“WHAT’S WRONG, MOTHER?” asked Tut.
The handsome little boy stood beside Nefertiti in a garden surrounded by fig trees and date palms and a rich green carpet of grass. His mother sat in the shade of a small palmetto. Her beautiful face was a tightly clenched mask. They both knew that she was unwell, and yet she pretended that nothing of the sort was true.
To be eight and faced with the prospect of losing his mother, so soon after losing his father, was something that no child could be prepared for.
But Tut was no ordinary child—he had royal blood—he was divine.
So he joined his mother on the small settee. He watched as she slowly leaned back and tried to relax, then flinched in pain as her skin came in contact with the hard chair.
“I’m dying, Tut, and I need to ask you to do something that you might think odd.”
“Don’t say that, Mother. You’re not dying.”
“I am. Either I am being poisoned—or there is a sickness inside my body that Aten does not wish to remove. I have ordered my servants to hasten their preparations of my burial chamber, because there may not be much time for me.”
Nefertiti closed her eyes as pain shot through her body. Tut placed his hand on top of hers, but did so gently, so as not to hurt her.
This small act of kindness and compassion made Nefertiti smile. “You will be a great pharaoh. I am sure of it.”
“Thank you, Mother.”
He paused, reluctant to say what was on his mind.
“What is it?” Nefertiti asked.
“Do you promise not to be angry?”
She let a moment pass as she weighed her answer. “I promise. Now ask your question. You must always speak your mind, Tut.”
“Did Aye do this to you? I see the way he looks at you. It’s hard to tell whether he loves you or hates you.”
“I think it’s a little of both. But no, I do not fear Aye—though you should. You are just a boy and need to be protected from powerful, unscrupulous men who might want to see you harmed.”
“Do you think he wants to be pharaoh?”
“Yes, Tut, I do. And he is not the only man with a dream of ruling Egypt.”
“But he is a commoner.”
“So are you, Tut. Remember, your natural mother was of common birth. You are only half royal. Your sister is the only child in this palace who is full-blooded royalty. This is why I have asked you to come see me.”
“What do you mean? What are you saying, Mother?”
“Ankhesenpaaten cannot reign as pharaoh because she is a woman. But for you to rule as pharaoh, and to produce an heir who ensures the succession of our royal blood, you must blend your blood with that of a woman who is fully royal. Do you understand?”
“But Ankhesenpaaten is the only such person.”
“That’s right, Tut.” Nefertiti flinched once again from the pain. “Ankhe is the only one.”
“So you’re saying that…”
His voice trailed off in confusion, so Nefertiti finished the sentence for him.
“You must marry your sister.”