It was no secret that Faisal was mother’s favorite. To be fair, he was everyone’s favorite, except perhaps for my father. Father was careful about favorites, and he was so fond of me, most thought he liked me more. But it wasn’t that at all; he gave me exactly what he gave Faisal. No more, no less.
When Faisal left, Firstmother read the entrails of a goat to see what Fate had decreed for Faisal and for us. I know Northerners would find this ridiculous, but Northerners seem to see look at the world and see only with their eyes. In the Southlands, there are forces and powers as obvious to us as the sun and stars. Old women can make a bad childbirth suddenly reverse itself with a little spit and a reed. Wandering men can live a year on a handful of grain and rise off the ground without anything beneath them. There are people who charm snakes and people who calls winds. There are women who feel the height of the Flood season, and there are children whose eyes see the future. The most learned in such arts can see a man’s thoughts as easily as they can see his face, and they have command over all the Four, not just wind. Firstmother had some knowledge of these things, perhaps a great deal more than she ever let on. Our silk crop never failed and our caravans had been saved more than once by sandstorms placed too well to have come on the whim of the Winds. Firstmother’s goat was chosen carefully and fed some of Faisal’s hair. He was drugged into a slumber, then slaughtered quickly over a bowl. His liver prepared Firstmother for what came next.
Mother was not Mother after she lost her Faisal. I remember once asking her why she loved him so much more. My mother valued honesty above all things, and so it was that I was named ‘Aminah’: our word for truth-speaking. She told me, “When you have your own sons, you’ll understand. You see, a husband is only a little bit yours. He is older and dies sooner, and no matter how dear he is, he will never need you in the way your child does. A daughter is also a blessing to her house and to other houses. She is made to be shared, and you have only a few short years with her before she becomes someone’s wife in another house. But your son is yours and no one else’s. He may marry and he may travel, but always you will be his honored mother. He will bring his wife to be your companion and your charge, and he will take your lessons out into the world when he rules among men. When you are old and a widow, his hands will feed and clothe you. Only a son can be safely loved.”
“Is this is why you aren’t jealous of Firstmother?” I had yet to learn tact, and mother did little to fix this.
“Firstmother has your father’s heart. But your father will die, and Firstmother will be alone. You must always, always be kind to her and honor her as you would me. Faisal will be good to her too, but I will share him with her, and not she with me.”
I think this is why she couldn’t weather the loss. She was nearing the age when there was no hope of more sons, and even then she had only managed to bring two children to birth in twenty-five years. I wish I could say I tried to be both son and daughter to her, but I was so frightened of my suddenly strange future that I could see little pain but my own. Mother went to meet the jackal during the dry season, and I hope Faisal now cares for her below as he did in life.
I said it was good that Firstmother read the goat for us, and it is true. Firstmother took me in hand as Mother declined, and she took great pains that I not spend every waking moment trying to learn what I now needed to know. She gave me my first book of epic; the Song of Sinuhe. I learned it by heart and these days it often keeps me company as I myself live out my own strange exile, even as Sinuhe did. I am daily grateful to the Fate that gave me Firstmother to keep my eyes on beauty when I needed to be able to see it.
It was I who now sat at Father’s right hand during court and who offered my halting opinions on this and that matter. He never once showed that he found me a poor substitute either for my brother or my mother. He must have felt it, though. I was barely twelve and twelve year old girls are not particularly astute, no matter how educated or sensitive. But younger children than I have been thrust into rule and lived; I had a wise father and firstmother.