"The plant reveals what is in the seed."
Teppy bolted across the grainfield like a gazelle fleeing from a cheetah. The white linen of his shendyt flapped against his legs as coarse leaves of wheat thrashed his bare chest. The beast propelled itself after Teppy, who was too terrified to glance back at what was determined to tear his frail six-year-old body to pieces.
Fixed on his trail, the creature gained momentum while Teppy's heart pounded against his chest. His brother had warned him not to be afraid, to fight back with all his strength—but he had none left. Fearful the beast intended to rip his head from his body, Teppy kept running through the endless grainfield, calling out for his brother, Tuthmosis, to save him.
A roar erupted that hushed him, then a wisp of wind brushed his side-lock as an arrow cut through the air, narrowly missing his otherwise clean-shaven head. Another arrow sliced through his shendyt, burrowing into the flesh of his thigh. Teppy stumbled to the ground, anticipating the pain to come. Before it had a chance to register, the roar erupted again. He turned his head away from the sight of the wound, and yanked the arrow from his thigh. Teppy grimaced before he staggered back to his feet and escaped the field.
In front of him now, rising up among the three great pyramids, was Horemkhat. With its monumental lion's body and the head of their old pharaoh Khafra attached at the shoulders, the statue stood over forty cubits high, painted in vibrant shades of red, yellow, and blue.
Teppy dashed toward it. I'm almost there… almost safe, he thought.
His body gave out when he reached the tip of the statue's paw. Gasping to catch his breath, Teppy collapsed in the sand, causing the blood to flow out from his wound.
Suddenly, a shadow in the form of a man unlike any he'd ever seen enveloped him. The figure was tall and dressed in the regal clothing of a pharaoh. Slung on his shoulder was a bow with a quiver of arrows, and in his hand, a sickle. His face was silhouetted against the blinding orange sun, but when it came into view, the unmistakable head of a ram roared back at Teppy as saliva dripped from its canine teeth.
The beast dropped to its knees and grabbed his victim by the throat. Teppy screamed but no sound came. Easing the grip around Teppy's neck, the beast raised the razor-sharp sickle above its head. Teppy closed his eyes, expecting the swipe of the blade that would slit his throat. Silence followed instead, and a moment later Teppy felt something odd, not the blade slashing through his skin, but a sudden lightness, as air rushed into his larynx. Teppy blinked his eyes open. His body was slowly falling away beneath him and drops of blood sprinkled the twitching limbs of his headless body. He screamed and flailed about until his brother shook him out of his nightmare.
"Teppy! What is it?" shouted Tuthmosis.
Teppy lurched awake in his bedchamber.
Relieved by the familiar surroundings, he cried. His chamber had always been a source of comfort for him, as he was protected by the gold statues of animal gods that towered over his platform bed and the many pottery jars that lined his floor, painted with his father's war scenes and conquests. The guards always kept the torches in Teppy's bedchamber illuminated so that he could see the hieroglyphics covering his walls from floor to ceiling. The inscribed pictures were of incantations meant to prevent evil spirits from entering his dreams at night, though none of it had been enough to stop the beast.
Tuthmosis sat down next to him and wiped away his tears. "Stop crying. It's alright. Tell me what happened."
Teppy took a moment to calm himself.
"He was chasing me."
"Who was chasing you?" asked Tuthmosis.
"Amun. He shot an arrow through my leg, and he cut off my head."
Tuthmosis pulled the bedcover back. "Look, there is no arrow in your leg, not even a wound."
Teppy sat up and examined his lower limbs. Other than his right hipbone protruding out more than the left, his legs were unblemished and intact.
"And I promise you," continued Tuthmosis, "I'm looking at your head and it's still attached to your body."
Teppy cradled his head with both hands just to be sure.
"What did I tell you? You mustn't reveal your fear of him, Teppy. You have to fight back. If he kills you three times in your dream, you will never find your way back from the afterlife. And now look, it's already the second time."
"I can't fight him. He frightens me," Teppy whimpered.
