find no fault in them, and
my confidence soared. How could an enemy prevail against this mighty
host of trained and battle-hardened veterans, and their brilliant young
general, who had never lost a battle?

Then I looked once more beyond our ranks at that ominous, rolling
yellow cloud, and my confidence wavered.

This was something beyond military tradition, beyond the experience of
any general in all our long, proud history.

Were these mortal men that we were facing, or, as rumour suggested,
were they fiends?

When I stared into the swirling clouds, they were now SO close that I
could make out dark shapes in the dun and gloomy veils of dust.

My skin crawled with a kind of religious horror as I recognized the
ship like shapes that our prisoners had warned us of. But these were
smaller and swifter than any vessel that had ever been launched on
water, swifter even than any creature that had ever moved upon the
surface of the earth.

It was difficult to follow one of these shapes with the eye, for they
were ethereal and quick as moths in the light of a lantern. They
wheeled and wove and disappeared in the moving clouds, so that when
they reappeared, it was impossible to tell whether it was the same or
another like it.

There was no way to count their numbers, or even to guess at what
followed the first ranks of their advance. Behind them, . the
dust-cloud. extended back to the horizon from which they had come.
“Although our own ranks stood firm “and steady in the sunlight, I could
sense the wonder and trepidation that gripped them all. The studied
conversation of tonus, officers had dried up, and they stood in silent
awe and watched the enemy deploy before us.

Then I realized that the dust-cloud was no longer advancing upon us. It
hung in the sky, and gradually began to settle and clear, so that I was
able dimly to make out the stationary vehicles in the vanguard. But I
was now so confused and alarmed that I could not tell whether there
were a thousand of them or more.

We would learn, later that this hiatus was always part of the Shepherd
King’s attack plan. I did not know it then, but during this lull they
were regrouping and watering and gathering themselves for the final
advance.

A terrible stillness had fallen on our ranks. It was so profound that
the whisper of the breeze was loud through the rocks and the wadis of
the hill on which we stood. The only movement was the flutter and
swirl of our battle “Standards at the head of each division. I saw the
Blue Crocodile banner waving in the centre of our line, and I took
comfort from it.

Slowly, the dust-clouds subsided and row after row of the Hyksos” craft
were revealed to us. They were still too distant to make out details,
but I saw that. those in the rear were much larger than those leading
their army. It seemed to me that they were roofed over with sails of
cloth or leather.

From these I saw that Men nloading what looked like large water jars
and carrying them forward. I wondered what animal and men could
consume such large quantities of water. Everything these foreigners
did was a puzzle and made no sense to me.

The silence and the waiting drew out until every muscle and nerve in my
body screamed out with the strain. Then suddenly there was movement
against our formations, some of the front ranks of these strange
vehicles started towards us. A murmur went up from our ranks as we saw
how fast they were moving. they seemed to have doubled After that
short period of rest. another cry went up from their speed. The range
closed and each being our host as we realized that these vehicles were
drawn by a pair of extraordinary beasts.

They stood as tall as the wild oryx, with the same stiff, upstanding
mane along the crest of their arched necks. They were like the oryx,
but their heads were more gracefully formed.

Their eyes were large and their nostrils were long and hoofed.

Striding out with a flared. Their legs uliar daintiness, they seemed
merely to brush the surface pee of the desert.

Even now, after all these years, I can recapture the thrill of gazing
at a horse for the first time. in my mind the beauty of the hunting
cheetah paled beside these marvelous beasts.

At the same time we were all filled-with fear Of them, and I heard one
of the officers near me cry out, “Surely these monsters are killers,
and eaters of human flesh! What abomination is this that is visited
upon us?” A stirring of horror ran through our formations, as we
expected these beasts to fall upon us and devour us, like ravening
lions. But the leading vehicle swung away and sped parallel to our
front rank. It moved on spinning discs, and I stared at it in
wonder.

For the first few moments I was so stunned by what I was looking at
that my mind refused to absorb it all. If anything, my first sight of
a chariot was almost as moving as the horses that drew it. There was a
long yoke-pole between the galloPing pair, connected to what I later
came to know as the axle. The high dashboard was gilded with gold leaf
and the side-panels were cut low to allow the archer to shoot his
arrows to either side.

All this I took in at a glance, and then my whole attention focused on
the spinning discs on which the chariot sailed so smoothly and swiftly
over the rough ground. For a thousand years we Egyptians had been the
most cultured and civilized men on earth; in the sciences and the
religions we had far outstripped all other nations. However, in all
our learning and wisdom we had conceived nothing like this. Our
sledges churned the earth on wooden runners that, dissipated the
strength of the oxen that dragged them, or we hauled great blocks of
stone over wooden rollers without taking the next logical step.

I stared at the first wheel I had ever seen, and the simplicity and the
beauty of it burst in upon me like lightning flaring in my head. I
understood it instantly, and scorned myself for not having discovered
it of my own accord. It was genius of the highest order, and now I
realized that we stood to be destroyed by this wonderful invention in
the same way as it must have annihilated the red usurper in the Lower
Kingdom.

The golden chariot sped across our front, just out of bowshot. As it
drew opposite us, I dragged my gaze from those Miraculously spinning
wheels and the fierce and terrifying creatures that drew them, and I
looked at the two men in the cockpit. of the chariot. One was clearly
the driver. He leaned out over the dashboard and he seemed to control
the galloping team by means of long plaited cords of leather attached
to their heads. The taller man who stood behind him was a king. There
was no doubting his imperial bearing.

I saw instantly that he was an Asian, with amber skin and a hooked,
aquiline nose. His beard was black and thick, cut square across his
breastplates, curled and intricately plaited with Coloured ribbons. His
body armour was a glittering skin of bronze fish-scales, while his
crown was tall and square; the gold was embossed with images of some
strange god and set with precious stones. His weapons hung on the side
panel of the chariot, close to his hands. His broad-bladed sword in
its leather and gold scabbard had a handle of ivory ivers bulged with
arrows, and silver” Beside it, two leather qut feathers. and each
shaft was fl etched with brigh. Later I would come to know how the
Hyksos loved gaudy colours.

The king’s bow on its rack beside him was of an unusual shape that I
had never seen before. It was not the simple, clean arc of our
Egyptian bows; on the Hyksos bow, the upper and lower limbs recurved at
the tips.

As the chariot flew down our line, the king leaned out and planted a
lance in the earth. It was tipped with a crimson pennant, and the men
around me growled in perturbation.

“What is he doing? What purpose does the lance serve? Is it a
religious symbol, or is it a challenge?” I gaped at the fluttering
pennant, but my wits were dulled by all that I had seen, it meant
nothing to me. The chariot and the crowned Asian sped on, still just
out of bow-shod and came back. He had planted another lance, then
wheeled and came back. He had seen Pharaoh on his throne and he halted
below him. The horses were lathered with sweat, it foamed on their
flanks like lace.

Their eyes rolled ferociously and their nostrils flared so that the
pink mucous lining was exposed. They nodded their heads on long,
arched necks and their manes flew like the tresses of a beautiful woman
in the sunlight.

The Hyksos greeted Pharaoh Mamose, Son of Ra, Divine Ruler of the Two
Kingdoms, May He Live For Ever, with contempt. It was a laconic and
ironic wave of a mailed hand as clear as if it had been Egyptian.

He ghed. The challenge was spoken in perfect Egyptian. His mocking
laughter floated across to us, and the ranks of our army growled with
anger, a sound like far-off thunder in the summer air.

A small movement below me caught my attention, and I looked down just
as tonus took one step forward and flung the great bow Lanata. He
loosed an arrow and it rose in a high arcing trajectory up in the milky
sky. The LanHyksos was out of range to any other bow but not to
Lanata. The arrow reached its zenith and then dropped like a stooping
falcon, full at the Centre 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
Centre of the target. It was done with such contemptuous ease that we
were all amazed and confounded.

Then the Hyksos seized 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 tonus 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 by 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
despair went up from the army of Egypt. I understood then how the
forces of the red pretender had been scattered without a struggle, and
the usurper had died with his sword still 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 tonus” side and shouted at
him, “The pennant lances mark the weak points in our line! Their main
strike will come through us there and there!” Someh of the Hyksos had
known our battle order, and had recognized the laps in our formation.
Their king had planted his pennants exactly between our divisions. The
idea of a spy or a traitor occurred to me even then, but in the urgency
of the moment I thrust it aside, and it was for the moment forgotten.
tonus responded to my warning instantly, and shouted an order for our
pickets to race forward and seize the pennants.

I wanted him to move them, so that we could receive the enemy thrust 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 illusory
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 monstrous
crocodile.

I saw one of our men struck squarely by the whirling blades. He seemed
to dissolve 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 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 of 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 their armour and lopped off
heads and limbs, as though they were the tender est shoots of the vine.
From the high carnages 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 missiles into our unprotected rear.

When our troops turned to face this assault on their rear, another
phalanx of racing chariots crashed into them from the open plain. The
first assault split our army in twain dividing tonus from Kratas 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 war 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 our 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 wavered, they came rUnning 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 their 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 a Hyksos chariot.

The broken troops ran into tonus, division below the high Hock and
tangled with it. with their panicking, struggling masses they clogged
and smothered what little resistance tonus-was still capable of
offering. The terror was infectious and the centre Of Our line broke
and tried to fall back, , but the deadly chariots circled them, like
wolves around the flock.

In all that chaos, in the bloody shambles and the tumult Of defeat,
only the Blues stood firm around tonus and the Crocodile standard- They
were a little island in the torrent of defeated men, even the chariots
could not break them up, for, with the instinct of a great general,
tonus had gathered them and pulled them back into the one patch of
rocks and gulleys where the Hyksos could not come at them.

The Blues were a wall, a bulwark around the throne of Pharaoh.

Because I had been at the king’s side, I was in the centre of this ring
of heroes. it was difficult to keep my feet, for all around me men
struggled and surged, washed back and forth by the waves of battle,
like seaweed clinging to a rock in the full stream of tide and surf.

I saw Kratas fight his way through from the shattered right wing to
join us. His plumed helmet attracted the Hyksos arrows and they flew
aroun his head thickly as locusts, but he came through unscathed, and
our ring opened for “him. He saw me, and he laughed with huge
delight.

Seth’s steaming turds, Taita, this is more fun than building palaces
for little princes, is it not?” He was never famous for his repartee,
was Kratas, and I was too busy staying on my feet to bother with a
reply.

He and tonus met close to the throne. Kratas grinned at him like an
idiot. “I’d not have missed this for all Pharaoh’s treasure. I want
one of those Hyksos sledges for myself. ” Neither was Kratas one of
Egypt’s greatest engineers. Even now he still believed that the
chariots were some type Of sledge. That was as far as his imagination
reached. tonus tapped the side of his helmet with the flat of his
sword in greeting, and although his tone was light, his expression was
grim. He was a general who had just lost a battle and an army, and an
empire.

“Our work here is finished for today, ” he told Kratas. “Let us see if
these Hyksos monsters can swim as well as they run. Back to the
river!” Then, shoulder-to-shoulder, the two of them shoved their way
through the ranks towards the throne where I still stood.

I could see over their heads, over the periphery of our little
defensive ring, out over the plain where our broken army was streaming
away towards the river, still harried by the squadrons of chariots.

I saw the golden chariot of the Hyksos king wheel out of formation and
cleave its way towards us, trampling our men under the flying hooves
and chopping them up with the glittering wheel-knives. The driver
brought the horses to a rearing, plunging halt before he reached the
barrier of rocks which protected us. Balancing easily on the foot
plates the Hy ksos drew his recurved bow and aimed at me, or so it
seemed. Even as i ducked, I realized that the arrow was not meant for
me. It shrieked over my head and I turned to watch its flight. It
struck Pharaoh high in the chest, and buried half its length in his
flesh.

Pharaoh gave a hoarse cry and tottered on his high throne.

There was no blood, for the shaft had plugged the wound, but the
feathers were a pretty scarlet and green. Pharaoh slid sideways and
collapsed forward towards me, and I opened my arms to receive him.

His weight bore me to my knees, so I did not see the Hyksos king’s
chariot wheel away, but I heard his mocking laughter receding as he
dashed back across the plain to lead the slaughter. tonus stooped over
me as I held the king. “How badly is he struck?” he demanded.

is killed, ” the reply rose to my lips unthinkingly. “The angle of
entry and the depth of the wound could ” mean that only one outcome was
possible, but I choked off the words before they were spoken. I knew
that our men would lose heart if Great Egypt was slain. Instead I
said, “He is hard hit. But if we carry him back aboard the state
barge, he may recover. ” “Bring me a shield here!” tonus roared, and
when it came we gently lifted Pharaoh on to it. There was still no
blood, but I knew his chest. was filling like a wine jar. Quickly, I
felt for the head of the arrow, but it had not emerged from his back.
The point was still buried deep within the cage of his ribs. I snapped
off the protruding shaft, and covered him with his linen shawl.

“Taita, ” he whispered. “Will I see my son again?”

Yes, Mighty Egypt, I swear it to you. ”

“And my dynasty will survive?” “Even as the Mazes of Ammon-Ra have
foretold.

“Ten strong men here!” tonus bellowed. They crowded around the
makeshift litter, and lifted the king between them.

“Form the tortoise Close up on me the Bluest” With interlocking
shields, the Blues formed a wall around the king. tonus raced to the
Blue Crocodile which still waved in our midst and tore it from its
pole. He wound it around his waist and knotted the ends across his
belly. “if the Hyksos want this rag, they had better come and ” take
it from me, ” he shouted, in his menc of foolish bravado.

“All together now! Back to the ships! At the double!” The moment we
left the shelter of our little rocky redoubt, the chariots came at
us.

“Leave the men!” tonus had found the key. “Kill their beasts!”

As the first chariot bore down upon us, tonus flexed Lanata. His
bowmen drew with him, and they all fired on his example.

Half our arrows flew wide, for we were running Over uneven ground and
the archers were winded. Others struck the body work of the leading
chariot, and the shafts snapped or pegged into the wood. Still other
arrows rattled off the bronze plates that covered the chests of the
horses.

Only one arrow flew hard and true. From the great bow Lanata it sang
with the wind in its feathers, and struck the like offside horse in the
forehead. The creature went down -like a rock slide tangling the
traces and dragging its team down in a cloud of dust and kicking
hooves. The charioteers were hurled from the cockpit as the carriage
somersaulted, and the other chariots veered away to avoid the
wreckage.

A jubilant shout went up from our ranks, and our pace first picked up.
This was our first success in all that dreadful day, and it manned and
encouraged our little band of Blues.

“On me, the Blues!” tonus roared, and then, incredibly, he began to
sing. immediately the men around him shouted the opening chorus of the
regimental battle hymn. Their voices were strained and rough with
thirst and effort, and there was little tune or beauty to it, but it
was a sound to back my head and lift the heart and thrill the blood. I
sang with them, and my voice soared clear and sweet.

“Horus bless you, my little canary, ” tonus laughed at me, and we raced
for the river.

The chariots circled us with the first wariness to their manoeuvres
that they had demonstrated all that day. They had seen the fate of
their comrade.

Then three of them swung across the front of our tortoise, and in
vee-formation charged at us head-on.

“Shoot at the heads of the beasts!” tonus shouted, and led with an
arrow that brought another horse crashing to its knees. Then the
chariot overturned and smashed to pieces on the stony ground, and the
other vehicles in the formation veered away.

As our formation passed the shattered chariot, some of our men ran out
to stab the squealing horses that were trapped in the wreckage.
Already they hated and feared these animals with an almost
superstitious dread, which was reflected in this vindictive piece of
cruelty. They killed the fallen charioteers also, but without the same
rancour.

With two of their chariots destroyed, the Hyksos. seemed reluctant to
attack our little formation again, and we were rapidly approaching the
morass of muddy fields and flooded iumgation ditches that marked the
river-bank. I think that at that stage I was the only one of us who
realized that the wheeled enemy could not follow us into the swamp.

Although” I ran beside the king’s litter, I could see, through the gaps
in our ranks, the dying acts of the battle that were being played out
around us.

Ours was the only surviving detachment that still showed any cohesion.
The rest of the Egyptian army was a formless and terrified rabble
streaming across the plain. Most of them had thrown aside their
weapons. When one of the chariots drove at them, they dropped to their
knees and held up their hands in supplication. The Hyksos showed them
no quarter.

They did not even waste arrows upon them but swung in close to chop
them to tatters with the spinning wheel-knives, or to lean out of the
cockpit with the lance and cut them down, or to smash in their skulls
with the stone-headed maces. They dragged the victim behind them,
still spiked on the lance, until the barbed spear-head disengaged, and
only then did they leave the crumpled corpse lying in their dust.

I had never seen such butchery. I had never read of anything like it
in all the accounts of ancient battles. The Hyksos slaughtered our
people in their thousands and their tens of thousands. The plain of
Abnub was like a field of dhurra corn after the reapers had been
through it with their scythes.

Our dead were piled in drifts and windows.

For one thousand years our armies had been invincible and our swords
had triumphed across the world. Here on the field of Abnub an age had
come to an end. In the midst of this carnage the Blues sang, and I
with them though my eyes burned with tears of shame.

The first irrigation ditch was just ahead when another chariot
formation swung out on our flank and came driving hard at us, three
abreast. Our arrows fell all about them, but they came on with the
horses blowing hard through gaping red mouths and with the drivers
screaming encouragement at them. I saw tonus shoot twice, but each
time his arrows were deflected or were cheated by the erratic swerve
and bounce of the chariots. The formation thundered into us and broke
the tortoise of interlocking shields.

Two of the men carrying Pharaoh’s liner were cut to shreds by the
wheel-‘knives, and the wounded king was tumbled to the earth. I
dropped to my knees beside him and covered-him with my own body to
protect him from the Hyksos lances, but the chariots did not linger.

It was their concern never to allow themselves to become entangled or
surrounded. They raced on and clear before our men could reach them
with the sword. Only then did they wheel and regroup, and come back.
tonus reached down and hauled me to my feet. “If you get yourself
killed, who will be left to compose a hero’s ode to us?” he scolded
me, then he shouted for men. Between them they picked up the king’s
litter and ran with it for the nearest ditch.

I could hear the squeal of the chariot wheels bearing down on us, but I
never looked back. In ordinary circumstances I am a strong runner, but
now I outdistanced the litter -bearers as though their feet were
chained to the earth. I attempted to hurdle the ditch, but it was too
wide for me to cross in a single leap, and I landed knee-deep in the
black mud. The chariot that was following me struck the bank of the
ditch and one of its wheels shattered. The body of the vehicle toppled
into the ditch and alrhost crushed me, but I managed to throw myself
aside.

Swiftly the Blues stabbed and hacked the horses and men as they lay
helplessly in the mud, but I took the moment to wade back to the
chariot.

The up-ended wheel was still spinning in the air. I placed my hand
upon it as I studied it, and let it rotate beneath my fingers.

I stood there only as long as it took me to draw three deep breaths,
but at the end of that time I had learned as much about wheel
construction as any Hyksos, and had the first inkling of the
improvements I could make to it.

“By Seth’s melodious farts, Taita, you’ll have us all killed, if you
start daydreaming now!” Kratas yelled at me.

I shook myself and seized one of the recurved bows from the rack on the
side of the chariot body and an arrow from the quiver. I wanted to
examine these at my leisure. Then I waded across the ditch with them
in my hand, just as the squadron of chariots came thundering back,
running parallel to the ditch and firing their arrows down amongst
us.

The men carrying the king were a hundred paces ahead of me, and I was
the last of our little band. Behind me the charioteers roared with
frustration that they were unable to follow us, and they shot their
arrows around me as I ran.

One of them struck my shoulder, but the point failed to penetrate and
the shaft glanced away. It left a purple bruise which I only
discovered much later.

Although I had started from so far behind them, I caught up with the
litter-bearers by the time we reached the main bank of the Nile.

The river-bank was crowded with the survivors of the battle.

Nearly all of these were weaponless and very few were unwounded.

They were all driven by a single desire, to return as swiftly as
possible to the ships that had brought them down-river from Thebes.
tonus singled me out and called me to him as the litter bearers came
up. “I place Pharaoh in your hands now, Taita.

Take him on board the royal barge and do all you can to save his life.
” “When will you come aboard?” I asked him.

“My duty is here, with my men. I must save all of them that I can, and
get them embarked. ” He turned from me and strode away, picking out
the captains and commanders from amongst his beaten rabble, and
shouting his orders.

I went to the king and knelt beside the litter. He was still alive. I
examined him briefly and found that he hovered on the edge of
consciousness.. His skin was as clammy-cold as that of a reptile, and
his breathing was shallow. There was only a thin rim of blood around
that arrow-shaft which had seeped up from the wound, but when I laid my
ear to his chest I heard the blood bubbling in his lungs with each
breath he drew, and a thin red snake of it crawled from his mouth down
his chin. I knew that whatever I could do to save him, I must do
quickly. I shouted for a boat to take him out to the barge.

The litter-bearers lifted him into the skiff, and I sat in the bilges
beside him as we sculled out to where the great state barge lay
anchored in the main flow of the current.

THE KING’S SUITE CROWDED THE SHIP’S side to watch us approach.

There was a gaggle of the royal women and all those courtiers and
priests who had taken no part in the fighting. I recognized my
mistress standing amongst them as we drew closer. Her face was very
anxious and pale, and she held her young son by his hAnd.

As soon as those on board the barge looked down into our skiff and saw
the king on his litter, with the blood on his face that I had been
unable to wipe away, a terrible cry of alarm and mourning went up from
them. The women keened and wailed, and the men howled with despair,
like dogs.

Of all the women, my mistress stood closest at hand as the king was
lifted up the ship’s side and his litter laid on the deck.

As the senior wife, hers was the duty to attend him first. The others
gave her space as she stooped over him and wiped the mud and the blood
from his haggard face. He recognized her, for I heard him breathe her
name and ask for his son. My mistress called the prince to him, and he
smiled softly and tried to raise his hand to touch the boy, but he did
not have the strength, and the hand dropped back to his side.

I ordered the crew to carry Pharaoh to his quarters, and my mistress
came to me quickly and asked low and urgently, “What of tonus?

Is he safe? Oh, Taita, tell me that he is not slain by this dreadful
enemy!” “He is safe. Nothing can harm him. I have given you the
vision of the Mazes. All this was foreseen. But now I must go to the
king, and I will need your help. Leave Memnon -with his nursemaids,
and come with me. ” I was still black and crusted with river mud, and
so was Pharaoh, for he had fallen in the same ditch as I had. I asked
Queen Lostris and two of the other royal women to strip and bathe him
and lay him on fresh white linen sheets, while I returned to the deck
to bathe in buckets of river water that the sailors hauled up over the
side. I never operate in filth, for I have found by experience that
for some reason it affects the patient adversely and favours the
accumulation of the morbid humours.

While I was thus occupied, I was watching the east bank where our
broken army was huddled behind the protection of ditch and swamp. This
sorry rabble had once been a proud and mighty force, and I was filled
with shame and fear. Then I saw the tall figure of Tonus striding
amongst them, and wherever he moved, the men stood up out of the mud,
and reassembled into the semblance of military discipline. Once I even
caught the sound of ragged and unconvincing cheers on the wind.

If the enemy should send their infantry through the swamps now, the
slaughter and the rout would be complete.

Not a man of all our mighty army would survive, for even tonus would be
able to offer little resistance. However, although I peered anxiously
into the east, I could make out no sign of infantry shields in phalanx
or the sparkle of advancing spear-heads at the shoulder-slope.

There was still that terrible dust-cloud hanging over the plain of
Abnub, so the chariots were at work out there, but without enemy
infantry falling upon him, tonus could still salvage some little
comfort out of this dreadful day. It was a lesson I was to remember,
and which stood us in good stead in the years ahead. Chariots might
win the battle, but only the foot-soldiers could consolidate it.

The battle out there on the river-bank was now entirely tonus” affair,
while I had another battle to fight with death in the.cabin of the
state barge.

“WE ARE NOt ENTIRELY WITHOUt HOPE, ” I whispered to my mistress, when I
returned to the king’s side. “tonus is rallying his troops, and if any
man alive is capable of saving this Very Egypt from the Hyksos, he is
the one. ” Then I turned to the king, and for the moment all else was
forgotten but my patient.

As is often my way, I murmured my thoughts aloud as I examined the
wound. It was less than an hour, measured by a water-clock, since the
fateful arrow had struck, and yet the flesh around the broken-off stub
of the shaft was swollen and em purpled

“The arrow must come out. If I leave the barb in there, he will be
dead by tomorrow’s dawn. ” I had thought the king could no longer hear
me, but as I spoke, he opened his eyes and looked directly into mine.

“Is there a chance that I will live?” he asked.

“There is always a chance. ” I was glib and insincere. I heard it in
my own voice, and the king heard it also.

“Thank you, Taita. I know you will strive for me, and I absolve you
now from all blame, if you should fail. ” This was generous of him,
for many physicians before me have felt the strangling-rope as
punishment for letting the life of a king slip through their fingers.

“The head of the arrow is deeply lodged. There will be a great deal of
pain, ” but I will give you the powder of the Red Shepenn, the
sleeping-flower, to still it.

“Where is my senior wife, Queen Lostris? he asked, and my mistress
replied immediately, “I am here, my lord. ” “There is aught that I
would say. Summon all my ministers and my scribes, that my
proclamation may be witnissed and recorded. ” They crowded into the
hot little cabin and stood in silence.

Then Pharaoh reached out to my mistress. “Take my hand, and listen to
my words, ” he ordered, and she sank down beside him and did as she was
ordered while the king what on speaking in a soft and breathless
whisper.

“If I. should die, Queen Lostris will stand as regent for my son.

I have learned in the time that I have known her that she is a person
of strength and good sense. If she were not, I would not have laid
this charge upon her. ” “Thank you, Great Egypt, for your trust, ”
Queen Lostris murmured low, and now Pharaoh spoke directly to her,
although every person in the cabin could hear him.

“Surround yourself with wise and honest men. Instruct my son in all
the virtues of kingship that you and I have disCussed. You know my
mind on all these matters. ” “I will, Majesty.” When he is old enough
to take up the flail and the crook, do not attempt to withhold it from
him. He is my lineage my dynasty. ” “Willingly I shall do what you
order, for he is not only the son of his father, but my son also. ”
“While you rule, rule wisely and care for my people.

There will be many who seek to wrest the emblems of kingship from your
grasp-not only this new and cruel enemy, this Hyksos, but others who .
stand even closer to your throne. But you must oppose them all.

Keep the double crown intact for my son. ” “Even as you say, divine
Pharaoh. ” The king fell silent for a while and I thought that he had
slipped over the edge into unconsciousness, but suddenly he groped for
the hand of my mistress again.

“There is one last charge I have for you. My tomb and my temple are
incomplete. Now they are threatened, as is all my realm, by this
terrible defeat that we have suffered.

Unless my generals can stop them, these Hyksos will sweep on to Thebes.
” “Let us petition the gods that it does not come to pass, my mistress
murmured.

“I charge you most strictly that you will see me embalmed and interred
with all my treasure in accordance with the strictest protocols-of the
Book of the Dead. ” My mistress was silent. I think that she realized
even then just what an onerous charge this was that Pharaoh had laid
upon her.

His grip upon her hand tightened until his knuckles became white, and
she winced. “Swear this to me on your own life and hope for
immortality. Swear it before my ministers of state and all my royal
suite. Swear it to. me in the name of Hopi, your’ patron god, and on
the names of the blessed trinity, Osiris and Isis and Horus. ” Queen
Lostris looked across at me with a piteous appeal in her eyes. I knew
that once she had given it, she would honour her word at all and any
cost to herself. In this, she was like her lover. She and tonus were
bound by this code of chivalry. I knew also that those close to her
must expect to pay the same price. An oath to the king now might one
day return to burden us all, Prince Memnon and the slave Taita
included. And yet there was no manner in which she could gainsay the
king as he lay upon his death-bed. I nodded- to her almost
imperceptibly.

Later I would examine the finer points of this oath, and like a law-
scribe I would mould it a little closer to reasonable interpretation.

“I swear on Hopi, and on all the gods, ” Queen Lostris said, softly but
clearly, and there would be -a hundred times in the years ahead when I
would wish she had not done so.

The king sighed with satisfaction and let her hand slip from his.

“Then I am ready for you Taita. And for whatever fate the gods have
decreed. Only let me kiss my son once more.

While they brought our fine young prince to him, I drove the crowd of
nobles from the cabin with little ceremony.

Then I prepared a draught of the Red Shepenn for him and made it as
strong as I dared, for I knew that pain could undo all my best efforts
and destroy, my patient as swiftly as a slip of my scalpel.

When he had drunk it all, I waited for the pupils of his eyes to
contract to pinpoints, and for the lids to droop over them. Then I
sent the prince away with-his nursemaids.

ON LEAVING THEBES I HAD EXPECTED TO have to deal with arrow wounds, so
I had brought my spoons with me. I had designed this instrument
myself, although there was a quack in Gaza and another in Memphis who
both claimed it was their invention. I blessed the spoons and scalpels
in the lamp flame, and then washed my hands in Ut wine.

“I do not think it is wise to use one of your spoons when the head of
the arrow is so deep and so near the heart, ” my mistress told me as
she watched my preparations. There are occasions when she speaks as
though the student had out paced the master.

“If I leave the arrow, it will certainly mortify. I will have killed
him just as surely as if I had chopped his head off his shoulders. This
is the only way that I will have a chance of saving him. ” For a
moment we looked into each other’s eyes. and we spoke without words.
This was the vision of the Mazes of Ammon-Ra. Did we wish to avoid the
benevolent consequences to ourselves?

“He is my husband. He is Pharaoh. ” My mistress took my hand to
emphasize her words. “Save him, Taita. Save him, if you can. ” “You
know that I will, ” I answered.

“Do you need me to help you?” She had assisted me so very often
before. I nodded my assent, and stooped over the king.

There were three ways that I might have attempted to withdraw the
arrow. The first would be to pluck it out. I have heard of a surgeon
in Damascus who bends down the supple branch of a tree and attaches
this to the shaft. When he releases the branch, the arrow is whipped
out of the living flesh by the strength of the sapling. I have never
tried such brutal treatment for I am convinced that very few men “would
survive it.

The second method would be to push the arrow through the limb or the
torso until the barbed head emerges on the far side. To achieve this,
it can be driven along its original path -with a mallet, like a nail
through a plank. Then the barb is sawn off and the shaft drawn free.
This treatment is almost as brutal as the first.

My method is the Taita spoon. I have named the spoon after myself in
all modesty, for, the claims of those others are spurious, and
posterity needs to be informed of my genius.

Firstly, I examined the Hyksos arrow that I had salvaged along with the
bow from the overturned chariot. I was surprised to find that the
arrow-head was of worked flint rather than of bronze.

Of course, flint is cheaper and easier to procure in quantity, but I
have seldom known a general who tries to economize when setting out to
seize a kingdom. This flint arrowhead spoke eloquently of the Hyksos”
limited resources, and suggested a reason for his savage attack upon
this very Egypt. Wars are fought for land or wealth, and it seemed
that the Hyksos was short of both these commodities.

I had to hope that the arrow-head buried in Pharaoh’s breast was of the
same shape and design. I matched a pair of my spoons to the
razor-edged piece of stone. My spoons are of various sizes, and I
selected a pair that enclosed the head snugly, masking the wicked barbs
with smoothly polished metal.

By this time, the drug had worked its full magic, and Pharaoh lay
unconscious upon his cloud-white linen sheets, with the snapped-off
arrow standing out as far as my forefinger from the skin, which was
wrinkled with age and covered with the frosted curls of his body
hair.

I laid my ear on his chest once more and heard his breath sigh and
gurgle in his lungs. Satisfied that he still lived, I greased the
spoons that I had selected with mutton fat, to lubricate their entry
into the wound. I laid the spoons close at hand and took up one of my
keenest scalpels.

I nodded to the four strong guards that Queen Lostris had selected for
me while I was busy with my preparations, and they took hold of
Pharaoh’s wrists and ankles and held him down firmly. Queen Lostris
sat at the king’s head and placed the wooden tube from my medical chest
between his lips and deep back into his throat. This would keep his
windpipe clear and open. It would also prevent him from biting or
swallowing his own tongue, or grinding his teeth together and snapping
them off, when the pain assaulted him too fiercely.

“First I have to enlarge the wound around the shaft to enable me to
reach the head of the arrow, ” I muttered to myself, and I pressed the
point of the scalpel down along the line of the shaft. Pharaoh’s whole
body stiffened, but the men held him down remorselessly.

I worked swiftly, for I have learned that speed is crucial in an
operation of this nature, if the patient is to survive. I opened a
slit on each side of the shaft. The human skin is tough and elastic
and would inhibit the entry of the spoons, so I had to get through
it.

I dropped the knife and took up the pair of lubricated spoons.

Using the arrow-shaft as a guide, I eased them deeper and deeper into
the wound, until only the long handles still protruded.

By this time Pharaoh was writhing and twisting in the grip of his
restrainers. Sweat was pouring from every pore of his skin, and
running back over his shaven skull with its stubble of thin grey
hair.

His screams. rang through the tube in his mouth, and reverberated
through the hull of the barge.

I had taught myself to ignore the agonized distress of my” patients,
and I slid the spoons deeper into the widely -distended mouth of the
wound until I felt them touch the flint of the arrow-head. This was
the delicate part of the operation. Using the handles like a pair of
tweezers, I levered the spoons apart and worked them over the
arrow-head. When I felt them close of their own accord, I hoped that I
had entirely enclosed the coarse flint and masked the barbs.

I took a careful grasp of the handles of the spoons and of the reed
shaft of the arrow, and pulled back on them all together. If the barbs
were still free, they would have immediately snagged in Pharaoh’s flesh
and resisted my pull.

I could have shouted aloud with relief as I felt it all begin to yield.
Still, the suction of the wet and clinging flesh was considerable, and
I had to use all my strength to draw the shaft.

Pharaoh’s agony was dreadful to hear and behold, as the mass of reed
and stone and metal was dragged through his chest. The Red Shepenn
drug had long ago ceased to be of any effect, and the pain was raw and
savage. I knew I was doing fearful damage, and I could feel tissue and
sinew tearing.

My own sweat ran down into my eyes and burned and half-blinded me, but
I never released my pull until suddenly the blood-smeared arrow came
free in my hands and I staggered backwards across the cabin and crashed
into the bulkhead. I leaned against it for a moment, exhausted with
the effort. I watched the dark, half-congealed blood trickle and spurt
from the wound for a long moment, before I could rally myself and
stagger back to stem it.

I smeared the wound with precious myrrh and crystallized honey, and
then bound it up tightly with clean linen bandages. As I worked, I
recited the incantation for the binding up of wounds: I bind thee up,
oh creature of Seth.

I stop up thy mouth.

Retreat before me, red tide.

Retire before me, red flower of death.

I banish you, oh red dog of Seth.

This was the recitation for a bleeding wound caused by blade or arrow.
There are specific verses for all types of wounds, from burns to those
inflicted by the fangs or claws of a lion. Learning these is a large
part of the training of a physician. I am never certain in my own mind
as to just how efficacious these incantations are; however, I believe
that I owe it to my patients to employ any possible means at my
disposal for their cure.

In the event, Pharaoh seemed much easier after the binding-up, and I
could leave him sleeping in the care of his women and go back on deck.
I needed the cool river airs to revive me, for the operation had
drained me almost as much as it had Pharaoh.

By this time it was evening, and the sun was settling wearily upon the
stark western hills and throwing its last ruddy glow over the
battlefield. There had been no assault by the Hyksos infantry, and
Tonus was still bringing off the remains of his vanquished army from
the river-bank to the galleys anchored in the stream.

I watched the boat loads of wounded and exhausted men passing our
anchored barge, and I felt a deep compassion for them, as I did for all
our people. This would be for ever the most dire day in our history.

Then I saw that the dust cloud of the Hyksos chariots was already
beginning to move southwards towards Thebes. The clouds were
incarnadined by the sunset to the colour of blood. It was for me a
sign, and my compassion turned to dread.

It WAS DARK BY THE TIME THAt TAN US

himself came aboard the state barge. In the light of the torches he
looked like one of the corpses from the battlefield. He was pale with
fatigue and dust.

His cloak was stiff with dried blood and mud, and there were dark,
bruised shadows under his eyes.

When he saw me, his first concern was to ask after Pharaoh.

“I have removed the arrow, ” I told him. “But the wound is deep and
near the heart. He is very weak, but if he survives three days, then I
will be able to save him. ” “What of your mistress and her son?”

He always asked this, whenever we met.

“Queen Lostris is tired, for she helped me with the operation.

But she is with the king now. The prince is as bonny as ever and
sleeps now with his nurses. ” I saw tonus reel on his feet, and knew
that he was close to the end of even his great strength. “You must
rest now.. . ” I began, but he shook off my hand. Bring lamps here, ”
he ordered. “Taita, fetch your writing-brushes and ink-pots and
scrolls.

I must send a warning to Nembet, lest he walk into the Hyksos trap even
as I did. ” So tonus and I sat half that night on the open deck, and
this was the despatch for Nembet that he dictated to me: I greet you
Lord Nembet, Great Lion of Egypt, ComMander of the Ra division of the
army of Pharaoh.

May you live for ever!

Know you that we have encountered the enemy Hyksos at the plain of
Abnub. The Hyksos in his strength and ferocity is a terrible foe, and
possessed of strange, swift craft that we cannot resist.

Know you further that we have suffered a defeat and that our army is
destroyed. We can no longer oppose the Hyksos.

Know you further that Pharaoh is gravely wounded and in danger of his
life.

We urge you not to meet the Hyksos in an open field, for his craft are
like the wind. Therefore take refuge behind walls of stone, or wait
aboard your ships, to turn the enemy aside.

The Hykgos has no ships of his own, and it is by means of our ships
alone that we may prevail against him. We urge you to await our coming
before committing your forces to battle.

I call the protection of Harris and all the gods down upon you.

It is tonus, Lord Harrab, Commander of the Ptah division of the army of
Pharaoh, who speaks thus.

I wrote out four copies of this message, and as I completed each, tonus
called for messengers to carry them to the Lord Nembet, Great Lion of
Egypt, who was advancing from the south to reinforce us. tonus sent
two fast galleys speeding up-river, each with a fair copy of the
despatches.

Then he put his best runners ashore on the-west bank, the opposite side
of the river from the Hyksos army, and sent them off to find Nembet.

“Surely one of your scrolls will win, through to Nembet.

You can do no more until morning, ” I reassured him. “You must sleep
now, for if you destroy yourself, then all of Egypt is destroyed with
you. ” Even then he would not go to a cabin, but curled on the deck
like a dog, so that he could be instantly ready for any new
emergency.

But I went to the cabin to be near my king and to give comfort to my
mistress.

I was on deck again before the first glimmer of dawn. I arrived to
hear tonus giving orders to burn our fleet. It was not for me to
question this decision, but he saw me gape incredulously at him, and
when the messengers had been sent away he told me brusquely, “I have
just received the roll-call from my regimental commanders. Of the
thirty thousand of my men who stood yesterday on the plain of Abnub to
meet the chariots of the Hyksos, only seven thousand remain. Five
thousand of those are wounded, and many WIll still die. Of those who
are unwounded, very few are sailors. I am left with only sufficient
men to work half our fleet. I must abandon the rest of our ships, but
I cannot let them fall into the hands of the Hyksos. ” They used
bundles of reeds to start the fires, and once they were set, they
burned fiercely. It was a sad and terrible sight to watch, even for me
and my mistress, who were not sailors. For tonus it was far worse. He
stood alone in the bows of the state barge, with despair and grief in
every line of his face and in the set of those wide shoulders, as he
watched his ships burn. For him they were living things, and
beautiful.

Before all the court my mistress could not go to his side where she
belonged, but she took my hand surreptitiously, and the two of us
mourned for tonus and for all Egypt as we watched those gallant craft
burn like torches. The roaring pillars of flame from each vessel were
sullied with black smoke, but still their ruddy light rivalled the
approach of the sunrise.

At last tonus gave the oiderto his hundred remaining galleys to weigh
anchor, and our little fleet, laden with wounded and dying men, turned
back into the south.

Behind us, the smoke from the funeral pyre of our fleet stood high into
the early morning sky, while ahead of us the yellow dust-cloud
stretched taller and wider along the east bank of the Nile as the
chariot squadrons of the Hyksos drove deeper into the Upper Kingdom,
towards helpless Thebes and all her treasures.

It seemed that the gods had turned their backs on Egypt and deserted us
completely, for the wind, which usually blew so strongly from the north
at this season of the year, died away completely, and then sprang up
again WIth renewed vigour from the south. Thus we were forced to
contend with both current and wind, and our ships were deeply laden
with their cargoes of wounded. We were slow and heavy in the water,
with the depleted crews slaving at the oars. We could not keep pace
with the Hyksos army, and it drew away from us inexorably.

I was absorbed with my duties as physician to the king.

However, on every other vessel in the fleet, men whom I could have
saved were dying in their scores. Every time that I were on deck for a
little fresh air and a short break from my vigil at the bedside of
Pharaoh, I saw corpses being thrown over the side -of the other galleys
near us. At each splash there was a swirl of crocodiles beneath the
surface.

Those awful reptiles followed the fleet like vultures.

Pharaoh rallied strongly, and on the second-day I was able to feed him
a small bowl of broth. That evening he asked to see the prince again,
and Memnon was brought to him.

Memnon was already at the age when he was as restless as a grasshopper
and as noisy as a flock of starlings. Pharaoh had always been good
with the boy, if inclined to overindulgence, and Memnon delighted in
his company. Already he was a beautiful boy, with clean, strong limbs
and his mother’s skin and great dark green eyes. His hair was curled
like the pelt of a new-born black lamb, but in the sunlight, it was
sparked with the flames of tonus’s ruddy mop

Pharaoh’s delight in Memnon was even more poignant than usual.

The child and the promise that he had wrung from my mistress were his
hope of immortality. Against my wishes he kept the child with him
until after sunset. I knew that Memnon’s boundless energy and his
demands for attention were tiring the king, but I could not intervene
until it was time for the prince’s supper and he was led away by his
nurses.

My mistress and I stayed on at the king’s bedside, but he fell almost
instantly into a death-like sleep. Even without his white make-up, he
was as pale as the linen sheets on which he lay.

The next day was the third since the wounding, and therefore the most
dangerous. If he could survive this day, then I knew I could save him.
But when I woke in the dawn the cabin was thick with the musky stench
of corruption. When I touched Pharaoh’s skin, it burned my fingers
like a kettle from the hearth. I called for my mistress, and she came
stumbling through from her alcove behind the curtain where she slept.

“What is it, Taita?” She got no further, for the answer was plain upon
my face. She stood beside me as I unbound the wound. The binding-up
is a high art of the surgeon’s skills, and I had sewn the linen
bandages in place. Now I snipped the threads that held them and peeled
them away.

“Merciful Hopi, pray for him!” Queen Lostris gagged at the stench. The
crusted black scab that corked the mouth of the wound burst open and
thick green pus poured out in a slow and viscous stream.

“Mortification!” I whispered. This was the surgeon’s nightmare, this
evil humour that struck upon -the third day and spread through the body
like winter fire in the dry papyrus beds.

“What can we do?” she asked, and I shook my head.

“He will be dead before nightfall I told her, but we waited beside his
bed for the inevitable. As the word spread through the ship that
Pharaoh was dying, so the cabin filled with priests and women and
courtiers. We waited in silence. tonus was the last to arrive, and he
stood at the back of the throng with his helmet under his arm, in the
position of respect and mourning. His gaze rested not on the
death-bed, but upon Queen Lostris. She kept her face averted from his,
but I knew that she was aware of him in every fibre of her body.

She covered her head with an embroidered linen shawl, but above the
waistband of her skirt, she was naked. Since the prince had been
weaned, her breasts had lost their heavy burden of milk. She was as
slim as a virgin, and childbirth had not scarred her bosom or her
supple belly with silver lines of strain. Her skin was as smooth and
unblemished as though it had been freshly anointed with perfumed oil.

I laid wet cloths upon Pharaoh’s burning body in an attempt to cool the
fever, but the heat evaporated the moisture and I was forced to change
them at short intervals. Pharaoh tossed about restlessly and cried out
in delirium, haunted by all the terrors and monsters of the other
world, who waited to receive him.

At times he recited snatches from the Book of the Dead.

From childhood the priests had taught him to memorize the book that was
the key and the map through the shades to the far fields of paradise.
The crystal path has twenty-one turnings.

The narrow way is thin as the blade of bronze.

The goddess who guards the second pylon is treacherous and her ways are
devious.

Lady of flame, whore of the universe, . with the mouth of a lioness,
your vagina swallows men up, they are lost in your milky dugs.

Gradually his voice and his movements became weaker, and a little after
the sun had made its noon, he gave one last shuddering sigh and was
still. I stooped over him and felt for the life-throb in his throat,
but there was none, and the skin was cooling under my touch.

“Pharaoh is dead, ” I said softly, and closed the lids over his staring
eyes. “May he live for ever!” The mourning cry went up from all who
were assembled there, and my mistress led the royal women in, the wild
ululation of grief It was a sound that chilled me and made invisible
insects crawl upon my- skin, so I left the cabin as soon as I was able.
tonus followed me out on to the deck and seized my arm.

“You did all in your power to save him?” he demanded roughly.

“This was not another of your devices?” I knew that this unkind
treatment of me was an expression of his own guilt and fear, so I was
gentle in my reply. “He was slain by the Hyksos arrow. I did all that
was in my power to save him. It was the destiny of the Mazes of
Ammon-Ra, and there is no guilt or fault in any of us. ” He sighed and
placed one strong arm around my shoulders. “I had not foreseen any of
this. I thought only of my love for the queen and for our son. I
should rejoice that she is free, but I cannot. Too much is lost and
destroyed. All of us are merely grains of dhurra corn in the grinding
mill Of the Mazes. ” “There will be a time of happiness for all of us
hereafter, ” I reassured him, although I had no basis for this claim.
“But there is still a sacred duty on my mistress, and through her, on
you and me also. ” And I reminded him of the oath that Queen Lostris
had sworn to the king, that she would preserve his earthly body and
give it proper burial to allow his Ka to move on to the fields of
paradise.

“Tell me how I can help in this, ” tonus replied simply, “but remember
that the Hyksos is sweeping through the Upper Kingdom ahead of us, and
I cannot guarantee that Pharaoh’s tomb will not be violated. ” “Then,
if needs be, we must find another tomb for him. Our first concern must
be to preserve his body. In this heat it will be decaying and crawling
with maggots before the sun sets. I am not’ skilled in the embalmer’s
art, but I know of only one way in which we can keep our trust. ”
tonus sent his sailors down into the barge’s hold, and they swung up
one of the huge clay jars of pickled olives from our stores. Then,
under my instructions, he emptied the jar and refilled it with boiling
Water. While the water was still hot, he mixed into it three sacks of
the finest-quality sea salt. Then he filled four smaller wine jars
with the same brine and set them all out on the deck to cool.

In the meantime I was working alone in the cabin. My mistress had
wanted to help me. She felt that it was part of her duty to her dead
husband, but I sent her away to care for the prince.

I slit open Pharaoh’s corpse down his left flank from ribs to hip-bone.
Through this opening I removed the contents of chest and belly, freeing
them along the diaphragm with the knife. Naturally, I left his heart
in place, for this is the organ of life and intelligence. I left the
kidneys also, for these are the vessels of water and represent the
sacred Nile.

I packed the cavity with salt and then sutured it closed with cat-gut.
I did not have an embalming-spoon to push up through the nostrils and
remove that soft yellow mush from the gourd of the skull, so I left it
in place. In any event, it was of no importance. The viscera I
divided into its separate parts: liver, lungs, stomach and entrails. I
washed out the stomach and intestines with brine, which was a loathsome
task.

When this was done, I took the opportunity to examine the king’s lungs
minutely. The right lung was healthy and pink, but the left lung had
been pierced by the arrow, and had collapsed like a punctured bladder.
It was filled with rotten black blood and pus. I was amazed that the
old man had lived so long with such an injury. I felt that I was
absolved. No physician could have saved him, and there was no fault or
failure in my treatment.

At last I ordered the sailors to bring in the cooled jars of brine.
tonus helped me to fold Pharaoh’s body into the foetal position and we
placed him in the olive vat. I made certain that he was completely
immersed in the strong brine.

We packed his viscera into the smaller Canopic wine jars.

We sealed all the jars with pitch and wax, and lashed them securely
into the reinforced compartment below decks in which the king stored
his treasure. I think Pharaoh must have been content to rest thus,
surrounded by gold and bars of silver.

I had done my best to help my mistress make good her vow. In Thebes I
would hand the king’s body over to the embalmers, if the Hyksos had not
arrived there first, and if the city and its inhabitants still existed
by -the time we reached it.

WHEN WE REACHED THE WALLED CITY L in of Asyut, it was apparent that the
Hyksos had left only a small force to invest it, and-had continued
southwards with their main army. Even though it was merely a
detachment with less than a hundred chariots, the Hyksos besiegers were
far too strong for us to attack them with our decimated army. tonus”
main aim was to rescue Renirem and his five thousand, who were within
the city walls, and then to push on up-river to join forces with Lord
Nembet and his thirty thousand reinforcements. Anchored out in the
main stream of the river, secure from attack by those deadly chariots,
tonus was able to signal his intentions to Remrem on the city walls.

Years before, I had helped tonus draw up a system of signals, using two
coloured flags by means of which he could spell out a message to any
other within sight, across a valley, from peak to peak, or from city
wall to plain and river. With the flags tonus was able to warn Remrem
to be ready for us that night. Then, under cover of darkness, twenty
of our galleys raced into the beacI?” below the city walls. At the
same moment, Remreni threw open the side gates and, at the head of his
regiment, fought his way through the Hyksos pickets. Before the enemy
were able to harness their horses, Remrem and all his men were safely
embarked.

Immediately, tonus signalled the rest of the flotilla to weigh anchor.
He abandoned the city of Asyut to sack and plunder, and we bore on
upstream under oars. For the rest of that night, whenever we looked
back over the stern, we saw the flames of the bumimg city lighting the
northern horizon.

“Let those poor bastards forgive me, ” tonus muttered to me. “I had no
choice but to sacrifice them. My duty lies south of here in Thebes. ”
He was soldier enough to make the hard choice without flinching, but
man enough to grieve bitterly over it. I admired him then as much as I
loved him.

REM REM TOLD US THAt OUR SIGNAL frigates had sailed past Asyut the
previous day, and that by now the despatches that I had drawn up on
tonus” behalf mast be in Lord Nembet’s hands.

Remrem was also able to give us some intelligence and news of the
Hykas, and his sweep to the south. Remrem had captured two Egyptian
deserters and traitors who had gone over to the enemy and who had
entered Asyut to spy on the defenders. Under torture they had howled
like the jackals they were, and before they died, had told Renirem much
about the Hyksos that was of value and interest to us.

The Hyksos king, whom we had so disastrously encountered on the plain
of Abnub, was named Salitis. His tribe was of Semitic blood and
originally a nomadic and pastoral people who had lived in the Zagros
mountains near Lake

Van.

my first impression of these terrible Asians was confirmed. I had
guessed at their Semitic origins from their features, but I wondered
how a pastoral people had evolved such an extraordinary vehicle as a
wheeled chariot, and where they had found that marvelous animal that we
Egyptians -now spoke of as a horse, and feared as though it were a
creature from the underworld.

In other areas it seemed that the Hyksos were a backward people.

They were unable to read or write, and their government was a harsh
tyranny by their single king and ruler, this bearded Salitis.

We Egyptians hated him and feared him even more than we did those wild
creatures that drew his chariot.

The chief’ god of the Hyksos was named Sutekh, the god of storms.

It needed no deep religious instruction to recognize in him our own
dreaded Seth. Their choice of god was fitting, and their behaviour did
the god honour.

No civilized people would burn and plunder and murder as they did.

The fact that we torture traitors cannot be weighed in the same scale
as the atrocities committed by these barbarians.

It is a truth that I have often observed, that a nation chooses its
gods to suit its own nature. The Philistines worship Baal, and cast
live infants into the fiery furnace that is his mouth. The black
Cushite tribes worship monsters and creatures from the underworld With
the most bizarre rituals.

We Egyptians worship just and decent gods who are benevolent towards
mankind and make no demands for human sacrifice. Then the Hyksos have
Sutekh.

It seemed that Remrern’s captives were not the only Egyptian traitors
travelling with the enemy host. With a bott coal in his anus, one of
Rerfirern’s captives had told of some great Egyptian lord from the
Upper Kingdom who sat upon King Salitis” war council. When I heard
this, I remembered how I had wondered at the knowledge that the Hyksos
had displayed of our order of battle upon the plain of Abnub, I had
guessed then at the presence of a spy among them who knew our
secrets.

If an of this was true, then we must expect that the enemy knew all our
strengths and weaknesses. They must know the plans and de fences of
all our cities. Especially they would know of that rich treasure that
Pharaoh had- accumulated in his funerary temple.

“Perhaps this explains the haste with which King Sahtis is driving on
towards Thebes, ” I suggested to tonus. “We can expect them to attempt
a crossing of the Nile at the first opportunity that presents itself to
them. ” And tonus cursed bitterly.

“If Horus is kind, he will deliver this traitorous Egyptian lord into
my hands. ” He punched his fist into the palm of his other hand.

“We must prevent Salitis from crossing the river, our ships are the
only advantage that we hold over him. I must exploit them to full
advantage. ” He stamped about the deck, and looked up at the sky.

“When will this foul wind swing back into the north? Every hour the
enemy’s chariots draw farther ahead of us. Where is Nernbet’s fleet?
We must join our forces and. hold the river-line. ” THAt AFTERNOON ON
THE POOP-DECK OF the royal barge the state council of Upper Egypt
convened before the throne. The high priest of Osiris represented the
spiritual body, Lord Merseket the chancellor stood for the temporal
body of the state, and tonus, Lord Harrab stood for the military
authority.

Between them the three lords lifted Queen Lostris to the throne of this
very Egypt, and placed her son upon her lap.

While every man and woman on board the barge raised their voices in a
loyal salute, the other ships of the fleet sailed past, and even the
wounded soldiers dragged themselves to the rail to cheer the new regent
and the young heir to the great throne of Egypt.

The high priest of Osiris strapped the false beard of the kingship upon
my mistress’s chain, and it did nothing to detract from her beauty and
manifest womanhood. Lord Merseket bound the lion’s tail around her
waist and settled the tall red and white crown upon her brow. Finally,
tonus mounted the throne to place the crook and golden flail to her
hands. Now Memnon saw the shining toys that tonus carried towards him,
and reached out to snatch them from him.

“A king indeed! He knows the crook is his by right, ” tonus applauded
proudly, and the court roared their approval of this precocious
behaviour.

I think this was the first time that any of us had laughed since that
dreadful day on the field of Abnub. It seemed to me that the laughter
was a catharsis, and that it marked a new beginning for all I of us. Up
until that moment we had been overwhelmed by the shock of defeat and
the loss of Pharaoh. But now, as the great lords of Egypt went forward
one at a time to kneel before the throne on which sat this lovely young
woman and her royal child, – a fresh spirit sprang up in all of us. We
were rescued from the apathy of despair, and our will to fight and to
endure was resuscitated. tonus was last of all of them to kneel before
the throne and swear his allegiance. As she looked down upon him,
Queen Lostris” adoration for him was so evident that it suffused her
lovely face and shone like the sunrise from those dark green eyes. I
was amazed that no other in all that throng seemed aware of it. ” That
evening after the sun had set, my mistress sent me to the bridge of the
state barge with a message for the commander of her armies. She
summoned him to a council of war in the main cabin. This time tonus
dared not refuse her, for he had. very recently sworn an oath of
obedience.

This extraordinary war council of which I was “the only witness had
barely begun, before the new regent of Egypt imperiously banished me
from the cabin, and sent me to guard the door and turn away all other
visitors. The last glimpse that I had of them as I drew the heavy
curtain was as they fell into each other’s arms. So great was their
need and so long had they been denied, that they rushed at each other
like deadly enemies joining in mortal combat, rather than lovers.

The happy sounds of this engagement persisted for most of the night,
and I was relieved that we were not at anchor but driving on up-river
in haste to join with Lord Nembet.

The clunk and swish of the oars, the boom of the drum setting the
stroke and the chants of the rowers on their benches almost drowned out
the tumult in the royal cabin.

When he came to the poop-deck at the change of the night-watch, tonus
had the smile and the satisfied air of a general who had just won a
famous victory. My mistress followed him on deck shortly afterwards,
and she glowed with a new and ethereal beauty that startled even me,
who was accustomed to her loveliness. For the rest of that day she was
loving and kind to all around her, and found numerous occasions to
consult the commander of her army. Thus Prince Memnon and I were able
to spend most of the day together, a circumstance that suited both of
us very well.

With the prince’s dubious assistance I had already started carving a
series of wooden models. One of these was a chariot and wooden horses.
Another was a wheel on an axle that I was experimenting with.

Memnon stood on tiptoe to watch the wheel spin smoothly on its
miniature hub.

“A solid disc is too heavy, don’t you agree, Mein? See how swiftly it
loses momentum and slows down. ” Give it to me!” he demanded, and
snatched at the spinning disk. it flew from his chubby fingers, dashed
to the deck and shattered into four almost equal segments.

“You are a Hyksos ruffian, ” I told him sternly, which he seemed to
take as a great compliment, and I went down on my knees to gather up my
poor model.

The broken segments still lay in a circular pattern, and, before my
hand touched them, I had a strange aberration of vision. In the eye of
my mind, the solid segments of wood became spaces, while the cracks
between them appeared like A rim supported by struts from the hub. so
breath of Horus! You’ve done it, Mein. ” I hugged him. “When you are
Pharaoh, what other miracles will you perform for us?” Thus did the
Prince Royal, Memnon the first of that name, Ruler of the Dawn-with
just a little help from his friend conceive of the spoke wheel. Little
did I dream then that one day the two of us together would ride to
glory upon it. before noon. WE CAME UPON THE FIRSt. OF THE dead
EGYPtiAns.

He came floating down the river with his bloated belly buoying him up,
and his face gazing blankly at the sky. There was a black-crow”
perched upon his chest. It picked out -his eyes and threw back its
head to swallow them one at a time.

In silence we stood at the ship’s rail and watched the dead man float
serenely by.

“He wears the kilt of the Lion Guards, ” tonus said quietly.

“The Lions are the spear-head of Nembet’s army. I pray to Horus that
there will be no others following this one down the river. ” But there
were. Ten more, then a hundred. More and still more , until the
surface of the river from bank to bank was carpeted by floating
corpses. They were thick as the leaves of the water-hyacinth which
clog the irrigation canals in summer.

At last we found one who still lived. He was a captain of the Lion
Guards who had been seconded to Nembet’s staff.

He clung to a mat of floating papyrus stems in the current.

We fished him from the water and I attended to his wounds.

The head of a stone mace had shattered the bones of his shoulder and he
would never use that arm again.

When he had recovered sufficiently to speak, tonus squatted beside his
mattress.

“What of Lord Nembet?” “Lord Nembet is slain, and all his staff with
him, ” the captain told him hoarsely.

“Did Nembet not receive my despatch warning him of the ,t Hyksos?”

“He received it on the eve of the battle, and he laughed as he read it.
” “Laughed?” demanded tonus. “How could he laugh?” “He said that the
puppy was destroyed-forgive me, Lord tonus, but that was what he called
you-and now sought to cover his stupidity and cowardice with spurious
messages.

He said that he would fight the battle in the classic manner “The
arrogant old fool, ” tonus lamented. “But tell me the rest of it. ”
“Lord Nembet deployed upon the east bank, with the river at his back.

The enemy fell upon us like the wind, and drove us into the water. ”
“How many of our men escaped?” tonus asked softly.

“I believe that I am the only one of those who went ashore with Lord
Nembet who survived. I saw no other left alive.

The slaughter upon the river-bank was beyond my power to describe to
you. ” “All our most famous regiments decimated, ” tonus mourned.

“We are left defenceless, except for our ships.

What happened to Nembet’s fleet? Was it anchored in midstream?”

“Lord Nembet anchored the greater part of the fleet, but he beached
fifty galleys in our rear. ” .. . ” why would he do that?” tonus
stormed.

“The safety of the ships is the first principle of our standard battle
plan. ” “I do not know Lord Nembet’s mind, except he may have kept
them at an to re-embark our troops expedisly, should your warning have
proved justified. ” “What then is the fate of our fleet?

Nembet lost our army, but did he save the ships?” tonus” tone was
rough with anger and distress.

“Of the ships that were anchored in midstream, most are scuttled and
burned by the skeleton crews. I saw the, flames and the smoke even
from where I lay on my papyrus float.

A few of the others cut the anchor-lines and fled south towards Thebes.
I shouted to the crews as they sailed past me, but so great was their
terror that they would not heave-to and pick me from the water. ” “The
fifty ships that lay upon the beach.. . ” tonus broke off and drew a
deep breath before he finished the question.

“What has become of the squadron that was beached?” It has fallen into
the hands of the Hyksos. ” The captain trembled as he answered, for he
dreaded tonus” anger.. “I looked back as I drifted with the current,
and I saw the enemy swarming aboard the galleys on the beach. ” tonus
. stood up and strode to the bows. He stared upstream from where the
corpses and the scorched and blackened planks of Nembet’s fleet still
drifted down upon the steady green flow of the river. I went to -stand
at his side, to be ready to halter his rage when it came.

“So the proud old fool has sacrificed his life, and the lives of all
his men, simply to spite me. They should build a pyramid to his folly,
for Egypt has never seen the like of it. ” “That is not all his folly,
” I murmured, and tonus nodded grimly.

“No, not all his folly. He has given the Hyksos the means to cross the
river. Sweet milk of Isis” breast, but once they are across the Nile
we are truly finished. ” “Perhaps the goddess heard him call her name,
for at that moment I felt the wind that had blown so long into our
faces veer. tonus felt it also. He spun on his heel and roared an
order to-his officers on the poop-deck.

