GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, romance/love, tragedy.
SUMMARY: What happens when the god of death falls in love...with a mortal? An original myth.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2001.
LENGTH: 20,000+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult language, mild adult themes.
COPYRIGHT: This story and all characters, unless otherwise stated in the Disclaimers, are copyright © tehuti_88 and may not be used or distributed without permission. The reader is free to print out or download a copy of this story for offline reading as long as the author's copyright information remains upon it. Please do not distribute; if you wish to share this story, send a link to this page.
DISCLAIMERS: Certain characters are from Egyptian mythology. Although aspects of this story are loosely based on Egyptian mythology and culture, artistic license has been taken as this is a FANTASY story. Please take note that this story was written around 2001 and that my writing style and understanding of the mythology I created may have changed vastly in the meantime.
ADDITIONAL INFO: NA.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This short story ties in with the other Kemet short stories and/or the Kemet/Egyptian mythology as I make use of it in my writing; as such, it might not make much sense out of context. This story was originally written in high school as part of a series of ten stories included in a book called City Of The Sun, three of the stories dealing with the myth of the destruction of mankind, three dealing with Anubis, and the other four with other gods. Currently I plan on expanding and turning COTS's first three stories into a book of their own; also, two of the three stories about Anubis, due to major changes in the storyline, ended up deleted and/or incorporated into other works such as Osiris. Here is the second of the three stories, rewritten but still tellable. This seems to be one of my works which is most faved by readers online, so I take it that fans of Egyptian mythology fiction have a particular liking for Anubis and Kebehut. In any case, according to the mythology, the god of death, Anubis, had a daughter who represented the purifying waters in the afterlife. Yet her mother is never mentioned. Who was she? Where did she come from? Frustrated in all attempts to find this information out, I decided to write the story of her birth myself. This is how it went. Beware of the wandering POV in this story, by the way. One note--the mention of the "minor goddess" who fell in love with Anubis, and caused trouble, in the past was a plotline for the Greek goddess Nemesis which I came up with ages ago and then abandoned, seeing as I replaced the non-Egyptian Nemesis in my stories with the Egyptian Meskhent. (You can find mention of this in the original version of "Kebehut," available on my Google Site.) Someday I might write the updated version of that story, though I'm not sure if, in this current (Meskhent-oriented) storyline, it still took place--after all, Meskhent takes Nemesis's place in this story yet no mention is made of her being the unfortunate goddess in question. Reference is also made to Meskhent warning "of the fate that awaited Lord Osiris"--this is included in the prologue to Osiris (where she tells Shu, not Thoth), the entirety of which has unfortunately not been completed. Definitions--"Ankh! Udja! Seneb!" means "Life! Strength! Health!"...sort of a "Long live the king!" "Neter," of course, means god, neteret being the female form, neteru the plural, and neteri the adjective. A pheal is the howling noise a jackal makes; I read that somewhere once, though I can't find it in my dictionary. A ka is a person's spiritual double.
ANUBIS WAS BORED.
Every day, since Lord Sokar had ceded his job of spreading death to mortals to Anubis, he had done the exact same thing; and every night, at Judgement, he would sit by his scales and weigh the hearts of those who had died. Every day it was the same thing, over and over again and again. Now that Horus, the rightful king, had returned, and deposed the usurper Set--now that the great battle was over--it seemed there was nothing to do, either in Horus's palace or in the underworld. The only thing left that he actually enjoyed now was his lessons, when he could lose himself in penning elaborate hieroglyphs and studying the meaning and positions of the stars; yet even with this, he occasionally grew tired. There had to be something else to do.
That was why, one day, he decided to spend some time with the mortals. Though he'd visited them often, and had even known some before Horus had returned to the palace, he'd never really lived among them or gotten to see what they were like; not only his divinity, but his royal parentage, had made this nearly impossible. He realized he knew quite little about them; about all he knew was that they died and didn't usually come back, unlike gods, and they seemed to quarrel a lot--though he was sure that the latter was also true for the gods. He had asked the wolf Khenti Amenti, one of his old friends, about them once, and had been given what was, to him, an unsatisfactory answer.
"Don't mess with the mortals," the wolf had said, idly licking a paw. "All they do is cause trouble. They're even more juvenile than most of us are. They can be amusing at times, though, so it's quite all right to watch from a distance."
From a distance wasn't what Anubis had in mind. He wanted to get a better look at those strange creatures whose lives he had to end, whose short existences seemed so futile. He felt he owed it to them--and to himself--to at least fully understand the job he'd been given, from all sides. Khenti Amenti, seeing he wouldn't be swayed, had sighed and sat up, scratching behind his ear.
"Well, if you really must see what they're like, at least go looking as they do," he said. "Disguise yourself like one of them. That way they won't notice you, so one, you won't get in any trouble, and two, they'll act naturally. But you've got to get rid of that jewelry. And for Ra's sake, at least try to respect any authorities you meet!"
So he did.
He went to his quarters and removed his gold armbands, legbands, and pectoral, as well as his diadem with the royal uraeus; his earrings he left on, as most of the men wore them, but he replaced his pristine palace kilt and sandals with plainer ones more befitting a mortal. He kept on a simple amulet in the shape of a jackal, if for no other reason than that it gave him a sense of identity; then, armed with nothing but his boomerang, tucked in his belt, he left the palace.
He watched the mortals for a while, studying their interactions, how they walked and looked around and spoke to others; when he felt he could pass among them unnoticed, he took on human form and entered the marketplace, blending into the crowd, his eyes scouring over everything within sight.
The day passed quite well; no one noticed him any more than they noticed anything else, so he could roam about, watching them intently as they went about their business, selling their wares and haggling over prices. Several times he jumped out of the way of passing donkeys or geese, not even noticing them until they were almost upon him. The market was deafening. If it had been the palace, he wouldn't have been able to stand the noise; as it was, he could tolerate this for only so long, before going down closer to the river to watch the boats pass by. As night began to fall he decided to stay a little longer. He had to be present at Judgement, but it wasn't for a while yet; he had plenty of time to do a bit more looking around, and then he'd return and tell Khenti everything he'd seen. Chances were the wolf might want to accompany him if and when he came back.
Many of the merchants were packing up their goods and heading off for their homes. More than a few windows in the mudbrick houses were lit from inside with oil lamps. A few stalls remained open, one of them selling fruits. Anubis, remembering he hadn't eaten a thing all day, suddenly felt his hunger catch up with him and approached the booth. He dropped a few silver rings into the merchant's hand; when the man's eyes widened he waved his own hand at the air and said, "I'd just like something, a piece of watermelon maybe, to chew on."
"Yes, Lord!" the merchant exclaimed, disappearing for a moment and returning with a large hunk of watermelon. Anubis took it and bit into it while the man watched him.
"Never seen you here before," he said after a moment. "You've got money enough to pass for a nobleman, but you don't look the type. Name?"
"Anpu," Anubis said, with barely any hesitation. He cracked into a seed with his teeth, tested it, then spat it out. He knew that very few mortals would recognize his archaic name.
The merchant nodded but didn't offer his own name. Anubis found he didn't mind; the watermelon tasted good after a long day of trudging around, and he was trying to eat it without letting it drip down his face. The man leaned on the edge of his stall and continued watching him eat. Anubis wondered if something about him looked odd.
"New around here, are you, then?"
Anubis smiled slightly, though the fruit hid it. "Not really."
"Ah. You remind me of somebody I kinda knew, though I can't think of why he'd be carrying around silver. That's most generous, you know; here, looks like you enjoyed that; have another piece."
For a while they stood talking--or, rather, the merchant talked, telling of that day's sales, of how his neighbor's sick donkey was doing, of his two-year-old son and his ragged toy goat. All the while Anubis ate and listened, slowly noticing under all the cheerful talk the actual loneliness of the man. It was as if he kept on talking for the sake of driving off the silence, which was worse than anything. It was several hours before he excused himself, departing for the underworld. He hadn't realized how late it was until he reached the Hall of Maati and entered, stopping with surprise right inside the door. Instead of the crowd of souls waiting to enter, the numerous gods and goddesses watching over the trial, all was still. The Hall was deserted.
He'd missed Judgement!
He felt his ears burning. How could he have missed it? The most important part of the day--when he watched over the scales, making certain they weighed true--he couldn't believe he'd actually missed it! He'd never even been late before! He was probably going to receive a lecture for this, at the least.
He left the Hall, and the underworld, returning to Horus's palace on earth. Well, there was nothing he could do now. He'd have to explain everything tomorrow.
As he walked toward his rooms a soft noise down the hall behind him caught his attention. He stopped in midstride, looking back over his shoulder.
A faint shadow. He squinted, and recognized Lord Thoth coming his way. His tensed muscles relaxed, but his heart beat a little faster. Thoth, his mentor, who watched also over the scales in the Hall, wouldn't be pleased with him for missing Judgement. The ibis god had never been short tempered, but he was a strict teacher, and it was best to always do as he said. Anubis knew he'd never be able to avoid him. He took a breath and turned around, waiting to face him directly instead.
Yet when Thoth came into the light, his hand resting upon his staff, the expression he gave Anubis was slightly puzzled, not angry.
"Highness," he said, by way of greeting. Anubis nodded. "You missed your lesson, and you failed to show up at Judgement. Where have you been all day?"
"With the mortals," Anubis said. Thoth raised an eyebrow, and Anubis hastened to explain. "I didn't interfere with their activities, Lord. I only wanted to see what they were like."
Thoth studied him for a moment, much as the merchant had, before standing up straight, bringing up his staff to stand at his side. "Well, now you have," he said, and Anubis was relieved to hear the lack of anger or reproach in his voice. Thoth didn't appear to be too upset with his negligence. "Your brother Horus took over for you at the scales. Lord Osiris seemed most concerned; you jeopardized your brother's good position, you know, forcing him to make up stories to explain your absence."
Anubis couldn't hide a smile. The thought of Horus having to lie was funny enough in itself. He did feel a pang of guilt at making him go through that, though he was certain no harm had been done.
"Well, Horus could always use a change of pace, before he gets too used to life in the royal palace."
Thoth smiled faintly in response. "Did you meet anyone interesting?"
"A merchant. Most of them were too busy to stop and say much but he talked and laughed for a long time. I don't really think he was feeling it, though." He paused. "Thoth. Are all of them like that? I mean, acting like that, when they don't really feel it?"
Thoth's eyes looked a little sad now, though his smile remained. "Many of them are. But not all. Some of them manage to make do with what time they have."
Time--? Anubis thought, before remembering his earlier thought about how the mortals spent their short time on earth. How...? It was as if Thoth had been reading his mind! But, Thoth wouldn't do that, not without permission... He peered at the ibis god, but couldn't tell what he might be thinking.
"Come now," Thoth said instead. Anubis stood up straight. "It's late. You'd best get to your quarters; there's a long day ahead of you."
Anubis nodded, and together he and Thoth continued down the hall.
"So that's where he was last night?" Hathor stared at herself in the mirror, brushing her hair and musing over what she'd just been told. "Anubis was on earth, with the mortals?"
Khenti Amenti nodded. He lay near the door half asleep, having come to give the goddess his news of the day. As he stayed around Horus's palace most of the time, and Hathor lived in celestial Kemet, he disliked the trips back and forth. Still, she always managed to save him the choicest bits of meat from the huge dinners held in Ra's palace, and he wouldn't have stayed in the job if he didn't consider it worthwhile. "All day long. He stayed there quite a while. From what I hear he enjoyed it, too. Ra knows why, the mortals are annoying."
