She knows she's going to kill the man she loves. She just doesn't know why yet.
Ankhesenamun needs to produce an heir to the throne -- quickly. Pharaoh Tutankhamun is young and weak. His chief advisors are planning his quiet removal and Ankhesenamun hopes to hold them off by producing an heir who can become a stronger Pharaoh.
When Pharaoh's advisors move the court from the desert city of Akhetaten back to ancient Memphis, Ankhesenamun is thrown into a new world of danger, secrets, and old gods. Her dreams warn her of a blond-haired man who she will fall desperately in love with -- and who will die by her own hand.
When the man from her dreams suddenly enters her life, she realises just how hard it's going to be to stay away from him. Forgetting the warnings, she throws herself into an affair with him. After all, she's supposed to be producing an heir. As his secrets start to be revealed, she searches for a way to save him. But saving his life might lead him to a fate worse than death.
Queen of Egypt is book 1 in a new series set in 18th Dynasty Egypt in a world where the old gods have been worshipped for thousands of years and magic is a matter of belief.
I dream of blood. It drips from my hands and splatters on my face. The coppery tang of it is in my throat and nostrils. I am sitting in my bed, my feet tucked beneath me, clutching a man to my chest. His blood soaks the fine linen sheets.
He pulls away to lie back on the cushions and stare up at me with grey eyes. His gaze holds mine, filled with pain and bitterness, but also, strangely, gratitude.
I shudder as his blood runs across my belly. It is hot and drains from him far too fast.
The light in his eyes dims as his spirit departs. I do not know who he is. I only know that I love him more than life itself. And I have killed him.
I woke to a hand on my shoulder, shaking me gently.
“My lady.” It was Istnofret, one of the women who attend me. The other two, Charis and Sadeh, stood behind her. “It is time to leave.”
As I rose from my bed, the dead man’s face was still fresh in my mind. He had blond hair which curled around his ears in soft wisps, yet we Egyptians are dark-skinned with ebony hair and midnight eyes. I wondered who he was. I hoped I never found out. In my dream my heart was breaking even as I slid the knife into his belly. I felt like I died with him as his blood soaked my bed. I held him in my arms during his final shudders and once his spirit was gone, I kissed his face and closed his eyes.
There is another ending to my dream, one which comes to me almost as often as the first. In that version, the man lives. He smashes rocks with a heavy mallet. Sweat drips from his brow. I see only a glimpse of this future, nothing more than a moment. Is he building something? Clearing rubble?
Ever since I was a young girl, I had dreamed of different futures. I never knew what decision I made would result in which outcome, and it was often not until later that I even realised the significance of what I had done.
My thoughts were interrupted as Charis straightened my dress, tugging the skirt so that it fell more perfectly around my ankles. Sadeh touched up my makeup, adding kohl around my eyes and rouge to my cheeks. Istnofret adjusted the placement of my wig. Once all three of my ladies were satisfied with my appearance, I left my chambers, surrounded by my personal guards. Istnofret and Charis trailed behind, chattering quietly between themselves, while Sadeh remained behind.
As I walked, the images of blood and death began to fade, replaced instead with thoughts of another dream that was heavy on my mind at present, for like the one in which I killed the blond-haired man, I had dreamed it several times. In one future our city, Akhetaten, stood strong and proud. Its whitewashed buildings gleamed in the sun. Its people were fed, well-occupied and content. The royal tombs in the cliffs that surrounded our desert city were filled with the bodies of my family, and our dynasty ruled Egypt for millions of years.
In the other future, the city had disintegrated. Not a single wall stood taller than knee-high to show what the city had been before. Strangers — foreigners — walked amongst the rubble and destruction. The royal tombs were empty, their contents looted, the bodies gone.
We reached the chamber I had been summoned to and I waited in the hall while two of my guards lit a lamp and checked inside. It took them mere moments for the chamber was small with not even so much as a window. There were no chairs or wall hangings or chests. Anyone there would be exposed but, still, protocol required that I wait while they checked and so I did. Never let any man say that I did not know what was required of me.
