Authors: Chanta Rand
Chanta Jefferson Rand
I know I got on a lot of people’s nerves while I was writing this book.
And I know I wasn’t the easiest person to deal with when I was trying to meet deadlines.
I’m sorry for all the times I told folks not to call me (because I was busy writing) and I apologize for all the headaches I caused and all the shoulders I cried on in my quest toward becoming published.
But it was all worth it—and don’t think I wouldn’t do it all again!
I’d like to thank all of my family and friends for their love and support.
A special thanks goes to the following individuals: My husband, Kerry (for listening to all of my complaining, my crazy plot ideas, and my endless discussions on Egypt and Nubia); my parents, Ann & Larry Jefferson (for instilling a love of reading in me from an early age, and making me take Typing as an elective in high school—instead of Home Ec like all of my other friends!); my mother-in-law, Jannette Rand (for her friendship and encouragement—and for joining me on a wild adventure to Cairo, Egypt); Jaci Kenney (for being an awesome critique partner);
Linda Broday (for all of her invaluable advice); Bill Bolen (for giving me the gentle kick I needed to start writing again); and Carole Ritter at Romance Writers of America (for helping me learn about eContracts).
To the readers who purchased this book, I hope you have as much fun reading about Amonmose and Kama as I had writing about them.
Ciao for now!
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
by Chanta Jefferson Rand
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Chanta Jefferson Rand
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Chanta Jefferson Rand
It was the dead of night. While everyone else slept soundly, Kama’s stomach awakened her with its soft growling. No matter how much she ate, her belly never seemed satisfied. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes before peering at her cousin, Satati, who was snoring softly on the straw-filled bed beside her. At last, the poor girl was finally getting some sleep. They’d both endured the daylong boat ride from Kerma to Aswan, the home of Satati’s betrothed, Zetran. Satati’s father, Akahmen, had piled her bride-vessel high with stacks of fresh fruit and succulent honeycomb, large crates of smoked fish and meat, baskets of bread loaves, sweet-smelling perfume cones, spices, cosmetics, jewelry, and ornately carved bronze mirrors. He’d spared no expense in pledging his daughter to her betrothed.
Arranged marriages were commonplace, but Kama thought the entire concept cold and calculating. The only benefit she saw was to the greedy father of the groom, who often demanded far too steep a dowry in exchange for a bride. But, shy and quiet Satati did not share Kama’s gloomy outlook on marriage. She was content to become a wife and lead a boring life of domestication.
Kama had no such aspirations. Since birth, she had been wild spirited and outspoken. Her mother often joked that even her newborn cry was louder than most babes’. And now, at age twenty, she was a headstrong and opinionated young lady—although some men might not consider her so young.
Not that she cared much for the opinions of men. Indeed, the more she learned about them, the more convinced she was of their uselessness. Uncle Akahmen was one of the few males she could tolerate. He’d
been husband to her mother’s sister before she died. Since then, Kama and her mother had shared his home, along with Satati.
Now with Satati getting married on the morrow, Kama wondered how long it would be before Akahmen finally insisted that she, too, be wed.
Thus far, she had successfully resisted all attempts. Each time some hopeful suitor approached, Kama always found some monumental fault. Akahmen usually bit his tongue, but she could tell that he was becoming increasingly frustrated with her. She knew it was only a matter of time before he found a husband for her. It had been the same for Kama’s own mother and her ancestors before her. Everything in life was planned and arranged. Just like wars and harvests.
In the morning, the marriage contracts would be signed, followed by a wedding feast of roasted duck, sun-dried fish, curried goat, boiled cabbage, cucumbers served in oil and vinegar, and warm bread and beer. Kama’s mouth watered just thinking about it.
She lay down and tried to forget her hunger. The soft chirping of the crickets usually relaxed her, but tonight, there was only silence. She held her breath and listened carefully. In the distance, she heard a shrill cry that made chills run up her spine. It was like a battle call piercing the dark air. Moments later, she smelled smoke.
Kama sprang out of bed. “Satati, get up!” she screamed in her cousin’s ear, and pulled the sleepy girl to her feet, shaking her. “The house is on fire. We must get out!”
Satati’s eyes immediately filled with tears. “…Must find Father… Zetran,” she rasped, her voice anchored by the heavy weight of sleep
Even as Kama shouted her agreement, a line of golden-hot flames began dancing up the side of one wall, leaving a cloud of black smoke in its wake. The two women choked, gasping and coughing in the foul air as they ran through the corridors of Zetran’s home. Everything was aflame, burning brightly and throwing off a fierce heat. Brittle fragments of the mud brick walls began breaking off and flying in all directions. A large piece hit Satati on the head, and she fell, crumbling to the ground. Her flailing arm sent a tall oil lamp toppling, and the scented oil inside quickly caught fire. The flames quickly snaked a path from the oil to Satati. Instantly, the girl’s clothing was engulfed in the blaze. Her piercing scream penetrated the loud crackle of the flames.
