After all he and the FC had done, Wally was dismayed when the rare and happy conditions of life for the Hebrews in Mizraim declined gradually to outright oppression. He had just seen OP vanish from the gameboard and expected things to get better and better--and so they did for a brief time--then the so-called “Eye of Pher” appeared in the northern part of the two kingdoms and turned everything upside down. Soon after, Prince Ahmoseh of Ibbatha rose up and with his armies assailed the Hyksos and pushed them out of the Two Kingdoms and as far as northern Ken’an. Ahmoseh I was the first of the Mizraimite Per-aas after the expulsion of the Hyksos, and succeeding Per-aas became even more warlike and imperialistic.
During Ahmoseh I’s long, long tenure--he ruled seventy years--the Hebrews, meanwhile, resided in out-of-the-mainstream Goshen Enclave and continued about their business being shepherds, cattlemen, and breeders of big families. With boundaries at the Delta on the west and the Bitter Lakes, Reed Sea, and high desert on the east, grassy, well-watered Goshen was a little world unto itself, a well-watered, grassy marchland better suited to shepherds and flocks than to river-dwelling Mizraimites. Few Hebrews were military men and served with armies, so it was not really their war. With a native Mizraimite Per-aa, things resumed much as they had before, but the people changed. They began to draw back from the Hebrews, even while the Hebrews, needing more space for their huge numbers, encroached on cities in the Delta and along the river.
The springing cobra Ahmoseh I died and Ahmoseh II stepped into his father’s gilded sandals. Following his father’s lead, he showed he did not trust Hebrews and stationed troops near the Hebrews and even sent spies among them for information.
Forty years of his reign ended with his death, and Ahmoseh II ascended the throne, continuing the anti-Hebrew pogrom. When he died after thirty two years of rule, Pher-enath I took up the crook and the mace of royal power. Knowing nothing of the Grand Taty Joseph (no counselor would dare to mention to him now the glorious acts of Hebrew ruler in court), who had ruled during the hated Hyksos period, Pher-enath I judged the times ripe to proceed and with the backing of his counselors, he levied taxes on Jacob and Joseph’s people, the first they had known. Taxes increased until the Hebrews had to give up their herds to pay, reducing the most wealthy to poverty. Finally, the livestock gone and they had to offer their bodies as payment; thus, they fell into enslavement, the entire people, though this was not at all a time or dearth and famine. It could be said this was the same fate that befell the Mizraimites under Joseph’s overlordship during the Years of the Hyena, but it was actually quite different. The Mizraimites suffered no terrible oppression and injustice as a result. Most all succeeded in buying back themselves and their houses and possessions from the Throne after several years of renewed good harvests, so that their days of servitude were few (contrary to what the princess, Asenath the wife of Joseph, had feared). Now, for no reason other than they were hated by the Per-aa, the entire people of Israel was subjected to extreme servitude, persecution, and hopeless poverty.
Appointed by the government, Mizraimite taskmasters took charge of the tribes and rode them hard at their allotted tasks--various projects of new cities and border fortresses the Per-aa’s architects designed.
Mizraimites enjoyed exemption from menial work; that was reserved for the Hebrews. Made shackled beasts of burden, the people cried day and night to their tribal elders and patriarchs, particularly after the Per-aa, fearing the ever-growing numbers and might of the Hebrews, decreed that Hebrew midwives dispose of newborn males in the River--a double safeguard, since the promised savior might come again according to old Hebrew lore (related to him by cunning temple priests who wished to see no rival to their power such as another Joseph rise from the Hebrew priesthood).
Wally watched all this and knew enough about FC to wait for the morning and ride out the boiling, black storm Per-aa Pher-enath I had stirred up against Joseph’s people.
But he waited. And waited. Which is not say he was idle! He was too full of questions.
For example, what had happened to the Holy Writ, the Bible? Did the Hebrews have it, or at least the first five books written by Moses, the so-called Pentateuch, or Torah?
He investigated and found a most sorry state of affairs. Yes, the Hebrews had copies of the books of Moses, which was really not due to their efforts but the fact the books never wore out not matter how badly they were neglected! Proscribed and banned by the Per-aa, no Hebrew wanted to be caught with them, so they were hidden away.
One hideout was a communal dovecote, a huge, many-celled, wooden structure filled with feathers and droppings, the kind that is commonly seen in village as a convenient collection point for pigeon fertilizer, eggs, and the tasty pigeon themselves.
Another hiding place was a cracked jar in a unused room of an old brewery.
Taking no interest in sacred things of their forefathers, the people were ignorant of the books’ contents because they made no effort to read them, either before the ban or after. It was simple tradition to safeguard the sacred books, and anyway they attached more spiritual efficacy to wrapping gravestones of supposed holy men and powerful magicians with rags and sticks provided by an accommodating rabbi than they did to God’s Word. These collections were everywhere in the Hebrews’ homes. If a child fell sick or broke a limb, on went the blessed rags and sticks. If a woman experienced hard birth or other complications, on went the rags and sticks. No one thought it worthwhile to pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph for help and healing.
Where was HE anyway? Abraham’s God had led them down to Mizraim and then left them in the lurch, or so it seemed to them. They blamed Jacob, forgot Joseph’s miraculous life of provision, and heaped their resentment and anger on the God of Israel who had, apparently, stuck them in a foreign land and left them there unaided. So, in the state of dire need and bitter distress, they turned to blessed rags and sticks. Rags and sticks for the Almighty!
To Wally’s mind, the state to which Hebrew piety had fallen was a disgrace--a spiritual night every bit as deep as the actual one in which the Per-aa had cast the fortunes and lives of God’s Chosen People.
“Oh no, they’re going round the mountain again, and they don’t know it!” Wally observed. “What lessons they could draw from Moses’s books for their present predicament! It would change everything if they knew the truth, if they knew how Israel’s Rock had once delivered them from their mightiest foes--but their eyes are closed, shut tight! All they can see and choose to see is the deep, miry ditch they’re in.”
And about that Hebrew penchant for national purblindness Wally was right; there really was no way out for the self-blinded Hebrew people--except for one thing, the creative instinct in an individual. One man was all that was needed to re-invent something that used to be called the internal combustion engine and the automobile. Even though his people were too beaten down to do anything but gather and mix straw with mud and then make bricks from the concoction, one of them was under no such bondage--therefore, he was free to think and exhibit his people’s God-given genius for making wonderful things. Unwittingly, both Hebrew and Mizraimite societies were fated to repeat the whole account, just as Wally feared it would happen, since they could not remember what they had not bothered to read.
Truly, the Mizraimites feared and hated the Hebrews all the more after getting wind of a promised deliverer who would free their Hebrew slaves one day--but the Hebrews themselves knew virtually nothing about it.
Deliverer? When their own god had forsaken them, what man among them could possibly set them free? No, they would much rather rely on something real, something you could hold in your hands, like blessed fetishes of sticks and rags.
Fortunately for them, not all thought that way. Here and there a pregnant Hebrew mother dared to hope that her coming child might be that deliverer the Mizraimites feared and the Hebrews disbelieved. Jocabed was one of those few, choice women.
She would have furnished them much cause for cruelty, especially when they looked inside her basket. Reaching the cover of tall, thick bulrushes along the river bank, she knelt down with gasps for breath, and fumbling in the basket drew out a vessel from which she smeared the basket with water-proofing bitumen imported from Babelen.
Putting her tarred fist in her mouth, she tasted the terrible, acrid bitterness that she has tasted all her life as a bondswoman, but her act made sure she would not cry out as she looked into the basket to see the infant. It was too dark to make out his features.
Just recently fed at her breast, he was fast asleep. Glancing out at the dark, rushing water, she lifted her face imploringly as she pushed the little craft toward the current.
At that moment a verse from the holy word flashed into her mind, “Vain is the help of man.”
Knowing a few more bits of scripture than her compatriots because of her priestly tribe, she could agree.
Yes, how vain! Even her kinsmen, fellow Israelites, would refuse to entangle and endanger themselves with her trouble. In acute adversity themselves, they wanted no more burdens. Besides she was Levite, and they, perhaps, of Ephraim or Manasseh, who counted themselves better than the tribe of Levi and loved to recount how treacherously her father Levi had treated their father Joseph once upon a time.
Silently as a spirit of Ain Pher’s necropolis, a little Hebrew maid glided to a spot close by where she watched a dark figure wading into deeper water before it bent over in a silent, convulsive movement.
Miryam was terrified to think her little brother was in the water with crocodiles. It was hard to understand though her parents had carefully explained that the mighty Per-aa had ordered Hebrew midwives to slay all male babies and that only the River now offered a way to save the baby’s life.
She saw her mother give the basket a final push. Then a sister’s tears streamed into the dark, muddy horror that had just engulfed her brother like the black maw of a crocodile.
Yet she couldn’t just stand there and let him go like that. Straining to keep sight of the drifting basket through dense vegetation, she crept amidst ankle-catching roots of rushes in dangerous, crocodile-infested shallows.
At that same time Hetepheres, eldest daughter of the Per-aa nearing her thirtieth birthday, left Ain Pher’s New Palace with slaves and ladies-in-waiting to go down to her marble-paved bathing place at the riverside.
She left her husband sleeping in a warm bed, and hoped it was true what an aged servant-woman had told her. She said any who went early to bathe before the light broke stood a good chance of the sacred waters blessing her with a child.
“O Princess!” cried a Kushan slave-girl whose duty was to wade in first to made sure there were no lurking crocodiles that might snatch the royal-blooded.
Unheard of, being addressed directly by so low a servant! Infractions like that invited a hard thrashing with a knotted rope by a burly palace eunuch. But the princess looked where the girl was pointing and saw an odd shaped thing floating toward the bank--not a crocodile, surely, but what was it?
“It’s only some dirty, old rubbish a Hebrew laborer has thrown in!” a lady-in-waiting laughed as she turned to admonish the girl with a stiff rebuke. “Hebrews are always defling our sacred waters that way. Or maybe its their promised deliverer out taking a nice swim!”
“No, it’s a basket, I swear by the gods! And well-made so that it will float and not sink!”
And it was! Evenso, what good was it? The princess was not particularly interested. She wanted her bath and the possible blessing of her barren womb that it could bring, and the incident had put her behind.
Even now light was breaking and the charm was being spoiled. She was annoyed, to the point where she might have ordered the girl punished for distracting her from her royal ablutions.
A cry burst from the incoming basket, long and wailing like an infant’s!
Immediately, the women forgot court dignity’s loftiness of demeanor and rushed to draw it out, laughing and joking.
Never had anything so amusing happened at a customarily solemn royal bath back at the palace. They dragged the basket up to the very feet of the astonished princess.
Though jeweled, scented hands were spotted with a strange, black substance that would not rub off, the women laughed because it was an infant, a naked male child, squalling in the basket.
The aging princess’s sad and beautiful eyes--by far her best feature--widened as she looked at it. Then she stepped forward and bent over the basket, laying her hand gently against the infant’s cheek. “I will take him,” she declared with awakening joy. “The gods have heard my prayers of these many years!”
Everyone gasped. “Her Royal Highness is being facetious, of course!” someone whispered as the princess continued to stroke the infant. “He may be a Hebrew and should be drowned according to the Per-aa’s decree. Besides, he is very repulsive in body and foreign-looking, this one. Fit only for making bricks or digging holes for putrid dyeworks or tanneries!”
The princess’s heart surged, filling with the most powerful love and longing, now that the dark night of her life was swept so unexpectedly with light and promise.
She had seen him, and he was not ill-favored, by any measure. Indeed, in eyes, face, arms, hands and fingers, legs and body, he was more beautiful than any weak-bodied, red-faced, squalling infant of royal concubines she had ever viewed in the harem nursery. No other child she had seen equalled her dream of the divine child she dreamed of bearing--but would never bear.
“I will take him for my son, a prince for the throne!” she declared again, with the unmistakable tone of royal command. “And he is not Hebrew! I shall have anyone punished severely who says so.” Though she defied the Per-aa, she was still his chief daughter and wore a golden cap signifying Pher’s disk. No one in her entourage dared suggest a contrary thought again--least not in her hearing.
All the while this was going on, they failed to notice a mud-smeared slip of a girl creep out of the water and up the steps. She was standing by the princess before anyone noticed and moved to thrust her away.
“I happen to know a respectable village woman to suckle the child for you,” said Miryam with words that should have been beyond her years, particularly since they were in the intricately-inflected Mizraimite tongue. “I will go fetch her for you, O Lady!”
The princess, overwhelmed with the rush of providential events, could only murmur, “Yes, child! Run and get me a good, respectable nurse!”
It was then his name came to her. She called the new, river-borne princeling “Mosheh,” “Drawn Out,” because he was taken from the River. Oddly enough, she passed over the primary meaning, “One who draws out,” inflecting the word to make it mean what she wished.
Miryam was soon back with her mother, who staggered and sank to her wet knees at the sight of the high-born Mizraimite ladies. Holding her bitumen-smeared hands clenched in her robe, the prospective nurse prostrated herself before them more from shock than respect.
One of the ladies, coifed in pure gold, stepped toward her and halted, narrow chin raised high and glancing sidelong toward her. “Rise, slave! I wish to see your countenance.”
Jokabed lifted her head and drew back her shawl a bit for the oppressor.
“That is good,” observed the commanding lady. “I detect no deceitful cunning, neither is there gross stupidity, both of which typify so many of you common village people! But you seem good though plain, which is enough in your case. Now hear me! I am taking this beautiful waif born of the Waters of Blessing for my own son, since the god of the sacred River has awarded him to me. ”
Who could naysay these words of a royal princess? The very winds of heaven quieted, and all creation seemed to wait to see what she would say next.
“You look like you will do well by him,” the Per-aa’s daughter continued with ever growing resolution. “Since I have no milk in my breasts I need someone to nurse him until he is able to climb upon my knee. Do you agree to this? I will pay you, for I will not order you as a subject to do this task. I want you to do it the best you can, so I want you willing, not forced. I will pay you generously, with gold, fine garments--whatever you like, you can have. Only do not teach him your ways or anything concerning the gods, for those things will be taught him in the palace school. Now what is your name?”
Jokabed, her mind and heart whirling in a terrible mixture of darkness and light, hardly knew what she said, for she was afraid to reveal that she was a despised Hebrew and though she knew some Mizraimite the speaker’s words were too cultivated and accented to compare with the rough words--”Make way, fools!” “Work harder, Hebrew scum!” “Confound you foreigners, are you worms without feet? Move faster, wretch, or be thrashed!”--she heard daily from Mizraimite taskmasters in the vast brick pits of the Per-aa while she was still with child. Without thinking she knew better than to show her hands and kept them from sight.
Jokabed’s daughter, fortunately, was not at a loss for words and fired off something in highly sophisticated court Mizraimite. It went, “Discern yourself the woman’s name and origin, for this affair is a discreet matter reserved only for you, Your Royal Highness.”
Taking the little girl’s advice without looking at her, the princess took the meaning to heart and abruptly ordered the ladies-in-waiting and slaves away, so that she might speak more privately. Even the eunuchs with fly whisk plumes and umbrellas had to retire to a distance out of earshot.
Stepping slowly round Jokabed in her golden sandals, the princess gave Jokabed a sharp glance.
“Show me your hands, slave!” she commanded. “Despite your guileless-seeming demeanor, you are hiding something from me!”
Jokabed, losing her last hope, obeyed.
“Ah, I suspected it the moment you came forward so quickly when called!” the princess sighed, then softened after another look at the baby, which looked at her with ravishing, beautiful eyes and smiled. “So you are a Hebrew slave! And you put this basket in the water too! Dirty hands betray you! Well, he is Holy Mizraim’s now and a royal prince in my household in the palace, for I am Hetepheres, daughter of the Per-aa. I will commute your death sentence for this crime of yours, and in return you will say absolutely nothing of this transaction!”
Then the princess gave the Hebrew woman a cool, appraising scrutiny. “Open your upper garment, slave,” she said. “I must see if you are equipped to accomplish this task so important to me.”
Jokabed’s eyes widened. Her mouth opened. Then she mastered herself for another’s sake and, lowering her eyes with hot shame that scalded her features, did as she was told.
The princess uttered a little gasp. “So the report is true of you Hebrew women! The blessings of the breasts have been stolen from us by some cruel god and given, in double measure, to you. You drip milk like a river cow! But why? Why? Is your miserable shepherd’s god--whatever he is--more powerful than any of ours? Surely not! We have a thousand splendid gods, each more powerful and potent than this primitive, sacrilegious, imageless divinity of yours!”
Struggling with herself, the princess turned her face away, and Jokabed pulled her garment together.
Composure regained, the princess turned back to the business at hand. “Slave, take good care of him until he is weaned! I shall call for him before long. And my palace guard will accompany you to your house, to stand where you live and say to anyone that the infant is Mizraimite and required a nursing mother. Such things are done commonly, since everybody knows you Hebrews are so vigorous in your breasts that you cast hot envy on the sacred cows mating and bearing their young in the river! That way there will be no interference either from your people or mine. As for you, slave, know I will not be tricked out of what is mine by the waters of blessing! I will send for him as soon as he is weaned, and you will give him up or suffer the penalty.”
To seal her claim’s legitimacy, she laid gilded sheaves of the finest wheat, a truly golden offering to the sacred Ioteru, across the infant’s breast in such a way as to form a cross, then took and cast them in the water as she addressed the riverine god. “Be content with this gift of mine, Divine Ioteru! You have your sacred offering blessed by the high priest of Pher, and I have my reward for coming to you!” she announced upon the riverbank.
This accomplished, she glanced at the infant and then at her waiting attendants, and her eyes narrowed as she observed their looking her way and making comments to one another.
Returning, she brushed close to Jokabed, and whispered something only she might hear. Jokabed was surprised to find something tucked into her hand, so deftly did the princess pass her signet ring with her royal name that could open every door in the kingdom. On her part of the bargain, Jokabed’s salty tears, dropping on her soiled hands, left a trace on the princess’s own fingers along with a smear of bitumen.
In a moment, the princess was gone, surrounded by attendants as they turned regally back to the palace and its unspeakable splendor.
Dazed, feeling chilled to the bone, Jokabed hardly knew what to do next, even with Miryam tugging at her. Suddenly, with a fierce, protective motion, Jokabed gathered her first-born son from the basket and stood watching the princess depart with her ladies and slaves. Palace guards, posted not far from the bathing place for the protection of the princess, approached the Hebrew woman. She was still weeping, more from relief than grief when her ragged, many-times mended hem was yanked so hard it tore.
“Do we have to give him back, mother? Do we have to? I will poke out that tall lady’s eyes with a big sharp stick if she takes him away from us! And I can smite her long snout like I did the snout of that long-tailed one I found sleeping in my bed!”
Jokabed, her eyes blurred with moisture, gazed down at the puffy, earnest face of her daughter who stood looking up at her, her little feet thick with river mud and several clinging leaches and her hands grasping the golden sheaves the princess had thrown away.
“This eldest of my children is too sharp in wits and tongue for her good, perhaps,” she thought. “She will either do much good or much mischief, but which will it be?” Yet she owed her daughter everything and felt stricken immediately ashamed. Because of Miryam, Amram’s firstborn son, Jeruham, was miraculously restored to her from the dark river, even though the queenly Mizraimite oppressor claimed him and said she could come for him when he was weaned.
“Yes, we must give him to her, dear Miryam, ” she said gently as she could, “but later he will be a wonderful, strong, and handsome man and know who his rightful people are, because we will tell him. Then he will return and be with us forever!”
Then she did something on impulse, showing her daughter the precious bright thing the princess had given her, to confirm the covenant cut between them. And she repeated the word of the daughter of the Per-aa to her, “If I should die, and if ever there is any trouble concerning him, show them this! It will gain you an audience with him in the palace or wherever he is.”
The magnificent hawk of Israel, dipping through an abyss of darkness, met the rising sun. Miryam’s troubled, sad and puffy face brightened as her grubby little fist seized the signet ring and grasped it for dear life despite her mother’s momentary effort to retrieve it How Miryam’s eyes flashed as she hopped and danced all the way home despite the formidable presence of the two grand palace guard attendants whose gleaming skins matched the color of the bitumen on Jokabed’s hands.
“Give the pretty thing back to mother, my daughter!” Jokabed remonstrated once on the way, but Miryam’s eyes and ears were not attuned to earthly spheres at that moment and her mother could not hold the baby and run after her.
Strong winds blew up out of the high desert and caught Miryam’s shift, whirling round and clouding her with dust that shone golden just as the Almighty Himself spoke to the little maid’s heart. Unknown to everyone else, He was calling to her to the prophetic office of oracles as He showed His mighty and majesty, thundering in the heavens, shooting forth avalanches of hailstones and coals of fire, then arrows of lightning bolts that scattered the Mizraimite foe, which vanquished them to Miryam utter delight.
On return home, the prophetess drew herself up like a grown person and spouted her first oracle. “Thus saith the Lord God of hosts, the Majesty on High before Whom there is no other god, ‘The mighty arm of the Per-aa will be broken in the great waters to the east,’” she informed her mother who was altogether busy and occupied breast-feeding the vigorous, insatiable Mosheh. “‘He shall go forth with his thousands on four great wheels, with fire in his big black snout and uplifted sword, but he shall return alone leading the goats. And you My people shall be led out to a place where there is no way, and I the God of Israel will make My Sacrificed Lamb a Way where there is no way.’”
The first moment she could, Jokabed turned with a frown to her jabbering offspring. “Daughter of Amram! Don’t talk nonsense, and go play with Aaron your brother who’s making bricks for me and baby!”
Hurt and hot indignation spread across Miryam’s shining countenance, but taking her precious bright thing in hand as a guarantee of better times to come she obeyed--this time.
Understandably, not much was said about Mosheh’s appearance in her nursery, for no one dared accuse the princess publicly of anything. Having taken no chances her secret would reach the ears of the Per-aa, she further embellished her role by saying that no one had any right to impugn the royal majesty of a Per-aa’s eldest daughter.
Yet in a palace of thousands of whispering lips and greedy ears, a crumb of the matter was bound to reach the Per-aa’s attention sooner or later. His spies were everywhere, particularly in the courts of the women and the concubines. They reported any irregularity to the Per-aa directly, if the Cupbearer judged it bore sufficient weight of evidence or probability.
Presently, several months after Mosheh’s coming to the palace to live, Hetepheres was summoned to the Per-aa. He might have seen her privately concerning the matter, but he had no particular reason to like the woman, and so he called her to the throneroom, where if things went ill for her, then it would be court record, and everyone would see what she was, without dispute. In private meetings, there was no such assurance things would go his way, women being what they were. Employing women’s wiles, she could lie to his face, and there would be no witnesses of her impudence.
The princess had not been naive to think there would be smooth sailing, and she would have no questions to answer, either regarding her silencing of her entourage or the sudden and mysterious birth of a child to her name which she had given no prior sign of bearing. She went forward to the throne prepared to answer on both accounts.
“How did they offend you?” the Per-aa inquired. “Report has reached me that you have exiled all your people and gotten new replacements. Are you being severe? And for what reason?”
Motherhood, or at least a version of it, had done Hetepheres a physical favor. She never looked better than she did now. She had put on flesh, her face was fuller, and her eyes were magnificent, full of maternal love and tenderness. She felt and looked fulfilled, not hungry and seeking something she could never quite put her hands on, try as she may. Moving with assurance and grace, her royal birth and dignity evident in her carriage and the splendor of her robe and pectoral, she drew up before the throne after a deferring bow that an equal might be pleased with, but never a superior.
“The punishment was equal to the offense, Your Divine Majesty,” she replied. Then she abruptly changed the substance of the discussion. “I was grossly insulted by inferiors. They said my womb would not bear a child, that I was struck barren by the gods. Well, I have stopped the evil tongues of the liars forever with this reproof, my beautiful son!”
She had timed everything perfectly. At that moment a maid brought little Mosheh the prince of Mizraim. He too was dressed for the best effect possible, in gold from head to foot, with blue lotuses and amulets of sea fishes pinned to his blanket and kohl lining his remarkably large eyes. The similarity of mother and child in the matter of the eyes was most striking--a deliberately calculated effect Hetepheres counted to win the day for her.
“Beautiful!” the impressed Per-aa exclaimed as he gazed at the child. “I have not seen so handsome a child in my palace!”
Indeed, he had not. The whole court craned its neck to see what the Per-aa beheld in the arms of the slave girl. Her face lit with mingled triumph and maternal joy, Hetepheres took the child and, with a stroke of genius born of audacity that throws all on the table for one sweeping victory, she laid him on the lap of the Per-aa, knowing this was a crime begging capital punishment if he took offense.
“You be the judge if he is fit not to sit upon a throne someday, sire.”
Shock, surprise, bewilderment ran like a swift wave through the packed assembly, but it quickly turned to admiration and delight as the Per-aa’s face betrayed how pleased he was to be handed the most beautiful babe in the two kingdoms.
With moist eyes, the Per-aa handed the child back to Hetepheres after a few moments. “Take good care of your matchless son!” he advised her. “You have borne a true prince of the realm! And--and if my own son should fail to appear on my knees, then this one of yours will carry the scepter and wear the Double Crown before all the people, and not only the fishes but the waves of the sea will bow to him. Let this be recorded in the everlasting writ of the Court!”
That was more than Hetepheres could have dared wish. The Per-aa’s own words had confirmed Mosheh as her son and a royal prince with claim to the throne! Bowing, she retired from the hall, and nothing more was said against her or her son until Hetepheres’s spouse died soon after taking breakfast one day.
Once more the Per-aa called, but it was a private audience. By this time his instincts had prevailed over his feelings. He had heard that Hetepheres’s husband had died unexpectedly from a belly complaint, and ostensibly wished to extend his condolences to the widow without so many people about as are present in audiences at court. Forewarned by her own spy, Hetepheres had time to prepare herself face and garments in a most queenly fashion.
“What is the lad’s name?” was all he wished to know, not even mentioning the dead husband.
The Per-aa said it several times, for by her inflection and accent she clearly meant him to take the second meaning of “Drawn-Out, ” not the primary “Drawer-Out.”
“What, pray, was he drawn out from, if I take the meaning of the name rightly?” the Per-aa inquired, smiling.
“The womb of the mother, of course!” the able-tongued widow quickly answered.
“Ah, well said, as you said everything to this point, ” the Per-aa replied, then took his leave.
This time he was not smiling. By now his spy machine had gathered considerably more details together, and he had gleaned the full account of her bath in the River in the early morn. Of course, he had no evidence beyond that. The princess had seen to it. Tongueless exiles tell no secrets, and torture is useless.. And her husband? He couldn’t have such a man arrested and interrogated, when everyone knew he was the innocent party--a weak man forced to go along with whatever the wife wanted. He would have had to come forward himself, but he had not done so. Whatever he may have thought about the affair he had taken with him to the Western Isles of the Dead beyond the River. So there the matter would remain for quite a few years, easily enough time for the mother to consolidate her princely son’s position beyond possible harm from further inquiries.
