- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
During the remaining days of mourningfor Kamose, Aahmes-nefertari sawlittle of her husband. She had expected the solemnity of griefto finally descend on the household now that the rebellion hadbeen put down, and it was true that peace of a kind embracedthe family, but it was more a silent sigh of relief than a quiettribute to her brother. The weight of bitterness, the constanturge for revenge that had driven Kamose to so much killing anddestruction, had pervaded them all for so long that they hadbecome accustomed to living in a state of underlying tension.Now the source of that strain was gone, and they felt its withdrawalas a strange cleansing.
Nevertheless they had loved him, and as Mekhir flowed intoPhamenoth and every small field around Weset came alive withthe songs of the sowers as they flung their seed onto the glisteningdark soil, they each grieved for him in their own way.Tetisheri kept to her rooms, the incense that accompanied herprivate prayers blurring the passage outside her door in a thinhaze. Aahotep moved about the house with her usual calmregality, but she could often be seen sitting motionless underthe trees of the garden, her chin sunk into her palm and hergaze fixed unseeingly before her.
Aahmes-nefertari found that her own sorrow made herrestless. With a servant holding a sunshade over her head anda patient Follower plodding behind her, she took to walking.Sometimes she paced the river road between the estate and thetemple. Sometimes she ventured into Weset itself. But moreoften she found herself skirting the fields where the germs ofnew life were being troddeninto the wet earth by sturdy,naked feet. It was as though purposeless movement mightenable her to escape from the misery that dogged her, buteverywhere she carried with her the curve of his smile and thesound of his voice.
Ahmose would rise early, eat quickly, and disappear justafter dawn. In answer to his wife's remonstrations he smiledabsently, kissed her gently, assured her that he was feelingstronger every day, and left her. At one time he would havebeen fishing, she knew, but he had kept to his vow and hadeven given away his favourite rod and his net. Occasionally shehappened to be passing the mangled gates leading to the oldpalace and glancing inside she caught a glimpse of him, oncestanding with hands on hips staring up at the frowning edificeand once emerging from the gloom of the huge reception hall.Several times she saw him coming along the edge of the canalthat joined the temple forecourt to the Nile, surrounded by hisretainers. Then he would wave and smile. She did not wonderwhat was in his mind. There was no room in her for anythingbut memories.
The strange serenity of those weeks was broken by thereturn of Ramose, Mesehti and Makhu. They came sailing upthe river one warm afternoon, a small flotilla of servants' craftsbehind them, and Aahmes-nefertari knew that the time ofintrospection was over. A herald had arrived the day before towarn Ahmose of the Princes' arrival and he was waiting forthem above the watersteps with Hor-Aha and Ankhmahor.Aahmes-nefertari was there also, acutely conscious of her husband'sstiff stance and the expressionless set of his features as hewatched the boat nudge the steps and the ramp slide out.
Ramose was the first to disembark. Climbing the steps, hestrode to Ahmose and extending his arms in a gesture of submissionand reverence he bowed. Ahmose beckoned him forwardand then pulled him close. "My friend," he said quietly."Welcome home. I do not know yet how I may repay the debtto you that has accumulated since my father's day. Nor can Idescribe the pain your mother's execution caused me when Irecovered enough to hear about it. I am well aware of howmuch agony a man can suffer when he must choose where toplace his loyalty and you have been forced to make that choicetoo often. I pray that never again will such a bitter cup beoffered." Ramose smiled sadly.
"It is good to see you restored to full health, Majesty," hereplied. "With your permission I must go at once to the Houseof the Dead and make sure that my mother is being correctlybeautified." Turning to Aahmes-nefertari, he took the hand sheoffered. "You are not yet wearing a commander's armbands," hesaid lightly, and she laughed and hugged him impulsively.
"Dear Ramose!" she exclaimed. "In spite of our commongrief it is wonderful to see you smile."
