Djehuty gave a low whistle. “You’ve really angered him this time,” he said, standing atop the perron in front of the House of Books.

“Huty, don’t just stand there preening!” Nut chided. “Here, give me your arm.” She reached out an impatiently grasping hand, coming up to the bottom of the steps.

Djehuty left his perch and quickly came down the steps to offer Nut his arm. He gracefully accepted the added weight she leaned on him as she put a foot on the first step.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this angry,” he said.

“Oh, pah!” Nut scoffed. “Fragile male egos and fruit have a lot in common. They both bruise easily! And Amun-Ra thinks he has a right to be boiling with anger at the smallest inconvenience.” Her words were punctuated with puffing breaths as she slowly plodded up the few steps to the front entrance.

Djehuty easily accepted the pondering pace and matched Nut in planting both feet on a step before moving up. A light breeze blew through the reeds and Nut sighed with relief.

“Oh, that feels so nice,” she said, closing her eyes and stilling as the wind toyed with her hair and the hem of her fine linen dress. “This heat has just been too much on top of everything else.”

“Mmm, yes, I can see beauty hasn’t been at the top of your mind lately,” Djehuty said, tucking a flyaway strand of hair behind Nut’s ear.

It wasn’t that Djehuty thought she was ugly or ungroomed, but she was usually much more concerned with her looks than she seemed to have patience for these days. Nut was an extremely attractive woman who turned heads as she passed with her lustrous hair and swaying gait. But today, she was wearing a simple, loose linen dress that prioritised comfort, and her hair wasn’t pinned or decorated, simply brushed.

She glared up at him, a sheen of sweat coating her scowling brow. “I’d like to see you have the energy to look pretty when carrying quadruplets,” she said, her eyes cutting to the beaded collar resting on Djehuty’s bare shoulders and his expertly folded kilt.

Djehuty raised one hand in surrender. “I can only imagine. Khonsu picked this out for me.” He gestured at his outfit. “Insisted that it compliments my body shape, whatever that means.” Djehuty shrugged, and turned his attention to Nut. “Are you sleeping at all?” The puffy dark circles Nut had under her eyes were evidence that sleep was eluding her.

“Like a dog. Lightly and when I can. I fell asleep in the bathing pool yesterday because it was the only place where I couldn’t feel this grinding sweat in my ass crack.”

Djehuty led Nut into the house and held her elbow to help her sit down. “This is getting intolerable,” Nut muttered as she manoeuvred herself into a chair, working to accommodate her enormous belly. “Did you hear the tantrum he threw?”

“Yes, I believe the entire world heard that,” Djehuty said.

“He called me a blind, mentally deficient, pathetic, and ungrateful bitch. In that order. Just because I created some stars.” Nut accepted the cushion Djehuty offered her and propped it behind her back.

“It was slightly more than that, but yes, he tends to veer towards the dramatic,” Djehuty said, sitting down opposite her.

Nut had created all the stars and planets after she had escaped her post, and Djehuty could see why Amun-Ra would feel threatened by such power. He had always been a jealous king, afraid that others were coveting his seat and his power. To see such power as Nut had displayed, simply pouring out celestial bodies without great effort, Djehuty was not surprised that Amun-Ra had lashed out.

“It’s not healthy, I’m telling you.” She heaved a sigh, accepting the cup of water he offered. “And now he’s gone and cursed me because he’s feeling threatened and needs to make up the difference by asserting his manliness.” She leaned back in her chair to brood.

“And how’s Geb handling all of this?”

“Please!” Nut huffed. “Don’t speak to me of men. I’ve had enough of men. Men are why the world is being made lesser than it could be. Men are why we’re in this situation in the first place. Men are why I can’t sleep on my stomach anymore.” She tsked and glared down at her belly, muttering about fragile egos and male stubbornness. “First, he tasks us to continue the work of creation,” Nut said, meaning Amun-Ra and neglecting to give a straightforward answer to Djehuty’s question. “And, when we do, he turns around in anger, spouting insults and nonsense like a doddering old man who’s lost his grip on reality.”

“Mm-hmm, that does look uncomfortable,” Djehuty agreed, watching as Nut tried and failed to find a comfortable position.

