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.
The Hyksos, themselves beset by intrigue and division, push down into southern Egypt. The short-lived kingdom of Abdju collapses, leaving Nebiryraw the undisputed king of the south ruling from the city of Waset. An uneasy truce between north and south enables both sides to strengthen their positions.
Khayan seizes power over the Hyksos kingdom and turns his gaze toward Waset, determined to conquer Egypt finally. Meanwhile, the family of King Nebiryraw looks to the future and starts securing their own advantage, weakening the southern kingdom. In the face of renewed tensions, the delicate peace cannot last…
GENRE: Historical: Ancient Egypt Word Count: 152,489
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The docks of Waset seethed with activity as Herihor, third in command of the city garrison pushed through the crowds, his eyes searching for one particular ship among the many tied up, their crews loading and unloading. Fear gripped him as he could not see what he searched for, but then a stray breeze lifted the banners on the nearby temples and he caught a glimpse of a red pennant attached to the mast-top of a ship in the second row.
He sighed with relief and hurried across to the ship. It displayed lines that were at odds with the rest of the ships and boats in the harbour; lines that spoke wordlessly of its origins among the Sea Peoples of the Great Sea. The ship’s captain, Kathta, had once sailed in the service of the King of the heqa khaseshet before transferring his allegiance to Kemet, hence the red pennant that signified safe passage in the north. Although it could no longer be used for that purpose, Kathta now flew it as his personal symbol in the south.
Herihor caught sight of the captain on the deck of his ship and called to him. “Ho, Kathta, may I come aboard?”
Kathta looked round and for a moment his brow furrowed and then he nodded, beckoning to the army man. He watched him clamber over the side and walk unsteadily across the faintly moving deck.
“Herihor, isn’t it? Of the city garrison? What can I do for you?”
“Is your ship ready to sail?”
Kathta shook his head. “Nowhere near. We’re still unloading. Why?”
Herihor looked round and jerked his head toward the far side of the ship, farthest from any of the workers. He walked across and Kathta, after a moment’s hesitation, joined him near the rail.
“You are loyal to King Sobekhotep and his sons?” Herihor asked.
“Of course. You know this. It was Sobekhotep who gave me refuge.”
“I have to be sure. Say nothing of this to anyone, but Sobekhotep is dead.”
Kathta stared, and his expression hardened. “How is it that you know this?”
“You think I had a hand in it? No, a messenger just arrived in the city reporting that he suffered a mortal wound in a battle north of here. I am loyal to the king and his sons, but there are some who are not; Lord Neferhotep for one. Even now he is rousing the city garrison to support him. He means to claim the throne.”
“So why are you here?”
“Neferhotep will not allow the king’s family to live. If they are to survive, they must leave the city today…within the hour.”
“And this concerns me?”
“If you are indeed loyal, it should. Am I mistaken?”
“You misunderstand me, Herihor. Why have you come to me? Is it because you require my services?”
“It is. There is only one way to move the royal family out of Waset, and that is by water. For that, I need your ship.”
Kathta thought for a few moments. “If Lord Neferhotep is indeed moving against them, then you will not have enough time to round them up.”
A brief smile tugged at Herihor’s lips. “Already done. They are waiting in a warehouse not a hundred paces from here.”
“You were that sure of my loyalty?”
Herihor nodded. “The things I wasn’t sure of were your presence and your ability to sail quickly. You’ve answered one but not the other.”
Kathta shrugged. “My unloaded goods are merely profit, and worthless compared to the family of my king. Bring them on board immediately and we’ll sail as soon as they are. Uh…where are we going?”
“Behdet. We can’t go north, so it’ll have to be south. Behdet is far enough away it’ll give us time to consider what to do next; and besides, Tjaty Sekhem has estates there.”
“Go and fetch them, Herihor. I’ll prepare my men.”
As Herihor hurried away, Kathta called to his officers and had them cease unloading the cargo and fetch every man aboard.
“A special cargo is arriving,” he told them. “We sail as soon as it’s aboard.”
