Since the commander, like all the governing classes, were atheist-atomists, believing exclusively in science and technology, the question of “FC” as “God” never really entered in--so the suggestion that something powerful in that respect might affect plans was absurd in her estimation.
As for Wally, he was real enough, but the commander saw no real threat. She would handle him when the time came. “It will be war if he interferes with us. I’ll smash him out of existence like a wretched fly. Let him continue to meddle with humanity.
It won’t make the slightest difference in the end.” Saying that, the commander sank down on her throne, gasping for breath until she recovered herself and ordered the conference ended for the time being. She had reserved her last strength for the act of regeneration. What body would she choose? She had difficulty making up her mind, like most of her sex. If not for that, she would have been in her new body by this time.
But she wanted to make the right choice. Once made, once a new body was entered, it was irreversible. She would have to be whatever she became, for a long, long time to come!
He suspected the chariots had been built and outfitted in temple work-shops, but there were so many temples, it was impossible to attack them all and destroy the hidden Ibbathan arsenal.
And what did Per-aa Khian, his royal master, think about this development? It was clear, from certain twitches in the royal visage, that he was thinking--an ominous development just as alarming as the Ibbathan revival, in Potiphar's estimation.
Yet, formidable as Ibbatha had become, the civil war bogged down and finally came to an inconclusive stage, when both the Ibbathans and the Per-aa in Avaris were too exhausted to continue hostilities. Anather, Yakobaam, Sequen-pher Tao--Ibbatha’s kinglets had not been strong enough and had all met violent death in the struggles.
Neither side was powerful enough to resolve the issue. Upper and Lower Kingdoms remained divided and antagonistic, though both lacked the critical edge in number of iron chariots to seize and unite Mizraim by force of arms. In both camps frustration was immense. Khian, who had begun the war by a lightning charge of his chariot corps on Ibbathan lines outside their capital, was most put out. He had determined to avenge the stinging slight he had suffered when they refused to pay tribute to his envoy, Captain Potiphar; only to lose many times over the tribute money in a ruinous, pell mell retreat. Hearing of Khian’s loss of half his army and several hundred chariots, Avaris was growing restive. The nobility and common people viewed his dynasty's swiftly declining fortunes as divine disfavor. Down on the estate, Joseph knew virtually nothing about the war. Life and work continued routinely on the estate, and the struggle took place far off up the River. He noticed tension at times in the house when Potiphar returned steaming with frustration from some fruitless campaign; but Joseph went about his duties and kept the machinery of the estate running smoothly, and Potiphar always relaxed after a few days of peace and calm his overseer's quiet efficiency generated. Week by week, while the war stale-mated, the revenues from the estate increased and added pelf and ease to Potiphar. His friends at court, hearing of Potiphar's marvelous overseer, began paying visits just to see for themselves if the reports were true. They came amused and, after observing Joseph and the estate, went away impressed and envious, offering any price if Potiphar would give him up.
Potiphar was offered a king's ransom for Joseph, but he was no fool and always politely declined to risk his wife's displeasure--or so he told them.
It was true Zenobia had come to appreciate Joseph. She was not blind to his worth, and had observed how everything improved markedly under his administration. Potiphar only used her as an excuse, reserving his real motive for himself alone: he had grown dependent on Joseph and would sooner part with Zenobia, from whom he had grown increasingly estranged as his former high standing in the king's favor waned.
Whatever attraction had bonded them as man and wife had departed. Both realized the fact, and when it happened neither felt any regret. Zenobia had her friends and boating excursions on the River for amusement. Potiphar had grown so disillusioned with his career he would just as soon sit at home, enjoying the peace allowed him between campaigns and letting the excellent Joseph do for him.
And the estate's wine was also superb, produced from choice vines Joseph had trained to grow up over the garden walls. Unknown to Potiphar, foreigners and passers-by often availed themselves of the refreshing fruit from vine boughs that hung over the walls; as they went on their way most gave their blessings to the compassionate master of the house who obviously cared for the faint and hungry. Consequently, the name of Potiphar was spread far and wide as a name of charity and benevolence toward wayfarers. Strangers honored his name in foreign lands, not knowing the vines belonged to a savage man of blood and iron.
