Giant bonfires lit the city as if it was daylight. Beyond the far horizon, the sky was dark except for a handful of stars. They appeared cool and serene against the velvety backdrop of the evening sky. Thabit leaned back against a carved pillar in the courtyard. He gazed beyond the crowd of celebrators to the outlying magnificence of the twinkling stars.
He and his fellow warriors would be leaving Thebes at dawn. But, tonight, he pondered over their impending mission as ordered by the young pharaoh's advisor, Ay. Thabit recalled the fateful meeting in the palace with a smirk, the day's events unrolling like a papyrus scroll in his mind.
"Our pharaoh, Tutankhamun, has chosen you, Commander Thabit, to lead an army of your best men to secure the borders of Thebes. As Warriors of Amun-Ra, your mission will be to take over, either by force or intimidation, a tribal band of renegades scattered along the border."
"Are these renegades Hittites or Nubian, sir?"
"Hittites, Nubian, or another race entirely," Ay shrugged. "I am not certain, Commander. I do know our scouts have been keeping a watchful eye on them over the past few months. They seem to be a strange tribe of nomads ... perhaps even dangerous."
"In other words, we don't know if the tribes are allies or foe, correct?" Thabit raised an eyebrow and studied the stern expression on Ay's face.
Tension crackled in the air between them. It was another clash of wills with Tutankhamun's 'uncle', the real power behind the throne of Egypt. The men of the court, the priests and scribes in the throne room felt it ... everyone except young Tut.
Bedecked in royal attire, the young boy's sandaled feet dangled over the edge of a gold-glided chair, his legs swinging restlessly. The warrior could sense the boy was, as always, bored with the formalities of royal business.
Thabit's gaze flickered back to Ay. The thin man garbed in fine robes accented by golden jewels locked eyes with him. He squared his jaw, feeling the heat of frustration pumping through his veins and patiently awaited the vizier's answer.
"Are you questioning our pharaoh's orders, Commander?" Ay's voice rumbled through the room, breaking the uneasy silence.
Thabit turned to the impassive boy on the throne before them. "No, I would never question my pharaoh's orders," the warrior bowed low from the waist to the young boy. "And my men and I will do our best to protect our beloved Thebes."
It was a promise he intended to keep, to protect Thebes and to watch over the young king. He was biding his time, secretly waiting for Tutankhamun to reach a ripe age to usurp Ay's rock-solid influence over the royal court. But, until then, Thabit could do nothing but patiently wait ... and follow orders.
The royal vizier's plan seemed simple enough. However, anxiety still swirled in his gut like an unpredictable sandstorm. Thabit was a well-seasoned warrior and respected leader. He knew, with a sense of pride, his men would follow him anywhere. They were so loyal; they would descend into the darkness of Anubis' realm if he commanded it.
Drawing an earthenware jug of finely brewed beer to his lips, Thabit took a hardy swig and then surveyed the crowd. His men were already celebrating their impending victories over the tribes along the border. After religious offerings in the temple of Amun-Ra, his men were treated to the best the city of Thebes had to offer ... pomegranate wine, wheat-brewed beer and exotic meals. And, by royal command, a host of willing lovers to provide an evening filled with decadent entertainment.
"If we die on our mission, at least we will die with a smile upon our lips and satisfaction in our loins!" Thabit had overheard a warrior's remark to a fellow companion as the festivities began. The commander gave an amused chuckle, lifting the jug to his lips once more.
"The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer." A lyrical, yet powerful voice came from behind him, dissipating his thoughts. He knew that voice. It was one that affected him like no other.
Thabit turned to the shadowy form and grinned. "Are you quoting fanciful poetry again?"
Akil stepped out of the shadows and into the light. His bronzed cheeks flushed with a rich hue of embarrassment. However, despite his taunting, Thabit was truly proud of his dearest friend. Akil was a scribe and studying under Thebes' most prolific scholars. Sensing Akil's uneasiness, Thabit continued. "Yes, the beer is good and stout tonight, but I'd rather content myself with something else."
"Is that so, Commander?" Akil's eyes were encircled with kohl, accenting the deep, rich intensity of his gaze. Thabit saw a twinkle of mischief in their reflection. A wave of desire coursed through his body.
Akil's white linen robe gave a gentle, graceful sway as he stepped close. The warrior silently marveled at the handsome man with an affectionate smile. Unlike his own thick, muscular-build, Akil was lean with slender arms and long, tapered fingers. A shiver ran through Thabit as he recalled just how well they knew each other. Often he'd marveled at the scribe's keen ability to look past his toughened exterior ... and into the depths of his soul.
"The royal court has spared no expense for you and your men tonight. So, tell me, what does the pharaoh's most skillful and brightest warrior really want?" A sly smile spread over Akil's lips.