“Huty, please. Isn’t there something to be done?” Nut whined in frustration, turning pleading eyes on the scribe. “You’re the Master of the House of Books. If anyone would know a way out of this, it has to be you, with all your wisdom and knowledge.”

A smile tugged at the corners of Djehuty’s mouth. It wasn’t often someone flattered his extensive knowledge. He considered her, tapping his chin with a slender finger. “What was the curse, again?”

“I name thee a stupid bitch for wanting to lie with your husband, in the same manner I lie with beautiful girls who are way too young for me, but blinded by me being a god, and ignorant to the fact that accepting the seed of the sun god into their mortal bodies means being incinerated from the inside,” Nut exclaimed in a grandiose and mocking drawl, waving a hand above her head. “Now thou shalt suffer for your feminine insolence of even thinking yourself the equal of those possessing a third leg!”

Djehuty chuckled. “The exact wording?” This wasn’t the first time they’d discussed Amun-Ra’s curse, and it wasn’t the first time they’d tried to think of ways to overthrow it.

Nut glowered. “You shall not bear children on any day of the year,” she muttered, in repetition of the curse Amun-Ra had saddled her with when he’d found out she was pregnant yet again.

No matter how Djehuty turned it over in his mind, it was excessive of the intractable old god to deny her giving birth on any of the 360 days of the year, when Amun-Ra had known that Nut was with child. What was she supposed to do? Be pregnant until the end of time? Djehuty didn’t think the rest of the gods could handle Nut being pregnant for that long. As the pregnancy had progressed, she had become increasingly uncomfortable and more irate.

While she had conceded to her role as the Coverer of the Sky, more to protect her lover than anything else, the shield that she presented between the chaos and the ordered cosmos had been… less than complete. As she became more and more uncomfortable with the life inside her, she had begun to shift, and pockets of chaos had sprung up all around the world.

She had also begun venturing down to the earth more often, to lie in the bathing pools, which were the only places that afforded her some relief from the strain of gestation. The gods were already stretched thin trying to fight off the chaos that was vying to consume the world. Little by little, day by day, it was getting worse. Djehuty leaned back in his own chair, rubbing his chin.

If Nut decided to abscond her celestial position permanently in her discomfort, Apep would destroy the world as they knew in the blink of an eye. And it doesn’t matter how great a warrior Amun-Ra thinks himself, Djehuty thought, he will not be able to protect all his beloved creations from Apep, the Lord of Chaos, if the border of the ordered universe is not sentinelled by Nut.

“Huty, please,” Nut regarded him with exasperated solemnity. “Surely if anyone can think of a solution, it will be you, Lord of Scribes, God of Wisdom, Master of Judgement.”

Djehuty smiled. There she goes again, he thought, trying to win me over with flattery. “Maybe there is one thing I can try…” he finally said, as a thought formed in his mind.

***

Djehuty quietly adjusted the gold, olivine and carnelian collar atop his white linen robe as he walked behind the serving girl, making sure the beautifully carved lapis lazuli scarab sat in the middle of his chest on full display. He ran quick fingers through his hair, tugged at the woven belt around his waist, and made a few unnecessary adjustments to the sky blue cape he had draped over one shoulder. He took deep, deliberate breaths to calm himself. He felt nervous. Why was he nervous? He’d walked through these ornate, painted halls a thousand times before.

The floor was painted in the likeness of a pool, surrounded by plants and water birds, and filled with fishes, lilies and swimming ducks. The ceiling had grape trellises and flying birds painted on it. The walls were adorned with wild animals and papyrus flowers. The craftsmanship was unsurpassed, and Djehuty marvelled at how the water of the pool seemed almost real. He half-expected his feet to get wet.

Neb Khonsu is on the roof,” the serving girl, Satiah, said, pulling Djehuty out of his own thoughts.

Djehuty smiled in response. Of course, Khonsu, god of the moon, was on the roof, as usual, admiring the star-filled night sky. He was an aesthete through and through, and exceedingly particular about his home. And Satiah was as beautiful as anything else Khonsu deigned to admit into his home and his life. She had large, brown, intelligent eyes and long, slender hands that moved as if in a dance when she spoke. Her thick, curly hair was braided with glinting glass beads.

