There are several pivital moments in the life of Moses. One, that sets the stage for all that follows, is his discovery by the daughter/sister of Pharoah and his subsequent adoption. This event is a nexus point for everyones’ lives and no one will be the same afterwards, from the most high personage on the throne to the lowest worker in Egypt. This chapter tells us more about princess Asati and demonstrates the courage and quick mind of Miriam. We also begin to see the steadying influence and wisdom of Nari, the chief maidservant of Asati.
I hope you enjoy this chapter. It is one of my favorites in the first book.
See also Chapter 3: Waiting
Copyright 1993-2004 William G. Meisheid
Chapter 4: The Babe Discovered
It pleased Asati that her servants were happy about the omens. They had turned the morning bath into a joyful outing, so different from their recent duties of tending to an often-sullen mistress.
The water is cool, my princess, Nari said. Do you still desire a full bath?
Yes. I fear it is necessary. I want to be completely cleansed by the sacred waters. This is an anointing for the gods. Oh Nari, this omen must be true.
You must trust the gods, my princess.
Sighing, Asati turned and stepped into the linen enclosure that projected into the shallow water at the rivers edge. Raising her arms, she let one of the serving maids remove her gown. The early morning air was crisp on her naked skin, and the first touch of the brisk water sent a chill completely through her. The hope almost drained out of her. Gritting her teeth, she steadied herself and entered the river up to her calves.
As Nari followed her into the river Asati turned to face her. The servant carried a small pitcher and bent over to fill it with the sacred water. Holding its handles with both hands, she raised the container above princess head. As Asati recited her petition, Nari tilted the bottom of the pitcher and the crisp water cascaded over the princess shivering body.
Oh source of nourishment and life, oh fertile waters of Hapy, bring to my womb the same fruitfulness you bring to the land. Bless the night vision as a gift sent by Satis and grant a man-child to flower in the garden of my prince.
Nari turned and gave the pitcher to another of the servants and took from her two small stelae: one gold and the other silver. They were engraved with suitable prayers and the figure of Hapy. She gave these to her mistress while two other servants opened the end of the enclosure that projected into the river. Asati first raised the stele to the sky and intoned a dedication to the god of the Nile. Then she tossed them as an offering, one at a time, upstream into the deepest flow of the river. As she watched the last one splash into the water, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. It was a basket, wedged in a tangle of rushes.
At first the sight intrigued her, but then she felt drawn to it by a feeling she did not understand. Turning to her chief maidservant and pointing upstream, she said, Nari, while you anoint me with the oil, send someone up the river to bring that basket to me.
Yes, my princess, Nari replied. Sephra, you and Sitia go and retrieve that basket. Float it down here to the princess. While the servants obeyed, Nari gathered towels and scented oils to finish anointing her mistress.
Asati walked out of the water to where Nari was waiting on the bank. Raising her arms, she let her servant dry her and then anoint her with fragrant oils, rubbing them in with stimulating strokes that began to warm her chilled skin. The sheer linen gown was put on and the enclosure was taken down. As they were finishing, Sephra and Sitia came back, floating the basket along the waters edge. They waited for the enclosure to be packed away, and then picked up the little ark between them. Carrying it across the sand, they placed it at the feet of the princess.
What do you think it is, Nari? Asati asked.
It could be a gift from the Nile god in response to your prayer, my princess.
Everyone began to crowd around the basket but Nari sent them away to their duties, leaving her alone with the princess.
Asati saw that the lid was tied shut. She knelt down and with Naris help unfastened the straps. Trembling with anticipation, she placed her hands on the cover.
As her fingers touched the rough weave of the reeds she froze, her apprehension overcoming her initial curiosity. Seeing her hesitation, Nari said, There is nothing to fear from a gift sent by the god, my princess. Open it and see what he has granted you.
Buoyed by Naris confident words, Asati tightened her fingers around the cover and tried to lift it from the basket. It wouldnt budge. A petulant irritation replaced her apprehension.
Help me, Nari.
In an effort to keep the princess mood from turning dark, Nari quickly knelt beside her in sand. She asked Sephra to bring her the large ivory comb, and then used the sturdy handle to pry the lid. It took a fair amount of jostling, but they finally freed the cover.
