The Feather on My Scale| Gods of Fire Book 2 (WIP)

Here are the ongoing chapters for Book 2 of Gods of Fire, the follow up to The Fire in My Blood. I have most of it mildly outlined, but I’m floundering on some major movement points and it’s taking it’s time coming to me.

*If you like what you read, press the Sushi button! I’m hoping to hire a proper editor when I go to bring this out in paperback and that would go a long way towards paying for one. Thank you!*

Chapter 1

Mornings. I hate them. Hate everything about them. The sound of the word. The light I wish would leave the edges of my curtains alone. The ever present snoring of my partner in my ear. How he could sleep through the awful impending chariot in the sky was beyond me. The pink and purple roll at the horizon behind the dome panels was enough to snap me awake every day and it drove me crazy.

Nebra burrowed into my arms, her sandy hair stuck in my stubble. At the peak of summer, having Ptolemy behind me and Nebra in front of me, I was hot, and not in the handsome way. Sheets had been kicked to the end of the bed. How I was going to escape when these two could sleep like stones until I move was not an answer I possessed. I brushed at the hairs tickling my cheek and looked around for my escape. 

A black haired woman relaxing in an upholstered armchair opposite the bed and chaise lounge at the end of it studied me with a thinly coated vanier of amused indifference. “Want help?” She mouthed.  I nodded my head and reached for her. She smirked, tapping the spine of her book on the footboard of the bed. 

A large hand circled around my chest, pulling me backwards. I wiggled in protest. Ptolemy only tightened down. Snoring returned in my ear. I glared at Seth as she failed to hide a smirk behind her book. Nebra at least sounded like she might be waking up. She rolled, her hip brushing against me suggestively. Ptolemy’s length was hard against my backside and asking for attention. His snoring had to be fake. Waking up to this position one would think would be an excellent thing in my book, right? If it wasn’t hot as Ra’s throne and I had to make for the restroom before getting tackled by the high priest for the Lighting of the Fire and Drawing of the Bolt, I might agree. I hate having breakfast at dawn. I’d prefer to start eating around lunch time.

If only there was a safe way to latch Ptolemy onto Nebra, I’d be free. That meant getting my ex-soldier turned lover to let go. Which is almost impossible. He’s cuddly in the mornings. So is Nebra. Seth doesn’t do cuddles. She also has the where-withal to sleep on the outside of the bed or in her own quarters to save from becoming the person in the middle.  I, on the other hand, am doomed. This is my room, and my bed, and as Pharaoh of Hawria, I get the position of honor. Which currently has me trapped between my military and financial advisors. The health and education councilor over there has left me to the crocodiles. 

A gentle, but firm kiss lets them know that I was awake, I understood their desires, but my needs were more pressing. Which left Nebra curled up in a ball in Ptolemy’s arms and me making for the restroom. Seth, unphased with the chaos she was trying to start, is burrowed into her chair, once more catching up on some policy or another.

Needs met, teeth and hair brushed, and a servant after me about showing to the temple for the rites, I returned back to my private chambers to find Ptolemy and Nebra more awake then I left them. She had taken command of the situation, putting my man under her for a bit of morning fun. 

“Want in on this, Henu?” Ptolemy asked, Nebra tucking a flaxen hair behind his ear. 

“You two enjoy. I am not ready to be awake. Cancel the chariot and let it rain. I want to go back to bed.” I flopped on the chaise lounge at the end of the bed and threw my arm across my eyes.  Most days I would be keen on jumping in the middle of the invite. Or watching at the very least. 

I had an early morning issue to handle and I was not mentally prepared for it. The servant who had insisted on helping me into fresh clothes that were just to be removed anyways for the ceremony and replaced with another more outrageous outfit, which was entirely unnecessary, as I said every morning, had slipped me my morning dossier and the first problem at the top of the list was a wab priest caught smuggling Mubkharatan out of Iunu.

My government officials insisted on placing me as a figurehead. Then I’d get these people I was expected to pass judgement on in a public way to maintain order. So they could say I wasn’t the figurehead we all knew I was. It irked me ten ways to Ra’s day that I had to fight my own government to keep the people I was overseeing safe. They rebelled from the outside. I rebelled from the inside. And we all were hogtied by the nobles.

I rose in frustration and tugged on my black robes over my skirts. The bell sleeves drooped well to the floor, dragging to remind myself I was chained to this outrageous destiny. Seth joined me in my efforts to be dressed, helping to drape a massive black Usekh across my collarbone. 

“What is with these ceremonies, Seth? Why? Why do nobles insist on them. They aren’t even related to where our ancestors came from on Earth. We’re comprised of a bunch of Eastern Europeans and East Asian peoples. The common people’s language isn’t even a language. It’s pigin. It’s some weird blend of Korean, Japanese, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Latvia. Why the hell did this segment of Joiner Petroleum’s board decide it would behoove the people to participate in a culture that has nothing to do with where they came from?” I hissed, fingering the obsidian stones inlaid into silver housing.

“And this is the problem with a Pharaoh having an ancient history degree,” Seth quipped, flicking my fingers and retwisting my necklace for me.

“But, Seth,” I whined.

“We’ve talked this out before. It is what it is.” She pulled the collar of my robes tighter under the necklace and helped with the belt.

“I mean, come on. Malak is comprised of Native and Latin American populations and Joiner nobility celebrates Norse religions. Why Ancient Earth religions so far removed from the majority of the population? Or Easimal who were originally from the Middle East and India who now follow the old Roman and Greek gods? The hell are they thinking?” I whispered under my breath at her fidgeting.

“I’m your health and education advisor, Henu, not your philosophy muse. You’re mad about what’s in the dossier.” She nailed my problem on the head and pointed me to a low stool.

“You at least have the academic background to get me when I start in getting annoyed at this situation. I hate these presumptive ceremonies.” I squatted down to the stool, my knees cracking.

“The wab?” Her fingers tugged through my thick brown curls. I nodded mutely, pulling at the edges of my robe.  “He rescued a mother and her child.  The baby burned her house down and she would not give her up. The boy caused a distraction such that the two were able to escape into the labyrinth. He’s to fulfill the morning ceremony with the lectern this morning as his last penance to purify himself within your light before meeting his fate.” She filled me in on the contents of the dossier to reiterate what I had read as she twisted the mass of ringlets into some semblance of a bun at the back of my head. It’d all be taken down shortly, but I appreciated the ritual. The summary helped. I hated reading legalese.

“He has been designated as harmless then,” I surmised. It had been a long time since a wab had been sent to be purified. Rarely were people who had committed a crime considered safe enough to be allowed one last purification.

“He has no record of violence, a child of the temple.” She tapped my shoulder when done and leaned over my shoulder to draw her arms around me in a reassuring hug. 

“Thanks, love.” I kiss her forehead before rising and heading for the door. She caught my fingers in question.  I gave her a reassuring smile. “Send Ptolemy when he’s done. I think he’d do best here.” Seth nodded and got me out the door, placing a glowing coal in a silver dish in my hand.

Seven white robed priests met me in the hall, their heads draped in gauze that swept to their knees. Creepy spooks. I don’t think I’d ever get used to their dawn appearance. Having resided as Pharaoh king of Hawria for over fifteen years, I still was not ready for all the religious rites I was made to participate in. I bowed to them formally and they returned the ritual. I presented the coal Seth had handed me to the one priest holding the incense burner and lit the sticks within.

Fifteen years back, I had been chosen by the last Pharaoh to take his place when he was dying of cancer and had no relatives he trusted to take his place. I was no more than the Sirdar for his royal battalion to command outside of the military. Ptolemy, Fariq of the Hawria military, had been a close friend due to our comings and goings. In the Cliff War when rebellion from some of the nobles rose against my newly acquired status, a protester blew Ptolemy’s leg off. He was slated for discharge and would have ended up homeless. Instead, he now occupies my bed and runs my military for me. He, however, could not join me in the rituals of the temple the priests were dragging me off towards for the billionth time. My concession to the nobles of Joiner: leave the temple intact for the sake of the people. I was still a heretical heathen, but by allowing the rituals to continue, the nobles felt their position retained and left the people from conscripted militia services.

We proceeded through my hall overlooking the rocky cliff above the bay of Nile.  Lattice work blocked off the kaleidoscopic refraction of the dome panels bombardment of solar radiation, diffusing sparkling ripples across the opposite wall. The oozing purples and greens brushed against red lacquer columns bolstered by climbing cerulean dragons and gold mythical birds. Waving blades of cattails and marsh grasses painted lovingly into plaster walls danced in the dim hint of dawn. Tugging fingerlings of agarwood and sandalwood smoke drifted around me as we emerged from my compound into the back courtyards and buildings behind the temple of Re. The punch of sea salt echoed against the biodome wall. The slap of waves at the shore, distant behind the bustle of the temple staff preparing for the Lighting of the Fire and Drawing of the Bolt.

The priests ducked into the backside of the Temple under a black painted lintel, silver charms and wards painted in a flowing mix of hieroglyphics and kanji. The hallway, cast in shadows and flickering light, intoxicated the senses. Incense burners twitched amongst the rafters, wafting heady smoke throughout the complex. I was ushered, as I was every morning, into the back door to a gold gilded chamber, reflectively bright and warm compared to the hallway I had left. Inside sat a gilded rattan chair and a massive gilded bowl with scented waters. Torches lit the back wall in the tight space. A larger burner of cast iron and gilding filled with incense and aromatic wood waited for the coal in my hands.

“The Lord approaches to bring forth the morning,” a scratchy tenor of an old man scuttled outside the front entrance of the chamber.

