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       Nefertiti, p.20

           Michelle Moran
 

  “What have you done?” my mother exclaimed.

  Nefertiti had shaven off her hair. The beautiful black tresses that had framed her face were gone. “I had to shave it for the crown.”

  My mother placed a hand over her heart. “What kind of crown is it?”

  “The crown that will come to be associated with Egypt,” she said. As she did, I realized that even without her hair, Nefertiti was still beautiful. She was threatening and powerful and stunning. She looked at herself in the mirror as Thutmose came up behind her. He raised the flat-topped crown so all of us could see it, then fit the burden tightly around Nefertiti’s head. No one else could have worn it. It had been designed for her, tall and slender with an asp ready to spit poison into her enemies’ eyes. Nefertiti turned around, and if I had been a peasant in the fields, I would have thought I was staring into the face of a goddess.

  The Audience Chamber was filled to bursting. Scribes, merchants, courtiers, diplomats, viziers, and priests stood elbow to elbow in the magnificent room with its sweeping mosaics and towering windows. The Audience Chamber of Thebes put the chamber in Memphis to shame. There was a gasp of awe as we entered the room. Nefertiti swept up the stairs to her throne and Queen Tiye, on the second step of the dais, was no longer the reigning queen in Egypt. Now she would be Dowager Queen. I heard whispers as I took my place on the third step next to my father, for no one knew what my sister’s crown meant. Was Nefertiti queen? A king-queen? A coregent? To whom should the people address their petitions? The viziers looked from Amunhotep to Nefertiti to my father. We were the most powerful family in Egypt. In the world.

  General Nakhtmin stood in full regalia at the side of Horemheb. They were watching the Nubian guards behind our thrones with critical eyes. I knew what they were thinking: Amunhotep distrusted his army so much he had hired foreign men to protect him. And I knew what even they did not. That now Amunhotep would announce the building of a new capital city called Amarna. There would be no war with the Hittites as they encroached on our territories. Instead, the army would build cities for Aten.

  Panahesi stood from his chair and announced, “The Pharaoh of Egypt has declared that Aten shall be praised above all other gods in Egypt!”

  There was an angry murmur among the priests.

  Panahesi raised his voice to speak over them. “Aten shall have temples in every city, and the priests of Amun shall bow down before him or they shall be taken from Thebes and sent to the quarries.”

  There was a cry of outrage.

  “The quarries,” Panahesi continued, “of Wadi Hammamat.”

  The murmur rose and Amunhotep stood from his throne. “From this day forth,” his voice echoed across the chamber, “I shall be known as Pharaoh Akhenaten. Beloved of Aten. And Thebes shall not be where Aten’s Pharaoh reigns. I will build Aten a bigger city, a greater city, and this city shall be called Amarna.”

  Now chaos erupted in the Audience Chamber: shock that Amunhotep would change his name, and that a new capital would be built to replace the greatest city in the East. Akhenaten looked to Panahesi, who demanded silence. But the crowd had grown violent. The priests were shouting, the viziers were trying to calm the priests, and the merchants who had supplied the temples of Amun with costly herbs and gold were making deals with the new priests of Aten. I looked at my mother, whose face had gone white beneath her wig.

  “Guards!” the newly proclaimed Akhenaten shouted. “Guards!”

  Two dozen armed Nubians swept into the crowd. Akhenaten stood and took Nefertiti’s hand in his. He turned to the generals of the army and shouted above the noise, “You will empty every temple and turn the statues of Amun, Isis, and Hathor to gold. You will give the priests and priestesses one chance to turn to Aten.” Akhenaten looked at Nefertiti and she nodded. “If they refuse, chain them and send them to Hammamat.”

  At the word chain, the room fell silent. Guards stood poised at every window and entrance in case further trouble should erupt, only now the people in the chamber understood. Akhenaten didn’t want to elevate Aten over Amun: he wanted to tear down every statue of the gods and goddess who had protected Egypt for two thousand years.

  A vizier stood from his seat below the Horus throne. “But the Amun priests are nobility. They are the foundation upon which Egypt rests!” he cried.

