The day after Hypatios left, leaving Lapidos behind as a spokesman for Greece, Tima was being prepared to be presented to the kingdom. She felt very nervous, scared that they would not accept her because she was a slave. Having been dressed by servants (who were clearly jealous of her), she was standing in front of a mirror, looking herself over as Kiko brushed her brown hair. "I barely look like myself…"
Kiko chuckled. "You're right…you look human."
Tima was not sure how to respond to that, especially with how nervous she was. When Kiko finished brushing the brunette's hair, the Hebrew looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a simple but elegant white, floor-length, sleeveless dress with a small gold belt around her waist. She had gold arm bands on both arms and gold sandals on her feet. She rubbed her arms a little as Kiko chuckled. "Don't be nervous; you'll be fine."
Tima looked at the blond. "What if they don't accept me?"
Kiko waved it off. "You're talking nonsense. They will love you."
Tima sighed and looked away. "I don't think the other servants do anymore."
Kiko had to acknowledge the possibility; she did see the jealous looks on the servants who dressed her. As Tima looked into the mirror, Kiko hugged her friends from behind. "That's true: they're jealous now. But give them time: the jealously will melt away and they will see you for who you really are: just one of them."
Tima chuckled a little and touched the Caria's arms. "Really? After all, I'm not a servant anymore."
Shaking her head, Kiko tapped the Hebrew's heart. "Deep down, you're still the same as they are. Never forget that."
Tima nodded as there was a knock at the door. When Kiko granted entrance, Atem stepped in, dressed in his Pharaoh's garb with Tarra on his shoulder. Tima looked at him and blushed a little, especially he smiled and took a step forward. "Tima, you look so beautiful."
Kiko chuckled. "Of course she does. The fiancé of the Pharaoh deserves nothing short of the best clothes."
Tima blushed some more as Kiko left. Atem looked at her and saw how nervous she was. "Don't worry; they will love you."
Tima nodded and leaned her head into Atem's neck. "I hope you're right…"
Tarra moved to her shoulder and nuzzled her cheek a little. Fret not. You'll be fine.
Tima smiled at her words.
Minutes later, she and Atem were looking out at the balcony where Tima would be presented to the kingdom; the people in town knew that the Pharaoh had an important announcement to make but did not know what it was. She was trying to calm the goosebumps forming on her arms. Rubbing her back, Atem was about to step forward when they heard a familiar voice: "Don't be nervous."
Looking up, they saw that Seth and Itami were there; he wanted to see this firsthand since he was the first to truly accept this relationship. Tima chuckled and rubbed her arms again. "Too late. I mean…what if they don't like me?"
Seth smirked and closed his eyes. "The future Queen should not have to worry about what others think of her. She walks down her own road with trust and confidence steaming from her intuition and heart." He opened his eyes and looked at her. "You managed to stay strong in your faith and your belief in what your heart tells you. The people will see that…and they will love you for that."
Itami's eyes sparkled at the Hebrew. Just as you won over everyone in the Court a few suns ago, you will win over the town. We know it.
Silently thanking Seth and Itami for their words, Atem came into view of the villagers, prompting them to cheer and chant for their god-incarnate leader and his chosen phoenix. Holding up his hands to quiet them, Atem started with, "Citizens, I bring you joyous news. I have found my future Queen."
The townspeople did not expect to hear that; they had seen Roxanna when she accompanied him to check on a new building project and they did hear rumors that this was the woman who was supposed to marry the Pharaoh and rule with him. But it seemed like Atem was not talking about her. They also noted that Atem appeared to more relaxed and happier; when he rode through town, whether Roxanna was with him or not, he appeared stressed and unhappy. Their thoughts were interrupted when Atem continued. "She is the woman who I fell in love with and with whom I am very happy with. Because of that, I know that she and I will lead this kingdom to prosperity and protect everyone from those who would seek to harm us."
The villagers cheered again as Atem looked behind him and smiled at Tima. Her nervousness growing again, she slowly stepped forward until she was in view. When she did, the townspeople did not know how to respond at first. They could tell that she was not from Khment because of her skin color and that she did not come from royalty because of how nervous she was. Squeezing her hand a little, Atem stepped to the side, still in view, to let Tima speak. Tima looked out at the people and could feel their stares on her. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she started to speak. "I wish I knew what to say. When I came here many moons ago…I never pictured my life turning out like this: going from the Pharaoh's slave…to his fiancé."