"They are, aren't they." Hathor was only half listening now, an idea growing in her head. After a moment she put her brush down and stared thoughtfully into the little mirror, before setting it aside also. She turned on her stool and looked at the wolf sprawled in front of the door. "Khenti. What do you think Anubis would think of a wife?"
Khenti raised his head and cocked it, as dogs do. "Goddess?"
"A wife. How do you think Anubis would like that?"
"What brought this idea on?" Khenti asked; when Hathor didn't answer, he snorted and put his head back down. "I don't know. Maybe he'd like it, maybe not. I always thought he was the solitary type, but who knows. However, there's Osiris and Isis to think of first."
Hathor nodded thoughtfully. Some time past, another, minor goddess had fallen in love with Anubis, only to be denied permission to marry him by Osiris and Isis, due to Anubis's relatively young age at the time. This action had led to much heartache for the goddess and even some trouble for the mortals themselves. However, she had the feeling that now Osiris and Isis would allow him to marry. After all, he was grown, wasn't he? Older even than his brother, who was old enough to rule the kingdom. He should be able to make that decision for himself. And Hathor had a brilliant idea--have him fall for a mortal first, so if things didn't work out it could be fixed. Mortals didn't live forever, like goddesses; there was always room for a second try. Why not? Anubis had to learn sometime, didn't he?
Right then and there Hathor decided it was about time that Anubis learn his next lesson. With Osiris's and Isis's permission first--of course.
If either of them would agree to anything first, it would be Isis. Hathor knew the goddess would sympathize with her case, as long as she presented it correctly. There couldn't be any subterfuge, though, because Isis was almost as good at figuring out people's motivations as Thoth was. Hathor would have to put all her sincerity into it--she really did like the idea of Anubis being married, after all, else why would she be bothering?
She waited until after Judgement was over, when she knew Osiris and Isis would still be in the Hall. Khenti tagged along until they reached the doorway, but a disapproving look from both Upuat and Sobek, the guards, stopped him in his tracks and he sat down outside, scowling and muttering to himself. Hathor went in without him, not even noticing he'd been left behind.
Apart from the two other gods, the Hall was empty. The lines of chairs where the jury, the Forty-Two Assessors, sat were abandoned as if nobody had ever been there. Hathor glanced at the large set of scales sitting beside the wall, out of the way now, and imagined Anubis just leaving the Hall to go back to his rooms in Horus's palace. Well, at least she wouldn't have to deal with him yet. Osiris and Isis, sitting on their thrones at the end of the Hall, watched her come in and approach them. Osiris looked puzzled.
"Lady Hathor?" he asked as she came up and bowed. "What brings you here? Judgement just ended, if that's--"
"No, no, that's not why I came," Hathor interrupted lightly. Osiris cut himself off and frowned. The slightest hint of a smile came to Isis's face; her husband obviously wasn't used to being treated so rudely.
She nodded at Hathor. "Then why have you come?"
Hathor kept her arm crossed over her breast as a gesture of respect. She knew it had been impolite to interrupt the Lord of the Underworld like that, but there were more pressing matters to attend to. "I've come to ask you a question," she said. "About Anubis."
They looked at each other, then back at her. Neither said anything, so she went on.
"I wish to know if you consider Anubis ready to marry."
Osiris's eyes went wide. "Marry?--why do you ask?"
Hathor felt a brief twinge of irritation that he'd misunderstood. She laughed and waved her hand to cover it up. "Oh no, not for me! You both know very well that I'm not going to marry. I just want to know if you think he's ready yet or not. Though in my own opinion, it seems to me, he has aged and learned enough to do so."
Osiris said nothing.
"I was thinking perhaps a mortal first," Hathor went on. "Just to see how things work out."
Another frown. "Work out? You believe this mortal would be a...'trial run'?"
"You understand that Anubis has never loved a woman before," Isis said, before an awkward silence had its chance to take over the Hall.
Hathor nodded. "Of course he'll be confused at first, but he's learned everything else so quickly that I honestly believe he'd know what to do."
A pause. Isis looked at Osiris. Hathor tried to tell what her face was saying to him but couldn't; perhaps they were communicating telepathically? Osiris looked back at her a moment, then, with a rather resigned sigh, nodded. Isis nodded also.
"All right, then," she said. "Try this with Anubis. But be careful who you choose for him. He's always been somewhat reserved; I hope you make your choice wisely, for both their sakes."
Hathor nodded, bowed again, and left.
She was forced to bide her time for a while, as it was several days before Anubis went out again. He stayed in his quarters a good deal of the time, studying, as Thoth had been very strict with him regarding his lessons. The older god had recognized Anubis's potential since he'd first heard him speak. Hathor couldn't understand what he could possibly still be learning, when he should have mastered all his writing years ago; yet somehow he was working on something. He rarely had a reprieve from his work, with his lessons during the daytime, his duties in the palace, and his weighing in the Hall at night, but Hathor knew whenever he did he would make the most of it. Finally he found a break in the daily routine, and at his first chance left the palace. Hathor turned into a hawk and followed him, unnoticed.
As she had expected, he headed out into Kemet. But he didn't join the mortals. Instead, he found a large stand of palms surrounding a stream breaking off from the main river, and disappeared among the trees.
Curse Amon! Hathor thought. I should have known he'd rather be alone. He always has. But I'll soon change that, somehow.
A smile curved her beak.
She flapped her wings and followed him above the trees. Swooping down among the fronds, she moved noiselessly, keeping a careful watch over him.
For a while he just walked, keeping his eyes mostly on what path there was ahead of him. Hathor soon heard the gurgling of water, and, spying a break in the trees ahead, realized what he must be doing.
Of course. He's found a spot where he can be all alone to think.
She flew on ahead of him to examine the clearing. She saw that the stream ran along its side, roughly from east to west, creating a minor barrier; a slight grassy slope led down to its bank. Then, to her surprise, she realized that once he reached it Anubis wouldn't be alone.
Down next to the stream was a woman, humming and washing some clothes in the waters.
The goddess's face lit up. What luck! Just in the right place at the right time!
At that minute Anubis came to the edge of the clearing and stopped. Hathor glanced down at him. He seemed dismayed at the sight of the trespasser, but Hathor quickly decided to change the situation. Taking on her own form, but invisible to both of them, she reached over her shoulder to select an arrow, whipping it forward and fitting it to her bow, aiming it at Anubis, and firing, all in less than a second. She turned and did the same to the woman and, before either had a chance to even think of what had happened, changed back into a hawk and flew away.
Anubis stopped at the clearing's edge, somewhat upset by the presence of the woman. He hadn't expected anyone to be here; he'd noticed the place before, and assumed it would be deserted. He'd wanted to be by himself, and this would ruin everything. The woman hadn't noticed him, so he could retreat without attracting her attention. He started to turn away when something--struck him?
He halted again and looked down at himself. Had something just hit him? He didn't see anything. What could it have been? Perplexed, he glanced up toward the clearing, and his heart actually--skipped a beat.
The woman was standing now, wringing out the clothes and holding them up to dry, the exact same woman, only--different. He couldn't place it but for some reason she interested him now. Frowning, he watched her shake the clothes out and start to fold them up, placing them in a basket. He suddenly felt panicked--I can't just let her leave!--and stepped out of the trees.
The woman gasped at his sudden movement and dropped the basket, scattering the clothing all over. Anubis stopped abruptly. He hadn't meant to frighten her. He held up his hands and hoped he looked harmless.
"I--I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to--I mean, at first I didn't know you were here, but then I saw you, and I was only wondering why--" He cut himself off, realizing with dismay that he was babbling, not making any sense. The woman only smiled at him and stooped to retrieve her spilled clothing, though she still looked a little frightened of him. Biting the inside of his mouth, he went to assist her.
"It's all right," she said, reaching this way and that. "I wasn't paying any attention. If this is your place, I can go and find ano--"
"No, it's all right," Anubis echoed. She finished picking up most of the clothing and they both stood at the same instant, their eyes meeting. Suddenly it seemed as if every bird in the clearing had stopped singing.
Anubis hitched a breath.
After a moment it was she who broke the stare, dropping her head a little and smiling again. "I've never seen you before," she murmured. "You're not from the village, are you?"
"No, I'm--from the city," he replied.
"What's your name?"
"My name's Khebit."
They fell silent again. Anubis looked at her as she turned her head and looked toward the river. It felt strange that she should interest him so. He usually preferred solitude to company. But there was something...different about this person. He wished he could place it.
He suddenly realized that she was looking at him again, and that she'd said something.
He shook his head to clear it. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I asked if you could get that for me." She smiled and pointed down behind him.
He looked, and saw a stray piece of clothing she couldn't reach without going through him. Flushing, he stooped to retrieve it and placed it in her basket. "I'm sorry about that, I was just--thinking about something--"
"That's all right. Are you needed in the city?"
"Huh?" He blinked. "Uh--no--not right now."
"Would you like to walk back to the village with me?"
His heart leapt. She's interested, too! "Yes, I would. Very much," he tried not to stammer, and together they started off down the trail.
The minuscule rows of hieroglyphs may as well have been invisible. Anubis stared at them but didn't see them; his mind wandered while Thoth spoke, thinking of yesterday's odd meeting. He'd been thinking about Khebit ever since he'd left her, and he still wasn't sure why. Nobody had ever interested him so much before; generally he just didn't find much that was interesting in people, which was one reason he kept mainly to his books. But Khebit was different. He would have given all his years of learning to figure out why.
"Prince Anubis," a voice said sharply.
He started and raised his head. Thoth stood before him, arms crossed, a disapproving frown on his long beak. Anubis felt his ears grow hot and ducked his head in apology. "I--I'm sorry, Lord Thoth. What were you asking me?"
"It appears whatever lesson that may have been given today is of secondary importance. I wish to know why you're suddenly failing to pay attention to your studies, Prince."
Anubis bit the inside of his mouth again. Thoth rarely got angry, but when he did he could be someone to be feared. He swallowed and hoped he could find his voice, feeling like a nine year old being reprimanded by his teacher.
Thoth stared at him as he tried to speak, tapping a scroll against his arm; when Anubis couldn't make the words come out, he stopped the tapping and looked at him more closely. Anubis was slightly relieved to see the angry expression disappear from his face when Thoth must have realized he sincerely hadn't meant to drift off.
"Is anything wrong, Highness?" he asked.
"No--I mean, yes--I mean--I don't know--I'm not sure," Anubis stammered.
The ibis god raised an eyebrow, then sat down near him, legs crossed, as if ready to write. "Perhaps you should explain."
Anubis took a breath and let it out, looking up at the ceiling as if he would see all the answers written there. "I don't think anything's wrong, but I don't really know," he said finally. "I went to visit the mortals again yesterday. I went out into this little clearing among the palms. There was this woman there. I'd wanted to be alone, but somehow she--I don't know how to put it--'interested' me, and we talked and I walked her to her village. I don't know why she seemed so different."
There was a pause. Then Thoth smiled. "Well," he said. "I think you've finally felt it for the first time."
Thoth cocked his head. "Love."
Anubis was taken aback. "Love? You mean--I'm in love with her? Somehow it just isn't what I'd expected!"
"Then what were you expecting? Do you really know?" Anubis thought a moment, and found he wasn't sure. "Give it some time. You'll see. It will change, over time." He stood and reached for his scroll, palette, and pens, tucking them under his arm. "Lessons are finished for today. I don't believe you can give your studies your fullest attention when your mind is on other matters. You may have tomorrow off." He bowed and quietly left the room.
Anubis sat where he was, confused. He couldn't quite believe what Thoth had said. In love! He'd thought it would be more than--this. He wasn't sure how much more, but there had to be something more to it.
