“Harken, thy lord approaches!”
Panouk, Superintendent of the Royal Harem, bellowed his tidings; the sistra began their jangling; and the procession started forward.
“Harken! User Ma'atre-meryamun, Ramesses Heqaiunu – Re is powerful in truth, beloved of Amun, Born of Ra, Ruler of Heliopolis! On your knees before the living god!”
Pharaoh swept into the hall, sure of foot as always, where the entire harem was already on their knees, head bowed. Truth be told, he was feeling weary, though he was sure not to show it: the trip to Waset, first down the waters of the Great River then over endless dusty roads; then opening the palace; then nonstop planning for the festivities marking his thirtieth year on the throne – all had taken quite a bit out of him. And there was quite a bit more to do: continuing discussions with the priests at the Temple of Amun, both for the festival and on matters of state; preliminary ceremonies leading up to the actual festival; and then the days of the festival itself, which would require a display of a high level of stamina, to run the circuits and prove his continuing health.
Well, better than the alternative, he smiled inwardly. After all, the festival had originated long ago as a means of eliminating a pharaoh too weak to perform his duties.
No danger of that happening today; it had been thirty years since he'd assumed the Double Crown, but he was still as strong as he'd been the day that the crown had been placed on his head. Strong as a bull: able to strike the head from an enemy with one blow, or bed as many women as struck his fancy. There had been lean years, and strikes, and unrest; but that was all behind now – he would make sure it was behind – and the festival would push it even further back, make the people forget. They would pray to Ra and Amun, and all would be well.
And tonight – tonight was for leisure, and pleasure, a short break in the midst of all the preparations. His wives had all been brought to Waset for the festival. A fire at the Eastern Compound had them all staying together here temporarily; the rivalries might cause clashes for a few days, but it was more convenient for him. So he could take his ease tonight -
He scanned the roomful of kneeling bodies. One – the new girl, the daughter of the king of the land of Ka-na-na – looked up briefly, fearfully, yet defiantly -
“Her,” he gestured. Yes, her; someone new, not the jaded women who perform solely to cement their standing. Two guards steeped forward and brought her to her feet. Yes, her. He'd enjoy this immensely.
He turned and strode into the bedchamber, the guards following, with the girl having squirmed free and walking haughtily just ahead of them. The room had been built for his comfort and to his specifications, with hidden exits nearby; he found himself immediately at ease in it. The girl stopped just inside the door; the guards bowed then stepped back, pulling the doors shut.
“On the bed,” he gestured. The girl silently moved to the bed, daring a brief glance as she glided across the floor.
He looked closer at her. He'd been thinking he'd like it hard and fast, but perhaps dallying with this one a bit would be more to his taste. Causing her some pleasure, seeing her reaction, might be entertaining after all.
He came over to the bed couch, removing his kilt and tossing it to the floor, already feeling the stirrings of his loins. “You are as pretty as a fine spring day along the Nile, child. I desire to see that face cry out in pleasure; in fact, it would please me quite well.”
“Yes, sire,” she replied in the soft accents of her homeland, glancing down, closing her eyes.
“No need to be bashful; pleasing your lord is a high honour. And I think that you shall please me very much this night.”
He kissed the two eyelids, thought he could taste a tear. “What is this? No crying, now – or at least all crying shall be from joy.” He kissed his way down the golden neck, then to the clavicle, then stopped. The lovely eyes were still shut.
He took the lips, kissing them will all the skill that he possessed, then pulled back. “Surely that cannot have been bad, child; we've barely done anything. Open your eyes, now.” The lids slowly opened upon the topaz eyes, calmer than earlier, the gaze then suddenly widened in terror. But they weren't looking at him, they were looking beyond him, past his shoulder.
“What's wrong, child?”
Pharaoh turned around.