Part VIII: Voices and Silence
Note: I'm giving this one a PG-13 rating. Still, nothing bad.
It took all of her determination, all of her telling herself that she was the queen, to keep Amneris from bursting into tears. "Bring the prisoner forward," Radames commanded. The solemn look on Radames' face matched her own. They might not be friends, or even allies, but for a moment she was willing to be at his side. Anger burned inside of her as bright as fire.
She couldn't describe the feeling in her stomach. She thanked the gods that she hadn't eaten anything that day, for she never would have been able to keep it in. The revulsion consumed her entire body.
Doctor Blaykni looked much less dignified, and almost unrecognizable without his usual attire on. And to think, even a few days ago he had made friendly small talk with her. Supposedly he hadn't spoken a word since his arrest. This man was the reason why her father was dead.
Radames stood, and everyone else in the room followed suit. "With Horus watching over us, let the trial begin."
"Do you admit to the charges presented before you, Doctor Blaykni?"
"Considering the situation, your willingness to comply would be appreciated."
"You do realize that the evidence before you incriminates you, and that you are the only witness stepping forward in your own defense. Unless you offer evidence otherwise-"
"Why won't he say anything? What is he hiding?"
"Unless you speak, we will have no other choice but to declare you guilty under the laws of our lands. There is no evidence that will abstain you from guilt."
"Where did you receive the arsenic?
"If you reveal the names of any working with you, your sentence may be reduced."
"Your Majesty, are you feeling alright? Radames?"
"Yes, yes, I…"
"Your face is white."
"I'm fine, really…"
"He couldn't have done it alone."
"Most likely not, to have received the arsenic, to have made the connections to have obtained it…and he was rarely the only one with the old Pharaoh. It's all improbable for one man who can barely speak the Egyptian language."
"You do realize that the Egyptian punishment for traitors is to be buried alive under these sands?"
"We have spoken to your government, they have stripped you of foreign immunity, do not think that your former rank will save you…"
"Why would he have been stupid enough to leave the arsenic in the Pharaoh's quarters?"
"This is your last chance to speak upon your own behalf."
"Radames, are you sure you don't want to take a recess? You look sick."
"Under Egyptian law, you have been declared guilty of murder, and will be responsible for the punishments set before you. The Son of Horus has spoken."
"Then your Majesty, I leave the sentencing in your hands."
Time had been a blur until that moment. Looking back on it now, Radames could hardly remember anything that had happened since. His last concrete image was yelling for guards, ordering a plethora of directions that had ended in Doctor Blaykni's arrest. Hastily, the court was alerted. The trial wasn't to begin to the next day, but there had been a tense grip to the palace ever since. Somewhere in there someone had forced him to sleep, but he had waken only to feel even more exhausted.
He made a mental note to apologize to anyone he had snapped at in the last day. Well, at least those His Majesty was allowed to apologize to, which left some of the nobles and maybe some of the men he had served with as Captain. Even that made a long list given his temper ever since this incident had started. His own emotions were impossible to read, but the easiest one to express was anger.
Radames stood up. At least I could make this wrong right, he thought to himself. If I can do anything that's right as Pharaoh…
A strange sensation was moving through his hands, like they were too light to remain on the ground. When he looked down at them he couldn't control the erratic shaking consuming his right hand. Angrily, he slapped his left hand down upon it to control it, but there was no stopping. Wave after wave of nausea threatened to consume his stomach. Weakly, he brought his head up. If the gods were on his side, his face wouldn't be half as red as he felt right now…
"For his crimes, Doctor Blaykni of Greece will receive the punishment of the traitor." He put his hands to his sides to stop the shaking. "He will be…entombed beneath…the sands of Egypt and-"
A door opened into another world…he could see himself, forced into a traitor's bow. "I trusted you Radames, I trusted your father…"
"Your majesty?" he asked hoarsely, looking around the throne room for a face he could not find. "I'm so sorry, I-"
"Radames, are you alright?" someone asked. It sounded like his father, but the world was spinning so rapidly out of motion that he could no longer tell.
"Now I will make things right. For their crimes, the traitors-"
"No, please," he begged. "I didn't mean to, I didn't mean to do anything-"
"What the hell are you doing?" Amneris hissed in his ear, but by then Radames was in mind farther away from her than ever before.
