A/N: Y'all ready for a time warp? Good, cuz here's one, now!
Warnings: Spoilers! Haven't made it through Yu-Gi-Oh!: Millennium World manga and don't want it spoiled, then read that first, then come back. Also, we will probably have a rating jump to M later on. I'll give a heads up before it happens, but be aware.
Disclaimer: Yu-Gi-Oh! and related characters are © to Kazuki Takahashi.
The moment the child wakes, it's to a dizzying, painful hunger twisting his insides. He knows before his eyes open that if he does not eat this day, he will not eat any of the days after.
The hunger, ever present and gnawing at his spine, is a good counterpart to the discomfort of heat, and it is very hot already. He has slept too long, and missed the coolest part of the day, when it would have been the best time to hunt along the river for tubers, late season eggs or fish. Lifting the threadbare cloth he uses as a blanket against the nighttime chill, the child peeks out, an undernourished face framing eyes the color of dusk, topped with hair white as bone. Blinking, he checks the sun's position and frowns. How could he have slept so late? It is already the third hour of morning, soon the heat of Ra will be soaring to its height, testing the endurance of even the healthiest of villagers, much less a starved orphan scavenging for scraps.
The boy rolls out of his hiding hole, a small figure of dirty skin and loose bones, held together with little more than grim determination. It is not much of a home he has made for himself, but better than living out in the desert or on the Nile's bare banks, where he would be easy prey for animals and elements alike. Possibly half a mile beyond the edge of the nearest town, the boy had chosen to take residence in a tiny abandoned farm house. Possibly its owners had experienced too little gain and too much loss to support themselves and were forced to abandon it, but it hardly mattered 'why'. It was empty and none of the town seemed inclined to reclaim it. With no one to shoo him away, the boy had taken it as his, chasing out the lizards, birds and insects that had taken up the corners, and set up as good a door as his slight body and small strength would allow. What remained in the empty farmhouse was only what was to be expected; ragged cast off kilts and blankets, broken crockery and a stick or two of furniture. He salvaged what he could and he survives.
The boy moves inside, having spent the night on the roof to enjoy the coolness. It is well into shomu, the harvest season, when the days are at their longest and most punishing. To sleep indoors, even in the comparatively cool night, would be unbearably stuffy. The roof offers reprieve from the heat and protection from all but the most determined of prowling predators.
The boy stumbles, falls to one knee before he can catch himself, scraping it open on the rough floor. He hisses at the pain, but it is only one more ache among many. The true cause of concern is why he stumbled. He is weak, and growing even weaker. He's unnaturally thin and small for his age, he knows that, but over the last hand of days, it has become increasingly difficult to rise from his mat of gathered reeds. He knows the source, knows it is all to blame on his hunger, a sensation that is as familiar to him now as the sun beating his bare shoulders or the wind pressing his skin. Familiar, yes, but not comforting. It has been too long since he has had any more to eat than a raw, dug up nut-grass tuber or handful of seeds. His body requires more today, or he may well be too weak to try again on the morrow. His lateness in waking was clear enough sign of that.
It is shomu, but the harvests have been bad this year. Hapi, God of the great river Nile, had been too generous to his people, the flood waters had risen well beyond what had been expected, damaging homes, turning roads to heavy mud. When the waters drew back, they had not drawn back far enough, and crops grew poorly in fields that were too wet as well as too dry. It was not so bad as drought, there was an abundance of water and those foods to be scavenged from the wild still available, but the harvests of grain, vegetables and fruit all suffered. The season of plenty is not so plentiful as it might be, and as stores begin to dwindle, it is set to only get worse.
It's not yet so bad that starvation is a real danger to anyone other than such homeless urchins as himself. It may not be so prosperous as most years, but to those with money or land of their own it isn't even time to start tightening kilts. But the well-off knew as well as the poor that harder times are coming, and food or coin was less likely to fall from careless fingers. Most of what the boy has to eat comes from his own labors or from a few lucky chances at thieving.
