by Dale Edmonds

"And if Sethos had been his friend," Nefret said abruptly, not looking at Amelia. "If they had grown up together, worked together instead of as adversaries, would you not have done as I have?"

They were on the balcony, their untouched tea spread out before them. The courtyard below had been cleared for a cricket match, David and Ramses against Emerson and the grandchildren. Sienna, not quite old enough to want to watch from the balcony, but not prepared to risk her newest dress running around the dusty courtyard, was the referee, firmly in favour of her beloved Uncles.

Amelia sipped her tea, looking away from the high colour on Nefret's cheeks to the men below. David had his daughter balanced on his shoulders, Ramses his son, and they made a picturesque contrast; Dolly and Will had taken after their mothers, English beauties, and their fathers were almost a matching pair, darkly handsome in contrast. They swung the children down and chased them, Emerson watching benignly from the shade where he stood with Sienna and the cricket equipment.

Innocent and wholesome, except that David's hand slipped for a moment on the small of Ramses's back, and Ramses turned to the touch, a private smile shared between them. Emerson did not see, or if he did, he showed no sign of it. The children never noticed such things, having grown used to what was shocking because it was common.

Nefret put down her cup, the china clattering softly in her shaking hands. She stood and walked to the balcony edge. Her hair was loose and the afternoon sun gleamed through the fine strands. She said nothing, and Amelia did not expect her to.

She had taken some years to notice that Ramses thought of Nefret in less than a strictly sisterly fashion, and she wasn't sure, although she would never admit to it, when David had become - whatever David was now.

After Lia, certainly.

There had been no peace in England. England grew greyer every year, and the last year had been bleak. They had gone home instead, settled back into their house in Luxor, David's family surrounding them, and for a little while, it had seemed that David and Dolly were recovering. But only Dolly laughed, and only Dolly managed to cry, nightmares that her father solemnly attended to, but never spoke of his own. David was a ghost, slipping further and further away.

"A month sailing," Ramses said one night. "The three of us, like when we were children, Mother."

"A capital idea." It had been. He had returned weary and quiet, but their David again. Grieving, but the grief was something he carried with him, not something slowly murdering him. Ramses and Nefret had said little about what had happened, only where they had gone and what they had seen, and Walter and Evelyn's joy at seeing their son at least, returned, had been enough.

Enough until Amelia had seen David lift Nefret down from the orchard wall she had climbed, and kissed her briefly, sweetly on her mouth. Nefret's arms had stolen round his neck and the kiss had lingered for a moment.

It had been like a knife, the intense icy shock breaking into pain. Ramses had come around the corner carrying a basket of fruit, and Amelia had felt her knees weaken. She did not know whether to shout a warning or close her eyes.

She did neither and saw Ramses kiss David, the three of them walking off with Nefret between them, her arms linking theirs.

She had intended to somehow change things. Find the words that would stop Nefret and Ramses from ruining their marriage, destroying their families. Finding words that might be spoken politely was impossible, so she had said bluntly, in rather flowery Arabic, what she suspected and Nefret had sat frozen for some time, and finally returned her question with her own.

It wasn't a question that had ever occurred to her, Amelia thought. She searched her mind thoroughly but was confident she had never imagined Emerson in a compromising position with Sethos. Not that they were not aesthetically pleasing, but - matters were quite different, and the link of blood made it quite impossible.

But if they had. If they had been raised as friends, if there had been in Sethos' mingled envy and affection for his brother had been changed to passion... She shook her head briskly. It had not happened, it would not, and if wishes were horses; she closed her mouth, opened to firmly reply, "No," and stood instead, brushing her skirts down and went to join Nefret at the balcony.

"Yes," she said quietly. "It would not have happened. They are both entirely taken up with the feminine form, but if it had. Then, yes, Nefret."

Her foster daughter's hand stole over hers lightly. "Thank you, Mother," she said. She was silent for a while and then David tipped his head back and laughed at something Sienna had said. "He was going to leave us," she said. "He wanted to leave all of us, even Dolly. It was too painful for him."

"So you kept him instead."

"Yes," Nefret said. "However we could."

Later, on the dabeeyah, her eyes closed as Ramses kissed her throat, as David stroked her side, the three of them naked and gleaming with sweat, Nefret thought of Amelia's closed, tight mouth, the way her face had softened at the mention of Sethos. She had seen her foster mother kiss him, lied to the Professor about Amelia's rumpled clothes, and yet, she was almost certain that nothing has been secret between them, that Emerson and Sethos have their own unspoken agreements.

David moved restlessly, and Nefret drew herself up to lean against the pile of pillows pushed aside when they returned to the boat, too hungry with each other to bother past locking the door. Naked, they are different, David lean and slender, Ramses with his broad back, the freckles dusting down his bare skin. They moved together, and Nefret watched. This was how it began, David unable to reach out to Nefret, to find comfort in anyone who reminded him of Lia, and only Ramses could hold him in his grieving rage, pinning him down and with ruthless, hard kisses, telling David what had never been needed before. We love you, we need you, we want you. Stay.

She thought about later, they argued about later, fought between frantic couplings, the dabeeyah moving silently down the Nile, the world outside forgotten. They had docked, and Nefret had left them to walk blindly through the markets, her bruised body separate from the constant screaming panic in her mind.

She had returned to find them asleep, Ramses cradled in David's arms, and she had closed the door and gone up to the deck, sat and smoked and watched the shore slip by silently. There was no room in David's grief, no space for a woman.

Then David had come to her, shyly and with tender, careful touches and when Ramses joined them the next night, Nefret had not thought past love, love, love.

Ramses lifted himself above David, his chest against David's narrow back, and Nefret moved to kneel next to them, to slip her hand between the deep V of their bodies. She kissed David's shoulders, kissed Ramses, and lay down alongside them, waiting until they would turn to hold her and all of them, sleep.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style