She blushed a little, not wanting to be boastful about her good luck. Feeling Atem's hand rub her back, she continued. "I know that I might not be the perfect look for the Queen. The truth is…I'm not sure of myself. Even after all this, I still have my doubts." Looking at Atem's smile, she smiled as well and gained a little more confidence. "But I will make this promise to all of you: I will do everything in my power to be a Queen you can proud of, one that you can look up to and support."
When she stopped speaking, she could hear the silence of the crowd. Biting her lower lip, she looked at Atem. "Do they not…?"
Hearing the cheers starting to build, Atem chuckled. "You still think that?"
Tima looked out at the peasants and saw that they were indeed cheering for her. Blushing, she held up her hand, trying to be modest. While they did stop cheering, they did something else that surprised the Hebrew: they bowed to her, showing that they both accepted her as their future Queen and respected her. Tima slowly lowered her hand as Atem took her hand and led her inside. "You see? You had nothing to worry about."
Tima giggled and brushed her hair behind her ear. "Yes, you're right." Feeling him pull her towards his study, she asked, "Where are we going? Aren't there meetings to attend to?"
Atem shook his head. "No, not until the sun starts to lower in the sky. For the next few suns, I will be teaching you Hieratic while the sun climbs."
When they reached the study, Atem had Tima sit down at the desk as the Hebrew asked, "Okay…but why do I have to learn?"
Atem chuckled as Tarra flew to the desk corner and looked at Tima. The future Queen of Khment should know how to read and write the language.
Tima blushed and nodded. "Yes, you are right."
Atem smiled and sat next to her. There were already papers in front of her, some with writings on them and others blank. Tima could not believe that her fiancé, the Pharaoh, was taking time out to teach her the written language of his people. Trying to be modest, she said, "You know, you don't have to do this."
Atem chuckled and kissed her gently. "It's my pleasure, my dear."
Tima blushed and smiled in response.
As the sun started to reach its peak later that day, Seth made his way to the study to remind Atem of the meeting. Seeing the door open a little, he peeked in, ready to knock, but froze at the sight. Tarra in the corner cleaning her feathers, Tima was trying to name the letters that Atem pointed out on the piece of paper filled with symbols. She got about half of them right, frustrating her but pleasing the Pharaoh and the lightning phoenix; they were pleasantly surprised that she was able to pick up as much as she did. Seth found that he was having trouble breathing so he excused himself into the hallway behind a pillar, wanting a moment to settle himself and his emotions. However, Itami found him and landed on his shoulder. There you are, Seth. You're usually early for meetings.
Seth silently reached up and scratched her chest a little. The phoenix leaned into the scratches but was still concerned. Something on your mind?
Seth whispered, "I'm fine."
Itami's eyes gave an all-knowing glint. Seth, you know as well as I do that you can't keep your thoughts hidden from me. Now what is wrong?
Knowing that she was right, Seth peeked around the pillar at the door to Atem's study. Itami flew to the door, peeked in, and immediately understood: about a week before she was killed, Seth took it upon himself to help Kisara read and write since he wanted her to be his equal and that meant her knowing the language Seth worked with. Her eyes turning sad, Itami flew back to Seth and nuzzled his head, showing that she understood. You know it wasn't your fault, right?
Seth lowered his head where the shadows covered his eyes. "It was…if I didn't worry her…if only I could have saved her…"
Feeling his wound reopen with the memory of Kisara dying his arms, a tear fell from his shadowed eye. Seeing this, Itami's heart broke. Oh, Seth…please don't cry…
Normally strong with confidence, Seth's voice cracked, "I'm not."
Itami nuzzled his cheek, wiping away the tear in the process. She then rested her cheek on his. Feeling this, Seth reached up and held her close. Only Itami knew Seth could be like this when the wound was reopened; he did a good job hiding it and took extra care to never show this side of him around anyone else, especially the Royal Court. The two stayed still until Seth was able to regain his composure, clear by him lifting his head and revealing his eyes. Itami looked at him, still worried. Seth? Are you all right?
Seth nodded and scratched her head. "I'm fine now. Thank you." He revealed himself from behind the pillar and looked at Itami. "Now remember…"
Itami nodded. I know; not a word.
Seth nodded and started to go the study again. Taking a deep breath, he knocked on the door. "My Pharaoh, the meetings are about to start."
Atem said from the room, "Very well. I will be there soon."
Seth nodded and started to head to the meeting room. However, he got an unexpected distraction: Kiko came running up to him, Nayru flying next to her. "Seth! Can I make a request to you?"
Seth looked at the Cetria in surprise. The blond very rarely spoke to him, let alone had requests for him. But he decided to let her speak and nodded. "Very well. What is it?"
