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I am a nut! I can't find the pic Richie did for me last week. I know it's on this putie somewhere! :D


Well, my loves - I hope you had a better week than we did, and definitely a better Thursday!

On that suspicious day, as Esme would say - I scalded my hand, Rich had the lawnmower essplode on him, Nick, in far-away Cheltenham, set his stove alight, and yes, Rich burnt himself on the grill of our stove, too. A day crammed with incident. What are we like?

Anyway, the day has dawned fair, and [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope being very busy indeed today, has done this early, bless her - so here it is!


Hope you enjoy.


Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope as always, for her careful beta-ing!! :D


Part 3


Lij stared at Dom over their evening meal. Nat had eaten earlier and retired to bed, exhausted, and Nakht went upstairs not long afterward. It had been a long, tiring day for them all.

"What do you intend to do with me, this night, my lord?" Dom said, his hopeful voice hardly more than a whisper, as the room was still half full of diners.

"I have a silk rope in my pack, too, Dom. I wonder if Aapet realised why it was there?"

"Why is it there?" even softer.

"Why, to bind you, so that you are my slave, body and soul, Dominic of Monaghan, and bound to obey my every whim. What else?"

"I am already your slave, mo Ghra. You do not need ropes to obtain that."

"Oh, I know full well. But it gives us both so much pleasure when you are panting with desire because of them, does it not?"

"Lij, if you do not take me soon, I shall shatter like Bithyan glass! May we leave now?"

"Just a few more moments whilst I eat this fruit."

"Torturer!"


The new room they had been allotted was not on the same floor as had been the old one, and for this Dom was grateful. He had seen many dead bodies in his life, and killed not a few men - and one woman - but only those who were attempting to kill him, or someone else. Never had he slain anyone like the harmless little silver-smith who had smiled happily at him. He was thankful not to have to pass by that door again.

This room was larger, and had a jug of wine and two of the goblets laid out on a small chest, together with a bowl, water and towels. On the table, next to the pillows, was a flask of oil.

Lij sighed with exasperation as he bolted the door and slowly began to remove his clothing. "Does Nakht know everything that I am about to do? Is he a seer? I wonder sometimes."

Dom laughed. "He saw the way we looked at each other, tonight. That would be enough, I think."

Dom was standing now, at the foot of the bed, his hands crossed over his chest, his head lowered.

Lij quickly got the rope, and expertly knotted it about Dom's arms and chest, and between his legs. He had had many years of practise, for, on occasion Dom needed the release of this kind of loving, and Lij, attuned to the signs, was always willing to oblige him.

He glanced down. Dom was so excited he was swollen beyond normal, and Lij, breaking from his usual practise in these situations, knelt in front of his beloved spouse and kissed him there.

"Do not, Lij, or I shall spend early. And I need you to do more to me than kiss it, before I come."

Lij stood and, reaching down, grabbed Dom, and twisted, hard.

Dom grunted with pleasure. Then at Lij's signal, moved on to the bed, holding his legs wide open.

"You must know how it enflames me to see you thus displayed!" Lij murmured, as hard as a rock in anticipation of what was to come. "But first..."

First there were whippings, and kisses, and touchings and tastings. Dom surrendered himself to Lij's every desire, as he was fondled and embraced in every way that Lij could think of that would enhance Dom's need of him.

After some time - "Lij!" the whisper was low and desperate. "Please!...a hashkeh! Please take me!"

Lij never ignored that tone. It was always given, only at the uttermost end of need. He bit Dom's nipple, and as his lover gasped with pleasure, he entered him, hard and quick.

But then he paused before he moved again, taking the time to look at his beloved's face which was damp with expectation, the lids of his eyes swollen, his lips apart, his cheeks flushed - he was panting, and desperate for completion.

Dom gave a low moan.

Lij wasted no more time. He thrust as hard as he could, understanding, better than Dom, what his love needed. The effort caused him to grunt, and Dom keened beneath him, lost in some place where there was only sensation - only desire that needed satisfaction.

