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       Nefertiti, p.14

           Michelle Moran
“But Thebes—”

  “Is just a city. Imagine if Amunhotep could build an even bigger capital.” Her eyes widened. “He would be the greatest builder in the history of Egypt. We could inscribe our names on every doorpost. Every temple, every shrine, every library, even the art would be testaments to our lives. Yours, too.” Her black hair shone in the firelight. “You could have your own building, immortalize your name, and the gods would never forget you.”

  I heard Nakhtmin’s voice in my mind, that to be forgotten was the greatest gift that history could give. But that couldn’t be true. How would the gods know what you had done? We both sat in silence, thinking. The fire in the depths of Nefertiti’s eyes faded and her expression became haunted.

  “We’re so different, you and I. It must be because I am more like my mother, and you are more like yours.”

  I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t like it when she spoke about our different pasts.

  “I wonder what my mother was like. Imagine, Mutny, I have nothing left of her. No image, no cloth, not even a scroll. Just a handful of rings.”

  “She was a Mitanni princess. In her homeland, she must be painted on her father’s tomb.”

  “Even so, I have no image of her in Egypt.” Her gaze grew determined. “I will never let that happen to me. I will carve my image in every corner of this land. I want my children to remember me until the sands disappear from Egypt and the pyramids crumble to the earth.”

  I stared at my sister in the firelight and felt a deep sorrow. I had never known this about her before.

  The bulk of Amun’s treasures had been secured in heavily bound chests, then stacked carelessly against the walls of the Audience Chamber. There were still golden sandals, leopard pelts, and crowns with gems the size of my fist piled in corners and strewn across tables. Where would it all go? It couldn’t be kept safely in this public chamber, not even with three dozen guards watching over it.

  “We should fetch Maya,” Nefertiti suggested, “to design a treasury.”

  Amunhotep warmed to the idea at once. “The queen is right. I want a treasury built to withstand the sieges of time. Panahesi, find Maya.”

  Panahesi rose quickly. “Of course, Your Highness. And if Pharaoh desires, I would be happy to oversee the construction.”

  My father shot Nefertiti a swift glance and my sister said lightly, “There will be plenty of time for that, Vizier.” She looked at Amunhotep. “First, we will find a sculptor to place your image at every corner. Amunhotep the Builder, guarding the wealth and treasures of Egypt.”

  Panahesi glowered. “Your Highness—”

  But Amunhotep was carried away with the vision. “He can sculpt you as well. We’ll be Egypt’s mightiest rulers overlooking its greatest treasury.”

  Panahesi turned white at the thought of Nefertiti’s image in the treasury of Egypt.

  “Shall we see that a sculptor is summoned?” my father asked.

  “Yes,” Amunhotep commanded. “Do so at once.”

  Chapter Eleven

  1350 BCE

  Akhet, Season of Overflow

  THE TREASURY TOOK precedence even over the Temple of Aten.

  By the beginning of Thoth, a majestic two-story pavilion reared up in granite splendor next to the palace. The dust had not settled across the courtyard before Maya pushed open the heavy metal doors and we all stood in awe of what the architect had accomplished in so little time. From all four corners of the treasury, Amunhotep and Nefertiti stared down at us, larger than life, larger than the Elder’s most magnificent statues in Thebes.

  “Who created these?” I gaped, and Maya grinned at me.

  “A sculptor named Thutmose.”

  It was magnificent. The statues were so tall, so breathtaking, it was as if we were saplings in a forest of sycamores. The group of viziers and courtiers behind us went quiet. Even Panahesi had nothing to say. Nefertiti walked up to one of the statues; her head reached as high as its foot. Her likeness was uncanny: the thin nose, the small mouth, and the wide black eyes under highly arched brows. She ran her hand down the sandstone skirt and mouthed to me, “I wish Kiya was here.”

  Amunhotep announced grandly, “Now we shall begin construction on the Temple of Aten.”

  My father stared as if this wasn’t to be believed, but Maya looked unsurprised.

  “Certainly, Your Highness.”

  “And Vizier Panahesi will oversee the building.”

