They are together in the moonlight, in the
wash of breeze that stirs the drapes into gauzy shadows.
She turns her head toward him, her hair spilling over the pillows in a black flood. Her lips are touched with a secret smile,
her eyes shine with it.
“What --?” he begins.
But she shushes him and takes his hand, leading it to her body. Not to the full firmness of her breasts, but lower ... not to
the satin of her hip, but higher.
To the sweetness of her belly, and as his palm molds to it he thinks for the first time that something is different about her
shape ... before that thought can lead to anything else, he feels a swift fluttery movement, sees her smile widen, sees the shine
in her eyes brighten with love.
The understanding comes to him and leaves him speechless, breathless. He presses his hand, seeking to feel that movement
again, and then he does. Quick and faint, but he knows and the first overjoyed tears well up.
“The first of many,” she says hopefully.
His mind flashes with the thought of a houseful of children, all with her dark loveliness. He accepts that promise and they
seal it with a kiss. They kiss and then they make love again, and this time he moves with great care and tenderness, cherishing
his wife and the new life within her.
The months pass, and soon the sun shimmers the city into ripples reaching toward the milky blue of the sky. Summer has
come, bringing with it heat, and noise, and the reek of the crowds.
But behind the walls of their house, there is peace, and coolness, and calm. An oasis to which he can retreat at the end of
his busy day, where she is always waiting to greet him.
She glows; he had always heard that women did, but his mother, his sisters, his father’s other wives, had never seemed to
do more than become swollen and irritable. His wife is different. No sickness troubles her, and the discomforts of her changing
body are minor, accepted by them both with good humor.
They learn that it will be a boy. A son. A firstborn son. This news fills him with pride, with love. She is giving him a son.
The first bare flutters of movement that once so mesmerized him are now fierce and strong kicks, a restless turning as the time
draws near and the close cradle of the womb becomes a soft confinement.
But something is wrong.
There is pain, so much pain, far more than he believes there should be. The midwife tells him all is well, but he sees a grimmer
truth in the set of her lips. She orders him from the room, needing to devote her attention to his wife. He goes, but no further than
the outer chamber.
His wife screams and he is powerless to help her.
The hours go by, the endless hours.
He looks in and her face is ashen, wracked in agony. He sees blood, and the rigid drum of her belly locked in straining effort.
And then he hears the terrible choice that must be made. Hears his wife make it without hesitation.
He has fled like a coward to the shelter of the garden, and there he waits. His heart already knows, but until he is told he lets
The midwife brings him his son. As she sets the small swaddled bundle in his arms, as the thin wailing cries of the infant rise
toward the first glimmers of the evening stars, he nearly leaps up and dashes the bundle to the stones. For this, he has lost the only
one he ever loved.
But as he looks down on the small red face, he realizes that he is wrong. She lives on in their child, and has he not loved this boy
from the moment he first felt that stirring of life?
He weeps, holding his son.
Later, he goes to the room where his wife has been taken. She rests in silent and still beauty, her decision made, a decision that no
man can ever fully understand. She has given of herself, all of herself, all that she is and was and would ever be, for the sake of the
child. It is a form of love that seems impossible, unthinkable, to him.
He kisses her cold lips and knows that he will never have another wife, no other children. He will live his life for their son, who is all
that remains on this world of his beautiful, beautiful mother. Who is all that he has left to live for.
As the years go by, the growing child brings joy back to the house. But it is a bittersweet joy, for in the tilt of his dark eyes, in the
music of his laugh, the man sees and hears his lost wife.
His heart both soars and twists when his son’s hand reaches so trustingly for his, or when his son’s face tips up to him, always so
confidently sure that Father will have the answers.
Over time, the ragged hole torn in him by the loss of his wife slowly shrinks ... as if it was a hole dug in the soft sand of the beach,
with his son’s constant love as the sea that brings new layers to fill it.
They need no one else. Father and son, teacher and student, even friends. They have each other, and that is enough.
The sudden shriek of tires is joined by the crunch and crumple of metal as the other car slams into them.
It hits them on the driver’s side of the rear deck. The back window coughs in, spitting wads of glass against the man’s head. It sticks
in his hair but does not cut him.
Seatbelts yank tight lines of pain across his chest and stomach as the impact spins them. Their car glides bonelessly, turning, turning. The
wheel whipsaws, abrading through the man’s hands as he fights to regain control.
His son’s scream of terror rises above the rest of the rest of the din. It spirals higher and higher, a small vivid bird taking startled flight.
As they spin, he sees the building. For a moment it seems they will miss it and go skating harmlessly past, where there is an unobstructed
open space that will let them slow to a safe stop.
Then the car rotates another half-turn, and the passenger side door is punched inward by the corner of the wall. The car flips onto its
nose, the hood accordioning in a gush of steam and engine fluids.
They teeter, and although he knows it is pointless the man continues to pull at the steering wheel. The car seems undecided -- should it
come down on its roof, or tip further to the side?
