Chapter 1: Marriage
Thebes, ancient Egypt
The hot, brilliant Egyptian sun beat down on me as a looked out into the well kept courtyard of my house. Shi-Shi and Omri, my two pet leopard cubs, wrestled playfully at my feet. I picked up my brush added a few more details to the painting I was working on.
"Jeuel!" I heard my mother calling from inside. I sighed and put my brush down, What did she want now?
"Coming!" I yelled back and rushed inside.
"Jeuel, where have you been? Do you have any idea what time it is?" My mother said angrily when I got inside.
"Sorry, mother." I knew she would keep at me until I apologized so I didn't waste time.
"Well being sorry doesn't change it! Look at you! You're covered with filth!" she brushed some dust from my sheti.
"Sorry." I repeated, trying to sound repentant.
"The guest will be here in less than two marks! You need to bathe and get ready; I'll have Mara iron and set out your clean clothes. Go!" I sighed and left, there was no arguing with my mother, especially when it had to do with guests and being a "proper" hostess.
I hated that word, "proper"! Everyone always seemed to be throwing that word in my face, "why can't you act properly?", "you need to walk properly" or "the proper way to do this is…" or "he is a proper match…" It made me so angry, what determined "proper"? I didn't want to be like the most other stupid, simpering girls my age. The worst part was that if I wanted to be accepted and loved I had to be the perfect daughter which meant basically becoming everything I hated.
You might think, "who cares is you're accepted" but for me- the daughter whose parents hate her because she wasn't a boy- acceptance matters a lot. All I ever wanted was to be loved, but for me that seemed an almost impossible goal. I lived the 17 years of my life trying to gain my parents love, I've done my very best and it's almost enough, but not quite. I excelled in everything I was taught, not necessarily because I was interested, but because I felt I had to or loose a chance of winning my parent's love and respect. Looking back now, I realize how pitiful that was.
As I grew older I worked harder and harder; I started to see more and more results, my mother started to see the effort and time I put into my house work and "lady-like behavior". She wouldn't look at me with the disgust she used to. My father was surprised to hear from my tutors how diligent I was in my studies and how much I surpassed the other students in each course; that was the one thing I am very thankful to my father for, my education. He hired a tutor for me and had me taught how to read, write, do arithmetic, and speak three other languages- he believed that ignorance in anyone was intolerable and my aptitude in all I was taught made him value me more than before. But still I could never get their love, I could never be as good as the son they never had.
As I finished my bath and got ready with the help of my servant I started to get nervous, today was the final test for me. If I did well they would love me, well that's what I hoped. See, today my father had invited all the wealthy bachelors he was acquainted with for a banquet where I would be the hostess. This was to show how well trained and charming I was, but mainly it was to show me off and encourage men to ask for my hand in marriage. Yes, I was 17 and now a woman, meaning I was of marriageable age.
"Hurry! There's not much time! Hurry!" my mother screeched as my servant finished wrapping an emerald sash around my waist.
"Oh that's a nice color!" my mother stopped and admired me for a moment. "It makes the color of your eyes glow!" she smiled. I smiled back hesitantly; at least she found something about me pleasing. Most Egyptians have blackish brown eyes so my eyes set me apart.
"But your eyes won't win you a wealthy husband!" Her piercing voice broke into my thoughts.
"I know mother," Why did she find the need to always put me down?
"I glad you do, you know how important today is!"
"Yes, I know. I won't let you down."
"I certainly hope not! Hurry!" and she stormed out of the room to make sure the food was almost ready. I sat silently as my servant dressed my hair and redid my eye make up.
That evening I did my very best to be a good hostess, I was gracious, kind, sweet, and prepared. I only made a few minor mistakes that I'm sure only my mother noticed, but instead of feeling happy about it I felt miserable. The men there stared at me like I was an animal, like a cow they wished to purchase, not like I was an intelligent, unique human being. Some of them were terribly old and I prayed that my father would not marry me to them; actually I didn't want to marry at all. I wanted to remain free a little longer; I wanted to fall in love…again.
After they left I went straight to bed, I was tired, angry, and sad. I hated this; in truth I hated my whole life. I hated they way I wanted my parents love so much, I hated that I was a girl, I hated the thought of getting married, I hated it all… And most of all I hated the fact that I hated my life but couldn't do anything to change it, what was there to do? I couldn't just pretend it was alright, I was good at pretending- but not that good. I sighed and snuggled closer to Shi-shi and Omri, finally falling asleep.
"Jeuel, you look so sad! Come on, let's go out- I know it will make you feel better!" I smiled at my best friend, Rilha. She was amazing, so was so lighthearted and happy most of the time. She always knew how to cheer me up; sometimes I was sure she knew me better than I knew myself.
"Well come on!" she laughed and grabbed my arm, pulling me out the door into the morning air.
"But I have chores and my mother-" I tried to explain, and tried pulling her back inside.
"No! Come on, even your mother won't kill you for missing a few chores. Think of it as your reward for doing so well last night!" she winked at me.
"Fine." I sighed, I pretended to be annoyed but really I was thrilled to be leaving the house.
