Authors: Stephanie Thornton
DAUGHTER OF THE GODS
“A wonderfully intimate and dramatic evocation of ancient Egypt, where one headstrong young woman dares to become pharaoh. Stephanie Thornton vividly portrays the heat and the danger, the passion and the heartbreak of Hatshepsut’s struggle as she defies even the gods to ensure success on the throne of Egypt. A touching love story combines with a thrilling tal
e of death, courage, and political intrigue to produce a superbly researched and powerfully written novel. This is the kind of book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. A remarkable story, remarkably told.”
—Kate Furnival, author of
The Russian Concubine
Shadows on the Nile
“An epic saga that brings ancient Egypt to life with vivid imagery and lovely prose. Stephanie Thornton is a rising star!”
—Stephanie Dray, author of
Lily of the Nile
Daughters of the Nile
“From her moving love affair with a commoner to her fierce and unwavering commitment to Egypt as a female pharaoh, Hatshepsut crackles with fascinating complexity. Her
must be grinning with pleasure at this richly textured account of her life, one that is worthy of the great queen herself.”
—Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of
Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii
THE SECRET HISTORY
“What a heroine! Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”
—Kate Quinn, author of
Empress of the Seven Hills
The Secret History
tells the tangled but very human story of Empress Theodora. . . . This remarkable woman, beloved wife of Emperor Justinian, mastered the intrigue and politics of sixth-century Byzantium while keeping dark personal secrets that could bring her death. Loss, ambition, and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little-known woman to full, vibrant life again. A sprawling and irresistible story.”
—Jeane Westin, author of
The Spymaster’s Daughter
“A fascinating and vivid account. . . . The life of the Empress Theodora leaps from the page, as colorful and complex as the woman herself.”
—Michelle Diener, author of
The Emperor’s Conspiracy
“In this historical fiction debut set in 520 CE, Thornton offers both a fascinating interpretation of a powerful woman’s life and an enlightening portrayal of the great city known at various times as Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. Basing her tale in sound historical research, Thornton vividly re-creates the streets of Constantinople . . . [and] the life of Theodora, a young beauty with a bright wit, charm, and a tendency to speak her mind who rises from destitution to become first a prostitute, then a celebrated actress, and finally the Roman empress. . . . While the novel does not shy away from pain, it is most importantly a story of the strength of women. . . . Thornton’s well-conceived and engrossing tale exalts a historical figure of ‘true grit.’”
New American Library
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Copyright © Stephanie Thornton, 2014
Readers Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
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REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
Thornton, Stephanie, 1980–
Daughter of the gods: a novel of ancient Egypt/Stephanie Thornton.
1. Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt—Fiction. 2. Queens—Egypt—Fiction. 3. Pharaohs—Egypt—Fiction. 4. Egypt—History—Eighteenth dynasty, ca. 1570–1320 B.C.—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
In memory of my mother,
Kristin Louise Crowley
Revel in pleasure while your life endures
And deck your head with myrrh.
Be richly clad in white and perfumed linen . . .
In weary quest of what your heart desires
Do as it prompts you.
“Song of the Harper,”
FROM THE TOMB OF KING INTEF
YEAR THIRTEEN OF PHARAOH TUTMOSE I
he gods erred that day. Or perhaps they were simply cruel.
It was the season of Akhet, and the Nile swelled with Isis’ tears and the rich dark silt that would feed the barley and emmer during the cool months of Peret. Hatshepsut and her sister sat rigid as statues at the bow of the royal skiff, shaded from Re’s heat by a thin awning of spotted goat hide. The slaves’ ostrich-wing fans kept the lazy flies at bay, but rearranged rather than lessened the heat. A trickle of sweat snuck down Hatshepsut’s back, and her scalp itched under her wig. Sandalwood oars tipped with gold spread like glittering dragonfly wings behind them as slaves rowed to the steady beat of the drums.
“You fidget like a sparrow.” Neferubity laid a hand on Hatshepsut’s leg, her nails graceful half-moons and her hands painted with intricate swirls of henna. The paint on Hatshepsut’s hands was already smudged and her nails ragged from constant biting.
