IT AIN'T JUST A RIVER IN EGYPT
By: xffan2000 and Nancy Brown
Rated: R (See JLAUnlimited for the un-editedversion of this story)
Disclaimer: DC and Warner Bros. would be very angry with us if they found out about this.
Notes: Deepest thanks to Dotfic for the beta. Takes place during and contains enormous spoilers for "Ancient History."
"I am Horus, the great Falcon upon the ramparts of the house of him of the hidden name. My flight has reached the horizon. I have passed by the gods of Nut. I have gone further than the gods of old. Even the most ancient bird could not equal my very first flight. I have removed my place beyond the powers of Set, the foe of my father Osiris. No other god could do what I have done. I have brought the ways of eternity to the twilight of the morning." - The Coffin Texts (passage 148)
The first thing she noticed, after, was the painful grit of the sand in the sensitive flesh where her wings met her back. Beside her, Bashari lay naked and spent, his breath still hard in his chest.
Chayara sat up slowly, wiping the sand from her arms and shaking it from her hair. Her own breath was returning to her, and with it, the realization of what she --- what they --- had done.
She didn't want to speak and break this fragile thing they'd created. She knew one of them would have to, and then it would be over. Instead, she bent over Bashari's face, pressed her lips against his mouth, quirked her own into a smile as he responded back tiredly. She leaned her forehead against his, enjoying the touch of their faces together, breathing his exhalations into herself.
It had been so long since another had touched her so intimately. Eight months gone since the last time Katar reached for her in their marriage bed, and that a thin moment in the night when she'd already been asleep, waking just enough to feel him slide between her legs and shudder and withdraw.
The wind blew, stirring the leaves in the oasis trees out of her sight. Hot, always this desert was hot, but Chayara suddenly shivered with cold.
Without thought, she pulled away from Bashari, reached for her mask and slipped it over her face. The familiar feel of the metal encased her, secured her; even nude, the mask gave her badly-needed covering. She felt Bashari move, and she looked at him.
"Are you all right?" he asked her, cupping her cheek in his soft, strong hand. She'd known his hands to wield weapons, to fight their enemies and forge peace beneath their power, and now she knew how gentle those hands could be, how delicately they could coax her into ecstacy. She would never be able to see his hands again without awareness of both facets.
"I'll be fine," she said, bringing her own fingers atop his. She had to hold onto this, had to cling to this moment.
"I didn't ... Did I hurt you?" Bashari's beloved face was flooded with concern.
"Quite the opposite," Chayara assured him, and sealed her word on the matter with another kiss.
"Good," he murmered into her mouth. "I'd like to die for making you happy, not for having injured you."
"What do you mean 'die'?"
He sat back on his heels, but kept her hands. "Katar will kill me for this. If I'm very lucky, he won't castrate me first."
"Don't be stupid," she said automatically.
"My Queen ... "
"And don't call me that," she said, more angrily than she intended. "Not now. I love you."
The words had come out quickly, and the shock on his face told her Bashari hadn't expected them. But then, neither had Chayara.
"I've loved you for as long as I can remember," he told her. "I will love you for the rest of my life." She smiled. "But I'm not a fool. And neither are you. If we are discovered, Katar is the King and you are the Queen, and my life will be over."
"Then we won't be discovered," she answered, removing her mask and noticing how his shoulders relaxed as she did. She drew his head to her breast, kissed him where his own bronze helmet usually covered.
"Chayara," he whispered, his breath warm against her sensitive flesh.
"Love me," she said, and wondered if he would take it as a request from his woman or an order from his goddess. He drew her nipple into his mouth and she stopped caring.
Bashari's tongue rasped against her skin, while his hands slid, the left to tweak and massage her other breast, the right to slip between her thighs. Chayara moaned, wriggling herself against his touches and almost dislodging his mouth. She felt his smile just before he suckled. Still riding the lingering waves of her last crest, she felt her next being urged along by his stroking fingers.
Mind swimming, she held to the thought that, as delightful as this was, his hand was not want she wanted. Chayara grabbed his chin, gasping hard when his teeth grazed her, and pulled his warm mouth to hers as she pushed Bashari back onto the sand and straddled his hips.
"Again," she breathed into his ear as she reached down to ready him.
Bashari yelped at her touch and grabbed her arms. "Not ... My Qu ... Chayara, a man can only do so much!"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "What do you mean?"
He stroked her bare shoulders. "I'm not a god. I need time."
