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       Nefertiti, p.12

           Michelle Moran
 

  “And will you charge for them?”

  “Ipu!” I gasped.

  But she continued to stare at me. “The women in Pharaoh’s harem charge for the linen that they weave. And your father does not work for free simply because he works for the royal family.”

  I shifted uncomfortably. “I might charge.”

  She smiled, pulling out my chair. “I will be back with your food, my lady.”

  My parents were in attendance at the royal table. Nefertiti would eat with Amunhotep at the top of the dais from now on, overseeing the entire hall. And tonight, because there was no arranged seating, the architect, Maya, sat with us beneath the Horus thrones. He and his wife looked cut from the same cloth, both tall Egyptians with watchful eyes.

  “Pharaoh wishes to begin building a temple to Aten,” Maya said warningly, and my father exhaled.

  “He has said as much to you?”

  The architect looked nervously over his shoulder. Nefertiti and Amunhotep regarded the proceedings with apathy, more interested in their talk of temples and taxes, and Maya lowered his voice. “Yes. And in two days’ time, the army begins collecting taxes from the temples of Amun.”

  “The priests will not gladly hand over what has been theirs for centuries,” my father said vehemently.

  “Then Pharaoh will kill them,” Maya replied.

  “He has ordered this?”

  The greatest architect in Egypt nodded solemnly.

  My father stood up, pushing his chair from the table. “The Elder must be warned.” He swept from the Audience Chamber with my mother on his heels, and for the first time the royal couple on the dais noticed something outside of themselves. Nefertiti beckoned me toward the thrones with her finger.

  “Where has Father gone?” she demanded.

  “He has heard that you intend on building soon,” I said carefully. “He has gone to make preparations to clear the way.”

  Amunhotep settled back into his throne. “I have chosen correctly in your father,” he said to Nefertiti. “Once every seven days,” he decided, “we will hold court in the Audience Chamber. The rest of the time we shall let Ay deal with foreign emissaries and petitioners.”

  My sister glanced approvingly at me.

  Chapter Ten

  MEMPHIS

  twenty-fifth of Pachons

  ON MY FIRST morning in Memphis, my father and Nefertiti slipped into my room and shut the door. Ipu, who slept across the hall as both my servant and my guard, remained sleeping soundly.

  I scrambled from beneath my covers. “What’s happening?”

  “From now on, this is where we meet,” my father said. Nefertiti took a seat on my bed and I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

  “Why here?”

  “Because Panahesi is in the same courtyard as Father, and if I make a habit of visiting, he will make a habit of sending spies.”

  I looked around the room. “Where’s Mother?”

  My father sat himself down. “At the baths.”

  Apparently, she wasn’t to be included in our meetings. Just as well. She would only spend nights sitting up worrying.

  “Tomorrow, Amunhotep begins collecting taxes from the temples,” my father said, “and we will need a plan if it all goes wrong.”

  I sat forward. “If what goes wrong?”

  “If Horemheb turns on Pharaoh and the priests revolt,” my sister said shortly.

  I felt fear rising in my throat. “But why would that happen?”

  Nefertiti ignored me.

  “If it goes wrong tomorrow,” my father decided, “everyone in this family will meet behind the Temple of Amun. Take chariots from the north of the palace, where the gates are unguarded, and ride them to the docks. If the army turns, they will storm the palace from the south. At the water steps, a ship will be ready to set sail. If Pharaoh has been killed, we will return to Thebes.”

  Nefertiti’s gaze flew to the door, to be sure no one was listening. “And if he hasn’t?” she asked, her voice dropping.

  “Then we all go by ship.”

  “And what if he won’t come?”

  “Then you must leave without him.” My father’s voice was stern. “Because he will be marked and will not live to see the night.”

  I shivered, and even Nefertiti seemed disturbed. “If it goes wrong,” she repeated. “There is no indication that it will.”

  “We still prepare. Let Amunhotep make his rash decisions, but he will not take this family with him.” My father stood, but Nefertiti didn’t move. “You both understand what to do?” He looked at us and we nodded. “I’ll be in the Per Medjat.” He opened the door and disappeared into the Hall of Books.