"It better be fine!" she muttered. I laughed and we ran out of the courtyard before my mother would notice I was gone.
Once we were out in streets I began to feel better, I loved being surrounded by hundreds of people; everyone bustling around you, the scents, the colors, the faces, and most of all- the languages. For some reason languages entrance me, I have always been really good a learning new ones. Studying languages is the only time I can sit still.
"Look!" Rilha pointed to a group of cages with different exotic animals inside, tigers, lions, monkeys, bears, and hundreds of multicolored birds. I smiled back but the sight made me sad, it must be so horrible for the animals to taken from their homes and shut up in tiny cages!
"Let's get some food, I'm starving." I said and pulled Rilha away from the animals toward a bakery's stall.
"I love food."
"I would have never guessed that!" I winked at my friend
"Are you calling me fat?" she laughed.
"Oh, definitely!" we both laughed harder, Rilha was one of the skinniest girls I knew- well besides some of the slaves.
"How could you?!" she managed to accuse between laughs. We pulled each around, looking at everything and laughing until it started to get dark and we headed home.
When I got home I was prepared for my mother's wrath so I was stunned to find her in an extremely happy mood, but she wouldn't tell me why. Later that night my father took me aside privately to tell me that an extremely wealthy man named Talmon had asked for my hand in marriage.
"Already?" I asked incredulously. It seemed suspiciously soon to me.
"Yes daughter, I-"
"Wait! You're serious?" I was getting worried, I had hoped I would have at least a few more months of freedom before some one actually asked to marry me.
"Of course, I told him that he had my consent."
"You did what!?!" This couldn't be happening!
"Calm down Jeuel, he is the first son of a wealthy merchant I've know for about a year now."
"Did he come to dinner last night?"
"No, he just got back from Cairo this morning." I sighed and looked down; this was all going too fast, way too fast.
"What's the matter? Why aren't you happy?" Why do you think! I thought angrily.
"I am happy, father, it just that this is so sudden. I thought I- I don't know." I tried to smile and look thrilled.
"Don't worry; I know you'll like him."
"Of course father." I smiled and left the room. Yeah right…
I sat quietly the rest of the night, I was so scared. I knew if I got married it would be the end of my life. Yes, my family would be happy and proud if I married this rich Talmon; it might even make them love me. But Talmon, would he love me? Or would he end up hating me? Would I be a good wife? I did not want to do this! But what else could I do, if I didn't marry him then what? But there was not even that option, I would be forced to marry him, my father didn't care about love or the way I felt. There was nothing to do but marry him and that made me angry, I hoped that Talmon would fall in the Nile and drown or get eaten my crocodiles!
I woke up feeling a little better, there was a party today. My parents actually were letting me go by myself, no escort! Not like I ever did anything more inappropriate than singing loudly in the street or dancing a little too wildly than accepted but still I was ready to have a great time; especially if I was going to get married soon, but I tried not to think about that.
"You look lovely!" I exclaimed when Rilha came into my room later that afternoon. She smiled and helped me finish getting ready. We were half out of the door when,
"What mother?" I asked angrily.
"You have to wait for Talmon!"
"What!?" Rilha and I both chorused, Oh hell no!
"I told you this morning at breakfast, Talmon is going to the party with you." She definitely didn't! I would have remembered!
"But we going to be late and-"
"Jeuel, stop being disrespectful! He is your future husband, it wouldn't be proper if you didn't go with him."
"We'll meet him there!" I lied.
"No he's coming here, sit down and wait!"
"Mother!" I wanted to smack her! Why did she always do this it me?
"Don't address me in that tone."
"Sorry." I definitely was NOT sorry, I was angry.
"You should be, now listen to me- you are going with him or you aren't going at all."
"Fine." I stalked off to my room angrily. Rilha followed quietly, she knew how I felt. Her parents had found a groom for her too, but at least she had known him for a few weeks before they became engaged. I had never even seen this Talmon before. He was probably fat and ugly and old…
"This is not fair; this would have been my last bit of freedom before-" I surprised myself but starting to cry, why did life take even the smallest joys away from me?
"Don't cry, it's going to be alright, it can't be that bad." Rilha said trying to make me feel better.
"It definitely can! I've never even seen him before! What if I hate him or he hates me?"
"No one could hate you, now stop crying. I have to fix your make up." I laughed and started wiping the tears from my eyes. The way she would always obsess about stupid things always managed to make me feel better.
"That's better." She said as she finished wiping my eyes, I tried to smile.
"Thanks" I said after she was done fixing my eye make up.
"Jeuel, my dearest, come out here please!"
"Coming mother!" Rilha and I tried to hide our giggles; my mother was always so sweet when some one besides our family was around.
"He must be here!" Rilha whispered excitedly. I nodded, suddenly extremely nervous. What if he was old and ugly? What if I hated him?
I walked in the main room of our house, expecting a middle aged man, fat and balding, but that was definitely not what I saw. He was tall, darker skin than most with a strong jaw and shining black eyes. He seemed to be two maybe three years older than me and very handsome. I smiled, this might not be as bad as I thought…
"Daughter, this is Talmon of the house of Sheftu," I curtsied, just like I had been taught. "Talmon, this is my only daughter, Jeuel."
