of the water birds, revived my spirits. And above me, looking out to the river, towered yet more statues of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. A man and a woman carved as gods.
We turned right into an enclosed courtyard, and then right again into an antechamber. Beneath my feet I noticed pavements of painted scenes: beautiful waterways with fish and flowers, and stones and butterflies. We were approaching the heart of the palace, for more and more officials, men of status in fine white linens, passed us. They quickly assessed me, curiously, dispassionately and without warmth, as a stranger in the city. Clearly this was a place where everyone knew everyone but none were friends.
Khety spoke to an officer of the court. Tjenry gave me a quick and inappropriate gesture of encouragement, and then I was ushered alone
into a private courtyard as into the cage of a lion. It was exquisitely beautiful. Shuttered panels carved with filigree patterns ran around the edges until they opened on the side of the river. A fountain played in a translucent bowl balanced over a long pool. Flowers and river ferns flourished, nodding gently. The cool shade served only to sharpen the outline of a figure who stood, framed by the shutters, on a wide balcony giving on to the great panorama of the river and the greater one of the sunset, apparently gazing deeply into the dazzling consort of lights, the water's dance, that surrounded him. Then he turned to face me.
At first I could not make him out. 'Life, Prosperity, Health,' I said. 'I offer myself to my Lord and to Ra.' I kept my eyes lowered.
Finally he spoke: 'We have need of your offering.' His voice was clear and light. 'Look up.'
He seemed to gaze upon me for a little while. Then he stepped carefully down and out of the last red light of the setting sun.
Now I could look at him properly. He was both like and unlike his images. His face was still quite young; long, slender and almost beauti ful, with precise lips and intelligent eyes that conveyed absolute power: it was both hard to look into them and impossible to look away. It was a fluid, alive face, but also one I could imagine hardening in an instant into ruthlessness. His body was disguised under his clothes, and a leopard skin was cast over one shoulder, but I had the impression of a slender, refined physique. Certainl y his hands were fine. A beauti fully wrought crutch was tucked under his right arm. He seemed at once brittle, as if with one light ta p he would turn to dust, and im measurably powerful, like someone who has been smashed to pieces and then restored, the stronger for the shattering. A rare creature, not quite of this world. Something of beauty and something of the beast.
Akhenaten, Lord of the Two Lands, Lord of the World, smiled. His lips revealed teeth that were thin and widely spaced. And then the smile vanished. He shuffled to a throne, his right foot dragging slightly, and lowered himself into it. A very ordinary, human sigh of relief.
'The work of creating the new world is challenging. But it is the way we will return to our ancestors and the great truth. Akhetaten, the City of the Great Horizon, is the portal to the eternal, and I am rebuilding the way.'
He paused, waiting for my response. I had no idea what to say.
'It is a great work, Lord.'
He considered me. 'I have heard interesting things about you. You have new ideas. You can trace the clues of a mystery to their hidden source. You persuade criminals to confess without torture. You enjoy the dark and dead ends of the crooked labyrinth of the human heart.'
'I am interested in how things happen, and why. So I try to look at what is in front of me. To pay attention.'
'To pay attention. I like that. Are you paying attention now?'
He gestured for me to approach closer, concerned not to be over-heard. 'Then listen. There is a mystery. An alarming mystery. The Queen, my Nefertiti, the Perfect One, has vanished.'
This was the worst possible news for