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Shifting Sands

Can he complete the task?

By Lilly CooperPublished 4 months ago 22 min read
Shifting Sands
Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Unsplash

Ty finished the last of the reading he had been given and flicked the folder shut before sliding it back over the table top.

“Well?” Menes pushed off from the wall he had been leaning on, watching Ty intently.

“Well.... it’s a suicide mission.”

“How did you come to that conclusion?” Nifa frowned, clearly not agreeing.

“How could I not? Let us start with failure. Scenario one: I go, I get caught, they kill me. Scenario two: I go, I fail to kill the King but manage to get out and return here. You kill me because I know too much." He paused a moment.

"And if I succeed? Scenario Three: I go, I succeed at my task, I return to a world I do not know and whom ever is here to receive me, kills me. That is before I even take into consideration the possibility that I cease to exist in the twist of time.”

Ty held his hand up to forestall Nifa’s attempt to make excuses. “I don’t care what you have rehearsed to change my mind. You and I both know I’m right.”

Menes’ sidekick looked pissed. “Look, we are not denying that this is dangerous. There is great risk involved. But look around you! With a Pharaoh like Edrice, death is a common place event! She rules with an iron fist and smashes any and all opposition, real or imagined! She is crazy! She starves our people and cares nothing for her responsibilities!”

Ty scoffed at her empassioned plea. “Calm yourself woman! Menes asked what I thought. He didn’t ask if I was willing.”

Nifa sat back looking bewildered. And a little like she wanted to slap him. He watched her carefully for a moment and decided he had probably pushed her tolerance far enough. That didn’t mean he was going to just do what they wanted.

“I have one question for you. Why me? I would not have been the first choice for a task such as this. So why bring this to me? Why not someone younger?”

Menes shifted his weight nervously. The priest and priestess met each other’s eye a moment before she cast her gaze to the floor.

“You are not the first we asked.” Nifa continued to stare at the floor. “We chose younger ones first, three actually. But their tasks failed.”

“They failed? How do you know?”

Menes sat across from Ty and spread his hands on the table top, like he was bracing for an impact. “We sent them to more recent times. We can actually see the impacts of their attempts and know their fates. With each attempt, security around that demon of a Pharaoh got tighter. We misjudged. We chose the wrong times.”

Ty leaned back in his chair and frowned as he thought. “Those of our blood are not easy to come by. Not since Edrice began to hunt us down. I suspect one of your failed assassination attempts are responsible for that. You are fortunate she doesn’t suspect her priests and priestesses to be involved. Or if she does, she hasn’t acted on it yet.”

The silence in the room told him he had hit a nerve.

“Most remaining Travellers have gone into hiding.” Menes conceded. “More than a few faked their own deaths to avoid capture. We suspect that our monstrous Pharaoh has been using a few captured ones to send messages to her past self warning of plots. Holding something dear to them as insurance that they will do the job as instructed and return. The Travellers, our best weapon, has been turned against us.”

“Which is where you come in to the picture, Ty. We have to try something different, something unexpected. We need to go back further. Her paranoia and hunger for power won’t allow her to bring previous rulers into her quest for world domination. And it has served her thus far, so why change something that works?” Nifa spread her hands and shrugged. “So, we searched back, looking through the beginnings of her dynasty. We were able to pinpoint where her bloodline took the turn that built up to the monstrous horror we now call our Pharaoh, daughter of The Sun God and head of his religion , a living God on Earth.”

“Akhenaten. You want me to go back to 1350 BC and kill the King that declared himself and his successors as Gods on Earth. The Pharaoh that began the religion you are both high up in. The religion that holds up the woman you want to undo, as head of the Church. You want me to go back more than three thousand years.” Ty stared down the priest of Aten. “NO ONE has ever gone back that far. NO ONE.”

He was starting to get the impression Nifa was a more fanatical than her male counterpart.

“No one that we know of! That doesn’t mean no one has. OR that it’s not possible! We have to try! We cannot just sit by idle while she destroys the world!”

“What is the ‘we’ you keep referring to? There is no ‘we’. There is me. You want me to go, not just because I’m a Traveller, but because I can read and speak the ancient language. You want me to assassinate Akhenaten and use that letter you have in the file to get close to him.”

