First Month - Revelations
As soon as the sun rose, Tima was up and making Atem's breakfast. She knew that other slaves would be by his room to dress him and put scented oils on his skin. She tried to be the one who did that since she was his personal slave and even offered to help him with bathing but Atem would not hear of it. He did not feel comfortable with anyone washing him but he kept quiet about that. He did, however, tell her that he wanted to respect her innocence.
Tima paused as she was slicing Atem's bread. She never thought that he would care enough about her to worry about her innocence. She had been his slave for about a month and she was still getting used to how things were done. Atem saw it constantly with her bracing for a hit when she messed up. Her mind kept reminding her that Atem was not like that but her body had the reflex built in. She sighed and reached for a vine of grapes. "I hope I can get rid of it…"
"Get rid of what?"
Tima jumped and looked behind her. Kiko was standing behind her with a branch full of dates. Tima turned back to the bread. "Those for the Pharaoh?"
Kiko went around the table and set the branch down between them so she could talk to Tima and work. "Yes…but we can take a few for ourselves."
Tima looked up in shock as Kiko plucked off a date and popped it in her mouth. "Are you insane? We can't steal from the Pharaoh!"
Kiko waved it off as she finished chewing her date. Swallowing, she stated, "Who's going to miss two or three dates? Besides, Atem doesn't care; you should know that by now."
Tima blushed and finished cutting the bread. She felt weird every time Kiko reminded her that Atem liked treating everyone as equals. "You know I'm still getting used to that."
Kiko rolled her eyes and started to put the dates into a bowl. "Come on, Tima. It's been a whole moon by now."
"And I've been Mistress' slave for many more moons so…"
Kiko tensed up. Tima always referred to Roxanna as Mistress (since that was her official title to Tima). Kiko herself hated Roxanna; that woman acted like she was high and mighty because she was betrothed to Atem and never missed a chance to rub it in to everyone's face. Shaking her head to try and forget the woman, the blond plucked a date and smirked, getting an idea. "Tima, can I ask you something?"
Tima looked up and opened her mouth to tell Kiko to ask away but Kiko pushed something into her mouth instead. Tima was extremely surprised and covered her mouth. "What is this?"
Kiko giggled. "Try a date."
Still covering her mouth, Tima's face turned into a sulk; she was not used to Kiko tricking her like that and she doubted that she would ever get used to it. However, her tune changed: thanks to her mouth becoming a sulk, the date was squished and the juice trickled out. Her eyes widened in surprise as she started to eat it. "Mm…this is good."
Kiko giggled and took another date for herself. "I told you."
Swallowing and spitting out the seed, Tima got a little worried. "We won't be punished for stealing, will we?"
Kiko groaned. She was getting tired of Tima clinging to her fear of being beaten. "I'll tell you again! No one's going to notice two little dates missing from the branch and Atem’s not like that! I keep telling you that!"
Tima lowered her head. She started to arrange a plate for Atem with a few slices of bread, dates, grapes, and got a goblet for wine. Kiko sighed and reached over, making Tima look at her. "I'm sorry I snapped at you…but you got to get rid of Roxanna's brainwashing. Okay?"
Tima's eyes lowered. "How can I? I'm a slave…beneath everyone."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I am."
Kiko's grip tightened a little, making Tima look at her again. "No…you are not. You're a human being. A person placed on this planet by Holy or, as you call him, God. You are not beneath anyone nor are you an object. You…are a human." Seeing Tima speechless, Kiko smiled and went back to plucking the dates. "I'm surprised you haven't noticed."
Tima tilted her head as she got a pitcher and poured the wine into the goblet. "Noticed what?"
Kiko's smile widened. "When you go take Atem his breakfast, look at all the servants' faces. You'll notice what I mean."
A little confused, Tima picked up the tray holding the food for Atem and headed to his room. Along the way, she ran into other slaves and higher-level servants. As she passed them, she studied their faces carefully and noticed something: none of them looked like they were being looked down upon. In fact…they looked like they were full of happiness and gratitude. They looked like they were serving the Pharaoh happily and not being forced to serve him. Tima smiled softly at this but the smile quickly faded when she saw Roxanna coming with Lapidos. Tima moved out of her way and bowed her head with respect. Roxanna noticed her and stopped for a moment. "Having breakfast?"
Tima shook her head. "No, Mistress…this is for the Pharaoh."