Let me, Asati said. She grasped the lid, her spirit lightening. She suddenly felt like a child about to open a present. Just as she started to lift the cover, a husky cry burst out of the woven container. Everyone turned to look as the startled princess fell backwards onto the sandy bank with the lid still clutched in her hands.
Asati slowly got to her feet and held the cover protectively, like a shield in front of her. She cautiously approached the edge of the basket and peeked inside. There she saw a beautifully formed male child, lying naked on a rough woven blanket. He was crying. His scrinched eyes were filled with tears and his little arms and legs were flailing wildly about him. He opened his eyes and saw the princess staring at him, her mouth half open in surprise. He immediately became still, looking up at her with his arms outstretched.
Conflicting emotions surged within Asati. Her dream: this was the child from her dream, a Hebrew child; the blanket was the same one she had seen. A war of emotions raged inside of her. The longing for a son fought against her fathers edict, her brothers continued enforcement of it, and her duty to Egypt, while her heart and a sudden maternal instinct already responded to the pull of the infant before her. Utterly confused, she turned imploringly to Nari.
This is a Hebrew man-child.
And a gift from the Nile god, my princess, the wise, elder woman cautiously replied. Let the priests decide what it all means.
Turning back, Asati noticed how quiet the baby had become. He appeared to be completely unafraid. Her quickly warming heart turned the tide. She reached down and removed the child from his little ark, cradling him in her arms. He reached up and touched her chin, his soft eyes soothing her troubling concerns. Asatis impetuous heart spoke. He is given to me and I will not offend the gods. I will keep him. Since he is born out of the water of the Nile I will name him Moses.
Looking up from the baby, her attention was drawn to a sudden movement in the rushes upstream. A young girl emerged from the growth along the rivers edge. Their eyes met across the distance and the girl froze, as if caught with her hand in a jar of figs. Asati saw that she was Hebrew and wondered if this might be another omen. She called out to her. Wait there, child. I want to talk with you. Turning to Nari she said, Bring that girl to me.
Nari sent two of the guards to fetch her, and they escorted the frightened young girl to the princess.
Calm down; I wont hurt you. What were you doing in the rushes?
Miriam, though young and scared, was quick-witted and tried flattering the princess. She cautiously went to her knees and bowed her forehead to the sand. Then with a shaky voice, in the low Egyptian she had picked up from the traders and the sellers in the marketplace, she said, I was trying to get a look at your highness. I have never seen a princess up close.
Just then Moses began to cry and Asatis attention was diverted. She tried to comfort him without success and became irritated. She turned to Nari and said, What is wrong with him?
He is probably hungry, my princess, Nari replied.
What am I supposed to do? I cant nurse him.
An idea, plucked from the princess words, leapt into Miriams mind. Not giving fear a chance to dissuade her, she coughed pointedly. Her forehead was still kissing the sand in deference to the princess.
Asati looked down at the Hebrew girl, and with frustration evident in her voice, said, What do you want?
Looking up, Miriam seized the opportunity. Shall I go and get a woman from the Hebrews to nurse the child for you, your highness?
Asati knew there were many mothers in the Hebrew villages that had lost their children but not their milk. Thinking this to be the purpose of this new omen, she decided to take advantage of the offer.
Take my servant and the child and find a nurse for him. I will give both you and the woman fair payment. Two guards will accompany you while the arrangements are made.
Then, carefully placing Moses in Naris arms she said, See to whatever needs to be done. I will dress and then consult the priests. When everything is settled, bring the wet nurse and the baby to my quarters.
Yes, my princess, Nari replied. Calling to the two guards and motioning to Miriam to follow, she said, Find us a boat to cross the river.
Asati watched them as they left. The overwhelming nature of the mornings events began to settle in and her heart started to pound. It is done, she thought, but what will my father say? What will my husband think? Will they believe this is truly a gift from the Nile god?
Take me home, she told the bearers, and she turned to her litter and climbed inside. The two remaining guards each took one end of the train as the company started forward.