Jared decided to stop at home before he returned to the Palace. Although coming home was not one of his favorite things to do, he felt obligated to do so. He was raised solely by his mother and he was the only one she could depend on. As he walked into the house, he noticed how delighted she was to see him.
“You are home?” Matenre got up from the chair with excitement on her face.
She was always proud of the fact that he was working in the Palace and often liked to brag to others about how he was the favorite of the Queen. He sometimes wondered if that was why people in the city were so afraid of him – because of some imaginary power his mother created for him, and very possibly, an exaggerated one.
His mother was once the daughter of the lowest nobles in Thebes, but the family kicked her out because she had an affair with a Roman soldier and became pregnant. The family believed she had ruined the purity of their nobility by carrying a child of foreign blood.
Due to Jared’s mixed ethnic background, he was different from other Egyptian boys. He had high cheekbones and the exotic outline of a Roman, but with the dark skin of an Egyptian. He was taller and thicker in shape, and his hair was a lighter tint of brown rather than pitch black. Because he was so different from anyone he knew, he never really learned to love himself. But the irony was that all the features he didn’t like growing up were the features that the Queen favored the most.
Jared had never seen his own father because he had returned to his own country and refused to be part of his mother’s life when she was pregnant with Jared. With an unborn child and no support from her own family, Matenre eventually developed a spiteful personality. She was never satisfied with life as a commoner. She always tried everything she could to get back to nobility in order to spite her family. She was never happy in relationships since no one was ever good enough for her. She believed she was meant to marry a noble and be a lady again.
But the truth was, everyone in Thebes was craving power and authority and Matenre’s status and appearance were simply not good enough for a noble anymore. Not to mention she had already given birth to a child without a marriage arrangement. That was definitely a sign of dishonor in a noble family. And yet, she would rather live in a dream world she created for herself, believing someone out there would rescue her one day, than be content with what she had. She always wanted more, more of something she would never have.
Especially after Jared was elected to be the Queen’s guard, Matenre somehow believed they were back to the same level of nobility. It hurt him to see his own mother like that, even more so because he knew there was nothing he could do to change it.
“Tell me more about the Queen.” Matenre’s voice brought his thoughts back to reality.
As usual, she wanted to know everything about the Queen, how she lived and how she spoke. It seemed that by knowing the Queen’s daily activities, it made her feel as if she was in a position of royalty. Or at least, she could imagine royal life in the Palace. But God knew how much he didn’t want to talk about the Queen. He often wondered if his mother would ever see through his eyes and know that all he wanted was to live life like a normal person.
“There’s nothing to talk about,” he brushed her off with annoyance. “I should be heading back to the Palace soon.” As he spoke, he grabbed a bag of silver from his belt and left it on the table. He was only there to make sure everything was okay and to give her some money until the next time he returned.
“Jared.” Watching Jared eager to leave the house, Matenre reached to his upper arm and told him, “Remember to obey the Queen! You shall always obey her command!”
Obey the commands… Jared could feel a flash of bitterness in his chest. He wondered if his mother would ever understand what the Queen really commanded of him. He pressed his lips and refused to say a word, as he started to feel a sense of disgust spread through every part of his body. “I have to go.” He turned to the doorway, as he was tired of being home.
How difficult would it be to live life like a commoner? He wondered. Knowing he had a mother who was dying to be a noble lady and would try everything she could to make that happen, he doubted it would ever happen.
* * * * *
In the Queen’s chamber, Tiye was lying right next to Jared, drawing his hardened facial outline with her fingertips and enjoying every feature on his beautiful face. She was content. Jared’s existence simply pleased her. She had never seen anyone look so exotic and flawless. And she had every right to claim him as she was the Queen of Egypt – as the highest royalty, she could have any one she wanted, whenever she wanted. That very statement satisfied her, so she smiled at Jared and complimented, “You are a very beautiful man.”
Jared was quiet because he knew too well that the Queen didn’t really like to be interrupted when she was talking. So he remained silent, looking at the ceiling as his thoughts wandered.
Their relationship was not something he would choose for himself. Never in a million years did he believe he had anything to offer to the Queen, but sadly enough, the Queen liked him and regularly commanded him to serve her in bed. He feared the consequence of her commands, but later realized that the Pharaoh had not stepped foot into the Queen’s chamber for years, and he didn’t seem to care whom the Queen asked to serve her.
