Gods walk this land, it is hallowed by their footprints. He who dies in this land will die only in their body; their spirit shall live on. If they have lived a life of virtue then Osiris will guide them out of this realm to the after life. No Egyptian travels far from his homeland for if he dies in a foreign land his spirit will be cursed to wander the Earth in eternal lamentation. No Egyptian would ever willingly leave this land blessed by the gods.
Yet high in the mountains south of Elephantine, the farthest boundary of Egypt, the desert sun was beating down upon a man covered in dirt and bruises. He struggled to climb up from the river valley below. He moved like an ant his thin body hauling a giant pitcher of water on a makeshift sled. Up he went dragging himself and the clay jug through a narrow passage between the sandstone rocks. He eventually reached his destination: a small alcove on the summit looking over the river valley. Here lay a small garden organised in two long beds in the only part of the alcove exposed to the midday sun. In this garden grew some shafts of wheat and a few vegetables. The thin man set the water jug down and rested for a few moments. Unfastening the stopper inside the top of the jug, he started to carefully hoist it up to pour the contents into a small pan that ran along into a canal that fed out to the garden beds. The journey up the hill had weakened him too much and he struggled under the weight of the jug.
“Let me help you with that,” said a voice and the man flinched as two strong hands appeared from behind him and gripped the jug. The jug would have fallen if the other man were not so strong that he could support the full weight of the jug by himself. The thin man scrambled backwards along the ground and watched the intruder carefully pour the contents of the jug into the irrigation channel for his gardens.“Impressive little garden you have up here,” commented the man as he poured.
“That’s enough,” said a feminine voice from behind the big man. The big man obeyed and gently set the big jug down and refastened the stopper.
A red-headed woman with green eyes wearing loose robes and a silver diadem appeared and stood next to the big blond man who was wearing bracers and an long studded leather skirt indicating that he was a soldier. She was only average height for a woman, but having no signs of malnutrition at all she appeared to be larger than the thin man who was clearly somewhat emaciated.
“My name is Ahaneith, noble woman in service of Horus’ chosen one the king in Upper Egypt. Who might you be?”
The thin man was still quite shocked to be having any visitors at all, he managed only to croak out his name, “Dedelion.”
“Dedelion,” repeated the noble woman as she paced past him apparently more interested in his garden as she poked and stroked the various fruits and vegetables she found, “tell me Dedelion, you have quite an impressive little garden here, did you cultivate it yourself?”
The thin man nodded slowly.
“You need not be afraid of us, we are just curious about you Dedelion. You see, we did not expect to find an Egyptian living this far South of Elephantine. At first we supposed you to be Nubian, a Nubian who had somehow mastered farming, so you can imagine our surprise that one of our own countrymen was living so far from home, as a hermit in a foreign land no less. Tell me, why do you risk the eternal wandering of your soul by living so far away from our sacred homeland?”
Dedelion sat up slightly more dignified, “You mean you aren’t here to rob me?”
“Certainly not, we are not in the habit of harming one of our fellow Egyptians unless he has broken a law.”
“Well, I haven’t broken any laws that I am aware of dear noble woman. My story is simple, as you know many years ago the Nile failed to flood, the food stocks ran out a few years later and the people started slaughtering each other because they had gone mad with hunger. My whole family perished and in my grief I came out here for solitude from the chaos afflicting the homeland.”
“Tell me Dedelion, what’s a hermit doing with such a perfectly shaven head as yours?”
“I used to be a barber, although I live in a barbaric land I maintain my cultural dignity and personal decorum. Now tell me noble lady, why have you come here to visit me?”
“Our homeland is suffering greatly, Dedelion. So many have died. There has been over fifteen years of great lamentations and suffering now. We are investigating why Hapi the river goddess as not made the Nile flood these many years. So during this chaos, you have been eking out a living with this garden of yours? It’s impressive the variety you have: wheat, beans, lentils, onions, parsley, radishes, garlic, lettuce and even a watermelon. However, based on how thin you are, I imagine you don’t produce enough food to stay fit?”
Dedelion shook his head slowly, “It’s hard having to haul all my water up here each day. Sometimes the Nubians are in the area and I have to wait until they are gone. If I could repair my crane to hoist up my jugs from the well I could grow more food again. Once I have some surplus food I could make the journey back home.”
Ahaneith turned to the big man, “Hannu! Have you seen this crane?”
Hannu nodded, “Yes my lady, there’s an old well just on the other side of this crag but the supporting beams have broken and the rope drum fallen in.”
“Can you repair it?”
“Yes, but it will require using all the lumber and rope we have in stock.”
“Thank you Hannu,” then turning back to Dedelion, “Well, it seems that we have something we could offer you. Do you have anything to offer us in return?”
Dedelion shook his head slowly, “No my lady, I haven’t even enough food for myself.”
