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Part Three

Samples > Chapter One

Preparing The Field


I heard this story of Horemheb’s birth many years later while I was still a young man on my first assignment as a scribe. Horemheb and I were living at the royal Residence and served the Crown Prince Djehouty-Moses who was two years older than us. Horemheb was a newly commissioned officer. He and Djehouty-Moses had trained together for an entire year and took great joy in one another’s skills. I was raised with Horemheb and six other children at Heroo’s estate. All eight of us were sent to scribal school together. I was the only one who really enjoyed writing and it was obvious both to my parents and to the priests that I will spend my life in this profession. I could not have been happier. I was always slightly larger than my other siblings. I preferred to sit in the shade when the other children chased the whirlwind, the small eddies of the north wind as it picked up the loose sand and formed it into visible funnels in our father’s courtyard. Nanoo, our nurse, told us that if anyone could drop a turd into the center of the whirlwind, it would turn into gold. I was too fat to run fast, so I just watched and laughed with the household servants as Horemheb or the others caught up with the swirling funnel of sand and squatted in its way, straining their intestines to perform on demand.

There were eight of us, because Heroo and Mereeyet had brought back to their estate seven Ka Nakht children from the Temple of Hathor a year after Horemheb’s birth. Mereeyet, my stepmother told me about that journey before she died. During our childhood I was used to Mereeyet being the storyteller in the family. She had this haunting ability to tell any story as if it were for the first time. Women in the throes of childbirth do not utter clever, contrived sayings like Mereeyet claimed she did. But when she told the story, we were all inclined to believe her. The only other person who remembered his birth was Nanoo, Horemheb’s nurse, because she was there at the birth. She was the chief midwife. But both women have recently united with the land and their mummified bodies rest in Heroo’s tomb.

Today, on the tenth day of the third month of Summer, in the twenty-third year of Amenhotep Neb-Ma’at-Ra, may he be given Life, Prosperity and Health, Heroo came to the Residence as was his duty to the King each year, to begin three months of service. The King, however, saw that Heroo was weak, his life visibly ebbing. Amenhotep had already provided gifts for Heroo‘s tomb. Among those gifts was a black, basalt sarcophagus, more prestigious than that of any other governor of the Falcon Province. The tomb, also, had been finished and waited for its occupant. Therefore, Pharaoh, may he be given Life, Prosperity and Health, ordered Heroo and our entire family to spend a day together. We received a day’s provisions from Amenhotep’s royal kitchen. Horemheb had arranged to take four swift chariots with horses from the King’s stables. We loaded our provisions and left early one morning to the burial fields of Sokar. We spent the day in the shadow of the most ancient pyramid.

Seventeen people composed our party. Four of these were the chariot drivers. Seven of us were Horemheb’s half-brothers and half-sisters, the four boys in one chariot, the three girls in another. Horemheb rode with his father, Heroo, along with two servants whose task was to steady our father in case the chariot drive proved beyond his strength. Two more servants rode in the fourth chariot with the provisions and mats securely lashed to the strong cane frame.

Servants had spread mats upon the soft sand that had blown onto the western face of Djoser’s step pyramid. We had paid our respect to this venerable ancient King and his chief Architect and Vizier, the wise Imhotep. Heroo sat down with his back against the cool limestone of the pyramid. The rest of us sat in front of him in a semi-circle. Heroo’s body had become thin, his movements had slowed and his face, in spite of the oils, had filled with creases. Only his voice remained strong and commanding. Heroo did not begin with Horemheb’s birth. Rather, to our delight, he began with the story of Horemheb’s conception. It was my duty to inscribe his words onto fresh sheets of papyrus even as he spoke:

* * *

In the eighth year of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Amenhotep Neb-Ma’at-Ra, Son of Ra, Given Life Like Ra for All Time and Over All Lands, I, Heroo, Governor of the Falcon Province and Lord of Hanis spoke with my wife, my Beloved, Mereeyet, about the matter of our many years of barrenness. Mereeyet and I had done everything that could be done by a man and a woman who wished to conceive a child. Our work and experiments were pleasant, but the seed did not sprout. It was then that we decided to turn to the Goddess Hathor for help. We sent messengers to the High Priestess of Hathor and she sent them back with instructions when to arrive, what to bring. We prepared ourselves. Our servants filled our barque with offerings. Upon our arrival the High Priestess met us. She took Mereeyet to the women’s quarters herself. Our servants took our offerings to the Temple storerooms. There were jars of honey and amphorae of wine from our Delta estates, a hundred sacks of barley and another hundred of emmer. Our servants had trapped six pin-tailed ducks, six Geb ducks, six gray geese and six mallards, all of which were carried in cages into the Temple’s kitchen garden. Our women had provided many, many folds of pure, white linen cloth for the Hathor Priestesses, the work of an entire year during which Mereeyet and I had prepared for Hathor ministrations.

I remained standing in the grand courtyard of the ancient Hathor Temple, under the shade of two tall, square columns with a lintel, the main entrance into the inner courtyard. Two young Priestesses approached me shaking their sistra. Their black wigs left their pretty faces exposed. Even though they tried to keep their faces expressionless, the joys of a carefree childhood, which they only recently had left behind, were still etched into their eyes and cheeks. They were naked. Their breasts, freshly budded, were like soft mounds of beige dough having just risen with the yeast. They came to me confidently. They spoke to me firmly, bidding me to follow them. The gentle tinkling of the copper cymbals on the tightly stretched strings of their sistra gave life to the air. I followed the eerie sound as they led me into the Inner Courtyard, but then out a side door, past the Birthing House. We made a right turn and walked the sandy path strewn with pebbles and broken shards to the stone parapet of the Sacred Lake. Other Priestesses were standing there, their sistra adding to the tinkling chimes. Still others clapped their hands and rubbed them, as if washing, while a hissing noise came from their mouth. My guides touched my shoulder and pointed at the water. I dropped my kilt, walked down the finely hewn stone steps into the water and for the next hour soaked in the lukewarm pool with only a white fillet of linen on the top of my head to shield me against the heat of Ra. The Priestesses circumambulated the sacred lake with unceasing clapping and hissing and chiming to drive away the unclean essences rising from my ablution.

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