The First Priestess Of Upuat
TITLE: The First Priestess Of Upuat
GENRES: Mythology, fantasy, drama, emotional.
SUMMARY: What it means to be the chosen one. An original myth. Mildly adult subject matter.
WRITING STATUS: Completed.
WRITING DATE: Circa 2002.
LENGTH: 12,500+ words.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Mild adult language, 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 2002 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, along with "Birth Of A God," "Escape," and "Secret Children" ("Another One Down" also does, but in a more humorous context), focuses on the wolf god Upuat, for whom I've created quite a twisted past. For those who've read my other fiction, in particular Horus (to quote Sokar in Chapter 5, "He doesn't still howl in his sleep, does he?"), this story explains why the other deities, especially the goddesses, seem so suspicious of him. The writing of this wasn't pleasant or easy--a la "A Crack Of Light" and "Apophis's Day On Earth," there was a lot I could not go into, and I'm disappointed with how I ended up handling it, giving Upuat's actions a sort of "divine excuse." That was how the story insisted on turning out though. *shrug* Be aware this has some adult themes. For who Upuat means by "I'm the same as her, now," see "Escape." Definition--the Paut Neteru is the Great Company of the Gods.
LORD HARKHEBI ENTERED the temple forecourt, striding quickly across the paved ground. His sandals clacked loudly, the sound echoing off the walls. His jaw was set, his eyes glaring as he reached the temple proper and shoved his way past one of the lesser priests, who hurried to follow him.
"Where is she?" he demanded.
"In the back, with the physician, Lord. I can--I can lead you there, if you like."
"I know the way. You just do what you're paid to do!"
The priest lagged behind until he stopped, watching Harkhebi as he made his way down the hall toward the back of the temple. He didn't think once more about the young man. His mind was preoccupied with something more important.
The temple was not as large as others he'd seen, before he'd come to this city. As such his walk to the back didn't take as long as it normally would have. He reached the physician's quarters and pushed open the door unceremoniously, startling the priests inside. They jumped up and gaped at him as he approached, not slowing his step a bit.
"Where is she?" he snapped again.
"Lord," an older priest wearing a leopard skin said, bowing his head briefly. "She is sitting over there--you see, she is fine."
Harkhebi glared at him, then in the direction in which he'd pointed. He could now see a small stool in the far corner, a dim lamp set up beside it. A shadowy form sat upon the stool, head bowed forward. He recognized his daughter even in silhouette and felt his heart twist.
"Taheret." He glared at the priests again. "You say she's fine now? I was informed she was attacked. Why did you call me here? What has happened?"
"Lord, please, your voice."
"I'll speak as loudly as I damned well please!"
Taheret didn't lift her head, though her hand twitched a bit on hearing her father's voice. The older priest winced and held up a hand of his own.
"Please, Lord...your daughter is fine. She is unhurt."
"Then tell me what happened for me to be called here. Is she in some trouble?"
Harkhebi scowled. "You'd best tell me the meaning of all this, priest, else you'll end up out in the street on your hindquarters!"
"Your daughter came here of her own free will earlier this evening, Lord. She claims...ahm...she claims..." He trailed off and rubbed at his face, eyes darting about.
"She claims that she was attacked, Lord...not far from the city wall."
"Attacked? In what manner? Was she mugged?"
"Well, no, Lord...not that. Assaulted. She was assaulted."
Harkhebi's eyes grew and he blinked, speechless. When he could finally find his voice it was faint, disbelieving.
"Have you proof...?"
The old priest bowed his head. "She bears some bruising, Lord...and there are...other signs as well. And so I have no reason to doubt her story. However..."
The lord's fingers curled and his fists clenched. His face darkened into a look of hatred and he raised his fists so the priests could see them; they cowered back a bit, except for the oldest one, who merely searched his expression.
"No one does this and gets away with it," Harkhebi grated. "No one harms my daughter. She could identify him? She saw his face?"
"Then I will send out my men and hunt him down. The dog will hang. No death will be violent enough for him!"
"I doubt you can do this much, Lord," the priest interrupted, speaking quietly. "I do not think you can bring this one to justice."
"What?" Harkhebi whirled to glare at him, very nearly snarling. "Explain what you mean! Why should this slime never see justice?"
The old priest's eyes were sympathetic yet patient as he answered.
"Because he is a god, My Lord."
Taheret sat with her head hanging, silent; though she heard every word said about her, it was as if the others didn't realize she could hear at all.
"...What?" her father asked, his voice soft, disbelieving.
"I believe you heard me correctly, Lord...it is as I said."
"A...a god...?" Her eyes flitted to the side to see his fists clench. "And how does she know this for certain? Anyone can claim they are a god, to get away with something! If he said--"
"It was not what he said, Lord. It was how he looked. He was not human."
"What do you mean? How did he look?"
The priest started murmuring something she couldn't hear. The only thing she could make out, near the end, was, "...face of a wolf...not one of us at all...not lying."
Her father raised his voice again. "So perhaps he wore a mask! This matters little!"
"Lord, from what she told us, it was not a mask. He spoke, and his mouth moved. His ears as well. He bore the face of a wolf. Either this is one of our Paut Neteru, or a demon in disguise."
"Then who is he? A god with the head of a wolf? Who would that be?"
"Well..." The priest hesitated, wringing his hands. "She spoke a name, but it made little sense...we've never heard of him before. Not as a member of the company of the gods. Unless...unless he has come recently."
"What was his name?"
"She claimed he called himself the Opener--the Opener of the Ways. This was the meaning of his name. She refused to speak the name itself aloud."
Taheret's hands clutched each other in her lap. Though she stared resolutely at her knees, her heart felt as if it were fluttering and flapping like a caged bird. She tried unsuccessfully to will it to slow.
"So she will not speak his name," her father grated. "And none recognize who he is. So he can hardly claim to be a god! And so what if he is? He has committed a crime against my daughter. Someone must pay!"
"Lady Taheret has said that she will bear the cost."
"This is only what she--"
"Listen, fool," Lord Harkhebi snapped. "She's just been attacked. Grievously injured. You cannot expect her to be coherent just yet. She refuses even to name her attacker! Claims he is a god and is thus protected from Maat! If anything, Maat applies more strongly to them than to us! Translate that meaning, find out his name, and if I must I'll seek him out MYSELF!"
"She refuses to allow this, Lord," the priest replied firmly. "She said she knew that you would be vengeful--"
"And rightly so!"
"--perhaps rightly so, yet she insisted that you not seek vengeance. She does not wish for him to be punished, even if such an act were within your power."
"And why NOT?"
"Because you would deprive me," Taheret said aloud. The others glanced at her with surprise. "Because you would deprive him," she added, and fell silent again, still staring at her knees. Her father stared at her, brows furrowed. He peered at the priest from the corner of his eyes.
"Who does she mean...? And what, by deprive? What is she talking about...?"
"Her child. Of a father," the priest replied. Harkhebi looked at him quickly, eyes wide. The priest offered a respectful bow.
"She told us this as well, Lord. That before the god left her, he proclaimed that she would bear his child within the year."
Taheret said nothing as the litter bearing her father and herself was escorted home. Several times he tried to elicit a response, with no luck, until he simply sat back and stared outside at the darkened street passing by. Her fingers fiddled nervously in her lap. She shut her eyes several times, but every time she did she saw those strange lupine eyes glowing back at her, and had to open her own again. She couldn't bear to see his face, within her mind, so soon.