  There was another meeting in my chamber. With the treasury built, the risk could not be run of letting Panahesi be placed in charge of its gold. Construction on the Temple of Aten would begin in Thoth, but once Panahesi’s job overseeing the work was done, he would make a bid to be treasurer again.

  “You will have to do something to stop it,” my father said simply.

  “We can give him a different job. Something that takes him out of the palace again. What about ambassador? He could travel to Mitanni—”

  My father shook his head dismissively. “He will never agree.”

  “Who cares what he will agree to?” Nefertiti hissed.

  My father hesitated. “We could make him the High Priest of Aten,” he thought aloud.

  Nefertiti recoiled. “Of my temple?” she cried.

  “Would you rather him be treasurer,” my father countered, “in charge of Egypt’s wealth with a possible prince waiting to be delivered? No, we will make him High Priest of Aten,” he decided, standing swiftly. “Nefertiti, you’ve had a dream. You’ve had a dream in which you saw Panahesi as the High Priest of Aten.”

  Nefertiti saw at once what he was doing. “He was dressed in leopard’s robes. There was a golden light surrounding him. It must have been a sign.”

  My father smiled and she laughed. They were a perfect pair of hyenas.

  That afternoon, Nefertiti waited until the Audience Chamber was filled to announce to the court that she’d had a dream. “A vivid dream,” she called it, and Panahesi looked sharply up at the dais. My sister continued. “A dream so realistic that when I awoke, I thought it had truly happened.”

  Amunhotep sat forward on his throne, intrigued. “Shall we call for a priest? Was it to do with me?”

  Below the dais, Kiya and her ladies gathered closer together, whispering.

  Nefertiti played coy. “It was to do with all of Egypt,” she explained.

  “Send for a priest!” Amunhotep cried, and my father was at the door before Panahesi could even stand.

  “Any particular priest, Your Majesty?”

  Amunhotep’s lip curled. Until the Temple of Aten could be built, he must find his priests in the Temple of Amun. “An Interpreter of Dreams.”

  When my father disappeared, Panahesi glowered, sensing something in the air. “Your Highness,” he offered, “wouldn’t it be wise to hear the dream first?”

  Nefertiti laughed easily. “Why, Vizier? Are you afraid I might dream something that would embarrass the king?” She swept her long lashes in Amunhotep’s direction and he smiled.

  “I trust my wife in all things, Vizier. Even her dreams.”

  But Kiya, with her growing belly, would not be outdone by Nefertiti. “Perhaps His Highness would like music while he waits?” If Nefertiti could please Pharaoh with a dream, she would please him with music. She waved a bangled wrist in the direction of the musicians who followed the court wherever it went, and they struck up a song. There was no mention of the petitioners who lined up outside the palace or of the viziers who wanted to know what should be done with Horemheb or the Hittites who were encroaching on Egypt’s territories. Nefertiti’s dream had taken precedence. Nefertiti’s dream and Kiya’s music. The only time nothing gets done, I thought, is when Pharaoh decides to reign within his Audience Chamber.

  Amunhotep sat on his throne as the harpists played, then the doors to the Audience Chamber swung open and my father returned. Behind him, a robed priest of Amun swept across the tiles. My father announced, “The Interpreter of Dreams.”

  The old man bowed. “
I am the priest Menkheperre.”

  Nefertiti spoke. “I’ve had a dream, Seer, that we want you to interpret.”

  “Please repeat it, Your Majesty, along with any details that you can remember.”

  Nefertiti stood. “I dreamed of leopard’s robes beneath the sun,” she said. I looked nervously at Panahesi, who met my eyes and knew immediately from my glance that some pot was being stirred.

  “You have dreamed of the High Priest of Aten,” Menkheperre announced solemnly, and there were whisperings all around the chamber.

  “I also dreamed that a vizier was picking up these robes, and that as he put them on the sun shone brighter. So bright that the rays were almost blinding.”

  Everyone in the court sat transfixed and Menkheperre cried triumphantly, “A sign! Definitely a sign!”

  Amunhotep stood from his throne. “Is the man from your dream standing here now?”