His own labors… the boy lifts himself from the ground, limps his way to a shaded corner of the little house, holding the wall with one hand to steady himself. There is an urn there, the largest one he could find intact, covered with a piece of wood which is weighted with a stone to keep the vermin out. Removing the stone and cover, he dips in a cup on a long handle and lifts out a little water. It's cool, but tastes stale and a bit like mud and fish. He gathers the water himself from the river, bucket by bucket to bring back to his hovel, and has yet to master the technique of lifting out the water and leaving the riverbed behind. He drinks it anyway, grimacing only a little at the taste.
It's better than nothing, and might fool his clenching stomach into thinking it is full, at least for a little while.
His own labors, where food is concerned, has been haphazard but constant. He has tried, both this year and the one before, to grow some of his own food, but the few seeds he'd been able to gather and not immediately consume did not thrive. The few that sprouted were weedy things, sickly in the poor soil and scant water. The farm was too far away from the river to enjoy the renewal of silt during the inundation even in a heavy year, and there were no irrigation ditches to water his tiny plot. He'd tried bringing water to it just as he did for his urn, but it took too much time, time needed in gathering food he could eat now. The results of his effort was… negligible. He abandoned the garden, hearing what would survive to itself and concentrating on more productive means of gathering food. So far, only onions were growing with any success.
His other efforts varied in success, though all were more successful than his gardening. He'd tried fashioning a sling for bringing down fowl or small animals, remembering a neighbor child of his village having done the same and being occasionally rewarded with fresh meat for his efforts. But there is a knack to it he can't quite seem to get. He still tries from time to time, but it will be some time before he has a dinner brought in from a launched stone. He's had more luck in fishing the river for catfish and perch, gathering tender shoots which he could eat as he found them or gathering papyrus and reeds to roast over a fire. Sometimes he got lucky and happened on a nest with eggs or – even better – young fowl too young to fly away. Late in the season he can gather budding seeds, and there is always the option of digging up edible roots. The river provides for those willing to look, to those willing to risk the inherent dangers of hungry crocodile or temperamental water horse.
Today, he feels he has no time to spend in hunting what he could from the river. He's already picked what is nearby clean, he would have to travel far to find an area he has not already scoured bare, and even then, there's no guarantee he would find anything once he got there. He is not the only hungry mouth that plies the banks of the Nile.
Today, he is going to try stealing his meal.
The boy dislikes thieving, tries to avoid it whenever he can. Not out of any kind of moral imperative, but because he isn't very good at it. He's clumsy, tends to draw attention to himself at inopportune times and is slow on the getaway. It's only because of his size that he's managed to stay free as long as he has, ducking into small places his pursuers can't follow.
Attempting to steal means going into the village, being caught amongst buildings, surrounded by people he didn't know on all sides. The boy shudders a little at the thought. He hates the notion of such proximity almost as much as the thought of thieving. Being in a village, walking its roads or alleyways, hearing the voices of people raised in conversation or hawking their wares brought back unpleasant memories. Memories he'd just as soon forget completely.
Yet he can't. He tries to, desperately thinks of anything else but that night, that last night in Kul Elna, but he can't. He relives it in dreams, is sometimes reminded of it during the day by the smallest of things – a broken jar, the falling of a particular shadow – and suddenly he's back there again and –
- there's blood running across the floor in rivulets and he looks to see from where it comes –
- firelight races along the walls, thumps of sandaled feet coming –
- screams of neighbors, of friends as they fight for their lives –
- the gleam of a smooth, curving blade –
- his mother, pushing him, telling him to hide –
- boiling cauldrons, chanting men –
- running, running, running until his lungs felt ready to burst –
- screams and blood and terror and dark –
The boy gasps, clutching the rim of the water urn, his heart pounding, tears stinging his eyes and a cold sweat breaking out over his skin, leaving him to shiver. This is why he can't forget. Whenever he tries to distance himself, the memories rush into him, real and vivid in his mind, reopening the wound, leaving him raw and throbbing. He can't forget, nor does he think he ever will. It's like his own mind won't let him, giving him constant reminders and keeping his pain alive.
