We walked to the eerie rattle of the sistrums and I watched my golden sandals reflect the dying light. As we ascended the cliffs, I stopped to look down over the land.
Dont stop, my father cautioned. Keep going.
We trudged onward through the hills while the animals snorted their way up the rocks. The priests went before us now, carrying torches to light our way as we walked, then the High Priest hesitated, and I wondered if hed lost his bearing in the night.
Untie the sarcophagus and free the oxen, he commanded, and I saw, carved into the face of the cliff, the entrance to the tomb. Children shifted in their beads and womens bangles clinked together as they passed each other looks. Then I saw the narrow staircase leading down into the earth and understood their fear.
I dont like this, my mother whispered.
The priests relieved the oxen of their burden, heaving the gilded sarcophagus onto their backs. Then my father squeezed my hand to give me courage and we followed our dead prince into his chamber, out of the dying sun and into total darkness.
Carefully, so as not to slip on the rocks, we descended into the slick bowels of the earth, staying close to the priests and their reed-dipped torches. Inside the tomb, the light cast shadows across the painted scenes of Tuthmosis twenty years in Egypt. There were women dancing, wealthy noblemen hunting, Queen Tiye serving her eldest son honeyed lotus and wine. I pressed my mothers hand for comfort and when she said nothing I knew she was offering up silent prayers to Amun.
Below us, the heavy air grew dank and the smell of the tomb became that of shifted earth. Images appeared and disappeared in the flickering torchlight, yellow painted women and laughing men, children floating lotus blossoms along the River Nile. But most fearsome was the blue faced god of the underworld, holding the crook and flail of Egypt. Osiris, I whispered, and no one heard.
We kept walking, into the most secretive chambers of the earth, then suddenly we entered a vaulted room and I gasped. This was where all the princes earthly treasures were gathered; painted barges, golden chariots, sandals trimmed in leopard fur. We passed through this room to the innermost burial chamber, and my father leaned close to me and whispered meaningfully, Remember what I told you.
Inside the empty chamber Pharaoh and his queen stood side by side. In the light of the torches it was impossible to see anything but their shadowy figures and the long sarcophagus of the departed prince. I stretched out my arms in obeisance and my aunt nodded solemnly at me, remembering my face from her infrequent visits to our family in Akhmim. my father had taken Nefertiti and me to Thebes only once. He kept us away from the palace, from the intrigues and ostentation of the court. Now, in the flickering light of the tomb, I saw that the queen hadnt changed in the six years since I had last seen her. She was still small and pale. Her light eyes appraised me as I held out my arms and I wondered what she thought of my dark skin and unusual height. I straightened, and the High Priest of Amun opened the Book of the Dead, his voice intoning the words of dying mortals to the gods.
Let my soul come to me from wherever it is. Come for my soul, O you Guardians of the heavens. May my soul see my corpse, may it rest on my mummified body which will never be destroyed or perish
Excerpted from Nefertiti by Michelle Moran Copyright © 2007 by Michelle Moran. Excerpted by permission of Crown Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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