Traveling through the desert on camelback is similar to watching a snail move across the floor. You know he's actually moving, but it's so slow you can't really tell if he's making progress. It felt this way for me as I dozed off and on in Shayt's arms. The scenery never changed, just constant sand dunes and blue sky.
There were four camels in our small caravan. Shayt and I were in the lead, and behind us came Mishra and Ishaq, followed by Achmed and Onuris. They pulled along a fourth camel loaded with provisions.
We made frequent stops during the day. Each time, Shayt would check the gold compass once again to be certain we were still traveling in the right direction. I couldn't tell if she was honestly concerned she'd forgotten where the place was, or if she was just excited about being on the way to it. Either way, the compass continued to point the same direction we were heading. We didn't have to shift course once.
It was late in the afternoon when we met with a few Bedouins that live out here in the sands. Shayt spoke with them, and they quickly let us pass, but she looked worried about something. Since they'd been speaking a dialect I rarely heard, so I only understood a few words, like 'men in trucks' and 'English.'
"Hm? Oh, nothing." But she was still frowning.
"Shayt, come on. You got really tense while you were talking to those men. What's wrong?"
She shook her head. "Probably nothing. They just said that they'd been watching us for a little while, from the top of those cliffs," she pointed off in the distance toward an outcropping that the riders were headed for.
"Do they have a problem with us being here?"
"No. They wanted to know who we were, but I told them we were pilgrims headed for a holy place."
I grinned up at her. "Which is partially true, right?"
She quirked an eyebrow, then gave me a half smile as she nodded. "Right." The smile slid off her face quickly. "They don't have a problem with us, but they said that there were trucks in the distance, almost following us. They're too far back for us to see them, but possibly on our trail." She shook her head. "I don't like it."
"Do you know who it might be?"
"Not really. Not a clue. Could be an archeologist; there are some ruins around here."
It was my turn to frown. "Well, yeah, there are, but not many that are well known, and most of them don't have anything to do with royal tombs, which is where the biggest digs would be concentrating."
"Not all archeologists are out for gold, Daryl."
"You think I don't know that? My father found just about zero gold, Shayt, and he was a very good archeologist. He loved the history." I sighed. "But his kind are few and far between."
"I know." She was quiet. "I think you'd make a good archeologist, Daryl. You already have a good background, and can read the ancient tongue as well as most scholars can. Plus you have a love of the country and its past. You'd be a very good Egyptologist."
I thought about that. "Perhaps. But, I'm not sure that's what I want."
"You don't want to be an archeologist?"
"Oh, I'd love to be an archeologist. But -- for me anyway -- the term Egyptologist means someone more interested in the treasure of Egypt than her history." I looked up at her. "Caster is an Egyptologist."
She nodded. "Right. We'll just call you an Egyptian archeologist, okay?"
I smiled. "That'll do."
It was near sunset when Shayt finally called a halt and said we would camp there. Mishra gave a thankful sigh as she climbed off her camel.
"You know, Princess, you are the only one I would ride a camel for. I'm getting far too old to go on adventures like this."
Shayt smiled at her. "Don't worry, my friend. This is the last one I'll ask you to go on." She paused. "Oh, wait, I didn't ask you to go on this one."
The rest of us laughed and Mishra pretended to pout.
The tents were set up and dinner was almost ready when Shayt picked up her compass and started to walk toward the sands. Everyone became very quiet, watching her.
I jumped up and ran after her.
She turned around and I grabbed her arms, almost knocking the compass from her.
"You said -- you said you'd --"
"Shhh. Daryl, calm down." She opened her arms to me and I hugged her fiercely. "I'm just locating the door. Nothing more. I won't even go in tonight."
I felt her lips press against the top of my head. "Promise."
I sniffed once and started to let go of her. She held onto me, with one arm around my shoulders.
"Come on. Walk with me."
Sniffling, I did so, staying by her side as we went further into the dunes.
It was just a few minutes later that we stopped. Shayt was staring at the compass, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. I looked at the compass to see the needle standing straight up into the air.
"We're right on top of the temple. The door is just a few feet in front of us."
I looked but didn't see anything.
With a nod, she handed me the compass and pushed me away from her. Standing with her arms out stretched she chanted into the air, calling on the names of her goddesses near the end of it.