A small commotion at the end of the dock caught Kathta’s attention and he feared Neferhotep had caught wind of the intended escape and sent soldiers to foil it. Instead, men were falling back and bowing as several well-dressed men and women, with children in tow, hurried from the nearest street and out onto the stone dock. He felt like bowing himself as the group came closer, for he recognised Queen Monthhotep, haughty and refined, with her ladies about her, and Queen Hetepet with her stripling son Rahotep beside her. Tjaty Sekhem was there with his family, and Lord Anhotep, father of the wives of King and Tjaty, as well as a gaggle of maidservants, a few noblewomen who might have been wives of the king and several small children who may or may not have been related to the king. Bringing up the rear was Herihor and an old man whom he recognised as Amenankh, the recently retired Commander of the Waset garrison.
“My father,” Herihor explained as the group clambered aboard, “will be going with you. Farewell, father. I trust we will meet again soon.”
“You’re not coming?” Kathta asked.
“No, the princes will be returning from the battle with the body of the king, and somebody must warn them.”
“If Neferhotep gains the support of the garrison, you won’t survive either.”
“I have a hundred men still loyal to the king. They will follow me in support of the princes. Go now, Kathta, quickly, for you have a precious cargo on board. If the gods will it, I shall see you in Behdet.”
Herihor kissed his father goodbye and hurried off to warn the princes. Kathta rapped out a series of orders and his crew swung into action despite the deck crowded with women and children. He ushered the queens into his cabin and asked the others to sit down quietly, out of the way. Sailors poled the ship away from the wharf until they had cleared enough room around them to put out the oars, and then they made slow progress out of the narrow harbour and into the stream of the river. There was only a fitful breeze from the north, so Kathta decided it would be too much trouble to employ the sail. Oars would have to do, so he told Khef on the steering oar to turn them upriver and Ahmose, his sailing master, to have the rowers increase their rate.
“I don’t know how much time we’ll have before they send ships in pursuit,” Kathta said.
Ahmose frowned. “You think there’ll be pursuit?”
“They’ll never catch us,” Ahmose replied. “We can outsail anything capable of giving us trouble.”
“Let’s hope so. We have precious cargo.”
“I see that. Are those really the queens?”
“Does the king know?”
“The king is dead, and Lord Neferhotep will make sure the rest of the king’s family follow him into death if he catches them.”
“Then we’d better make sure he doesn’t.”
Ahmose walked off yelling at the rowers to put their backs into it, promising rewards if they performed to his satisfaction and threatening punishments if they did not. Most of the men just grinned, knowing their sailing master well, but they increased their efforts just the same.
There was no pursuit, or if there was it was perfunctory and they saw no evidence of it. The ship sailed well, being built according to Sea Peoples specifications with a keel that carved the green water of the river preventing side slippage when wind gusted off the cliffs. It took a day to reach Ta-senet, where they put in to buy fresh food. Ordinary shipboard supplies were plain and frugal, not at all suited to royal tastes and demands. Cooked meat, freshly baked bread, fresh fruits and vegetables were loaded swiftly, along with wine and beer. Water was always available from the river.
While they were tied up in Ta-senet, Kathta had screens erected on both sides near the rear, so the ladies could relieve themselves in privacy, and he also gave commands that his men were to be discreet in their behaviour.
The journey upriver to Behdet took several days, but it was a time that was enjoyed by most of those on board. Queen Monthhotep complained about the heat in the cabin, so Kathta had a sail rigged as an awning on the deck where she could sit and catch the breezes. He had sailors splash the decks with water to cool them, and the royal children loved this aspect, laughing and screaming as they dodged the buckets of water. The sailors entered into the spirit of the game the children devised, and laughingly threw water all around until one man splashed the queen. Then the game was forbidden.