“The wind turns fair. Make a general signal to the fleet.

Set all sail. Relieve the men at the oars every hour by the
water-clock. Drummers, increase the beat to flank speed.

Make all haste southwards. ” The wind settled strongly into the north.
Our sails filled and stiffened like the bellies of pregnant women. The
drums gave the rowers the stroke, and we breasted the flow of the river
as the whole battle-fleet raced southwards.

“All thanks to the goddess for this wind, ” tonus shouted.

“Divine Isis, let us be in time to catch them on the water. ” THE
STATE BARGE WAS SLOW AND UNgainly. She began falling astern of the
fleet. It seemed that the fates has intervened once more, for tonus”
old galley that he had loved so well, the Breath of Horus, was sailing
close to us in the formation.

She was under a new captain now, but she was still a formidable little
vessel, built for speed and attack. The sharp bronze ramming-horn
protruded from her bows, just above the water line. tonus hailed her
alongside the barge and transferred his Blue Crocodile standard into
her, taking over the command from her new captain.

My place was with my mistress and the prince. I am not certain how I
found myself on board the Breath of Horus, standing on the poop beside
tonus, as we tore along upstream. Sometimes I am guilty of folly
almost as monumental as that recently demonstrated by Lord Nembet. I
remember only that as soon as the state barge began to fall away
astern, I began bitterly to regret my impetuosity. I thought of
telling tonus that I had changed my mind, and asking him to put about
and drop me once more on the deck of the barge. But after one glance
at his face, I decided that I would rather face the Hyksos again.

From the deck of the Breath of Horus, tonus issued his orders. By flag
and voice-hail, they were passed from vessel to vessel. Without
slackening the pace of our advance, tonus redeployed the fleet. He
gathered up the galleys around him, as he forged his way to the head of
the flotilla.

The wounded and those no longer fit to fight were transferred to the.
slower vessels which fell back to keep pace with the state barge.

The faster galleys in the van were cleared for action. They were
manned mostly by Remrem’s fresh troops whom we had relieved from the
siege of Asyut.

They were spoiling for a chance to avenge the disgrace of Abnub. tonus
hoisted the Blue Crocodile standard at his masthead of the Breath of
Horus, and they roared with the lust of battle. How swiftly he had
been able to stiffen their spirit since that bloody defeat!

The signs of Nembet’s recent catastrophe became ever more obvious with
each league that we covered. The corpses and wreckage and all the
flotsam of war were stranded in the papyrus beds on each side of the
river. Then, at last, in the sky ahead of us we saw once again the
dust of the chariots mingling with the smoke from the cooking-fires of
the Hyksos camp.

“It is as I had hoped, ” tonus exulted. “They have halted their
headlong advance on Thebes, now that Nembet has presented them with the
means of crossing the river. But they are not sailors, and they will
have difficulty embarking their men and chariots. If Horus is kind, we
will arrive in time to help them-on their way. ” In extended battle
order we swept around the last wide bend of the river, and we found the
Hyksos before us. By one of those happy freaks of war, we had arrived
precisely at the moment that they were fully committed to the crossing
of the Nile.

There were the fifty captured galleys straggling across the river in
the most lubberly fashion. The sails and sheets were in a tangle and
every oarsman was keeping his own stroke.

The paddles were splashing and crab-catching. The steering of each
vessel was shaky and erratic, completely out of phase with the ships
around it.

We could see that most of the Hyksos manning the decks were in full
bronze armour. Clearly they had not realized just how difficult it is
to swim in that state of dress. They stared at us in consternation as
we bore down upon them.

Now at last the roles were reversed. We were in our element, and they
were flying in the wind like a torn sail.

I had a few. moments to study the enemy, as we closed.

The vast bulk of the Hyksos army was still upon the east bank.

They had gone into bivouac, and they were so numerous that their
encampment stretched away to the foothills of the desert, as far as I
could see from the deck of the Breath of Horus.

King Salitis was sending only a small force across the river.

Almost certainly they were under orders to race down the west bank and
to capture the funerary temple of Pharaoh Mamose, before we were able
to remove the, treasure.

We bore down rapidly on the convoy of Hyksos ships, and I shouted to
tonus above the beat of the drums and the bloodthirsty cheers of our
rascals, “They have taken their horses across already. Look over
there!” Almost unprotected, except for a few armed guards, there was a
huge herd of these terrible animals gathered on the west bank. I
guessed there were several hundred of them; even at this distance, we
could make out their long, flow ini manes and tails streaming in the
strong north wind. They were a disturbing sight to us Some of the men
around me shuddered and swore with loathing of them. I heard one of
them mutter darkly, “The Hyksos feed those monsters of theirs on human
flesh, like tame lions or jackals. That is the reason for this
slaughter. They must have food for them. We can only guess how many
of our comrades are already in their bellies. ” I could not contradict
him, and I even had a queas ing in my guts that he might be speaking
the truth. I = shifted my attention from those beautiful but gory
monsters to the galleys in the stream ahead of us.

“We have caught them taking the chariots and the men over, ” I pointed
out to tonus. The decks of Nembet’s captured vessels were piled high
with chariots and equipment, and crowded with the Hyksos charioteers
who were being ferried across. As they realized their predicament,
some of the Hyksos tried to turn and run back for the” east bank. They
collided with the ships that followed them, and locked together, they
drifted helplessly on the current. tonus laughed savagely to see their
confusion, and shouted into the wind, “General signal. Increase the
beat to attack speed. Light the fire-arrows. ” The Hyksos had never
experienced an attack with fire-arrows, and at the thought of what was
coming, I laughed with tonus, but nervously. Then suddenly I stiffened
and my laughter choked off.

“Tonus! I seized his arm. “Look! Look at the galley dead ahead!

On the poop. There is our traitor. ” For a moment tonus did not
recognize the tall, stately figure at the rail of the galley, for he
wore fish-scale armour and a tall Hyksos war helmet. Then abruptly he
roared with anger and outrage, “Inter! Why did we not guess it was
him?” “I see it so clearly now. He has guided Salitis to this very
Egypt. He went east and deliberately tempted the Hyksos with accounts
of the treasures of Egypt. ” My outrage and hatred matched those of
tonus. tonus threw up the bow Lanata and loosed an arrow, but the
range was long and the point glanced. off Lord Inter’s armour. I saw
his head jerk round at the shock, and he looked across the water
directly at us. He singled us out, tonus and myself, and for a moment
I thought I saw fear in his eyes. Then he ducked out of sight below
the gunwale.

Our leading squadron flew into the pack of confused and milling
shipping. With a tearin crunch, our bronze ramming-horn struck Inter’s
galley amidships, and I was thrown off my feet by the impact. When I
struggled up , the oarsmen had already backed water, and with anagain
other rending screech of timbers we disengaged from the stricken
ship.

At the same time, our archers were pouring a heavy rain of fire-arrows
into her. The heads were bound with pitch soaked papyrus stems that
burned like comets, each leaving a trail of sparks and smoke as they
flew into the sails and top hamper. The north wind fanned the flames
and they leaped up the rigging with a fiendish exuberance.

The waters flooded in through the gaping hole we had ripped in her
belly, and she listed over sharply. The sails caught fire and burned
with startling rapidity. The heat singed my eyelashes even at that
distance. The heavy mainsail, burning fiercely, fluttered down over
the deck, trapping the crew and crowded charioteers beneath it. Their
screams shrilled in our ears as their hair and clothing burst into
flames. I remembered the plain at Abnub and felt no pity as” they
leaped in flames from the ship’s side and were drawn under by the
weight of their armour. Only a swirl of ripples and a lingering puff
of steam marked where each of them had disappeared.

All down the line, the Hyksos galleys were burning and sinking.

They had neither the experience nor the skill to counter our attack,
and they were as helpless as we had been before the assault of their
chariots. Our ships backed off and charged again, crushing in their
hulls and sending torrents of flaming arrows into them.

I was watching the first galley that we had attacked, seeking another
glimpse of Lord Inter. She was almost gone when suddenly he
reappeared. He had thrown off his helmet and his armour, and wore only
a linen breech cloth. He balanced easily on the gunwale of the sinking
ship, and then, as the flames reached out to embrace him, he joined his
hands above his head and dived overboard.

He was a son of the Nile, at home in her waters. He knifed through the
surface, and came up a minute later and fifty paces from where he had
struck, with his long wet hair sleeked back, so that he looked like a
swimming otter.

“There he goes!” I screamed at tonus. “Run the swine under. ”
Instantly tonus gave the order to turn the Breath of Horus, but quick
as the helmsman was on the steering-oar, she was slow to come around.

Meanwhile, Lord inter slipped through the water like a fish, reaching
out overarm for the east bank and the protection of his Hyksos
allies.

“Swing hard! “tonus signalled his starboard bank of oars, and they
thrust the bows around. As soon as we were on line with the swimmer,
tonus gave the order to pull together, and we shot in pursuit. By now
Lord Inter was far ahead and close in to the bank, where five thousand
Hyksos archers waited with their long recurved bows strung and ready to
give him covering fire.

“Seth piss on them! “tonus yelled in defiance. “We will take Inter
out from under their noses. ” And he drove the Breath of Horus
directly at them, bearing down upon the lone swimming figure.

As we came within range of the shore, the Hyksos loosed a volley at us
that darkened the sky, and their arrows fell in a whistling cloud
around us. They dropped so thickly that the deck soon bristled with
them like the quills in a goose’s wIng, and some of our sailors were
struck and fell writhing and bleeding from their benches.

But we were already close on Inter, and he looked back over his
shoulder and I saw the terror in his face as he realized he could not
escape our sharp prow. I ignored the arrows and ran to the bows to
scream down at him, “I hated you from the first day we met. I hated
every loathsome touch. I want to watch you die. You are evil!

Evil!” He heard me. I saw it in his eyes, and then his dark gods
intervened yet again. One of the sinking Hyksos galleys drifted down
upon us, spouting fire and smoke. If she had touched us we would have
gone up with her in a tower of flame. tonus was forced to put the
steering-oar oevr, and to signal urgently for his oarsmen to
back-water. The burning galley drifted between the shore and where we
lay heaved. Lord Inter was hidden from my view, but when the burning
galley was past, I saw him again. Three brawny Hyksos charioteers were
dragging him from the water and up the steep bank.

He paused at the top of the bank and looked back at us, and then
disappeared from sightJ%having me trembling with rage and
frustration.

Our men were still being struck down by the falling arrows, so tonus
gave the order, and we wheeled away and sped, back to join in the
destruction of those few vessels of the convoy that were still
afloat.

As the last of these listed over and then rolled on to her back, the
green Nile waters poured into her and quenched the flames in a hissing
cloud of steam. Our archers leaned the side and shot the few surviving
Hyksos who over splashed weakly on the surface.

Immediately they were all drowned, tonus turned his attention to the
west bank and to the small party of the enemy and the herd of horses
that were stranded there. As our galley sped in to the shore, the
Hyksos herders scattered and ran, but our men leaped ashore, sword in
hand, and raced after them. The Hyksos were charioteers, and
accustomed to riding into battle Our lads were foot-soldiers and
trained to run. Like a pack “of hounds after a jacV, our men isolated
and surrounded them. They hacked them down and left a hundred bleeding
corpses scattered across the green fields of standing dhurra corn.

I had jumped ashore behind the first wave of our troops.

I had serious business in mind. There was no point in making models
and designing chariots without a means of driving the spoked wheels
that I had seen in my imagination.

It required an enormous act of courage on my part to start towards that
herd of terrible creatures that the Hyksos herders had abandoned close
to the water’s edge. Each step was an effort of will, for there were
many hundreds of them, and they were obviously restless and alarmed by
the shouting and the running of men and the clash of arms.

I was certain that at any moment they would rush at me like wounded
lions. I imagined them gobbling my still warm and twitching flesh, and
my courage evaporated and I could go no closer.

From a distance of a hundredp aces, I stood staring in dreadful
fascination at these savage predators, but I was poised to turn and
rush back to the safety of the galley at the first sign of an attack.

This was the first opportunity that I had been given to study these
animals. They were mostly of a dun colour, but with subtle shadings of
bay and chestnut and roan. One or two of them were as black as Seth.
They stood as tall as a man, with a full barrel breast and long necks
that arched gracefully. Their manes were like the tresses of a
beautiful woman, and their hides glowed in the sunlight, as though they
had been burnished.

One of those nearest to me threw back its head and rolled its upper
lip, and I recoiled as I saw the great square white teeth that lined
its jaw. It kicked its hind-legs and emitted such a terrifying
neighing sound that I turned and started back towards the-ship with
some alacrity.

Then a hoarse yell from one of our soldiers near me arrested my
cowardly retreat. “Kill the Hyksos monsters!” “Kill the monsters!”

The cry was taken up by the others.

“No!” I screamed, and my concern for my own safety was forgotten.

“No! Save the horses We need them. ” My voice was lost in the angry
war-cry of our troops, as they rushed at the herd of horses, with their
shields raised and their swords still dripping with the blood of the
herders.

Some of the men paused to nock arrows to the bow and fire them into the
herd.

“No!” I cried, as a glossy black stallion reared and screamed, with an
arrow standing out of his withers.

“No! Please, . no!” I cried again, as one of the sailors ran In with
a light war-axe and hacked through the fetlock joint of a young mare.
She was crippled by the blow and could not escape the next stroke of
the axe that caught her between the ears and dropped her kicking in the
dust.

“Leave them! Leave them!” I pleaded, but the arrows brought down a
dozen of the animals, and the swords and axes maimed and killed a dozen
more before the herd broke under the assault, and three hundred horses
bolted and went galloping out in a mass across the dusty western plain
towards the desert.

I shaded my eyes to watch them go, and it seemed to me that part of my
heart went with them . When they had disappeared, I ran to protect and
tend to those animals that were left maimed and arrowed amongst the
papyrus beds. But the soldiers were ahead of me. So great was their
fury that they gathered around the fallen carcasses. In a frenzy of
hatred, they plunged their blades into the unresisting flesh and hacked
at the broken heads.

A little to one side stood an isolated clump of papyrus reeds.

Behind this, and screened from the rampaging soldiers, stood the black
stallion that I had first seen hit by an arrow. He was sorely struck
and staggering as. he limped forward, the arrow deep in his chest.

Without thought for my own safety, I ran towards him, and then stopped
as he turned to face me.

Only then did I realize my danger. Here was a wounded beast that, like
a lion in the same straits, must sure charge at me. The stallion and I
stared at each other, and I felt fear fall away like a discarded cloak
from my shoulders.

His eyes were huge and swimming with pain. Gentle eyes, beautiful eyes
that made my heart swell with pity. He made a soft, fluttering sound,
and limped towards me. I held out my hand and touched his muzzle and
it felt like warm Arabian silk. He came directly to me, and pressed
his forehead to my chest in a gesture of trust and appeal that was
almost human. I knew that he was asking for my help.

Instinctively I flung my arms around his neck and embraced him. I
wanted more than anything in my life at that moment to save him, but
from his nostrils warm blood trickled down my chest. I knew he was hit
through the lungs and that he was dying. He was far beyond any help
that I could give him.

“My poor darling. What have those stupid, ignorant bastards done to
you?” I whispered. Dimly in my distress and spiritual agony, I
realized that my life had changed again, and that this dying creature
had made that change. Somehow I seemed to sense that, in the years
ahead, wherever I left my footsteps in the African earth, the
hoof-prints of a horse would lie beside them. “I had found another
great love to fill my days.

The stallion made that fluttering sound once more and his breath was
warm on my skin. Then his legs collapsed under him and he fell heavily
on his side and lay gasping air into his punctured lungs.

Bright red bubbles frothed from the wound in his chest. I went down
beside him, and lifted that noble head into my lap and waited with him
until he died.

Then I stood up and went back to where the Breath of Horus was
beached.

It was difficult to see my way, for my own hot tears blinded me.

Once again I cursed myself for a soft and sentimental fool, but that
never did much to help me brace, myself. I was always so vulnerable to
suffering in another creature, human or otherwise, especially in one
that was able and beautiful.

“Damn you, Taita! Where have you been?” tonus railed at me as I
scrambled, aboard. “There is a battle raging. The whole army cannot
wait around while you have another of your famous daydreams. ” Yet for
all his bluster, he had not deserted me.

TAN US WOULD NOt EVEN HEAR ME OUT,

but cut brusquely across my request for leave to follow the herd of
runaway horses out into the desert, and for men to go with me.

“I want no truck with those foul and unholy creatures” he shouted at
me. “I only regret that my men let them escape and that they did not
“slaughter the lot of them. Let us hope that the lions and the jackals
make good that default. ” I realized then that he hated them as much
as did the most ignorant, lout in his regiments. “Were you there on
the plain of Abnub?” I do not usually indulge in loud argument, but
his intransigence infuriated me. “Or was that some other dull-witted
oaf standing beside me? Did you not see the future charge at you on
hooves and wheels and chop your men to jackal-food? Do you not
understand that without chariot and horse, you and this Egypt we know
are finished?” This amicable discussion was taking place on the
poopdeck of the Breath of Horus. tonus” officers were silent and stiff
with shock to hear a slave address a Great Lion of Egypt and the
commander of all her armies as a dull-witted oaf.

However, I was past all restraint and I rushed on.

“The gods have given you this wonderful gift. Three hundred horses
placed in your hands! I will build you the chariots to go with them.
Are you so blind that you cannot see it? “I have my ships!” tonus
roared back at me. “I don’t need these foul man-eating beasts.

They are an abomination in the face of decent men and all benevolent
gods. They are creatures of Seth and Sutekh, and I want no part of
them. ” Too late I realized that I had pushed tonus into a position
from which he could not retreat. He was a clever and intelligent man,
until his pride hamstrung his reason. I moderated my tone and made my
voice mellifluous. “tonus, please listen to me. I have held the head
of one of these animals in my hands. They are strong, but strangely
Their eyes shine with the intelligence of a faithful gentle dog. They
do not eat meat. ” “How could you tell that from one brief touch?” he
sneered at me, still proud and affronted.

“The teeth, ” I answered. “They do not possess the fangs arc laws of a
carnivore. Pigs are the only hoofed creatures” that eat flesh, and
these are no pigs. ” I saw him waver at last, and I pressed my
advantage. “If that is not enough, look then at the stores that the
HyksQs have brought across the river. Do they need that mountain of
fodder to feed a pride of meat-eating lions?” “Meat or fodder, I will
not argue further. You have heard my decision. We will let those
cursed horses perish in the wilderness. That is my decision, and it is
final. ” He stamped away, but I muttered under my breath, “Final, is
it?

We will see about that. ” There have been very few occasions when I
have not been able to have my own way with my mistress, and hers was
now the highest authority in this very Egypt. I went to her that very
evening, as soon as the royal barge came once more under the protection
of the war galleys.

Without the knowledge of her commander and lover, I showed her the tiny
working model of a chariot with the miniature carved horses in the
traces, which I had crafted for her. Queen Lostris was enchanted by
it. Naturally she had never seen the squadrons of war chariots in full
flight, and had not conceived for them the same hatred as had the bulk
of her army. Having captured her full attention with the model
chariot, I then described the death of the stallion in such harrowing
detail that both of us were reduced to tears. She can resist my tears
as little as I am able to resist hers.

“You must go immediately and rescue these marvelous animals from the
desert. When you have them, I order you to build a squadron of
chariots for my armies, ” she, cried.

If tonus had spoken to her before I had the chance to persuade her, I
doubt that she would have given that order; and the history of our
world would have been very different.

As it was, tonus was furious with my deception, and we came as close to
a permanent rift in our relationship as we ever had in all the years.

It was fortunate that I had been summarily ordered ashore by Queen
Lostris, and was able to escape the full force of his wrath. I had
only a few hours in which to gather around me a few helpers, and the
chief of these was the most unlikely of them all.

I had never taken to Hui, the Shrike whom we had captured at Gallala
and who had commanded one of the galleys which tonus had scuttled at
Abnub. He was now a captain without a ship, and a man looking for a
reason to go on.

He sought me out- as soon as rumour of my mission spread through the
fleet.

“What do you know about horses?” he challenged me, which was a
question I was not prepared to answer -at that moment.

“Obviously not as much as you do?” I made it a cautious question.

“I was once a syce, ” he boasted, in his usual endearing fashion.

“And what creature is that?” “A groom, one who cares for horses, ” he
replied, and I stared at him in amazement.

“Where did you ever see a horse before that bloody day at Abnub?”

I demanded.

“As an infant my parents were killed, and I was captured by a tribe of
barbarians who roamed the plains far to the east, a year’s travel
beyond the Euphrates river. My captors were people of the horse and,
as a child, I lived each day with those animals. Mare’s milk was my
food and I -slept beneath the horses” bellies for shelter in the night,
for a slave was not allowed into the tents of the tribe. When I
escaped from slavery, it was upon the back of my favourite stallion.

He carried me fast and far. But he died long before we reached the
Euphrates. ” Thus Hui was with me when a galley set down my small
party of reluctant horse-catchers upon the west bank. Sixteen men were
all that I could recruit, and most of them were the dregs and riffraff
of the army. tonus had seen to it that none of his best men would join
me. He could not countermand the word of the regent of all Egypt, but
he made it as difficult as he could for me to carry out her orders, At
Hui’s suggestion, I had equip pd my men with light linen ropes and bags
of crushed dhurra corn. All of them, except Hui and my elf were
terrified to the point of incontinence by the mere thought of the
creatures that we had set out to follow. When I woke in the morning
after our first night’s camp, I found that every single one of theses
arts had disappeared, and I never saw them again.

“We will have to turn back, ” I despaired. “There is nothing we can do
alone. Lord tonus will be pleased. This was exactly what he knew
would happen. “You are not alone, ” Hui pointed out cheerfully.

“You have me. ” This was the first time that my feelings began to warm
towards the young swaggerer. We divided the load, of ropes and the
leather bags of crushed corn, and we went on.

By this time the tracks of the horses were three days old, but they had
stayed together in a single herd and so had beaten a road that was easy
to follow. Hui assured me that the herd instinct was strong amongst
them, and that with such lush grazing along the river-bank, they would
not have wandered far. He was certain they would not have gone out
into the desert, as I had feared that they might.

“Why would they do that? There is no food or water for them out there.
” And in the end Hui proved right.

With the coming of the Hyksos, the peasants had deserted their farms
and gone into the shelter of the walled towns.

The fields were untended and the corn half-grown. We found the herd
before noon the second day. It was spread out and grazing peacefully
in one of the fields. Even after my experience with the wounded
stallion, I was still rather nervous of these mysterious creatures.

“It will surely be a difficult and dangerous matter to capture a few of
them, ” I confided in Hui, seeking his reassurance and advice.

At this stage, the notion of capturing all three hundred horses had not
even occurred to me. I would have been satisfied with twenty, and
delighted with fifty of them. I imagined that we would be forced to
run each of them down and bind it with the ropes we had brought with us
for that purpose.

“I have heard that you have the reputation of being a very clever
slave, ” Hui grinned at me, cocky and delighted by his superior
understanding of the subject. “Clearly, it is a reputation that is
ill-founded. ” He showed me how to twist and braid a halter from the
ropes. We made a dozen of these before he was satisfied.

Then each of us armed himself with one of these and a leather sack of
crushed corn, and we started towards the grazing herd. Following Hui’s
example, we never walked directly towards them, but strolled obliquely
at a leisurely pace past the animals in the fringe of the herd.

“Slowly now, ” Hui cautioned me, when they flung up their heads and
studied us with that peculiarly frank and almost childlike gaze that I
would come to know so well.

“Sit down. ” We sank into the standing corn and remained motionless,
until the horses started feeding again. Then we moved forward until
they became restless once more.

“Down, ” Hui ordered, and when we were crouched in the corn, he went
on, “They love the sound of a gentle voice.

When I was a child, I sang to my horses to quieten them.

Watch this!” He started to sing a refrain in a strange language, which
I presumed was the barbaric tongue of his childhood captors.

Hui’s voice was as melodious as the squawking of crows squabbling over
the rotting carcass of a dead dog. The nearest horses stared at us
curiously. I laid my hand on Hui’s arm to quieten him. I was certain
that the herd must find his efforts at song as distressing as I did.

“Let me try, ” I whispered. I sang the lullaby that I had composed for
my prince.

Sleep, little Mein, who rules the dawn, sleep, little prince, who will
rule the world, rest that curly head, filled with wondrous dreams, rest
those arms, make them strong for sword and bow.

One of the mares closest to us took a few steps towards me, and when
she stopped, she made that same soft fluttery sound with her lips.

She was inquisitive, and I sang on softly and seductively. She had a
foal at her heels, a lovely little bay-coloured creature with an
appealing head and pricked up ears.

With my special feeling for and understanding of birds and animals, I
was already beginning to recognize the desirable points of breed in
these new animals. I was learning SWiftly and instinctively how to
deal with them. I was no longer completely reliant on Hui to instruct
me” Still singing gently, I scooped up a handful of the crushed
cornmeal and held it out to the mare. I could see at once that she had
been hand-fed before, and that she understood my offer. She blew
noisily through wide nostrils, and took another few paces towards me.
Even now I can remember the thrill that almost stopped the beating of
my heart when she took the last pace up to me, and delicately lowered
her muzzle into my hand to taste the white meal. It powdered her
whiskers as she ate, and I laughed with the joy and excitement of it.
She made no effort to pull away from me as I slipped my other arm
around her neck and laid my cheek softly against hers to inhale the
strange, warm smell of her hide.

“The halter, ” Hui reminded me softly and I slipped it over her head,
as he had shown me.

“She is yours, ” Hui said.

“And I am hers, ” I replied without thinking but it was true. We had
captured each other.

The rest of the herd had watched all this. As soon as the halter was
on the mare, they settled down and trustingly allowed Hui and me to
walk freely amongst them. They came to eat from the hand and allowed
us to lift their hooves and stroke their necks and massive-shoulders.

All this seemed to me at the time to be miraculous, but after only a
little consideration I realized that it was quite natural. They were
accustomed from birth to being handled and petted, to being fed and
harnessed. They had lived always with the close and constant presence
of man, The true miracle came later, when I realized that they
recognized affection, and that they were able to return it in full
measure.

Hui had selected and haltered one of the other mares, all the time
lecturing me and displaying his learning and- experience in matters
equine. I was in such a euphoric mood that for once his bumptious ness
did not annoy me.

Very well, ” he said at last, “we will mount up now. ” And to my utter
astonishment he placed both hands on his mare’s back, drew himself up
and flung one leg over her, to sit astride her back. I gawked at him
in disbelief, expecting the mare to react violently, to rear up and
dash Hui to earth, or, at the very least, to seize his naked leg in
those powerful white teeth and drag him from his perch.

She did none of these things, but stood quietly and subserviently.

“Hi up, my darling!” he called to her, and dug his heels into her
ribs. The mare started forward obediently, and when he urged her on
again she broke into a trot and then a gallop.

Hui guided her effortlessly in a manner that was not then apparent to
me. Horse and rider traced out elegant patterns of movement across the
field, and then circled back to where I stood.

“Come up, Taita. Try a gallop!” I could see that he was expecting me
to refuse, and it was that which made me overcome my reluctance. I
would not allow the little whippersnapper to have the better of me.

My first attempt at mounting up was unsuccessful, but the mare’ stood
stoically, and Hui laughed. “She has a great deal to teach you. You
should call the poor animal Patience. ” I did not see the humour of it
then, but the name stuck and the mare was Patience from then onwards.

“Pull yourself higher before you swing your leg over, and be careful
not to trap your balls under you when you come down, ” Hui counselled,
and then howled with laughter. “And that’s a piece of advice that you
need not worry about. My guess is that you would love still to have a
pair of those to sit on!” All the warm feelings I was beginning to
have towards Hui cooled again at that sally, and I threw myself on to
the mare’s back and clung with both hands around her neck, in fear of
broken limbs and cracked skull.

“Sit up straight!” Hui began my instruction, and Patience assisted me
with her sweet and forgiving nature.

I surprised myself by thinking of these creatures in human terms, but
over the following days as we rode south towards “Mebes, I discovered
that they could be stupid or clever, suspicious or trusting, dour or
mischievous, friendly or aloof, brave or timid, nervous or phlegmatic,
long-suffering or impatient, surprising or predictable-in short, as
close to man in temperament as any creature that walks on four legs.

The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to learn.

The longer I spent working with them, the more I grew to love them.

I rode ahead on Patience, her foal at heel. The herd trailed after us
compliantly, all three hundred of them.

Hui brought up the rear to sweep up any stragglers. With each league
we covered, I became more confident and proficient upon Patience’s
back, and the rapport between us became firmer. The mare became an
extension of my own body, but so much swifter and stronger than my own
feeble limbs. It felt so natural and right to be astride that broad
and sturdy back that I was amazed that so few others were willing to
share the experience with me.

Perhaps it was not only the terror that had struck them so
devastatingly on the plain of Abnub, but also the words and attitude of
tonus, Lord Harrab that affected the regiments of our army. Whatever
the reason, I could find no Egyptian who would mount upon the back of a
horse, except Hui and, very much, later, Prince Memnon. Of course,
they learned to husband and breed the horse and care for him. Under my
tutelage they became dexterous and dashing charioteers, but I never saw
a man of them mounted on horseback, save Only myself and Hui and the
prince. When the chariots that I would design with their light, spoked
wheels swept all at ion before them, and made Egypt the master of this
creation, tonus never followed our example, and I never heard him
express a kind sentiment towards those willing and brave animals who
dragged him into battle Even in later years, when the horse was
commonplace through all our realm, it was considered somehow indecent
and obscene to mount them. When the three of us rode past astride,
many of the common people spat on the ground three times and made the
sign against the evil eye.

ALL THAt WAS IN THE FUTURE AS I LED my herd up the west bank of the
river towards Thebes, and we arrived to the gratitude of my mistress,
and to a gruff and unenthusiastic welcome from the commander-in-chief
of the Egyptian armeies.

“Just keep those evil brutes out of my sight, ” tonus told me. He
still had not forgiven me for going above him to my mistress.

In fairness to him, he had more than enough excuse for his evil temper.
The safety of the state and our nation were in the direst jeopardy.
There had never been a time in our history when our civilization was so
threatened by the barbarian.

Already Asyut was lost, and the whole east bank of the river as far as
Dendera. Completely undaunted and undeterred by the naval reverse that
tonus had inflicted upon him, King Salitis with his chariots had swept
on and surrounded the walled city of Thebes.

Those walls should have withstood siege for a decade but that reckoned
without the baleful presence of Lord Inter in the camp of the enemy.
It transpired that while still grand vizier of the Upper Kingdom, he
had secretly ordered the construction of a concealed passage beneath
the city walls.

Even I who knew most of his other secrets had never suspected this, and
Lord Inter had murdered the workmen who had carried out this
construction, so that he alone was aware -of its existence. I have no
idea why he should have constructed the tunnel in the first place,
except that his devious mind was much given towards such devices. The
palace was riddled with trap-doors and concealed corridors, like the
Warren of a rabbit or the lair of a desert fox.

When Lord Inter disclosed its existence to him, King Salitis sent a
small party of his best men through the secret passage, and once within
the walls, they stormed the unsuspecting Egyptian guards on the main
gate, slaughtered them and threw the gates wide. The main Hyksos horde
poured into the city, and within days of the siege commencing, the city
was lost and half her inhabitants massacred.

From the west bank where tonus now had his headquarters in the
half-built Palace of Memnon, we could see the burnt and blackened roofs
of those buildings in the city across the river that the. Hyksos had
put to the torch. Each day we watched the dust-clouds of their
chariots, as they raced up and down the far bank, and the glint of
their spearheads at the shoulder-slope, as they prepared for the battle
that all of us knew was coming.

With his sadly depleted fleet, tonus had thus far managed to hold the
river-line, and during my absence had beaten back another attempt by
the Hyksos to get across the Nile in strength. However, our de fences
were thinly spread, for we had to guard a great sweep of the river,
while the Hyksos could make a crossing at any point they chose.

We learned from our spies on the east bank that they had commandeered
every single craft they could lay hands, on, from barge to skiff. They
had captured many of our boat makers and had them at work in the
boatyards; of Thebes. Of course, we could be sure that Lord Inter
would give them pertinent advice in all these matters, for he must have
been every bit as eager as the barbarian Salitis to seize Pharaoh’s
treasure.

The crews of our galleys stood to arms every watch of the day and
night, and tonus only slept when he could, which was not often.

Neither my mistress nor I saw much of him, and when we did, he was
haggard and short tempered

Every night saw the arrival on the west bank of many hundreds of
refugees. Of both sexes and all ages, they crossed the Nile in an odd
assortment of rafts and small craft. Many of the stronger ones even
swam the wide stretch of water. All of them were desperate to escape
the Hyksos terror. They brought us horror-stories of rapine and
plunder, but also detailed and up-to-date news of Hyksos movements.

Of course we welcomed these people, they were countrymen and relatives,
but their numbers strained our resources.

Our main granaries had all been in Thebes, and most of the herds of
cattle and sheep had fallen into the hands of the enemy. Queen Lostris
gave me the responsibility of gathering up all the supplies of grain
and the herds on the west -bank. I drew up lists and rosters for
rationing our supplies of meat and grain. Fortunately, the date palms
were in full bearing, and the supply of fish from the river was
inexhaustible. The Hyksos could never starve us out. My mistress had
also appointed me Master of the Royal Horse. There was no intense
competition for this appointment, particularly as no pay or privileges
were attached to it. I made Hui my deputy, and he managed, by means of
bribes, threats and blackmail, to recruit a hundred grooms to help him
care for our little herd. Later we would train them as our first
chariot-drivers.

It was no hardship for me to make time every day to visit our makeshift
stables in the necropolis. The mare Patience always came running to
greet me, and I carried corn-cakes for her and her foal.

Often I was able to sneak Prince Memnon away from his mother and his
nurses and carry him into the stables on my shoulders. He squealed
with excitement as soon as he saw the horses.

I held the prince on my lap as Patience and I galloped along the
riverbank, and he made clucking noises and rocked his little backside,
imitating the way in which I urged Patience to a harder gallop. I made
certain that the route we followed on these rides would never cross
tonus” path. He had still not forgiven me, and if he had seen his son
on the back of a cursed horse, I knew that I would have been in
physical danger.

I also spent a great deal of my time in the armoury workshop of
Pharaoh’s funerary temple, . where I had the assistance of some of the
finest craftsmen in the world to. help me build my first chariot. It
was here, while working on the design of these vehicles, that I
conceived devices that were to become our first line of defence against
the Hyksos chariots. These were simply long wooden staves sharpened at
both ends, and with the points fire-hardened. Each of our infantrymen
would carry ten of these in a bundle upon his back. At the approach of
a squadron of cavalry, the staves were planted in the earth at an
angle, with the points at the level of the horses” chests. Our men
took -up their positions behind this barrier of wicked spears, and
fired their arrows over them.

When I demonstrated these to tonus, he threw his arm around my
shoulders for the first time since our quarrel over the horses, and
said, “Well, at least you have not turned senile on me yet, ” and I
knew that I had been at least partially forgiven.

The ground that I had gained with him here was almost completely lost
over the affair of the Taita chariot.

My workmen and I at last completed the first chariot. The dashboard
and sides were of split bamboo, woven into basketwork. The axle was of
acacia wood. The hubs were of hand-forged bronze, greased with mutton
fat, and the spoked wheels were bound with bronze rims. It was so
light that two charioteers could lift it between them, and carry it
over broken ground where the horses could not pull it. Even I realized
that it was a masterpiece, and the workmen called it the Taita chariot.
I did not object to the name.

Hui and I harnessed up two of our best horses, Patience and Blade, and
took the Taita chariot for its first gallop. It took us some time to
learn how to control the rig, but we learned swiftly, and the horses
were bred to this and showed us the way. In the end, we were flying
across the ground, and hurtling through tight turns at full gallop.

When we drove back into the stables, flushed with excitement and
jubilant with our achievement, both of us were convinced that our
chariot was swifter and handier than any that the Hyksos could send
against us. We tested and modified this creation of mine for ten full
days, working by lamplight in the armoury until the late watches of
every night, before I was satisfied that I could show it to tonus.
tonus came to the stables with surly reluctance, and balked at climbing
up into the cockpit of the chariot behind me.

“I trust this contraption of yours as much as I trust those cursed
brutes who tow it, ” he grumbled, but I was persuasive, and at last he
stepped up gingerly on to the foot plate and we were off.

At first I kept the horses to an easy trot, until I felt him relaxing
and, despite himself, beginning to enjoy the exhilarating ride. Then I
pushed them into a canter. “See the speed of it. You can be upon the
enemy before he knows you are there, ” I exulted. tonus laughed for
the first time, and I was encouraged.

“With your ships you rule the river. With this chariot you rule the
land. Between the two, you rule the world. Nothing can stand against
you. ” I was careful not to disparage his beloved ships, or to make
unfavorable comparisons.

“Is this your best speed?” he shouted in the wind and the un ding of
hooves. “With a fair wind, Breath of Horus is faster than this. ”
Which was a lie and a challenge.

“Hold on to the sides and take a deep breath, ” I warned him. “I am
going to take you up where the eagles fly, ” and I let Patience and
Blade go.

No man has ever travelled faster. The wind seared our eyes, and the
tears pouring from them were blown back into our hair.

“Sweet breath of Isis!” Tonus shouted with excitement.

“This is.. . ” I never knew what he thought this was. tonus never
finished his sentence, for at that instant our off-wheel hit a rock and
the rim exploded.

The chariot capsized and somersaulted, and both tonus and I were thrown
high and clear. I struck the hard earth with a force that should have
crippled me, but I was so concerned with how tonus would be affected by
this little mishap, and how my dreams and plans would be dashed, that I
felt no pain.

I bounded to my feet and saw tonus crawl to his bleeding knees twenty
paces beyond me. He was coated heavily with dust and seemed to have
lost the skin from one half of his face. He tried to maintain his
dignity as he pushed himself upright and staggered back to the wrecked
chariot, but he was limping heavily, He stood for a long minute gazing
down at the shattered ruins of my creation, and then abruptly he let
out a roar like a wounded bull, and launched such a mighty kick at it
that it flipped over again, as though it were a child’s toy. He turned
on his heel without even a glance in my direction and limped away. I
did not see him again for a week, and when we did meet, neither of us
mentioned the chariot.

I think that might have been the end of the matter, and we would never
have assembled our first chariot squadron, if it had not been for the
fact that the stubbornness of my mistress’s pride surpassed even that
of her lover. She had given me the original order, and would not now
retract it.

When tonus tried to inveigle her into doing so, he merely made my
position stronger. Hui and I rebuilt the chariot within three days,
and another identical to it.

By the time the embalmers in the funerary chapel had completed the
ritual seventy days of royal mummification, we had our first squadron
of fifty chariots, and had trained drivers for them.

SINCE WE HAD RETURNED TO THE PALace of Memnon from our defeat at the
battle of Abnub, my mistress had been occupied with the business of.
state thrust upon her by the regency.

Long hours were spent with her ministers and advisers.

It was now that the initial training which I had given her in the
Palace of Elephantine was to bear fruit. I had taught her to pick her
way unerringly through the labyrinth of power and influence. She was
just twenty-one years of age, but she was a queen, and ruled like
one.

Very occasionally, she encountered a problem which particularly vexed
or perplexed her. Then she sent for me. I would drop my work in the
armoury or the stables or in the all scribery that she had set aside
for me just down the corridor from her audience chamber, and I would
rush to her side.

On occasion I spent days sitting below her throne and steering her
through some troublesome decisions. Once again, my ability to read the
lips of men without hearing their words stood us in good stead. Some
nobleman at the back of the audience never realized, as he plotted or
schemed with his neighbour, that I was relaying his exact words to my
mistress. She swiftly acquired a reputation of sagacity and
prescience. Neither of us enjoyed much rest during these dark and
worrisome days.

Even though our days were full, our nights were long.

Those interminable councils of war and of state lasted well past
midnight. No sooner was one crisis averted, than an other loomed
before us. Each day the Hyksos threatened us directly, and tonus. ”
hold on the river-line weakened. more Slowly, a sense of doom and
despair permeated all of us.

Men smiled little and -never laughed out loud. Even the play of the
children was muted and subdued. We had only to look across the river,
and the enemy was there, gathering himself, growing stronger each
day.

After seventy days, the mummification of Pharaoh was completed.

My early efforts in preserving the king’s body had been highly
successful, and the grand master of the guild of embalmers had
commended me in the presence of my mistress. He had found no evidence
of decayw removed the king’s corpse from the olive jar, and even his
liver, which is the part most subject to mortification, was well
preserved.

Once the king had been laid out on the diorite slab in his mortuary
chapel, the grand master had inserted the spoon up his nostril and
scooped out the curdled-contents of his skull which the pickle had
hardened to the consistency of cheese. Then, still in the foetal
position, the king was placed in the bath of nation salt with only his
head left uncovered by the harsh fluid. When he was removed from the
bath thirty days later, all the fatty tissue had dissolved, and the
outer layers of the skin had peeled off, except for that of the head.

They laid him upon the mottled stone’ slab once again and straightened
him into an extended position. He was wiped and dried, and his empty
stomach was filled with linen pads soaked in resins and wax and then
sutured closed. Meanwhile, his internal organs were desiccated and
placed in their milk-coloured alabaster Canopic jars, which were then
sealed.

For the remaining forty days, the body of the king was allowed to dry
out thoroughly. The doors of the chapel had been aligned with the
direction of the warm, dry prevailing winds, so that they blew over the
funeral slab. By the end of the ritual period of seventy days,
Pharaoh’s body was as dry as a stick of firewood.

His nails, which had been removed before he was soaked in the natron
bath, were replaced and fixed in position on his fingers and toes with
fine threads of gold wire. The first layer of pure white linen
bandages was wound into place around his body, leaving his head and
neck exposed. The binding was meticulous and intricate, with the
bandages crossing and crisscrossing each other in elaborate patterns.

Under the bindings were laid charms and amulets of gold and precious
stones. The bandagesw then soaked with lacquer and resins that dried
to a stony hardness.

Now it was time for the ceremony of Opening-the-Mouth, which
traditionally was performed by the dead pharaoh’s next of kin. Memnon
was too young to take this part, so his regent was called in his
stead.

My mis tres and I went to the chapel together in the gloom of dawn, and
we were witnesses as the linen sheet that, covered the king was drawn
aside. Pharaoh’s head was miraculously preserved. His eyes were
closed and his expression was serene. The embalmers had rouged and
painted his face, and he looked better in death than he had in life.

While the high priest of Ammon-Ra and the grand master of the guild of
embalmers prepared the instruments for the ceremony, we sang the
Incantation against Dying for the Second Time.

He is the reflection and not the mirror.

He is the music and not the lyre.

He is the stone and not the chisel that forms it.

He will live for ever.

He will not die a second time.

Then the high priest handed my mistress the golden spoon and led her by
the hand to the funeral slab.

Queen Lostris-stooped over the body of Pharaoh and laid the spoon of
life upon his painted lips.

I open thy lips that thou mayest speak once more, I open thy nostrils
that thou mayest breathe.

She intoned the words and then touched his eyelids with the spoon.

I open thy eyes that thou mayest behold once more the glory of this
world, and the nether-world of the gods where you shall dwell from this
day forward.

She touched the spoon to his bandaged chest.

I quicken your heart, so that you may live for ever.

You shall not die a second time.

You shall live for ever!

Then we waited. while the embalmers bound up Pharaoh’s head in the
neat swathes of bandages and painted them with resin. They moulded the
resin-wet bandages to the shape of his face beneath them. Finally,
they placed over his blind bandaged face the first of the four funeral
masks.

It was the same funeral mask that we had watched being fashioned from
pure gold. While he was still alive, Pharaoh had posed for the
sculptor, so the mask was amazingly lifelike. The eyes of shining
rock-crystal and obsidian seemed to gaze upon me with all the humanity
that the man beneath the mask had once possessed. The cobra head of
the uraeus rose from the noble brow, regal and mystical.

Then the wrapped mummy was placed in the golden inner coffin, which was
sealed, and this went into the second Iden coffin with another
death-mask embossed upon the lid. Half the treasure recovered from
Lord Inter’s hoard had gone to make up that enormous weight of precious
metal and jewels.

There were seven coffins in all, including the massive stone
sarcophagus standing upon the golden sledge, which waited ready to
carry Pharaoh along the causeway to his tomb in the gaunt hills. But
my mistress refused to give her sanction for this to happen.

“I have given my sacred vow. I cannot place my husband in a tomb that
may be plundered by the Hyksos barbarians.

Pharaoh will lie here until I am able to make good my promise to him. I
will find a secure tomb in which he may lie through eternity.

I have given my word that no one will disturb his rest. ” THE WISDOM
OF QUEEN LOSTRIS” DECIsion to delay the entombment was proved three
nights later. The Hyksos made a determined effort to cross the river,
and tonus barely succeeded in turning. them back. They made the
attempt on an unguarded. stretch of the river two miles north of Esna,
They swam their horses across in a mass, and then followed with an
armada of small boats which they had carried overland from Thebes in
order to conceal their intentions from us.

They actually succeeded in making a beachhead on the west bank before
tonus could rush his galleys to the spot, but he arrived before they
could unload their chariots and harness the horses to them. tonus
destroyed their boats with the chariots still on board, and he then had
almost three thousand Hyksos stranded on our side of the river. Their
horses scattered and bolted away into the night when tonus” troops made
their first charge.

Without their chariots the Hyksos were on even terms with our troops,
but they had no means of escape and they fought with grim
determination. In numbers they, were almost evenly matched, for tonus
had managed to bring up only one full regiment. The rest of his army
was spread along the west bank. The fighting was bloody and ferocious,
confused by the darkness which was lit only by the burning vessels that
tonus had fired on the beach.

It was only by the wildest coincidence, or by another nudge from the
gods, that Hui and I had brought our little. squadron of fifty
chariots and fledgling charioteers to Esna on training manoeuvers. In
truth, we had driven these twenty miles from TleWs principally to
escape from tonus” diS_ approval and interference.

We were encamped in the sacred grove of tamarind trees beside the
temple of Horus at Esna. I was exhausted after a long. day of
galloping and manoeuvring at high speed. On return to our encampment,
Hui had produced a jar of remarkably palatable wine, and I had been
somewhat intemperate in my sampling of it. I was dead asleep when Hui
staggered into my tent and shook me awake.

“There are fires burning on the bank of the river downstream, ” he told
me, “and when the wind shifts, you can hear the sound of cheering, -and
a little while ago I thought I heard many voices singing the battle
hymn of the Blues. I think there is a fight going on down there. ” I
was as unsteady on my feet as he was, and reckless with wine, as I
shouted for him to rouse the camp and harness the horses.

We were all still novices, and it was almost dawn by the time we had
caught the horses and put them in the traces. In the chilly drift of
the river mist and the gloomy shiver of dawn, we trotted along the
north road in column of route, two chariots abreast. I was driving the
lead chariot, while Hui had command of the rear guard. Our first
chariots had been reduced to thirty by the previous day’s exercises,
for I had not yet succeeded in perfecting my spoked wheels They had an
alarming tendency to fly to pieces when driven at speed, and almost
half my force was out of action.

The passage of the wind over my bare chest made me shiver a and, and
counteracted the bravado of the wine. I was beginning to hope that,
Hui had been mistaken, when Suddenly from far ahead there came that
unmistakable chorus of shouting and cheering, and the clank and clash
of bronze on bronze that could mean only one thing. Once you have
heard them, the sounds of battle are not readily for-. gotten or
mistaken. The rough farmer’s track we were following along the
river-bank took a turn to the left. As we came through it, the field
lay open before us The sun was just above the horizon, and it had
turned the surface of the river into a shimmerin sheet of beaten copper
that was painful to the eye. The ships of tonus” squadron lay just
off-shore, crowding in close to, in an attempt to bring the archers on
the decks in. range of the Hyksos, and to cut off any retreat across
the river.

The stranded Hyksos regiment was standing in the centre of a field of
knee-high green corn. They had formed a circle, facing outwards,
shoulder to shoulder, with their shields locked together and their
spears thrust forward. As we came into view, they had just repulsed
another attempt by tonus” troops to break their circle. The Egyptian
regiment was pulling back to regroup, leaving their dead and wounded
scattered around the periphery of the enemy circle.

I am no soldier, although I have written scrolls on the conduct of war.
I had accepted the rank of Commander of the Royal Horse, thrust upon me
by my mistress, with the deepest reluctance. I had intended simply to
perfect my chariot, train the first squadron, and then hand it over to
Hui or some other person more suited to the warlike professions.

I was cold and still half-drunk as I heard my voice giving the order to
deploy in arrow-head formation. It was the evolution that we had
practised the previous day, and the chariots that followed mine flared
out on either side with reasonable proficiency. I was acutely aware of
the sound of hooves in the soft earth and the creak of the chariot
harness, the squeal of the wheels turning on their metal-lined hubs,
and the rattle of javelins as my charioteers drew their darts from the
quivers. I looked left and right, reviewing our little squadron drawn
up in the shape of an arrow-head with my chariot at the apex. It was a
formation I had copied from the Hyksos. I drew a deep breath.

“Squadron will advance!” I screamed, and my voice shrilled. with
fear. “At the. gallop, forward!” I had only to lift my left hand
that held the traces, and Patience and Blade bounded forward. I was
almost thrown over backwards, but I grabbed at the dashboard with my
free hand, and we went straight at the Hyksos circle.

Beneath me the chariot leaped and jolted over the lumpy ploughed earth,
and I looked over the plunging hindquarters of my horses and saw the
wall of Hyksos shields glittering and impenetrable in the early
sunlight, drawing closer with every stride we took.

On either side of me, men were howling and cheering to hide their
terror, and I howled with them, like a pariah dog at full moon. The
horses were snorting and neighing, and suddenly Patience lifted the
long plume of her tail and began to fart in rhythm and in time to her
own stride. This struck me as immoderately funny. My howls -of terror
turned to screams of laughter. The helmet that I had borrowed from Hui
was too large for me. It bounced off my head and the wind flung my
hair out behind me.

Patience and Blade were the fastest pair in the squadron, and our
chariot pulled ahead of the rest of the formation. I tried to slow our
charge by hauling back on the traces but patience would have none of
it. Her glee was evident, she was as excited as any of us, and she
straightened her neck and ran away with me.

We tore through the retiring lines of Egyptian infantry coming back
from the failed assault on the Hyksos circle, and they scattered out of
our path and gawked at us in astonishment.

“Come on!” I howled with laughter. “We will show you the way!”

They turned and followed us back towards the enemy at the run.

Behind me, I heard the trumpeters sounding the charge, and the braying
horns seemed to spur our horses. Out on my right I saw tonus” battle
standard waving, and recognized his crested helmet standing taller than
the other men around him.

“What do you think of my cursed brutes now?” I yelled at him, as we
tore past, and Patience farted again, bringing on fresh gales of my
nervous laughter.

The chariot on my left was running almost level with me, and then its
near-side wheel burst under the strain and it went flying end obver
end, throwing the charioteers, and bringing the horses down
screaming.

The rest of us tore on without a check.

The first rank of the enemy was now so close that I could see their
eyes staring at me over the top edge of their shields.

Their arrows hissed around my ears. I could make out clearly the
figures of beasts and demons embossed on their tall metal helmets, see
the beads of sweat glittering in their plaited and beribboned beards,
hear their chanted war-cry and then we were into them.

My horses leaped together into the barrier of shields and it shattered
before the weight and fury of our charge. I saw a man tossed
head-high, and heard his bones crackle like kindling in the fire. On
the foot plate behind me, my javelineer was making deadly practice. I
had chosen him as the best from amongst all my recruits, and he proved
my choice now, as he stood firm and hurled his darts down into the
enemy.

In succession the following chariots tore into the gap we had opened
and we hardly checked as we raced through, breaking out through the far
side of the Hyksos circle, then wheeling in pods of three and coming
back at them. tonus seized the moment and threw his infantry into the
breach that we had torn open. The Hyksos formation broke up into knots
of struggling men. These in turn disintegrated, and the Hyksos
panicked and ran for the river. The moment they came within range, the
archers on “the decks of our galleys sent clouds of arrows over them.

Ahead of me there was an isolated pocket of Hyksos warriors still
fighting back-to-back, and holding off our men. I swerved the chariot
and drove at them in full gallop. Before I reached them, my right
wheel burst asunder, the light carapace of the chariot flipped over,
and I soared free and -then, with a gut-tearing lurch, fell back to
earth My head struck first, and my eyes filled with stars and, meteors
of bright light. Then there was only darkness.

I woke- again under the awning on the deck of tonus” flagship. I found
myself lying on a sheepskin mattress, with tonus leaning over me.

As soon as he saw that I was conscious, he masked the expression of
concern and worry that had twisted his features.

“You crazy old fool. ” He forced a grin at me. “What, in the name of
Horus, were you laughing about?” I tried to sit up, but my head ached
abominably and I groaned, then clutched his arm as it all came back to
me. “tonus, the enemy horses that swam across last night-I must have
them. ” “Don’t worry that battered head of yours. I have already sent
Hui to gather them up, ” he assured me. “If I am to have five hundred
of those contraptions of yours for my new chariot division, I will need
a thousand of those cursed brutes to pull them. However, those
newfangled wheels of yours are more dangerous than a regiment of
Hyksos. I will not ride with you again until you do something about
them. ” For a moment it did not penetrate my aching skull, then I
realized that it had happened. tonus had quashed his pride, and given
in to me. My orphan chariot squadron was at last to be part of the
standing army, and he would give me the men and gold to build five
hundred more. He would even ride with me again, if only I could fix my
wheels.

But what truly filled me with joy was that he had forgiven me at last,
and we were friends once more.

THE SUCCESS OF MY CHARIOTS At ESNA,

and the feeling of confidence that it instilled in us all, were
short-lived. Secretly, I had expected and dreaded what would happen
next. It was the enemy’s logical move, and both Salitis and Lord Inter
should have made it much earlier.

We knew that when he swept through the Lower Kingdom, Salitis had
captured most of the fleet of the red pretender intact. Those ships
were lying abandoned in the docks Of Memphis and Tams in the Delta.

However, there must be droves of renegade Egyptians from the usurper’s
navy available to Salitis, and even if that were not the case, it would
certainly be possible to recruit enough mercenary Syrian sailors in
Gaza and Joppa, and the other ports along the eastern coast of the
great sea, to man several hundred of these galleys and transports.

I had realized that this must happen, but I had refrained from warning
either tonus or my mistress of the likelihood, for I did not wish to
add to the feeling of gloom, and heighten the despondency of our
people. I had searched my heart for a counter to this move when
Salitis and Inter made it, but there was none that I could think of.

Therefore, since I could do nothing to allay these fears, I thought it
best to keep them to myself.

When it finally happened, and our spies on the east side of the river
opposite Asyut warned us of the approach of this fleet from the Delta,
tonus rushed his own ships northwards to meet them. His fleet was
superior in every way to the one which Salitis and Inter had assembled,
but the battle they fought lasted for almost a week before tonus
destroyed or drove them back into the Delta.

However, Salitis had brought his transports up behind the screen of
fighting galleys, and while the river battle still raged, he was able
to embark almost two full regiments of horse and chariot, and ferry
them intact to our side of the river, without our galleys being able to
reach them.

These regiments comprised nearly three hundred of Salitis” fast war
chariots, his elite divisions which he led himself. At last he had
turned our flank. There was nothing to stop him now, as his chariots
came bowling southwards along our side of the river. All our galleys
could do was to try to keep pace with the dust-cloud he threw up, as
he’ raced for the funerary temple of Marnose and all its treasures.

QUEEN LOSTRIS CALLED HER WAR COUNcil when the news of the Hyksos
crossing reached us in the Palace of Memnon. She addressed her first
question to tonus.

“Now that he is across the river, can you check the barbarian?”

“I can slow him down, perhaps, ” he replied frankly. “We have lear nd
a great deal about him. We can wait for him behind walls of stone, or
behind barriers of the sharp staves that Taita has equipped us with.

But Salitis need not give battle. His chariots ate so fast that he can
swing around our positions As he did at Asyut. No, I cannot stop him
Queen Lostris looked at me. “Taita, what about your chariots?

Can they not give battle to the Hyksos?” “Your Majesty, I have forty
chariots that I can send in to meet him. He has three hundred.

My chariots are swifter than those of Salitis, but my men cannot match
his in skill and training. There is also the matter of the wheels. I
have not them. Salitis will overwhelm and destroy us very easily. If
I am given the time and the material, I can build new and better
chariots with wheels that do not burst, but I cannot replace the
horses. We dare not risk the horses.

They are our only hope for eventual victory. ” While we thus debated,
another messenger arrived, this time from the south. He had fled to us
on the current and the Wind, so his news was only a day old. tonus
ordered him into the council chamber, and the messenger fell to his
knees before Queen Lostris.

“Speak, fellow, ” tonus invited him. “What do you have to tell us?”

In fear of his life, “the messenger stuttered O Devine Majesty, while
our fleet was busy at Asyut, the barbarian made ses over as they
another crossing at Esna. They swam did before, but this time there
were none of our galleys ready to turn back their boats. Two Hyks
regiments are across. Their horses are in the traces and they are
coming on a cloud of dust, swiftly as the flight of the swallow. They
will be here in three days. “f us spoke until tonus had sent the man
away with None ad cared for. The messenger, who orders that he be fed
an had expected to be killed, kissed Queen Lostris” sandals.

When we were alone, tonus said softly, “Salitis has four regiments
across the river. Six hundred chariots -It is over. ” “No!” my
mistress’s voice shook with the force or. denial. “The gods cannot
desert this very Egypt now. Our civilization cannot perish. We have
too much. to give to the world. ” I can fight on, of course, ” tonus
agreed. “But in the end it will all be the same. We cannot prevail
against their chariots.

My mistress turned back to me. “Taita, I have not asked you before,
because I know how dearly it costs you. But I must ask you now before
I make the final decision. I ask of you to work the mazes of Aman-Ra
for me. I must know what the gods require of us. ” I bowed my head in
acquiescence, and whispered, “I will fetch my chest. ” . “. THE Site
tthat I chose for the divine was the inner sanctuary of the shrine to
Horus in the half-completed Palace of Memnon. The shrine had not yet
been dedicated to the god, and his image had not yet been set up, but I
was certain that Horus had already cast his benevolent influence over
the building.

My mistress sat before me with tonus at her side, and watched in
fascination. as I drank the witches” potion to open the eyes of my
soul, my Ka, the little bird-like creature that lives in the heart of
every one of us, and which is our alter ego.

I laid the ivory Mazes before them and asked both Queen Lostris and
tonus to stroke and handle them, to endow them with their spirit and
the spirit of the nation that they represented, this very Egypt.

As I watched them divide the stacks of ivory counters, I felt the drug
in my blood grow stronger, and the beat of my heart slowed as the
little death crept over me.

I took up the two remaining Mazes from the last stack, and I held them
to my breast. They began to grow hot against my skin, and my instinct
was to draw back from the darkness that I felt coming over me.

Instead, I surrendered to it and let it carry me away.

I heard my mistress’s voice, As though from a great distance.

“What will become of the double crown? How can we resist the
barbarian?” The visions began to form before my eyes, and I was
carried up into the days that were still to come, and I saw events that
had not yet come to pass.

The morning sunlight was streaming through the aperture in the roof and
striking the altar of Horus, when at last I returned from the far
journey of the Mazes. I was shaken and nauseated with the effect of
the hallucinatory drug, giddy and trembling with the memories of the
strange sights that I had seen.

My mistress and tonus had stayed with me during the long night.

Their anxious faces were the first-things that I saw on my return, but
they were still so distorted and wavering that I thought they were part
of the vision.

“Taita, are you all right? Speak to us. Tell us what you saw. ” My
mistress was concerned. She could not hide the guilt she felt at
having forced me to enter the Mazes of Arnmon-Ra once more.

“There was a serpent. ” My voice still echoed strangely in my own
ears, as though I stood apart. “A great green serpent that crawled
through the desert. ” I saw the puzzled expression on their faces, but
I had not yet considered the meaning of it all myself, so I could give
them no guidance.

“I am thirsty, ” I whispered. “My throat is dry and my tongue like a
stone covered with moss. ” tonus fetched a jar of wine and poured it
into the bowl for me, and I drank greedily.

Tell us of the serpent, ” my mistress demanded, as soon “as I lowered
the bowl. “There was no end to its sinuous body, and it shimmered
green in the sunlight. It crawled through a strange land, in which
lived tall naked men and strange and wonderful beasts. ” “Could you
see the head or the tail of the serpent?” my mistress asked, and I
shook my, head.

“Where were you? Where did you stand?” she insisted. I had forgotten
how keenly she enjoyed my visions, and what pleasure she took in
interpreting them.

“I was riding upon the back of the serpent, ” I answered.

“But I was not alone. “.

“Who was with you?” you were at my side, mistress, and Memnon with
you. tonus was on my “other hand, and the serpent carried us all. ”
Nile! The serpent was the river she cried triumpliantly. “You foresaw
a voyage that we were making upon the river. ” “Which way?” tonus
demanded. He was as rapt as she was. “Which way did the river run?”

I made an effort to recall every detail. “I saw the sun rise on my
left hand.

“South!” he cried.

“Into Africa, ” said my mistress.

“At last I saw the heads of the serpent ahead of us. The body was
bifurcated, and on each branch of the serpent a head. ” “Does the Nile
have two branches?” my mistress wondered aloud. “Or is there some
deeper meaning to the vision?” Taita has to tell us, ” tonus “Let us
hear the rest of what stopped her speculation. “Continue, old friend.
” “Then I saw the goddess, ” I went on. “She sat upon a high
mountain.

Both the heads of the serpent worshipped her. ” My mistress could not
restrain herself. “Which of the goddesses did you see? Oh, tell me
quickly who it was. ” “She had the bearded head of a man but the
breasts and the pudenda of a woman. From her vagina she spurted out
two great streams of water into the open mouths of the double-headed
serpent. ” “It is the goddess Hopi, the river god, ” Queen Lostris
whispered. “She generates the river within herself, and pours it out
to flow through the world. ” “What else did the vision show you?”
tonus demanded.