Kiko smiled. "The new servants are here. I believe it is in your best interest to join me in meeting them."
Itami gave a little squeak in surprise and looked at Nayru as he settled onto his guardian's shoulder. What is this about?
Nayru's eyes glinted with mischief. It's a riddle.
Itami mentally smirked, knowing what that meant. In the dark about what the phoenixes were talking about, Seth asked, "Why should I go meet the servants? You've never asked me to do this before."
Kiko smiled. "I know. But the planet is telling me that you need to join me."
Having seen what happened when Atem argued that the planet could be wrong, Seth decided to swallow his argument and go with Kiko.
At the courtyard, Kiko, Seth, and their phoenixes found a row of eight new servants, evenly split on gender. An experienced male servant was there and bowed in respect to Seth. "High Priest. Kiko."
Kiko looked at the servants and nodded. "They look good. What do you think?"
The veteran looked at the servants and answered honestly: "They are all ready to serve…except one."
Seth's ears perked up at that. He did not like the idea of a servant not ready to serve; that could mean either rebellion or sloppy work. "Who?"
The servant pointed to a girl at the end of the line. "She seems too scared."
Kiko approached the girl. Her straight hair reaching down to her waist, the brunette was tiny compared to the other servants, even the women. Were it not for her breasts, she would have passed for a child, though she was Kiko's age. To Seth and Kiko's surprise, her skin was the same color as Tima, indicating that she was a Hebrew as well. Her head was down and she was trembling. The Cetria looked at the girl and felt a message come from the planet. She looked at Seth and then back at the brunette. "Hello there. I'm Kiko; what's your name?"
The girl was too nervous to speak. Taking her silence as ignoring, Seth gripped the Sennen Rod and took a step forward. Itami's talons squeezed his shoulder a little. Don't scare her; she's terrified as it is.
Seth listened to Itami's words but decided to ignore her; after all, fear was a good motivation to keep servants from rebelling against their masters. Feeling a shadow over her, the servant girl looked up and saw Seth. Gasping, she lowered her head again, making Itami peck Seth. I told you not to scare her!
Seth gave his phoenix a glancing glare and then turned his attention back to the brunette. "Girl, the head servant asked you a question. Now what is your name?"
Taking a deep breath, the girl squeaked out, "Tikali…"
Seth and Kiko blinked in surprise: even her voice was childlike. The other female servants snickered at her voice until Seth glared at them. It was plain that the servant named Tikali did not want to speak up because of how her voice sounded. For a moment, Seth remembered how the servants used to tease Kisara because of her pale skin and white hair. Burying his hurt again and seeing that her head was done, Seth gently but sternly ordered, "Tikali, look forward."
Nervously, Tikali slowly looked up until her eyes met the High Priest's. Their eyes locking, Seth's widened with startle. Her eyes were blue, like Kisara's. Itami looked down and made the same connection. Well, what do you know?
Not wanting to show his feelings to the others, Seth spoke to her through telepathy. Shut up.
Itami looked at Seth in surprise: his tone was sharp, as if he was upset about something. Seth?
Seth snapped, Not now! Itami stiffened at his tone. This was not normal for Seth to speak with such a tone. Mentally taking a deep breath, he told her more calmly, Just…not now…please?
Itami nodded and became quiet. She knew that something was wrong when Seth acted like this, especially after he had a wound reopening episode only moments ago. So she decided to not push it as Seth regained his composure and looked back down at Tikali, who quickly bowed her head. His voice turning tender (to everyone's surprise, including his own), he told her, "You have nothing to fear, Tikali. You will be taken care of by the Head Servant."
Pleasantly surprised that she was assigned with the caretaking to the small servant, Kiko smiled and took a step forward. "That's right, Tikali. You're in good hands."
Tikali peeked up and nodded. It seemed like she did not want to speak in fear of being laughed at again. The blond giggled and put her arm around the smaller female, startling her. "Don't be afraid to speak up. After all, we don't want to forget how to speak, do we?"
Tikali could not help but giggle at such an idea. To his great surprise, Seth felt his heart squeeze at the sound of her giggle: it was so innocent and playful. Suddenly remembering the meeting, he used that as an excuse to leave and took his leave. As he turned in the direction of the meeting room, he saw Tikali out of the corner of his eye and saw her looking at him. Feeling his heartbeat, he quickly took his leave. It was spooky to him how much she reminded him of Kisara.