He finally realized Thoth had given him the next day off, and sat up with surprise. What had he done that for? Thoth had never cracked a whip at him when it came to studying, but he'd never let classes slide for frivolous things either. Could it be that Thoth didn't consider his visiting with the mortals frivolous?
Or was it something else? Could the older god have been remembering his first time in love, and all that it had meant?
Anubis nearly laughed at the thought of Thoth falling in love for the first time; it was simply too ridiculous to contemplate. Picking up his writing tools, he stood and set off early for Judgement.
He started out early in the morning to find Khebit's village, hoping he could remember where it was before chastising himself for worrying. Of course you'll remember where it is! he snapped at himself. He'd never forgotten a location before. Still, he found himself worrying about a lot of silly little things all of a sudden.
He didn't have to go far before he met her on the trail leading to the smaller village not too far outside the city walls. They both stopped with surprise.
"Anpu!" she exclaimed with a smile.
"Khebit," he said, and felt himself smiling back.
"I wasn't expecting to meet you again so soon."
"Neither...neither was I."
"I was just on my way to the stream again." He now noticed the basket she carried. "More cleaning to do, I'm afraid, with my sisters and all. If you're not going anywhere in particular, why don't you join me?"
Anubis nodded and they started off.
He and Khebit spent a wonderful day walking among the palm trees, jumping little rivulets, and listening to the birds sing. They laughed and talked about all that had happened since they'd last met. It was Khebit, though, who did most of the talking, as Anubis could say very little of where he came from. Whenever she asked, he told her as little as he could without sounding too evasive; he told her about his tutor (Thoth) and how at night he would often attend private court hearings (Judgement). Nevertheless, she listened, and asked him more questions, most of which he was forced to answer half truly. But, he decided, half the truth was better than none of the truth at all.
It's a logical decision, he told himself as they walked along the river, her washing done. She's a mortal, and I'm a neter. If I told her who I am it could upset everything. Thoth always insisted I tell the truth, but I'm sure he'd agree with me on this one. It's all the better that she not know.
Still, he couldn't help but wonder how she'd react if she knew exactly who she was walking with.
Later in the evening they sat side by side watching the sun set over the western cliffs, turning the desert scarlet. Anubis knew he'd have to leave soon, and though he was usually quite attached to his work--he always found the Judgement proceedings interesting--the thought of leaving upset him. He didn't want to go, not so soon. Could that have been one of the feelings Thoth had told him about?
Apparently she felt the same way, for as he stood, she stood also.
"Must you really go now?" she asked. "We've spent such a good day together--I haven't had such a time, not in a long while."
He nodded, feeling a little guilty for some reason, as if he were responsible for her feelings. "I have to go to a court hearing. I have to every night, and Tehuti--" he used an old version of Thoth's name, as he had his own, to evade suspicion "--will be waiting for me to take my lessons. I told him about you. It was he who gave me the day off."
She smiled. "He must know what it's like, then."
His heart thudded. She knows, too? "I promise I'll come back as soon as I can," he said. "Where could we meet?"
"In the clearing, by the stream, if you'd like. I've never seen anyone else go there."
"In the clearing, then. You'll know I'm coming when you hear a jackal howl at the dawn. I know it sounds strange," he admitted, "but believe me."
She didn't question him at all. "Whenever I hear it I'll be there waiting."
Anubis smiled at her now--a little timidly, as he still felt rather awkward--and turned to leave. She took his hand, stopping him. He turned back around.
She was still smiling at him. "Are you forgetting something?"
He looked around him, confused, then asked, "What?"
Khebit dropped her head shyly, but her eyes stayed locked on his.
Then he understood, and his face flushed. How stupid of him! He felt so foolish. But any feelings of foolishness gave way to embarrassment. This was only their second meeting, he had to admit, and already...? Was it a test or something? Would it be right for him to take advantage of it? What would Thoth do? What would his parents say? He tried to sort the questions out and answer them rationally, come to a logical conclusion based on the results, but he somehow couldn't get his thoughts straight. Why did all his logic abandon him when he needed it most!
He searched for a moment, and the answer seemed to come not from his head, but from deeper inside him. He made up his mind and finally stooped a little, still mildly embarrassed, and kissed her. It was only a short kiss, hardly even that, and quite harmless; but when he backed away he could see no feelings had been injured--still Khebit smiled at him, and she let go of his hand.
"I'll see you soon," she said.
"I'll come back soon," he assured her, and silently took his leave.
Khenti trotted along the north hall in the upper level of the royal palace, tail wagging, humming a little tune. The day had gone well for him; he'd woken up early, had a good scratch, and followed Anubis out of the city, watching him and that mortal woman. So far, everything seemed to be going as Hathor had hoped. The two were becoming quite good friends, and they'd met only twice. Khenti couldn't quite understand it, but he supposed it didn't matter, so long as everybody ended up happy.
In any case, he'd done his duties, and as soon as he reported his findings Hathor had promised him a choice cut of beef to eat. Already his mouth salivated. He could just about taste the meat, feel his teeth sinking into it...
He stopped and turned, stifling an annoyed growl as soon as he saw the speaker. He faced the person now and bowed as best he could, paw to breast, dipping his head to the floor. "King Horus! Your glorious presence illumines this dark hall."
Horus came walking toward him, looking tired but a little surprised at seeing him there. He didn't wear the Double Crown as the day's duties had ended; Khenti noticed he must have been to his chambers to change, as instead of the elaborate royal regalia he wore only a gold-edged kilt, his diadem, pectoral, and sandals. The wolf figured his servants must have insisted he at least wear the pectoral, for appearances.
Right now, though, Horus's look changed to one of mild annoyance on hearing Khenti's greeting. Khenti knew he disliked formalities and dripping praise of all kinds; if it hadn't been for circumstances he'd never have been king. Still, he performed much better than had Set.
"No more of that talk, Khenti. I hear enough every day from all the noble visitors I get."
"What brings you out here so late, Majesty, and so nearly naked? Lord Thoth would most probably scream to see you dressed so plainly."
Horus looked down at himself, as if wondering what was wrong. "I was going to go down to the river. It's stifling in here. I felt a swim in the water for once would be better than a dozen servants dumping water over my head. There would be more privacy, also." He looked back up at the wolf. "But enough distractions. What are you doing here? I thought you were out for the day."
"Oh, I was, but I decided to check in and see if they needed my help in the kitchens...which they didn't. Their loss, I suppose." Horus rolled his eyes. "But anyway, I was on my way to speak with the Goddess Hathor now. I have good news for her, and I believe I'll be leaving her place with a full stomach."
"Good news? What good news?"
Khenti paused briefly. So far Horus hadn't been informed of Hathor's little "experiment" on Anubis. Horus and Anubis were half-brothers, and very close; what would Horus think of the whole thing? He considered waffling, then decided it was best to come out with it; the hawk god was more intelligent than he seemed, even if he couldn't properly read minds yet. "Um...well...Goddess Hathor decided, Lord Anubis is most probably rather lonely, you see, as your royal duties most often keep you occupied--not that there's anything wrong with that, you're the king and all--ankh, udja, seneb!--so she decided, it would most probably be best if he should have some companionship, somebody to make certain he's never lonely, you see--"
"Khenti. You're being wordy, even for you. Lord Thoth would scourge you with a stick if he could hear how you're mangling the language. Out with it."
"Well...see...Lady Hathor decided to find your brother--the most magnificent prince, ankh udja seneb!--a potential mate, to keep him company, in the very least, from among the mortals. That's what's been taking up Anubis's time so often. Even though he's met with her only twice, including today."
"Mate?" Horus's brow furrowed. "From among the mortals? Why did Hathor decide this?"
"Oh, she's been thinking about it for a while now. Seeing with how lonely Anubis always is, you know. What could be so bad about it anyway? Certainly, it's a mortal, but mortals have needs, just the same as us--"
"But she's mortal, and we're neteru."
"Oh, no problem in that, it's happened before, just ask some of the other gods and they'll fill you in, all you have to do is disguise yourself or else make a very impressive entrance, blinding lights and all, so she can't possibly resist--"
"No, no. What I meant is, she's a mortal, and he...he's the one who takes immortality away."
Khenti cut himself off, suddenly understanding what Horus was saying. He'd never thought of it that way before. He actually felt a sharp pang realizing it--Anubis had fallen in love, it was true, with a mortal...but when the time came for her to go on--would he be able to perform his duties? On the one he loved?
Khenti ducked his head down, turning away from Horus with a mumbled apology and farewell, excusing himself from his presence. He trotted off down the hall again as before, still intending to see Hathor, but not with the same spring in his step. As little as he cared about mortals, he found himself wishing that Khebit were a little more neteri herself. He dreaded to think how the jackal god would feel once he figured it out.
Anubis would have to kill his beloved.
It was with a sort of smugness that Hathor went about her palace duties, knowing very well from scattered gossip--word traveled fast in these parts--that a change had come over Anubis. Her plan had to be working. He didn't stay to himself as much, and he seemed more vocal at gatherings. He'd even joked with Khenti Amenti in the Hall of Maati last night. But there was also something else. When he was doing his own chores, he seemed restless for some reason, and would continually look out across the fields, as if yearning to roam them. And Hathor knew why. Nephthys--his mother--didn't, though, and was becoming worried.
Hathor found this out one morning as she was examining herself in her large mirror, two of her ladies helping to brush her hair and apply her makeup. Her guard announced Goddess Nephthys--who otherwise dwelled in Amenti--and Hathor waved her in, knowing it must be important to travel so far. She smiled at the goddess as she came near but didn't rise.
"Good morning, Lady Nephthys."
"Good morning, Goddess...I hope I don't intrude..."
"Barely. Why have you come so far on this day? Does something trouble you?"
"I've come to ask you something...since no one else seems inclined to tell me." Nephthys averted her eyes as if embarrassed. "They keep telling me to ask you."
Hathor finally waved her women away, standing and straightening herself. "What would that be?"
Nephthys was wringing her hands as she always did when upset. "It's Anubis. He's been acting...unusual...lately. He can't keep his mind on his work as well, and he always seems to be going somewhere. Tell me, Hathor, what is it that's occupying him so?"
Hathor smiled at her and took her hands, pulling them gently apart. "Don't be worried. Anubis is just fine. In fact, he's more than fine. He's in love."
Nephthys gasped. "In love? My Anubis is in love?"
Hathor nodded. "He has been, for a while now. I'm so sorry that I forgot to tell you. There's nothing wrong with him. The only thing occupying his thoughts is a woman."
Nephthys looked relieved to hear this, then pleased. "This is so much to believe. I never thought of him being in love. Imagine! My little Anubis now in love. How quickly they grow up!"
"Too quickly, it seems, at times. But please, stop your worrying for Anubis, and just let nature take its course. He'll do fine. He's a fast learner."
Nephthys nodded. "I will. And thank you, Hathor, for doing this." She bowed and left the room. Hathor was pleased to notice that she did so in a sort of hurry, as if she were going to meet with somebody, and she had a feeling she knew who that somebody was.
Every day that he had the chance, Anubis left the palace and traveled out to the land of the mortals, always careful to have that day one of his attendant jackals pheal at the break of dawn. And every time he arrived she would be there, as she'd promised, waiting for him. Some days they talked. Most days they only walked in silence, hand in hand, not one word being spoken between them but much being understood. This day Khebit was telling him of her life, and how things had been for her and her family. What Anubis heard didn't please him.
