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Chapter 8

            By now, it was well into the middle of the evening as Yami sat quietly next to Teana’s bed.  She on the other hand, continued to lie on one side with her elbow positioned on the sheets, elevating her head.  Her cheek resting within that raised palm, she looked only towards the gleaming inverted pyramid that hung from Yami’s neck.  A strong wind could be heard howling outside of the establishment.  This forced the wooden screens covering the window to flap violently, the individual reeds occasionally scratching and beating against the side of the wall.  Still struggling to recover from what he had just heard, or at least what he thought that he had heard, Yami gazed at Teana disbelievingly, curiously, seemingly doubting the accuracy of his senses, his own ears!  Had he heard incorrectly?  Yes, she had to have been mistaken….Or maybe he was mistaken!  Had she really said….? 

            Just then, a part of that air current had managed to pass through the shutters, resulting in the gentle flow of Teana’s hair; the singular strands batting against her cheeks.  Dimly, this reminded Yami of the final moments of what he had thought to be their first meeting, that one instant when he first felt…..Only now, in addition to triggering this recollection, she also had a mysterious air about her; a secrecy rooted from a deep sorrow that he could clearly see within her expression and eyes.  Surely this was the pain that she had spoken of minutes ago, only where did he fit into this equation?  And what knowledge could she possibly have of his Millennium item?!

            Yami felt his mind begin to spin with questions; endless possibilities!  He wasn’t sure what to think, what to believe!  As was his nature, he attempted to put the pieces of this strange puzzle together himself, but to no avail.  Yes, it was useless to even try to ponder her words.  Only Teana and Teana alone had the solution to this riddle, the answers to this perplexing turn of events that kept him on the edge of his seat!  All he could do now was what she had asked of him, to listen, despite his numerous doubts of all shapes and forms!

            As he continued to watch her, he could almost see her mind begin to wander, to drift off to another time and place, a long forgotten past….evidently one that he couldn’t even begin to fathom!  But then, maybe these events weren’t so easily forgotten, not for her…..  Perhaps it was just as she had said……

            Teana remained silent for several moments more, her focus never leaving, never moving from the object in front of her.  With a deep sigh, she continued to handle the Millennium puzzle, her finger tracing the edges of each adjoining segment before stopping to tap the Eye of Horus within the pyramid’s center.  Finally she spoke.

                        “You’ve changed so much…… and yet this…. this looks just as it did all those years ago.  That one day….” Teana trailed. 
                        “What are you saying….?” Yami began.
            He hadn’t been mistaken!  But what was it?  What did she mean?  Just what was she trying to tell him?!
                        “No, that’s not entirely true…..”Teana continued as if she hadn’t heard his remark.  “There’s something in your eyes…..  I can’t really explain it….but I know that I saw it then too." 
                        “I don’t understa…”
                        “It was childish of me really…..If I had known what would come of it, what would happen, maybe I would have thought twice about my actions…..But how could I?  I was a child after all.  Just a little girl….What did I know about the consequences that would follow?  The punishment that I would receive….the suffering that they would experience too…..because of me…… all for that…..that one act that just couldn’t be forgiven……  But no, I wasn’t thinking about that then…..not then… only thoughts…. were of seeing you, Yami…..”

            What was happening?  Why was she speaking so strangely?  Was she all right?  No…. of course not….What kind of question was that to ask himself?  He could tell from her tone of voice that she wasn’t, that though she was speaking to him, it was almost as if she were not speaking to him at all.  It was as if a part of her had regressed.  Yes….that was it….it was a much younger Teana that was attempting to describe this setting, these events which had apparently haunted her for far too long…..  It was like she was reliving it, as if she had been taken back.…

                        “Was it really so terrible….?  What I did?  I just wanted to see you……But because of me…..they were treated so cruelly….Why….? Why did things have to turn out that way….?  It wasn’t fair….  They didn’t even do anything, not to anyone…..And yet I made things so much worse for them… when already they’d been….If I had only listened to her….but I…..No, it was all wrong…. The punishment should have been mine…. and mine alone……But that didn’t matter in the end, did it…..?  It didn’t matter…. that it was all my fault……”            With each passing second Yami began to fear for her, he could feel a strange pull inside of him, in his chest, knots in the pit of his stomach.  He felt an overwhelming desire to comfort her and yet he was still unsure why she needed this comfort!  He felt so helpless…so powerless….It was both agonizing and infuriating listening to what little she had already told him.  He restlessly waited to hear the details of her story; or rather something that he could decipher or comprehend!  Yes, he needed to understand this, the reasoning or meaning behind any of her words!  If she would only say it!