Meanwhile, the gilded heel on the neck of the prostrated Hebrew people would press harder as Ahmoseh’s progeny cast more and more a fishy eye upon the ever-growing multitudes of Hebrews within the united kingdoms. Succeeding Ahmoseh I, II, and III, Pher-Enath I ruled and then died when Prince Mosheh was one and twenty, and though the eldest daughter of his Chief Wife, Her Royal Highness the Crown Princess Hetepheres lived, even she could not crown him Per-aa, when Pher-Enath I had a son of his own, which precluded Mosheh as crown prince. It was hard for her, and she had done all she could do to prevent it, but the Crown Prince had lived despite her poisons, which had killed a number of his servants instead who had been forced to eat his portion whenever he suspected something was wrong. Informed by his spies of her malice, and words of conspiracy she had spoken against him, he could have had her put to death on his accession, but he saw no need of it once he was enthroned Per-aa, and palace women of royal pretensions, in his view, had no recourse but to do such things for their sons. He did take the one precaution of a public audience with everyone watching as he informed Hetepheres that being born in the purple did not preempt certain adversity falling upon her shoulders if she took a mind to advance her claim at the expense of his throne. Should his health suffer in any way his palace guard had standing orders to slay her and her son. With that little understanding taken down in the court record, he had no more trouble from that quarter.
He mastered all the arts and wisdom of his teachers in the palace school several years before his peers, then grew desperately bored with repetitions of the same instructions, to the point where he became a danger to himself and the palace as he invented games that started out as harmless pranks against pomp-loving officials and quickly grew threatening to life and limb.
He had good reason to approach the Per-aa with this domestic mischief-maker, for a deadly scorpion was found in his bed by his chief concubine, a hive of bees in his wardrobe, and a floor stone was cleverly hinged in a way to catch his foot with a passing blow that would clearly have crush it if a hapless servant had not tripped the mechanism instead.
Just as he was presenting the matter to the Per-aa, with suggestions on where an unruly prince might be sent to be schooled in proper respect and reverence for elders, other high officials pressed forward with urgent grievances, begging that the prince be sent away someplace far off in the realm where he might learn not to put death in people’s beds as a joke or arrange spring-trapped stones to fly out of walls and floors to kill or maim them unexpectedly as they were eating something or taking the fragrance of a lotus or listening to a concubine pluck a harp.
He himself happened to possess a number of the sacred frog’s physical attributes, and until Mosheh came along his lowered brow, bulging eyes, and wide lips had always been accorded envy and respect.
“Why, when I went to take a persimmon from a bowl a frog was tied to it!
Yet Prince Mosheh, who was watching me all this time from behind a curtain, informed me that it wasn’t a naughty boy’s game, it was an ‘experiment of the noble science of the mind’ What ‘noble science of the mind?’ I demanded to know, and the cheeky--er, the prince replied: ‘Why, the actual term would mean nothing to such a dolt as you. I was investigating whether a glutton’s anticipation of a certain fruit and its taste would extend to devouring an entire frog by mistake, thus demonstrating to me that the power of mental suggestion may be more powerful than actual reality.’”
Some laughter greeted this report, but the man bringing it was incensed and glared at the assembly until the laughter died.
He was chief official over the Hebrew taskmasters, and was such pronounced obesity he had always been short of breath even in the clearest airs. “HUUUAAACHH!” the official gasped convulsively. “HUUUAACCH-AACCHH!!” Recovering sufficient breath, he continued.
“--And I said to the prince, what do you mean by this? And, sire, he replied to me, ‘I wish to see if the vital organs of breath are chiefly contained within the body and not in the nose. By blocking the nose chamber, is it possible to stop the working of the entire apparatus by which the body breathes the air? And, further, I wished to deduce how urgently the body of a man requires the breath of life for its sustenance and well-being, and should you die I would be able to deduce that you required it in order to live.’ Now he was smiling when he said this to me, sire, so it is clear to my mind he meant to kill me for sheer amusement, just to see me expire from a nose blocked with the sacred children of the Gnat-goddess!”
“And somehow he got hold of the clothes of older temple priests who have served the sacred Images in the temples all their lives and then succumbed to various skin ailments of the skin. He did not take ill because he was careful, wearing gloves to handle them. Then he spread them among my servants, making them put them on, and now they are stricken, with sores on all their limbs Even my chariot horses have the dreadful blains, I am informed by my stablemen! He said he wanted to know if people can get sick from contact with the apparel of ailing persons! How absurd! Everyone knows they will be--why investigate a known thing like that? His little prank cost me many fine beasts and servants, which are good for nothing in such a condition!”
The official in overall charge of forced labor for brickyards, mines, and quarries, of which there were several thousand in the land, offered his own report.
“He put dark hangings on the windows where I was sleeping between my favorite little courtesans, the sisters Ta-Ta-Dep and Fan-Da-Sep--drew them up from somewhere, I don’t know how--and so I thought it was still night when it was day, and when I finally arose in great urgency after having drunk a bit too much the evening before I stumbled over a basket he put just where I get out of bed, and out of it flew bats and birds of all kinds, so that I thought I was being assailed by devil spirits and was going to die on the spot! Naturally, I seized a weapon I always have in the room and lay about me with vigor, and a servant rushing in was nearly cut in half. He will be an invalid all this life and is good for nothing. This is an outrage! Yet when I went to the prince and confronted him, what did he say to me? His own words: ‘Tush, tush, you have no cause for alarm. I merely wish to see if an ordinary donkey such as yourself contains a clock by which day and night can be distinguished, apart from their physical manifestations’! Have you ever heard such--”
Now this man’s teeth were quite prominent in front, an equine feature passed from one generation to the other in his line, which may have led them to claim descent from the Horse-Goddess in order to cast favor on what would have ordinarily been considered a defect.
“My first-born was mortally struck in the head by one of Prince Mosheh’s clever flying missiles. I am told my son only went to take his bow from the wall to go shoot at some Hebrew children breaking our laws by passing water in the sacred river, but somehow the prince had contrived to do as he has done many times elsewhere, and a big stone was released from a nearby pillar in the chamber. It struck him hard, flattening his nose and knocking out all his fine and manly teeth in front, and seems to have done something else to his senses--for he utters only nonsense and doesn’t remember his name or whom I am. He is twenty, the same age as Prince Mosheh, but he lies abed all day, stricken to the point where doctors despair of his life. My first-born is dying! He is turned into a great sucking, toothless mouth. He gobbles food incessantly but gains no worth from it and fades away before our eyes! Yet the prince said to me, grabbing my fists and smiting them together so hard my knuckles cracked, “You have just demonstrated the primal law that volumes can be displaced, yet never can they occupy the same space at the same time. If I force two volumes together this generates the force by which any object, even so large as the sphere of the body of the world, can be moved from one place to another. To move the world, all I require is a sufficient convergence of two volumes, which will then generate the necessary agency of propulsion. Even the tiniest motes of dust contain, I believe, more than adequate volume and force to do the job.’
Saying that, he pulled me along with him for a second demonstration, and this time he struck me a terrific blow with his hip so that the entire volume of my body was displaced upon the floor in terrible pain! Several ribs were cracked and everything else felt wrenched out of joint. Yet he stood over me and explained how I ought to cease moaning and learn from this demonstration a vital lesson, how when two volumes are traveling together, and then suddenly converge, the weaker volume will travel rapidly away from the stronger volume at an oblique angle--as, in truth, my body demonstrated by being flung onto the stone floor.”
Clearly, things had gone too far for mercy. Mosheh was a renegade, a danger to everybody, and had run amuck.
Having heard sufficient reports to decide the case, the Per-aa’s Cupbearer signed to everyone to cease in order to wait on the Per-aa’s disposition. Now the Per-aa did not take domestic cases of this sort , though he allowed them to take place under the aegis of the Chief Cupbearer, who presided over a tribunal before the throne when court business fell slack.
Normally, palace matters never reached the Chief Cupbearer; the chief eunuchs and officials of the palace decided such matters, so all this was clearly beneath the Per-aa’s purview. Yet sometimes the chief eunuchs and officials failed in some question, and then the matter was presented in this fashion, the complaints being uttered to the Chief Cupbearer, with the Per-aa in earshot but taking no active role.
Addressed directly instead of by words given to a scribe to enter in the court record, the Chief Cupbearer, mouth hanging open before he recovered himself, looked about, then bowed, gathering boldness from the weightiness of his evidence in order to face head-on the dread being on the throne.
“Yes, O Living God! All his instructors despair of him, he is so agile in wit and forceful in person that he teaches them what they are supposed to know but have somehow forgotten, just to spite and mock them! I’ve heard he asks them such difficult questions that they are forced to run from his presence, since they cannot answer, and he shows them to be windy impostors, pretending to be wise when he, the student, is wiser! How can anything be done with such a one as him?”
The Per-aa rose from his throne, an act that immediately caused everyone else to assume floor level. His mind on lunch with his queen or maybe a favorite concubine--whatever he felt up to at the moment.
The matter was over with, as he had determined it. As a god-king of the realm it was not his office in life to instruct princes or see to their upbringing.
How trivial! That was the responsibility of those appointed to such lowly tasks. So let the palace school instructors see to him!
But who dared to ask further of the Per-aa, when he had concluded the matter, to his godlike thinking?
In consternation, the royalty- rebuked instructors met hurriedly as soon as their fate became known to them. They were stuck with Prince Mosheh, it would appear. And his reformation was entirely their responsibility.
If he was not reformed and continued as he had in the past, they knew very well it would be their heads that would be displaced from their shoulders.
Perhaps, even the Chief Cupbearer’s would join theirs if things continued as they had in the past.
“The prince is impossible to manage. He is too clever for us. We try to keep him in one subject, and he escapes to another. Before we start on a topic, he knows everything about it! We are undone!”
But one instructor, experienced and skilled in War and Weaponry, held his peace for the last word. When it was good time to say so, he spoke.
Not really an instructor by training, but an enterprising mercenary commander who had come, a half-blood, into a high-placed Mizraimite family by marriage and a big bribe composed of captured war booty, only to be hired by the palace secret service, he looked at things differently.
“Give him whatever he wants, and by that you will surely take the clever wildling in hand,” he advised the palace school pedagogues and overseeing eunuchs. “Try to break this one’s spirit, and he may be strong enough to crush yours--as the Per-aa himself warned us!”
“What?” the others cried, remembering they were being addressed by half a Mizraimite. “Ridiculous!”
“No, you haven’t tried it. When you try it, and it fails, then you may call it ridiculous. But I know it will work with this sort of youth. He needs more space than you have allowed him. He will fight you with all his means until he feels no longer smothered. Give him room! Give him whatever he wants, get out of his way, quit blocking him, and he will honor you, not destroy you utterly! You might as well try to tame the raging simoon whose lair is the high desert!”
Now the Per-aa was determined to find out if the reports were true, and he had instructed this spy to manage the “loosening of the leash” in order to settle the question. “Let him hang himself if he is truly a Hebrew cowbird in a Mizraimite nest!” the Per-aa thought to himself.
A moment before they were to his eyes the most despicable hindrances, senseless fiends who delighted in putting unjust restraints on him at every turn, but now his eyes shone with the shock of relief and friendship. This phase passed quickly, however, for in his society there was little room for equality, and he almost instantly assumed a lionine, magisterial bearing of a Crown Prince toward his abject underlings.
“What is it you desire of your friends who only want the best for you, Illustrious Prince?” his bowing instructors inquired as meekly as possible, chins pressed to the floor.
The prince’s indolent, bored-to-death manner dropped off. Mosheh’s kohl-lined eyes widened, and they were magnificent enough to do a lion justice. He strode this way and that, his penetrating gaze scanning the horizons straight through the three-cubit-thick palace walls. A fire burned in his countenance like a furnace as he turned back to them with what he desired in his heart. He had pulled the huge crowning royal lotus from his mane of hair, and now he plucked out three blue petals, one at a time, holding each like a banner before their faces before casting it at them.
“I wish to do what no man has ever done in this land of red and black. Not even Imhotep accomplished these things. With my own hands and cunning I will fashion a chariot driven by fire and not by horses! After that, a sky-chariot. And after that, I will move the ball of the world to another place of my choosing so as to give us a new viewing angle toward the stars!”
His instructors all but fell back over each other. “He--he--he is stark mad!” one dared to breathe to a colleague. “Yes!” the other agreed. “But we’ve already given our word and he will hold us to it. We must go on with it now!”
Not waiting for others to act, Mosheh started at once on his first declared project of a “fire-chariot.”
He commandeered the chariot workshops of the palace fortress. If it lacked what he wanted, he sent for it, demanding whatever it was. Materials, skilled artisans, trains of wagons heaped with tools and fuel of rare kinds, flowed in streams toward the palace workshop from all quarters of the realm. Scribes were sent out at all hours of the day or night, calling for more supplies or some new thing no one knew existed until Mosheh named it.
He imported whatever he needed from foreign lands, if Mizraim lacked the things. The workshop was a giant pot bubbling with many races and languages, yet they all shared metallurgy and various skills that Mosheh combined in his project.
Naturally, all this commotion could not escape the attention of the lord of the land, and the Per-aa followed the activities of Mosheh with keen interest while keeping his judgment known only to himself.
The whole country was stirred up by what was transpiring at the palace, and even foreign ambassadors were keen to know something, and were calling for permission to tour the “Musk Cat Works,” as the highly secret and equally smelly workshops were called by those who thought it would come to nothing in the end. Most court officials wanted nothing to do with the manufactory Mosheh had created from almost scratch on the royal palace grounds.
It reeked of burning bitumen, molten slag and iron, and other terrible odors. The Per-aa himself was obliged to remove from the palace to another capital when the smoke and fumes grew too suffocating to be endured. By this time everyone was of the opinion that the Per-aa too was joined to Mosheh’s “madness,” but no one dared voice it.
Some wagging tongues, more daring than most, said that if the Per-aa’s policy was to allow the errant prince to dig his own hole, then, surely, it was deep enough. So why did the Per-aa forebear from closing Mosheh down?
But they chose to carp from a safe distance, trusting that at any moment there would be an accident and the “Musk Cat Works” would blow up in the prince’s fool face.
What a surprise it turned out to be for them when the first “fire-chariot” rolled from the assembly line. A product of Prince Mosheh’s ingenuity and some brilliant speculations penned by the heretical Princess Asenath who flourished in the period of the Hyksos domination, the fire-chariot was, in truth, driven by fire. But it was fire of a specific kind, whose flame was not only fed by a liquid that Mosheh extracted from brewed and refined plant agencies but mastered in such a way that its exploding powers drove a mechanical horse that propelled the chariot along at, theoretically, tremendous velocities, or several times faster than any team of horses could pull a war chariot.
Hurrying fast to catch up with the object of the rapidly spreading news, crowds gathered to watch the first test of Mosheh’s fire-chariot. From temple archives all over the land which he had ransacked, he had gathered every bit and fragment concerning chariots--”ships of the desert”--of previous times.
He had had even gotten hold of several shop manuals uncovered from a cave in the northern ice rivers detailing the manufacture of an ANNO 1938 Packard Flower Car. Startling everyone, it looked like no chariot they could have imagined. Its propelling “horse” was enclosed under a long, coffin-shaped snout, and the crowds made no sound whatsoever as they were aghast and bewildered.
Mosheh the prince was seated on plush leather before a small driving wheel and a large glassy eye. Tall crystal vases with fragrant lotuses perfumed his air, while attendants took their places on the running boards or stood in the open “Flower compartment” behind the cab.
With every breath held for fear or excitement, Mosheh turned the key in the ignition and....
A rumbling sound, and several , terrific back-firings threw the viewing crowd into a panic and stampede. When the people looked again, Mosheh and the fire-chariot were gone! He was last seen speeding on the high road to Ibbatha, traditional palace Kushan attendants with feather-crowned fly-whisks and umbrellas who were supposed to stand on the running boards, hurrying after him in his dusty wake after tumbling off. Having taken the precaution of filling the second fuel tank, he actually made it to his destination, and produced an incredible panic there.
Everyone fled the city until they could be assured that it was not an unknown monster-demon fallen from the skies but something a man, namely Prince Mosheh, had created. Of course, they had heard many a report of it, but to see it with their own eyes was another thing. Without means to make more fuel, Mosheh had to be content to be pulled by conventional horses and chariots back in triumph to the Machitha-Pheropolis palace complex, where the Per-aa met him in full splendor and majesty to congratulate him on his success.
Later, it was this fire-chariot, reproduced by the hundreds, that was converted to war-making, and with a fleet of fire-chariots Mosheh made short shrift of many nations round about, and any other land where the Per-aa cared to send him.
What a magnificent specimen of Mizraimite royalty he was as he strode ahead of his commanding generals to take command of the latest captured city or fortress.
A lion of a young man, wonderfully handsome and fierce and cunning, there was no one to be compared with him.
But Mosheh, more an inventor than a man of war, tired of sacking cities and heaping up riches onto wagons to be hauled by his powerful fire-chariots back to Mizraim.
Twenty years of that sort of thing was enough for any man, much less one of his genius which ached to get started on the long-delayed second project, the sky-chariot which would pull himself and many people across the heavens. Known by now as a man mighty in words and deeds, hee returned home and found his mother, the Princess Hetepheres, had died, her ka passing to the lands of the West fully assured that her splendid son would soon sit on the throne of the aging Per-aa, Pher-Enath II.
Who else was spoken of as the greatest hero of the land? Who else had smitten every foe and rival power and extended the boundaries of the empire to unheard-of distances?
Who else had raised the glory of the Royal Family and the Per-aa to the height of the very gods in heaven? Who else but Prince Mosheh?
It would have surprised nobody, even the Per-aa, if Mosheh had asserted the power of his immense popularity and prestige and taken the throne before Pher-Enath II found occasion on his own to expire. What held his hand back? Surely, it had not been his mother’s.
Daily, she had exhorted him to depose the rather ordinary Pher-Enath II and take the throne which was rightfully his, by virtue of his military prowess, unsurpassed intellect, and inventive genius. No one was his equal, and everyone expected him, shortly, to declare that he, not Pher-Enath II, was Per-aa. Yet he held his hand back from overthrowing the lesser man, who in turn never feared an overthrow because he knew he held the cowbird in his hand.
No one beyond the throne could comprehend the prince. Yet Mosheh was just too busy. Pillars of fire and cloud pouring up into the sky, his workshops and blast furnaces ran night and day, committed to projects that interested him far more than sitting in pomp and splendor on a golden throne like a statue, forced to listen all day to tiresome envoys’ wheedling perorations and his own officials’ specious tittle-tattle.
Court ceremony bored him to tears, and he hated the relentless rigidity and decorum that dominated the Per-aa’s pallid existence from dawn to dark.
For a virile, hot-blooded man of action how much better was his smelly workshop, with all sorts of reeks and fumes pouring forth, filled with clamor and clutter and uproar of clanking machinery and the babble of foreign artisans!
He invented a can opener. Then he had to either locate or re-invent the can it would open. Except for noblemen who could afford to drink from Campbell Soup Cans uncovered from the ancient ice rivers in the far north, no one wanted to use expensive metal cans for common household purposes, of course, preferring much cheaper earthen vessels, but what did Mosheh care about that? Invention of new things was everything to him.
At last he completed his second major project.
He fashioned the prototype of a “sky-chariot” and flew it briefly over the river and back to its runway and hangar for further checking. Nearly as large as a Boeing jumbo jet of past ages, made of glued wood for lightness and painted gleaming white, with gold struts and wheels, it was standing on the new “flying field” fashioned especially for its test flight when three Hebrews appeared at the palace gates, showing his mother’s signet ring and demanding to see Prince Mosheh with a piece of important news.
A day passed, then another. Court officials grew very alarmed. They hesitated to force their way in, for an angry prince of his mighty power in the court could demand their execution for such an effront to his dignity.
But if they let him expire--for rumors flew everywhere that the prince was poisoned by Hebrew fortunetellers and was too weak to call for help--the blame would fall squarely on their heads Even the Per-aa held back from violating the prince’s chambers, but on the third day he himself went to see what was ailing the chief prince of the realm.
As giant Kushan doormen rang the brass baboon door knockers, the door opened almost at once, as though the prince had been leaning on it. His face unshaven, his eyes haggard and sleepless, he looked very ill, and his appearance seemed to confirm the suspicion that the Hebrew visitors, after pretending to be diviners, had slipped death into his wine cup.
“I know what you all are thinking and saying,” he said, not looking at the Per-aa in particular, “and you are utterly mistaken. Utterly! I was not beguiled by them. They did me no harm whatsoever. Now leave me alone. I have just had a dream. A god unknown to us spoke to me, calling me “Son of Joseph”. Who is Joseph? Can anyone tell me? He said I would deliver his people, but first my dreams would perish in my hands. What dreams do I have in my hands? Why must they perish first before I do the god’s will? This is troubling me. I must be alone to think about this. Please! Everyone, leave me in peace!”
No one had ever dared address a reigning Per-aa and god-king thusly, but the Per-aa quickly departed.
He had an idea what the matter was with the prince. All this flim-flummery about unknown gods and perishing dreams meant nothing to him, since he knew the firm realities of solid golden gods in temples and set, undeviating rituals that always got the right response from the gods.
No, he knew that at last “the loosened leash” was turning and becoming tight rough the prince’s handsome neck! He would have to do nothing more than wait, and the prince would hang himself! It was as he had thought would happen.
And so it came to pass. The Per-aa no sooner did as the prince suggested then a report came to him that the prince had shouted something in execrable Hebrew and run half-naked from the palace.
“All his hard work has finally driven him beyond all sensible restraint of civilized life!” the Chief Cupbearer confided to the Per-aa in earshot, and the Per-aa smiled to himself as the Cupbearer rambled on. “I have even heard how a man’s ka has been known to fly away before death, wandering in desert places, while his still living body runs to find and reunite with it.”
“I should have never encouraged him in his undertakings,” the Per-aa sighed, his long scheme finally producing fruit, as he broke protocol to stare into the Cupbearer’s face as if to a peer “It has been the ruin of a fine and promising prince. He has done our united kingdoms much good, but himself he has done evil.”
Despite the shocking lapse in protocol, for god-kings were not supposed to speak so openly of their intimate thoughts, everybody present thought the Per-aa had spoken particularly insightfully regarding the prince. He had turned madman and had run away. What could be done?
At least the Per-aa’s aegis and power were assured without such a rival present on the palace grounds. No further threat from the prince could possibly be taken seriously.
The Per-aa could now relax, enjoy his throne duties as best he could, and see that Prince Mosheh, when found, was properly housed and provisioned in a secluded oasis asylum where people could not stand at the barred windows and mock him.
After all, he was still a royal prince, bearer of a most noble name, and even though mad he deserved a degree of dignity shown to him.
Yet Mosheh, failing to see that he was mad, went among the Hebrews, claiming he was one of them, and even when this was rejected he kept on, making wilder claims, that he was God’s intended deliverer promised to the Hebrew people so many years ago.
Echoing his elder sister’s words, as she time and again abjured her brethren to not lose hope in their distresses, he quoted in his wretched, broken Hebrew, “Hath he said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”
Almost as much to prove he was truly Hebrew as to vent his anger at a Mizraimite taskmaster who was beating a Hebrew laborer, he took his sword and executed the man on the spot.
Normally, this would have gone without saying. Rulers had the right to put miscreants to death without trial of any sort. But Mosheh’s case had grown peculiar.
He was a runaway prince from the palace, a known madman. This spared the Per-aa the unpleasant task of executing him, which might precipitate a revolt among the Hebrews if they learned the prince was, indeed, born of their blood
Even then nothing would have come of it except that the Per-aa received a report from spies that settled the matter of Mosheh’s mental competency once and for all.
The artifact was the royal signet ring of the late Princess Hetepheres. It had been seized in the possession of a certain Hebrew woman, the same who had approached Prince Mosheh, an unmarried woman of pious reputation known among her people as a prophetess, a speaker of oracles.
She had not tried to withhold her reason, when the spies who apprehended her demanded she tell them everything.
Had she stolen it from Prince Mosheh’s apartments? “Of course, not!” the prophetess laughed in their faces. “How was I to gain access to him in the heavily-guarded royal palace to be able to steal it? No Hebrew diviner could possibly get past the palace gate, which you well know! And as for me climbing the palace walls, am I a courtesan’s monkey that I could accomplish it? No, there is only one explanation for my having it. The king’s daughter gave it to my mother, and my mother gave it to me for safekeeping.”
“Then how did you mother happen to gain it, if we go along with your account just to see what lies you can spout to save your Hebrew skin?” they jeered at her.
Miryam was not impressed by them at all. She gave them a withering look that made even hardened professional spies cringe in their sandals.
“There is only one explanation for that too. You see, my mother did the princess a service, for the king’s daughter was small and weak-fountained in her breasts, as most all the Mizraimite women are.
Employed by the princess for a payment of gold and silver, my mother nursed infant Prince Mosheh until he was weaned. Just ask. Everybody here knows it for a fact, and we still have the princess’s payment put away in a safe place.
To insure that nothing would harm him, even should she die, she gave my mother her royal seal, and until now I guarded it, until the time the Lord Almighty told me to reveal the truth to Prince Mosheh, that he is no more Mizraimite than my blessed foot! Now give me our property, or you will be the thieves!”
No one in the Two Kingdoms, Mizraimite or Hebrew, would have dared speak so boldly as Miryam spoke to the king’s spies.
Abashed, they turned to their superior, an official under the taty of the secret service, and he, admiring her reasoning and bravery, returned the royal ring along with a present of fine fruit from his garden.
“Before you go,” he said to Miryam as she was departing from his palace gate where he had gone personally to see her, “would you happen to have an oracle from your god for me and my household?”
Miryam was surprised that the man was not put off from her supposedly defiling Hebrew presence enough so as to value a “Hebrew oracle.”
The man shrugged, taking the meaning of her inquiring glance. “I am old, and becoming ill. I know more things about you Hebrews than most men know. I took pains to inquire deeply into the matters of your worship and sojourn both here and in the land from which you came, and I know there is no god among us like your God. What do the gods of my own land avail me in this condition? So why should you be surprised? It is not surprising to me.”
Miryam was impressed, that a Mizraimite of such power should speak without shame in such a manner before his own people.
“I will pray to the Lord God of my fathers and return word to this gate if He deigns to speak to you.”
Several days later, the official came to the gate when it was said to him the prophetess had called. Though he had been very ill and was expecting death, he had his servants carry him out to her on a palanquin so that he could hear the oracle.
Miryam wasted no time, for she saw that he was not long for this world. She spoke words of comfort and cheer, which caused the man to shed tears shamelessly before her and his servants.
“You yourself will not live to see the glad Day of Deliverance, but your children will, declared the God of Israel to me. They will see it, and will give jewels of gold and silver, and fine raiment, to my people when they leave the Per-aa’s land. I will honor your act of kindness toward my daughter, the daughter of Amram, declared the Lord God, and draw out a son of your loins who will believe and serve Me, and he and his family will go forth with My people. As for you, declared the Lord, I will remember you in the Judgment, and you shall see good and not evil, for inasmuch as any man gives a drink of cold water to any of mine, he has done it unto Me.”