“May the morning come forth to bless the land with fruitfulness,” I responded, signalling to the lectern to open the front doors and get this blasted ceremony done with. Like every morning, the lectern – Adom, entered followed by four other priests, wab, who each carried aspects to my wardrobe. This wouldn’t be too bad, if not for the part that I was ceremonially bathed and dressed  in front of the early morning temple congregation that gathered to pray. I emerged for the beginning of the celebration of the lighting of the first flame of the day. The congregation in the chamber would be provided with a lit coal to take home to start their fires with. 

The vessel took, sparks shattering as the flames rolled up over the mouth of the pot for a moment before turning to a soft smolder. The flicker undulated against the gilding of my little box as I returned to my seat to wait for the Drawing of the Bolt. Servants waited along the step edges that ran the length of the massive hall outside of my box with baskets and plates of food. It was too early to contemplate it, but the people would be waiting to take the blessed bread back to feed their families.

One of the wab was new today. Not something I would normally notice, but this man was different from most that I had seen flow through this ceremony. He must be the wab sent for his last purification. A white shock of hair burst at the front of his hairline to disrupt midnight black curls. Eyelashes were half white nearest to his nose and glossy black at the far edges. A favorite jewel of mine, his eyes were two toned alexandrite beneath the downcast lashes.

I contemplated every old person bowing in my presence while I tried my damnedest to not fixate on the man’s strange beauty. A satin complexion, he could have served in any noble household on aesthetics alone. Instead, he wore the wab robes of someone who had been raised within the halls of the lower temples in the mountains of the south. The deep blue embroidery on white showed he was marked as pure, not having been betrothed out to another temple for solidifying ties. I had to wonder at that. He was well beyond the age to have already shared cups between another.

Maybe I should murder Adom, the lectern. Fingers and scented water splayed across my skin and if I had to swallow once more, I was going to start coughing from dry throat. Last purifications my pharaonic butt. Adom didn’t care, but there were enough people within the temple who didn’t want this man killed, or else he would not be standing here. This was the people outside of the nobility’s ring asking for me to keep him safe. Put him in front of me and have me draw a line of pity, a wall around him.  I was already known to favor those that were purified in last rights. Most often, so as not to upset my main adversaries, I tended to banish those of last rights to the temples in the surrounding mountain sides where they would minister to the salt miners. Seth and Nebra had both come to me during Last Purifications.

Cold water. Cold shower. Give me the ice at the bottom of the Nile seas. Who had thought to leave the incense burners on all night? Sweat beaded at my hairline and he had yet to lift his eyelashes. He wasn’t exactly supposed to look me in the eye. No one else was, so it shouldn’t be new to my expectations, but I wanted to see what his soul looked like. Was there stone or a feather at his core? Would I see a coiled viper or a nested fawn? One of my few rare gifts that had landed me here in this golden box naked in front of a congregation of a few thousand every freaking morning since Ramses had died. If I could meet someone’s glance, I could see the lies behind their face. Uncomfortable as the fires of the underworld, it had saved me a number of times getting knifed in the gut, and had proved useful in trade negotiations. 

Those who truly believed in the ancient ways remade to fit the nobles desires called me the coming of Osirus. Others could do what I did. I was just high enough in the pecking order that people took notice. There was a school I had implemented within the palace temple for those who were considered children of Osirus when enough parents had come forward with children who showed a similar talent. They were not my personal prodgeny. A war wound had seen to that never happening. The children were those brought in from the villages. We were open and honest to a fault and expected it of others. Subterfuge was frustrating and wasted on us. If not for my strangeness and desire to see a school, many of those like me were left to become solitary people, drifters away from society. We made others uncomfortable. They made us uncomfortable.

Desperate, I needed to know what the Alexandrite eyes held. Closer now, his nose and cheeks were flecked with dark freckles and bright white speckles. His cheekbones splotched red as his gaze swept my skin. He settled rings on each of my right hand fingers along with a series of bangles. He hesitated at each glancing touch, pearled teeth tugging at his bottom lip. Each soft caresses left me feeling like my soul was drifting, slipping, dropping from my skin.

Dressed, I stood to graciously bow to those sprawling the floor below me to finish the ceremony. Servants along the steps approached with the food to be blessed. Wine and bread. This was one of the few moments where I publicly served, rather than be served. I poured out the painted decanter into six small glasses. The first I handed to Adom and in turn circled to each of the four wab who had seen to my morning ritual. They each sank to the ground upon receiving their cups and drank. The bread I broke into six pieces and fed each the lectern and the wab their pieces. I left my own on the tray as was usual. I myself would not be eating the food here in the hall, but instead, as the people saw, consume the essence of it.  By blessing the first food to be consumed by the lectern and the wab, I blessed them to see to the purity of the food they then distributed amongst the people while I stood watching.

The wab wading through Last Purifications was diligent in his work, seeing to the elders and working carefully with the dependents to drink and eat their first meals of the day. Soft, his patience with those who needed time was modest, not an exhibition seeking approval as were the other wab that Adom oversaw. Light, his voice carried clearly in the crowd even as he whispered. The others hurried, with dismissal or frustration with those who had come. Grimaces of disapproval and derision marked them as they tugged and fought the current of the people who sat, waiting. I thought the ceremony slow, but as I surveyed the hall, it occurred to me that more and more of the servants were rearranging their orders to pass along their baskets and plates of glasses to this man who, in his effort to take care of each person he saw, was getting through his roster faster than the other wab. The supplicants of the temple took notice. Adom’s wab were being refused administration, the people instead motioning to the man who’s humility and care seeped into their souls. 

None met my eyes, and in that moment I watched as faces shifted from confusion and dismissal to frustration and hatred. Adom and his entourage were fighting a losing war against one man who cared for the people with every fiber of his being. The people knew who came to them without malice, without predetermined motives. They knew when they were not stepping stones to be used to advance the narratives of another. And they were making it known.

 A large gong trilled as the last of those in the rows were fed. It announced the supplicants would be able to collect their blessed bread upon leaving. More often than not, those who came to the early morning blessing of the sun, they were not here to quench their theological thirst, but instead to fill their stomachs. The elderly, the dependent, those that no longer had someone to see to their care often used this time as their way to survive another day. Ramses had seen to this when the nobility almost crushed the soul of the people in the Cardinal Wars. This kept the temple intact, kept the populace at peace, and kept the nobility pacified.

Bread though was not enough to fill the man. Spirituality was not enough to cow him. Hope was what the people needed. For years now, I had fought out the subtle game between the temples and the nobles to keep the rest from drowning. I needed hope. 

Garan and Sev were both vying for position. They retained the largest possession of fine metal and mineral resources in the north and south mountain ranges that boarded the dome edges. They held factions that followed them closely and they were none too subtle at the prospect of overturning the pharaoh to gain control of more unpaid labor. The wab in question had come from Sev’s domain.

The box of my bathing suite was opened further, the front double doors and the two sides folded away to my right and left to leave me in the empty throne room. My golden furnishings were withdrawn and replaced with new white while I stood, waiting.

Ptolemy entered the throne room, dressed for the day in fine linens and a necklace a touch less ostentatious then mine. Nebra had seen to an intricate braid for his flaxen mane. He bowed in deference to my station. I waived him to his usual seat on the steps at my feet.

“My Lord!” Adom, the chief lectern, high acting priest of the capital temple took up his position once the rituals had settled. I motioned for him to continue. The piebald man with the blaze and stripe was escorted between two other wab to a spot behind Adom and forced to kneel. “I come to you today with a sinner looking for a last purification. He was caught aiding the children of fire in escape. This dangerous act of defiance against the people of Nile puts all of us at risk in the future. We come to you today to ask forgiveness of his foolishness and that he may be blessed upon his death. He meant not to hurt any involved, seeking to protect all living creatures as is our way, but in his folly, he has placed us at risk.”

I regarded the lectern and the lying viper that twisted beneath his features. It was the slide of his eyes, the set of his mouth that gave away his hatred of the Mubkharatan. He thought them abomination and sought council within the nobility upon restrictions to implement within the legislation. He conducted his services in such a way as those around him would not immediately realize his prejudice, but I had endured his tyranny often enough to consider him a thorn in my side when it came to implementing regulations that would lead to a bettering of the people’s lives, all peoples.

The Alexandrite man could have been a leaf in autumn upon the floor, he shivered so. The wab at his sides both flicked disgusted glances at him. “His foolishness might be attributed to his lack of possessing an entire soul, My Lord. I would ask you, no, beg you, to grant him this Last Purification as a blessing to provide him with peace upon his last breath. He will not ascend to the next plane as he is and it would be too cruel otherwise to leave what little there is of his soul to shatter before it could ever reach your scale.” Adom bowed low.

“Bring him to me.” I sent Ptolemy with an indifferent flick of my fingers. I would need to find the strengths of this man to pass judgement upon him, to know where to hide him. Adom said a half-soul. I would need to explore this concept further with Seth. She would know what he meant by that statement.

Ptolemy rose from his lounged position and descended to the tiles where he stalked the three wab. The standing man and the woman scuttled back, bowing to his station. He pulled the man on the floor up by his wrist, the wab squeaking at the suddenness before muffling his protest. “Your name, wab?” Ptolemy demanded, his voice harsh and accusing.

“Wash – Wash, my name is Wash, sir.” The wab tried to bow and walk at the same time while Ptolemy dragged him to me, having him kneel on the lowest step of my dias.

“You may go, Adom. I shall send a retainer with my decision.” I dismissed the chief lectern. I was not in the mood to make a decision of such importance in front of the priest. He would question and punch holes in anything I tried to say. If it was handed over in writing, he would not argue. A strange habit of his. if it was written down, he treated it as law without question.

“Sir?” He flicked a nervous glance between the wab and myself.

“You think one untrained priest would be enough to fell your pharaoh? You do not trust your faith enough, I would point out, if you were to be seen by your mass.” I twisted the rings on my fingers, casting sparks in the morning light.

