Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed–to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war… Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.
They proceeded down the aisle of the vast hall by the light of the torches, which glinted sumptuously on the golden objects. From the shadows, musicians struck up a pompous fanfare, as if the treasures were some imperial personage making his obeisance. The bearers piled up the gifts at the foot of the dais while Hani and the soldiers made their prostration. Hani rose to see the king watching him appraisingly, his narrowed eyes cutting from time to time to the growing heaps of riches at his feet.
“Receive, I beg you, O Great King, these tokens of my queen’s esteem for you and your tawananna and the land of Kheta,” Hani intoned in a loud, formal voice. “They are but a taste of the wealth you and Kemet will share when sons of Kheta sit upon our throne.” May the gods not strike me dead for calling down such a fate upon our Black Land, he thought, almost ashamed. But that was his job.
He bowed and extended the jewel casket, opening the lid as he proffered it. The bracelets glinted seductively. “And this is a special gift for your son from one who hopes to become his bride.”
Shuppiluliuma shot a sideways glance at his wife and began in his deep, gritty voice, “This reassures me somewhat that your queen is serious in her request. But I find it hard to believe that there is no heir in Mizri. The last thing we want is to be found opposing your legitimate succession.”
Just a little more gold would no doubt resolve that moral scruple, Hani thought dryly. “My lord, I can swear to you that our king has no sons. But”—he felt he had to be honest or risk some violent disillusionment later in the negotiations—“it is true that there is an heir designated, a young boy who is thought by many to be the son of the previous king and queen, but who is, in fact, the son of a serving girl.”
Hattusha-ziti was watching Hani with an interested gaze.
The king snorted and said in a sarcastic voice, “I see things are not so limpid as we might have hoped, emissary. Who is the boy’s father, if he is known?”
Hani dared not lie. He would surely be found out, and the wrath of the Great King would fall upon him and his queen. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he said simply, “It is suspected the former king, Nefer-khepru-ra, is his father, My Sun.”
“By a serving girl, eh? In our land, such a bastard isn’t eligible for the throne.”
“Nor in ours.” Usually. Unless the king chooses him.
Shuppiluliuma fell silent, his brows contracted. After a moment, he said, “Does this boy have supporters? Will there be a war if your queen tries to claim the throne?”
Hani had a sudden vision of a civil war in which the Hittites played a deciding role, in which they conquered his fellow Egyptians, maimed them, slew them—all those good people whose only sin was to have accepted the Aten. My own son. A deep shiver of horror tunneled down his back like a shearwater whose advancing wake proclaimed its imminent eruption from the River. This must not happen. Queen Meryet-aten had no idea what she was inviting in. Shuppiluliuma was a violent, ambitious man who wanted more than anything to conquer every land that ringed the Great Green. How can I hand my beloved homeland over to such a one? He wanted to say, “Ha-ha. Sorry. I didn’t mean it. You were right—this is a joke.” But the words were out. The gifts were delivered. He was not his own man and, as a diplomat, had never been.
Shuppiluliuma didn’t wait for an answer. He said loudly, as if to announce it to all the courtiers encircling him, “Hattusha-ziti will return with you to Mizri, and before anything definitive happens regarding an agreement, he will give me his report.”
When Hani and his two officers finally emerged from the throne room and stood alone in the blinding sun of midday, Pa-ra-mes-su said with a dubious twist of the mouth, “I don’t feel as good about this as I once did.” His brow was knit in a somber frown. Like his companion, he had not understood the king’s words, but the translator had conveyed their gist.
“Me either,” Hani said in a low tone. “But we must obey our queen.”
“Are these people really going to restore the Hidden One, do you think, my lord?” Menna asked doubtfully. “Or do they just want to take us over?”
Troubled, Hani blew out a sigh. “I wish I knew. I’m afraid Lady Meryet-aten has been badly advised. But you heard the king. Hattusha-ziti will come back with us and investigate the situation before the prince is sent. Perhaps he’ll feel uneasy enough to counsel stopping the plan.”
Pa-ra-mes-su gave a pondering hum. “I think Lord Har-em-heb should hear about this, don’t you, Lord Hani?”
“I do. I’m going to be sending letters tonight, and I’ll include him. Is he still in Ta-nehesy?”
“I don’t know, my lord. But the garrison commandant will send it on to him if you address it to Waset.”
Since the gifts had been delivered, the two officers decided to join their men in the city below, so Hani marched on alone to the guestroom.
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Meet N.L. Holmes
N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel, and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun. Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.
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