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 invade the Delta using the new weapons of bronze and chariots, things of which the Egyptians have no knowledge. They rout the Delta forces, and in the south, the unconquered kings ready their armies to defend their lands. Meanwhile in Avaris, Merybaal, the son of Harrubaal and Kemi, strives to defend his family in a city conquered by the Hyksos.
Elements of the Delta army that refuse to surrender continue the fight for their homeland, and new kings proclaim themselves as the inheritors of the failed kings of Avaris. One of these is Amenre, grandson of Merybaal, but he is forced into hiding as the Hyksos sweep all before them, bringing their terror to the kingdom of the Nile valley. Driven south in disarray, the survivors of the Egyptian army seek leaders who can resist the enemy…
GENRE: Historical Word Count: 124, 259
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Continue the series:
5.0 out of 5 stars
I find this book to be brilliant. I love how Max wove Neferit, a favorite fictional character of mine from another of Max’s series, into the storyline. She is magnificent!!! I also like how she was exposed, forgiven and kept as a charioteer. The reference of women up north who also could drive made her acceptance believable.
Women in ancient Egypt did have power especially those of noble blood and some held high ranking positions as has been discovered in archeological digs. The recent discovery of Hepset is an example and a queen’s palace indicating her as a ruler in the excavation of the Giza workman’s village headed by Mark Lehner’s team is another.
Anyway, I was captivated from the beginning: the mention of past characters woven into the story, the connection to the family of those characters, and the introduction of Neferit all blended to make a fun and captivating read. Neferit brought relief and interest from the constant plotting and waging of war. She moved the story forward with intrigue and daring. But also a chuckle or two. Pairing her up with Sadiki is also a brilliant move. An ideal partner and friend.
The way Max brought to light the numerous kings during that time was done in a way that gives the reader the gist of the quick turn around and origin without getting bogged down in too much detail really worked. I was aware of the passage of time and knew I was skipping periods of unknowns but it didn’t make me feel like I missed anything important. Max does this several times and each time it is effective.
All in all this is another award quality book in my humble opinion.
Sara Jane Sesay, Amazon Review
The King of Hattush liked nothing more than spending his days in the small orchard attached to the palace, sitting in the sun and thinking about days past. Arimawat had ruled his little kingdom in southern Kanaan for nearly thirty years now, and though his bones were old and his muscles weak, his mind was still sharp in the winter of his life, and he knew what was coming.
“There’s nothing I can do about it though,” he murmured.
“Do about what?” the young man sitting beside him asked.
“The consumption of our little kingdom. It is only a matter of time.”
The young man, who was the king’s son, knew exactly what his father meant as he had lived with the threat all his life. He was heir to the throne of Hattush, but the kingdom was only a client kingdom, a stepping-off point for the army of Anep-Aper, the ruler of most of Amurru, Lebanon and Kanaan. Thinking about it soured his stomach, but there was nothing he could do about it, anymore than could his father.
“I won’t be alive much longer to worry about it, Baalbek, but you will be, and you must find a way to protect the family.”
“Don’t say such things, father. You have ruled Hattush well and all men speak of Arimawat with respect.”
“Graves are full of respected men,” Arimawat said. “It comes to us all, my son, but you must find a way to ensure our family survives the coming war.”
“You are certain it is coming?”
“War always comes, and I’ve talked about this before.” Arimawat took a deep breath of the cool spring air delicately perfumed by the scents of the flowering orchard. “I won’t see this year’s harvest…” He held up a hand as Baalbek opened his mouth to protest. “You know it as well as I. No, next year or the year after…five years even, or ten… Anep-Aper will decide the time has come to invade the Delta. Unless the Delta army has improved drastically in the last thirty years, Anep-Aper will sweep over them, dealing death and destruction.”
“That’s not going to affect our family though,” Baalbek said. “Pathiya and Aribaal will be safe enough in Hattush and…and if I’m king by then, I can protect them anyway.”
Arimawat nodded. “Yes, they will be safe enough, but your family is larger than that.”
“My mother, you mean?” Baalbek frowned. “Pathiya’s parents are dead, and I care nothing for her brother.”
“Your mother will be safe and your wife’s brother is worthless. I mean your half-brother Harrubaal and his son Merybaal. I left them in Avaris and Merybaal at least still lives there. He has children of his own, I think. Anyway, they are all your family and stand in the way of danger when Anep-Aper invades the Delta.”
Baalbek shrugged. “I know of them though I don’t know them. I can send a message if you want.”
“Don’t you think I’ve already done that?” Arimawat asked. “They do not reply. It is possible they hold me in low regard and so ignore my warnings.”
“Then I don’t see what more you can do.”
“I want you to go to Avaris and persuade them of the danger.”
“Go to Avaris and talk to your nephew Merybaal. Convince him of the danger Anep-Aper represents.”
“If the Amurran king finds out I have done so…”
Arimawat gave a wry smile. “Then don’t let him find out.”