“The goddess smiled at us, and her face shone with love and
benevolence. She spoke in a voice that was the sound of the wind and
the sea, The sound of thunder on the peaks of far-away mountains. ”
“What did she say to us?” Queen Lostris asked in awe.

“She said, “Let my child come to me. I will make her strong so that
she will prevail and my people will not perish in the face of the
barbarian. ” ” I repeated the words that still beat like a drum in my
head.

“I am the child of the river goddess, ” said my mistress simply.

“At birth I was dedicated to her. Now she summons me, and I must go to
the place where she dwells at the end of the Nile. ” “This is the same
voyage that Taita and I contemplated once before, ” tonus mused.

“And now the goddess commands, it. We cannot refuse her. ” “Yes, we
must go, but we will come back, ” my mistress vowed. “This is my land,
this very Egypt. This is my city, this beautiful Thebes of the hundred
gates. I cannot leave them for ever. I will return to Thebes.

This I swear and I call upon the goddess Hopi to witness my oath. We
shall return!” THE DECISION TO FLY TO THE SOUTH, UP above the
cataracts into the wild and unexplored land beyond, was one that tonus
and I had made once before. The first time had been to escape the
wrath and vengeance of Pharaoh. Now we Were flying from an even more
merciless foe. It was almost as though the gods were determined that
we should undertake this voyage, and that they would not be denied.

There was little time for us to make our preparations for such a
fateful departure. The Hyksos were coming down on us from two
directions, and our pickets reported that their chariots would. be in
view from the roof of the Palace of Memnon within three days at the
very latest. tonus placed Kratas in charge of half his available force
and sent him to meet King Salitis who was driving hard from Asyut in
the north and was likely to be the first column to reach the necropolis
and the palace. Kratas had orders to fight a ruining battle. Using
the staves and defending every fortified position, he was to delay
Salitis” as long it was possible, without risking being cut off or
overwhelmed.

When he could hold them no longer, he was to evacuate his men on to the
galleys. tonus himself took the other half of our army and moved South
to fight another delaying battle against the Hyksos division coming at
us from Esna.

While they were thus engaged, my mistress was to embark our people and
all their possessions aboard the remaining ships of our fleet. My
mistress delegated this duty to Lord Merkeset, but, of course she made
me his assistant.

Lord Merkeset was not only well into his dotage, but had recently taken
to himself a sixteen-year-old wife. He was not, therefore, of much use
either to himself or to me. The entire planning and execution of the
evacuation fell squarely on my shoulders.

However, before I could turn my mind to this, I had to take care of my
horses. Even at this early stage I realized with stark clarity that
they were the key to our survival as a nation and a civilized people.
With those animals that we had captured at Esna, we now had several
thousand in our herd. I split this herd into four parts so that they
could more readily find grazing on the march. Further, the smaller
herds would throw up less dust, and it would be easier for them to
avoid the Hyksos scouts.

I sent Hui and my charioteers and grooms south with these herds towards
Elephantine, with orders to avoid the river-bank down which the Hyksos
chariots were advancing and to keep inland, closer to the edge of the
desert.

Once the horses were despatched, I could turn my attention to the
humans. I realized that we were limited by the number of ships
available as to how many of our people were able to accompany us on the
long voyage. I was certain that almost every Egyptian wanted to be
part of the exodus.

The cruelty and ferocity of the Hyksos were evident in every city they
burned and in every atrocity that they inflicted on our people.

All the unknown dangers of the African wilderness were preferable to
these bloodthirsty monsters who were racing down upon us in their
chariots.

In the end I calculated that we could accommodate only twelve thousand
souls aboard the escaping fleet, and I reported this to my mistress.

“We will have to be ruthless in those we select and those we leave
behind, ” I told her, but she would not listen to my advice.

“These are my people. I would give up my own place rather than leave
one of them to the Hyksos. ” “But, Majesty, what about the old and the
decrepit? The sick and the very young?” “Every citizen will be given
the choice of coming with us. I will not leave a greybeard or a
beggar, a day-old infant or a leper. They are my people, and if they
cannot go, then Prince Memnon and I will stay with them. ” Of course,
she mentioned the prince to make doubly certain of her victory over
me.

The ships would be gunwale-deep under this great weight of humanity,
but I had no choice. Still, I had some satisfactionv in first
embarking all the most useful and creatie citizens. I chose men from
every trade and profession, masons and weavers, copper smiths and
potters, tanners and sail makers scribes and artists, shipbuilders and
carpenters, all of them leaders in their particular discipline. These
I saw safely on board the waiting transports. It gave me a particular
pleasure to allocate the most uncomfortable berths in the most squalid
vessels to the priesthood and the law scribes, those blood-suckers of
the state.

When all of these were boarded, I allowed the rabble to come swarming
on to the wharf below the temple.

As a result of my mistress’s intransigence, I had to be careful in
choosing what cargo we would load. There would be no room for idle
fripperies. I gathered up the weapons and tools and the raw materials
that we would need to build up another civilization in the unknown
lands. For the rest of the cargo I tried in every way to reduce weight
and bulk.

For instance, rather than grain and fruits, I loaded the seeds of every
desirable plant in clay’ jars sealed with pitch andt wax.

Every de ben-weight of cargo that we loaded in our holds meant that
something else must be left behind. Our voyage might last ten years or
a lifetime. The road would be hard.

We knew that the great cataracts lay ahead of us. We dared not burden
ourselves with anything but the most essential, but then there remained
my mistress’s promise to Pharaoh.

There. was barely room for the living-how much space -could we afford
to give over to the dead?

“I gave my vow to the king as he lay dying, ” my mistress insisted.

“I cannot leave him here. ” “Your Majesty, I will find a secure
hiding-place for the king’s body, an unmarked grave in the hills where
no man will find him. When we return to Thebes, we will exhume and
give him the royal burial that you promised him. ” “If I break my vow,
the gods will desert us and our voyage will be doomed. The body of the
king must go with us. ” One glance at her expression warned me that
there would be no profit in further argument. We opened the massive
granite sarcophagus and lifted out the six inner coffins. Even these
were so bulky that it would have needed a galley to carry them alone.

I made a decision without consulting Queen Lostris. I had the workmen
remove only the two innermost golden coffins.

These we, covered with a thick linen canvas shroud which we stitched
over them as protection. The size and weightd we stowed were thus
reduced to acceptable proportions, an these two canvas-covered coffins
in the hold of the Breath of Horus.

The bulk of Pharaoh’s treasure, all the gold and silver and the
precious stones, was packed into cedar-wood boxes. I ordered the
goldsmiths to strip the bullion from the discarded coffins and from the
wooden frame of the great funeral sledge, and melt it down into bars.

I was secretly delighted to be the instrument of destruction of that
tasteless monstrosity. The treasure chests and the bars of bullion
were carried down to the wharf and loaded on board the waiting ships.

I distributed these so that every ship carried at least one chest or a
stack of bullion bars. In this way, the risk that the entire treasure
could be lost at a single stroke of misfortune was greatly reduced.

There was much of the funerary treasure that we could not take with us,
all the furniture and the statuary, the ceremonial armour and the boxes
of ushabti statues, and of course the ungainly framework of the hearse
from which I had stripped the gold. Rather than have it fall into the
hands of the Hyksos, we piled all of this in the temple courtyard, and
I personally hurled a burning torch on top of the mountain of treasure,
and watched it burn to ashes.

All this was done in dreadful haste, and before the last ship was
loaded the lookouts on the roof of the palace shouted the warning that
the dust-clouds of the Hyksos chariots were in sight. Within the hour,
our exhausted and battle weary troops who, under command of tonus and
Kratas, had been fighting the long grim rear-guard action, began to
pull back into the necropolis, and to embark on the waiting galleys.

I met tonus as he came up on to the causeway at the head of a squad of
the guards” So far, by dint of courage and sacrifice, he and his men
had managed to win a few extra days for us to complete the evacuation.
They could do no more, and the enemy was driving them in.

When I waved and called his name, tonus saw me and shouted over the
heads of the crowd, “Queen Lostris and the prince? Have they gone
aboard the Breath of Horus.

I forced my way through the throng to his side. “My mistress will not
leave until all her people are on board the ships. She ordered me to
take you to her as soon as you arrived. She is waiting for you in her
quarters in the palace. ” He looked at me aghast. “The enemy are
pressing us hard.

Queen Lostris and the prince are more precious than all this rabble.
Why did you not force her?” I laughed. “She is not an easy lady to
force. You should know that as well as I do. She will leave none of
her people to the Hyksos. ” “Seth blast that woman’s pride!

She will get all of us killed. ” But his harsh words were belied by
the expression of pride and admiration on his dusty sweat -streaked
face, and he grinned at me. “Well, if she will not come on her own, we
shall have to go and fetch her. ” We pushed our way through the long
lines of passengers, with bundles of their possessions and carrying
their lade infants, that were streaming down to the dock to go aboard
the ships.

As we hurried along the causeway, tonus pointed over the battlements at
the ominous clouds of dust bearing “down upon us from both
directions.

“They are moving faster than I had believed possible.

They have not even halted to water their horses. Unless we speed up
the embarkation, they will catch us with half our people still ashore,
” he said grimly, and pointed down on to the wharf below us.

The wharf was wide enough to allow only two vessels to come alongside
at one time. The masses of refugees clogged the causeway and congested
the entrance gates to the dock.

Their weeping and lamentation added to the confusion, and at that
moment someone at the rear of the column screamed, “The Hyksos are
here! Run! Save yourselves! The Hyksos are here! “The panic spread
through the crowd and it surged forward mindlessly. Women were crushed
against the stone gates, and children were trampled under foot. All
order and control were breaking down, decent and dignified citizens and
disciplined soldiers were being reduced to a dAesperate mob struggling
for survival.

I had to use the sharpened stave I carried to force a way through them,
as tonus and I fought our way back towards the palace. At last we
broke out of the crowd and ran to the palace gates.

The halls and corridors were empty and deserted except for a few
looters who were picking through the empty rooms. They ran when they
saw tonus. He was a dreadful sight, gaunt and dusty and battle-worn,
with a ruddy stubble of beard covering his jaw. Ahead of me, he burst
into the private quarters of the queen, and we found her chamber
unguarded and the door standing wide. We rushed through it.

My mistress sat alone on the terrace under the spreading vine, with
Prince Memnon on her lap. She was pointing out to him the fleet of
ships on the Nile below the terrace, and the two of them were enthusing
over the spectacle.

“Look at the pretty ships. ” Queen Lostris stood up smiling when she
saw us, and Memnon slid off her lap and ran to tonus. tonus swung him
up on to his shoulder, and then embraced my mistress with his free
hand.

“Where are your slaves? Where are Aton and Lord Merseket?” tonus
demanded.

“I sent them to the ships. ” “Taita says that you refused to go
yourself. He is very angry with you, and rightly so. ” “Forgive me,
dear Taita. ” Her smile could light my life, or break my heart.

“Rather beg the forgiveness of King Salitis, ” I suggested stiffly.

“He will be here soon enough. ” I seized her arm.

“Now that this rude soldier of yours has at last arrived, can we please
go to the ships?” We hurried from the terrace and back through the
palace corridors. We were entirely alone, even the looters and the
thieves had disappeared like rats into their holes. The only one of us
who was completely unconcerned was Prince Memnon. For him it was
another jolly game. Sitting astride tonus” shoulders, he- dug in his
heels and shouted, “Hi up! as he had learned from me when we were
riding Patience.

We raced across the palace gardens to the stone staircase that led up
on to the causeway. That was the shortest way to the temple dock.

As-we hurried along the causeway, I realized that circumstances had
changed drastically in the time that had passed since we had left to
fetch my mistress and the prince from the palace. Ahead of us the
causeway was deserted, the last of the refugees had gone on board the
ships in the dock. Beyond the stone battlements I could see their
masts moving slowly down the canal towards the open river.

With a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, I realized that we were
the last persons left ashore, and that we still had half a mile to
cover before we reached the empty dock.

All of us stopped together, and watched the last galleys sail away.

“I told the captain to wait, ” I groaned, “but with the Hyksos so
close, their only concern is with their own safety. ” “What can we do
now?” my mistress breathed, and even Memnon’s happy cries’ dried up.

“If we can reach the river-bank, surely Remrern or Kratas will see us
and send in a skiff to pick us up?” I suggested, and tonus agreed
immediately.

“This way! Follow me!” he cried. “Taita, see to your mistress. ” I
took her arm to help her along, but she was a strong and agile as a
shepherd boy and ran easily at my side. Then suddenly I heard the
horses, and the squeal of chariot wheels. The sounds were unmistakable
and terrifyingly near at hand.

Our own horses had left three days ago, and must be well on their way.
to Elephantine by this time. Our own chariots were dismantled and
loaded in the holds of the departin fleet. The chariots I heard now
were still out of sight below the wall of the causeway , but we knew to
whom they belonged.

“The Hyksos!” I said softly, and we stopped in a tight little group.
“It must be one of their advance scouting parties. ” “It sounds like
only two or three of their chariots, ” tonus agreed, “but that is
enough. We are cut off. “”It seems that we have left it a little
late, ” said my mistress with a calmness that I knew was feigned, and
she looked at tonus and myself with complete trust. “What do you
suggest now?” Her effrontery flabbergasted me. Her obstinacy was
entirely responsible for our predicament. If she had followed my
urging we would all of us have been on the Breath of Horus and making
our way up-river to Elephantine by this time. tonus held up his hand
for silence, and we stood and listened to the sounds of the enemy
chariots driving along the path way at the foot of the wall. The
closer they came, the more certain it became that this was only a small
adVance party.

Suddenly the sounds of turning wheels stopped, and. we heard the
horses blowing and stamping, then men’s voices speaking a harsh and
guttural tongue. They were just below us, and tonus made another
urgent signal for silence. Prince Memnon was not accustomed to
restraint, nor to keeping the peace against his inclinations. He also
had heard and recognized the sounds.

“Horses!” he shouted in his usual high and ringing tones.

“I want to see the horses. ” There was an instant outcry. Hyksos
voices shouted orders, and weapons rattled in their scabbards. Then
heAvy footfalls pounded upon the stone staircase as a party of the
enemy came dashin up on to the causeway.

Their tall helmets appeared above the stone balustrade just ahead of
us, and then the rest of them came into view.

There were five of them in a body and they rushed up at us with drawn
swords, big men with fish-scale shirts of mail and brightly coloured
ribbons in their beards. But one of them was taller than the rest. I
did not recognize him at first, for he had grown a beard and decorated’
it with ribbons in the Hyksos fashion, and the visor of his helmet hid
half his face. Then he shouted in that voice that I would never
forget, “So it’s you, young Harrab! I killed the old dog, and now I
will kill his puppy!” I should have known that Lord Inter would be the
very first of them to come sniffing like a hungry hyena after Pharaoh’s
treasure. He must have raced ahead of the main Hyksos division to be
the first into the funerary temple. Despite his boast, he did not rush
to meet tonus, but waved the band of Hyksos charioteers forward to do
the job for him. tonus swept Prince Memnon from his shoulders and
tossed him to me as, though he were a doll.

“Run!” he ordered. “I will buy you a little time here. He rushed the
Hyksos while they were still bunched on the staircase and had no room
to wield their swords. He killed the first one cleanly, with that
thrust through the throat which he always performed so skilfully.

Don’t stand there gawking, ” he shouted over his shoulder. “Run!”I was
not gawking, but with -the child clutched to my chest, I knew how
futile was his command. Burdened as I was, I would never reach the
river-bank.

I stepped to the parapet of the causeway and glanced over.

There were two Hyksos chariots parked directly below me, with the
horses blowing and stamping in the traces. Only one man had been left,
to hold them, while his companions rushed up the staircase. He stood
at the heads of the two teams and his whole attention was fixed on his
charges. He had not seen me on the causeway above his head.

Still clutching Memnon, I threw my legs over the parapet and pushed
myself outwards. The prince shrieked with alarm as we dropped.

From the top of the causeway to where the Hyksos charioteer stood was
four times the height of a tall man. I might easily have broken a leg
in the fall, except that I landed neatly on the unsuspecting Hyksos’s
head. The impact broke his neck; clearly I heard the vertebrae snap’.
and he crumpled under us, breaking our fall.

I scrambled to my feet, with Memnon howling in outrage at this rough
treatment, but there was more of it to follow.

I dropped him into the cockpit of the nearest chariot and looked up at
my mistress. She was peeping over the parapet high above me.

“Jump!” I shouted. “I will catch you!” She never even hesitated, but
flung herself over the edge so promptly that I was not yet braced to
receive her. She came hurtling down on top of me, with her short
skirts blowing up and exposing those long sleek thighs. She hit me
squarely and knocked the wind out of my lungs. We went down together
in a heap.

I scrambled up wheezing for breath, and dragged her to her feet. I
shoved her roughly over the foot plate of the chariot and shouted at
her, “See to Memnon!” She grabbed him just as he tried to escape from
the cockpit of the chariot. He was still howling with anger and
fright. I had to scramble over the top of them to reach the reins and
take control of the horses.

“Hang on tight! “The pair of horses responded instantly to my hands,
and I wheeled the whole rig smartly under the wall. One wheel bounced
over the body of the man that I had killed with my fall. “tonus!” I
screamed. “This way!” High above us he jumped up on to the parapet,
and -balanced there easily, exchanging parry and thrust with the group
of charioteers who bayed around him, like hounds around a treed
leopard.

“Jump, tonus, jump!” I yelled, and he stepped out over the edge of the
stone wall and let himself drop. With his cloak billowing around his
head and shoulders, he landed astride the back of the off-side horse.
His sword jerked out Of his hand and clattered on the hard earth, and
tonus threw both arms around the animal’s neck.

“Hi up!” I called to the pair, and whipped the end of the reins around
their hindquarters. They surged forward into a full gallop. I steered
them across the pathway and into the open fields that led down to the
river-bank. I could see the sails of our fleet out there in midstream,
and I could even recognize the pennant of the Breath of Horus fling
amongst the forest of masts. We had half a mile to go to reach the
bank, and I glanced over my shoulder.

Lord Inter and his men had rushed down the staircase.

Even as I watched, they were climbing up into the other chariot.

I cursed myself that I had not disabled it. It would have taken only a
moment to cut the traces and chase away the horses, but I had been in a
panic to get my mistress and the prince away.

Now Lord Inter was coming after us. His chariot had not covered a
hundred paces before I realized that it was faster than the one I was
driving. tonus” weight on the back of the off-side horse was hampering
its gallop, ” he was a heavy man and he still clung to its neck with
both arms. He seemed frozen with terror. I think that this was the
first time that I had ever seen him truly afraid. I have seen him
stand firm, and shoot down a charging lion with his bow, but the horse
terrified him.

I tried to ignore the following chariot, and I looked ahead and
concentrated all my newly acquired skill on piloting us over the open
cultivated fields and through the maze of irrigation canals and ditches
to the bank of the Nile. The Hyksos chariot was heavy and unwieldy,
compared to my Taita vehicle. The solid wooden wheels with their
glinting and turning knives around the rims bit deeply into the clay
loam of the ploughed lands, and all that bronze armour and
ornamentation on the dashboard and side-frames weighed us down. The
horses -must have been driven hard before I took control of them. They
were lathered with sweat and white froth dripped from their muzzles.

We had not covered half the distance to the river-bank when I heard the
shouts of the Hyksos charioteer closing with us, and the pounding of
hooves. I glanced back to see them not three lengths behind. The
driver was lashing the horses with a whip of knotted leather tails and
yelling at them in that coarse and ugly language.

Beside him, Lord Inter was leaning out eagerly over the dashboard.

His ribboned beard was streaming back on either side of his jaw, and
his handsome features were lit by. the rapture of the hunter.

He shouted at me, and his voice carried over the sounds of the two
labouring teams of horses. “Taita, my old darling do you still love
me? I want you to prove it once more before you die. ” And he
laughed.

“You are going to kneel in front of me and die with your mouth full. ”
My skin prickled with insects” feet of horror at the image his words
conjured up.

There was an irrigation ditch ahead of us, and I swerved to run
alongside it, for the sides were deep and sheer. The Hyksos chariot
followed us round, gaining on us with every stride.

“And you, my lovely daughter, I will give you to the Hyksos soldiers to
play with. They will teach you a few tricks that Harrab forgot to show
you. I don’t need you, now that I have your brat. ” Queen Lostris
clutched the prince closer to her- chest and her face was pale and
set.

I understood Lord Inter’s design immediately. A child of the royal
blood of Egypt, even as a satrap of the Hyksos, wouldd the loyalty of
all our people. Prince Memcomman non was the puppet through which King
Salitis and Lord Inter intended to rule the two kingdoms.

It was an ancient and effective device of the conqueror. I pushed my
horses to their utmost, but they were tiring and slowing, and Lord
Inter closed with us so swiftly that he no longer needed to shout to
make himself heard.

“Lord Harrab, this is a pleasure long delayed. What shall we do with
you? I wonder. First, you and I will watch the soldiers entertain my
daughter.. . ” I tried to stop my ears to his, filth, but his voice
was insidious.

I was still gazing ahead, concentrating on the rough and dangerous
ground, but from the corner of my eye I saw the heads of the Hyksos
pair draw level with our vehicle. Their manes flowed back, and their
eyes were wild as they tore up beside us at full gallop.

I looked back at them. The burly Hyksos archer on the foot plate
behind Inter nocked an arrow to his short recurved bow. The range was
so short that even from the bouncing and leaping platform, he could not
miss hitting one of us. tonus was out of the fight. He had dropped
his sword.

He was still clinging to the neck of the horse on the side furthest
from the overtaking chariot. I had only my little dagger, and Queen
Lostris was down on her knees trying to shield the prince with her own
body.

It was only then that I realized the mistake that the Hyksos driver had
made. He had pushed his team of horses into the gap between us and the
deep irrigation ditch. He had left himself no room to manoeuvre.

The archer lifted his bow and drew the fl etchings of the arrow to his
lips. He aimed at me. I was looking into his eyes over the barbed
ftto If the arrow-head. His brows were -black and dense and bushy, his
eyes as dark and implacable as those of a lizard. The Hyksos horses
were running level with the hub of my near-side wheel , an I gathTered
my reins and swerved towards them. The flashing bronze knives that
stood out of my wheel-rims buzzed softly as they spun towards the legs
of the -horses.

The Hyksos driver shouted with consternation as he realized his error.
His horses were trapped between the ditch and those cruel knives. The
blades were less than a hand span from the knees of the big bay
stallion running nearest to me.

At that same instant, the Hyksos archer loosed his arrow, but my sudden
swerve had beaten, him also. The arrow seemed to fly quite slowly
towards my head, but this was an illusion produced by my terror.

In reality it flashed like a beam of sunlight over my shoulder, the
flint edge touched my ear, and a drop of blood dripped from the grazed
skin on to my chest.

The other driver had tried to counter my swerve by turning away from
me, but now his far wheel was running along the lip of the irrigation
ditch. It was crumbling away beneath the bronze-bound run, and the
chariot lurched and teetered on the edge.

I gathered my horses and swung them again, turning into the other
chariot. My wheel-blades hacked into the legs of the nearest horse,
and the poor beast squealed with agony.

I saw pieces of skin and hair fly into the air above the sideboard of
my chariot, and I steeled myself to the whinnying cry of the horse, and
turned hard into him again. This time blood and bone chips flew in a
mush from the broken legs, and the horse went down, kicking and
squealing, pulling his team-mate down with him. The Hyksos chariot
went over the edge of the ditch. I saw the two passengers in the
cockpit thrown clear, but the driver was carried over and crushed
beneath the capsized truck and the heavy, spinning wheels.

Our own chariot was now tearing along dangerously close to the edge of
the ditch, but I managed to gather the horses and bring them back in
hand.

“Whoa!” I slowed them, and turned to look back. A cloud of dust hung
over the ditch where the Hyksos chariot had disappeared. I brought my
team down to a trot. The riverbank was two hundred paces ahead, and
nothing stood in our way to safety.

I turned for one last look behind me. The Hyksos archer, who had fired
his arrow at me, lay in a crumpled and broken heap where he had been
thrown. Lord Inter lay a little further from the edge of the ditch. I
truly believe I might have left him there if he had not stiffed, but at
that moment he sat up and then pushed himself unsteadily to his feet.

Suddenly all my hatred of him came back to me with such force and
clarity that my mind seethed with it. It was as thouh a vein had burst
behind my eyes, for my vision darkened, and was glazed over with the
reddish sheen of blood. A savage, incoherent cry burst from my throat,
and I wheeled the horses in a tight circle until we were headed back
towards the causeway.

Lord Inter stood directly in my path. He had lost his helmet and his
weapons in the fall, and he seemed half-dazed, for he swayed upon his
feet. I whipped the horses up into a gallop once more, and the heavy
wheels rumbled forward.

I aimed the chariot directly at him. His beard was dishevelled and the
ribbons in it sullied with dust. His eyes also were dull and bemused,
but as I drove the -horses down on him, suddenly they cleared and his
head came up.

No!” he shouted, and began to back away, throwing out his hands
towards me as if to fend off the massive carriage and the running
horses. I aimed directly for him, but at the last moment, his dark
gods defended him one last time. As I was right upon him, he threw
himself to one side. I had seen him staggering and I had supposed that
he was weak and helpless. Instead, he was quick and nimble as a jackal
pursued by the hounds. The chariot was heavy and unwieldy, and I could
not turn it swiftly enough to follow his side-step and dodge.

I missed him and went on by. I wrestled with the reins, but the orses
carried me on a hundred paces before I could get them under control and
swing the heavy vehicle round again. By the time we came around, Inter
was running for the shelter of the ditch. If he reached it, he would
be safe. I realized that. I swore bitterly as I drove the team after
him.

It was then that his gods finally abandoned him. He had almost reached
the ditch, but he was looking back over his shoulder at me, and he was
not watching his footing. He ran into a patch of cItLy clods, hard as
rocks, and his ankle turned under him. He fell heavily but rolled back
on to his feet like an acrobat. He tried to run again, but the pain
in. his broken ankle brought him’ up He hobbled a pace or two and
then tried to hop forward towards the ditch on one leg.

“You are mine at last!” I screamed at him, and he spun around to face
me, balanced on one leg as I drove down on him. His face was pale, but
those leopard eyes blazed up at me with all the bitterness and hatred
of his “cruel and twisted soul.

“He is my father!” my mistress cried at my side, holding the prince
face to her bosom so that he would not see it.

“Leave him, Taita. He is of my blood. ” I had never disobeyed her in
my life, this was the first time. I made no move to check the horses,
but gazed into Lord Inter’s eyes, for once without fear.

At the very end, he almost cheated me again. He flung himself
sideways, and such were his agility and his strength that he twisted
himself clear of the truck and the wheels of the chariot, but he could
not quite avoid the wheel-knives.

One of the spinning blades hooked in the fish-scale links of his coat
of mail. The point of the knife tore through the armour and hooked in
the flesh of his belly. The knife was spinning and his entrails
snagged and wrapped around it, so that his guts were drawn out of him,
as though he was one of those big blue perch from the river being
disembowelled by a fishwife on the market block.

He was towed along behind us by the slippery ropes of his own entrails,
but he fell slowly behind as more coils and tangles of his gut were
torn from his open stomach cavity.

He clutched at them with both hands, as they were stripped out of him,
but they slid through his fingers like some grotesque umbilical cord
that bound him to the turning wheel of the chariot.

His screams were a sound that I wish never to hear again as long as I
live. The echoes of them still sometimes haunt my nightmares, so that
in the end he inflicted his last cruelty upon me. I have never ben
able to forget him, as I would so dearly have wished.

When at last the gruesome rope by which he was being dragged across the
black earth snapped, he was left lying in the centre of the field. At
last those cries of his were stilled, and he lay without movement.

I pulled up the horses and tonus slid down off the back of his mount
and came back to the chariot. He lifted my mistress and the prince
down and held -them close to his chest. My mistress was weeping.

“Oh, it was so terrible! Whatever he did to us, he was still my
father. ” “It’s all right now, ” tonus hugged her. “It’s all over
now. ” Prince Memnon was peering back over his mother’s shoulder at
the sprawling figure of his grandfather with all the fascination that
children have with the macabre. Suddenly he piped up in that ringing
treble, “He was a nasty man. ” “Yes, ” I agreed softly, “he was a very
nasty man. ” “Is the nasty man dead now?” “Yes, Mein, he is dead.
Now we can all sleep better at nights. ” I had to drive the horses
hard along the river-bank to catch up with our departing flotilla, but
at last I drew level with Kratas” galley and he recognized us in the
unfamiliar vehicle. Even across that wide stretch of water, his
astonishment was apparent. Later he told me that he had believed we
were safely aboard one of the leading ships of the flotilla.

I turned the horses loose before I left the chariot. Then we waded out
into the water to reach the small boat which Kratas sent in to pick us
up.

THE HYKSOS WOULD NOt LEt US GO that easily. Day after day, their
chariots pursued our flotilla down both banks of the Nile as we fled
southwards.

Whenever we looked back over the stern of the Breath of Horus, we saw
the dust of the enemy columns following us. Very often the dust was
mingled with the darker clouds of smoke that rose from -the towns and
villages on the river-banks which the Hyksos burned as they sacked
them. As we passed each of the Egyptian towns, a flock of small craft
sailed out to join our fleet, so that our armada increased in numbers
with each day that passed.

There were times, when the wind was unfavorable, that the columns of
chariots overhauled us. Then we saw their cohorts gleaming on the
banks on either side of us, and heard their harsh but. futile jeers
and challenges ring out across the water. However, eternal Mother Nile
gave us her protection, as she had over the centuries, and they could
not reach us out on the stream. Then the wind would veer back into the
north and we drew ahead of them once more, and the dust-clouds fell
back on to the northern horizon.

“Their horses cannot keep up this chase much longer, ” I told tonus on
the morning of the twelfth, day.

“Don’t be too smug about it. Salitis has the lure of the treasure of
Pharaoh Mamose and the legitimate heir to the double crown, ” tonus
replied simply. “Gold and power have a marvelous way of stiffening a
man’s resolve. We have not seen the last of the barbarian yet. ” The
next morning the wind had changed again, and the chariots slowly gained
upon us once more, and overtook the leading ships of our flotilla just
as we approached the Gates of Hopi, the first of the granite walls that
constricted the river below Elephantine. Between them the Nile
narrowed to less than four hundred paces across from bank to bank, and
the black granite cliffs rose almost sheer on each side.

The flow of the current was full against us as it swirled through the
Gates of Hopi, so that our speed bled off and tonus ordered fresh men
to the rowing-benches.

“I think you are right, Taita. This is where they will be waiting, ”
he told me grimly, and then almost immediately afterwards he pointed
ahead. “There they are. ” Leading the fleet, the Breath of Horus was
just entering the gates, so we had to throw our heads back to look up
the cliff-faces. The figures of the-Hyksos archers high up on the
rocky ledges were foreshortened by the angle, so that they appeared as
grotesque dwarfs.

“From that height they could shoot their arrows clear across from bank
to bank, ” tonus muttered. “We will be in easy range for most of this
day. It will be hard on all of us, but more especially on the women
and the children. ” It was even worse than-tonus expected. The first
arrow, fired at our galley from the cliffs above us, left a trail of
smoke against the blue vault of the sky as it arced down and struck the
water only a cubit ahead of our bows.

“Fire-arrows, “Tonus nodded. “You were right, once again Taita. The
barbarian does learn quickly. ” “It’s easy enough to teach an ape new
tricks. ” I hated the Hyksos as much as any man in the fleet.

“Now let us see if your bellows can pump water into a ship as well as
they pump it out, ” tonus said.

I had anticipated this attack with fire and so, for the last four days,
I had been working on those galleys that tonus had fitted with the
water-pumps which I had designed for him. Now, as each of our vessels
came up, tonus ordered the captain to lower his sails, and we pumped
water over the decks and soaked the rigging. Leather buckets were
filled and placed ready upon the decks, and then one of the galleys
escorted the ship into the granite-lined gut of the river and the rain
of Hyksos fire-arrows.

It took two full days to get the flotilla through, for the liffs
blanketed the wind. It was hot and still in the gap, and each ship had
to be rowed all the way against the current. ” The arrows fell upon us
in pretty, sparking parabolas, raping into the masts and the decks.

Each of them started its own blaze that had to be quenched by the
bucket chains or by the leather hoses of the pumps on the escort
galley. There was no way for us to retaliate against this attack, for
the archers were high up on the cliff-faces. They were well out of
range of our own less powerful bows. When Remrem led a shore party to
dislodge them from their perches, they were able to fire down on his
men and drive them back into the boats with heavy losses.

Those vessels that won through were all scarred with black scorched
patches. Many others were less fortunate.

The flames aboard them had beaten the buckets and the pumps and
engulfed them. They had to be cut free and left to drift down on the
current, causing pandemonium amongst the rest of the fleet coming up
into the gap. In most cases we managed to take the crew and passengers
off before the flames were out of hand, but with some we were too
late.

The screams of the women and the children in the heart of the flames
were enough to stop the blood in my heart. I am left for ever with an
image from that dreadful day of a young woman leaping from the deck of
a burning barge with her long hair wreathed in flames, like a wedding
garland.

We lost over fifty ships in the Gates of Hopi. There were mourning’
banners flying on every ship as we sailed on towards Elephantine, but
at least the Hyksos seemed to have exhausted themselves and their
horses in this long chase southwards. The dust-clouds no longer
besmirched our northern horizon, and we had a respite in which to mourn
our dead and repair our vessels.

However, none of us believed that they had given up entirely. In the
end, the lure of Pharaoh’s treasure must prove too much to resist.

CONFINED AS WE WERE TO THE DECK OF the galley, Prince Memnon and I
spent much time together sitting under the awning on the poop-deck.

There he listened avidly to my stories, or watched me design and
whittle the first model of a new bow for our army, based on the Hyksos
recurved type.

He had by now learned the old trick of asking questions to keep my
attention focused upon him.

“What are you doing now, Tota?” “I am making a new bow. ” “Yes, but
why?” “All right, I will tell you. Our own single-curve bows, apart
from lacking the same power and carry, are too long to be used from the
chariot. ” He listened gravely. Even though he was an infant I had
tried never to indulge in baby-talk with him, and I always addressed
him as an equal. If sometimes he did not understand, at least he was
happy with the sound of my voice.

“I am now totally convinced that our future lies with the horse and
chariot, I am sure that Your Royal Highness agrees with me. ” I looked
up at him. “You love horses too, don’t you, Mein?” He understood that
well enough. “I love horses, especially Patience and Blade, ” he
nodded vehemently.

I had already filled three scrolls with my musings and diagrams of how
I conceived these military assets could be used to best advantage.

I wished that I was able to discuss these in detail with tonus, but the
Great Lion of Egypt’s interest in matters equine was grudging and
superficial.

“Build the cursed things if you must, but don’t keep chattering about
them, ” tonus told me.

The prince was a much more receptive audience, and while I worked, we
conducted these long discussions, which were only much later to bear
their full harvest. As a companion, Memnon’s first choice was always
tonus, but I was not far behind in his affections, and we spent long,
happy hours in each other’s company.

From the very first he was an exceptionally precocious and intelligent
child, and under my influence he developed his gifts more swiftly than
any other I had ever instructed.

Even my mistress at the same age had not been as quick to learn.

I had made Memnon a toy bow of the design I was studying, and he
mastered it almost immediately and could soon shoot one of his tiny
arrows the full length of the galley’s deck, much to the, agitation of
the slave girls and nursemaids who were usually his targets. None of
them dared bend over when the prince was armed with his bow, he seldom
missed an inviting pair of feminine buttocks at under twenty paces.

After his bow, his favourite toy was the miniature chariot and horse
that I had carved for him. I had even made the tiny figure of a
charioteer to stand in the cockpit, and reins for him to drive the
pair. The prince promptly named the mannikin Mein, and the horses were
christened Patience and Blade. He crowed tirelessly up and down the
deck, pushing the chariot in front of him, making appropriate horsey
noises and uttering cries of “Hi up!” and “Whoa! , For such a small
boy he was always aware of his surroundings. Those sparkling dark eyes
missed very little of what was happening around him” It was no surprise
to me when he was the -first of any of the crew of the Breath of Horus
to spot the strange figure far ahead of us on the right bank of the
river.

“Horses!” he shrieked, and then moments later, “Look, look! It is
Hui!” I rushed up to where he stood in the bows, and my heart soared
as I realized that he was right. It was Hui astride Blade coming down
the river-bank to meet us at a full gallop.

“Hui has got the Horses through to Elephantine. I forgive him all his
other sins and stupidities. Aui has saved my horses. ” “I am very
proud of Hui, ” said the prince gravely imitatIng my words and
intonation so exactly that my mistress and all those around us burst
out laughing.

WE WERE GIVEN A RESPITE ONCE WE

reached Elephantine. There had been no sign of the == pursuing
chariots for so many days that a new optimism spread through the fleet
and the city. Men started speaking of abandoning the flight to the
south, and of remaining here below the cataracts to build up a new army
with which to oppose the invader.

I never allowed my mistress to be seduced by this spirit of confidence
which was rooted in such shallow soil. I convinced her that my vision
of the Mazes had shown us the true path and that our destiny still lay
to the south. In the meantime, I continued my preparations for the
voyage unabated. I think that by this time, it was the adventure
itself that had cast its spell over me, even more than the necessity of
running from the Hyksos.

I wanted to see what lay beyond the cataracts, and in the nights after
a full day’s work in the docks, I sat up into the late watches in the
palace library, reading the accounts of men who had taken that first
step into the unknown before US.

They wrote that the river had no end, that it ran on to the very ends
of the earth. They wrote that after the first cataract, there was
another more formidable, one that no man or ship could ever surmount.

They said that to voyage from the first cataract to the next was a
full- year of travel, and still the river ran on.

I wanted to see it. More than anything in my life I wanted to see
Where this great river, that was our life, began.

When at last I fell asleep in the lamplight over the scrolls, I saw
again in my dream the vision of the welcoming goddess seated on a
mountain-top, with the twin spouts of water gushing from her great
vagina. Although I had slept but little, I awoke with the dawn,
refreshed and excited, and I rushed back to the docks to continue the
preparations for the journey.

I was fortunate in that most of the ropes for our shipping were woven
and braided in the sail-yards here in elephantine. Thus I had the pick
of the finest linen cables at my disposal. Some of these were as thick
as my finger, and others as thick as my thigh. With them I filled
every available space in the holds of the ships not already crammed
with stores. I knew just how desperately we would need these, when we
came to the cataracts.

It was not surprising that here in Elephantine those of our company
with faint hearts and weak resolve made themselves known. The rig ours
of the flight from Thebes had convinced many of these that the
compassion and mercy Of the Hyksos were preferable to a continuation of
the voyage into the burning southern deserts where even more savage men
and beasts awaited them. ” When tonus heard that there were so many
thousands of these citizens anxious to desert from the fleet, he
roared, Damned traitors and renegades! I know what to do with them. ”
And he expressed his intention of turning his legions upon them, and
driving them back on board the ships.

At first he had my mistress’s support in this. Her motives were very
different from his. She was concerned only with the welfare of her
subjects, and her vow that she would leave none of them to the Hyksog
terror.

I had to spend half the night arguing with both of them ! . before I
could convince them that we were better off without

“reluctant passengers. In the end, Queen Lostris issued a decree that
any person who wished to remain in Elephantine might do so, but she
added a neat little touch of her own to the proclamation. This was
read aloud in every street of the city, and upon the docks where our
ships lay.

I, Queen Lostris, regent of this very Egypt, mother of Prince Memnon,
the heir to the double crown of the two kingdoms, now deliver to the
people of this land my solemn promise.

I make oath before the gods and call upon them to witness it. I swear
to you that on the majority of the prince, I shall return with him to
this city of Elephantine, here to elevate him to the throne of Egypt
and place the double crown upon his brow that he may cast out the
oppressor and rule over you with justice and in mercy all the days of
his life.

It is I, Queen Lostris, regent of this very Egypt, who speaks thus.

“This act and declaration increased one hundred-fold the love and the
loyalty that the. common people felt towards my mistress and the
prince. I doubt that in all our history there had ever been a ruler so
cherished as was she.

When the lists were drawn up of those who would come with us beyond the
cataracts, I was not surprised to see that I it comprised most of those
whose loyalty and skills we most valued. Those who wished to stay in
Elephantine were the ones we were happiest to lose, including most of
the priesthood.

However, time would prove that those who remained behind us in
Elephantine were of great value to us also. During the long years of
the exodus they kept alive the flame in the hearts of the people, the
memory of Prince Memnon and the promise of Queen Lostris to return to
them.

Gradually, through all the long, bitter years of the Hyksos tyranny,
the legend of the return of the prince spread through the two kingdoms.
In the end, all the people of Egypt, from the first cataract to the
seven mouths of the Nile in the great Delta, believed that he would
come back, and they prayed for that day.

HUI HAD MY HORSES WAITING FOR ME ON the fields of the west bank, below
the orange dunes hard by the river. The prince and I visited them
every day, and although he was growing heavier, Memnon rode upon my
shoulder to have a better view over the herd.

By now Memnon knew all his favourites by name, and Patience and Blade
came to eat corn-cakes from his hand when he called them. The first
time he rode upon her back without my hand to steady him, “Patience was
as gentle with him as she was with her own foal, and the prince shouted
out loud with the thrill of cantering alone around the field.

Hui had learned a great deal about the management of the herds on the
march, and using this -knowledge, we planned in detail for their
welfare on the next stage of the journey. I also explained to Hui the
role that I wished the horses to play in the passage of the cataracts,
and set him and the charioteers and grooms to work plaiting and
splicing harness.

At the very first opportunity, tonus and I went up-river to scout the
cataract. The water-was so low that all the islands were exposed.

The chapnels between them were so shallow that in places it was
possible for a man to wade through without the water covering his
head.

The cataracts extended for many miles, a vast confusion of shining,
water-worn granite boulders and serpentine streams that wriggled and
twisted their way between them. Even I was daunted and discouraged by
the task that lay ahead of us, while tonus was his usual brutally
straightforward self.

“You won’t be able to push a skiff through here without ripping the
belly out of it. What will you do with a heavily laden galley?

Carry it through on the back of one of your cursed horses?” he
laughed, but without the least trace of humour.

We started back to Elephantine, but before I reached the city, I had
made up my mind that the only way forward was to abandon the ships and
go on overland. The hardships that this course would bring down upon
us were difficult to imagine. However, I reckoned that we might be
able to rebuild the flotilla on the river-banks above the cataracts.

When we returned to the palace on Elephantine Island, tonus and I went
directly to the audience chamber to report to Queen Lostris. She
listened to everything that we told her, and then shook her head.

“I do not believe that the goddess has deserted us so soon and she led
us and all her court to the temple of Hopi on the south tip of the
island.

She made a generous sacrifice to the goddess, and we prayed all that
night and asked for the guidance of Hopi. I do not believe that the
favour of the gods can be bought by cutting the throats of a few goats
and placing bunches of grapes upon the stone altar, nevertheless, I
prayed with all the fervour of the high priest, although by dawn my
buttocks ached hideously from the long vigil on the stone benches.

As soon as the rays of the rising sun struck through the doors of the
sanctuary and illuminated the altar, my mistress sent me down the shaft
of the Nilorneter. I had not reached the bottom step before I found
myself ankle-deep in water.

Hopi had listened to our prayers. Although it was weeks early, the
Nile had begun to rise.

THE VERY DAY AFtER THE WATERS began to rise, one of our fast scouting
galleys that tonus had left to watch the movements of the Hyksos
cohorts came speeding up-river on the wings of the north wind. The
Hyksos were on the march again.

They would be in Elephantine within the week.

Lord tonus left immediately with his main force to prepare for the
defence of the cataracts, leaving Lord Merkeset and myself to see to
the embarkation of our people. I was Able to prise Lord Merkeset off
the belly of his young wife just long enough for him to sign the orders
which I had prepared for him so meticulously. This time we were able
to avoid the chaos and panic that had “overtaken us” at Thebes, and the
fleet prepared to sail for the tail of the cataracts in good order.

Fifty thousand Egyptians lined both banks of the river, weeping and
singing psalms to Hopi and waving palm fronds in farewell as we sailed
away. Queen Lostris stood in the bows of the Breath of Horus with the
little prince at her side, and both of them waved to the crowds on the
bank as they passed slowly up-river. At twenty-one years of age, my
mistress was at the zenith of her beauty. Those who gazed upon her
were struck with an almost religious awe.

That beauty was echoed in the face of the child at her side, who held
the crook and the flail of Egypt in his small, determined hands.

“We will return, ” my mistress called to them, and the prince echoed
her, “We will return. Wait for us. We will return. ” The legend that
would sustain our blighted and oppressed land through its darkest times
was born that day on the banks of the mother river.

WHEN WE REACHED THE TAIL OF THE cataract on the following day the
rock-studded gorge had been transformed into a smooth green chute of
rushing waters. In places it tumbled and growled it in white water and
froth, but it had not yet unleashed its full and terrible power.

This was the moment in the life-cycle of the river most favourable to
our enterprise. The waters were high enough to allow our ships through
without grounding in the shallows, but the flood was not yet so wild
and headstrong as to hurl them back and dash them to driftwood on the
granite steps of the cataract. tonus himself managed the ships, while
Hui and I, under the nominal command of Lord Merkeset, managed the
shore party. I placed the jovial old man, with a large jar of the very
best wine on his one hand and his pretty little sixteen-year-old wife
on the other, under a thatched shelter on the high ground above the
gorge. I ignored the garbled and contradictory orders that the noble
lord sent down to me from time to time over the ensuing days, and we
got on with the business of the transit of the first cataract.

The heaviest linen lines were laid out upon the bank, and our horses
were harnessed in teams of ten. We found out quickly enough that we
were able to bring forward ten teams at a time-one hundred horses-and
couple them to the main ropes. Any greater numbers were
unmanageable.

In addition to the horses, we had almost two thousand men upon the
secondary ropes and the guide-lines. Horses and men -were changed
every hour so that the teams were always fresh. At every dangerous
turn and twist of the river, we stationed other parties upon the bank,
and on the exposed granite islands. These were all armed with long
poles to fend the hulls of. the rocks as they were dragged through.

Our men had been born on the river-banks and understood their boats and
the moods of the Nile better than they did their own wives’. tonus and
I arranged a system of horn signals between the ships and the shore
party that functioned more smoothly even than I had hoped.

On board the vessels, the sailors were also armed with poles to punt
themselves forward and to fend off the bows.

They sang the ancient river shanties as they worked, and the Breath of
Horus was the first to make the attempt. The sound of song and the
cries of the horse-handlers mingled with the muted thunder of the Nile
waters as we hauled her forward and she thrust her bows into the first
chute of smoothly racing waters.

The green waters piled up against her bows, but their thrust was unable
to overcome our determination and the strength of two thousand men and
one hundred straining horses. We dragged the Breath of Horus up the
first rapid and we cheered when she glided into the deep green pool at
the head.

But there were six miles still to go. We changed the men and horses
and dragged her bows into the next tumbling, swirling stretch of broken
water in which the rocks stood like the heads of gigantic hippopotami
ready to rip out her frail timbers with fangs of granite.

There were six miles of these hellish rapids to negotiate, with death
and disaster swirling around every rock. But the ropes held, and the
men and the horses plodded on and upwards in re lays.

My mistress walked along the bank beside the teams of sweating men. She
looked as fresh and cool as a flower, even in the baking sunlight, and
her laughter and banter gave them fresh purpose. She sang the working
songs with them, and I joined with -her in the chorus.

We made up fresh words as we went along. The men laughed at the saucy
couplets and hauled on the ropes with renewed strength.

Prince Memnon rode on the back of Blade, in the leading team of horses.
Hui had tied a rope around the horse’s chest behind the front legs to
give him a hand-hold, because Memnon’s legs were still too short to
afford him a firm grip, and stuck out at an undignified angle on each
side of Blade’s broad back. The prince waved back proudly at his
father on the poop-deck of the galley.

When at last we broke out into the deep, unruffled flow of the main
river above the rapids, the working chant of the boatmen turned to a
hymn of praise to Hopi, who had seen us through.

Once my mistress had gone back on board the galley, she called for the
master mason. She ordered him to cut an obelisk from the granite
massif that hemmed in the gorge.

While we laboured to bring the rest of the fleet through the gorge, the
masons worked with fire and chisel to lift a long, slender column of
mottled stone from the mother lode.

When they had freed it from the matrix, they chiselled the words that
my mistress dictated to them, using the pharaonic hieroglyphics in
which her name and that of the prince were enclosed in the royal
cartouche.

AS WE PROCEEDED WITH THE TRANSIt OF

in the cataract, we became more expert with each pace =%a we gained
against the river.

It had taken us a full day to bring the Breath of Horus up the rapids.
Within the following week we were making the transit in half that time,
and we had five or six vessels in the gorge simultaneously. It was
almost a royal procession with one galley coming up behind the other,
stern to stern. Ten thousand men and nearly a thousand horses were in
the traces at any one time.

There were over a hundred vessels moored along the bank in the quiet,
deep green reach of the Nile above the rapids, when the Hyksos fell
upon us once more.

King Salitis had been delayed by his sack and plunder of the city of
Elephantine, and he had not realized immediately that we had continued
on up-river with the great bulk of Pharaoh’s treasure in the holds of
our galleys. Everything that he knew about the river, all that his
spies and Lord Inter had been able to tell him, had convinced him that
the cataracts were a barrier that could not be navigated. He had
wasted all that time in the city of Elephantine before setting after us
again.

He had ransacked the city and the palace on the island; he had paid
informants and tortured captives in an attempt to learn what had become
of the treasure and the prince. The citizens of Elephantine had served
their prince well. They had held out against the Hyksos in order to
give our flotilla a chance to complete the transit.

Of course, it could not last indefinitely, and at last some poor soul
broke under the torture of the tyrant. King Salitis harnessed up his
horses yet again and came storming after us into the gorge of the
cataract.

However, tonus was well prepared to meet him. Under his command,
Kratas and Remreni and Astes had made their dispositions With care.

Every single man who could be spared from the work of hauling the ships
through the gorge was sent back to help defend. it.

The terrain was our greatest ally. The. gorge was steep and rocky.
The path along the bank was narrow and twisted with the broken ground
Qrowding down upon it. At every turn of the river there rose high
bluffs and cave-riddled cliffs, each of them a natural fortress for us
to exploit.

In the confines of the gorge the chariots were unable to manoeuvre.
They were unable to leave the river and make a detour around the gorge
through the open desert. There as neither water nor fodder for their
horses out there in the sandy wastes, and the going was soft and
treacherous.

Their heavy chariots would have bogged down and been lost in the
trackless desert, before they could reach the river again. There was
no alternative for them, they were forced to come at us in single file
along the narrow river-bank.

On the other hand, Kratas had been given ample grace in which to
improve the natural de fences of the ground by building stone walls in
the most readily defensible places.

He positioned his archers in the cliffs above these obstacles, and set
up man-made rock-slides on the high ground overlooking the pathway.

As the Hyksos vanguard came up the gorge, they were met with a downpour
of arrows from stone-walled redoubts on the high ground above them.
Then, when they dismounted from their chariots and went forward to
clear the stone barriers that had been placed across the track, Kratas
yelled the order and the wedges were knocked from under the rock-slides
balanced on the lip of the precipice.

The landslides came tumbling and rolling down upon the Hyksos, sweeping
men and horses and chariots off the bank into the surging green waters
of the Nile. Standing on the top of the cliff with Kratas, I watched
their heads go bobbing and spinning through the cascades, and heard
their faint and desperate cries echoing from the cliffs, before the
weight of their armour pulled them below the surface and the river
overwhelmed them.

King Salitis was tenacious. He sent still more of his legions forward
to clear the pathway, and others to climb up the cliffs and dislodge
our troops from the heights. The HykSos” losses in men and horses were
frightful, while we were almost unscathed. When they laboured up the
cliffs in their heavy bronze armour, we rained our arrows down upon
them. Then, before they could reach our positions, Kratas ordered our
men to fall back to the next prepared strongpoint.

There could be only one outcome to this one-sided encounter.

Before he had fought his way halfway up the gorge, King Salitis was
forced to abandon the pursuit. tonus and my mistress were with us on
the cliff-tops when the Hyksos began their retreat back down the
gorge.

They left the path strewn with the wreckage of their chariots and
cluttered with abandoned equipment and the detritus of their defeat.

“Sound the trumpets!” tonus gave the order, and the gorge echoed to
the-mocking fanfare that he sent after the retreating Hyksos legions.
The last chariot in that sorry cavalcade was the gilded and embossed
vehicle of the king himself.

Even from our perch on top of the precipice, we could recognize the
tall and savage figure of Salitis, with his high bronze helmet and his
black beard flowing back over his shoulders. He raised his bow, that
he held in his right hand, and shook it at us. His face was contorted
with frustration and rage.

We watched him out of sight. Then tonus sent our scouts after them to
follow them back to Elephantine, in case this was a ruse, a: false
withdrawal. In my heart I knew that Salitis would not come after us
again. Hopi had fulfilled her promise, and offered us her protection
once more.

Then we turned, and followed the pathway made by the wild goats along
the, precipice, back to where the flotilla was moored.

THE MASONS HAD FINISHED WORK ON al ME the obelisk. It was a shaft of
solid granite. three times the height of a man. I had marked out the
proportions and the shape of it upon the mother ?” rock before the
masons had made their first cut. it was Because of this, the lines of
the monument were so elegant and pleasing that it appeared to be much
taller, once set on the summit of the bluff above the last wild stretch
of the cataract, overlooking the scene of our triumph.

All our people gathered below it, as Queen Lostris dedicated the stone
to the goddess of the river. She read aloud the inscription that the
masons had engraved upon the polished stone.

widow of Pharaoh

I, Queen Lostris, Regent of Egypt and widow of Mamose, the eighth of
that name, mother of the Crown Prince Memnon, who shall rule the two
kingdoms after raising of this monument.

This is the mark and covenant of my vow to the people of this very
Egypt, that I shall return to them from the wilderness whence I have
been driven by the barbarian.

This stone was placed here in the first year of my rule, the
nine-hundredth year after the building of the great pyramid of Pharaoh
Cheops.

Let this stone stand immovable as the pyramid until I make good my
promise to return.

Then, in sight of all the people, she placed the Gold of Valour upon
the shoulders of tonus and Kratas and Remrem and Astes, all those
heroes who had made possible the transit of the cataract.

Then, last of all, she called me to her, and as I knelt at her feet,
she whispered so I alone might hear, “How could I forget you, my dear
and faithful Taita? We could never have come this far without your
help, ” she touched my cheek lightly, “and I know how dearly you love
these pretty baubles. ” And she placed around my neck the heavy Gold
of Praise. I weighed it later at thirty de ben five de ben heavier
than the chain that Pharaoh had bestowed upon me.

On the way back down the side of the gorge, I walked beside my”
mistress to hold the sun-shade of ostrich feathers over her head, and
she smiled at me more- than once. Each smile was more precious to me
than the heavy chain upon my shoulders.

The following morning we went back on board the Breath of Horus and
turned our bows once more towards the south.

The long voyage had begun.

WE FOUND THAt THE RIVER HAD

changed its when and character. It was no longer the broad and serene
presence that had comforted and sustained us all our lives.

This was a sterner, wilder being. There was little gentleness and
compassion in its spirit. It was narrower and deeper.

The land on each side of it was steeper and more rugged, and the gorges
and nullahs were crudely gouged from the harsh earth. The brooding and
darkling cliffs frowned down upon us with furrowed brows.

In some places the bottom lands along the banks_ narrowed down so that
the horses and cattle and sheep had to pass in single file along the
crude track that the wild goats had trodden between the cliffs and the
water. In other places the track disappeared completely, as the bluffs
and the cliffsp pushed boldly into the flood of the Nile. Then there
was no way forward for our herds. Hui was forced to drive them into
the river and swim them across the green expanse of water to the far
bank, where the cliffs had retreated and left the way open for them to
pass.

As the weeks wore on, we saw little sign of any human presence.

Once, our scouts found the worm-eaten hull of a crude dugout canoe
washed up on a sand-bank, and upon the bottom land an abandoned cluster
of huts. The sagging roofs were thatched with reeds and the sides were
open.

There were the remains of fish-smoking racks and the ashes of the
fires, but that was all. Not a shard of pottery or a bead to hint at
who these people might be.

We were anxious to make our first contact with the tribes of Cush, for
we needed slaves. Our entire civilization was based on the keeping of
slaves, and we had been able to bring very few of them with us from
Egypt. tonus sent his scouts far ahead of the fleet, so that we might
have good warning of the first human habitations in ample time to
organize our slave-catchers. I found no irony in the fact that I, a
slave myself, spent so much of my time and thought in planning the
taking of other slaves.

All wealth can be counted in four commodities, land and gold and slaves
and ivory. We believed that the land that lay ahead of us was rich in
all of these. If we were to grow strong enough to return and drive the
Hyksos from our very Egypt, then we must discover this wealth in the
unexplored land to which we were sailing.

Queen Lostris sent out her gold-finders into the hills along the river
as we passed. They climbed up through the gorges and the dry nullahs,
scratching and digging in every likely spot, chipping fragments off the
exposed reefs of quartz and schist, crushing these to powder, and
washing away the dross in a shallow clay dish, hoping always to see the
gleaming precious tail remaining in the bottom of the dish.

The royal huntsmen went out with them to search for game with which to
feed our multitudes. They searched also for the first sign of those
great grey beasts who carry the precious teeth of ivory in their
monstrous heads. I made vigorous enquiry through the fleet for any man
who had ever seen one of these elephant alive, or even dead.

Though their teeth were a commonplace throughout the civilized world,
there was not a single man who could help me in my enquiries. I felt a
strange and unaccountable excitement at the thought of our first
encounter with these fabulous beasts.

There was a host of other creatures inhabiting this wild land, some of
them familiar to us and many that were strange and new.

Wherever reeds grew upon the river-bank, we found herds of hippopotami
lying like rounded granite boulders in the shallows. After long and
erudite theological debate, it was still uncertain whether these beasts
above the cataract belonged to the goddess, as did those below, or
whether they were royal game belonging to the crown. The priests of
Hopi were strongly of one persuasion, and the rest of us, with an
appetite for the rich fat and tender flesh of these animals, were of
the opposite opinion.

It was entirely by coincidence that at this point the goddess Hopi
chose to appear to me in one of my celebrated dreams. I saw her rise
from the green waters, smiling beneficently, and place in my mistress’s
hand a tiny hippopotamus no bigger than a wild partridge. As soon as I
awoke, I lost no time in relaying the substance of this weird and
thrilling dream to the regent. By now my dreams and divination were
accepted by my mistress, and therefore by the rest of our company, as
the manifest will and law of the gods.

That evening we all feasted on luscious river-cow steaks grilled on the
open coals on the sand-bank against which the ships had moored.

My reputation and popularity, which were already high throughout the
fleet, were much enhanced by this dream. The priests of Hopi alone
were not carried along by the general warmth of feeling towards me.

The river teemed with fish. Below the cataract, our people had fished
the river for a thousand years and longer. These waters were untouched
by man or his nets. We drew from the river shining blue perch heavier
than the fattest man in our company, and there were huge catfish, with
barbellate whiskers or-long as my arm, that were too strong and weighty
to be captured in the nets. With a flick of their great tails they
ripped the linen threads as though they were the fragile webs of
spiders. Our men hunted them in the shallows with spears, as though
they were river-cows. One of these giants could feed fifty men with
rich yellow flesh that dripped fat into the cooking-fires.

In the cliffs above the river hung the nests of eagles and vultures.
From below they appeared like masses of driftwood, and the droppings of
the huge birds painted the rocks beneath them with streaks of shining
white. The birds floated above us on wide pinions, circling and
swaying on the heated air that rose from the black rocks of the
gorge.

From the heights, flocks of wild goats watched us pass with regal and
disdainful when. tonus went out to hunt them on their airy crags, but
it was many weeks before he succeeded in bringing back one of these
trophies. They had the eyesight of vultures and the agility of the
blue-headed rock lizards that could run effortlessly up a vertical wall
of granite.

One of these old rams stood as tall as a man’s shoulder.

His beard flowed from his chin and throat to sweep the rock on which he
posed. His horns curled upon themselves from mighty crenellated bases.
When tonus finally brought him down, it was with an arrow shot across a
gorge a hundred paces deep, from peak to pinnacle of these rugged
hills. The goat dropped into the gulf and twisted over and over in the
air before it hit the rocks below.

Because of my passionate interest in all wild things, after he had
skinned out and butchered the carcass, tonus carried the head and the
horns home for me. It took all his vast strength to bring down such a
burden from those murderous crags. I cleaned and bleached the skull
and set it up on the bows of our galley as a figurehead, as we sailed
on into the unknown.

THE MONTHS PASSED, AND BELOW OUR keels the river began to dwindle away
as the inundation abated. As we passed the sheer headlands, we could
see the height of the river measured upon the cliff where all the
previous inundations had left their watermarks.

At night Memnon and I sat up on deck as late as his mother would allow
us, and together we studied the stars that illuminated the firmament of
the sky with a milky radiance. I taught him the name and the nature of
each of these fiery points of light and how they affected the destiny
of every man born under them. By watching the heavenly bodies, I was
able to determine that the river was no longer taking us directly into
the south, but that we were veering towards the west.

These observations stirred up another heated controversy amongst the
scholars and the wise men of our company.

“The river is taking us directly to the western fields of paradise, ”
suggested the priests of Osiris and Ammon-Ra.

“It is a ruse of Seth. He wishes to confuse and confound us, ” argued
the priests of Hopi, who up until now had exerted undue influence over
our councils. Queen Lostris was a child of their goddess, and it had
been generally accepted by most of us that Hopi was the patron of our
expedition. The priests were angry to see their position weakened by
this wayward perambulation of the river.

