Arrows of the Sun
The exercise courtyard was very large, surrounded by a high adobe wall, painted white with scenes of boys wrestling, kicking and stick fighting, and drawing bows and arrows. Along the walls were rows of tall royal palms and smaller pomegranate trees with a narrow canal (acquifer) to irrigate the palms and grasses running between them and the sandy playing field. The infield had just been raked and sprinkled with water to hold the dust down.
Many targets were set up at one end of the field in staggered rows with numerical signs on them to indicate their distance from the practice firing lines. Bow cases and a large number of arrows in many quivers were propped on a long rack near the entrance to the yard.Tut and the boys picked out their personal bows, helped each other put on wristbands to protect their bow arms from snapping bowstrings. Some put on a kind of a glove to pad tender fingers from being cut by taut bowstrings when drawing the bow. The bows took a lot of pull. Their instructor, Master of Arrows, Astet, always encouraged them to practice with stronger and stronger bows, that were harder and harder to draw, pushing them beyond their limits. After each slung on a full quiver of arrows, the boys broke up into groups, mostly according to size. There were five groups of five. The tallest group included tall Hiknefer, Prince of Miami (in Kush), and taller Khai from farther Nubia, each about 16 years old. The shortest group included Prince Tut, at 8 years old, who was actually tallest of this group. Each group had their own assistant coach and was stationed along lines drawn in the sand in front of their own array of targets. After loosing several round of arrows, the coaches assigned some of the boys to different groups, moving Tut to the next size up and a couple of boys from that group back to the shorter beginner group. The prince shot a few more arrows, when the Master of Arrows approached him. "Lord Prince," said Astet, Arrow Master. "Yes, Master Astet," replied Tut, lowering his bow. "A stronger larger bow, Lord Prince," the Master said mildly. Tut grinned broadly. The boys in his group laughed knowingly. Tut always started out on a lesser bow, just to make the Bow Master order him to advance. A game they all willingly played. Tut laughed too, amused that they had all caught on, and ran over to the rack of bowcases to trade bows. He picked one decorated with little deer and bands of gold and black, actually several sizes larger than his first choice of the morning and already strung. Flexing the string to test its draw and his strength, muscles bulged out on his young arms and shoulders. "Tut-Ankh-At!" shouted his group in approval of his choice and his skill, causing the other boys to look, checking it out. Tut laughed again and ran back to his group, ready to try the targets with the bigger bow. Drawing an arrow from his quiver, he notched it and drew back the bowstring and released it almost without aiming. The arrow flew straight to the target, striking it almost dead center. "HA!" shouted Tut. "Hunh," disparaged his teammates, and each shot an arrow a little more slowly and a lot more accurately. All dead center. None of these boys were slouches with their weapons. "Draw your bow a little more slowly," suggested the BowMaster. "Give yourself more time to aim, Lord Prince. I know your new bow is hard to hold steady long enough to aim, but try, Lord Prince, try harder." Again the 8-year-old prince notched an arrow and drew back the bowstring, standing at a slight angle to his target, left shoulder and extended bow arm toward the target, holding a long trembling moment, muscles twitching, breath held. Then he released his breath and the arrow at the same time. The arrow flew straight and deep into the target, next to his first one, but closer to the center. "Better, my prince," said Astet, Master of Arrows. "You have a better chance to slay the lion when your arrow plunges deep." This Tut acknowledged, giving the BowMaster a nod of agreement and courtesy. "Adjust your stance. Turn a little more sideways, your left foot more advanced, your bow arm straight out," instructed Astet. "Practice! Practice, my children!" The boys all drew their bows, intently firing arrows, shouting with glee when they hit their targets well, and occasional moans and groans at missed or badly shot arrows. As soon as their quivers were empty, the BowMaster called a short rest. The boys shook their arms to loosen up muscles, stretching arms and flexing fingers while