“I am the heir of Hattush; I can scarcely go there without him finding out.”
“My minister Eltan is going down there soon. I am sending him on a trade mission to try and shore up some business transactions. That sort of thing happens all the time, and nobody will think anything of it. If you go with him, disguised as one of his assistants, you won’t be recognised.”
Baalbek considered his father’s words. “You trust Eltan with the life of your son?”
“He knows I have his family in the palm of my hand. He will not risk them.”
Baalbek shrugged. “Then if it is your wish, father, I will go. I am not particularly interested in these other relatives of mine, but I’ve always wanted to see the Delta lands.”
Harrubaal liked to sit on a small hillock overlooking the river and contemplate the waters, equating the flow of the current with the passage of time in his life. The river was currently in flood and this always depressed him, seeing the days of his life slipping away faster and faster. Still, he could not look away as the flood waters brought their yearly gift of silt to his lands. The flood was receding now, and the pastures by the river edge emerging from the waters, the tips of the grass poking up through the ebbing flow. He sat on a chair, under a cloth canopy set up by his servants, sipped wine made on his estate, and contemplated his life.
“The gods have mixed good with bad in my life,” he murmured. “But which gods? Hattushi or Kemetu?”
His attendant frowned, unsure whether he had been addressed by his master. “Your pardon, master?”
Harrubaal shook his head. “Just thinking aloud, Bennu.” He glanced at his attentive servant. “Who rules my life, Bennu? The Hattushi gods because I was born Hattushi, or Kemetu gods because I live in Kemet?”
“That is a question for the priests,” Bennu said carefully.
“Yes, but which priests?”
Bennu kept silent, letting his master think his own thoughts. He refilled Harrubaal’s cup as it emptied.
Harrubaal turned in his chair to view the rest of his sprawling estate. Toward the higher land in the west lay the house, painted mud brick and surrounded by orchards. To the south lay fields waiting to be sown with wheat and barley, melons and cucumbers, onions and lettuce, and to the north grassy pastures littered with cattle and sheep spread down to the receding waters of the river. Farther away, he could just glimpse the sun dazzling off the white walls of Ankh-Tawy. Closer, in the direction of the house, he saw a man waiting beneath the sparse shade of a thorn tree. He leaned forward, trying to make out who it was.
“Who is that?” he asked. “I can’t quite make him out.”
“Master, it is your son Hori. I think he desires speech with you.”
Harrubaal sighed and shifted in his chair, feeling every one of his seventy-three years. “Let him approach.”
Bennu gestured to the waiting man and then discreetly withdrew as Hori approached.
Hori knelt at his father’s feet. “Greetings, father.”
Harrubaal looked down at the youth fidgeting at his feet. “Sit beside me,” he ordered.
Hori dutifully sat on the grass beside his father, but it did not stop him fidgeting. “Father…” he said tentatively.
“What troubles you?”
“Father, Uncle Inire wants to take me to Hut-waret.”
Harrubaal could not think where Hut-waret was until he remembered it was the Kemetu name for Avaris. “Does he indeed? Why?”
“Why is he going? I think he has business there.”
“No, why has he invited you?”
“He said it would be an opportunity. I’ve never been to the Delta, father, nor seen these foreign Kanaanites.”
“Nonsense. I’m one of them…or was. And you are half Hattushi yourself.”
“Yes, father, but can I go?”
Harrubaal sat in thought for several minutes while Hori sat squirming in anticipation.
“You have a brother in Avar… in Hut-waret, you know.”
Hori looked at his father in surprise. “I do?”
“A half-brother. His name is Merybaal and he must be…what? Fifty years old?”
“Who is his mother?”
“Kemi, daughter of Neferhotep of Ankh-Tawy.”
“A king’s daughter?” Hori frowned. “I remember her, I think. She died about three years ago…” His voice trailed off as the import of this fact registered in his mind. “If you were married to her, then what does that make mother? Is your marriage to her invalid?”
“Kemi left me and married King Maaibre Sheshi of the Delta. Your mother Init and I are properly married.”
Hori breathed a sigh of relief and sat in thought for a few moments. “That means you have married a king’s daughter twice. How is that, father? Forgive me, but what makes you so important?”
“Important?” Harrubaal’s eyes unfocused for a moment. “Not important, but I served my kings well. Sheshi rewarded me with marriage to Kemi, and after she left me and I fled to Ankh-Tawy, I served Merneferre Aya and he rewarded me with marriage to his daughter Init…your mother.”
There was another period of silence, while Harrubaal remembered and Hori considered his father’s past actions.
“So I have a brother as well as a sister?”
“Yes. Will you see him when you go to Hut-waret?”
“I don’t know. Yes, I suppose so. Would he want to see me?”
“I doubt he’d want to see me, for reasons you already know. He probably regards me as a traitor, but you are innocent of my actions.”
“If I do try to see him, how will I know him?”
