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Hello! The sun is shining! Well, for now, anyway. I have eaten my toast, drunk my orange juice (with bits) and am now going to carry on writing part 12. :D Is happy.

However, I must say that I do hope I am not wasting my time posting these stories, here, as only two people commented on my Seven Pillows that I posted last week. I know many more people read these things than ever comment - but two does seem hardly worthy of the effort it takes in posting.
I write for myself, and would continue to do so even if I stopped posting them here. But if I was writing for myself there would be no sense of urgency in getting them written, as there is now. I like to be a bit ahead in case I am taken ill (a likely event!)

Anyway, I'll leave it a while to see how it goes. If some peeps are not commenting when they used to do so every week, it makes me think I might have hurt them in some way. Or it may just be they've fallen out of the fandom. I know some of them are still Lij girls - so who knows? Maybe they're just fed up with my stories.

I saw HP with my sis on Friday and enjoyed it very much, but my sis - who hasn't read the books - seemed a bit lost. I can see why. There was a flash-glance of a wanted poster of Fenrir Greyback, and he turned up later, briefly - but unless you knew the story, you would not have had a clue who he was. Odd. Not everyone has read the books. And I did think the Dumbledore bit at the end was a trifle rushed. That was a most important story-line, but five minutes at the most, or so it seemed. Pity. It deserved more.

So, anyway, on we go. Here's part 6.


Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] ladysunrope for beta. Hugs.


Part 6


The widow glared at Dom, her eyes sparking fire. "How dare you say such a thing to me! How dare you?" She reached into her sleeve and brought forth a dainty scrap of cloth, into which she sobbed.

Panshi sent Lij a despairing look, as if dealing with weeping women did not come within his ambit. But Lij and Dom, well used to the women in their large family, both observed her carefully.

Then Dom indicated to the lad to pour out a cup of wine and give it to the widow.

"Lady," said Lij, in a quiet voice. "It is our task to find out who killed Seth. If sometimes we have to seem cruel to do it, that is our responsibility. You must understand this."

Tawaret took the cup from Panshi, and sipped at it. She nodded. "I see that this must be true, for you are indeed cruel. I swear I do not know where he was killed. You must believe me."

Dom and Lij had decided not to involve Ramose in this discussion. "He was...resting for an hour at the inn run by Ptolemy of Macedon." Lij thought that should be enough for her, for now. Later, maybe...who knows? he thought.

If she knew anything about the killing it did not show in her eyes. She was just about to speak when a tall young woman entered the room. Her gown, it was seen, was far finer than Tawaret's. "Sister, it is time to leave for the guild meeting. Have you forgotten it?"

"My sister, Merope," the widow murmured, by way of introduction, her face still buried in the piece of cloth. "No, I have not forgotten. If you have my street robe there, I will come immediately."

She rubbed hard at her face, before replacing the cloth in her sleeve. Then she glanced up at the two men, now both standing before her, as she rose.

"You may ask of my household any questions you wish. Make yourself free of my house," and she raised her head and walked out of the room. The words 'as you intended to do, whatever my wishes might be,' lingered, unsaid, in the air behind her.

Panshi was just about to speak, when Lij lifted a finger to his lips and shook his head. "Later," he mouthed, then spoke aloud.

"I think we shall first speak to Seth's body-servant, as the lady has given us permission to do as we wish. Ho, there! Steward!" he called, and the man appeared immediately from the doorway opposite. It was plain he had been listening.

Lij did not, however, send for the servant in question. "We will look about us, first," he told the steward. "You must have heard your mistress give us permission to do all that we deem necessary in the prosecution of our duty."

The man bowed, gravely. "Indeed, I did, sir. If you need me, I will be in the kitchens, overseeing the preparations for the main meal."

They went first, to Seth's room. Neither Dom nor Lij was surprised to discover that the couple had separate rooms, but Panshi, used to a more intimate home life, showed his surprise.

Dom grinned at him. "Dear boy, even Lij and I have our own apartments at the...at home," he said, his grey eyes twinkling. "There are some times even he and I wish to sleep alone. Although, " he amended conscientiously, "it does not happen very often."