            Halting his contemplations, Yami watched breathlessly as tears had begun to stream down her cheeks.  Still unable to meet his gaze, Teana continued to finger his puzzle with a strange, almost eerie distance…. She was like a meek child….Was she doing so because of nervousness perhaps?  Was she hesitating because of her unwillingness to experience those memories again? Or maybe…maybe she was concerned about his reaction to what she was attempting to say.  Could that be reasoning behind her fear; that or a combination between the two?  “My fault…..” she whispered again.

                        “What do you feel is your fault? Teana?” Yami said tenderly.  She didn’t respond.  “Teana.” Yami called, a bit louder.  After a split second of hesitation on his part, he then reached for her face, brushing away a tear with his thumb before reluctantly lowering it once more.  Finally she looked up at him, breaking free of her trance with a slight shake of her head.  She looked confused for a moment, her eyes shifting a little as if only now becoming aware of her surroundings.  Regaining her senses she brought her available hand that had held the Millennium Puzzle to her forehead, concealing her eyes.

                        “I’m sorry…..I…..”  She breathed heavily, laboriously.  She swallowed hard before inhaling again. 
                        “No, don’t stop.”  Yami urged
                        “This is so hard……I’m afraid….Even after everything that I said to you…..I don’t know if I can do this…..”  Wrapping his hand around her wrist Yami gently guided it away from her face, before proceeding to intertwine her fingers with his own.  “Don’t.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m here.  Please Teana… tell me…..I have to know.  What is it that’s upsetting you?  Just… just who are you?” Yami asked her. 

            She raised her head slowly as her eyes met his once more.  Yami then found himself nodding, encouraging her onward.  With one final sigh he watched as her expression softened, as some of her fear dissipated.  Closing her eyes momentarily she smiled at him sadly. 

                        “Me…?   I’m no one…..At least that’s what everyone here would like to believe…..  It’s the truth Yami, it is.  If you asked any one in this village they would all agree; they would tell you how they wished that I had never existed.”
                        “How could you say such a thing……?” 
                        “Because I’ve heard them say it, throughout most of my life actually.  Ever since…..Ah, you don’t remember, do you?  Well, I don’t blame you.  It was….what, a decade ago?  How old were you?  Seven?  Eight?”

            Yami opened his mouth to question her again when she gave his hand a squeeze, the look in her eye seemingly asking him to have patience.  “What I’m saying is….is that we’ve met before Yami, a long time ago….”
                        “But…..when?”  Teana had paused just long enough to allow him this one remark.  They had met before?  It couldn’t be!  Surely he would have remembered such a meeting? Wouldn’t he?  And even if it was true, what did this have to do with her distressing childhood, the pain that she had buried inside of her?  Or with her appalling claim concerning the villagers?! 

                        “It was when your father, King Akunamukanon, celebrated the sed, the festival that marked his 30th year reigning over Egypt.” Teana continued.  “Do you remember that day Yami….?  Yes….I can tell you now, that it was a day that I would never forget……

            It was a beautiful and bright spring morning as the streets of the entire kingdom were filled with an array of bustling activity and preparation.  From every corner of the palace to the furthest peasant’s home, the nobility and the commoners alike readied themselves for the spectacular celebration that would take place that very afternoon.  It was the beginning of the sed festival, a tribute to three decades under the leadership and rule of the beloved King Akunamukanon. 

            Yes, less than an hour remained before this special occasion would be underway, but already light music, the sound of instruments such as flutes, harps, tambourines, and drumming, had begun to course through the air, seemingly mixed with the sweet and enticing aromas of exotic dishes and full course meals that would be enjoyed in a great and public feasting, shared across the land.  

