RUSTLING canes and papyrus clumps moved softly in the pre-dawn breezes. Brightly falling light from the full moon lit the watery paths through the flooded wetlands. Narrow papyrus skiffs slipped silently through the reeds along the moonlit paths.
Ducks, herons, egrets and other water birds were awakening to the approaching sun unaware of the deadly menace sneaking up on them as they talked to each other in their curious voices.
Sidelock snapping, a small boy in the lead canoe threw out his hands in signal: spread out through the tall reeds. In a well-practiced maneuver, the little flotilla of skiffs moved off to each side of his skiff, sliding expertly into almost unseen openings in the cane.
Each small boat was guided by a boy in the rear, sculling with a long leaf-shaped paddle. Another boy crouched in the bow holding curved throwing sticks ready in each hand.
Overhead, the night sky began to fade into light. Scattered fluffs of moonlit clouds began to catch fire. A soft mist drifted across the waters, lighting into white with the building glow.
The sun was coming.
Suddenly a flock of small birds burst from the cane. A sharp whistle pierced the air.
Ducks leaped up, splashing and crying. With louder squawks of offended objection, three large herons spread their wide wings and sprang up to escape the invasion, too late.
The boys attacked in unison---one flight of deadly sticks, immediately followed by another flight. The boys in the rear of the boats held ready more sticks for the hunters to throw at their escaping prey.
Every stick found a target.
Ducks dropped , scattering feathers and splashes. Two of the herons fell, one with a broken wing squawking loudly, and the other, whose neck had been snapped, cartwheeled into a clump of papyrus and collapsed upside down head hanging.
The small golden brown boy dropped back to a crouch, signalling his boatman toward the floundering heron with the broken wing. The boy in the rear snatched up his paddle, thrusting it deep in the water, pulling hard and then turning the paddle sideways, holding it up against the side of the skiff behind him to guide it. The skiff shot forward through the reeds right to the cringing heron, as it tried to drag its hurting drooping wing through the obstructing reeds and water, awkwardly high-stepping away from them.
But the skiff was faster, pulling alongside the fleeing heron. The boy leader whacked its head with a curved broad short sickle. The boy in the rear of his boat snagged the bird with a noose and they dragged its limp large body aboard the skiff.
The boatboy gave a brief smile of admiration to the boy standing proudly in the bow looking down on their catch. He grinned back and then looked around to check on his team of bird hunters who had already gathered up the rest of their harvest of birds and retrieved their throwing sticks. They all looked expectantly back at him and he freely passed around a broad grin to all.
A skiff with one of the larger darker boys shot toward them, the boy holding out several throwing sticks with bands of gold wrapped on the ends to the little leader, and nodding toward several ducks and the other heron with the broken neck stacked on the skiff behind him.
"The rest of your catch, my prince," whispered the dark boy.
"And yours, Prince Khai," responded the boy prince, his thick braided sidelock swinging slightly. He glanced impatiently at the brightening horizon, the clouds above brilliantly flaring in shades of red flame reflecting on the rest of his bare skull. "We can still try for the next stand before Ra rises...and after, the hippopotamus pool! Let's go!"
His boatboy immediately dug his paddle in and shot them forward. The little hunt prince dropped down to one knee to make it easier for them to swing through the reeds and got his throwing sticks ready for the next assault on the birds of the Nile.
The rest of the boys and their skiffs fell in behind them, and the little flotilla of skiffs soon roused another excited group of ducks. This time their sticks flew without a signal, bringing down another unanimous toll of targets. Just as swiftly they set about retrieving their harvest and weapons.
By this time an edge of the sun gleamed over the hills of the eastern desert. All the boys stood up on their skiffs, balancing against their rocking, and faced the rising sun.
The Face of Aten was about to appear.
The young boy prince stood proudly facing the approaching Sun God, with little bouquets of swamp flowers, lotus and papyrus he had gathered along the way, offered with out-stretched arms. He glowed in the sun, the elegant little prince in his sharply pleated short white kilt and a tight-sleeved shirt of light green linen, wide-collared in gold, red and blue, and a jeweled girdle slanted over his slim hips. The wide braided black sidelock of youth hung thickly over his right shoulder and jeweled little ducks swung from large posts in each earlobe.
The rest of the boys were dressed almost the same, though some just wore kilts with woven colorful belts and broad multi-colored beaded collars. And all their sidelocks were smaller than the prince's.
The prince began to sing a song of greeting and praise as Aten's
face rose into view. The other boys all faced the prince as he sang. Some
also offering flowers to the sun. As the prince's high sweet voice faded
away, the other boys' rang out in a song to their young prince:
"O, Living Image of Aten,The prince swung his head around, smiling sardonically on his tight team of adventurers: The Children of the KAP, princes and nobles in their own right, some of Kemet (Egypt), some from further up the Nile (Kush and Nubia), and some from across the sea and desert (Mitanni, Byblos, Minos and others)---teammates---classmates---mates!
Shine your light on us,
As your Father, the Sun,
Shines His light on you,
O Prince! Our Tut-Ankh-Aten!"
"And now---the Pool of the Hippopotami !" he shouted.
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|Copyright © 2001, René O'Deay
Revised -- Dec.8, 2003