Panshi nodded thoughtfully. He did not seem at all surprised at Dom's revelation concerning their intimate lives, and Lij, intrigued, asked why.

Panshi gave it some thought. "You are like the two separate halves of one whole. I cannot describe it, but since I have known you, it is impossible for me to think of you apart - just like the Great Ones." he beamed.

"Just like the Great Ones," Lij murmured, pleased.

They looked about Seth's chamber. It was neat, clean, sparsely furnished and devoid of character. Seth had slept there, it was clear, but he had not lived there. There was a bed, several chests and a chair. That was all.

"Where did he keep his business things?" Dom wondered aloud.

"Probably upstairs at the workshops," Lij offered. "But let us look in the chests, just in case. Panshi, search that one, if you please."

Nothing was found in the chests except clothing and sandals. It reminded Dom forcibly of a soldier's campaign tent. A place merely to sleep.

Lij straightened his back, with a sigh. He had pulled a muscle in bed the night before, and Dom, knowing how he had done it, winked at his spouse, who grinned back.

"It seems odd there is nothing here, Lij commented. "We will ask about the office. But first, the lady's chamber."

Tawaret's room was far larger, and more sumptuously furnished than her husband's. The gilded bed was shaped like a royal barge - which made Lij laugh, although he did not reveal why - and the chests were of cedar wood, painted and gilded by an expert craftsman. There were spindly-legged chairs, and a polished bronze mirror taller than even Panshi - who was a lanky lad - leaned against the wall, taking full advantage of the light streaming in through the window. On a table set next to it lay many pots and jars filled with cosmetics, unguents and perfumes. None, however, contained attar of roses, Dom noted.

There were chests filled with robes and other clothing, and boxes of jewellery and other ornaments stood in niches in the walls.

Dom, who was fumbling about in a large chest, brought out a gown of blue silk, spotted with gold. "Is this not the same material as the scrap from the murder-room that you have in your scrip, Lij?" Dom remarked, holding the gown up to the light.

Lij retrieved the scrap immediately, and they compared the two. The cloth was exactly the same, but the hem of the gown was worked in an intricate pattern, and it was obvious, even to Panshi, who knew nothing of women's clothing, that the scrap could not have been torn from that gown.

"Panshi, fetch the lady's maid, if you would," Lij said, perusing the gown with interest. Very soon the girl Lij had spoken to on a previous occasion stood before them. He smiled at her, and was rewarded with a grin as wide as his own.

"Can you tell us anything of the Lady Tawaret's life that might be of interest to us, er...Wahin?" he asked, and once again Dom marvelled at the amount of seemingly trivial information Lij seemed to be able to store.

She was pleased to have her name remembered by this important man, but it seemed she had little to tell. "The Lady lives quietly here, sirs. She is head of the women's branch of the Guild of Silversmiths, and goes there, twice a week to lead meetings. I go with her sometimes, when the Lady Merope is otherwise engaged."

She crinkled her brow in thought. "She does not do much else. Embroiders, of course, like any other lady. Sees to her household. It is very well run - Lady Tawaret dislikes disorder. I cannot think of anything else."

"Has she no children of her marriage?" Dom asked. It seemed odd that such a lady had no offspring.

Wahin shook her head. "No children, no. I do not think she wished for any." She inclined her head to one of the jars on the table. Dom and Lij had no idea what it could be, but Panshi lowered his eyes. He knew. Lij resolved to ask him of it, later.

"I see," Lij pursued, relentlessly, "that the lady has many fine gowns, here, as you told me. Do you know why she does not seem to wear them, now?"

Again the girl shook her head. "She has not worn any of them since the master died. I cannot tell you why, sir. My mistress does not confide in me."

"She seems a very private person. Does she have a particular friend?"

The girl was clearly anxious to be about her tasks again. "Well, the Lady Merope, of course, and Master Ackon's wife, Nuit, of course, them all being cousins. All the families of the silversmiths seem to be related to one another. May I go now, sirs? I have linen bleaching and I do not wish it to burn in the mixture."


