12 September 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Warrior of the Nile by Veronica Scott

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Veronica Scott once again, whose latest novel, WARRIOR OF THE NILE, is set in ancient Egypt. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of Warrior of the Nile to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

Egypt, 1500 BCE

Lady Tiya is bound to the service of the goddess Nephthys, who plans to sacrifice Tiya’s body to protect Egypt from an ancient terror. She embarks to meet her grim fate alone but for the hardened warrior Khenet, who is fated to die at her side. Tiya’s dreams of love and family now seem impossible, and Khenet, who is the last of his line, knows his culture will die with him. Struggling with the high cost of Nephthys’s demands, both resolve to remain loyal.

Neither expects the passion that flowers when Tiya’s quiet courage and ethereal beauty meet Khenet’s firm strength and resolve. On a boat down the Nile, their two lonely souls find in each other a reason to live. But time is short and trust elusive.

Without the willing sacrifice of Tiya and Khenet, a great evil will return to Egypt. How could the gods demand their deaths when they’ve only just begun to live?

**An Excerpt from Warrior of the Nile**

Chapter One

Khenet waited in Pharaoh’s private chambers eyeing the gilded chairs pulled up to Pharaoh’s ebony table, but no one, not even him, dared to sit without the ruler’s express permission. A dull ache had settled in his head and Khenet blamed the oppressive weather cursing the city. Unseasonal thunderstorms rumbling all night long had made sleep impossible.
The palace summons had come to the barracks that morning before he’d even had time for breakfast. His stomach growled and he stiffened his spine. Whatever Pharaoh Nat-re-akhte needed him for, he was ready. Too much leisure between battles wore on his nerves.
The door flew open and Pharaoh strode into the room, approaching Khenet. “My brother, it’s been too long since we spent time together.” They clasped arms, leaning in for a quick hug.
“Not since we harried those Hyksos raiders from the neighboring province,” Khenet said, stepping back, eyeing the physical changes in Pharaoh’s appearance. The cares of ruling Egypt are starting to weigh on him,clearly.
Pharaoh picked a handful of dates from a golden platter and sank into his favorite lion-footed ebony chair. Propping his bare feet on an ivory stool, he gestured at the ample spread of food on the table. “Will you have anything? Wine or beer, perhaps?”
Reaching for a meat roll, Khenet shook his head. “Early for beer, my lord.”
Pharaoh poured himself a goblet full and, perhaps sensing Khenet’s disapproval said, “Trust me, it’s necessary today. Sit.”
Khenet glanced at the closed door across from him. Unusual informality.
“We won’t be disturbed—don’t worry. But we also don’t have much time.” Having made the declaration  Pharaoh fell silent. He sipped at the beer and frowned, as if the taste failed to please him.
One did not speak unless spoken to in the presence of the Living God, but everything else had been unusual today. Khenet and his pharaoh did not stand on much ceremony when they were alone. Time to find out what’s going on. “Your family is well?”
“Fine. The queen and my boy are healthy, praise the gods.” Pharaoh set the goblet down with a thump, splashing beer on the table, and leaned forward, eyes narrowed. “I need a personal favor. A dangerous, complicated task lies before me and only the right man can carry it out.”
Action at last. Khenet straightened. “My brother has but to name the thing, and I’ll undertake it.”
Pharaoh held up one hand to forestall him. “I’m seeking a volunteer, not giving orders today. I had the Chief Scribe summon two other candidates, should you choose to pass on the assignment, but I won’t lie— you’re my first choice.” The monarch waited until Khenet nodded, then leaned forward over the table, lowering his voice. “What we speak of must not go beyond these walls. The Great Ones are involved.”
A rush of adrenalin coursed through Khenet’s body and set his heart to racing. After pulling the nearest chair closer, he sat opposite Pharaoh. Suddenly needing a drink himself, he reached for the beer. “I give you my oath. No one’s hearing a word from me.”
Nodding, Pharaoh took another long pull from his mug. “The goddess Nephthys wants a woman escorted south to the Viper Nome, to marry the provincial ruler, Smenkhotep. The journey is to be by boat and chariot. I’m to supply a single bodyguard. No other soldiers, no retainers. Nephthys decrees that the man must be from my personal guard, someone close to me.”
Considering the information, Khenet raised his mug and took a long drink. Odd indeed, from many aspects. He swallowed. “The Viper Nome isn’t loyal to you. Yet you’ll do Smenkhotep honor by sending him a bride?”
Pharaoh grunted and toyed with a knife on the table, spinning it in lazy circles. “From what the goddess Nephthys told me last night, the nomarch is as treacherous as the snakes which give his province its name. He worships the god of our enemies, Qemteshub, and seeks to provide our foes a new foothold in Egypt. Apparently when the Usurper occupied my throne, she
struck a deal with Smenkhotep. She agreed to send him a girl from one of the ancient Houses of Egypt, to help him somehow. I overthrew her before this wedding plan could go forward so no candidate was ever identified.”
He gestured at an untidy pile of papyrus scrolls at the end of the table. “I had the Chief Scribe locate the correspondence between Smenkhotep and the Usurper this morning. All is as the goddess stated, including the need to send only one guard—a personal envoy, close to Pharaoh in blood or affection or both.”
Glancing at the tumbled scrolls, Khenet raised his eyebrows. “And why is this issue arising now? The Usurper is dead. You’ve been on the throne for a year.”
“According to the goddess, Smenkhotep practices black magic so powerful even the Great Ones are barred from entering his realm. His plans are reaching some kind of climax and he still desires a Theban noblewoman of one particular lineage to marry. I found a tablet renewing his request, sent shortly after I took the throne, which was overlooked in the chaos of the time. Nephthys now orders me to grant the marriage request. She intends to take over this girl’s body at the right moment, allowing Nephthys to cross the border in secret, in human form.” Pharaoh frowned, his worry clear as he raked a hand through his hair.
Khenet was shocked at the very notion of a goddess possessing the body of even a willing priestess. Poor girl, loss of a home for one’s soul is worse than death. “To what purpose?”
“It’s part of a larger plan ending in the Smenkhotep’s death...and the girl’s.” Staring across the table at Khenet, Pharaoh lifted the dagger and pointed the blade at him. “And the death of my envoy as well.”


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