From the moment he was born, Tutankhamun’s life was overshadowed by the choices of others.
The son to Pharaoh Akhenaten, the most powerful man in Egypt, he was destined for greatness. Many of the rulers before him lived to keep life as stable as possible for their subjects. However, Akhenaten had upset this delicate balance of power, introducing new religious ways that threw the kingdom into turmoil. But Akhenaten’s love for his son was unquestionable. The great king shared his knowledge and the knowledge of his fathers before him, teaching Tut how to rule a kingdom and instilling in him the qualities of what he believed a great leader should be.
“The flooding of the Nile every year is a blessing, my son. Without it, our farms would grow arid and our people would starve.”
“You must not be allowed to show any weakness. Weakness is for men, we are descended from the gods themselves.”
All the time, Akhenaten promised him that he would be the greatest king their dynasty had ever seen.
“For it is your duty to carry on the greatness of our family name, and give birth to stronger sons who will lead our kingdom into more bountiful prosperity,”
After his father’s death, Tut took to the throne when he was still but a child. It was not the glory that his father had promised him. He was still being controlled by advisors and men who claimed to know what was best for the boy. He was asked to right the wrongs his father had committed. He was bitterly told time and time again that the inexperience of his youth would drive the kingdom to destruction if left to his own devices.
It was a suffocating and shameful existence. To be raised believing that he would one day rule the most powerful kingdom in all the land, only to be controlled and manipulated at every corner frustrated him to no end.
He wanted more than this.
He wanted what was promised to him.
By the time he was fifteen, Tutankhamun had grown up into a fine young man. Strong and beautiful, he was the talk of the kingdom. He tried to rule with fairness and justice. Both these qualities made his people love him. They compared his rule to the golden age of Osiris, the most powerful Pharaoh to ever rule.
This wasn’t enough for the teenager. He was still within the tight grip of his advisors, and many of his wants were suppressed time and time again. But Tutankhamun was older now, and very clever. More than that, his pride hadn’t suffered from being under constant control. It had only grown into an all-consuming fire which devoured his soul.
He wouldn’t allow himself to suffer this fate. It wasn’t what was promised to him.
So, in secret, he summoned the most powerful priest in the land to his chambers. He told of his rise to power and his promise to rule, only to have what he was given suppressed. He asked the old man what he could possibly do, under pain of death if the priest were to tell anyone. He told Tutankhamun that while what he wanted was difficult for men, it was not so for the gods. There were beings of ultimate power, even more powerful than a Pharaoh could hope to be. What intrigued him the most was that the priest had claimed to have contact with the gods in the past. Though he also told Tutankhamun that he wasn’t always successful, Tut still demanded his help.
Over the next few months, the priest guided him in trying to contact each of the gods. First Ra, the god of the Sun, giver of life, and king of the gods. Among men and immortal beings, he held the most power. When he didn’t answer, they tried to contact Osiris, the god of the afterlife and fertility.
“Fertility need not just be applied to the fields of the Nile, my king. Perhaps he would reward you your request,” the priest explained. When he too refused to answer, they seeked the aid of his wife Isis. As the goddess of magic, maybe the answer to Tutankahmun’s dreams lay with her all along.
If it did, she kept her secrets to herself. They prayed and tried to summon the help of gods and goddesses alike. He tried the religious ways of his father. They even tried to contact gods of destruction, Tut thinking that he could forge his glory in the fires of war. Nothing worked. Each time he and the priest tried to contact a new god for help, their efforts proved fruitless. Whether they were gods of life, death, fertility, famine, they all were silent.
After many days and nights, the priest turned to him, admitting defeat.
“I’m sorry, my king, but we have tried everything. We have contacted all the gods, tried every prayer and spell, but I’m afraid it’s hopeless.”
Tutankhamun was also ready to admit defeat at these words, but he knew he still had one option. There was one god that the priest hadn’t tried to contact, perhaps hoping that it would slip by his attention, for both common and rich people feared this god.
“What of Set?” The young man asked.
