"Neferkempi," the Pharaoh whispered into her long, silken black hair. Seeing her, for the first time beside him as his wife, reassured him that life was good. She stirred at the sound of his voice while the Pharaoh leaned back, gazing down at her. Neferkempi was not her real name –it was Aneksi– but the Pharaoh had given the name to her out of affection and it served as a constant and pleasant reminder about how they had fallen in love.
Aneksi used a hand to cover her blushing face after noticing that the Pharaoh was awake and watching her. He chuckled lightly at her behavior.
"How many more nights will it take to ease you out of your shyness?" he asked with a sleepy smile.
Aneksi brought her hand away from her face to watch the Pharaoh with adoration as he closed his eyes and shifted an arm around her waist to pull her in close. The Pharaoh was right –it was not their first night together– but Aneksi felt as if it were. Because now it was the cotton–spun sheets from the Palace that separated the two from the outside world, not the draperies from her father's Temple. How could she explain that to him?
Aneksi pressed her face against the groove of his neck and shoulder, seeing the bright light of day through the curtained opening that led to their personal garden. Her face sobered.
Across from this chamber were the consort chambers. There, the pharaoh's five other wives had a place to themselves when they were not requested, but close enough to be called upon the Pharaoh's whim.
Within moments, Aneksi could feel the Pharaoh's breathing slow against her hair and his hold slacken. He was asleep again. Aneksi shook her head, giving the sleeping Pharaoh a smile, and brushed her lips against his skin before slowly drawing herself away from him. Flipping over, Aneksi grabbed her clothes from the floor and dressed into them. The white cloth garment wrapped around her chest and body while also exposing her back. The material itself was extremely light, with even the slightest breeze feeling as if it touched her bare skin. But the months of Ra's intense light were upon them and the clothes brought comfort.
In the garden was a towering statue of a goddess on her knees, arms splayed out in flight, and her head turned up to stare at the changing sky. The statue was as real as one could be, with high cheekbones, grooved fingernails, carved strands to show windswept hair, and a perfectly rounded body.
It stood above a three–foot marble pedestal and was surrounded by potted palms and ferns; a replica of the goddess Ma'at's altar from Aneksi's former residence with her father at the Tri–God Temple.
Aneksi dropped to her knees and bowed her head at the statue's base, feeling the sun beat bright and strong against her bare back.
"Oh, Ma'at, Goddess of Justice and Truth, I am but your loyal servant. I implore you to keep this great kingdom under your order and bless the Pharaoh with an eternal life of wisdom and compassion."
The rattle of a fallen jug rolling on the ground brought Aneksi out of her reverence to her patron goddess. She turned around at the noise with a hand on her chest, startled.
"Forgive me, Your Highness!" a male youth said in a hoarse whisper. "I didn't mean to!"
"Quite alright," Aneksi said with a nod. The boy bowed his head and stepped to grab the fallen jug. It had sustained a large c***k along one of its sides. Aneksi wondered how the boy had gotten here, but waved away her doubt, assuming he was a servant with access to this part of the palace. "But if you will, do be careful around here. I would not want you waking the Pharaoh." The boy nodded solemnly at her words, holding the jug to his chest, before running off.
Some of the contents of the jug had spilled onto the ground, but Aneksi did not take heed of what it was. Instead, she stood up and walked out of the sunlight to enter back into the chamber. As she held the doorway's curtain up, a shaft of the sun's rays hit against the Pharaoh's shaven head, illuminating his face. When the curtain fell back, the room darkened once more.
Aneksi smiled at the still sleeping pharaoh and knelt at the side of the bed.
"It's time to rise," she whispered, using the back of her hand to stroke the Pharaoh's face. She watched his eyelids flicker and moved to withdraw her hand when he caught her wrist and brought her fingers to his lips. Aneksi shook her head, watching the Pharaoh now grasp her hand and lower it to his chest, over his heart.
"Let me enjoy this moment," he said at last.