“He is the Treasurer of the Kingdom; one of the most important people after the king. I will ask Inire to make sure you meet him.”
Merybaal still owned the house in Avaris that had belonged to his father and grandfather before him, though years of holding the position of Treasurer had enriched him greatly. Rather than buy or build another house more befitting his status in the Delta, he had opted to expand the old house, buying up and knocking down surrounding structures. Walls now turned the house into a miniature walled city, with a large population of servants living within it to look after his family.
Kings came and went in Avaris, a few by father to son succession, more by non-violent coup, but the Treasurer was the constant factor that kept the government running smoothly. Merybaal had come to the position in the reign of his half-brother Sehibre Sobek-Har some thirty years before and had seen twenty ephemeral kings come and go, regarding their presence as no more than a temporary disturbance in his normal duties. He married, raised a family, and amassed wealth, and kept his fingers on everything that happened in the Delta kingdom. So it was that in the reign of Anati Djedkare, two letters crossed his desk that gave him pause. One was from the court of Hattush, and the other from Ankh-Tawy.
“What do we know about this Lord Eltan from Hattush?” he asked his scribe.
“Very little, my lord. He is Arimawat’s minister in charge of trade.”
Merybaal harrumphed, not welcoming the mention of his grandfather’s name. “He says he wants to see me in a personal audience as well as officially.”
“Perhaps because he desires a favour of you, my lord.”
“Perhaps. All right, tell him I will grant him a personal audience.” He passed the letter across to the scribe and picked up the other one. “This one is from Inire, son of Merneferre Aya of Ankh-Tawy. He too requests an informal audience, though he makes no mention of trade.”
“Will you see him, my lord?”
“I cannot very well refuse the son of the King of Kemet, even if he is a younger son and unlikely to inherit.” Merybaal tapped the folded letter against his chin as he considered the best course of action. “He wants an informal meeting, so invite him to my house rather than to the palace. I shall entertain him and find out what he wants.”
“I will reply immediately, my lord.”
“Come to think of it, invite this Eltan of Hattush at the same time. It won’t hurt to show each of them that we maintain good relations with all our neighbours.”
A month later, as the last of the flood waters drained from the land and growing shoots burst out of the fresh, dark silt, the two delegations arrived in Avaris. One came from the northeast, overland, on horses, while the other arrived from the south by ship. The one from Ankh-Tawy came in greater state, Lord Inire making no secret of the fact that he was the son of a reigning king. King Anati Djedkare of Avaris welcomed him and gave him rooms within the palace, but was a little put out that Inire was more interested in meeting his Treasurer than him. Lord Eltan of Hattush was offered accommodation within the city, the king being happy to ignore the details of a trade agreement. Hunting and the pleasures of the flesh were of greater interest to him than wearisome talks. Officials from the Treasury found both visitors and invited them to a banquet in the Treasurer’s own house.
Inire and Eltan arrived within minutes of each other and were greeted personally by Merybaal. He was not surprised that each man brought companions, but was a little astonished by the age of them. Inire was accompanied by a youth who could surely have no experience in trade, and the young man with Eltan was not much older. He decided that perhaps these men enjoyed the attentions of other men and had brought young men who interested them. Merybaal had no interests in that regard, but as long as they behaved with decorum, he had no objections.
“Welcome, Lord Inire. Welcome, Lord Eltan. I am delighted that you could both join me, and that I can offer some informal entertainment before we get down to the serious business of trade agreements.”
Both lords made polite replies, and though the young men were introduced–simply as Hori and Baalbek–no mention was made of who they were or what duties they performed. This tended to confirm Merybaal’s opinion of their status. He led them into an inner room where a feast had been laid out.
“Your family will not be joining us?” Inire asked.
“No, Lord Inire. They will dine separately so that we may have the opportunity to talk freely if that is your wish.”
Servants appeared, bearing dishes of beef, lamb, and goose dripping with fat, a large array of vegetables and fruits, and fresh-baked bread. Jars of wine and beer, as well as milk and cool river water, quenched their thirst. They talked of inconsequential things while they ate and Merybaal grew more and more puzzled as to why each ambassador had requested an informal audience but was now avoiding any mention of a reason. It could only be that each man required privacy and was reticent about talking in the presence of the other.
After the meal, servants brought bowls of scented water for the guests to wash their fingers, and clean linen cloths to dry them. Then Merybaal led them out into a walled courtyard and offered sweetmeats and spiced wine, while musicians entertained them. He managed to get Inire alone. Despite prompting, Inire only smiled and complimented Merybaal on his hospitality. Eltan, when alone, was no more forthcoming, thanking his host and saying he looked forward to fruitful discussion in the days to come.
“Forgive me. Lord Eltan,” Merybaal said at last. “You asked for a private meeting, yet you have said nothing. Do you no longer wish to talk informally?”
“Forgive me in turn, Lord Merybaal, if I have been less than honest. It was not I who desired a private meeting but my king, Arimawat, who is your grandfather.”
