The first time they saw one another was one day before the great celebration of the Beautiful Feast of the Valley. Neither was sure what it was about that day that was so paranormal…mysterious, that the memory of it was the ripest one of the visual memories of their childhood. Both of them remembered every single detail of that day, as though they lived it over and over and over again so many times that they learned what took place on that day before the huge, much anticipated celebration, off by heart. Every little detail was engraved in their minds as eternally as the details of the glorious victory of Ramesses II during the Battle of Qadish were engraved in paint and sculptures within the grand Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun.
Seth was out of his mind with glee. He did not know if it was because it was the first time he was being taken to such a grand festival, or because he was finally being treated as an adult and taken to Thebes to live there as a priest apprentice, or because it was the day he would finally get to see the legendary Royal family - which he never gotten the honor of seeing before, considering that he had been living in Memphis ever since he was born, for the twelve years of his life. But whatever the reason was, it was making him so happy he was barely able to sit still on his horse's saddle.
The journey from Heliopolis to Thebes was long and tiresome and he grew impatient and angry. His father had scolded him over ten times for asking if they had arrived yet or not. But the discomfort of the trip was worth it. They reached Thebes, where the Palace was, when the sun's vicious heat was just starting to get milder. The streets of the city were not too crowded, as some of its citizens had retreated to their homes to either have a small meal or a short nap, after either laboring all day at the building sites, or suffering through their tiresome businesses and arguments with customers and suppliers.
Seth could see the long market street, lined on each side with small shops of vegetables, fruits, cereals, as well as furniture, clothes, accessories, cosmetics, in addition to shops selling small magical amulets, animals' shops and slave shops. The sounds in that place were loud, miscellaneous, casual, and by the sacred boat of Ra…noisy as a pit of the underground after the death of a crowd of criminals. But Seth's eyes were wide with awe as they scanned the interesting masses of the commoners, nobles, slaves and soldiers of the Egyptian lands, all gathered together.
The market place stretched before the small caravan that was led by Seth and his father's horses, and ended with the thirty foot high parameters of the Palace. The gates were tall and made of the strongest wood found in Egypt, supported by metal - iron - to increase the strength of the wooden barricade, and – gold - to add a sense of grandness and respect, enhancing the mythical air about the entrance to the residence of the Royal family.
On each side of the gates stood tall, imposing statues of the hawk god, Horus, with his falcon-head and human body, wearing the Double Crown and carrying the ankh in his hand. The statues were made of pure gold - the same material used to make the two Wedjats on either side of the gates - each of them pointing in two different directions to create a masterpiece of perfectly symmetrical proportions.
The gates were pulled open before them and Seth, from where he sat on his horse, stared in awe as the palace was revealed before them. His father's palace in Heliopolis was impressive, but this…this was something out of the afterlife itself, with the limestone - with which the entire palace was washed with - creased with golden hieroglyphs telling tales of the great Akunamukanon's victories and contributions to the Egyptian Empire, glowing immaculately. High pillars of marble, decorated by engraved drawings of Amun-Ra, Horus, Hathor and Thoth, held the second floor of the palace up, the regular arrangement of them interrupted by the protruding balcony, which overlooked the vast grounds in between the palace and the gates. It was right in the center of the two obelisks that stood towering to the sky, making Seth, even as he stood many feet away from them, feel very tiny just by staring at them. Gardens spread on either side of the palace: strawberry shrubs, apple trees and date palms decorated the place with the colors of their different fruits, and flowers of different types were scattered artistically all around amidst the golden statues of lions and cats. Artificial water streams glittered under the rays of Ra's light, making the areas they flowed through seem like they were made of diamonds, water lilies - pink and white - floating languidly on the surface.
Too busy staring up in awe at the majestic sight before him Seth did not realize that his father's convoy had started moving again, until Akunadin called to him impatiently, "Hurry along, Seth. Do not stand gaping like that."
Seth blinked and nudged his horse in the flanks, egging it to hurry after his father. He kept staring around him in wonder, unable to stop gawking. Was he really going to spend the rest of his life in this grand, beautiful luxury? The thought was unreal.
They kept approaching the building in the center of the circle created by the high parameters, and Seth's attention finally shifted on something else other than the gardens and the golden statues. He stared up at one of the balconies, located to the right of the main balcony.
And then, he saw him.
The Beautiful Feast of the Valley was tomorrow.
Crown Prince Atemu did not know whether he should rejoice like the rest of his country's people were, or if he should go sulk in a corner. He was going to the Pharaoh's mortuary temple and the other temples of the Gods tomorrow, but then he would have to stay on the ship in the evening while everyone else would be celebrating in the necropolis. He was old enough. He was eleven years of age; he knew everything there was to know about every aspect of the life of the Egyptians and he definitely was no child anymore.
He complained under his breath and, in a fit of frustration, grabbed some of the papyrus scrolls in front of him and angrily flung them away – and off the table - with his arm, getting up to stomp away.
He ignored the spluttering coming out Siamun's mouth at the sudden interruption to the lesson about the Hyksos he was teaching the young prince, heading for the balcony to stand before the railing and stare at the city stretching out before his eyes. He sighed in aggravation and leaned on the railing.
"Child…you must finish these scrolls before we embark on our journey at the break of dawn."
Atemu angrily snapped, "I do not feel like slaving over these demented scrolls no more. I will end my lessons for today."
"I said…" Atemu snapped again, pausing a little while to turn around and glare at his instructor, who stopped in his tracks at the frown his prince was shooting him, and carried on, "I will end my lessons for today." He turned around to stare ahead once again.
Atemu ignored the sigh he heard Siamun let out, staring with narrowed eyes and a puzzled expression at the small procession of people that just entered the palace grounds. He watched intently as one part of the party followed another, starting with the ending wagon pulled by the strong, well-taken care of horses that were decorated by the colors of the temples from Heliopolis, before his crimson eyes got fixed upon one of the two horses leading the procession.
Atemu's interest piqued tenfold when he saw the youth riding beside the man he recognized as his Uncle Akunadin. The prince fixed his gaze on that person - who seemed to be only a few months, or at most a year older than him - before his eyes widened in comprehension, his eyebrows rising when he realized that his cousin - the one he had not been able to see until that very moment (and did not even know the name of) – was this young boy. This young boy, who was both his cousin and his future High Priest, dressed in a lavender and golden-beige kilt. The kilt's colors were the same as the headdress that covered the brown hair Atemu saw innocently poking out from under the cloth on his cousin's head, a matching lavender chest-plate with gold embedded in it resting on the youth's shoulders. A beige cape, attached to the underside of the chest-plate, flowed around the boy's slim body, the ankh around his neck and his arm bands shining beneath the sun's rays.
Atemu was puzzled at the boy's presence. Why was he here? He was not supposed to come to Thebes except after he was qualified…
His thoughts trailed off in realization, and with it, anger, frustration and mortification flooded his mind and came back full-force. He slammed his clenched fist against the railing before turning around and demanding angrily, while pointing outside the balcony, "What is the meaning of this, Siamun?"
"Meaning of what, your highness?" the elderly vizier asked, staring where the prince was pointing. He narrowed his wrinkled eyes and stared some more, making Atemu get more impatient than ever, before he ahh-ed in realization and said with a big smile, "That is Priest Akunadin arriving for the festival tomorrow."
