THE POOL OF THE HIPPOPOTAMUS
With one shout of agreement, the boys quickly aimed their papyrus boats to follow their little prince, their skill showing in their relative silence. The boys in the front of the crafts got down on one knee for balance and mobility, but this time gripping long harpoon-like spears. It was necessary to be very cautious where hippopotami were concerned.
As the young prince guided them down a winding watery path through the reeds, he thought about how very pleased he was with the morning's hunt. They'd practiced and practiced throwing their sticks at swinging targets, with their boatmen handing them extras, until they never missed. And, they had practiced their boat maneuvers on the river, along canals, and in the reed beds that lined parts of the Nile, especially now, when it was at flood. And now, every boat was piled high with ducks, geese, and the herons.
It would feed their school of royal and noble children and their tutors for at least three days. A very auspicious beginning for the young prince-in-training.
They burst through a last stand of canes and papyrus into a wide pool-their goal. A couple of hippos rose to the top blowing water out of huge-fanged giant mouths, little round ears wiggling comically on their humungus heads. The flotilla immediately turned tail and fled the pond, halting outside a perimeter of rather flimsy-looking cane and papyrus beds.
The boys in the back of the boats anxiously scanned the immediate area of water under the boats and the boys in the front stood and tried to peer around the cane and over the papyrus for any sign of the monster hippos. The boys were all scared, but not ready to leave the area yet, fraught with danger as it was, it roused the boy's daring.
While the boys were checking for hippos and crocodiles, the prince was scanning the area for boats. His brother, Smenkh-ka-re, the Co-regent of Kemet (Egypt), was rumored to be on a hippo hunt this morning, and would not be pleased if the prince and his troop had spooked his quarry too soon.
Turning, the prince asked, What are they doing?
"I don't think we spooked them, my prince," replied one of the older boys softly.
"Good. Here comes my brother. Look sharp!"
Stealthily a much larger painted and gilded boat with large eyes painted along the prow and with several dipping, dripping oars approached the boys on the edge of the lagoon. Several other wooden boats, all gaily painted and manned by several oarsmen and hunters armed with harpoons, followed the gilded boat out of the canes. They spread out behind the protecting cane around the pool.
These narrow wooden boats were longer than the boys' papyrus skiffs, with elegant columns curving up from prow and stern. Steersmen, using very large long leaf-shaped oars as rudders, expertly guided the hunting boats and captained small crews of oarsmen using similar oars to propel and turn and stop the boats.
The lead boat's oarsmen backed their oars, bringing the boat to a halt near the prince's skiff. Its wake rolling gently across the water rocked the papyrus boats. The boys tried to look casual and to keep their balance with little obvious effort.
The prince narrowed his eyes against the glare to calculate how much more skill they needed to acquire to master these floating baubles, unwieldy and awkward though elegant, compared to their swift little papyrus skiffs. They had made the little skiffs themselves, cutting and binding the sheaves of long papyrus reeds, shaping them into specially designed hunting crafts.
Still, the elegance of design of Smenkh-ka-re's boat was magical ~god-like~ and the boat crew had a coordinated skill worthy of a god-king of Egypt. For the young prince to aspire to.
The two brawny warriors in the bow of the elegant boat stepped back to reveal Smenkhkare in all his glorious beauty. The young Pharaoh was clad only in a pure white pleated linen kilt with a gold belt, a narrow collar of beads and a thin band of gold with a rearing cobra on his brow over a black short-styled wig. He leaned on a long harpoon like it was a staff. His darkly handsome face, coldly surveying the boys, was suddenly marred by his sneer when he spotted Prince Tutankhaten.
"I might have known..." sighed SmenkhKaRe wearily. "Have you spoiled my hunt? Did you dare spook my hippos?"
"Ho! Brother!" the young prince replied gravely, bravely . "Your prey is safe. They bottom browse peacefully in the pool. Aten has given us the perfect day to hunt," Tut waved his arm to indicate the lagoon, their hunting range, the hippos beneath the water, and their own hunt's harvest.
"May your hunt be as successful and more, O Lord of the Two Lands!" Tut continued, making a graceful bow to the elder brother he adored.
SmenkhKaRe eyed his brother speculatively. This youngest son of the old King Amen-hotep Three (III) was displaying precocious ability in mastering military and sporting skills and in leading, with a disarming charm so reminiscent of that old pharaoh, their father-king, it was alarming.