For Potiphar it was an easy arrangement of life; without even discussing it he and Zenobia began living separate lives under the same roof. Though some servants had begun to whisper, Joseph did not listen to tittle-tattle and served both lord and lady with cheerfulness and aplomb. Meanwhile, the already enormous revenues of the estate continued to increase, and the household treasure box overflowed with electrum ingots and gold and jewels, so that it was replaced with three large trunks kept in Joseph's private room.
Now when Lady Zenobia wanted her jewels or gold pectoral necklace for appearances at court or items of equally great value such as Tyrian glass goblets for her fashionable, new pavilion by the River, she called Joseph. Potiphar too always knew whom to call when he desired anything. Joseph even paid them out regular amounts for personal needs, and if they needed more for certain luxuries or expenses they came to him. An elegant pleasure boat was purchased by Zenobia and soon provided more excuse for her to part company with an increasingly dull and seedy spouse.
Rising on account of her husband's wealth, Lady Zenobia was at first besieged by a crowd of noble ladies but rapidly lost what true friends she had by an increasingly arrogant and colorful display.
Joseph was no longer an overseer or steward; in time he governed as the effectual master, or taty, of Potiphar's house, goods, and property. Not even Potiphar was greater than Joseph, and Potiphar kept back nothing from his taty, except a splendiferous spouse whom he had ceased to love. Much land in the delta was purchased by Joseph, and hundreds of farmers and artisans and linen weavers were employed by him to work the estate and fashion all manner of things in estate shops.
Joseph bought a seagoing ship, made of cedar of Lebanon in Tyre and driven by a lanteen sail and oarsmen; this was loaded with grain, fine linen, perfumes and scented oils and sent as far as Keftiu, returning a profit a hundred times the value of Lord Potiphar's captain's salary. This he did repeatedly, so that his name, even the particulars of his story and the name of his God, came to the attention of the king of Keftiu after he had received special gifts of scented lotus oil from Potiphar's estate.
Now, thanks to the able Hebrew steward, Per-aa Khian was no richer than Potiphar and Zenobia.
Even with less than her total power, she was still formidable in the councils of the war command. Her word cast the deciding vote, and a single glance of anger was sufficient veto for anything she did not like. Needed repairs nearly all accomplished, the fleet held itself in readiness for the right moment to strike. That was a rather tricky thing to determine, they well knew. With the red star taking such great interest in the planet, they were obliged to go slowly and circumspectly about the invasion, so that there would be no confrontation--confrontation they knew would be their ruin.
But what other choice did they have? Powerful as they still were, it was useless to flee the red star. Rather, they knew they must face it on its own turf and, thereby, possibly obtain concessions. Since they had so much in common with the red star, that was their strategy--and though daring it had reasonable chance of succeeding.
Far removed from the conspiracy taking shape behind the moon, a little slave girl found herself caught up in dark threads she was unable to untangle--except she believed in a foreign god!
Most of the men staring at her had big, round faces and smooth heads and and showed too many teeth when they smiled.
Years after her sale, she still saw the slave market in troubled dreams. One tormentor seemed bigger and more important and raised his authoritative finger, glinting with gold rings, but a sharp voice rose a whit higher than the gold-beringed finger, and Assah found herself being taken in hand by an old man holding a wooden staff like the elders in her village.
She was terrified when he led her away between tall, yellow mounds of fresh-picked apple-gourds to a big-wheeled cart with stamping horses. Only because there was a maid-servant to help the overseer was she made to climb up and ride. The woman put her arms around her and wiped her tears, as they crouched down together in the chariot on the way to the house of Potiphar.
Nu the overseer, she recalled, put her under the charge of the older women, who knew how to calm a sorrowing and bewildered child and care for her. It had been several weeks before she grew accustomed enough to her new life and the wonders of the beautiful palace (for she had seen such places from afar) to take an interest.
