Itaweret had moved her last pawn off the last square on the senet board. Straightening her posture up on her stool, she crossed her arms with a triumphant smirk.
“By Apep, not again!” Bek slammed his hands on the ebony table, knocking both of his two remaining pawns off the game board. “There must be some mistake!”
“What mistake? That you’ve been losing the past few times?” Itaweret laughed. “I keep telling you, brother, you take these games much too seriously. You act as if the fate of all Per-Pehu depended on it.”
Bek narrowed his eyes while curling his lips apart into a snarl. “I might not be wrong. If I am to govern this colony, I must hone my strategic skills. How can I do that when I keep losing to a—a priestess?”
Itaweret didn’t even take an ounce of offense to his last comment. If anything, it amused her even more. “Remember what Father says. You do not have to succeed to learn.”
Bek opened his mouth for another retort but stopped to stand up and take a deep breath. His mahogany forehead sparkled with sweat from the afternoon sunlight that descended upon the back courtyard. Getting up from his stool beside the table, he stormed across the courtyard to an alabaster bench beneath one of the olive trees and plopped down to sulk in its shade.
As entertaining as it always was to witness her brother act out his distress at the end of every senet game, any pleasure Itaweret still felt evaporated when she saw him wipe a finger over his moist cheek. Not since they were both children had she seen Bek show that kind of emotion unless he thought nobody was looking.
She walked over to sit beside him on the bench, laying her arm on his shoulders. “It is alright, brother. Take your mind off it.” Itaweret pointed to the rectangular pool in the middle of the courtyard, fringed with papyrus reeds and scented with the fragrance of blue lotus flowers.
“Remember how you loved to chase the frogs across the lily pads? Or how you would dig every morning under the palm trees in search of treasure or monster bones? The hole still hasn’t closed up.”
Bek brushed her arm off. “I outgrew those childish things years ago. I am a man now. And what’s more, I am the Great Chief of Per-Pehu’s son. I should be off studying anyway.”
He got up and retreated to the columned gallery surrounding the courtyard, disappearing through the doorway that led to his bedchamber.
Itaweret sighed and muttered a prayer that her younger brother find peace. As far as Bek had become concerned, everything the gods had placed on earth had to test his mettle as the future Great Chief. Even the senet game itself seemed less of a diversion for him than practice for his tactical abilities should he have to lead the colony’s garrison into battle. Not even the sons of the Pharaohs back in Egypt, across the Great Green Sea to the south, would have preoccupied themselves with so much uneasy anticipation of their responsibilities.
Not that she, as his sister, could do much more to ease the poor boy’s temper. Instead, she might as well savor the tranquility of the courtyard, listening to the dulcet twitter of black doves nested on the palm, acacia, and olive trees. Now that she had the bench all to herself, Itaweret laid down and stretched her figure over it, letting her black dreadlocks spill down as she basked in the summertime warmth.
“What’s the matter with your brother, my child?”
Dedyet, wife of the Great Chief of Per-Pehu, had entered from the opposite side of the courtyard. A smile creased wide across her weathered dark brown face.
Itaweret sat up and scooted aside to make room for her mother. “Oh, he’s a bit upset that he lost another game of senet today. I suppose I can’t blame him.”
“You would act the same way if you were in his place, believe me,” Dedyet said. “And while he does need to learn graciousness, your brother isn’t wrong to feel the stress he does. If anything, Itaweret, I think you could stand to learn from him.”
Itaweret cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean, mother?”
“Suffice to say, I’d think the High Priestess of Mut would spend her time doing more important things than playin...