The arrival of Moses, with wetnurse in tow, begins a season of radical change for Asati. You can already see that Jochebed is a strong woman, but unlike Nari, who is also made of strong stuff, is dangerously outspoken at times. Can these two stalwart women coexist in the same household? How will Asati react to the pressure and demands that Moses represents? And, underneath it all is Moses, so vulnerable, yet at the nexus of the storm God has created around him.
See also Chapter 8: The Wet Nurse Engaged
Copyright 1993-2004 William G. Meisheid
Chapter 9: New Additions to the Household
Asati impatiently paced back and forth in her garden as she waited for Nari to return. She had come to this peaceful setting hoping to draw on its restful atmosphere, but the mingling of her excitement and concern prevented her from feeling its calming effect. Turning to the maidservant who was waiting quietly nearby she said, Has Sephra returned with the crib and the other items for the child?
No, my princess, there has been no word, the young woman replied.
Go up to the roof then, and see if you can see anything. Come to me immediately when there is news.
Yes, my princess. The servant departed, leaving her alone.
Finding a bench in the shade, Asati noticed that the heat of the day had finally exerted itself. She had begun to dislike these times of solitude. They had become an empty desert sucking the last of her hopes into its barren sands. Like a life-giving oasis, a child in the household would change that. A baby was full of exuberant vitality and needed ceaseless attention. In addition, this child needed her constant protection and nurture because, for the moment, she was his only means of survival. Looking to the days ahead, she hoped that caring for him would give a new and welcome purpose to her life. She had been drifting, like the sand in the desert dunes, moving aimlessly from point to point. Yes, her decisions had been blinded by one concern for far too long.
Maybe I need him as much as he needs me, she thought, but felt the resistance rise up immediately, as if this realization threatened her freedom. Since she was a child she had prided herself on her independence. Having been strong-willed since birth, she heeded only Egypt, represented by her father and now her brother, but also reflected in her husbands legitimate demands for a son to carry on his name for the glory of Egypt. But now both that willfulness and sense of duty was at odds with the powerful instinct this child was setting loose. Rather than simply resolving the problems of her barrenness, he had brought new concerns, along with new yearnings she did not yet understand.
Hearing the shuffling of feet, Asati looked up to see two maidservants coming with food and drink. Smelling the meat started her stomach churning and she realized she had not eaten anything since dinner the night before. Motioning the servants forward, she turned her attention to the more mundane concerns of life. Set down the food and leave me alone, she ordered. They laid out the food and drink on a small portable table next to where the princess sat and quickly departed.
Asati heard the words, but they seemed to be coming from far away, almost on the edge of her hearing. Wake up, my princess. I have returned with a nursemaid and the child. At first Asati thought she was dreaming and Naris words and the mornings events slowing filling her memory were all figments of a lingering night mist. But as the midday brightness penetrated her closed eyes, Asati realized that she had fallen asleep. Exhausted from her lack of rest the night before and the extreme intensity of the mornings events, she had drained her reserves. After eating the food her maidservants had brought, she had curled up on the bench in the shade and had drifted into a dreamless sleep.
As the events of morning replayed across the surface of her memory, her heart began to climb into her throat and she sat up, jerking herself fully awake. Lifting her hand to her forehead to shade the glare from her sleepy eyes, she looked past Nari to the object of her desire. She found him nestled in the arms of a strongly built Hebrew woman who appeared to be studying her intently.
Are you all right, my princess? Nari asked.
I am fine, Asati said as she stood and hurriedly straightened herself, trying to present an image befitting her station before this barbarian woman. As for the Hebrew, she sought out Asatis gaze and stared deep into her eyes for a long moment before looking to the ground, as was proper respect to the daughter and sister of Pharaoh. The princess rising irritation was caught short by a soft cooing sound from the child as he stretched his small arm into the air.
It seems the child is waking. He fell asleep on the walk here, my princess, Nari said.
Did I not give him a name? Asati said, looking at Nari. Is it not Moses, he who is born of the water as a gift from the gods?
Yes it is, my princess, Nari replied.
Then bring Moses here Nari. I want to hold my son, Asati said, almost not believing the reality of the words she spoke.
Nari bowed slightly and took the child from the Hebrew, who seemed almost reluctant to give him up. He was awake and rubbing his eyes from the midday brightness as she placed him gently in Asatis arms. Then, just as he had done earlier in the morning, he reached up and touched her chin. Warmth spread out from his contact, infusing her entire body. Asati could feel the well at her barren center opening and water began welling in her eyes, but she fought down the feelings. She had to question this Hebrew woman.
Nursemaid, how are you called? Asati said.
I am called Jochebed, wife of Amram, the Hebrew replied without looking up.
Why should I trust you in my household and with the life of my son?
God protects this house, noble one. You have nothing to fear from me, she said, with a note of tenderness in her voice.
Asati almost asked which god, but then realized the woman meant her Hebrew god. Though there was obvious strength in the woman, which some might interpret as dangerous, strangely, it gave Asati a feeling of security. She decided to use the Hebrews statement as if it were a contract, Since you believe your god protects my household then I will expect you to act accordingly.
The child need fear no one while in my care, noble one, Jochebed replied, a determined note sounding in her voice. May I ask how I shall be paid?
Asati noted the veiled reference to other dangers, but let it pass. Focusing on the issue at hand she said, My chief maidservant, Nari, will give you an authorization for two kihars of wheat for each week that you remain in my service. You will sleep in the room with the child and take your meals with my servants. Any other needs you may have you can present to Nari. Does that suit you?
It is more than generous, noble one. I will care for the child as long as he needs me and you desire my service.
Turning to Nari Asati said, Oversee the final preparations for Moses room and see that the nursemaid is settled. I sent out Sephra to obtain a cradle and clothes, but I dont know if she has returned. Get whatever else you think is necessary. I will remain here. I want to be alone with my son for a while.
Asati saw the look of concern flash across her servants face, but Nari only said, I will see to it, my princess, as she turned and shepherded everyone to their duties.
Shes not sure if I am ready for you, Asati said to Moses as he lay in her arms quietly looking up into her face. I am not sure if I am ready for you, she said as she sat down on the shaded garden bench. I dont know if anyone is ready for you, Moses.