It was a calm night illuminated by the half moon. Seth walked outside and curled his toes into the soft, cool earth before slipping on his sandals. A jackal howled nearby, its shadow perched on rock at the far end of the oasis. Seth smiled and shook his head; there was nothing to fear. As he came closer to the figure, the gentle moonlight revealed a small child’s body. From his lips, a howl echoed to the desert. A warning to anyone and anything who would attempt to come close to his home.
While approaching his son, Seth stepped on a dry branch, cracking through to his bare foot. He cursed under his breath, fighting the urge to yell out in pain and scream obscenities. The child’s body stiffened and turned to see the intruder from behind.
Bright azure eyes stared beneath thick eyelashes. His untamed black hair fluttered against the chilled wind. Had he not been born with the darker skin and blue eyes, Seth would have sworn it was Anubis staring back at him. But he wasn’t Anubis: Duamutef was his own person and hated to be compared to his estranged brother. Seth made every effort to assure his son that he was loved for who he was, and he meant it. His children saved his life and would do anything for them. And though he initially saw Duamutef as a second chance for redemption with Anubis, it all changed the moment his second jackal child opened his eyes and smiled. They weren’t the same, but he loved them both all the same, wholly and unconditionally.
Duamutef turned back to the horizon and howled again.
“Is this why you’re not at the table?” asked Seth with amusement in his voice. “Do you think you’re a wolf?”
His son shook his head, hands reaching for a short bow beside him.
“Dinner is ready.”
“No dinner.” Duamutef shook his head again. His other hand plucked an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to his bow.
Seth sighed. Not even six years old and Duamutef had mastered various weapons. Some were by Seth’s teaching, though, the majority had been from his protector goddess Neith. It made his son unpredictable and a fierce fighter. As much as Seth relished the idea of his son learning how to fight and defend himself, he wished Duamutef weren’t so insistent with it. He’d have to tell Neith to tone it down the next time she came to take Duamutef for tutelage.
“What do you see out there?”
“All I see is an owl.”
“I don’t trust it. Go eat, Mama. I’m going to protect you.”
“Hey, who do you think you are telling me what to do?” He reached from behind under into his son’s arms and lifted Duamutef from the rock. His son yelped and kicked the air. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you staying up all night for the past week!”
“No! Put me down! Put me down!”
Seth tossed Duamutef into the air and caught him facing front. With furrowed brows he asked, “Why did you stay up and worry me like that?”
Duamutef looked away with wobbling lips.
He sniffed, the moon revealing his watering eyes. “I…”
“I-I want to protect you!”
Seth’s face fell, heart skipping a beat. Why did he take it upon himself to become his guard? Did his son sense his inner turmoil? No, it couldn’t be. From the day he was born, Duamutef clung onto him and refused to let him go for too long. He held his mother with pride and kissed him without end. Gifts of flowers, worms, and hunted fowl were presented to him with a shy smile and danced when rewarded with a warm hug in return. It was all Duamutef needed and asked for from his mother, and Seth was more than happy to oblige.
Duamutef had the soul of a warrior and the fire to ignite his heart and burn the enemies of Kemet. In the marketplaces, he carried a small knife and glared at the men who looked in the direction of Seth, ready to pounce the moment one touched him inappropriately. Seth scolded him for drawing the knife at a vendor, but proceeded to punch another man for attempting to remove Imsety’s face veil.
All this time he mistook his son as happily spoiled and needy, when in truth, Duamutef’s love manifested in a desire to keep his mother safe from harm.
A tear rolled down Seth’s cheek.
Duamutef startled, rubbed his eyes, and sobbed. “Please don’t cry, Mama… My heart hurts when you cry.”
Seth pressed Duamutef in a tight hug. “You are so good to me.”
I don’t deserve your love. But he shook the thought away. He deserved the love of his husband and children. In the pain and sorrow of his journey to break the curse he inflicted on the innocent and pure, he found a way and a reason to trust and love once more.
“I love you so much, Mama!” Duamutef hugged his mother and buried his face into his chest. Their hearts thumped against one another and became a poem of undying love. Warm hands, sweet kisses, embraces sinking deep within their souls. They stood still in one another’s arms, moments passing. The world became right. As long as his heart continued to beat, nothing in the world would hurt his mother.
With the knowledge of the great goddess Neith, Duamutef vowed to protect Mama.
