The Mask of Ra

The Mask of Ra

4.3 7
by Paul Doherty

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His great battles against the sea raiders in the Nile Delta have left Pharoah Tuthmosis II frail, but he finds solace in victory and in the welcome he is sure to receive on his return to Thebes. Across the river from Thebes, however, there are those who do not relish his homecoming, and a group of assassins has taken a witch to pollute the Pharaoh's unfinished tomb.


His great battles against the sea raiders in the Nile Delta have left Pharoah Tuthmosis II frail, but he finds solace in victory and in the welcome he is sure to receive on his return to Thebes. Across the river from Thebes, however, there are those who do not relish his homecoming, and a group of assassins has taken a witch to pollute the Pharaoh's unfinished tomb. Reunited with his wife, Hatusu, and his people, Tuthmosis stands before the statue of Amun-Ra, the roar of the crowd and the fanfare of trumpets ringing in his ears. But within an hour he is dead and the people of Thebes cannot forget the omen of wounded doves flying overhead. Rumours run rife, speculation sweeps the royal city and Hatusu vows to uncover the truth. With the aid of Amerotke, a respected judge of Thebes, she embarks on a path destined to reveal the great secrets of Egypt.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Into the power vacuum created by the sudden death of Pharoah Tuthmosis II in Thebes step the greedy grand vizier, several ambitious generals, and the pharaoh's stunning young widow Hatusu (a.k.a. Hatshepsut). Chief judge Amerotke, investigating the death, suspects that an accused guard is merely a political scapegoat and that the pharaoh's death has some connection to a series of tomb desecrations, robberies, and related murders. This new series marks a sharp departure from Doherty's usual medieval milieus (e.g., The Devil's Hunt, LJ 2/1/98), but he covers Egypt's ancient pageantry, splendor, and corruption with equal authenticity. Certain to capture historical fans. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Author of many novels set in the England of past centuries, Doherty (Ghostly Murders, 1998, etc.) here presents the first of a series about Ancient Egypt. A war with enemies along the Nile Delta has just ended, and a triumphant Pharaoh Tuthmosis is returning to Thebes after stopping at Sakkara, site of the Pyramids. He has barely stepped from ship to his palaquin and the welcome of wife Hatusu when he keels over and dies, seemingly from the bite of a viper. Captain Meneloto, head of the Pharaoh's Guard, is put on trial for negligence at the court of Amerotke, chief judge of Thebes, who temporarily reserves judgment. Another problem, reported by Chief of Police Asural, is the persistent theft of small precious objects (not unlike the things sold by Amerotke's devoted servant, the dwarf Shufoy) from tombs that are sealed. The Chief Judge, though, sees a far greater problem: as reports of enemy armies approaching the city become rampant, the circle surrounding Queen Hatusu has divided into enemy camps, with councillors Seth and Semenmet at odds with Vizier Rahimere—controller of palaces and temples. Soon the enemy must be faced, and so Queen Hatusu leads the royal regiments into battle while Amerotke, after falling into a near-fatal trap, eventually deciphers the means, the motive, and the hand behind the death of the Pharaoh. Chaotic plotting; an oversupply of busy, forgettable characters; enough detail of clothing, buildings, tombs, interior design and everyday life to fill a small textbook. Surely, life in medieval England was more fun than this.

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Chapter One

Tuthmosis, beloved of Amun-Ra, the Incarnation of Horns, Ruler of the Black Land, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, leaned back in his gold-encrusted throne and stared through the open-sided cabin of his royal barge. He closed his eyes and smiled. He was coming home! They would turn the bend of the river and see Thebes in all its glory. On its eastern banks, the walls, columns and pylons of the city and, on the west, the honeycombed hills of the Necropolis. Tuthmosis spread his gold-sandalled feet as the barge pitched slightly in its change of course; its prow, formed in the shape of a screaming falcon's head, still cut through the river even as the great, broad-brimmed sail billowed slightly but then subsided. Shouts rang out. The sail was lowered and the barge regained speed as the barebacked rowers bent over their oars, heaving under the orders of the steersmen standing in the stern, managing the great rudders. The leading helmsman began a chant, a muted hymn of praise to their Pharaoh:

`He has shattered his enemies, he is lord of the skies.
He has swooped on his foe, great is his name!
Health and length of years will only add to his glory!
He is the golden hawk! He is the king of kings!
The beloved of the gods!'

