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Authors: Allen Drury

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Return to Thebes

BOOK: Return to Thebes
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Book Description

The spectacular conclusion to the Egyptian epic begun in
A God Against the Gods
. After his brother’s assassination, a new Pharaoh must take the throne and battle the corrupt and violent priesthood.

His name is TUTANKHAMUN.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Allen Drury paints a vivid, dramatic picture of the most tumultuous times in one of the greatest empires in human history. Following the murder of Akhenaten and the beautiful Nefertiti and the religious uproar that threatens to tear Egypt apart, the pharaoh has to defy the gods in order to rule his people.

The master writer recreates ancient Egypt with all its pomp, glory, politics, and treachery, and brings legendary titans of history to life, with all their tragic—and all too human—flaws.


Smashwords Edition – 2015

WordFire Press

ISBN: 978-1-61475-280-6

Copyright © 2015 Kenneth A. Killiany and Kevin D. Killiany

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except where permitted by law. This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover design by Janet McDonald

Art Director Kevin J. Anderson

Cover artwork images by Dollar Photo Club

Book Design by RuneWright, LLC

Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Publishers

Published by
WordFire Press, an imprint of
WordFire, Inc.
PO Box 1840
Monument, CO 80132



once again,



Sitting or standing, as the mood or the ritual occasion dictated when they posed for the royal sculptors millennia ago, they stare pleasantly out upon the long green snake of Egypt—which they called Kemet, “the Black Land”—and the desert wastes of “the Red Land” beyond.

They have been there, some of them, five thousand years and more.

If there is an Earth five thousand years from now, some of them will doubtless be there still.

Smiling, happy, confident, serene, ravaged no longer by the fierce ambitions and violent passions that often moved behind those deliberately impervious formal masks, they have a satisfaction, not given to many, which they will never know but seldom doubted:

They always said they would live forever.

And as forever goes in the lives of men, they have.



In the novel
A God Against the Gods,
to which this novel is sequel, there is related the early life and rise to supreme power of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, tenth god-king of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who thirty-four hundred years ago ruled the “Two Lands” of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Akhenaten, husband of one of history’s most beautiful women, his cousin, Nefertiti, was the son of Amonhotep III and Queen Tiye—“the Great Wife,” who for many years directed (or thought she did) the destinies of Egypt while her amiable but indolent husband enjoyed his luxuries and let his country’s tenuous grasp upon its poorly defined and loosely held “empire” in the Middle East gradually slip away.

The slippage was not helped by Akhenaten, who, after suffering in early youth what we now know as Frolich’s syndrome, a disease of the pituitary gland that left him malformed with sagging belly, woman’s hips, thin arms and elongated neck and face, became Co-Regent with his father at the age of fifteen, sixteen, seventeen or eighteen. (Egyptologists differ, as they do on so many other things. A novelist must make choices from among their conjectures, adding here and there a few of his own. This I have done, trying always to remain within the bounds of what seems
humanly logical
and eschewing those intense arguments over fragmentary details that understandably make up much of the world of professional Egyptology.)

Quite soon after his coronation as Co-Regent, Akhenaten changed his original name, Amonhotep IV, to Akhenaten, which means “Pleasing to the Aten,” the Aten being the traditional Sun God in the form of a bright and visible disk. He also established a new capital halfway between Thebes and the Nile Delta that he named Akhet-Aten, meaning “Horizon (or Resting Place) of the Aten.” And he began a lengthy attempt to establish the Aten as the sole god of Egypt—the first such attempt at monotheism in recorded history—thereby seeking to supersede all of Egypt’s myriad animal- and bird-headed gods, and doing particular violence to the powerful and deeply entrenched priesthood of Amon-Ra. Amon-Ra was another form of the Sun God, his very essence, hidden and mysterious. His priests had for a century and a half been inextricably entwined with the fortunes of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Thus Akhenaten began what is now known as the “Amarna Revolution,” Tell-el-Amarna being the present Arabic name for the empty plain halfway up the Nile which is all that remains of the briefly flourishing city he established there.

For more than a decade, according to the version I have set forth in
A God Against the Gods,
the “revolution” proceeded in desultory fashion while Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their six daughters attempted to win over the people of Egypt, rather more by example than by any strong overt insistence on Akhenaten’s part, to the worship of the Aten. Finally convinced that this easygoing policy would not work, and enraged by the continuing opposition of Amon, Akhenaten became more active.