Unusually favored and shapely in face and form, her soft, fawnlike eyes (like those of a young gazelle) made her the immediate favorite of the womenfolk in Potiphar's employ and much spoiled from the start. Nevertheless, she had been given some trivial duties, for she was after all only a slave. Sometimes she was allowed to carry a gold-rimmed dish of gardenias to the exalted rooms of the Mistress so that the grand lady might refresh her feet in their scent. Or she might convey a message from one authority in the house to another, then back again. Or pluck a ripe apple-gourd in a fascinating jungle of vines and curling tendrils behind the house, fruit whose flesh was soft, sweet, juicy and well-flavored. Or feed the lyre-tailed birds in the aviary or the big, greedy, pool-fish that nipped her fingertips.
So her life turned from day to day for several years, and her duties revolving exclusively around the house and garden increased gradually in responsibility until one day Lady Zenobia noticed the rounding lines of the girl's figure and had her come close so that she might look at her.
"She might be an adornment at my next party?" she said, looking to the opinion of her personal maid, a woman of mature age who terrorized much of the household with her authority. The old maid-servant (a Grand Taty's concubine turned out of his harem to enjoy semi-retirement) ran a practiced eye over the girl, nodded, and went to find something beautiful for Assah to wear.
Assah, a golden band around her tiny waist, was led out at the next party, to attend to the elaborate coiffures of the noble ladies, run their little errands, and strew wreaths of gardenias or scent in the pavilion by the lake of the river, or on the lavish boat, or wherever Lady Zenobia had chosen to stage entertainments and feasting.
An especially fat, congenial, smiling man (another new Grand Taty) began to take an interest and call her over to supply them with a choice apple-gourd or wine or simply to play him a tune on her gold harp. At a loss, Assah had looked toward her mistress, but Lady Zenobia had nodded her assent, and she had begun to serve the men too, though the women seemed to grow cool and more distant toward her, never again taking her hand and stroking her cheek. Instead the men warmed and encircled her, fawning over her as the women had, even calling her "Honey Cake." And her mistress still paid no attention to what they were doing, so Assah thought it must be right and allowed everything to happen.
It was not long before she was grown into womanhood, experienced in the ways of a noble household and the ways of men. When Joseph came into the house, she thought naturally he would be like the other men and seek to get round her in some way--but he had not. Amazed at him, she had watched him go about his duties in the house, and was surprised when he was cast out like a bad and wicked slave into the yard to do the most defiling things imaginable with his rake and basket and a cracked chamberpot from the house.
Yet she saw he had done well, with all his might, not complaining or protesting in private behind the overseer's back like other servants did. She had a mind one day to watch him and so ventured out to the stables where he happened to be working. Finding a corner to peep around, her playful curiosity was eye-opening, when Joseph unexpectedly came through the gate, turned the corner of the stables and bumped into Lady Zenobia’s chief handmaid, Nefera. Before the woman could even cry out and step back, the contents of the big pot he was carrying to the cart had flown out, slopping the smooth front of her fine, white, linen gown with putrid filth.
Without a word, Nefera’s features froze into one smooth shape of ice and fury, and she spoke evenly with tighly-compressed lips, as only a daughter of Mizraim could speak to a dirty, disheveled, filth-spattered foreigner. "You have defiled me before the gods. May you drown in the River and a sacred crocodile eat your ka for this!"
After her shocking curse, Nerfera had left in a huff, and Assah admired Joseph all the more for not showing the slightest anger or resentment though she saw he was hurt by her scorpion words. Having come from a dirty, little compound of village huts, Assah, unlike Nerfera perhaps, had known dung-heaps. Their odor and prevalence were common things, a part of ordinary life as common as eating. Why get so upset as Nefera had done--especially over an accident?
Yet life in a rich man's house--and the things she had tasted and enjoyed at parties encircled in arms of wealthy and important men--had changed something, or taken it away from Assah.
Slipping round the corner, for a moment only, she and Joseph had stared at each other. Then he took his container and went back to work, while she walked off, wondering why he was not attracted to her but somehow ashamed that she wanted him to be.
