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Wife of Ay

Wife of Ay

Temehu, the daughter of Nomarch Paser, is expected to live a certain life, marry at a certain age to a man of a certain status, and have children.

But in her attempts to pursue what she wants for her life, she finds herself questioning the fate of her heart on the journey to the afterlife. Enduring the wrath of a new jealous stepmother and the nobility's harmful gossip and outcasting does not soothe her reservations either.

Is she reaping divine punishment for her deeds? Will she find peace for her eternal soul? Find out in this coming-of-age drama set in the New Kingdom of Egypt.

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Main Tropes and Themes

  • Coming of Age
  • Scars
  • Tragic Rose
  • Secret Baby
  • Love Against All Odds
  • High Society Gossip

What is this story about?

Temehu, the daughter of Nomarch Paser, is expected to live a certain life, marry at a certain age to a man of certain status, and have children.

But in her attempts to pursue what she wants for her life, she finds herself questioning the fate of her heart on the journey to the afterlife. Enduring the wrath of a new jealous stepmother and the nobility's harmful gossip and ostracism does not soothe her reservations either.

Is she reaping divine punishment for her deeds? Will she find peace for her eternal soul?

Find out in this coming-of-age drama set in the New Kingdom of Egypt.

Who is this story for?

Perfect for fans of Michelle Moran, Amy Tan, and Stephanie Dray.

Anyone who loves inspirational stories and Ancient Egyptian historical retellings, this Lost Pharaoh Chronicles prequel offers a compelling and imaginative take on the life of a young noble girl in her struggles to navigate her purpose and desires in life amid the high societal expectations for someone of her stature.

With its richly detailed world-building and complex characters, Wife of Ay is a must-read for anyone who loves tales of romance and loss, with elements of magical realism.

Grab this gripping historical drama today.

Content Disclaimers

Author Rating:

The author rated this book for ages 14+ for violence, bullying, closed-door romance, child loss, underage drinking (time period appropriate), and adult themes. 

Chapter 1 Preview

A Wish for Love

Waset, 1371 BC

Temehu threw a coy grin at yet another of the noble’s sons who approached her mother, who was seated in their family’s courtyard.

“Mistress of the House, the reputation of your daughter’s beauty and status has traveled far and wide, and I am honored to look upon her. Now, seeing you, I know from whom her beauty comes. I, Renni, son of Sabni, the third priest of our god Khonsu, come to ask to set up a house with Citizeness Temehu, daughter of Nomarch Paser. A status such as hers deserves a status such as mine. We have exchanged many letters—” the son of the third priest of Khonsu said, lifting his chin. His eyes peered over at Temehu, but Temehu’s mother interjected.

“Yes, yes.” Nefertkau also lifted her chin and an eyebrow, as if analyzing this young man’s future with her only daughter. “But how will you show her you love her?”

Temehu leaned forward to hear his answer. She had received responses to all the letters she sent out to find a suitable husband when she became the age to marry last year. At her father’s request, she replied, but only to a few. She wanted to marry her childhood friend . . . but he was betrothed to another now. 

After somewhat accepting that loss, a handful of candidates had piqued her interest, but some brave souls, without any further response from her, came to her mother anyway to ask to set up a house. The young man standing before her was one of those brave souls, but if she liked his response, then maybe she could consider him further.

“I will work hard and provide an estate for her to run and food for the table.” The young man responded while beaming. 

The perfect answer for someone other than my mother, Temehu thought as her shoulders rolled back. Pass on this one, too.

“That is very noble and very honorable for you to do.” Nefertkau gave a polite smile and motioned toward her Head Steward, Ipy. “Thank you, Citizen Renni, for making the journey to Nomarch Paser’s estate—”

“But I have not finished asking—” Renni began, but Ipy had already grabbed his sling and held it for him, ready to escort him to the courtyard’s gate. 