Ahaneith turned to go, Dedelion jumped to his feet, “Wait! My lady! I just realised that I have more than mere rocks and dust to offer you: I have some answers!”
Ahaneith raised an eyebrow, “Do you know why the Nile god has deserted our people?”
Dedelion nodded gravely, “Yes, I have lived here for fifteen years now. I have surveyed the mountains and the lands far in all directions. I know why the waters do not rise anymore, but it was not the work of the gods. See, ten kilometres upstream from here the Nubians have done something diabolical which you must see and report back to the king for me.”
“Take us there, show us what the Nubians have done to prevent the inundation, and I will gladly order Hannu here to repair your crane so you can use the well again which will greatly relieve your daily burdens allowing you to grow more food for yourself.”
Dedelion agreed for it weighed heavily on his conscience that he had not been able to travel the distance home to inform his people before now. The expedition included ten men, all warriors, with ten camels loaded with supplies. He guided them through the mountain passes helping them to avoid any Nubian patrols in the area, they travelled all day long. They shared their food with him and for the first time in years Dedelion knew what it was like to have a full belly again. They stopped two kilometres short of the location of the Nubian dam and left some of the men behind to guard the camels while Dedelion, Hannu, Ahaneith, and three other warriors made their way to the place the Nubians had struck their diabolical blow against Egypt.
There Dedelion pointed out to them the place where Nubians had managed to crudely construct a dam that was diverting only the flood waters of the Nile into a vast swamp but allowing some of the flow to continue down a narrow channel to the main riverbed. There was a long pause while each Egyptian took in the scene below.
Hannu spoke first, “So all the hardships, famine, death, and lamentations our people have experienced these past twenty years, including the collapse of the United Kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt was caused by Nubians diverting the annual flood in the most primitive way possible: simply by throwing rocks into the sacred river by the millions.”
“They are responsible for the deaths of millions of Egyptian children eaten by their own mothers driven mad by starvation,” began Ahaneith, “There is no punishment too harsh for them to suffer as retribution.”
“Now that you have seen this you should go back home and bring a great royal army back here to wipe out the Nubian garrison here and remove the dam,” urged Dedelion, “A force of about two thousand soldiers should be sufficient to safely eradicate the garrison stationed in the swamp.”
Ahaneith shook her head sadly, “unfortunately the king of Upper Egypt is struggling to hold onto his throne in Thebes. The nomarchs are unruly and don’t respect his authority. He commands an army of only a thousand soldiers and he needs all of them close by in case of rebellion or attack. That’s why there’s only ten of us on this expedition. Without the flood waters there’s not enough food to feed the army needed to wipe out the Nubian infestation in that swamp. We need to raise food production first.”
Silence fell over the group again, and once more Hannu spoke first, brushing his hair from his blue eyes, “I see a weak spot in the dam down there. If we pulled out enough rocks the waters from the river would push most of the dam down under the pressure of its own flow. Let’s sneak past the Nubians in the night and start pulling out those rocks.”
Everyone agreed and under the cover of darkness the small group of Egyptians made their way across the vast dry riverbed and started pulling rocks out of the crude dam. They hadn’t been working for long when a horde of Nubians poured out of the nearby swamp like a colony of heckled wasps. Everyone was captured except for Dedelion who was so thin he was able to squeeze himself underneath a rock to hide. By the torchlight none of the Nubians could see him.
Once the Egyptians were led away and the Nubians gone; Dedelion resumed his work pulling away rocks from the dam. He worked at it alone for an hour when at last he felt water trickling down from between the rocks. He stopped his efforts and immediately set out looking for the others. He waded through the murky waters of the swamp to avoid detection until at last he found the place where his fellow Egyptians were all tied to stakes in a clearing surrounded by tents. There were Nubians everywhere so he covered his entire body in thick black mud and crept as close as he dared to the torches. Thanks to the mud in the darkness no one could tell that he wasn’t a Nubian, only his straw coloured eyes might have given him away, but it was difficult to see them in the darkness.
A grizzly oversized Nubian was examining his captives. He wore no clothes except for a multitude of animal teeth strung like beads on threads all over his body. This must be the chieftain of the Nubian settlement, a brute known as Big Mukka. The brute was examining Ahaneith by aggressively groping all over her body. She spat on him and cursed him writhing with fury beneath the ropes that ensnared her. He said something in Nubian which of the Egyptians Dedelion and Ahaneith alone understood as they both spoke Nubian.
“At last the Egyptian monsters have traveled up the river to discover the source of their lamentations. I wonder how it must feel to know that despite all their fancy metal tools, stone buildings, and great boats it hasn’t protected them? Witness how the strength of Nubian flesh and blood has brought these enemies of Nubia down to their knees! Our king is negotiating to have his daughter marry their southern king, one day soon all of Egypt will be ruled by Nubia and they will all become our slaves and their women forced to bare our children!”