            As the musicians continued to practice and tune their instruments in these finals moments, the dancers had begun applying the final touches to their hair, whether their own or that of an extravagant wig, make up, and costuming such as flattering dresses or gauzy robes, revealing sensuous curves and toned bodies; further accentuated by colorful jewelry placed on their hips, their lower and upper arms, on their ankles, necks and on their heads.  That is, if they chose to even wear a costume….  This was no ordinary galaafter all!  Such an occurrence as a reign of this length was exceptionally rare, transpiring once in any number of generations!  Yes, even the performers wanted to be at the top of their form, as they were each hopeful to make their own unique impression on the royal family in one way or another.  This was true of both the seasoned professionals, who were regularly summoned to perform within the palace, in the event of a lavish but yet much more common banquet, or even the humble village women; entertainers only in the streets, where it was said that the pharaoh himself would walk upon this day, as an effort to honor his subjects for their loyalty and devotion. 

            Also audible outside many of the establishments were the sounds of jubilant children hollering and playing amongst themselves, out of the way of their preoccupied and even frantic parents or older siblings, as they continued their daunting and remaining tasks.  Evident by the glee in their voices, they too were looking forward to the festivities, enjoying each other’s company in order to pass the little time that was left.  Perhaps the only one not present among them was one little girl….

             A young Teana found herself hiding in a small cramped wicker basket, listening intently as her name echoed around her.  Though it was difficult, she did her best to contain her giggles.  She couldn’t let her laughter give her away!  After all, she had found the perfect hiding place!  No no, she felt certain that he would never find her in there!  Aside from the basket as a whole, she had even managed to bury herself deep inside, underneath the pile of linen that her mother used for sewing.  Ha!  Even if he did uncover the lid he still wouldn’t find her!  It was the perfect plan…. in the mind of a seven and a half year old anyway!  Allowing herself one more snicker she quickly settled down as she heard footsteps approach.  Not wanting to take any chances that she would be heard, she covered her mouth with both hands.   
                        “Teana?  Are you in here?” a man said.  “Tea-na.” he sang, calling for her once again.  She listened as he took a few more footsteps, continuing to course throughout the room.  Afterwards however there was a long pause.  When she heard no more, Teana began to wonder for a moment if her seeker had left, at least until she saw the shape of two long muscular legs between the twine of the container she was in.  She gulped nervously.  “Now where could she be?  Hmm……Maybe inside…..the wicker basket!” 

            Teana squirmed, yelling excitedly as she felt the layers of material over her head being pushed aside.  After some slight tickling that prompted both of their laughter, Teana felt those strong hands position themselves underneath her own tiny arms.  She then found herself being raised in the air, being pulled into the man’s embrace. 

                        “Dad-dy!  How’d you know?  I thought I fooled you!” Teana pouted.

            Before her was a young man, roughly in his mid-twenties. He was strikingly handsome, and well built, and yet, at the same time, slightly unusual with his short, but well kept white hair and blue eyes.  With such uncommon features, he certainly stood out among many of the other villagers.  Perhaps the only thing that was similar between them was his darkened skin tones and his general clothing consisting of a white linen shirt, loosely tied at his collar, an ankle length skirt, of the same material, and sandals. 

                        “Well, you might have gotten away with it.” Teana’s father commented, in response to her question.   “But! Next time, be a little more careful not to leave evidence lying around, huh?” he teased with a raise of an eye brow. 

            Teana looked down to see her leather ball sitting right next to the basket that she had hidden in and her father kicked it gently until it rolled towards the wall.    
                        “Aw…..”  Teana whined crossing her arms irritably. She faced away from him, obviously annoyed at her own carelessness that she had shown in her very own game! 
                        “Come on now.” he continued, gently patting her back.  “Your mother has been worried sick.  If she finds out that you’ve been playing in here she’ll….”

            Concern suddenly flashed across Teana’s face as her head whirled to face him again. 

                         “You’re not going to tell her, are you?!  Please daddy! Please don’t!  She’ll be so mad!!” 