“A sparrow would be able to fly from this boat.” Hatshepsut rubbed the ears of the black dog curled at her feet and scanned the river. This hippo hunt had seemed a good idea until she realized she wasn’t to wield a spear, or even a bow to hunt the brown cranes soaring overhead. Not that it mattered—the courtiers from the pharaoh’s court in the boats ahead were making so much noise, most of the animals had probably fled to the desert of the Red Land by now.
lined the banks of the river, mostly farmers looking like they’d just been dug from the Nile’s black mud, and fishermen struggling not to upset their boats as they bowed to the Great Royal Wife and the rest of Egypt’s court. Bare-breasted women looked up from pounding linens upon the rocks and fell to their knees in the murky water, drenching the linen sheaths they’d tucked between their legs. A naked girl ran along the bank, her braided youth lock flapping as she laughed like a hyena. Hatshepsut wished she could do the same instead of being trapped in this boat, wearing a wig that scratched like Ammit’s claws. She leaned over the edge of the boat and waved at the girl.
“Ankh, udja, seneb!”
Life, prosperity, and health.
Neferubity chuckled next to her. “You won’t have any life left if Mother hears you yelling like a
.” The bells at the ends of her braided wig tinkled as she smiled and shook her head.
“What Mother doesn’t know can’t hurt her,” Hatshepsut said. “Or me.”
“I see you’re wearing your new necklace. It suits you.”
Hatshepsut touched the gold and jasper pennant of Sekhmet, the goddess of war and hunting, a gift from Neferubity for her last naming day. “I thought I might speak to Father when he returns. Perhaps I might serve Sekhmet in her temple.”
Neferubity laughed. “Even the lion goddess might not be able to keep you from trouble, little sister.”
The boats continued their languid procession until Hatshepsut thought she might jump overboard to escape the boredom. Fortunately, the furious rattle of sistrums
and men yelling upriver interrupted her plans.
“They found a hippo.” Growing a shade paler, Neferubity pursed her lips, but Hatshepsut jumped atop their bench, sending the little skiff bobbing. The sleek black dog at her feet whimpered, straining on his leash.
“Hush, Iwiw.” Hatshepsut knew how he felt.
Their boat crept closer, confirming Neferubity’s guess. A hippo calf with rolls of fat ringing its neck shaded itself in a papyrus grove at the edge of an island, its gray skin shiny in the sun. Several boats ahead, Imhotep—the ancient vizier in charge of the government during the pharaoh’s long campaign in Canaan—stood and notched an arrow onto his bow. Next to him, glimmering with gold, sat Ahmose, Hatshepsut’s mother and Egypt’s Great Royal Wife. The courtiers and nobles fell silent as Imhotep let the arrow fly. He aimed too high. The wooden shaft arced into the reeds, sending a black-and-white ibis screeching into the blue sky. The little river cow honked his outrage at the disturbance, then splashed clumsily into the Nile and disappeared into the murky waters with a wiggle of his gray rump.
Neferubity joined the polite clapping, but Hatshepsut glared into the reeds and scratched her scalp. Would her mother notice if she dropped her wig into the Nile? “I’d have hit that hippo from fifty paces,” she declared.
It wasn’t bragging, because it was true. Neferubity kissed Hatshepsut’s temple, smiling fondly as she smoothed her sister’s wig. “I’m sure the hippo is glad you weren’t behind the bow.”
They glided forward, passing the crushed grasses that bore the indent of the river cow’s body. Ahead, slaves pulled the first boats of the expedition onshore. There the nobility would enjoy a meal under baobab trees and linen awnings before returning to the capital.
“Perhaps we’ll sight a hippo on the return,” Imhotep speculated, loud enough for the meager breeze to carry his words. Hatshepsut snorted. The old man would need the blessings of the nine great gods to shoot a sleeping elephant at twenty paces.
She twisted on her bench. “Pull to the side here.”