Please forgive me.
She too turned to stare at the darkness passing by, just so she could occupy her eyes without having to close them.
Do I believe him? Why should I? What did he do, to make me believe him?
Please forgive me.
Why did he have to say that? Why did he ask for forgiveness, if he knew what he'd done was wrong...?
She shut her eyes again, unable to help it. She willed herself to think of someplace, any place other than where it had happened. She thought of the temple, of the priests who had taken her in. She'd listened to everything they'd said, even after they'd thought she'd dozed off.
Is she injured? Did he beat her...?
No...not injured...only a little bruising.
Could she describe him?
She claimed he was a god!...very tall, broader and stronger than any of us--and with a wolf's face...
If he was indeed of this size, he could have hurt her badly.
But no...if I had to say it, I would say it looks almost as if whoever did this tried very much not to hurt her...
That much was true. On her first glimpse of him, such as it was, she'd known that fighting would be useless; he'd looked like nothing more than a towering shadow, at first, dwarfing her in size. Yet she bore not a scratch. She knew this fact wouldn't matter to her father.
Why didn't he kill me?
Why did he tell me his name?
Why did he ask my forgiveness?
She leaned her head forward and pressed her knuckles to her temples, ignoring her father's anxious look. She bit into her lip hard enough to make it bleed, agonizing over everything she couldn't figure out, everything that made no sense.
Why did he tell me that? Why did he tell me I would have his child?
And why did I do what I did...afterward?...
The priests stood at the temple pylon and watched the litter leave, heading off toward the other side of the city. As it faded out of sight, the older priest let out a small sigh and started to turn away, to head back inside to his late-night duties, which had been so strangely interrupted. The younger priest beside him bit his lip and looked into his face.
"Why didn't you tell him?"
"Hm?" the older priest murmured, glancing at his younger companion. "Tell him what?"
The other priest frowned. "Tell him all of it. What she said happened after that? Why did you not speak of this?"
The older priest sighed aloud now and placed his hand on the young priest's shoulder. "Nekmed, he was already in enough disbelief. To tell him of what else she told us...this would only have fueled his disbelief and anger. He is furious enough...let them go home and deal with it in their own way and time."
"But this is as of omitting half the truth!" Nekmed protested, jumping in front of him and forcing him to stop. He lowered his voice so it wouldn't echo off the columns. "Why would it have been so very bad to tell him? That--she and the god--not once, but twice? And the second time--willingly?"
The old priest shook his head sadly. "You have much to learn, Nekmed. He would never have believed." He touched his arm again. "Come. The matter is out of our hands for now."
"Yes." He nudged the younger priest on, and they continued down the hall. "At least, until her nine months are past..."
When Lord Harkhebi assisted Taheret getting out of the litter, he waited anxiously for her to speak, to say anything to him, yet still she didn't. She mutely stood and waited while the guards at the front gate opened the doors and allowed them in. "A drink," he said as they went inside, "that's what you need. Just a little bit of wine to relax you for sleep. And I'll make certain a guard is at your door all night."
A guard could not have stood up against what he was...
She didn't protest his offer, though she rather wished he would have left rather than stayed to make certain she drank the wine. Had he put poppy in it, to help her sleep? She wouldn't have doubted it. She took a sip and held the fluid under her tongue, swirling it around.
He sat across from her and clasped his hands between his knees, giving her that same anxious look. She didn't say anything, just stared into the wine as she swirled it in the cup. He sighed.
"Tat...they told me what you said. You know I would do anything for you. No matter who he is, or what he is--if he were the sun god himself--you know that I would find a way to seek justice. No matter what the cost. You are the only thing that holds me back. Why do you protect him?"
"He is a god," Taheret said quietly.
"He is a criminal. Look at what he did to you! Even the gods themselves are not above the law of Maat, and you know this. Tell me his name, Tat, and I'll see what I can do. I promise I won't let this go unpunished."
She shut her eyes. "You cannot do anything...you were not meant to. This is how it is. Leave it this way."
"What--?" He sat up, fists clenching on his knees. "What are you talking about?"
Taheret lifted her head and finally met his eyes. "I know this would never have happened," she said, "if it wasn't meant to happen. The gods would not disrupt Maat so much for a mortal like myself...unless there was something else to it. Something greater. I cannot know why he chose me. But he did."
"Chose you?" Harkhebi cried in disbelief. He stood up abruptly. "He RAPED you! How can you excuse this by saying it was 'meant to be'? What if it had been your mother? Or your friend? Would that have been meant to be?"
"It wasn't," Taheret said, her voice rising a little. She struggled to keep it calm and even. "It was I. He chose me...I cannot know why. But he did. He...he asked my forgiveness."
"This is NO excuse!" Harkhebi spat. "If anything it only proves his guilt! He knew it was wrong and did it anyway!"
"Then why did he tell me what he did?" She glared up at her father, eyes flashing. "About the child. Why did he tell me this when he would have known I could kill it before it's even born? Why would he put its fate in my hands like that if he wished only to use me?"
Harkhebi scowled and jerked his hand at her. "Foolish Tat, you believe that proves his sincerity? It means only he didn't want a brat on his hands and so he gave you the responsibility! Face it! He is a dog, just as you described him!"
"A wolf," Taheret snapped. "A wolf, not a dog."
"There is LITTLE difference now! He used you the same way, either way! Why you keep denying this and defending him I'll never know--either he's tricked you, or you're more foolish than I thought!"
Taheret sucked in a breath and bit her lip. She sat silently while her eyes welled up. Harkhebi blinked at her, then came her way, holding out his arms and taking her in them.
"Oh...sweet Tat. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it this way...you're not foolish, never. This is his fault, entirely his fault. He'll pay for it, I promise."
"He didn't trick me," Taheret murmured against his shoulder.
"Of course he did," her father insisted. "There's no other way you could continue to defend what he did to you. Anything he said, he never meant a word of it. He tricked you."
Taheret gently nudged herself away, earning a hurt look. She stared again at her wine cup and concentrated on the patterns the swirling liquid made in the lamplight.
"He never would have said any of those things...if he wasn't sincere. I believe him. He didn't mean to hurt me."
Harkhebi let out a frustrated sound. He knelt down before her and took her by the shoulders.
"What would I have to say to convince you? You believe he cares about you? That he loves you for what he did? What would I have to say to convince you this isn't true?"
Taheret met his eyes. "You would have to take back everything that he said to me. Because I believe it all."
The large room was very poorly lit, the only light a weakly flickering lamp or two in the far corners. One shape sat upon a stool, huddled over itself with its head hanging. The second shape paced back and forth briskly, its sandals clacking loud on the black shiny floor. It turned about at the end of its walk, and started back the other way, cape swirling. The first shape hung its head even lower.
"Well, this is certainly unprecedented," the second shape spoke, its voice sharp and annoyed. It stopped briefly--black hawk's beak and red eyes glinting--to glare at the first shape. "Did you even consider the consequences before setting eyes on her? What a world of trouble this could get you into?"
The first shape only whined a little bit and shut its eyes.
The second shape glanced up as another light, carried by another shape, this one thin and lithe, entered the room. The one carrying the light paused to look about before moving over toward the sitting shape and leaning down to look into its face.