Tuthmosis put a protective arm around Teppy. It always made his little brother feel safe. At age sixteen, ten years older than Teppy, Tuthmosis was caring, smart, and brave, and he protected his younger brother from everything, even crocodiles. Teppy dreamed of having big shoulders and arms just like his brother and a side-lock of hair as long as his, too. This, he knew for sure, would make him brave.
Tuthmosis removed an amulet from around his neck and placed it around his brother's. "Yes, you can fight him. This will help you," he said.
Though he never knew the amulet's significance, Teppy had always admired it.
"Your Aten amulet?" Teppy asked.
"Yes," Tuthmosis answered. "Now it's yours."
Teppy rubbed the gold-plated disk. The engraving on it depicted a seated man with a crown on his head being bathed by the rays of the sun. "What does the picture mean?" he asked.
"Aten is the sun, the god that gives us light. Without him, we would have no morning, only the darkness of the night. The amulet bears the scene of Aten shining his power down on the pharaoh of Egypt. It will give you power and strength over your enemies," said Tuthmosis.
"Yes, even Amun. Promise me you'll always keep it with you and never let it leave your sight."
"I promise," replied Teppy.
He was enthralled by the amulet. From that moment on, he vowed to himself that he would always keep it across his heart.
"If I have it, what will protect you, Tuthmosis?"
Tuthmosis gave his brother a self-assured look. "I don't need it. The Aten is always with me. Now get up. Come with me to the river."
"Father forbade us to swim in the river," Teppy reminded him.
With a sly grin on his face, Tuthmosis handed him a hooded cloak. "Then we won't tell him, will we?"
Teppy nodded his head in agreement and mimicked his brother's mischievous smile. He was going swimming in the river with his big brother, and there was nothing better in the whole world.
The boys made their way down the corridor and slipped out of the palace, making sure not to be detected by their father's guards.
From an open window, Ay, the pharaoh's trusted confidant, saw his two young nephews sneak out of the palace grounds before he continued down the corridor to the pharaoh's chamber.
Ay entered as Pharaoh Amenhotep was in the midst of his prayer to the Amun god—one he would always recite before he went off to war:
"Amun, my god of sustenance, my lord is my protector, who answers the one that calls on him. Amun, the king of the gods, grant me victory over my enemies, light the path I must follow."
Ay stood silent until Amenhotep finished. The pharaoh was fully aware that someone was standing at the entrance of his chamber because of the shadow cast onto the opaque white curtain separating it from the palace corridor. "Who stands there?" he asked.
"My Pharaoh, it is your most humble servant, Ay."
Amenhotep stepped out from behind the curtain into the outer chamber dressed in his king's robe and nemes striped head cloth. Ordinarily, the pharaoh appeared imposing, stout and solidly built, but today he was sweaty, frail and anxious. He must be craving the cure again, Ay thought. Many moons ago, the pharaoh developed a severe toothache that wouldn't leave him. The enamel in several of his teeth had worn down and most of the pulp was exposed, causing excruciating abscesses. It was Ay's responsibility to extract the opium from the capsules of the poppy plant and administer it to him. If Amenhotep didn't get it when he needed it, he could be a tyrant, and in recent days his need for the cure had turned habitual.
Cradling his jaw in pain, Amenhotep yelled at Ay, "Give it to me!"
He snatched the pouch that Ay was carrying and glanced inside.
"Why is it empty?"
"Forgive me, my Pharaoh. I have yet to replenish it."
"How dare you even come to me without it?"
"It was urgent I advise you that General Nasheret has formed the troops. They await your arrival."
"Bring me the cure now, Ay!"
"As you wish, my Pharaoh."
Ay was the perfect manservant for Amenhotep. He never questioned the pharaoh and always did as he was told, and though he was the pharaoh's wife's brother, Ay's loyalty to Amenhotep was much stronger than it was for Queen Ty. How could it not be when it was Amenhotep, not the queen, who rewarded him with a life of royalty?
Before Ay could walk away, Amenhotep grabbed his arm and stopped him. "Where is Tuthmosis? My son has not made an appearance in my chamber to greet me."