The girl left, shutting the door behind her, and Lij asked Panshi immediately what the jar the girl had pointed out, contained. He lowered his eyes. "It is a mixture of wax and other things, sir. It stops a woman from...conceiving a child. I know this because my brother's wife uses it, he told me. She has seven children, sir, and wishes for no more, as yet."

He raised his eyes again. "Do you think this means that Tawaret and Seth...? Or does it mean the lady has other...interests?"

"Good questions, lad. We shall see." Lij went over to the table and picking up the jar, sniffed it. It smelled of spices. "I have never before heard of such a thing," he mused. "I must have led a very sheltered life."

Dom barked a laugh, and they left to find Seth's servant. He was found in his own tiny room, outside the main building, in the place where the servants slept. He was packing. He had not much to pack.

He was very willing to talk to them, but he had nothing much to say, at first. He had kept his master's clothing in order, and that was about all. "Now he has gone, I do not wish to stay." He nodded, as if making a decision, and looked out through the door, but there was no-one else in the building but them; all the others were working.

"I do not like the lady, and she does not like me," he revealed, his face a stern mask of disapproval.

"Why do you dislike her so?" Dom asked, intrigued.

"She was not kind to the master, sir. She made him do...do things that were against his inclinations, if you understand my meaning." he cast a quick glance towards the pallet on the floor.

"You mean she made unreasonable demands of him?" Lij probed.

The man huffed. "Unreasonable! She was after him like a camel on heat! Why that should be, when everyone - including her - knew he was a man for other men, if you'll excuse me, sirs. It was downright cruel. Every night!"

Dom folded his arms, and leaned against the wall. "Why do you think he married her, if that was the case? If he had always known he was...that way inclined?"

The man smiled, remembering. "Oh, he was not always thus, sir! I have been with him since he was sixteen, and he had his share of women, too. But once Ramose appeared, he had eyes for no-one else."

"He said to me, on the day they met, 'Chatha - that's me - my heart is given from this day onward. I shall look at no other again.' "

"But he did look, did he not?" Panshi contributed. "He married her - Tawaret - after all."

Chatha grimaced. "He felt obliged to do so. She was very upset by Ramose, from the very beginning. She insisted Seth did right by her, for he had taken her maidenhead - before he had met Ramose, of course. Had she come to us two weeks later, she never would have had the chance."

Panshi was shocked. "You mean he lay with her before marriage?" It seemed he had not realised that people did such things. What an innocent he was, Dom thought.

Dom patted the lad on the shoulder. "It's a big world out there, Panshi. People do such odd things."

"Where are you going, now?" Lij asked, eyeing the man's small bundle with interest.

"To a goldsmith in Landis. He approached me as soon as he knew Seth was dead. He had had his eye on me for some time. I am very good at my job, and I also have an excellent memory. This is good for a man in business. He is offering me twice what Tawaret paid me, too."

Lij reached into his scrip and brought out the knife. As he did so, the scrap of material slid to the floor. Chatha picked it up, and grinned. "Ah! I remember this!" he said, grinning.

"Do you, indeed?" Lij asked, very interested. The man needed no encouragement.

"Yes, sir. He bartered a very expensive engraved bowl for this length of silk. It seemed Tawaret was angered with him over something, so he got it for her. He was always buying her things to compensate for her temper, which is vicious. She and the Lady Merope are viragos, sir, I do not hesitate to tell you."

He nodded at the scrap. "They all had one, a gown made of it, sirs - Tawaret, Merope and Nuit, Ackon's wife - and one other. I do not know who had that, but I do know there was enough silk for four gowns. It's one of those odd things I remember."

Lij handed him the knife. "Do you recognise this?" he asked, not willing to elicit an answer by asking directly if it was Seth's.

The man shook his head. "It was not the master's sir, if that's what you mean. At least, not one he kept here. He might have kept it at the workshops, though. I rarely went there. That part of his life was kept private from all - the business, and...Ramose."

He opened the bundle. In it were three knives, all beautifully made, all sheathed in gold-brushed leather. "She said I could take what I wanted. I only took these. His clothes would not fit me - he was such a small creature, may the gods bless him and weigh his soul generously against the feather of Ma'at." *

He picked up the bundle. "I am leaving, now. If you wish to speak to me further, you will find me at the house of Fenuku, the goldsmith, in Landis. Master Aapet knows where I am. If you send for me, I will come."