"Oh." Chayara's experiences with men other than Katar were limited. "Do all humans need this time? Human males, I mean."
Bashari chuckled. "I've never been with a human male, but yes, I think it's common."
Her glow was fading, and perhaps he could read her mind, because both hands returned to their pleasant work between her legs. "But that doesn't mean I can't still love you."
She stared into his dark eyes, barely moving from where she lay atop him, as his fingers moved. The part of her that could think wondered how many women Bashari had taken to his bed, for he was clearly no blushing virgin. The rest of her burned and seethed and gasped, grinding her hips against him.
The second peak was not as intense as the first had been, but this was not unusual for her and she convulsed with joy regardless. Boneless and replete, she collapsed on Bashari's chest as he gently coaxed the last quakes from her body.
When she moved her head to look at him, she found a satisfied smirk on his face. "I suppose you're pleased with yourself," she said.
"Very much so, yes." He kissed her again, and she thought she would never grow tired of the feel of his strong mouth seeking hers.
Even though she did not want to, Chayara sat up. Her mind was clear now, and her normal senses were reasserting themselves. Smell, for example. They were redolent with the scent of each other, and while humans might not remark on that, Katar wouldn't fail to notice Bashari's musk covering her.
"I need to bathe," she announced, "and you should as well. Before we return."
The water at the oasis was clear, churning only slightly as their feet disturbed the silt at the bottom. Chayara rinsed off her sweat and the sand, then ducked her head under to clean her hair. Fresh from the water, they dressed, careful not to touch more than lips. The last thing she donned was her mask, and she noted the shadow in his eyes as she settled it into place.
Chayara would no sooner walk around maskless than naked, but when she wore it, Bashari saw his queen and goddess. She would have to ponder this.
The ride home was slower than their gallop out, but seemed much faster. When they entered the city, Chayara felt chilled from the afternoon shadows that darkened the streets. She turned to catch Bashari's eye, but his gaze was ahead of them and she could not read the expression on his face.
Had what happened been merely a stray moment, two people caught in the desert heat and nothing more? She didn't dare ask him, not now.
Maybe it had been an aberration, something never to happen or be spoken of again. Maybe he would kneel before her as her husband's general, and not meet her eyes for weeks, and go to the women at the temple at night as the soldiers tended to do.
Perhaps her own passion had been encouraged, not by love, but by her knowledge that this was her season, the three week period each year when her body was fertile and ready to mate for offspring rather then merely pleasure. Certainly that had been the impulse driving her so desperately to Katar --- had that been this morning? For days, she'd been aware of her own skin, chafing inside her clothing as she walked and moved and tried to sleep. Her breasts grew tender, her whole being became ripe and waiting, as she did every year when her season came, until the ache reluctantly passed.
The first ten years, they'd been stranded on an alien world and had not wanted to bring a child forth to be stranded with them. The second decade and more had been filled with forging a new empire in the shape of the one they'd lost. These past five years, she'd finally been ready. But Katar kept postponing. He refused to touch her during the times when he knew their coupling would produce a child; for the past year, he'd rarely touched her even when it would not.
Chayara frowned as they approached the palace, slowing their mounts to a canter.
When they first arrived on Earth, she and Katar had performed what studies they could to determine the species of this strange, primitive people they'd encountered. The ship's computer was heavily damaged, but functioned enough to tell them this was a different species despite their almost-Thanagarian appearance. Interbreeding would not, should not be possible.
Attendants scurried over to them, taking the reins of the horses as they dismounted. The taller said, "General Bashari, the King has ordered you join him in the war room as soon as you returned."
Bashari made a low, elegant bow to her. "My Queen," he said simply, "I must take my leave of you."
"Of course," she replied, and she made herself not watch him go.
Not for the first time, she wondered just how badly damaged the ship's computer had been.
"General," the King said as Bashari entered the war room. "I trust you showed the queen how to properly handle a stallion."
Bashari blanched, his mouth becoming as dry as the desert outside.
"Did she enjoy the ride?" Katar continued, his attention focused on the papyrus maps before him.
"Yes, Your Highness," Bashari said, his voice rasping.
The King's head jerked upward, his dark eyes meeting Bashari's. "Tell me something, old friend," Katar growled, his fingers caressing the dagger sitting on the tabletop.
The General felt his palms sweat. He hadn't expected his king to find out so quickly. Bashari hoped death would be swift. Katar picked up his dagger and pulled the tip over the map of the Nile, and Bashari could almost feel the cold metal pressing against his flesh, feel the thin slice across his throat, feel the warm blood spill from him. "Yes, my Lord?" he forced.
