As he strode from the docks, in the direction of the Great Gate, Qaa was astonished by what he saw. When he left Waset twelve years ago, construction on the mortuary temple of Ramesses III was just beginning. From the Nile, he had seen the completed complex, safely ensconced behind the high, vividly adorned walls and pylon gates. At the entrance, giant carved marble obelisks, capstones layered in gold, glinted in the harsh Egyptian sunlight. Waset buzzed with activity – workmen painting the columns, scribes and priests marking the symbols for the stone cutters, the distant sound of the goldsmiths. The din from the marketplace was just audible and the smells from the stalls, as well as the temple bakery, were more exotic than he remembered. But all that could wait; he would have plenty of time later to explore his boyhood home.
Blue and white banners, signifying the status of this enclosure as a mortuary complex, swayed lazily in the still air above the Great Gate. As he passed through the First Pylon, he could see the palace off to his left, flanked by columns brightly decorated with reeds and lotus flowers. Qaa quickened his step; he would much rather appear before the king early than be late. He had crossed half the courtyard when he saw someone approach. As the distance between them closed, he recognized the familiar kilt and wesekh of a hem netjer.
“The king wishes me to direct you to his private chambers. There has been a rather unfortunate event and he wishes to see you immediately,” the priest said.
He followed the priest through the palace corridors to King Ramesses’s private chambers. The only sound was the soft, crunching noise of the reed sandals, worn by both men, against the polished tile floor. Ushered into the room, they observed the seated king, deep in conversation with a Medjay, the elite guard of the palace.
“Your majesty, I have brought Qaa as you requested.” The priest bowed deeply to the king.
“Leave us. We have much to discuss.” The king looked troubled as the priest and Medjay both exited the private chamber. Qaa had not seen the man he once called “Father” for five years. He was no longer the warrior-king he fought so bravely alongside. Ramesses had begun to take on the guise of the Nile god, enlarged breasts, rounded belly. Egypt had been enjoying peace and prosperity these many years, and it showed upon the king. His face was weary and worn, as if he were a noble statue, too long in the sun and blowing sand. Qaa approached and bowed low, in deference to his king.
“Your majesty, I have come at your request. How may I serve you?” Qaa straightened and looked at Ramesses.
Ramesses smiled broadly. Qaa had served him well in the campaigns against the Libyans and the Sea Peoples, earning him the Flies of Valour for his bravery, which he still wore around his neck on top of his wesekh. For his unwavering service he had been well compensated by being elevated to the post of Viceroy of Kush. Unlike the sons of his body, Qaa would do anything his king asked. Ramesses stood, approached Qaa, and embraced him warmly.
“Qaa, you do not have to observe formality with me in private. You are still like a son to me.”
The two men walked out to the palace gardens and sat overlooking the royal pond. It was a beautiful, lush oasis in the middle of this inhospitable desert. Tranquil and restful, the blue lotus flowers floated on the surface of the pond, their scent heavily perfuming the still air. Date palms and fig trees lined the perimeter, creating a barrier from the responsibilities of kingship, providing a private respite from the pressures of governing an empire. For quite some time neither of them spoke. Qaa sensed Ramesses was burdened by whatever unfortunate event had occurred. Ramesses seemed quite content to just sit in his private gardens, breathing in the aroma of the plants that were now in full bloom. Qaa patiently waited for his king to speak.
“I had summoned you to head up the military, here in Waset, but the gods have interceded. I now need you more in another capacity. My advisors have informed me you are not only First hem netjer in Kush, but also fair and just in legal matters. Any good soldier may work his way up the ranks, but you have excelled in keeping the peace and ferreting out evildoers. It is in this capacity that I now need your skills.”
“My lord, I have always prided myself on my military accomplishments, but you know I serve you and my beloved land. I shall assume any role you feel appropriate.”
“My Chief of the Medjay, who also held the post of First hem netjer nt Amun, was found dead this morning in his home. He had been investigating the brutal murder of a woman found at the entrance of the temple complex. We were to meet this morning regarding the investigation. I now fear the crime may go unsolved, and I am uneasy about his death.” Ramesses stared directly at Qaa, his gaze never wavered from the young man’s unusual blue eyes.
“Had he been ill?” Qaa understood the seriousness of the situation. Waset was the capital city of Upper Egypt and a brutal murder was not an everyday occurrence. The safety of foreign travelers to the city could have a devastating effect on trade if this were not dealt with swiftly.
“Aside from having lived a long life, he was in good health. I need to know that the murder shall not go unresolved; it has disrupted my daughter’s life and she is quite shaken by it. She not only found the body, but in her capacity as hemet netjer nt Amun, she had counseled the young woman at the temple and was expecting her the very night of her death.”
“May I see the chief’s home and his body? I may be able to discern if this was an unfortunate accident or something more sinister. Do you suspect his death could be related to the murder investigation?”
“Raneb had told me he was close to solving the crime and he had been an outstanding officer for many years. If he wanted to see me, he must have had some information that was vital,” Ramesses said.
“What has become of the young woman’s body? Did her family have the means for a proper burial?”
“My daughter is taking care of her burial. She feels responsible for this woman’s untimely death. The body is at the temple embalming tents being prepared.”
“I shall examine her body myself and question the priests who handled her with Raneb. I do not know what he observed, but the priests may be able to shed some light on this matter. I shall also need to speak with your daughter at a later time, since she found the body, if that is acceptable with you?”
“I shall have Thanuny take you to Raneb’s house. His body is still there. When you have assessed the scene, the priests may take his body to the temple for preparation. Return here after you have seen the woman’s body. I shall summon my daughter when you are ready to question her. I trust your judgment in this matter.”
“My king, I shall consult you in all matters concerning this business,” Qaa stood, bowed to Ramesses, turned, and exited into the corridor where the priest was waiting to conduct him to the home of the dead Chief of the Medjay.