Title: The Ends of the Earth: Nefertiri
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
Nefertiri: Princess of Egypt
I dress slowly this morning, taking my time. There is no rush, I have all the time in the world and all of Egypt at my fingertips. It will be another hot day. I wipe a drop of perspiration from my brow.
I take my time over breakfast, leisurely sipping the cool water, basking in the cool breeze that the slaves provide. Their straw paddles move back and forth in a steady cadence, the air flowing rhythmically onto my face, pushing my dark hair off my warm and moist skin. I close my eyes.
Restlessly, I walk the halls of the palace, skimming my fingertips over the walls as I move forward. I walk towards my father's chambers. There is always the fear, the quickening in my heart, that I will walk in on him while he is with Anck-su-namun.
But my fears are unfounded, he is alone. He eats quickly, forgetting to savor his food in his excitement for a new day.
"Nefertiri! My dear, come sit by me," he says, gesturing haphazardly towards the sofa he is on. A slave quickly steps forward and removes two of the pillows, making room for my slender form.
"Father," I say, kissing his forehead. He offers me food, but I am not hungry.
I settle into the cushions, making myself comfortable. I watch him eat with gusto, chewing quickly.
"Your brother continues to do well," he says, concentrating on his food.
"So I have heard," I say levelly.
"Rameses says he will be ready to lead the first raid," my father says.
"I hope it brings him honor," I say. What I do not say is that I miss him terribly, that I am lonely without him.
"Your brother is strong, he will make me proud." My father says this as though he can control the very fates.
"When will he be able to come home?" I ask, trying to keep my voice neutral. The night my brother left, he reminded me to be strong. A princess of Egypt, too, has her own great weight to carry.
My father laughs jovially. He slaps my leg. "Nefertiri! We have discussed this! His training is long and arduous. You do want him worthy to become Pharaoh, do you not?"
He stands up and brushes crumbs from his robes. Slaves immediately rush in to remove the dishes and plates. I smile weakly. But my father is no longer looking at me.
I meet Anck-su-namun for our training session. I am not very good yet, still clumsy with the weapons. They feel heavy and cumbersome in my hands.
She is sharp and fast, yet guarded. She answers my questions with restraint, thinking carefully over her answers.
I want to learn from her, but she is silent, with quick eyes that reveal she knows much more than she says.
We stop for a break, me panting, her breathing easily. She pours me a cup of sparking water.
"You must become stronger, in your arms," she gestures to her own arms, muscled and bronzed. "Then you will find it easier to use the weapons."
I consider her advice. I have no real desire to become a skilled fighter, but it is my father's wishes that I do so. He wishes me and Anck to be friends. We are, in some ways, but it is a silent, unspoken friendship, a friendship of gestures and quiet smiles, of soft words and gentle understanding.
"You are right, but I have no patience for that," I reply.
She smiles. We share a pure moment, in the sun of the courtyard.
I am walking back toward my chambers when I see Imhotep down the hall, my father's chief advisor, and Priest of the Dead. I have known him since I was a little girl, and he always had some treat for me, a candy or sweet.
"Imhotep!" I call, gliding towards him, flipping my dark hair over my shoulders. "Where have you been?"
"Nefer," he says, a slow smile spreading over his face.
"I haven't seen you lately," I protest, cocking my head to the side.
"You know I am busy," he says.
"I've missed you," I say, pouting, looking into his eyes.
"I've missed you too, but duty calls," he says as way of explanation. This is our way. We have teased and joked with one another for as long as I can remember. And he has always been the man my father relied on above all others.
"I am improving with the weapons, although I am still so clumsy!" I exclaim, showing him the red mark on my palm where the weapon rubs my skin. "You should come and watch one day, if you have time," I say, looking up at him from under my long eyelashes.
"I would never pass an opportunity to watch you," he asserts softly, looking into my eyes. And suddenly I wonder why I feel awkward and funny. We have always flirted, but suddenly the way he looks at me means more than I could have imagined.
"Good," I say, turning away to walk down the hall. "I'll be expecting you."
My eighteenth birthday was last month, and the celebration of fertility and motherhood with it. How quickly the memories of my mother fade. Her face is blurry now, her advice unclear.
So I am ready to be married. But suddenly all I can think about is Imhotep, and his muscled chest. Or the glimpses of his chest I have seen, peeking out from under his robes.
I have never thought sexually about any man, but now I imagine myself doing things, sexual things, and when I see Imhotep I feel a jolt through my entire body. I feel hot and tingly when I am around him. It is a crush, I know, and no more. And I know that I can never be with him. But at night, all I imagine is running my hand down his chest.
Sometimes I think about Anck-su-namun and my father. Do they do the things I dream about, and does he touch her in ways that I want to be touched by a man?
In the middle of our lesson, I see Imhotep enter the room. We are sparring, me and Anck-su-namun, covering basic moves. The sun shines brightly, making pattens on the floor. I fight harder, increase my speed. Anck-su-namun is surprised at the change but responds easily, moving quickly and eventually knocking one of the sais out of my hand. I am breathing hard.
"Imhotep, you came," I say, smiling at him.
"Of course, I wouldn't want to miss you display your dazzling skills," he responds, teasing me. I joke threaten him with one of the weapons. He puts up his hands defensively, grinning. He rarely grins. This is one of the rare times that he can forget his position and relax. I smile back at him.
"Watch this," I assert, and turn back to continue with the lesson. But Anck-su-namun is staring off into space.
Then I realize that she is looking at Imhotep.
It is several days later, and I have nothing to do, as usual. I find myself wandering towards Anck-su-namun's lavish rooms. I enjoy her quiet company, her reflective responses.
"Anck. Here you are," I say, walking into the room.
