The power of the kings of the Middle Kingdom have been failing for some time, having lost control of the Nile Delta to a series of Canaanite kings who ruled from the northern city of Avaris.
Into this mix came the Kings of Amurri, Lebanon and Syria bent on subduing the whole of Egypt. These kings were known as the Hyksos, and they dealt a devastating blow to the peoples of the Nile Delta and Valley.
When Arimawat and his son Harrubaal fled from Urubek, the king of Hattush, to the court of the King of Avaris, King Sheshi welcomed the refugees. One of Arimawat’s first tasks for King Shesi is to sail south to the Land of Kush and fetch Princess Tati, who will become Sheshi’s queen. Arimawat and Harrubaal perform creditably, but their actions have far-reaching consequences.
On the return journey, Harrubaal falls in love with Kemi, the daughter of the Southern Egyptian king. As a reward for Harrubaal’s work, Sheshi secures the hand of the princess for the young Canaanite prince. Unfortunately for the peace of the realm, Sheshi lusts after Princess Kemi too, and his actions threaten the stability of his kingdom…
GENRE: Historical: Ancient Egypt ISBN: 978-1-925574-65-4 ASIN: B083V6T3Z5 Word Count: 125, 778
Nehy nearly lost his life on the night he hid in the Corps Commander’s house in Waset. If he had been discovered he would have been hauled before the Governor, tried, and sentenced to impalement in the sight of the citizens of Waset.
The night had started out innocently enough, and without a hint of the events to come. He had been out with friends engaged in an evening’s drinking in the less salubrious taverns near the waterfront when a question by his friend Meni changed everything.
“I’m tired of drinking low quality beer in places like this,” Meni said. “I want wine and women in a high class tavern.”
His companions laughed. “How are you going to afford that?” Bek asked. “Have you come into some inheritance?”
“Perhaps he has sold his sister for silver,” Khu commented.
“His sister?” Bek queried. “I wouldn’t give a copper bracelet for what lies between her legs.”
Meni shrugged and gulped at his beer. “All the same; wouldn’t you like some rich wine instead of beer, and the company of a high class woman?”
“If you’re paying,” Nehy said. “Do you have silver?”
“No, but I know where we can get it. Gold even.”
Meni shrugged again. “I may be drunk tonight, but tomorrow I’ll be rich, while you’ll still be poor and nursing a hangover.”
“How will you be rich?” Nehy asked.
“I know where there is gold just waiting to be picked up.”
Khu grinned. “And just where is this gold mine of yours?”
“And we can just go and pick it up?” Bek asked.
“More or less.”
“Stop spinning lies and buy another jug of beer,” Khu said.
“You are drunk,” Nehy observed. “Nobody leaves gold just lying around for anyone to pick up.”
“There is some risk involved,” Meni admitted, “but the rewards are great.”
Bek lifted the jug to pour himself another drink, but Khu snatched it away, spilling some on the rough table.
“You’re talking about robbing a rich man’s house, aren’t you?” Nehy said. “No thanks. Rich men have guards and servants to protect their property.”
Meni grinned. “The rich man’s residence I have in mind has been uninhabited for years, and he has little use for the gold in his chamber.”
Khu and Bek were quarrelling over the remnants of beer in the jug, but Nehy ignored them. He stared at his friend Meni as his words sank through his befuddled mind.
“You’re talking about robbing a tomb…”
“Hush. Have a care, my friend. There are many ears hereabouts.”
Nehy leaned closer. “That’s a dangerous business, Meni. Men are impaled for that.”
“Only if they’re caught.”
“I have no desire to end up screaming on a sharpened stick.”
“Only fools are caught. It’s all about who you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you can’t be greedy. Make sure the right people get their share and you can get away with anything. Gold blinds even dedicated guards.”
“Whose …er, place are you talking about?”
Meni looked hard at Nehy, and then glanced toward their companions who were licking the dregs from cups and jug. “Are you in?”
“Nothing’s entirely safe; there’s always some risk, but the guards will look the other way for an agreed consideration.”
“You’ve done this before,” Nehy said. “Why do you need me?”
