Part I: Time to Die
The clear sky on the day the fishermen caught the dead man promised little excitement. They grunted and strained to get their haul onboard, while Neb, the owner of the boat and employer of its crew, began to turn toward the shore. The craft the size of an ox-drawn cart bobbed peacefully some distance out. Its sail strained no more than a sheet drying on a line, but Neb made sure Egypt’s port city of Rhakotis peeked over the horizon to the south.
The crew of three had now dragged their net into the boat and took a moment to rest. Silver bodies glistened on the deck—enough fish to make the day a moderate success. The men drank water and poured some more on their heads. Then they got back to work. Nimlot manned the sail, and Menem and Qen began to remove the fish from the net. They methodically slammed each open-mouthed fish head on a board before putting the carcass in a plain, clay jar. Neb would sell most of this modest haul as soon as they arrived on shore. Each man would keep some of the rest and take the fish home to either dry them or pickle them for later.
Peace and sunshine blanketed the boat, but a sailor could never entirely trust the sea. Neb was a skilled fisherman, even if he did like his ale, but skill mattered little in the end—sometimes boats just couldn’t stand up to the water goddess, the lioness Tefnut, and no one could predict what would make her angry. Ah, but to sail a Phoenician ship, Neb often thought, but he never said it out loud. He would just have to stay alive. Nefertari, his wife, would never forgive him otherwise.
At this time, his thoughts steered in a more pleasant direction. Despite the danger and the hard work, he enjoyed what he did. The splash of the water against the hull calmed him down. The breeze did enough to move the ship, yet the sea remained calm and no danger threatened. Neb gave himself a few minutes; he wished he could dry or pickle this moment to keep it for later. Then he grunted because the splash of the water against the hull also made him need to piss, and he began to move into position.
“Nim!” he heard and whipped his head around only to see Nimlot’s feet disappear beneath the surface.
The sail and the boat lurched to starboard only to pirouette and lean dangerously to port. Out of nowhere, Neb worked as hard as he ever did just to keep the boat from capsizing.
Once he reached a relative certainty things were under control and he wasn’t going to die immediately, he allowed himself a deep breath.
“Get him,” he barked to Qen.
The man wasted no time. He dove, then resurfaced and disappeared in the water about fifty spans from where Nimlot had gone down. Neb focused on keeping the boat as stationary as possible while scanning the gentle waves. Qen’s head broke the surface about a minute later roughly in the same spot where Nimlot’s had disturbed it going in the opposite direction. He took a breath and dove again. Meanwhile, Menem left the fish alone and grabbed a length of rope. Qen’s head came up again, this time a few spans away and closer to the shore, and then it disappeared. Moments later, Qen’s spitting and wheezing announced his return. He floated while embracing Nimlot’s lifeless shoulder.
“Catch!” Menem tossed the rope.
Qen grabbed it and held on as Menem and Neb worked to bring the rescuer and his cargo closer. Once the pair reached the boat, the crew heaved Nimlot up and plopped him down like an octopus. Qen crawled onboard under his own power. Next, they turned Nimlot over and worked on him until most of the water drained out, but were still surprised when he coughed and threw up over much of their catch.
Leaving Nimlot alone, they grabbed their pots and buckets and began to wash the fish while making sure someone attended to the sail and the steering oar at all times. The crew busied with calming their hearts, and no one said much for a while.
Neb, who was working the sail and the steering oar, felt his eyebrows lift. “On all the demons,” he mumbled. “Look there!”
Directly in their path, not a hundred spans away, floated what appeared to be another drowned body. It bobbed peacefully face-down on the waves. Neb glanced at Qen and did not need to speak the order. As soon as they reached the spot, Qen jumped in the water, grabbed the body by its hair and pulled it closer so that the others could lift it up and into the boat.
Neb crouched and stroked his chin in thought. The corpse looked like it might have once belonged to an unfortunate young soul from Canaan or maybe Phoenicia. The man was barefooted and bare-chested, wearing a loincloth and remnants of a knee-length skirt secured with a wide, sturdy belt. His skin might have once been fair, but the face was sun- and wind-burned. In short, he had the looks of a sailor, and not one from anywhere close-by. Having looked the fellow over, Neb noted with surprise none of the ever-hungry creatures of the sea had taken so much as a nibble.
