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       Nefertiti, p.37

           Michelle Moran
 
“Yes!” Nefertiti stood, watering the seed our father had planted. “Was there bloodshed?”

  The entire court looked to the priests and the younger one replied, “No, Your Highness. No bloodshed. No betrayal. Only great golden light.”

  Akhenaten glanced at the older priest for confirmation.

  “Yes.” The old man was swift to agree. “Nothing of violence.”

  Panahesi bowed deeply. “Your Highness, I can bring Prince Nebnefer now. You can test his loyalty.”

  “No!” Akhenaten looked at his princesses, arranged on their little thrones. “Come here, Meritaten.”

  Meritaten stood and went to her father’s knee. The court watched with expectation.

  “You will always be loyal to your father, won’t you?”

  Meritaten nodded.

  “And do you teach your sisters to be loyal to their father?” he demanded.

  Meritaten nodded again, and Akhenaten smiled the way a doting father might. “Does the court hear this?” he asked forcefully. He stood, displacing Meritaten. “The Princesses of Egypt are loyal,” he swore. “None of my daughters would ever reach for my crown.”

  Kiya looked to Panahesi with desperation.

  Panahesi started to say, “Your Highness, Prince Nebnefer would never—”

  “Very well,” Nefertiti announced, cutting off the vizier’s plea. “We have heard Aten’s vision and need nothing more.” She dismissed the priests with her hand, and the court rose with her to adjourn itself.

  Kiya moved briskly to Akhenaten’s side. “All the priests saw was a simple vision,” she said quickly. “A glow and the crown on Nebnefer’s head. I have taught our son to be loyal. The way I am to you and to Aten.”

  Akhenaten’s look was unforgiving. “Of course you are loyal. To be anything else would be foolish.”

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  AMARNA

  ninth of Pachons

  DESPITE OUR FATHER’S triumph over Panahesi, by the Season of Harvest Kiya was pregnant. Even after the disaster in the Audience Chamber, Panahesi swept through the halls barking orders as if he could already feel the heavy crown of Egypt in his hands.

  One son might be ignored, but a nation could not ignore two princes, two heirs to the throne. If Kiya could do it, the ascension would be final.

  Akhenaten found Merit in the Great Hall and instructed her to give Nefertiti the news. He was too much of a coward to do it himself. “Be sure to tell her that no child will ever take Meritaten’s place in my affection. She is our golden child, our child of Aten.”

  I watched him as he led his girls away. His adoring princesses. The daughters he believed would never turn on him the way a son might, the way he had turned on his brother and father. He doesn’t understand girls if he thinks they can’t be cunning, I thought.

  Merit looked at me with rising desperation. “How should I tell her?”

  We reached the doors of the Audience Chamber. “Just tell her. She predicted it herself; it shouldn’t be a surprise.”

  Inside, Nakhtmin was playing Senet with my mother. On the dais, my father’s head was bent close to Nefertiti’s; for once, my sister wasn’t surrounded by ladies. They had all gone to see Akhenaten ride.

  “You’re not outside?” I asked her.

  “I don’t have time for the Arena,” she snapped. “He can go riding around whenever he chooses, but I have to oversee plans for the walls. If there is an invasion, we’ll have no defense against the Hittites, but Akhenaten isn’t interested—” She interrupted herself, staring sharply between me and Merit. “What do you want?”

  I nodded to Merit, and my father lowered the architectural plans to his lap.

  “Your Highness,” Merit began, “I have news that is not going to make you happy.” She added as quickly as possible to get it over with, “There is word that Kiya is pregnant.”

  Nefertiti remained very still. When the silence stretched on, Merit continued uncertainly. “It is only Kiya’s second child, Your Highness. You have six princesses, and Akhenaten wished me to tell you—”

  Nefertiti sent scrolls rolling across the tiles as she stood. “My husband sent you to tell me?” she shrieked.

  My father rose quickly to be at her side. “We must move now,” he suggested. “Make him show all of Egypt that Meritaten is the one he intends to have reign over Nebnefer.”

  Something unspoken passed between them and I asked, “But how?” No one answered my question. “How can you do that?”

