Part VII

Part VII

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The experience was not as bad as I had thought it would be. Really. I was frightened, but the pain was what I was told to expect. I was sixteen, after all, and he tried his best not to hurt me.

But I hated him with a passion. The hate grew on me slowly, like a disease, filling my entire body with anger. I did not realize how much I hated him until I returned to my chambers the next morning, when the girls were still sleeping, and I realized that my hands were shaking.

Yes, it was his right to have me. But I did not want to be had. It did not matter if the experience was physically painful or not. I resented him because he made me a whore.

What made it worse was when he collapsed on top of me, moaning, and then whispered in my ear, "you were wonderful." I was wonderful? What had I done but lay there while he used me? It was as though he did not even acknowledge that I was more than a body.

I smoldered in resentment for three days, while Seti gave my body time to repair (I was sore, Peshet explained). Peshet understood women much better than Seti did and knew that I needed time to adjust. She took care of me, which made me grateful, relieved, and, surprisingly, touched. I had thought Peshet a cold woman, but she was not so cruel as she seemed.

But perhaps it was not only anger. I was physically and emotionally in pain. And I wanted so badly for someone to truly love me and care for me–as my mother did, or perhaps as Ankhmut did–that when Seti dismissed me in the early hours of the dawn it was like a blow to the face. I gathered up my clothes and dressed quietly, and I watched him from the corner of the room go back to sleep. He slept soundly, fearlessly, deep breaths that, in an odd way, reminded me of my father when he slept. Perhaps if he had talked to me, asked me questions, I would have felt better. But he was attracted to my body, and that was all that he wanted.

I returned to our rooms as the sun was rising. Peshet welcomed me in and hugged me.

"My Little Anuk," she said, with surprising tenderness. Then she led me to my room, although I knew perfectly well where it was. "Sleep," was all that she said, and I gladly obliged. But first there was something that I had to do. I stripped off the clothes I had worn to see Seti. Then, pouring water on an old tunic, I quickly washed my body in the rising sunlight. I rubbed my skin until it felt raw and the skin became pink. Then, finally, as the girls began to arise in the other rooms, I drew on clean robes and fell into my bed. As I lay there, clean and quiet, I began to cry.

They were soft cries–even then I had almost perfect control over myself–but the fat, salty tears rolled down my cheeks. The pillow became soaked under my head, but I did not move, feeling the warm wetness as I rubbed my hand gropingly across my face. I cried myself to sleep, for the first time since I had arrived there. I cried until there was nothing left–no remorse, no pain. I knew what I was to expect for the rest of my life. A life that would be pointless and empty.

I would be a treasured whore, a servant to Seti's every desire. I would be used without regard to me feelings, my mind, my life. I would have no real friends. I would have no human connections. I would never see my mother or siblings again. When I was no longer beautiful, I would be discarded like an old curtain, pushed off to the side, out of the way, to live the rest of my days in shunned peace. I would never have access to knowledge. I knew I would not be beautiful or seductive forever. So I cried, the sloppy, demeaning knowledge of the rest of my life spilling out from inside of me.

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That afternoon, when I awoke, my exhaustion dissipating, I sat alone in my room for a long time. I came to some conclusions, conclusions that would guide the rest of my life. The only way to make my life worth living was to make Seti value me over anything else. I would seduce him, entice him, tantalize him. If I could control him, then I would never be pushed aside. I could be taught to read, could be taught the secrets of the Med-Jai, could be taught anything that I wanted to learn. Once I could control Seti I need never be afraid.

And I knew that I could control him. He was all powerful, but in a time of peace his leadership and bravery were not questioned, and it was true that he was rather simple-minded and jovial. It seemed that all he wanted was a good time–his lavish banquets and contests were proof of that.

And so it was then that I became wise. And I knew what I had to do. Although I did not want to control him through seduction, that was how I was going to do it. It was the only way. The only way for a woman to have power in this world.

And, if I was to accomplish my goals–Henutnofret had to go.

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Although Seti returned to Henutnofret, it was clear that he wanted me again. Henutnofret herself must have sensed this. Two days after my encounter with Seti she walked into my room and drew the curtain shut behind her. I was frozen. I did not want to talk with her now, now that I was just becoming acquainted with the new me, the women in me, the woman who would control the Pharaoh. The heartless woman who would do anything for Seti's favor.

She stood there, motionless, her black hair falling across her face, shadowed. She took a step forward and stopped. I stayed still, sitting cross-legged on the divan, looking down into my lap.

"We have not been friends, Anuk." She broke the silence.

I said nothing. I had just made the decision to bring her down, and I had just stolen the Pharaoh away from her. She did not come to hear me talk, she wanted to talk to me.

She paused and looked around my room. I could see the tension in her jaw, the way she held herself. She was nervous, unhappy.

"I know that you may have resented me," she began, pacing forward into the room. She slowly turned, pausing, carefully considering her words. "But you know that I did what I had to do."

She looked up at me, and I couldn't turn away from that gaze. I stared back.

And we understood each other.

She stood, crossing her arms over her chest, her gaze darkening. She smiled bitterly. "And you will do what you have to do."

Again I couldn't turn away. She knew that Seti was mine to use, now, and that I understood what was necessary. And she knew her own defeat. Because if I hadn't realized my power, she might have had a chance. But I knew that I had Seti in my hand, and she knew it too. And we faced each other, the grim understanding stagnating the air between us.

She wouldn't humble herself before me, not yet. But I could see the tension in her jaw, her face. She was afraid of me. And for the first time I experienced what it was to have power.

I stood up. For the first time, I acted in my new role, with the power suddenly thrust into my hands. "Do not worry, Henutnofret," I said innocently, looking her straight in her eyes. "You will be provided for."

She stared at me, and she knew that she was also in the palm of my hand.

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