The Pyramid Builders, Book 8: Khafre 3d cover

The Pyramid Builders, Book 8: Khafre by Max Overton

The third dynasty of the Old Kingdom of Egypt saw an extraordinary development of building techniques, from the simple structures of mud brick at the end of the second dynasty to the towering pyramids of the fourth dynasty. Just how these massive structures were built has long been a matter of conjecture, but history is made up of the lives and actions of individuals; kings and architects, scribes and priests, soldiers and artisans, even common labourers, and so the story of the Pyramid Builders unfolded over the course of more than a century. This is that story…

The Pyramid Builders, Book 8: Khafre 2 covers

Khafre seizes control and takes the throne of his brother, while his nephew Baka flees to Amurru with his uncle Hordjedef. The new king wants a pyramid as big as his father’s, appointing a conventional male architect. However, he has cause to regret his decision, bringing back Rait when things go wrong. Others passed over for the position seek to hurt Rait and violate her daughter Neferit.

Hordjedef quarrels with exiled Baka and returns to Egypt, pleading for forgiveness, but as Khafre sickens, Baka seeks revenge. The heir, Menkaure, must battle for the throne of Egypt when his father Khafre dies.

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Continue the series:

The Pyramid Builders, Book 1: Djoser continue the seriesThe Pyramid Builders, Book 2: Sekhemkhet continue the seriesThe Pyramid Builders, Book 3: Khaba continue the seriesThe Pyramid Builders, Book 4: Huni continue the series The Pyramid Builders, Book 5: Sneferu continue the seriesThe Pyramid Builders, Book 6: Khufu Continue the Series The Pyramid Builders, Book 7: Djedefre continue the seriesThe Pyramid Builders, Book 8: Khafre continue the series

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Chapter 1


The twelve months since the death of King Djedefre had wrought great changes in the twin kingdoms of Kemet. His two young sons, Setka and Baka, had ruled as kings despite governance by their uncle Khafre, acting as regent. Given the nature of the boys, the Ma’at of the kingdoms was always going to be disturbed, and that is exactly what it was. Baka killed his brother, and his uncle Hordjedef tried to bring in foreign troops to overthrow the regency and set up Baka as a ruler in his own right. Khafre had defeated the Amurran army, and Hordjedef had fled to that kingdom in Retjenu, taking Baka with him. The regent now faced unrest at home and abroad and it was essential that he re-establish Ma’at.

Khafre had two older brothers, Khufukhaf and Minkhaf, but they had long since withdrawn from public life, preferring to raise families and serve whoever was king in a quiet, unassuming way. They expressed no objection to their younger brother Khafre claiming the throne. That left only the queens, Khentetka and Hetepheres, but he did not think they would be a problem.


The reaction of the queens was much as he had anticipated. Queen Khentetka was sanguine about her position in the coming days. Only one of her sons survived–Hornit–and his weak mind barred him from consideration.

“I entreat you not to harm him,” Khentetka said, clumsily trying to kneel before the regent. “I beg you to let him live.”

“What do you take me for, Lady?” Khafre said, raising the queen to her feet again. “He is the son of my brother and he will hold a place in my court commensurate with his abilities. When he is old enough, I will find him a suitable wife.”

“Your court? You intend to claim the throne then?”

“Someone must, and I have the best claim.”

“You will have no argument from me or my son,” Khentetka said.


Queen Hetepheres was not so obliging.

“Baka is the rightful king of Kemet,” she declared. “You have no right to dispossess him.”

“Your son took up arms against Kemet, bringing in foreigners to capture the throne,” Khafre said quietly. “That is the act of a traitor, not a king.”

“He was anointed as king,” Hetepheres persisted. “Nothing can take that away from him.”

Khafre grimaced, recognising the truth of her words. “I am the regent, appointed to rule Kemet until he is of age.”

“So rule for him until he is sixteen.”

“He has murdered his brother and fled the kingdoms; those are not the actions of a legitimate king. Many would say he has forfeited his right to the throne.”

“Many? You mean Ankhhaf.”

“Tjaty Ankhhaf is an adviser,” Khafre said. “I weigh his words along with those of others. Your son Baka is not fit to rule.”

“Baka is a child and he listened to his uncle Hordjedef. Are you blaming him for the evil advice of that man?”

