Loved and Lost

Chapter Two

Mummy fanfic by Katie Sullivan
Rated PG-13

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The next few weeks passed much the same way for Anck-su-Namun.  She paid a visit to the temple of Osiris almost daily, hoping for a glimpse of High Priest Imhotep.  He enchanted her, and merely seeing him striding regally through his domain was enough to cheer her on her lowest days.

And she was having plenty of low days.  Pharaoh Seti had taken a renewed liking to her, and she was called to his bedchamber nearly every night.  This resulted in the other women of the harem giving her the cold shoulder, jealously refusing even to speak to her.

To top it all off, Seti had commanded that, as the most skilled fighter in the harem, it would be her obligation...actually, he used the word "honor"... to teach the ways of combat to his favorite daughter, Nefertiri.   Anck-su-Namun liked children, but Nefertiri was no child.  Only two years Anck-su-Namun's junior, Nefertiri was just as much a woman as any of her father's concubines, and just as vain.  Anck-su-Namun preferred the company of snakes to that of the young princess, but she was left with no choice.  As her training progressed, Anck-su-Namun had to grudgingly admit that Nefertiri was a dedicated and skilled fighter.   With enough practice, she might even surpass her trainer's ability.  This, or course, only made Anck-su-Namun hate her more.

Between Seti's nightly demands and Nefertiri's training, Anck-su-Namun was perpetually exhausted.  Aching and miserable, she barely had the energy to shower at the end of the day before falling into bed.

After drilling Nefertiri for hours, Anck-su-Namun wanted nothing more than to return to her quarters, clean up and have one of the servants give her a massage.  It was not to be.  Before she reached the harem, a Med-Jai stopped her in the corridor.  "Pharaoh has asked for you."

She nearly wept.  She was ready to drop.   Her last round of exercises had been intended to zap Nefertiri's endurance and send her away at least partially as miserable as her trainer.  Unfortunately, Anck-su-Namun's own energy had been decimated in the process.  Watching a panting Nefertiri stagger away, dragging her heels, had been worth the extra effort. Now, however, when faced with an even more demanding task--

"Tell Pharaoh I am weary from his daughter's vigor in the training room, and he would find me a very unsatisfactory bed partner tonight," she said crankily, pushing past the startled Med-Jai.  No one ever refused Pharaoh.  No one.  Anck-su-Namun didn't care.  She resented Seti and everything he did, and the thought of him touching her now was repulsive.  If she was punished, so be it.

Not five minutes later, as she peeled off her sweat-drenched workout clothes, the doors to her quarters burst open and the Pharaoh stormed in, his face flushed with rage.  All too used to him seeing her undressed, Anck-su-Namun didn't bother to cover herself.  She just stared at him impassively, far too tired and broken-spirited to care what he thought or did.

"Anck-su-Namun!" Seti roared, shoving her back onto the cool marble floor with a teeth-jarring jolt.  "Have you forgotten your place, woman?  You are a concubine!  I am Pharaoh, the Great House, Lord of the Two Lands, Horus Rising!  I speak directly to the gods!"  He began kicking her, and Anck-su-Namun scrambled fruitlessly to get out of the way.

"My lord--" she tried, but he wasn't listening.

"You are mine!  You come when I say, do what I say, when I say it!  You do not question, you do not refuse, you simply do!   Is that clear?"

She stammered in agreement, but he remained unconvinced.  "You will never disobey me again!  If you ever insult my Majesty in this way again, I will see you starved to death and left for the jackals!"

She tried to get to her knees to plead for his mercy, but he backhanded her across the face, sending her reeling back onto the hard floor.   "Do you understand me?" he bellowed.

Through desperate, gasping sobs, she said, "Yes!   Yes, my lord! I understand!  Yes!"

"We shall see," he growled.  He tore off his kilt, and she closed her eyes tightly, knowing what would follow.

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Dried blood made her lips feel stiff.  She hurt in places she didn't know were capable of pain.  She had passed out on the floor sometime during Seti's visit, and there she remained until dawn's first rays fell across her swollen eyes.

Anck-su-Namun wanted to cry, curse, scream, moan, and tell anyone within earshot just how horrible she felt.  All she could manage was a hoarse whimper.

First things first.  She had to get up off the floor.  Every joint was on fire as she slowly began to move.  Her limbs responded slowly and stiffly, as if she were a hundred and ten years old.  Stumbling a little, she caught a corner of the bed for stability and levered herself into a standing position.

The room was spinning.  Everything looked foreign and unfriendly.  The only sound was a distant bird's chattering.  It appeared none of the servants or other women were awake yet.  Just as well.  In their jealousy, they'd say she deserved it.

