This is a middle-grade novel I am working on. It is based on the story of Joseph and his brothers from the book of Genesis. Here is the first chapter.
Memphis, Lower Kingdom, 35th year of Pharaoh Nebmaatre Amenhotep III (“The Magnificent”)
Season of Peret (planting/growing)
Chapter 1: The Nightmare
Like a moth in clothing or a worm in wood,
Sorrow gnaws at the human heart.
Her father's shouts shredded Deena's fuzzy dreams to wisps.
Yanked awake, she lay in the cool, star-lit night, and listened. The running footsteps would come next, she knew: first the soldiers, Father's personal guards. Next, she would hear the servants, their bare feet slapping on the smooth stone floor on their way to help Mother. In a minute, thought Deena, both of my brothers will pile into my cot--as if I could save them from Father's nightmares.
Sure enough, there came the "thump-thump" of the guard; then "pad-pad-pad," came the barefoot servants, running from their quarters on the other side of the courtyard. They came nearer then went right on past the children's room. And suddenly there were two more in her bed, clinging to her in alarm. Manassas and Efraim were nine and six. They counted on Deena to comfort them, even though they had a nurse and so many servants she didn’t know all of their names. At eleven, Deena was a second mother to her younger brothers.
Nurse dragged herself off her mat by the door, and came to whisper to the three children huddled in a tangle of bedclothes.
Shh . . .” Nurse always said this, though as far as Deena could tell they were the only ones not making noise. "It's only your father," said Nurse. "It's only his dreams again. Everything is all right -- go back to sleep."
But to Deena's surprise, Ef started crying. "It's not all right!" he wailed. "It's not! Why does Amun do this to Father? Now we won't go duck hunting tomorrow, and Father promised!" Ef sniffled as Deena held him close. Nurse lit a lamp and went out to get them all a drink of water.
Ef was right, of course. Now all the fun they had been promised for tomorrow was impossible. Instead, Mother would stay home with Father all day, and try to control the gossip. She would deal with Father’s guards and Pharaoh’s doctors. She would send messages to this official and that, making lying excuses for Father’s absence. But the three of them would be banished for the whole day, and all the servants would walk on tiptoe, shushing them and sending them outside. Outside, they had only the courtyard to play in. They were not allowed outside the walls of the compound without soldiers to guard them, because their Father was too important: he was Grand Vizier to Pharaoh Amenhotep, and responsible for all of Lower Egypt.
Finally, the shouting stopped, but now came the worst: Deena could hear Father sobbing. She had never heard him weep before, and it was horrible. Mother's voice sounded smooth and liquid under all those awful sounds as she gave orders to the servants, and Deena could picture her pacing to and fro, looking cool and in control as always. Deena drank the water Nurse brought them from the water jar, and she shooed her brothers back to their own cots, but she did not close her eyes in sleep again that night.
The next day, Mana broke the silence after First Prayers. "What's wrong with Father?" he asked their mother at breakfast. "Father is fine, don't worry," said their mother, making a face that said, "Not in front of the servants!"
Mana pouted. Deena thought, Don’t even try, Mana. They'll never talk about it. Their parents would certainly not talk about it, and the servants had better not talk about it. They all looked especially intent on their work that morning. It seemed they didn't want to meet Mother's eye—or anybody else's. Everyone looked tired and drawn, and everyone knew why, and no one was going to speak of it.
"Are you and Father going to take us duck hunting today?" said Ef. "You promised you would." Was it being the second son that made him so reckless?
Their mother raised one eyebrow at her son. "It is not for you to remind me of my promises, Efraim. Your Father needs me today. That’s the end of it."
"I knew it!" muttered Ef. He scowled into his bowl of barley porridge and sniffled. Big brother Mana elbowed him.
"It’s your fault, Ef! It's your fault Father screams at night," Mana said. "It's because you make a mess of everything!"
"Stop it!” their mother snapped all at once. “Now eat your breakfast, and I don't want to hear another word from any of you!"
They ate in stony silence broken by the occasional sniffle. The servants tiptoed around them filling empty bowls and cups. Father did not appear. Deena tried to choke down her bread. Finally Bast, the weaver’s daughter, brought them all the hand-washing bowl and they were officially done with breakfast. Mother dismissed the servants, who filed silently away towards the outdoor kitchen in the courtyard. If they had dared, they would have looked glad to go. Deena wished she could leave, too.
Instead, she decided to relieve her own feelings as far as she could. “It’s not fair,” she said slowly and clearly, looking straight ahead and not at her mother.
"No, Deena, it is not fair. It is not fair to Father, or to you, or to me. But we can’t change it. And we WILL keep our dignity in front of the servants, and especially Pharaoh’s servants. You are the oldest, and you’ll have to make sure the younger ones don’t make a scene. Pharaoh’s physicians will come again, I’m sure of it, and it will be all I can do to make sure they don’t take a worrisome tale to Pharaoh. You will just have to stay out of the way for today.”
Deena blinked back a tear. Glancing up, she met her mother’s eye. There was no sympathy there.
"Now," said Mother, rising from the table, "I need to stay here and run things for your father, and tomorrow we will go duck hunting in the marshes by the river."
"I get to steer the boat!" said Ef.
"Oh, hush, Ef!" said Deena. "You'll get your turn. Just try to be good until then, will you?" Ef stuck his tongue out at Mana, who did his best to look superior and responsible.
A tall, impeccably-shaven man entered and cleared his throat to get Mother's attention. Deena saw Mother’s eyes relax as she turned towards him. Kha had come with Mother from her family home in Iunu, and was her most trusted servant and chief steward of the household.
"What is it, Kha?"
"Pharaoh's physicians have arrived, My Lady."
"Very well, Kha. Deena, you will accompany me. It is time you started to learn how to deal with Pharaoh’s servants. ”
Deena stood up at once and followed her mother.