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When we were alone, Tanus said softly, "Salitis has four regiments across the river. Six hundred chariots. It is over."

I tried to sit up, but my head ached abominably and I groaned, then clutched his arm as it all came back to me.

My mistress turned back to me. "Taita, I have not asked you before, because I know how dearly it costs you. But I must ask you now before I make the final decision. I ask you to work the Mazes of Ammon-Ra for me. I must know what the gods require of us."

I had realized that this must happen, but I had refrained from warning either Tanus or my mistress of the likelihood, for I did not wish to add to the feeling of gloom, and heighten the despondency of our people. I had searched my heart for a counter to this move when Salitis and Intef made it, but there was none that I could think of. Therefore, since I could do nothing to allay these fears, I thought it best to keep them to myself.

"Your Majesty, I have forty chariots that I can send in to meet him. He has three hundred. My chariots are swifter than those of Salitis, but my men cannot match his in skill and training. There is also the matter of the wheels. I have not perfected them. Salitis will overwhelm and destroy us very easily. If I am given the time and the material, I can build new and better chariots with wheels that do not burst, but I cannot replace the horses. We dare not risk the horses. They are our only hope for eventual victory."

When it finally happened, and our spies on the east side of the river opposite Asyut warned us of the approach of this fleet from the Delta, Tanus rushed his own ships northwards to meet them. His fleet was superior in every way to the one which Salitis and Intef had assembled, but the battle they fought lasted for almost a week before Tanus destroyed or drove them back into the Delta.

THE SUCCESS OF MY CHARIOTS AT ESNA, and the feeling of confidence that it instilled in us all, were short-lived. Secretly, I had expected and dreaded what would happen next. It was the enemy's logical move, and both Salitis and Lord Intef should have made it much earlier. We knew that when he swept through the Lower Kingdom, Salitis had captured most of the fleet of the red pretender intact. Those ships were lying abandoned in the docks of Memphis and Tanis in the Delta. However, there must be droves of renegade Egyptians from the usurper's navy available to Salitis, and even if that were not the case, it would certainly be possible to recruit enough mercenary Syrian sailors in Gaza and Joppa, and the other ports along the eastern coast of the great sea, to man several hundred of these galleys and transports.

"I can slow him down, perhaps," he replied frankly. "We have learned a great deal about him. We can wait for him behind walls of stone, or behind barriers of the sharp staves that Taita has equipped us with. But Salitis need not give battle. His chariots are so fast that he can swing around our positions as he did at Asyut. No, I cannot stop him."

QUEEN LOSTRIS CALLED HER WAR COUNCIL when the news of the Hyksos crossing reached us in the Palace of Memnon. She addressed her first question to Tanus.

"You crazy old fool." He forced a grin at me. "What, in the name of Horus, were you laughing about?"

The messenger stuttered in fear of his life, "Divine Majesty, while our fleet was busy at Asyut, the barbarian made another crossing at Esna. They swam the horses over as they did before, but this time there were none of our galleys ready to turn back their boats. Two Hyksos regiments are across. Their horses are in the traces and they are coming on a cloud of dust, swiftly as the flight of the swallow. They will be here in three days."

"Your Majesty, I have forty chariots that I can send in to meet him. He has three hundred. My chariots are swifter than those of Salitis, but my men cannot match his in skill and training. There is also the matter of the wheels. I have not perfected them. Salitis will overwhelm and destroy us very easily. If I am given the time and the material, I can build new and better chariots with wheels that do not burst, but I cannot replace the horses. We dare not risk the horses. They are our only hope for eventual victory."

"Don't worry that battered head of yours". I have already sent Hui to gather them up," he assured me. "If I am to have five hundred of those contraptions of yours for my new chariot division, I will need a thousand of those cursed brutes to pull them. However, those new-fangled wheels of yours " are more dangerous than a regiment of Hyksos. I will not ride with you again until you do something about them."

However, Salitis had brought his transports up behind the screen of fighting galleys, and while the river battle still raged, he was able to embark almost two full regiments of horse and chariot, and ferry them intact to our side of the river, without our galleys being able to reach them.

My mistress turned back to me. "Taita, I have not asked you before, because I know how dearly it costs you. But I must ask you now before I make the final decision. I ask you to work the Mazes of Ammon-Ra for me. I must know what the gods require of us."

"I can slow him down, perhaps," he replied frankly. "We have learned a great deal about him. We can wait for him behind walls of stone, or behind barriers of the sharp staves that Taita has equipped us with. But Salitis need not give battle. His chariots are so fast that he can swing around our positions as he did at Asyut. No, I cannot stop him."

Iwoke again under the awning on the deck of Tanus" flagship. I found myself lying on a sheepskin mattress, with Tanus leaning over me. As soon as he saw that I was conscious, he masked the expression of concern and worry that had twisted his features.

"No" my mistress's voice shook with the force of her denial. "The gods cannot desert this very Egypt now. Our civilization cannot perish. We have too much to give to the world."

When it finally happened, and our spies on the east side of the river opposite Asyut warned us of the approach of this fleet from the Delta, Tanus rushed his own ships northwards to meet them. His fleet was superior in every way to the one which Salitis and Intef had assembled, but the battle they fought lasted for almost a week before Tanus destroyed or drove them back into the Delta.

THE SUCCESS OF MY CHARIOTS AT ESNA, and the feeling of confidence that it instilled in us all, were short-lived. Secretly, I had expected and dreaded what would happen next. It was the enemy's logical move, and both Salitis and Lord Intef should have made it much earlier. We knew that when he swept through the Lower Kingdom, Salitis had captured most of the fleet of the red pretender intact. Those ships were lying abandoned in the docks of Memphis and Tanis in the Delta. However, there must be droves of renegade Egyptians from the usurper's navy available to Salitis, and even if that were not the case, it would certainly be possible to recruit enough mercenary Syrian sailors in Gaza and Joppa, and the other ports along the eastern coast of the great sea, to man several hundred of these galleys and transports.

When it finally happened, and our spies on the east side of the river opposite Asyut warned us of the approach of this fleet from the Delta, Tanus rushed his own ships northwards to meet them. His fleet was superior in every way to the one which Salitis and Intef had assembled, but the battle they fought lasted for almost a week before Tanus destroyed or drove them back into the Delta.

None of us spoke until Tanus had sent the man away with orders that he be fed and cared for. The messenger, who had expected to be killed, kissed Queen Lostris" sandals.

"Your Majesty, I have forty chariots that I can send in to meet him. He has three hundred. My chariots are swifter than those of Salitis, but my men cannot match his in skill and training. There is also the matter of the wheels. I have not perfected them. Salitis will overwhelm and destroy us very easily. If I am given the time and the material, I can build new and better chariots with wheels that do not burst, but I cannot replace the horses. We dare not risk the horses. They are our only hope for eventual victory."

"Now that he is across the river, can you check the barbarian?"

For a moment it did not penetrate my aching skull, then I realized that it had happened. Tanus had quashed his pride, and given in to me. My orphan chariot squadron was at last to be part of the standing army, and he would give me the men and gold to build five hundred more. He would even ride with me again, if only I could fix my wheels.

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