“Throw him back in the water for the fishes to eat,” Qen suggested once he had scrambled back into the boat. “He’s got nothing valuable and is as dead as this fish.” He brandished one of the decidedly dead fish for illustration, holding it by its crushed skull and fanning his face with its tail.
Neb thought slowly and decided, “No, let’s bring him to shore. We’ll show him to Seben. This could be important.”
“Makes no difference,” Qen agreed. “Boss, how about we start on the ale?”
And they did.
The crew reached the shallows no more than an hour later, now in high, well-soaked spirits.
“You are my best friend. I love you,” Nimlot professed to Qen, and not for the first time.
“Keep your hands away from me,” Qen responded, extending a stiff arm to keep his crewmate at bay, and tried to continue to drink. To no avail, since soon Nimlot tried to hug and kiss him again.
“You saved me,” he declared with a puppy’s earnestness and some of the bounce. “This kind of, of, of, aag thing, is forever, you know?”
“I know, get out of the boat,” Qen said. “We’re back.”
And indeed they were. Menem jumped out into the waist-deep water, went under and then resurfaced coughing and sneezing next to the precious Phoenician tree trunk serving as a mooring post.
“Tie the damned rope!” Neb yelled, swaying more than the crawling waves warranted.
It didn’t help that the boat was now rocking with both Qen and Nimlot up on their feet. Nimlot continued to profess his gratitude and undying affection for his best friend while Qen was starting to get upset.
“I love you, you…, wonderful man,” Nimlot said right before Qen’s right hook caught him underneath the chin.
Nimlot catapulted clear off the boat and into Menem who had just succeeded in putting a decent enough knot on the rope to join them with the land. Now both fishermen went under.
“Aah, that was a good one. Very impressive,” Neb commented and began to scramble out of the boat and into the water.
Together with Qen, they dragged the unconscious Nimlot and Menem onto the sand. Next, they took turns bringing over the jars with the fish. Finally, they made one last trip to retrieve the foreigner’s body and put it next to their passed-out crewmates. Neb straightened, grunted and stretched, holding his fists against the small of his back.
Before they could get around to doing anything else, they saw someone walking down the path from the rocks above, heading straight for them. The man was tall, heavyset and mostly bald. His face glistened like hot tar. The man’s legs, covered down to the knee with a blue tunic, strode with strength and confidence. It was the overseer Seben.
“Great Ptah be praised!” Neb exclaimed. “You’re just the man I wanted to see.”
“Interesting,” Seben said, appearing not at all interested. “You gave everyone quite a show. I see there are three unconscious drunks resting on the sand. Did you hire a fifth for your crew?”
“No, my friend, you know I am an honest, fish, fish, you know a fellow who catches fish. No, this here fish, I mean fellow, is dead. I found him out in the sea.” A mix of one part honesty and one part alcohol burned brightly in Neb’s face.
“And that is just as well. Honesty is healthy for you. And taxes are not to be taken lightly.” Seben walked up next to the three prone bodies and squatted by the foreigner. “Dead, hmm?”
With no forewarning, Seben balled his large hand up into a fist and brought it down with force, striking the middle of the dead young sailor’s chest. Then he did it again. And again. The thuds reminded Neb of the sound Nefertari made as she beat their precious rugs once a year with sturdy sticks, except the strikes of Seben’s fist brought up no grit or dust.
It seemed that a shudder went through the dead body. Seben continued his pounding. He struck the poor fellow’s chest and used his significant bulk to push each strike further. Neb expected to hear the broken-oar crack of shattered ribs.
Suddenly, the dead man coughed loudly and contorted his body like a frightened pill bug, bringing up a large portion of the sea mixed with whatever last meal he might have eaten. On Neb’s feet. Neb was too stunned to care. The foreigner continued to retch.
“I thought this fellow was dead,” Neb heard Menem muse.
“Damn!” That was Nimlot’s voice. “He was!”
Seben stood, his temples sweating a bit from the effort. While as fit as an ox, he could no longer be called young.
“I will take him to our lord Teremun,” Seben announced.
The thought of losing a valuable commodity sobered Neb up. “Wait just a moment, friend. I was the one that found him. He belongs to me,” he said.
“Fair enough,” Seben said and seemed to ponder briefly. “I’ll give you five pieces of silver.”
“But…you don’t understand,” Neb said. “I recovered him at a great risk to my own person and my craft. Thirty silver.” The fisherman raised his face and hands up imploring the gods to either back him up or strike him dead should he have lied.