It was truly then her fine life at Lady Zenobia's parties was spoiled forever. Assah was increasingly repelled when again men called in their clever, round-about way to her at the next party to come and serve them with their usual amusement. As though all the strings of her gold harp had snapped, she suddenly found she could not go on with her life any longer. At the lovely, vine-encircled pavilion by the lake of the river, Assah had run away into the tall reeds. Yet another man--most brutally--had amused himself with her in a nearby, abandoned pavilion crawling with swamp adders, and she could not bear to return to the party as if nothing had happened, smiling her brightest smile and spinning a gay love tune on the little, gold harp.
It had been some hours, with other maid-servants calling and searching for her everywhere round the pavilion and at the boat quay, before she returned. Head bowed and trying to cover her bruised breasts with her hands, she hurried by little boats of lovers gliding with their wine cups between the huge, pink pillars of the lakeshore. At the main pavilion, Lady Zenobia, fearing the girl had fallen into the yellow jaws of crocodiles lurking in the lake or river, had almost given her up for lost.
Chariot after chariot had pulled up before the towered entrance to take on noble ladies and lords, to return them to their palaces, when a sorrowful spectacle confronted Zenobia, crawling out of the swamp at the edge of the formal gardens and disturbing her musicians and dancers so that they all stopped and stared.
"My precious, precious little Honey Cake!" her mistress had cried, stepping down from the pavilion in a scarlet gown and gold tiara at the sight of the bedraggled, mud-spattered Assah. "Did you slip into the water? You gave us all such a fright!"
Assah had no words, and could only look up and stare at the white-robed ladies crowding round her flaming mistress. She had wept all her tears, and her heart had died within her. The golden sash burned her belly, and she would have liked to tear it off and fling it in the River. But, failing that satisfaction, she had at least smashed the harp against the base of a stone lion and thrown the gleaming shards into the muddy, yellow lake.
Fortunately for her, all her anger and resentment for her mistress were spent in that act; yet the turmoil in her heart remained. It was soon after, she later reflected, that she had begun to throw off smothering bedclothes at night, gasp for air, and cry out hopelessly for deliverance--for all the gods she could name were Mizraimite and would not reply to a common person, and slave at that.
Her joy, then, proved beyond saying when she first heard Joseph naming his God unashamably and confidently to his fellow workers. She had seen him rise undefiled from Lord Potiphar's dung-heaps with meekness, grace and purity, and determined at that moment to know Joseph's God or throw herself to the hungry beasts lurking in the river reeds. Her shame was turned back on her the evil day Nu commanded her to put her arms around Joseph and cause him to embrace her. After that she could never again view her life as good and Mizraim as the blessed land of the gods. Rather, it was something she only wanted to escape.
Yet her shame was more than recompensed with joy, when she saw Joseph step away from her enticement, refusing what all men had gladly taken within their heavy and crushing arms. She knew for certain then, and a time came when his assurance became hers and a hope was born in her heart.
"For Thou has delivered me from death," she cried, whenever she prayed to Joseph's God. "--and rescued my ka from the crocodile and my feet from slipping in dark waters!"
Countless times the young Zenobia (a noble name from among desert peoples) watched donkeys and onagers numbering in thousands slowly approach Hazir in stately array. From such sights, in fact, she developed her life-long attachment to foreign color and drama, and her mother being dead she could indulge every whim at her father's knee. Dressed up extravagantly as a desert princess, she paraded about before her doting parent. Unlike her Mizraimite peers, Zenobia preferred only the brightest colors about her and hated funereal-white linen which every proper girl in Mizraim was doomed to wear from cradle to grave.
It had been grief to the maiden when her father was abruptly called back to Mizraim from his post; the strange newcomers from the northern hills and plains, hikau Khasut, or Hyksos, had swept down the Phoenician littoral with iron-plated chariots. They gave the edge of their superior sword to what little resistance stood in their way and reached Abad in the delta of Mizraim, capturing the royal power. The toothless, harem-bound old Per-aa, Snofru, was stripped of his crown and royal insigne and slain with his sons, wives and children, leaving only a few, temple-related relatives and Ibbathan cousinry who somehow escaped detection.
The ambassador arrived in Mizraim, not knowing the fallen Per-aa's royal seat Abad was a mound of tumbled, fire-blacked bricks and a new court hastily installed somewhere in the delta in palaces built with materials stripped from Abad. Reduced to wandering beggar-like in search of lodgings (their mansion in Abad showing only a water-soaked foundation), her father had despaired.
