This is taken out from somewhere in the middle of my story. Copying and pasting makes the format all weird. Ugh…please forgive that. But tell me what you think, good or bad.
Nut’s nighttime dress glimmered at him through the doorway to his balcony. Firelight flickered orange and purple shadows across the walls. Dinner had just ended, to Xius’s relief. He could hardly swallow enough food through his hyper-awareness of how often his vizier would look over to Annette in the far corner of his chambers where she clutched a pitcher of wine. Xius wondered if he drank too much to give her an excuse to draw near and pour more for him. But he was thinking too much. Far from relaxed, he lounged across the cushions about the brazier and fingered the medallion around his neck.
The thought of ameese crossed his mind and he wished his drink was stronger, perhaps the wine of Sekhmet herself. But no sooner had the thought left than another unpleasant memory took its place.
Immediately after explaining to Xius how Wenamon and a few other servants were found sick with symptoms of ameese, he had revealed to Xius his affections for Annette and begged him to allow him to get her away from the kitchens and the ameese that dwelt there. Xius quickly agreed, sick with concern himself, but then when Set insisted on taking her to his own chambers, Xius had to use every ounce of his self-control to calmly tell Set that it simply wasn’t appropriate, since he had yet to announce their engagement. They had agreed to have a light dinner of dried fish and figs in the pharaoh’s quarters to discuss it, but ended up sitting in silence and drinking morosely. In the end Xius promised Set to send her after him to his quarters, without really caring to, and sent Set teetering off to bed.
Now Annette still sat in her corner in his room. The emotions burning in his chest urged him to go to her or at least show her some attention, but Set’s intentions toward her still wrangled in his mind. He should have told Set about his familiarity with her. He should have told Set that she didn’t want him, feared him, even. Xius himself shouldn’t even be near her now, not with the feelings that had been growing over the last month.
He poured himself another cup. To the underworld with this.
He expected her to brazenly meet his eyes as she always did, but she did not.
“Are you going to sit there all night?”
“If that is what your highness wishes.”
He prickled. He knew that voice. Osiris damn it, he knew it and hated it.
“What is it?” he grunted.
“You’re getting depressed again.”
“Why does it matter, if I may be so bold to ask?”
“Excuse me, your highness.”
He growled to himself. Out of all the times to be evasive…
“That was not a request. That was a command.”
To his satisfaction, he thought he could hear a bite of anger when she answered.
“I don’t know what’s going on here, so, naturally, I’m a bit freaked out. I heard people talking about Wenamon and about him being sick. Then there’s the whole Set thing, gah, he asked me to come stay with him, you know? I pretended that I didn’t understand him. I hate acting like an idiot.”
He took a sip of the wine.
“And it just reminds me why I hate…” she stopped with a snap of teeth.
He fingered his cup, feeling a sinking sensation within him. “Let me guess. It’s why you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you, per se.”
“I’m the one who made you into a slave, Annette, and that’s the reason you’re so miserable, even if I can’t comprehend why.”
Her silence was enough answer for him. He considered the rippling surface of the dark wine. The quiet was comfortable, edged with only the gentle noises of leaves and various insects outside. The fire crackled and popped now and then.
A murmur came from her corner, almost too quiet to hear.
“Sometimes I’ve thought to ask you to just kill me and end it so maybe I can wake up from all this and…and go home…”
His hand clenched about the cup. That was it, then. There could be no question about it.
“Very well. You’re no longer a slave.”
She lifted her head to gawk at him, blue eyes wide.
“You heard me. You’re not a slave anymore. I am pharaoh, what I say is law. I’ll have it written in the records tomorrow, then you can go off and do whatever you damn please, even refuse Set, if you want.” He took another comforting sip of his drink.
“But…but then what am I?”
“Well, what do you want to be?”
“I-I-I don’t understand.”
“What is there to not understand?”
“You! I don’t understand you!” she tugged at a piece of her hair with both hands. “I mean, for the first few weeks you’d practically scream at me if I acted above my station. Now you’re so…so nice and talking to me like a normal person and I don’t understand what happened. Did I do something?”
He shrugged, heart in his throat. “I guess you could say that.” He waved a hand to the cushions opposite of him. “Care to sit with me?”
Her gaze narrowed. “Depends. What are you drinking? It’s not what you’ve had me pouring.”
“Just some wine.”
“The kind with alcohol?”
“I presumed so.” He sniffed at it. “At least, that’s what I hope it is. Ra, what I wouldn’t give to be drunk now.”
She cocked her head at him, something he was coming to find endearing. “Why’s that?”
In answer he groaned and let his head fall back on the backrest of cushions. He heard her bare feet smack against the granite floor, having tucked her precious shoes beneath her cushion, and then slip down on the pillows a bit away from him. She said nothing, but he could feel expectation, however patient, hovering in the air. He slid his hand down his face.
“The sickness I told you about this morning? It’s here. And, well, it might just be all my fault if we all die now because of it, and yet I don’t even know if I married now if it would change anything. I feel like I am the most useless in curing it, and yet I’m the most responsible.” He took in a deep breath and lifted his head to take another deep swallow of the wine.
“Set was right, then.”
“That you…that you care very deeply, maybe even too much so.”
He snorted. “Did you think I was an arrogant bastard? Because you were right, I am.”
