Egypt: Pharaoh Amenhotep II has defeated the Mitanni in battle and has returned to Thebes at the head of a victory parade with his eldest son, Thutmose. His daughter, Erimem, though pleased to see her father home, feels neglected by him; she thus spends most of her time with General Antranak, her handmaidens, and the palace’s priests and astrologers. When she learns that her brother Mentu loves her handmaiden Hanek, the delighted Erimem agrees to help them find a way to be wed despite their different stations. Unfortunately, the Mitanni king, Gadamere, then sues for peace by offering his only daughter, Miral, as a wife for Thutmose; and since Thutmose has already chosen a wife, Amenhotep orders Mentu to wed Miral instead. Bound by duty, Mentu is unable to explain to his father that he’s fallen in love with a servant, and furiously refuses to speak to Miral when she arrives. Erimem, seeing that she too could suffer such a fate one day, tries to befriend Miral, but finds herself torn between her friendship with Miral and with Hanek.
A palace guard named Khofrek is found murdered, and Erimem happens to see Antranak and his soldiers studying the body -- and notices that the blood has flowed freely only from one wound, indicating that Khofrek was stabbed again after his death in an attempt to disguise the real death blow. Somebody then attempts to kill Erimem by strapping raw meat to the boat she’s using to cross the Nile, causing crocodiles to attack it. She survives and returns to the palace, only to learn that Thutmose has died in what appears to be a chariot accident. As Amenhotep grieves for his son’s death, Erimem tries to speak to Antranak about Khofrek’s murder, and Antranak is forced to admit that he’s found evidence that Thutmose’s chariot was sabotaged, which means that he too was murdered. The next in line to the throne is now Pharaoh’s simple-minded middle son, Teti, and after him, Mentu -- and Teti has come down with a lingering illness.
Mentu confesses to Erimem that he and Hanek slept together one last time after he became betrothed to Miral. However, Hanek is confined to her rooms with a fever, and as Mentu sees Miral comforting Erimem in the wake of Thutmose’s death, he begins to warm up to her. Erimem later sees one of Miral’s Mitanni bodyguards slipping out Hanek’s room, and assumes that her handmaiden has taken another lover in order to forget Mentu. Meanwhile, convinced that Khofrek was killed because he saw someone trying to leave the palace in secret, Erimem convinces her handmaidens to keep watch on the secret passages they use to slip into town after dark. After night falls, they spot a figure leaving the palace, and Erimem follows the figure only to walk into an ambush by a party of Nubians. Antranak arrives with reinforcements just in time, and Erimem manages to injure the figure as he or she retreats.
Back in the palace, Erimem notices that one of Miral’s bodyguards -- the same one that Hanek had taken as her lover -- is injured just where she’d stabbed her attacker. The bodyguard attacks her and nearly kills Mentu when he steps in to protect his sister, but Miral stabs and kills her own bodyguard to save her future husband’s life. Erimem tells her father that Hanek had taken the bodyguard as a lover, and Amenhotep orders Antranak to send Hanek’s family members to the House of Pain, where they will be tortured until they confess their roles in the conspiracy. Erimem later finds Hanek hiding in her rooms, but the tearful handmaiden insists that she had not taken the Mitanni as a lover; for some reason, he drugged her, yet did not take advantage of her. Hanek also claims that she is carrying Mentu’s child, and Erimem decides to give her the benefit of the doubt and allow her to flee from Thebes -- but she can do nothing to save the others of Hanek’s family.
Mentu has been injured fighting the bodyguard, and when Miral tends to his injuries, he finally accepts her as his lover and wife. Gadamere himself attends the wedding, but while the people of Thebes are celebrating, they receive word that the Nubians have attacked several villages, slaughtering hundreds of Egyptians. Gadamere is startled when Miral offers the services of the Mitanni army; later, she tells her father that Mentu has proven to be a loving husband even though her father effectively sold her to him as property, and that she thus feels more loyal to her adopted homeland. The Egyptians and the Mitanni march together to the south of Egypt, where they engage the Nubians in battle. Mentu fights well, surviving and despatching many of his enemies -- but Erimem, watching from the sidelines, spots movement from a nearby valley and leads the third wave of Egyptian infantry, disposing of a party of Nubian reinforcements before they can turn the tide of the battle. One of the Nubians slips past enemy lines and attacks Miral, who stabs him in the heart while defending herself. The Nubians are defeated, Mentu proves himself in battle, and to Amenhotep’s and Antranak’s relief, the Mitanni do not turn on them after the battle, confirming their allegiance.
The armies return to Thebes, but on the day that Amenhotep returns, Teti finally passes on from his fever. The Egyptians grieve for his death, unaware that his “loyal” servant Mari has slowly been poisoning him; however, her task is now accomplished, and her real employer, the priest Horemshep, has her killed. As night falls, the Egyptians celebrate their victory, but for the most part, fail to notice that the Mitanni are not drinking quite as much and are returning to their barracks fully sober. Fortunately, Erimem’s friend Fayum has investigated Hanek’s earlier claims, and he informs Erimem that her handmaiden’s wine was in fact drugged, presumably to make it appear she was dallying with the bodyguard. It then occurs to Erimem that when Miral stabbed the Nubian in self-defence, the resulting wound was exactly the same as the knife blow that killed Khofrek.
Once the Egyptians have finished celebrating and have withdrawn for the night, the Mitanni slip through the streets of Thebes to the palace -- but Erimem has alerted Antranak to expect treachery, and the Mitanni are caught in an ambush. Amenhotep kills Gadamere himself -- and Horemshep, realising that his secret machinations have failed, kills a few of the attacking Mitanni himself to cover the fact that he’d been plotting with them. Mentu confronts Miral, realising that she has betrayed them, but she’s holding a wooden box of cobras that she intended to use against the Pharaoh; she and her father intended to kill Pharaoh and his other heirs, put Mentu on the throne and shape him into a puppet king. Miral has truly fallen in love with Mentu in the meantime, but when he attacks her, she instinctively flings the box at him, and he is bitten repeatedly by the poisonous cobras.
Erimem catches Miral trying to flee, and Miral confesses that she murdered Erimem’s brothers -- just as hers died due to Amenhotep’s wars against the Mitanni. Amenhotep and Antranak arrive as Erimem fights Miral; enraged by her so-called friend’s treachery, Erimem cuts her throat and stabs her through the heart. However, Mentu dies of the cobra bites, and Amenhotep, having lost all of his sons, falls into an inconsolable grief. As the months pass, Erimem takes more and more responsibility in matters of state while her father remains lost in despair. Finally, while riding his chariot out in the desert, Amenhotep is set upon by bandits -- and although he has a chance to escape, he stands his ground and tries to fight them off. Horemshep watches from a distance, satisfied, as the Pharaoh is killed... and back in Thebes, Antranak is the one to inform Erimem that she is now to become Pharaoh of Egypt.
Centuries later, archaeologist Carra Wilton unearths a previously undiscovered tomb and learns the story of Erimem and her brothers. According to the hieroglyphs, Erimem was taken to heaven by the gods before she ever became Pharaoh. Carra never figures out exactly what this means -- and she never learns the identity of the remarkably knowledgeable young woman who attends the exhibition of the tomb’s treasures, accompanied by another young woman and a blond man in a cricketers’ outfit. Nevertheless, Carra assures the young woman that she will make sure the people of today understand that Erimem and her brothers were real people who lived and suffered real lives.