"Nefertiri," she says, lowering her head slightly to show respect. She knows that it is unnecessary between us.
"You missed my lesson today," I say, walking into the room. It is immaculate, as always. She is careful to always keep her things in order.
"I was with your father," she says. I do not respond immediately. I am glad she does not go into detail.
"You're always with him. You'll get soft if you don't practice," I gently tease her.
"Don't you want to beat me?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
I do, but I would rather have her beat me a thousand times than I would see her with my father. I walk to the balcony to stand next to her, looking over the glittering city.
"Don't worry, I'll be beating you soon enough, when you get old and slow," I say.
"Old and slow?" she replies. "I am only five years older than you, Nefertiri." She is so much more experienced in life than I and knows so much more about the world.
"What was it like, living out there?" I ask softly. I would give anything to see the city, see the real people who live there. I feel removed from the rest of Egypt, as though I live in a different part of the world.
"I don't remember," she says tensely.
"You must remember something," I say, knowing that she always knows more than she says.
Again a long silence. It is not awkward, however, but a pleasant silence, a silence of understanding.
"I was taken here when I was five. I don't remember."
Again the silence, but I do not push this time. I wait. I, too, have learned patience.
"I remember my mother, but only at the end, right before I was taken away, when she was sick." She pauses 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 turn towards her. I have never thought about her own family. I always assumed that she was happy here, with the most powerful man in the world. With my father. I look at her face, watch her as she searches the ocean of gleaming lights stretching far into the distance.
"It could be. Or maybe not," I say. Is this cruel of me? I do not know. I straighten and turn away.
I take my time over my breakfast, letting the relative cool of the morning soothe me. When I am ready, I walk leisurely to my father's rooms and open the door.
I stop. I cannot move. There she is, in his room, on the sofa where I sit. She is dressed, eating his breakfast, on the couch where we talk. She looks up, surprised, when I come in.
My father is sitting up in bed, talking to her. There is silence. I do not know what to do.
"Nefertiri," my father says unsteadily. I turn and walk back to my chambers.
I stay, purposely, away from my father for the rest of the day. I do not want to see him.
When he finds me, I am in my outer rooms, reading. He stands heavily in front of me, and my ladies quietly withdraw, giving us privacy.
"Nefertiri, my dear," he says, sitting beside me. He puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me towards him. "Do not be upset by what you saw this morning. You knew that Anck-su-namun was my..." he pauses.
"Mistress?" I supply the word he does not want to use.
He looks at my face closely. "Yes. You knew that she was my mistress."
"She is my teacher!" I say childishly.
Seti sighs. "Yes, but she is only that because I trust her."
I do not know what to say. My throat tightens and I feel trapped and unhappy.
"You trust her," I say flatly.
"Yes." He looks into my eyes. "Do you not like her?"
Tears make my eyes seem wet. "Yes, I like her! But now that Mother is gone-"
"Your mother has been dead for three years," my father says sternly. "You cannot expect me to remain alone."
I am afraid to speak for fear that the tears will spill down my face. "But I am alone," I whisper.
We have just finished my 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," she says. She did not notice that I tried harder today, swung the blades more sharply than needed. That some part of me wanted to cut her arm, her hand, surprise her as blood spurted across her golden skin.
"Thank you," I say, gulping the water down. But maybe I am unfair to her. Why should she be happy with my father, twice her age? Yet she should be happy. She is nothing, a concubine, blessed with the favor of the Pharaoh.
I turn to her, my anger and loneliness the past few days spilling out.
"I think my father wants to marry you." There. I said it.
Anck-su-namun says nothing, but sits there, not moving.
"And you say nothing?" I stand up, wiping my hands on my cloth. She should be overjoyed. How can she not love my father after all that he has done for her?
"What do you wish me to say, Nefertiri? I will follow his orders, as you do," she says, looking at her hands.
I say nothing. She is ungrateful, a fool, a conniving snake who worms her way into my father's heart when she feels nothing for him.
The rays of the sun seem harsher, unrelenting. They slant across the floor, longer, betraying how the sun is rapidly sinking in the sky.
That night I follow Anck-su-namun as she sneaks out of her rooms, pads silently on the marble floors. I watch her in the moonlight. The shadows play across her form as she stealthily moves, silent as a cat, through the halls.
When she stops I observe her body, bathed in blue light, elegant and delicate. She is calm and controlled and her body supple and beautiful. I can never match her.
And then I see Imhotep. So it is true, what my servant said.
I watch in hot jealousy as they embrace. I cannot hear their words, but I can see the way that they look at each other. My father's two favorite people, betraying him. His future wife and his highest advisor.
My friend and the man that I love.
I have been betrayed from all sides. Why has Anck-su-namun enchanted the two men whom I love?
I slip away, through the shadows. They never knew that I was there.
All of the people I have loved belonged to my father.
I even see the logic behind it-Imhotep and Anck-su-namun are alike-quiet and laconic, with quick, intelligent eyes. Whereas I am like my father, loquacious and talkative.
I wish them apart for my father, because he loves Anck-su-namun, and because Imhotep is his Priest and friend. But maybe even I am selfish. I want Imhotep all to myself-when we can never be together.
At the same time I want my father as far away from her as possible. If only they did not love her! Because everyone loves her for all the qualities that I do not have.
My world is slipping out of my grasp. I have everything I could desire, but the world seems dry and colorless. Imhotep, Anck-su-namun, my father-all are sliding, circling away, as I stand rooted to this spot.
Is it fair to call it betrayal? I lay down on my couch and let the light, the deepening blue of the night sky, cover my body. I surrender to it, give up fighting it, the inevitable cycle of day and night. I lay there, watching the sky darken.
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