Upon Ipy’s advance, Renni shut his mouth and looked to Nefertkau and Temehu. “I see,” he said and grimaced while nodding. “May you live a bountiful life with someone else.” He turned his head to Temehu then let his eyes fall to the ground. He snatched his sling from Ipy and turned to escort himself to the gate.

Nefertkau hid a cough as her frail hand reached for her wine goblet. After drinking and watching him disappear behind the stone wall, Nefertkau peered over at her daughter and smiled. There was a dimness in her eyes and a weakness in her step these days. It seemed her illness had come quite suddenly, starting just after she had given Temehu her woman’s wig this past season. The physician-priests at the temple had come and said her life might be shortened, as they had seen this sickness but knew not how to treat it. They thought her body may have been plagued by an angry spirit, for they knew of Nefertkau’s goodness and thought a transgression or punishment of the gods could not be likely. They recited incantations and hymns, but her sickness only grew worse. In the end, they gave her honey drops made with herbs to soothe her cough and encouraged her and Temehu’s father to finalize preparations for her entombing and afterlife with Amun-Re.

Temehu scooted her chair closer to her mother’s and held her hand. “I do not want you to go to Re, Mother.” She leaned her head against the high chair back and turned to face Nefertkau. “I need you here for many reasons.”

Nefertkau licked her lip in response, as if wanting to say something, but refrained. Instead, she looked to the courtyard garden and lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the slight breeze. “I do not want to leave you either, Temehu,” she finally said and let out a shallow breath and a cough. She grabbed her ribcage as the coughing became more violent. When the fit ended, she pulled another dried honey-herb drop from the pouch on her belt and put it in her mouth. 

Temehu had closed her eyes and dropped her head, knowing there was nothing she could do for her mother except endure with her when her sickness raged. 

Nefertkau placed a shaky hand over Temehu’s, closed her eyes, and breathed until the shaking stopped. “You want to know one of the greatest fears as a mother?” she whispered, turning her head to Temehu, whose eyebrows knitted together. She rolled the honey-herb drop in her mouth before answering her own question. 

“It is leaving your children behind with the living and knowing there will be no one who loves them as much as you do.” Bringing Temehu’s hand to her lips, she kissed it as a tear rolled down her cheek. “I do not worry about your brother, for he has found a wife who is good to him, but for you, this I promise: before I journey on, I will make sure I find you a man who will love you like your father loves me.”

Temehu leaned her forehead to her mother’s, doubting her mother would live long enough to keep her promise. “I cannot wait a lifetime to see you again, Mother.” 

“Yes, you can.” Nefertkau brushed a stray lock of Temehu’s wig from her face and locked eyes with her daughter. “You will live a full life. You will live, Temehu, and when it is your time to come be with me in the fields of Re, you will not be afraid. You will have no regrets.”

Temehu saw something glint in her mother’s eyes. “Are you afraid, Mother? Do you have regrets?”

“No . . . ,” Nefertkau whispered while stroking Temehu’s cheek. 

Temehu bit her tongue, not daring to call out her mother’s lie. 

“I want to be as you are when I journey on.” Temehu nodded. 

Nefertkau shook her head. “Be better.”

Temehu’s breath hitched. How could she be better than her mother? The people loved the Nomarch’s wife. She was their figurehead—loved by even the poorest of the entire province. She had made it her duty to seek out and to help those who had nothing. She had committed no crimes against the human or divine order, so she knew she could go into the fields of Re with a light heart when weighed against the feather of Ma’at.  She would have an elevated position in the afterlife just as in her present life. How could she be afraid? Where in her life were there regrets?

Nefertkau pulled back to gaze upon Temehu’s face. “My child, I love you dearly.”

“I love you, Mother.” Temehu leaned and kissed Nefertkau’s forehead. Nefertkau reclined and stared off at the courtyard garden once again, and Temehu did the same. The breeze brought with it the fragrances of the garden. One in particular, the lotus blossom, brought Temehu peace. Even though the noblewomen looked upon her and her mother with lofty disdain for tending Nefertkau’s garden on their own instead of tasking it to the servants, Temehu loved tending the garden—even more so with her mother.

