Mystery Paul Doherty The Assassins of Isis

ISBN 13 : 9780755307821

The Assassins of Isis

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9780755307821: The Assassins of Isis

Somewhere deep in the desert, the location of Rahimere's tomb has long been kept a closely guarded secret. But now, the Sebaus - a sect taking its name from demons - has plundered and pillaged the sepulchre for its most powerful treasure. The fiery Pharaoh Queen Hatusu must fight to protect the tombs of her kin and tighten her grip on the collar of Egypt. But when Egypt's great military hero, General Suten, is bitten to death by a swarm of venomous vipers, it appears events have spiralled out of her control. Meanwhile, a dark shadow lies across the peaceful Temple of Isis; four of the temple handmaids have vanished without trace. Will Lord Amerotke, Pharaoh's Chief Judge, find that the perpetrators are in league with forces beyond his jurisdiction?

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About the Author :

Paul Doherty was born in Middlesbrough. 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 and lives with his family in Essex.

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The Assassins of Isis
CHAPTER 1 Nadif, a standard-bearer in the Medjay, the desert police who controlled the approaches to the city of Thebes, loved to walk along the bank of the Nile as the sun began to set, changing the colours of both the city and the desert. He would stand by the bank, his left hand holding his staff of office, the other grasping the lead of his chained baboon; he'd half close his eyes and breathe in the delicious smells of the river, the fragrance of the wild flowers mingling with the stench of the rich mud and the odour of fish. He would listen to the various sounds: the calls of fishermen out on the river, the cries of swooping birds and the distant bull-like roars of the hippopotami. Tonight was no different. Whilst Baka, his trained baboon, peeled a piece of rotten fruit, Nadif stared across the Nile at the great City of the Dead, the Necropolis, where he was building his own tomb, preparing for that day when he would journey into the Eternal West. 'You can't see it from here.' Nadif always talked to Baka; in fact, the policeman found the baboon more intelligent than some of his men. 'But it's there, high in the cliffs, nothing special mind you, but I'm proud of it. There's a small temple outside, well, I call it a temple, and three chambers within. I wanted four, but the cost of these stonemasons ...' Nadif shook his head, he couldn't believe the way prices hadclimbed. He had remarked on the same when, the previous day, a holiday, he had taken his wife and children across to the City of the Dead to buy some funeral caskets. The policeman squinted up at the sky. His tour of duty would end when the sun finally sank. He would return to the police barracks just within the city gates, share a jug of beer with his companions and make his way home. His wife had promised a special meal: slivers of goose cooked over an open grill and flavoured with sesame, followed by fruit in cream. Afterwards they would share a cup of Charou wine and, once again, admire the replica caskets they had bought the day before. Nadif believed that was the best way: you could order what you wanted, buy miniature replicas and bring them home to show your friends and neighbours. He was quite insistent that his casket must prove to his descendants, when they visited his tomb to check all was well, that he had been a high-ranking officer in the Medjay. 'Aye, and before that,' Nadif jerked back the chain, 'I was a spearman in the Swallows.' He closed his eyes. For six years he had served as an infantryman, an auxiliary to one of the bravest generals in the Egyptian army, Chief Scribe Suten. Suten had commanded one of the new imperial chariot squadrons, new because the chariot they used was lighter, more mobile, yet tough enough to withstand the rigours of the Red Lands, those yawning deserts which stretched out on both sides of the great river. 'Come on, Baka.' Nadif turned and walked along the footpath. Now and again he would pause to study the papyrus groves, those lush islands of green along the banks of the Nile. If there was danger, that was where it would lurk; it was not unknown for a hippopotamus to come lumbering out or, worse still, one of those great river monsters, the crocodiles, who sometimes decided to go hunting inland. Nadif himself had come across the remains of a tinkerwho had made the mistake of sleeping on this very path, he had been seized by one of the demons of the river and pulled back into the deep mud which fringed the edge of the pool. 'All we found was a head,' he murmured. 'Or at least the top of it.' However, Nadif's reason for the patrol was not crocodiles or hippopotami, but to protect the great mansions of the wealthy which stood in their own grounds behind high walls some distance from the Nile. The policeman was always full of wonderment at such places. 