Upon returning to my halls, Seth split off for research within his 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 to 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 overclothes pooled around him, leaving him in a thin, white underrobe and fundoshi. Beneath his knee-length underrobe, 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 eyed 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 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 teasing 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 of me, 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. “Touch it and be honest at how you react to it.”
Poking it, he didn’t flinch. I softened my hold with the action. 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 spread 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 tassel. 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.”
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