I’d spent several weeks separating the ancient scrolls. Every time a jar was brought into my workspace, I’d work diligently on finding the one to the unknown god. Once I’d found a scroll from all 20 dedications, I realized that there should be a total of 76 scrolls. If I was right, that would also mean 76 jars.
One day, just before the noon meal, my grandfather ran into the room. I could see in his eyes that something wasn’t right. He grabbed me by the arm and told me I was needed back at the palace immediately.
As I entered the palace, I was met with a feeling of dread. The wailing women were on their knees, screaming and pulling at their hair. The Pharaoh stood with his advisors in deep conversation, while Queen Tiye and Beketaten cried into each other’s arms. Then I saw Prince Amenhotep standing alone at the entrance of the portico, staring out over the crowd.
Meratahten and Kepri joined me, each looking at the other in confusion. When she noticed us, Beketaten came over and told us the news.
“Sisters,” she said in a mournful tone, “Prince Thutmose was found dead in his chambers. We don’t know what caused it as of yet, but some of the king’s physicians believe he may have been poisoned. There was a platter of partially eaten food beside his bed, as well as a jug of wine.”
Though the formal marriage had never taken place, we were expected to stop everything we were doing and go into mourning. For the next 70 days, everything in the kingdom would be put on hold.
I was devastated. Not so much at the thought of the prince’s untimely death, but that many of the scrolls I’d found were still in my workroom. I could only hope no one would go in there until I could return.
We attended the evening meals as usual. However, they were quieter and more somber. Queen Tiye would barely touch her food and Pharaoh seemed to be drinking more wine than usual. Prince Amenhotep sat quietly at his place, never saying a word or looking in any one direction. It was as though he were in his own little world. I felt worse for him than I did for any of the others.
As the days passed by, I began to get a little stir crazy. I needed to get out of my room. My imagination was running wild about whether or not my scrolls were still in my workspace. Sitting in my chambers in the palace just made matters worse.
I ventured out into the hallway and nearly ran straight into Prince Amenhotep. “My apologies, good prince,” I said with my head bowed.
“No, it is I who should apologize.” His words were soft and peaceful. I looked up into his eyes and my heart sank. He looked broken, rundown.
“I am truly sorry for the loss of your brother, Sire,” I whispered. “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling.”
He smiled at me in a way that sang to my heart. I felt my cheeks flush and had to turn my head away. I knew I should have been in mourning over Prince Thutmose, but at that moment, sorrow was the last thing on my mind.
“Would you care to join me for a walk?” he asked. I nodded my head and we ventured on together. Neither of us said a word until we’d made it to the courtyard. He just stood there, looking out over the city, sadness still swimming in his eyes.
“It’s strange to see so few people in the streets,” I said, not really knowing what else to talk about.
“Do you think I’ll make a good Pharoah?” His question caught me off guard.
“I…I don’t know,” I stuttered. “Do you think you’ll make a good Pharaoh?”
He turned around and looked me straight in the eye. “No, I don’t.”
He took a seat on one of the benches and dropped his head. “I don’t know how to be Pharaoh. I’ve never been taught anything about being a king. My father spent all his time grooming my brother, I was just an afterthought. Now it looks as though I’ll have no choice. How can I ever hope to follow in my father’s footsteps?” The sadness in his voice crushed my soul.
I sat down beside him and tried to ease his mind. “So don’t.”
He looked up at me as though I were speaking a foreign language. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t follow in his footsteps. Forge your own path. Be your own kind of Pharaoh. Be someone the people will never forget.” I wasn’t sure where my words were coming from, but they seemed to help. His smile was kind and his eyes began to twinkle.
“You know,” he said in a cheerier tone, “you are the only person who’s shown me any kindness. Even my own mother has made it clear that I was unwanted.”
I felt so bad for him, but I didn’t want it to show. He needed someone to put a smile on his face. He needed a friend.
“Sire, would you like to come to the temple with me?” I wasn’t sure if he’d say yes or not, but I thought it might help him get his mind off his troubles. “I was hoping to retrieve a few things from my workshop to keep my mind occupied. I know we’re not supposed to do any work, but I need to keep busy.”
The prince gave me a sideways glance and smiled. “I would be honored.”
We made small talk as we ventured toward the temple. A few of the guards looked at us in an odd manner but still bowed in the presence of the prince. I had no idea if what we were doing was acceptable or not, but I didn’t care.
As we entered the temple, I found my grandfather sitting at his post in prayer. Amenhotep and I both stopped in our tracks and bowed our heads. When he noticed us, he jumped up and ran over. “What are you doing here? You should be at the palace preparing for the funerary rights.”
“Master scribe,” Amenhotep began, “please forgive us. We mean no disrespect. I escorted Nefertiti here in order for her to retrieve a few of her things. I know full well how tedious this time is and I’ve given her my blessing.”
Though he wasn’t pleased, my grandfather couldn’t argue with the prince. “Very well. I guess I can understand. I forget how the days seem to slow while in the mourning process. Nefertiti, what is it you were coming for?”
My heart raced. Had he found my scrolls? Did he know what I’d been up to? “I had planned to gather some papyrus and quills. I left my satchel behind and had nothing to use in order to record my experiences.”
“A first-hand account of life inside the palace during the mourning process?” I could see my grandfather’s eyes light up. “What a good idea. Go. Take up whatever you need. I would like to see your work afterward, however. I think it would be good to add something like this to the archives.”
I ran to my workshop and was relieved to see that my satchel was still lying in the same corner I’d placed it in on that fateful day. I grabbed the scrolls I’d hidden in the wall and placed them in the bottom of my bag. Then, I grabbed several sheets of papyrus, a few quills, and two bottles of ink.
When I emerged from the workspace, I found Amenhotep and my grandfather sharing a smile. “Are we having fun?” I asked.
“Aw, my dear granddaughter. Do you have everything you’ll need?” I nodded my head as he continued. “I will have whatever you need sent to you over the coming weeks. Good prince, thank you for ensuring my granddaughter’s safety.”
The prince bowed toward my grandfather and we left the temple. Neither of us spoke on the walk back to the palace, but the air between us seemed lighter than earlier. For the first time since I’d moved into the palace, I felt a peace in my heart.
Once inside the palace, the prince and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I entered my chambers and let out a sigh of relief. I had the rest of the scrolls, but now I had something more. I had an ally.