Loved and Lost

Chapter Three

Mummy fanfic by Katie Sullivan
Rated PG-13

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Princess Nefertiri wasn't prepared for Anck-su-Namun's attack, and fell on her back on the practice room floor, panting and gasping for air.  Her golden tridents skittered across the floor.  "No more," she wheezed.  "I must rest!"

Anck-su-Namun twirled a pair of golden tridents lightly in her hands and looked down her pupil with disdain.  "You tire so easily, Princess.  We must work to build up your stamina."

"I have not been sleeping well as of late," Nefertiri said between ragged breaths.

Anck-su-Namun lowered a knowing eyebrow.   Judging by the marks on the side of her neck, the Princess and her Med-Jai "friend" had been having a very good time lately.  Jealousy welled up in Anck-su-Namun's chest, and she narrowed her eyes.  "As Pharaoh himself has told me, fatigue is no excuse."

Nefertiri shot her trainer an annoyed look, guessing the cause of that comment.  "Yes, well, I am a free woman.  My time is my own."

"Not true.  Your father has given you responsibilities.  And we must all do our duty to Pharaoh, don't you agree?" Anck-su-Namun said slyly, studying the razor-sharp edge on a spear in the wall rack.

Nefertiri glared at her and stalked from the room, leaving her tutor to pick up her discarded weapons.  Anck-su-Namun did so, and promptly pitched them at the door the Princess had just exited through, embedding the two tridents deep in the wood. Nefertiri was long gone by then, of course, but the small, unwitnessed act of defiance soothed Anck-su-Namun's temper a trifle.  Clenching her teeth in hatred, she yanked the weapons free.

It wasn't fair.  Nefertiri got anything she wanted.  Free time, education, jewelry...lovers...

Anck-su-Namun slumped to her knees on a reed mat, studying her own weapons half-heartedly.  It had been over a week since she had seen Imhotep.  He was right, of course.  They had to maintain a distance.  If anyone suspected their true feelings for each other, the punishment would be severe.   It was best to stay away from each other and pretend nothing was happening.

But something was.  Even after a week without seeing his face, Anck-su-Namun could recall every detail, and her heart ached to hear his voice again.

She had to let him go.  It wouldn't be the first of her dreams to be shattered.

Her heart heavy and her eyes on the floor, Anck-su-Namun retreated to her quarters for a long shower, one of the few pleasures left to her that wasn't connected to Imhotep.

 

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The noise of the other women chattering woke Anck-su-Namun earlier than she would have liked.  She put the back of her hand over her eyes, trying to ignore the noise, but it was useless.  Time to get up and see what all the fuss was about.

She slipped on a diaphanous robe and slowly made her way into the common room, still rubbing sleep from her eyes.  "What's going on?" she mumbled to the nearest woman.

"Haven't you heard?  Pharaoh has ordered a special festival to thank Osiris for the bountiful Inundation!"  The other woman squirmed with excitement as servants arranged her perfumed wig.  Everyone in the harem was in a tizzy of preparation, giddy in a whirl of make-up, wigs and jewelry.

Anck-su-Namun nodded.  She hadn't heard, but it wasn't surprising.  Before she was properly awake, a pair of maidservants whisked her off to her own dressing table and hurried to prepare her.

Soon she was painted from her shoulders to her ankles once more, clad in a scanty loincloth and a golden pectoral decoration that barely covered her breasts.  A servant affixed a perfumed cone atop her head amid a nest of golden beads.  In the heat of the afternoon the cone would slowly melt and keep away any odor.  This one smelled of lotus blossoms, her favorite.

As the last to rise, Anck-su-Namun was also the last to depart.  She hurried to catch up with the other women, running down the torch-lit marble corridor in an undignified fashion.  At last she took her place in the back of the line, barely winded thanks to her combat training.  She straightened the ornaments in her hair and tried not to dread the day's festivities.  At public functions like this Pharaoh always paraded his women around, taunting other men with their untouchable beauty and boasting of his numerous conquests.  Some conquests, Anck-su-Namun though with a derisive sniff.  As if we have any choice...

A Med-Jai guard led the line of chattering women down to the banks of the Nile, where Seti and his Great Royal Wife--the only one with any real status--sat on a dais surrounded by flowers, guards and servants.

The other women lined up in front of the platform where the Lord of the Two Lands sat.   All but one regarded him with their most charming smiles.  Anck-su-Namun simply managed not to glower.

Then she saw him.  Clad in an elaborate black-and-gold loincloth and an intricate scarab pectoral underneath a long, dark robe, the High Priest of Osiris stood at Pharaoh's right.  His oiled skin shone in the early morning sunlight, and his smile was even brighter.  He noticed her, standing almost directly before and below him, and struggled not to be distracted by her presence.

Now Anck-su-Namun smiled, and no one but Imhotep could tell that she wasn't smiling at Pharaoh.