The priest shrank back in horror.
“I do not believe that to be wise, my Pharaoh.”
There was good reason for his despair. Set was a god of trickery, of disorder, of chaos. He was famous for being a betrayer amongst Egyptians, murdering his own brother for power, However, Tutankhamun had exhausted all other options. He begged all of the other gods for aid, and none of them came.
This was his only hope.
“I am your Pharaoh, and I command you to help me in this venture.”
Though he spoke in a calm, soft voice, these words had all the power in the Egyptian world behind. It was one thing to question a Pharaoh. It was another matter entirely to defy their orders. All the priest could do was bow his head in reply.
The priest told him to meet him at an old temple that lay in a disused part of the city. Later that evening, under the cover of darkness and all the stealth of a shadow, Tut made his journey in secret.
As Tut approached his destination, he grew more wary. The bustling of people going about their business was at first a comfort, but less and less people frequented the streets until the only company the young ruler had was the shadow cast by the moonlight. When he arrived at the temple, he grew all the more apprehensive. Most of the temples stood proud in the middle of the city centre to accommodate the bustling populace, but here, the surrounding houses looked abandoned, the stalls crumbled into uselessness. Had it not been for the torches that had been lit at the temple’s entrance, Tutankhamun would have thought it abandoned too. At the bottom of the vast stairs that led up to it was the priest, wearing a hood and carrying his own torch along with a menagerie of odds and ends. They spared no greeting to each other as they both made their way into the building.
“The remoteness of the temple will help us, my lord.” The priest whispered as they climbed up the stairs. Tut only nodded his head in acknowledgment.
When they reached the main hall, it was like any temple that Tut had seen before. There were giant windows that let the moonlight in, large metal bowls which would’ve held oil, and vast depictions of gods and mortals spanning across the walls.
Tutankhamun watched as the priest began his work. First, he filled the metal bowls and lit them with his torch, bathing the once dim hall in brilliant light. Then, the priest began to chant and pray. The display was bewildering and enticing the first time Tutankhamun witnessed it, but now he watched it with a sense of boredom. Time and time again, the priest had tried to speak with the gods, and time and time again, he failed. As the priest concluded the ceremony, both of them listened expectantly, only to be met with silence.
Then a wind came through the hall, blowing out the flaming bowls, darkness reigning over the old temple again. This surprised both Tutankhamun and the priest, with the latter turning to face Tut in shock.
Then the priest, usually so calm and collected, broke under an invisible force, the questioning look in his eyes giving way to strained pleading.
The priest began to spasm and hit the floor hard. He struggled and writhed in one place, as though a million serpents were taking control of his body, desperate to get out. The Pharaoh watched this display with a mixture of horror and fascination. The moans and cries of the priest sounded truly horrible, but there was nothing he could do. Finally, the body lay still. Tut stood there for a few seconds, wondering if a malady had struck the priest suddenly or if this was his imagination. He didn’t want to stay here. He wanted to run back to the palace and never look upon this awful place again. In fact, he would have the temple torn down. Damn the gods! This place felt evil and Tutankhamun had the power to destroy it.
Then a sound came on a gentle breeze.
The voice was faint and raised the hairs on the back of the boy’s neck. Though it was the height of summer, he found himself cold. Then the body of the priest rose back to his feet, his eyelids opening to reveal only blackness.
“It is I you seek.”
Tutankhamun couldn’t believe it. He had always found the depictions of Set in the palace walls a little discomforting, paintings of a giant half man with the head of an animal that had a long snout and rectangular ears.
This was so much more unsettling.
The body of the priest paced towards him, and despite all of his senses telling him to run, that the thing before him was a violation of nature, he couldn’t move.
“I know your desires, Tutankhamun, and I can give them to you…” Set whispered. The voice had all the harshness of metal grinding against a whetstone, but it grabbed Tut’s attention. A mix of lust and wanting joined in with the fear, creating the strangest feeling that Tutankhamun had felt in his life. Though his animalistic instinct told him fleeing was the only option, his more human side paid attention.
