The funeral procession had finished its journey through the capital by early evening. Mourners dressed in wild blue gowns despite the twisting sands and molten sun rays pouring from above followed tirelessly behind, showing off their tears. Tutankhaten watched the parade dawdle by, thinking it was like an inverted comet. Dark and slow instead of a blink in bright light. Depressing and tedious instead of making dreams. But long. Longer than the longest comet's tail, the weepers stretched on. The whole city must have been out that day, even though it was so hot the body inside the broad stone coffin must be melting like old goat cheese tossed in fire.
The boy shifted, holding on to the stone window ledge habitually as an extra precaution to keep from toppling down to the terrain below. Everyone else was always so careful, so it was expected he must be as well. It was futile to protect the reckless.
Soldiers marched by the closed door, and Tutankhaten caught a snippet of conversation from the hallway as the two heavy-footed men thumped past.
"It's the political situation that is really the hardest done by in the mix, though," said a young, somewhat nasally voice.
"Obviously. The boy is too young," came the voice of a more aged, experienced guard of some rank.
"Most certainly. I fear for my family with him in control," the nasally voice said, snobbishly.
"Yes, I think now would be a fine time to defect to Nubia!"
A pang of laughter lilted quietly to Tutankhaten's ears and died down the hallway. At that moment, his shadow on the bare wall seemed to shrink and become very small and shriveled and neglected. Of course he was young; he had only been allowed on the planet for a pathetic nine years, so what age did they expect of him?
The funeral procession wandered out past the outskirts of the new capital and prepared to lay Meritaten in the cliffs along with all the trappings they could cut a hole for. The digging and choosing had taken ages, and at last the aides, care givers, priests and masons decided on throwing in any old thing the pretty young queen could have wanted in the Underworld. Towards the back was the silhouette of Ay the Vizier, lengthened substantially by a pair of sun discs fastened to his own bald skull. He had been performing a ceremony inviting the queen to accept the night sun as the day, and vice versa. Word has it that her grinning corpse case did not respond.
Tutankhaten propped his chin up on his long brown hands and gazed at the rapidly accumulating crowd. What was once the head of the comet was now growing into a vast clump of debris. People separated away as the burial commenced. All were crying, grieving. Few of them knew the dead Meritaten personally; merely that she would have led them into a new age of prosperity and wealth, a time of peace and happiness, had she lived more than two years into her (apparently rather ho hum) reign.
But alas, the time had passed. The last best hope for a half-decent ruler was totally and absolutely dead. Tutankhaten could hear the priest already. "The Ma'at has ordered this. The Tasherit family has committed some great sin against the nation, and they all must suffer! Akhenaten was a crazed, sorry excuse for Amenhotep the Third. His famous wife, of questionable background and sanity, was of no more use to Egypt than a single grain of sand. Smenkhkare was of little more divinity than the sandal you chafe upon the rocks, and Meritaten, well! Her silence proves that she might as well have been nothing at all. The weak plant makes a weak seedling. Tutankhaten is a lame kid with no knowledge and no ability to gain any. Hopefully he'll just die quickly like Meritaten managed to do and we can set about looking for someone suitable. Everyone gets what they deserve. Praise be the World Order!"
Tutankhaten got up, looking away from the burial that had been keeping his attention for the past few hours. He paced for a few minutes in his tiny, dark room. Why had the crown come to be his? He had been last in a line of six siblings, not including his father, and the husbands of his six sisters. Such luck. Such incredible damned luck.
Going back to the window, the young half-prince arrived in time to see the sarcophagus of his half sister, Meritaten, disappear over the sand, carried by a mixed group of mourners, masons, scribes and farmers. The red sun watched attentively as the sarcophagus was borne through a wide crack in the cliff face to where the queen would remain forever.
So, Meritaten really was dead.... fortunate creature. She had spent only a brief time under the servitude of the entire public body, never made any difficult choices, just accepted the crown of the Two Lands and wasted away, as if the object was some sort of a disease what destroyed her body imperceptibly on the outside, but forcefully.
They had found her body ninety days ago in her rooms, propped up on her day bed shortly after Shinaide, the royal physician, had been in to look for the miracle of an immaculate conception courtesy of the Sun God, Aten. The queen was dead, a copper mirror imbedded halfway into her upper thigh, blood cascading onto the floor like a thin layer of bright red ochre. It was theorized that she felt so insulted that Shinaide had found no evidence of a pregnancy (servants said they heard her cursing and smashing objects upon this news) that she was exploring her feminine folds for any proof to the contrary. The mirror slipped, and with its deadly sharp edge, tore the queen from her current life as she vainly searched for another's.
