A woman, finely gowned in a loose-pleated linen robe, threadings pale to offset the rich shade of her limbs, hesitated outside a decoratively pillared noble house near the royal palace at the Temple of Medinet Habu. She fingered her bracelets nervously, let one hand stray to the gem-accoutered gold torque which bound her plaited auburn wig, and gained courage for entering. The inner chamber felt ancient; dusty and full of relics. Faience tiling depicting gods and battles of past ages lined the walls and ceiling. Lapis-lazuli figurines decorated a water-hewn sandstone table, papyri scrolls and tomes stacked haphazardly around them. In one far corner of the chamber rested the framework of a leather- draped bed, in the other nestled a chest with a gabled lid.
A man, also finely robed, perched on a bench at the table -- carefully sculpting a waxen figure with the sharpened tip of a reed, allowing his visitor to wait. And to wonder. The woman coughed impatiently, imagining dust and age in her lungs, unwittingly displaying her preference for fruitful scents and comfort. Not the musk of old decay, of death; reminders of her own wasted years and empty mortality. Something here, beyond the stale air, reminded her of a tomb. A living tomb, claustrophobia, pestilence in motion. She shuddered and pushed a stray wig-strand, invading her subtly lined forehead, behind her ear. Feigning aloofness, she addressed the sculptor.
"For what news have you summoned me?" Though the man's position was high, overseer of the royal cattle, she sought to unnerve him. For what business of cattle could I be concerned? she thought. Likely this audience involves a favour.
His smile was slow, a slight quirk at the edge of his mouth, as he glanced up from the waxen figure. "My news is of your son, and of his ascent."
"Ascent? In power, wealth, godhood, our cattle-herd Panhuibanou's entry chamber steps?"
"Teye, it has been foreseen that he shall follow our King. Son of Setnakht, to be succeeded by son of Teye." He voiced it as an afterthought, something to be rather than to be concerned with, and returned his focus to his sculpting -- strands of his bobbed wig falling across his face to serve as a blockade against distractions.
Teye's stolid demeanor lapsed with a brief frown, then her aloofness returned. It was a dream to wish for your son to become ruler, King, even mortal godhead of the peoples. Yet it was also a nightmare to embrace such ambition. Has this truly been foreseen, or is it merely a trick? Cattle-herds rarely aspire to be magicians and seers... Her eyes wandered from the waxen figure to an amulet set near his left hand, and she wondered. Offerings for Ra? Inscribed in the amulet were the glyphs of adoration. Perhaps he seeks priesthood from Ramses, and gains his trust through my betrayal.
"Ah, you were to gauge my loyalty. Fear you not, my devotion to our Lord is as true as it ever was. I would accept the ascension of my son, if it were my husband's will. I would accept the ascension of another of his sons, not of mine own womb, if it were his will."
"I gauge naught, I merely speak of what is. As it has been envisioned to me. As it shall happen if you will it."
"I will have none to do with such treacherous thoughts. I must take my leave of you." With a suitable look of disdain, Teye bunched up the ankle-length skirts of her robe to protect them from what felt to her like layers of grave dust and descended through the cattle-herd's door. She glanced back once more, noting that he continued to disregard her amidst his crafting. Even as his voice followed her in departure.
"It shall be your will, Lady."
Panhuibanou glanced up from his reading as Teye once again entered his home. She was disoriented, fidgeting; shifting from one foot to another, then catching herself. Replacing her nervous twitches with a stolid expression, only for the fingers of her left hand to begin pulling at the wig-strands clasped under her torque. She sighed as his focus reverted to the papyri. Why can no one regard me amidst their studies?
"You accused of it being my will for my son to replace our King. It is not so. Yet I have spoken with him and learned of much unrest, of possible conspiracies toward his removal. Have you news of this?"
"No, my Lady," he responded, without looking up.
"And why, then, had you summoned me?" Haughtiness crept into her voice, as her fingers continued unravelling wig-strands.
"To inform you of my vision. That you shall be one such unrestful soul."
"And you, with your waxen figures," she gestured toward the crude sculptures on his table, none of which bore any resemblance to the King. It is I who shall entrap you in confession of hidden desires...
She finally held Panhuibanou's attention, though he was smiling. "My new hobby of craft gives you cause for suspecting my loyalty to our Lord? Would it have pleased you for me to sculpt gold, as a lovely band for the Queen's loose mane?"
Teye became self-conscious of the actions of her fingers in the now- dishevelled wig, and slowly clasped her hands over her belly. "And what would you have envisioned of me? Would it be easiest for a wife to slip poison to her husband, or would it be easiest for another to engrave and burn waxen figures? One would have the more easily laid blame, and this would be your image of me."
"I envisioned not your poisoning of our king, nor that of you committing more than the witnessing of your son's ascension. It is your imagination which perceives threat." Panhuibanou scoffed, and returned to his reading.