It tips, and the man sees the street rushing up at him. He closes his eyes and the sounds intensify, thundering into the darkness of his
mind. The rough scree of metal against stone, the scratchy crystalline spray of more breaking glass. He feels the hot kiss of sparks on his
The car is like an animal that cannot find a comfortable place to rest. It wallows from its side onto its top, rocking and wobbling. The
roof makes a low ponking sound.
Finally, the noise stops except for the hiss and trickle from the engine, and the gabble of voices hurrying toward the car.
The man opens his eyes.
At first, he is so certain that he must have been blinded by flying glass that he cannot see. Then vision returns ... and he finds himself
wishing, praying for that blindness that only a moment ago he feared.
He sees his son.
And the first terrible emotion that sweeps over him is gratitude, for he is thankful that he is alive ... and on the heels of that comes a
huge and crippling shame.
He walks from the wreck unhurt, except for a bruise on his elbow and the scrapes on his palms. These fade in a matter of days and
leave him with nothing. No marks, no scars.
Inside, he is torn to pieces, and the raw and bleeding wounds there will never heal.
He welcomes the anger when it comes because it is preferable to the grief.
At first he is angry at himself, for if they hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t suggested to his son that they go out for the day, it never
would have happened. But then he realizes that he is guiltless, that it could have happened at any time, any place. The loss of his guilt
robs him of something; he cannot even take responsibility for his son’s death.
It would be far easier to blame the other driver if she had been drunk, but this turns out to be not the case. Her car was new and
in good repair, and the failure of the brakes is attributed to a mechanical fluke. It is an accident, only that.
Nonetheless, the woman hangs herself three days later. Whether out of remorse or fear (he is a man of considerable power and
influence), the man never finds out.
He does not want it to be an accident. He wants it to be murder.
But even if it was, with the woman dead by her own hand there is no one to hold accountable.
And so, with no other outlet for his anger, he turns it at heartless impersonal fate. At whatever god or gods could allow this to happen,
and steal a much-loved son from a father who has no one else.
The man had learned to accept the loss of his wife. While she had been young, with many long years ahead of her, she chose to give
that up in order that their unborn son, with his entire life ahead, could live.
To lose their son as well, then, when he had only lived such a short while, made her sacrifice seem pointless and empty. Now both
were gone, and every part of her except for the memories that haunted his soul was gone as well.
He lives in his anger for a long time.
He keeps it to himself, like a miser with a hidden jewel that he takes out to gloat over by midnight candlelight.
To outward appearances, he seems to be quietly coping with his grief in remarkable self-possession. He functions in his daily tasks. He
makes business deals and jets to meetings in New York, London, Rome. He is respected.
Women look at him as if they find his dark handsomeness nearly as attractive as his wealth, but he feels no temptation.
It is the thought of his son that consumes him. Even when the boy is almost as many years in the grave as he was in life, it is the boy, the
boy. His future, his potential, cruelly taken from him for no other reason than the fickle whim of fate.
He would give anything to undo what has been done, but even wishes are hopeless.
When David Xanatos contacts him, the man begins to realize that there may be a way after all.
If fate and the gods took his son from him, then he will demand his son back.
The Emir does not tell Xanatos of this part of his plan. He allows Xanatos to believe that the quest for immortality is their shared goal,
their only goal.
Immortality ... what would he care about that? His life is a bleak nothingness. Why would he want to extend it? Bad enough that he
has to suffer through his allotted span.
Unless he can bring back his son. Then life will be precious and meaningful again. But even then, he’d be happy with their natural time
together. Happy to grow old and see his son become a man and a father himself.
For this chance, he gladly tolerates Xanatos although the man’s ego is as vast as the desert, his arrogance as dominating as the sun. The
Emir is ordered about like any underling, made to work with strange and subhuman henchmen.
Still, he does all without complaint, because he knows that if anything can deliver the power over Death to him, it is this megalomaniacal
The summoning is successful. Anubis’ refusal to grant his request is infuriating but not unexpected.
After interruptions by gargoyles and the impulsive Jackal, the Emir draws the spirit of the god into the shell of his body. If Anubis will not
show this one simple mercy, he thinks, he will seize control and do it by force.
But with the power of the avatar comes something else, something unwelcome. It is understanding. He sees why it is impossible to pull
his son back across the veil that separates them. He doesn’t want to accept it, but the truth is undeniable.
The living die ... bodies decay ... souls move on.
Understanding is not the only unwelcome thing he gains that night, although he doesn’t realize it for quite some time.
For a while, they live as one. Two minds meshed and sharing the same body, its noble, sleek-furred face unfamiliar to both.
There are those who believe that Egypt has given up all her secrets and treasures. That the wealth of the pharaohs has been found,
plundered, cataloged, and put on display in museums around the world.
But there are chambers long since swallowed by the sand that might never be found, and it is to one of these that he goes. Gold effigies
and painted murals are his only company. He is only a side-sliding step from another place, where the scales hang ready to weigh soul against
feather, where a beast waits with ravenous eagerness.