A week later, Seth was studying in the scroll room, trying to prepare himself for an upcoming meeting with a neighboring kingdom. He had worked since breakfast and he was determined to work for the rest of the day since there would be no meetings today. He was getting hungry but he did his best to ignore the feelings. Putting away an extra scroll, Itami looked at Seth and chirped, getting his attention. Take a break, Seth. You're going to collapse at this rate.
Seth shook his head and continued to write. "No, I can't do that. The meeting is tomorrow morning and I need to be completely ready." He knew that Atem was too busy teaching Tima how to read and write to prepare as much as the High Priest was so Seth was ready to study enough for both. Hearing a knock at the door, he said without looking up, "Enter!"
The door slowly opened to reveal Tikali using her body to open the door as her hands were holding a tray with strips of meat, onions, slices of bread, and a goblet. Seth looked up and saw what she was carrying. "What is this?"
Tikali kept her head down, thinking it was not her place to look at someone as powerful as he. "Kiko…gave this to me…and told me to give it to you."
For the briefest second, Seth remembered that Kisara always made sure that Seth was eating right but he buried the memory before his wound was reopened. Itami flew to the desk and got another scroll that Seth was done with. At least someone is looking out for your health.
Seth glared at Itami before clearing a spot on the desk. "Leave it there."
Tikali nodded and set the platter on the table. Seth went back to work, thinking that was the end of it, until he sensed that Tikali was still standing next to him. Not looking up from his work, he stated, "Thank you; that will be all."
Tikali looked down; she had assumed that Kiko had told him. "But, High Priest, I have to stay by you; I am your personal servant."
Seth froze mid ink stroke; did she, the girl who reminded him too much of Kisara, just say that she was his personal servant? Did you know about this, Itami?
Itami answered honestly. No, I did not. Nayru didn't alert me to this.
Believing her, Seth shot up from the desk and headed for the door. Jumping from his sudden movement, Tikali started to follow him. "Master?"
Forgetting himself, Seth snapped, "Don't call me!"
Startled by his snap, she fell back, landing on her behind. Itami hissed at her guardian for frightening the poor girl and Seth looked down at the brunette, realizing his mistake. He was never one to snap at a woman if they did nothing wrong, like Tikali. Seeing her tremble in fear, he reached out, prompting her to wince and prepare for a hit. To her surprise, he patted her head gently. "Forgive me for snapping. But I don't like being called Master."
Tikali peeked up at him, making him freeze again. Once again, he had a flashback to Kisara, particularly when he used to pat her head to soothe her sadness. Pulling his hand back, he quickly turned towards the door and muttered, "Stay here…both of you."
Tikali nodded and did not move. Itami, however, was getting concerned. Seth had never asked his phoenix to stay behind like this. She wanted to ignore his order and fly after him but he closed the door, keeping the two in.
After taking a moment to calm his nerves since he kept thinking of Kisara, Seth went to talk to Kiko, finding her in the gardens with Nayru in a nearby tree. Going up to her, he demanded, "What is the meaning of giving me a personal servant?
Kiko did not look up from the flowers but still answered. "You need a personal servant, Seth. Everyone in the palace knows that the second over-stressed person besides the Pharaoh is you."
Seth crossed his arms. "I am not over-stressed."
Nayru gave a chirping laugh as Kiko turned around to give Seth a look. "Yes, you are. You're the last to bed every night and the first to work every morning. You are over-stressed."
Seth gripped the Sennen Rod tighter. "I don't have time for a servant, Cetria."
Kiko's eyes narrowed. She knew that he only called her that when he was really mad at him. Standing up, she stared him down with her arms crossed. "You're wrong. You're a very busy Priest and you need someone to take care of you. You can't do everything by yourself." Before Seth could protest, Kiko stated, "How is the Pharaoh supposed to have my High Priest by his side if you are too exhausted?"
Seth knew that he could not argue with that. But he had to know something: "Why that girl?"
Kiko's eyes sparkled and told him a half-truth. "She's very obedient and quiet. Besides, she is still scared and nervous all the time so she needs someone who can really look after her. You did that when you told her to not be afraid when she first came to the palace." She then went back to her flowers. "Enjoy her company; she's really nice to be around, once you get past the shyness, and she's willing to bend over backwards to serve."
Seth wanted to protest but he suspected that the blond would stick with her decision so he left in a huff. Hearing him, Kiko smiled; she knew what she was doing.
The next morning, Seth woke up. Today was the meeting with the other kingdom. Knowing that he was ready to help Atem, he sat up and was surprised to see Tikali setting a plate of food on a nearby table. "What are you doing?"
Jumping from being startled, Tikali looked back at Seth. Bowing her head, she said, "Good morning. I, um…brought you your breakfast…if that is all right."
