Hyksos Series, Book 3: Two Cities, A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Max Overton 2 covers

Hyksos Series, Book 3: Two Cities, A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Max Overton

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.

 

Hyksos Series, Book 3: Two Cities, A Novel of Ancient Egypt by Max Overton 2 covers
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The Hyksos drive south into the Nile Valley, sweeping all resistance aside. Bebi and Sobekhotep, grandsons of Harrubaal, assume command of the loyal Egyptian army and strive to stem the flood of Hyksos conquest. But even the cities of the south are divided against themselves.

Abdju, an old capital city of Egypt reasserts itself, putting forward a line of kings of its own, and soon the city is at war with Waset, the southern capital of the Nile Valley, as the two cities fight for supremacy in the face of the advancing northern enemy. Caught up in the turmoil of warring nations, the ordinary people of Egypt must fight for their own survival as well as that of their kingdom.Next Book in this Series

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GENRE: Historical: Ancient Egypt    ISBN: 978-1-925574-77-7    ASIN: B089SP7KTV    Word Count: 129, 150

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Prologue

 

King Samuqenu of Amurru stood in his blood-stained and sweat-soaked leather and bronze armour on the eastern plains where his army had just won a great victory, and stared across the great expanse of the river at the white walls of the Kemetu capital city. To the south, his armies pursued the broken and fleeing enemy as they ran for their lives into the desert or knelt, holding out their arms in submission, pleading for mercy. Samuqenu had issued no instructions on how to treat those who surrendered; content to leave that up to his commanders on the spot.

After a while, his personal servants found him and brought a stool, wine and food, and held an awning over his head to protect him from the hot Kemetu sun. His son Aper-Anati arrived soon after and a little later, his generals. They smiled and exchanged greetings in low voices, not wanting to disturb the thoughts of their king.

“What are those things that rise beyond the city?” Samuqenu demanded, pointing slightly to the north of the city, where the sun reflected brilliantly from three great broad-based structures that rose to a point. “Are they mountains?”

“This man knows,” General Anati said, pushing Hori forward. “He is a Kemetu commander whom I spared.”

Hori bowed, overawed by the presence of the king of the heqa khasut. “Great King, they are stone tombs of ancient kings of Kemet,” he said.

Samuqenu grunted. “Men who can build such things should be able to put up more of a fight.”

“Great King, they were built a thousand years ago.”

“That is nonsense. No kingdom could last that long.”

Hori kept silent, guessing that the king would not want to know that the Kemetu kingdom was far older than that.

“What is our next task, father?” Aper-Anati asked.

“The city,” Samuqenu said. “What is it called?”

“It goes by many names, Great King,” Hori said. “The White Walls by some, Enduring and Beautiful by others, but it is commonly referred to as Ankh-Tawy, which means Life of the Two Lands.”

“Why that name?”

“It is placed between the two kingdoms of Kemet–the Delta and the River Valley–and is believed to give life to both.”

“Then its time is past,” Samuqenu said. “I have conquered the Delta and will now conquer the rest of Kemet–starting with that city.”

The generals looked across the water at Ankh-Tawy, measuring its strength.

“It will not be straightforward,” General Anati said. “Chariots are useless against fortifications.”

“No matter,” General Kanak said. “My foot-soldiers will take the city.”

“And mine,” General Yannass said.

“Aye,” General Siaan agreed. “We do not need chariots for this battle.”

“Docks are always vulnerable,” King Baalbek, Admiral of the Fleet, commented. “They are often the soft belly of a city. My fleet can be a spear in their guts.”

“None of you will be needed if my men can open the gates from within,” Qeb-Har, General of Spies said. “Already I have men within the city subverting their will to resist.”

“Then I will expect a swift victory,” Samuqenu said. “Baalbek, your first task is to transport my army across the river. I’ll take Kanak and Yannass, and half of Anati’s chariots. The rest will stay on this side and regroup. I expect the city to fall within a month, and then we will march down both sides of the river.”


Chapter 1

 

Sometimes, the death of one man can have far-reaching consequences.

Wepwawemsaf was the younger son of a powerful Lord of Tjenu, but as his elder brother would inherit his father’s position, he had travelled north from the city of his birth and taken up a position in the court of the king of Kemet in Ankh-Tawy. Here he became the Overseer of Cordage attached to the Royal Dockyard, and also held a position as a priest of Ausar. His native city featured a strong association with that god of the underworld and in this manner Wepwawemsaf assuaged his occasional feelings of homesickness.