Although Amenhotep III was still the Pharaoh of Egypt, everyone in the Palace knew Tiye was actually the one in power. She made all the major decisions since Amenhotep III had long given up on governing the country. He preferred to lust in a pool of women and wine instead of being responsible for the country he was crowned to rule. Because of his inability to act as Pharaoh, and since both of his sons were still too young to be crowned, Tiye took over his position and became the true Pharaoh behind his title.
Even though she was an ambitious woman who longed to be crowned Pharaoh, people in Egypt still could not accept the idea of a female Pharaoh. Men generally believed they were more capable than women, especially those who worked in the Palace. The gender difference was not so obvious outside of the Palace, because average people shared their responsibilities amongst family. But it was definitely evident with nobles because most of the ladies didn’t need to work and most men were involved in governing the country. They generally believed that the only duty a woman had was to nurture and give birth to the children in order to continue the bloodline.
And that was exactly why Tiye would go through all the trouble making sure Amenhotep III was not capable of being Pharaoh, while maintaining his image as the leader of the country. She knew that as long as Amenhotep III remained more interested in women and wine than looking after Egypt, she would always be the Queen of Egypt, and the “unofficial” Pharaoh.
A woman with this kind of power, Jared thought to himself, would never allow any obstacle to stand in her way. She would kill without a blink of remorse. The very thought embittered his mind as he realized he would be in this most loathed position as long as she wanted him to be. But the truth was, he didn’t like that the Queen favored him. He often felt his body was trying everything to fight against his true feelings and often had to force himself to suppress it in order to perform everything she requested. It was to a point where he was no longer able to identify whether he was disgusted by the Queen’s existence or the fact that he had surrendered to become a puppet of the Queen.
But, he thought, the Queen’s preference did provide me with a convenient power among the people, especially in this world where power and authority controls the majority of people’s desires. He reminded himself, I would probably never have any power over Liye if not for the Queen favoring me. He then brought back his focus and turned his head to look back at her.
The Queen was a petite woman. She had a small frame and often wore a fashionable Nubian wig. It was hard to tell how old she was exactly although her skin had started showing her age. As small as she might look, she was actually quite a confident woman.
The Queen raised her hand in the air. Knowing she was expecting to be served a cup of wine, Jared quickly indicated to the servant to pour her a cup and pass it to her side. He saw her reach for the cup, take a sip of the wine, and go deep into thought for a while before she finally said, “How’s the matter I asked you to handle during your visit to town?”
Jared paused a second and then lightly shook his head in response.
Tiye’s face showed irritation as she sighed. “The Pharaoh is getting tired of those women in the Palace, and I need someone new to distract his attention.”
That is all the Queen can think about. Jared kept his thoughts to himself.
Before Jared could think any further, he heard the Queen continue, “I need to replace all the women in the Palace. I need someone different, someone unique enough to distract his attention! He is no longer interested in beautiful women.”
Unique and different…
The words brought back the image of the girl he met earlier in the day. Jared smiled. Those are definitely the perfect words to describe a girl like her.
As his thoughts ran away from him, he forgot he was smiling. For some reason, thinking of that market girl pleased him. She seemed to bring back feelings he had long forgotten.
“Why are you smiling?” Tiye frowned, noticing the curl of his lips. She had never seen that expression on him before.
Jared quickly wiped away his smile and lowered his head to hide his emotions. But Tiye’s sharp gaze wasn’t about to let him get away without an explanation.
He hesitated to reveal her to the Queen, but quickly came up with a plan to ease his mind: Maybe this is my only chance to present her to the Queen and provide her a better place to work. He believed the Queen would never be interested in a girl like her since she was searching for someone more mature to serve the King. She was unique enough and definitely different from others, so maybe the Queen would be interested in offering her another position in the Palace.
So after he felt settled with his justification, he finally said, “I met someone unique and different. But I do not think she is suitable to serve the King. She is too young.”
Tiye narrowed her eyes, trying to analyze his words. Though the girl might not be suitable for the King, she was curious by the expression Jared had on his face. “Bring her to me!” She ordered.