Menes met his gaze. “In a nutshell: Yes.”


By Mo Gabrail on Unsplash

Looking back, Ty wished he had said no.

The plan had been simple enough. Take a well preserved ancient letter of introduction from the Temple school at Thebes to the Pharaoh at his court in Akhetaten, a response to a request for a new Scribe to be of service to the King. Present it as his own and take the place of the man who would have carried it three thousand years before. Scribing for the ancient Pharaoh would put him in an excellent position to assassinate the evil Queen’s ancestor, wiping out her line and taking out the founder of the religion that encouraged her madness. In truth, Edrice was just the culmination of a madness that started generations before her rule. How could one possibly remain grounded in reality when their entire life they had been told they were no mere servant of Gods, like the ancient Pharaohs before Akhenaten, they were a God in their own right. Born to rule over all the peoples of Earth.

Ty could see how the bloodline had reached the point of a mad tyrannical ruler. He agreed something had to be done. Though, if he had known then what he knew now, he would have refused the task.

It had all gone wrong from the start.

Menes and Nifa had bought him to the Pharaoh's Palace at Akhetaten, the seat of the Pharaoh in Akhenaten’s time. The Palace had been well preserved, despite the desert sands moving in. The water that had enticed the ancient King to build on the site had receded when, over the centuries, the climate had altered. The lush green surroundings slowly withered and died, leaving the sprawling capital exposed to the heat and too far from a water source. So his successors moved the royal court to better locations, leaving it's beautiful art and sculptures to be cared for by a small group of monks with the dunes pressing in from every side.

Their visit was far from the pilgrimage they had claimed it to be. Hiding Ty in their number as a Atan monk, they entered the temple unchallenged. Menes showed him the part of the buildings that in the past had been the King’s wing.

A Traveller needed to establish an anchor. Something that would allow them to return to their own time once they had completed their trip into the past. He chose a wide doorway. Something common place he could access and touch to return. He slit below his thumb and pressed a bloodied thumb print to the stone of the door way. All he need do was touch that place on the stone in 1350 and he would be whisked back here. All according to plan.

That was until he travelled back. That was when he discovered how wrong they were.

To start, there was a discrepancy in time. Ty was supposed to arrive at the Palace five days after the letter had been written, allowing him to arrive before the man he was to be impersonating could arrive, but long enough that he could still have made the trip.

He arrived three days after the letter was written. It raised questions he was ill prepared to answer.

The second issue was the incorrect interpretation of the letter. The trouble with the ancient writing was it’s flexibility. There were many ways to write the same thing, all with slightly varied meanings. Not so much a problem until one thinks they are carrying a letter that introduces a Scribe to the service of the King they wish to assassinate when in fact it is introducing them to the service of his Queen.

Some fast talking convinced the guards to at least allow him to speak to the King’s man. On meeting Ay, he concluded he would need to be on his toes if he was to keep up his favourite pass time: breathing.

He was suspicious of Ty from the outset to say the least. Even more so when the poor soul he had taken the place of arrived in the capital days later. In that short space of time, he had managed to endear himself to the Queen the letter had actually requested a Scribe for. She had insisted Ty could not possibly be the imposter. If he was being honest, despite the dire blow to his task, he was secretly thrilled by the turn of events. Not at the fate of the real Scribe. Watching the poor innocent man beheaded as an imposter was brutal. And certainly not with the situation with the Pharaoh's Right Hand man. He had kept a perfect mask of indifference during the execution. Any emotion Ay could interpret as guilt would have given him away. The fact that he stood so close to Queen Nefertiti however, was thrilling.

The legendary Queen in the flesh. The most beautiful woman to ever grace the throne. Ty had always been in awe of the woman who had died long before he ever picked up a text book. He had devoured ever piece of information he had been able to find on her. Now, he stood close enough to drink in her heady scent, to hear her melodious voice. He was living out a fantasy. Living in the presence someone he had always admired but never in his wildest dreams thought he would meet.

That had been seven years ago.

The problem his stalled task faced was proving difficult to find a solution for.