"Is he all right?"
The second shape snorted and turned away. "He's fine. Would that we could say the same for that woman he went after..."
The third shape stared at him for a moment, then back at the sitting shape. When she spoke now she spoke quietly, as if in confidence.
"It's true, then...?"
"Of course it is," the second shape snapped, starting to pace again. "You think I'd be occupied otherwise...?"
"Hush, Sokar," the newcomer said in a reproachful tone. She set the lamp down and placed her hand on the sitting shape's shoulder. "I thought that you were concerned about him."
"He only stays here until the rest of you can figure out what best to do with him. And now while under my roof he causes trouble with the mortals. I suppose your honorable father will hold me responsible for that, as well."
"Show some sympathy!" Bastet retorted. "I don't think he needs this to deal with right now!"
Sokar snorted. "And that woman did?"
Bastet bit her lip. Her hand squeezed the god's shoulder.
"...Maybe it's because of what happened to him," she murmured. "All that time he was a prisoner. Of that goddess. Lord Thoth told me how cruel she could be, how poorly she treated him..."
"This is no excuse," Sokar said.
"I never said it was! Only an explanation." She lowered her gaze as if in thought. "Anyway...I'm certain he's suffered enough punishment because of this."
"You would hardly be suggesting that if it were your own sister he'd attacked," the hawk god replied. "I doubt Ra will be so forgiving, either. First wise thing he's ever done."
"It's not as if he meant it!" Bastet stood up and her fists clenched. "I know he didn't mean it. That awful goddess who kept him captive. She probably twisted his mind to do something like this."
The seated god put his head in his hands and whined again, louder.
"And so if it were your sister," Sokar mused. "Lady Hathor, or perhaps little sister Maftet. If he'd gone after one of them instead, you would be so forgiving?"
Bastet's eyes flashed. "It's not as if you are so innocent when it comes to mortal women, either."
The hawk god's mouth twitched. "Perhaps not. Though I never claimed I was. And I have yet to be desperate enough to resort to force. As he did." He nodded at the other god. "Perhaps, seeing as you and Thoth are the only ones to defend him, you wouldn't mind so badly if he stayed with you? I hardly feel myself responsible for his actions while he's under my roof."
Bastet's rigid stance faltered a bit and she peered back at the other god, small whimpers escaping him. "I...he can't stay with me," she murmured. "Father wouldn't allow it...he has to stay here. For now." She met Sokar's eyes again. "But as soon as he's better, I'm certain he can make a life of his own."
"Better?" Sokar started laughing. "You think he merely needs something to be cured? By all means, take him back to Lord Thoth and see what he can do."
"Stop laughing at him! He's your guest! You could show a little more empathy for all of this! We all make mistakes." She bent down and took his arm. "I know we do...is this so, Upuat? If you tell me what really happened, what you really intended, then I'll believe you."
Sokar rolled his eyes and turned away.
"Upuat?" Bastet prompted again. She squeezed his arm. "Tell me what you intended when you went down there. You never meant to hurt anyone...surely?"
"I didn't mean to hurt her," Upuat moaned, voice muffled by his hands.
Bastet moved closer and put her arm around his. "Why did you do this, then...? Was there some reason? What were you thinking, or feeling...?"
"I...don't know." His shoulders shook. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"He changes his story already," Sokar said mildly from the other side of the room. Bastet looked up at him. He stood pouring himself a cup of wine. "He told me, when he came back here, that he thought she was beautiful. That he would have liked to love her if he knew how. Apparently, he has no idea what 'love' has to do with anything."
"Sokar," Bastet warned.
"Apparently he also decided on his own that 'love' was hardly necessary." Sokar tipped the cup to his beak and took a sip. "And so he came back here. Blubbering like a fool. He knew from the start he did the wrong thing. I can hardly pity that."
Bastet gave him a cross look. "You hardly have to speak in such a tone. Like you said, he knows already! He doesn't have to deal with your anger." She looked back at the weeping wolf god, eyes pained. "Gods know he'll get enough of it from the rest of us..."
"Good." Sokar set his cup down and wiped his mouth. "It's only what he deserves."
"He's right." Upuat lifted his head slightly but still didn't uncover his eyes. "What I did...what she did...I'm the same as her, now." This realization seemed to pain him more than anything else, and he gave a mournful howl.
Sokar grimaced and took another drink. "I wish you'd just take him out of here already. He does that every damned night. It's a wonder one can get any sleep."
"I doubt you do much in the way of sleeping anyway," Bastet retorted, before blushing furiously. Sokar smirked but offered no reply; for that little bit she was grateful. "I would take him back with me, if I could. Gods know you treat him so horribly here." The hawk god muttered and waved dismissively; she touched Upuat's arm and murmured to him softly.
"I'll come back as soon as I can. I'll try to get something from Thoth to help you sleep better. I'll speak with Father about this--" shooting a look at Sokar "--and we'll see what we can do. I promise."
The wolf god only held his hand to his eyes and whined, fingers wet. Bastet squeezed his arm one last time before rising and taking the lamp with her from the room.
Taheret lay upon her bed and stared up at the canopy. Despite the poppy--she knew her father must have slipped some into her drink--she forced her eyes to stay open. She tried to will her mind to go blank...but every so often she would find it wandering back to him. The strange god. The one who'd come for her.
Even when he'd said his name, the meaning of which she knew but didn't understand, she couldn't tell who he was. Up-uat. She'd never heard the name before. Apparently, neither had anyone else. The priests at the temple had expressed puzzlement, and had taken down several scrolls and browsed through them futilely. She remembered her father's confusion on hearing the name, and knew that even now he was busy seeking out nonexistent information. The god simply appeared to have come from nowhere.
But why did he come for me?
Perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps he hadn't come for her, but had seen her and chosen her just the same. Did it matter, in the long run? She pressed her hands to her belly as if she could feel the life growing there, although she knew it was far too early. If he had been a man, she had no doubt. She would have been rid of it. By any means necessary.
But he wasn't a man. He was a god.
Should it matter?
She chewed on her lip and agonized over the situation. Part of her said that it shouldn't matter...as her father had said...a criminal was a criminal, no matter who they were. Even the gods recognized the law of Maat. Even if her father couldn't punish him, then the divine court would find him guilty. He would receive whatever punishment befitted him.
But the other part of her said it did matter. She sensed it hadn't been just about lust or power. If it had been either of those, he could have been even more vicious. He could even have killed her if he wished.
And then there was what had happened afterward.
Now she allowed herself to close her eyes. Was I really as unwilling as I thought...?
She couldn't understand even her own reaction. Her first instinct had been to fight back; though of course he was much stronger than she was. He had finally let go of her...but she hadn't run. Nor fought. And then...
Taheret opened her eyes and stared at the canopy again. The first time? Or the second? Which was it that had gotten her the way she was now? And how had he known?
You will bear my child before the year is past...
Fingers once again felt her flat belly. She remembered the tone of his voice. After the first, he had sounded remorseful. When he'd spoken his prophecy, he'd sounded...different. Distant, faraway, as if unaware of what he'd been saying. But the more she thought about it, the more that wasn't what needled at her.
It was the tone of his voice before it had happened that gave her pause.
He'd sounded like he'd loved her.