  Nefertiti looked at me in the glow of the rising sun. “Amunhotep’s reign will be decided tomorrow,” she said. “He has promised Horemheb all manner of things. War with the Hittites. New chariots, greater shields.”

  “Will he give them to him?”

  Nefertiti shrugged. “Once he has collected the taxes, what does it matter?”

  “I would not want to make an enemy of Horemheb.”

  “Yes.” Nefertiti nodded slowly. “And I’m not foolish enough to think we are invincible. But Tuthmosis would never have had the courage to challenge the priests. Had I married Tuthmosis, we would still be in Thebes, waiting for the Elder to die. Amunhotep sees a new Egypt, a greater Egypt.”

  “What is wrong with the Egypt of now?”

  “Look around! If the Hittites threatened our kingdom, who would have the money to send us to war?”

  “The priests. But if a Pharaoh has all the power,” I countered, “who will tell him which wars should be waged? What if he wants to fight a useless war? There will be no priests to stop him.”

  “What war has ever been useless?” my sister asked. “All were for the greatness of Egypt.”

  We met in the Audience Chamber the following day at noon. Kiya was there, her round belly showing beneath her sheath. A servant helped her into a chair opposite mine on the first step below the throne, and I could see she had less than five months to wait before the child’s birth. Her wig was new and she had hennaed her hands and heavy breasts. I noticed Amunhotep staring at them and narrowed my eyes, thinking he should only be looking at my sister.

  Panahesi and my father seated themselves on the second tier, while minor officials sat in a small circle around the Audience Chamber. Maya, the architect, was at the center of court. I hadn’t spoken with him, but I’d heard that he was clever. There was nothing he couldn’t do, my father once said. When the Elder had wanted a lake in the middle of the desert, he’d done it. When he’d wanted statues of himself larger than any that had been carved, Maya had found a way. Now he would build a Temple to Aten, a god no one had heard of, a protector of Egypt only Amunhotep understood.

  “Are you ready?” Amunhotep demanded from his throne.

  Maya shifted the papyrus and reed pen in his hand. “Yes, Your Highness.”

  “You will take down everything,” Amunhotep said, and the architect nodded. “I want the entrance to the temple flanked by a row of ram-headed sphinxes.”

  The architect nodded and wrote it down.

  “There should be an open-air court flanked by lotus columns.”

  “And ponds stocked with fish,” Nefertiti added. My father scowled, but Nefertiti ignored him. “And a garden. With a lake. Like the one you made for Queen Tiye.”

  “Only greater,” Amunhotep pressed, and the builder hesitated.

  “If this temple is going to be near the current Temple of Amun,” Maya paused, “there may be no room for a lake.”

  “Then we will tear down the Temple of Amun to create space!” Amunhotep vowed.

  The court burst into a frenzy of whispering. I looked at my mother, whose face was ashen, and she stole a glance at Nefertiti, who avoided her gaze. How could he tear down the Temple of Amun? Where would the god rest? Where would the people worship?

  Maya cleared his throat. “To tear down the temple could ta
ke years,” he warned.

  “Then the lake can come last. But there will be towering stone pylons and heavy columns. And murals at every entrance.”

  “Depicting our lives in Memphis,” Nefertiti envisioned. “The fan bearers and bodyguards, the viziers and scribes, the sandal bearers, the parasol bearers, the servants who walk the halls, and us.”

  “On every column, the Pharaoh and Queen of Egypt.” Amunhotep reached out for Nefertiti’s hand, forgetting his pregnant wife beneath him, and the two of them were carried away by a vision that only they could see.

  Maya put down the reed pen and looked up at the dais. “Is that all, Your Highness?”

  “For now.” Amunhotep struck his scepter of reign on the floor. “Bring in the general.”

  The doors swept open and General Horemheb was shown into the Audience Chamber. As the architect left and the general entered, I detected a stiffening of backs among Egypt’s viziers. What do they fear from him? I wondered.

  “Has everything been prepared?” Amunhotep demanded.

