Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life
By P.J. Hoover
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2014 Patricia Jedrziewski Hoover
All rights reserved.
WHERE I CRASH THE WRONG PARTY
EGYPT — THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO
My enemy taunted me from the end of the dark tunnel. I knew it as soon as I heard the chanting. A small voice in my head told me not to go down the tunnel. Told me that I would die if I did. But I ignored the voice. I was the pharaoh, after all. The great Tutankhamun. I battled Nubians and wrestled crocodiles with my bare hands in the Nile River.
Okay, the part about the crocodiles wasn't true, but the Nubians thing totally was. I could do this. I'd been searching for the Cult of Set for over a year now. And I'd finally found them.
Why? Because Set was the Egyptian god of chaos and storms and all things dark and terrible. His priests carried out their master's godly bidding, filling the world with Set's chaos. They'd stopped the flow of water into the crop fields. They'd vandalized tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They'd even tried to have me poisoned on five different occasions. Thank the gods for my food tasters. But this was my kingdom, and I had to protect it. If that meant rooting out dissenters, then so be it. I stepped inside.
At the end of the tunnel was a giant wooden door. Light shone from under its base. I froze when I heard voices amid the chanting and held my breath as I peered through an exposed knothole.
Three priests surrounded an altar. One wore a jackal mask, complete with spiky ears and razor teeth. One wore a mask like an ibis, which was this bird I always saw out in the Nile, with a long beak that had been sharpened into a spike. And one wore a mask like the god Set.
Set looked like some sort of monster pieced together from every ferocious animal in Egypt, with fangs the size of throwing knives and claws that could skewer kabobs. Anything that involved long hooks or knives or people with masks freaked me out — which pretty much summed up every ceremony ever held in Egypt, but that wasn't what made the world shrink around me.
On the fourth side of the altar stood my uncle Horemheb.
I'd recognize him anywhere, with his skinny little arms and long stringy beard. I think he kept it so long because his head was as bald as a beetle's behind. He'd been my most trusted advisor since my dad had died and I'd become pharaoh five years ago, yet here he was, clearly part of the most dangerous cult in Egypt.
"Mother of Horus," I whispered.
Laid out on the altar were all sorts of sharp, pointy things. The priests and Horemheb took turns picking up objects and chanting, all the while swinging incense around until smoke filled the air. Their words sounded like a bunch of nonsense, until Horemheb raised both hands above his head and started praying. What he prayed for chilled my blood.
"Deliver me my throne," Horemheb said.
His throne? It was my throne. He acted like he was trying to take over. But I'd been doing everything he asked. I'd been bringing the gods back to Egypt after my father had royally messed up the entire religious balance of Egypt. I'd been signing the decrees he asked me to sign. I'd even agreed to the whole moving of the capital city back to Thebes, though it was going to be a complete pain in my backside.
"Grant me my rightful place, Great Set," Horemheb prayed. "I am the true heir."
The priests repeated every word he said, including the stuff about him being true heir. But Horemheb wasn't the true heir. He was only my father's brother. I was Akhenaton's son. The heir. The rightful pharaoh.
"I have done your bidding, ridding Egypt of the heretic," Horemheb said.
The heretic? Horemheb had to be talking about my father, seeing as how most of Egypt viewed him as a heretic once he declared his favorite god the only true god. But it sounded a lot like Horemheb was saying he'd killed my father.
"Grant me permission to rid Egypt of his son, too," Horemheb said.
It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. Horemheb had killed my father, and he was going to try to kill me next.
I'd trusted him. Listened to his advice. Taken his guidance. And he'd done nothing but betray me and my family. My death was next on his to-do list. I clenched my fists. There was no way in all the realm of Anubis that I was going to let that happen. I'd have Horemheb killed instead. Do away with the entire Cult of Set. The only thing to do was to go back and get the palace guard. Bring them here and have Horemheb arrested and charged with treason.
Except then the incense coming through the cracks got super thick. My nose twitched, and I sneezed.
Within seconds, the door flew open, and the priest with the ibis mask grabbed my arms and yanked me into the room.
"The boy king," Horemheb said. "Set has delivered him to us just as we prayed for."
"Guards!" I yelled. They'd be here any second.
"The young king's presence here is a message from great Set himself," the priest wearing the Set mask said.
It was no message from a god. It was just me being in the completely wrong place at the completely wrong time. And where were my guards?
Now was a horrible time for them to start giving me privacy.
"Your moment has come, Great Lord," the jackal-headed priest said to Horemheb.
Great lord? I was the great lord, not Horemheb.
"Guards!" I yelled again. I got a sick feeling as control of the situation slipped through my fingers like sand. The guards should have been here by now.
Horemheb laughed a deep, terrible laugh that made my scalp prickle. "Your guards won't come, Boy King. I'm afraid your time has run out."
I tried to run, but the three priests grabbed me and hauled me over to the altar.
"How dare you?" I fixed a death look on Horemheb. He would pay for this. I could list at least fifty divine decrees he was breaking. Not only would he be imprisoned, he'd be executed.
