Proem     It was a tale told by the newspapers in 1914--of a spectacular find by a British Egyptologist in an isolated tomb outside of Cairo--a royal mummy of Egypt's greatest monarch and, beside his painted sarcophagus, a vast collection of ancient poisons and a journal in Latin, written in the time of Cleopatra, comprising some thirteen scrolls.   Call me Ramses the Damned. For that is the name I have given myself. But I was once Ramses the Great of Upper and Lower Egypt, slayer of the Hittites, father of many sons and daughters, who ruled Egypt for sixty-four years. My monuments are still standing; the stele recount my victories, though a thousand years have passed since I was pulled, a mortal child, from the womb.   Ah, fatal moment now buried by time, when from a Hittite priestess I took the cursed elixir. Her warnings I would not heed. Immortality I craved. And so I drank the potion in the brimming cup . . .   . . . How can I bear this burden any longer? How can I endure the loneliness anymore? Yet I cannot die . . .   So wrote a being who claimed to have lived a thousand years, slumbering in darkness when the great kings and queens of his realm had no need of him, ever ready to be resurrected at their command to offer wisdom and counsel--until the death of Cleopatra and of Egypt itself drove him to an eternal rest.   What was the world to make of this bizarre tale, or the fact that Lawrence Stratford, discoverer of the mystery, died in the tomb itself at the moment of his greatest triumph?   Julie Stratford, daughter of the great Egyptologist and sole heiress to the Stratford Shipping fortune, brought the controversial mummy to London, along with the mysterious scrolls and poisons, to honor her father's discovery with a private exhibition in her home in Mayfair. Within days Julie's cousin, Henry, made frantic claims that the mummy had risen from its sarcophagus and tried to murder him, and talk of a mummy's curse astonished Londoners. Before rumors could die down, Julie appeared in public with a mysterious blue-eyed Egyptian named Reginald Ramsey, who then journeyed with Julie back to Cairo in the company of beloved friends Elliott, the Earl of Rutherford, and his young son, Alex Savarell, and the aggrieved Henry.   More shocking events unfolded.   An unidentified corpse stolen from the Cairo Museum, grisly murders amongst the European shopkeepers of the city, and Ramsey himself sought by the Cairo police, and the disappearance of Henry. Finally, a fiery explosion left baffled witnesses and a frantic Alex Savarell grieving for a nameless woman who had fled the Cairo Opera House in terror, driving her motorcar into the path of an oncoming train.   Out of chaos and mystery, Julie Stratford emerged as the devoted fiancée of the enigmatic Reginald Ramsey, traveling Europe with her beloved, while in England the Savarell family sought to understand the exile of the Earl of Rutherford and the grief of young Alex for the woman he had so tragically lost to the flames in the Egyptian desert. Gossip dies down; newspapers move on.   As our story opens, the country estate of the Earl of Rutherford will soon be the location of the engagement party for Reginald Ramsey and Julie Stratford, as others far and wide hear echoes of the story of the immortal Ramses the Damned and his fabled elixir, though the mummified body itself, brought to London with such fanfare, has long since vanished. Excerpted from Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra by Anne Rice, Christopher Rice All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.