Malqata was the most beautiful palace Jeska had ever set her eyes on. Never mind that, in all her five years, it was the only palace she had ever set her eyes on. Father never let her go too far without him because he never wanted her to go missing.
“Stay close to me, Jeska.” She picked up her pace to keep up with her father who slowed down to let her catch up to him and the palace servant that was leading them down the twisting hallways. She knew that if she lost sight of them for just a second, she could go missing for days and mother would be sad.
“This place is beautiful, father. Can we live here?” She saw a smile ghost the lips of the servant but she continued. People always talked about how bold she was; she did not mind one bit. “You and mother can ask Pharaoh. He will agree, don’t you think?”
She could not stop her eyes from wandering over the paintings on the walls with depictions of flowers and elaborate animals. As they passed a column painted to look like lilies, she traced her fingers over it and almost stumbled into a servant hurrying down the corridor. The palace was bustling with activity and there were servants buzzing through the hallways. It reminded Jeska of the impossibly large bees humming around in the garden they passed a while ago. This was not the first time she would accompany her father to heal someone. She had been her father’s apprentice since she was old enough to follow him around which was also the time she was old enough to understand what he was doing.
They were going to heal Pharaoh’s only daughter, Hatshepsut. For the past two years, since she was three, Jeska had been actively following her father around and today he was taking her with him to heal royalty. She was excited when he told her about the job – at least until he told her he was not planning on taking her with him. She begged and sulked for days, promising that she would be on her best behavior.
“Father, I promise. Please just take me with you. I’ll be good and I’ll wear makeup, mother.” She directed the last part at her mother who was always trying to get her to wear makeup and jewelry, all of which Jeska despised; especially under the scalding sun. They finally agreed after some compromise and here they were in the palace.
The servant led them down a hallway that seemed more prestigious than the others, if the relatively well-dressed servants were anything to go by. Here, there were fewer servants and they looked healthier than the ones Jeska had seen earlier. They stopped in front of a door that reminded Jeska of the vines that had climbed and wrapped themselves around the outer walls of her home. Somehow, an artist had painted the vines with clarity. It was nothing short of beautiful. The servant knocked once and opened the door for them, letting them enter first as was expected of him. Jeska was a direct descendant of Peseshet, the first female doctor in all of Egypt. Her father, Akhethetep, was Peseshet’s son and he learned from her. Jeska’s family was not a royal one but they were not peasants either; they were upper class members of the society.
The servant motioned for them to follow him as he walked past Jeska’s father into a little room, at the end of which was a door. Jeska assumed that it was the princess’ private viewing chamber. She followed her father to take a seat on one of the many wooden chairs cushioned with fine cotton as the servant walked towards the door. The servant gently pushed the door open and stepped inside.
“Father, why don’t we just go in with the servant?” Jeska whispered immediately the servant disappeared behind the door, her small body turned towards her father.
“The princess has to give us permission to see her. That’s how it works, Jeska.” Her father replied with a smile on his face.
“I don’t understand. Doesn’t she want to get healed? We came to heal her but we still have to wait for her permission?” Her tone laced with confusion and distaste, Jeska’s face morphed into a frown as she thought about the absurdity of it all. “I don’t think I want to live in the palace anymore, father.” That elicited a laugh from Jeska’s father.
“Hush now, Jeska.” Her father scolded her but he was smiling so she knew he was not being too serious about it. Just then, the door opened and the servant stepped out. He bowed at them with his arms behind his back. “The princess has given you leave to see her.”
Jeska walked into the princess’ bedroom with her father’s hand on her bare shoulder guiding her. The room was decorated all around with paintings of beautiful animals. To Jeska’s left was a painting of two lions poised to attack. The wall directly in front of her was covered in a painting of a crocodile with its jaws wide open to capture prey. It sent a thrill through her chest; she had always loved animals. Jeska barely managed to drag her eyes away from the paintings to look at the occupants of the room. Seated by the bedside of the girl Jeska assumed was the princess, was a little boy who looked to be about a year or two older than she was. The boy was donned with a loose-fitting robe that appeared to be made of linen. The prints of fur on specific places such as the shoulders depicted his heritage as Pharaoh’s son. Unlike Jeska who only had a few jewelries on but no clothing, the girl on the bed was dressed in a loose robe similar to her brother’s. Jeska was confused as to why the girl was dressed; she was sure they were the same age.