She had a beaded collar around her neck in red, green, yellow, and white faience. She wore a form-hugging yellow linen dress that covered one shoulder in a loose sleeve, while leaving one small breast bare. It looked bright as sunlight in contrast to her dark skin. Bracelets adorned her slim wrists, and her sandals had yellow faience beads to match her dress. She was almost as tall as Djehuty and it was hard to not watch her hips swaying from side to side as she walked ahead of him in long, graceful strides.

The villa truly was a place of beauty, and every time Djehuty came here, he felt a need to dress up so as not to mar the lovingly crafted house and finely curated collections of art. Though, Djehuty mused, everything in Khonsu’s hands becomes art. Khonsu’s gardens were the most beautiful, his foods the most distinguished, the craftsmanship on his furniture the most exquisite, and even his servants included some of the most beautiful people Djehuty had ever seen.

Satiah led the way to the rooftop, where a large reed mat had been spread out on the floor and adorned with fine cushions. There was a large tray of fruit and wine, and Khonsu stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, looking up at the perigee new moon with an adoring expression. Tonight was a rare night, the lunar disk looming much larger and far brighter than usual. Djehuty had been planning and waiting for this night for several moons now — if he was going to succeed in his plan, tonight was it.

The cool light of the moon mingled with the warm light of the oil lamps flickering across Khonsu’s face, and Djehuty could not help but admire the sight. In a house of beautiful things, he is the most beautiful of all, Djehuty thought as his eyes traced the curves of Khonsu’s full lips, curved into an indulgent smile, and his short white hair, framing eyes aglow with a soft purple light.

Djehuty swallowed as his gaze travelled lower, surveying the reclining god. Khonsu was a hopeless tease in addition to being an aesthete, and well did he enjoy showing off his physique. His upper body was bare, save for the silver collar around his neck and cuffs on both biceps and wrists. Low on his hips sat a wide woven belt of pure teal, holding an ornately folded linen shendyt in place, the hem just brushing his knees and hinting at muscled thighs. Khonsu rested with his legs crossed at the ankles.

Neb Khonsu,” Satiah said in her melodic voice, walking up to the reed mat to stand at her master’s feet, clasping her hands before her and reverently inclining her head. “Neb Djehuty is here to see you.”

Khonsu turned his lavender gaze from the stars. “Hutyyy!” he exclaimed, opening his arms and legs wide in welcome, looking like an overturned beetle.

The sudden movement caught Satiah’s eyes, which widened to twin full moons as she got a full view up Khonsu’s shendyt. Satiah gave a hasty bow and dismissed herself without a word.

“Come, come, sit,” Khonsu smiled and patted the cushions next to himself, turning on his side and leaning his head on a propped up elbow. “It’s wonderful to see you again.”

Djehuty stepped out of his sandals and joined Khonsu on the reed mat. “You’re shameless, you know that,” he laughed. “She probably ran off to have a heart attack.”

“Who, Satiah? Oh, she’ll be fine. She’s taken one of the maids from my kitchen for a lover and is learning the ways of the world,” Khonsu smiled, dismissing the issue. “So, Huty, what brings you to my humble abode?”

Djehuty pulled out a rectangular wooden box from under his arm. “I thought we could play a few games,” he smiled, holding up the senet board.

“Oh, and here I thought you came to see me because you missed me,” Khonsu pouted, circling a finger on his thigh before tossing himself back onto the cushions and looking at Djehuty out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t know if I feel like playing.”

“Oh? Khonsu, the undefeated champion, ready to forfeit before the game has even begun?” Djehuty teased. “I didn’t think this day would ever come! I’ll just have to get my tally stick so I can mark this one down—”

“Won’t you at least have a drink first?” The pleading look Khonsu gave him was too pitiful to deny.

“Of course, Traveller,” Djehuty smiled. “Anything for you.”

Flattery will get you everywhere, Djehuty thought as Khonsu’s lips split in a smile.

“Satiah!” Khonsu called, but before he could say anything else, she was already coming to hand Djehuty a drinking cup.

As Satiah poured mead for him, Djehuty admired the blue-glazed faience cup that was in the shape of a stemmed lotus flower. The floral motif covering the entire cup was outlined in black manganese, making the blue carved shapes stand out even more. It was beautiful. Djehuty took a sip of his mead, tasting the delicate balance between the sweetness of the honey and the slightly acidic taste of the fermented yeast.