"My father left when I was very young," she said as they walked along the streambed, "so my mother had to raise my sisters and me by herself. Things were never easy for us, but we managed." She sounded not in the least bit regretful, though her voice was distant. "I met someone once, a man, and he talked with me, and I with him. I was still quite young then, and naive, so I didn't understand much. I thought he truly cared for me as he came by often, cheering me up, or helping me out in some way when I needed it. My mother and I argued over it. I disagreed with what she said, and I left home to be with him. I thought it would be for the best. And things were good, for a while."
Anubis stayed silent, listening to her story.
"After some time though he began to become defensive, no matter what I did. So one day I decided to leave. He said he wouldn't let me. I told him that I could and I would, that I wanted to go back to my real home. That only made him angrier. 'You came with me, and now you stay,' he said, and when I tried to go for the door, he pulled me back."
She stopped for a moment, loosing one of the straps of her dress. Anubis started to pull away, but she stopped him.
"No, wait," she said, and leaned toward him. "Do you see? On my shoulder?"
He looked. There was a scar there.
"What is it from?" he asked, not really wishing to know.
She smiled slightly and pulled the strap back up. "He said I wasn't to leave, and to prove that he'd do anything to keep me there he cut me on the shoulder. It hurt for a long time. 'Try to leave again,' he said, 'and I'll hurt you even worse.' Of course I didn't wish to stay with him any longer, so soon I tried again to escape. He caught me in the act." A pause. "And there was one good thing about him. He kept his word."
Anubis said nothing. He felt anger, despair, pity, shame welling up inside.
Khebit looked down toward the stream. "I never blamed him for it. I only blamed myself, since I was the one who had gone with him; I was only getting what I deserved. He had every right."
No, he didn't, Anubis thought, but said nothing.
"Still, I knew I had the right of my own to leave him. One day I was finally able to do so. I went back home. My sisters were sympathetic, but my mother was angry with me. 'You shouldn't have gone with that man,' she told me. 'They're all alike; they all want the same thing. And that you can give them, but only for so long, and then you're worthless to them.' I believed her. Luckily I was never with child, so she never had to find out just how far things had gone."
"Do you still believe her?" Anubis asked. Khebit looked up at him. "Your mother, I mean. Do you still believe that? What she said?"
She smiled, as she had a million times before. "It remains to be seen." She stopped. "Let's rest here."
They sat down on a slope above the stream, the breeze rustling the palm fronds softly overhead. They were quiet for a long time, both lost in thought. Anubis went over in his mind everything she'd told him, and the despair in his heart only grew. Would she ever be able to trust him?
It was a while before he looked back at her, unable to answer his own question, and noticed that she was holding an amulet in her hands, looking it over carefully. It seemed familiar to him. He suddenly realized--it looked just like the jackal pendant he wore! He started and glanced down at his chest. When he looked at her again she was laughing.
"Missing something?" she teased.
"Give that back!" he yelled, and made a grab for it. She pulled away, holding it up in the air and away from herself so he couldn't reach.
"You'll have to get it from me first!" she exclaimed, scrambling to her feet and running away down the bank. Anubis gaped in disbelief before getting up as quickly as he could, following closely behind.
They ran along the bank, both laughing and shouting. Anubis would be seconds away from grabbing the amulet when Khebit would dodge behind a tree or run in another direction, losing him. He finally managed to overtake her as they made their way back to the stream, grabbing her arm and reaching for the necklace. But she pulled her arm back and tried to run. In doing so she accidentally tripped him, and they both fell down in the grass, laughing and gasping for breath. The amulet fell to the ground, forgotten.
They lay there for several moments, trying to stop laughing so hard. Anubis could never remember having such a good time. For a moment he wondered why. But only for a moment, because then he realized the situation he was in. He stopped laughing immediately, and looked down with some surprise.
There she was, looking back up at him. He was practically lying on top of her! He expected her to be indignant, but she smiled at him still. There was something about the look in her eyes that made his heart pound harder. She moved her gaze to the side, trying not to embarrass him further.
Well, get up! he told himself. You can't just stay here like this! What would Isis and Osiris say? What would Nephthys say? What would her mother say!
But for some reason he found that no matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn't move. He could only stare down at her with a sort of fascination, as if seeing something which he'd missed before. Noticing this, she looked up at him again.
Anubis blinked. He wanted to say something, perhaps apologize, but no words would come out.
And then, before he knew what he was doing, he did it.
He leaned down and kissed her. But not like before. This time it was real, and there was no holding back.
It seemed as if an eternity had gone by when he raised his head again. For a few seconds he stared at her, dazed, as if wondering what had happened, then it struck him and he gasped. He pulled away, getting up to his knees. She slowly followed, looking slightly dazed herself.
"I'm--I'm sorry," Anubis stammered, flushing. How humiliating! "I didn't mean to do that--I'm sorry if I upset you. I--I was only--"
Khebit smiled, brushing back a stray strand of hair, and put her hand on his arm. "It's all right...you don't need to apologize. I'm not angry with you."
He could only look at her. He could feel his ears burning. "I really didn't mean to do that."
Now she laughed. "It's all right! There's nothing wrong. I was actually hoping you would do that."
He started as he had when he'd realized his amulet was missing. "You--you wanted me to--to kiss you? Like that? But--but why?"
She gently tugged on his arm and they sat down. She picked up and handed the necklace back to him. "I thought you were taught not to trust me--to not trust people like me," Anubis said. He was thoroughly confused. "After what happened to you, I would think you'd never even want to be touched by me."
"That was long ago," Khebit replied. "Things change." She dropped her gaze again, looking out over the water. "And besides, there's something...different about you."
Anubis was the one to smile at that, flushing red again. "I thought the same thing about you when I first saw you."
She looked straight at him, her smile widening. "Things are good when it works both ways."
Anubis couldn't remove his gaze from hers. They looked at each other for what seemed to be a very long time. When he was finally able to break the stare, he looked up at the sky and realized how late it was. He rose.
"I have to go," he said, unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. She rose as well, giving him an understanding look.
"You can come back soon," she said, as if to reassure him that she'd still be there when he returned. He looked at the ground. She put her hand under his chin and lifted his head a little, and said, "Something to remember me by."
As if I could ever forget you? She kissed him this time. He felt his shyness melting away. Never had he felt this way before. Thoth had been right; just give it a little time, and then see what could happen. She stood back after a moment and they continued staring at each other. Finally, somewhat angry that he had to do so, Anubis turned and slowly walked away, leaving her alone in the clearing. He looked back once as he walked past the trees. Still she stood there, the moonlight framing her silhouette. She held up her hand, and waved to him.
He felt a sudden rush of emotion. To think that bookish old Thoth had once felt this as well! He waved back, and once more was on his way.
Time passed. Anubis felt that Thoth truly did understand, as the older god now often gave him more time off from his lessons. The only excuse he gave was that Anubis had already learned most of what he needed to know; Anubis, however, could tell that that wasn't the reason at all. As he looked around him he noticed that many of the others must know as well; from the way his parents, Isis, and Hathor looked at him as he passed he could tell also what was on their minds. It didn't bother him much. He wished to talk to someone about it, but couldn't think of who he could talk to. He didn't want to bring it up with Isis and Osiris since they, of course, were family; neither with Nephthys. Somehow speaking to them wouldn't be right. Hathor wasn't a good choice either, and Thoth was usually busy with his own affairs. Khenti Amenti didn't really seem to care one way or the other, and in fact always changed the subject, looking uncomfortable, whenever Anubis tried to bring it up. Anubis knew anyway that he couldn't keep a secret. So he decided to tell no one. Talking to Khebit herself was good enough.
It was about a month or two after they had first met that the early evening found Anubis and Khebit watching the sunset again. They needed few words to speak to each other, so all was quiet save for the chirping of night insects. Finally it was Khebit who broke the silence.
"You really are different from the others," she said softly. "How is it? What is it about you that sets you apart, made me notice you?"
Anubis couldn't answer her. He was aching to tell her the truth, but then what would she say? The god of death, courting a mortal? However, he needn't have worried, for she merely sighed and placed her head on his shoulder.
"I used to imagine that the stars were these crystals, and that they were the necklace of the sky," she said. "And the sun was the glowing pendant hanging in the middle. In the evening Lady Nut would take off her necklace, so the sun would disappear, and she would hang it up on the horns of the moon, so only the strands of it could be seen."
"I never had such an imagination," Anubis admitted.
She looked at him. "Come now. Everybody has. You must, especially. Tell me, what do you think of the stars? What do they make you think of?"
He was silent for a long time, then spoke. "Please don't think me silly...I used to pretend they were the eyes of the spirits I could never see, hiding up in the darkness of the sky. I would call to them to come down, but they only winked at me, as if it were some kind of private joke, and then shut themselves in sleep as the sun rose." He flushed. "I know, it's ridiculous."
"That's not ridiculous. I like that idea, that we're never alone." She pointed upward. "That one there. What spirit is that?"
Anubis peered at it. "That's the spirit of a bird. You can tell by how light it is."
"Then that one must be a lion," Khebit added. "The bright fiery one over there."
"There's a moth. The pale, flickering one above the trees."
They went on in this manner for a time, naming the spirits and once in a while telling stories of how they came to be housed in the sky. Anubis stared up into the darkened vault for a long while, lost in thought. How long had it been? How far had he to go? Did she feel the same way as he did? He hoped that she did. He prayed to the star spirits that it was true. He couldn't bear it if it were otherwise. After some time he brought his thoughts back to the earth, and looked at her.
She was gazing at the stars as well. They glowed in her eyes and when she turned he could see the spirits reflected therein. No words were spoken. None needed to be. He leaned toward her and their mouths touched.
The stars were silent in their own little world. The time passed slowly, and the night was witness as their minds, and more, became one.
Anubis didn't return home that night.
In the early morning Nephthys paced the halls of Osiris's palace, wringing her hands with distress. Isis had awoken early, and as she came down the hall, yawning, she noticed her sister's state. She went immediately to her, taking her arm.
"Sister, what is it? Is something wrong?"
Nephthys turned to look at her. Her face was a mask of worry. "It's Anubis. You saw that he missed Judgement again. He didn't return last night, here or to Horus's palace. He didn't show up in Ra's palace either. I waited for him, to ask how his day had gone, but he never came back. He must still be with the mortals. Oh Isis, what if something's happened to him? What if he can't come back?"
Isis gently smiled at her. "Don't worry about Anubis. He's grown now. And I doubt it if he's in any sort of trouble. You've seen how enamored he is. It's to be expected if he decides not to come home for a night or two."
Nephthys looked at her sister, eyes widening. "You mean--you really think that he would--?"
Isis smiled knowingly. "He is a man now, Nephthys. They all go through it. Even Anubis."
Nephthys sighed with relief. "To think that I was worried about him, again! How foolish of me to act so all of the time." She smiled wistfully. "I wonder how he's feeling right now. Is there magic for him?"
Her sister gave a soft laugh. "There's always magic when love's involved. Watch for him to come back soon. Don't ask him anything, just look in his eyes. He won't be able to hide it."
Nephthys nodded. "I should know. No one can!"
Anubis awoke around dawn. He opened his eyes sleepily, trying to figure out where he was, and then realized that he was still near the edge of the trees. He turned his head slightly, and Khebit was there beside him, still asleep. He put his head back down upon the grass, staring up into the brightening sky. It seemed as if they'd been there on the slope forever.
He sighed, knowing that he'd have to go back very soon; the others were probably wondering where he was. Should he wake her? He decided against it, and instead took out the amulet she'd taken from him and put it in her hand. As he stood she stirred slightly but didn't open her eyes. He dressed himself, and made certain she was covered. Then he stared down at her for several moments, trying to burn her into his memory, as she was right now, in this moment.
It was no use. Not even a memory could ever be as wonderful as the real thing. With another sigh he turned back to the trees, following again the path he by now knew so well.
