'No doubt about it, he was being followed.'
One early evening, he had risen when the sun was still up and scanned the horizon with a practised eye. There in the distance, almost invisible, was a slight disruption in the heat haze that lay like silt across the horizon line. He made a mental note but thought little more of it. The next day, however, he made sure to rise at the same time and there in the band of light on the horizon, in the same place as the day before, was a pockmark. No doubt about it, he was being followed. What’s more, whoever was tracking him knew their business. He was obviously keeping the distance between them constant.
Testing his theory risked alerting his pursuer, but he had to do it. He slowed his pace. The heat signature remained constant. He travelled during the day, braving the searing sun. The follower must have done the same. One night he galloped, pushing his horse as hard as he dared. The one who was tracking him saw, anticipated and did likewise.
There was only one thing for it. He had to abandon his mission, at least temporarily, until he could do something about whoever was stalking him. When had his pursuer picked up his trail? An experienced scout himself, Emsaf had been cautious.
Right, he thought. Let’s think about this. He had spotted his ghost on the fifth day of his travels, which was encouraging, because it meant that Merti and Ebe were safe. As long as whoever it was stayed well away from his home, that was good. What he needed to do now was try to flush out his stalker.
Not far outside Ipou, Emsaf came upon a settlement. Traders had set up stalls and were selling oils, cloth, lentils and beans in tall jars. Many were passing through, and he managed to find one going in the direction of Thebes, offering him coin to deliver a message, with the assurance of more when the job was done. Emsaf bought provisions but didn’t linger long. Passing farmers and oxen made him think of Merti and Ebe with a pang of homesickness. He found a crossing and traversed the Nile to the Western Desert, drawing his pursuer, planning his next move.
Two nights later he had come across the huntsman’s shelter on the plain, and decided it was the ideal spot to lie in wait.
And sure enough, now his target came into view – a lone figure on horseback in the distance, emerging from the heat haze. Emsaf thanked the gods the sun was at his back and notched the arrow, sighting the rider. He noted the same, now-familiar shape of the cape, the colouring of his horse.
It was time.
Emsaf took a long breath, keeping his quarry sighted, holding his aim for what felt like a long time. The bow needed to be loosed before his muscles shook and his aim was spoiled. He needed to end this now.
He opened the fingers of his right hand.
His arrow found its mark. In the distance the rider tumbled from his mount with a puff of dust and sand as he hit the ground. Emsaf notched another arrow and took aim, ready to fire a second time if needs be, watching the body for signs of life.