“My brother Hordjedef will face justice if ever he returns to Kemet, as will your son. In the meantime, Kemet must have a king.”


“I have the best claim,” Khafre said simply.

Hetepheres frowned. “You will need a royal wife in that case, and I am your sister, wife of Djedefre and of proven fertility. I offer myself.”

Khafre inclined his head graciously but hid his inner thoughts. “You will always be honoured in my court, Lady.”


“She actually offered herself as wife,” Khafre told Ankhhaf.

“It is worth considering,” the Tjaty said.

“No, it is not. I would sooner take a snake into my bed. Her every action would favour Baka, and if she ever enabled his return, I would have to watch what I ate or drank.” Khafre shook his head. “I will honour her as my royal sister, but she will have no power in my court.”

Nobody else raised any objection to Khafre seizing the throne, so Ankhhaf organised the coronation for the first favourable day, and Khafre moved through the courts of the principal gods, being purified and blessed by the priests, anointed with the holy oil and sitting on a raised throne in the forecourt of Ptah as the Hem-netjer intoned the throne names of the new king.

Once officially crowned and imbued with the power that derived from the gods, Khafre set about his first acts as king.

“You are confirmed as my Tjaty,” he told Ankhhaf.

“I am honoured, of course, but would you not rather have a younger man? I am getting old and the thought of sitting with my feet up, drinking wine, without a worry in the world, rather appeals to me.”

“I refuse to waste such a talent as yours, Uncle. There is no one else with your experience and loyalty.”

“I am not getting any younger, though, Son of Re. There will come a time when I must step down.”

“Not yet, Uncle. You have been loyal to Khufu and Djedefre, and I value your loyalty to me. I know you will strive for the good of Kemet.”

Ankhhaf could only agree, but he knew that Khafre would regard him with horror if he knew what he had done. Djedefre had been bad for Kemet, and in the interests of securing a proper king, Ankhhaf had used a poison confiscated from the adventurer Merer to kill the king. Such an act was deserving of death, and Khafre would have had no choice in the matter if his action had become public knowledge. Never mind that Djedefre was bringing Kemet to ruin and Khafre would reverse that; killing a king could not be overlooked.

“What will you do about Horbaef?” he asked.

“His actions were traitorous, but he was deceived,” Khafre said. “He is also my brother.”

“Hordjedef is your brother too. Do you intend to forgive him?”

“They are completely different,” Khafre growled. “Hordjedef tried to have me killed, whereas Horbaef was simply a messenger. I can forgive one but not the other.”

“You are sure you can trust Horbaef? Could he still be in touch with Hordjedef?”

Khafre smiled coldly. “At the moment, he is in prison and unable to contact anyone. I have to consider whether I can risk releasing him.”

The king put this decision aside for further consideration, and turned his attention to other matters, but his sister Meresankh petitioned him for a hearing, which he readily granted.

“I come to ask for the life of my husband, Horbaef,” she declared.

“I have no intention of depriving him of life,” Khafre said. “Prison sufficiently curtails his actions.”

“He is harmless, Son of Re, even if you were to release him.”

Khafre regarded his sister gravely. “You have not specifically asked for your husband’s release,” he said. “Are you doing so?”

Meresankh smiled. “You were always the most serious of my brothers, and I knew you would one day be king. I could plead for you to release Horbaef, but you would think of what was best for Kemet, rather than grant a favour to your family members. I am content with whatever decision you make.”

“I will release him if he swears loyalty to me,” Khafre said. “If he breaks that oath, he will not long survive.”

“I will make sure he remains loyal,” Meresankh said. She smiled. “Would you like me to swear allegiance too? I am willing to do anything that pleases you.”

Khafre stared at his sister. In all the years of his marriage, he had never looked lustfully at another woman, and had never really noticed the beauty of his sister. He became aware of the boldness of her gaze, and he realised it was an invitation. He frowned at her temerity before coming to the realisation that a union with his sister was the accepted practice for a king.

“Horbaef is alive, though,” he muttered. “I cannot just…”

Meresankh’s eyes gleamed. “My lord holds all power in his hands,” she murmured. “A king can do as he likes.”

Khafre blushed, realising he had spoken aloud his thoughts. His sister was five years older than him, but still beautiful, while his wife Khamerernebty had ceased bearing children, despite his efforts. Another wife, or more than one, was no longer a vague consideration, but a necessity for a king. Horbaef was still alive though, and there were some things he would not do.