One day he heard the foreign-born desert prince had settled in a new place called "Avaris" and was seeking courtiers of Mizraimite blood who could translate the native language and provide some statesmanship for the new regime. Their worst trauma was over; her father was appointed a chief of court protocol, since his long experience in Semitic territories and Mizraimite diplomatic service entitled him to a high position. He gained favor because the new king realized the difficulty of someone foreign-born like himself administering the vast, incredibly rich and opulent realm and its interests in foreign lands. It was a highly unstable dynasty, however; Zenobia's father served half a dozen foreign chieftains in quick succession, as the Hyksos nobility fought over the crown and the strongest man won--again temporarily.
Hyksos sovereignty, as long as the new rulers were somewhat united, overran Mizraim's superior numbers until it reached Ibbatha; and that immense, ancient city and imperial seat proved the Hyksos' first and major stumbling block to absolute dominion. The initial overwhelming shock and surprise, the advent of long-haired, Semitic-nosed tribesmen speeding from city to city along the Ioteru, sacking and burning and taking booty and women, was over; and no one knew it better than Zenobia's father.
The military mentality was not easily changed. Hyksos ruler after ruler continued the same policies, and their real authority in Mizraim began to wane and come under increasing attack. Finally, Khian rose to the throne, however; looking and acting as much like a Mizraimite Per-aa as possible, the decline was halted initially by his accommodating leadership and installation of a large contingent of Mizraimites at court and in his administration.
Zenobia's father did not live to see him. Khian, grown tolerant of Mizraimite culture, still proved too much Hyksos and boasted only a tavern-keeper's command of the language. He didn’t even guess his mistake when he concocted a spurious throne name using his own foreign god, coming up with “Susrene-chill,” which meant “Beloved of Chill,” Chill-Dag being his people’s crude desert god. Khian’s only saving quality was his having been conceived and born in Mizraim, a circumstance that allowed him to do things a little differently, so as not to offend refined Mizraimite sensibilities overly much.
At first Khian was assured he was in the right by the success of his policies; yet Ibbatha, though it submitted so far as sending a yearly tribute, remained adamant, opposed to his absolute control, the very thing a legitimate god-king of Mizraim was entitled to enjoy. Appointed chief of the palace guard because of Mizraimite blood (albeit common) and a reputation of Hyksos-like ruthlessness, Potiphar at first raised Khian's hopes that the issue could be resolved. Potiphar was the most blood-thirsty and cynical of men, yet could appreciate the value of statecraft when dealing with his fellow Mizraimites.
Khian was terribly disappointed, however, when certain promising, negotiations broke down completely, and his favorite returned from Ibbatha, without the tribute money. Taking Potiphar' story as fact, Khian's Hyksos blood boiled at that point, and he ordered the attack of his finest chariots; all to no avail. Even Potiphar, Khian's great hope, could not drive his forces deep enough into Ibbatha to take the royal palace, and had been forced back all the way to the outskirts of Nathasta.
Zenobia, with her husband's reports and her own contacts at court, knew everything of the matter, though she was never admitted, being a woman, to secret councils or asked to court when great decisions of state were being made. Humiliated by her husband's weakening ability to please Khian with his military prowess, Zenobia began to pursue her own strategy in the capital. Late coming into wealth (her inheritance, because of the war losses of the Hyksos conquest, had been minimal) as Potiphar's wife, she then saw the fortune of his house increase dramatically under Joseph's administration. >p> The life of a wealthy and sophisticated woman was pleasurable, she found--if not as exciting as her maidenhood exposed to the opulent, wide-ranging caravans of the Arabian Desert. The land was so flat on the delta, steamy and full of crocodiles; yet the rich could entertain themselves with music and boating and fine foods and costly apparel and discreet affairs. For a time the sheer delights endlessly multiplied by riches were enough, yet as Potiphar sank in reputation she began to rise ever more restive in his house. It nettled her that certain light-headed Mizraimite women at court snubbed her and would not think to invite her to their pavilions on the River or to parties in their palatial homes.
