At first, I didn't think it was a dream. Even though there was a haziness about everything, it appeared that we were still in the heart of the temple. Around the stone walls were the lit torches, still burning brightly. The pounding of the drums was still there, even though it seemed muffled right then. I had almost convinced myself it wasn't a dream at all when there was a shuffling sound on the other side of the chamber. I turned my head and saw the statue of Bes come to life, it's red stone turing to golden skin right in front of me.
That's when I knew it was a dream.
Shayt rose without a word, and walked across the chamber. It was a strange tableau, this beautiful, naked woman, kneeling before the short statue of a man with the mane of a lion. Now that she was on her knees, she was face to face with him.
There seemed to be a quiet conversation between them, as the statue put its hands on Shayt's shoulders and leaned toward her. Several times Shayt shook her head, and once she looked like she was arguing. Then her eyes lowered, and the god put a hand on her head. I couldn't catch all the words, but Shayt seemed to relax, and she smiled slightly.
Then she was reaching out to grasp something that glittered like gold in the torchlight. She held it up, and her shoulders slumped a little. The look on her face was one of exhaustion and relief.
Still convinced I was dreaming, I sat up and called Shayt's name. She turned to me, and so did the god. His thick lips curled up in a smile, and his eyes locked on mine.
Leaving Shayt behind him on her knees, Bes began to approach me. I didn't move. Dream or not, there's no reason to be impolite to a god.
"This one," he said, "shall be more than she knows." His voice was low and raspy, and it felt as though the very tone echoed inside my head and chest. "She shall accompany you on your journey, and ease your spirit." Behind him, I saw Shayt stiffen, and one eye brow rose. She looked surprised.
Bes stopped in front of me and held out a hand. "You, Daryl, shall be god-friend." His hand touched my neck, just behind and below my ear, and a burning pain went through me.
As I sank into darkness, I thought it very strange that I should be able to feel pain in a dream.
and realized it was Shayt's thigh.
I sat up quickly, then groaned as a wave of dizziness passed over me. I waited until it was gone, and then looked cautiously up at Shayt, who was watching me with a speculative gaze.
I gave her a half hearted grin. "Morning."
She shook her head and handed me my robe to put on. "I thought we agreed, Daryl," Shayt said, "that you were not going to drink the wine, much less participate in the celebration." Her head tilted. "Or did I just imagine that?"
"No, no, you're right. We agreed."
One dark eyebrow rose. "So what happened?"
My mouth opened automatically to answer her, but I couldn't find the words to say. After all, I wasn't quite sure myself.
"Well, you see, it really..... um, I didn't.... I mean, I kind of...." I blew out a breath and started looking around the chamber. "So this is what the heart of the temple looks like. I'd been wondering."
"Daryl." Her voice was very controlled and I swallowed hard before meeting her gaze. "Tell me why."
"Um...." Damn! How the hell do I tell her I was jealous?
A concerned look came into her eyes. "Daryl, please tell me that no one forced --"
"No! No, no one forced anything, I just," I took a deep breath and let it out in a rush as I said, "I just got really jealous when you kissed Mandisa, and that was when I drank the wine." I couldn't look at her.
There was silence in the room. I don't know if you've ever known true silence. It's not like normal silence when there's the sound of something in the distance, or the wind, or even the soft settling of the building around you. This silence, with neither of us moving, or hardly daring to breathe, contained not even the slightest note of life.
Shayt broke it after several long moments.
"Are you telling me you drank drugged wine and lost your virginity because you were jealous?"
"Why? Did you want Mandisa for yourself?"
I shook my head. "No. I wanted you."
Both eyebrows shot up, and once again silence descended. I waited, finally finding the courage to look her in the eyes. There was a stillness in their blue depths, and a sadness beyond anything I'd ever known. Just the look in her eyes made me want to cry.
For the first time it was Shayt who dropped her gaze first. She stared at the floor by her leg, where moments earlier I had been sleeping.
"There are better ways to lose your innocence, Daryl."
"Maybe. But I thought this was a pretty good one." I had to smile at her. "It was with you, after all."
I don't think she had an answer for that.
A thought crossed my mind, and I got nervous. "Shayt? Did you want to be with Mandisa last night?"
She actually smiled, and I felt a thousand times better. "No. I wanted you, too."
I let out a relieved breath.
"But it shouldn't have happened."
"Because. It just shouldn't have."
