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Part One

Samples > Chapter One

Preparing The Field


Loud shrieks came from the whitewashed, modestly decorated sun-baked house.

"He's tearing me to pieces! He's tearing me to pieces!" a woman screamed, rhythmically, over and over, partly in agony, partly in joy.

The music of pipes and strings competed with drums and sistra outside, in the courtyard, as if trying to drown out the shrieks. When the exhausted woman panted quietly, the music also softened but the drum beat on.

"He's ripping apart the source of my joy," she yelled once, then again and yet a third time before she sagged, exhausted, between two chanting midwives who held her up. Their naked, muscular bodies fell and rose with their burden as they walked her around the room. Two other women, whose low voices now rang out, sat on a reed mat watching intently. “Strong limbs, healthy body, your child will now emerge,” they chanted. “Spit him out, spew him out, your child will now see daylight! Release him, expel him, rejoice in his birth!” These magical spells filled the air while the two sitting midwives watched for the pregnant woman’s next contraction. When the three struggling, sweating bodies stopped and doubled up with the new contraction, the other two jumped to their feet and led them to a squatting chair in the middle of the room. The two naked midwives continued to hold and encourage their charge. The younger of the other two, dressed in a plain white linen sheet dress, stood behind the mother-to-be and pushed on her belly. The last one, a large woman, squatted in front, dressed in a faience-green linen wrap like the hippopotamus Goddess, Tauret. She was the chief midwife and Tauret, the Goddess of Childbirth was her guide and inspiration. This midwife wore bracelets and armlets, necklaces and anklets of silver and gold, electrum and lapis lazuli. She removed a clay stopper from an alabaster vase, pulled away the linen cloth that held the stopper firmly in place, and dipped her two hands into the clear olive oil. With her two hands, she began to massage and push the mother’s two pelvic bones apart, opening the way to life. Her jewelry tinkled in the semi-darkness as she worked.

"Help me! Help me!" shrieked the mother, "I have a madman between my legs!" She gulped a loud, deep breath, then her eyes opened wide as a long wail rose from her very soul. The chief midwife, a Priestess of the Hippopotamus goddess, Tauret, scooped a red, spotted creature from below the squatting chair while the two midwives raised the mother from the birthing stool and lowered her onto the soft mat. With her bangles jingling, the Priestess slid a hefty male child onto the mother's heaving breasts without cutting the umbilical cord. The mother’s wail turned into sobs of relief, spasms of laughter. The midwives’ chanting melded into joyous ululating. The music and the rhythm outside changed to a soft but lively celebration of new life. Young girls rattled their sistra, forked sticks with four strands of wire strung between the forks, each strand filled with loose metal pieces. Other girls shook and beat their tambourines. The men slapped their drums with great vigor to imitate that effort a mother had to exert in order to propel her child into this world. Then, as if on cue, everyone became quiet and stopped both inside and out. In the soft morning light of the birthing room a newborn’s cry pierced the silence and a midwife’s voice rang out: "Heroo em Heb! Heroo is in Festival! Heroo Rejoices!"

The father had been standing alone, upside down on his hands and head, outside the door of the birthing house. He stood on his feet again and took a few slow, deep breaths, feeling giddy from the change in position. A tall, heavily built man, he was the Lord of Hanis, his city, and the Governor of the Falcon Province, one of Egypt’s forty-two provinces. He adjusted his spotless, white kilt and looked around. He was thirty-six, but his full face was smooth. Years of precious oils rubbed into it protected him from the ravaging effects of the Sun God Ra. His face also reflected the joy of having heard his newborn son and heir cry.

While he was upside down, the father had enacted the magical equivalent of his son’s birth, reminding the Gods and Goddesses who passed in and out of the birthing house that he and his wife had been praying for the birth of a healthy son. Still listening to the sound of a new life, he looked around with an air of accomplishment. The courtyard had been swept clean and the birthing house had recently been whitewashed. Only the household fowl left their footprints in the sand. Before him stood the Governor’s Mansion, its plaster wall freshly painted lotus blue. A clear pool reflected the sky in the center of the courtyard. Its tiles were brightly painted with green papyrus reeds and blue lotus flowers, a gift from Pharaoh for his services. The musicians, chanters, clappers and drummers sat or stood around the pool. On his right and to the south of his residence, smoke rose from the many fires where cooks and servants were preparing the feast. On his left, to the north, a stark, low-roofed building housed the province’s scribes and magistrates in a beehive of small rooms filled with papyrus scrolls.

The father's name was Heroo. He was the ‘Heroo’ who was about to begin a festival in honor of the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt as a thanksgiving for his newborn son. Heroo was a common name in Egypt. Every Pharaoh was called Heroo, son of Aseer and Ast, the first God-King and Queen who ruled the Two Lands, the fertile Black Land and the arid Red Land. When his brother Sutekh murdered Aseer, Heroo had to fight for his right to the throne of Egypt. He had fought for that right in the court of the Gods, in physical clashes with his uncle, as well as with his wits. After a long ordeal, Heroo eventually won. Ever since, all the kings of Egypt have been ceremonially named ‘Heroo’.

As was the custom, whoever spoke the first words after a child’s birth was deemed to speak on behalf of the Gods. The chief midwife, in her role as the Goddess Tauret, had spoken: “Heroo em Heb,” ‘Heroo is in festival.’ The name was a triple pun. ‘Heroo’ could refer to the father, to the King, or even to the divine Heroo, son of Ast and Aseer. ‘To be in festival’ also meant ‘to be joyful.’ First, the divine Heroo, who took Hathor, the Goddess of Love and Fertility as his consort, celebrated a festival upon the birth of their son. Secondly, Pharaoh Amenhotep Neb-Ma’at-Re, may he Live, Prosper and be Healthy, might also have rejoiced upon the birth of another loyal courtier. Finally, divinely inspired, the chief midwife had correctly identified Heroo’s, the father’s feelings when naming his son and it was the only birth festival Heroo ever celebrated. Everyone concerned with the birth of this child had reason to be ‘the Joyful Heroo.’

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