Placing a kiss on Duamutef’s head, he lifted his son’s chin, wiped his tears with his thumb, and smiled behind his own tears. “I’ll be okay, Duamutef.”
Seth pressed his forehead into Duamutef’s. “The burdens I hold are great and weigh more than you can ever imagine.” He nuzzled and kissed his little jackal. “But I have you and your brothers and your father at my side. You make my shoulders light. I can hold this weight because of you.”
Duamutef wiped away Seth’s tears and looked back into the desert. “But I need to guard the home.”
“Your father is here for the month, and even if he wasn’t, I will protect you and your brothers.” He winked. “I’m a lot stronger than you think.”
“Think about it over dinner.”
Duamutef’s stomach growled. “Okay.”
At the table, Qebehsenuef poured the drinks while Imsety placed the food at the center. Ahephi slept on Horus’ back, hands fisted tightly onto a loose tunic like a young baboon holding onto its parent. In the beginning, Ahephi grabbed onto Horus’ headdress. The falcon king walked around like it was the most normal act, ignoring the odd stares from humans or the other gods in Heliopolis. But as the boy grew, he became too heavy to support from his head. Since then, Horus opted for a tunic and braced himself for Ahephi’s love. No matter how much Horus tried to reassure him, his son refused to be separated from his father whenever he arrived in the oasis. It took a couple of days for the youngest child to let go of Horus and be on his own, but until then Horus enjoyed the moments with his second shadow.
“You look ridiculous with a tunic,” said Seth, carrying Duamutef and sitting him on his chair.
Horus removed his cowl and placed it on a hook. “I can’t say no to him.”
“Daddy, please sit,” replied Imsety, tapping Ahephi’s back. “Wake up. It’s dinner time.”
Ahephi stirred against Horus’s back and returned to sleep.
“You’re doing it wrong, Imsety.” Qebehsenuef dusted his hands and ghosted them over Ahephi’s bottom. “Let a pro show you!”
Seth narrowed his eyes at his falcon child. “Qebehsenuef…”
“I didn’t do anything!” He frowned, hands still hovering dangerously over his youngest sibling. “Let me!”
“This is your only warning, kid. Sit down.”
Qebehsenuef and Seth stared each other down. Matching red eyes shot sparks. A showdown for the records. One side was the former god of the desert and sand, the other side was his brat with the power to poison or inebriate. The little falcon’s fingers wiggled over Ahephi. Seth’s fingers twitched in response. None wanted to be the loser, but there could only be one winner.
“I’m handling this.” His right foot rattled off his sandal. The show thunked on the floor - a heavy warning.
Horus turned his neck to his son. “Qebehsenuef-”
“Let Mommy handle this.” The boy shimmied his shoulders, daring his mother to do his worst.
“Don’t talk to your father that way.”
Duamutef frowned at his older brother. “Listen to Mama and Papa!”
Imsety sat down and served himself spiced okra and bread. Not even a day their father arrived and peace had been forgone.
Qebehsenuef blinked and found his mother’s sandal armed and ready in his hand. It surprised him how fast his mother was, but he resisted the temptation to show his shock. The first to show any sign of weakness opened themselves to defeat.
“I’m giving you to the count of three.”
“Husband, this is unnecessary-”
“Two!” shouted Duamutef.
“Both of you be quiet! Two.”
Imsety kicked his feet playfully under the table. “Mmm, your bread is yummy, Qebeh!”
“Last warning, Qebehsenuef. Are you ready?”
Qebehsenuef grinned. “Three!”
Seth pointed the sandal menacingly at his son. “Only I get to say that! Thre-”
A loud yawn interrupted the staring contest.
The small lump snuggling against Horus opened his crimson eyes and sniffed the air. “Is dinner ready yet?”
Horus patted Ahephi from behind and turned to show the youngest the table. “It is.”
“Daddy, I’m hungry.” Ahephi yawned and climbed down his father’s tunic. “I wanna sit on your lap for dinner.”
“Of course, my silver moon. Go wash your hands first.”
Seth dropped his sandal and kicked off his other one to an unknown part of the house. If Nut cursed him to have a child like himself, then her hex came true. Out of all his children, his falcon child was the most trying. He resembled his father to a scary degree, but his attitude was… much like his own. And though there were many challenges and scoldings, Seth couldn’t imagine living without his precious boy. “By the skin of your teeth, kid.”