* * * * *
It was a very quiet day in the market…
Nefayiati was sitting by her cart wondering how her life would ever change selling calabash on the street. Not to mention, her stand was at the very end of the market, way beyond the foot traffic. Sometimes, she wouldn’t have a customer for the whole day. Hardly noticeable, she marked. Just like how her mother always wanted her to be; no matter where she went or what she did, she always ended up in the most unnoticeable place of all.
So she picked a calabash from her cart and allowed her thoughts to soar, staring at the calabash in her hand. She didn’t believe selling calabash would ever make their life any better, as she couldn’t see any value in the vegetable. She was tired of living like a refugee, but she doubted she could do anything to change it. She raised her head and saw the Palace in the distance. Though she would love to work there, as every Theban would, she thought, who am I to dream of working in the Palace? Most Thebans couldn’t even step foot inside. Not to mention she was a newcomer in town who was often covered with dirt and mud. The idea of her own image depressed her. It’s sad, she noted, and almost pathetic. But as much as she could already foresee where her future would end, she still couldn’t help wishing there would be some kind of miracle one day…
“How much is this?”
The sudden question interrupted her thought. She brought back her attention and replied “5—” When she looked up to greet her first customer of the day, that familiar face in front of her stopped the rest of the words from coming out.
Jared was standing in front of her, playfully picking up a calabash and turning it in his hand. And judging by the way he looked, she was certain that he was not intending to buy calabash from her. She frowned. “What are you doing here?” Though he was indeed a very attractive man, she still couldn’t forget how he teased her the day before; a sensation she definitely didn’t want to experience again.
“I am glad you found your voice.” Jared raised a brow with a grin, “Although you are not pleasant to look at, you do have a great voice to listen to.”
Nefayiati narrowed her eyes, annoyed with his teasing. “I’ve told you! Not every woman is born to please men!” She grabbed the calabash from his hand and continued, “If you have nothing better to say, please leave my business alone!”
“I am not sure that’s possible,” he laughed, “since you are now under my claim.”
“I am not under anyone’s claim,” Nefayiati growled. “I don’t belong to anyone.” She turned from him and started packing away the calabash in a huff.
Knowing that was the only way to keep her alive in this market, Jared declared “You do belong to me now, whether you like it or not.” He looked up at her and smiled, “And since that is the case, I now have a position for you.” While he spoke, he also noticed there was something about the girl that simply attracted him. Regardless of how she looked, she had a spirit that drew people closer to her – a free spirit that made all pretenses seem like such a waste of time.
Nefayiati was about to walk away when she heard his proposal. “Position?” She narrowed her eyes again and repeated with suspicion, “What are you talking about?”
Glad to get her attention, Jared smiled, “I am here to propose a position where you will be able to stay clean and definitely live a better life than selling calabash in the market. But before I can make that happen, the Queen would like to see you first.”
“The Queen?” Nefayiati repeated with some confusion. That was definitely a word she did not expect to hear in her insignificant life. “Why would the Queen want to see me?” she asked.
“She will see what you have to offer.”
“Me?” Nefayiati looked into Jared’s eyes and tried to decide for herself if he was speaking the truth. “I do not think there’s anything I can offer the Queen,” she confessed.
“That will be something for the Queen to decide.” Jared maintained his irresistible smile and continued, “This may be your only opportunity to work in the Palace! Or,” his gaze then swung to the cart full of calabash in front of him and said, “You can continue selling those calabashes for the rest of your life, dreaming of working in the Palace one day like every Theban does.”
Nefayiati didn’t say anything, because she knew Jared was right. She did want to make a difference and what he was offering would be her only chance to make that happen. Besides, if the Queen wanted to see her, could she disobey her command? “When?” she asked, knowing Jared must have already had the answer for her.
Jared paused for a second, but quickly replied with a firm tone, “Now.”
“But…” She became conscious of her appearance and showed concern on her face, “I don’t think I am ready.”
Jared quickly scanned her from head to toe and confirmed, “No, you are not. I will have to clean you up before bringing you to the Queen.” The decision was made, and he was not waiting for her to respond. As soon as he finished speaking, he leaned forward to grab her hand, pulling her away from the cart toward the direction of the Palace.
Looking at the Palace in the distance, Nefayiati was unable to react. Her head spun. Is this a dream? She asked herself. If she did end up working in the Palace, it would be a dream and a nightmare she never thought could possibly come true.