Authors: Veronica Scott
Priestess of the Nile
By Veronica Scott
Egypt, 1500 BC
Drawn to his abandoned temple on the banks of the Nile by an enchanting song, Sobek the Crocodile God is even more captivated by the sight of the singer herself. Appearing to her as a man, he learns she is Merys, a descendant of his last priestess. Though filled with lust, Sobek believes Merys deserves to be more than just his mistress. But the rules that govern the Egyptian pantheon forbid anything beyond a physical joining of a Great One and a human.
Merys is attracted to the handsome stranger, who arouses passions in her that no man ever has. But with no dowry and no hope of ever leaving her village, she dares not dream of the futureâor love.
Sobek takes every opportunity to visit Merys, taxing his resolve to leave her pure. When he saves her life, their mutual desire must be sated. But can a love between a human and an immortal survive the ultimate test of the gods?
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
To Valerie and Elizabeth—without their support and encouragement there would be no Sobek and Merys.
Many thanks to my wonderful editor, Alison Janssen, and her infinite patience.
The old abandoned temple remained one of his favorite spots along the Nile, overlooking the river from a small bluff, with a deserted beach below. Bek stood gazing across the sparkling water at bronze- and black-spotted crocodiles sunbathing in the final rays of the setting sun. A breathtaking mix of colors stained the sky as the Goddess Nuit spread her cloak across the heavens, sprinkling the black velvet with stars.
A beautiful soprano voice rose from the beach below the bluff. Bek recognized the words of a familiar old song, given new meaning by the hypnotizing, alluring voice.
I must see this songbird. She’s cast some kind of spell over me.
He strolled along the path from the ruins toward the beach. Taking the last turn on the trail, he walked out on the sand and found the woman. She waded in the water, casting a small fishing net and retrieving it, every once in a while picking out a wriggling silver fish and throwing it into a waiting basket on the beach. Her ample breasts flashed into view when she leaned over. She had kilted her skirt to her thighs, revealing shapely legs. Long ebony hair was caught behind her ears with combs in the shape of seashells.
Wouldn’t I like to take those combs out and see her hair tumble down—she’s as beautiful as her voice.
He must have made some sound. She stopped singing and wheeled, taking an involuntary step deeper into the river at the sight of him, a stranger. Her face paled under her tan and her eyes opened wide as she staggered, caught by an eddy of the current.
“Don’t be frightened, please. I mean you no harm.” He held his hands up, palms out, and smiled. “I heard your singing and it drew me here. I only wanted to give my thanks for the concert.”
She laid one hand on her graceful throat, toying with an amulet on a thong. “You startled me.” Poised to bolt, the girl appeared wary, probably planning an attempt to run past him.
“I apologize.” He kicked off his sandals and waded into the water at an angle from her. The net drifted lazily in a whirlpool; he reached out and caught it, lifting the tangled strands from the river.
“Oh, don’t! You’ll ruin your fine kilt, sir.” She came to him hastily and took the net from his hands. “The river runs muddy at this time of the year. Your servants will labor in vain to get the stains out.”
He glanced at his waist.
Oh yes, I did choose to wear the pleated white kilt of a nobleman
. He followed her to the shore as she splashed through tiny waves with her net. “Fortunately, I have no servants to worry with such things.”
While putting his sandals on, Bek frowned at the Nile crocodiles lying deceptively immobile on the opposite bank, then glanced at her. “You take great risks, walking into the river with those beasts nearby.” One of the animals twitched. Bek glared at it. The creature met his eyes for a second, then settled onto the sand.
“Oh, I’m not afraid. I’m protected.” She was busy folding the net and packing it into a compartment in the lid of her fish creel. She didn’t even spare a moment to consider the predators across the water.
He coughed to cover his instinctive laugh. “Protected? And exactly how are you warded against attack?”
She stood briskly, raised her chin and tugged an amulet free of her dress to show him. It was a small green stone crocodile hanging on a frayed black leather thong. “My great-grandmother was the last priestess of the temple on the bluff above.”
He indicated the amulet. “May I see it?”
The girl unlooped the cord from her neck and handed the necklace over. “Great-Grandmother told me the amulet was blessed by the Crocodile God himself and would protect me from his creatures.”
Bek chuckled, holding the tiny figurine in his large meaty hand. “Mighty protection indeed.” He momentarily closed the pendant in his fist, then tossed it to her with a slight bow. “Nonetheless, you shouldn’t take such chances. Crocodiles are crafty and fierce.”
