Loved and Lost

Chapter One

Mummy Fanfic by Katie Sullivan
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes

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It was high summer in Thebes.  The annual inundation had receded, leaving fertile land for farming all along the Nile.  Workers who had been idle during the flooding or shifted to laboring at monument construction were now back in the fields, toiling under the baking equatorial sun to reap the bounty of the great river.

Hot, humid weather like this always made the women in the royal harem cranky.   Those who were actually married to Pharaoh complained the least.  They were secure for life.  The concubines, however, knew their future depended on staying in the monarch's good graces.  With the sticky, miserable weather that got much more difficult, as heat shortened tempers.  Their only consolation was that Seti's appetite for women lessened in the steamy weather.

In fact, no one felt like doing anything, period.  A few of the royal wives were occupied with weaving or music lessons, but most were enjoying the shade of one of the palace gardens.  The older women, relatively speaking, laid on benches, being cooled by servants with ostrich feather fans.  Many looked bored with life in general.  The younger women stripped off what little clothing they wore and plunged into the welcome depths of the pool.  Servants always kept the water free of debris and crystal-clear, despite the body paint that now swirled up in inky plumes from the swimming women.   Occasionally a handmaiden would peek out from a window, looking vaguely distressed to realize she would soon be called upon to reapply the intricate body paint.  The task was arduous at best and mind-numbingly tedious at worst.

Anck-su-Namun sat at the edge of the pool, enjoying the water tickling her bronze skin just below her knees.  It was a pleasant enough way to pass the time, but she found herself wishing for anything to relieve the boredom.  Every day, all summer, it was the same thing:  lounge around looking beautiful, trying to pretend she didn't notice the backbiting and rivalries among the other women.  Most of them left her alone, thankfully.  Few saw her as a rival for the Pharaoh's affections, since she alone among the royal women did not encourage his advances.  The others delighted in his semi-divine attentions, cooing and fawning over him in return for trinkets and status.   Anck-su-Namun was sickened by the whole situation.

She never asked to become a concubine to the Lord of the Two Lands.  She had planned to be a dancer or perhaps even a priestess in the temple of Osiris.  Her widowed father was a successful merchant here in Thebes, paying for her education until she could read hieroglyphics as well as any scribe.  As an only child, she was doted on but not spoiled.  Her future looked promising, her prospects bright.  Then her father risked his business on a single expedition, trading Nubian gold for turquoise gemstones mined from the Sinai.  It should have been a fail-safe money-maker.  Should have been, but wasn't.  A tribe of Bedouins attacked the trade caravan, killing her father's men and stealing everything right down to the horses.

Anck-su-Namun's father was ruined, suddenly in debt up to his eyebrows.  His financial empire crumbled overnight, and with it her future disintegrated like a desert mirage.

Within days a troupe of Med-Jai appeared at the doorstep.  Her father had done business with the palace in the past, but now unsettled accounts made him an enemy of the crown.  He had two choices:  work off his debt slaving in a gold mine in Nubia, or sell his only daughter to the Pharaoh's harem.  With distressingly little hesitation, he chose the latter.  So fifteen-year-old Anck-su-Namun found herself ripped from her home, her family and her future and dumped into an entirely different world.

Now the best she could aspire to was to become Pharaoh's favorite concubine, perhaps even one of his wives.  She could continue her education, but to what end?  Her existence was now purely ornamental.

At first Seti made use of her often, intrigued by the novelty.  But within a few months he tired of her and went back to more experienced lovers, which of course didn't bother her in the slightest.  In her despair and loneliness, she threw herself into her combat training.  Seti found pleasure in watching his women fight each other, particularly with golden ceremonial tridents.  As a member of his harem, Anck-su-Namun was expected to learn this skill, and she took to it with gusto, channeling her hostility toward the world in general and Seti in particular into the ritualized combat.  She soon surpassed her trainers in skill and gained renown as a master of the art.

