A/N: I'm digging all the het pairings this season.
Also borrowing MMF's names because they're really good names.
"Mother... how did you and chief Ishtar meet?"
"Why do you ask that, Rishid?"
"I..." Rishid stopped his work and lowered his head.
"He hates me, mother. He won't use my name and he yells at me and he won't let me call him 'father'."
"And you want to know why I married such a horrible man?"
Rishid said nothing, embarassed. Panya sighed. She stood and crossed to the door. There was little to fear, even with the door open, for the men would ever bother her in the kitchen, especially with Rishid in the room. Still, she shut and even barred the door. When she returned, she sat close to Rishid and spoke very softly.
"Rishid, you are a clever boy. You know when to speak and when to keep silent. I will tell you the story, but you must not interuppt until I finish, and you must never speak of it to anyone else."
He looked startled at the gravity of her request, but nodded swiftly.
"This is not just the tale of my husband. It is of my childhood and my heritage. It is of the outside world, of which we are forbidden to speak.
"I was born above the ground, into the city of Al 'Uqsur, or Luxor, as the tourists called it. Our lives depended on the whims of so many foreigners. We slaved in the desert sun, and they stared at our tombs and buildings and spent more money than my father would earn in a month taking them through the tombs. I hated them. It was because of them that my family had to depend on our small, hard-earned garden, for when the money was scarce because the people would not come. I asked my father why he swerved the people instead of trying to live off the land. He said that our family had always protected the tombs.
"The other children and I would run away from the tourists, to the edge of the desert itself. We would play in the cool dusk, and run home under the rising moon. I would stay out at night if I could, but father and mother forbade it. The night was so much nicer than the day. The moon did not scorch us. I would stare at it, trying to make sense of the shapes of its surface. Once, when I was very little, I tried the same with the sun. My eyes burned, and I saw spots for days. I was lucky I did not go blind.
"When we were still young enough that boys and girls played together, a strange boy appeared in our midst. But his skin was dark and he spoke our tongue so we let him join in our games. When the moon signaled our curfew, he would disappear before any could see where he went.
"The boy's name was Nassor.
"He gave us no family name. I had no idea where he was from or how he lived. I imagined he was a spirit, living in the tombs and taking the form of a boy. We only saw each other in the grove of trees where we played. Yet, we grew up together. When we would split up to play in teams, he would always stand by me. When I went on my own, we would walk, and he would ask me about life in the city. I would tell him of the noise, the crowds, and the poverty. I poured out my dislike for our dependence on the ignorant foreigners.
"He told me nothing of his own life, no matter how much I pleaded or goaded him. He would just ask me more questions, which I was always eager to answer.
"Then we both grew. I did not play as a child any more. I stayed home. I cared for my little brother and sister while our parents worked. But I did not forget my desert spirit. I went back to the grove years later, no longer a girl but a young woman. The city had expanded, and our secluded play grounds were now connected by a shiny paved road to the rest of the city.
"I wandered off the road, into the trees. I stared out into the desert. My eyes had never been the same since I stared into the sun as a child. I could not see as well by daylight as I should have been able. But in the dusk and the darkness, my sight excelled. My parents did not believe me, but I swore the scorching sun had improved my sight in darkness. Surely I could see more at night than the rest of my family. This dusk, I swore I saw the shadow of a man far off in the dunes. And I knew he was still there. I wondered if he actually lived in the desert. I imagined a farm, a hut, some goats on the banks of the Nile. Only a few people. Dependent on themselves. I yearned to run into the desert right then, after the shadow no one else could see.
"My parents took us all to see the capital. If Al 'Uqsur was an was an obelisk, Masr was a great Pyramid. There were so many more people. Men in western suits, women who showed as much of their skin as I covered. And tourists. For ever Egpytian person in the capital, there were two tourists.
"Masr was everything I hated about the world condensed into one place.
"When we returned, I ran to the grove of trees. The sun was setting, and I did the unthinkable. I ran into the desert and into the cold night. It was an especially cold winter, cold enough that if I did not find shelter, I could very well die. I followed the spirit's shadow, though this time, I think I truly was mad. The shadow stayed perpetually in front of me, easily visible under the light of the full moon. I ran for hours. The cold was not a problem until I tired. I could not keep running. In vain, I looked back to my city, but it was gone. I could not even be sure of the way I had come.
"Desperate, I shouted the name of my spirit to the wind. I staggered forward, looking for anything that would save me. I finally collapsed onto the sand. I scraped at the earth, trying to push myself to my feet. I hit something hard and wooden.
"I brushed away sand and uncovered the door. I tried to open it, but it was bolted shut. I pounded on it, not really believing that anyone could live there.
"The door started to move. I scrambled off of it. Three men and Nassor emerged. There were more people in the tombs before you came along. The men held long knives and said none could know of their hiding place and live.
"I was too stunned and exhausted to run away any longer. I thought they would kill me, when Nassor jumped between us all.
'Do not kill her! I wish to take her as my wife.'
"The men laughed at him. They said they would kill both of us for our trechery. I was a demon from the outside world.
'I no longer wish to live in my world!' I shouted honestly. 'Let me go with you!'
If the men were sympathetic to my plea, their faces did not betray it. Instead they approaced with their knives. Nassor tried again.
'Since my father died, you have led the clan in his place, Kermeul. But now I am a man, and the righful chief. I claim the right of my bloodline to lead the tomb-keepers. You will not kill me, you will not kill her, and she will come to live with us.'
"The men and Nassor stared at each other for a long while, as the men will do when they quarrel. Finally, Kermeul, who left the tomb shortly after, stood aside and let us pass. Nassor pulled me up and led me into the tomb.
"His mother, still alive then, feared me at first, but grew to like me. Nassor's newly-claimed status would not have helped with the women if I didn't have the clan mother's approval. I spoke to no one of my life in the outside world. Those who were here when I arrived gradually died, left, or forgot. Only Nassor knows the truth anymore.
Panya finally lasped into silence. Rishid stared at her in wonder.
"Do you know why I told you this story, Rishid?" She prompted, when he said nothing.
Rished feared the words as they came from him. "I am from the outside, aren't I?"
"You are. And Nassor is jealous of you."
"Once, I asked Nassor why he brought me into the tomb, where he risked so much hatred, instead of fleeing with me back to the city. He said we would not have made it, for the men would have chased us and killed us. No boy who spent so much time outside truly wanted to stay in the tombs. I don't know that Nassor realizes it himself, but he wants to go back outisde. He hates you for being with us when you come from the world above the ground."
Footsteps echoed down the hallway, interuppting them. Panya hurried to the door and unbarred it.
The door swung open, and Nassor looked about.
"Wife," he barked. "Come. I have something to discuss with you."
Panya rose. Nassor looked from one to the other.
"What were you talking about? Why was the door closed?"
Rishid held his breath, but Panya answered immediately. "He wanted to hear the story of Osiris and Set. I did not think you would want to listen to children's tales while you were working."
Nassor grunted affirmation, and exited the room. Panya looked back at Rishid once more.
"You are just as much a part of this family as I, Rishid. Remember that." And she followed after her husband.