It did not take long. Dom's back arched as he came, and Lij, holding still for a moment to watch Dom's face as it happened, felt an answering surge in his own body that could not be denied. He gave himself up to it.

From the haven of Lij's encircling arms, the ropes removed, Dom lay, peaceful, and eminently satisfied. He knew no more than did Lij, and understood less, why he should, now and then, need such things. But he wasted no time in thinking of it. For Lij was whispering love-words in his ear, and he wished to hear what they might be.

***

They slept well, and it was just approaching dawn when Dom woke. He glanced towards the window, for there, he knew, Lij would be kneeling, head bowed, arms outstretched, invoking the sun to rise, and travel across the sky upon its appointed daily course. He shivered. The privilege of witnessing the Invocation of Ra never ceased to move him. Lij had once asked him, many years ago, if he - now he, too, was Pharaoh - would like to perform the ritual, one morning. Dom had shaken his head.

"The sun rises for you, alone, Son of Ra. It would not do so for me. Besides, I like to watch you, my love, you know that!"

Lij did know it.

"Homage to thee, O thou glorious Being, thou who art dowered with all sovereignty. O Tem-Heru-Khuti, when thou arisest in the horizon of heaven, a cry of joy goeth out to thee from all peoples.

O thou beautiful Being, thou dost renew thyself in thy season in the form of the Disk, within thy mother, Hathor. Therefore, in every place, every heart swelleth with joy at thy rising for ever... "

he began, and Dom closed his eyes, listening to the voice which he loved above that of all men.

They had decided, after they had met with Nat and Nakht to discuss yesterday's doings, that they would visit the widow once more. Nat and Nakht were to go about the town, asking questions, listening, seeing if anyone held a grudge against Seth. Men talked as much as did women. In the places of business, as well as by the doors of houses, there were things to be learned.

When they arrived at the widow's house, Lij took a minute to look it over, again, from the outside. "Very impressive!" he said.

The house was large, and built on a single floor, and was painted a bright yellow. A high wall ran around it, enclosing a fine garden. There was a fountain, too, so a natural spring must run under the garden, watering the grass and flowers, for they would not flourish else.

Lij had a word with the doorkeeper, and found that another visitor had arrived just moments before them, and the house steward confirmed it, volunteering, as he led them inside to a comfortable apartment, that it was the late master's partner, Ramose.

"I will come for you when he is gone, sirs," the steward bowed himself out.
"I wonder if she received him in the same room we saw her in yesterday?" said Lij, peering around the door. "Shall we...er... forget our instructions, and find out?"

They walked softly to the room, and saw Tawaret seated on a small, cushioned chair, looking at the carpet, with Ramose standing stiffly in front of her, receiving some instructions concerning the business.
Ramose was dressed in a fine white linen tunic, edged with blue embroidered squares, and Tawaret was wearing a gown similar to the one she had worn the day before, plain white, unadorned by jewellery or any other artifice.

Lij coughed. "I am sorry, my lady... I...we...must have misunderstood the steward. We will leave you..."

She stood, then. Without looking at Ramose she said, "There is no need. My agent and I have concluded our business. I am certain you will see to it all as we have discussed, Ramose. I bid you good day."

The man bowed, coolly, and smiled slightly at Dom and Lij, then left by another door.

She sat down again. "The epistates has been here again, this morning," she said in a clipped tone. "He has informed me that you will be investigating the case. I can tell you nothing more than I told him, or than I told you yesterday. My husband was an honourable man, a good and kind husband, well-respected by his associates, and even by his rivals, for he was a great artist in his own field. He had no equal."

Lij nodded. "I thought, perhaps, lady, that you could tell me about his daily doings. It may be therein lies a clue."

She raised a pair of fine brown eyes, and stared at Lij. "My husband left this house after breakfast, every day, and returned just before dinner. What he did in between...you had been better off inquiring of the man who just left us. I have no details of his 'daily doings,' as you put it."

"This is a very fine house," Lij pursued, ignoring her comments. "At least you have somewhere comfortable to live. He was a rich man, so I am led to believe."

