me. A confirmation of a nagging concern that had been growing since Ahmose first approached me. I felt oddly calm for a man who suddenly found him-self poised precariously on a high precipice. He waited for me to speak. 'Permit me a question: when did this happen?' He paused, considering his reply. 'Five days ago.' I did not quite know whether to believe him. 'I have tried to keep this a secret,' he continued, 'but in this city of whispers and echoes it is not possible. Her absence is already the cause of considerable speculation, mostly in quarters who seek to profit from it.' 'This is motive,' I said. He looked annoyed suddenly. 'What do you mean?' 'I mean, it may be that she has been . . . sequestered by such persons.' 'Of course. There are forces of ignorance working against us, against the enlightenment. Her vanishing will seem an opportunity to question all that we have made and open the way to a return to the darkness of superstition. Their timing would be perfect. It is too convenient.' I must have looked a little blank then. 'Have those who recommended you committed a gross error?' 'Forgive me, Lord. I was told nothi ng of the mystery or its circum stances. I was informed only that you wished to speak to me yourself.' He gathered his thoughts, quickly and effectively. 'In ten days the capital's inauguration Festival will take place. I have commanded the presence and tributes of all the kings, governors and tribe leaders, together with their ambassadors and retinues from around the Empire. It is the revelation of the new world. It is what she and I have worked towards for these many years, and it cannot fail just as we are about to achieve our glory. I must have her back. I must know who has taken her, and I must have her back!' He was suddenly shaking with rage - more, it seemed to me, with those who had taken her than with the loss of the woman herself. He whacked his staff across a table in fury. Then he shook his head, stood up shakily, turned away, calmed down, and pointed his gold staff at my face. 'Do you understand the trust I place in you by speaking in this way? By revealing such considerations?' I nodded. He stood up and walked to the fountain where he observed the water pulsing. Then he turned back to me. 'Find her. If she is alive, save her and bring her to me, together with those associated with the act. If she is dead, bring me her body so that I can give her to eternity. You have ten days. Call upon what resources you require. But trust no-one in this city. You are a stranger here. Keep it that way.' 'May I speak?' 'Yes.' 'I will need to question everyone who had access to the Queen. Everyone who knows her, who works for her, who cares for or does not care for her. That may include your own family, Lord.' He looked at me, taking his time. His face darkened again. 'Are you implying that maybe your motivations exist within my own family?' 'I must consider every possibility, no matter how unacceptable or unthinkable.' He was not pleased. 'Do what you must, with my authority. I will give you permissions. However, remember that this authority brings responsibility. If you betray it in any way I will have you executed. And if within ten days you have not succeeded, know this: I will also kill your family.' My heart turned to a stone. The worst of my fears was confirmed. And he knew it. I could see it in his face. 'And as for that little journal you keep your thoughts in, if I were you I would burn each scroll as you write it. "Somewhere between a mule and a mother-in-law"? I was not flattered. Remember your own advice. Take care.' He poked his staff at me, stared hard, and then I was dismissed from his presence.
9 As I came through the doors, Khety was waiting for me. He could tell I was shaken. He waited for me to speak. 'Where's Tjenry?' 'He had to go. Mahu sent for him. He'll meet us tomorrow.' I nodded. 'I need a drink. Where does a thirsty man go in this dry town?' Khety took