'Palaces in their own right,' was how he described them to his wife. They had great oaken gates, soaring plaster walls and, beyond them, delicious cool gardens with orchards, lawns and pools of purity fed by canals from the Nile. Nadif knew all the gatekeepers and porters. Now and again he would stop to share the local gossip as well as a pot of ale or a plate of sugared almonds or figs. Each of these mansions was owned by one of the great lords of Pharaoh Hatusu's court: Lord Amerotke, Supreme Judge in the Hall of Two Truths at the Temple of Ma'at in Thebes; General Suten, Nadif's old commander-in-chief; and Lord Senenmut, Grand Vizier or First Minister of the young queen, and, some whispered behind their giggles, Pharaoh's lover, a former stonemason, an architect, now busy building Egypt's greatness in another way. Nadif strode on. He didn't envy these people, but he did enjoy peeping into their lives. He had been given this part of the riverbank to patrol because General Suten never forgot those who served with him. Nadif was responsible for the area between the North Gate of the city and the Great Mooring Place. He patrolled four times a day whilst his companions filled the gaps. There was very little trouble usually, now and again the odd suspicious character, but Nadif had worked out a clever system. He and his companions carried a conch horn, which they used to raise the alarm. The servants of these great mansions wouldthen gather at the gates to provide any help or support the Medjay needed. Nadif paused; soon it would be time to go back. He stared up at the sky, where the evening star had appeared. 'We will walk on a little further.' Baka grunted and scratched himself, then paused to look at something he had found on the edge of the path. This turned out to be nothing more than the white skin of a piece of fruit, which the baboon immediately ate. Nadif began to sing softly under his breath. Baka responded with grunts of pleasure. The animal liked to hear his master sing that old refrain, a marching song about how young maidens often sighed at the approach of the Swallows and hid their sloe eyes behind beautiful fingers to disguise their desire for these warriors of Egypt. Nadif knew the words by heart: he had sung them on the parade grounds of Thebes and along the dusty desert roads; he'd chanted them as they camped around fires in lonely oases or on the war barges as they coursed down towards the Third Cataract to bring the Kushites to battle. As Nadif recalled the days of glory, he was so absorbed that, at first, he thought the yelling and screaming were part of his memories of the Kushites bursting into the camp and trying to burn their boats. However, Baka was dancing frantically at the end of his chain and Nadif shook himself from his reverie. The hideous screaming was coming from one of the mansions behind their high walls, their gateways masked by clumps of date and palm trees. Nadif hurried across. The screaming was now louder, broken by the sound of a wailing horn and the clash of a cymbal, the usual sign for the alarm being raised. Already the gateways were opening, and porters and servants came tumbling out, curious as to what was happening. Nadif broke into a run, going as fast as his damaged leg would allow. Baka was jumping furiously on the end of his chain. The evening had changed. The sun was going downand darkness swirled like a cloak to cover the world. The power of Seth, the red-haired god, would make itself felt. A buzzard screeched overhead, as if it too was hurrying to what might be a slaughter, whilst the smell from the river was one of rottenness rather than sweetness. Nadif noticed that the gateway to General Suten's house was open, and servants holding torches were hurrying out, one blowing hard at a horn. They were looking for him. Nadif took his own conch horn, put it to his mouth and blew. The servants turned and came hurrying towards him. 'What is the matter? What is the matter?' Nadif paused to catch his breath, aware of the sweat running down his face. Baka lunged on his chain and the servants, wary of the creature's sharp teeth, hung back. 'You must come!' An old man gestured with his hand. 'Officer Nadif, you must come now, it is the master!' 'General Suten?' 'You must come!' the old man gasped. Nadif could still hear that heart-wrenching screaming, as well as shouts and cries from the garden beyond. 'General Suten,' Nadif repeated. Heart in his mouth, he recalled the general's face, his sharp eyes, the sunken cheeks, that nose curved like the hook of a falcon. The old retainer, however, was already ushering the other servants back, shouting at Nadif over his shoulder to follow. The standard-bearer strode through the main gate. At any other time he would have paused to admire the beauty of the garden, the tall sycamore trees, the vine trellises, the lawns and flowerbeds, the coloured pavilions and small ornamental lakes. Now, however, grasping Baka's chain, he hurried along the basalt-paved pathway leading up to the front of the house with its spacious steps, elegant colonnades and porticoed walkways. He was aware of people hurrying around. Inside the house servants were already tearing their garments in signs of mourning. One young girl had clawed her cheeks and thrown dust on her hair.A dog raced up, ready to bite Baka, but the baboon lunged in attack, paws in the air, and the dog slunk back. They crossed the small hall of audience with its central fire, past the raised eating area with its beautifully coloured couches and divans and through kitchens smelling sweetly of the recently cooked savoury meats. General Suten's household, his wife Lupherna, Chief Scribe Menna and his body servant Heby, along with other principal retainers, were clustered at the foot of the steps leading up to the roof terrace. 'What is the matter?' Nadif shouted, beating his stick on the floor. Lupherna, the general's young wife, came towards him like a sleepwalker. She was dressed as if for a banquet, a beautiful thick oiled wig bound to her head by a silver fillet, her dark sloe eyes ringed with green kohl. The nails on her hands had been painted an emerald green whilst her lips were carmined, yet her eyes were rounded in fear and she played constantly with the necklace about her throat. 