The King of the South and the North listened from her throne as a messenger, head bowed and hands raised in adoration to cover his face from her radiance, gave the news. At a nod from her he withdrew, still adoring.
“Once again the miserable Kush show their teeth in rebellion.” The Pharaoh scanned the assembled courtiers with her eyes, dark and alert against her brown face. “What say you, my lords?”
“They must be brought to leash, else their arrogance will know no bounds and they may inflame the insubordination of others in turn.” A young man in the throne adjacent to hers spoke out, like enough to her in his delicate features to be her son and attired like her in the striped headcloth of the the nemes crown.
“Ah, Your Majesty Thutmose.” The King sat back in her throne of carved cedar with the air of one settling into a wearisome yet familiar routine, the folds of her fitted dress settling about her. “Ever you are vigilant against any shadow of a threat to the Two Lands. It gladdens my heart to see it.”
“The histories tell us the Kush are far more than shadows. My grandfather Thutmose, the Justified, it was who tamed them and made the Lands great with their annexation.”
“You are correct. My father Thutmose, the Justified, it was who ended the threat of the miserable Kush.” Her tone was mild.
The young Thutmose’s lips thinned. “Yet standing in the light of our forebears’ greatness we may not allow complacence to ruin what they have wrought.”
“Truly, does Your Majesty believe the Kush to be a threat to the kingdom, which has grown to heights of greatness and prosperity unknown even before the dark days of the ones who knew not Amun?”
“I believe the kingdom is prosperous, yes, full and soft as overripe fruit.”
The courtiers shifted where they stood, giving each other sideways glances. The younger men in the room, however, and those with the hardened bearing and scars of military service, looked with intent concentration upon Thutmose. The female Pharaoh watched all from her throne, and a furrow between her brows joined the first fine lines of age on her face before it disappeared and her lips widened in a smile.
“I fear this is my failing, nephew. Your cares for the Lands overwhelm you, even at threats that can no more dim the light of Horus than a breeze put out the sun, because the wife I gave you pleases you not, and the little son she has borne you delight you not enough.”
“Assuredly this is not true, Your Majesty.” A flush crept up the young man’s neck. “Your daughter Neferure is above lotuses in her beauty, and our boy is a source of fresh joy every day.”
“It pleases me well to hear you say so.” The Pharaoh’s eyes watched him unblinking even while a corner of her lips lifted in a smirk.
The air in the room was lighter as though to reflect her own mood, the assembled noblemen and councillors giving each other knowing looks and raised eyebrows. Yet some of the younger men and military men still looked ahead and did not smile, and it was those latter that the King brushed with the briefest look of concern.
“And yet, Majesty,” Thutmose went on, pushing against the levity of the chamber with a set mouth, “is it not the duty of those who hold ever in their hearts the glory of the forefathers and the good of the Two Lands to resist the delight of home, if called, and to venture forth to hardship and conquest?” The eyes of his supporters came alight at his words and they stood a little straighter, squaring their shoulders.
“Truly and bravely spoken, Your Majesty. Yet little call there is at the present moment to demand such… harsh sacrifices of you or any of the loyal sons of the Two Lands. Not over a matter of such insignificance, when a diplomatic mission will suffice to remind the Kush who their masters are. Heed the calls of war on another day and tend you to the joys of home and garden.”
She lifted her gaze from Thutmose, dismissing him and the military men, who stood slack now like children being sent away empty-handed, and ordered that the diplomatic mission be prepared. She looked then to another man who had been watching from near the front of those assembled.
“Lord Steward Senenmut, how goes the construction of the obelisks for the temple of Amun, who lives, to celebrate the renewal of Our reign?”
The steward of the Pharaoh’s household came forward and stood before her, head bowed and hands raised in adoration. The sunlight that filtered in from behind her throne brought out the regular planes of his face, and the bare skin of his torso gave off a glow like burnished copper.
“The work proceeds every day by the grace of Your Majesty, Life, Health, and Strength be to You.” He bowed still lower and closed his eyes a moment, as though her light blinded him even through raised hands, or as though he listened to a sweet strain of a sistrum.
A matching smile appeared on the King’s own face as she listened to him describe the obelisks, their symmetry and dimensions, the inscriptions, the precious metals being prepared to plate them. The courtiers leaned forward to hear every word. Yet Thutmose and the most ardent of his followers were closed off, standing in the assembly yet apart in their discontent. These the King watched out of the corner of her eye, a discord in the music of peace and prosperity.
