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.
Rahotep leads his Egyptian army to victory, and Apophis withdraws the Hyksos army northward. An uneasy peace settles over the Nile valley. Rebellions in the north keep the Hyksos king from striking back at Rahotep, while internal strife between the Hyksos nobility and generals threatens to rip their empire apart.
War is coming to Egypt once more, and the successors of Rahotep start preparing for it, using the very weapons that the Hyksos introduced–bronze weapons and the war chariot. King Ahmose repudiates the peace treaty, and Apophis of the Hyksos prepares to destroy his enemies at last. Bloody warfare returns to Egypt…
Genre: Historical: Ancient Egypt Word Count: 132, 996
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Rahotep, newly crowned king of Kemet, looked up once more at the disc of the sun blazing down from the pale blue dome of the sky and smiled. The king was styled Son of Re and Rahotep knew this day would prove whether Re really cared for his son on earth. Ahead of him lay the army of the heqa khasut, led by their new king Apophis, one of the most feared names of the northern invader. Such was the arrogance of Apophis that he had come south from Waset to face the Kemetu army with only a fraction of his true strength.
That fraction was still formidable, though. At least three hundred chariots and four thousand men faced the Kemetu, a daunting sight. Rahotep looked left and right at the forces he commanded–two hundred chariots and another fifty chariots with novice drivers, and two thousand foot soldiers–but he refused to show fear. The heqa khasut was at the height of its power, having captured Waset, the capital of the southern kingdom just the year before, and Kemet was at its weakest, but the gods had called Rahotep to the throne at this critical time, and that must mean something. There must be a purpose in all this, he thought, and the disparity in the forces ranged on that sun-beaten plain meant nothing in the face of the will of the gods.
“Do we wait for their attack?” Sobekemsaf the Elder called across from his chariot. “Our infantry may be able to withstand their charge if we pick the ground.”
“No, brother,” the king replied. “The gods are with us. We attack.”
Rahotep nodded at the waiting Officer of Signals, noting that the young man was sweating and trembling. The officer passed on the command, rams’ horns blew and pennants dipped, releasing the Kemetu army. Chariots rolled forward, Rahotep at the head of one squadron, his brother Sobekemsaf at the head of another, and his nephew Intef-Aa leading a third. They gathered speed, dust billowing up from two thousand hooves and five hundred wheels, while behind them the infantry charged forward, axes and swords at the ready.
The enemy waited, strung out in a thin line of men that stretched far beyond the Kemetu line, their own chariots embedded within their infantry, and despite their superior numbers, Rahotep saw them shift and draw back as if fearful of the oncoming Kemetu. He raised his voice in a paean of defiance, a challenge to the enemy king, and his men picked up his cry, clamouring in an effort to disguise the fear they felt. The chariot commanders drew ahead and the others altered course, turning a wave of chariots into three spearheads hurled into the ranks of the stationary enemy. The crash of wood and bronze, of pounding hooves and rumbling wheels carried the Kemetu deep into the enemy formation.
Doubt was swept aside as the men fought for their lives, fear thrust away as sword and axe rose and fell, archers loosing shaft after shaft, and the thud of bronze on wood, the clash of metal on metal rose deafeningly. Soon the screams of wounded and dying men and horses added to the cacophony, the lines heaving and pushing with scarcely enough room to swing a weapon or raise a shield, the horses scarcely moving at more than walking pace as the infantry hedged them about.
The flanks of the enemy line curled around the Kemetu, threatening to envelope them, but Rahotep paid no attention, urging his charioteer to carry him closer to the banners of Apophis. He raised his curved sword and pointed, yelling to his men to thrust the attack in that direction.
“Strike down Apophis!” he cried. “The day is ours if he falls.”
Commander Intef-Nub, rallied his foot soldiers and directed his archers to concentrate on the banners of Apophis, shield and axemen offering them protection, and arrows slashed across the heads of a thousand struggling men, thumping into the enemy king’s chariot and killing his driver. Apophis leapt down and was lost to sight behind his men.
The enemy hammered at the Kemetu flanks, forcing them back, and for several long minutes the Kemetu army looked on the brink of breaking, but Intef-Heruhir and Sobekemsaf the Younger rallied the men on either side and held firm. Rahotep scanned the field of battle and wiped the sweat and crusted dirt from his face, then beckoned to his brother, waiting until Sobekemsaf could manoeuver his chariot alongside.