Pain he can live with. Hunger is a more demanding master. Gathering what reserve of strength he has, the boy dresses in his least threadbare kilt, wraps his head and tucks away as much of his distinctive hair as he can, and begins the long walk to the town.
The boy enters the village hesitantly, and is surprised to find how few people there are to be seen. It is late in the morning, but it is still morning. There should be many, going about their routines, getting as much done as possible before the heat would force them to retire for the mid-afternoon slumber. But no, the roads are curiously empty, save an occasional dog.
The boy in instantly wary, staying close to the sides of buildings, his eyes darting from place to place, his eyes open for the slightest sound. It may be nothing, but the boy has survived too much to just assume so. The empty streets bring certain memories far too close for comfort.
He does not have long to wait before his wonderings are answered, by great ringing bells and a distant cheer. That is when the boy remembers: today is the Festival of the Beautiful Reunion. Today, with much pomp and circumstance and under the watchful eyes of the many priests, Het-Hert would be taken from Her temple and ferried up the Nile in Her barque, surrounded by a flotilla of boats, all filled to the brim with worshippers. She would be taken upriver, making frequent stops along the way at other villages, until she arrived in Behdet. There, there would be more festivities, ceremonies and feasting, as everyone was allowed to celebrate the marriage twixt Het-Hert and Heru.
It is one of the favorite festivals of the people, as it is one all are welcome to participate in. Even now, the streets and homes are empty because all are gathered at the temples, to witness the Goddess begin her journey.
With a jolt, the boy realizes that if today is the Festival of Beautiful Reunion, then it is also his birthday. With a slightly guilty pang, the boy has to pause to recall and count up the number of years he has lived. Without a true home or family anymore, and every day a continuing struggle to keep enough food in his belly to keep it from pressing against his backbone, there has been little cause to keep track of the passing days, save to know when the next swelling of the river was due, and with it the growing season.
He is eight this day. Little more than three years, three rises and falls of the great river, have passed since his home was destroyed, his people butchered.
In the stillness and the heat, the boy shivers, then tenses, but the memories he half expects to engulf him keep their distance. Now is not a time to ponder the past, but to secure food, and quickly. The memories would keep until he slept, when they would visit him in vivid color. As they always would, as they always did.
He could turn his feet toward the temples. With the moving of Het-Hert, that was where the majority of the town's populace will be, but while there will be some celebration, there will be no feast. The feasting, should it take place at all in a lean year, won't be for another two hands of days, when the Goddess would reach Bahdet. Any food to be found at the temples will be sparse, and the people thick, the chances of being caught elevated ridiculously. It would be too easy to be spotted accidentally with so many pairs of eyes around. And with some of those eyes belonging to the priests…
The boy breaks into a slow trot, heading in the direction of the river, at an angle that will deliver him to a place well upstream from the temples and their crowds. In a day of celebration, there would be many taking the opportunity to lounge, and there would be those who would pay their respects to the departing Goddess while avoiding the crowds at the temples. There will be those who choose to be beside the water as Het-Hert's barque floated by, in comparative privacy and real coolness. The boy finds he agrees with the coolness wholeheartedly. So much walking in the sun and heat has drained him even further, his head is starting to feel strange, heavy and light at the same time and stuffed with wool.
With trembling limbs, he speeds as well he can toward the river, part of a prayer, unfamiliar in its disuse, rising to his lips:
"May I receive the loaves which are before You,
And the victuals of Your Temple."
Pray to Gods, he thinks. But carry out deeds with your own hands.