Ahaneith cursed him vehemently but he just smiled smugly and advanced on her menacingly. Then Dedelion stepped forward and called out in fluent Nubian so clear that no one suspected in the flicking torchlight that this mud clad figure was not indeed a Nubian.
“O chieftain! I am a spy serving our great king Kwanda and I have been tracking these thieves! They came to our lands to loot our gold! Their camels got stuck trying to cross the old river bed so they stashed all their treasure there on a raft hoping to break our glorious dam to enable them to escape with tons of our gold and jewels! Right now there is a glorious bounty of jewels hidden somewhere on the riverbed for your men to plunder in the name of king Kwanda!”
Dedelion’s thin frame made him resemble the meekness of the Nubians through the mud and his perfect diction of Nubian terms and phrases convinced Big Mukka, and more importantly the Nubian garrison. The latter being known for their poor discipline responded to Dedelion’s speech before waiting for their chieftain to give them orders. A full half of their number deserted their posts to go searching for the treasure before the sun had yet risen. Dedelion ran after them leaving a perplexed chieftain with only half his garrison and unsure how he should command the remaining garrison. Fearing his own men would take the gold and jewels for themselves he ordered the rest of his soldiers to go to the old riverbed and search for the missing treasure and to bring it back to him. The execution of his captives would have to wait until the morning.
When the sun god Ra’s first rays were making their way into the valley of the dry river bed Dedelion was both frightened and delighted to see over a thousand Nubian warriors searching for the fabled gold and jewels he had lied about. Frantically he started tearing rocks out of the weakest spot of the dam freeing the sacred river from her bondage. As the waters of Hapi started to pour out onto the dry river bed Dedelion heard shouts of distress from behind him. Resolving himself to liberate the sacred river even if it meant dying in the process he worked feverishly to widen the water spout. The sounds of men clamouring up behind him were close by now but with one last rock ripped free he heard the cry of the enraged river god through the creaking rocks telling him he need pull no more stones free: the river god Hapi would finish the rest of his work for him and demolish this sacrilegious dam.
Dedelion fled up the side of the river bed as thousands of rocks and stones started spouting out from all over the compromised dam. He dared not look back while the sound of thunder was lapping at his bare feet. Reaching the safety of the old river bank he finally turned around to see the head of the great river plunging into the mass of Nubian soldiers sweeping them away down the resurgent Nile towards the first cataract where they were certain to be smashed apart by the rocks. Chaos erupted as the Nubian women on the shore started screaming at the sight of their men either drowning or being washed away by the hundreds. Dedelion fled into the marsh finding it deserted of Nubians as they were all at the river bank trying to rescue as many of their tribesmen as they could from the river god’s vengeance.
Dedelion found his kinsmen still tied to the stakes from the night before and using an abandoned knife he found in a hut nearby he started hacking at Ahaneith’s bonds. The noble woman was badly bruised about her joints but still able to stand once she was freed. He was about to start work on freeing Hannu when a fist grabbed him from behind his neck and threw him to the ground. Dedelion looked up in horror to see the giant Nubian chieftain Big Mukka standing over him.
“You! You’re an Egyptian! How come you can speak Nubian so well?”
Dedelion staggered to his feet, “I am Dedelion, royal barber and scribe to King Pepi II of Upper and Lower Egypt, court mathematician, translator, astrologer, and now the fist of Sekhmet come to pummel you Nudians into renewed submission!”
Mukka grunted, “Your fancy words and titles mean nothing here little man. Now it is time for me to pummel you instead!”
He kicked Dedelion off his feet, then kicked him savagely in the ribs several times until Dedelion was too winded to scramble out of the way of Mukka’s club. Then the chieftain raised his war club up over his head poised to deliver the death blow when from out of nowhere Hannu tackled the great beast and slit his throat wide open with the knife Dedelion had found.
While Big Mukka was choking to death on his own blood Ahaneith helped Dedelion back onto his feet.
“What did you do? Where is the Nubian garrison?”
Dedelion couldn’t speak he was in so much pain. Once the other Egyptians were freed they had to carry Dedelion all the way back to the where the Nubian dam had once been and there they saw the carnage he had wrought on the Nubian garrison. They carried him back triumphally to their camels where he lost consciousness at last from the pain in his sides. Several of his ribs had been broken.
Dedelion awoke on his bed back home in his alcove, his ribs bandaged. Ahaneith helped him to drink some water.
“Hannu has just finished repairing your well. Unfortunately we have to leave right away to inform the King in Thebes of everything that happened here. The Nubians are sure to launch a surprise attack now while our homeland is still weak from the prolonged famine. You’re a true hero of Egypt Dedelion. I will return here for you as soon as I can. Thank you for your service. All Egypt is grateful for the life giving floods are returning to our lands again!”
With that Ahaneith kissed Dedelion’s forehead tenderly and was gone. The hermit was left to his solitude once more.