Self Esteem

Summary: Sequel to Tongue Tied. Madeline O'Connell is finally getting her life together. Her sister-in-law got her a job at the Cairo Museum before moving to England with Madeline's brother, Rick, and her nephew, Alex. Her best friend Jonathan Carnahan is also doing well for himself, running a very successful bar in the city, popular among the American and European tourists. But everything starts to go downhill when an old friend, Med-jai Chieftain Ardeth Bay, shows up at the museum and leaves an ancient necklace in the custody of the curator. Suddenly, the museum is attacked and Madeline finds herself in possession of the necklace, doing her best to avoid some very persistent thieves. Jonathan and Ardeth are her only allies – and Madeline's going to need them. If Madeline doesn't figure out how to stop what's headed her way, not only is the world going to end, but she will be the first to die.

Rating: M

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the motion picture The Mummy. That's all you, Universal Studios. And I'm not going to profit off this story, so calm down. There's no reason to sue, and you all make too much money anyway. Vultures.

AN: Later in the story, we will be introduced to a legend about an Egyptian Queen named Nitocris, supposedly the last pharaoh of the sixth dynasty, first female pharaoh ever, and famous for the way she killed her brother's murderers. However, she is most likely completely fictional. As such, anything in the story involving her will most likely be just that: completely fictional. Enjoy!


Our Lady of the Nile Refuge for Boys and Girls – Cairo, Egypt: 1913…

Madeline O'Connell did not play with dolls.

The other girls in the orphanage, ranging from babies to eight just like Madeline, and some even older than that, all played with dolls. Of course, given their circumstances, dolls were hard to come by. Sometimes the sisters stitched them together with old rags and yarn, and sometimes wealthy sympathizers of the nuns and their mission would donate newer, smarter, beautiful dolls, the kind one would only find in a real toy shop in some distant city.

Sometimes Madeline would look at those beautiful dolls with their perfect painted faces and their real, curly hair, and she would look at the girls playing with them, and she'd be sick to her stomach with jealousy. The sisters rarely thought to give her toys like that, partly because she was always running around with the boys and playing with boy-like toys, but mostly because Madeline had a tendency to break nice things. Most days, it didn't bother her, not really – she'd much rather play stickball than pretend to brush a doll's hair – but every once in awhile she thought it might be nice to have something so pretty that she could call her own.

Mostly, she was jealous of the girls themselves. At eight, Madeline was already too tall and frightfully skinny. The nuns continually shook their heads at her and clucked their tongues in despair; would she stop growing so much and so quickly? She'd just been given a new dress; how could it not fit already? The other girls her age were much smaller; she fairly towered over them and a few of the older girls as well. They were skinny too – everyone in the orphanage was skinny, even most of the nuns – but Madeline was all awkward bony angles and unnaturally long, thin limbs. The other girls were pretty, with little rabbit-like noses and dark, smudgy eyelashes. Their dark hair was shiny and wavy and bouncy. When people came to adopt, they cooed and oohed over how cute the other girls were, how little and pretty and how they would be so beautiful one day.

Not Madeline. Her hair was fairly straight, not bouncy and wavy, and her eyelashes were all right, she supposed, but her nose was hardly rabbit-like at all. When the visitors met her, she got things like, my, aren't you tall for your age? Or her personal favorite, I'm sure you'll grow into that nose.

It wasn't just the potential parents, or her looks, or the fact that she liked to play stickball. Nothing she did was ever right. She talked too loudly, and too much, and no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn't stop repeating every bad word she'd ever heard. In classes, her mind wandered and she failed to take notes. She squirmed and slouched and splayed her legs out all over the place. The nuns would rap her knuckles with a ruler so she'd sit like a lady. Ten minutes later, she was back to her usual bad habits. When she learned her stitches, she only managed to tangle the thread and prick her fingers. Even when she tried to do things right, she'd forget some small detail, or get so focused on one thing that she'd fail to mind something else, or she was just plain bad at it. Sometimes it was easier not to try.

She was everything bad in the world, she thought sometimes, but never said aloud. When she said things like that, Rick always got upset, and one thing Madeline hated to do was upset her older brother.