The Per-aa knew all about the prince’s killing of an overseer. But now it was not a matter of a royal Mizraimite executing an inferior of the same race, but a renegade impostor, a Hebrew, a foreigner murdering a native Mizraimite who was only doing his work of teaching Hebrews to respect Mizraimite ways.
At that moment Mosheh became a proscribed man in all districts and vassal states within the Per-aa’s sovereignty. Hearing the Per-aa was determined to catch and slay him, Mosheh fled into Goshen.
But his fellow Hebrews wanted nothing to do with the murderer. He was no deliverer in their estimation.
The very man he had stood up for against the taskmaster railed at him, infuriating Mosheh with the words, “Now you’ve brought worse trouble on us than a beating! Who asked for your help? You slew the Mizraimite, and now are you going to kill me too?”
Mosheh shook his head as if he was trying to make the whole world understand there had been a terrible mistake made, yet he could see that in the expressions of the people gathering round that no one would believe him.
No, he wasn’t going to slay the man. Even though he may have raised his sword over the head of his Hebrew brother, he meant no harm. Far from it! He had been sent to his brethren to save, to set free, not to hurt, harm, and slay them.
His features contorted with horror, he tried to explain all this in Hebrew, which on his tongue was so halting and so word poor that he ended up spouting sheer nonsense instead of revealing the great, gleaming matter of deliverance that he meant to unfold before their gaze.
“Now because of what you’ve done to one of their own, the king’s men will come and slay us, take our women, enslave our daughters as their concubines and--”
Clapping his hands tight over his ears, driven back by taunts and flying clods of dirt, Mosheh cried, “No! No! Listen to me, my beloved brethren! Listen!”
But they would not hear him. Braving his lowered sword, they pressed to make him as miserable as they themselves felt, and they soon succeeded, for his heart was torn apart by his brethren as it could never have been torn by Mizraimites.
“Run for your lives!” a woman shrieked, diverting the attention of Mosheh’s accusers. “Hear those thunderings and trumpetings? Fire-chariots are coming to attack and slay us!”
From Goshen, the marked man fled into the red desert wilderness, and if not for a simoon-driven sandstorm blowing up so much dust that nothing could be seen he would have been caught by pursuing troops driving Mosheh’s own fire-chariots.
The colossal sky-chariot made of cleverly sewn and glued sections of costly, imported spruce wood? Like so many marvelous inventions of Mosheh’s, it ended up stored in a riverine mortuary temple devoted to a goose goddess, buried under a clutter of old, forgotten temple records and out-of-date religious paraphernalia. A flying granary to feed the hungry, a flying hospital to treat and cure the sick, a flying haberdashery to clothe the naked--the sky-chariot might have blessed the whole world. And the thing that could make an exact likeness of the original papyrus document, any number of likenesses desired at the touch of a fingertip on the numbered panel? The bureaucrats seized upon it, and what could have been the greatest blessing to people became a terrible curse as officialdom used it to strengthen the long arms of its meddling influence and extend its sucking and grasping tyranny into every aspect of the people’s lives.
Likewise the fire-chariot, eminently suitable for making war, was maintained by the Per-aa’s war machine and withheld from ever becoming a blessing to the people, and there was no improvement. They produced slavish copies of the originals, forgetting all the principles and knowledge that went into their creation and manufacture.
If they ran, they were used. If they failed to run, they were scrapped, and others made. Oil was often a neglected item, and many engines burned up unnecessarily after priests said incantations, not oil, were sufficient to keep things running properly.
Fuel too was adulterated with various brews, since it was so hard to extract and refine to the degree of purity demanded by Prince Mosheh, and thus the fire-chariots often hiccoughed and stalled unexpectedly out on maneuvers in the field. Worse than substandard oil and fuel, maintenance suffered. After Mosheh left the premises and temple priests took over the operation at the Musk Cat works, no one had any idea what really made the fire-chariot work.
It was magic, and magic was something they could understand. Utter the right spell, and enchantment filled the lack, whatever it was.
No wonder, out of every hundred Packard Flower Cars that rolled down the line they could count on one or two dozen to fire up and run. Yet the Mizraimites were famous for relentless programs that they would never give up on once started. Eventually they built a huge array of fighting Packards that no power on Earth could oppose, an invincible force called “Army of the Thousand Flowers of the Per-aa.”
Red grit in his eyes, in his mouth, in his nose, he struggled on blindly in the gale of wind and dust. Time itself blew away.
Mosheh could not tell if it was day or night, as hour after hour the simoon raged. Sometimes it blew in one direction, and he faced into it, and then it would shift and blow at him from behind.
Grown too weak to fight, he let it push him along and gave up trying to go in a direction of his choosing.
It was in this way he passed a stalled squad of fire-chariots that had overshot his position and now sought a little protection behind a ridge of high bone-white rock that jutted up, the first of many to come callled the dolomites of the Great Eastern Erg.
Only a few feet separated the fugitive and his trackers, but in the dark, reddish clouds enveloping them there was no chance of him being seen. The shrieking, moaning, howling winds also made it impossible to hear anyone.
Even if the fire-chariots’ trumpets had been blown, he probably would not have heard them, for his ears were full of wind sounds and wind-blown dirt.
Continuing on with the wind at his back, his head mantled with his robe, Mosheh finally left them far behind.
He did not try to see where he was going, for it was impossible to see anything anyway. As long as he found strength to put on foot in front of the other, he was reduced to letting the simoon push him to wherever it wanted.
Eventually the wind died, and he stumbled along, moving like a blind beast until utter exhaustion pulled him to him to the ground, where he fainted dead away.
How long he lay like a dead man wrapped in his robe for a shroud, who could say?
When he grew conscious, the wind had died away, leaving him lying high and dry among a wind-scoured landscape that lay, an uninhabited, man-devouring waste, between Mizraim’s red desert and the Mountains of the Moon. The Great Eastern Erg!
To enter it was to court certain doom. And, unwittingly, during the windstorm, he had stumbled deep into it.
On all sides of him rose the hideous shapes of whitish limestone, glinting like glass in the light of the day from the many corals and coral sands that lay on the surface.
Ghoulish skulls, boney fingers, boxes, ships turned on end, faces of giants, gigantic noses, clutching hands, springing panthers, gaping, huge-toothed river cows--the rocks assumed every shape imaginable. He would come round the rolling thighs of an obese official and suddenly be confronted with a leering dragon about to make a rush at him.
His sandals were soon torn to shreds on the sharp coral, and he began leaving bloody tracks as he trudged along, trying to find his way out of the maze.
The heat increased to ferociousness, and there was no comfort in the shade, for the wind did not bring relief, and always the heat grew worse as the Mosheh’s second day of escape wore on.
He had no water and no means of getting any. It never rained in the Erg. If it did, the fall was scanty, and the limestone sucked it up immediately, so that it was just as dry after the rain as it was before. He had to find a way out of the Erg or he would collapse and die there.
It wasn’t very long before the horrid shapes began to make sounds at him. He saw Israelites standing in a big, black congregation.
Out of their midst flew a wraith with a long yellow nose, green tongue, and red eyes. She danced round him, shrieking, “Mosheh is a murderer! Mosheh is a murderer!” The congregation of his brethren took up the chant, “Murderer! Mosheh is a murderer!”
His heart broken, guilt and bewilderment tearing him apart, Mosheh fled away from them. But they followed, piercing him with arrow after arrow of scorn and ridicule.
“You brought sore affliction upon us! Go away, Mizraimite! We don’t need your help! You have ruined us! Go away!”
Wasn’t that what he was trying to do? Why then did they follow him and not leave him alone? He could not escape from them, for as fast as he ran, they were right on his heels!
Exhausted, bloody, hurt in his whole body from tumbling falls and wounds from the sharp coral, he was a madman fleeing the curses and taunts of devils from hell.
His clothes torn from his body, he finally lay naked in his own draining blood.
Later, he awoke, and his whole body was afire with thirst and wounds. He had to have some water or perish!
His lips cracked, he tried to cry out, but no sound came. His throat had dried up! His eyes, too, had dried in their sockets, and all he saw was a flaming red light. Like a witless beast, he crawled on all fours, groaning in pain and anguish.
His dreams for delivering his people had all come to nothing but indescribable torment. He was nothing. He was finished. A murderer, unwanted by his people, whose bones would soon bleach unmourned in the desert.
“Help me, O my God!” he would have cried, if words had been possible. “Help me!”
His head butted against rock, and the blow stunned him. He collapsed, lying face down on the rock and burning sand. This was exactly how men and beasts died, when they foolishly entered the Eastern Erg.
So numbed was he, so near to death, he did not feel the shudder of a convulsion in the Earth that started far in the north and then split the ground to a point just fifty feet from where he had fallen.
The first shock came when cold wetness struck his naked shoulders and clutching hands. What was it? He reared back, then his senses returned, and he realized that he was lying in a stream of running water. Much water!
He rose up and was standing in a small river that was now risen to his knees.
He drank it, and was mightily revived. Staggering out, he lay down to recover his strength as the stream rushed away down the channel it was cutting. Ice cold, it was cold as ice for the good reason it was born of ice rivers far in the north. And underground river had been diverted, following the track cut for it by splitting rock.
In Mizraim many buildings collapsed, and the temples of the gods suffered considerable damage. The Per-aa’s giant sign, cut in stone and gilded, fell over on the public square before the Palace of Ein Pher, covering it with the rubble.
Far off in the Eastern Erg, the fugitive lay refreshed, gathering strength from the wonderful, fresh, cold waters. Mosheh’s unspoken cry had been heard, and the Most High had split rocks in the desert and abundant waters gushed out. Now Mosheh would not die but live.
Reluctant to leave the life-giving stream, he followed it down through the dolomites, as it ran here and there, spreading its bounty to desert where nothing like it had ever been seen before. Eventually it poured out on a plain, and he found he had come out of the Erg safely--a miracle for someone who had entered it with no water and no knowledge of a way through.
He was just as startled by the sight of a Kenite shepherd, as the shepherd was surprised to see a living man step forth from the Erg. The shepherd threw down his staff and fled, leaving his sheep. Following the shepherd Mosheh climbed up over a ridge and below he saw a watering place, a well, with maidens gathered round it with their sheep and some shepherds trying to chase them off.
Mosheh, though as good as naked, his body torn from coral, yet mustered the strength to go down and drive off the shepherds. With the staff the shepherd had thrown away, he used his military training and quickly sent them packing with tremendous blows on their ribs and shoulders and legs they would not soon forget. He might even have killed them, once started, but they shouted an alarm and fled, leaving their staffs behind.
This good deed, related to the father of the maidens, soon brought Mosheh into the good graces of a man of substance in Midian.
“Why didn’t you ask him to come here at once! Why did you leave him at the well!” the priest and chieftain of Midian upbraided his seven daughters when they told him how a handsome, brave Mizraimite with very little clothing on him had suddenly rushed out of the rocks and driven off the Kenite shepherds who had appeared at their father’s well and were molesting them again.
Indeed, his eyes were opened. He now saw the Mizraimites as the haughty oppressors of his once free and proud people, not the rightful rulers of a dirty, wretched, inferior slave population. who hadn’t even the rights of brute beasts in any Mizraimite inn’s stable.
It required a revolution in his thinking, but Mosheh somehow weathered the storm, which might have driven a lesser man mad in his position. Now he realized what a close escape it had been for him.
If he had been made Per-aa as Hetepheres had wanted and schemed, he would have oppressed them and dipped his hands in the blood of the innocent.
Taking the hopeless, lost Hebrew cause as his own, his kingly, impetuous, egoistic nature was obviously ascendant when he killed an overseer who was punishing a Hebrew laborer.
But when the corpse was discovered in the shallow grave and news broke that a Hebrew masquerading as a royal prince had done the deed, Mosheh knew he had gone too far. He could not plead for clemency.
Per-aa Pher-Enath II would forget all his exploits and would probably execute him with a bow string applied to the neck because he had taken the side of the enslaved Hebrews--so hated and feared were the people of Jacob though they had given no cause but increase enormously in numbers. So taking nothing and leaving all his royal wealth and precious inventions behind he fled to what he thought was the end of the world--to a little-visited corner of the desert on the backside of the Red Sea, to a tribal Midianite people related to his own and found refuge with a family ruled over by Jethro, a chieftain and also a priest of the Most High and a few local deities just to play it safe and keep in good standing with his neighbors.
Forty years the fugitive from the royal court of Mizraim learned simplicity and lived as a shepherd with sheep and goats, working for Jethro who had no sons but many buxom daughters.
After a time he married Zipporah the eldest daughter of Jethro, whose thick and coarse Cushite features were readily apparent, despite her Midianite ancestry.
But even now, before the final touches of the Master Potter could shape a champion out of a crazy quilt of weakness and strength, things had to be set right back in Mizraim, admidst the sorely oppressed Hebrew nation within the nation. Those who still recalled Mosheh feared and despised him. His brother Aaron, the people dearly loved, a lover himself of humanity, who had brought “ron,” or gladness into his parent’s home from the day of his birth with his smiles and winsome, conciliatory ways. And Miryam? She was respected but disliked--which was strange and unfortunate because this fearless, truly godly woman had everyone else’s interests in mind and neglected her own--and would never give up the Hebrew cause and the hope of a Deliverer, even if everyone else did.
“Why feed your worthless dog of a brother?” a guard at the ghetto gate called out as Miryam paused for permission to enter. “He thinks he’s some kind of holy elder, eh? Well, for crimes like that against the Per-aa he will die there, so you’re wasting good food you might need yourself! Why, you’re nothing but a stick, and no man would want to embrace a thing like, he would feel you stick like a bramble--”
Resisting a terrific desire to kick the guard’s teeth down his lying throat, but afraid to show her hidden hand, she grimaced with as much of a smile as she could manage for Aaron’s sake, and was allowed to pass into the enclave.
But the boorish, ignorant guards here at the ghetto were not much to be feared. It was the compound guards, who exercised the power of life and death, that made her hot blood run cold every time she saw them. For she had no husband’s name to protect her from the worst, who forced every woman they could get their hands on to give them pleasure in the nearest ditch.
“Unclean!” she cried to these brutes, holding out a soda-whitened hand and arm, and that had kept her safe, though her heart beat hard each time she had to lie, for if she was ever challenged and found out, it would be a terrible penalty to be both ravished repeatedly and then, after unspeakably shameful things done to her, killed as a lesson to other Hebrew women.
Only a lepress was safe from molestation at the compound gate. Since they wouldn’t permit her to enter the compound--a place of infamy where she had no desire to go in anyway--her brother was allowed to take her parcel at the Pylon.
Somehow they weren’t concerned that the parcel might carry death into the compound, for they seemed to relish the thought of the most dire of all sicknesses spreading to the Hebrews--a hardy, stubborn people whom, it seemed to them, they could not torture and kill fast enough with a regimen of slave labor, starvation, and crowded, filthy conditions in which not even dogs could live.
Reaching her parent’s hovel, she nearly collapsed on the threshold, but she somehow pushed open the heavy door, swung it shut, and secured it, before a faint which cast her face down on the bare dirt floor. Everything had been sold years before, just to keep alive one more day, until nothing was left. Except for the oven out back, there was absolutely nothing in the hut. Now that her parents were dead--she had buried her mother just a few weeks before--the hut was stark and cold, the winds of the night piercing through the cracked walls with howling sounds.
She slept where she fainted, hearing the loud chorus of the first crested swallows before the rising of the Day Moon.
Dragging herself up to her feet, she went out back, feeling her way in the dark, removed some bricks, found the tiny bit of meal she had put away for safekeeping, then put the bricks back for the time being.
After washing her soda-whitened hand--for she needed the fakery of leprosy only to trick the compound guards--she was short of household water, so she took her jar and went to the big, miles-long channel that her own people had cut for some Per-aa, which one she could no longer tell, they came and went, and conditions always got worse with each change of administration.
Drawing out water practically under the snouts of several sleepy crocodiles, she took it on her shoulder and returned. It was so early and dark she must have been first to go, for she met not one soul either at the water or on the dirt road back.
As soon as she washed her face in the privacy of her home, tied her hair decently, ate a bit of the meal, and got Aaron’s bread baked, the first women (and sometimes an elder or two, with their wives, of course) would come visiting her as usual.
Though they hated to do business with a prophetess directly, lacking Aaron they managed to overcome their distaste for her personally in order to hear God’s word on any matter they needed to hear it.
Whatever they could spare they brought as a tithe, and it was usually precious little, that is what kept her and Aaron alive, for she was too old now to work in the women’s compound making bricks, and they had sent her home to die with her aged parents.
This fact gave her some satisfaction. They had consigned her to death, but she was still living. Every day she lived was a triumph over the Per-aa!
Why struggle to hold on to life amidst so much suffering and misery? Many people gave up, and those who found an opportunity threw themselves into the channel, or maybe they just fainted or stumbled into it--it came to the same thing in the end. The crocodiles were all huge and monstrously fat, but they could always manage one more Hebrew.
“Adversity without belief in the Most High has no value whatsoever,” she thought. And her people, unmistakably, showed all the signs of lost faith, lost hope, lost reason for living.
Per-aa after Per-aa, the Oppression lengthened, without one sign from the Almighty that He heard and would deliver His Chosen People. Oh, there was an old legend to the effect that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had promised a deliverer, but no one believed it anymore.
No one but Miryam, that is. Even Aaron, she knew, had given up on the idea that their own lost brother, he who was Jeruham to his family and Mosheh to the Mizraimites, was their promised savior.
By now the Day Moon was above the horizon, flooding the sky and land with red and gold.
But this morning no one knocked. It was one of those days, she realized with a sinking heart.
There would be nothing for Aaron but a little bread. And, worse, there would be nothing for the coming day.
What was she to do? She could not work. Who wanted her labor? Not even the Per-aa! She had nothing. Nothing!
“Oh, that is not so! You have something!”
Who said that? She spun around.
“Am I become addled in my wits?” she wondered, taking her head in her trembling hands. “I’ve lived too long, and now my mind is going! What’s Aaron to do if I go mad here in this hut. I will die. And he will die! What good then was our lives? We have lived only to see nothing come of our brother! No!
Finally, after a time, she realized she was screaming “Nooooooooo!” so loud it must have waked the dead in the Mizraimite necropolis. And she had kicked so hard against the hut that she had a leg half through a wall and out into the street.
Still, no one came to investigate the disturbances in the house of Amram and Jokabed, for everyone assumed it was just Miryam again acting up--Miryam the eccentric daughter, Miryam the aged spinster, Miryam the diehard believer in El Elyon, Miryam the sister of a long-lost brother whom she kept claiming was the promised Deliverer. Who could be more mad than a woman whose name meant “Bitter”?
So, except for certain elders of Levi and their womenfolk who respected Aaron and his deceased parents, she received little attention these days.
Recovering her self-control, Miryam did what she always did when the rock of hard circumstances had yielded its last drop of sustenance--turn to El Shaddai, the Almighty Rock of Israel.
And a lot of good it did her!
An hour’s bitter supplication produced nothing but brass heavens and utter silence.
Exhausted, she kept on for an hour more. Or was it two hours? She had no idea how much time passed, except that the Day Moon’s beams began to stand above her head when she looked out again upon the world and its wretchedness.
She saw something at her feet. A crumbled swallow’s nest. She knew it well. Day after day she had followed its progress, as swallows darted in and out, depositing a beaker of mud at a time, until little by little the nest began to form in the corner of her dooryard, just below the lintel.
But now her shaking of the hut had dislodged the nest, and it had fallen and all their work had gone for naught.
She stared at the broken nest, and it seemed it contained all her dreams and hopes for her oppressed people.
At that moment a boy was passing in the lane, herding a single, small goose with a stick to which a string was attached.
The goose had a mind of its own, and stopped to peck at something by Miryam’s door. Then it spied the nest, and it went for it.
“No, you don’t!” old Miryam cried, waving her hands, and the goose was frightened off.
“It’s only a swallow’s nest, why can’t she have it?”
Startled by the lad’s perfectly sensible question, Miryam settled down and gave him a steady look, without the anger that she would have awarded an adult who had addressed her in such a familiar way as this child.
“It’s my nest, child, or, I mean, it’s been something I’ve watched them build for days, and I won’t have it snatched away like that!”
The boy gazed at her, his big eyes seemingly taking her meaning. “Oh,” was all he said.
Miryam’s eyes clouded. “It was a lovely nest, not broken like you see it now. I was looking forward to the fledglings. I really could see them straining their beaks to gather the food their mother and father brought. Then soon they would be flapping their little wings, getting ready for flight into the wide circle of the heavens. It was a delight to think of, but now--now--they’ve given up and gone and--”
Suddenly, the grieving prophetess felt her ragged sleeve tugged. Surprised, she found the lad at her elbow, and he was pointing skywards.
“No, Madam, look!”
Miryam looked up. It was hard to see now, her eyes had a hole burned into each, so that she could see only around the edges of the world. But as she moved what vision she had, she caught a glimpse of flitting swallow wings, a multitude of them. Never had she seen so many. And what were they doing, flying about like that?
It wasn’t her imagination, for the boy was there to watch with her, as the swallows formed giant letters in the sky, which dissolved almost immediately into succeeding letters, as they spelled out recognizable words!
“I am Yeshua, the Aleph and the Tau, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last! Behold, I am coming soon, riding on the back of a beast both lion and a lamb!
Suddenly, the birds flew off out of sight. “Yeshua,” riding on the backs of a lion and a lamb? What could that mean? Astonished, Miryam turned to the lad, to thank him for telling her to look up when he did, but there was no boy and goose. They too had vanished.
Shaking her head and muttering, she went back indoors, and from habit she went and did what she did every single day of her life, she felt into the secret place where they kept the ring of the daughter of the Per-aa and the few remaining silver pieces of the payment for nursing given her mother by the princess, the woman her mother called “Bath-YAH,’ meaning Daughter of God, because while a pagan Mizraimite she had befriended God’s People and saved the Deliverer’s life when he was a baby.
It was there--no one had stolen it. Satisfied, she would have drawn out her hand, but the ring came out too, fixed on her finger.
Miryam paused. This was just too strange. First the message written by the birds in the sky, then this! She had not unwrapped the ring. It had been unwrapped, and it was now on her finger. She tried to draw it off, but it resisted.
Alarmed but unafraid, she thought fast. “It must be the wickedness of the gods that are inscribed on it, that it should catch my finger like this and not let go!”
Yet she was equal to the test. She would think little of cutting off her finger to remove the ring if she had to. But a little fatty grease would ease it off without taking that trouble, she knew. But where was she going to get fat or grease? She kept no livestock. She could afford to buy no oil.
Would anyone give her a dab of oil? But who could afford to keep a household lamp anymore these days?
Still wearing the ring, she went to the dooryard to think, and was going to stand there when a voice nearly knocked her flat. It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t even audible. But it was Almighty God.
“--the set time to favor her has come”! The words echoed again and again in Miryam’s heart, a never-ending litany that she would carry to her grave on a far, cloud-crested mountain.
Aaron was so surprised he was struck dumb. He who had a golden tongue since his youth, able to make Mizraimite lions lie down peaceably with Hebrew lambs, now found no words to express his astonishment and bewilderment.
“Where will I go?” he blurted out finally, when the words came back to his tongue.
The guard pointed toward the exit, the Pylon of Shipping, out of which bricks, never human souls, streamed forth in an endless river of loaded wagons to build the glories of Mizraim.
“But say nothing of what you saw or did here, Hebrew!” the guard warned him. “If you say one word, we will hear of it and you will be dragged back and impaled on a stake in sight of your brethren. That will teach them not to lie about all the joy and good luck you were given here.”
“Joy”? “Luck”? Those were really the two supreme gods of Mizraim, though not officially deified and set up in temples as mighty golden images. Everyone, including Aaron’s people worshipped them from the palace to the brickyard.
Aaron, supported by helping hands, climbed out of the muck and mire of the brickyard pit which stretched farther than his eye could see these days. Led by the guard he tottered toward the freedom promised him at the Pylon of Shipping. He had entered the compound a young, virile man. Now he was going forth old and emaciated, a wreck of a human being. And it crossed his mind, “How was he to live now? What on earth would he do? He only knew brick-making--the Mizraimites had seen to that.
He couldn’t help mumble his distress, “Where will I go? What will an old man do?”
Hearing him, the guard laughed. “That’s your business--just go, Hebrew! Go before we change our minds!”
Watching the old man stagger through the ranks of guards toward the bridge that spanned the moat ringing the compound wall, the guard fingered the silver piece he had been given as his payment for setting this worthless old stick of a man free. It was well worth the risk of being found out by the camp taty--with a silver piece he could spend all night and the next day in a inn with all the wine, women, and song he had dreamed of but could not have afforded on a guard’s wage.
One night and a day of bliss--for that he would risk his life. He had Joy and Luck on his side this day! Goddesses beyond peer, Joy and Luck would give him unspeakable pleasure, and what did he care about the morrow? Let the morrow take care of itself!
The guard handed the papyrus of release to the proper official at the Pylon, and Aaron was allowed to continue walking out of the compound, no one preventing him. Just beyond the bridge a Hebrew woman approached.
She had come from the Pylon of Reception just now and had hurried as best she could at her age to the compound exit. Having seen her so often, Aaron knew her at once as his sister Miryam.
“I brought your freedom, and the thieves demanded a king’s ransom, thirty and thirty and thirty and thirty pieces of silver!” she hissed in his ear as she came up. “It was a good thing I didn’t bring what is left of the princess’s payment to mother, they’d have gotten that too! Say nothing, and let us go quickly from this midden of the Per-aa!”
Refraining from protesting his liberty for the moment, Aaron did as told.
They walked fast for old people until they were out of eyeshot of the compound guards in the watchtowers set all along the great walls. No one now would come running to seize them and drag them back. Aaron was free! Free at last! Free to starve and fade away, that is. Free to do nothing but die, to be sure.
He still did not understand why. “Why did you buy me back?” he lamented to his sister. “They need me in the camp. The old ones who are dying, they need what you bring every day. They die happy in my arms then. Now what will they do? The flies will feed on their eyes and open mouths, and no one will brush them away. Oh, my sister, you did wrong to bring me out! Wrong!”
Now Aaron was over three score years of age, and the camp was all he had really known.
Ignored by Miryam who was furiously angry because she had so few silver pieces left, he was still asking and lamenting when they reached the hut of Jokabed and Amram in the Ain Pher ghetto.
“What will I do now?” he was muttering with tears streaming down his face as she led him into the hut. He stood, overwhelmed by desolation, his white-haired head bowed. Even Miryam’s stout heart turned over at the sight. But she remained resolute.
“You’ve been a minister to death long enough. Now be a minister to life. Go find our lost brother!”
“Jeruham! Who else? You must go and seek him out, and then bring him to us, for he is the deliverer God has promised our beloved people.”
