Rating: R for violence, sexual situations, and the usual bad attitudes
Special thanks to Kao Vang for editing and many good suggestions
Disclaimer: The Mummy and the characters therein are the property of Universal Studios.
No infringement intended. I am making no money off of this.
"Look around you. All Egypt knows the power of the Pharaoh. Let us all, then, honor the divine son of Ra."
Anak-sun-amun had long ago stopped listening to the words. It was the voice speaking them that pulled her in- powerful, commanding, filling the sanctuary with seemingly no effort at all. The high priest of Osiris could raise his voice and sound like thunder, then lower it and caress the syllables with a lover's gentle touch. Physically he was an imposing man as well. Even at this distance it was plain that he was tall, probably standing head and shoulders above most of the other men in the room. His chest, showing through the panels of his robe, was well-muscled, but not in the manner of a soldier who lives and dies by his sword. It was rather in the manner of a man who is strong and substantial, and perfectly capable of defending himself if necessary, but who does not need to, because he wields so much power and knows it. There was a touch of arrogance about him, but it was only justified. He knew exactly who he was- the most powerful man in Egypt, save the Pharaoh. Not a person to be taken lightly, that was for sure.
He paused in his speech, and cast his eyes quickly around him. His gaze slid by the Pharaoh, slumped on his throne, and rested on Anak-sun-amun.
His eyes were dark and deep as the underworld he had spoken of, unknowable and mysterious. He had a stare that could pin you to the wall, should he choose to use it that way. At that particular moment, he did not. He looked at her with admiration, but Anak-sun-amun was used to that. Pharaoh was constantly showing her off. But there was also a spark in his eyes, a hint of deeper interest, and something else she couldn't quite identify.
Anak-sun-amun suddenly found herself smiling. It was a small smile, for it would certainly be unseemly to grin during such a solemn occasion. But she could not help it. He appealed to her, somehow, in a way that no one else had since she had come to the royal court. He held her eyes a fraction of a second longer, then turned his head slightly, and resumed speaking. She continued listening, wondering if she had imagined that brief glance.
That night Pharaoh gave a banquet at the palace. Everyone who was anyone in Thebes, the capital city, was there. Imhotep, at the center of a group of conversing priests and nobles, said little, but when he did, everyone listened. He radiated the image of High Priest from every pore. All respected him, either for himself, if they knew him well enough and liked him, or out of fear, if they did not. Certainly there were few people who would dare to disagree with him. He moved as though detached from the rest of the room, yet intimately aware of everything that was going on.
Some of the guests would not have been the least bit surprised had they discovered that he could read their thoughts. He could not, of course, but he used their gullibility to his advantage whenever necessary.
"Imhotep!" the Pharaoh called his priest to his side. The guests made way as the imposing man walked to the ruler's place at the center of the long head table. "Sit by me while we dine. There are matters I would discuss with you."
Imhotep nodded his acknowledgment of the order and took his seat. Sitting at Pharaoh's other side was his newest and favorite mistress, Anak-sun-amun. He had heard the pharaoh mention her in passing before, and had recognized her at the ceremony by her elaborate body-paint which Seti apparently took great pleasure in making her wear. She had been striking, certainly, but more than that. There was something...different about her, though exactly what it was, he could not say. Now, however, her face was turned away from him, and despite his curiosity, he couldn't catch her eye.
Pharaoh Seti gave the signal to sound the gong that announced the serving of food. Everyone took their places with a bustle of linen and tinkling jewelry, the servants trotted out heavy platters of food, and the meal began.
When all had been served a plate full of food, the pharaoh turned to Imhotep.
"I am very pleased with the ceremony today. It was a fitting commemoration of our victory."
"Thank you, my Lord." Imhotep answered gravely.,
"However, I was not so pleased with the welcome I received at the palace doors. It was utterly spiritless. You placed Tiamon in charge of that, didn't you?"
"Yes, Your Majesty." Imhotep was not sure what Seti was getting at, but he had a feeling he would not enjoy it. And neither would Tiamon.
Pharaoh turned to the two Med-jai guards behind him and gave a little nod. Instantly the two left Pharaoh's side, found Tiamon where he was seated at one of the lower tables, and hauled him protesting out of his seat. They roughly dragged the confused priest before the head table. Pharaoh gave another nod.
The Med-jai's swords flashed in the lamplight, once, twice, and before anyone fully realized what was happening, Tiamon lay run through on the floor, eyes wide in shock, blood spreading like an inexorable tide from his body across the stones. There was a great gasp in the hall as everyone took in their breath at once, and the music petered off into isolated thumps and toots as the musicians realized one by one what had happened.