If he had been in direct service of Akhenaten himself, he would have access to his target and his Anchor point. Being in the service of his Queen, he had no access to either. He had seen the door way only once, in walking the board hallways with Nefertiti’s entourage on the way to the execution. He had a fair amount of access to the Queen’s wing of the palace, even on occasion to the suites of her sister wives, but never the King’s. With both his task and his exit frustrated, he had no choice but to bide his time and enjoy the pleasures associated with being in the service of the favoured wife.

It was not a taxing job, scribing for the Queen. Initially, he had been left many hours to pursue his own studies and perform reconnaissance for his task. However, it did not take long for the Pharaoh’s other wives to begin making demands on his time that Nefertiti was not utilising. He suspected Ay had much to do with that. The Advisor did not trust him. Obviously his instincts were correct. That didn’t make his interference any less frustrating.

In response to the others taking time that was hers, Nefertiti began to ensure Ty’s time was occupied with her at every turn. He spent many hours with the Queen. It was a dream come true, getting to know the legend. All the things a text book could not tell him. The musical sound of her voice. The way the artists and sculptors never did the blue of her eyes justice. Her interest in the arts and the written word. Her profound understanding of court life and politics. Her immense love for her daughters.

Ty spent hours making studies of her. While he made drawings, they talked. In time, he became her closest confidant and advisor. She had shared her fears that the other wives were hatching plots to remove her, either as favourite wife or from the palace. The fear that her life was in danger was never far from her thoughts, even after twelve years in the royal court.

Yesterday evening, Ty had presented the Queen with a detailed painting on papyrus of her own serene face. She had heaped praise on his work. He sat now, staring out of his window to the court yard below not seeing anything, living in his memory and replaying her voice in his head.

A loud knock at his door snapped him back to reality. “Enter.”

A palace guard pushed the door open and inclined his head. “I deliver a summons from the Queen, Master Scribe. You are to immediately attend to her.”

“Of course.” Ty stopped to gather a box filled with a Scribe’s tools and followed the guard out into the walkways of the Queen’s Wing. Where he expected the guard to turn towards Nefertiti’s rooms, instead he led the way forward, making his way to the King’s sprawling wing.

His stomach did a backflip. This could be the opportunity he had been waiting for. This was the first time in seven years that he had set foot in the Pharaoh’s Wing of the palace. As he and the guard approached the entry to the audience chamber, Ty was confronted with a choice: abandon the task he had come to do, or run for his anchor, now in sight, just a short run. He could go home.

He glanced through the pillared entry to check the guard’s attention was still else where, turning his body unconsciously, ready to make a run for it.

His eyes met the cool blue eyes of his Queen.

All thought of running vanished. He would not leave her.


By Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

Ty had never liked Meritaten, Akhenaten’s youngest wife. Her high pitched voice bordered on whining. That combined with her personality just offended him.

Sitting with his scribe table, awaiting instructions from Pharaoh, he listened as the argument went round the same tired track they had been on for the last ten minutes.

“Dearest Husband! The daughter should be married to one of the noble children to strengthen your hold on the Empire! Or perhaps to lord Ay! Your beloved Queen claims I only want to remove her from the Palace! That would keep her in the Palace! But Tutankhaten should be married to Meritaten Tasherit! She is of royal blood and a perfect choice for our glorious son!”

“She is royal, I will concede that, but the child is far from a perfect choice! She is too old! And not of our King’s blood! She is Smenkhkare’s child, the divine King’s deceased brother!” Nefertiti held her head high. “Ankhesenpaaten is his own blood, not just mine! She is of purer blood and as such, perfectly divine. She is young and will bare him many children!”

The younger wife began a retort, cut short buy the Pharaoh.

“ENOUGH!” He stood up abruptly, silencing both of his wives. “It is my choice to make and I have made it!” He stared at the younger wife until she bowed her head in submission. “The Prince shall marry Ankhesenpaaten when the time comes and I will not hear more on the matter!”

Nefertiti bowed her head in acknowledgement, though more to hide her victorious smile. From his place in front of the three royals, he could also see the fury written all over Meritaten’s fine features. She may have won this battle, but the war for supremacy was far from over.