Two women sat by a pond in an inner garden of the palace, a naked little child between them. The child thrust a chubby hand into the water and splashed it about, covering the lowered voices of the women. At one point one of the women pulled the other, whose many-rowed collar of gold marked her as the higher-ranking, into her arms. The two rested for a moment against each other before letting go.
The child thrust a chubby hand into the pond, grasping for a gangling insect that skimmed its surface. Before he could tilt into the water the greater of the women lifted him and placed him in her lap, while the other cooed at him to distract him.
A commotion of footfalls and voices started up at the entrance to the garden, a chant rising above the din:
“Make way! Make way for the Horu, mighty in her Ka souls eternally! Lord of the East and West, rich in years, the Good Goddess, Mistress of created things. The Glittering Sparrow-Hawk, Divine by Her Diadems, King of the South and the North, Maatkare, gifted with life. Daughter of Ra, Hatshepsut United-to-Amun!”
The women rose. The King entered, and the lesser woman prostrated herself while the greater cradled the child in her arms and bowed.
“Arise.” The corners of Hatshepsut’s eyes crinkled in a smile as she looked upon the young woman who held the child. The King put an arm around her and lifted the child from her arms while the other young woman picked herself up. “Neferure, daughter, it gladdens my heart to see you. And you, little grandson, are you hale?” She lifted up the baby boy, who babbled and laughed, before handing her back to Neferure.
“Satiah.” Hatshepsut, the crinkles around her eyes lessening, turned to the other young woman. “It is good of you to come with your mistress.”
Satiah bowed. “Your Majesty, Life, Health, and Strength be to You, I but serve at the pleasure of the Great Royal Wife.”
“Good child. Oh, but we have so much to speak of!” Hatshepsut hugged Neferure again and drew her to the seats at the water’s edge where she had earlier sat with Satiah and the child. “Satiah, pray take little Amenemhat and leave us.”
“Mother, I had hoped…” Neferure looked to Satiah over her son’s head as though for help, but already she was being pulled to sit next to the King and Satiah was taking the boy from her arms. Satiah met Neferure’s eyes, the gaze full of unspoken meaning, before she murmured parting words to the royal women and withdrew.
“You are grown close to your husband’s lesser wife.” Hatshepsut fixed her daughter with a piercing gaze.
“We are good friends, she and I.” Neferure’s face, a vision of her mother’s youth, wavered between tenderness and sorrow.
“Well, domestic harmony is no ill thing for women of high rank.” Hatshepsut’s gaze had grown distant, however, her thoughts elsewhere.
Neferure opened her mouth, steeling herself as though for a blow, before she saw the look on her mother’s face and her face softened.
“I heard of what happened today at court, dear Mother. Does Tuty give you much trouble?”
“He is impatient, as young men are.” Hatshepsut stroked her daughter’s shoulder. “Impatient to act, and impatient to seize control.”
“He loves you well, truly he does, he just believes…”
“That I am making the Upper and Lower Lands soft and fat, ripe for the spoil.” Hatshepsut sighed. “He does not understand, or refuses to see, that the Lands must heal before he can have his conquests. There is so much I must accomplish first, so many great works of prosperity, before the South and the North may bear the burdens he would place on it.”
“I know, Mother.” Neferure leaned into her mother and stroked her hand, of the same proportions but dryer and thinner than her own. “Poor Mother, to bear the entire cares of the kingdom on your shoulders!”
Hatshepsut drew away and held Neferure’s hands. “Could you make him see, Neferu, child?”
“I thought you were unsure of my ability to please him?” Neferure’s face dimpled, but a tiny tremor in her lips betrayed some deeper feeling.
“You know I was jesting, child, to unbalance him. Why, if he is truly not pleased by you, then he is a fool not fit for the double diadems and I shall rule and rule to spite him until your son is old enough to.”
“Well do I know it.” Neferure laughed, tears coming to her eyes. “It is not only he who must listen, but those who look to him. Think you they will listen to the God’s Wife of Amun?”
“How could they not, when she is one and the same as my clever Neferu?” Hatshepsut wiped away the tears that had spilled onto her daughter’s cheeks. “But are you well, dear daughter?”
“It is nothing, only from mirth.” Neferure pulled her mother close, hiding her face in Hatshepsut’s shoulder. “Do not trouble yourself any longer over Tuty.”
The purifying waters lapped against the legs of the God’s Wife as she walked into the lake, the priesthood following her in two lines with their heads bowed.