The chant was taken up by the soldiers and marines who manned the prow watching for any treacherous sand bank. The oars rose and dipped, the sun dazzling the splash of water.

    Tuthmosis, his face impassive under his blue war crown, stared at his soldiers clustered in the stern: Rahimere his Vizier, Sethos, the royalprosecutor, Omendap his general and Bayletos his chief scribe had gone ahead to Thebes. Now, only Meneloto, the captain of the guard, remained. He sat with his officers, discussing their impending return to Thebes, the tasks and onerous duties awaiting them. Above the Pharaoh great, feathery, perfumed ostrich plumes created a scented breeze, waves of coolness as the day was proving hot and the sunlight was strong, despite the silver-embroidered canopy above him. Tuthmosis listened to his glories being expounded but what did they really matter? What did he care? He had visited the Great Pyramid at Sakkara. He had read the secrets on the sacred stela. He had stumbled upon mysteries, yet had he? Had not the word of God simply spoken to him? Had not these mysteries been revealed because he was holy and chosen?

    `Gold are your limbs, lapis lazuli your hands!' The royal poet squatting to the Pharaoh's left echoed the praises of the sailors and oarsmen. `Beautiful of face are you, oh Pharaoh! Mighty of arm! Just and noble in peace! Terrible in war!'

    The recipient of these ornate phrases blinked. What did such flattery matter? Or the treasure hoards contained in the holds of the imperial war galleys which went before and after him as he journeyed along the Nile? Such wealth was passing.

    Pharaoh moved his head. He gazed through the heat haze at the banks on either side where he glimpsed the coloured standards of his squadrons of war chariots which escorted and protected him on his sacred journey to Thebes. Such power was illusory! The weapons of war, his crack regiments, named after the gods, the Horus, the Apis, the Ibis and the Anubis, these were nothing more than dust under heaven. Tuthmosis knew the secret of secrets. He had written as much to his beloved, noble wife Hatusu and, on his return, he would tell her what he had discovered. She would believe him as would his friend the high priest, Sethos, the keeper of the Pharaoh's secrets, the `eyes and ears of the King'. Tuthmosis sighed and put down his insignia, the flail and the crook. He touched the glowing pectoral around his neck and moved his legs, the gold-encrusted kilt clinking at his every movement.

    `I am thirsty!'

    His cup-bearer, on the far side of the silk cabin wall, raised the ivory chalice. He sipped the sweetened wine and passed it to his master. Tuthmosis drank and handed it back. At that moment the watcher in the prow shouted out. Tuthmosis looked to his right. They were rounding the bend, Thebes was near! The barge swung closer to the bank. In the reeds alongside the river, a hippopotamus, frightened by the noise, crashed about sending huge flocks of geese flying up above the thick papyrus marshes. The chariot squadrons on the east bank had grown indistinct. They were preparing to lead off, to join the other troops massed outside the city. Tuthmosis sighed in pleasure. He was home! Hatusu his Queen would be waiting. He would rest in Thebes!

On the portico of the temple of Amun-Ra, a group of young women stood in the shadows of the soaring pillars. Heavy black wigs of curled, shining hair hung down to their shoulders; pleated robes of fine, semi-transparent linen covered their bodies from neck to their silver-sandalled feet. Fingers and toenails were dyed deeply in henna. Their beringed hands clutched the sistra, loops of metal attached to a wooden handle. When shaken together, these instruments gave an eerie jangling sound. Now they hung silent. Soon they would ring out, welcoming the return of their god. They were the priestesses of Amun-Ra, gathered round Hatusu, the Pharaoh's Queen. She, also, was dressed in exquisite white linen. On her headdress of gold rested the vulture crown of the Queens of Egypt and in her hands the sceptre and rod of office. Hatusu heard the priestesses giggle but she did not move her kohl-rimmed eyes. She stood impassive as a statue, staring down at the sun-bright courtyard below where ranks of shaven, white-robed priests awaited the return of her husband. A breeze soothed the heat and stirred the banners and pennants which hung from the massive stone pylons around her. Looking over the heads of the priests, Hatusu glimpsed the people massed in the second courtyard, officials and administrators ranged in order of rank and marshalled by officers armed with their wands of office. Beyond this courtyard stretched the Sacred Way down into the city where its citizens lined the Avenue of Sphinxes, massed between the huge black granite statues of crouching beasts with human heads and the bodies of lions.