"You say that even in that grotesquely immense library of yours you still can't find any information on...whoever this brute is?"
Nekmed bowed to Harkhebi with an embarrassed look on his face. "Lord...we searched each of the scrolls. Nowhere does it mention an Opener of the Ways--"
"Then his real name. Surely this translates into a name? Something?"
"--yes, Lord; it roughly translates into Wep-wawet or Up-uat--"
"Oo-poo-aht?" Harkhebi stumbled over the odd name.
"--but nowhere have we been able to find any mention of a neter named Up-uat, either. I must tell you, Lord, he doesn't appear to exist."
Harkhebi's temper flared. "Are you saying my daughter wasn't attacked?"
The young priest bowed hastily. "Oh, no, Lord! I believe her story! It's just...well...the who is still uncertain..."
"She tells the truth," the lord snapped. "'Twas a god that did it to her. Either that or someone going to the trouble of wearing a mask--a mask which blinks and talks! Which may as well make him a god! And now you're trying to convince me he doesn't even exist! No wonder my daughter didn't wish to help you!" He spat on the floor and Nekmed winced but held his tongue. "Look through your books again. A god does not just appear from nowhere. He must have some sort of past!"
"Y-yes, Lord...I'll go look again." Nekmed bowed once more and hastened away from the irate nobleman, heaving a great sigh that at least he wouldn't have to deal with him again for a long while.
You will bear my child before the year is past.
Upuat whimpered and wrapped his arms around his head. He was within his own rooms, in Sokar's palace; he knew already that the hawk god's patience for having him around grew thinner with each passing day, and now must be at its breaking point. Still, he had no idea where else to go...this was where they had placed him, after he'd returned, telling Sokar to teach him the ways of the neteru. He should have been more grateful for what he'd learned. And then he had to go and do something like this...why had he even done it? He couldn't understand. It was as if he had simply stopped thinking, the moment he'd seen her.
You will bear my child before the year is past.
And why had he said that? He couldn't know if it was true. How would he have been able to tell? After he'd said it, he'd felt surprise--as if he hadn't even been the one talking. Yet the words had come from his mouth...and he had performed all the actions. So why couldn't he understand any of it, if he was responsible?
I cannot place the blame anywhere else. It rests upon me solely. I did this thing. I must pay for it. But I don't know how...
His head hurt, a pounding headache that he tended to get, but even worse now than usual. He whined and squinched his eyes shut, wishing it would go away. But perhaps this was his punishment. This agony, both physical and mental; maybe this was what he was meant to bear for what he'd done.
This thought calmed him a little bit--if he was to be punished, then he would accept it, much better than he could accept not being punished. He was used to punishment; perhaps that was why he'd done this. He wasn't being punished enough. He'd grown too used to easy life with the neteru. Perhaps now they would keep in mind how he truly was, and keep him in line. The slicing crack of a whip or the bruising blow of a paddle were nothing to him now, nothing but reminders to stay in his place. And his place certainly wasn't among the mortals. Or the neteru.
In his mind, he saw a whip slice through the air, and very nearly felt it cut through his skin. He jerked and flinched, then relaxed. It was better than feeling the guilt.
"This is true? Every word of it...?"
Bastet nodded, face long. "I wish it were merely a story from my imagination...but Lord Sokar told me...and what he didn't tell me, Lord Upuat himself filled in...he admits that he did it. That he's responsible." She heaved a great sigh. "Lord Thoth, please, tell me why he would do this? I know he's not bad, inside. I know none of us have to fear him, though I could never convince any of the others now. What went wrong? I thought he was doing so well."
Thoth busied himself sorting out the small jars on his shelves, but she could tell his own eyes were weary. "You must never expect him to be as he may have been before Seii took control of him, Goddess. He will never be the same, simply by virtue of what she did to him."
"But he was doing so well! I thought for certain that Lord Sokar could teach him..."
"We can do only so much. The rest is up to him, and chance." He shoved a bottle back onto the shelf and started shuffling around his papyri, sorting them as well. His voice came, the barest murmur. "Perhaps we were merely too late to help him..."
"I refuse to believe," Bastet said firmly, and he looked up at her with a bit of surprise before turning back to his work.
"Well...if this is what you believe...then I must agree. He is not a bad person, and he is not a lost cause."
"Then what went wrong?"
"I wish that I could say, so clearly...it could have been one thing, or many things." He rolled up a stray papyrus. "Perhaps...perhaps he did not know that what he did was wrong, until it was already done. You've seen how he acts around others. Uncertain how to best handle himself, or what the appropriate actions are. Until he does the right or the wrong thing."
"He said he knew that it was wrong," Bastet said sadly. "So why he would still have done it, I so wish I knew..."
"It's like I said, Goddess, perhaps he did know, but it was not until afterward that he realized. If he was overcome by some emotion...perhaps all reason went out the window. Until it was too late. And now, this is the guilt he bears. I can only imagine how he must feel..."
"I'm afraid for him. Not only for what the others might do, but for what he might do. To himself. Do you think he might punish himself for this?"
"This is always possible, considering how he was treated before...then again, all of this is only conjecture, and could be entirely wrong." Thoth sighed and rubbed his eyes. "We only speculate, Lady. We might never know why he did this. He might never know, either. All we know for certain is that he did, and now we have to determine what to do." He looked at her. "Does God Ra know yet--?"
"No...I was going to tell him myself." Bastet made a face. "I know how he'll take it, too. Sokar was wise about one thing. Maybe if I talk with him, I can keep him calm...but what will we do about Upuat?"
"Let him be for now. He doubtless dwells in his own guilt. I doubt anything that we might say would have much effect on him. Just be about, and willing, if he wishes to speak."
Bastet nodded, and with a heavy heart turned to leave the room. It wasn't so much what he had done that upset her...rather it was how she felt she should feel about it. Part of her mind told her to hate him, or at least fear him...but she did neither. She still saw him as, if not a friend, then an ally.
She didn't feel she could stand up for him or justify his actions. Yet neither did she feel she could turn her back on him, out of anger.
He wasn't a bad person.
Please forgive me.
Why, why, did he ask me to forgive him? It wouldn't have been so difficult--it wouldn't be difficult now--if I knew he didn't know it was wrong! I could excuse him then...I could quit trying to reconcile this...but now, I can't...I have to try to figure it out...why it was meant to happen, yet why he asked my forgiveness...how can it be both? Why did he have to say that?
Taheret curled onto her side and pressed her hands to her eyes, jaws clenching. Her belly hurt; she didn't know why. She'd never been pregnant before, if she was now. Was it supposed to hurt so early along? Or was it only a delayed reaction to what had happened to her? Or a symptom of what she was feeling now?
How can I reconcile what he did? What I did? Did I go along with it because I enjoyed it...?
She knew that was not true for the first time. She'd certainly fought, as useless as it had been.
But that second time...
I can't think about it. I can't think about it right now!
With a frustrated sigh, she pushed herself up from her bed and leapt out. She shuddered even lying in such an exposed position; she suddenly wished she didn't have such wide windows letting the wind and moonlight into her rooms. She pulled the drapes hurriedly, then went and stuffed every nook and cranny she could find so not even a mouse could get through. When this was done she turned up all the lamps in the chamber, and poured herself another drink. Now she was grateful for the poppy; if only it would make her lose consciousness entirely.