“Satati!” Kama yelled. All common sense deserted her as she grabbed frantically at her cousin’s body, trying to beat the fire out with her own hands. She succeeded only in burning her fingers and palms. “No! No!” she cried, feeling hot tears streaming down her face. She was forced back by the roaring fire and watch helplessly as Satati’s body flailed violently before being consumed by the hot flames.
Kama staggered away, blinded by her tears and suffocating from the heat. Satati was lost to her; she must at least find her uncle. She choked back her sobs and ran through the main house, loudly calling Akahmen’s name. She brushed wildly at the dense smoke that attacked her eyes. Unable to see or hear, she instinctively dropped to her knees and crawled along the floor. Immediately, she smelled the pungent odor of red onions and she knew she was in the kitchen.
Beneath the thick clouds of smoke, she was able to see better.
Once her vision adjusted, she gasped in shock. She could barely make out the outline of Zetran’s charred body. She knew he too, was dead.
Screaming in horror, she bolted upright and ran.
She stumbled aimlessly, falling over the smoldering items the fire had ravaged. Pockets of bright red flames threw off a scorching heat that singed the very air she breathed. She hurried toward made for the last room, coughing and nearly doubled over. Her heart tightened in her chest. Akahmen was not there.
She turned around, staggering, and tripped over something, hitting the floor hard. She peered at the bundle at her feet, willing her eyes to focus despite the smoke.
She pulled his body against hers, cradling his head, but it was no use. He was limp in her arms. The raging fire drowned out the sound of her grief-filled sobs. She laid him on his back and crossed his arms over his chest. There was no time to perform the ceremonial prayer. If she didn’t escape now, she would surely be trapped inside.
She half-ran, falling and stumbling over debris. When she fell against the wall by the side of a door, the wall gave way, freely opening into a dark, earthen tunnel. A small, flaming wooden beam fell against her shoulder, burning her, and she cried out, but kept her pace. The cool interior of the tunnel was a welcome relief, and almost immediately, she felt beads of sweat cooling against the heated skin on her back. She wiped her eyes with the heel of her blistered hand and was too numb to even feel the pain. She fought to keep the images of Satati, Akahmen, and Zetran from her mind. The time for grieving was later.
As she neared the end of the tunnel, she heard loud shouts. She stood frozen, wondering if the sounds were from friend or foe. It was not uncommon for warring tribes to resort to violence like this. She hid in the shadows, quiet as a gazelle, trying to listen to the voices. Her heartbeat thundered loudly in her ears, like frenzied fists pounding on a drum. She waited until the muted sounds died away and spurred herself into action. She planned to race toward Akahmen’s boat that was still docked on the riverbank. She hoped his servants would still be there, keeping vigil.
She glanced around and, seeing nothing, fled from the tunnel. A fire-scorched landscape greeted her. Houses, monuments, and fields had been set aflame, and whatever had not been ravaged by the inferno was left scarred and blackened.
As she ran, an amulet of the goddess Pakhet swung wildly from her neck on a leather cord. Pakhet was the patron of inner strength. Kama wrapped her burned fingers around its familiar shape, the head of a lioness attached to a woman’s body, and said a silent prayer for the goddess to watch over her. She would escape this fire or die trying.
She made it as far as the outskirts of the city when she heard shouts behind her. Kama glanced back and saw a swarm of Egyptian soldiers. Exhausted ,she was quickly overtaken by the group. They immediately surrounded her, forming a wide circle and trapping her in the middle.
They closed in tighter until she had nowhere to run.
A tall, thin man stormed through the ring of human bodies, brandishing his sword in the air. He had a cruel face that only a mother would cherish. Apparently, he was the leader of this pack of vultures.
“What do we have here?” he spat contemptuously. He gave her a lustful glare that left no doubt as to his intentions. “I have no love for Nubians,” he sneered, “yet I will have the pleasure of sampling what lies beneath your dress. Do you willfully submit or must I force you?”
She was shocked at his vulgarity. How could the gods breathe life into this brute?
He gave her a menacing stare, but she swallowed her fear and held her ground.
She would give no man the satisfaction of humbling her.
“Speak when you are spoken to, woman!” he demanded. “Or have you no tongue?”
Anger like hot tar bubbled inside her, threatening to spill over. She lifted her chin and gave him the full measure of her fury. “Animals like you do not deserve my words,” she said scathingly.
He eyed her with loathing and then shouted to the assembled soldiers. “Men, I think this creature
is nothing more than a common whore! Look at her clothing. She is a dirty, filthy, Nubian whore.” He licked his lips. “And she’s ours for the taking!”
