AKHENATON

The Nile River flowed north to the Mediterranean. It parted the stifling heat and merciless dunes of the Sahara desert.

The river's abundance of game and arable land attracted the first hunters and gatherers to the fertile banks. Some came from Jericho while the majority migrated from the vast steppes of Central Asia. The names of their tribes are lost to history. Their civilization is forgotten but their legacy remains.

At first the tribes lived as they had beyond memory. They collected grain and game as they grew in the wilderness. After a time they harnessed the water of the Nile through man-made channels and water screws. The women stored seeds for the next year and sowed them in the irrigated soil. They chose only the finest and most hearty wheat plants, creating newer, more resilient strains.

Cattle and wildebeests were taken captive to be slaughtered when needed most. Other herds of beef and goats were allotted for sacrificial tribute to the gods. It was the beginning of man's adoption of agriculture

The early Egyptians also formed packs of mud, fiber and gravel. The earthen mixtures were left in the sun to dry. The resulting bricks made stronger fortifications against barbarian invasions. They also provided shelter against the elements and storage room for harvested wheat.

It was only a matter of time before the farms and ranches were divided into north and south. Kings rose to manage the vast stores of grain harvested from the irrigated fields. Battles occurred and famines remained. No matter how bountiful the harvest, there were always more mouths to feed and prices to pay.

Priests were anointed and temples built to Amon Re, the sun god and creator of the universe, and Osiris, the falcon king of the netherworld, so that they might maintain the peace of the pharaonic society.

Above all the reign of the pharaohs was influenced by the necessity to be preserved beyond death. Passage from the mortal world marked the opportunity for entrance to the afterlife. There the hearts of pharaohs and commoners alike were weighed by Thoth, the scribe of the gods, in a preternatural scale.

Greater than the tallies of wheat and tributes of temples was the demand for the heart of the deceased to be lighter than one of Maat's feathers. Maat was the avian, anthropomorphic god of truth and justice. If the test was passed the bearer's soul would be granted access to the spirit world. To have such a heart required virtue of the owner. If the test failed and the heart proved heavy from misdoing, Ammit, the reptilian devourer of souls, would consume the hearts of the evil people.

From Memphis, in the northern, Lower Egypt to Thebes, in the southern, Upper Egypt, the chariots ran endlessly. They carried news of the latest invasions and rushed to defend the kingdom from marauders originating in Central Asia. The spears and bolt throwers were oiled and kept ready by the pharaoh's sergeants. Martial law was the norm and no one dared to oppose the strength of the kings.

Amen was but a young man. His older brother, Tuthmose, was the heir to a lineage extending for centuries. Like their father, Amenhotep III, the siblings enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. The princes, both in their twenties, trotted through the reeds and palms that bordered the great river. An entourage of slaves and servants followed the heirs. Their duties were to keep the slings of the princes loaded and their quivers filled with arrows. Other servants used tamed falcons to fly into the brush and cause doves and pigeons to take flight. Their successful expeditions would later be recorded by artisans on ceramic vases and temple walls.

Tuthmose was lithe and athletic, the clear heir to the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt. Amen, on the other hand, bore the features of Marfan syndrome. His face was elongated and his body oddly rotund. Both of the brothers were excellent marksmen, however, and they competed to see who brought down the greater amount of game before twilight.

At nightfall the servants of the princes ignited torches on the sides of the number of chariots of the hunting expedition. One chariot was piled high with waterfowl shot with arrows and speared peccaries.

"Beware of the crocodiles, my brother," declared Tuthmose. "They hunt aggressively in the night. We don't want to provide them with an unsuspecting snack."

"I agree, Tuthmose," replied Amen. "The beasts can be voracious. It is time for us to travel inland to our father's temple."