  There was a murmur of consent in the room.

  “The Amun priests,” Akhenaten said slowly, “will be given one chance. They may become priests of Aten or they may give up their lives for a god who no longer rules in Egypt. Is Pharaoh not the mouthpiece of the gods?”

  The old man stared at him, at a loss for words.

  “Is Pharaoh not the mouthpiece of the gods?” Akhenaten repeated, shouting.

  The old man fell to one knee. “Of course, Your Highness.”

  “Then who knows better the will of the gods, them or me? We shall build Aten a city that shall be greater than any city that has come before it.”

  Queen Tiye shut her eyes and General Horemheb stood forward.

  “The Hittites have taken control of Qatna and the governor of Kadesh has requested three times that we come to his aid. His letters have not been answered by anyone but Vizier Ay, who can do nothing without Pharaoh’s consent.” He glared up at Akhenaten. “If we fail to send men this time, Your Highness, we will lose the territory the Elder won with the lives of three thousand Egyptian soldiers.”

  The blood rushed to Akhenaten’s face. He scanned the room to see who agreed. “You say you wish to fight the Hittites?” he asked.

  General Horemheb heard the threat in Pharaoh’s voice. “My wish is to protect Egypt from invasion and to save the territories that my father and I fought so hard to procure.”

  “Who here agrees with the general?” Akhenaten shouted.

  No one moved in the Audience Chamber.

  “Who?” he bellowed.

  Five charioteers stepped out of rank and looked around them. Akhenaten smiled widely. “Very well. Here is your army, General.” The Audience Chamber shifted, not sure what game Akhenaten was playing. Pharaoh turned to my father. “Send them to the front lines of Kadesh, for this is the army that will save Egypt from the Hittites! Who else would like to join this war?” he asked menacingly.

  I held my breath, wondering if Nakhtmin would volunteer.

  Akhenaten grinned. “Five warriors then. Let’s all rise for the heroes who will defend Kadesh from the invading Hittites.” He began to clap in mock approbation, and when no one clapped with him, he clapped louder. The Audience Chamber erupted with nervous applause. “Your heroes!” Akhenaten turned to his Nubian guards. “Take them away. Take them all the way to the fronts of Kadesh!”

  The courtiers who filled the chamber watched in stunned silence as General Horemheb and his five men were led away. No one moved. I don’t think anyone even dared to breathe.

  Panahesi straightened his cloak. “Pharaoh will now receive petitions.”

  Panahesi marched in to the holiest of holies with his army of Nubians and the great temples of Thebes were stripped of their statues. Images of Isis were shattered or burned. Hathor was toppled from her place above the river and Amun was defaced. People cowered in their homes and the priestesses of Isis wept in the streets. Akhenaten’s new army of Nubian guards ripped the robes from the chests of Amun priests and new robes were issued adorned with the sun. Those who refused them were sent to certain death.

  And before the Elder was even cold in his tomb, Akhenaten and Nefertiti knelt before the altar that had once been Amun’s, and Panahesi anointed them Pharaoh and Queen of all Egypt. I sat in the first row in lapis and gold, and while choirs of boys raised their sweet voices to the sun, all across Thebes Pharaoh’s army defaced images of our greatest gods.

  That night, Nefertiti called a meeting. We sat in a circle around my bed, keeping our voices low. I had a new room in Thebes. Princess Meritaten had my old room next to Pharaoh. I let my father into my chamber, expecting him to be outraged, but a deadly
calm had settled over him.

  “Say something,” Nefertiti commanded.

  “What is it that you want me to say?” my father asked quietly. “You called this meeting.”

  “Because I wanted your advice.”

  “What do you need my advice for? You don’t take it.”

  “What am I supposed to do?” she demanded.

  “Save Amun!” he lashed out. His eyes were blazing in the firelight. “Save something. What will be left of Egypt when he is through with it?”

  “You think I don’t know this?” Her voice broke a little. “He is building a city and he wants it in the desert.”

  “In the desert?”

  “Between Memphis and Thebes.”

