TUT STRIPPED DOWN at his bedside, letting his kilt fall to the floor for a servant to clean in the morning.
He took off his eye paint, which was black and extended to his temples. He rinsed his mouth from a tumbler of water on the nightstand, then slid into bed. The pillow was cool against his bare, shaved head, and the sheets gently caressed his torso. Like most Egyptians, he was obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness. The hair on his body was regularly removed with razors and clippers.
Now he lay back and wondered what would happen next.
All night long the palace had been buzzing about the angry confrontation between Aye and the pharaoh. Tut could feel it in the way the servants brought his dinner, keeping their eyes more downcast than usual.
“Egypt is once again powerful and prosperous,” the royal vizier had bellowed. “This is due to me, Pharaoh. Not you. Not your queen. Your father ran this country nearly into ruin, and I have built it up again. Now you threaten all we have worked for by not producing an heir.”
The vizier continued: “This thing you two call ‘love’ is a greater threat to Egypt than the Canaanites, the Nubians, and all our other neighbors. And yet you revel in your cozy affections. You rub our noses in it. These people”—now Aye threw his arm out toward the city—“deserve a pharaoh who puts the nation first.”
“I am pharaoh. I can do whatever I want to do. You are but a man, Scribe.”
As Tut entered his bedroom alone, after seeing Ankhesenpaaten to her room, he was aware that every person in the palace waited to see what would happen next.
Would Aye make good on his promise to bring a handmaiden to Tut’s bed?
At midnight, with the full moon pouring into his open window, Tut got his answer. He heard two sets of footsteps in the corridor outside. The first was heavy and labored and the other soft.
Then came a delicate rustle as the lighter footsteps tiptoed into his room. Tut could sense hesitation, perhaps fear, as the feet came closer and closer to his bed. He could almost feel the pounding of the young girl’s heart.
What must she be thinking, Tut wondered, lying flat on his back, his eyes still adjusting to the near darkness. She has come to have sex with the pharaoh. Of course she is a virgin, so the mere act of making love is mysterious and frightening.
But to lie down with the ruler of all of Egypt? With me?
Tut rolled onto his side to have a look. His fierce loyalty to his queen almost caused him to send the girl away, but he held back for the moment, though he was unsure why.
Now he saw her.
The girl looked to be sixteen or seventeen. Tut remembered admiring her at a state dinner and thinking she might be the daughter of a local dignitary. That she was a great beauty, there was no doubt. She stood at the side of the bed, very demure, moonlight shining through her sheer robe. Tut was mesmerized at the sight of her: her shape, her long black hair, her dark eyes still painted. Her perfume was a pleasing combination of lemon and flowers.
“What is your name?” he said softly, surprised to feel the beating of his own heart, surprised that he cared about her feelings.
“Tuya,” she whispered.
“Take off your robe, Tuya. Don’t be afraid. There’s no need of that. Not here.”
Tuya did as she was told, pulling the fabric from her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor.
“Turn around for me. Slowly. You’re very beautiful. Please, don’t be fearful.”
She spun in a circle, her shoulders back and head held high. Then she took a tentative step toward him.
“Wait,” Tut said, seized by a sudden image of Ankhesenpaaten. What was his queen doing now? And what would she say if she could see him? How would this affect their love—what Aye had called “cozy affections”?
Tuya stopped and self-consciously placed her hands over her breasts.
Tut got out of bed then and walked to her. Her eyes grew wide at the sight of him, which only increased his arousal.
Next, he kissed Tuya’s lips and found them to be soft, even more so than Ankhe’s. Her breath was fresh and sweet, and she hungrily thrust her tongue into his mouth.
The young pharaoh didn’t think of his queen for the rest of that long sleepless night.