Khonsu drank from his own cup, his eyes regarding Djehuty over the rim. Remember how our kisses tasted sweeter after drinking? Khonsu’s eyes seemed to ask and Djehuty breathed in deeply as he remembered the feeling of Khonsu’s fingertips on his skin.

“Let’s play, so I can kick your ass again!” Khonsu declared, clapping his hands together once, and opening the drawer on the game box to take out the pawns, and line up the pieces on the first row of the board, first five spindles in a line and then five cones in a line.

The game of senet had been born out of an intense bout of boredom during a summer heatwave, when it had been too hot during the midday hours for Djehuty and Khonsu to do anything but lie in the shade and suffer. With a cup of sweetened wine in hand, of course.

They had been watching the human children playing leapfrog in the water and had speculated about who would win, had the game had any such rules, instead of carrying on ad infinitum. So, purely as a thought experiment, Djehuty and Khonsu had devised some simple rules.

At first, they had simply traced twenty squares in the sand and used rocks and twigs to play, testing their newly created game rules, passionately arguing as they went. When the game had felt too short, they had added more pieces for the players to use, as well as determined that some squares should have specific action rules to either help and hinder the advancing players.

In the end, they had commissioned a carpenter to create a simple game board and named the game znt, which meant “passing” and described the end goal of the game, which was to pass the other player and get all your pieces off the board first. Djehuty also thought it was a nice commemoration of how they’d passed many an afternoon, conjuring the game and its rules.

Djehuty picked out the five coloured throwing sticks from the drawer underneath the game board. “Loser gets to throw first?” he asked, cocking his head and smiling.

“Go ahead,” Khonsu grinned, the violet light in his eyes shining a fraction more brightly at the memory of being reigning champion.

Khonsu was very confident in his senet skills, he had, after all, invented it. But so had Djehuty, who now tossed the sticks end-over-end, and they landed with a soft clack. He got what they called an “all black” meaning that all sticks landed with their red sides down, black sides facing up.

“Oh, no,” Khonsu said in mock sympathy. “Such bad luck, losing your turn straight out of the gate.” Khonsu picked up the sticks and threw them, earning himself the best throw possible, a five. Choosing to play spindles, he moved one pawn to the House of Repeating Life.

This was the fifth tile on the board and it was a mandatory landing square, meaning you had to land on the square before you could proceed further. Landing on the House of Second Life also meant that your pawn was safe and could not be attacked by pawns coming up behind you.

“My, my, an extra throw for me already,” Khonsu smirked and picked up the sticks for the bonus throw awarded by the House of Repeating Life. This time, he got a three and advanced another spindle pawn three paces. “So, what shall we play for?” Khonsu asked.

“You mean bragging rights aren’t enough for you?” Djehuty smiled, collecting the sticks.

“Well, let’s say wagers make it more… interesting,” Khonsu replied, his eyes travelling up and down Djehuty’s body before meeting the scribe’s gaze.

Even clad in a simple linen robe that covered him from neck to ankle, Djehuty felt naked in front of Khonsu’s searing gaze. Djehuty wondered how much of what was underneath Khonsu could see. Did he know how he stirred desire in Djehuty simply by his presence?

“How about my eternal humiliation at always being bested by you?” Djehuty tossed the sticks and got a three. “Ah! Though I refuse to go down without a fight,” he said, moving his cone to the same square where Khonsu’s spindle was resting, and returned the spindle to the starting position.

Khonsu tsked at having his pawn thrown off the board. “That goes without saying. I’m talking about real stakes.” He picked up the sticks and threw. Three. He took his spindle, replaced Djehuty’s cone on the third square with the spindle, and returned the cone to the starting line, quirking a challenging eyebrow at Djehuty.

“Oh?” Djehuty laughed, tossing and getting a three again. He switched the pawns once more.

“Afraid to let the game truly begin?” Khonsu teased. Three. He replaced the cone with a spindle. “This is going to be a very long evening if you keep this up, Huty.”

Djehuty tossed the sticks and finally got something other than a three. Five.

“Oh, ho ho!” Khonsu laughed. “There’s that bad luck again, Huty.”