All went well in his life until the coming of the heqa khasut, at which point everything started to unravel like one of the less well-made ropes that passed through his hands. He was no warrior, but even he could see that the war was not being waged successfully. After the debacle on the eastern plains where the heqa khasut chariots destroyed the army of Kemet, he thought once more of home, far to the south. He rather wished he was there, rather than in Ankh-Tawy, in imminent danger of being captured or killed. It was at this time that a message arrived for him, and he read it with interest.

‘Wepwawemsaf, son of Djeserre,’ it read, ‘it is with regret that we inform you of the untimely death of your father.’

It was signed by the ruling council of Tjenu, the political capital of the religious centre that was Abdju. Tjenu was unusual in that there was no governor of the city or its sepat appointed by the king. The city, an ancient capital of Kemet, insisted on its right to be governed in its own way, namely by a ruling council. Successive kings had allowed it, but as the power of the kings of Kemet weakened, the strength of the Abdju Lords grew until the city and the lands around it became a semi-autonomous kingdom, lacking only a king. Djeserre had been one of these Lords of Tjenu, perhaps the most powerful of them, and now Wepwawemsaf’s brother Reemsaf would inherit not only the family estates but also his position on the Council. Wepwawemsaf mused that his father’s death could not have happened at a more opportune time, though the thought made him a little uncomfortable.

“I do respect my father…and his memory…and I would certainly have returned home anyway, but this gives me an excuse.”

He went to see the Controller of the Royal Dockyard, meaning to ask permission to journey south for his father’s funeral, but found the office in an uproar. Men were running around, many wringing their hands and a few even sat and wept. The Controller looked up from his desk and listened to Wepwawemsaf’s plea before shaking his head.

“The king has ordered every able-bodied man into the army. They are to defend the city with their lives.”

“But I have no training with arms,” Wepwawemsaf said. “I am a scribe, not a warrior.”

“Then you will learn to wield an axe or die quickly.”

Wepwawemsaf left the office determined to leave the city before anyone could press him into service. The battle across the river had already been lost, and he thought the heqa khasut would be moving irresistibly on the city very soon. He did not believe untrained men could defend Ankh-Tawy successfully, and he was still a young man not ready to die. Gold still had value, and he managed to secure the services of an old fisherman and his boat, promising a greater reward if he was delivered safely to Tjenu.

“It be difficult, sir,” Abu the fisherman said. “The enemy be here soon and they be already on the river.”

“You can outsail them?”

The fisherman thought about this and slowly nodded. “We be leaving tonight then.”

He slipped his moorings late that night and eased out into the river with sail furled, using only a rear oar to scull themselves slowly upriver, hugging the western bank.

“Why don’t you use the sail?” Wepwawemsaf whispered. “I can feel a breeze from the north.”

“If the enemy be out there, they be see a white sail. We be safer this way.”

They made very slow progress, the lights of the city and of the army encamped on the far side slipping behind imperceptibly, but by the time the dawn flushed the eastern horizon, the city was almost lost to sight behind them, and few boats were visible on the wide expanse of water.

Abu nodded with satisfaction and hauled the sail up, steering the little boat farther away from the shore, the sail filling and heeling the little boat over, though the lack of a keel tended to make the boat slip sideways unless the wind was directly behind them. Farther away from the city they found themselves alone on the broad river, though they kept themselves closer to the western shore, taking advantage of any counter current eddies.

Wepwawemsaf was a city dweller without any interest in hunting or farming, so had hardly seen the life of the river, let alone experienced it close up. He marvelled at everything, staring at the farmland they passed with scattered herds and peasants toiling in the fields. The reed beds fascinated him, a wealth of water birds exploding into the air if they approached too closely, and the swirl of water as a crocodile submerged nearby offered up a thrill.

“Are we in any danger?” he asked Abu.

The old man shrugged. “Not much, unless you be trying to swim.” He looked forward to where his passenger was trailing one hand in the water. “Or splash too much with your hand.”

Wepwawemsaf hurriedly pulled his hand from the water, and flushed when he saw the small smile on Abu’s face. He looked away, unsure if he was being made fun of but a little later, when he saw three crocodiles tearing at the corpse of a cow in the shallows, he decided his caution was warranted.

Days passed slowly, but he was in no hurry. His father had died perhaps half a month before but it would be some time before his body was fully prepared for burial. The funeral would not take place until well after he reached Abdju. Contemplating his father’s death made him think of his brother Reemsaf and his own reception when he arrived. By local laws he was entitled to nothing from his father’s estate unless Reemsaf chose to make a gift. His brother was not known for his generosity, so it was unlikely Wepwawemsaf would be welcome to stay long in the city. He would just stay long enough to see what was happening with the heqa khasut before making a decision regarding his future. Waset was a possibility, though the rivalry between the two largest cities of the south was fierce. The Lords of Waset might well deny him a refuge there.

