Go to content

Part Two

Coming of Age > Chapter Seven

Approaching the Temple


Flat flood plane stretched far toward the desert. The great distance drew the eye to the looming wall of limestone that rose above the river valley in the west. The colorful barge pulled by men and donkeys along the canal banks slowly glided through the water. Djehouty’s estate was vast, third largest after the estates of Amun and Ptah. Only the two steersmen remained on board with the Lord and Lady of Hanis. Even the cook helped to tow the barge with the other servants and oarsmen from the riverboat.

Word had spread along the villages that the Great Royal Scribe, Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, had returned from his journey north to the Residence. His barges were being towed before that of Lady Mereeyet, the former High Priestess of Djehouty. She was slowly gliding towards her beautiful temple, freshly saved from another attempt by the Ugly One to taste her still potent charms. Free peasants and the God’s priests and scribes came to line the canal. Some brought their donkeys who were promptly yoked to the tow ropes of the barges with paeans such as “Let the Ugly one pull your rope, he pulls his own in vain,” referring to Sutekh’s loss of his testicles while fighting Horus in the desert. They considered it an honor to take the towropes of such living legends.

After a few iteroo, the peasants unyoked their asses and returned to their own work as others took their place. Ra was high over the horizon before the barges reached the wide berthing lake near Djehouty’s temple at Khemmu. A priest greeted them and conducted his distinguished guests to the fifth pylon, the temple’s main portal.

Cool drinks and fresh mats awaited the visitors in the shade of the massive lintel. Silence reigned everywhere while the King of the Gods above them removed all shade for a moment, reminding mortals that the day will come when they will walk around without their shadow. With that somber thought all creatures, noble and common, withdrew into themselves and let slumber obscure what the Gods had decreed.

Four hours later, after everyone had awakened, taken a light meal and refreshed themselves, Heroo and Mereeyet accompanied a tall, clean-shaven priest into the Inner Courtyard. The Chief Royal Scribe had long ago left the shade. The High Priest of Djehouty awaited them by the cool eastern wall, shaded by a single row of thick limestone columns.

“Welcome, Mereeyet, to your home, and Heroo, to the place of challenges, over all of which, so far, your children have triumphed. You arrived to a fitting conclusion of a long journey they have undertaken. We shall speak about that journey, but be warned that in three days everything may change.”

From the other side of the Inner Court, a child emerged through a narrow side door, accompanied by Amenhotep, Son of Hapu, his Patron. As they crossed the courtyard, the sun’s rays shone upon a brown skinned boy, his head shaven, wearing nothing but a loincloth. He was already as tall as the bent-over Sage. Horemheb’s body seemed all the more lean and strong next to the corpulent Priest’s. Mereeyet, who had not seen her son for a full year, tried to fight back her tears, unsuccessfully. Pride and love and an unspeakable longing constricted her chest knowing she will never again come close to him, not hold him as her child. His youthful steps may be those of a child, but in three days the knowledge of an adult will enter his being.

Seven years before, Mereeyet or Heroo remained with Horemheb and his siblings for a few days each month at Djehouty’s temple. The children spent most of their time playing with the youngsters from other provinces. It was the kind of play where they had the run of the entire temple precinct and everyone made them welcome. They felt safe and took to the temple with childlike enthusiasm and abandon. The second year, when they were eight, the children stayed for nine days each month, then thirteen days in the third year and so on. The seventh year was the transitional year after which Horemheb would never again go back permanently to his parents’ home until he had to bury his father.

Even as tears streamed out of her eyes and down Mereeyet’s face, Horemheb and Huy joined the circle and sat down in the manner of scribes, their feet crossed and folded in front of them.

Soon they heard the voices of other children. The Chief Tutor led Horemheb’s Hathor brothers and sisters along the shaded courtyard walls. Some tall, others short, one the color of clay from Gypt, another like a Nubian, the children resembled their mothers more than Heroo. Two of the girls had already given birth to children of their own and Amunia remained the only girl whose breasts had still not budded. As the children took their place in the circle, a hush fell over the group.

Coming of age was the reason Heroo and Mereeyet journeyed to Djehouty’s domain this time. Together with their children they must now decide where the young men and women would go next, which Gods they would follow. The High Priest, Amenhotep, Son of Hapu and the Chief Tutor sat in a circle with the family as advisors. It was seldom that the Great Royal Scribe showed interest in a family and took time from his work and research to petition the Gods for the lifepath of a child. But Mereeyet was his own pupil, his favorite in all the years of his teaching. Huy also saw the need to reintegrate the rulers of Hanis with the Royal family.

The High Priest spoke:

“The moon is nearly full. It rose just after sunset last night. In three more nights, it will rise at the very moment of sunset and will set at the moment of sunrise. That will also be the moment when the children will make a final decision about their own lives. They will spend these three days and three nights by themselves, each with a trained priest to instruct and counsel them.”