“I don’t; but you’re a friend, and this time I need help breaking into…breaking through a wall. And to keep a lookout. For that, you get a third part.”
“And you get two?”
“I get one. The guards get the other. Are you in?”
The thought of gold overcame Nehy’s caution. In truth, as a simple townsman of Waset and occasional member of the city regiment, he had little to look forward to except hard work and little reward. He had no skill or a business passed down to him. If he was lucky, frugal living might provide him with a worn-out wife and a clutch of children before he died, but with gold anything might happen.
Meni bought another jug of beer and left Bek and Khu to their drunken ramblings and led Nehy out into the cool night air. The chill drove away any beer fumes that were clouding his mind, and he looked quizzically at his friend in the darkness of the deserted street.
“Where are we going?”
Meni walked off and after a brief hesitation, Nehy followed him. They walked through almost empty streets where even the prostitutes had found customers and taken them to their pallets. Now that he was no longer drinking, Nehy was starting to wonder at the wisdom of their venture. Tomb-robbing occurred–everyone knew that–but people also got caught and died a painful death. He wasn’t at all sure he wanted to risk it, but now they had passed beyond the city and neared a rocky place set aside for the tombs of mid-level nobility and government officials. Meni drew him into the shadows and pointed to a mud-brick building close by.
“That’s the tomb you mean?” Nehy asked. “It’s reserved for the priests of Hathor. We can’t rob that.”
“Of course we can. Sihathor was buried a month ago and the official temple guards were removed last night. There’s only…someone I know…guarding it tonight, so we need to do it before somebody else offers him a better bribe.”
“But to rob a priest…”
“Just a man, but one that was buried with gold. You wouldn’t say no to gold, would you?”
Nehy chewed his lip. “No, I suppose not.”
“Come on then.”
Meni led the way into the shadows behind the mud-brick tomb and, after scouting the area to make sure they were not observed, dug in the loose sand and drew out a copper hammer and a wooden mattock. He passed the mattock to Nehy and told him to keep watch.
The blows of the hammer on the dried brick were loud and Nehy felt sure they must be heard, but no-one came to investigate and after a while, Meni told him to clear away the debris with his mattock. He did so, and Meni attacked the wall again. After a time, Nehy heard a grunt of satisfaction from his friend and he saw that he had punched a hole in the wall of the tomb.
Calling Nehy closer, Meni clambered into the darkness, where he could hear him knocking over items. Then he passed things through the hole, and Nehy placed them carefully on the ground. There were plates and cups, jewellery, ornaments and figurines. Many of them were made of stone or base metal, but a few were heavier and Nehy was sure they were made of gold. All of the items were valuable though, and could be sold to the right buyers. He felt his heart hammering at the thought of this much wealth so close to him and then he gasped, wondering if his heart had stopped, when he heard voices in the darkness and footsteps coming closer.
“Meni, there’s someone coming,” he whispered into the tomb.
Meni poked his head through the hole and then clambered out. “Get the stuff. Quickly.” He grabbed a double handful and shuffled toward the shadows.
Nehy picked up a gratifyingly heavy cup and a chain he hoped was gold, and hurried after his friend, but before he could get there, a group of at least four men uncovered lamps and leapt out at them.
“We are betrayed. Run!” Meni yelled, bolting for the chaos of rocks on the hillside. With a shout, two of the men started in pursuit.
Nehy doubled back the way he had come, scrambled behind the tomb, and ran for the road that led to the city. He did not know the terrain around the tomb and instinctively fled for the perceived safety of Waset. The bulk of the tomb and the darkness hid him for a bit, but the sound of his panicked footsteps gave him away, and in an instant the remaining guards were pounding after him.
Fear sped his feet, and Nehy ran through the city gate fifty paces ahead of his pursuers. He ducked into a narrow alley, then another, changing direction often and gradually the cries and the running footsteps of the guards faded. Panting hard and trying to keep quiet, he sheltered in the entranceway of a residence near the barracks of the Amun Corps. Nehy thought about heading for home, but Meni knew where he lived and if he had been caught, who was to say he would not give him up.
“Who are you?”
