“THE FUTURE OF EGYPT is at stake. You know that. You need to take action.”
“I will never share power with that accident,” shouted the pharaoh.
Amenhotep had rallied somewhat from his drunken state. Now the palace walls shook with his angry protestations. He and Tiye were alone, but everyone from the bodyguards at the door to the servant girls polishing the great tiled hallway were privy to their battle. Soon these commoners would be gossiping to their friends and families, and the details of the royal argument would spread throughout Thebes.
“You are speaking about a child created in a moment of passion. Perhaps the pharaoh would like to describe what was accidental about that.”
“I do not regret the act of making love, only the result of our lovemaking. He will not reign as co-regent. I couldn’t bear it. He is a sniveling whelp.”
Tiye sneered. “We both know that he will succeed you one day.”
“You hope so, don’t you? Does my queen not admit that she has selfish reasons for wanting that boy elevated to co-regent?”
“The queen admits nothing of the kind. The queen wants what’s best for Egypt. Surely you wish your son to step into power—armed with your many years of hard-earned wisdom?”
You will lose everything if someone else succeeds me, thought the cynical Amenhotep. So don’t tell me what’s best for Egypt. Have you braved thirst and burning deserts to wage war on the Hittites? Have you smelled the cedar forests of Byblos? You wear the gold and lapis lazuli that come as tribute from lands I conquered, but you know nothing of the world outside Thebes.
“His arms hang to his knees, and his face is as long as a horse’s,” Amenhotep declared. “He hasn’t enough muscle to wield a sword. His only muscles are in his head. To be pharaoh is to be god in the flesh. That boy is a freak.”
“He was born to lead our people. He can drive a chariot as well as any man,” said Tiye. “He is well-read and smart.”
The pharaoh snorted. The mere sight of his son—also named Amenhotep—at the reins of a chariot was hilarious. It was a wonder the imbecile hadn’t been trampled to death already. “Steering through a grain field is one thing. Charging into battle is quite another,” he said.
Suddenly, Amenhotep felt woozy. The opium had gone to work, but the pain was still unbearable. What he needed was more wine. And Resi’s bosom to suck on.
Amenhotep ignored his goblet and raised the full pitcher to his lips. The ruby liquid spilled along his face, then trickled down his thick neck and under his collar onto the copper skin of his belly. It came to rest on the white kilt around his waist, leaving a stain that looked like blood.
The pharaoh tumbled backward into his pillows. This was an act of retreat, and they both knew it.
Tiye stood over him to close the deal, as the sun’s fiery rays taunted the crocodiles and cobras painted on the tile floor. “This must be done, Pharaoh. And soon.”
“They are almost finished decorating my burial chamber,” the pharaoh muttered. He reached for a plate of bread flavored with honey and dates, unaware that the grains of sand in every bite were the source of his pain. Year after year, the desert grit in the bread wore away the enamel on his teeth, inviting the decay and infection that would soon take his life.
Tiye handed him another goblet filled to the brim with wine, then remained still as Amenhotep chased the bread with a long gulp. She was as serene as the Sphinx as she waited for her husband to bend to her strong will.
“Tuthmosis would have been a great pharaoh,” he said mournfully.
“That son now wanders the afterworld,” Tiye replied.
Amenhotep nodded sadly. Their oldest boy, his beloved, his favorite, was dead. Soon he would join him. Egypt would need a new pharaoh. The only way to control the selection was to do it himself.
“Bring the accident to me,” Amenhotep roared. “Of course he will be pharaoh. But shame on me for leaving Egypt to him. Shame on both of us.”