Kama gasped aloud. “I am no harlot! I’m dirty from the smoke and fire.” She gave them all venomous glares. If they thought they’d found some helpless victim, she would soon prove them wrong. “I am chaste, and if you dare to find out,” she challenged, “it will be the last thing you do before dying.”
In response, the man raised his sword high above his head and brought it down swiftly in front of her. The shiny metal of his weapon sliced through the thin fabric of her dress, cutting it in two halves and baring her flesh. A loud roar of excitement echoed in the night air. The soldiers jeered and yelled as they advanced forward, each determined to take the first spoils of the night.
The tall, thin man called out, “She is mine first!”
Kama hurriedly pulled the two pieces of her garment together with one hand and picked up a rock with the other. She hurled the stone as hard as she could, easily hitting one of the soldiers in the face. He howled in response. Her heart raced in alarm. They might take her, but not before she inflicted some damage of her own!
From atop his horse, Pharaoh Amonmose stared down at the fires ravishing the city of Aswan. He watched long enough to see the leaping flames slowly transform into angry red embers glowing eerily against the dark horizon. His long cloak fluttered in the warm night breeze as he felt the blood racing through his veins. Tonight, he and his men had raided three towns and taken them all by surprise. They were covered from head to toe with black smoke and dirt, but none of them seemed to care. They were focused on one thing—conquering their Nubian neighbors.
Egypt seemed to attract enemies like flies to a pile of dung, but the Nubians were perhaps their most deadly foes. Egypt had the misfortune of sharing a southern border with Aswan, which was located in Lower Nubia. The proximity of the two kingdoms invited constant warring. His royal council had informed him that fierce Nubian warriors had been mercilessly attacking small towns on the outskirts of Thebes. Two days ago, Egyptian temples had been desecrated, and in one town, the wife of a government official had been abducted.
Amonmose had ridden into battle tonight determined to have his vengeance against the Nubians. Yet, strangely, his army had not been met with any opposition. Thus far, he’d seen none of the Nubian resistance his royal advisors had told him existed.
In the distance, he heard a deep rumble of shouting. He’d heard that particular sound before. It was the way the soldiers celebrated when they’d found precious booty. He quickly turned his mount around and sped in the direction of the noise.
When Amonmose arrived at the edge of the village, he saw a battalion of his soldiers huddled in a thick circle. Whatever prize they’d found had so totally enraptured them that they were unaware of his approach. As he neared the melee, he saw one of the soldiers fall back and crumple to the ground. The man’s loud yelp of pain could be heard above the din of the noise. The ring of soldiers parted slightly as two of the men stooped down to help their fallen comrade, giving Amonmose a glimpse inside
She was hopelessly surrounded, and the men were closing in on her. In a desperate attempt to thwart their advance, she was hurling rocks. Her last effort had landed a soldier on his backside. The woman was fighting for her life, and he was impressed by her bravery.
“Enough!” His deep voice prompted deafening silence. The soldiers respectfully parted to allow him entrance into the circle, and Amonmose addressed his chief commander. “Nadesh, what goes on here?”
“We found a survivor, Sire,” Nadesh answered. “A Nubian traitor or probably a whore.”
“I am neither!” the woman hissed.
Amonmose turned his attention to her. Up close, she was breathtaking, despite the dirt and soot. She had a graceful form and hair the color of ebony. She held a shredded white dress like a shield in front of her. It did little to conceal the ample curves of her body. With her narrow waist and wide hips, she looked like one of the exotic dancers that often entertained at the palace. Her skin was the darkest of browns and smooth as the slopes of the Sahara Desert. He could see her slim legs outlined beneath the thin fabric of her torn garment.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am Kama Nubemheb,” she answered boldly. “I hail from Kerma.”
Her full bosom was heaving up and down. She was obviously exhausted by the heroic effort she’d made to fight off her attackers.
“You are named after the Egyptian goddess of love,” he said. At that moment, their gazes locked, and he stared into her onyx-colored eyes. Her look told him she was surprised by his observation. In the midst of battle, most men were consumed with looting and killing, not matters of minor theology.
“Yes,” she said warily. “Nubians worship many of the same gods as you. My mother named me after the Egyptian goddess of love. But that is not an invitation. I have no wish to service you or your filthy soldiers.”
Amonmose smiled to himself. She did not seem like a harlot. In fact, from her outraged behavior, she acted as if she were royalty. His gaze roamed over the long, thin braids surrounding her face. She stood wary, ready to spring at any moment. She was like a crocodile. Silent and calm, but deadly when provoked. Her eyes were dark as a midnight sky, shiny as the stars in the heavens, and glowing with the anger of a raging fire. It was entrancing.
Her body language silently rebuked him, with shockingly openly hostility. She was almost as fierce as a man, arrogant and haughty. But her looks were striking, and her body was lush.
