Chariot to Heaven
© Jaromir Malek 2011
The last chariot ride
Many people were already gathered outside the gate of the temple of Ptah when Ipi and Meryt arrived but they were able to squeeze and push their way to the front of the increasingly noisy crowd. A strong odour of unwashed humanity pervaded the air. Several burly policemen were making sure that nobody blocked the approach to the temple. They were Nubian, or at least from southern Egypt, judging by the darker colour of their complexion. The policemen did not hesitate to use their sticks and people responded by jeering and even throwing an occasional clod of earth in their direction. So far there were no stones flying but the children knew from a previous experience that such gatherings often got out of hand and turned ugly. This was the day when King Tutankhamun was making his regular visit to the temple of Ptah, the main god of the city of Mennufer. The young king very conscientiously paid regular visits to the temples of the chief Egyptian deities - Ptah in Mennufer, the sun god Re in On, and the god Amun in Wise. He travelled in his royal barge to On in the north and to Wise in the south, but the temple of Ptah was not very far from his palace in the northern part of Mennufer and so he usually personally drove there in one of his magnificent chariots.
The sun was blazing down and the crowd was becoming impatient. Temple dignitaries, led by the High Priest of Ptah, were standing outside the gate ready to welcome the king. They were shielded from the sun's rays by large sun-shades held aloft by temple domestics, but even they perspired profusely and showed signs of discomfort. Then all of a sudden the sound of a bugle was heard in the distance and the royal procession was here. The young king drove his gold-covered chariot at the head of the procession. Those following him found it hard to keep pace and the children had heard that it was not uncommon for the king to arrive well in advance of his retinue. They were reminded of the occasion when the man dressed in a blue cloak tried to assassinate the king who was then also driving his chariot alone at high speed. Meryt examined the faces in the crowd outside the temple gate but sighed with relief when she could not see that menacing blue-cloaked figure.
Tutankhamun's chariot was followed by others with Queen Ankhesenamun, courtiers and the royal bodyguards. But then disaster struck. One of the king's horses, made nervous by the close proximity of the noisy crowd, tried to rear on his hind legs. The harness restrained the animal but the chariot lurched dangerously to one side and it was only with considerable effort that the king's gloved hands regained the control of the reins. For a fleeting moment Ipi caught a glimpse of the interior of the chariot and his heart missed a beat. There, next to the king's feet, was an ornamental basket, of the same kind as the children had seen in the temple of the Aten a few days earlier.
The chariot righted itself and came to an abrupt halt in front of the temple dignitaries who were retreating hastily in order to avoid the horses' hooves. The king acknowledged the welcoming party with a nod and was about to step down from the chariot when a sudden spasm of pain flashed across his smiling face. He looked down at his feet and an unmistakable expression of horror clouded his handsome features. The horses sensed that their rider relinquished his control over them and resumed their progress at a breakneck speed. People were thrown to all directions and many lay injured on the ground as the chariot, with the king now slumped on its floor, ploughed through the crowd.
The horses did not stop until they reached a ruined temple in the plain to the east. It was as if all the energy which they displayed so much earlier had evaporated. When people, Ipi and Meryt among them, came running, the horses were standing panting on the grass which grew in profusion in front of the dilapidated temple. The crowd halted and stood in hushed silence. Nobody dared approach the chariot with the lifeless body of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Tutankhamun lying on its floor. And Ipi was the only person who noticed the serpent which had previously been hidden in the basket by the king's feet. It slid noiselessly noiselessly out of the chariot and disappeared in the interior of the temple.
After a while, priests and bodyguards took charge of the situation and dispersed the crowd. As they were leaving, Meryt thought that she saw a figure wearing a blue cloak, but she could not be sure because of the tears welling up in her eyes.