“I will release Horbaef into your care,” he said. “Make sure he does not stray again, for next time I will not be so merciful.”

Meresankh displayed a flash of annoyance but bowed. “I will do as you instruct, my lord king.”

His discussion with Meresankh had raised interesting ideas concerning the future, so Khafre hastened to obtain his wife’s opinion.

“I love you dearly, Khamerernebty, and I have two beautiful children because of you, but I am saddened that there are only two.”

“There were more, husband, as you are aware, but the gods saw fit to take them early. Now, I fear, my womb is barren, so we will only ever have Menkaure and Khamy.”

“It was enough when I was a mere prince,” Khafre said slowly, “but I am a king now, and a king should have many children.”

Khamerenebty’s eyes welled with tears. “You have come to tell me that you are putting me away and will take a younger woman to bear you more heirs.”

“That will never happen,” Khafre declared. “You are the wife of my youth, and you will always have a place by my side. Likewise, Menkaure will always be my heir for as long as he lives, but you are right in that I must have more children. To do that, I must take another wife, several even.”

“You are the king,” Khamerernebty whispered.


“Have you given any thought to the identity of the fortunate woman?” Ankhhaf asked when Khafre raised the subject. “It is customary to marry a sister.” He grimaced. “Your choices are limited, however. Meritites is happily married to Director of the Palace Akhethotep and they have several children. It would be a pity to break up their marriage. Then there is Nefertiabat, but she is a sworn priestess, having taken the sacred leopard skin garment. That leaves Meresankh, who is married to Horbaef, and Hetepheres, mother of Baka. It is a pity, but I think you will have to look outside the family for a second wife.”

Khafre said nothing about his thoughts concerning Meresankh, merely instructing his Tjaty to start drawing up a list of suitable women. “There is no great hurry,” he said. “I have other things on my mind at the moment.”

The king had two other brothers, but they rarely came to mind as they had long since withdrawn from public life. Khufukhaf and Minkhaf were the firstborn sons of King Khufu, but had shown no interest in government, and had soon left the bustle of the capital city for the relative peace of the southern cities. There, they took wives and raised families, content to enjoy life without the worries that came with official duties. After a few years, they had sought out low level positions in the local government, but their natural ability and family connections led inevitably to promotion, and late in the reign of their father, they became governors of adjoining sepatu in the deep south.

The brothers would have been quite content to live out their lives administering those distant sepatu, but their younger brother, King Djedefre, had ordered them north to Inebu-hedj. Djedefre, urged on by Hordjedef, delighted in bringing governors to the capital, ostensibly to reward them but really to make fun of them and send them back unrewarded. He intended the same for his brothers, but in the end, he lost his nerve and just left them to languish at court. Khufukhaf and Minkhaf had their families with them, but lacked any meaningful employment, though they had begged Djedefre to assign them duties. They now approached the new king, Khafre, with a similar request.

Khufukhaf bowed humbly and put his request on behalf of himself and his brother. “We praise your name, Son of Re, and ask to serve you in some meaningful way. Our brother Djedefre saw fit to remove all responsibilities from us, letting us languish here at court, but we hope that you will let us serve you.”

“You are welcome here at court under any circumstances, my brothers, but it warms my heart to know you are willing to serve your king,” Khafre said. “What tasks would you have me give you?”

“Those we leave to you, Son of Re. Before we were recalled by Djedefre, we served as Governors, so we are experienced in administration. We ask that you give us duties commensurate with our abilities.”

“I will be happy to do so, Khufukhaf. Let me give the matter some thought.”

Khafre sat and considered what tasks he could give his older brothers. He believed he could trust them utterly, as they had served Khufu and Djedefre without complaint.

“Khufukhaf, I will make you Director of the Palace. You will manage the affairs of every person living therein. I will also make you Administrator and Boundary Official of Per-wadjet, and you will journey between the two as needed. As for you, Minkhaf, you will henceforth act as a deputy to Tjaty Ankhhaf, and you will also be privy to the secrets of the king in all the cult places within Kemet.” Khafre smiled as he saw the looks of astonishment on the faces of his brothers. “Do you regret asking me for work? You will be kept extremely busy with those tasks.”