Not long after, the call comes and Anubis must leave. With that departure, leaving a numbed gap like that remaining when a tooth has been
yanked under dentist’s drugs, the Emir returns to a semblance of himself.
He has his human shape back, and with it his human emotions and despair. Everything that seemed so clear, that made such sense, when
seen through the mingled perspective of one who has known death cheek-and-jowl for millennia now falls into a clouded muddle.
All he remembers is that his son cannot come back because his soul has moved on. But it is this proof of an afterlife that leads him to a
fresh hope of reunion.
The first attempt fails. He wakes in a hospital surrounded by doctors that repeatedly tell him how lucky he is to be alive. As if they knew, as
if they had any idea.
He dismisses his failure as rushed clumsiness on his part, and resolves to do a better job the next time.
And the time after that.
Until the suspicion gives way to bleak certainty. He realizes that he has, inadvertently and very much to his dismay, won the prize that Xanatos
sought. Being so long with Anubis has burned away part of his mortality.
He cannot die.
His son cannot live, and he cannot die.
He resists, he tries again and again in ways that seem impossible to survive. Yet he does.
Is this meant to be some sort of reward? Or punishment for presuming to make demands of the jackal-headed Lord of the Dead?
He wonders, and gets no answer.
In the years that follow, he retraces the paths he once took. To every corner of the world, investigating every rite and ritual. This time, not
seeking ways to raise the dead, but ways to end a life that seems eternal.
As he approaches the centennial of his birth with no outward change, he must also admit to himself that not even age seems likely to release
him from his prison. His hair is dark as ever, his face unlined (but for the nests of creases around his eyes, brought on by his suffering). His body
remains as it has always been.
He continues his travels now not for knowledge but for safety, never daring to stay in the same place more than a decade for fear someone
will notice his state of unchanging. He walks alone, a shadow of a man, never allowing human closeness.
Another half-century passes before he feels a strange pull, a compulsion. With nothing else to occupy his endless days, he gives in and
He is led back to Egypt, to the streets of Cairo. Although the city has grown and prospered since he was here last, in the poorer sections
it remains much the same. Wherever there is deprivation and hunger, filth and poverty, it remains much the same. The inhabitants of the quarter
of town to which he’s drawn live much as peasants did thousands of years ago.
He walks the narrow, garbage-strewn streets. A few people approach him with the intent of begging or mugging, but something about him
makes them hesitate and think the better of it. They slink away, leaving him to pass unmolested.
At last he comes to a small, wretched house. A woman’s cries of pain and grunts of effort come from within, joined by other voices
exhorting her to push, Rashida, push!
A man ... youth ... barely more than a boy ... sits on the stoop with his head in his hands and his shoulders pulled tense with worry.
The Emir stops, and in his mind he hears the screams of almost two hundred years before. The screams of his wife.
And he knows that the woman within will certainly die if the child does not come soon.
The boy on the stoop senses his presence and looks up. He cannot be more than eighteen, so young to be a husband and father, and far,
far too young to be a widower.
But none of that matters as the Emir stares at him. The dark eyes awash with tears are familiar eyes.
He does not say a word. He doubts he can speak. But he knows what to do, as if the knowledge has been there all along, buried in his
mind the way the tombs are buried in the sand.
The boy rises, beginning to blurt a protest as the Emir moves for the door. But they die on his lips in amazement, because he is staring at
his hands. They are full of gold and money, hastily pulled from the Emir’s pockets. A fortune even by the standards of those in the air-
conditioned high rises of downtown Cairo; a pharaoh’s ransom down here.
The Emir is inside the house now, and a glance around tells him that to call it a hovel would be too kind. A glance is all he gets before
women ring him in indignant offense and try to hasten him back out.
He shakes them off and approaches the bed, where the woman is crouched with sweat-damp hair hanging in her face.
No, she is a girl, sixteen if she is a day, and her stomach is round as a bell, hard as a stone. She sobs and her knuckles are white as
she bears down. If she notices a stranger, a male stranger, she gives no sign of caring.
He kneels beside her, and presses his palms against the living curve of flesh. He can feel the contours of the baby, dropped low but
The understanding fills him as if he is a glass-man brimming with light. He closes his eyes and hears his breath rush from him in a sigh.
When he is older, his parents tell him of the stranger that came to their house the day of his difficult birth. The day his mother could have
died and taken him with her.
They tell him how the man poured wealth into his father’s hands, enough for their entire family to move into a fine house with a garden.
They tell him how the man touched his mother, and terrified his grandmother and aunt and the midwife by uttering the name of Anubis in a
soft gasp. How the man fell dead to the floor just as his mother’s labors eased, and he came into the world.
That, they tell him, is why he has the jackal-head birthmark on his chest, just above his heart. He is under the protection of Anubis.
They tell him all of this, and he laughs as if he thinks they are trying to fool him.
But privately, he believes.
They are reunited, father and son, and if it is the other way around this time, what of it?