“Do you know who I am?” Amonmose demanded.
“No, I do not, and I am certain it is no concern of mine,” she spoke bravely. “I ask only for safe passage. I can make it well worth your trouble,” she added.
“Oh?” He did not bother to hide the suggestive tone of his remark. “And what of your cherished maidenhead
Kama flushed. “You misunderstand my words. My cousin was to be married on the morrow. Her dowry waits at the river. If you let me go, it’s yours.”
He deliberately advanced his mount toward her. He was so close he could smell her scent intermingling with the foul smell of smoke in the air. “What makes you think I won’t simply take the dowry, along with anything else I desire?” He watched as she took a step backward.
“You seem like a man of great importance,” she said. “If you say you will release me in exchange for the dowry, I know every man here will comply with your wishes.”
Nadesh interrupted. “She lies. She is probably no more than a slave giving away her master’s goods to earn her freedom.”
I am slave to no master!” Kama shouted.
Amonmose watched her shake her head vigorously, her free hand clenching into a fist. He wondered if she was always so passionate. Suddenly, he had a vision of her beneath him, arching her hips to his and clasping her legs around his back. He fought the rise beneath his tunic. Her spirited nature had inflamed his desire, and slave or not, he wasn’t ready to release her yet.
Keeping his heated gaze on Kama, he spoke to Nadesh. “Bring her back to Thebes,” he commanded. “She will be mine.”
He saw clear indignation written on her comely face. “You are making a mistake,” she told him. “I am not for sale.”
He smirked. “Then I shall take you for free.”
Her eyes became narrow slits. “You shall never have me!”
Amonmose was accustomed to his subjects bowing before him.
That this mere
of a woman had the audacity to … She needed to be put in her place. He gave his full attention to Nadesh. “Take her to my vessel, but I want her treated well,” he admonished. “No one is to touch her.” He spared the woman a quick glance before spurring his horse back in the direction he’d come from.
Kama got one last look at the mysterious man before he hastily rode away. Her gaze quickly followed the lines of his muscular body. He was draped in a light-colored shendyt that was knotted at the waist and fell to just above his knees. His bronzed, muscled chest was bare but almost entirely concealed by a red cloak upon his shoulders. A metal headpiece covered most of his ears and head, and a well-groomed, black goatee framed his stern mouth. His amber eyes glowed with a mysterious heat, and the tight line of his lips and his hard-set jaw told her he was not someone to be taken lightly.
She clutched her dress tightly. “How dare he!” Kama spat, looking at the man’s retreating back. “Who gave that beast rights to claim me?”
The man with the cruel features who answered to the name Nadesh responded. “That
is Pharaoh Amonmose Tehutimes of Egypt. He has every right to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He is the divine law of this land.” He grinned lasciviously. “And you are his new concubine.”
The journey to Thebes was a blur. Kama scarcely recalled how she got from Aswan to the Pharaoh’s colossal palace. She remembered riding in his massive boat. She remembered looking up at the full moon. She remembered watching the Nile as it snaked like a ribbon through the land, winding through the narrow villages of El-Armana, twisting across the desert, and plunging into the valley floors of Alexandria
She wished she could sail away and forget this ever happened.
After several hours, the rhythmic motions of the ship lulled her. Despite her torn dress and scorched skin she felt her heavy lids closing and finally fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke, she found herself in a strange room. She was on her back with her arms outstretched, palms up. She tried moving but found that her arms were bound at the wrists. She struggled against the leather ties but only succeeded in making herself dizzy. Each time she moved her head, she felt a dull throbbing at the base of her skull.
She fell back against the pillows, groggy and drained from her efforts. And her mouth felt dry, as if it had been stuffed with lamb’s wool. She could scarcely feel her tongue. A feeling of helplessness washed over her, and she moaned aloud. Where was she? Why was she tied up like this?
Moments later, she felt the ties at her wrists loosen. She jerked her head quickly to see, and the pain returned. This time, her vision blurred.
“Try not to move so fast,” a soft voice cautioned. “You will suffer headaches.”
Kama slowly allowed herself to focus. A small female form appeared beside her. The face was kind with smiling eyes. Her cinnamon colored skin had a reddish tint. The girl wore her hair in a thick, black braid hanging from the right side of her face—a popular hairstyle of Egyptian youths. Kama closed her eyes. How many times had she helped Satati braid her hair in that exact same style?
Kama opened her eyes again and looked at her wrists. The young girl was gently massaging them, restoring the blood flow. “You were tied for your protection,” the girl said. “You kept scratching at your hands and trying to tear the bindings off.”
Kama’s hands were wrapped in thin linen strips, cleverly designed to make a glove. Each finger was protected from fingertip to wrist. Both of her hands resembled those of a mummy, and she shuddered at the thought.