The Chief Tutor spoke next. He was bent over even as he sat cross legged. He looked as if he had not smiled in a decade. Heroo still couldn’t understand why the High Priest recommended this dried-up apricot to guide his children to wisdom. On the outside he seemed to have neither wit nor heart, the two main ingredients for wisdom. The seven Hathor children squirmed as they sat. The Chief Tutor was aware of his reputation. His first words, although expected, still sent a chill through Heroo and Mereeyet:

“Everything could change in three days, but my counsel is that the young man go for military training. His strength and energy is most compatible with that life.”

“Should the young boy train to be a military scribe or an officer?” Heroo asked.

Amenhotep, Son of Hapu replied:

“Horemheb will never be content to be just a military scribe. Nevertheless, I will continue to train him as such at the Residence, but only after he completes his military training.”

The High Priest saw a question rise in Mereeyet’s eyes.

“You want to know, My Lady, why we kept Horemheb here all these years if now we condemn him to the life of a soldier?” He paused. No one interrupted the silence. “The idea of being a soldier is not ours. It is Horemheb’s. No one in the domain of Djehouty has guided your son towards that end. The God of War, Montu himself, guided him.”

Mereeyet’s eyes grew wider as her heart digested the fateful words. ‘Only kings receive such help from the Great Gods without asking for it,’ she thought to herself. ‘The oracles had spoken the truth. The words of the Goddess came through my own lips. My son is being trained as if he were to rule as King over the Two Lands!’ She took a slow, deep breath. Her sekhem force grew and encompassed their circle.

“I am content with the God’s words and guidance, My Brothers,” she answered.

There was no arguing with Djehouty. He has lent his wisdom and magic to Nout when Atum decreed that she could not give birth on any day of the year, in spite of the fact that she was pregnant with five children. Of course, none of those children were Atum’s. Djehouty contrived to add five days to the year, and when he had succeeded, Nout delivered her children. He had lent his wisdom and magic to Ast twice, when Sutekh so cruelly slew her husband, Aseer, and to Heroo when he contended with his uncle, Sutekh, so that he could avenge the death of his father Aseer. Djehouty had always lent his wisdom and magic to those Pharaohs who, as servants of Montu, the God of War, carry the sword but wish to use it with a wise heart.

Heroo’s eyes looked directly into those of the Great Royal Scribe. The words of the Sage from twelve years before resounded in his ears: ‘Pharaoh, LPH, needs new military families.’

“I am content,” he said, “with the God’s words and guidance, Venerable Servants of Djehouty.”

Everyone looked at Horemheb. In spite of the high rank and great age of some of the priests around him, Horemheb sat with confidence as he declared,

“I want to be Pharaoh’s strong arm.”

The Chief Tutor’s bent back straightened a little, his shaven head leaned forward so that his buttocks rose behind him, then, with surprising agility he sprang onto his feet and stood tall and strong, towering over the seated Horemheb.

“You will walk over the Two Lands and sail its Great River without anyone asking where you have been or where you are going. You will ride your chariot through the Djesret, the Red Land, all the way to Wawa. You will march along the Way of Heroo and swat the Sand Dwellers like flies. Your feet will tread upon the land of the Asiatics, following the footsteps of your ancestor, Men Kheper Ra.”

The Chief Tutor sat down again and Amenhotep, Son of Hapu rose slowly, with great effort, and lumbered over to Horemheb.

“There was a time, my son, when only Kings could do what the Chief Tutor described. But in our time, our King has become a God, Life, Prosperity and Health, therefore his servants must tread in his footsteps.”

All the adults murmured an amuletic prayer that their personal dealings with this new deity may always go well and sent their wishes for Life, Prosperity and Health to their sovereign. The Great Royal Scribe continued:

“The King, LPH, has a son who is four years older than you are. He is Montu in the flesh when he is in his chariot; he is Ptah when he wears his priestly robes in Men Nefer. You will follow his tracks when he rides his chariot. Ptah’s temple will be your home when he returns to Men Nefer.”

The High Priest nodded. Everyone stood. He took Horemheb by the arm and led him before his Patron.

“Take your second Father into the Temple, my son. Listen with your ears to the words of his mouth. Listen with your heart to his heart. Watch his movements with your eyes. Feel his sekhem force with your belly. Whatever you do, do not offend his Ka. Each day Djehouty will seem to become greater than the day before. When he has become thrice great in your heart, he may or may not reveal to you the sacred key to the secret chamber of his Temple. That step is entirely between Djehouty and you and there is no man on earth, nor deity in the sky who can help you. But each one of us sends with you the blessings of our own heart.”

Everyone placed his or her hands on Horemheb’s head, and then the old Sage pulled him away, towards the looming dark entrance of the main temple. When they reached it, the darkness swallowed them.

Back to content | Back to main menu