When she refastened the amulet the stone pendant fell between her shapely breasts. She unkilted her skirts and the simple dress fell to her ankles. As she bent to lift her basket of fish Bek put his hand atop hers on the handle. She gave him a wide-eyed glance but stepped aside to let him lift her burden.
“Thank you, sir. I’m going to sit in the shade and eat my dinner now.” She pointed at the nearby grove of palms. “Would you care to join me?”
“I’m not hungry, but I’ll sit if you don’t object. An hour of good conversation is a pleasant way to end the day.”
She peeked sideways at him while she walked. Eventually she smiled shyly. “I’m grateful for the company. My name is Merys.”
She stood nearly as tall as him, unusual in a woman, but he found it distinctly attractive. Her face was lovely, oval and browned by the sun, which set off her sparkling black eyes. She was all lush curves and smooth skin—his cock stirred with lust but he restrained his arousal.
She seems to be an innocent maiden, of good family by her educated speech, not a woman to be lightly trifled with for an afternoon
. He realized he was standing rooted to one spot, lost in admiration of her beauty. Shaking his head, he started walking again. “Call me Bek.”
“A propitious name for this place, if your naming was in tribute to the Crocodile God.” Merys slanted a look at him sideways and chuckled. “Are you a merchant? Is your ship anchored somewhere nearby?” Not waiting for an answer, she sank bonelessly under the tallest palm. Lifting a shawl that lay draped there across some wicker hampers, she pulled out a hard roll filled with dried meat.
Bek set the stinking fish creel on the sand well away from where he planned to sit, but safely in the shade. He lowered himself into a cross-legged position and leaned against the tree, hands clasped behind his neck. “I travel along the Nile quite often, yes.”
She blinked and raised her eyebrows. He hadn’t precisely answered either of her questions but she didn’t press the matter. “Did you come to see the temple ruins?”
The truth, as far as it goes.
“I’m sure you have seen more magnificent temples elsewhere, but it’s an important place to me.” She absently played with her necklace. “I would enjoy hearing about the great cities you’ve been to on your travels. Have you ever seen Pharaoh?”
How refreshing, to see such naïve enthusiasm, such eager questions about the wider world. I’m too jaded these days.
Bek drew circles in the sand with one hand, suddenly feeling his age. “Yes, I was in proximity to Pharaoh quite recently, in fact. There is a new ruler in Thebes now.”
“I’ve heard. News does reach us, even in my insignificant village…if we wait long enough.” Her voice sounded wistful, a bit wry. She took a bite of her roll and closed her eyes for a moment, smiling. “It’s said Pharaoh is young, with a beautiful wife and a little boy.” Opening her eyes, taking another nibble, she sighed. “How fortunate they are.”
Bek was amused.
Fortunate? With all the challenges and dangers that face Egypt? All the perils attendant to being the ruling family? But it seems she thinks only in terms of their personal happiness. A wonderful way to approach mortal life.
He nodded. “I didn’t see the wife or the boy but I believe they are a devoted family. Pharaoh isn’t as young as you may think. He’s a hardened war captain and fought to win his throne. There are more battles ahead to ensure he retains it.”
Battles and war apparently failed to intrigue her. She pursed her lips and frowned slightly. “Tell me of Thebes. Is it all built of gemstones and fine granite as they say?”
Bek shook his head. “No. There
some beautiful buildings and temples, to be sure. Pharaoh’s palace covers many acres, with grand halls and sweeping views of the Nile. The majority of the structures are houses, shops and the like. The harbor area is quite utilitarian. Ordinary people live there, just as they do here.”
She brought out a handful of dates and offered him one. “Have you ever been to the great library?”
He paused in the act of biting into the sweet yellow fruit and surveyed himself with raised eyebrows. A quick wink invited her to share a good joke. “Do
look like a scribe or a scholar, who spends much time in the midst of scrolls?”
She blushed. “No, in truth you look more like a warrior than a merchant. I only ask because I would love to travel away from this place.” She drank from a water skin and the way her graceful throat worked as she swallowed fascinated him. Her next words snapped him out of his pleasant contemplation, though. “But I’m never going to go anywhere, much less Thebes.”
“Are you a slave, then?” The idea annoyed him. He felt a flash of anger and suppressed it, chewing the date thoughtfully.
Why does the question of her freedom bother me? This girl means nothing to me, other than an hour of mild diversion.
Insulted, Merys tossed her head. “No, I am freeborn. My father is chief scribe in the village.”
“A responsible position, well paid.” Idly he reached out and selected another date, not looking at her. “Why, then, are you sent to fish, like a servant?”
