Thursday, January 19, 2023

Book spotlight and excerpt: Pilot Who Knows the Waters by N.L. Holmes

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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.


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After a cautious look around from the doorway, Hani took his leave and made his way inconspicuously to his tent, his thoughts whirring like the wings of a flock of starlings taking off.

Strangely, the most horrific image that haunted him from the day of the accident was that of the dead lion bristling with vengeful spears, his majestic head looking not murderous but reproachful, his massive paws helpless. The pelt had been too massacred to bother saving for a trophy, although Menna had reclaimed the arrow in the lion’s breast as a grisly souvenir.

Hani found it hard to breathe at the tragic waste of lives in a matter of moments. But perhaps the death of the prince had been a good thing after all, better than the success of Hani’s mission would have been. Thank you, mighty one, he addressed the beast silently. Because you wanted to live, you may have saved the Two Lands from a terrible fate.

Hani sat down on his camp bed, his forearms on his thighs, and pondered events. Despite every appearance of an accident, it was altogether possible that Lord Ay had found a way to stop the queen’s marriage in the most absolute manner. In fact, that would explain why Hani’s caravan had suffered no attacks en route to Hattushatheir opponents had preferred to wait until the stakes were higher. Yet that meant that someone in Hani’s party had colluded with Ay, kept him informed of the negotiations, and seen to it that an opportunity had arisen when the assassination of the bridegroom might have the look of a mischance. Perhaps they’d even suggested the hunt. It occurred to Hani that the prince had to have been shot well before the lionhe was lying on his back by that time and presented no target. If he was pierced, let’s say, in the instant the lion took him to the ground, we wouldn’t even have noticed in the terror of the moment, with everyone yelling and watching the animal. It clearly didn’t kill him right away because he was still struggling. But then Hani realized the youth’s movements might have been merely convulsive. Hani rose to his feet and, his hands behind his back, began to pace reflectively from one side of the tent to the other.

Was there, in fact, a plot to kill Prince Zannanza before he ever reached Kemet? Did someone spy on members of the Hittite delegation or milk them of information that resulted in this tragedy? Hani found it hard to imagine that anyone among his men—handpicked for loyalty to the queen’s project—was such a hardened enemy of the marriage between Hatti and the Two Lands. He tried to think back to the days they had spent in the capital. Whose behavior was suspect? Someone in my staff or among the soldiers had to have been seen in conversation with a son of Kheta Land. We were always together. No illicit contact could have gone unnoticed.

In spite of himself, Hani remembered Maya’s suspicionsMery-ra had been engaged in some sort of mysterious visits to a private house in the company of a Hittite royal scribe and had taken pains to keep Maya away. That was unlike him. For him, the more family around, the better. Mery-ra had been seen with the scribe in the street, still, it seemed, hoping not to be witnessed. Then he had left early. Hani visualized the bland, jowly face of Hattusha-ziti’s secretary. That inoffensive-looking man, a villain? A spymaster? He pushed the idea out of his mind. What interest could Father have had in seeing this mission fail? Unless he, like Hani, had begun to realize the danger the alliance with Kheta posed for the Two Lands and had decided to take things into his own hands. No, that’s ridiculous. Father is far too straightforward and honest. He would surely have intimated such scruples to me.

But then… A lump rose in Hani’s throat. Father was apparently a spy in Kheta all those years ago. Is it possible he’s actually renewed his old contacts and let himself be drawn into somebody’s grudge? Is he working for Ay?

The thought left him chilled. Hani would have to confront Mery-ra with it when he next saw his father—assuming, of course, he, Hani, made it home alive.

The likelier possibility—the one he seized upon—was that one of the soldiers who had been billeted in the Upper City with the horses and pack animals had been working against the marriage on the sly. Hani would have to talk to Menna and Pa-ra-mes-su. If the escort had been investigated, as Hani had been told, surely all the men had dossiers. One of the officers would know.

But why does it even matter? he asked himself hopelessly. The damage is done. Shuppiluliuma won’t listen to stories of defectors in our ranks. He’ll take the whole horrible accident as malice on the part of Queen Meryet-aten. Some scheme to make a fool of him and his kingdom. An act of war.


 N.L. Holmes

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. 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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