  “The soldiers are ready,” Horemheb replied. “They wait on your orders.” And expect to be repaid in kind. I could see this addendum on Horemheb’s face, that the soldiers expected war with the Hittites to stop them from encroaching on our foreign territories.

  “Then give them my orders and go.” Horemheb moved toward the doors, but Amunhotep sat forward on his throne, stopping him before he reached the entrance. “You will not disappoint me, General.”

  The entire court craned their necks and Horemheb turned.

  “I never disappoint, Your Highness. I am a man of my word. As I know you shall be.”

  When the heavy metal doors swung shut, Amunhotep stormed from his throne, startling the viziers. “This meeting is over!” The officials in the Audience Chamber hesitated. “Out!” he shouted, and the men scrambled to their feet. “Ay and Panahesi will stay behind.”

  I stood up to go, too, but Nefertiti held her hand in the air for me to stay. The Audience Chamber cleared and I resumed my seat. Kiya, too, remained where she was. Below us, Amunhotep paced.

  “This general cannot be trusted,” he determined. “He isn’t loyal to me.”

  “You haven’t tested him yet,” my father said swiftly.

  “He is loyal only to his men in the army!”

  Panahesi nodded. “I agree, Your Highness,” and with this concurrence Amunhotep made up his mind.

  “I will not send him to war. I will not send him north to fight the Hittites so he can come back with chariots full of weapons and gold that he can use to start a rebellion!”

  “A wise decision,” Panahesi said at once.

  “Panahesi, I am sending you to supervise the temples,” Amunhotep said. “You will go with Horemheb to see that nothing is stolen. Everything the army collects comes back to me. For the glory of Aten.” He turned to my father. “Ay, you shall deal with the foreign ambassadors. Whatever matters come before the throne of Horus will be handled by you. I trust you above all other men.” His black eyes held my father in their grip, and my father bowed respectfully.

  “Of course, Your Highness.”

  On our third night in Memphis, the dinner in the Great Hall was muted. Pharaoh was ill-tempered and suspicious of everyone. No one dared mention General Horemheb’s name, and the viziers whispered quietly among themselves.

  “Have you seen the gardens yet?” my mother asked, reaching down and feeding a morsel of duck to one of the palace cats, making the servants envious. She was the only one who was merry at our table. She had been exploring the markets while Amunhotep was vowing to turn his back on the general as soon as Horemheb had raided the temples of Amun.

  I shook my head. “No. I’ve been unpacking.” I sighed.

  “Then we shall go after dinner,” she said cheerfully.

  When the Great Hall cleared, we passed through the crowded courtyards and wandered into the quiet of the evening. From the topmost steps of the palace leading down into the gardens, I could see the windblown dunes of Memphis. The sand shifted in the waning light and dust billowed up in a shimmering haze. The sun was setting, but it was still warm, and that night the sky above was clear. I reached up and plucked a leaf from a tree. “Myrrh.” I tore the leaf apart and rubbed its juices on my fingers, then held them up for my mother to smell. She craned her neck back.

  “Awful.”

  “Not when you’re in pain.”

  She looked at me in the fading light. “Perhaps you and I should have stayed in Akhmim,” she said suddenly. “You miss your gardens. You were always so talented with herbs.”

  I glanced at her, wondering what would make her say such a thing now. “Ranofer was a good teacher,” I replied.

  “Ranofer has married,” my mother said.

  I looked up sharply. “Who?”

  “A local girl. I’m sure she’s not as beautiful as Nefertiti, but she will be loyal and love him.”

  “Do you think Nefertiti loved him?” I asked.

  We watched as the sky deepened to violet. My mother sighed. “There are many different kinds of love, Mutnodjmet. The kind you have for your parents, the kind you have for children, the kind that’s really lust.”

  “You think Nefertiti was in lust?”

  My mother laughed. “No, she has too much self-control for lust. It’s men who are in lust with her. But I think she loved Ranofer in her own way. He was there, he was attractive, and he followed her.”

  “Like Amunhotep.”

  She gave a little smile. “Yes. But Ranofer always knew Nefertiti was meant for Pharaoh. She is the daughter of a princess.”

