Eight years later.
Radames stood on the deck of his favorite ship as it headed toward Nubia. He spent his time, not giving commands, but watching the activities his two sons. Tyran, who was seven, had the face of his father. From the moment of his birth, he resembled Radames. They even had the same sandy hair color and the knack for giving direction. Four year old Merenes, on the other hand, resembled the new Egyptian queen, Perna, the reluctant wife of Radames. Their marriage had been something of a farce from the beginning. He married and bedded Perna for the sake of having a successor. She married him to live a life of luxury. Though they didn't like, or ever saw one another, both had benefited from the arrangement; Radames had sons to inherit his throne and Perna stayed at home in comfort, while they trekked to Nubia to see his first two wives.
Of course it sounds much worse than it was. After his first trip to Nubia with Amneris, Radames had returned to Thebes with word that he'd been betrayed by his queen. She had run off with a man of royalty and Radames had to go back alone. His priests offered to poison her, but Radames refused, since his words to them had been a lie. Amneris had remained in Ikaita with his blessing. Aida, unable to be accepted as a queen of Egypt, stayed with Amneris and her brother, awaiting the trips Radames took to Ikaita to see her and their daughter, Aliya. Perna had accompanied him on his first journey to Nubia. To call it disastrous would be quite the understatement. Although aware of the situation with Aida, Perna had decided to hate the people and the landscape and the trip there and the trip back. Had she been given any say in the matter, she wouldn't have allowed her sons to join on future journeys to the Southern territory, but Radames insisted. He wanted his children to meet their sister and see the world where much of the wars had taken place. If they were to spend part of their childhoods there, perhaps they would avoid attacking it when one of them took his place as pharaoh. Radames was excited to take them with him. The children didn't know they were getting an education. They enjoyed their time in Nubia, though the trip there was difficult.
Radames was keeping a close watch on Tyran who was leaning over the edge of the ship, purging himself of his lunch. Tyran, who had spent most every day like this and had yet to fall overboard, was exhausted and hated being sick. It was a blessing to know that the trip would be over quite soon. Feeling certain that he had nothing left to throw up, Tyran left the edge of the boat and took a seat at his father's feet. Radames sat beside his son.
"Perhaps we'll caravan back," he said. This was the fourth trip Tyran had been on and he still had not gotten his sea legs. The boy leaned back against the wall of the ship.
"How much longer?" he asked.
"I saw a marker about two miles ago. It shouldn't be more than an hour."
It turned out to be even less. At dusk, when they pulled into the small harbor of Ikaita, Tyran was the first off the ship. He walked unsteadily down the ramp and straight into the midsection of Aida who stood on the dock, awaiting their arrival.
"Did you have another bad trip?" she asked, running her fingers though his light, smooth hair.
He nodded into her stomach and wrapped his arms around her middle.
Aida raised her eyes to the ramp and saw her husband heading toward her, leading Merenes by the shoulders. Radames kissed her upon arrival.
"Perna stayed at home?" asked Aida as they walked toward the palace. The children had gone ahead with Noribnin.
Aida smiled at him, "I shouldn't be surprised. She comes all the way here only to sleep alone."
Radames laughed, "She sleeps alone anyway. Well, as far as I know, anyway." They walked ahead for another minute before Radames asked, "Where is Amneris?
Aida hesitated and slowed her step, "She was unavailable. She could not come, but she awaits you at the palace. She's eager to see you, Radames."
Radames frowned and kept walking. What could be more important than seeing him? Amneris had never failed to meet him at the docks.
By the time they reached the palace, Radames' hands were reaching the end of their patience. It had been close to a year since the last time he had seen his wife. Once they left the sunlight, Radames swept Aida into the first abandoned room they came across and kissed her over and over again. He would have stayed in there all day had there not been a knock on the door moments later. Aliya craned her head through the opening and saw Radames.
"Father!" she squeaked. She was seven years old, but still small enough to scoop up in ones arms. Radames carried her out of the room, his lips forever on her cheek.
"I missed you," she scolded. He echoed her and added, "It's not been easy knowing the woman I love is in another country."
Aliya giggled, then squirmed her way to the ground. Aida took her husband's hand and led him up the stairs to the room Amneris shared with Kadoteas. Aida opened the door without knocking and exclaimed, "You should not be up and about."
Amneris stood at the window, looking out into the fading daylight. She replied, "My legs were cramping up. You know how I hate to be uncomfortable."