"That half-breed Hyksos adventuress!" they unfairly called her as they watched her glide by on the river in her high-prowed boat; for, despite her Semitic name and taste for the brightest colors, she knew she was as Mizraimite as they.
Finally, there came a time when she could only depend on Hyksos nobility and low-born Mizramites for friends, as the ever-present line drawn between Mizraimite and foreigner widened in the re-emergent split of Ibbatha and Avaris, Upper and Lower Kingdoms. Certainly, it had proven the best of days and the worst of days when Potiphar had last gone to Ibbatha to collect the tribute, returning with a pretty-faced Habiru male slave. He had come back without any gold, claiming Ibbatha had refused, divulging only in private to Zenobia the true facts.
The war had begun in earnest at that point; and the consequent break-down of Hyksos rule. In quick succession, they had lost Tammu and Ga'arta to Ibbatha, or Mizraim proper from Nathasta to the first cataract. The petty princedoms of the Retenu remained tributary, but for how long? Now Khian held only the Delta with any assurance that it would not revolt and go over to his foes. The moon-god's city, Nathasta, was most questionable (and it did not help that Khian was known to despise moon-gods in favor of a barbaric, dog-headed Hyksos demon, Chill-dag).
With a head for affairs of state, Zenobia had pondered the closing events and her husband's role and come to her own conclusions; though she knew better than to ask questions and probe her sulking husband. Zenobia spent her days away from the house as much as possible. Yet she came to tire even of her own pleasure boat. How she pitied the Hyksos “noblewomen”! They affected Mizraimite ways, yet Semitic noses and accents betrayed their origins, just as Khian, though he tried very hard, looked so absurd and uncomfortable in the royal headdress and uraeus.
Stories were rife about his wardrobe; how he dressed in Hyksos leather and iron at night and beat harem girls; and also how given to fits of madness he was, even to tearing off his gauzy, white linen robe of state and gold pectoral and dressing a prize mare kept in his royal bedchamber. Zenobia had attempted to tell her Hyksos friends, in a kind way, to stop trying to be so Mizraimite; but her overture of wise council was greeted by Hyksos fighting spirit and scorn.
"Who are you, a Mizraimite subject, to tell us such slighting things?" they all responded, in one way or another, as victors to a vanquished people.
But Zenobia was one who could give it back with equal or better strength. “You’re mistaken. I have never been a subject to you. My father was ambassador to Per-aa Snofru and later chief counsel on foreign lands to Per-aa Apophis I and those who followed him. My family has always been close to the throne. Can you say as much for yourselves?”
She knew she had them on that point. They were parvenu, late risers to the court. Their husbands were now exalted generals and high officials of various sorts, but many of them had risen from the ranks of infantry and bowmen and such, and so they had fallen silent as her words triumphed over them. Thus, she had alienated many with her plain speaking and unplain manner of living. She could not help it. Her own approaching middle age was a source of deep discontent, and she could not escape the thought, even when she was gliding over the flowered surface of the River and its canals, pursuing the idyllic life of leisure that amused and diverted a noblewoman.
More and more she was left to her own company, just as her husband Potiphar. Resentful, and burning with a passion for a better life, Zenobia's thoughts returned increasingly to happier climes and circumstances in far-off Hazir and the Land of Purple. Could Potiphar be assigned there? She had slim hope of that. Khian, she realized, was so smitten by the good life of Mizraim he had little stomach for ever setting eyes on his forefathers’ homeland, and would die rather than hand over Mizraim to his rival in Ibbatha.
It was on one of these idle and tedious days of semi-retirement that Zenobia sighed in disgust and got up from her gilded couch in her private rooms.
Taking her sigh with her, she strolled to the rear porch that looked out on the garden and a number of pools and flower beds. There she caught a glimpse of Joseph industriously shepherding a work party toward the vegetable beds to pick ripe and succulent apple-gourds, and her grim, bitter expression lightened. She had, she realized, reason to show gratitude to the young man. After all, she knew very well that it wasn’t Potiphar but her steward who had made her extremely wealthy.
Now gratitude, for a woman, can take a specific, well-known form.