A narrow escape
It was all so sudden that when Ipi later tried to recall exactly how it had happened he was not quite sure. It was as though something had prompted him to look up. To his horror, he saw a large block of stone rolling down, bouncing off the pyramid's stepped side, gathering pace all the time and loosening a whole avalanche of smaller stones and debris on the way. They were going to be crushed to death! He opened his mouth in order to warn his father but words did not come. Speechless, he could only point upwards.
But the foreman now also noticed the danger. He reacted immediately and without a moment's hesitation. He pushed Ipi behind the remains of a low stone wall close to the foot of the pyramid and then, in spite of his formidably large figure, he joined him there in one mighty leap. Both of them crouched as low as they could, and Ipi shut his eyes.
It was all over in a second. The block landed just above them on the lowest course of the pyramid masonry which had been so eroded with age that it had become a narrow ledge, and then the momentum propelled the block off again. It catapulted over the wall protecting Nakht and his son, and then it crashed with a mighty thud on the cracked stone pavement at the foot of the pyramid, only a small distance from them, and split into dozens of fragments. A shower of smaller stones, sand and dust followed.
"That was close", said Ipi's father and wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead. "How did it happen?"
" Look!" cried Ipi. "The man in the blue cloak! That's the man who chased us on the way here!" But when his father shielded his eyes against the sun and looked in the direction in which Ipi pointed, the blue figure which a few seconds earlier was standing half way up the pyramid slope above them was gone.
"I am sure it was him! The man in blue pushed the block down!" exclaimed Meryt, who came running towards them. But of the man who had now twice threatened their lives there was no trace. "Perhaps we should go back to the tomb", said Ipi's father. "It seems that there are some very unfriendly people around here and I shall be much happier when we are with my men. I don't think anybody will dare try anything there. And in the evening we shall all walk home together."
They retraced the route which they had taken earlier. The afternoon sun was still blazing and the desert sand breathed out heat like a huge potter's furnace. There was a potter's workshop close to where the children lived and Ipi and Meryt often spent hours watching craftsmen at work: preparing the clay, throwing the pots on a potter's wheel, and then stacking them up in the furnace which, when the firewood was well ablaze, roared and spat fire like an enraged beast.
They followed the desert path which ran along the wall east of the Step Pyramid. They were surrounded by pyramids on all sides: wherever they looked, they could see one or more of these impressive monuments of the past. Many were now ruined and from a distance could easily be mistaken for isolated hills.
Then they crossed a narrow desert valley which led to a small mound south-west of the Step Pyramid. Ipi's father said that nobody could tell any more when this pyramid had been built and which king was buried in it. How strange, thought Ipi. All this effort and in the end nobody even remembers your name. Wouldn't it have been better to write the name in large hieroglyphs somewhere on one of the pyramid's sides?
Ipi was determined that he would learn to read the beautiful signs carved on the walls of tombs and temples, and also the more difficult script written with a pen in ink on papyri and flakes of smooth limestone. After all, if he wanted to become a respected man like his father he would have to be able to read and write. There was little prospect of a career without it. "The problems of growing up!" he thought. "I just don't know how anybody ever manages to do it!"
The photograph shows the Step Pyramid of Djoser (left) and the pyramid of Userkaf. © Jaromir Malek.