Title: The Ends of the Earth: Anck-su-namun
The Ends of the Earth is a series in four parts told in the present tense by Seti's mistress Anck-su-namun, the princess Nefertiri, Seti I the Pharaoh of Egypt, and Imhotep the High Priest. These stories take place in the weeks before Imhotep and Anck-su-namun betray and murder their Pharaoh. What drives them to sacrifice everything for love? What is the nature of their relationship, and their relationships with the people around them? Told in a series of interlocking vignettes.
The Ends of the Earth
Anck-su-namun: Shadows and Moonlight
Seti moves through the harsh sunlight. The rays illuminate his frame, slide over his shoulders. I place a grape in my mouth as I watch him. He stops, several feet from me, and looks up and down my body, half sprawled on the couch.
"Anck..." he breathes, as he moves behind the couch. In his mouth it sounds coarse and rough. He places his hands on my shoulders, lets them trail up to feel my smooth hair, then down my back, tracing my spine.
"I think I shan't ever tire of you," he murmurs, learning forward and grazing his face on my dark tresses. I freeze, holding perfectly still. He takes a deep breath, caressing me, as one would caress a prized possession. He is waiting for me to respond to his advances.
I have no choice. I lift one arm up over my head, and touch his cheek with my hand.
There he is, as always, waiting for me. I walk softly, my feet padding gently on the marbled floors. As I near him his face brightens, and one of his rare smiles peeks out of his solemn face. He rarely smiles. It is because he spends so much time with the dead, preparing the bodies. He has forgotten how to laugh.
"Anck-su-namun," he whispers, breathlessly, taking pleasure in the simple murmuring of my name. Careful not to smudge my paint, he strokes his fingers gently over my temple and down the side of my face.
He does not need to say another word-I know exactly what he is feeling. My stomach jumps and nervous and excited energy forces me to reach up to his face, and gently trail my hand down his cheek.
It is so rare that we can meet, can share a few intimate moments in the shadows. We can barely touch. But time seems to stand still in the shadowy stillness, the eerie quiet, and the seconds are precious.
"Imhotep..." I let the word trail off as I move slightly closer to him, sensing his chest rising and falling, perhaps faster than usual. I slowly extend my hand towards him. To me he is beautiful, like chiseled marble, the body of a God. Perhaps that is because the only other man I have known is Seti, but Imhotep is beautiful to me, his body lean and bronzed.
"I wish..." he lets the words trail off as he looks at my body. He is a quiet man, usually articulate, but laconic and soft-spoken. "I wish that you were all mine." He grabs both my hands with a sudden vigor and a fierce quality comes into his eyes. "I wish that you belonged to me."
I will not belong to any man, but his possessive desire pleases me. He loves me, I know, and I am almost sure that I love him too. I question myself every night that we meet. Why do I risk my life to be with him? Am I willing to die and sacrifice all that I have for him? And I keep going back, keep returning to our quiet tenderness in the shadows. These meetings have kept me sane.
They have kept me sane since Seti killed my favorite male bodyguard, a strong, intelligent member of the Med-Jai who kept careful watch over me. He was a kind, good man and Seti in a wild jealous rage accused him of lusting after me. This may have been true, for most men do, but Seti had never killed a man before because of it and certainly not a member of the Med-Jai. Seti has become irrational, jealous. And I want nothing more than to be free.
Imhotep traces the lines on my palm. "What do you see in your future?" he asks me, looking deeply into my hand. I study it carefully for a moment.
"You're the Priest," I say carefully.
"I see love, and death, and destruction, all too young," he says. He drops my palm.
"So now you are a fortune-teller?" I ask, half teasing.
"No. But I do not have to be a mystic to know what will happen," he says, looking into my eyes.
I stop. His face gleams in the moonlight. He is almost perfect, a statue of a God. "Then why do you risk it?" I respond, leaning backwards onto a column.
"You know why," he says, in a rush of emotion, and grabs my face in his hands for one more passionate kiss.
I head quickly toward Seti's outer chambers. I forgot my filmy shawl and I do not wish anyone else to find it there, especially Nefertiri. The Med Jai let me pass without a word, and I scurry through the magnificent gold reception room. I push open the heavy wooden doors to his outer chambers. They swing open, and as I begin to step into the room I hear his voice "...for the little girl you used to hold on your knee!"
I walk in a step and then stop, surprised to see Seti there at this time of day. I am embarrassed at interrupting him and afraid of his anger.
"I am so sorry," I begin. But he merely smiles and beckons me to join them.
"Come in my dear," he says possessively. "What do you need?"
I walk in a few more steps until I see whom Seti is conversing with. Imhotep. I am rigid with fear.
We have never been in the same room alone together with Seti. In fact, he probably thinks that we have never spoken a word together.
"I left my wrap in here," I say shrilly, walking to a table and picking it up. I hold it to my chest, my body tight and strained with tension.