Startled, SmenkhKaRe dismissed the boys curtly, "Clear off, now! Take your ducks and go home, children! This sport is too dangerous for babies!"
The prince and his troop of bird hunters obediently moved out of the way and to the rear of the larger hunt boats, but SmenkhKaRe's sneering "..children!. .babies!.." only dared them to hang about and spy on the young king's hunt of the hippopotami. They fled only as far as the next clump of papyrus or stand of canes that would hide them from the older hunters.
As the larger hunting boats moved into the pool proper, the boys snuck back to watch the hunt up close. Way too close for safety.
The prince and his friends could see the whole lagoon-like pool, clear of canes and papyrus. The tall elegant hunting boats, with sets of eight oarsmen, a steersman on a pair of steering oars at the high sterns, and archers and spearmen on the prows, surrounded the pool.
Silver trumpets rang out from SmenkhKaRe's boat, the signal for the ritual hunt to begin.
In ancient days, it was the hunt of the evil Set, who killed his brother Osiris and tried to kill his nephew Horus, and who hid in the form of the hippopotamus. In modern day, the hunt was to cull excess hippos from the herd used to keep the waterways clear and to provide an annual "fat meat" festival for the populace.
Only well-trained groups could successfully conduct this dangerous sport. Wounded bulls were known to turn on their hunters and destroy boats and men. And, the horrible crocodile was always attracted to the blood feast.
The horns sounded again and several hippos rose to the surface, gasping for air and surprise at the sight of the hunting boats closing in on them and making loud noises. A couple of hippos roared loudly at being hit by sharp arrows.
The hippos tried to dive and escape, but the boats were quickly on them, banging out loud noises that traveled deep into the waters, stirring up more hippos. These were again attacked by spears and arrows, all fastened to cords with different colored bobbers attached to identify each hunter's weapon. Between men shouting orders and yelling with excitement, the watergongs and horns, the roaring hippos and fleeing waterbirds, the noise was stupefying.
The boys watched in terror and excitement, cheering on favored boats and hunters. Most forgot to keep an eye on their immediate surroundings. Suddenly that short sharp whistle pierced the confused clamor.
As the boys snapped a look at their little chief, the prince was pointing at a wake of bubbles heading toward a pair of the little papyrus skiffs. The boys in the endangered skiffs immediately grabbed paddles and began to back away from the underwater menace. It was coming too fast. The two boys in the prows got ready to defend themselves with their harpoons, but their boatboys managed to get them out of the path of the charging hippo just in time!
Tut spotted his brother's boat coming their way and decided not to dare Smenkhkare's scowl again, shouting out: "We'd better get out of here while we can! Come on!"
The little boats quickly made their escape, sliding into the pool's surrounding cane and reed beds along straight waterways overlaying canals that emerged when the Nile flood receded. They kept going for several leagues (miles?) until they were well away from the hippo hunt.
The prince halted them at a small pool to make sure all twenty of the skiffs were accounted for. The last two boats, the rear guard, swept into the pool just in time to be counted. The prince gave them a wry smile, then turned back to his gang of boys and boats.
"Remember, silence," Tut cautioned. "Not a word about the hippo pool or that hunt, or we'll be in big trouble."
Disappointment was obvious on some of their faces, but all agreed: "At your command."
"Don't worry. We will get our turn," Tut said cheerfully. "In the meantime, we need a boat."
"Boat! we got boats!"
"Not these. A boat like those magic boats of my brother, the king."
And so was born a new ambition in the hearts of this group of noble children, sown by their daring little schoolmate, the Prince Tutankhaten, affectionately called Tut. With indrawn breath each boy absorbed the inspiration, the magic boats of Horus, the sleek hunting boats with the eyes of Horus painted on their bows. Oh, yes!
Their little papyrus boats they had made themselves, competing groups vying to see who could bind and shape the best looking and most responsive boats, were now passé..
Their school masters had brought them three old boat makers to show them how they were made, from the search for the best papyrus and how to cut them, stack them, bind them, to how to shape the curved flower-like ends. And to train them in handling their boats alone and in coordinated maneuvers.
They had learned well. Their weeks of training and practice had paid off and they proudly appraised their bounty. Without another word, they all set off in a V-formation like a flight of geese along the eastern edge of the flooding river. Tut, in the lead, guided them with hand signals, keeping to the shallower water out of the currents as they beat upstream, south, with a freshening Northern breeze at their backs.