'Officer Nadif.' She put her hand out; the Medjay grasped her fingers, they were ice cold. 'My lady, what is the matter?' She gestured at the stairs. Nadif brushed by her. Heby and Menna seemed in shock. Heby tried to stop him, but Nadif pushed him aside. The steps were built into the side of the house just beyond the kitchen door. Nadif climbed them slowly, Baka whimpering at his side. He reached the top and stared across the roof terrace, an elegant place with its wooden balustrade running around the edge. He noticed the long couch under its drapes of linen, the beautifully polished acacia-wood tables and chairs. In every corner stood flowerpots. The air smelt sweetly of the exquisite perfume of the blue lotus. Oil lamps had been lit and placed in coloured glasses, and for a while Nadif could see nothing wrong. In the shadows and flickering light from the lamps he glimpsed a writing table,another table bearing a wine jug and goblets. Then, near the couch, he saw the body, tangled in linen sheets. From where he stood, Nadif could make out General Suten, his scrawny arms, the marching boots he always insisted on wearing rather than the sandals or slippers of a scribe. 'Be careful!' someone shouted. 'Be careful of what?' Nadif snapped back. 'The snakes.' Nadif paused, one foot on the top step. Now he knew why Baka had whimpered. He grasped the baboon's chain more securely and, recalling his desert training, remained as still as a statue, eyes peering through the gloom. At first he could see nothing, but then one of the linen sheets on the floor moved. Nadif controlled his panic as the horned viper, long and grey, came slithering sideways towards one of the warming dishes placed on the ground. As he watched, he realised that the entire floor of the roof terrace seemed to be covered by these highly dangerous snakes. What he had first thought were shadows now began to move, many of the vipers curling out from beneath the bed. Nadif had seen enough. He clattered down the stairs even as he recalled the story about General Suten and snakes, how the old soldier hated them. When he reached the foot of the steps, he tied Baka to a ring in the wall. 'Who's been up there?' he asked. 'I have.' Lupherna had overcome her shock and was crying quietly, the tears coursing down her face, smudging it with paint. 'I heard his screams.' She put her painted nails to her mouth. 'I was going to join him as I usually did. I heard those hideous screams! I came to the steps. Heby was on guard here. I climbed up ... well, we both did. My husband was on the edge of the bed, arms and legs flailing like a man trapped in a pool, unable to move. He had a snake here,' she pointed to her shoulder, 'and there was another on his leg. He was staring at me, Officer Nadif, and he was screaming.' 'Is this true?' Nadif turned to the plump-faced scribe. 'I was in the master's writing office,' Menna the scribe replied. 'I was working by the light of an oil lamp detailing how many jars we had taken from the oil press--' 'Yes, yes,' Nadif interrupted. 'Then I heard the screams. Is General Suten dead?' 'I don't know.' Nadif now turned to Heby, a tall, handsome, middle-aged man. He could tell from Heby's face and the way he carried himself, that he was a former soldier. 'You are General Suten's body servant?' 'Aye, in peace and war. I have served him for twenty years.' Nadif stared at the man's hard face, the cheeks slightly pitted, the nose broken and twisted. Heby's right ear was clipped at the top, whilst the wig he wore only half concealed the ugly scar which ran from the ear down to his neck. 'A Libyan.' Heby had followed Nadif's gaze; he touched the scar. 'Out in the western deserts he cut my ear, but I took his penis along with four others and burnt them as an offering to the god.' 'I'm sure you did.' Nadif stepped back. 'But shouldn't we do something about your master?' 'The snakes,' Heby replied. 'If we go on that roof we too will journey into the West. I don't think my master would want that.' Nadif tried to hide his unease. He had met many people who had experienced the sudden death of a friend or relation, and their reactions were often surprising. Some became hysterical, others wept, a few became icy quiet; but these three were acting as if they were half asleep or drugged. Nadif became aware of the clamour in the rest of the house. The hall of audience was filling with servants and the curious from other houses along the Nile. He immediatelyinstructed all those not belonging to General Suten's retinue to leave. He dispatched a runner into the city to inform his superiors what had happened, and tried to impose some order. He ordered a fire to be lit in the hall of audience and organised the servants, telling them to put on heavy boots and gauntlets, anything they could find to protect their feet, legs and arms. From a servant he borrowed some leather leg guards and an apron for his front, wrapping his hands and arms in rolls of coarse linen, then, armed with poles and garden implements, he and Heby led the servants on to the roof terrace. Some were terrified and refused to go, but Lupherna, who now asserted herself as head of the house, promised all those who helped a lavish reward, and Nadif soon had enough volunteers to help him clear the roof. It was a grisly, gruesome business. The horned vipers had emerged from their hiding places, attracted by the heat and food. Most of them were sluggish. A few were killed but the servants were superstitious and regarded the snakes as a visitation from a god, so Nadif compromised, and where possible the horned vipers were placed in a leather bag and taken away. Eventually they reached the general's...

