Third Month - Hearts Opening
The next morning, Tima was stretching in her room. She did not want to get a cramp while serving Atem during the run. As she continued her exercises, Kiko came in after knocking. "Morning."
Tima smiled. "Good morning, Kiko."
Kiko chuckled, seeing Tima stretch. "Ready to go?"
Before Tima could answer, a blue phoenix flew in and landed on Kiko's shoulder. The blond smiled and scratched its chest. "Finally awake, Nayru?"
Nayru nodded and then looked at Tima, who was stunned to see that Kiko had a phoenix. She had assumed that only those in the court had the majestic creatures. Kiko saw Tima's look and laughed. "What? Is it such a surprise that I am a guardian?"
Tima blushed a little. "I'm sorry. I just…"
Kiko smiled and waved it off. "It's all right. After all, Nayru is never around when you and I are together. So introductions are in order. Nayru, meet Tima. Tima, meet Nayru, the water phoenix."
Tima nodded as Nayru chirped at her. He decided to wait until he communicated with her mentally like he did with Kiko; after all, he just met her. Kiko grinned and took Tima's hand. "Come on! Let's go!"
Before Tima could ask where they were going, Kiko took her out to the stables, a part of the palace that Tima had never been to before, with Nayru following them in the air. Once they were there, Kiko went to help the stable boys and Nayru flew up to the rafters to watch. Not sure if she should help, Tima stayed and drank in the sights. Kiko and the stable boys were loading a horse with water pouches, food packs, and medical packs with bandages and medicinal cream. Kiko looked up and smiled at Tima. "Looking forward to joining us?"
Tima nodded and offered, "Need any help?"
Kiko shook her head. She then chuckled. "But speaking of help, you may have to help me with someone else in the group."
Almost on cue, a tall young man with lightly tanned skin, golden blond hair, and honey-brown eyes burst into the stables, startling the horses. They would have continued to be scared if Kiko did not settle them down. Wincing at the loud entrance, Tima looked up and saw that it was Jouno, captain of the guards. He wore a simple shirt, breeches, sandals, and a sword on his side. To Tima's surprise, a brown phoenix flew in and nuzzled Jouno's head, making him laugh. Kiko glared at him. "Jouno, how many times have I told you? Don't enter like that; it scares the horses."
Nayru agreed. Earthzina, you need to control your guardian.
Earthzina, the earth phoenix, chirped with delight. Come on, Nayru. It's all in fun, after all.
Jouno grinned and shrugged a little. "You know a better way to make an entrance, Kiko?"
Before Kiko could answer, Jouno opened the stable door a little more, letting Atem walk in with Tarra on his shoulder. Seeing him in a similar outfit to Jouno was startling to Tima. He seemed like everyone else. Looking around, Atem saw Tima and was pleasantly surprised. "Come to join us?"
Tima nodded a little. "Yes. As your personal servant, Pharaoh…I should have accompanied you for every run. Forgive me."
Atem smiled as Tarra flew up to the rafters. "No forgiveness is needed. You didn't know about the runs."
Full of energy, Jouno put Atem in a headlock and said to a stunned Tima, "This guy doesn't know how to be mad at a woman. So you can relax around him, right, 'Tem?"
Tima could not believe what she was seeing. This man was handling the Pharaoh like this? But what surprised her even more was Atem's reaction: he laughed and pushed Jouno off. "Save that energy for the run."
Jouno saluted Atem, making his phoenix chirp in a laughing way. As Atem and Jouno started to stretch, Tima moved over to Kiko, who was finishing loading the horse. "Is Jouno…always like this?"
Kiko smirked and nodded. "Oh yeah…only when Priest Seth isn't around."
Tima did not know what to think of that so she changed the subject. "So what do I do?"
Kiko gave her a simple answer: "You tend to Atem, however he needs it." Tima blinked at that, making Kiko smile. "Don't worry, Tima; it's quite simple. We ride beside them as they run and, at resting points, we give everyone water and check for wounds. But keep in mind…" she gestured for Tima to come closer, "…Atem has a tendency to not drink when he needs it so you may have to force him to drink."
Tima let out a little giggle, which caught the attention of Atem. "What's so funny?"
Tima blushed and was about to wave it off when Kiko grinned and said, "I'm just telling her how stubborn you are."