Other times, the passengers would sit or stand and watch the scenery pass slowly, the ever-present cliffs and distant desert, farmlands with peasants working the fields or small boys tending cattle, scrubland and scrawny trees growing wild, or small fishing villages. Reed beds abounded, supporting bird life, and water lilies on the calmer backwaters. They saw great pehe-mau snorting and blowing in lagoons, and the occasional splash of a crocodile taking to the water and a swirl as it disappeared into the green depths. The boys fished from the sides of the ship, screaming with delight as a silvery fish was yanked from the water on the end of a flax string with a carved bone hook. These fish, and others caught by the crew when they tied up at night, were grilled over an open fire and the children all said they were far tastier than fish served in the palace.
The scenery and the novelty of life aboard a ship served to push worry aside; worry about what was happening to the princes. Both queens mourned the death of the king, and their companions joined in, but for the sake of the younger children did not give in to excessive grief. Death was a thing a Kemetu lived with their whole life, after all, and death lasted longer than life. It was more important to offer the dead a worthy burial with all the due ceremonies and grave goods than to bewail the fact of their passing. If the body of the king could be rescued and embalmed, then all to the good; if not, then an effigy would have to serve as a repository for the king’s spirit. All that would have to wait until they reached Behdet and found out what was the situation.
They reached Behdet well ahead of any news of the death of Sobekhotep and the rebellion of Lord Neferhotep. Tjaty Sekhem took the whole royal family to his estates just south of the city, and then sent out men to scout the eastern bank for any sign of the princes. They returned a few days later with news that the princes, bearing the decomposing body of their father were close at hand. Sekhem immediately sent out supplies, together with a team of embalmers and all their necessary tools of trade so that they could preserve what was left of Sobekhotep. When they returned to Behdet some days later, the body was sealed in a casket packed with natron. They reported to Sekhem that though they hoped they had halted the decomposition, they could not be certain of the damage caused until they opened the casket in another thirty days.
Princes Monthhotepi and Nebiryraw were quiet when they entered Behdet, and after making sure the body of their father was being given the best of care in the House of Embalming, they went to greet their mother at the Tjaty’s estate.
“Thank the gods you are safe,” Monthhotepi said. “Herihor promised he had put you safely on a ship, but many things could have gone wrong.”
“Nothing did,” Queen Monthhotep said. “The barbarian ship’s captain looked after us as well as he could, considering the circumstances. I was most grateful to step ashore in Behdet though.”
“I will see the man is suitably rewarded. Everyone is in good health?”
“They are,” the queen confirmed. “What happened to the king?”
Monthhotepi and Nebiryraw told their mother of the battle and of the king being struck down even as he claimed a victory against the odds.
“He died bravely, mother,” Nebiryraw said. “He could not die a nobler death than fighting Kemet’s enemies.”
“Where is the king’s body now? Did you preserve it?”
“Our father lies in the House of Embalming,” Monthhotepi said, “being prepared for eternity.”
“He must be buried in the royal graveyard of Waset or farther north.”
“That might be difficult,” Nebiryraw said. “Neferhotep is king in Waset.”
“Then you must oust him and claim your rightful inheritance,” the queen said. “You are king now, Monthhotepi.”
“That won’t be easy,” Nebiryraw said. “Neferhotep has most of the Waset garrison, and he will have taken over the army too.”
“We don’t know that.”
“Then where are they? If they were going to declare for you, they would have done so already. No, if you want to be king, you’re going to have to show people you are truly King Sobekhotep’s son.”
Monthhotepi glanced at his mother and opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. Now was not the time to remind his brother who his father really was.
Nebiryraw had not noticed, being engrossed in his own thoughts. “Ideally, you would preside over the burial of the king before being crowned…”
“I won’t allow the king to be buried in this little town,” Queen Monthhotep declared. “It must be on the west bank of Waset.”
“I know,” Nebiryraw said. “As I was trying to say, mother, ideally Monthhotepi would bury the king before being crowned, but we cannot do that. However, I think some sort of ceremony must be carried out to remind people of his pre-eminent claim on the throne.”
“An offering to the king’s body?” Monthhotepi suggested.
“Something like that, followed by a formal coronation under the auspices of the priests of Behdet.”
“I don’t like the idea of a mock coronation.”