Since Khonsu’s spindle was still standing on the House of Repeating Life, his pawn was safe, and Djehuty had no legal moves to make. Khonsu picked up the sticks to throw.

“When I win,” Khonsu said, moving his pawn, clack, clack, clack, clack, “you finally grace me with your company for the night.”

A tingling went up and down Djehuty’s spine and he purposefully didn’t look at those softly glowing eyes. He threw the sticks. Khonsu had been trying to woo Djehuty for a long time now, but so far, Djehuty had resisted. He wasn’t sure why, though. There was something about Khonsu that felt dangerous to Djehuty, which was both intriguing and unnerving. Djehuty had indulged his curiosity here and there, lazy afternoons spent in the garden or late nights drinking on the roof, yet he’d never fully given in.

Deep down, in a place where he kept the things he didn’t even admit to himself, Djehuty felt like being the dusty scribe that he was, content to sit in his House of Books surrounded by his records and endless scrolls, he could never be worthy of someone like Khonsu, who seemed to soar through life like a falcon on the wing, who saw something he wanted and didn’t hesitate to go after it with a burning passion. The only thing Djehuty dared pursue with that same passion was knowledge. And, to be fair, he had kept meticulous records of every time Khonsu had made his heart race in his chest with mere words, looks, and simple touches in his journals.

Khonsu was confident where Djehuty was shy. Words flowed out of him easily where Djehuty took forever to find the right ones. Khonsu was beauty incarnate, his lithe and muscled body moving through life like it was a dance and he knew all the steps by heart. Djehuty’s skin wasn’t as rich of a brown as Khonsu’s, as he spent a lot of time inside with his scrolls doing mental gymnastics in mathematics and astronomy and magic. Next to Khonsu, he felt meek with his slender thighs and flat chest. Something inside him said that if he was ever to be caught in Khonsu’s grasp, he’d be swallowed whole.

Djehuty regarded the board. Time to gamble. “And if I win…” He moved his pawn, but kept his fingers on it as he spoke. “I get a fraction of your light.” He gathered his courage and finally looked up to meet violet eyes, glowing with amusement and some surprise.

“Well now! And what would you want with some of my light?” Khonsu laughed, throwing the sticks.

“Once I win it, it’ll be my light,” Djehuty corrected. “And I’ll be allowed to do with it as I please.”

“Of course,” Khonsu easily agreed. “It’s more fun to play with you while you think you still have a chance of winning.” Clack, clack. “Besides, Huty, you’re adorable when you pluck up your courage like that.”

Djehuty’s face burned as he picked up the sticks. Khonsu’s hand moving to his belt caught Djehuty’s eye, and he watched as Khonsu tugged down the front of his shendyt under the pretence of adjusting it, revealing a mat of black, curly hair that increased in density as it trailed down. Djehuty’s heart tried to drum its way out of his chest. He sat mesmerised, unable to pull his eyes away. Then their eyes met, and Khonsu gave him a shit-eating grin.

The donkey fucker! Djehuty thought as a bonfire burned inside him. He did that on purpose, trying to distract me. He threw the sticks, and they landed with a loud clattering, one stick escaping all the way off the reed mat. Khonsu reached over and brought the errant stick back to its friends. Djehuty glared at the total. Clack, clack. He sent one of Khonsu’s spindles back to the start, putting it down so forcefully the whole board shook.

Khonsu chuckled. “My, we are being bold tonight.”

“As you said, I’ve plucked up my courage,” Djehuty thrust out his chin defiantly. He would not let Khonsu and his sublime looks — or underhanded tricks — fluster him. “And I’m determined to win. For once.”

And so they played, the throwing sticks setting a steady rhythm to their game which was only offset by Khonsu laughing delightedly when he got under Djehuty’s skin, with a rub of his neck or a brush of his hand dangerously close to a nipple on his bare chest. Khonsu laughed the loudest, clapping excitedly, when Djehuty won the game with what Khonsu called a “lucky streak” and promptly demanded a rematch while he toyed with his lower lip.

Djehuty needed a few more wins and would have suggested another game had Khonsu not asked for a rematch, so agreeing to it was no arduous task, even if he was reluctant to risk his winnings. Though, allowing Khonsu to charm him was no hardship.