“Yes, yes, sir.” He cowered at the reprimand before backing himself out of the chamber, followed closely by the other two.

“Now, for you.” I turned my attention to the man Ptolemy was holding onto for me.

“My Lord?” Wash bowed further under Ptolemy’s hand.

I rose from my throne and descended the steps, my slippers slick on the polish. Standing on the same step he knelt on I contemplated his curls and my options. Raising an eyebrow at Ptolemy, he returned the glance and let go of the man. I knelt down to the wab’s level while my bodyguard’s hand settled on his sword hilt.

I slipped a hand beneath Wash’s coils of black and white curls to find his cheek and drift to his jawline. He flinched at the contact. “Meet my eyes, wab.” They wanted me to pass judgement. I needed to find his soul first. What looked back at me was neither fawn nor viper. I found instead the ember at the end of an incense stick before the ash crumbled. A spark waiting to light. I smiled at that buried flame. “I might just find a good use for you yet, wab.”

Chapter 2

“Think he would fit in?” I tugged off a stack of gold rings upon entering my private chambers.

“One way to find out.” Ptolemy grabbed the wab by the collar, pushing him against the wall.

Wash squeaked, his eyes going wide. “Please, don’t kill me!” He hands clasped around Ptolemy’s arm. Feet up, the wab twisted, nailing him in the stomach. 

“Got a bit of a kick to him.” My bodyguard caught hold of the wab’s foot and pressed in closer to stall his movements.

“Let go! What do you want from me?” Wash tugged back his foot. Straddled by Ptolemy’s height, his toes slipped on the tile.

“How about kissing you?” Ptolemy closed the scant distance, piercing aqua eyes studying the scattering of constellations across the man’s nose. Wash shivered at the question, his eyelashes sweeping down. His throat worked over and the tips of his ears went red.

“There’s always other ways to find out, Ptol.” I dropped the pile of rings in a dish a servant would return to the temple priests.

“I can let him go.” Ptolemy hadn’t backed up yet, even with that suggestion.

“I doubt he would try to run away at the moment.” I raised an eyebrow in their direction while a pair of footsteps approached.

“He’s cute. Just a snack or are you sharing? Totally Henu’s type, don’t you think, Ptolemy?” Nebra draped robes slipped against the flagstone. Wash gulped audibly, his eyes flashing to study the tall woman. His cheeks paled under her analysis.

“He doesn’t weigh more than a feather, Henu. You’re thoughts?” Ptolemy ran fingers up Wash’s neck to trace the hollow behind his jaw to his ear, twisting fingers into black curls. I had forgone joining with Nebra and him this morning and he was using this moment to torment me and the untrained priest.

“Thoughts, Wash?” I shrugged off my over robe, tossing it on the arm of an upholstered chair.

“Sir?” Wash twisted from Ptolemy’s face.

“On being my hierophant? I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m a sacreligious heathen.” I shifted from dismantling to watch my general and the object of all our interest.

“Wait, what?” His tight grip on Ptolemy’s arms loosened and he rested his weight against the prosthetic between his legs. He flicked a questioning glance up at my bodyguard’s chest. “That-that doesn’t hurt, does it?”

Ptolemy chuckled before turning into a full rawr of laughter. “You don’t keep him, Henu, I’m keeping the little piebald dove.”

A black shadow passed the threshold, robes and hair touching the floor in a cascade of death. “Henu doesn’t speak Imperium or Angelus and supposedly your work through the church would render you multi-lingual. Not a lot of people in Hawria speak Imperium.” Seth walked past, her face in a book. Nebra slipped fingers around her waist, stalling her progress toward my library.

“I’m still pinned against a wall here! Wait, you’ve got me in here to translate? No, I can’t. I’ve never been high enough up to be issued classes. Something about being an incomplete person. You know, the whole strippedy bit on my face.” He went to touch his forehead in explanation and instead tapped Ptolemy on the arm. “What about me getting Mubkharatan into Imperium. Weren’t you going to kill me for smuggling people out?”

“Adom was the one that mentioned death. I didn’t. So, life or death for you depends on some things. You’re a whole human, the hell are you talking about? You aren’t dead here,” I protested the statement.

“Tell that to the priests and the townspeople. They firmly believe part of my soul has been left out of my body. And that’s a hard stigma to handle.” He pushed a hand up along the stripe to tunnel fingers into ringlets, scattering them into a disorganized halo. “What do you mean fit in?”

“Depends on some things,” Ptolemy muttered, shooing Wash’s fingers from curls to carefully twist them back into shape. 

Wash stalled under the treatment, unsure of what to make of the giant keeping him in place to preen him. “Things? I can do almost anything if it means you not smashing my skull in right now. I will continue to protest the treatment of Mubkharatan.” He pointed an angry finger in my direction. “That won’t change. Most everything else is up for bid right now.” Wash waved his hands in compliance. 

That had my attention. I turned from devesting myself of way too many presumptive bobbles to return to where Ptolemy had the wisp pinned. “Anything?” I mused to my group of advisers. Seth closed her book with a snap to look the man up and down as Ptolemy continued his fixation. I could have sworn until my dying breath that he was a reincarnated cat of some type, the level of pride he took in grooming everyone around him.

“Anything. You have my life. I won’t betray you. I would say on pain of death, but I’m partial to death not being painful, if you could please,” Wash swallowed.

“Careful what you promise, wab,” Seth hissed.

“Depends on if you fit in.” I pulled Nebra and Seth in under my arms, kissing one then the other’s neck, finding the soft weight just below Seth’s bust. She tapped my hand with her book.

“Fit in?” Wash asked, confused as he watched us. “Wait. Who are you people?”

Ptolemy released him, letting him slide to the wall.  My military adviser turned to me, slipping his hand around my neck, pulling me to his lips. I could melt every time he touched me.

Wash startled at the contact. “You’re, you’re, you’re,” he stuttered, trying to get past his shock. I released Nebra and Seth. Ptolemy moved away, giving me space. 

Nebra continued her hold on Seth, nuzzling her neck where I had kissed her. “Concubines. Think wives and husbands without the political pull, so to speak. He’s supposed to stay unmarried to be able to join a faction. Something to keep the nobles happy,” Nebra informed him, looking up from her hold.

“Not that I’ve found anyone I want to deal with in that type of condition. Wash, have you ever met the eligible of the Nobles? Talk about a headache I don’t want to deal with.” I pulled the long gold hair sticks from my mane and let it drop around my shoulders. Adom always twisted so tight, I’d think he was trying to pull my face in half.

“Finding someone who’d fit into this happy little menagerie you’ve got going here, Henu, is not going to be an easy feat if you’re considering marriage vows.” Seth cautioned.

“Fit in? You, you…you want me to be one of your concubine?” His eyes were approaching the size of saucers, flicking back to me. Ptolemy sidled back over to him to straighten the wab’s robes. Wash flicked a confused glance across Ptol’s fingers and took the treatment.

“That depends. You’re not Noble, so marriage is off the table.”

“Depends on what?” Wash pushed for Ptolemy to give him room.

“If you want to be a consort to the King, Wash. You’re a wab right now. If he banished you to the outskirts, you would still be wab. It’d mean changing your vows though if you became Henu’s.” Ptolemy released the man.

Wash straightened his collar and shifted his belt to tighten the folds of his clothing back in order. “You do know I’m a Mubkharatan, right? Like, that wouldn’t fly in court, you know, right? I sort of was just caught for shielding Mubkharatan.”

Seth snorted at the protest. “A Mubkharatan. That’s what you’re afraid of? Your king having a Mubkharatan consort in his bed?”

“No, wait. That sounds really bad. That’s not…what?” his face paled as he worked through her statement. “Bed?” he asked.

“Concubine. That’s what he was saying,” Ptolemy gave him a toothy smiley, they type full of fangs.

“Would I be taking you away from a lover by keeping you captive here?” I asked.

He paused. Shook his head. “No, no one. The temple took me in when my parents couldn’t afford to feed me and all my siblings. Having half a soul made me unfit to share cups with another priest or priestess. No one has ever indicated even a passing interest and I’ve kept myself to myself because of that. They wouldn’t want my taint.” He indicated the difference in the color of his uniform and made the mistake of fiddling with his curls again. Ptolemy was hard pressed to keep the ringlets from going arai.

“So no one to worry that you aren’t coming home for your dinner? No left over crush that would leave you pining for another’s arms? Are you interested?” I asked.

“I’m…I don’t…I don’t know you well enough to feel comfortable just jumping into your bed, My Lord.” He pulled the edges of his robe tighter at his chest.

“That’s why I said be careful what you promise.” Seth gently thumped him on the top of the head with her book.

He swallowed. “I promised anything.” He turned back to me. “I mean what I say.”

“I don’t want anything, Wash. If this isn’t something you’re partial to, I can see about getting you smuggled into Easimal for your own safety. I would not count you as safe from Adom or many others for having protected Mubkharatan. As consort, I can protect you with my name, with the people’s belief in my sanctity to keep you clean.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the Rake of Iunu who takes advantage of everyone? Why are you asking me if I want in on this? Don’t you just go up to people and like…well, you know?” he demanded. Well, that reputation hadn’t died. Kiss Ptolemy one time in front of his commanding officer and now everyone calls me a rake.

“Is that something you were hoping for?” I slipped my fingers up his hand, pulling it to my lips. A sliding sensation ran beneath my skin at the contact, a piece of me easing out of my fingers to where we met.

“Just a little unexpected, My Lord,” he whispered, his hands warming in mine. “What are you, sir?” he asked, his fingers drifting along mine as I let go of him.

“How do you mean?”

