Bay the Hunting Hounds
The desert sand cooled as the night wore on. Imkep struggled behind his brother, Teth, who frequently paused to support him. The wound in the younger’s calf, a slice delivered by a poorly shot arrow from a guard’s bow, seeped little now that a crust had formed. In the east the waking eye of the sun began to lighten the sky as the two brothers climbed atop the next dune.
“I cannot see the mountains,” Imkep said. “Do we still follow Khonsu? His white face is lost to me.”
Teth shouldered his brother. “The moon set hours ago. Ra chases us now.”
“Two days, with three more to the hills. We could go back…”
“Here, have another sip.” Teth had conserved their water, having judged the distance. “Mention returning again and I will leave you for the bone-pickers.”
Imkep chuckled and accepted the leather flask. “Mother would haunt you for eternity.”
“Come. We still have a few hours before the heat forces us to crawl beneath cover.”
The brothers slid down the dune and up the next, and the next. By mid-morning the heat-mirage had begun to boil in the distance and little wind drew the sweat from their skin. They each carried a reed mat, meant for sleeping, but shaded their heads allowing them continued travel.
“Are you sure Sep a’Ra will send guards out this far to fetch a pair of runaways?”
“He has a reputation to maintain. You know that. Keep your tongue. Save it for the hills.”
“Do you see them?” Imkep’s stumbling had became pronounced.
Teth caught his brother for the third time that day. “Tomorrow will bring us within sight of the Grey Mountains. And the day after, rocks and trees.”
“I believe my leg has begun to bleed, again.”
The older brother paused, unwound the gash and cast fiery sand at the fresh split in ImKep’s blackened wound.
Imkep cursed, “Mother of Isis! Does that really help?”
“When we get to the trees I’ll find you pine sap and rebind your injury.” Teth bound the would more tightly to stem the bleeding.
Imkep gasped at the pain, but held his comments. “Thank you, brother.”
Teth’s shoulders dipped, he’d been the one to force his brother to accompany him in their bid for freedom. Supporting Imkep’s weakened side, he was still able to hold the makeshift parasol over their heads. The pair continued their journey. After another mile they stopped and rested in the broil of the sun until it had but a hand before closing its relentless eye.
By that evening, Imkep’s injury had turned septic. By midnight, their water bags flapped empty. Teth implored his brother to keep moving. The cool of the night helped, yet Imkep’s skin burned with fever.
When Ra, in his ceaseless march across the sky, winked open the next day, Teth had no choice but to lower his brother to the soothing night-time sands. Imkep’s rambling worried his brother and an insidious tickle of thought teased at Teth’s mind. He cast it away. He said, “I see the jagged horizon. The mountains are but a day’s travel.”
“Will Ensa dance with me?”
Sitting with him, Teth wiped the sweat from Imkep’s brow and hummed a song of the Nile. “Yes, she and Miti will dance and slip fresh dates into your mouth. Tapa will beat his drum and the smallbeer will flow down our cheeks.”
“Teth, are we freemen now?”
“Free as falcons.”
“I see the mountains, too. Ensa waves her red veil to me. She… She said yes, you know.”
Teth paused his tune. “You did not mention this. When did…”
“She came to me before the pharaoh’s proclamation. She wore the band I’d woven.”
The glare of the golden sand around them gave Teth an excuse for the waste of a precious tear. “Then we must return, soon, and steal her away with us.”
The younger man took a shuddering breath. “To… To free…”
“Imkep? Imkep?” Teth cast off the mats. The sun god, Ra gazed down, oblivious. Teth held his cheek to the mouth of his brother. No breath flowed against it. He shook him and rolled him about. But no rousing would wake him. He sat down next to his kin and wasted still more tears. Through their blurry vision he eyed the distinct line of the mountain ridge. “So close.”
He resolved to carry Imkep to the foothills. Yet when he hefted the man upon his back he heard a noise from behind him. The baying of Sep a’Ra’s hunting hounds drifted over the land. As tenderly as he could, he returned his dead brother to the shifting sands, kissed his forehead and struck off to the west and the promise of salvation. And revenge.