The brothers signaled the captain at the head of the convoy to start moving. The lighted chariots headed along a heavily used road into the overlooking dunes. The trail was etched from the passage of the horse-driven vehicles. The soldiers who accompanied the princes rode in pairs. One rider held the reins while the other a sharpened bronze spear. They were willing to give their lives to protect Tuthmose and Amen. It was understood by all who traveled in the group that if they returned to the temple without the siblings they would pay for it with their lives.

Amen and Tuthmose rode through the night. The temple of Amenhotep III stood at the center of Memphis, the city of the living. The streets were alight with oil lamps and torches. Servants of the Pharaoh carried coffers of fuel oil to keep the hanging sconces burning.

Although the booths and tents of the marketplace were closed the city teemed with life. The air was thick with the odor of incense and cooking food. The chariots of the young nobles passed gatherings of plebeians. The citizens recognized the rippling flags and banners bearing the symbols of the rod and staff. These indicated the military and religious power of the pharaoh. The onlookers bowed their heads in a gesture of reverence.

Memphis was filled with cats. They were treated as bastions of the netherworld. A group of the prowling animals looked up from a plate of food left by a scrupulous shopkeeper. The retinas of their feline eyes reflected the light of the torches, giving them an eerie countenance.

At last the convoy reached the temple of Amenhotep III. Artemis, the head priest and teacher of the young men, hurried down the steps of the pillared structure and embraced the brothers as they disembarked from their chariots.

"Welcome home, my princes. Your father is away. Amenhotep III is conducting negotiations with the Nubians in Upper Egypt. I see that you two had a successful hunt. Amon Re smiles on you. We shall prepare a proper sacrifice to the gods this night."

Artemis gestured for a group of acolytes to approach. Their number represented the farthest reaches of the kingdom of the father of the princes. Some were Nubian, from beyond the desert of Upper Egypt. Their skin was dark and their hair tightly curled. Others represented the tribes of Central Asia and nomadic hunters from the north.

One acolyte bore the features of the Hyksos. His eyes were dark and his gaze penetrating. His face was aquiline and angular. Much like Tuthmose, the young Hyksos man was taller than average and carried himself with a posture that exuded self-confidence and contemplation.

"Please, students, take the game brought by our princes to the altar of sacrifice."

The acolytes did as the head priest asked and began to unload the nearly full chariot of its bounty. Tuthmose and Amen accompanied Artemis into the inner sanctum of the Memphan temple. Upon their entrance assistant priests and priestesses added swatches of incense to the flaming sconces that lined the colonnades of the structure. At the center of the pillared building stood gold-embossed representations of the members of the Egyptian pantheon. These statues, chiseled by the finest sculptors in the kingdom stood in a semicircle before the great, sacrificial sconce at the center of the sanctuary.

Amon Re stood at the center of the group of likenesses. To his left was Osiris. Thoth's statue was placed to Amon Re's right.

Artemis addressed the ad hoc manifestations of deities in the temple.

"We offer this game to you, immortal gods, so that we may continue to receive abundant harvests and peace in our kingdom. You have our gratitude, Amon."

The head priest of Egypt gestured to the acolytes to begin stoking the fire and tossing the game into the flames. The princes and acolytes watched as the day's catch was consumed by the pyre. The smoke rose slowly to the ceiling of the temple. It followed channels in the angled stone to roll out the sides of the structure and dissipate.

As was commonly seen by the Egyptians, the ruby and sapphire eyes of the god statues ignited with preternatural light. Amon Re, Thoth, Osiris and over a dozen other gods gazed around the Memphis temple. The light from their jeweled eyes generated intersecting beams in the sacrificial smoke.

The group meditated in the soothing emanations of the incense.

Amen and Tuthmose heard the sound of footsteps walking through the central hall of the edifice. They turned and saw their mother, Tiye, and their six sisters as they approached the sanctuary of the immortals.

"You have done well this night, my sons," said the Queen of Egypt. "You set a good example for your sisters."

She embraced her sons then addressed Artemis.

"You have my thanks, once more, head priest. The gods are satisfied by your well-conducted, ritual sacrifice."

