"What must be done, must be done soon." Tut said firmly, adding: "Send a message to tell Aye to prepare for my departure."
"Tut..." Horembeb almost moaned.
Tutankhamen stood up, watching his lover with authority, and said: "My beloved, be strong on this day, because you are my strength. Only if you are strong, I can make my journey without fear. Do not fail me in this hour, please."
Horembeb looked at his lover, his sovereign, with renewed respect - he had never felt in him such strength, such vigour, and so much self-assurance.
He stood up, bowed and said, addressing him for the first time with his official name: "Nebkheperure, your wish is my command." He bowed again and left.
Baqet crouched at the feet of his king. "Lord, my Lord..." he whispered.
"Tell me, my gazelle."
"Are you really leaving us? Do you abandon us like that?"
"I have to, don't you understand?"
"And what will become of me?"
"I will entrust you to my Horembeb. I'll make him promise to always take care of you."
"You love him, my lord."
"Is that why you accept death from his hand so serenely?"
"No, I accept it because HE loves me."
"You put a very heavy burden on his heart."
"That's why I want him to take you with him... You will be able to alleviate that burden. Do you promise me, my Baqet?"
"I, my lord? I'm just a slave."
"Do you promise to remain near to my Horembeb?"
"Until I die, my lord."
"Very well," the young pharaoh said. He took the writing tablet and a scroll, and drew some signs on it with his usual care.
The boy looked at him and asked: "What are you writing, my lord?"
"Your freedom: from this moment on you are no longer a slave, but a free man. But remember: as you have up till now dedicated your life to me, from the time of my death you will have to dedicate it to Horembeb."
"But does he want me with him?"
"If I ask him, he will. Fear not."
Aye, after speaking again with Horembeb, prepared everything in great secrecy. So, when it was ready, he sent the agreed message to Horembeb. Only two words: "Nut-Amon", the name of the capital. Horembeb ordered his soldiers to enter the city and get ready.
Then he went to Tut through the secret corridor. The young pharaoh was waiting for him. Seeing him, he stood up: "I am ready, my love," he said with a serene face, "Let's go to the terrace, where Aton will bless me with his infinite hands."
The three went up there. Baqet crouched down and looked at the two lovers. Horembeb stood with his back towards the edge, Tut at the centre of the terrace, between Baqet and Horembeb. He was wearing only his long and elaborate fine linen pleated skirt and gilded sandals. The rays of the sun embraced him tenderly.
"Tutankhaton is ready," the pharaoh murmured, taking his ancient name again at that tragic moment.
"I kill you for love..." Horembeb sobbed, drawing his valuable and elaborate sword, that reflected the sun.
"Come on, do your duty, my beloved!"
Horembeb trembled and did not move.
"Here," the young pharaoh invited him, making the ankh sign with his fingers near his heart. "Dip your blade here, love..."
Horembeb slowly raised his sword, aiming at the heart of his beloved, and stopped again.
"Why are you waiting?" the pharaoh urged.
Horembeb did not move.
Then Tutankhaton advanced at a rapid pace and threw himself on the blade.
Horembeb shouted "No!" with a choked voice and swerved to the side, unable to end the life of his beloved, wanting to save him from his fate until the last minute.
But no one can mess with the decree of the gods.
The young pharaoh, in the momentum of throwing himself against his beloved's sword, found the vacuum in front of him. His foot tripped against the low edge of the roof. Without a sound he flew into the void.
Just a thud was heard, then a surreal silence. Horembeb remained motionless, his sword still in his hand, pointed straight ahead. Baqet had covered his eyes with both hands.
Suddenly screams and voices rose from the courtyard. Baqet got up, took Horembeb's hand and whispered: "Let's go down. It's over."
Horembeb slowly put his sword into the precious scabbard and followed the boy like he was in a trance. Baqet led him into the room of Tutankhamen, guided him along the secret corridor, pushed him onto the bed and motioned for Chike to take care of his master. Then he went back, carefully closed the passage, threw himself on his master's bed, and finally burst into a desolate and silent weeping, which was revealed only by the tremors that made jolt his slender young body.