“Soon the river will turn south once more, ” they promised.

It always appalls me to watch how unscrupulous men manipulate the
wishes of the gods to coincide with their own.

Before the matter could be resolved, we came to the second cataract.

This was as far as any civilized man had ever ventured, and not one of
them had reached further. When we scouted and surveyed the cataract,
the reason for this was abundantly evident. These rapids were more
extensive and formidable than those we had already negotiated.

Over a vast area, the stream of the Nile was split by several massive
islands and hundreds of smaller ones. It was low-water now, and at
most places the bed of the river was “exposed. A maze of rock-strewn
canals and branches extended for miles ahead of us. We were awed by
the grandeur and menace of it.

“How do we know that there is not another cataract, and then another,
guarding the river?” those who were easily discouraged asked each
other. “We will expend our strength and in the end find ourselves
trapped between the rapids without the strength to advance or
retreat.

We should turn back now, before it is too late, ” they agreed amongst
themselves.

“We will go on, ” decreed my mistress. “Those who wish to turn back
now, are free to do so. However, there will be no vessels to carry
them nor horses to draw them. They will return on their own, and I am
certain the Hyksos will bid them a hearty welcome.

There were none who accepted her magnanimous offer.

Instead, they went ashore on the fertile islands that choked the course
of the river.

The spray from the rapids during the flood, and the water filtering up
through the soil during low ebb, had transformed these islands into
verdant forests, in stark contrast to the dry and terrible deserts on
either bank. Springing from seeds brought down by the waters from the
ends of the earth, tall trees, of a kind that none of us had ever seen
before, grew on the silt that Mother Nile had piled up on the granite
foundation of the islands.

We -could not attempt a transit of these rapids until the Nile brought
down her next inundation and gave us sufficient depth of water for our
galleys. That was still many months away.

Our farmers went ashore and cleared land to plant the seeds that we had
brought with us. Within days the seed had sprouted, and in the hot
sunlight the plants seemed to grow taller under our eyes. Within a few
short months the dhurra corn was ready to be harvested, and we were
gorging on the sweet fruits and vegetables that we had missed so much
since leaving Egypt. The muttering amongst our people died away.

In fact these islands were so attractive, and the soil so fertile, that
some of our people began to talk about settling here Permanently.

A delegation from the priests of AmmonRa went to the queen and asked
for her permission to erect a temple to the god on one of the
islands.

My mistress replied, “We are travellers here. In the end we will
return to Egypt. That is my vow and promise to all my people. We will
build no temples or other permanent habitation. Until we return to
Egypt we will live as the Bedouin, in tents and huts. ”

I NOW HAD At MY DISPOSAL THE TIMBER

from those trees we had felled upon the islands. I was able to
experiment with these and to explore their various properties.

There was an acacia whose wood was resilient and strong. It made the
finest spokes for my chariot wheels of any material which I had so far
tested. I put my carpenters and weavers to work on reassembling the
chariots that we had brought with us, and building new ones from the
woods and bamboos that grew on the islands.

The. flat bottom lands were several miles wide on the left bank below
the cataract. Soon our squadrons of chariots were training and
exercising upon these smooth and open plains once more. The spokes of
the wheels still broke under hard driving, but not as frequently as
they once had. I was able to entice tonus back on to the foot plate
however, he would not ride with any driver but myself At the same time,
I was able to complete the first successful recurved bow upon which I
had been working since we had left Elephantine. It was made from the
same composite materials as was Lanata, wood and ivory and horn.

However, the shape was different. When it was unstrung, the upper and
lower limbs were curved out and away from the archer. It was only when
the weapon was strung that they were forced back into the familiar bow
shape, but the tension in the stock and the string was multiplied out
of all proportion to the much shorter length of the bow.

At my gentle insistence, tonus finally agreed to shoot the bow at a
series of targets that I had erected upon the east bank. After he had
shot twenty arrows he said little, but I could see that he was
astonished by the range and accuracy of it. I knew my tonus so well.

He was a conservative and a reactionary to the marrow of his bones.

Lanata was his first love, both the woman and the bow. I knew it would
be a wrench for him to acknowledge a new love, so I did not pester him
for an opinion, but let him come to it in his own time.

It was then that our scouts came in to report a migration of oryx from
out of the desert. We had seen several small herds of these
magnificent animals since we had passed the first cataract. Usually
they were grazing upon the river-bank, but they fled back into the
desert as our ships sailed towards them. What our scouts reported now
was a massive movement of these animals such as took place only very
occasionally. I had witnessed it just once before. With the freak
occurrence of a thunderstorm in the desert fastnesses once in twenty
years or so, the flush of green grass that sprang from the wet earth
would attract the scattered herds of oryx from hundreds of miles
around.

As they moved towards the fresh grazing grounds, the herds amalgamated
into one massive movement of animals across the desert.

This was happening now, and it offered us the chance of a change of
diet and the opportunity to run our chariots in earnest.

For the first time, tonus showed a real interest in my chariots, now
that there was game to pursue with them. As he took his place on the
foot plate of my vehicle, I noticed that it was the new recurved bow
that, he hung on the rack, and not his faithful old Lanata. I said.
not a word, but shook up the horses and headed them towards the gap in
the hills that offered us a route out of the narrow valley of the Nile
and gave access to the open desert.

We were fifty chariots In the squadron, followed by a dozen heavy carts
with solid wheels that carried sufficient fodder and water for five
days. We trotted in column of route, two vehicles abreast, and with
three lengths between the files. This had already become our standard
travelling formation.

To keep down the weight, we were stripped to loin-cloths, and all our
men were in superb physical condition from long months of work on the
rowing-benches of the galleys. Their muscled torsos were all freshly
oiled and gleamed in the sunlight, like the bodies of young gods. Each
chariot carried its brightly coloured recognition pennant on a long,
whippy bamboo rod. We made a brave show as we came up the goat track
through the hills. When I looked back down the column, even I, who
never was a soldier, was affected by the spectacle.

I did not clearly recognize the truth then, but the Hyksos and the
exodus had forced a new military spirit upon the nation. We had been a
race of scholars and traders and priests, but now, with the
determination of, Queen Lostris to expel the tyrant, and led by Lord
tonus, we were fast becoming a warlike people.

As we led the column over the crest of the hills, and the open desert
lay ahead of us, a small figure stepped out from behind the last pile
of rocks where it had been lying in ambush.

“Whoa!” I reined down the horses. “What are you doing out here so far
from the ships?” I had not seen the prince since the previous evening,
and had believed that he was safe with his nursemaids. To come across
him here on the edge of the desert was a shock, and my tone was
outraged. At that time he was not quite six years of age, but he had
his toy bow over his shoulder and determined expression on his face
that mirrored that of his father, when tonus was in one of his most
intractable moods.

“I am coming on the hunt with you, ” said Memnon.

“No, you are not, ” I contradicted him. “I am sending you back to your
mother this very instant. She will know how to deal with small boys
who sneak out of the camp without telling their tutors where they are
going. ” “I am the crown prince of Egypt, ” declared Memnon, but his
lip trembled despite this weighty declaration. “No man durst forbid
me. It is my right and my sacred duty to lead my people in time of
need. ” We had now moved on to dangerous. ground. The prince knew
his rights and his responsibilities. It was I who had taught them to
him.

However, in all truth, I had not expected him to exercise them so
soon.

He had made it an affair of royal protocol, and it was difficult, even
impossible, to argue with him. Desperately I sought for an escape.

“Why did you not ask me before?” I was merely bidding for time.

“Because you would have gone to my mother, ” he said with simple
honesty, and she would have supported you, as she always does. ” “I
can still-go to the queen, ” I threatened, but he looked back into the
valley where the ships were small as toys, and he grinned at me. We
both knew that I could not order the entire squadron to drive all that
way back.

“Please let me come with you, Tota, ” he changed his tune.

The little devil was attacking me on all fronts. I found it impossible
to resist him when he exerted. all his charm. Then I was struck with
inspiration. “Lord Harrab is the commander of this expedition. You
must ask him. ” The relationship between these two was a strange
one.

Only three of us-the two parents and myself-were aware of Memnon’s true
paternity. The prince himself thought of tonus as his tutor and the
commander of his armies. Although he had come to love tonus, he still
held him in considerable awe. tonus was not the type of man that a
small boy, even a prince, would trifle with.

The two of them looked at each other now. I could see Memnon, was,
pondering his best plan of attack, while I could feel tonus trembling
with the effort of holding back his laughter.

“Lord Harrab, ” Memnon had decided on the formal approach, “I wish to
come with you. I think it will be a very useful lesson for me.

After all, one day I will have to lead the army. ” I had taught him
logic and dialectic. He was a student to be proud of.

“Prince Memnon, are you giving me an order?” tonus managed to cover
his amusement with a horrific scowl, and I saw tears begin to well up
in the prince’s eyes.

He shook his head miserably. “No, my lord. ” He was a small boy once
more. “But I would very much like to come hunting with you, please. ”
“The queen will have me strangled, ” said, tonus, “but hop up here in
front of me, you little ruffian. ” The prince loved tonus to call him
a ruffian. It was a term that he usually reserved for the men of his
old Blues regiment, and it made Memnon feel that he was one of them.

He let out a yelp of glee and almost tripped over his own feet in his
haste to obey. tonus reached down and caught his arm. He swung him up
and placed him securely between us on the foot plate

“Hi up!” Memnon shouted to Patience and Blade, and we drove out into
the open desert, but not before I had sent a messenger back to the
fleet with a message for the queen to tell her that the prince was
safe. No lioness could be as fierce as my mistress in the care of its
cub.

When we struck the migration road, it was a broad swathe of churned
sand many hundreds of yards wide. The hooves of the oryx are broad and
splayed to cover the soft desert sands. They leave a distinctive
track, the shape of a Hyksos spear-head. Many thousands of the huge
antelope had passed this way.

“When?” tonus asked, and I dismounted to examine the trail. I took
Memnon down with me, for I never missed an opportunity to instruct him.
I showed him how the night breeze had eroded the spoor, and how small
insects and lizards had superimposed their own tracks over those of the
herd.

“They passed here yesterday evening at sunset, ” I gave my opinion, and
had it endorsed by the prince. “But they are travelling slowly.

With luck we can catch them before noon. ” We waited for the wagons to
come up. We watered the horses, and then went on, following the broad
trodden road through the dunes.

Soon we found the carcasses of the weaker animals that had succumbed.
They were the very young and the oldest, and now the crows and the
vultures squawked and squabbled over their remains, while the little
red jackals slunk around the fringes, hoping for a mouthful.

We followed the broad road until at last we saw the thin filtering of
dust upon the southern horizon, and we quickened our pace. When we
topped a line of rugged hills whose crests danced in the heat-mirage,
we saw the herds spread out below us. We had reached the area where
the thunderstorm had broken weeks before. As far ahead as we could
see, the desert had been transformed into a garden of flowers.

The last rains might have fallen here a hundred years ago.

It seemed impossible, but the seeds. of that harvest had lain sleeping
all that time. They had been burned and desiccated by sun and desert
wind, while they waited for the rains to come once again, For any who
doubted the existence of the gods, this miracle was proof. For any’
man who doubted that life was eternal, this held out the promise of
immortality. if the flowers could survive thus, then surely the soul
of man, which is infinitely more wonderful and valuable, must also live
for ever.

The landscape below. us was painted with shades of soft greens, the
contours and the outlines of the hills were picked out with sweeps of
darker green. This formed a background to the wonderful rainbow of
colour that lit the earth. The flowers grew in banks and drifts. The
blooms of each variety seemed to seek the company of their own kind, as
do the herds of antelope and the flocks of birds. The orange coloured
daisies grew in pools and lakes together, those with white petals
frosted entire hillsides. There were fields of blue gladiolus, scarlet
lilies and yellow eric as

Even the wiry bruh plants in the gorges and nullahs, that had seemed
seared and dried as mummies of men dead a thousand years, were now
decked in fresh robes of green, with wreaths of yellow blooms crowning
their ancient blasted heads. Lovely as it now was, I knew that. it
was ephemeral. Another month and the desert would triumph again. The
flowers would wither on the stern, and the grass would turn to dust and
blow away on the furnace blasts of the winds. Nothing would remain of
this splendour except the seeds, tiny as grains of sand, waiting out
the years with a monumental patience.

“Such beauty should be shared with the one you love, ” tonus breathed
in awe. “Would that the queen were with me now!” That tonus had been
so moved by it proved the glory of the spectacle. He. was a soldier
and a hunter but for once he gave no thought to the quarry, but gazed
upon the spectacle with a religious awe. it was a shout from Kratas in
one of the following chariots that roused us from this reverie of
beauty. “By Seth’s stinking breath, there must be ten thousand of them
down there. ” The oryx were spread out to the green silhouette of the
farther hills. Some of the old bulls were solitary, keeping all others
away, but the rest of them were in herds of ten or a a hundred, or were
beyond count. They and some of the herds ly huge tawny stains, like
cloud shadow upon the were mere Plains. it seemed to me that every
oryx in all of Africa was gathered here.

We watered the horses again before the hunt began. This gave me a
chance to go forward and to gaze down upon this great concourse of
living things. Of course, I took Memnon with me, but when I tried to
lead him by the hand he tangled his fingers from my grip. “Don’t hold
my hand in front of the men, Tota, ” he told me solemnly. “They will
think I am still a baby. ” As we stood on the sky-line, the nearest
animals raised their heads and regarded us with mild curiosity.

It occurred to me that they had probably never seen a human being
before and that they detected no danger in our presence.

The oryx is a magnificent creature, standing as tall as a horse, with
the same full, flowing, dark tail that sweeps the ground. its face is
painted with intricate whorls and slashes, of black upon a pale,
sand-coloured mask. A stiff, dark mane runs down the neck enhancing
the horse-like appearance, , but its horns are like those of no other
animal created by the gods. They are slim and straight and tipped like
the dagger on my belt. Almost as long as the animal that bears them is
tall, they are formidable weapons. Whereas all other antelope are meek
and inoffensive, preferring flight to aggression, the oryx will defend
itself even against the attack of the lion.

I told Memnon of their courage and their powers of endurance, and
explained how they could live their entire lives without drinking water
from pool or river. “They take their water from the dew, and from the
desert roots and tubers which they dig out of the earth with their
hooves. ” He listened avidly, for he had inherited the love of the
chase in his father’s blood, and I had taught him to revere all wild
things.

“The true huntsman understands and respects the birds and the animals
that he hunts, ” I told him, and he nodded seriously.

“I want to be a true huntsman and a soldier, just like Lord tonus. ”
“A man is not born with such gifts . He must learn them, in the same
way that you must learn to be a great and just ruler. ” I felt a pang
of regret when tonus called to me that the horses were watered, and I
looked back to see the charioteers mounting up. I would have preferred
to spend the rest of that day with my prince watching the royal show
upon the plains below me. I went back reluctantly to take up the reins
and to drive our chariot back to the head of the column.

On the foot plates of the other chariots, the archers had their bows
strung, and the fever of the hunt gripped every man. They were like
hounds on a short leash with the scent in their nostrils. o, Lord
tonus!” Kratas shouted across to us. “A wager on the outcome?” Before
tonus could reply, I murmured, “Take one for me.

The old braggart has never shot from the back of a flying chariot. ”
“Clean kills only, ” tonus called back to him. “Any animal with
another man’s arrow in it, not to count. ” Every archer marked the
shaft of his arrow with his own motif, so that he might claim it later.
tonus” mark was the Wadjet, the wounded Eye of Horus. “One gold de ben
for each oryx with your arrow in it. ” “Make it two, ” I suggested.
“One for me. ” I am not a gambling man, but this was not a gamble.
tonus had his new recurved bow, and I was the best charioteer in the
whole of our army.

We were still novices, but I had studied the Hyksos, use of the
chariot. Every evolution that their squadrons had performed on that
terrible day on the plain of Abnub was, graven on my memory. To me
this was not merely a hunt for meat and sport, but practice and
training for the much greater game of war. We had to learn to run our
chariots to the very best advantage and to control them in the full
flight and confusion of battle, while circumstances changed with every
movement of the enemy, and every chance and hazard of war.

As we trotted down on to the plain, I gave the first signal, and the
column split into three files. Smoothly we opened up like the petals
of a lily. The flankers curled out like the horns of a bull to
surround the quarry, while my column in the centre deployed into line
abreast, with three chariot lengths between our wheel-hubs. We were
the chest of the bull. The horns would hold the enemy while we came up
and crushed him in our savage embrace.

Ahead of us, the scattered herds of gazelle threw up their heads and
gazed at us with the first stirring of alarm. They began to drift
away, gathering up their fellows as they passed, small herds combining
into larger, the way that a single boulder rolling down the slope will
bring down the landslide. Soon the entire plain was alive with moving
oryx.

They cantered with a peculiar rocking motion, and dust rose in a pale
mist and hung over their swaying backs. Their long, dark tails swished
from side to side.

I held my own squadron down to a walk. I did not want to tire the
horses too soon with a long, stern chase. I was watching the denser,
taller dust-clouds thrown up by the two flanking columns circling
swiftly out on each side of the herd.

At last they came together far ahead, and the ring was closed.

The herds of oryx slowed down as they found their escape-route
blocked.

They began to mill in confusion as those in the lead turned back and
ran into the ranks that followed.

Obedient to my orders, once the flanking columns had completed the
encircling movement, they also slowed to an easy walk, and turned in
towards the centre of the circle.

We had the huge herd of oryx in our fist, and slowly we closed our grip
upon them. Most of the bewildered animals came to a halt, uncertain in
which direction to run. Every way they gazed, they saw the lines of
chariots bearing down on them.

UP Closer we came, at a steady walk, and our horses were still fresh
and eager to run. They had sensed the excitement, and threw their
heads, fighting with the traces, snorting and rolling their eyes until
the whites showed. The oryx herd began to move again, but in no
definite direction. They milled upon themselves, making uncertain
dashes in one direction before coming up short and then swinging around
and rushing back again.

I was pleased with the control and discipline of our squadrons.

They held their formations rigidly, without bunching up and leaving
gaps in the ranks. The signals that I gave were repeated down the line
and acted upon instantly. ” We were at last becoming an army.

Soon we would be able to meet any foe on favourable terms, even the
Hyksos veterans who had spent their entire lives on the foot plate of a
chariot.

I reached behind me and took Prince Memnon by the arm.

I drew him forward and placed him against the dashboard I wedged him
there with my own body, and he gripped the front panel. Now tonus had
both hands free to shoot his bow, and the prince was safe. “. Let me
take the reins, Tota. I will drive, ” Memnon pleaded. I had let him
drive before, so he meant it seriously, though he was barely tall
enough to see over the dashboard.

I dared not laugh at him, for he took himself very seriously.

“Next time, Mein. This time just watch and learn. ” At last we were
less than a hundred paces from the nearest oryx, the pressure was too
great for them to tolerate. Led by one scarred old cow, a hundred of
them charged straight at our line in a mass. At my signal we shortened
our line until we were running hub to hub, a solid wall of horses and
men, and the trumpeters sounded the charge. I lashed MY team into a
full gallop and we raced headlong to meet them. tonus was firing Past
my right shoulder. I could watch each of his arrows fly out across the
closing gap. This was the first time he had shot from a running
chariot, and his first three arrows flew wide of the mark, as the
chariot careered into the herd of racing oryx. But he was a master
archer, and he adjusted his aim swiftly. His next arrow took the old
cow, who was still leading the charge, full in the chest. It must have
split her heart, for she went down, nose into the sand, and rolled over
her own head. The animals following her swerved out on either side of
her, offering tonus broadside targets. It was fascinating to watch his
next two arrows curl away and fall behind the racing oryx.

The temptation is always to shoot directly at a running target, and not
at the place in the empty air ahead of it, where it will be when the
arrow reaches it. This calculation of forward aim is further
complicated by the movement of the chariot in relation to the target.

I was trying to give him the easiest shot by turning the chariot with
the run of the game. All the same, I was not surprised when two more
of tonus” arrows missed behind the target.

Then, like the master of the bow that he is, he adjusted his aim, and
the following arrow plunged feathers-deep into the chest of the next
oryx. He killed three more with three arrows, while all around us the
hunt disintegrated into the wild confusion of battle, and dust,
obscured all but the closest glimpses of running chariots and racing
animals.

I was driving close behind a pair of oryx, overhauling them slowly,
when the flying hooves of one of them threw up a chip of sharp flint
the size of the last joint of my thumb.

Before he could duck, it struck Memnon on the forehead, and when he
looked up at me I saw the blood trickling from the shallow cut above
his eye.

“You are hurt, Mein, ” I cried, and started to rein down the horses.

It is nothing, ” he told me, and used the corner of his shawl to mop
the blood. “Don’t stop, Tota! Keep after them.

Kratas will beat us, if you don’t. ” So I drove on into the dust, and
beside me tonus” bow sang its awful song, and the prince yipped and
yelped with excitement like a puppy the first time that it chases a
rabbit.

Some of the oryx broke free of our lines and escaped into the open
desert, while others were turned back into the trap.

Men shouted with excitement and triumph, horses whinnied, and the oryx
snorted and bellowed as the arrows slapped into them and brought them
crashing down in a tangle of flying hooves and scimitar horns.

All around us was the thunder of hooves and wheels, and we were
immersed in the yellow fog of dust.

There is a limit to how long even the finest and most willing team of
horses can be driven at full gallop. When finally I reined Patience
and Blade down to a walk, the dust had caked like mud in the sweat that
lathered their flanks, and they hung their heads with exhaustion.

Slowly, the dust-clouds that had obscured the field drifted aside and
dissipated. The field was a terrible sight.

Our squadron was scattered over the entire plain. I counted five
chariots whose wheels had shattered during the chase, and the up-ended
vehicles looked like the broken toys of a petulant giant. The injured
men lay on the sandy earth beside their shattered chariots, with their
comrades kneeling over them as they tended their wounds.

Even those chariots that had survived undamaged were halted. The
horses were blown and exhausted. Their flanks heaved as they strained
for breath, and the white froth dripped from their muzzles. Each one
of them was soaked with sweat, as though it had swum across the
river.

The game was scattered upon the field in the same disorder and lack of
purpose or design. Many of the great beasts were dead, and their
carcasses lay stretched out on their sides. Many others were crippled
and maimed. Some stood with their heads hanging. Others limped away
through the dunes with slow and halting gait. Each arrow-shaft left a
dark stain of wet blood upon the pale, roan-coloured hide.

This was the pitiful end to every hunt, when the heat and excitement
have cooled and the wounded game has to be gathered up and put out of
its misery.

Near us I saw one old bull oryx sitting on his paralysed haunches with
his front legs stiff in front of him. The arrow that had crippled him
stood out so high from his back’ that I knew that the point had severed
his spine. I took the second bow from the rack on the side-panel of
our chariot, and I jumped down from the foot plate to the ground. As I
walked towards the crippled bull, he swung his head to watch me. Then
he made one last courageous effort, and dragged his crippled back legs
as he came at me. He slashed those long black horns at me, but his
eyes swam with the tears of mortal agony. I was forced to drive two
arrows deep into the cavity of his chest before he gave one last groan
and rolled over on to his side, kicked once convulsively, and was
still.

When I climbed back into the chariot, I glanced at the prince’s face.
His eyes were wet with tears and his blood smeared face was crumpled
into an expression of pity for the oryx. He turned his face away from
me, so that I could not see his tears, but I was proud of them. He who
lacks compassion for the game he pursues is no true huntsman.

I took his curly head in my hands and turned his face back to me.

Gently, I cleaned the wound on his forehead and bandaged it with a
strip of linen.

We camped that night upon the plain of flowers, and their sweet perfume
scented the darkness, and overlaid the smell of fresh-spilled blood.

There was no moon, but the stars filled the entire sky.

The hills were bathed in their silver luminosity. We sat late at the
camp-fires and feasted on the livers and hearts of oryx roasted on, the
coals. To begin with, the prince sat between tonus and me at the
fireside, but the officers and men vie for his attention. He had
stolen all their hearts, and at their invitation he moved easily from
one group to the next. They mended their language and banter to fit
his ears, and the prince was at ease in their company.

They made a great fuss of his bandaged head. “Now you are a real
soldier, ” they told him, “just like one of us. ” And they showed him
their own scars.

“You did the right thing by allowing him to come with us, ” I told
tonus, as we both watched him proudly. “This is the best training any
young cadet can ever have. ” “The men love him already, ” tonus
agreed.

“There are two things that a general needs. One is luck and the other
is the devotion of his troops. ” “Memnon must be allowed to go out
with every expedition, just as long as it is not too dangerous, ” .

I decided, and tonus chuckled.

“I leave you to convince his mother of that. There are some things
that are beyond my powers of persuasion. ” On the other side of the
camp-fire, Kratas was teaching Memnon the expurgated version of the
lyrics of the regimental marching songs. The prince had a sweet, clear
voice, and the men clapped the time, and came in on the chorus.

They protested loudly and rudely when at last I tried to send Memnon to
the bed I had prepared for him under the body of the chariot, and even
tonus supported them.

“Let the boy stay with us a little longer, ” he ordered, and it was
well after midnight when at last I was able to roll the prince in my
sheepskin rug.

“Tota, will I ever be able to shoot the way the Lord tonus does?” he
asked sleepily.

“You will be one of the great generals of our very Egypt, and one day I
will carve an account of your victories on obelisks of stone, so that
all the world will know of them. ” He thought about that for a while
and then sighed. “When will you make me a real bow, not just a baby’s
toy?” “As soon as you can draw it, ” I promised.

“Thank you, Tota. I should like that. ” And he went to sleep as
suddenly as I would blow out the flame of a lamp.

WE RETURNED IN TRIUMPH TO THE fleet, the wagons loaded with the salted
and sun dried meat of the oryx herd. I had expected my mistress to
tax’ me severely for having abducted the prince. I had prepared my
defence and was determined to place the blame squarely on the broader
shoulders of Lord Harrah.

However, her censure was milder than I had anticipated.

She told Memnon that he was a wicked child for having caused her worry,
and then hugged him until he was in danger of suffocation. When she
turned to me, I launched into a long explanation of tonus” role in the
affair, and the valuable trainin and experience that the prince had
received, but she seemed to have dismissed the entire episode.

“When did you and I last go fishing together?” she asked.

“Fetch your fishing-spears, Taita. We will take one of the skiffs.
Just the two of us on the river the way we used to be in the old days.
” I knew that we would do little fishing. She wanted me alone on the
water where we could not be overheard. Whatever was troubling her was
of serious importance.

I paddled downstream on the shrunken and slow green waters until the
bend of the river and the high rocky bluff hid us from the fleet.

All my attempt at conversation had failed, so I put aside my paddle and
took up my lute. and sang the tunes she loved best, and waited for her
to speak.

At last she looked up at me, and her eyes were filled with a strange
mixture of joy and worry.

“Taita, I think I am going to have another baby. ” I can think of no
reason why this statement should have surprised me so. After all,
every night since we had left Elephantine, she and the commander of her
army had been locked in secret conclave, while I kept guard at the door
of her cabin. Nevertheless, I was so alarmed that my hand froze on the
lute strings and the song died in my throat. It was some moments
before I could regain my voice.

“My lady, , did you use the infusion of herbs that I prepared for you?”
I asked diffidently.

“At times I did, but at others I forgot. ” She smiled shyly.

“Lord tonus can be a very impatient man. Besides which, it is so
unromantic to fiddle with pots and jars, when there are better and more
urgent things waiting to be done. ” “Things like making babies who
have no royal father to claim them. ” “It is rather serious, isn’t it,
Taita?” I struck a chord on the lute while I farmed a reply. “Rather
serious? Oh, I think that is the wrong word. If you give birth to a
bastard, or if you take a husband, then you will be obliged to
relinquish the regency. That is the custom and the law. “Lord
Merkeset would be the next in line as regent, but there will be covert
warfare amongst all the nobility for the position. Without your
protection as regent, the prince would be in great danger. We would be
torn by intensive strife.. . ” I broke off, and shuddered at the
prospect of it. “tonus could become regent in my stead, and then I
could marry “him, ” she suggested brightly.

Don’t think I have not thought of that before, ” I told her sombrely.
“It would he the solution to all our difficulties.

But then there is tonus. ” “If I ask him, he will do it gladly, I am
sure of that, ” she smiled with relief, “and I will be his wife. We
need no longer play these shams and subterfuges to be alone together.
” “I wish it were that easy. But tonus will never agree. He cannot.
” “What is this silliness?” The first sparks of anger lit her eyes,
and I hurried on.

“That night at Thebes, the night that Pharaoh sent men to arrest tonus
on charges of sedition, we tried to force tonus to declare for the
crown. Kratas and all his officers swore their support, and that of
all the army. They wanted to march on the palace and place tonus on
the throne. ” “Why did Tonus not agree to them? He would have been a
fine king, and it would have saved all of us so much heartache. ”
“tonus spurned their offer. He declared that he was not a traitor, and
that he would never mount the throne of Egypt. ” “That Was long ago.

Things have all changed, ” she cried with exasperation.

“No, they have not changed. tonus swore an oath that day, and he
called on the god Horus to witness it. He swore that he would never
take the crown. ” “But it no longer counts. He can back on that oath.
” “Would you go back on an oath that you had sworn in the sight of the
god Horus?” I demanded, and she looked away and hung her head.

“Would you?” I insisted, and she shook her head reluctantly.

“No, ” she whispered, “I could not. ” “The same code of honoUr binds
tonus. You cannot call upon him todo what you dare not do yourself, ”
I explained gently. “Of course, we can put it to him, but you and I
both know what his reply must surely be. ” “There must be something
that you can do?” She looked at me -with that blind trust that
angered. me, Whenever she had run herself into the deepest danger, she
simply turned to me and said, “There must be something that you can
do?” “There is something, but you will not agree to it, any more than
tonus will agree to wear the crown. ” “If you care anything for me,
you will not even suggest it. ” She understood me immediately, and
recoiled from me as though I had struck her. “I would rather die
myself than kill this miracle of love that tonus has placed in my
womb.

The child is him and me and our love. I could never murder all of
that. ” “Then, Your Majesty, there is nothing more that I can suggest
to you. ” She smiled at me with such sublime trust and confidence that
it took my breath away. “I know you will think of something, my
darling Taita. You always do. ” And so I had a dream.

I reLATED MY DREAM BEFORE A FULL SESsion of the council of state called
by the regent of this very Egypt.

Queen Lostris and Prince Memnon were seated upon the throne high on the
poop-deck of the Breath of Horus. The galley was moored to the west
bank of the Nile. The members of the council were seated upon the
beach below her.

Lord Merkeset and the nobility represented the secular arm of the
state. The high priests of Ammon -Ra and Osiris and Hopi represented
the sacred arm. Lord Harrab and fifty of his senior officers stood for
the military. I stood upon the open deck below the throne and faced
this distinguished gathering. I had taken even greater pains than
usual with my appearance. My make-up was subtle and cunning. My hair
was dressed with fragrant oils, and coiled in the fashion that I had
made popular. I wore the two chains of the Gold of Praise around my
neck, and my chest and arms were shaped and hardened by
chariot-driving. I must have presented an extraordinary figure of
beauty to them, for many of them gaped at me, and I saw the lust in the
eyes of those whose inclinations ran in that direction.

“Your Majesties, ” I made the low salutation to the pair upon the
throne, and Prince Memnon grinned at me cheekily. His head was still
bandaged, although it was no longer necessary. He was so proud of his
war wound that I had let him keep it on. I frowned at him, and he
adjusted his expression to be more in keeping with the occasion.

“Your Majesties, last night I dreamed a strange and wonderful dream
which I feel it is my duty to relate. I beg your leave to speak. ”
Queen Lostris replied graciously, “Every person in this company is
aware of the sacred gift that you have. The prince and I know that you
are able to see into the future, and to divine the will and the wishes
of the gods through dreams and visions. I command you now to speak of
these mysteries. ” I bowed again and turned to, face the council.

“Last night I slept at the door to the royal cabin, as is my duty.

Queen Lostris lay alone upon her couch, and the prince slept in his
alcove beyond her bed. ” Even Lord Merkeset leaned forward and held
his cupped hand behind his good ear, the other being stone-deaf. They
all loved a good story and a fruity prophecy.

“In the third watch of the night I awoke, and there was a strange light
glowing throughout the ship. I felt a cold wind blowing upon my cheek
although every door and porthole was closed. ” My audience stirred
with interest. I had struck the right ghostly tone.

“Then I heard footsteps echoing through the bull, slow and majestic
footsteps, such as never were made by mortal man. ” I paused
dramatically. “These weird and eerie sounds came from the hold of the
galley. ” I paused again for them to absorb this.

“Yes, my lords, from the hold where the gold coffin of Pharaoh Mamose,
the eighth of that name, lies awaiting burial. ” Some of my audience
shuddered with awe, while others made the sign against evil.

“These footsteps drew closer to where I lay at the queen’s door.

The heavenly glow of light grew stronger, and while I trembled, a
figure appeared before me. It was the shape of a man, but it was not
human, for it glowed like the full moon and its face was a divine
reincarnation of the king as I had known him, yet altered and filled
with all the terrible divinity of his godhead. ” They were rapt and
silent. Not a man stirred. I searched their faces for any sign of
incredulity, but I found none.

Then suddenly a child’s voice broke the silence, as, the prince cried
out high and clear, “Bak-Her! It was my father.

Bak-Her! It was Pharaoh!” They took up the cry, “Bak-Her! It was
Pharaoh. May he live for ever!” I waited for the silence, and when it
returned I let it draw out to the point where they were almost
overwhelmed by the suspense.

“Pharaoh came towards me, and I could not move. He passed me and
entered the cabin of Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Lostris. Though I
could neither move nor utter a sound, I saw all that came to pass.

While the queen still slept, the divine pharaoh mounted upon her in all
his splendour, and he took his husbandry pleasure with her.

Their bodies were joined as man and woman. ” There was still no sign
of disbelief on any face. I waited for the full effect of my words and
then I went on, “Pharaoh rose from the bosom of the sleeping queen, and
he looked upon me and he spoke thus. ” I am able to mimic the sound of
other men’s voices so faithfully that others believe they hear the one
I am imitating. I spoke now in the voice of Pharaoh Mamose.

“I have endowed the queen with my godhead. She has become one with me
and the gods. I have impregnated her with my divine seed. She who has
known no man but me, will bear a child of my royal blood. This will be
a sign to all men that she enjoys my protection, and that I will watch
over her still. ” I bowed once more to the royal pair upon the
throne.

Then the king passed back through the ship, and entered “once more his
golden coffin where he now rests. That was all my vision. ” “May
Pharaoh live for ever!” shouted Lord tonus, as I had coached him, and
the cry was taken. up.

“Hail, Queen Lostris! May she live for ever! Hail, the divine child
she bears! May all her children live for ever! “That night when I
prepared to retire, my mistress called me to her, and she whispered,
“Your vision was so vivid and you told it so well that I shall not be
able to sleep lest

Pharaoh come again. Guard the door well. ”

I dare say there may be one bold and importunate enough -to disturb
your royal slumber, but I doubt that it will be Pharaoh Mamose.

If some rascal does come to take advantage of your kind and loving
nature, what should I do?” “Sleep soundly, dear Taita, and stop your
ears. ” Her cheeks glowed pink in the lamplight as she blushed.

Once again my premonition of future events was proved accurate.

That night there came a secret visitor to my mistress’s cabin, and it
was not the ghost of Pharaoh. I did what Queen Lostris had ordered.

I stopped my ears.

THE NILE FLOODED ONCE AGAIN, REMINDing us that another year had passed.
We had-reaped the corn that we had planted upon the lands, and we
gathered in our herds. We broke down the chariots and packed them on
the open decks of the galleys. We rolled up the tents and stowed them
in the holds. Finally, when all was ready for our departure, we laid
out the ropes upon the bank and put every able-bodied man and horse
into the traces.

It took us almost a month of heart-breaking labour to make the transit
of this fearsome cataract. We lost sixteen men drowned, and five
galleys broken and chewed to splinters by the fangs of black rock.

But at last we were through, and we set sail upon the smooth flow of
the river above the rapids.

As the weeks turned to months, the Nile described a slow and majesic
bend beneath our keels. Since leaving Elephantine, I had charted the
course “of the river. I had used the sun and the stars to give me
direction, but I had come upon a great difficulty in measuring the
distance that we travelled. At first I had ordered one of the slaves
to walk along the bank and count every pace he took, but I knew that
this method was so inaccurate that it would set all my calculations to
nought. The solution came to me one morning while we were out on
chariot manoeuvres. I watched my right-hand wheel turning, and
realized that each revolution of the rim made an exact measure of the
ground that it had covered.

Thereafter a chariot followed the bank of the river. One wheel had a
flag on the rim, and a reliable man sat on the foot plate and made a
mark on a scroll for each time the flag came around.

Each evening I calculated the direction and distance we had travelled
during the day, and marked it up on my chart.

Slowly, the design and shape of the river made itself clear to me.

I saw that we had made a vast loop out into the West, but that now the
river had turned back into the south, as the priests of Hopi had
predicted.

I showed my findings to tonus and the queen. Many nights we sat late
in the royal cabin, discussing the course of the river and how it would
affect our plans to return to -Egypt. It seemed that every mile along
the river that we travelled, far from dimming my mistress’s
determination, served but to enhance the force of the vow she had made
to return.

“We will build no temple nor palace of stone in the wilderness, ” she
ordered.. “We will set up no monument or obelisk. Our sojourn here is
transitory. We will build no cities, but will live, in our ships, or
under tents and huts made of grass and reeds. We are a caravan on a
journey that in the end will take us back to the city of my birth,
beautiful Thebes of a hundred gates. ” In private she counselled me,
“Keep your charts well, Taita. I trust you to find the easy way home
for us. ” So our river caravan journeyed onwards, and the desert on
either hand changed its face with every mile, and yet in the end was
unchanged.

We who sailed upon the river had become a close-knit community, almost
an itinerant city without walls or permanent structure. Life burgeoned
and faded. Our numbers increased, for most of those who had come with
us from Elephantine were in the full bloom of life, and the women were
fruitful. Young couples married upon the river-bank, and broke the jar
of Nile water between them. Children were born, and we watched them
grow.

Some of our old people died, and there were accidents and dangers that
took toll of the younger ones. We dmbalmed them and dug tombs for them
in the wild hills and left them to their slumber, and went onwards.

We observed the festivals and prayed to our gods. We feasted and
fasted in the correct season, and daily ed and sang and studied the
sciences. I held lessons for the older children upon the deck of the
galley, and Memnon was the prize of all my students.

Before the year had run out, and while the course of the river still
ran southwards, we came upon the third cataract that bestrode the
course of the Nile. Once again we went ashore and cleared the land and
planted our crops, while we waited for the Nile to rise and help us
through.

It WAS HERE At THE THIRD GREAt CATAract that another joy came to fill
my life to overflowing.

In a linen tent upon the bank of the river, I attended my mistress in
her labour, and brought forth into this world the Princess Tehuti, the
acknowledged daughter of the long-dead Pharaoh Mamose.

In my eyes Tehuti was beautiful as only a miracle might be.

Whenever I had the opportunity, I sat beside her cot and examined her
tiny feet and hands with wonder and awe.

When she was hungry and waited for her mother’s nipple, I would
sometimes place my little finger in her mouth for the pleasure of
feeling her chewing on it with her bald gums.

The river rose at last and allowed us to make the transit of the third
cataract. we sailed onwards, and almost imperceptibly the river turned
back into the east, describing a vast loop beneath our keels.

Before the year was out it was necessary for me to dream another of my
famous dreams, for my mistress had once more suffered .. a virgin
pregnancy that could only be explained by supernatural means. The
ghost of the dead pharaoh had been on the prowl again.

My mistress was huge with child when We reached the fourth great
cataract of the river. This chute of tumbling waters and rocks like
the teeth of crocodiles was even more formidable than those that had
come before, and there was much despondency in our company. When they
thought that no one could overhear them they complained to each other,
“We are beset by these infernal rock barriers. The gods have placed
them across the river to prevent us going onwards. ” I read their lips
as they huddled together on the bank of the river. None of them
realized that I was able to under stand what they said without hearing
their words.

“We will be trapped behind these terrible rapids, and we will never be
able to return down-river. We should turn back now, before it is too
late. ” Even at the councils of state, I saw the words on the lips of
some of the great lords of Egypt who sat at the back of the gathering
and spoke to each other in mute we shall all die in this desert, and
our souls will we wander eternally through it without rest. ” There
was an element amongst the young nobility that was both arrogant and
headstrong. They were fostering discontent, and hatching insurrection.
I knew that we had to act swiftly and with resolution, when I saw the
Lord, Aqer say to one of his henchmen, “We are in the hands of this
woman, this little harlot of a dead king, “what we really need is a
strong man to lead us. There must be some way we can rid ourselves of
her. ” Firstly, with the help of my old friend Aton, I ferreted out
the names of all the malcontents and potential traitors.

It did not surprise me that at the head of this list was this same Lord
Aqer, the eldest son of Lord Merkeset, on whose lips I had read those
traitorous sentiments. Aqer was an angry young man with inflated ideas
of his own worth and importance. I suspected that he had the gall to
see a vision of himself seated upon the throne of the two kingdoms with
the double crown upon his head.

When I explained to tonus and my mistress what I thought must be done,
they called a full land solemn state council on the river-bank.

Queen Lostris opened the conclave. “I know very well how you pine for
your own land, and how you weary of this long voyage. I share with you
every dream of Thebes. ” I saw Aqer exchange meaningful glances with
his cronies, and had my suspicions strengthened.

“However, citizens of Egypt, nothing is as bad as it seems.

Hopi has watched over our expedition, as he promised. We are. much
closer, to Thees than any one of you can imagine.

When we return to our beloved city, we will not- have to retrace our
same weary footsteps. We will not have to face once again the dangers
and the hardships of those hellish cataracts that block the course of
the river. ” There was a stirring through her audience and whispers of
doubt and disbelief. Aqer laughed, not loud enough to cross the
borders of respect and propriety, nevertheless my mistress singled him
out. “I see, Lord Aqer, that you question my word?” “By no means,
Your Majesty. I curse such a disloyal thought. ” Aqer made a hasty
retreat. He was not yet strong enough, nor sure enough of his support,
to force a confrontation. I had caught him out before he was
prepared.

“My slave, Taita, has plotted the course of the river that we have
covered in these last years, ” Queen Lostris went on. “You have all
seen the chariot with the flagged wheel that has measured the round,
and Taita:” has studied the heavenly bodies to find the direction of
our journey. I order him now to arise before the council and reveal to
us his calculations. Prince Memnon had helped me to trace copies of
the chart on to twenty new scrolls. At nine years of age, the prince
was already a fine pen-man. I passed these out to all the senior
nobles, so that they might follow my lecture more clearly. I drew
their attention to the almost circular course that we had followed
since we had left Elephantine.

Their astonishment was evident. Only the priests had some prior
knowledge of what had occurred, they also studied the stars and had
some expertise in navigation. But even they were taken aback by the
extent of the river’s loop. This was not surprising, since the copies
of the map that I showed them were not entirely accurate. I had taken
certain liberties with the facts for the benefit of Aqer and his
faction, and made the distance across the hight seem shorter than my
calculations suggested was the case.

“My lords, as you can see by these charts, since we left the second
cataract we have travelled very nearly a thousand miles, but we stand
now not much more than a few hundred miles from the point of our
departure. ” Kratas rose to his feet to ask a question that I had
placed in his mouth before the meeting began. “Does this mean that it
should be possible to take this short cut across the desert and reach
the second cataract in the same time as it takes to travel from Thebes
to the Red Sea and return? I have made that journey several times. ”
I turned to him. “I was your companion on that same journey. Ten days
in each direction it took us, and we did not have horses then. The
crossing of this narrow strip of desert would be no more onerous. It
means that from here one could be back in the city of Elephantine
within a few short months, and it would be necessary to transit only
the first cataract at Assoun. There was a buzz of comment and
amazement.

The maps were passed from hand to hand and scrutinized avidly.

The entire mood of the assembly changed, as I watched. There was a
pathetic eagerness amongst all of them to accept my theory. This
unexpected proximity to home and the land they knew cheered all of
them.

Only Aqer and his friends were out of countenance. He had, been
deprived of the top dice in the game he was playing. As I had hoped he
would do, he rose angrily to his feet now to put the next question to
me.

“How accurate are this slave’s scribblings?” His tone was “It is a
simple matter offensive and his expression haughty. to make a few
pen-strokes on a scroll, but when those are turned into miles of sand
and rock, it is another matter entirely. How will this slave prove
that these wild theories of his are fact?” “My lord Aqer has come to
the very heart of the matter, ” my mistress intervened pleasantly,
“and, in so doing, has proven his astute grasp of the problem that
faces us. I intend to send an expedition of good men to cross the neck
of the desert and to open, up our return route to the north, the road
home to beautiful Thebes. ” I saw Aqer’s expression change suddenly as
he caught the slant of the queen’s speech and realized the trap that
had been set for him. He sat down again hurriedly, and tried to appear
remote and disinterested. However, my mistress continued
remorselessly, “I was undecided as to who was best suited to lead this
expedition, but now Lord Aqer has, by his perception and understanding,
proposed himself for this vital task. Is that not the case, my lord?”
she asked sweetly, and then went on smoothly before he could refuse.

“We are grateful to you, Lord Aqer. You are to have whatever men and
equipment you require. I command that you make your departure before
the next full moon. The moon will make it easier for you to travel
during the night, and so avoid the heat of the day. I will send with
you men who are able to navigate by the stars. You could win through
to the second cataract and be back here before the end of the month,
and, if you succeed, I will place the Gold of Praise upon your
shoulders. ” Lord Aqer stared at her with open mouth, and he was still
sitting rigid with shock on his stool after all his companions had
dispersed. I fully expected him to find some excuse to back out of the
task that we had tricked him into, but in the end he surprised me by
coming to me to ask for my advice and help in arranging the scouting
party. It seemed that I might have misjudged him, and that now he had
been given some worthwhile mission, there was a chance that he would
change from a trouble-maker to a useful member of the company.

I selected a sortie of our best men and horses for him and gave him
five of our most sturdy carts, which could carry water-skins that, if
used sparingly, would last them for thirty days. By the time the full
moon came around, Aqer was quite cheerful and optimistic, and I felt.
guilty about having minimized the distance and the hazards of the
journey.

When the expedition set out, I went a short way into the desert with
them to point them on the right road, and then I stood alone and
watched them merge into the silvery moonlit wastes, aimed at that set
of stars we call the Lute which marks the northern horizon.

I thought of Aqer every day over the weeks that followed while we lay
below the fourth cataract, and I hoped that the map I had given him was
not as inaccurate as I feared it was. At least the immediate threat of
a rebellion had disappeared with him into the north.

While we waited, we planted our crops on the cleared islands and the
river-banks. However, the lie of the land was steeper than at the
other sites lower down the river. It was more difficult to raise the
water to irrigate our crops, and I could see that the quantity and the
quality of the harvest must suffer in consequence.

Naturally, we had set up the traditional shadoofs on their “from the
river. long, counter-balanced arms to lift the water These were worked
by a slave who swung the clay pot at the end of the arm into the water
and then lifted and spilled it into the irrigation ditch on the bank.
It was a slow and back-breaking task. When the bank was high, as it
was here, it was also an extremely wasteful method of collecting
water.

Each evening Memnon and I drove our chariot along the river-bank, and I
was troubled by the paucity of the harvest that we watched growing
there. We had many thousands of mouths to feed, and cornmeal was still
the staple of our diet.

I foresaw a time of famine, unless we were able to bring more water to
the fields.

I do not know what made me think of the wheel for this purpose except
that the science of the wheel had by this time become an obsession, and
a passion in my life. I was still plagued by the problem of the
bursting of the Wheels of our chariots. My dreams were filled with
turning and spinning and shattering wheels, wheels with bronze knives
on the rim or with flags to measure the distance.

Large wheels and small, the images haunted me and troubled my sleep.

I had heard from one of the priests of Hopi that some varieties of
timber can be made harder and more resilient by soaking them in water
for a long period, so I was driven to experiment with this idea. As we
were lowering one of the chariot wheels into the river for this
purpose, the current playing on the rim began to turn the wheel on its
hub. I watched this idly, but as the wheel sank lower in the water,
the movement ceased, and I thought no more about it.

Some days later, one of the small boats crossing between the islands
capsized, and the two men in it were swept into the rapids and drowned.
Memnon and I watched this tragedy from the bank, and we were both
distressed by it. I took the opportunity to warn the prince once more
of the danger and the power of the river.

“It is so strong that it will even turn the wheel of a chariot. ” “I
don’t believe you, Tota. You are saying that to frighten me.

You know how I love to swim in the river. ” I arranged an exhibition
for him, and duly impressed by the wheel turning, seemingly of its own
accord, when it was dipped into the running water.

“It would go faster, Tota, if it had paddles fixed around the rim, ”
Memnon gave his opinion at last, and I stared at him in wonder.

He was a little over ten years old at the time, and yet he saw all
things with a fresh-and enquiring eye.

By the time the full moon came around again, we had built a wheel
driven by the river which lifted the water in a series of small
baked-clay jars and spilled it into a canal lined with clay tiles at
the top of the high Nile bank. Even with her big belly, my mistress
came ashore to watch this wondrous contraption. She was delighted by
it.

“You are so clever with the things you do with water, Taita, ” she told
me. “Do you remember the water-stool you built for me at Elephantine?”
“I could make another for you now, if only you would allow us to live
in a decent home like civilized people. ” tonus was similarly
impressed with the water-wheel, though of course he would not show it.
Instead, he grinned at me.

“Very clever, but when will it burst like one of your famous chariot
wheels?” he demanded, and Kratas and those other military oafs thought
that was hugely funny. Thereafter, whenever a chariot wheel broke,
they said that it had gone Tota’, the pet name that the prince called
me.

Despite this levity, the fields of dhurra soon grew dense and green in
the loamy soil on the high banks, and the ears of golden corn drooped
heavily in the bright Nile sunlight.

This was not the only harvest that we gathered in at the fourth
cataract. Queen Lostris gave birth to another little royal princess.

If anything, the infant was more exquisite than her elder sister.

It was passing strange that Princess Bekatha was born with a cap of
golden-red curls. Her divine and ghostly father, Pharaoh Mamose, had
been of swarthy cast, and her mother’s hair was dark as the wing of the
black eagle. No. one could think of any reason for this aberrant
coloration, but all agreed how pretty it was.

Princess Bekatha was two months old when the Nile began to rise once
more, and we made our preparation. for the transit of the fourth
cataract. By now we were experienced in what had become an annual
labour, and we had learned every trick and artifice to beat the
rapacious river.

WE HAD NOt YEt BEGUN THE TRANSIT, when there was tremendous excitement
in the encampment I heard the shouting and the cheering from the far
bank of the river where Prince Memnon and I were inspecting the horses
and making certain that all was ready for the ascent of the cataract.

We hurried back to the boats and crossed to the east bank, to find the
camp in an uproar. We pushed our way through the crowds who were all
waving palm-fronds and singing the songs of welcome and honour. At the
centre of all this we found a small caravan of battered wagons and
skeletal horses, and a band of lean, travel-hardened veterans, burned
black by the sun and tempered by the desert.

“Seth darrin you and that map of yours, Taita, ” Lord Aqer shouted at
me from the leading wagon. “I don’t know which of you lies worst.

It was almost twice as far as you promised ” US.

“Did you truly reach the north side of the river loop?” I shouted back
at him, hopping with excitement and trying to fight my way through the
crowd.

“There and back!” he laughed, mightily pleased with his accomplishment
. “We camped at the second cataract and dined on fresh fish from the
Nile. The road back to Thebes is open. ” My mistress ordered a feast
to welcome back the travellers, and Lord Aqer was the man of the day.
At the height of the celebration, Queen Lostris placed the Gold of
Praise around his neck and promoted him to the rank of Best of Ten
Thousand. My gorge rose to see the fellow preen and strut. As if that
was not enough, she gave him command of the fourth division of
chariots, and issued him a warrant that would entitle him to one
hundred fed dan of prime land on the river-bank when we returned to
Thebes.

I thought all this a little excessive, especially the gift of so much
land which must come out of my mistress’s own estate. After all Aqer
had been on the brink of mutiny, and though his achievement had been
laudable, it was I who had proposed and planned the expedition.

In the circumstances, it seemed to me that another gold chain for the
poor slave Taita might not have been out of place.

Nevertheless, I had to applaud my mistress’s cunning and statesmanship.
She had transformed Lord Aqer, who had been potentially one of her most
dangerous enemies, into an ardent and loyal adherent who would prove
his value to her many times in the years ahead. She had a way with all
men, and was gaining in statecraft each day.

The taming of Lord Aqer and the discovery of the route across the hight
had secured our rear, and we could go on above the fourth cataract with
high spirits and brave heart.

WE HAD NOt TRAVELLED MORE THAN A month before we realized how our
fortunes had changed and how the goddess had made good her

promise.

It was clearer each day that we had come through the worst. The desert
was behind us at last, and the broad, smooth flow of the river turned
into the south once more and carried us into a land such as none of us
had seen before.

It was here that for the first time many of our company witnessed the
miracle of rain. Although of course I had seen it in the Lower
Kingdom, they had never seen water fall from the sky. The. rain beat
down into our upturned and astonished faces, while the thunder rolled
across the heavens and the lightning blinded us with its white fire.

These copious. and regular rains engendered a new and exciting
landscape, the like of which we could only wonder at. On either bank
of the Nile, as far as we could see from the deck of the leading
galley, stretched a broad savannah grassland. This magnificent plain,
rich with grazing for our horses, set no boundaries to the range of our
chariots. We could drive out at will, with no dunes or rocky hills to
block our progress.

This was not the only blessing that the goddess had bestowed.

There were trees. In the narrow valley that was our home, there might
once have been forests, no man could tell. But they had fallen
centuries before to the appetite and, axes of man. Wood was to us
Egyptians a rare and treasured commodity. Each stick of it had to be
carried in by ship or on the back of beasts of burden, from far and
foreign lands.

Now, wherever we looked, we saw great trees. They grew, not in the
same dense forests that we had found on the islands in the cataracts, .
but in lofty groves with broad grassy spaces between the majestic
trunks. There was timber enough upon these plains to rebuild all the
fleets of all the nations on all the seas of the worlds. More than
that, there was enough to rebuild the cities of all the civilized
world, and to roof and furnish every room in them. After that there
would still be enough left over to burn as fuel over the centuries to
come. We who all our lives had cooked our food on bricks made from the
dung of our animals, stared around us in wonder.

This was, not the only treasure that we found for our taking in this
legendary land of Cush that we had reached at last.

I saw them first in the distance and thought that they were monuments
of grey granite. They stood upon the yellow -grass plains and in the
shade beneath the spreading branches of the acacia groves.

Then, as we watched in perplexity, these great rocks began to move.

“Elephants!” I had never seen one before, but they could be nothing
else. The cry was taken up by those on the deck around me.

“Elephants! Ivory!” These were riches that Pharaoh Mamose, with all
his funerary treasure, could not have dreamed of. Wherever we looked,
the vast herds stood.

“There are thousands of them. ” tonus gazed around him, the passion of
the huntsman beginning to dawn in his eyes.

“Just look at them, Taita. There is no end to their numbers. ” The
plains were thronged with living creatures, not only the herds of
elephant. There were antelopes and gazelle, some of which we knew, and
others that we had never seen or heard of before. We would come to
know all of them well in the future, and find names for their abundant
and diverse species.

Oryx mingled with herds of purple waterbuck whose horns curved like the
bow that I had built for tonus. There were spotted giraffe with necks
that reached to the fop branches of the acacia trees. The horns that
grew from the snouts of the rhinoceros were as tall as a man and as
sharp as his spear. The buffalo wallowed in the mud at the river’s
edge. They were huge bovine beast , black as Seth’s beard, s and every
bit as ugly. We would soon learn the malevolence behind that
melancholy stare with which they regarded our passing and the menace of
those drooping black horns.

“Unload the chariots from the holds, ” tonus roared with impatience.
“Put the horses into the traces. The hunt is on!” If I had known the
danger that we were riding into, I would never have allowed Prince
Mmymon to mount the foot plate behind me as we drove out on our first
elephant hunt. To us who knew no better, they appeared such docile
brutes, “slow and clumsy and stupid. Surely they would be easy game.
tonus was bristling with impatience to go out against this new quarry,
and he would not wait for all four divisions of our chariots to be
reassembled. As soon as the first division of fifty vehicles was
ready, he gave the order to mount up.

We shouted challenges to the other drivers, and made our wagers on the
outcome of the hunt as the long columns of chariots rolled out through
the groves along the river-bank.

“Let me drive, Tota, ” the prince demanded: ” you know I drive as well
as you do. ” Although he was a natural horseman with gentle hands and
an instinctive way with his team, and he practised the art almost every
day, the prince’s boast was unfounded. He certainly was not as good a
charioteer as I was, no man in the army could make that claim,
certainly not a scamp of eleven years.

“Watch me and learn, ” I told him sternly, and when Memnon turned to
tonus, he supported me for “once.

“Taita is right. This is something none of us has done before.

Keep your mouth closed and your eyes open, boy. ” Ahead of us a small
herd of these strange grey beasts were feasting on the seed-pods that
had fallen from the top branches of the trees. I studied them with
avid curiosity as we approached at a trot. Their ears were enormous,
and they fanned them out and turned to face us. They lifted their
trunks high, and I guessed that they were taking up our scent. Had
they ever smelled a man or a horse before, I wondered. There were
small calves with them, and the mothers gathered them into the centre
of the herd and stood guard over them. I was touched to see this
maternal concern, and I had the first inkling then that these animals
were not as slow and stupid as they appeared to be. “These are all
females, ” I called over my shoulder to tonus on the foot plate “They
have young at heel, and their ivory is small and of little value. ”
“You are right. ” tonus pointed over my shoulder. “But look beyond
them. Those two must surely be bulls. See how tall they stand and how
massive is their girth. Look how their tusks shine in the sun. ” I
gave the signal to the chariots that followed us, and we veered away
from the breeding herd of cows and calves. We ran on still in column,
through the acacia grove towards those two great bulls. As we drove
forward, we were forced to swerve around the branches that had been
torn from the trees, and to dodge the trunks of giant acacia that had
been uprooted.

As yet we knew nothing of the unbelievable strength of these creatures,
and I called back to tonus, “there must have been a great storm through
this forest to wreak such destruction. ” It did not even occur to me
then that the elephant herds were responsible; they seemed so mild and
defenceless.

The two old bulls we had selected had sensed our approach and turned to
face us. It was only then that I realized the true size of them. When
they spread their ears they seemed to block out the sky, like a dark
grey thundercloud.

Just look at that ivory!” tonus shouted. He was unperturbed, and
concerned only with the trophy of the chase, but the horses were
nervous and skittish. They had picked up the scent of this strange
quarry, and they threw their heads up and crabbed in the traces. It
was hard to control them and keep them running straight.

“That one on the right is the biggest, ” squeaked Memnon.

“We should take him first. ” The pup was every bit as keen as his
sire.

You heard the royal command, ” tonus laughed. “We will take the one on
the right. Let Kratas have the other, it’s good enough for him. ” So
I raised my fist and gave the hand-command that split the column into
two files. Kratas wheeled away on our left with twenty-five chariots
following him in line astern while we ran on straight at the huge grey
beast that confronted us with the yellow shafts of ivory, thick as the
columns of the temple of Horus, standing out from his vast grey head.

“Go hard at him!” tonus shouted. “Take him before he turns to run. ”
“Hi up!” I called to Patience and Blade, and they opened up into a
gallop. We both expected the huge animal to run from us as soon as he
realized that we menaced him. No other game we had ever hunted had
stood to receive our first charge. Even the lion runs from the hunter
until he is wounded or cornered. How could these obese animals behave
differently?

“His head is so big, it will make a fine target, ” tonus exulted, as he
nocked an arrow. “I will kill him with a single shaft, before he can
escape. Run in close under that long, ridiculous nose of his.” ”
Behind ” us the rest of our column was strung out in single file.

Our plan was to come in and split on each side of the bull, firing our
arrows into him as we passed, then wheeling around and coming back in
classic chariot tactics.

We were right on the bull now, but still he stood his ground.

Perhaps these animals were every bit as dull-witted as they looked.

This would be an easy kill, and I sensed tonus” disappointment at the
prospect of such poor sport.

“Come on, you old fool!” he shouted contemptuously.

“Don’t just stand there. Defend yourself!” It was as though the bull
heard and understood the challenge. He threw up his trunk and loosed a
blast of sound that stunned and deafened us. The horses shied wildly,
so that I was thrown against the dashboard with a force that bruised my
ribs. For a moment I lost control of the team, and we swerved away.

Then the bull squealed again, and he ran. look at him come!” tonus
roared with astonishment, for the beast was not running from us, but
directly at us, in a furious charge. He was swifter than Any horse,
and nimble as an angry leopard set upon by the hounds. He kicked up
bursts of dust with each long flying stride, and was on us before I
could get the horses under control again.

I looked up at him, for he towered directly over us, reaching out with
his trunk to pluck us from the cockpit of the chariot, . and I could
not believe the size of him, nor the fury in those eyes. They were not
the eyes of an animal, but those of an intelligent and alert human
being. This was no porcine sloth, but a courageous and terrible
adversary that we had challenged in our arrogance and ignorance. tonus
got off a single arrow. It struck the bull in the centre of his
forehead, and I expected to see him collapse as the bronze point
pierced the brain. We did not know then that the brain of the elephant
is not situated where. you would expect it to be, but is far back in
the mountainous skull and protected by a mass of spongy bone that no
arrow can penetrate.

The bull did not even check or swerve. He merely reached UP with his
trunk and gripped the shaft of the arrow with the tip, as a man might
do with his hand. He pulled the shaft from his own flesh and threw it
aside and came on after us, reaching out towards us with the
blood-smeared trunk.

