Chapter VII.

"The prince is with his tutor, Your Majesty" Ipu said, as I entered the nursery to visit my son.

The little Thutmose was now four years old, and the education of royal princes usually began at this age. It also meant that he took his first steps towards adulthood, and now he was past the age when children like to be hugged or held. I sighed. It would have been good to have more children. But maybe it was better this way, to have only one, but healthy child. I remembered when Mutnofret told me that although she had four little boys, three of them had died in early childhood, and Thutmose, my husband was ill so often that sometimes they doubted that he'll survive. It was hard to believe that the strong man I love once had been a fragile little child.

Now Ipu's little daughter was the only child in the royal nursery that should have been full of children. She looked up at me. "My Lady, where is Thutmose? Can't he play with me?"

"He has to study, my dear."

"And Neferure? Is she still sick?"

Luckily Hatshepsut didn't hear that her child is only second to mine when it comes to popularity. The thought made me smile.

"I'll find Neferure and bring her here, if I can, Satiah" I promised the girl.

I guessed the princess is with her mother so I entered the Great Royal Wife's chambers. Everything was strangely quiet. I didn't see any servants who could announce me, so I simply opened the door.

And wanted to close it immediately, but it was too late. Hatshepsut's eyes were full of anger as she sat up on her bed where she had lay with Senenmut. "What are you doing here?"

I felt I'm blushing and I was angry at myself. She made me feel embarrassed, although she was the one who should have felt this way. "I came to ask about Neferure's wellbeing, but I see that you have more important things to do than caring about your daughter."

"You will not speak to me like this. Don't forget who you are."

"I never forget that I'm the Pharaoh's wife, just like you" I said. Once and for all I have to make myself clear. She can't treat me as if I were a mere servant.

"My daughter's whereabouts is not your business" Hatshepsut said and turned away.

I shrugged. "Alright, but I promised Satiah to find Neferure, so I'll find her and leave her parents alone."

I really don't know why did I let my tongue slip. Maybe because I hate lies, maybe because I was angry. I knew immediately that I shouldn't have.

Hatshepsut said something to Senenmut who stood up and left quietly. She looked straight into my eyes and I fought the urge to look away. Most people couldn't stand her gaze and I knew she liked that.

She was still naked and I had to notice that she is beautiful, as beautiful as only a goddess can be. I had a little extra weight and it was so annoying to see her eternal beauty.

I thought that she will deny everything then forbids me to speak about my suspections again. It was not the first time that I couldn't find out what she'll say or do.

"It sounds as if you were threatening me, Iset" she said mildly, but with eyes gleaming.

"I didn't want to. But I'm wondering what would you do if I were really threatening you." I was really wondering. What would she do if I said her that I'll told Thutmose about her and Senenmut? About Neferure?

She sat down comfortably, then looked into my eyes and laughed. It surprised me and a chill went down on my spine. She doesn't seem frightened at all, I realized.

"Iset, you try to be a queen but you are still as stupid and innocent as the little kitchen servant whom Thutmose seduced on the evening of the sed- festival." There was mocking in her voice and I hated her for speaking this way about one of my happiest nights ever. Besides, how did she know about it?

But this wasn't the worst. She went on. "I thought you already know that Thutmose permits me to do almost anything that I want. Do you know why? Have you ever thought about it?" She smiled again and her smile was cruel. "I guess you remember the day when he told you that he will be the next Pharaoh."

"Of course" I said. "He told me that the priesthood of Amun wouldn't accept you as a ruler. Without their support no one can do anything in this country."

"That was the tale he told you?" She sounded amused, then laughed. "As if the priests of Amun – as if any priest couldn't be convinced of anything with the help of a small amount of money! He became Pharaoh because I agreed.

I didn't believe that. "Why would you do that?" I asked with a smile.

She looked into my eyes again and now I could be sure that she was telling the truth. "Because neither of us could have been contented with no power at all. There would have been fighting and the country would have been torn apart and left weak. Both of us wanted power but neither of us wanted the destruction of Egypt. We had an agreement. In the eyes of everyone we will be the perfect royal couple, but we will have our separate ways. I let him rule the country and don't care about his private life – and he does the same favor for me.

It took a little time to realize what does it mean. "Do you mean that he lets you interfere in the state affairs?"

"Of course. Why, did you believe that I would be happy if I only had to care about giving parties and having boat trips like all the other noblewomen do? Iset, do you really underestimate me this much? I was born to rule this land."

I felt as if a heavy stone had replaced my heart. Thutmose had lied to me. I was his beloved, the mother of his son, but Hatshepsut was his confidante, his equal partner. She had been that all the time.

"I can still tell him that Neferure isn't his daughter and that will ruin your little agreement that makes you feel so safe" I bursted out.

I regretted it immediately. Why would I want what she has? I asked myself. Even if I had the chance to choose, I would choose Thutmose's love rather than his confidence – I'm emotional, I always had been that way. Once again I felt strong. I smiled at Hatshepsut. She doesn't know what she's missing, I thought. I was sorry that I tried to threaten her.

As if she were reading my mind, she immediately killed this last comfort of mine. "I never wanted to hurt you, Iset, why do you force me to do so? You had what you want: you had Thutmose's love what meant nothing to me. But you, poor little Iset, lost all that you had. Thutmose doesn't love you any more. You are too dull, too simple-minded for him. He still likes you, but the passion had gone. Don't tell me it isn't true. If it weren't true, he wouldn't come into my quarters every night. I have always sent him away, for I had no reason to sleep with him since I cannot have more child. But who knows, maybe next time I'll let him in."

I knew that everything she said was true. I wanted to cry, wanted to die, wanted to kill her, but I couldn't even move. Hatshepsut was watching my face, but without any sign of the triumph she must have felt – or maybe she didn't feel anything, maybe breaking my heart was such a little thing for her.

Slowly I took a deep breath and looked into her eyes again. "I won't tell him about Neferure" I said. "I won't return your cruelty, although you'd deserve it. But if he learned the truth, he would never forgive you that you have another man's child. If he really loves you, he would never forgive."

For the first time in my whole life I saw an expression on Hatshepsut's face that could be fear. I didn't wanted to wait until she gains strength again. I left the room.