I was starting to get a little angry. "Why not? Because you're a princess and I'm just a thief?"
"Because I'm mortal, and I'm going to die? And you won't?"
"No." She sighed and leaned her head back against the wall. "Because I'm four thousand years old, and I'm the one that's going to die."
I froze and stared at her. "What?" I whispered. "You can't die."
There was no humor in the laugh that came from her. "You're right. I can't just up and die. And there is no poison or accident or mortal weapon that can injure me." I watched as weariness seem to come over her entire body. "But in the twin temple lies Sakhmet's dagger. It was forged by Sakhmet, and blessed by Bastet. And it is the only thing -- the only thing -- that can harm me."
I realized what she was saying, and I swallowed. "You want to find the temple so you can kill yourself."
She nodded, her head still resting against the wall. In almost a whisper she said, "Four thousand years is a long time, Daryl. Too long. I've wanted to end it for quite a while, but there's always been enough of a reason not to." Her shoulders lifted in a shrug. "Now, I can't find a reason to stay here. And I'm so very tired..." her voice trailed off and she sighed.
My first instinct was to tell her no. To yell at her, shake her, make her understand. To stop her.
But after a moment my rational mind took over and I thought about all she'd been through. How many times had she watched friends and lovers grow old and die? How many betrayals had she experienced? How many generations had come and gone while she just continued on, watching and waiting?
My parents had been kind and loving, and I cherished their memories. The remembrance of those times had been enough to carry me through the past few years on the streets. Instead of giving in to the temptations of drugs or suicide, I hung on, clinging to life with a hope that it would get better.
If I had to be honest, though, I'd have to admit that it was already beginning to wear on me. There had been nights, just before I met Shayt, that I almost hoped I wouldn't wake in the morning.
And if four years were too much for me, what did Shayt feel after four millenia?
I swallowed, and wiped my eyes. I hated it, but I had to accept what she was going to do. Taking a deep breath, I raised my eyes to hers.
Shayt was, I realized, waiting for my reaction. Every muscle in her body appeared tense. Her face was mask like, not showing so much as a hint of emotion. Her whole attitude was one of someone awaiting the executioner's axe.
How ironic that it was exactly what she wanted.
"Have you told Mishra?"
"No. She would try to talk me out of it. And I don't want her to."
"So, you'll just disappear, and never return?"
She shook her head. "No. I told her I was searching for the temple. She thinks it's for another reason though." A sad smile crossed her face. "She insisted that she wanted to be there. Her and Achmed, and maybe a few others."
"They'll be traveling with us?"
"Yes. I made the arrangements yesterday morning. We'll take the train to Cairo, then there will be some trucks to take us to the spot where Sobeknefru is buried. We'll be met by a friend at the nearby oasis, and from there we go on camels to the site of the temple."
"Camels? Why not trucks?"
"Because trucks in that area would be cause for investigation. Camels will not. We'll be mistaken for the tribes that make the desert their home."
I nodded. "Good plan."
We were both quiet again. "This is why you said last night shouldn't have happened, isn't it?"
I moved closer to her. "Why are you telling me all this? Why not just keep to your plan and not tell me?"
"I didn't want you thinking that we could become lovers. I have every intention of being dead by the end of the week, if not sooner. It would be wrong to let you think there could be anything between us."
I had to think about what she was saying, and what she was implying.
"You admitted earlier that you wanted me."
Blue eyes tracked to mine and held. "Yes."
"And the reason you don't think we should be lovers is because you're going to die in a few days. Is that right?"
I nodded. "But if you were going to live, you'd accept me as your lover?"
She raised an eyebrow. "You're not going to talk me out of this, Daryl."
"I'm not trying to, Shayt. Just making a point." I leaned forward a little, keeping my eyes locked with hers. "Answer me. If you weren't going to kill yourself, would you be my lover?"
The staring contest went on for a few moments before Shayt finally sighed and nodded. "Yes."
I started to get a little excited. "Do you think you'd be happy if that happened?"
She raised an eyebrow. "It's not going to."
"No, it's not. But if it did, do you think that I could make you happy?"
Very slowly, Shayt nodded.
It was nice and cool in the chamber, but I could feel my palms start to sweat. "Well, I can tell you that I would be very happy being your lover. Even if," I reached out and touched her arm, "it was only for a very short time."
I waited, and after a moment understanding showed in her eyes.
