The obviously more roughly clothed man was quickly waved into silence by the taller official when the shepherd ran past the heavy cowhide hung half open that was the door to the luxurious tent. Lowering his head immediately the man backed out of the enclosure in a bent over posture as the sheepherder’s eyes briefly identified his seated ruler. He decided that his question for the Elder could wait.

King Osorkon smirked from the interruption. His Meshweshian people could be rowdy but it was inherently their nomadic way so he did not punish too harshly for such incursions. To make sure his officious Elder Nimshenq did not order a beating, Osorkon sternly caught his eye in a warning to continue the pre-empted conversation. Nimshenq stroked his long side locks.

With a disapproving huff he drawled, “My lord…,” and continued after a pretentious pause, “…yes, the Sea Farers seem willing to trade certain seeds of vegetable and grain type origins if we were willing to part with some of the precious woods in this land.” The Meshwesh did not produce so much from agriculture as they did from herding animals. This needed to change. Now that they had settled in this land they could tend to the more peaceful farming.

“Do we trust this current proposal? After the last threats they threw at us when they so falsely accused us of shorting them of the full amounts of clay we supplied?” the ruler considered slowly in a rhetorical fashion.

Both men were well aware of the Sea Farer’s tactics to undermine the trades in hopes of intimidating other peoples.

“Hmpff! What choice do we have, my Lord?” The tall, thin elder grinned with malice but it was also the truth. “What choice do they have? Kushites they fear, with good reason. Competing tradings against the Hyksos I worry about more.”

Osorkon adjusted himself on the cushioned seating thinking about what he could add to the trade to obtain more of the brightly colored silks. Perhaps they could even learn the secrets of this talent.

The king spoke his thoughts on the subject of their ‘enemy’ to the south, “But the Hyksos’ officials have compromised themselves with blatant shortings of their materials. We brought proof of counting and the Sea Farers had to admit their accusations were wrong. You can handle some more of their usual dickering, can’t you? We need more basic food to feed our growing troops. Starving soldiers tend to desert too easily.” Maybe he should use more punishments for incursions, but they were his people, his family. It was in their eyes how committed they were.

“My lord, you have purposed me with several other matters, surely Lordling Tashelot would benefit from taking over the trade negotiations instead of wasting my…” the Elder deflected. Those hard faced seamen stunk of fish! How he detested being near them.

The King interrupted quickly, “Elder it is a compliment that I trust you to take care of such a thing. Besides, my son will soon find some maturing if we can barter a marriage with the Kushite princess.” He laughed, “A woman, she will smarten up the young lad as will a brood of royal childlings of his own!”

Wild laughter and chattering broke out about the large tent. Children raced past the tent but were hushed by their mothers. Perhaps the higher men would consider that kind of behavior too unruly. The quiet was short-lived as the loud games continued further on.

‘The energy of life and loving,’ Osorkon smiled to himself. He just laughed as Elder Nimshenq rolled his eyes in disapproval.

In Central Egypt

Bubbling water issuing from the beautiful marble fountains was so calming. A light fragrance added to the serenity of the moment.

Tutimaos the III inhaled slowly. This land had turned out to be more beneficial than their scouts had proposed years ago. Rich land near the abundant oases and the great river Nile, the surprise of such fine marbles under the bleak sand had produced a better life than the King of the Hyksos had anticipated when his high ruler had sent him take control of central Egypt.

“Sire, my apologies to disturb your beneficence,” Elder Dudimos offered with a bow. “May I have a moment of your time?”

“Surely. Go on,” the king nodded to his controller of the holdings.

Streaks of magenta and aureolin colored the beautiful sunset. The last golden beams of the great Sun shot through the thin clouds.

“I have good news. The Sea Farers have finished unloading. Their ships have embarked with a load of marble and none the wiser of the lack of weight,” was the report from the controller.

“It is so easy, is it not? It is only fair that the expense of carrying the stones be offset. Let us hope that they stay so simple minded and gullible,” Tutimaos smiled, happy that the same old sea captain was still the one in charge. More gold in the coffers would buy more troops.

“Convene a council meeting of the other elders. We need to finalize a decision on which direction to move…north or south? Summon the head quarrier also. His input as to which part of the lands hold the most valuable marble would help us decide.” The king turned around to look at Dudimos. He hated missing a sunset. The controller was so considerate in waiting to speak.

“Let the Ma up north deal with such crude materials as clay and animals. Ignorant peasants those people are. Perhaps we should attack them next. The Kushites. Are we ready for such a bloody war with them?”