Rick was her real older brother, not a foster brother like all the other boys in the mission school. They had the same last name, and the same parents, and they'd come to the orphanage at the same time. They'd been at the orphanage for over five years now, but it seemed to Madeline that she'd lived there her whole life. She didn't remember life before the mission, but Rick claimed he could and sometimes he would tell her little things about their life with their parents. He told her other things too; things he claimed she should know now that she was getting older, things that got her into trouble with the sisters when she repeated them. As her older brother, Rick would say, it was his duty to teach her all the things the nuns couldn't, or wouldn't. She supposed he was right; after all, Rick was eleven and that was practically grown up. He basically knew everything.

Today was not a day for learning; it was a day for stickball. Even the weather proclaimed it as such; it was warm but not unbearably hot, the sky was clear and cloudless and a beautiful bright blue. The dusty yard outside the three-story, crumbling white limestone building was filled with little boys and girls, all sent outside to enjoy the nice day. The girls sat outside the back doors, lined up on the low mud-brick wall that lined Sister Margaret's palms. All the boys and girls liked to say that Sister Margaret preferred her plants to the children she was supposed to be rearing. No one liked Sister Margaret; she was quick to her ruler and downright mean.

The girls sat on the bricks, with their dolls, and watched as the boys built their stickball diamond with five flat rocks and a stick they dragged in the sand. Though the yard was mostly dust, some stunted little trees had cropped up sporadically around the lot, like a fistful of coins someone scattered haphazardly in the sand. The yard was lined with another wall of mud-bricks,this one twice as tall as the orphans it kept in, and the children were forbidden to pass beyond it. On the other side of the wall was the river, lined with tall, marshy weeds, and even though they couldn't see it, they could certainly smell the swampy muddy stench of the water when the wind blew through the yard. The nuns warned them that the river was dangerous. Strong currents could drag a little boy or girl downstream, where they'd drown. Hungry crocodiles could pop out of the water at a moment's notice and gobble up a little boy or girl standing on the bank like a quick snack... never mind that in all her years at the orphanage, Madeline had yet to glimpse one. The list of possible dangers went on and on and on.

No one was climbing the wall today. Once the field was set, the boys brought out the sticks and balls. They split in two teams: one all boys, and the other all boys except for Madeline. One team took positions at the makeshift bases and throughout the dusty field. Madeline's team lined up behind the flat, home plate stone and waited to take their turn at bat.

It had occurred to Madeline briefly that she shouldn't be out playing in the yard. One of the nuns, Sister Mary-Teresa, had taken special care getting Madeline ready today. She'd clucked at Rick's hand me downs and forced Madeline into a worn plaid dress that fell just a little too short on her. She made Madeline wear a new pair of tights and dug out Madeline's well worn ankle boots. She'd carefully braided Madeline's long brown hair into two twin plaits. Then she'd pinned a frayed white pinafore (but really, it was more gray than white) to the front of the dress. When she was done, she'd released Madeline to go play with a warning to not muss her hair and keep that outfit smart.

No one had really noticed how nice she looked today. Even Rick had greeted her with his usual distracted, "Hey, kid," before stopping short and taking note of the dress. "Huh," was all he'd said. "We meeting parents today?" Then he'd jogged off without waiting for a response, hollering at some of the older boys about the stickball game.

The offhand comment had given Madeline pause; was she meeting parents today? But the excitement of playing stickball overruled her curiosity and caution, and she'd ran after Rick into the dusty yard, determined to show those dumb boys what she could do. He'd rolled his eyes at her insistence to join them, and when she ended up on his team he'd ordered her, "Don't embarrass me, Maddie."

"My name's Madeline," she'd returned snottily, sticking out her tongue.

Now all she was thinking about was stickball, especially as she edged closer to the plate and subsequently her turn to bat. The bases were loaded, with Rick on second, and two boys had already struck out. Madeline was up next, and she could make or break her team's play on this one.

When she grabbed the stick and stepped up to the rock, a chorus of groans echoed back at her from her own team, and laughter from the other. "Not the girl!" the older boy on third moaned.

The pitcher laughed, and shouted something disparaging at her in Arabic. Madeline furrowed her brow, narrowed her eyes and took up position with bat in hand. She'd show him; she'd show them all.

Still smirking at her, the pitcher wound up and threw, but the ball was wild and Madeline didn't swing. Everyone jeered at her until the little boy playing ump called it a ball. Then the pitcher threw again, Madeline swung, and the stick hit the ball with a resounding crack!