In the meantime, the slow journey was pleasant enough and certainly interesting. The river maintained a steady course in a southward direction, but it was more varied then he thought. Thin strips of arable land bordered the water, green and lush, but beyond them the land rapidly turned to scrub and thorn trees before degenerating into desert. In many places, cliffs reared upward, their rocky faces scarred by runnels and cracks and he wondered what caused those scars. He would have hazarded the actions of man or wind or water and for a time was reluctant to ask his companion.

“Cliffs be useful for tombs. Don’t know about wind, though there can be fierce storms. Rain too, sometimes. I reckon water makes them.”

Wepwawemsaf looked carefully at the old man, wondering if he was mocking him. He had never experienced rain, and he thought it must be too rare to make the channels he saw in the rocky cliffs.

The cliffs affected the wind, turning it or sending it in blustery gusts across the river. When this happened, Abu would curse and hurriedly adjust the sail, steering for the shallows along one or other shore, or furling the sail altogether, proceeding under oars until the wind swung back to the north.

There were fishing and farming villages scattered along the river and they would sometimes pull in at one of these for the night. Abu often cast a net if he saw a likely spot and they always had fish. These could be traded for a bit of bread and some fresh vegetables, and a lice-ridden straw pallet at night. At other times they camped on shore, making a small fire to grill their catch. Wepwawemsaf felt very exposed on these occasions. The body of the goddess Nut hung over them, star-studded, and he felt they were being watched by unseen denizens of the night. A straw pallet might itch and leave him scratching the next day, but there was something snug and safe about having the roof of a hut close above you. He could even put up with the rats in the palm frond thatching, the snakes and the spiders too. But slowly, as the voyage lengthened out, he conquered his fears about sleeping in the open and came to appreciate the beauty of the river in darkness. It was all one to Abu, of course. The old man ate his supper and curled up near the fire, falling asleep immediately, his night broken only by snores and occasional passing of gas. Wepwawemsaf thought Abu’s calmness all very commonplace and oddly reassuring.

Islands were the safest places to camp for the night as they were usually low-lying and devoid of habitation. Thieves and brigands were not unknown on either shore, but they seemed reluctant to get their feet wet, enabling Wepwawemsaf and Abu to spend a worry-free night.

It took them half a month, but at last they approached the stretch of river that Abu claimed was under the control of Abdju and Tjenu.

“They be sending boats out to see us,” Abu said gloomily. “What be happening then only they knows. Maybe turns us back if we be lucky.”

“But I have to get to Tjenu,” Wepwawemsaf said. “You took my gold and promised to get me there.”

“Can’t do what I be not allowed to do. They don’t be liking strangers using their river.”

“It’s not their river…and anyway, I’m a son of a Lord…or the brother of one. They can’t turn me away.”

“Happen we’ll see,” Abu muttered as he changed their course slightly.

It was the next day before a large galley hove into view, oars threshing the water into foam as it bore down on them. Archers were prominent in the prow, though their bows were not yet drawn. Without being told, Abu lowered his sail and threw out a large stone on a rope as anchor. The other boat backed water and slid alongside, the crew looking down with evident curiosity, and the captain leant over the side.

“Identify yourself,” the captain said.

Wepwawemsaf stood up, rocking the little fishing boat so he was forced to steady himself by clutching the mast. “By what right do you challenge us?” he demanded. “The king allows free travel on the river.”

The captain spat over the side. “These waters are controlled by the Council of Tjenu. I would advise you keep a civil tongue in your head. Now, identify yourselves and state your business.”

Wepwawemsaf stared down the captain for some twenty breaths before replying. “I am Wepwawemsaf, son of Djeserre, late of the Council of Tjenu, and this is my servant Abu who serves to bring me to my native city. I have returned for the funeral of my father. Now, identify yourself, fellow, so I may accurately report to the Council concerning your attitude.”

The captain raised his eyebrows, hesitated, and then bowed. “You are welcome, Lord Wepwawemsaf. My name is Amauset, and I am at your service. Come aboard, my lord, and we will convey you to Tjenu in comfort. Your servant can return whence he came.”

“Thank you, Amauset, but I have promised Abu here an extra fee for his service. He must come to Tjenu to be paid.”