Tutankhaten had been sent to visit his "uncle", an old man that lived in the farthest end of the noble's wing, right after word of the incident got out. A recluse, the man rarely emerged from his rooms but quickly put out word that he wanted to speak to the heir apparent in absolute private. Tutankhaten sighed as he stood before his own father, the former Pharaoh Akhenaten, his yellowed eyes overflowing with huge tears. Meritaten was his favorite, none of his children had ever been unaware of this fact.
"There, there, father, er, uncle," Tutankhaten had said, trying to muster up a little grief for his dead half-sister, but he had known her only in passing, and as she was several years older than he, he had never found her languid attempts at inclusion to be particularly memorable.
"Don't you understand? She was in fact pregnant! She had to have been! We'd been at it once a day for months!" Akhenaten raged and threw himself down on her bier, which he had arranged to be moved into his room before her burial. At the time, Tutankhaten's mind conjured up the image that the two of them had been at praying to the Aten for a baby together, and he nodded understandingly as if this was the most natural thing in the world. "This is an abortion of time and space! She was destined for greatness, I saw it in her eyes the moment she opened them for the first time. I let her get away with murder all her damned life!"
The word made young Tutankhaten sweat. As it seemed, she was not unique in such privileges. She had been left to her own devices as Shinaide fled for his life from her rooms, and she had been found in isolation a short time later. But Shinaide was not the last human face that she had seen. Other eyes were in the room, other hands, other feet. Tutankhaten, with little else to do all day long but stroll the hallways when he was not in active service to one of the high officials, had strolled past her silent room on his way to amuse himself in the main corridor. Outside of her door was a small, red, half-moon mark near the painted image of a row of colorless zebras. The young boy had seen clumsy artists step in pigments and track their color around before, and he carried on, assuming Meritaten was having her room repainted or that an artist had been in to work on another of her images. It was only upon his return that he saw the horrific commotion and the hundreds of bloody footprints staining the artwork that he realized that someone had left a scant bit of evidence of their presence with the body before it had been discovered. But with the track so obscured by the blood that had gallantly traversed the room, there was no way to prove it to a second set of eyes, or even to his own.
The sun, either bored with or so tragically wounded by the funerary proceedings, began to pilot its way down to the ground below in its daily death throes, casting the mourners' long shadows into thick twilight. Why the massive ball of fire never crashed was beyond the nine year old half-prince. Surely gods must make mistakes sometimes. Have regrets. Suffer the pains of the human race. At least, he liked to think so.
"Go suck the gas out of a dead ibis butt and die!"
The words grabbed the pensive Tutankhaten's attention like the puckered lips of a shaved camel might have. Looking directly below him, about twenty feet down, a small girl was arguing with a partnership of boys from the city, who were prowling around her in the sand like bloodthirsty jackals. "Come any closer and I'll kick your scabby asses!" she yelled at them both.
There was a knock on Tutankhaten's door.
"Come in," he told the knocker, and in the process missed a line of the altercation held by the three below.
"Osiris damn you!" the girl continued. "That wasn't even me! How about I blame your parents on you? Should've known better than to pop out of that particular mama, you tit-nose!"
The person who had knocked amiably approached Tutankhaten. "Good evening to the future Pharaoh! I guess I should be kneeling and referring to you as 'Majesty' and all that soon." The young man at the door bowed so low his forehead touched the floor. When he received no response he huddled up next to the wall, folding his slim limbs into comfortable spots. He was only fifteen, although many assumed him to be much older. Royal service was hard and it had aged him in his eyes, and it made him appear tougher. He too was 'obviously too young' when he started.
"Nakhtmin, nice to see you," Tutankhaten said, not taking his eyes off the trio below.
"I really am sorry about Meritaten. It was a terrible accident, who could have predicted it? But I mean, ya know, these things happen. Do you need, like, a shoulder to cry on or something? Funerals make the worst of a bad situation."
Tutankhaten shook his head. "I don't need any help. But that girl down there might. Don't you know her?"
Nakhtmin leaned out the window space without taking much care by way of safety and looked at what was going on. "Domestic abuse, looks like," he commented, sounding like a peace officer who had spent all his life sorting out these issues.
"Kill me, eh? What are you going to do? Breathe on me? You couldn't kill time if you tried with all your might! Idiot!" The girl below taunted the stalkers.