“I see,” Merybaal replied coolly. “I am prepared to talk with you on trade matters, but I have no desire to concern myself with your king’s wishes.”
“He asks only that you talk to the young man I brought with me tonight.”
“Baalbek? Why, who is he?”
“I would rather he told you that himself.”
“You are being very mysterious, Lord Eltan.” Merybaal considered the request. “Send for this Baalbek then. I will speak to him.”
“With your permission, I will withdraw, Lord Treasurer. We will have ample opportunity to talk in the days ahead. Tonight, it would be better for you to talk to the young man.”
“I am intrigued.”
When Eltan took his leave, Inire declared that he would leave also, but that the youth Hori should stay behind, for he too desired private speech with their host. Merybaal was thoroughly perplexed by this time, but bade his visitors farewell, and ushered the young men back into the courtyard.
“Now, what’s all this about?”
Hori looked down at his feet and shuffled them, but Baalbek shrugged and knelt before Merybaal.
“Your grandfather Arimawat is my father.”
Hori cleared his throat. “And…and your father Harrubaal is my father also,” he said. “He married Init, daughter of Merneferre Aya and had me and my sister Iset.”
Merybaal stared from one to the other for several minutes, before shaking his head. “Why are you telling me this?”
“My father thought I should meet my family,” Hori said. “I… I didn’t know I had one.”
“And my father charged me with a message for my family here in Avaris and in Ankh-Tawy,” Baalbek said.
“Your family?” Merybaal asked. He sighed and shook his head again. “Sit,” he ordered, before leaving the courtyard.
Hori looked at Baalbek with interest. “We are related?”
“So it seems. Your father is my brother by a different mother.”
“You are much younger than my father.”
“And your brother Merybaal is much older than you.”
“It is all very strange to me. I had no idea.”
Baalbek nodded. “Harrubaal is in Ankh-Tawy?”
“Yes.” Hori hesitated. “I’m not really sure why there is such tension within the family, or why my father should be regarded with suspicion.”
Baalbek shrugged. “My father lived in Avaris before he returned home and became king of Hattush. Your father lived in Avaris too, but had his differences and gave his allegiance to Ankh-Tawy. Merybaal, on the other hand, remained loyal to Avaris. Political differences have split our family, it seems.”
“Your father is king? Do you have brothers?”
“Are you the heir?”
There did not seem much to say to that, so Hori poured himself a cup of beer and sipped it, frowning as he considered this startling information.
“I wonder what Merybaal is doing,” Baalbek said. “He’s just gone and left us, but there are things I’m supposed to tell him.”
“A warning for him…and for your father.”
“A warning about what?”
Baalbek just shook his head. “Later,” he murmured. “When Merybaal returns.”
Merybaal came back a little later with several other people whom he introduced as his family. “My wife Amatia, My son Djedenre, my daughters Tiamen and Neferit. Tiamen’s husband Menkare, Djedenre’s wife Rait, and their child Amenre. This young man is a son of my grandfather Arimawat, the Hattushi traitor. The boy is Hori, son of my traitor father; apparently he is my half-brother from Ankh-Tawy.”
“Gods!” Djedenre exclaimed. “I have heard stories of my grandfather and great-grandfather, but never thought they had other families.”
Amenre, a small child, tugged at his father’s kilt and Djedenre picked him up. His wife Rait smiled and bobbed her head, though she said nothing. Menkare coolly studied the two strangers but also said nothing, while his wife Tiamen murmured a greeting.
“You are family indeed, and welcome,” Amatia said. “The night air grows cool, though. Will you not all come inside so we can talk and get to know each other?”
“I thank you, madam, for your kind invitation,” Baalbek said, bowing stiffly. “However, I can no longer enjoy the hospitality of a household where my father is considered a traitor. I shall take my leave.”
“What about your warning?” Hori asked.
“What warning?” Merybaal queried. “And, Baalbek, calm down. If I have given offence, I apologise, but your father warred against Avaris after the king had taken him in and shown him great kindness and naturally, I take exception to that.”
“My father is King of Hattush and he has always been loyal to our nation.”
“And yet he sought refuge in Avaris; fleeing from those in Hattush who wished to kill him. During those years he swore an oath of loyalty to King Sheshi. Was he dissembling?”
Baalbek scowled. “In truth, I only know what I have been told as, I suspect, have you. Exactly what happened in those days has been lost, known only to a few, like my father Arimawat and your father Harrubaal.”
“I was there,” Merybaal said. “I know what transpired. Neither of our fathers was loyal to Avaris, which is why they both fled and remade their lives elsewhere.”
“Please,” Amatia said. “Come inside and let us talk in comfort. We are all one family, and any rancour you feel can only be based on a lack of knowledge. These things happened in your father’s and grandfather’s day. Let us all talk calmly together in peace and settle any differences.”
“How can you talk of us as family, wife?” Merybaal said. “These men are strangers to me.”