"I am capable of making that out by myself, but is that my uncle's son coming along? Does that mean he is considered of age to attend the entire celebration tomorrow?" Atemu seethed.
"Yes, your highness."
The answer infuriated him and he turned to look at the tiny procession again with glaring eyes, to see the boy staring up at his balcony. He blinked when he saw the intense blue shade of the boy's eyes – and then raised an eyebrow and held his gaze, determined not to let it waver.
To his amazement, the boy's eyes did not fall down away from his in the meekness and respect he had always received and had grown to expect to receive from everyone. Having dealt with his other future High Priests - Mahado and Ishizu -, the insolent response was unexpected. The defiance, curiosity and pride he saw in those blue eyes intrigued him. He found himself staring in fascination at the play of emotions on the boy's handsome face, starting with surprise and puzzlement, simmering to thoughtfulness before being followed by realization, awe and interest.
He knew that the boy was now aware of who he was. Why was he not pulling his eyes away? How rude!
Atemu narrowed his eyes when the boy looked away only when he and his father reached the immense front area of the palace, where obviously the Pharaoh was waiting to greet his brother. He angrily pushed away from the railing and turned around to stomp out of the balcony and the chambers in which he had been doing his lessons.
Siamun hurried after him, trying to ask him to stay until he had finished the scrolls, but Atemu ignored him and kept the angry face on as he walked into the throne room, which his father was just entering, followed by his brother and nephew.
He walked up to his father and halted his journey towards his throne by going down on one knee before him. His anger did not diminish his respect for his father and his king.
"Good afternoon, Atemu. Arise," Atemu obeyed with grace and looked up into his father's eyes, studiously ignoring the curious looks the boy was shooting him from behind the Pharaoh's shoulder. "You were expected to be…in your study chambers." The Pharaoh remarked in puzzlement, looking at Siamun.
"I will not resume my lessons until I get your word that I will attend the entire celebration tomorrow." Atemu determinedly informed, raising his eyebrows.
"I have already told you that that will not be possible. You will come with us to the temples then retire for the rest of the day on the ship while we go to the necropolis." Akunamukanon told him with a shake of his head.
"I am not going to look at any scrolls for the next season if I do not attend the entire festival." Atemu stubbornly crossed his arms and pursed his lips angrily.
"Atemu, you are too old to do such silly things." Akunadin joined the conversation, staring down at his nephew with an amused grin.
"If I am too old to do such silly things, then do you not think that I should be allowed to attend the celebration at the necropolis tomorrow?" Atemu bit back in protest.
Akunadin turned to the Pharaoh and grinned, "Your son's debating skills outdo your own."
"Atemu, you are still not old enough." Akunamukanon spoke to the angry prince in an exasperated tone. Atemu simply stared up at his father in resentment, his face showing how unwilling he was to back down. "If you do not go back to your study chambers, I will ask you not to join us at all tomorrow." Akunamukanon informed him, striding towards his throne, indicating that he wanted the topic to be dismissed.
"If I am being treated as an adult with regard to education, why can't I be treated as an adult regarding other matters too?" Atemu argued, turning around to follow his father's steps towards the golden throne. He meticulously ignored the feeling of being watched coming from the general direction of the boy who stood as silent and as still as a statue of a lethal, beautiful god.
Akunamukanon tried to change the subject, by beckoning to the boy who stood behind Atemu and said, "Atemu, I would like you to meet someone." Atemu turned around where his father was pointing and where the boy was approaching. He was desperate to attend the celebration but greater was his interest to find out the name of this boy. He made sure to keep his displeased frown on his face though when his father resumed, "This is Seth, son of Akunadin, your cousin and your future High Priest."
Atemu stared down at the boy who sank to one knee before him while muttering, his voice smooth, strong, "I am greatly honored to meet you, your highness."
Atemu was going to reply, but stopped and stared in shock when the boy's head tilted up, his blue eyes staring with a defiant twinkle as a small smirk carved itself on the future priest's lips. The prince frowned "How dare you meet my eyes with such a cynical look in your eyes? Do you not know who I am?"
Seth smiled and raised his eyes to boldly stare into Atemu's and he answered, "Your highness, do forgive me, for I meant no disrespect. I was merely observing how godlike a…child," Atemu's eyes widened in indignity and protest at the words, as Seth continued with the same calm smile, "like yourself could become."
Atemu's face reddened and he clenched his hands into fists and hissed, "You…"
"Atemu, I think that this is enough." His father interrupted what promised to turn into a fight, Atemu made to turn his angry, ablaze crimson eyes away from Seth - who rose up from his kneeling position with a grace and arrogance that made Atemu want to scratch his eyes out. "Please go with Siamun to resume your lessons."
Atemu opened his mouth to say something when he heard a slight cough coming from Seth's direction that oddly sounded like, "…needs a nursemaid…"
"I fail to see why I should be left behind and he gets to go the celebration. We are the same age!" Atemu protested angrily, glaring daggers at the blue-eyed boy. "If he goes, then I will go as well!"
Akunamukanon sighed in exasperation and Akunadin chuckled and suggested, "Alright. The boy has got a point there," Atemu noticed with satisfaction the alarmed look on Seth's face at his father's words. "If you spend the night with Seth on the ship tomorrow, will you go back to your chambers to study, my Prince?"
Atemu mentally smirked; if he couldn't go, then at least he would get the satisfaction of spoiling the night for his irksome blue-eyed cousin. "I will, if that is the case. It is not fair for me, Mahado and Ishizu to stay behind while he goes to the necropolis."
"Alright then," Seth's interruption was cut off by Akunadin who turned to him and said in a commanding voice, "Seth, you will stay on the ship with Atemu tomorrow evening so both of you can keep the other company."
Atemu smiled in satisfaction and he turned to his cousin who was standing with his mouth agape in shock and anger and his arms by his sides in disbelief. "But father, you said…"
Akunamukanon rose up from his seat and he glared at his son and nephew and stopped all arguments, "That is enough from both of you. Atemu, you will go back to your lessons at this very moment, and Seth, do not argue with your father, or I promise both of you will be sent to the floggers instantly."
The Pharaoh had said his word, which was law. Atemu, although reluctant, marched away with Siamun at his heels, a satisfied smile on his lips. Seth crossed his arms in moodily and averted his eyes resentfully elsewhere other than the royal brat who had just walked away.
Some time before the evening meal, Atemu was let off from his studies to have some time to himself before coming into the dining hall. The prince sighed in relief when he found himself walking amidst the flowering bushes in the garden; he hated the study chambers with their stuffy, oppressive atmosphere and Siamun's boring, monotonous voice droning about this or that. The garden was his most appreciated sanctuary. Every moment he spent in the gardens made him relax.
Except for today.
And the reason for that was one, infuriating, blue-eyed, future high priest cousin!
"What are you doing here?" he snapped in rage when he found his favorite spot beneath the feet of the large statue of Horus taken by Seth.
Seth scowled at him and snapped back, "I am sitting. Is it forbidden?"
"That is my place." Atemu vehemently informed him.
"I fail to see your name written anywhere around here." Seth countered and, as if to reinforce the idea, he borrowed deeper in between Horus's feet and crossed his arms stubbornly.
"I am commanding you to leave this place this very moment," Atemu blistered.