When he arrives by the riverside, there are many clustered along its banks, more than he had thought there would be. Not a solid mass of people, but rather a long line of small groups strung like beads on a string, it is still an impressive number. The boy hesitates a moment, thinking to turn back and try his luck at housebreaking, hoping he would be so lucky as to pick one without even a single resident or slave to catch him. But then he sees that nearly all of those by the water have taken the opportunity to enjoy their position to the fullest and brought picnics. Along the bank of the Nile, there was a feast going on, albeit one from many sources.
The boy cannot turn away from such bounty. Moving stealthily, he moves upstream, his left eye on the picnickers, waiting for a set best suited to his needs.
What he eventually finds is more than he had dared hope for. It's a pair of figures, waited on by a third whose role is to remain unobtrusively in the background until needed. He ignores the third and focuses his attention on the reclining couple.
They are obviously well off, it shows in the whiter than white kilt of the man, the fine linen sheath of the woman, in the braided wigs and jewelry of both. They converse easily with each other, and since they have set their place father from any others than usual to enjoy more privacy, the boy has more than ample cover amongst the reeds to draw close without drawing attention to himself. Ducking into the thick growth along the bank, he crawls toward them along his belly, pushing stalks out of his way when he must, but avoiding moving anything where he can. Mud and stones slide along his chest, belly and legs as he progresses, staining his kilt even further, but he doesn't care. His mind is focused entirely on his targeted pair and the basket of food they brought with them.
He gets close, closer than is probably necessary or safe to remain unseen, close enough to make out some of the details of his chosen 'prey'. They are a couple, not brother and sister, of that he is certain; the age gap between them is too great and certain features speak to different parentages. Whether the relationship after that is one of two lovers, a married pair or a man and his mistress is impossible to tell. Their comparatively secluded position on the river might be suggestive, or might simply be their desire for privacy. The boy cares not in any case, as it does not pertain to nor affect his primary concern of the basket that rests between them.
It's large-ish, but not too large for a boy of his size to manage, and he attempts to calculate how much it might contain. Against the mouthwatering conclusion he comes to, he takes away how much the pair seems to be eating, how much they might continue to eat, and attempts to guess how long he will have to wait before they decide to take an after-meal stroll along the water.
That will be the time to make his move, when the couple moves along. A moment is all he needs, just a moment and a small head start and he can spring up, snatch up the basket and be off again before anyone knows what happened. His only real concern for such a brilliant strategy lies with the slave, hovering near her masters. There is no way to know if, what they rise for their walk, if she will be commanded by their sides or if she will remain by the food. Reluctantly, the boy must concede that her place will most likely be with the basket, to keep away hungry rats such as himself. If she does stay, then the challenge is how to get at the basket? If her attention wanders, or if she leaves for a moment for whatever reason, then small issue. If she doesn't…
The boy fingers the long, thin scrap of cloth tucked at the waist of his kilt. He isn't the best shot with the sling, he can't bring down enough game to live off of, at best his skill would bring in a rare treat a time or two in several hands of days. But a human figure, even one as slim as the girl slave, so near and unmoving, wouldn't prove to be a difficult target. He won't aim for her pretty head – an urchin who is a thief is bad enough, one who is a killer stands no chance of survival – he needs only distract her. A strike to her shoulder or back, enough to stave off any pursuit…
But if he does strike her, she will cry out, alerting not only her masters, but anyone within earshot. And he would have to stand up in order to use the sling, shattering any stealth he had before, alerting his target, ruining the whole plan.
The boy lets out a heavy breath, a silent sigh of frustration, and takes his hand away from the sling.
His thoughts already on her, the boy eyes the slave girl warily. Slaves make him nervous. He knows that, should he ever be caught, either in his few stints at thieving or just as a rootless drifter squatting in the empty hut, slavery is the likeliest fate that awaits him. Placement in a foster home is an unrealistic hope, and slavery offers his captors more than throwing him in gaol. And if anyone were to discover where it was he came from, the name of the village he had been born in that even now was falling to ruins in the wind, not so far to the north… he could expect even worse than prison or enslavement.
