GENERAL HOREMHEB MOURNED his friend and ally, Aye. The two had known each other since they were young men. As Aye was sealed inside the tomb once reserved for Tut, a wave of sadness filled Horemheb’s heart. The scar on his face turned a bright crimson.
How odd, thought Horemheb, that I can stab a man through the heart and still mourn him.
He scanned the august crowd gathered around Aye’s tomb, making eye contact with a few old friends in the process. The tomb was located in a rather obscure spot, far removed from the Valley of the Kings.
Horemheb could understand why Aye would want to be buried there—the location was concealed and remote, which might prevent tomb robbers from finding it. But he also cursed his compatriot for selecting a spot so far from Thebes. The sun was going down, and it was a two-hour journey back to the city in the dark.
Finally, though, he smiled. These were good problems to have. For at the end of the ride, he would not return to his old home or to an army barracks. He would ride triumphantly into the palace.
General Horemheb was now pharaoh.
As the servants collected the plates and wine urns from the final meal, Horemheb picked his way down a rocky trail toward the temporary stable. A long procession of mourners trailed behind him. He could hear the accents of Memphis and Amarna in some of the voices. The high priests led the way.
Despite the death of Aye, the mood today was festive. Perhaps that was on account of the wine or maybe it was because Aye was far from beloved.
Still, Horemheb hoped it would be like this when he died, with celebrants coming from all over Egypt. He loved a good party.
The sun was directly in Horemheb’s eyes, but in a moment it would dip behind the rocky plateau ringing the valley. He shielded his face with his hand.
In the distance he could hear the whinny of horses and knew that his groom was hitching his chargers to the chariot. Horemheb was in a mood to bring the reins down hard on their flanks and race all the way back to Thebes at top speed.
What sort of pharaoh will you be? he asked himself.
Magnificent. Like Amenhotep III.
Yes. I will be magnificent. Let them attach it to my name.
Horemheb instantly knew what he must do next: wipe the slate clean.
Then and there, the fierce general resolved to level Amarna, the city that had been erected by Akhenaten.
The entire city.
All of it.
And wherever the names of Tut and Aye were carved on the temple walls, they would be chiseled off. His name alone would remain.
His soldiers would search throughout the land. The job might take years, but the names of Horemheb’s predecessors would be obliterated. Pharaohs like Tut would molder in their tombs, edicts undone and commandments overruled. It would be as if Tut and that pretty young wife of his had never existed.
Horemheb was deep in thought as he took hold of the reins to his chariot. Now that he was pharaoh, a procession of bodyguards traveled with him, but he did not acknowledge them. Instead, as he raced down the dusty road back to Thebes, all Horemheb thought of was his plan to erase history.
For more than three thousand years, it had actually worked.