The rescue attempt took place in the darkness before the dawn on the last day of the last month of Akhet, when the palace guards dozed at their posts and the servants were just rising from their sleep. A small party of armed men slipped ashore at the Waset docks and crept silently through deserted streets, rushing the sleepy guards at the kitchen entrance and invading the palace. They encountered a few yawning servants who barely had time to widen their eyes or open their mouths in surprise before they were cut down. Torches guttered low in the passages and hallways of the great building, scarcely lighting the Kushite soldiers as they rushed toward the inner chamber where King Menmire Amenmesse was housed.
The guards outside the prison suite were tired but still alert when the Kushite warriors hurled themselves out of the shadows with bronze spear heads glinting in the torchlight. Two men died immediately, but the others stood back-to-back and fought with spear, sword and axe. Shouts and screams aroused the palace, but the last guard died before help could arrive. The Kushites broke down the door and found a naked middle-aged man facing them, clutching a chair as if to defend himself.
One of the Kushites dropped to his knees on the cold tiles and stretched out his arms to the naked man. "Greetings, Menmire, Lord of the Two Lands. We have come to release you from the bonds of the enemy."
"Who...who are you?"
The Kushite rose to his feet, towering over his king. He grinned, white teeth gleaming in the fitful light. "I am Qenna, Son of Re. Lord Sethi sent me. We must hurry for already the palace guards are on their way."
Menmire nodded. He dropped the chair and grabbed a kilt from a nearby table, fastening it about his waist and slipping on a pair of sandals. "You have a weapon for me?"
Qenna handed him a sword from a fallen guard. "This way, Son of Re. Come quickly."
Shouts and the stamp of many sandaled feet could be heard outside the chamber and the Kushite warriors called urgently to their leader. Qenna strode to the main passage and saw the glint of metal as guards hurried toward them. He turned and ran back into the suite and pointed toward the window.
"Quickly, into the garden. Perhaps we can lose them if we head past the menagerie."
The warriors vaulted through the window into the shrubbery beneath and helped their king to clamber through. Surrounding Amenmesse with a thin cordon of bronze, they set off across the gardens toward the cages and pits that housed a small collection of wild and exotic animals, while behind them the calm of the night was shattered by the clamour of armed men.
Brightly coloured birds screeched and monkeys screamed as Qenna led his men at a run past the enclosures, and a lion coughed and rushed the bars, snarling at the men just out of reach. Torches flared in the doorways and windows behind them, and soldiers poured out in pursuit.
"There," Qenna panted, pointing to the narrow strip of land that lay between the palace outhouses and the crumbling brick wall of the palace estate. "Once we're in the streets we can lose them."
"How do we leave the city?"
"By boat, Son of Re. I have other men waiting at the docks."
They ran through the gap between building and wall and emerged into a small open space. In the first grey light of dawn they saw the way forward was blocked by a detachment of soldiers led by General Setnakhte. Qenna looked behind them and saw other soldiers cutting off their escape. He grinned, and flexed his spear arm.
"We shall protect you to the end, Son of Re."
"It will not come to that," Amenmesse replied, pointing to where the colours of the opposing soldiers could now be seen in the early light. "They are of the Amun legion and are loyal to me."
Amenmesse strode forward and lifted his arm, calling out, "Stand aside, soldiers of Amun, for it is I, Menmire Amenmesse, who stand before you. Take that traitor Setnakhte into custody or strike him down, and then join me in freeing Amun's City of my brother's yoke."
Setnakhte laughed. "It won't work, Messuwy. These are loyal Amuns, not the weak-livered lot you commanded. They obey me and the rightful king."
"I know not this Messuwy. I am Menmire Amenmesse, rightful king of Ta Shemau, and I order you to stand aside."
"You may have been once, but now you are just plain Messuwy again, traitorous brother of the true king Userkheperure."
Amenmesse cursed, but tried again, appealing to the soldiers now clearly seen in the dawn light. He promised them gold, but none of them responded, standing firm with their weapons at the ready.
"Surrender, Messuwy, and I will let you live--you and your men. Or you can die, here and now--your choice."
"You would not dare," Amenmesse shouted back. "I am an anointed king of Kemet and my body is sacred."
"So was your brother, yet it did not stop you seeking to kill him."
"That was war, and besides, he guaranteed me my life. He made you promise to honour his wish. You dare not kill me."
"Perhaps, but I made no such promise concerning your men. Surrender now or they die." Setnakhte murmured an order and a dozen archers stepped through the ranks and drew their bows, aiming them at the Kushites. "Leave Messuwy unharmed, but cut down every other man on my command."
Amenmesse lowered his head in defeat. "Put down your weapons," he instructed his men.
Qenna threw down his spear and with a quick movement ducked behind his king and then raced for the crumbling wall of the palace estate. A fig tree had loosened the mud brick as its roots slowly tore it apart and the Kushite warrior scrambled up and over even as the first archers loosed their arrows at him.
The other Kushite warriors gripped their weapons and hurled themselves at their enemy, yelling out the war cries of their tribes, but they had barely started forward before arrows cut them down. Only Amenmesse was left standing as his men died around him.
"After that man," Setnakhte cried, pointing to where Qenna had disappeared. "Bring me his head." Soldiers rushed to obey him, some scrambling over the wall and others running to cut him off in the temple grounds that lay beyond.
Meanwhile, Setnakhte sauntered across to where Amenmesse stood dejectedly among the bodies of his Kushite warriors. "You will not get another opportunity to escape," he told him.
Amenmesse shrugged. "That is with the gods."
"Come." Setnakhte led Amenmesse back to his outer chamber and doubled the guards on the door, and adding more outside the window. He left him inside the room and went to speak with the Captain of the Guard.
"There are to be at least ten men awake and alert at all times, Ahhotep. Any man sleeping on duty will be executed, so make sure you change them around often. Any command to the contrary is to be refused and reported directly to me. Understand?"
Setnakhte walked back into the room and crossed to where Amenmesse now sat on a chair. "The king is dead," he said without preamble.
"What?" Amenmesse leapt to his feet and stared at his captor. "My brother is dead? Then...then I am Kemet's only king."
"His son Seti-Merenptah is the natural heir, and in case you think you can best an infant, I dare say Queen Tausret will rule for him, backed by the loyal legions."
"Why are you telling me this?"
Setnakhte smiled. "Not to give you any hope, but rather the contrary. Imagine how much the Queen must hate you, and now that the king has ascended to Re it is only a matter of time before she orders your execution. Make your peace with the gods if you can."
Menmire Amenmesse drew himself up and looked down his nose at the other man. "I do not need to make my peace; I have only done what was right. The gods will not desert me." He turned and walked into his bed chamber, paying no further attention to General Setnakhte.