While possibly not the worst of fates, the boy avoids slavery like plague. Slaves have certain rights, he knows, and are entitled to such things as clothing, shelter, reasonable care should they become ill or injured, and food. And if a slave won the favor of his or her owner they might gain privileges, small freedoms, or on rare occasions, freedom itself. But the boy, for all his painful youth, is no fool. There are tales told that even his ears can catch of what sometimes becomes of the youngest slaves, male and female alike. He is self-aware enough to know his coloring, his paler-than-moonlight hair and his purple eyes, make him unique, if not particularly beautiful, and therefore a prize for someone's private collection. He has no desire to become the body slave of some aging merchant, whatever tempting morsels he might be offered in return.
Besides which, the thought of belonging to another in any capacity, to do their bidding, twists his entrails in a way that has nothing to do with food, or lack thereof.
The wind changes, and suddenly the boy is drooling, his stomach cramping hard enough to bring tears to his eyes. He can smell the food the couple have brought with them. Seeing at a distance wasn't so much an issue; he could pretend it wasn't there, that they were handling anything other than food and keep a hold of his focus. But with the scent of roast duck and fresh bread in his nostrils, practically able to taste it on his tongue, he almost groans with sheer want of it.
Desperately he tries to find some other thing to distract himself, for if he allows himself to focus overlong on the delicious smells, there will be no chance at a successful filching. He drags his eyes to the couple, his attention to who they might be and what they are saying rather than what they are eating.
The man is obviously a court man, his especially fine horsehair wig of hundreds of braids, each tipped with a tiny red bead, his fresh kilt and many flashing rings all mark him as such. Were there any doubt, the lady at his side soon dispels it.
"How did you find your time at the palace?" she asks in a sweet voice, tossing her head to a rattling of her own beaded wig. Her dark, kohl rimmed eyes sparkle with mirth. There is some meaning to her question that is lost on the eavesdropping thief. "Did you see Pharaoh?"
Her companion laughs, a full, happy laugh that belies his years. He is an old man of more than thirty, but his laugh is young. "No, no. I am far too lowly a functionary, as well you know," he adds with a shaking finger, to which the girl only grins, "to ever approach the Holy One with aught but the back of my head offered up to the bottom of his sandal."
The girl pouts and raises a small jar to her lips, wine, beer or possibly plain water. A quick look shows the boy there are several sealed jars beside the basket. "I hoped you had perhaps but glimpsed him, moving from place to place, as you spent time within the palace."
"Alas, such pleasures were not mine to enjoy, beloved."
The girl takes this in and appears to grow thoughtful, gazing up the river, perhaps checking if she can spot the barque making its start. The man allows the silence, content to watch his 'beloved' and soak in the warmth of the day. The slave girl remains impassive. Hidden in the reeds, a small boy's stomach protests the wait when sustenance is so obviously near at hand. The mud begins to itch at his sides, a dry strand of grass tickles his face, and an insect begins the long crawl from his calf up his leg. It takes more of his control than it should just to remain still.
"What of the little Hawk-in-Nest?" the woman asks at last. "The young prince, did you see him?"
The man has his back to the boy and he is facing downriver, towards the temples to watch for the barque, and the boy has positioned himself upriver – for an easier escape path when it's needed – so there's no way to see his expression, but there is a fond smile in his voice as he replies. "Ah, yes. The young prince I did see. He's an energetic one! Ready to fledge any moment, his nurses are kept running just to keep up with him."
The woman is clearly delighted. "Such good news!" she exclaims, her face lit like the sun. "Such a strong young prince will undoubtedly make a fine Pharaoh of Egypt. The Gods look kindly on us!"
"Indeed," the man agrees, still speaking affectionately. "We are blessed to have such as our Pharaoh and his son. What other land in the world can claim so powerful and kindly a ruler as he, who beat back the barbarians three years ago? Truly, the prince's birth at that time could be nothing but the highest blessing!"
