No class or book on writing ever skips the quintessential topic of beginnings. Few other things do writers lose as much sleep over. There are endless lists on how to start a story and how not to start a story. Yet, as with everything, this process becomes easier the more it is put into practice.
In Among the Shadows, the Prologue was rewritten three times — with the first two being recycled back into the book elsewhere. With Book 2, Awakening, the Prologue has come together much quicker and appears more set in stone. Of course, this doesn’t mean it won’t change as the book progresses. In any case, I will share it here, to give a taste of what is to come. This isn’t a final draft and more refinement of detail, pace and tone is in order.
This is also a good exercise in finding the right balance in detail. This Prologue is, to a large extent, pulled from history (some of the queen’s words verbatim). Enough detail to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of the scene and time, but not so much that it sounds like a history lesson. Sure, an Egyptologist might want more or quibble with changes, but most readers want a living scene in their mind.
So here is a little preview of the continuing War Among the Shadows:
Murdered. Ankhesenamun had little doubt of what transpired.
She had heard the priests screaming, but by the time she entered the sanctuary, Tutankhamen lay still, sprawled on the steps inside the temple. Blood trickled down the stairs, pooling into crimson puddles on the worn stones.
“No! My king!” She dropped to his side and held him in her arms. His eyes, for a fleeting moment, looked at his Great Wife, his half-sister, with love and sorrow. Then the last breath escaped his mouth and the light left his eyes. Stillness came and his ka fled to the West.
Ankhesenamun held him tight to her chest, sobbing and crying out to the gods. Warm blood covered her hands. Why had it come to this? He did not deserve this end. He had been afflicted all his life, walking with a cane and sitting on his throne in pain. Disease had repeatedly attacked his aching body, but he had insisted on going to the temples alone. She had warned him of the whispers, the rumors. Ay, the Grand Vizier, had sought to manipulate Tutankhamen even before he inherited his position. He had been but a boy when he became ruler over all of Egypt. Ay knew the pharaoh’s life would be short and envisioned sitting upon the throne and taking Ankhesenamun as his wife.
She would sooner die than wed a commoner. Certainly not Ay. No heirs had been born, so it was only through her that a new king would come to power. Ay had a hand in this, she was sure of it. Or was the scheming Horemheb, Commander of the Army, directing the conspiracy? Always lurking in the shadows, he could not be trusted and little bothered to disguise his lust for her.
Ankhesenamun was the Great Royal Consort of Tutankhamen and would be so to no one else. If she took the throne alone, she would suffer the same fate as her husband. She would not be silenced, the legacy guarded by her family could not be lost. No matter the cost to her people, or herself, it must be protected. She lifted her eyes to those standing around her. The priests and her attendants and the royal guard watched her in silence. Many could not hold back their own weeping. She spoke to Nefertiti, her favored Royal Ornament. The attendant had taken her name in honor of Ankhesenamun’s mother.
“My husband has died and I have no son. I will not take one of my subjects as a husband.” The woman who had stood proudly next to her king, beloved by her people, dropped her head. “I am afraid…” she said softly, the words barely escaping, and then, with a burst of strength, “This cannot happen to me! Now I am alone!”
Nefertiti dropped to her knees and held her queen’s chin, lifting it. Her tears were black, intermixed with the mesdemet around her eyes, yet her beauty could not be hidden by her anguish. She looked much like her mother, Beloved of Akhenaten, Mistress of the Two Lands.
“Beautiful one, my mistress, do not fear what is to come. You are certainly not alone. There are still those who will stand by your side, and no darkness can chase them away.” Nefertiti took a cloth and began to clean the blackened tears from Ankhesenamun’s tanned face. Then, in a moment of clarity, Ankhesenamun leaned into Nefertiti and pulled her close, whispering into her ear.
“We must act quickly, for whether I live or die, my power will soon be taken from me. You must realize that what I will tell you is of exceptional importance. What is required of us could decide the fate all men, not just those of our kumat. To join me is to place your life in peril. Do you understand, precious one?” Ankhesenamun looked into Nefertiti’s brown eyes, watered with sadness. The girl, not much younger than her mistress, attempted to smile.
“I will remain by your side always; no danger or venom will ever change this.”
“Very well.” Ankhesenamun released her and then stroked the lifeless face of Tutankhamen. Together they had restored the old gods of Upper and Lower Egypt. Their father had banished the ancient religion, and made the Aten the one and true god. Their family would always be hated for what he had done, no matter what had since changed. Not a shred of doubt existed in her mind that whomever came to power next would attempt to erase Tutankhamen’s name, and those who came before him, from the histories. This did not matter. Long after the temples and edifices of her people crumbled into dust, and the desert sands buried all that they had been, one would remain.
Khufu’s grand pyramid would stand until the last age. Neither man nor malice would move it from its foundations. Towering in the sands along the Nile for everyone to see, this was a monument to the unseen. A protector of what had passed from memory; a time when the lands had trembled and been scourged in a war with the Fallen. What lay beneath the pile of granite and limestone in the Labyrinths had once saved them all. And now, the burden lay with Ankhesenamun. No one else knew the secrets, she was the last.
Her fate, and that of humanity, were now one and the same.