NEFERTITI WEPT as she had never wept before.
“Aye!” she finally yelled. “Bring me Aye. I need him right this minute. Now!”
The royal scribe came running into the pharaoh’s bedroom. Nefertiti was slumped at the foot of the bed, her supple frame hidden in an elaborate robe. The pharaoh lay on his back, unclothed, covered only by a scrap of bedsheet Nefertiti had laid across his lower body.
“He’s dead,” Nefertiti said before Aye could utter a word.
Their eyes locked, and in that brief exchange, in the fire of Nefertiti’s eyes, the power in the royal palace shifted inexorably in the new widow’s favor. She was no longer the wife of the pharaoh but ruler of all of Egypt. She was divine. And Aye was still just the scribe—that is, if she allowed him to live.
Aye cleared his throat. “What happened?”
“What do you think happened, Scribe? Isn’t it obvious to you? I could barely get him off me.”
Indeed, the pharaoh had gotten heavy in his late thirties, and the lithe Nefertiti weighed less than half of his considerable mass. Perhaps even that was being charitable to the late pharaoh. Aye had a clear mental picture of the queen’s bronzed biceps straining to shove her dead mate off her after his final collapse.
“I’ll see to his burial, Majesty,” he said. “I will do everything.”
“And send out the messengers,” Nefertiti commanded, her lower lip quivering. “Send them to Memphis and to Thebes. Announce to one and all that the great pharaoh is dead.”
“Majesty, do you think that wise? I mean, until we know who will succeed Akhenaten?”
The royal scribe looked at her insolently. To be sure, Aye was a powerful man in the kingdom, and he balked at taking orders from any woman.
Nefertiti glared at him. “Have you forgotten that my husband fathered a child with another woman?” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She had also given Akhenaten an heir since arriving in Amarna, but the child had died.
“When the time comes, and he has grown into a man, I will place my husband’s son on the throne, but for now I am the pharaoh, Aye. Make no mistake about that.” She paused and looked at Akhenaten once more. “Now, leave me with my husband. Go. Do your duties.”
Aye lowered his eyes and spun on his heels, then charged from the sun-filled room. He would do as he was told—for now anyway.