“You will be fine,” the girl told her. “When you came here two days ago, your hands were burned terribly from the fire. A healing salve has been applied to your hands and your shoulder. It was made by the Pharaoh’s doctor, and he’s the best in Egypt.”
Kama closed her eyes again. Just thinking about her capture brought the taste of bile to her lips. She recalled standing in the burning village watching the Pharaoh’s retreating back. The trauma of the fire combined with the thought of losing her freedom had been more than she could bear. She’d slept for days, dreaming the most vivid dreams possible. And now, she’d awakened to find that it had not been a dream but a real-life nightmare instead.
“My name is Dyzet,” the girl interrupted Kama’s thoughts.
“We will tend to all of your needs.”
Kama opened her eyes to find Dyzet smiling at her. “We?”
“The Pharaoh has given you four ladies-in-waiting, including me. We are here to instruct you on the proper Egyptian protocol, so you will be prepared when you are summoned by the Pharaoh.”
Kama slowly pushed herself up on her elbows and looked around the room. Standing in the corner were three other young women, two who appeared to be much older than Dyzet, staring back disdainfully. “They don’t look very friendly.”
“In Egypt, foreigners are regarded with great suspicion,” Dyzet said. “They are simply being cautious for now.”
“What reason would one have to be cautious of me?” Kama asked, incredulous.
One of the other women spoke. “Because we do not want to be eaten, of course!”
Kama sat up. “Eaten? I do not understand. By what?”
“By you! It is a well known fact that Nubians are barbaric cannibals. Do you deny it?”
“Yes, I do! That is pure nonsense.”
“We’ve been studying your culture,” the woman answered back. “We’ve learned that Nubians practice sorcery and cannibalism.”
Kama shook her head in protest.
“That is not true! Your fear of foreigners has allowed your ignorance to grow like a wild weed. Nubians have many of the same religious customs as Egyptians. Some wear the same clothing and eat the same foods. We are not so very different from you.”
“Nevertheless,” the woman insisted, “we shall keep a wary eye on you.”
Kama tempered her rage. “I can assure you all that I am no threat. Certainly no more than your Pharaoh. He destroyed the village I slept in and killed my family.”
The women gasped aloud in response. Yet, instead of sympathizing with her plight, they turned their backs to her and covered their ears. Kama frowned at their strangeness and glanced at Dyzet, who looked embarrassed on her behalf.
“You must never speak poorly of the Pharaoh,” Dyzet warned. “To disagree with him is an offense punishable by death. To knowingly overhear someone condemn the Pharaoh yet fail to report it, is also an offense punishable by death. So, they”—she indicated the other ladies-in-waiting—“have offered you their backs as a sign that they do not respect you.”
Kama stared defiantly at the trio. These women would never approve of her, and she suddenly had no desire to try to change their feelings.
“I was brought here against my will!” She yelled loudly so they would be sure to hear her. “I have no more wish to be here than you wish to be here with me. Now, go and tell your Pharaoh about me!” she challenged. “Tell him that I am not some lapdog waiting for his approval! Tell him that I will never submit to him.” None of the ladies-in-waiting moved. “Be gone! All of you! Be gone from my sight!”
As the women rushed from the room, Kama felt the throbbing pain return to the back of her head. She cradled her forehead against her bandaged palms.
Dyzet had not fled like the others, and she gently pushed Kama back onto the down-filled bed. “Lay down,” she instructed. “You have overexerted yourself.”
Kama complied. “You did not run like the others. Are you not afraid of being eaten by the great Nubian cannibal?” she asked wryly.
Dyzet shrugged. “I said
were cautious of you, not
. I have traveled far and wide with my father. He’s a mapmaker for the Pharaoh. In my travels, I have met many foreigners, including Nubians. Individuals are all different, and rarely what hearsay and rumor claim.”
Kama gave the girl a measured look. “How old are you, Dyzet?”
“And the others?”
“Nemhet and Tiya are both nineteen. Pamut is twenty.”
“They are too old to be so uneducated.”
“They are old maids. Bitter that you have gained the Pharaoh’s favor but they have not. Give no further thought to them. I will speak with the Pharaoh and make certain they do not return.”
Kama winced. That was another thing their cultures had in common. In Nubian society, any childless woman over twenty could be regarded as an old maid.
“Sleep now.” Dyzet urged. “You must regain your strength so you can get back to normal.”
Kama fought the wave of despair that rolled over her like a storm.
She would never have a normal life again. Her fate was sealed. She belonged to the Pharaoh now. She rolled over and curled into a ball, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. A concubine. What had she done to deserve this? She wanted to cry, but she would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her tears.
