In the sweltering heat of the Egyptian sun, the pharaoh’s eyes are cold, like the icy, silent winters of Tarhuntassa. He sweeps his khopesh, slick with blood, high into the burning air, and heavy, dark gouts soar from his curved blade toward the pristine white pillars of the palace, where they land in a perfect arc, staining them the color of my love.
The taut muscles of his body, and his kilt are a canvas, splattered with the essence of the man who has sacrificed everything so I might live. Were it not my own love’s life the ink for such art, Ramesses’s work could almost be considered beautiful. Almost.
And when he comes to me tonight, will he think of this brutal battle as he is taking me, possessing me as his own? Will he speak of it, reminding me I was destined to be a queen, though not of Egypt, but of her enemy? Will he gloat about his triumph, not just over Egypt’s commander, but over Urhi-Teshub, the Crown Prince of Hatti, to whom I once belonged? The one, who far too late I learned, loved me. Though not like this. Never like this.
The image of Ramesses entering me, his body still drenched with the blood of my love fills my mind. I swallow the bile rising in my throat, tasting metal, the scent of butchery heavy in the enclosed space. I am able to see my bleak future. Once he has taken his fill of me, I will be sent away, like all the others, condemned to the corridors of his harem, to live in the shadows, forgotten, alone and unloved, with only this, my meager store of memories to comfort me.
My love fights on, for love, for honor, for us; his powerful body torn apart by the one who believes himself a god. I try to see the man who cradled me against him only a few hours ago, his tenderness as he made love to me for the first and last time. His mouth on mine, our souls entwining. He is unrecognizable. I blink back the tears burning in my eyes, ashamed. I promised I would not cry. But my chest is aching, and my throat is raw, the agony of holding the pain inside, exquisite. With every blow he suffers, I flinch. He bleeds outward, and I, inward. Together, we are dying.
Powerless, just as I have always been, I watch them battle, my hands clenched into fists, my fingernails cutting into my palms. The one I love, despite knowing his fate, remains steadfast, valiant, and honorable against the relentless onslaught of the pharaoh, who must cheat to bring down Egypt’s indomitable commander.
Beneath their sandaled feet, the pristine white sand turns red, drinking up the fluid of my love’s life, thirsty in this accursed heat. Another savage assault and Ramesses’s khopesh slices deep, carving into bone, becoming stuck. He staggers, struggling to free his blade. He heaves once, twice, grunting with the effort. It is a nightmare. With a sickening snap his sword bursts free and my love, reviving from shock, roars in agony.
My thoughts splinter. I imagine myself kneeling in the soaking black-dark sand, gathering up his life essence, drawing it into the material of my gown so I can return it to him, drop by precious drop.
My love rallies, but Ramesses plays foul once more. Overcome, my love falls to his knee. He looks at me, his chest heaving, his breathing ragged in the thick, claustrophobic air. I see his suffering, not just from his pain, but from knowing he will soon face his annihilation as the gods claim his debt, separating our souls for eternity.
I step onto the grounds, desperate to go to him, to ease his pain, the memory of our first encounter exploding into my thoughts; the long, cold night I spent tending his injuries, fighting his delirium, struggling to keep him alive. The night he tried to kill me. Our love, born in violence, dying in violence.
He calls to me, my name on his lips ragged and bloody. His final words tear me apart. I feel a forbidden tear slip free, hot against my face.
Furious, Ramesses roars and strikes him down, and the one who sacrificed everything to hold my heart in his hands for the briefest space in time falls to the ground, dying.
Numb, I watch Ramesses as he staggers, panting, staring battle-blind at his butchered commander. A bright gleam pierces my blurring vision. I shove away my tears. In the burning light, a fallen dagger, forgotten—like me—beckons.
I beg the gods for forgiveness, and run.
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