Roxanna nodded and left. It was clear that she accepted the answer with a bitter taste in her mouth. Over the past month, she had tried to eat breakfast with him since she was set to marry him in five months but Atem refused. He claimed that he did this because a couple did not spend every waking moment together. While that was true, he used that as his excuse since he could not tell her that he wanted nothing to do with her. After she left, Tima continued on to Atem's room.
Atem was in the middle of getting dressed by a couple of male servants. He was hoping that he would not run into Roxanna too much during the day. He knew that he would still see her for lunch and dinner and that was hard enough. Just then, he heard a knock at the door and silently groaned, hoping that it was not Roxanna. "Who is it?"
Tima's voice sounded. "Your breakfast, my Pharaoh."
Atem lit up a little when he heard her voice. He enjoyed her company, both because she offered him an insight into a culture that he never met on a personal setting and because he sensed that there was more to her than just her servant status. Tima always denied it because of how Roxanna's family treated her for years but Atem continued to believe it. "Enter, Tima."
Tima came in and laid the tray at Atem's feet, keeping her head down. "My Pharaoh."
Atem smiled as the servants finished dressing him and left. He went to the corner and sat on a cushion. "I've told you many times, you can look at me, Tima."
Tima blushed a little as she picked up the tray and brought it to him. "I still don't understand how you can say that. I am your slave…and you are my m--" She wanted to say "master" but Atem gave her a look, causing her to say, "…you are the Pharaoh."
Atem started to eat his food. "I know. But I am not the type of ruler where I step on everyone."
Tima nodded and watched him. She liked how Atem treated her; it was a nice change to what she was used to. Atem caught her looking and she immediately looked away. "I'm sorry…"
Atem offered her a date. "Want one?"
Tima immediately shook her head. "No. That is the Pharaoh's food; a slave can't eat the Pharaoh's food."
Atem chuckled as he continued to eat. He then jokingly said, "Then be sure to tell Kiko that."
Tima reacted with surprise. "You know?"
Atem nodded. "When we were young, the two of us and Jouno would steal food from the kitchen. It was a little game of ours."
Tima thought about that. Jouno was the head of the guards and considered a close friend of Atem. Tima had met him in passing a few times and considered him to be loud and brash but fun to be around nonetheless. Breaking from her thoughts, she asked, "How can you not look down upon us? I mean…you're the ruler of Khment and we serve you."
Atem took a sip of his wine and sighed softly. He then looked at her seriously. "I am not a god. I am a human being, just like you and everyone in my court. Am I to believe that I am better than everyone else because I was taught that? If anything, I owe everything I do to servants like you."
Tima blushed in shock. "What? How can you say that?"
Atem stood up and put on his cape. "Because the servants take care of me and my court. Without you, we would more than likely fall to disease or lose our way." He smiled at Tima as he passed her. "My dream is to have a world without social boundaries, where everyone is equal. Maybe I can show you that world." With that, he left to attend to his duties as Pharaoh.
Tima did not know how to respond to that. A world without social boundaries? For a brief second, she wanted to believe it but then shook it off. Thanks to her being a slave, she found it hard to believe such a world could exist. Still, it was a nice dream that Atem had.
Later that afternoon, Tima and Kiko were shopping in the market place. Tima felt like making her special stew tonight but the palace food storage did not have everything she needed. As she was picking out the spices she needed, she asked Kiko, "Kiko…has the Pharaoh ever told you about this dream of his?"
Kiko thought for a moment. "Depends on what dream you're talking about. He has a few."
Tima paid for the spices and explained, "The world without social boundaries."
Kiko smiled. "Oh yeah. He's been talking about that since he was young."
Tima sighed and looked at Kiko. "But how can he think that? You can't move past your social status…no matter how much you want to."
Kiko flicked Tima's forehead. "Need I remind you, you're not in Greece anymore? What Roxanna's family taught you is wrong."
Tima touched her forehead and blushed a little. "But…"
Kiko stopped her as they started to head back to the palace. "Let me give you an example: when they were young, Mahad was bitten by a snake to protect Atem. Atem sucked out the venom."
Tima's eyes widened. "What? He could have been poisoned by the venom!"
Kiko nodded. "Yeah, he knew that and so did Mahad, who tried to tell him that a prince shouldn't worry about someone like him. But Atem silenced him, pointing out that both had blood in their body. After that, he and Mahad grew to be closer friends than ever."