“Baalbek is the brother of your father,” Amatia replied, “and Hori is your brother. Forget their ages and accept their relationships, my husband. Of course they are family.”
Merybaal shrugged and turned to go inside. Amatia ushered the others in, though Baalbek went reluctantly, and then the women instructed the servants to bring wine.
“And milk for the children.”
“I’ll have wine, mama,” Neferit said.
“You’ll have milk,” Amatia said firmly. “You’re only five.”
Neferit scowled but turned her attention to Baalbek.
“Why do you have a beard? Nobody else I know has one.”
“It is a custom in Hattush, little one. Men have beards because they can. It’s regarded as a sign of manliness.”
“Can I touch it?”
“Neferit, mind your manners,” Amarit said sharply. “My apologies, Baalbek. The children should be going to bed.”
“I don’t mind,” Baalbek said. He squatted so his face was on the same level as the girl’s. “There.”
Neferit gingerly fingered Baalbek’s short beard. “It’s prickly. Don’t women in your country mind?”
“Indeed not,” Baalbek said with a smile. “Perhaps when you grow up you’ll meet a nice bearded man from Hattush and get married.”
“Ugh, no. I’m never getting married.”
“Don’t mind her,” Tiamen said, laughing. “Neferit’s a goose. Da will arrange a good husband for her in a few years, just like my Menkare.” She squeezed her husband’s arm. “Are you married, Baalbek?”
“I am, yes. Her name is Pathiya and I have a three-year-old son called Aribaal.”
“I’m three too,” Amenre said.
“Perhaps you’ll be playmates one day,” Baalbek said.
“I think that is unlikely,” Merybaal said. “Hattush and Avaris do not mix. Say goodnight now, Amenre…you too, Neferit. Time for bed.”
Protesting, the two children were ushered away by the servants, and when the door had closed on them Merybaal turned to Baalbek again.
“What is this about a warning?”
“My father charged me with its delivery to you and your father.” Baalbek looked at the others in the room. “Harrubaal is not here, so I suppose I can warn his son Hori, but what about these others? Do you want them to hear it too?”
“My family has my complete confidence.”
“Very well. What do you know about the political situation in Kanaan?”
“Kanaan is relatively stable at the moment. I suppose we have your father’s policies to thank for that,” Merybaal added grudgingly.
Baalbek nodded. “My father tries to maintain the peace in the south anyway, but he is in an impossible position. You know of the Kings of Amurru, Lebanon and Syria?”
“The ones the Kemetu refer to as heqa khasut? Rulers of foreign lands?”
“The same. Their king is Anep-Aper and for the last thirty years these kings have kept a military presence in Hattush.”
“Why does your father allow it?”
“We have no choice in the matter,” Baalbek said grimly. “We allow it or we perish.”
“So wherein lies the warning?” Hori asked. “This Anep-Aper is a threat to Hattush, not to Kemet.”
“Anep-Aper has his eyes on the Delta lands. He cannot yet afford to move south, but that day is coming. Make no mistake, Anep-Aper desires the lands of the river greatly.”
“I don’t know how strong the army of the Delta is,” Hori said, “but that of Kemet is mighty. This threat, if it exists, is only to Avaris. If the foreigners come down to Kemet, they will meet with ignominious defeat.”
“Thus speaks youth,” Merybaal murmured. “Kemet and Avaris are equally strong. If one falls, so will the other.”
“Unless we unite,” Hori said.
“I think that is unlikely given the degree of enmity between the kingdoms. If you don’t believe me, ask your father.”
Hori frowned, but in the face of scorn from his older brother, he fell silent.
Merybaal turned his attention back to Baalbek. “How ready is Anep-Aper? Will he invade this year? Next?”
“Who knows?” Baalbek said. “My father thinks it could be next year or in five years. Ten even. All he can be certain of is that it will come.”
“You have said that Anep-Aper holds Hattush hostage,” Djedenre said. “Will Hattush fight on our side when the day arrives? Will you?”
“My father is very old and increasingly frail. It is with the gods, of course, but I will likely be King of Hattush then. As such, I will fight for my people.”
“On our side then?”
“No. Anep-Aper would crush Hattush if we opposed him.”
“Then if you will not fight with us, why have you come to give us this warning?” Djedenre demanded.
“You are family, all being descended from my father Arimawat. I would be lacking in family loyalty if I did not carry the warning to you.”
“And what are we to make of this warning? Are we to persuade the king of Avaris to mobilise the army and oppose Anep-Aper? You expect us to wage war on him?”
Baalbek shook his head. “You could not win, even now when the armies of Amurru are unready. No, my advice is to use the time you have to flee. Seek refuge in Ankh-Tawy or even further south, for who knows how far Anep-Aper’s arm will stretch.”
“That is not going to happen.”
Baalbek shrugged. “I have given you my father’s warning. If you will not heed it willingly, I cannot make you.” He rose to his feet and made a courteous bow to Amatia. “Thank you for your hospitality. I will take my leave now.”
