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Queen of Heka          Sneak Peek

If you know the one true, secret name of a god, you can do anything. Even bring a man back from the dead. Twice.

 

Now, consider this. You know me as Isis, and I made myself the Goddess of Ten Thousand Names. None of them my one, true name. But in the beginning, I was a girl named Iset who loved Asar.

If you know the one true, secret name of a god, you can do anything. Even bring a man back from the dead. Twice.

 

Now, consider this. You know me as Isis, and I made myself the Goddess of Ten Thousand Names. None of them my one, true name. But in the beginning, I was a girl named Iset who loved Asar.

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   The crocodile slid into the river, an inky shadow in the green water. Its black-on-gold eyes fixed on my hunting skiff. I snatched a spear from the stand and planted my feet.

   “At your word, Highness,” the chief oarsman said. My rowers fidgeted, either from nerves or anticipation. Both if they were like me.

   The drums of the Queen’s Hunt throttled the command to row, left it squatting on my tongue like a fat frog. The crocodile sank in the mud; my plan to cheat Mother of the first kill vanished with it. I slumped over the spear.

   Servants, thrashing the water with papyrus stalks, ran along the river road. The hunting fleet followed. Ahead of the beaters, a hippopotamus lumbered out of the reeds. How had I missed it?

   The gold-tipped oars of Mother’s boat shimmered. Mother, an ivory bow across her knees, sat on a low stool covered in leopard skins, killed by her own arrows. Or so the stories went. No one dared call them lies.

    Mother’s appraisal of the river cow showed no pity. When she and Seti came to Khemenu temple where I’d lived for ten years, she stared at me like I was a river cow.

   “Your brother can’t breed,” she said. No great secret. Every priest in the Two Lands consulted their augurs for a solution. I understood my duty long before Mother placed my hand in Seti’s. “If you give the Two Lands an heir, the pair of you will rule hereafter.

   Seti, a smile on his face, hissed in my ear. “Fail me, cousin, and I’ll slit your throat.”

   Everyone knew my cousin for a liar and braggart, but they agreed he never failed to deliver on a threat. The memory sat in my head like curdled milk on an empty stomach.

   The hippopotamus bellowed.

   Mother nodded. Her oarsmen raised their oars in unison; the other hunters fell back. Spear in hand, Yuya, Mother’s bodyguard, prepared to claim the kill on her behalf. Her boat vaulted toward the river cow.

   I prayed.

   Let me best Mother so she’ll send me back to the temple, unmarried. Grant me this one thing, and I’ll dedicate the rest of my days to the glory of the gods. Gods above, that sounded bleak. Let me best Mother so she’ll find me a husband who loves me as much as he loves the Two Lands, and I’ll do anything.

   No god answered.

   I’ll slit your throat. Recalling Seti’s peculiar red hair scratching my cheek chilled my blood. If I wanted to see my sixteenth year, I needed to return to the temple. Now. I swallowed hard and put my faith in Mother’s wrath.

   “Get me there first.”

   The chief oarsman glanced at Mother and pretended not to hear me. I tried Mother’s face, the one that said if you challenge me you might as well offer yourself up to the Great Serpent.

   “Go!”

   A lull in the drumming sent my voice ringing up and down the river road. All the boats except Mother’s came to a standstill. Courtiers swiveled their heads in my direction. Their shocked expressions convinced me to go ahead.

   “Row.”

   They rowed. I stood between the benches, using the spear to keep my balance. My boat closed the gap, blocking Mother’s. Her rowers gaped. The sign I wanted to see.

   Mother shook her head, an almost imperceptible movement. For a heartbeat, I considered calling a halt. I’ll slit your throat.

   “Faster.”

   My boat skimmed the waves like a hawk on the wind. I kept my footing even when the hippopotamus’s warning bellow rattled my bones. Its maw gaped wider than the entrance to the underworld. I wiped my sweaty palms against my thighs and hoisted the spear, waiting, waiting, waiting until we came into range.

   I threw the spear, burying the copper tip in the river cow’s eye. The wooden shaft vibrated with each outraged roar. I grabbed a second spear. It found a home beside the first.

   “Oh, yes, yes, yes!”

   Someone thrust a bow and arrow into my hands.

   The hippopotamus reared, flailing its front legs and exposing the rapid pulsing of its pale, distended belly. I risked glancing at Mother. Her incredulous expression made my heart soar.

   The hippopotamus plunged under water. My stomach came up into my throat. Maddened by pain, these beasts often resurfaced under a boat, shredding the wood with their curved fangs.

   I took deep breaths like the priests taught me. In. Hold. Out. A dreamlike calm settled over me. I nocked back the first arrow. The air sang with its passage. I held my breath until it struck the broad back. The river cow reared again. Two. Three. Four arrows followed in quick succession. Each one to the heart.

   A low death rattle reverberated in the hush, but the body remained as upright as a mountain for what seemed like a million years. When it collapsed, waves crashed against the boat, buffeting us from side to side.

   The chief oarsman caught me; my face was a mere hand’s span from the churning, bloody water. My victory cry rang like a temple horn.

   Mother’s boat drew alongside mine. Yuya seized my arm and dragged me over the hull. I tumbled at Mother’s feet. He yanked me upright and crushed me against his chest. The stink of his armpits made me gag. A calloused hand cupped my chin, leaving no choice but to face Mother.

   “I’m not one of your trophies,” I said.

   “Oh, Iset, when will you figure out who your actual enemy is? I’m not the one wanting a prize.” She sounded weary. The harsh sun made the fine lines around her mouth deeper and darker than the Great River. Her lips pressed against my ear. “I’m trying to keep you alive, stupid girl.”

   The spit dried on my tongue.

   Her hand cracked across my cheek bone. I had time to blink before the next blow. Sparks danced before my eyes. My vision cleared, but Mother’s face blocked the other hunters, the dead river cow, the entire river.