Slowly her gaze scanned the horizon, her bright violet eyes studying the crooks and crevices of the ragged grey rocks that jutted from the hillsides in the distance. They emanated a sublime glow now, as the rays of the waning sun bathed them with its last warmth of the day. They almost shone like citrines and rubies as she fixated her gaze, reflections of yellow and deep red hues shimmering as the sun made its descent to slumber. Oh, how she relished in the rays of the sun and felt a pang of sadness with the ending of each day. But too, the moon held its own mysteries and fascinations deep within her heart and she appreciated that it symbolized rest and escape; escape from the turmoils and vexations created by her life at court. She would do anything to spend her days wandering through the immense gardens of wildflowers and rugged spruce trees within the palace courtyards. Or playing her harp or her lute by the shimmering expanse of a private lake. But alas her days were preoccupied with her duties as princess of the royal household of her cousin Mursili, exalted and grand king of all Hattusa.
The smoothness of her milky brown skin wrinkled into a frown as she thought of her displeasure towards her cousin, regardless of his exalted status well above her own. Twitching her petite, rounded nose, she pushed the ebony ringlets of her hair back behind her round shoulders as the chilling breath of Autumn swept through her private balcony. Her slim frame shivered slightly from its cool kiss, and she pulled her shroud evermore so over her shoulders. Flicking her long lashes upwards, she caught the cry of a hawk as it circled far above. How she longed for such freedom.
“Your highness, Malawashina?” A small voice called from the heavy mahogany doors leading to her terrace. Yet her ears could hear naught but the cries of the hawk, for it beckoned her to join it in its flight. “Your highness…?” Came that voice again, but now more desperate.
Blinking hard, Malawashina turned to face the petite servant girl in her doorway. “Oh, my little Utati, apologies I did not hear you enter.”
Utati, a small girl of eleven, but mature far beyond her years, did well to hide her displeased frown. She was often in trouble for apparently allowing her mistress to daydream and wander off too often. “Her royal lady Puduhepa, your exalted mother seeks your presence currently.”
Malawashina smiled to mask her inner displeasure. She wanted nothing more than to be left alone. “I wonder what it is now?” She mused.
“Who knows?” The young servant shrugged, her dark ash curls bouncing on her shoulders as she did so. “It most likely has something to do with your irritable cousin.”
Malawashina glanced sideways at the girl, her expression becoming blank. “That is treason, to speak such words Utati.” She warned.
Utati huffed and pouted her round lips. “You know it to be true,” she protested. “Now please your highness. Your esteemed mother awaits. If you continue to dally surely I will be the one in trouble… again.”
Malawashina looked into the girl’s obsidian gaze then, with remorse. “And so we best not tarry here, little one.” And without another word, she whisked herself almost teasingly past her servant.
“Do not call me ‘little!’” Utati called out as she gathered her skirts to run after her mistress.
Puduhepa had passed down her beauty to her eldest daughter who now stood patiently and in all her regal finery to be announced before her mother. Puduhepa, her chestnut locks flecked with strands of silver, stood tall and poised like a lily stalk fresh in bloom. Her bejewelled hands were folded calmly before her as she spoke to one of the many royal scribes, their faces aglow from the brazier fires nearby. Malawashina pertained that it was something important for the expressions on their faces were rather serious.
When Utati announced the arrival of her mistress, Puduhepa tilted her head upwards with a brilliant smile. Nodding to the scribe, he quickly collected his things and made his leave.
“Ah, my darling daughter!” Puduhepa’s grey eyes shone brightly in the firelight as she outstretched her arms to embrace her. “You took no time to arrive, so surely you must have caught wind that I have splendid news to impart to you?” Her smile brightened evermore. Yet, her cheerful demeanour only sought to shroud the pain that was within her heart; that the news she was to tell would mean she would never see her beloved child again.
“Do you?” Malawashina answered, her face dropping unenthusiastically.
“Oh, my dear girl,” her mother chimed, “Why such sourness?”
“I think you and I both know why.”
“Oh, my darling,” her mother embraced her warmly in reassurance. She understood well her daughter’s apprehension. “This time it is someone perhaps deemed worthy of your hand.”
“Who in this land is worthy enough?” Malawashina mumbled under her breath. “You know Mursili has wanted me in his bed for years.”
“And yet he cannot have you.” Her mother replied dryly. “He knows that. No, you are to be finally wed to someone far more refined than that slimy, spiteful snake.”
Malawashina quirked an eyebrow at her mother. The great Royal Lady Puduhepa rarely resulted to insults of any type. But Malawashina knew how much her mother too despised Mursili for what he had tried to do when Malawashina was but a girl, and he an oversexed, arrogant adolescent; A slight not easily forgotten nor forgiven. He had not changed much since that time, regardless.
Utati and Puduhepa’s own maid did well to muffle their sniggers.