“If only you accept my bargain.”
This was all that Tut needed to hear. The gods had seeked to ignore Tut’s pleas, but the fact that Set chose to answer him demanded respect. Any fear or apprehension disappeared instantly, his lust overwhelming the rest of his senses. Finally! The answer to his prayers!
“Name your price,” Tutankhamun replied, his voice weaker. Set smiled an unnatural smile. It threatened to tear the priest’s cheeks. All the time, his dark eyes never left him. They were like the deepest pits of hell, which promised to drag Tut’s soul into their endless depths if he looked too long. Set drew closer, his ice-cold breath tickling Tut’s face.
“The price to pay for this is dear. You will suffer a short and tortuous life, and many years will go by before your name is ever heard again. But I promise you: one day, you will become the most famous Pharaoh of Egypt.”
Though his lifelong desire was laid bare at his feet, Tutankhamun could only manage a weak nod. Set stepped back into the shadows, stretching his arms out in the sign of a cross.
“It is done.”
Tutankhamun had no memory of coming home. All he could remember was total darkness before the piercing sun rose him from his sleep. He was back in his chambers, in his bed. Bewildered and confused, the only thing he noted other than his lack of memory was an uncomfortable feeling in his chest, like a needle stuck in his heart. This feeling was a precursor of things to come and never left the boy.
The god Set was right. Within the coming days, Tutankhamun’s health began to suffer. The once proud and healthy young man grew frail and ugly over time, suffering ailments that made his life a living hell. His front teeth grew large, twisting his once handsome face. His left foot became clubbed, causing him to walk with a cane. The last few years of his rule saw the once revered king be talked about with disappointment and shame, his rule slipping from prosperity.
As painful as this new existence was for him, it didn’t bother him.
In every disgusted look his subjects gave him, in every malady he suffered, he saw Set’s promise for glory. While weaker men would have crumbled under such a painful existence, it fuelled Tutankhamun’s determination.
Even after his life promised to be coming to a youthful end, all the way to his final dying moments, Tutankhamun knew that all the pain was the price to bear for his ultimate prize.
History would remember him as Egypt’s most famous Pharaoh.
The year was 1922, and Egyptologist Howard Carter was at the end of his rope. He dug all over the Valley of the Kings, searching for anything of note, despite persistent arguments that the Valley had been dug dry. However, things were growing increasingly more and more desperate. Between the war interrupting his plans eight years ago, his limited findings and constant failures, his benefactor, Lord George Herbert of Carnarvon, promised to fund only one more season of digging.
He had to find something.
The sudden yelp of the water boy as he lost his footing snapped Howard from his thoughts. Turning to the sound, he ran over to help the boy up, his cargo spilt on the ground.
That’s when he noticed it.
The boy had tripped over an unusual looking rock, very out of place in the middle of the desert. As he brought the water boy up to his feet and patted the dusty sand off the young man, he ordered the boy to get a dig team up and start work around this area.
Carter’s hunch proved fortuitous. The dig team found a stairway that led into a tomb. However, he dared not enter nor allow any of his team that honour. Instead, he contacted Lord Carnarvon to make great haste to the site, eager to share in his great discovery. Excited, the lord arrived within a matter of weeks.
With the lord’s arrival, the time was right to look into the tomb. Carter went down the stairs first, his benefactor only a few steps behind him. Lighting a torch, Carter ventured further into the dark depths. It didn’t take long for his sight to adjust to the darkness, but when it did, Carter was breathless.
“You see anything?” Lord Carnarvon called out behind him, just beyond the entrance to the tomb.
“Yes… Wonderful things.”
As the lord scrambled inside to see what Carter had meant, both men marvelled at the sight before them.
They had found their fortune.
They had found the tomb of Tutankhamun.
As they marvelled at their find, they couldn’t ignore the unnatural chill that filled the room. Though they reasoned this was because the room hadn’t seen the sun in thousands of years, souls long forgotten would have found another meaning from it.
Set had kept his bargain.
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