Princess of Babylon – Chapter One

“Princess! Quick! Father!”

Tall’s voice echoed down the stone hallway. My tutor stopped mid-speech and glared down his nose at me.

“It would seem Father has summoned me,” I said.

I rose from my cushion on the stone floor, inelegant as my sandals tangled in my tunic, sending me pitching forward into my tutor’s arms. He thrust me back away from him, swift to move lest anyone see me in his embrace and came to the wrong conclusion. Tall’s voice retreated down the hallway as he passed our chamber.

“Tall,” I called after him. “I am here.”

He ran back to me.

“Quick!” He flapped his hands near his face to express the urgency of the summons. “Chaos! Uproar!”

“Come on then,” I said. “You can tell me on the way.”

“Father!” he said, trotting beside me as I strode down the hallway.

If he had any other name, Tall had long forgotten it. Most people regarded him as a simpleton and he was often the butt of jokes, but to me it seemed his mind was no less sharp than mine. He just didn’t have the ability to express his thoughts in anything more than single words. However, once I became accustomed to his manner of speaking, I found I could understand him perfectly well.

“Do you know why Father has summoned me?” I asked.

His hands flapped again, the thing he always did when he was anxious.

“Uproar! Sister!”

“Oh dear, is she injured?”


My older sister, Ishtar, was the perfect daughter. The beautiful one. The one who walked elegantly and sang sweetly and always had a witty comment ready. Our father thought she was practically the incarnation of the goddess Ishtar for whom she was named, she was so lovely. I, on the other hand, was clumsy and graceless, my face was plain, I couldn’t sing to save my life, and I was more interested in learning about history and politics than trading clever banter with potential suitors. I was a constant disappointment to our father who had hoped for two perfect daughters to marry off.

Although Ishtar was only fifteen years old, Father had already arranged a marriage for her. Tomorrow she would leave for Egypt, sailing away with a flotilla of ships bearing gifts for her intended husband. She was to marry Pharaoh and be his queen. Any excitement I might have felt for her was marred by my sadness at knowing I would never see her again.

As for me, our father had yet to negotiate a suitable marriage, even though I was only a year younger than Ishtar. It seemed no man wanted me for his wife, although I was a princess and daughter of the Great and Mighty Marduk-apla-iddina of Babylon.

We reached Father’s audience chamber and Tall stopped at the door, his hands flapping.

“Here!” he said.

“It is all right. You don’t have to come in with me.”


“Yes, yes, I will be perfectly safe.”

Sometimes Tall couldn’t find the right word to express himself. I doubted he thought I would be in danger within Father’s audience chamber, but perhaps he thought I would be afraid without him. Whatever had happened must be dire indeed.

“Wait here for me.” I patted his arm, checked my tunic hung neatly, and entered the chamber.

Even if Tall hadn’t warned me, I would have known something was wrong. There were fewer people in here than usual, just Father’s personal guards who surrounded his throne as always, his most favoured administrator, and a handful of servants. There were no other administrators or scribes, messenger boys or folk who had brought a case for Father’s adjudication.

Ishtar knelt in front of Father, her forehead pressed to the mosaic tiles. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed. Father sat with his arms crossed and a look of distinct displeasure on his face. Even in his aggravation, he still sat with his back straight and his head high. His curly black beard was immaculately groomed as always. Anyone who saw him would know he was an important man, even if they didn’t recognise him as their king. Father’s gaze shot straight to me.

“Kassaya,” he said. “You took your time.”

“Father, I apologise if I kept you waiting. I was at a lesson with my tutor. I came as soon as Tall found me.”

I knelt and pressed my forehead to the floor like Ishtar. The tiles were cool and smooth, variegated shades of purple which spread out like a sun from Father’s throne.

“I sent twelve servants in search of you,” Father said. “Why is it always the idiot who is the only one able to locate you?”

I said nothing. I knew Father well enough to know the words were more observation than question. Beside me, Ishtar still sobbed quietly.

“Kassaya, you may rise,” Father said.

I held my tunic away from my sandals as I got to my feet. Father did not seem to be in a mood that would tolerate me tripping and sprawling in front of his throne. Ishtar stayed where she was, her forehead pressed to the floor. She would not dare to rise until Father bid her.

“As you know,” Father said, “your sister was supposed to depart for Egypt tomorrow.”

I glanced down at Ishtar’s shaking shoulders. Supposed to depart? Had Pharaoh changed his mind about taking a princess of Babylon as his queen? Had he died or fallen grievously ill?

“Your sister, it seems, had no intention of obeying my wishes,” Father said.

I blinked in surprise, but managed to keep my mouth shut. This was not the time for questions. Father would tell me what had happened, or he wouldn’t and I would get it out of Ishtar later.

“She has gone and gotten herself with child.” Father’s voice was cold.

Ishtar had a secret lover? Why would she risk the alliance with Egypt for a dalliance with a man she would never see again and who would likely forget her as soon as she sailed away? A chill washed over me as I realised the implication for myself.

Father could hardly send a pregnant bride to Pharaoh.

Nor would he risk offending Babylon’s most powerful ally by breaking an agreement already made.

If Ishtar could not go to Egypt, another daughter of Marduk-apla-iddina would be sent in her place.

Marduk-apla-iddina had five sons, but he had only one other daughter.


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A woman wearing a white dress with a gold sash stands in front of a temple.