ࡱ> G bjbjَ h] \********DFFFFFF$5)j*****j^***^^^* **D*D^p^|D*- j 2C H R O N I C L E O F T H E B I T T E R R O O T A N N O S T E L L A E 5 9 3 8 Abdullahs Return Necrotizing fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacteria that somehow mutated into a technology-gobbling Greek pandemic destroying the Crystal Age of the 22nd Centurywhat little difference there was between its effets on humanity and the moral and psychological necrotizing of the Topaz. Of course, the Topaz would not appear for another 170 yearsyet all too soon the soil for the Bitter Root Star was being prepared in human hearts. Thus the proverb: Each hunts his brother with a net.. Reunions of old, bosom friends whose lives have mingled so intimately in childhood or youth is always a time of great stirrings of deep emotions. With the emotions oftentimes comes memories that are more misgivings, things left undone or unsaid, as wells as things done and things said, that bring shadows and even darkness to the bright joys of renewed fellowship. So it happened with son of Jacob and the son of Ishmael. No longer master as such over Abdullah, who was something of a prince in his native Gilead, the Joseph and Abdullah could share a heightened intimacy drawn from a thousand, shared experiences now that they had become close peers--but the heightened intimacy seemed lacking somehow. The interview of old, beloved friends in the palace of Machitha did not go as Joseph had expected. Abdullah shocked Joseph a bit by his rather limp-wristed, indifferent clasp of Josephs hand, and the normally crazy tribal hugging and sharing of tears and even some spittle in wild mens kisses, that didnt happen. The new Abdullah seemed to be content with a brief brush with Josephs hand, and no more. He was grown in size, to be sure, which was to expected in the passage of several good years with a good wife who not only could satisfy a mans frisky grasshopper but could manage his affairs most skillfully. His form had filled out, unfortunately without a beard hiding any flaws in his face and giving him a princely countenance. His hair had thinned and bared his crown and the back of his head, but this lack was well-covered with luxuriant locks combed over the bare spots, and swatches of camel hair held in place with golden hairpins, over which he drew a tremendous swathe of cloth, layer upon layer, to make a towering turban.. Aa grim expression was often fixed upon his fleshy but bluish lips, and his hands were plump and heavy with rings set with large, expensive looking gems of flashing, bright colors, though the effect was spoiled somewhat by the pomegranate stains on his fingers and palms. Heavy gold chains or a necklace of Mizraimite style encircled his thickened neck, and his head was covered with a tall golden turban from which golden tassels dangled. The top of it sprouted a splendid feathers, all which added considerably to his rather short stature . His slippers, too, were princely things, turned up at the toes and heels with golden points and fixed cunningly with platforms concealed within of leather-covered wood that increased Abdullahs stature considerably more. When he laughed at something, he rocked back and forth on those amazing shoes, and often servants had to catch him before he lost his balance and toppled over on his head.

What a spectacle he presented to the Grand Tatys court! His outer garment was red with large green stripes and gold and silver bells.. His sleeves could have hidden a goat in each with room to spare.. Yet despite all the impressive changes in appearance the wild old spark remained, Joseph saw. It not only survived beneath the glossy, imposing exterior, but flared momentarily whenever Abdullah perceived something was not done right in his presence, and woe betide the person who slipped up! All very minor things, no one should have been so upset, but Abdullah, moving swiftly despite his ungainly increase of size, even took a whip to a servant and gave him a terrific kicking with his feet as well after first removing his fine shoes. Finally, after several tantrums of Abdullah had inflicted enough people for the report to reach him, Joseph decided to speak to his old friend, as friend would speak to bosom friend. Despite his words, Joseph saw that his friend simply smiled to himself and was not perceiving any importance in what had been revealed about his harsh action of the previous day against a slaves clumsiness. He realized he had to go a step further and say an unpleasant thing--whether it provoked the fiery spirit of Ishmael against him or not, as a true friend could not let another friend fall into greater error without speaking. After all, Abdullah was an alien, a guest of his, and he, Joseph, was held accountable as a lord of the land second only to the Per-aa for the acts of Abdullah against the people under his charge and protection. It was his duty