Aye ran into the courtyard where the court physician, called by the servants, was already bending over the lifeless body of the young pharaoh. The doctor saw Aye, looked at him and said softly but clearly: "He's dead."
Aye nodded. Immediately he gave the orders he had prepared for. He thought that this death was the best, because it could pass for a fatal accident. He ordered the body of the pharaoh to be carried to the royal chambers.
Baqet heard them coming and hid. From his hiding place he saw the beautiful body of the pharaoh being laid on the bed. Only Aye and the doctor remained in the room.
"How did he die?" Aye asked, as if he knew nothing.
"He fell from the terrace on the roof of his room. He broke his skull, here... and I think also his jaws."
"Are you sure he's dead? Can't you do anything for him?"
"Not I, nor any mortal. You just have to prepare for the rites and his embalming."
"Go then, your presence is no longer needed here. Call the court scribe and let him record the incident and the cause of death in great detail."
Aye, left alone beside the dead body of his grandson, slightly stroked his face. Then he spread a veil over the body and left the room.
Baqet came out from his hiding place, took the hand of his master and kissed it, wetting it with his tears. Then he laid it back with tender care, so that the hand rested on Tut's heart that had stopped beating.
The news of the pharaoh's death was spreading across the kingdom, in both the lands, and even outside the borders. Horembeb went to the capital's garrison, only taking Chike and Baqet with him.
The pharaoh's body was lying on the embalming table. Hundreds of artisans busied themselves to prepare the furnishings for his final dwellings. With loving care the best goldsmiths of the kingdom prepared the golden mask that would cover the royal mummy's bandages and that faithfully reproduced the Pharaoh's sweet and fine features, giving him a slightly melancholic expression.
All the people began to mourn its young sovereign. Even the hypocritical priests seemed to grieve over his premature death.
Aye ordered to prepare the tomb that Tutankhamen had started to build for himself, but in secret he had another tomb prepared, that was excavated in the rocks of the Valley of the Kings, in which the sarcophagus of his nephew really would be hidden.
Tutankhamen's widow, the young Ankhesenamun, was completely unaware of the real course of events. She felt lost and in danger. Who would be the next pharaoh, after the seventy days of mourning elapsed, during which Tutankhamen was still the pharaoh, despite he was dead? And what would be her fate?
She imagined that Horembeb was aiming for the throne of the Two Lands, and the very idea horrified her. She knew that this man of humble birth had been the lover of her husband. So she took a drastic decision, as she did not want non-royal blood sitting on the throne of their ancestors. In secret she wrote a letter and sent it to Suppiluliumas, king of the Hittites.
"... The lord of Egypt, my husband, is dead and I have no children. I heard that you have several adult sons. If you send me one of your sons, I will make him my husband and he will sit on the throne of the Two Lands, because it disgusts me if one of my servants would become my husband..."
The Hittite's king sent a trusted man to see what was really the situation in Egypt. The king's envoy was able to speak with the widow of the pharaoh. Convinced of the truth of her intentions, he returned to his king, who then immediately made leave his son Zannanza to marry the widow and become the new pharaoh.
But the entire machination was not lost to the spies of Horembeb, who ordered to intercept the prince and assassinate him. If he didn't do so, there was the risk of Aye not becoming the new pharaoh, and the Hittites would have reigned over Egypt. He could not allow that to happen.
Upon learning of the death of Zannanza, the husband she had chosen, Ankhesenamun finally confided in her grandfather Aye, asking him to accept the appointment as co-regent.
When the time of embalming came to an end, Ankhesenamun took a difficult decision: she named her grandfather as the new pharaoh and to ratify this resolution, she married him.
Thus Aye, in the role of the new pharaoh, performed the prescribed rituals on the body of his young grandson, and the solemn ceremony of "opening the mouth." Then, while a procession carried a fake coffin to the official tomb of Tutankhamen, at night a small procession of soldiers led by Horembeb accompanied the real coffin with the body of his lover to the secret grave in the Valley of the Kings.