"I saw him and Prince Teppy leave the palace, my pharaoh. They were headed toward the river."
Amenhotep seethed. He'd warned Tuthmosis and Teppy not to go into the river. A crocodile recently attacked and devoured the leg of a servant boy as he was swimming, and now the rogue creature harbored a taste for human blood. It was dangerous for any citizen to swim the river, much less the royal sons of a pharaoh. Amenhotep instructed Ay to fetch his chariot, and along with four of his royal guards, he rode out to the river in search of Tuthmosis.
The village of Thebes teemed with people and merchants bartering and selling their wares as huge monuments of farm animals, macabre beasts, and a colossal statue of Pharaoh Amenhotep, loomed overhead. Pastel-painted houses outlined in hieroglyphics stood on either side of a narrow road choked with noisy traffic of donkey carts and small feral animals.
Teppy and Tuthmosis made their way through the village wrapped in cloaks. Children of royalty were forbidden to go into the village of Thebes, to walk among the peasants. This was why they concealed their identity. "Someone might curse you if they discovered your secret birth name, and that you were a prince," Tuthmosis would say to Teppy.
Each boy had a secret name given at birth that was uttered only in the presence of their parents, and Queen Ty, their mother, had told the boys they should never reveal that name to anyone. Without the knowledge of their secret names, she explained, no one could conjure a spell of divination against them using their publicly known names, "Teppy" and "Tuthmosis." Teppy found the pronunciation of his secret name too long and difficult to repeat in any case, so his mother's warning wasn't needed.
While Tuthmosis tramped his way through the crowded street taking quick deliberate steps, upright and poised, Teppy followed two steps behind, hunched forward with a slight limp in his left leg that he dragged whenever he attempted to speed up to his brother's pace.
"We're close. Are you tired?" shouted Tuthmosis.
"No," said Teppy, intentionally giving a one-word answer so that his brother wouldn't suspect from his voice he was out of breath and falling behind.
Passing through the village was the only way to get to the river, and it was an exciting journey for Teppy. The village promised a whole new world, a welcome change from his quiet life in the palace. He was fascinated by the bustle of the city and loved seeing the people together with all the different animals, especially cats. One had hidden under the brush, mangy and bone-thin. Teppy stopped following Tuthmosis and walked over for a closer look at it. The cat was trying to lift itself from a lying position with a paralyzed hind leg.
By the time Tuthmosis found his brother, he was holding the injured cat in his arms, caressing it.
"It's sick," Teppy said. "We have to take it home and cure it."
"Put it down now before someone recognizes you," Tuthmosis ordered.
Teppy placed the cat on the ground. It didn't move. Tuthmosis examined its frail body. "It's too late. The disease has overtaken it," he said.
They had seen the same purplish bruising on the cat's underside many times before on animals who had contracted the disease: the purplish mark being the first symptom and an inevitable sign of death to come.
"Can't we please take it home and try to cure it?" pleaded Teppy.
"There is no cure, Teppy. If we take it home and it dies, who do you think will get punished for it?"
His brother spoke the truth; still it hurt to leave the animal, and so he kneeled and rubbed the cat's head one last time.
"You are a good brother," said Tuthmosis, "much kinder than me. But you must let no one see you show such weakness, for if they see it, they will pounce on you like a leopard. Do you understand?"
Teppy nodded his head though he really didn't understand. How could he hide his weakness when everyone can look at his body and see it? Maybe his brother was not speaking of his deformity, he thought. Maybe he spoke of what was not visible—a weakness in the heart.
A group of villagers walked toward them. Tuthmosis grabbed Teppy's hand and pulled him up on his feet.
"Leave the cat. When I run, you follow me, okay?"
Teppy nodded. This had happened before: almost being recognized, almost getting caught.
The villagers were eyeing the boys with suspicion as they approached, so Tuthmosis motioned Teppy to walk ahead and not to look back. After a moment of following his brother's instructions, Teppy gave in to his curiosity. He turned back and saw the villagers circle the diseased cat. Two soldiers dressed in their combat uniforms with bows slung on their shoulders, stepped out from among them and glared at Teppy. The skinny one pointed at them.