    Faintly on the breeze Hatusu heard the sound of music, the bray of trumpets. She caught the sparkle of armour and glimpsed the lines of troops marching in from the Sacred Way. The Egyptian royal guard, Negroes from the Sudan and the Shardana, foreign auxiliaries in their ornate horn helmets. Tuthmosis was coming home! Hatusu should be pleased but she was fearful. She had scrutinised that scroll most carefully and wondered if its mysterious writer would dare share such secrets with her half-brother and husband. Hatusu lifted her head. The massed choirs had begun their hymn of praise.

`He has stretched out his fist!
He has scattered his enemies with the power of his arm!
The earth, in all its length and breadth, is subject to him!
He tramples his enemies like grapes under his feet!
He is glorious in his majesty!'

The singing was drowned by a great roar of triumph. The Pharaoh had reached the Sacred Way. He would soon be in the temple. In the inner courtyards the great officials and masked ranks of priests ceased whispering and stood in nervous silence. Their Pharaoh was returning in triumph, Amun-Ra had glorified his majesty but there would also be a reckoning. The books would be opened, the accounts scrutinised, the judges and scribes summoned to the royal presence. In the whispered words of one of them, `The royal cat was returning to its basket'.

    Hatusu moved to the top of the steps, the priestesses fanning out behind her. All now looked towards the great bronze doors which sealed the inner courtyards of the temple. They heard the shouts, `Life! Prosperity! Health!' A trumpet blast, harsh and braying, imposed silence. The voice of a herald rang out: `How splendid is our lord who returns in victory!'

    The great bronze doors opened, the cavalcade entered: the priests in white robes, officers of the royal bodyguard with their high-plumed headdresses, their golden torques and arm rings shimmering with light, their spear tips stretching up. Hatusu glimpsed members of her husband's council. The cortege stopped. Another blast of trumpets and the Pharaoh entered. Preceded by his standard bearers and banners, Tuthmosis was borne along in a gold and silver palanquin carried on the shoulders of twelve noblemen. The palanquin stopped and everyone prostrated themselves. Again the trumpet blast. Hatusu gracefully rose to her feet while the priestesses swirled past her down the steps, shaking their sistra and singing the hymn of welcome. The palanquin was lowered. Royal officials clustered around and Tuthmosis was helped down from his throne. The priests gathered round, shielding him as he rearranged his robes and prepared to climb the steps. Hatusu went down on both knees, hands joined before her. She watched her husband's shadow slowly climb the steps. She closed her eyes: If only she could feel the joy she should! If only she could tell her husband how the Ahket, the rising of the river Nile, had been the most fruitful for a long time! How the reports from the Nomachs, the provincial governors, had been nothing but good ...

    When she opened her eyes, the shadow was over her. Hatusu bowed her head but her husband's hand touched her under the chin and she stared up. Tuthmosis smiled; but his face, beneath the ceremonial paint, looked pale and haggard. The black kohl around his eyes only emphasised his weariness. The Queen was seized by a wild thought. Here was her husband, beloved of the gods, conqueror of his enemies, yet he looked as if he had crossed the river of death and found nothing but dust. Tuthmosis bent his head slightly, his eyes crinkled in pleasure. He quietly mouthed, `I have missed you! I love you!', then opened his hand to reveal a golden lotus flower, studded with precious stones, on the end of a silver chain. He placed this round her neck and helped Hatusu to her feet. The Pharaoh of Egypt and his Queen turned, hands extended, to receive the acclamation and roars of the crowd.