Seben offered no reaction at first. Then he followed the line of Neb’s sight toward the blue, cloudless sky, and allowed himself a smile from a corner of his mouth.
“I see that being in the sun all day has cost you your wits. Or is it the ale?” he finally responded. “You won’t find anyone who will do better by you. I’ll give you fifteen pieces of silver, and you know that’s a top offer.”
“That is very generous of you and of lord Teremun,” Neb admitted. “Twenty silver, and you can have his garments with him…and I’ll throw in our day’s catch.”
Seben shook his head, but said, “Agreed. I’ll take him and the fish now. Come tomorrow to lord Teremun’s home, and the silver will be waiting for you.” He whistled loudly using his fingers, and four more of Teremun’s men came down from the rocks above to collect their master’s new possessions.
Wet. Cold. And in pain. An entire universe in the pit of his stomach. He turns over and throws up again on the wet sand and the feet of the man standing next to him.
He feels the sand on his forehead and in his hair and tries to focus on the sensation. It has a calming flavor of familiarity. He tastes the sand, and it’s an improvement. “Twenty pieces of silver,” he hears. Someone agrees. Someone else chuckles. He wishes to pass out and tries to curse through cracked lips when he stays conscious. He’s only partly aware of being jostled when two men hoist him up to his feet and a third does his best to pour some ale down his throat. It tastes even better than the bitter, salty sand. He drinks greedily. “Stop!” he hears, “he will just puke it all out again. Go slow.” They drag him to a patch of drier, harder ground and allow him to lie down. Before long, someone picks him up again and coaxes him with small sips of ale to move his feet. Someone lifts him and puts him on a rough surface. Soon, he feels movement underneath. He falls asleep or passes out.
He wakes up on a bed of some blankets and with a simple sheet over him. He goes through the inventory slowly: legs, check, eyes, check, hands, check. He stops there. Good enough. He considers his options. He is completely naked under the linen. Around him stand the walls of a clay house, a large one, he thinks. The air simmers thick with the rays of the sun stealing in through sheets of fabric hung over the doorway. He’s alone. He gets up gingerly and wraps the sheet around his shoulders letting it flow down like a tunic. He proceeds to the doorway and moves the fabric aside to peer out. He notes rows of clay houses and a dusty, yellow-gray road between them. So many houses. He thinks he has seen more houses in one place before, and the thought startles him. In any event, these do not look familiar. People walk up and down the road, most of them dark-skinned and wearing little more than a short tunic reaching down to their thighs or knees. He crosses the doorway and moves closer to the road, curious what else he might see. “Move!” someone yells, and he has enough time to turn his head before the world winks suddenly out.
He woke up on a bed of some blankets. Naked. A sheet over him. This time, he didn’t bother with the inventory. He thought he felt something like a sharp rock stuck in his back and couldn’t be sure if his right leg could support him with such a dull, throbbing weakness in his knee. Worst of all, while he thought he’d been kicked in the groin before, what he experienced now had a very different, decidedly vicious quality to it. He considered his options and decided to stay put.
“Dear, it’s a shame you’re so dumb while being so deliciously handsome,” he heard. The voice came deep from the chest and rasped lazily, sticky with femininity.
Struggling to open his eyes, he looked up and his heart skipped a couple more beats than usual. He had little doubt this brown-skinned girl was the reason for the palpitation. Her nose might have been a tad bit too long, her eyes and her lips might have been a bit too large, her waist might have been a little too thick, and her breasts, no, those were just fine. All the different pieces might have been too something or other, but, gods, the whole just worked. She wore a thin robe gathered together right above her breasts. It fit snuggly until it ended far enough above her knees to display the powerful flex of her thighs. It left just enough to his imagination to leave it panting and begging for more.
As he continued to stare, he realized the sheet did a poor job of covering his bruised scrotum and jerked it back over his midsection.
“Don’t worry, handsome, who do you think has been taking care of you?” she said with a bright smile.
He felt his face warm up and color.
“What happened?” he asked, not sure what else to say.
“An ox happened, a big one,” she said, and he wished she’d stop smiling so; the sheet was not an effective instrument for hiding his rising interest. “Well, since you aren’t going to introduce yourself, I am Nedjem. What do they call you?”
He considered the question. He considered it some more. He fumbled.
“Well?” she said, and the smile waned. He wished it would come back.
