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My life is not what you would call privileged. It has been one of endless work and sacrifice. Born into a life of slavery, my life has never truly been my own. My time has always been dictated by others, when to eat and sleep, when to rise and when to rest. Very little of my day could I ever call my own.
Still, it could be worse. I am far more fortunate than others. The bastard child of a pharaoh and his hand maiden, my life has been afforded more luxury than most in my station. Rather than toil away in the perpetual darkness of the mines, or be subjected to the backbreaking labor of building the great tombs and monoliths of our great leaders, my job is to tend to the personal stallions of the pharaoh, as well as his numerous other household creatures. Feeding, bathing, cleaning stables: my tasks are tedious and seem to never end, yet I remind myself that it could always be worse. If that should fail to brighten my spirits I have but to look down the palace walls at the thousands of souls struggling to survive each day as the slave master cracks his whip.
My father has never publicly acknowledged that he and I share the same blood. Yet I believe he knows. He has always shown far more mercy to me than any other, ignored many of my smaller transgressions. Often I would find him wandering the stables during my routine time to tend to them. We would converse for lengths of time, forming something akin to a relationship, something I never witnessed him do with any other servant in all my years in the palace.
As I aged, more of my father’s face began to show in mine. I never boasted to others who my father was for fear of reprisal, but by the age of twelve it was practically undeniable. The queen, who I believe had no prior knowledge of her husband’s philandering, grew suspicious, then downright outraged. She began to scorn my mother, constantly having her redo tasks because of inconsequential and often imaginary complaints. On several occasions she had her chained and whipped for minor infractions. She even went so far as to have her imprisoned for days with no food once.
My father had little choice but to stand idly by and let it happen. I do not fault him for this. Any act of interference would have only raised questions better left unasked. Even the pharaoh of Egypt, ruler of all the lands, a god on Earth, must answer to his queen in one form or another.
Once the queen had grown weary of tormenting my mother, and my appearance began to take that of my father, her attention shifted to me. Scorned though she was, I believe the queen had a heart because she was not as vindictive towards me as she had been to my mother. Perhaps she understood that I played no part in the transgressions against her and her marriage, that I was nothing more than the byproduct of said transgressions. No, I don’t think she was punishing me so much as she was my parents.
All of this was nothing more than inconvenience. The real problem didn’t arise for nearly a decade. My father grew ill. The queen summoned the finest healers and holy men in the land, but it was all for naught. The illness progressed, showing no signs of relenting, until the pharaoh was nothing more than a shell of his former self. It was clear to everyone in the palace that his time was short on this earth.
The pharaoh had a second son. He was born just shy of a year after I was. When we were younger we often played in the gardens together, but naturally grew apart as we aged, our different stations in life pulling us in opposite directions. To the best of my knowledge he had never known about our kinship. That was, until our father lay on his deathbed and made his final confession to his younger son. No one was present for the conversation, so I cannot be certain of what was said, but I believe the pharaoh only wanted his younger son to know that he had a sibling.
Rather than bring us together, this knowledge only served to drive a wedge between us. The prince immediately began to fear for his legacy, worried that I could usurp the throne from him. The thought had never occurred to me to do so, but as I was the elder son, it was technically within my right to do so.
My father died during that conversation. At the time I thought nothing of it, but recent events have given me cause to reconsider. I am certain that my younger brother killed our king, ending his life before he could tell anyone else.
Our pharaoh was laid to rest days later in his glittering sarcophagus, bound tightly in funereal bandages. As he was placed in his tomb among the riches with which to pay for his trip to the afterlife and several felines to lead him to it, the new pharaoh, my brother, decreed that as his most trusted and faithful servant, I had been chosen to accompany the deceased into the afterlife to better serve him there. All the masses of Egypt cheered, overjoyed at the honor bestowed upon me.
Accompanied into the tomb by several guards, I was beaten mercilessly. Barely conscious, I could do nothing but watch through blurred vision as the tomb was sealed, the light becoming nothing more than a sliver before disappearing entirely.
I was terrified, but I’d be lying if I denied that the idea of eternity with my father in paradise was appealing. We could finally be together as father and son, not merely king and servant. We would be able to say all the things we were unable to say before. So I did my best to tend to my wounds, wiping away the blood so as not to appear monstrous when we arrived on the other side, and tried to focus on the joyous future ahead.
That was over a week ago, I believe—time is slippery when there is no light to track. I don’t understand why I haven’t been taken to the afterlife yet. I’ve managed to slake my thirst with some of the wine entombed with my king. I held off as long as I could, but the wait for the afterlife has taken far longer than I ever imagined it would. I pray to the gods that my father will understand and be forgiving when I see him next.
Hunger is a pressing matter though. Searching as best I could, groping blindly in the abysmal black, I was unable to find any food. My stomach pains me so. My body is growing weaker by the hour. I fear that if Anubis does not arrive soon, it will be too late for me.
But hunger and thirst are the least of my worries. What I fear most are the cats. Left without food, their primal nature is beginning to reemerge. Just a week ago they were docile and loving, lying with me as I awaited Anubis’s arrival, purring as I stroked their fur. Now I fear sleep, for I’ve awoken to the pain of bites in my sleep. They have the scent of my blood, the aroma of meat from my open wounds.
I can feel them waiting, somewhere in the darkness. They watch my every movement, looking for a moment of weakness, waiting to pounce. I can hear them, licking their chops eagerly, the near-silent padding of their footfalls as they circle me, edging in closer, waiting for my hunger to leave me so weak I won’t be able to fend them off any longer. Then they will feast.
Their purrs are drawing closer, the menace ringing clear.
Please, Anubis, come quickly.
Credit: William Davis