Once the tomb was closed, Horembeb made sure its entrance was carefully hidden; no one would ever find it.
Then Horembeb sat on the bare rock and declaimed, his heart overwhelmed with pain:
"I am your lover, oh great one among men,
Why have you left me?
Why has it pleased you, oh my brother,
To go away so far from me?
How can I continue on my own?
I tell you: I wanted to accompany you,
You who loved to converse with me.
But you remain silent and no longer speak to me!"
Then Horembeb got up, went to court and presented himself to the new pharaoh, who confirmed him in his office. But Horembeb did not want to live in the palace where he had known happiness with Tutankhamen, so he went to live in the capital's garrison. Here he devoted himself to definitely reorganize the armed forces, placing at the head of each army men who were capable, of great honesty, and loyal to him.
Meanwhile the pharaoh Aye gave orders to destroy the last temples of Aton, to ingratiate himself with the priesthood of Amon. Horembeb tried in vain to oppose, to convince the Pharaoh to do otherwise. Aye then ordered to raze the capital of Akhetaton and have the ruins sprinkled with salt, so not even grass would grow there anymore. This too displeased Horembeb, but this time he did not object, due to his oath of fidelity to the new pharaoh.
But the valiant general could find not peace. He reproached himself for not having opposed with all his forces to the events, he reproached himself for having been weak, having failed to protect the life of his Tut. Remorse gnawed at his heart.
News came that Ankhesenamun was dead. Aye did not marry again; he felt old and tired. After only four years of reigning, the old Aye died without leaving an heir.
Egypt was thrown into consternation. Horembeb then went to the temple of Amon, where he wanted to meet with the high priest, Meryre II.
"Great Commander, what an honour. May the great god..." the priest said with a pleased smile.
"Enough with the chatter. The kingdom of the Two Lands is an orphan. Who will guide it now?"
"Ah... is this your concern, valiant general?"
"No... The gods have always held our land with care and love; the gods will decide who will sit on the throne with their blessing."
"The gods... or you, Meryre? Will the oracle of Amon maybe call your name? As a statue of wood or stone has no voice, will you give it yours? Well then, know that my men have already been ordered to surround all the temples of Amon in all territories of the two kingdoms, and this temple is totally surrounded too."
"It this a threat, General?" the high priest asked, suddenly losing his smile.
"No, this is only to protect you from the madness of the people, who without a strong leadership would fall into anarchy and, as you can imagine, first will attack the temples to plunder their treasures and granaries. And also to protect Egypt from the madness of a caste that may be tempted to seize the power..."
"Are you accusing the priestly caste of aiming to ascend the throne, perhaps?" the high priest asked, seriously angered.
"No!" Horembeb said, bursting into laughter. "The throne can only accommodate one man at a time. There is no place for the entire priesthood, you are too many. But..."
"But?" the high priest asked, frowning.
"But it might be tempting to put one of its men on the throne. You for example."
"Amon will decide."
"Yes, through your mouth!" the general said with scorn. Then he added: "My men also protect the palace of the pharaoh where Aye it laying, waiting for the rites. And they have orders not to let anyone in without my consent. And my men obey me without question and without hesitation. And YOU will never put a foot there without my order. And YOU will never have occasion to go close to the throne, except to obey the new pharaoh and be at his service."
"And who will be this new pharaoh, then?"
"He whom Amon chooses, like you said. But Amon is so happy with his priests that he certainly does not want to miss one of them, let alone you, even to be pharaoh. No, Amon will choose a strong man who knows how to defend his temples and the boundaries of the Two Lands. The god Amon is talking to the god Horus, and agrees with him. Amon will take care of the temples, and Horus of the Two Kingdoms. This is the only way Egypt can know peace, no enemy will cross its borders, and no lawlessness will touch its temples."
"Do you threaten me, General?" the high priest asked him, furious.