He rubbed at his chest, flicking a glance away from the four of us. “You don’t feel like normal people, My Lord. My Catalyst reacted to you,” he admitted quietly, his shoulders shaking.

I turned to Ptolemy, raising a questioning eyebrow. He shrugged, shaking his head. He wasn’t sure what that meant.

“Catalyst is your burning. Then there’s the cool down, what was that called again?” Nebra asked.

“Repercussion. Some Mubkharatan are Consumptionists. Some are Performers. It’s like our brain kind of trips out after we use our power and has to meet a certain set of circumstances so we can function normally again.” Wash replied.

“And you touched me and it did something to your Catalyst?” I tested the idea.

“I felt, I felt really powerful, Sir. I did every time our skin touched. Please don’t kill me.” He pulled his hands in under his arms protectively, flicking a nervous glance at Ptolemy.

“I won’t if you quit asking me not to kill you,” I gave him a bit of distance.

“Okay.”

“How rude is it to ask what your Catalyst is?” I asked.

“You are the King, Sir. I can’t tell you what is or is not rude.” Wash regarded the tile at my feet with detached fixation.

“Are you comfortable showing it to me?” I moved back toward the living area, encouraging my concubines to open up space for the man to breath.

“Not really,” Wash pulled his hands out from under his arms to rub at a shoulder. He flicked a glance between Ptolemy and Nebra. She shrugged and turned to one of our benches to collapse upon.

“Answer me this, then. Is it dangerous?” I pulled off the last of my robes to leave me in my skirts and necklace. The room finally felt cool.

“I’ve never produced a hot enough flame to burn anything. I can’t, even if I try.” Wash’s attention narrowed to drag along my stomach as I turned back to him. The tips of his ears were turning a shade of crimson. I raised an eyebrow at his unerring fascination. Ptolemy and I shared a smirk while Wash tried to get his tongue to obey him.

“A flame that won’t burn? Impossible!” Ptolemy protested, drawing Wash’s attention away from me. He glared at Ptolemy’s exclamation, his gaze fleeing to my feet once more. He held out his hand, palm up. An image of a standard size black cat sat on it. 

I reached out to touch it, meeting Wash’s cold glance over the apparition. The creature slinked to my hand as Wash watched it’s movement. Dry heat shrouded in cold air stepped onto my hand. Weightless, it’s paw prints whispered up my sleeve as it climbed up and onto my shoulder. It launched, turning into a multicolored bird before plummeting to the ground to bounce as a red ball. The ball rolled to the middle of my chamber and flattened, seeping across the tiles. Grasses and dunes rose up, encompassing my room in a flickering hallucination of the mountainside. Sweat beaded along my sides and lower back as the temperature in the room rose.

“What is this?” Nebra walked into the oasis, touching the wavering juniper growing in the corner. Her fingers sank into the ghostly image.

“My…my Catalyst.” He swallowed.

“This is fire? Nothing’s burning?” Ptolemy took in the bizarre images.

“Not all catalysts are destructive,” Wash hedged quietly.

“How long can you do this for?” Seth circled the scene, intrigued.

“About another twenty minutes. My Repercussion gets worse the longer I do this, though, or if I make the mirage bigger,” he protested.

“What happens with your Repercussion?” I turned from the scene to regard the wab.

“I have to eat.” He was trying to become one with the wall.

“That’s not a problem. We have plenty of food here.” I waved toward the other end of the hallway where my dining quarters lay beyond the library.

“Not just anything, My Lord.” He tried to swallow. His eyes were turning glassy.

“Consumptionists. They have a vice, right? Whereas the other type, actors or something like that, they have to repeat a task a number of times, yes?” Ptolemy recalled as he brushed at the breast feathers of a perched bird who regarded him with indifference.

“Yes, sir.” Perspiration gathered at the edge of Wash’s hairline.

“And what is your vice?” Seth returned to the man.

“Honey.” He flicked his glance across the floor to study where tile met the wall.

“How do you obtain it, as a church member? Honey is incredibly expensive!” Seth gasped. Nebra caught my eye over her head and nodded. She left for the com to summon a servant while we continued plumbing the depths of Wash’s skills.

“It’s not safe for me to use outright, so it’s not like I get much of an opportunity to practice with it,” Wash retorted.

“I’m sorry, that was unfair of me,” Seth conceded.

“No, I’m sorry. That wasn’t polite of me to snap at you like that.” Wash sank to his knees and bowed low to prostrate himself against the tile, as his position called for him to do.  Watching the shake in his fingers, I realized it was also a way to hide the toll producing the mirage took on his body.

Nebra returned with a decanter filled with raw honey, warmed to liquify it’s viscosity. Holding it, she glanced between Wash and myself as if to ask who to give it to. I motioned for the cut glass, taking it from her offer. “You wanted a rake?” I approached him as his images disintegrated around us and took a knee to put me on his level. “Know something?” I drew his attention to look up from the floor. Slipping fingers up the column of his throat I caught the curls at the back of his head to hold him where I wanted him. Unfocused mismatched eyes flicked between me and the decanter. “I’m keeping you, my hierophant.” I took a swig of the honey and kissed him, dueling with his tongue as his focus melted beneath the onslaught.

Chapter 3

Grant it, the massive red handprint I had splashed across my face for the next few hours I probably deserved. Wash apologized profusely. I also ended up apologizing about just as much. When he had gotten the rest of the decanter down and we had all found a seat at the table in my private study, me with a bag of ice on my cheek, we proceeded to lay out what was actually going on in this proposition. I also promised to tone down the egotistical rake bit. He made it more than blatantly clear in none too small of words that he would have appreciated not having his first kiss stolen while he was coming down off a catalyst high. Noted.

“My Lord, surely, you cannot mean for me to ascend the position of the High Lectern! I am no more than an untrained priest. I do not know the intricate runnings of the temple. This would upheave the entire structure of the hierarchies. The nobles would not tolerate it!” he protested.

“Your concerns are valid. Adom will not appreciate being forced to resign his current position. He has been aware of his tenuous status for years though.

“I have been informed on multiple occasions by others within the temple that I must some day choose a permanent High Lectern to represent my station as god-king, and not purely rely upon the regent High Lectern of Ramses. Fifteen years I have put off replacing him. Yet, I have not wished to implement him into a permanent position. He and I are tolerant within degrees. I needed someone I could trust to replace him with and had not found a person capable of satisfying that need. He knew the most of the temple. His intransigent prejudices need not be entertained if my desires should be met.” I set the bag in a stoneware bowl.

“Needs and desires, My Lord?” Wash’s glare skimmed my cheek.

“Not the way you are thinking, My Hierophant, though if you would like to meet those, I would not so much mind introducing you to them,” I offered.

“No thank you, we’ve already met,” he quipped.  Ptolemy snorted over his glass of water at the transaction.

“The needs and desires I would encourage you to meet with currently are this: I must find a method by which to hoble the nobility before their headstarts enter into an ambition that would upheave what little peace we have. I would see that our dome improved itself from the stagnation it suffered after the Cardinal Wars. However, at every turn, I find myself, as a figurehead pharaoh, hampered by unnavigable legislation implemented to suppress the commonality and promote the luxuries of the priests and the nobles. The people are suffering,” I hissed in frustration.

“I do not follow how I could possibly improve this situation, My Lord?” Wash hedged.

“You are both of the temple and a Mubkharatan. You have shown yourself capable of care for not only others of the same fate, but those that are incapable of caring for themselves. I watched your interactions this morning in the hall in comparison to the other wab. You were well received by them and I would suspect would be loved by the common people. You were sent to me for Last Purification. That means there were enough people from your home temple that didn’t want you to die unblessed even for committing a crime of the state. You have promise.” I studied the purple and green ripples along the dome glass as clouds shifted along the blue sky beyond it.

“How would I learn the duties of the temple, though, My Lord? I do not see myself as someone people would necessarily look to for guidance. I am,” he hesitated, scrunching in on himself, “more of a form of sympathy by which the temple might shower their grace upon. Nothing more than domestic livestock to the priests. A beast of burden, My Lord! I am half-souled.” Alexandrite eyes begged for me to understand. Inside I could only find sorrow and hope.

“Seth, what is with this half-soul business my heirophant continues carrying on about? I have not come across this term.” I folded my arms over my chest and studied the man across from me. The ice in the bag slipped in the quite, clinking against the bowl.

“A superstition within the temple, spread amongst the common folk. Albinism, poliosis, in Wash’s case, as Ptolemy guessed so accurately, he is piebald. Do you suffer deafness at all, Wash?” Seth asked.

“Not enough to significantly impact my work within the temple or to hinder me from common communication. It is difficult if you suddenly start whispering things where I can’t see your mouth, My Lord.” Wash turned his statement from Seth to me.

“Oh. I take it you missed me saying I’d keep you? I’m sorry, that, I wasn’t aware, I-” I asked, my face heating at the realization.

“No, it was whatever you said back in the temple halls before you let Ptolemy drag me into your bedchambers. For all I knew, you told him he could chop my head off!” Wash protested. “I caught the keeping me bit.” He muttered, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“But do you really believe yourself half-souled?” I pressed him.

“Yes. Why would I not be?” He blinked at the statement.

“I can work with this, but we’re going to need to fix that superstition before it causes more harm. How have I not known about this?” I touched the sore spot on my cheek. Swelling was coming down. “Nebra, Ptolemy, can you do me a favor?” I turned to them at the thought.

“Favor, Henu?” Nebra shifted from her contemplation of the bookshelves behind me.

“Would you be able to source our wab here proper vestments. Something to compete with Adom’s?” I motioned to Wash’s blue and white patterns.

“I don’t think you’re listening to m-” Wash protested.

Nebra interrupted, “What are you thinking, morning or evening ceremony?”