There was a hissing that I recognized as the sound of sand beginning to shift. The wind picked up for a moment, and the ground shuddered. Then a soft roar hit my ears, and everything stopped.
Shayt was grinning. She looked at me and pointed to the sand in front of us. There, about ten feet away, was a hole in the sand. In the fading light from the sun I could see the top of a staircase.
"The temple?" I asked.
"Yes," she said softly.
We stood there in silence for several minutes, until she sighed and turned around. Taking my hand she started back to the camp site, tugging gently on my arm.
I followed her with a hollow feeling in my stomach.
Dinner was quiet, with Shayt mostly staring off into the desert. She drank several glasses of brandy, but didn't eat anything. Mishra and Achmed discussed business for the temple in Alexandria while Ishaq and Onuris sat some distance from the camp, pointing out the constellations they each knew.
I watched Shayt.
She caught me staring at her, and smiled gently. I decided it was time and stood up. Holding out my hand to her, I smiled back and nodded towards the tent. One dark eyebrow rose, and her blue eyes twinkled. She took my hand and let me pull her to her feet.
"Mishra, Achmed, I think we're going to retire for the night." She was grinning at them as she said this. I felt a blush coloring my cheeks, but I just ducked my head and smiled at them.
"Good night, Princess," Achmed replied. He bowed his head in a sign of respect, and smiled at her.
Mishra walked over to us. Taking both of Shayt's arms, she said softly, "Tomorrow is a special day, for all of us. I am honored to be among those who will witness this change." She leaned forward and kissed her princess on the cheek. Then she looked at me. "Enjoy this night, Daryl. Tomorrow, everything changes."
I swallowed. She walked away, and I felt sick.
Shayt's arm settled back on my shoulders and I looked up into gentle blue. I swallowed again, this time in determination, and took her hand to lead her into the tent.
If I was going to lose her, it wouldn't be without a fight.
It took only moments for Shayt to get naked. I was taking a little longer, not letting her pull the clothes from me. For what I was planning, I needed to be in control, and if I let her touch me too much, I'd lose it very quickly.
I didn't tease her, necessarily. I only prolonged the inevitable.
Finally, she couldn't stand it and she reached over and grabbed the edge of my shirt which I was holding up to cover my breasts. She pulled it toward her, and instead of letting go, I went with it, landing in her lap. She rolled me over, and took the shirt from my hands, tossing it over her shoulder. Her lips were an inch from mine when I took a deep breath and put a hand on her shoulder.
She stopped and looked down at me. "Hm?"
"Can I ask you something?"
An eyebrow rose once more, but she nodded. "Go ahead."
"Why are you really doing this? Killing yourself I mean?"
She stared at me. "You know why."
"No, I don't. I mean, we talked a little about history, and I know you've been alive a long time. I know you're tired. But you've never told me why you want to do this. Or why it needs to be done now."
For several moments we just lay there, face to face, her blue eyes pinning my green ones. Then she sighed and rolled over, staring up at the tent ceiling.
"Do you really want to know, Daryl?"
I propped my head on my hand and watched her face. She focused on a spot in the tent ceiling, and sighed.
"It's been nearly two hundred generations since the members of my family died. The last of their descendents died nearly a millenia ago." There was a pause as she swallowed a few times and took a very deep breath.
"I have watched thousands of friends die. Watched as they grew old, and sick, while I stayed exactly like I am." She shrugged. "After a long while, I stopped getting close to people. Stopped caring about them. It hurt too much. Love is meant for mortals, because they can grow old together, and help each other, and end their days together. But time and time again I stood over the grave of a friend -- or a lover."
One lone tear glistened as it leaked from her eye and rolled down her temple and into her hair.
"But, I was born a mortal. Feeling for other people, feeling love for other humans, isn't something I could just turn off like a machine. It was relentless, this drive to be with people. To love another. And each time, when they left, it hurt just a little more.
"Then I started thinking. Instead of just continuing with this torture, I could grow old with a lover and then end it. I could hold them while they died, and then go to the temple, take the dagger and join them."