“Thus may we be cleansed fit to stand in your presence, oh Lord, giver of life, who hears the prayers and comes at the cry of the downtrodden and distressed.” Her voice rose clear in the underground of the temple. The priests repeated the ritual words after her, as though in supernatural echo.
She turned and emerged from the water, the priests again falling in line behind her, and attendants approached to robe her. She went step after stately step to the altars where other priests, clad in white kilts and masked to represent the gods, awaited. She knelt before the altar of Amun.
“I come purified before you, Amun, glory of the heavens, who cross the sky in your daily travels. I come before the gods of the South and the North, I, Amun’s beloved wife who stands first in adoration, Neferure, daughter of the King of the South and the North, wife of Thutmose your beloved warrior who commands the armies of the Pharaoh. Turn not your face away from us in our time of need, oh Great Lord, show mercy to those who honor thy holy name and scatter our enemies before us as sand is scattered before the winds!”
She offered prayers to the gods in turn, the priests placing offerings and incense before their altars, until the sweet smoke filled the air and the air rang with the prayer of the devout.
The offerings done, she rose and walked from the chamber, the priests filing after her. The gods watched from the walls carved in their likeness, sated, perhaps, for the moment.
The main chamber of the temple grew silent at the entry of the ceremonial procession, Neferure at the front in full royal regalia, the twin feathers of the Great Royal Wife waving upon her head, the priests of Amun following after. She approached the raised chairs at the back of the chamber, hands raised to shield her face in adoration, as did the procession behind her. She and the priests stopped at the same time before the thrones.
“I come before you, the Kings of the South and the North, Life, Health, and Strength be to You! Long and prosperous is your reign, and the people of the Land rejoice much at it. Far do your praises ring, and your enemies tremble before you. The gods pour their favors upon you, for you revere them and give honor to their names.”
“I greet you, God’s Wife of Amun, beloved of He who succours us in our need and hears our prayers.” Hatshepsut’s voice raised chair traveled far, and some who heard it trembled, so great was the weight of authority and holiness behind every word. Thutmose next to her the ritual greeting as well, a mix of affection and reverence in his gaze as though his wife had transformed before his eyes.
“Full well he knows the love you hold for Him,” the God’s Wife went on, “and the great works you have raised in His name. I come therefore at His bidding to strike the names of your enemies and let it be known, assuredly, that you will triumph over them and they shall no longer trouble the Two Lands. Let it be a warning to all who doubt your devotion to the gods and the power they have granted you as a reward.”
A priest brought a sheet of papyrus before her and knelt, raising it to her. Another, bowing, offered up a stylus. She took it up and, with a decisive stroke, struck out the first name on the sheet.
“The Asiatics who know not Amun, whom your father Thutmose, the Justified, drove from the Lands, shall never again trouble your glory.”
The priests of Amun took up her words, and chanted incantations against the hated oppressors of old. A senior priest stood next to her and wrote inscriptions over the line she had drawn, words of prohibition and warning.
The senior priest withdrew and the God’s Wife drew a line through the second name on the sheet.
“The Mitanni in the land of the Two Rivers shall not raise a hand against you in fear of your power.”
She went down the list, each striking of a name prompting the ritual response and sealing with the holy inscriptions, until she reached the last.
“The miserable Kush who know again your glory will give tribute again and smell the earth before your sandals, and the prosperity of the Land is assured!”
The striking was sealed a last time with ritual, and the priests went in a procession about the chamber, thanking Amun for the victories he had granted the King, chanting her titles and praising the glory she had brought to the gods. Thutmose in his throne frowned and his shoulders slumped, though the look he gave Neferure was warm with admiration.
Neferure raised her gaze to her mother’s face and for a moment their eyes met, Hatshepsut’s crinkling in a smile of pride and Neferure’s losing, for a moment, the shadow of sadness.
Senenmut, bent over plans and writings at his desk, looked up at the proclamations of “the God’s Wife of Amun, Great Royal Wife, Hereditary Princess Neferure.” He rose to his feet as though from a dream, his face still dazed from deep thought.
“And here I catch you at your work again. Does Mother keep you very busy?” Neferure entered and came up to him, smiling.
“I was only reading over the plans a last time before dispatching them, my lady.” He put her arms around her and kissed her forehead.
“So these are the plans!” Neferure walked over to the desk, looking over the sheets that cluttered it. “How grand it must be to gaze upon them completed.”