She had to get away from here, if only for a short time.  The palace air was suffocating her.  There was only one friendly face she could think of, and fortunately it belonged to a well-respected physician...although that was not his primary occupation.

Anck-su-Namun forced her trembling hands to function, dressing in a simple white dress with semi-transparent fabric.  Not bothering with paint, makeup or her hair, she fled from the royal palace on shaky legs.

 

Ra's first rays cast long shadows across the street as Anck-su-Namun hurried toward the temple of Osiris.  Every step hurt.  Most of the vendors were still setting up in the marketplace, their conversations noisy and carefree.  The night's torches were flickering on their last legs, barely illuminating the entryway of the temple.  She hastened inside, hoping she wouldn't be noticed or recognized.

No one was there.  The golden-skinned priests were all asleep in their cells, and no worshippers had arrived yet.  She wandered the corridors in a daze, her eyes roaming aimlessly over the hieroglyphics in search of a clue.  What appeared to be a dead end turned out to be the place she sought.  A heavy wooden door blocked her way, the handle cast from the finest gold.  A series of hieroglyphic symbols identified this as the entrance to the High Priest's chambers.

She stood for a moment, suddenly afraid.  It was dangerous and probably futile to run for help this way.  He was Seti's advisor, after all.  He'd probably just tell her to put her chin up and feel privileged to be able to serve the crown in such a manner.

No, she told herself, shaking her head in the darkness.  He was different.  He would understand.  He could help her.

Taking a deep breath, she knocked.  There was no reply, so she tried again, more loudly.

"What is it?" came a blessedly familiar voice as the door began to open.  Imhotep was still attempting to get his kilt adjusted.  Judging by his clouded eyes, he had been sleeping, probably au naturale.  He was obviously expecting one of his priests, because when he looked up from fussing with his hastily-donned clothing, he merely stared for several long seconds.  After his initial surprise, his face molded into an expression of concern.   "Princess!  What are you doing here at this hour?  And what has happened to you?"

He cared.  She opened her mouth to explain, but only a sob came out.  "I...I..."

"There, there," he said softly.   "Come inside; I will tend to your wounds.  Talk when you're ready."

He stepped aside and shooed her into his chambers.   The lack of light and unmade bed confirmed her guess that she had woken him up.   "I'm sorry," she blubbered, wiping tears off her face with the back of her hand.  "I didn't mean to disturb you, I just..."

He handed her a square cloth to dry her eyes and provided a drink of cool water.   "It's all right, Princess.  A physician is obligated to attend to patients at any hour, after all."  Imhotep lit a pair of torches, then went to a cupboard on the other side of the room and began searching through various herbs and potions.

Her aching legs began to fail her, and she plopped down into a high-backed chair.  Imhotep returned a moment later with a damp cloth and a shallow bowl filled with some sort of gray paste.  He crouched before her, his eyes riveting in the dim light.  "I will have to touch you, Princess."

"I won't tell anyone if you won't," she said with a sniffle.

"Very well."  Carefully, he used the wet cloth to clean the blood from her lip and chin.  She flinched a little and held her breath.  Next he dabbed some of the paste on her wound, instantly soothing the sharp pain.

"Try not to lick that off, now," he said, and she nodded.

At last she composed herself enough to speak.  "Thank you, my lord.  Thank you so very much.  I didn't know where else to turn."

Imhotep pulled up a stool so he sat facing her and looked deep into her eyes with concern, as if trying to read her mind.  "Who did this to you?"

She swallowed.  How could she tell him?   Fresh tears moistened her eyes, but she refused to let them fall.

He narrowed his eyes.  "It was him, wasn't it?"

There was no need to elaborate.  They both knew who "he" was.  She nodded miserably.

Imhotep shook his head slowly, a deep frown crossing his handsome face.  "I had heard tales, but I never believed them.  I never wanted to..."

"Please, don't tell him I came to you.  He would only hurt me again."

"I will say nothing.  But you...  It will happen again, nonetheless."

They were silent for a few moments.

He sighed.  "If you were a normal wife, I would advise you to leave him.  No woman deserves to be treated thus."

Her eyes widened.  Such talk bordered on treason.

"Especially," he continued, "not one as lovely as yourself.  What is your name, by the way?  I have seen you around my temple and the palace many times, but I have not had the honor of being introduced."

Flustered by his gentlemanly manners, she did something she would have thought impossible just a short time ago:  she smiled.   "I am Anck-su-Namun."

"A beautiful name for a beautiful woman," he said with an appreciate nod.  "I am High Priest Imhotep...but then you already knew that."