Atem gave her a look, which brightened with amusement when Jouno grinned at Kiko. "But not as stubborn as you, love."
Kiko looked away, turning her nose up. "Your flirts don't work on me, Jouno." Everyone but Tima (who did not understand the joke) chuckled that Jouno's routine flirt did not work. Kiko changed the subject by announcing that they were ready to go and getting on her horse. Tima's eyes immediately widened with shock: Kiko was riding the horse like a man! Kiko saw Tima's look and asked, "What?" As Tima stuttered her disbelief, Kiko waved it off. "You're in Khment now, remember? Besides, it's more comfortable this way. Come on."
Tima froze as she looked at her horse. Her dilemma was as plain as the nose on her face: she did not know how to mount a horse. Seeing this, Kiko jumped off her horse and helped her friend onto the horse. Tima was still clearly nervous as the group started out on the run. The two women headed up the back while Jouno and Atem ran side by side and two guards ran in front of them. As the run continued, Tima watched Atem and could not get over how different he looked without his ornaments and with commoner's clothes on. Her thoughts were broken, however, when she heard Kiko said in a teasing way, "I must warn you…when the men rest a bit before returning, they all lose their shirts…including Atem."
Tima immediately blushed at the thought of Atem without a shirt. Her reaction surprised her since she had seen male slaves without shirts before and she did not pay them no mind. As her thoughts continued, her horse suddenly stopped, making her even more nervous. Before Kiko could ask if she needed help, Tima kicked the horse's sides which led to the horse bucking Tima off. Seeing and hearing Tima cry out, Kiko stopped her horse and got off, running to her friend. Atem also heard Tima's cry and turned around. Seeing her on the ground, he broke free from the group and ran to her. "Tima! Are you all right?"
Jouno stopped the group as the two tended to the Hebrew. She tried to wave them off but yelped instead from the cut on her arm. Kiko went to get medical supplies from the main horse as Atem helped Tima sit up. "Are you all right? Does anything else hurt?"
Tima looked up to answer him but froze at the sight. Atem looked even more handsome than she was used to. He had a few beads of sweat going down her cheek, making him glisten. His already tanned skin had darken just a bit under the sun. But what got Tima's attention the most was that he was blocking the sun, making him look like he had a halo. Tima could not believe how breathtaking he was…nor could she believe that she was blushing deeply at him. Worried that she did not answer him, Atem waved his hand in front of her face. "Tima? Does anything else hurt?"
Tima woke up from her trance and shook her head, still blushing. "No…just the cut."
She hoped that Atem would not ask about her blushing. He wanted to but Kiko came back with medicinal cream and some bandages. Atem stayed with the girls as Kiko put the cream on the cut and wrapped Tima's arm with the bandages. Once she was done, Kiko asked Tima, "You okay now?"
Tima nodded and looked at her bandaged arm. "Yeah. I'm fine."
Atem sighed with relief and stood up, helping both of them up. "Glad to hear that. I can't have anyone getting hurt under my watch."
Tima blushed a little more and nodded. Just then, one of the guards pulled Tima's horse over to the group and Tima hid behind Kiko. "I'm not getting back on that thing."
Atem wanted to coax her but Kiko held up her hand and went to the horse. Stroking its muzzle, the Cetria leaned her forehead into the muzzle and started to glow a light bluish-green light. Tima's eyes widened as Atem smiled and explained. "She's using Cetria magic." Seeing that he had Tima's attention, he continued, "You remember me telling you some suns ago that Kiko is a Cetria? Well, her people believe that the planet is united by one force called the Lifestream: it lives everywhere, in the plants, animals, and people. She is able to tap into the Lifestream and listen to the voices of everything around her."
Tima listened as she continued to watch Kiko. Soon the blond pulled away and looked at Tima, still stroking the horse's muzzle. "She'll let you back on but you must trust her. She stopped because she sensed how nervous you were and that got her nervous. Plus, she asks that you don't kick her sides anymore."
Tima did not know what to verbally say to that. But she nodded and walked up to the horse, relaxing her body. Kiko helped the brunette get back on the horse and Tima stroked the horse's neck. The animal relaxed to the touch, making Kiko smile. "All right! We can continue!"