    The trumpets brayed, cymbals clashed, great gusts of incense billowed into the sky, sweetening the air and purifying all assembled. The Pharaoh would not speak: his mouth was too sacred, his words too precious. He had yet to commune with the gods. Another trumpet blast brayed. Members of the royal bodyguard hurried forward to create an avenue. Up this stumbled the Pharaoh's principal prisoners of war, dark-haired, copper-skinned captives stripped of all their finery and armour, hands bound above their heads. They were made to kneel at the foot of the steps. Hatusu closed her eyes. She knew what was about to happen. The Pharaoh made a cutting movement with his hands. The royal executioners stepped forward. The prisoners, gagged as well as bound, could make no protest as their throats were slashed. Their blood-soaked corpses were scattered in the open area before the gods of Egypt and the power of Pharaoh.

    `It is over,' Tuthmosis whispered.

    Hatusu opened her eyes. She dare not look down. The air had a different stench, of death and the iron tang of blood. She just hoped her husband would not tarry but walk on into the temple, to the great statue of Amun-Ra, and sprinkle incense. She sighed with relief as Tuthmosis turned and, with the roar of the crowd ringing in their ears, they walked into the coolness of the colonnade, along the marble floor, past the rows of painted columns. The great statue of Amun-Ra, seated in glory, loomed up before them. The Pharaoh paused, staring at the flickering flames in the great vase before the statue. A priest came forward, a golden bowl in his hand. Eyes down, he held the bowl and the silver spoon towards his Pharaoh. Tuthmosis paused. Hatusu looked expectantly at him. What was the matter? she thought. He had won great victories to the north and now, like their father, he must give thanks. Or did he know already? Had some whisperer been sent north to his camp? Tuthmosis sighed, stepped forward and sprinkled the incense. Hatusu, walking one pace behind him, waited for Tuthmosis to kneel on the scarlet, gold-tasselled cushions but he didn't. He just stood staring up at the black granite face of the god. He raised his hands, palms facing outwards as if intoning a prayer, but wearily dropped them, as if the effort was too much.

    `My lord, your majesty!' Hatusu hissed. `What is the matter?'

    Tuthmosis was staring back down towards the courtyard. The cheering had stopped. It had been replaced by a low murmur of discontent, of angry protest. A priest came hurrying in. He prostrated himself.

    `What is it?' Tuthmosis asked.

    `An omen, your majesty. A dove flew over the courtyard.'


    `Its body was wounded, he spattered all below him with blood before falling dead from the skies!'

    Tuthmosis swayed, his chin began to quiver, his jaw moved sideways, his hand went to his throat. His head went back, the great double red and white crown fell off. Hatusu screamed and caught him as he fell, trying to control the frightening convulsions as Tuthmosis writhed in her arms. She lowered him gently to the floor, his body rigid, eyes rolling back in his head. Flecks of spittle appeared on the corner of his carmine-painted lips.

    `My beloved!' Hatusu whispered.

    Tuthmosis went slack in her arms, then his head came up, his eyes opened.

    `It's only a mask!' he gasped.

    Hatusu leaned down to listen to his whispers before Tuthmosis, beloved of Ra, gave one last shudder and died.

During the month of Mechir, in the season of the planting, after the official mourning following the sudden death of Pharaoh Tuthmosis II, Amerotke, chief judge of Thebes, delivered sentence in the Hall of Two Truths at the temple of Ma'at, the lady of divine words, the divine teller of truth. Amerotke sat on a low cushioned chair made out of acacia wood. The cushion was of sacred fabric and embroidered with hieroglyphics extolling the wonders of the goddess Ma'at. On the walls around the hall were carvings of the forty-two daemons, strange creatures with the heads of snakes, hawks, vultures and rams. Each of these held a knife. Beneath them, their titles were given in brilliant red ochre: `dyer of blood', `eater of shadows', `wry head', `eye of flame', `breaker of bones', `breath of flame', `leg of fire', `white tooth'. These creatures dwelt in the halls of the gods, ready to devour souls who were weighed in the sacred scales of divine justice and found wanting. Before Amerotke stood the cedarwood tables bearing the laws of Egypt and the decrees of Pharaoh. Behind him loomed large, black granite statues of the god Osiris holding the scales of life or eternal death, and Horus, the ever-watchful.