Khebit, lost to sleep, went on dreaming.
Anubis could tell by the way Thoth looked at him when he returned that he knew. Immediately he felt embarrassed again--he wasn't sure why--but Thoth only gave a slight smile and said nothing other than that they had missed him last night, and he didn't have his next lessons ready yet so he was free to do as he chose for the time being. Strange...
Wondering if anyone else could tell, he carefully examined them when he knew they weren't looking. Isis definitely knew already. There was no denying that. He'd guessed from the beginning that she'd be one of the first to find out. Nephthys seemed to have an idea, for when she noticed him looking at her she would smile and turn away. As he walked into the Hall of Maati Sobek snorted for some reason, and when the younger god shot a look at him he was staring at him sideways, with one eye narrowed, as if examining some strange new creature. Even Sobek! He felt that Osiris would know but thankfully his father showed no sign of it, and he felt relieved because of that. He wasn't sure why. And even Upuat, the silent guard of the Hall, gave him an odd glance as he exited. The look reminded Anubis of something that he couldn't quite place. Hadn't he seen that look somewhere, long ago? He shook his head. No, just his imagination. He left the Hall to go back to Horus's palace.
Once back in his own rooms he sat in front of his mirror, a larger one like Hathor's, and stared at himself. Did it really show that much? So that even Sobek could tell? Was his mind that open? He ran his finger along a groove in the table, wishing again for someone he could talk to. He put his head down, staring sleepily into the copper surface.
It soon seemed as if the room were no longer there, and he could see his door, within the mirror, opening and his ka entering. It didn't surprise him in the least. He simply raised his head and smiled at himself, and his ka, on the other side of the mirror, smiled back. The other Anubis sat down and spoke.
"You want to talk," he said, "so I'm here."
"I'm glad for that," Anubis replied. "I'm only wondering. Am I really that open? I didn't know it showed so much."
"You can never prevent that," his ka answered him. "It will always show no matter what you do. Love is next to impossible to hide."
"Then how do the others do it so well?"
"They've had experience. You haven't. So don't try to hide it. Why would you want to? Everybody's happy for you and there's no reason to be embarrassed about that." His ka rose, stepped back a few paces, raised his hand in a gesture of farewell and slowly vanished.
Anubis opened his eyes. He was alone again; the only other one in the room was his reflection, staring back at him sleepily. He yawned and stretched his arms, got up and went to his bed, then lay down and drifted off to sleep.
He reminded himself to listen to what his ka said, and soon forgot all about the furtive glances of that first night. He went to meet Khebit any time he could, and she was always there waiting for him. At first he had expected her to stay away for a while, as he wasn't yet certain how she felt about that night--he wasn't sure how he felt, himself--but she showed up the next time he called, and they went walking together without a word being said. She gave him back the jackal amulet with an indescribable smile. She didn't seem sorry, so neither did he. He was only glad to be with her.
One day he had sent the jackal to howl, and when he went to visit Khebit he found her sitting on a boulder at the edge of the clearing. She looked up as he approached, and he saw she was wringing her hands. She smiled at him in greeting but she seemed anxious for some reason, and he felt worry worm its way insidiously into his mind. He went to meet her, and she stood. As soon as he'd said his greetings she spoke.
"I have something to tell you," she said. "I don't know how you'll take it, so I won't be angry whichever way you do."
Anubis was becoming very perplexed, his emotions warring inside. Is she going to end it? Yes, that's what she's going to do. How wrong I was to think it would last! Why did I ever get my hopes up? I could never be with somebody like her...
He felt his heart sinking and found himself replying to her words falteringly.
"What...what do you have to tell me?" he asked, not wanting to hear, for as soon as he did he knew it would be over.
Khebit clasped her hands and took a breath. "Maybe you already know. It might not be a surprise to you. But I have to tell you to be sure. Anpu, I'm..." She trailed off as if at a loss, then her hands turned palms inward to press against her belly. Her voice came out quiet. "I'm expecting."
It took a moment for the full import of what she'd said to strike him. He blinked at her, stupefied. "Ex...expecting? You mean you're...you're...pregnant?"
Anubis felt his heart, before sinking even lower, start to rise again, first slowly, then faster and faster. She's pregnant! his mind exclaimed. She's going to have a child, her child--our child! Now he was the one at a loss for words, but only for a moment or two. Then he could only raise his arms slightly and stammer, "That's--that's so wonderful!"
The corners of Khebit's mouth turned upwards very slightly and she peered at him. "You're happy?"
"Of course I am!" Anubis exclaimed. "I never--I never expected this! I never even thought about it! But now--now when I think of what will happen--" He laughed, unable to think straight. "I'm so surprised and so happy to hear!"
Khebit sighed, he guessed with relief. She seemed to have been uncertain if he would be pleased or upset by the news. "I'm glad to hear it pleases you so."
He laughed again and embraced her tightly, causing her to laugh as well. "How could it possibly not!"
And his mind, again--Thoth was so right. Just give it some time, and then you'll see...
Nephthys saw the change in her son when he returned to the Hall of Maati that night. He responded cheerfully every time someone spoke, and there almost seemed to be a glow to him. She'd never seen him this way before. She was so excited that she left the Hall and went straight to find Isis to tell her the news.
"Isis! Sister!" she exclaimed as she arrived at her sister's rooms, the guard letting her in. Isis was preparing herself for Judgement, and looked up at her as she came near. "Isis, have you seen Anubis today?"
"No, I haven't. I didn't even know he was back. Why, has something happened?"
"Something most certainly has! You should see him, Isis, you should see him! I've never seen him so--so happy! Surely something has happened between him and this mortal!"
Isis smiled at her. "I told you not to worry. Anubis can handle almost anything. Don't bother him too much about it or he might become shy again. If he really wants you to know he'll tell you."
Nephthys nodded and went back to the Hall as quickly as she could, to see her son.
She could barely wait until Judgement was over so she could follow him to Horus's palace and inquire of him what had happened. She knew she shouldn't, as Isis had advised, but she was dying to know. She was just reaching up to knock on his door when it flew open, and she and Anubis found themselves staring at each other.
"Mother!" he said. "I didn't expect you to come here. Come in, I was just going out but I can stay a while."
"Thank you," Nephthys said, entering. Anubis closed the door and turned to look at her. His eyes were aglow but he said nothing, and instead seemed to be waiting for her to speak, unable to completely keep a smile from his face. Her curiosity getting to her, she could hold it in no more.
"Tell me, Anubis," she said, "how are things between you and this mortal Khebit?"
"How are things," Anubis echoed. "How are things." He was trying out the sound of the words for some odd reason. "How are things between us. Between us. I'll tell you how are things between us! Today, Mother, today Khebit gave me the most wonderful news!"
"Really?" Nephthys prompted, clasping her hands. "What is it?"
He laughed crazily, throwing back his head and crowing. If she hadn't known any better she'd have thought he was drunk, although Anubis didn't drink. He appeared to be drunk only on his emotions. "She told me--she told me today that she's going to have a child! Our child!"
Nephthys jumped and cried out, embracing him. "Oh Anubis, that is wonderful news!"
He let her go and stood back, holding up one hand. "But that's not the best of it!" he added. "After she told me, it seemed only right, so I asked for her hand, and she accepted!"
Nephthys could barely contain her joy. "You'll marry her! She'll be your wife! Oh, Anubis, that's wonderful!" She hugged him again, and he laughed so hard he could hardly catch his breath. He hugged her back, nearly lifting her from the floor. She doubted he could see them, but she wouldn't have minded if he'd noticed the tears in her eyes, as for once they were not from sadness.
Thoth knew something was not right when he received a messenger at his private quarters, a dark hawk which flew in and landed upon his balcony. Picking it up and examining it, he determined that it was not one of God Ra's, nor had it come from the underworld; the message attached to its leg proclaimed its owner. Meskhent, goddess of fate.
He frowned to himself as he read the message, a simple request to come see her. It wasn't what the letter said that bothered him, but rather, what it didn't say. Meskhent was a solitary goddess, dwelling and spinning her fortunes alone. She did not call for visitors lightly. It must be important.
Feeling an uneasiness take hold, he nonetheless finished his duties and set out to meet her as soon as possible.
Meskhent lived not far from Ra's palace, yet on a different sort of plane, eternally dim and never quite touched by the golden light of the sun palace. She was not a goddess of darkness, though she dwelled within it, and as Thoth approached her solitary quarters, deep within her plane, he had to use his staff to light the way. The crystals glowed and illuminated a narrow path along the black floor.
He came to the dark chamber in which she lived, and dimmed his own light. She sat before an oil lamp which illuminated only her face. Smoke rose up from it in twisting, breaking patterns. He paused by the doorway.
She seemed to start a little, as if out of a trance, and turned her head to look at him. Her eyes softened when she saw him, and she nodded; he came closer.
"Lord Thoth. I thank you for coming."
"There is an important reason you call me here, Goddess." He sat down, crossing his legs and laying the staff across his lap. "I know you accept few visitors."
"The better to ensure the purity of fate."
"Yet I do seem to remember you breaking your oath once, in the past."
She cast her eyes down. "Perhaps it was a mistake for me to warn you of the fate that awaited Lord Osiris. It mattered little in the end, though. So perhaps what I wish to tell you now will matter little as well."
He frowned. "When you spoke of Osiris, you didn't do it lightly. He became one of the greatest of us that lived and then died. Whom do you speak of now, who could rival him in importance?"
"I speak actually of one of little importance, compared to any of our number. Her passing will result in very little change amongst the neteru, and in even lesser change amongst her own kind."
"Her own kind." Thoth's frown grew as he began to realize. "You speak of a woman. A mortal."
Meskhent tipped her head forward, once.
"The woman of Anubis."
She turned back to the flickering lamp. "I received a vision today."
He kept his voice level. "You saw her fate?"
The goddess nodded. Rather than speak to him, she waved her hand over the lamp. The smoke broke and re-formed into a vague shape, a single hieroglyph, which coalesced and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Thoth had invented the language himself so he knew immediately what the symbol meant. Death.
He was silent for a moment before speaking. "Are you certain?" he asked, quietly.
"The smoke never lies. It told the truth for Lord Osiris, although I tried to prevent it. It tells the truth now."
"'Joy begets sorrow,'" she said, as if quoting something. Then, in a murmur, "She will die as she gives birth to her child. To the child of Anubis."
Thoth sighed silently. He ran his finger along one of the crystals set into his staff, staring into space. As the god of wisdom, he had always hated the feeling of having no answers, no solutions. There were things he could not change, and he accepted them. He didn't like that he had to accept this.
He looked up at her again. "Why do you tell me this, Goddess? In the long run, Khebit is nothing to us."
"Perhaps. But she is everything, to one of us." Her eyelids lowered and she trailed her fingers through the wisping smoke. "I will not ask if you understand...for I know that you do. We all do. Even I. This means nothing to Lord Anubis, but when Lord Sokar granted him the duty of becoming the Deathbringer, he merely unshouldered the heaviest burden upon a young boy's back." She fell silent a moment, before adding, in nearly a whisper, "I pity him."
The two sat in silence for a while, thinking their own thoughts. When Thoth rose to his feet and left her darkened room, she merely waved her hand through the smoke and stared into the flame, as if they had never spoken.
A strange thing happened one day when Anubis and Khebit were out. It began to rain. Not a heavy rain, but a sprinkle of droplets from the sky, which sent them laughing and running under the trees, settling on the ground. Khebit held out her hand to feel the drops hit her fingers, and peered upwards.
"I've never seen it rain before! Have you?"
"A few times. But it was when I lived elsewhere. I've never seen it happen here. Odd, isn't it?"