The ball flew high over the heads of the boys, their arms waving above them as they reached for it. But she'd hit too hard and too high for all of them, and the ball kept flying, up into the deep blue of the sky, headed for the wall. Chaos erupted on the field. Madeline's teammates on base started running, and so did she. She tagged the first base stone as the older boy on third raced across home plate. She hit second as Rick crossed home, and then third. The other team had the ball as she tore across the small stretch between third and home, right behind the last of the boys on her team as he crossed the plate, safe. Madeline skidded through the dust and tagged the flat rock in home position seconds before the catcher caught the ball.

Her team broke out in cheers and Madeline grinned as she scrambled back on her feet, pumping her fists in the air. Rick appeared then, grabbing her around the waist and hefting her off the ground in a victory hug, swinging her around in circles.

When the hubbub died down and Rick had placed Madeline back on solid ground, Sister Mary-Teresa appeared at the door to the orphanage looking furious.

"Madeline O'Connell!" she exclaimed unhappily, and Madeline cringed automatically. Wary of being involved in whatever trouble Madeline was in now, all the other children gave her a wide berth, Rick included. Sister Mary-Teresa hefted up her long black skirts and marched across the dusty field with thunder in her eyes. "Look at you!" she cried, clucking her tongue and shaking her head. "Covered head to toe in dust… is that a tear in your new stockings? Oh, and your hair…"

Madeline looked down at herself forlornly. Her pinafore and dress were both covered in the tan colored dust from the yard. There was a hole in the knee of her new tights. And even without a mirror, she could see her hair was coming loose from her braids. She winced as the sister finally reached her. Sister Mary-Teresa sighed in resignation. She was from England and one of the younger nuns, pale and pretty with delicate features, warm brown eyes and noticeably pink lips. Sister Margaret often accused her of wearing lipstick, but was always proven wrong. She did it because she was jealous, all the children said; Sister Margaret had a mustache.

Sister Mary-Teresa was also one of the nicest of the nuns, and even when she scolded someone, her voice was always soft and kind. Having disappointed her was a special kind of punishment all on its own. Madeline looked down sadly at her boots as the nun knelt before her and started brushing the dust off her clothes, even pulling a handkerchief from her habit and wetting it so she could clean the sand from Madeline's face. Madeline made a face and whined a small protest, but mostly held still and let her. The other children were whispering and giggling behind their hands.

Sister Mary-Teresa finally stopped fussing and stood straight again, clucking her tongue as she surveyed her young charge. "Oh, it will have to do," she said. "You are a mess, Madeline."

"Yes, sister," Madeline agreed. "I'm sorry, sister."

"You always say you're sorry, but you never learn," Sister Mary-Teresa scolded her. Madeline cringed again. "Oh, never mind. We're late. Come on."

She took Madeline gently by the shoulder and led her quickly across the yard and into the limestone building. It was an ancient building, abandoned long before the nuns took it over by a people that probably didn't exist anymore. They'd modernized it as best they could, but it wasn't a cozy place. The floors were dust and the walls were bare. Old, faded cloths hung in the arches between rooms, serving as doors and partitions. Wooden ladders connected the building's three stories; there was no true staircase. It was depressingly dark inside, and musty.

"Where are we going?" Madeline asked, although she had a pretty good idea already. Sister Mary-Teresa was leading her to the visitor's parlor, the only truly nice room in the whole place. "Am I getting a visit again? But why? No one ever wants me."

Sister Mary-Teresa clucked her tongue again at Madeline's incessant questioning. "A young American couple recently moved here from the States to do business in town," the nun explained. "And they want to adopt a little girl. Now, be on your best behavior, I beg you."

There was no time to protest or agree. Mere seconds later they were at the door to the visitor's parlor, and Sister Mary-Teresa was tugging back the white curtain hanging in the archway. The visitor's parlor was small but clean, the dirt floor tightly packed and regularly swept. Pale blue paint had been applied to the limestone walls, and several chairs were situated in a circle, in the middle of the room. Some were straight, hard-backed wooden things and others were well worn but nicely cushioned. Gas lamps sat on small end tables between the seats. The walls were bare, save the enormous ebony crucifix hanging on the wall opposite from the doorway.

A young man and woman were standing in the parlor, with their backs to the entrance. They seemed young and pale white, and the woman was dressed to the nines. Her dress was long and fashionable, in a pretty shade of spring green, and she wore a large brimmed hat with flowers nestled on the band. Her husband's suit was loud and checked, in brown and white, and he wore a brown bowler on his head.