“The battle can go either way,” Sobekemsaf said. “What do we do?”
“There is only one thing to do,” Rahotep replied. “We must kill Apophis.”
Sobekemsaf shaded his eyes with one hand, peering through the dust clouds. “Where is he? I don’t see him.”
“With his banners…he must be. Come brother, rally your squadron and let us end this.”
The two brothers marshalled their men and attacked once more, forcing their chariots through the throng of men between them and the enemy banners. Foot soldiers ran with them, throwing themselves at enemy infantry and clearing the way with their blood and bodies. The enemy fought back, but as more men came to protect the banners and their king, their absence weakened the rest of the army. One wing wavered and broke, pulling back in disarray, and men were sent back from the centre to shore up the failing line. Closer and closer moved Rahotep’s chariots until spears could bridge the gap. Rahotep’s charioteer fell, but another man leapt forward to take his place, urging the horses nearer.
“There, there!” Sobekemsaf cried, pointing to where Apophis stood, rallying his men on foot.
A fresh storm of arrows slashed into the cluster of men and the Amurran banners swayed and fell. With a great cry of victory, the Kemetu foot soldiers pressed forward and the enemy fell back. Now Rahotep’s chariots could move again and the army followed them, overrunning the enemy positions. A soldier picked up a tattered banner and held it aloft in triumph and the sight disheartened the enemy, who fell back, hovering on the brink of defeat. The numbers were too great for outright capitulation, though, so the Kemetu let them withdraw to the north, leaving behind their dead and dying, together with weapons and damaged chariots.
“We have them, by the gods,” Intef-Aa said, shaking his head in wonderment.
“And it was Apophis we beat,” his brother Intef-Nub added. “Not just one of his generals.”
“Brother, take your squadron and shadow the enemy,” Rahotep said. “Make sure they do not turn back.”
“If they do, I’ll teach them another lesson,” Sobekemsaf said with a grin.
“No. We have a victory; I will not risk that by having your squadron take on their whole army. Just find out whether they continue north or regroup.”
“Yes, Son of Re.”
The king’s brother reported an hour or so later that the Amurran army was making its way north and seemed to be heading for Waset. Rahotep and his generals considered the report and what it meant for the future.
“I have to admit I never really thought we would win that battle,” Sobekemsaf the Elder said. “The question is now; do we consolidate our forces here, or go back to Behdet?”
“Neither,” Rahotep said. “We march on Waset.”
“What? Is that wise?” Intef-Nub suddenly seemed to recollect whom he was addressing and flushed. “Your pardon, Son of Re, but Waset contains the rest of the enemy.”
“My son is correct though, brother,” Sobekemsaf said. “We faced a fraction of the Amurran army and somehow won. Do we want to risk that victory by facing a defeat at Waset?”
“What would you have me do then?” Rahotep demanded. “Run back to Behdet like a whipped cur?”
“No, Son of Re, but I would have you march back victorious. Use this victory wisely. Men who a month ago believed you could not win will now flock to your banners. In six months you will have an army double the size of our present one.”
Rahotep looked round at his other commanders. “What say the rest of you? Will you all counsel caution?” When nobody said anything, he looked annoyed. “Speak freely.”
“My lord,” Intef-Aa said hesitantly. “We were fortunate to win this battle against a superior force. The odds will be much greater when Apophis marshals his full army.”
Intef-Nub nodded. “My brother speaks the truth; Son of Re. Apophis has an army twice the size or more in Waset.”
“Better to return in triumph to Behdet than die outside Waset,” Sobekemsaf the Younger said.
“No.” Intef-Heruhir shook his head. “Apophis will always have a bigger army, more chariots, than us. We have one advantage over him, so I say we use it. Now. Today.”
“And what is this seeming advantage that we have all overlooked, cousin?” Intef-Aa asked.
“For the first time in this long war, the Amurrans know they can be beaten in a set battle, despite being led by their foremost general. If we go back to Behdet, we give them time to forget that, to strengthen their morale. I say we strike north as fast as we can, catch their retreating army and deal it another blow. Let them know that Kemet and our king, Rahotep, Lord of the Two Lands, is a force to be reckoned with.”
“Even if we do, what is to stop the army in Waset–an army we have not defeated, by the way–coming out and overwhelming us?”
