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.”