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Hello, my loves! I am sorry I am late posting this, but I have been having such a wonderful time with my surprise visitors [livejournal.com profile] bellewood, [livejournal.com profile] lisabellex, and [livejournal.com profile] _tweedle. It has been wonderful! Hugs them to bits.

We watched Fellowship, and ROTK and played LOTR Trivial Pursuit, went for a drive, saw a butterfly exhibition (live ones), and got rained on. Sigh. I miss them already. Huggles you all.


So here it is, anyway. Part Nine. Grins.


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


Part 9


"Wh...what? Ramose stuttered, shocked. "He said Seth had him make up a gown for me? He lies through his teeth! I have never worn such a garment in my life!"

Ramose looked so bewildered that Lij was inclined to believe him immediately. But more than twenty-five years ruling a vast kingdom had made him cautious.

Lij sat down on the bench and looked carefully at his companion. "That is what he said. And, Ramose, I have known men - and one woman, my cousin, Semenue - who dress in the garments of their opposites. My cousin has a spouse who wears a gown on all occasions except those of..." 'those of state,' he was about to say, but suppressed it quickly "...of a religious nature. He would not affront the gods, he says. Personally, I do not think the gods would be disturbed by it, but I allow him his piety. It is in no wise a wrong thing to fear the gods' anger."

Ramose looked up, for he had been staring at the floor. "I would have worn it had he so desired it of me, I promise you - if it gave him pleasure - but he never asked. You must believe me!"

Lij nodded decisively. "Come with me to the dressmaker's shop. We can see what he makes of you."

"Gladly!" Ramose declared, rising from his seat. A thought struck him. "Where did you get the scrap?"

Lij thought for a moment before answering. "Under the bed in the room where Seth was slain," he said quietly.

Ramose sat down again, the breath knocked out of him in shock. "And you thought that I, who loved Seth more than anything, had been complicit in his murder?" he asked, his mouth grim.

Lij reached out and touched Ramose's arm. "No, I did not. But there are questions that need answering. Change into a tunic, and come with me."

It could not be said that Gyasi was pleased to see Lij so soon after he had set him free, but Lij assured the man that he was not suspected of any crime.

"I just want you to tell this man what Seth said concerning the fourth gown," Lij said, making the matter plain.

Gyasi glanced at Ramose, standing sternly, his arms folded across his massive chest. "He told me the gown was for his lover. I knew he had a lover of whom, rumour said, he was very fond. I had never seen the man, but he assured me it was for him." He turned his gaze upon Lij. "Why should I lie about such a thing? That is what he said."

What interests me is why Seth should lie about it, Lij mused.

Ramose looked down on the man, head and shoulders shorter than he. "I am Ramose, that was Seth's man," he said, his deep, strong voice still filled with love for his dead partner. "He had no gown made for me...that I know of," he declared, honestly.

The man cast a swift and expert eye over Ramose's impressive form. "No, I can see that he did not. The height is right, but you are a far bigger man than would fit the measurements that Seth gave me."

He scrabbled in a basket for a moment, and brought out a piece of string, and a scrap of papyrus. "See?" he said, offering it to Lij, as the law officer in the case.

A mere glance at the document, and the markings on the string, showed this to be true. The measurements were intended for someone half the breadth of Ramose. Someone tall and willowy. Lij's mind began to tick over.

"Had Seth ever had other gowns made here that he said were for Ramose?" he enquired.

The man shook his head. "No, sir, no indeed! He had never before been in my establishment. He came to me because I am the one who sews for his wife. She will have no other make up her gowns - she is very particular about her apparel, sirs. She withholds payment if she is not completely satisfied."

Lij raised his eyebrows. "Indeed?" he murmured. "Does that particularity extend to tunics made for her of white and blue linen?"

Gyasi laughed. "I cannot see the Lady Tawaret wearing such a garment, sir. She is very aware of her position in society, I assure you!"

Lij smiled slightly, and turned to Ramose. "Is she?"

Ramose almost sneered. "She is very aware of it, sir."

