The House of Death, A Novel of Ancient Egypt
Book 2 of The Harem Conspiracy
The House of Death
1184 BCE. Future pharaoh Ramesses III has returned home from war to a palace that is even more dangerous than a battleground – full of threats, conspiracies, and apparent betrayals among his own family.
Ray is being hunted by the police and foreign assassins after being framed for murdering one of the princes. While searching the great city of Thebes for the missing princess Tentopet, who is now in hiding as a dancer, Ray learns that his foster father has been arrested for tomb robbing and may be executed unless Ray can rescue him.
The tense hunt for Ray and Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses, continues through the great House of Death in Thebes and across the vast western desert to the dreaded copper mines of Timna, where few captives survive in the dark and airless tunnels.
EVEN A GOD CAN DIE.
An Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller for fans of Wilbur Smith, Christian Jacq, Colin Falconer, Michelle Moran, and Robert Harris.
Year 4 of His Majesty, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Chosen by Re, Beloved of Amun, Pharaoh Setnakhte, Second Month of Akhet (Season of Inundation), Day 18
Khenti and Ruta followed the same route from the Valley of the Kings to the river that they had used successfully on their first trip. The sled was heavier this time since Khenti had widened the tunnel opening enough to get larger gold and silver objects out of the tomb. Only one Medjay patrol passed them in the darkness, and then they were past the high point of their trail and it was easier dragging the sled down the long slope to the tall reeds of the river bank. With his usual timing, Neferabu met them at just the right moment to avoid having to drag the heavy sled any farther. He had, however, arranged for the Greek trading boat to meet them at the pyramid rocks once more.
“It will be our old friend, Thales, again,” Neferabu said, making a little bed out of the reeds so that he could rest. “He has three boats with him on this trip, with just enough room left to take tonight’s cargo. The rest of what we dig up will have to be sold to someone else. Or we can wait a few months until Thales returns from the Great Green.”
While Neferabu settled himself down and closed his eyes, Khenti looked up into the partial face of the moon-god, Khonsu. “Perhaps we should stop.”
Neferabu sat up, his eyes alert. “Stop? Why?”
“Because this is a dangerous occupation,” Khenti said. “Because it’s hard work digging at night after I spend the day digging somewhere else. Because I’m tired!”
“Quiet,” Neferabu whispered. “Keep your voice down.”
“Will you listen to me if I do?”
“Of course, my old friend. I always listen to you. And I understand how tired you must be. What if I help you dig?”
“Not to offend, Nef, but you’re an artist, not a quarryman. Your arms are small and weak. You would only be in my way in the small spaces of the tomb.”
“Ruta helps you,” Neferabu said, pointing at the silent boy watching them with wide eyes.
“Yes. He drags rocks out of the tunnel. He scampers like a ferret among the rubble and carries small things to the sled. He brings me water. So, you see, I don’t need your help in the tomb.”
“Ah, but can he help you lift the heavy things? Can he entertain you with his amusing stories? These are things only I can do.”
Ruta stuck his tongue out at Neferabu, but then he smiled. His teeth glowed in the moonlight.
Khenti sighed. “I don’t know. It seems to me that the longer we spend digging in the tomb, the more likely it is that the Medjay will find us. Or the necropolis priests. I’m a simple man—I don’t wish to be impaled on a stick or have my nose and ears removed. I like them right where they are.”
“Just think of the wealth we’d be leaving behind, Khenti. Think of all we could do with it. We could live like pharaohs ourselves with nice houses, our own harems, many children, plenty of food, and our own harems.”
“You said harems twice.”
Neferabu smiled. “Maybe I did. A man can always use more than one harem. And what about your family? I know you’re thinking of your widowed mother and what she’ll need now that her husband is gone. And your sisters can’t support themselves. They all depend on you. What would it hurt to give them a little more than you had planned?”
Khenti slapped at a big mosquito on his arm. “I must think on this.”
“That’s all I ask. I’m sure that my old friend will arrive at the best decision for himself, for me, and for his family. Not to forget little Ruta here.” Neferabu said, patting the boy’s head.
The sound of wood scraping along the reeds warned them that the boat was coming. A silhouette appeared against the moon. The boat was about the same size as the last one with two masts and the same gaudy decorations painted on the outside. Neferabu stood so that he could help tie the mooring line to the pyramid rocks.
While a sailor helped Neferabu into the boat, Khenti and Ruta started removing things from the sled to speed the unloading. They had been fortunate so far to avoid the Medjay patrols, but he didn’t want to push their luck. A few minutes later, Neferabu and the sailors brought nets to help them load the cargo onto the boat. Thales watched the entire process from the bow with a big smile on his face.
Ruta was just going back for two gold ushabti figures—servants intended to help the tomb owners in the afterlife—when he heard the sound of a chariot moving slowly toward them on the the path beside the river. Leaving the gold figures behind on the sled, he turned and ran back to the boat to tell Khenti and Neferabu what he had heard.
Thales reacted quickly. A sword appeared in his hand, which alarmed Khenti and Neferabu, but he used it to cut the mooring line that secured the boat to the pyramid rocks. Motioning for his passengers to remain quiet, he disappeared beyond the cargo stacked on the deck. The boat turned in graceful silence and moved off toward the middle of the river.
When they were a safe distance away from the bank, Thales returned with what appeared to be two big jugs of beer cradled in his arms. “Your payment, my friends. It has been a profitable evening for all of us.”
Khenti wondered why they were being paid in beer, but he started to catch on when he noticed the loud thump each jug made when Thales set them down on a crate in front of them. Neferabu smiled and reached inside one of them, withdrawing a handful of silver ingots and gold rings. As each one dropped back into the jug, it made a metallic tink! sound.
“Music to my ears,” Neferabu said.
Khenti looked into the other jug and saw shiny things in the moonlight. He plucked out one of the rings and put it on Ruta’s thumb, which made him smile. “Shiny!”
“I don’t think the patrol saw us, so I’ll drop you off at a safe distance downriver,” Thales said. The jugs are heavy, but it shouldn’t be too far for you to hike back to your village.”
Remembering his appointment, Khenti looked up. “Perhaps you could let me off at the main landing in Thebes? I’d like to spend some of my earnings tonight.”
“Of course, of course,” Thales said with a broad smile. “A man needs his little celebrations of life, eh?”
Neferabu didn’t look convinced. “Are you sure that’s wise, Khenti? Someone will see you if you wait until morning to go back to the village from Thebes. We don’t want to draw any suspicion.”
“I understand. I’ll be back before the Manzet-boat of the dawn rises above the horizon.”
“Then maybe I should go with you. Thebes can be a rough place at night.”
Khenti smiled and shook his head. “Thank you for your offer, Nef. I’d actually prefer some privacy where I’m going.”
Thales laughed, nudged Neferabu in the side, and winked at Khenti. “Try not to spend it all in one place, my friend.”