Pilot Who Knows the Waters
A Lord Hani Mystery
Hani must secretly obtain a Hittite bridegroom for Queen Meryet-amen, but Ay and the faction behind Prince Tut-ankh-aten are opposed–to the point of violence. Does the death of an artisan have anything to do with Ay’s determination to see his grandson on the throne? Then, another death brings Egypt to the brink of war… Hani’s diplomatic skills will be pushed to the limit in this final book in The Lord Hani Mysteries.
Enjoy an Excerpt from Pilot Who Knows the Waters
“There’s supposedly a lion around here,” Zannanza announced to the men. “We’ll send the dogs out, and if they find something, we close in on it on foot. Don’t bother with deer or anything small. We’re after the king of the forest!” He looked quite exalted, his cheeks bright with excitement.
Hani knew how potent the symbolism of striking down a wild animal was, how it foreshadowed the subjugation of Chaos by Ma’at, but it still pained him to think of such a majestic creature being killed for sport. However, he dutifully dismounted and picked up a spear from the pile thrown with a chord of clangs into the midst of the party. They were extra sturdy, with broad bronze points and crossbars—hunting spears meant to bring down something larger than a man. Some of the soldiers shouldered their bows in case a long-distance kill should be required.
Prince Zannanza led the huntsmen in a prayer to the god of the hunting bag and gave the order to send out the dogs. Their handlers immediately set off into the brush in all directions, almost running at the heels of the eager hounds. The other hunters stood about with feigned casualness as the beaters crashed through the brush, everyone tense—eager and fearful at the same time. As for Hani, his heart was pounding fast. He just hoped they found the lion before the lion found them.
Time passed. The baying of the dogs became fainter. The mosquitoes had descended on Hani, feasting on his sweat-salted skin, and he swatted absently, wishing something would happen to relieve the tension of expectation. Then from somewhere in the invisible green near-distance came a rough, panting, bellowing roar—more like a demon than a living creature. Immediately, the men snapped to attention, and the distant dogs began to bark hysterically. Zannanza and his young courtiers set off at a run, and Hani’s party flowed in after them.
Hani, who was one of the older hunters and certainly the most reluctant, let the others gain ground while he hung back. That roar set his neck atingle with an atavistic sense of peril. He prayed quietly for the lion to escape, even though he knew what kind of mood that would put the prince in.
Ahead, the dogs barked in a frenzy, then came a gnarr that seemed to rumble up from the earth itself. A dog screamed. Men shouted. Hani beat his way through the brush and rushed up to see a black-maned lion cornered against the bole of an enormous tree, his muzzle corrugated in a snarl. Wary, the lion growled and swiped at the animals with a mighty thorned paw if they came too near. But the armed men had begun to close in on him, and he didn’t know which way to turn. Prince Zannanza and several young courtiers approached him in a crouch, their spears drawn back. They yelled and whistled in the same wild furor as the animals, their long hair streaming like the manes of two-legged lions. The prince drew ahead of his men, and everyone seemed to understand that the kill should be his.
Suddenly, the lion rocked back and forth on his haunches. Hani had a terrible premonition of what was about to happen. Before he could even cry out a warning, the animal sprang with the force of the Inundation bursting over the rocks. He hurled his immense weight directly at the prince. Zannanza screamed as the lion bore him to the ground with a savage roar. They fell with a crash, the man writhing under the animal’s mass. The prince yelled in terror and tried to force the cat’s gaping jaws away from his face. Blood rose in scarlet lines where the great claws had raked his arms. His hands were red to the wrists. The men around him were stunned for a moment, afraid to stab at the animal for fear of hitting the prince. Slaves and dignitaries came running and stumbling over the undergrowth. Hani yelled hoarsely from the rear, “Do something!”
The lion rose to his feet for a moment, as if in triumph, one paw holding down the hapless hunter. He resettled his massive jaws around the head of his victim. All at once, an arrow sprouted from the beast’s chest, and he reared back, gnashing his teeth in pain. Zannanza lay like a rag at his feet. The men rushed at them and again brandished their spears. His heart hammering, Hani darted in and, grabbing the prince under the armpits, dragged him away from his attacker. Hani could feel the heat radiating from the lion, smell the foul breath of a carnivore on his face. He scuttled back with his burden in desperate haste until he tripped and fell backward. Terror washed over him like a salt wave.
But with one last failing roar, the lion, too, fell and lay still. The men speared it again and again, vindictive and fearful. Others came running to Hani and the prince, who sprawled, limp, at Hani’s feet, his shocked and bloody face staring up sightlessly.
“Dear gods, no!” one of the Hittites cried in horror. He knelt and lifted the youth’s shoulders then jerked back as if a viper had bitten him. From between Zannanza’s shoulder blades, he yanked out a broken arrow. It was bloody all the way up to the middle of the shaft. The prince had been shot. The courtier, his long, sweaty hair plastered to his face, stared up at Hani with eyes full of reproach.
From their posts in the trees, the archers, Hittite and Egyptian, dropped to the earth, staring aghast at the scene that greeted them. In a circle of crouching, whey-faced men, Prince Zannanza hung lifeless in the arms of his countryman. At his feet stretched the dead king of the forest, its jaws streaked with gore.
Hani’s heart pounded in his ears, his face clammy with dread. Dear gods! Could this be any more awful? he thought in horror. What will happen when Shuppiluliuma finds out? Will he hold us men of Kemet responsible? He was ashamed that his first thought wasn’t sorrow for a young life snuffed out so needlessly but fear of the political ramifications.
Almost before anyone could react, one of the Egyptian archers threw down his weapon and pelted wildly toward the forest, leaping the bushes with the agility of the desperate. But a Hittite beater grabbed him roughly by the arms and manhandled him back into the circle of hunters as he struggled and cried out in fear. He fell to his knees among the assembled men, his eyes wide with fright. “Lord Hani, I-I shot him by accident! I was aiming at the lion. I swear.”
N.L. Holmesis 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. Today, she and her husband live in France with their chickens and cats, where she weaves, plays the violin, gardens, and dances.
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