As she walked up the highway to the temple, Kiya looked at the sphinxes, all with the face of a woman, that lined the road, and she thought of Neferure and her faithful cat, Nana Bestet.
“I hope Nefer is all right,” Kiya remarked. Nefer stayed with Iset, Pylhia, Becket, and all the children in the neighborhood. They were celebrating Beket’s five-year-old menace who was turning six. “Dennis the Menace,” Kiya mumbled.
“I am sure she is fine, and having a wonderful time,” Nephthys said. She always seemed to know, or at least she always believed the best. Kiya took a deep breath and did not panic.
When they reached the place of offering, Kiya reached into her enormous bag and pulled out the special package she had made in advance. She smiled and bowed her head when she presented it to the priest. He immediately gave it to a young boy who ran off with it. Then he returned Kiya’s smile, and she took another look. The priests she dealt with were mostly old and cranky, and the priestesses were worse. She did not go there in her mind. This one, the one she had been seeing now for the last three months, appeared young, tall and handsome. She tried not to go there in her mind, either, because it was such a cliché, but she could not help it. She felt her lips return his smile, and only got saved by a familiar voice.
“Sutek. The wait and work of a hundred days. How has it been?”
“Mihos,” the priest responded. “This moment makes it all worthwhile.” The Priest bowed slightly to Kiya, and Kiya blushed, but she could not turn away.
“Ah, Kiya,” Mihos said, and added a tease. “She is the pillar of this temple. All we need is to get her to raise her hands to hold up the ceiling and carve the devotions on her back.” Kiya frowned at her friend. Kiya figured she had to be five-ten. She stood head and shoulders above most women, and even stuck out in a crowd that included men. These two men, Mihos and, she supposed, Sutek, were a couple of inches taller than her. That was unusual.
“And that makes you two the east and west pillars?” she asked.
“North and south,” Mihos said, pointing to himself and his friend.
Sutek laughed before he turned serious. “To be honest, I don’t know if I am cut out for the priestly life. My heart and devotion are in the right place, but my mind wanders.” He looked again at Kiya and she blushed again. She couldn’t help it, even if she tried to help it.
Mihon said, “Sutek,” and he slapped the man on the back to dislodge his eyes from Kiya. “Are we ready to walk to the market? We have three lovely ladies to escort, you know.” He pointed, and Sutek, with one more, sneaky glimpse at Kiya, went over to introduce himself to the older ladies.
Mihon nodded. “Hathor can be mean.”
“But Sutek?” Kiya gasped.
“Hathor can be cruel.”
“But, Teti had to kill Sutek. I can’t hardly say that name.”
“Hathor has a sick sense of humor.” Mihon nodded, grimly.
“Bubastis,” Lincoln said. “In the Land of Goshen.”
Lockhart hit him. Fortunately, Decker rode on the wing, out of ear-shot. “So how are we supposed to find Kiya in this city since it seems clear the people here have been hiding her for these last nine years?” Lockhart asked.
“Look for trouble?” Katie said.
“Sing cockles and muscles and let her find us?” Lincoln suggested.
“Get in trouble and pray?” Artie said.
“I like that last one,” Boston shouted from the back.
“Boston!” Alexis scolded, and spoke up. “Ask. It never hurts to ask.”
Decker came in from the wing. “We got trouble behind,” he said.
Elder Stow came in as well. They were traveling on a solid road, and he commented. “The roads are improving.”
“Dust,” Decker said. “Chariots, I think.”
Lockhart nodded. “Off the road. Elder Stow?”
Elder Stow nodded in the same way as Lockhart, and checked his scanner. He said, “This way.”
Lincoln said. “So, this is the Land of…” he stopped when he saw Lockhart’ fist, but it was too late.
“Goshen,” Decker said.
Kiya felt happy, sort of giddy walking home. She never expected to meet anyone and looked forward to a long and lonely life. Sutek seemed to be as nice as he seemed. He had great eyes, he was smart, he was kind and caring, and he had a fine laugh. He actually had a sense of humor. Her only fear was herself. After all she had been through, could she honestly respond to a man the way a woman ought to respond to a man? She did not know, but as they walked and talked, she felt strongly that she wanted to find out.