There were arms on him now, wrenching him from his position. They were taking Aida as well, and somewhere far away her tears were intermingling with his despair…
"No!" he screamed. "Don't take me away from her, gods, just spare her, just spare her…"
"Radames!" someone shouted out.
"I love you, you know that, right Aida?" he asked. "Aida?!"
"I was loyal," she said. "And for that, I am redeemed. You are a traitor, Radames."
"She is right. Aida will be returned to her own land, for she is to be rewarded for tricking you. You will be buried alive and alone alone underneath the sands of Egypt."
"Gods, please no, please no…I didn't mean to!" His heart was pounding with fear. And then he was looking up into the sky for the last time. But even as he saw the sun, it began to fade before his eyes in to night. Stars appeared, and then one by one those too disappeared.
The Pharaoh was holding him on his right, his father on the left. "Radames, I trusted you," the Pharaoh repeated.
"Why are you doing this?" Radames begged. "Where am I? Father?"
Zoser smiled sinisterly. He turned to the Pharaoh, who nodded. "Why are you doing this? If you can see my guilt then why can you not see his?" He couldn't move now. Helpless and light as a feather, his father shoved him into the tomb.
The lid slammed close quickly. "Radames?" asked a voice. From an unknown source shown a dim light. The voice sounded familiar, like one he had heard just before.
The air in the tomb was thick and heavy. Radames crawled weakly towards the light. "Who are you?"
He hardly recognized the Pharaoh in these commoner robes he now wore. His hair was disheveled, his skin nearly white. "Radames, my son. I would hope that you would not come to visit me. It's not your time yet."
The light grew dimmer. "What is happening?"
"I do not understand your course of actions, nor approve them. But you are still the boy I saw grow to manhood, and you are the one in my place now. Find him, Radames."
"He killed me. I trusted him as I trusted you, and he betrayed me. You too have misused my trust."
"Your Majesty, I-"
"It is not the dead's place to say things we could not in life. But you must find the man that killed me."
"We have found him, Your Majesty, he will be buried underneath the sands of our country before the next moon rises-"
"Doctor Blaykni was simply a tool. The tool needs a man to wield it. Radames, do not fail me. Regardless of your heart, your are an Egyptian."
"Who is that's done this to you?" he asked.
"The man I trusted-"
And then the world was spinning and full with the lights of the trial room again. He was on the floor, face wet with tears and surrounded by his court.
His father looked at him cynically. "Do you wish to continue with the sentencing, Your Majesty?"
"What happened?" Amneris asked the physician. Inside of the sick room, she could see Radames lying down on a cot. He was awake, and while he looked unpleased, he looked calm.
"Who knows for sure, but I don't believe it's anything serious. I've talked to him a little, and he seems to have returned to normal, no signs of sickness or anything such as that. But he says he hardly remembers. It could easily have been the heat or the stress of the last few days, even the last few months. He's had a lot on his mind lately."
Amneris raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I'm sure."
Several hours later found both Amneris and Radames back in their own bedroom. He had made excuses, of course, but Amneris knew he didn't want to face the court, simply giving a soldier a message that he was feeling healthier, but required rest.
"Well, that was an interesting little show you put on back there," Amneris said as she took down her hair. She turned her back to her husband. "You should have told me what you were planning in advance. I could have taken off my clothes to add to the entertainme-"
"Be quiet, Amneris," Radames snapped. He let out a quick sigh. There was anger in his voice, but a lack of energy, like he didn't really have the strength to fight her. Which left a greater opening for Amneris.
"Why should I?" she asked as she unbuttoned her dress, her back turned to Radames. She slipped the garment over her head. "I figured that maybe I could help fill our quota of words, since we seem to be pretty behind-"
Radames turned around. Amneris' attention immediately turned to her mostly naked body. She was as attractive as ever, but caught off-guard she felt vulnerable and weak, as if everything that had made her inferior to Aida was brought to light. Even when they were just children she had never been so exposed in front of him. Her breath deepened. He wouldn't…no, Radames was a good man despite all else…but she was his wife now, and if he wanted to-
But he wasn't looking at her body, or even her eyes. He was staring right through her. Radames' eyes were cold, and in pain. "What is wrong with you?" Amneris asked. Her tone sobered in defense. "Are you completely insane?" Maybe if she kept on talking like she was in control, she would remain that way…
He shook his head and turned his back towards her again. Relief flooded through her. Amneris was quick to discard the rest of her clothing and quickly replace it with a white nightgown. There was a moment of silence before Radames spoke again. "Forget about it."