            Her father’s eyes widened, seemingly surprised at his daughter’s abrupt reaction to his words.  Afterwards, despite her dread, she noticed that he seemed a bit thoughtful and distant for a brief instant.  Finally, however he let out a deep sigh.  Shaking his head a little, as if to free himself from his contemplations, he drew her closer, leaning his forehead against hers.  He then gave her a warm smile. 
                        “All right then…..I won’t.”
                        “Promise?” Teana asked him meekly
                        “Promise.”  He replied tenderly.  He lifted her up a bit in order to reposition her within his arms. “You’re getting so big.  I won’t be able to do this much longer.  Come here now.”  he said, proceeding to wrap his arms around her in a firm hug.   
                        “I love you daddy.” Teana replied placing her own arms around his neck. “You’re my best friend, you know that?”
                        “I know…..” he responded, with a touch of sadness in his voice. “And I love you. Always remember that, ok?”
                        “Kay…” Teana whispered.

            Suddenly their moment was interrupted as they were both startled by the loud thud of a basket that was forcefully dropped onto the ground. 

                        “Teana! There you are!” a woman said.

            Teana and her father turned to confront her.  The woman was Teana’s mother and judging by the look on her face she was evidently not very pleased with her daughter’s actions.  Aside from the stern expression that she wore, the woman was very beautiful. Also in her early to mid twenties, she had long dark, slightly wavy brown hair that looked nearly black in color.  It extended down towards the middle of her back, though it also appeared as if she had streaks throughout her locks resembling a lighter color brown, much like Teana’s own.  Though much of her hair was free flowing, she had two gathered bunches of hair that rested next to each side of her face, tied with singularly colored ribbon.  Though her hair was parted down the middle, bangs rested right above her muted yet crimson colored eyes.  There was a hardness within those eyes as well, further emphasizing her anger and even a barely controlled bitterness within her….

             In terms of clothing she wore a long linen form fitting dress that reached her ankles, though she covered her shoulders with a transparent wrap that tied in a knot just above her chest.  Her body type was lean and delicate, though just the right amount of muscle tone could be seen in her lower and upper arms, seemingly illustrating the abundance of work that she accomplished with those same arms.  It was even more apparent by the tenseness of those muscles as her hands rested on her hips.  “We’ve been out of our minds searching for you!” Teana’s mother continued.  “But then I should have known you’d be in here causing trouble again!  I swear one of these days I’m just going to go insane due to all the worry you cause me!  Why can’t you behave more like the other children, instead of always pulling stunts like this?  Are you purposely trying to upset me?  I just don’t know what to do with you, sometimes!” Teana’s mother cried frantically, throwing her arms in the air in frustration.

                        “I’m sorry mommy…..Really, I was just playing a game with daddy…I didn’t mean to….”
                        “And you can’t go outside and play?”
                        “No…no one wanted to play with me again and….”
                        “Teana, just, just stop, please.” her mother interrupted placing a hand to her forehead.   “I have a million things to do, like cleaning up the mess that you’ve made, so I would appreciate it if you would just go for now before I get more aggravated than I already am!  Fine, I know, if you want to be a good girl, you can fetch the sheets that I left hanging on the roof.  Do you think that you can handle that?”

                        “Yes mommy….” Teana murmured, lowering her eyes.            Still in her father’s embrace, he kissed Teana on the cheek before gently placing her down on the ground.
                        “Run along now and do as your mother says.” He added, stroking the top of her head. 
                        “Ok Daddy.”  Teana replied
                        “That’s my girl….”

            And with that, Teana had begun to climb the ladder within the same room, leaving her parents alone.  When he felt certain that she was no longer able to hear them, her father turned to face his wife gravely.

                           “Do you have to be so hard on her, Ruia?  She didn’t deserve to be spoken to that way.  She did nothing wrong!”
                        “Oh really?  You say that even when you see what she did to this room, even after I’ve told her time and time again not to disrupt my things!?  She could have easily ripped through the fabric, broken something or who knows what else?  Then what would we have done?  Did you ever think of that?!”  She retorted as she kneeled down to collect the bundles of linen that had been flung across the floor.  “And you know it’s because you let her do whatever she wants Djal!”
                        “You know that’s not true! I just prefer not to scream at her the minute I walk in the room!  I mean one of us has to be a little considerate of her feelings, especially with you criticizing her every action and every word.  She’s only a child, after all!”
                        “Look!”  Ruia replied slamming the material on the ground again.  She boldly raised her eyes to meet his.  “Don’t tell me how to discipline my own daughter! Things are already hard enough as it is without her making things worse for us!!”