Jeruham, the lost brother, he who was called Mosheh by the Mizraimites, a deliverer of Holy Israel? His face showed what he thought, and he shook his head slowly. “Yes, that is right,” he said in the spirit of conciliation, “but whither has he gone, dear sister? It was so long, long ago that he left us. How shall I find him? I am too old to wander the world in search of him. He is maybe dead in the desert. Many people think so.”
Miryam was prepared for this response. With the Omnipotence of Almighty God backing her up, she wasn’t going to let Aaron’s pitiful weakness stop the Golden Plan of Deliverance in its tracks.
So she told him everything the Almighty had done to secure Aaron’s release so he could be sent to find Mosheh and bring him back.
Aaron could not deny Miryam’s account. It was new to him, but he had never known her to speak untruth. He was very impressed by the power of God in it, but that same Power troubled him increasingly, for what next would that Power do? Who could contain it?
Everything he had labored to make of the dire circumstances of life into which his people had been thrust, all the conciliation he had yearned to see established between the two nations, his and the Mizraimite, was now cast into grave doubt.
It was another road that now thrust itself up into his fading vision. A road that led to the abyss, as far as he could see! And Miryam claimed the Almighty was leading his people that way!
Maybe, maybe--but that wasn’t good enough. No, they had best cling to the ground they knew, lest they perish in the desert with poor Jeruham-Mosheh who, by accounts, had also claimed to be led by the Almighty once upon a time to do the terrible things he had done.
Murderer! That was all he turned out to be! He had murdered a Mizraimite who was applying the bastinado to a Hebrew laborer, then fled---disgracing his family, a holy family among the people and tribe of Levi. No, Miryam and her way were quite wrong, an unacceptable risk.
So, thinking this way, he did as he had always done when thrust between a rock and a hard place and forced to choose one of the two evils.
“Ah--ah------all is well---I say, ‘tis well---as for that---it may be---yes, all is well, I say, as far as it goeth, but--”
Acquainted with his delaying tactics, Miryam cut the process short. “But nothing!” she exploded. She wagged her finger at him, which neither could see since it was so dark in the unlighted hut. “Don’t you dither about with me, Aaron!” I won’t have it! You’re going to go find our brother. It’s your family duty as the elder son, not mine. And, you can’t deny, the Almighty One has commissioned you to do it. Would you oppose the Holy One of Israel?”
Only viewed by six invisible angels, the Black Watch of a time to come, Aaron’s face was absolutely mortified as Miryam’s rebuke sank in. He began to weep helplessly. “No, I did not mean that--I just do not see my way clear to leave---I just do not see.”
Miryam was beside herself. “Oh! You are just a doddering old man, my brother! With no sense, just a big heart that loves everybody and can’t tell a Hebrew from a Mizraimite anymore. You’d embrace an uncircumcised Amalekite or Ammonite too, wouldn’t you? We’re all just one big family to you! Let’s all just put away our little differences and try to get along, and quit squabbling about fine details concerning worship and gods and emphasize our common humanity, irrespective of anything else! That’s your way, isn’t it? Well, it’s not MINE. And it’s not a holy God’s? He may be no respector of persons, but he does divide sheep from goats. And WE are the holy sheep, and THEY are the idolatrous goats. Sorry! But that is the way El Roi sees it. And they, who have a choice, have chosen to remain goats. Hell is what they’ve chosen too, and I can’t prevent their going if they’ve chosen it, so why try to include them in holy Israel. That’s an abomination! An abomination in the sight of El Roi--mixing the holy with the unholy--UGH!”
Now Miryam could go on this way indefinitely, once started.
Aaron, his ears burning, was sorry he had ever been bought and set free.
“It won’t work, this way of yours, brother!” Miryam cried, her voice carrying all the way out and down the lane called Almond Tree, because an almond had once grown and flowered there in better times, reputed to have been planted by Joseph when he said farewell to a beloved friend who was going on a long journey to Gilead, meaning that when the spring came they would be never be parted again. “It has been tried a thousand times by fools with good intentions and tender hearts like yours, dear brother! And utterly failed! You see, God is holy and righteous, and He chose a holy and righteous people to serve and follow and worship Him alone. Those Mizraimites! We can’t make peace with them, don’t you see? They hate and loathe us with an eternal hatred and repulsion, because we worship the One Invisible God. They’ll never accept us in return as long as we spit on false gods. You know that perfectly well, if you’d admit it! So--so--so go get Mosheh to put things right here. God wants to deliver us from the heel of the Per-aa! Obey the will of God! Are you going to or not? Or will I have to go in the place of a man? Say now or never! I’ve had all I will take from the likes of you!”
Even now Aaron tried to put the best construction on the hopeless brick he saw Miryam was trying to make of things. “Oh, I know all that, sweet sister. But--”
“There you go again!” she spat out. She flung off into the gloom, for once in her life holding back things she could have said to an elder of Israel that he richly deserved. But even an eldest sister, sorely tried in the furnace of affliction, was not entitled to say them, she knew.
The night came on in the unhappy household. Aaron prayed where he sat on the floor, then leaned over to the bare ground and fell asleep. Meanwhile, his sister strode about in the tiny court beyond the back door.
Presently, all was changed. God, who had spoken to Miryam, spoke to Aaron in a dream.
“Aaron, my son. Listen to your elder sister. Go into the wilderness of Midian and find Mosheh your brother.”
Aaron’s eyes shot open in the pitch dark. After a time, with nothing happening, his lids shut upon the darkness.
Then God spoke again, repeated His word.
Aaron sat bolt upright this time, knocking over something in the dark.
Sensing something, Miryam had come in.
“Aaron? What is the matter?” she called out. “Aaron?” Her foot struck something, and she reached down with old bones making cracking sounds and touched something that felt alive.
Rearing back, she thought it must be a night-roving snake or scorpion, though it was only the staff of Aaron, left behind over forty years before in the house, a staff he had fashioned himself out of the gnarled trunk of a dead almond on the street outside the house.
Considered worthless, it had never been offered for sale. Forgotten, it had flowered again and again in the gloom of the hut--for it was almond, a most splendid spring flowering tree--yet no one, except a guarding angel perhaps, had seen its blossoms promising rebirth in the midst of death and darkness.
Not about to let a Mizraimite take over her house, Miryam fought back, giving whatever it was a vicious kick, and the staff flew across the floor, rebounding back into the lap of Aaron.
“My staff!” Aaron cried. It was the return of an old, old friend--or it seemed so at that moment, for he had no idea how it got to him, despite all the racket Miryam had been making.
“Get up, brother!” Miryam shrieked. “There’s a serpent abed with you!”
“No, no, dear sister. It’s only my dear old staff. Thank you, Lord of all! I shall have a dear friend to help me rise up and to sit down. I missed it so terribly in the camp. Words can’t say!”
“Oh!” Miryam expostulated. “So that’s it! Well, back to business! As I was saying--”
Aaron’s voice, for once, assumed a commanding tone. “Silence, dear sister! The God of our fathers has spoken to me. He said I must go and find our brother in the land of Midian.”
Miryam danced up and down at the news. “See! See! Just what I told you! Bur you wouldn’t listen to me! You wouldn’t listen to old Miryam! Oh, no! But now you heard from God Himself, so you can’t deny what I was telling you was the truth! Glory be! I’ll get you on that donkey to Midian if it’s the last thing I do, brother! Hurry! You start at once. Now where’s the donkey? Where’s the bread for your journey. Oh, no matter! Let the Almighty figure that out. Just start walking in obedience, brother, and God will provide your mount and your bread, just as he provided the enormous price for your redemption from the compound. What he did he can do again. Just start walking! Angels will carry you on their golden wings if there’s no donkey! Wouldn’t you like that, brother? Are you listening? Get going! There’s no time to waste!”
Miryam stopped to catch her breath, and Aaron, he was trying to get up with the aid of his beloved staff.
“Midian!” Miryam thought. “Where--what is Midian?” She knew little about the place, because everybody knew there was so little worth knowing. It was a byword for far-off, unspeakable desolation and worthlessness.
“I’ve been given the accursed land of Midian!” was an expression used when someone meant he had been suckered into accepting in payment something absolutely devoid of value, like the title to what was supposed to be a rich meadow but turned out to be a stretch of burning ground enlivened only with a parched waterhole in which a dog had died.
“So that’s where he’s been hiding out all these years from the Per-aa’s men. They searched the whole world for him, I know, but they wouldn’t go to Midian--it’s too out of the way, too hot, too much a nothing and an emptiness. Not even the caravans would think of going there, and they go everywhere else.
What would anyone but the Midianites want with so many hot rocks and big piles of drifting sand and flying serpents and scanty grass enough for only a few scrawny sheep and goats?
Midian of the Cushites! Of course! How cunning Mosheh is! It was the perfect refuge for him! He’d never be disturbed there! For who could care about him if he went to a place like that? He would be as good as dead!”
It was always a place of curious glances, for it provided much entertainment. She was always kicking a hole in a wall, or setting up a sign with lime on her fingers for brushes and paint, exhorting the people to love and obey the Almighty and to hope for His promised deliverer. What would this eccentric, old spinster do next?
Thus, someone with a long, poking nose and raven-sharp eye looked--there is a women like this one in every kindred and people--and saw the door ajar, and peeking in overheard just enough to tell the eavesdropper that a man was in Miryam’s house. Scandal!
No, not at all, for the disappointed person soon heard Aaron’s name and everyone knew it in the ghetto. It had to be Israel’s last leader, the only one who spoke for the Hebrew these days, even though he was incarcerated for life in a brick-making compound.
“Aaron’s home!” was soon the news in every household, and the sound of scurrying feet filled the tiny, criss-crossed lanes and all the connecting mazy lanes that crossed them in turn until it seemed the entire enclave was headed toward the hut of Amram and Jokabed.
In a few moments the shanty was flooded with well-wishers. The overflow filled the lane, then the sagging roofs. Still more people pressed into the mass of bodies until people could hardly breathe. But they were used to that, and no one complained. It was wonderful to be there. That was all they felt. Wonderful to be present to welcome dear, old Aaron, Israel’s sainted advocate, back home for good.
Other news, not so welcome, spread just as quickly, to the effect Miryam was kicking Aaron out of the house, so that he would go and seek the long-lost Mosheh whom no one in his right mind would want to see returned to Mizraim.
Shock and disbelief engulfed the people. “Aaron--leaving so soon for parts unknown? Oh, no! It cannot be! Miryam is cruel, she can’t be allowed to do this to our beloved Aaron! Someone--someone with authority--speak to her, talk her down, hold dear Aaron back from going. Someone, help!”
Donah and Huah, enterprising twin brothers who had some business with the last Per-aa’s administration and now had some business with the new Per-aa, stepped into the gap for the sake of Aaron and his people against Miryam. Tsiph’oni and Tseph’a, their wives, urged that she be humbled.
“Don’t tithe a single grain of corn to them!” they cautioned the people, who had all struggled to bring some gift along. “She’ll use it to provision him, and send him away! No, keep it back, and let us deal with the woman personally. We’ll stop this bit of nonsense of hers in its tracks!”
Pushing into the shack, the pair confronted Miryam.
“We hear that you are sending our beloved brother out into the wilderness on a wild goose chase! We don’t countenance any such thing! We hear from God too! If He wanted Aaron to go as you say, then He would have confirmed the word with us first. After all, we are men, and you are just a woman. God always speaks to men first! Everyone knows that! If He can’t find a servant among the menfolks, then maybe He will condescend to speak to a mere women, but he has plenty of good men like us available, so, you see, there is no need whatsoever for Him to speak to your likes--er, to you, Daughter of Amram. Now, desist on this matter. Aaron is not leaving us. Absolutely not!”
Miryam was prepared for Donah and Huah too. She knew them well. Expensive girdles encircling their wide bellies, hair and beards sleeked with oil, mouths always munching on something, and ears cocked for the latest news, the brothers had a way of getting around and keeping abreast of everything.
“Windbags! Slippery tongues! Cockatrices!!” she returned to their faces. “You dare set yourselves up this way to my face? You are nothing, the stinking dust and blowflies off the land of Midian before the Almighty, though you are something--you miserable, scraping pulse-worms--before the Per-aa!”
Stung to the quick, the brothers were equally hot with words, protesting her charge of complicity with the enemy by inferring that Miryam wanted to get Aaron out of the way so she could set herself up as ruler of Israel in his place.
It was an old charge, and Miryam could fling the dirt back as hard as she received it.
“Ha!” she crowed. “You’ll have to do better than that. God has spoken twice, and both Aaron and I have heard him. Haven’t you, brother?”
Put on the spot, unable to deny the truth of Miryam’s words, Aaron could only dither.
Now Donah and Huah were masters of demagoguery. Seeing no advantage in Aaron’s words confirming his sister’s, they turned to the judgment of the holy assembly of the brethren.
“He’s not to go! Say, O Israel! Say!”
The crowd roared, then took up a chant. “Aa-ron! Aa-ron! House of Gladness, House of Gladness!”
Aaron, whatever he was trying to say, was completely drowned out. Miryam too could not be heard as she protested their dirty tactics.
After a time, when the hubbub died down, Donah and Huah held the center stage as they harangued the crowd concerning the matter, and how things, by this sign of Aaron’s reappearance, were going to get better for Israel. Truly, if they played their wari wari right, they would find their abodes transformed into houses of gladness and prosperity. Even though conditions in the whole country had become difficult due to the prevailing, poor crops and troubles with weather and certain devouring insects and animals, the new Per-aa cared for all people and cared for the Hebrew nation.
“This new ruler of the land, what is he like?” someone close to the brothers inquired.
This was the brothers’ special province! Happy to inform the people, they regaled the crowd with information they had gleaned first-hand from the Per-aa’s exalted Ministry of Ma’at, where they had recently gone by invitation to speak concerning the needs of the Hebrew people in the present distress of the countryside. In return, they would be informed of a few alterations that would be made regarding the administration of all Hebrews.
Donah’s brow darkened momentarily, but with a jab from Huah he recovered, smiled expansively, and spread his hands wide. “Oh, nothing really much! Just a few things, a few minor adjustments. A census, then the end of tribal distinctions, that sort of thing.”
“The end of our tribes?” the people cried out.
Huah took the matter in hand, now that his brother had failed so abysmally. “Well, what if we are officially disbanded? What good have these old distinctions dividing us, such as “Levi,” and “Reuben,” “Judah” and “Joseph” done us? Answer me! What possible good can they do, if the Per-aa doesn’t like the costly administering so many different tribes! He has a much better plan. You’ll see.”
Everyone naturally wanted to know more about this “better plan.”
Donah and Huah, who would have liked to mention that the Taty of Ma’at had awarded them a ride along the Sacred River in his official fire-chariot, but couldn’t mention it because the people would not have been ready to accept such a great advancement of Hebrews in their name, tried to stem the flood of questions they had provoked.
“Well, you see,” went on Donah, “there’s to be an emphasis on our national responsibility toward the shaping of a new Mizraim. The old is out, the new is in! Isn’t that wonderful? Well, we told the Taty that they had our undivided support to usher in this new era of joy and luck in the country. We’ve lived her three hundred years and more, so why shouldn’t Hebrew and Mizraimite join arm in arm to advance the interests of us all? He was very pleased when we said that, especially when the famine that is taking place will necessitate a high degree of cooperation and reciprocity between our two peoples if we are to survive and prosper in the new society emerging from the Per-aa’s policies.”
“‘Policies,’ what are they?” demanded the people present, with Miryam’s strident voice at the helm.
Now the twins were beginning to show nervousness. Things were not going as well as they had hoped. Everything they said seemed to unsettle the people more and more. But they had to continue, as their way out of the hut was blocked, and the people would not let them go now just when their interest was high.
Huah hedged and hedged, but the matter slowly came out as he got round, gradually, to the gist of the Per-aa’s “New Society of the Most High Gods Pher and Nath.”
The new government was already formed and operating, and they would soon see more of a direct hand from the Ministry of Ma’at, for example, which was charged with the welfare and re-organization of the Hebrew people.
This important Ministry was responsible chiefly for Racial Purity, Religious Orthodoxy, and Protective Custody of Anti-Ma’at elements.
Order in race (one people, no tribes, clans, and extended families), order in religion (one national list of approved gods and temples ), order in society (laws enforced without delay and no clemency shown criminals and gainsayers)--the Three Golden Pillars of the New Mizraim.
To achieve this new world order the Per-aa had granted sweeping powers to not only this ministry of internal order but to the other arms of the government, the Ministry of the Mouth of the Per-aa, the Patsu ‘alai pihem, Ministry of the National Guard, Ki-Cebanbuni kelabim, the Ministry of Vigilance, Yabitu iiru bi, the Ministry of Vesture and Lotteries, Yechallequ begadda, V,al lebushi yapilu goral.
All these were very important, but really the Sub-Ministry under the Ministry of Ma’at, Cebabuni parim rabbim, would be closest to the Hebrew people, since it was given the primary task of instilling peace and prosperity and order among them. One Ministry was free of all the others in restraint to do whatever it pleased, and it was called the Ministry of the Per-aa’s Second Golden Mouth, Aryeh toraph Veshong.
The Hebrews were assured via Donah and Huah that the Hebrews would soon be hearing from this Ministry, just what they would find out when it was necessary to know.
In the meantime, there would be few adjustments, there was to be a “two peoples, one country” approach. They were not to fear loss of provision, loss of work, loss of their homes, or any other loss, despite the present distress in the fields and in the cities due to the nearly empty government granaries.
The Per-aa had everything in perfect control, and he would see to it, as Father of the country, that all were treated as they deserved, and he would show no partiality between Hebrew and Mizraimite, for both were under his care.
As for widespread rumors among the Hebrews that wagons full of grain, the trains stretching for great distances, could be seen at night running from government granaries to secret storehouses underground--they were all wicked lies, poison spread by base, idle tongues that ought to be ripped out for slandering the national government!
“But will my husband and brothers and my sons be released now from the brick works compound?” an old mother wanted to know. Wondering how she was going to feed herself that day, she found herself unable to follow the elaborate explanation of the New Mizraim.
At first the brothers refused to answer her, but she kept crying all the louder, until they had to lay aside for the moment the glorious restructuring of the government of Mizraim and attend to a poor, old woman’s complaint.
“You’ll get your answer if you’ll be patient!” Donah turned to her with a biting tone. “You want to know about your menfolk? Well, no, how can they be released? Imagine the chaos that would create, if they all came running back here, where there isn’t provision at present to care for any sudden great increase in our numbers. No, they are better off where they are. But in time, in time, you can expect a release to happen, and one, or possibly two--”
The woman’s wail rose up immediately, as she caught the drift of what he was saying.
“Oh, heaven help me, I cannot wait that long! I cannot go on like this another day! I will throw myself to the crocodiles if my loved ones are not released to succor me in my old age!”
Donah was beside himself. How was he to continue an intelligent review of the new government for his people if such women were allowed to disrupt everything he said.
“Say, can’t she be put out?” he called to Aaron. “Really, this is disgraceful. Let the elders see to the matter of this woman’s provision!”
“The elders feed her?” Miryam cut in. “Have you gone mad from gorging on the Per-aa’s wine and meat? They have no food themselves! And this is my house, and she can say anything she pleases here!”
Donah and Huah glanced at each other, both thinking Aaron hopelessly henpecked under his own roof. “Well, then, we don’t see any reason for continuing, if we can’t be respected and listened to properly.”
It was late, and no one protested that the review was over, and so the twins were obliged to get down and let others say whatever they willed to the assembly.
“That new Per-aa has showed his godship in public, ‘cuz I seen ‘im!” another woman called out. “I was took by guards to go and clean the streets with a thousand other women, and just when we finished broomin’ the main boulevards he comes out from the grand palace of his, and the Mizraimites were all there following him along the way, screamin’ at the top of their lungs, throw’ flowers, cryin’ out to ‘im. I thought they were gonna tear me to pieces if they turned round and saw me watchin’. But the guards were between us and the other Mizraimites, so that saved us.”
“But what does he look like--is he young and handsome?” women wanted to know.
The street sweeper opened her mouth wide, revealing many gaps in her teeth. “Why, good people, they’d have killed me if they knew I was looking upon ‘im, but I had to peek through my fingers. He is not so young, but not old, and not tall, but his countenance shines like the sacred Day Moon I heard someone say he stands on a box set in the open part of the chariot, which is a fire-chariot all covered with gold. He stands so stiff and pretty I thought it was one of the temple gods in the fire-chariot, but then he moved his arm this way, holding forth his hand to the people as they cheered and bowed, and so I saw it was the eternal living god, the sacred Per-aa himself. My, I was shiverin’ and bowin’ my chin to the ground like the best of ‘em, I tell you!”
Pushing their way back into assembly, Donah and Huah were outraged. “You dared look upon with your mortal eyes and then describe a divinity to the Vulgar? He is the god of the whole realm! The god-king who will live forever and ever, and his name and rule will have no end! You would die on the spot, executed, if someone had heard you speak of his splendid person here to common people! And you better be careful. The Eyes and Ears of the Per-aa are sharp and will catch such as you, if you keep on like that! Besides, this assembly is against the law of the land!”
The last remark seemed to cut through everyone like barber’s razor, making people wince or flinch and duck their head.
They knew exactly what was meant, and believed it. The Per-aa’s spy corps was everywhere, but now they would call for guards from the ghetto post and haul anyone they wanted out of the enclave and that person would vanish into one of the many compounds set up for people like that.
Even the brickyard compounds set up by former Per-aas were nothing in comparison to these new camps appearing everywhere, all named for virtues such as “Obedience to the Per-aa, “ “Diligence in Work for the Per-aa,” “Honesty in Reply to the Per-aa,” “Order in Life and Work unto the Per-aa,” “Cleanliness Pleasing to the Per-aa,” “Temperance of Appetite unto the Per-aa,” “Truth unto the Per-aa,” “Sacrifice for the Good of the Per-aa and the Country,” and “Devoted to Country and Per-aa.”
Whatever the name, they were all the same in bestowing such daily punishments as starvation, standing in the open without shade and water, heavy labor, punishment drills, beatings with sticks or whips, suspension by the wrists from a tree or pole, solitary confinement in scorpion-infested wells, beating to death for minor infractions or none at all, hangings, burnings with lighted faggots, and a host of other special tortures imaginative guards could devise.
And there was no way for them resist or fight back. Disarmed a long time before, forced to live in walled and guarded ghetto-cities, they were not allowed to enter Mizraimite cities and neighborhoods at will, or bathe in the sacred River, or assemble in public lawfully with more than three people, or propagate Hebrew religion, or own or buy Mizraimite land, or go out to buy and sell with fellow Hebrews without paying tax and reporting the sale to the guards and government man at the ghetto gate.
If such policies had been calculated to reduce the Hebrews to a state of blank apathy and helpless misery, they certainly worked well. A once proud, vigorous, joyous, productive people was repressed to the point where even the young saw no reason to go on living and threw themselves into the water among the crocodiles.
Just to be a Hebrew was considered to be the ultimate abasement and misfortune in life. A Hebrew could go no where in the land without being confronted by inscriptions on all public buildings such as “Whenever you see a Hebrew, Citizen, do your duty to your Country and spit on the dog!”
Another widespread sign was, “Recognize the True Enemy of Our Sacred Land--the Hebrew Leach!” And yet another was sure to be close by, urging “Death to the Hebrew Aliens in our Midst!”
Young people looked at the ghetto’s stinking, filthy, crowded, impoverished conditions compared with the well-off, clean, flower-scented, tree-shaded Mizraimite cities and concluded that the signs were right about Hebrews--that they were inferior, not fit to live on the same ground as Mizraimites.
They may not have understood how they could be painted by Mizraimites as villains who were strangling the commerce and productivity of Mizraim when they knew how hard they were being worked by Mizraimite taskmasters, but the message proclaimed by constant barrages of “Dog Hebrew!” and “Leach Hebrew,” and “Alien Hebrew” sank in and was no longer denied.
With Hebrew religion proscribed, there were no synagogue schools, and so the children remained grossly ignorant without teachers, becoming wild barbarians running in the streets since the parents were taken away to brickyard compounds and grandparents were put in work in dawn to dark details outside the home.
Now the attacks intensified with the new Per-aa and his new administrators. “Demon Hebrew” was added to the old slogans, clinching the idea in the public mind that the Hebrews were the root cause of every social and economic evil in the land. Observance of Hebrew holy days was forbidden.
It was most fortunate for Aaron that Miryam had come for him at this time and bought his freedom, for a decree was levied, and soon all remaining rabbis were to be hunted down, arrested, and killed. The census and registration of all Hebrews in the land was carried out, and any leaders, elders, educated men, scribess, or respected elders identified were rounded up and dragged off to the new compounds for “reform through work.”
National security was proclaimed as the reason for the stringent new measures. In other to separate nationals from Hebrews, fraternization was forbidden and given the death penalty. Hebrew infant slaughter was enforced rigorously.
Any underage Hebrew children were taken and thrown into the river or its channels to the crocodiles. Males and females of child--bearing age were separated, placed in separate compounds to keep the population down and reduce it as much as possible.
There would have been wholesale suicides in these conditions, but the people were given little opportunity to end it all. Whether held captive in a ghetto or a compound, life was basically the same for all Hebrews.
At the crack of dawn the Hebrews were mustered out of their beds with the trumpet of the Reveille-guard. They scrambled to get ready for the Roll Call a short time later.
Then Work began, to which they were marched by armed guards, who applied whips to laggards. People worked until Dinner, which was not provided by the government but had to be brought in somehow by relatives or family who were incapacitated or too old to work.
After Dinner, Work continued apace in the now broiling heat of mid-day until evening. Roll Call then started and lasted for some time until the “All to Bed” was sounded by the Reveille-guard.
While the grasp of government on the Hebrew people was strengthened to the point of crushing them out of existence, the Mizraimite society was mobilized in every part and on every level.
Military parades and army reviews, assemblies for celebrating the new Per-aa, inaugurations of new public edifices and temples holding the divine Per-aa’s god-image, public sacrifices on the national altars of Hebrew miscreants, huge entertainments featuring Hebrew-baiting in circus amphitheaters built for enormous crowds--life was not the same for the Mizraimites, and never would be again.
Boulevards were extended to the horizons, embellished with god-images of the Per-aa and every other high god of Mizraim, obelisks that reached to the stars, proclaiming his divinity and greatness and majesty and all his splendid achievements, pools, gardens, palaces, fountains--all built by Hebrew laborers and paid for with Hebrew blood, if the truth be known, which it was not.
To every appearance, and shouted from every slogan inscribed on the gleaming structures of new cities rising on every side, Pher-enath III was the Glorious Savior of the Two United Kingdoms, and all was due to his wisdom, love, and power. Without him there would be nothing, nothing at all, since the odious Hebrews, the ubiquitous signs declared, would steal the very bread from the mouths of innocent Mizraimite babes.
Smiling constantly, parading in his gold fire-chariot as attendants threw roses at the adoring, frenzied crowds of gathered millions of Mizraimites falling down before his cortege, the Per-aa let it be known publicly that he alone was responsible for the national security and flourishing of the Mizraimite people.