  We all followed Nefertiti’s gaze as it fell on Panahesi, then we all looked back at the priest.

  Menkheperre spread his hands, and I wondered how much of my father’s gold might be found beneath his robes as he pronounced, “The meaning is obvious, Your Highness. Aten has chosen.”

  “No!” Panahesi stumbled from his chair. “Your Majesty, this was only a dream. Nothing more than a dream!”

  Amunhotep stepped down from the dais, placing his hands lovingly on Panahesi’s shoulders. “Aten has chosen.”

  Panahesi looked at me and then at my father, whose face was a perfect mask.

  “Congratulations, Your Holiness,” my father replied with an irony that only Panahesi understood. “The god has chosen.”

  Once we were outside the Audience Chamber, Kiya gloated to me. “My father is High Priest of Aten,” she said, not seeing my family’s hand in it. “With a prince in the making, now there will be no seat of Egypt my family won’t fill. And the High Priest of Aten collects the tithes,” she added. “Your sister has just helped us up the dais toward the throne.”

  “No, she has just pushed you down,” I replied. “Your father may collect the taxes,” I said, “but it is my father who will count them.”

  Kiya stared at me blankly.

  “Before this meeting, Vizier Ay was named treasurer.”

  Chapter Twelve

  seventh of Thoth

  WE STOOD ON the top of a barren hill overlooking the Nile as it coursed through Memphis. A warm wind tore at our sheaths, snapping our short cloaks in the air.

  “The temple will be two stories high and two hills across.” Maya pointed across the sunstruck dunes. Their crests vaulted one after another, cones of white sand shimmering in the heat.

  “Where will the materials come from?” Nefertiti asked.

  “The men will use the rocks from the Eastern Quarry.”

  Amunhotep was impatient. “How long will it take?”

  The wind picked up, drowning out the builder’s words. Panahesi and my father moved closer.

  “Six seasons, if the men can work daily.”

  Amunhotep’s face darkened. “In six seasons, I could be assassinated!” he shouted. Since he had executed the High Priest of Amun, this was his fear. Everywhere he went, hired guards from Nubia accompanied him. They stood outside his door while he slept and hovered like ravens behind his chair while he ate. They were here now, clustered at the bottom of the hill, their spears ready to dispense with any enemy of the king. In the halls of the palace, Nefertiti had whispered to me that Amunhotep was afraid that the people didn’t love him. “Why?” I’d asked her, and her look plainly answered. It was because of what had happened to the High Priest of Amun. Now Amunhotep could feel the people’s anger in the streets, and none of his viziers were courageous enough to tell him this was true. But our father had warned Nefertiti. “How can you know?” she’d railed in my chamber, and he had produced a drawing found in the marketplace; it had the body of a serpent and the head of the king swallowing up a statue of the great god Amun.

  Now Amunhotep paced on the top of the hill and his voice brooked no argument. “Six seasons is not acceptable!” he raged.

  “What would you have me do, Your Majesty? There are only so many workers skilled enough to build a temple—”

  Amunhotep set his jaw. “Then we shall use the army.”

  Nefertiti stepped forward, and her voice grew excited. “If soldiers helped build the temple, how soon could it be done?”

  Maya frowned. “How many soldiers do we speak of, Your Highness?”

  “Three thousand,” Amunhotep replied immediately, not thinking about the war he had promised Horemheb or the borders of Egypt that would have to be defended.

  “Three thousand?” Maya tried to hide his surprise. “It might take…” He paused a moment to calculate. “With so many men, it might only take three seasons.”

  Amunhotep nodded decisively. “Then every soldier who has come to Memphis will be employed tonight.”

  “What of Egypt’s borders?” my father asked firmly. “They will need to be defended. The palace will still need to be guarded. Take a thousand,” he said, though I knew the suggestion pained him. He passed a warning glance to my sister, who nodded.

  “Yes. One thousand. We don’t want Egypt’s borders to go defenseless.”

  Amunhotep submitted, then looked to Maya. “But you will inform the men tonight.”

  “And Horemheb?” my father warned. “He will not be pleased.”

  “Then let him not be pleased!” Amunhotep snapped.

