The sound of clanging filled the air as the two brass Khopesh swords collided again and again as Merneptah crossed blades with his older brother Amunher. Merneptah felt sweat gathering on his brow as he attempted to aggressively attack his brother in the hopes of overwhelming Amunher’s defenses under the unrelenting ray’s of the bright Khemetan sun.
Amunher chuckled, “You’re getting better little brother. I’ll give you that.”
Merneptah grinned in determination as he continued to press home his slight advantage, forcing Amunher to take a few steps back against Merneptah’s relentless onslaught. “You’ll have no choice Amunher but to give me exactly that when I knock you into the dirt.” Merneptah declared, his sandal lightly kicking at the dust for further emphasis.
Amunher just chuckled as he narrowed his eyes in concentration while he focused on trying to find an opening in Merneptah’s attack for him to mount a counterattack. Something Merneptah absolutely refused to give him. He may not have ever beaten his seventeen year old brother before but today was most certainly going to be the day.
Merneptah continued to force Amunher back until much to Merneptah’s surprise the ever sure footed Amunher stumbled. Merneptah grinned in triumph as he lunged forward in an attempt to seize victory from his brother.
Which was why Merneptah was more than shocked when he felt the sting of a blade cutting into his side. Merneptah came to a stop and glanced down to see that, sure enough, Amunher’s blade had nicked Merneptah’s left side when he lunged forward to finish the fight.
Amunnher smirked, “It was a good fight little brother. But, you still have a lot of practicing to do.” Amunher said.
Merneptah frowned, “You didn’t lose your footing did you?” Merneptah asked.
Amunher shook his head, “No, I didn’t. But I knew I needed to lure you into a false sense of security in order to counter. And you fell for it.” Amunher replied.
Merneptah’s scowl deepened, “Which means you cheated Amunher! I had you and you had to resort to cheating in order to win.” Merneptah growled.
Amunher snorted as he slung his golden arm around Merneptah’s broad shoulders, “Meri, Meri, Meri my dear sweet brother, you should have learned by now that all is fair when it comes to the art of war. There are no rules and the only unfair advantage is the one the other side employees.”
Merneptah knocked his shoulder against Amunher, pushing his brother away, “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up. But we both know that if you’d fought fairly I would have beaten you that time.” Merneptah muttered.
Amunher rolled his eyes before he reached down and grabbed his goat skin waterskin and took a long drink, his right hand swiping across his brow to remove a bead of sweat. “You can only celebrate your victory once you’ve earned it little brother and I’m sorry Meri, but today victory was mine. You’ll just have to work harder in order to be victorious.” Amunher said.
Merneptah scowled but said nothing further and grabbed his own waterskin to take a drink. He rolled his eyes when he felt Amunher lightly tug on Merneptah’s braid.
“Quit being such a sore loser and learn from your mistakes Meri. If you had made a mistake like that on the battlefield your opponent would have gutted you instead of just nicking you on the side. You were being cocky. And there is no place on the field for cockiness.” Amunher lightly scolded.
Merneptah snorted, “No, the only place to be cocky I suppose you would say would be with the Harems?” Merneptah replied.
Amunher rolled his eyes, “Of course you just have to completely disregard what I actually was trying to say. Way to be mature Meri.” Amunher replied.
Merneptah lightly knocked his shoulder against Amunher’s, “So, what do you say? Want to give it another go?” Merneptah asked.
Amunher sighed as he glanced up at the sun briefly before he shook his head, “Sadly, I don’t have time for that Merneptah. I need to go and make sure that everything is all set for the opening of the year.” Amunher said.
Merneptah rolled his eyes, “You know that between father and the priests that everything is well in hand. Tomorrow the river will rise and we will spend the next two weeks celebrating with music, drink and general merriment.” Merneptah said.
Amunher snorted before he lightly tugged on Merneptah’s braid once more, “You should know that there is a lot of work that goes into the opening of the year and that as the crown prince I see it as my responsibility to make sure that if father needed my help I am there to offer it.” Amunher said.
Merneptah snorted, “Which actually just means your afraid of facing me in a rematch and getting knocked to the dirt. You know you won’t get away with tricking me this time so you are running away.” Merneptah replied.
Amunher rolled his eyes as he swiped his brow once more before picking back up his Khopesh and heading back towards the armorer, with Mereneptah falling into step beside him. “How about this Meri, I promise you that after the opening of the year I will make time to cross blades with you once more. Give you that second chance to finally defeat me. And until then you can train your ass off so that when we do face of you’ll actually be prepared.” Amunher said.