At the conclusion of
A God Against the Gods,
Amonhotep III has died and Akhenaten has assumed full power. He has also by that time fathered three daughters by his three oldest daughters, in a vain attempt to produce sons who could succeed him and carry on the cult of the Aten. In addition he has alienated most of the members of the royal family (“the House of Thebes,”) including his mother Queen Tiye and his powerful uncle Aye; he has raised to power his cousin, the scribe and general of the army Horemheb, who eventually became the last Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty; he has finally turned in full fury upon Amon and all its fellow priesthoods; and he has begun the emotional and physical relationship with his younger brother Smenkhkara that has resulted in estrangement from Nefertiti and the beginnings of the final break with both his family and his people.

At that point, with his father mummified and entombed after the ritual seventy days of mourning, with Smenkhkara named Co-Regent and destruction loosed upon his fellow gods, Akhenaten and Smenkhkara set sail from Thebes to return to Akhet-Aten and
A God Against the Gods

Here, three years later, in 1362 B.C., begins
Return to Thebes
—which means, in essence, “return to the city of Amon,” who will eventually win their bitter battle and, with the assistance of many powerful court figures including Tiye, Aye, Horemheb and Akhenaten’s youngest brother, Tutankhamon, (born Tutankhaten) be restored to all his powers and privileges.

Again, I am indebted to the friends mentioned in the Introduction to
A God Against the Gods
who have assisted in gathering books and research materials, who have provided delightful company on two invaluable visits to Egypt, and whose ideas, bouncing off mine, have helped clarify my approach to a tangled but hypnotic subject. Once again I am particularly indebted to the great British Egyptologist Cyril Aldred, until retirement Keeper of Antiquities of the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. His book
Akhenaten, Pharaoh of Egypt
(London: Abacus paperbacks, Sphere Books, Ltd., 1968), has been my desk bible throughout. In an extensive and cordial personal correspondence he has been unfailingly kind in answering my questions and politely adamant in opposing some of my conclusions.

He tends to discount with some vigor the thesis, in which I am not alone among those familiar with Ancient Egypt, that there was a contest between Horemheb and his father, the Pharaoh Aye, for the throne. In this Mr. Aldred is characteristic of many Egyptologists who find it difficult, if not downright distasteful, to bring their serenely sculpted friends down to human reality. Yet these
human beings, and they were contending for the greatest prize of the ancient world, the Double Crown of Egypt.

Better a rendering giving due weight to human desires and emotions on a scale to match the prize, than an account as serenely bland and lifeless as the paintings on the walls.

There is much blood in
Return to Thebes
, as there is in
A God Against the Gods;
but where the prize is great, and where those who seek it really care and have at hand the means to express their caring, blood is apt to follow. I have opted to have my Ancients bloody and human rather than emptily—and often falsely—smiling faces on the wall.

For these views of mine, and for others expressed in the two novels, Mr. Aldred and his fellow Egyptologists of course bear no responsibility whatsoever. Taking a leaf from the book of my complex protagonist, who prided himself on “living in truth” in all things, I have tried as clearly as possible to present the truth of this fascinating period as I see it. Others disagree, and more power to them. In the world of Egyptology, one conjecture is as good as another, providing it stays within hailing distance of the few scraps of known fact we have. I have tried to remain reasonably well in range of all the matters covered in the two novels.

I should perhaps repeat here the general principles which I have followed in constructing
Return to Thebes
A God Against the Gods,
particularly in so far as they apply to dates, spelling of names and certain familiar locutions that the Ancients did not know but which I have adopted for the ease of the modern-day reader. For instance:

Estimates of how long Ancient Egypt had been an entity prior to the events of
A God Against the Gods
Return to Thebes
range from a minimum of one thousand to a maximum of almost three thousand years. I have chosen arbitrarily, on what seems the main burden of the evidence, to put it somewhere approaching two thousand years. We do not know: only the sands of Egypt, which cover all, know; and until there is time and money to dig to the full beneath them (assuming that might be physically possible, in itself an optimistic conjecture), we will never know with any degree of certainty. Somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand years would seem to encompass logically and comfortably the earliest beginnings, the seventeen dynasties recognized by the Egyptian historian Manetho (who himself did not come along with
arbitrary guesses until 305 B.C., more than a thousand years after the events of these novels), and the so-called “Hyksos invasion,” which preceded the Eighteenth Dynasty.

