Chapter Three

Iset-Meryt sat in her private litter and thought of her husband. Senusret was more than merely her Pharaoh; personification of Ra, he was much more. She loved him dearly, and knew that their bond was strong. They spoke late into the night about philosophy, and Senusret regularly consulted her on matters of governing the kingdom.

The only area in which Iset-Meryt disagreed with her husband was on the separation of their first daughter from her rightful life. When Iset thought of Eshe, that violet-eyed girl who would now be around sixteen years old, her heart cried out. Eshe had always been her favorite daughter, although the last time she'd seen her was when she was one year old, as she was sent to live on the island of It-Towy with Paneb, an old friend of hers.

Because Paneb was an acquaintance of hers, Iset-Meryt had been receiving letters about once a year from the kindly man, telling her of her daughter's growth. Iset knew of Eshe's training as a priestess, her friendships with the priestess elder Neferu and the old woman, Nebta. She knew of that Eshe and Sethos got along well, like a real brother and sister should. Iset was glad that Eshe had a good life, but still longed with all her heart to have her back here in the palace.

Her thoughts were interrupted when the litter was placed on the ground. She stood up and got out, shading her eyes against the bright desert sun. The Nile was nowhere to be seen; the fort they had arrived at was placed on the opposite side of the town from the river.

Senusret could be seen leaving his chariot, his son Inyotef shadowing him eagerly as usual. He had ridden at the head of the contingent of guards they'd brought from the palace. Turning, Iset- Meryt could see Neema climbing out of a similar litter, and the servants milling around a bit farther off. She spoke to a nearby guard and told him to get their belongings stowed in their personal chambers.

"Yes, my Queen," the man murmured, bowing deeply but not very formally, because he needed to be quick on his job. It would do no good for the royal family to appear unorganized to the Pharaoh's best troops.

"You had a good ride, Mother?" Neema asked, coming up beside Iset. The older woman turned to regard her daughter.

"Yes, Neema, quite good, except for the inevitable dust," she responded pleasantly. Neema nodded.

"Do you know what kinds of troops are stationed here?" she queried. Iset-Meryt stifled a sigh of exasperation; it was clear Neema had not taken any time to find out anything about their excursion to the fort.

"There are mainly chariots and archers stationed here," she explained, "the chariot-men carry spears, or lances, and the archers can fight both on foot and on horseback."

Mother and daughter spoke of trivial things for a few minutes, then were escorted to chambers in the woman's quarters of the building that adjoined the fort, used for visits from nobles and royals. Senusret had gone to speak with the commander of the troops, and they would likely not see him or Inyotef again until dinner.

Neema lay outstretched on a mound of pillows, quietly reading some philosophy recommended her by her mother. Although Neema usually enjoyed reading, she was quickly fed up with this particular book. With a sigh, she set it aside and began to think.

She knew that her mother didn't exactly hold her in high favor, but what had always nagged at her was the question of why. Why did her mother not love her as she knew her father loved her? There must be a reason. And Neema intended to find that reason before she was married to some noble chosen by her father. Pharaoh or no Pharaoh, she wished she were free to court any man she wished, rather than have her marriage prearranged.

It was easy to forget the problem of her mother for the moment. Neema was excited about the next day, when Pharaoh's inspection of his First Division was scheduled. It wouldn't be her first inspection, but this one promised to be interesting because now she would actually be taking part. Before, when she was younger, Neema had always been handed off to a nurse to watch from a distance. Now, though, she was recognized as an active member of the royal family, and would be standing to her father's left beside Inyotef while her mother stood to Senusret's right.

Thoughts of a fun day ahead of her, she decided to decline her father's invitation to dine with him and the troops' commander, instead getting to sleep early. Once again, she said her nightly prayers and behind them sent the private wish that something interesting would break through the mundane routine of her life.

Wakare Tiye squinted at the bright sun and wiped the sweat off his brow with a bronzed hand. He was running a lap around the fort as part of his morning exercise routine, to keep in shape against the threat of Hyksos or Nubian raids.

When he finished and arrived back at the small barracks he shared with fifty fellow archers, his good friend Huni was waiting impatiently.

"Wakare, you spent too much time running this morning! Pamiu is going to flay you alive!" he hissed as Wakare hurriedly changed from his dusty running clothes to a neat, pristinely white kilt, which all soldiers had to wear for military inspections.

