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We were lined up outside the hall of the king. I felt the breeze blowing through my crotch and as I looked down I prayed my nerves wouldn't get the better of me. I had to do my best. I looked at the other boys. They were all lined up like idiots.
The guards called us in and just as we entered the room I saw the general. He was leaving outside of the room. He had royal head guard in his hands and seemed a little bit upset. I couldn't tell exactly what he was upset about but he seemed down about something. He rushed right past us not even giving us a second look as he stormed out of the room.
"Bring them in...line them up against on the foot of my bed."
The voice had come from Menice.
The House of Safflowers wasn't his palace. I knew he had royal chambers far more lavish than this but I couldn't imagine anything being more lavish then this. The room was decked out in flowers and beautiful arrangements. Every step taken on the floor was a step a fresh picked petal. The nine of us walked into the room and sat at the foot of his bed all trying to seem somewhat organized in our manner. It was clear that we weren't though. We were a mess of a bunch.
There were guards all throughout the room but they hung in the shadows and didn't speak at all. Among them was the red haired woman that Kakra had called Boxy. Kakra had said she was his main guard. She even had a small bed on the other side of the giant room. She wasn't asleep however. She was watching us. I could feel her silent eyes...stalking waiting to see if we would make a deadly move or not.
"You can all relax," the king stated and smiled as he shook up to us, "Don't be nervous by the General's hasty retreat either. He gotten into his feelings as the night went on or something that he thinks are his feelings. You were summoned here tonight because I love the use of words. I figured I could use younger scribes to work in my own quarters...tell my words..."
Some seemed to almost sigh as a thought.
The king wasn't looking at us as he talked. His royal wig was on a pillar in the middle of the room. It was a huge headdress with many valuable looking trinkets nestled into the black hair. The king himself had very short hair. It was my first time seeing him...so...ordinary. A part of me almost thought it made him look more human. He didn't have a ton of powder under on his face. He didn't have huge golden bangles hanging from him or a crown so big that I wondered how he kept his neck up. He wasn't carrying scepters and ostrich feathers. He was just a boy now and he was ordinary. Yet still I was stunned by him.
"As you all know I have recently newly acquired the cities formally under the false Pharaoh Chenen. During the day time I have many dealings on the new acquisition with the Egyptians that have been conquered and visit our lands. I feel it necessary to record my thoughts at times because many times I lose my thoughts.
Almost in unison we all said, "Yes."
Our heads in the ground as we bowed. I figured now that our nerves were past us we were a little bit more of a uniform group.
"Your families will receive the payment from the crowned treasury. It should be enough to sustain the work. You will report to me every morning and begin to write everything you see. You will chronicle everything. I don't want a moment missed. I want these moments for life."
"And you...the poet..."
He was looking at me. Our eyes were connecting again. It was the first time someone had called me a full out poet. It was as though he had taken my art seriously.
"Yes, your highness."
"I will provide you with my most inner thoughts. If these boys are to act as chronicles you will be my personal memoir. You will be my journal."
The others looked at me. They were just as confused as I was. All of a sudden all my nerves came back. I had been singled out by the king to write his journal. The king hadn't yet turned around to see my reaction. I didn't have a reaction as of yet. I was still so shocked. He was still picking at the trinkets in is wigs. He was setting all the gold pieces over the black strands of hair.
When he finally turned back to me I could tell he was surprised that I had taken so long to answer, "You ok?"
"Yes, I'll do as you wish."
He shook his head, "The rest of you are excused. Poet...you will remain here though."
My heart beat faster and faster as I noticed Husain and the others get up to leave. Husain put his hand on my shoulder as though giving me some sort of support before he left. I watched Kakra's eyes turn to me with great interest. If anyone I'd think he'd be the one to capture the attention of the king but I was having a full audience with the king. I wondered how many people could say they had done that in a lifetime.
He turned back to his wig, "The simplest things are the most beautiful to me. You know. Look at this gold trinket. Here come take a look at it."
He stretched out his hand.
He was telling me to come closer. I looked at the guards. They were all like gargoyles. They were lifeless statues watching in the distance in the shadows. I knew they were there but they seemed so use to just watching and waiting that the humanity in them seemed to be faded away.
I walked closer. By now the other boys were gone. My nerves were frantic.
I looked in his hand to see the trinket. We were so close at this point. It was the closest I'd ever been to him. He smelled...rich. I didn't know what that meant but it was a thick smell. It smelled like there were layers of scents to him and everyone of them was more savory than the last. I could smell it for a million years.
"Isn't it beautiful..."
You're beautiful. Every part of me stopped me from saying it. The aroma all around me. I hadn't even noticed the trinket till he stepped closer even more. In his hands I could see the gold piece shapped like raindrop in his hands. I looked up from the trinket to see that he was watching my eyes, looking to see what my reaction would be.