"Hey, you two!"
Tuthmosis took off and Teppy galloped after him but kept peeking back at the soldiers. One of them raised his bow, aimed, and then released an arrow in their direction. It whizzed past them.
"Why are they shooting arrows at us?" shouted Teppy. "What have we done?"
"They think we harmed the cat. Keep running!"
The boys were approaching the river when Teppy gasped for air. His struggle to keep up with Tuthmosis had exhausted him and he lagged at a slow and unsteady pace. This was not a dream where he could run like a gazelle, or hop and jump as high as he wanted. This was real life, and despite his effort, Teppy's deformities, his uneven shoulders, protruding hip and curved spine, made him sometimes lose his balance.
Two hundred cubits short of the river, Teppy fell to the ground. He didn't want his brother to see it, so he hurriedly tried to pull himself up, only to fall again.
"I don't want to run anymore!" Teppy cried out. "Why do we have to run?"
In tears, he lay helpless on the ground. Tuthmosis rushed over and, like so many times before, placed his brother's arm around his neck and lifted him off the ground.
As he carried Teppy, he leaned in to his brother's ear. "Hold your head high. You are a prince," he said. And throughout their remaining journey to the river, Teppy held his head as high as the proudest of royalty.
Once they reached the shore, Tuthmosis and Teppy tossed off their cloaks and shendyts and immersed themselves in the coolness of the river. It was Egypt's sole life sustainer, the flood of Isis's tears of sorrow over the death of her husband, the ancient god Osiris. It was the river that kept the people from perishing from starvation—their one retreat from the stone walls of the palace and the heat of the searing desert sun.
The boys swam and bathed in silence until Teppy spoke.
"In my dream, Tuthmosis, I can run fast and tall like you. My legs are strong like an ostrich and I never fall."
"That is good Teppy, but when you dream you must also learn to erase every fear or doubt in your mind and believe with all your heart that there is a sharpened spear on the ground before you. If you truly believe it, one will appear as it did for me."
"And what did you do with it?"
Tuthmosis chuckled. "What do you think? I used the spear to kill the beast, and never has he appeared in my dreams again."
Teppy was amazed at his brother. "I wish I could do that."
"You will dream again, little brother, and this time you will be brave and kill the Amun beast. I will show you how to use the spear to do it." He swam up close to Teppy. "But, first—"
Tuthmosis grinned before he flailed his arms and splashed water across Teppy's face. The boy shrieked and laughed as he tried to do the same, but Tuthmosis's arms were longer and faster. Their faces dripped of river water, and they were drowning in laughter until they heard their father's familiar shout.
Amenhotep ambled angrily toward them with his royal guards, and the boys' smiles disappeared. The pharaoh stopped next to the shoreline, exasperated. His sudden appearance made Teppy nervous, but Tuthmosis was unshaken. Then again, their father was not directing his stern gaze at Tuthmosis; he directed it at Teppy.
"Whose plan was it to defy my rules? Was it you, Teppy?" asked Amenhotep.
Before Teppy could form the words in his mouth to answer, Tuthmosis spoke out.
"No, it wasn't him. My brother is innocent. It was I, Father. I wanted to cool off from the heat, and I brought him with me."
"You were warned not to go into the river, were you not?"
"But the river is perfectly fine."
"The waters are infested with crocodiles, and where are the guards to protect you?"
Tuthmosis submerged himself in the river. A moment later he came up for air. "I'm not afraid of a rogue crocodile, Father. I welcome the pleasure of killing it right here in the river myself. The Aten god protects me."
"Tuthmosis, you are the high priest of Amun. You have responsibilities to the temple."
"What about my responsibility to my own brother? Three times a day you make me go to that place and suffer. The Amun priests don't want me in their temple, Father, they treat me like dung."
"You belong there. You were divinely appointed."
"Appointed by you, and they despise me for it. What's so divine about that?" said Tuthmosis.