"I can't wait," Madeline heard the dainty, pretty young woman exclaim. "A little girl, who I can dress up in pretty dresses and French braid her pretty blonde hair…"

Sister Mary-Teresa cleared her throat, and the woman abruptly stopped gushing. Both she and her husband turned to look at Madeline, and the woman's face instantly fell. "Oh," she murmured. "She's brunette."

Her dark eyes were troubled, and her sharp, red little mouth was puckered into a sad frown. The lady's husband nudged her in the side with his elbow, chuckling obnoxiously. He had a bushy brown mustache that twitched violently whenever his mouth moved. "Well, so are you, Ducks, and I love you all the same."

The woman smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. Her husband's smile at least looked genuine, even if his suit was loud and his manner off-putting. "Hello, there," he greeted Madeline, giving her a cheery wave. "Maryanne, was it?"

"Madeline," she retorted, sounding surly. The nun squeezed her shoulder in reproof, and Madeline quickly sunk into an ill-formed and wobbly curtsy. "How do you do, sir?"

He chuckled again. His wife crinkled her nose and looked over Madeline's head at the nun behind her. "Erm… just how old is she?" she asked.

"Eight, ma'am," Sister Mary-Teresa replied.

"Eight," the woman repeated faintly. "I'd rather hoped for two or three… five at the oldest."

Madeline cast her eyes at the floor. She was used to that complaint. The woman and her husband eyed her up and down, and it was clear they found her wanting. "Bit tall for her age, isn't she?" the husband asked.

"Yes, Madeline is quite tall," Sister Mary-Teresa agreed. "Comes by it honestly; her older brother was even taller at her age."

"A brother?" the man prompted. "Don't you usually try to adopt them out together?"

His wife gave him the eye and a slight shake of the head. "Usually," Sister Mary-Teresa returned as she stepped out from behind Madeline and moved further into the parlor. "But exceptions are often made."

Madeline clenched her fists at her sides and tried to hold her tongue.

"Her nose," the woman whispered to her husband, but the whisper echoed loudly in the quiet parlor. "It's a bit big for her face."

Madeline flushed.

"Sure, it's on the Roman side," the man said, not unkindly. "She'll grow into it."

Madeline looked at Sister Mary-Teresa, whose mouth was tight and puckered the way it got when Madeline would rip new tights climbing trees and playing ball… only the annoyed expression was aimed at the man and woman, not Madeline.

"She's a bit… dusty," the woman observed.

Sister Mary-Teresa gave Madeline an irritated sideways glare, and she took the hint. "Apologies, ma'am, I'm usually not. I was playing stickball with the boys."

The woman wrinkled her nose. "Stickball?"

Her husband laughed. "Tomboy, are you?"

Madeline glanced at the nun for guidance, but Sister Mary-Teresa was staring at the ceiling as though searching for guidance herself. The wife sighed. "So you don't like dolls or pretty dresses," she muttered.

She wasn't sure what she should say to that. Truthfully, she didn't like dolls all that much, but she wouldn't object to having one. Pretty dresses were all right, she supposed, but they always seemed to get in the way. When she was playing and running around and sneaking onto the orphanage roof, it was always easier to do so if she wore a pair of Rick's old hand-me-down trousers.

At any rate, she wasn't sure trying to impress the mean woman was the right course of action. Sure, she might get adopted, but then she'd have to leave Rick. And living with the woman wrinkling her nose at the way Madeline looked and the things Madeline enjoyed… well, it certainly didn't sound like fun.

"Isn't there anyone else?" the woman asked Sister Mary-Teresa, and despite not wanting to live with her, the comment cut Madeline nonetheless.

"Of course, ma'am," Sister Mary-Teresa replied. "Younger girls, certainly."

"Daintier?" the woman pressed. "Prettier? Girls who behave like girls?"

Madeline shrank back slightly, eyes starting to sting… but she tilted her chin up and refused to cry. Stupid babies cried, the sort that played with dolls and wanted mean women to adopt them when they had perfectly good brothers to live with. Madeline was not a stupid baby.

"Well, yes," Sister Mary-Teresa said, but the look she gave Madeline was almost motherly, as though she knew the woman in the parlor was mean and hateful, and didn't want Madeline to hear the things she said.

The woman huffed. "Well, why didn't you show me those girls first?"

