THE PRIESTS, PREENING AND PRATTLING, filed into the temple room when the sculptor finally left. They were as haughty as the queen’s famed cats. Nefertiti despised their power and how they used religion to make themselves rich. Indeed, Ptahmose, the high priest, was one of the wealthiest and most feared men in all of Thebes.
“Where to next?” Amenhotep IV said to the aged Ptahmose, slipping back into his ceremonial Sed cloak. The priests now attempted to set the pharaoh’s schedule for the busy festival day ahead.
“The temple of Wepwawet awaits, sire. We must apply holy ointment to the standard.”
“I do not honor that god,” Amenhotep proclaimed. “Wepwawet is nothing to me.”
The priests shuddered at this heresy. Even Nefertiti was shocked, though her religious belief was much the same as her husband’s. Egypt was a land of several gods, and all were to be worshipped according to law.
Before Nefertiti could say something diplomatic, Amenhotep grabbed her hand and yanked her down the smooth stone corridor toward the street. “I know what I’m doing!” he told her as the raucous crowd grew so loud the pair could hear nothing else.
The royal couple entered the reviewing stand through the back and stood where they could observe the assembled masses without being seen themselves.
Nefertiti was awed at the sight of the crowd. “They are here for you,” she told her husband. “They love you, as I do.”
Rich and poor, scribe, surgeon, and farmer, had come from all over Egypt. They had cheered with delight when their pharaoh oversaw the morning’s cattle census. An even larger group gasped in wonder as he donned the Sed cloak at noon. But that was six hours ago.
Now the crowd numbered in the tens of thousands. A combination of too much sun and too much ale had turned their enthusiasm into restlessness. Artisans, shopkeepers, even slaves were chanting as one, demanding to see their pharaoh make the dangerous chariot run.
How could he possibly fail—if he was divine?