"His or ours', dear one?" the woman asks teasingly. The man chuckles in response, and even the slave girl allows herself to smile at their conversation, taken in by the charm of the subject.
They continue to talk animatedly back and forth, about the Pharaoh and his son, about the Festival, and about the good fortune of Egypt in general, who still manages to celebrate even in a comparatively poor year. The boy, however, no longer listens. His mind has abruptly turned inward, hate and fury of unexpected intensity gripping him, coiling around his spine and squeezing until it becomes hard to breathe.
These people, who a moment ago he only thought of as unsuspecting providers, he suddenly loathes with every ounce of his body. He hates them for their comfort, their happiness, their sheer stupidity. Speaking of the Pharaoh as a benevolent benefactor when it was he that ordered the murder of his village, his entire people, in the most grotesque of ways. Lounging and congratulating themselves in their contentment while not ten yards away, in the mud, lies a victim of this 'great Pharaoh', starved down to the skin and bone, left to fend for himself. How dare they, how dare they be so comfortable, their lives so perfect when he is all alone? He hates them all, Pharaoh, his brat, these people and their slave, the priests at the temples, the cheering crowds, the Gods themselves. He hates them, hates, hates, hates.
The boy's body suddenly seems to seize, his hands gripping into the mud and rock, his spine tries to curl, but cannot go far. His eyes are so wide they are in danger of leaving his head, his throat freezes around what might have become a scream.
He feels strange, something somewhere is twisting and tearing and stretching all at once and he can't control it. He wants to cry out, he doesn't care if he's heard anymore or not, yet he can't, his voice has been stolen from him. And overlaying it all, still the overwhelming sense of hate, turning his vision red, then white and filling his nostrils with the sharp, heavy scent of blood. Then there was –
- blood and screams and –
- mud and stones being shoved under his ragged nails as he gripped, trying to hold on to a world fleeing from him, and –
- heat unlike anything he's ever felt before and something pressing the base of his spine and –
- finally he can breathe, he gasps, tastes and smells mud, hears the woman nearby call out a question but –
- there's a rushing noise in his ears that's not from the river and he can't stand up, his legs and arms refuse to respond –
- terror and darkness –
- pain is ripping him to shreds, tearing at his flesh from his toes to the roots of his hair, leaving nothing between untouched and he can hear someone coming –
- he'll be caught, caught and dragged away and made a slave and he needs to get away but he can't move –
- why must you run? –
- everything hurts, what's going on, need to get away, she's coming closer! –
- who's to blame? –
- they are, they are, they are! –
With a snap, the boy's head comes up from where it had been lolling. Through a haze of white, he sees a slender brown hand reaching through the reeds, ready to part them, to find him. A voice is calling, concerned but firm. The boy sees only a hand that is ready to grab him and clap him in shackles. His lips already pulled back in unconscious grimace, the boy opens his mouth and lets loose a scream of rage and hate, all for anyone who dare come near him.
- stretching, tearing, pain –
White takes all of the boy's sight for a moment, his vision comes back just in time to see the hand retreat quickly, and something white and shining and large flashing through the stalks in pursuit. There's a brief scream from the other side, soon followed by more, birthed from other throats. The sound of footfalls, running, and the crashing of brush comes not long after, growing steadily fainter.
The boy lies gasping in the mud for less than half a minute, feeling light, dizzy, and oddly cold. Then he jumps up, adrenaline burning through him. A quick glance tells him all he needs to know: the couple and their slave are gone, leaving their basket alone and unguarded. He doesn't know what happened to him, nor what made the trio abandon their picnic, but it doesn't matter. He crashes through the reeds separating him from the precious basket of food and falls on it. He snatches up two of the sealed jars and the small, partially eaten roasted duck, tosses them in, lifts the basket up and then –
He's away, bolting for his life up the bank of the Nile. He sprints until his breath begins to wheeze, then stops suddenly, crouching low in the tall grasses and listens, his ears straining for any telltale sound of pursuit. When he hears nothing but the wild beating of his own heart he takes three deep breaths, clutches the pilfered basket closer to his body and runs again. It is heavy – wonderfully, gloriously heavy! – but on no terms will he put it down. The basket and its contents have become his life, he will not give them up.