“Only the gods of Kemet,” Intef-Heruhir replied. “They were clearly on our side today. Are we to take their gift and throw it away through inaction and caution?”
“And there we come to it, gentlemen,” Rahotep said. “The gods granted us victory today, and we must ask ourselves why. Did they give it to us on a whim, or because it means something?”
Intef-Aa shrugged. “Who can know the minds of the gods?”
“I am the Son of Re,” Rahotep replied. “I cannot believe that my father gave me the victory just so I could go home and do nothing with it. He raised me up to the throne of my father and means for me to reclaim the Two Kingdoms, throwing out the heqa khasut from our sacred lands. The first step in that reclamation is the recapture of Waset, and that is what I intend to do. Who will join me?”
“Willingly, Son of Re,” Intef-Heruhir said at once.
“We are all with you, brother,” Sobekemsaf the Elder said. “Never doubt that.”
“Every man in your army will follow whether victory or death awaits us,” Intef-Nub said.
“You are our king,” Intef-Aa said. “Command us.”
“Then gather the men together,” Rahotep said. “Intef-Nub, you will stay behind with the physicians and do what you can for all the wounded men. Salvage as many horses and chariots as you can–both ours, and ones abandoned by the enemy. Intef-Heruhir, I give you command of the infantry. Bring them north as fast as you can.”
“Bring them north? Where will you be, my lord?”
“I will be there waiting for you, having dealt a death blow to the enemy. Sobekemsaf, father and son, and Intef-Aa, you will command our chariot squadrons. We will follow the enemy and strike them once more, completing our victory.”
“Son of Re, we barely have two hundred intact chariots,” Intef-Aa said.
“It will be enough, with the gods on our side.”
Rahotep led his chariots out within the hour, racing northward in pursuit of the retreating enemy, eager to catch up with them before nightfall. The sun was already sinking toward the western horizon and the king felt the urgency grip him as the sun god was his father and he needed the sun still to be in the sky when they caught up with Apophis. In the end it was a close-run thing, shadows of the western hills spreading over the river and the green fields and beyond to the desert road. The rear-guard of Apophis’s army came in sight, and it was obvious that they had not considered pursuit a likely event, for they moved slowly, dispiritedly, and had set no scouts.
The king looked to the west, groaning when he saw that the disc of the sun was no longer visible. Then, ahead of him, he saw the main chariot force of the enemy move into a patch of sunlight. Opposite that place on the eastern road, the western hills parted, forming a classic horizon, and the disc of the sun still hung above the desert, the blazing eye of the god staring out and watching his earthly son. Rahotep raised his hand in salutation and drove his fist forward, and the charioteers urged their tired horses into one last effort.
Two hundred Kemetu chariots attacked three hundred Amurran ones and two thousand foot soldiers besides. Viewed dispassionately, there was no hope of success, but the Amurrans had suffered one defeat already that day. When the Kemetu chariots crashed into the rear of the infantry, scattering them like chaff before the storm, and carrying on into the Amurran chariot squadrons, the enemy did not stop to count how few men attacked them, but fled. Chariots abandoned their officers and raced for the safety of Waset, while the foot soldiers scattered into the desert or threw down their arms and begged for mercy.
“Where is Apophis?” Rahotep demanded. “Find him, whether he lives or not.”
They searched, but he was nowhere to be found among the living or the dead. Prisoners were questioned and they revealed that King Apophis had suffered a head wound in the first encounter that day and had, upon their retreat, gone back to Waset ahead of his troops.
Night fell, and Rahotep ordered his men to make camp and to send back for the rest of the army to join them. The mood of the men reflected the two unexpected victories, and the king walked among his army that night, sharing a flask of water and a crust of bread, talking to them of the way the gods of Kemet had fought for them and would continue to do so.
“Tomorrow we march on Waset,” he told them.
His officers still worried, despite the destruction of the Amurran army. Only a part had been defeated and Apophis had a fearsome reputation as a warrior and as a general.
“His head wound must have contributed to our victory,” Intef-Nub said. “How else could we overcome him?”
“You don’t believe the gods gave us the victory?” Intef-Heruhir asked.
Intef-Nub shrugged. “We say that the gods did this, or the gods did that, but it all comes to the same thing in the end. Armies win or lose by their own efforts.”
“Do not let the king hear you speak that way. He is convinced Re won the battle for him.”