The next game Khonsu won, the third victory went to Djehuty, and the fourth again to Khonsu, tying them at two-to-two. With smug reluctance, Djehuty agreed to play one last winner-take-all round, meaning that he’d either get five fractions of Khonsu’s light or spend the next five nights at Khonsu’s exquisite villa. Djehuty was tempted to let Khonsu have the last game, but reminded himself what he was really here for.

Now is not the time to get distracted, he told himself as Khonsu moved a pawn to the House of Judgement, from where he’d need a throw of exactly three to get the pawn off the board. Khonsu’s other pawn was stuck on the last square, from where the only way off the board was an exact throw of one.

Khonsu’s frustration was growing. Djehuty had only one pawn left on the board, and Khonsu was still working to get three off the board. He was becoming a little rash, his frustration evident in the huffs and grunts that came out of him every time he regarded the result of the throwing sticks and it wasn’t favourable. Since both of Khonsu’s pawns were safe from attack in houses, Djehuty’s only hope of winning was to get his last pawn off the board before Khonsu did.

Djehuty threw and got a two. “Oh, donkey shit,” he muttered as his pawn landed in the Waters of Chaos and was sent all the way back to the beginning.

“Ah!” Khonsu laughed. “Finally, a break for me!”

While Djehuty made his way back from the start, past the House of Rebirth, and all the way to the House of Beauty again, Khonsu got one of his pawns off the board. Djehuty’s pawn landed on the second to last square and he now needed an exact throw of two to get off the board.

Khonsu threw the sticks, got a lucky five and sailed his spindle off the board. “And so the final battle begins,” Khonsu declared, as he handed the throwing sticks to Djehuty.

Djehuty now needed a two to get off the board, Khonsu a three. Whoever got the exact throw first would be the winner.

Djehuty threw a five.

Khonsu a two.

Djehuty a three.

“Ah, you stole that from me,” Khonsu laughed and threw a four.

Djehuty threw an all black. “Donkey balls!”

“Getting really competitive, aren’t you, Huty?” Khonsu smiled. “It’s delightful.” Khonsu threw and got a four again.

Djehuty threw. Two. His hands shot up in the air and he whooped. “I won,” he laughed. “I won!”

“Yes, I see that,” Khonsu smiled before turning it into a pout. “Though you might be a little less happy about that.”

Djehuty grinned uncontrollably. “But you have to admit that was a fantastic game!”

“Yes,” Khonsu agreed easily, watching Djehuty with a small smile on his lips. His deliciously plump bottom lip and his exquisitely arching upper lip.

Courage seized Djehuty’s heart, and he surged forward to all fours. He pressed his lips to Khonsu’s and felt the warm chuckle in the other god’s chest. But Khonsu didn’t break the kiss. He only tilted his head so their noses fit together more comfortably.

Djehuty inhaled Khonsu’s warm scent, delighting in the blend of earthy citrus of the frankincense oil Khonsu was fond of. Djehuty pushed his tongue in between those exquisite lips and could taste mead, juicy figs and an undertone of star anise. Khonsu’s hand came up to cradle Djehuty’s jaw, his long, elegant fingers wrapping around the back of his neck.

They were breathing heavily, the kissing punctuated by small, earnest sounds of growing desire. Djehuty frowned and pressed in harder. He didn’t want to leave, but he had a promise to keep. The spell he’d crafted was set up to work on a night exactly like tonight, and nothing less than a perigee new moon would do. He broke away.

“I have to go,” he said, leaning his forehead against Khonsu’s.

“Alright,” was all Khonsu said, his voice husky.

Djehuty was grateful that Khonsu didn’t challenge him. With one last kiss, Djehuty pulled back and got up to leave. Behind him, he heard Khonsu clear his throat.

“So, what was that for?” he called after Djehuty.

“Just so you can feel me even when I’m not around,” Djehuty smiled over his shoulder.

Khonsu gave him a smouldering look, elegant fingers brushing his lips, and Djehuty was glad he’d already made the decision to walk away or he wouldn’t have been able to. Especially not when he considered the tent Khonsu was pitching under his shendyt.

“And what will you do with 1/72nd of my light?” Khonsu asked.

“Why, infuriate the god of gods, of course!” Djehuty called back with a grin as he left the rooftop.

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