"Who..." murmured Nakhtmin, squinting his dark eyes from beneath the war-helm he seemed to revel in wearing. "That looks like... fuck!" Tutankhaten's friend jerked away from the ledge, as if some omnipresent babysitter had leaped up to the window and shoved him back into the room where it was safer. "Pardon language. My friend!" Nakhtmin babbled as he skittered out the door and ran off without shutting it, his white kilt waving as if offering a belated departing remark. Tutankhaten took little notice and continued to watch.
One of the boys was egging the lone girl on with insults of his own. "Why don't you get your daddy to come teach me a lesson? Or are you gonna get your momma to fight me off with a wash cloth?"
The girl stood for a few seconds, shifting her weight and looking down. Tutankhaten felt sorry for her then, but this girl did the strangest thing he had ever seen; she tackled the boy with total commitment around the midriff and ground his face in the abrasive sand, inflicting real violence that Tutankhaten had only ever seen implied.
In response, the boy grabbed her around the shoulders and heaved her away before the other boy could intervene. She kicked sand at him and he pulled her ankles out from under her, throwing her to the ground. They tussled rapidly, rolling this way and that, until they both went flopping down into an inlet from the nearby Nile, sand leaping to get out of their way. The second boy sprinted after his friend and the girl, yelling something or other as the red earth sprayed from beneath his feet.
There was the sound of water from below, a war muted in splashing. Up there in the stone palace, it sounded similar to a rabid cat hissing. Tutankhaten could see none of it, and he leaned as far out of the window as his young body would allow. It looked like he was performing a complicated stretch for some religious purpose out his window. He could see the occasional wisp of water over the ridge of the midget valley, hear the odd yell. All at once, the fighting stopped, giving way to a quiet that was most eerie. Like the effect of a python so deadly it breathed poison and had just been rearing up to bite, hissing madly then suddenly nothing. Were its fangs buried harmlessly in the sole of your sandal, or was it latched on through your veins?
Nakhtmin ran out of the entrance below and hustled to the embankment, holding the war-helm down securely with his right hand, while furiously pumping with his left, as if his legs moved the earth beneath him. Over the rough path the young guardian tore, his brown legs flashing from beneath the overlong kilt, which was nearly bubbling from the force of his motion. He long jumped down to the water.
Quickly, the silence gave way to a ruckus. Nakhtmin grabbed the first boy by his shoulder and tossed him into the water, creating a loud slap as he belly-flopped in. The second boy was dealt a kick to the rump and he fell sideways, too surprised to object. The young guard boy plunged his whole upper body into the icy river to hook his arms under the limp body of the girl and came up, holding her limp form against his soaked collar bone. He carried her back up to the flats, face turning red with rage.
"Damn you!" Nakhtmin growled at the two boys, who had recovered enough to stand up and look angrily at the newcomer. "She's just a kid!" he paused to clear some of the murky black sludge from her mouth. "Fuck you and your parents! She was only a child! Pharaoh will have your heads for this!" Nakhtmin's voice was almost at a scream, reaching easily up to Tutankhaten's ears. "You can't just do this to people!"
The boys, jarred a little by Nakhtmin's war helmet and his acidic threats, moved off and ran south, toward the suburbs. He quieted to a whisper and began speaking to the girl, still motionless in his arms. After a few seconds, his voice jumped in volume. "Hey! Come on. Ankh! Damn!" Nakhtmin jerked her limp body with each word.
Tutankhaten scuttled off the ledge underneath the window and zipped out his door. He slipped out of his room, made sure the immediate coast was clear, and hurried down the darkening hallway. Before long he was outside, in a space of open area that was just inside the walls. He ran down the semi-sanded tiles and out onto the sandy flat where Nakhtmin was holding the drowned child.
"Tutankhaten!" Nakhtmin said shrilly. "Get Shinaide or Perennefer or somebody!"
He froze. The girl's lips were like a bruise, and dripping black ooze from the Nile bottom. Her eyes were white and pasted with her own hair.
Tutankhaten tore his eyes from the hideous sight and ran back to the House. That was Ankh all right. Heart kicking his ribcage, Tutankhaten blundered down the corridors at a dangerously high speed. His sandals had little traction on the stone floors, and an unlucky servant would find himself in a collision if he chose to meander into this hallway.
The half-prince skidded into the side of the doorway of the assistant royal healer Perennefer, and fell with an undignified clatter. Without pausing, he drew his body back up and scrambled through the door.