"Fine," Amneris said, returning to her mocking tone of voice. Now fully clothed again, she had the edge once more. Voices within her head told her to stop, but not today. Too much had happened, was happening, to simply stare at the wall while her so-called husband muddled on for yet another day. She was Amneris, dammit. Princess-no, Queen of Egypt. That made her the most powerful woman in the world. Nothing should have kept her from doing exactly what she wanted any time she wanted, and yet she had spent the last few months as doubtful and meek as a kitchen wench. She couldn't keep her emotions bottled up under her skin any longer. "What are you doing, anyway?"
"Trying to run a country," Radames responded. She caught his eyes in cold contact. So he was taking the bait. This could only get worse from here. Amneris didn't care, instead looking forward to the conflict with gleeful anticipation. Anything to stop the pain welling up inside of her every day until she was ready to burst from the inside out.
"Oh, I see. By sleeping walking through your duty and sleeping with the enemy?
Anger flared within his eyes, and Amneris wondered for a split second if he would hit her. She didn't know if she wanted him to, if just so finally the conflict between them would be real and physical, and she could stop second guessing.
"Please be quiet," was all he said. She wasn't sure if that was a demand or a plea.
I can't be quiet, she thought to herself. I can't take it any more. "Then what in the name of Horus are you doing, Radames? If you're going to scorn me, you might not as well not scorn your country too. Or did that stop being an issue the moment you-":
He looked up at the ceiling, as if to question the gods themselves. "Will you ever be quiet?"
Anger flared deep in her insides. "No, I won't. I won't just sit around here while you don't speak to me, while we try to pretend like the other doesn't exist. I can't do this forever, Radames."
He slammed a fist angrily against the bureau. Amneris forced herself not to jump. "What more do you want me to do, Amneris? I tried so hard in the beginning to make you forgive me, and you wouldn't even occur to you to listen. Has it ever crossed your mind that I feel badly about this?"
She pondered over the thought for a moment. "You seemed to be enjoying it at the time."
"What do you want me to do?" he repeated again. "You won't accept my apology. Fine. But we're still married, and you're still the queen. We don't have much of a choice but to keep living like this."
"Do you have any idea what they say about me when I'm not listening in court?" she asked angrily. "They say that it's my fault that you screwed around with that whore." Radames' face was visibly pained as she said that. "I'm nothing more but a mockery in their eyes."
Radames laughed sarcastically. "And you think this is nothing new? By Horus, Princess, you and your fashion, your endless servants, your wild escapades…do you really think any of them took you seriously to begin with? I'll take a lot of blame, but I won't take blame for what you do to yourself."
The words stung sharper than knives. "Including you, of course. You most of all."
Radames paused, his face growing serious. "But that never meant that I didn't care for the girl who I grew up with, and was my only friend for so long."
She looked down, afraid to say what was next. "That's not enough, and I don't believe you anyway. If you cared you wouldn't have done this to me. I was in love with you, and gods damn to hell, I probably am still. All of my life, there was no one who would take me as I was. Then suddenly there was you. And look what you've done to me."
"Amneris, I don't understand it, I don't understand why I did what I did, and I never wanted to-"
"Oh, you just fell into bed with her?"
Radames paused for a breath, which after years of knowing him she knew was to calm his temper. "I never meant to hurt you."
"Funny, it's too late for that now."
Silence reigned for long minutes afterwards as each continued their own nighttime routine. Amneris kept herself looking away from Radames to avoid him seeing the swelling tears in her eyes. "So what happened today in the court?" She asked this question with a neutral tone.
"I think I became sick. I…" He swallowed. "I stopped seeing things that were real eventually. I was still in the court room, but I was…you know, several feet from when Minister Ralen usually sits?"
She nodded breathlessly.