Atem nodded and continued to run with Jouno with the girls following them on their horses. Kiko kept peeking at Tima to make sure that she stayed relaxed and then noticed that they were coming up on the resting point. The blond grinned. "Hey, Tima. I wonder…how long can you last when…Atem takes his shirt off?"
Tima blushed at the thought of it. But her face showed that she was confused about her feelings. The reaction resulted in Kiko giggling.
Minutes later, they came to the resting point. Tima slid off her horse and got a water sack for Atem. However, her attention was diverted to Jouno and Kiko: Jouno once again tried to flirt with Kiko and Kiko turned him down in a harsh and yet friendly way, making Earthzina and Nayru chirp with humor at them. Keeping her eyes on them, the brunette started to walk to Atem with a water sack. "Those two are so interesting."
Atem overheard her as he took off his shirt and smiled. "They always are."
Tima turned to face him and saw his well-toned chest. She then had the most unexpected reaction that anyone expected: she fainted. Atem quickly caught her as the two blonds quickly went over to the brunette's side. Unaware to the humans, Tarra started to laugh, confusing Nayru and Earthzina. The two asked the lightening phoenix what was so funny and all Tarra answered with was, What did Tima see before fainting?
The two phoenixes put the pieces together and joined Tarra in the laugh as Tima was revived, a little dazed and confused. "What happened?"
Atem continued to hold her, wanting to make sure she was all right before letting her stand. "You fainted. Are you all right?"
Tima looked at Atem and blushed deep red as she saw how close she was to his handsome, well-toned chest. Atem looked at Kiko and Jouno. "She might be sick. Maybe we should head back."
Tima stood up and shook her head, still blushing. "No, I'm fine. Don't stop the run for me."
Atem tried to convince her that her health was more important than his run but she would not hear of it, insisting that she was fine. All the while, she was blushing and trying to not look at Atem's chest. After a minute of convincing, Atem accepted that Tima wanted the run to continue and, after they drank their water and gathered everything together, they set out again. The whole time, Tima kept her head down, trying to hide her blush. Kiko noticed her friend's reaction and started to suspect.
A fortnight came and went and Tima felt very odd. She knew that she was not sick; she already had Kiko and another doctor check her out so she knew that this odd feeling was something else. That afternoon, she was walking around the palace, looking for Atem so she could attend to his needs. Along the way, she ran into Kiko. "Kiko, have you seen the Pharaoh?"
Without realizing it, Tima had a very small blush on her face as she mentioned Atem. Kiko noticed this and smiled. "Why are you blushing?"
Tima touched her cheeks and immediately went redder. "Oh! I don't know."
Wanting to tease her but wanting to help her as well, the Cetria asked, "Are you all right? You've been acting weird since that run some suns ago."
Tima thought back to the first run she helped out with. In doing so, she blushed again as her thoughts moved to Atem being without a chest. Looking up, she saw Kiko grinning. "What?"
The blond kept grinning. "You like Atem, don't you?"
Tima did not understand the implying in Kiko's words so she answered, "Of course. He is the Pharaoh and I'm supposed to admire him."
Kiko shook her head. "No, I mean you LIKE him."
Tima looked away, hating that she seemed to have a permanent blush on her face. "Kiko, that's not it." Then, before she could control herself, she murmured, "Besides, that's an impossible thing to feel."
Kiko heard her and demanded. "Oh, is it? And why is that?"
Tima peeked at Kiko. "Because he's the Pharaoh…and I'm a slave."
Kiko blinked at that. "So?" Tima tried to give her reasons (social status and it not being tradition) but the blond Cetria cut her off by saying, "Atem is really nothing more than a man." Seeing that she had her friend's attention, Kiko continued. "Sure, the people here treat him as god-incarnate since that is the culture here. However, he's still a man, not a god, and does not like to be held on that high pedestal. I know he's told you this. So, if he's a man like any other man…doesn't that mean he's allowed to be with someone out-of-class?" Seeing Tima dumbfounded, Kiko smiled and turned. "Just don't give up." With that, the blond left.