    The hall was colonnaded, the columns painted brilliant colours, and, through them on one side, Amerotke if he so wished could glimpse the gardens of Ma'at: fresh green lawns where the flocks of the goddess grazed near shady trees and gaily coloured birds whirled round fountains which splashed into ornamental pools. Amerotke, however, sat cross-legged, studying the papyrus parchments on the floor before him. The rest of the court waited in hushed silence. Down one side squatted the scribes dressed in white robes, their shaven heads bent over small desks. These bore their writing instruments: pallets of red and black ink, water pots, and a cluster of styli, hollow reeds sharpened at one end, brushes, pumice stones, jars of glue and little sharp knives for cutting the papyrus.

    Prenhoe, the youngest scribe, looked expectantly across at the judge. Amerotke was his kinsman and Prenhoe both admired and envied him. In his thirty-fifth year, Amerotke had risen to be chief judge in the Hall of Two Truths. A shrewd man, a courtier born and bred, Amerotke had won a reputation for justice and integrity. He looked younger than his years. His head was shaven, apart from one lock of gleaming black hair which, plaited with gold and red, hung down over his right ear. His body was sinewy and lithe as an athlete's and his white, red-bordered robe fitted him elegantly. Prenhoe, on the other hand, felt uncomfortable. He wanted to take his gown off, go out and bathe in the sacred pool, wash away the sweat. Thankfully, the case before them was reaching its climax. Amerotke had warned Prenhoe that this would be a dark day. Judgement of death would have to be pronounced, both here and elsewhere.

    Amerotke moved on the cushions. The light caught the gold pectoral of Ma'at which hung on a gold chain round his neck. Amerotke fingered this and stared angrily at the prisoner kneeling bound before him. He looked to the right where a middle-aged man and woman stood together, arms round each other, the tears streaming down their faces. Further along stood the group of witnesses, huddled between two pillars. Amerotke breathed in. He looked to the top of the pillars as if to scrutinise the dark-red paste of the capitals carved in the shape of a lotus. All was ready. At the end of the hall, just inside the door of truth, the police waited, dressed in leather kilts and bronze helmets, armed with club and shield. Their commander, the chief of the temple police, stood with them — a stubby, thickset, balding man, a distant cousin of the chief judge.

    `Is there anything else left to be said?' Amerotke raised his hand.

    `There is nothing, my lord,' the chief scribe replied, bending low over his table. `The case has been heard. The witnesses examined. The oaths sworn.'

    `Is there any one of you,' Amerotke studied the line of scribes, `who, in the presence of the lady Ma'at, can say anything as to why sentence of death should not be passed?'

    The scribes remained tight-lipped. Some shook theft heads, Prenhoe most vigorously. His kinsman caught his eye and smiled faintly. Amerotke placed his hands on the canopied boxes which stood on either side of him. These, built out of sycamore and acacia, and veneered with strips of silver, contained small shrines to Ma'at. Prenhoe breathed in. Judgement was to be delivered.

    `Bathret!' Amerotke leaned forward and stared directly at the prisoner. `Lift your head!'

    The prisoner did.

    `I will now deliver my judgement. Here, in the presence of the gods of Egypt. May the lord Thoth and the lady Ma'at be my witnesses. You are a wicked, evil man! What you did was an abomination in the eyes of all. A terrible stench in the nostrils of the gods! You worked in the Necropolis, the City of the Dead. Your task was to prepare the corpses of those who died for burial, to assist in the rites of purification so the Ka of the dead might travel on into the divine halls of judgement. Great trust was placed in you. You abused that trust.' Amerotke pointed to the man and woman on his right, now weeping loudly. `Their only daughter died of a fever. Her corpse was given to you. You abused it, using her poor body for your own pleasures. Members of your own guild caught you in the act of sex with the corpse of this young woman. A vile and blasphemous act! Only by handing you over to the Pharaoh's justice,' Amerotke stared down at the huddle of purifiers and embalmers, `have they escaped the full judgement of the law!' Amerotke clapped his hands, the rings flashing in the light. `Now this is my sentence. You are to be taken to the Red Lands south of the city. No one will accompany you except the guardians of this court. A grave will be dug. You will be lowered in and imprisoned. You are to be buried alive!' Amerotke clapped his hands again. `Let the judgement be recorded and carried out immediately!'