“Temehu,” Nefertkau said after a few moments had passed. And as if she had read Temehu’s thoughts, she continued. “You will come to find as I did that you need to be brave to be who you are. As Nomarch’s wife, I have access to a great many things, but with it comes the snarling teeth of the noblewomen.  They are quick to bite and not think twice about the blood they draw from you. They hold their expectations of what noblewomen should do and how they should act higher than even their worship of the gods.” 

Her eyebrows raised in mockery. 

“When you do something they do not think is befitting of the status, they will gossip, breeding a life of constant struggle for you. Their words will hurt, but do not let them see your pain. They will only bite harder.” She turned her head to look upon her daughter. 

“My love was with people. I saw their struggle and knew I could help. The nobles wanted nothing of that. I have many shallow friends and yet only a few who I hold close. Pick a husband whose mother can see past the status for the good of the people, or whatever it is that you love. Do not invite more strife into your life.”

“You are wise, Mother.” Temehu nodded and thought of the mothers of the suitors who held her interest; some suitors she cut from her list right then and there. It only left a few, and that was if any of them could pass her mother’s test.  She cleared her throat. “What is the correct answer for the question you ask to the suitors: ‘How will you show her you love her?’”

Nefertkau smiled and chuckled, suppressing a cough, rolling the dwindling honey-herb drop in her mouth. “When I see a light in your eyes, and he answers with something other than the standard duties of a husband, only then would I consider him a potential husband for you.”

Temehu smirked and squeezed her mother’s hand. “You are wise, Mother,” she repeated in a whisper, as they both looked at the peaceful garden ahead of them. Temehu wondered if the fields of Re were even greater.

* * *

A few days later, Temehu lay in the courtyard garden rereading the few letters she had picked out of the pile she had received. She cocked her head as she pushed a letter away. Four suitors had her interest, but she did not feel the desire to marry any of them. Cradling her head on a propped elbow, she continued to reread the letters with a heavy sigh and another attempt to focus. She knew her mother wanted her to be married before she left to Re, and her status as Nomarch’s daughter almost required her to be married to a nobleman at a proper age. She was thirteen and still had two years before she became abnormal, but the future looked bleak. A tear crept into her eye as she thought of a specific childhood friend, but since he was betrothed to someone else, it hurt her to think about him. His mother was even one of her mother’s closest friends. She shook her head to clear away that future. It was easier not to entertain such ideas.

A shadow emerged, blocking the sunlight from the letters. Temehu lifted her chin. “Ipy, you are in my sunlight.” She lowered her head to read the letters again. When the shadow did not move, Temehu repeated her statement. “Ipy, you are—”

“I hope I do not look much like Ipy.” The familiar voice drew a smile on her face. 

She rolled over and propped up on her elbows. “I was just thinking about you, Ay.” 

She examined his sixteen-year-old face: wide-set eyes, high cheekbones, firm jaw and perfectly straight nose, all accompanied by a wide smile. Her smile faded, knowing he was some other woman’s, as she sat up and took his hand to stand.

“Thinking about me?” he asked as a hint of happiness flooded his eyes, but then he dropped his gaze to glance at the letters. He scooted one over with the toe of his sandal. “Should you not be thinking about one of them?”

Temehu dropped her head. “Probably.” Then she found his dark, soulful eyes again. He took her hand and led her to one of the garden’s retaining walls and sat down, patting the spot next to him.

She accepted the invitation. “You should not be here, Ay. It is not fair to your betrothed.” Her words betrayed her hand still linked with his.

“You will always have a place in my heart, Temehu.” 