Without him? Life without his rule was now unthinkable. Everyone now was proud to wear the sign of the god-king, Pher-enath III, which was a cross-beamed pair of black Royal cobras chasing each other’s tail, emblazoned on his or her forehead and right hand. Without that sign it was also unlawful to buy or sell, or to buy food in the shops, or even to travel abroad.
Drawing the first breath at daybreak, citizens named him as their Savior and God, thanking him for granting the world light and warmth and life-giving rays. Hebrews, too, were commanded by law, with non-compliance to be punishable by death, to pay the same allegiance to him as All-Life-Giver as well as bow to the Per-aa’s sign and image set up by each ghetto’s gate.
The hounds of the new administration were quick to enforce the changes that settled on the whole land soon after the Per-aa’s accession.
It was a good thing Miryam was so insistent that Aaron ignore Donah and Huah’s blandishments and warnings and get away from Mizraim in search of Mosheh as the Almighty God commanded him.
He was not sooner out the ghetto gate on a one-eyed, feebly clip-clopping, old donkey when the god-king’s new administrators arrived to introduce a long series of “alterations” that would radically transform the ghetto’s inmates and make every Hebrew soul cry to be released by death.
Roused by Miryam in a dead sleep, he scarcely knew what was happening as she pushed him and his staff out the door and into the street.
“Follow me!” she hissed in his ear, leading the way into the pitch darkness.
Thinking he was falling, he reached and grabbed her arm, which turned out to be a donkey’s tail, and clutching it for dear life he stumbled along after the quick-footed Miryam.
Presently, he bumped into the donkey’s backside, so he stopped, and then he heard Miryam’s knocks on a door. It took quite a few knocks, for this was midnight and most folk had been in bed for at least five hours.
“Who is it?” a man’s voice growled finally through the shuttered window. “If you are a robber, there’s nothing here of value, I can assure you!”
“Don’t spout nonsense to me! It’s Miryam, the daughter of Jokabed and Amram. My brother Aaron is going on a journey. Friend, lend me three loaves, for I have nothing to give him.”
There was a silence. Then the voice called out, “Don’t trouble me at this hour! My door is bolted tight for the night. I am in bed with my wife and children, so I cannot help you.”
Aaron was all for moving on, but Miryam gave no tug on the donkey. Instead she pressed her face to the shuttered window, to speak all the louder through the cracks.
“I’ve got to get some provisions. Friend, you have the loaves, I saw your wife baking six fat loaves today, three for your evening meal, and three for your breakfast. Now remember the God of Israel and give me the loaves. Your wife can rise early and bake new loaves, for the Almighty said she has much flour on hand, which you bought by selling a sheep. “
Aaron felt terribly embarrassed, rousing an unknown man and his family in bed as Miryam was doing. But when the man cried out harshly, “Nothing doing, daughter of Amram! I won’t let you snatch the bread from the mouths of my poor, starving babes!” she returned with, “I’m doing nothing of the kind. They ate well enough for dinner, so I can assure you they won’t starve until your good wife bakes them more bread. Now I want those loaves or you’ll hear something straight from the Lord Almighty!”
Something must have been thrown at the window from inside, for there was a terrible crash, followed by a woman’s scream.
Then a woman cried, “Let her have them, husband! You’ll wake the whole neighborhood, and--”
There was some muffled words back and forth, and finally heavy, stomping footfalls. The shutters suddenly opened with a bang, thrust open so hard that Miryam was nearly caught and knocked to the ground. Rewarding Miryam’s importunity, three loaves came flying out, two striking the donkey fore and aft.
“Bless you, bless you!” Miryam cried, and as soon as she could snatch up the bread they were off!
But Miryam didn’t accompany him very long.
When they reached the lane that led to the gate, she halted, thrust the bread into a sack on the donkey, mentioned what else she had in the sack, then said farewell.
“But where am I going?” the thoroughly dismayed Aaron blurted out. “It’s midnight. I can’t see a thing.”
“Midian! Where else? Just get moving. You’ll run into it eventually.”
“Oh, dear, you don’t really mean it, dear sister!”
“Yes, and godspeed! You must go now, before things change with the dawn and you can’t get away. Now get going, or will I have to shame you and leave you at home and go myself!”
With those parting words, Miryam vanished.
“How in the world will I ever get to yon Midian on this mount?” poor Aaron wondered aloud later in the dawning light as he made his way slowly past the high walls of compound after compound, ghetto after ghetto. And where, pray, was Midian?
His knowledge of geography had never been a strong point. He had a very hazy idea it lay beyond the red deserts to either side of the Ioteru, but which side should he search?
To cross he would have to go by hired ferry, and that would cost him money. Miryam had given him only a few loaves of bread, hidden in an old sack, and a jug of water, and some stale cheese, and that was the best she could do. A silver piece completed his provisioning, which she had held back from the sale when she redeemed him at the Gate of Reception.
Even if the river passage cost less than a silver piece, the ferryman was Mizraimite and might demand the whole piece, or even demand two silver pieces because he was carrying a Hebrew.
Even Aaron, as kindly as he was toward Mizraimites, was forced to face such realities now that he was on his own. Mizraimites, all better-dressed, would identify him as a Hebrew in a flash, since no Mizraimite would look so poor and ill-favored in flesh and garb. He was as good as branded a Hebrew by an appearance he could not escape, even if he spent the entire silver piece on new clothing and a big meal of good food at a country inn (a place, as a Hebrew, he was forbidden to go anyway).
No, it was best to find another way across the River if he must cross it, he concluded with a sigh.
But where was this Midian, the ancestral home of the children of Father Abraham’s servant-wife, Keturah? He wondered if he should stop a passer-by, but he knew he had to be careful.
He suspected the king’s men were about on the public thoroughfares, seeking stray Hebrews such as himself. No, it was best to keep moving among the crowds that thronged the roads, blending as much as possible into the busy traffic.
What else could he do? So he went as commanded by Miryam and the Almighty. Which was which meant nothing now. He was on his own, and realized there was no turning back.
Yet there seemed no way to his confused eyes that he would ever locate Mosheh or the land of Midian. Wretched, unfabulous Midian! A breath, a vapor, an exhalation, a passing wind coming from nowhere and going no one knows where. A blank, a nothing, an incognito that would never be filled in! Where was it? Where?
A number of times he had to step aside as the Per-aa’s men, with fire-chariots, took the road away from common traffic. People all around him thrust out their hands in salute, crying the Per-aa’s divine name, and he had to do the same or be spotted as a Hebrew.
How he hated it, but he was either one of the crowd of worshipping Mizraimites or a lone abstainer, and so he complied for the sake of saving himself from arrest and imprisonment. At first his conscience strung mightily, but it got easier to bear each time he did it.
Frightened, confused, lonely, weary, Aaron and his old donkey plodded on and on, whither he had no idea at all.
Toward dusk of the first day he saw he was somewhere on the outskirts of Ain Pher, and more and more open stretches of sand appeared beside the road. Traffic was not so thick too, and he could make better progress. The air cooled as the light retired, and he no longer trembled for fear of being identified as a Hebrew fugitive.
The double-pyloned city gate, which was open to all during the day, now began checking each passer-by with close inspections, but somehow he was thrust through, a wagon just ahead of his donkey shielding him from view by the checking guards. Perhaps, the guards thought he was with the Mizraimite carter and his sons who were transporting beer, bread, and a musical troupe of two harpists with a Gypsy dancing girl to a new border fortress-city, but he got through, in any case, with just a wave from the guard to the carter, who whipped his oxen into high gear because his goods were highly perishable.
Hurrying along as best he could in the wagon’s rear, Aaron left the gate behind, which had so many troops stationed that he could not be sure they would not come after him by the hundred and drag him back. But not one soldier came, either on horseback or in a fire-chariot, and he found himself alone on the road at last that led straight into the High Desert.
Or, he had thought he was alone. The next thing he knew he heard the jingling of many saddle and harness bells, which could only mean beasts of burden hurrying along in a train--a caravan.
Aaron was standing, looking at the wavering vision of the caravan as it dissolved in the burning heat, and he didn’t notice the delighted youth running toward him from a camp in the shadow of Horeb.
“Morning of divine, wind-wafted fragrance!” the tall, turbaned youth in a curious costume of over-colored, long, flowing sleeves, with scarlet and green colored sheep wool pom pons fringing his wide girdle, greeted Aaron, who was startled by the youth's bowing repeatedly with accompanying, rather ornate hand gestures. With a ring in his nostril and several on each ear, he was quite a gaudy spectacle to plain Hebrew tastes.
Several weeks had passed and the lad hadn’t seen one visitor to his grandfather’s camp until now. His great-grandfather Jethro was a personage who was much visited, but Jethro resided a long journey from Horeb, and no one came out of the way to visit them at Horeb. So he was more than delighted to be the first to greet the stranger.
“My honored mother and father, blessed are they among the people of Father Abraham, are pleased to call me Jonathan. I am your humble servant! And what, prithee, doest thou, sire of honorable, flowing locks of olive gray, in our sweet-flowered and dewy-spangled, green pastures? Hath thou comest to inquire of the bubbling fount of wisdom that Father Jethro, priest of the Most High, tendeth with his fair daughters?”
Now the rustic, colored, highly poetic tongue of Midianite was rendered in a characteristic, rapid-fire manner that was in no way comparable to the more courtly, haughty language of Mizraimite, and it was a far cousin of the practical, direct, business-like Hebrew, yet Aaron could make out enough words to get on with the youth.
He told the peacock-boy who he was and whom he was seeking.
The lad’s eyes filled with joy and astonishment. He ran off without explanation toward the black tents that were virtually invisible on the shadowed slopes of Horeb, shouting the newcomer’s name all the way.
With nothing more to do, as it was very hot standing there in the open, Aaron took his donkey’s lead and walked toward the far encampment.
Horeb grew more immense as he passed into its shadow. He hadn’t any idea until now how big the mount might be. From afar it looked like most any hill about. But as he drew closer he saw it was nothing small, and extended thousands of feet above the other mountains.
This mount was also perpetually cloud-girt, while the others were not. Rain fell more frequently here, it seemed, for as he drew nearer he began encountering patches of grass, then actual meadows large enough to support maybe hundreds of sheep.
There were even signs of flash floods coming down the slopes, whee the rock was washed white, and below the rocks sands spreading out in a fanlike pattern.
Caves also abounded. He could feel cool breath coming out of small openings, which were tell-tale openings to underground caverns. Opened up, there might be pools of water and also shelter for many sheep.
Yet he saw few sheep on the slopes ahead. And the encampment was small, a few tents of thread-bare goat-hair flapping wildly in the strong breeze.
“This family is poor and of little account in Midian,” he concluded. “But perhaps they will have some water or milk for me to drink, and I will ask them the way to my brother’s camp.”
An old woman, plain in garment but handsome in face, no pretty trinkets or silver pieces adorning her brow, and no gold-figured veil or embroidered head shawl as the custom was with shepherds’ womenfolk, came out before the tents and put her hand over her eyes to shade them.
She was gazing toward him, Aaron realized.
The over-dressed youth he had met also came out of the tent, but he was drawing by the hand a third person of drab appearance like the woman’s, who seemed most reluctant to come out, and who turned several times and retreated, only to retrace his steps at the pretty youth’s urgings.
Aaron reached the meadow in which the tents were strung, and now he had a good view of everything, the seemingly limitless valley below, the camp, the frowning heights of Horeb above with their tremendous, gray stone brows--it was a place to sit and just look about at the majesty of the world such as it must have been at the dawn of Creation, but he had no reason to be there, he knew, but to find his brother.
Suddenly, it seemed most urgent to settle the business that brought him to such a far place. Was this Midian? It hardly seemed so. People never described Midian as a place of green pastures and austere mountain magnificence such he saw here. The first thing he intended to ask was the way to Midian.
Suddenly, the old man of the camp ceased hesitating and ran forward at Aaron with a mighty bellow a young, lusty buck might have uttered
Aaron thought he was being attached by a madman, but he was too old now to think of defending himself.
The roaring madman rushed up and clapped his hands on Aaron’s shoulders, kissing him violently on his bearded cheeks.
A strangled cry, “My brother Aaron!” told Aaron all he had to know. Babbling something in Mizraimite that Aaron couldn’t make out, his brother next turned to his uncouth version of Midianite--but words meant little anyway.
So many years! So many years! Reunited across the abyss of time the two brothers wept on each other’s shoulders while the old woman, the Midianite wife of Mosheh, looked on with her grandson.
Mosheh, translating for his son into Hebrew, burned his brother’s ears with his poor command of the mother tongue.
Now Gershom, Mosheh’s first-born, had chosen to stay with the aged Jethro, in the family camp at the Oak of the Seven Maidens with the Comely White-Curd Arms. All Jethro’s daughters, following Zipporah’s lead, had long been married off and produced families.
Since the single well and the grass available could not support many, they had scattered hither and yon throughout the wide spaces of Midian, and since no other tribes wanted Midian it was theirs without contest.
Only Gershom and his wife had chosen to hold the arms of Jethro as he officiated daily before his altar and images of various local deities. It was Jethro who awarded Horeb’s pastures to his eldest daughter, in the hopes that Zipporah might make something of them, even if his son-in-law had proved good for nothing when it came to sheep and goats.
Aaron could not let the youth be misled by a chance happening. “Nay, it was no miracle, my child, ” he kindly put the youth right. “Maybe such things happen, but then it is best not to mention it, since the untutored will make rash judgments. We mustn’t be hasty about such things. I was with the caravan for quite some time, but I saw no miracles. I am sorry, my boy, but it was just a caravan such as they ordinarily are.”
Jonathan’s eyes showed he was catching the drift of the elderly gentleman, and lowered in shame Yet knowing his own country better than this visitor from Mizraim, and the chances of a caravan coming there, he was about to protest when a look from his grandmother, Zipporah, silenced him. She busied herself with serving what little they had to the honored guest.
“More milk and curds, Father Aaron?” she inquired, bowing, using what little Hebrew she had gleaned from Mosheh through the years of listening to his night-long mutterings in his sleep. She held the ritually clean evening bowl for him to take in his hands, so he took the required sip, then passed it on to the others who were eyeing it with noticeable attention.
The conversation was very halting. Aaron did not know Midianite, so that left Zipporah out. Mosheh knew very little Hebrew by the time he left Mizraim, and he had not used it since then, so that now it came forth most wretchedly, if it came at all.
This was repeated several times before Aaron caught on that his brother was no longer mighty in speech and had caught an infirmity of the tongue during his sojourn in Midian
Aaron nodded, and the tears flowed once again from both brothers.
His face showing terrible expectation of the worst, Mosheh pressed for the word about their saintly mother--a dreaded question that had to come sooner or later.
Again, poor, old Aaron was forced to nod, and Mosheh, this time, flung out of the tent. He did not return for some time.
Aaron, in fact, wondered if he was ever going to return. But he did come back, and sat right back in his place, taking the curd bowl and laving it freely with his tongue for every last morsel before returning it to Zipporah, who bowed to him, then, careful not to touch it with her robe, presented it to an image governing the evening repast, then removed it to a part of the pantry cupboard--the vessels and utensils separated into morning and evening use.
Nothing more was brought out, so Aaron concluded that milk and curds was the extent of the feast of reunion. He wasn’t at all put out. It was as good or even better than any meal of his oppressed people in Mizraim.
Since he was an elder acquainted with the ceremonies of the family, he naturally looked to Mosheh, as head of the household, to conclude the feast with prayers. But Mosheh, as if he had gained a second breath out on the wind-swept slopes, turned to Aaron with eyes that shook him with intense feeling that no words could communicate.
Stuttering, searching for words that ran wickedly away from him like goats and stood on high promontories he could not reach without wings, Mosheh’s face twisted and agonized as he tried to relate a recent happening. Zipporah, relieved of her duty, sank down by Mosheh and sat, listening closely. Jonathan, too, was all ears and eyes. And the Midianite brethren attached to the household also sat attentively, their eyes fixed on the struggling-tongued Mosheh.
“These d-d-d-d-d-d--DEAR people here,” Mosheh said, jerking his thumb directly at all the tall-turbaned, over-colored, pom pon fringed Midianites present, excepting his plain-adorned wife, “despise me. I cannot h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-HERD sheep properly. I run them over cliffs, lose them with sickness, or galls, or worms, or any number of wild beasts. My herd never increases, and if Father Jethro lends me a flock, I r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-RUIN it! I have done this time after time. I try my best, and I ruin the sheep. Even the goats cannot abide even the sight of me--they run away the moment I come near. The curse of the Almighty is on me--I know it! Everyone can see it! So they all despise me. They laugh, day after day, at my ways, my speech, my mistakes, and they are right--I am the bane of sheep. I am no good at it. I came here, a fugitive from the Per-aa, and they kept me alive when I would have perished, but in return I have not done them anything g-g-g-g-g-g-GOOD in return.”
Aaron was disturbed, hearing this, and it came to him in the most halting fashion, so that he wasn’t sure he was hearing right, it all sounded like bad news, that his brother was an absolute failure in Midian.
Mosheh’s voice cracked as he related how bad a shepherd he was, and how he could not tend them properly. His eyes streamed with scalding tears. Then he leaped up, and ran out of the tent, and everyone shrugged, and presently Mosheh returned, his face meek and resigned, ready to tell his brother something more.
He edged very close to Aaron, so that Aaron received the words of Mosheh almost lip to lip in the Midianite fashion of brotherly conversation.
“They cannot u-u-u-u-u-u-UNDERSTAND what made a man like me leave Mizraim and my own people, yet they are good people here, and they took me in, a stranger, and put up with me all these years. Yes, they are a good people! I am ashamed before them! Ashamed as if my backside were uncovered! And rightly so! But God had seen fit to deliver me from the laughter in their eyes and words. I am their laughingstock, the b-b-b-b-b-BUTT of every joke, yet the Most High has appeared to me.”
Aaron’s eyes widened. He could not believe this tale and its crowning point where it had taken him. Was Mosheh a liar in his old age?
Mosheh, in turn, noticed Aaron’s doubt, and his eyes filled with crushing humiliation.
“I am not worthy of your love, my b-b-b-b-b-b-BROTHER! Nor can I ask for you to believe my words, when my Midianite brethren laugh at me all the day long. I am held in contempt, though they honor me as the husband of Zipporah, eldest daughter of the priest of Midian, the most beautiful of all the white-curd armed daughters of Jethro. Yet I have seen the glorious appearing of the Almighty on the m-m-m-m-m-m-m-MOUNTAIN! Have I not seen Him, my goodly wife with the white-curd arms? Tell our beloved brother ‘tis so!”
Aaron’s blood began to run cold. His plain Hebrew eyes were undeceived. There were no such arms on the good wife of Mosheh, handsome-faced though she was. Hers were brown and withered, with knotted veins and wobbling flesh, showing all the signs of unrelenting, hard labor for many years. White-curd arms, indeed! Oh, how he wanted to flee back to Mizraim, w ith or without a caravan. His brother had seen the Almighty? It couldn’t be so!
Mosheh continued, the eyes of the Midianites glued on his lamb’s face and stumbling tongue.
“They--they all know I saw Him--for my face was shining like the Day Moon when I came back to my tents--and they had to cover my f-f-f-f-f-FACE so they could abide being near me. Even then it was hard for them. They cried in their sleep, tormented by their tiny bits of wickedness, and could not sleep, but wept, walking up and down. But it was not a bad thing for me. No, my brother. I had just lost another sh-sh-sh-sh-EWE. She had fallen in a big crack in the mountain, and I did not get to her in time, and some animal had crawled down, clawed her belly open and killed her. I was weeping from this, and climbing down toward the camp when the bush with the white thorns and white branches, it burst into roaring flame. But it was not consumed, so I had to climb over to it to see what it was. The bush was growing from the side of the cliff where a mountain rain fell and was flooding down the rocky channel, but there was a little place for me to place my feet and stand. There I came and s-s-s-s-s-STOOD, but the bush continued to b-b-b-b-b-b-BURN without the branches being consumed. The radiance hurt my eyes. It poured into my being, and my heart stopped. I knew this was the P-P-P-P-P-P-P-P-Presence of the Most High, not any ordinary f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f--.”
He broke off the account entirely, but the Midianite brethren of Mosheh must have understood, Aaron realized, for at this point they had all drawn up their gaudy robes to shield their faces.
Mosheh, when he found a measure of renewed spirit, returned to his account. The night came on, and Mosheh made no sign of retiring, nor did anyone else. Aaron, exhausted by now, listened to word after word of God as it poured forth from the Voice in the flame.
Mosheh’s face showed utmost pain, bewilderment, and even obstinacy.
“‘I cannot d-d-d-d-d-d-DO this thing You ask!’ I said to the Almighty, when he told me I must go to Per-aa and demand the release our sorely oppressed people for a sacrifice to the Most High in the wilderness.”
“How could you s-s-s-s-s-SPEAK like that to God Almighty?” Aaron echoed in shock, but no one was listening to him. It was Mosheh who held the floor.
“Finally, the Almighty said that you, elder brother, would be my mouth before the Per-aa, since my tongue has grown halting and I am poor in speech. And He took my rod and gave me signs. My rod will turn into a deadly serpent when you cast it down for me, my brother! And if I put my hand here--” He put his hand into his garment. “--then draw it out thus--” He drew it out, and it was covered with leprosy, so that everyone leaped back in horror, though Zipporah held to her place at his side, watching him intently. “It is sorely afflicted as you can see, but I have only to do this--”
And he put his hand back, then drew it out again. “--and it is restored to perfect health and strength, as you see.” But a better thing by far is that God t-t-t-t-t-t-t-TOLD me His Name. He said He is Yeshua, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Aleph and the Tau.””
Aaron’s mouth fell open. He could scarcely take it in. Finally, his golden tongue nearly losing all its ability, he stammered out, “What--what is the Name He gave unto you, brother?”
Mosheh wasn’t listening to Aaron and was not about to repeat himself. Somehow he was back on the high slopes of the Mount of God--staring awestruck at a bush that was burning but was not consumed by a brilliant flame of a sparkling whiteness of a bright morning star that no human eyes could have ever seen on Earth after the East Gate closed on Paradise.
And it was a Light that searched out the darkness, piercing to the very marrow of the bones after dividing the sinews and the flesh.
Who could stand before such a Search Light? Yet it was the sense of Ineffable Sweetness and Winsomeness that was most penetrating. It was that goodness, sweet beyond any honey on earth, that broke him to pieces.
Later, it was days before Aaron pieced it all together. He came to understand that God had commissioned Mosheh as the Deliverer of captive Israel. Moreover, he, Mosheh’s elder brother, was the servant of the younger brother. He must attend Mosheh as he went to the court of the Per-aa to ask release of God’s people from the hand of the Oppressor.
Aaron quailed at the thought. The Per-aa would never release the people of Jacob willingly. Never! Mosheh, too, knew that very well, being forewarned by the Almighty that the Per-aa would refused to release the people. Yet Almighty God had promised to do great signs and wonders that would ultimately force the Per-aa to give them up.
All this was a bit much for Aaron to take in. He finally begged leave to get some air, and he stepped outside the tent and he happened upon Jonathan, Mosheh’s dashing grandson with the sartorial flair and the silvered tongue, standing and relieving himself shamelessly like a goat a foot or two from the door of the tent. But this show of bad manners and poor training was not so bad as the discovery that his grandnephew was utterly innocent of holy circumcision.
Aaron was so shocked that he could not help blurt out, “Dear grand-nephew, why has not your honored father Covenanted you? You are far too grown to be going about like a pagan idol-worshipper.”
Grandnephew Jonathan laughed as he pulled his pom pons and colored garments around himself. “Forsooth, that is a custom of the old times, beloved grand-uncle. We are children of Abraham’s loins too, and Father Abraham did not require it of us, since we of this fair land are favored above the rest of his children.”
The grand-uncle’s face growing purple in places, Aaron requested more information on the point. “But surely you have not considered something. All children and kindred of Abraham must receive the sign of the Covenant if they expect to share in the Promises of his holy line. Aren’t you afraid you will be accounted pagan by the Lord and miss the wonderful blessings of the children of Abraham?”
The youth gazed at Aaron with surprise. “But my father never told us that. Besides, our images have never commanded us to do anything like that to ourselves. We’ll follow them if that is what your El Elyon requires, for our people know that as long as we keep the morning and the evening vessels apart and the women’s skirts from touching them, we are clean and righteous before the gods in heaven!”
Then his grandnephew took a little pouch, removed some ill-smelling and very potent weed, rolled the weed and lit it with an ember from the campfire. Taking a long drag of the narcotic, he handed it to Aaron, who waved his hands and stepped away.
Aaron, hearing, seeing, and smelling enough, went back into the tent. These half-bred, half-baked Midianites! The more he saw of them, the more he suspected their heathenish ways were those of Gypsies. He had known many Gypsies in the compound, and they remained cheerful, colorful people in the darkest circumstances. He had heard they had once been a great, ruling people somewhere in the northeast, but there was no sign of that now, so it must have been an old wive’s tale.
Aaron could hear the authority in Mosheh’s voice. It was utterly unlike the old Mosheh, who had commanded armies in the field. This authority was so strange, yet so compelling. He, Aaron, wanted to follow Mosheh despite the matter he had discussed with the grandson. Before Mosheh he felt like he was the younger, not the elder, and that Mosheh, in a real way, was the founding father of the Hebrew people, just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had been founding fathers of the people and nation of Israel--only Mosheh was somehow the greater personage!
The Midianites must have sensed this, for the laughter and mockery in their eyes came seldom now, and it was replaced by a profound fear and an awe of Mosheh. His wife bowed deeply before him as she ministered to his wants, and his brethren did the same. They seemed to wait on every word and glance of his. Yet he did not seem to notice all the signs of respect. He lived in the past.
“I am a foul, crawling b-b-b-b-b-b-BEAST before them, less than a gnawing, boring pulse-worm on a leek or tomato in Mizraim! They are a good people, I have no complaints at how they have served me. I have ruined them, poor c-c-c-c-c-c-c-CHILDREN, yet they did not drive me out as they should. Now I am a wasted old man, with nothing to pass to the fruit of my loins. But still they do not drive me out as an accursed thing. God has been angry and poured his wrath on me all these years. Yes, they are a good people, and I am a base w-w-w-w-w-WORM!”
“How very abject my brother has become among the strutting peacocks of Midian!” Aaron marveled again and again. “But if he is become so debased in his own eyes, how can he lead a nation mighty in numbers like the Hebrews, or face the wrath of the mighty Per-aa in all his pride and glory? I do not know how this could be the Deliverer God has chosen. He cannot even lead a flock of Midianite sheep properly!”
As if Mosheh divined Aaron’s doubt and hesitation, Mosheh turned to him, his countenance changing quickly. “There is a third sign I can show you.” His voice was hard and angry, and his face was fierce, no longer soft, weepy, and lamblike. Mosheh took a water pot ritually reserved for the evening and overturned it with a kick, and the contents splashed over Aaron’s feet--water, but water that turned to blood in an instant.