He continues his escape, running in brief bursts of speed and crouching in slightly longer periods of rest, eyes and ears well open. It is the best method of escape he's yet discovered. It got him away quickly while forcing him not to run blindly, the pauses giving him enough time to pick and choose a route. Should he need a longer burst of speed from a real chase, his pauses will have saved enough of his wind to manage it. Hopefully.
Finally, when he feels his legs won't let him rise again, the boy stops. He is far from where he began, far from any of the people situated along the riverbank, the only sounds reaching him being the flow of the river itself, the tiny breeze through the reeds and distant temple bells. He won't feel completely safe until he reaches his hut, but for now he is safe enough. Until he feels strong enough to continue, he can sort through his bounty.
On top there is, of course, the two sealed jars of most likely beer and the duck, and as he digs down deeper he finds two small loaves of barley bread, glazed with honey and sprinkled with seeds, dates, another two jars, two honey cakes and, glory of glories, half a melon.
The boy openly gapes at this last treasure. A melon! And in a slim year! A low ranking functionary or not, to afford such a luxury was rare, indeed, and now it is his!
At the very bottom of the basket he finds a small metal knife, another prize no less valuable than the edibles, and he uses it to carve away a small sliver of the tender, sweet melon flesh. It hits his tongue and a shiver goes up his spine, his face pinches in a happy smile. So sweet! He thinks his teeth might shatter from it, or he might faint of sheer pleasure. He does not faint, though, and moves from the melon to sample a little of each of his prizes. As much as he wants to simply gorge on everything the basket contains, he knows better than to try. An unfortunate incident about a year previous taught him the lesson of patience well.
He eats half of one date, finds that it is also sweet, and very tart and sticky, it makes his mouth hurt a little. The bread is heaven, crisp and crackling outside, tender inside, the seeds and honey glaze a beautiful addition to the barley and yeast flavor of the bread. The honey cakes are, of course, sweet, but filling, or would be if he ate more than a bite. Then there is the duck. It's been so long since he has eaten the flesh of anything other than fish improperly cooked over smoky fires that his fingers tremble a little as he carves away a tiny portion with the knife. It practically drips with grease, and melts on his tongue, flavors exploding in his mouth. Tears sting at his eyes briefly. He licks away every trace of the precious fat off his fingers, not wasting a single delicious bit.
There is a rustling amongst the reeds and rushes from downriver and the boy freezes. If it's one of the townsfolk finally caught up with him, he will have to abandon the food he's already taken from the basket, but he might make off with the basket itself and the majority of the foodstuffs if he makes a quick escape of it.
He never get a chance to try, as the rustler of grasses appears before he can get a single foot beneath him.
What pokes from between the slender stalks would have many fleeing, and in fact had, the boy realizes with startling clarity, but he feels no fear at all. He ought to, he knows, but for some reason fear does not come. The head is large, arrow shaped, and white as bone, like the thick, sinuous, limbless body that it's attached to. The mouth, when the serpent opens it to greet the boy with a soft hiss, is black, blacker than kohl. It looks at the boy with curious intelligence, only a touch of the usual reptilian chill lurking in the corners of its wide eyes.
Feeling himself to be in a dream, the boy beckons the serpent, holding a hand low for it to touch.
Without hesitation, the serpent slithers close, touches the boy's fingertips with a flicking black tongue. It tickles and the boy chuckles, shocking himself. How long has it been since he last laughed? The serpent regards him, regards his arm, then begins to climb the thin limb. There is a very brief moment of concern as the weight begins to tug his arm, but it dissipates almost immediately. The heaviness is comforting, a confirmation he's not alone. He wonders why it is he's not afraid of this serpent, when it could so easily kill him, but then the reptile's eyes come even with his, and he doesn't wonder anymore.