Seth stared at him in defiance and snapped, "A child like you will not command me to do anything…"
That did it for Atemu. With an enraged cry he pounced upon Seth, effectively managing to knock his cousin sideways and onto the grass. Atemu pinned him there and was going to start showing the conceited rogue how childish he could really get when Seth swung his arm powerfully and flipped him away from him and onto his back, turning the tables turned so that Atemu was then pinned beneath Seth.
"You truly are nothing but a child," Seth hissed at him with a displeased expression, before applying a little bit of pressure on Atemu's arm which he had his fingers wrapped around, and starting to rise.
Immediately, Atemu took the chance, throwing himself up and at Seth, his hands on his cousin's chest so he could once again tackle the taller boy to the ground and pin him there by holding his wrists fixed to the grass beside his head. Atemu's fiery crimson eyes narrowed in anger as he stared down into the taken-aback blue ones staring up at him from a flushed face, Seth's brown hair tousled (the boy's headdress had fallen off during the fight). Atemu was so angry. He was so angry at this brown-haired, blue-eyed, strange boy and he was not so sure why.
"I am not a child!" he hissed in anger, squeezing the exposed part of the slender wrists he held in his small hands to a point where he was sure that by the next break of dawn, they would have bruises on them.
Seth pursed his lips in defiance and, using the advantage he had over Atemu - his additional strength -, he twisted his hands and wrapped them around Atemu's wrists, mimicking the other boy. And then, with utmost ease, he swung Atemu over his head.
A surprised, slightly-pained cry escaped Atemu's lips, but that did not stop Seth from gracefully jumping backwards to straddle Atemu's waist and hold him down again. He was growing weary of the pointless fight, so he narrowed his eyes and irritably turned Atemu around so he would be face down, with one arm twisted painfully behind his back. He gave no heed to the pained whimper the prince let out and he leaned down to whisper in his ear, "I am better than you at martial arts…your Highness."
"No one in this kingdom is better than I at martial arts!" Atemu protested, struggling beneath him, until moving too much hurt his trapped arm. "Let me go!"
"I will let you go if you stop being such a pestering brat," Seth heatedly told him. "A child like you is not better than me at martial arts, whether your juvenile mind will allow you to admit it or not."
"I am not a child, you vexatious, self-conceited idiot!" Atemu screamed at him in rage.
Seth narrowed his blue eyes further, tightening his hold on the prince's arm and snapping, "I will not let you go until you apologize for being so impolite to me, future king or not."
"What in the name of Horus are you doing? GUARDS!" Seth heard the loud yell from behind him and his attention wavered away from Atemu for a moment, looking up to see a young man, almost his own age, with brown hair and eyes, standing behind them, looking horrified at seeing someone holding down the prince in such a manner.
That moment of distraction was enough for Atemu and, just like Seth had used his strength as an advantage, used his own agility to twist out of Seth's grasp. Within a moment, he had pushed him down to the grass and the boys had started fighting all over again. This time, after rolling around on the ground a little longer, trying to exert dominance over the other, they rose to their feet and started showing off their skills at hand-to-hand combat.
"Your Highness, your Highness, don't fight him by yourself," the brown-haired boy kept on yelling hysterically, until the guards arrived.
"Kratus! Give him a sword," Atemu demanded authoritatively when he caught sight of the guards from the corner of his eyes, making the head of the guards flinch and rush to obey as both of them paused, panting heavily from exertion.
Seth took the sword from the guard, carefully keeping the heated eye contact between him and the childish, impolite brat standing before him all the while. He held the sword in front of him with both hands, waiting until Atemu received a sword from one of the guards as well and assumed the same position.
They stood still for a while, as though waiting to see who would lose his nerve first and make the first move. The warm summer seemed to join the onlookers standing around the two boys, the breeze stilling as its presence hung heavy. Just like everyone else, it waited in anticipation, as both boys seemed unwilling to move first.
And then, at the same moment, both charged for one another.
At first, both of them put up a wonderful display of how good they were at the swordsmanship classes which they had both attended ever since they grasped the concept of swords and weapons. Both were equally good and, had their tutors seen them at that moment, they would have made them extremely proud. Both of them made sure that there was no flaw in their tactics and that there was no point of weakness that the other could attack and take advantage of.
But soon, when they figured out that they could not win against the other, their moves turned more erratic...disorganized and random. The thrusts of the swords became awkward and the mask of grace both wanted to put on throughout the entire fight slipped off, both starting to sweat and pant more heavily with the exertion. And on top of that, their frustration was not helping them in any way. Impatience started setting in and soon, little growls of frustration and desperation were heard from them.
At one point, Atemu managed to catch Seth off-guard, and discovered an unprotected part of Seth's side and he brought his sword down with a clumsy, but powerful, downward stroke, trying to catch his future High Priest at a difficult angle.
Although Seth's defense wavered for a bit, the boy managed to recover quickly enough to dodge Atemu's blow just in time, so that only a part of his cape was caught between the ground and the sharp blade. He heard the sound of the cloth tearing, followed by a growl of anger from Atemu.
He was not prepared, however, for Atemu's response next.
The Crown Prince threw his sword down angrily and, without a warning, he lunged for him while screeching in frustration, "WHY ARE YOU SO IRRITATING!"
Seth had no choice but to throw down his sword as well, since he did not think that anyone would be able to save him if he accidentally injured Egypt's Crown Prince. He felt so angry then, because the brat just destroyed this honorable and fair duel so he could have a childish fight with fists.
He was not aware that everyone around them was laughing at the Prince's sudden decision of getting rid of the swords so abruptly. He was once again wrestling the Royal brat on the grass of the garden.
They only stopped and froze in their position on the ground when they heard the Pharaoh's angry, thundering bellow. "What are you both doing? BREAK IT OFF THIS VERY INSTANT." They got up and glared at each other as though blaming the other for the predicament they were now in for sure, while Akunamukanon towered above them and yelled, "Both of you will stay behind here tomorrow. You will not even accompany us to the temples."
At the same time, they started protesting.
"Your majesty, I…"
And silent they became. For a very long while, they stood before the Pharaoh, and they got yelled at for their immature, childish acts and petty fighting that could have resulted in their injury or death, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…
They got punished, yes. They did not attend any part of the grand celebration, yes. They were humiliated in front of the guards and, as Seth came to know later on, one of the apprentice high priests, yes.
But their small battle ended in a draw. Neither won. And later on, hundreds of rematches ended in the same way, with both of them caught in positions that indicated that neither one of them won.
And that small moment in which they had both stared into one another's eyes like that while waiting for the other to attack…it started something that both of them were unaware of until much, much later on. Later on, after their hatred for one another became a more sophisticated rivalry, before the rivalry became a fragile, unexplainable sort of friendship that puzzled everyone around them and made them doubt the nature of their relationship; was it friendship? Or was it animosity?
And from that strange relationship the Crown Prince Atemu and the future High Priest Seth shared, they both started bonding in a way that no one else ever achieved with either of them. Trust and loyalty and undeniable faith in one another. Those around them never saw anything like the relationship shared between the two cousins who, on meeting one another the first time, were childish enemies to their core.
But, just like their hatred grew to animosity, then rivalry followed by friendship and subsequently this odd friendship, the latter transformed into something else. Something that both of them, unlike what they did with the other transformations in their relationship, avoided and tried to ignore. But something greater and more powerful than both their wills was at work…
They couldn't run away from it.