“Now, we have guests arriving for our celebrations tonight and I expect you both to be ready to receive them. Go, make your preparations.” The Queen and her sister-wife bowed to their husband before turning to make their way back to the Queen’s Wing of the palace. The Pharaoh watched them leave before turning back to Ty. “Please finish the instructions on my choice.”

He sighed and sat back on his chair. “Be glad you are not yet married Master Scribe.”


By Lea Kobal on Unsplash

Ty sat at a lower table barely noticing the celebrations that night. Something nagged at his mind. Others ate and drank their fill while enjoying the superb entertainment the Pharaoh had ordered for the banquet celebrating the successes of his rein, he watched the high table and its occupants.

On his way back to his room after completing the scroll for the Pharaoh, he had seen Ay and Meritaten in an alcove near her suite, their heads close together. Ay was not stupid enough to be consorting with a Pharaoh’s wife. But something about the image of them standing together bothered him.

Surely, with all the guests around them, Nefertiti would be safe, he thought. He watched her, seated with her husband on the raised dais. As he watched, a serving girl approached and refilled the Queen’s goblet. As she turned to leave, Akhenaten’s third wife gestured to the girl carrying the wine pitcher to refill her goblet as well. The girl kept walking, stopping for no one. He frowned, pushing down a feeling of dread. I’m getting paranoid.

A minor courtier beside him, well gone in his wine attempted to engage him in conversation about the merits of Pharaoh’s favoured art style over the old styles. “Mmmmm, a valid point my lord.....”

“The refinement demonstrated of course appeals to our trade partners across the sea. hiccup. Oh my. A sign of a fine wine. The old style was so barbaric and rough. The elegant beauty ....”

On the dais Nefertiti spoke to her husband before getting to her feet and walking towards the archway back into the Royal apartments. As she walked, her usually confident stride wavered as if her balance had been effected. Ty stood and excused himself from the drunken ramblings of courtier, who seemed not to notice his exit.

Following the path she had taken into the cool interior of the palace, Ty remained alert. Something in his gut told him he was not really paranoid.

Just inside the dimly lit hallway, something crunched underneath his leather sandals. Grabbing a fiery torch from the bracket just outside, he held it towards the floor. The light fell over the broken pieces of a pottery scattered in a pool of wine, the delicate pattern the same as the one the Queen’s drink had been poured from. Ty picked up a peice of pottery and sniffed. The strong smell of wine did much to hide the familiar smell of Widow’s Heart, but did not obscure it entirely. A powdered drug used frequently by Edrice’s police, known for loosening tongues. And lethal if given in high doses.

Panic rose in his chest. If Nefertiti had ingested enough of the poison laced wine, she would die. Slowly paralysed and unable to breath.

He stood, walking quickly through the hall ways towards the Queen’s suite.

She hadn’t made it to her rooms. Ty ran towards the crumpled heap on the marble floor. He rolled her over and placed his ear against her chest. Her heart beat slowly, her breathing so shallow he could barely feel the rise and fall of her chest.

He had to get her help. There was only one thing he could think to do. Scooping up her limp body, he moved quickly towards the King’s Wing.

Ay had to have something to do with this. Or everything. Who else besides the Pharaoh’s trusted advisor could have removed all the sentries from their posts on a night like this? At first he moved carefully, afraid someone would suddenly yell at him to stop. But his steps began to accelerate as her heart rate slowed. Finally, with the arch containing his Anchor in sight, he broke into a run. Behind him, an alarmed voice rang out.

Steps behind him slapped the tiled floor, echoing. Panic blinded him. If they caught him, she wouldn’t get the help she needed. She would die. Just a few more steps.

He was not fast enough. A whooshing sound came seconds before a rope caught his leg, wrapping itself around using the momentum of weights at either end and tripping him. The air in his lungs whooshed out as he hit the floor. Looking around in desperation his eyes landed on the one thing that could save them both. Keeping one arm wrapped around his Queen, he stretched the other arm up, slapping his palm against a block of stone in the arch.

The world went black as he struck a wood floor.

Not what he had been expecting.


By Cole Keister on Unsplash

“I’m very interested in seeing the pieces Carter has catalogued. A find like that is a treasure trove of information.” Sir Charles turned the page of the mornings newspaper and tsked. An annoying habit of his that Ty had become accustomed to. “This horrible new entertainment is really getting out of hand! Yet another advertisement for Mummy unwrapping parties! Such poor taste!”