Teye's expression hardened into a sneer. Neither of us would be first to offer an admission. "Just as it is my imagination which perceives you cavorting with demons, foul spirits, and of Apep becoming unslewn."
The air in the room seemed to thicken, even the dust choking on the tension. The cattle-overseer set his papyri aside and gazed speculatively at her. "The serpent Apep has many servants outside of this world."
"Such as one demon, of deep burgundied flesh? One which has energies felt from where it lies beyond this world? One which might cause a burning effigy to resemble its counterpart man?" Teye's fidgeting had ceased, she knew she finally held the advantage and pinned him with the smug glare of a tiger. "Or what of Generals rallying men? For conquest? Of Kings?"
"You are wiser of more than you declare." Hui silently tapped a finger against his chin, eyes peering through Teye only to perceive a blank wall.
"Even of this." She moved flowingly, paused before him, gently bent forward to place her lips on his. His eyes remained open, no doubt foreseeing penalty at the hands of the War King for being overtly familiar with his wife. She could dream of the same, for being unfaithful, but it was a choice she had envisioned making. Her presence was nowhere required, her husband was detained by business, and the cattle- herd would not be sought at this hour. Detecting fear, she reached her hand up to cradle Hui's cheek as she continued to brush her lips against his. Waiting for a response. For him to confirm one final fancy.
And he did. The tension left his body as his eyes unfroze. He stood, only to grasp Teye and lower her body before him. He kneeled alongside her, his expression serious, and reached down to grasp one of her legs in each hand. They moved slightly upward, exposing once linen-draped knees. "Our King's wife dares to be joined, amidst the dust, with another man?"
Teye, mocking his seriousness, rubbed her legs against his sides -- allowing her skirt to slip further, exposing dark thighs. She placed her hands on his and pulled them to her hips, to the scarf binding her robe, urging him down from kneeling. Their cold expressions truthfully masked each other now as they embraced, their mental dreams and desires melding as did their bodies. Fancy becoming life and truth, in essence of pacing demons and emanating energies, in a tangle of limbs and fulfillment.
For Panhuibanou the reigning image was of himself being beheaded and of his body burned, charred, on public display for evidencing the gravity of such treachery against their King, as he traced his hands along Teye's thighs -- easing his body nearer to hers. Dehydrated ash, once living, was fed to the river in recompense for his hands shifting upward to encircle her head. His own sightless eyes, severed head mounted as a ward against future disloyalties, beheld it within his mind as his lips lightly brushed hers. They moved toward her neck, teeth bared in vacuous snarl, while he fancied her own life blood being purged of her throat for such disgrace.
Life. Teye envisioned life, her own life after her son's ascension, her renewed status as King's mother rather than merely the aging concubine and second wife, as she braced her legs around Hui's waist -- pulling him yet nearer to her. She could feel freedom and admiration, see the world at her son's side, as her arms traced up his and her hands began pulling at his robe. Laughter filled her mind at the vision of her old husband dying alone, just as she embraced his cattle-herd on the dusty chamber floor, while she arched her neck -- baring her throat to her new love.
And, for each of them, the serpent Apep observed, cloven halves impatiently awaiting their healing, as Hui's teeth and lips scraped the length of Teye's neck. Safely. Carefully. Leaving no discernible marks for the old husband to find. The serpent retained allies, for they required feeding, and the dead life of Ramses' devoured soul could be replaced by new life as the ascending King's mother whimpered at the scraping friction tickling down her throat and continued pawing at Hui's robe -- needing it gone, removed at once, him against her and inside her.
Pacing demons paused in their devouring of souls to acknowledge the lustful carnage of one conjoined man and woman, feeling dark energies coursing between them, knowing the future as theirs, believing visions and living them as the woman drew forth the man's cleanly circumcised penis and urged it, him, toward her womb. Her legs clenched tighter around his waist, bracing, his sweat leaking into her mundane-blinded eyes, and his chest pressed against hers, friction and heat binding suctioned skin, and his tongue flicked across her throat -- tracing the path of her life blood. He taunted the gods, demons, and fate, with a brief withdrawal as Teye clutched his buttocks, pulling him back, savouring the feel of vaginal walls parting for life, of the tingling throb in them never granted through her husband's feeble mountings, of her own womb aching for the release of Hui's seed. Demons ceased their pacing and came to attention, taloned arms out-stretched, just as the man's breath became a series of shudders and his thrusts lapsed into frantic sliding against the woman -- both convulsed and the world paused in breathing, the serpent's cloven halves becoming partially sewn, through illicit witness of the cattle-herd's semen seeping within the Queen's womb.
Hui remained atop Teye, his head rested dreamily alongside hers. Her hands continued to stroke his legs, his rump, his back, while her eyes fixated dreamily upon the tiled ceiling. I am alive, after so many years, and a future is mine for dreaming.
"My husband is aged, and it is my will for my son to ascend as King. Osiris will make judgement upon our souls," she whispered.
"Osiris can not rule that we be devoured by the soul-eater, for that is who offers us strength."