Slender hands pulled gently on the reins of the strong, handsome white stallion, a long, violet cape whipping around in the warm summer air, mimicking the direction of the wind as well as the gentle sways of the exquisite, long bangs of hair that looked more like strands of beaten-gold decorating a dark river of silky black tresses, the edges tipped with dark red. Crimson eyes unconsciously shifted from where they had been fixed on Shadi, Mahado and Karim - who were securing the bandits they had left the palace in the morning to pursue after someone reported their sighting near Abydos -, to fix upon the last High Priest of the ones that embarked on this task with their possessor.
Atemu blinked, his long lashes barely caressing one another and only just giving a small glance at the carefully, professionally-applied kohl. Seth was standing by the side of the small regiment that they made and was heatedly discussing something with the leader of the soldiers.
Atemu could not control the sudden tightening in his heart on seeing his cousin. It was…enigmatic, the way he felt his heart was swelling so much within his chest to what bordered on painful, feeling as though the organ was rising up to the heavens and had forgotten to return to him, preferring to stay there. Atemu blinked again and stared down at his hands, to avoid staring at his cousin's body, now tall and slender and so divine… The Pharaoh could not start pointing the similarities between the blue-eyed priest and one of the celestial figures on the temple walls.
Stop! He reprimanded himself and blinked furiously, hating the pride-scarring sting he felt in the corners of his eyes. He couldn't…wouldn't allow himself to think that way about his cousin. And this was not for his, but for Seth's sake, because, after speaking to Ishizu the week before, and after what she had told him about what was so bothering her, he knew that he could not avoid being alone right till the end of his days.
He was going to die. Very soon. And before he did, he had to face Seth in battle. And, since he was going to go, he would do it without getting his cousin and himself hurt first, crushing those feelings he had for someone who most probably hated him anyway, hated him so much that they would try to kill him soon enough.
Not only that, it was…wrong. Such types of relationships were not really forbidden in the Egyptian society, not even frowned upon, especially when the Pharaoh of the Two Lands was involved. It was acceptable for the Pharaoh to court the pleasure slaves, men and women alike. It was alright for him to have entire harems composed of only males.
But…to Atemu, it was not acceptable to have those deep feelings he felt for Seth, and yet only have the priest by his side as a lover. The Pharaoh had to take at least one woman as a wife, and Atemu would never allow a woman, no matter how high her status and class, to make Seth feel terrible about being together with him. She would have found out about any relationship they might have had together and then the gates of doom would have been opened upon them. Because it wouldn't matter then who was more precious to his heart, what would matter would be who the Queen was, who the higher rank was. And a woman would never simply accept that she just had a figurative rank as Queen. Envy and hatred would seep in. Whoever she was, Atemu knew she would make Seth feel as uncomfortable as possible.
Atemu did not want Seth in such a dishonorable second place. Seth always ranked first in his heart, mind and soul. He was worth much more than just a relationship at night. He was not a concubine. And by Ra…Seth was not his concubine or anyone else's. The word itself made him physically ill when he thought of Seth.
But, Gods forgive him, it was so difficult. Seeing Seth walking around in the palace with those blue garments that signified his position as the chief High Priest… It was difficult to resist the mesmerizing lure of those cold, passionate blue eyes. He looked majestic; they looked majestic, the golden base of the blue headdress Seth wore covering silky-brown tresses of hair. Atemu's fingers tingled to run themselves through the dark strands, ached on so many nights as he lay down on the bed in his chambers and went through another one of countless sleepless nights. It was difficult…to long for something more than the countless scrolls he had to go over every day, to ask for something more than the cold, professional treatment everyone around him gave him.
But he had to endure it with silence till the end. His dreams had to be stifled and his desires quenched. He had to carry on like he had for the past five years; he had to stay focused on what would give the Egyptian empire the glory, luxury and safety it deserved. He did not care if his taboo thoughts of his cousin had to be pushed down to the deepest, innermost part of his mind, and he did not care if he had to sacrifice his meager life. His country came first before him. His honor dictated thus.
He had to blink again and bite his lower lip as hard as he could. How shameful. The almighty Pharaoh crying…showing weakness. His hands tightened around the reins, until he could see his fingers turning a white color and feel his perfectly-trimmed fingernails digging into the skin of his palm.
He was so lost in the deep confinements of his thoughts he never noticed as one of the bandits, who Mahado was trying to bind, twisted out of the priest's hold and sent him to the ground on his back with a groan. He didn't notice the sudden alarm and panic running through the small group. He only became aware that the escapee had grabbed Mahado's dagger and was heading towards him with it raised high, when he heard Seth's strong voice calling out to him, "Atemu, look out!"
He blinked and stared at Seth, who was pulling the reins to make the horse turn in his direction, nudging the creature in the flanks. He frowned in confusion, and his eyes seemed to get locked on Seth's terrified blue ones, a part of his mind wondering what was so urgent to have Seth dropping his official title to call out to him by his first name so casually in front of others. His breath fled him and he felt horrified at seeing such a horrible expression in Seth's beautiful blue eyes. What was happening? What was making his cousin so upset? He could not tolerate the sight, and so he looked around to try and banish the reason for the expression that made his heart rise in his throat.
When he turned, he saw others running towards him, and saw wide-eyed expressions of terror and panic and then…he saw the bandit, with his yellowish clothes and scarred face, disheveled hair and maddened brown eyes. And he saw the brief glint of the dagger. It was raised high and was descending towards his body.
He gasped, tried to dodge it by pulling the reins to start urging his horse to move away, but he knew he was too slow. He would never be able to move away in time. His hands tightened on the reins and he muttered a prayer to the Gods under his breath and hoped that the next person to take the throne after him would achieve what his absentmindedness made him fail to achieve.
But then, there was a sudden flash of blue appearing in front of him and the whiff of air that hit him carried the scent of the very familiar scent of the Theriaque (1) Seth used, which, to him, smelt like the scent of the afterlife itself. Before he knew what was going on, he heard the distressing sound of Seth's cry of pain – a sound that would haunt whatever little sleep he would get for the next season-, before his cousin started falling back, about to fall off his horse entirely.
Atemu tore himself out of his shock and narrowed his eyes, half in fear and half in anger, gracefully making his horse dash as fast as lightning nearer to Seth's brown one. He let go of the reins with one hand, so that, using his now free arm as well as his shoulder and upper body, he supported Seth on top of the saddle as he was pushed to the side, almost off the saddle, with the force of the blow. He felt the bitter, acidic taste of bile at the back of his throat when he saw Seth's side facing away from him, where the dagger had descended, covered in blood, swallowing back against the nausea to turn his crimson eyes, ablaze with fury, onto the attacker.
The sun's bright light seemed suddenly to dim. Everyone froze in horror as Shadows suddenly emerged from every direction, some of the bandits held in captivity covering their heads with their arms, seeking protection against whatever sacrilegious power that took away the sun's glare. Even the Pharaoh's High Priests swallowed and retreated to huddle together, fearing the changes that overtook their caring King and gentle friend they had known since childhood, Atemu's red, kohl-rimmed eyes seeming both to glow peculiarly and grow darker and more dangerous.
The Millennium Puzzle around Atemu's neck glowed as he raised his arm, still holding onto the reins with his other hand. The Diadiankh (2) on his wrist began to glow, indicating that it was working, and suddenly, there was a loud crash heard from above, coming from the heavens.
Everyone stared up as all of a sudden a new source of light illuminated the world around them. The priests gasped in awe when the source of the light was revealed.