  “No one can build there. It’s desolation—”

  “That’s what I told him! But Panahesi has convinced him it is Aten’s will.” Her voice rose hysterically. “You gave him the job of High Priest of Aten and now Akhenaten thinks that Panahesi is the mouthpiece of the god.”

  “Better the mouthpiece of the god than treasurer. In the end, it will not be Akhenaten who decides the next Pharaoh of Egypt. If death should strike your husband, it will be the people and their advisers who choose. Panahesi may control the temple, but I control its gold, and gold will win more hearts than a god no one can see.”

  “But Akhenaten wants to choose the site by the end of Aythyr. And he wants to take Kiya!”

  My father glanced at her. So here was the real crisis. Not that the city would be in the midst of desert, but that Akhenaten would take Kiya to help choose where it should be.

  Nefertiti’s panic rose. “What will I do?”

  “Let him.”

  “Let Akhenaten take Kiya to choose our site?”

  “There is nothing you can do.”

  “I am Queen of Egypt,” she reminded.

  “Yes, and one of two hundred other women that Akhenaten inherited from his father’s harem.”

  “Akhenaten will have nothing to do with them. They were his father’s women.”

  “So anything his father ever touched is tainted now? Including this city?”

  Nefertiti sat silent.

  “How will he find workers to build Amarna?” he asked her.

  “The army.”

  “And how will we defend our foreign territories when they are invaded by Hittites?”

  “Hittites! Hittites! Who cares about the Hittites? Let them take Rhodes or Lakisa or Babylon. What do we want with them?”

  “Goods,” I interrupted, and everyone looked at me. “We get pottery from Rhodes, caravans of gold from Nubia, and every year a thousand baskets of glass arrive on Babylonian ships.”

  Nefertiti narrowed her eyes. “How do you know?”

  “I listen.”

  She stood up and directed her words at our father. “Send messages in Akhenaten’s name and threaten the Hittites with war.”

  “And if they still invade our territories?” he asked.

  “Then we’ll tax the temples and send them the gold to raise an army!” she retorted. “Akhenaten has already sworn that our army will build the city of Amarna. He thinks it will write our name in eternity. There’s nothing I can do to stop it.”

  “And you?” my father asked shrewdly. “Do you think it will write your name in eternity?”

  She paused over the brazier, the rage gone from her face. “It could.”

  “Has Akhenaten met with Maya?” my father asked.

  “Maya said it will take six years. They will build a main road and the palace first. Akhenaten wants to move by Tybi.”

  “So soon?” my father demanded.

  “Yes. We’ll set up tents so we can watch the progress and be there for every phase.”

  We both stared at her. “You?” I asked, brutally frank. “You, who like all the comforts of the palace?”

  “And what about the old?” my father asked her. “What will they do when it begins to grow cold during Inundation?”

  “Then they can stay behind and come when the palace is finished.”

  “Good. And so shall I.”

  Nefertiti stared. “You have to come. You’re treasurer.”

  “And will there be a treasury? A secure-enough holding to keep safe all that gold?”

  Nefertiti bridled. “Akhenaten won’t like your staying behind at the treasury,” she warned. “And not just you, but his mother.”

  My father stood up. “Then he’ll simply have to learn to accept it,” he said and stormed from the chamber.

  Chapter Sixteen

  Peret, Season of Growing

  THE ROYAL BARGES were readied for the journey south. Panahesi and Kiya were given their own boat, the Dazzling Aten, in which to sail. I stood on the quay and asked my sister how Akhenaten would know the right spot for the building.

  “Obviously, it will be near the Nile,” she snapped. “Between Memphis and Thebes on land upon which no other Pharaoh has built.”

  She was angry with me because I’d refused to go, and my father hadn’t made me.

  As the barges set sail, the king’s pennants with images of Aten whipped back and forth in the wind. Hundreds of soldiers and workers were going. They’d be left in the desert to begin building Amarna. I waved at Nefertiti from the quay and she stared back, refusing to raise her hand to me. When the barges slipped over the horizon, I went into the gardens, wondering about seeds. Gardens for the new city would have to be started…

  A palace worker watched me from the shade beneath a sycamore. “May I help you, my lady?” The old man came over, his kilt stained with soil. His nails were full of earth. A true gardener. “You are the Sister of the King’s Chief Wife,” he said. “The one the women go to for remedies.”