They are not a serpent's eyes, for no serpent was ever conceived that had such wide, knowing, purple eyes. They are his eyes, violet as the dusk and knowing, outlined by glistening scales. Deep in his being, the boy knows this serpent is his. In a way that he cannot explain, even to himself, this serpent is him.
Licking his lips nervously, the boy whispers, "Little God, what is your name?"
The serpent does not answer, but in that same strange way he knows it will not hurt him, that it is a part of him, he knows that it wants to, that it tries, but can't manage. It is too weak, he realizes. If it could be made stronger, than it might be able to. With one hand, the boy carves away a small piece of duck and offers it to the serpent, who flicks its tongue at the morsel, then takes it up almost delicately and swallows it whole.
"One day, you'll be strong enough to tell me," the boy swears, stoking the smooth head with his free hand. The serpent's eyes half-close, it leans into his hand, enjoying the caress.
And one day, the boy thinks to himself, you and I might grow strong enough to topple the Pharaoh that slaughtered my village. Then maybe my rage will ease, and the nightmares will cease.
From deep within the boy, so deep and intrinsic now to his being he hardly hears it, another, half remembered voice whispers, "Soon…"
The scene expands, widens, like it is being seen by a bird who is taking flight, until the boy and serpent are lost, two specks on the Nile bank.
Awareness comes sooner this time, and Ryou Bakura knows who he is. He wonders if this is a dream he will remember, or if it, like the one before, will be forgotten…
A/N2: You know, I'm not sure if I find the Ancient Egypt parts more annoying or enjoyable to write… ah, well. History time!
The Festival of the Beautiful Reunion: Right, for this I'm just going to give everyone an excerpt from the site I did a lot of research on. Anything more you're going to have to look up yourselves. Sorry, I'm not an encyclopedia. At least not here, I'm not. "The festival was celebrated in the third month of Shomu, which means June-July, when HetHert travelled from her home at Dendera to go 180 km (110 miles) south to Edfu and the temple of Heru. There she would stay for two weeks while the marriage was consecrated inside the temple. She was greeted and celebrated as the 'Returning Eye of Re', which promised fertility and renewed life to the earth and to humans. After the fourteen days, HetHert would sail back to Dendera to await the birth of the child conceived at Edfu -Har-mau (Hor-sma tawy) or Greek: Harsomtus: Horus the Uniter." This was found at the site triple 'w' - dot - philae - dot - nu - slash - akhet - slash - index - dot - html.
Dendera: If you paid attention to the last paragraph, then that should tell you where our little orphan is, now. The town of Dendera, which is, while by no means close to Qurna (my real life model for the village of Kul Elna) it is conceivable that he would be able to make it from there to Dendera over the course of three years. So look at that, I'm being semi-clever! :D
Prayer: The prayer that our kid mutters to himself is part of a hymn to Het-Hert, found in the XIth Dynasty Temple at Deir El-Bahari. I found that passage fitting for him at the time, and it's more than reasonable to suppose he would know some prayers off by heart, even given his circumstances.
Food: Again, trying to remain truthful to history, but if I've made any glaring mistakes, feel free to let me know. This is how I learn, everyone, by researching and being corrected when I stick my foot in my mouth.
Serpent: Yeah, anyone want to take a guess on what/who this is and the significance? It'll all be revealed, if not explained, later on, and no doubt everyone knows perfectly well… but c'mon. Take a guess. ;3
Again, I'm not sure if I'm having a ball or being completely frustrated by the Ancient Egyptian memories… probably both. I've never done this much research on a particular subject for a fic before in my life, and I'm still not sure I'm getting everything right; in fact I'm pretty sure I'm mucking it up pretty badly… ah well. Thank you for reading and putting up with my horrible grasp of history and geography, everyone! Love!