Amunher finally managed to reach the armorer and hands over his Khophesh which the armorer accepts with a bow before he scurries off to take care of the blade. Amunher then turns back to Merneptah, “I’m going to be heading back to the palace. Are you coming with me or are you going to train out here some more?” Amunher asks.
Merneptah sighs, “I think I’ll train out here for a little while longer Amunher. As you said, I apparently need all the practice that I can get.” Merneptah said.
Amunher nodded, “Suit yourself. I’ll see you at dinner then.” Amunher said before he started to stride away.
“Hey Amunher!” Merneptah called out.
Amunher paused, “Yes Meri?” Amunher called back.
“I’ll get stronger. I promise. Our dream won’t fail because of me.” Merneptah called out.
Amunher turned back to face his brother a smirk on his face, “I don’t doubt you for once second Meri. And when our time comes we will stand together victorious in the land of our great grandfather.” Amunher vowed.
Merneptah nodded, “Exactly. And I will lead the charge in reclaiming that land from our enemies.” Merneptah called out.
Amunher nodded once more before he turned and climbed onto his horse, a powerful white Mare that he had named Sekhemet because when he is charging into battle he thought that for his enemy seeing him baring down on them while riding his horse it was just as terrifying as the goddess Sekhmet charging her enemies.
Merneptah watched as his brother rode away before he turned his attention back onto the training field. All joking aside he did have a lot of work to do if he was going to help his brother achieve their dream. But the gods as his witness they were going to do just that.
Two generations ago at the height of Khemet’s power their kingdom under their great grandfather, Pharaoh Thutmoses the first of his name, the kingdom of Khemet had stretched to as far south as Kurgus, which was now in the hands of the Nubians, and as far north as Ugarit which the Hittites had reclaimed. And although yes, their Kingdom was still mighty...still without equal it still wasn’t as grand as it was since their enemies had whittled away at their borders during the reign of their pacifist grandfather. And their own father, Pharaoh Amenhotep, thus far had shown no interest in reclaiming their lands from the Nubians and the Hittites.
But Amunher and Merneptah planned to do exactly that. When Amunher became Pharaoh after their father and with Merneptah as his general they would reclaim the lands of their great grandfather and show the world why Khemet was a nation to be both feared and revered.
“My Prince, would you like a sparring partner?” A middle aged soldier named Bomani, asked with a bow drawing Merneptah from his thoughts.
Mernetpah nodded, gripping his Khophesh tightly in his hand and carefully readjusting his grip on the leather wrapped handle and giving the sword a few experimental swings. “Yes. Give me two.” Merneptah demanded.
Bomani nodded, “Of course my Prince. Hasan. Asha. You will spar with the Prince.” Bomani called out.
Two young, fit soldiers step forward both wielding their own Khopeshs, their brass curved blades glinting in the sunlight as they took up their positions opposite Prince Merneptah. Merneptah nodded at his opponents, “Now, don’t hold back.” Merneptah commanded before he turned to Bomani, “Count us down.”
Bomani counted the trio in before the battle ensued with Merneptah pushing himself like he had never pushed himself before.
Merneptah collapsed face first onto his plush feather mattress. His body ached but deep down he knew that in the end all of his hard work was going to be worth it. He heard the door to his chambers open but quite honestly couldn’t find the energy or the will even to glance up and see who had walked inside. He trusted the guards outside his door to do their jobs. Besides, if an assassin was going to sneak into the room he would at least have the common sense to slip in through the window not waltz in through the door.
“Get him.” He heard a feminine voice whisper and that was Merneptah’s only warning before he was jumped on by his youngest sibling, Sobeki.
Merneptah glanced over his shoulder after he forced his aching body to subdue his giggling ten year old brother, frowning at his sister who is doubled over with laughter. “It isn’t that funny Nefertari.” Merneptah growled.
Nefertari glanced up briefly, her hand swiping to push her beaded wig out of her face to look at her brother before she started laughing uncontrollably once more. “Oh, but I think it is Meri.” Nefertari gasped out between laughs.
Merneptah sat up and chucked a pillow at his laughing sister who moved much to late to avoid her brother’s toss. Nefertari frowned, “Now that was just mean Meri. We were just having a little bit of fun.” Nefertari grumbled.
Merneptah rose a brow, “And I was resting some after a hard day of training.” Merneptah pointed out.
Nefertari pouted, “Then maybe I should tell the servant to stop filling up a bath for you!” Nefertari grumbled.
Sobeki giggled, “Amunher said you were training really hard today so suggested that we ask the servants to fill up a bath for you and have them give you a massage. Don’t let Nefertari trick you into thinking it was her idea. It was Amunhers.” Sobeki replied.
Nefertari frowned, “Traitor!” She grumbled under her breath.