"It was one of the gifts that the General brought back when he conquered Chenen and the Egyptians," the king stated, "He brought me huge elephants, rare linen and massive amounts of slaves and yet this was the only thing I valued. Guess I'm ungrateful. Or just everything seems to remain the same."
I wondered if my position began now. I wondered if I should be writing any of this down. I didn't have any papyrus to write on though. I was completely out of it and I knew I could remember everything he was telling me. Perhaps he didn't want me to write it down. Perhaps he just wanted to let some things off his mind.
I wanted to hear them as well. I wanted to hear everything about this boy. I wanted to know exactly who he was.
"...is the general your lover?"
My mouth had spoken before I knew why. I had to know. I had seen how he had been whispering to the king and how he touched the king. I saw how the king looked down at him. I could feel some sort of a need to know these things.
"That is the big rumor going around isn't it?" he asked.
"I'm sorry if I impose."
"No of course don't be sorry," he stated, "I wanted your role to be just that. I wanted you to get into my personal business. Yes...that sounds right. So now what was your question again?"
"Are you his lover?"
"Have we made love?" he asked me, "Yes...are we lovers...no. He loves another. A woman I assume. I don't know her name. She is one of the servant girls who brings me tea. There are ten or eleven of them. I don't know who assigned them to do things but one day I noticed my tea was cold because she had brought it too early. I saw them standing there behind a window talking. And it was in a way that I knew...I just knew...let's not talk about this right now."
At that moment I saw humanity.
I didn't know what that meant. Maybe I had asked the wrong question too quickly. I didn't want to know. Menice seemed disappointed when he spoke of the General. It wasn't a huge disappointment but it was a disappointment nonetheless.
He sighed immediately and looked over at me, "I am bad at names...I guess I never saw a point. I'm not impressed enough to put a name to a face anymore. Everyone irritates me. I'd like to try to know your name though."
name is Jabari."
He shook his head, "And are you real Jabari?"
I was confused almost immediately by his question. He had sat on his bed now and looked up at me. I didn't know how to answer and each second seemed like I was coming a step closer to losing my position that he had just given me.
"I'm sorry sir... I don't know what you mean."
He smiled, "Just the most basic sense of reality. Don't worry. At times I don't know what's real or what's not any longer. How do I know if anyone's real, you know? All I know is that I'm real. Everyone else could just be a figment. Everyone else could just be an illusion in my mind."
Is this what goes on in his head?
I smiled a little bit amused by it. I didn't say anything to question his thoughts though. As amusing they were, he was still a king. A wave of his hand and this weird talking would be a law to me that I'd have to follow the rest of my life.
"I assure you, Pharaoh. I am real."
He nodded, "Good. I `d like to know these things. It saves me the time. I like to know if someone is real and if someone is going to be real with me..."
He backed away.
It was such a strange thing for him to ask and I wondered why he asked it. I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. I wondered if that question meant anything or if it was something he just asked anyone. Was I special?
"I could imagine how it is to be like you."
I don't know why it came out. It just seemed to come out.
"Can you really?"
He seemed amused. He turned to me and granted me permission to sit on his bed and talk beside him. I looked at him kind of thrown aside. People didn't just get permission to join the king on his desk. It wasn't something that just happened.
"There are so many people...after you..."
I was speaking about the poison. I wanted to tell him but I didn't know how it would react. It may have done more bad for me than good to confess that I had uncovered and ruined a suicide plot.
"What do you mean?"
"There are people who...want to hurt you, Pharaoh."
I felt like I sounded like an idiot stumbling on my words. The way he looked at me proved that I sounded just proved that I was in over my head. I should have quit when I was ahead. Why was I still pushing this issue.
"It's the women...isn't it?"
Did he know? I looked into his eyes and I didn't see the slightest bit of fear or anger or anything of that nature. He just seemed to be accepting something. From that emotion I could kind of gather the fact that he didn't know as much as I assumed he did.
"Women have always either loved me or hated me. Men had many different ranges of emotion of how they felt for me. I could never understand them. With women it was always complete devotion or complete hatred. They want to hurt me. They see me as competition because of what I like. I'm sure you've heard of my different interests."
He thought women hated him because of his interest in men. I could see in the way he was phrasing himself that he was completely serious about it.
"These women have no comparison to you," I stated," No one does."
He smiled. What was I doing? Was I really here flirting with the king? I knew I had meant it from all my heart. I wasn't just saying it just to say it.
Menice's smile faded after a few seconds, "I should get to bed..."
"I'm sorry did I say something wrong..."
"No, but you can leave now."
"Wait...can I just have another minute. Can we just talk for another minute?"
I knew the question was out of line. He didn't even seem to be listening to me any longer. I watched as one or two guards came to escort me out of the room. I looked over at him. Yeah, I hadn't mean a thing to him. I had gotten too comfortable. I had said some things that I shouldn't have. Why did I have to let my emotions get the best of me.
