ANKHESENPAATEN HAD BEEN badly frightened for exactly twenty-eight days in a row. She had counted each and every one. Now she walked the palace courtyard alone as the sun rose on the twenty-ninth morning after Tut’s death.
The sound of water trickling from a nearby fountain gave her a false sense of calm, as did the sparrows flitting through the fruit orchard. But she hadn’t touched her morning meal and was so nervous that not even a sip of water had passed her lips.
Today would be the day. She was sure of it. But she was certain about nothing else at the palace.
It took fourteen days for a messenger to travel from Thebes to the Hittite kingdom. If all went well, a prince would ride to her palace this day and offer his hand in marriage. She would accept, of course. Aye had grown more terrifying with each passing hour, imposing himself upon the palace as the pharaoh. But his claim would never be true if she did not marry him. Once the Hittite prince arrived, the matter would be settled. Aye would once again be a commoner, forced to live out the rest of his days as royal vizier. If that.
Just then she heard heavy footsteps. It was certainly not her lady-in-waiting.
Ankhesenpaaten turned to face Aye.
“Good morning, Highness,” he said stiffly. But there was something else in his look. A smugness.
“What troubles you?” he asked.
She took a calming breath. “That is none of your concern.”
While the queen stood, Aye sat on a bench, ignoring proper protocol. That in itself was bold and insulting.
“Stand up,” barked the queen.
The vizier smiled, then stood and took a step toward her. “Highness, there is still ample time before your husband’s burial. But we must discuss the plan for succession. Do you have a plan?”
She said nothing.
“Highness, you need a king beside you to rule Egypt. You must understand that.”
“And I will have one,” she said.
“There is no one in the land more capable than I—”
“I said I will have one. Please do not discuss this delicate matter with me until my husband has been laid to rest.”
They were interrupted by Yuye, whose eyes hastily met those of the vizier. The queen noticed the look that passed between them. Could it be collusion? She pushed the thought aside. Yuye would never betray her. And yet she felt certain something was going on.
“There is a messenger to see you, Highness,” Yuye announced.
“Who is it?” demanded Aye.
“That is none of your concern,” Ankhesenpaaten said. Her heart was beating wildly. “You are dismissed, Vizier.”
A dark-haired man was led into the courtyard after Aye departed. The visitor had left a small retinue behind at the gate. One look told the queen this was not a Hittite prince.
“What is the meaning of this visit?” the queen asked. She looked at Yuye in desperation.
Yuye only shrugged as the Hittite, clearly uncomfortable in the presence of the queen, struggled to explain himself.
“I have a message from my king,” said the Hittite. He handed it to the queen, and she read it quickly. Then the Hittite verbalized the message. “Where is the son of the late pharaoh? What has become of him?”
Ankhesenpaaten nearly flew into a rage. “Do you see a male child wandering the palace halls? Do you? Do you see a young prince on a chariot galloping about the grounds? Oh, what I would give for a young boy. Does your king think this is some sort of trick? Did my letter to him seem insincere or unclear?”
The Hittite shuffled his feet and lowered his eyes. “What shall I tell my king?”
“Tell him this: ‘Why should I deceive you? I have no son, and my husband is dead. Send me a son of yours, and I will make him king of Egypt.’”
The Hittite stood there not sure what to do next.
“What are you waiting for?” asked the queen. “We are running out of time! We have until my husband is buried, no longer.”
As the Hittite fled the palace, Yuye slipped away to find Aye.
The queen stood alone.