“That you will soon, when it is complete and opened for the inspection of Her Majesty, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her.”
“Perhaps.” Neferure’s face closed off. “Father-tutor, dear, you work day and night for her glory, and she has shown you her favor in turn. You would do anything for her, would you not?”
“Verily I would give my life for the Horus, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, who has raised me high above my common birth due to the love I bear her and the works I have raised in her name. What brings on such a question?”
She turned to face him. “And me? Would you do anything for your Neferu, Nursie?”
“Of all the honors the Good God, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, has bestowed upon me, appointing me the Royal Nurse and tutor of her only child was the greatest. Of course I would give my life for you, Little Majesty.”
She caught him in a fierce hug, burying her face in his chest. “Yet it is not your life that I desire, I wish to… to speak… oh, Nursie!”
As she broke into sobs that she muffled against his body, Senenmut’s eyes first widened in alarm, then looked down at his old student in deepest sympathy.
“My lord,” called a voice from outside his door, “a messenger seeks you from the quarry.”
“I will not be disturbed for the next hour, or it will be on your hide!” In contrast to his harsh voice, Senenmut’s hand cradled Neferure’s head as though she were a baby bird.
“Come, Neferu. Your Nursie is here.” He dragged a chair to himself with one hand and sat down, pulling her into his lap as he had in the days when she was a child and his charge. “What ails my daughter-pupil?”
She looked up at him with the tears still in her eyes. “I must leave, yet I cannot.”
“Leave?” His look was one of incomprehension.
“It must seem a mad thing.” She burst out laughing, more tears spilling over her cheeks. “I must seem a mad thing.”
“If there is madness upon you it must be divine, for you are descended from the gods themselves.” His arms tightened around her, his eyes troubled.
A sob shook Neferure’s shoulder. “You will not alert the guards, and have me placed under their vigilance?”
“First you must alert me of why you speak of leaving. Does aught about the palace displease you? Are you ill, or do any treat you unjustly?”
“No.” She shook her head, the pleats in her wig flying. “It is only that I cannot be married to Tuty any longer.”
Senenmut’s face darkened. “Has he mistreated you? For if he has, whether he be Pharaoh or servant boy, you know well Her Majesty, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, will-“
“He has not! I swear on my life, it is no fault of his. He is a good husband, and if I could have stayed by the side of any man it would have been him.” She covered her face with a hand. “He is the reason I tried for so long—him, and then our little son. I tried, please believe me that I did.”
He leaned his face against the top of her head. “Of course I believe you, daughter, as Ma’at is my witness. Yet what mean you, that you cannot stay by the side of any man?”
“She does not permit it. I have tried to resist her call for so long, yet the dreams do not stop but come every night now.”
“Aset, wife of the Horus. She comes to me at night in such sweet torment… perhaps it is a divine madness, as you say.”
She disentangled herself and stood, her skirts billowing around her before settling. Her gaze was far away as though she were indeed in a waking dream.
“She rouses me from my marriage bed and extends her staff to me. Her lotus opens, its scent sweet as nothing can be under all the realms under the Solar Disk. She walks and I must follow, though I walk through desert, then marshes, and my feet bleed and my face is scorched. I fall, and kites and vultures fly away with pieces of my body. Aset finds my pieces and puts me back together, my- my womanhood last of all, and I awake in Her garden surrounded again by Her unearthly sweetness, there to abide forever.”
Her dazed look had turned to rapture by the end and Senenmut was on his feet himself, his face caught between terror and reverence. At last he spoke.
“My lady. What shall we do?”
“I have wanted to speak to Mother, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, but she carries such a burden already, and she is who she is. I could think only of my Nursie, knowing you will hear me as you kissed away my tears and scrapes from when I was a naked child.”
“The priesthood of Amun read men’s dreams, they say, and they defer to you. Perhaps-“
She tossed her head. “And am I not the God’s Wife of Amun, who lives, and have that divine authority?”
“Yet you fear your royal mother, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her. You fear that the priests will report to Her.”
“I would that it come from you rather than the priests, you who have her favor and her confidence—and mine.” Neferure came to stand before him.
“Whatever will she do without you, should you leave?”
“Always your first thoughts fly to her, as the birds fly home in their season.” She took his hand and pressed it to her face. “You never did take a wife to you, and there are no sons in your house to inherit your great works and send your soul to the underworld.”
“What need have I of sons when I have the dearest, brightest daughter-pupil a man could wish for? I have nephews and nieces besides, and one of them will stand for me should I outlive all my brothers.”