Majestic, huge, divine… so emerged the sacred God, Ra. Rays of pure gold light reflected from the beast all over those on the ground below, huge wings flapping powerfully and making the wind blow violently, everyone, save the Pharaoh and the now unconscious priest that he was supporting, raising their arms to protect their eyes.
The remaining four priests had their eyes open slightly so they would be able to watch the magnificent display of power their young King was putting up. They saw Ra rear his golden head backwards and, with a raging cry that mirrored Atemu's own, blow its burning fire towards the bandit who had harmed Seth.
The bandits held in captivity screamed in horror, not used to seeing something so grand, so horrifying. The great sight rendered them insane with terror and disbelief at what they had done to defy this human God who sat atop the white horse, this soul who had summoned one of the holy Gods from the sky. It was something that really flaunted how truly godly Pharaoh Atemu really was; his ability to control the deities of the heavens. Even the four priests found their chests heaving from their efforts to not scream out in horror, just like the bandits were. They just stood and watched as the fugitive bandit was killed right on the spot, Atemu's rage and chagrin at Seth's injury blinding his usually gentle nature and loving soul.
A few moments later, and after roaring once more to reinforce the rage the Pharaoh was feeling, Ra disappeared. The world remained in darkness for a little while longer and everyone shuddered at the chill that was so unnatural at that time of the year, before the darkness disappeared and the sunlight flooded the world once again.
Everything stilled. The warm wind blew with a howling sound again as everyone still had their arms up to their eyes. The first person to draw himself out of the shock and awe was Mahado, who rushed forward towards Atemu and Seth. After having to look Atemu in the eyes to tell him it was okay to let go, he received Seth's body from him and lowered him to the ground.
Atemu slid off his horse quickly and sank down to his knees beside Seth. His hands rose up to the blood and he started wiping it away, trying to find its exact source.
"Your majesty, do not use your hands; they will get…" Mahado started, but he fell silent immediately when Atemu's head shot up and when he saw the crimson eyes, usually so gentle and understanding towards him, now furious and cold.
"I would very much prefer it if you refrained from telling me what to do and what not to do, High Priest Mahado," he snapped and glared for a few more moments, making Mahado shudder and cast his eyes down and away in unspoken apology. Atemu averted his eyes down to complete his task and gave no heed to the blood that then stained his hands, finding the source of it to be a somewhat deep wound in Seth's side.
By that time, Ishizu and Karim were both by their side and were hovering in worry above them. "Is he fine?"
Atemu gave Ishizu's enquiry no regard for the time being, raising his Puzzle nearer to Seth's still-bleeding side as his eyebrows drew together in concentration. With as much care as he could muster at that moment he called on the Item's powers and he started willing the wound to heal - the Millennium Items' powers were diverse, and healing was one of them. He had used those powers a few months back, when a party of the same group of the bandits they had been chasing that day attacked some village beside Thebes and left many gravely wounded. Still, Atemu had never thought he was going to use them on Seth. He still felt nauseated.
He heard the faint murmurs of his priests around him, worried, questioning, doubtful and terrified of him and what he had done just moments ago. He had lost control, but he simply was not able to bring himself to care about the soul that he had just sent to the underworld. The imbecile had dared to spill Seth's blood which was, to him, the Pharaoh of the Two Lands, holier than the Book of the Dead itself.
A few, tension-filled moments later and the wound finally stopped bleeding. Atemu patiently held the Puzzle to Seth's side, until the wound closed completely. He made sure to keep the Puzzle held up until all traces of the wound faded and not even a scar was left behind. He refused to accept that Seth's perfect body could be marked because of him.
When he was satisfied with his work, Atemu lowered his Item and looked up at Mahado to say with a quiet, extremely bothered voice, "Mahado, put him on my horse, I'll take him to the ship so the healers can take a look at him sooner. Make sure things are well taken care of here."
Mahado knew better than to object. Atemu got on top of his horse, waiting until he felt Seth's warm body behind him before he twisted his hands around to grab Seth's, holding them tightly in front of him on the reins and letting his cousin's chest rest against his back. He stared down at Mahado who had touched the horse's neck.
"Be careful, your Majesty."
Atemu gave him a nod so he stepped back, bowing respectfully before straightening as Atemu nudged the horse powerfully in the flanks with his legs, taking off like a streak of lightning.
Halfway to the dock where the ship was, Atemu felt Seth's arms tightening around him and sensed a movement behind him, smelling that faint, heavenly smell which he had come to associate with Seth in his dreams. He felt weak with relief as he realized that Seth was lucid once again, turning his head back slightly as he felt his cousin place his head on the back of his shoulder and heard him whisper, "Don't ever scare me like that again."
He did not care right then who he was, who he was supposed to be; how he was supposed to act. He bit his lip hard and blinked once, letting go of the tears that he had held back so much for too long. Who had scared who, Seth? Who was killing who on the inside and who would be the one to suffer the most when what Ishizu predicted took place?
He felt like stopping the horse, getting down from it and sinking to his knees on the ground to cry his heart out. This must be the Gods' fair punishment because he wanted so much more than he could have. For not being content with having Seth as a lover. For hating the fact that he needed someone else other than Seth, in order to make sure than the dynasty's line survived and that a new King would be available to rule Egypt.
He did not realize that the wind carried his tears from off his face to Seth's, making his blue-eyed cousin's hand rise first to his own face to touch the wetness that suddenly hit his skin, before he blinked, an upset expression flooding his beautiful eyes, his hand immediately moving from his own face to Atemu's to gently, carefully brush away the tears.
Within a few minutes, they were on the ship. Atemu stood in some far corner of the cabin of the ship where the healers hovered around Seth, the men trying to make sure that the priest was well taken care of, since the Pharaoh had looked so dangerous when he had summoned them. But…it was difficult to try and abide by the Pharaoh's command that the High Priest Seth should not be left alone until it was confirmed that he was absolutely fine, because the High Priest in question seemed unhappy about having over four healers hovering around him. In Seth's opinion all he needed was to be left alone…with Atemu.
Eventually, after bringing out his Millennium Rod and threatening the healers that if they did not leave his eyesight within a few moments they would all be killed on the spot, Seth shifted his eyes around the then empty cabin, trying to locate his cousin. He frowned when he saw the small, yet lavishly-furnished area was void of any soul but his own.
He walked out of the cabin and, after making sure that no one was aware of where he was going, headed for Atemu's private cabin. The ease with which he reached it disturbed him, deciding to give the guards in charge of the Pharaoh's security a serious talk later on. Without knocking, and as quietly as possible, he pushed open the wooden door and got inside, closing the door behind him. He turned around to stare at his Pharaoh's body, which was facing away from him, towards the pane that overlooked the Nile's bank and waters.
Atemu gave no hint of hearing Seth come in, remaining completely still. But then, he spoke, "Do you remember this?" and he raised his hand.
Seth looked closely and saw that Atemu was carrying a piece of beige linen cloth in his hand. Seth stared in puzzlement and approached the seat at which Atemu was sitting, kneeling down on his knees in front of his King and cousin and looking up at his face.
Once again, he was extremely upset to see the distant, melancholic expression on Atemu's face. Anguished, pained, troubled and tear-streaked. The kohl had melted, mingling with the tears to create vine-like pathways on the bronze, glowing skin. Usually fiery crimson orbs were downcast in grief and bitterness, the picture almost a mirror image to the beautiful, yet completely wretched, image of Isis, who had sat on the edge of the Nile weeping over the loss of her beloved.
