Outcast

A woman wearing a white gown with stylised papyrus flowers stands between two Egyptian pillars and looks out at a desert landscape shrouded with hieroglyphs.Title: Outcast
Series: The Amarna Princesses #1
Release Date: 28 September 2022 (21 September for direct purchases)
ISBN13: 9781922852038
ASIN: B0B1PTQFB9
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Tey always knew she was different. She didn’t grow up wanting marriage and babies like the other girls. She was sure she was meant for something more. Her father has surreptitiously trained her as a soldier and she has been waiting for an opportunity to use her illicit skills.

When the queen’s younger sisters need to be sent away from Akhetaten for their protection, Tey volunteers to go with them. She will leave her home and her life behind to shepherd the two girls to safety and protect them for the rest of their lives.

Pharaoh’s advisors would rather the girls were killed. They don’t want any potential competition for the queen’s throne. Once they realise the girls have fled, they will send men to find them.

But Tey gets more than she bargained for. One of the sisters is too young to understand why she must be sent away. She doesn’t want to go and she has a powerful magic that will endanger them all.

Join Tey and the princesses as they journey across the ancient world in search of a safe place to call home.

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I burst into the house, meaning to tell Papa about how I had just witnessed a man pick up a scorpion and bite off its head, and all without being stung, which seemed almost magical to me. Papa and my brother Intef, who was younger than me by two years, sat facing each other on a rug. I retrieved my daggers from their various sheaths attached to my limbs and lay them neatly on a shelf.

“Close the door, Tey dear,” Papa said to me. “I am sure the neighbours do not want to see how many weapons you have on your body.”

“Better they know, so they do not think to be creeping around in the night,” I said.

Papa was never comfortable with people knowing about my weapons, though, so I did close the door as he asked.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Intef has a funny look on his face.”

“Nothing that concerns you,” Intef said. “Why don’t you make us a meal and let the men finish their conversation?”

Irritation filled me and I breathed deeply to calm myself, just as Papa had taught me. Once I was sure I could speak without stabbing Intef, I raised my eyebrow at him.

“Really?” I asked. “Do you want to re-think that?”

I could tell from the look on his face that he already regretted his words, but he would never admit it.

“No,” he said, giving me an insolent look.

 Before he could say anything else, I snatched a dagger from the sheath around my forearm and threw it at him. I spent hundreds of hours practising this move but had rarely had opportunity to use it. The dagger passed so close to Intef’s head that it nicked his ear before it landed, tip first, in the wall.

“I thought you already put all your daggers on the shelf,” Intef said as he touched his ear and looked at the blood on his fingers. At least he had the sense not to scream or cry. He might annoy me, but he accepted his punishment without complaint. I could respect that.

“Stupid boy,” I said. “As if I would leave myself unarmed. One never knows when a dagger will come in handy.”

“Well, you’ve used it now,” Intef said. “Maybe you could get around to making that meal?”

I grabbed the dagger from my other forearm sheath and sent it flying towards the wall. It nicked his other ear on its way.

“I think you can make your own meal,” I said and went into the other chamber. My stomach growled, reminding me I hadn’t eaten today, but I didn’t want Intef to think he had won.

I closed the door so they wouldn’t realise I was trying to listen to their  conversation. I already knew Intef had been made captain of the new queen’s personal squad of guards. I heard the gossip about how Pharaoh’s senior advisors tried to refuse him but the new queen stood her ground. Intef had been only seven years old when he decided he was in love with her and he had spent the last eight years learning how to protect her. I would never have said it to him, but his single-minded determination impressed me. It motivated me to pursue my own goal of learning to be a foot soldier, even through the years when Papa refused to teach me anything more.

I couldn’t make much sense of their conversation at first. They were making plans for a journey of some sort, although Intef wasn’t the one who would be travelling. He had been charged with sending somebody — or more than one somebody — to a safe place. Once I understood that, I figured out who they must be talking about: the queen’s younger sisters.

There were six princesses originally. The new queen was the third born. Two older sisters and one younger one had all gone to the West. Her two remaining sisters were children, young enough to still let their hair grow in the sidelock of youth. I had never seen them myself. Unlike Intef, I had no reasonable excuse to loiter within the walls of the palace.

There had been some threat made, it seemed, and the queen wanted her sisters sent to safety. Pharaoh’s advisers believed the young princesses could be used by an opposing political faction to steal the throne. Intef feared that if the queen’s sisters were not removed, the queen herself would likely be assassinated to make way for one sister or the other.

The queen had no desire for either her sisters or herself to be killed, so she ordered them be taken away. That was Intef’s responsibility. He was charged with finding a way for the two princesses to leave Akhetaten and escape to a place of safety.

My breath caught in my throat and for a moment I could hardly think. I inhaled, held my breath, exhaled. I needed to be calm for this. I already knew I would volunteer to take the princesses. It wasn’t that I had any particular interest in the girls themselves — I had never wanted babes of my own — but the idea of fleeing the city with two princesses who were in danger of being assassinated gripped me.

I would be their guard. Their guardian. I would keep them safe. We would escape. We would travel to a new city. Maybe even a different country. We would know nobody. We would have nothing but each other. This was what I had trained for my whole life.