"I am flattered, my Queen. All of us await the return of the Pharaoh. He is due to arrive at any time. I understand that his negotiations with the Nubian Kings to the south were fruitful.

"That is what I've also heard, Artemis," replied Tiye. "My sons and daughters will retire to their quarters for the night. I expect our family will be reunited by morning. I take my leave of this temple, now, head priest. We will meet again soon. The time draws near for Amenhotep III and I to procure wives for our sons and husbands for our daughters."

"That is the truth, Tiye," answered Artemis. "I will help you both with this nearing task to the best of my ability."

The head priest noticed the eldest daughter, Kiya, exchanging stares with the Hyksos acolyte.

"What is your name, Hyksos acolyte?" Kiya asked.

"I am Moses," the servant of the temple answered.

"Is it true that the Hyksos worship one god? It isn't very much, don't you think?"

"Yes, princess, my people believe in one, all-encompassing god," Moses answered. "We call him Yahweh."

"That is interesting," replied Kiya. "I've been told that the Hyksos tribes of old aided the ancient pharaohs in the construction of the great pyramids. Do you believe this is the case, Moses?"

"I don't know, princess. My people have traveled in groups over much of the desert in varying waves and directions. There was clearly a diaspora that took place somewhere in Central Asia ages ago. It is possible that a portion of the ancestors of my tribe arrived at the Nile in search of fertile soil and secure domiciles."

"I concur with your assessment, Moses," Artemis interjected.

The head priest of the temple used his walking staff to position himself between the two, young adults.

"That's enough, you two. Both of you have business to attend to. Let us meet here again once that the Pharaoh has returned. Get some rest so that you may be at your fullest faculties on the morn. None of us know what tasks Amenhotep III may place before us."

The young adults did as Artemis asked and exited from the great temple at Memphis. They retired to separate lodgings and prepared for the return of the Pharaoh.

Tuthmose and Amen were awakened by servants at the dawn.

"Arise, princes," declared a middle-aged servant. "Your father is in Memphis and requests your presence."

The brothers were clothed in fine robes and fed a wholesome breakfast. They hurried from their living quarters to the temple of Amon Re.

Amenhotep III stood chatting with Artemis. The Pharaoh wore a tall crown, called a peshent, indicating his command of the two Egypts. This, along with his kohl-darkened eyes and majestic beard gave him a regal appearance. The features of the Pharaoh were much the same as those of Tuthmose, although older. He turned to face his approaching sons and hugged them.

"Greetings, my sons. My trek to Upper Egypt was effective. The Nubian King agreed to support the endeavors of my kingdom in return for a contract of mutual, military support. They also sent a number of their citizens to aid in the daily affairs of this land."

The Pharaoh gestured to the side of the temple where a gathering of Nubians stood.

Like the Central African acolytes that Tuthmose and Amen had seen previously the Nubian courtesans were tall and muscular. Their dark complexions made their athletic physiques appear statuesque.

Amen was taken by the beauty of a young woman in the group. She was picturesque and had long limbs and a slender neck. The younger of the two princes approached her.

"What is your name, if you please, Nubian princess?"

"I am Nefertiti. My father, Zudan, the king of Nubia, sent me across the great desert as a token of his goodwill toward your northern realms."

The African princess bowed in a gesture of friendship.

Amen bowed in turn, took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Egypt is honored by your presence, Nefertiti."

"Thank you, courteous prince," answered the young lady.

"Let us begin the ceremony welcoming the sun, my friends," Artemis declared.

Amenhotep III took his place on an ornate dais at the center of the statues of the gods. Tiye, his wife, sat on the right side of the Pharaoh. They signaled Artemis to begin the ceremony dedicated to Re. The head priest of the Memphan temple put incense into the central sconce and addressed the sun god.

"Amon Re, we thank you for this day. Let your will bring us peace."

Artemis bowed to the likeness of Amon Re as did the Pharaoh and Queen. The eyes of the gods remained dormant. This, also, was usual for the dawn ceremony.