But she gave a certain smile and he felt his stomach flip-flop. The warmth he had been trying so hard to ignore that day constricted his chest once more, filling him with the urge to reach for her, touch her in some way. Aggravated with himself, he tipped his head back and finished what was left in the cup.
“What’s everyone getting sick with?”
“Most likely ameese.”
“What’s that? Is it like a cold or a flu?”
He nodded. “More like the common stomach sickness. There’s fever, shakings, vomiting, etc. But then it grows more severe when the ill person loses all desire to eat or drink and the fever overwhelms them. They’re skin turns grey, cracks, and bleeds. Some say near the end they grow mad. They die within a matter of days. There are some who think it is simply because they drank filthy water, but it comes out of nowhere.”
Annette pulled her legs up to her chest. “That sounds…ugh. And you say Wenamon has it?”
“Unfortunately.” He moved to pour himself more wine just to find the bottle empty. He grumbled at it.
“So…does that mean Wenamon…he’s going to die?”
“Precisely. Isn’t there anything stronger than this?” He knocked the bottle off the table. “I can still think.”
Her hands clenched one another till he could see the white of her knuckles.
“Isn’t there any way to help him?”
“You tell me. You’re the one with the advanced medicine.” He glared at the fallen bottle.
“I already told you, I’m not a doctor.”
“Pity, because as far as anyone I know is concerned, there’s no cure.”
After a few minutes of quavering silence, filled with his grumblings, the fire, and her quiet breathing, she looked out onto the banister thoughtfully.
“Set said it was the Nile workers and the merchants who got sick first, right? Did the merchants come up here by boat?”
“Then don’t you think that it might be the Nile that’s making them sick? I mean, maybe there was something in the river, I don’t know, something rotten in the water itself that got to the workers and then the merchants.”
“If it is, that just makes it worse. So much worse. All our farmlands would be soaked with the sickness when the floods come.” Feeling particularly worse now about the whole thing, he reached for the bottle and handed it to her. “Tell those fools out in the hall to refill this. And tell them something stronger this time.”
She grimaced. “I’d rather not, your majesty.”
“Do you want to be a slave again?”
“No. I just don’t feel too safe being stuck in the same room with a drunk till morning.”
He considered this and wondered if he cared if he did something stupid with Annette around. He decided all he needed to make his situation worse was to force himself drooling on her, just to regret it in the morning, so he flung the bottle back down and sank into his cushions to sulk.
“You’ll be staying in a chamber prepared for you by Set. One of my men will escort you.”
She flinched. “Now you tell me?”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
She sighed, seeming to forgive him, and tucked her chin between her knees.
“It will be all right, Pharaoh.”
“How do you know? Why would the gods, who brought this plague upon us, take it away out of the goodness of their hearts? According to the priests, if I don’t get married by the end of the week, we’re lost. How pathetic and wrong.” Then, like the dawning of the sun, an idea shone through his bleary thoughts. He didn’t have to marry Kasmut, per se. All he had to do was marry, they weren’t specific as to who. He felt his heart pick up a notch and he glanced over at Annette in the light of the fire. All he had to do was ask; perhaps she wasn’t as adverse to him as she was to Set, and who cared about the court who would bring up her foreign heritage! At least he is married, they’d tell themselves.
An upsurge of emotion came from his gut, warming him better than the wine ever could, and bringing with it thoughts and dreams he had not even dared to imagine before this: a life with this woman by his side, having children with her, forever learning of each other and the different worlds they have partaken of until it was as though both of them were natives of both lands. She wouldn’t laugh at his poetry, he knew for sure, though just how, he didn’t know. They could play games in the water as they had that night, run as fast as they could beneath the stars, and dance to the musicians together. She had trembled with fear the last time he touched her, but here he could touch her without her feeling apprehension, kiss her—
All thoughts froze there. He remembered her icy blue eyes hot with rage and hate not so long ago beneath the night sky.
She only wanted to go home, far away from Egypt.
And then there was Set…
He got up and went to the door to order more wine instead.
“You should probably go to Set’s chambers now,” he said. “Since I was the closest thing to having any claim on you, being your master, he asked me for your hand and I gave it. Though you’re not a slave anymore, according to prudence, you two are engaged and it is inappropriate for you to stay here for the night.”
She gave a surprised, dismayed cry and he did his best to ignore it as he sent one of his guards off to fetch the wine. This time, he ordered wine of Sekhmet rather than the weaker wine of Baset. After what he was about to do, he’d need it. He could already feel the acid-like pain growing just below his ribs and rising into his chest, because even if it was possible now to keep her, to love her, she hated him and Set was his best friend.
“I won’t!” she said loudly. “I’ll go back to the kitchens if you send me away!”
“And risk catching ameese?”
“If ameese is as contagious as you claim, none of us are safe from it, including you, Pharaoh. Don’t you know how diseases work?”
The ache in his chest was making him grumpy. “Annette, he won’t do anything to you, and even if you aren’t a slave, I am still pharaoh. Do not defy me.”
“I’m not Egyptian!”
“But I am god!” he finally shouted, afraid of what might happen if she stayed in his room any longer, enraged by the pain and heartache. “Go to him now!”
Something broke in her expression and instantly he regretted what he had done. Her eyes grew shiny, but not a tear dropped. She stood, stony faced, dress still stained with soot and dirt.
“So much for not being a slave,” she murmured, and softly padded out of the room.