Hail two pairs of lips touching in the amber blush of sunset, I've not wasted love. May we live forever.
Hail seer of the beginning and the end coming forth unbidden, I've not altered the flow of nature. I released myself to destiny. A seed must take root. Winds must blow. May we live forever.
Hail mind of heaven, arranger of the stars, I've not questioned the laws of nature, nor scorned the gods of another man. May we live in peace forever.
May the light shine through us and on us and in us. May we die each night and be born each morning that the wonder of life should not escape us. May we love and laugh and enter lightly into each other's hearts. May we live forever. May we live forever.
--Excerpt from "The Confession", Egyptian Book of the Dead, as translated by Normandi Ellis
An ear-splitting howl rent the pre-dawn quiet, jarring Imhotep into instant wakefulness, signaling an abrupt end to that night's sleep. Beside him, Eliana moaned and rolled over, opening bleary, still-tired eyes.
"It's only been an hour," she groaned, peering at the luminous face of the bedside clock. "She can't be hungry again…
"Shhh, my love," Imhotep soothed, pulling the blankets up around her. "Go back to sleep for a while. I will see to her."
Eliana muttered unintelligibly, something that could have been a "Thank you," but she fell back asleep almost instantly, and the words were lost, muffled by the pillows. He grinned, smoothing back a sleep-mussed lock of hair from her face, pausing to let his palm linger on the curve of her face.
Another scream threatened to shatter his eardrums, and he headed for the baby's room, reaching for his robe as he passed the chair where it had been discarded the night before. Only a few short hours ago, it seemed, he reflected, his mouth forming a slight grimace.
Imhotep had never been one to linger abed, habitually rising earlier than most, and staying awake well past what could be considered a normal bedtime, but even he was showing the effects of sleep-deprivation of late. Since the arrival of their daughter, Meskhenet—a month earlier than expected, even then arranging things to suit her own personal schedule—sleep had become a precious commodity. It was not that the child was sickly or clinging, like some babies, who cried from discomfort or a constant need for reassurance. No, not this child. No mewling, newborn whimper from her, not from the moment she'd slipped from her mother's womb, howling loud infant curses at a world that was too bright, too cold. Her shrieks were lusty, imperious—a stubborn demand that her parents were expected—nay, commanded—to answer. He had known, from the moment he'd first set eyes upon her, that this would be no meek, docile little girl, content with cuddling and kisses. Her startlingly blue eyes, wide and unblinking, had regarded him intently, as though he were some strange creature she was determined to study and categorize. From the first, she had lived by her own schedule, nursing frequently, sleeping in fits and spurts, sleeping less than any newborn he'd ever heard of or encountered personally. When she was awake, she soaked up stimuli like a sponge. You could almost see the neural pathways in her brain connecting and growing in leaps and bounds.
But her demanding intellect was tempered by a charming sweetness, and when she'd smiled her first toothless baby grin at him at just one week of age, Imhotep had been lost. She'd claimed his heart on the day she was born—before that, even, when she'd been just an abstraction—a soft rounding of her mother's abdomen, a tiny kick against his hand. When she looked at him with those wide, slightly nearsighted baby eyes and curved her tiny rosebud mouth into a gurgling grin, she'd managed to take his heart and wrap it around her beautiful, pudgy little finger. He was hers, heart and soul, for all eternity. And she was his. His daughter. Those words were beyond price, a fathomless treasure that awed and humbled him every time he saw her.
Her name was Egyptian for destiny, and each time he looked into her eyes, Imhotep knew that they had chosen wisely. She embodied destiny—not just her own, which he knew would be great, but his as well, and Eliana's. She was their real immortality, their hope for the future, the means by which they would live on once their time in this world had come to an end. The simple beauty of it was overwhelming.
Reaching down into the bassinet, Imhotep lifted the baby out, gently cradling her in the curve of his arm. Meskhenet quieted almost immediately, not hungry, not wet, not needing anything but the stimulation of another human presence. Her father smiled down at her, watching as she waved her tiny arms, kicked her little legs, screwed her beautiful little face up into one of the myriad of baby expressions she was endlessly experimenting with. As she pursed her mouth, speaking an undecipherable baby language of grunts and coos, tiny bubbles of spittle formed on her lips and seemed to amuse her mightily, for she dissolved into a bout of infant giggles. Imhotep felt his heart expand anew with love for this tiny being.
"You are ready for the day to begin, eh, little one?" he asked, already knowing the answer. Another giggling hiccup confirmed it. "Very well, my little love," he told her, one long-fingered hand gently cupping the back of her tiny head, caressing the soft cap of dark, downy hair, wondering at the contrast between the light pink of her skin and the dark bronze of his. Such a tiny thing she was, such a small being, but such a boundless miracle.
Silently, Imhotep moved through the hushed dimness of the apartment, slipping quietly from the baby's room, cradling her in his arms as he made his way through the living quarters and to the French doors that opened out onto the small balcony. Outside, the last few stars of the night were fading, as the deep indigo of night lightened to violet and lavender on the eastern horizon. Standing in the early morning chill, he wrapped Meskhenet's blanket more tightly around her, hugging her tight against him to share his warmth. The baby didn't seem troubled in the slightest, however, and wriggled exuberantly, twisting in his arms and turning her face towards the dawn sky.
"It is beautiful, is it not, little one?" Imhotep murmured, turning so that the baby could see the sun as it rose from the depths beneath the earth and once more climbed to the heavens. "Almost as beautiful as you." A soft gurgle answered him, and flailing arms marked her agreement.
"Each new day is a blessing, daughter," he whispered, the hushed tone somehow seeming more fitting in this outdoor temple. "A priceless gift that we must treasure and cherish. Each day is its own eternity."
Again, the baby giggled, displaying a happy irreverence for the solemnity of her father's words. Imhotep fell silent, happy to simply hold her in his arms, awaiting the new day. How much had changed, he thought. How remarkable, and how precious the changes. They stood there together, watching as the first golden rays of sun pierced the lightening dark, watched as the burning orb of the day star peered over the edge of earth. Within minutes, it had risen higher, its rays spreading light and warmth over the lands of the Nile, spreading out long fingers and gilding the city, reaching out, even, to them, touching the balcony where they stood, unfurling and seeking.
"Behold the great god Amun-Re," whispered Imhotep, shifting his daughter to better see the dancing sunbeams. As he turned, a stray shaft of sunlight stretched out a tendril of brilliance towards her, painting the white of her blanket in dazzling shades of golden fire. The baby grew even more animated then, reaching out pudgy fingers towards the ray of sunlight, kicking and gurgling and stretching to capture it.
For a time, Imhotep watched Meskhenet chase the sunbeam, captivated by her single-minded fascination with the light. Then, as the brightening daylight began to wake the city spread out before them, he reluctantly captured her hand, tucking it inside the blanket once more, not wanting her to catch a chill.
"Come, my little love," he told her, turning towards the open doors and the warmth of the home's interior. Distracted from her playing, the child turned her attention from the sun to her father, reaching out a hand and stroking the smooth skin of his face, giggling and laughing, blue eyes sparkling with exuberant life and limitless joy.
As they reached the doorway, Imhotep paused, turning once more to gaze upon the newly risen sun. A small smile curved his lips as he beheld its fiery brilliance, and he bowed his head in a brief nod of veneration. "Thank you," he whispered, lifting his face once more.
There was no answer, of course, but as father and child stepped through the doorway and into their home, another shaft of the sun's light reached out towards them, the light and warmth of the celestial body dancing over them in silent blessing.