  My father shook his head. “He could turn the army against you.”

  Panahesi was immediately at Amunhotep’s side. “Pay the army more than they could ever take in booty from the Hittites,” he suggested. “Placate them. There is more than enough money from the taxation.”

  “Good. Good.” Amunhotep grinned. “The men will not leave me after what I’ll pay.”

  “And the general?” my father asked again.

  Amunhotep narrowed his eyes. “What general?”

  The next day, the Audience Chamber was crowded with petitioners waiting to see Pharaoh. The building of the greatest temple ever raised had already begun and messengers arrived bearing scrolls from the construction site. While Kiya waddled through the palace halls, heaving herself from chair to chair like a heifer—as Nefertiti described it—servants came and went with details and measurements from the builder Maya. Then the doors to the Audience Chamber burst open and Amunhotep tensed. The guards closed around him and Horemheb laughed.

  “I fought against the Nubians when I was nothing more than a boy,” he sneered. “You think fifteen guards can stop me?” He advanced on the throne. “You swore to me that there would be war. I gave you the temples of Amun!”

  Amunhotep smiled. “And I am very grateful.”

  If I were king, I wouldn’t taunt this general, I thought.

  At the base of the dais, Horemheb stiffened. “How long do you plan on using the soldiers of Egypt as workers?”

  “Three seasons,” Nefertiti replied from her throne.

  Horemheb’s gaze slid from Amunhotep to my sister. I shuddered, but she didn’t shrink from his glare.

  “Egypt must have its borders fully defended. That means every soldier,” Horemheb cautioned. “The Hittites—”

  “I don’t care about Hittites!” Amunhotep walked down the dais to stand in front of Horemheb, knowing that in a room full of guards he was safe.

  Horemheb inhaled, the leather of his pectoral straining against his chest. “You have lied to me.”

  “I gave your soldiers better, less-dangerous jobs.”

  “To build a temple to Aten? You defile Amun!”

  “No.” Amunhotep smiled dangerously. “You defiled Amun.”

  Horemheb’s rage brought out the veins in his arms and neck. “We will be attacked,” he warned. “The Hittites will come for Egypt, and when your men are better builders than soldiers you will be sorry.”

  Amunhotep moved closer to Horemheb so that only I, sitting on the low
est tier of the dais, could hear what passed between them. “The men follow you the way they followed my brother. I don’t know why. But you will follow Aten. You will serve him, you will serve Pharaoh, or you will be stripped of your position and find yourself without a friend in Egypt. Horemheb the Friendless, they will call you. And anyone caught associating with you will be killed.” He straightened. “Do you understand?”

  Horemheb said nothing.

  “Do you understand?” Amunhotep shouted, and his voice rang in my ears.

  Horemheb clenched his jaw. “I understand you well, Your Majesty.”

  “Then go.”

  We watched the general leave the chamber, and I thought, It is a very foolish thing he’s done today.

  Amunhotep surveyed the chaotic scene in the Audience Chamber and declared, “I’m finished!” He looked sharply at the group of viziers clustered at the bottom of the dais. “Where is Panahesi?” he demanded.

  “At the site of the new temple,” my father said, hiding his pleasure.

  “Good.” Amunhotep turned to my sister and smiled indulgently. “Come. Let’s walk in the gardens. Your father can deal with all of this.” He waved a bangled arm to indicate the long line of petitioners outside the chamber.

  Nefertiti looked at me, and it went without saying that I would be going, too.

  We walked through the courtyard to the wide sycamore trees whose figs were ready to be harvested. “Did you know that Mutny can pick out any herb in the garden and name it?” Nefertiti asked.

  Amunhotep regarded me suspiciously. “Are you a healer?”

  “I learned a bit in Akhmim, Your Majesty.”

  Nefertiti laughed. “More than a bit. She’s a little physician. Remember the boat?” Amunhotep stiffened, and I wondered why Nefertiti was reminding him about such a thing. “When I have a child, she will be one of my healers,” Nefertiti said, and there was something in her voice that made the Pharaoh and me both turn.

  “Are you with child?” Amunhotep whispered.

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