to see that Abdullah committed no more outrages. He decided that a private audience would be best, with no servants present, and only Asenath close by. You have not mentioned your family, your sons and wife. The Years of the Hyena are upon us already! Here the floodtimes of the river have failed twice now, and are their still rains, the former and the latter, in Gilead? And how are your brothers faring, and your elder brother? Abdullah, seated before Joseph as an equal in the tent of a friend, gazed at him without expression for a long moment. Gradually, his breath returned, and springing to his feet he began puffing and blowing from his nostrils, and it would seem, his ears. His hands went to his curved knife, then flew upwards in silently shouting gestures of rage and fury against the gods who had failed him so miserably as to promote someone else over his own vital interests. Prince Abdullah took one long, piercing, hawk-like look at Joseph--as if an eye could dart the unspoken question How dare you ask me about them, my son of Jacob?--then flew out of the chamber, his feet invisible and apparently turned to wings. Joseph turned to Asenath, who was shaking her head after Abdullah stormed out from their presence, his red,beetling brows down like a bulls and his elbows flailing like dangerous scythes on a chariots wheels. He is like the wind--the ever changing wind of the hot deserts and mountains where the cold sea lies between! If he chances to blow warm or hot, this son of Ishmael blows hot! If the next moment he chances to blow cool or cold, he blows as cold as he can. And one never knows what he will blow, dry or moist, hot or cold--this changeable man of winds! Yes, husband, I can see that for myself, but what did you say to him to provoke him like that? Ive never seen him so stirred up! Joseph stood, then walked to the open door that stood like a big window in the palace wall, which on the exterior was plastered white, giving the palace the name, The White Wall. All the light of the world seemed to be gathered there so that it might flood into their private chamber--but there was a reddish, dust-laden cloud hanging over the western city, a cloud with only one opening, and the light was contracted into one dim, rust-colored beam as if it were coming through the eye socket of a skull held up in a tombs dooryard. I have observed him getting very angry at the people our servants, he replied after a while gazing out. It is not right, and certainly not worthy of him in his position. He has not controlled himself, and has been getting worse, and yesterday he beat a man-servant for dropping a dish of ram stones during dinner and splashing gravy on Abdullahs robe. He took his whip against him before all the others, then threw him out the door into the pool beside it. Then the fellow was half-drowned, for Abdullah kept shoving his head under with his foot and kicking him. Finally, the other servants had to rescue him by crowding into the pool between him and Abdullah despite all his oaths and curses that he threw at them. The report reached me, and I had to say something, for everyone is watching us, to see how we allow the people to be treated. Asenaths brows contracted, and she said nothing. She rose, let her sewing fall, and went to another chamber down the hall, where the nursery held their two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, though she found the Hebrew awkward and called them by pet Mizraimite names instead. Later, she returned after hearing a fresh, new report from a chief nurse, who somehow knew everything going on in the palace concerning Abdullah, and was able to furnish her a new incident. Joseph looked searchingly at her, for her absence had been prolonged.. I was not feeling well, she said. It was only a womans thing. I am fine now. It is passing. I also looked in to see how Ram--ah, our two sons were doing. Are they playing happily? Are they minding their nurses? Yes, they are very happy, obedient children, she said, though she had found them fighting again over new toys. She had ordered the palace artisans to fashion them. One she chose specially for Ramesses, her favorite, fashioned like royal white stallions pulling a war golden warchariot into a battle, and the other for Ephraim in the image of a crocodile whose jaws sprang open at a touch on its back to seize a toy bird that was dropped by the nurse playing with him. Poor ittle second-born Ephraim had wanted the horse so badly he had thrown the crocodile and smashed it. Then he had attempted to tear the horse away from Manasseh. It had taken some time to separate the fighting boys and settled them down. Joseph went to her, and ran his hands through her fine hair, which was braided with a thousand beads of gold and white and blue coral. She stiffened, drawing slightly away as if his hands were an aliens, for ever since the drought had begun her