He knew Atemu was not happy. Everyone knew that Pharaoh was restless most of the time, if not all the time. But Seth knew better than everyone else. He did not know if that was because he was most probably the one who watched the Pharaoh more than anyone - he had been watching Atemu ever since he arrived at the Palace when he was twelve. Even before he and his cousin got into this uncanny relationship, deep down, he knew he had been watching Atemu, watching out for him as well. Atemu was unhappy back then and he was still unhappy.
He wished he could take away all that sadness. He wished sometimes, even before Akunamukanon died and before he became High Priest and Atemu became Pharaoh, that he could eradicate that look of profound anguish lingering beneath the deep pools of crimson which were Atemu's eyes. But he never could do such a thing. It was prohibited. It was a transgression, just the thought of it. The Pharaoh was an untouchable, unreachable prize everyone desired, but no one could get unless they were chosen…blessed by the Gods.
And even now, with Atemu so upset, he could not do what he desired the most, which was placing his arms around Atemu's body to shield him from the inner horrors that raged in the boy's internally-fragile soul. Was he a coward to feel so afraid and apprehensive about doing such a thing? Selfish? Was he so horrible as to protect himself because he feared the consequences of the possibility that Atemu would not reciprocate with feelings like the ones he had for his cousin? Was he too horrible to stand back and watch Atemu suffering in silence, just because he did not want to risk exposure?
Yes, he was. He was a coward for not confronting Atemu. For being afraid of disclosure, humiliation in front of his fellow priests as well as in front of the country…and more than ever, he was afraid of Atemu's rejection.
But for now, in the privacy of this cabin on the ship which they used to travel quicker through the Nile to catch up with the bandits, he was able to cast all of his worries aside for the time being, because he couldn't take the wretchedness Atemu seemed to emanate all around him. He raised his hand and used the privilege of touching Atemu – an honor not given to anyone else in the Kingdom – to wipe away the kohl-stained tears smudging his cousin's beautiful face.
Atemu stared down at him, and their gazes locked. Seth could read so many emotions in Atemu's eyes, it actually scared him, rendering him breathless, and he had to look away to avoid getting tears in his own eyes at how overwhelming the sight was for him. He stared at the piece of cloth Atemu was holding, before his face broke into a grin. "This is a part of my cape…the part you tore when we were dueling."
He could sense it, although he kept his eyes fixed on the piece of cloth. He could sense most of Atemu's emotions without having to look at him. He could sense the nostalgic, longing smile carving itself on the alluring, wine-colored lips and could almost imagine the long eyelashes gently caressing the high cheekbones of Atemu's face as he blinked in acknowledgement.
"Exactly five years passed since the day we first met, Seth." Atemu remarked unnecessarily; Seth already knowing exactly how long had passed.
Silence washed over them. Seth stayed on his knees at his Pharaoh's feet, his hand then holding onto Atemu's free one tightly, unable to let go. He felt reassured, content to have the small hand - adorned with golden rings and with the golden bands surrounding its wrist - in his own, content to feel the warmth of Atemu's skin on his own. He was touching a God. But, more importantly, he was sitting with his cousin; he was touching his secretly and deeply beloved Atemu.
How long they stayed like that, they both had no idea and did not care. But then, Seth felt something warm drop on the hand that held Atemu's and he looked up to see that his cousin had started shedding those distressing tears once more. But, in the next instant, Atemu had jerked his hand out of his hold and got up.
"Please depart. I wish to take some rest now."
Seth frowned, hurt, and got up, "Atemu, what is wr…"
"Leave, High Priest Seth."
Seth did not know which hurt the most, the harsh tone, the formal address or the refusal to meet his gaze…it might even have been a blend of all three.
"What did I d…" he tried understanding, he tried to reason and argue. Tried to buy more time, to spend just a few more moments with his troubled cousin.
But Atemu harshly turned on him. His crimson eyes, although wet with suppressed tears, were glaring, ice-cold. "I said I wish to take some rest. Now do not disobey my command and leave! Now!"
"I will not leave until you tell me what has been bothering you of late." Seth said, stepping towards him. He knew he was disobeying the law by disobeying the Pharaoh's command, but right then he didn't see Atemu as his Pharaoh, but as the person he cared for the most at that moment in time…
Atemu tried to walk past him to the door, but then Seth grabbed him by the upper arm and pulled him closer, in front of him. He held on to Atemu's arm, and ignored the protests that he made, staring down into deep, crimson orbs.
Eventually, Atemu calmed down and stilled in his arms, looking up at him. "Please Seth…let me go…" quiet, whispering, pleading and extremely pained. He placed his hands on Seth's upper arms as well, gripping the other in a fashion similar to the one his cousin was holding him in, but with much less force behind it. He seemed to go a little lax in Seth's hold, seemed to grow more exhausted, his crimson eyes shining brighter, and then he whispered, "Leave…me, Seth. Leave now." And in a worrying contradiction to his own words, he held on to Seth tighter, his head falling forward onto the priest's chest so Seth could feel the tremors running through Atemu's small body.
Seth had no idea what was happening. He could not control his actions anymore. He could not bring himself to care about anything in this world except Atemu's sad, pleading eyes and the way he seemed so fragile, although he was the most powerful man in the country, if not the world. One of his hands moved from Atemu's upper arm and rose to the back of his king's head, tangling in the exotic, otherworldly strands of multicolored hair as he gently pulled Atemu's head away from his chest to bring his face into view once more. The next thing he knew, he was leaning down to approach Atemu's lips with his own.
He suddenly felt so scared; what was he doing? What was he doing! Immediately, he let go and started moving back, away, so he could let go of his cousin and flee from this room. This was a mistake. He shouldn't, couldn't…
But before he could even let go of Atemu, his cousin's hand had shot up to his hair and was bringing him closer once again. And once again, his lips hovered above Atemu's, their breath hitting one another's in an extremely sensual way. And then, Atemu paused - obviously he too unsure of what was going on, but he held on tightly to Seth and closed his eyes.
Seth couldn't find any other suitable thing to do except cut short the short distance that was between their lips and, a few moments later, felt the warm mouth he had dreamed for so long of touching, just once, in that way. He closed his eyes and once again his hand slid up to Atemu's hair, his other hand slipping behind his Pharaoh's back. Atemu was so small in his arms… It made a shiver, not caused by the sensuality of what they were doing, run through his body.
Slowly, non-intrusively, his lips tenderly kissed Atemu's, the other moaning quietly and opening his mouth, giving Seth the cue that it was okay to take things a bit further, to pry deeper, the priest's tongue flicking out to lightly brush the lower lip which felt as soft as the petals of a lotus flower.
Once again, Atemu moaned softly under his touches and, at that moment, Seth did not care about the rightness of their actions, did not care if Siamun opened the door right then to see them like that, and he did not care if the entire country was coming down with the Yellow Fever. What he cared about was this amazing, wonderful person he held close to himself after longing for him for so long.
However, the moment did not last forever when, as suddenly as he drew Seth towards himself, Atemu drew back and pushed him away. Seth frowned deeply, hurt and confused…not able to understand.