"It is a pleasure!" He took my hand and brought it to his lips. I was surprised, this was definitely not a custom of Egypt…but I liked it.
"This is my friend, Rilha." I said after an awkward silence.
"Well you three should be going, it's almost five." My mother prompted, making everything ten times more awkward.
"Yes, you're right. Thank you for allowing me to escort your lovely daughter tonight." He's such a suck up! I laughed to myself.
"No, you are the one who should be thanked for protecting her for me." My mother said dramatically, Talmon smiled.
"Bye mother." I said and started pulling Rilha out the door, Talmon trailed behind.
"Bye! Have fun!" my mother called happily.
We walked in silence for a few moments until Rilha tried to start a conversation.
"So Talmon, are you from Thebes?"
"Umm, yes I guess."
"You don't know where you're from?" She giggled.
"Well I was born here but I was raised in Cairo until two years ago."
"Oh, I see." There was another awkward silence.
"I'm sorry by the way." Talmon said turning to me.
"Well, you know….about this. I didn't want to ruin your fun tonight, I didn't want to come- I mean I did but I, I didn't want to be forced on you like this…"
"Oh" Was my brilliant response.
"If you want, I'll leave. It will be our secret; your mother won't know you went alone." I stopped dead, he would let me go alone? It was definitely tempting but…I kind of wanted him to come.
"Ouch!" I exclaimed and glared at Rilha, she had elbowed me in the side. "You don't have to go, I mean if you want to go you can but I don't mind you here."
"Well, I don't have anything else planned-"
"You're coming with us, that's final!" Rilha said quickly.
"Alright." We walked silently all the way to the party; all three of us seemed wrapped up in their own thoughts.
"Hekke is here!" Rilha exclaimed, breaking the silence, and pointed to a guy about Talmon's age with a gold colored sash and head cloth.
"Hekke?" I asked.
"Don't you remember him? He's the one who I met in the market the other day!"
"Rilha, you're engaged!" I whispered, what was she thinking? She winked at me,
"But I'm not married yet, am I?" I gasped, and then started to laugh, good for her, still having fun! I just wish I could be so bold…but that wouldn't be smart since my future husband was right beside me.
Talmon pretended not to listen to what we were saying but I knew he heard. I look up at him,
"Want to get some food?"
"Sure." As we walked off I winked at Rilha over my shoulder, she grinned and went over to where Hekke was standing.
"So, were those two leopard cubs yours?" Now that was a random question, but at least he was trying to make conversation.
"Oh, yes" I turned back to Talmon, "They're names are Shi-shi and Omri."
"Thanks, I thought so." I smiled, he smiled back. I had to admit, he had a beautiful smile.
"Do you want to marry me?"
"What?" I don't think you want to know real the answer to that…
"Do you want to marry me?"
"Well, I umm- I, it's just that-" I stared down at my feet.
"I'll take that as a no." I glanced quickly up to see if he was angry, but he was smiling.
"It's alright, to be completely honest, all this was my father's idea. I didn't really want to marry you either. Well not until I saw how beautiful you are. " Aww, how sweet!
"You think I'm beautiful?"
"I guess beautiful isn't the right word, gorgeous fits better." He laughed. I stared up at him, "What? You're acting like no one ever told you that before."
"People usually don't, well not really."
"Well they should." I just shook my head and laughed. I wasn't used to flattery.
"I'm not just saying things, you truly are an amazing woman." He smiled down at me. I flinched, for a moment he reminded me someone else, someone who had broken my heart…
"I'm not amazing, I'm just ordinary." I replied, quickly pushing the memories to the back of my mind.
"Believe me, you're not ordinary."
"Don't lie! Everything about me is ordinary…except for my eyes, that is." I smiled.
"I'm not lying! You're different."
"Well for one thing you're intelligent. Most women can't even write their name."
"Intelligent? How do you know that? You just met me less than an hour ago! You can't judge my intelligence on that!"
"You forget your father."
"My father? What did he tell you?" I was suddenly interested.
"About all you're studies and how your tutors tell him how you do better than most of their male pupils."
"He said that?" I felt a thrill of joy; my father was noticing that I tried to do well for him.
"Of course, why wouldn't he?"
"I don't know; I was just surprised I guess." I answered quietly.
"I don't see why you should be, lets get some wine."
"Good idea, I'm parched." As we pushed through the crowd he reached out and intertwined his fingers in mine. I smiled, this was nice, and he was nice. I wasn't afraid anymore; father was right, I did like him. It wouldn't be bad being married to him; I was starting to believe that I would be very happy. For once.
We spent the rest of the night together, he didn't leave my side for a moment, and I was glad. I was glad! It had been so long since a guy made me feel that way. We just talked most of the time but towards the middle of the party, the dancing started. By that time we had both drunk quite a lot of wine and I was in a very good mood. I insisted that Talmon dance with me and so the rest of the night sped by as we whirled and spun around together. It was amazing; I hadn't had that much fun in four years.