Crying out, Aaron stumbled to his feet, and then Mosheh and the others laughed, for they had seen the sign before.
Yet even holy signs couldn’t hold the camp’s attention for very long. At the drop of a turban the young men would leap up to dance, and so it happened now. The young men leaped up and were performing, wildly swinging pom pons and inflated bladder balloons while the women cheered and rustled their ritually unclean flounced petticoats.
By this time Aaron was grown very homesick for plain Hebrew company. When Mosheh turned to him amidst the celebration of exactly what Aaron could not make out, Mosheh’s voice was merry. “We will go now, you and I, and deliver the holy nation of Israel?” Mosheh had a hard grip on Aaron’s shoulders, the kind that crushed if any resistance was offered.
Aaron now was the meek one in the grasp of a magnificent lion. His eyes and head whirling with the dancers and feeling dizzy, he nodded, perhaps not vigorously enough in his distracted condition..
“No, “ Mosheh said, shaking his head, his eyes glowing with indignation. “Why are you so reluctant to obey the Almighty? Shame on you! You aren’t absolutely convinced. I can’t have that! You must believe for certain that everything is just as you have been told it is and serve me willingly, not as a forced slave. Now here is another sign that will surely convince you that the power of the Almighty is with me.”
Aaron’s poor, tired feet did another frantic, soft shoe shuffle as Mosheh threw down his staff and it became a huge, dangerous reptile, its jaws sprung wide open like a steel trap, hissing, ready to strike. Mosheh seized its tail, and it stretched out stiff in an instant and became a wooden staff again.
“That is sufficient, “ Aaron pleaded, Three terrible signs of great power, and he could not deny having witnessed the Finger of God operating on Mosheh’s behalf. “Wonderful, my brother!” Mosheh shouted. “I’m glad you came to your senses befor
e I had to call for a whirlwind to pick you up and sail you upside down over the top of the mount and back. The Most High said it would not be necessary for you, but I asked the power of it anyway because Zipporah’s people here would increase their faith by it.”
He clapped his arm around the wincing, trembling shoulders of the newly-made true believer. Aaron peeped out only, “But my dear brother, is this not a good time to circumcise your sons and brethren? God requires it of his Chosen, you know. Surely, they understand everything after all this talk we have had.”
Mosheh gave Aaron a warning look for his trouble. “No, not yet!” he breathed hard into Aaron’s ear. “And not another word about the matter. They have tender ears, and sharp, these children of holy Midian. Even though they have few rules governing them, regarding mostly their pots and vessels, and the defiling touch of women’s skirts, you may upset them, and then I won’t be able to protect you! They may dress like women, these men of theirs, but their hearts are fierce as lions when they are offended.”
And that very day the paltry little camp of Mosheh was struck, and they and Mosheh’s hashish-smoking, uncircumcised sons and brethren were on their way to Mizraim, by way of Jethro’s camp, of course. Having served for many years as a slave serves a master, Mosheh also deferred to his father-in-law as priest of the Most High to the people and land of Midian.
Mosheh’s new career as God’s man against the might of Mizraim, as the Deliverer of Captive Israel from Oppression, was to go as Father Jethro--who had seen plenty things go awry in the affairs of men--suspected. He could see very well that his foolish witted son-in-law would land himself in a world of trouble, presuming himself called of God, when in fact he had drunk too much fermented goat’s milk and seen and heard things spun from ague or fever of the head. As for the signs, they were powerful enough, but the magicians of Mizraim were world-famous for such things. Would they be impressed? Jethro thought not.
But how was he to keep peace in his household? His eldest daughter, Zipporah the comely pillar of his tent had lost her head too, and she was now supporting Mosheh in his madness. It was time to let both go, and they would have to learn the hard way.
Someday the inexperienced, young couple would be back at his tent door, old Jethro reasoned, with their tails dragging. It was only a matter of time. He could wager a flock of sheep he was right.
“Go in peace, son of Amram,” he said to Mosheh, knowing full well there could be no peace for such a clown under the dome of heaven.
And Jethro was right. Things did go as the crafty, old Jethro expected. They had no more than got to a caravansary on the edge of Midian that took in caravans that came from north and south and turned toward Mizraim when disaster struck. Unwittingly, Mosheh strode before the little caravan like the conquering hero he had been forty years before.
A quick head fever toppled Mosheh. Instead of reigning at the inn like a rube Midianite potentate he lay there a dying man. Having watched this man closely, the keen Zipporah discerned the cause of the Almighty’s wrath. If she wanted to remain a wife and not become a widow, she had to do something quickly no woman should have to do to grown sons.
How was she going to get them to submit? It proved simple. She threatened them with wives of her choosing that would cut off their manhoods if they found their bridegrooms still possessing pagan foreskins. After her threat, they suddenly became very meek, indeed.
Ordering them to lie down on the bed, throwing a cloth over their faces, she took a flint knife and accomplished what Mosheh had long put off doing, though he knew full well the God of the Covenant required it of all male Hebrews in order for them to share in the rights and the blessings of Abraham’s line.
Whipping the cloth off the groaning faces of her sons, her eyes averted from their shamed and outraged expressions, she took the foreskins and threw them on her dying husband’s body spread on the bed next to her sons’. Immediately, life was restored to him. She saw with her own eyes the Almighty hand of wrath immediately lifted off. Only then did she collapse slowly to the floor between the two beds and lie there until he called to her to bring him water.
After that close call, Zipporah no longer had the heart to continue the journey, and neither did his son and grandson. She begged off, saying that her aged father was maybe ill and calling to her. Knowing full well the cause of his near death, Mosheh did not argue with her. He had argued with her on the matter of circumcision, and what had that gained him?
Shaken to the core of his being by so close a call, Mosheh the lamb surfaced and got hold of the lion in him. Acting like a different person altogether, he and Aaron completed the journey to Mizraim, and there was a wonderful, brotherly peace and camaraderie between them for the first time. Freed of Midianite influences, their fellowship was like precious, fragrant oil poured on them both so lavishly that it ran down their garments and covered their feet. Like David and Jonathan of old, their hearts were knit together and Mosheh did nothing without Aaron’s full knowledge of it first.
About a day’s journey from Mizraim was a spring gushing straight out of solid rock. Here Mosheh stopped, not so much to take the refreshment but to worship God. “I was d-d-d-d-d-DYING here. There was no strength in my body to go on. There was no water, nor had there ever been water in this place. I had fallen on the ground and butted my head on a rock. I t-t-t-t-t-THOUGHT of all I had done in the land of Mizraim, and how my family had come to me, and how I had killed the taskmaster and yet my own people had mocked me sorely. I wanted only to die. Then water burst out of the rock just ahead and flowed to me where I lay.”
In this manner, the hand of God providing water and provision where there were none, he had reached safety in Midian. Yet his spirit still grieved sore within his breast, he told his brother. He had dreamed many great things for his people, only to see his dreams expire in the burning dust. Twoscore years of obscurity and fumbling about as a shepherd in Midian passed, and then the Almighty’s appearance in the burning bush changed everything. Everything!
Yet it was just as well Mosheh’s family was not along, for otherwise things went badly for them at the start, not with the elders of Israel, who believed once they heard Aaron’s words and witnessed the signs of Mosheh, but at the court of Per-aa.
He looked at his footprints, and at the same time felt a tense feeling, hard and burning, over his entire body. A magician was summoned, and the Per-aa commanded him to duplicate the feat with his own footprints, and he was able to do it. He too felt the strange, crackling current on his limbs, but for him it grew worse, so that he began to jerk about as if an invisible power had seized him.
Pher-Enath III ordered the magician out of his sight and the carpet drawn up and destroyed, and he went on as if nothing had happened, though the incident flew from tongue to tongue, ear to ear, throughout the royal palace.
It would have been a usual day except that he had declared a holiday for celebrating the anniversary of his first year of reign. Everything had been planned out, and giant festivities were in progress everywhere throughout the United Kingdom. Tens of thousands of marchers were gathered on the edges of the city, waiting the command to proceed down the processional way that led round the east wing of the royal palace where the Per-aa viewed the people from a roof pavilion.
To show the people how much he cared for them, he had announced a time of special audiences where common people could come and present petitions during a pause held between two massive parades and rounds of festivity and banqueting. The venue was the tamar palmed and flowered palace gardens fronting the River back of the palace.
Even outdoors the court maintained full ceremony and splendor. Flaming colors of massed flowers, the flash of jewels on the throats of noblewomen, gold gleaming from javelin blades, spotless white linen court robes, polished black Kushan bodies of guards standing ranked around each tall lotus pillar, their bodies naked but plumed with many-colored feathers and patterned animal skins, the performing musicians and dancers, the playing fountains--the splendor was overwhelming, the spectacle of so many hundreds of officials and royal guards standing in their appointed places beneath the brilliant canopies and waving banners was more than enough to take the heart out of the suppliants.
Some, no doubt, wondered if they would leave the scene alive, as the faces of the guards and the officials were so stern there was no hope for anyone who happened to bring offense onto those exalted grounds. The emphasis on points of etiquette, so practiced and polished, permitted no mistake or awkwardness to go unnoticed. Bows had to be performed just so. Salutations had to be given just so at the exact time. The machinery of court, running with absolute precision, crushed anyone that made the slightest slip. This was, beyond doubt, the most powerful court on the face of the Earth, and its greatest ruler was present.
Going forward among the terrified Mizraimite petitioners allowed to enter the grounds of the royal palace, no one questioning them like the others were questioned, Mosheh and Aaron reached the inner court of the Per-aa. Since they were among the first, they did not have long to wait, for the Per-aa was inclined to be open-handed and petitioners were seldom disappointed by what he awarded them.
When Mosheh and Aaron stepped forward in turn to the Grand Taty and the Cupbearer, who would tender their request to the Per-aa in turn, the Per-aa’s counselors and officials could see at once that there had been a grave mistake made by the guards who conducted the screening process.
These men had the appearance of Hebrews, for they did not wear the Per-aa’s special sign on their brows and wrists as proof that they sacrificed to him as god of the land. Many Hebrews had taken the sign, but still most had refused. These, obviously, were among the rebellious Hebrews.
“How is it that slaves are allowed to speak to the Per-aa?” a shocked Cupbearer said to the Grand Taty standing in the pavilion set in front of the Per-aa’s. “It has never been so in my tenure.”
Hearing this, before the Per-aa or an official could order them removed, Aaron, at a signal from his brother, spoke. “I am Hebrew, as you say, sire, but my freedom was bought after I was sent home from the compound where I fashioned the Per-aa’s bricks during the prime of my manhood. My brother here was never a slave except as an unweaned infant, as your fathers knew and you may know. Surely, you will listen to his words from my mouth, since he was once a prince in the royal palace.”
“But we know nothing about this brother of yours!” replied the Chief Cupbearer. “How dare you presume on us and the Royal Tribunal in this manner! What is his name, that we should know him and allow him audience with the god? A prince in the royal palace, did you say? It could not be, since he is Hebrew!”
The Grand Taty, older and longer in memory, nudged the Cupbearer. “Oh! I believe he’s that renegade prince, the Hebrew impostor Mosheh come back after all these years! My father knew him at court, the so-called son of Princess So-and-So--Hetepheres, I think her name was. He committed some offense or other and ran off, and he was thought perished in the wilderness. Could this be him? If it is we must do something quickly.”
The Chief Cupbearer standing guard by the Per-aa’s monteith of chilled wine was alarmed as much as the Grand Taty, so they were motioning to guards to come and pluck the two Hebrews out of the august company of the Per-aa when the older of the pair stepped quickly beyond the two officials and bowed before the Per-aa a short distance away. No one daring to remove him now, while the Chief Cupbearer and Grand Taty waited white-faced to see what would happen, Aaron lifted his head, and spoke to the Per-aa at a nod from the ruler. “Our petition, O king, is simply this: “Let my people go, says the God of Israel.”
This was the worst that could possibly happen. Heads would certainly roll now. Yet the Per-aa, after a single glance toward the Masgeh and Opeh and the other officers, showed no sign he was displeased. Instead, he smiled.
“You two will come with me,” said the Per-aa rising with his crook and mace held against his chest.
Flattening itself to the ground, silence fell on the whole assembly as if time had ceased. No one dared breathe.
The Per-aa dismissed the public audience and began the next parade with a sign from his hand, and he strode toward the palace between the crouching granite images of Mizraim’s chief gods. Scrambling to their feet, Mosheh and Aaron hardly knew what to think as they alone were permitted to follow the Per-aa.
At a safe distance, not knowing if their mistake at letting Hebrews reach the Per-aa’s person, the by now very fearful Grand Taty, Chief Cupbearer, and the taties of the civil service followed by the dozens, wisely stopping at the palace door to await developments.
His royal guards greeting him with rigid attention and stiff-armed thrusts upwards of their javelins, the Per-aa stepped, still smiling, into the palace through the towering doorway. Going in, he led the way to a flight of stairs, and then ascended, everyone halting to flatten himself or herself on the floor as he approached with Mosheh and Aaron in his train.
Instead of stopping in any of the grand halls of the addition called the New Palace, he continued on into the immense, old palace maze of Machitha called “The White Wall.”
Passing unattended, silent guard rooms, lizard-infested chambers of high officials, weedy, overgrown gardens, dry fountains, desolate courtyards and empty pools, a boarded-up throneroom and harem--all considered defiled by the Hyksos--he finally turned in at, he thought at random, a door which opened to an antechamber, little used since the unmentionable times before Ahmoseh I.
Storing such items as aging peacock-flywhisks and a pair of boom boxes, titanium tweeters brought in by a northern tribesman as a gift to Khian the Hyksos Per-aa that no one knew what to do with, it had once provided a Grand Taty a place for preparing himself for court appearances. “Zaphenath-Paneah” and the Hebrew “Betsel Kenapheka” had been inscribed beneath two outstretched wings, but the cartouche glyphs and Hebrew letters had been excised, leaving only the vague impressions.
It was a long walk to reach the antechamber, and the place was dusty, with an old royal chair decorated with Horus the Divine Hawk-god, its blue paint fading, and who knew what spiders and scorpions roaming about? Yet the Per-aa had seen fit to hold his private audience with two Hebrews in this particular room, which, of course, was well beyond the spy network that covered every inch of the New Palace.
Going to the chair, he seated himself, divesting himself of his royal insigne, the mace and crook, in order to be more comfortable in private.
It was one thing for the pharaoh to behave informally when he chose; but it was death for his subjects to presume to do the same in his presence. His subjects all understood this. Bowing low and repeatedly according to court ettiquette, Mosheh and Aaron entered the room, and the Per-aa spoke first.
“Shut the door securely.”
Aaron did as he was commanded.
“Secure the bolt, slave.”
Unused for several hundred years, it was a most strange place for a royal audience, and even the uncultivated Aaron could see that at a glance. Too small to be a Per-aa’s hall, yet holding three magnificent seals emblazoned on bronze shields attached to the high walls, emblems that somehow had escaped the notice of the chisel-wielding, expunging priests following Ahmoseh I’s victorious army, there was only one window that let in light, and it was cut high, affording just enough light to illuminate the cartouche of the Grand Taty on the shields and the accompanying Hebrew inscriptions:
Here in a long-forgotten Grand Taty’s antechamber the next few moments of the royal audience seemed to drag like an eternity.
Amazed by the Per-aa’s action in calling them to private meeting, but in no position to ask the Per-aa’s reason, Aaron’s mind whirled as he tried to gather his thoughts and words as he gazed down at the stones of the floor, which were cracked and worn-looking as if a river of petitioners’ feet had gone to and fro over them in former days. Distracted by the roars that penetrated the gloom of the antechamber, he seemed at a loss for what to do. The Per-aa, paying no attention to the name-shields over his head or what personage they represented and sitting like carved stone in the chair, seemed to be growing impatient, though they had not been there more than a moment or two facing each other. What Aaron could not know is that the chair was turned to freezing cold and the Per-aa was regretting his impulsive move from the comfortable gardens just to satisfy his personal curiosity concerning Hebrews.
Normally, there would be many palace officials, with scribes writing furiously to catch every word of the Per-aa or some high official. Here there were no scribes and witnesses.
Closely confined, the Per-aa appeared to catch a whiff of something unpleasant from Mosheh and Aaron’s homespun sandals.
They had come directly from the sheep-and-goat infested warrens of their countrymen. The royal nose twitching, he looked at Aaron with repulsion and a certain interest playing in two eyes hard and black as the jetstone in his seal ring.
In turn, the Hebrews found the indecency of the Per-aa’s presence hard to bear, for he was virtually naked, his fine-spun linen robe furnishing no covering from the eyes.
The interview began as Aaron bowed and then addressed the Per-aa, repeating the request that he let the Hebrew people go free to perform a sacrifice to their God.
“What? Let your people go and perform a sacrifice in the desert to your god?” the Per-aa responded, shifting again as the chair turned from frigid cold to overly warm. “Who is this god of yours that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I don’t know this Lord, and I won’t let Israel go.”
And on the Per-aa’s left hand? The people of Mizraim and the people of Israel, with bands of Romany traders and other foreigners wedged between. Yet which class, right or left, was exerting the strongest demands on the Per-aa’s attention when he spoke the fatal words? Which group was most effective in putting the finger on the raw nerve of his hidden anxiety? His feelings of insecurity and inferiority?
Worse, his fears of being demeaned before the eyes of all these powerful interests, with the despised Hebrews somehow getting the upper hand over him?
Second-Born in the royal household, reviled for his slight, not very noble physique, passed-over, humiliated, but suddenly, thanks to the death of the Crown Prince in a river cow hunting accident, thrust upwards from ignominy by the army and the Grand Taty to the throne and position of a god-king!
Despite all the evil he had suffered in his youth, all the envy and resentment that had grown darkly within his breast until he could scarcely breathe when the Crown Prince passed by without speaking to him, he had weathered all and taken everything the Crown Prince had thought was his alone.
He, not the First-born, was the favored child of destiny, Pher-Enath III, exalted among the gods! Now he would show the world the mistake it had made in slighting him.
And he would be sure to repay pain with pain to whomever repayment was due.
Yet Mosheh, if he had looked the Per-aa’s way, which he did not, would have perhaps seen and identified with the Per-aa’s third estate, which was far more potent and powerful than the first two on the right and left hand of Per-aa. Shadows of the past rose up, not from the chamber, but from his own sealstone of jet, which gleamed on his upraised hand as he held the crook and mace, symbols of his godship and power over the land.
They were only shadows, but they rose to intertwine with the serpents in the Per-aa’s own breast. Whipping about and locking together, there was no real difference between them.
They were all black, and fanged, and deadly with venom. Dreams deferred until they died and rotted, dreams poisoned with envy and spite until they grew long, black bodies with hoods and fangs, dreams that started out golden and bright with promise and hope and ended up monsters of malice and hate and fear, all waiting to strike.
As for the fourth estate, the Topaz, it had done its work extremely well. Power-hunger, ambition, ruthlessness, division, conspiracy, suspicion, rivalry, terror--all were flowering in Mizraim thanks to the Topaz and its resident scorpion. Flowing out from Mizraim, the whole world was being infected.
Forewarned by God that the Per-aa would harden his heart and refuse their request, Mosheh and Aaron stood their ground in the very own chamber of a Revealer of Dreams, but the Per-aa wasn’t having explanations.
He came at them with irony, accusing the brothers of seeking to make life too easy for his lazy, good-for-nothing-but-brickmaking people.
“You are idle, idle! You all want only to eat and sleep and make more babies for my nation to feed. Why, your women must sport with the clay figurines and then conceive, for we keep them separate from the men. Yet nothing avails! You increase and increase! And now, instead of work, you demand that I allow you to all go and play! That is the reason for this sacrifice of yours, for you are feigning piety!”
Meanwhile, the dynamics of the chamber, as well as the blue chair, were changing by the moment. The noise of the Per-aa worshipers entering the chamber seemed to withdraw, and as it faded there grew a sense of power draining away from the Per-aa himself. Everyone in the antechamber could feel it. Power for the Per-aa had been withdrawn outside the antechamber. Within it he had grown powerless and futile!
What had caused this? No one had time to think the reason, or words to state it. It just was so.
His face showing uncertainty, his eyes darting toward the bolted door, the Per-aa shifted on his alternating too cold and too hot chair, for the first time showing lack of ease, as though he, though officially a divine god-king, knew he had become a mere mortal. As if he were looking for a scapegoat, his eyes fixed on Mosheh, the silent party to the interview.
“Who is this man with you?” he said to Aaron. “Why are you speaking for him? He signs to you, and you perform like his trained monkey.”
“He is my honored younger brother, Your Divinity,” Aaron explained patiently. “He is slow of speech, and he has asked me to speak for--”
The Per-aa was not listening. Mosheh’s head, during the Per-aa’s remarks, had turned slowly round until Pher-Enath III and he were looking into each other’s faces, each drawing the measure of the other man.
A thundercloud storm darted meanings swift as lightning in the first instant. Of the many, “So this is that Great Serpent, the so-called third son of the chief moon gods, Pher and Nath, the latest foul and bloody Oppressor of my people!” Mosheh’s glance seemed to say. And the Per-aa’s expression in turn seemed to infer, “Dung-worm of a Hebrew! Scrapings of a she-donkey in heat! Offal of a miscarried hyena! We have every right to tread upon and exact full service from such dirt as you! The throne has always belonged to us, and subject peoples such as yourselves have no voice in the matter. We rule, you serve! It has been that way since time immemorial, and the gods have decreed it, for since the dawn of time and the Dawn Kings we were destined the superior race, the only one fit to rule as supreme lords over all the Earth!”
Hebrew outrage converged with Mizraimite presumption, slave converged with tyrant, a holy people with a divine mission converged with pagan idolatry, the Covenanted converged with the Uncovenanted, an upstart, nomadic, tribal people converged with a sophisticated, highly learned, rich, ancient civilization.
The clashing of two worlds, two religions, two peoples charged the air, clarifying the issues so sharply they were made black and white with absolutely no gray zones between.
Aaron, gathering strength of spirit from the gracious, wise spirit of the room, his eyes no longer so dazzled by the splendidly jeweled pectoral necklace, ceremonial clothes, and royal insignia and cobra-hooded headdress, renewed his petition to the Per-aa. “Yes, Your Divine Majesty, we are inclined to be lazy and idle as you say, but grant this one request to your humble ser--”
“Never, “ the lord of the Land of Red and Black cut in, and the chair shot burning heat through the ruler’s backside, which made him nearly lose his godlike dignity and cry out humanly in pain.
Aaron spread his hands toward the Per-aa. “But would Your Divinity permit me to add a few words? This is not our undertaking. Idle or not, our God has commanded us to perform this sacrifice in the wilderness.”
But the Per-aa’s attention had a difficult time centering on the discussion with Aaron. Besides the chair causing him so much physical discomfort, discomfort he could not show mere mortals, he could not help eyeing Mosheh, who after taking good look at his opponent at close range, was again turned gazing at the wall of red alabaster.
“‘Your god commanded it’!” the Per-aa echoed Aaron with a grimace, showing his teeth. “Who is this god that I should pay attention to him? You still haven’t told me.”
This time Aaron glanced at Mosheh helplessly, and the Per-aa caught Aaron’s glance.
“He has no temple, no image, far as I can tell,” the Per-aa egged Aaron. “How then shall I know him and worship him? Must I make you an image for him? Tell me, what does he look like?”
“But--” Aaron weakly began. Mosheh, in response, shook his head, and Aaron’s protest subsided.
Seemingly, the Per-aa had prevailed, for Aaron said no more, and the Per-aa rose from the tormenting chair, forcing the two Hebrews to the floor.
Going to the door, the Per-aa knocked on it with his mace, and Aaron, taking his cue, rose awkwardly from old knees, and drew the bolt.
The Per-aa took a few steps beyond the door when he stopped, turning to Aaron.
“Do you perform signs confirming your authority?” he challenged them. “This god of yours, I would like to know if he has any power to give his servants? If so, give me a sign now. If you cannot produce any, you will be whipped for presuming to approach my Divine Majesty with your ordinary humanity.”
Though all through the interview Mosheh had been a sulking presence, at the mention of a whipping he suddenly stiffened, his eyes growing fierce and fixing on the face of the Per-aa for the first time. He thrust the rod of God at Aaron, who took it gingerly, then threw it down on the floor.
The staff no sooner struck the stone floor then it came to life, rearing its hooded head, hissing, and showing all the deadliness and vivacity of a Royal Cobra.
The Per-aa himself forgot royal dignity and stepped away to save himself, while his officials, hurrying forward, fled back away at the sight.
“Have my chief magicians, Jannes and Jambres, brought!” the now rattled Per-aa commanded the Grand Taty.
It was done quickly, and the brother magicians too threw down staffs and they turned into serpents.
But there was no time for the magicians and Per-aa to congratulate themselves that Mizraim was more than equal to any foreign god’s power, for Mosheh’s cobra caught the magician’s serpents and devoured them.
Horrified, the Mizraimites turned helplessly to the Per-aa, who seemed at a loss as to how to proceed.
Reaching out as he was instructed by the Almighty, Mosheh grasped his serpent’s tail and it immediately stiffened and became a staff in his hand.
Now that the danger was gone, the Per-aa regained his composure. “That is only a cheap trick, and I will still not let them go,” he repeated, walking away from Joseph’s wardrobe chamber and its blue chair.
And that same day the Per-aa issued instructions to the officers over his taskmasters assigned to the Hebrews. They should no longer furnish straw for the bricks, but the Hebrews would have to gather the stubble for straw and still make as many bricks as they had been required to make when straw was provided them.
The next day the Per-aa , who had begun a precedent by holding a private audience with a Hebrew prophet and his spokesman, called for elders of the Hebrews to be brought to account before the throne. He told them they were in arrears. Where was the scheduled amount of bricks? It was lacking in number, he informed them. Six hundred thousand able-bodied men! Yet, he jeered, they had produced less than the women.
Not since Joseph had a Per-aa called to Hebrew leaders to speak publicly for their people before the Per-aa! This one, apparently, was determined to deal directly with the problem since the meeting with Aaron and Mosheh, and the elders, though possessing no mighty signs to impress their interrogator and terrified almost out of their skins, had no choice but to go with guard escort to face Pher-Enath III the god-king.
“But we have no straw given us,” the elders replied when they could find words and breath amidst all the splendor of court. “We cannot make up the usual levies of the Per-aa without provided straw.” The Per-aa’s dark eyes grew darker and harder, if that was possible. “You are idle, idle! From this day you will make double the amount of bricks, and without any straw given you. The straw you must find yourselves.”
This doubling and trebling of their labor without any straw being given them as before cast the Hebrews into absolute despair, and their elders, after being beaten and thrown out of court with their robes cut to the waist in parting by the palace gate guards, sought Mosheh and Aaron out on the matter as soon as they could be found.