“As you will, my lord. The promise of a Lord of Tjenu is counted above mere custom. Do you come aboard and I will send a man to accompany your servant to the city docks where he may await your beneficence.”

Wepwawemsaf hesitated and then decided it was of no benefit to tell Amauset that he was no Lord of Tjenu, despite his father’s rank. Instead, he clambered up into the larger boat and watched as one of the sailors joined Abu in the fishing boat. Then with shouted orders and the oars once more threshing the water into foam, the galley swept round in an arc and headed back upriver to Tjenu, while Abu trailed along behind.

“My condolences, Lord Wepwawemsaf,” Amauset said. “Your father will be sorely missed on the Councils.”

“You knew him, Amauset?”

“Alas, I did not have the honour of knowing him personally, my lord, but everyone knew of Lord Djeserre and the way he laboured for the common good.”

Wepwawemsaf nodded. The cliffs came down to the water’s edge at that point, the current running deep and strong. He stood silently for a time, watching the rocky cliffs slip by and Amauset respected his silence, not wanting to intrude on his thoughts.

“Who heads the Council now? I suppose my brother Reemsaf.”

Amauset went pale. “My…my lord, I thought…I assumed you knew…my lord, your brother died only two days after your father. Forgive me, my lord, but I assumed the message that told you of one told you of the other.”

Wepwawemsaf leaned on the side of the boat, thoughts swirling in his mind. Reemsaf dead? My older brother that everyone loved and knew would one day succeed our father on the Council? He examined his feelings, wondering if they reflected the shock of the news or were how he truly felt. His father he respected even if he did not love him, but Reemsaf? There was no respect due to him and if he admitted the truth, little love. His death would leave a hole in his life, but a hole like a troublesome tooth that fell out. Something was missing, but he felt relief…and a little guilt.

“How did he die? How did my father die, for that matter?”

“I…there are others who could tell you more, my lord, but it is my understanding that your father was struck down as he walked from his home to the Council meeting, and…”

“Struck down how? By an enemy?”

“Oh, no, my lord. Your father had no enemies but was beloved by all. It was…well, he was just walking and he just fell over and died.”

Wepwawemsaf thought about this sudden death for a few moments. “And my brother?”

“He tripped and struck his head, my lord.”

“Nobody pushed him?”

“Oh, no, my lord. He had no ene…”

“No enemies. I understand. Thank you, Amauset.”

The galley rounded a headland and the cliffs receded, a plain opening up that rose to a prominence topped by a walled city. Buildings crowded the outside of the walls, spilling down the slope toward the river like a pile of bricks toppled by a wilful child. Houses reached all the way to the water, and several docks stuck out into the river, a few no more than piles of stone, but one was solidly made, longer than the others.

“The royal dock,” Amauset murmured. “Normally it is reserved only for senior officials, but I believe you fit into that category, my lord.”

Wepwawemsaf said nothing, preferring to let the galley captain make whatever mistakes were to be made.

“You can provide me with an escort, Amauset? I will lodge at my father’s house until other arrangements can be made.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“And you can arrange for my servant Abu to be paid for his services?”

“It will be done, my lord.”

When the galley docked and was secured, Amauset detailed a squad of his sailors to form up as an escort, and led it himself. By then, the docking had attracted much attention and a crowd was forming, men and women curious about who had arrived at the royal dock.

“Who is it?” Wepwawemsaf heard one man call out. “Is it the king?”

“Who can tell?” answered another. “If it is, he’s not wearing his regalia.”

Amauset’s men pushed through the crowd, the sailors being quite rough with the people, but although the men of the city pushed back they did so half-heartedly and desisted immediately when Amauset shouted that their guest was a Lord. Thereafter, their passage through the jumble of streets was slow but unhindered. They passed through a gate in the walled inner city and Wepwawemsaf looked around with interest at the state of the defences.

“Why have the defences been allowed to get to this state?” he asked Amauset. “A determined enemy would make short work of them.”

Amauset shrugged without stopping. “Who would attack us? We are deep inside Kemet and far from any enemy.”

“The heqa khasut for one.”

“Rulers of foreign lands? Who are they?”

“Invaders from the north. They have already overrun the Delta kingdom and destroyed our northern army. By now they will have taken Ankh-Tawy.”

“That is grim news indeed,” Amauset said, “but why would they want to come here? We have little gold. All the best land is in the north.”

“Let us pray you are right, Amauset, for if they do come down here they will go through us like the bloody flux.”