Her hand brushed a couple more rebellious tears off her cheek. "But, each time, there was something else I had to do. There was a reason not to end it. Something had to be done to save a person, a city, a country. And, being indestructible, it would fall to my shoulders."
She looked up at me. "First, I had to save the cult of Bes, and move them to Alexandria. Then there were wars that Bes asked me to stop. Plots for world domination that had to be foiled." Shayt shook her head. "I became the servant of Bes, and he sent me on voyages across oceans and deserts. I went to the Russian steppes and stopped two tribes from going to war. Bes sent me to France, to try to save Jeanne D'Arc." She frowned. "Stubborn girl. I could have gotten her out of there, but she chose to be a martyr instead."
"Well, maybe she felt that was her destiny." I stroked her dark hair. "Or maybe she thought you were from the devil and wanted to be sure not to give in to temptation and be damned."
A short laugh came from her. "No, she was just being stubborn as a camel."
I chuckled, and continued letting my hand slip through black silk. "What other errands did Bes send you on?"
Another sigh. "To the United States, where I dressed as a man and stopped an assassin from killing George Washington. Then to England, where I stepped in front of a bullet to save Queen Victoria." A half smile appeared on her face. "No one there ever knew what happened. They thought the man was pointing an empty gun at the queen."
My eyebrow rose. "I think I remember reading about that. Someone tried to shoot her while she was in the royal coach, but the gun jammed, or wasn't properly loaded?"
"Oh, believe me, it was."
"But no one heard a shot."
"They couldn't. It was during a salute for her majesty's birthday, and there were firecrackers going off in celebration."
"Ah." I waited, but she didn't say anything more. "So, what happened? Did you become tired of saving the world? Or did Bes run out of things for you to do?"
She sighed. "Both. Neither. I don't know." The sorrow that lined her face made my heart hurt in sympathy. "Actually, it was something much less earth shattering than that." Shayt looked at me. "I fell in love."
For just a moment, I froze. I hadn't been expecting that.
"I fell in love with a young woman from Greece. We met in a small fishing village on the coast. Her father had died, and her neighbors thought it was wrong that she wanted to run his fishing boat herself. The small crew quit, and she couldn't have done it on her own. The other fishermen were pushing her to sell the boat. All except the mayor, who decided that he wanted to marry her. She was twenty-three; he was fifty-six. Of course, she said no -- to the proposal, and to selling the boat.
"I was just passing through the town when I found two men accosting her. I sent them off, and hired on to help on the boat. We fished in an area that her father had told her about, and always came back in with a large catch. The other men grumbled, but they couldn't do anything about it. Not with me there."
Shayt smiled, and her eyes lit up. "I loved her so much. Her name was Anysia, and she had eyes that were golden brown, like wheat in the field. Her hair was the color of wood, but silky soft. Her laugh was like music, and her touch -- ah. Her touch filled me with peace."
I couldn't believe the jealousy flowing through me from hearing Shayt speak of this woman. I had to force my fingers not to close into a fist. Instead, I kept them softly stroking her hair, trying hard not to let on just how much her words were affecting me.
Shayt's eyes became like seas, with waves splashing over her eyelids.
"There was a storm. It came up very suddenly. I told Anysia to lash herself to the mast, but . . ." The tears spilled down her face in streams. "The rope broke. It was one we had been planning on replacing, but hadn't gotten done so yet. She was swept overboard, and I went in after her. I found her, and held on to her while I tried to guide the boat back in. She was cold, so very cold . . ."
Wiping her eyes, she continued. "By the time we got back to shore, she was in a high fever. There was nothing I could do. I called on Bes to heal her, but he said he couldn't -- her time had come, and I should let her go. I told him to heal her, or I'd find a way to go after her." She was silent for several minutes. "Anysia died two days later."
We were both very quiet for several minutes. I tried to imagine that kind of scene. Knowing that your time with this person had just been cut short, and you would never see her again, in spirit or otherwise, because you couldn't die.
I wavered a little, understanding just a bit more why Shayt wanted to end things. But thinking of the rest of my life without her was enough to make me stand firm.
I was surprised when she laughed a little.
"I just realized. I've never told anyone that before."
She shook her head. "When it happened, I told Mishra that my lover had died. I never told her anything else, or how much I loved her." Shayt wiped the last of the tears from her face. "I never even told her Anysia's name."