"I am honored by all the gifts the royal court has provided tonight. The wine, women and songs are bringing great pleasure to my men." Thabit gently inhaled the sensual scent of his lover. The heady aroma of myrrh and musk surrounded Akil like a soft cloud, tempting Thabit. He cleared his throat, adding in a low whisper, "But that is not what I want. I want you, my beloved."
"By Amun-Ra, you flatter me, Thabit." Akil cheeks flushed again with color, but, with unwavering bravado, he curled his long fingers around Thabit's thick wrist. With gentle persuasion Akil coaxed Thabit, drawing him to the darkened side of the pillar.
In the shadows of the large, engraved column, Thabit took his lover's less-than-subtle hint. He wrapped an arm around Akil's slender hips and drew him close. Thabit's body hummed with arousal. His cock, partially erect, swelled beneath the simple linen wrap knotted around his waist.
"Ah, but I assume you want more than flattery, don't you?" Thabit inquired with an amused smirk. His question was answered by a flicker of mutual lust in Akil's eyes.
Desire coursed through his veins, desperate, hot and needy, as he smoothly captured Akil's mouth with his own. He felt Akil's warm sigh of approval, the firmness of the scribe's body beneath the light-weight robes. Akil wrapped his slender arms around Thabit's shoulders in a tight embrace. Thabit's lips hungrily explored the lush curves of Akil's mouth as their kiss lengthened, deepened until the passion was too unbearable to withstand.
Akil surrendered first, pulling free with a soft gasp. "It is dangerous for us to do this here, within sight of the whole courtyard," he expelled in a lust-heated whisper.
"I agree," Thabit nodded. Reluctantly, he loosened his hold on Akil, releasing him, but his body reverberated with bittersweet longing. "However, in the morning my men and I will be leaving on our mission. I wish to spend this last night alone ... with you."
"It would be my pleasure, dear brother." A soft smile curled over Akil's lips, and he inclined his head. He gestured to a distant limestone building just beyond the crowded courtyard. Akil leaned close, whispering into Thabit's ear. "Come, follow me and your wish will be fulfilled."
The lusty promise made Thabit's heart flutter beneath his tough, warrior demeanor. The warrior was cautious, but placed the empty jug aside. Akil rounded the pillar, causally strolling in the direction of the building. Thabit surveyed the crowd. No one had seen the embrace. He exhaled a deep breath, then stepped out, a few paces behind and followed Akil into the crowd.
At Akil's back, the scribe's braid swung to and fro in time with his light steps. A sign of his status among the court, Akil's head was shaved expect for the single, jet-black braid. However, the warrior noted, the shape of Akil's head was smooth and god-like, unlike Thabit's own shaved scalp, which seemed to him, imperfect by comparison.
Thabit kept a watchful eye on Akil, eager for a precious, stolen moment with his lover. However, there was also a deep sadness that threatened to consume his heart. Leading his men to the border to face unfamiliar circumstances and a tribe of wild renegades, Thabit wasn't sure when he would return home to Thebes or to his beloved again.
As he drew closer to the large building, someone tugged on his sarong from behind. Thabit spun around, sharply glancing down. An oddly familiar face grinned up at him from the crowd that surrounded them.
Alertness shot through his veins as Thabit quickly reached out and gripped the boy by the simple, homespun cape that was tied around his thin shoulders. Thabit muttered a harsh curse beneath his breath as he drew the reluctant boy away from the crowd.
"Tut! Just what do you think you're doing, young man?" Thabit chided the wide-eyed youth.
"I-I just wanted to come see the celebrations, that's all," the young king, dressed in common garb explained, a quiver in his voice.
"It's dangerous for you to leave the palace unescorted, Your Majesty. You know the rules. And if your Uncle Ay or one of his men catches you? You'd be in big trouble," Thabit warned in a heated whisper.
"I know, I know," the boy sighed, rolling his big, brown eyes. "But, you know, he's not really my uncle. I think he's a stupid old man! One day I'll--
"Yes, one day you'll rule Egypt on your own. However, until that day comes, Tut, you must listen to your elders," Thabit replied with a firm nod. His impatience for the boy's foolhardiness quickly dissipated as he released his hold on the boy's cape.
Tut gazed up at him with a thoughtful expression on his young face. "I wish you were my uncle instead of Ay. You'd train me to be a warrior, wouldn't you, Thabit?"
"Yes, if you were my nephew, I would. But, I am not. However, you are meant for great glory as a Pharaoh of Egypt. It's a far better life than that of a warrior." Thabit glanced down at the boy with a bittersweet smile. "Now, off with you! Sneak back to your bed and I'll see you at dawn." The warrior dismissed the young boy with a wave of his hand.