Elder Dudimos took his time to formulate an answer. “It is as you say. But I believe I have heard that to the south of us lay the better stones…or so it is thought. We will verify this as you have decreed. My spies have confirmed that our suspicions of ratifying allegiance between Kushites and the Ma King Osorkon will be done through marriage of Viceroy Kashti’s daughter Alara. Blood bonds for the Meshwesh is all important as we know.” He made a slight bow for mentioning this sore subject.

Visions of his own beautiful eldest daughter flitted through the king’s mind. His body shook involuntarily. No matter how much to the Hyksos’ favor the offer of marital bonding between the prince of the Ma, Tashelot, and Kashti’s daughter, Alara, was…no! Never a beauty of his own flesh would be joined with the crude shepherd people. Let the Viceroy of the southern people give away his child!

King Kashti ignored the insinuation of avoiding bloodshed by a more peaceful alliance with the northern kingdom. “Are you saying we are unable to handle a war with both of our enemies? Wealth buys conquest, does it not?”

As usual, the determined look in Kashti’s eyes subdued any more discussion of contacting the King of Ma on that subject. The marriage had not taken place, yet.

“Of course, you are correct as always, Sire,” Controller Dudimos conceded. Would the High Ruler in their home country agree he wondered.

“Father, father, look at the beautiful flower that our Royal Botanist just gave to me for my birthing day!” Princess Alara rushed into the room as the large bronze door opened and the guards moved away from the entrance. The doors were closed immediately afterwards. The teenage girl held the bright pink buds up for the beloved father to inspect.

He took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Yes, you are right. It is a gem of color and aroma.”

King Kashti snapped his fingers which made one of the guards appear. “Make sure a message is sent by order of your king that the Royal Botanist shall make sure to put this flower in my favorite garden!”

The guard inclined his head sharply, put a fist to his breast and left the room to do as bid.

‘Sometimes’, the controller thought deeply within himself, ‘my king is too easily distracted of late with the ease of this life…’

The Deep South

Precise lines of marching, fully armed men proceeded to drill just outside the lines of military tents. The Captain of 250 was forcefully ‘encouraging’ his underlings to put more polish on the shields that were their major armor. Spears were near each soldier or getting their daily sharpening. Fresh smells of cauldrons of stew reminded everyone that the time for mid-meal was coming near.

Viceroy Kashti was mildly aware of the organization of his military machine as he strode through the camp on his way to a meeting of his generals. He nodded to the several guards placed around the main consulting tent and entered through the heavy cloth tent flap with a brief look behind him. So many habits when your life could be in jeopardy. He rid himself of musings on what a normal family life would have been like.

Kashti’s daughter, Carmiya stood beside her seat. As one the commanders and Carmiya seated themselves only after the Viceroy took the head of the table.

“The wedding. Has the date been formalized?” This question was directed toward General Piya with a hint of foreboding if the answer was not positive. His daughter’s shoulders scrunched. Kashti noticed but did not show it.

Piya cleared his throat and shifted in the chair. “Agreement with King Osorkon is to place a specific date within the next two full moons.”

“What was my order?!” the Viceroy did not shout. His question was level toned but with red anger coloring it.

“To obtain the exact date for the union…my Leader!”

The other stone-faced four generals were glad it was Piya who had to face their Viceroy. The young girl relaxed and remembered to keep breathing.

‘Please fates…,’ she sent an unvoiced prayer.

General Piya did not wait to be told. “I will leave immediately and secure that date!” He pushed his chair backwards and was gone. Once outside he shouted at his special traveling detail to ready the horses for the trip. He still has his head and his body was not fatally pierced so there was that to be thankful of. Death would be certain if he was not successful this time. He feared Kashti more than the Ma King.

Carmiya threw herself on her bed after she left the meeting. Tears flowed but a pillow muffled her sobs. Retribution from her sire was to be avoided. Did the gods hate her with this punishment of marrying a stranger. How she would miss the handsome soldier!

Kashti mulled over their plans for an upcoming invasion on the Hyksos. Soft, richness sliced up by a sword. Any ruler who let himself enjoy such gross pleasures deserved to die. Wealth did buy troops. Waiting rankled this leader. He rather enjoyed the attack but it was not wise to rush in. His spies would be returning in two fortnights with news of the central faction’s troop count.

...

“Foolish tribes, there is a fourth!” states the Stranger….