The home of Raneb was still being guarded by one of Ramesses’s soldiers. The soldier stepped aside to let Qaa enter. The interior was cool and dark, providing respite from the morning heat. The main room was small and showed evidence that someone had been here looking for . . . what? A broken drinking bowl lay on the floor, next to the body. An open wine vessel sat on the table. An imported wine, far more expensive than he surmised the chief could afford, based on the simple residence he occupied. Qaa picked up the vessel and sniffed its contents. The aroma was full and fruity, but with a hint of something unpleasant. He put it back on the table and bent down to examine Raneb.
The man was twenty or so years older than Qaa, but he looked fit. He obviously had not let the benefits of the temple go to his stomach. Numerous flies and beetles covered various parts of Raneb’s corpse. His face was purple and contorted in a grimace; his eyes were staring out at nothing and had clouded over. His body showed no evidence of blows and there were no drag marks on the earthern floor, so he had not been moved. Whoever had ransacked Raneb’s home had done so without disturbing the body. Although the body was warm, it was likely that he died the previous evening. He tried to move Raneb’s head, but the neck was stiff, as were his limbs. He had seen this often in Kush; the man had died the night before and turned completely to stone. To make carrying him easier, he laid Raneb on his back; he noted the side of the body was dark where the blood had settled.
Qaa looked at the various papyri strewn about the simple mud-brick house, but most were sacred texts. The few that were secular in nature contained no mention of murder. On the side table, he noticed another drinking bowl with a black smudge on it. Qaa turned back to the body and noticed the thumb on his right hand was stained, but dry. He carefully examined the clay shards of the broken bowl and found a similar smudge on one of the larger pieces. He had seen all he needed to see for now; he would further examine the body at the temple this evening when the preparations were performed.
He stepped out into the bright Egyptian sunlight, blinking to adjust his sight. He looked up and down the street at the close-set structures; any unusual noise would have been heard in the neighbouring houses. He looked down at the sand outside the house. Too many feet had passed this way; it would be impossible to tell if Raneb had more than one visitor the previous evening. He walked a short distance in the direction of the temple and then back. He looked in between the houses on the left and right, but again, too many feet had walked these paths.
He turned to Thanuny. The priest was older than he by possibly fifteen years. He was a short, fit man who looked like he kept himself well. His kilt was pleated sharply and gleaming white. He carried himself with confidence and appeared to be the type of man who liked order. Thanuny looked to be a man upon whom he could depend to carry out his wishes.
“Thanuny, you may remove the body, but I would like to examine it further, before you start the preparations. Bring the vessel of wine back to the temple, but take care with it; it may tell me what I need to know. I have to return to my ship, and then I shall come to the temple to see the young woman’s body.” Qaa turned to the guard. “I do not want anyone to disturb this house. But I fear the sun may be strong today. Step inside the door and I shall see to getting someone to relieve you.”
Qaa ambled toward the Eastern gateway, threading his way through the narrow streets, looking side to side and down at the sand. He found only one set of footprints leading to the gate from this area, whether it had anything to do with Raneb’s death, he did not yet know. He walked down to the docks and inquired of the Harbour Master if any ships had departed this morning. One had put out at first light, headed down the Nile, to Phoenicia, and three others had left headed to Kush. He stopped briefly at the ship on which he arrived, to change into a lighter linen kilt, and then hurried to the Temple of Amun.
Thanuny had arrived before Qaa and notified the lesser priests to direct him to the body of Iput. When he entered the preparation tent, he found Thanuny and three priests waiting for him. They had removed the linen and loose natron covering the dead woman.
“I would like to know who handled the body and assisted Raneb in his initial investigation. And, would someone tell me the name of this unfortunate woman,” Qaa edged close to the table. He looked briefly at the desiccating body; his stomach lurched and he had to look away.
Thanuny spoke for the group. “Her name was Iput, daughter of Kawit, and she was a wick-maker. She was married to a temple goldsmith’s apprentice, Unas, and her father is Semti, a farmer supplying the temple granaries. Raneb took the hemet netjer to her quarters after she found the body, and then he and I carried the body into this tent. Raneb directed Anedjib to remove all traces of blood outside the entrance. After Raneb had examined her body thoroughly, I began the preparations with Harkhuf and Weni.”
One of the priests stepped forward and bowed. He was a small, thin man about his own age. He appeared nervous in Qaa’s presence and his hands trembled. “I am Anedjib. It was my responsibility to remove any trace of blood from outside the entrance. When I completed my task, I assisted the priests by preparing jars of clay for the internal organs. I am a hery heb and not allowed to touch the body.” He returned to stand next to his brother priests.
The second priest stepped forward, bowing low. By his clothing Qaa knew he also was a hem netjer, as was Thanuny. But, unlike Thanuny, he did not keep his kilt as well. He was about the same age as Thanuny, but was short and thin, as were many Egyptians. He seemed to like the status service in the temple afforded him, by wearing a great deal of adornment. “I am Harkhuf. Raneb and I removed what was left of her clothing and washed the body. I brought Raneb the unguents and oils to anoint her.” He returned to his place.
It was now up to the final man, who wore the kilt of a wab-priest. He was short and plump, old enough to be Qaa’s father. He evidently had enjoyed the luxury of the temple for many years, and now wore a weary countenance. He too bowed in deference to Qaa. “I am Weni. I prepared all the instruments for Raneb, brought in the natron for the organs, placed it on the tables with their jars, and assisted him while he packed her body with the natron packets.”
“Which of you assisted when Raneb removed her organs?” Qaa needed to know.
“It was I who assisted Raneb in the removal of the organs,” Thanuny replied.
“I shall wish to speak with each of you at length. You shall be my eyes as to what Raneb observed and you, Thanuny, shall be invaluable as to what Raneb may have told you. I would like to look at the body myself, and then I must return to the palace. This evening, I shall oversee the preparation of Raneb’s body. I would ask that you have the linen, natron, unguents, and oils at the ready. Raneb served this temple well and deserves to have only the finest preparation. Thanuny, you knew Raneb so it is only proper that you prepare the body and I shall assist,” Qaa dismissed the three lesser priests to begin their tasks. He turned to Thanuny.
“Would you assist me in turning the body so I may look at her back?”
Thanuny and Qaa turned the body so her back was facing them. Her back and buttocks showed numerous healed wounds, which had been inflicted over time. There appeared to be a healed burn mark on her left buttock as well. There was a large open wound in her lower back on the right side, which could have been the fatal wound.
“Let us lay her back down,” Qaa said to Thanuny. He had seen some horrible wounds in his military campaigns, but this woman had lived a short and brutal life. She bore telltale burn marks on both wrists and ankles, like many a captive, which told him someone had restrained her against her will. The marks were not recent, and also appeared to have occurred over time, so they may not have been inflicted by her killer. Qaa further noted that the fingers on her left hand appeared to have been broken, as they had not healed properly.
Qaa now turned his attention to the front of Iput’s body. There were two large wounds, probable stab wounds, one in her lower left abdomen, the other in her left chest. Again, either one of these could have been a fatal wound if delivered with enough force, but taken together, mercifully she must have died within minutes. However, it was the other wounds on her body which disturbed him more than what he had observed on her back. He prayed they had been inflicted after death.
Her throat had been slashed numerous times, making it appear she had been attacked by a wild animal. But the wounds were all of varying length and depth, which meant her killer had deliberately taken the time to inflict them. Both breasts had been slashed in a similar manner, as had been her genital area. He would ask each of the priests about any internal injuries Raneb may have observed. Qaa felt like retching; doing battle against an enemy was one thing, but brutalizing a woman . . . there were no words to describe a person like that.