“I shall return tomorrow after you’re feeling better,” Dyzet promised. “In the meantime, the servants will look in on you and bring your meals. I will teach you everything about your new home, and pretty soon, you will love Egypt as much as I do.”
Kama listened to the girl’s footsteps as she left the room and cringed inwardly. This would never be her home. Her home was with her mother, Mutema, who was hundreds of miles away in Kerma. For years, both she and Mutema had lived under the dark cloak of her father’s abuse, until they had the courage to flee to the safety of her Uncle Akahmen’s home in Kerma. Mutema had refused to ever leave their refuge, even years later to attend Satati’s wedding in Aswan. Kama was happy that her mother had declined the chance to travel. For if she had gone, she would surely be dead as well.
Every day that passed was the same for Kama. Dyzet was her constant companion, fussing over her injuries and babbling nonstop about the wonders of Thebes. After a while, Kama could not help but like her. Dyzet was not the one who ordered her capture so, she did not take her fury out on the poor girl. She would save her ire for her meeting with the Pharaoh.
She was surprised that the fearless monarch had not ordered her to his chambers immediately after her arrival. When he didn’t summon her during those first few days, she thought maybe he’d forgotten about her. For the first time since her capture, she felt small stirrings of hope fluttering inside her like a gentle breeze. As her body healed and her mind became clearer, though, she knew it was only a matter of time before he would come to claim his prize.
Instead of waiting in anguish for him, she used her time to learn all the local customs of Thebes. Dyzet was an eager teacher, rambling continuously, jumping from topic to topic. Soon, Kama was an expert in all subjects from exotic fruits and animals to taxes and architecture. Today, Dyzet was instructing her on the proper customs that must be observed within the palace walls at all times, especially when interacting with the Pharaoh. The two of them had just sat down to a delicious lunch of roasted quail and pomegranate when Dyzet began speaking.
“Remember,” Dyzet cautioned, “you are not permitted to speak to the Pharaoh until you are prompted to do so by him. To speak out of turn is considered disrespectful.”
“If I have something that needs to be said, I will certainly speak.” Kama vowed.
“It is forbidden.”
“What will happen? Shall I be hung by my thumbs?”
Dyzet shook her head sadly. “Worse. Speaking before the Pharaoh commands you to do so is an offense punishable by death.”
Kama laughed out loud. “This palace has far too many rules. Is every offense punishable by death?”
“Yes, if it offends the Pharaoh.”
“What if someone unintentionally commits an error or makes a mistake in protocol?”
“It does not matter. I heard he once sent someone to the dungeon for drinking from his favorite wine goblet by accident.”
Kama gasped and stared at her companion. “That is absurd! You cannot be serious.”
Dyzet offered her a lopsided grin. “No, I am not.”
Relief flooded through Kama’s body, and she playfully wagged a finger at Dyzet. “It’s unkind to frighten me like that.”
The girl giggled. “Please accept my apology.”
“Are there any more rules?” Kama asked, though she didn’t want to know.
“Yes. You must bow when he enters the room and again when he leaves. You must not sit until he has taken his seat first.”
“In Nubian culture, women sit first.”
“This is not Nubia, Kama. The Pharaoh will not tolerate any breach of conduct.”
Kama’s eyes flashed. “His rules mean little to me. I have my own standards of conduct that
will not tolerate. I will not tolerate being seized in the dead of night. I will not tolerate being commanded to bend to the whim of some pompous, overbearing ruler who sits lazily all day and wants to fornicate by night.”
If Dyzet was shocked by her words, she gave no indication. “The Pharaoh does not sit idle each day,” Dyzet said seriously. “There is much work to be done. He holds court daily and settles the citizens’ various legal disputes. He oversees daily purification ceremonies and religious rites for priests. He regulates duties and awards titles to government officials. As the Supreme Commander of his army, he is charged with motivating his soldiers and leading them in battle. He also controls Egypt’s vast quarries, mines, and trading fleets. And he is certainly neither pompous nor overbearing. Most women find him handsome. Don’t you?”
Kama quietly chewed her food. Her mind traveled back to the night she first saw the Pharaoh. He towered over everyone, sitting magnificently astride his horse. His amber eyes blazed each time he spoke. He was confident and regal. Yes, she would admit he was definitely pleasing to the eye. Perhaps under different circumstances, she could appreciate his outer beauty. But he and his men were responsible for her family’s death. No matter how handsome he was he would always be a monster to her.
“I do not wish to speak of him any longer,” she told Dyzet, her expression souring.
Dyzet stood up. “Then let us play Senet.”
Dyzet’s favorite pastime was playing Senet, a game in which three rows of ten squares were painted on a piece of wood. Each player had seven pieces, and the object was to move them in a snakelike fashion across the squares. The first player to get all pieces off the board while preventing the opponent from doing the same won the game.
