Sunlight reflected dimly off the polished bronze mirror of Pharaoh’s vanity. Her dark eyes scrutinized her reflection, the image of her face distorted against the warped metal. The handmaiden tending to her that morning, Octavia, had twisted her hair into a thick braid and was in the process of tucking it beneath her wig. Thinner braids framed the Pharaoh’s face, accentuating sharp cheekbones and a jaw that could have carved the temples of Karnak. The beeswax that Octavia had used to hold the wig in place was still warm, soaking into the Pharaoh’s scalp and calming her unwavering anxiety.
When she was finished, Octavia stepped back and bowed her head, her hands clasped together in front of her. “Your Majesty,” She spoke softly, and the Pharaoh’s eyes, emerald green and rimmed with the darkest of kohl, caught her reflection in the mirror. “Will you be wearing your crown today?” She asked, and Pharaoh quirked her head in contemplation.
She glanced across the room and to where the Khepresh crown of Egypt was sitting dormant on a second vanity. The blue crown was often ceremonial, but the Pharaoh wore it frequently as it signified the strength of a woman who had led her army into battle. It signified the strength of a woman who, with every odd imaginable stacked against her, had brought peace and prosperity back to Egypt.
Pharaoh Lexa, daughter of the Heretic King, Akhenaten, had done well in earning the respect of her people. She had done well in restoring faith in the crown, undoing the traitorous acts of her father and mother, Queen Nefertiti. Lexa had counseled her younger brother, the late Pharaoh Tutankhamun, until his untimely passing at nineteen years old before taking the crown for herself. She had, in the several days following her ascension of the throne, banished her father’s monotheistic religion, restoring the timeless Gods who had been worshipped for centuries by her ancestors.
“No,” The Pharaoh decided, and Octavia lifted her head in surprise. “A diadem will be fine today. The gold band, if you would,” Lexa gestured towards the other end of the room with a perfectly hennaed hand. “There is no need to dress fancy for meetings with the priests and courtiers.”
Octavia bowed at the waist before shuffling across the Pharaoh’s chambers. She retrieved Lexa’s golden diadem and, after dusting it off with her dress, carried it back to the Pharaoh and carefully placed it on top of her head. With a kind smile, Lexa straightened the band so that the serpent welded to the diadem was resting in the center of her forehead. “Thank you, Octavia,” The Pharaoh said, and Octavia dipped her head in response. Lexa turned in her seat to acknowledge her, frowning as she noted the girl's frail appearance. “Have you eaten?”
She blinked in surprise, but Octavia kept her gaze on the floor. “No, your Majesty.”
As Lexa rose to her feet, Octavia staggered back several steps and with her head still bowed in respect. At her fear, the Pharaoh sighed. Octavia's parents had sold both her and her brother to Akhenaten in order to pay off a debt, and Lexa's father hadn't been known for a kind heart. Bellamy had been forced to join the army, and Octavia had nearly ended up a slave in Akhenaten's harem. Had it not been for Lexa, only the Gods knew what would have become of her.
“Go to the kitchens,” Lexa said gently, and Octavia glanced up at her through her lashes. “Lincoln will fix you something to eat.” Octavia’s mouth parted around the beginning of an argument (the Pharaoh’s linens were in need of being changed, after all), but a stern look from Lexa was all that it took to silence her. “Eat,” The Pharaoh commanded. “Your chores can wait.”
Octavia hesitated. Her duty to attend to the Pharaoh was all that kept her alive. “Yes, Pharaoh," She finally spoke. "But shall I accompany you to the audience chamber first?”
Lexa’s lips twitched with the threat of a smile, painted red with ochre. “That will not be necessary,” She answered calmly, slipping her feet into the golden sandals that were sitting next to her vanity. “Gustus, I am sure, is waiting for me outside. You are dismissed from your duties until you’ve had breakfast.”
“Thank you, Pharaoh.” Octavia said, her tone betraying her gratitude as her stomach disloyally grumbled. Chuckling, not without humor, Lexa waved her away with a single swat of her hand. After a low bow at the waist in obeisance, Octavia retreated from the room and gleefully headed off towards the kitchens.