"Just one moment; before you leave..." said Lij. "...I wish you to do something for me that might help your master to receive justice..."

***

They sat on a table outside Ptolemy's inn. Aapet had joined them, and was very interested in what they had discovered.

"Your questioning of the servants has brought forth fruit, sirs. I am most impressed." Aapet grinned at the two kings. "Have you never thought of becoming epistates? The police force would benefit greatly from two such as you."

Panshi nodded, not realising Aapet spoke in jest. "Yes, you would really, sirs. You have a knack for it."

Dom laughed. "We are at present engaged in...another branch of the profession. Believe me, the laws of the land are very much our concern, are they not, Lij?"

"Indeed!" Lij replied, drinking his juice with great pleasure. "Ah! And here come Nat and Nakht after their day upon the waters. How did it go, my friends?"

"Very well...Lij," Nakht said after a short pause. "We have fresh fish for our evening meal. I hope Ptolemy is not above cooking food of another's providing." He sat down, placing the reed basket at his feet, and accepted a drink from Lij.

Nat was mopping his brow, for the day was still hot. "It is far cooler on the sea. When we get home, I shall order a barge built. It stands to reason it must be cooler on the river, too, on a day such as this."

Lij sent his cousin a warning glance. Panshi looked amazed that any man could afford to build a barge. Nat coughed. "My, er...wife is a very rich woman," he mumbled, as Dom tried not to laugh.

"I am afraid Ptolemy is not here to cook your fish, my friend," Lij informed his servant. "He is in the cells," and he wasted no time informing the newly arrived couple of the day's happenings.

"Who is in charge of the inn, now that he is imprisoned?" Nakht enquired, always of a practical frame of mind.

"His wife, I believe. She seems capable enough. At any rate, things seem to be running as smoothly as ever, here," Aapet remarked.

"I shall take her the fish," Nakht said, finishing his drink. "Then, if you will excuse me, I shall go to the bath-house. My skin is encrusted with sea salt."

"Yes, mine, too," Nat stood. "We shall see you later, at the meal, unless there is anything you want us to do, Lij."

Lij waved his cousin off. "No, nothing. The day has been busy enough, and I am not displeased with our findings. Time to rest!"

***

There was no sign in the inn that the host was not there. The servers continued their task of bringing out the meals with their usual efficiency, and the drinks were dispensed by a tall, thin lad who was discovered to be Ptolemy's son.

"He's not much like his father, is he?" Lij murmured, over his meat.

Dom laughed. "Well, Jed is not much like you, either, as stor. Seeing as you barely come up to his chin."

"True," Lij conceded. "But Jed's mother is a very tall girl. I wonder if it counts in the scheme of things? If it does, Jed's young Knefer-Djediferer will be as tall as is his father."

A tall, slim woman came out of the rear quarters, and approached their table, bowing low.

"The epistates, Aapet, said I must approach you to ask what comforts I may take to my husband, in the cells, masters," she said, in a low musical voice. She seemed calm enough, under the circumstances, Dom thought.

Lij paused whilst he examined her features. She was very like her son. Not handsome, but well-formed. She had pretty hands, he mused, inconsequentially.

"You may take him anything you think might add to his comfort, except money, weapons or strong drink."

She bowed. "You are very kind, sir," she said, smiling slightly.

As she moved away, Lij's brow furrowed in thought.

"What is it, Lij?" Nat asked.

"Nothing of moment. I was just thinking that...never mind. It is of no consequence I am certain. Now," he said standing up, "I am tired, and I would rest. It has been a long day. Dom, you need not come, if you wish to enjoy the evening air."

Dom grinned. "I will come with you. Nat and Nakht can drink the place dry without my help."

Nat snorted as the two men mounted the stairs. "Rest, indeed!"

Nakht pursed his lips. "It seems to me, my lord," he said, his voice very low, "that the Great Ones find as much refreshment in each other's...er, company, as other men do in sleep."

With which pronouncement, having thought it over, Prince Iri-Natjer was in total agreement.