Seth looked at the tray, which had bread, a jar of honey, fruit, and a goblet of wine. Tikali looked at the tray and said nervously, "Lady Kiko told me what you liked." Seth nodded quietly as Tikali put a smaller bowl of fruit on the table. "I even made a bowl for your bird."
Not insulted by being called a bird, suspecting that Tikali did not know what she was, Itami flew over and immediately started to eat the fruit gleefully. Mine!
Seth did not react to Itami's actions. "Thank you, Tikali. Bring the tray to me."
Nodding, Tikali set the tray on the bed in front of Seth. Seeing him start to eat with his usual numb look, she tilted her head, worried that she did something wrong. Itami looked up and noticed Tikali's actions. Can you at least say thank you?
Seth mentally glared at his phoenix before saying, "Thank you, Tikali."
The small servant sighed with relief and continued to watch him. Remembering something, she went back to the table and came back with Seth's Priest clothes. Seeing his raised eyebrow, she explained nervously, "I took the liberty…of washing your robes, Lord Priest. I thought…you would enjoy clean robes."
Seth froze mid-chew and looked at the robes. Seeing her waiting for a reaction, he nodded so she started to lay out his clothes. He could not believe that she did so much for him; not even the most veteran servants would do such a thing without being told. Continuing to eat, he was starting to see why Kiko assigned Tikali to him in the first place. But she still reminded him a lot of Kisara so he knew he would have to take extra care to keep his wound from opening.
Minutes later, Seth, with Tikali still trailing him and Itami on his shoulder, approached and knocked on the Pharaoh's door. He heard from Kiko that Tima was sick and Atem was hesitant to leave her side. Hearing permission to enter, he and his new servant entered. Atem, full dressed, was sitting next to Tima, who was in bed with a cold. She was coughing and feeling miserable, which worried Atem. Clearing his throat, Seth said, "My Pharaoh…we have the meeting to attend to."
Atem grimaced a little as he stroked Tima's hair. He knew that the doctor earlier told him that she would make a full recovery as long as she rested but he did not want to leave her side if she took a turn for the worst; he had seen people, both common and noble, get sick and get worse instead of better. However, Tima had faith in what the doctor said and looked up at Atem. "It's all right, Atem. You need to attend that meeting."
Atem looked down at her. "Are you sure?"
From her stand, Tarra chirped. She's right. This is a delicate time with this territory.
Hearing Tarra and seeing Seth's nod out of the corner of her eye, the crowned princess nodded with a smile. "I'm sure. After all, we don't want to make the other kingdom made and risk war on us. I mean…we already risked war once before.
Atem smiled and kissed her forehead. She was still hot so he admitted, "But I don’t want you to be alone."
Tima accepted that as she turned her head into her pillow to cough. "Well…how about we have a servant watch over me?"
Hearing that, Itami looked at Seth. How about Tikali? I mean, they're from the same country; they might become friends.
Silently agreeing, Seth gently pushed Tikali forward. "She can watch over the Queen."
Atem looked up, causing Tikali to bow down to her hands and knees. "Thank you, Seth." Getting up, he stroked his fiancé's arm with a smile. "I'll be back after the meeting."
Tima nodded as the men and their phoenixes left. Tima sat up a little to blow her nose into a handkerchief and saw that Tikali was still on the floor. Smiling, she cleared her nose and said, "You don't need to be down there. Come sit with me."
A little nervous about a servant sitting with the fiancé of the Pharaoh but still wanting to obey Tima's words, Tikali slowly stood up and sat in front of Tima. Tima smiled as the servant looked up and, for the first time, noticed that the sick woman sitting in front of her was not like the other royals or noblewomen in Khment. Wiping her nose and groaning in her misery, Tima smiled again. "Tell me, young one. What's your name?"
Used to people thinking she was younger than she was, Tikali said, "Tikali, ma'am."
Tima lit up a little both at the name and her voice. "Tikali…I like that name." seeing the other nod her thanks, Tima giggled. "I'm Tima."
Tikali was about to nod again when she realized something about Tima's name: it was a Hebrew name! "Ma'am…"
Tima held up her hand. "No need to be so formal. Tima is just fine."
Blushing a little, Tikali asked, "Forgive me, Tima, but…are you a Hebrew?"
Tima was surprised; very few outside the Court knew exactly what her race was. "Yes. How did you know?"
Forgetting who Tima was as far as status, Tikali held out her arm. Tima put hers next to Tikali's and her eyes lit up in surprise: they were the same skin color, revealing Tikali to be a Hebrew. Looking at the smaller female, Tima admitted, "I never thought I'd meet another of my race."
