They are happy for me now.

No one ever told me I was beautiful before this happened. No one bothered to call my paintings talented before. Now one has come from the North who calls me, a simple country girl, beautiful and talented

I have never had much ambition for money, power or fame. My main desires were to learn to paint, read and write. I have already learned how to do all of these, but I would like to refine my rough skills. For a time, I also wished to be married to a Tiy, a young man in our village that I have known for years. He has given my family many gifts to try and win over my father into giving me to him for marriage. I love Tiy dearly--he is as wise and compassionate as he is handsome. But now it seems that we shall not be married. I am leaving.

I cannot state exactly what my feelings are. I, Kiya--the seventeen-year- old brown-haired, light-eyed country girl will be in the harem of Akhenaten, the pharaoh. He is a very odd, non-traditionalist pharaoh. At least, that is what my now-dead grandfather once said, probably in reference to Akhenaten's recklessly iconoclastic nature. The pharaoh believes only in the Aten-- the sun god. His decision to proclaim the Aten sole god created quite a bit of turmoil for a while. Obviously, the priests of the discarded gods were not at all pleased, especially those of the Amun. Some say that Akhenaten created Aten-worship only to take away the power of Amun's priests, who had grown almost as powerful as Akhenaten's father Nebma'atre Amenhotep.

I do not agree with the religious beliefs of this pharaoh, but no one is required to. There is no enforcement of his strange beliefs among the commoners, so we may worship, as we desire. I myself do not particularly like the Aten--I think that any religious revelations that may occur in my life have not come to pass. For now, I offer prayers to Bastet and Isis, goddesses that are the favorites of most young girls. I often doubt that the gods and goddesses interfere with my life very much.

At any rate, now my mother, aunts, and innumerable other women in the village are busy getting me ready to go back to Armana--Akhenaten's own massive city--with the stranger who came to our house a week ago for rest. He appears to be some army officer was returning to report from the South. For whatever reason, he seemed much impressed with my talents at painting, reading and writing, as well as my looks. I naturally thought he was drunk. I am by no means hideous, or even ugly--neither are my paintings--but I am unused to such praise of my looks, especially since most of the other villagers regard me as a freak. My parents applauded the idea without hesitation.

A week has passed and I am leaving with the stranger sometime within the next two hours. So, these annoyingly chattering women all prepare me to be presented to the pharaoh. First, thick kohl and blue paint are painted around my strangely light eyes thanks to the hand of my aunt, while another braids my thick hair into a mass of tiny braids, interwoven with blue ribbons. No one has ever been able to explain my strange light eyes. All of my family shares the same, mud-dark and dull eyes. Mine have been a lifelong source of teasing from the neighbor boys--probably why few men, other than Tiy, have taken an interest in me. The stranger seems to find my eyes intriguing, though he won't say exactly why.

My mother dresses my neck and limbs with her most precious jewels and spices. I look in the mirror--I look strangely elegant. I take one of my own necklaces from a nearby table. It is one that I was handed by Tiy earlier, when we said our last farewell. It is an delicate blue, gray and black-beaded circlet with a polished jewel amulet of Bastet, the beautiful cat goddess. I try to remember our last parting words, ignoring sighs of "Oh, how beautiful you are Kiya" all around me.

Tiy came to my house early this morning, when my eyes were still tired from sleep, and my hair was still a mass of tangled curls. I didn't feel like seeing him, but I forced myself to anyway, not wanting to have any further regrets later. Perhaps I shouldn't have. He wasted no time in telling me exactly what was on his mind.

"Kiya--I thought you loved me. I could give you a future--maybe not so great--but prosperous enough. Don't leave the village. Please."

I was half-asleep, but I had more than half my sense about me. I still love Tiy dearly, but I won't give up this promising of a future for a girlish crush. "I am sorry it must be this way Tiy--I love you Tiy--but I --I can't pass up this opportunity--I mean--I love you, but there is no way you could- -"

"You mean that you love yourself more --self-centered little whore--when Akhenaten abandons you--when you fade away--then you'll wish you loved me enough to marry me. I can't believe you would abandon me at a moment's notice--"

At this point, I was fully awake and fully exasperated, both at myself and at Tiy, who, for all I know, was speaking the truth. "Tiy, please. My parents will make me go anyway, whether I choose to or not, so don't hold so much anger against me. You're being unreasonable."

"Kiya." He shook his head and gave me the necklace with a kiss. He left without a look back. I have to admit that I cried

I am still a little heartbroken over Tiy. I truly did want to marry him-- but I can't pass up this opportunity. Even if I wanted to stay here with Tiy, my parents would not allow me to. I will always love Tiy--but perhaps he is right. I am selfish--I love myself more. Would he have gone, had he been in my place? I sigh a little, thinking of it. My mother, thinking I am sighing about my painfully tight-braided hair, tells me to stop complaining. I say nothing more as my mother and aunts continue with their torturous procedures.

Now I am done--perfect, everyone tells me. I take a chest of my things, and walk beside the stranger onto his chariot, which is drawn by two cream white stallions with straw-colored manes and tails. Everyone cries, weeps, smiles, hugs me. I grimace through my heavy makeup and perfume. I drop a few involuntary tears--I have never been long apart from my family. One of my cats jumps in with the chariot. I kiss her sweet black face and hand her to my mother, who is weeping. The stranger grabs one of my hands, indicating we must be on our way. It will take us an hour to get to Armana from my village.

I ride away. I look back at my parents, a little sadly, but I think that I will be allowed visits home often--and it's not as if I'm being carried away to my death. There are my brothers, as well--many of our neighbors turn out to see the spectacle (much to my chagrin). I catch sight of Tiy, and hide my face in my white sheer veil. I am ashamed of my betrayal of him- -but I look forward--to the City of Aten--and to a future, which shall hopefully be fraught with no more sorrow. I look backwards for a long while, then forward toward the setting Aten, my pale eyes reflecting its fire.