“On the contrary, Son of Re,” Minkhaf said, “we praise your name. All we desire is to serve you, and we will perform our tasks with a joyful heart.”

Happy to have brought contentment to his older brothers, Khafre next turned his attention to the other matter uppermost in his mind, as indeed it was at the forefront of every newly crowned king–his House of Eternity. Although a per-djet had been constructed for him in the city of the dead that had arisen to the east and west of the gleaming edifice that was Khufu’s mer, such a tomb was a modest construction and unworthy of the great king he intended to be. Why, even Djedefre had started a magnificent tomb, and he had been one of the most unworthy of kings. No, Khafre decided, his mer would equal or exceed that of his father Khufu. He sent for Tjaty Ankhhaf.

“I want building to start on my House of Eternity within the year,” Khafre said.

“It is never too soon to start on that,” Ankhhaf agreed. “You do not want to end up with an incomplete mer like that of Djedefre.”

Khafre nodded. “How do I go about this? Will you issue the necessary orders?”

“If that is your wish, Son of Re, but your desires must be made known. Tell me what you want.”

“I want a mer that will rival that of Khufu; larger even. It will be at Rostau, near to that of my father. I found a place there a few years ago that I think would be suitable, though of course I could not survey it.” Khafre smiled. “I do not have those skills.”

“That is the good thing about being king,” Ankhhaf said. “There are men you can call upon to perform such tasks.” The Tjaty hesitated. “Looking past the survey, have you thought about the design of your mer? If it is to rival that of Khufu, you will need a good architect to design it. In your father’s day it was Hemiunu.”

“Good. Have him come and see me.”

“He is getting old, Son of Re. I am not sure he would be up to the task.”

“I am not asking him to haul stone himself, but if he designed Khufu’s mer, he could design mine.”

Ankhhaf brought the news to Hemiunu, but he groaned at the prospect.

“I am too old. I want to spend my days sitting in the sun, drinking beer.”

“The king commands you; will you disobey him?”

“Of course not, but what does he expect of me? There are other competent architects; why does he not ask them?”

“None have your experience and ability,” Ankhhaf said. “Come now, your king needs you. You cannot refuse.”

Hemiunu tottered along on legs made weak from carrying his considerable bulk, and grumbling under his breath, but he bowed politely to the king and asked how he might serve the king. Khafre told him.

“I am too old and infirm to oversee another building project, my lord,” Hemiunu said. “I can design something for you if you will have others turn the plans into stone.”

“You designed my father’s mer; I want something similar.”

Hemiunu looked thoughtful. “There are many considerations, my lord. I would argue against another mer like that of your father. It was a complex structure, perhaps unnecessarily so. Something simpler might be better.”

“Such as?”

“Well, the most difficult part of the construction was creating chambers within the structure of the mer. If you reverted to an underground burial chamber, like that of the kings who went before, it would simplify matters.”

“I had not really thought about that,” Khafre admitted. “I can see no reason why a tomb should not be underground.”

“The spiritual aspects such as the sloping sides rising to a point that catches the light of the sun would remain the same,” Ankhhaf observed. “As a Son of Re, it is fitting that your mer reflect the light of your heavenly father.”

“I will draw up some plans for you to look over, my lord,” Hemiunu said.

“You will need to survey the site first, won’t you?” Ankhhaf asked.

Hemiunu stifled a groan. “Son of Re, have pity on me. I can no longer walk all day in the hot sun, taking measurements and making calculations. Let someone younger take my place.” When Khafre frowned, he hurried on. “My sons, perhaps? Ankhre, Ptahhotep, and Minnefer are all skilled scribes and I have educated them in the ways of architecture. They will be able to make a competent survey.”

Khafre grimaced but agreed that Hemiunu’s sons could conduct the survey. “I still want you to have oversight of them, however. If a fault develops in the mer that can be traced back to a mistake in the survey, I will hold you accountable.”

Hemiunu bowed and left the presence of the king, calling for his sons to attend upon him.


Ankhhaf had done his research on the eligible young women of Kemet in his efforts to find a suitable wife for his king. He had a list of half a score young women from Inebu-hedj and farther afield that he thought were of sufficiently high rank to be a worthy wife of the king, rather than a simple concubine. A king need never go short of a companion when desire distracted him from business, but a high-born wife was important if the child was ever to achieve high status. He brought the list to the king, stressing that this was only a preliminary list.