Tikali smiled and nodded. "Maybe we were destined to meet."
"Yes. Who knows? Maybe God has a plan for us." Seeing Tikali's face fall at the mention of God, Tima tilted her head in curiosity. "What's wrong?"
Tikali looked away and lowered her head. A lot happened to her and, because of that, she wondered if God even existed. Hearing Tima ask again, the servant shook her head. "Do not burden yourself with my troubles, my lady. A servant must not discuss her troubles with the future Queen."
Refusing to accept that answer, Tima scooted forward and hugged Tikali, surprising the servant greatly. The crowned princess smiled. "It's all right, Tikali. If you want to talk about, I'll listen."
Tikali pulled back, thinking that this was overstepping the boundaries. "But, my lady…"
Tima smiled and propped herself up against the pillows. "It's never good to keep stuff like that inside. Besides, with your voice…"
Out of instinct, Tikali covered her mouth, as if waiting to be teased. But, to her surprise, Tima giggled. "I was going to say that, with your voice, I'll be sure to pay attention more. Your voice is so adorable! And it suits you so well."
Tikali blushed, having never heard that her voice was adorable and fit her. "No one's ever told me that. I always…get teased about my voice."
Tima shook her head. "That's not right. You know what, Tikali? Those people who tease…they're envious. You have a unique voice and they envy that you have it. You should be proud of the voice that God gave you. After all, He knows what's He's doing and He doesn't make mistakes."
Hearing that, Tikali lowered her head again and murmured, "If He doesn't make mistakes…then why was my family…?" Before Tima could ask the servant to speak up, Tikali looked up and asked, "If I may…how did you get here?" Blushing, she said, "I mean, you're not from around here…I mean, you don't fit among those from Khment…I mean, you're different…"
Tima giggled as Tikali quietly panicked, thinking that she was saying the wrong things. The crowned princess reached out and patted Tikali's head. "You don't need to be so formal with me, all right? After all…when it's just the two of us, we're not the Pharaoh's fiancé and Seth's servants: we're friends."
Tikali looked up in shock. She was not expecting that. "Friends?"
Tima nodded. "Yes. Tikali, if there's one thing I learned here, it's that everyone is treated equally in the palace. I don't know if the other servants told you but I was once a servant myself." Seeing Tikali's shocked face, Tima giggled. "It's true. But Atem was able to look past my status and choose me. So don't get titles go to your head; that's all they are, titles."
Tikali thought about it and did remember that the servants were treated with respect here, unlike the other places where she worked. Smiling, Tima said, "So why don't you get comfortable and I'll tell you how I arrived in Khment. After all, we got a lot of time thanks to the meeting."
Tikali nodded as she fully faced Tima with her legs crossed. She then started to listen as Tima told her story from when bandits killed her people to reaching Greece to meeting Roxanna and her family to coming here as a gift, not knowing that fate had another story for her. Tikali listened intently and was shocked to hear what happened to Tima's caravan. When Tima finished, she saw the look in the servant's eyes and asked, "Tikali? Are you all right?"
Tikali whispered, "We're similar…"
Tima tilted her head. "What do you mean? How did you get here to Khment?"
Tikali took a deep breath and started to tell her story. A couple of years ago, she was tending to the sheep in the hills by her village. That was her job, despite it normally being a job for men; Tikali took it because she loved animals and they loved her more than the men. Hearing from her mother that breakfast was almost done, Tikali finished tending to the sheep and started to lead them back. Along the way, she saw smoke rising to the sky, more smoke than usual. Getting worried, she ran ahead of the sheep and could not believe what she saw: the village was on fire, the men were being slaughtered by bandits, and the women and children were being rounded up by more bandits; the bandits were a group of slave traders who resorted to disgusting tactics to get their stock. One of them saw Tikali and grabbed her, making her join her mother with the other women. Once the men were wiped out, the women's hands and feet were bound with rope and put in a cart before the bandits started to lead them away. They travelled for many days, picking up more women from another village and raping the women who had children (as virgins sold for higher). While she was spared from the rapes, Tikali still knew that her mother was suffering from them. The mother put on a brave face for her daughter and made sure that she ate the food they were given. She told Tikali that she believed that God kept them alive for a reason and that they needed to honor His decision. Tikali pretended to listen but, after praying for rescue and seeing torture, the knowledge of the horrors that the non-virgins were suffering, and hearing how vicious the bandits were in their insults to the women (especially with her and her voice), she was starting to believe that there was no God: why would a God allow all this suffering to happen? She asked her Mother that and was told, "There's always rain before sunshine. Have faith, my daughter. The sun shall shine once again."
