THE BONFIRE LIT UP THE NIGHT, its crackling flames reflecting off the pale tents of Egypt’s great army. Tut sat on his traveling throne, with sword-carrying sentries on either side. He was close enough to feel the fire’s warmth but distant enough that he was safe from any drunken soldier who might suddenly decide to settle a grudge with the pharaoh.
Tonight such a confrontation was unlikely. The men were beyond euphoric after slaughtering a hated enemy. Blood still flecked many of their faces; desert grime ringed their eyes.
Tut had drunk more wine than was prudent, but he didn’t feel it that much. As he strapped a cloak about his shoulders to stave off the cold night air, Tut sensed the men watching him. He detected a new respect. Their eyes said that today, on the field of battle, he had behaved as a true king.
Women also ringed the fire, some of them quite beautiful. Several were camp followers who had endured the long trek from Thebes. But many were captured enemy women—the prettiest ones—bound at the wrists after having been dragged from their homes. Their faces were masks of terror, shame, and loss. They had already seen their husbands and sons slain. Now, once the fire died, they would be passed from man to man—a fate that made many wish that they had died too. Soon, a few would get their wish and go to the afterworld.
Tut felt one of the women gazing at him. Across the fire sat a solitary maiden with the most beautiful hair. Someone’s daughter, thought Tut. She was his age, perhaps younger. Raven hair flowed down her back. Dark brown eyes. Full lips and a strong chin.
His stomach felt funny, a sensation that he at first blamed on the wine. But now he knew it was nerves, the same insecurity that had threatened to paralyze him before battle. Tut shrugged it off and turned away from the gorgeous girl who dared to stare at him. He forced himself to think of Ankhesenpaaten, who was pregnant with their second child. His queen, his lover, his friend since childhood.
But then Tut found himself staring at the female prisoner. The girl looked even more desirable than before, tossing the ringlets of her hair to better show her profile. If she would have to submit to an Egyptian, she clearly preferred to spend the night with a pharaoh.
He watched as the woman stood, the firelight revealing the sort of full-breasted figure that he had long coveted. Her skirt rode high on her thighs, leaving Tut’s imagination free to wander, which it did. How could it not? He was far from home and had just won a great battle.
I am the pharaoh, Tut reminded himself. What does it matter what others think? Let my wife be angry with me. My father had lovers. So did my father’s father, and his father before him. What does it matter if I take this woman to my bed—or take her for my wife, for that matter?
Tut moved forward until he was sitting on the edge of his seat. By the look in her eyes, it was clear that the girl sensed that she was about to be beckoned. Her hard look had softened.
Tut rose and stared at her. He could feel a deep and powerful longing. He studied the girl—her face, lips, every curve—and then he turned and walked to his tent.
He remained faithful to Ankhe.