“WE NEED TO TALK.”
It was an hour before dawn. The entire palace was astir. After the largest manhunt in Egyptian history, the pharaoh had been located in the desert west of Thebes. Tut had been robbed of all his possessions, no doubt by a nomad. The young pharaoh was still unconscious.
In addition to a high fever, his body was covered with bruises and abrasions. Now Aye and Horemheb stood on opposite sides of his bed, looking down at their comatose ruler. The cavernous bedroom was dark, save for the moonlight shining in the window.
Aye said, “We should take this conversation into the hall.”
Horemheb pursed his lips. A long straight scar ran diagonally across his face, the result of a Hittite sword. When he was tense, it took on a reddish hue that made it stand out, even against his sun-damaged skin.
“If we go anywhere else, we will be observed. Obviously, the pharaoh cannot hear us. It’s better if we talk here.”
Aye didn’t like to be contradicted, but Horemheb was probably right. Besides, the royal vizier was still in great pain after enduring the humiliating lashes Tut had ordered. The guards had gone easy on him because of his status, but a few of the lashes had sliced into his skin. Now his back was a swollen mess, oozing blood and crisscrossed with whip marks.
“All right. Here then,” said Aye. He glanced about the room to make sure no one was there to overhear them. “I am getting to be an old man. I have served my nation since I was an adolescent and learned the serpentine ways of the royal court. We both witnessed the ruin brought on by Akhenaten’s reign, and we know that Tut is moving too slowly to fix the damage.”
“Are you saying—”
“Yes,” Aye stated flatly. “And if you help me, I can ensure that you will be my successor. I will not live long, but in my short time as pharaoh I can return Egypt to her former glory. You will complete the task, General.”
Horemheb’s scar was now a vibrant magenta. “How would we do this? Look at him. He’s a boy. No doubt he’ll recover from his fall.”
Horemheb sighed. He was nervous, yet he reveled in the notion of being pharaoh. “I never thought the day would come that I would speak openly… of killing the pharaoh.”
Before Aye could respond, they heard sandals shuffling on the tiled floor. They turned to face the sound, and Horemheb instinctively moved to block the door.
“Show yourself,” said Aye. “Come out now. Who’s there? Who?”
Yuye, the queen’s lady-in-waiting, a tall girl with green eyes, stepped out of the shadows. She was just a teenager, and the palace knew her as Ankhesenpaaten’s confidante. If anyone would tell the queen of their discussion, she would.
The girl was clearly terrified. “I didn’t hear anything, Vizier.”
“Yes, you did.”
Horemheb took a step toward Yuye. His hand was up, ready to slap her. But Aye stopped him.
“You’ll leave a mark,” he said to the general. “We don’t want that, do we?”
Aye turned his attention to Yuye. “The issue is not whether you heard something, but whether you will say something.”
“I won’t. I promise I won’t.”
Aye grabbed the girl’s wrist and yanked her toward him. His face was just inches from hers as he issued a quiet threat: “I know.”
Aye then turned to Horemheb. “You think of a plan for him,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of Tut. “I’ll take care of the girl.”