Merneptah chuckled before he climbed off the bed and lunged at his unsuspecting sister, knocking her to the floor and beginning to tickle her sides with Sobeki cheering him on from his spot on the bed.
“Yeah! Get her Meri! Get her!” Sobeki called out.
“Do you surrender to my superior might sister?” Merneptah playfully taunted as he tickled his younger sister Nefertari into submission. She flailed around beneath him in a vain attempt to dislodge the both larger and stronger assailant but sadly she wasn’t having much luck.
Merneptah thought for sure that his sister was just about to submit when he was bodily lifted off of her and tossed back onto the bed. Merneptah sputtered before he glanced up into the amused brown eyes of Amunher. “Honestly Meri, do you not know to take on worthy opponents?” Amunher teased.
Merneptah snorted, “Are you saying that I shouldn’t defend myself when I was attacked without warning.” Merneptah shot back.
Amunher snorted before he turned and reached out a hand tugging Nefertari back onto her feet. She gave him a bright smile while she adjusted her wig which had almost completely been dislodged while she’d been playing with her brother. “And you dear sister should choose your battles more carefully, there might come a time I’m not around to rescue you.” Amunher lightly scolded.
Nefertari snorted, “Please, I had every under control Amunher. Any minute now one of the guards was going to take pity on my plight and come to my rescue. I just needed to allow a perfectly timed whimper to escape and they would have been tripping over themselves to come and save me.” Nefertari replied.
All three of her brothers rolled their eyes before Amunher turned and scooped Sobeki up off Merneptah’s bed and set him on his feet and giving both Sobeki and Nefertari a light push, “Alright, now its time for you two troublemakers to be on your way. Merneptah needs to take his bath and get ready before dinner tonight.” Amunher prodded.
Nefertari and Sobkei both turned to leave, although not without Nefertari pausing briefly to stick her tongue out at Merneptah. Amunher rolled his eyes, “Oh yes that is most mature of you sister.” Amunher muttered.
Nefertari snorted, “But its okay for Meri to do it! He’s fifteen, how is it immature for me to do it but not him. I’m only a year younger than he is.” Nefertari pointed out.
Amunher rolled his eyes before playfully cuffing Merneptah, who had his tongue sticking out, on the back of the head, “Your both acting childish. Is that better? Now go on, he needs to be getting ready so he can join all us at dinner tonight.” Amunher ordered.
Sobkei took that as his cue to grab a hold of Nefertari’s wrist and tug his sister out of the room leaving the two oldest brother’s alone. Amunher sighed before he lightly smacked his brother on the back, “Come on Meri! Get up and take your bath before the water gets cold.” Amunher prodded.
Merneptah sighed before he slowly got to his feet and stretched before he undid his dust covered Shendyt and slipped off his sandals before he headed over to the bath where a servant girl was waiting with her head bowed for the Prince. Merneptah sank into the water and groaned as he leaned against the edge of the tub.
The servant girl sprang to life, coming forward and getting to work washing Merneptah’s back. Amunher quietly leaned against the wall in the bathing chamber for a few moments before he cleared his throat.
“What?” Merneptah grunted as the servant’s talented fingers began to work on a particularly painful knot in his back.
“You shouldn’t push yourself so hard Meri. I get that achieving our dream is important. But, we won’t achieve it if you end up injuring yourself because you’ve trained too hard.” Amunher said softly.
Merneptah sighed, “Would it make you feel any better if I promised to not do any training for the entire two weeks we celebrate the new year?” Merneptah asked.
Amunher was quiet for several moments before he nodded, “I suppose its going to have to be. But I do mean it, even after the new year I don’t want you hurting yourself.” Amunher said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t.” Merneptah replied.
Amunher nodded, “Then I’ll just have to trust you on that, now won’t I?” Amunher replied.
Merneptah glanced over his shoulder at his brother briefly, “So, did father need your assistance with getting everything set for the new year celebrations? Or was I right that everything was already in hand?” Merneptah asked.
Amunher snorted, “Everything was in hand, however father was happy that I’d come to check just to be certain.” Amunher replied.
Merneptah frowned, “Then why didn’t you come back to the field? I was out there another two hours after you’d left. You could have joined me and we would have had that rematch.” Merneptah asked.
Amunher rolled his eyes as he straightened up, “Just because I wasn’t helping get everything set for the New Year does not mean there weren’t other things that required my attention.” Amunher replied.
Merneptah rolled his eyes, “Yeah. If that isn’t a cryptic response I don’t know what is brother.” Merneptah muttered.
Amunher snorted, “And you saying you were training isn’t equally vague? You could be crossing blades on the training field? You could be practicing with a chariot? You could be shooting archery? You could be studying battle tactics. There are a multitude of things you could have been doing.” Amunher replied.
