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       Nefertiti, p.41

           Michelle Moran

  “May Osiris bless your passage, Tiye,” I whispered.

  Women were shrieking and children ran scampering down the halls to the Audience Chamber. “Pharaoh has fled! Pharaoh has fled!” a servant cried, and the call was echoed inside the servants’ quarters and throughout the halls. I saw women running past open windows, shouting to one another, carrying armfuls of clothing and jewelry. “The gods have abandoned Amarna!” someone shouted. “Even Pharaoh has left!” Women pushed children through the acrid smoke of the courtyard so they could reach the docks. They took chests filled with their clothes while the men carried the remainders of family possessions. Servants were fleeing with courtiers and emissaries. It was madness.

  My family rushed into the palace, but Nakhtmin stopped me before we reached the Audience Chamber. “We can’t leave your family in this state,” he said. “Pharaoh is gone. When the people outside the palace discover that he’s disappeared, your family will be in danger.”

  “We will be in danger if he returns,” I said desperately. “He could return with plague.”

  “Then we will quarantine him.”

  “The Pharaoh of Egypt?”

  “Without your father’s approval, I would not have you,” he explained. “We owe him this. Stay with Baraka and Heqet and be ready to leave at a word’s notice. Take Ankhesenpaaten, too. I’m going to find your sister. She must be ready to quarantine him if he returns.”

  When the guards stumbled in with the half-conscious king, bloodied and singed from fires he had set to his own people’s homes, what remained of the court sprang into action.

  “Place him in the remotest chamber and lock the door! Give him food for seven days and let no one in. On the threat of death, no one shall let him out.” My father supervised the quarantine while next to him Vizier Panahesi was silent. “Do not go to him,” my father warned.

  “Of course not,” Panahesi snapped.

  When Akhenaten realized what was happening to him, the doors had already been locked and sealed. His screams could be heard throughout the palace, demanding his release, calling for Nefertiti, then finally begging for Kiya.

  “Is somebody watching Kiya?” my sister demanded.

  Guards were set upon Kiya, who wept when she learned that Akhenaten had been confined to his chambers like a prisoner. On the second day, she was the one who let the palace know with her shrieks of terror that Akhenaten was coughing blood, and that the scents the guards smelled from beneath the king’s door were sweet, like honey and sugar. By the third day, the coughing had stilled. By the fourth, there was silence.

  Six days passed before anyone would confirm what we already knew.

  The Heretic Pharaoh had been brought before Anubis.

  When Nefertiti was brought the news, she went to weep in our mother’s arms. Then she came to me. He had been a selfish king, a flawed ruler, but he had been her husband and her partner in all things. And he was the father of her children.

  “We must abandon this city,” my father said, entering the chamber with Nakhtmin on his heels.

  Nefertiti glanced up at him and her grief was untouchable. “It is the end of Amarna,” she whispered to me. “When we’re dead, it’s all we’ll have to speak for us, Mutny, and it’s crumbling.” Her dream, her vision of immortality and greatness, was to be covered in sand and left to the desert. She closed her eyes, and I wondered what she saw there. Her city in ruins? Her husband, ravaged by plague? She had heard the reports of men in the streets, burning their own houses in protest of Akhenaten. His image was being shattered across the city and defaced on temple walls. At first sign of the plague, Nefertiti had commanded Thutmose to close his workshop and flee. It was the one selfless thing she had done. But there was nothing left to build in Amarna. It had been built, and now it was being destroyed.

  My father warned sharply, “They are burning their houses, and the palace will be next if the army flees. We must bury Akhenaten.”

  Nefertiti sobbed.

  “But Panahesi took Akhenaten’s body to the temple,” I said. “He is giving him a burial now.”

  Nakhtmin froze. “He did what?”

  I glanced between my husband and my father. “He took the body to the temple,” I repeated.

  Nakhtmin looked at my father.

  “Find Panahesi!” my father shouted to cluster of soldiers in the hall. “Don’t let him leave the palace.”

  “What’s happening?” I asked.

