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Disclaimer – This bonus ending will contain a big spoiler for Salvation in the Sun.
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Epilogue: A Last Request
Racing down the last dune of sand, he fell and tumbled to the bottom as the glass-like bits dug into his legs and hands. Wiping the dust from his face, he stared up at the giant monoliths that demanded the presence in front of him. Screams filled the winds that blew in between them.
Atinuk hesitantly stood and crouched low, silently slinking in between the shadows so not to be seen by the royal guards. They noticed the light sand dust the air, but seemingly brushed it off as nothing but the desert night life creeping and crawling.
He approached the Egyptian Royal Harem at the North Palace of the great sun-city Aketaten. He took his rope with the hook end and threw it into a second floor window. Looking around, he saw no one at this hour of the night and began to ascend. His dark cloak kept him hidden from any reflecting moonlight. Once inside he reeled in his rope, tied it to his belt and snuck off to find Tadukhipa.
A few times, servants walked the halls, but he hid in the shadows as they passed. Eventually, he peered into the right bedchamber as he found the Egyptian royal wife sleeping on her bed. Her guard was asleep at her door. Slipping inside, he curled a lip in disgust at the lack of respect due a woman of royalty.
He knelt down to her bedside and debated whether or not to grasp her hand. Thirteen years had passed since they had laid eyes on each other. Would she even remember him? Her skin seemed ashen and kohl-lined her sunken eyes.
“Have they been harsh to you?” he whispered and reached out to caress her bald head missing her long black locks. “Tadukhipa.”
Her mouth curved into a smile upon his whisper of her name. She opened her eyes. At first, she only blinked. “Am I dreaming?” she whispered in a frail voice.
“No,” Atinuk responded. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead and then he went for her lips, but she stopped him.
“Atinuk, I have missed you so much,” she said with a weak whisper. “My heart feels light knowing I can see you one last time.”
“What do you mean?” His stomach dropped as his heart skipped a beat and a weight dropped with sickening thud to the pit of his stomach. “Are you with the illness that is sweeping across the land?”
“Yes.” Her weak voice accompanied a limp hand that she reached up to his face. “I do not think I will see the next morning.” Tears brimmed her eyes as they did his. “I knew you would come for me even after all these years.”
“As soon as I could,” Atinuk said, realizing she never forgot him. “I am sorry I am too late.” His breath hitched as he bowed his head to her pressing his forehead to her chin. “I am too late,” he said more to himself than her. An ache attacked his throat as the sad realization dropped to the pit of his stomach.
“You came though,” she whispered and lifted his chin to face her. “You came,” she repeated. “I never thought I would see you again.”
A tear ran down his cheek. “I tried, Tadukhipa. It took me a long time, but I found land in Canaan and ensured your father would never find us. With the Egyptian and Mitanni relations failing, I thought the gods wanted you to be with me. It would be a good time now—”
She pressed a finger to his lips. “My time is gone, my love, but promise me something else.”
“Anything Tadukhipa,” Atinuk said as he rubbed her hand against his cheek. “Anything.”
“I have come to love Nefertiti’s children as my own,” she huffed through a painful inhale of air, “and if a rebellion or something should happen here…” she tried to take in some more air to help her voice, but she coughed.
Atinuk waited watching the woman he loved in pain and dying. He pressed a hand to her chest to help her slow her breathing.
Her breath finally caught and she continued with shallow breaths and an even weaker voice. “I am afraid, Atinuk. Not only for myself but for those girls. There will be something that happens here. There is too much unrest. My wish, Atinuk, please find them and take them with you to Canaan. Do not let them die here as I.”
“I will, my princess,” he said, and her eyes lit up with the remaining energy she could muster. “I never found another to love,” he told her. It seemed the burdens from her brow lifted, and he hoped her heart swelled with life once more.
“Nor did I,” she whispered and reached out to touch his face. He nuzzled his cheek into her hand.