The gods were not powerless in the face of the Kairos. Far from it. Hathor could weave her love spells, and Kiya would be trapped like any other, but Hathor could not force things. The Kairos could resist and walk away, broken hearted, but walk away. The gods did not have her lifeline—her fate line. Hathor could not simply twist two lines together and have it fait accompli. Besides, the Kairos was too complex a person, and not just Kiya, herself, walking home from the market. There were other lives stretching through time, deep into the past, and deep into the future to contend with.
“I’m worried about Nefer,” she said. It remained her first concern, and she wondered if he knew she already had a child.
“Mihos mentioned it,” Sutek said, and looked thoughtful. “She is nine, and a cripple?”
Kiya looked down at the dirt as she walked. How could she explain? Nefer was not exactly crippled. She stood a slim and tall child, like her mother, but with big incisors, an overbite and cleft palate to contend with. Her bones and spine were straight, thank goodness, but her bones were not strong. She had to be careful not to fall, or she might break like a china doll. And she had inherited epilepsy from her father which sometimes made her fall, dangerously. Kiya smiled, sadly. “She is a sickly child, and not strong. She has the fits. But her heart is pure gold.”
Sutek smiled for her because Kiya could not seem to smile for herself. “I look forward to meeting her,” he said.
That happened sooner than expected. The women and children at the birthday party came running up the road, screaming. Neferure came with them, though she lagged behind because of her leg braces, a bit of time tampering, but Kiya thought they were an acceptable risk.
Kiya, Mihos and Sutek all ran ahead, leaving the old women to hobble along on their own. Kiya hugged Nefer, then oddly put her in Mihos’ hands, the one man Nefer knew. Kiya stepped forward to where Nana Bestet arched her back, and growled. Nana looked much bigger than normal, like a wildcat more than a house cat, and her growl sounded much deeper and more threatening than normal, too. The gutteral sound said don’t come any closer, but somehow, Kiya felt no fear running up beside the beast and barely kept her hand from reaching out to pet the enraged cat.
An apparition hovered around the house, floating about two feet off the ground. It appeared to be looking in the window, so it had its back turned. It went inside, partly through the wall, and not exactly through the window. When it came outside again, it turned to the road, and Kiya knew who it was.
“Beast. Beast,” the ghost said. “I will not disturb you, beast.”
The ghost stopped. “I know that voice.”
“It is Kiya.”
The ghost strained. The eyes all but popped out of its head, and though the ghost never actually looked at Kiya, it seemed to see something. “Why, Kiya. Little Kiya. Have you been good and stayed away from my daughters. Meritaten hates you, you know, with a hate that is pure as can be.” The ghost appeared to smile.
“Nefertiti. Why are you here.”
“Why Kiya.” The ghost appeared to start over. “Little Kiya. I know you. I seem to have lost my way. Do you know the way? It is so dark. Everything is so dark.” The ghost spun around slowly three times.
“Nefertiti. You do not belong here,” Kiya said.
“There is this baby, this boy. He clings to my skirt. I do not know him. I do not want him. But he will not leave me.”
“Nefertiti. That is all there is and ever was of the human part of your husband.”
“Aten. Aten.” the ghost called. “Why am I in the dark. Aten, come to me.”
“The Aten is gone,” Kiya said, and the ghost stopped spinning, though it still faced off by a thrity degree angle, so it did not actually look at Kiya.
“That cannot be. Aten is a god. He is eternal. He has given me power. Why is it so dark?”
“Nefertiti. Aton has gone back over to the other side.”
“That cannot be. He made me. He gave me great power. I am the greatest living sorceress in all the world.”
The ghost circled around once more. “But I do not know the way. This baby boy will not leave me alone. Why is it so dark?” The ghost began to fade until she vanished altogether and the last they heard was the word, “Dark…”
“That was quite a show,” Lockhart said from just down the road where the travelers waited, and watched.
Kiya looked worried, but she opened her arms. “Boston.” Kiya spoke softly, but the young red headed elf flew into the hug. Then she looked up, Kiya, who was a good bit taller than her, and she spoke.
“You’re young again, but very tall.”
“Kiya?” Lincoln had to be sure.
“My mother,” Kiya said, without explaining to Boston, and with a nod for Lincoln. She let go and rushed to Nefer, to hug her. Nana Bestet, back to her normal size, rubbed against Neferure’s leg braces. Kiya looked up at Sutek, who stayed right there with Mihos the whole time and held the girl back.
“Mother,” Nefer said. “I was so afraid for you.”
Kiya kissed her daughter, and thought that there was so much about herself that Sutek did not know.