"It was like if I had been caught for what I had done. Your father was still alive, and he sentenced me to be buried alive." His face was red. "Don't you get it, Neris? That tomb that I sentenced Doctor Blaykni to be buried in? It was supposed to have been mine. Everything I did today…I can't help but think that if some small detail had changed, if I had done something slightly differently, I'd be rotting in my grave right now, and I would be a traitor. And that scares me more than anything." His eyes were full of despair. "How did I come to this?" he asked himself.
For a split second, Amneris thought that she saw the glimmer of a tear in his left ear. A shimmer of water, and then it was gone. Emotion retracted from his face completely, replaced by a dull despair.
Something about his pose reminded her of a time when she had seen him several months ago. It was before he had left on that last expedition, the one that would take him to Nubia. His head was bent down towards the floor and his eyes were partly closed. Several months ago it was a gesture of respect to the Pharaoh. There was confidence and life behind his closed eyes. But now…Amneris didn't know if there was anything in his eyes.
She wanted to retort with another comment that would set him off into another level of their fight. She wanted to keep him this way. But…somewhere in there was the boy that she had comforted when his mother died. And she couldn't bear to hurt him.
"Do you think I am a traitor?" he asked.
Amneris shrugged. "I don't know. You helped-you slept with our enemy. You turned against Egypt." Her throat became tight. They were no longer accusations, simply her own pain. "You disgraced me."
"Never mind, I didn't answer your question."
"And…?" Radames asked.
Amneris shrugged pathetically. "I don't know."
Radames nodded his head, painfully taking everything in. "Neither do I. I…" His voice sounded strained. "I look at everything here, everything that we have now, and everywhere I go it all feels wrong." He looked at the Pharaoh's crown that was on top of his dresser. "It's not supposed to be mine. This wing of the palace, the gods damned throne…it wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to die."
Her voice was hoarse, she could barely get out the words she wanted to say. "I know." She couldn't bear the look on his face any longer. It took all her courage to make her nerves connect in her arms, but somehow they managed to move. Amneris put a nearly shaking hand on his shoulder, first just a few fingers and then her entire palm. She could feel his muscles tense at first, but then they relaxed slightly as Amneris let her hand fully relax as well. She let it drop along his side until it lingered at his wrist. Radames' own hand tensed. Braving on, she slid her hand down into his own, finding that his fingers were open to intertwine with hers, and then to close simultaneously. Amneris kept her hand still, and then rubbed her thumb against his palm slightly. He tightened his hand over her own, firm, but gentle. She was terrified to look at his face, but even more terrified to let go.
"I hate the dark!"
"You want to know a secret?"
Very little was going to make her feel better at this point. "What?"
"So do I. But at least we have each other, right? If the Nubians come and attack us, at least the other can yell for help."
"Radames, you do realize that this is all your fault."
She couldn't even see his face in the dark, but she could tell that he was grinning nevertheless. "I know. But, this is much more fun than sitting at the banquet, isn't it?"
"Fine, it is. But next time lets go into a secret tunnel with light in it?"
"Okay, fair deal. And Neris?"
"Don't tell anyone about what I said, alright?"
"Can I really trust you?"
"Of course, you silly!" Laughter filled the chamber, echoing off the cold, stone walls.
They stood like that until finally Amneris moved to take a few blankets and a pillow off of the top of the bed. When she looked up Radames' face looked puzzled.
She smiled shyly. "It's about time that you get a turn. Goodnight, Radames."
Radames was still standing when Amneris closed her eyes. On the floor. He didn't think he'd live to see the day that Amneris of Egypt willingly refused a luxury. Whatever had just happened between them, he didn't understand any part of it. Wordlessly, he made his way to his own bed. He was amazed at the softness of the mattress. The palace floor was so hard it made some of the ground in the southern countries seem comfortable. From here, unlike the floor, he could see her face. Asleep, Amneris looked peaceful, nearly angelic.
He could still feel the place on his hand where she had held it in her own. Still felt warm. What was going on…?
Author's notes: Don't know if anyone caught the Scarlet Pimpernel reference in the doctor's name. I was thinking about using Blakeney, but that seemed to blatantly English. Anyway, the story behind that is that this part was basically finished a couple of days ago (okay, fine a week), but I kept getting distracted by Scarlet Pimpernel stuff. So, anyone else think Douglas Sils would make a good Radames?
Uh…anyway, please give me feedback. It's my inspiration to write more.