The two Princes had been standing silently behind Ramoseand as Ahmose's attention became fixed on them they knelt onthe paving. Pressing their foreheads against the stone andsweeping the ever-present grit into a tiny pile before them, theysifted it over their heads in a gesture of repentance and submission.Ahmose watched them for a moment, one eyebrow raised."They have redeemed themselves, Ahmose," Ramose said in alow voice. "You spoke of the distress of divided loyalties. Theyhave made their choice. They are here, not in Het-Uart. I begyou ..." Ahmose held up a peremptory hand.
"Do you realize," he said to their dusty skulls, "that thewoman standing beside me has shown more courage and performedmore deeds of desperate loyalty than either of you? Thatif you had managed to find one drop of such bravery in yourpale and watery blood my brother would still be alive? If youhad warned him, Kamose would still be alive!" he shouted,bending over them. "But no! You closed your mouths! Youmade no choice! You recoiled from the responsibility and slunkaway like a couple of hyenas! Amun's curse on you for the cowardsthat you are!" He straightened and for a moment his eyeswandered to the second boat, now moored, where the servantscrowded watching the scene avidly. "Well, get up," he orderedmore calmly. "That is, if your feeble spines will hold you. Tellme what I am supposed to do with you." Slowly they came totheir feet and bowed.
"Majesty, you are correct in all you say." It was Mesehti whoanswered him. "We listened to Meketra and the others and didnot take our knowledge to the Osiris one. Yet we did make achoice. We chose to withdraw. We could not support our fellownobles although we owed them the fidelity of our common station,but neither could we betray them. If we erred, it was notthrough cowardice but from uncertainty."
"Uncertainty," Ahmose repeated. He sighed. "Uncertaintydogged Kamose from the start and his greatest uncertainty wasalways the true temper of his Princes." Suddenly he swung tohis wife. "Aahmes-nefertari, you have the right to speak on thismatter, you know. You were compelled to risk your life on thetraining ground. You stood and watched the executions. Youhave been harmed and changed. What do you advise?"
She looked at him, startled both by his generous publicacknowledgement of her importance and his sensitivity to theturmoil that had raged and then subsided in her ka. All at onceshe knew that the substance of her answer would determinewhether or not that importance was maintained. I must speakhonestly and wisely, she thought in a panic. He has heard whatI did but he was not there. He wants a validation he can seeand hear for himself. Three pairs of eyes were fixed on her. Twowere anxiously enquiring. The third was amused and Aahmes-nefertari,meeting her husband's quizzical gaze, realized thathis vehement speech to the prostrate men had been an act.But how much of an act? she wondered. What does he want?Further retribution? Two more executions? A reason to pardonthem?
No, she told herself resolutely. I will not try to fathom whathe expects of me. I will speak from my own judgement andmine alone. "The bestowal of mercy can be interpreted as aweakness," she began carefully. "Yet mercy is greatly prized byMa'at and together with justice is a quality every King mustpossess." She turned fully to Ahmose. "Justice has been done tothe fullest extent, Majesty," she went on. "Our brother is dead.His murderers were executed. Mesehti and Makhu have pursuedand slain the last remnants of a rebellion that belonged toan old order, Kamose's order, and in doing so they have rediscoveredthe portion of Ma'at that they once threw away. A neworder begins. Let your first act as a King be one of forbearance."He was squinting at her now, his eyes alight.
"Forbearance, perhaps, but not pardon," he retorted. "Notyet. Trust must be earned, Aahmes-nefertari, don't you agree?"He swung to the Princes. "Where are your soldiers?"
"They march on the edge of the desert, Majesty," Makhusaid hastily. "They should arrive tomorrow."
"Well, get yourselves out of the sun and into the guest quarters,"Ahmose ordered. "Thanks to your Queen you have onelast chance to prove yourselves. Do not fail again. And do notgo near the barracks or I shall suspect yet another plot!" Heturned away from their bows, and taking Aahmes-nefertari'sarm he began to stroll towards the house. Ramose had alreadyleft in the direction of the House of the Dead.