Imhotep seethed inside. Seti had not even explained to Tiamon the reason for his anger- which meant that Tiamon was not his real target. He had done this for Imhotep's benefit, letting him know who was really in charge. The Pharaoh and the High Priest had been at odds lately over several issues, and clearly the Pharaoh felt the need to exert his authority over Imhotep's people. But Tiamon had been a good priest! To have him killed in cold blood, in the middle of what was supposed to be a joyous occasion, without even a word of explanation- that was inexcusable, even for a pharaoh.
Out of the corner of his eye, Imhotep saw Anak-sun-amun, looking rather sick. She had pushed her plate away from her and focused her gaze down at the tablecloth. Imhotep wanted to do the same, but he could not. He must appear impassive, as if this incident had not mattered to him at all.
"That," stated Seti with great satisfaction as the two Med-jai took their places behind him again "is what happens to those who displease me." He gave Imhotep a significant look, and the High Priest merely held his eyes, calmly, until the Pharaoh finally gave up and looked away.
"Come, come, clean this up," he demanded of the stupefied servants. "Let's have no more unpleasantness tonight. We'll have music, and celebration, and dancing!" Taking a sip of his wine, he gestured to a group of women at the other end of the table, who got up and came to the middle of the room, or as close as they could get while avoiding the bloody mess that was beginning to be cleaned up. Reluctantly the music started up again, and the women began to sway to it, moving their hips provocatively. Some in the audience made appreciative comments, but many still could not concentrate on the spectacle. Imhotep was one of these.
They were all alike anyway, these women under Seti's thumb. Good enough dancers, but spiritless, most of their personality figuratively (and in some cases, literally) beaten out of them, replaced by the servility and attention only to the pettiest of details that comes with living in such close proximity to a god on earth. They bored Imhotep immensely. He heard himself sigh.
"Ah!" Seti made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "You haven't yet met my greatest prize!" He stroked Anak-sun-amun's hair, and she ignored him.
"Her?" Imhotep inquired, nodding toward the favored concubine.
"Yes! She is worth ten of the others, twenty, even!" And he raised his voice to the dancing women, calling for them to stop. They obeyed, and the Pharaoh turned to his favorite. "Dance for us, Anak-sun. Show everyone what a lovely jewel you are."
She nodded, stood, and went around the table to the open space. Imhotep noticed for the first time how tall she was. She would be up to his nose if he stood by her. But she was not skinny, as tall women often are, but beautifully proportioned, the lamplight glinting off the gold paint that accentuated the curves of her near-naked breasts and hips. A sprinkling of lascivious comments came from the guests at the table, and the Pharaoh beamed possessively. One woman from the group that had danced earlier looked positively murderous, and Imhotep wondered, bemused, if this were the one who had been displaced as Pharaoh's favorite.
Anak-sun-amun danced gracefully, sensually, but her eyes were fixed on some point on the wall, beyond the Pharaoh's head. At first glance she seemed involved only in her dance, but Imhotep had always had a talent for "reading" other people, and gradually he came to see that behind this facade, Anak-sun-amun was actually bored, yet alert to every nuance of her surroundings. Such inattention in the presence of the Pharaoh bordered on insolence, but she hid it well, and Imhotep felt a certain respect for her dissembling.
If Pharaoh thought she was exactly like the other palace women, he was a fool. She was as different from them as Seti himself was from a common farmer. At least for now. How long would it be before that cleverness atrophied and faded, replaced by nervous fawning and mindless obedience? Not too long, probably. Another couple of months, and then she would be just like the catty group at the other end of the table, all her potential ruined to satisfy the whims of a god on earth.
Suddenly Imhotep lost all desire to watch the entertainment. Coming so soon after the murder of Tiamon, the sight of Pharaoh showing off his possession left a bad taste in his mouth. Disgusted, he glanced around for a way out, and was relieved to see Pepy, one of his most loyal priests, approaching him. Imhotep beckoned him forward.
"I'll speak to you outside," Imhotep indicated the golden doors to the hall where the feast was taking place.
"It's not necessary..." began the under-priest, then was silent when Imhotep gave him a stern look. Imhotep turned to the Pharaoh.
"Excuse me a moment, Your Majesty?" Seti nodded, while continuing to converse drunkenly with two noblemen further down the table. Imhotep rose and followed his subordinate out of the room. As they were leaving, he saw out of the corner of his eye that Seti had called Anak-sun-amun to his side.
Imhotep listened with half an ear as the priest gave his report. Tiamon's body had just been taken to the Temple, and naturally there were already a great many questions being asked about his death. The priest wanted to know what to tell them. Imhotep considered this for a moment.
