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Part Two

Samples > Chapter One

Preparing The Field


His wife, Mereeyet, 'The Beloved,' had just completed the greatest challenge a woman can have: she had given successful birth to her first child at the age of forty two in a land where most young girls bear their first child within a year of their first blood. She had been barren throughout her life and was considered too old to bear children. But she had not given up hope. Mereeyet and Heroo had turned to the Goddess Hathor, the Goddess of Love and Fertility with a special plea: to conceive and give birth to a male child so that both mother and son survived. The Goddess, who knows the ways of love and the mysteries of conception, had made this occasion, the birth of an heir, possible.

There was no question in Heroo’s mind, as he stood before the birthing house, that he felt joyous. The name was completely appropriate. Heroo was now free to begin the festive occasion, the festival of welcoming his newborn son.

"Praise and thanksgiving to Hathor!" the happy father yelled. "Songs of joy with trumpet and harp will be sung! Heroo is indeed in festival!"

Friends and relatives, priests and officials streamed out of the Mansion and across the courtyard. Each one was appropriately dressed in spotless white shirts and kilts, some reaching only to the knees with a façade of starched apron, others ankle length and pleated. Each one carried his staff of office. Men and women walked side by side. The black wigs on the women were a striking contrast to their delicately wrapped, multi-layered sheer white dresses. Heroo met them and, together with the musical troupe, led the procession around the birthing house, into a large, vine-covered arbor by the eastern wall. The trumpeters and the harpists alternated as the men sang out paeans to the son and heir of a nobleman and the women answered with thanksgiving for the survival of both mother and son.

Servants carrying round tables laden with delicacies glided among them. Small obergines on a pottery plate, sliced in half and sautéed in onions with salt and cumin, decorated the center of each table. These purple slices formed the seven spokes of a star representing Seshat, the Goddess of Measurement. Around this central feature lay an arrangement of breads, meats and vegetables: red skinned radishes alternated with tiny white turnips, both delightfully biting to the taste. The vegetables glistened with the vitality of the Black Land. Long, thin scallions with their green stems formed a square around steaming yam, a clove of boiled garlic sticking out of each yam. Pin-tailed duck, Geb-geese and other fowl from the marshes, roasted reddish brown and dripping with fat, lay on long, broad leaves of fresh lettuce. Breads, some round and flat, others conical and sweet, still others thick with square corners, hot from the ovens, were stacked high, a plateful on both sides of every fowl. It took two, sometimes three servants to carry each table to the arbor.

Trees lined the walkway. Some of had been brought from far away lands together with their native soil. Heroo’s servants had to dig deep holes in the loamy sand of his courtyard and fill it with the strange brown or gray earth of foreign countries in order to keep the trees alive. The myriad leaves of the acacia shimmered with the sparkle of morning dew as the Sun God rose on the Eastern Horizon. It was a native tree, happy to grow anywhere. X from the Land of Punt fluttered in the gentle northern breeze. Sycamores, sacred to Hathor, cast their great shadow, promising respite from the growing heat of the Sun God. They were the most plentiful in the Two Lands. Dwarf cedars endured the hot days and cool nights, while their cousins in Lebanon grew majestic and tall.

Had the child been stillborn, or died at birth, festivities would have taken the form of a short funeral feast at the western wall, behind the Governor’s Mansion. Death at childbirth was so common that it was customary to bury the body of the unformed soul right under the walls of an estate. Today’s birth was practically a miracle in which nearly every God and Goddess played a major role. So the Festival of the Living began while the mother and the four midwives gently rubbed and cleaned every inch of the child's body as it lay on the mother's soft, heaving belly. In the warmth and soft light of the birthing house the child must have recognized its mother’s smell and her noises because he focused his eyes on her face and smiled within an hour. Filled with love and gratitude, Mereeyet chewed through the umbilical cord and severed it.

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