fears and doubts had increased. Would it only be seven years of drought following the seven years of plenty? Or would it go on and on, adding up to ten or more, utterly destroying her people and nation? El Shaddai--He seemed less and less powerful in her mind, as she went on thinking in secret that the Wicked Star she had seen once in visions had returned and was overpowering the whole land, despite what Joseph had said would happen. What do you suppose Abdullah will do? she asked him, facing the wall. Will he heed your royal word of command to him? Joseph was surprised. So you are still thinking about him! Were you offended by what he did to your people? Yes, she said, unable to conceal the matter. I have just heard how he just now insulted a slave girl in his quarters--a servant who is not to be used in the way he demanded! I want to know, will he go on treating my people so outrageously? He has no right to do that! We women of Mizraim--he evidently takes us all for some inn-keepers daughters! Then she hissed something under her breath-- an imprecation perhaps used against dogs or serpents, one that started off a round of 100 curses a priest of the monkey-god had lately given her in secret conference.. Josephs mouth fell open, and he stared at her. His eyes darkened. Daughter of Potiphera, I have spoken to him, as you know. I have prayed for him. It is now between him and El Shaddai. I will await the result. But, husband, he has even gone so far as to assault our own households wo-- Now Asenath, royal daughter of the late Crown Prince Potiphera though she was and now exalted wife of the Grand Taty, had stepped decidedly wrong. She had crossed a wide, deep line, a vast gulf, set in ages past between master and subject in Mizraim, that not even a royal-blooded princess should even touch. Once a ruler of Mizraim had spoken in decision, all were bound to it as to a law of heaven. How much more should she respect a law recognized by the Most High God? Not looking at her so that he might not hold her accountable--for the law held that in practice that if he observed publicly a misdeed, then he was bound to execute punishment--Joseph left the chamber. Joseph, that evening, did not go back to his bedchamber where Asenath awaited him, for he had unfinished work. He had sent away his weary servants, even Ramoseh, the one he had chosen to be his attendant for life, who always stood in his presence. Reluctantly Ramoseh had retired, but he did not go far away and sat in a nearby chamber. A lamps light fell upon the important papers awaiting the signing of Josephs seal. Behind him the tapestries hanging on the wall, portraying all multitudinous life of Mizraims great river, its animals, birds, flowers, and the fishermen going forth in their boats, were cast in deep shadow, and the wind from the window behind them was moving them more than usual. When Josephs head finally began to nod as he sat in his gilded chair, a slippered shadow moved amidst the thick folds of the tapestries. It glided without sound as shadows do, and reached the chair. As if feeling a draught on his neck, Joseph turned, his eyes half-shut, raising his hand and rising part-way just as a knife plunged through the thin back of his chair. Joseph fell back, and the lamp upset, sending oil and flame across the papers on the table. The shadow leaped again, and the two fell down between the chair, the knife plunging again but caught as Joseph reached out, deflecting the thrust by catching the hand by the wrist. So it was a mortal man attacking him! Joseph saw. No phantom of the night! He held the mans wrist, and they rolled out across the floor, while the man kicked and smashed at him with his fist and legs and feet. But Joseph was the stronger man, and he began to overcome him just as Ramoseh and the palace guards burst in, carrying torches. In a moment, the assassin was pulled away and held struggling in their grasp. Joseph rose to his feet, staggered to his table, as the fire began to burn out, and the smoke made him cough and gasp for air. Hold him until I can see him, he said to the guards with Ramoseh. Do not slay him! The assassin tried a final time to lunge at Josephs throat as Joseph approached. But all that flew at Joseph was spittle and blood, for the mans lips had been struck in the scuffle with the guards. Yet the mans wild hair and hooded cape made his identification impossible at that moment. More servants and officials began to enter, bringing lamps. Joseph made quick decisions, and said: Bring him to another room, where we can be alone with him! Quickly! Following Ramoseh and the guards, Joseph left the crowd and went to a guard room below the palace floor, and there for the first time confronted his assassin in full light. Abdullah! Joseph gasped. Overcome, Joseph staggered away, hardly able to stand. Limping to a chair, he sat down on the edge, breathing hard. The