The Bull of Min
the planning, defending Egypt – kept her tethered to the world.
    “If the reports are correct,” she said, bending over the map again, “there is a high pass here, above the town of Megiddo.”
    “A very narrow pass. Too narrow to move the army through at any useful pace.”
    “If you approach from any other direction, word will travel too fast. There will be too many shepherds in the lower hills, here and here. Sheep-boys can move quickly when they want to. Megiddo will be at the alert long before you arrive. They may even have time to call in help from their Hittite allies.”
    “I see the sense of it,” Thutmose admitted. “But I don’t like the idea of…” He cut off abruptly.
    Hatshepsut’s hands flew to her temples. She winced as she clutched frantically at her head.
    Thutmose was around the table in a heartbeat, taking her by the shoulders, easing her back onto the silk couch. Her face had gone even paler, with a sickly hint of green about the mouth. He turned for Hesyre, but the man was already speeding forward with a large clay basin in his arms.
    “It’s all right,” Hatshepsut said. Her voice quivered. “Only a spell of dizziness.”
    Hesyre set the bowl at her feet. “Go get Meryet,” Thutmose whispered to his servant.
    By the time Meryet arrived, flushed and wide-eyed, Hatshepsut was lying prone on the couch, one arm draped across her eyes to shut out even the meager light of the nearby lamp. She had heaved the contents of her stomach – not much more than thin yellow bile – into the basin, while Thutmose had watched helplessly. The spasms shook her body, wringing her out like an old, worn cloth. The sight of her gripped so completely by illness filled him with terror, and once more the guilt stole into his heart, coiled there like a waiting snake.
    Meryet knelt beside the couch in spite of the nearness of the fouled basin. She took Hatshepsut’s hand in her own. “We must get you back to your own chambers.”
    “No,” Hatshepsut croaked. “Not like this. No one must see me like this. Only you and my own servants. The rest must not know.”
    “Nonsense,” Meryet insisted. “Nehesi is just outside the door. If you are too weak to walk, he will carry you.”
    “She’s right,” Thutmose said. He laid a hand gently on Meryet’s shoulder. “No one else must see her this way. The Pharaoh, carried through the palace like a helpless infant, for any ambassador to see? It would never do – especially now, with things in Kadesh as they are. Word might travel.” He could feel Meryet’s trembling, but she did not argue.
    “Then I will stay until you are able to return to your chambers,” the Great Royal Wife said. She pressed the back of Hatshepsut’s hand against her cheek, and through the tremors of the illness, Hatshepsut managed a brittle smile.

    T hree days later, Thutmose summoned his wife to his chambers. Meryet looked nearly as drawn and pale as Hatshepsut had the last time he’d seen her, and for one terrible moment Thutmose feared the illness was spreading. But the same haunted hollowness did not darken Meryet’s eyes, and as he welcomed her with a long embrace and a kiss on her brow, directly below the rearing cobra of her golden circlet, he realized with a hot flood of relief that it was only exhaustion he saw on her face. Exhaustion – nothing more.
    “How is she?”
    Meryet shrugged. She turned her face away, but not before he caught the glimmer of tears in her eyes. “Not well. Her hip pains her terribly. The dizzy spells and weakness are upon her all the time, day or night. She has scarce been able to rise from her bed for three days. It was a wonder she walked back to her chambers on her own. The way she moved through the palace, so straight and calm, I thought the worst was behind her. But when we got back to her apartments, she just…crumpled. Like a bit of linen dropped to the floor. Nehesi caught her before she hit the tiles. No one saw – no one

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