Merneptah turned so that he was now facing his brother with his arms crossed and resting on the edge of the bath. The servant girl moved to the side and was still working on getting out the knots in his shoulders. “Don’t try and change the subject. Where I was was never in question. I had asked what you had been up to brother. Now, don’t deflect.” Merneptah teased.
Amunher sighed, “If you must know brother I went to the temple and made an offering and did some praying.” Amunher replied cryptically.
Merneptah gazed as his brother for several moments before he snorted and turned back around allowing the servant to have easier access to his back which she was working on massaging with oils. “Fine brother. Keep your secrets.” Merneptah muttered.
Amunher pushed off the wall and headed out of the bathing chamber, “I’ll see you at dinner brother. Enjoy the rest of your bath.” Amunher called out.
Merneptah sighed as he allowed himself to fully relax as the servant continued to massage him, feeling the strain from today’s intense training finally leaving him. Of course he wanted to know what Amunher was up to. It wasn’t like his brother to keep secrets. But, Merneptah had confidence that in time his brother would tell him what was going on. He just needed to be patient.
Dinner that night was a simple affair. Merneptah took his place at the banquet hall table beside his elder brother and across from his father’s royal vizier, an elderly man named Rashida who had served even in the time of his grandfather most faithfully. On Merneptah’s other side was seated his sister and beside her was Sobeki. On Amunher’s other side was their father, Pharaoh Amenhotep and seated on his father’s other side was Merneptah’s mother and Amenhotep’s chief wife, Queen Heqetifret.
The banquet hall table was laden with cooked fowl, breads, onions as well as fruits and of course wine was served with dinner.
“So, Merneptah, I heard from Bomani that you were pushing yourself quite hard today in training. Trying to take on not only two, but at one point three different adversaries.” Amenhotep said suddenly drawing Merneptah’s attention onto his father.
Merneptah set down his piece of fowl to give his father his undivided attention, “Bomani does not exaggerate father. I was merely running some drills. How else am I to prepare for battle then to attempt to face multiple adversaries. This may be the first time I have done so but it will not be my last. If nothing else these training exercises have shown me how much work I still need to do.” Merneptah said.
Amenhotep sighed, “It is my sincerest hope that you will not find yourself needing these skills in the near future my son. For now the gods have granted us both peace and prosperity something for which I am most thankful. I would ask that you just be mindful that you do not overtax yourself with your training.” Amenhotep said.
Amunher snorted, “I told him something similar earlier myself father. Although, that was before I knew he was facing off against multiple opponents.” Amunher interjected.
Merneptah rolled his eyes, his elbow digging lightly into his brothers side. “Which is why I’ve promised to not train for the entire two week celebration of the New Year.” Merneptah replied somewhat hotly. The last thing he wanted was his father putting limitations on his training. He needed to work as hard as he could to push himself to become the absolute best soldier he could be. There was no other way for him and Amunher to achieve their goal.
Amenhotep paused briefly while he seemed to be considering his son’s words. Rashida took this moment to speak up, “My Pharaoh, if I may, I think it is most commendable that your son is working as hard as he is. Khemet is always in need of capable generals for we never know when we may need to call upon them. Our enemies are always moving my king. It is wise of your son to seek to be prepared for when that time does come.” Rashida said.
Amenhotep nodded his head briefly, “I am aware that war could always be just past the horizon Rashida. Just as I know that if our enemies choose to launch an attack that Khemet while smite our enemies just as we have done countless times in the past. That being said, my son taking two weeks off from his training to celebrate the New Year is an excellent idea. If he had not suggested it himself then I would have. However, if he does get a bit antsy after a time until the celebrations have past the most Merneptah is permitted to do training wise, is the studying of wartime strategy or archery practice.” Amenhotep said.
Rashida bowed his head, “It shall be as you say my Pharaoh.” Rashida replied before he took a large drink form his own goblet. Although, Merneptah could see in the elderly viziers eyes that he did not agree with Amenhotep on the matter.
“I will honor your wishes on this matter father.” Merneptah replied although it was a pointless reply, no one, not even Pharaoh’s son could truly get away without repercussions with intentionally defying the orders of the Pharaoh.
And with that the meal fell into silence once more. Once the meal had been concluded Merneptah excused himself from the hall, whilst his father and brothers lounged on the mountain of pillows watching as scantily clad dancers moved in time to the music.
Merneptah returned to his chambers, and more importantly, his bed. Tomorrow was not just a new day. Tomorrow was the opening of the year and represented a rebirth or better yet a new beginning. He went to sleep vaguely wondering what it was the gods had in store for him.