The members of Merybaal’s family looked at one another after Baalbek had left, and then at Hori.
“Perhaps it would be better if you leave too,” Merybaal said. “I bear you no ill will as you cannot help being the son of Harrubaal any more than I can, but I need to discuss this with my family…with people of Avaris.”
Hori looked upset, but got to his feet. “If what Baalbek said is right, we are in this together. We are all one family, after all.”
“No. I am sorry if it upsets you, Hori, but Harrubaal is dead to me, and I cannot acknowledge any person who claims a relationship with him.”
“Even in the face of this threat from the north.”
“I am sure that is exaggerated. And even if it’s not, the armies of Avaris will be sufficient to repel any invaders. Now go, Hori. Warn your father if you think it is necessary.”
Hori had no recourse but to leave. After they were alone, Merybaal’s family looked troubled.
“You truly believe there is no danger, father?” Djedenre asked. “Baalbek seemed quite sure there was.”
“I didn’t say there was no danger, only that is has been exaggerated. It is nothing for any of you to be concerned about. I will talk to the king and we will find out what, if anything, is going on in Hattush.”
“Our army is strong enough?” Djedenre persisted.
“Ask your sister’s husband if you don’t believe me.”
Menkare nodded. “It is as your father says, Djedenre. The army of Avaris is ready for anything our enemies can throw at us, whether tomorrow or in ten years’ time.”
Anep-Aper called his son and heir Samuqenu to him and greeted him with a warm smile. This relieved Samuqenu considerably as he could never be sure what was in his father’s mind. It was entirely possible someone had betrayed him, and although his plans to take over the kingdom were no more than talk at this stage, that would not stay his father’s hand. Others had died for such perceived acts of betrayal, including one of Samuqenu’s brothers a few years before. No, his life was as nothing when the king sent for him so peremptorily.
The king picked up a scroll from the table next to him and brandished it. “It has happened at last; a treaty with Mitanni. You know what this means?”
“Our eastern borders are safe?”
“Yes, yes, of course that, but it frees up our army. I can turn my attention to the south.”
“Yes, and Kemet beyond that. Who knows, even the gold lands of Kush if the gods favour us. The riches of the river valley are ours for the taking.”
“Immediately. You will take a thousand men down to Hattush and secure it. Make sure that King Baalbek does not get any ideas about betraying us. Disarm their fighting men until we can be sure of their loyalty. I’ll follow on with the main army in half a month.”
Samuqenu grinned. “It’s really happening, isn’t it? I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.”
“I know you have been impatient for it. I was the same with my father, but it would be folly to invade the south while Hatti and Mitanni were waiting for the first sign of weakness on our part. Go get your men ready; you’ll leave tomorrow.”
Samuqenu hurried away, his mind working furiously on the best advantage he could squeeze from this turn of events. He could pick men loyal to him personally for this advance force and maybe use them to secure a position of unassailable power down in Hattush.
“I will not go the way of my brothers,” he muttered.
The advance force left at dawn the next day, Samuqenu riding in his chariot at the head of a squad of chariots, leading a hundred horsemen and nearly a thousand men on foot. His army had the solid bulk to defend itself against attack, as well as the swift mobility of horse and chariot. No-one would dare stand in his way between there and Hattush, and King Baalbek would not have the strength to interfere either.
The journey down to Hattush was uneventful and the advance force crossed over the borders in strength and advanced on the capital. Baalbek met them half a day out at the head of five hundred of his own men and waited, pale with worry, as Samuqenu arrayed his force before the Hattushi men.
“Why are you here with so many men, Samuqenu?”
“That is no concern of yours, Baalbek. As a client king, your duty is to make us welcome and supply us with what we need.”
“I may be a client king, as you put it, but I am still the sovereign of Hattush and it would be reasonable to expect a measure of respect from the heir of Amurru.”
Samuqenu scowled at this reference to his lesser status. “I represent my father Anep-Aper, and you would do well to remember that.”
“What do you want, Samuqenu?”
“I come to prepare the way for my father. In half a month, he will be here with ten thousand men and a thousand chariots. Will you dare to stand in his way with your paltry army?”
“He is coming here? Does he mean to invade Avaris at last then?”
“Yes. You need to decide if you fight with Amurru or against us. I would be very happy to do away with the inconvenience of a reluctant ally.”
“As always, Hattush stands ready to do what is right.”
“Then why are you here at the head of five hundred soldiers, Baalbek? Do you think that opposing us in the right thing to do?”
“I had to be sure who marched on Hattush. Now that I know who and why, there is no need to oppose anyone.” Baalbek rapped out commands to his officers and his soldiers drew aside, opening the road to the capital. “You are welcome, Lord Samuqenu, you and all your men.”