horror that gripped him gagged him, and he was retching. How he gathered his strength together and went to face the horror itself, Joseph did not know, but somehow he found himself back confronting his would-be assassin. But was it Abdullah? Joseph saw a strangers face, contorted with rage and arrogance, so unlike Abdullah as to be a puppets made from papyrus papers glued together and painted, the kind you see in the village charades staged by wandering entertainers. He grasped the man by the shoulders. Abdullah? he cried. Are you my brother? Or someone other? Say! But the stranger persisted, resisting the guards restraints with even more fury, and attempting to break free in order to have at Joseph yet another time. Joseph would not give up, he would have the man acknowledge him. He stood there, and as the moments passed, the anger seemed to drain slowly from the man to the point where Joseph could see it really was Abdullah and not the stranger he had desperately hoped to find. Abdullah, revealed, fell limp in the guards hands. As he did so his eyes rolled up in their sockets, then fell and caught Josephs suffering gaze. Joseph offered his hand. Abdullah, gasping, took it. Like two wounded, badly bruised children in an accident, together they walked free of the guards, both staggering a bit. Joseph led him out of the chamber and Ramoseh closely followed. They reached the gardens where they could converse more privately amidst the tall shrubbery and trees. Why have you done this to me? Joseph whispered, when they were standing out alone on the waters edge beneath the palms. You my sweet companion with whom I shared close counsel and have walked since our youth? You knew me in my times of misfortune and now in times of great blessing. Abdullah, his strength returning, smiled with nearly all his teeth as he turned his palms outward. What have I done? I have done nothing! Why are your servants setting on me whenever I go to see you! They should be severely beaten for it. How dare they touch a royal prince of Gil... Lied to face to face, amazed, bewildered, and also angry, Joseph paused, for he had never met such bold-faced deceit as this in his years as Grand Taty. Was he broken in his wits or spirit, or both? Are you ill? he asked Abdullah, tears streaming from his eyes as he reached to touch his friends brow. You could not be doing this to me if you knew what you were doing. Come lie down and rest, and you will recover. I will pray again for you, my friend! Come! Abdullah sprang to his feet, then nearly toppled. He pushed away Josephs hand. Strutting forth on bare feet, he grasped his golden, jeweled and tasselled girdle. I have never felt better! I dont need any help. I shall go to my chamber now! Do not stand in my way! No, beloved friend, I have never felt better! Joseph made a sign for the guards watching the scene, and reluctance and alarm written on Ramosehs countenance, they let the swaying Gileadite go back into the palace as an honored guest of Grand Taty. Joseph and Ramoseh returned to his work chamber, though in his badly shaken state he could not settle his thoughts well enough to do more on the documents. Ramoseh gazed at Joseph until he turned and looked at him helplessly. I dont know what is to be done with my brother. He is not acting his old self. It is as if an evil serpent dwells in him and he cannot control it. Joseph and Ramoseh were still in the chamber discussing Abdullahs change when the guards announced Abdullah, and Ramoseh went to admit him. The prince was drunk. Tears streamed from his eyes as he tottered toward Joseph. My beloved brother, I must have lost my wits! How could I lift a hand against my beloved Joseph? How? I am a beast! A stupid, wretched donkey! I am not a man, I am a viper in the brides thigh, to do such a thing! He fell on Josephs neck, and Joseph had everything he could do to keep upright and not be pushed by Abdullahs dead weight to the floor. Joseph and Ramoseh helped him as soon as possible to a chair, and it creaked alarmingly when Abdullah fell into it. Ive already forgive you, brother! Joseph comforted him. Do not mourn so much! The whole palace will be awakened. Come take your rest. Abdullah seemed not to have heard him, and continued to wail. Joseph held Abdullahs fat, trembling hands, and reassured him. When it seemed he would go on and on, Abdullah suddenly broke off wailing and his head went back, and with open mouth began snoring loudly, showing his strong set of teeth. Joseph gave a sign to Ramoseh, and he took the strongest servants and carried the prince in his chair back to his chamber for the night. The next morning, and no Abdullah appeared, but, then, Joseph was not surprised, as the prince had a habit of sleeping late. Manasseh with his long glossy Mizraimite sidelock and Ephraim standing at the side of their mother and the nursemaids, with Ramoseh keeping close