Tima smiled at that. Kiko saw her smile and smiled as well. "Still getting use to this?"
Tima nodded. "Yeah. Things are so different here. I found that out the first night I was here."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not used to not having all the slaves sleeping in the same shack."
Kiko reacted in surprise to that. She and Tima shared a room and it was comfortable for them. "Roxanna's family put all the slaves in one shack to sleep?" When Tima nodded, Kiko shuddered. "That's horrible…unhealthy! How can the servants do their best if they're all crammed into one house, where they would easily catch illness?"
Tima nodded. She remembered how horrible the living conditions were. Kiko looked at Tima as they returned to the palace. "How can you still called her Mistress after how she treated you?"
Tima blushed a little. "I was taught to call her that. Besides, she didn't treat me like that…her father did. He…well…"
Kiko waited for Tima to continue. When she did not, the Cetria asked, "Her father is what?"
Tima quickly shook her head. "I can't speak ill things about others!"
Kiko suspected that Tima was taught to keep quiet about how the slaves were treated. She made Tima look at her and told her, "It's not ill-will if you're telling the truth. Besides…he can't get you here and neither can his daughter."
Tima immediately went on the defense out of habit. "Mistress was always kind to me." Kiko did not believe Tima and the brunette could clearly see that. "It's true. She even respected me not wanting to touch her idols. Most would have laughed."
Kiko raised her eyebrow. "Oh really?" When Tima nodded, the Cetria said flat out, "Then why does it feel like you're hiding something?"
Tima wanted to defend herself but she could tell that she was going to lose the battle as she lowered her head. Kiko put a hand on her friend. "Tima…honesty is our honor. I want to hear the truth from you."
After doing a silent prayer begging God to forgive her for lying, Tima admitted, "Mistress…treats us like dirt…and her father…beat us…and Mistress…just looks away…when it happens…"
Kiko's heart broke and her hatred towards Roxanna grew. Tima's eyes teared up a little as Kiko hugged her gently. "There, there, Tima…it's all right."
Tima settled down after a minute and pulled back, wiping her eyes. "Thank you." With a smile, they headed to the kitchen to start on the stew.
When the sun got lower in the sky, Atem found himself stuck listening to Roxanna prattle on and on about how her day was. He pretended to listen, which seemed to satisfy her, but he really wanted to discuss what Kiko told him about how Roxanna's family treated their slaves. He did not tolerate people beating other people, especially when they used their "statuses" as excuses. He even considered telling Roxanna to go home but he figured that he would not hear the end of it from Seth and Aknadin and he did worry about how Roxanna's father would react to him backing out of the arrangement because of a difference in opinion. Before he could say anything, Tima came into the dining room with two bowls of stew. Seeing the bowls, Roxanna immediately lit up. "Ooh, you made the stew! Thank you, Tima!"
Atem looked at the bowl and thanked Tima for serving them. As Tima poured them more wine, he turned to Roxanna and noted, "You seem excited."
Roxanna nodded. "Oh, yes. Tima makes the best stew. One taste and you'll be in paradise."
Curious, Atem took a taste. While he did agree that it was delicious, there was something else that made him love the stew. It was different and unique, something he had never tasted from his top cook. He looked at Tima and smiled. "It is delicious, Tima. Thank you."
Tima blushed a little and nodded. "You're welcome, Pharaoh."
As Tima left to finish things in the kitchen, Atem continued to eat, trying to figure out what was it that made it taste so different. He knew that it was not the meat, vegetables, or broth…it was something else. As he was contemplating, he heard, Maybe it's the emotions. Looking up, he saw Tarra fly down and perch on his shoulder. Maybe it has something to do with her family.
Before Atem could respond, Roxanna smiled. "Hi, Tarra." She had tried to make friends with the phoenix ever since she arrived in Khment but Tarra refused to give her anything, making it very clear that she did not like the human. Roxanna sulked a little. "You think you and I can become good friends, Tarra?"
Tarra flew up to the rafters, her way of saying "not likely." Atem explained politely, "Tarra's trust has to be earned. She won't trust anyone except me and other phoenixes and their holders.
"Are there more than Tarra and Itami?"
Atem nodded. "You'll meet them eventually." Secretly, he doubted that because Itami and Tarra had told the other phoenixes how unpleasant Roxanna was and they always did their best to not run into her.