***

On top of the bed, covered only by a linen sheet, Dom and Lij lay enjoying the stiff evening breeze coming through the window. Dom was wondering if inn-keepers, or other folks, unaware of their identities, and with whom they sometimes sojourned, gave any thought as to why the two men always requested a room facing east. Lij liked to watch the sun rise after he had invoked it. It was a real pleasure for him to do so.

Dom's musings were interrupted by a sigh. He immediately turned to his spouse. "What is it, a hashkeh? What is it that troubles you? You have seen dead men before. What is it about this case that so disturbs you?"

Lij buried his face in his lover's long, fair hair, still untouched by grey. "We are no longer young, my love. What if it should happen...one of us should die...from attack, and not from disease, or old age? What if we should be sundered as were Seth and Ramose? It will be that, one day, we will be parted, as were they. I...I could not live if you were not by my side, Dom. Life would be unbearable."

Dom gathered Lij in his arms, comforting him. "We will not be apart for long, my love. Whichever one of us goes first, the other will swiftly follow."

Lij put his arms about Dom and held him close. "But, if I were to go first, I would not want you to give up your life. I would have you grow old, and see your children's children unto the fourth generation. I can wait!"

Dom kissed him. "Well, I could not! Do not concern yourself about these things, Lij, for in doing so you spoil the day we are in. And I would see you happy, always, my love."

"Would you, indeed?" Lij whispered, moving his fingers steadily and inexorably down the flat planes of Dom's belly, until he reached the object of his desire. "If you would make me happy, make love to me, my dearest man. That drives any thought from my mind, as if on eagles wings."

Dom pressed Lij into the bed, and kissed him, roughly. "What would you like, my soul?" he breathed, harshly, his breath taken by the desire that rose within him whenever he had Lij naked, beneath him.

"Anything," Lij croaked, in the same tone, and Dom made a sound in the back of his throat that made Lij as hard as stone. "Anything!"

"Then, loose me down thy hair." And Lij, blushing, did so, shaking out the shining dark locks until they fell about him.

So Dom took his pleasure in the willing body beneath him, biting the nipples that rose to peaks under his ministrations, running his tongue slowly up the inside of Lij's thighs, and tasting him.

It was not often that Lij gave up his body to Dom in this way, for he liked to lead. But when Dom was in this mood, Lij was happy to do what his spouse desired.

He lay on his back, his knees bent, as Dom took him, slowly and tenderly. There was no need for haste - they had all night. Dom gazed at Lij as his eyes closed, and his mouth opened, and the red flush rose from his chest to his face as he surrendered himself to love.

The moon shone brightly through the window, and Dom wished, not for the first time, that there was some way that this moment could be captured, to be viewed later, by them both. Lij's hair was like a black silk cloak about his person, and Dom gently grasped handfuls of the fine textured mass, and smelled the spicy perfume rising from it, as he thrust into the willing body beneath him.

Lij opened his eyes, and Dom stared at him, wondering if there were any two lovers in the whole of the world who felt as they did when they joined together. As his climax came upon him, and all thought but the one fled his mind, he thought Lij! and that was enough.

Lij cried out. It was a thing he tried not to do when they made love away from home - for he was aware that there were men asleep in the next room - but he could not help it. "Harder!" he cried, and Dom, riding his climax to its conclusion, did so, and Lij moaned loudly as he came.

Dom held him close as the tremors subsided, and this time it was he who whispered the softly spoken love-words into Lij's ears.

"Never leave me, a hashkeh! Stay with me always, my soul. For you are my soul, as I am yours."

Lij pulled Dom's head down to his, and kissed him softly.

"I am always yours, Dom - til the end of time!"

And they slept in each others arms as they had for more than twenty years - contented, and at peace.



*When the dead were judged, it is was against the feather of Ma'at (justice, law, righteous living) that their hearts were weighed. If hearts of the deceased are as "light as a feather", they were granted eternal life. The near-weightlessness of their hearts indicated that their souls were not burdened with sin and evil. If their hearts did not "measure up", the soul of the deceased was consumed by Ammut, the lion-shaped goddess. This judgement occurred in the "Hall of the Two Truths", Ma'aty.
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April 2011

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