The Stone of Light
Volume 2 : The Wise Woman

Since the death of their protector Ramesses the Great, the craftsmen of Place of Truth are worried. Who knows if the new Pharaoh Merenptah wants to continue the work of his father and also protect this prestigious village the future of which seems to be endangered? Meanwhile, the task to be completed before the burial of the late Pharaoh is enormous, and each day matters!

Nefer, so-called the Silent, has become the new master craftsman of the Place. His responsibility is unequalled and no one disputes his authority. Paneb the Ardent, in spite of his youth and enthusiasm, has climbed up one by one the steps required for his status as a draftsman, and gets through a considerable amount of work. As for Sobek the Nubian, still in charge of the security, he is twice as vigilant in trying to solve an amazing number of unexplained crimes…

Then there is Claire, Nefer’s wife. With exceptional courage, she has been able to pass the ultimate test of the female royal cobra by kissing it three times on the head at the risk of her life. She has thus become the “Wise Woman”, protector of the village and its inhabitants. Guardian of supernatural secrets, she can heal the sick and turn away evil spells.

Because behind the scenes, Mehy who is both the principal Treasurer of Thebes and the commander of the armed forces, continues to conspire in order to destroy Nefer’s power and gain possession of the famous Stone of Light. He is quite effectively aided by his wife Serketa — who is prepared to stoop to anything to reach her goals, buying out one here, assassinating another one there with the utmost impunity —, and by a mysterious character who has given in to the temptation of fortune by accepting to betray his people.

The turmoil was at its height when the much-awaited Merenptah arrives to conduct his father’s funeral. But will the craftsmen manage to continue their works while the evil spells continue to dog them? Will Nefer see the end of the traps that do not cease to endanger his life in spite of the faithful protection of the Wise woman? And above all, who is this traitor who relentlessly continues to try to ruin the happiness of Place of Truth, and whom no one has been able to identify?

Thefts, murders, floods, evil spells and treachery, the heroes are spared nothing in this marvellous novel where conspiracies follow one another in an Egypt that Christian Jacq’s talent reconstructs for us in all its magnificient splendour.

Author's interview

If one carefully looks at your bibliography, it becomes apparent that you are an essayist as much as a novelist. Which path was your first?

Christian Jacq: In fact I began to write fiction at the age of thirteen, before I encountered Egypt. And I wrote several novels, trial runs of sorts… My career as a researcher and Egyptologist began in parallel with that of the novelist, until the day when the worlds of the novelist and the egyptologist blended together! From that moment my work has received attention from a wide readership… But I continue my path in both areas, and the dialogue between the novelist and the Egyptologist continues through essays and novels. To summarize it in an analogy, since I have a passion for music, I can say that I consider novels as operas and essays as sonatas. The common denominator is writing, which I think must adapt itself to the subject that one is dealing with. To recount the tale of an immense figure such as Ramses, the novel was the obvious choice, as in the tradition of oriental storytellers.

What’s the source of this passion for Egypt to which you have dedicated your studies?

C. J.: It comes to me … from a book ! With my pocket money, I was able to buy a magnificent book by Pirenne dedicated to the civilization of ancient Egypt recommended by my librarian. In reading it I discovered a world so familiar, so close, so rich and so intense… My world! While pursuing my work as a young novelist whose subjects had nothing to do with Egypt but were rather inspired by German romanticists and Gerard de Nerval (Journey in the East, a total delight), I continued my studies in classical literature (Greek, Latin, Philosophy), history of art, and finally – with such joy! – Egyptology at Sorbonne, where I had the opportunity to be trained by two great scholars, professors Paul Barguet and Jean Leclant – who is currently the permanent Secretary of Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Hence, this passion for Egypt became apparent at a very young age and has not faded ever since, quite to the contrary! Each journey is a new source of wonder, a new discovery. How could it be otherwise when Egypt offers us three millenia of glory. The more one knows a certain field, the more one likes it…

The Stone of Light is the story of a brotherhood of craftsmen and artists who live in a myterious village and obey no laws but their own. Yet this village does exist… How and where did you find its trace?