“Then, pray tell mother, who is this person grand enough to marry me? No one within our territories exists!” She scoffed a laugh.
“I never said it was anyone from here. Though that would indeed be preferable. No, you are to go to Egypt.”
Malawashina’s bright eyes faded, like a star that had finally lost all its light and had dulled away into the abyss. “E...Egypt?” She repeated automatically. Short gasps came from Utati and her own servant girls who stood only a few feet behind. Puduhepa shot them a quick, warningful glare and the young girls retreated a few steps.
“You should be pleased, Malawashina. You are to be married to the Pharaoh! A grand honour. With your marriage, our great nations shall finally be at peace.”
“But they are the enemy!” Malawashina almost shouted, her usual milky brown face now pallid with indignation.
“Hush your voice!” Her mother reprimanded as she took her daughter by her wrist and pulled her deeper into her chambers, away from prying eyes and ears. By the time they reached the desired destination out in Puduhepa’s private gardens, Malawashina was already in tears.
“How can you accept this, mother?” She sobbed, finally. “That...that man, if he can even be called such; that beast they so call pharaoh ordered his armies against us. Because of him many of our brave warriors were slaughtered, and much of our territory lost.”
“Such is the cost of war.” Her mother answered calmly, sighing then as she glanced up at the brilliant glow of the moon now rising above them.
“Kadesh has been disputed territory well before our time and thus has always been fought over, my dear. Not only between Hatti and Egypt, you know this. But our greatest and most powerful contenders have always been the Egyptians. Yet did they manage to take Kadesh this time? No, my dear, they did not.”
“A great victory for our people…”
“No, my dear, it was not.” Her mother corrected gently. “We suffered the most losses. That was made abundantly clear. But they too lost many. You must understand that these men, both our own and their own were fathers, brothers, uncles, husbands…now they will never return to the people that loved them, and may be devoured by the great goddess Taknaš, or, as the Egyptians believe, be not allowed to cross into the duat.”
Malawashina’s usual graceful demeanor was now afflicted as she hung her head in sorrow. “They all died for nothing. Only for the greed of power.”
Puduhepa’s grey gaze too was dulled from sorrow, and she took her daughter’s soft face into her hands, stroking the tears from her high cheeks. “You are right,” she said finally. “There is never a justification for war; For all the senseless killing. But men will never believe, nor understand that. Men only want to puff out their feathers like a bunch of pompous peacocks.”
Malawashina chuckled as she sniffed, flicking her lashes upwards to now look into her mother’s loving gaze. “Roosters more like it,” she added.
Her mother too chuckled then and embraced her once more. “You needn’t worry, my darling Mala. These roosters have finally decided to reign in their cockiness and come to peace. It is far more beneficial in every sense of the word. Egypt is prosperous and her pharaoh holds great influence and respect throughout all the world. Hatti would greatly benefit from this through political marriage, and trade agreements if your cousin can keep his senses intact for long enough.”
“Well we have reached the political marriage agreement already,” Malawashina grumbled, still not impressed with the idea. “Who came up with this idea anyway?”
Her mother pushed out the creases that had now formed on her daughter’s brow due to her frowning. “Your father did,” she replied simply. “But it was, in fact, the pharaoh who requested you.”
Malawashina stared at her mother, stunned to the core. “And Mursili agreed to this?”
“He had no choice. As part of this arrangement, the Pharaoh requested a bride no less of status than a princess. Your sister is far too young to marry, and you are the only unwed princess remaining in our lineage. Also, he had heard of your beauty and wit.”
Malawashina rolled her eyes at her mother’s attempt at flattery. “Oh mother, it is well known he has many women in his harem. I will be just another broodmare to be discarded once he’s had his use of me. If he even chooses to have one.”
“Ah, but there you are wrong!” her mother laughed, some sparkle once again returning to her eyes. “As part of the agreement you were to be given a high rank within the harem! In fact, the highest!”
Malawashina’s eyes shot open and her dainty mouth almost hit the marble floor beneath them. “Surely the pharaoh would never give up the Great Queen Nefertari’s position! The whole world knows that she is his moon and his stars! His most beloved! I’ve heard of the grandeur of the temples he has built in her honour!”
“And you are indeed right, my darling.” her mother nodded. “He would never give up the position of my sister, the Lady of Grace, Nefertari. No, instead you have been placed as Grand Princess, secondary wife.”
Malawashina gasped. “I would displace the Princess Isetnofret, would I not?” her voice shook in disbelief.
“You, my darling, are of royal blood. She is not.” her mother stated factually. “A sacrifice he was willing to make, and one much to your advantage.”
“I am not ambitious enough to hold such an advantage.” Malawashina lowered her gaze.
Puduhepa brought her daughter’s face up once more to look her directly in the eyes.
“Oh, but you are, my child. You are my daughter.”
“The dowry…?” Malawashina then hesitated.
“Worth a thousand times more than your weight in gold.”