Amauset grimaced but said nothing more. He led Wepwawemsaf to a richly appointed house near the palace that crowned the hill. Up there, Wepwawemsaf knew, the Governor of Tjenu had once lived, many years ago, before the Council ruled. Now it only served as a meeting house and a place to greet dignitaries. The house to which he was led had belonged to his father, though Wepwawemsaf had rarely seen it and never lived there. He had been born and raised on the family estate to the south, near the holy city of Abdju. The galley captain roused the major-domo and explained who Wepwawemsaf was, telling him that naturally the only living son of Djeserre would reside there for as long as he desired.

“I will inform the Council of your arrival, my lord. No doubt you will want to convene the Council as soon as possible.”

Wepwawemsaf frowned but tried to hide his unease. Amauset was treating him as if he was a person of importance, rather than just the younger son of whom little was expected.

“I would rather pay my respects to my father and brother.”

“Of course, my lord. They will be inside the House of Embalming, but I will inform the Master of the House that you will be calling upon him. In the meantime, refresh yourself with food and drink, my lord…bathe perhaps…and I will arrange everything.”

Amauset returned in an hour to find that Wepwawemsaf had enjoyed all the resources of his father’s house. He led him out into the street and turned away from the palace to an area where there were fewer houses and more businesses engaged in odoriferous pursuits. Wepwawemsaf sniffed the air, wrinkling his nose at the assault on his senses.

“It makes sense to put the…ah…smellier businesses together, where there are fewer people to upset. We have the slaughter houses, the tanneries, and the Houses of Embalming.”

“I’m not sure I like the thought of my family being lumped in with those other things.”

“Do not worry, my lord, the House where your father and brother reside is farthest from those other things. It is a place of great repute, used only by the most important and richest people.”

Amauset led him through streets that reeked of offal and faeces and blood to an imposing building set apart from the rest. Here they were greeted at the entrance by an old but distinguished looking man who bowed when he was introduced to Wepwawemsaf.

“Greetings, my lord. Welcome to Rekhmire’s House where only the most illustrious people are prepared for eternity. I am Rekhmire, and may I say what a privilege it is to be entrusted with the earthly shells of your father and brother. You may rest assured that they are receiving the very best service we can offer.”

“Thank you, Rekhmire.”

“Would you like to view the bodies, my lord?”

“They are finished already?”

“Oh, no, my lord, they are still in the natron, but I can have them brought out for a viewing if that is your wish.”

“I… I had thought to just pay my respects beside their vats, but…yes, I would like to see them.”

“Of course, my lord. You have seen bodies in the natron before?”

“No.”

Rekhmire coughed delicately into one hand. “Then perhaps I might suggest a cup of wine to fortify you before you do so, my lord. The sight can upset some people, particularly if the individuals were much loved. It…” he coughed again, “it might be better to wait until they are fully prepared and wrapped for burial.”

“No. Now.”

Rekhmire bowed and issued the appropriate orders to one of his servants before ushering Wepwawemsaf and Amauset into his private quarters, where he poured them strong wine with his own hand. After several minutes, the servant returned and nodded to his master.

“Come, the bodies are prepared.”

“I think I will wait here, if it is all the same to you,” Amauset said. “You should have time alone to pay your respects.”

Wepwawemsaf nodded and followed Rekhmire out into the hallway and deeper into the building to a room that reeked of the sharp tang of salt mixed with chemicals and spices. Inside the room, torches cast flickering light and shadows on two granite benches in the open space in the middle of the room. On the benches lay what appeared to be two bundles of linen roughly formed in the figures of men.

“Where…?” Wepwawemsaf started to say before his eyes recognised the features of his father’s face on one of the bundles. They were his father’s features, but angular, almost skeletal, and a horrible waxy yellowish white instead of the flesh-coloured tints of life.

“The natron draws out the water from the body, my lord,” Rekhmire said softly. “Your father had a spare frame so his process is much further along than your brother who came to us two days later and with more fat on his body.”

Wepwawemsaf tore his gaze from his father and looked at the once-familiar features of his brother. Here too, the natron had stripped away the fat beneath the skin, turning the body into something resembling a starving man. It was still recognisable as Reemsaf, but bore little resemblance to the brother he had known. He stood and stared at the bodies for a time, but could find no words in his mind with which to address these…things that had once been his family.

“I have seen enough,” he told the embalmer.

“Return in another month, my lord, and see the finished product. You will see that the wrapped bodies are far more lifelike. They will be almost as you remember them.”