Tima stood in the hall for a while, thinking about what Kiko said. It was true that Atem did not hold himself high and mighty because the people did and Tima did like that about him. But did that mean that she liked him in that special way? She had no experience with such emotions so she was very unfamiliar with what she was feeling. Plus, she still believed that such a relationship would not be allowed so she saw no point in indulging in a fantasy. However, she could not deny that Atem had an impact on her and her mental/emotional welfare. As she continued to think, her thoughts were interrupted when she heard Atem. "Tima?"
Tima looked up and saw that Atem was coming up to her with Roxanna clinging to his arm. The young Pharaoh was ignoring the Greek and said to Tima, "There you are. I've been waiting for you."
Before Tima could answer, Roxanna chirped up, "If she's not doing her job, she needs to be punished."
Atem gave Roxanna a look, especially when Tima's head lowered in response. "I've told you many times: I don't believe in punishment like that."
Tima looked up and said, "I can be of service now."
Atem smiled at her (making Roxanna jealous) and suggested, "You can join Roxanna and me in our walk through the gardens."
Tima nodded. Roxanna was not thrilled since she did not want a slave to be around her and Atem. But Atem had the last word so the black-haired girl was stuck.
When they got to the gardens, Tima gave the couple some space, to Atem's dismay, and Roxanna hugged his arm tighter. "It is so lovely here. Don't you think so?"
Atem shrugged a little. "I suppose. Don't forget, I'm used to this garden."
Roxanna got in front of Atem and batted her eyelashes at him. "Well, let's look at it in another way."
Atem gave her a blank look. "How?"
Roxanna was getting a little annoyed but kept quiet; instead, she got close to Atem and gave him a sexy look. "You…me…alone…"
Just then, a small cry interrupted them. Tima had been picking flowers and cut her finger on a thorn. Seeing this, Atem thanked the gods for this diversion and excused himself from Roxanna's side, going to Tima. Roxanna could not believe it: Atem, the Pharaoh and her betrothed, had just left her for a slave. She stood there dumbfounded as Atem took Tima's finger. It was a small cut but there was blood coming out of it. Tima smiled a little and tried to take her hand back. "I'm fine. Just…not used to the flower."
Atem kept a hold of her finger as Tarra swooped down and landed on his arm. Allow me, my Pharaoh.
Atem nodded and offered the phoenix Tima's finger. To the women's surprise, Tarra shed a tear on the cut and the scratch was healed. Roxanna was impressed but Tima was a little nervous at first. "Is this magic?" Her tone showed her fear since magic was considered evil to her religion.
Atem shook his head. "No, it is the phoenix's special ability. A tear from a phoenix can heal even a life threatening wound."
Tima listened in amazement but then jumped when she heard a female voice in her head. Do you think of me as evil?
Tima looked around, trying to find the source of the voice. Roxanna raised her eyebrow, wondering if the Hebrew was going crazy, as Atem put his hands on her shoulder. "Relax. You heard a voice in your head, right?" Tima wanted to ask how he knew when he smiled and explained, "That was Tarra. She can project her thoughts to a person whom she deems trustworthy."
Tima looked at Tarra with wide eyes. Tarra tilted her head and her eyes sparkled, as if she was smiling. Hello, Tima.
Tima nodded. "Hi…"
Now insulted for being ignored and for Tarra choosing Tima over her to trust, Roxanna stormed off to sulk. Atem noticed her walk off and mentally shrugged; it was more of a relief. Turning back, he saw that Tima wanted to pet Tarra but was hesitant. He nodded. "It's all right. Go ahead."
Getting his permission, Tima touched Tarra's head. The phoenix immediately cooed and then leaned in more as Tima started to scratch. Ohh!! Right there!
Tima let out a giggle and kept scratching the spot. "Right there?"
Tarra acknowledged, making Tima giggle again. Atem smiled at the two females and then noticed something unusual. 'Strange…whenever I'm around Tima, I feel…at peace…no other person has ever made me feel this way.'
Her itch relieved, Tarra went to Tima's shoulder and started to nuzzle her cheek. Tima smiled brightly and touched Tarra's head. "Oh my! You're very welcome, Tarra." Looking up, she realized, "Where is Mistress go?"
Atem shook his head. "Don't know and don't care."
Tima looked up at him. "What do you mean, you don't care?" She then blushed. "I'm sorry, it's not my place to ask."