C. J.: The village evoked in The Stone of Light has the modern name of Deir el-Medineh and is located on the west bank of the river Thebes (Louxor). Egyptians called it Set Maât, “Place of truth”, the place where Maât, godess of truth, justice and cosmic harmony used to reveal herself… The role of the very small number of friendly craftsmen in this village which was enclosed within high walls was regarded as essential for the Egyptian State: to build and decorate the eternal homes of the Pharaohs of the XVIIIth, XIXth et XXth dynasties, in other words the tombs of the Valley of Kings, one of the most famous and most frequently visited archeological sites. It was a French architect, Bernard Bruyere, who performed the bulk of the excavations on this site and understood its real nature: this group of exceptional artists lived there with their families. They had their own courts, built their own tombs, were their own priests and priestesses and were directly responsible to the Pharaoh who provided their means of livelihood and well-being so that they would devote themselves exclusively to their art. A large amount of documentation has by chance been preserved, in particular a “Journal” which recounts the daily life in this small community. Thus we know their working hours, habits, and happy and sad adventures. In short, a means of reviving the story of these people who devoted their life to create masterpieces that visitors today come from all over the world to contemplate with an intense emotion.

The four volumes of The Stone of Light portray a multitude of characters, of whom the leading ones: Nefer, his wife Claire, and Paneb play a decisive role in the story… There again, have you invented them?

C. J.: Let’s say that I also like the present but in a different way. Knowing that over there, the past is also in the present… What is fabulous in Egypt is that hardly after stepping off the plane, after a few kilometers, one is taken back four thousand years! In the desert, in Fayoum, in a garden where nothing has changed… This black and fertile land which is in such sharp contrast to the ochre sand of the desert is absolutely magnificient!

Considering the multiple romantic twists and turns in this story on the one hand, and the rich amount of information that you offer the reader on the other hand, do you have a method for writing?

C. J.: For me there are several periods in the construction and birth of a book. I always have several projects in mind, and I let them come to maturity while I continue my search out in the field as well as in museums and through scientific publications. And then one of these projects becomes clear with such force that it overshadows the others. The event always occurs at a site in Egypt, for example at the Ramesseum, the temple of the millions of years of Ramses II when the desire to write his epic became apparent, or at Deir el-Medineh for The Stone of Light. Then comes the time to develop the book, to give it a structure, to meet the characters and talk about it with my wife, to undertake in-depth research on one point of detail or another. This “birth” phase is accompanied by the first attempts at writing, followed by a long slow process of giving shape to the story in the inhabited solitude that many writers know – a strict and necessary solitude so that the hand of the scribe can give life to multiple destinies… Books such as The Stone of Light are the fruit of many years of development during which I have filled files and followed tracks without knowing whether they would lead me to a tangible result. But when the decision is made, the dispersed elements become organized, and particularly the passion to write, to give shape, to convey, becomes compelling. And nothing is harder than finishing a story that one has lived intensely, knowing that henceforth the text will live in the eyes of the readers, in the same way that a music lives in the ears of the audience.

Let’s turn to the case of Paneb, this giant who fears no combat while he also makes his mark as a wonderful artist!

C. J.: Until recently, Egyptologists considered Paneb as an abominable and violent character, a womanizer, in short unsavoury… But the Egyptologist John Romer challenged this preconception, and ever since then book after book has repeated the question. Observing that Paneb had been a wonderful creator, contributing to the creation of seven royal tombs, he reopened the case and noticed that Paneb had been a victim of libel written by a jealous petty scribe who was after his position and who did not hesitate to write these misleading texts about him. Hence, more than three thousand years after his death, this novel was also the opportunity to rehabilitate Paneb, called The Ardent!

Your latest success, Ramses, sold more than ten million copies around the world, which is remarkable for a French author… How do you feel about it?

C. J.: My feeling about this admittedly remarkable success is that of a craftsman who has shaped his work with passion, by reworking the piece time and over again… How could I not feel gratitude towards the editors who have believed in my projects, and deep sympathy for my readers many of whom have written to me? Thanks to them, I can completely devote myself to writing and continue to convey what life and Egypt have offered me.

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