Secrets of Pharaoh

A woman wearing a white gown with a golden sash walks through the courtyard of a temple.Title: Secrets of Pharaoh
Series: Palace of the Ornaments #5
Release Date: 13 June 2024
Genre: , ,
Pages: 242
ISBN13: 9781922852366
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Having uncovered the most terrible of the Palace’s secrets, Kassaya is consumed with the need for vengeance. But how can she seek retribution against a man who is considered to be above any laws?

As hearts and fates intertwine, Kassaya learns that alliances can be as fragile as a desert flower. Betrayed by an ally whose loyalty she never questioned, her grand plan is jeopardised as she faces a choice between love and revenge.

Set against the grandeur of Egypt’s 20th Dynasty, The Palace of the Ornaments weaves a spellbinding tale of power, passion and peril. For readers of historical fantasy who relish stories of courageous women defying conventions and shaping their own destinies.

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“My lady, are you ready?”

Sehener’s quiet question brought me back to my surroundings. I had stopped just before the Palace’s front doors, with my hand pressed to my belly. I will protect you, I promised my unborn son. He will never harm you. No matter what I have to do, no matter the cost for me, I will keep you safe. And that starts with revealing Pharaoh’s crimes.

“Your transport is probably waiting,” Sehener continued.

My transport to Pharaoh’s palace where I was to play senet with him.

Show Pharaoh what the women of Babylon are made of. My mother’s words were as clear as the day she said them to me.

“I’m ready,” I said and walked on.

Sehener and Ettu followed me. At the front doors, the day guards, Khaemope and Karpusa, had been replaced with the night guards. One nodded a greeting while the other held the door open for me. I followed the torch-lit path to the gates. They were no more than a looming shadow in the encroaching darkness, slightly ajar in preparation for my arrival. The guards would have been told to expect me.

I stopped so my maids could make any final adjustments they thought necessary. I wore a silvery gown which flowed over my curves and the blue sapphire from Pharaoh was heavy at my throat. I didn’t want to wear it, but there was no choice. He was incensed I wore my favourite heart-shaped gem last time. He tore it from my throat and flung it to the floor. I couldn’t afford to infuriate him like that again. From now on, I would be the perfect Ornament in his presence. In appearance, at least.

Merytre twitched my skirt one last time to straighten it and Sehener adjusted my wig. They seemed to share a look, and Merytre glanced towards the gates, as if wondering whether the guards would hear us.

“I wish you were permitted to take at least one maid with you,” she said.

I only nodded, knowing we couldn’t risk saying more where the guards might hear. Meeting with Pharaoh here at the Palace of the Ornaments might be no less safe, but at least my maids could come. When I travelled to his palace, they weren’t permitted to accompany me.

“Be safe,” Sehener murmured. “One of us will be waiting up for your return.”

There was no point in saying I wouldn’t be back late. We all knew I had no control over when I returned. I would have to stay until Pharaoh tired of me. Anxiety twisted my belly into knots. Would he expect to lie with me? I had thought myself safe from that until my son was born, but there was no certainty.

“Are you well?” Ettu asked. “You have suddenly gone very pale.”

I waved away her question. I could hardly share my thought with the guards standing so close.

“May Isis be with you,” Sehener said very quietly.

I gave her a small smile, although it felt so tight, it probably looked more like a grimace.

The palanquin had already arrived. Male slaves lounged nearby, waiting to carry me to Pharaoh’s palace, along with guards who came to escort me. Both slaves and guards were naked to their waists, wearing only the white shendyt favoured by the Egyptian men. Their chests and bellies were well muscled, and I averted my eyes before anyone thought I was staring. A portly man, presumably the slave master, was immersed in a loud discussion with the gate guards.

Egyptian men wore much less than those I grew up around and seemed to feel no self-consciousness at having their bodies on display. Khaemmalu’s body was just like theirs, his chest smooth and the muscles well defined beneath his linen shirt. My cheeks heated at the thought and I ducked my head, hoping nobody would notice. Thankfully, my wig had braids which dangled to my shoulders and they fell forward to shield my face somewhat.

“Are you ready to leave, my lady?” a guard asked.