“You’ve made life even worse for us than it was before you came!” they cried to Mosheh and Aaron, and Mosheh could not deny it. He went in despair to God in prayer. But the Lord replied that he was still the Lord, and he would make the Per-aa let the people go. He reaffirmed the Covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and promised that they would inherit the land after He had delivered them from Mizraim and the hand of Per-aa.
One plague after another struck Mizraim, to force the Per-aa to release Israel. Each time Mosheh and Aaron went to the palace, they demanded that the Per-aa let the people go, or else God would send a plague, and each time the Per-aa only grew more obstinate, and another judgment fell upon the land by the hand of God and his servant Mosheh.
The Sacred River, the Ioteru, which to the Mizraimites was a god, was struck first, and it turned to blood. The fish died. Drifting toward shore, the dead and bloated fish caused the frogs to flee onto the land and climb into the houses, even into the royal palaces by uncountable thousands. Wavering, since the River was the life-giving god of Mizraim and the frog was sacred as the Frog-God of Machitha, the Per-aa seemed to hesitate. But then something small and dark, itself froglike, darted into the royal ear, whispering, “Ah, Great One, you will lose your glorious Throne if you don’t assert thy strength now over these wretched Hebrews before you!”
Stung to the quick, the Per-aa got his second breath. Against the advice of his counselors, he refused to let the people go.
Plagues of gnats and lice followed, called for by Mosheh when the Per-aa again refused to let the people go. Colossal images and altars of the Gnat Goddess and the Louse God, popular deities in Mizraim with temples throughout the land, were thronged with supplicating priests and covered with flowers and votary candles lit day and night, yet the Divine Gnat and Divine Louse proved unable to stem the plagues or turn them back from the sorely afflicted Mizraimites.
This time the Per-aa seemed to be breaking enough in resolve to let the people go. Not only were their multitudes of frogs to contend with, but these had been joined by even greater numbers of lice and gnats. Life was not intolerable in Mizraim.
Mosheh said to him, “Do you want me to turn back these plagues now that are ruining your country and people, so that no one would want to live in it?”
The Per-aa, his back turned so as not to show his gnashing teeth to common mortals, nodded, and said, “Tomorrow let these plagues end.”
“All right. According to your word, tomorrow it will be, that the plagues ends, so that you will know that there is none like our Lord God.”
The moment the Hebrews were gone, however, the Per-aa fell to the carpet, gnawing at it with fury as his attendants stared in horror. He had done it before, in fact, after each audience with the Hebrews, but they could never get used to it, fearing he might arise and order all their executions as scapegoats for his exceeding great wrath.
Mosheh went home, prayed, and God rolled back the plague of lice and gnats and frogs, for they died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields. It was a further divine proof that the Hebrew God was the Most High over all the earth and that there was no god in Mizraim that could deliver.
Rejoicing, the people of Mizraim gathered the frogs together in heaps, and the whole land stank, but at least the vermin were dead and would no longer invade and defile the people’s dwellings, beds, grain storage urns, water pots, and eating vessels.
But the moment the Per-aa saw that the land was delivered, he grew stubborn again, looked to his own gods, and refused to let Israel go as he had said.
God spoke to Mosheh, knowing the Per-aa’s heart, and flies took the place of the previous plagues, making the land uninhabitable again. The air turned black with them. Interior house walls swarmed with flies, and they could not be kept out of any vessel or container. Royal palaces, mansions, civil service buildings, and temples were full of flies too. There weren’t enough fly-whisks in the kingdom to keep the Per-aa from the infestation either, and he was soon desperate and called to Mosheh to come and call off the flies.
“Take your people and go sacrifice to your god,” he ordered Mosheh. “Choose a place just beyond the banks of the River. The sacred waters must not be defiled, or the god will be angry and smite the land as yours has done.”
“But we cannot sacrifice so close to your people, they would consider it an abomination and riot against us. We must go further out from your country to perform our sacrifice.”
“Go, and take these flies with you, but do not leave the land entirely with your people.”
Mosheh went and prayed to the Lord, and the flies died away from all the land and all the houses and palaces and temples, and the Mizraimites washed their drinking and eating vessels and even their household linens, all of which had been defiled by flies. But the Per-aa changed his mind once again, since his counselors said the flies had perished after the common way of flies, not by divine intervention by the God of the Hebrews.
Plague after plague followed. Beasts, plants and crops and trees, then people were struck with terrible blains and skin lesions. Hail, darkness over all the land, with the additional sign that no harm came to anything in the Hebrew communities, yet the Per-aa continued more stubborn than before, until the tenth plague was announced: the death of all the first-born in the land.
Mosheh, hearing this from the elders and the people, was exceeding upset and enraged. “I know you p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-PEOPLE! Most of you are no whit better than the Mizraimites you despise! You s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-SEEK every niggling advantage over one another, coveting what the other has, and if you think too well of yourself to steal it, whether a maidservant, or a comely daughter, or an a-a-a-a-a-a-a-DONKEY, or a piece of clothing, or a breadstick, or even a wife, then you get it some other way by using the elders against an innocent man, declaring he is guilty in some way that would force him to give you what you want lest he c-c-c-c-c-c-c-ENTER into judgment. You extort one another of goods, for you are never satisfied with what you have from God’s hand. But you do worse, most of you! You lie, you prevaricate constantly against each other, in your houses, in the streets, in your work places, at the well, at the washing, at the baking, at the gate buying and selling, each s-s-s-s-s-s-s-CONSPIRING on your beds at night to gain some advantage in the coming day in the eyes of others. Your tongues are the t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-TONGUES of the wicked asps which are quick to leap out of walls unexpectedly and strike wayfarers. Then your eye is just as quick to note evil-doing in the houses of your neighbors, so that you can murder the man or the woman with your lips! I’ve seen you do this abomination daily! Need I go on? You are not h-h-h-h-h-h-h-HOLY, for your hearts are soiled, your hands are soiled, both body and soul, you are s-s-s-s-s-s-s-Dirt in the Holy Eye of God, Who cannot look upon uncleanness and be pleased. Now, either mark your forehead and limbs with the cleansing Blood provided, or suffer the consequences when the Death Angel comes to s-s-s-s-s-s-s-SLAY the first-born of the land!”
Put that way, Mosheh forgetting Aaron and speaking directly to the people, the people were abashed and were forced to admit their guilt and unholiness before El Roi and His Righteousness. In fact, they felt so stained with their trangressions of the Golden Rule, which they all knew from childhood training at their mother’s knee, that they rushed to apply the Saving Soap of the Lamb’s Blood!
And Mosheh first, with all his family, made themselves ensamples for the rest. They went to the Lamb which God provided. The Lamb was laying on a white sheet beneath a cross-beamed tree growing flrom a stony hill not far from the River. It was an unspeakable sight. Everyone hushed as they climbed the rocky path to the Lamb and the Tree. Wounded on his hands and feet and forehead, with a spear wound in His side, the Lamb was stretched on the Tree. Above the Lamb’s head was inscribed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me.” Mosheh, taking the Rod of God, which he had wrapped at the head with a pure linen, dipped the head of the Rod in the Lamb’s Blood, as many times as needed, and touched the foreheads and limbs of all who came forward to be cleansed and saved from their sins.
Then the people went home. Only a few were lucky, since they had no first-borns, be
ing childless. In this group were Donah and Huah and their beautiful, young, half-Mizraimite wives. They did not join in with the people at the Tree on the rocky hill, and when asked about it said their deeds were sufficient to please an Almighty God anyday.
They thought they could well afford to abstain from the procedure, considering that they knew they were both second-borns, and their wives were safe too, since the Death Angel was coming to smite the first-born males of land, both man and beast.
Standing in a mortuary chapel of the New Palace with his dead first-born lying on a bier, Pher-Enath III sent word for Aaron and Mosheh to come to him.
Standing on carpet that bore signs of a beast’s tearing, bloody teeth, he spoke to them calmly, with eyes downcast on his golden crook and mace.
“Your god is strong. We cannot hold you back any longer. Go!”
Rejoicing, Mosheh and Aaron strode out of the Per-aa’s humiliated presence like conquering lions. The God of Israel had, indeed, triumphed over all the gods of Mizraim and the power of the mighty Per-aa. They were completely humiliated. It was a day of triumph unlike any in the annals of the world when the Hebrews streamed forth, by the millions from the land of bondage led by Mosheh the Lord’s Deliverer.
Guards and taties of the brickyard compounds, camps of slave labor, starvation, and murder, were astounded as royal couriers brought the Per-aa’s directive, and they were forced to open to the gates and let the suffering masses go free. At first, all listened, but could not comprehend what the guards announced over bull-horns. “Go home, Hebrews!” the shout went. “Go, by order of the Per-aa!”
Starved, emaciated skeletons looked at other living skeletons. Free? Free to go home?
Still nobody dared to move, so the guards had to start pulling the freed slaves out of the brickpits and shoving them in the direction of the open gates. It took some time to persuade the rest that nobody would harm them for going, and finally the truth dawned: they were emancipated. Delivered at last!
With shouts that carried over the high walls into the surrounding Mizraimite cities and countryside, the once-enslaved and doomed Hebrew men and women clamored and scrambled to exit the gates of the death camps as fast as they could. No one was left behind, for the only way they had survived as long as they did in them was that everybody helped one another, no matter how infirm. Aaron’s example had spread to all the camps, and it was still being followed.
And, true to divine word, the Hebrews didn’t go forth empty-handed. So glad were the plague-afflicted Mizraimites to see them go by this time, so disaffected had they become with the Per-aa’s policies, that they covered the Hebrews with Mizraim’s horde of golden treasure, just as Miryam had prophesied many years before.
The Hebrews were made rich in a single day, from the greatest of them to the least, they were heaped to the point of making them stagger under the load of treasure, so that the country was stripped of gold even up to the altars of the chief gods--just as God had said it would be when he called Mosheh and spoke to him from the burning bush on Mount Horeb.
Mosheh’s eyes gleamed more fiercely than the Per-aa’s. This was no lamb of Midian. This was truly the Lion of Levi. He had done what he had set out to do, deliver his people. Whether all wanted deliverance or not, they got it.
“Lead the people, but my Pillar of Cloud will go before you to show the way,” the Lord God said to Mosheh as the people were celebrating all round him.
Mosheh gave the command, and the vast congregation of the Israelites, followed by certain believing Mizraimites and even some Romany people too fearful to remain behind at the mercy of the Per-aa, set off. Now this was the second great Exodus of the Chosen People, and it was every bit as glorious as the first.
Oddly enough, the Pillar of Cloud did not take the Way of the Philistines, which led along the water’s edge of the coast, being the shortest route that would land them in the Promised Land within a week.
Mosheh was not dismayed. There was a second, better route he knew God would choose, since the first would set them against a powerful, hostile league of Philistine cities who would surely war against Israel to keep her from passing through.
Yet Mosheh’s hopes were dashed. The Pillar of Cloud ignored Mosheh’s good reasoning and passed by the Way of Shur, which led to the backdoor of the Promised Land, by way of Bath-Sheba at the northern edge of the Negeb desert wilderness.
By now the people were all turning to stare at Mosheh and talk, for they too had this route in mind.
Mosheh, his face steaming with frustration and bewilderment, could do nothing. The Pillar of Cloud continued leading them further and further away from the Promised Land. Presently, they came to border fortresses, the Bitter Lakes, and the Reed Sea.
This was a bad place to be going, everyone could see.
Donah and Huah could not let this go on. They too had some knowledge of the world, and even some knowledge of certain ancient scriptures that told how the People of Abraham, while being chased by a former Per-aa, had taken refuge in the marshes of the Reed Sea.
Armed with all this knowledge, they rushed to confront Mosheh. “Leading us here is absolute perversity and presumption, son of Amram! We refuse to go further, for the Per-aa will follow with his army and catch us and kill us all. Our only hope is to turn aside into this ready refuge, the Reed Sea, where fugitives flee and are not easily caught. We can hide in the thick reeds from Per-aa’s eye, and his chariots cannot go in so much mud and grass, so he will be forced to turn back.”
But Mosheh looked to the Pillar of Cloud, and it continued to move slowly away from the Reed Sea.
“No, we must go on wherever the Almighty in the Cloud leads us,” he declared, his heart sinking.
Donah and Huah grew all the more outraged. They ranted and raved that Mosheh was a madman and an idiot leading them into sure doom. Thousands joined their company, and they too shouted and wept and grumbled all at once, standing back and halting the vast company behind them.
Perhaps remembering the incident at the far-off inn on the edge of Midian, and profoundly affected by the Passover Lamb-Death Angel incident even if he couldn’t grasp its meaning, Mosheh continued walking resolutely after the Pillar of Cloud, so the people pressed forward, fearing being left behind, though some turned aside into the Sea of Reeds and found spots to hide from Per-aa’s army when it came. These soon found the Sea lived up to its name and fell victims to quicksand and serpents, however.
Screaming oaths at Mosheh’s white head, Donah and Huah kept up their tirade as they followed him.
Finally, the Pillar of Cloud halted. And where were they now? Those who knew the lay of the land could tell the others. They all stood on the shores of the great Sea called Wall of Red, sometimes called the Sea of Adam, because like the red clay from which the first man was formed, red sands covered the beaches. But the same people went on to say that the sands were the color of blood--Hebrew blood--which would surely flow and stain the sea when the Per-aa caught up to them with his mighty army!
How the people groaned and wept to hear this. What a place for them to be led! Up against a wall, with no way around! Thanks to Mosheh, it appeared to everyone but Mosheh, Aaron, and Miryam, they would all soon perish!
What happened astounded not only Mizraim but the whole outer world closely following the affair report by report as it was delivered by caravans and traders. Mosheh, himself following FC’s lead, had led the twelve Israelite tribes into an impossible situation. They might have traversed the morasses of the Sea of Reeds by a number of well-known paths, known to sand-ramblers for a very long time, but, no, the easy route was not taken.
A master architect and builder of royal palaces and cities, not a military tactician, Mosheh was held responsible for a lunatic, suicidal choice of route. Straight up against the broad Red Sea instead they were led, where there absolutely could be no escape from the Per-aa should he attack. And attack, he did! Seeing the approaching army of Per-aa, signaled by the tall column of dust kicked up from churning wheels of hundreds of fire-chariots , the Israelites despaired.
Yet, when the Per-aa’s army was almost upon them Mosheh was ordered by FC to strike the Red Sea with his staff.
The moment he did so the entire sea quivered like jelly of frog spawn in a little boy’s hands. The Son of the Lord Almighty, visible only to Mosheh, his sister Miryam, and his brother Aaron, held out his hand, and the point just above, where a Roman nail had once pierced flesh and bone, now dropped blood. It ran from him quickly and stretched out in a thin but brilliant red line ran to the exact spot where the rod of God struck.
Not even Mosheh understood it immediately, he was so surprised and dismayed. What, after all, could a thin, little red line do for his people to save them from the Per-aa’s mighty hosts? But from that line the waters heaved and shrank back, piling up increasingly to either side. In moments the Red Sea was divided all the way to the bottom, and the pulsing blood-line now lay across the bottom from shore to shore--the life-line leading to freedom, holy living, and the Promised Land guaranteed by the Covenant God had cut with Abraham.
Without losing time by trying to understand the mystery of Almighty God’s ways, Mosheh ordered his people into the gap, and terrified by the chariots they needed no urging. Fleeing along the red line they filled the channel, while waters danced mountain high above their heads.
The daughter of Jokabed and Amram was quick to note things Mosheh seemed to miss.
Ephraim and Manasseh, for example, were entrusted by their deceased patriarch, Joseph, with transporting his revered bones in a coffin back to the Promised Land to be buried on his piece of land outside Shechem; yet the coffin bearers lay Joseph down, and were showing every sign of running, each man for himself! Never one to see sacred duty and filial piety lapse, tearing her robe and shrieking so that everyone could hear, she cried out.
“So, you mighty men of Ephraim and Manasseh, you turn coward and fail to obey your father Joseph because you fear you might get wet feet! Do this wicked thing against your father, let his bones fall to the hyena and the vulture in this wilderness, and you become an abomination before the eye of the Lord, for by God’s hand he was raised up to save us all, by becoming provision for us in a foreign land during the time of the great dearth! Nay, I will his dream perish here. I will bear him up myself on my back and shoulder to the glorious land and bury him with tears at his field before the gate of Shechem, if you, men of Joseph, will not!”
Shamed to the quick, though bitterly resenting the reproach of Mosheh the Levite’s sharp-tongued, spinster-sister, the more regal (to their own thinking) tribes of Joseph rallied and, though infuriated with Miryam’s taunts to want to stone her, seized the coffin and crossed the sea with it, so that Joseph’s last testament should not go unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, astonished by the spectacle of the parting of the Sea, the Per-aa’s army halted and gaped.
This gave the Israelites time to escape to the opposite shore. But the Per-aa, having seen that the quarry was getting away, roused himself. He remembered his kingly power and prestige, and that they were at stake if he let these rag-tag slaves escape from his hand. What god had dared open the very sea like this, he had no idea. It deeply troubled him. He was unsure about how to proceed.
Determined to put the best heads together to make sense of it, he called on his commanders, but they could not tell him anything that cleared the matter in his mind. Seeing his army sorcerer and diviner of livers, he signed for him to approach with his temple wisdom. His broad face smiling with assurance gained from a thousand years of accumulated wisdom, the sorcerer-priest bowed to him.
He had a goat’s liver in his hand, which revealed the secret of the dark mystery before them. Showing the eye of the Per-aa the sacred signs and figures of victory in the various portions of the liver, he declared to Per-aa, his second-born son Prince Pher-enath, and all the commanders present before the state chariot, that it was the gods of Mizraim, vindicating themselves by this greatest of all miracles. Waving his diviner’s wand and chanting oaths against the people of Israel and their infamous instigator, Mosheh the renegade and impostor of a prince, the priest gave final counsel to the Per-aa.
“Do not waver, Living God and Wearer of the All-Conquering Kepresh. Invincible Lord of the Papyrus and the Lotus, with your divine eyes you have witnessed that I, Mi-Getab-Tsaharaim, King’s Keeper of the Auspicious Liver, have the dark design of the gods revealed to me! By this mighty act of dividing the waters the gods say your victory is assured! They have parted the waters to demonstrate that nothing can withstand your might and power--nothing! Choosing rebellion instead of beseeching you for clemency, the slaves should have thrown themselves at your sacred feet when they saw this. But, ignorant and impious fools, they chose to flee to the other shore, though since the road is open before you, drawn out by our gods, there is no hope of their getting away from your outstretched arm! So stride forth boldly in your matchless might and glory and power and consume the wicked, runaway slaves and ingrates who, though partaking of your royal bounty in the land most blessed by the gods, have dared to resist you and high heaven!”
The army, hearing this, shouted its approval of the priest’s words.
Drawn out of a numbing, trancelike, sickening fear, encouraged by his sorcerer, army, and commanders, and the excellent liver of a goat, the Per-aa ceased to shake in his knees, straightened his blue war-crown, and gave the command for his heir, the new Dauphin Prince, Pher-Enath IV, to take charge.
He would attack, with instructions to kill the elderly and children and pregnant women but spare the able-bodied for working in Mizraim’s brick pits, quarries, and mines until they fell dead. Not one chariot and javelin or sword-bearer would be held back in reserve, testifying to the Per-aa’s absolute confidence entrusted to his second-born.
All except himself, Per-aa of the Land of Red and Black, would go into the sea channel and pursue the slaves.
He would remain behind and observe the action, for there was no need of him soiling and defiling his royal garments in the blood of slaughtered Hebrews. Selecting a high rock as his vantage from which to view the scene, the Per-aa climbed up to take the view.
The Per-aa, his second-born, generals and chief officers failed to notice, however, that the red line that stretched across the sea bottom, shore to shore, the life-line that led the Israelites out of the jaws of death, had vanished.
Now all there lay before them was sand, and onto the sand the fire-chariots of the Per-aa drove in a fury.
Then as Prince Pher-enath and the army had completely entered the gap within the mighty walls of water the waters started to converge, starting at the top and then crashing down straight upon the horrified army. White-walled chariot wheels already mired in liquefying sand, unable to turn back, it was all over with them before they had time to shout an alarm.
The Israelites observed the entire debacle without comprehension. From their view things had never seemed more bleak and hopeless.
Chased by swifter than the wind fire- chariots, whose running boards were manned with expert bowsmen and swordsmen affording no chance of anyone getting away, they faced horrible deaths at the hand of the vengeful Per-aa.
Whipped and beaten and starved all their lives, they still expected the Per-aa’s chariots to charge out of the waters and fall upon them with a cruel shower of arrows winging their way into defenseless flesh, to be followed by the hacking of bronze swords and the piercing blows of javelins. How could so mighty a nation of the Mizraimites, the only people who could make huge, roaring fire-chariots such as these, be held back by mere water?
Surely, the gods of Mizraim would protect the Per-aa and bring his army out alive and well.
Instead, eyes bulging in their sockets, mouths hanging open, they saw smashed fire-chariots, drowned men, and broken spears churn to the surface.
Had they truly been delivered from the dark net of oppression? With the proof in sight, they still could not accept it. They had been slaves so long that no one could grasp freedom as it fell their lot. Hearts pounding in dread of the Mizraimites, gasping for breath from the frantic flight across the channel, they waited as miserable, culled sheep in pens wait to be slaughtered.
Flying out of the Cloud, Almighty YAH spread his wings. Only then did Miryam take a cue from the Shadow of Omnipotence and Holiness passing across the tribes at that moment. Feeling the holy presence of the Most High, she alone glanced up, saw Him, and then He vanished, taking His glory back into the dark, smoky, fiery cloud of burning holiness that always attended YAH.
But a moment was enough for a prophetic hawk of a woman who knew and treasured the secret of the Lord, who sheltered in his holy aerie day after day, year after year. Except for that kind of communion, she would not have found enough courage and strength, even as a naturally courageous woman, to push into the vast palace of the Per-aa despite all opposition and bring proof of Hebrew birth to Prince Mosheh when Jokabed her mother said it was finally time to do so.
Without intimate fellowship with the Most High, she could not have exhorted the people year after year to keep hope alive in the promise of deliverance from oppression and a return to the land covenanted to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
She had not gone through all, suffering right along with her people in the brick pits, to stop now. She recalled all that the Almighty had done for her in her long life and could not stand there before this great Miracle of the Lord God Almighty like some blind, dumb stick of a dead tree. Not her!
No fearer of men where righteousness and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph was concerned, Miryam’s zeal did not flag like the others, and she faithfully withstood the dejection and unbelief of her people, who had been overwhelmed by the might and majesty of Mizraim’s thousands of golden gods and golden temples. Though she possessed considerable wits and could use her stinging tongue like a taskmaster’s whip, she endured their taunts and suspicions, though she did not shrink from defending herself when the accusations dared to touch upon her aged maidenhood’s purity. A thousand times she had challenged her people whose knees turned to water before the gods of Mizraim. “Nay, they’re stinking abominations!” she told them. “Do not fear or honor them! Yes, they can be seen and touched, and they wear robes and are given food to eat, but they do not live. They have no breath in them. They cannot speak nor hear. They stand in one place and have to be moved by men and carters.
So their great splendor is a fraud of the priests used to rob the Mizraimites, since these gods of theirs are less than nothing! Nothing!” If that didn’t stiffen backbones, she could always charge them with her favorite saying, ‘Hath he said and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?’ Not even naysayers such as the Simeonite twin brothers Donah and Huah had a reply equal to her.
Sons of Father Simeon, who in olden times had been Father Levi’s close comrade and confidant, you would never know by their present emnity now that the two tribes had been so close. Yet they were accounted among the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, and heads of thousands in Israel.
Despite advanced age, she exulted that the glorious Answer had at last been given to all her tears and prayers and the cries of her distressed people. After seeing Joseph’s golden coffin safely across, she lifted her gold-trimmed purple head scarf and returned to her plain Hebrew one.
Spoil from a high official’s wife, the purple scarf reminded her of former bondage, and now she wanted to celebrate her people's great triumph.
Taking a young man's circular hand bell made of willow and tinkling goat bells, her face lit with joy as she beckoned to the dumbstruck Israelites round her. Careless of what anyone thought or said against an old woman acting up in such a manner, this virgin daughter of Zion began to circle and dance like a young maiden, singing a victory chant that flashed into her mind.
Their eyes could not see it, but she too, a spirit, was flying with Him, circling round the Majesty in unspeakable rapture. By and by the entire assembly had awakened from the long slumber of the night of Mizraim, and, Mosheh included, was dancing with utmost joy, children and adults together.
The original song was a bit too long to handle, so the whole congregation sang over and over the simpler phrase, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Horse and rider are thrown into the sea! The Rock of Israel has crushed the king’s chariotry!”
The joy was so electrifying, that the diehard naysayers and doubters gathering a second breath after the Crossing round the likes of Donah and Huah were hushed and rebuked into momentary silence as they witnessed the wonderful rejoicing of the people.
One lad ran into the waters and tried to drag out a golden bow torn from Prince Pher-enath’s hand, but a jealous wave snatched it away and pushed him back. Unmindful of the risk, grown men jeered the boy and ran down to retrieve scattered swords and bows and other costly booty floating in the surf, but the waters crackled with power and the terrific shocks that greeted greedy hands sent the foolish men bellowing with pain and terror back to shore without a single thing, not even an arrow being taken.
On the opposite bank gasped a mortified, bare-headed Per-aa. Even his high rock wasn’t high enough to escape the back-wash of water.
Half-drowned, his wig and false beard blown away and kepresh fallen off, royal clothes mud-spattered, he scrambled up a steep escarpment to escape thundering breakers that had just swallowed up his precious son the dauphin prince and heir, together with his entire chariot corps of flower-cars.
“Pher-Enath! My son!” the father cried until he choked and began retching out swallowed salt water.
Not one Mizraimite struggled out alive from the crashing waves. But corpses by the hundreds and the wreckage of fire-chariots--these were tossed hither and thither like leaves on the waves! All had perished! All!
As he lay in unspeakable misery on the crest of the escarpment, he knew nothing until a big shadow fell across him. Somehow a fire-chariot had been made to climb the path to the top.
Through the burning veil of his tears and sweat, the Per-aa dimly made out the sleek, fat face that had promised him victory a short time before. The face was now sticking out the window of a tamar-green fire-chariot that carried a shining “E” on the tip of its puckered snout.
“O Divine One, would you like a ride back to the palace?” offered the Per-aa’s concerned sorcerer as he opened the door of the chariot and made haste to spread a nice rug for the king’s sacred feet. “Let the rays of your Countenance shine on your humble servant! The liver was a bad one, a bag swollen with the pus of treachery and deceit, and misled me! And the gods have deceived me! Something angered them, and--and--I could not have known the slaves’ god was just as potent here in the wilderness as he was in our own holy land! Please, Your Celestial Goodness! Pardon your humble ser--”
The shock of being accosted in his grief by such a worm was hard enough for the distraught Per-aa’s spirit. But the man made a terrible mistake in his efforts to secure mercy by reminding the Per-aa of the vast, unhealed wounds he had lately suffered at the hands of Mosheh’s God in his own land..