"For those of our group, tell them the truth- that Pharaoh had him murdered in cold blood to put me in my place. For the rest, tell them it was an accident and that you know no more than they do."
"Yes, sir," Pepy answered. Imhotep thanked him and Pepy left at a brisk walk, heading toward the main entrance to the palace. Imhotep himself, not quite ready to return to the hall, leaned against the wall for a moment, just around the corner from the golden doors. The cool of the stone soaked into his back, a welcome respite from the heat of many bodies crowded together in the dining hall.
He heard the doors beginning to open and sighed, standing up straighter lest someone see him like this. He was shocked to see Anak-sun-amun exit the hall, alone. She did not see him and continued on her way, her back to Imhotep. As he watched her retreating figure, he was struck with the urge to call her name, to stop her, to find any excuse to look her in the eyes again.
"Anak-sun-amun!" He did not even realize he had spoken out loud, but she turned and regarded him. There was no fear, or even surprise on her face, only the attentive, alert expression of one who waits on the instructions of a superior.
Imhotep opened his mouth, but found he could not form words. "Nothing" he finally said, and she nodded and turned again. Imhotep was furious with himself. Why should the High Priest of Osiris be so nervous in the presence of a mere concubine? There was no reason at all, of course. He took a deep breath and made himself speak again. "Wait."
Again she looked at him, with the same patient politeness. "I would walk with you, if you would permit it." Imhotep was not sure where that phrase came from, but he realized as he said it that that was exactly what he wanted to do.
"Of course, High Priest," she answered, and they fell into step. She walked unhurriedly, keeping her eyes straight ahead. Imhotep could not help but notice that her profile was as lovely as the rest of her, and he turned his own eyes to the front also, to keep from seeming to stare.
"You are going to your quarters?" Imhotep asked, trying to make conversation, though he was hard pressed to think of something to say that would not be completely meaningless. He didn't know her at all, after all, and so much had happened tonight that was infinitely more significant than polite small talk.
"I am to bathe and go to the Pharaoh's."
"You do not seem in a hurry to get there." It was true. She walked just barely fast enough that she could not be accused of reluctance.
"Pharaoh is my lord and master," she answered noncommitally, but she stole a lingering glance at Imhotep from under her eyelashes, as if daring him to do...something, he didn't know what. Some very inappropriate images flashed through his mind, and he looked away quickly, embarrassed by his reaction. For a while they walked in silence.
They reached a point where the corridor turned to the left, with the doors to the palace gardens before them. Anak-sun-amun pushed these open and went out into the night air.
"I usually go this way," she said by way of explanation. "It is not much longer."
Imhotep followed her out. It was pleasantly cool, but not so much that the near-naked Anak-sun-amun would get a chill. The air was scented with the steamy fragrance of the garden flowers. Bright and full, the moon threw glints of silver onto the swirling painted designs on Anak-sun-amun's skin, making her appear softer, more mysterious. It accentuated the full curve of her lips, and Imhotep had to fight down the desire to take her in his arms and kiss her. He searched his mind for a suitable distraction, but she gave him one instead.
"The stars are beautiful tonight," she reflected, turning her back to the moon in order to see them better. "There's the chariot," she added, pointing.
"Do you know many of the constellations?" Imhotep asked. For some reason, it did not surprise him that she did.
"A few," she admitted. "My father's scribe showed me when I was a child."
"Have you seen the jackal?" She nodded. "What about the hippopotamus?"
"No, I don't know that one."
"Look, then," Imhotep answered, stepping behind her, but carefully back far enough not to mar her paint. "Follow the jackal's snout over to the right. The five stars in a curved line are the hippopotamus' belly. He is standing eating reeds, and the jackal is angry because he is too big for him to eat." It was an old child's story, but it made Anak-sun-amun laugh, a delightful sound like tinkling bells.
He pointed out several more star patterns, and she took in the knowledge avidly, nodding her understanding without speaking. Standing so close to her, Imhotep was beginning to be seriously distracted by the palpable warmth of her body, the graceful shape of her shoulders, the scent of her thick, glossy hair. All he had to do was to take one step forward, and then he could bury his face in it, run his hands through it, feel her lean back against him, hear her sigh softly...blasphemous thoughts, but it seemed the natural thing to do.
He was almost relieved when Anak-sun-amun stepped away from him. "I should go," she stated.
"I will walk you the rest of the way," Imhotep was unwilling to give up her presence so soon, not to mention unwilling to return to the feast. They continued on without speaking until they reached the door of Anak-sun-amun's quarters.
Here she paused. "Thank you for your company, High Priest," she said, all deference and correctness. "Perhaps I will see you again?"
"If you come to the Temple of Osiris, certainly." he acknowledged, and then she went inside and shut the door.