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Nefertiti: Lady of All Women

Nefertiti: Lady of All Women

By Katherine Givens

Originally published in The Copperfield Review.

Amarna, Egypt

1345 B.C.

The hands of Aten reached into Thutmose’s workshop, the god’s light fanning throughout the artisan’s realm. Stone sculptures of the royal family basked in Aten’s divinity, but his rays favored one figurine above all others. Nefertiti’s bust, a modello for Thutmose’s workhands.

How could Thutmose blame the god? He peered into the bust’s quartz eyes, finding a cache of wisdom in her motionless gaze. He lowered the chisel he held, the sculpture of another Amarna woman ignored when Egypt’s queen beckoned.

Thutmose’s trance carried him across the room, towards her. Towards his own artwork. Towards his queen, the wife of the pharaoh. One step, another step, until he stood before the temptation of his own making.

Her eyes glinted. She knew. She knew the spell her beauty strung through the hearts of men. She knew the envy sparked in the bosoms of rival women. She knew secrets and mysteries and riddles. Or, at the very least, Thutmose fancied her knowledge extended as far.

Thutmose longed to touch her: her stucco flesh, her delicate curves, her serpentine neck. His chisel slipped from his grasp and clattered to the floor. His fingers curled, then released. Curled, then released.

Sinful thoughts beat through his head. What would it be to have such a woman? What would it be to experience her grace and elegance firsthand? Her quiet seduction of the spirit, of the mind?

Thutmose chastised himself for his blasphemy. How could he think such things of his queen?

One glance at her tender lips answered his question. He raised a hand to her, her skin warmed by Aten’s rays. His palm shaped against a cheek, his hand wondering downwards over her inlaid collar.

Images of her filled Egypt, but this one belonged to him. This bust would stay with him, until the end of his days. Until his workhands abandoned his service, until his workshop fell into ruination. The shame of it all, the world beyond Egypt’s borders would never understand her splendor. Time would forget her. Into history she would fade, like all the women before her.

Thutmose tilted her backwards, her blue crown burdening. She would thrive in his memory, if not the world’s. Even in death, her face would survive within him. One man would eternalize her, and Thutmose vowed to be that man.

* * * * *

1912 A.D.

Ludwig Borchardt batted aside the flaps of his tent. Chisels hitting rock and brushes scraping against sand greeted him. Sounds familiar to an archaeologist, much less the leader of this expedition.

Ludwig tugged at the lapels of his coat, then glanced at the Arab laborer standing behind him. “Where am I needed?”

The Arab blinked at Ludwig’s thick German accent.

“Which direction?” Ludwig repeated.

The Arab shifted, the question sinking in. Ludwig was about to dismiss the Arab for a halfwit, when he pointed to the west. Towards the falling sun.

Ludwig nodded to the laborer. “Thank you, my good fellow.”

The Arab grunted in answer.

Without further words or interaction, Ludwig marched towards the indicated course. His strides, long and determined, carried him passed Amarna’s ruin and rubble. His men, his laborers, paused in their work to throw a glance. Wave a hand. Shout a greeting.

But Ludwig hadn’t the time for camaraderie. News reached him only moments ago of a most wondrous discovery. Something of rare and beautiful value. He needed to view it with his own eyes, for the description given to him by the rumbling Arab laborer did little to sketch an image in his mind.

The infernal sun beat down on his face as he continued through the excavation site. Sweat trickled down his forehead. He pulled a kerchief from his pocket, wiping away the nuisance. Nothing could stop him in his quest. Not the heat. Not the desert winds. Not the Egyptian gods of old, if it was their will to strike him down.

Ludwig neared the remnants of an artisan’s workshop. The debris once belonged to a man called Thutmose, a sculptor favored by Akhenaten and his royal court. His masterpieces once teemed through Egypt. Now, his name signified little.

Ludwig shouted to a team of men clustered outside the ruins. “What beckons me from my tent?”

A German with graying whiskers volunteered himself. “Come this way, Ludwig.”

The German started inside, and Ludwig followed. He bled anticipation. He floated through excitement, though he kept his calm maintained. No use revealing his curiosity when disappointment might await him.

Ludwig was led into a small room with its walls close to crumbling. Several laborers and their supervisor huddled in a corner around an object. He could not see through their blockading bodies, but exhilaration thrummed through the air.

Ludwig allowed him a second to believe maybe—just maybe—a treasure had been unearthed on this expedition, underneath his guidance.

“Step aside!” the German hollered.

The laborers lurched at the disruption. Their supervisor straightened and herded them away from the object of their fascination. Ludwig watched as the area cleared, exposing a figurine of extraordinary beauty.

Ludwig’s breathing stilled as quartz eyes glinted up at him. It was unlike anything he’d seen, Egyptian or otherwise. The craftsmanship, the skill placed into this depiction… By God, his expedition had discovered a matchless find.

Ludwig tilted his head to the side as he approached the marvel. He kneeled over the figurine, studying it with a keen eye. He brushed dust away from the figurine’s blue crown, from the serpentine neck. He skimmed his fingertips along its stucco flesh.

For a moment, he wondered what the creator had thought of his handiwork. Had he admired her with such reverence? Had he loved her in one beat of his heart? Had he been tempted to disavow women of flesh and blood?

Ludwig grasped the figurine. He raised it from the sandy ground, from the ruin and rubble. He cradled it in his arms, feeling as if he’d been entrusted with this discovery by the artist’s spirit. It was as if Thutmose stood in the room beside him, his hands also on the figurine…

Ludwig now understood why the Arab’s explanation failed. “You cannot describe it with words,” he murmured. “You must see it.”

“She is Egypt’s Helen of Troy,” the German remarked.

“Yes. My God, yes.” Ludwig smiled down at the marvel. “All the world will know her.”

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