A further impossibility occurred.  She giggled.   "Yes.  I know."

"I have seen you, Anck-su-Namun.  I have seen you in my temple many times a week.  I have seen you among the other women, so much more beautiful and vibrant than any of them.   I have seen you fight, possessing both strength and elegance in a way that rivals the warrior goddess Sekhmet.    And although I have just now learned your name, I have always admired you from afar."

She blushed a little, amazed at her ability to do so.   Why did he always have that effect on her?

"Forgive me, Princess, I should not speak so.   Sleep still clouds my judgement.  You came for a physician, not a poet."

"It's fine," she said, still grinning.

He fidgeted with the bowl of ointment for a few seconds, then met her eyes again.  "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Her expression saddened again.  "I fear not.  My other hurts are inside."  She lowered her gaze and added in a barely audible whisper, "And in my heart."

Nevertheless, he went to his medicine cabinet once more and brought her a papyrus envelope containing dusty gray-green leaves.   "For the pain," he said, handing them to her.  "Mix these with water every few hours and drink them as a tea.  It will help the pain and relax you."

She clasped the small packet to her chest like a priceless jewel.  "Thank you."

He bowed his head a little, a gesture completely unnecessary, considering his rank.  "You are most welcome, Princess Anck-su-Namun.  I...  I only wish I could do more."  He led her back to the main entrance of the temple in silence.  "Come see me if you need more of that medicine," he said at last.

"I will.  Even if I don't," she said with a weak smile.

He returned her smile and watched as she melted into the growing crowd in the bazaar.

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By the time she returned to the harem, the other women were awake and going through the tedious morning toilet, having their bodies painted and wigs prepared.  A few gave her sly looks as if to say, "Serves you right!"  Anck-su-Namun couldn't understand why they were jealous.   Pharaoh's attentions were hardly something to envy, she thought as she studied her bruises in the polished bronze mirror.  If Pharaoh started ignoring her again, she'd be thrilled.

She hated admitting any weakness, but in her condition there was no way she could conduct Nefertiri's training regimen that day.   Pleading illness, she sent word to the Princess to practice on her own instead.   Whether she would follow her instructions or not, Anck-su-Namun didn't care.   Knowing Nefertiri, she'd probably take the opportunity to sneak off with her Med-Jai lover, Rashidi.  His name meant "wise," but Anck-su-Namun considered him foolish to fall for the contemptible princess. She couldn't see what Nefertiri saw in him, either.  He was a bit of a rogue, always on the lookout for a good time, regardless of the consequences.  Yet he was an excellent warrior, well-respected by his fellow Med-Jai.

Anck-su-Namun did her best to ignore everyone else, fellow concubines, servants and Med-Jai alike, and rest.  It wasn't easy; she was used to being active and hated feeling weak.  She should have gotten used to feeling helpless, in her years in the harem, but she never liked it.

She spent the day in seclusion in her chambers, centering herself and drinking Imhotep's tea.  It did indeed dull the pain and relax her, but it was also spiritually renewing.  Every time she sipped the soothing tea, she was reminded of his soft smile, gracefully solid body, captivating eyes, and, more importantly, the fact that he cared.  Since her father's betrayal, there had been no one in the world who cared about her.  She had contemplated suicide in the early days in the harem.  If she died, no one would miss her.  Seti would raise and eyebrow, perhaps sigh a bit, and go right on to the next concubine.  The other women would be happy to be rid of another rival.  She had no family.  No one cared if she even existed...until now.

Anck-su-Namun laid back in a nest of cushions with a contented sigh, clutching the cup of tea and dreaming of the High Priest.

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Anck-su-Namun exulted.  Pharaoh had completely ignored her for an entire week.  Perhaps he was as repulsed by her resistance as she was by his abusive insistence.  He returned his attention to his previous favorite and one of the other girls--sometimes at the same time--and left her alone.

Her bruises faded, her aches subsided, her cut lip healed...but her heart had been hardened.  She'd never liked Pharaoh, and had always resented him.  Sometimes she thought she hated him, but now she knew she had been mistaken.  She had merely disliked him before.  Now she hated him.  Her hate smoldered beneath the surface, twinned by another growing fire--her attraction to Imhotep.

It was impossible and she knew it, but her heart wasn't listening to logic.  Imhotep was everything Seti wasn't:  kind, gentle, thoughtful, and respectful.  He treated her like a human being.

She began neglecting her visits to the other temples in favor of Osiris'.  No one noticed.  After Nefertiri's training sessions, Anck-su-Namun would shower and dress, submit to being painted by the servants, and head into the city.  It was usually dusk before she returned.  It became such a routine that no one questioned it.  She had always been a devoted follower of the gods, after all.