Hui in the second chariot of our line saved us ” for we were
defenceless against the old bull’s fury- Hui came in from the side,
lashing his horses and yelling like a demon.

His archer from the foot plate behind him fired an arrow into the
bull’s cheek a hand’s-span below the eye, and that pulled his attention
from

US.

The elephant wheeled to chase after Hui, but he was at full gallop and
raced clean away. The next chariot in line was not so fortunate.

The driver lacked Hui’s skill, and his turn away was inept. The bull
lifted his trunk high and then swung it do” like an executioner’s axe
He struck the near-side horse across the back, just behind the withers,
and broke its spine so cleanly that I heard the vertebrae shatter like
a brittle potsherd. The maimed horse went down and dragged its
teammate down with it. The chariot rolled over and the men were hurled
from it. The elephant placed one forefoot on the body of the fallen
charioteer and, with its . trunk, plucked off his head and tossed it
aloft like a child’s ball. It spun in the air spraying. a bright
feather of pink blood from the severed neck.

Then the next chariot in line tore in, distracting the bull from his
victim.

I pulled up my horses at the edge of the grove, and we stared back
aghast at the carnage of our shattered squadron.

There were broken chariots scattered across the field, for Kratas out
on the left had fared no better than we had.

The two great bull elephants bristled with arrow-shafts, and the blood
streamed down their bodies, leaving wet streaks on their dusty grey
hide. However, the wounds had not weakened them, but seemed only to
have aggravated their fury. They rampaged through the grove, smashing
up the capsized chariots, stamping the carcasses of the horses under
those massive padded feet, throwing the bodies of screaming men high in
the air and trampling them as they fell back to earth.

Kratas raced up alongside us, and shouted across at us, “By the itching
crabs in Seth’s crotch, this is hot work! We have lost eight chariots
in the first charge. ” “Better sport than you expected, Captain
Kratas, ” Prince Memnon yelled back at him. He would have done better
to keep his opinion to him-self, for up until that moment we had
forgotten about the boy in the confusion. Now, however, both tonus and
I rounded on him together.

“As for you, my lad, you have had enough sport for one day, ” I told
him firmly.

“It’s back to the fleet with you, and that right swiftly, ” agreed
tonus, and at that moment an empty chariot cantered by. I do not -know
what had happened to the crew, they had bably been thrown from the
cockpit or been plucked out of it bodily by one of the infuriated
beasts. those horses!” tonus ordered, and when the empty chariot was
brought back to us, he. told the prince, “Out you get. Take that
chariot back to the beach and wait there for our return.” “My Lord
tonus, ” Prince Memnon drew himself to his full height, reaching as
high as his father’s shoulder, “I protest.. . ” “None of your royal
airs with me, young man. Go back and protest to your mother, if you
must. ” He lifted the prince with one hand and dropped him into the
vacant cockpit of the other vehicle.

“Lord tonus, it is my right.. . ” Memnon made one last despairing
attempt to remain in the hunt.

“And it is my right to wrap the scabbard of my sword around your royal
backside; if you are still here when I look around again, ” said
Tarrus, and turned his back on him. Both of us put the boy out of our
minds.

“Gathering ivory is not quite as easy as picking up mushrooms, I
remarked. “We will have to think up a better plan than this. ” “You
cannot kill these creatures by shooting them in the head, “Tonus
growled. “We will try an shoot an arrow through the ribs.

If they have no brain in their skull, then surely they have lungs and a
heart. ” I gathered up the reins, and lifted the heads of the team,
but I could feel that Patience and Blade were as nervous as I was at
the prospect of returning to the field. None of us had enjoyed our
first taste of elephant hunting.

“I’ll go at him head-on, ” I told tonus, “and then turn out to give you
a broadside shot into his ribs. ” I put the horses into a trot, and
then gradually pushed up their speed as we entered the acacia grove.

Dead ahead of us our bull rampaged over the ground that was littered
with the wreckage of overturned chariots and the bodies of -dead men
and broken horses. He saw us coming and let out another of those
terrible squeals that chilled my blood, and the horses flicked their
ears and shied again. I gathered them up with the reins and drove them
on.

The bull charged to meet us, like a landslide of rock down a steep
hillside. He was a terrible sight in his rage and his agony, but I
held my team steady, not yet pushing them to the top of their speed.

Then, as we came together, I lashed them up and yelled them into a
full, mad gallop. At the same moment I swung out hard left, opening
the bull’s flank.

At a range of less than twenty paces, tonus fired three arrows in quick
succession into his chest. All of them went in behind the shoulder,
finding the gaps between the ribs, and burying themselves full-length
in the seared grey skin.

The bull squealed again, but this time in mortal agony Though he
reached out for us, we raced clear of the stretch of his trunk. I
looked back and saw him standing in our dust, but when he bellowed
again, the blood spurred from the end of his trunk, like steam from a
kettle.

“The lungs, ” I shouted. “Good work, tonus. You have hit him through
the lungs. ” “We have found the trick of it now, ” tonus exulted.

“Take us back. I will give him another one through the heart. ” I
wheeled about and the horses were still strong and willing.

“Come on, my beauties, ” I called to them. “One more time. Hi up!”
Though he was mortally, struck, the old bull was still far from death.
I would learn just how tenacious of life these magnificent beasts were,
but now he charged to meet us once again with a courage and splendour
that filled me with reverence. Even in the heat of the hunt and terror
for my own safety, I felt shame at the torture we were inflicting on
him.

Perhaps it was because of this that I let the horses go in very close.
Out of respect for him, I wanted to match his courage with my own. When
it was almost too late, I swung my horses out of the charge, meaning to
pass him just out of reach of that wicked trunk.

Just then the off-side wheel of the chariot burst under us.

There was that giddy moment as I somersaulted through the air like an
acrobat, but this was not the first time I had been thrown, and I had
learned to fall like a cat. I rode the shock and let myself roll
twice. The. earth was soft and the grass as thick as a mattress. I
came up on my feet unhurt and with my wits still all about “me. I saw
at a glance that tonus had not come through as well as I had. He was
sprawled flat out and unmoving.

The-horses were up, but anchored by the dead weight of the broken
chariot. The bull elephant attacked them. Blade was nearest to him
and he broke my darling mare’s back with a single blow of the trunk.

Blade went down on her knees screaming, and Patience was still linked
to her. The bull thrust one thick tusk through Blade’s chest and
jerked his head up, lifting the kicking and struggling animal high in
the air.

I should have run then, while the bull was so distracted, but Patience
was still unhurt. I could not leave her. The elephant was turned
half-away from me, his own ears, spread like a ship’s sail, blanketed
me from his view, and he did not see me run in. I snatched tonus”
sword from the scabbard on the raqk of the capsized chariot, and darted
to Patience’s side.

Although the great bull was dragging her along by the leather harness
that attached. her to Blade, and although the blood from the other
horse splashed over her neck and shoulders, she was still unhurt.

Of course, she was wild with terror, squealing and kicking out with
both back, legs, so that she almost cracked my skull as I darted up
behind her.

I ducked as her hooves flew past my head and grazed my cheek.

I hacked at the rawhide tackle that pinned her to the drive shaft of
the chariot. The sword was sharp enough to shave the hair from my
head, and the leather split under that bright edge. Three hard
strokes, and Patience was free to run. I snatched at her mane to pull
myself up on to her back, but she was so terror-struck that she bounded
away before I could find a grip. Her shoulder crashed into me and sent
me spinning away. I was thrown heavily to the ground, under the side
of the wrecked chariot.

I struggled up to see Patience dashing off’ through the grove; she ran
with a free and light stride, so I knew she was unhurt. I looked for
tonus next. He lay ten paces away from the chariot, face down against
the earth, and I thought he was dead, but at that moment he raised his
head and looked around at me with a bewildered and groggy expression.
I knew that any sudden movement. might draw the bull elephant’s
attention to him, and I willed him to lie still. I dared not utter a
sound, for the enraged animal was still standing over me.

I, looked up at the bull. Poor Blade was impaled upon his tusk, and
the rawhide traces were entangled with his trunk. The bull started to
move off, dragging the battered chariot with him. He was attempting to
dislodge the weight of Blade Is dangling carcass from his tusk. The
point of the tusk had ripped open the horse’s belly, and the stink of
the stomach contents mingled with the reek of blood and the elePhants
peculiar rank and gamey odour. Stronger than all that, the stench of
the sweat of my own fear filled my nostrils.

I made sure that the bull’s head was still turned away from me, before
I pushed myself up and ran doubled-over to where tonus lay.

“Up! Get up!” I croaked in a hoarse whisper, and I tried to lift him
to his feet, but he was a heavy man and still only half-conscious.

Desperately I looked back at the bull. He was moving away from us,
still dragging the whole tangle of broken equipment and the dead horse
with him.

I draped tonus” arm around my neck and put my shoulder into his armpit.
With all my strength I managed to lever him to his feet, and he hung
against me unsteadily. I swayed under his weight. “Brace up!”

I whispered urgently. “The bull will spot us at any moment. ” I tried
to drag tonus along with me, but he took only one pace before he gave a
groan and fell back against me. “My leg, ” he grunted. “Can’t move.

Knee gone. Twisted the cursed thing. ” The full realization of our
predicament struck me then, as it had not before. My old sin of
cowardice overwhelmed me once more, and the strength went out of my own
legs.

“Get out of it, you old fool, ” tonus grated in my ear.

“Leave me. Run for it!” The elephant lifted his head and shook it in
the same way that a dog- shakes the water from its ears after it has
swum back to the shore. Those vast leathery ears slapped and rattled
against his own shoulders, and. Blade’s crushed carcass slid off the
tusk and was hurled aside as if it were no heavier than a dead
rabbit.

The strength of the elephant bull was past all belief If he could toss
the weight of, horse and chariot so easily, what might he do with my
own frail body?

“Run, for the love of Horus, run, you fool!” tonus urged me, and tried
to push me away, but some strange-obstinacy prevented me from leaving
him, and I hung on to his shoulder. Afraid as I was, I could not leave
him.

The bull had heard the sound of tonus” voice and. he swung around with
those ears flaring wide open like the mainsail of a’fighting galley. He
stared full at us, and we were less than fifty paces from him.

I, did not know then, as I would learn later, that the eyesight of the
elephant is so poor that he is almost blind. He relies almost entirely
on his hearing and his sense of smell.

Only movement attracts him, and if we had stood still he would not have
seen us.

“He has seen us, ” I gasped, and I dragged tonus with me, forcing him
to hop on his good leg beside me. The bull saw the movement and he
squealed. I shall never forget that sound. It deafened and stunned
me, sending us both reeling so that we staggered together and almost
fell.

Then the bull charged straight at us.

He came with long, driving strides, and his ears flapped about his
head. Arrows bristled from the great weathered forehead, and blood
streamed down his. face like tears. Each time he squealed, the lung
blood spurted in a cloud from his trunk. As tall as a cliff, and as
black as death, he came at us in full charge. I could see every seam
and crease in the folded skin around his eyes. The lashes of his eyes
were thick as those of a beautiful girl, but such a glare of rage shone
through them that. my heart turned to a stone in my chest, and weighed
down my legs so I could not move.

The passage of time seemed to slow down, and I was overcome with a
sense of dreamlike unreality. I stood and watched death bear down upon
us with a slow and stately deliberation, and could make no move to
avoid it.

Tota!” A child’s voice rang in my head, and I knew that it was a
delusion of my terror. “Tota, I am coming!” In total disbelief I
swung my head away from the vision of death before me. Across the open
ground of the grove a chariot was tearing towards us at full gallop.

The horses were stretched out and their heads were going like the
hammers on a coppersmith’s anvil. Their ears were laid back, and their
nostrils flared wide open, pink and wet. I could see no driver at the
reins.

“Get ready, Tota!” Only then did I see the neat little head, barely
showing above the dashboard. The reins were gripped in two small
fists, the knuckles white with tension.

“Mein, ” I cried, “go back! Turn back!” The wind blew his hair out in
a cloud behind his head, and the sunlight struck ruby sparks from the
thick dark curls.

He came on without a pause or check.

“I’ll thrash the little ruffian for disobeying me, ” growled tonus, as
he teetered on one leg. We had both of Lis forgotten our own danger.

“Whoa!” Memnon cried, and brought the team down from a full gallop. He
wheeled the carriage into such a sharp turn that the inside wheel
stopped dead and swivelled on its rim.

He had cut in front of the two of us, shielding us for an instant from
the charging bull, and as the chariot spun about there was a moment
when it was standing still. It was beautifully done.

I heaved my shoulder up under tonus” armpit and threw him sprawling on
the foot plate The very next instant I hurled myself headlong on top
of him. As I landed, Memnon gave the horses their heads, and we
bounded forward so sharply that I was almost jerked backwards off the
platform, but I grabbed at the side-panel and steadied myself.

“Go, Mein, ” I screamed, “for all you’re worth!” “Hi-up!” Memnon
screamed. “Yah hahl” The chariot careered away with the frightened
horses driven to full flight by the enraged squeals of the charging
bull. close behind.

All three of us stared back over the tail-board. The head of the bull
hung over us, seeming to fill all my vision. The trunk reached out for
us, so close that each time the bull squealed, the bloody cloud sprayed
over us and speckled our upturned faces, so that we looked like the
victims of some horrible plague.

We could not draw clear of his rush, and he was unable to overtake us.
Matched in speed, we went racing through the lade with the great bloody
head hanging over us as we cowered on the floorboards of the bouncing
chariot. It needed only one small mistake from our driver to send us
into a hole or rip our wheels off against a stump of a fallen tree, and
the bull would have been upon us in an instant.

But the prince handled the traces like a veteran, picking his route
through the grove with a cool hand and practised eye.

He sent the chariot careening through the turns on one wheel, within an
ace of capsizing, holding off the bull’s mad charge. He never faltered
once, and then suddenly it was all over.

One of the arrows buried in the bull’s chest had worked itself in
deeper and sliced open the heart. The elephant opened his mouth wide,
and a flood of bright blood shot up his throat and he died in his
tracks. His legs went out from under him and he came down with a crash
that jarred the” earth under us, and lay upon his side with one long
curved tusk thrust up in the air as if in a last defiant and regal
gesture.

Memnon pulled in the horses, and tonus and I stumbled down out of the
carriage and stood together staring back at that mountainous carcass.
tonus clung to the side of the chariot to favour his damaged leg, and
slowly turned to look at the boy who did not know he was his father.

“By Horus, I have known some brave men in my time, but none of them
better than you, lad, ” he said simply, and then he lifted Memnon in
his arms and hugged him to his chest.

I did not see much more of it, for those ever asg an tedious tears of
mine blotted out my vision. Even though I knew myself for a
sentimental fool, I could not staunch them. I had waited too long to
see this happen, to watch the father embrace his son.

I only managed to regain control of my errant emotions when I heard the
faint sound of distant cheers. What none of us had realized was that
the chase had taken place in full view of the fleet. The Breath of
Horus lay close in against the bank of the Nile, and I could see the
slim figure of the queen upon the high poop. Even at this distance her
face looked pale and her expression set.

THE GOLD OF VALOUR IS THE WARRIOR’S prize, higher in honour and in
esteem than the Gold of Praise. It is only ever worn by heroes.

We gathered on the deck of the galley, those closest to the queen and
the commanders of all the divisions of her army. Stacked against the
mast, the tusks of the elephants were on display like the spoils of
war, and the officers wore all their regimental finery. The
standard-bearers stood to attention behind the throne, and the
trumpeters blew a fanfare as the prince knelt before the queen.

“My beloved subjects!” the queen spoke out clearly. “Noble officers
of my council, generals and officers of my army, I commend to you the
crown prince, Memnon, who has found favour in my sight and in the sight
of you all. ” She smiled down on the eleven-year-old boy who was being
treated like a victorious general.

For his courageous conduct in the field, I command that he be received
into the regiment of the Blue Crocodile Guards, with the rank of
subaltern of the second class, and I bestow upon him the Gold of
Valour, that he may wear it With pride and distinction. ” The chain
had been especially forged by the royal goldsmiths to fit the neck of a
boy of Memnon’s age, but with my own hands I had sculpted the tiny
golden elephant that was suspended from the chain. It was perfect in
every detail, a miniature masterpiece with garnet chips for eyes and
real ivory tusks. It looked well as it hung against the smooth,
unblemished skin of the prince’s chest.

I felt my tears coming on again as the men cheered my beautiful prince,
but I fought them back with an effort. I was not the only one who was
wallowing in sentiment like a wart-hog in a mudbath; even Kratas and
Remrem and Astes, for all their hardbitten and cavalier attitudes which
they usually cultivated so assiduously, were grinning like idiots, and
I swear I saw more than one pair of wet eyes in their ranks. In the
same way as his parents, the boy had a way with the affections and
loyalties of men. Every officer of the Blues came forward at the end
to salute the prince and embrace him gravely as a comrade-in-arms.

That evening, as we drove together along the bank of the Nile in the
sunset, Memnon suddenly reined in the horses and turned to me. “I have
been called to my regiment. I am a soldier at last, so you must make
me my own bow now, Tota. ” “I will make you the finest bow that any
archer has ever drawn, ” I promised.

He considered me gravely for a while, and then he sighed, “Thank you,
Tota. I think this is the happiest day of all my life. ” The way he
said it made eleven years seem like hoary old age.

The next day after the fleet had moored for the night, I went to look
for the prince and found him alone upon the bank in a spot that was
hidden from casual observation. He had not seen me, so I could observe
him for a while.

He was stark naked. Despite my warnings. about currents and
crocodiles, it was obvious that he had been swimming in the river, for
his hair was sopping wet upon his shoulders. however, I was puzzled by
his behaviour, for he had selected two large round stones from the
beach and was holding one of these in each hand, raising and lowering
them in some strange ritual.

“Tota, you are spying on me, ” he said suddenly, without turning his
head. “Do you want something from me?” “I want to know what you are
doing with those stones.

Are you worshipping some strange new Cushite god?” “I am making my
arms strong so that I can draw my new bow. I want it to have a full
draw-weight. You are not to fob me off with another toy, Tota, do you
hear?” THERE WAS ONE MORE CATARACt Mil across the river, the fifth and
what would later prove to be the penultimate that we would encounter
upon our voyage. However, this was not the same barrier to our
progress that the other four had been. With the change in the
surrounding terrain, we were no longer restricted to the course of the
river.

While we waited for the Nile to rise again, we planted our crops as
usual, but we were able to send out our chariots to range far and wide
across the savannah. My mistress despatched expeditions southwards to
pursue the elephant herds and bring back the ivory.

Those vast herds of the magnificent grey beasts that had greeted us so
trustingly when first we had sailed into Cush, were now” flown and
scattered. We had hunted them ruthlessly wherever we found them, but
these sage creatures learned their lesson well and right swiftly.

When we arrived at the fifth cataract, we found the herds grazing in
the groves on either bank. The elephant were in their thousands, and
tonus ordered the chariots into action immediately. We had refined our
tactics of hunting them and we had learned how to avoid the losses that
those first two bulls had inflicted upon us. At the fifth cataract, on
the very first day, we killed one hundred and seven elephant, for the
loss of only three chariots.

The following day there was not a single elephant in sight from the
decks of the ships. Although the, chariots pursued the herds,
following the roads they had left through the forest as they fled, it
was five days before they caught up with them again.

Very often now the hunting expeditions returned to our encampment below
the cataract after being out for many weeks on end without having found
a single elephant or gathered a single tusk. What had seemed to us at
first to be an endless supply of ivory had proved an illusion.

As the prince had remarked on that very first day, elephant-hunting was
not as simple as it first seemed.

However, those chariots ranging southwards did not return entirely
empty-handed. They had found something even more valuable to us than
ivory. They had found men.

I had not left the encampment for several months for I had been
involved in the eternal experimentation with my chariot wheels. It
was’ at this period that I at last found the solutions to the problem
which had plagued me from the very beginning, and which had been such a
source of amusement and ridicule to tonus and his military cronies-the
occasional failure of some of my designs. in the end, it was not a
single answer, but a combination of factors, beginning with the
material from which the spokes of the wheels were made. I now had an
almost unlimited selection of various types of wood to work with, and
the horn of oryx and rhinoceros which we hunted close to our
settlement, and which, unlike the elephant herds, did not move away
after being harassed.

I found that soaking the red heartwood of the giraffe acacia rendered
it so hard that it would turn the edge of the sharpest bronze axe-head.
I compounded this wood with layers of horn and bound it all up together
with bronze wire, very much in the same fashion as I had done with the
bow stock of Lanata. The result was that at last I had a wheel that
could be driven to the utmost over any type of terrain without
collapsing. When Hui and I had completed the first ten chariots with
these new wheels, I challenged Kratas and Remrem, who were the most
notoriously heavy-handed and destructive drivers in all the -army, to
try to smash them up.

The wager that we agreed on was ten de ben of gold a side.

This was a game much to the liking of those two overgrown children, and
they entered into the spirit of it with boyish gusto.

For weeks thereafter, their raucous cries and the sound of pounding
hooves rang through the groves on the banks of the Nile. By the time
their limit was up, Hui came to me complaining. bitterly that they had
worn out twenty teams of horses. However, it was some consolation to
him that we had won the wager. Our new wheels had stood the most
stringent test.

“If you had given us a few days more, ” Kratas groused as he handed
over his gold with a marked lack of sporting grace, “I know I would
have managed another Tota. ” And he treated us to a pantomime which he
thought amusing and which was supposed to suggest a shattering wheel
and a” somersaulting driver.

“You are a gifted clown, brave Kratas, but I have your gold. ” I
jingled it under his nose. “All you have is a tired old jest that has
gone sour on you. ” It was then that the scouting expedition, led by
Lord Aqer, that had gone out to find elephant, came back with the news
that instead they had found human habitation further to the South.

We had expected to come across the tribes as soon as we passed the
first cataract. For centuries the land of Cush had produced slaves.

These had been captured by their own people, probably in tribal
warfare, and carried down with other commodities of trade-ivory and
ostrich feathers and rhinoceros horn and gold dust-to the outposts of
our empire.

Queen Lostris” saucy black handmaidens were natives’ of this land and
had come to her from the slave-markets in Elephantine.

I still cannot explain why we had not found people before this.

Perhaps they had been driven back by wars and slave raids, in the same
way as we had scattered the elephant herds. They may have been wiped
out by famine or plague, it was impossible to say. Up until now we had
found scant evidence of human presence.

However, now that we had finally caught up with them, the excitement
was an epidemic in our company. We needed slaves more even than we
needed ivory or gold. Our whole civilization and way of life was based
upon the system of slave ownership, a system that was condoned by the
gods and sanctified by ancient usage. We had been able to bring very
few of our own slaves with us from Egypt, and now it was imperative for
our survival and growth as a nation that we capture more to replace
those we had been forced to abandon. tonus ordered a full-scale
expeditionary force to be sent out immediately. He would lead it
himself, for we were uncertain what we would find up-river. Apart from
those taken as prisoners of war, we Egyptians had always purchased our
slaves from foreign traders, and this was the first time in centuries
as far as I knew, that we were forced to resort to catching our own. It
was sport as new to us as elephant-hunting, but at least this time we
did not expect our quarry to be either docile or dull-witted. tonus
would still not ride with any other driver than me, and even Kratas”
and Remirem’s unsuccessful efforts to destroy them had not yet
convinced him of the virtue of my new chariots. We led the column, but
the second chariot in line was driven by the youngest subaltern of the
Blues, the crown prince, Memnon.

I had chosen the two very best charioteers to act as crew for Memnon.
His own weight was so light that the chariot could carry an extra man,
and the prince’s strength had not developed sufficiently for him’ to be
able to lift his end of the chariot when it was necessary to dismount
and carry it over the obstacles that could not be driven over.

He needed that extra man to help him.

The first villages we came across were on the river-bank, three days”
travel above the cataract. They were groups of miserable grass
shelters too rudimentary to be called huts. tonus sent scouts forward
to reconnoitre, and then in the dawn we surrounded them with a single.
swift rush.

The people that stumbled out of these crude shelters were too dazed and
shocked to offer any resistance, or even attempt to run from us. They
clung together and chattered and gaped at the ring of chariots and
shields that we had thrown around them.

“A fine catch!” tonus was delighted as we looked them over. The men
were tall and lean, with long, slim limbs.

They towered over most of the men in our ranks; even tonus seemed short
in comparison as we walked amongst them, sorting them into groups as a
farmer might apportion his herds.

“There are some really good, specimens, ” he enthused.

“Look at that beauty. ” He had picked out a young man of exceptional
physique. “He would fetch ten rings of gold on the slave-market at
Elephantine on any day. ” Their women were strong and healthy. Their
backs were straight and their, teeth were white and even. Every mature
female carried an infant on her hip and led another by the hand.

Yet they were the most primitive peoples I had ever encountered.

Neither men nor women wore a shred of clothing, and they left their
pudenda shamelessly bared, though the younger girls wore a single
string of beads made from the shells of ostrich eggs around their
waist. I could see at once that the mature women had all been
circumcised in the most brutal fashion. Later I learned that either a
flint knife or a sliver of bamboo was used for this operation. Their
vaginas were scarred and deformed into open pits, and then infibulated
with slivers of bone or ivory. The younger girls had not yet suffered
this mutilation, and I determined that this custom would be outlawed in
the future. I was certain that I could rely on the support of my
mistress in this.

Their skins were so dark that their naked bodies appeared purple in the
early sunlight, the colour of an over-ripe black grape. Some of them
had smeared themselves with a paste of ashes and white clay, on which
they had daubed crude patterns with their fingertips. They had dressed
their hair with a mixture of ox-blood and clay into a tall, shiny
helmet which exaggerated their already impressive height.

One thing that struck me immediately was that there were no old people
among them. I learned later that it was their custom to break the legs
of the elderly with their war clubs and leave them on the bank of the
river as a sacrifice to the crocodiles. They believed that the
crocodiles were reincarnations of their dead ancestors, and that by
feeding them, the victim became a part of this process.

They had forged no metal artefacts. Their weapons were wooden clubs
and sharpened sticks. The potter’s art had eluded them and their
vessels were the gourds of wild plants.

They planted no crops, but lived on the fish they caught in
basket-traps, and on the herds of stunted long-homed cattle which were
their most prized possessions. They bled them from a vein in the
neck-and mixed the blood with milk warm from the udder, and drank the
curdled mess with the utmost relish.

When I studied them over the months that followed, I found that they
could neither read nor write. Their only musical instrument was a drum
hollowed from a tree-trunk, and their songs Were the grunting and
braying of wild animals.

Their dances were flagrant parodies of the sexual act in which ranks of
naked men and women approached each. other, stamping and grinding
their hips until they met. When this happened, the incitation was
transformed into reality, and the most licentious debaucheries were
enacted.

When Prince Memnon questioned me as to what right we had to capture
these people and take possession of them like cattle. I told him,
“They are savages, and we are civilized people, As a father has a duty
to his son, it is our duty to lift them from their brutish state, and
to show them the true gods. Their part of the bargain is that they
repay us with their labour. ” Memnon was a bright lad, and after I had
explained it to him he never again questioned the logic or the morality
of it.

At my suggestion, my mistress had allowed two of her black hand
-maidens to accompany the expedition. My personal relationship with
these little hussies had not been entirely untroubled, but now they
rendered invaluable service.

Both these girls had childhood memories of the time before their
capture, and they retained a rudimentary knowledge of the language of
these tribes of Cush. This was just sufficient for us to begin the
process of taming our captives. As a musician, I have an ear tuned to
the sounds of the human voice; added to this, I have also a natural
linguistic ability.

Within a very few weeks I was able to speak the language of the
Shilluk, which was what these people were called.

Their language was as primitive as their customs and their way of life.
Their entire vocabulary did not exceed five hundred words, which I
recorded on my scrolls and taught to the slave-masters and to the army
instructors whom tonus appointed over the fresh-caught slaves.

For among these people tonus had found his infantry regiments to
complement the chariot divisions.

This first raid gave us no real warning of the true warlike nature of
the Shilluk. It had all gone too easily, and we were unprepared for
what followed when we swept down on the next straggle of villages. By
this time the Shilluk had been alerted, and they were ready to meet
us.

They had driven away their cattle herds and hidden their women and
children. Naked and armed only with wooden clubs, they came in their
hordes against our chariots and recurved bows and swords, with a
courage and tenacity that surpassed belief.

“By the putrid wax in Seth’s ear-hole, ” Kratas swore with delight
after we had driven back another charge, “every one of these black
devils is a soldier born. ” “Trained and armed with bronze, these
Shilluk will stand out against any other foot-soldiers in the world, ”
tonus agreed. “Leave the bows on the racks. I want as many of them as
we can catch alive. ” In the end, tonus ran them to exhaustion with
the chariots, and only when they fell to their knees with even their
extraordinary stamina and reckless courage totally expended, could the
slave-masters put the ropes on them.

tonus selected the best of them for his infantry regiments,

and he learned their language as readily as I did. The Shilluk soon
looked upon him as a god to replace their crocodiles, and tonus came to
love them almost as much as I loved my, horses. In the end it was no
longer necessary to catch the Shilluk like animals. These marvellously
tall and willowy spearmen came out of their hiding-places in the reeds
and bushy gulleys of their own accord, to seek tonus out and to beg to
be allowed to join his regiments. tonus armed them with long
bronze-tipped spears and shields made from elephant hide, and he
uniformed them in kilts of wild-cat tails and headdresses of ostrich
feathers.

His sergeants drilled them in all the classic evolutions of war and we
learned swiftly to integrate these tactics with those of the
chariots.

Not all the Shilluk were selected for the army. The others proved to
be indefatigable oarsmen on the rowing-benches of the galleys, and
dedicated herdsmen and grooms, for they were born to tend their
herds.

We very soon learned that their hereditary enemies were the tribes that
lived further to the south, the Dinka and the Mandari. These other
tribes were even more primitive, and lacked the fighting instincts of
our Shilluk. Nothing pleased tonus” new Shilluk regiments better than
to be sent south with their Egyptian officers and supported. by the
chariots against their ancient foes. They rounded up the Dinka and
Mandari in their thousands. We used them for the heavy unskilled work.
None of them came willingly, as some of our Shilluk had done.

ONCE WE HAD BROUGHt THE FLEEt UP through the fifth cataract, the entire
land of Cush lay open to us. With our Shilluk now to guide us, the
fleet sailed on up-river, while our chariot divisions ranged widely
along each bank, and returned with more ivory and fresh levies of
slaves.

Soon we reached a wide river-course that joined the main flow of the
Nile from the east. The flow of this river was restricted to a sullen
trickle down its shrunken pools. However, the Shilluk assured us that
in its season this river, which we named the Atbara, would become a
raging torrent, an its waters would augment the annual flood of the
Nile.

Queen Lostris despatched an expedition of gold-seekers, with Shilluk
guides, to follow the Atbara as far as they were able. The fleet
sailed on southwards, hunting and slave raiding along the way.

I worried to see it, and tried to prevent it, but so often these days
Prince Menincin’s chariot was at the head of one of these flying
columns. Naturally, he was supported by good men, I could At least see
to that, but there was constant hazard and danger out there in the
African bush, and he was still only a boy.

I felt he should spend more time with me and his scrolls studying on
the deck of the Breath of Horus, rather than disporting himself with
the likes of Kratas and Rernrem.

Those two hooligans had as little concern for the prince’s safety as
they had for their own. They egged him on with wagers and challenges
and extravagant praise for his more daring feats. He was soon as much
of a dare-devil as any of them, and when he returned from these forays,
he took great pleasure in horrifying me with accounts of his
escapades.

When I . protested to tonus, he merely laughed. “If he is to wear the
double crown one day, he must learn to spurn danger and lead men. ” My
mistress agreed with tonus in the training of Memnon. I had to content
myself with making the most of what time I still had to be alone with
my prince.

At least I had my two little princesses. They were a wonderful
consolation. sTehuti and Bakatha grew more enchanting each day, and I
was their slave in more than name alone.

Because of our peculiar circumstances I was closer to them than their
true father could be. The first word that Bakatha ever said was
“Tota’, and Tehuti refused to sleep unless I first told her a story.

She pined when I was obliged to leave the fleet on other business.

I think that this was the most happy period of my life. I felt that I
was at the centre of my family, and solid in the affections of all of
them.

The fortunes of our nation were almost as bright as my own. Soon one
of our gold-seekers returned from the expedition up the Atbara river.
He knelt before Queen Lostris and laid a small leather bag at her feet.
Then, at er he opened the neck of the bag and poured from it astrea of
gleaming pebbles. Some of these were as small as grains of sand, and
others as large as the end of my thumb. All of them shone with that
peculiar radiance that cannot be mistaken.

The goldsmiths were summoned and they worked with their furnaces and
clay crucibles, and finally declared these nuggets to be veritable gold
of an extraordinary purity. tonus and I rode back up the Atbara to the
site where this gold had been discovered. I helped to plan the methods
that were used to mine the gravel-beds in the water-course of the river
in which the gold had been trapped.

We used thousands of Mandari and Dinka slaves to scoop out basket-loads
of gravel and carry these up to the sluices that the masons had carved
out of the granite slopes in the hills above the river.

To take back to my mistress I sketched pictures of the long lines of
naked black slaves, their wet skins gleaming in the sunlight, toiling
up the hillside, each with a heavy basket balanced on his head.

When we left the miners hard at work and went back to rejoin the fleet,
we carried with us five hundred de ben of newly smelted gold rings.

WE ENCOUNTERED ” ANOTHER CATARact on our voyage southwards.

This was the sixth and final set of rapids, but this transit proved
swifter and easier than any of the others. Our chariots and wagons
were able to detour around the rapids, and so at last we reached the
mystical confluence of two mighty rivers that between them became the
Nile we knew and loved so well.

“This is the place that Taita saw in his vision of the Mazes of
Ammon-Ra. Here Hopi lets her waters flow and mingle.

This is the sacred site of the goddess, ” Queen Lostris declared.

“We have completed our voyage. It is at this place that the goddess
will strengthen us for the return to Egypt.

I name it Qebui, the Place of the North Wind, for it is that wind which
blew us here. ” “It is a propitious place. Already the goddess has
shown her favour by providing us with slaves and gold, ” the great
lords of the state council agreed. “We should voyage no further. ”
“It remains only to find a site for the tomb of my husband, Pharaoh
Mamose, ” Queen Lostris decreed. “Once the tomb is built and Pharaoh
sealed in it, then my vow will have been fulfilled and it will be time
to return in triumph to our very Egypt. Only once that has been done
can we go up against the Hyksos tyrant and drive him from our
motherland. ” I think, that I was one of the very few of all our
company who, was not happy and relieved by this decision. The others
were consumed by home-sickness and weary of the long years of travel.

I, on the other hand, had been stricken by a malady even more
pernicious, that of wanderlust. I wanted to see what lay beyond the
next bend of the river and over the crest of the next hill. I wanted
to go on and on, to the very end of the world. Therefore I was
delighted when my mIstress chose me as the one to seek out the site of
the royal tomb, and ordered Prince Memnon to escort me, on this
expedition with his squadron of chariots. Not only would I be able to
indulge this new appetite of mine for travel, but I would once more
have the undiluted pleasure of the prince’s company.

At fourteen years of age, Prince Memnon was placed in command of the
expedition. This was not exceptional. There have been pharaohs in our
history who commanded great armies in battle when they were no older.
The prince took his responsibilities on this his first independent
command most seriously. The chariots were made ready, and Memnon
inspected each horse and vehicle personally. We had two spare teams of
horses for each chariot, so that these could be changed and rested
regularly.

Then the two of us deliberated at great length and in even greater
detail as to which direction we should follow in our search for the
ideal site for the king’s tomb. This should be in some rugged and
uninhabited area not readily accessible to grave-robbers. There must
be a cliff into which the tomb with all the subsidiary passages could
be cut.

There was no area that we had come upon since we had entered the land
of Cush that satisfied these requirements.

We reviewed what we knew of the land behind us and tried to divine what
lay ahead. Where we stood now at Qebui, the meeting-point of the two
rivers, was the loveliest place we had visited on all the long
voyage.

It seemed that all the birds of the air had gathered here, from tiny
jewelled kingfishers to stately blue cranes, from whistling flocks of
duck that darkened the sun in their multitudes to plovers and lapwings
that scurried along the water’s edge, pausing only to ask the plaintive
question, “Pee-wit? Pee-wit?” In the silvery acacia groves and out on
the open savannah, the herds of antelope grazed in their countless
millions. It was almost as though this seat of the goddess was sacred
to all degrees of life. The waters below the juncture of the rivers
roiled with shoals of fish, while in the sky above the white-headed
fish eagles turned slow circles against the startling blue of the
African sky and uttered their weird, yelping chant.

Each of these twin rivers expressed a different character and mood,
just as two infants sprung from the same womb can vary in every detail
of body and mind. The right-hand branch was slow and yellow, greater
in volume than the other, but not so assertive. The eastern branch was
a murky grey-blue, an angry, overbearing flood that shoved its twin
aside when they met, refusing to mingle its waters, crowding the other
against the bank and retaining its own turbid character for many miles
down-stream before sullenly allowing itself to be absorbed by the
gentler yellow stream.

“Which river must we follow, Tota?” Memnon demanded, and I sent for
the Shilluk guides.

“The yellow river comes out of a vast and “pestilent swamp that has no
end. No man can enter-there. It is a place of crocodiles and
hippopotamus, and stinging insects. It is a place of fever where a
-man might lose his way and wander for ever the Shilluk told us.

“What about the other river?” we asked.

“The dark river comes out of the sky, down cliffs of stone “that rise
up into the clouds. No man can climb the dreadful gorges. ” “We will
follow the” dark left-hand fork, ” the prince decided. “In those rocky
places we will find a resting-place for my father.” So we journeyed
into the east until we saw the mountains rise on the horizon.

They formed a blue rampart so tall and formidable as to surpass
anything that we had ever seen or believed possible. Beside these
great mountains, the hills we had known in the Nile valley were like
the scratching of little birds in the sand-banks of the river. Each
day as we journeyed towards them they climbed higher into the heavens
and dwarfed all the world below.

“No man can go up there, ” Memnon marvelled. “That must be the abode
of the gods. ” We watched the lightning play upon the mountains,
flickering and flaring inside the tumbling banks of cloud that
blanketed the peaks from our view. We listened to the thunder growling
like a hunting lion amongst the gorges and the sheer valleys, and we
were awestruck.

We ventured no further than the foothills of this terrible range, and
then the cliffs and gorges barred our way and turned our chariots back.
In these foothills we found a hidAen valley with vertical sides of
stone. For twenty days the prince and I explored this wild place,
until at last we stood before a black cliff-face and Memnon spoke
quietly. “This is where my father’s earthly body will rest for all
eternity.” He stared up at the sheer stone with a dreamy and mystical
expression . “It is as though I can hear his voice speaking in my
head.

He will be happy here. ” So I surveyed this place and marked out the
cliff, driving bronze pegs into the cracks in the rock, setting out the
direction and the angle of the entrance passage for the masons who
would come to begin this work. When this was done, we extricated
ourselves from the maze of valleys and snarling gorges, and returned
down the Nile to the meeting-place of the rivers, where our fleet
lay.

WE WERE CAMPED ON THE GREAt PLAINS only a few days” travel from Qebui
when I was awakened in the night by the eerie grunting cries and the
sound of a moving mass of animals that seined to come from the darkness
all around us.

Memnon ordered the trumpeter to blow the call to arms, and we stood to,
within the circle of chariots. We threw wood on the watch-fires and
stared out into the night.

In the flicker of the flames we saw a dark flood, like the spate of the
Nile, streaming past us. The eerie honking cries and the snorting
sounds were almost deafening, and the press of animals in this throng
was so heavy that they bumped into the outer ring of chariots, and some
of the vehicles were thrown over on their sides. It was not possible
to rest in this uproar, and we stood to arms all the rest Of that
night. The flood of living creatures never abated in all that time.

When dawn lit the scene, we were presented with the most extraordinary
spectacle. In every direction as far as the eye could see, the plains
were covered with a carpet of moving animals. They were all travelling
in the same direction, trudging onwards with a strange fatalistic
determination, heads hanging, shrouded in the dust of their own
passage, uttering those weird, mournful cries. Every so often, some
section of this endless herd took fright, for no reason, and tossed up
their heels. They cavorted and snorted and chased each other in
aimless circles, like whirlpools in the surface of a smoothly flowing
river. Then they would settle back into the same plodding gait and
follow the swarms ahead of them into the hazy distance.

We stood and stared in amazement. Every animal in this vast concourse
was of the same species, and each individual was identical in every
respect to the next. They were all of a dark purplish hue, with a
shaggy-maned dewlap and horns shaped like the crescent moon. Their
heads were misshapen, with ugly bulbous noses, while their bodies
sloped back from high shoulders to spindly hindquarters.

When at last we harnessed the chariots and resumed our own Journey, we
passed through this living sea of animals like a fleet of galleys. They
opened to allow us passage, streming by on either hand so close that we
could reach out and touch them. They were completely unafraid, and
stared at us with dull incurious eyes.

When it was time for” the midday meal, Memnon strung his bow and killed
five of these antelope with as many arrows. We skinned and butchered
the carcasses as their fellows streamed by us at arm’s-length. Despite
the animals” strange appearance, their flesh, when grilled on the coals
of an open re, was as good to eat as any wild game I had tasted.

“This is another gift from the gods, ” Memnon declared.

“As soon as we rejoin the main army, we will send out an expedition to
follow these herds. We will be able to smoke enough meat to feed all
our armies and our slaves from now until these beasts come again next
year. ” From our Shilluk guides we learned that this incredible
migration was an annual occurrence as the herds moved from one
grazing-ground to another, several hundred miles apart. The Shilluk
called these beasts gnu, in imitation of their strange honking cry.
“This will be a never-ending supply, one that is replenished each year,
” I informed the prince.

None of us was then able to foresee the catastrophic events which would
flow from this visitation of the ungainly gnu. I might have been
warned by the manner in which they threw up their heads and snorted
without reason, or by the discharge of mucus from the nostrils of some
of these beasts, that I noticed as they streamed past us. However, I
gave little thought to this behaviour, and judged them to be mild and
harmless creatures who could bring us nothing but great benefit.

As soon as we reached the twin rivers, we reported the migration of gnu
to Queen Lostris, and she agreed with Prince Memnon’s suggestion.
Assisted by Kratas and Remrem, she put him in command of a column of
two hundred chariots, supported by wagons and several thousand
Shilluk.

She ordered him to slaughter as many gnu as could be cut up and smoked
for army rations.

I did not accompany the expedition, for the role of butcher’s assistant
was not to my fancy. However, we could soon see the smoke from the
fires, on which the meat was curing, darkening the horizon, and before
many more days had passed, the wagons started to return, each one
loaded high with blackened slabs of cured meat.

Exactly twenty days from our first encounter with the gnu herds, I was
sitting under a shady tree on the bank of the Nile, playing boo with my
old and dear friend Aran. A’s a small indulgence to myself and out of
deference to Aran, I had opened one of the precious jars of three-palm
quality wine that remained from the stock which I had brought from
Egypt. Aton and I played and haggled as old friends do, and sipped the
wine with deep appreciation.

We had no means of knowing that catastrophe was rushing down upon us to
overwhelm us all. On the contrary, I had every reason to be pleased
with myself. The previous day I had completed the drawings and plans
for the building of Pharaoh’s tomb, in which I had incorporated several
features , to deter and frustrate the depredations of any grave robber
Queen Lostris had approved these plans and appointed one of the master
masons as the overseer. She told me that I might requisition all the
slaves and equipment that I needed. My mistress was determined that
she would not stint in making good her vow to her dead husband. She
would build him the finest tomb that my genius could design.

I had just won the third successive board of boo from Aran and was
pouring another jar of the truly excellent wine, when I heard the beat
of hooves and looked up to see a horseman coming at full gallop from
the direction of the chariot lines. When he was still at a distance I
recognized Hui. Very few others rode astride, and certainly not at
such” a headlong pace. As he raced towards where we sat, I saw the
expression on his face, and it alarmed me so that I stood up abruptly
enough -to spill the wine and upset the boo board.

“Taita!” he screamed at me from a hundred yards. “The horses!

Sweet Isis have mercy on us! The horses!” He reined down his mount,
and I swung up behind him and seized him around the waist.

“Don’t waste time talking, ” I shouted in his ear. “Ride, fellow,
ride!” I went to Patience first. Half the herd was down, but she was
my first love. The mare lay upon her side with her chest heaving. She
was old now, with grey hairs frosting her muzzle. I had not used her
in the traces since the day that Blade had been killed by the elephant
bull.

Although she no longer pulled a chariot, she was the finest brood mare
in all our herds. Her foals all inherited her great heart and vivid
intelligence. She had just weaned a beautiful little colt who stood
near her now, watching her anxiously.

I knelt beside her. “What is it, my brave darling?” I asked softly,
and she recognized my voice, and opened her eyes.

The lids were gummed with mucus. I was appalled by her condition.

Her neck and throat were swollen to almost twice their-normal girth. A
vile-smelling stream of yellow pus streamed from her mouth and
nostrils. The fever was burning her up, so that I could feel the heat
radiate from her, as though from a camp-fire.

She tried to rise when I stroked her neck, but she was too weak.

She fell back, and her breath gurgled and wheezed in her throat.

The thick, creamy pus bubbled “out of her nostrils, and I could hear
that she was drowning in it. Her throat was closing, so that she had
to battle for each breath.

She was watching me with an almost human expression of trust and
appeal. I was overcome with a sense of helplessness. This affliction
was beyond my previous experience.

I slipped the snowy-white linen shawl from my shoulder and used it to
mop the streaming pus from her nostrils. It was a pathetically
inadequate attempt, for as fast as I wiped it away, fresh trickles of
the stinking stuff poured from her.

“Taita!” Hui called to me. “Every one of our animals has been
stricken by this pestilence. ” Grateful for the distraction, I left
Patience and went through the rest of the herd. Half of them were down
already, and those still upright were mostly staggering or beginning to
drool the thick yellow pus from their mouths.

“What must we do?” Hui and all the charioteers appealed to me. I was
burdened with their trust. They expected me alone to avert this
terrible disaster, and I knew that it was beyond my powers. I knew of
no remedy, and could not think of even the most drastic and unlikely
treatment.

I stumbled back to where Patience lay, and wiped away the latest -flood
of stinking discharge from her muzzle. I could see that she was
sinking away swiftly. Each breath she drew now was a terrible
struggle. My grief weakened me, and I knew that in my helplessness I
would soon melt into tears and be of no further use to any of them,
neither horses nor men.

Somebody knelt beside me, and I looked up to see that it was one of the
Shilluk grooms, a willing and likely fellow whom I had befriended and
who now looked upon me as his master. “It is the sickness of the gnu,
” he told me in his simple language. “Many will die.

I stared at him, as what he said began to make sense in my muddled
mind. I remembered the snorting, drooling herds of slate-coloured
animals darkening the plains with their, numbers, and how we had
thought it a gift of the benevolent gods.

“This sickness kills our cattle when the gnu come. Those that live
through it are safe. They are never sick again. ” “What can we do to
save them, Habani?” I demanded, but. he shook his head.

“There is nothing to be done. ” I was holding Patience’s head in my
arms when she died The breath choked away, in her throat and she
shuddered and her legs stiffened and then relaxed. I let out a low
moan of grief and was on the very edge of the abyss of despair, when I
looked up and through my tears saw that Patience’s colt was down, with
the yellow slime bubbling up from his throat.

In that moment my despair was replaced with a burning anger. “No!”

I shouted. “I will not let you die also. ” I ran to the foal’s side
and shouted to Habani to bring leather buckets of hot water. With a
linen cloth I bathed the colt’s throat in an attempt to reduce the
swelling, but it had no effect. The pus still poured from his
nostrils, and the hot skin of his neck stretched out as the flesh
ballooned like a bladder filling with air.

“He is dying. ” Habani shook his head. “Many will die. ” “I will not
let it happen, ” I swore grimly, and sent Hui to, the galley to fetch
my medicine chest.

By the time he returned, it was almost too late. The colt was in
extremism His breath was choking out of him and I could feel his
strength draining away under my frantic hands. I felt for the ridged
rings of his windpipe at the juncture of his throat and his chest.

With one shallow cut through the skin I exposed the white sinewy pipe,
and then I pressed the point of my scalpel into it and pierced the
tough sheath. Immediately air hissed through the aperture and I saw
the colt’s chest swell as his lungs inflated. He began to breathe
again to a steady and even rhythm, but I saw almost immediately that
the puncture-wound in his throat was closing again with blood and
mucus.

In frantic haste I hacked a length of bamboo from the framework of the
nearest chariot, and I cut a hollow tube from the end of it and pushed
this into the wound. The bamboo tube held the wound open and the colt
relaxed his struggles as the air sucked and blew unimpeded through
it.

“Hui!” I yelled for him. “I will show you how to save them. ” Before
night fell, I had trained a hundred or more of the charioteers and
grooms to perform this crude but effective surgery, and we worked on
through the night by the wavering, uncertain light of the oil lamps.

There were over thirteen thousand horses in the royal herds by this
time. We could not save them all, although we tried. We worked on,
with the blood from the severed throats caking black up to our elbows.
When exhaustion overcame us, we fell on a bale of hay and, slept for an
hour and then staggered up and went back to work.

Some of the horses were not as badly affected by this pestilence, which
I had named the Yellow Strangler. They seemed to have an in-born
resistance to its ravages. The discharge from their nostrils was no
more copious than I had seen in the gnu herds, and many of these
remained on their feet and threw off the disease within days.

Many others died before we were able to open the windpipe, and even
some of those, on which we had successfully operated, died later from
mortification and complication of the wound which we had inflicted. Of
course, many of our horses were out on expeditions into the plains and
beyond my help. Prince Memnon lost two out of every three of his
steeds and had to abandon his chariots and return to the Qebui rivers
on foot.

In the end we lost over half our horses, seven thousand dead, and those
that survived were so weakened and cast down that it was many months
before they were strong and fit enough to pull a chariot.

Patience’s colt survived and replaced his old dam in my affections. He
took the right hand trace in my chariot, and was so strong and reliable
that I called him Rock.

“How has this pestilence affected our hopes of a swift return to
Egypt?” my mistress asked me.

“It has set us back many years, ” I told her, and saw the pain in her
eyes. “We lost most of our best-trained old horses, those like
Patience. We will have to breed up the royal herds all over again, and
train young horses to take their places in the traces of the chariots.
” I waited for the annual migration of the gnu the following year with
dread, but when it came and their multitudes once” more darkened the
plains, Habani was proved correct. Only a few of our horses developed
the symptoms of the Yellow Strangler, and these in a mild form that set
them back for only a few weeks before they were strong enough to work
again-.

What struck me as strange was that the foals born in the period after
the first infection of the Yellow Strangler, those who had never been
exposed to the actual disease, were as immune, as their dams who had
contracted a full dose. It was as though the immunity had been
transferred to them. in the milk that they sucked from their mother’s
udder. I was certain that we would never again have to experience the
full force of the plague.

MY MAJOR DUTY NOW, LAID UPON ME BY “my mistress, was the construction
of Pharaoh’s tomb in the mountains. I was obliged to spend much of my
time in that wild and forbidding place, and I became fascinated by
those mountains and all their moods.

Like a beautiful woman, the mountains were unpredictable, sometimes
remote and hidden in dense moving veils of clouds that were shot
through with lightning and riven with thunder. At other times they
were lovely and seductive, beckoning to me, challenging me to discover
all their secrets and experience all their dangerous delights.

Although I had eight thousand slaves to prosecute the task, and the
unstinted assistance of all our finest craftsmen and artists, the work
on the tomb went slowly. I knew it would take many years to complete
the elaborate mausoleum which my mistress insisted we must build, and
to decorate it in a fashion fit for the Lord of the Two Kingdoms.

In truth there was no point in hurrying the work, for it would take as
long to rebuild the royal horse herds and train the Shilluk infantry
regiments until they were a match for the Hyksos squadrons against
which they would one day be matched.

When I was not up in the mountains working at the tomb, I spent my time
at Qebui, where there were myriad different tasks and pleasures
awaiting me. These ranged from the education of my two little
princesses to devising new military tactics with Lord tonus and the
prince.

By this time it was clear that, whereas Memnon would one day command
all the chariot divisions, tonus had never outgrown his first distrust
of the horse. He was a sailor and an infantryman to the bone, and as
he grew older, he was ever more conservative and traditional in his use
of his new Shilluk regiments.

The prince was growing into a dashing and innovative charioteer.

Each day he came to me with a dozen new ideas, some of them farfetched,
but others quite brilliant. We tried them all, even the ones that I
knew were impossible. He was sixteen years old when Queen Lostris
promoted him to the rank of Best of Ten Thousand.

Now that tonus rode with me so seldom, I slowly took over the role of
Memnon’s principal driver. We developed a rapport which became almost
instinctive, and which extended to our favourite team of horses” Rock
and Chain.

When we were on the march, Memnon still liked to drive, and I stood on
the foot plate behind him. However, as soon, as we engaged in action,
he would toss me the reins and seize his bow or his javelins from the
rack. I would take the chariot into the fray and steer it through the
evolutions we had dreamed up together.

As Memnon matured and his strength increased, we began to win some of
the prizes at the games and the military tattoos that were a feature of
our lives at Qebui. First, we triumphed in the flat races where our
team of Rock and Chain could display its paces to the full; then we
began to win the shooting and javelin contests. Soon we were known as
the chariot that had to be beaten before anyone could claim the
champion’s ribbon from Queen Lostris.

I remember the cheers as our chariot flew through the final gate of the
course, myself at the traces and Memnon on the foot plate hurling a
javelin right and left into the two straw-filled dummies as we passed,
then the mad dash down the straight, with the prince howling like a
demon and the long wind-blown plait of his hair standing, out behind
his head, like the tail of a charging lion.

Soon there were other encounters in which the prince began to
distinguish himself, and those without any assistance from me.

Whenever he strode past the young girls, with the Gold of Valour
gleaming on his chest and the champion’s ribbon knotted into his plait,
they giggled and blushed and slanted their eyes in his direction. Once
I entered his tent in haste with some important news for him, only to
come up short as I found my prince well mounted and oblivious to all
but the tender young body and the pretty face beneath him. I withdrew
silently, a little saddened that the age of his innocence was past.

Of all these pleasures, none for me could compare with those precious
hours that I was still able to spend with my mistress. In this her
thirty-third year she was in the very high summer of her beauty. Her
allure was enhanced by her sophistication and her poise.

She had become a queen indeed, and a woman without peer.

All her people loved her, but none of them as much as I did. Not even
tonus was able to surpass me in my devotion to her. It was. my pride
that she still needed me so much, and relied upon me and my judgement
and my advice so trustingly. Notwithstanding the other blessings that
I had to adorn my existence, she would ever be the one great love of my
life.

I SHOULD’ HAVE BEEN CONTENTED AND

a replete, but there is a restlessness in my nature that $I == was
exacerbated by this new wanderlust that had come to plague me.

Whenever I paused from my labours at Pharaoh’s tomb, and looked up at
them, the mountains beckoned me. I began to make short excursions into
their lonely gorges, often alone but sometimes with Hui or some’ other
companion.

Hui was with me when I first saw the herds of wild ibex high above us
in the lofty crags of the mountain. They were of a species we had
never seen before. They stood twice as tall as the wild goats that we
knew from the Nile valley, and some of the old billy-goats carried such
a mass of curling horn that they seemed as monstrous as some fabulous
beast.

It was Hui who carried reports of these huge ibex back to the twin
rivers where the fleet lay at Qebui, and within the month, Lord tonus
arrived at the valley of the king’s tomb, with his bow over his
shoulder and Prince Memnon at his side. The prince was fast becoming
as ardent a huntsman as his father, and was every bit as eager for the
chase.

As for myself, I welcomed the chance to explore those fascinating
highlands in such company.

We had meant to venture only as far as the first line of peaks, but
when we climbed to their crest, we were presented with a vista that was
breathtaking. We saw other mountains against the sky that were shaped
like flat-topped :kanvils, and were the tawny colour of lions.

They dwarfed the peaks on which we stood and lured us onwards.

The Nile climbed in concert with us up through precipitous valleys and
dark gorges that churned “its waters gleaming white. We could not
always follow its course but in places were forced to climb above it
and follow the goat-tracks across the face of a frowning mountain.

Then, when we had been lured deep into its maw, the mountain loosed its
full fury upon us.

We were one hundred men in our company, with ten pack-horses to carry
our provisions. We were camped in the depths of one of these
fathomless gorges, with the fresh trophies of tonus” and Memnon’s
latest hunt laid out upon the rocky floor for our appraisal and
admiration. These were two goat’s heads, the largest we had seen in
all our travels, so heavy in horn that it took two slaves to lift one
of them.

Suddenly it began to rain.

In our Egyptian valley it may rain once in twenty years.

None of us had ever imagined anything even remotely like the rain that
fell upon us now.

First, dense black clouds roofed over the narrow strip of sky that
showed between the cliffs that walled us in, so that we were plunged
from sunny noon into deep twilight. A cold wind raced down the valley
and chilled our bodies and our spirits. We huddled together in
dismay.

Then lightning lanced from the sombre belly of the clouds and shattered
the rocks around us, filling the air with the smell of sulphur and
sparks struck from flint. Thunder burst upon us, magnified as it
rolled from cliff to cliff, and the earth jumped and trembled beneath
our feet.

Then the rain fell. It did not come down upon. us in the form of
drops. It was as though we stood under one of the cataracts of the
Nile when the river was in full flood. There was no longer air to
breathe, water filled our mouths and our nostrils so that we felt that
we were drowning. The rain was so thick that we could see only the
blurred outline of the man who stood “an arm’s-length away.

It battered us so that we were thrown down and cringed beneath the
nearest rock for shelter. Still it assaulted all the senses and stung
our exposed skin like a swarm of angry hornets.

It was cold. I had never known such cold, and we were covered only
with our thin -linen shawls. The cold sucked the force out of my
limbs, and we shivered until our teeth clattered together in our
mouths, and we could not still them even though we bit down with all
the strength of our jaws.

Then, above the sound of the falling rain, I heard a new sound.

It was the sound of water which had become a ravening monster.

Down the narrow valley where we lay swept a wall of grey water.

It stretched from cliff to cliff, and carried everything before it.

I was caught up in. it and tumbled end over end. I felt life being
beaten out of me as I was thrown against the rocks, and icy water
filled my throat. Darkness overwhelmed me, and I thought that I was
dead.

I have a vague recollection of hands dragging me from the flood, and
there I was wafted away to some dark and distant shore. The voice of
my prince called me back. Before I could open my eyes I smelled
wood-smoke, and felt the warmth of the flames on one side of my body.

“Tota, wake up! Speak to me. ” The voice was insistent, . and I
opened my eyes. Memmon’s face floated before me, and he smiled at me.
Then he called over his shoulder, “He is awake, Lord tonus. ” I found
that we were in a rock cave and that outside, the night had fallen.
tonus came across from the smoky fire of damp wood and squatted beside
the prince.

“How are you, old friend? I don’t think you have broken any bones. ”
I struggled into a sitting position, and gingerly tested every part of
my body before I replied, “My head is cracked through, and every limb
aches. Apart from that-, I am cold and hungry. ” “You will live then,
” tonus chuckled, “though a while ago I doubted any of us would. We
have to get out of these cursed mountains before something worse
happens. It was madness ever to venture into a place where the rivers
come out of the sky. ” “What about the others?” I asked. tonus shook
his head. “They are all drowned. You were the only one that we were
able to drag from the flood. ” “What about the horses?”

“Gone, ” he grunted. “All gone.

“Food?” “Nothing, ” tonus replied. “Even my bow is lost in the river.
I have only the sword at my side and the clothes on my body. ” At DAWN
WE LEft OUR ROCK SHELTER and started back down that treacherous valley.
At the foot of the gorge we found the bodies of some of our men “and
the horses strewn upon the rocks where they had been stranded when the
flood receded.

We scavenged amongst the rocks and scree, and we managed to recover
some of our stores and equipment. To my great joy I found my medicine
chest still intact, though flooded with water. I laid out the contents
on a rock, and while they dried, I fashioned a sling from a leather
harness to carry the chest upon my back. in the meantime, Memnon had
cut strips of meat from the carcass of one of the horses and grilled
them over another fire of driftwood.

When we had eaten our fill, we saved the rest of the meat, and set out
on the return.

The journey slowly descended into nightmare as we scaled steep rocky
slopes and dropped into the gorges beyond. There seemed to be no end
to this terrible wilderness, and our bruised feet in open sandals
protested each step. At night we shivered miserably around a smoky
little fire of driftwood.

By the second day we all knew that we had lost the way, and that we
were wandering aimlessly. I was certain that we were doomed to die in
these terrible mountains. Then we heard the river and, as we topped
the next saddle between peaks, we found the infant Nile winding through
the depths of the gorge below us” That was not all. On the banks of
the river we saw a collection of coloured. tents, and amongst them
moved the shapes of men.

“Civilized men, ” I said immediately, “for those tents must be of woven
cloth.

“And those are horses, ” Memnon agreed eagerly, pointing out the
animals tethered on the lines beyond the encampment.

“There!”tonus pointed. “That was the flash of sunlight off a
sword-blade or a spear-head. They are metal-workers. ” “We must find
out who these people are. “-I was fascinated by what tribe could live
in such an inhospitable land.

“We will get our throats cut, ” tonus growled. “What makes you believe
these mountaineers are not as savage as the land in which they live?”
Only later would we come to know these people as Ethiopians.

“Those are magnificent horses, ” Memnon whispered. “Our own are not so
tall, or so sturdy -We must go down and study them. ” The prince was a
horseman above all else.

“Lord tonus is right. ” His warning had aroused my usual prudent
nature, and I was ready to counsel caution. “These might be
dangerous-savages, with but the trappings of civilized men. ” We sat
upon the shoulder of the mountain and debated for a while longer, but
in the end curiosity got the better of all three of us and we crept
down through one of the ravines to spy upon these strangers.