Lij turned to go. "Thank you for your assistance, Gyasi. May I take with me the string and the papyrus? I think you will have no need for either thing again. I will send for you, soon. When I do so, come where you are told, with all swiftness."


Ramose was silent as they walked down the street towards his workshop. "What is it?" Lij asked, drawing him to a shaded spot beside a stable, and sitting with him there.

Ramose's face was filled with sorrow. “Do you...do you think my Seth was unfaithful to me, sir? Do you think he had another lover? Was that why he was often so very tired?"

The man drew up his knees and rested his head upon them, trembling slightly.

"You mean was there someone else with whom he lay, except you and his wife?"

Ramose did not raise his head. "He did not lie with her. He told me she disgusted him. No, there was only myself - so I thought until now. What do you think, sir?"

Lij breathed deeply. He believed Seth's servant when he said that Tawaret demanded Seth's services in her bed every night. The servants in a house knew everything about its occupants, that was certain. After all, were not the lowly bath-boys the first to have seen Dom take Lij after he had been anointed king by him? A thing that would have meant death for Dom before that time.

"I do not think Seth had any other he loved, but you, so rest easy, Ramose. I believe he had the dress made up on someone else's instructions, and that is why I took the measurements. I intend to prove it. I assure you, Seth lived and died loving only you."

Lij let him alone for a little while, before standing and resting his hand on the man's shoulder. "Peace!" he said, quietly. "I promise you that you shall be there when we take the murderers, and that you will see the punishment that I accord to them."

Ramose rubbed the tears off his face as he rose. "You, sir, have authority to accord punishment? How is this?"

Lij drew Ramose closer. "Do you trust me?"

"I do, sir - for you have promised me justice, and even the epistates bows to your judgement."

Lij grinned. "That is so. And before we leave this place, you shall see the extent of my authority descend on those who flout my laws!"

Ramose's brow wrinkled. "Your laws, sir?"

"My laws! No more for now, and keep your own counsel on all that we have discussed. Let no-one think that the case is near solved."

Ramose stooped to re-tie his sandal. "Is the matter so close to a conclusion?"

"It is. I have my own ways of finding out things - even Dom is not aware of them all. When I send for you - wherever or whenever it may be - come quickly. Now go; I have things to do before I return to the inn, where, I have no doubt, I shall receive a lengthy description of the state of my Dom's inward parts!"

That succeeded in making Ramose smile, and Lij made his way to Sese's widow's house, then to the guard who had spoken to him and Dom in the inn. He went from there to Aapet's office, in a thoughtful mood, where he interviewed the guards set to watch Tawaret's house, ordered the watch on Ackon's place doubled, then stayed whilst Aapet sent out a patrol on Lij's orders. It had been the fourth time they had gone out on this errand, but this time, they were successful.

Soon they came back with three men, dressed desert fashion, and on being searched, one of them was found to have a large knife stuck in his belt, which Lij immediately confiscated.

He had them thrown into the cells, protesting, and went to the inn, humming a little tune.

Tomorrow, if Dom was better, would see the end of it all.

***

Dom had been feeling much better after a rest, so he and Lij spoke for some time concerning what Lij had discovered, and what he intended to do about it.

"I do not understand how you do it!" Dom had remarked, shaking his head. "It is as if you weave all the dangling threads together to make a garment of beauty!"

Lij kissed his spouse's nose. "And the beautiful garment will be found to hold the answer to a lot of things, a stor. Get some rest, now - it will be a long day, tomorrow."

***

When the four men met at breakfast the next day, to Nat and Nakht's surprise they were told that Lij had solved the mystery, and that they could take the day off, as it was blisteringly hot.

"If you wish, you can join us at the unveiling," Dom offered, but Nat and Nakht, already sweating profusely, decided a day on the sea would be more comfortable than sitting in a hot room with a dozen or more sweating people.

"I have seen you do it before, Lij, you know. We are very happy to listen to your telling of it, later, in the cool of the evening.

Nakht, wiping the sweat off his face with a cloth, had to agree, and as soon as they had eaten, off they went to hire the boat, whilst Dom sent for the innkeeper's son.