watch, were out on the landing where the boats tied up, with Joseph intending to take them all on the river when Abdullah came hurrying toward them, his servants helping him by the arms since he couldnt move fast enough on his elevated shoes. Wait, beloved and eternal friend Joseph! Wait for your precious and most faithful Abdullah! He will go along with you, prince with fellow prince! So Abdullah went with the family on the river, though Asenath turned to Joseph and gave him a disapproving glance. She had heard the commotion in the palace, every detail. When she could get free of the boys and the nurses, she bent close to Josephs ear. How can you forgive him what he has done to you, husband? He tried to do violence to you, the high lord of Mizraim, father to the per-aa, and yet you have not thrown him in prison, nor have you given him any punishment. Everywhere people are all talking about this! In the markets, int he princes houses and temples and in the streets and in the public houses and the working places and amidst the caravans on the Ways--it is a terrible scandal. The whole land is unsettled by the report of his behavior toward the peraas Grand Taty. You must do something to quieten them, so that they will look at you with confidence as before. Joseph looked grieved at her, not alarmed. Well, then, they will talk! But they are ignorant of him. He was not in his right mind. He takes too much wine, and then he becomes a stranger. Men do no know their best friends, when they have drunk much. But now he is returned to his right mind. Asenath looked at Abdullah, sitting in a chair attended by his servants with trays of food and drink, and shook her head. How can you be sure? He looks no different to me than he did yesterday! Joseph caught her hand. Though no one else understand us, we must forgive! We cannot hold anything against a brother. He is a son of Father Abraham! And to strike him is to strike my own flesh. I would just as soon strike Ramoseh again as do my brother Abdullah any hurt! He then glanced meaningfully at his Chief Cupbearer, Ramoseh, who must forever hand his master his cup with a left hand, as Joseph, in a rash moment as overseer of Lord Potiphars household years before, had taken the right for an act of theft. Asenath, though she took the meaning of Josephs glance, looked again at Abdullah, and moved away still shaking her head. As for Ramoseh, she did not trust him as Joseph trusted, since she could not understand how one like that could forgive his masters severity--even though years had passed. Despite the obvious signs of deepening drought, the shrunken waters and the brownness of the fields, the prince of Gilead seemed to like the outing on the river. He called to the two boys, and, attracted to his smiles and beautiful robes and plumes, they climbed into his lap. He sang them Gildeadite muleteer songs about certain naughty camels and beautiful girls riding the camels that took them to mountains of spices and fed the girls with pomegranates and fine dates, but something evil happened to the digestion of the girls when they ate too much of these fine things, and the camels ended the scene by singing a song of their own that ended up unsuitable for the boys tender ears, so that Asenath, growing offended, pulled the boys away. Annoyed at the interruption, Abdullah frowned. He had words for her. It is a sacred song of my beloved people, and will not hurt a baby! You do wrong to take offense! I have other holy songs they would love to hear! Let me embrace them! Oh, I love them--they are the golden fruits, the golden seed of my beloved Joseph! Her boys pleaded with the mother, and Joseph had not heard the camel song, so he knew nothing. Though Asenath stood opposed to further contact, she was not so careful with Ephraim who kept pleading and crying, and he slipped back to Abdullah at the first opportunity as the outing continued up the river, the winds filling the sail and propelling them against the current. This time Abdullah was more careful. He sang his muleteer songs more softly into the boys ears, and the boys face grew red and excited as he listened. Finally, the boy cried out. Abdullahs hands had gone to the boys throat and head, bending the boys head back, and he was squeezing far too hard as if he might be going to snap his neck and choke him at the same time. A nurse cried out, and no longer able to restrain himself Ramoseh leaped forward and with one hand pulled the choking, struggling Ephraim from Abdullah, and Joseph looked and saw the commotion but had no idea what was happening. Asenath told him everything, and then Abdullah turned to Joseph who came up to him, saying, That lad needs a full-blooded, lion-hearted man like me to tell him a thing or two. A boy in the sweet-scented hands of weak women all day will grow up like a woman! He will be soft like willow in the pith, and bend this way and