From the corner of her eye, Jeska saw her father bow to the princess and the boy who must have been the prince, Thutmose II. The princess, Hatshepsut, and Thutmose were both children of the Pharaoh but they were born of different mothers. Hatshepsut’s mother died after she gave birth to her only daughter. From what Jeska had heard, the princess and her half-brother were very close. In fact, people often said that if one did not know of the death of the princess’ mother, one would think them to be from the same mother.
“Healer, why has your daughter failed to greet me?” Hatshepsut questioned Jeska’s father, drawing Jeska’s attention to the fact that she had been staring at her since she stepped into the room. “Or is that not the custom anymore?” This question was directed at her brother who simply stared at her, his amusement at the situation obvious in the private smile he gave his sister.
“You’ll have to forgive her, my princess. This is her first time around people of higher birth such as yours.” Jeska watched as her father bowed his head again, humility written all over his features. Something twisted in her guts right then. Something like anger. Something like disdain for the princess. She knew that it was the custom of her people to respect and worship Pharaoh and his children, but this girl was too full of pride.
“Well, she’ll have to learn, won’t she?” The princess replied with a smug smile on her face.
“Father, I take back your apology. She doesn’t deserve it.” Jeska interfered with a thrust of her chin at Hatshepsut. She watched as Hatshepsut’s face turned sour and angry, as if she could not at all fathom the words Jeska spoke to her. As if he could sense that something bad was about to happen, Akhethetep pulled his daughter behind him, leaving her slightly covered by his frame.
Hatshepsut quickly sat up and turned to her brother, the sudden movement caused the sleeve of her robe to slip down one shoulder. “Thutmose, call the guards for me. This girl must be punished–” her sentence was cut short by her brother’s hand on her shoulder gently pushing her against the bed, making her to get into a reclined position. He gathered the bed-sheets around her and drew them up to her shoulders.
“You need to rest, Hatshepsut. Let the man and his daughter heal you and be on their way.” He stood up from the chair by the side of the princess’ bed, and motioned with the slightest of bows for Jeska’s father to take his former position. Jeska decided that she liked the young prince better than his proud sister.
Thutmose II, second of his name, knew some things. He knew some people considered him weak and he would most likely be considered a weakling all throughout history but he regarded it as his duty to love and protect his sister, regardless of the circumstances. Despite his young age; he had not lived up to eight years, he knew that the young girl that accompanied her father to heal Hatshepsut was from a line of veritable healers. He knew that her grandmother oversaw the last few treatments and rites that were necessary for the burial of Hatshepsut’s mother. Hatshepsut was not aware of this little fact; this family had honored her mother.
The healer released his grip on his daughter’s shoulder, apparently satisfied that the threat of punishment to his daughter was gone. He whirled around to face his daughter with a finger pointed at her. “You know the correct way to behave, Jeska. Why are you acting like your mother and I didn’t raise you properly?” Akhethetep scolded the girl. “Now you will apologize to prince Thutmose.”
Thutmose quickly interrupted the man. “There is no need. We are almost the same age, eh? Perhaps next time she will do better.” He could barely see the girl, Jeska, behind her father but he had a feeling he would find a scowl on her face if he could.
“Thank you, prince.” The healer straightened and faced Thutmose. “She will do better next time. I take full responsibility for her actions.”
“No need for all that.” Thutmose walked towards the healer and the man passed him, his bag of healing potions in his hand. He stopped just by Hatshepsut’s beside, pushing away the chair that Thutmose occupied earlier.
Thutmose watched as the man opened his bag and brought out some concoctions and herbs. He placed them on a small wooden table and adjusted the pillows beneath Hatshepsut’s head. He uncapped a flask made of goatskin and poured some of its liquid content on his hand. The smell of the liquid substance immediately permeated the room and Thutmose was overcome with an overwhelming need to vomit the remains of his breakfast. As the older man massaged the thick green liquid onto his sister’s forehead, Thutmose could see the effects it was having on her. Her eyes were watering, and she kept blinking repeatedly.
“This will drive away the sickness. It seems to be a strong one, but I prepared this potion especially for you, my princess.” Akhethetep quickly assured her of the importance of the concoction. After all, the princess had barely lived for six years. Just like his daughter, she was still a child. At the thought of the younger girl, Jeska, Thutmose turned to see how she was faring against the strong potion. The girl had her palm over her nose. She appeared to be breathing through her mouth.
“Drink a little of this, princess.” The healer had put away the foul potion and brought another to Hatshepsut’s lips.
African American Fiction