A starry night where time seemed to have stopped, shortening his suffering, but prolonging his distress. Brillant silver moonlight shining in the bluish sky of the infinite desert, a cool breeze gently caressing his blonde locks, like a soothing balm after the sultry day he had spent under the gruelling sun of Egypt.
His head was resting against the wooden bars, his gaze obstinately turned towards the nocturnal star. Feeling tears in the corners of his eyes, he raised a tired, dirty hand and wiped them with an angry gesture. Stretching his legs in hope of seeing the numbness that was beginning to hurt him disappear, he stumbled against a hard surface, and trying his amethyst pupils to discern the object despite the darkness of the night, he quickly folded them back in realizing that it was the head of one of his sleeping travelling companions.
Heaped together in a wooden cage barely larger than a dry oasis in the midst of a sea of sand, a dozen men and women of all ages were facing each other. Leaning dangerously from right to left at each sand dune crossed, each rock not avoided, the cariole continued inexorably to roll without ever stopping.
Iron bracelets on their feet and a simple linen suit to protect them from the fiery rays of Ra, they advanced without any real choice towards an unknown destination, the fear twisting their stomachs already starved by the forced fast that was imposed on them.
A bitter smile contorted his dry lips of a thirst he could not satisfy. Their journey would end in a place they knew nothing about, but their fate was well and truly known. It had been a long time since he had said goodbye to innocence, to keep in mind only what really mattered: to survive whatever the means.
He turned his head, forcing a smile as he laid a comforting hand in the amaranth hair of the girl lying against her shoulder, her breath jerky.
"Heba, aren't you sleeping already? "
"I can't, not with all these jolts... "
The sweat that oozed profusely from her forehead made him frown, and he risked again a hand on it, worry now marking the features of his childish face.
She was burning with fever. Sighing again, he looked towards the front of the wagon, peering with interest at the two men standing on the cornice of the cariole, directing the horses each in their turn. Then he turned to his right, half-raising his elbow to push it between the ribs of his comrade who awoke in a cry of pain quickly stifled when he covered his mouth with assertiveness, mentally thanking the Gods of not have been spotted.
"Hey, have ya lost your mind? What did ya do that?! "
"It's Teana. She's not feeling better. It's even worse than before! " he whispered in his friend's ear, not wanting the young woman to hear him.
"Her fever gets worse? "
"Jouno, if we don't stop to eat something, I'm afraid she... " he did not finish his sentence, words fading into his throat, barely holding a sob.
"Eat? I don't think it will happen anytime soon... "
Closing his eyelids, half tiredness and half in spite, Heba let himself fall back against the bars of his mobile prison. Perhaps it was better that way... To pass away in illness, surrounded by her two childhood friends, was a better end than the one that would be hers upon their arrival. Because if ever their torturers learn about her condition, it was a much more terrible death that would await her. And even if she were to recover, her future would be no more than an intense wave of suffering, where hope no longer has its place, intertwined by the shadows of the chained life of a slave...
A fiery sun hovering over a deep blue sky, under the ever-high temperatures of this season, the palace stood proudly at the other end of the city. Royal residence with golden curves, harmonizing in an almost perfect way with the landscape of the endless yellow Sahara as if it had simply emerged from the underground.
Various noises echoed through the walls of the estate, from the servants bustling about here and there to the scribes who went back and forth between the royal library and the council chamber, the viziers overseeing the nomarchs and the priests attending their usual business. whatever they might be.
Atem let a groan of pleasure escape from his lips as he plunged into the clear liquid that filled the basin. Extending his arms along the edge, he closed his eyes, letting his head lean backwards.
Off-white, the donkey milk that wrapped his body with tanned skin was scented with a smell of wildflower, certainly lavender, and essential oils. Breathing deeply, he absently swept a hand in the air, relaxing even more when a damp cotton cloth began to rub gently but vigorously his neck.
"Can I take that as a compliment, my Pharaoh? "
"You can, Nailah. "
Chuckling with rapture, the maid slid the cloth from his shoulders to his arms, passing between his fingers, lingering on his knuckles and nails before going back to his back, forcing the young king to straighten up in a grunt while the servant entered in her turn in the basin to rub his shoulder blades.
Soon, the ephemeral pleasure of this bath would end and he would inevitably have to return the state affairs. All would be nothing more than a continuous succession of listening, writing, and reading of papyrus longer than the Nile itself.
Khemet's sales-talks were reaching to him from the terraces and looking up at the open ceiling supported by four marble columns, he suddenly asked:
"Is it nice? "
"What so, your Majesty? "
"To wander in the city aimlessly? " replied Atem, resuming his place against the edge, the young servant now sliding the cotton cloth against his chest.
"Well... " Nailah hesitated, worried.