"If someone was attempting to take something from you, what would you do?"
Bashari swallowed, resisting the urge to fall to his knees and beg for his life. "My Lord, I ... "
The King raised the dagger and slammed it into the table. "Den Qa'a has organized a rebellion!"
Bashari nearly did fall to his knees then, thankful his betrayal was still hidden. "A rebellion?" he heard himself say, again thankful that at least some part of his mind was able to still function.
"Yes," the King hissed, his attention returning to the maps before him. "Our spies report his followers are preparing to retake Nebet."
His life spared, Bashari was almost relieved to hear the report. As the King pored over the maps of the southern lands of their kingdom, Bashari forced himself to listen, to pay attention, to offer the tactical knowledge Katar needed. But in his deepest thoughts, all he could do was keep repeating, He doesn't know.
Hath-Set finished the afternoon devotions with an uneasy heart. Full of knowledge, he had come to the temple to pray for guidance. The voices of the gods were silent within him, and even now as the priestesses took away the remnants of the offerings for their own meal, he knew he deserved that silence.
He blasphemed in his heart.
Hath-Set had been brought to the small temple in his home city as a small boy, given to the gods by a widowed mother with five younger children to care for. The priests had taken him in, trained him to speak for the gods, shown him how to listen to the voices on the wind and read the ashes of the burnt meats and grains to divine knowledge, and he had learned it all and he loved the gods.
While he was still a boy, the winged god and goddess had stepped from their celestial home, had come to the people and ruled them, and Hath-Set who loved the gods loved these two golden gods most of all. He'd set his sights to becoming the High Priest that he might be the one to bow before them, and his keen mind had not failed him in this attempt. He grew to know them as people, as gods, as royalty, and he respected them, worshipped them, served them as was due.
Each morning, Hath-Set gave praise to King Katar who brought the sun, and each night he gave praise to Queen Chayara who brought the fickle moon. Each hour between, he dedicated himself to their service, and for years, tried to love them equally.
But Hath-Set was born in sunlight and raised in day, and he loved his god more. At night, when the Queen's charge lit the sky, Hath-Set lay alone in his small bunk and dreamed of the King's firm lips, dreamed of seeing that golden visage forever locked behind his holy mask. On the nights Hath-Set was not alone, it was Katar's name he held back from crying out.
As his love for the King rose, his love for the Queen equally dimmed like the moon falling from the sun's bright rays, though he served her still.
And now ...
The priestesses in the temple lay with men as they chose, and they favored most kindly those who brought gold. Soldiers and commoners came here, and great lords too, but for those lacking offerings or the priestesses' favor, there were more desperate women who would pleasure men for less.
He'd seen the two lovers in their passion, an accidental discovery brought about when he'd gone alone to pray. They'd whispered endearments, and removed each other's garments with delicate care, and the unmasked Queen had lain atop the General, and Hath-Set had watched all of their unholy union with disgust.
He had yet to speak a single word to any other, but his heart raged and screamed that his goddess was a gutter whore.
Katar had to be told, but how?
Hath-Set walked from the temple to the palace, hating himself every step, and at the same time, freshened with a strange excitement. The King would hear of his wife's betrayal, would exile or kill her, and then, perhaps ...
He found the King emerging from the war room. "My King, may I have a word?"
A moment later, the damnable, usurping General emerged behind him, and Hath-Set cursed inwardly.
"What is it?" King Katar asked quickly.
Hath-Set cast a look at the General, but he could not say what he knew. The General would simply deny it, would kill him on the spot as a liar. "I would like to speak with you alone."
"Is it urgent?" The King glared at him, placing a friendly hand on Bashari's back. "The feast is about to begin."
"I ... " He sighed. "No, my King."
"Excellent. We can discuss it tomorrow, then." The two left him standing there, hot in his embarrassment.
He should have shouted it.
Tomorrow. The Queen's betrayal could be told tomorrow. Hath-Set would not be expected to come to the feast, but perhaps he would choose to go anyway, find a moment and seize it.
"Hath-Set?" The King had turned around.
"Yes, my King?"
"I would like you to ask intercessions on our behalf tonight."
"Dissent grows in the South. Ask the other gods to find their way to quiet the hearts of the people, that there may be less bloodshed." He paused. "As a favor to me." He turned and continued to walk down the corridor.
Hath-Set would not be going to the feast tonight after all.
