When she was twelve years old, Atet was married to her half brother, Seti. Being painted and powdered and oiled and perfumed and dressed in fine white linen with a headdress so heavy she was sure her neck would break were merely the precursors to a wedding ceremony that lasted most of a day.
By the time the last priest had waved the last ceremonial artefact in front of her nose she was dangerously tired and on the verge of tears. It was only pride that kept her spine straight while they removed her ceremonial robe and dressed her in a gown so fine that every contour of her body could be seen through its delicate folds. She did rebel at the prospect of walking through the palace corridors so wantonly displayed, insisting on an azure feathered wrap to protect her modesty. When the acolytes sent to escort her to her husband’s bedchamber would have argued, she turned on them with all the hauteur of her great father and they fell into order beneath her icy glance.
At the great beaten brass doors she dismissed her entourage with a flick of her fingers and entered alone, finding her bridegroom cowering in the corner like the child he still was under his seventeen-year-old body. As she was about to go over and speak to him, a small doorway opened to admit a shaven-headed gentleman carrying a businesslike leather scourge and smiling sourly.
Atet raised her brows and he leered at her.
“I am the royal tutor. His majesty is to be scourged,” he spoke in a voice of contempt, “and after him it will be your turn to learn the feel of the lash.”
The young bride reached her own personal breaking point. She turned with deliberately regal dignity and opened one wing of the door, beckoning two of the royal guard to enter. She pointed a finger at the whip bearer.
“Remove this offal from my sight. Take it and strike off its hands before you cut its throat.”
“You can’t do that to me,” the tutor screamed.
Atet saw no need to reply as the grinning guards dragged him off to meet his fate.
Seti came to her side with fear in his eyes.
“He will only beat me harder next time.”
“My brother, be tranquil. He will beat nobody ever again.”
“Did you not hear me order his death?”
“Yes. But he is my tutor. My great father protects him.”
Atet felt a rush of sympathy for this simple infant, hidden inside the body of a man.
“Our great father is dead. You rule now. And with me by your side nobody will hurt you again.”
And so began the reign of the great king Seti, and his sister-wife Atet. They ruled wisely and well, with only a trusted few privy to the knowledge that Seti was what he was and that the intellect and the will belonged to his young wife.
They had only one real problem. Heirs. It was a marriage in name only and unlikely to ever be anything else. Seti had a slave girl who saw to his simple and infrequent needs, while Atet remained as pure as she had been on the day of their marriage. She was aware of the danger of appearing barren, and equally sure that she had no wish to give birth to a child with her husband’s limitations, even if it had been possible to persuade him into fulfilling his marital duties.
So matters stood when Atet’s most trusted adviser was called to his place at the feet of the gods and she found herself looking for a replacement. She found one such in the person of the Hyksos in charge of her personal guard. He was a man in his forties, with a fat jolly wife and a quiverful of unruly children. He was also handsome, intelligent, and completely loyal. Atet began asking his opinions and relying on his advice, and in time it came to her that this man of all others was the one she would choose to sire her own babies.
She sent for him and he came to her rooms where she sat in a gilded chair and regarded him through sombre eyes. “How far, my Hyksos, are you prepared to go in order to protect me?”
He didn’t answer, merely going down on one knee and pressing his forehead against her feet.
“Will you,” she asked in a very small voice, “protect me from the charge that I am barren woman, unfit to be queen?”
He looked up into her solemn little face before lifting her in his arms and beginning to do things of which she had no knowledge, but which gave her pleasure beyond her dreams.
It is a matter of record that Queen Atet bore her husband eleven healthy, intelligent, happy children, and that the land waxed fertile as the queen’s fecundity was proven time and time again.