"Princess, the burial is complete."
I stared straight ahead and thanked the servant for the news. My father had finally succumbed to the poison in his blood, and was now lying in the newest pyramid in the Egyptian sands. Within the week I would be named Pharaoh, and I already had an idea of how to run the country: no wars, no oppressive armies. I refused to even consider using force to gain anything.
I looked at the servant, surprised he was still there. "Is there something else?"
The servant bowed and backed away, shaking his head and apologizing. That would have to change to; I didn't like being feared. I sighed, not having anything left to do that day. I walked slowly to my bedchamber, acknowledging the handmaidens who waited there.
"I wish to be dressed in something simpler than this," I said. "Today I will go for a walk in the desert garden."
I heard the Nubian women set to work, three of them carefully pulling off my clothes while another trio garbed me in a simple scarlet dress that fell to the floor. One of them put a shawl on my head to protect my skin from the sun.
If they thought my plans unfitting for the ruler of Egypt, they didn't show it. While I walked along a garden path, I realized they must have known I was going to visit… her.
Aida had been their Princess. I could only guess the longing in their hearts to pay their respects to the tomb of the brave woman, but as of yet I was the only one granted that leisure. Perhaps that was another thing I would change.
I had picked the spot well, I thought. After Radames and Aida had been buried, I released the servants who'd labored over it and hired a new staff of gardeners with the task of creating an exotic little garden for me to walk in and enjoy. Little did they know that the spot I commissioned for the center was the exact place of my friends' tomb.
I sat on a stone bench, looking at the beautiful fountain in the center. Although, I wasn't really looking at the fountain, but the base… and what lied beneath it. So many times I wished I could have defended them somehow. So many times I wished I could have saved them. I could have asked Aida to help me in bettering the lives of the Nubian slaves, and Radames… I shook my head, wiping away a tear.
How would I have lived with Radames as my husband, knowing he loved Aida? Even now, almost four months later, I was still heartbroken about it. Just once, I wished… I didn't know. I threw so many wishes at the Gods these days that I think they must have lost track.
I looked around, making sure there were no servants to see their Princess crying. After making certain I was alone, I knelt at the base of the fountain and let the tears flow. I missed them both so much. The way Aida could always say the right thing… the way Radames never truly wanted to hurt me… Most of all I felt guilty for sentencing them to death. They had only just begun to love, and it was cut away from them so suddenly.
I heard a soft sigh, and I looked up to see a small Nubian girl standing at the edge of the garden. When she saw me looking, she squeaked in terror and made to run off.
"Stop, please," I called. The girl stopped and turned, ducking her eyes. I reached out a hand to her. "Come here."
The girl kept her eyes on her toes as she walked. She stopped five feet away from me and bowed. "Yes, Princess?" she asked. I could barely hear her.
"What is your name?"
"Kariada, Princess," the girl said.
"Kariada," I repeated, smiling. The Nubians had such lovely names. "Do you know who this garden was built for?"
She shook her head, daring to raise her eyes a fraction.
"This garden was built for your Princess," I said. I patted the ground next to me, and Kariada sat down. "I wanted to do something good for her."
"Why did she die?" Kariada asked.
"It's the law of the land," I said sadly. "I didn't want her to get buried, but I had almost no say in the matter." I realized that I had more to change than I'd first thought.
"Is she under the fountain?" asked Kariada. She rubbed a dark hand along the warm marble.
"Yes, little one," I said. I touched the stone as well.
"The Gods love Nubia…" Kariada sang softly. By now she'd dropped all pretenses of being frightened of me, and I was glad. "Princess Aida told me to be brave," she said. "She said as long as I was brave, Nubia would never die."
"She was right," I said. "Aida was right about a lot of things."
"I wish I could see Nubia again," Kariada said sadly. Suddenly her back straightened as if she realized who she was talking to. She stood and bowed. "I'm sorry to bother you, Princess," she said.
"Hold on a moment," I rose to my feet. "Can't we be friends?"
Kariada stared at the ground. "Slaves aren't supposed to be friends with the Princess," she said, more to herself than to me.
I bent down and took Kariada's hands. "I was friends with Aida," I told her. "Don't you want to be friends with me?"
Kariada was silent for a moment. "I don't have any friends," she said finally. "Momma says Slaves are better off without friends."
"That's not true," I said. "Everyone needs friends." I avoided the fact that Kariada was, in fact, a slave. I was struck with a sudden idea.
"Do you know anything about fabrics?" I asked.
Kariada thought for a moment. "Momma taught me how to weave and sew."
"Well, I need a personal hand maiden, one who I can talk to," I said, watching the girl carefully. "How would you like to have that position?"
"What would I hafta do?" Kariada asked.
"Well, the women in the sewing room can teach you anything you need to know," I said. "And besides that you'll need to be a good listener. And above all, you'll need to be my friend."
Kariada was silent for a moment. "I think I can do that," she said.
I beamed at the little girl. "Why don't you come with me and I'll get you a new outfit? To be a handmaiden, you need to look like one."
I stood and offered a hand to Kariada. She looked at it timidly, then slid her dark hand into mine. Together we walked back to the palace, and once Kariada was dressed in the fine purple and gold of my handmaidens I felt a weight lift from my chest. Perhaps now I wouldn't be so lonely.