She peered up at him and smiled, hoping there was still some truth to his words, but self-hate squeezed her heart. She had pushed him away. She had told him to marry another. His betrothed was Iput, the daughter of Master of Pharaoh’s Horses, Aperel, who had no sons. That meant Ay would most likely be the next Master of Pharaoh’s Horses if he married her, given his training and if Pharaoh thought him worthy of the appointment. His mother, Tjuyu, agreed to the arrangement without a second thought. Ay had come to Temehu to see if he should agree as well. Her core warmed, remembering the brush of his hand on her cheek. But who was she to take away a better rank, a better status, a better life from him? So she had said, “Yes, agree.” He had seemed hurt that day. She cried for decans, but he seemed to move past it quickly. Perhaps it was for the better that he was betrothed to someone else, even if Iput did not become the age to marry until next year. 

“Now, what is wrong? Why the faded smile? No suitors you like?” Ay’s questions cut through her thoughts.

She forced a smile, dipping her chin and looking ahead into the breeze. 

Shall I tell him my woes? He has one year left of being an unmarried man. Shall I rip a greater status from him for my own selfish wants? Does he even wish for me to be his wife? Perhaps; he keeps coming here to talk with me. Or perhaps he is just a friend who is doing what he always has.

“Temehu, what is wrong? Did one of your suitors send you an inappropriate letter?” His stare was firmly fixed on the side of her face.

“No, Ay. Nothing’s wrong.” Her eyebrows knit together as she lied.

Silence came from him as she assumed he held a confused stare.

“Then why were you thinking of me?” he asked, his voice a whisper.

“I heard there would be another campaign to the land of Libya.” Temehu lowered her chin, deciding not to tell him the true reason she thought of him. “Since you have been trained through Pharaoh’s chariots, I know you will go by your father’s side as a Commander of a Chariotry Host.”

He squeezed her hand. “The Libyans are nothing. I think we shall be home within the season. If it were the Hittites, then, well . . . ,” he said, his voice trailing off. 

She peered over to him. “Be safe, Ay. Come home to me . . . I mean, us . . . Iput, your betrothed.” She wanted to slap herself for that mistake. Their families had been friends for a long time . . . so maybe he would interpret her statement in a friendly way.

He scooted a little closer to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Do not worry for me, Temehu.” He shrugged and gave a weak chuckle. “I . . . I am a little nervous. It will be my first campaign, my first real battle.” He licked his lip and nodded as if to reassure himself. “And I will be in charge of two hundred fifty men.” 

He shook his head as Temehu, against her better judgment, placed her head on his shoulder like she had done before he was betrothed. 

“It is daunting, but I am a man now. I have been well trained. My father will be by my side. He has seen many battles and had many successful campaigns. I will learn much from him this campaign, and I hope when my father journeys to Re, I can take his place with the same honor and confidence he has now.”

She lifted her head and looked him in the eyes. “You have received the best training, Ay. I have no doubts you will lead those men to victory. You will be an outstanding Commander of a Chariotry Host, and when your betrothed’s father goes to Re, an outstanding Master of Pharaoh’s Horses.”

Ay’s eyes shifted at her last statement. 

“I will tell you this because you told me to remind you before you left for your first battle”—Temehu smiled as she hurried through before he said anything regarding his probable future rank—“do not underestimate your enemy, and you will survive.”

Ay nodded in recollection and returned her smile. “You have an excellent memory.”

Temehu had not realized how close their faces were until his gaze dropped to her lips and then returned to her eyes. 

He rubbed her shoulder before letting out a breath. “I need not be the Master of Pharaoh’s Horses, Temehu.” He dropped his forehead to hers. “My father has lived a grand life of status and wealth as a Commander of a Chariotry Host.”

Temehu felt his hand brush her cheek just like it had when she had told him to agree to marriage to his betrothed. The same warmth flooded her core. She wanted him to kiss her and tell her he loved her, but at the same time, she hoped he did not. There was only one Master of Pharaoh’s Horses, a few Overseers of Pharaoh’s Horses, and more Chariotry Commanders. She wanted the best for him, and he had a sure chance to be Master of Pharaoh’s Horses if he married Iput. 