"I dare because I must," Horemheb said. "I've bided my time. Watched while you ran the country into ruin just like your father. Tried to reason with you and your childish ways. But I can watch no more. Egypt must be saved from your heresy."
Horemheb believed every word he was saying. I had to make him see the truth.
"I'm not a heretic," I said. "I like all the gods. Even Set."
That part was a lie. I hated Set. He'd betrayed his brother Osiris just like Horemheb had betrayed my father and was betraying me now.
"I went along with your suggestions," I said. "I had my father's name removed from all the monuments. I restored the temples." I struggled against the priest who held me, but he gripped me so hard that I thought his fingers might poke through my skin.
"It's not enough! All trace of the heretic must be removed from Egypt, including his son," Horemheb said. "Set's will must be done."
Around me, the priests started chanting. Horemheb grabbed a long knife off the altar and took a step toward me. I elbowed the jackal-headed priest, hard enough that I knocked him to the ground. I shoved the ibis-headed priest into my uncle. This whole mess couldn't be happening — except it was.
Behind the altar was an archway leading to a tunnel. I took off down it. I didn't care where it went. All I knew was I had to get away from Horemheb before he killed me. Otherwise justice would never be served.
"Guards!" I screamed. Where were they? "Guards!" "You can't fight the will of Set!" Horemheb yelled from behind me.
I kept running, panting as I wound through one stone passageway after another. Finally the maze of tunnels ended and I was out in the desert. The sun beat down from above, making me visible to anyone. Except there was no one around. I looked around to get my bearings. I was out in the middle of the Valley of the Kings, and just ahead was the entrance to my tomb. I ran for it.
With what I knew now, Horemheb couldn't let me live another day. I dashed into my tomb. The entrance had been left open since it was under construction, and Osiris must have been on my side because the first thing I saw once my eyes adjusted to the dim light was a shiny gold sword hanging on the wall.
Wait. It was my favorite hunting sword. Why was it already in my tomb? I used this thing every week. This was a "to be added after my death" kind of object.
"Very good, Tutankhamun. You picked the perfect place to die," Horemheb said from behind me.
I grabbed the sword and faced him, putting on my best pharaoh look in an attempt to intimidate him. But who was I kidding? Horemheb was a psychotic, Set-worshipping murderer.
"You're upset I killed your family, aren't you?" he said.
"My family? You killed my family?"
"Each and every one," Horemheb said. "Your father. Your mother. And your brother."
His words hardly registered past my hatred. "You traitor. How could you?" Horemheb had ruined my entire world.
He stepped closer, and light from the torches glinted off his thick gold bracelets. "Because your father was a heretic. If not for him angering the gods, my son Sadiki would be alive now."
"Sadiki died from the plague," I said. I used to play with him all the time, back when my dad was pharaoh. The plague had passed me over, but Horemheb's son wasn't so lucky. If he hadn't died, he'd have been fourteen just like me.
"My son died because of your father's crimes against the gods," Horemheb said. "And crimes against the gods are punishable by death."
"You'll be executed for treason." I still couldn't believe this was really happening. I'd been so blind. For the last five years, Horemheb had fed me lies. He'd pretended to help me while plotting my death. The whole thing was like a nightmare.
"I won't," Horemheb said. "You'll die, and I'll take the throne like I should have in the first place."
"You! Ha! You were never worthy of the throne," I said. "You're nothing but the son of a lowly consort. You're hardly even royal blood."
I must have struck a nerve, because Horemheb lunged at me with the knife. I jumped to the side. Except my tomb was tiny. There was nowhere to jump to. I fell against the entrance and barely had time to roll out of the way as the outer door to the tomb came crashing down. It made my bad situation worse. I was now going to be stuck in here forever.
"I was doing everything you asked," I said, trying to distract him, still gripping the sword, preparing to strike back. All I needed was one good shot at him. I'd trained with the best of the palace guard in all types of fighting since I was five years old.
"You were doing nothing." Horemheb's voice echoed off the hard limestone walls, making it all the more evident it was just him and me, sealed inside tons of rock. "I warned you about a religious revolt, but you refused to listen. And now here it is, Boy King. Welcome to the revolution."
It couldn't be a revolution. The priests hated me, but the people loved me.
"You're wrong," I said.
Horemheb laughed with a grating noise that made it sound like sand was stuck in his throat. "Why do you think the guards didn't come save you?" It was a really good question. They hadn't done anything. And where were they now?
"They will," I said.
"They won't," Horemheb said. "Your entire palace guard was killed.
And even if you manage to find a way out of this tomb, there's no throne for you to return to. You've officially been relieved of your royal duties."
"You can't do that!"
"I already did," he said.
I rushed forward, sword in hand, ready to take off his head. But Horemheb was more nimble than his gawky height led me to believe. He kicked the sword out of my hands. It smacked into a torch on the wall and fell near the tomb door. And then he thrust his knife forward.