But there was still something missing from her soul.  She was spiritually adrift and cut off from any connection with humanity.  Her father's betrayal had destroyed any affection she felt for him.  The other wives and concubines kept their distance, unwilling to respond to any overtures of friendship, even after four years.  As for the Pharaoh...well, Anck-su-Namun couldn't stand him.  He was pompous and domineering, egotistical and power-hungry.  He treated women like objects to be used and discarded, and was not above resorting to physical abuse when displeased.   Anck-su-Namun hadn't experienced his violent side firsthand--yet--but she had seen the bruises on the other women.  With so little clothing it was hard to hide such marks, although the handmaidens tried by doing creative things with body paint.

Anck-su-Namun closed her eyes and fluttered her legs in the tepid water, trying to shut out the sounds of the other women around her.  She wanted to be someplace quiet, alone, away from all this mess.  She felt trapped, smothered by a palace life that many women would have sold their souls to possess.

As she stood up, water ran down her legs onto the tiles, smearing her paint.   Ignoring the curious looks of the few others who were alert enough to notice her departure, she went back inside the palace.  Handmaidens swarmed around with towels and paintbrushes, quickly restoring the damage done by the pool.  Anck-su-Namun was almost envious of the servants; at least they had something to do to make themselves feel useful.  She was nothing more than a glorified statue.

There were few places outside the palace where the royal women were allowed to go.   They didn't need to go to the market, since everything was provided for them.   About the only excuse to go into the city was to visit the temples.   Anck-su-Namun regularly made pilgrimages to the various religious structures, partly out of devotion and partly out of boredom.  It was an excuse to get away from the stuffiness of the palace and experience a whiff of real life.

She was particularly faithful in her visits to the temple of Osiris.  Despite being named after the god Set, Pharaoh Seti had been particularly generous to Osiris, restoring and expanding the god's temples and sparing no expense in his festivals.   The High Priest of the cult of Osiris had more power and prestige than any of his counterparts, and was known to advise the Pharaoh on matters often unrelated to religion.   Anck-su-Namun had seen him around the palace and the temple numerous times, but had never spoken to him.  The royal women were branded as untouchable, quite literally.   It wasn't forbidden to speak with them, but any man who touched them paid for the indiscretion with his life.  Such extreme consequences discouraged conversation, to say the least.

Anck-su-Namun wove her way down the street toward the temple of Osiris with sure, athletic strides.  People veered sharply out of her way, unwilling to get near her for fear of punishment.  It was as if she were infected with a contagious disease.

Her bare feet were silent on the stone steps as she entered the temple.  As she had hoped, it was blessedly quiet there.  Only a few worshippers knelt in veneration before the altar, and they discreetly departed soon after realizing who had joined them.   Anck-su-Namun was unable to kneel for fear of smudging her body paint, so she merely stood before the statue of Osiris, allowing herself to be lost in contemplation.   She studied the face of the god, painted a gaudy green to symbolize his rebirth.   The god of the underworld, pharaoh of the afterlife...

Had fate been kinder, she might have spent her days in such a peaceful place as this, serving the gods instead of their representative on earth.  But how could Seti really be divine? she found herself wondering all too often.  He was a man.  A man as base and crude as any other, with appetites and weaknesses just like any man.   He was hardly a god.

"Welcome, Princess," came a masculine voice from behind her.  She turned with a start, snapping out of her reverie.  It was one of the temple priests, his hairless body glistening with oils in the torchlight.  But no, not just any priest.   This, she realized, was the High Priest of Osiris himself, Imhotep.  His fine black and gold robe hinted at such status, but the intricate scarab medallion around his neck confirmed it.

"Greetings, sir," she said, bowing her head low with the proper respect.

"I have seen you here before," he said uncertainly, studying her face.   She was mildly impressed that, unlike so many men, he was able to keep his eyes on her face and not on the rest of her nearly uncovered body.  "You are a devout follower of Osiris?"

She nodded, finding herself suddenly tongue-tied.  His eye contact was intense and unwavering, and finally she found herself to be the one looking away.  "I had once thought to become a priestess, my lord."

He raised a skeptical eyebrow at her immodest attire but tactfully said nothing.

"I enjoy the serenity here," she said, gesturing at the shadowy depths of the temple.

"As do I," he said with a charming smile, "but it would hardly be fair to keep such a beauty as yourself hidden away in a temple for all time.  A woman such as you should be treasured, not cloistered."