Samuqenu marched into Hattush and effectively occupied it. Together with the five hundred men that had been stationed there for years, he almost outnumbered the army of Hattush. He called a meeting of the high officers of Hattush and had them hand over command to his own officers, securing every important position within the kingdom. Baalbek acquiesced as there was no way he could oppose Samuqenu with the main army of Amurru under Anep-Aper almost on their borders. There was one thing he could do, and he did it, calling to his side Maltu, a trusted servant.
“Take this letter and ride to Avaris. Deliver it to the House of Merybaal or to his son Djedenre. No-one else, mind, and no-one must see you leave Hattush. Can you do that?”
“I can, master.”
“If you are caught, destroy the letter.”
“I will, master.”
Just to be sure that even if the letter was intercepted, it would not reveal the writer, it said very simply, ‘The troubles I forecast fifteen years ago are upon us. Flee for your lives.’ Baalbek hoped that his extended family would remember his warning of fifteen years before and pay heed to it. If they did not, their lives were in danger.
The army of Amurru flooded into Hattush, setting up camps around the city and stripping the countryside of its produce. Baalbek sought an audience with Anep-Aper, in his own palace, and complained about the shortages and deprivations his people were even now undergoing.
“Have you ever had experienced an army conquer a country, Baalbek? No, I thought not. If you had you wouldn’t be complaining. The shortages your people suffer are as nothing compared to what my troops would inflict if we did not come in friendship.”
“This is friendship?”
“Of course. You are a client king, and we are using your country as a staging post for our invasion of the Delta. If you were not a friend, we would sack and pillage your farms, raze your cities to the ground, and put your men and grown boys to the sword. Are we doing that?”
“No, we are not, but we can if you do not accept our hand of friendship. So what is it to be? Your father Arimawat accepted the friendship of Amurru, welcoming our presence. I rather thought you were doing the same. Am I wrong?”
“Good. Then you will tell your people not to resist and to surrender any goods and provisions we need.”
“Are my people to be left destitute?”
Anep-Aper leaned back in Baalbek’s throne and contemplated the man standing before him. “As always, you have a choice. You can be a reluctant friend and pray to the gods that we show you mercy, or you can be a generous friend and share in the wealth of the Delta kingdom.”
“Join us. Your Hattush army is small and we don’t need it, but in friendship…for the sake of the friendship your father Arimawat showed to me and my father before me…I am willing to let you join me in invading the Delta.”
Baalbek frowned as he considered Anep-Aper’s words. “That would leave my own kingdom undefended.”
“I rule from the northern mountains of Hatti and the eastern plains of Mitanni, and soon down to the great river of Kemet. Who would dare attack you knowing they also attacked me?” Anep-Aper shrugged and yawned. “I am bored with this conversation. I have been generous, Baalbek of Hattush. Will you throw my generosity back in my face?”
Baalbek knew his answer was literally one of life or death for himself and also for his country. “Forgive me, King Anep-Aper. I did not mean to sound ungrateful, but it had never occurred to me that you would include my kingdom in your plans. My country stands ready to do what is needed. Tell me what you wish, and I will do it.”
Anep-Aper laughed, and smote the arms of Baalbek’s throne. “Well said, Baalbek of Hattush. Gather your men together. We have an invasion to launch.”
Baalbek sent orders out to his officers to gather the men together and to arm them. Hattush relied on foot-soldiers and on mounted warriors, utilising only a few light chariots as scouts. A little over a thousand men joined the army of Amurru, but his officers reported to their king that the men of Hattush were to be spread out within the northern army rather than fighting in their own units. Baalbek knew he had to protest this or risk losing any semblance of command.
“My men must be allowed to fight together,” he said. “They are trained to fight in their units, each trusting the man with them on either side. More often than not, they grew up together or are related. If you separate them, they will be no better than raw recruits, not knowing how to trust the men fighting alongside them, and being less than they could be.”
“I suppose you will ask for their own officers to command them too?”
“Then let it be so,” Anep-Aper said. “You shall command the men of Hattush in the assault on Avaris.”
Baalbek was appalled at the thought that he would personally attack Avaris and his family within it, and was on the point of raising an objection when he realised that this was perhaps the best outcome. If he was there, commanding the troops, he might be able to protect his family if they had not fled south.
“Thank you for that honour, Lord Anep-Aper.”
The king of Amurru called together his generals and lords to work with the latest information from the border and plan the attack on Avaris. Baalbek listened, and did not offer up his own suggestions, beyond volunteering his men for the assault on the city. Samuqenu and many of the other leaders favoured a frontal assault through the hills though others pointed out that the trails and narrow roads did not favour the passage of chariots.
“The coast road is the only way,” General Anati said. “It is longer, but the road is used for trading caravans and is broader and flatter.”
“How many men can Avaris put in the field?” someone asked.
“No more than four thousand.”
“And are their generals capable?”
“They will be led by King Seneferenre, who ascended to the throne from the ranks of the army. We have to assume he has a measure of ability.”
“It will avail him nothing,” Samuqenu said. “We will overwhelm them.”
