Daughters of the Nile

Prologue

It-Towy, Egypt's Capital, 1816 B.C.

Pharaoh Senusret III, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, knelt at his private altar. He lit a stick of incense and let the smoke billow around him. He breathed deeply and sighed in contentment. Then he closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for his wife.

Iset-Meryt, the Queen of her kingdom, was in labor for the second time in her life. Senusret prayed fervently that his beloved wife would survive and produce a healthy, vibrant child, be it boy or girl. Senusret was a handsome man, and had ruled Egypt fairly for five years. In that time, however, his wife had failed to produce a male heir. He knew that there was still a lot of time to have a son, but Senusret was impatient, and wanted to begin teaching his son as early as possible in the ways of a Pharaoh.

He had a child already, a year-old daughter who all the people of Egypt expected to become the heir if no son was born. Senusret's daughter, Eshe, was an energetic young child, but it galled him that his daughter would need to be married to a man not of royal blood if Iset-Meryt did not provide him with a son.

Senusret made the sign of the Gods with his right hand, and snuffed out the incense. He stood up and dusted off his clean new pleated kilt; it would not do for a Pharaoh to wear dirtied garments. The only time Senusret allowed himself to act like a commoner was when he led his army on campaigns. He was a military man, a charioteer who could hold his own against any enemy in his way. Thus, he had led the armies of Egypt to many victories in Libya and Syria, and had filled the treasuries of Egypt with vast loads of captured wealth from the neighboring lands.

The black-haired Pharaoh left his private apartments and walked briskly through the halls of the great Royal Palace, heading towards his wife's birthing rooms. When he heard Iset-Meryt's low moans of pain, he quickened his pace, but stopped when a servant stood blocking his way.

"Your Esteemed Highness, no one is permitted to be in the room," a servant said, bowing low. Senusret frowned in confusion.

"On whose orders?" he asked. The servant appeared nervous, but finally summoned up the courage to answer.

"Her Majesty has ordered that no one, not even the Pharaoh is to be in the room with her, other than the Royal Physician and midwifes."

Senusret sighed again, thinking that he should have expected this from his willful and sometimes stubborn wife. He knew how lucky he was to be married to a woman he loved, and who loved him back. Many of the royal, and even noble marriages are made between couples that have never met before, or between brothers or sisters. Seeing as he didn't have a sister, Senusret's father, Amenemhet, had granted him the privilege to find his own wife.

"Very well," he said in dismissal of the servant, who bowed and scurried away. He sat down heavily on a gold-inlaid stool. Pharaoh had unique blue eyes that were very rare in Egypt. At his birth, the oracle priests had declared him to be a wise choice for an heir. Senusret still remembered the look on his older brother's face when he was crowned Pharaoh of all Egypt.

His brother, Horemheb, was three years older than his younger brother, and yet was downsized to a position as General of the armies of Egypt. While it was one of the most highly-desired positions in the country, Horemheb was still getting over the pain and sense of betrayal he had felt when his father had shunned his first-born.

Horemheb was currently out on a patrol with one of his charioteer divisions, but Senusret expected him back within a few days, if not today, in order to see his new niece or nephew. Pharaoh felt guilty because he had an inner fear of his older brother, a paranoia that Horemheb was plotting his brother's demise. As a result, Senusret tightened the guard around himself and his family whenever the General was in residence.

Senusret shook his head to clear his mind of those dark thoughts. There was no real reason to suspect Horemheb of treachery, if he hadn't done anything these five years his brother had been on the throne.

A child's happy gurgle caused Senusret to break away from his musings. He turned to see his daughter Eshe in her nurse's arms. His face broke out into a huge smile, as it did whenever the 'Jewel of Egypt' was near.

"Eshe!" he said, taking her into his arms and dismissing the nurse for the time being. The silent woman retreated so that she was nearby, within Pharaoh's call if need be.

"How is my favorite jewel today?" he asked, expecting no answer, but he knew that Eshe loved to hear her father's voice. Eshe had earned the title 'Jewel of Egypt' soon after she was first presented to the public as a royal princess. The people had welcomed her lovingly, her cherubic face and intense violet eyes. Some priests warned that her violet eyes were a sign of trouble to the kingdom, but Pharaoh waved away their voices. However, sometimes when he looked right into Eshe's eyes, it seemed as though they were staring right back into his soul. It was an unsettling feeling.

"You are going to have a new playmate soon, Eshe. Do you want a brother or a sister?" Eshe laughed and pulled at her father's hair. Senusret grinned, and bounced her on his knee for a minute, before an exhausted-looking man walked up and bowed.

"What is it?" Pharaoh asked anxiously, recognizing the man as the Royal Physician.

"Pharaoh, it seems Ra is smiling upon Egypt today. You have a new daughter," the man said. Senusret heaved a sigh of relief. He hadn't realized how stressed he had been until he heard the good news.

"The Queen is in good health, but very tired. Shall I call for the priests?"

"Yes, yes. Do so immediately. I will go in now," Senusret said. The Physician hurried off, and Pharaoh handed Eshe back to the nurse, who followed him into Iset-Meryt's private chambers.

"Senusret?" Iset-Meryt called out. Senusret went to his wife and sat on the chair by her bed. He reached for her hand and held it tightly. Iset's face was covered in a sheen of sweat and he realized that she would need to sleep for a long time very soon. She was on the verge of collapse.