Neferubity glanced at the bank of the island, one that would connect to the shore when Isis’ tears receded, and shook her head. The golden disks at her ears flashed with Re’s light. “I’m not dumb, little sister.”
“You have two choices, Neferubity.” Hatshepsut crossed her arms and gave a honeyed smile. “We can either pull to the bank so I can relieve myself in seclusion, or I can do so in front of the entire court of Egypt.”
Neferubity studied her for a moment, then heaved a sigh. “We should probably keep your bad manners hidden from the Nubian ambassador for as long as possible.”
Hatshepsut shot her a grin. “I’ll be right back.” In one movement she swiped a throwing stick from the bench of the head rower. The elm shaft, unpolished and lacking balance, was a poor substitute for her own spears, but it would do.
“Hatshepsut!” Neferubity shrieked, as Hatshepsut splashed into the Nile, sending the little boat swaying. Iwiw barked and leapt after her, his rope leash trailing in the mud. They tore through the papyrus grove, the bushy fronds atop the reeds quivering with the breath of the gods. The river was alive, the drone of flies and the waves lapping at the shore marred only by the occasional shriek of laughter from the courtiers upriver. Great Royal Wife Ahmose surely would have noticed their absence by now. And she undoubtedly wasn’t happy about it.
Mud squelched between Hatshepsut’s toes, coating her gilded sandals. She kicked them off onto a low table of rock. Her mother was going to have her head for ruining them, but she’d worry about that later. She’d have preferred to strip everything off and dive into the river glinting through the reeds, but she settled for tucking the hem of her skirt into its beaded belt. With any luck, the slaves would be packing up by the time they arrived upriver.
Hatshepsut stilled, forcing her breath to slow until her chest scarcely moved. A white egret pecked at the mud under a slender baobab tree on the opposite shore. It was a difficult shot from such a distance, but worth it. She crept closer, out of the reeds, wondering briefly where Iwiw had gone. Muttering a prayer to Sekhmet, the lion goddess and Egypt’s greatest hunter, Hatshepsut lifted the stick, every muscle tensed to send it flying.
“Hatshepsut! Where are you?”
The egret flapped its glorious wings, then launched into the air, soaring away from Hatshepsut.
“Sekhmet’s breath!” Hatshepsut stomped, spattering freckles of mud up her white sheath.
Neferubity grabbed her arm and pulled her to an open swath cut through the sedge grass, higher up the bank than the swamp Hatshepsut had trudged through. A sheen of sweat pearled on her sister’s upper lip and a pile of dried hippo dung swarmed with flies near her feet, but otherwise Neferubity might have been on her way to a royal banquet. She grabbed the hunting stick and hesitated, glaring as if ready to hit Hatshepsut over the head with it. Instead, she tossed it into the reeds. “You would try Thoth’s patience.”
“I almost had that egret.”
Her sister ignored her. “I don’t care if you almost took down a whole pride of lions. Mother is going to kill us.”
“Not us.” Hatshepsut looked down at her dirty sheath and the mud up to her knees. “Just me.”
Neferubity chuckled and released Hatshepsut’s arm. “I’ll wear my best sheath to your funeral. Let’s go before anyone else falls victim to our mother’s wrath.”
“I need to get my sandals.”
“Nice try, little sister.”
“Mother will never believe I fell out of the boat if I don’t have my sandals,” Hatshepsut called over her shoulder, tromping through the swamp before Neferubity could argue.
The sandals lay on the rock where she’d left them, coated with a thick crust of dried brown mud. Iwiw jumped out of the reeds, the hair on his neck on end and his teeth bared. Hatshepsut stepped forward, and he snapped at her.
But his lip only quivered and he continued to growl a low sound of warning. Beyond the dog a menacing gray hulk rose out of the river and trudged through the reeds. Hatshepsut’s heart stopped.
A river bull.
His thick hide was cracked with scars, some healed and others freshly pink, from prior fights with other bulls. The hairs on his snout bristled in the air and he flicked his ears, his black eyes like shiny beetles. More dangerous than any lion, the hippo could easily gore her with his tusks, leaving her body mangled and her
unable to pass to the Field of Reeds.