She took a quick drink, then put a finger in her throat and gagged herself, spitting on the floor. She did it before she even realized what she was doing, and gaped at the mess she'd made. For a moment she wondered if she was going crazy, then another pain in her stomach made the action clear.
The child. I shouldn't drink too much of this.
Shaking, Taheret set the cup down and resolved to stay away from any more of the wine, at the very least, wine with poppy in it, and moved away, back to sit on her bed. She clasped her hands and took a deep breath and let it out. She couldn't understand this, either. Her first time with child--she couldn't even be certain that she was--and already she was thinking protectively, like a mother. What had that god done to her? What thoughts had he put in her head?
She didn't allow herself to question any of it much more. Already her eyelids were drooping. With a final sigh she lay back down, curling up and balling her hands against her stomach as if to protect whatever might lie there. She didn't know why she should be so concerned about it, considering it had been forced upon her so violently...but for some reason...she was.
Nekmed's head rested upon the library table, mouth slightly open as he dozed. Half-read scrolls littered the table around him, their contents useless. Nowhere did any of them mention an Up-uat. Nowhere did any of them mention an Opener of the Ways.
He didn't awaken when a pale beam of moonlight worked its way into the darkened library, the lamps flickering and going out. He didn't awaken when the pale glow filtered in to the table surface and played along one of the scrolls, the ornately written characters glowing brightly for a moment, shifting, merging, separating, before fading again. He didn't awaken when the words changed. He didn't awaken when the moonlight retreated, and he didn't awaken when the library was plunged into blackness once more. He who had come, so briefly, left just as silently.
He did awaken early the following morning, cursing his own laziness, before hurrying to read through the rest of the scrolls. And he frowned in disbelief when he finally found what he was looking for. Here, nestled in a scroll he was positive he had examined twice already. A wolf god. Little known, yet named. One who had gone for a long time, but had returned.
The Opener of the Ways. Up-uat.
He stared at the far wall, which might as well have been the same as staring into the abyss itself for how black it was. The pain in his head had receded to a dull throb which nevertheless kept him awake. He didn't complain, even to himself. If this was his punishment, he accepted it. And whatever might come afterwards.
He did wish, and hope, several times that a trial might be held. That he would be found guilty before the rest of the neteru, for he certainly didn't belong among them. Sokar had hinted as much, several times before. His actions had only proven it. No neter acted the way he had. If they did, they at least knew why. Why did he have no idea?
The pounding started to grow in his head and he winced but kept silent. A whip, a paddle, a stick. They were all nothing compared to what he deserved. This feeling though was almost more than he could bear.
Perhaps they would find him guilty, and his punishment would be a severe one. Doubtful, as she had been just a mortal--
She is not just a mortal!
--thus his punishment would likely not be anywhere near as serious as it would be, had she been a goddess--
I would never have gone to her--
--but seeing as she wasn't, he might possibly even escape punishment--
--if I hadn't--
--although that was not what he deserved, in the least.
He gasped himself awake, eyes opening. He suddenly knew that it was true. Despite what he'd done...how he'd treated her...why else would he feel this way? Why else would he wish to be found guilty, to die? Just for a mortal? Someone who, in the great scheme of things, meant little?
She means much. If not to anyone else, then to me!
He made his final decision. He would demand a trial, even if Lady Bastet or anyone else deemed it foolish. Maybe Ra had one planned already; good. He would proclaim himself guilty. They would sentence him. He would demand death. The destruction of his body, the banishment of his soul.
A rather severe punishment, for attacking a mortal, but he felt it fit. At least it lifted the heavy cloud of guilt, just a little bit, allowing him to drift into a doze for the first time that night. He let sleep take hold as the voices in his head--hers, his own, Sokar's, Bastet's, all those that accused him--jumbled together into a faint blur.
You will bear my child before the year is past...
His own voice. Detached, hardly a part of him. Speaking something he couldn't even have known. Niggling at the back of his mind.
The greater scheme of things.
Who am I to know?
To know either of these?
His eyes opened again when he realized what he did know. Himself, parentless, orphaned, without a family, left in a strange land. Among people he should know, but didn't. Not feeling like one of them. An outsider, set apart, different.
And now a child. The same way? With a mother who wouldn't want him, a father who had abandoned him from the start?
I will demand death.
If I am dead, then he has no father. If she abandons him--then he has no one.
A new pain, much sharper and deeper than the others, shot through him, piercing through his breast. He gnawed on his lip and whimpered from the feel of it in his heart. He wanted to die. But now he realized he couldn't. Not if he wanted to spare one much more undeserving than he from his same fate. Guilt wasn't the only thing he bore now. He bore a debt. An obligation. Toward someone who didn't even exist yet.
I demand life...his life. I have to live for him...
And for her...
Upuat shut his eyes to stop the blurring, burning there. His fingers clutched at his aching breast. Life had been such an easy thing to give up, until he'd remembered that it was no longer his life, nor his decision, alone...
Nekmed unrolled the scroll upon his lap and started to point to one section but Lord Harkhebi had snatched it away from him before he could speak aloud. The nobleman walked about the room looking it over while the priest sat, fiddling his fingers awkwardly. It was early afternoon of the next day, and still Harkhebi's daughter hadn't come out from her room.
"What am I looking at here?" Harkhebi muttered. Nekmed bit his lip and wondered if the nobleman even knew how to read properly.
"It's a scroll from the library, Lord. I--"
"I know this already, what has it that I'm supposed to be looking for?"
"The name of the one your daughter claimed--the one who attacked your daughter, Lord. I found it, there, by the bottom, right side."
Harkhebi squinted at it for a moment before reading aloud. "'Up-uat'?" He scowled. "It says barely anything."
"This is because...apparently, we know very little about him, Lord. Just a minor neter, of little importance. He has not any temples, nor priests to serve him."
The young priest bit his lip again. He disliked the disrespect, yet felt it would be more prudent not to speak.
Harkhebi rolled up the scroll and tossed it aside, wiping his hands as if it had left a bad feeling on them. "So of course this means now we know who we're dealing with. I trust you can do something, now?"
Nekmed blinked. "Lord...he is a neter. Should he deserve punishment...then he will be judged by the divine tribunal. We cannot judge him."
"The Duat we can't!" Harkhebi barked, one sandal clacking against the floor. Nekmed flinched. "And you even insinuate that he doesn't deserve punishment? What sort of priesthood are you, that allow your gods to go about assaulting our women?"
"This is simply it, Lord," Nekmed replied, raising his voice. Frustration with the nobleman's disrespectful attitude flared up inside him and he stood. "We do not serve him. He has no priests and no temple. We do not answer to him...but even so, he is still a god. If you believe you have some way in which you may reasonably seek your vengeance against a neter...then do so. Even had we the power, we would not assist you." He bowed. "I must return the scroll to the library before its absence is noticed. I pray you find a tolerable solution for your daughter."
Harkhebi stood silent and surprised while he bent to retrieve the scroll from the floor and turned to leave, the house again silent. He doubted the lord would be able to speak for quite a while.
He did what was wrong. But I cannot hate him. If what he said is true...then this child will be his, also.
I can't hate the father of my child...no matter how it will come to be...