    The prisoner writhed and screamed, shouting obscenities at Amerotke even as the police seized him and thrust him out of the Hall of Two Truths. Amerotke waved forward the group of embalmers as well as the grieving parents. The men were frightened, pale-faced and wary-eyed in the presence of this judge and his terrible sentence. They fell to their knees, hands outstretched.

    `Mercy, lord!' their shaven-headed leader begged, fleshy jowls quivering. `Mercy and forgiveness!'

    `He was one of yours,' Amerotke declared tonelessly. `Compensation has to be paid.'

    `It will be, lord. In gold and silver, finely cut,' he wheedled. `With the assay mark clear and distinct.'

    Amerotke gazed hard at him. The judge's large, dark eyes seemed to bore into the man's soul.

    `There is more?' the leader of the embalmers wailed.

    Amerotke just stared, his hand on the pectoral of Ma'at.

    `What more can we do?' Another embalmer spoke up.

    Amerotke's eyes shifted.

    `There is a lot more,' the leader hastily intervened. He was sharp enough to see the look of distaste in the chief judge's eyes. `We will build a tomb. With galleries, chapels, chambers and storerooms for this delightful family who have suffered so much.'

    Amerotke looked at the victim's parents; he heard a grumble of dissent among the embalmers.

    `Is there any objection?' Amerotke asked. `Is there any of you who wishes to join your companion out in the Red Lands?'

    `No, my lord,' one of the embalmers declared. He spoke honestly, his gaze never wavered. `What he did was an abomination. I do not ask for compassion for ourselves, but to be imprisoned in the hot earth? To let the soil fill your mouth and eyes? To die a rotting death with only the howls of the hyenas as a hymn to your soul which is about to go out across the desert of death?'

    `You ask for compassion?' Amerotke said.

    `I do, my lord. I humble myself in the dust before you, that man was my cousin.'

    Amerotke looked at the grieving parents. `Nothing can avenge the insult to your daughter,' he declared. `But you accept the compensation offered?'

    The parents nodded, the husband putting his arm around his wife's shoulders.

    `And you want compassion to be shown?'

    `For the sake of our daughter's soul,' the man replied, `my lord, death will be sufficient.'

    `So it will be recorded,' Amerotke said, beckoning one of the couriers who stood behind the scribes. `Tell those who take the prisoner how it is the judgement of the court that the miscreant be allowed poison before he is buried.'

    The courier hastened out. Amerotke got to his feet, a sign that the session was finished.

    `The judgement of the court is known,' he pronounced. `These matters are finished.'

    The embalmers backed out, bowing and scraping, grateful that they themselves had not been included in any punishment. Amerotke clasped the hands of the parents, saying they were to return and inform him immediately if the compensation was not paid in full. He then walked into the small antechamber which served as his private chapel to the lady Ma'at. He knelt before the sacred cupboard, sprinkled incense on the flickering flame and composed his thoughts. He was glad the matter was finished. He was satisfied that the embalmer had acted on his own and that justice had been done. The case had scandalised Thebes, and had also done great damage to the guild of embalmers, so his judgement might restore the balance. He closed his eyes and prayed for wisdom. Other matters awaited him. He heard footsteps behind him.

    `My lord, we should go!'

    Amerotke sighed and got to his feet. The chief of the temple police stood in the doorway, staff of office in one hand, the other on the hilt of his sword. Amerotke hid a smile. Whatever the weather, however hot and humid it became in the law courts, Asural always insisted on wearing his bronze corselet, leather kilt and plumed helmet now held under his arm. Nevertheless, although fussy and sometimes argumentative, the chief was a man who could not be bought or bribed.

    Asural spoke. `It will soon be time.' He grinned, the creases of fat almost hiding his eyes. `I welcome your judgement. It will teach those rogues across the river a lesson they'll never forget.'

    He stood aside to let the chief judge back into the hall but then gripped him by the elbow. Amerotke smiled. Asural loved to do that, to show everyone present how the chief judge and himself were not only colleagues but firm friends.

    `I wish I could make headway on the other matter,' Asural grumbled.

    `More robberies?' Amerotke asked.

