Chariot to Heaven

Chapter 10:


It seemed that Ipi was doomed - the man was too powerful and no matter how much the boy tried to wriggle out of his grasp, he could not match the adult's strength. Ipi closed his eyes and resigned himself to his fate. So it was good-bye to his mother and his father, good-bye to his home, good-bye to Mennufer, good-bye to all those things which he wanted to achieve in his life, good-bye to everything ... But then he felt that his assailant shuddered as if a sudden and unexpected shaft of pain ran through his body. His right hand which was about to grasp the hilt of the dagger jerked violently and pressed against his back; his body arched, although he did not relinquish his hold of Ipi's hair.

And then another unexpected thing happened: the man howled with pain and performed a curious dance during which he was hopping on one foot while nursing the other in his hands. But that short moment during which his attention was distracted was enough for Ipi to free himself. He took off like a startled hare, bent low to squeeze under the belly of one of the horses, knocked over a basket with some grain which a groom was about to feed to the animal, collided with another groom, went sprawling over the muck on the floor of the stable, quickly picked himself up and dashed out into the courtyard and into a large building which was one of the palace's storerooms. But he was not alone! He could hear someone running behind him in hot pursuit!

"Ipi! Ipi! Stop!" Someone was calling him. It was Meryt, out of breath and still clutching the broken end of a wooden handle of Sennufer's best broom. And Ipi at last understood the man's strange behaviour in the stable: Meryt had nearly skewered his back with the broom handle and then, with great presence of mind, she had stamped with all her strength on his foot. Adult Egyptians usually went barefoot, just like children, but on official and ceremonial occasions they wore sandals. These were little more than leather or papyrus soles with simple leather thongs to attach them to the foot. Such a sandal offered no protection to the man's toes when they were cruelly stamped on by the heel of a determined young girl, and it was not surprising that the man lost interest in everything else when this happened to him.

But there was no time to waste. For a moment, the two children hesitated. "In there!" whispered Meryt and pointed at large pottery jars arranged along one of the walls. They were used for storing water and there was a whole row of them, each standing in its own stand. Some of them were obviously full because it was possible to see small drops of water gathered on their outer surface which was shiny and covered with a thin film of greenish slime. Ipi knew very well how this worked because they had a similar water jar, although not so big, at home. The walls of these jars were porous and water was constantly, but very slowly, seeping through them. When it reached the surface it quickly evaporated but by doing so it cooled the water in the jar. So even during the midday heat one could enjoy deliciously cold water. As a matter of fact, on one occasion, after Ipi had been asked by his mother to rub off some of the green stuff which had collected on the surface of the jar and so to improve the cooling action, the water was so cold that he had a sore throat for several days after drinking it!

But to contemplate how these water jars functioned was the last thing Ipi and Meryt had on their minds right now. Although there were servants whose sole task was to fetch water from the river and keep the jars full, the palace's needs were such that this could never be fully achieved. The children quickly located a couple of empty jars and climbed into them. The jars were so large that even a very tall person would not be able to see inside them and, in any case, there were no lids to be seen anywhere. The servants fetching water simply tipped the contents of the smaller pots straight from their shoulders into the big jars in the storeroom.

There was no time to spare. No sooner did they hide in the jars that they heard shuffling steps. The steps stopped in the midle of the storeroom and all went quiet, as if the person looked around and listened. And then new footsteps, firm and springy, approached from the direction of the stable. Then the two footfalls, like two badly tuned harps playing together, approached the jars in which the children were concealed. Meryt could hear the soft sound of a shoulder rubbing against a jar in which she was hidden as one of the persons leant against it. "Have you seen them?" asked one voice. "No, they must have slipped back into the palace, and I am not allowed there." "Watch out for them, will you? They know too much. I shall do the same tonight in the city. And do you know which chariot the King is going to drive during the festival?" "Not yet, but I shall in a couple of days." "Find out soon, we are beginning to run out of time. The master might be tempted to get rid of us and get somebody else for the job. He is a nasty old man and I shouldn't fancy our chances if that happens." "Alright, I shall get in touch in the usual way, but don't come here again, it is too dangerous."

At this point the conversation stopped abruptly and new footsteps, slow and tired, could be heard approach. "That must be one of the servants bringing water", thought Ipi. And then suddenly he was drenched with water as his cosy and dry hiding hole became the scene of a deluge. Without realizing what he was doing, he jumped out of the jar. There was a crash as the startled servant dropped his pot which smashed into thousand pieces. It was said that there were small mischievous demons living in the marshes but no one had ever seen one in the palace grounds. And then another little demon jumped out of another jar. "May the goddess Rennutet protect me from evil!" stammered the terrified man.

But the demons had already disappeared through the open door. And the two men who, it seemed, had been sheltering in the storeroom from the scorching sun followed them at a more casual pace, as if nothing untoward happened. One of them was unusually tall and wore a dark blue cloak with an ornamental dagger in his belt. He may have been a veteran of one of the foreign wars because he walked slowly and with some pain. The other was a young groom from the palace stables who cast furtive glances around him, as if worried that he might be seen in wrong company. They parted in the centre of the courtyard. One hobbled towards the palace gate, the other disappeared into the stables. Everybody went about his business as usual. Nothing unusual had, apparently, happened. It never did in King Tutankhamun's palace.

On to Chapter 11.