“It won’t be. Have you forgotten that Sekhemre Sementawy Djehuty was crowned in Shedyt by the local priests? He was no pretend king, but was recognised as legitimate by friend and foe alike. Similarly, Sekhemre Sewosertawy Sobekhotep was crowned locally and only later did he reaffirm that in Waset. You can do the same–locally in Behdet and universally in Waset after we have ousted the pretender.”
Monthhotepi was chagrined that he had forgotten the example of his own father, but he grunted his assent. “We still need an army though. Where are we going to get that?”
“We have some loyal troops,” Nebiryraw said. “And there are thousands of fierce warriors in Kush.”
“Why would they help us…me?”
“Lord Bakhenre visited Governor Isesi in Abu some years back and brokered a deal with representatives of King Nedjeh of Kush for troops. Kush honoured the deal as you know, and I believe he might do so again. We need an army–Kush might supply it.”
“Kush is a long way from here,” Monthhotepi said, a whine starting to creep into his voice.
“And we have the best ship and the best captain waiting to carry our envoy south,” Nebiryraw pointed out.
While Monthhotepi made the arrangements for the symbolic burial of the former king and the subsequent coronation, Nebiryraw consulted with Tjaty Sekhem and organised agents to infiltrate Waset and report back on Neferhotep and the mood of the city.
“If we are to oust the usurper, we must be sure that we will be supported,” Nebiryraw said. “It would be a catastrophe if the people turned on us.”
“Unlikely,” was Sekhem’s opinion. “Neferhotep had a limited following among the army garrison and a few nobles. If we turn up at the head of a respectable army, men will desert him.”
“That brings me to my next point. What do you know about Lord Bakhenre? Is he loyal?”
“I have always assumed him to be so. Is it important?”
“Bakhenre was the man who organised soldiers from Kush to supplement the army some years ago. I’d like to get him to repeat that exercise and get us another Kushite army.”
“I’ll have a man question him and see if he will join us in Behdet.”
It took time to get a definitive answer back from Waset though, and before Nebiryraw could find out whether he had allies there, the body of the king was passed from the care of the embalmers to that of the priests. The king lacked a suitably appointed tomb in which to be interred, but a small room was set aside within the temple of Amun and screens were brought in to line the walls, depicting all the suitable scenes from the king’s life both past and future, and all the necessary prayers and formulae for guiding the king into the afterlife.
Monthhotepi led the ceremonies, formally opening the mouth of the embalmed king. He lacked the proper implements, the adzes and spoons of granite and sky-metal, but they made do with hastily carved ones of wood. Sobekhotep would get another burial when they were back in Waset, so his spirit would lack for nothing in eternity, but this ceremony was more a formality whereby Monthhotepi gave notice that he was the proper successor to the dead king. Neferhotep might pretend he was king, but he was not the one burying his predecessor.
After the ceremonies were concluded and the remains of the funeral feast had been cleared away, Monthhotepi was crowned king by the local Hem-netjer of Amun. Again, a proper coronation would take place in Waset, but for now it was important that men see him as a properly anointed king of Kemet. Lacking the facilities of the Temple of Amun, they performed the basics of the ceremony; the ritual washing in purified water, clothing in virgin linen, introduction to the god in the inner sanctum and presentation to the assembled populace where he was given the royal names by which he would be known. He took the throne name of Seankhenre.
Lord Bakhenre arrived in Behdet with his family half a month after the coronation, having fled Waset as soon as he found out that the legitimate king was in the southern city. He made a formal act of obeisance to Monthhotepi and then met with Nebiryraw, who had been made a General of the Loyal Army, and Sekhem, who had been confirmed in the position of Tjaty.
“Neferhotep is remarkably well organised,” Bakhenre said. “The city garrison and most of the army has got behind him. The city supports him too, but that is probably more a desire for peace than out of sympathy for his actions.”
“Have any suffered for remaining loyal?” Nebiryraw asked.
“The prisons are full; the most outspoken were executed.”