They spoke to him apart, and then went to see his mother. She was much better than previously she had been, but she was still pale.

"I am about to deliver my summation," Lij told her, gently. "If you wish to come to witness it, you may do so - if not, your son may go, and he will tell you what it is you need to know."

She looked up at him. "I will wait here. My boy will bring me the verdict later. Whatever is decided will not bring my husband back."

He told her he had already sent her son to the judgement place. He was surprised to find her alone. "Where is your sister?" Lij enquired. His voice was calm, but his eyes blazed with excitement.

"She has gone back to Tawaret. I am better, now - there was no need for her to stay. I have young Silos for company, and work to do. I will not be alone."

She fiddled with the edge of her shawl, as she spoke. "Sirs, will I be able to keep the inn? Ackon says that I may, but I think it is not up to him to decide, so I ask you. I...we...have nowhere else to go."

Dom smiled at her. "You may keep the inn. No-one will take it from you, I assure you."

She looked more cheerful, her future having been assured, and Lij spoke one last word to her as they left. "You have not told us all you know, lady - but I cannot blame you for that. You see, we never asked!" and with that enigmatic remark, they left for Aapet's office.

Lij gave the epistates his commands, and the four of them, Dom, Lij, Aapet and Panshi, waited outside in the shade whilst his orders were carried out.

"I understand your need for secrecy, sir, and I will not pester you for enlightenment. It has been a privilege to watch such a master at work. How did you come to do it - to learn how to do such things?"

Dom laughed. "Lij has had many years of practise, my friend. He likes to get to the bottom of things. He cannot let a mystery stand." Whilst they waited for the reports to come in, Dom told the two men of the Sheban Mystery, omitting the part which involved Sheba herself, and starting with the body in the garden by the river.

He was just getting to the part where the murderers were sent to the Great Ones for sentencing, when the last messenger returned.

"They are all gathered, sirs - epistates - and wait your convenience."

Suddenly there was the sound of many hooves, and a man on a horse came riding up. He was followed by twelve of the Palace guard, headed by Kerasonb, their captain. The leading man was dressed, desert fashion, all in white, and as he dismounted, he removed his outer garment, and stood, revealed in the purple and gold robes of his office, with the heavy chain of state hung about his neck, bracelets of gold and gems about his wrists and ankles, and he held a large leather bag in his strong hand.

He knelt in the dust at their feet. "You sent for me, Great One?" he said, his head resting on Lij's foot.

Aapet, and the stunned prison guards immediately went down on their knees, but Panshi stood there, unable, for a moment, to take in what he had heard. Then, realisation hit him, and he fell to his knees, his head in the dust.

"Oh, get up, men! This is no time to be grovelling! Panshi, take the bag from the Lord Menkh - for, if I know him, and I do, I am certain he has slept with it tied to his hand - and wipe the dust of the desert from the crowns, for I am certain they are full of it." Lij said, clasping his large cousin in his arms.

Menkh returned the embrace, then greeted Dom, and, reaching into his waistband, handed Panshi a silk cloth. He nodded to them both, and breathed deeply. "It seems much has been happening here, Great Ones, since you arrived. Have you solved the mystery of which you wrote me?"

Lij's eyes twinkled. "Of course! Do you wish to be in at the...er, kill, so to speak?"

Menkh grinned back. "Naturally, my cousin. But first I must remove the dust of the journey and drink a cup of wine."

"Aapet, do you show Lord Menkh where he may be made comfortable, and then bring him back here. Dom and I will sit with Panshi, whilst he polishes our crowns."

Panshi was grasping the bag in his nerveless hands, staring at Dom and Lij as if he had never before seen them.

"Ah, my young friend, do not look at us so," Dom said in a kindly tone, guiding the shocked Panshi to a step, and pushing him gently but firmly down upon it. "Now, the Little Father has given you an order. So, begin polishing!"

Panshi cast a frightened look at Lij, saw the wide grin on his mouth, and the sparkle in his eyes, and all fear suddenly left him. Gods they may be, but he had eaten with them, and pissed standing beside them. They were colleagues in the law - and that was a thing he could understand. He reached into the bag, and brought out a bundle, and unwrapped a crown.