I try not to look at Imhotep, but I cannot bear it, and so I look quickly at his face. He is calm and impassive, as he always is in public.
We stand there for a minute in silence, my heart thumping so loud that I think the Med Jai at Seti's doors can hear it. Does Seti know? I am stricken with the horrible, gut wrenching fear that he knows. He has found out. And we are doomed.
A flicker of outrage passes over his face, crossed with jealousy, which is quickly mastered.
Imhotep's and my own life hang in the balance. No one moves.
"Well, my love, I have to finish this business with the Priest," Seti says finally, breaking the silence to dismiss me.
The sigh of relief I breathe I think could wake the dead. I nod, turn, and leave, walking quickly out of the chamber.
I do not wish to hear more.
That night I am alone, in a rare moment of privacy. I stand on my balcony, looking out into the city of Thebes. It is truly breathtaking, a city of mystery and wonder. I wonder how long this can go on, how long I can live this double life. It is tearing me apart-belonging to one man, loving another. Knowing that I am condemning both Imhotep and I to death. He already has his suspicions. Perhaps not tonight, or tomorrow, Seti will catch us, but sooner or later, someday.
I let the cool desert breezes lift my hair from my shoulders, caress my body, careful and gentle as a lover. Lights sparkle below, homes containing people who are free to make their own choices. Have I traded dignity and freedom for riches and shame?
"Anck. Here you are." Nefertiri enters the room without knocking, a privilege only she and Seti share.
"Nefertiri." I lower my head slightly to show respect, but we both know that those acts of convention are unnecessary between us.
"You missed my lesson today," she pouts, walking into the room. Her gauze wraps float around her body. She is lovely, though not sensual and striking, as I know I am. As I know I must be.
"I was with your father," I say, refraining from further comment. I do not know if she understands the full significance of the relationship between myself and her father.
"You're always with him. You'll get soft if you don't practice," she chastises me, although we both know that there is nothing I can do.
"Don't you want to beat me?" I ask, raising my eyebrow.
She doesn't respond, but walks to the balcony to stand next to me, looking over the glittering city.
"Don't worry, I'll be beating you soon enough, when you get old and slow," she teases me.
"Old and slow?" I reply. "I am only five years older than you, Nefertiri." She is eighteen, young, inexperienced. She too has all of the riches she could desire, but instead of belonging to the most powerful man in the world, she is protected and loved by him.
She again pauses, her face serious, as she evaluates the world glittering below her, at her fingertips. "What was it like, living out there?" She whispers it, awed by her own daring at imagining a world so far away. Or perhaps she is awed by the sudden knowledge of her own ignorance.
"I don't remember," I say, and stop.
"You must remember something," she pushes, a wheedling child once more.
Again a long silence exists between us. I wonder briefly what it is that allows us to understand each other this way, to stand in silence and know that more than silence is passing between us.
"I was taken here when I was five. I don't remember."
Again the silence, but Nefertiri does not push me this time. She knows that if she waits, I may speak. Or I may not. But silence between us is precious, a flowing river.
"I remember my mother, but only at the end, right before I was taken away, when she was sick." I pause again. "Sometimes I wonder if I can see my home from here, if I have been staring at it for years, and never seeing it. It could be any one of those lights." I stop, my throat feels tight.
Nefertiri turns towards me. We don't touch, but I allow her to look at my face as I search the ocean of gleaming lights, stretching far into the distance.
"It could be. Or maybe not," she says, looking at my face, which feels hot and tight. She knows that it is time for her to leave, and she straightens and turns away. As he feet pad slowly and surely out of my chambers, I realize why we understand each other, why we can enjoy this simple peace. Because we are both trapped and confined by the same man, by the same social traditions and customs, by the same beautiful, opulent palace. We both long for the glittering world beyond our own.
It is a week before I can see Imhotep again, and as I glide towards his shadowed form I feel how strongly I have missed him.
"It has been too long," he says, reaching violently for my arms and pulling me towards his chest. "And you have been with him..." he doesn't finish the sentence, but his words are filled with disgust. And I feel disgust for myself.
"Not willingly," I whisper, letting my head fall forward onto his broad torso. He releases my wrists and puts his arms around my waist.
"Oh, Anck, my love..." he trails off as he holds me close. Why do I feel as though the world could end when I am in his arms? I feel dangerous, as though I am spinning wildly out of control.
I say nothing but bury my face in his neck.
"He has said nothing to me," he says. "I do not think he knows."
I speak, my words muffled into his soft skin. "Imhotep, that was too close. He knew something. I," I hesitate, the words thick on my tongue. "I am afraid."
He pulls me close and hugs me, comforting me.
I pull away slightly and raise my eyes to his own. "Imhotep, this cannot go on." As the words leave my mouth I feel the tears starting in my eyes.