When Lexa was finally alone - a rare occurrence for the Pharaoh - she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. She wished, more than anything, that she could return to her bed and sleep until the sun was at its highest. It was too early, the morning too new, and yet her palace was fluttering with activity. Her maids were tending to their chores. Her guards were on duty through the halls. Courtiers and priests were awaiting her arrival in the throne room, and although it was unbecoming of a Pharaoh to be late, it was her throne room, after all. Perhaps, she thought, my subjects could wait a little longer?
The answer to her question came in the form of a thundering knock.
Lexa glanced wistfully at her bed before dutifully rising to her tallest height. “Enter.” She called, and the wide double doors that led into her bedroom brought the fluttering of the palace into her chambers.
Her Vizier, Titus, was a ghastly man with the arrogance of a God. He held his head high as he swept into the room, his scrutinizing glare befalling the Pharaoh with contempt. “Your Majesty,” He greeted tersely, and buried beneath the weight of his eyes, Lexa quickly squared her shoulders. “Your presence has been requested in the audience chamber,” Titus announced. “There is a matter at hand that requires your immediate attention.”
Tilting her head, Lexa tried to ignore the stir of excitement that rose within her. “I am the Pharaoh,” She reminded him calmly, clasping her hands behind her back and sauntering towards the Vizier. Titus was several inches taller, but spineless, he lowered his gaze to the floor upon her approach. “No one requests my presence, including you. Is that understood?”
“My apologies, your Majesty,” Titus replied, gritting his teeth. Oh, how his old student loved to test him. “But there is a matter that requires your attention, and that matter is causing a scene in the audience chamber. I thought, perhaps, it would be of interest to you.”
The Pharaoh raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “A scene?” She inquired. Titus nodded. “Lead the way then, Vizier. I cannot have courtiers causing a scene.”
“She is no courtier,” He informed her, guiding the Pharaoh from her room. As the doors swung shut behind them, Gustus, a large man armed with a spear and sword, took his place in line behind the Pharaoh. Lexa raised her hand at him in greeting, but his resolute silence was readily accepted as he acknowledged her with a brooding nod. “She is not of Egypt, your Majesty,” Titus was saying. “She claims to be from a land called Arkadia. She speaks of Gods that are not our own.”
A feeling of unease settled into the pit of Lexa’s stomach. “She is a heretic, then,” She deducted, her long strides purposeful. Titus struggled to match her pace. “Like my father. Is she of sound mind?” Lexa asked, worry creasing her brow. “Does she speak our language?”
“Yes,” Titus answered. “She speaks our language,” The man grimaced. “Whether or not she is of sound mind remains unclear. She claims to have sailed across the sea, and as you know, there are no ships in Egypt that are capable of such a journey,” His spindly fingers appeared from beneath the sleeves of his robe as he threw open the audience chamber doors. “I believe she is sick from the desert heat.”
Chin raised high with indignation, the Pharaoh of Egypt hastened her pace and swept through the center of the room. Courtiers, priests, and palace servants immediately dropped to their knees, but Lexa disregarded them entirely as she became fixated on the woman before her throne. Interest piqued, the Pharaoh found it hard to discern the girl’s disrespect as blue eyes turned sharply to glare at her.
Stricken by the ferocity of her gaze, Lexa forced herself to keep her own eyes forward as she quickly ascended the dais. Titus and Gustus followed her up the alabaster steps and dutifully stood at her side, Titus' lanky figure nearly perched at the armrest of her throne. The Pharaoh found herself struggling to remain impassive, struggling to keep the wonder from her face, and lowered herself down into her throne. She quirked her head.
The woman in front of her was beautiful.
Her eyes, a crystalline blue that reminded Lexa of the Nile, were wide and sparkling with distrust. The foreigner’s hair was a gold so finely spun that it shone like the sun from the heavens. Her ivory skin was pale, significantly more so than any of those who walked in Egypt. If not for the exhaustion that furrowed the girl’s brow, the absolute fury that marred her features would have been cause to have her sent to the quarries.
Lexa leaned forward in her throne, her hands pressed into the gold armrests. “What is your name?” She asked, and Titus nearly choked at her curiosity. Equally as surprised as the Vizier, the blonde blinked her eyes before raising her chin in defiance. She crossed her arms, but Lexa watched as the guard beside her elbowed her harshly in the ribs. The girl cringed. “Where are you from?” The Pharaoh tried, and as the stranger simply stared at her with indifference, Lexa felt her patience begin to wane. “Why have you come to my capital?”