On the greatest feast days, the King and Queen dined in splendour with hundreds of guests. Tonight was not such an event, but a celebration regardless for the General's victory. His higher-ranking officers had been invited while the rest feasted in the barracks, and the room swelled with soldiers, servants, and as many of the landed nobles as could wrangle an invitation at the last minute.
Chayara picked at the boiled cabbage in front of her, trying to stifle her boredom.
On Thanagar, she and Katar had never even seen the inside of the Great Council Hall. Why should they? They'd been common law officers, certainly good at their jobs, but no more worthy than any other citizen of the Empire. Here, though, they were venerated and even worshipped. The few times she'd gone into the homes of their poorer subjects, she'd seen small, clay statues of herself and Katar, and while she'd tried --- they'd both tried --- to dissuade the people from their strange fixation, too many citizens still cast their eyes down when she walked through the streets of her city.
In the palace, things were hardly different. Almost thirty years under their rule, and while they were treated as royalty, those humans with whom they had the most contact saw them as unearthly still, though not necessarily divine. The members of the highest houses jockeyed for their favor, regardless of their nature, maintaining whatever unctuousness they thought necessary to keep their rulers happy. It was maddening, in a way.
No wonder she liked Bashari. He deferred to her as his Queen but he wasn't afraid of her and he never played false for her favor.
She felt the color rise in her cheeks, and it did not go unnoticed.
"Chayara," Katar said, leaning over from his own ornate seat, "are you well?"
"I'm fine," she said, rubbing her hand over her face. "It's warm in here."
"I could order them all to leave." There was that gleam in his eye, the one that reminded her he knew that they were police officers playing at kings and castles.
"Don't. They're enjoying themselves." She set her bowl aside. A moment later, a servant whisked it away, leaving in its place a platter with grapes and roasted waterfowl. She took some grapes into her hand. Sometimes she didn't like being kept, and sometimes it had some use.
A deep laugh carried over the noise, and she made herself not startle. Bashari stood in a group of men, all his best officers. From their laughter, someone had just told a joke, probably Ishpi.
From time to time, Chayara went to where the soldiers were quartered, partially to give them her thanks, partially to escape the politicians in the palace. Bashari always served as her guide, and once he'd discovered her second purpose, he coaxed his subordinates to be a touch less formal in her presence, although not too informal. She sat in on their games of dice now and then, but had stopped playing when she quickly realized they let her win every time.
Bashari didn't let her win. Not usually.
She watched him with the others, until she became aware that she was watching him. She focused instead on her meal.
It had been a mistake. It had to have been a mistake. Her husband and partner and life-mate and friend sat beside her, smiling benevolently over the crowd as he ate bites of melon. She'd simply had an indiscretion, brought about by the exhilaration of the ride and her own damnable physiology.
It wouldn't happen again. She wouldn't tell Katar, because she didn't want to hurt him. Yes.
A messenger approached the dais where they sat, bowing quickly and waiting for Katar's acknowledgment, oblivious to the revelers.
Katar motioned the boy over and tipped his head to hear better. Chayara couldn't read his lips and the room was too noisy for her to hear anything, but Katar frowned deeply.
He turned to her, the scowl still deep on his face. He knows.
"Chayara, there's something I must attend to." He stood. "Bashari!" Her heart froze. "Nesamun! Teti-en! To the war room. Now." She tried to remember how to breathe, as he raised his arms and said, "The rest of you, continue to enjoy the feast."
With a last nod to Chayara, Katar spread his wings and glided out of the hall, amid a few gasps from those present who had not seen the king fly before. There was always someone new.
Bashari's adjutants hurried to follow Katar. Bashari himself glanced back to where she sat, just for a moment. Her heart stopped again as their eyes met. Then he was gone, so fast she might have imagined the whole thing.
And she knew it had not been a mistake, that she would have lain with him at any time he would have had her, that she had meant her words when she'd told him she would leave her husband to be at his side.
The party had not returned to its former level, so Chayara stood and held out her arms. "My husband the king commanded you to enjoy the feast. Please do not disappoint him." Immediately, the volume rose as people attempted not to be seen as insufficiently enjoying themselves.
Chayara flopped back onto her throne. She tasted the meat on her platter, but it was too bland for her palate. She would have to talk to the cooks again. The grapes were sweet, and her servant brought her soft bread with honey, and she could smile when she needed to as the nobles grew more courageous with beer and wine and kneeled before her to ask favors.
