Princess Attah who gives birth to the children in my novel, Harem Twins, reveals her journey to Egypt.
Mitanni Kingdom 1500 BC (Within the Babylonian Empire)
One day, Father summoned me to his throne and asked that I sit upon his lap. As he fingered one of my earrings, he spoke. “I am told that you received your days of the moon,” Princess Attah.”
I nodded and knew what was coming. My aunts had told me what would happen when my days of the moon arrived. Usually a mother would explain this to her daughter, but my mother is dead. “I am to leave the kingdom of Mitanni and be given to a god named Pharaoh.”
“You will give birth to kings and queens, Princess,” Father said, lifting my chin to look into my eyes.
I don’t know why, but I didn’t believe my father. I nodded anyway, and reached to touch his curly beard.
“Pharaoh will send me gold for you. You leave tomorrow with a tablet telling Pharaoh you are my royal daughter.” Father said as he sat me straight up on his lap.
“Tomorrow?” My eyes filled with tears.
My slave, Maja, came to take me away. I cried and screamed, pulling on my father’s robe. She pried me from him.
Maja dragged me away, holding me tight. We were both crying. “We leave with the rising of the sun, Princess,” Maja said softly. “We must pack your wedding items. Relatives have given you soft fabrics brought by traders of the far-east and bangles from Father’s jewelry makers, even frankincense.”
The next morning, Maja and I stood outside below the big steps of father’s palace.
As the sun rose, harem women soon followed to gather around me. Some were glad to see me go as my absence meant one less female to share pretty things with. I knew a few were envious and would like to have traded places with me. They were the ones with little chance of rising to prominence in Father’s harem.
I shaded my eyes from the sun to see my transport waiting in the distance. It was draped in heavy linen. Two anxious horses, harnessed to my tall wooden carriage, danced in place. As it lumbered toward us, it creaked and groaned with a baying goat tied behind. The old man who drove the horses looked like a grandfather and had a long white beard. Three young attendants followed on foot.
I wondered if any of them had ever crossed the great desert before. When the old man drew the horses to a halt, I asked why the wheels were so big and the cart sat so high. “So it wouldn’t get stuck in the sand,” he said. I looked about to see the morning sunrays bring a golden tinge to the mud brick buildings of my land. It made me sad to say goodbye to my birthplace where I had dwelt for twelve years.
Father did not come to bid me goodbye. It was only his secretary who arrived with my tablet of introduction to Pharaoh. I wondered if he thought it was too sad to see me go, or if he was just thinking about the Pharaoh’s gold. A few women helped us climb inside the privacy of our cart. As they all waved us off, we lurched forward and the big wheels creaked.
After days of moving though the great desert, I saw only golden sand dunes when I peeked through the heavy cloth covering. After a while, I saw soft breezes make the sands ripple like water in a stream. The sparkling dunes would change shapes and shimmered with light. I was reminded of an old proverb: The desert stays the same but is always changing.
“Don’t let the men see you,” Maja said. “It is bad luck. Keep your face covered.
Ten days into our trip, a sand storm raged. The strong winds had frightened the horses and the old man was leading them on foot. He had covered his face was covered with a rag to keep out the stinging drifts of sand. We were supposed to be going south but how could he know which way Egypt lie in this howling storm? Maja prayed day and night. I thought the cart would turn over as whirling gusts beat on the draped linen.
Maja and I grew weary from the sound of the pounding winds that hurled all around us. When a fierce flurry overturned my cart, I knew the gods had abandoned me. The linen covering ripped, the goat ran away, and all my fine gifts flew to the winds. At least my clay tablet could not be carried away by the wind.
Quickly, the two boys righted my transport. That night the winds grew less violent. The boys gathered scraps of wood exposed by the sand storm, for a welcomed fire. We were exhausted but grateful to be alive. It was so black and calm, it reminded me of the inside of a cave. The night stars looked at peace with only a few racing across the heavens. The old man begged my forgiveness for the loss of all my possessions. I asked him about the third boy and learned he had run away. I grew angry and thought of how my father would handle this problem. “How many days to cross the entire desert into the land of Egypt?” I demanded.
“Twenty, Princess,” the old man said bowing.
“And what day is this?
“How much food have we lost?”
“Everything but the dried horse meat.”
“And the water?”
“Just one goat skin left.”
I wanted to act with authority so I picked up a stick and beat the old man.
“How could you let our water be lost? My father would have had your head. Do you know which way is south?” I asked him.
He stood and pointed, still crying.
“Tomorrow, you lead the horses south.” I said stomping my foot.
Rationing the horse’s water made them grow sluggish. And when we stopped the next night, another boy disappeared. I should have beaten him, too.
I must remember how many days we are from Egypt. I couldn’t think from lack of water. My lips were so blistered that when I spoke they bled. Lying on pillows, I drifted in and out of awareness.
“Wake up, wake up, Princess, a cart is coming,” Maja said. I could hear the horses neighing, the old man calling to someone. I sat up to peer through the remains of the shredded linen but fell back into blackness.
I awoke in a beautiful white tent on a bed of down. When I turned my head, I saw rows of cots with women in white linen dresses, staring back, their eyes heavily laden with kohl. All the women were bare headed and many wore jewelry of gold.
Maja looked gaunt but relieved as she sat on my bed and took my hand. She told me that a chariot had sped me to the harem, where a big man carried me inside and ordered eunuch-nurses and healers to tend me. Before I fell back into darkness, I saw the transparent linen that surrounded my cot ripple from the ostrich plumbs of the fan bearers.
In the morning, a large man arrived in robes fancier than my father’s. He took my hand. “Greetings little one, I am surprised you survived.”
“Where am I?”
“You are in Pharaoh’s tent-harem. Construction of the indoor apartments is not yet complete.”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am Royal Astrologer Abu. Now stop talking; you must rest.”
As he walked away, he barked orders to people attending me.
Daily, friendly healers had me swallow a thick tonic. This was a new taste I couldn’t identify. Maja was given a soothing salve to apply to my bleeding lips. I noticed the royal astrologer looking in on me from time to time, and consulting with the healers about me.
Many days later, I walked in beautiful gardens with the royal astrologer, who Maja said saved my life. In this new land, I do not have to cover my head, and my scalp had been shaved. It felt strange. Still weak, I had to lean on the astrologer to walk. He was very kind to me. Someone said he was half-brother to Pharaoh. I could see that he was someone as important as my father. When he slipped into the harem-tent in the evenings, we spoke in my tongue because his mother had been a Mitanni princess, too. Here we fell in love.
Holding me one night, Abu whispered in my ear. “I will go to Pharaoh and tell him we are in love and I will ask for you, Princess Attah.”
Many months passed, and I never saw Abu again. Maja consoled me during the long nights when I cried for Abu. She wept with me. During this time, I went to Pharaoh’s bedchamber only once. When I grew large with child, some harem women showed envy.
“The foreign one has only been to Pharaoh’s bed chamber once and is heavy with child. The luck is with her.” They didn’t know Pharaoh at twelve seasons, was not yet able to deliver his royal seed. His half brother, Abu, was.
The day I delivered twins, I felt my death near. “Maja the children are Abu’s.” She covered her shocked face but I wanted her to know. “If anything happens to Pharaoh, tell Abu to raise our children.” Again she wept for me. I pulled her close, and demanded she swear that my babies be raised like royals as my father had forecast. “Raise my twins as Pharaoh’s children,” I commanded.