ANKHESENPAATEN STOOD ATOP the stone steps that led down into her husband’s tomb. The funeral was more than two months away, but she wanted to see for herself where he would rest for eternity.
The mummies of their dead children would be interred here too. But she was destined to be far away, in the Valley of the Queens. The thought of that separation filled her with grief, even though she knew they would meet again in the afterlife.
She nodded to Yuye, her lady-in-waiting, signaling that she did not want to be followed. Then the queen descended the steps.
The steps led to a hallway, the floor of which dipped gently into the earth. She noted with disappointment the lack of decoration, the walls of bare rock.
Ankhesenpaaten understood that time was short. Still, a few simple paintings would have been better and more fitting.
She turned back toward the light at the tomb entrance, checking to see if she had been followed. There was no sign of anyone.
Ankhesenpaaten breathed a sigh of relief. More than anything, she wanted to be alone right now. She had much to think about.
The hallway led into a large chamber, and a slightly smaller room lay beyond that. The way was lit by small lamps whose ghostly flickerings danced on the walls.
The queen was heartened when she finally gazed upon murals depicting Tut’s life. At least he would be remembered here.
In the center of the small room was Tut’s throne, as if waiting for him to arrive. She walked to it, running her hand along the wood.
Ankhesenpaaten smiled as she examined the back of the chair where a scene of her anointing him with oil had been carved.
She remembered the day, or one exactly like it, as if it were yesterday.
There was another reason she’d come here: Ankhesenpaaten was terrified for her own life.
She circled the throne, afraid of the emotions welling up inside her. She had never felt so alone before, had never so needed Tut’s reassuring voice. He would have known what to do. She had seen him grow more and more confident in Aye’s presence, so much so that Aye had little or no power over him.
Tut had been fond of reminding her that Aye and his wife had been little more than glorified servants to their parents. Indeed, Aye’s wife had been Nefertiti’s wet nurse. The queen had nothing to fear from them.
Ankhesenpaaten took a deep breath, then allowed herself to settle onto the throne. She sat up straight at first, then settled back until she was relaxed in the chair. That was how Tut sat there, not erect, like some tentative ruler, but slumped and secure.
She could almost hear his voice as she sat there. He would be speaking directly, unafraid to tell the truth to whoever needed to hear it.
Ankhesenpaaten felt power rising within her, as if Tut himself were giving her confidence. But it was too much. She broke down in tears, sobbing alone in the tomb.
Tut was gone from this world; there was no getting around it. How would she rule without him?
His voice came to her, strong and sure: A woman cannot be pharaoh these days. You have two choices—either marry Aye and let him rule, or find a foreign king to occupy the throne. Some of her sisters had married Asians. Why should she be different?
Because they were princesses, and I am the queen—and right now the pharaoh too.
Ankhesenpaaten stopped crying, but the grief in her heart was great. She didn’t want to marry anyone else and certainly not Aye. But she was the queen, and she had no choice. Whatever plan she followed, it must be for the good of Egypt.
The queen gazed at the walls again. It was amazing to think that his body would be sealed inside this very room, forever. She desperately wanted to share this chamber with him.
But she couldn’t worry about that right now. She needed to act quickly.
Ankhesenpaaten strode from the burial chamber, shoulders back and head high. In her mind she was already composing the letter that might set her free.
Or possibly get her killed—just like poor Tut.