During the eighteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt – also referred to as the New Kingdom – Egypt reached its greatest territorial extent…
Thutmose III (the sixth Pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty) began an age of conquest. He expanded Egypt’s army and commanded it to great glory, consolidating the empires created by his predecessors. This resulted in a period of Egypt’s greatest power and wealth during the reign of Amenhotep III, the ninth Pharaoh of this dynasty, in 1500 BC.
Amenhotep III’s lengthy reign was a period of unprecedented prosperity and artistic splendor, when Egypt reached the peak of her artistic and international power.
* * * * *
“How do I know?”
It was a bright sunny day in the great chamber of the temple.
A young teenage boy was dressed in a white robe adorned with gold stitching. He prayed and made an offering to one of many statues. Though he studied for years, he believed he was never as good as the Highest Priest, who stood next to him.
“You don’t,” the Highest Priest straightened the boy’s arms and explained. “You trust.”
Trust? The boy was confused. “How?”
The Highest Priest then placed his hand over young boy’s eyes and closed them before he continued. “You feel.” He then lowered his hand to the young boy’s heart and said, “With heart.”
The young boy then took a deep breath and tried to feel as the Highest Priest commanded. He curled up and, still confused, he said “I feel the warmth, but nothing changes.”
“In order to command the energy, you will have to merge yourself with the source of the energy, and understand how it flows. When you have become a part of it, you will then be able to direct the energy with your intention.”
Intention, he thought: The foundation of all action. “Then what will happen?” he asked. He was still curious.
“Then you trust your intention and wait for it to happen.” The Highest Priest explained.
No one in the temple was making a sound. While performing the prayer ritual, it was important to keep calm in order to maintain the energy balanced.
The young boy was still, his eyes closed. He tried to concentrate again as the Highest Priest commanded. Just then, the high desert sun pierced through the window openings of the chamber room. The sunlight cast a warm golden glow upon the young boy kneeling in front of the statue. It was not long before the young boy’s lip slowly curled into itself.
“I think,” He said, “I finally understand.”
He opened his eyes and looked at the statues that he had always admired through the gleaming sun. Aten, he firmly held, I finally understand your existence.
* * * * *
A young teenage girl was kneeling at the edge of the riverbank. She slowly cupped a handful of mud and smeared it all over her hair. She repeated this until her entire head was covered in mud.
Blending in, she grunted. That is my whole purpose in life.
Blending in with mud and blending in with the crowd…Her living purpose was everything but what her name suggested. She sometimes wondered how people live when they don’t need to blend in at all. But that was obviously not something she would ever discover.
She smeared mud all over her face. When the mud had covered most of her body she stopped, looked up, and squinted at the scorching sun that was hardening the layer of mud on her hair.
Sun, she thought. Just like the name I carry. She felt nowhere like a bright shiny sun, but rather like the dirty mud on the riverbed. So she couldn’t help asking: when will I finally understand my existence without blending in?
Thebes, the Capital of Egypt…
Dead silence spread across the market as the calabash hit the ground. It was the most popular market in Thebes, located on the east side of town where lower ranking commoners met the upper class. It was a noisy place often filled with shouting between vendors and customers, but today was not like every other day. No one dared to make a sound as they could all see how upset Liye was. Liye was someone no one dared to challenge as he was of the highest class in the neighborhood. It was known by all that no one should ever challenge the upper class, especially those whose families worked in the Palace, as did Liye’s.
Liye touched his forehead and noticed blood on his fingers. In an instant, his anger flared as he glowered at the girl in front of him. She was dirty and filthy like a rat, and her face was covered in mud. Despite how disgusting she looked, he decided to pick on her because he had never seen her in the neighborhood before. And no one could place a stand in this market without going through him.
That low class filthy rat. Not only had she shown no respect, she was ignorant enough to throw calabash at him when she didn’t even have permission to be in the market.
Before she could react, Liye had already slapped the girl’s face. The impact threw her body onto the wall behind her. Instantly, the pain penetrated her back and blood seeped from the corner of her mouth. Liye grabbed her by the neck and pulled her up from the ground. He pressed her against the wall, determined to kill her on the spot.
