Now I recognize that prologues are on the top of every list out there about what not to do if you want to get published. However, I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out a better way to include these three pages of back-story that are pretty integral to the rest of my book.
The plot in a nutshell is this: Hatshepsut is Egypt’s only female pharaoh who successfully declared herself king during a time of peace and then continued to rule until her death, reigning over a time of peace and prosperity in Egypt’s history. In my version of this history, Hatshepsut is going to have a rocky relationship with her mother due to Hatshepsut being born a girl. In the prologue I introduce three characters that will be integral through the rest of the story- Ahmose, Hatshepsut’s mother; Sitre, Hatshepsut’s nurse; and Hatshepsut herself. It also helps explain why Ahmose never had another child- more showing, not telling.
What I’m hoping is that by reading this, some of you might be willing to comment on whether you think it can be one of those prologues that breaks the rules and can stand with the rest of the novel or whether it really seems superfluous. If an agent asks for the first page of my novel (or the first three chapters), is this something I should send?
And of course, all other comments are happily accepted as well. Be ruthless! I need to grow a thicker skin and promise I won’t make voodoo dolls of any of you! *G*
Here it is!
The birthing chamber was rank with the stench of sweat and blood. The tiny room was already an oven, despite the fact that Re wouldn’t rise for several more hours, leaving the few attendants and the ancient midwife continuously wiping sweat from their brows. Draped across the birthing blocks was the inanimate form of the young queen, Ahmose. Rather than scream or clutch the blocks as each spasm of pain stretched across her belly, the girl barely moaned, her eyes now permanently rolled back in her head. She had been at this work, the work of women, for two full days now and still the child refused to show its face to the world. Spells to Taweret, that hippo patroness of all pregnant women, had already been chanted countless times. Magical amulets had been invoked to assist the girl and every potion Teti had ever seen used in a birth brewed, but all to no avail.
The midwife checked the girl, the lines on her face etched deeper with worry. This was no peasant girl delivering another fellahin child to toil in the world. Amun willing, this child would be the next Horus-in-the-nest. But only if he lived to be born. And should the mother die, this young slip of a girl it was rumored the Pharaoh loved above all else, that was blood Teti would not want on her hands.
She murmured something unintelligible to Ahmose, but the girl didn’t respond. If Teti didn’t hurry she would lose this one to the West. She was already drifting to the darkness and soon she would be past rescue.
Teti motioned to one of the birthing attendants. “It’s now or never.”
“Where do you want me?” Sitre asked, the giant black Nubian already moving to take her place at Ahmose’s swollen abdomen.
“You push,” Teti said as the woman squatted, cradling Ahmose’s head in her massive lap. She put her palms on the queen’s taut belly and nodded her head. Teti pulled the metal instrument from her bag and then bent down between Ahmoses’ legs.
“Now.” Teti gave the signal to Sitre. Without looking at the attendant, the midwife could tell that she was pushing down hard. After several moments, a tiny head appeared and upon sight of the swirls of dark hair ringing the babe’s head Teti deftly maneuvered the forceps into the queen. Ahmose made not a sound- she was sunk so deep in her own oblivion. It took only a breath for Teti to make sure she had the metal positioned in the right spot.
The miracle Ahmose had been trying to produce for two full days suddenly emerged and then slid from her body. Teti caught the child- blue in the face and not breathing.
“I need linen!”
A heap of stark white linen was suddenly produced and she wrapped the baby, rubbing its skin quickly to warm it in the hopes of enticing its ba to stay and not flee the waiting arms of Anubis, that greedy dog of death. The room was entirely silent as she tilted the child at an angle and suctioned its nose, still rubbing it profusely.
“Please, open that precious little mouth and cry,” Teti said, prodding the baby.
The silence of the room was suddenly shattered as the child’s mouth opened and it let out its first yell- a howling little sound of shock and anger at having been so rudely brought into the world. Teti couldn’t help the relieved chuckle that escaped from her throat.
“Is that… my child?” Ahmose stirred at the cry and searched the chamber bleary-eyed for Teti and the baby.
The midwife moved to the queen’s side, a smile on her crone’s face. “Yes, Hemet, that lusty cry belonged to your babe.”
She tilted the baby so the queen could see, delighting in the happy light that she now saw dancing in Ahmose’s eyes. It appeared Anubis would be lonely today, just as it should be.
“My son.” Ahmose reached out weakly to take her child. Teti gingerly shifted the precious bundle to place it in Ahmose’s arms.
“Your daughter,” she gently corrected the queen.
The light in Ahmose’s eyes was suddenly extinguished, leaving her brown eyes flat and emotionless.
“My daughter,” she whispered, her arms dropping back to her sides. Ahmose rolled to face the wall, her back to Teti.
As if realizing that she had just been rejected by the woman from whose womb she had just been expelled, the baby now began howling in earnest. Teti cradled the child close, unsure of what to do.
“Hemet?” she asked hesitantly.
“Take her away!” Ahmose cried, dry heaving sobs wracking her already exhausted body. “My own body betrays me! The whore bears a son and I birth only another girl? Get her away from me!”
Horrified by the wild look in the queen’s eyes, Teti clutched the princess to her chest and ran from the room.
Love it!! Growing up, I always wanted to be an Egyptologist – what an incredible time in history. Sounds like a wonderful book! 🙂
It's a pretty good prologue, but without the rest of the book it's hard to tell whether it should be cut or not.
It's very dramatic and does solve several important issues in telling the reader something about the time period and attitudes necessary to bring the reader into this world you are revealing.