“What do you think, Wash? Should we announce you to the entire congregation at dawn, or dusk? Have a preference?” Ptolemy encouraged him in on the conversation.

“Evenings always have the largest congregation,” he turned, hands begging on the table, “but I can’t do anything!”

“You can summon gods.” I smiled, teeth gleaming.

Chapter 4

Ptolemy took Wash for the day to introduce him to the halls and keep him out of the way of the guards and staff while Nebra disappeared into the corridors of the palace.  This left Seth and I to walk the grounds to quietly plot our next movement. The teahouse and the massive pond in the midst of my family houses sat, calmly waiting on us to decide to take up residence for the afternoon.

“You would have him use his fire in the temple?” Seth eased into my grasp, settling into a pool of her black robes while I propped myself against the gilded wall for us to watch the edge of the pond and the hunting park beyond it.

“What do you think of him?” I hedged her question.

“I thought him a mouse at first.” She traced cool fingers up my cheek, her dark eyes amused.

“Got a bit of a bite, doesn’t he?” I rolled into her hand to nuzzle at her palm.

“Sure doesn’t appreciate your forward approach. He’s not Ptolemy.” She chuckled.

“None of you are like Ptolemy.” I caught the edge of her thumb in my teeth as the tips of her fingers skimmed my jaw.

“Ptol’s good for you. Wash might be that nice counterpoint. Will have to see, huh?” She leaned closer, kissing my cheek. I let up on her finger to capture her mouth. She pushed for me to move from the wall. I slid down to the side, her hands splayed against my chest.

“What do you think of him? Of his dynamic in our house?” I asked, twisting so she would find a more comfortable perch. She settled into the cradle of my  hips. Heat snapped up my sides at her soft pressure.

“I’m not sure yet. Hard to assess in just two hours of talking to him. I don’t get bad vibes off his personality. If anything, he lacks a bit of faith in himself is all. He has no problem asserting boundaries. That’s at least good to see. Though physically attaining those boundaries concerns me.” She nipped at my chest, her eyes playing like that of a cat who had found her mouse.

“I did sort of tread all over his boundaries rather blatantly. I would probably have had the same reaction if somebody did that to me.” I found the crease of her thighs, slipping along ample curves to settle her a bit more fully, if only to ask for some other things to be resolved than just our conversation on the wab.

“Patience, pharaoh.” She wiggled to hear me groan.

“Are we doing something here in the teahouse or are you just teasing?” I flicked a glance to the open doors. She wasn’t usually partial to the possibility of being seen.

“Teasing. It’ll make things more interesting this evening.” She shrugged, the collar of her robes coming loose to give me a view I could die in.

“You’re being mean.” I fixated with a new curve, one that would yield to my touch in mesmerizing ways.

“And you had to bring the wab in.” The lace of her binding was a pure white and tickled against my chest.

“You don’t like him?” I ran the pad of my thumb along the line of lace to admire the texture.

“Not what I said.” Her black manicured nails traced circles across my sternum.

“You found someone you want to play with?” I guessed. She slid against me and dammit, if I moved she’d be exposed to the whole courtyard.

“I have my doubts he’d be in favor of my methods.” Her eyelashes drifted, gaze sliding away from me. Pink dappled her cheeks.

“Why doubts? It’s not that we’ve exactly given him much of a chance to show us his, how were we referring to it?” I thought back to our conversation from the morning.

“Needs and desires?” Seth sat back to run swirling patterns down my ribs. Heaven had to be real. Black silk robes and white lace made for a great combination. I cleared my throat, nodding. “Nebra makes him nervous. If she makes him nervous, I can only imagine his reaction to me handling him.” She pushed at her black waterfall of hair. Drawing my gaze up from everything I dearly wanted to touch, I caught that wistful look she got in her eye when she wanted to try something and was too scared to say.

“Nebra is a foot and a half taller than him. She’s the same height as me. Most men can be a touch intimidated with someone who can probably headlock them into the afterlife.” I inched my way up from her thighs to petite waist. Her eyebrow raised at my motion. “What?” I tried to hide the smile trying to escape from the left corner of my lips.

“I know where you’re going.” Her eyes were back to amused cat. She leaned into me once again and I found warm weight in my palms. Yes. Yes a god exists. There’s this texture thing between that smoothness and silk dripping down my arms and that slight scratch of lace. Amused cat. She was practically purring. “One touch, pharaoh.”

“You’re daydreaming, aren’t you, Sparrow?” I slipped my hands around her binding, under her robes, to her back and tugged her down to look me in the eyes.

“He’s cute.” She didn’t flinch from my staring. A deep tourmaline, boarding on onyx shade, returned my gaze, clear and honest.

“Agreed.” I left off my love affair with gemstones to nibble up the column of her throat.

“And I want to fuck him.” She flopped forward, spreading herself across me in dejection.

“Fuck him or be fucked by him?” I went hunting for the hooks of her binding.

“Close to what I’m about to do to you if you get my binding off,” she threatened. I found the eye closure and slipped the first hook. She rose up to give me that you-can’t-be-serious look she likes to throw around. “What? Nebra and Ptolemy had their moment and we’re both in agreement Wash is cute. Now I’m horney. Where’s your equipment when we both need it.” I got the next hook undone.

“In my room. Reason I said wait until this evening.” She rested her chin in her palm and waited for me to figure it out. Stopping, I waited for our conversation to replay. I caught the drift, kissed her forehead and tried to get the hooks closed again.

“I swear, your sleeves are deep enough you carry around books, how do you not bring along everything else?” I returned the last hook back to its rightful place.

“You’ve seen me drop my books out of my sleeves.” She leaned back once more, this time pulling her robes back across paradise.

“Alright, yes, I see how that could be awkward.” I crossed my hands behind my head to rest against.

“Ptolemy took an instant liking to him. Probably reminds him of a lost puppy. Nebra has gone completely big sister on him.” Seth slid off of me, her robes gracing me with somewhere to hide while I tried desperately to pull myself back together. That was not going to be achieved any time soon with the soft tops of her thighs giving me a glimpse of more white lace.

“Will there be jealousy, do you think? What if he’s a one person type of person and doesn’t want to share? For all we know, he may have zero interest in any of us.” I offered up that thought.

“And what then, Henu? If he had no interest?” She rose, putting her wardrobe back in order.

“He has the freedom to keep to himself. I won’t take that from him. As I won’t take it from any of you.” I rolled to lean on my hand, regarding her gracefulness.

“Then if there is jealousy, we work it through and see what the next best choice is for all of us.” She shrugged. Pulling a red lacquer comb from her sleeves, she settled on a low cushion to work her floorlength locks back into obedience. “These moments, off on our own, are nice sometimes. A little less coordination. But watching the dogpile that is you, Nebra, and Ptol is also fun. I have to wonder how long it would take, if he’s disposed to that kind of thing, before he get’s in the midst of it all.” She was watching the koi fish, but her gaze was half focused. She was off in her own world.

“For now, it will behoove us to just have him as My Heirophant. I’ve needed someone to take over the regency for too many years. Adom has needed to be replaced since his prejudices started leaking out. I just didn’t know any of the staff well enough to take over the spot, and it felt weird,” I admitted, sitting up to lean against the wall once more.

“You’ve seen him for three hours and you trust him more than the same staff you’ve seen for the last fifteen years?” Her words had the lilt of skeptic amusement, but no ill intent.

“You should have seen him in there, Seth. He’s this gentle wave. He gathers, and there’s nothing ostentatious about his methods. Genuine concern and quiet. At first I thought him timid, but then I found fire in his eyes. There’s a rod of silver in his spine.” I admired the flurry of clouds passing by the dome panels, sending sparks of scattering fuschia and lavender across the sky.

“You think he might be the one that can unite the classes?” Her voice sank to a whisper, a note of concern warning me to keep the conversation constructed carefully.

“My people are dying keeping this sinking ship afloat.” The rain of sparks sent slithering ripples of orange bands across the panels.

“The mariners?” Seth studied my interest. I nodded mutely. The mariners. A scattering of outsiders, they were the detested of the villages. Ramses had picked me up from the street, buying me from my dying mother when I was no more than a year. He brought me into the palace and put his faith in my abilities. Mariners were in my blood though. The palace had no memory of where I had come from. Ramses, upon his deathbed, had left it with me, though, that I had come from the mariners, and that my mother had died. He knew nothing of my father. I was left to wonder what, if any family relations I had.

“You think he could traverse the hierarchies?” She turned to the low table next to her and poured water into a pair of glasses and handed me one.

I contemplated the cut glass, shards of orange and purple sparkling against it from the dome panel reflection. “Screw the attracted bit for the moment, Seth. I think he can. I really do. His fire is gentle. This is something that I can’t control. I’m bound to my role and so much of it is hinged on the role of religion that I just can’t wrap my head around. I have to work in these roles that make no sense. I still don’t understand what Ramses’s purpose was of me. But if I need a priest, I need one that can do what the other priests can’t. I need one that can work magic. So many of the Mubharaktan have been thrown out, that not very many in the temples, the common people, have seen them up close. They wouldn’t know what he’s doing. It would be real to them. It was real to us.” I sipped at the water.

“Then we will let the sticks fall and count our fortunes on the stars,” Seth reassured.

Chapter 5

Upon returning to my halls, Seth split off for research within her own rooms. I sat in my study and grappled with how I would word the documentation to Adom. The oiled wood of the massive desk smelled of incense and perfumes the cleaning staff insisted on using. The tiled floors were freshly washed, and my shelves were dusted. The hairs on the back of my neck rose. Fifteen years trapped with little privacy. Some would call me privileged. I had at my beck and call all that I could ever want except for my own space that no one could or would enter. The selection of my wardrobe was seen to by the temple. I was a god-king after all. My retinue of government officials specifically chosen to help explain how a new law was to be implemented was provided by whichever noble had the most influence, so that I would not be forced to ponder on trivialities. I was a god-king after all. The cleanliness and decor of my rooms I did not see to. Even when I moved things to my satisfaction, they were categorically returned to a more resplendent position. I should not dally on the daily. I was a god-king after all.