Kama would indulge the girl occasionally, but today she preferred to sit alone and watch the city from the four windows of her spacious room. She was sequestered somewhere on the fifth floor of the palace. It was a safety precaution, she was certain. Done intentionally to prevent her from jumping out of the window and running away.
Each morning she would gaze out of her windows and watch the quiet city of Thebes transform itself into a bustling metropolis full of activity. She watched the changing of the guards so often she knew their schedule perfectly. On the south side of her room, there was an elegant garden, blooming with the most colorful plants she’d ever seen.
Escape had crossed her mind, but only briefly. Much of the time, servants were around, observing her every movement. If she did evade their watchful eyes, she would still have to navigate her way through the vast palace, past the throngs of guards and safely away from the city gates. She would never survive the bandits in the forests or the deserts that lay on the outskirts of Thebes. She had no coin and no transportation. It would be a very short-lived escape. She was homesick, but she wasn’t witless.
“I would like to be alone,” she told Dyzet.
Dyzet’s expression revealed her disappointment, but she accepted Kama’s request without question. “I will inform the servants not to disturb you,” she offered.
“That is most kind.”
Kama waited for Dyzet to leave the room before wandering to one of the open windows. Below, she saw several children playing. Their innocent laughter floated through the air and resonated in her ears. She stood and watched them as they played with their toys. Their roles were already defined even at their young ages. Little girls hugged dolls crafted from linen, and little boys pretended they were at war, enacting battles with mock swords fashioned from bent sticks. And so the cycle continued. Women had the urge to nurture. Men had the desire to destroy.
She wanted to tell the girls that they could play the same games as boys. She wanted them to know that women were just as important as men. Queen Sebek-Neferu-Ra and Queen Aah-hotep, who ruled hundreds of years ago, were competent and accomplished rulers.
In Nubian society, women had a place of esteem, and they were frequently consulted on political affairs.
But as Dyzet said, this was not Nubia. For every heroic story of a powerful queen, there was an equally pathetic story of a woman like her—a victim of circumstance. Her capture proved that women were often nothing more than pawns in a man’s world. So, she did not call out to the girls. She did not try to tell them what they could be. She remained silent, watching the city below, and preparing herself for her next encounter with the man who held her future in his hands.
Amonmose walked briskly down the long corridor to his meeting room, his golden flail in one hand and his walking staff in the other. A small procession followed him. His chief counselor, Meketen, dogged his heels. The short, stout man almost had to run to match the Pharaoh’s brisk pace. On Amonmose’s left, his bodyguard, Baal, kept constant watch over him. His hulking form gave the distinct impression that he could snap a man’s neck in two quite easily. On Amonmose’s right, two female servants gently waved huge fans made of ostrich plumes. Normally, he did not mind the women dispelling the thick waves of heat. But the corridors were cool today, and there was no need for their annoying presence. He waived his flair in their direction, indicating their services were no longer needed. They slipped away, seemingly brooding over their dismissal.
As Amonmose neared the meeting room, two eunuchs guarding the double doors to the meeting room bowed. The doors were then opened with a flourish. He entered and sat in a large gilded chair adorned with rare stones and carvings. As his advisors rose to greet him, he impatiently waved them away, dispensing with the pleasantries. He was not in the mood for pomp and ceremony.
“Nadesh, as my grand vizier, I rely on you to provide accurate military intelligence. As I am sure you know, that night in Aswan was a waste of men and effort. Have you an answer for what went wrong?
answer,” he added, to forestall one of Nadesh’s endless rambles.
Nadesh stepped forward. Fine lines were etched into his bronzed face
the only hint that he was nearing fifty years of age. “One of my scouts advised me of a skirmish on the southern border of Thebes, near Esna. An envoy of Nubian soldiers stormed the city, destroying temples and looting the coffers. They left over forty people dead.”
Amonmose held up his hand. “You conveyed this same information to me days ago. Yet, I saw none of this resistance. Am I to believe you depended on the word of one scout to carry my army into battle?”
Nadesh looked offended. “Never! I have a number of sources who keep me well informed. Even now, a unit of soldiers performing routine reconnaissance has alerted me to hostile activity near the border again. The Nubians are mounting another campaign to demolish our outlying cities. Obviously, the loss of their homes and the destruction of their towns have meant nothing to them. They are like rabid dogs, foaming at the mouth, ready to conquer Egypt and usurp our power. The time has come to crush these insurgents for good!”
Amonmose listened to Nadesh’s heated words with cool indifference. “Surely, if the Nubians had initiated the first attacks, they would expect retaliation. Their soldiers would have been battle ready, prepared to take on our army. Yet, when our soldiers arrived, there was no one to put up a fight. In fact, our appearance seemed to be a complete surprise. How do you explain this?”
“Someone must have alerted them of our plans,” Nadesh responded.