Taheret's eyes opened out of a drugged sleep and for a long while she lay staring across the room, toward the covered windows. During her sleep she had worked over every feeling that had gone through her since it had happened--terror, rage, humiliation, desire, confusion, frustration, awe. This last one was a new one, that she hadn't even had time to feel when he had been with her. A god. The meaning of it began to fully come to her and she bit her lip hard enough to bleed as her eyes welled up. She squinched them shut and this time didn't even try to get rid of his image when it came to her.
Even if what he did was wrong...a god can err also...but he was still a god. His voice...he didn't understand it either, what he was doing, what I was doing. Maybe it was Maat. Maybe it works in ways we've never even thought of.
Was she just trying to rationalize it away? So she wouldn't have to deal with the confusion any longer? She thought over this for a good long while before deciding that, possibly this was what she did, a little, but she knew...somehow...it went deeper than this. She still didn't know why. Yet she knew that it did.
If I had hated him...if I had truly hated him...I would have fought him, that second time. Father knows. I've always fought for what I needed. I've never backed down or given up. I would never have done so even for a god. I fought the first time...he was wrong...but I didn't fight the second time. I knew. He knew. What we both felt. Something greater.
His voice...before, and after...and the child...
Her hands lightly squeezed against her abdomen. She stared at the window through blurry eyes.
He didn't know what he was saying. He didn't realize it until it was over. Something else made him speak. Something else made him act. Something beyond me. Beyond him. Beyond either of us.
No excuse. But an explanation, perhaps.
She didn't have to fear him. She could tell something greater than either of them was steering things now...it had chosen a most unpleasant way to reach this point, yet reach it it had. Whatever it was. Taheret had never been one to shy away from unpleasantness, if it meant achieving what she wanted. This hadn't been exactly what she'd wanted...but apparently something Else had determined it would be so. The god...the god with the face of a wolf...he was surely as surprised by all of this as she had been.
This realization, as confusing to her as it was, still filled her with relief; and she finally covered her head and started sobbing into the bedsheets. Firstly, the fear and anger and shame she hadn't allowed herself to feel before, came pouring out into the pillows. And then the guilt she had felt for their second time together. Her embarrassment at what the townspeople and her family might think--what they thought mattered little now that greater plans had been set in motion. Then her bewilderment, and her anxiety on discovering how truly small--yet apparently important--she must be, in the great scheme.
Once the hours had passed and she had wept herself dry, she fell silent, breath still coming harsh, and tried to think of what must happen next. So this was meant to be, and this child was meant to be hers. Now what? That couldn't be the entire plan, could it? She suddenly thought of the god himself. The one who had started this. What of him? The child was his as well; she had no doubt now that it lived within her, growing every day. She knew that he must not have been meant to be out of the story, so soon. She would have to meet him again.
This thought brought a hint of the fear and anxiety back to her--she had been unwilling, at first, and so the feeling was still there--yet she willed it down and tried again to think. He was a god. Surely Whoever had set this in motion had let him know, as well, that this was not nearly as simple as it seemed.
If he was meant to meet her again, then he would find a way. She would have to be ready for him.
Sokar and Bastet walked briskly down the darkened hall of Sokar's palace--at least, Sokar walked briskly, while Bastet hurried to keep up. She had sensed his annoyance on first entering the place, but he'd held his tongue as he led her to Upuat's temporary quarters. All night long she'd agonized over how best to approach her father with news of what the wolf god had done, and had put it off entirely. She had yet to tell him at all. When she'd told Thoth this he'd given her a reproachful look, so she knew she couldn't keep it a secret forever. Perhaps Upuat himself could lend her the courage she needed. She felt that if he were beside her while she stated his case, she would be much more convincing.
And the moment Ra started to get that angry look in his eyes, she could tell Upuat to run, and could wheedle the sun god into joining her on a river ride.
It had worked before...she just wasn't certain if it would work now. None of the neteru had ever done anything like what Upuat had done, at least, not to her knowledge.
All of these thoughts, and more, rushed through her head as Sokar led her down the hall. "Are you planning on some sort of outing with him?" the hawk god inquired, and she shook her head to snap back to the present. "Because with all the howling he let out last night, I should think I'd like some peace and quiet here, for a change."
"He can't be that awful. He has nightmares, you know it."
"Well, he can have them elsewhere, if he must have them. This is my palace, not the desert. I hardly need wolves howling their guts loose while I'm trying to sleep."
Bastet opened her mouth to chide him, when a shadow emerged in the hallway before them. They both stopped as it came closer and assumed form, striding not as briskly as Sokar had been, but with more purpose. When Upuat passed them he didn't even acknowledge them, simply walked on past. They turned to watch him go.
"Hm," Sokar mused. "Even when he finally leaves he shows no manners."
"Hold your tongue!" Bastet retorted. She hurried after the wolf god before Sokar could come up with a retort of his own.
"Lord Upuat?" she panted; his strides were much longer than her own. "Where are you going? I thought perhaps you might accompany me to speak with God Ra."
"I have to speak with her," Upuat said, almost in a mutter. "I have to set it right."
"What?" Bastet's steps slowed until he was leaving her behind, continuing down the hallway on his own. "Set...set it right...?"
"I have to let her know. So she doesn't wonder like I did," was the last thing he said, voice echoing off the walls, and Bastet and Sokar were left standing, staring after him as he disappeared into the shadows.
Sokar snorted. "Fool," he muttered, and turned away. Bastet only stared down the dim hallway, his receding image still burned into her mind. Even now she wasn't certain what he'd said, what he'd meant...but it couldn't mean what it had sounded like, could it? To speak with her--a mortal? To claim responsibility? To debase himself...for a mortal?
"Upuat," Bastet whispered, and fell silent.
Lord Harkhebi lifted his head from his work when he spotted Taheret passing by, still adjusting her shawl over her shoulders. Her eyes were red but carefully made up, as was the rest of her; she looked as if she were ready to spend the day sailing down the river, or browsing the marketplace, even though by now it was early evening.
"Tat?" he called, and she paused to look back at him. He frowned. "Where are you going so late? If you need something from market, I can always send one of the girls."
"It's all right." She turned back to the door. "I need to see to something, is all."
"Do you wish me to accompany you?"
"No, I'm fine."
Harkhebi bit his lip but didn't protest. When she reached the door and placed her hand upon it he called out again.
Once more she looked back at him. He paused.
"If I could do anything," he finally said. "Anything at all to set it right. What could I do? What would make you happy?"
She stared at him for a moment or two, as if taking in his question. Her reddened eyes softened a little.
"Do nothing," she replied softly. "Just let things happen as they will...and...be here for me if I need you. This is all I want...is it too much, Father?"
Harkhebi stared back, brows furrowed. Eventually he sighed and his gaze shifted to the floor tiles.
"No...I wish you would ask more, Tat, and that I could do more. Much more. But...if it's what makes you happiest..."
"Then I'll let you do what you wish. But please...will you let me know where you're going? And take one of the girls with you? I don't like the thought of you being anywhere alone so soon."
Taheret started to protest, then bit it off and offered a small bow. "I was going to the temple. Just to the inner court, to the public shrines. I'll take Baket with me."
"Please come home soon. Dinner will be waiting."
"Yes, Lord." Another bow, and she was gone.
Harkhebi couldn't take his eyes from the spot where she'd left. His fingers clenched the reed pen he was holding. Despite the promise she'd made, he still worried about her.