  I glanced at in him surprise. “How did you—”

  “I have seen the herbs you grow in pots,” he admitted. “They are all medicinal.”

  I nodded. “Yes. Once in a while women come to me for help.”

  He smiled, as if he knew that it was more than once in a while; that sometimes different women came six and seven times a day for the plants that Ipu procured for me in the markets. My pots weren’t big enough to fit all the herbs I would’ve like to have planted, but she found the rest among the busy vendors on the quay. I looked across the royal gardens and sighed. There would be no green in the wide stretch of desert between Thebes and Memphis. And who knew how long it would be before markets sprang up that would sell raspberry leaf or acacia? I looked down at the goldenrods and moringa. In Amarna, there would be only weeds and tamarisk plants for company. “May I take some cuttings with me when I go?”

  “To the new city of Amarna, my lady?”

  I stood back, to get a better look at this servant. “You hear a lot in these gardens.”

  The old man shrugged. “The general likes to walk here at times and we talk together.”

  “General Nakhtmin?” I asked quickly.

  “Yes. He comes from the barracks, my lady.” He turned his eyes south, and I followed his gaze to a row of squat buildings. “He likes to sit here beneath the acacias.”

  “Why? What does he do?”

  “Sometimes I think he is looking.” The old servant fixed his sharp eyes on mine, as if he knew something he wasn’t saying. “But not so much lately. The general has been very busy lately.”

  Busy shutting down the temples of Amun, I thought, and wondered if that’s what the gardener meant. I studied his face, but a lifetime of practice had made it unreadable. “What is your name?” I asked the old man.

  “Ahmose.”

  “And do you know where the general is now?”

  Ahmose smiled widely at me. “I believe the general is with his soldiers, my lady. They are standing outside the palace leading in the petitioners.”

  “But Pharaoh is gone.”

  “The petitioners are seeing the great vizier Ay. Would my lady like me to take her to see them?”

  I thought for a moment, imagining Nefertiti’s response if she knew I
d been to see the general. “Yes, take me to see them.”

  “And the cuttings?” he asked.

  “You can leave them with Ipu, my body servant.”

  The gardener put down his tools and led the way to the gates of Malkata. We approached a large arch at the end of the garden, and when we emerged it looked like the bird market back in Akhmim. Every variety of petitioner had come to ask a favor of the new Pharaoh. There were women with children, old men on donkeys, a boy playing grab-me with his sister, weaving in and out of the sun-wearied crowds.

  I stood back in surprise. “Is it always like this?”

  The gardener patted the dirt off his kilt. “More often than not. Of course,” he added, “there are more petitioners now that the Elder has passed.” We crossed the busy courtyard and saw that there were people as far as the eye could see, including wealthy women with gold bracelets that made music on their arms and poor women in simple rags who muttered unkindly at children as they scampered around them. Ahmose led us to a shady corner beneath the palace roof where the misbehaving sons of noblewomen were wrestling each other into the dirt. They paid no heed to us. One boy rolled over my sandal, smearing it with dust.

  Ahmose cried out, “Your dress, my lady!”

  I laughed. “I don’t mind.”

  The gardener stared, but I wasn’t Nefertiti. I shook off the dirt and studied the courtyard. “Why are the wealthy in one line and the poor in another?”

  “The poor want simple things,” Ahmose explained. “A new well, a better dam. But the wealthy are asking to keep their positions at court.”

  “Unfortunately, Pharaoh will still dismiss most of them,” someone said in my ear.

  I turned, and the general was standing behind me. “And why would he dismiss them?” I asked earnestly.

  “Because all of these men once worked for his father.”

  “And he can’t abide anything that was once his father’s,” I reasoned. “Not even his father’s capital.”

  “Amarna.” Nakhtmin watched me intently. “The viziers say he wants the new palace built within the year.”

 
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