Amauset joined him but said nothing, aware of the trauma written on his companion’s face. He led him back out into the streets and back through the stink of that quarter, turning at last toward the palace.

“The Lords of the Council will see you now, my lord.”

The palace was silent and seemingly empty now that it was only used for formal occasions. There were no guards present, which surprised Wepwawemsaf enough for him to remark on it.

“The palace at Ankh-Tawy is full of guards, all dedicated to the protection of the king.”

“Who would dare strike down a Lord of Tjenu?”

“No-one? They have no enemies?”

“I have never heard of a Lord whose life was ended other than in war or by old age, sickness or accident, my lord.”

Amauset took him to a room deep inside the palace where four men dressed in fine robes stood in quiet conversation. When the two men entered, Amauset bowed deeply and introduced his companion.

“My Lords of the Council, I present to you Wepwawemsaf, son of Djeserre. These, in turn, are Lord Sekhemraw, Lord Pantjeny, Lord Snaaib, and Lord Atef.”

“You are welcome indeed, Wepwawemsaf, son of Djeserre,” Sekhemraw said. “We were unsure as to whether our message had reached you in the north.”

“Thank you, Lord Sekhemraw. It saddened me to hear of my father’s death, but it was not unexpected. He was already old when I left for the king’s court.”

Sekhemraw smiled. “There is no need to address us as Lords, Wepwawemsaf, for you are one of us now. Our given names are sufficient.” He looked across to where Amauset stood. “You may leave us, Amauset.”

“Yes, my lord,” Amauset replied, bowing and leaving the chamber.

“I trust you had a pleasant voyage,” Pantjeny said. “Amauset spun us a tale of you arriving in a tiny fishing boat. I can tell you it created some merriment when we heard it, solely for the unlikeliness of a Lord travelling in such a manner.”

“It is true, Lor…Pantjeny. I had to leave Ankh-Tawy in some haste and secretly, so a fishing boat was the best I could manage at such short notice.”

“Herein lies a tale, I think,” Atef said.

“Secrecy?” Sekhemraw asked.

“And haste?” Snaaib added. “Tell us, Wepwawemsaf. We are dying to know.”

Wepwawemsaf stood in thought, trying to make sense of the statements of the Lords of Tjenu. For some reason they were including him among their number. He had not understood the politics of the city before he left, knowing that such knowledge was outside his purview forever as a younger son, but he now wished he had investigated it.

“Wepwawemsaf?” Sekhemraw prompted.

“Er…yes…sorry. Where to start? Yes, well, Ankh-Tawy is besieged by the invaders from the north, the heqa khasut, and may well have fallen by now. If it has, then Kemet may no longer have a king. I left before the city could be closed.”

“Will they limit themselves to the northern kingdom, or come south?” Pantjeny asked.

“I cannot be certain, but I believe they will come south. I was coming to Tjenu anyway, for my father’s funeral, so thought it well to bring a warning too.”

Sekhemraw looked at the other Lords. “We are glad you did so, Wepwawemsaf. We have heard something of these invaders, but need more information on them if we are to properly understand them. It is a great windfall that you should have been in the north when they arrived.”

“Are they truly as formidable as we have heard?” Snaaib asked.

Wepwawemsaf nodded. “They destroyed the army of the Delta and took over that northern kingdom. Then they came south and destroyed the army of Kemet, slaughtering our men by the thousand. None can stand against them.”

“That is alarming news,” Sekhemraw said. “What makes them so strong? Are they so numerous they carry all before them like a flood?”

“They have horse-drawn chariots against which even massed men cannot overcome. Their weapons are made of some paler metal, hard and sharp, that no copper blade can withstand.”

Sekhemraw looked at the other Lords again, his expression troubled. “If it were anyone but you reporting this, Wepwawemsaf, I would doubt their veracity. The Five Families must consider this information carefully, deliberate at length, and decide how we can protect ourselves against these invaders.”

“Then I will leave you to your deliberations,” Wepwawemsaf said.

“But you are of the Five Families, Wepwawemsaf. We cannot make decisions regarding the fate of Tjenu without your opinions.”

“I? My father was one of you, but…”

“You are the oldest surviving member of House Abdju. Your older brother held that position for two days before his unfortunate accident, but now that duty devolves to you, Wepwawemsaf.”

“House Mentu welcomes you, Wepwawemsaf,” Pantjeny said.

“House Wah-Sut welcomes you,” Snaaib added.

“House Ausar welcomes you,” Atef said.

“And House Khenti welcomes you,” Sekhemraw finished. “Now, let us send for refreshments and get down to business.”