The ibis, its feathers tinted silver in moonlight, perched atop the city wall and watched as the two women made their way across the town toward the temple. It knew of another who approached, from a different way. It had not planned this...though it knew that Someone had. Its tiny moonstone eyes followed the two as they stopped outside the large structure, the taller one saying something to the shorter one. When they moved again, it was the taller woman who entered the temple alone, leaving her servant behind. This the ibis had expected.
He had also expected the third shape to appear not far behind them, from the same direction; not the other one he waited for, but close. This one waited a short while before passing beyond the servant's sight to enter the temple courtyard as well, unseen.
The ibis preened one wing before settling himself. Perhaps one sought to obtain knowledge this night, but he felt one would end up more confused than ever by what he would soon see.
He waited and watched.
Taheret entered the temple forecourt alone. Baket had fussed slightly when instructed to wait outside the pylon, but after a few choice admonitions had fallen silent and sullenly stood in her place while Taheret went inside. Why should anyone be suspicious of a young noblewoman who wished to pray within the temple? She had no doubt of the real reason her father had requested she bring a servant along.
Within the palace, in one of the inner courts, could be found several shrines to the lesser gods, where visitors could leave offerings and say small prayers for protection and guidance. While she had drowsed Taheret had had thoughts of coming here. She didn't know why, or even where the thoughts had come from, but she suspected. She'd never given the temple much thought until now; and this evening, she was filled with the overwhelming urge to visit it. Alone. The servant had been a pesky nuisance, but now that she was rid of her, she took a deep breath and let it out, unaware that a second shadow followed her within, keeping out of sight of her as much as it could. Taheret's thoughts were too preoccupied to notice her father coming in silently behind her anyway. She approached one of the little-used shrines, its statue long missing, and lit a lamp beside it, illuminating the empty hollow in the wall. She stared at it for a short time before fishing around in the folds of her garment.
After a moment she found what she was looking for and pulled it out. A scrap of papyrus, sketched upon by her own hand. She'd drawn the little image of a wolf, the name Up-uat scrawled beneath it, after waking herself up. She thought of what she'd overheard the priest telling her father. A little-known god, with no temples, no priests. No one to serve him.
Maybe I've found my reason, after all.
Her hand trembled slightly as she placed the bit of papyrus in the wall hollow, said a short prayer, and offered a few scraps of food that she'd also stolen from the house before coming. A slice of meat, a few dates, a cake sweetened with honey. She had no idea what wolves ate, nor what gods liked to consume. She offered another prayer anyway and bowed her head, the lamp flickering in a small breeze.
A sound from behind her made her jump, and she turned to look. Nothing. Not even a shadow, except those that already crawled down the walls. Was she relieved? Or disappointed? She'd hoped that her sudden visit here would provide...something. Anything. She'd sensed so strongly that it would. But now, she was beginning to doubt her own beliefs. She clasped her hands together and stared at the shrine.
Please, let him come. Let me at least see him. If I have to fight him for my child, I will. Just let me know that he's willing to fight. That he's worthy of being its father. That he's worthy of being a god.
She shut her eyes again and prayed silently, hoping for one of the odd feelings she'd been getting. None were forthcoming; her heart began to grow heavy. She let out a small sigh after the minutes had stretched out too long to count, and stood, reaching over to dim the lamp.
Perhaps it was merely a moment of insanity on both of our parts, after all...
As the lamp dimmed she heard the first sound behind her, and all of her muscles stiffened, her throat drying out so she felt like choking.
Her hand froze above the lamp. A few more moments passed before she could move again, slowly turning her head to look behind herself, eyes wide.
A tall shadow, where one hadn't been before, stood a ways back, at a respectable distance. Its eyes glowed very faintly in the dim light. The two of them stared silently at each other for a long while, neither wishing to speak first. Taheret tried to swallow, but her throat had gone completely parched. No noise came out.
I'm afraid, she thought, and it made sense. She didn't want to be, yet she was. No matter how much this might have been the way things were supposed to be...she was still afraid of him.
Maybe someday she could rid herself of that feeling. But not now.
The shadow tipped its head slightly, and she nearly quailed again. When it spoke...it wasn't quite what she'd expected.
"I did not get your name, the last time, Lady..."
She sensed, and heard, the shame in his voice, and took a breath to still herself. He'd come. He'd actually come here, to see her. A god, visiting a mortal. Just as he'd done before. She swallowed again, and found her voice.
"...Taheret, Lord." And she bowed, deeply.
"Taheret." He echoed the name, as if figuring out the sound of it, and his ears lowered. "This is a good name."
"Th...thank you, Lord." Taheret discovered she was wringing her hands and forced herself to stop. The two of them stood there, neither one certain what to say next; she knew it was as awkward for him as for her.
"Are..." He lifted his head when she spoke. "...Are you going to take the child, Lord?"
He blinked as if surprised. Then his look softened into pensiveness. He raised his head, stood up straight.
"I will take him from you, if you do not wish to raise him."
"Why?" She knew it was foolish to question a god, even a minor one, yet the word slipped out anyway.
"Because I am his father. I am responsible for him and for this." Now, he bowed to her. "I cannot suffer a punishment great enough. I have thought of many and none come close. However, if you do not wish to care for him, I will take him back to Iunu. He will not start his life as I did."
"As you did...?"
"Abandoned. Forgotten." Another bow. "Your decision, Lady?"
Taheret bit her lip and placed her hands against her belly, as if he had intended to rip the child from her.
"I...I had planned on raising him. Myself, if need be."
He bowed a third time. "Then I honor your decision, if he does not end up as his father." He paused and she saw one of his ears flick. He stared at the guttering lamp sitting beside the empty shrine, and she could tell his interest was piqued.
"You offer prayers to an empty shrine?" he said, voice curious. Her mouth twitched and she had to turn away to avoid embarrassing him.
"No, Lord...it's not empty. Anymore."
"An offering?" He took a step forward and peered down into the recess, ears cocking. She could see his face now, and was surprised by how childlike his eyes were. Nevertheless she cringed away from him slightly when he neared, though he didn't appear to notice. He frowned at the scrap of papyrus and bits of food she'd placed within the hollow.
"There is no statue here."
"I thought I could substitute for one. Since there isn't one yet."
"Yet?" His frown grew and he picked up the slip of papyrus, squinting at it in the dim light. He blinked a few times, and then gave her a confused look.
Taheret swallowed now, as she nearly lost her voice. It came out almost a whisper as it was.
"You have no shrines. You have no temples."
He stared at her for a moment before putting the papyrus back. He put his hand to his head.
"No." He got an odd look. "Why does this concern you?"
"Every god should at least have a shrine. The priests said they had never even heard of you before, when I mentioned your name."
"This...this is understandable." He appeared to be slightly embarrassed now, despite her efforts, though he didn't clarify why.
"It may be understandable, but it's no excuse." She offered a bow. "I...I've thought of what happened. Things I've gone over, since then."
His eyes looked pained and his ears flicked back; he had to look away, off to the side. "I can never offer an apology that is great enough, Lady. So I will not try. When I return, I will face the tribunal of God Ra. My punishment will not be nearly enough for what I've done. I had hoped to at least claim responsibility...for him...if you did not want him. Yet as you do, I will return."
Taheret stared at the shrine in silence for a while.
"You claim responsibility..."
