Between the Lines: A Thought Exercise

Scene One: The bulrushes along the banks of a wide, placid river. The land beyond it is flat and green.

Egyptian Princess: (Falls back, panting. She is sweating.) By all the gods!

Body Slave: (Holds a newborn infant.) It’s a boy, highness.

[Princess holds out her arms and the body slave places the fussy baby in them.]

Princess: It is going to make noises like that all the time?

Body Slave: For a while, highness.

Princess: Now what’ll I do? Father will kill me. (Pause.) Literally.

Body Slave: The river’s right…

Princess: No!

Body Slave: Well, you can send it to the slave barracks to be raised. After all, that’s where the father came from, right?

Princess: Shut up, you.

Body Slave: I’m not judging, highness. I’m just saying.

Princess: Well, he’s not going to the slave barracks. Have you seen how my father treats them? They die like flies in the rainy season.

[She looks at the Body Slave and narrows her eyes.]

Body Slave: [backs away] Oh, no, highness. Not a good idea. I don’t know anything about raising any babies.

[With an effort the Princess levers herself upright.]

Princess: Why isn’t there an old wise woman in a hut, or a hermit in a cave, who could raise him? There’s never one of those when you need them.

[She stares into the distance. Slowly, her spine straightens and her shoulders square up. She lifts her head.]

Princess: No. He will be raised in the palace. I am a daughter of the royal line, and he is my son.

Body Slave: How will you get that past your father?

Princess: I’ll say….  I’ll say I found him. In the river. Where I was making a sacrifice to Sobek.

Body Slave: You don’t sacrifice to Sobek.

Princess: Shut up. I do now. You, go find me a gathering basket.

Body Slave: May I make a suggestion? Tell your father you stopped at the temple of Hathor on your way back with this… foundling, and the goddess ordered you to raise him.

Princess: Good one! (Pause.) Well?

Body Slave: (Bows) Off to find a basket, highness.


Scene Two: The royal palace. The baby is squalling and the Body Slave bounces it gently but a little desperately. Before them, on a vast chair covered in gold, sits the Pharaoh. At his left, two steps down, stands his trusted adviser. 

Princess: … and then I heard the voice of Hathor, goddess of motherhood and the hearth, saying, “This child will be raised by the royal family and will have a great destiny.”

Pharaoh: Really.

Princess: Yes, Father.

Pharaoh: You. Slave. Is this true?

Body Slave. Ow. That’s my ear. (Bows low.) I did not hear the voice, oh Great One. The gods to not speak to the lowly like me. But I saw the basket floating on the waters of the Nile, and at my lady’s bidding I waded out and drew it to shore.

Pharaoh: This inspiration wouldn’t be connected your recent weight gain, and its sudden loss, would it, daughter?

Princess: I don’t know what you mean, Father.

[Pharaoh stands and comes down the steps, waving a hand at his advisor, who follows. They step stage right.]

Pharaoh: Well, this is just great.

Adviser: If I may, oh Great One; allow her to have the child with her. I guarantee within a year she’ll ship it off to the slave barracks where it belongs.

Pharaoh: You think so?

Adviser: No offense, oh Great One, but she’s never had much of an attention span.

Pharaoh. Well, that’s true. But that story!

Adviser: It’s not a wonderful story, oh Great One, but it’ll do.

Pharaoh: It will have to. (He turns.) I am the ruler of all Egypt, but I honor the will of the gods. The child will be raised in the royal household, and he will be your responsibility, daughter. Not the royal nurses’ or the concubines’. Yours.

Princess: [Bows low.] Thank you, father. Oh Great One, Hathor smiles upon you.

[She reaches for the baby, who stops squalling and begins to coo.]

Pharaoh: And what will you name this child?

Princess: I… um… Moses, I think.

[She bows again and begins to back out of the royal presence. The Body Slave follows.]

Pharaoh: And, daughter?

Princess: Yes, father?

Pharaoh: I hope you don’t think I’m stupid.

Princess: (Pause.) No, Father. I’d never think that.

[She bows again.]






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