“My lady.” Intef, the captain of my personal squad, stepped aside so I could enter.
I nodded my thanks to him. It was a strange location for a meeting. The chamber was barely the length of two men and half as wide. It had probably been intended for storage but was currently unused. Its whitewashed walls displayed a painting of Akhenaten my father, may he have eternal life, making an offering to his god. Light from the oil lamp fixed to the wall flickered across the images, making my father’s hands look like they were moving.
I had lingered in my chambers in the hope of keeping Pharaoh’s advisors waiting and I was annoyed to find they hadn’t arrived yet. I disliked being summoned to this meeting without even a hint of what it was about.
Two of my guards took up position beside the doorway. The other three waited in the hall, along with my ladies. They followed me everywhere, half a squad of guards and at least two of my three ladies. The gods forbid that the queen should desire a cup of beer or a fan bearer or a scribe, and have nobody to fetch them for her.
The chamber was stifling and already sweat trickled between my shoulder blades. I wiped my damp palms on my skirt. Istnofret darted into the chamber, bearing a linen cloth.
“My lady, let me wipe your brow,” she said.
I submitted while she dabbed the cloth across my forehead and briefly below one eye. I wasn’t sure whether it was her sweat or my own I could smell.
“It is so hot in here that your kohl is running,” she said. “Would my lady like me to send for a fan bearer?”
“No. This will not take long.”
“A chair perhaps? My lady could sit in comfort while she waits.”
“I am fine.” My tone was sharper than she deserved. Istnofret gave my forehead one last dab and then backed away with a low bow. My ladies seldom bowed to me in the privacy of my chambers, but they were careful to observe all social expectations in public.
The lamp dimmed briefly. The guards by the door tensed, no doubt thinking this part of some elaborate plot to murder me, but then the lamp resumed its flickering. I almost wished it would go out, for the chamber might be a little cooler without its flame. The air in here was stale and I was starting to feel light-headed from the heat. If Pharaoh’s advisors did not arrive soon, they would likely find me passed out on the mud brick floor.
As soon as I had received this summons, conveyed to me by the careful words of a messenger, my stomach had started to churn. Why would Pharaoh’s chief advisors wish to meet me in such an isolated place? I had no fear that they intended me harm, not with five of our best guards by my side, and if nothing else, my ladies would scream for help. But I had never met with these men without Pharaoh. So why did they now suddenly want to speak with me alone? Was this moment the one that would determine which future lay ahead of my beloved city?
I straightened my back and prepared myself to face whatever the men had to say calmly and with firmness of purpose. I would do what I thought was right for my country, regardless of whether it was what they wanted or not. They might control Pharaoh, but they did not control me.
Footsteps in the hallway tore me from my thoughts. Three men entered. Too few for the number of feet I had heard. It seemed they too had brought guards. What presumption. These men did not rule Egypt, regardless of what they thought. They had no entitlement to personal guards. But they used Egypt’s resources as their own and so long as Pharaoh was too young to take back his own throne, they would continue to do as they pleased.
“My lady.” Grand Vizier Ay offered a shallow bow. The courtesy was brief enough to be offensive and I gave him a pointed look. Our relationship had always been tumultuous, a constant shifting of power. I might be Queen but he was Pharaoh’s Voice and thought himself superior to me. He studied me with cold eyes which perched above a beak-like nose. I kept my face blank and tried to conceal how much he repulsed me.
The other two men bowed more deeply. Still not the courtesy I should have been afforded, but it was better than Ay’s. I nodded at them. Ay would notice I had acknowledged their respects but not his and would know I intended it as an insult.
Advisor Maya was a small man with curved shoulders and a crooked back. He peered up at me through watery eyes. Advisor Wennefer towered over him, although if Maya were to stand up straight, they might be of a similar height. Wennefer’s face was narrow and his eyes were so close together that he had the appearance of a permanent frown.
I turned away from the men and pretended to study the images on the wall. My father’s gaze was fixed on his god, as it had been throughout his life. He was the most devout man I had ever known, unlike these with me who worshipped power and authority.
“Why have you called me here?” I asked, without turning back to face them. I sounded strong. Confident.