Nehy jumped and almost cried out loud, believing himself discovered by the guards who had crept up on him. Then he realised the voice was young, tremulous, female, and had come from the courtyard behind him. He peered into the darkness but could only see dim shapes. Light poured into the courtyard from a window of the house and he could hear murmured conversation from within, but the shadows of the courtyard were deep and embracing.
“Er, no-one. I’m just sheltering here for a few moments; then I’ll go.”
“What are you sheltering from? Or should I say who? There are cemetery guards in the streets.”
Nehy knew he should leave immediately, but he heard footsteps on the street again, and shrank back into the shadows.
“Please don’t give me away,” he whispered.
“Are they looking for you? Are you a tomb robber? Speak the truth; I’ll know if you lie.”
For some reason, Nehy believed her. “I… I kept lookout for a friend. I’ve never done it before.”
“I believe you. It is no great crime to help a friend.”
There was a short silence and Nehy wondered if the girl was still there. The footsteps were getting closer, though, so he made up his mind to run, edging closer to the entrance.
“Don’t run. Come inside.”
Nehy felt a hand tugging him backward and he stumbled into the shadows of the courtyard just as the men in the street loomed in the entranceway, a guttering torch held high.
“Who’s there?” one of them demanded. “Show yourself.”
The girl stepped forward into the light. “I am Lady Sonbtisi, daughter of Amun Corps Commander Meryamun. What is your business here?”
“Forgive me, Lady. We are looking for a criminal who ran in this direction. Have you seen a stranger tonight?”
“May we come in and look around?”
“I have been here for some time and no criminal has entered this courtyard. If you desire to search it, you must present yourselves at the front entrance and seek permission of my father.”
The man scowled, but nodded. “Thank you, Lady. Your word is good enough. I advise you to shut and lock the door in case he is still nearby.”
“Thank you. I shall do so.”
The girl stood and watched the men leave and then turned back into the courtyard.
“Are you really Lady Sonbtisi?”
The girl giggled. “Yes. Did I sound awfully important?”
“Uh…how old are you?”
“What does that matter? I’m fourteen, and my father plans on having me married off soon.”
“I’m sure it doesn’t matter at all, Lady. You sound properly grownup and everything.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“Of course not, Lady. I thank you sincerely for helping me, but I must go now. Those guards might return and get your father’s permission to search the courtyard.”
“It is possible,” Sonbtisi said. “But before you go, will you tell me your name?”
Nehy briefly considered giving her a false name. “My name is Nehy.”
“Will you come back and visit me, Nehy?”
“That probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“I suppose not. Well, goodbye then.”
Sonbtisi moved into the light from one of the windows of her house, and Nehy stifled a gasp. The girl was beautiful. He stumbled over the words of farewell as she walked into the house. Nehy left the courtyard and hurried away, keeping a lookout for patrolling guards, but his mind kept drifting back to the beautiful young Lady Sonbtisi.
His friend Meni had escaped the pursuing guards, but the guard he had the arrangement with had turned against him and threatened to turn him in to the authorities. He judged it safer to leave the city for a while and advised Nehy to do the same.
“He doesn’t know me,” Nehy argued. “Besides, I have a reason to stay.”
Nehy was unable to get the image of Lady Sonbtisi from his mind, and her gentle voice haunted his dreams. He had found a buyer for his stolen goods and now bought a bangle that he had delivered to Sonbtisi. Back came the bangle with a message saying ‘Why do you not deliver it yourself?’ Plucking up his courage, he did so, sidling up alongside Sonbtisi in the markets.
“Nehy? I did not recognise you in daylight.”
“I would know you anywhere,” he declared. “I think of nothing else than our brief meeting.”
They talked for a while, and it surprised both of them that they had so much to say. Each enjoyed the sound of the other’s voice and without thinking, fingers entwined as they faced each other and spoke softly, finding it difficult to look away. Nehy bought them foamy beer and fried fish from a street vendor. It was plain that Sonbtisi enjoyed his company and Nehy marvelled at that. When at last they parted, the lengthening shadows warning them of the passage of time, Sonbtisi implored Nehy to call on her at home.
“I fear I would not be welcome in the house of the Corps Commander,” Nehy said. “I am only a simple Townsman of Waset without skills or wealth. I am a soldier when I am called upon too, but with little hope of advancement.”
