Christian Jacq, author of the international sensations Ramses and The Stone of Light, continues his epic Queen of Freedom trilogy as the fiercely determined Queen Ahhotep struggles to save her people -- and reclaim her own legacy.
The barbaric Hyksos have taken possession of the whole of Egypt, imposing their harsh rule with unimaginable cruelty. Only Queen Ahhotep has yet to succumb. Not far from Thebes, the only city that retains its independence, she has established a secret military base to train her loyal fighters. Even when her husband is killed, Ahhotep refuses to yield, turning instead to her eldest son, Kames, who must take his father's place as pharaoh. Leading an increasingly powerful army, Ahhotep steals victory after victory -- despite the treachery that threatens Egypt from within. Slowly, the Egyptians are recovering their honor, growing stronger by the day -- and the brutal invaders no longer seem invincible. Unless Queen Ahhotep and her followers are being lured into an elaborately designed trap that may seal their doom....
Combining historical fact with a vivid imagination, Christian Jacq tells the enthralling true story of the Ancient Egyptian warrior-queen Ahhotep -- without whose valiant courage the Valley of the Kings and the glorious treasures of the pharaohs, including Ramses the Great, would never have existed.
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May 16, 2004
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Excerpt from War of the Crowns by Christian Jacq
The general of the charioteers sat at the left hand of Apophis, Emperor of the Hyksos. It was a much-soughtafter honor to sit beside the most powerful ruler in the world and watch the ordeal of the bull, yet he was extremely worried. The inhabitants of Avaris, the imperial capital in the Egyptian Delta, spoke of this ordeal with fear, even though they did not know exactly what it was.
The two men were sitting on a platform, overlooking an arena and a circular structure called the "labyrinth." It was said that no one emerged from the labyrinth alive.
The general looked down at it. At first glance, there seemed nothing dangerous about the place. It was made up of a twisting, turning path marked out by partition walls, which were covered here and there with greenery. It looked impossible to go wrong: there was only that one winding path, and it led toward the way out.
"You seem rather tense," commented Apophis in his hoarse, blood-chilling voice.
"Yes, I am, Majesty.Your invitation to the palace, here to the labyrinth...I don't know how to thank you," stammered the general, not daring to look at the emperor.
Apophis was a tall, very ugly man, with a prominent nose, flaccid cheeks, a bulging stomach and thick legs. He allowed himself only two small vanities: an amethyst scarab mounted on a gold ring, which he wore on the little finger of his left hand, and an amulet in the form of an ankh, which he wore round his neck and which endowed him with the right of life and death over his subjects.
As "Beloved of the God Set,"Apophis had proclaimed himself Pharaoh of Upper and Lower Egypt and had tried to write his coronation names on the sacred tree in the city of Iunu, as the rites required. But the leaves had proved unwilling, refusing to accept him. So Apophis had murdered the High Priest, ordered the closure of the temple, and announced that the ritual had been carried out correctly.
For some time now, the emperor had been dissatisfied.
Much was going well. In the islands off the coast of Mycenae, Jannas, the impressive and ruthless commander of the Hyksos war-fleet, was hunting down pirates who had dared to attack the empire's trading-fleet. Several small Asian princedoms had displayed a wish for independence, but elite troops were putting an end to such wishes by massacring the rebels, burning their towns and villages and bringing back droves of slaves to Egypt.
These episodes had served Apophis's grand design: to increase still further the size of his empire, which was already the largest ever known: Nubia, Canaan, Syria, Lebanon,Anatolia, Cyprus, the Mycenaean islands, Minoa and the Asian steppes had all bowed their heads before him, and feared his military might. But this was only a stage in the process, and the Hyksos invaders, who included soldiers of many diverse races,must continue their conquest of the world.
The center of that world was Egypt, the Egypt of the pharaohs. The Hyksos had invaded and overrun the country with surprising ease, putting an end to long centuries of civilization based on the rule of the goddess Ma'at: justice, righteousness, and unity. The Egyptians had proved feeble soldiers, and their resistance to the invaders' brute force and new weapons had been pitiful. Now he, Apophis,was Pharaoh.
He had set up his capital at the small town of Avaris, which was dedicated to the cult of Set, the god of storms and violence who had rendered him invincible. The town was now the principal city in Middle Egypt. Over it loomed an impregnable citadel, from whose walls the emperor liked to gaze down upon the port, which was always filled with hundreds of warships and tradingvessels. Inland from the port, the town itself had, in accordance with Apophis's wishes, assumed the appearance of one gigantic barracks, a paradise for his soldiers, who were waited upon by Egyptians forced into slavery.
The pharaoh should have been wholly content. But, incredibly, in the south of this defeated, destroyed Egypt, a rebellion was taking shape. At the insignificant and moribund town of Thebes, an equally insignificant prince named Seqen and his wife, Ahhotep, had dared to take up arms against the emperor.
Apophis scowled at the general. "What, precisely, is happening?" he demanded.
"The situation is under control, Majesty."
"Where is the battlefront now?"
"At the town of Qis, Majesty."
"Qis? That's seven days' march north of Thebes, isn't it?"
"That means Seqen's ridiculous army has conquered a huge amount of territory -- far too much."
"Oh no, Majesty!" said the general hastily. "The rebels sailed down the Nile surprisingly quickly, and they tried to break through our lines with a lightning strike, but they have not established their rule over the provinces they passed through. In reality, their actions were more spectacular than dangerous."
"All the same,we have suffered several setbacks."
"The rebels took a few detachments by surprise, but I took rapid action and halted their advance."
"At the cost of heavy losses, it would seem."
"Their weapons may be archaic, but these Egyptians fight like wild animals. Fortunately, our chariots and horses give us enormous superiority. And also, Majesty, do not forget that we killed Seqen."
Apophis kept his expression unreadable as he thought,"Only because we have a spy at the heart of the enemy's organization." Aloud, he asked,"Where is Seqen's body?"
"The Egyptians managed to recover it, Majesty."
"A pity. I'd have liked to hang it from the tallest tower in Avaris. What about Queen Ahhotep? Is she still at liberty?"
"Unfortunately, yes. But she's only a woman, after all. Now that her husband's dead, all she can do is surrender. The tatters of the Egyptian army will soon disperse, and we shall destroy them."
"Ah!" exclaimed the emperor, turning to look down into the circular arena. "The entertainment is beginning."
An enormous bull with blazing eyes and pounding hooves came thundering into the arena, into which a naked, defenseless man was immediately flung.