“IT’S YOU, PHARAOH.” Aye smirked, and nobody in the palace could smirk like Aye.
They marched side by side to the royal stables, the air smelling of manure and sweet green alfalfa. Tut was already late for his chariot ride.
Tuya had kept him up all night again, and rather than sleep the day away he was determined to revive himself with a hard gallop across the desert on the east side of the Nile. In truth, he was troubled and confused—about Tuya—and about Ankhesenpaaten.
“What are you talking about?” he said. “Your words are a muddle.”
“Tuya is not with child. The problem is not her, Pharaoh, and it is not your queen. You are the reason there is no royal heir. It’s you!”
Tut flushed angrily. “That is not possible! My manhood is beyond question.”
He had reached his chariot and now grabbed the reins from a young stable boy. The horses lifted their heads from a trough of alfalfa and whinnied in anticipation.
“From the looks of things, there are no arrows in your quiver,” continued Aye.
That was the last straw. “Guards,” commanded Tut. “Seize him.”
The contingent of six royal guards moved forward and towered over Aye, yet they were apprehensive, as if looking to Aye for leadership rather than Tut.
“Now!” Tut screamed, rage and humiliation pouring through. He was the pharaoh. He could impregnate every virgin in Egypt if he wished. It wasn’t his fault that Tuya was having trouble bearing a child. Maybe Aye had chosen her because she was known to be infertile, all part of his scheme.
Aye didn’t struggle as the guards clamped their hands on his arms and shoulders. No—all he did was smirk.
“I am the pharaoh, Aye. You will remember that from now on.” Tut stepped into his chariot.
“I am going for a ride,” he told the captain of the guards, a Nubian with huge biceps. “By the time I return, you will have administered fifty lashes to the royal vizier. Am I understood?”
The smirk was gone from Aye’s face now, much to Tut’s delight. “As you wish, Pharaoh,” Aye muttered in supplication, “so it shall be.” Even ten lashes would have been too much. Fifty would lay Aye’s back open to the bone and leave permanent scars that would be a brand of shame for the rest of his life.
For just an instant, Tut thought that Aye’s tone was sincere, and he considered rescinding the punishment. But the defiant look in the vizier’s eyes was still there, and Tut sensed the humility was an act.
With a final glare, Tut whipped his reins and raced across the desert.