that. Pfui! It takes a man to make a boy into a man! As for my songs, they are good for a boy to learn, and so I teach them to him. What harm is that? He needs to know manly things, so that when he becomes a man he-- Joseph looked as if he were facing a foe, for now he knew what he was dealing with. With the authority of his high office, he spoke to Abdullah. I will teach them in the palace School of the Princes what they need to know, just as I teach all the princes of this land and the court. I am accounted their father and lord as father to the Per-aa. You do no need to teach them anything of your peoples ways. I know your people. Except for your beloved brothers, and Meshullam, the most noble of them, they do not know, nor do they follow the Most High God. Abdullah squinted as if in terrible pain, a pain from within piercing his vitals as if with a swinging sword with a hook on it to tear out his bowels. But when the pain passed sufficiently he shrugged, seeing he was aboard a vessel of Josephs and could go nowhere else at present. As you wish, Joseph my beloved! As you wish! I live only to please Your Majesty! My one desire is to bless you and your seed forever with all blessings of heaven and earth! Giving Ramoseh a deadly look for manhandling him twice now, Abdullah settled himself and his bulky finery back into a chair. The remaining trip, spoiled somewhat by the incident, passed, and Abdullah rode silently along the rest of the way, disdaining all offered fruits and refreshments, and when they returned to the palace he left the ship without a parting word to Joseph. Asenath paused as the boys were taken by their nursemaids back to the palace. She went to Joseph, who was standing for a moment, watching Abdullah depart. You must tell him to leave us! I will not sleep another night with that serpent and his servants under our roof! Joseph looked at her. He was not in disagreement. How could he allow so changeable a person under his roof? What would this man of wind do next against him and his family? I will allow him another chance, but I will speak to Ramoseh to set guards about his chamber, as I did not do before. They will not allow him free passage in the palace tonight. Tomorrow I will tell him he must go, for the sake of the palace servants who are disturbed by his mistreatment. He will be angry, no doubt, but will go. I will not anger him further tonight, and I cannot turn him out into the street to find lodgings with strangers. Perhaps, out in the desert and wilderness he will think more straightly, and come to his right mind. The wilderness is sometimes good for a mans troubled spirit in that way. Asenaths eyes and whole body seemed to blaze. You put us all in great danger! You are raising a sword over all our heads, and the heads of your own sons! He must not stay with us tonight! He-- Josephs whole body as he gazed at her stiffened. A perplexed, suffering look in his eyes, he walked away, leaving her standing there. She stood looking after him, for he had never done this before to her. Abdullah, when he saw the guards Ramoseh had stationed by his portal, threw a fit. He stood shouting and hopping up and down on his stilted shoes until Joseph himself had to come to quieten him. A hundred servants had already come to the commotion, and the guards looked so tense and angry that Joseph saw he had come just in time to prevent a bloody fight between the Gileadites and the Mizraimites. He stepped forward, offering his hand diplomatically, after giving the order for the guards of Ramoseh to fall back. My beloved friend, it is time, I see, for your parting from us. Our gifts will be given you now. Abdullah, expecting an angry Joseph and further confrontation, was too surprised to react at first. The gifts arrived quickly, having been prepared by Joseph that night in case of a swift departure like this, and Abdullah and his servants were given so many they hand no hands and arms left to handle their weapons. Then, with pre-arranged instructions, the Mizraimite guards then began to push, and the whole Gileadite embassy with their prince were propelled toward the door and the palace gate, where their camels had been brought and made to kneel by Josephs order. Music makers were assembled to make the princes going noisy and distracting. Celebrating the princes somewhat abrupt departure from Mizraim, to give the thing more a look of favor than disfavor, dancing girls performed. Abdullah, sputtering and overcome by so much gaiety and extravagance given him and his entourage, was rendered powerless. In a few moments he was pushed up on his mount, handed more gifts and garlands of flowers and gifts of robes and gilded sandals, with jars of perfume and boxes of fine sweatmeats, and then the camels were started off down the avenue leading toward the Way of Shur and the route back to Gilead. When they had gone, and Joseph and Ramoseh stood