  “And now he’s married.”

  “Yes. I guess his heart has mended.”

  We both smiled. I was happy for Ranofer. He had married a local girl. A good wife, probably, who would water his herbs and bring him dinner when he came home from visiting his patients in the village. I wondered if my future husband would know about herbs or care about tending a garden. We walked back to the palace under the stars. My mother came into my chamber, startling Ipu, who executed a hasty bow as she lit the lamps. “Lovely.” My mother ran her fingers over the paintings of Isis and Osiris. An image of my patron goddess was on the wall. “Mut,” she said, staring at the feline head in the candlelight. She looked at my green eyes, then back at the goddess. “I wonder if our names determine our destiny, or if destiny leads us to choose certain names.”

  I had wondered that myself. Had my mother known I would have feline eyes before she’d chosen Mutnodjmet as my name? And could my father’s first wife have known just how beautiful Nefertiti would become when she called her the Beautiful One?

  My mother dropped her hand to her side. “Tomorrow will be a busy day,” she said meaningfully. “The future of Memphis will be decided.”

  By a man that Pharaoh intends to betray. I wondered if she had heard the news from my father. I didn’t say anything, and my mother smiled softly.

  “You should sleep.”

  Like a child, I obeyed and climbed into bed. Then she kissed my forehead, the way she used to in Akhmim.

  In the morning, I was woken by the sun, which filtered into my room through the lowered reed mats. The world around me was strangely silent. I got up and checked the door, but Ipu was gone. I looked into the courtyard, and none of the servants were around. I dressed quickly, thinking that something must have gone wrong. Had Horemheb betrayed us? Had the barges fled? I rushed down the hall. Had they left without me? How could I have slept so late? I quickened my pace, and when I saw a servant in the hall I demanded, “Where is everyone?”

  The servant walked away from me, buried beneath an armful of scrolls. “The Great Hall, my lady.”

  “Why the Great Hall?”

  “Because it wouldn’t all fit in the Audience Chamber!”

  At the Great Hall, two guards parted to let me through, and as I entered into the chamber I gasped. The windows had been thrown open to let in the morning light, but it wasn’t the b
right tiles or gilded tables that I noticed. It was chest upon open chest of treasure: silver scepters and wrought gold that Egypt’s Pharaohs must not have seen for centuries. They were piled haphazardly around the room: ancient statues of Ptah and Osiris, gilded chairs, lacquered barks, and chests filled with bronze and gold. Nefertiti and Amunhotep stood on the dais while the army carried more treasure into the room. My family was standing around surveying the scene.

  “This must be all the gold in Egypt!” I exclaimed, and General Horemheb, who was passing me by, threw a sharp look in my direction. My father separated himself from the crowd of officials and took my arm.

  “It’s gone well.”

  “Is that why you woke me up?” I asked, offended that no one had thought to include me on such a momentous occasion.

  “Your mother gave strict instructions not to wake you unless something went wrong.” He patted my back in a fatherly gesture. “We only have your best interests at heart, little cat. Don’t be angry.” We both looked across the Great Hall and he added warningly, “If there’s to be a fight, it will happen before nightfall. They have not yet gone to the High Priest of Amun.”

  “He doesn’t know they’re coming?”

  “He has been forewarned.”

  I lowered my voice. “So do you think there will be violence?”

  “If the High Priest is foolish enough not to see the turning of the tide.”

  I glanced at him in shock. “Then you agree with this?”

  My father closed his eyes briefly. “You can’t change the desert. You can only take the fastest course through it. Wishing it’s an oasis won’t make it so, Mutnodjmet.”

  Suddenly, the room grew hushed, and I noticed that Horemheb’s men were gone. Nefertiti descended the dais to stand beside my father and me. “The soldiers have left for Amun’s temple,” she said excitedly. We looked over the treasure, gleaming in the sun. There was so much of it that I wondered whether the army hadn’t simply taxed the temples but had stripped whatever they’d found in their treasuries.

  “This can’t only be taxes,” I said aloud. “Look at it all. There’s too much of it.”

 
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