"You think I have not realized that?" He says, holding me at arms length, and looking into my eyes.
"What shall we do?" I ask desperately, clutching to him.
We have just finished her lesson, and we are both sweaty and panting. We each take sips of clear water, freshly poured into golden goblets.
"You are improving nicely, Nefertiri," I say. We are both careful to be formal in public, in front of the servants, any of whom could be spies reporting to Seti.
"Thank you," she responds, gulping the water down, still a child at heart, perhaps. While I feel as ancient as the pyramids, perhaps even a thousand years old, an old woman clinging to life.
I wipe my brow with a chiffon cloth, sweat staining the gorgeous pattern. We both sit for a moment in the shade. Suddenly Nefertiri turns to me, her face serious.
"I think my father wants to marry you." Her words sound tight and unhappy, as though she is holding back a torrent of emotion.
I say nothing, but sit still, in shocked silence. If Seti marries me, I shall never be free, but will in yet another way belong to him.
"And you say nothing?" Nefertiri stands up, wiping her hands on her cloth. She looks upset and angry.
Briefly I wonder if she knows about Imhotep and I. But I do not think so. "What do you wish me to say, Nefertiri? I will follow his orders, as you do," I say. My hands are shaking, and I clutch them in my lap.
She says nothing, but stares coldly down at me. She turns and walks out of the room. I sit in the silence. The rays of the sun seem harsher, unrelenting. They slant across the floor, longer, betraying how the sun is rapidly sinking in the sky.
This afternoon Seti announced to the court that I will be his future wife. Without asking or telling me, he announces it to the court, and parades me before them. My fists clench in a bitter grip. "In honor of my wedding," he said, "I will have days of games and celebrations. On the last day I shall present to you a fight between Anck-su-namun and my daughter, her student, the princess Nefertiri."
They applauded and clapped, glad for any celebration, while I stood before them, in shame and embarrassment at my own helplessness. How can the future wife of the Pharaoh feel so powerless, so ashamed? Have I trapped myself in my own game, and will I destroy us all?
I glanced across the room to Nefertiri, lovely as always. She smiled and accepted the challenge, then turned to look at me. Through her gaze I saw jealousy and anger and hate. I never thought that I would see hate in her eyes.
Imhotep approaches me that night, and for the first time he does not touch me. We stand in the moonlight, shadows moving across our bodies, hiding our faces. Why won't he touch me, this night of all nights that I need to be touched?
"You know that this was not my doing," I say softly, looking into his eyes, his somber face. He did not smile when he saw me.
"We must do something. Before you are married." He turns away from me and paces a few steps. He turns back, and reaches out his hands, palm up, offering them to me.
I step forward and take them, caressing his palms with my fingers. "What do I see in these palms," I murmur.
"I know of a way that we can be together for eternity," he says, and for a minute I want to laugh hopelessly.
"Do you know of such a place?" I ask. "Does such a place exist in the boundaries of this world?"
"Not in this world," he says seriously, searching my eyes, my soul.
I freeze. "You don't mean..." I begin. But I cannot finish. I have heard of these things being done, but I never believed it.
"Yes. Will you risk it for me, my Anck, my love?" I am breathless as he moves toward me, offering me more than life itself. I feel powerless to turn away from his piercing gaze, the desperate, fanatical love forming in his eyes.
"I would go to the ends of the earth for you," I whisper as he gathers me in his arms.
It is the third day of Pharoah's celebrations, and everyone is in the great hall. Except me, because I pleaded an illness and fled to the safety of my rooms. I lay down on my couch, trying to relax, trying to stop the wild, breathless, crazy feeling that is inside of me.
I wonder how the Gods will view our actions. I am defying all of the moral and social laws created by our race. Does love transcend those laws? I wonder if the Gods pity the woman, trapped here in this unforgiving world, this harsh sun. Am I condemning myself to an eternity of unhappiness, or of hell?
I sit up, suddenly aware of the passage of time, time-hours, minutes, seconds, flowing through and past my fingers like water. I glance out to my balcony where the sun is setting. The red piercing rays cover the entire city, making it appear a golden peach, a gleaming jewel.
I stand, move toward the balcony, looking out over the city as the sun's rays cover me. But I am just one woman in this city, this desert, this world. I stretch my arm out, toward the bright, beautiful sun. The rays cover me, pass me by. The ball of fire and light fills the world with one final gasp before disappearing below the line of the earth. I stand alone in the twilight, my hand outstretched, reaching toward the warmth that is now gone. Dark shadows play across my arm.
Is this what doom feels like? I caress my hand. My skin feels burnt and raw.
Read the rest in the series:
Anck-su-namun: Shadows and Moonlight ... http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=377691
Nefertiri: Princess of Egypt ... http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=389282
Seti: King of the Sun ... http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=539384
Imhotep: Together for Eternity ... http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=546449