Dom laughed, inwardly, wondering who it was who was supposed to have 'led' Lij to such a conclusion.

"He was, very rich. And half of everything comes to me, as it did in his life. I am sure you know that much already."

Lij looked down at her feet, which were clad in dainty soft kid house slippers, blue, embroidered with gold and gems. They looked odd compared with her plain gown, although one would have to notice them to discern it.

"Yes, so I understand. Will you keep the business on, or will you sell up, and move away?"

She shifted at that, her eyes sliding, once more, to the carpet. It was a fine Turkey red, but not, Lij thought, worthy of such concentrated regard as it had received both during Ramose's visit, and, now, theirs.

"I am not sure what my future holds. My husband only died yesterday, sir. I am in no state to be thinking of such things as yet. My mind is disordered."

But not too disordered to be discussing business with Ramose, Lij thought.

Once more in the street, Dom was curious. "Did you learn any more than you did on our previous visit, Lij?"

Lij rubbed his chin. "I am not sure. There is something amiss, but I cannot yet put my finger on the point of it. I wonder what she was discussing with Ramose? Let us go to the workshop and see if he will tell us."

But Ramose was not there. He was to be found at Seth's stall in the dock, the workman who answered their knock, told them. "Today the ships come in from Alexandria," he revealed. "There are many rich people on those vessels, travelling further south. Seth always did well from sales on Alexandria day, may the gods grant him eternal life."

As they walked back to the dock, Dom had a thought. "Do you think Ninus's ship will dock today?"

Lij pressed his lips together. "I am not sure, but I do not think so. The message I received from him said he would be delayed for several days more."

"Oho! So it was a message you received, yesterday, you rascal. It was not the result of a chance inquiry. Lij, you are incorrigible!"

Lij grinned. "I told no lies, Dom - merely that I had the news of a dock official. That was true."

Dom sniffed. "I hope that this surprise is worth all the effort you are making at its concealment. The crowns had better be spectacular, that is all I can say."

"The …? Oh, yes, I see! Well, if you can be patient for a few more days, I am certain you will find that it has all been worthwhile."

They found Ramose behind Seth's stall, with three well-dressed Nubian customers examining everything eagerly, seemingly intent on buying all there was on the table.

They sat at a nearby stall, and ate some sliced pineapple, and Lij, thrilled, discovered that one stall sold pomegranate juice, which he favoured even above good wine.

Before very long, the silversmith's table was three-quarters bare, and Ramose had sent his helper to bring more supplies.

They strolled up as the last customer disappeared carrying an enormous silver tray. "Business is good, today," Dom remarked, looking carefully at the man. His eyes seemed red, and swollen, as if from weeping, but he smiled, nonetheless.

Lij clicked his fingers as if remembering something, but said nothing. "We were surprised to see you at Se...Tawaret's house this morning, Ramose. You said you rarely visited."

His lips pressed together firmly, Ramose said, "she sent for me. To discuss business. I told her I was in no mind to do such things, today. But she insisted upon one point, and what she suggested was fair. I shall implement her plan. But not today."

"Would you care for some wine?" Dom asked. "If you have no-one to mind the stall, I can get you some, if you do not wish to leave. You look as if you could do with a cup."

"Thank you," Ramose said, staring at the ships. "I would be grateful. Being here is not easy. It was his favourite place...and my mind plays tricks…I expect to see him…" His voice trailed away.

Lij took his arm and led him to a table at the nearby wine-shop, whilst Dom stayed behind at the stall. If he needed to know a price he could always come and ask, after all - they were not far away.

"Where is the bodyguard that was here yesterday?" Lij asked, his eyes intent on his companion. "Surely he should be here with you?"

"He came to the workshops last night to be paid off. There was no point, he said, now Seth was no longer here to be guarded. I, after all, can look after myself." Lij, looking at the mighty muscles bulging on the man's arms, could readily believe it.

"He said he was sleeping in a stable when Seth was killed, Ramose continued, "I am not sure I believed him. I certainly did not pay him for yesterday. Bodyguard, indeed!"