“He will pay for his actions when we retake the city,” Nebiryraw vowed.
“But before we can do that, we need an army,” Tjaty Sekhem said. “Lord Bakhenre, you met with King Nedjef of Kush and secured the services of soldiers. Could you do it again?”
“It was with Prince Q’afer, the king’s cousin, not the king himself,” Bakhenre said. He thought for a few moments. “It is quite possible, but I would have to travel into Kush. Last time, Prince Q’afer was in Abu with a trade mission; he’s unlikely to be doing that again.”
“It is vital that you go,” Nebiryraw said. “We cannot succeed without at least five thousand men.”
“Then provide me with a ship and the authority to make deals and I’ll be away.”
“Sekhem will see to your needs, but our treasury is all but empty. I fear your deals must be made with promises, rather than anything tangible. Whatever you promise, though, remember that we must somehow meet it, so be cautious.”
Bakhenre nodded. “I’ll manage.”
Kathta volunteered for the mission as he had made the voyage to the borders of Kush many times and had always hankered to go past the first cataract and explore the river beyond.
“It could be a long voyage. We don’t know whether the king will be in Napata or Medewi…but that’s all right,” Kathta added with a grin. “I’ve seen neither and I feel like some excitement.”
Kathta and Bakhenre set off with a shipload of trade goods and a list of possible promises he could make on behalf of Seankhenre Monthhotepi. Nebiryraw hoped they would be back in no more than six months.
“The longer we leave it, the harder it will be to dislodge Neferhotep,” he said.
Nebiryraw took charge of the small army at his disposal–no more than five hundred men–and a score of chariots that had survived the flight south. He set about building more, and sent recruiting officers through the surrounding sepats to find men willing to fight for his brother. Men came, remembering Sobekhotep and willing to put their trust in his son. Numbers were low, though, as the preceding flood had been low and the harvest that resulted was poor. Hunger threatened to become famine throughout the south, so men preferred to remain on the land, scraping a living, rather than joining an army that was just as hungry. The army grew slowly as the months passed, and Nebiryraw trained them hard, turning farmers and peasants into fighting men.
Monthhotepi had different priorities. He revelled in the fact that he was King of Kemet, glossing over his position as monarch of a minor southern city. Queen Monthhotep encouraged him to remember that his true father Djehuty had been chosen by the gods and that it was only natural to assume that he too was destined for great things.
“You will soon be king in Waset, my son,” she said. “Then, once the heqa khaseshet have been defeated, you will be king over the Two Lands, over the two kingdoms in north and south.”
Monthhotepi preened, believing his mother.
“There is one danger you face, my son. One thing you must face up to. Who will succeed you?”
Monthhotepi shrugged. “My brother Nebiryraw, I suppose, but that will not happen for many years.”
“I pray it does not, but if it does?”
The king frowned, and regarded his mother closely. “What are you saying? Do you doubt Nebiryraw’s intentions? He is your son too.”
“Of course not,” Queen Monthhotep said, “but Djehuty your father was the king chosen by the gods and your brother’s father Sobekhotep merely took over when he died. You are the intended king of Kemet and you should ensure your dynasty by fathering a son and heir immediately.”
“I have children on the way already.”
The queen made a disgusted noise and waved a hand impatiently. “I’m not talking about the maidservants and slaves you have bedded so freely since becoming a king. Any children born to them would serve only to become servants. No, you must take a wife, the daughter of a noble house, and sow your seed in her without delay. You must have a son and heir before you go to war.”
“I suppose there are some comely women of rank in Behdet,” Monthhotepi said. “I shall have to pay attention on the next feast day.”
“No need, my son. There is really only one girl worth considering. Maatkare, the only daughter of Lord Khnumhotep, who is descended from royalty. She is good-looking in a country sort of way, I suppose, but she will fulfil her purpose, which is to give you sons.”
“I’ll consider it.”
“Do more than consider it, my son. She is the only woman worthy of marriage outside of Waset, and you cannot afford to wait until we return before getting an heir.”
“Oh, very well, mother. If you say so.”