"When you told me what you wanted, my first instinct was to say no and try to stop you. But I realized I have no idea what kind of trials you've gone through. You've been alive since before the time of Christ. And I have no right to judge you." I took a breath, but jumped back in before she could speak. "I promise I will not try to talk you out of anything, nor will I tell Mishra of your plans. But only on one condition."
"Let me be happy for the next few days." I reached up and touched her cheek, letting my fingers slide across the smooth skin I found there. "Let me be with you as long as I can be."
For a moment I thought she might refuse. She stayed absolutely still and the silence closed in once more.
When she answered, it was in the form of a kiss, and she pushed me backwards,
covering my body with hers.
We were still dressed in the robes from the previous night, and I was feeling very self conscious. Every face I saw seemed to have a knowing smile on it. It didn't help that at some point during our morning exertions my robe had gotten torn.
When we met Mishra on the stairs, I groaned, and tried to hide my face in the back of Shayt's gown. The priestess just laughed, then leaned forward and kissed my forehead.
"I had a feeling it might be you that ended up in her arms last night." She looked at Shayt with a gentle smile. "You can not fight the will of the god, princess. Four thousand years, and you still don't know that?"
"It's my nature to argue with him, and he knows it. Sometimes I think he enjoys playing a power game with me."
Mishra laughed. "Maybe he does, my friend, maybe he does."
We shared a late brunch in Shayt's suite. We were quiet, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. I saw my friend smile more in that half hour than she had since I met her.
"We're leaving tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, we'll be on the early train; probably get to Cairo about three or four."
"You're not concerned about Caster finding us?"
"No, we won't be staying long enough for that. We'll stay over the one night, and start off for Memphis the next morning."
I nodded. "How long do you think it will take us to get to the tomb?"
"I figure about 6 hours. It's rough terrain, with no roads that I know of."
"And the next morning we go by camels?"
And that would be the day she died. It meant I had just two and a half days -- less than 72 hours.
She stood to move away from the table, and I took her hand. With a smile I led her into the bedroom.
"What are you doing?"
I turned to her and put my hands on my hips. "I've got less than three days with you, and I want to know what it's like to be with you without the wine and the drug."
She smiled and closed the door behind her.
When she touched me I felt it deep inside; not just in my body, but in my spirit. Her kisses drove my senses from me, until all that was left was pleasure.
Afterwards, we rested comfortably, with her leaning against the headboard, and me using her body as a backrest. I dozed for a little while. I don't think Shayt did. Every once in a while she'd hum a tune I didn't know, her voice a low burring in my ear. A few times her arms tightened around me, almost convulsively, and I wondered what she was thinking. I was still hazy with sleep and pleasure, however, and I didn't ask.
Finally, she yawned, and stretched underneath me. She gently moved me aside, then pulled herself up off the bed.
"We need to get up, Daryl. There are still things to get done before we leave in the morning. I need to make sure the supplies are ready, and you need to pack."
I nodded, and sat up on the edge of the bed. I watched as she pulled on her clothing, thinking how very at home she appeared here.
That got me thinking about home in general, and where I would go after Shayt died.
I wrapped my arms around myself in misery. With Shayt dying, I would have no where to go. I would have money; Shayt had promised that. A home, however, was something I was still sorely lacking.
"Daryl? Are you alright?" Shayt's eyes peered into mine in concern.
I nodded, and reached for my clothes.
"Are you sure?"
She noddedand turned towards the door. "Shall I send someone to bring you dinner?"
"No, I'll go down. I have to face Mandisa sometime before we leave." I winced as I thought of the young woman I had begun to consider a friend. After last night, that might not be true anymore.
Shayt smiled gently, and winked at me.
She closed the door behind her once again. This time it was inbetween
us, though, and I had to wipe away my tears as they fell across my cheeks.
As I walked through the temple towards the dining area, I could feel the eyes on my back. They'd been watching me since Shayt and I had arrived, but never with the intensity that I felt right then. Now, instead of the Princess's friend, I was her lover, and therefore an even hotter topic of speculation.
I could swear that the conversation level dropped several notches when I entered the hall. It picked back up quickly, but my face was still red with embarrassment as I looked for Mandisa. At first I couldn't see her, and I thought about getting a tray and taking it back to the suite, where there were no prying eyes.
Then I saw her at a corner table, talking with some friends. I took a few steps towards her, but stopped. I had no idea what I could say to her.