As we drew closer, we saw that they were tall, well-built people,
probably more robust in stature than we Egyptians are. Their hair was
thick and dark and curled profusely. The men were bearded, and we are
clean-shaven. They wore full length robes, probably woven of wool, and
brightly coloured. We go bare-chested and our kilts are usually pure
white in colour.. They wore soft leather boots, as opposed to our
sandals, and a bright cloth wound around their heads.

The women we saw working amongst the tents were unveiled and cheerful.
They sang and called to each other in a language I had never heard
before, but their voices were melodious as they drew water, or squatted
over the cooking fires or ground corn on the millstones. one group of
men was playing a board-game that, from where I hid, looked very much
like boo. They were wagering and arguing over the play of the stones.
At one stage, two of them leapt to their feet and drew curved daggers
from their belts. They confronted each other snarling and hissing,
like a pair of angry torn-cats.

At that stage a third man, who had been sitting alone, rose to his feet
and stretched, like a lazy leopard. He sauntered across and, with his
sword, knocked up the daggers.

Immediately the two protagonists subsided and stunk away.

The peace-maker was clearly the chief of the party. He was a tall man,
with the wiry frame of a mountain goat. He was goat-like in other
ways. His beard was as long and thick as that of an ibex ram, and his
features were coarse and goaty; he had a heavy, hooked nose and a wide
mouth with a cruel slant to it. I thought that he probably stank like
one of the old rams that tonus had shot from the cliff-face.

Suddenly I felt tonus gnip my arm, and he whispered in my ear, “Look at
that!” This chieftain wore the richest apparel of any of them.

His robe was striped in scarlet and blue and his earrings were stones
that glowed like the full moon. But I could not see what had excited
tonus.

“His sword, ” tonus hissed. “Look at his sword. ” I studied it for
the first time. It was longer than one of our weapons and the pommel
was obviously of pure gold filigree-work, of a delicacy that I had
never seen before. The hand-guard was studded with precious stones.

It was a masterpiece that clearly had occupied some master craftsman
his lifetime.

This was not what had captured tonus” attention, however. It was the
blade. As long as the chief’s own arm, it was made of a metal that was
neither yellow bronze nor red copper. In colour it was a strange
silvery glittering blue, like the living scales of a Nile perch taken
fresh from the river.

It was inlaid with gold, as if to highlight its unique value.

“What is it?” tonus breathed. “What metal is that?” “I do not know.
” The chief resumed his seat in front of his tent, but now he laid the
sword across his lap, and, with a phallus-shaped piece of volcanic
rock, began lovingly to stroke the edge of the blade. The metal
emitted a ringing thrill of sound to each touch of the stone. No
bronze ever resounded like that. It was the purr of a resting lion.

“I want it, ” tonus whispered. “I will never rest until- I have that
sword. ” I gave him a startled glance, for I had never heard such a
tone in his voice. I saw that he meant what he said. He was a man
struck with a sudden overpowering passion.

“We cannot remain here longer, ” I told him softly. “We will be
discovered. ” I took his arm, but he resisted. He was staring at the
weapon.

“Let us go to look at their horses, ” I insisted, and at last he
allowed me to draw him away. I led Memnon by the other hand. At a
safe distance we circled the camp, and” crept back towards the
horse-lines.

When I saw the horses close up, I was struck with a passion as. fierce
as tonus had conceived for the blue sword. These were a different
breed from our Hyksos horses. They were taller and more elegantly
proportioned.

Their heads were noble and their nostrils wider. I knew those nostrils
were the mark of stamina and good wind.

Their eyes were situated-further forward in the skull and were more
prominent than those of our animals. They were great soft eyes,
shining with intelligence.

“They are so eautiful, ” whispered Memnon at my side.

“Look at the way they hold their heads and arch their necks. ” tonus
longed for the sword, we coveted the horses with a passion that
equalled his.

“Just one stallion like that to put to our mares, ” I pleaded to any
god who was listening. “I would exchange my hope of eternal life for a
single one. ” One of the foreign grooms glanced in our direction, then
said something to the fellow beside him and began to walk in our
direction. This time I had no need to insist, and all three of us
ducked down behind the boulder that sheltered us and crawled away. We
found- a secure hiding-place further down-river, amongst a tumbled heap
of boulders, and immediately launched into one of those discussions in
which all spoke together and none listened.

“I will go in and offer him a thousand de ben of gold, ” tonus swore,
“I must have that sword. ” “He would kill you first. Did you not see
him stroke it as though it was his first-born son?” “Those horses!”
marvelled Memnon. “I never dreamed of such beauty. Horus must have
beasts like that to draw his chariot. ” “Did you see those two fly at
each other?” I cautioned.

“They are savage men, and bloodthirsty. They would rip out your guts
before you opened your mouth to utter a word.

Besides. what do you have to offer in return? They will see we are
destitute beggars. ” “We could steal three of their stallions tonight
and ride them down on to the plain, ? Memnon suggested, and though the
idea had appeal, I told him sternly, “You are the crown prince of
Egypt, not a common thief. ” He grinned at me. “For one of those
horses, I would cut throats like the worst footpad in Thebes. ” As we
debated. thus, we were suddenly aware of the sound of voices
approaching along the river-bank from the direction of the foreign
camp. We looked about for better concealment and hid away.

The voices drew closer. A party of women came into view and they
stopped below us at the water’s edge. There were three older women,
and a girl. The women wore robes of a drab hue, and cloths of black
around their hair. I thought that they were servants or nursemaids.
It did not occur to me then that they were gaolers, for they treated
the girl with unusual deference.

The girl was tall and slim, so that when she walked, she moved like a
papyrus stern in the Nile breeze. She wore a short robe of rich wool,
striped in yellow and sky blue, art boots of which left her knees
bared. Though she wore soft stitched leather, I could see that her
legs were lithe and smooth.

The women stopped below our hiding-place, and one of the older Women
began to disrobe the girl. The other two filled the clay jars that
they had carried down on their heads with water from the Nile.

The river was still swollen with A, flood-water. No one could safely
enter that icy torrent. It was clear that they intended bathing the
girl from the jars.

One of the women lifted the girl’s robe over her head and she stood
naked at the water’s edge. I heard Memnon gasp.

I looked at him and saw that he had forgotten entirely about stealing
horses.

While two of the women poured the water from the jars over the girl,
the third woman wiped her down with a folded cloth. The girl held her
hands above her head and circled slowly to allow them to wet every part
of her body. She laughed and squealed at the cold, and I saw tiny
goosebumps rise around her nipples, which were the rich ruby of
polished garnets, mounted like jewels on the peak of each smooth, round
breast.

Her hair was a dark bush of tight curls, her skin was the colour of the
heart-wood of the acacia, when it has been buffed and oiled to a high
patina. It was a rich, ruddy brown, that glowed in the high sunlight
of the mountains.

Her features were delicate, her nose narrow and chiselled.

Her lips were soft and full, but without any thickness. Her eyes were
large and dark, slanted above high cheek-bones.

Her lashes were so thick that they tangled together. She was
beautiful. I have only known one other- woman who was more so.

Suddenly she said something to the women with her.

They stood aside, and she left them and climbed on those long naked
legs towards us. But before she reached our hiding-place, she stepped
behind a boulder that shielded her from her companions, but left her
full in our view. She glanced around quickly, but did not see us. The
cold water must have affected her, for she squatted quickly and her own
water tinkled on the rock beneath her.

Memnon groaned softly. It was instinctive, not intentional, a sound of
longing so intense as to have become agony. The girl sprang to her
feet and stared directly at him. Memnon was standing a little to one
side of tonus and me.

While we were concealed, he was full in her view.

The two of them stared at each other. The girl was trembling, her dark
eyes enormous. I expected her to run or scream. Instead, she looked
back over her shoulder in a conspiratorial gesture, as if to make
certain that the women had not followed her, Then she turned back to
Memnon and, in a soft sweet voice, asked a question, at the same time
holding out her hand to him in a gesture of appeal.

“I do not understand, ” Memnon whispered, and spread his own hands in a
gesture of incomprehension.

The girl stepped up to him and repeated the question impatiently, and
when Memnon shook his head, she seized his hand and shook it. In her
agitation, her voice rose as she demanded something of him.

“Masora!” One of her attendants had heard her. “Masora!” It was
obviously the girl’s name, for she made a gesture of silence and
caution to Memnon and turned to go back.

However, the three women had all started up the slope after Masora.
They were chattering with alarm and agitation, and they came round the,
side of the boulder in a pack and stopped when they saw Memnon.

For a moment nobody moved, and then all three women screamed in unison.
The naked girl seemed poised to run to Memnon’s side, but as she
started forward, two of the women seized her; all four of them were
screaming now, as the girl struggled to be free.

“Time to go home, ” tonus jerked my arm, and I was after him in a
bound.

From the direction of the camp came the shouts of many men aroused by
the screams of the women. When I paused to look back, I saw them
coming over the -ridge in a body.

I saw also that Memnon had not followed us, but had leaped forward to
the girl’s assistance.

They were all big women and held the girl hard, redoubling their
screams. Although Masora was trying desperately to pull free, Memnon
could not get her away from them. “tonus!” I yelled. “Memnon is in
trouble. ” We turned back and between us grabbed him and hauled him
away. He came reluctantly. “I will come back for you, ” he shouted to
the girl, looking back over his shoulder as we ran with him between us.
“Be brave. I will come back for you. ” When somebody tells me
nowadays that there is no such thing as love at first sight, I smile
quietly to myself and think of the day that Memnon first saw Masora.

We had lost time in the struggle to get Merrmon away, and our pursuers
were already pressing us hard as we took to one of the goat-tracks and
ran for the crest of the slope.

An arrow flitted, past Memnon’s shoulder and clattered against the
rocks beside the path. It spurred us to greater speed.

We were in single file along the narrow path. Memnon led us and tonus
followed him. I was last in the file, and, burdened by the heavy
medicine chest on my back, I began to fall further behind. Another
arrow passed over our heads, and then the third struck the pack on my
back with a force that made me stagger. But the chest stopped the
arrow that would otherwise have transfixed my body.

“Come on, Taita, ” tonus shouted back at me. “Throw off that cursed
box of yours, or they will have you. ” He and Memnon were fifty paces
ahead of me and drawing away, but I could not discard my precious
chest. At that moment the next arrow struck, and this time I was not
so fortunate. It hit me in the leg, in the fleshy part of the thigh,
and I went tumbling across the path and fell hard.

I rolled into a sitting position and looked with horror at the reed
shaft of the arrow that protruded from my leg Then I looked back at our
pursuers. The bearded chieftain in the striped robe led them, and he
had outdistanced his own men by a hundred paces. He was coming up the
track in a series of great elastic bounds, covering the ground as
swiftly as one of the ibex rams that he resembled in so many other
ways.

“Taita!” tonus called back at me. “Are you all right?” He had paused
on the brow of the slope, and was looking back anxiously.

Memnon had crossed over and was out of sight.

“I am arrowed!” I yelled back. “Go on and leave me. I cannot follow.
” Without a moment’s hesitation, tonus turned back, and came leaping
down towards where I lay. The Ethiopian chieftain saw him coming and
bellowed a challenge. He drew the glittering blue sword and brandished
it as he came on up the hillside. tonus reached the spot where I sat,
and tried to lift me to my feet. “It’s no use. I am hard hit. Save
yourself, ” I told him, but the Ethiopian was almost upon us. tonus
dropped my arm, and drew his own sword.

The two of them came together, going for each other in a murderous
rush. I was not in any doubt as to the outcome of this duel, for tonus
was the strongest and most skilled swordsman in all Egypt. When he
killed the Ethiopian, we would all be doomed, for we could expect no
mercy from his henchmen.

The Ethiopian swung first with a full-blooded overhand cut at tonus”
head. It was an imprudent stroke to aim at a words man of his
opponent’s calibre. I knew that tonus’s” response would be a parry in
the line of the head and a natural riposte, with all the momentum of
his shoulder behind it, that would drive the point through the
chieftain’s beard and into his throat. It was one of tonus” favourite
strokes.

The two blades met, but there was no ringing clash ” The blue blade
hacked clean through tonus” yellow bronze, as though it were a wand of
green willow. tonus was left with the hilt in his hand and a
finger’s-length remaining from that once long and deadly bronze blade.
tonus was stunned by the ease with which the Ethiopian had disarmed
him, and he was slow to defend himself from the next stroke that
followed like a thunderbolt. He leaped backwards just in time, but the
blue point opened a long, shallow cut across the bulging muscles of his
naked chest, and the blood came swiftly.

“Run, tonus!” I screamed. “Or he will kill us both. ” The Ethiopian
went for him again, but I was lying in the middle of the narrow path.
He was forced to leap over me to get at tonus. I seized him around the
knees with both arms, and brought him down on top of me in a snarling,
thrashing heap.

The Ethiopian was trying to drive the point of the blue sword into my
belly, as I lay under him, and I twisted so violently aside that both
of us rolled off the path and began to slide away down the steep slope
of loose scree. As we rolled more swiftly, gathering momentum, I had
one last glimpse of tonus peering down over the edge of the path, and I
screamed in a despairing wail, “Run! Take care of Memnon!” The shale
and loose scree were as treacherous as swamp quicksands, and gave no
anchor or purchase. The Ethiopian and I were flung apart, but both of
-us were carried to the edge of the torrent. I was battered and
hammered to the edge of consciousness, and lay-there groaning until
rough hands dragged me to my feet, and blows and harsh curses rained
upon my head.

The chieftain stopped them from killing me and throwing my body into
the river. He was covered with dust, as I was, and his robe was torn
and filthy from the fall, but the blue sword was still gripped in his
right fist and he snarled at his men. They began to drag me away
towards the encampment, . but I looked around me desperately and saw
my medicine chest amongst the rocks. The leather harness had snapped,
and it had come off my back. ring that, I ordered my captors with as
much force and dignity as I could muster, and pointed to the chest.
They laughed at my insolence, but the chieftain sent one of his men to
retrieve it.

Two men were obliged to support me, for the shaft in my thigh was
beginning to cause me crippling pain. Every pace back to the camp was
agony, and when they reached it, they threw me roughly to the ground in
the open space in the Centre of- the ring of tents.

Then they argued long and fiercely It was obvious that they were
puzzling over my origins and my motives, and trying to decide what they
should do with me. Every once in a while, one of them would stand over
me and kick me in the ribs, while he shouted questions at me. I lay as
quietly as I could, so as not to provoke further violence.

There was a distraction when the party that had pursued tonus and
Memnon returned empty-handed. There was more shouting and arm-waving
as bitter recriminations and insults were exchanged. I was cheered by
the thought that the two of them had got clean away.

After a while my captors remembered me, and they came back to vent
their frustration on me with more kicks and blows. In the end their
chieftain called them off, and ordered them not to torment me
further.

After that, most of them lost interest in me and wandered away. I was
left lying on the bare ground, covered with dirt and bruises, with the
arrow still lodged in my flesh.

The Ethiopian chieftain resumed his seat in front of the largest tent,
which was clearly his own, and while he -stropped the edge of his
sword, he regarded me with a steady but inscrutable expression.

Occasionally he exchanged a few low words with one of his men, but it
seemed that my immediate danger was past.

I judged my moment carefully, and then addressed him directly. I
pointed to my medicine chest, which had been thrown against one of the
tents, and I made my voice mild and placatory. “I need my chest. I
must tend this wound. ” Although the chieftain did not understand the
words, he understood my gestures. He ordered one of his men to bring
the chest across to him. He made them set it down in front of him and
opened the lid. He unpacked the chest methodically, examining each
separate item. Anything that particularly caught his attention he held
up, and asked a question to which I tried to give an answer with
signs.

He seemed satisfied that, apart from scalpels, the chest did not
contain a dangerous weapon. I am not sure if he realized at this stage
that these were medical items. However, with signs I showed him what I
needed to do, pointing to my leg and making a pantomime of pulling the
arrow. He stood over me with the sword in his hand, and made it clear
that he would lop off my head at the first sign of treachery, but he
allowed me to use my instruments.

The arrow had entered at an angle and position which made it awkward
for me to reach. In addition to this, the pain that I inflicted upon
myself, as I used the Taita spoons to trap and mask the barbs that were
buried deep in my flesh, brought me more than once to the point of
fainting away.

I was panting and drenched in sheets of sweat when at last I was ready
to draw the arrow-head. By this time I had an audience of half the men
in camp. They had returned to crowd around me and watch my surgery
with garrulous interest.

I took a firm hold on the handles of the spoons, placed a wooden wedge
between my teeth and bit down on it hard, and drew the clamped
arrow-head out of the wound. There were shouts of wonder and amazement
from my audience.

Obviously none of them had ever seen a barb drawn with such ease and
with so little damage to the victim. They were impressed even further
when they watched the skill and dexterity with which I laid on the
linen bandages.

In any nation and in any culture, even the most primitive, the healer
and the physician have a special place of honour and esteem. I had
demonstrated my credentials in the most convincing manner, and my
status in the Ethiopian camp was drastically altered.

At the orders of the chief, I was carried to one of the tents and laid
on a straw mattress. My medicine chest was placed at the head of my
bed, and one of the women brought me a meal of corn-bread and chicken
stew and thick sour milk.

In the morning, when the tents were struck, I was placed in a
pole-litter behind one of the horses in the long caravan, and pulled
along the rough and precipitous tracks. To my dismay, I saw from the
angle of the sun that we were headed back into the vastness of the
mountains, and I feared that I was lost to my own people, probably for
all time. The fact that I was a physician had probably saved my life,
but it had also placed such value on me that I would never be turned
free. I knew that I was now a slave in more than name alone.

DESPITE THE JOLTING OF THE LITTER, MY “injured leg began to heal
cleanly. This further impressed my captors, and soon they were
bringing to me any member of the band who was sick or injured.

I cured a ringworm and lanced a whitlow under a thumbnail. I sewed
together a man who had won too much gambling with his quick-tempered
friends. These Ethiopians had a penchant for settling arguments with
the dagger. When one of the horses threw its rider down a gulley, I
set his broken arm. It knitted straight, and my reputation was
enhanced. The Ethiopian chieftain looked at me with a new respect, and
I was offered the food-bowl after he had made his selection of the
choice cuts, before any of the other men were allowed to eat.

When my leg had healed sufficiently for me to walk again, I was given
the run of the camp. However, I was not allowed out of sight.

An armed man followed me and stood over me, even when I was on the most
private and intimate business amongst the rocks.

I was kept away from Masora and only saw her from afar at the start of
each day’s journey, and again when we camped for the night. During the
long day’s ride through the mountains we were separated; I rode near
the head of the caravan, while she was brought along at the rear. She
was always accompanied by her female gaolers, and usually surrounded by
armed guards.

Whenever we did catch sight of each other, Masora cast the most
desperate and appealing looks at me, as though I would be able to help
her in some way. It was obvious that she was a prisoner of rank and of
importance. She was such a lovely young woman that I often found
myself thinking of her during the day, and trying to fathom the reason
for her captivity. I decided she was either an unwilling bride, being
taken to meet her future husband, or that she was a pawn in some
political intrigue.

Without a knowledge of the language I could not hope to understand what
was taking place, or to learn anything about these Ethiopians. I set
out to learn the Geez tongue.

I have the ear of a musician, and I played my tricks upon them. I
listened attentively to all the chatter around me, and picked up the
cadence and the rhythm of their speech. Very early on, I was able to
deduce that the chieftain’s name was Arkoun. One morning, before the
caravan set out, Arkoun was giving orders for the day’s march to his
assembled men. I waited until he had delivered a long and heated
harangue, and then I repeated it in precisely the same tone and
cadence.

They listened to me in stunned silence and then burst into uproar.

They roared with laughter and beat each other on the back, tears of
mirth streamed down their cheeks, for they had a direct and
uncomplicated sense of humour. I had not the least idea what I had
said, but it was obvious that I had got it exactly right.

They shouted excerpts from my speech at each other, and wagged their
heads, mimicking Arkoun’s pompous manner. it took a long time for
order to be restored, but at last Arkoun strutted up to me and shouted
an accusatory question at me. I did not understand a word of it, but I
shouted, the question back at him, word for exact word.

This time there was pandemonium. The joke of it was too rich to be
borne. Grown men clung to each other for support, they screamed and
wiped their streaming eyes. One of them fell into the fire and singed
his beard.

Even though the joke was on him, Arkoun laughed along with them and
patted me on the back. From then onwards, every man and woman in the
camp was my teacher. I had only to point at any object and the Geez
word for it was shouted at me. When I began to string those words into
sentences, they corrected me eagerly, and were inordinately proud of my
progress.

It took me some time to fathom the grammar. The verbs were declined in
a manner which had no relationship to Egyptian, and the gender and
plurals of the nouns were strange. However, within ten days I was
speaking intelligible Geez, and had even built up a good selection of
choice curses and invective.

While I learned the language and treated their ailments, I studied
their mores and manners. I learned that they were inveterate gamblers,
and that the board-game that they played endlessly was a passion. They
called it dam, but it was a simplified and rudimentary form of boo.

The number of cups in the board and the quantity of stones brought into
play varied from boo. However, all the objects and the principles were
similar.

Arkoun himself was the dam champion of the band, but as I studied his
play, I saw that he had no inkling of the classic rule of seven stones.
Nor did he understand the protocol of the four bulls. Without a
thorough knowledge of these, no boo player could aspire to beat even
the lowly third grade of masters. I debated with myself the risk that
I would run in humiliating such a vain and overbearing tyrant as
Arkoun, but in the end I decided that it was the only way to gain
ascendancy over him.

The next time he sat in front of his tent and set up the board,
smirking and twirling his moustaches as he waited for a challenger to
step forward, I elbowed aside the first aspirant and settled myself
cross-legged opposite Arkoun.

“I have no silver to wager, ” I told him in my still rudimentary Geez.
“I play for love of the stones. ” He nodded gravely. As an addict of
the board, he understood that sentiment. The news that I was taking
the board against Arkoun ran through the camp, and they all came
laughing and jostling to watch.

When I allowed Arkoun to lay three stones in the east castle they
nudged each other and chuckled with disappointment that the game would
be so swiftly lost. One more stone in the east, and the board was
his.

They did not understand the significance of the four bulls that I had
banked in the south. When I loosed my bulls, they strode invincibly
across the board, splitting his unsupported stones and isolating the
east castle. He was powerless to prevent it. Four moves and the board
was mine. I had not even been called upon to demonstrate the rule of
seven stones.

For some moments they all sat in shocked silence. I do not think that
Arkoun realized the extent of his defeat for a while. Then, when it
sank in upon him, he stood up and drew the terrible blue sword.

I thought that I had miscalculated, and that he was about to lop my
head, or at least an arm.

He lifted the sword high and then swung it down with a shout of fury.
With a dozen strokes he hacked the board to kindling and scattered the
stones about- the camp. Then he strode out into the rocks, tearing his
beard and shouting his death threats to the towering cliffs, that
hurled them onwards down the valleys in a series of diminishing
echoes.

It was three days before Arkoun set up. the board again, and gestured
to me to take my” seat opposite him. The poor fellow had no inkling of
what lay in store for him.

EACH DAY MY COMMAND OF THE GEEZ

language increased, and I was at last able to glean some understanding
of my captor and the reason for this long journey through the canyons
and gorges.

I had underrated Arkoun. He was not a chieftain but a king. His full
name was Arkoun Gannouchi Maryarn, Negusa Naghast, King of Kings and
ruler of the Ethiopic state of Aksum. It was only later that I learned
that in this land any mountain brigand with a hundred horses and fifty
wives was likely to set himself up as a king, and that at any one time
there might be as many as twenty Kings of Kings on the rampage for land
and loot.

Arkoun’s nearest neighbour was one Prester Beni-Jon, also claiming to
be King of Kings and ruler of the Ethiopic state of Aksum. There
appeared to be a certain amount of ill-feeling and rivalry between
these two monarchs. They had already fought a number of inconclusive
battles.

Masora was the favourite daughter of Prester Beni-Jon. e a een appe
oneo of ro ere tams, one of those who had not yet crowned himself, nor
taken the obligatory title of King of Kings. In a straightforward
trading arrangement, Masora had been sold to Arkoun for a horse-load of
silver bars. Arkoun intended using her to gain political ground from
her doting father. It seemed that hostage-taking and ransom were very
much a part of Ethiopian statesmanship.

Not trusting any of his own men with such a valuable commodity, Arkoun
had gone himself to take possession of Princess Masora. Our caravan
was carrying her back to Arkoun’s stronghold. I -gathered this and
other information from the gossipy women slaves who brought me my
meals, or in casual conversation over the dam board. By the time we
reached Ambo Kamara, the mountain fortress of King Arkoun Gannouchi
Maryam, I was an expert on the complicated and shifting politics of the
various Ethiopic states of Aksum, and the numerous claimants to the
throne of the empire.

I was aware of an increasing excitement running through our caravan as
we approached our journey’s end, and at last we climbed the narrow
winding pathway, no more than just another goat-track, to the summit of
yet another ambo. These am has were the massifs that made up the
mountain ranges of central Ethiopia. Each of them was a flat-topped
mountain with sheer sides that plunged like a wall into the valley that
divided it from the next mountain.

It was easy to see, when I stood at the top of the precipice, how the
land was fragmented into so many tiny kingdoms and principalities.

Each ambo was a natural and impregnable fortress. The man on top of it
was invincible, and might call himself a king without fear of being
challenged.

Arkoun rode up beside me and pointed to the mountains on the southern
sky-line. “That is the hiding-place of that horse-thief and scoundrel,
Prester Beni-Jon. He is a man of unsurpassed treachery. ” He hawked
in his throat. and spat over the edge of the cliff in the direction of
his rival.

I had come to know Arkoun as a man of not inconsiderable cruelty and
treachery himself. If he conceded Prester Beni-Jon as his master in
these fields, Masora’s father must be a formidable man indeed.

We crossed the tableland of the Ambo Kamara, passing through a few
villages of stone-walled hovels, and fields of sorghum and dhurra
corn.

The peasants in the fields were all tall, bushy-haired ruffians, armed
with swords and round copper shields. They appeared as fierce and
warlike as any of the men in our caravan.

At the far end of the ambo, the path led us to the most extraordinary
natural stronghold that I had ever seen. From the main table of the
mountain a buttress had eroded until it stood alone, a sheer pinnacle
of rock with precipitous sides, separated from the table by an
awe-inspiring abyss.

This gulf was bridged by a narrow causeway, a natural arch of stone,
that joined it to the tableland. It was so narrow that two horses
could not pass each other on the pathway, so narrow that once a horse
started out across the bridge, it could not turn round and return,
until it had reached the other side.

The drop under the causeway was a thousand feet, straight into the
river gorge below. It was so unnerving to the horses that the riders
were forced to dismount, blindfold them, and lead them over. When I
was halfway across, I found myself trembling with vertigo, and I dared
not peer over the edge of the pathway into the void. It required all
my self-control to keep walking, and not to throw myself flat and cling
to the rocks beneath my feet.

Perched on top of this pinnacle of rock was an ungainly, lopsided
castle of stone blocks and reed thatch. The open windows were covered
with curtains of rawhide, and the raw sewage and odious refuse running
from the fortress stained and littered the cliff beneath it.

Festooning the walls and battlements like pennants and decorations
celebrating some macabre festival, were the corpses of men and women.

Some had hung there so long that their bones had been picked white by
the flocks of crows that circled above the abyss or roosted squawking
upon the roofs. Other victims were still alive, and I watched their
feeble last movements with horror as they hung by their heels.

However, most of them were already dead and in various stages of
decomposition. The smell of rotting human carcasses was so thick that
even the wind that whined around the cliffs could not disperse it.

King Arkoun called the crows his chickens. Sometimes he fed them on
the walls, and at other times he threw their food from the causeway
into the gorge. The dwindling wail of another unfortunate victim
falling away into the depths as a feature of our life on the pinnacle
of Adbar Seged, the House of the Wind Song.

These executions and the daily floggings and chopping off of hands or
feet, or the pulling-out of tongues with red hot tongs were King
Arkoun’s principal diversions when he was not playing dam, or planning
a raid on one of the other neighbouring king of kings. Very often
Arkoun wielded the axe or the tongs in person, and his roars of
laughter were as loud as the screams of his victims.

As soon as our caravan had crossed the causeway and pulled into the
central courtyard of Adbar Seged, Masora was whisked away by her female
gaolers; into the labyrinth of stone passageways, and I was led to my
new quarters which abutted those of Arkoun.

I was allotted a single stone cell. It was dark and draughty.

The open fireplace blackened the walls with soot and gave out little
heat. Though I wore the woollen robes of the land, I was never warm in
Adbar Seged. How I longed for the sunlight on the Nile and the bright
oasis of my very Egypt! I sat on those wind-swept battlements and
pined for my family, for Memnon and tonus, for my little princesses,
but most of all for my mistress. Sometimes I woke in the morning with
the tears chilling my face, and I had to cover my head with my
sheepskin blanket, so that Arkoun would not hear my sobs through the
thick stone wall.

Often I pleaded with him to release me.

“But why do you want to leave me, Taita?” “I want to go back to my
family. ” “I am your family now, ” he laughed. “I am your father. ”
I made a wager with him. If I won a hundred successive boards of dam
from him, he agreed that he would let me go and give me an escort back
down the Nile to the great loins. When I won the hundredth game, he
chuckled andp shook his head at my naivety.

“Did I say a hundred? I think not. Surely it was a thousand?”

He turned to his henchmen. “Was the bargain a thousand?” A thousand!
“they chanted. “It was a thousand!” they all thought it a grand
joke.

When, in a pique I refused to play another board with Arkoun, he hung
me naked from the walls of the citadel by my heels until I squealed for
him to set up the board.

When Arkoun saw me naked, he laughed and prodded me. “You may have a
way with the dam board, but it seems you have lost your own stones,
Egyptian. ” This was the first time since my capture that my physical
mutilation had been revealed. Once again, men called me “eunuch’, much
to my shame and mortification.

However, in the end the consequences were beneficial. If I had been a
man entire, they would never have let me go to Masora.

THEY CAME FOR ME IN THE NIGHt AND led me shivering through the passages
to Masora” cell. The room was lit by a dim oil lamp and smelled of
vomit. The girl was curled on a straw mattress in the centre of the
floor, with her vomit puddled on the stone floor beside her. She was
in terrible pain, groaning and weeping and holding her stomach.

I set to work immediately, and examined her carefully. I was afraid
that I would find her stomach as hard as a stone, the symptom of the
swelling and bursting of the gut that would drench her insides with the
contents of her intestines.

There was no remedy for this condition. Not even I, with all my
skills, could save her, if this was her affliction.

To my great relief I found her stomach warm and soft.

There was no fever in her blood. I continued my examination, and
though she groaned and screamed with agony when I touched her, I could
not find any cause for her condition. I was puzzled and I sat back to
think about it. Then I realized that although her face was contorted
with agony, she was watching me with a candid gaze.

“This is worse than I feared. ” I turned to her two female attendants
and spoke in Geez. “If I am to save her, I must have my chest.

Fetch it immediately. ” They scrambled for the door, and I lowered my
head to hers and whispered, “You are a clever girl and a good
actress.

Did you tickle your throat with a feather?” She smiled up at me and
whispered back, “I could think of no other way to meet you. When the
women told me that you had learned to speak Geez, I knew that we could
help each other. ” “I hope that is possible. ” “I have been so
lonely.

Even to speak to a friend will be a joy to me. ” Her trust was so
spontaneous that I was touched. “Perhaps between us we will find a way
to escape from this dreadful place. ” At that moment we heard the
women returning, their voices echoing along the outside passage.
Masora seized my hand.

“You are my friend, aren’t you? You will come to me again?” “I am and
I will. ” “Quickly, . tell me before you must go. What was his
name?” “Who?

“The one who was with you on that first day beside the river, The one
who looks like a young god. ” “His name is Memnon. ” “Memnon!” She
repeated it with a peculiar reverence. “It is a beautiful name. It
suits him. ” The women burst into the room, and Masora clutched her
healthy little belly and groaned as though she were at the point of
death. While I clucked and shook my head with worry for the benefit of
her women, I mixed it tonic of herbs that would do her some good, and
told them that I would return in the morning.

In the morning Masora’s condition had improved, and I was able to spend
a little longer with her. Only one of the women was present, and she
soon became bored and wandered away to the far side of the room.

Masora and I exchanged a few quiet words.

“Memnon said something to me. I could not understand.

What was it he said?” “He said, “I will come back for you. Be brave.
I will come back for you. ” “He could not mean that. He does not know
me. He had met me only fleetingly. ” She shook her head, and tears
filled her eyes. “Do you think he meant it, Taita?” There was a
haunting plea in her tone that moved me, and I could not allow her to
suffer more than she had already.

“He is crown prince of Egypt, and a man of honour. Memnon would not
have said it unless he meant every word. ” That was all we could say
then, but I came back the next day. The very first thing she asked of
me was, “Tell me again what Memnon said to me, ” and I had to repeat
his promise.

I told Arkoun that Masora was improving in health, but that she must be
allowed out each day to walk on” the battlements. “Otherwise I cannot
answer for her health. ” He thought about that for a day.

However, Masora. was a valuable asset for which he had paid a
horse-load of silver bars, and at last he gave his permission.

Our daily exercise periods slowly extended, as the guards became
accustomed to seeing us together. In the end Masora and I were able to
spend most mornings in each other’s company, strolling around the walls
of Adbar Seged and talking endlessly.

Masora wanted to know everything that I had to tell about Memnon, and I
racked my memory for anecdotes about him to entertain her. She had
favourite stories which I was obliged to repeat until she knew them by
heart, and she corrected me when I erred in the retelling. She
particularly enjoyed the account of how he had rescued tonus and me
from the wounded bull elephant, and how he had received the Gold of
Valour for his deed.

“Tell me about his mother the queen, ” she demanded, and then, “Tell me
about Egypt. Tell me about your gods. Tell me about when Memnon was a
baby. ” Always her questions returned to him, and I was glad to
appease her demands, for I longed for my family. Speaking about them
made them One morning she came to me distraught. “Last night I had a
dreadful dream. I dreamed that Memnon came back to me, but I could-not
understand what he said to me. You must teach me to speak Egyptian,
Taita. We will start today, this very minute!” She was desperate to
learn and she was a clever little thing. It went very quickly. Soon
we were talking only Egyptian between ourselves, and it was useful to
be able to speak privately in front of her guards.

When we were not talking about Memnon, we were discussing our plans to
escape. Of course, I had been thinking of this ever since our arrival
at Adbar Seged, but it helped to have her thoughts on the same subject
to compare with my own.

“Even if you escape from this fortress, you will never pass through the
mountains without help, ” she warned me. “The paths are like a skein
of twisted wool. You will never unravel them. Every clan is at war
with the next. They trust no strangers, and they will cut your throat
as a spy. ” “What must we do, then?” I asked.

“If you are able to get away, you must go to my father.

He will protect you and guide you back to your own people.

You will tell Memnon where I am, and he will come to save me. ” She
said this with such shining confidence that I could not meet her
eyes.

I realized then that Masora had built up an image of Memnon in her mind
that was not based on reality. She was in love with a god, not a
stripling as young and untried as she was herself. I was responsible
for this, with my clever-stories about the prince. I could not wound
her now and shatter her hope by telling her how forlorn all these
imaginings truly were.

“If I go to Prester Beni-Jon, your father, he will think I am one of
Arkoun’s spies. He will have my head. ” I tried to extricate myself
from the responsibilities she had laid upon me.

“I will tell you what to say to him. Things that only he and ” I know.
That will prove to him that you come from me.

seem closer to me.

She had blocked me there, so I tried a different escape.

“How would I find my way to your father’s fortress? You have told me
that the path is a tangled skein. ” “I will explain the way to you.

Because you are so clever you will remember everything I tell you. ”
By this time, naturally, I loved her almost as much as I loved my own
little princesses. I would take any risk to shield her from hurt. She
reminded me so strongly of my mistress at the same age that I could
deny her nothing.

“Very well. Tell it to me. ” And so we began to plan our escape.

It was a game for me, which I played mostly to keep her hopes alive and
her spirits buoyant. I had no serious expectation of finding a way off
this pinnacle of rock.

We discussed ways of making a rope to lower ourselves down the cliff,
although every time I looked over the causeway from the terrace outside
her cell, I shuddered at that gaping void of space. She began to
collect scraps of wool and cloth which she hid under her mattress.

From these she planned to plait a rope. I could not tell her that a
rope long enough and strong enough to support our weight and take us
down to the floor of the valley would fill her cell to the ceiling.

For two long years we languished on the height of Adbar Seged, and we
never were able to devise a plan of escape, but Masora never lost
faith. Every day she asked me, “What did Memnon say to me? Tell me
again what he promised. ” “He said, “I will come back for you. Be
brave. ” “Yes. I am brave, am I not, Taita?” “You are the bravest
girl I know. ” “Tell me what you will say to my father when you meet
him. ” I repeated her instructions, and then she would reveal to me
her latest plan of escape.

“I will catch the little sparrows that I feed on the terrace.

You will write a letter to my father to tell him where I am.

We will tie it to the sparrow’s leg, and it will fly to him. ” “It is
more likely to fly to Arkoun, who will have us both thrashed, and we
will not be allowed to see each other again. ” In the end I escaped
from Adbar Seged by riding out on a fine horse. Arkoun was going out
on another raid against King Prester Beni-Jon. I was commanded to
accompany him- in the capacity of personal physician and dam player.

Z I walked my blindfolded horse across the causeway, I looked back and
saw Masora standing on her terrace looking down at me. She was a
lovely, lonely figure. She called to me in Egyptian. I could just
make out her words above the sough of the wind.

“Tell him I am waiting for him. Tell him I have been brave. ” And
then softly, so I was not certain that I had heard the words right,
“Tell him I love him. ” The wind turned the tears upon my cheeks as
cold as ice, as I rode away across Ambo Kamara.

THE NIGHt BEFORE THE BATTLE, ARKOUN a kept me sitting late in his tent.
While he gave his last orders to his commanders, he stropped the edge
of the blue sword. Once in a while he would shave a few hairs off his
wrist with the steely, glittering blade to test the edge, and nod with
satisfaction.

At last he rubbed down the blade with clarified mutton fat. This
strange, silver-blue metal had to be kept well greased, otherwise a red
powder would form upon it, almost as though it was breeding.

The blue sword had come to exert the satire fascination on me as it had
on tonus. Occasionally, when he was in a specially benevolent mood,
Arkoun would allow me to handle it. The weight of the metal was
surprising, and the sharpness of the edge was incredible. I imagined
what havoc it could wreak in the hands of a swordsman like tonus. I
knew that if we ever met again, tonus would want every detail of it,
and so I questioned Arkoun, who never tired of boasting about it.

He told me that the sword had been forged in the heart of a volcano by
one of the pagan gods of Ethiopia. Arkoun’s great-grandfather had won
it from the god in a game of dam, that had lasted for twenty days and
twenty nights. I found all this quite plausible, except the part of
the legend about winning the weapon in a dam game. If Arkoun’s great
grandfather had played dam at the same standard as Arkoun, then it must
have been a very stupid god who lost the sword to him.

Arkoun asked my opinion of his battle plan for the next day. He had
learned that I was a student of military tactics.

I told him his plan was brilliant. These Ethiopians had as much grasp
of military tactics as they had of the play of the dam stones.

Of course, the terrain would not allow full use of the horses, and they
had no chariots. Nevertheless, their battles were fought in a
haphazard and desultory manner.

Arkouns grand strategy for the morrow would be to split his forces into
four raiding parties. They would hide among the rocks and rush out,
seize a few hostages, slit a few throats, and then run for it.

“You are one of the great generals of history, ” I told Arkoun, “I
would like to write a scroll to extol your genius. ” He liked the
idea, and promised to provide me with whatever materials I required for
the project, as soon as we returned to Adbar Seged.

It seemed that King Prester Beni-Jon was a commander of equal panache
and vision. We met his forces the following day in a wide valley with
steep sides. The field had been mutually agreed upon some months in
advance, and Prester Beni-Jon had taken up his position at the head of
the vane before we arrived. He came forward to shout insults and
challenges at Arkoun from a safe distance.

Prester Beni-Jon was, a stick of a man, thin as a staff, with long
white -beard and silver locks down to his waist. I a could not make
out his features over that distance, but the women had told me that as
a young Man he had been the most handsome swam in Ethiopia and that he
had two hundred wives. Some women had killed themselves for love of
him. It seemed clear to me that his talents might be more gainfully
employed in the harem than on the battlefield. -Jon had had his say,
Arkoun went for Once Prester Beni ward and replied at length. His
insults were flowery and poetic, they rolled off the cliffs and echoed
down the gorge.

I committed some of his pithier remarks to memory, for they were worth
recording.

When Arkoun subsided at last, I expected that battle would be joined,
but I was mistaken. There were several other warriors on both sides
who wished to speak. I fell asleep against a rock in the warm sun,
smiling to myself as I imagined what sport tonus and a company of his
Blues would enjoy against these Ethiopian champions of rhetoric.

It was afternoon when I woke and started up at the clash of arms.

Arkoun had loosed his first assault. One of his detachments raced
forward against Prester Be Won’s positions, beating their swords
against their copper shields.

Within a remarkably short space of time they returned with great
alacrity to their starting-point, without having inflicted or suffered
casualties.

Further insults were exchanged, and then it was Prester Beni-Jon’s turn
to attack. He charged and retired with equal verve and similar
results. So the day passed, insult for insult, charge for charge. At
nightfall both armies retired. We camped at the foot of the valley and
Arkoun sent for me.

“What a battle!” he greeted me triumphantly, as I entered his tent.
“It will be many months before Prester Beni-Jon will dare take the
field again. ” “There will be no battle on the morrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow we will return to Adbar Seged, ” he told me, and you will
write a full count of my victory in your scrolls. I expect that after
this salutary defeat Prester BerliJon will soon sue for peace. ” Seven
of our men had been wounded in this ferocious encounter, all by arrows
fired at extreme range. I drew the barbs and dressed and bandaged the
wounds. The following day I saw the wounded loaded on to the litters
and walked beside them, as we started back.

One of the men had received a stomach wound and was in much pain.

I knew he would be dead from gangrene within the week, but I did my
best to ease his suffering and to cushion the bouncing of the litter
over the rougher sections of the track.

Late that afternoon we came to a ford in the river, one that we had
crossed on our way to give battle to Prester Beni-Jon. I had
recognized this ford from the description that Masora had given me of
the countryside and the route to her father’s stronghold. The river
was one of the numerous tributaries of the Nile that descended from the
mountains. There had been rain over the preceding days, and the level
of the ford was high.

I began the crossing, wading beside the litter of my patient with the
stomach wound. He was already delirious.

Halfway across the ford I realized that we had underestimated the
height and strength of the water. The flood caught the side of the
litter and swung it sideways. It twisted the horse around, dragging
the poor animal into deeper water where its hooves lost purchase on the
gravel bottom.

I was hanging on to the harness, and the next moment the horse and I
were both swimming. We were washed away downstream in the icy green
flood. The wounded man was turn out of the litter, and when I tried to
reach him, I lost my hold on the horse’s harness. We were swept
apart.

The wounded man’s head disappeared below the surface, but by this time
I was swimming for my own life. I rolled on to my back and pointed my
feet downstream. This way I was able to fend off the rocks with my
feet, as the current hurled me against them. For a short while some of
Arkoun’s men ran along the bank beside me, but soon the river swept me
through a bend and they could not find a way around the base of the
cliff. The horse and I were alone in the river.

Below the bend, the speed of the current slackened, and I was able to
swim back to the horse and throw one arm over its neck. For the moment
I was safe. For the first time I thought of escape, and realized that
the gods had made an opportunity for me. I muttered a prayer of
thanks, and used a handful of the horse’s mane to steer it on down the
middle of the river.

We had come downstream several miles and it was dark before I steered
my horse into the bank. We clambered ashore on a sand-bar. I judged
that I was safe from pursuit and recapture until morning. None of
Arkoun’s men would venture down the gorge in darkness. However, I was
so chilled that my whole body shivered in uncontrollable spasms.

I led the horse to a sheltered place out of the wind, and then pressed
my body to his flank. His wet hide steamed in the moonlight.

Gradually the warmth of the animal permeated me, and my shivering
subsided. Once I was half warmed I was able to gather up driftwood
from the sand-bank. Using the Shilluk method, I managed with much
difficulty to start a fire. I spread my robes out to dry, and crouched
over the fire for the rest of that night.

As soon as it was light enough to see the path, I dressed myself and
mounted the horse. I headed away from the river, for I knew that
Arkoun’s men would concentrate their search along the banks.

Two days later, following the directions that Masora had given me, I
reached one of the fortified hilltop villages in the domain of Prester
Beni-Jon. The headman of the village expressed the intention of
cutting my throat immediately and taking my horse. I made full use of
all my persuasive gifts, and eventually he agreed to keep the horse but
lead me to the fortress of Prester Beni-Jon.

THE GUIDES WHO WERE ESCORTING ME

Jal to King Prester Beni-Jon spoke of him in warm and affectionate
terms. The villages that we passed along the way were cleaner and more
prosperous than those of Arkoun. The herds of kine were fatter, the
crops well cultivated and the people better fed. The horses I saw were
magnificent. Their beauty brought tears to my eyes.

When at last we came in sight of the castle high on another ambo, it
was in a better state of repair than that of Arkoun, and no grisly
trophies decorated the walls.

From close at hand, King Prester Beni-Jon was indeed an extremely
handsome man. His silver hair and beard endowed him with a singular
air of dignity. His complexion was fair and his eyes dark and
intelligent. At first he was highly sceptical of my story, but
gradually his manner changed towards me, as I recited the intimate
knowledge with which Masora had armed me.

He was deeply affected by the messages of love and duty that I brought
to him from his daughter, and he questioned Me eagerly as to her health
and welfare. Then his servants led me to quarters that, by Ethiopian
standards, were sumptuous, and I was provided with fresh woollen robes
to replace my rags.

After I had eaten and rested, the servants led me back to the dank and
smoky cell that was Prester Beni-Jon’s audience chamber.

“Your Majesty, Masora has been a prisoner of Arkoun these past two
years, ” I pointed out to him immediately. “She is a young and tender
girl. She pines away in his stinking dungeons. ” I embroidered the
facts a trifle, to bring home to him the urgency of her plight.

“I have tried to assemble the ransom that Arkoun demands for my
daughter, ” Prester Beni -Jon excused himself. “But I would have to
melt down every plate and bowl in Aksum to put together such a hoard of
silver as would satisfy his ed. In addition, he demands great tracts
of my land and gre scores of my principal villages. To relinquish
these to him. would weaken my realm and condemn tens of thousands of
my subjects to his tyranny. ” “I could lead your army to his
stronghold of Adbar Seged.

You could lay siege to the castle and force him to hand over Masora to
you. ” Prester Beni-Jon looked startled by this proposal. -I do not
think such a course of action had occurred to him. It was not the
Ethiopian way of waging war.

“I know Adbar Seged very well, but it is impregnable, ” he answered me
primly. “Arkoun has a mighty army at his back. We have fought many
fierce battles against him. My men are lions, but we have never been
able to defeat him. ” I had seen the lions of Prester Beni-Jon in
battle, and I saw that his estimate of the situation was correct. The
army he commanded could never hope to storm Adbar Seged and free Masora
by force of arms.

The following day I returned with another proposal.

“Great Emperor of Aksum, King of Kings, as you well know, I am of the
Egyptian nation. Queen Lostris, the regent of Egypt, lies with her
armies at the confluence of the two rivers, where the Nile meets its
twin. ” He nodded. “This I know. These Egyptians have entered MY
territory without my leave. They are digging mines in my valleys.

Soon I will fall upon them and annihilate them. ” , It was my turn to
be startled. Prester Beni-Jon was aware of the work on Pharaoh’s tomb,
and our people there were in danger of attack. Accordingly, I modified
the suggestion that I was about to put to him.

“My people are skilled in the art of siege and war, ” I explained.

“I have influence with Queen Lostris. If you send me safely back to
her side, I will prevail on her to extend you her friendship. Her
troops will storm the fortress of Adbar Seged and free your daughter.
” Although Prester Beni-Jon tried to disguise the fact, I saw that my
suggestion appealed to him. “What would your queen require in return
for her friendships” he asked carefully.

We haggled for five days, but in the end the borg i am was struck.

“You will allow Queen Lostris to continue the mining work in your
valley, and you will, declare those valleys a prohibited area. Your
own people will be forbidden to enter there on pain of death, ” I told
him. This was for my mistress. It would secure the tomb of Pharaoh
from desecration.

“I agree, ” said Prester Beni-Jon.

“You will deliver to Queen Lostris two thousand horses that I will
choose from your herds. ” This was for me.

“One thousand, ” said the king.

“Two thousand. ” I was firm.

“I agree, ” said Prester Beni-Jon.

“Once she is free, the Princess Masora shall be allowed to marry any
man she chooses. You will not forbid it. ” That was for Memnon and
the girl.

“It is against our custom, ” he sighed. “But I agree. ” When we
capture them, Arkoun and the stronghold of Adbar Seged will be handed
over to you. ” He looked more cheerful and nodded vigorously.

“Finally, we Egyptians shall be allowed to keep all the spoils of war
that we capture from Arkoun, including the legendary blue sword. ”
That was for tonus.

“I agree, ” said Prester Beni-Jon, and I could see that he thought that
he had made a bargain.

He gave me an escort of fifty men, and I set out the following day on
the return to Qebui, riding a fine stallion that was the king’s parting
gift to me.

WE WERE STILL FIVE DAYS” RIDE FROM at Qebui, when I saw the swift
dust-cloud ahead ofg towards us across the plain. Then I saw’

==q us, racin the chariots dancing through the heat-mirage. As they
approached, the columns deployed into attack formation at the gallop.
It was beautiful to watch.

The dressing was perfect, and the spacing between each vehicle so exact
that they looked like a string of beads. I wondered who commanded
them.

I shaded my eyes as they drew closer, and my heart leaved as I
recognized the horses of the leading chariot.

They were Rock and Chain, my own darlings. However, I did not
immediately recognize the charioteer behind them.

It was almost three years since last I had laid eyes on Meimon.

The difference in age between seventeen and twenty is the difference
between the boy and the man.

I had taken to riding with saddle-cloth and stirrups, in the Ethiopian
manner, and so now I stood high in the stirrups and waved. I saw the
chariot swerve, as Memnon recognized me and whipped up the team to full
charge.

The Men I howled. “and his answering shout came back to me on the
wind.

“Tota! By the sweet milk of Isis, it’s you!” He pulled up the horses,
sprang from the foot plate and dragged me from my horse. First he
hugged me, then he held me at arms-length and we studied each other
avidly.

“You are pale and thin, Tota. The bones are sticking out of you.

Are those grey hairs I see here?” He tugged at my temples.

He was taller than I was now, lean in the waist and broad in the
shoulder. His skin was tanned and oiled to the colour of burnished
amber, and cords of muscle stood out in his throat when he laughed. He
wore wrist-guards of gold and the Gold of Valour on his bared chest.

Although it seemed impossible, he was more handsome than when I had
last seen him. He reminded me of a leopard, supple and sleek.

He lifted me bodily and set me on the foot plate of the chariot.

“Take up the traces, ” he ordered. “I want to see if you have lost any
of your old skill. ” “Which way?” I asked.

“West, to Qebui, of course, ” he ordered. “My mother will be angry if
I do not bring, you directly to her. ” That night we sat at a
camp-fire together, away from the other officers, so that we could talk
in private. We sat in silence for a while, looking up at the silver
blaze of stars, and then Memnon said, “When I thought I had lost you,
it as as though I had lost a part of myself. You are woven into my
very first memory of life. ” I, who deal in words, could find no words
to answer him.

We were silent again, and then at last he laid a hand on My shoulder.

“Did you ever see the girl again?” he asked, and though his tone was
casual, his grip upon my shoulder was not.

“Which girl?” I asked, to tease him.

The girl at the river, on the day we were parted. ” “Was there a
girl?” I frowned, as I tried to remember.

“What did she look like?” “Her face was a dark lily, and her skin was
the colour of wild honey. They called her Masora, and the memory of
her still troubles my sleep. ” “Her name is Masora Beni-Jon, ” I told
him, “and I have spent two years imprisoned with her in the fortress of
Adbar Seged. There I learned to love her, for her nature is even
sweeter than her face. ” He seized me with both hands now and shook me
without mercy. “Tell me about her, Tota! Tell me everything.

Leave nothing out. “, So we sat the rest of that night beside the fire
and we talked about the girl. I told him how she had learned to speak
Egyptian for his sake. I told him how his promise to her had sustained
her through the dark, lonely days, and in the end I told him the
message that she had sent to him, the message she had called out to me
from the battlements of Adbar Seged as I rode away and left her.

“Tell him I was brave. Tell him I love him. ” He was silent for a
long while, staring into the flames, and then he said softly, “How can
she love me? She does not know me. ” “Do you know her any better than
she knows you?” I asked, and he shook his head.

“Do you love her?” “Yes, ” he answered simply.

“Then she loves you in the same way.” “I made her a promise. Will you
help me make good my promise to her, Taita?”

I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE KNOWN SUCH joy as was mine on my return to
Qebui when I went aboard the Breath of Horus.

Memnon had sent a messenger ahead to warn them of my return, and they
were all waiting for me.

“By the stinking crust between Seth’s toes!” Kratas shouted. “I
thought we had got rid of you at last, you old rogue. ” And he crushed
me to his chest until I thought my ribs were all staved in. tonus
seized my shoulders and stared into my eyes for a moment before he
grinned, “But for you, that hairy Ethiop would have had me.

He got the better bargain when he took you instead. Thank you, old
friend. ” I saw how tonus had aged. Like me, there was grey in his
hair now, and his face was weather-beaten, beginning to erode like a
granite cliff.

My little princesses were no longer little, but they were still
adorable. They were shy towards me, for their memory of me had
faded.

They stared at me with big eyes as I made my obeisance. The colour of
Bekatha’s hair had darkened to copper. I looked forward to rekindling
her affection.

Tehuti recognized me at last. “Tota!” she said. “Did you bring me a
present?” “Yes, Your Highness, ” I replied, “I have brought you my
heart. ” My mistress smiled at me as I walked towards her along the
deck. She wore the light nemes crown and the golden head of the cobra
on her brow. When she smiled, I saw that she had lost her first tooth,
and the gap marred her smile.

She had thickened around the waist, and the heavy affairs of state had
furrowed her brow and etched crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. To
me, however, she was still the most lovely woman in the world.

She stood up from the throne as I knelt before her. This was the
highest mark of her favour. She laid her hand on my bowed head, and it
was a caress.

“You have been away from us too long, Taita, ” she said, so softly that
only I could hear her. “Tonight you will sleep at the foot of my bed
once more. ” That night, when she had drunk the bowl of herb broth
that I had prepared for her, and I had covered her with a fur blanket,
she murmured softly as she closed her eyes, Can I trust you not to kiss
me when I am asleep?” “No, Your Majesty, ” I replied, and stooped over
her. She smiled as my lips touched hers.

“Never leave us again for so long, Taita, ” she said.

MEMNON AND I HAD PLANNED OUR TACtics meticulously, and we executed them
with the same precision as one of our chariot manoeuvres. -tonus was
easy to convince. his defeat by Arkoun still rankled.

In his presence Memnon and I discussed the ease with which the blue
sword had sheered his bronze blade, and how Arkoun. would certainly
have killed him, if I had not intervened. tonus bristled with
humiliation.

Then Memnon questioned me on the magical origins and properties of the
legendary weapon. tonus forgot his pique and joined in with avid
questions of his own.

“This Prester Beni-Jon has declared the blue sword a prize of war.
Whoever can seize it, may hold it, ” I told them.

“If we went against Arkoun, we would not be able to use chariots in
those valleys, ” Memnon mused. “It would have to be the infantry.

How do you think your Shilluk would fare against the Ethiops, Lord
tonus?” Memnon still addressed tonus formally. Obviously he had not
learned in my absence that tonus was his real father.

By the time we had finished with him, tonus was as hot for the venture
as either of us. He was totally in league with us as we started our
campaign on Queen Lostris.

From the very beginning my mistress had understood, as tonus never had,
just how vital the horses and chariots would be, if ever we were to
fulfill the dream of the return to our very Egypt. I displayed the
stallion that Prester Beni-Jon had given me, and pointed out to my
mistress his finer points of breed.

“Look at his nostrils, Majesty. See the depth of his chest, and the
balance of muscle to bone. The Hyksos have nothing to match these
Ethiopian horses. ” Then I reminded her of her promise to the dead
pharaoh, and told her, “Prester Beni-Jon will cede the valley of the
tomb to you. His -warriors will guard it against the grave robbers He
will place a taboo upon the valley, and these Ethiops are superstitious
people. They will respect the prohibition even long after we have
returned to Thebes. ” I warned Memnon not to mention to Queen Lostris
his amorous interest in an expedition against Arkoun. It would do our
cause no good. Every mother is also a lover; she seldom takes any
pleasure in seeing her son led away by another younger woman.

No woman, not even a queen, could resist the combine charm and cunning
of the three of us, tonus and Memnon and myself. Queen Lostris gave
her consent to our expeditionary force marching on Adbar Seged.

WE LEFt THE WAGONS AND THE CHARIots at the valley of Pharaoh’s tomb,
and struck out into the mountains. Prester Beni-Jon had sent a company
of guides to meet us. They were a hundred of his best and most
reliable men. tonus had selected a full division of his wild and
bloodthirsty Shilluk, and promised them all the cattle they could
capture. Each of these black pagans carried a cloak of thick jackal
fur rolled upon his back, for we remembered the cold wind of the
mountain passes.

For support we had three companies of Egyptian archers, led by Lord
Kratas. That old ruffian had joined the company of nobles during my
sojourn in Adbar Seged. He was spoiling for a real fight. He and
every one of his men were armed with the new compound recurved bows
that could out drive the Ethiopian long-bows by two hundred paces.

Memnon had selected a small band of the finest swords.. . “5

men and rough fighters that we had. Rernrem was one of these, of
course, as were Lord Aqer and Astes. I was part of this special
detachment, not for my warlike skills, but simply because I was the
only one who had ever entered the fortress of Adbar Seged.

Hui wanted to come with us and offered me every bribe at his disposal.
In the en gave in to him, mainly because I needed an expert to help me
select the horses that Prester Beni-Jon had promised me.

I impressed on both tonus and the prince how vital it was to move
swiftly, not only for reasons of surprise, but also because the rains
must soon break upon the mountains. During my days in Adbar Seged I
had studied the patterns of the weather and the seasons. If the rains
caught us in the valleys, they would prove a more dangerous enemy than
any Ethiop army.

We made the approach march to Ambo Kamara in less than a month.

Our column wound through the passes like a long, deadly cobra” The
bronze spear-heads of the Shilluk glittered in the high sunlight like
the scales of the serpent.

We met no person to oppose us. The villages we passed through were
deserted.. The inhabitants had fled and taken their herds and their
women with them. Although each day the clouds gathered black and
sullen on the mountain peaks, and at “night the thunder muttered at us,
the rains held off and the fords of the rivers were low.

Twenty-five days after setting out, we stood in the valley below the
massif of Ambo Kamara, _and looked up the winding track to the heights
looming over us.

On my previous journeys up and down the mountain I had studied 4he
defences that Arkoun had erected along the pathway. These comprised
rockfalls and -stone-walled redoubts. I pointed these out to tonus,
and we could make out the bushy, un helmeted heads of the defenders
showing above the walls of the strong points

“The weakness of a rockfall is that you can only let it come down once,
and my Shilluk are quick enough on their feet to dodge a charging
buffalo, ” tonus said thoughtfully.

He sent them up the path in small parties, and when the defenders
knocked out the wedges from under the rockfall and sent it rolling down
on the track, those long-legged black spearmen ran out to the side with
the agility of mountain goats. Once the slide of boulders had rumbled
past they turned straight up the almost sheer Mountainside.

Bounding from rock to rock, and howling in such a horrible fashion that
they started the hair on the nape of my neck, they drove the defenders
up the mountain and over the crest.

They were held up only by Arkoun’s archers hidden behind the walls of
the stone redoubts. When this happened, Kratas led his archers up the
mountain. With their superior bow-range, the Egyptians were able to
stand back and shoot massed volleys, almost straight into the sky.

It was fascinating to watchd swarm of arrows climb into the air like a
flock of black birds and then drop down on to the redoubt so steeply
that the stone wall afforded the men behind it no protection.

We heard their screams and then them break and scurry away up the
slope. Immediately saw the Shilluk were after them, baying like a pack
of hunting dogs. Even from the bottom of the valley I could hear their
battle cry, “Kajan! Kajan! Kill! Kill!” Though my legs were hard
and my wind strong with so much marching, I had difficulty keeping up
with Memnon and the rest of our small group. The Years were beginning
to take their toll.

We were all wearing long woollen Ethiopic robes, and we carried the
traditional round shields of our enemies.

However, we had not yet placed the horse-hair wigs on our heads.

It would have been extremely unwise to resemble the Ethiopian too
closely while the Shilluk were in their present mood.

When at last I came out on the flat table I saw at a glance that tonus
was rallying and regrouping his infantry. The one fault of the Shilluk
as fighting men is that once they have wet their spears with blood,
they go berserk, and it is almost impossible to control them. tonus
was roaring like a bull elephant and laying about him with his golden
whip of rank. Once more in hand, the Shilluk formed ranks and moved
forward against the first village where the Ethiopians were waiting
behind the stone walls.

As the wave of tall black figures, topped by a foam of white
ostrich-feather head-dresses, washed towards them, they loosed a shower
of arrows from their long bows. But the Shilluk had their tall shields
up.

As the Shilluk charge burst upon them, some of the Ethiopians rushed
forward, brandishing their swords. They were not lacking in courage,
but this type of warfare was new to them. They had never been forced
to meet a charge that was carried through to the death.