"I can never claim enough, Lady."
"You knew it...knew it was wrong..." She lifted her head a little and clutched at her shawl. Her heart squeezed within her chest. "Why...why did you do it...? If you knew...?"
The god's ears lowered again. "I have asked myself this hour upon hour...I have no answer to give you, Lady. If I did, I would gladly give it to you, and still accept my punishment." He paused. "I regret that I cannot give you an explanation. I was wrong. I go to face my punishment now." He bowed--why should a god bow to a mortal, she wondered?--and turned away.
She sucked in a breath and spoke quickly before he could disappear. "What will you do? Now?"
He stopped but didn't turn back. "I had...considered requesting that my life be taken," he said. "But I do not know if it is right to deprive him of his father, whether he should know of me or not. So I consider banishing myself from the Paut Neteru."
"Banishing...banishing yourself from the gods...?" Taheret whispered.
He turned and bowed, the equivalent of a nod. His muzzle wrinkled as if with disgust.
"There is perhaps more than one apt reason why I have no shrines. Farewell, Lady."
She felt a little foolish to continue interrupting him, as he was obviously trying to leave. Nevertheless she took a few hurried steps after him as he started walking away, and held out one hand. She drew it back, lest he turn around and take it; but raised her voice instead.
"If you did have a shrine, a temple, someone to serve you. Would you belong in the Paut then?"
He stopped abruptly and his ears twitched. He finally looked back with such an odd expression that any other time, perhaps she would have laughed.
At least she had his attention. She heard him suppress a sigh and he turned around once more. "Your meaning...?"
"A god should not be without a shrine," Taheret repeated herself. "Even if he has made a mistake."
He flushed. "Perhaps this was part of the punishment I was meant to receive. To be abandoned, to be banished, to be forgotten. To not exist."
"I don't believe that." Her fists tightened and she forced herself to loosen them. She felt it difficult to speak to him, even if she believed in what she said. "I believe that even if you are neteri...you are still much like us...and we make mistakes. Some perhaps unforgivable. But expected."
"This was not a mistake if I knew what I did and did it anyway. You will not convince me I didn't know what I did, Lady."
"I won't." She forced down the anger in her voice, took a breath to keep herself calm. "But neither will I condemn one who realizes his error...especially if perhaps, it was something that had to happen...Lord."
He frowned and stared at her. "'Had'?" he asked after a moment. "Please explain what you mean."
"You knew I would bear your child," Taheret said softly. "I know you couldn't have known this then. I know that I can't know it now...yet we both do." Unconsciously, her hands slipped over her stomach. His gaze drifted down to look at them, then up again, perplexed.
"How...how do you know this...?"
"The way that you spoke. Before, and after, and after again." Her ears burned. "The way your voice changed. When you prophesied this, it was not you who spoke. It was Another. I can tell when I look at you. You expected this as little as I did."
They stood staring at each other in silence, Taheret standing her ground, the wolf god standing in confusion. She doubted he'd expected a mortal to know so much more than he did.
"You say that...another spoke through me?" he echoed, voice faint within the echoing room.
She bowed her head a little. "I cannot know this, but...the way you react, even now...did you truly not notice how your feelings changed, Lord?"
She had to endure his stare for a few moments longer until he turned away with a scowl. "Even if," he said. "Even if some Other spoke through me, this does not excuse my actions. I doubt this Other would use me in that manner, to so harm someone else."
"Maybe they would," Taheret replied. "We have no way of knowing all the ways of Maat. You are right, Lord...that it would not excuse you..." She bit her lip and forced the words to come out. "...But I cannot hate you, or bear anger for you, if this was something meant to happen."
"I'm...not comfortable to be here, truthfully, Lord...but I refuse to hate you."
Silence. He looked away.
"I would be glad if this relieved my guilt at all...yet in reality it does not. I thank you anyway, Lady."
"You can't banish yourself," Taheret blurted out. He looked at her as if she were mad. "You...you can't banish yourself, Lord," she repeated. "You belong with the neteru. Even if you feel you do not. You are one of them. Because you were abandoned...because you have no shrines...this matters little. There was a reason that this happened. There was a reason that they accepted you."
Upuat's mouth opened a little, as if he intended to speak, yet no sound came out. His eyes were wide and luminous in the dimness, filled with disbelief.
"I believe that things happen for a reason. Even if we would rather they did not. I do not feel weaker now, Lord. I know that like you I must be stronger, somehow." Taheret clasped her hands together and bowed. "I would like to ask your blessing in donating a statue to the temple. One in your name. To place in this shrine, Lord."
He could only stare at her even longer. "A shrine...?"
"You have none. If you are with the Paut Neteru, you should have a shrine, at the very least." She chewed on the inside of her mouth and tried to settle her stomach. "I can have a sculptor create a statue to place here, for offerings...if you would bless it, Lord?"
He shook his head slightly. "Why would you want to worship me...? After all of this?"
"Because you are a god." She paused, and then lifted one shoulder a bit, looking meek. "I'm not certain why...it just seems proper. If it will also convince you to stay with the neteru. And..." Her voice trailed off as she briefly thought ahead. She shut her eyes for a moment, then opened them and took a breath. "And because this is something worthy of the father of my child." Once more she pressed her hands to her belly. "I want him to be proud."
This time when he stared at her, she didn't flinch or turn away. It was almost as if she challenged him to deny her request; one small touch of power, when she hadn't felt any before. After some time his expression changed; she could tell he was still perplexed, yet he placed his arm to his breast and tipped his head.
"A...a statue for the shrine, I suppose. Though who would deliver any offerings..."
"I would." Taheret stood her ground. "For now."
He nodded, once, and turned aside a bit. "Very...very well...I suppose you will tend to this...I will head back to Iunu for my trial."
"You cannot request death, or banish yourself," she called after him as he started once more to walk away. "You will have need to return when your shrine is dedicated, and when your child is born."
He glanced over his shoulder and now, the look on his face did make her smile, just a little bit. He seemed to see this, and his confused eyes softened. She remembered again the tone of his voice, before it had happened...and this made her heart speed up briefly. Was she still afraid of him? She was, though she also felt she would be able to overcome that, in time. Perhaps by the time their child was born. Perhaps she could face him then, without any fear.
Upuat turned away a final time and vanished into the shadows. She silently wished him luck with the tribunal, before turning to the makeshift shrine and extinguishing the lamp, tossing salt into the oil. She didn't move to face the new sound that came up behind her, a hand tentatively touching her shoulder. Instead, she let out her breath and placed her own hand over it, squeezing.
"Tat...?" a voice whispered. "What have you done?"
Taheret stared down at the scrap of papyrus with the wolf drawn upon it, the untouched pieces of food and the slightly sputtering lamp. She sighed.
"I've forgiven him." She shut her eyes. "And I've accepted him."
No response. She turned to her father and placed her head against his shoulder so he held her close. She sighed again, suddenly weary.
"I wish to go home...can you call upon a sculptor, in the morning, Father...?"
"Of course." Harkhebi placed his arm about her shoulders and led her away from the shrine. "Come...take some rest. You'll be safe, now."
As they walked away, back to the temple forecourt, Taheret let her eyes drift shut in a waking sleep, and for once, even though she knew it would likely return now and then, for a while, her fear was gone.
I was always safe. He did not hurt me.