"How long ago was this?"
Her eyes drifted closed. "Twenty-four years." A sigh. "Twenty-four very long years."
We were silent again, and I listened to the sound of the desert wind as it drifted across our campsite. The voices of our companions came through as well, but I felt distanced, as though Shayt and I were alone in the whole of the desert.
"So why now?" I asked.
Blue eyes focused on me. "What do you mean?"
"Anysia died twenty-four years ago and you're just now getting around to going to her?"
"There are no longer things standing in the way. No more wars to fight, no more princes to protect. The temple of Bes is as protected as I can make it, and the world is as peaceful as it will ever get." She sighed. "I'm tired of hurting, of falling in love and losing people to the mortal death that should have been mine so very long ago. I don't want to feel anymore . . ."
Her words drifted off and her eyes closed, releasing only one more tear which followed the tracks down her cheek and into the crevasse near her ear.
I waited, trying to compose what I wanted to say. I probably would only have one chance, and I didn't want to mess it up.
"Shayt?" I said quietly. "What would it take to make you stay?"
She looked up at me quickly, and shook her head. "You're not talking me out of this, Daryl."
"No, just hear me out, please?"
For a moment she looked like she would to refuse, but then she sighed and nodded.
"What would give you a reason not to quit right now? To stay just a little longer?"
With a frown, she answered, "Nothing."
"Are you sure? You said there have always been reasons to stay, but now there aren't. What kind of reason would you need?"
She shook her head. "Daryl . . ."
"Come on, Shayt. Just think about it."
"Fine." The frown deepened on her face, etching lines into her forehead. "I guess there would have to be some emergency, some disaster. A catastrophe."
She threw up her hands. "I don't know. Another war, or maybe some bad guy to fight. Something that needed me." A shrug.
I swallowed, knowing I was taking a chance. "Why were you so worried about me yesterday, when I became ill?"
One dark eyebrow slid further up her forehead. "Because heat stroke can be dangerous. You were lucky."
"Right, but why were you so worried? I mean, even if I had really gotten sick, it wouldn't have mattered to you. I'm just a thief from Cairo that helped you get the last piece of the compass. Why would you care?"
Shayt sat up quickly, spinning around to glare at me. "You know I care about you, Daryl. You're not a thief, and you do matter to me."
I nodded. It was the answer I'd been hoping for. "Right, but even if I'd been sick, it wouldn't have changed your plans. You would still have just continued on to the temple, and taken your own life. My living or dying wouldn't have mattered."
"No! That's not true. You do matter, Daryl." She took my hand. "You're important, not just to me, but to many others, and if something had happened to you, it would have been a tragedy. You have a long life ahead of you, and you'll do great things, I know you will."
"So, I'm an important person?"
"Yes. Very much so."
"Important enough to give you a reason to stay?"
Those blue eyes widened, and she stared at me. "What do you mean?"
I gathered all the courage I had, and all the passion I felt inside, and leaned forward to kiss her.
It was a hard kiss, demanding yet loving, an invasion into her mouth, and an invitation to mine. She responded, and when I could hear her breath shorten, and her pulse quicken, I pulled back.
"I love you, Shayt." I put my hands on her shoulders and pushed her back to the bedroll. "In the days since we met, you've done more than just change my life; you changed everything I knew to be true. You gave me back a part of me I had lost, and opened up a door to a life I never knew existed. With you, I've known the mysteries of the world, and the pleasures of love. In just this short time, you've come to mean everything to me." I kissed her again, more softly this time.
"I love you. And I'm asking you, if you care for me at all, like I know you do, please don't make me do this on my own. Please don't take away the one thing in my life that has brought me absolute joy -- your death will kill everything I am inside, Shayt. And if you love me, please don't do this."
I lay fully on her, pressing myself against her, not giving her a chance to respond. With my tongue, I coaxed her mouth open, my hands separating the folds of her shirt, yanking it open.
"If you need a reason to stay, then I'll give you one. Tonight, you're mine, and I'm going to do everything I can to make you want to stay."
I backed off and looked at her, letting my emotions show in my eyes. "I need you, Shayt. Let me be your reason to stay." With that I plunged forward, connecting once again with her mouth.
