Title: The Ends of the Earth: Imhotep
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
Imhotep: Together for Eternity
I have just finished instructing my trainees in the arts of healing, my favorite part of the day. They are all so young, boys barely into their teens, bodies still changing and minds open and malleable. It is hard not to think of myself at that age, a young initiate. I was always specially skilled at healing, and by the time I was twenty it was assumed that I would become High Priest and keeper of the dead. Sometimes I wonder if my whole life has been too easy, if everything has been handed to me on a golden platter.
The boys can be rowdy and boisterous, and their zest for life gives me hope for the future. Their families saw fit to try to ally their children with the House of Osiris, and so many of them have no choice in the path their lives will take. But I have faith that they will all make good Priests someday, for they have been specially chosen. Early on, I watch them carefully, and remove boys who I can see have no real calling for serving Osiris. It is not fair to decide a person's life for them, and I take pity, trying to find them placement elsewhere where I hope they will be happier.
Watching their wide eyes as I reveal the ancient truths fills me with a sense of belonging and peace. I feel old and jaded compared to their youthful energy.
I am not unhappy, exactly. My Pharaoh is good to me and I have many friends. I am influential and can have all that I desire. What I used to think was inexplicable dissatisfaction with my life I realize now is satisfaction with what I have, but a realization that there is something simply missing.
My Priests help me to instruct the youths, for one day we will all be gone and we must rely on these children to carry on the traditions and burdens that go with serving The House of the Dead. It seems such a false and somber name to me, for my temple is full of light and hope for healing and regrowth. Osiris is the God of the Dead, but he is also the God of rebirth, and it is that side of him that I truly worship.
We all deserve our chance for rebirth.
I am walking slowly down the ornate hallway when I hear my name.
"Imhotep!" the voice calls.
I turn around to see Nefertiri, Seti's daughter and Princess of Egypt, come gliding towards me. She flips her dark hair over her shoulders and looks at me, smiling, with just a hint of flirtation.
I have known her since she was a little girl, and I have always had a soft spot in my heart for her sweet face. She has grown up into a beautiful woman, but I always see the little girl who would hide in my long robes.
"Where have you been?" she asks, referring to the fact that I hardly ever have time to come and visit her anymore.
"Nefer," I say slowly, a smile spreading over my face. It is good to see her.
"I haven't seen you lately," she protests, placing her hands on her hips.
"You know I am busy," I say, wanting her to know that it has nothing to do with her. I have no family or home life, so Seti gives me more and more duties. I am now his chief advisor, in addition to being the Great Healer and Osiris' High Priest. It is many official titles, and sometimes it is too much.
"I've missed you," she says, pouting.
"I've missed you too, but duty calls," I say, to explain. I know she will understand. We have always teased and joked with one another. Her silly antics as a child could always make me smile.
"I am improving with the weapons, although I am still so clumsy!" she exclaims, showing off the red marks on her palm where the weapon must rub into her skin. "You should come and watch one day, if you have time," she says, looking up at me.
I remember how distraught she was at her mother's death only three years ago, and I can see some of the vulnerability still in her eyes. "I would never pass an opportunity to watch you," I say softly. I am happy to be her friend if she needs one.
After my quick meal with my Priests in the temple I walk briskly over to the palace again. The sun is hot and burns down on my body. I meet often with Seti to act as his counselor and to discuss important matters.
The Med Jai do not question my entry into Seti's chambers, and at the final door I am announced. Seti beckons me in and we sit at a long wooden table. As I listen to him talk, his head shiny in the sun, I think on how this man is supposed to be a God. Perhaps the peasants believe it, for they never see his face. But I know, serving him, seeing him nearly every day, that he is no God. He is just a man like anyone else, the whims of fate and chance the only things that make him a King.
Finally we finish, and I stand and stretch. I think that I have the rest of the day off, and I am about to sigh in relief when I remember my promise to Nefertiri. I turn to Seti with a rueful smile.
"I must confess something," I say. "I promised Nefertiri I would come watch her practice her fighting lessons."
Seti laughs. "Imhotep, my friend, I am glad. You know it cheers her to see you."
I smile with genuine pleasure. Seti may not be a God, but he loves his family. He reminds me of my young boys with his zest for life. He is no great ruler-he has made no significant reforms and has not increased Egypt's boundaries-but he is genuine and jovial. "The Princess has great spirit."