  “The treasury is next to the temple. Panahesi hasn’t gone to bury Akhenaten,” Nakhtmin said. “He’s gone to take the gold and challenge your sister’s reign.” My husband turned to my sister. “You must release Horemheb from prison. Release the general and the men will follow him, or you can risk Panahesi getting to the army first with Aten’s gold. And if Kiya has a son in her womb, all of Egypt will be lost.”

  Nefertiti stared, and it was as if she wasn’t seeing us anymore. Tears marked her cheeks and she closed her eyes. “I don’t care what happens,” she said. “I don’t care.”

  But Nakhtmin walked briskly to her, taking her by the shoulders. “Your Highness, Pharaoh Neferneferuaten-Nefertiti, your country is under siege and your crown is being threatened. If you remain here, you will die.”

  Her eyes were open, but they were lifeless.

  “They will kill Meritaten or marry her to Panahesi, and Ankhesenpaaten’s life will be forfeit,” Nakhtmin said.

  Nefertiti’s face lifted, almost imperceptibly. Then her eyes grew hard. “Release him from prison.”

  Nakhtmin nodded, then disappeared down the hall and out into the darkness.

  My father turned to me. “Do you trust your husband?”

  I stared at him. Nakhtmin could release Horemheb from prison and together they could take the crown. “He would never do that,” I promised.

  Rebellion swept through the streets. Egyptians were taking up pitchforks and scythes, gathering whatever weapons they could. Every hour a servant ran into the Audience Chamber with news: They had attacked the Temple of Aten in the hills. They were marching on the palace, demanding the return of their gods, a return to Thebes, and the burning of Amarna.

  Kiya sat in a chair below the dais, her face a mask of agony. I tried to imagine what she felt. She was the Second Wife to a dead king. Her child would have no father. And when the child came, if it was a son, he would be a threat to Nefertiti’s crown.

  Only Panahesi could salvage her destiny.

  The doors of the Audience Chamber opened and Nakhtmin entered with Horemheb behind him. Prison had not been kind to the general. His hair had grown past his shoulders and a dark beard shadowed his jaw. But there was fire in his eyes, a crazed determination that I had never seen in any man before. My father stood up. “What is the news?”

  Horemheb advanced. “The people stormed the Temple of Aten. The body of Pharaoh was burned beyond salvation.”

  My father looked to Nakhtmin, who added, “The people have stormed the treasury as well. The gold is secure, but seven guards were killed. As well as Vizier Panahesi.”

  There was a chilling scream. Kiya stood from her chair, her thighs red with blood. But Horemheb was advancing upon the throne. “I have been in prison on order of your husband, Your Majesty.”

  “And I am reinstating you, General,” Nefertiti said swiftly, ignoring Kiya’s screams. There was no time for anything but the throne. “You shall take control of the army with General Nakhtmin.” She returned my husband’s position. But Kiya’s blood was coming thick and fast.

  “My box!” I shouted. “Someone bring me my yarrow!”

  “And how do I know you will not betray me?” Horemheb demanded of her.

  “How do I know you will not betray me?” Nefertiti asked.

  I called for servants to find water and linen.

  “The reign of Aten is done,” Nefertiti added. “I will compensate you for what you have lost. Bring me to my people so that I may tell them that a new reign has come upon us.”

  “And th
e Hittites?” Horemheb demanded.

  “We will fight,” she swore, gripping the crook and flail. “We will wipe them from the face of the East!”

  I rushed to make a pillow out of a linen robe for Kiya. “Breathe,” I told her. When I looked around the Audience Chamber, I saw that we had been abandoned. Only seven servants remained, the loyal few who had not fled to Thebes. “We must get her to another room!” I cried, and the servants helped me to carry her.

  “Please don’t let her kill my child,” she whispered. Kiya gripped my hand with such fury that I was forced to look into her eyes. “Please.”

  I realized of whom she was speaking. “She would never…” The words died on my lips.

  The servants took her into a guest chamber and laid her on the bed, placing pillows behind her.

  “We don’t have a birthing chair,” I said. “I won’t—”

  Kiya screamed, digging her nails into my flesh. “Raise my child,” she begged.