Hatshepsut held her breath and tried to back up, but the gods were against her. The beast glared straight at her, then bellowed, his giant yellow tusks ripping through the air. The breeze had carried her scent to him.
This world seemed to slow, the gods cursing Hatshepsut, and her body turning to granite. The river bull galloped up the bank, reeds snapping and mud flying. Anubis stalked Hatshepsut, a foul smell filling her nostrils and her body going cold as the jackal-headed god reached into her heart to steal her
Something hard slammed into her shoulder and the world went black. She opened her eyes to a scene worse than Ammit devouring the emaciated bodies of the damned on the Lake of Fire. Neferubity lay facedown, splayed in the mud where Hatshepsut had stood just moments before. The hippo reared up with a roar, and then his colossal jaws scooped into the mud and snapped shut, crushing her sister’s thigh in its pink maw. Neferubity screamed, the sound searing itself into Hatshepsut’s mind, and the river bull jerked its head to and fro. Neferubity lurched in the air like a drunken dancer.
The hippo bellowed and Neferubity went flying, crashing into a clump of papyrus and mud. The monster stopped still, leveling a yellow stare at Hatshepsut. Then he snorted and lumbered off, disappearing into the river with scarcely a sound.
Panicked screams far in the distance broke the gods’ curse. Time hurtled forward and the world snapped back into focus.
“Help! For the love of Amun, someone help!” Hatshepsut raced to Neferubity, tripping into the mud at her side. Her sister was curled up like a newborn babe, her right leg bent at a painful angle and the jagged white edge of bone poking out of the maimed flesh. Neferubity gave a tortured cry when Hatshepsut touched her ribs.
“Everything’s going to be all right.” Hatshepsut wiped the mud from her sister’s eyes and took her hand, alarmed by the slackness of her grip. Neferubity’s wig was askew and coated with brown slime, her eyes screwed tight against the pain. She opened her mouth as if to speak but only gurgled, a froth of red blood streaming down the mud on her cheeks to feed the earth below.
“Help is coming,” Hatshepsut said, clutching Neferubity’s hand as if to keep her sister’s
from flying away. Blood poured from her leg, pools of red like broken wings in the mud. The crushed papyrus reeds trembled, and the foul stench of death returned. Anubis circled her sister now—Hatshepsut could almost make out his yellow eyes amongst the reeds. “You have to hold on.”
Neferubity’s chest heaved and her lungs rattled, the blood seeming to seep out of her body from all directions even as she gasped for breath. Her nails dug into Hatshepsut’s palm for a fleeting moment, as if she might cling to this life. But Anubis was too strong; he had her sister tight in his jaws and refused to release such a prize as the pharaoh’s eldest daughter.
Neferubity blinked but her eyes were unfocused, her voice less than a whisper. “I’ll watch you from the Field of Reeds, Hatshepsut.” More blood trickled from her lips. “Make me proud.”
Hatshepsut shook her head, the braids of her wig slapping her cheeks. “Don’t say that. You’ll be here, watching me ruin everything I touch.”
“Neferubity?” Their mother’s voice trembled, barely penetrating Hatshepsut’s mind.
The nobility had arrived, their wide eyes ringed with kohl and mouths slack with shock. Ahmose rushed past the courtiers and stumbled into the mud next to Hatshepsut. “Neferubity!”
But it was too late. Neferubity looked beyond Hatshepsut, her blank eyes already staring at Ma’at’s scales in the afterworld. Their mother gave a mangled sob, drawing the body of her eldest daughter to her chest and silently rocking back and forth as tears streamed down her face. The courtiers on the shore wailed, the women clawing at their hair and breasts in the traditional display of mourning.
Hatshepsut stood and stumbled away, watching the whisper of her sister’s
depart her body. She stared at Neferubity’s footsteps in the mud, evidence that she had been alive only moments ago, and at the imprint of her own body, where Neferubity had shoved her from the hippo’s path.
Anubis had claimed the wrong sister.