Anep-Aper considered the words of his generals and lords before calling his son out in front of the meeting.
“My son and heir, Samuqenu, will lead the first assault on the enemy. Make your dispositions, my son.”
Samuqenu’s pleasure was evident. He preened and regarded the others present with contempt, rattling off a few of the names of his favourites among the generals.
“These men will lead their units in the frontal assault on Avaris. When their defences have crumbled, I will bring the rest to the city.”
Anep-Aper studied the reactions of the generals, letting no trace of his thoughts appear on his face.
“Only five thousand men?” he asked Samuqenu. “You have a reason for not taking the whole army?”
“Ten thousand will be cumbersome. I only need a smaller force to utterly destroy the enemy.”
“What of the chariot squadrons?” Anep-Aper asked.
“They will not be needed, but I will send General Anati north by the coast road to sweep down behind the enemy.” Samuqenu shrugged. “There will be little for them to do, but I will find a meaningful task for them later.”
“And the men of Hattush?” Baalbek asked.
“I see no reason why they should share in the initial glory of conquest. Let them follow with the baggage train.”
Baalbek turned to Anep-Aper. “My lord king, you promised me my men would assault Avaris.”
“And so they shall, Baalbek of Hattush, but my son Samuqenu leads the initial assault. It is for him to say where you fight.”
The rest of the meeting was given up to discussing the logistics of the invasions, how the supplies would be transported, and how much the troops could live off the land. War always led to misery and deprivation for the conquered people, and no-one saw any reason why the people of the Delta should be exempt. The invading troops would largely live off the land, and after the conquest, the surviving population would yield up the resources of the kingdom to their new overlords.
“Take no chances,” was Anep-Aper’s final advice for his son. “If Avaris resists, make an example of it. Destroy the city if need be, and its people.”
Baalbek came away from the meeting feeling depressed. War was coming and his relatives in Avaris stood in the way. The situation was more serious and immediate than he had first thought. Even if Merybaal or Djedenre had received his first cryptic warning, they might not treat it with the urgency it deserved. King Seneferenre was likely to resist the invaders and that meant the destruction of the city and its inhabitants. The question that faced Baalbek now was whether he should risk his life and kingdom to send another warning. His wife decided him.
“They are your other family, my husband. You cannot abandon them,” Pathiya said.
“And what of you and our son Aribaal? What will Anep-Aper do if he finds out I have warned the enemy?”
“Do you imagine the enemy does not already know? Their spies will have told them of the army in our midst, and of the preparations being made to invade them.”
“If that is so, then I don’t need to warn them.”
“Yes, you do. You have a responsibility to warn them. You cannot rely on others doing it for you.”
Baalbek knew his wife was right, and if the circumstances were reversed, he hoped that others would see fit to warn him. The messenger he had used for the first letter had not returned though, and Baalbek did not know whether this was because he had been killed or captured by Amurru scouts or perhaps even imprisoned as a spy in Avaris. He could not even know if his warning had reached the intended target. This time he would have to be more forthright in what he said, and send it by more than one route. First, he penned the message by his own hand.
‘The invasion we talked about fifteen years ago is happening and Avaris is the target. Flee the city as soon as you get this.’ Baalbek tried to think of a way of signing it so they would know it came from him, but not in such a blatant way as to identify himself. ‘From one whom Neferit thought had a prickly beard.’
He sighed, and made two copies, sealing them and hiding them in small cloth pouches. One he gave to another of his servants who had no cause to love the Amurru, and the other to a merchant on his way down the coast road into the Delta. The merchant route was considerably slower than the direct one across the hills, but was perhaps less likely to be intercepted.
The borderlands were in uproar for days as the army of Anep-Aper set about the great venture that had been generations in preparation. Anep-Aper’s father Anatisil had longed to conquer the lands to the south, but had spent his life stabilising his northern and eastern neighbours. Anep-Aper inherited his father’s problem but solved it as an old man. It was likely that Samuqenu would be the one to reign over Kemet, but Anep-Aper greatly desired to see the conquest start in his lifetime.
The units of the northern army set off for the border, the columns of soldiers snaking up into the hills, slowed by the narrow trails but still inexorably moving toward the Delta. At the same time, General Anati marshalled his thousand chariots and set them off on the coast road, the cloud of dust raised by hooves and wheels billowing into the clear blue sky. Traders plying the road with their mule caravans of farmers moving flocks of goats moved aside to watch in awe this great invasion. All who watched gave thanks to their gods that this army was not interested in them.
Baalbek and the men of Hattush were one of the units heading into the hills, though Samuqenu had delegated to them the dishonourable task of guarding the enormous baggage train that accompanied the army. He fumed as he rode with his men, knowing that he would not be able to influence the attack on Avaris from his position at the rear. His son Aribaal rode with him, equally frustrated, though for a different reason. This young man desired only to excel in warfare, to make a name for himself. He had never met his relatives in Avaris, and their plight meant little to him.