"No…no Seth, we…I cannot." Atemu told him, turning away…walking away from him. Seth stood in shock, as his cousin moved out of the room, and he heard him whisper one last thing that left him endlessly perplexed, "I cannot do this to you…"
The first beams of sunlight boldly penetrated the darkness of the night, the sound of the birds' wings flapping whilst leaving their homes to embark on their daily mission of finding the day's food mingling with the noise of the Egyptians, who had all woken up earlier than usual that morning. The men were fetching water from the river, the women making breakfast for their children - who were running around excitedly, gathering flowers and threads. Some were already seated on the Nile's bank, laughing together and weaving dozens of charming bouquets and garlands, bracelets and necklaces.
All around the river bank, groups of girls - who were already of marriageable age - were huddled together, helping one another put on make-up and wrap themselves in linen skirts made heavy by the precious stones and gold ornaments their mothers had brought out for them on this beautiful occasion. Their voices rose up melodiously, all of them singing together songs which they had agreed on singing weeks before the festival. Tambourines, harps and cymbals wove together the sound to create a wonderful tune that gently carried the girls' singing on its graceful wings, making the air all around seem fresh, happy and light.
The priests in the temple were strictly preparing the statue of Amun, patron deity of Thebes. Final, finishing touches to the statue were done carefully, under the supervision of the High Priests, with utmost care and respect, so that by the time the sun's magnificent orb had emerged completely from beyond the horizon to stare down at the people, the procession – consisting of the shrines that carried the sacred statues from Karnak, and the chariots of the Pharaoh and his Priests – was well on its way through the streets, showered in flower petals, rice and scented leaves by the people.
Within a short time the boats were leaving the shore of the Nile, after the shrines had been loaded onto them. The huge fleet was led by the Pharaoh's magnificent, luxurious vessel. The boats and rafts traveled some distance down the river, before moving towards the western side, where all tombs were located and the temples of the deities stood.
By the time the sun's scalding glare calmed down to a gentle heat, the Pharaoh had paid his visits to the mortuary temple and most of the temples of the other Gods. Offerings, hymns and the wah garlands were placed at the feet of the statues of the Gods by everyone, starting with the Pharaoh himself and ending with the poorest of those taking part in the festivities.
After that the huge procession walked, ran, sprinted and danced towards the necropolis. The men and women alike later stood cooking and preparing the wines and fruits. The younger generation of young men and women put up a spectacular dance after another, while children showered them with masses of lotus flowers and rose-petals.
Seth stood throughout it all a little behind Atemu, at his side. He watched in silence, noting Atemu's stiff pose beneath the cape around his shoulders, cloth held in place by a golden neck-plate. The way the Pharaoh clenched his hands tightly into fists beside his hips, a soft white linen kilt wrapped around his lower body kept in place with a broad, golden belt. He watched as time and again, Atemu, with a placid face, adorned with the make-up that made his features even more godlike, would bow before the statues of the Gods and keep his head inclined, the golden strands of his hair falling defiantly from the barrier of the crown he wore to overshadow the grim features. He watched, from the corner of his eyes, even though he was supposed to have them closed - just like every other citizen in Egypt - while praying.
But he was praying. He was watching and admiring the most beautiful God of all. He was watching Atemu move with grace, his small body shining beneath the sun with the golden ornaments he wore and natural glow of his bronze skin. He cared not about the cold, emotionless, gray statues of the still Gods, especially when he had a living, moving one right within an arm's reach.
He had not slept at all the previous night, although he should have. The thought…memory of Atemu's supple lips moving so fervently, passionately against his own, the sound of that content, longing sound he had heard Atemu make when they were locked in that magical, illicit moment…those thoughts, feelings, fervor…they allowed him no rest.
He couldn't sleep, knowing that his cousin was having his fifth sleepless night that week. He knew Atemu did not sleep well; the burden of ruling such an immense country…that enormous weight, anguish Atemu bore so bravely on his tiny shoulders, as well as the anonymous, bothersome thoughts that seemed to add to his cousin's quandaries…they all gathered together to ensure that Atemu's already restless mind got no rest at all. Seth knew. He had more than once snuck out of his chambers to go down to the gardens to the feet of the statue of Horus where they had both fought so many years before, simply so he could stare up at his Pharaoh's balcony, and had seen his King standing there already, staring up at the heavens.
The night before had been even worse. Hours before sunrise the slaves and servants, all led by Siamun, had stood waiting outside their King's chambers, waiting to help him get ready for the huge day ahead of all of them. Atemu had to have been getting ready from somewhere in the middle of the night.
But, as usual, his cousin did not show any hint of weakness. Proud, powerful, imposing and demanding respect, he sat with his back stiff in the golden throne that was carried all the way from the palace to be placed at a high point of the necropolis, the people below joyously celebrating and preparing for the feast later at night. Many of them would approach the Pharaoh, bowing and paying their respects. Some of the women even brought their newborns to the Pharaoh, taking advantage of how forgiving and easygoing he was with his people, asking him to touch their infants with his sacred hand.
Seth watched, with concealed dismay, as Atemu smiled at each person approaching him and, instead of just touching the child with his hand, would get up to receive the boy or girl from the mother, gently muttering a small prayer to the Gods, asking them to bless the newborn's life. He then placed a kiss on the child's brow and handed them back to the woman – most of them weeping at the blessing her child received.
By the time the people finished preparing the feast, the sun was starting to set. The guards and the men lit torches and started fires that illuminated the entire necropolis even when the darkness came down. Music, beautiful and heart-lifting, wafted on the sweet, affectionate wings of the warm summer night wind, the people starting to eat. Loud sounds of laughter mingled with sudden squeals of happiness and surprise, the wine everyone was drinking beginning to take its toll. The High Priests smiled to one another and, after looking to Atemu for permission – granted with a small nod of his head and a calm smile -, moved away from the throne where the King was sitting to join the people.
Karim and Shadi sat at the edge of a huge circle, the middle of which Theban girls – both free and slave – were dancing in. Siamun and Akunadin were standing next to the pots of wine, drinking what the men handed them, Mahado and Ishizu standing together, talking in low tones and laughing quietly together as they drank from brass bowls of wine.
The one person who did not move from his position, a little behind the Pharaoh's throne, and did not give any heed to anyone in this huge, immense celebration except for the Pharaoh, was Seth. He stood watching Atemu's solemn face, so, so very contradictory to the atmosphere all around them, and with each passing moment, his heart would weep tears of blood at the anguish, discomfort and gloom in the dark, crimson orbs.
He waited till he saw a slave coming by and he motioned for him to come over. When the boy was right beside him, bowing, Seth ordered him to get two bowls of wine quickly for the Pharaoh and for himself. Within a few more moments, the boy was back with what Seth had asked of him. After dismissing him, Seth inched closer to Atemu and, while bowing respectfully, he gave him the golden utensil.
"Drink, your majesty," he requested, then raised his eyes to meet Atemu's slightly startled ones, before adding in low tones, "Today is a day when all Gods should rejoice."
In the faint, dancing light of the nearby torch, he could see the faint reddening that turned Atemu's bronze skin a rosy shade that made his heart skip a beat, before Atemu's eyes wavered down and he raised his hand to receive the golden bowl. Atemu's hand rested on Seth's around the bowl and Seth saw him biting his lip slightly, the delicious rosy color tinting his cousin's beautiful face intensifying. He smirked and gently withdrew his hands, letting their fingers linger against one another for a while, before he moved his hand away. Atemu stared down at the cup for a bit, before raising it to his lips and started drinking.