He swallowed his wine, and poured out another cupful. "He said the epistates had told him not to leave the port. At least they found him - in the hovel he calls home, with the drab whose house it is."

He paused for a second. "Did you mean it, sir, when you said that we should be avenged? If it was mere words, I would know. Then, perhaps I can hire someone to search for the killer. I would have justice for Seth. He was a kind man, generous to a fault, and always happy..."

His eyes filled with tears, but he did not weep. Lij thought he had wept his fill the night before. His face had the look of it.

Lij discovered that Tawaret had suggested that Ramose take on the running of her portion of the business, as Seth had done, taking fifteen per cent of the profits for administration fees. Ramose thought this was a fair deal, as the profits were considerable, and it would mean little extra work for him. "I always kept the accounts, anyway. Seth enjoyed the fine engraving, and selling, but left the running of the business to me. I like it - balancing the accounts, ordering the materials..."

His voice tailed off. "I shall have to find a replacement for myself in the workshops. I cannot do all his work, and mine. And one has to make the goods before one can sell them. Still, there are six good men, three in each workshop, who can be trusted to get on with it, both for Seth's sake, and for mine."

Dom and Lij wandered off a little later, wondering what to do next. "I think we should visit this bodyguard, Lij," Dom said, as Lij stopped to pick up a pottery camel painted with gaudy red, yellow and blue stripes. "No, the children would not like one of those, each, I can assure you. I know your mind only too well. Put it back, instantly!"
Lij grinned as he replaced the toy on the stall. "Very well. The guard it is. Lead on!"

The dirty lane where Ramose had said the guard was to be found, was littered with all kinds of filth, some of which Dom did not care to identify. Naked children ran up and down amongst it, seemingly oblivious to the stench.

Dom shouted through the curtained doorway which they were informed by a slatternly woman was the entrance to the guard’s dwelling. "Is Sese the guard there?"

"Who wants to know?" A gruff voice growled from inside the hovel.
"Dom and Lij, representing Aapet the epistates," Dom called back, and the guard, whom they recognised from the day before, shuffled to the doorway.

It seemed he had been in a fight. His face was blackened, and there was a bandage around his upper arm that was blood-stained.
"If you want me to talk, you can buy me a drink. The children are in there - we'll get no peace inside."

Lij was certain that he did not want to spend any time at all inside a house situated in such a filthy place, so they gladly walked with Sese to the nearest wine-shop, and bought him a jug of what smelled like a very sour beer, refusing any themselves.

"How were you hurt?" Dom asked, looking at the man's injuries, which seemed worse in the bright sunlight of the open street.

"I was attacked, may Anubis bite their balls off!" he growled. "By three men. I wasn't expecting it - I was sleeping!" he thumped his huge thigh with a balled fist.

"Seth saw that I was not feeling too good. I had had to go to the privy six times that morning. Bad fish for supper!" he grimaced. "So, when he said he was closing the stall because he had business elsewhere, he handed me the bag with the orders, and the unsold stock, and I took it with me, intending to go back to the workshops with it."

He took another gulp of beer. "But I felt a bit dizzy, so I stopped off to use the privy in Mawe's stable, and to rest for an hour, as I sometimes did of an evening, after wine. While I was sleeping, some fiends came upon me, and attacked me, leaving me senseless."

"Did they steal the bag with the silver?" Lij asked, his voice deceptively casual.

The man rubbed his chin. "That's the odd part about it. No, they didn't. They rifled through it, but left everything there, even the orders Seth had taken that day - yours included. I remember you, now. The silver goblets! Seth was so pleased with that order, I can tell you!"

"I took it all back to Ramose after I'd found Seth had been killed. No point in guarding a man already dead," he grinned. Dom and Lij had no difficulty keeping a smile off their faces, and the man became serious in an instant.

"Do you know whom he was leaving to see?" Lij probed, pouring him another cup of beer.

"No, he didn't say. All he said was that he would meet me at the workshop just after dawn, the next day, as usual, to go to the stall. I carried the bags for him, for he was only a little thing." He sniffed. "I hope you find those that killed him. I wonder if they were the same three that attacked me?"