I stayed long enough to see them heavily engaged and then I called to
Memnon and his band, “The wigs!” Each of them pulled one. of the wigs
of black horse-hair over his scalp. I had made these with my own
hands, and styled them on the Ethiopian model of beauty, full and
floccose. Clad in the long striped robes and with the wigs on our
heads, we could pass as a mob of Arkoun’s clansmen “This way! Follow
me!”I cried, and let out an ululating Ethiopic war cry. They yodel led
and howled behind me, as we skirted the village where the fight was
still raging, and ran in a disorderly bunch through the corn fields We
had to reach the fortress and be at Masora’s side to protect her when
Arkoun finally realized that he had lost the day. I knew that he would
not hesitate to kill her as soon as she was no longer of value to
him.

I thought that he would probably take the blue sword to her or throw
her from the causeway into the gorge. Those were his favourite means
of despatching his victims.

As we made our way across the ambo, we found the entire tableland in
turmoil. Bands of bushy-headed warriors milled about in confusion.

Women dragged their children by the arm, their possessions piled on
their heads, wailing with terror as they ran about like frightened
chickens who smell the fox. Herds of goats bleated, and cattle, lowed
and churned the dust. The herd-boys had fled. Nobody paid us the
least attention as we trotted through the fields and kept clear of the
villages.

We followed the general movement towards Adbar Seged at the far end of
the table, and as we neared the causeway the crowds thickened and
congealed until we were obliged to force our way through them.

There were guards at the head of the causeway. They were turning the
fugitives back with drawn swords and clubs. Women were screaming and
pleading for shelter in the fortress, holding up their babies for
mercy’s sake. Some of them were knocked down in the press and were
trampled under the feet of those coming on from behind.

“Form the tortoise. ” Memnon gave the order quietly, and our small
band closed up and locked the edges of our Ethiopian shields. We cut
through the crowd like a shark through a shoal of sardines. Some of
the weaker ones at the front were pushed forward and forced over the
edge of the precipice. Their screams added to the panic. When we
reached the head of the causeway, the guards there tried to stop us,
but they were themselves so crowded by the mob that they could not
swing their weapons, and were in danger of being overwhelmed and thrown
over the cliff.

“We are under King Arkoun’s direct orders. Stand aside!” I shouted at
them in Geez.

“The password?” the captain of the guard yelled at me, as he struggled
to stay on his feet. The crowd surged back and forward in panic. “You
must give the password. ” He poked his sword at me, but Memnon struck
the blade aside.

During my imprisonment I had heard the password repeated a thousand
times, for my cell had been above the main gate. It might have been
changed since then, and I was ready to have the captain killed, as I
yelled the old password at him: “The mountain is high!” “Go across!”

He stood aside, and we struggled out of the throng , kicking and
shoving back those who tried to follow us. We ran out on to the
bridge. So urgent was the need to reach, Masora that I barely noticed
the drop on either hand, and without a qualm I led them across the
gaping void.

“Where is King Arkoun?” I shouted at the guards who blocked the
gateway. When they hesitated, I told them, “The mountain is high! I
have urgent despatches for the king.

Stand aside! Let us pass!” We barged through the open gate before
they could decide to oppose us, and, with twelve good men at my back, I
raced for the outer staircase that led to the upper terrace.

There were two armed men at the door to Masora’s chamber, and I
rejoiced to see them. I had worried that the girl might have been
moved to another part of the fort, but the presence of the guards
assured me that she had not.

“Who are you?” one of them shouted, and drew his sword.

“By what authority.. . ” He did not finish the challenge. I stepped
aside and allowed Memnon and Remrem to brush past me. They flew at the
guards and cut them down before they could defend themselves.

The door to Masora’s chamber was barred from within, and when we hurled
our combined weight against it, there came a chorus of feminine screams
and wails from the other side. At the third attempt the door gave way
and I was propelled through the opening into the room beyond.

It was in deep gloom, and I could barely make out the huddle of women
in the far corner.

“Masora!” I called her name, as I plucked the wig from my head, and
let my own hair fall around my shoulders.

She recognized me by it.

“Taita!” She bit the wrist of the woman who tried to hold her, and ran
to me. She flung both arms around my neck, and then she looked over my
shoulder and her grip slackened, her dark eyes opened wide and the
colour flooded her cheeks.

Memnon had pulled off his wig. Without it, he was strikingly and
unmistakably a prince. I stepped aside and left Masora standing
alone.

The two of them stared at each other.

Neither of them moved or spoke for what seemed like an eternity, but
was a moment only. Then Masora said softly and shyly in Egyptian, “You
came. You kept your promise.

I knew that you would. ” I think that this was the only time that I
ever saw Memnon at a loss. He could only nod his head, and then I
witnessed an amazing phenomenon. Blood flooded up his neck and
suffused his face, so that even in the gloom of the chamber it
glowed.

The Crown Prince of Egypt, son of Pharaoh, commander of the first
division of chariots, Best of Ten Thousand, holder of the Gold of
Valour, stood there blushing and as tongue-tied as a peasant clod.

Behind me one of the women squawked like a startled hen, and before I
could put out a hand to hold her, she had ducked under my arm and
darted down the inner staircase.

Her screams reverberated up the stairwell. “Guards! The enemy has
broken into the east wing. Come quickly!” and almost immediately
there was a rush of booted feet on the staircase.

On the instant, Memnon was transformed from the blushing young lover to
a hard-faced guardsman. “Take care of her, Tota. Let no harm come to
her, ” he told me grimly, and stepped past me to the head of the
stairs.

He killed the first man coming up with that classic thrust to the
throat that tonus had taught him. Then he placed his foot in the
centre of his chest. As he jerked his blade free, he kicked the dead
man backwards down the stair-well. The falling corpse tumbled into the
other men coming up from below, and swept the stairs clean.

Memnon looked at me. “Do you think we can reach the gate before they
close it?” “We must, ” I answered. “Our best route is back down the
outer staircase. ” “Remrem, lead us. Tota and the princess in the
centre. I will bring up the rear-guard, ” he said crisply, and stabbed
the next man coming up the stairs in the eye. ” The Ethiopian dropped
his weapon and clutched his face with both hands. Memnon stabbed him
again through the chest and pushed him backwards down the stairs,
clearing them a second time. “Follow Remrem, ” he shouted at me.

“Don’t stand there. After him as fast as you can. ” I grabbed
Masora’s arm, but there was no need to pull her along. She came with
me readily, so quick and agile that she was leading me.

The sunlight struck us as we ran out on to the terrace. After the dark
room it dazzled me. I blinked to clear my vision, and then I looked
across the causeway to the edge of the tableland on the far side of the
gulf. tonus” Shilluks were there. I saw their feathers dancing and
their shields held high.

“Kajan! Kill! Kill!” they sang, and their spear-heads were dulled
with fresh blood. The panic-stricken peasants scattered before them,
and they reached the head of the causeway.

There were two or three hundred of Arkoun’s soldiers there. They had
the abyss at their backs, and necessity made heroes of every one of
them. Now they had truly become lions. Although a score of them were
driven back over the edge, and plunged to their death in the valley far
below, the survivors hurled back the first charge of the Shilluk.

I saw tonus. then, exactly where I expected him to be, holding the
centre. His helmet shone like a beacon in the dark sea of Shilluk
warriors. I saw him throw back his head and begin to sing.

The savage Shilluk words carried over the gulf to where I stood on the
terrace of the fortress. The men around him took up the chorus, and
they surged forward, still singing.

This time nothing could stand before them. They stabbed and hacked
their way through the defenders, and tonus was the first man on the
causeway. He ran lightly for such a big man, and he was still singing.
His Shilluk followed him on to the stone arch, but it was so narrow
that they were forced into single file. tonus was halfway across, when
the song died on his lips, and he stopped.

From the gateway of Adbar Seged, below where I stood, another man
stepped out on to the causeway to confront tonus. I was looking down
and so could not see his face, but there was no mistaking the weapon in
his right hand.

The blue sword caught the sunlight and flashed like a sheet of summer
lightning.

“Arkoun!” tonus bellowed. “I have been looking for you. ” Arkoun
could not understand the words, but the sense, of them was
unmistakable.

He laughed into the wind, and his beard blew out like smoke around his
goaty face.

“I know you!” He swung the silver-blue blade around his head, and it
hissed and whined in the air. “This time” I will kill you. ” He
started forward, out along the narrow arch of stone, running with long,
lithe strides straight at tonus. tonus altered his grip on the handle
of his bronze shield, and tucked his head in behind it. He now knew
the power in that glittering blade, and I saw that he did not intend
meeting it with his own softer bronze. Arkoun had also learned
discretion from their last brief encounter. From the way he carried
the blue sword, I guessed that he would not attempt another rash
overhand stroke.

As they came together, Arkoun gathered himself I saw his shoulders
brace and his weight swing forward. He used the impetus of his charge
to send the straight thrust at tonus” head. tonus lifted the shield
and caught the blue blade in the centre of the heavy bronze target. It
would have snapped a sword of inferior metal, but the blue sword
sheared through it as if it were goat-skin. Half its silver length was
buried in the yellow bronze.

Then I realized tonus” intention. He twisted the shield at an angle so
that the blade was trapped. Arkoun struggled to withdraw his weapon,
he wrestled and heaved, throwing his weight backwards, but tonus had
the blue sword in a vice of bronze.

Arkoun gathered all his strength and pulled back again.

This time Tonus did not resist him. He leaped forward in the direction
that Arkoun was heaving, and this unexpectedt move threw Arkoun
off-balance.

Arkoun staggered away, tripped and teetered on the brink of the chasm.
In order to keep his balance, he was forced to relinquish his grip on
the hilt of the blue sword, and to leave it still embedded in the
shield.

He windmilled his arms as he swayed out over the drop.

Then tonus shifted his ground, put his shoulder behind the shield and
barged forward. The shield crashed into Arkoun’s chest, and the pommel
of the blue sword caught him in the pit of his belly with all tonus”
weight and strength behind it.

Arkoun was thrown backwards, out into empty space. He turned a slow
somersault in the air and then went straight down, with his robe
ballooning around him, and his beard streaming like a chariot pennant
in the wind of his fall.

From where I stood, I watched him make the same last journey on which
he had sent so many other unfortunate souls. From the causeway until
he struck the rocks a thousand feet below, he screamed all the way
down, on a high, receding note that was cut off abruptly at the end.
tonus stood alone in the middle of the causeway. He still held the
shield on high with the sword buried in the metal.

Slowly the tumult and the fighting died away. The Ethiopians had seen
their king vanquished and cast down. The heart went out of them.

They threw down their weapons and grovelled for mercy. The Egyptian
officers were able to save some of them from the blood-crazed Shilluk,
and these were dragged away to where the slave-masters waited to bind
them.

I had no eyes for any of this, for I was watching tonus out there on
the bridge. He began to walk towards the gateway of the fortress, and
the men cheered him and raised their weapons in salute.

“There is plenty of fight in the old bull yet, ” Memnon laughed in
admiration, but I did not laugh with him. I felt the chill premonition
of some awful ” tragedy, like the air stiffed by the beat of vultures”
wings as they settle to their gruesome feast. “tonus, ” I whispered.
He walked with a slow and hampered gait.

He lowered the shield as he came down the bridge of stone, and only
then did I see the stain spreading on his breastplate.

I thrust Masora into Memnon’s arms and ran down the outer staircase.
The Ethiopian guards at the gate tried to surrender their weapons to
me, but I pushed my way past them and ran out on to the causeway.

tonus saw me running towards him and he smiled at me, but the smile was
lop-sided. He stopped walking and slowly his legs buckled beneath him,
and he sat down heavily in the, middle of the bridge. I dropped on my
knees beside him, and saw the rent in the crocodile-skin of his
breastplate.

Blood oozed from it, and I knew that the blue sword had bitten deeper
than I had believed possible. Arkoun had driven the point through the
bronze shield, on through the tough leather breastplate, and into
tonus” chest.

Carefully I untied the straps that held his armour, and lifted away the
breastplate. tonus and I both looked down at the wound. It was a
penetrating slit the exact width of the blade, like a tiny mouth with
wet red lips. Every breath that tonus drew frothed through that horrid
opening in a rash of pink bubbles. It was a lung wound, but I could
not bring myself to say it. No man can survive a sword-cut through one
of his lungs.

“You are wounded. ” It was an asinine remark, and I could not look at
his face as I said it.

“No, old friend, I am not wounded, ” he replied softly. “I am killed.

TAN US SHILLUK MADE A LITTER WITH

their spears, and covered it with a rug of sheepskin.

They lifted him and carried him, gently and slowly, into the fortress
of Adbar Seged.

We laid him on the bed of King Arkoun, and then I sent them all away.
When they were gone, I placed. the blue sword upon the bed beside him.
He smiled and laid his hand on the gold and jewelled hilt.

“I have paid a high price for this treasure, ” he murmured. “I would
have liked to wield it just once upon the battlefield. ” I could offer
him no hope or comfort. He was an old soldier, and he had seen too
many lung wounds. I could not hope to deceive him as to the final
outcome. I bound up the wound with a pad of wool and a linen
bandage.

While I worked, I recited the incantation to quell the bleeding,
“Retreat. from me, creature of Seth.. . ” But he was sinking away
from me.

Each breath he drew was an effort, and I could hear the blood stirring
in his lungs like a hidden creature in the deep swamps.

I mixed a draught of the sleeping-flower, but he would not drink it. “I
will live every minute. of my life, ” he told me. “Even the very last
one. ” “What else is there that I can do for you?” “You have done so
much already, ” he said. “But there is no end to the demands that we
all make upon you. ” I shook my head, “There is no end to what I would
give. ” “These last things then I ask of you. Firstly, you will never
tell Memnon that I am his sire. He must always believe that the blood
of the pharaohs runs in his veins. He will need every strength to meet
the destiny. that awaits him. ” “He would be as proud to share your
blood as that of any king. ” “Swear to me you will not tell him. ” “I
swear it, ” I replied, and he lay a while gathering his strength.

“There is one other boon. ” “I grant it before you name it, ” I
said.

“Take care of my woman who was never my wife. Shield and succour her
as you have done all these years past. ” “You know I will. ” for you
have all ways loved her as Much as I have. Take care of Lostris and of
our children. I give them all into your hands. ” He closed his’ eyes
and I thought that the end was close, but his strength surpassed that
of other men. After a while he opened them again.

“I wish to see the prince, ” he said.

“He waits for you on the terrace, ” I answered, and went to the
curtained doorway.

Memnon stood at the far end of the terrace. Masora was with him, and
the two of them stood close together but not touching, Their
expressions were grave and their voices muted. They both looked up as
I called.

Memnon came immediately, leaving the girl standing alone. He went
directly to. tonus” bed and stood looking down at him. tonus smiled
up at him, but the smile was unsteady. I knew what effort it had cost
him.

“Your Highness, I have taught you all I know of war, but I cannot teach
you about life. Each man must learn that for himself There is nothing
else I have to tell you before I start out on this new journey, except
to thank you for the gift of knowing and serving you.” “You were more
than a tutor to me, ” Memnon answered softly. “You were the father I
never knew. ” tonus closed his eyes, and his expression twisted.

Memnon stooped and took his arm in a firm grip. “Pain is just another
enemy to be met and overcome. You taught me that, Lord tonus. ” The
prince thought it was the wound that had affected him, but I knew that
it was the pain of the word “father.” tonus opened his eyes. “Thank
you, Your Highness. It is good to have you to help me through this
last agony. ” “Call me friend, rather than highness. ” Memnon sank on
one knee beside the bed, and he did not release the grip on tonus”
arm.

“I have a gift for you, friend. ” The congealing blood in tonus” lungs
blurred his voice. He groped for the handle of the blue sword that
still lay on the mattress beside him, but he did not have the strength
to lift it.

He took Memnon’s hand from his arm and placed it upon It. “I will
think of you whenever I draw it from its scabbard.

I will call your name whenever I wield it on the battlefield.

Memnon took up the weapon.

You do me great honour. ” Memnon stood up, and with the sword in his
right hand took the classic opening stance in the centre of the room.

He touched the blade to his lips, saluting the man lying on the bed.

“This is the way you taught me to do it. ” Then he began the exercise
of arms, in which tonus had drilled him when he was still a child. He
performed the twelve parries, and then the cuts and the lunges with an
unhurried perfection. The silver blade circled and swooped like a
glittering eagle. It fluted and whined through the air, and lit the
gloom of the chamber with darting beams of light.

Memnon ended it with the straight thrust, aimed at the throat of an
imaginary enemy. Then he placed the point between his feet and rested
both hands upon the pommel.

“You have learned well, ” tonus nodded. “There is nothing more that I
can teach you. It is not too soon for me to go. ” “I will wait with
you, ” Memnon said.

“No. ” tonus made a weary gesture. “Your destiny waits for you beyond
the walls of this dreary room. You must go forward to meet it without
looking back. Taita will stay with me. Take the girl with you. Go to
Queen Lostris and prepare her for the news of my death. ” “Go in
peace, Lord tonus. Memnon would not degrade that solemn moment with
futile argument. He crossed to the bed and kissed his father on the
lips. Then he turned and, without a backward glance, he strode from
the room with the blue sword in his hand.

“Go on to glory, my son, ” tonus whispered, and turned to face the
stone wall. I sat at the foot of his bed and looked at the dirty stone
floor. I did not want to watch a man like tonus weep.

I WOKE IN THE NIGHt TO THE SOUND OF L in drums, those crude wooden
drums of the Shilluk, beating out there in the darkness. The doleful
sound of the Shilluk’s voices chanting their savage dirge made me
shudder with dread.

The lamp had burned low, and was guttering beside the bed. It threw
grotesque shadows on the ceiling, like the beating and fluttering of
the wings of vultures. I crossed slowly and reluctantly to where tonus
lay. I knew that the “%Shilluk were not mistaken-they have a way of
sensing these things. tonus lay as I had last seen him, with his face
to the wall, but when I touched his shoulder I felt the chill in his
flesh.

That indomitable spirit had gone on.

I sat beside him for the remainder of that night and I lamented and
mourned for him, as his Shilluk were doing.

In the dawn I sent for the embalmers.

I would not let those crude butchers eviscerate my friend.

I made the incision in his left flank. It was not a long, ugly.
slash, such as the undertakers are known to perform, but the work of a
surgeon.

Through it I drew his viscera. When I held tonus” great heart in my
hands, I trembled. It was as though I could still feel all his
strength and power beat in this casket of flesh.

I replaced it with reverence and love in the cage of his ribs, and I
closed the gash in his side and the wound in his chest, that the blue
sword had made, with all the skill at my command.

I took up the bronze -spoon, and pressed it up his nostril until I felt
it touch the thin wall of bone at the end of the passage.

This flimsy partition I pierced with one hard thrust, and scooped out
the soft matter from the cavity of his skull. Only then was I content
to deliver. him over to the embalmers.

Even though there was no more for me to do, I waited with tonus through
the forty long days of the mummification in the cold and gloomy castle
of Adbar Seged. Looking back upon it now, I realize that this was
weakness. I could not bear the burden of my mistress’s grief when
first she heard the news of tonus” death. I had allowed Memnon to
assume the duty that was rightfully mine. I hid with the dead, when I
should have been with the living who needed me more. I have ever been
a coward.

There was no coffin to hold tonus” mummified body. I would make him
one when at last we reached the fleet at Qebui. I had the Ethiopian
women weave a long basket for him. The mesh of the weave was so fine
that it resembled linen. It would hold water like a pot of fired
clay.

WE CARRIED HIM DOWN FROM THE mountains. His Shilluk easily bore the
weight of his desiccated body. They fought each other for the honour.
Sometimes they sang their wild songs of mourning as we wound our way
through the gorges and over the windswept passes. At other times they
sang the fighting songs that tonus had taught them.

I walked beside his bier all that weary way. The rains broke on the
peaks and drenched us. They flooded the fords so that we had to swim
ropes across. tonus” reed coffin stood beside my own cot. I spoke
aloud to him in the darkness, as if he could hear and answer me, just
as we had done in the old days.

At last we descended through the last pass, and the great plains lay
before us. As we approached Qebui my mistress came to meet our sad
caravan. She rode on the foot plate of the chariot behind Prince
Memnon.

As they, came towards us through the grassland, I ordered the Shilluk
bearers to lay tonus” reed coffin under the spreading branches of a
giant giraffe acacia. My mistress dismounted from the chariot and went
to the coffin.

She placed one hand upon it, and bowed her head in silence.

I was shocked to see what ravages sorrow had -wrought upon her.

There were streaks of grey in her hair, and her eyes were dulled.

The sparkle and the zest had gone out of them. I realized that the
days of her youth and her great beauty were gone for ever. She was a
lonely and tragic figure. Her bereavement was so evident, that no
person who looked upon her now could doubt that she was a widow.

I went to her side to warn her. “Mistress, you must not make your
grief clear for all to see. They must never know that he was more than
just your friend and the general of your armies. For the sake of his
memory and the honour that he held so dear, hold back your tears. ” “I
have no tears left, ” she answered me quietly. “My grief is all cried
out. Only you and I will ever know the truth. ” We placed tonus”
humble reed coffin in the hold of the Breath of Horus, beside the
magnificent gold coffin of Pharoah. I stayed at the side of my
mistress, as I had promised tonus I would, until the worst agonies of
her mourning had subsided into the dull eternal pain that would never
leave her again. Then, at her orders, I returned to the valley of the
tomb to supervise the completion of Pharaoh’s sepulchre.

Obedient to my mistress, I also selected a site further down the valley
for the tomb of tonus. Though I -did the very best with the material
and craftsmen available to me, tonus” resting-place would be the hut of
a peasant compared to the funerary palace of Pharaoh Mamose.

An army of craftsmen had laboured all these years to complete the
magnificent murals that decorated the passages and the subterranean
chambers of the king’s tomb The store-rooms of the tomb were crammed
with the treasure that we had carried with us from Thebes. tonus” tomb
had been built in haste. He had accumulated no treasure in his
lifetime of service to the state and the crown. I painted scenes upon
the walls that depicted the events of his earthly existence, his
hunting of mighty beasts and his battles with the red pretender and the
Hyksos, and the last the assault on the fortress of Adbar Seged.

However, I dared not show his nobler accomplishments, his love for my
mistress and his steadfast friendship to me. The love of a queen is
treason the friendship of a slave is degrading.

When at last it was completed, I stood alone in tonus” modest tomb,
where he would spend all eternity, and I was suddenly consumed by anger
that this was all I could do for him. In my eyes he was more a man
than any pharaoh who had ever worn the double crown. That crown could
have been his, it should have been his, but he had spurned it.

To me he was more a king than ever Pharaoh had been.

It was then that the thought first dawned upon me. It was so
outrageous that I thrust it from me. Even to contemplate it seriously
was a terrible treason, and offence in the eyes of men and the gods.

However, over the weeks that followed, the thought kept creeping back
into my mind. I owed tonus so much, and Pharaoh so little. Even if I
was damned to perdition, it would be a fair price to pay. tonus had
given me more than that over my lifetime.

I could not accomplish it alone. I needed help, but who was there to
turn to? I could not enlist either Queen Lostris or the prince. My
mistress was bound by the oath she had or sworn to Pharaoh, and Memnon
did not know which of the two men was his natural father. I could not
tell him without breaking my oath to tonus.

In the end there was one person only who had loved tonus almost as much
as I had, who feared neither god norman, and who had the brute physical
strength I lacked.

“By Seth’s un wiped backside!” Lord Kratas roared with laughter when I
revealed my plan to him. “No one else but you could have dreamed up
such a scheme. You are the biggest rogue alive, Taita, but I love you
for giving me this last chance to honour tonus. ” The two of us
planned it carefully. I even went to the lengths of sending the guards
at the entrance to the hold of the Breath of Horus a jug of wine
heavily laced with the powder of the sleeping-flower.

When Kratas and I at last entered the hold of the ship where the two
coffins lay, my resolve wavered. I sensed that the Ka of Pharaoh
Mamose watched me from the shadows and that his baleful spirit would
follow me all the days of my life, seeking vengeance for this
sacrilege.

Kratas had no such qualms, and he set to work with such a will. that
“several times during the course of the night, I had to caution him
against the noise he was making as we opened the golden lids to the
royal coffin and lifted out the mummy of Pharaoh, tonus was a bigger
man than Pharoa but fortunately the coffin-makers had left us some
space, and tonus” body had shrunk during the embalming. Even so, we
were obliged to unwind several layers of his wrappings before he fitted
snugly into the great golden cask. I mumbled an apology to Pharaoh
Mamose as we lifted him into the humble wooden coffin, painted on the
outside with a likeness of the Great Lion of Egypt. There was room to
spare, and before we sealed the lid we packed this with the linen
bandages that we had unwrapped from tonus.

AFtER THE RAINS HAD PASSED AND THE cool season of the year returned, my
mistress ordered the funeral procession to leave Qebui and set out for
the valley of the tomb.

The first division of chariots, headed by Prince Memnon, led us.

Behind followed fifty carts loaded with the funerary treasure of
Pharaoh Mamose. The royal widow, Queen Lostris, rode on the wagon that
carried the golden coffin. I rejoiced to see her take this last
journey in the company of the one man she had loved, even though she
thought it was another. I saw her glance back more than once towards
the end of the long caravan that crept dolefully across the plains,
five miles from its head to its tail.

The wagon at the rear of the column that carried the lighter wooden
coffin was followed by a regiment of Shilluk. Their magnificent voices
carried clearly to us at the head of the column as they sang the last
farewell. I knew that tonus would hear them and know for whom the song
was sung.

WHEN WE At LASt. REACHED THE VALLEY of the tomb, the golden coffin was
placed beneath a tabernacle outside the entrance to the royal
mausoleum. The linen roof of the tent was illuminated with texts and
illustrations from the Book of the Dead.

There were to be two separate funerals. The first was the lesser, that
of the Great Lion of Egypt. The second would be the grander and more
elaborate royal funeral.

So it was that three days after our arrival at the valley, the wooden
coffin was placed in the tomb that I had prepared for tonus, and the
tomb was consecrated by the priests of Horus, who was tonus” patron,
and then sealed.

Puring this ritual, my mistress was able to restrain her grief and to
show nothing more than the decent sorrow of a queen towards a faithful
servant, although I knew that inside her something was dying that would
never be reborn.

All that night the valley resounded to the chant of the

Shilluk regiment as they mourned for the man who had now become one of
their gods. To this day they still shout his name in battle.

Ten days after the first funeral, the golden coffin was placed on its
wooden sledge and dragged it into the vast royal tomb. It required the
efforts of three hundred slaves to maneuver the coffin through the
passageways.

I maI had designed the tomb so precisely that there was only the
breadth of a hand between the sides and the lid of the coffin and the
stone walls and roof.

To thwart all future grave-robbers and any others who would desecrate
the royal tomb, I had built a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the
mountain. From the entrance in the cliff face a wide passage led
directly to an impressive burial vault decorated with marvelous murals.
In the center of this room stood an empty granite sarcophagus, with
the lid removed and cast dramatically aside. The first grave robber to
enter here would believe that he was too late and that some other had
plundered the tomb before him.

In fact, there was another tunnel leading off at right angles from the
entrance passage. The mouth of this was disguised as a store-room for
the funerary treasure. The coffin had to be turned and eased into this
secondary passage.

From there it entered a maze of false passages and dummy burial vaults,
each more serpentine and devious than the last.

In all there were four burial chambers, but three of these would remain
forever empty. There were three hidden doors and two vertical shafts.
The coffin had to be lifted up one of these, and lowered down the
other.

It took fifteen days for the coffin to be inched through this maze, and
installed at last in its final resting-place. The roof and walls of
this tomb were painted with all the skill and genius with which the
gods have gifted me. There was not a space the size of my thumbnail
that was not blazing with colour and movement.

Five store-rooms led off from the chamber. Into these” were packed
that treasure which Pharaoh Mamose had accumulated over his lifetime,
and which’ had come close to beggaring our very Egypt. I had argued
with my mistress that, instead of being buried in the earth, this
treasure should be used to pay for the army and the struggle that lay
ahead of us in our efforts to expel the Hyksos tyrant and to liberate
our people and our land.

“The treasure belongs to Pharaoh, ” she had replied. “We have built up
another treasure of gold and slave and ivory here in Cush.

That will suffice. Let the divine Mamose have what is his, I have
given him my oath on it. ” Thus on the fifteenth day, the golden
coffin was placed within the stone sarcophagus that had been hewn out
of the native rock. With a system of ropes and levers, the heavy lid
was lifted over it and lowered into place.

The royal family and the priests and the nobles entered the tomb to
perform the last rites. My mistress and the prince stood at the head
of the cophagus, and the priests droned on with their incantations and
their readings from the Book of the Dead. The sooty smoke from the
lamps and the breathing of the throng of people in the confined space
soured the air, so it was soon difficult to breathe.

In the dim yellow light I saw my mistress turn pale and the
perspiration bead on her forehead. I worked my way through the tightly
packed ranks, and I reached her side . just as she swayed and
collapsed. I was able to catch her before she struck her head on the
granite edge of the sarcophagus.

We carried her. out of the tomb on a litter. In the fresh mountain
air she recovered swiftly, but still I confined her to her bed in her
tent for the rest of that day.

That night as I prepared her tonic of herbs, she lay quietly and
thoughtfully, and after she had drunk the infusion she whispered to me,
“I had the most extraordinary sensation.

As I stood in Pharaoh’s tomb, I felt suddenly that tonus was very close
to me. I felt his hand touch my face and his voice murmur in my ear.
That was when I fainted away. “He will always be close to you, ” I
told her.

“I believe that, ” she said simply. can see now, though I could not
see it then, that her decline began on the day that we laid tonus in
his grave.

She had lost the joy of living and the will to go on.

I WENt BACK INTO THE ROYAL TOMB THE next day with the masons and the
corps of slave to seal the doorways and the shafts, and to arm the
devices that would guard the burial chamber.

As we retreated through the maze of passageways, we blocked the secret
doorwAys with cunningly laid stone and plaster, and painted murals over
them. We sealed the mouths of the vertical shafts so that they
appeared to be” smooth floor and roof.

I set rockfalls that would be triggered by a footstep on a loose paving
slab, and I packed the vertical shafts with balks of timber. As these
decayed over the centuries and the fungus devoured them, they would
emit noxious vapours that would would suffocate any intruder who
succeeded in finding his way through the secret doorways.

But before we did all this, I went to the actual burial chamber to take
leave of tonus. I carried with me a long bundle wrapped in a linen
sheet. When I stood for the last time beside the royal sarcophagus, I
sent all the workmen away. I would be the very last to leave the tomb,
and after me the entrance would be sealed.

When I was alone I opened the bundle I carried. From it I took the
long bow, Lanata. tonus had named it after my mistress and I had made
it for him. It was a last gift from the two of us. I placed it upon
the sealed stone lid of his coffin.

There was one other item in my bundle. It was the wooden ushabti
figure that I had carved. I placed it at the foot of the
sarcophagus.

While I carved it, I had set up three copper mirrors so that I could
study my own features from every angle, and reproduced them
faithfully.

The doll was a miniature Taita.

Upon the base I had inscribed the words: “My name is Taita. I am a
physician and a poet. I am an architect and a” philosopher.

I am your friend. I will answer for you. I left the tomb, I paused at
the entrance and looked back for the last time.

“Farewell, old friend, ” I said. “I am richer for having known you.
Wait for us on the other side. ” It TOOK ME MANY MONTHS To COMplete
the work on the royal tomb. As we retreated through the labyrinth, I
personally inspect every scaled doorway and every secret device that we
left behind us.

I was alone, for my mistress and the prince had gone up into the
mountains to the fortress of Prester BeniJon. They had gone with a the
court to prepare for the wedding of Memnon and Masora. Hui had
accompanied them to select the horses from the Ethiopian herds that
were part of our payment for the storming of Adbar Seged, and the
recovery of Masora.

When at last my work in the tomb was completed and my workmen had
sealed the outer entrance in the cliff-face, I also set off into the
mountains, over those cold and windy passes. I was anxious not to miss
the wedding feast, but I had left it late. The completion of the tomb
had taken longer than I had planned. I travelled as hard as the horses
could stand.

I reached Prester Beni-Jon’s palace five days before the wedding, and I
went directly to that part of the fortress where my mistress and her
suite Were lodged.

“I have not smiled since last I saw you, Taita, ” she greeted me.

“Sing for me. Tell me your stories. Make me laugh. ” It was not an
easy task she set me, for the melancholy had entered deeply into her
soul, and the truth was that I was not myself cheerful or
light-hearted.. I sensed that more “than sorrow alone was affecting
her. Soon we abandoned our attempts at merriment, and fell to
discussing affairs of state.

It might have been a love match, and a meeting of twin souls blessed by
the gods as far as the two lovers were concerned, but for the rest of
us, the joining of Memnon and Masora was a royal wedding and a contract
between nations. There were agreements and treaties to negotiate,
dowries to be decided, trade agreements to draw up between the King of
Kings and ruler of Aksum, and the regent of Egypt and the wearer of the
double crown of the two kingdoms.

As I had predicted, my mistress had been at first less than enchanted
by the prospect of her only son marrying a woman of a different race.

“In all things they are different, Taita. The gods they worship, the
language they speak, the colour of their skins! I wish he had chosen a
girl of our- own people. ” “He will, ” I reassured her. “He will
marry fifty, perhaps a hundred Egyptians. He will also marry Libyans
and Humans and Hyksos. All the races and nations he conquers and the
years; to come will provide him in in with wives, Cushites Hitiites and
Assyrians.. . ” “Stop your teasing, Taita. ” She stamped her foot
with something of her old fire. “You know full well what I mean.

They will all be marriages of state. This, his first, is Those.
othersw a marriage of two hearts. ” What she said was true. The
promise of love that Memnon and Masora had exchanged in those fleeting
moments beside the river was now blossoming.

I was especially privileged to be close to them in these heady days.
They both acknowledged and were grateful for my part in bringing them
together. I was for both of them a friend of long standing, somebody
that they trusted without question.

I did not share my mistress’s misgivings. Though they were different
in every way that she had listed, their hearts were turned from the
same mould. They both possessed a sense of dedication, a fierceness of
the spirit, a touch of the ruthlessness and the cruelty that a ruler
must have. They were a matched pair, he the tiercel and she the
falcon. I knew that she would nor distract him from his destiny, but
rather that she would encourage and incite him to greater endeavour. I
was content with my efforts as a matchmaker.

One bright mountain day, watched by twenty thousand men and women of
Ethiopia and of Egypt who crowded the slopes of the hills around them,
Memnon and Masora stood together on the river-bank and broke the jar of
water that the high priest of Osiris had scooped from the infant
Nile.

The bride and the groom led our caravan down from the mountains, laden
with the dowry of a princess and the treaties and the protocols of
kinship sealed between our two nations.

Hui and his grooms drove a herd of five thousand horses behind us.

Some of these were in payment for our mercenary services, and the rest
made up Masora’s dowry. However, before we reached the junction of the
two rivers at Qebui, we saw the dark stain on the plains ahead as
though a cloud had cast its shadow over the savannah-but the sun shone
out of a cloudless sky.

The gnu herds had returned on their annual migration.

Within weeks of this contact with the gnu, the Yellow Strangler disease
fell upon our herd of Ethiopian horses, and it swept through them like
a flash-flood in one of the valleys of the high mountains.

Naturally, Hui and I had been expecting the plague to strike when the
gnu returned, and we had made our preparations. We had trained every
groom and charioteer to perform the tracheotomy, and to treat the wound
with hot pitch to prevent mortification until the animal had a chance
to recover from the Strangler.

For many weeks none of us enjoyed much sleep, but in the end, fewer
than two thousand of our new horses died of the disease, and before the
next flooding of the Nile, those that survived were strong enough to
begin training in the chariot traces.

WHEN THE FLOODS CAME, THE PRIESTS

sacrificed on the banks of the river, each to his own god, and they
consulted the auguries for the year ahead. Some consulted the entrails
of the ?” sacrificial sheep, others watched the flight of the wild
birds, still others stared into vessels filled with water from the
Nile. They divined in their separate ways.

Queen Lostris sacrificed to Hopi. Although I attended the service with
her and joined in the liturgy and the responses of the congregation, my
heart was elsewhere. I am a Horus man, and so are Lord Kratas and
Prince Memnon. We made a sacrifice of gold and ivory to our god and
prayed for guidance.

It is not usual for the gods to agree with each other, any more than it
is for men to do so. However, this year was different from any other
that I had known. With the exception of the gods Anubis and Thoth and
the goddess Nut, the heavenly host spoke with one voice.

Those three, Anubis and-Thoth and Nut, are all lesser deities.

Their counsel could be safely discounted. All the great gods, Ammon-Ra
and Hopi and Isis and two hundred others, Osiris and Horus and, both
great and small, gave the same counsel: “The time has come for the
return to the holy black earth of Kemit. ” Lord Kratas, who is a pagan
at, heart and a cynic by nature, suggested that the entire priesthood
had conspired to place these words in the mouths of their patron
gods.

Although I expressed shocked indignation at this blasphemy, I was
secretly inclined to agree with Kratas I opinion.

The priests are soft and luxurious men, and for almost two decades we
had lived the hard lives of wanderers and warriors in the wild land of
Cush, I think they hungered for fair Thebes even more than did my
mistress. Perhaps it was not gods, but men who had given this advice
to return northwards.

Queen Lostris summoned the high council of state, and when she made the
proclamation that endorsed the dictates of the gods, the nobles and the
priests stood and cheered her to a man. I cheered as loud and as long
as any of them, and that night my dreams were filled with visions of
Thebes, and images of those far-off days when tonus and Lostris and I
had been young and happy.

SINCE THE DEATH OF TAN US THERE HAD

been no supreme commander of our armies, and the war council met in
secret conclave. Of course, I was excluded from this assembly, but my
mistress repeated to me every word that was spoken.

After long argument and debate, the command was offered to Kratas.

He stood before them, grizzled and scarred like an old lion, and he
laughed that great laugh of his and he said, “I am a soldier. I
follow. I do not lead. Give me the command of the Shilluk, and I will
follow one man to the borders of death and beyond. ” He drew his sword
then and pointed with it at the prince. “That is the man I will
follow. Hail, Memnon! May he live for ever. ” “May he live for
ever!” they shouted, and my mistress smiled. She and I had arranged
exactly this outcome.

At the age of twenty-two years Prince Memnon was elevated to the rank
of Great Lion of Egypt and commander of all her armies.

Immediately he began to plan the Return.

Though my rank was only that of Master of the Royal Horse, I was on
Prince Memnon’s staff . Often he appealed to me to solve the
logistical problems that we encountered.

During the day I drove his chariot with the blue pennant fluttering
over our heads as he reviewed the regiments, and led them in exercises
of war.

Many nights the three of us, the prince and Kratas and I, sat up late
over a jar of wine as we discussed the Return.

On those nights Princess Masora waited upon us, filling the cups with
her own graceful brown hand. Then she sat on a sheep-skin cushion at
Memnon’s feet and listened to every word. When our eyes met, she
smiled at me.

Our main concern was to avoid the hazardous and onerous transit of all
the cataracts on the way down-river. These could only be navigated in
flood season, and would thus limit the periods in which we could
travel.

I proposed that we build another fleet of barges below the fifth
cataract; with these we could transport our army down to the
departure-point for the desert crossing of the great hight. When we
regained the river above the first cataract, we would rebuild another
squadron of fast fighting galleys and barges to carry us down to
Elephantine.

I was sure that if we timed it correctly, and if we could shoot the
rapids and surprise the Hyksos fleet anchored in the roads of
Elephantine, we would be able to deal the enemy a painful blow and
capture the galleys we needed to augment our force of fighting ships.

Once we had secured a foothold, we would then be able to bring down our
infantry and our chariots through the gorge of the first cataract, and
engage the Hyksos on the flood-plains of Egypt.

We began the first stage of the Return the following flood season.

At Qebui, which had been our capital seat for so many years, we left
only a garrison force. Qebui would become merely a trading outpost of
the empire. The riches of Cush and Ethiopia would flow northwards to
Thebes through this entrept.

When the main fleet sailed back into the north, Hui and I, with five
hundred grooms and a squadron of chariots, remained behind to await the
return of the gnu migration.

They came as suddenly as they always did, a vast black stain spreading
over the golden savannah -grasslands. We went out to meet them in the
chariots. it was a simple matter to capture these ungainly brutes.

We ran them down with the chariots, and dropped a noose of rope over
their ugly heads as we ran alongside them. The gnu lacked the speed
and the spirit of our horses. They fought the ropes only briefly and
then resigned themselves to capture. Within ten days, we had penned
over six thousand of them in the stockades on the bank of the Nile
which we had built for this purpose.

It was here in the stockades that their lack of stamina and strength
was most apparent. Without cause or reason, they died in their
hundreds. We treated them kindly and gently.

We fed them and watered them as we would our horses. It was as though
their wild wandering spirits would not be fettered, and they pined
away.

In the end we lost over half of those that we had captured, and many
more died on the long voyage to the north.

TWO FULL YEARS AFTER QUEEN LOSTRIS

had commanded the Return, our people assembled on the east bank of the
Nile above the fourth cataract. Before us lay the desert road across
the great hight of the river.

For the whole of the previous year the caravans of wagons had set out
from here. Each of them had been laden with clay jars filled to the
brim with Nile water, and sealed with wooden plugs and hot pitch. Every
ten miles along the dusty road we had set up watering stations. At
these, thirty thousand water jars had been buried to prevent them
cracking and bursting in the rays of that furious sun.

We were nearly fifty thousand souls and as many animals, including my
dwindling herd of captured gnu. The water carts set out from the river
each evening. Their task was unending.

We waited on the river-bank for the rise of the new moon to light our
way across the wilderness. Although we had planned our departure for
this the coolest season of the year, still the heat and the sun would
be deadly, to both man and beast. We would travel only at night.

Two days before we were due to begin the crossing, my MIS tress said,
“Taita, when did you and I last spend a day together fishing on the
river? Make ready your fish-spears and a skiff. ” I knew that she had
something of deep import that she wished to discuss with me. We
drifted down on those green waters until I could moor the skiff to a
willow tree on the far bank, where we were out of earshot of the
inquisitive.

First we spoke of the imminent departure along the desert road, and the
prospects of the return to Thebes.

“When will I see her shining walls again, Taita?” my mistress sighed,
and I could only tell her that I did not know.

“If the gods are kind, we might be in Elephantine by this time next
season when the Nile flood carries our ships down the first cataract.
After that, our fortunes will ebb and flow like the river, with the
hazards and fortunes of war. ” However, this was not what she had
brought me out on to the river to discuss, and now her eyes swam with
tears as she asked, “How long has tonus been gone from us, Taita?”

My voice choked as I answered, “He Set out on his journey to the fields
of paradise over three years ago, mistress. ” So it is longer than
that by many months that I last lay in. his arms, ” she mused, and I
nodded.

I was uncertain in which direction her questions were leading us.

“I have dreamed of him almost every night since then, Taita. Is it
possible that he might have returned to leave his seed in my womb while
I still slept?” “All things in heaven are possible, ” I replied
carefully.

“We told the people that was how Tehuti and Bekatha were conceived.
However, in all truth and seriousness, I -have never heard of it
happening before. ” We were both silent for a while, and she trailed
her hand in the water and then lifted it to watch the drops fall from
her fingertips. Then she spoke again without looking at me.

“I think I am to have another child, ” she whispered. “My red moon has
waned and withered away. ” “Mistress, ” I answered her quietly, and
with tact, “you are approaching that time of your life when the rivers
of your womb will begin to dry up. ” Our Egyptian women are like
desert flowers that bloom early but fade as swiftly.

She shook her head. “No, Taita. It is not that. I feel the infant
growing within me. ” I stared at her silently. Once again I felt the
wings of tragedy -brush lightly past me, . stirring the air and
raising the hair upon my forearms.

“You do not have to ask me if I have known another man. ” This time
she looked directly into my eyes as she spoke. “You know that I have
not. ” “This I know full well. Yet I cannot believe that you have
been impregnated by a ghost, no matter how beloved and welcome that
ghost might be. Perhaps your desire for an other child has fathered
your imagination. ” “Feel my womb, Taita” she commanded. “This is a
living thing within me. Each day it grows. ” “I will do so tonight,
in the privacy of your cabin. Not here upon the river where prying
eyes might discover us. ”

MY MISTRESS LAY NAKED UPON THE

linen sheets, “and I studied first her face and then her body. When I
looked upon her with the eyes of a man, she was still lovely to me, but
as a physician I could see clearly how the years and the hardships of
this life in the wilderness had wrought their cruel change. Her hair
was more silver than sable now, and bereavement and the cares of the
regency had chiselled their grim message on her brow.

She was growing old.

Her body. was the vessel which had given life to three other lives.
But her breasts were empty now, there was none of the milk of a new
pregnancy swelling there in. She was thin. I should have noticed that
before. It was an unnatural thinness, almost an emaciation. Yet her
belly ” protruded like a pale ivory ball out of proportion to those
slim arms and legs.

I laid my hands lightly upon her belly, upon the silvery streaks where
the skin had once stretched to accommodate a joyful burden. I felt the
thing within her and I knew at once that this was not life beneath my
fingers. This was death.

I could not find words . I turned away from her and went out on to the
deck and I looked up at the night stars. They were cold and very far
away. Like the gods, they did not care. There was no profit in
appealing to them, gods. or stars.

I knew this thing that was growing within my mistress, I had felt it in
the bodies of other women. When they died, I had opened the dead womb
and seen the thing that had killed them. It was horrible and deformed,
bearing no resemblance to anything human or even animal. It was a
shapeless ball of red and angry flesh. It was a thing of Seth.

It was a long time before I could gather the courage to return to the
cabin.

My mistress had covered herself with a robe. She sat in the centre of
the bed and looked at me with those huge, dark green eyes that had
never aged. She looked like the little girl I once had known.

“Mistress, why did -you not tell me about the pain?” I asked gently.

“How do you know about the pain?” she whispered back.

“I tried to hide it from you. “OUR CARAVAN SEt OUt INTO THE DESert,
traveling by moonlight across the silver sands.

Sometimes my mistress walked at my side, and the two princesses
frolicked along with us, laughing and excited by the adventure. At
other times, when the pain was bad, my mistress rode in the wagon that
I had equipped for her comfort. Then I sat beside her and held her
hand until the powder of the sleeping-flower worked its magic and gave
her surcease.

Every night we travelled just as far as the next watering road that was
now well beaten by the station along the thousands of vehicles that had
preceded us. During the long days we lay beneath the awning of the
wagon and drowsed in the sweltering heat.

We had been thirty days and nights upon the road when in the dawn we
saw a remarkable sight. A disembodied sail upon the desert, moving
gently southwards over the sands.

It was not until we had journeyed on for many more miles that we saw
how we had been deceived. The hull of the galley had been hidden from
us by the bank of the Nile, and below the dunes the river ran on
eternally. We had crossed the loop.

Prince Memnon and all his staff were there to greet US.

Already the squadron of new galleys had almost completed fitting out.
It was the sail of one of these that we had first descried as we
approached the river again. Every plank and mast had been cut and sawn
on the great plains of Cush, and transported across the loop of the
river. All the chariots were assembled. Hui had herded all the horses
across the desert, and the wagons had carried their fodder with them.

Even my gnu were waiting in their stockades upon the river bank.

Although the wagon caravans carrying the women and the children still
followed, the main body of our nation had been brought across.

It had been an undertaking that almost defied belief, a labour of
godlike proportions. Only men like Kratas and Remrem and Memnon could
have accomplished it in so short a time.

Now only the first cataract still stood between us and the sacred earth
of our very Egypt.

We went on northwards again. My mistress sailed in the new barge that
had been built for her and the princesses.

There was a large and airy cabin for her, and I had equipped it with
every luxury that was available to us. The hangings were of
embroidered Ethiopian wool, and the furniture was of dark acacia wood
inlaid with ivory and the gold of Cush.

I decorated the bulkheads with paintings of flowers and birds and other
pretty things.

As always, I slept at the foot of my mistress’s bed. Three nights
after we sailed, I woke in the night. She was weeping silently.

Although she had stifled her sobs with a pillow, the shaking of her
shoulders had awakened me. I went to her immediately.

“The pain has come again?” I asked.

“I did not mean to wake you, but it is like a sword in my belly. ” I
mixed her a draught of the sleeping-flower, stronger than I had ever
given to her before. The pain was beginning to triumph over the
flower.

She drank it and lay quietly for a while. Then she said, “Can you not
cut this thing out of my body, Taita? “No, mistress. I cannot “Then
hold me, Taita. Hold me the way you used to do when-I was a little
girl. ” I went into her bed, and I took her in MY arms. I cradled
her, and she was as thin and light as a child. I rocked her tenderly,
and after a while she slept.

THE FLEEt REACHED THE HEAD OF the first cataract above Elephantine, and
we moored against the bank in the quiet flow of the river before the
Nile felt . the urging of the cascades and plunged into the gorge.

We waited for the rest of the army to be ferried down to us, all the
horses and the chariots and Lord Kratas, pagan Shilluk regiments.

We waited also for the Nile to rise and open the cataract for us to
pass down into Egypt.

While we waited, we sent spies down through the gorge.

They were dressed as peasants and priests and merchants with goods to
trade. I went down with Kratas into the gorge to map and mark the
passage. Now at low water, every hazard was exposed. We painted
chnels markers on the C rocks above the high-water line, so that even
when the flood covered them, we would still know where those obstacles
lurked, We were many weeks at this labour, and when we returned to
where the fleet was moored, the army was assembled there. We sent out
scouting parties to find a route for the chariots and the horses
through the rock desert down in to Egypt. We could not risk such a
precious cargo to the Wild waters of the cataract.

Our spies began to return from Elephantine. They came in secretly and
singly, usually in the night. They brought us the very first news of
our mother-land that we had heard in all the years of exile. and his
King Salitis still reigned, but he was old now, his beard had turned
silver-white. His two sons were the mightY men of the Hyksos legions.
Prince Bean commanded the infantry and Prince Apachan commanded the
chariots.

The might of the Hyksos exceeded all our estimates. Our spies reported
that Apachan disposed of twelve thousand chariots. We had brought down
only four thousand from Cush. Bean had forty thousand archers and
infantry. Even with Kratas” Shilluk, we could muster only fifteen
thousand.

We were heavily outnumbered.

There was cheering news also. The great bulk of the Hyksos force was
held in the Delta, and Salitis had made his ital at the city of
Memphis. It would take months for his captains to move his forces
south to Elephantine and Thebes. He would not be able to bring his
chariots up-river until the floods abated and the land dried. There
was only a single squadron of chariots guarding the city of
Elephantine, one hundred chariots to oppose our entry. They were of
the old sol” wheel type. It seemed that the Hyksos had not yet
perfected the spoked wheel.

Prince Memnon laid out his battle plan for us. We would pass through
the cataract on the flood, and seize Elephantine. Then, while Salitis
moved southwards to Oppose us, we would march on Thebes, raising the
populace in insurrection as we went.

We could expect Salitis to give battle with his full army on the
flood-plains before Thebes, once the Nile waters had subsided. By then
we could hope that the disparity in the numbers of the two armes would
be redressed in part by the Egyptian troops that would rally to our
standard.

We learned from our spies that the Hyksos did not suspect the presence
of our army of liberation so’ close to their border, and that we could
expect to gain the element of surprise with our first assault.

We learned also that Salitis had adopted our Egyptian way of life.

These days he lived in old Sutekh our palaces and worshipped our
gods.

Even hispropriately, had changed his name to Seth, and was, very
appropriately still his principal god.

Although all his senior officers were Hyksos many of ruite Salitis”
captains and sergeants had been recd from amongst the Egyptians, and
half the common soldiers were of our own nation.

Most of these would have been infants or not yet born at the time of
our exodus. We wondered where their loyalties would lie, when Prince
Memnon led our army down into Egypt.

All was in readiness now. The scouts had marked a road through the
desert of the west bank, and the water wagons had laid down Stores of
fodder and water jars along the “length of it, enough to see our
chariots through to the fertile plains of our very Egypt. Our galleys
were rigged and manned for battle. When the Nile flooded, we would
sail, but in the meantime there was one last ritual to complete.

We climbed the bluff above the river to where the obelisk that my
mistress had raised over two decades before, still It stood, a tall and
elegant finger of stone pointing into the cloudless blue of the African
sky.

MY mistress was too weak to climb the rugged pathwaye to the summit.
Ten slaves carried her up in a sedan-chair, and set her down below the
tall monument. She walked painfully slowly to the foot of the pillar
on the arm of Prince Memnon, and gazed up at the inscription carved in
the granite. Our whole nation watched her, all those souls who had
found their way back to this point from which we had set out so long
ago.

My mistress read the inscription aloud. Her voice was soft, but still
so musical that it carried clearly to “where I stood behind the great
lords and the generals.

“I, Queen Lostris, Regent of Egypt and widow of Pharaoh Mamose, the
eighth of that name, mother of the Crown Prince Menition, who shall
rule the two kingdoms after me, have ordained the raising of this
monument.. .

When she had finished the reading, she turned to face her people and
spread her arms.

“I have done that which was required of me, ” she said, and her voice
regained some of its old power. “I have led you back to the border of
your land. My task is completed and I relinquish the regency. ” She
paused, and for a moment her eyes met mine over the heads of the
nobles. I nodded slightly to encourage her, and she went on.

“Citizens of Egypt, it is fitting that you have a true Pharaoh to lead
you the last steps of the way home. I give to you the divine Pharaoh
Tamose, who once was the Crown Prince Memnon. May he live for ever!”
“May he live for ever!” the nation roared in one voice.

“May he live for. ever!” Pharaoh Tamose stepped forward to face his
people. “May he live for ever!” they shouted the third time, and our
new Pharaoh drew the blue sword from its jewelled scabbard and saluted
them with it.

In the silence that followed, his voice rang and echoed from the gaunt
red crags of the hills.

“I take up this sacred trust. I swear- on in hope of eternal life to
serve my people and . my”

land all my days. I shall not flinch from this duty, and I call upon
all the gods to witness my oath. ” THE FLOOD CAME. THE WATERS ROSE UP
the rocks that guarded the entrance to the gorge, and the colour
changed from green to grey. The cataract began to growl like a beast
in its lair and the spray-cloud rose into the sky and stood as high as
the hills that flanked the Nile.

I went aboard the leading galley with Lord Kratas and Pharaoh. We
dropped our mooring and shoved off into the stream. The rowers on the
benches were stripped to their breech-clouts, their faces turned up to
watch Kratas as he stood high in the stern, gripping the steering-oar
in his bearlike fists.

In the bows two teams of sailors under the king stood ready with heavy
oars to fend off. I stood beside Kratas, with the map of the rapids
spread on the deck in front of me, ready to call the twists and turns
of the channel to him as we came to them. I did not really need the
map, for I had memorized every line drawn upon it. In addition to
which, I had stationed reliable men on the sides of the gorge and on
the islands in the main stream ahead of us. They would use signal
flags to show us the way through.

As the current quickened beneath our keel, I cast one last glance
backwards and saw the rest of the squadron fall into line astern behind
us, ready to follow us down the cataract.

Then I looked forward again, and felt the fist of fear tighten on my
bowels so that I was forced to squeeze my buttocks together. Ahead of
us the gorge smoked like the mouth of a furnace.

Our speed built up with deceptive stealth. The rowe irs touched the
surface lightly with the blades of the oars, just enough to keep our
bows pointed downstream. We floated so lightly and so smoothly that we
seemed to be drifting. it was only when I looked at the banks, and saw
them stream past us, that I realized how fast we were running.

The rock portals of the gorge flew to meet us. None the less, it was
only when I noticed the grin on Kratas” craggy face that I realized the
true danger of what we were attempting.

Kratas only grinned like that when he saw death crook a bony finger at
him.

“Come on, you rogues!” he shouted at his crew. “This day I’ll make
your mothers proud of you, or I’ll find work for the embalmers. ” The
river was split by three islands, and the channel narrowed.

“Bear to port, and steer for the blue cross. ” I tried to sound
casual, but at that moment I felt the deck tip beneath my feet, and I
clutched at the rail.

We flew down a chute of grey water, and our bows swung giddily. I
thought that we were already out of control, and waited for the crunch
of rock and for the deck to burst open beneath my feet. Then I saw the
bows steady, and the blue Cross Painted on the wall of rock was dead
ahead.

“Hard to starboard as we come up to the flag!” my voice squeaked, but
I picked out the man on the centre island flagging us into the turn,
and Kratas. put the steering-oar over and yelled at the benches, “All
back right, pull together left!” The deck canted sharply as we spun
into the turn.

The wall of rock flashed past us, and we were going at the speed of a
galloping horse. One more turn and the first lay ahead. Black rock
stood across our path, and the rapi waters piled upon it. The water
took on the shape of the rocks beneath it. It bulged and stood in tall
static waves. It opened into smooth green gulleys. It curled upon
itself and exploded into veils of white through which the rock snarled
us with black fangs. My stomach clenched as we leaped at over the edge
and dropped down the slope. At the bottom we wallowed and spun, like a
stalk of dry grass in a whirlwind.

“Pull left!” Kratas bellowed. “Pull till your balls bounce We
steadied and aimed for the next gap in the rock, and the white water
dashed over the deck and into my eyes and the waves alongside, running
in tandem with us, stood taller than our poop-deck.

“By Seth’s tattered and festering foreskin, I’ve not had soe much sport
since I tupped my first ewe!” Kratas laughed, and the rock sprang at
us like a charging bull elephant.

We touched once, and the rock rasped along our belly.

The deck shuddered beneath our feet, and I was too afraid to scream.
Then Memnon’s team poled us free and we raced on down.

Behind us I heard the shattering crash as one of the other galleys
struck hard. I dared not look round as I judged our next turn, but
soon there were wreckage and the heads -of drowning men bobbing and
swirling in the torrent on both sides of us. They screamed to us as
they were borne away and dashed upon the spurs of rock, but we could
offer them no succour. Death pressed hard upon our heels and we ran on
with the stench of it in our nostrils.

In that hour I lived a hundred lives, and died in every one of them.
But- at last we were hurled from the bottom of the cataract into the
main body of the river. Of the twenty-three galleys that had entered
the gorge, eighteen followed us out.

The others had been smashed to flotsam, and the corpses of their
drowned crew washed down beside us in the grey Nile flood.

There was not time for us to celebrate our deliverance.

Dead ahead lay the Island of Elephantine, and on both banks of the
river stood the well-remembered walls and buildings of the city.

“Archers, string your bows!” King Tamose called from the bows.

“Hoist the blue pennant! Drummer, increase the beat to attack sped!
“Our tiny squadron flew into the mass of shipping that clogged the
roads of Elephantine. Most of it was made up of trade barges and
transports.

We passed these by, and went for the Hyksos galleys. The Hyksos had
manned their fighting ships with Egyptian sailors, for nobody knew the
river better. Only their officers were Hyksos. Most of them were
ashore, carousing in the pleasure-palaces of the docks.

Our spies had told us which was the flag of the southern admiral, a
swallowtail of scarlet and gold so long that the end of it dipped in
the water. We steered for, the ship that flew her, and Memnon boarded
her over the side with twenty men at his back.

“Freedom from the Hyksos tyrant!” they roared. “Stand up for this
very Egypt!” The crew gaped at them. They had been taken completely
by surprise, and most of them were unarmed. Their weapons were locked
away below decks, for the Hyksos officers trusted them not at all.

The other galleys of our squadron had each. picked out one of the
enemy fighting-ships and boarded it as swiftly.

On all of them the reaction of the crew was the same. After the first
surprise they shouted the question, “Who are you?” And the reply was,
” Egyptian! The army of the true Pharaoh Tamose. Join with us,
countrymen! Cast out the tyrant!” They turned on their Hyksos
officers and cut them down before we could reach them. Then they
embraced our men, roaring out a welcome.

“For Egypt!” they cheered. “For Tamose! For Egypt and Tamose!”

The cheering jumped from ship to ship. Men danced upon the rails and
swarmedu the masts to tear down the Hyksos banners. They broke open
the arms stores and passed out bows and swords, Then they poured
ashore. They dragged the Hykso’s from the taverns and hacked them to
bloody shreds, so that the gutters discharged a scarlet flood into the
harbour waters.

They ran through the streets to the barracks of the garrison, and fell
upon the guard.

“For Egypt and Tamose!” they chanted. Some of the Hyksos officers
rallied their men, and held out for a while in pockets surrounded by
the rabble. Then Kratas and Memnon came ashore with their veterans,
and within two hours the city was ours.

Most of the Hyksos chariots were abandoned in their lines, but half a
squadron was escaping through the east gate galloping away over the
causeway that crossed the undated fields to the dry ground beyond.

I had left the ship and hurried through the back alleys, that I knew so
well; to the north tower on the city walls. From there I knew I would
have the best view over the city and surrounding countryside.
Bitterly, I watched the escaping detachment of chariots. Every one
that got away now would have to be fought later, and I wanted those
horses.

I was about to turn away and watch what was happening in the city below
me, when I saw a little finger of dust rising from the foot of the
harsh southern hills.

I shaded my eyes and stared at it. I felt the quickening of exitement.
The dust was coming towards us swiftly, I could make out the dark
shapes beneath it.

“By Horus, it’s Remrem!” I whispered with delight. The old warrior
had brought the first division of chariots through the bad ground of
the hills quicker than I would have believed possible. it was only two
days since we had parted.

I watched with professional pride as the first division opened from
columns of four into line abreast. Hui and I and Remrem had trained
them well. It was perfectly done, and Remren had the Hyksos in
enfilade.

Half their vehicles were still on the causeway. It seemed to me that
the enemy commander was not even aware of the massed squadrons bearing
down upon his exposed flank. I think he must still have been looking
back over his shoulder. At the very last moment he tried to swing into
line abreast to meet Remrem’s charge, but it was far too late. He
would have done better to turn tail and run for it.

Remrems chariots poured over him in a wave, and he was washed away like
debris in the stream of the Nile. I watched until I was certain that
Rernrem, had captured most of the Hyksos horses, and only then did I
sigh with relief: and turn to look down into the city.