The head priest spoke to the members of the royal family in attendance.

"The ceremony is finished. You may conduct your business for the day, your majesties."

"Thank you, Artemis," answered Amenhotep III.

He addressed his two sons.

"Tuthmose and Amen, your mother and I understand that you had a successful hunt yesterday."

"That is correct, father," answered the elder of the two brothers. "The banks of the Nile continue to prove plentiful."

"That pleases us," said Tiye. "Your father has expressed his desire to accompany you on a hunting expedition today."

"Excellent, mother," replied Amen. "Let us be on our way."

The captain of the royal guard approached the two thrones from his station within the colonnades of the great temple.

"The charioteers are ready, your majesties."

"Thank you, captain," replied the Pharaoh.

"We will return this evening, Tiye. Perhaps I will catch a hippopotamus."

"Be careful, my brave men. As you know, the river can be both plentiful and dangerous."

Tiye gave her husband and sons a farewell embrace.

The chariots of the nobles were ready and harnessed with the finest horses.

"We must be on our way, my people," said Amenhotep III. "There is a barge waiting for us upstream so that we may focus on acquiring more than the game on the shoreline."

The Pharaoh and his sons climbed aboard their respective vehicles. The charioteers lashed their horses into full gallop. Amen marveled at the craftsmanship of the wheeled vehicles. They carried the hunters at a fast pace along the etched trail in the packed sand. In a matter of hours they reached an ideal bend in the Nile that was known to be a haven for fish, birds and hippopotami. The royal barge was ready and the riders guided their vehicles expeditiously up a ramp bridging the shore and the deck of the oared ship.

Servants tethered the horses and chariots in a queue at the center of the watercraft. They then took seats along the sides of the barge and hoisted long oars, ready to row. The captain of the guard signaled to the pilot to draw anchor and head for the shallows at the center of the Nile.

The hunting expedition had cruised for less than an hour when they spotted a cluster of hippopotami feeding on vegetation below the murky surface of the river. The Pharaoh directed the pilot to draw closer to the shallow section where the large herbivores scooped at roots and foliage. Amenhotep III held a sharp javelin and hurled it at an unsuspecting hippo. It was a large male and the glancing wound caused it to leap out of the water, knocking Tuthmose into the river. Almost instantaneously crocodiles that had been lying in wait underwater rushed to the flailing prince.

"Tuthmose!" cried Amen "Swim to shore. Let us help you."

The younger brother moved to dive into the Nile and attempt to free the entangled prince. The Pharaoh and his servants on the barge were quick to restrain the wailing prince and would not let him near the snapping reptiles.

The elder brother struggled with the voracious crocodiles but was unable to swim free of their vice-like jaws. Tuthmose was pulled under the surface by the massive reptiles. The cloudy water roiled with the frenzy of the animals. Blood and torn clothing rose around the hunting boat but the prince of Egypt did not emerge again.

"Alas, my son is gone!" cried Amenhotep III.

The pilot addressed the Pharaoh.

"Your majesty, I recommend that we head for the shore. We must preserve the life of Amen lest the crocodiles make another attempt on the passengers of this vessel."

"Yes, you are right, my friend," answered the king. "Amen is now the heir apparent. We must return to the safety of Memphis while we are able."

The Pharaoh clung to his rotund son in a protective manner. He directed the young man to stand in the middle chariot at the center of the royal barge.

The men at the oars hastened the craft beyond the hippopotami and returned to the launching place. As soon as the bank was within range Amenhotep III directed the servants to lower the bridge. He lashed his team of horses fiercely as he drove his chariot. The other soldiers were quick to follow their king and they left a trail of dust along the road as they sped toward the city.

Word spread quickly of the death of the Pharaoh's eldest son. Fishermen and hunters who witnessed the series of events from the shore of the Nile had raced ahead of Amenhotep III to deliver the tragic news to the citizens of Memphis. The streets, which were crowded with merchants and customers on good days, were jam-packed with people anxious to see the returning king.