“You asked for this —” He hissed through clenched teeth, “You shall die for your ignorance—”
But the girl showed no fear. Her big brown eyes stared right into his, even when she ought to beg for his forgiveness. He furrowed his brows and felt a sense of threat brewing within. He hated feeling this way. That uneasy feeling made him subconsciously tighten his grip and wish her dead. No one had ever made me feel this way before, he grunted, No one.
Before Liye could tighten his fist and end the girl’s life, a loud voice broke the silence and everything froze. Liye turned his head to see who was bold enough to stop him, but quickly loosened his grip as he saw Jared walking towards him from the other end of the market.
Jared was the royal guard to the Queen. Royal guards in Thebes were soldiers selected from the best of the best in order to protect royalty. Normally, they had years of experience in battle and none were chosen without previous training. But somehow, Jared was selected royal guard to the Queen as soon as he entered the Palace. At 15, Jared was a tall and handsome young man. His features were unique and his wheat-colored skin was very different from that of typical Egyptians. The fact that the Queen favored him gave him power that no one dared challenge.
“Jared!” Liye quickly turned to face him as he dropped the girl to the ground. “You don’t have to get involved in this!”
“I don’t?” Jared raised one eyebrow as he quickly glanced down at the girl, making sure she was still breathing. With a firm tone, he continued, “Since when was Egypt running under your rule?”
Liye’s face reddened. He knew clearly what Jared had implied. What does he care? He thought. It was known that upper class people had a right to the lower class’s life.
“She is just a rag!” Liye justified, “What do you care what I do to her? She means nothing to people like us—”
“A life.” Jared corrected, “She might mean nothing to you, but it’s for the Queen to decide whether her life should end or not! I believe the Queen would love to hear your story, knowing how you played the role of Lord of all People!”
“You—” Liye clenched his fist in a fury. No matter how he felt, he knew he should never challenge Jared’s power as the guard to the Queen. And even though his father had worked in the Palace for years, Liye had never stepped foot into the Palace. So he quickly softened the aggressiveness in his tone and said, “We shall not ruin our class over a slave.”
“Ruin our class?” Jared hissed in disagreement, “I am simply doing my job. My class will definitely not be jeopardized by executing my job, but yours is not something I can guarantee.” He then provocatively looked into Liye’s eyes and continued: “So… do you think I should report your act to the Queen myself or would you rather go to the Queen with me, and explain it yourself?”
Liye’s lips went tight. Although it’s the Pharaoh who should rule the kingdom, he knew too well that the Queen was the one in control. He often heard from his father that the Queen was a woman without a heart. She could kill anyone without batting an eye. Just then, a chill rushed down his spine. Confronting the Queen was not something he wanted to happen as long as he lived.
“No. Save the trip,” he said. Knowing what Jared was expecting of him, he glared down at that girl and stated, “I will leave her alone since she is now under your claim.” He then spit on the girl to show his scorn for her filthiness and led a group of his followers out of the market. He thought to himself; it would never be worth risking his life over a girl like that.
Jared softened his expression after making sure Liye and his people had completely left the market. He then knelt down and checked the girl, making sure she was okay and unharmed. That was when he realized the girl was not only dirty; she also seemed to be trying really hard to hide something. She was covered with mud and dirt from head to toe and her ragged clothes smelled so much that it could easily keep anyone at a distance.
Filthy, he noted, was almost not enough to describe her. He noticed the blood in the corner of her lips, but he couldn’t see any sadness or tears in her eyes. He was surprised that she showed no fear even though she was so close to death. Instead, he saw the type of anger and frustration that he didn’t expect to see on a thirteen-year-old girl.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
As he held out his hand trying to wipe off the blood by her lip, the girl ruthlessly brushed his hand away. She pushed herself to her feet, picked up all the calabashes, grabbed her cart and rushed out of the market. She disappeared so fast that Jared didn’t even have a chance to have a word with her.
Jared frowned lightly, but a smirk quickly spread over his face. What a girl, he thought. He was certain that girl must be new in town, as he had never seen anyone like her before.
* * * * *
When Nefayiati walked through the door, she saw her mother, Royia, busy sewing two white cow-skins together. That was what her mother did for a living and everyone in Egypt knew she made the best bed sheets in town. But no matter how others complimented her mother’s skill, she knew very well that their life would never be without struggles, as her mother never charged people what her wares were worth.