“I cannot remember anything. My mind just doesn’t seem to work right,” he finally sighed. As he said it, he realized how true it was—his mind was near to blank—no name, no memories, and only a few traces of feelings and impressions. He forced it to reach, found nothing he could grasp, and only shook his head.
The young woman giggled and pursed her lips. “With that behind, your mind doesn’t need to work too well. Seben says your name is Jesret, but I wasn’t sure. It sounds like one of Father’s jokes.”
He considered the name briefly and agreed that being named after a stiff drink might not be usual, but at this moment he’d admit to anything to please the girl. “I am Jesret,” said Jesret.
“Try,” Nedjem insisted. “Can you recall anything? Lands, family? Women?”
Jesret could only shake his head with a grimace and spent the next minute watching the girl Nedjem go about tidying up the room.
Finally he cleared his throat. “Who are you, Nedjem? I mean, what do you do here? Where is it? I mean…” It all came out in one breath. “I’m confused,” Jesret admitted.
She took a moment before turning around. She glided over and sat down on the floor opposite his bedding. Jesret did his best to sit up and gather the sheet into a few extra folds on top of his lap. After that, he started to feel his embarrassment wane and a small measure of confidence seep back in.
“How much do you remember?” Nedjem asked again.
Jesret paused to consider.
“I remember throwing up on someone’s feet, and then it seems I was here. Then I tried to look around, got knocked out, and then I woke up again and you were here.” He shrugged. “That’s it. Not much.” There was more, mixed up in shadows, images and sensations, and Jesret swallowed a stab of guilt for not divulging everything, but he needed to understand it himself first.
“Here’s what I’m seeing,” Nedjem said. “A handsome young man with the looks of a Canaanite. One who can speak Egyptian with ease, even if he does so with such an adorable accent. From what I’m told, you’re lucky, too. That ox should have made mush out of you. Perhaps the gods are taking a special interest in you, hmm?” The girl winked. She missed Jesret’s breathless flash of startlement as she reached back to pick up a sheet of something that looked like a roll of fabric and had little squiggly lines and symbols crawling all over it. “Look at this. What do you see?” she asked.
Jesret inhaled and wanted to shake his head in denial, but then the little symbols started to make sense.
“This here says ‘twelve jars of ale’,” he said.
Nedjem bit the tip of her pinky in excitement. “And he can read!” she squealed.
“I can? I mean…I guess I can. It feels like I might have spent some time reading. And writing.” He admitted. “Still, how did I end up here, in this room?”
“Oh, my father’s men bought you from the fishermen who pulled you out of the sea. I’m told you were expensive.” She smiled. “But worth every deben, I bet.” She bit her lower lip. “I think I might ask him to give you to me.”
Then she got up, turned around and left the room wiggling her bottom, leaving Jesret to wonder why someone, the gods?, wanted him alive and in Egypt, for that was one of the few facts of which he was certain.
Water covers his mouth and nose, and he knows his next breath is going to be his last. He holds his breath until he can hold it no longer. Resigned, he inhales.
Jesret woke up with a start to see a blank-faced Seben standing over him with a cup in his hand, water still dripping from its rim.
“Let’s see you get up and get dressed. Here, I brought you some clothes,” the man said.
Jesret discovered that his groin felt surprisingly free of discomfort, the pain in his back subsided to just a twinge, it was only his knee that still bothered him. He could get up and hobble around the room, but wouldn’t run anytime soon. It felt as if someone drove a spike into it when he tried to push off with the wrong leg.
“You look pathetic,” Seben declared. “Now, get dressed.”
The old overseer waited as Jesret did just that. It helped not being naked. His confidence grew with each piece of clothing he slipped on. In his mind, images flitted: of other garments, of taking clothes off and helping a beautiful young woman with implausible sand-colored hair take off hers. Of a sturdy, plain leather belt.
Jesret shook his head to clear his mind. “May I know your name, sir?” he asked.
“I’m Seben. I am the overseer of these estates. And don’t call me ‘sir’, someone might overhear. You and I both belong to lord Teremun which means we are both luckier than we deserve. He’s a good man and a fair master,” Seben said from under a squint. His squint deepened and a smirk appeared as he continued, “Speaking of which, as a point in fact, actually, you now formally belong to the lady Nedjem.”
Jesret tried a number of questions on for size. Nothing fit.
“You want to ask me what that means?” Seben guessed. The man shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. Something must have intrigued her about you. Now, I am told you can read and write. Can you?”