Khebit leaned back against a tree and sat looking up at the sky. Much time had passed, and her hand rested against the swell of her belly; Anubis had to stop himself from staring at her. He had the feeling that the moment he turned away, she might disappear, and he would find none of this had ever happened at all. Yet she seemed real enough to him. Why did he keep thinking that?
She noticed his state and turned and smiled at him. He flushed. "He's kicking," she said, and he turned back again. "Here, put your hand down and feel it."
He did so, curious to see for himself. After a moment something pressed against his palm and then vanished. His eyes grew wide and he beamed.
"I can feel it! How strange! How does it feel to you?"
"Different," she said, and they laughed together this time. "Have you thought of any name?"
He shook his head. "Not yet. It might be a boy or a girl."
"It doesn't really matter right now." She paused. "Tell me something, Anpu."
He looked at her with a question in his eyes.
"Tell me about your family."
"Yes...you know, your parents, brothers or sisters, close friends. All I really know about you is that you seem to study and go to court often."
Anubis thought for a moment, his heart speeding up. What to tell her? He detested lying, but he knew it wouldn't be right to let her know who he was...that would end it all. He found himself walking near the edge, giving her more half-truths out of necessity. "Well...my father's a--noble, if you could call him that. He presides over the hearings; you could call him a judge."
"And your mother?"
"She's his wife, of course."
"No, really. What's she like?"
"Well...actually, they've separated." He rubbed the back of his neck, fumbling for the right thing to say. He couldn't very well tell her about how he was born; that was just an added obstacle. As if being the god of death wasn't bad enough, he was also a bastard. "He's...remarried. His 'new' wife...she raised me for many years."
"Oh, they separated when you were young?"
"Yes, you could say that..."
"What is she like?"
"She's pretty...she's well versed in magic, and I know that children love her."
"They sound like a wonderful family...what are their names?"
He felt like panicking at that, but quickly responded, "Asar and Aset."
"Do you have any brothers?"
"Yes, one...my half-brother actually...he's nobility also."
"So doesn't this make you nobility?"
"Oh...well, I suppose it does!" He gave an embarrassed smile and she laughed softly.
"And your mother? Has she passed away?"
"Oh--no, no, she's still with us! Her name is Nebet-het. We...hummmmm...I didn't know about her for a long time. But we're getting closer now."
"What is she like?"
"She's pretty quiet and meek, I suppose...but she's very kind and understanding."
"Have you any aunts or uncles?"
He bit the inside of his mouth, surprised by the brief surge of anger that flared up inside him. "One. Nebet-het's husband. He doesn't like us very much, and he and Nebet-het haven't had any children. He and my brother had a falling out and he...left the household some time back."
Khebit blinked, and he realized his anger had come through in his words. He cursed himself mentally. "Oh. I'm...I'm sorry to hear that."
"No, it's all right...I'm not sorry...it was for the best, in this case, believe me."
"All right." She seemed a little relieved knowing she hadn't said something offensive. "Now, at least I know a little about your fami--" She cut herself off abruptly with a gasp and a look of surprise, putting a hand to her stomach.
Anubis sat up. "What is it?"
"I think maybe--maybe it's getting ready to come," she whispered.
He stood up and took her arm, helping her to her feet. "Where in the village is your home? I'll walk you there."
She took a deep breath now and let it out. Her grip on his arm loosened a bit. "No, I'm all right...I think it was just a false alarm."
"False alarm? Are you sure? Does that happen?"
"Of course it does, silly. All the time. Please don't worry. I do think I should go home now though, just in case. You have your court meeting soon, don't you? Perhaps you should go before you're late."
He stood back a bit, anxious, hoping she wasn't trying to get rid of him. But perhaps she really did just need to be alone for a while. He decided to trust her. "Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"Of course I will. You have your hearings to go to. I'll be fine, believe me."
"When it starts, I'll be there," Anubis blurted out, not even explaining how he would know. "I swear I will."
Khebit smiled at him and squeezed his hand lightly. "I believe you."
He let go of her hand and she walked away from the trees, back toward the river. He watched her go, telling himself his anxiety had no home in his heart. She would be back. She would be there, for him.
He put his hands up to his mouth. "Remember, I promise I'll be there," he called after her, just in case she wasn't certain. "I promise!"
"Oh, no!" Nephthys cried, her hands pressing against tear-filled eyes. "No, no, my poor little Anubis!"
Thoth stood near the door to the goddess's room, silent. Upuat stood behind him in the hall with a sort of scowl on his lupine face, and Isis was trying to calm her sister down. Thoth had given her the news, and in an effort to soften the blow she had given it to Nephthys herself. Her efforts had been in vain.
"He'll be heartbroken!" Nephthys sobbed, sinking down onto her bed. "The first time for him and this has to happen--I wanted it to be so special for him, and now this--!"
"I know it will hurt for a while," Isis said. "For a long time, in fact...but Anubis can get over it. You've seen what he can do already. You know how he was when Osiris was killed. He did overcome it, eventually."
"But Osiris will live forever, no matter what!" Nephthys cried. "We're neteru, gods. Khebit is not. She's a mortal and must die; she can never come back. And you know the rule. You know it's forbidden for the gods to converse freely with the spirits of the dead."
Isis paused. She well remembered the "rule" that Nephthys spoke of...an unwritten but longstanding one. The only gods able to directly communicate with those in the realm of Aalu, Paradise, were those who dwelled there. Though the god of death, Anubis lived in the land of the upper world. Even as an underworld god, he did not live within Aalu as Osiris did. He had no right to travel there.
This was assuming Khebit had led a virtuous life and would go to live in Aalu in the first place...what if it were the other way around?
Isis didn't want to think about it...
"The rule made to be broken," someone growled, and she looked up to see that Upuat had spoken. Thoth looked at him as well but by then he had turned and walked away down the hall. The ibis god moved further into Nephthys's room.
"Goddess," he said softly, "someone must tell Lord Anubis. He can't find out on his own."
Nephthys grasped her sister's arms. "Isis, Isis, please, you do it!" she pleaded.
Isis started. "But you're his mother, Nephthys--"
"You were his mother for years!" Nephthys cried. "He trusts you more. He knows how to talk to you, and you know how to talk to him. I, all I can do is cry for him." She swept tears from her eyes before grasping Isis's arms again. "Please, Sister, tell him this. He has to hear it from you. He's always been closest to you."
Isis sighed but offered no other complaint. She squeezed her sister's arm and lowered her eyes. "All right, Nephthys...I'll tell him. But I want you to be there for him also. I have the feeling he'll need to see you." She carefully pulled her hands from Nephthys's and stood, taking her sister's arm instead. Nephthys rose; Thoth moved aside for them, and they left the room together.
Isis and Nephthys sat in the dimness, both occasionally looking at each other with sorrowful eyes. They were waiting for Anubis to return. They had been there in his rooms for about an hour when they heard his door open, and they looked up. He entered, softly closed the door, and turned around. He looked surprised to see them there.
"Mother? Aunt Isis?" he asked, looking from one to the other.
Isis stood. "Hello, Anubis. How was your day?"
"It went well. Khebit says the baby is due any time now. I can't wait to see it, to see if it looks like her at all..." His voice faded as he noticed their downcast looks. "What is it? What's wrong?"
Isis stepped forward, putting her hand on his arm. "Anubis, we have something to tell you. And it's not good to hear."
He looked at Nephthys. She stifled a sob and sank back down into her seat, hiding her face.
"What's going on?" he asked, his voice growing panicked. "Something's wrong! Tell me what it is!"
Nephthys shook her head and turned away. "Anubis," Isis said again. "Your Khebit--she's expecting her baby any time now?"
"I just told you that!" he barked. "What's wrong?"
Isis took both of his hands now, trying to keep him calm. She'd had much practice before, but this was almost too much even for her to bear. "Anubis, it's been determined--Goddess Meskhent has prophesied--that Khebit is to die in childbirth."
Anubis said nothing. His tensed shoulders sank and he stared at her, eyes wide and disbelieving. Nephthys finally uncovered her own eyes to see his reaction. For a moment he did nothing but stand there, dazed, then he stepped back slowly. Isis's hands fell from his own.
"No," he said, simply.
Isis moved toward him. "Anubis, we're so sorry--we didn't find out until earlier today--"
"Noooo," Anubis whined pathetically, almost stumbling now. "She can't die, she can't. She's going to be all right, she told me herself. Nothing's going to go wrong."
Isis stopped now, shaking her head. By now her own eyes were wet. "I wish I could say otherwise, Anubis, but it's so. It has to be so. And you...you have to do it."
She started when he howled and dropped to his knees, covering his eyes. He said nothing more but only cried. He soon couldn't take even sitting up anymore, and collapsed.
"Anubis," Nephthys said faintly, stooping toward him, her own tears falling on his shoulders.
He didn't answer. Both goddesses tried to get him to stand, or say something, but when he did speak he made no effort to move.
"Just go away," he whimpered, face still hidden.
"Please Anubis, just talk to me about it--" Nephthys started.
"Just go!" he sobbed. "Just go away and leave me alone. I need to be alone."
Isis tugged on her sister's arm to lead her away. Nephthys got to her feet, not taking her gaze from him.
"Remember, Anubis, I'm always here for you to talk to," she murmured, both of them leaving the room.
For a long time Anubis did nothing else but lie there, weeping and agonizing over what could have possibly gone wrong. Everything had seemed so perfect. It must have been his fault, for expecting it to last. Once something so perfect came along, he knew it always had to be taken away from him. And then he berated himself for thinking this, when it was Khebit he should have been pitying.
It was very late--he was certain that Judgement must already have started without him again--when he dragged himself to bed, where he eventually cried himself to sleep.
Anubis couldn't build up the courage to visit Khebit the next day. All of that day he did nothing but stalk moodily around the palace, saying nothing to anyone. Everybody left him alone, knowing well what had happened--or more like what was to happen. As evening came on and the deities moved along to the Hall of Maati, it was Thoth who finally took the chance of speaking to him.
"Prince," he called out, and Anubis, readying his scales, turned his head. Thoth approached and gave a small bow before saying, "You must go visit Khebit tomorrow."
Anubis's face grew dark. "Why?" he asked, his voice bitter. "Now all I should do is try to keep as far away from her as possible. After all," he added, "it is the rule."
"I'll make a brief exception for you, Highness," Thoth replied. Anubis looked up at him, a slight hope in his eyes. Thoth held up his hand and shook his head. "But not much. Khebit still must die. This Goddess Meskhent has already decreed, and even I cannot change that fact. But I will allow you a day with her to say any goodbyes you might have."
Anubis looked down at the pan of the scales, where the heart of the deceased was to be held. "I...I can't tell her goodbye, Thoth. I promised her I would be there. I can't break that promise."
"Nor will you. You will be there because you must be there at the time as it is. It's up to you to tell her anything you feel she must know. You're the only one who can do that now. If there are things that have not been said between the two of you, now is the time."
He bowed again and took up his place beside the scales as the others began filtering in, murmuring and talking. Judgement began. Anubis dutifully weighed the hearts of the dead against the Feather of Truth, but in reality the only weighing he could think of was that weighing heavily in his own heart.
She was there, waiting for him. For some reason he'd almost hoped she wouldn't be there. But she was.
Khebit stood as she had for what seemed like a million, yet not enough, times before. He smiled slightly and went over to her. They embraced, but after a moment she broke it and looked into his eyes.
"Anpu, what's wrong?" she asked. Only from the way she said it, it didn't sound much like a question.
He tried to smile wider but knew he failed miserably. "There's nothing wrong...I just had an argument with someone in my family, is all. Nothing more."
