A few broken walls and pillars were all that remained of the pyramid of Ahm Shere. Fortunately, one of the halfway collapsed walls was held in place by a pillar, forming a rough shelter. Imhotep and Alexandra sat underneath it, near a fire that he had built using a strange powder. The flames danced in alarming contrast to the black night, casting shadows onto the walls.
Imhotep gazed at the young girl, trying to read her features. Feeling self-conscious, she looked away, towards the night sky. When she looked back, he was regarding her with oddest expression on his face.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You…remind me of someone I once knew."
"…What do you mean?" Alexandra suddenly felt breathless and dizzy. Why did she feel the same? What was it about this man that felt so familiar?
"You should sleep." Imhotep ignored the question and motioned to the makeshift bed made of Alexandra's jacket. She acquiesced with a nod, and arranged herself on the ground. She looked up at him with her deep blue eyes, and he felt his heart skip a beat. He knew he would never let anyone harm her ever again. He would never fail her the way he had before.
"I think you remind of someone, too." She whispered.
"The memories will come in time, when you are ready. Sleep now. I will watch over you." Imhotep traced the air around her face in a circular motion. For one brief moment, they held one another's gaze, their eyes communication what their voices couldn't.
Imhotep's face was the last thing Alexandra saw before she closed her eyes.
Thebes, Egypt: 1290 BC
"Alihotep…I am afraid."
"Hush, my child. Bathe yourself and relax. You will feel much calmer." Alihotep spoke in soothing tones, but Kebechet was still trembling with fear. What if Seti was displeased with her? What if he sent her away? And worse still, what if he did not?
An involuntary sigh escaped her lips as she stepped into the steaming bathwater. She submerged herself completely and relished the hot water on her face. Eventually, she surfaced, and rested her head on the edge of the basin.
Alihotep tucked a wet strand of hair behind her ear in a comforting, rather motherly way. Kebechet could feel her eyelids beginning to close, suddenly overcome with exhaustion.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, startling her.
"Come in, my Lord."
Seti strode inside and disrobed almost instantly. He stepped into the bathwater with Kebechet and stood, towering, above her. She tried to rise, but he shoved her back down, sending waves of water cascading from the basin.
Suddenly he was straddling her. She could feel his breath upon her face and she prayed to Osiris that he could not sense her fear. With one hand, he grabbed her breast roughly, and she gasped in pain and shock.
Kebechet was frozen in fear, as she looked up into the Pharaoh's emotionless eyes.
"Turn over!" He shouted.
Kebechet flinched, but hastily did as she was told.
Groping her violently from behind, she felt him spreading her legs apart. She braced herself for what was to come, but Seti suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth and pushed her head under the water.
Kebechet flailed manically, but her nails could gain no purchase on the smooth tub. She could feel the Pharaoh's angry hands holding her down as her vision began to blur at the edges. She suddenly knew that he would not stop until she was dead. She scene began to grow dark and—
Kebechet awoke, gasping for air. The first thing she noticed was that she was still in the bathwater, and that The Pharaoh was not here. She took ragged, gasping breaths as Alihotep looked on, grimacing. It was obvious to her that the girl had experienced some sort of nightmare, not unlike the ones she used to have.
As Kebechet dried herself with linen, Alihotep coached her on what to expect from her first night in the Pharaoh's harem.
"Speak only when you are spoken to, and never look him in the eye."
"You must never refuse a command from the Pharaoh, Kebechet. This is very important, do you understand me?"
"Yes, Alihotep." Kebechet was escorted down the hall and into what she could only assume was the harem's dressing chamber.
"Now, do you have any questions?"
"What is it, child?"
"I do not want this." Kebechet studied the floor, tears of shame burning at the corners of her eyes.
Alihotep grasped her chin firmly and pulled her head up. Her eyes were steely, but not unkind.
"I know. But Kebechet, you must never speak of this ever again. Not all would be as understanding as I."
Kebechet grasped her hand in a panic. "Oh, Alihotep, please do not tell anyone what I have said."
"It is between you and I, my dear." Alihotep smiled. "And as a symbol of our trust, I will reveal to you something that has long been a secret of my past. When I was your age, I lived here in Egypt, on a small farm. My parents had little money to support my sister and I, and they sent us to the palace. Seti had just been crowned Pharaoh, and he was searching for girls to add to his harem. My sister and I were both chosen. In my first week, Seti summoned me to his chambers. Afterwards, he began to request my presence often, and I became his most beloved. The other girls were terribly jealous of me and, although I did not seek the Pharaoh's favor, he gave it to me. But my sister, Neith, became very ill, and died. I was very sad, and my world became dark and hopeless. I no longer pleased Seti, but he did not dispose of me as he has so many others who have failed to earn his favor. Instead, he assigned me as the head of his harem, so that I might care for the girls and keep them safe."
Alihotep was silent for a while.
"The last night that I spent in his chambers was the night he gave me this." She touched her left eyelid, where a scar was barely visible, covered with a thick layer of kohl.
"Take this, and dress quickly." Alihotep handed Kebechet a bundle of clothes; a silken top and skirt.
"Is this not…much more modest than what the other girls wear?" Kebechet asked.
"It is. It belonged to me…a gift from Seti. It is my hope that it might shield you, and perhaps even garner the Pharaoh's favor."
Clothed in the silken outfit, and perfumed with the scent of Lotus, Kebechet was led down a series of corridors to the Pharaoh's private chambers. Outside the doors, four Medjai stood guard. Alihotep announced their presence and Kebechet was led into the room.
The Pharaoh strode over to Kebechet, and looked her over haughtily.
"Look at me."
Kebechet raised her head and met the Pharaoh's unreadable eyes. She fruitlessly tried to discern whether she found fury or sympathy there.
"Where have you found these clothes?" He demanded.
After an instant of debating with herself, Kebechet decided that it would be best to simply tell the truth.
"Alihotep, my Lord."
"For what purpose?"Seti hissed.
"She…she hoped it might earn your favor, my Lord."
Seti's face contorted into a mask of rage.
"And what right does that whore have to my favor?" He snarled.
"My Lord, I—" Seti hit her across the face, hard.
"THAT WAS NOT A QUESTION!" he roared.
Kebechet looked down and willed herself not to cry.
"Look at me."
Kebechet raised her eyes once again, and found Seti contemplating her with a small, unfriendly smile.
"You will not join my harem. I have something much more…rewarding for you."
Her eyes widened in confusion.
"Alihotep will be waiting for you, no doubt, and you may tell her that I have assigned you to the High Priest." His eyes were cold. "And you will also tell her that in trying to curry my favor, she has ensured you more hurt that I ever would have inflicted."
With a sweeping hand gesture, the Pharaoh dismissed Kebechet from his chambers.
Trembling, she was escorted to the door. Alihotep was waiting on the other side and, as soon as she saw Kebechet, she grabbed her arm, breathing hysterically.
"Kebechet, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault, I should never have interfered."
"I don't blame you Alihotep, but I don't understand!" Kebechet said. "Why should it matter if I am a concubine to the Pharaoh, or the High Priest? What is the difference?"
"The-" Alihotep bit her lip and sighed. "The Pharaoh has almost one hundred girls in his harem. Many times, girls will not be summoned to his chambers for months on end. But the High Priest…has only one concubine. To be summoned whenever he likes and however often he chooses."