He led me to the palanquin and held my hand as I stepped in. It was slightly shocking to have him touch me, given the prohibitions against any male touching one of Pharaoh’s Ornaments. I assumed aiding me like this must be an exception, because he didn’t try to hide it and nobody reacted, although one slave studied me with what seemed to be a leer. I narrowed my eyes at him and he quickly looked away. The slave master followed my gaze, but apparently saw nothing amiss.

I settled myself on the cushioned bench and smoothed my skirt so it didn’t wrinkle. The slave master barked an instruction and the slaves promptly gathered around the palanquin. I clutched the sides as they lifted it onto their shoulders and we set off.

The streets were still busy, presumably folk heading home after work or on their way to do some chore like collecting water. A group of skinny children — three boys and a girl — watched as we passed. I gave them a little wave and the girl’s mouth dropped open.

What would it be like to be a peasant girl, standing in the street as a finely-dressed woman passed in her palanquin? Did she wonder who I was? Did she dare think she had seen a princess, or even a queen, or did she assume I was merely a noble woman?

The possibility she might think me a queen swiftly brought me back to reality. I came to this country thinking I would be queen. A natural assumption given I was sent to marry Pharaoh. It was only later, after my sister arrived, that I learned my father knew all along I wouldn’t be queen. He just never told me, and neither did Ishtar.

Immersed in thoughts about what had led me to Egypt, the journey passed quickly. Before I knew it, the slaves lowered the palanquin and a guard stepped forward to help me out. He led me through the palace to a hallway lined with more guards. This was a familiar sight to me by now and clearly signalled my destination.

As I strode past the row of guards, I spotted the one who helped me back to my palanquin after Pharaoh lay with me. I had been distressed and he was kind to me. He gave me an almost imperceptible nod.

The guard at the door ran his hands down my body to check for concealed weapons. Even this was something I had become accustomed to, although no man had ever touched me in such a way before, even Khaemmalu. Or, rather, he hadn’t yet. The guard finished his inspection of me, then opened the door and gestured for me to enter.

The chamber was spacious and well appointed, with thick rugs covering the mud brick floor and elegant tapestries on the walls. It wasn’t the banquet hall I had dined in with Pharaoh and his queen, Isis, but a smaller, more intimate, chamber. In its centre stood a table with two chairs. A senet board was already set out on the table, the playing pieces stacked neatly on each side.

The serving woman wore the usual attire of the women who attended Pharaoh, which was to say, not much at all. Her woven girdle covered nothing other than a thin strip of skin at her waist. I kept my eyes on her face and pretended I didn’t see her nakedness. It got easier every time.

“Wine, my lady?” she asked.


She brought me a goblet and I wandered around the chamber, looking at the tapestries covering the walls. The first to catch my eye was a lioness who was depicted as almost life-sized. She seemed to look right at me, and although I wasn’t particularly good at stitching, I could tell the tapestry was finely made. Her coat looked so real, I was tempted to touch it and see if I could run my fingers through her fur.

“That is Sekhmet, my lady.”

I turned to find the serving woman watching me from her station, which was a bench laid out with an assortment of wines and goblets. None of the women who attended Pharaoh had ever spoken to me before other than to offer wine or food, and I was surprised she had volunteered even that much.

“It is very fine work,” I said.

“My grandmother stitched it.” Her voice was proud.

“Sekhmet is a goddess, as I understand,” I said. “Did your grandmother worship her?”

“Yes, she had a very strong affinity with Sekhmet.”

“Isn’t she supposed to be…” My voice trailed away as I realised that calling the goddess her grandmother had worshipped savage or violent might be offensive. All I knew of Sekhmet was the tale about how she drank a river of blood.

“I can see how she might be misunderstood from a foreigner’s perspective,” the woman said. “We call her The One Before Whom Evil Trembles. She is a fierce protector of those she loves.”

“I know little about her,” I admitted.

“You are drawn to her, though, aren’t you?” the woman asked.

Surprised, I shot her a look back over my shoulder. Of course, she wouldn’t suspect I saw lions everywhere at the moment.

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know?”

“Perhaps she has a message for you,” she said. “If you feel Sekhmet seeks you, you should pay attention.”

Before I could reply, the door opened and two guards swept through. Their presence signalled Pharaoh’s imminent arrival, which meant I would have no further opportunity to question the serving woman. She might hold a piece of the puzzle I was trying to put together, but I would probably never see her again.