She responded as I expected, wrapping her arms around me and trying to push me under her. I pushed back, and finally forced her shoulders to the ground. Her shirt came off in pieces.
Then we were naked, skin on skin, and I reveled in the feel of her. Time and time again she reached for me, to take control. I wouldn't let her. Instead, I held onto her wrists as my mouth nipped skin in sensitive places; under her chin, the side of her breast, the skin around her navel. I filled my senses with her, breathing in the scent of arousal, tasting the sweat on her skin.
I remembered what she had done to me the day before, and used the same technique on her. Each time she peaked, I changed the rythm of my stroking, alternating between using my mouth and my fingers, bringing her once again over the edge of passion. I didn't neglect one spot of that tantalizing flesh.
Finally, though, I began to tire. I was, after all, mortal and not blessed with the same stamina as the eternal daughter of Pharaoh. When she noticed my weariness, Shayt took advantage of it, and rolled me over onto my back. Then, with a practiced hand, she gave me pleasure, and I let her hear me scream the words that made her cry.
It was almost dawn when we finally were still, and I lay languidly in
her arms. She rubbed my back gently, humming softly in my ear.
I fought the feeling of lethargy that came over me, knowing that I might
only have these last few hours. Eventually, though, it won, and my eyes
slid closed as I murmured once more to Shayt that I loved her, and she
shouldn't leave. Then I was asleep.
I found myself floating in the dreamworld again. I knew I was still asleep this time, because I could see myself. Shayt's arms were curled around my body, and I saw myself lying on her shoulder, snoring softly.
There appeared a blurry form, hovering over Shayt's shoulder. One moment it would be mistlike, and the next nearly solid. I recognized it as an image of Bes, similar to the statue in the inner sanctum of the temple.
His voice was low and gravely, as it had been a few nights before.
"The little one sleeps deeply in your arms. She feels safe there."
Shayt merely nodded.
"She loves you very much."
"You will do this thing despite her plea?"
She sighed. "Yes. I think I should."
"Why? She has given you a reason to stay. Or do you not believe her love?"
Shayt's voice was very quiet. "I believe her."
"They why would you hurt her?"
An angry look crossed over the beautiful face. "Do you think that's what I want? I never expected this, or wanted it to happen. I would never wish to hurt Daryl."
"But you will."
There was silence between them. Shayt looked sad, and Bes's ethereal form seemed to reinforce her loneliness. I wanted to wake up and hold her, but I could do nothing but watch in this dreamscape.
"There is another way," the god said.
"No. I won't do it."
"You would rather sentence your love to a life as lonely as yours has been?"
"At the very least it would not be as long."
"No. But would that make it any less painful?" Shayt stayed silent. Bes leaned closer to her. "She loves you very much, Ashayt. Your death will hurt her more than you could know. But if you live . . ."
The dark head snapped up, blue eyes flashing at the god. "If I live? What will change? Eventually, Daryl will die, and I'll be alone again. Is there no end? I have buried so many lovers that I can't even remember them all."
"Then Daryl is simply one more that you would forget?"
"No. I could not bear to forget her. Her memory would haunt me above all others." Glancing down at me once more, she asked him, "Must I bury one more just to appease you, Bes?"
"What if you did not have to bury her?"
Shayt went very still. "What are you talking about?"
"I could make her immortal."
Blue eyes filled with outrage. "No you won't! I won't allow it. I won't condemn her to the same fate I've suffered through."
"What if it was her choice?"
"No! She wouldn't understand, she wouldn't, couldn't know what hell eternity can be. No, Bes. I won't let you do this to her -- I love her, and I won't see her --"
"You love her?"
Shayt paused in her speech. She looked back down at the still form in her arms, and nodded. "Yes. I love her very much."
"Yet you would condemn her to the pain of your death."
"I . . ." she didn't finish. Instead, she stared down, brushing hair off a fair cheek.
"If you love her, Ashayt Kemshet, you will think of her pain."
The misty image of the god slowly disappeared, and I felt my own dreamself fading.
The last thing I heard was Shayt's soft voice, "I do love you, Daryl. But when do I get to think of my own pain?"
Then everything was black.
Continued in Part Seven