Tima's heart broke, hearing everything that Tikali went through. The servant hugged herself, trying to not cry, as she finished with, "When we reached town, I was separated from Mom…I don't know where she is now. The last thing she said to me…was 'don't give up on faith…the sun will shine after the rain.'"
Tima sighed. "Tikali, I am so sorry."
Hearing that, Tikali broke down and started to cry. Seeing this, Tima pulled Tikali into her arms and held her close. "There, there…cry all your hurt out, dear."
Hearing the permission, Tikali held onto Tima and started to cry harder, letting out all the hurt. Tima continued to hold her and rub her back, giving her what comfort she could. When the servant calmed down, Tima smiled. "It's all right. I understand your pain. God will provide for us…He always does."
Tikali stayed in Tima's arms as she half-heartedly nodded. Her faith would need more than kind words and comfort to grow back to where it was before. Tima kept holding her until she looked up and smiled. Tikali noticed the shifting movement in her body and was about to ask when she heard Atem's voice, "I see you made a friend."
Forgetting that things were different here, Tikali pulled away from Tima and bowed on her hands and knees on the bed. "My Pharaoh."
Atem chuckled and stepped forward. "Now, now, there's no need for that."
Tima smiled. "How did the meeting go? Where's Tarra?"
"She and Itami stayed behind. As for the meeting, it's going to be an all-day affair. We're just taking a break; we all need it…especially Seth."
Tikali looked up, worried that she needed to go to her new master and tend to his needs. Seeing this, Atem smiled. "Don’t worry, little one. He's just got a lot on his mind."
Tima got a little concerned. "Does he need help?"
Hearing her and seeing Tikali's need to serve Seth, Atem shook his head. "No, he is all right. Besides, you were assigned the task of watching over my love, right?"
Tima giggled and looked at Tikali. "That's right. And she's doing a wonderful job."
Atem chuckled and sat next to Tima, putting his arm around her. "It sounds like you might want to steal her away."
Tima smiled and touched Atem's chest. "Why do I need to? I already have a fiancé who tends to my needs."
Atem smiled and kissed Tima's temple. Tikali watched the exchange and felt a little jealous; she wanted someone to love. She was not the only one who wanted a lover: Seth was peeking into the room and watching the royal couple with envious eyes. He felt his wound reopening again and started to excuse himself when he caught a glimpse of Tikali sitting on the bed and, to his surprise, he felt the wound close a little. That struck him as odd: why would a simple servant keep his wound for opening even further?
A few days later, Tikali was wandering around the halls of the palace, looking for Seth; she was supposed to see him after the meeting but he already left by the time she got there. The other priests and Atem did not know where the High Priest and Itami was left as well so Tikali was left with nothing to go on. However, when she came to a door that lead outside, she went to close it and saw Seth walking. Relieved that she found him, she called out, "My Lord Priest!"
Seth did not react, either from not hearing her or ignoring her. Curiosity touching her, she started to follow him from a distance. While he was a very private, yet intimidating man, there did seem to be something bothering him for the past few days, especially when he saw Atem and Tima. Tikali noticed that the look in her eyes seemed to be jealousy and longing for someone. The question was, who was that someone? Maybe he was going to meet the person at the shrine. If so, maybe they wanted to be alone but Tikali still found herself following, telling herself that she would stand guard and alert the couple if someone was coming.
Seth made his way across the courtyard to the Wedju Shrine, where he entered, still unaware that Tikali was following. Once inside, he climbed the stairs in the center and looked up at the stone tablet that had a dragon on it, his back to Tikali's view. Tikali's face scrunched up in puzzlement; she was not expecting this at all. Having never seen a Ka battle before, she did not know what all the stone tablets were and especially did not understand what was so special about the dragon. She then heard Seth sigh in sadness. "Kisara…I miss you…if only I could have save you…"
While her curiosity was growing by the second, so was her need to go to Seth and comfort him. Being very quiet, she started to head to him. But she was only a few steps up the stairs when Itami flew past her and landed on Seth's shoulder. There you are! Why didn't you tell me where you were going?
Seth looked away, still not seeing Tikali. "This was none of your business."
Oh, so it's none of my business but you take your servant with you?