Finally, she stood. The conversations in the room quieted, but she waved kindly and left the room without another word. Katar would understand.
"Tell them what you told me," said Katar.
The messenger, hardly more than a boy but still one of Ptahetep's loyal men, turned to the General and his men. "Den Qa'a has made his move. When I rode from Nebet five days ago, the city was in full rebellion."
Nesamun swore. Bashari bent over the map. "We have soldiers garrisoned at Djeba who can be there within two days."
The messenger nodded. "Ptahetep sent another man to ask their aid, but I don't know if they will come without the king's order."
"Consider the order given," Katar said gruffly. "What about the troops at Waset?"
The messenger shook his head, and Bashari said, "It's a much smaller garrison, but I believe they have better arms. It would take them three days to reach Nebet, once they received the request for help." He tapped his fingers on the table. "With the stallions we just acquired, we could have a messenger there within two days."
"I could be there much faster," said Katar, flexing his wings. It had been a long time since he'd gone into battle himself, but he was ready.
Teti-en made the holy sign. Katar hid his smile.
Bashari said, "I could ready my men for travel by the day after tomorrow. We could join forces with you by the end of the week."
"And you'd only have clean-up to deal with by then," said Katar. "Den Qa'a is a fly. A large, annoying fly, but still one easily swatted. No, I'll make my journey at daybreak, and I will remind Den Qa'a and his followers that I am not some king-in-idleness. You and your men remain here, but stay ready in case I do send for you."
"Yes, my Lord."
Katar nodded to the messenger. "Go rest and refresh yourself. Teti-en, find him a meal and a bed and then return. Nesamun, go with them and bring back food for us. We will discuss our strategies for retaking the city." As the three left, Katar cracked a smile to Bashari. "It's going to be a long night, my friend. A pity we couldn't stay at the feast to celebrate your latest conquest."
"Indeed," said Bashari, but there was something odd about his voice that made Katar wonder.
In her chamber, she readied herself for sleep. Katar would come soon, and she would spend her first night in their bed with him after having mated with another man. Unable to face that prospect, Chayara spent almost an hour combing her hair and thinking of home.
At last, the oil in her lamp guttered low, and rather than refill it, she crawled under her sheets, wondering if he would return before she fell asleep, if he would take her into his arms and tell her yes, he would plant a child in her as she'd asked, if she would shudder away from him.
Katar woke her from a fitful dream when he came to bed hours later. "Go back to sleep," he told her, before quickly settling into his own deep snores.
After an age, she did, but Katar was not the man loving her in her dreams.
Chayara rose before dawn, as she usually did. Katar slumbered beside her still. She watched him: his strong, kind face that she alone ever saw, the curve of his back where it met his wings. He seemed so fragile when he slept, and she wanted to protect him as he protected her.
"I love you, Katar," she whispered, simply to try the taste of the words in her mouth; she found them a bitter, awkward fit.
She'd spoken too loudly, for his eyes drifted open. "I love you as well," he said, and now she was stuck with her lie.
Katar sat up, stretching. "The messenger last night was from Nebet. There's rebellion in the south."
"Again?" He would send Bashari away to deal with the matter, and perhaps that was for the best.
"It's nothing. A tribal chief beating his chest to impress his women. I'll fly there myself today." He bent and kissed her quickly and rolled from the bed to his feet.
"You? Alone?" Katar was brave, but rarely reckless.
"I can fly faster than horses can run," he said as he dressed. "We have soldiers stationed nearby and I will lead them to retake the city. I visit the southern part of the empire so seldom, they forget too easily whom they serve."
"How long will you be gone?"
"Three days if all goes well. If it doesn't, then I'll return and order our full force to retake Nebet."
He sat down on the bed beside Chayara and took her hand. "I will miss you." She let herself smile back at him as he drew her fingers to his mouth and kissed them. "You are still within your season, yes?" He bent to place his lips against her neck, breathing deeply.
"For another week, I think." Hope burned within her. Katar tilted his head back to meet her eyes.
"Then perhaps after next week, you and I can travel to the North Palace for some time alone." He let go of her hand and turned to don his mask. She knew he didn't see her expression change behind him, and she wasn't sure she'd care if he did.
"Go safely," she said.
"I'll be fine. And I've ordered Bashari to take care of you in my absence, so you'll be fine, too."
"I'll remind him you said so."
Katar laughed, and he made her a mock bow, and he left.
Outside, Chayara heard the cocks begin to crow daybreak.
TO BE CONTINUED...