A figure head, the best I had now was the little moments of choice I had claimed as part of the commands of the empire. I kept the consorts I chose. The Temple and the Nobility had no say. As part of the commands, I was requested to provide a choice for High Lectern to represent me as this captive god-king. I pulled out the compilation of briefs from my shelves and flipped through to find the corresponding codes. With exacting precision in my language, I formulated a document that neither the nobles nor the temple would easily dismiss.

Calling a retainer, I sent the documentation to Adom towards the middle of the afternoon. That composed and a stack of papers assessed and signed off, I was leaning back in my chair with a cold cloth over my eyes when Nebra returned with Wash.

“I can’t possibly wear that! It’s – it’s not my station,” Wash protested on his way through the doors.

“Give Henu five minutes and it will be your station.” Nebra snipped back.

“Take it Ptol had something else to do?” I called from my study.

“He got into a rather drawn out conversation with some of the older regiment captains – you know how it goes with him. Anyway, I was walking by and figured Wash would like to be free of musty military chatter.” Nebra popped into my room. I pulled the cloth from my eyes to study my consort and my hierophant.

“You found us an outfit?” I sat up, noting the bag in her hands.

“It’s too much, My Lord!” Wash protested.

“A pittance from my own salary.” Nebra sniffed, pulling out heaps of cloth.  I raised an eyebrow. A pittance. The amount of silk, leather, and gold embroidery made me wonder how much she emptied from her accounts.

Wash stared at the mass in terror. “Something wrong, wab?” I asked. He shifted, his mouth opening, then closing again. A storm built across the pinch between his brows. “Can’t refuse the pharaoh?” I guessed with an easy smile.

“If it’s what you want, My Lord.” He bit his tongue.

“Undeniably, I’d love to see you undress at the moment and see you in whatever Nebra’s found, but at the end of the day, Wash, it really is up to you.” I spread my hands to the desk before clasping them behind my head and leaning back in my chair to watch the wab squirm.

“May I ask the door be closed?” Wash muttered at Nebra, his face going red from collar into his hairline. That left him between me and the door. Nebra eased it shut with a click, concern creasing the corner of her eyes.

“I am serious, Wash. You asked me not to be a complete pig. If this isn’t something you want to do, don’t. I was being both honest and teasing. If this makes you uncomfortable-” I reiterated, coming down from my lean back to fold my hand on the desk.

“Whatever,” he hissed, tugging at the belting of his white and blue wab robe. “It’s gonna be what it is.” His words, cold and frustrated, slipped down my arms. His over clothes pooled around him, leaving him in a thin, white underrobe and fundoshi. Beneath his knee length under robe, draping down to the floor were a pair of mint green moth type wings. I rose, my chair scraping. He cringed at my surprise, gritting his teeth as he refused to meet my eyes. Nebra gasped.

“Am I allowed to ask?” I stayed where I was as he pushed off his underrobe, irritation radiating from him in a hot wash. I sucked in a breath as white cotton pooled on the floor and his eyes met mine. The room burst into a dizzying, kaleidoscope pinwheel. He looked around in horror at the display. Pursing his lips, his lower eyelids rimmed red. “Easy, easy, I’m going to come around the desk, is that okay, Wash?” I asked, eyeing the fizzling starbursts twirling around my walls. “Let’s get you dressed. If this is causing you this much anxiety, don’t push yourself. I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to do this,” I tried for soothing. He inched back on his heel, arms covering his chest.

“Nebra?” I asked, afraid to take my eyes off Wash.

She nodded mutely, eyes focused on him too. She turned and let herself out the door to call in for more honey. I’d need to keep a stocked supply.

Left alone in the study with the nervous wab, I caught the sound of his mirages. A slight hiss, that of the wind against dunes. Heat had a sound beyond the crackle in a fire.

“You want me to wear that?” He refused to look at the clothes on the desk.

“No.” I answered him flatly, putting myself between him and the desk.

“Then what do you want from me? You wanted me undressed. I’m bare to the minimum. Do you or don’t you want me dressed? What do you want from me?” The starbursts rose up as twisting rings of light and deep shadows, barracuda, pike, sawbill, sturgeon flicked in and out of the shelves. The hair on my neck raised at the specters.

“You don’t do humor much, do you?” I hedged, glaring down one particularly nasty looking fish with monstrous fangs.

“I was the end of the jokes, always. No. I don’t get it much. I can understand sarcasm. You’re the pharaoh of Hawria. I can’t afford to think you’re joking if you’re being serious. I was sent to you for Last Purifications. I’ve spent the last week in penance and dealing with realizing I’m going to die and here you are making fun of me. I don’t get what’s going on.” He bit.

I dragged in a breath and stooped, picking up the dropped overrobe. Wash backed up a step at my actions. “My Lord?” his voice cracked at my movement. I took the collar, opened the robe wide, pulled it around his shoulders and settled his fingers on the edges. “The brocade? It’s a bad texture for you, isn’t it?” I asked. He paled at the question, his glance going to the pile of fabric on the desk behind me.

“And the leather stinks?” I pressed. His fingers tightened down on the collar of the robe as he pulled it tighter.

“The embroidery itches. Makes you feel like scratching your skin off just at the look of it? Your underrobes were longer than most. Protects your skin from the wab robes. But you’re angry, so you aren’t noticing, not until I mention it?” I guessed, watching the tension go out of his fingers and he dropped the material in irritation.

“How the hell do you know me, My Lord? Surely, you are Horus as they say.” He gripped down on his arms as the depths of the Nile came into focus around us, the ice and rock at the bottom strewn across my floors.

“I don’t like the textures either. They look great, but actually dealing with it on your own personnage, no. Have you heard of the children of Osirus?” I turned to shift through the materials Nebra had left me, pulling from it gold and white silk.

“No, My Lord.” His anger disappeared, as did the kaleidoscope.  All that was left of his mirage was a series of lily pads floating around us.

“I put you in a position you were not comfortable with. I tried what I thought you’d expect, not expecting to find a child of Osirus in you. Forgive me.” I held the garment out for him to test. He flicked a glance at the material and then to me, uncertain.

“You are the Pharaoh, My Lord, there is nothing to forgive. It is I who should be seeking your forgiveness.” His hand hovered over the fabric in my hands.

“Talk to me, in earnest. Give me-”

Nebra let herself in and handed Wash a vial of honey, glancing between me and the man. I nodded, thankful for her help as she let herself back out. Wash popped the cork on the vial, shoulders slumping, and sighed, downing the contents.

“Give me an hour of you and me being equal. Not of you as wab and me as pharaoh. You as a person, me as a person, and let’s see what can be sorted. If taking the position of my heirophant, a new High Lectern, is not something you can stomach, it’s okay to say so. I failed you in making that clear. I didn’t. I took possession of you, and for that, I also apologize, with sincerity.” I held the fabric to my heart and bowed slightly to him.

“Equals?” he asked.

“Talk to me as equals. As you would a confidant of similar position. No hedge. No mask. Honesty.” I held out the garment to him once more. 

He pursed his lips and took the fabric, making to tug it on before realizing that it was a series of garments in my hands. He looked up at me, baffled. “I – can I – would you…” he clamped shut, fingers digging into the fabric.

“I can leave, if that would be easier?” I offered, trying to calculate what reaction I was seeing from him.

“No, I – I don’t know what this is. How do you put it on?” he asked.

“I have no idea. What did she give you?” I asked taking one of the pieces from him and spreading it out on a chair. We laid out each piece and stared at them in bewilderment before I realized one of the pieces was upside down and inside out. “Under robe, secondary robe, hakama, haori,” I named off the ancient style of clothing.

“Are the belts and such uncomfortable on your wings?” I broached the topic.

“They’re delicate. I tend to lose scales from them and they’re hard to hide. Belts aren’t comfortable. After a week in solitary, I was able to finally get the pattern to come back in nice and full.” He turned to show me the golden eyes and lines of red tracing the edge of the wings.

“Do they work?” I wanted to touch.

He lifted the side of them with his fingers. “No. Not really. If I flex a couple muscles in my back, I can shift them out a bit, which can catch a breeze in warm weather and help cool me off. But they’re really impractical things.”

“I take it the Temple doesn’t know?” I turned to the rest of the materials I had access to and rifled through.

“My parents didn’t know about the wings. They had given me to the temple way before that. They peeled from my back, small, not more than a hand width, one summer after I got a very bad sunburn. Nobody saw. Nobody knew. I hid them beneath my robes. Not like anyone ever shared a bath with me. I wasn’t much to them after all? I already had problems. The marking on my face. The fire…” He dropped the wings to stare out the lattice window. I found a combination of a shoulder guard and collar for him of white silk and gold tasseling. Following suit, a white garment similar in style to a corset or a cummerbun.

“You can guarantee to your grave, that no one other than Nebra and me have ever seen them?” I pressed, swallowing as an idea hit me.

“No one. I would swear on the scales in the underworld.” He vowed.

“I have an idea, but it’s only if you would take position of High Lectern. Otherwise, it might benefit you to have you smuggled into Easimal. If that’s what you want, again, it’s okay to say it.” I offered.

He regarded the garments I had dug from the pile and raised an eyebrow at them. “It would help the people of Hawria if I did this, right?” he checked.

“That’s my goal. I can’t make guarantees, but it’s what I’m aiming for.”