Seti laughs again. "Yes, indeed." He pauses. "But you know, that since her mother's death, she has been in need of a companion. That is why I hope Anck-su-namun will fill part of the void in her life."
I nod seriously. "It would be a great thing." I sincerely hope that Nefertiri will begin to love life again, will find something that will give her a purpose and a sense of belonging. "Well, I am off to see her now."
I gather my things and leave. The mention of Anck-su-namun gives me pause. She is the woman for whom Seti murdered one of the most faithful Med Jai. I have never met her, but I have heard that Seti will do anything to make her his.
I enter the training room in the middle of Nefertiri's lesson. She is sparring with another woman, presumably her teacher. As High Priest and a healer I was taught to be observant, to watch the faces of others and read their emotions and feelings. I see Nefertiri increase her speed, and I wonder if it is to impress me.
The other woman is more skilled and responds easily to Nefertiri's attack, moving quickly and eventually knocking one of the sais out of her hand. They are both breathing hard from the exertion.
"Imhotep, you came," Nefertiri says, turning and smiling at me.
I know she wished to impress me, and I know how happy she is that I came to see her, so I give her a big smile. "Of course, I wouldn't want to miss you display your dazzling skills," I respond teasingly.
Nefertiri joke threatens me with one of the weapons. I put up my hands defensively, grinning. She was always playful and fun, and I wonder how I could have forgotten it.
"Watch this," she asserts, and turns back to continue with the lesson. I turn to look at her teacher, but the strange woman is staring at me.
And then it hits me. This must be Anck-su-namun.
She is lithe and beautiful, graceful yet strong, and I drink in her curved form. I have never seen anyone so intoxicating.
I have had women before, but none of them made me feel a desire this intense. I am surprised at myself, for that reason and for the fact that I could desire a woman I am not allowed to even touch.
The woman stares back at me, hauntingly, and I see a flicker of wonder cross over her face.
I realize that I have been standing here in silence. Nefertiri looks at me uneasily, sensing a new element in the air.
"Imhotep, this is Anck-su-namun, my defense instructor." She says it reluctantly.
"It is a pleasure to finally meet you," I say, bowing my head slightly in respect.
"And you, High Priest," she responds, nodding her head.
I lower my eyes, confused at my emotions. Abruptly I speak again. "Nefertiri, it was good to see you," I say, forcing my eyes away from Anck-su-namun and onto the Princess' uncertain face.
"I hope it will not be as long until the next time," she replies warily.
I bow and turn to leave, my emotions swirling in confused circles, but I turn to look at Anck-su-namun's face one last time.
The look in her eyes confirms that she felt the same electric current, the same sudden thrust of longing. And another emotion, one I can only describe as remembrance. I recognized her soul.
It is several weeks later, and I am waiting for Anck-su-namun in the shadowed darkness of one of the courtyards near the palace. I know that I love her now, there is no longer a question in my mind.
She walks softly, her feet padding gently on the marbled floors. When she sees me her face brightens.
"Anck-su-namun," I whisper breathlessly as she comes near me, taking pleasure in the simple murmuring of her name, erotic and sensual and perfect. I am careful not to smudge any of her paint, and I stroke my fingers gently over her temple and down the side of her face.
She looks nervous and excited, and she reaches up to my face and gently trails her hand down my cheek. I can only describe the feeling as the two halves of a whole finally meeting and joining, the fusion of one being, of one spirit.
Perhaps I can sense it much more strongly, as a Priest of the Dead, but I know that our souls have known each other and loved before. I do not know how many millennia ago it was, but my skill as Priest does not fail me. She is my soulmate, and I will never give her up.
"Imhotep..." she moves slightly closer to me and slowly extends her hand towards me. 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.
"I wish..." I let the words trail off as I look at her body. "I wish that you were all mine." I grab both her hands with vigor. "I wish that you belonged to me."
It drives me crazy that we love each other deeply, that we are meant to be together through millennia, that our souls make up the two halves of a whole-and in this life we are forced apart.
Seti has no idea, and I have not told Anck-su-namun of her previous life or lives by my side. I have no true memories of them, but my soul remembers endless times spent with her in peace and happiness.
I trace the lines on her palm. "What do you see in your future?" I ask her, looking deeply into her hand. She studies it carefully for a moment, although we both know she knows nothing of foretelling the future.
"You're the Priest," she says carefully.