As the sun started to set, Atem retired to his room. Roxanna wanted to spend more time with him but he feigned fatigue, wanting to just be away from her. When he reached his room, he found Tima there. "Tima…this is a surprise."
Tima looked up from making Atem's bed. "Why, my Pharaoh? As your personal servant, I will follow you. Since you are retiring, I will make your bed."
Atem knew this since Tima had been doing this every night the past month. However, she always got it done before he made it to the room; she was late this night because her stew took longer to make than the usual meals that she and the other servants served the Pharaoh. He then blushed a little and looked down at himself. He felt a little uneasy because he could not undress in front of her. As he contemplated the situation, he heard Tarra laughing at him and he mentally glared at her. Tima looked up from making his bed, saw how red Atem was, and immediately went to him. "Pharaoh? Are you all right? You look so red."
Atem blushed a little redder since he was caught. "No…I'm fine."
Tima did not believe him and thought that he was getting a fever. Wanting to check him, she put the back of her hand on his forehead. Atem froze; while he has had doctors (both male and female) check him, for some reason, Tima doing this was making him react in a way that he did not expect. It did not help that Tarra was still laughing at him, especially when Tima looked worried. "You are warmer than usual. You should go straight to bed; I'll help you."
Atem tried to protest that he was fine but they fell on deaf ears. Tima made Atem lay down and quickly went into the bathing room for a bowl of water. Alone, Atem sat up and glared up at Tarra, who followed them and was sitting in a high window. You do realize this is your fault.
Tarra looked down at him. How is this my fault?
If you hadn't laughed at me when you first did, Tima wouldn't have caught me blushing and I wouldn't be in this situation.
Tarra's eyes sparkled, as if she was smirking. Oh? And why were you blushing in the first place?
Tarra said that to make Atem remember the reason and blush again. Unfortunately, he fell for her trick; he started blushing again, making Tarra laugh. Just then, Tima came back with a bowl of water and a rag. Seeing him red, she bowed and said apologetically, "Forgive me for this."
Atem looked up and just managed to utter, "What?"
Before he could react, Tima pushed him down on the bed and was putting the wet rag to his forehead. It would not have been so bad for Atem…except she was literally sitting on him to keep him from moving. She had seen Lapidos do this to Roxanna the few times Roxanna was extremely sick (since he had Roxanna's father's permission to do so) and thought that this was all right. After all, both were servants and both had to make sure their masters were well. "You can be really stubborn. That's not healthy for the Pharaoh."
Atem was frozen under her. He did not even hear Tarra laughing so hard that she fell out the window. From this position, he was able to get a close look at Tima and felt something funny. He could not help but notice how her brown hair outlined her face perfectly…or how soft her skin looked…or how much he enjoyed this attention she was giving him. Granted, he was used to servants taking care of him but the attention from Tima was different, in a strange but good way. Tima did not seem to notice the look on his face or the position she was in; all her attention was on making him better. All of a sudden, Atem woke up when he heard Tarra (who flew back to the window) say, Enjoying this, are we?
Atem immediately sat up to yell at her. Unfortunately, his sudden movement accidentally pushed Tima down to the floor. His eyes widening, he immediately went to her. "Tima! I'm so sorry. Are you all right?"
Tima quickly got on her hands and knees, trembling. She realized where she was when she was trying to help him and thought that he pushed her off because he did not like it. "Please forgive me! I don't know what came over me. I must have made you uncomfortable! I'm so sorry!"
Atem got in front of her and made her look at him. "You did nothing wrong. All right? Now are you okay?"
Tima looked in his eyes and noticed that his eyes showed something that she never imagined that masters had towards their slaves: concern and warmth. In response, she blushed but nodded. "Yes…I am fine, Pharaoh."
Atem nodded and stood up. "Good. You may go to bed, Tima."
Thanks to how she held him down and the brainwashing Roxanna's family gave her, Tima was convinced that Atem was upset with her. She lowered her head and nodded. "Good night, Pharaoh."
Atem nodded. Alone, he collapsed on the bed and sighed. He did enjoy the way she tried to make his "fever" go down…but he could not help but wonder if there was another reason for enjoying it. He ignored Tarra's laughter and attempts at a conversation and went to bed.
---In hers and Kiko's room, Tima laid in bed and hid under her blanket. She could not believe how she acted and was convinced that she had ruined any good grounds she made with Atem. She did not know what kind of punishment she would get but knew that she only had to brace herself.