“I think you were misinformed about the Nubian state of affairs in Aswan.”
“I have no regrets about that,” Nadesh said. “I will not be satisfied until they are all dead.”
Amonmose sneered. “
will not be satisfied until they are all dead?
am Pharaoh. I decide who survives and who does not. Nubia is a formidable enemy. The people are self-sufficient, politically well organized, and they have a strong military. Not only do we risk the lives of our soldiers, going to battle with them may also be cutting off a valuable trade route.
You talk too much of bloodlust and not enough of diplomacy.”
“Respectfully, I agree with you—in part. The Nubians grow in strength and number each day. They give no thought to the lives of our citizens when they raid our border towns. Their sneak attacks are crippling us. If we do not stop them now, they will overtake us soon.” Nadesh’s voice filled with anger and conviction. “We need to strike hard and fast into the hearts of our enemies. If there is any indication of weakness, if anyone survives, the next generation will grow with twice the envy and hatred.”
Nadesh stroked his thin, black beard with the palm of his hand. “As far as their trade route, Nubia is perfectly located to receive goods from the interior of Africa. If we conquer them,
can control all the shipments of gold, ivory, precious oils, spices, and animal skins.” He held his palms up in a pleading gesture. “Let us not be naïve, your grace. Egypt is rich with flourishing trade, prosperous farming, and the greatest water source in the entire world. We would be fools to think that no one would come to challenge us for it. But we would be stupid to wait on them to do so. We
be the aggressor. We must not sit idly by and wonder if, and when, they will attack again.”
Meketen, the chief counselor, spoke up. “I am in agreement with Nadesh. With the increasing number of foreigners entering our city gates and the threat of war looming from neighboring countries greedy for our resources, Egypt is in state of turmoil. Soon, it will be time for you to take a bride, Amonmose. Would you have your wife live in fear in her own city? Afraid to go to the market? Terrified to venture to the temples? Our enemies are just waiting for the opportunity to strike. And when they are successful, what will become of Egypt? Looters and thieves will flood the streets. Our people will be destitute. Our temples will be desecrated. Our culture will be forgotten. We must show these mongrels what we do to those who test the authority of the Pharaoh.”
Amonmose watched the men standing before him. In the past, both had shown superior combat knowledge with impressive military records. Meketen was by far the more rational one, but he was not a brilliant strategist like Nadesh. Leading the pampered life of a royal chief counselor had easily added excessive pounds to his already short stature. He now reminded Amonmose of the god Bes, who stood in the doorways of many Egyptian homes, protecting the occupants against evil. Still, both men had been advisors to his father, and over the last twenty years, he, too, had come to rely on their counsel. Amonmose turned to his third advisor, Royal Treasurer Hai. “Have you an opinion on this?”
Hai cleared his throat before speaking. “Pharaoh, since your rule began, there has been nothing but stability in the land. Our citizens are prosperous. Our grain silos are always full. The soldiers are happy and well paid. Trade flourishes. But your throne is being constantly threatened by these foreigners. If you lose power, it will devastate trade relations and leave our currency undervalued. Workers will panic, production will decrease, prices will increase, and we’ll have complete anarchy. We cannot live with the constant threat of Nubia at our throats. I say it’s time to destroy them once and for all.”
Amonmose pondered the advice of his council. Nadesh seemed agitated, emotional, as though the attacks from Nubia were personal. Kill every last Nubian? That was pure hatred disguised as counsel.
And Meketen? The consequences of inaction that he foresaw were ludicrous. Thebes destroyed? Their culture forgotten? Thebes had the greatest quantity and variety of goods anywhere in the world. Even if the city was captured by foreigners, it would never be destroyed.
As for Hai, his only concern appeared to be fear of losing control over Egypt’s economy. He lamented over the country’s currency as though it came from his own purse strings. Over the years, Amonmose had seen him change from an efficient accountant to an overstuffed miser.
“Gentlemen, I have heard all of your arguments, and I’ve come to my own conclusion. We’ve spent an enormous amount of resources fighting Assyrian, Mesopotamian and Libyan invasions. There is a time for battle and a time for peace. Waging war against Nubia is like stirring a bee’s nest. I am content to leave that nest alone for now. We will keep our reconnaissance troops in place, and any new developments should be immediately reported to me. Are my orders clear?”
The advisors masked their disappointment with affirmative nods. While they might not agree with their Pharaoh, they would not dare to oppose him. Amonmose left the room and retired to the solitude of his chambers.
He looked at the oversized map of Nubia that lay on his table. It was at times like this when he thought of his father and wondered what his strategy would have been. Amonmose never got a chance to really know either of his parents. His mother had died giving birth to him, and his father was killed in battle when he was barely twelve. The irony was not lost on him. His parents died so he could live.