Someone at her table pointed in my direction, and I saw Mandisa turn. I could feel heat rise to my face, and I looked quickly away. When I ventured another glance at her, she smiled and waved me over.
I was hesitant in my approach, still not sure what her reaction would be. One by one, her friends left the table, and by the time I stood in front of her, we were alone.
"Hi." I scuffled my feet, not sure whether or not to sit down.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
She cocked her head. "Then why are you still standing? They don't know to serve you unless you sit, you know."
I sat down across from her. "Mandisa, I'm sorry."
"I -- well, I just...."
She waited as I stuttered for a few more minutes. Then she reached out and touched my hands.
"Daryl. Calm down. What's wrong?"
Taking a deep breath, I asked her, "Are you upset with me?"
Mandisa frowned. "No. Why should I be?"
"Because if it wasn't for me, you might have gotten your wish."
She smiled. "You mean to be with the princess?"
I looked up at the sound of her laughter. Her attitude confused me. I'd expected her to be angry, upset, jealous. Laughter didn't seem to fit with any of those moods.
She looked up at my puzzled face and tried to stop her giggles. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't laugh." Mandisa wiped her eyes and leaned forward, her arms resting on the table between us.
"I'm not upset with you, Daryl." She frowned. "Okay, I was at first, when I woke up the next morning and realized what happened. But it didn't last long."
"Well, for two reasons. Number one, Mishra told me that she had foreseen it."
Mandisa nodded. "And number two, whatever is between you and the princess was strong enough to break through the power of the new wine."
That made me frown. "What do you mean?"
Her brow furrowed as she tried to explain. "Well, when a person is under the effect of the wine, the call for touch is very great, and after a few minutes, it's so loud that it's all you know. It doesn't matter who is doing the touching, just that you're being touched."
I nodded. Shayt had told me something similar before the ritual.
"But, that's not what happened between you and Shayt. You began calling out for Shayt, and she responded. You actually fought against the touch of someone else, which has never happened during a ritual celebration. And Shayt shouldn't have cared -- but she did."
"Very." She looked at me very seriously. "I admit that I lust after the princess, but Mishra says there is a connection between you that will last your whole life. I envy you that. But I'd never ask you to give it up."
I swallowed. My whole life?
A plate of food was set before me, along with a cup of honey mead. I smiled up at the man and thanked him.
"So," Mandisa asked when he left, "what was it like?"
I took a bite of my dinner in order to think about her question. Then I looked up at her. "It was.... exquisite."
She smiled. "Details, Daryl. I want details."
Mandisa walked up the stairs with me.
"So, you're leaving first thing in the morning?"
"Yes. Before breakfast, I think."
"That's what Mishra said as well."
We stopped on the second floor landing.
"I'll miss you, Daryl. I enjoyed getting to know you."
"Same here." I smiled shyly at her. "It's been a long time since I had a friend my own age."
She smiled back at me and hugged me tightly.
As she pulled away, she gasped slightly, and turned my head, peering at an area behind my ear.
"Daryl, when did this happen?"
"What?" I felt her fingers brush over my skin and I flinched. "Ow. What is that?"
"It's a mark, like a burn." She gently pulled my chin back around to look at my face. "When did you receive the mark?"
"What mark?" I ran my own fingers over the area, disturbed at the feel of a raised welt.
"There's a small circle, with the head of a lion in it." I stared at her. "It's the same mark that Shayt and Mishra carry -- the mark of a god-friend."
God-friend? "From my dream..." I whispered.
I shook my head. "Nothing. I better get back. Shayt will be waiting for me."
For a moment, Mandisa looked like she wanted to argue with me, but then
she closed her mouth and nodded. After another hug, she wished me
well, and told me to goodbye. I watched her climb the steps to the
third floor before I went down the hall to the suite.
Shayt was in the living room, staring moodily out the window towards the city.
"Did you talk to Mandisa?"
"Yes." I stared at the floor, my fingers once again tracing the mark on my neck. "Shayt?"
I dropped onto the couch, biting my lip. "I had a dream this morning."
She turned away from the window and looked at me. "What kind of dream?"
"Well -- it was strange. You were there. You were talking with a statue -- only the statue was alive."
After a moment, she sighed and came to sit beside me on the couch. "What do you remember of your meeting with Bes?"
I stared at her. "What?"
Shayt smiled gently at me. "It wasn't a dream, Daryl. You met the god."