“And the woman who gave you her daughter?” She raised her gaze to his. “Is she as a wife to you?”
A tremor went through his hand, and he withdrew it. “That were sacrilege, were it spoken by any other.”
Neferure searched his eyes for a moment and nodded. “What will she do without me? She will have you to do great works in her name. Would that there were some other way, but there is not. Already I have overstayed in my hesitation; who is to say what wrath I will bring down on myself and those around me, perhaps even the Two Lands and Her Majesty, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, by resisting the call of the Goddess?”
“What of the office of the God’s Wife?” Senenmut’s tone was despairing now, as though he called to one already gone. “What of-“
“What of the Great Royal Wife, and who will be Amenemhat’s mother?” Neferure took up his words with the practiced air of one who had retread the same thoughts many times. “You forget that my husband has another wife.”
“She it was who helped me realize…” she blushed. “I know Sati will be loyal and true in all her duties, and to the one closest of all to my heart, that of being mother to my son.”
Senenmut shook his head. “This is madness. You speak of leaving the palace, your birthright, your high offices and your royal Mother herself, Life, Health, and Strength be to Her, trusting to the good faith of a lesser wife who has every reason to wish you gone!”
“If this is her plot to unseat a first wife, then we should wish that all such schemers were so kind and understanding to their victims.” She grasped Senenmut’s hands. “Your answer, Nursie? Will you speak to Mother for me?”
Senenmut sagged where he stood, like a man overcome at the end of a long fight. “Fear not, dearest. I will speak to her for you.”
“You have achieved what has never been done from the beginning, Chief Architect.” Hatshepsut smiled upon him, reclining in her chambers. Senenmut sat across from her as a member of the family might without assuming the attitude of adoration, a formality they had dispensed with in private for convenience if nothing else. “Truly the renown of the obelisks in the temple will live on through the ages.”
“It your grace and the grace of the gods that worked through me.” Senenmut bowed his head.
“Perhaps, but it was the subtlety of your skill and your tireless devotion that brought about the result. And fain were the children of the Two Lands to celebrate! Did you see the grandeur of the priests and priestesses of the gods, come even from the far-flung regions of the Lands, and how the people danced?”
He watched the sparkle in her eyes and her animated face with a smile and through narrowed eyes as though she dazzled him. “I did, Majesty.”
“Long was my care, but at this moment I fear nothing.” Raising her gaze, Hatshepsut surveyed the city outside her balcony with a satisfied smile. “Between the works you have raised in my name and my Neferu letting it be known that I do the Divine Will and no other, what threat could befall me, in the realms under the Solar Disk or beyond?”
Senenmut’s throat worked. “Your Majesty, on the subject of the Hereditary Princess-“
“We will speak to her together, before the celebration tonight.” Hatshepsut raised her voice for an attendant. “Request the Great Royal Wife Neferure to join us.”
“Ere she comes, will you grant your servant leave to speak on a matter pertaining to her?”
She raised her eyebrows. “When has the Royal Nurse and Tutor spoken on such formality to speak of his charge to me? Is it a matter of gravity, on such a day as this?”
“It is.” He stood and bowed his head. “Some days ago, when the erection of the obelisks was in its final stages, the Hereditary Princess came to speak with me. She told me of a dream sent to her nightly by the Goddess Aset.”
The King raised herself on an elbow. “If the God’s Wife of Amun is receiving divine visitations it is a matter of grave import. The priests of Amun must be informed, and rites performed to determine their meaning.”
“The God’s Wife Neferure read the signs herself and concluded that-“ he wet his lips, “the visitation called her away from the palace and her family.”
“Leave? Whatever can you mean?” Hatshepsut tensed like a frightened gazelle before she shouted: “Have the Hereditary Princess brought to me at once!”
There were frantic footfalls outside and furtive voices before an attendant entered and prostrated himself.
“Forgive us, Your Majesty, she is not in her apartments and her household know not where she is. Your servants search for her even at this moment-”
Hatshepsut sprang to her feet. “Leave us. Find the Princess, or it shall be upon your life and your family’s.” The man withdrew, his breathing ragged with fear.
Left alone with Senenmut, Hatshepsut turned to him to find him already prostrate.
“They will not find her, and the crime is not theirs, Horus.”
“What has become of my daughter?” She took a step toward him.
“She departed with the priestesses of Aset who came to the city for the celebrations. She is bound to the Goddess now, and may not now be released from Her service—nor does she wish to be.”