In the same fashion I have chosen 1392 B.C. as the birth year of both Akhenaten and his wife and cousin, Nefertiti. It was somewhere around that time: there are as many guesses as there are Egyptologists. I have grounded my time frame on that arbitrary date and have anchored it at the far end to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1330 B.C., which allows sixty or so years for Akhenaten’s birth and adolescence, his co-regency with his father Amonhotep III, his co-regency with his younger brother Smenkhkara, the reign of his youngest brother Tutankhamon, the reign of their uncle Aye, and much of the reign of Horemheb, last Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Some professionals may dispute this, but anyone who delves into Egyptian history soon finds that his own guess is just about as good as anyone else’s—providing it allows sufficient elbow room for the generally agreed-upon lengths of these various kings of the Eighteenth Dynasty. This I have sought to do.

Similarly with names. Horemheb, for instance, is “Har-em-hab” to Mr. Aldred; “Harmhab” to the first great historian of Ancient Egypt, James H. Breasted; and appears elsewhere variously as Horemheb, Horemhab, Haremhab, Haremheb, Harmhab, Harmheb, Heru-em-heb—somebody has to make a decision, and in this case I’m it. “Horemheb” has a solid ring to me, so “Horemheb” he is herein.

This decision, as with many other names, is based on what to me seems easiest and most euphonious for the present-day reader to articulate and understand. Akhenaten’s father was known to the Greeks, Romans, and to modern-day Egyptians who follow their lead, as “Amenophis III.” Aldred renders him “Amon-Hot-pe.” I have chosen the third most popular version, “Amonhotep,” as the simplest for the modern reader’s purposes. Similarly the Sun God himself appears in many texts as “Re,” pronounced “Ray” or “Reh.” I prefer the simpler rendition “Ra,” pronounced “Rah,” which seems to fall easiest on the tongue. He is also “Amon,” “Amun” and “Amen.” “Amon” seems the simplest, both when standing alone and when used as a part of a name.

I have also adopted the practice of breaking down into their components, for the first three times they appear in the text, the more difficult names of the Eighteenth Dynasty. If one gives to
(which were unknown to the Ancients and only introduced in Greco-Roman times for much the same purposes of convenience that I am striving for here) the sounds “ah,” “eh,” and “ee,” it becomes relatively easy. The name of Akhenaten’s (Akh-eh-
-ten’s) third daughter, who appears in
A God Against the Gods
as a little girl and plays a major role in
Return to Thebes
, is a real jawbreaker—Ankhesenpaaten. But if the reader will take a moment to sound it out slowly—“Ankh-eh-sen-pah-
-ten”—the going becomes much easier and the name quite beautiful. And so with Nefer-Kheperu-Ra, Ankh-Kheperu-Ra, Neb-Kheperu-Ra (the brothers Akhenaten, Smenkhkara and Tutankhamon) and the rest.

For easy reference by the modern reader I have also, in common with many Egyptologists, adopted certain recognizable locutions. For Amonhotep III to refer to his family as “the Eighteenth Dynasty,” for instance, is a complete prolepsis, since Manetho and his list did not come along until more than a thousand years later. And yet the Ancient Egyptians were a time-minded and orderly people and undoubtedly (to use a word beloved of the professionals) had some sense of what went before, and in their own minds must have had some cataloguing of the royal houses that preceded theirs. Accordingly I have them refer to their own “Eighteenth Dynasty” and their own “House of Thebes,” because this makes it easier for us to understand what they are talking about.

By the same token, they did not know the terms “Valley of the Kings” or “Valley of the Queens,” although they did have some general way of referring to the royal necropolis on the west bank of the Nile opposite Thebes. “Beneath the Peak of the West” is one with some historical foundation, and I have used it fairly often; but, for us, “Valley of the Kings” is more instantly recognizable, and so I have often used it too. “The blood of Ra” is a locution for the blood royal that they may not have used, but it is understandable here. They did not know the terms “mother-in-law,” “brother-in-law” and the like. They did not know that millennia later we would refer to the oddly elongated skulls of Akhenaten’s family as “platycephalic.” But we know that, and it simplifies understanding in the text.

One name I have retained in its original form is Akhet-Aten, the name of Akhenaten’s new capital. We know it more readily as Tell-el-Amarna, yet it seems fitting to keep the name he gave it—and to syllabify it throughout, so that it will not be confused with his own.

For those who wish to delve further in the period, I have appended at the end of
A God Against the Gods
a partial list, headed by Mr. Aldred, of some of the authors who have been most helpful to me in constructing
A God Against the Gods
Return to Thebes
. I offer them as a very modest introduction to a vast and ever growing literature, and I repeat the warning I gave in
A God Against the Gods:

Once enthralled by the Ancient Egyptians, you will be enthralled, as they themselves said so often about so many things, “forever and ever—for millions and millions of years.”

Allen Drury


BOOK: Return to Thebes
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