Seth smiled serenely and raised his own cup to his mouth, drinking as well. When the first cup was gone, Seth again called the same slave boy, who understood Seth's request before it was made and arrived with two new, filled cups in his hands. Seth took the bowl from Atemu and handed his own empty one along with it to the slave before sending him away again.
By the time the moon was shining bright and full above the celebrating crowds, they had both drank enough wine to make their young bodies flush and make a faint, enjoyable buzz ring in their ears alongside the sounds of the sistras, harps and tambourines.
Suddenly, Atemu got up from his throne. No one noticed except for Seth, the priest watching as his Pharaoh studied the people dancing and celebrating, a small, content smile on the boy's face - but not in his eyes, which remained bitter and pained. And then, he quietly, without a backward glance at Seth, Atemu turned around to depart towards the dock, where the ship was.
Seth watched him for a little while, before straightening from where he was leaning on one of the pillars of the necropolis and following his cousin - who was extremely foolish to think about walking all the way back to the river bank in the secluded darkness, without any protection.
By the time Seth arrived on the ship, there was already the glow of faint candlelight coming from the vast cabin that was the Pharaoh's quarters on the vessel. He headed for it, his footsteps as quiet as he could make them, pushing open the door and going inside. The events of the day before were clear in his mind as he closed the door again behind him, bolted it shut.
The sound of the wooden bar hitting the frame of the doorway made Atemu, who had been sitting in front of the vanity slab in the room and removing the uraeus crown from his brow, jump slightly, startled as he had never heard Seth following, senses were blunted by wine. When he saw it was Seth he breathed out in relief, resuming his task of divesting himself of the formal jewelry items and the make-up.
Seth stood a small distance away, watching him in tranquil fascination. Atemu was so beautiful… Everything about him screamed splendor, regality and exquisiteness. Every move, every turn, every breath, called out to him, lulled him closer, inch by inch. He was held in a spell. A forbidden, prohibited spell, of beauty that should not be gazed upon so often, so freely, with the excess of liberty and boldness he displayed gazing at Atemu. That was his retribution, for acting so liberally around this magnificent creature. For wanting Atemu so badly.
His entire body, every part of him, was tingling peculiarly, delightfully. His body was stirring and his desires almost suffocated him. He did not know if that was because of the wine or…
Soon, he found himself standing right behind Atemu. His gaze was fixed on the smooth, glowing skin on Atemu's back, on the protruding collarbone and the lean muscles rippling gracefully beneath the skin. His body was reacting to all this in a way that was driving him insane.
The wine gave him nerve he had never had before that moment, his hand rising of its own accord to Atemu's shoulder. His cousin froze under his touch and remained still, but did not reject his touch as he moved his hand - slowly, sensually and experimentally - on the soft skin. He trailed his hand lovingly onto Atemu's shoulder, to the front of it, to the area beneath his collarbone, before his hand started rising again, to the attractive, slender neck.
Gently he wrapped his fingers around it, felt erratic pulse of Atemu's sacred blood through his veins and felt him swallowing nervously. He was dazed with desire, and he did not care about what he was doing, as he leaned down, so his face was hovering right above Atemu's which he tilted in his direction to stare at him with lust-darkened crimson eyes.
He kept staring at Atemu with his own dark blue eyes, before moving even closer towards Atemu's lips with his own. Soon, just like the day before, they were locked together in a deep kiss, Seth leaning over Atemu and holding onto his neck, the Pharaoh with his head tilted back slightly, face tipped up to meet Seth's passionate caresses and touches with his own.
When they could no longer keep the contact Seth moved back a little, trailing small touches with his mouth onto Atemu's skin, making a path to his cousin's neck. He gently twisted Atemu's head to the side, whispering the words that sealed their fates, ensuring anguish for both of them:
"I love you…"
Atemu gasped and his eyes fluttered shut, as Seth followed the words by small licks and kisses to the area right beneath his ear. He felt the words permeating powerfully throughout his entire body, even more than the sensations Seth was giving him physically. No, Seth, he thought. Don't love me. He shuddered and let Seth pull him up to his feet, though, because he could not resist his cousin's charm, or his blue eyes when they beckoned him to obey and follow where Seth was taking him.
He was filled with so much joy all of a sudden, something he had not felt for a very long while. He let himself relax in Seth's strong hold, all the fear he was feeling, all doubt, all reservations, disappearing as he felt himself getting engulfed in Seth's divine warmth, feeling those unthinkable shudders running throughout his entire body at Seth's attention, and at the movement of his cousin's slender hands over his frame, playing his sensitive spots as though the man were playing a musical instrument, to produce the melodies of his moans, shudders and whispered declarations of requited love and mutual desires.
They were both thankful everyone was at the necropolis, since they were making so much noise. Their heated, fervent whispers in each other's ears were drowned out by the sound of music, laughter and chatter. The ruffling of clothes getting shed was concealed, the sensual jingles of their jewelry was masked, and not a soul knew of what they were doing but themselves.
And so much unlike their swordfight five years ago, their love-making was like a perfect dance out of one of the ancient, mythical tales. They moved in sync with one another; a touch elicited a cry of delight and encountered by an even more heated touch as a repayment for pleasure given. The smell of the Bargamot oil, exported from the rich lands of Rome, rose up in the room, to add to the sensuality of the warmth of the firelight and soon, Atemu's loud, uncontained cries of wanton lust and Seth's groans and sheer desire added more to the sense of passion that saturated the cabin.
Soon, their moves became less coordinated, as desire, along with the haze created by the amount of wine they had consumed, made their heads unclear. Atemu held on tighter to Seth's upper arms, his hips moving of their own accord to meet his cousin's frantic thrusts into his body, his head thrown back against the raised headrest, eyes shut as waves of pleasured sensations overwhelmed him.
It was becoming unbearable for Seth. The pleasure was too much, the thought of being with his dearly loved Atemu in this most intimate of ways almost enough to make him release. He let go of one of Atemu's thighs which he had been holding spread open, placing it on Atemu's weeping arousal and leaning down to swallow the passionate cry that left Atemu's mouth with his own.
Soon, both of felt as though their minds were taken from them as they climaxed together, in each other's arms, kissing and touching each other in the most intimate of ways. It seemed to go on forever. They never wanted those euphoric feelings to end, and they held on to each other tightly, afraid of letting go, afraid of ending this magical moment, because they knew…they knew that after this moment, nothing would be the same again.
But against their wills, their peak ended and Seth fell on top of Atemu, both their bodies limp, weak with the intensity of what just transpired. They were panting heavily with exertion, and both were tired. But, before he let himself drift, Seth pulled the linen covers over them, not wanting his Atemu to become ill. He placed his arm around his cousin's waist and, knowing that no one would come back to the ship until at least the break of dawn, let his eyes close, the dark haze of sleep overwhelming him. The last thing he saw before that happened was Atemu's peaceful features, relaxed in the deep precincts of content, satisfied sleep.
to be continued...
(1): Theriaque was a type of perfume used in ancient Egypt. It is still made in Egypt, sold actually at the herbalist down my street ::nostalgic::
(2): It is the cool, ancient Egypt version of the duel disk.
I am sooooo sorry for how long this is :D :D and it's not even over yet :D Sorry. Please review ^_^ I hope you enjoyed this. I will be putting up next chapter next Wednesday, then the modern-day sequel on the Wednesday after that ^_^