Chariot to Heaven
© Jaromir Malek 2011
The men of the "western gang"
"What has taken you so long? I have been looking for you everywhere and wondered ..." The familiar voice stopped abruptly as Ipi's father realized that the children were frightened out of their wits and appeared to be completely exhausted. "What on earth has happened?" Then he noticed a rivulet of dried blood running down Ipi's forearm, and his anger turned into concern. "What have you done to your arm, son?"
It took the children a while to catch their breath. Meryt could not stop sobbing and Ipi kept looking nervously around him as if afraid that the sinister stranger might appear and catch up with them at last. Then they slowly and haltingly, and with little sense of the correct order of events, told the big man about King Tutankhamun driving his chariot and the man who had tried to assassinate him.
"Are you telling me that neither His Majesty nor his bodyguards noticed?" asked Nakht incredulously. The foreman was at first inclined to think that the children had made the whole thing up. But the gash in Ipi's forearm certainly was no fantasy. Nakht wondered, however, whether his son had injured his arm during some prank or in a fight with other children and now hoped to avoid scolding and punishment. All the same, he was not entirely dismissive about the children's story, no matter how improbable it sounded. Something was telling him that there might be a grain of truth in it. He knew that a few days earlier General Haremhab's army had returned from a successful expedition to the land of Khor and that there were many strange and unsavoury characters around. "Military expeditions and the killing which goes with them have a nasty habit of turning even perfectly ordinary people into criminals", he thought. "And when the soldiers return, nobody knows what they may do. Perhaps the old king Akhenaten, now hated and rejected by all those turncoats who were only too happy to crawl on the ground and kiss his feet at Akhetaten, was not wrong when he tried to change all this". And he also knew that some people still bitterly resented the way the young king had given up the worship of the sun-disk and abandoned Akhetaten. But this was dangerous thinking which could get you into trouble, and Nakht had his family and his good job to think about, so he merely said rather grimly, "We shall see about all this later. Let's go and say hello to my mates".
In his long white garment and with his plump figure which came from good living, Ipi's father had a reassuring presence which slowly calmed the children down. "And," thought Ipi, "there is the whole of my father's gang to defend us in case the man in the blue robe turns up." He knew that several of them had been soldiers in their youth, but had left the army to become stonemasons and sculptors. There was not much fighting going on during the reign of Akhenaten - although Ipi did not quite understand why - and not everybody enjoyed the endless parades and ceremonies which, apparently, had been everyday occurrences in King Akhenaten's new capital. And, according to Ipi's father, under the old king the building trade had prospered as never before, what with the whole new city being built up. But Ipi knew that in spite of all that, his father's mates remembered their army days fondly. On several occasions, when they came to dinner at Nakht's house in Mennufer, Ipi himself heard them talk about the strange people they had met abroad and the exotic animals and landscapes they had seen, and he hoped that he would be able to see such things himself when he grew up.
By now, Ipi knew several of his father's gang pretty well. There was Paraemhab, a lean bearded fellow who was a regular visitor to their house at Mennufer and who never failed to bring a new toy or something interesting to play with for Ipi. Several years ago Paraemhab's left foot was crushed in a nasty accident at work and he now walked with a severe limp. Before he became a builder, Paraemhab had been one of the finest archers in the whole Black Land. Now, instead of drawing a bow, he drew grid-lines in red ink on the walls in preparation for carving reliefs. And Panehesy, a tall slim young man with a smiling face who seemed to be a friend of the whole world. He would not harm a fly, yet nobody was prepared to upset him. Panehesy used to serve in one of the notoriously fierce Nubian border-guard units until one day something happened which made him unsuitable for further duty - unfortunately, Ipi did not quite know what it was and when he asked his father, he was told that he was too young to understand such things. But the young Nubian had never returned to guard duties and his delicate hands with their long fingers now handled a brush and a pot of paint instead of a scimitar and a shield. The scenes which he sketched on the walls were so delicate and so full of life that they were admired by everybody lucky enough to see them before they were transformed into carved reliefs by the bronze tools of the other members of the "western gang".
One of these was Ptahemhat, a former charioteer, who was now content to wield a chisel and a wooden mallet instead of a whip. It was said that he was able to carve such beautiful images of people and animals that they looked as though they might jump off the wall at any moment. Ipi, who had never visited the western tombs, had wanted to see these carvings with his own eyes for a long time. There was nobody in the eastern gang who was able to produce work which would equal that of his father's workmates. Nakht often said proudly that you would recognize his crew's work at a glance.
They were hurrying towards General Haremhab's tomb. "If the stranger comes now he is in for a nasty surprise", thought Ipi with some satisfaction as he tried to keep up with his father's long strides.