A Curse Of Silenceby Lauren Haney
A vile rumor sweeps across the desert like a swiftly gathering sandstorm: Queen Hatshepsut plans to disband much of her frontier army and transform its fortresses into storehouses. The arrival of Amonked—the Queen's cousin and Storekeeper of Amon—at the city of Buhen convinces an uneasy Lieutenant Bak of the Medjay police that the whisperings that have… See more details below
A vile rumor sweeps across the desert like a swiftly gathering sandstorm: Queen Hatshepsut plans to disband much of her frontier army and transform its fortresses into storehouses. The arrival of Amonked—the Queen's cousin and Storekeeper of Amon—at the city of Buhen convinces an uneasy Lieutenant Bak of the Medjay police that the whisperings that have alarmed the populace are true. Then, a day after Amonked inspects the local garrison and departs, a body is found stabbed in the house where he and his party rested. The slain man was a local prince, beloved by his people, so Bak travels upriver to join the caravan and investigate. Though nothing tangible connects Amonked and his people to the heinous act, Bak's inquiry soon sheds a disturbing light on an inexplicable crime. For the clues suggest that twisted honor and vengeance lie at its root . . . and a shocking secret, protected by murder and silence, that could itself silence the truth—and Bak—for eternity.
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"The next one's yours, my friend." Sergeant Imsiba ducked around a pair of dressed geese hanging by their feet from the frame of a spindly lean-to. "Less than half the morning gone and already I've seen enough men dancing around the truth for one day."
Lieutenant Bak, officer in charge of the Medjay police at the fortress of Buhen, grinned at the tall, dark, heavymuscled man walking by his side, his stride smooth, leonine. "You're much too generous, Sergeant."
"I doubt that wretch thinks so." Imsiba pointed toward a short, wiry man being hustled along a sandy path by two spearmen, one on each arm, heading toward the citadel gate. "Did you see the way he added weight to the balance each time he rested his hand on the upright?" The big Medjay shook his head in disbelief. "You'd think we'd have seen everything by this time, but the trick was new to me."
"Another lesson learned, another triumph for the lady Maat." Maat was the goddess of right and order.
Imsiba smiled at the pomposity, a mimicking of a scribe neither man especially liked.
Bak stepped aside, letting two young women pass by. They giggled, flustered at the small courtesy paid by this man who was slightly taller than average, with broad shoulders and strong limbs, carrying a baton of office. Running his fingers through his short-cropped dark hair, unaware of the stir he had caused in their breasts, he said, "Commandant Thuty will see he cheats no one else for many years to come."
A grim smile played across Imsiba's face. The commandant of Buhen was not a man to be toyed with. His judgments were firm, the punishments he meted out seldom forgotten by thosewho erred.
The two men strolled on, following a casual path between lean--tos set up in irregular rows to shade sellers, buyers, and trade goods offered in the twice-weekly market located on an empty stretch of sand between Buhen's outer wall and the citadel. They veered around men, women, children, and animals; stepped over discarded garbage and manure piles, and tried not to bump the slender posts that supported the frail shelters. All the while, their eyes darted hither and yon, searching for a furtive look or action that hinted at a dishonest trading practice. A nod here, a goodhumored smile there, a wave and a shout of greeting companied them along the way, easing a task thankless necessary, one they performed periodically.
Though this was the coolest time of the year, the day was unseasonably warm. The sun beat down, wrapping them in heat, sealing them in a thin layer of sweat. A light, Sporadic northerly breeze sent dust devils racing along the Paths. The smells of commerce rose around them: spices, fish, livestock, fresh-cut wood, braised meat, manure, onions, unwashed bodies, perfume. Voices ebbed and flowed, donkeys brayed in distant paddocks, and dogs barked constantly.
"Lieutenant Bak!" Raising his weapon, waving the bronze point above his head to catch the sun and attract attention, a husky spearman wove a hurried path toward them. "Sir!"
Bak and Imsiba quickened their pace to meet him. "What's the problem?" Bak demanded. He recognized the man as a Member of the ten-man company of soldiers assigned to maintain peace in the market.
"A rumor, sir. At least I hope that's all it is." They were probably of a like age-twenty-five years-but the spearman responded to the officer with the respect he would show an older, senior man. "A tale sweeping through the market even now. One I pray you can put to rest."
Rumors flew up and down the river faster than the swiftest wind, growing in detail as a sandstorm builds while sweeping across the desert. Bak would have smiled, but the worry he saw on the soldier's face warned him not to take this tale too lightly. "Tell me what you've heard."
They say the army is going to be torn from Buhen, from all the fortresses along the southern frontier. They say we'll have to return to Kemet. That those who wish to stay in this land of Wawat--and there are many of us--will be men alone, abandoned by our sovereign and our homeland." The spearman's voice shook with emotion. "Sir, I took as my wife a woman of this land. How can I tear her and our children from their home, their many relatives, their village? I can't! I just can't!"
"We've heard no such rumor." Imsiba, Bak noticed, looked as concerned by the tale as he was--and as skeptical. The very idea was unthinkable.
Commandant Thuty would have been the first to hear and pass on news of such import. Thuty had said nothing; therefore, the rumor must be just that: a rumor. A tale that must be laid to rest before everyone along the river, military and civilian, grew worried and afraid. The army consumed not only grain shipped from Kemet, but large quantities of produce grown and supplied by farmers who dwelt along the river. Without the army, the farmers would not only be vulnerable to raiding desert tribesmen, but they would have no ready market for their crops. Their farms would decline, the land would die.
But oft times even the most outrageous of rumors carried a grain of truth. "I doubt the tale is true," Bak reassured, "but I'll look into the matter before nightfall."
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