Chapter 6

“He is a wab! Half-souled at that, My Lord!” Adom protested upon entering the temple’s main hall. We had arrived for the evening services, Wash at my side in his new vestments, a massive white robe covering most of the new outfit. “I can agree to leave your…predilections…to yourself.” The High Lectern flicked a disgusted glance towards Ptolemy who stood guard at the back door to the hall, “but this is going too far! He is here for Last Purifications. He should have already been sent on, My Lord. What is he wearing?” He seethed after taking in the appearance of the hall. Seth and Nebra had been busy pulling ties to have court officials filter in, each issued a copy of the statement I had sent to Adom of the exchange of titles.

“You have done more for me than I can ever reward you for, Regent High Lectern,” I commended from my throne, Wash fighting to control his trembling at my side.

“Fifteen years in your service, My Lord, and eighteen with your guardian before,” he reminded me.

“I cannot begin to tell you how overjoyed I am that you found the perfect representative for me. It is due time. You have been well past retirement and I should not have pushed your position for so long. That was unfair of me.” I studied Wash’s frame, letting my blatant adoration show.

“Of all the people within the Temples in all of Hawria, why this wab? He’s half-souled. He’ll never be capable of taking on the position of more than a minor servant! Not to mention his transgressions against the state.” His vehement hatred elicited some minor protests in the hall from councilors.

“It is due to the nature of his transgression that he showed his willingness to follow the laws of the Temple so closely. To see no other harmed as to suffer loss of life or priviledge,” I quoted. “And it is because of his half-souled nature that he will become My Heirophant.”

Wash swallowed, his grasp tightening on a was-scepter we had sourced from the ceremonial paraphernalia stock room.  More murmuring at this announcement, louder, curious. As I had instructed before we had made it into the room, Wash descended the steps to the lowest tier, kneeling before me.

“You would have a half-souled High Lectern? You mean for the Temple to fall?” Adom hissed, establishing the faction of support. 

I rose at that stance, immediately sending all in the hall to kneel before me. I stepped down to the tier in front of Wash. “Rise, wab,” I demanded of Wash. He did as asked, though the rings on his staff clinked with a slight tremble. “You will be My Hierophant. You will become the High Lectern of Hawria, to represent the will of your lord at all times and in all circumstances. Take this as your service to the crown and scepter.” I leaned down, taking his chin in my palm and gently kissed his forehead, dead center of the blaze of white as I pulled the belt of his robe, the white material dropping away. A sunburst blinded the room momentarily, clamoring erupting as the councilors fell back. Golden drops rained down to send ripples across the tiles and disintegrate into fizzing motes. Wash knelt in front of me, his wings shining with the mirage.

A hush issued in the chamber. Eyes went round at the sight. Many of the wab and priests who had been siding with Adom fell into mantras, as did a surprising number of the councilors. 

“You found me someone who had enough room for the god-king’s spirit. You have never let go of Ramses. There was no room for me.” I crouched, offering my hand to Wash to encourage him to stand. He took it, his fingers cold on mine. I turned him to the council.

“Who will deny the will of the god-king of Hawria?” Wash enunciated before the court, tapping the point of the staff against the tile. Adom went to protest. A set of figures rose from the floor, Thoth and Isis to bow before me. Twice as tall as me and fully colored, they could have been solid. Goosebumps ran up my arms at the image. I could only imagine what it was for everyone else in the room who did not know what Wash was doing as he commanded his fire. The power he was pulling from me was addictive in its intensity.

“Hail, the High Lectern of the Pharaoh of Hawria, keeper of the spirit of the god-king,” Adom acquiesced.

“You will be retained as esteemed instructor for My Heirophant, Adom. He has been provided less than necessary an education to see to the mundane tasks of the Temple. As the holder of part of my soul, he shall be my representative and as such I claim him as consort, to be by my side in the facilitation of duties within the Temple.” I made the decree. It had been with the others that I had put forth bids and causes for taking on a consort with the nobility. Ptolemy, Nebra, and Seth had been from the civilian and military sectors, and as such were within the nobility’s control. Wash however, being a child of the Temple, would be released from the Temple.

“Consort, My Lord? Surely not such a low place for your spirit. A Royal Husband-” Adom pailed.

“Would it be that the Temple would see to me sharing cups?” I pinned the question on Adom.

“If he is truly the holder of your soul, My Lord, cups would make him equal to you, and your soul, distributed as you see fit, shall always be equal.” Adom fell into my trap.

“Show him then what it is to conduct a sharing of cups between a Pharaoh and The Great Royal Husband. In three days time a sharing of cups will be conducted for the god-king of Hawria between himself and the keeper of his soul. Send word to the farthest temples. Representatives shall be present to take back the news.” I returned to my throne, sitting down and hoping my adrenaline rush would come down. Clamoring erupted once more from the court officials. Several retainers were sent running from the hall. 

Wash took up a spot to my left, hand finding a bare spot on my shoulder as he brought forth more gods to stand on either side of my throne, though smaller this time. He may not have expected this outcome. I had hoped by having him show his powers as he did that he would be accepted quickly and with no fuss. I had not explained that I hoped for Adom to propose cups. This would mean a rift between the Nobility and the Temple, and I was not responsible for the suggestion. He was the one who said it was essential. This would free me from the chain the Nobility had placed on me in that I would need to seek an exchanging of cups with some eligible daughter of the Nobles. I had presented the concept of consort. That would not be contested. Enough people within the court had seen that interchange.

“Yes, My Lord.” Adom bowed at the command. Watching his face work over from irritation to horror, I knew when he realized the position he had put himself in. A flick of the eye. I followed the question to a wab retainer who fled the hall after the others. Someone was being informed within the nobility. A hand sign from me and Ptolemy slunk from the chamber to trail. I would find out later in the evening as to who was someone with the heirarchies to be watching.

Wash’s hand tightened on my shoulder, his skin going warm. I glanced up at the set in his jaw as his eyes went glassy. “I am tired now, Adom. Let us begin with the evening ceremonies. See to My Heirophant’s tutelage. He shall be overseeing my handling and should know what is to be expected.” I ended this minor upheaval.

Chapter 7

Returning to my rooms that evening left me hollow and suffering a headache. With luck, and Nebra’s planning, the evening’s sacrament had involved honey. The congregation had rejoiced upon the luxury, reserving all they could to take home to their families. With that cover, we kept Wash’s Repercussion in check.

Nebra caught me, letting me splay out on the lounge and rest my head in her lap. “Seth already in bed?” I buried my eyes into her robes to hide from the light of the oil lamps.

“She’s taking a bath with Ptolemy. Said you could come in and join when you were ready. You all right?” Her fingers tugged through my hair, rubbing all the aches out of my skull.

“Don’t stop,” I encouraged, yawning.

“Long day?” she chuckled when she found that one spot behind my ear that left me in pain free bliss for a few seconds.

“Ptolemy tell you what happened with the fanged eel?” I asked.

“Adom went and put his foot in his mouth in a glorious way, at least that’s what Ptolemy said before whistling himself off towards the baths. The swagger he had going, I’d almost believe he watched the High Lectern put himself in a casket.” Her fingers trailed farther down my neck to my shoulders.

“Adom floated the idea of cups.” I weaseled one arm between Nebra and the couch cushions and wrapped my arms around her hips.

She burst out laughing. “Damn, that’s perfect. No wonder Ptolemy was clucking like a proud rooster.”

“You’re good with cups?” I scooted closer, turning my head up in her lap to regard her features.

“Oh, hell yeah, do it. It means you get to sucker punch both the nobility and the temple in one go. Wash is also pretty nice for the few hours I got to talk to him. Think he’d be good with our family.” She scooted down in the lounge until I was laying between her legs, my head resting on her stomach.

“You think so? Ptolemy seems sold on him and Seth has found a potential new playmate. You?” I asked, her fingers conducting magic on my shoulder blades.

“He gets flustered and cleavage will make him space out,” she whispered in my ear.

“What did you do?” I snorted.

“I was just picking out clothes was all.” She was failing to hide an amused grin.

“You and Seth going to have a moment with my heirophant?” I teased.

“I forgot all about Seth and him.” She chortled.

“Does he seem the type?” I asked her.

“Not really sure.” She shrugged. “Not much of one to be teased if he doesn’t know the context. I think, though, that he is not without interest in the potential of us.”

“You think so?” Relief eased down my back.

“I asked him what his thoughts were on being a consort. Ptolemy was trying to sell him on the idea, but Wash looked lost with all the innuendos seeing as Ptol wasn’t saying anything outright in front of the regiment.” She pushed the edge of my robes from the back of my neck.

“He seemed to hedge with me around,” I qualified, lifting myself so she could tug at the knot on my belt.

“Once we abandoned Ptol, he had questions. Mainly trying to understand what the eyebrow wiggles were from Ptol. Rather a point blank kind of person, about how everything worked with the four of us. Didn’t seem to mind the idea once he got how all of us work together, and work together.” Her tone dropped suggestively with where her fingers were dancing.

“He seemed more embarrassed than disgusted with Ptolemy pinning him earlier,” I led on, gasping as she traced hard lines.

“Told me he didn’t mind either or, just not experienced, so not sure what to expect, or what’s expected of him.” Her other hand slipped behind my waist to encourage me closer.

“I have a feeling Seth is going to be grouchy if she isn’t invited in on the fun tonight.” I kissed my way up the line of her curves to her throat.

“Seth, you, and me tonight?” Her fingertips had turned feather light and everything was tightening. I raised an eyebrow in questioning surprise. She kissed me and let go, reaching for the com on the table. “Hey Seth?” she sang over the mic.

A minute passed and the com buzzed back. “Are you two going to come join? The water’s particularly warm tonight, or is it just us?” Seth asked.

“Wanna bring some things back to Henu’s room? He’s volunteering to be in the middle tonight.” Her tone had my heart on fire.

