children of the sun Royal Vulture

Sun Child

by René O'Deay

Chapter Three



The Aten, the sun, was well over the horizon. Fish were stirring, leaping for hovering dragonflies and other tasty bugs. Fishermen were out in their fishing skiffs, with nets and fishing spears. Long shadows from the sun made them work on the sunward side so as not to spook the fish. The boys steered wide around them.

 Coming around a high bluff, the City of the Sunappeared. Stone wharves along the shore were lined with cargos of wine and grain, fruit, vegetables, cattle and caged birds. Sounds of the boatmen and the slaves unloading the boats drifted across the water.

 Scribes and clerks shouting commands, directing order from the confusion. The docks were crowded, still cool and shaded from the high walls and awnings of the custom house, the North City and the Northern Palace. Unloaded bags of wheat, caged birds, cattle, sheep, bolts of linen and bales of papyrus paper, baskets of fruit, vegetables and nuts competed for space with large jars of wine and of flowers, lots of flowers.

 There were priests of Aten and their servants to fetch the royal dedications for the daily offerings to Aten, head cooks and the Quartermaster to take charge of their supplies. And the Master of Horse to collect two pairs of spirited noble horses, noisily dismounting the ship that brought them to the city with loud neighs of objection and the clatter of nervous hoofs on the gangplank. Their grooms crooning soothingly, urging them down the gangplanks to the stone quay.

 "Oh, look!" cried out Khai. "New horses! What fun!"

 "Great!" said Tut, "We'll check them out later. See if the Master of Horse will let us help them adjust to their new home."

 Riding high on the swollen Nile, boats and ships loomed over the docks. The muddy flood waters, near their crest, slapped close to the top of the stone wharves. There were a couple of ships from the Northern Empire, with sweet-smelling cedar logs and lumber from Lebanon, bright colored dyed woolens woven almost as thin as linen, leatherwork, slabs and crates of stones, such as royal blue lapis lazuli, dark green malachite, turquoise, copper and silver and tin.

 "Look, there's my cousin Nahkt-Min, our Master-at-Arms," pointed out Tut. "Looks like a shipment of arms came in."

 "Alright!" yelled out the boys (or the equivalent in Egyptian).

 The Master-at-Arms was supervising the unloading of shields and composite bows and many boxes of arrows. New weapons, foreign-made (it's always nice to know your opponents weapons).
Egyptians had taken the chariot, drawn by asses (donkeys, guys, big donkeys), from the Hyksos, the Shepherd Kings who had ruled in Egypt 200 to 300 years before, and made the chariots extremely light and rugged, replacing the asses with matched pairs of swift horses to pull them at breakneck speed.

They had also taken the idea of composite bows, with sinew glued to the backs, that improved the strength and power of the already deadly Egyptian archers, and then had soundly whipped the Hyksos, taking back their country and following them north to Kadesh, expanding the rule of Egypt into the present Empire.

There had been rumors coming out of the north, where the last of the Hyksos lingered, of a new hard metal, harder than bronze, that made deadly magical blades, and more rumors of magical blades made of starmetal, fallen from the sky, a gift of the gods. Maybe some of these had come with this shipment.

 The boys angled the little squad of papyrus skiffs to quieter docks, half a mile down from the busy city quays. The private harbor of the Northern Palace of Beauty, Nefertiti's palace, and now Tut's too. The Children of the KAP and other children had their own wing.

 The muddy Nile threw sun-glinted spray up against the white docks of the palace. Banks of flowers and shading eucalyptus and tall palm trees in elegant ranks surrounded the royal white landing-stage, a long covered portico off to one side. Only personal boats and barges, some gaudily painted with Eyes of Horus on the bows, and one heavily gilded, were moored here.

 The sun was getting higher, but the cool river water still kept the heat at bay. The Royal Dockmaster and the boys' Huntmaster paced the dock, impatiently waiting their return.

 "Well, you took your time getting back, my boys," complained the Dockmaster as soon as they were within hailing distance.

 "We went for a few more rounds with the ducks, Dock-master," explained Tut reasonably. "We wanted to be sure to have enough for the feasts. you can see.."

 Tut waved a casual hand towards their catches as their boats drew up to the dock. Servants in fresh white kilts ran to the edge of the dock to catch mooring ropes from the boys, holding the skiffs close until all clambered ashore.

 The servants then pulled the skiffs from the water, ducks and all, lifted them to their shoulders and carried them to the end of the dock. The load of birds were transferred to waiting litters which they then carried off to the palace kitchens, after the huntmaster had counted and admired their bag.

 "Good hunt," said the Huntmaster tersely.
"Stick to the schedule," he added, and turned and left abruptly (to report their safe return to his Queen, Nefertiti).