"Can you describe them?" Dom asked.

"Not much to go on. All wore desert robes, black, drawn over their faces. And the odd thing is that there was a woman, too, wrapped in similar robes. I smelt the scent before I saw her. Attar of roses - I worked for a rich woman, once. Very expensive, that perfume!"

"Did you see what she was wearing?" Lij was very interested, now.

"Something blue flashed from under her cloak before the three men got me. She stood in the doorway. I saw nothing after that - I went out like a light. One of them had a punch like a hammer on an anvil."

Dom paid the man with two silver coins, and they saw he was pleased. "Come back if you think of any other questions. I won't be far from here!" he called as they walked swiftly away.

"Faugh! The stench! How do people live in such conditions, Dom? I do not understand it! After all, there is water nearby, and a broom costs little, I'm sure."

"There will always be folks who live like pigs, Lij, you know that. The houses are no different from these we are passing, now. But these are scrubbed and clean."

Lij thought for a moment. "I will ask the epistates to form a group to impress - I will order nothing harsher - upon all citizens in the town nearby, the need for cleanliness. What do you think, Dom?"

Dom clapped his spouse's shoulder. "Wonderful idea! Perhaps, the next time we go there, it will smell sweeter."

They stopped to eat, then went to the workshop, as they had a question to put to Ramose. He did not answer the door. He was working, the man said, on a commission. He gestured to another room, and they found the man there, in his working leathers, holding a goblet held on a mound of sand covered with a cloth.

He did not look up as they entered. "If you will excuse me for a moment, sirs - if I take my eyes off this, I might make a mistake. I am not the artist that Seth was."

He was working on a goblet. Dom recognised it instantly. It was one of theirs. They sat on a bench set against the wall, and watched him work. It was painstakingly slow, and needed great concentration. Dom decided to give Ramose the extra payment that he had bargained from Seth. It was worth it, and more.

Suddenly, the man sighed and sat up straight, rubbing his neck. Then he polished the goblet with a soft cloth, and put it aside to admire it. "It is a commission of three. Probably the last order he took," Ramose said in a quiet voice.

"We know. It was our order." Dom smiled at the man. "And he sold his talent cheaply. I will pay for them what he first asked."

Ramose shook his head, and his smile was wistful, but sweet. "There will be no charge for these. If you find the truth, it will be payment enough for me."

"Do you know with whom Seth had an appointment early yesterday afternoon? Sese the guard, said he packed up early to go to see someone. I forgot to ask if it was his usual practise."

Ramose thought for a moment. "I think he often went to visit his friend, Ackon, for an hour, before we...if business had been good, and there was little left to sell. He is a silver merchant. He buys some of our stuff. Pays well for it, too. They had known each other since they were boys."
Lij wondered what Ramose was going to say before he cut himself off so abruptly, mid sentence. But there was no point in pushing the man at this stage. Time for that later, if it was needed.

They decided to see Ackon before returning to Aapet to see if he had had any news. The other merchant lived in a house very similar to Seth's, but there was no garden, but a paved area, and a fountain.

Dom remarked that they must have used the same supplier - the fountains were identical.

They were fortunate to find Ackon at home. They were shown in by a servant, just in time to catch a glimpse of a rouged heel, and the hem of a red silk gown disappearing around a door at the end of the room.

Dom sniffed the air appreciatively, and glanced quickly at Lij.

"Greetings, Ackon!" Lij bowed, ignoring Dom's look. "We are sorry to interrupt you. I trust that your wife - was it, the lady who just left us? - will forgive us the intrusion."

The man rose quickly from his chair and came forward, beaming. Lij's first thought was that he did not look at all like a man who had just lost a dear, life-long friend.

"Welcome to my home!" he said, jovially, ushering them to comfortable seats.

Dom sniffed again. It was a pleasant perfume, he thought. So it should be, it was very expensive. His daughter, Orla, was fond of the scent. He often brought her back a large flask of it from Kishlan, at a hundred gold debens a time.

Attar of roses.
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