"I do not understand, Ahmose," his wife said hesitantly."You shouted your anger at them but I sensed that it was forced.Did you intend to spare them all along and I simply told youwhat you had already decided?"
"No," he replied. "My anger was real, is real, deep inside me,my dearest, but I wanted it to appear forced. If you had recommendedtheir execution I would have taken your advice, but Iam glad that you appreciate both the power and the trap ofmercy. Let us hope it has not been a trap in this case."
"I still do not understand."
"Then I will tell you." He took a moment to lift his faceto the brilliant blue of the sky and his hair fell back, revealingthe jagged scar behind his ear, still rough and red. "I lovedKamose," he went on slowly. "He was brave and intelligent andhe inspired an awed respect, but that respect was tinged withfear. In this he was foolish. His manner was harsh. His methodof revenge was implacable. The ordeal we have suffered was thedirect result of that inexorable drive towards the exterminationof the Setiu. It frightened the people and insulted the Princes.I loved him," he repeated, a tremor in his voice, "but the resultof his terrible need was entirely predictable."
"Ahmose," Aahmes-nefertari broke in urgently. "Are yousaying that you will abandon the fight? Give Egypt back toApepa?"
"Gods no! Do not be deceived. My own hatred and desirefor revenge against Apepa bums just as strongly as Kamose'sdid. But I have a new policy. I will strew smiles like lotus petals.I will toss titles and preferments and rewards like so manybrightly painted baubles. I will not make my brother's mistakes,and thus I will flog every Setiu back to Rethennu where theybelong." They had reached the shade of the pillared porticobefore the main entrance to the house and Aahmes-nefertarishivered in the sudden chill.
"I think I see," she said cautiously. "Kamose ruled thePrinces by coercion. You will control them more subtly. But,Ahmose, if our brother had not flayed Egypt with the whip ofhis pain and rage, if he had not prodded and shamed thePrinces into action and drenched Egypt in blood, your strategywould not work. He drew the poison for you. He cleared theway for a gentler approach."
"And I owe him that? You were afraid to finish your thought,Aahmes-nefertari. You are right. I owe him a great deal. He waslike a farmer who takes possession of a field which has been leftuntended for hentis. His task was to slash and bum the weeds.I know this. I honour it. But I owe him nothing more. He wasmildly insane." One ringed finger crept up to his scar andrubbed it absently. It was a gesture that was becoming a habitand Aahmes-nefertari was beginning to recognize it as a signalof speculative thought.
"But Amun loved him!" she blurted, alarmed. "He sent himdreams! Take care that in hardening your heart against hismemory you do not blaspheme against the god, Ahmose!" Fora moment the face he turned to her was blank. Then it lit withhis guileless smile.
"He died in trying to save my life," he said. "I slept besidehim, fought beside him, and in our youth he was always thereto protect me. My heart will never harden against him. I speakfacts, Aahmes-nefertari, not feelings. The emotion is for youand me alone. But a new order begins, as you said, and there isgreat danger to me if I present even a hint to the nobles that Iam prepared to continue the brutal policies of my brother." Heleaned close to her. "I intend to render them impotent, everyone of them, and make them thank me for doing it. I will nevertrust them again. I also intend to put a torch to Het-Uart, thatstinking nest of rats, and thus Kamose will be twice justified.But I must never allow one drop of the acid of blind revenge tostir in my veins or we will not be allowed a second chance atsalvation." He straightened. "I trust you, Aahmes-nefertari. Ihave opened my mind on this matter to no one else. When Iask you for advice, I expect you to give it to me without fear, asyou did a short while ago. I have requested a meeting with Hor-Ahathis evening in the office. I want you and Mother there."Aahmes-nefertari blinked in surprise.
"You want me to be present at a discussion about strategy?"He put a thumb against her chin, and lifting her face he kissedher firmly on the mouth.
"Of course," he replied. "I need a Queen who can do morethan sip pomegranate wine and listen to servants' gossip." Hestifled a yawn. "Now I need an hour on my couch. My head hasbegun to ache."