Atem looked at her and decided to come clean to her. "It's all right, Tima; you would have found out eventually. Forgive me for being straightforward but…I don’t give a damn about her. I mean, how would you feel if you had to marry someone against your will?"
Tima blinked a little. "It happens in my culture. We have a lot of arranged marriages."
Atem accepted that answer but still wanted to know, "But be honest, how would you feel?"
Tima thought for a moment and answered, "I wouldn't like it."
Atem nodded and looked away. "That's exactly how I feel. I don't want to be in a commitment if I'm not going to be happy." He then smirked half-heartedly. "Ironic, isn't it? Not even the Pharaoh can have a say on who he spends his live with." Seeing Tima look upset for his current situation, he smiled. "Enough on that. Keep me company before I have to return to my duties."
Tima nodded and followed him. Tarra took off to fly through the skies, giving them a little privacy. Tima peeked at Atem and tried to hide her blush. "If I may…who do you want to spend your life with?"
Atem smiled as he thought. "I just want someone who I can understand and who can understand me, someone I can trust and can trust me." He then sighed, as if he momentarily checked out. "I'm probably asking for too much." Before Tima could respond, he asked, "Did you like the flower you picked?"
Tima nodded and looked at the rose. "Yes. But I didn't like the thorns."
Atem chuckled. "They say that something so beautiful grows thorns to protect itself from those wanting to harm its beauty."
Tima nodded. She then asked, "Can I get you anything? I am your servant after all."
Atem was about to say no when he thought of something. "Walk with me."
Blushing a little, Tima nodded and started walking with him through the gardens. After a minute, they came to a bench and Atem sat down. Tima kept standing, making Atem smile. "You don't have to stand all the time. Sit next to me." Tima tried to say that she couldn't but Atem looked at her. "It's okay. Please…I insist."
Tima blushed but sat down. Atem smiled. "That's better."
Tima looked at his smile and blushed. She could see how handsome he was but brushed it away since she was his servant. Atem stretched his back as she asked. "Am I doing okay?"
Atem nodded. "Yes." He then murmured, "You're fine as you are."
Tima blushed deeply as Atem continued. "I asked you to spend time with me because there's something I have wanted to ask for some time but I just never got around to it." He looked at her and said gently, "If it's all right, I would like to know more about you."
Tima blushed deeply and blurted out, "Why?"
Atem chuckled; he remembered that Roxanna's family never cared about their servants. "Well, for one thing, I always want to know the people I am with, who they are and their background. Also…I want to know about you so that I know you are comfortable in the palace here. I don't wish to have you offended by our ways." Seeing her shocked look, he said, "If you don't want to talk about it, I understand."
Tima was shocked but in a good way. She then nodded. "It's all right. What do…you want to know?"
Atem asked the first thing on his mind. "How about your parents?"
Tima immediately teared up, making Atem feel guilty. "Oh…I'm so sorry…"
Tima tried to brush it off but the tears kept coming down. Reaching into his cape, Atem pulled out a handkerchief and offered it to her. Tima did not notice his offer so he reached over and wiped away her tears, smiling gently. "You know, Tima…a girl with cute eyes like yours should never have tears coming down."
Tima blushed deeply; no one, especially her owner, had ever said she had cute eyes. Atem nodded gently. "You don't have to talk about it if it's too upsetting."
Tima took the handkerchief and fiddled with it. She then started to explain her story. Her caravan had followed what she called the Bright Star towards their homeland when they were ambushed by bandits. The men stayed to fight them off while the women and children ran off. As she started to remember, Atem put his arms around her to comfort her. Tima leaned into the embrace and started to cry. Atem held her close for a while until she settled down. When she did, she realized where she was and pulled away, thinking that this was not allowed. Atem was disappointed that she pulled away but wanted to know more about her story. "How did you survive?"
Tima took a deep breath and continued. She had played dead until the bandits finally left. When she got up, she realized that she was the only survivor. It was heartbreaking to find her parents' bodies. Atem rubbed her back as she added, "Yet…I could not find a sister."
Atem was surprised. "You had a sister?"
Tima nodded. "An older sister, Yima. We didn't really get along…but it would have been nice…to find her."
Atem nodded. "So how did you get to Greece?"