looking at the dust kicked up by Abdullahs camels, Joseph looked as if the pain that remained was worse than the pain that had gone. He turned sad-faced back to his chamber, this time the one he shared with Asenath. Ramoseh, following, stopped at the door of the chamber as was his custom. The princess had not come out to see what was happening, but servants had told her everything by this time. She stared at him, amazed, and said nothing. Josephs eyes were heavy, and he now in his chambers privacy shed tears. What could have changed him so? What evil has possessed him? Now he has returned the same way in heart he came--so I fear there will be peace between our people and his from this time on. I could do nothing with him, to change his heart. Nothing! He will return to people and speak many angry words against us, and they will become enemies of the sons of Jacob, where before they were friends. God himself could not change such a one! Asenath retorted, her expression saying, Must you weep for such a scoundrel? Must you, husband? She clenched his fists and went on. Good riddance to him! And he is at enmity with YOUR people alone? No, he is a bitter foe to my people as well! If he ever dares show his face here again, he will not live to tell about it! My people will not bear their insolence a second time! Joseph rose from the bed on which he had been sitting fully clothed, rising quickly as if he had been stung by something. We must forgive him, and not hold bitterness within us, or it will defile us just as it has defiled him and his servants! Asenath, her fire burning even hotter, refused to cast her eyes down in shame. You should talk of this forgiveness! Did your brethren think of forgiveness, when they tried to kill you by throwing you in a pit, then later sold you into slavery in a foreign land? Among my people, it is a base weakness, not a noble strength, to let a foe go unpunished! You say I will be defiled if I do not forgive? Then I will be defiled! I cannot forgive him his outrages against us and our family and my nation! Never will I forgive him and his people what they did here! And you--you yourself have not forgiven your own brothers the outrages they committed against you in your youth, have you? So please dont tell me I must forgive someone who has attacked my husband, my sons, and also my servants! Josephs face looked as if death had struck him. Seeing an arrow had struck its mark, but not quite sure which arrow it was so she could follow it with a twin, she continued. Yes! You hate them all, dont you? You have dreamt many terrible things you wish to do them, if only you could get your hands on them! I know your secrets, husband! Dont think I dont. A wife knows her husbands hidden heart, and yours is not full of forgiveness but is overflowing with bitter hatred for your brothers for their crimes against you! So dont ever upbraid me again about this forgiveness of yours! I have watched you, many nights, toss on our bed and mutter their evil names! Joseph left the chamber. He went into another immediately, shutting the door against the servants and even the guards, his thoughts whirling. He went and sat down, unable to think for a moment. Was she right? Was he such a hypocrite? Was he harboring rank murder in his own heart, then piously preaching forgiveness to her? Maybe she right. What man could divine the darkness of his own heart? As for Gilead and the prince Abdullah, Joseph was informed that the Gileadites became restive after Abullahs return, and he was always inciting them to attack caravans if found them going to Mizraim. Joseph was forced to send out armed parties to clear the Way of Shur of the bandits preying upon the caravans, and blood was spilled. The fighting continued worse, and there was no end of the conflicts. Thus the bitterness brought to the courts and household of Joseph from Gilead remained, touching many. Often, in the days following Abdullahs going, Joseph went out on the terrace and turned toward the eastern desert and far Gilead. To those who observed him, he seemed to be looking for sign of someone coming on the caravaneers highway. But always after scanning the horizon he would give up for the time being, and return, his eyes sad and troubled over what he was thinking. Asenath, too, scanned the horizon where Abdullahs caravan had last been seen heading for Gilead. Several times Asenath asked Ramoseh about the guards set on the palace grounds, despite the fact it was not her business to do so. She also commanded him like a reigning queen of Mizraim, See that you keep close watch for the Hebrew assassin! I hold you responsible if he should return and we are not warned! Ramoseh did not report this to Joseph. He knew Joseph had enough troubles in his household with two boys who were always at odds in the nursery, the eldest favorite incited by the mother against the youngest. Evenso, he set