Jesret nodded. Seben’s lips twisted in skepticism. The overseer rummaged in a leather pouch resting on the ground next to him and pulled out a scroll. Then he went back and fished out a stoppered jar and a sharpened stick. It took a few tests of reading and writing to finally satisfy him.
“You’ll do,” Seben said. “I’m in need of a record keeper and a scribe. That means you will keep the records of all transactions, the bakery, the brewery, taxes, and what not. In short, you will do what I tell you to do. Understand?”
Jesret nodded and followed Seben outside. His spirits rose: he was alive and clothed, and there were birds in the sky everywhere he looked riding the abundant sunshine. Then his smile slipped before it had taken a good hold; no, this would not be enough. He would learn who and what he was if it killed him. But how?
Nedjem struggled to decide what intrigued her so much about the young Canaanite. There was something…different about him. All the young men in Rhakotis, even the noble-born, especially the noble-born, treated her as if she were a calf for sale, just a means into her family’s pockets and influence. Jesret didn’t, obviously, being property and such. But she could tell what effect she had on him and was pleased she did. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen a naked man before. In fact, she’d had the pleasure of a man a number of times, some of them acquired especially for their prowess. Her mother did not want her daughter to be surprised by what she might find between the legs of her future husband. “A lady of your station,” she was fond of saying, “must deal with enough surprises.”
“He’s my father’s property,” Nedjem murmured to herself, choosing to forget she had asked he be granted to her. With a sigh, she firmly decided to put the young man out of her mind and steered her thoughts toward the day’s business. Today was brew day, and she looked forward to supervising the women in making the ale. In truth, it was old Ekhrath who was teaching her baking and brewing. But a lady couldn’t be seen as an apprentice under a slave woman. Everyone knew it, and everyone accepted the pretense.
Nedjem entered the bakery to the sounds of the women preparing the flour for the next batch of bread. They rested on their knees, and, bent over flat stones as wide across as a forearm, the four of them appeared as if in prayer to a god of rock. Golden, plump grains of barley grown expressly for this special bread rested on the stones. Each of the women held another piece of stone in her hands, a piece shaped to make it easy to grasp at the top and to flare out into a flat surface at the bottom. They used the stones to pulverize hundreds of grains with each efficient stroke. They gathered the flour, placed another handful of grains on their stone altars and applied another series of gliding strikes. The women sang softly as their stones beat the rhythm. Nedjem didn’t particularly care for the work herself, but did admire the women’s proficiency at the task. Making good flour was more difficult than it seemed.
Having lingered for a minute, she went ahead and passed through the entrance to the other half of the building—the brewery.
Hearing Nedjem enter, Ekhrath raised her head from her task of crumbling dry disks of bread into a vat.
“You look beautiful this morning, my dear,” the old woman said in greeting.
“Ptah protect you, Ekhrath,” Nedjem answered, more formally than she would have liked.
She didn’t want to tell an obvious lie and couldn’t in the moment come up with a truthful compliment. Ekhrath was as pretty as a dead donkey left out in the sun a few days too long. The slave woman knew it, embraced it, and had turned it into an advantage so much so that even free men weren’t likely to mistreat her. Ale from lord Teremun’s estates was said to be as good as it was thanks to her witchery.
To make up for the greeting, Nedjem smiled, picked up some bread and stood on the other side of the vat getting right to work. It was the kind of task that allowed her mind to wander. Before she knew it, her thoughts turned to the boy Jesret again. It was annoying.
She had shredded the first loaf already; she picked up another and grimaced as she pulverized it.
But his name obviously could not be Jesret, right, seeing as it was one of the many words for beer? What was it really? She thought he was being truthful about not remembering. Well, I will just have to see about that, she thought, and caught herself not really knowing exactly what that was. He’s a slave, she thought, and it suddenly made her feel like a traitor that she cared and that Jesret’s being property bothered her. It was unfamiliar and confusing. Somehow, it didn’t matter when slaves were brought by her mother, lady Ahmose, so that Nedjem could learn what being a woman being with a man meant. She enjoyed it and spared it not a thought afterwards. She groaned softly and went on strangling disks of tough barley bread and tossing the crumbs into the vat.
“It’s not your time of the month so it can only be a man. Which one?” Ekhrath asked.
“I have no idea what you mean.” Nedjem informed her. “What ‘it’ are you speaking of?” The girl’s tone protested innocence.
To no avail. Nedjem heard the damned witch cackle.