  “No. You will survive this,” I promised. “You will get well.” But even as I said this, I knew she would not. She was too pale, the child was coming too early. Beads of sweat lined her brow.

  “Swear you will raise him,” she pleaded. “Only you can protect him from her. Please.” And in a gush of water, the screaming child came. A prince. A Prince of Egypt. Kiya looked down at her son, his lusty wails piercing an empty guest chamber without any amulets or images of Tawaret, and her eyes filled with tears. A knife was brought and the cord was cut. Kiya fell back against the cushions. “Name him Tutankhaten,” she said, grasping my fingers as if we’d never been enemies. Then she closed her eyes, and the peace on her face was gentle and soft. She exhaled, and her body grew rigid.

  A servant washed the child and wrapped him in linen, pressing the tiny bundle into my arms, and I looked down at the boy who was to become my son, the child of my sister’s most bitter rival. I lay him on his mother, so he could know the feel of her breast and that she’d loved him. Then tears welled in my eyes and I cried. I cried for Kiya, for Nefertiti and her children, for Tiye, and for the infant Tutankhaten, who would never know his mother’s kiss. Then I cried for Egypt, because in my heart I knew we had abandoned our gods and brought this death upon us.

  It looked as though a windstorm had swept through the palace.

  Within days, the hangings were torn down, the cabinets emptied, the storage rooms picked clean. Whatever didn’t fit in our caravan of ships would remain in Amarna, to be collected later by servants or by the sands of time. Beer remained in the depths of the cellars, as well as bottles of Akhenaten’s favorite wine. I took some of the oldest reds for Ipu and stored them with my herbs. The rest would remain until someone broke into the palace and pillaged its stores, or the guards left behind grew desperate enough to raid Pharaoh’s cellar. After all, no one would check, and who knew if we’d ever return.

  There was no formal good-bye as we stood at the quay. All that mattered to my father was that we moved swiftly. Nefertiti’s grip on the crook and flail of Egypt could be broken by a usurper in the army, or a High Priest of Aten, or an angry follower of Amun. Anything might happen, and everything depended on the people’s support. The people no longer believed in Amarna. They wanted a return to the old gods, and my father and Nefertiti would give it to them. As we sailed for Thebes, no one thought of what we were leaving behind.

  On the prow, Nefertiti looked toward Thebes as she had once done as a girl.

  “There will have to be a ceremony,” my father said, coming to stand by her. There was a chill in the air. The breeze on the water was crisp.

  “A ceremony?” Nefertiti asked numbly.

  “A renaming ceremony,” my father explained. “The princesses must no longer use Aten in their name. We must show the people we have forgotten Aten and have returned to Amun.”

  “Forgotten?” Nefertiti’s voice broke. “He was my husband. He was a visionary.” I saw true affection for him as she closed her eyes. He’d made her Pharaoh of all of Egypt. He’d given her six children. “I will never forget.”

  “Nevertheless, it must be done.”

  Chapter Thirty


  1343 BCE

  first of Pachons

  WE STOOD BEFORE the columns of the temple, looking down to the avenue of ram-headed sphinxes that crouched in the sunset’s glow, reminders of what Amunhotep the Magnificent had built and what his son had tried to destroy. The bald-headed priests of Amun and the nobility had gathered. The High Priest of Amun raised his vessel in the air, and I held my breath before the water fell, washing away the name of the Pharaoh who had nearly destroyed Egypt.

  “Tutankh-aten, in the name of Amun, god of Thebes and father of us all, you are now Tutankh-amun in the eyes of Osiris.”

  Nakhtmin held Tut’s little head steady as the water washed over him, a child yet too young to understand the significance of his name, while Nefertiti stood beside her daughters.

  Ankhesenpaaten knelt upon the ground, baring her neck to the sacred water so that she could become Ankhesenamun. Then the High Priest called for the princess Meritaten, but Nefertiti stepped forward and said forcefully, “No.”

  There was a brief commotion as those who had gathered realized what she was doing.