I woke up the next morning sure that I had ruined it all. I hated myself. Husain was there when I woke up. He was standing right beside my cot. A smile was on his face. He always smiled in the mornings with his roll of papyrus always handy. The other boys were mostly still asleep at this point.
"Too excited?" he asked smiling down at me as he sat down on the bed beside me, "You were amazing yesterday. I never took you as someone who would speak up in front of all those people like that."
"There's something that I want."
I looked over to my right to see Kakra standing there. I was sure he had been there the whole time. His bed was on the other side of the room. What the hell was he doing over here? I watched as he crossed over to the room with a serious look on his face. There was something about him that was so unnerving. He gave me a knowing eye but I wondered now exactly how much he knew that I knew about his plan with the King's family to assassinate the king.
"Husain, leave him be. We don't have time to argue," Husain stated, "Jabari has a long day ahead of him. You should be resting or something."
I looked over at Husain. He was probably right. I shouldn't be letting Kakra get to me.
set us all up to be the King's whipping boys.
I think I owe you thanks. Now it
seems like we all can see firsthand what a tyrant he is."
Kakra wasn't letting up. It was almost as though he had the heel of his sandal to my throat and he wasn't going to let me loose. He had this negativity about him that I just couldn't shake. I wondered what he was so damn upset about especially when it came to Menice.
"Jabari, don't answer him."
I hadn't planned on acknowledging Kakra. I watched as he smiled.
Kakra seemed amused that I was ignoring him, "You want him don't you...you want the Pharaoh for yourself?"
How did Kakra know? I could tell now he wasn't just simply trying to mess with me for no reason. He had suspected me of having feelings for the king and he was trying to get that out of me. I could tell by the way he was looking at me that he was trying to force something out of me. I tried to look away. Why was he being so aggressive so early?
"Kakra you are really reaching now. Are you trying to say that Jabari is in love with the king or something?"
I didn't either.
The moment seemed to get even more awkward when Husain's laugh stopped and he realized that everyone else had a very serious face. He had called it directly on the nose.
"How did you know?" I asked Jabari.
"I knew before you did. I saw how you looked at him the first time we saw him at the General's parade. All the rest of us saw a king but I assumed that wasn't what you saw. I spend my nights up just listening to you calling his name. It's kind of childish actually."
called his name in my sleep?
Damn I definitely was further along than I even wanted to admit.
"Wait...Jabari, Kakra is lying right. You can't be... like...wait..." Husain stuttered in confusion.
I shook my head, "I'm not in love with him. I barely even know him. Last night we just talked and I realized how little I know about him. It's just lust...I just I really, really like him."
Kakra was smiling amused by me, "You are hilarious you know that? Of all the possible females available in Nubia you want to chose a boy. Out of all the possible boys in Nubia you want to chose a king?"
Husain shook his head, "He is a Pharaoh. He is a god...Jabari come on now...I don't ever agree with Kakra but he has a point here."
I couldn't believe these two were really sitting here telling me this at this point. They were making me feel so much less than a man. I didn't know what else to do about it. My head started thrusting in pain as I sat there thinking about it. I was dumb. He was a king. I was a scribe. I knew I was dumb. I didn't even know him. I didn't need people reminding me of it. I knew I was making all the wrong choices and yet I couldn't help it.
My heart was in this. I was hoping at this point that it was just lust.
"You guys can't say a word."
"You'd be dead if we did," Kakra stated raising an eyebrow, "You do realize the General is extremely jealous when it comes to the king?"
He hadn't said though whether he'd say anything or not.
At that moment we turned around to see Fukayna standing there. He was at the door. He walked in on us. I quickly gathered to my feet and stood u up straight. He was my teacher and my scribe. He was also a servant of the library which was under the king.
"You should all be getting ready to meet with the Pharaoh. His messengers have come to summon you. You should be fixing your appearance. Go wash off at the water basin. You are representing me today. There's better things to be doing than sitting around gossiping like little girls."
Kakra looked back at me for a minute and smiled, "No harm done."
I didn't know what he meant by that but I didn't care. I was kind of pissed that he had to reveal to Husain how I felt. He could have spoken to me on a private level if he wanted to know for sure.
I looked at Husain embarrassed. He just got up and walked away. I could tell that he disapproved. Hell I disapproved myself but that wouldn't keep me from Menice.
I started to follow them only to have a hand held out to block me.
Fukayna looked down on me. His eyes were seriously fixed. I had wondered how much I knew but by the words he said to me at this point I knew that he had heard everything that Kakra, Husain and I had been discussing.
"You aren't in the Dahkla Oasis, you understand? You have done a great favor for this house by gaining audience in such high regard. That is where it should end. You can play with fire if you'd wish but here Menice is more than fire. He is everything. Word of advice from a wise man. Children must learn to walk before they crawl. And once they walk it'll take some time before they realize that's all they can do and flying is impossible."
His warning eroded into my mind.
I walked away not saying anything else to him but I knew his words would stick with me probably throughout the rest of my time knowing Menice.