“HOLD!” YELLED HOREMHEB, the low timbre of his powerful voice cutting through the dry desert air. The highly trained Egyptian forces halted abruptly. Tut stopped too. Then he stared in utter amazement at the scene unfolding before him.
A mile distant, the Canaanite army poured forth from behind the city walls.
The infantry marched three columns abreast, numbering perhaps five thousand men. The all-important archers were assembled on the wings, ready to fire on any Egyptian flanking movement.
Up in the very front, in a mirror image of Horemheb and Tut and the rest of Egypt’s commanders, the Canaanite charioteers charged forward. There were two men in each chariot, a driver and an archer, which allowed arrows to be fired while racing into battle.
The Canaanites came fast, as if intending to take immediate control of the field.
Their hulking shoulders and the great, dark beards that covered their chests made them look bigger and stronger than the Egyptians.
To his shame, Tut’s throat instantly closed in terror. He threw up in his mouth. As he studied the Canaanites, he realized that their march had not faltered, nor had their pace slackened. They seemed to grow more terrifying as they closed to within five hundred yards.
But their horses! Tut could see that they were ill trained and struggling to turn away from the fight.
Even the animals have the good sense to fear the coming battle, he thought. These were not the horses of victorious warriors, but horses that knew what it was like to turn and flee.
The realization galvanized Tut, but the chaos in his stomach intensified. He bent over and vomited in his chariot, quickly wiping his mouth and standing up straight so that his men would not think their pharaoh weak.
But there was no hiding anything from Horemheb. “I have done it many times myself, Pharaoh,” he said, his voice laced with sarcasm.
No, now would not be a good time to cut off Horemheb’s arm. Later, perhaps. After the victory was assured.
“It will not happen again,” Tut barked, steel in his voice.
His schooling had included courses in tactics and warfare. Now, with Horemheb’s taunt ringing in his ears, Tut took command of the battlefield. He removed the composite bow from his shoulders. Made of cherrywood and leather, its gleaming ivory decorations looked too beautiful for the battlefield, even as the copper-headed arrows in his quiver shone with lethal intent.
“Give the order for battle formations!” he told Horemheb.
The general glared at Tut but said nothing at first. He was not used to being ordered about, especially by a boy. “As you wish, my king,” he finally replied.
Then Horemheb turned and faced the assembled army. “Battle formations!”
The Egyptian column spread out, until they formed a wide but narrow line, shoulder to shoulder, twenty men deep, facing down the men of Canaan.
The well-trained charioteers remained in front. The archers scurried to the right and left flanks.
Horemheb and the entire army awaited Tut’s next command.
Conventional wisdom said that a wide-open battlefield like this desert plain favored the defender, so in this case it was best to wait for the Canaanites to make the first move.
But Tut knew that such tactics did not always work. As his adrenaline surged, flooding him with a new fearlessness, his instincts told him that this day the Egyptians must attack first.
“I do not wish to give them a chance to flee behind the city walls,” Tut stated evenly.
“As I said before, we will wait them out,” insisted the general.
Tut licked his lips. Holding tight to the reins of his chariot, he stepped from the chassis and turned to face his troops.
Their bodies glistened with sweat, and they looked tired from the two-week march from Thebes, but there was no mistaking their professionalism. They were reliant warriors, hungry for battle and the rewards of victory. They had trained and drilled for the sweet primal satisfaction of fighting man to man against a sworn enemy of Egypt. And then—plunder.
Tut’s heart raced. He had never been so proud to be an Egyptian.
The troops watched him expectantly, awaiting the next command. “General Horemheb, command the archers to open fire.”