  There was a strange glint in Nefertiti’s eyes. “In the only way that’s never been done,” she said.

  Akhenaten declared a Durbar in Nefertiti’s honor. It was a festival to celebrate their reign together, and the change from jealous wife to victorious queen was immediate. Nefertiti said nothing more about Kiya, and Nakhtmin wondered how deep Amarna’s coffers would be drained to create the largest Durbar in history.

  “Mutny, come,” my sister called brightly to me. I entered her Robing Room with its dozens of chests packed with bright linen. There were bronze-handled razors strewn about, and pots of kohl carelessly tipped over. “Which wig should I wear?” She was surrounded by hairpieces.

  “The one that cost least,” I said immediately.

  She continued to wait for an answer that pleased her.

  “The short one,” I replied.

  She swept the other wigs into a pile for Merit to clean up later. “Father has sent invitations to every king in the East,” she boasted. “When the princes of the greatest nations in the world are assembled here, an announcement will be made that will write our family’s name in eternity.”

  I glanced sideways at her. “What do you mean?”

  Nefertiti looked out over her city. “It’s a surprise.”

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Peret, Season of Growing

  IT TOOK UNTIL Tybi to prepare for the coming of a dozen nations, princes and courtiers, minor queens with their traveling entourages, and thousands of nobles from Mitanni and Rhodes. The soldiers worked from dawn till dusk to swathe the Arena in gold cloth and to finish the images of Aten on every shrine. There were seven nights of festivals to plan, rooms to prepare for a thousand dignitaries, and wine to procure. The palace did not sit still for an entire month, and while everyone believed that the first Durbar in twenty years was a celebration of Nefertiti and Akhenaten’s rule, only our family knew better.

  My father stood in Nefertiti’s doorway, watching her choose between sandals. “Is it true?” he demanded.

  I had heard the rumor, too, that Akhenaten had drawn up a letter on his own, sending it to King Suppiluliumas of the Hittites and inviting our enemy to see the glory of Amarna.

  My father stepped inside. “Is it true that your husband is welcoming Hittites? Hittites,” he hissed, “in the midst of this city?”

  Nefertiti drew herself up to her fullest height. “Yes,” she declared. “Let them see what we have built.”

  “And shall we let them bring in plague?” my father shouted. “Black Death,” he spelled out for her. “Shall we let that happen, too?” He thrust before her face the scrolls that he’d been carrying. She unrolled them fiercely, scanning their contents. “Plague throughout the north,” he told her.

  “Akhenaten already knows this.” She pushed them away.

  “Then the more fool he!”

  They glared at one another.

  “You know what I am about to do,” Nefertiti said.

  “Yes. You are about to bring death into this city.”

  “Everyone must see what is about to happen. They must all understand. Every kingdom in the East!”

  I could see what my father wanted to say. That pride, the pride of the whole royal family, would be our undoing. Instead he replied, “Then invite the king of Nubia, but do not risk the Hittites. Do not risk bringing plague into this city.”

  “When was the last time there was plague in Egypt?”

  “When the Elder was Pharaoh. When soldiers brought it home from the nor
th,” he said forebodingly.

  My sister faltered. “Well, there will be no convincing Akhenaten to change his mind.”

  My father stared at her. “You have never seen the Black Death,” he warned. “How a person’s limbs turn black, how swelling begins under the skin to become huge black balls.” My sister recoiled and my father drew closer. “We don’t know what they’re carrying in the north. Some sicknesses can take days to appear. They have to be stopped!”

  “It’s too late.”

  “It’s never too late!” he declared, and Nefertiti shouted back.

  “He won’t change his mind! The Hittites will come, and they will disappear when the Durbar is over.”

  “Leaving what behind?”

  Nefertiti grinned smugly. “Their gold.”

  My father went to Akhenaten, but there was no changing his mind, just as Nefertiti had said. “Why would Aten allow plague to touch this city?” he demanded. “This is the greatest city of Egypt.”

  My father went to his sister and she suggested that one last attempt be made. But Panahesi only laughed. “No one has seen plague in fifteen years,” he sneered.