I’m missing something here. Wellborn maidens aren’t sent off to fish for their dinner. Is she lying to me?
He looked closely at her for any signs of deceit but there was nothing false about her, no fidgeting.
Blushing and frowning, she looked away from him, her head bowed. “My own mother died when I was young. My father remarried and his second wife has borne him several sons and daughters. I—I take care of the younger ones for her. I manage the household.” She drew random patterns in the sand with a small stick. Her voice was low. “Stepmother is of a frail disposition and from the South. The heat here affects her health.”
The initial novelty of the conversation was paling.
And hearing how Merys is treated is annoying me. Why do I care?
“But you don’t have to wait on them at dinner, evidently?”
“My stepmother prefers to have the evening meal with my father and her own children.” Her smile faltered. She swallowed hard, then shook her head a little. “But I don’t mind, because I have the time free to do whatever I want. No duties.” She stretched, her body supple and elegant. Tossing away the twig, she smiled. Sobek’s pulse quickened.
“Free time to fish for the household?” He pointed at the basket. “Fishing is work.”
Merys wrinkled her nose. “Well, I upset her earlier today. I accidentally broke an expensive vase. I thought perhaps a gift of fresh fish would help mend matters between us.” She stood and walked a few paces away, into the moonlight now bathing the beach. The girl hummed another old song, breaking into an unexpected little dance. After one intricate pattern ended in a twirl, Merys gave him a wide smile. “This is my own secret place. Most people don’t want to come anywhere near the abandoned temple. They fear the wrath of the Crocodile God. But the women of my family were priestesses here until the temple closed. I don’t fear him.”
Bek craned his head to study the ruins on the bluff across the beach from where he sat. He was mildly curious now that she’d raised the topic. “What led to the temple’s abandonment?”
“Two generations ago the headman of the village died with no heirs and no clear successor. The nomarch who rules this territory finally sent in his own man.” Merys regarded the temple ruins for a moment, then sighed. “The new official favored the gods of his home city and cut off the tribute and the support to this temple. The new headman’s brother was a priest of Horus.” She tilted her head and winked broadly at Bek. “The village has an impressive temple to Horus now.”
Bek threw back his head and guffawed. “So the Crocodile has been replaced by the Falcon. As if they were one and the same. Interchangeable. The Falcon wouldn’t enjoy hearing such news.”
Merys moved toward him, still dancing. “But in my maternal line we passed down the songs and the incantations.” She swept a hand to gesture at her feet. “The sacred dances.” She went on tiptoe and executed a series of graceful twirls coming across to him at the end. “I light the lamps in the god’s honor on the altar, every year on his Name Day. I keep the main sanctuary as clean as I can.”
“I’m sure your efforts are appreciated.” He tried to keep the smile off his face, biting his cheek.
The girl frowned at him and shook one finger. “The god protects us even now.” Her tone was cold, her eyes narrowed. “We have had only one ox and two cows seized by crocodiles in the past year, and no small children.” She furrowed her brow as some memory surfaced. “Well, one man was taken, but he was suspected of being a thief so no one mourned him. And the flooding of the Nile has been generous in bringing us fertile fields.”
Her intensity on behalf of the forsaken Crocodile God is amusing.
Bek found it warming as well as gratifying. “Your loyalty is commendable. And it is true Horus the Falcon has no power over the matters you mention.” He briefly bowed his head. “What will happen when you marry? Will you pass the songs and the lore on to your daughters?”
Her shoulders slumped and the smile disappeared. Lips pursed, she stood flat-footed in the sand. “I’ll die unmarried.”
“Why such a fate?” He raised his brows and frowned. He surveyed her from head to toe, deliberate, letting her see him look and appreciate. “You’re stunning.”
She pulled her hair over her shoulder and combed her fingers through the tresses. “It’s kind of you to say so.” The melodic voice was monotone now.
“I mean it.”
Why won’t she accept such a compliment?
She knelt down next to her baskets. “I’m as tall as any man in my village, taller than some. My height discourages most men, I’ve found.”
“Just the right height,” he said encouragingly.
She drew little scribbles in the sand for a moment. “There was one man who had some interest in courting me—the new captain of the guard assigned to my village after the Nile floods last year.”
In the ensuing silence some night bird called loudly and flew away from the palm fronds above. The waves lapped at the beach and a breeze arose. Merys shivered. He wondered why she didn’t finish her story.
Bek reached out and put one hand under her chin, gently turning her face to him. He studied her. “
? You didn’t care for this man?”