Imhotep became accustomed to meeting her at the main entrance of the temple.  At first she thought it a remarkable coincidence that he was always milling around there when she arrived, but soon she realized it was because he was as eager to see her as she was to see him.

On one such a day, she arrived in a short white kilt, smudged with the body paint that covered the rest of her body.  Her hair was braided with a string of golden beads, matched by gold bracelets.  Nefertiri had been exceptionally sullen during training, putting her instructor in an especially good mood.   She ascended the stairs into the temple quickly, her bare feet light on the sun-warmed stone.

Imhotep was standing with his hands folded behind his back, resplendent in a layered black robe over a green-and-gold kilt.  He had been ostensibly meditating before an elaborate tile mural depicting the resurrection of Osiris, but he was instantly alert when he heard her soft footsteps behind him.  He turned with a smile which widened when she bowed to him.

"My lord."

"Princess."  He glanced at the sun.   "You are punctual."

"Thank you," she said with another little bow.

He led her into the temple's rear garden, where they could speak with less formality, out of earshot of the worshippers.  The other priests were used to her visits and suspected the reason was not mere religious devotion, but they politely ignored it.  Their respect for their High Priest was great, and they wouldn't dream of judging him.

A hesitant breeze ruffled the palms as they walked through the gardens, finally stopping at a stone bench on the far end.  He brushed aside a stray flower petal from the seat and gestured for her to sit.

"What beautiful weather!  Set has been kind to us this summer," Anck-su-Namun said conversationally as he sat down beside her.

"Indeed.  And...Seti?"

"I cannot say he has been kind, but he has ignored me in favor of more obedient women," she said with a somber expression.   "I can only hope it will last."

He nodded, glanced down, and froze.   "Don't...move!"

"What is it?" she asked in a hushed voice.

"There is an asp between your feet," he whispered.

She calmly looked down.  Sure enough, a fat snake was slowly winding its way between her bare feet.  "Is that all?"   He slowly bent down and picked the snake up in her bare hands.   "Hello," she cooed, letting the serpent coil itself around her wrists and arms.

Imhotep gaped in astonishment.  "Th-those are poisonous, you know."

"Yes.  Quite poisonous, actually.  But I have a way with them.  We...understand each other."  She gave a snake-like smile herself.

He swallowed nervously.   "Well...uh..."

"You prefer cats?" she said with a mischievous twinkle in her dark eyes, purposely allowing the snake to stray toward him.

"Actually, I detest cats."

She raised an eyebrow.  Such a viewpoint was unpopular in feline-fancying Egypt.

"They...they give me the creeps."

She laughed.  "You, the High Priest of Osiris, afraid of cats?"

"I didn't say I was afraid of them.  I said they gave me the creeps."

"There's a difference?"

"Yes!" he said with a frown, and she decided not to push the matter further.  She gently set the snake down on the tiled path, and it slithered off without a care in the world.  Imhotep shook his head in amazement.  "I am constantly discovering more sides to you, Anck-su-Namun.   You have more facets than the finest gemstone, and more beauty as well."

She smiled modestly.  "I wish..."   Her smile faded.

"What?" he asked quietly.

"I wish things were different.  I wish I wasn't tied to Pharaoh.  I wish I didn't have to wear all this miserable body paint.   I wish I could control my own destiny.  I wish...I wish you could touch me."  He never had, when not acting as her physician.

"As do I, Anck-su-Namun."

She lifted a hand as if to touch his face, but was unable to bring herself to break the taboo.  Instead she lightly ran her delicate hand over his features, torturously close to touching his bronzed skin but not actually coming in contact.  He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, fighting to keep self-control.

"Imhotep...I'm afraid," she whispered.   "I shouldn't be having these thoughts, but I can't stop them from coming.   I see you in my dreams, I yearn to be at your side, and I...  I'm sorry, I just can't.  It's too dangerous."  She stood suddenly, not trusting herself to remain so close to him.  "If Pharaoh knew of my feelings for you, he'd..."  The threat of tears closed her throat, and she merely shook her head.

"Anck-su-Namun," he said patiently, standing up.  "I understand.  It is not our place to act on such impulses.   You are Pharaoh's.  But know this."  He took a step toward her, and she couldn't bear to back away.  "I do share your feelings.  If things were different..."  His voice trailed off, and he looked away with a deep sigh.   "You should go."

She nodded sadly.  "I should, yes.   I'll...be seeing you around?"

"Of course."

Her head low, Anck-su-Namun turned and walked back inside the temple, leaving a downcast Imhotep standing in the early evening shadows.

 

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On to Chapter Three...

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