"Answer without fear... I'm just a little curious. "
"I'm not used to going to town unless it's for the needs of the palace. But it's really nice to visit the market and listen to the lively conversations of the villagers. "
"I see... "
"If I may... Why this question, O son of Horus? "
Narrowing his eyes, the Pharaoh freed himself from the grip of his maid, moving forward in the centre of the basin, clasping himself as the lukewarm liquid began to cool.
"For nothing. Nothing at all... "
Nodding and pulling the cloth against her, Nailah emerged from the bath, circling it to join the young king, a silk clothing in her hands.
Atem went out in his turn, wrapping himself in the garment before heading to his apartments, not forgetting to thank the young woman for his duties.
A cobalt blue Shendyt put on top of a vanilla-coloured tunic later, all draped in an indigo cape, and he was walking towards the throne room, looking confident. There was now nothing left inside his pupils of the doubt that had temporarily darkened his mind.
Untiringly, time continued to flow, leaving him no respite. If only he could... not escape to his duties, he sincerely loved being the king. But to be able at least one day, to have the chance to discover what was the normal life. To learn how his people lived on a daily basis... So maybe... maybe he would feel less alone...
Sighing, he shook his head energetically to chase away these disordered thoughts and proudly stepped into the room, sitting down without further delay on his throne while the various priests went by with the order of the day.
This trip didn't want to end. Ra replacing Thoth in the far forbidden domain of the Gods. How many days did had he spent in this tiny habitat?
Skinning himself each time his limbs crawled miserably against the barks of wood that tore his flesh, his caramel skin taking a much darker shade under the dirt and dust, and his body gradually losing its vitality under the hunger and thirst.
His amethyst eyes were no longer radiant under the deathly silence that reigned around him, Teana suddenly becoming mute and Jouno no longer even trying to comfort anyone as nothing seemed to give him any hope of getting out of this cage.
He closed his eyes, trying to find some rest when various sounds reached his ears. Getting up as best he could, he wriggled his neck, watching with an almost relief the features of the city moving under the heat of the sun a few meters in front of them.
Thus ended their lives as free humans. The market stalls of Khemet would soon be covered with new merchandises as they would be displayed to the audience like common fruits, nothing less than their lives being offered for a simple trifle.
Heba narrowed his eyes as they approached the large alabaster gates of the town. The cariole slowly crossed them, like a soon announced sentence, stopping abruptly at the edge of the shopping alley.
The two torturers descended from the wagon, circling it to sneak open with anger the door closed with a metal padlock. Pulling on the iron chain connecting them all to another, one of the two men screamed to hurry up while everyone was doing their best to get out, their amorphous limbs making them inevitably fall to the ground as they set foot in the sand.
"C'mon! C'mon! What a bunch of incompetents! "
Heba struggled not to cry when he collapsed on the soil, moaning like a wounded animal. Standing up in staggering, he let himself be directed to a pedestal serving as a sales booth, aligning nicely with his peers.
Daring to learn his head forward in hope of seeing his childhood friends, he sighed mentally in relief as Teana stood more or less up at the other end of the line, her gaze completely empty as she did not even seem to realize what was going on around her.
As for Jouno, he seemed to have found his motivation again, struggling hard against his enemies, trying in vain to escape to their clutches.
By Osiris, how can he still move like that? the boy thought, feeling himself on the verge of fainting, his vision blurred.
A woman suddenly collapsed to his left, taking a part of the flock with her and forcing him to step back a little. One of the guards cried out at this vision, releasing the arm of the blond-haired troublemaker to hit the woman's stomach as if to know if she was still breathing.
Heba turned away his sight, unable to bear any more, hiding himself behind his blond locks with black and fuchsia highlights. He raised his head, however, when a shouting resonated, the second guard clumsily holding his hand, his eyes darkening under pure hate, the mark of Jouno's teeth forever etched in the flesh of his palm.
"You! Damn leech, I swear to give you the first comer without negotiation! "
"So much the better! I wouldn't have to bear ya face very long! "
The slap flies through the air with disconcerting rapidity, the hazel-eyed young man falling to the ground in a cloud of grains of sand.
Seeking to join his friend, Heba saw his route blocked by the most massive torturers. Trying to force through despite his small stature, he could only bend his knees in pain as the guard gripped him by the hair, pushing him back while tumbling him against the platform.
"Don't move Heba! Above all, don't do anythin they could make ya regret! " yelled Jouno, seeing the scene and wanting to protect his long-time friend.
"Well, are you going to keep quiet now? Where I swear by Isis that it's the kid who will receive instead of you! " barked the less burly of the two men, noticing brilliantly the weak point of both boys: each other.
"Okay... okay... "
Joining also the ranks, the tall blonde sighed with a bored pout, his pupils drifting, without being able to stop, at the royal palace standing in the distance. Following his gaze, the boy with amethyst pearls also inspected the building, a wave of injustice running through his body with spasms.
"There really are people who don't have to worry about anythin. " his friend snorted out disdainfully.
Yes... some are luckier than others...