Teppy would never speak that way to his father—if ever he had, he would be punished severely for it, despite his mother's intercession. He never understood why his father found it so easy to punish him while just as easily forgiving Tuthmosis. No matter how much Teppy tried to please his father, or how much he tried to show his love for him, Amenhotep never loved him as much as he loved Tuthmosis.
Teppy forgot his grievances when creases formed on his father's face. Amenhotep doubled over, grasping his jaw and moaning. His guards rushed toward him, but he waved them away.
"What's wrong father? Are you all right?" asked Tuthmosis.
"My son, please, come from the water."
Tuthmosis walked onto shore and approached him. Amenhotep stood up straight but moved with difficulty.
"You are so much like your mother, always challenging me."
"It's not her. I'm more like you, Father. No one is more stubborn than you."
Amenhotep smiled and motioned for Tuthmosis to come closer. He silently obeyed.
Teppy studied his brother and father's interaction while they stood next to each other. Their faces were similar, but he shared no resemblance to either of them. While his face was narrow with a prominent nose, thick lips, and protruding chin, Tuthmosis's rounded face and pinched nose looked identical to their father's. It was surely the reason why his father loved his brother so much, and all he would have to do is alter his face to appear more like him.
"It is written that you must fulfill your term as the high priest of Amun before you can become my co-ruler. Do you understand?" Amenhotep asked Tuthmosis.
"I'm a far better warrior than I could ever be as a priest, father," Tuthmosis remarked.
"Tuthmosis, do you understand?" his father repeated.
Tuthmosis was reluctant to answer. He despised being the high priest. Teppy didn't know why, except that the leopard-skin cloak that his brother had to wear smelled awful.
"I'll fulfill my term to the Amun god as you wish, but in my heart, I serve the Aten," said Tuthmosis.
Amenhotep kissed him on the forehead. It caused jealousy to stir in Teppy. He waved at his father to get his attention.
"Good morning, Father," he said to him with a smile. Amenhotep glanced at him but addressed Tuthmosis instead. "Take him back to the palace and make your way to the temple," said Amenhotep before trudging back to his chariot with his guards. The look of pity on Tuthmosis's face intensified the anguish Teppy concealed of his father's refusal to acknowledge him—an unintended affirmation that he was invisible to the one person in the world he wanted so much to see him.
Amenhotep cringed in pain as Ay attempted to fasten his armor breastplate around his torso.
"Stop. Give it to me now!" he demanded. "I can't continue this without it."
In order for the healing properties of the cure to be effective, it needed to be administered by a priest. A former Amun priest like Ay was sufficient enough for Amenhotep. He waited with bated breath as Ay retrieved a poppy plant he had hidden away in a pouch inside his garment. With a razor, he made an incision in the pod. A milky-white latex oozed from the capsule and Amenhotep opened his eager mouth wide so that Ay could squeeze every drop of the opium cure into it.
Watching them without uttering a word, Queen Ty stood at the entrance of Amenhotep's bedchamber dressed in a translucent, fine-pleated linen garment, adorned with semi-precious stones of turquoise, carnelian, and lapis-lazuli—the hair of the gods, as she called it.
On her head was an ornate black wig, woven with gold and jewels. Shiny solid gold jewelry hung from her neck and wrists, and her face was embellished with heavy makeup. Though the queen was adept on how to present herself extravagantly, her physical beauty had faded with age.
Ay closed the pouch the moment he saw her, bowed, and then left the room. Amenhotep fastidiously put on the rest of his armor, depriving his wife of the attention she craved.
"Why are you dressing yourself in war garments?"
Amenhotep didn't answer. He fastened the last buckle of his armor, grabbed his spear and shield, and shuffled away. Queen Ty followed him out of his bedchamber and down the winding palace corridor. "You're traveling to Nubia, aren't you?"
Amenhotep remained silent.
"This was not the appointed time. Where is Tuthmosis?" she asked, the desperation building in her voice. "Answer me!"
He turned and looked her in the eye. "He's in the temple of Amun as he should be."
"You swore our son would join you in the Nubian battle."
"He will serve as high priest at the temple until the Montu god chooses him for war," he replied.