For that matter, I too know nothing of seeing the future. But there are some things that do not require special arts to know. I look into her eyes. "I see love, and death, and destruction, all too young." I drop her palm.
"So now you are a fortune-teller?" she asks, half teasing.
"No. But I do not have to be a mystic to know what will happen," I say, looking into her eyes.
She stops in the seriousness of what I have just said. She gleams sensually and erotically in the moonlight. She knows how to use her sexuality to taunt and tantalize a man.
"Then why do you risk it?" she asks, leaning backwards onto a column.
"You know why," I say, grabbing her face in my hands for one more passionate kiss.
"And so I would like you to preside over the ceremonies," Seti finishes, explaining to me yet another one of my new official duties.
There is only one thing I can say, and it grates on me as it never did before. "It would be an honor, my Pharaoh."
He hesitates, then gives me yet another order. "Imhotep. I must again encourage you to visit my daughter."
I want to protest in exasperation and exhaustion. Does he not realize that I no longer have any free time? I spend my entire day teaching, meeting with him and giving him advice, leading ceremonies at the temple of Osiris, preparing the bodies of the wealthy for mummification, offering my services for those who are sick or dying-the list goes on and on. I try to stay calm, but I have hardly any time to meet with Anck-su-namun, and now Seti urges me to pay social calls on his daughter? I breathe deeply. An offensive word now, and even Seti who needs and admires me will not take it lightly. "I would love to, my Lord, but I find little time for socializing with so many official duties."
He claps me on the back as if we were friends. I used to almost like Seti, but my view of him has turned sour, ripening for too long in the sun. "I am sure you can find a few moments for the little girl you used to hold on your knee!"
I force a smile, but even the thought of seeing Nefertiri now is unpleasant because in her all I can see is her father. We are interrupted, however, by the banging of a wooden door. I think nothing of it, until I look up and see Anck-su-namun. She walks in a few steps and then stops, surprised to see us.
She is more beautiful than the sun.
"I am so sorry," she begins, but Seti beckons her in.
"Come in my dear," he says possessively. "What do you need?"
"I left my wrap in here," she says, walking to a table and picking up a pile of sheer and gauzy fabric. She holds it uneasily in her arms.
I am afraid that she will give us away. She looks nervous and trapped. I beg her silently not to look at me. Do not give us away. I send up a silent prayer to the Gods to protect us.
But she does look at me. It is nothing, a quick glace, a movement of the eyes. But they read fear and love. It is enough.
We both know what Seti did to Antef, the Med Jai who watched over her. Her bodyguard did nothing but look at her with lust in his eyes, and he payed the price with his life. We are doomed.
I wait for Seti's words condemning us to death.
He looks at us in shock, suspicion filling his eyes. He does not know if he saw what he thinks he saw. I hold my breath, fear holding me absolutely immobile. I wait for my death warrant.
But Seti takes a deep breath and smiles.
"Well, my love, I have to finish this business with the Priest," he says, dismissing her.
She nods, turns, and leaves, walking quickly out of the chamber. It is only my long training as a Priest that allows me to keep my face distant and impassive.
"Imhotep, you know you are the man whom I trust above all others," he says. And in his eyes, as well as the steel of his face, I read a warning.
"Of course, my lord," I say.
It is a week before I can see Anck-su-namun again. Her form moves gracefully through shadow and light. As she glides towards me I feel my chest constrict painfully. Gods, I have missed her.
"It has been too long," I say, reaching for her and pulling her towards my chest. "And you have been with him..." I don't finish the sentence, but I am filled with disgust at the thought of her and Seti together. I man whom I once admired and was thankful toward, a man whom I once thought was decent and benevolent. I now see him only as a lecherous and possessive pig who is trying to take what is rightfully mine.
"Not willingly," she whispers, her head falling forward onto my broad chest. How can I be angry for the wrong Seti has done to me when the wrongs he has done my love are so much greater? I release her wrists and put my arms around her waist, paint be damned.
"Oh, Anck, my love..." I just hold her close.
She says nothing but buries her face in my neck. I can feel her tension, the worry in her taut muscles.
"He has said nothing to me," I say. "I do not think he knows." We both know of whom I speak.
She closes her eyes, her words muffled against my his soft skin. "Imhotep, that was too close. He knew something. I," she hesitates. "I am afraid."