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Description du livre Headline Publishing Group, United Kingdom, 2005. Paperback. État : New. New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Somewhere deep in the desert, the location of Rahimere s tomb has long been kept a closely guarded secret. But now, the Sebaus - a sect taking its name from demons - has plundered and pillaged the sepulchre for its most powerful treasure. The fiery Pharaoh Queen Hatusu must fight to protect the tombs of her kin and tighten her grip on the collar of Egypt. But when Egypt s great military hero, General Suten, is bitten to death by a swarm of venomous vipers, it appears events have spiralled out of her control. Meanwhile, a dark shadow lies across the peaceful Temple of Isis; four of the temple handmaids have vanished without trace. Will Lord Amerotke, Pharaoh s Chief Judge, find that the perpetrators are in league with forces beyond his jurisdiction?. N° de réf. du libraire AA69780755307821

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Description du livre Headline Publishing Group, United Kingdom, 2005. Paperback. État : New. New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Somewhere deep in the desert, the location of Rahimere s tomb has long been kept a closely guarded secret. But now, the Sebaus - a sect taking its name from demons - has plundered and pillaged the sepulchre for its most powerful treasure. The fiery Pharaoh Queen Hatusu must fight to protect the tombs of her kin and tighten her grip on the collar of Egypt. But when Egypt s great military hero, General Suten, is bitten to death by a swarm of venomous vipers, it appears events have spiralled out of her control. Meanwhile, a dark shadow lies across the peaceful Temple of Isis; four of the temple handmaids have vanished without trace. Will Lord Amerotke, Pharaoh s Chief Judge, find that the perpetrators are in league with forces beyond his jurisdiction?. N° de réf. du libraire AA69780755307821

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