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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Touch (the sense of touch) (08/05/10)

TITLE: Releasing
By Rachel Phelps


I wait, dwarfed by marble pillars, while the servant girl announces me. She is a bold thing, gazing at me from the corners of her painted eyes as if I were the odd one in my modest robe and headshawl. Her silken sheath is so thin a man would have to be blind not to sin when looking upon her, and yet she keeps herself cubits away, as if afraid to be tainted by a Hebrew slave.

My son in Pharaoh’s household. Strange, the ways of the Most High. When I gave my boy to the Nile, I expected never to see him again. Now I see him content and shielded from the sun-baked life of the brick pits and fields. Were it not for my two children who still suffer under the taskmaster’s lash, I would have no cause for complaint.

She comes back and nods, staying well away as I enter the royal nursery. I give her no more than passing attention. My eyes are on Moses where he whimpers in his cradle. My fingers are already at the neck of my robe when a delicate cough informs me we are not alone.

Bithya, daughter of Pharaoh and self-proclaimed mother of my son, reclines nearby, languid in the heat. She usually withdraws for my feeding time, providing me with precious moments of solitude with Moses. I bow slightly in her direction, eyes still on the cradle.

“He seems out of sorts today, Jochabed,” Bithya says with a casual sort of concern.

“Perhaps it is the heat, Princess,” I say with the same indifference, forcing myself to move slowly toward him. I must not seem too eager. If Bithya ever knew…

I scoop him into my arms, unclasping my robe to feed. He is heavier than ever Aaron or Miriam was at that age. A part of me is frightened. Soon he will not need me. Already he has taken goat milk along with my feeding.

“He is always calmer when he’s held.” Bithya comments. “Sometimes I think I indulge him overmuch in that. He must learn that a prince stands alone.”

“He has not seen his first Inundation,” I say before I think. “Surely the time to learn princely ways has not yet come.”

I do not say what I really think - that among the Hebrews a child is a blessing to be held and loved because he must learn to stand alone. I focus instead on cradling his head, shaved bare but for the tiny forelock braided and banded with gold. My fingers linger on the metal. Smooth and cold, like the people who surround him here.

Bithya steps closer, and I can hear the jingle of the gold collar at her throat. The scent of calendula drifts past the dusty smell that shrouds me.

“You are bold for a slave,” she says in a bored tone.

My eyes stay on the babe at my breast, feasting on the softness of his ear against my finger, the chubby dimples at his elbow.

“I care for the child. He…” I hesitate, almost wishing the secret out. “He has touched my heart.”

Bithya’s hand supplants mine on Moses’ forehead, caressing his temples and eyebrows as he nurses vigorously. “Yes, he has a way with that, does he not?”

For a moment, there is kinship between us.

Her soft, delicate finger catches on the rough weave of my robe. We both startle at the contact, sending Moses into a howl as his meal is interrupted. Shushing sounds come from both our mouths, but the scream intensifies. Bithya takes him from my arms.

I watch, forced to be still, as she bounces him on her hip and sings of her many gods, tickling the backs of his arms and his belly to make him laugh. My arms ache for his weight.

“There now, my little one. Mother is here,” she croons.

My fingers curl into the fabric of my robe, holding it in place until I may finish my duty here. True, the cloth is rough, chafing to the skin. I cannot offer my son fine-spun linen or golden bands for his arms. I could not even offer him life with our family. I resign myself anew.

Bithya hands him back. He looks up into my face, cooing contentedly, and reaches to pat my cheek. I lean into the touch, cherishing it.

“He will be great, my son,” Bithya says.

I bring him to my breast once more. “Yes, Princess.”

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This article has been read 944 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Melanie Kerr 08/12/10
You have teased out a very believable account of Moses' mother's feelings as she feeds her child. You maintain tension as she tries not to let slip who the real mother is.
Amy Michelle Wiley 08/12/10
Ohhhh, well done. I love historical fiction and this one was told masterfully. The ending may have been a tiny bit weak, but I hope this one places in the EC.
Charla Diehl 08/13/10
This was written so realistically as you described the tense and emotional moments Moses' birth mother had to endure. Her feelings were felt by me. Good work.
Joyce Morse08/16/10
I really loved the way you brought the emotions out and made us feel what Moses' mother was feeling.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/16/10
This is done expertly. I could feel the roughness of the material and the ache of the heart.
Kate Oliver Webb 08/16/10
Oh yes, very well written. Excellent atmosphere, character description, dialog. I was right there sharing Moses's mom's pain and pleasure. I had to say "mom" because it seemed such a tender relationship between mom and babe. You nailed this.
Verna Cole Mitchell 08/17/10
I love the view of what very truly "may have been." Excellent storytelling, bringing out the longing of Jochabed's heart.
AnneRene' Capp08/17/10
Loved both the emotional and physical ambiance of this as it unfolded into what felt more like a movie than a written account.
Kimberly Russell08/18/10
Good job, Rachel. Descriptions were very realistic, nice showing, and emotions.
Sarah Elisabeth 08/18/10
How right they both were! I loved the contrast here between the two women and how they are connected in such an amazing way.

Incredible writing as always!
Laury Hubrich 08/19/10
You really brought these women to life for me. Excellent job! Congratulations on your EC!!
Sara Harricharan 08/19/10
Oooh, nice! I like the contrasting personalities and how it must have felt for his mother to watch another woman singing of different gods and cuddling HER baby when he cried. Good job--and congrats! ^_^
Amy Michelle Wiley 08/19/10
Oh good, I'm glad this one placed! Congrats, Rachel!
Marita Thelander 08/19/10
History through Rachel Phelp's eyes...always a treat. Congrats on the EC.
Philippa Geaney 08/20/10
Beautifully written Rachael. Congratulations.
Eliza Evans 08/26/10

I LOVED this. A truly nurturing, satisfying read and a marvellous take on the topic.

Well done, my friend.