Ty nodded his agreement. “I find it difficult to understand the morbid fascination. I suppose it has much to do with having potentially met the poor soul when they were living. I met Tut himself when he was a child.”

Charles sighed. “What a thrill! Though I wouldn’t want to have experienced what you went through.”

Ty nodded, lost in thought for a moment. On touching his Anchor, he had expected to be transported back to the Palace in his own time. That did not happen.

His breakfast companion had saved him. In taking Nefertiti from her time, he had set in motion something unexpected. Had he not panicked he may have remembered reading about the Queen surviving the attempt on her life and the assassination attempt being traced back to Ay, resulting in his execution. This lead to a chain of events that strengthened the Royal couple’s dynasty, culminating in Edrice. Instead, with the influence of Nefertiti gone from the court, Akhenaten slowly alienated his people and died a few years later. After his death the dynasty fell apart and eventually the blood line died out. Edrice was never born.

Akhenaten’s capital and temples were turned to rubble. If it hadn’t been for Charles being in the right place at the right time, Ty activating his anchor would have pulled them into a future where the block was deep under the shifting sand. He had found the block on a special dig with the professor from his university. His father and brother had been Travellers, so he recognised the mark of an Anchor. The block had sat on the shelf of his study for years, waiting for the owner to return.

Charles had helped him to adjust to life in a new future. Having had to adjust to a new reality before, it hadn’t been a very steep learning curve.

A gentle kiss on the cheek bought him back to the moment. He smiled brightly.

“Good Morning my Queen. How did you sleep?”

Nefertiti took a tea cup and poured from the teapot before Ty could beat her to it. She was constantly having to remind him to let her do things for herself.

“I’m not a Queen any more.” She reminded him.

“You will always be my Queen.” He whispered in return.

She smiled and cupped his cheek. “I slept better, thank you. If it is alright, I will take my breakfast in the conservatory this morning. It is sunny today.”

“Of course, my love.”

Charles watched her leave. “How is she coping?”

“She has been better since our wedding. Finding out about the deaths of the three of her daughters devestated her. And being trapped here, unable to return because there is nothing left to Anchor to after the buildings were destroyed. I do not think she will ever be the same again.” Ty looked out the window to the rare English sunshine.

He turned back to Charles and smiled. “But there is one thing historians will learn about this legendary Queen that I already know. She is as strong as she is beautiful.”

Author's Note: There is a lot of contradictory information and theories on the rulers of Ancient Egypt. in some accounts, Smenkhkare is Akhenaten's son, not his brother. Some sources say he ruled before Akhenaten, some say after. Some say Ay was Akhenaten's successor. While I have made every effort to keep facts straight, there are cases where it is realistically not possible. Below are some notes regarding names and relationships.

It is also worth noting, some histories indicate Nefertiti died during or around a celebration held by her husband celebrating his rule. Others indicate she simply disappeared with no record of her death. Some say she is the daughter of Ay, others say she was a princess from an Asian kingdom.

Akhenaten- originally Amenhotep IV. After taking the throne in 1350 BC, he deposed the long established religion worshipping multiple gods and goddesses and replaced it with a religion teaching that there was only one true God, Aten, the Sun God.

Thebes- the traditional court/capital of the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, abandoned by Akhenaten in an attempt to completely wipe the old religion.

Tutankhaten- Tutankhamen’s given name at birth. Son of Akhenaten and a wife who’s name is disputed. Referred usually as ‘Younger Lady’ she may have originally been Akhenaten’s brother’s (Pharaoh Smenkhkare) wife Meritaten.

Ankhesenpaaten – birth name of Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamen’s only wife.

Short StoryLoveHistoricalFantasyfamily

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Lilly Cooper

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Comments (4)

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  • AGB4 months ago

    Excellent story. Very well written and interesting. Great job. I really like that you added some historical facts at the end.

  • Excellent take on the challenge, with some great ideas, history and images. Brilliant work

  • Luke Foster4 months ago

    Fascinating piece. Well done.

  • Cathy holmes4 months ago

    Very interesting and well written. Well done.

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