Seth's head snapped up and he looked behind him, seeing Tikali. Seeing Seth's reaction, Itami realized that he had no idea that Tikali was there. Caught, Tikali backed up until she was off the steps. "My Lord Priest…I'm sorry…I didn't mean to follow you…"
Pushing Itami off his shoulder, Seth started to walk to a scared Tikali, his growing anger showing on his face. In his mind, it was bad enough that Itami saw his vulnerable side but to have a servant witness? "How dare you step onto sacred ground! Servants like you are not allowed in the Wedju Shrine! I don't care how much liberty the Pharaoh gives the servants! There are some places where you are not allowed!" Gripping her upper arm, he pulled her forward and snapped, "Especially when I am here alone!"
Completely forgetting himself, he threw Tikali to the ground, causing her to scrape her elbow and yelp in pain. That yelp caused him to wake up from his anger. He saw how frightened she was and he felt disgusted with himself for stooping this low. What made it worse was the look on Tikali's face: it was the same look that Kisara had when someone threatened her. After a few seconds, Tikali got up and ran out of the shrine, wanting to both get help for her bleeding elbow and to get away from Seth. Seth stayed behind, hating himself for doing such a thing. He almost forgot about Itami until she gave him a painful punishment…
At the healing room, Kiko was wrapping up Tikali's elbow while Atem listened to what happened. He could not believe what Seth did but knew that his High Priest must not have been in his right mind if he attacked Tikali in such a way. He then remembered another time when Seth reacted in a similar way: the day Tima almost died, when Atem brought up Kisara. Thinking, he murmured, "Could he still be hung up on her?"
Kiko looked back at Atem, hearing him. "You think so? It's been many moons since she died."
Tikali looked up. "Who died?"
Atem sighed and sat in front to Tikali. "Tikali, many moons ago, Seth lost the love of his life, a woman named Kisara. He loved her as much as I love Tima."
Tikali bowed her head in respect for the Pharaoh and asked, "If I may…what happened to her?"
Kiko sighed as she finished wrapping the elbow. "She died, taking a blow that was meant for Seth…she died in his arms."
Atem nodded, remembering how broken Seth was the first few days after Kisara died. Tikali then asked, "But what was he doing in the shrine?"
Atem explained, "Every person has a Ka, a spirit. Kisara gave Seth her Ka to use in need be. He's always refused…so the Ka waits in the stone tablet. Whenever he really misses her, he goes and visits the shrine…to look at the dragon that is all that is left of Kisara."
Kiko chuckled half-heartedly. "Poor man thinks he has to suffer all by himself…if he opened up more, he wouldn't' be in this mess in the first place."
Atem nodded in agreement as Tikali sighed, understanding why Seth reacted in such a way. As Atem left and Kiko started to put away the medical supplies, Seth came into the healing room with a bloody shoulder: Itami gripped his shoulder so tightly, she pierced his skin. Tikali looked up in shock as Kiko scoffed. "It's what you deserve, hurting your servant like that."
Seth sat down in another chair and took off his hat, revealing long brown hair, and his shirt. "You can lecture me later. Right now, I need you to tend to my wounds." Kiko stuck up her nose and walked up, making Seth glare. "I could have your head for that."
Knowing that Tikali was in the same room as he, he did not want to look at her. He knew that he needed to apologize to him and was preparing a proper one. While he thought of what to say, he felt a cloth starting to wipe away the blood. Looking behind him, he was surprised. "Tikali…"
Blushing at seeing him like this, Tikali smiled softly as she finished wiping the blood away. Coating her fingers with the medicinal cream, she said, "Lord Priest…Kiko and the Pharaoh told me why you were that way in the shrine."
Seth looked at the floor and closed his eyes. "Yes…I am sorry I snapped at you. I should not have done that. I just…"
Tiki nodded as she started to put the medicinal cream on his wounds, making him wince in pain. "I know. You're still hurting from losing the woman you love."
Seth nodded slowly. For a few minutes, there was silence between them as Seth gathered his thoughts and Tikali finished putting medicine on the wounds. Wiping the medicine from her fingers, the servant extended Seth's arm and started to wrap his shoulder. "I am sorry, as well…for following you into a place where I was not allowed."
Seth nodded as Tikali then asked, "Permission to speak freely." When she got it, she said, "You know…you don't have to mourn alone. You have friends who care for you and want to help you. If I may…I hope that I can be one of those friends who will help you."Seth did not react, quiet in his thoughts. Sighing a little, Tikali continued to wrap his shoulder. Neither of them realized that Kiko was watching them from the door with a smile on her face. She remembered the message that the planet gave her, that Tikali was someone that Seth would need in his life, and wondered if Tikali would be the one who would help him recover from the loss of Kisara.