Soldiers surrounded the royal entourage and formed a wedge within the seething mass of Egyptians. Despite the attempt of the militia to clear a path for the Pharaoh the mob made the journey agonizing.

At last the chariots reached the Memphan temple. Artemis rushed to the entrance of the structure, knowing that the king would not return to the city so soon unless some mishap had occurred.

"My king, what has happened?" asked the head priest.

The Pharaoh wept and his tears caused his kohl-darkened eyes to produce streams of black down his face.

"Tuthmose is dead. He was knocked into the Nile by a hippopotamus and devoured by crocodiles."

"That is terrible news," said Artemis. "The kingdom has suffered a great loss this day. You must bring Amen inside. There is bound to be turmoil in the city as the news of this accident spreads throughout the districts."

As the Pharaoh spoke with Tiye, his wife, her sobs of loss were muffled by the cries of the crowd outside the effigy-filled temple.

"Artemis, I want to hold a coronation ceremony tomorrow," said Amenhotep III. "Amen will be a co-ruler with Tiye and I. We must demonstrate the lasting continuity of this family."

"As you wish, my Pharaoh," replied the head priest. "I will make the necessary preparations immediately. I understand that this is a trying moment, your majesty, but I advise you to rest today. Your grief may make you ill."

"Thank you, Artemis," answered the Pharaoh. "I will do as you suggest."

The head priest bowed toward the king and called for his acolyte, Moses.

"Moses, please escort Amen to his quarters."

The Hyksos acolyte emerged from the shadows of the pillared building and put his arm around his prince's shoulders.

"The Lord tries us in mysterious ways, at times, my prince. Like your father you must rest for tomorrow you shall be made co-ruler of Egypt. This is both a great honor and a heavy responsibility."

"I agree, Moses. You are a heartening support. Tell me of your Lord. Have you met him?"

"Yes, my prince. He appeared before me as a burning bush. It was only a demonstration of his zeal for the people of the world. Yahweh is everywhere and within all things. This does not mitigate the events that result from free will which all of us possess, of course."

"That is interesting, Moses. We must talk about this Yahweh again. I think I will follow your recommendation and rest. The throne of Egypt was rightfully Tuthmose's. Now that he is gone he would have wanted me to fill his expected role."

The royal family retired from their administrative duties for the day. Artemis and his acolytes made the necessary preparations for the coronation ceremony. The guards of the temple continued to restrain the citizens who clambered to gain a view of the bereft king.

Dusk fell and soon turned to night. The moon and stars shone brightly over the city. This did not stop the lamentation of the residents of Memphis. Throughout the two Egypts citizens of the realm held a night-long vigil in memory of the fallen prince.

As dawn began the acolytes dressed Amenhotep III and his family in their finest robes. The sconces were refueled and the preparations made for the coronation.

"We are gathered here today to remember our lost prince," declared Artemis, "but also to celebrate the establishment of a new king. Amen, son of Amenhotep III, have you chosen a name to reflect the honor of your new office?"

"Yes, I have, Artemis," said Amen. "I wish to be called Akhenaton. I emphasize my following of Amon Re, the creator of the universe and controller of the sun. My brother would not have wanted the kingdom to wallow in loss and regret. I do this with the permission of my father and mother."

"Very well, Akhenaton," replied Amenhotep III. "Keep in mind that Osiris, Thoth and the other gods will continue their observance of our affairs."

"We will be here to help you, my son, whatever name you choose," offered Tiye. "The duties of the rulers of the two Egypts are weighty burdens, indeed. We will have your throne placed before us so that you will become accustomed to the decision-making process that is our responsibility."

The Queen of Egypt continued to mourn her lost son as a group of acolytes brought a new throne in front of the two at the center of the gods.

Akhenaton forced a smile as Artemis placed a peshent, similar to the one worn by his father, on his head. Artisans nearby began immediately to chisel likenesses of the new Pharaoh out of stone.

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