Kashe of Mero sat on his bed in his chamber of the family compound. His head pounded. When he opened his eyes he saw the day had progressed into late afternoon. The bright light made him wince. He recalled the past night’s celebration for the retirement of the family’s arms master who had been his mentor and friend. From the Tuten he had learned the skills of a warrior. Last night Kashe had finally defeated his mentor with weapons and a capacity for beer.
“Kashe.” His father’s voice stabbed like a dagger.
He groaned and sat up. The drum in his head banged. Leave me alone, he wanted to shout. The Nomarch of Mero’s anger toward his middle son was nothing new. What did he want now?
As second son Kashe had been marked for the priesthood. He had no desire to become a priest. He found satisfaction in his role as a warrior. Yet, duty called for obedience.
If any other temple had been chosen he might have agreed. He had no taste for this newly risen cadre of men seeking to force their god into the circle of goddesses and gods of the Two Lands. Aken Re had been unknown until the invaders had arrived. The army of those men had been defeated so why did their priests linger?
The beaded curtain jangled adding cacophonic notes to the beating in his head. “Answer me.” The nomarch entered and halted at the foot of Kashe’s bed. “Rise and present yourself in the central hall. We have guests. Your older brother has news of importance.”
Kashe groaned. He and Pian were a year apart in age and generations in philosophy. In embracing the new religion, His brother had seen an advantage for bringing his ambitions to fruition. He believed the priests would smooth his path to the pharaoh’s chair.
Kashe sat on the edge of the bed and considered his brother and his plans. Pian was slender and shorter than Kashe. He fit the picture of an ideal pharaoh in appearance but not in character. He was cruel and selfish. His sense of justice and honor were lacking. He had no love for Kashe.
“Throwback” was the mildest of the names Pian used as needles to jab his younger brother. Kashe had strengths his brother lacked. Every match on the training field had ended with Kashe as the victor.
He rose. He couldn’t help that in stature and build he resembled the Nubian ancestors his father and older brother chose to forget in their desire for power. If Pian became pharaoh the Nomarch of Mero would become his son’s chief advisor.
“Are you coming?” his father asked.
If he said no who knew what would happen. Kashe stretched. “As soon as I wash and dress.” Though he would rather have bathed he would make do here. He glanced in the polished metal mirror. His warrior’s braid was neat enough. He poured water from a pitcher into a basin and washed. After donning a fresh kilt he fitted wrist and arm bands and selected a collar necklace.As he left the family sleeping quarters he braced for the evening meal, the main one of the day. He entered the central hall and hid a desire to duck behind one of the pillars. On the dais his parents sat with a pair of priests. Their gold medallions glittered in the torch light. His older brother stood before the men.
As Kashe neared the platform he noticed the robes were embroidered with gold-rayed discs representing their god. The pair were opposites. One was rotund, smiling and fluttering his hands while speaking. The other was lean with a hawk-like nose and a somber expression. Kashe noticed his younger brother lingered in the shadows near the dais. If anything was to be learned Namose would know.
The nomarch gestured. He strode past his sisters who were engaged in a board game and gossip.
When Pian’s voice took on a tone both servile and arrogant Kashe grimaced.
“My lords, Oris and Hebu, beloved of Aken Re, has the daughter been found? I so desire to look in her face and claim her as my chief wife. The honor you offer humbles me.”
The rotund priest’s smile broadened. “As yet we have not found her, but the signs point to where she is hidden. When the auspicious hour arrives we will claim her.” He turned from Pian to the nomarch. “You know the price.”
The nomarch pointed to Kashe. “My lords of Aken Re, this is my middle son. He is skilled with weapons and has a vast knowledge of strategy. He will enter your temple as a priest.”
Both men studied Kashe. Their gazes moved from his head to his feet. Embarrassment and shame over the avidity of their appraisal made him flush. He was not some piece of livestock or a slave to be purchased. A cauldron of anger bubbled.
Oris rubbed his fleshy hands. “Indeed, he is magnificent.”
The thin priest’s eyes narrowed. He addressed his companion in an unfamiliar language. “Nomarch, he will do nicely,” he added.
Kashe wanted to rub his arms to ward off a sudden chill, but he wouldn’t allow the pair to see his distaste and fear. He kept his gaze steady and examined the thin priest. Hebu’s eyes were serpent-like, dull and flat. Kashe’s hands formed fists. Though Oris had been named as the chief priest, his companion was the more dangerous of the pair. Another thing became clear. Hebu belonged to the defeated enemy. Kashe had heard that language from a prisoner his father had brought to the compound as a slave.
Oris nodded. “He will be the perfect battle leader for our men.”
Pian made a face. “He will be yours when I become pharaoh.”
The nomarch shook his head. “He will be theirs when I decree.”
Kashe drew a deep breath. “Father, I beg you to change your mind. I have no desire to serve in any temple. I’m no scholar and have no knowledge of portents and omens. I’ve no wish for easy living or in having my days ordered by rituals that allow no freedom.” He turned to leave.
His father grasped his arm. “You will obey. Your sacrifice will undo all your willfulness and the shame your tainted heritage has brought to me. When this new moon completes the cycle you will enter the
” temple of Aken Re.
Though he remained until the evening meal ended his thoughts centered on finding a way to escape his father’s command. He had to leave home, but where would he go? He listened to his father, older brother, and the priests as they made plans. Finding the missing daughter of the last pharaoh was their goal. The priests sought her. So did his father. The one who found her first would control the future of the Two Lands.