There is nothing I can say except to offer comfort. I pull her close.
But she pulls away slightly and raises her eyes to my own. "Imhotep, this cannot go on." I can see tears starting in her eyes. We must make a decision, me and her. This is the breaking point. We can go on no longer living out our lives as lies.
"You think I have not realized that?" I ask, holding her at arms length and looking into her eyes.
"What shall we do?" she asks desperately, clutching to me.
I am sitting by his side when Seti announces that Anck-su-namun will be his future wife. He arrogantly speaks the words, a man whom I now see only with hatred. "In honor of my wedding 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."
The nobles applaud and clap. But I am shocked. After the shock passes, I am filled only with despair. I look over at Anck-su-namun, who is stiff with anger and disbelief. I can feel the walls moving in closer and closer, trapping us in the secret lives we have built for ourselves. If we do not act soon, Seti will find out. And I know that when he is angry, he will stop at nothing.
I glance with derision around the room, filled with shallow and wealthy Egyptians, sycophantic in their devotion to Seti. Everything in here is false and worthless. But then my gaze falls on Nefertiri. She accepts the fight with Anck-su-namun, and I think that Seti cannot be all bad, for his daughter sat on my knee as a little girl, looked up to me and loved me and is sweet and lovely. But I shake off the old memories. That was the old Imhotep, the old days when I did not know my destiny and my soulmate. Never again will I look kindly on Seti, and in time Nefertiri will grow to be just like him-spoiled and arrogant.
I pause, because deep inside me I wonder if that is not true, if Nefertiri will indeed be different from her father. And I remember clearly the days before Anck-su-namun entered my life, when I was content, when my emotions were simple. When I served my Pharaoh and my Gods wholly and completely. When I could not find sour in the sweet.
I know Anck-su-namun and our love is worth anything. But I wonder how much have I changed.
I approach Anck-su-namun that night, and for the first time I do not touch her. This night is different. We stand in the moonlight, shadows moving across our bodies, hiding our faces.
I can sense desperation in her eyes, loneliness, and fear. But for some reason I cannot reach out to her, this night that she has been sworn to another man.
"You know that this was not my doing," she says softly, looking into my eyes. Of course I know that. But now everything has changed. I feel as if the rugs have been swept out from under us, our carefully orchestrated plans crumbled to the ground in ruins.
"We must do something. Before you are married." I turn away from her and pace a few steps. My mind is whirling. I want so desperately to tell her, but there is a deep, hidden fear that she will be shocked and horrified. What if she will not risk everything for me, like I would risk everything for her? But I know this is pointless. I cannot live without her.
I turn back and reach out my hands, palm up, offering them.
She steps forward and takes them, caressing my palms with her fingers. "What do I see in these palms," she murmurs. A flicker of a smile crosses my face at the irony. I take a deep breath. She must know.
"I know of a way that we can be together for eternity," I say. She looks hopelessly at me, her beautiful eyes wide and luminous.
"Do you know of such a place?" she asks. "Does such a place exist in the boundaries of this world?"
"Not in this world," I say. I look deep into her soul, searching her eyes. I see understanding dawn in them, the blue-green orbs quivering, gleaming in sudden comprehension.
"You don't mean..." she begins. I watch shock, incredulity, and uncertainty cross over her face. I send up a silent prayer to Osiris. I am weak, helpless under her gaze. I would do anything for her love.
"Yes. Will you risk it for me, my Anck, my love?" I move toward her slowly, feeling my life hanging in the balance as I wait for her words. She knows what it is that I am offering her.
"I would go to the ends of the earth for you," she whispers. My life is complete, and there is nothing in the world except for us and our love. I gather her in my arms.
Tonight is the final night of Seti's celebrations for his marriage, and tonight is the night that Anck-su-namun and I will finally be able to live together in peace. I sit in the quarters of the High Priest, the only place where I am offered real solitude. The sun's rays slant across my body.
Is love worth the betrayal of my Gods and of my country? I do not know, but I cannot allow myself to second-guess my decision. It is done. I do not allow myself to feel guilt for what I will do to Seti, my Pharaoh, and his daughter, who was my friend.
Happiness must always come at a price.
The harsh, desert sunlight makes the room feel airless and hot. I walk to my own, smaller balcony, and stand, holding my hand out to the sun. Its mindless power mocks me. I pull my hand away.
I lay on my couch and let the light cover me.
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