            With that cold remark, Djal’s body sank, in both defeat and utter exhaustion.

                            “It doesn’t have to be…..” he said softly “If you’d only stop caring about what others think about us…..  If only you’d let me help you….We could help each other….just as we promised we would then….Don’t you remember….?”
                        “Maybe we made a mistake…..  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we made that promise!  What it would cost us or how we would be treated even now; that each and every day would be a constant struggle which only seems to get even more difficult!” Ruia snapped back at him.  She watched as he gazed down at her with a pained expression on his face.  Looking into those weary eyes, she felt a small part of herself begin to ache as well, before she chose to dismiss it anyhow.  “What?”  She asked him, as she instead found herself annoyed by the silence.

                        “I’m just…. remembering the way you were before.  Before….all of this…..  I don’t know what happened to you….Your kindness and warmth…. what I loved about you….they’re the things that I now see in Teana….  Yes…She even has that rebelliousness that you once had.  But now….it appears that you grow to despise those traits more so each day…..  Where….?  Where did they go….?  What happened to the Ruia that I knew then….?”  Djal whispered.

                        “I don’t want to have this conversation again Djal….” Facing away from him, she raised herself off the floor, placing some of the piles of linen back within the wicker basket that Teana had disturbed. “The king’s celebration will begin in any moment and we agreed to take Teana to see the festivities.  Can we at least try to get through one day without fighting with each other? We have to at least do so in the presence of the rest of the villagers or we’ll only give them even more reason to think poorly of us.”        
                        “I’ll…. go see if Teana could use any help up there.  I won’t be long…..” Djal responded as he too made his way up to the roof. 

            As Ruia continued to reorganize her possessions within the room the corner of a blanket she held had managed to knock over a small box, atop of a chest that she kept near by.  She watched as its contents tumbled on to the floor near her feet. When the remaining material was finally secured within the container, she kneeled down again to retrieve what had fallen, only to discover old sheets of papyrus with writing upon them. Her curiosity allowed her to read a few lines of these papers, which were evidently many years old now.  She gasped at the realization of what she had found, the surprise forcing her to let go her current emotions as well as her guard, just long enough to allow herself to reminisce ….

                        “I love you Ruia….I’ve loved you since the moment I first laid eyes on you….  You’re the only one who was able to look beyond the accusations and whispers, and instead saw the person that I really am.  I love you….And I want you to be my wife…..”
                        “Djal…..I….” Ruia began “Yes. Nothing would make me happier than to be with you, at your side….forever.  I love you…. so very much…and I know I always will.” 
                        “You’re saying yes?” Djal whispered cupping her face in his hands
                        “I said yes, and I mean yes.” Ruia smiled back at him lovingly
                        “Even though no one will approve of this?  Even though our lives as well as the lives of any children we have will be difficult?  I know that it’s a lot to ask of you. You’d be forfeiting a normal life, a life of acceptance…. a life that isn’t dictated by the beliefs and superstitions of everyone around us.”
                        “I have no life without you.  It’s what I want, more than anything else in this world.”
                        “Then…. we can promise each other that we’ll be our strength.  We’ll prove that we can overcome anything….together…. despite whatever assumptions that will be made now or in the future.
                        “I know we can…..I promise you Djal that I’ll always….”

              Snapping herself out of her reflections, Ruia stuffed the papers that she had found back into the small wooden box and loudly sealed the lid shut! She then placed the container into the larger chest in which it had originally rested upon and closed that as well.  Her hand placed on top of the chest, she lingered for a moment, her actions arousing a strange sense of finality and guilt.  But before she allowed herself to be further entertained by such thoughts, she opted to leave the room to wait for Teana and Djal outside instead.  And without any additional hesitation, she did so, never looking back…..

Chapter 9