"You should be enjoying the sun's warmth more," Aneksi amended, but could not help but settle down on the floor at his side. After all, they were ready to break away from tradition just days ago.
The Pharaoh opened his mouth to speak when the door to their private chamber swung open. It was followed by warning shouts from the guards.
Aneksi instantly broke away from the Pharaoh and stood up, eyes cast to the floor. With a frustrated sigh, the Pharaoh sat upright, hunched, and ran a hand over his bald head while he shifted to have the bed sheet cover his lower body. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and glanced wearily at his First Wife, Kiya, who had dropped to her knees several feet away from the bed.
Her usual perfected face was smeared with black, green, and gold– the leaking colors of her makeup. The veins of her eyes were a prominent red. Something had caused her great distress to have her appear before her Pharaoh as she was.
"What is it now?" he muttered, glancing away from her face. It was a distressing sight that reminded him too much of what he had left behind.
"Forgive me, but Her Grace insisted–" started one of the Pharaoh's personal guards. He glanced at Aneksi and then back to the Pharaoh.
"Oh, King of the Nile, Son of the gods, may you live on for an eternity, forgive my intrusion!" cried Lady Kiya, interrupting the fearful guard. "It is your son, Heir Prince Ankhetep! He does not rise from his sleep!"
The Pharaoh straightened at her words while Aneksi gasped, a hand over her chest.
"Is this true?"
Lady Kiya nodded. "Please! I ask that you see to our firstborn!"
The Pharaoh nodded solemnly.
"You may leave, First Wife. I will see our child."
Aneksi lowered her arm and clasped her hands together, twisting her fingers. Yes, she was indeed worried about the sudden occurrence that had befallen the young prince. But there was some sense of pain in her heart hearing the Pharaoh say such things to other women. But there was nothing she could do about it. 'Our child' did not involve her. It involved Lady Kiya. It involved Lady Ahset, Lady Akhara, Lady Meryt, and Lady Khemut. The five other wives of the Pharaoh who bore him children. Kiya also held the title 'First Wife' for being the mother to the Pharaoh's only son and heir Prince.
Lady Kiya bowed her head and stood up from the floor. She glanced at Aneksi, and in that split second, Lady Kiya lowered her head and almost smiled, before exiting the chamber. Aneksi felt a chill run down her spine at the look she received and shivered in the heat.
The guards shuffled out behind Lady Kiya.
Once the door shut behind them, Aneksi turned to the Pharaoh. She watched him swing his legs down from the bed and grab his clothes from the bed–stand.
Aneksi exhaled lightly and began to walk out towards the garden. Perhaps staying away while the Pharaoh dealt with personal affairs would be best.
"Neferkempi," the Pharaoh said, looking over his shoulder, "come and dress me." Aneksi stopped walking and glanced at him, confused, while the Pharaoh shooed away a servant. Seeing that she had not yet come, the Pharaoh twisted his abdomen to face her more directly. "Why do you hesitate?" he asked, an eyebrow raised.
"I..." But she was at a loss for words. Servants usually dressed the Pharaoh; there was no need for her to do it.
"Come here, Neferkempi," he urged.
Aneksi quietly made her way over, standing before the Pharaoh. He gently placed his hands over her hips and stared up into her eyes. Aneksi could not help but feel his adoration towards her and she leaned forward instinctively, laying her hands on his shoulders.
"I know it will be difficult for you to become accustomed to this life," he said, catching her gaze. "But know that I did not bring you here to compare yourself to the women in this Palace." Aneksi's shoulders slumped and forced her eyes elsewhere, ashamed she was so easily read by the Pharaoh.
"Is it wrong of me to feel this way?" she whispered. "Perhaps if–" Aneksi stopped, feeling the Pharaoh's lips press against the fabric above her abdomen. Aneksi's eyes darted back to his, and he smiled up at her with softened eyes.
"Oh, Neferkempi, one day I shall be worrying about the health of our children."