Nefayiati glanced around the house and noted how small it was. It hardly fit a bed and a table, with a cooking corner to the side. They had been living like this her whole life. No matter where they moved to, her mother tended to find a place where no one would notice them at all. Yes, She thought, blending in is definitely mother’s way of living.
“I am home!” Nefayiati grunted, as she no longer wished the thought to linger in her mind. She didn’t like feeling sorry for herself. Besides, she knew too well that her life was so insignificant that no one could possibly do anything to make a difference anyway.
Royia stopped her work as she heard Nefayiati’s voice and turned to greet her. But her expression quickly changed when she saw the bloodstain on Nefayiati’s clothes. She rushed up to sit by Nefayiati’s side and exclaimed, “What happened? How did you hurt yourself like this?”
Nefayiati tightened her lips wanting to avoid explaining herself, knowing that whatever she said, her mother would always make it her fault. Royia somehow believed it was never other people’s fault when they picked on her and was convinced that Nefayiati was not trying hard enough to cover herself up and blend into the crowd. But God knew how hard she had tried to do everything her mother commanded of her. She just didn’t know what else she could have done to make herself any more unnoticeable.
“Wipe off the dirt on your face.” Not hearing any words out of Nefayiati, Royia demanded, “let me see what happened to you.”
Just when Royia reached out and was about to clean her face, Nefayiati grabbed her hand and asked “Why?” A question she always wanted to know, “Why are we living like this, when my father is the highest vizier of Egypt? Why are we struggling through life when I am indeed the child of noble blood?”
Her sudden question caught Royia off guard. Startled for a moment, Royia quickly clouded her face and cut her question short with a stern tone “Enough. I’ve told you this is not a topic open for discussion! You shall never let anyone know who your father is!”
“But why?” She asked, “If my father is indeed Ay, then why can’t I talk about it?” Nefayiati was frustrated, “Don’t I deserve an explanation? I am thirteen now, I should be old enough to know everything, shouldn’t I?”
Royia obviously disagreed, “You already know too much.”
“Too much?” Nefayiati exclaimed, “I know nothing but a fact that has no explanation! I know I am the child of Ay, but nothing else since you never want to share anything with me. Nor have you ever explained why we are not living in the Palace, and instead are struggling through life like refugees. Why won’t you tell me about him? What are you trying to hide from me? And why are we running, and what are we running away from? Besides, if you are trying everything to keep me away from the Palace, then why did we move back to Thebes? You know these questions are always on my mind! Are you going to give me an explanation or will you continue treating me like a child, believing this isn’t important to me at all?”
Facing Nefayiati’s accusation, Royia knew very well what answers Nefayiati was looking for. Of course she knew Nefayiati was dying to know everything since she was always a curious one. Though Royia could easily see the pain in her eyes, she also knew that she would never be able to answer Nefayiati’s questions.
“I am trying to protect you.” Royia lowered her eyes and sighed, “The Palace is not a place you want to be, and Ay is not someone you want to know. Sometimes, knowing too much only makes life more difficult. You just have to believe that I am doing this to keep you from harm, and this is the only way I know how to protect you.”
“So I have to cover myself with mud and dirt everyday, to a point where I don’t even like myself?”
Feeling her pain, Royia gently explained, “Nefayiati, that’s because you are a very beautiful girl. You won’t blend in without making an effort. I really hope that one day you will understand that beauty may not be a gift, but rather a curse that no one will have any control of…”
“Are you saying I am your curse?” Nefayiati trailed off with an unbearable ache in her chest. Regardless of the answer Royia might have given her, that was exactly how she always thought of herself— a curse.
“Of course not!” Royia exclaimed with wide eyes. She was surprised that Nefayiati would even think that, so she quickly explained, “You should know what you mean to me by the name I chose for you…”
“Beautiful ray has come?” The meaning of her name, something Royia has repeated so many times Nefayiati doubted she would ever forget it.
Royia softened her expression and sighed with relief, “Yes.” She continued, “I don’t think I could have made it this far without you in my life. You are the only ray I have, and the source of my will to live.”