Amenhotep walked out of the palace and down the steps. An ornate war chariot equipped for the most powerful ruler in the known world awaited him, along with six uniformed Egyptian guards on horseback. Queen Ty strode after him, close on his heels.
"He is a prince. The people need to see him as a victorious warrior. Please, Amenhotep, let him go with you. It would make him so happy."
"I've made my decision," said Amenhotep. "Tuthmosis will service the temple of Amun."
"A prince serves Egypt and should stand alongside his father in war!"
Her outburst had no effect on him. Amenhotep stepped into his war chariot that was amply suited for one driver and three passengers and turned back to the queen. "When the gods call for Tuthmosis to ride with me into battle, that is the day it will occur and not a moment sooner. For your own well-being, Ty, do not speak to me of this again."
He lifted his hand in the air, a signal to his driver, and Amenhotep and his guards raced south toward the kingdom of Kush. Queen Ty scurried up the palace stairs and into the chambers of her brother, Ay, desperate for his help.
The temple of Amun contained the sanctuary where the Amun god itself resided. It was built of white sandstone worked with gold and its floors purified in silver. The doorways and thirty-cubit-tall columns were made of electrum, an amber-colored alloy of silver and gold. Colorful banners hung from cedar poles perched atop red granite pedestals. No sunlight could penetrate through the darkness that enclosed the interior of the temple.
Tuthmosis was completing his duties as high priest there when twelve Amun priests entered. Their heads were clean-shaven, and they were all dressed in the same flaxen-hued robes. The priests knelt around an altar side by side and chanted as seven more priests entered, carrying burning incense. These seven priests encircled the shrine doors.
Tuthmosis stepped up in his leopard-skin cloak and lit the torch of the shrine. He then broke the clay seal off the doors with his fist, kneeled down, lifted both hands in the air and recited The Opening incantation:
"The gates of heaven open. The gates of earth are undone."
Suddenly, the massive doors of the shrine opened to an inner sanctuary. On the altar was a gilded silver statuette of the Amun god—a soldier with a ram's head—the despicable representation of a force that desired to control his life. Unable to conceal his contempt for it, Tuthmosis stepped inside, waited for the doors to close, then stepped up to the statuette and spat in its face. Satisfied, he continued on with the ceremonial "Feeding of the Gods," as was the custom of the high priest, by pouring out a blood-colored wine from the sacred vase into the first of seven bowls that surrounded the statuette.
Before he could fill the second bowl, a black mamba leaped out of it and slithered onto the floor.
Tuthmosis was so startled that he fell backwards and dropped the vase, which shattered into tiny pieces. He glanced around the room searching for the snake, but it had disappeared. As he stood up from the floor, eyes were on him. Two Amun priests were standing together at the entrance studying him, the identical twins Sia and Neper, the leaders of the Amun priesthood. They were bald and had shaved their bodies to be completely hairless; even their eyebrows and eyelashes were shaven off. They were the Lector priests, the most powerful of all the priests in Thebes, distinguished by the pure white floor-length robes they wore.
"It was an accident," Tuthmosis said.
The priests said nothing.
"I underestimated how heavy the vase would be," Tuthmosis tried again.
The twins were still unconvinced.
The pharaoh had taught his son that the twin priests wielded a higher form of magic that extended beyond this world into the afterlife. But Tuthmosis believed what was written in the scrolls of the former pharaohs of Egypt, that twins were savages, an abomination of what was meant to be a single person. Only those borne of evil intent could read each other's thoughts and finish each other's words as they could. Was it possible they were reading his thoughts? Could they tell when he was lying to them? Or worse, did they witness him spit on the Amun statue?
It was when he turned to leave the inner sanctuary that the twins spoke.
"The illusion you saw—" said Sia.
"—is a premonition of what is to come," Neper finished.
Tuthmosis pondered their cryptic message as he stepped out into the outer sanctuary where he continued his duties of feeding the god he so vehemently despised.
