“YOU’RE LATE. I won’t tolerate this, Tutankhamen. There’s no excuse for such conduct.”
Tut raced into the royal classroom at the prince’s school with mud from the Nile still coating the soles of his feet, his favorite hunting bow in hand. He had been out in the reeds again, shooting ducks, and realized too late that it was time for class.
He had no chance to clean up, and now, pharaoh- in-training or not, he would face the instructor’s wrath.
“Quiet. Not a word from you. Sit down and practice your hieroglyphics.”
The teacher was a thin, dyspeptic young man who didn’t walk about the room so much as he flitted like a nervous bird. Tut liked to mimic him for the amusement of his sister, but now she was too busy giggling at Tut’s misfortune for him to attempt a joke.
The standard punishment for tardiness was to repeatedly write hieroglyphic characters on a piece of papyrus. The task often took hours, which the instructor knew was absolute torture for Tut.
He was eight now, and his latest passion was chariot lessons. Two hours spent writing meant two less hours spent at the reins, speeding across the open desert.
Much as his father would have hated it, Tut longed for the day when he would lead the warriors of Egypt into battle. He pictured himself in a chariot, two mighty steeds galloping before him, an army of thousands responding to his every command. But this was no daydream—it would actually come to be—and sooner rather than later.
“Well done, Pharaoh,” whispered his sister Ankhesenpaaten. She was a few years older than him, but mature in the way of deeply practical children. And she was a beautiful girl, even better-looking than Tut.
“Someday,” the teacher announced, “when you reign over Egypt as the one true pharaoh, you can have me killed for my insolence, but until then this is my classroom and you will do as you are told—and that includes arriving on time. Am I understood, Tutankhamen?”
A furious, red-faced Tut nodded his head and placed a fresh reed in his mouth, making sure not to make eye contact with his sister, who now snickered at his misfortune. Tut chewed the end of the reed, feeling the fibers break apart until they formed a loose and supple paintbrush.
Then he dipped his new writing implement into a bowl of water and touched it to a block of solid ink. He began to draw on a piece of papyrus, his hand effortlessly forming the falcons, owls, feet, and myriad other images that made up the hieroglyphic alphabet.
But soon the afternoon heat and the quiet of the classroom had his mind wandering. He loved the outdoors, and to be stuck inside on such a beautiful day wounded his spirit.
Tut longed to be swimming in the Nile, ever mindful of the crocodiles that lurked there. Or maybe taking Ankhesenpaaten for a chariot ride—he adored her. Or perhaps simply standing on a mountaintop, gazing out at the purplish rocks of a distant butte, reveling in the fantastic notion that all of this land, as far as the eye could see, would one day be his.
This was not merely a boy’s daydream either—it was for real.