By Jane Richards
They traveled in silence for sometime. Only the tinkling of the bells on the three camels' necks could be heard. The well worn trail wasn't the main road, Tepi realized, but another, used by merchants rather than military and royal processions. As the camel boy and now, a very dusty girl made their way north, Tepi realized she didn't even have a headcloth to protect her from the sun's hot rays. When not wearing a wig, which they always did when they went out of the palace, she had worn a stripped headcloth, but in her hurry this morning she had left it behind.
Her legs, being somewhat shorter than those of the boy, she breathlessly caught up. "I can't keep calling you camel boy," she blurted, "what's your name?"
"Sethi," came the short reply, "You'd better get something on your head before it gets any hotter," he added, then stopped the camels and tore a square from one of the coverings over the vegetables they were carrying. "Here, this will keep you cooler," he said as he turned away and started up the path once more. He turned with a questioning look. "What's YOUR name?"
"Tepi," she replied. She was very glad that no more questions were asked. What could she dare tell him, anyway?
They were on the eastern bank of the Nile River and Tepi knew they would be crossing the river at some point. She was glad Sethi's uncle had decided on letting him take the three camels and leave the donkeys behind. With fewer animals they could make better time.
Up ahead was a ferry crossing, and Sethi seemed to be planning on crossing here. As the travelers crossed the river Tepi noticed that the boat was made of bundles of papyrus reeds tightly tied together. As they were nearing the other side she saw a grand looking barge coming from the north. On the barge was a large sarcophogus[coffin]. "Probably some dignitary being taken to the Sacred City of Abydos to be buried in his tomb," Tepi thought as Sethi traded some vegetables to the ferryman for their passage. They continued their journey now on the west side of the Nile.
Tepi had noticed while crossing that the ferryman had kept a close eye out for crocodiles and hippopotomus. She knew they were always a danger to boats as well as people. They sometimes caused the small boats to overturn. And on the banks of the river they could very quickly attack.
At the time when the sun was high in the blue sky, Sethi stopped, unrolled a small mat under a large date palm and stated, "Let's eat."
Tepi gladly sat on the mat, and munched the zesty garlic and green onions. There was even a bit of goat's cheese. She grudgingly admitted to herself that she was tired. Even though she had participated in the strenuous games with the other children in the palace, they had not prepared her for a journey quite like this. Had she been in a royal procession, she would have had her own convenience, or rode her own horse. Now, she walked, and tried to keep up with the camels and Sethi.
By evening they were surrounded by fields of green. These were carefully divided into squares--so much for the King--a share for the temple--and food for the villages that were nearby. All the fields had deep irrigation ditches, with the water coming from the Nile.
These sights were interesting to Tepi. She really hadn't realized from where the food had come which was served them in the great dining hall of the palace, nor had she ever taken the time to think about all the hard work done by the people tending those fields and working the irrigation projects.
"When I find Nekhi," she promised herself, "I'm going to tell him about all these people. They are very important to the Two Lands".
Bedding for the night, the camels were unloaded and protesting, folded their legs to sit in a triangle. Inside the triangle Tepi, Sethi, and the trade goods rested, hopefully safe for the night.
The peace didn't last long. A great cloud of dust came quickly down the road from the south and churned to a halt by the date palm under which the small group rested. A brawny soldier dismounted from his horse and walked toward them.
"Have either of you seen a girl traveling along here? She would have been royally dressed, I suppose, as she is from the palace. Some relative of the King, I think. The Great Royal Nurse reported her missing today. Some cousin to our missing Prince."
Tepi's mouth flew open and her eyes widened as she listened to the soldier. In her disheveled and dusty condition, with a ragged headdress, she certainly didn't look royal, but that wasn't the problem. Tepi now realized that there was some type of palace plot afoot, and she was in the middle. Worse yet, her father probably didn't even know she was gone. If anyone was reported 'missing', it was probably Nefer! It must also be connected to the missing Nekhi, too.