Of course, Nefayiati thought, how could I forget? That was something she heard since the day she was born. “But would the ray shine through filthy mud and enlighten anyone if I don’t even like myself?” she grunted. At that moment, Nefayiati could feel nothing but an ache in her heart. She was at a point where she was very frustrated with her life and angry with herself. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t live like a normal person and why she couldn’t even share the fact that she was the child of noble blood. And the funny thing was that she wasn’t even certain if she was truly the child of noble blood since her mother couldn’t even elaborate about her father.
The tears welled up in her eyes. She no longer felt she was able to talk without sounding vulnerable and weak, so she decided to rush out the door before she broke down in front of her mother. She was tired of living with an identity she seemed to have no control of. If she could decide this for herself, she’d rather disappear forever and never be born into this life.
Watching Nefayiati disappear, Royia fell into the bed behind her with tears streaming down her cheek. What should I do now? She asked. She had been moving all over the country, trying to stay away from the Palace and blend in with the people as much as possible. But Egypt was corrupt, and the Pharaoh could never have enough beautiful women around him. People were hungry for beautiful women to present to the Pharaoh, wishing a little bribe might give them some kind of promotion in class. And that was exactly why she had no other choice but to move back to Thebes where all the beautiful people gathered, hoping Nefayiati would just blend in as a normal person, eventually giving her the chance to live like one too.
But watching Nefayiati slowly grow into a woman, noticing how she was becoming more irresistible than ever, Royia no longer believed it was possible to make her unnoticeable, no matter how hard she tried.
Was the Palace where she was meant to be? Royia was fearful to think about this any further. She had a vision that Nefayiati would end up in the Palace on the day she was born, and that was why she had tried everything she could to keep her away from it. But it seemed like regardless of all the efforts to keep her away, fate just kept pulling her back as if she belonged there.
She sighed; is this really where Nefayiati belongs? She could already see what kind of impact Nefayiati’s beauty might create in the Palace, especially if she inherited Royia’s ability — the ability to sense energy and see visions. She was afraid to think what kind of life Nefayiati would have if that were the case. Royia knew Nefayiati would be treated differently or even executed without mercy since that ability should have been a talent for the priest and not for a commoner like her!
She also feared what her life would be like if she was ever discovered by the Queen, the one she did everything to avoid. She had every reason to believe it might be the end of her life.
As tears clouded her eyes, she knew in her heart that she was no longer capable of making decisions for her any more. At this point, she really didn’t know what more to do. She could only wish everything would be fine and Nefayiati would never have a chance to step foot into the Palace, a place that she could not see beyond to know what Nefayiati’s future would be.
* * * * *
She hated herself!
Nefayiati threw a rock into the river and broke her reflection. She didn’t like seeing tears in her eyes and being perceived as weak and vulnerable. On top of that, she hated every feature on her that her mother claimed “beautiful”. She didn’t understand how people judged the way she looked since her life was so sheltered by her mother. But one thing she knew for sure: she disliked everything about her appearance that she had to hide from everyone.
Looking at herself, she had everything her mother defined as ‘beautiful’ – smooth skin, bright eyes, pointed nose and full lips; all qualities that she had to cover up for as long as she could remember. That was exactly why she grew up learning nothing, except how to hate herself. She never understood why her mother would raise her as a loving person; yet continuously teach her to disregard her self-worth. She never understood why she couldn’t live like a normal person instead of living a life where she was often treated like a rat off the street. How difficult could it be, she wondered, to live a life like a commoner? Why did it seem so difficult for her to reach the simplest dream that everyone had without even asking for it?
She looked up and saw that magnificent building on higher ground in the far distance. She had been living her life believing ‘the Palace’ was a place like hell that no one would dare go near, because that was what her mother always told her. She never expected the Palace to be so – stunning and magnificent. It almost looked like ‘heaven’ as Thebans often described.
Does my father live there? She asked herself. Will I finally have a chance to be clean if work in the Palace? Nefayiati knew very clearly that it was never the upper class living she craved, but a chance to live like a normal person and provide her mother with a better life. It frustrated her that she didn’t seem to have any other means, except wishing to be in the Palace, as a way for her to live a better life.