serving boys ran out to pull arrows from the targets. Then with fresh quivers of arrows, they assaulted the targets again, trying for accuracy and depth. On their third go-around, the boys exchanged their bows for ones just a little lighter. This time they held extra arrows in their bow hands and one clenched in their teeth. They all waited as the Bow Master counted out a tempo. "Ready!" he shouted. They notched an arrow. "Aim!" They drew their bows and held, aiming. "Re-lease!" he shouted, and they loosed their first arrow, grabbed one from their bow hand, notched and drew in one smooth practiced motion. "Again!" shouted the Bow Master . They fired and again grabbed another arrow. "Again!" he shouted. They fired. "Again!" he shouted once more and they fired their last arrow, grabbed from their teeth. "O ye!" shouted the boys in triumph. They had practiced this drill a long time and, except for a few off-center arrows from the smallest group, they had all shot perfect diamonds patterns with their four arrows each. After a swift glance around with his sharp eagle eye, Bow Master Astet grunted approval. "Well shot, my boys," he said in approval, then with a wicked twinkle, teased them. "Are you ready to take on the girls yet?" "Girls?" the boys questioned in dismay, offended. "What girls use bows?" "Hey, guys, the princesses and my cousin queens have been taking archery since they were little," said Tut. "they are very good." "Better than us?" asked Hiknefer, the black prince of Kush, skeptically. "Hmmph, some of them are still little." "Well...." responded Astet, drawing out the tease, pondering, comparing their skills. "Well....maybe..." The boys moaned and groaned in credulity. "No way." said Khai flatly. "Did they challenge us, Master Astet?" asked Tut, suddenly suspicious. "As a matter of fact, Lord Prince, they did," Astet replied, "and even demanded a penalty if they win." "A penalty!" laughed Khai derisively. "What penalty?" demanded Tut. "If they win, you take them on your next duck hunt on the river," Astet told them. "They heard about your excursion and wasted no time in sending a challenge." "So...What if they lose? Which they will," asked one of the older boys. "Don't be so sure," warned Astet. "But , if they lose, Queen Ankh-e-sen-pa-Aten mentioned a hunting boat or two." "Hunting boat!" exclaimed one of the younger boys incredulously. Tut's eyes gleamed and he tried to suppress a smile. He looked at Khai and then at Hiknefer, although almost twice his age and seemingly twice as tall, they were close friends and allies. They looked back at Tut, incredulous too, remembering that morning's new ambition, recalling Tut's wish for a 'magic hunting boat.' All three struggled not to shout in triumph, glee and surprise, barely won. Khai and Hiknefer shaking their heads in disbelief at the speed of the answer to his expressed desire. "Your wish, Lord Prince," Khai said solemnly, with a bow of respect, "is God's command." "It's Queen Pa-Aten's command," said Tut, just as solemnly, using his pet name for his cousin-queen. "How did she know? How?" Then Tut laughed, "She's fabulous! When? Master Astet? When do we compete?" "The Queens suggested in three days, if you agreed, to give you a chance to practice up," said the Master of Arrows. "And I suggest you get right to it." The boys all laughed, shouting out agreement, and fell to it. Each team practicing with their own assistant instructors calling out the commands. As the sun rose higher, the turquoise sky faded with its brightness and the heat grew and rose in waves from the sands. The boys began to melt, sweat rolling off them and soaking their bowstrings. The Bow Master called an end to practice and sent them to the showers. After stripping off wrist guards and finger guards, carefully unstringing and replacing their bows in their cases, the boys strolled off the field towards their quarters. The showers were a long stone-floored room with tiled walls and overhead a kind of balcony where servants poured jugs of cool water into sieve-like clay baskets that dispersed the water in a wide cooling, cleansing spray. Their sidelocks freshened and tidied, they dressed in fresh white kilts with jeweled collars and long tasseled earrings. Tut's elaborate earrings had ducks with inlaid wings spread into a circle and long tassels ending with a line of tiny golden erect royal cobra heads. It was almost time for the mid-day meal, but first to the Sun Temple of Aten for noonday offerings and praise. Copyright © 2001, René O'Deay