“As to that, I’m afraid I exaggerated my importance a bit. My father is indeed Meryamun, but he is only a Troop Commander, not Corps Commander.”
“He is still far above my station.”
“Call on me anyway, Nehy.”
Nehy did as he was asked, though he knew beforehand what her father’s reaction would be. It was as he thought, and he considered himself lucky to escape without broken bones or bruises from the servants of an indignant father. A quick pair of feet carried him away from danger, though his cheeks burned with embarrassment. He resolved to assuage his shame by an act of revenge as his sense of his own honour overcame the desires of his heart.
Sonbtisi was appalled at the behaviour of her father toward the young man who had claimed her love and it required no great effort on his part to persuade her to lie with him. She soon found herself expecting a child and her father Meryamun swore revenge on the man who had dishonoured his daughter and set his men to scouring the city for the miscreant. They dragged Nehy before the troop commander, who would have had him beaten to death had not Sonbtisi pleaded for his life.
Meryamun could no longer seek his daughter’s marriage to another of the Corps’ Troop Commanders so he sent her north to the capital city of Ankh-Tawy. ‘Let her learn the consequences of her actions’ Meryamun declared. He felt certain that after a time of living without the luxuries she was used to, she would return and beg his forgiveness. Maybe after the birth of the child he could arrange a good marriage for her.
Nehy and Sonbtisi found themselves in Ankh-Tawy a month later, and set up a home together. The wealth he had gleaned from his tomb-robbing exploits in Waset enabled him to set up a small trading business which prospered. In due course the child of their congress was born and they named him Haankhef. Sonbtisi never returned to her father’s house in Waset, being perfectly content with her life as Nehy’s wife. Meryamun held himself aloof for many years, but gradually came to forgive his daughter’s perceived transgressions. The boy’s early life was unremarkable, but by the time he reached his early manhood, his grandfather Meryamun relented and used his influence to find Haankhef a position within the Ankh-Tawy military.
Haankhef prospered as a military man and slowly rose to the position of Commander of the Ankh-Tawy garrison. This brought him into contact with the royal court and he fell in love with Kemi, the youngest daughter of the Tjaty Aataya. They married and had three sons, Neferhotep, Sihathor, and Sobekhotep, who would no doubt have followed their father into the army and led satisfactory but undistinguished lives had it not been for an accident of fate.
* * *
At about the time the eldest son Neferhotep reached the age of forty-five the king, Sekhemresewdjtawy Sobekhotep, died. The king left only two daughters, both married to high officials within the court. Neither husband of the princesses seemed disposed to assume the throne, so Neferhotep took matters into his own hands, aided by his father-in-law Tjaty Neferkare Iymeru. Neferhotep had the husbands executed, their wives put away, and he took the throne of Kemet with the throne name of Khasekhemre Neferhotep. He called himself the king of all Kemet, Lord of the Two Lands, He of Sedge and Bee, despite most of Ta Mehu, the Delta region, lying in the hands of the Retjenu king Sheshi. The kings reigning from Ankh-Tawy had long regarded the Retjenu kings with loathing, but recognised they lacked the ability to oust them from Kemet.
Neferhotep took to wife a woman of good standing called Senebsen and had two sons by her, Haankhef and Wahneferhotep, and a daughter Kemi, relatively late in life. Kemi, as it turned out, had a part to play in the history of the Kemet that was far beyond her dreams. The sons of Neferhotep died early and the king raised his brother Sihathor up to rule beside him as coregent. He further betrothed his daughter Kemi to Sihathor but the marriage never took place, Sihathor succumbing to an infection. The youngest brother Sobekhotep was made coregent. Sobekhotep had, by this time, taken Nubhotepti as wife and had a son, Merenre, and enjoyed a lover Tjan, who when he became coregent was elevated to the status of wife. Tjan also gave birth to a son, Khaenre.
When, a year or so later, Neferhotep died, Sobekhotep, now Khaneferre Sobekhotep, became sole ruler, and he proceeded to rule Kemet with a fist of granite utilising Senebi son of Nebpu as Treasurer and Nebankh son of Sobekhotep (another one, this being a common name at the time) as Great Overseer of the House to control the kingdoms for him.