"Is it that distressing?"
He shrugged. "I think you might know the answer to that..."
She nodded. "I do...I won't ask any more unless you wish to tell me."
"I think I'll just try to forget about it...right now I'd like to be with you. Is there anywhere in particular you'd like to go? Anywhere at all?"
He believed she could sense the finality in his voice but said nothing. "Anywhere you want to."
He was silent for a long time. Their last day together, and where to go? It had seemed like such an insignificant decision to make before, but now it meant the world to him. He sighed and lifted his eyes to meet hers.
"To the edge of the stream. Where we first met."
She took his hand and they made the short walk to the other side of the clearing. When they reached it she looked at him quizzically. He sat down on the grass and she followed. For a while they just stared into the cool fresh water flowing past. He didn't know what to say to her. He couldn't bring himself to tell her who he really was. He knew that would only make it worse, bring the end on all that much faster. A mortal could never love the god of death.
So he said nothing, and she responded by doing the same. They only sat holding each other's hand, silent by the shady stream. And when he finally took his leave, kissing her without feeling it, he told her nothing of what was to happen. He'd already made up his mind.
He would keep his promise. And he would be there for his child, as well.
It came suddenly, and Khebit knew it was time.
She had been doing her chores around the house, cleaning and sorting, when she felt the first pang. She'd had no intention of alarming anyone, but in reaction she dropped the clay bowl she'd been holding. It shattered against the floor and alerted her sisters, who came running. She tried to stoop to pick up the pieces, but the pain came again and she doubled over with a gasp. Her older sister took her arm.
"Is it coming?" she asked.
Khebit nodded, taking deep breaths.
"Hold on a little bit," her sister said, and the three of them made their way to her room. Her mother, hearing the noise, followed. There they helped her to her bed, one of them propping her up with pillows while the other set about gathering everything that was necessary. They knew nothing of the fifth presence in the room with them, silently standing in the shadows, invisible to them all, watching. Her mother placed some more pillows behind her, doing her best to make her comfortable.
"I knew this would happen," she said as she paced around the room nervously. "I told you but you wouldn't listen. You went through it all once before but even that didn't teach you. Men want only one thing from us, and once they've gotten it, that's the end. We're of no use to them anymore. Especially if they get you with child. That's when they leave the quickest. They might act like they're pleased, but they never are. It's all an act. They never keep their promises."
"He'll be here," Khebit said faintly. "I know he will."
Her mother snorted and gave a short, harsh laugh that wasn't at all amused. "Look around you! Do you see him? He's never coming back."
Anubis shifted. Don't believe her, Khebit.
"Anpu will keep his promise," she said, before the next pain came, and she was unable to say further.
All the while through it the god could do nothing but stand still in the corner awaiting the final moment, and thinking over all of the time that had passed. It had been almost a year, but it was ending too soon. Far too soon. He'd never been able to tell her everything he'd wanted to--he had lied to her all the way along--and now he'd never have the chance to set things straight. Yet he had to fulfill his promise to her, even if she didn't know he was there.
He could tell when it was almost over. Khebit screamed, and the sound drilled into his soul, unleashing a well of guilt. Why do you have to go through all of this, just to die? he cried desperately. When will it all be over?
And then he knew. It was all over when he decided it was.
Swallowing, he crept to the edge of the bed; then, realizing that no one could see him, he stood straight and looked down at her. Even now, propped against her sisters' arms and panting with pain, she remained as beautiful as ever she was, and he had to bow down to place his head next to hers, tears welling up in his eyes. He kissed her, knowing she couldn't feel it, but hoping she could feel that he was there.
"I've kept my promise, Khebit," he murmured to her. "I promised I'd be here, and I am. You can't see me or hear me, but I'm here, and I always meant to be with you. Always."
"It's coming!" her mother exclaimed. Khebit cried out and clutched her sisters' shoulders. Anubis stared down at them. He felt his heart in his throat. He had to do it now. He pulled a flute out from a notch on his belt and knelt down beside her.
Gently stroking her arm, he whispered, "Goodbye, Khebit."
He put the flute to his lips and blew. A long, low, mournful note emerged, weaving into a sad, simple song.
There was a cry. The mother stood back, rising to her feet and holding a tiny squirming shape in her arms while her sisters eased her back against the pillows. "A--a daughter!" she gasped, eyes wide and streaming. "You have a daughter!"
Khebit looked up at her and smiled weakly. "Such...a beautiful...baby..." she said, voice faint, and then, as if she merely went to sleep, her eyes closed, and her head fell softly to the side. She let out one last breath, and went still.
Her sisters frowned and stared at her. Her mother couldn't tell what had happened at first. She still held the crying newborn, very nearly laughing at the sight of her, and turned back to her daughter. "What will you name her, Khebit? Have you a name? Khebit?... Khebit!"
With another gasp she handed the baby to one of the sisters and rushed to her daughter's side, taking her head in her arms and shaking her. "Khebit! Answer me! Khebit!"
A scream. The younger sister leapt back, staring at the corner of the room. The older sister and their mother looked as well and took up her cry, seeing the source of her terror. A jackal had appeared suddenly out of nowhere, and with a leap it snatched the baby from the woman's arms, jumped from the window, and vanished.
Nephthys waited in her son's rooms, anxious and worried. She hadn't seen him all day. He hadn't seemed willing to go see his Khebit one last time, so she didn't know where he could be and this distressed her. Hearing a soft noise from the direction of the door, her ears pricked and she stood with some surprise.
In the dimness stood Anubis. She could barely see him as he was in the midst of the shadows, but he stepped forward as she watched. She could tell that he had been crying. Then she noticed the baby he held. She gasped, and went forward with a start.
Anubis stopped and said nothing as she took the child from his arms and cradled it. The baby made a soft sound and reached up a tiny hand. Nephthys nearly drowned in a tide of memories. "Anubis, is this the baby?"
He nodded. "A daughter." He offered nothing more.
She sat down, holding the small bundle. Anubis sat down on the floor, cross legged and stiffly as if he were under some kind of spell. "She's beautiful, Anubis."
He said nothing.
She looked at him. He was staring at the baby in a strange way. Nephthys had seen that look before. She remembered. Upuat. Every time she had seen him he had stared at Anubis in that same strange way. And Set had also, once, when he had first set eyes on him. It was a stunned look, but also the look of someone who was trying very hard to bring their old memories into the light. But also mixed in with it was a deep sorrow--the look she assumed she had had in her own eyes when she had found out the truth about Anubis. She rocked the baby slowly from side to side, cooing softly.
"What will you name her, Anubis?"
He kept staring. Finally he said, in a faltering voice, "I...don't know."
"You can keep her mother's memory alive," Nephthys offered. "Her name was Khebit. Give her a name like Khebit."
He shook his head. "I can't do that. It hurts too much. I can't live with that reminder every day."
"Then it doesn't have to be Khebit exactly. Let it be like Khebit." She looked up. "She needs a name, Anubis. What do you think Khebit would have named her?"
Her son was silent for a very, very long time. When he spoke, it was in a quiet voice, but she could hear him perfectly in the silence of the room.
"Kebehut," he said. "I want her to be called Kebehut."
Clear Water. Nephthys smiled and turned her eyes back to the baby. "Then Kebehut it will be." She held the baby out. "Take her, Anubis. She's yours."
He didn't move. He just looked at the baby for a moment, then up at her. This time there was a faint terror of the unknown, the terror of failure, in his voice. "I don't know what to do."
Nephthys looked perplexed. "You don't know how to take care of her? I could help you, if you want it. So could Isis. She could help you very much, and she'd be glad to."
He shook his head. She felt slightly crushed though she wasn't sure why. But then he said, "I want it to be you."
She looked up at him again with surprise. "Me--? What do you mean?"
He gave her an imploring look. "Isis told me how you used to rock me to sleep at night sometimes when I was restless, and how much you wanted a child but couldn't have one. How you gave me up to save me. I want you to help me. I know you can help, and I know Kebehut would love you. I can't do it alone. I need you to help me. I don't even know what to do." He fell back again, unspeaking, tears welling up in his eyes and streaming down his face.
The goddess felt a great rush of happiness in her heart. "Of course I will, Anubis. I'd be honored to." She held the baby close, imagining her to be her own. And in a way, she was. "Of course I'll help you. Just ask me what you need and it's yours."
Even through his tears Anubis managed to smile at her. "Isis was right when she told me about you."
"What did she tell you?" asked Nephthys.
He bowed his head but she could still see his smile. "She always said you had a way with children."
Her own words to Isis, in the past. She put her head down close to the baby and hugged her. This time, she wouldn't give up on her son.
Judgement came. Nephthys left Kebehut in the care of Hathor in order to attend, to see how Anubis would fare. He would have to come face to face with Khebit again, and this time he would be unable to say a word to her of who he was or how he felt. She took her place beside Isis and stood quietly. She lifted her eyes just barely to look at her son.
He knelt next to the scales, trying to avoid looking toward the entrance to the Hall. He could finally stand it no more and turned his head to look. The first person to come in upon being called, as fate would have it, was Khebit herself.
Anubis quickly turned back to the scales, hiding his glance. Khebit walked in and prostrated herself before Isis and Osiris, then stood and took her own place not too far away from the scales--and Anubis.
He was scarcely listening as Thoth took out his scroll and read of how Khebit had fared in life. He was staring at her now as she wasn't facing him, the sorrow and guilt rising back up inside him in an overwhelming tide. If only she knew, he could tell her! But she didn't, and he couldn't speak to her now. He may as well have been stricken speechless. Despairing, he gazed down at the Feather in one of the pans of the scales, and started praying for her. Please, let her have led a good life, so her heart will weigh less than the Feather; don't let her soul be devoured by the monster, she doesn't deserve it!
He lost track of how much time had passed. He didn't hear Khebit's confession, and almost missed the sound of Thoth clearing his throat; startled, he realized it was time for the weighing. He stood, taking Khebit's heart carefully, as if it were a small fragile bird, and placing it in the other pan. A heavy silence fell over the Hall. The Devourer monster, Amemit, crouched nearby, jaws slavering and eyes bright. Anubis wondered if he could fight her off should he have to, as ridiculous as the thought was.
He steadied the beam and stood back, Please please please running through his head, and waited.
He needn't have worried. The two pans tipped and swayed a brief moment before leveling out, the one with Khebit's heart in it even rising a little so the Feather sank lower and settled there.
Anubis let out his breath. Amemit growled to herself and lay down in a bored heap. Khebit looked relieved, and Thoth pulled out his palette to record the verdict.
The jackal god looked at her again, wishing so much that he could say Here I am, it's me, I was with you all along, but he did not speak. Before he could turn his head, Khebit turned hers, and looked him straight in the eyes.
His breath caught in his throat. His chance? He didn't turn away. He kept staring at her, his eyes imploring, hoping she would somehow recognize him and remember.
For a moment, everything seemed to be still. Khebit frowned, puzzled, and he was certain she was just on the verge of remembering when Thoth's voice broke the spell, and her stare, causing her to turn away.
"Lady Khebit, your heart has been found to be free of all sin," he proclaimed so the Hall could hear. Khebit shook her head abruptly and looked at him. Anubis sank back with despair. "You are free to enter Aalu. Lord Horus will show you the way."
Nephthys watched as her nephew led the woman to the great doors barring the way to Paradise. She glanced back at her son. He was not watching anymore; his head was down, almost between his knees, and he sat there dejectedly, the pans of the scales swinging slowly. She looked to Thoth. He had noticed the god's state also, and when he noticed her stare, he glanced up at her.