Aahmes-nefertari stifled an impulse to put a hand on hisforehead. A shyness had overtaken her as she looked at thisman, so sweetly familiar and yet so suddenly alien, and hemust have divined her aborted inclination, for he put an armacross her shoulders and propelled her firmly towards the doorway."Akhtoy can nurse me now," he said. "That is his job. Youwill have other responsibilities." Releasing her, he strode awaydown the corridor and she watched him go. He did not sayTetisheri, she thought. Was it an oversight or a deliberateexclusion? If he antagonizes Grandmother, the house will befull of wrangling. Then she laughed aloud, shrugged, and setoff towards the nursery. I doubt if a quarrelsome house hasa place in the new order, she mused. Our King will insist ondomestic peace.
She approached the office just after dusk, greeting the servantswho were lighting the torches bracketed in the passage asshe went and returning the salutes of the guards taking up thefirst watches of the night. Outside the imposing cedar door shepaused, momentarily intimidated. She had never before beeninvited into the place where her father and later Kamose haddealt with the myriad affairs that made up the world of men:dictating directives to the headmen of the villages under theircare, going over the tallies of grain, wine and oil, discussingjudgements regarding the often petty grievances the peasantsbrought to them, and later wrestling with the agonizing decisionsthat had resulted in the Weset uprising. She knew whatthe room contained, of course, having often inspected it fortidiness and cleanliness after the servants had swept it, but toenter it for the purpose of business—that was different. Shecould hear voices within, her husband's rich treble followed byHor-Aha's rough, rare chuckle, and with a frown of irritation ather own hesitation she knocked and, without waiting to bebidden, let herself in.
Aahotep was already there, sitting quietly at one end of theheavy table. Hor-Aha had his back to the door and, as Aahmes-nefertariwalked across the floor, he rose and turned to reverenceher. Ahmose, seated opposite with Ipi already cross-leggedby his knee, smiled at her and waved her to the empty chair atthe other end. Light filled the sparsely furnished space from twostanding lamps in the corners and one on the table at Ahmose'sside. Three walls were full of nooks from which the ends ofrolled papyri protruded and below which were the chests containingrecords not in current use. The fourth wall was simply aline of pillars giving out onto the darkening sky.
For one second, as she settled herself facing her mother,Aahmes-nefertari could have sworn that she inhaled a faintwhiff of her father's perfume, a mixture of sweet persea and oilof frankincense. Wondering if it somehow lingered deep in thevery grain of the table where he had so often placed his hands,and resisting the desire to put her nose to its surface, she linkedher own fingers in her lap and waited. Ahmose cleared histhroat. "Ipi, are you ready?" he enquired. The man glanced upat him and nodded and Aahmes-nefertari heard him whisperingthe scribes' preparatory prayer to Thoth beneath Ahmose'snext words. "Good. As you can see, Akhtoy has provided uswith wine and sweetmeats but you will have to serve yourselves.This discussion is not for servants' ears." He already hada cup before him and he drank briefly before continuing."While I lay on my couch regaining my strength, I had manyhours to ponder the course my rule should take," he said. "Andit seemed to me that the most urgent project confronting us isa reorganizing of the army. Without a coherent, efficient fightingforce we are nothing. We cannot even defend ourselves, letalone mount effective campaigns. Kamose performed a verydifficult task in taking raw peasants and turning them into soldiers.He began with one unit, the Medjay, and a motley collectionof peasants. He had officers who had never drawn asword and commanders who were reluctant to command. Inshort, what he did must have earned him the wonder andapplause of the gods themselves." He shot a glance at his wife."But he was hampered by a peasant's need to till his soil in thespring and a prince's need to assert the superiority ofhis blood. The rebellion has taught us the danger of both.Peasants whose minds are full of worry about their arouras andPrinces who chafe to return to the luxury of their estates arenot to be trusted."