With this, Amneris turned with some effort, revealing her huge belly. Radames heard the door shut behind him with a pop. Aida hadn't even said goodbye. Radames waked to Amneris and put his arms around her. He helped her to the bed, then sat with her for a long time hugging one another. He held her so tight, he felt the occasional kick from inside her against his skin.
"I think I've missed you the most," he said, "though don't tell anyone. What can I do in Egypt without my best friend?"
"Perna didn't come with you?"
He looked her in face and told her, "Perna will never be my friend. I'm happy for you. It's time you had children."
Amneris' faced dropped. She looked ready to tell him something when the door opened. Aida walked in. Behind her came Kadoteas, Tyran, Merenes, and Aliya; a woman with a cart of meals followed.
"We eat most of our meals in here," Aida told him, "We can't leave Amneris alone for too long. She gets stir-crazy and angry." Aida and Amneris shot glances at each other, then smiled.
They all spent the meal in peace and laughter. When they'd had their fill, Noribnin came and took the children to bed. Amneris kicked everyone else out and Aida went down to the kitchen to complain about the toughness of the boar. Radames and Kadoteas went down to walk the river.
"Are you worried?" asked Radames.
Kadoteas stopped to watch the women clean the linens.
"I'm quite worried," he replied, "Amneris is afraid. She didn't take to bed rest easily, but agreed. The last four months have been difficult. And the child. I've never seen Amneris so anxious."
"It will be over soon. Amneris is strong and you have the best women in the country to help her through it."
Kadoteas stopped his walk and Radames turned to speak with him.
"I believe you will help her more than anyone," said Kadoteas, "Your presence here is important to her. You weren't to know this, but Amneris has lost two children already."
Radames gaped for a moment and asked, "Why didn't I know?"
"She is afraid, and ashamed. She's been in bed so long to insure the birth of this child. If it does not survive…I need my wife. If she lives and the child does not I am sure that she will no longer be the woman I know. Already she is changed."
Radames clapped Kadoteas on the shoulder and said, "You have loved one another from the very beginning. I would not worry about losing her to her misery. She can get through it…she gets through things her own way." Radames only hoped Amneris would not evade her problems by draining the country's finances on her wardrobe, "The child will be fine and you will both have the family that you deserve."
"You'd better be right. If this situation gets any worse, I'm sending her back to Egypt with you."
Radames knew that he joked and laughed, "I don't think Egypt could afford her after an ordeal like that."
They smiled guiltily and returned to the palace. The moment he saw her, Radames would promise Amneris to stay with her until the birth.
He did not have long to wait. After four days- four great days as far as Amneris' health and disposition were concerned- the labor pains began. All night and into the next day, hardly a single woman could be found about the palace; each one had made her way to the queen's chamber to offer coaching or condolence.
Kadoteas and Radames, having been promptly shoved from the room once things began to get serious, sat in the hall with Radames' three children and listened through the angry screams for a tiny wailing cry. These moments seemed to go on longer than the hours that it had taken to get there.
Inside, hands everywhere were clenched. Amneris and Aida's hands were clutching each other, the maid holding towels and tools was squeezing the paint off of a pair of shears and the midwife, who was dealing with a lot more blood than she would have liked was cutting through the catching blankets with her finger nails. Over Amneris screams, of panic, she was telling Aida to "keep her calm!" The maid's dark face turning paler and paler by the second.
Finally a high pitched wail broke the tension. Despite whatever pain she still felt in her body, Amneris stopped her scream and listened to the little cry of her baby boy. She closed her eyes suddenly and lay perfectly still, reveling in the sound, a smile of relief and joy across her face. He was there; really there. She was called from her reverie by a nudge on her arm. Aida held the child out to Amneris, barley able to keep her eyes off his face. Amneris opened her arms and looked at her son for the first time. He was beautiful and not just in the eyes of his mother. He had a small nose, a strong chin and big pouting lips. His bleary eyes were two dark pools in which she wished to fall into. His skin was like honey. He was the perfect blend of two worlds.
The room filled a few minutes later as Kadoteas came to see his son. He held the boy firmly, knowing he had never felt so proud of anything in his life. Radames took Amneris' hand and they smiled warmly at one another. She had not yet told him that she was fighting to name the baby after him. It would create a healthy argument about the room, but it didn't matter, now. Nothing else did.
It had been close to nine years since Aida had been taken prisoner on the Nubian shore. As horrible a year as it had caused, no one in that room would ever regret a moment of it. It had given hundreds of people back their lives. It had brought peace. It had encouraged trade.
For four people, it had been the best thing to ever happen to any of them.