"I am here, Iset. Be still," Senusret said gently. The baby was gone; most likely one of the physicians had taken her to be cleaned. He stroked Iset's hand for a few moments before the Physician returned with two priests. One of the priests was holding Senusret's daughter.

"We have consulted the omens," the high priest to Ra said without wasting any time for pleasantries, "and according to the astral alignments, we have arrived at a name for your daughter. She will be called Neema."

"'Born to divine parents'," Senusret murmured thoughtfully. "You have read the omens well, my priests, and I thank you," he said formally. The priests bowed and left after handing Neema to the Physician, knowing that they were dismissed for the moment. The Physician placed the newest royal princess in her mother's arms and bowed also before leaving.

Senusret was speechless as he watched Neema put her thumb in her mouth. His second daughter didn't cry nearly as much as Eshe had when she was born. Then again, timidity was sometimes seen as a sign of weakness, but crying a lot was also a sign of a trickster, or one capable of treachery. Pharaoh sighed; he would leave all the omen reading and stargazing to the priests. Now, he just wanted to be with his Queen and his Princess.

One Week Later....

The squall of a baby echoed throughout one of the large comfortable apartments in the huge Royal Palace. The room was open, and fresh air blew in off the Nile. The Pharaoh and his wife, their daughters Eshe and Neema, and their nurses, and two High priests who were going to give their thoughts on Pharaoh's dilemma took up the couches. Also, his brother Horemheb, and Seqenunre, his most trusted advisor, were present.

"Mighty Pharaoh, you have asked us to consult the Gods as to which of your two daughters shall precede your reign," the High priest to Osiris began. Senusret nodded impatiently, and took his wife's hand in his own. He was torn between his two beautiful daughters, and now that the state was clamoring to know which would become his heir, he had called the priests, and many others to give him advice on his choice.

Iset-Meryt, on the other hand, wanted to wait and see if she would produce a son. She didn't want her daughters to grow up surrounded by the tension and verbal battles of the royal entourage. By the Gods, even some of her servants had more disputes than the commoners! All she wanted was to live in peace with her beloved husband and children, as she had been doing. Now, though, she knew that either Eshe, or Neema would be chosen by these men that she hardly knew, and the girl that wasn't chosen would either live a life as second-best, or, worse, be sent away to live with a commoner family.

Iset knew all about this. Senusret had another illegitimate child, by one of his concubines, Nebta. She knew that both mother and newborn son had been sent away from the palace following a huge scandal in which Nebta had been accused of the Pharaoh's attempted murder. The horrid woman who had tried to take her husband's life had been sent away in disgrace, her son going to live with a family that weren't too poverty-stricken, but not wealthy either. Iset definitely didn't want that to happen to either of her daughters, but knew that it just might.

"According to the moon's face, the time of birth, and many other conditions, we have arrived at a decision." Hathor's High priest said solemnly. Senusret nodded, and motioned for both of the nurses to hand him his daughters. Eshe was walking and talking, but she had no idea what all these older people were talking about. All the violet-eyed princess was interested in was her straw doll and sitting in her father's lap. Neema, on the other hand, was only a week old, and her nurse handed her to Senusret first. When Neema was settled, Eshe was allowed to crawl onto her father's lap. Both children were quiet for once, somehow sensing that this was an important moment. The first priest spoke again.

"The characteristics of a child have been used for many generations to help the Pharaoh in his choice of successor. As you can see, Eshe is quiet and reserved, but from what we have observed, contains a large source of dignity and pride. These are necessary for a future Queen, but can also become troublesome if she had too much of these traits."

Senusret and Iset-Meryt nodded silently, waiting for the second priest to continue.

"Eshe's violet eyes have been a source of controversy in the kingdom ever since she was first presented to the public of Egypt. Nobles, commoners, and even servants and slaves have talked about whether it is a good or bad sign from the Gods, and we believe that is she was chosen as successor, many rumors and stories would be spread. However, it is up to you to interpret what kind of message Eshe's eyes give."

"What about Neema?" Senusret asked impatiently. He hated to admit it to himself, but he was a bit biased towards his youngest daughter, because she had deep blue eyes just like him. Another event, which had shocked the entire royal entourage, was that she had just grown her first strands of hair.

"Neema was harder to understand, Mighty Pharaoh. The one omen that we have read strongly is her hair. Red hair the color of fire such as your daughter's is virtually unheard of in the kingdom. We believe that she will be a strong ruler, unmovable against rumors, war, poverty, or even betrayal. Neema will be a fighter, and we believe that she is the one to succeed your reign."

"The fact that she has blue eyes the same color as yours are also in Neema's favor, Pharaoh," the royal advisor added. Senusret nodded, thinking. Finally he sighed.

"You have given me a hard choice, but I have made my decision." Iset- Meryt listened with dread, suspecting what the choice would be.

"Neema will be crowned as the heir to the throne of Egypt in the case that a son is not born to my wife and I. Eshe will be blessed by Iset and myself, then she will be sent to live with Paneb, on the island of Philae."

Iset could not believe what she was hearing. How could her husband, who she knew loved Eshe as much as anything, send her away like a commoner to live with a merchant and her half-brother?

It seemed that, just as Paneb had been given legal responsibilities over Sethos, Senusret's son by the disgraced woman Nebta, now he would gain a daughter. Eshe was being sent away to live there as though she was not of royal blood! Iset knew that her firstborn daughter had the spark and wisdom needed to become the Queen and Mother of Egypt, but Senusret wasn't even giving her a chance!

'I must think on this,' she thought to herself, as she left her husband to complete the formalities.