Khaneferre Sobekhotep called his high officials into a meeting and demanded to know why the Retjenu king Sheshi was allowed to continue ruling the productive lands of the river Delta from the eastern city of Hut-waret that these foreigners called Avaris.
“The farmlands of Ta Mehu are the richest in the kingdoms. They produce much food and to allow the wealth of the lands to flow into the coffers of this Sheshi, deprives me of much that is rightly mine.”
“Son of Re,” Nebankh said softly, “the lands of the Delta were overrun by the foreign Retjenu kings a hundred years ago. The kings of Kemet rule from Ankh-Tawy over the river valley and the south as they have done for hundreds of years before that.”
“I did not ask for a history lesson, but rather why these lands are still controlled by these men who call themselves kings. I am tired of their arrogance. Send the army to throw them out of Kemet and restore my rule over all of Kemet.”
“To state it baldly, the army is not strong enough,” Tjaty Iymeru said.
Sobekhotep stared at Iymeru coldly. “You may be the father of my mother, Iymeru, but you will still afford me the respect due to our respective stations in life.”
Iymeru ground his teeth, but bowed to the king. “My apologies, Son of Re, but my comment stands; our army is not strong enough to contest these disputed lands. On the other hand, their armies are not strong enough to push farther south so we have a balance.”
“And the situation is not wholly to our detriment, Son of Re,” added Senebi. “There is extensive trade between our lands and theirs, and a lot of the produce of the Delta ends up in the markets of Ankh-Tawy anyway.”
“But the profits end up in Sheshi’s treasury.”
Treasurer Senebi conceded the point. “Better we should lose a little profit than wage a costly war, Son of Re.”
“I don’t like it,” Sobekhotep said. “I am the only king in Kemet.”
“Of course, Son of Re,” Iymeru said. “For all that the kings of Retjenu like to call themselves kings of Kemet, in reality they are nothing more than Governors, allowed to rule by your gracious permission.”
“Hmm…your words have something to recommend them. We truly lack the means to oust these Retjenu?”
“Regrettably so, Son of Re.”
“Is there no friendly power we could call upon to help us? What of the kings of Kush? We maintain friendly relations with them, don’t we?”
“Kush is far away, Son of Re,” Senebi said, “and they trade with these Retjenu kings themselves. I doubt they would want to risk any diminution of their income.”
“To the north, then?”
“Son of Re, to the north lie the lands of Retjenu, though they are sometimes divided into the regions of Djahy, Lebanon and Amurru. These are the lands that the kings residing in Avaris came from.”
“It is said that there are other rulers of foreign lands, or heqa khasut, living there who are even more inimical to native Kemetu rule, Son of Re,” Iymeru said. He shrugged. “If a wolf worries our sheep, we do not want to call upon a lion to help drive the wolf away.”
Sobekhotep scowled. “You have made your point, Iymeru. It seems that I must suffer these foreign kings, these heqa khasut, these Hyksos, for the time being.”
“It would be wise to do so, Son of Re.”
“And the request I have received from Sheshi to send ships through our lands to call upon the king of Kush? Is that wise?”
“I believe it to be a reasonable request, Son of Re,” Treasurer Senebi said. “They pay a tax for the privilege of sailing through our lands, and their gold is welcome. We have always regarded the taxes they pay as being the tribute due to the crown by subject governors.”
“Except they are not just governors, are they? They call themselves kings.”
“What does it matter what they call themselves, Son of Re?” Iymeru asked. “They are merely taking care of the Delta lands while we gather our strength. One day we shall reclaim those lands and then there shall be an accounting.”
“I look forward to that day,” Sobekhotep said. “They will beg for mercy when my foot is upon their necks, but they will get no mercy from me.”
Khaneferre Sobekhotep swept from the room with Iymeru hurrying after him, and Nebankh looked at Senebi questioningly.
“You think we will one day reconquer the lands of the Delta?” he asked.
“No time soon,” Senebi replied. “Sheshi is too strong. But one day he will no longer rule from the city he calls Avaris, and then we will see.”