Alya's nose was itching. It was itching horribly in fact but the cold darkness was wrapped around her like a shroud and would not allow her much movement. With great concentration she forced her hand to twitch.
"Alya?" A voice broke through the darkness. "Sweetheart, can you hear me?"
"Umma?" forcing her eyes open, everything was out of focus. The first thing that she could make out was the familiar pattern of her family's tent cloth that was blocked partially by a black shape. As she widened her eyes, everything else slowly came into focus including the black shape which turned out to be her mother.
"How are you feeling?" Miriam felt her daughter's face, and brushed back some of her wild hair. Ice filled Miriam's stomach as tears threatened to flow down her face again.
"Like I fell off a camel…" Alya groaned, as she pulled herself into a sitting position, clutching her head. "What happened?" She stiffened as the events of the afternoon poured through her mind like a flood. "Numma! Is she alright? Did Malik make it back? And Ardeth?"
Miriam engulfed her in a hug. "Everyone is fine, child. You are the one we feared for!" releasing her, she sat back, and placed both of her hands on her shoulders. "Ardeth told everyone of your cool head and how you managed to warn him of the attack without alerting the invaders. You saved our tribe, my dear!"
Alya shook her head, "I did what anyone would have done, Umma."
"Alya!" Joash came into the tent, the wrinkles on his forehead smoothing as soon as he saw his eldest daughter sitting up. "Is she alright?"
"Abba, I'm right here!" Alya groaned. "I'll be fine."
"Excellent!" He patted her hand. "Because tomorrow there will be a celebration in your honor!"
Before Alya could attempt to dissuade them her father's voice rang out. "All of you come in and see your brave sister!"
Immediately, she was buried in hugs from her siblings. Even Haytham squeezed his sister for a moment before ducking away with flaming cheeks. He was at the age when girls (especially elder sisters) were to be avoided at all costs. After a whispered conversation with Malik, he darted out of the tent and into the sunshine.
After Ardeth had gotten Alya to her family's tent it had taken every ounce of his self control and duty to force him to leave her side. What if this was more than just exhaustion? What if he had hurt her? While hovering indecisively before her tent flap, his father's face appeared in his mind's eye. "A Prince of Maim must be more than a man. He must put his people before himself, the world before his family. Everything depends on his acceptance of his duty."
With a sigh, Ardeth turned to Malik. "If anything changes…" his voice failed and his eyes went to the ground.
Malik nodded. "I will send Haytham to find you." He gripped Ardeth's forearm. "Do your duty, my brother."
With a deep breath he forced his concern for Alya to the back of his mind. He was the Chieftain of the Twelve Tribes and his people needed him. His sense of duty was the only thing stopping him from being completely useless outside of Joash's tent. Moving away, he began to assess the damange.
Mercifully, their camp was mostly intact. Some tents had been knocked over, a few meals lost, and some animals had run away during the scuffle but beyond that there was no serious damage. The story somehow had begun circling almost immediately of Alya's bravery and quick thinking and how it had saved them from the massacre that could have been. The people were crying for a celebration to be held in her honor the next night but Ardeth told them to wait. In the back of his mind, he could not quite silence the nagging voice whispering that tomorrow could be her funeral.
A cool mist rose from the river, enveloping the boat in a muffling cloud. Amoun blinked sleepily as he stretched before joining his companion at the railing.
Rubbing his shoulder, he grinned down at her. "It would seem that years without a bed would be sufficient preparation for a single night wrapped in a blanket."
Her only response was a slight nod as she continued to stare into the mist.
"Bari says we will arrive as the sun rises. According to him it is a glorious sight."
This time he received no response.
"Ascenath, Mother would not wish for you to delve into your grief. She is safe in the afterlife now, in the realms of Osiris. We will see her again. After all, death is only the beginning." While sliding a muscular arm around her shoulders, he tweaked her nose.
With a yelp and a wild swing of her arm, Ascenath jumped away from him. "Amoun! Act your age!"
Eyes twinkling he grinned. "Finally! She is alive!
"You will pay for your actions!" Pulling up her linen dress slightly, she assumed a fighting stance. Amoun's grin became a smile as he mirrored her movement.
A man cleared his throat from under the canopy. "The two of you no longer have the luxury of behaving like children. You must fulfill your duty." Bari glared at Ascenath and Amoun for a moment before joining them at the railing. "Behold, the Great City of Pharaoh!"
Waiting at the dock was a company of soldiers, slaves, and a strange bench borne by slaves. After a whispered conversation with Bari, Ascenath and Amoun donned black cloaks and left their vessel to ride in this strange device to the palace.
"High Priest Amoun, High Priestess Ascenath!" Bari's voice rang out over the clamor of the harbor, "You will meet with Pharaoh when the sun is high. For now we are to go to the rooms in the palace reserved for your use."
Ascenath bent her head gracefully as the slaves began to move through the throngs of people.
The Imperial Palace of Seti the First was the most magnificent structure in the city of Thebes and all of Egypt. Made of cool stone, the sprawling complex was bursting with wealth and wonders from leopard skins from Ethiopia to rare blossoms and gems from the far reaches of Pharaoh's empire.
Near the center of the complex was the Throne Room. It was befitting the god he was believed to be with its high ceilings, papyrus like columns, sweet smelling incense wafting from golden lamps to purify the air, and walls lined with hieroglyphics proclaiming the strength of Egypt and divinity of its ruler. At the far end towered the golden throne of 'The High Priest of Every Temple' where he sat in state surrounded by his court of richly dressed priests and nobles. However none of them matched the splendor of their leader, the Pharaoh Seti.
All of this had been described to Asenath and Amoun from the time they were wide eyed children seated at their mother's feet. The edges of Asenath's lips curved up as she remembered the whispered midnight conversations and dreams of traveling to Pharaoh's city that filled their childhood. Unaware of the workings of the world, they had never realized their mother's death would be the catalyst for the dreamed of journey to Thebes as high priest and priestess to the greatest goddess.