Oh, she had missed him!  She hadn't seen him in over two weeks, now.  A very long, empty two weeks.  Not a day went by without him crossing her mind, and judging by the slightly pained look that passed over his face when he first saw her he had missed her just as acutely.

Seti rose, holding the ceremonial crook and flail of his office, and addressed the gathered crowd with a booming voice, spouting rhetoric about the glory of Egypt and the generous nature of Osiris.  The people were eating it up, the royal women hanging on his every word.  Anck-su-Namun was completely ignoring him.  Her eyes were focused slightly to the right of everyone else's, mesmerized by the presence of the High Priest.

She automatically applauded when Seti concluded his speech, but her eyes never left Imhotep.  He was aware of her staring at him, but was trying almost too hard not to return her gaze.  Seti was too busy basking in the adoration of his people to notice.

Soon Imhotep was forced to tear his attention away from his silent admirer and conduct the ritual part of the ceremony.

"Hail to Osiris, living forever!  Lord of the Afterworld, Beloved of Isis, Father of Horus..." he intoned.

Everyone else's eyes joined Anck-su-Namun in watching as the High Priest performed his duties.

The smell of incense stung her nostrils, adding to the dizziness already inflicted by his mere presence.  Chanting and music filled the air, the run rose higher and higher, the heat grew more oppressive...

Anck-su-Namun dimly heard startled gasps through the haze as she crumpled to the ground in a faint.

 

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She awoke in a cool, shadowy place.  The crowds of people were gone.   Everything was quiet.  She was...no, not alone.  Who...?  She opened her eyes groggily, but what she saw convinced her she was still unconscious and dreaming.

Imhotep leaned over her, bathing her brow with a damp cloth.  "Ah.  You awaken," he said with a relieved smile.

"Where am I?  What happened?" she mumbled.  She tried to sit up, but he put a hand on her shoulder to keep her flat.  It wasn't a remarkable gesture in and of itself...except that he had touched her.  Her eyes grew wide with alarm, and he soothed her with a quiet "ssh."

"Do not be alarmed, Princess.  It's all right."

"But--"

"Pharaoh has given me permission to administer to you."   He put a cushion behind her head to raise it slightly and brought a shallow bowl to her lips.  "Drink."

She did.  It was something cool and herbal, immediately refreshing.

Convinced she could hold the bowl herself, Imhotep sat down on a stool at her bedside.   "You were overcome with the heat of Ra and passed out," he explained.

She nodded, although it was not only the heat of Ra that had overwhelmed her.

"Where am I?" she asked again.

"The temple of Osiris," he said.

She looked around.  The shades were drawn to keep out the light and heat, but even in the shadows she realized this was a room she had never been in before.  It appeared to be a priests' cell, sparsely furnished with only the bare essentials.

"Pharaoh was concerned for your health," Imhotep said, sounding vaguely surprised.

She sniffed skeptically.  "Pharaoh cares nothing for me.  You know that as well as I.  I am just another bauble in his collection.   And if he was concerned about my health, I'd wager he was actually suspicious of my faithfulness.  He has not lain with me for several moon-cycles.  If I fainted because I was pregnant it would mean I had betrayed him, and my life would be forfeit.  He asked you to examine me with that in mind, didn't he?"

He hesitated.  "You are very perceptive."

"I know Seti."

"It is dangerous to speak that way about Pharaoh, you know."

"I know.  I don't care.  Nothing matters anymore.  If he had me killed...I think sometimes it would be a relief."

"Don't say such a thing!  You are a treasure, your life a gift."

"I'm a glorified whore, and my life is meaningless."  She found herself near tears, relieved to have him there to listen once more.  Forgetting the danger in such talk, forgetting even her attraction to him, she poured out years of pent-up frustration and despair, sobbing as she had not done since she was a child.  She told of her dashed hopes, her shattered future, her loneliness, her lack of purpose, her hatred for the man the rest of the country worshipped as a god.  Before she knew quite what was happening, she found herself being hugged.  Imhotep put his strong arms around her and soothed her with calm words, assuring her that things were not hopeless, that her life did have meaning.

"Why..." she began through her sniffles.  "Why can't Seti be more like you?"

Imhotep looked down into her dark, tear-rimmed eyes and shook his head.  "He doesn't deserve you."

She managed a weak smile.  "It is dangerous to speak that way about Pharaoh, you know."

"I know.  I don't care." 

And he kissed her.  It was brief but intense, fervent yet gentle, and made her feel faint all over again.

"We can't--  I can't--  You can't--" she stammered in anguish, wanting the moment to last forever.

"Osiris may be the king of the gods, but Hathor, goddess of love, can overcome anything," he murmured, holding her tightly to his chest.  "I have tried to ignore Hathor's summons, but I can do so no longer.  Anck-su-Namun--I love you."

"I...I..."  Tears welled up in her eyes again, and she buried her face in the folds of his robe.  "I think I love you, too, Imhotep."