She found herself blushing.  She never blushed.  She walked around with little of nothing for clothing nearly every day.  She was essentially the Pharaoh's whore.  She had gone past blushing a long time ago.  Yet she was blushing now, flustered by his sparkling eyes.

Imhotep's bearing was regal, far more than Seti's ever was.  He was at ease with himself, confident in his authority and content with his place in the world.   Seti always seemed to be scrambling to prove himself great, erecting new monuments left and right, possessing more treasure and more women, all as if to scream to all the world, "Look at me!  I'm the ruler of the most powerful kingdom on the face of the earth!  Admire me!"  Imhotep had no need of such posturing.  He accomplished the same thing just by looking her in the eye.

Suddenly realizing that perhaps he had been too frank, the High Priest cleared his throat and stepped away from her as if to continue on his way.  "Forgive me, Princess, if I overstepped my place."

"No," she said with a quickness that surprised even herself.  "No, it's quite all right," she continued, realizing that shutting up now would only make things worse.  "I...thank you."

He smiled again, freezing the breath in her throat.  "You're quite welcome, princess.  I'll leave you to your devotions now.  Forgive my interruption."

She stammered something meaningless in reply and he continued on his way, soon lost in the shadowy depths of the temple.  Without realizing what she was doing, Anck-su-Namun sank to her knees on a red cushion.  Wow.  That was...like nothing she'd ever experienced before.  No one had ever looked at her like that.  She'd been viewed with lust, revulsion, admiration, jealousy and indifference, but never anything quite like that.  Something in his gaze made her heart feel like a butterfly faced with a field of fresh blossoms.

It was silly, of course.  She didn't know him, he didn't know her, and they never would.  She was one of Pharaoh's concubines; he was a High Priest.  Egyptian priests generally had no vow of chastity to restrain them, but no man was allowed near the royal women, no matter what his profession.  They were the exclusive property of Pharaoh.

Still...

Anck-su-Namun closed her eyes, took a deep breath and frowned.  Stop it, she told herself.  You're being stupid.  There's no sense in engaging in such ridiculous daydreams.  You have no right to even contemplate it.

No, she simply had to forget this encounter never happened.  Ignore her unexpectedly intense reaction.   Forget the warm, dizzying feeling that swept over her at the sound of his voice.   Forget the intoxicating effects of his gaze.   Forget all about it.

She rose, silently cursed the smears of paint she had left on the cushion, and hurried out of the temple.

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Anck-su-Namun returned to the palace at dusk and wandered back to her chambers with a dreamy expression.  Part of her was still back in the temple of Osiris.  She was rudely jarred back into reality when handmaidens swarmed around her, clucking in disapproval over her smeared body paint.  They hurried to reapply the delicate lines, repairing the damage with practiced ease.  No one dared to ask how the paint had been disturbed.

The servants were barely done with their work when a stone-faced Med-Jai appeared in the doorway.  "You," he said, pointing to Anck-su-Namun.   "Pharaoh wants you."

For one fleeting moment she wondered if Seti was indeed divine and omniscient and had somehow sensed her thoughts of infidelity.  Shaking off that ridiculous notion, she followed the Med-Jai to the royal bedchamber.  The guard shut the door behind her, and she was alone with Pharaoh.

She needn't have worried about any psychic hints of betrayal.  Seti had only one thing on his mind, and it didn't involve the temple of Osiris.

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Anck-su-Namun lingered in the shower, letting all traces of Seti and her paint be washed away.  The water cascaded over her closed eyes, providing a brief but welcome escape from reality and masking the sound of her tears.  If that was what love was, she had been foolish to daydream about it.

For the last few years Seti had more or less ignored her, but it seemed now her luck had run out.  Perhaps it wasn't the beginning of a trend.  Perhaps he'd resume ignoring her in favor of the other women.  Or perhaps--her throat tightened with the thought--she might even become his favorite.

It was a dangerous game.  If she failed to please him she'd be punished.  If she pleased him too well she'd be called upon more often.

Anck-su-Namun felt trapped.  She hated her life.  She hated Pharaoh.   She hated feeling so helpless.

Free from paint until morning, she curled up in bed and cried herself to sleep.

 

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On to Chapter Two...

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