Are you going to be selfish? she asked herself. Are you going to be a fool yet again to push him away? He is telling you he would be happy with you, even with a lesser status. She opened her mouth to speak, but another thought passed through her mind: Who are you to take away the opportunity for him?

“Ay,” she said on her breath. His eyes held hers as she pressed a hand to his smooth, broad chest, shaped by his intense training. “Your father is also father to our Queen, Pharaoh’s Chief Royal Wife. He holds many other titles as well from his relation; there are already three royal daughters. Would not one of them be the next Pharaoh’s Chief Royal Wife? You will not enjoy the same luxury as your father. Your life would be greatly benefited as the Master of Pharaoh’s Horses.”

He cupped her face. “Temehu, I would rather—”

A cough caught them both by surprise as they turned to see Nefertkau standing in the courtyard looking at them. Ay’s hand plunged to his side as he stood, offering his other hand to Temehu. 

“In peace, Citizen Ay, who is not-so-little anymore,” Nefertkau said, approaching them under the shade of the acacia tree. Ipy followed her close behind in case she fell because of her weakness.

“In peace, Mistress of the House.” Ay nodded his head to her. 

Nefertkau stepped in between them and sat down where they had been sitting. She looked up to him. “I hear you will join your father on a campaign. When are you set to depart?”

“The first of the next decan,” Ay half-smiled. “Tomorrow.”

She nodded. “I know you will do well. Is that why you have come? To say farewell to Temehu?”

Ay glanced at Temehu while he responded. “I came to say farewell to my second family. I hope to return by the end of the season.”

“You will be back, our beloved Ay.” Nefertkau reached a hand to squeeze his. “We have prayed and given offerings to our god Anhur for your protection, victory and safe return. We will continue until you return, and for each time you must leave us.”

Ay squeezed her hand in return. “You are great of heart.”

“Your betrothed will be a lucky woman to have such a talented and kind man to call her husband.” Nefertkau gave a polite smile.

He smiled politely back. “Thank you, Mistress of the House.”

Temehu’s eyes longed for him, but she stayed her tongue. He would be better off as Master of Pharaoh’s Horses, she thought.

He stole one more glance to Temehu before speaking again to Nefertkau. “In peace, Mistress of the House.”

Nefertkau returned the farewell, and Ay turned to leave. Temehu watched him, their eyes breaking their connection at the last possible second. Temehu sat down next to her mother as Ipy escorted him to the courtyard gate.

“I always wondered why he never asked you to be his bride. From what I saw just now, I would think he wanted you to be his wife.” Nefertkau kept her eyes on Ay as he walked away.

“I want someone like him for my husband, but I cannot find . . . there is not someone like him.” Temehu’s shoulders slumped.

“Do you love him?” She asked.

“It does not matter. He is betrothed.” Temehu shrugged. “His marriage to Iput will almost ensure his rightful appointment as Master of Pharaoh’s Horses.”

“Ah, I see. I always wondered why Tjuyu agreed to that betrothal for her son when we had spoken many times about how wonderful it would be if you and Ay were to marry. I have spoken little to her since. I thought she insulted our family—and for such news to come from such a good friend! But then, I later found out Ay agreed to it as well. Anyone who takes status over his wife is not a good husband. You would be better off to forget him.” Nefertkau gave a curt nod of her head. 

“That is how I see it,” she said after a moment of silence from her daughter.

“I told him to agree. He asked me . . .” Temehu’s voice trailed off as she put her hands to her eyes to keep the tears from falling.

Nefertkau hummed in thought. “Well, that changes things, does it not?”

“He has an opportunity. I cannot be the reason he does not take it.” Temehu straightened her shoulders and blinked back her tears.

“I see.” Nefertkau pursed her lips as Ipy returned to them. 

“I must go to the market with Ipy and a few of the other stewards. Will you please tend to my lotus garden in my absence? I have wanted to, but the sickness has made it hard on me.”