"You think?" he said with faint amusement.

"Yes.  No.  I mean, I...it's so...  I do," she stammered.   "I do love you.  But I can't!  My heart is not mine to give."

"But it is, Anck-su-Namun.  Your body may be Pharaoh's property, but your heart is your own."

She uncovered her face and looked up at him, trembling.  "Then I...I give it to you."

"As do I."  He kissed her a second time, and she eagerly returned his affections.

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Anck-su-Namun felt complete and happy for the first time in her life.  This was beyond social standing, titles or status, beyond earthly constraints, beyond even physical pleasure.  Her soul was content.  If she died tomorrow--as well she might, considering what she had just done--she would face Anubis with a smile, for at last she knew what it meant to truly be alive.

Lying curled against the warm body of her newly-found soul mate, everything seemed perfect.  "Imhotep?" she murmured.

"Mmm?"

"You were supposed to help me cool off."

"So I failed," he said, sounding quite unconcerned.

"Not really.  You were also supposed to make me feel better."

"I did that?"

"Oh, yes," she said, nuzzling her face against his shoulder.

"I was supposed to examine you for pregnancy, too..."

"You've more than examined me," she said with a giggle.  "But I can assure you, unless something's changed in the last hour--I'm not pregnant."

"That was my professional opinion, yes."

"Good.  Pharaoh will be pleased."  The statement was absurd, all things considered, and she laughed a little at the irony.

They were silent for a few moments, the mood darkened by the thought of Seti.

Finally, Imhotep turned to face her.  "Come away with me.  My position has brought me more wealth than I can use.  We'll take what we can carry and escape to another land.  Hatti, Nubia, Syria...it doesn't matter, as long as we're together."

"We can't.  We'd never make it.  Pharaoh has eyes and ears everywhere.   We'd be killed long before we were out of Egypt."

"I can't live without you, Anck-su-Namun."

"I didn't live until I found you, Imhotep," she said.  "But if we betray the Pharaoh like that, the gods will smite us for our blasphemy."

"We have already betrayed him, and look!  We're still here."

"For now.  At any moment we could be discovered."

He sighed, realizing that her practical viewpoint was the proper one.  "You are right.  How I wish you weren't, my love!  We will bide our time, for now.   But someday, Anck-su-Namun, somewhere...we will be together forever.  I promise you."

She made a contented noise as he kissed her once again.  He tore himself away and stood, gathering up their clothes.  "Come, dress, and I will help you wash off the rest of that paint."

"I could say the same to you," she said with a laugh as he noticed for the first time how much of her paint had ended up on his own skin.

"Er...yes," he said with an embarrassed smile.

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Considering her fainting spell, no one was surprised to see Anck-su-Namun flushed and shaky when she returned to the palace.  Her lack of paint was easily explained by a medicinal bath administered by the priest to cool her fevered skin.  The maidservants sent her straight to bed, where she drifted off into dreams of Imhotep.

Perhaps concerned or repulsed by her fragility, or even still angry from their previous clash, Seti continued to shun Anck-su-Namun from his bedchamber.  She bribed a maidservant to show her how to apply her own body paint, so she could repair the damage done by her secret paramour before returning to the palace.  No one noticed or questioned the resumed frequency of her visits to the temple of Osiris.  She had always been a devout follower of that particular deity.  No one suspected that her visits now were not inspired by religious devotion.  Neither did anyone notice her sneaking down to the Nile to gather crocodile dung--an unpleasant but common agent of birth control.  With Seti ignoring her, she had no excuse to show up pregnant.

While Anck-su-Namun and Imhotep were indeed sharing a bed, it was so much more than mere physical pleasure that drew them together.  Meaningless copulation was Seti's department.  What they were sharing now was a full-fledged romance, with all the niceties that went along with it.  Moonlit walks were out of the question, considering her curfew, but watching the sunset became a regular activity.  Shared meals, long talks, music, jokes and the simple joy of being together filled their clandestine meetings.  Each time they were in each other's arms, Anck-su-Namun wished to stay there forever, but sunset always came, and she always had to return to the palace.   She could never know the contentment of sharing an entire day and night with the man she loved.  Her heart sang with ecstasy and wailed with despair almost daily.   There had to be a way.  If only Seti were out of the picture...

Anck-su-Namun stared at the marble ceiling of her bedchamber, feeling chilled by her treasonous thoughts.  She sighed and rolled over to embrace a lifeless pillow, yearning for Imhotep's comforting voice in her ear.  He always made her feel better.   He calmed her jitters, quieted her fears, kept her dreams alive...

She wanted to be with him every day, all day, forever.  No more of this skulking around like a criminal.  What her heart felt wasn't wrong.  There was no reason she and Imhotep couldn't be married and share the rest of their lives.  No reason except Pharaoh Seti I.

 

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On to Chapter Four...

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