    The chief of police nodded. `So clever, so cunning,' he declared. `The tombs are always sealed. Yet, whenever they are opened to receive another dead body, something is always found missing. They say it's demons. For how can flesh and blood pass through thick, mud-brick walls?'

    `And what do these demons take?' Amerotke asked.

    `Necklaces, statuettes, rings, small boxes, bowls and vases.'

    `But nothing large?'

    `No.' The chief of police shook his head.

    `So, we have demons who are only interested in small, precious items? Nothing large or cumbersome?'

    The chief of police studied Amerotke's face for any hint of a smile.

    `I don't think it's demons,' the judge observed. `But some very cunning thief. Prenhoe!' he called across.

    The scribe, clustered with his colleagues, chattering now the case was finished, sprang to his feet. He waddled across, trying to hide the ink stain on his gown.

    `Yes, Amerotke ... I mean, my lord.'

    `Find out the name of that embalmer who spoke and asked for mercy, he may be of help. The answer to this grave robbing,' Amerotke continued, `lies in precise knowledge of which tombs contain what. Someone in the Necropolis will have to help us.'

    `Yes, my lord, and the other case ...?' Prenhoe looked expectant.

    `All is ready,' Amerotke replied. `I just wish I didn't have to sit in judgement.'

    He stared across at a statue of Ma'at. Three months ago, he thought, Pharaoh Tuthmosis had returned from his victories only to die suddenly before the statue of Amun-Ra. His death had caused consternation both in the court and the city. People whispered and rumour ran thick and rife. His son, who bore the same name, was only a child of seven, while his widowed Queen, Hatusu, was unskilled in government. There was talk of a regency, of power being vested in the Grand Vizier Rahimere. Of course, the Pharaoh's sudden death had had to be investigated. A royal physician had been summoned. On the heels of the royal corpse he had found the bite of a viper. Everyone then recalled how weak and frail the Pharaoh had looked as he had been borne on his palanquin along the Sacred Way. The only time his sacred foot had ever touched the ground was when he left his throne on board the royal barge. A search had been made and a viper found, curled up beneath the royal dais. No foul play had been suspected but the finger of accusation had been pointed at Meneloto, the captain of the Pharaoh's guard. He had been accused of negligence, of failing in his duties, and been committed to trial before Amerotke in the Hall of Two Truths.

    `What time is it now?' Amerotke asked, breaking from his reverie.

    Prenhoe went and examined the water clock above a small ornamental pool in the far corner of the hall.

    `The eleventh hour!' he called out. `We have three hours!'

    `There is the other matter,' the chief of police insisted.

    The murmur among the scribes grew. As Amerotke looked round two grotesque figures came striding up the hall. They wore red and gold kilts, black studded belts criss-crossed their bare chests; the jackal mask of Anubis hid their faces, and in their hands they carried the silver-tipped wands of office. Amerotke touched the pectoral of Ma'at and prayed for courage. The two emissaries of the lord executioner bowed.

    `All is prepared!' The voice behind the mask was deep and hollow.

    `Sentence is to be carried out!' the other echoed.

    `I know, I know,' Amerotke replied. `And I must witness it.' He gestured with his hand. `Then let it be done!'

Meet the Author

Paul Doherty was born in Middlesborough. He studied History at Liverpool and Oxford Universities and obtained a doctorate for his thesis on Edward II and Queen Isabella. He is now headmaster of a school in North-East London.

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Mask of RA 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although by the end of the novel I'd figured out the villain by a process of elimination, the book was irresistible. Teeming marketplaces, royal palaces, scented gardens, eerie outreaches in the Valley of the Dead - P.C. Doherty gives a vivid travelogue of ancient Thebes. Not to be missed by Egyptophiles who also happen to love suspense!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love a good mystery. The Mask of Ra is just that. The detail is incredible. The characters leap off the page. The mystery is just that, not finding out until the very end. Fantastic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is an excellent book...hard to put down...characters are believable....if you like mystery and ancient Egypt...this is worth the read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is a fast paced mystery...the characters are believable and the book is hard to put down...great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a good one to read and engrossing mystery. I enjoyed it and recommend it to Egyptian story lovers. It is a good book overall.
Guest More than 1 year ago
its a very good book i think he should not get murdered