She gave him one look. Just one. But it was all that was needed. Thoth looked resigned, glanced at Anubis once more, then back and nodded silently.
Nephthys sighed, thanking him as much as she could without the use of words. She pitied Anubis so much. He had made his mistakes. He just had to have one last chance, one last chance to set things right.
Anubis lay alone in his room, staring silently at the ceiling with his hands clasped across his breast. He had been there ever since Judgement ended; he didn't feel like returning to the world of the mortals anymore. Not now that there was no reason to. He found the very idea repulsed him. With how much pain one person had managed to bring him in such a short period of time, he doubted he would ever put himself through that again, for anybody.
He heard a knock and turned his head as his door was opened. The guard bowed and said, "Lord Thoth wishes to speak with you, Your Highness."
Anubis sighed. "Let him in."
The guard bowed again and retreated while Anubis sat up, swinging his legs off the bed as Thoth entered with a bow of his own. "Good evening, Prince."
Anubis was ready to reply with "Good evening," when he remembered nothing was very good about it. He nodded instead.
The ibis god paused for a moment, looking at him, before saying, "Prince, you have one more chance."
"One more chance for what?" Anubis said, voice flat.
"To see Khebit. And to tell her everything, as you should have done before."
Anubis looked up at him. "To see Khebit? And to talk to her? It's forbidden, don't you remember?"
Thoth shook his head. "I'll bend the rules and allow you this one last time to see her. You never had the chance to tell her who you really are. Now you do. I've spoken with the others, and they agree that you should be allowed this. But it's your decision to make, whether you wish to or not."
Anubis fell silent for a moment. Thoth waited, as he knew he would. The ibis god always seemed to know when he was wanted, and when he was not.
"I never told her when I had the chance, Thoth, because I couldn't."
"Couldn't, Highness? Was there something that blocked your tongue?"
"No...I just couldn't. Look at how this turned out and why. She's a mortal. I'm the one who brings death to her kind. What would she have said if I'd told her that when we met? We would never have had a child together. She would never have felt the way she did. I never would have grown to love her." He shrugged. "Perhaps then I should have told her, to spare us all the trouble."
He sensed Thoth's disapproval. "Prince, you insult her with your words."
He looked up again. "What?"
"You insist you know how she would have felt, had you done things differently. You place thoughts in her head when you have no way of knowing what she would have thought of you. Did you read her mind, influence it without her knowledge?"
"Of course not," Anubis retorted. "I would never do that."
"Then how do you claim this knowledge? How do you know she would have rejected you, if she'd known who you were?"
"Because she would have. That's the way people are."
"But did you not believe she was different from the others?"
Anubis paused, speechless. "She...she would have been too afraid of me," he murmured after a moment.
"You still claim to know things you couldn't possibly know. Are you sure this is not the way you would have reacted, rather than her?"
"It's the way she would have reacted!" Anubis burst out, standing up with fists clenched. "It's the way they all react! Mention the word, Thoth. Tell them what's coming their way. Let them know they're going to die, and they curse the name Anubis for ever bringing that sorrow to them. Maybe she was different from them in other ways, but when it comes to who I am, everyone's the same. Once they know who I am, they're afraid of me. They reject death, and with it they reject me."
Thoth stared at him for a moment, eyes seeming slightly amused and luminous in the dimness. Anubis couldn't hold his stare. What he said next made all of Anubis's words flee him.
"Would she reject you, or do you reject yourself?"
Anubis opened his mouth to respond, reflexively. But nothing came out. His vision grew blurry and his heartbeat increased. His own thoughts swirled around in his head.
If I told her who I am it could upset everything.
It's all the better that she not know.
Will she ever be able to trust me?
The god of death, courting a mortal?
I could never be with somebody like her...
It wouldn't be right to let her know who I am...that would end it all.
As if being the god of death wasn't bad enough...
A mortal could never love the god of death...
...Is he right? This whole time I was afraid she would turn away from me--was I truly afraid that I'd turn her away from myself?
He couldn't admit to himself that Thoth was correct, but neither could he dispute it. Khebit was too good for him. Still, he did feel he insulted her just by thinking this. If she was too good for him, did he think her stupid for ever loving him? He didn't know what to think anymore.
Thoth turned back to the door. He opened it and glanced over his shoulder.
"She doesn't know yet about her daughter, Prince. At least give her that opportunity."
The door shut quietly, leaving him alone. He sat and stared at the floor.
One more chance. It seemed too good to be true, and well he knew it was--just seeing her again, knowing it would be the last time, would bring all the pain back, as if it had ever left him in the first place. But what Thoth had said last stayed with him the most. She had to know about Kebehut. He owed her that much, at the very least.
His mind made up, he lay down on his bed, staring at the ceiling again, until slowly falling asleep.
Khebit stood alone in the Hall of Maati, her hands clasped, looking around at the murals adorning the walls. She'd been called there by Lord Upuat, and told to wait for Anubis's arrival. She had no idea what the god would want to say to her, a lowly human...she'd noticed the way he'd looked at her at her Final Judgement, but hadn't been certain what he'd wanted. A god was a god, nevertheless, so she had come.
She heard a soft sound at the far end of the Hall and turned to see a shadowy figure coming her way. She recognized the doglike face immediately but it was only until he was a short distance away that she remembered manners and bowed to the floor.
He caught her arm in mid-bow, forcing her to stop and stand upright. She glanced up at him with surprise before ducking her head respectfully.
"Don't bow," he said. "It isn't necessary."
She felt herself flushing. She must have done something wrong. "I--I apologize if I've offended you, Lord; I just thought it proper to show--"
"Please, don't call me Lord." His voice was nearly pleading.
She couldn't help but lift her eyes briefly to take in the look on his face. His expression was pained; what was she doing improperly? She'd never met a god before so she had no idea how to act.
"What...what then should I call you?"
He let go of her arm. "You probably know me better..." He trailed off, and she waited for him to continue, not daring to interrupt. "...You probably know me better...as Anpu."
Khebit lifted her head again, eyes large. Her mouth opened but she said nothing.
To Anubis, the silence was excruciating.
She stared at him for several moments, as if in disbelief. After a time she spoke, her voice barely audible.
"It...it is you..."
Anubis tipped his head slightly. He had sensed the recognition in her eyes, during the weighing of her heart; but he'd also sensed her disbelief. It was exactly what he'd told Thoth. Why would she ever believe who she had loved was who he was? If she had truly loved him...
"But how...why did you never tell me?" He lifted his gaze from where it had drifted to the floor. She still stared at him. "Why did you never let me know who you were?"
"I didn't want to frighten you," he replied quietly. "I learned it's that way with mortals. You might not have wanted to speak with me, walk with me as you did if you knew who it was you were courting. The god of death," he added, with a tinge of bitterness in his voice.
Khebit looked ready to say something, but instead simply stepped forward and put her arms around him. Anubis's first reaction was to tense with surprise. His vision grew blurry and his second reaction was to embrace her in return.
"I would have been astounded," he heard her say, "but not afraid. I could never be afraid of you, no matter who you are."
"I couldn't allow myself to take the chance," he murmured. Then, "I couldn't trust myself to take the chance."
He felt her tense, as he had, and let her go. She looked up at him, eyes alight as if she had just discovered something. She stepped back a pace or two and clasped her hands again, a smile spreading across her face.
"I was right!" she cried. "My mother was wrong, and I was right!"
He just looked at her, uncomprehending.
She approached him again with a laugh, taking his hands. "I told her you would be there, and she didn't believe me. But though I didn't see you, you were there! You kept your promise! You were with me all along!"
He gave her a sad smile and nodded. "It wasn't the way I'd wanted it to be...but I was."
She stepped closer again, her expression now turning anxious. "Tell me, since you're the only one who can--tell me about my daughter. Do you know what became of her? Is she all right? Did she...did you have to..."
He turned and raised his hand, clacking his sandal against the floor at the same time. It echoed sharply throughout the Hall. Khebit looked to see the doors open and in came Lord Upuat, carrying a small bundle. He made his way to Anubis, handed it to him, bowed, and turned to leave. The doors closed behind him. Anubis turned back to Khebit and held out his arms, and the bundle within them let out a small whine and moved. Khebit took it from him, cradling it close and murmuring softly. She looked up at him, and her eyes were brimming with tears, yet she was smiling.
"Her name is Kebehut," Anubis said. "I couldn't leave her behind. I brought her with me."
"She's beautiful," Khebit said, rocking Kebehut, who giggled and reached out her tiny hand to her mother. Khebit stifled a tearful laugh and took it. "I never could have imagined anything more beautiful than she." She hugged the child once more, closely, then put out her arms toward Anubis. "Thank you, so much, for letting me see her. You can never know how happy you've made me."
Anubis didn't take Kebehut back. He shook his head and met her eyes. "I need your help, Khebit. Please promise me you'll give it to me."
"I'd promise you anything."
"Kebehut needs two parents," Anubis said. "Those around me have promised to help. But I want you to take care of her, also. She's your child, and you're her mother. She should have the chance to know you as I did."
By now the tears were streaming from Khebit's eyes down her face as she nodded and answered. "Of course I will. I'd be so glad to. Thank you, thank you so much for asking me."
He tried to smile again but his heart wasn't in it. He dreaded telling her what he had to tell her now. "Khebit...I have to tell you something else. There's a...rule...which says that neteru other than those who live within the underworld cannot converse freely with the spirits of the dead except under significant conditions. What that means is...from now on, I can't see you anymore."
Silence. Khebit stared at him with pain in her eyes--he could only imagine how he must have looked--but she moved close and laid her head against his breast. Her voice was soft, understanding. "I know it's no choice of your own...but I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you also," Anubis said, hugging her hard. Kebehut, between them, made a soft gurgling noise but didn't complain. How he wished he could somehow stop time, so they could be together always, or just a little while longer, but time was not his domain. "I promise to have her brought to you as often as possible...since she is your daughter, and not a full goddess, and thus entitled to visit you...and as soon as she's old enough, she can tell you how I am."
Khebit managed one more smile for him. He knew, somehow, that it would be the last. "I know you'll keep your promise," she said, "because you already have. Thank you, Anpu, for letting me know who you really are."
He forced a smile, for her, and kissed her, and they embraced once more. Then he took Kebehut back from her arms and stepped away a little, clacking his sandal against the floor a second time; again Upuat entered, not looking at them, but made his way for the opposite doors with their length of thick rope tying them shut. Anubis stood and watched Khebit as she turned to go to the doors leading to Aalu. Upuat untied and opened them and a bright light streamed through, across the tiled floor, illuminating the room. Before she entered, he saw her turn back to him, and her fingers touched her lips in a silent gesture of farewell. And then she gradually faded away, into the light.
The great doors swung shut, Upuat retying them. Perfect silence returned to the huge, echoing, suddenly very empty Hall.
For some time Anubis could only stand and stare at the closed doors, barred to him now, keeping him from the one he most wished to be able to see. He tried to remember the too-few times they had spent together, and the memories pained him more than consoled him. What did he have left if he couldn't even bring himself to think of her without that agony?
He heard a cooing sound and, surprised, looked down. He'd almost forgotten. His daughter--their daughter--stared up at him and laughed, waving her arms. Then and there he resolved to send Khebit a gift when she and Kebehut would meet again. He knew just what it would be, also. From around his neck he pulled the jackal amulet that he still wore, even now, and looked at it. He remembered when she had first taken it from him, and when she had given it back. He saw his reflection dim in the polished metal, like his face peering from coppery water.
No better way to let her know how he felt, though it seemed so little. Everything lately seemed so little.
Cradling Kebehut more closely to him, he left the Hall behind, and felt that he left his heart behind with it.