Tima smiled. "It was an accident." She went on to say that she wandered for a while until she reached a port. After thanking God, she managed to hide in a cargo section of a ship. She managed to stay hidden for a few days until she was found by a crewman. He wanted to have his way with her since she smuggled herself onto the ship. However, the captain took pity on her and kept her in his cabin until they reached Greece. There, he gave her some money and let her go. However, the money was not a lot as she ran out after a few days. She managed to survive then by stealing food until she found a passage through a wall. Feeling herself being called to go through it, she did so and found a food storage room. She stayed there for a month until Lapidos found her and brought her to Hypatios and his daughter Roxanna. Stunned that it was not a rat that was eating their food, Hypatios wanted to severely punish her but Roxanna thought it would be better to have Tima as a slave. It took a bit of Roxanna's charm to get Hypatios to agree. Tima then sighed. "Now I'm grateful to be here…especially since it was hard over there."
Atem nodded. He hated Roxanna's family for the abuse they put their slaves, especially Tima, though. He then asked, "What made Roxanna decide to give you to me?"
Tima shrugged. The truth was Roxanna was tired of having Tima around and wanted someone else to take care of her. "Maybe God wants me here for a reason."
Atem thought about that. He was still not used to Tima's religion, since he was used to a ton of gods instead of just one. But he did not want to offend her so he said, "Maybe so. Maybe your God has a higher plan for you."
Tima nodded as she put her hand down to adjust her back. She did not realize that her hands was on top of Atem's until his hand turned around and held hers. They looked at each other and both blushed. It was as if time slowed down for them. Tima was frozen. 'I don't know why…but I can't stop staring. His eyes…so serious and yet…so gentle…'
Atem did not understand why his hand moved on its own but he was grateful. 'Such cute eyes…eyes I never want to see tears in again…'
Both moving on their own, they started to learn towards each other. The gap got closer and closer until Tima's brain screamed at her to stop since this was not allowed. She leaned back and stood up. "I'm sorry, Pharaoh…I shouldn't have done that…"
She started to leave but she did not look where she was going until the Egyptian cobra bit her leg, causing her to cry out. Atem quickly threw a dagger at the snake, killing it, as Tima collapsed to her knees. The snake did not bite too deeply but it was enough to get some venom in it. Atem ran to her side. "Are you all right?"
Tima winced a little. "I…"
Atem immediately went to her leg. "Hold still." He lowered his head and, like with Mahad, started to suck out the poison. Tima blushed and touched his shoulder. "Please, Pharaoh, you mustn't do this. My life isn't worth yours."
Spitting out some blood, Atem looked at her, feeling déjà vu. "Your blood is red; so is mine. You need to live; so do I. Now stay still so I can get all of it."
He continued to suck out the poison until he could taste nothing but the iron in her blood. Just then, by luck, Kiko passed by with medical supplies, since she was putting away items that were used earlier, and ran to them. "What happened?"
Atem stood up and wiped his mouth. "Tima was bitten by a snake but I got the poison out." Seeing and hearing Tarra tell him that Seth was looking for him for the daily meeting, Atem asked Kiko, "Can you take over from here?"
Kiko nodded and started to put medical cream on Tima's bite. "Snakes in my garden again! Damn! How do they keep coming in?"
Tima did not answer; she was too busy looking in the direction where Atem walked off. He risked his life to help her, a servant. Not only that but she started to remember that he always wanted to keep her comfortable and happy and always defended her against other servants and Roxanna. Tima felt her heart squeeze and figured out why: she was falling for Atem. She then cursed herself silently. 'Of all the people to fall for…why for someone I can never be with?'
After Kiko wrapped up Tima's leg, she helped her up and led to their room. "You are resting for the rest of the day."
Tima started to protest. "But…the Pharaoh needs me…"
Kiko shook her head and laid her down. "Nope, you need to rest after that bite. Don't worry, he'll agree with me."With that, she left. Tima sighed, knowing that Kiko had her mind set. Laying under the blanket, she started to sing a prayer in her native tongue that she sang every day, asking for blessings. Little did she know that Atem (who was passing by to check on her before the meeting) was listening outside. He froze, almost in a trance, and listened. Even though he did not understand the words, her voice was enchanting. He then felt his heart squeeze and looked at the door. "Tima…" He started to wonder, what was she to him? Just a slave…or something else?