I skipped to the side just in time, knocking the only other torch from the wall, and casting the tomb into darkness. Deeper into the tomb I fled, down a passageway, ignoring the shouts from behind me, until I ran smack-dab into a wall. My head spun, but I hurried to my feet ... only to trip over a giant pile of walking sticks. There had to be at least two hundred of them. I stood up and immediately fell over a chariot wheel. Great Osiris, this place was loaded with stuff, cast all willy-nilly everywhere. There had to be a weapon around here somewhere.
"There's nowhere to hide, Tutankhamun." Horemheb's poisonous voice taunted me.
He was right. My tomb was tiny. That had been Horemheb's idea, saying my humility would please the gods. I ran for the burial chamber and squeezed past the sarcophagus. Images of me covered the walls, looking all regal with my long, brown hair flowing in waves behind me. Above the sarcophagus, on a shelf, sat the four Canopic jars that were supposed to contain my stomach, intestines, lungs, and liver. The tomb builders had already painted the sarcophagus with an image of my face. The peaceful look was exactly the opposite of how I felt right now. I had to find a sword.
I dragged my eyes away and came face-to-face with Anubis.
"Holy Amun!" My yell could have woken a mummy. But then I realized Anubis was just a statue. It was the fact that he didn't move and didn't answer that gave it away. Still, his golden jackal eyes followed me as I slipped around him, daring me to invade the treasury he guarded. Which, of course, I did.
Torches lit the treasury room. Shadows bounced off the walls, reflecting light off everything. The treasury was loaded — floor-to-ceiling gold. Not that this impressed me, but for anyone who'd never seen the stuff, it was enough to cause temporary blindness.
"Oh, Great Pharaoh! We thought you would never come."
I looked down and almost tripped over the army of little men congregated there. There had to be hundreds of them. It looked like they were made of baked clay, and each stood about six inches tall. Some master painter had probably spent the last two years painting each of them differently, varying clothes and hairstyles and even eye color. There were blue ones, golden ones, even solid black ones. They were my shabtis, placed here to be my servants in the afterlife — where I would end up soon if I didn't find a way out of this mess.
"We are here to serve you," the shabti in front said. Maybe he was their leader; his clothing was painted golden, he towered over the others by at least an inch, and he looked like he might be made of granite. "Give us your command."
I guess if I really had been mummified and in the tomb, an army of servants — one for every day of the year — would have been convenient. But now wasn't the time. I had bigger things to worry about than stepping on small clay men.
"Thanks for offering, but I'm kind of busy right now."
They all fell to the ground. Only the leader dared lift his head to speak. "How have we offended you, Great Pharaoh? Shall we take our lives? We only wish to serve."
I shook my head. Really, timing was everything. "No, it's nothing you did."
The leader's face didn't move.
"I swear. I just need to find a way to kill Horemheb. A knife or something."
At this the leader's head perked up. "A weapon! Great Pharaoh would like a weapon." He snapped his granite fingers, and three battalions of ten shabtis ran off into the piles of treasures. It wasn't ten seconds later before they returned, loaded down with twenty different knives and swords and things. Now I was beginning to see why the priests put these little guys in tombs after all.
"Will any of these do?" the leader asked.
"Submitting to Set is the only way, Tutankhamun." Horemheb's voice sounded like it was just on the other side of the sarcophagus. He let out a laugh that chilled every follicle on my skin. "As a favor, I'll make sure you are properly mummified."
I figured I better hurry if I wanted to keep my guts out of Canopic jars. I bent down to examine the weapons. Like the sword, they were mine — things I used on a regular basis. Part of me wanted to grab them all and shove them into my tunic, but I didn't figure that would help. So I grabbed the longest, pointiest knife of the bunch.
"And this, Great Master," the shabti leader said.
Two shabtis stepped forward, holding a golden box over their heads.
They flipped it open, and inside I saw the scrolls of the Book of the Dead. It was the single most powerful religious object in Egypt. The priests swore that spells from the Book of the Dead actually worked. That the spells summoned the power of the gods. But I'd never seen the magic or the power of the gods. All I'd seen so far was death.
I took the scrolls. "What am I supposed to do with these?"
"Use a spell, Great Pharaoh," the leader said. "'The Judgment of the Dead.'"
"The spells don't work." Amun knows, I'd tried enough times.
"They will," the shabti leader said. "You must have faith in the gods."
Since I had nothing else, I figured I might as well give faith a shot. If the spell actually worked, it would give Horemheb a one-way ticket to the afterworld. And when his dead heart was judged by the gods by placing it on a scale and weighing it, there was no way he'd pass on to the Fields of the Blessed. He'd be eaten by the crocodile goddess, Ammut. I, on the other hand, would be free to find a way out of this tomb and figure out what I was going to do about Egypt.
"Faith in the gods," I said. "I'll give it a try. May you live your days in the Fields of the Blessed." I wasn't sure if shabtis went to the Fields of the Blessed, but it seemed like the right thing to say. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover. Copyright © 2014 Patricia Jedrziewski Hoover. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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