As soon as the meal ended Kashe retreated to his sleeping chamber. He had no desire to listen as more schemes were hatched and scenarios developed. He thought of escaping to his favorite beer house, but not tonight. The entourage accompanying the priests was quartered on the roof of the house and in the garden. He had no desire to have his departure noted.
He parted the beaded curtain and strode into his chamber. A pile of scrolls stood on the low table. He opened one and crushed the thin papyrus sheet. “The Ways of Aken Re, the True and Only God.”
Distaste curved his mouth into a scowl. He wanted to burn the scrolls or slash them to shreds. Not a good idea, he decided. Know your enemy. His mentor had repeated those words until they were engraved in Kashe’s mind. Though Tuten had meant this advice for contests of arms Kashe believed they applied to his current situation. He would read the scrolls, but not tonight. The crescent moon didn’t provide enough light. Neither would the saucer lamp. He retired to bed for a night’s sleep filled with dreams he wanted to forget.
For two days Kashe read. The contents of the scrolls disgusted him. The priests of Aken Re had diluted and twisted the teachings of the temples of the Two Lands and skewed them to fit their version of the world. They intended to make their god supreme. There were tales in the scrolls telling how Aken Re had defeated the ancient goddesses and gods of the Two Lands, major and minor and eaten their essences.
He finished the last scroll. What now? Did the rotund priest intend to remain here until the moon ended? The serpent-eyed one had vanished. Most of the entourage was now housed near the river. The departure of the strangers had relieved some of Kashe’s fears. Not all, for he had no plan to escape the fate his father had decreed.
With a scowl he scooped the scrolls and carried them to the west loggia. There, he dumped them in a heap on one of the low tables. As he neared his chamber he heard two of the slaves speaking. Their gossip made him smile. The remaining priest planned to leave in two or three days.
Kashe returned to his chamber and went to the window. When a large hawk landed on the sill he stepped back. He stared at the avian. The bird made no attempt to attack. he held out his arm. The hawk dropped a scroll and an amulet that landed on the floor with a click. The avian settled on Kashe’s wrist cuff. He stared into its eyes.
“Horu,” Kashe said.
The hawk’s head bobbed as though in answer. “Horru.”
Did hawks have names? “I’ll call you Horu Ka, soul of the god of the skies.” The bird returned to the window. Kashe picked up the gold amulet. A grin crossed his face as he read the hieroglyphics. “
Chosen of Horu.” Here was the perfect reason to refuse
his father’s plans for him. Would the nomarch and Pian accept the calling?
Kashe was sure he would learn.
He lifted the scroll and read the words.
Three will come from afar, warrior, ruler and advisor will be joined by three from the Two Lands. United, they will drive away those who seek to destroy the land and the people. Success brings prosperity. Failure means death. During the time when each pair works to complete their task they may not join flesh to flesh. Celibate they must remain until their quest ends lest disaster strikes the Two Lands.
He walked from his chamber into the central hall where the family and the priest had gathered for the evening meal. His father gestured. “You’ve been hiding in your chamber for days. Have you decided to obey?”
Kashe shrugged. “I’ve been reading the scrolls. They’re in the loggia. The words left me with no desire to become a priest of Aken Re. What I read sounded like lies.”
Pian jumped to his feet. “You will not usurp my place. I will be pharaoh. All the power and wealth of the double crown will be mine.”
“I have no wish to rule or serve the priests.”
The nomarch glared. “You have been promised to them. Your battle skills will be needed to bring the stubborn people of this land to worship the one and only god.”
Oris smiled. “You cannot resist. You are ours.”
Kashe sucked in a breath. We’ll see, he thought. The amulet burned against his chest. He leaned forward and wondered why they didn’t see the medallion. Was it invisible for a reason? He ate and fled to his room. As he walked down the hall he heard the slap of sandals on the stone and braced for an attack.
“You must listen to them,” his younger brother said. “If you disobey Father, the priest will send serpents after you.”
“Don’t fret, little brother. Come to my chamber. I’ve something to show you.” Kashe parted the curtains so Namose could enter first. “This is why I can’t go.” He held out the amulet. “A hawk brought this to me.”
Namose studied the gold circle. “
of Horu.” He looked up and gasped. “At the window.”
Kashe grinned and extended his arm for the bird. “Horu Ka, this is Namose, my younger brother.”
The hawk tilted his head. “As you see I’ve been selected by the god of the skies.”
Namose nodded. “And you will leave home.”
“I believe I must.”
“I want to go with you.” The youth’s dark eyes held a plea. “If you can’t serve them I fear Father will send me or one of our sisters to their temple. The priests have a son or daughter from every nome except Mero in their service. They want Father and Pian to follow their orders. Our nome is the largest and richest of all. I don’t trust the priests. If I must serve a god I would choose Toth, the god of wisdom.”
Kashe looked away. Since he had no idea where to go, how he could take a boy who had just reached his fifteenth year? “You must remain here until I can find a safe place. Then I will send for you.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Yes.” He studied his younger brother. Here was the male member of the family with a strong knowledge of the land. If only their father didn’t favor Pian. The oldest son was their father’s favorite. Namose, the youngest, was ignored by the nomarch and favored by their mother.
“When are you going?”
“Not tonight. I’m going to a beer house to think.” He pushed Namose to the door. “Better if you don’t see me leave. If they discover I’m out, you can truthfully say you left me in my chamber.”
Namose paused outside the curtain. “Good thinking.”
Kashe waited until his brother vanished before crossing to the window. He slipped out and crept across the garden to the rear gate. Once beyond the wall, the hawk landed on his wrist guard. Kashe strode to the riverside village. A few mugs of beer and a good fight might be an outlet for the energy coursing through his body.