 The Royal Dockmaster oversaw the stacking of the skiffs on little hurdles to drain and dry. Then the boys all trooped off in formation with Tut in the middle, through the long portico along a wide paved path that led up to the Palace through terraced gardens thick with beautiful flowers and exotic trees gathered from the far corners of the Empire of Egypt.

 Incense trees and mulberry, fig, pomegranate, lemon, exotic palms. Lotus ponds filled with bright fish, edged with the delicate, lace-like papyrus fronds, mandrakes and ferns. The fragrance of the flora was a well-planned Royal perfume overcoming the muddy smell of the flooding Nile as one traveled up the path into the awninged terraces of the palace overlooking the river.

 They passed a tiled aviary filled with bright singing birds. the boys paused only briefly here, it was time for a quick breakfast before the morning's archery class. After a noontime salute to the Aten, another meal and a short rest, there would be indoor lessons during the heat of the day, the heatlong day of September[sic] with the fall equinox fast approaching.

 The troop of boys continued up the terraces, following the path that wound around the main palace to their own wing. Waiting servants helped them wash up and change into fresh white kilts and thong sandals, beaded collars, flamboyant 4" long earrings, and other ornaments.

 They met back in the dining room, surrounded by marsh and birds and hunters painted realistically on the walls. The boys sat on stools with little tables for food, strategically placed around a low dais on which was placed a small chair and table for the young prince. Servants rushed around with bread, fruit, juice and fresh beer in jars with straws. The boys bolted their food, excited and hungry, talking about boats, and oars and sails, and then horses...

 "Let's get to the stables quick," said Tut, leaping up and taking a handful of dates and some carrots . The boys crammed last bites and grabbed handfuls of bread and fruit to take with them, following the fast disappearing Tut.

 They ran out the door, across a grassy court, through a gate in adobe walls, across another sandy court to an elaborate adobe stable. It's high roof elevated from adobe walls to allow plenty of air circulation and shade.

 In the courtyard, the two pair of new horses were being carefully inspected by the Master of Horse, Lord Aye, and his son, NakhtMin, Tut's cousin and their Master of Arms. Stable boys held the horse halters, other boys picked up the hoofs of each horse in turn for Lord Aye and NakhtMin to check their condition.

 The horses shied as Tut was followed by a growing troop of boys. Tut signalled them to stay back and to be silent. Lord Aye and NakhtMin both looked up with warning frowns that changed to small grins, very small from Lord Aye, at the boys' restraint. But the boys weren't looking for the adults' approval, they only had eyes for those beautiful new horses.

 Finally Lord Aye and NakhtMin stepped forward and personally ran their hands over legs and withers, checking for anything, bumps, scrapes, bruises. After each had checked all four horses, they stepped back with nods of approval, grinning broadly.

 "Perfection, Father," said NakhtMin.

 "I think so, too," said Lord Aye, turning to the boys. "What do you think, Prince Tut? These trained chariot pairs are also riding horses."

 "Riding horses?!" Tut breathed in awe. "Riding horses! You mean on their backs?"

 At Lord Aye's nod of agreement, Tut moved cautiously forward only a few steps, then remembered the carrots he had brought.

 "Can I feed them these carrots?"

 "Oh, yes, Lord Prince. But go gently."

 Tut approached one of the horses slowly, allowing the big young stallion a chance to smell him with his soft velvety muzzle, huffing and snuffling his lips. Tut held up a carrot to the animal's nose and after a moment of checking it out, the horse decided to try it, then gobbled it down. Tut patted the horse softly on its muzzle and moved on to the next tall beast. This one, already curious, tried to go for the remaining carrots Tut held at his side.

 "Who, fellow!" he cautioned the horse softly, "Wait your turn. And you only get one, you greedy beauty."

 As Tut was giving the fourth his last carrot, he placed an affectionate hand on the horse's chestnut neck and looked over at his uncle.

 "Do you think he really would let me ride him?"

 "There is even the riding master, who trained them, to teach you, too, My Lord," said Lord Aye, pleased to have stunned the intrepid little prince.

 "Lord Aye! Great Uncle! Where is he?" demanded Tut, recovering quickly from the surprise.

 "No doubt settling into his quarters beside the stables," said his cousin NakhtMin. "Let's let them settle down and rest a day or two before we try them out, my prince. Isn't it time for your archery lessons? The chief archer has more students and too much to do be kept waiting."

 "You are right, Lord Cousin," said Tut warmly, and with a courteous nod to each departed the stable courtyard. The other boys bowed respectfully to the Master of Horse and the Master-at-arms and trooped decorously after, well-behaved more for the sake of the high-strung horses, than for Aye and NakhtMin.


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Copyright © 2001, René O'Deay
Revised -- April 2, 2002
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