The populace had gone wild with the joy of liberation.

They were dancing through the streets, waving any piece of blue cloth
that came to hand. Blue was the colour of Pharaoh Tamose. The women
tied blue ribbons in their hair, and the men wound blue sashes around
their waists and tied on blue arm-bands.

There was still some isolated fighting, but gradually the surviving
Hyksos were cut down or dragged from the buildings they were trying to
defend. One of the barracks with several hundred men still inside it
was put to the torch. I heard the screams of the men as they burned,
and soon the aroma of scorched flesh drifted up to me. It smelled like
roasting pork.

Of course there was looting, and some of our upstanding citizens broke
into the taverns and the wine shops and carried the jars out into the
street. When one of the jars broke, they went down on all fours and
guzzled the wine out of the gutter like hogs.

I saw three men chase a girl down the alley below where I stood.

When they caught her they threw her down and ripped her skirt away..

Two of them pinned her limbs and held her spreadeagled while -the third
man mounted her. I did not watch the rest of it.

As soon as Memnon and Kratas had stamped out the last pockets of Hyksos
resistance, they set about restoring order to the city. Squads ‘of
disciplined troops trotted through the streets, using the shafts of
their war spears as clubs to beat sense into the drunken and delirious
mob.

Memnon ordered a handful of those taken in the act of rape and looting
to be strangled on the spot, and their corpses were hung by the heels
from the city gates. By nightfall the city was quiet, and decent men
and women could once more safely walk her streets.

Memnon set up his headquarters in Pharaoh Mamose’s palace, which had
once been our home on Elephantine Island. The moment I stepped ashore
I hurried to our old quarters in the harem.

They were still luxuriously appointed and had-escaped the looters.

Whoever had occupied them had treated my murals with the respect they
warranted. ” The water -garden was a profusion of lovely plants, and
the ponds were, filled with fish and lotus. The Egyptian gardener told
me that the Hyksos garrison commander who had lived here had admired
our Egyptian ways, and had tried to ape them. I was thankful for
that.

Within days I had restored the rooms and garden to a state in which
they were once more fit to receive my mistress. Then I went to Memnon
to ask permission to bring the queen home.

Pharaoh was distracted by the burden of taking firm hold of his
kingdom. There were ten thousand matters that demanded his attention
but he put them aside for the moment and embraced me.

“It all goes well, Tota. ” “A happy return, Your Majesty, ” I replied,
“but there is still so much to do. ” “It is my royal command that when
you and I are alone like this, you continue to call me Mein. ” He
smiled at me.

“But you are right, there is little time left and much to do, to us
before Salitis and all his host marches up from the Delta to oppose us.
We have won the first little skirmish.

The great battles lie ahead of us. ” “There is one duty that will give
me great pleasure, Mein.

I have prepared quarters for the queen mother. May I go up-river and
bring her home to Elephantine? She has waited too long already to set
foot on Egyptian soil. ” “Leave at once, Tota, ” he commanded, “and
bring Queen Masora down with you. ” The river was too high and the
desert road too rough. One hundred slaves “carried the litters of the
two queens along the banks of the Nile, through the gorge and down into
our green valley.

It was not pure coincidence that the first building we came to as we
crossed the border was a small temple. I had planned our route to
bring us here.

“What shrine is this, Taita?” my mistress drew aside the curtain of
her litter to ask.

“It is the temple of the god Akh-Horus, mistress. Do you wish to pray
here?” “Thank you, ” she whispered. She knew what I had done.

I helped her down from the litter, and she leaned heavily upon me as we
entered the cool gloom of the stone builning. We prayed together, and
I felt certain that tonus was listening to the voices of the two people
in all the world who had loved him most. Before we went on, my
mistress ordered me to hand over all the gold that we had with us to
the priests, and promised to send more for the upkeep and the
beautification of the temple.

By the time we reached the Palace of Elephantine, she was exhausted.
Each day the thing in her womb grew larger as it fed upon her wasting
body. I laid her on a couch under the barrazza in the water-garden,
and she closed her eyes and rested for a while. Then she opened them
again and Smiled at me softly. “We were happy here once, but will I
ever see Thebes again before I die?” I could. not answer her, It was
idle to make promises to her that were not mine to keep.

“If I die before that, will you promise to take me back and build me a
tomb in the hills from where I can look across and see my beautiful
city?” “That I promise you with all my heart, ” I replied.

During THE DAYS THAt FOLLOWED, ATON

and I resuscitated our old spider’s web of spies and == informers
across the Upper Kingdom. Many off those who once worked for us were
long dead,

but there were also many who were not. With the bait of gold and
patriotism, they recruited other younger spies in every village and
city.

Soon we had spies in the palace of the Hyksos satrap in Thebes, and
others as far north as the Delta of the Lower Kingdom. Through them we
learned which Hyksos regiments were billeted in each town, and which of
them were on the march. We learned their strength, and the names and
foibles of their commanders. We had an exact count of the numbers of
their ships and their chariots, and as the floodwaters of the Nile
receded, we were able to follow the Southward movement of this huge
mass of men and fighting machines, as King Salitis marched on Thebes.

I smuggled secret messages in the name of Pharaoh Tamose to those
Egyptians in the regiments of the enemy, urging them to revolt. They
started to trickle in through our lines, bringing more valuable
intelligence with them. Soon the trickle of deserters from the Hyksos
armies became a flood. Two full regiments of archers came marching in
under arms, with the blue banner waving over them, and chanting, “Egypt
and Tamose!” The crews of a hundred fighting galleys mutinied and slew
their Hyksos officers. When they came sailing up-river to join us,
they drove before them a fleet of barges that they had captured in the
port of Thebes. These were laden with ha grain and oil and salt and
flax and timber, all the sinews at war.

By this time, all our own forces were down through the cataract and
deployed around the city, except only the small herd of tame gnu.

These I had left until the very last. From the lookout in the north
tower, I could see the horse-lines extending for miles along both
banks, and the smoke from -the cooking fires of the regimental
encampments turned the air blue.

Each day we were growing stronger, and the whole of Egypt was in a
ferment of excitement and anticipation. The heady aroma of freedom
perfumed each breath we drew.

Kemit was a nation in the process of rebirth. They sang the patriotic
anthems in the streets and the taverns, and the harlots and the wine
merchants grew fat.

Aton , and I, poring over our maps and secret despatches, saw a
different picture emerging. We saw the Hyksos, giant shaking itself
awake, and stretching out a mailed fist towards us. From Memphis and
every city and wharf in the Delta, King Salitis” regiments were on the
march. Every road was crowded with his chariots, and the river ran
with his shiping. All of this was moving south upon Thebes.

I waited until I knew that Lord Apachan, the commander Of the Hyksos
chariots, had reached Thebes and was encamped outside the city walls
with his vehicles and all his horses. Then I went before the war
council of Pharaoh Tamose.

“Your Majesty, I have come to report that the enemy now have one
hundred and twenty thousand horses and twelve thousand chariots massed
at Thebes. Within two months, the Nile will have subsided to the level
that will enable Apachan to begin his final advance. ” Even Kratas
looked grave. “We have known worse odds.. . ” he began, but the king
cut him short.

“I can tell by his face that the Master of the Royal Horse has more to
tell us. Am I right, Taita?” “Pharaoh is always right, ” I agreed. “I
beg your permission to bring down my gnu from above the cataract. ”
Kratas laughed. “By Seth’s bald head, Taita, do you intend riding out
against the Hyksos on one of those clownish brutes of yours?”

I laughed with him politely. His sense of humour has the same subtlety
as that of the savage Shilluk he commands.

The next morning Hui and I set off up-river to bring down the gnu.

By this time there were only three hundred of these sorry creatures
left alive out of the original six thousand, but they were quite tame
and could be fed from the hand.

We herded them down at a gentle pace, so as not to weaken them
further.

The horses that memren had captured in that first brief battle with the
escaping Hyksos chariots had on my orders been kept separated from our
own horses that we had brought down with us from Cush. Hui and I moved
the gnu into the same pasture with them, and after the first uneasiness
between the two species, they were all feeding peaceably together. That
night we penned gnu and Hyksos horses in the same stockade. I left Hui
to watch over them and returned to the palace on Elephantine Island.

I will admit now to a great deal of uncertainty and worry over the days
that followed. I had invested so much faith in the success of this
ruse, which, after all, depended on a natural event that I did not
fully understand. If it failed, we would be faced with the full fury
of an enemy that outnumbered us by at least four to one.

I had worked late with Aton and had fallen asleep over my scrolls in
the palace library, when I was shaken awake by uncouth hands, and Hui
was shouting in my ear. “Come on, you lazy old rascal! Wake up!

I have something for you. ” He had horses waiting at the landing.

We hurried to them as soon as the ferry put us ashore, and mounted
up.

We galloped all the way along the river-bank in the moonlight, and rode
into the horse-lines with our mounts in a lather.

The grooms had lamps lit and were working in the stockade by their
feeble yellow light.

Seven of the Hyksos horses were down already with the thick yellow pus
pouring from their mouths and nostrils. The grooms were cutting into
their windpipes and placing the hollow reeds to save them from choking
and suffocating.

“It worked!” Hui shouted, and seized me in a coarse embrace and danced
me in a circle. “The Yellow Strangler! It worked! It worked!”

“I thought of it, didn’t I?” I told him with all the dignity that his
antics allowed me. “Of course it worked. ” The barges had been moored
against the bank these weeks past, ready for this day. We loaded the
horses immediately, all of those who could still stand upright. The
gnu we left in the stockade. Their presence would be too difficult to
explain where we were going.

With one of the captured Hyksos galleys towing each of the barges, we
rowed out into the current and turned northwards. With fifty oars a
side and the wind and current behind us, we made good speed as we
hurried down to Thebes to deliver our gift to Lord.

Apachan.

AS SOON AS WE PASSED KOM-OMBO WE lowered the blue flag, and hoisted
captured Hyksos command banners. Most of the crew of the galleys that
were towing the barges had been born under Hyksos rule, some of them
were of mixed parentage and ” Spoke the foreign language with
colloquial fluency.

Two nights north of Kom-Ombo, we were hoed by a Hyksos galley.

They laid alongside and sent a boarding party over to inspect our
cargo.

“Horses for the chariots of Lord Apachan, ” our captain told them.

His father was Hyksos but his mother was an Egyptian noblewoman.

His deportment was natural and his, credentials convincing.

After a cursory inspection they passed us through. We -were stopped
and boarded twice more before we reached Thebes, but each time our
captain was able to deceive the Hyksos officers who came aboard.

My chief concern by this time was the state of the horses. despite Our
best efforts, they were beginning to die, and half of those still alive
were in a pitiful condition. We threw the carcasses overboard, and ran
on northwards at our best speed.

My original plan had been to sell the horses to the Hyksos
quartermasters in the port of Thebes, but no man who knew horseflesh
would look at this pitiful herd. Hui and I decided upon another
course.

We timed the last leg of our voyage to arrive at Thebes as the sun was
setting. My heart ached as I recognized all the familiar landmarks.
The walls of the citadel glowed pinkly in the last rays of the sun.
Those three elegant towers that I had built for Lord Inter still
pointed to the sky, they were aptly named the Fingers of Horus.

The Palace of Memnon on the west bank, which I had left uncompleted,
had been rebuilt by the Hyksos. Even I had to admit that the Asiatic
influence was pleasing. In this light the spires and watch-towers were
endowed with a mysterious and exotic quality. I wished that my
mistress was there to share, this moment of homecoming with me. We had
both, longed for it over half her lifetime In the fading light we were
still able to make out the vast concourse of men and horses and
chariots and wagons that lay outside the City walls.

Although I had received accurate reports, it had not been possible to
visualize such multitudes.

My spirits quailed as I looked upon them, and remembered the gallant
little army I had left at Elephantine.

We would need every favour of the gods, and more than a little good
fortune to triumph against such a host. As the last light faded into
night, the fires of the Hyksos bloomed and twinkled upon the plain,
like a field of stars. There was no end to them-they stretched away to
the limit of the eye.

As we sailed closer, we smelled them. There is a peculiar odour that a
standing army exudes. It is a blend of many smells, of dung-fires and
of cooking food, the sweet smell of new-cut hay and the ammoniac al
smell of the horses, and the stench of human sewage in open pits, of
leather and pitch and horse-sweat and wood shavings and sour beer.

Most of all it is the smell of men, tens of thousands of men, living
close to each other in tents and huts and hovels.

We sailed on, and the sounds floated across the star-lit waters to our
silent ship; the snort and the whinny of horses, the sound of the
copper smiths hammers on the anvil beating out spear-heads and blades,
the challenges of the sentries, and the voices of men singing and
arguing and laughing.

I stood beside the captain on the deck of the leading galley and guided
him in towards the east bank. I remembered the wharf of the timber
merchants outside the city walls. If it still stood, it would be the
best point at which to disembark our herd.

I picked out the entrance to the dock, and we pushed in under oars. The
wharf was exactly as . I remembered it. As we came alongside, the
harbour-master came fussing on board, demanding our papers and our
licence to trade.

I fawned upon him, bowing and grinning obsequiously.

“Excellency, there has been a terrible accident. My licence were blown
from my hand by the wind, a trick of Seth, no doubt. ” He blew himself
up like an angry bullfrog, and then subsided again as I pressed a heavy
gold ring into his fat paw.

He tested the metal between his teeth, and went away smiling. I sent
one of the grooms ashore to douse the torches that illuminated the
wharf. I did not want curious eyes to see the condition of the horses
that we brought ashore Some of our animals were too weak to rise,
others staggered and wheezed, they drooled the stinking mucus from
mouth and nostrils. We were forced to place head-halters on them and
coax them out of the barge on to the wharf. In the end there were only
a hundred horses strong enough to walk.

We led them down the wagon-track to the high ground where our spies had
told us the main horse-lines were laid out. Our spies had also
provided us with the password of the Hyksos first division of chariots,
and the linguists among us replied to the challenges of the sentries.

We walked our horses the entire length of the enemy encampment.

As we went, we began to turn our stricken animals loose, leaving a few
of them to wander through the, lines of every one of the Hyksos” twenty
chariot divisions.

We moved so casually and naturally that no alarm was raised, we even
chatted and joked with the enemy grooms and horse-handlers we met along
the way. ” As the first streaks of dawn showed in the eastern sky, we
trudged back to the timber wharf on which we had disembarked. Only one
of the galleys had waited to take us off, the rest of the flotilla had
cast off and turned back southwards as soon as they had discharged
their cargo of diseased horses.

We went aboard the remaining ship, and although Hui and the other
grooms threw themselves exhausted upon the deck, I stood at the
stern-rail and watched the walls of my beautiful Thebes washed by the
pure early light, sink from view behind us.

Ten days later, we sailed into the port of Elephantine, and after I had
reported to Pharaoh Tamose, I hurried to the water-garden in the harem.
My mistress lay in the shade of the barrazza. She was pale and so thin
that I could not keep MY hands from trembling as I stretched out to her
in obeisance. She wept when she saw me.

“I missed you, Taita. There is so little time left for us to be
together. ” THE NILE- BEGAN TO SHRINK BACK-INTO “her bed. The fields
emerged from under the inundation, glistening black under a thick coat
of rich mud. The roads began to dry out, opening the way northwards.
Soon it would be time for the plough, and the time for war.

Aton and I waited anxiously, perusing every report from our spies in
the north it came at last, the intelligence for which we had waited and
prayed. The news was carried by a fast felucca, flying to us on the
wings of the north wind. it docked in the third watch of the night,
but the messenger found Aton and me still working by lamplight in his
cell.

I hurried with the dirty scrap of papyrus to the royal apartments.

The guards had orders to let me pass at any hour, but Queen Masora met
me at the curtained doorway to the king’s bedchamber.

“I will not let “you wake him now, Taita. The king is exhausted.

This is his first night’s uninterrupted sleep in a month. ” “Your
Majesty, I must see him. I am under his direct order. While we still
argued, a deep young voice called to me and the curtain, “Is that you,
Tota?” The curtain from behind was thrown aside and the king stood
before us in all his naked splendour. He was a man as few othersf have
ever known, lean and hard as the blade of the blue sword, majestic in
all his manly parts, so that I was all the more conscious of my own
disability when I looked upon him.

“What is it, Tota?” “Despatches from the north. From the camp of the
Hyksos. A terrible pestilence is sweeping through the lines of the
Hyksos. Half their horses are stricken, and thousands Of others fall
prey to the disease with each new day. ” “You are a magician, Tota.

How “could we have ever mocked you and your gnu!” He gripped my
shoulders and stared into my eyes. “Are you ready to ride to glory
with ?” me.

“I am ready, Pharaoh. ” “Then put Rock and Chain into the traces, and
fly the blue pennant over my chariot. We are going home to Thebes. ”
SO WE STOOD At LASt. BEFORE THE CITY of a hundred gates with four
divisions of chariots and thirty thousand foot soldiers. King Salitis”
host lay before us, but beyond his multitudes the Fingers of Horus
beckoned to us, and the walls of Thebes shone with a pearly radiance in
the dawn light.

The Hyksos army deployed ponderously in front of us, like the uncoiling
of some gigantic python, column after column, rank upon rank.

Their spear-heads glittered and the golden helmets of the officers
blazed in the early sunlight.

Where is Apachan and his chariots?” the king demanded, and I stared at
the Finger of Horus that stood nearest the river. I had to strain my
eyesight to make out the tiny coloured scraps that waved from the top
of the tower.

“Apachan has five divisions in the centre, and he holds six more in
reserve. They are hidden beyond the city wall. ” I read the flag
signals of the spy I had posted in the tallest of the three towers. I
knew that from there he had a falcon’s view across the battlefield.

“That is only eleven divisions, Tota, ” the king fumed. “We know he
has twenty. Where are the others?” “The Yellow Strangler, ” I
answered him. “He has fielded every horse that can still stand. ” “By
Horus, I hope you are right. I hope that Apachan is not planning a
pretty little surprise for us. ” He touched my shoulder. “The dice
are in the cup, Tota. It is too late to change them now. We must play
this cup with what the gods have given us. I took up the reins and
wheeled the chariot out in front of our army.

The king was showing himself to his troops.

His presence would give them heart, and stiffen their spines.

I took the horses down the long ranks at a tight hand-trot.

Rock and Chain” were brushed until their coats shone like polished
copper in the sunlight. The carriage of the royal chariot was dressed
in a thin skin of gold-leaf. This was the only concession I had made,
in in quest for lightness.

The gold was beaten thinner than a papyrus sheet, and it added less
than a hundred de ben to the overall weight of our vehicle, yet it made
a dazzling display. Friend or enemy who looked upon it could not doubt
that this was Pharaoh’s chariot, and take heart or be struck by awe in
the thick of battle. On its long, whippy bamboo rod the blue pennant
nodded and streamed in the breeze high above our heads, and the men
cheered us as we drove down their ranks.

On the day we had left Qebui to begin the Return, I had made a vow not
to cut my hair until I had made sacrifice in the temple of Horus in the
centre of Thebes. Now my hair reached to my waist, and to hide the
streaks of grey in it, I had dyed it with henna imported from those
lands beyond the Indus river. It was a ruddy gold mane that set off my
beauty to perfection. I wore a simple starched kilt of the whitest
linen, and the Gold of Praise upon my naked chest.

I did not wish in any way to detract-from the glory of my young
pharaoh, so I wore no make-up and no other ornament.

We passed in front of the massed regiments of the Shilluk spearmen in
the centre. Those magnificent bloodthirsty pagans were the rock that
anchored our line. They cheered us as we rode by, “Kajan! tonus!

Kajan! Tamose!” Their ostrich feathers seethed white as the foam of
the river in the cataracts as they raised their spears in salute. I
saw Lord Kratas there in the midst of them, and he shouted at me. His
words were lost in the roar of ten thousand voices, but I read his
lips: “You and I will get puking drunk tonight in Thebes, you old
hooligan. ” The Shilluk were stacked in depth, file upon file and
regiment upon regiment. Kratas had exercised them ceaselessly in the
tactics that I had helped him evolve to deal with chariots. Apart from
their long spears, each of them carried a bundle of javelins, and a
sling of wood and leather to launch these with added power. They had
set the sharpened wooden staves into the earth to form a: palisade in
front of their line. The Hyksos chariots had to break through that
spiny barrier to reach them.

The Egyptian archers were drawn up behind them, ready to move forward
through their ranks or retreat again, as the vagaries of the battle
called for each differing tactic. They raised their recurved bows on
high and cheered Pharaoh.

“Tamose! Egypt and Tamose!” Pharaoh wore the blue war crown, with the
golden circlet of the uraeus around his brow, the heads of the vulture
and the cobra of the two kingdoms. sword held high.

We wheeled around our own left flank, and before we started back,
Memnon stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. For a short while we
looked back over the field. The Hyksos were moving forward already.

Their front line was twice the length of our own. “From your own
treatise, Tota, ” he quoted, ” “A circumspect defence until the enemy
is committed, and then the rapid and audacious attack. ” “You have
remembered the lesson well, sire. ” “It is certain we will be
outflanked, and Apachan will throw in his first five “chariot divisions
at the start. ” “I agree with you, Mein. ” “But we know what we have
to do, don’t we, Tota?” He tapped my shoulder and we started back to
where our own chariots were holding in the rear.

Remrern headed the first division, Astes had the second, and Lord Aqer
the third. Newly promoted to the rank of Best of Ten Thousand, Captain
Hui commanded the fourth division. Two regiments of Shilluk guarded
our baggage and the spare horses.

“Look at that old hunting dog, ” Memnon nodded at Remrem. “He is
chafing to be away. By Horus, I’ll teach him a little patience before
this day is done. ” We heard the horns sounding in the centre.

“It begins now. ” Memnon pointed to the front, and we saw the Hyksos
chariots looming. through the dust-clouds.

“Yes, Apachan has turned loose his chariots. ” He looked back at our
divisions, and Rernrem, raised his sword high. The first is ready,
Majesty, ” he called eagerly, but Memnon ignored him and signalled to
Lord Aqer. The third division came forward in column of fours behind
us, and Pharaoh led them out.

The Hyksos chariots lumbered forward, heavy and majestic, aimed at the
centre of our line. Memnon cut across in front of them, interposing
our thin column between their hordes and the infantry.

Then, at his signal, we” wheeled into line abreast and we flew straight
at them. It seemed suicidal, as futile as charging one of our frail
wooden galleys at the rocks of the cataract.

As we came together, our archers fired head-on into the Hyksos, aiming
for the horses. Gaps opened in their line as the animals were brought
down by our arrows, then at the last possible moment- our own lines
dissolved like wind driven smoke. Our drivers used their superior
speed and manoeuvrability. Instead of coming into collision with the
Hyksos line and being crushed beneath the juggernaut, we swerved into
the gaps and raced through them. Not all our chariots escaped, and
some were broken and overturned, but Lord Aqer led four out of every
five of them through.

We emerged in the rear’ of the Hyksos charge and spun around in a
full-locked turn, re-forming the line at the gallop and again using our
speed to overhaul the Hyksos, coming into them from the rear, firing
our arrows into them at shortening range.

The Hyksos chariots were designed to give protection to the crew from
the front, and their archers were stationed on the foot plate to fire
their arrows forward. Confusion spread down their line as they tried
to meet our attack from the rear. Hard-pressed, some of. the drivers
attempted to turn back to confront us, and they collided with the
chariots alongside. Those fearsome wheel-scythes cut into the legs of
the neighbouring horses, and brought them down in a screaming,
whinnying tangle.

The confusion spread among them just as the first volley of arrows from
the Egyptian arCHERS ROSE up over the MAssed ranks of Shilluk and
dropped among the Hyksos. Immediately this happened, Memnon gave the
order, and we wheeled away and let them run down on that -palisade of
sharpened staves. Half their horses were maimed or killed by those
fierce points. Those who broke through were met by the Shilluk and a
cloud of javelins. Struck by stake and arrow and javelin, their horses
panicked, kicking and rearing in the traces. Those chariots that were
still under control hurled themselves into the Shilluk phalanx. They
met no resistance. The black ranks opened before them, allowing the
horses to run through, but then they closed up behind them.

Every one of those tall, willowy black devils was an athlete and an
acrobat. They leaped up on to the foot plate of the racing chariots
from behind, and they stabbed and HACked at the crew with dagger and
spear. They swallowed that first charge of chariots the same way a
jellyfish engulfs a swift silver sardine in its myriad arms and
amorphous body.

The Hyksos spearmen were moving forward to follow upd AND exploit the
chariot charge, but now they were exposed.

Loose horses and the surviving chariots tore back into their massed
ranks, and forced them to open up and let them through.

For the moment they were stranded in disorder in the middle of A field,
and Memnon skilfully seized the opportunity.

Lord Aqer’s horses were blown, and Memnon led them back into reserve.
He and I changed teams. It was but a moment’s work for the grooms to
loosen the tack that coupled Rock and Chain, and to lead in a fresh
team from the horses being held in reserve. We had six thousand fresh
horses ready in the rear. I wondered how many Hyksos horses had
escaped the Strangler, how many fresh teams they were holding.

As we wheeled back into line, Remrem called to us desperately, yOur
Majesty! The first! Let my first division go!” Pharaoh ignored him
and signalled to Astes. The second moved forward behind us and formed
up at the trot.

The Hyksos infantry was still tangled in the middle of the field.

They had extended to overlap our shorter line, but had lost their
dressing. The line was crumpled and twisted. With a general’s eye,
Memnon picked out the weakest point, a salient in their left flank.

“The second division will advance. Trot-march! Forward!

Pods of eight, charge!” We tore into the salient in the line, eight
chariots abreast.

Pod after pod, we crashed into them and ripped them open.

Their left flank buckled, while their right still pressed forward.

We had them canted across the field, their centre was shearing, and
Memnon re-formed the third division at the gallop, and set them up to
tear open the enemy centre.

At the moment before we were committed to the charge, I glanced across
at the city. Dust had almost obscured the range, but I glimpsed the
two white flags on the summit of the Finger of Horus. It was the
warning signal from my lookout posted there, and I swivelled round and
looked back at the eastern fort of the city.

“Sire!”I cried, and pointed back. The king followed my arm, and saw
the first squadron of Hyksos chariots trot out from concealment behind
the curve of the wall. The others followed, like a column of black
warrior ants on the march.

“Apachan is throwing in his reserves to save his infantry, ” Memnon
shouted, above the din of battle. “A moment more, and he would have
had us in enfilade. Well done, Tota. ” We had to let the infantry
escape, as we wheeled into line to face Apachan’s chariots. We charged
at each other across a field littered with smashed and overturned
chariots, loose arrows and javelins, dead and wounded horses and dying
men. As we came together, I stood taller on the foot plate and peered
ahead. There was something unusual about the run of the enemy
chariots, and then it dawned upon me.

“Sire, ” I cried, “look at the horses! They are running sick animals.
” The chests of the leading teams were paInted with a glistering coat
of yellow mucus that streamed from their gaping mouths.

Even as I watched, one of the horses coming towards us staggered and
fell headlong, bringing its teammate down with it.

“Sweet Isis, you are right. Their horses are finished before they have
begun, ” Memnon answered. He saw instantly what he Had to do. It was
the measure of his superb control that he was able to deflect a charge
of his chariots once it was fully launched. At this very last moment
he declined the head-on engagement.

We opened like a flower before their charge, peeling away on either
side of them, turning and running back for our own lines, drawing them
on, straining theiR sick and gasping horses to their utmost.

We ran before them in a tight, compact formation. Their own line began
to waver, and fall apart as the weaker horses broke down. Some of them
fell as though struck in the head by an arrow. Others merely slowed
and stopped, standing with their heads hanging, mucus pouring from
their mouths in shiny golden ropes.

Lord Aqer’s own horses were almost blown by now. They had driven two
furious charges without a rest. Still pursued by the remnants of
Apachan’s division, Memnon led them back to where Hui’s fourth division
was drawn up alongside Remrem and his first.

“Pharaoh! The first is ready. Let me go! In the name of all the
gods, let me go!” Remrern howled with frustration.

Memnon hardly glanced in his direction. I turned my chariot in
alongside that of Hui. A team of grooms slipped our sweat-soaked
horses from the traces and led in a fresh pair. While Lord Aqer’s
exhausted division streamed back past us, we faced the oncoming
Hyksos.

“Are you ready, Captain Hui?” Memnon called to him, and Hui raised his
bow in salute.

“For Egypt and Tamose!” he shouted.

“Then forward march. Charge!” Memnon laughed, and our horses jumped
against the traces and we shot forward.

There were six full divisions of Apachan’s chariots scattered across
the field in front of us. Half of them were broken down, with the
horses fallen or drooping in the traces, suffocated and dying from the
Yellow Strangler. Most of the others were reduced to a walk, the
horses staggering and wheezing. However, the remaining chariots came
on in good order.

We went out to meet them face to face. In the centre of their charge
rode a tall chariot, its coach work clad in shining bronze. On the
foot plate stood a man so tall that he towered above his driver. He
wore the high golden helmet of Hyksos royalty, and his dark beard was
plaited with coloured ribbons that fluttered in the wind like pretty
butterflies hovering over a flowering shrub.

“Apachan!” Memnon challenged him. “You are a dead man. ” Apachane
hEard him, ” he picked out our golden chariot. and He swerved to meet
us, and Memnon tapped my shoulder.

“Lay me alongside the bearded hog. It’s time for the sword, at last. ”
Apachan loosed two arrows at us as we closed. Memnon caught one on his
shield. I ducked under the other, but I never lost my concentration.
I was watching those terrible spinning scythes on the hubs of Apachan’s
wheels. They could hack my horses” legs out from under them.

Behind me I heard the gravelly rasp as Memnon drew the blue sword from
its scabbard on the side panel, and from the corner of my eye I caught
the steely flash of the blade as he went on guard.

I swung my horses” heads over, feinting to the right to confuse the
Hyksos driver, but the instant we started to turn away I changed
direction again. I avoided his scythes and passed him close, then I
turned in sharply behind him. With my free hand I snatched up the
grappling-hook and tossed it over the side-panel of the other
chariot.

Now we were locked together, but I had achieved the advantage, for we
lay across his stern.

Apachan swivelled around, and aimed a sword -cut at me, but I fell to
my knees under it, and Memnon gathered up the blow on his shield, then
swung the blue sword. A shard of bronze curled from the edge of
Apachan’s weapon, sliced away by the steel, and he shouted in angry
disbelief, and flung up his copper shield at the next blow.

Apachan was a superb swordsman, but no match for my king and the blue
sword. Memnon mangled his shield to strips, and then swung hard at his
bronze blade, as Apachan tried to defend his head. The blue blade
sheared the bronze cleanly, and Apachan was left with only the hilt in
his fist.

He opened his mouth wide and bellowed at us. The teeth in the back of
his jaw were black and rotten, and his spittle blew into my face in a
cloud. Memnon used that classic straight thrust to end it.

He drove the point of the blue blade through Apachan’s open mouth,
deeply into the back of his throat. His angry beLLow was drowned out
by the torrent of bright blood that burst through his hairy lips.

I cut the rope of the grappling-hook, and let the Hyksos chariot run
free. The horses- were out of control and they slewed away and ran
down the line of locked and battling chariots. Apachan clutched at the
dashboard, holding himself erect even though he was dying, and the
blood spurted from his mouth and cascaded down his breastplate.

It was a sight that struck dismay into the hearts of his charioteers.
They tried to disengage their sick and staggering horses, but we ran
hub-to-hub with them and hurled our javelins into- theM. We followed
them all the way back, until we came within range of their archers, and
flocks of arrows fell around us and forced us to break off.

“It is not over yet, ” I warned Memnon, as we walked our tired horses
back. “You have broken Apachan’s chariots, but you still have to deal
with ABe jan infantry. ” “Take me to Kratas, ” Pharaoh ordered.

I stopped our chariot in front of the massed regiments of SIhilluk, and
Memnon called across to Kratas, “What heart, MY Lord?”

“I fear, sire, that MY fellows will fall asleep if you cannot find a
little work for us to do. ” “Then let us hear a tune from them as you
take them forward to seek employment. ” The- Shilluk began their
advance, They moved with a curious; shuffling gait, and every third
pace they stamped in unison with a force that made the ground jump
beneath their horny bare feet. They sang in those deep, melodious
African voices, a sound like a swarm of angry black bees, and they
drummed their spears upon their rawhide shields.

The Hyksos were disciplined and brave, they could not have conquered
half the world if they had not been so. We had smashed up their
chariots, but they stood to meet Kratas” advance behind a wall of
bronze shields.

The two armies came together like fighting temple bulls.

The black and the white bulls locked horns and fought it out
breast-to-breast and spear-to-spear.

While the two armies of foot-soldiers mauled each other, Pharaoh held
back his chariots, using them with skill -and daring only when there
was an opening or a weakness in the enemy positions. When a pocket of
the Hyksos infantry was isolated on the left, he sent in Aqer’s
division, and annihilated them with two swift charges. When Lord Bean
tried to send reinforcements forward to assist his beleaguered front,
Pharaoh despatched Astes with five hundred chariots to frustrate him.

The Hyksos rallied every one of their remaining chariots, and every one
of their horses that could still stand and threw them against our
right. Memnon sent Hui and Ztes out to meet them, and to break up
their attack. He left Remrern cursing and pleading and stamping up and
down beside his chariot, and ignored his pleas.

Pharaoh and I circled the fighting in the golden chariot, watching each
shift and change in the conflict. He pushed in his reserves in exactly
those places where they were most needed, and with the timing and
anticipation that can never be taught or learned. It was as though the
pulse and the tempo of the battle beat in his heart, and he sensed it
in his blood Always I looked for Kratas in the thick of it. Many times
I lost him, and I dreaded that he was down, but then his helmet showed
again with the ostrich-feather plume cut away, and the bronze
splattered with his own blood and the blood of other men.

It was there in the centre where Kratas fought that the Hyksos ranks
began to give. It was like the first trickle through the earth wall of
a dam, their line bulged and stretched to the breaking-point.

Their rear ranks began to fall in upon themselves under the relentless
pressure.

“By the love of Horus and the compassion of all the gods, Tota, this is
the moment of our victory. ” Memnon saw it even before I did.

We galloped across to where Remrem still waited, and Pharaoh hailed
him, “Are you ready, my Lord Rernrern?” “I have been ready since dawn,
sire, but I am no lord. ” “Would you argue with your king, Sir?

You are a lord now. The enemy centre is breaking. Take your chariots
and chase them back to Memphis!” “May you live for ever, Pharaoh!”
Lord Remrem roared and he sprang to the foot plate He led. out the
first.

Their horses were fresh and strong, and their fighting spirit was
chafed raw and angry with long restraint.

They crashed into the Hyksos right flank. They cut through them with
barely a check, and swung round and went into the enemy centre from the
rear. It was the perfect moment when the battle teetered, and
the’Hyksos centre broke. Within the time it takes to draw and hold a
long breath, they were in rout.

They streamed back towards the city gates, but even Kratas” Shilluk
were too far-gone to follow them. They stood knee-deep in the piles of
dead and dying men, they rested on their spears and let the Hyksos go.
This was when the genius of Memnon was made apparent. He had kept the
first in hand for this moment. They took up the chase, and I saw
Remrem’s SWord rise and fall to a terrible rhythm as he drove them
on.

The first of the fleeing enemy reached the city gates, but they found
them slammed closed in their faces. My spies and agents had done their
work well. The populace of Thebes was in revolt, and the city was
ours. They barred the gates to the broken Hyksos legions.

Remrem pursued the Hyksos until night fell and his horses were
exhausted. He drove them back thirty miles, and every yard of the
north road was littered with their discarded weapons and the bodies of
the slain.

I DROVE PHARAOH’S GOLDEN -CHARIOt up to the main gate of the city, and
he stood tall on the 4 foot plate and shouted to the sentinels on the
parapet above us. “Open the gates! Let me pass through!” “Who is it
that demands entry to Thebes?” they called down.

“I am Tarnose, ruler of the two kingdoms. ” “Hail Pharaoh! May you
live for ever!” The gates swung open, and Memnon touched my
shoulder.

“Drive through, Tota. ” I turned to face him. “Forgive me, Majesty. I
have taken an oath that I will not enter the city, except at the side
of my mistress, Queen Lostris. I must pass the reins to you. ”
“Dismount, ” he ordered me gently. “Go! Fetch your mistress and make
good your oath. ” He took the reins from my hand, and I climbed down
into the dusty roadway. I watched him drive the golden chariot through
the gateway, and the sound of cheering was like the thunder of waters
in the cataracts at high flood. The people of Thebes greeted their
king.

I stood at the roadside as our depleted and battered army followed
Pharaoh into the city. I realized what a bitter price we had paid for
our victory. We would not be fit to pursue the Hyksos until we had
rebuilt our army. By this time King Salitis would be strong again, and
his horses recovered from the Yellow Strangler. We had won the first
battle, but I knew that many more lay ahead of us before the tyrant
could be cast out of this very Egypt.

I looked for Kratas as the Shilluk regiments marched past, but he was
not there. ” Hui had a chariot and fresh horses for me. “I will ride
with you, Taita, ” he offered, but I shook my head.

“I will travel faster alone, ” I told him. “Go into the city and enjoy
your triumph. A thousand pretty maids are waiting to welcome you home.
” Before I took the south road, I drove first to the battlefield.

The jackals and the hyena were already at the feast that we had set for
them, their growls and howls blended with the groans of the dying.

The dead were piled like the flotsam on the river-bank when the
floodwaters recede.

I drove the chariot through to where I had last seen Kratas, but this
was the most gruesome corner. of that awful field. The corpses were
piled high as my chariot wheels. I saw his helmet lying in the dust
that blood had turned to thick mud. I dismounted and took it up.

The crest was gone and the helm was all dented and battered in by heavy
blows.

I threw the helmet aside and began to search for Kratas” body. I saw
his leg protruding like the branch of a giant acacia from beneath a
pile of bodies. They were Shilluk and Hyksos lying together in the
truce of death. I dragged them . aside and found Kratas on his
back.

He was drenched in clotted black blood, his hair was matted with it and
his face was a black, crusted mask. I knelt beside him, and I
whispered softly, “Must they all die? Every one I truly love, must
they all die?” I leaned forward and kissed his bloody lips.

He sat up and stared at me Then he grinned that wide boyish grin of
his. “By the plug of dried snot in Seth’s left nostril, that was a
real fight, ” he greeted me.

“Kratas!” I stared at him with delight. “You will truly live for
ever. ” “Never doubt it for a moment, my lad. But right now I need a
noggin. ” I ran to the chariot and fetched the wine flask. He held it
at arm’s-length and let the red wine squirt down his throat without
swallowing. When the flask was empty he threw it aside and belched.

“That will do well enough for a start, ” he winked at me.

“Now point me towards the nearest tavern, you old reprobate. ” FASTER
THAN ANY SHIP” COULD SAIL “in against the current, I carried the news
to Elephantine. I was one man in the chariot, and the horses ran
lightly. I changed the teams at every relay station along the south
road, and galloped on without a check. The grooms handed me a flask or
a crust Of corn-bread and cheese as they changed the horses, and I
never slept or even rested.

During the night, the stars and the moon revealed the path to me, and
Horus guided my weary hands upon the traces, for though I ached in
every limb and I reeled on the foot plate with fatigue, I met with no
mishap.

At each relay station and in each village along the way, I shouted the
joyous news. “A victory! A mighty victory!

Pharaoh has triumphed at Thebes. The Hyksos is cast down. ” “Praise
to all the gods!” they cheered me. “Egypt and Tamose. ” I galloped
on, and they still speak of my ride to this day along the south road.
They tell’ of the gaunt rider with wild bloodshot eyes, his robe thick
with dust and the stains of -dried blood, his long hair blowing in the
wind, the harbinger of victory, bringing the news to Elephantine of the
battle that set Egypt on the road to freedom.

I drove from Thebes to Elephantine in two days and two nights, and when
I reached the palace, I barely had the strength left to stagger into
the water-garden where my mistress lay, and throw myself down beside
her couch ” “Mistress, ” I croaked through cracked lips and a throat
that was parched with dust, “Pharaoh has won a mighty victory.

I have come to take you home. ” WE SAILED DOWN-RIVER TO THEBES.

THE princesses were helping me to keep their mother company and to
cheer her. They sat with her on the open deck and sang to her.

They rhymed and riddled and laughed, but there were tones of sadness in
their laughter and deep concern in their eyes as they watched over my
mistress.

Queen Lostris was as frail as a wounded bird. There was no weight to
her bones and her flesh was as translucent as mother-of-pearl. I could
lift and carry her as easily as I had done when she was ten years of
age. The powder of the sleeping-flower was no longer able to still the
pain that gnawed into her belly like some terrible clawed crab.

I carried her to the bows of the galley when at last the walls of
Thebes opened to our view around the last bend in the river. With an
arm around her thin shoulders I supported her, as we delighted.
together in all those long-remembered days, and lived again a thousand
joyous memories of our scene youth.

But the effort tired her. When we docked below the Palace of Memnon,
half the populace of Thebes was waiting to welcome her. Pharaoh Tamose
stood at the head of this vast throng.

When the litter-bearers carried her ashore, they cheered her.

Although most of them had never laid eyes upon her, the legend of the
comm passionate queen had persisted during long exile.

Mothers lifted up their infants for her blessing, and they reached out
to touch her hand as it trailed from the edge of the litter.

“Pray to Hopi for us, ” they pleaded. Pray for us, Motherof Egypt. ”
Pharaoh Tamose walked beside her litter like the son of a commoner, and
Tehuti and Bekatha followed close behind.

Both the princesses smiled-brightly, though the tears de wed their
eyelids.

Aton had prepared quarters for the queen.. at the door I

sent them all away, even the king. I laid her on the couch beneath the
vine arbour on the terrace. From there she could look across the river
to the. shining valleys of her beloved Thebes.

When darkness fell, I carried her to her bedchamber. As she lay upon
the linen sheets, she looked up at me. “Taita, ” she murmured, “one
last time, will you work the Mazes of Ammon-Ra for me?”

“Mistress, I can refuse you nothing. ” I bowed my head and went to
fetch my medicine chest.

I sat beside her bed, cross-legged upon the stone slabs she watched me
prepare the herbs. I crushed them in the alabaster pestle and mortar,
and heated the water in the copper kettle.

I raised the steaming cup and saluted her with it.

“Thank you, ” she whispered, and I drained the cup. I closed my eyes
and waited for the familiar but dreaded slide over the edge of reality,
into Abe world of dreams and visions.

When I returned, the lamps were guttering in their brackets, and the
palace was silent. There was no sound from the river or from the
sleeping city on the far bank, only the sweet trill of a nightingale,
in the gardens, and the light breath of my mistress as she lay upon her
silken pillow.

I thought she was sleeping. But the moment I lifted my trembling hand
to wipe the cold and nauseous sweat from my face, she opened her eyes.
“Poor Taita, was it so bad?” It had been worse than ever before.

My head ached and MY vision swam. I knew that I would never work the
Mazes again. This was the last time, and I had done it for her
alone.

“I saw the vulture and the cobra stand on either side of the river,
divided by the waters. I saw the waters rise and fall one hundred
seasons. I saw one hundred sheaths of corn, and one hundred birds fly
over the river. Below them, I saw the dust of battle and the flash of
swords. I saw the smoke Of burning cities mingle with the dust.

“At last I saw the cobra and the vulture come together in congress. I
saw them mating and entwined on a sheet of pure blue silk.

There were blue banners on the city walls and banners of blue flew on
the temple pylons.

“I saw the-blue pennants on the chariots that drove out across the
world. I saw monuments so tall and mighty that they would stand for
ten thousand years. I saw the peoples of fifty different nations bow
down before them. ” I sighed and pressed my fingers into my temples to
still the throbbing in my skull; and then I said, “That was all my
vision. ” Neither of us spoke or moved for a long while thereafter,
then my mistress said quietly, “One hundred seasons -must pass before
the two kingdoms are united, one hundred years of war and striving
before the Hyksos are at last driven from the sacred soil of this very
Egypt.

It will be hard and bitter for my people to bear. ” “But they will be
united under the blue banner, and the kings of your line will conquer
the world. All the nations of the world will pay homage to them, ” I
interpreted the rest of my vision for her.

“With this I am content. ” She sighed and fell asleep.

I did not sleep, for I knew that she still needed me near her.

She woke again in that hour before dawn which is the darkest of the
night. She cried out, “The pain! Sweet Isis, the pain!” I mixed the
Red Shepenn for her. After a while she said, “The pain has passed, but
I am cold. Hold me, Taita, warm me with your body. ” I took her in my
arms and held her while she slept.

She awoke once more as the first timid rays of dawn crept in through
the doorway from the terrace.

“I have loved only two men in my life, ” she murmured, and you were one
of those. Perhaps in the next life, the gods will treat our love more
kindly. ” There was no reply I could give. She closed her eyes for
the last time. She stole away quietly and left me. Her last breath
was no louder than the one before, but I felt the chill in her lips
when I kissed them.

“Goodbye, my Mistress, ” I whispered. “Farewell, my heart. ” I HAVE
WRITTEN THESE SCROLLS DURING the seventy days and nights of the royal
embalm my as a last tribute to my mistress.

Before the undertakers took her away from me, I made the incision in
her left flank, as I had done for tonus. I opened her womb and took
from it that terrible incubus that had killed her.

It was a thing of flesh and blood, but it was not human. When I cast
it into the fire, I cursed it, and I cursed the foul god Seth who had
placed it in her.

I have prepared ten alabaster jars to hold these scrolls. I will leave
them with her. I am painting all the murals of her tomb with my own
hand. They are the finest I have ever created. Each stroke of my
brush is an expression of my love.

I wish that I could rest with her in this tomb, for I am sick and weary
with grief. But I still. have my two princesses and my king to care
for.

They need me.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

On 5 January 1988, Doctor Duraid ibn al Simma of the Egyptian
Department of Antiquities” opened and entered a tomb on the west bank
of the Nile in the Valley of the Nobles. The reason why this tomb had
not been previously excavated was that in the ninth century AD an
Islamic mosque had been built over the site. It was only after long
and delicate negotiations with the religious authorities that the
excavation was permitted.

Immediately upon entering the passage that led to the burial chamber,
Dr. Al Simma was greeted by a marvelous display of murals which
covered all the walls and the ceilings. They were the most elaborate
and vivacious that he had ever encountered in a lifetime spent studying
the monuments.

He told me that he knew at once that he had, made a significant find,
for from amongst the hieroglyphics on the walls stood out the royal
cartouche of an Egyptian queen who had not been previously recorded.

His excitement and anticipation increased as he approached the burial
chamber, only to be dashed as he saw that the seals upon the doorway
had been damaged, and the entrance had been forced. In ancient times,
the tomb had been robbed and stripped of its sarcophagus and all its
treasures. ertheless, Dr. Al Simma was able to date the tomb With
reasonable accuracy to that dark night of strife and disaster that
overwhelmed Egypt in about 1780 Be. For the next century the Two
Kingdoms were in a state of flux. We have little record of the events
of this period, but from the chaos eventually rose a line of princes
and pharaohs that finally expelled the Hyksos invader, and lifted Egypt
into its period of greatest glory. It gives me pleasure to think that
the blood of Lostris and tonus and Memnon ran strongly in their veins.
while It was almost a year after the tomb was first opened,
photographing Dr. Al Simma’s assistants were copying and the
decorations of the walls, that a section of the plaster fell away to
reveal a hidden niche in which stood ten sealed alabaster vases.

When Dr. Al Sinima asked me to assist in the transcription of the
scrolls contained in the vases, I was both honoured and filled with
trepidation. I was not, of course, qualified to work on the original
scrolls, which were written in the hieratic script. This work was done
at Cairo Museum by a team of international Egyptologists.

Dr. Al Sinima asked me to rewrite this original transcription in a
style that would make it more accessible to the modern reader. With
this end in view I have included some anachronisms in the text. For
instance I have, in places, used such comparatively modern measures of
distance and weight as miles and ounces. I have also indulged myself
with words such as “djinn” and “houri” and “hooligan” which Taita never
employed, but which, I feel certain, he would have used if they had
formed part of his vocabulary.

Very soon after beginning work on the texts all my reservations began
to evaporate as I became totally involved in the times and character of
the ancient author. Despite all his bombast and vainglory, I developed
an affinity and affection for the slave Taita that reached back over
the millennium.

I am left with a realization of how little the emotions and aspirations
of man have changed in all that time, and a tinge ring excitement that
to this day somewhere in the Abyssinian mountains near the source of
the Blue Nile the mummy of tonus still lies in the un violated tomb of
Pharaoh Mamose.

EXPLORE THE MYSTERIES OF THE SEVENTH SCROLL.

WILBUR SMITh’S NEX?”

UNFORGETTABLE EPIC NOVEL, AVAILABLE NOW FROM ST. MARTIN’S PRESS.

AN EXCERP?” FOLLOWS: “The Seventh Scroll. ” She whispered, and
steeled herself to touch it. It was three thousand years old, written
by genius out of time with history, a man who had been dust for all
these millennia, but who she had come to know and respect as she did
her own husband. His words were eternal, and they spoke to her clearly
from beyond the grave, from the fields of paradise, from the presence
of the great Trinity, Osiris and Isis and Horus, in whom he had
believed so devoutly. As devoutly as she believed in another more
recent Trinity.

She carried the scroll to the long table at which Duraid, her husband,
was already at work. He looked up as she laid it on the table-top
before him and for a moment she saw the same mystical mood in his eyes
that had affected her. He always wanted the scroll there on the table,
even when there was no real call for it. He had. the photographs and
the microfilm to work with. It was as though he needed the unseen
presence of the ancient author close to him -as he studied the texts.

Then he threw off the mood and Was the dispassionate scientist once
more. “Your eyes are better than mine, my flower, ” he said.

“What do you make of this letter?”

She leaned over his shoulder and. studied the hieroglyph on the
photograph of the scroll that he pointed out to her.

Shepuzzled. over the character for a moment before she took the’
magnifying glass from Duraid’s hand, and peered through it again.

“It looks as though Taita has thrown in another’ cryptic (if his own
creation just to bedevil us. ” She spoke of the ancient author as
though he were a dear, but sometimes exasperating, friend who still
lived and breathed, and played tricks upon them.

“We’ll just have to puzzle it out, then, ” Duraid declared with obvious
relish. He loved the ancient game. It was his life’s work.

The two of them laboured on into the cool of the night.

This was when they did their best work. Sometimes they spoke Arabic
and sometimes English; for them the two languages were as one.

Less often they used French, which was their third common language.

They had both received their education at universities in England and
the United States, so far from this Very Egypt of theirs. Royan loved
the expression “This Very Egypt” that Taita used so often in the
scrolls.

She felt a peculiar affinity with this ancient Egyptian in so many
ways. After all she was. his. direct destendant. She was a Coptic
Christian, not of the Arab line that had so recently conquered Egypt,
less than two thousand years ago.

The Arabs were newcomers in this Very Egypt of hers; while her own
blood line ran back to the dawn of sanguine man, to the time of the
pharaohs and the great pyramids.

At ten o’clock Royan made coffee for them, heating it on the charcoal
stove that Alia had left for them before she went off to her own family
in the village. They drank the sweet strong brew from thin cups that
were half filled with the heavy grounds. While they sipped they talked
as old friends.

For Royan that was their relationship, old friends. She had known
Duraid ever since she had returned from England with her doctorate in
archaeology and won her job with the Department of Antiquities, of
which he was the director and professor.

She had been his assistant when he had opened the tomb in the Valley of
the Nobles; the’ tomb of Queen Lostris of the Rarnessidian line of
pharaohs, the tomb that dated from 1780 BC.

She had shared his disappointment when they discovered that the tomb
had been robbed in ancient times and all its treasures plundered.

All that remained were the marvelous murals that covered the walls and
the ceilings of the tomb.

It was Royan herself who had been working at the wall behind the plinth
on which the sarcophagus had once stood, photographing the murals, when
a section of the plaster had fallen away to reveal in their niche the
ten alabaster jars.

Each of the jars had contained a papyrus scroll. Every one of them had
been written and placed there by Taita, the slave of the queen.

Since then their lives, Duraid’s and her-own, seemeic to have revolved
around those scraps of parchment. Although there was some damage and
deterioration, in the main they had survived three and a half thousand
years remarkably intact.

What a fascinating story they contained of a nation attacked by a
superior enemy, armed with horse and chariot that were still alien to
the Egyptians of that time. Crushed by the Hyksos hordes, the people
of the Nile were forced to -flee. Led by their queen, Lostris of the
tomb, they followed the great river southwards almost to its source
amongst the brutal mountains of the Ethiopian highlands.

Here amongst those forbidding mountains, Lostris had entombed the
mummified body of her husband, the Pharaoh Mamose, who had been slain
in battle against the Hyksos.

LOng afterwards Queen Lostris had led her people back northwards to
this Very Egypt. Armed now with their “own horses and chariots, forged
into hard warriors in the African wilderness they had come storming
back down the cataracts of the great river to challenge once more the
Hyksos invader, and in the end to triumph over him and wrest the double
crown of upper and lower Egypt from his grasp.

It was a story that appealed to every fibre of her being, and that had
fascinated her as they had unravelled each hieroglyph that the old
slave had penned on the papyrus.

It had ia ken them all these years, working at night here in the villa
of the oasis after all their daily routine work at the museum in Cairo
was done, but at last all of the ten scrolls had been deciphered, all
except the seventh scroll.

This was the one that was the enigma, the one which the author had
cloaked in layers of esoteric shorthand and allu’ions so obscure that
they were unfathomable at this remove of tirhe. Some of the symbols he
used they had never encountered before in all the thousands of texts
that they had studied in their combined lifetimes. “It was obvious to
them both that Taita had not intended that the scrolls should be read
and understood by any eyes other than those of his beloved queen.

These were his last gift for her to take with her beyond the grave.

It had taken all their combined skills, all their imagination and
ingenuity, but at last. they were approachinp- the conclusion of the
task. There were still many gaps in the translation and many areas
where they were uncertain whether or not they had captured the true
meaning, but they had laid out the bones of the manuscript in such
order that they were able to discern the outline of the creature it
represented.

Now Duraid sipped his coffee and shook his head as he had done so often
before as he said, “It frightens me. The responsibility. What to do
with this knowledge we have gleaned? If it should fall into the wrong
hands. ” He sipped and sighed before he spoke again. “Even if we take
it to the right people, will they believe this story that is three and
a half thousand years old?”

“Why must we bring in others?” Royan asked with an edge of
exasperation in her voice. “Why can we not do alone what has to be
done?” At times like these the differences between them were most
apparent. His was the caution of age, while hers was the impetuosity
of youth.

“You do not understand, ” he said. It always annoyed her when he said
that; when he treated her as the Arabs treated their women in a totally
masculine world. She had known the other world, where women demanded
and received the right to be treated as equals. She was a creature
caught between those worlds-the Western world and the Arab world.

Duraid was still speaking and she had not been listening to him.

She gave him her full attention once more. “I have 7. spoken to the
Minister again, but I do not think he believes in me. I think that
Nahoot bar, convinced him that I am a little mad. ” He smiled sadly.
Nahoot Guddabi was his ambitious and well-connected deputy. “At any
rate the minister says that there are no government funds available,
and that I will have to seek outside finance. So, I have been over the
list of possible sponsors again, and have narrowed it down to four.
There is the Getty Museum, of course-but I never like to work with a
big impersonal institution. I prefer to have a sin leman to answer to.
Decisions are always

9 easier to reach. ” None of this was new to her, but she listened
dutifully.

“Then there is Herr Von Schiller. He has the money and the interest in
suspect, not 11 we enough to trust im entirely. ” He paused, an Royan
had listened to these musings so often before that she could anticivate
him.

What about the American? He is a famous collector. ” She forestalled
him.

“Peter Walsh is a difficult man to work with. His passion to
accumulate makes him unscrupulous. He frightens me a little.

“So who does that leave?” she asked.

He. did not answer for they both knew the answer to her Instead he
turned his attention back to the material question. that littered the
working table.

“It looks so innocent, so mundane. An old papyrus scroll, a few
photographs and notebooks, a computer printout. It is. difficult to
believe how dangerous these might be in the wrong hands. ” He sighed
again. “You might almosts wro ay that they are deadly dangerous. ”
Then he laughed. “I am being” fanciful. Perhaps it is the late hour.
Shall we get back to work? We can worry about these other matters once
we have worked out all the conundrums set for us by this old rogue,
Taita, and completed the translation.

He picked up the top photograph from the pile in front of him. It was
an extract from the central section of the scroll. “It -is the worst
luck that the damaged piece of’ papyrus falls where it does. ” He
picked up his -reading glasses and placed them on his nose before he
read aloud.

“There are many steps to ascend, on the staircase to the abode of Hopi.
With much hardship and endeavour we reached the second step and
proceeded no further, for it was here that the prince received a divine
revelation. In a dream his father, the dead God Pharaoh visited him
and commanded him, “I have travelled far and I am grown weary.

It is here that I will rest for all eternity. ” Duraid removed his
glasses and looked across at Royan.

“The second step. It is a very precise description for once.

Taita is not being his usual devious self. ” “Let’s go back to the
satellite photographs, ” Royan suggested, and drew the glossy sheets
toward her. Duraid came around the table to stand behind her.

“To me it seems most logic al that the natural feature that would
obstruct them in the gorge would be something like a set of rapids or a
waterfall. If it were the second waterfall that would put them here. ”
Royan placed her finger on aSp of on the satellite photograph where the
narrow snake of the river threaded itself through the dark massifs of
the mountains on either hand.

At that moment she was distracted and she lifted her head.

“Listen!” Her voice changed, sharpening with alarm.

“What is it?” Duraid looked up also.

“The dog. ” She answered.

“That damn mongrel. ” He agreed. “It’s always ma kin2 the night
hideous with its yapping I have promised myself to get rid of it. ” At
that moment the lights went out.

They froze with surprise in the darkness. The soft thud ding of the
decrepit diesel generator in its shed at the back of the palm grove had
ceased. It was so much a part of the oasis night that they noticed it
only when it was silent.

Their eyes adjusted to the faint starlight that came in through the
terrace doors. Duraid crossed the room and took the oil lamp down from
the shelf beside the door where it waited for just such a contingency.
He lit it, and looked across at Royan with an expression of comical
resignation.

“I will have to go. down.. . ” “Duraid. ” She interrupted him.

“The dog! “He listened for a moment, and his expression changed to
mild concern. The dog was silent out there in the night.

“I am sure it is nothing to be alarmed about. ” He went to the door,
and for no good reason she suddenly called after him.

“Duraid, be careful!” He shrugged dismissively and stepped out onto
the terrace.

She thought for an instant that it was the shadow of the vine over the
trellis moving in the night breeze off the desert, but the night was
still. Then she realized that it was a human figure crossing the
flagstones silently and swiftly, coming in behind Duraid as he skirted
the fish pond in the centre of the paved terrace.

Duraid! ” She screamed a warning, and he spun around, lifting the lamp
high.

Who are you? ” he shouted. What do you want here?

The intruder closed with him silently. The traditional full length
dishdaasha robe swirled around his legs, and the white ghutrah head
cloth covered his head. In the light of the lamp Duraid saw that he
had drawn the corner of the head cloth over his face to mask his
features.

The intruder’s back was turned towards her so Royan did not see the
knifein his right hand, but she could not mistake the upward stabbing
motion that he aimed at Duraid’s stomach. Duraid grunted with pain and
doubled up at, the blow, and his attacker drew the blade free and
stabbed again, but this time Duraid dropped the lamp and seized the
knife arm.

The flame of the fallen oil lamp was guttering and flaring.

The two men struggled in the gloom, but Royan saw a dark stain
spreading over her husband’s white shirt front.

“Run!” He bellowed at her. “Go! fetch help! I cannot hold him. ”
The Duraid she knew was a gentle person, a soft man of books and
learning. She could see that he was outmatched by his assailant.

The pain roused Duraid. It had to be that intense to bring him back
from that far place on the very edge of life to which he had drifted.

He groaned. The first thing he was aware of as he regained
consciousness was the smell of his own flesh burning, and then the
agony struck him with full force. A violent tremor shook his whole
body and he opened his eyes and looked down at himself His clothing was
blackening and smouldering, and the pain was as nothing he had ever
experience ins life. He realized in a vague way that the room was on
fire all around him. Smoke and waves of heat washed over him so that
he could barely make out the shape of the doorway through them.

The pain was so terrible that he wanted it to end. He wanted to die
then and not to have-to endure it further. Then he remembered Royan.
He tried to say her name through “NO. ” His voice was faint but
fierce.

For me, my” last-7

“Don’t say that. ” She pleaded, “You will be all right.

“Promise. ” He demanded, “Promise me!””We have no sponsor. I am
alone. I cannot do it alone. ” “Harper!” he said. – Royan leaned
closer so that her ear touched his fire-ravaged lips.

“I don’t understand. ” She told him.

“Harper. ” He repeated, “Strong-hard-clever man.. . ” and she
understood then. Harper was the fourth and last nd up. Although name
o the fist of sponsors that he ha drawn he was the last on the list,
somehow she had always known that Duraid’s order of preference was
inverted. Nicholas Quenton-Harper was his first choice. He had spoken
so often of this man with respect and warmth, and sometimes even with
awe.

j , “But what do I tell him? He does not know me. How will I convince
him? The seventh Scroll is gone.. . ” “Trust him. ” He whispered,
“Good man. Trust him.. . ” There was a terrible appeal in his,
“Promise me!”- — —Then she remembered the notebook in the Giza
flat, and the Taita material on the hard drive of her P. C. Not
everything was gone. “Yes, ” she agreed, “I promise you, My Husband, I
promise you. ” NOW

AVAILABLE FROM ST. MARTIN’S PRES

F- 4a

-four

WILBUR SMITH has written twenty

“culously researched during his novels, metl rid-wide expeditions.

His books numerous were now published in twenty or have sold more than
-seven countries and million copies.

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