Temehu smiled and took a deep breath, happy to tend to the garden. At least, the fragrance of the lotus blossoms would bring some peace. “Yes, Mother.”  Temehu left to gather the needed tools from the servants’ storehouse. When she came back, her mother and Ipy were gone. 

* * *

Nefertkau sat in her litter carried by four servant men as she reached the end of the row of estates and found Ay rounding the corner of his father’s gate. 

She called out to him, and he turned with a somewhat surprised look on his face. The servants lowered her to the ground, and she motioned Ay to come near her. He offered her a hand to stand, which she took. 

“I need to ask you something,” Nefertkau said with a stern gaze as she rolled her honey-herb drop in her mouth. “Do you love my Temehu?”

His eyes opened wide at the unusually bold question. But he squared his shoulders and responded with the same boldness. “Yes.”

“And if you were to marry her, how would you show her you love her?” Nefertkau’s question hung in the air between them.

Ay shuffled his feet a bit and looked to the ground before returning Nefertkau’s gaze. “Mistress of the House, I love your daughter for her kindness, her selflessness, her laugh, her discipline in prayer, her mind, her eyes . . . but she does not want to marry me.”

Nefertkau stood unblinking. “Answer the question, please.”

Ay took a cleansing breath as his gaze turned inward. “I would make sure a lotus blossom graced our table and her bath every morning since its fragrance brings her peace; I would fall asleep with her in my arms, whispering in her ear how much I love her; I would not stop until a smile adorns her face and a light appears in her eye every time I see her. I would love her no matter what came in our life together. Her sorrow would be my sorrow; her joy, my joy—” His gaze fell to the ground as he cut himself off. He shook his head. “But she wants me to marry another.”

Nefertkau’s eyes sparkled, and a smile perched on her lips as if afraid to grow wide. “When are you to set up a house with Iput?”

“When she becomes of the age to marry after the flooding of the Nile—at the start of this coming year,” Ay said with no real empathy in his voice.

“Do you love Iput?”

Ay’s brow furrowed at the odd question as he lifted his eyes to Nefertkau. “She wanted to marry me. Her father thinks I will be a suitable husband for her.”

“Oh, I know you will be a good husband, but that was not the question.” Nefertkau folded her hands in front of her belly. 

“Why, if I may ask, are you asking me these questions, Mistress of the House? Did Temehu say something?” Ay held her stare.

Nefertkau lifted her chin. “In peace, Ay. Victory and protection go with you tomorrow.” She turned to step into her litter. 

Ay watched, saying nothing as Ipy helped her into her seat. When she was settled and her litter lifted by the servants, Ay spoke. “In peace, Mistress of the House. Thank you for your prayers and offerings.”

Nefertkau gave a nod of her head to acknowledge his gratitude before continuing to the market for more papyrus and ink. She had a letter to write.

Product Information

eBook File Size: 1.2 MB

Paperback Size: 5" x 8"

264 pages

Includes: Exclusive Cover and Interior Formatting

Printed on-demand by Lulu Direct

Book Information

Publisher: LLMBooks Publishing
Published: December 2020
ISBN-13: 979-8643851097
ASIN: B088873V7J
Genre: Historical Fiction

Audiobook Information

Narrated by: Josselyn Cambridge
Series: The Lost Pharaoh Chronicles Prequel, Book II
Length: 6 hrs and 27 mins
Release date: 01-19-23
Language: English

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  • (★★★★★)

    "...Wife of Ay is truly, absolutely phenomenal. Ten out of ten..." - Jessica Barbosa for Readers' Favorite

  • (★★★★★)

    "...a short but sweeping tale of family life for upper-class society in this period of Egyptian history..." - Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

  • (★★★★★)

    "Author Lauren Lee Merewether delivers another fantastic and engaging slice of ancient history with this immersive and emotive novel. One of the things which I really admire about Merewether's work is her ability to take figures from history and get into the core of their humanity, thereby making them highly relatable to us in contemporary times." - K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite