Before the Attack
Khaemwaset ('Khay') is at the encampment with his father. The palisades have been set up, the guards are going about their work. The camp is peopled by Ramesses' elite troops. According to two Shasu Beduin brought in for questioning, Muwatallish, King of the Hittites, is far away to the north, leaving the way open for Ramesses to capture Kadesh with almost insolent ease...
They were north of Kadesh, camping west of the river. Ramesses' armies had followed the coastal route up past Gaza, bringing them to the country above the city. His Majesty had spoken of the years and the battles.
"My father took Kadesh in the first year of his reign," he said. "Hori and Rai were on the way, and I stayed in Memphis and waited. I remember His Majesty returning, quiet and thoughtful. 'Kadesh,' he had said. 'I have walked in the footsteps of Thutmose the Great and touched his triumph.' He had smiled, and I think that might have been perhaps his moment of greatest triumph."
Khay nodded. The camp looked secure to him, the glitter of weapons on the perimeter, the pennons crackling and snapping in the wind that blew south from Lake Hims.
They had made good time that day. Ever since they had questioned the Shasu Bedouins who had told such an excellent tale - the Hittites busy far to the north, in Aleppo hundreds of leagues from them. They could arrive at their leisure and set up for the Triumph of Kadesh.
It had been a splendid time and a splendid gallop across the plains, circling west of Kadesh, just in view of the river. Khay had not been entirely happy with the notion of leaving their main army behind and pressing on with only one division, but His Majesty was an experienced soldier and it was not appropriate for a younger son to question him.
He stepped out of his father's tent and looked along the camp's main aisle toward the palisades that lay behind the shield wall. They had arrived some hours before, selected the spot, and waited while their attendants set up the encampment. His Majesty had watched them with folded arms, smiling.
It was neat, orderly and colorful, Khay thought, seeing the flash of the sun on the gilded pennon staffs, catching the scent of the lake on the breeze... and trying to ignore the sense of unease that had gripped him since their arrival.
The elite troops of the Division of Amun were encamped within an easy distance, ready to support them if needed. The rest were some miles to the rear. Rai was leading the Ra division under the guidance of Count Bak. Hori, with General Senwadjet, brought up the rear with the Ptah division, while Montu was to the north with the Ne'Arin troops, securing the port. They all were so far away!
He frowned at the continuing sense of unease. Something was not right, something was about to happen...
He settled on the ground and raised his face to the sun, feeling the warmth soaking into his skin, smoothing all the aches...
And I was not TOLD?!
Khay opened his eyes. Had that been His Majesty's voice?
"Dupes! Taken in by two liars!"
Now wide awake, Khay scrambled to his feet and turned toward the king's tent.
"This is unbelievable! How could this have happened? Half a day's march away!"
He saw his father emerge from the tent followed by the Vizier, Masaharta and by General Djedi. The man was more agitated than Khay had ever seen. He hurried over.
"The division of Ra should be coming up - we left it this morning - Send a messenger to them. Amun's breath! Send two - send three! Tell them all to hasten!"
Khay watched his father round on General Djedi. "What happened to those Shasu liars?" he demanded.
"They were released by your command, Sire," the man said. Khay remembered how he had argued for keeping them with the army as they marched.
"History is repeating itself!" Ramesses said through his teeth. "But by all the gods it will not happen this time!" He saw Khay and seemed to straighten and compose himself. "The Division of Ra is on the march," he said. "If they make haste..."
Khay hurried over to him and waited quietly as his father spoke with the Vizier, watched him dismiss the man, and stepped forward just as Commander Sokhari approached. He lowered his eyes and waited.
Sounds overhead made him look up. A flight of gulls, arrowing from the east. No swooping and looping - this was a sudden, imperative flight. He frowned and stood very still, listening.
The horses had raised their heads and were peering down along the tether line...
He saw more birds. The sound - it was more of a vibration - was louder, stronger.
He seized his pike and ran to the royal enclosure.
His majesty raised his head. Sokhari and the Vizier turned to look at him.
Ramesses' brows drew together. "What is it, Khay?" he asked with the sort of controlled emphasis that meant that a private talking-to was in the offing.
"Something is coming -"
"What?" Sokhari had said the word. He had to shout over the increasing noise.
"Something is coming very swiftly!"
"What are you talking about?" the Vizier shouted.
His Majesty raised his head, hope flaring in his eyes. "The division of Ra should be coming up!" he said. "Just in time!"
The flood was upon them, breaching the shield wall, sweeping away those who tried to withstand it.
Another yell- pounding feet - wide eyes- Shouts, curses - a river of movement, glittering weapons clutched like baggage-
Khay shrank back against a tent wall as a torrent of soldiers burst through the camp. He could hear shouting as officers tried to stop the headlong flight, could see feet thudding against the ground, see hands gripping weapons -
His majesty was shouting at the runners, cursing, entreating, cajoling -
It was no use. Ramesses watched them go. He finally turned back. "I believe that was the Division of Ra," he said. The coolness of his voice made Khay stare.
The stare was short-lived as a clatter and rumble - hooves --
Djedi was there, white-faced. "Sire -here is your chariot and weapons-!"
"What on earth-"
A roar and screech of metal against metal - deep-throated cheering - shouting in strange languages -
Khay stared as the elite troops of King Muwatallish burst through the palisades of the camp. He turned in time to see, for the first time in his fifteen years upon the rich earth of Egypt, his father's jaw drop in astonishment and dismay.
"Get in!" yelled Djedi.
Khay turned in a circle - where to go -?
A strong hand yanked him over the chariot rail and he looked up to see his father's grim face. "Hold still and keep your head down!" he ordered. "Your mother would kill me if you died!"
"Those spies lied!" Ramesses said through his teeth, reining his horses in a circle. "I'll tear their guts out if I find them! Follow me!"
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