My mouth opened, but nothing came out. Finally, after several tries, I got my voice to work.
"B-but . . . the gods . . . didn't --"
"Exist? Sure they did." Shayt shrugged. "I thought you would have gotten that, since I'm still here."
I hadn't thought about that. She was right, though. If I accepted that she was really the immortal daughter of Pharaoh, then I had to accept that the gods of Egypt had been real.
"Does -- I mean, do they -- um," I stuttered, trying to figure out what I wanted to ask.
"Yes, Daryl, they're still here." Her gaze turned towards the window again. "Gods can't die, but they can be forgotten. And when they are, they either change, or they lose the part of their energy that comes from their followers. When that happens, they no longer have a reason to exist -- only they can't just stop existing. So, they sleep." Shayt's face was sad, and her eyes had dulled. "I don't know where most of them are. Bes has hinted that some left Earth and went to the stars, but he never said who, or where they went. Most of the ancient gods found tombs in the earth, where they sleep even today. Among them are Sakhmet and Bastet, who are entombed together under the ocean."
There was a strange expression on Shayt's face, one I had never seen. After several moments, as her last words replayed themselves in my mind, I finally realized it was betrayal. Shayt, devoted servant of the two goddesses, had been condemned to this eternal life while the very goddesses she served chose to leave her behind.
No wonder she wanted to quit. Her goddesses already had.
"Bes is one of the very few that are still awake and active. He has adapted over the years, and stayed in very close touch with his followers. It has given him a reason to fight the lethargy that overcame the other ancients."
I nodded. "So, he's real, he's still awake -- and you spoke to him this morning?"
She smiled and turned towards me. "Yes. And he spoke to you."
"He called me something."
Her smile widened. "God-friend." She reached out and ran her finger over the mark behind my ear. "When he touched you, he gave you the mark of a god-friend."
"What does that mean?"
Shayt took my hand and squeezed it. "It means that you are blessed by him, and considered one of his children, his followers. It also means he will watch over you, and guide you if need be. If you call upon him, he will answer."
I sat there for several minutes, looking at our joined hands. "Are you a god-friend?"
"I have been for many, many years."
We sat silently for quite a while, each lost in her own thoughts. I wondered if Bes realized what she intended.
Which reminded me that we were leaving in the morning.
I looked around the room, trying to think what I would have to pack. My eyes fell on the boxes of my father's records, and my eyes misted again.
"Shayt? Do you think you could ask Mishra if I could leave my father's belongings here for a while? Just until I figure out where I want to go."
The blue eyes turned to me. "I thought you wanted to stay in Egypt."
"I do. But I can't go back to Cairo, at least not right now. And I don't have any other place I can call home."
Shayt took hold of my hands and pulled me to her. I went willingly.
"You have a place, Daryl. I've left a scroll with my wishes and instructions, that I will give to Mishra before I leave. It will inform her of my decision, and ask her to respect it. It also will give you rights, legal and otherwise, to all that I have. That includes these rooms, here in the temple. If you want it, you have a home here." She smiled. "Besides, as god-friend, you have every right to live in the temple."
I stared into her eyes. After a moment, I nodded. She leaned forward and hugged me.
At least I wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to store things. But I knew I could never make this place my home. Without Shayt, it just wouldn't be the same.
I held on to her tightly, not letting go until I could once again hide
the sorrow in my eyes.
I spent hours in Shayt's arms that night. Time and again we made love, until I dropped into an exhausted sleep. I don't know if Shayt even closed her eyes.
I woke up when she left the bed to begin preparations for our journey. Not able to sleep without her next to me, I rose and dressed, waiting for her to come back and tell me it's time to leave.
Sitting by the window in the living room of Shayt's suite, I can hear the city of Alexandria beginning to wake. The sun will be coming up shortly. By the time it reaches full dawn, we'll be on a train bound for Cairo, where this whole strange adventure began.
Part of me wants to believe that I truly am insane. I don't know. I haven't really decided.
All I know is that in a few days I'll follow Shayt into a temple in the middle of the Egyptian desert. If everything goes as she wishes, I'll walk out alone.
Perhaps by then it won't matter whether or not I'm crazy. Maybe by then, I'll simply hope that I am.
Because if I am, then this whole thing is a dream, and perhaps I'll dream a way out of this.
And if I'm not, I'll lose Shayt forever.
Insanity is looking infinitely better all the time.
Continued in Part Five