Dom saw that it was one of their old, familiar ones, worn and revered over many years, shining red and white in the sunlight; the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, symbol of their immense power.

Panshi hefted it as if it were a dish, and began rubbing.

***

They had retired to Aapet's office to change into the clothing that Menkh had brought them. Menkh handed over two more large bags, which contained their clothing and jewellery.

Lij immediately stripped naked, and, as the two law officers watched in bewilderment, he put on a short, white pleated kilt.

"Why did you command me to bring this clothing Lij?" Menkh enquired, baffled.

Lij sent him a beaming smile. "Because I wanted to frighten those involved into telling us the truth. I have put together the story - with the help of many people - but they may deny its veracity to Dom and Lij, lowly merchants. However, they will not dare deny it to the gods, Sen-Adom and Knefer-Lijedefer. I will make certain of that!"

Dom was slipping his kilt about his waist. "As ever, my love, you put your finger on the nub of it. Too often have I said it - in your robes of state you are magnificent. You will indeed frighten them - you sometimes, even now, after all these years, frighten me!"

Lij laughed at his love, seeing the feelings of his own heart of hearts alight in Dom's eyes. "Panshi, my friend, reach into that bag and get me out the pectoral and the rings, if you please. Poor Menkh is worn out from riding for days with little rest!"

Menkh looked far from weary, but he understood that Lij was trying to put the young lad at ease. Panshi seemed to have tensed once more, as the two men standing before him were changing from the amiable friends he knew, to something new, strange and terrifying.

"Which do you want, Great One?" he asked, holding up two magnificent pectorals, one of sapphire and adamant, one of emeralds and pearls.

"So now I am 'Great One'? It does not please me. Until we leave this room, I wish to be Lij to you. Will you call me that, just once? I will have the sapphires."

"Lij," Panshi said in a low, reverent tone, testing the sound of it on his tongue, and handing the ornament to Lij who flung it about his neck, and asked the lad to fasten it, which he did, his fingers trembling.

Lij then put on the thick gold belt, the two matching wrist guards, and he slipped the Ring of State upon his finger.

Aapet was called upon to aid Dom, and very soon both men stood adorned with the emblems of their state. They put on the crowns, and Aapet and Panshi, together with Menkh, knelt in homage. The two merchants had completely vanished, and now the gods had appeared. Panshi thought that he had never before seen any men look as regal and as god-like as the two that now stood before him, smiling at them all.

"You look well, my lords!" Menkh said as they rose to their feet. "Let us hope you do not both frighten the guilty into not being able to speak at all."

Lij adjusted his belt as he spoke. "We have Kerasonb with us, cousin. We will merely inform the recalcitrant that the captain will 'persuade' them to speak, if they prove unwilling to do so. That should prod them into revelation."

Dom pushed a stray lock of hair under Lij's crown, and, all unconscious of their audience, kissed his spouse's brow. He turned to Panshi and Aapet.

"My dear friends; when Lij and I leave this room, we shall be, not men, but gods. All will treat us accordingly. But we do
not wish you to be afraid of us. When we act in our office it is necessary, at times, to seem remote from what we are doing, even if we are not, inside, feeling the coolness and dispassion that we are exhibiting. You must understand this."

"We understand it, Great One. We honour you for this frankness," Aapet managed, overawed by the sense of great power exuding from the two kings.

"Let us go!" Lij said, casting one last smile at Panshi. "You two may walk behind us, with the Lord Menkh. No-one will then be in doubt of the high regard in which the gods hold you."

Dom and Lij stood, side by side upon the top step of the prison house. People passing in the street cried out in fear when they saw them, and fell upon the ground, for there was no-one in the whole of Egypt who did not know the significance of the twin crowns, and the power of the two men who wore them.

Silently, the guard drew up behind the procession, and Dom and Lij walked silently through the crowds of cowering citizens towards the Place of Judgement.
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ismenin

April 2011

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