“They cannot have gone far from the city yet. The soldiers can catch up to them-“
“And will Your Majesty wrest from them a bonded Priestess, committing blasphemy?” Senenmut raised himself on his arms.
“You speak to me of blasphemy? You, who stole the Hereditary Princess away from me without- without even-“ she clutched at her chest.
“My lady.” Senenmut stood at once and went to her. “My lady, are you well?”
She raised her hand, and he stopped on the spot as though struck.
“How could you do this?” She faced him, gathering herself, and the sheer strength of her will, the slow solemnity of her words, sent him stumbling to his knees. “You knew the consequences, Senenmut. Why?”
“Would Your Majesty have allowed her to leave?”
“What mean you?”
“Was there any augury of the Priests of Amun, any omen, any sign that may have moved Your Majesty to remove the Hereditary Princess from her family and palace to dwell with the priestesses of Aset?”
He nodded at her silence. “That is why.”
“I could have you slain for this. I could curse your name so that the very path to eternal life is closed to you.”
“I would welcome it, if it could assuage in any measure the pain I have caused in Your Majesty’s soul.” He closed his eyes. “As I have accepted your favors, so I accept your punishments.”
“Very well then, Senenmut, Hereditary Prince, Particular Friend, Chief Architect, Chief Steward, and all the myriad titles and estates I have bestowed you over the years,” her smile was bitter, “the King of the South and the North pronounces your fate. You will strive for the rest of your days for My glory, to compensate in some measure for the support you have taken from me in stealing away the dearest of all to me in the world of the living.”
Her voice trembled. “You will serve by my side, and never leave me so long as you live and serve me even in the afterlife, and watch every day the grief of a mother who had her only daughter torn from her. This is your punishment, may Ma’at’s will be done!”
“Your Majesty.” Senenmut prostrated himself, overcome, his trembling hand reaching for the hem of her dress but daring not to touch it.
“Already have I lost my left arm, and my heart’s blood spills from the wound. Shall I strike off my strong right arm to spite it? Now leave me, until I call for you again.” She turned away and went out to the balcony, where she gazed out over her realm with eyes that saw nothing.
He rose like a man weakened by sickness, or as one drunk on wine, and stumbled from the room with his wig and collar askew. His cheeks were wet with tears by the time he reached his apartments, and when the door closed behind him and he was alone his body shook with the force of his sobs. He slumped down to the floor and wept long, while night descended like a veil over the palace and the city, and out on the roads where Neferure traveled toward the unknown.
They stood together on a bluff that overlooked the temple complex, shaded from sun and sight by the hardy acacias that grew on the slopes. Their eyes fixed on the glimmer of a stream in the distance, and a procession in white walking in their direction.
The priestesses, carrying in the washing from the morning, talked among themselves as they walked; a smatter of laughter reached the watchers on the bluff.
As the women approached the main building of the complex underneath the watchers they came close enough for faces to be recognizable. One of the figures standing in the shade of the acacia, a woman, gasped. Her male companion followed her gaze, his eyes intent on the women below.
Neferure chatted with the other holy women as she shifted the weight of the wash-basket in her arms, a smile springing to her face at some comment. Dressed in the same linen sheath as the others, with a priestess’s square of cloth at the nape of her neck, she shared a look with one of the other women that seemed to enclose the two, for a moment, in a bubble of warmth. They passed into the main building and out of sight of the watchers.
Hatshepsut sighed and leaned against the trunk of the acacia tree. Senenmut beside her watched her with concern.
“She is safe, and with the Goddess. She is where she is meant to be.” Her words were firm, as though to convince herself, though with an aching weight of loss behind them.
“Forgive me.” Senenmut bowed his head. “Or, nay, forgive me not.”
She tilted her head. “It matters little in the end, does it? Either way you are not permitted to leave me, you realize.”
“Nor will I. Your Majesty will not be rid me with ease.”
She was silent a moment before she said: “Long have I wondered why she trusted you enough to come to you, and not me.”
“Yet I believe she trusted me as well. She trusted me not to harm you after you aided her flight, did she not?”
His throat worked as he swallowed. “She most assuredly did.”
Hatshepsut turned away. “We have tarried long enough. She is well; that is all that matters. Come with me, Senenmut.”
They went from their furtive post and back over the bluff to where their life and all its great works awaited them, the two always together like the acacia and its shade, in the world of the living as in the eternal land of silence.