A pebble bounced across the dusty road, and then the bounce became a roll. This one had been oblong, egg-shaped. Some of the other stones Jesret had thrown had been round. The piece of rock he held now was flat, like a disk of unleavened bread. He knew, for a fact, that if he threw this stone just right into a calm body of water, it would skim the surface until, exhausted, it would cease to struggle. The image in his mind shifted like a drowned mite in a mug of ale: as soon as you think you have it, it skims over your finger and plunges even deeper. Every time he reached for the memory, it fled, only to return and tease him from the edge of his mind once he withdrew.
Jesret studied the stone resting on his open palm. The disk covered a third of it. For skipping, he might have preferred something a bit larger. Jesret let the rock fall to the ground and slapped his forehead. Too hard; it hurt. He straightened from the crouch.
Jesret rubbed his head on his way to find Nedjem.
He struck out at the bakery. The women threw their hands up or shrugged to tell him they didn’t know where she was and would he please get the hell out of their hair. Ekhrath was absent, of which Jesret was glad—she unnerved him. He marched toward lord Teremun’s villa. The Canaanite, having now stopped in front of the main gate, stood and rubbed his nose with the side of his clenched fist, deep in thought.
“You Seben’s letters man, aren’t you?” The source of the voice was to his side. Jesret turned his startled head to face it.
The words came from a stocky warrior as black as charcoal who now ambled over and planted himself between Jesret and the residence.
“I must speak to Lady Nedjem,” Jesret said once the silence had stretched beyond comfort. “She will want to speak with me.”
The soldier looked him over as if he were a goat for sale. Up and down and side to side. The man pursed his lips and nodded.
“Follow me,” he said and set off without looking back. Jesret trotted up until he could walk by the soldier’s side and remained silent.
The muscle-bound warrior marched down the wall and rounded the corner. The wall continued. Jesret was about to ask a question when the man stopped and Jesret’s nose met his hard back with force. The Canaanite managed to stay on his feet, but bent down with his face cradled in his palms. His eyes swam when he eventually straightened up. He wiped his nose, and his wrist came off decorated with a bright red smudge.
“Good. Not as pretty now. Girls like character,” the soldier opined. “Through the gate.”
Only now had Jesret noticed a small gate in the wall, about large enough to let two goats through side-by-side. The warrior threw it open. Jesret turned and headed inside. The sound of a sword leaving a scabbard came from behind him, and Jesret’s heart leapt as he rolled to his left before coming up in a fighting stance.
“Hey, hey, hey!” the soldier called out, his left palm up in a gesture of peace. “Part of my job. Can’t escort anyone if I don’t have my weapon ready, can I? For gods’ sakes, relax.”
Jesret stood up slowly, coloring. He groped for something to say but failed to grasp anything to help him save face. Instead, to prove his trust, he turned his back on the armed guard and proceeded down the path. Short, gnarly trees, little more than shrubs, surrounded him as far as he could see. Green, unripe olives hung from the branches. Jesret wondered if Nedjem ever tried to pickle these. He wondered if she ever came to pick them herself. In her light garments, with sweat soon plastering the thin linen to her curves…hmm. To avoid embarrassment, Jesret made himself think about what he was going to discuss with the woman instead. When that didn’t work, he thought about goats. Then reminded himself again why he’d come.
Jesret felt like half a man: a shell with no history, no memories, no consequence. His mind stumbled sometimes on visions and reminiscences. He’d stop and stare at a rock, a face or a tree. He’d shake his head struggling to shed the certainty he’d seen the like before. Sometimes, he probed and pushed his thoughts only to recoil as if from a slab of red-hot bronze; his mind would flee, then recover and hover over the sensation, attracted to it, desperate for it, and yet unwilling to accept the pain. Jesret had become certain his memories still existed. He had to find a way to reach and reclaim them.
The path took the pair to an arch in the wall of the villa and a couple more soldiers stationed to the sides of the entrance. The men’s postures managed to combine alertness with boredom. The alertness had proved an act as they failed to notice the warrior and Jesret until the two rounded the last gentle curve. The Canaanite observed them stiffen formally.
“Captain,” they said, in unison.
The captain nodded. “Khu,” he inclined his head to the guard on the right, “locate lady Nedjem. Notify her that her property, Jesret, seeks an audience.”
In a few moments, another man trotted out and, with a nod toward his officer, took the spot by the doorway Khu had vacated.