THE MORNING SUN, so benevolent and omniscient, blessed Nefertiti as she awaited Tut’s arrival in her private quarters. Akhenaten had been dead for only a few hours. She had already selected a group of “mourners,” women who would openly grieve at her husband’s funeral, beating their exposed breasts and tearing out their hair.
The time had come for the queen and her boy to have a grown-up talk about his future and, indeed, the future of all of Egypt
Nefertiti loved the six-year-old Tutankhamen: his trusting brown eyes, his passion for board games, even his endless questions about why the royal family never traveled to cities like Thebes and Memphis. In fact, Nefertiti adored everything about Tut except for one niggling detail: he wasn’t her son by birth.
As a very bright and practical woman of the times, Nefertiti understood that a pharaoh might have needs that could not be fulfilled by just one woman. But as a passionate queen and a woman unaccustomed to being trifled with, it had infuriated her when Akhenaten had married and impregnated Kiya. The great god Aten had been just and wise when he had taken Kiya’s life as she gave birth to Tut. And Nefertiti made sure that there would never again be a second wife around the royal court.
She had tended to her husband’s every fantasy, and when she couldn’t, Nefertiti directed his affections toward the harem girls, for it was common knowledge that no pharaoh, not even one as outlandish as Akhenaten, would marry a common whore.
So it was that Nefertiti began to raise Tutankhamen as her own.
The boy never knew his real mother, and though he had been told of her life and tragic death, he was still too young to fully comprehend being conceived in the womb of one woman and reared by the loving hands of another.
“Did you want to see me, Mother?” He was so innocent—and yet so full of life. Nefertiti was overcome with warmth as she gazed upon the boy. She did love him, deeply, but not everyone in the court did. For some, he was already a hated rival.
“Yes, Tut. Come. Sit next to me. Sit close to your mother.”
Tut walked across the tile floor in his bare feet and plopped onto the divan next to Nefertiti.
“I heard about the pharaoh,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.”
She placed a hand underneath his chin and lifted it until his eyes met hers. “Your father hadn’t been feeling well for a long time,” she told him.
“How did he die?” Tut asked next. Always the questions with him.
She could never tell him the truth, but a lie didn’t feel right either. “He died in a burst of happiness. His heart was so filled with joy that it exploded.”
There. Not so bad.
“Tut, there’s something else we need to talk about. I need you to pay attention to what I have to tell you now.”
“You are just a boy and have not yet been trained in the ways of the pharaoh. But you must know that this is your destiny.”
The boy stopped her. “I don’t understand.”
“You will be pharaoh one day, Tut.”
“I don’t want to be pharaoh. I don’t! Why can’t you be pharaoh, Mother?”
“It is not considered best for a woman to rule Egypt, Tut. But because I am of royal blood, I will find a way to rule for as long as it takes you to learn to be a great pharaoh.”
“How long will that be, Mother?”
“A dozen years, maybe less. Because you’re so bright, Tut. There is no hurry. The important thing is that you learn to be wise and strong and full of compassion for the people of Egypt, as your father was. He was a good man, always a good man.”
“Smenkare would have made a good pharaoh,” said Tut. “And he was your son. This day must make you sad.”
The boy was smart, which was probably why she loved him as she did.
“Smenkare is dead, Tut.” She neglected to add that she had never loved her own son as much as she loved Tut. She had tried, but there was no light in Smenkare’s eyes, and she felt no connection between them. Someone like that should never rule Egypt, and it was almost fitting that the job would now go to this precocious boy at her side.
“No, Tut. It must be you.”
Tut simply nodded. “So what do I do next? Help me, Mother.”
“See how we’re sitting here? You and me, right next to each other?”
“Yes. Of course I do.”
“This is how we will rule Egypt at first. Side by side, the two of us. For now I will make the decisions, because you are too young. But as you become a man, you will fill a bigger space and have the knowledge to make good decisions.”
“Then I will rule as pharaoh?”
“Yes, Tut. And I know that you will do great things. You will be a pharaoh people always remember.”