“There will be others, Son of Re, but these are the most eligible ones at the present time.”

Khafre scanned the list. “Some of these are known to me… not this one… nor her… she does not attract me…”

As the king offered up his opinion on each woman, Ankhhaf made a note of the reasons why they were rejected. The information would be useful for drawing up future lists.

“Neferdjet?” Khafre tapped a name on the list. “Now she is a truly beautiful young woman.”

Ankhhaf smiled. “I will notify her father at once.”



“I require more of a woman than a pleasurable release. She would excite me beforehand but do nothing for me once I had spent my seed. I want a woman with whom I can converse, discuss things. Someone who will bring pleasure to my mind as well as my body. Khamerernebty is perfect for that, and I would not look elsewhere if she was still fertile.”

“You could still talk to Khamerernebty any time you liked, my lord.”

“I could, but it is pleasurable to talk with a woman after having sown my seed in her. I could scarcely leave one and go to the other; it might offend one or both.”

“Then this is the woman for you, Son of Re,” Ankhhaf said, pointing to a name on the list.

“Hekenuhedjet? Do I know her? The name is vaguely familiar.”

“She is the daughter of your cousin Nefermaat, who is, of course, the son of Nefertkau, a daughter of King Sneferu. She is well brought up and has been given a good education as befits a member of the royal family. Despite this, she is modest and deferential.”

“I will view her,” Khafre said, handing back the list.

“There is no one else who catches your eye, my lord? A king can take many wives.”

“None whose names appear on this list, though there is one I hoped might be there.”

“Whose name would that be, Son of Re?”


Ankhhaf stared at his king. “My Ankhnefer?”

Khafre smiled. “Who else? You know I have always regarded her fondly.”

“Yes, but… but I never thought…”

“My association with your daughter has always been quite proper. I would not have initiated anything with her out of regard for her, for you, and for Khamerernebty, but that was while I was a mere prince. I was content then, but now I am a king and, as you say, I need another wife or two. I cannot think of anyone who excites my mind as much as Ankhnefer and… well, she is beautiful.”

“I had not thought to seek out a husband for her.”

“I am not good enough?”

“My lord! No, of course… you do me great honour… and her… but…”

“But what?” Khafre asked.

“She has remained single, though she has had numerous suitors. It is possible she means to dedicate herself to some goddess and wear the leopard-skin cloak.”

“That would be a waste. Ask her if she will consent to be my wife, Uncle. I would like to think of a grandson of yours being a son of a king.” Khafre smiled. “Who knows where the future leads? One of your descendants could sit on the throne of Kemet.”

“Just being allied to you by marriage is a great honour, Son of Re.”

“Then ask her, Ankhhaf. I am eager to know her answer.”

Her answer came swiftly, but she would allow no one to give her answer for her, insisting on speaking to the king himself. When she entered the room, Khafre rose to greet her and when she started to kneel, lifted her up.

“You do not need to kneel before me, Ankhnefer,” he murmured. “You have come to give me your answer?”

“My lord king, know that I am very fond of your son, Menkaure, and honour him above all others.”

“I am glad of that, because he is my heir and while he lives, there can be no other.”

“I would not seek to displace him, my lord. All I ask is that our children are honoured as befits you and my father–boys and girls together.”

“You have my word on that,” Khafre said. “Whatever honour I can bestow upon them, apart from the throne itself, I shall. As for our daughters, they shall be married to the most powerful in the kingdoms.”

“I would hope they will have a choice in the matter, my lord,” Ankhnefer said.

“Within reason,” Khafre countered. “The daughter of a king cannot marry just anyone.” He looked at Ankhnefer expectantly. “Does this mean you accept my offer of marriage?”

“It does, my lord.”


The marriage went ahead on the next propitious day, but Khafre did not forget Hekenuhedjet, marrying her a scant month later. Ankhhaf could not reasonably object to him taking another wife so soon after his daughter’s marriage as he had been the one to find Hekenuhedjet in the first place. Ankhnefer made the best of it, happy to be married to Khafre, whom she had long admired, and she did not begrudge the king any other marriage he cared to make. Khafre was attentive to all three of his wives but spent much of his time with the younger women, and very little of that time in talk. His new wives were very beautiful, after all, and he was still a young, virile man.


The Pyramid Builders, Book 8: Khafre print cover


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