  “But they have seen it in the north,” my father said steadily. “Near Kadesh, hundreds of sailors have died.”

  “What is it, Vizier? Are you afraid the Hittites will come marching in and see how defenseless this city really is? That they will see how Pharaoh will need a strong son to lead his army if he ever hopes to defend it? None of your girls could lead men into battle. It’s a matter of time before Nebnefer is made heir.”

  “Then you do not know Akhenaten,” my father said, and I wondered if that was Nefertiti’s great secret. If Meritaten would be declared heir when the Durbar began. “And if that is your reason for allowing Hittites into Amarna, then you are more foolish than I thought.”

  They arrived from every corner of the world: Nubians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks. The women who came from far reaches of the deserts wore veils on their faces, while we wore hardly anything at all, with our breasts and ankles hennaed and our hair in beaded wigs that made music when the warm wind blew from the west.

  The servants fluttered around my sister like butterflies, smoothing and painting and arranging her crown. Thutmose sketched her onto papyrus while she sat under Merit’s care, used to all the fuss and pampering.

  “Won’t you tell me what the surprise is?” I asked. “You’re not pregnant again?”

  “Of course not. It’s bigger than a son for Egypt. This is Egypt,” she said bracingly.

  Thutmose flashed a private smile at her, and I turned to the sculptor.

  “You know?” I looked back at Nefertiti. “You told Thutmose and not your own sister?”

  “Thutmose has to know.” She raised her chin. “He must capture it all.”

  The trumpets blared and Merit stood back. Nefertiti was aglitter with the most precious jewels in Egypt. Not even her daughter, the posterity and keeper of her beauty, could rival her. Meritaten stepped forward.

  “Will it be a good surprise, mawat?”

  “It will mean your inheritance as well as mine,” she promised, hooking one arm in her daughter’s, then calling for me. Behind us trailed Meketaten and three-year-old Ankhesenpaaten.

  “Where is Pharaoh?”

  “At the Window of Appearances,” she replied.

  I could hear the cheers even from the inner courtyard of the palace, and when we arrived at the window where my parents spoke in quick tones with Akhenaten, I held my breath. Below us, two hundred altars had been erected and crowned with myrrh. Thousands of priests were gathered in front of them, and on every slab a bull was being slaughtered and offered to Aten; two hundred sacrifices to show the wealth and glory of the palace of Amarna. No expense had been spared for the Durbar that would live throughout history. Everywhere there glittered carnelian, lapis lazuli, and feldspar, on the necks of noblewomen and the ankles of scribes. The people stood beneath shades and canopies, drinking, feasting, and gazing upward in expectation of the god-on-earth who had brought this spectacle to them. The priests were clad in gold, from their ankles to their blazing pectorals, and before them, on the highest altar of all, was Panahesi.

  “Impressed?” Akhenaten stood beside me, and I thought it was strange that he should want my opinion. I looked back down, listening to the blend of laughter and harps as the men sang songs to the great god Aten, the god who created so much gold and wine. Bull meat and myrrh wafted through the air to the heights of the palace, and there was the heady scent of beer in the wind.

  “It will be remembered until eternity,” I replied.

  “Yes, eternity.” Then Akhenaten took Nefertiti’s hand in his and revealed himself in the Window of Appearances. “A Durbar for the greatest Pharaohs in Egypt,” he declared and the people cheered. “Pharaoh Akhenaten and the Pharaoh Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti!”

  I gasped.

  “What does that mean?” Meritaten asked.

  Nefertiti and Akhenaten remained at the window, united, and the people sent up a cry that might have deafened the gods.

  “What does that mean?” Meritaten repeated, and my husband gave her an answer, for I was in shock.

  “It means your mother shall do what no other queen has done before her. She’s about to become Pharaoh and Coregent of Egypt.”

  It was unthinkable. For a queen to become a king. To be coregent with her husband. Even my aunt had not made herself Pharaoh. My father’s expression was unreadable, but I knew what he must be thinking. It was higher than our family had ever reached.

  “Where is Tiye?” I searched the chamber.