Qebehsenuef hugged Seth’s thigh. “I was just gonna carry him.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Oh? Is that so?”
The boy nodded.
Seth smiled and patted his head. “Don’t test me like that again.”
“Qebehsenuef,” interrupted Horus, touching his son by the shoulder. “A word with you before you eat.”
“Seth.” He looked at his husband with serious eyes. “This is between me and our son. Please sit. We’ll join you shortly.”
Nervous, Qebehsenuef’s eyes wandered to his mother.
“Go with your father, Qebehsenuef.” Seth kissed his forehead. “You can sit next to me during dinner.”
Qebehsenuef swallowed and followed his father outside.
After serving the other two children and promising Ahephi a spoonful of honey if he sat on his own chair, Seth took a bite of bread before sneaking to the doorway. Careful, he pressed himself against the wall and listened to the chirping crickets and soft murmurs of his husband and son.
“I didn’t mean to…” Qebehsenuef rocked his body, eyes cast down and hands behind his back.
“We’ve talked about your behavior before, my burning sun.” Horus knelt in front of him, meeting eye to eye with his son. “What if Ahephi fell and hurt himself?”
“I just wanted to show you and Mommy how strong I’ve gotten. I can carry him!”
“I know, and every day you are becoming so big and strong.” Horus reached for Qebehsenuef’s arm and held his hand. “But you need to listen to your mother when he tells you to stop.”
“And you shouldn’t have let your excitement get the best of you. I was hurt when you spoke to me like that.”
The little falcon’s eyes widened and bit his lips.
Horus cupped Qebehsenuef’s cheek. “Your actions have consequences and you have to take responsibility for them. I know in that brilliant mind of yours you’ve thought of hundreds of thousands of ways to solve a problem, but sometimes the simplest solution is to trust in others. You don’t always have to do everything.”
“But I want to help. I want to be bigger and stronger… for you and Mommy.”
He smiled. “And one day you will grow into a fine man, full of wisdom and knowledge, but that will take time. Don’t be in a rush.”
Qebehsenuef leaned into his father’s hand. “I’m sorry for hurting you, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you too, my burning sun.” He kissed his son’s forehead. “Let’s go eat.”
The boy ran to the table and sat in a chair next to his father’s spot, unaware of Seth leaning beside the doorway. He served his portion and stuck his tongue at Duamutef for his snide comment. Imsety giggled and poked Qebehsenuef’s shoulder while Ahephi made a tower of mashed chickpeas and shredded bread.
“You did good,” said Seth to Horus.
Horus grinned. “Did you expect something else?”
“No. It was very… you.” Seth took his husband’s hand and led him to the table for dinner.
The family ate in peace. Laughter and praise filled the home. Happy conversation about colorful scarabs the boys hunted and games played. To the delight of the children, they had honey and figs for dessert. They washed up and listened to Seth tell tales of his adventures in foreign lands.
“That’s when your father and I decided to go to the Sindhu Valley to seek advice.”
“Is that where I was born?” asked Ahephi, leaning over Horus’ shoulder, eyes sparkling in wonder.
“That’s right.” Seth brushed Imsety’s hair with care and smiled at Duamutef who gave him puppy eyes for his turn. Leaning over, he kissed his jackal son and ruffled his hair. “You have the honor of being brought by the goddess Parvati.”
Ahephi gasped. “But how?”
“She helped me bring forth the lotus inside my body, and you were born.”
“Mother, what goddess brought me?” asked Imsety.
Seth cringed. “Ugh, Ishtar.”
“And me?” asked Duamutef.
“Hecate,” replied Horus.
“Asherah brought me!” gloated Qebehsenuef.
They listened to the story of their parents’ quest, slowly rolling their eyes as the story became longer and longer. Their heads nodded and eyes rolled. Horus and Seth tucked the children in their bed, kissing them each goodnight. Without a sound, Horus removed his tunic and wrapped it in a bundle, neatly handing it to a restless Ahephi - it calmed him and he soon fell asleep with his brothers.
Seth and Horus walked outside, arms around their hips, and sat on the large rock at the far end of the oasis. Not a word was said between the two as they gazed into the stars, hands interlaced with one another, warmth spreading to their hearts. They kissed and whispered words not even the wind would hear. Secrets and tears shed, wiped away by delicate lips and open arms. Their souls became one.