Egypt’s sun god Ra was rising in the eastern sky to cast his vibrant rays on the white walls of Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s grand new house. A newborn, about to arrive at sunrise in Pharaoh’s Harem, would foretell of exceptional heavenly influences.
The mother, Princess Attah of Mitanni, was twelve summers old. Her diminutive frame carried the belly of a hippopotamus. Gaunt and exhausted from slow labor, her birthing was half a moon cycle early, the baby large.
Maja, Attah’s only slave, tried to comfort her princess with damp cloths and soothing words as Attah suffered strong and rapid thrusts. Maja overheard two women sitting on their cots watching her princess struggle.
“The foreigner slept with Pharaoh but once, and is bearing his child. Luck is with her. She hasn’t even learned to speak in Egyptian yet,” one said.
The other pregnant woman said, “I feel sorry for her. No one has brought effigies of Goddess Hathor to bring the sweet north wind, or God Bes to aid her in her childbearing. The tattoo artist is coming in two Ras to paint my breasts with pictures of God Bes so the magic will be with me when I give birth.”
Slave Maja was on her knees at Attah’s cot asking all the gods she had ever heard of not to let her mistress die in childbirth.
“Don’t pray in our Mitanni tongue,” Attah said sharply. “If I die, promise me you will always claim this baby Pharaoh’s child. Raise my child like an Egyptian with Pharaoh’s language and teach him to pray to Egyptian gods.” Maja held Attah’s hand, replying yes with her large frightened eyes. Attah pulled Maja close and whispered into her ear. “Keep the secret I am about to tell you, forever more, promise?” Maja nodded, her black eyes growing wider as Princess Attah whispered in her ear.
Attah was soon attended by eunuchs who hung wet linen panels surrounding her birthing area to provide coolness and privacy. The women in the harem talked of how Attah labored on in pain and silence. Then a midwife arrived.
Standing tall, the Harem Keeper drew back one of the curtains. “When will this be done?” he asked.
“Very soon,” said Maja, looking up with fear as she mopped up the blood that flowed from Attah. “My mistress is opening like a well spring now.”
It was an important moment for the keeper when a child was born into Pharaoh’s Harem, especially if it was a boy. At last the wailing of a new life resounded. The Mitanni Princess delivered a girl-child. Not a boy, but still an important birth because she had arrived with the rise of the sun god, Ra.
The Keeper smoothed his linen kilt, secured his gold cuffs and adjusted his cropped wig. Leaving his Harem duties to his assistant, he took long, hurried strides to the entrance of the royal audience chamber. A pair of Nubian sentries guarded the entrance. Towering over the Harem Keeper, in his leopard kilt, one guard said, “Halt!”
“A royal child arrived as Ra graced our skies. The omen is great!”
The Royal Guards looked at one another with understanding. “Follow me,” said one who promptly escorted the Keeper to Pharaoh’s Bedchamber Steward.
Pharaoh’s Steward first showed annoyance, then seemed to grasp the importance of such an event. “Wait here,” he said with enthusiasm. The Keeper was soon guided through several turns and into Pharaoh’s private bedchamber. When he came upon the sight of the Living God’s golden bed, he dropped to his knees and performed a great and proper prostration.
“Oh Son of Ra, Great Amenhotep III, Ruler of Thebes, Lord of Truth, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Strong Bull, He who Establishes Laws and Pacifies the Two Lands, Smiter of the Asiatics: A girl-child has been born this day, at the rise of Ra, and at the New Moon, Year of the Great Harvest.”
Strewn with linens and cheetah skins, Pharaoh’s gilded lounge was shared by Lady Mui, the royal cat, and two young boys who scurried from his sheets as the clamor of quickening footsteps brought Pharaoh’s Vizier and Chancellor. Both were paramount officials of the land and responsible advisories to the King, in charge of Royal storerooms, treasury and more. Lastly, the Court Astrologer strode in.
One by one, other chief advisors to Pharaoh began to appear and praise the young King on his fertile prowess. The Court Astrologer Abu, moved his large frame forward, glared at the Harem Keeper and boomed, “My calculations show two infants born to the Royal House this day.”
The Keeper demurred with a deep bow and a submissive voice. “Royal Astrologer, when I left the Harem I saw but one Royal girl child and no other women are in their final days of birthing”
A commotion came from the bedchamber portal and drew the attention to those gathered. A breathless assistant Harem Keeper came forward. His prostration before the King was inept. He quickly rose and stuttered, “Attah se– se–second child, a boy, Attah– ha–had twins! Princess At. . . tah is dead.”
The Astrologer glared at the Harem Keeper.
This news brought Pharaoh to a sitting position. As he rose, he motioned the two Keepers away. He turned his youthful and glistening body that had lived through but fourteen inundations toward his Vizier with a questioning look.
The Vizier stepped forward and said, “My Lord, the minor Princess that has delivered you twins is a woman from your vassal state, Mitanni in Babylon. She came as a war reparation presented to My Lord a season ago by her King.”
“Ah, yes of course,” replied Pharaoh. He stood and stretched his body that was in transition from a boy to manhood. His Butler moved to his side, offering him an ornate robe heavily embroidered with gold threads.
Then with rare animation Pharaoh motioned for his Astrologer. “Abu, my twins have arrived with the rise of Ra and the new moon. Is that not correct?” Not waiting for an answer, he added, “They bear omnipotence from me and regal blood from their Mitanni mother, a Princess in her land. Return to Court in two Ras with the heavenly chart stories of my Royal Twins. Also deliver me a selection of pleasant names to choose from.”