Ay darted past the musicians into the entrance of the temple so that he wouldn't hear them playing their instruments. The sound of music reminded him of the love he had lost. His wife, a flautist who had enchanted him with her ability to play beautiful melodies, had died six seasons before, thrown from her horse. Ay and his two young daughters were devastated and miserable without her. They searched for a new mother and found Teyla, an older woman who had no children of her own.
After Teyla and Ay married, his daughters, Mundi and Sete, were happy again. But Ay now despised the joviality of music and Amun's temple grounds were thick with harpists, lutenists, and flautists playing their ritualistic melodies, musicians who had requested their eyes singed shut, so that the Horus god would bless their loss of sight with a total command of their instruments.
Once inside, Ay stopped in front of the ablution tank and washed his hands and face. He spotted Tuthmosis exiting the inner sanctuary from across the room, and on an urgent mission from the queen, he strolled up to him and whispered her message into his ear. Tuthmosis's eyes widened at the news and the boy quickly undressed out of his leopard-skinned cloak and left the temple.
When Ay returned to the ablution tank to wash again, the twin priests, Sia and Neper, approached him from opposite sides.
"You now speak for the pharaoh?" Sia asked.
"No one speaks for the pharaoh. I am his manservant," said Ay.
Neper dropped a satchel at Ay's feet. Lapis-lazuli stones spilled out on the floor. "Then you should advise your master—"
"—to give his petty stipend to the Aten priests," Sia said, finishing his brother's thought.
"But if he wants the blessings of Amun—" Neper continued.
"—then he must give us a respectable tribute that's worthy of the highest of all the gods," said Sia.
Ay crouched down on the floor and collected the stones one by one into the satchel. "The pharaoh says the war with Nubia will yield an abundance of gold and ivory for the temple of Amun," said Ay.
"If it does not occur as he says—" Neper warned.
"—then we will cease our prayers and offerings to Amun on the pharaoh's behalf," Sia concluded.
Taken aback by their admonishment, Ay looked up at the priests. "That is unnecessary. The pharaoh's word is honorable."
"We will see just how honorable," said Sia.
Ay placed the last lapis-lazuli stone in the satchel and walked away. Though he still bore the appearance of an Amun priest himself—a shaved head and a tall, thin, and frail body, Ay never cared for piety. His loyalty to the priesthood had strayed the moment of his appointment as manservant to the pharaoh, a service of its own divine calling.
Outside the palace, another royal chariot awaited. This one was smaller, with room for only a driver and one passenger. Tuthmosis ran to the chariot and smiled at his mother who stood waiting for him.
"I dreamt of this day for so long, Mother," Tuthmosis said to her as he fastened the leather strap of his copper war helmet under his chin.
"So have I, my son," Queen Ty said as she eagerly assisted him.
It had been an easy decision for Ty to defy her husband and tell her son of the campaign in Nubia. Her position as queen and chief wife to Amenhotep would be surely sealed by a son that was known as a warrior at the side of his father. Any queen who had given birth to such an heir would be revered by the people of Egypt as the divine mother who had birthed a god.
"Be brave and courageous and return your father home safely to me," she added.
Tuthmosis kissed his mother's cheek. "I'll be his right hand, Mother. No harm will come to him, I promise."
Tuthmosis mounted his chariot. "When you see me again, Egypt will have its victory. Tell my little brother I'll be back for him."
Queen Ty kissed his hand. "Go son, quickly," she said.
Tuthmosis raised his hand and he and his driver sped away.
"Wait! Tuthmosis!" Teppy shouted, racing down the steps after him. As he reached the last stair, he stumbled. Queen Ty caught him in time to break his fall.
"Let him go," she said.
"But where is he going?"
The queen stared off into the direction of Tuthmosis's chariot and embraced him.
"Your brother has gone to war against the Nubians."
"Who are the Nubians, Mother?"
"The Nubians are a race of slaves that sometimes need to be reminded that we are their master," she explained.
"I didn't get to say goodbye to my brother."
"There's no need for goodbyes, my little prince. He'll soon return. And when he does, he will be co-ruler of Egypt alongside his father, forever revered by the people."
Queen Ty and Teppy stood together hand-in-hand watching Tuthmosis's chariot disappear in the distance.