“In the king’s hearing, I am a firm believer, cousin, never fear.”
The other princes and officers kept their own counsel, but many of them worried over what might happen when they came to Waset.
Apophis had his head wound treated by a physician when he returned to Waset ahead of his army. An arrow point had scraped his skull, parting the skin down to the bone. It looked worse than it was; a cascade of blood turning his face into a gory mask, but after the wound was stitched up and smeared liberally with honey, all he was left with was a headache. The news that arrived from the south angered him, and made him rant at the incompetence of the officers he had left in charge, but it was news from the north that quieted him.
“My lord, a dispatch from Avaris,” General Aliyan said. “From Governor Arakurtu.”
“It can wait. I have more pressing business–like taking the army out to crush that upstart, Rahotep. I knew I should have taken the whole army and done a proper job of it, but I thought Kemet was all but beaten. Well, I won’t make that mistake again.”
“My lord, you should read this dispatch now.”
“Rahotep can have no more than two hundred chariots and two or three thousand men. I can field…”
“My lord, you must read this,” Aliyan interrupted.
Apophis stared at his sister’s husband, amazed that even a relative would so forget himself as to interrupt his king. “Show me, then,” he commanded, holding out his hand.
He opened the letter and scanned the contents swiftly, his dark features becoming pale as he did so. “Is this true? The Hurrians have dared to invade?”
“We have no independent verification, my lord, but I can think of no reason to doubt Governor Arakurtu.”
“Send men north immediately, by the fastest means at your disposal. I would know the truth of it.”
Aliyan immediately sent men out, by chariot and by ship, on his king’s business, and then returned to the king’s chamber with his brother Anakbaal, another general newly allied to the king through marriage to his other sister.
“I have done as you commanded, my lord,” Aliyan said.
“How long until I know?”
“If it is true, they will intercept reports as far south as Ankh-Tawy or Henen-nesut. Half a month maybe. A month if they must go as far as Avaris.”
“Too long. A month to know and another three to respond. Who knows what damage might be wrought in the meantime?”
“What will you do, my lord?” Anakbaal asked.
“Put them down, of course,” Apophis snapped. “And quickly. If I don’t, I’ll have uprisings from Syria to Kemet.”
“Of course, my lord…but I meant Rahotep. What will you do about him?”
Apophis scowled. “I shall crush him and hang him from the walls of Waset.”
The brothers looked at each other, and Aliyan, as the elder, sighed. “My lord, if the Hurrians have indeed invaded your lands, you will need every man you can muster. Can you afford another costly battle against the Kemetu?”
“Can I afford not to? How will it look if the Kemetu are not destroyed?”
“My lord, the Kemetu has taken a hundred years to be conquered. Surely, another one or two will not matter. Take your army north and destroy the Hurrians, then come south again and finish off the Kemetu.”
“And in the meantime?” Apophis demanded. “Am I to just turn a blind eye to them as they reconquer Waset and drive me out of their lands? I will not let it be said that I was defeated by Rahotep.”
“My lord, it was not that many years ago that Khayan was faced with a similar choice,” Anakbaal said. “He sent me to negotiate a peace with Waset, whereby he would withdraw his army from outside the city in return for tribute. It did not prevent him from returning a little later and capturing Waset. Let me do the same for you.”
“No man could claim you were defeated by Rahotep if he paid you an annual tribute, my lord,” Aliyan said. “The winner does not pay the loser.”
“But we would lose Waset.”
“We captured it once; we can do so again.”
“I will think on this.” Apophis walked off and considered the view from the palace window. The city of Waset lay spread out before him, partly in ruins and the scars of the fires still apparent. He hated the city and this hot southern kingdom, much preferring the comforts of Ankh-Tawy or the familiarity of Avaris. Living in either place would be preferable to living in Waset.
“Set up a meeting with Rahotep,” Apophis instructed. “I will let him occupy Waset in return for an annual tribute.”
“He may not want to bargain, my lord,” Anakbaal said. “He believes he has won a great battle and is a conqueror.”
“Then you must disabuse him of that notion. To win a single battle is not the same as winning a war. Remind him that I have a great army here within these walls, and if I choose, I could stamp him into the dust.”
“And if he asks why you do not?”
“Then say whatever you like, Anakbaal. Just secure me an honourable peace so that I have the time to destroy the Hurrians without having to fight these cursed Kemetu at the same time.”