"Madeline," Sister Mary-Teresa said kindly. "You're dismissed. Go back to your game."

She didn't need to be told twice. Madeline hefted up her skirts and ran out of the parlor. But she stopped in the hall, just outside the curtain, to hear the rest.

"Well?" the woman prompted Sister Mary-Teresa. "Why on earth did you waste my time with that fright?"

"Now, now, Ducks," her husband began to admonish her, but the woman wasn't finished.

"I said I wanted a little girl. Not a dirty little tomboy in a threadbare dress. Who on earth could ever want her?"

"I thought perhaps you might," the nun said coldly, interrupting her guest. Never before had Madeline heard Sister Mary-Teresa sound so harsh or unforgiving. "There are younger girls here. Daintier, prettier girls who play dress up and carry dolls. But they are all Egyptian, and you told me you wanted a white one."

Unwilling to hear more, Madeline hiked up her skirts again and ran for the dormitory. Her eyes were stinging wildly as she ran blind, headed straight for the wooden ladders in the back of the mission. She pulled herself up the ladders, all the way to the top floor, where she darted around a tattered indigo cloth and ran into the girls' dormitory. There she flung herself face down on her cot and finally burst into tears.

That was how Rick found her, an hour later, when he ducked into the girls' dormitory against the rules to check on her. Rick was always breaking the rules. He sat on the edge of her cot and Madeline sat up immediately, folding her arms petulantly over her chest and refusing to look at him.

"Hey, kid, don't be like that," Rick said. Madeline stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. Rick was even taller than her, taller than most of the boys, and he was just as frightfully skinny as she was, with the same sharp angles and awkward long limbs. They had the same chestnut brown hair and the same blue eyes. He was grinning easily at her, in that slightly sarcastic way he had. A one hundred percent genuine smile was hard to come by when it came to Rick.

"Like what?" she mumbled, looking at the wall. Rick was here to make her feel better, but Madeline simply wanted to wallow.

"Like that," he retorted. "You don't want those people anyway. They were the worst. Even Sister Mary-Teresa didn't like them."

Madeline looked at him, finally. "Did they take someone else?"

"Nah. Didn't even look. Sister Mary-Teresa practically shooed them through the gate with a broom."

She laughed at that, quietly and reluctantly. Rick was encouraged anyway, and his grin lost the sardonic edge. "Besides, we don't need parents," he told her. "You and me, right Maddie? We're already a family. Parents would just get in the way."

He always said that, and Madeline didn't always believe him. But today she told herself he was right; what other choice did she have? "Yeah," she agreed quietly. "You think so?"

"Know so," he replied, shrugging. "Nuns get in the way enough as it is; imagine parents that are on you all the time, with no other kids to distract them. Talk about a pain in the ass."

"Rick!" she scolded him, because ass wasn't a nice word and Sister Mary-Teresa always scolded her when she used it. Sister Margaret would break out the ruler.

"What? I'm right," he said easily, shrugging in that self-assured way he had. Madeline was always jealous of that; she wasn't sure where he'd learned it. He leaned in closer to her and smirked. "Seriously, who needs 'em? I got you, and you got me, kid. We're all set."

She smiled back and wiped her eyes. "Yeah," she agreed. "All set."

He tucked his arm around her shoulders and messed up her hair with his other hand. Madeline groaned and hit him in the stomach. Rick just laughed. "Let's go outside," he suggested. "We can climb on top of the wall and toss rocks in the river again."

"We're not supposed to do that," Madeline reminded him, tongue-in-cheek. "Sister Margaret will be mad."

"Sister Margaret's always mad," Rick scoffed. "Besides, if someone's not mad, you're not having any fun."

She giggled. Rick got off the cot and tugged her towards the door. "Last one out's a rotten egg!" he shouted, before shoving her back into the room and making a mad dash for the ladder.

"Hey, no fair!" she shouted, chasing after him. "Jerk!"

He laughed, and she laughed too. They laughed all the way down the ladders and back through the mission, all the way across the yard, where they climbed the fence and watched the river. Madeline pushed the sting of her latest prospective parents from her mind, and focused on Rick. The mean woman and her tacky husband were far from the first people to reject her, and she knew they wouldn't be the last. But Rick was her brother, after all; he was never going to reject her. Rick was her real family and that was all she needed.

Madeline would tell herself that for years to come.