Out of the Black Land - By Kerry Greenwood

Chapter One


In the name of Ptah, in the name of his consort Mut after whom I was called and his son Khons who is the moon and time, in the hope that my heart will weigh heavily against the feather and I may live and die in Maat which is truth, I declare that my name is Mutnodjme and my sister is the most beautiful woman in the world.

I was born when she was seven. Her dying mother, the concubine, gave her into the arms of the formidable woman, my mother, Tey wife of Ay. I do not remember the concubine who bore Nefertiti. They say that she was beautiful, pale and silvery and sad, and she died young. Her child was kept apart from Tey’s household, and I did not see her when I was a baby. Tey is a small woman, dark of skin and eye; and those things I have inherited from her.

I am small, measured against Nefertiti’s length of limb; I am dark against her glowing Theban fairness. I am ugly against her almost divine beauty, and I am miserable against her happiness, for they have just told her that she is to marry Pharaoh Akhnamen, and become Great Royal Wife. She is his; no longer mine.

We have pleated the linen garments for her, and I am sitting on the marble floor of the palace of Divine Father Ay in the great city of Thebes—with the sellers of dates and dried fish calling his trade outside, women’s voices, shrill and constant—making wreaths of moonflowers and lotus. I am uncomfortable and cramped, because I have no skill in my fingers for this delicate work, and the flowers will not lie peaceably along the wire frame for me as do those of the other maidens. They are refractory and shed their petals if I force them.

This is the third time that I have had to start again.


When did I first know her, my half-sister Nefertiti Neferneferuamen, whose name means ‘The Beautiful One Who Is Come’?

It must have been the river.

I knew that I was being very naughty.

My wet-nurse had been called away on some deep matter involving herbs and childbirth—both female mysteries from which I was excluded—and the servant-girl who was supposed to watch me was flirting with the guard. I was sitting in the garden in Ay’s palace, watching the little boats being dragged ashore as the flood filled the Nile and the banks crumbled.

‘Egypt,’ said Asen my nurse, ‘is called the Black Land, because of the rich soil deposited by the river. Our land is the gift of the Nile,’ she said, stroking my curly dark hair, ‘as you are, daughter, as we all are. And Pharaoh is our Lord and the Gods are above and beneath us, the land our father Geb and the sky our mother Nut, so go to sleep, little daughter. We are cradled in the Nile, nursed by the river,’ she said, and went away to tend a woman who was groaning in the next room.

I tried to follow, but an old woman grabbed me by the arm and hauled me from the door.

‘Not yet, daughter of Ay,’ she grinned toothlessly at me.

I was nettled at being excluded and wandered back to the window, where fascinating debris was being swept down the swollen river. The placid water foamed like honey from Asun. I waited until the girl was entirely engrossed in her guard and slipped quietly out of the window and onto the paved place outside the palace.

The air was full of people crying out and giving orders that no one was listening to. The flood had come down suddenly this year, my sixth in Maat, and early. Little houses which had been made by herdsmen to be dismantled later were being dismantled early by the water, running faster than a running horse. No one noticed me as I wandered through the crowd. Of all the children of Ay I most resembled the common people and apart from the fineness of my amulet and the gold rings in my ears there was nothing to set me apart. A woman leading a mother-goat and carrying a kid almost stood on me and cursed me out of her path in the name of Set, a serious curse. I threaded my way through the people to the edge.

Fascinating. People like ants scurried away from the water, carrying hay and sacks and terracotta pots. A solemn priest of Basht bore away a sacred cat from a