  “Not Meritaten. She will rule with me. She will be my consort and reminder of our past. Anoint her Meritaten, Queen of Egypt, so that the Aten priests will know they are not abandoned.”

  Either Nefertiti was clever, pacifying the abandoned Aten priests, or she was not willing to erase the husband who had crowned her Pharaoh of Egypt.

  My father inhaled sharply and the High Priest forced an agreeing smile. He took a second vessel filled with oil, raising it above Meritaten. The little princess stepped forward with a grace beyond her seven years, then lowered her head and accepted her crown.

  The High Priest hesitated. “And how shall I anoint the Pharaoh of Egypt?” he asked Nefertiti.

  The crowd turned to my sister and she looked at me. “As Smenkhare,” she announced.

  Strong is the Soul of Ra.

  Nefertiti had taken an official name without reference to Aten, making it clear to the people that this was a different reign, a return to the time when our empire had spanned from the Euphrates to Sudan. Now there was Egypt and Nubia alone; Akhenaten had given it all away: Knossos, Rhodes, the Jordan Valley, Mycenae. I turned to see Horemheb salute Pharaoh and thought, It shall not always be this way. Someday Egypt will be great again.

  I looked at Nakhtmin. “You won’t return with Horemheb to fight the Hittites?” I asked him.

  He smiled down at our sons in their nurses’ arms. “No, miw-sher. There will be enough work to do here. Soldiers who have never been taught properly under Akhenaten will need to be trained. I can do that. Horemheb will have to make do with someone else.”

  “But who?” I worried.

  “Ramesses, perhaps.” My husband indicated a decorated soldier with hair as red as the flaming sun. “He’s been commander of the fortress of Sile and will be a vizier someday. I fought with him in Nubia. He’s smart as a scribe and a gifted soldier. No one else can outshoot him with the bow and arrow.”

  “Except you.”

  Nakhtmin smiled and said nothing to deny it.

  That evening, Pharaoh Nefertiti promised the people great victories. In the dazzling vulture-headdress of Nekhbet, the great goddess of war, she vowed that Egypt would take back the land the Heretic had been foolish enough to let slip away.

  “We shall take back Rhodes, Mycenae, and Knossos! We shall march into the deserts of Palestine and reclaim the territory that Amunhotep the Magnificent made a vassal to Egypt. And we will not stop until the Hittites are driven from Mitanni back into the hills from which they came!”

  The army sent up a cheer to deafen the gods, and only I could see what becoming Pharaoh had cost her. There were lines around her eyes where there had not been before, and a hardness about her countenance that Tiye used to have. My sister ra
ised her fist in the air. “With the protection of Amun, Egypt cannot fail. The reign of the Heretic Pharaoh is done!”

  The men cheered as if she had already delivered them victory.

  The shields in their hands were new, melted from vessels in the Temple of Aten, and the stone-tipped spears had come from the hundreds of sculptures that had once stood in the halls of Riverside Palace. And while Nefertiti raised her arms triumphantly, I was not fooled. I imagined her beautiful villas filled with sand, and the palace with its windswept curtains standing empty, and I could only guess how heavy her crook and flail must be. Still, she had not lost everything. They could destroy Amarna, her glittering city overlooking the Nile, and they could use her statues for tinder, but they could not erase her. She could still etch her name on the monuments of Thebes.

  “There will be no more heresy!” she cried. “Amun, the great god of Egypt, has returned!”

  Behind the pylons, my father nodded. He had written to the king of Assyria, sending a gift of seven gold thrones—payment for a single plague-ridden arm. Only time would tell if seven thrones were enough, or if there would be war in Assyria as well.

  My mother stood beside me. “All that’s left is Meritaten,” she murmured. “There will never be a prince.”

  “There’s Ankhesenamun,” I told her.

  We watched the four-year-old princess creep nearer the Window of Appearances. She had all of Nefertiti’s wild beauty and none of Meritaten’s seriousness. She would be full of mischief when she was older.

  When the army marched out, ten thousand strong to the kingdom of Mitanni, Nakhtmin touched my elbow. Across the Audience Chamber, Nefertiti said, “You’re not leaving, are you?”

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