“To safeguard the future of our country,” Ay said.
“How?” I kept my gaze fixed on the wall but my stomach was tied in knots.
“Pharaoh is weak,” he said. “His health does not improve and in fact he grows increasingly feeble. It is time we began to make plans for his succession.”
The air rushed from the room, leaving me gasping for breath. I steadied myself with a hand on the wall, leaning closer to it as if inspecting some finer detail.
“His health has been poor since birth,” I said. “He has ruled for four years without this being a problem.”
“He is too fragile,” Maya said. His voice was slightly more conciliatory than Ay’s. He, at least, was pretending I had a choice in this. “We are vulnerable with such a Pharaoh on the throne. It is only a matter of time before some other country realises our weakness and invades. We cannot afford a war right now, not with the royal treasury still so empty.”
“If Pharaoh were to, may the gods forbid it, die without an heir,” Wennefer said, “the country would be thrown into chaos.”
“We cannot afford to wait any longer.” Ay cut in before Wennefer could say anything else. “Our position is untenable.”
“What exactly are you proposing?” I kept my back to them. I would not face them until I was sure I had my emotions under control. Pharaoh was not only my husband, but also my little brother. He was of our father’s blood, thus providing a clear line of succession to the throne. If these men intended to displace him, it meant they were planning his death.
“He must be replaced,” Ay said. “We will choose a stronger Pharaoh and you will marry him to legitimise his rule.”
He was not going to pretend I had a choice. This was a directive from the men who controlled the throne and he intended to leave me in no doubt about it.
“Or what?” With a final deep breath to compose myself, I turned around and swept a frosty glare over all three men. “You forget yourselves. I am Queen of Egypt and I am not subject to your commands.”
Ay took a step closer and I forced myself to stand my ground.
“Do I need to remind you, my lady” — heavy sarcasm emphasised my title — “that Pharaoh rules with our support? He is but a child and his hold on the throne is tenuous at best.”
I returned his stare. “If anything happens to Pharaoh, I will be the first to accuse you.”
“And who would believe you? A young queen, still grieving the loss of her parents and now distraught at Pharaoh’s untimely death? All would know that your mind was not sound.”
I glared at him, letting my eyes say the things I couldn’t allow to come from my mouth. In truth, I was shocked. Ay had always been careful to sound respectful before, in his words at least, even if his tone or his eyes said something else. He must be very certain of his own power to speak to me in such a way. He waited, his gaze still mocking me, and eventually I broke our stare and looked to Maya and Wennefer.
“Have you nothing to say for yourselves?” I asked them. “Do you let Ay speak for both of you?”
“We support the throne, my lady,” Wennefer said. “We will do whatever we must to ensure the safety of Egypt’s future.”
I looked at Maya but he looked down at the ground. Of the three, he was the weakest, the only one I might possibly persuade to another point of view if I could speak with him alone. I flicked my gaze back to Ay.
“Pharaoh needs an heir,” I said. “If the succession is assured, we will be in a stronger position.”
“And you will produce an heir?” Ay’s tone was skeptical.
“I will. But you know the timing of such things cannot be guaranteed.”
“You may try to shirk your duty to Egypt, but we will not allow it to happen.”
“I have never shirked my duty.”
He raised one hairless eyebrow. “Then prove it. We shall choose a suitable man and send him to your chambers.”
“I will choose for myself,” I said.
“He must be of Pharaoh’s bloodline.”
“I am of the same bloodline as Pharaoh. Any child I bear will be of his bloodline, regardless of who his father is.”
“There are certain other prerequisites a man must meet in order to be suitable to sire the heir to the throne,” he said. “It would be more appropriate if we made the selection.”
“It is my bed he will come to, and I shall decide who he will be.”
We stared at each other for a long moment.
“He must be of noble birth,” Ay said. “We will not tolerate an heir born of a commoner.”
“Fine,” he said. “You may choose. But do not take too long or we shall make the decision for you.”
I drew my shoulders back and didn’t let the shudder that passed through me show.
“It is agreed then,” I said, and swept out of the room.