  “With the emissaries from Mitanni,” my father said.

  “And Panahesi?” my husband asked.

  My father used his chin to indicate a man who’d grown red with fury. Panahesi looked first to his right, then to his left, trying to find a way out of the courtyard among the chanting priests and thousands of dignitaries, but there was nowhere to go. Then he looked up at the picture our family created, perfectly framed in the Window of Appearances.

  I stepped away. Next to me, Nakhtmin shook his head, his eyes bright with speculation, trying to determine what this would mean for a queen with no sons. But I already knew what it would mean. No one, not Kiya or Nebnefer or Panahesi, could pull our family down now.

  “Mutnodjmet! Meritaten! Come,” Nefertiti called.

  We moved forward.

  “Where is Nakhtmin?” Akhenaten demanded. He saw my husband at the back of the chamber. “You, too.”

  My father stepped forward quickly. “What is it that you need, Your Highness?”

  “The former general is to stand beside me. He will stand beside me and the people will see that even Nakhtmin bows down before the Pharaohs of Egypt.”

  My heart quickened in my chest, knowing that Nakhtmin was going to refuse. I caught my husband’s gaze, then my father stepped toward him and touched his arm, whispering something into his ear.

  At the sight of Nakhtmin in the Window of Appearances, the men on the ground, soldiers and commoners alike, threw up such a cry that even Akhenaten moved back as if confronted by a vicious blow.

  “Take my hand!” Akhenaten commanded. “They will love me the way they love you,” he swore. He raised Nakhtmin’s arm with his, and it seemed as if all of Egypt had begun to cry, “Akhen-aten.” On his left was Nakhtmin. On his right stood Nefertiti. He turned to his Pharaoh-Queen and cried, “My people!” glowing with the love of commoners who’d been bought with bread and wine. “The Pharaoh Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti!”

  The cheers became deafening when Nefertiti held up the crook and flail, the unmistakable sign of kingship in Egypt. I stood back, and Nefertiti shouted, “We welcome you to the greatest Durbar in history!”

  “They will think you love him,” I whispered to my husband during the procession to the temple. “All the soldiers will think you have bowed to Aten!”

  “They will think no such thing.” He pressed close to me. “They
aren’t fools. They know I am a believer in Amun who is only in Pharaoh’s presence because of you.”

  I looked ahead at the procession of men in their soldiers’ kilts and military belts. “They will also know that I am the reason you are no longer general.”

  “Horemheb is imprisoned; I would be there, too, if you hadn’t loved me.”

  We stopped in a courtyard crowded with chariots. They were ablaze with electrum, turquoise, and copper. Then Panahesi stepped forward to carry Nefertiti to the destiny she had carved for herself without sons or history or precedent. His face was arranged in a smile, as if her ascension to Egypt’s throne over his grandson was his greatest wish.

  “Now he will have to hitch his star to hers or plot against two Pharaohs,” my husband said.

  “Even at the expense of his daughter and grandson?” I asked.

  Nakhtmin spread his palms. “Whatever star is rising.”

  We were swept away into a sea of chariots and carried across the Courtyard of Festivals to the temple with its statues of Nefertiti and Akhenaten. Trumpets blared and a path to the gates was cleared. “You look as if you’ve swallowed something bitter.” Nefertiti laughed musically, descending from her chariot. “What’s wrong, Mutnodjmet? This is the greatest day we shall ever know. We are immortal.”

  No. We are surrounded by lies. Before she could be carried away by the priests into the inner sanctum of the temple to receive the pschent crown of Egypt, I said aloud, “These people are happy because they’ve free bread and wine. And there are Hittites. In the capital, Nefertiti. How do you know they haven’t brought plague?”

  My sister turned an incredulous face to Nakhtmin, then back to me. “Why are you saying this during my greatest triumph?”

  “Shall I lie to you, the way everyone else will do when you are Pharaoh?”

  Nefertiti was silent.

  “Just don’t touch them,” I advised. “Don’t let them kiss your ring.”

  “Touch who?” Akhenaten appeared behind Nakhtmin.

 
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