Book Title: Bird in a Snare
Series: The Lord Hani Mysteries, Book 1
Author: N.L. Holmes
Publication Date: 21st March 2020
Publisher: WayBack Press
Page Length: 425 Pages
When Hani, an Egyptian diplomat under Akhenaten, is sent to investigate the murder of a useful bandit leader in Syria, he encounters corruption, tangled relationships, and yet more murder. His investigation is complicated by the new king’s religious reforms, which have struck Hani’s own family to the core. Hani’s mission is to amass enough evidence for his su-periors to prosecute the wrongdoers despite the king’s protection—but not just every superior can be trusted. And maybe not even the king!
Winner of the 2020 Geoffrey Chaucer Award for historical fiction before 1750.
Sexual abuse of children
A servant led Hani through the garden court planted with trees, their fronds rustling dryly in the breeze. This time, instead of proceeding straight into the vestibule of the private audience hall, they turned right and approached the great entryway of the House of Rejoicing. The king would receive him in the throne room. More soldiers were stationed before every door.
The formal parts of the Per-hay were designed to glorify the living Haru and crush visitors to the ground with pangs of inferiority. The vestibule was like a jewel box—or perhaps a jewel. Every surface was covered with painted decorations, a riot of intense colors and luscious patterns. On the walls, images of foreign dignitaries offered the Lord of the Two Lands tribute and abased themselves before him. Flowers and birds swagged the cornices. Walking across the painted gypsum floor was like stepping into the primal marsh, rich with vegetation and wildlife and polished to a shimmer that rivaled real water. The column capitals were inlaid with faience and precious stones, forming sumptuous water lilies and lifelike palm fronds outlined with gold—the flora of some magical kingdom of unimaginable beauty, the garden of the gods.
But when the porters heaved open the immensely tall gilded doors and Hani stepped into his sovereign’s throne room, even the beauty of the vestibule paled in comparison. Hani had presented himself in many an audience hall throughout the world, from small Urusalim to mighty Naharin, and he could honestly say that there was nothing anywhere remotely like the splendor of his own homeland. The ceiling was so high that although it was lit by clerestories, no eye could make out all the detailed paintings that ornamented it. Streaks of pale sunlight filtered through the golden haze left by smoking braziers of incense. At one point, a real swallow flittered past and disappeared, disoriented by this artificial heaven. Overhead, the columns rose as tall as natural trees but more gorgeous. A path of tapestry led from the doors to the foot of the dais, where the king and queen sat enthroned in towering chairs of electrum, their feet resting on stools with images of the Nine Bows, Kemet’s enemies, lying bound and trampled.
Hani knew himself to be very small before such power. Indeed, the luxury and enormity of the palace was designed to make visitors like him feel that way. He flattened his thick body facedown upon the ground in a full formal prostration and remained unmoving and nearly unbreathing until the majordomo signaled him to rise.
Around the foot of the royal dais stood scores of courtiers, a cloud of white against the brilliance of the decoration, several of them holding the golden-handled ostrich plumes that marked them as the king’s special friends. The two viziers flanked the dais, with many men of a younger generation than Hani was accustomed to seeing at such occasions. A pair of fan-bearing servants stood at their posts of honor, their tall ostrich-plume flabella—like fantastic creatures, half-bird, half-tree—erect in their hands.
Hani dared not raise his eyes to the king except in sneaking glances. He saw at Nefer-khepru-ra’s side the coolly beautiful queen in a crown that resembled nothing so much as the flat crown of the goddess Tefnut. She was as unmoving and unsmiling as a cult figure, perhaps not daring to budge lest her tall headgear should slip. Nefer-khepru-ra himself had on the striped nemes, a comfortable wig cover, whose lappets fell down over the jeweled weshket collar around his slim neck. Upon the golden diadem, its double serpents, the protectors of Upper and Lower Kemet, watched with fiery eyes. The king’s pointed face was not bent over Hani, but he seemed to gaze out someplace higher, perhaps at the door—or perhaps at the sky beyond.
“You are retained, Hani, our servant,” he said in his silky voice. “We have decided to change your assignment, though. Set aside the investigation of Abdi-ashirta. He is basking in the presence of the Aten by now, and it is the younger generation who rules. Is it not?”
“Yes, My Sun,” Hani said, inclining. He suspected it was not only Aziru the king had in mind. And Hani wondered why Nefer-khepru-ra made a point of referring to his new policies and the regime in A'amu with such insistence.
“Our droll old friend Rib-addi has requested your presence along with that of Yanakh-amu. And soldiers, of course. We may send him a few impressively decorated ones. But he needs to be aware that he must solve his own problems. And right now, that problem is Aziru, who has threatened to take Simurru yet again. Perhaps you have heard.”
Hani bowed assent. Nefer-khepru-ra’s voice was so smooth and languid that Hani was beginning to feel lulled toward sleep despite the crackling tension in his limbs and the knowledge that the slight young man—the god—on the throne before him would happily snap him in half like a crocodile if Hani displeased him. This must be the way a small bird feels, confronted by the hypnotic stare of the cobra, he told himself. It was not an unpleasant sensation, but he knew that death lay at the end of it if he didn’t walk wary.
The king looked at Hani for the first time. “We want you to make whatever passes for peace among those people up there, Hani. Aziru wants to be a vassal. Tell him you’ll work something out if he will relinquish his claim on Simurru. The commissioner at Simurru is young and inexperienced. We would like you to guide Aziru’s actions quietly into ways more pleasing to us… in spite of the commissioner, if necessary.”
“Yes, My Sun.”
The king was silent for a moment, and Hani felt Nefer-khepru-ra’s eyes boring into him. “They like you up there.” The king’s cold smile curled the ends of his mouth, and his eyes narrowed, glittering black in the half-light. “Everybody’s happy when Hani comes.”
Those words should have filled Hani with pride, but a wave of shivers spread across his skin. Was the king sincere? It was hard not to hear something snide in the words said with such a smile. Hani deepened his bow and murmured, “You do me too much honor, My Sun.”
Then the king looked away again into space. It was as if a shutter had fallen closed. The majordomo took Hani by the arm and guided him as he backed away, bowing.
The Crocodile Makes No Sound (Book 2): https://books2read.com/u/47QZpL
Scepter of Flint (Book 3): https://books2read.com/u/4jPDjZ
The North Wind Descends (Book 4): https://books2read.com/u/bPy5Md
Lake of Flowers (Book 5): https://books2read.com/u/3Ly0MX
N.L. Holmes is the pen name of a professional archaeologist who received her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College. She has excavated in Greece and in Israel and taught ancient history and humanities at the university level for many years. She has always had a passion for books, and in childhood, she and her cousin (also a writer today) used to write stories for fun.
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Amazon Author Page:https://www.amazon.com/N-L-Holmes/e/B0858H3K7S