“I’m coming too,” Ptolemy called, water splashing on tile echoed in the com.

“I didn’t even say yes yet!” Seth protested, though the resounding whump and state of chaos on the other side of the com told me Ptolemy had already tossed her a towel.

“Ptolemy pent up more than the rest of us?” I asked Nebra when she set the com back down.

“I don’t think he was joking when he said he was keeping Wash.” She turned back to me, determined this time to be rid of all of my robes.

“As long as everyone in the family is happy with the arrangement.” I got off of her and dropped the masses of silk.

“Happy. Try horney.” Ptolemy burst into the room and tackled me, landing me between Nebra and himself. 

““So that’s a yes from you too then?” I gasped, his lips and hands finding too many sensitive places all at once. “Where’s Seth? Take five minutes to turn horney down and get your leg looked at before you chafe to hell and back,” I reprimanded, withdrawing from cold wet metal with a squeak. 

He snorted. The mediocre towel he had been wearing was ditched in favor of drying himself and his prosthetic off the rest of the way. His mood didn’t lessen, though. He was blatantly flaunting it while calculating my skin and my observations. “Getting things. And yes, bring in the piebald dove. He’s got that same vocal range you have that is going to hit some of those perfect notes.” Ptolemy leaned over me to drive the point home, teeth nipping. “Like that one.”

“You’re mean.” He wasn’t letting me catch my breath.

“I’m just getting you started. Seth’s gonna make you worship her.” Ptolemy tossed the towel.

“Fuck.” I muttered.

“That’s the idea.” Nebra whispered in my ear.

Chapter 8

The walk from the temple to the royal quarters was nerve racking quiet. Wash was spaced out, his eyes glazed, meandering the landscape with detached interest. A set of three cups of holy wine and he was thoroughly tipsy. His cheeks had pinked by the second exchange of cups. His fingers were warm in mine and fizzles of fireflies randomly popped in and out of his imagination. 

What he failed to hide was the tremble of his hands beneath the bell sleeves of his robes. He followed me to a long red lacquered building. Out front of it stood two large lotus pond pots in full bloom. Goldfish dashed in and out of the shadows of the large pads. I took a key from my belt and turned the lock, the bolt clicking. Pushing the double lattice doors in, we were greeted with a deep, cool space of polished wood and low furnishings.

“Is this one of your houses, My Lord?” he asked, taking the liberty to pace the short length from the front porch to the back doors.

“In a way. It is part of the royal household. There are many of these little houses on the property. This one is yours.” I handed him the key and helped him fold back the screens to open up the back porch to the house. Deceptive from the front entrance, the porch hovered a scant few inches above a large koi pond off the back of the building. Clouds of bushes beneath twisted cyprus and cedar dotted the edges.

“Surely not, My Lord!” He pushed the key back into my palm. Pacing away from me and the key, he went to the edge of the decking to stare at the flashing spots of white and orange. He knelt to study the depths, the koi fleeing his sudden appearance.

“Is it so bad to have your own rooms? A place for you to call your own?” I leaned against one of the massive red support posts to watch the flickering aurora sending ripples across the dome glass.

“But, you and I? Am I not husband to you now, My Lord?” His voice was a broken whisper, his over robes sagging around his shoulders.

“You are. As such, you have possession of a residence within the palace grounds. Ptolemy, Nebra, and Seth also retain housing outside of my private chambers. Everyone needs breathing room. Somewhere to escape and decompress.” I turned my focus to the pond and a heron stalking the edges of the reeds.

“I – I thought everyone lived within your rooms, My Lord.” Confusion coated his protest. I could not place whether it was regret or broken expectations that created that pitch. I had to wonder at the cascade of fabric around his shoulders. A sheen of translucent green caught my attention at the edge of his last robe keeping him modest to the palace grounds.

I padded toward him while he continued to admire the pond. “Nebra and Ptolemy tend to occupy my rooms more than their own. Seth enjoy’s her peace. It is entirely up to you.” I slipped an appreciative finger along the soft skin down the back of his neck to the collar of the robe where a pair of green nubs  hid between his shoulder blades. He muted his gasp at my suddenness, instead burying his protest and pushing the collar of his robe away to let it pile around his elbows, leaving his chest and back naked to the world.

“You know what an angel is, Wash?” I asked. 

His fingers drew across the still tension of the pool. “No?” He turned to me, his eyebrows arching over puzzled alexandrite eyes. A tremble of his lower lip and a darkening of his irises, a touch of strain at the corner of eyelashes. I eased down, draping my sleeves around him and pulled him to sit between my legs, his wings pressed between us.

“An ancient myth. A concept from a different civilization. You remind me of one, that’s all.” I ran my fingertip along the red edge of one of the wings. 

He shivered at the contact.“Are they good?”

“I’m not sure they are good or bad necessarily.” I wanted to enjoy that ticklish sensation across my fingertips, but his skin was turning into a cold sweat.

“Why an angel then?” Wash swept a hand along the back of his neck, his fingers searching out the top edge of his wings. 

I leaned forward and kissed his knuckles before getting up, pulling his under robe up to cover his wings. “The pictures I’ve seen, you look like some.”

“In the archives?” He pulled the collar of his robe closer to his chin.

“My private collection. I was son and historian before I was Ramises’ guard.” I paced back into the rooms to fill a pair of crystal cups with fresh water.

“Would you show me?” He stood to follow me into the darkened room.

I handed him one of the glasses upon his approach. “I’m not sure you’d find it as pleasing as I do.”

“Pleasing?” He sipped at the water, his eyebrow wiggling again at the slip. He set his glass on the table to regard me, at least most of me. He wasn’t meeting my eyes.

My voice strangled. That wasn’t where I was meaning for this to go, but my nerves were raw. His fingers trailed to my waist, tracing the edge of my belt. “Sorry, didn’t mean to insinuate something.” I stepped back to the wall. He ran his fingers below my hands, slipping my fingers up his arms to the edges of his silk robes.

“Vows have been had, My Lord. If I remind you of an angel in a pleasing way, I would hope you would find pleasure in my existence.” His gaze kept wavering between me and an unfocused spot off to my right where the bedchamber was.

“I won’t push you, Wash. You said anything. Keep everything. Keep it and share it when you’re ready to, if you ever are, if it’s ever of interest. Give it time, and if, when all the columns have fallen in the temples and the people are more than commodity to the nobles, you find your safety in a new nest, I’ll leave your name to you.” I pulled the rest of his robes back around his shoulders. “I’ve taken you as Heirophant and husband to protect you with my name. These rooms are yours to live in.” I brushed a thumb along his jaw to watch his lashes descend in disappointment and relief.

They snapped to me, terror pinned to the backs of them. “I’m sorry, My Lord. Did that…? Did they put you off me? I – we-” He cleared his throat.

I leaned in to his nervous energy and kissed his forehead. “They’re beautiful, and no, they didn’t put me off. I want you to find yourself here, not feel exploited out of obligation. In time, My Hierophant. If that time never comes, then that’s how it is. Take your time. You have it all.”

“I won’t break, My Lord,” he muttered.

“No. Three cups of holy wine says I’m going to sit here with you, enjoy your presence, and make sure you aren’t frantic when you sober up.” I settled to the woven flooring next to a large, low table. Searching the cabinets near me, I pulled out a worn go board and distributed the pieces, giving him the jar of black stones while I took the white. 

He settled next to me, furrowing his brows. “Not what I thought you meant by saying enjoy my presence.”

“For all the vulgarity you hear of me in the temples, equivalating me to a male whore who seeks affections amongst his council through services, I am neither rabbit nor dog.  You open.” I motioned to his stones. 

He laid out his first piece, staking the corner closest to him. “I did not mean to insinuate.”

“I have, for all of the temple and nobility’s murmurings, had in total, three partners, each of which have not had partners before me. None of us have any type of communicable disease, if that alleviates any fears you might have in going into this type of relationship.” I laid out my white stone in corner counter pointed to his.

“Why do the temple and nobles say you are then?” He set another stone next to the one he had already laid to start a line.

“Because I have no fear of showing affection to my consorts, and tend to keep them close when in meetings. Many of the temple and nobility see Nebra, Seth, and Ptolemy as nothing more than playthings for me. Brainless dolls on which to bestow my whims. They could be no further from the truth. It works in my interest to have one of them present at any given time if only to have a second pair of eyes on what is taking place in meetings.

“Will that be who I am to you then, My Lord?” He considered the potential between continuing his line and staking new territory.

“Henu. You can call me Henu, Wash.” I tossed a stone into the midst of his territory grab.

A blush ran up his cheeks as he contemplated the board. “Hen-Henu, then, My Lord.”

I chuckled. There was not much for it. “You’ve guaranteed something I have not had the ability to do on my own up until now. You have access to the Temple in the times that don’t suit me.”

He squared off with my random pebble, laying a stone alongside mine. “I am your eyes and ears.”

I laid a stone away from the territory grab. “You are my husband.”

“Separate conversations, Henu.” He regarded my lure and instead pressed his attack on the single stone in his territory.

“I would prefer you to be my eyes and my ears. However, you are also my husband. I would like to find a balance between these two positions that will keep you comfortable.” I started building my line.

“What is more important to you, then Henu? A Heirophant, or a Husband?” Wash attacked my line.

“To be needed.” I circled round, claiming a batch of stones.

“You are pharoah, how are you not needed?” Wash caught my circle, taking over a patch I had fallen for.

“There are levels. As one figurehead to another, what is more satisfying in the end? To be needed to many, or wanted by one?” I staked a new territory to work on.

He flitted stones near my new territory. Clouds and valleys ran across the board in white and black lines. “Allow me then, to learn for a time what it is to be needed before I trust being wanted.”

To Be Continued

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