"On the contrary," Horembeb said with a sweet voice. "I offer you my protection. What ever could you do without me and my army?"
"Your army? Your army! The pharaoh's army, not yours."
"For the time being the pharaoh is not able to give orders; for at least seventy days the army will only listen to me. In fact, Meryre, it is MY army."
"Do you promise me that you will protect the temples and the lands of Amon?"
"Yes, I promise... As long as the army is mine."
"Do you swear?"
"On the head of pharaoh!" Horembeb exclaimed, smiling bitterly. "On the head of the pharaoh, yes... that is on mine!" he added in a low voice and with determination.
Meryre nodded: "Soon, before the rites of seventy days have elapsed, there will be the solemn procession of the Feast of the Pig, and the statue of Amon will be brought on his sacred boat to sail along the great river."
"I will be there to watch it pass by. I'll be with all my troops, to ensure order."
"Amon will be pleased to see you honour him. On that occasion he will give a sign..."
"So make sure that it is not the last sign that he is capable of giving!" Horembeb said dryly.
"You will have no reason for resentment."
"Watch out, high priest, make sure that the Feast of the Pig does not turn into the end of the pigs. My men really like to cut their throats, even if they are dressed in white linen and have their heads carefully shaven. Be very careful."
Horembeb returned to the palace and gave a start to the solemn ceremonies of farewell to the deceased pharaoh.
When the day of the solemn Feast of the Pig came, almost more soldiers than citizens were seen around the capital. The sacred boat of Amon with the statue came down parallel to the shore. On the grand stage of the pharaoh was only the empty throne, and beside this Horembeb was standing.
The boat stopped in front of the stage and the sacred image of Amon bowed three times in the direction of Horembeb. Each time it seemed to be about to fall into the water, causing a wail from the crowd. But the statue remained standing on its pedestal, only now, instead of being turned towards the delta, it was facing Horembeb, as if looking at him.
>From a thousand throats of the soldiers came an unanimous cry: "Horembeb, king of Upper and Lower Egypt!"
>From the throats of people crowded along the banks rose a cry: "Horembeb, pharaoh!"
>From the mouths of priests rose a chant: "To Horembeb, chosen by Amon, Lord of the Two Lands, long life and happiness!"
The general gave a short nod, and laid his hand on the throne, while not climbing on it, since the seventy days had not elapsed and it was still the throne of Aye. But that simple act declared before the whole of Egypt, that he accepted the succession, that he would be the next pharaoh.
In fact it was Horembeb who performed the ritual of "opening the mouth" on the mummy of Aye and who accompanied him in his final resting place, the tomb that Tutankhamen had begun to build for himself.
At the age of thirty-eight years Horembeb was solemnly consecrated and crowned with the red and white double crown. The long fake goatee, symbol of his power, was placed on his chin. He picked up the two scepters and sat on the throne, assuming the royal name of Djeserkheperure.
The capital Nut-Amen and the whole kingdom celebrated its new pharaoh. But his heart was heavy, and his sleep was filled with nightmares.
When Horembeb passed by a temple, a palace, a monument or a wall on which he read the cartouches of Akhenaton, Tutankhamen, or even Aye, his heart was torn: he had failed to protect the life of his beloved and those scrolls renewed the anguish in his heart. Akhenaton, with his crazy ideas of one single god, had not only alienated himself from Egypt's heart, but also Tutankhamen. And it was Aye, who had proposed his beloved's death as the only solution.
"I have killed thee, my brother,
I have killed thee, my beloved,
I have not been able to protect thy life,
I have not given my life for thine.
I have not protected thy love..."
Those cartouches seemed to him a continuous act of accusation. So he ordered that in all cartouches in Egypt the names were chiselled away, and replaced by his own.
But he could not chisel them away from his heart.
He sent letters to the kings of the neighbouring territories, demanding that the names of Akhenaton, Tutankhamen and Aye were erased from the documents in their files.
But he could not delete them from his heart.
He had all the furniture in the palace changed, not to remember the past.
But he could not change the pain and remorse in his heart.