“It is not fair.” His words repeated her words from so long ago, and she smiled a sad smile.
She rolled over to look at the ceiling. “It seems a lifetime ago, and”—her breath hitched—“yet I remember it as if it were yesterday when I watched you leave my bedchamber,” she said and held a weak cough at bay. “You gave me hope. You gave me hope for this life. You told me . . . ‘be proud of who you are.’ My paintings—Pharaoh took them for the model of his relief carvings.” She tried to breathe again. When she had caught her breath, she looked to Atinuk. “Your words helped me survive here.”
“I wished I would have told you to leave that world behind, and that I would come for you in the morning,” he pulled her upper body up into his arms. “I was young and afraid, and now, we have no time left together.”
She smiled and ran her fingers through his hair. “I never stopped painting,” she said through a cough—her eyes seemed far off, and he wondered if she heard him as she continued to speak. “With every brush stroke I always dreamed of life with you in Canaan on our small farm and our family growing old together.”
A tear streamed down his face. “I am so sorry. I am too late.”
“I have lived many lives with you, Atinuk,” she whispered as tears fell down her cheeks. “Even if you had never come, I would have died thinking you would have”—she coughed again—“but now that I have seen your face once more, I can die with a smile on my face and light in my heart.”
He pulled her face close to his and kissed both of her cheeks. “As can I,” he said again and pressed his forehead to hers.
“Atinuk,” she took as deep a breath she could garner, “with every horizon and every sunset . . . ” Her lungs seemed to burn as her cough turned violet.
When it subsided, Atinuk finished for her, “I will always remember you.” He softly pressed his lips to hers and caressed her face as she fell back to sleep. “I love you, Tadukhipa.”
He stood and watched her in the moonlight for a few moments as he wiped his tears. “My princess, you will always be with me, and I shall honor your last wish,” he whispered, and under the faint light, he saw her smile or perhaps he only wished she had.
He stayed with her until morning, describing their home, land, life together, and everything he had planned for them. When the glowing streams of dawn began to streak across the sky, he left her there. Staring down at his empty hands, his chin trembled. He had failed her; he was too late.
He snuck out at the last possible moment when Chief Royal Wife Nefertiti entered Tadukhipa’s bedchamber at the first of dawn.
At the bottom of her bedchamber window, he reeled in his rope and looked up. “I promise you, Tadukhipa, to look after Nefertiti’s daughters. I will learn every hidden crevice of this palace and keep vigilant watch, and when the time comes, offer to them to come to Canaan with me.”
With the growing morning lights, he attempted to run back to the rocky hillside to regroup and plan how he would infiltrate the palace, but he was spotted.
“Who goes there?” a royal guard said to him as he ran across the way.
Atinuk held his head low and stopped as the guard came near knowing a spear thirty cubits away could still be fatal.
“You there, do you hear me?” the guard yelled as he approached him and punched the butt of his spear into his stomach.
“I am nothing but a foreign messenger,” he finally uttered in Akkadian, not knowing Egyptian. He hoped the guard had been educated in the common language as the punch to the stomach sent him to the ground, clutching his waist.
“You will need to take up lodging in the messenger’s quarters,” the guard said in Akkadian as he lowered his spear. “Pharaoh has many messengers to see before you.”
“Yes, of course. Could you escort me there?” Atinuk asked with a smile and stood rubbing the spot where the guard had hit him.
At least, the gods had granted him a blessing in his fulfillment of Tadukhipa’s last wish. As the guard walked in front of him, he stopped and stared at Tadukhipa’s window hearing the distant cry from a woman who had lost a friend, Nefertiti.
He knew then, his love was gone.
Bowing his head, he whispered to her ghost, “For you, my princess,” and followed the guard to the messenger’s quarters.
The Saga Continues...
Want to know what happens to Atinuk and Tadukhipa’s last request?Buy Secrets in the Sand
Read Secrets in the Sand and its complement King's Daughter.