"Don't worry, Huni, we will make it," Wakare mumbled as he cleaned his upper body of dust and grime as much as possible. All his fellow archers were ready and in formation outside the barracks. The two men could hear Pamiu, the man in charge of their platoon, yelling for them to hurry up.

"Let's go," he breathed, and they both hurried outside and got into formation. Pamiu gave them a withering glare, but there was no time for a punishment. All the other platoons were already marching onto the wide-open parade square to await Pharaoh's inspection.

As Wakare stood stock-still in his place, with a quiver of arrows slung over his back and his best bow resting on his shoulder, he could do nothing other than think. All the soldiers were undoubtedly thinking now- about the hot day, mentally complaining about having to stand in formation right under the sun, wishing for food or water, or maybe even thinking about life back home, which seemed very far away at the moment.

Wakare almost missed his family. Almost. He knew he could never go back to his father, mother, and brothers, or even his priestess sister unless he became something akin to Commander of all Pharaoh's Military, and he knew full well that a simple archer could never rise that far. In fact, Wakare had as good as given up his status as a noble of the Tiye family in order to pursue his dream of being an archer. The fact was, he was extremely good, perhaps even rivaling Pamiu in his ability.

His thoughts turned to pure green envy as he heard the trumpeters begin sounding that Pharaoh and the royal family was arriving. Wakare's younger brother, Ankhwa, had been taken to dinner with his father and Pharaoh's family. Pakhneter had written to all his children about his hopes of getting Ankhwa a betrothal to Pharaoh's daughter, the Princess Neema. If he was lucky, his hopes that Ankhwa would be rejected had come true.

Neema walked on her father's far left side through the heat and over sandy ground. She would never have suspected that the royal family had to walk to the inspection, but her mother had told her irritably that it was some sort of 'tradition your father must uphold'. All she could think about was the damage being done to the bottom of her feather light dress, the sheer silk molding to her curves and flowing in the warm desert breeze. She wondered how these 'common man-pigs' as her mother called them, would react to her appearance.

As they drew nearer, the commander, a tall, lanky man with hair beginning to gray, fell in behind them. Neema resisted the impulse to turn back and stare at his aura of deadly danger, instead acting the part of a well-trained and beautiful royal princess. She knew that all she had to do was stand beside her father and stay silent. If all else failed, she was to copy her mother's actions, but Neema did not intend to appear to her father's troops as a stupid little girl. She wished to show these men that she was fit for the title of Princess of Egypt.

The three royals arrived on a small podium erected in front of the troops. The commander came and stood in front of Pharaoh. After bowing deeply to him, he turned and began yelling orders. Neema observed carefully and could see what had appeared to be a huge mass of men separate into battalions and platoons. They began a set schedule of maneuvers, archery contests with the best archers, chariot races, and many things to show their Pharaoh that they were competent enough to be the First Division stationed close to the capital city.

Neema soon stopped paying attention to what the adults were talking about and began amusing herself by trying to choose the most handsome man in each platoon. Most of them were much older than her, and many were scarred on their faces and backs. However, there were a few men who seemed only a bit older than her and were quite good-looking.

Suddenly a man stepped into the open for the archery competition. He was as tall as all the other men, equally muscled and finely toned. He seemed different than the others, somehow. She frowned and watched him set up for his shot.

"Commander," she said suddenly, when the man had scored three direct hits in a row, "who is that archer? He is quite good." The commander blinked at the strange request, and Neema received curious glances from her parents and an amused grin from her brother. However, not even a military commander could refuse a question put by the Royal Daughter.

"My Lady Neema, that man is in the second archer platoon, under the command of...I believe it is Pamiu. I regret that I cannot name him. There are thousands of men stationed here, My Lady. I am very sorry." he bowed again, but Neema merely nodded, storing the information away in her memory. Second archer platoon. Commanded by Pamiu. She would like to speak to him.

After the formalities in which her father praised the commander for a very well-structured fort and excellent men, the royal family headed back to their quarters to freshen up for the feast that evening, while the soldiers returned to their barracks. Neema was informed that the men who had done well in the competitions and maneuvers that day had been invited by the Pharaoh to join the feast. She spent more time than usual with her serving girl, Ife, getting ready for the evening. Surely the mysterious man must have been invited, she thought dreamily.