additional watch, though he trusted El Shaddai to warn them, thinking that if she saw the guards he had set then her fears might go away and trouble her less. Ramoseh was wrong. Her fears did not dissipate. They grew worse. Seeking help for her troubled thoughts, she had gone to the priest of the monkey-god, who officiated in a temple near the White Walled Palace of Machitha. This was just one of the many temples, for the priesthoods were given their allotment during the famine as before it--according to the will of the foreign per-aas who wished not to offend Mizraims ancient gods. Seeing that Joseph did not raise his hand against the old temples of her country and their ways, she saw no reason to avoid them if they might be of service to her. It was easy for her to slip away to the temple, find the priest and gain the counsel she needed, pay him and leave a gift for the god, then return to the palace before she was missed by Joseph. The Imprecations of the Monkey-God were powerful, the priest told her. Actually invocations of another deity, the Scorpion-Goddess, they would not only destroy her foe, but the foes people would also be destroyed! Reciting them faithfully, he said, would invoke the curses full power. The trick was to keep reciting them until the curses had worked their full vengeance on the accursed one. Was Asenath of a mind and undivided will to use the curses as they had been designed? Yes! Her struggles had always been ones of life and death--those times she had fought with the chief priest of Nathasta, and then with Prince Narmer. With her could be no balance, no sense of fair dealing where an enemy was concerned. Enemies were to be attacked and wiped out, not forgiven and granted mercy! Asenath soon had the curses learnt by heart, and recited them several times a day at the least. She found herself growing stronger the more she cursed Abdullah the Assassin. Having forgotten the recent past that spoke of Joseph and Abdullahs friendship, with no ties of blood or kinship to turn her mind she perceived the Gileadite only as a threat and potent evil. And the curses worked, her mind cleared of tormenting fears and doubts. Let Joseph forgive the unforgivable, it no longer mattered he refused to protect her and their household. Thanks to the monkey-gods priest and the One Hundred Imprecations, she had found a true way to deal with her enemy. Ah...Smite him in the heel...leap upon him...strike his finger when he reaches for a date from the cluster... Strolling outdoors with the nurses and her sons, she quietly prayed the hundred curses invoking the Scorpion-Goddesss attacks on her enemy. She ate, slept, and breathed them as well. Never one to do things in half measure, she gave the curses all the intensity of which she was capable. Day and night the curses continued on absorb her, and as she walked this path her husbands God, El Shaddai, receded farther and farther from her own view so that she lost nearly all sense of His being. Following the trajectory of the Carnelian, the Topaz turned its beam to a particular solar system, scanned a single planet, registering its life forms, and analyzing the data. This planet was the residence of the chief stone of fire, or so it had been until recently. The Topaz--or, rather, the scorpion spirit-form that formed the genius of the star-stone, could not tell what had happened to its predecessor, the chief of the whole family of star-stones. The Topaz might have turned away at that point, having not found its ruling star-stone, except that it intercepted transmissions that warmed its interest to the point they could not be resisted. At a spot in the earth where the Carnelian had last resided transmissions were going forth that called strongly to the Topaz.... Smite him in his heel wherever he steps, O Great Scorpion! Leap upon him when he goes to his couch for sleep, O Divine Stinging One! Goddess of Pincers and Barbed Tail, strike his finger when he reaches for a date from the cluster where you lie hidden! O Sweet Avenging One, let a concubine in his embrace kiss him with your fatal-stinger held between her lips! Thou Fiercely Consuming Fire, Jealous and Cruel Beyond All Others Fires, multiply Thy burning flames and attack all his family and kinsmen, so that they are continually provoked by imagined wrongs and fight each other to the death over the slightest provocations! It proved more than the Topaz, Root of Bitterness, could resist. Was this not the same evil thing that was revealed, and would again be revealed, in the Holy Books of Israel and Mosheh? For of this Bitter Root and Bitter Star it was written: Each hunts his brother with a net. Put no trust in a neighbor; guard the doors of your mouth from her who lies in your bosom; for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother; a mans enemies are the men of his own house. 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