Besides, she wanted to see her father, the other half of her origin. No matter how often her mother told her that Ay was someone she would never want in her life or want to be involved with, she had a desire to know her origin and where she came from. She had half of his blood in her and she wanted to know what her father was like and who he was.
She picked up a rock on the bank and whipped it into the stream as tears started to blur her vision. She doubted if she would ever have a chance to work in the Palace if she remained dirty. The Palace was a place where every Theban aspired to be, but a place that one could not step foot in.
“You don’t seem to like yourself…”
A soft teasing tone from behind took her by surprise and quickly wiped out her thoughts. Nefayiati abruptly stood up and attempted to walk away. She was never comfortable around people since she was mostly alone with her mother throughout her life. Furthermore, her mother always warned her to keep her distance from men.
She lowered her head and rushed to move out of the way, but she was stopped by a gentle grip on her upper arm. She looked up and was surprised to see the very same pair of eyes she had seen earlier that day.
Jared was surprised she was the same girl he met in the market, but his expression was quickly replaced by a playful grin. “Small world,” he teased, “I guess, this is how God teaches you manners. After all, you do owe me a ‘thank you’ if I recall.”
Nefayiati kept her lips, eagerly wanting to yank her arm out of his grip. But as gentle as the grip might have felt, it was actually firm enough that she wasn’t able to pull away.
Jared knew he could have easily let her go, but her stubbornness amused him. “Can’t you talk?” he teased. For a moment, he thought that might be the only reason why she had chosen not to say anything so far. So he continued, “Or are you deaf?”
His comment quickly earned him a furious gaze from Nefayiati. She pulled her beautiful brows together and stared right into his eyes. Although he had a very good-looking face, she thought, it didn’t seem like his brain was equally attractive.
Jared chuckled as soon as he saw the expression on Nefayiati’s face; it was very clear that she was not pleased with the comment he made. “Obviously, you are not deaf.” he joked. Though it was not his nature to tease someone like her, he seemed to have a hard time controlling the urge with Nefayiati. As filthy as she was, there was something about her that he couldn’t resist. Especially those eyes that just glared at him. For a very brief moment, he wanted so much to find out what she was trying to hide under her disguise. And before he knew it, he had already reached out to her with the other hand trying to wipe the dirt off her face.
“Don’t touch me!” Nefayiati shrieked, and quickly brushed his hand aside. Something she knew for certain was that she should never have anyone discover how she truly looked, especially a stranger like him.
Jared was shocked when he heard the girl speak. Not only did it prove that she could talk, he was also surprised to discover that her voice was as lovely as a bird singing in spring. Pleasant, he noted. A voice that could easily make people forget all the troubles in the world. “You do talk,” he remarked, yearning to hear that voice again.
Realizing she had spoken when she shouldn’t have, Nefayiati instantly pressed her lips down while trying to remove his grip. What’s wrong with him? She grunted. Why is he keeping me here like this?
“You should learn to clean yourself up,” Jared commented, “otherwise, you will never attract a marriage proposal before you turn 15.” 15 was the common age when all Egyptian women got married and started a family.
“It’s none of your business!” She yelled.
Looking at her face, he couldn’t help laughing. “Not only do you have to learn how to keep yourself clean,” his smile widened, “you definitely have a temper that needs to be tamed… Ouch!” A kick on his leg stopped everything he wanted to say. Jared reached down to his leg, which gave Nefayiati an opportunity to finally escape from him.
She ran until she was safe from being captured. Then she turned back to him and shouted, “Not every woman is born to serve a man! I do not find any need to be clean or tamed in order to attract a marriage proposal! So mind your own business, and leave me alone!” She grimaced at him before she turned back and disappeared out of his sight…again.
Jared smiled. For the longest time, he hadn’t felt what he was feeling at that moment. He thought he had long forgotten how to laugh, but somehow, that girl seemed to have the talent to bring laughter back into his life.
How did she do that? He wondered. Working in the Palace so long had suppressed all his feelings as the Queen had very sharp eyes towards showing any emotion. He thought he had long forgotten how to feel.
He laughed, feeling warmth gently flashing across his chest. Though that girl was covered heavily in mud, she definitely gave off some kind of warmth-like ray that he had never experienced before.