He already uses that word a great deal, Aahmes-nefertarithought, hearing the mildly disdainful emphasis he had placedon it. It has become a preoccupation for him. I pray that it maynot become an obsession. She turned her attention back towhat he was saying. "Therefore I intend to implement a standingarmy. Give me your response." Aahotep pulled the wine jugtowards her and carefully filled her cup.
"Egypt has never maintained a standing army," she saidslowly. "The peasants have always been conscripted temporarily,either for war or for building purposes, by the King or thetemples. They have always known that no matter how longtheir services may be required they will eventually be allowedto go home. If they are told that they may not go home, you willhave one mutiny after another."
"Surely that depends on how it is done," Aahmes-nefertariobjected. "It might be possible to form a military core of permanenttroops with their own village and then augment themwith others during the Inundation. Or perhaps take a census ofall males and cull those not necessary for working the land.They would have to be supported and armed out of the royaltreasury. You would have to create new orders of scribes andstewards who would do nothing else. You would need theauthority to tax all Egypt. But it would mean that each man wasfully trained, professional, and it would remove the threat ofanother revolt."
"Hor-Aha?" Ahmose looked at his General, who had beenlistening with his head down, one finger tracing an intricateand invisible pattern on the table before him. Now he pursedhis lips and, folding his arms, he nodded.
"It could be done. I consider my Medjay first. I know them,Majesty. They would be willing to leave their villages to be caredfor by their women and slaves, if they were allowed severalweeks of freedom a year and sufficient beer and bread. As for therest, you already have the embryo of such a core in your Wesetcontingent." He stirred and Aahmes-nefertari saw him takea slow, quiet breath. "But what will you do for commanders?"he asked smoothly—too smoothly, Aahmes-nefertari thought.This is the question closest to his strange heart. This is wherehis true interest lies. "Will you promote the sons of those whohave died?"
"Been executed for treason you mean!" Ahmose retorted."No, I do not wish to train their offspring in the art of command.A professional army needs professional officers at its pinnacle.I want to promote from the ranks." But that is not your real reason,Aahmes-nefertari told him silently. You have alreadyexpressed that to me. You will never trust a nobleman again.
"The ranks?" Aahotep expostulated. "But, Ahmose, whatcommon soldier will have any respect for a commander who hasno noble blood in him? There must be distance between them!"
"I am inclined to disagree, Mother," Ahmose told her mildly."Perhaps a lowly fighting man will have more confidence in thedirectives of someone he has already seen in action. He mayalso dream of his own promotion if such an avenue becomesopen." He spread his hands. "In any event it is worth thegamble. Kamose attempted the traditional way. He did greatharm to Apepa but came close to destroying us in the process.We lose nothing by changing the rules."
"I would like to come back to the matter of support,"Aahmes-nefertari said. "The war has cost us and the rest ofEgypt. We have had two harvests since Kamose removed thepeasants from the land and the granaries are filling again,but our situation will not bear any extra burden. Not yet.Do we not invite a future disaster by scrambling to fill themouths of thousands of troops who will fall idle once the waris over?" He favoured her with one of his wide, benign smilesof approval.
"A good point," he responded. "Firstly I do not envisage thesoldiers idle. With their training and skills they will be invaluablein policing the towns and villages, escorting caravans; wecan even sell their time to the temples, all in rotation of course.And if an emergency arises, they can be recalled to Wesetalready armed and proficient."
"Majesty, will you also allow them to be used as privatesoldiers?" Hor-Aha interrupted. There was a pause duringwhich Ahmose appeared to be considering the question, butAahmes-nefertari suspected that he was merely hiding hisannoyance at it.
Excerpted from The Horus Road by Pauline Gedge. Copyright © 2000 by Pauline Gedge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted April 18, 2009
My review of the first in the series, The Hippopotamus Marsh, includes this book. I originally read this book and the other two as loaners from the public library. Subsequently I bought two sets of the trilogy from B&N used book dealers. One set was for myself and the other for one of my sons. I wish the series did not stop at three - if Mrs. Gedge publishes a new book in the series, I will probably reserve one in advance.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.