It’s a commonly known fact that my home country of Egypt is the oldest and greatest civilisation the world has ever seen, or ever will see. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have problems. Since the collapse of all the other great empires even Egypt itself has struggled with infighting and petty squabbling. It was during one of these minor spats that I managed to get myself involved with Weni, the Nomarch of Khent-abt. What a fine fellow he was too, very generous to his servants and keen to make merchants like myself happy. Alas Weni had some worries. He couldn’t trust his neighbours and the Nomarch of the Sepat next to his always seemed to have his eyes on Weni’s lands. Even worse, Weni was not sure he could even trust his own advisors. It was thanks to this unsettling fact that I was brought in to ensure the Nomarch’s safety.
You see, everyone assumes that merchants are always spying for someone or other. That’s only half true, but we do know a few techniques to get information back to our homes. With my expertise I was therefore put in charge of the gate that led out of his capital city Silu. Searching everyone that left the city was not yet something that Weni would allow me to do, but I could spot the agents looking to report back some vital information to Rensi, the neighbouring Nomarch.
The first ones were obvious – and finding their secret messages wasn’t too hard either. Tin plates with letters scratched upon them were stored between two flat pieces of wood that served as sandals for the agents. A quick look at their shoes was all it took to send these traitors to jail and ensure that Rensi did not find out about Weni’s food stores.
Next it was the turn of the ladies. Courtesans with small rolls of papyrus stored in their elaborate earings. Clever, but I had used the trick before. More women for the Nomarch’s harem and Rensi did not find out about Weni’s water supplies.
Finally it was the beggars and the lepers. No one goes near a leper, much less peel off the large leaves they use as bandages. But some of those leaves had writing upon them, and so the beggars and lepers were put to death and Rensi did not find out about Weni’s military strength.
I was feeling rather proud of myself for having stopped all this information from getting to Rensi. The city of Silu would be like the night to him, sure he could make out the broad outlines, but no detail, no weaknesses to exploit. It was then that I was summoned to Weni’s council. It appeared that Rensi had sent a message that no one could understand. The tablet had been passed around the entire council for a whole day but none could work out its meaning. When I was finally allowed to see it I recognised it immediately and quickly made a purifying sign. It was ancient assyrian magic – secret codes that could only be understood by mystics or the mad.
Handily, I knew just such a chap. I had met Montoses many years ago and knew he walked an untrodden path. He knew the secret colour of numbers, and of the months of the year. He could taste shapes and was able to talk to the crickets of the desert. Sometimes he said faces had colours, and that although he couldn’t see an aura he knew what it was, and it never changed for that person. I have a green face apparently. Anyway, Montoses was bound to be able to figure this one out and he happened to be living with the Pharoah close by in Tanis. I sent word for him and he came as quickly as he could.
For several days he was locked away in a small study. When I brought him food he would be staring into the distance, sometimes moving his hands as if he were taking invisible boxes and rearranging them. Finally he came to me and told me of the message…
“Senbi, I fear the worst. I have translated the message and it seems that it was intended for a traitor amongst Weni’s council.”
“Grim tidings indeed. Praise Seth that you were able to decipher it!”
“That is not all – since Rensi has been unable to determine anything about the city he plans to attack it with overwhelming force! Our lives are in danger!”
Montoses read the exact message and it left me in no doubt that Weni would soon be facing an army that he couldn’t possibly resist. It’s in times like those that it’s not so good to be the favourite of a fading star. I went to Weni.
“Oh noble Lord Weni, we have uncovered some of what the message says and it is grim. There is a traitor with you, your chamberlain in fact. It would be wise to detain him and perhaps extract a confession. As for the rest, Montoses needs some of his scrolls that are in Tanis. Perhaps I should go with him to encourage a speedy return?”
“By all means Senbi, but go quickly! I will deal with the chamberlain while you are gone.”
By the time Montoses and I had reached the border of Weni’s lands we could see the dust cloud formed by Rensi’s approaching army. Montoses heard the sound of a falcon, and he said its cry was the darkest black.