When I opened the door between the chambers, Papa knew what I intended even before I spoke. Perhaps he guessed from the look on my face, or perhaps he simply knew me too well. He didn’t try to argue. I had made up my mind and he knew well enough that nobody had ever been able to dissuade me once I had. Intef was the one who didn’t understand at first.

“Fine. I will do it,” I said.

Intef gave me a blank look.

“Do what?” he asked.

“I will take them.”

“Take what?”

I rolled my eyes. He wasn’t as stupid as he pretended to be.

“Does your new queen know how dense you are?” I asked. “The princesses, obviously.”

“Take them where?”

“I will figure that out. But for their safety, I will not tell you.”

He shook his head a little, his face still bearing an expression of bewilderment.

“You are going to take my lady’s sisters away?” he asked. “But who will guard them? Who will provide for them?”

“I will guard them. I will take them away to a place where nobody knows who they are and I will keep them safe.”

“But why? You don’t even know them.”

“Think of the adventure, Intef. We will leave and go somewhere new with nothing but our wits to keep us safe. This is what I have waited for all my life.”

“But what husband will want you with someone else’s children trailing after you?”

“Have I ever said I wanted a husband?”

“But that is what—“

“Do not dare tell me that all women want a husband. I do not. I will not be confined to the house, forced to clean up after a man and wash his clothes and bake his bread. I do not want to bear children and spend my life praying they will survive long enough to grow up. I want to be free. I want to live my own life.”

“But—”

Fortunately for Intef, Papa cut him off before he could say anything else stupid.

“I am very proud of you, Tey,” he said. “But are you ready to walk away from your family and never see us again for the rest of your life? So long as they live, you will never be able to return.”

I went over to him and kissed him on the cheek.

“Dear Papa, I will be sorry to leave you and even sorrier that you will have nobody other than Intef to look after you in your old age. But this is what I have been preparing for. I always knew I was meant to do something more and this is it.”

He rested his hand against the side of my face and gave me a sad smile.

“I know you do not ask for my permission,” he said. “You have already made up your mind and it is no less than I would expect of you, but go with my blessing, dear child. May the gods watch over you and your young charges.”

“Thank you, Papa,” I said. “I am going to get a couple of hours sleep. Intef, I will be at the palace at dawn. Bring them to the west entrance and make sure they are ready to leave. And take this.”

I retrieved a dagger from beneath my shirt — it was the last one I had on my body — and held it out to him.

“I noticed you don’t have one of your own,” I said. “You will need one if you are to be the queen’s captain.”

Intef took the dagger from me. To my surprise, he looked like he was about to burst into tears.

“But this is your favourite,” he said.

“And now it is yours.”

I felt a little teary myself as I returned to the sleeping chamber to make my plans.

I supposed folk had always thought there was something wrong with me and I had often wondered if they were right. At seventeen, most girls my age were already married and had at least a babe or two, but ever since I could remember, I only wanted to be a foot soldier like my father. But of course a girl cannot do that. If I wanted employment I could have sewed or baked bread or brewed beer. I could perhaps have learnt to sculpt or carve or paint tiny beads for rich women to wear on the ends of their braids. Such crafts required talent, though, and I was sorely lacking in any such thing except when it came to the skills of a soldier.

Papa noticed my interest in his occupation while I was very young, perhaps no more than three or four years old. He taught me to wield a dagger and by the time I was six, I was passably proficient in basic defence skills. For several years after that Papa refused to teach me any more. He considered it acceptable for a girl to know how to defend herself, which showed what an extraordinary man he was, but he refused to accept that a girl could learn to attack.

It was the attack I particularly wanted to know. Call it weird or wrong, but I wanted all the skills of a soldier. Perhaps I should have been born a boy. My father said once he thought I would have been happier if I had. I was ten years old before he finally agreed to teach me more, and that was only because I came home with a bloodied nose and two black eyes after picking a fight with an older boy in an attempt to learn the skills I wanted.

So Papa taught me how to use my dagger to take down a man, or to kill him if he was already down. I learnt to identify a trained man and one who carried hidden weapons, as well as how to tell when a man was trying to be unseen. I learned to follow and be unseen myself and I learned to stay motionless for hours at a time. Sometimes I wondered whether my father was merely trying to keep me quiet and occupied when he bid me lie behind a bush or a large rock and remain out of sight for half a day. It was not until many years later that I had cause to be thankful for such training.

When my father had taught me all he could, I used my ability to hide and be unseen to spy on the soldiers as they trained. Not just my father’s squad, but any soldiers I could find. I studied what they did, then practiced it myself. They ran laps of the city and hiked in the desert to make themselves stronger. They learn how to survive on limited rations and even less sleep. I learned those things, then taught myself more. I spent countless hours tracking the wild creatures that lived outside Akhetaten. I learned how to feed myself with nothing but what I could gather or hunt. I learned to find water in the desert.

As soon as I understood what the quiet conversation between Papa and Intef was about, I knew this was my life’s purpose.  This was what I had trained for. All those hours of instruction with my father, and many more hundreds of hours of training and practice on my own, it all led me to this.

The two princesses needed to escape and they needed someone to go with them to keep them safe. That someone would be me.