Hearing the Pharaoh’s clipped tone, the blonde's reform wavered. “For refuge,” She stated through her teeth, grunting when the guard who’d captured her in the city market hastily elbowed her in the side again. Her own tone, she supposed, hadn’t been as respectful as she’d liked to imagine. “I hear that Egypt is a safe place to call home.”
“For some,” Lexa confirmed calmly, sitting back and crossing one leg over the other. “Why is it that you were brought to my palace?” She glanced at the guard holding the woman prisoner. “Ryder?”
The man, new to the guard, cleared his throat uncertainly. “She was caught stealing, your Majesty. I found her being chased by a merchant in the market.”
Lexa would swear by the grunt of disgust that rumbled in the back of Gustus' throat. The guard, she knew, was his brother, and he'd taught him better than to bring such trivial matters to the Pharaoh.
“And so you brought a thief into my home?” Lexa challenged, arching a brow and tapping her fingers against the armrest. Ryder blanched, his mouth opening and closing several times before he relinquished any hope for a rebuttal. “In Egypt, the punishment for thievery is the loss of one’s hand,” The Pharaoh reminded him. “Why would you bring her to me instead?”
At this, Ryder seemed to brighten. “Because, your Majesty, she was speaking of lands unheard of,” The girl next to him spun sharply on her heel, but her fiery gaze hardly deterred him. “She spoke of a village called Arkadia. She spoke of Gods unlike our own. Zeus, I believe I heard her say.”
The Pharaoh rose to her feet and slowly descended the dais. Titus scrambled down after her, Gustus following suit with more poise, but Lexa met the stranger’s gaze and held it. “Zeus,” She mused, rolling the foreign word around in her mouth. “I have never heard of this God,” Lexa stood tall in front of the blonde, but the girl held her ground and glared up at her. “If you desire to seek refuge in my country, you will learn to pay homage to our Gods.”
“Your Gods are not unlike mine,” The girl said. “I believe that my Zeus may resemble your Amun-Ra.”
Lexa hummed in acknowledgement before folding her arms behind her back. “I am Lexa,” She told the blonde. “Daughter of the Heretic King, Akhenaten. Sister of the late Pharaoh Tutankhamun,” The corners of her lips turned up into a smug smirk. “I am the Pharaoh of the land in which you seek safe refuge. Tell me your name or I will banish you from my lands and to the quarries.”
Pushing out a breath through her nose, the foreigner visibly weighed her options. Lexa could see the contemplation in her eyes as she glanced at the tile beneath her feet. “Clarke,” She said after a moment, dejected, and Lexa’s heart sped with satisfaction. Clarke. “Daughter of Queen Abby. I am the princess of Greece.”
The Pharaoh was unable to mask her surprise. “Princess?” Lexa inquired, glancing uncertainly at her Vizier. “Why would a foreign princess seek refuge in Egypt?” She asked, her tone darkening with skepticism. “Should I be expecting an army to come beating down my gates in search of you?”
Clarke, no qualms with her lack of respect, rolled her pale blue eyes. “No,” She answered, crossing her arms indignantly. “But I am being hunted by my people for treason. I doubt, however, that my mother will cross the Mediterranean and come looking for me.”
“Your Majesty,” Titus conveyed, eyeing the blonde from across the sea. “Remember the reign of your father. All it took was for one man’s way of worship to nearly bring Egypt to its knees,” Clarke, uncaring, scoffed. “Send her to the quarries and be done with her. She admits to committing treason in her homeland, and she has already stolen from your markets. You cannot—”
“Water,” Clarke intervened. “I stole water. Your desert, though I assume it comes as no surprise to you, is hot.”
The corners of Lexa’s lips twitched with the threat of a smile. “Titus,” She began cordially, her green eyes holding Clarke’s gaze. “Summon Echo. Have her prepare a bed for our guest in the east wing of the palace,” Clarke’s brows rose in surprise, and Titus’s arms were flapping in complaint at his sides. “The princess will be trained as a handmaiden. She may work with Octavia and Raven,” Lexa noted the darkening of Clarke’s expression and smirked. “Consider this your punishment for stealing from the merchants in my market.