The disgraced liver diviner, his leopard-skin quivering on his fat shoulders as he got everything ready for the Per-aa’s ride home with him.
The Per-aa’s face turned most terrible as he looked upon an odious but convenient scapegoat. He drew out his ceremonial sword from its sheath, pure-gold and hilted with jewels. He thrust it deep in the supplicant.
But he did not stop there. He kicked at the priest, struck him with the sword, mauling him in a frenzy that could only be madness.
Gasping, covered with the priest’s blood, the Per-aa’s rage was finally exhausted, and he finished by pushing the butchered carcass of the lying diviner back into the fire-chariot, then he sent both over the escarpment into the turbid waters below.
This accomplished, the Per-aa collapsed back like a broken arrow on the burning rock of defeat, humiliation, and mourning.
Hours of hellish pangs and delirium passed. The Per-aa was forced to consider his own survival. Could he die and let the Hebrews crow about his death at their hands? No, pride would not permit so ignoble a death of a Per-aa of Mizraim. All the nations and peoples would be laughing at him!
Accompanied by a few curious goats who couldn’t be made to cross the sea for any amount of coaxing and tears, the bedraggled, once splendid lord of the Land of Red and Black struggled back toward civilization with no water, no food, and nearly perished in the desert.
Plodding alone through the sands and rocky, snake and scorpion-infested wastes, his tongue swelling between cracked, bleeding lips to which tormenting flies and gnats clung, he found plenty time to contemplate events he had so recently directed, events in which he had lost both first-born and second-born.
It is not known what more he thought or felt, or even whether he reached a border fort of his kingdom, but at the first (and possibly last, for him) nightfall his eyes were dazzled with an effect of certain stars that gleamed above the horizon to his right.
They really belonged more to the northern sky than to his, yet for a brief time both hemispheres shared them.
Known as the Scribe’s Pen, or, simply, The Pen, they glowed most brightly at this perilous fork in the road when so many Israelites were of a mind to turn right around and follow the Per-aa back to bondage.
“Why sh-sh-sh-sh-shu....OUGHT these things be written down?” Mosheh wondered afterwards, when the Glory Cloud left his tent temporarily and he was free to think over things alone. Mosheh the Drawer-Out of a Per-aa to destruction, Mosheh the Drawer-Out of a nation to liberty, Mosheh the Drawer-Out of God’s Everlasting Covenant Promises, this man of manifold and glorious destiny was now asked to be a common scribe!
“Will a-a-a-a-a-a-a...any--y-y-y-y-y--” He stopped, drew a huge breath into his red face and continued. “--BODY believe what the Most High has shown me? Two more years of the Per-aa’s reign have passed. If he lived after our Deliverance! Yet without chariots he is a wounded lion and cannot pursue us, so they forget the danger he was, and already people are denying that God parted the waters of the sea and smote Per-aa just as they previously had denied every mighty work of judgment and plague by the Lord in Mizraim. If it was not a dream altogether, it was only a big desert wind, now they claim, though their eyes witnessed what we all saw, that the waters divided the moment I struck them with my staff! Forgetting that, they say such things as divided waters are known to happen sometimes in the Sea of Reeds. The wind blows very hard for day on end and finally the water is pushed back and the land appears and people can walk there dry-shod for a time. Well, many wagging tongues following Donah and Huah’s lead say it happened in the sea too. Somehow, though they only had it bad there, they can recall every onion, leek, garlic, and honey gourd of the good food to be had in Mizraim, forgetting their taskmasters wrenched such things from the very mouth and gave them animal fodder to eat! And they fear the vengeance of her gods, saying we have done wrong to forsake them and follow ‘this strange, foreign, imageless hill-god of Mosheh’s” instead. And the ringleaders of this faction of the Simeonites, the brothers Donah and Huah, shoot out the lip without shame against God’s anointed and rail against me at every opportunity, saying how vain and proud I have exalted myself to the heavens to think my God parted the waters of the great sea for us when it was only fierce wind!”
Time passed and he had not settled the question when Zipporah crept back from the latest site of her father’s tent (Mosheh, at God’s bidding had the congregation peg their tents down in rows according to various unknown signs; one was an “A,” the other a “Z.” Donah and Huah had immediately taken issue with them. “There are no such signs as these known or used among men!” they informed the whole congregation. “This Mosheh you follow has turned a heretic, concocting fancies such as these in order to ensnare you away from the truth that we know! Beware! He will yet lead into a wilderness where you will all perish in a day!”
Yet another sign for the encampment was like a tree trunk with a single cross-branch).
Donah and Huah seemed to dislike this one most of all. In fact, they refused to set their tents inside it, saying that they preferred remaining orthodox to becoming heretics with the rest.
They added, “At least we have the courage of our convictions and follow the honored teachings and customs of our holy people! Hear, O Israel! Judge whether this sign is of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob our fathers, or whether this prince of Midian thought it up! Judge!”
Yet this sign, like the others, was not a matter Mosheh would adjudicate with anyone. He was the Judge of Israel.
But, even with working day and night on the cases, he could not keep up. Coming to visit, her father Jethro saw the solution immediately. Bowing to his father-in-law’s experience and insight, Mosheh instituted the change.
Jethro’s excellent advice to the over-worked Mosheh that appointed elders serve as judges in the mass of civil and familial disputes was working well--there wasn’t a single case waiting by the door of the tent, the plaintiff and defendant, supported by relatives, friends, and hangers-on, shouting oaths and accusations at each other over some disputed, pregnant ewe or she-goat.
She peered around carefully as she made sure she was not intruding on the Almighty, who was known to strike impious eavesdroppers dead in their tracks if they dared intrude on what the Most High wanted Mosheh alone to hear.
Indeed, a month before, a man of some weight and reputation among the people, knowing whose tent it was and leaning forward on his ass to better hear Mosheh talking to himself and pretending it was the Almighty, was utterly consumed by a fire bolt that burst out of the tent. The ass, after a shrug that sent the man’s charred dust pelting to the ground, brayed as it walked off unscathed.
As with many other things said against Mosheh, the dead man’s allegation did not die with him, however. Finding congenial soil in the vicinity, it was like an evil mist of sedition as it invaded tent after tent, turning many a tongue and opinion more sharply against God’s shepherd.
Satisfied the coast was clear, Zipporah slipped into the black, goat-hair tent. She sighed before what she found. As for the shepherd of God’s people, old Mosheh was mumbling seeming nonsense to himself, so keeping her misgivings to herself his good wife went about domestic duties, which at that time of day was getting ready for bedtime, though she knew it would probably be interrupted. Why these conferences her husband had with the Almighty had to go on for hour upon hour, upsetting her entire work and eating and sleeping schedule, she had no idea.
Shouldn’t respectable people eat at proper times, and retire at proper times? Mosheh was old. She too was old. Her bones were thin and brittle and certain vitals had fallen within her body. Her children were grown and bearing children without her feeble aid. She was old and experiencing a decline in vital strength every passing day. Her time was drawing near for her to be laid beneath cairn stones on some wilderness mountain--for no one would carry her back to Midian, she knew. How long could she go on like this? she had to wonder.
She shot a glance at Mosheh as she stacked the last cushions and placed Mosheh’s carved wood pillow at the head and drew the fly curtain. He never ceased to amaze her.
How could he remain so hearty and hale carrying on as he did? Yet he seemed none the worse for scanty meals, snatched at odd moments, and so little time in bed he could scarcely be said to sleep.
It was as if the words of God nourished him! For he could not have gotten any other bread as things had been going ever since the Almighty led Mosheh and the Hebrews forth into the wilderness.
At last Zipporah had the bed prepared, then waited to see what would happen. As usual, Mosheh seemed not to notice. He paced up and down, mumbling the same things in Mizraimite.
Shaking her head, for she knew little of that language, she lay her head down on the tent floor as was her Midianite custom and dozed off, her nearly-toothless mouth wide open.
When she awoke it was dark and she felt about but Mosheh, as usual, was not by her side. She knew, without having to look, he was sitting up, either asleep or awake, still thinking and stewing about something the Almighty had previously told him.
This time he turned and spoke civilly, tenderly, to her. “I cannot fa-fa-fa-fa-fa--” Big breath. “--UNDERSTAND this at all! Why sh-sh-sh-sh-shu...MUST I write it all down? He told me himself they will laugh and scoff at every word of mine, saying several men have written what one man was later claimed to write, and that the writings themselves are no more than mixed legends and myths, like a ragpicker’s collection!”
Fortunately, he had burst out in Midianite this time concerning his heart’s troubling matter, so she understood every word. And she knew he would not have used her tongue unless he were deliberately drawing out her counsel.
Even for her at her age, it was wise not to reply too soon, lightly, or hastily. She had learned early in their marriage that this great man who carried the rod of God possessed two natures, a lamb’s and a lion’s, which strove with each other. The meek and mild Mosheh-Jeruham was real.
So too was Mosheh the prince of Mizraim in breeding and culture, even if he was an exile leading an army of shepherds and their flocks.
Trained in the ways of the great palace of the Mizraimite kings and tutored in its school of high officials sons and royal princes, one word, one glance to an underling, could freeze the loose-lipped speaker to a state near death.
Once, once only, she had piped up about some matter to him that he instantly judged was trivial women’s tittle-tattle though people were always fingering the best in his meager flocks.
It concerned hotly contested property she knew belonged to her, a prize milch goat a sister’s relatives--who were Kenites and begrudged her people the best pastures back in old Midian where they were few in numbers--had taken into their flocks, and the meekness dropped away from him in an instant.
As she gazed at his face, it assumed a lion’s magisterial awesomeness to the point she felt her heart seized by a fist of iron within her breast. Transfixed by that look, she could do nothing except wait, and gradually he relented and gave way to Mosheh the meek lamb, and she began to breathe and get her breath.
Her lesson learned, she let a sufficient time pass--too much time and he would become annoyed, and that was asking for trouble.
“Yes, my lord!” she answered with spirit, eyes fixed on him steadily without dropping for she was a chieftain’s first-born, even if he was a former royal prince of Mizraim. “Are you saying that the Most High has commanded you to write down the dividing and crossing of the great sea and the destruction of your oppressors in its depths?” It was a mouthful for anybody, but she had no lameness in her tongue and could speak as swiftly as a swallow or a Midianite arrow could fly.
“Uh-uh-uh-uh...CERTAINLY!” Mosheh the lion prince snapped, impatient with her tactic of long delay. Why couldn’t women speak up when spoken to? he wondered. Why did they always make him wait? Was his time nothing to them? “Well, wife, what should I do then? Write it all down? He wants it all written down, from beginning to end, and I am to start now while the events are still fresh in my eye and mind. Oh, if only I could get a scribe in my place to do this, but He wants them preserved by my hand and pen, though He told me Himself that no one would believe a word I write. In the latter days to come there will again arise tribes of a gnawing worm with scorpion tail--the BAR-minimites, they are called--who know no shame before holy things and will delight to tear every sacred writing to pieces with their fine teeth while stinging to death anyone who disagrees. Well, these BAR-minimites will scoff up a storm and say I, Mosheh, son of Amram, never came forth from the womb, drew breath and walked on this earth, just as the first to bear my name never came forth from the womb and walked the earth; therefore, the second Mosheh was never laid in a basket in the river, nor raised up to live in the Per-aa’s palace and all the rest, so that he could not have witnessed these events and written these things--things they will claim never happened--because Mosheh prince of Mizraim and shepherd of Israel never existed, whether first or second. Pretending to seek the truth, setting themselves up as a supreme kirbet, they enter into arbitration over every word. They will pick apart this word and that word I have written, saying it was too early a time for me to use it, or too late, so that all is cast into question, and on and on they will go sifting the words into chaff while saying they find nothing they can call true corn, until everything written is accounted drivel and nonsense composed by an idiot no sensible man could possibly believe. And what’s more, on the foundation they have laid, they will declare from the rich men’s housetops and various tall towers of ivory that this God of ours is not what we say, nor could He do anything we say He has done since he has been miscast in a false bronze-monger’s mold, and...and...OH!”
Mosheh the lion prince smacked his fists together and his “OH!” nearly pulled out all the pegs and blew the tent flat. Zipporah, heart pounding against her rib-cage, knew half the camp, the whole of the Sacred Letter “Z” must have heard and been woken up.
What a husband she had taken on! But what could she do now? She must humor him as best she could back into a peaceable, lamblike state, or no one would get a wink of sleep again that night!
“Yes, dear,” she said with her most soothing accents. “The daughter of Father Jethro quite understands why you are wroth. But--”
“Well? What sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-shu...DOTH I do, eldest of Jethro? Speak now, or I’ll turn my face against the daughter of Jethro and spirit her back to her father’s tent on the backside of the burning desert! He is wise enough in handling of foolish men, unlike all the others. But let him reflect that even a wise man--which he is, blessed be the Most High!--ought not send a foolish, white-curd-armed daughter to share my bed and bread if she hath no wits about her!”
Zipporah kneaded her lip with her gums. She dreaded this sort of thing. How was it her husband had this amazing ability to always put people on spots that were impossible to hold, or in places where there was no way out?
Thrust between the Rock of Israel and a hard place, a situation recalling the recent one at the Red Sea, Zipporah’s blood ran cold. She was more than a bit afraid.
She knew she mustn’t cross the Almighty’s will on the matter. Yet her sometimes very daring husband, the great deliverer of his people and her family, had call on her too to stand with him.
“Forsooth, it doth not matter that you are a master builder for kings and not a scribe, you, husband and bridegroom of blood, are also the chosen and elect pen of God,” she said with a flash of genius born of desperation. “You must write down all He says without a single hesitation, every divine word, every jot and tittle exactly as He dictates, for a pen only does what the hand of its owner directs it to do, and the hand of the Almighty can make no error. As it is written in the holy Book, ‘--My heart is overflowing with a goodly theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”
His pen not quite so ready to write, perhaps, Mosheh grunted, and stumbled to his bed and lay down.
Who could argue with such a statement, particularly since it quoth holy scripture as the foundation? As always, Zipporah was perfectly correct, beyond dispute. She had even reduced her flowery Midianite turns of speech for his benefit, since he was so plain a Hebrew and did not relish fine talking.
Knowing her ability to fix on the one thing that mattered, that was the reason he seldom asked wifely counsel.
There was no way out for him now. His woolly old head whirled even now with full-color scenes the Almighty had already pictured on the wall of his tent night after night, as he sat goggle-eyed with a bowl of parched “What is it?”--the fine, honey-tasting angel food that God dropped on the ground for their sustenance every day.
Unlike his namesake the first Mosheh, who experienced only the parts leading up to his death on old Mount Nebo on the border of the Promised Land, he saw everything from first to last.
It seemed impossible to write it all! This thirteenth tribe of deliverers, for example! Starting with the strange letters of the unknown, heavenly language the Almighty was teaching him, “D” would train the champions who would lead the people to future victories.
Following “D,” there would come “U,” then “B,” then “E,” “S,” “O,” and finally “R.” If they weren’t strange enough, the Almighty had shown him, as a taste of what was coming, a forerunner of this tribe named Nor, a merchant of substance who lived long before the present world and the place it had found pasture in a new sheepfold in the heavens. In Nor’s day there were wagons and chariots that could be filled with as many people as ships could carry on the sea, and they flew through the air pushed by captive dragons that breathed great heat and wind, enough to lift the huge sky chariots and take them anywhere people wanted to go on the wide earth.
Now this Nor was a common, good man in an evil time when tides ran stiffly against righteousness and piety. Nevertheless, he had believed in the Most High since he was a child.
He had an aged, widowed mother who was a woman devoted to godliness and much prayer. When he came to her concerning his long holiday journey by sky chariot with many people, she prayed for him, then broke down weeping before she could finish her prayer, so that he finished it for her.
His sky chariot, as large as anything the Titans built and filled with people, flew to a sky chariot stable on a small island in the midst of the sea and landed. Armed men of a neighboring isle defying the government of these islands threatened destruction, so they had to wait until it was safe and they were given permission to go. And they must wait for word from the rulers in the Tower directing the sky chariots on the little island. Nor’s big sky chariot was near the short road that crossed the isle, and he could see another big sky chariot of the same size waiting nearby.
The day had been bright and clear, but it then became very cloudy, and no one could see very far.
After a long wait people became weary and impatient, and their food and water was nearly gone aboard the sky chariots. After much waiting the second sky chariot was granted permission from the Tower to fly first and proceeded down the road, preparing for flight. It too was filled with many people and marked “KLM”. Intending to fly a much greater distance than Nor’s sky chariot, the KLM ordered more liquid fodder for its sky dragons. It came in large jars rolled on wheels and flowed into the cisterns aboard the sky chariot like foaming beer, and was of that color, but it stank most evilly and could burn fiercely in the sky-dragons’ bellies. The KLM’s dragons began to wax hot with burning winds that pushed out behind so strong any man would be killed who walked into them.
Finally, the KLM was ready to go and moved faster and faster down the short road, wheels rising off the ground. Ahead of Nor’s sky-chariot another plane appeared in its path, but it was too late to turn. Seeking to fly up over Nor’s sky chariot, it reared up but could not high enough to avoid fatal convergence and its wheels and legs clove Nor’s sky chariot into several parts, mighty dragons tearing loose, roaring this way and that in Nor’s chariot cabin, ramming holes through everything with butting heads at one end fiery breaths at the other. In the same second KLM’s ruptured cisterns burst into the Nor’s sky chariot’s interior where he and the other people sat rigid with shock, belted in chairs, row upon row.
Death stalked every soul on board. All except Nor were sprayed and drenched with foul dragon food, which engulfed them like a crashing wave of Divine Judgment that had once engulfed the Per-aa’s son and chariots, only this time it was fire and not water. As they were burning like torches and dying, people cried out.
Many cursed and blasphemed the God Most High, but the righteous Nor stood up from his seat. Thinking to help an aged mother and her daughter sitting next to him, he turned, but saw they were stricken dead in their seats. Empowering words from Most High’s everlasting Book, among them “When thou passest through the weaters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle up on thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior,” flashed through his mind. “I stand on Your Word!” the man cried in the midst of the fiery inferno which had been birthed by the “waters” of the dragon food.
Suddenly, a piece of the ceiling blew out above him, dropped straight down toward him, and he put his hand out and brushed the man-crushing object away like a piece of lamb’s wool. Seeing the open sky through the hole, the man jumped for it, and though he was of very large size and no young age he flew over five cubits straight up, each cubit being seven palms of a man’s hand. Tearing the flesh of his fingers severely, yet he managed to scramble safely out on top of the sky chariot. He had escaped immediate death, but the plane was a raging inferno within, rocking with one explosion after another.
He had to jump and get to the ground or be consumed. But could he escape death by jumping? People, covered with blood and their clothes afire, were dropping out of broken windows and killing people below on whom they fell--it was so far.
Still believing and empowered by God’s Word, the man leaped into the waiting hands of the Most High, and he fell and landed safely, breaking bones in one foot but still able to walk away to safety.
With both sky chariots exploding and dissolving in flames, all around him charred and bloody fragments and torsos of people littered the grass beside the road. His clothes still untouched by fire, there were no burns on either his skin or his clothing. Sixty souls were all that escaped out of nearly six hundreds on both sky chariots.
Mosheh shook his head as he recalled the deliverance of this precursor of the Dubesor. Nor thrilled his old heart, since it was so like God’s deliverance of His people at the Sea of the Red Wall, when there was no way of escape but by a miraculous road through the waters wrought by God’s Covenant Blood-Line.
Nevertheless, he would never tell Zipporah about Nor and the convergence of two sky chariots long before! Knowing only the flying clouds and the birds of the sky, she would think he had turned as mad as many people led by Donah and Huah in the camp whispered he was. He might have to write it down, but, fortunately, he was not required to let any people read his account.
Nor would they request to read them if they did not know anything. Unless his wife’s Midianite tongue wagged, his visions and revelations were safe from prying eyes and the gossips all around him in their tents!
Feeling better, Mosheh fell asleep and slept a whole hour until dawn. Then he sprang up from his bed like a young man, ready to start a new day, whether to march or stay, he was ready for anything the day brought.
As usual, the Almighty paid him a personal visit before Mosheh even had time to wash his face and smooth his hairs and beard.
Well acquainted with such events, Zipporah dropped the preparations of breakfast and dove headfirst out of the tent just in time before the conference began. This time the Most High seemed to be in an unusual hurry to get started.
On all previous occasions He announced His coming with a blast of wind and angelic trumpets at the front of the tent that sent Mosheh’s hair and robes flying straight back. This time no wind and trumpets.
And, most fortunately for her, there was no blazing cloud and thunderbolts, as on Mt. Horeb, the sacred Seat of the Most High.
Too startled and frightened to flee--forgetting whether she was located in “A” or “Z ”-- Zipporah remained there, crouched, and so she heard Mosheh cry out.
“No, sl-sl-sla-sla...SMITE me to smoke and ash if You must, but I’m not doing it!” he said, his voice sounding like a rash, spoiled child’s.
Again, the tent lifted, spun around, and this time several lightning bolts showed in the space between the hanging tent pegs and the ground but they did not strike out at anyone and turned instead to swooningly-fragrant roses and lilies that banked up all around the tent.
When the tent set back down once again, her husband’s voice sounded as meek and cooperative as anyone could wish.
“I am your servant, O Lord! Use me as Your pen! ‘Mold me, melt me, use me, fill me, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.’”
That is exactly what the Living God’s Spirit wished to do, to fall afresh on the man of destiny.
The Lord God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Aleph and the Tau, the A and the Z, the Same who endured the Cross after dragging it through the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem, the same gate through which one day He would return as ruler of the Earth--this holy One faced Mosheh and spoke to his prostrate, worshipping servant.
“Write everything I tell you, for I have already lettered you and your brother and sister Gimel and set you and your brother and sister in the hall of My champions. I will gather the sheaves and make one book of them and the Sixth of the Black Watch who is named Azmon, one who keeps the last works of the seven letters, will watch over it, and it will be safeguarded and kept until I break the seal.”
“But why, Lord God, is a se-se-se-se--COND writing of Mosheh necessary? “ the lion-prince half expostulated. “Hear, O God of Israel, my own time is important to me. I may be se-se-se-se-se--COND, but I am not Your t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-TOY to be trifled with!”
Zipporah, frozen in her impossible spot somewhere near the end of the holy congregational Z, felt the thrilling sensation in every particle of her heart and being that the presence of Almighty God always evoked. Feeling unutterable unworthiness before the Most High, eyes flooded with repenting and grateful tears, she was too afraid to move away to safety lest her forbidden presence be noticed. This was not shame because of years of abuse from the Hebrews, who regarded her Midianite connection with huge distaste and condescension, routinely muttering old oaths and throwing garbage at the tent door of Father Jethro if they should be passing that way. No, it was not shame, nor its foul sister, bitter resentment. It was the only reaction mortal flesh could possibly entertain before the Awe of Abraham, the Gracious, Loving God Who covenanted with His Chosen Ones.
Yet, overcome as she was, she could not believe her ears, that her husband had the temerity to question the Sea-Dividing Lord Almighty once again after nearly displeasing Him just a short time before!
There was a pause, noticeable to Zipporah because everything seemed to stop in the natural order. Birds, flying overhead, stopped, in wing-stroke. Clouds stopped scudding. Dust stopped whirling between the tents. Donkeys stopped twitching. Squalling children fell silent in mid-cry. Flies stopped biting donkeys’ ears and flanks...everything came to a sudden halt!
God’s words, when they did come, were more a mournful dove-sigh of the wind in the secret places of the high cliffs than an audible voice. Was this the same sound heard Mother Eve chose to believe a lie against her Creator and plucked forbidden fruit so that she could also be a god, knowing good and evil? Or when Cain slew his innocent brother? Or when later whole earth was filled with violence, rebellion, and sin, and after much warning by Father Noah the clouds dropped their first rains at the beginning of the Great Flood?
Zipporah, covering her head, fell to her face. She heard the heart of God pouring out unashamedly to mere flesh the grief of Omnipotence when faced with the unbending arrogance, spite, and boastings of mortal creatures.
Behind the wife of Mosheh wending her way between close-packed tents, the Pen of God had already begun to write the “Book of Stumbling” (stumbling to some!) that Azmon the Sixth Angel would keep safe until the breaking of its seal. What stylus did he use? Having forsaken all his exquisitely fashioned writing and drawing materials in the royal palace in Mizraim, he did not think to ask first. He went and pulled out a neighbor’s brass tent peg, anointed it with fire and oil and fragrant spices, then took the Almighty’s dictation down on sheaves of pure gold that the Sixth Angel brought to him as they were needed.
It all went reasonably well until Mosheh was writing down the Crucifixion of Yeshua I and the events leading up to it. Since this was the place in the account where the Mystery of the Ages was first revealed, it was not surprising that Mosheh required enlightenment on some points of the action.
“Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-YOU mean to say, sacrifices were all done away with by You on the Cross? How, then, could our sin be washed away?””
“Certainly, My blood shed for you remitted all your sins. If salvation was by men’s works, then you could boast before God. But I shed My blood freely for you, and it is a free Gift to every man and women and child who believes. No longer are sacrifices any good in My sight. They never could wash away your sin, they only pointed toward My blood which could. That was their only value--to point sinners to My all-sufficient blood-sacrifice.”
Mosheh pondered the point. Even if the first Mosheh understood it, he still had his own mind to make up on the matter. “B-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-BUT how did it cleanse and wash us of our sins?”
“You mean to say, You were our Complete Sacrifice? You won our pardon for all our sins? You shed Your blood as the price for our iniquity? You took Your Cross as the instrument of our Salvation through the East Gate of the city, and thereby regained Paradise which our father Adam lost? Oh, bless me, I think I see it! I see it! The first Adam brought death to us all by sinning in the Garden, right?. You, the Perfect Second Adam, died so that You could restore all, and bring us Life. Only God could do this prefect Work. No man, especially sinful, fallen man, could do it. It’s--it-s--0-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-OH!”
No writing but worship followed, for the tent peg fell out of Mosheh’s trembling hand and he fell to the floor before his Savior and his God.
The butterfly had been chased by rays sent out against him by the attacking Topaz, which took away his good viewing spot in the window of a certain antechamber in the Machitha palace, but that wasn’t keeping him from observing other developments now that the Topaz itself had suffered a major reverse with the collapse of the Per-aa’s power and his programs.
“A new one, flexing his new wings!” Mosheh mused, for it was early in the year and this had to be the first of its kind.
His face took on a different expression, as if the matter troubling him had been resolved. He grasped his peg pen with determination and went straightway to his writing desk, daring to add to the holy scripture the single concluding phrase: “Who makes a way where there is no way.”
”Let those who wish my ruin pour coals on my old head for this, but I think the Almighty will take my part in this heresy!” Mosheh laughed to himself as he rolled the golden sheaf up into a scroll and set it aside with the others.
He had no sooner done so than Azmon’s blood-red mandorla shimmered within the tent, and he stepped out, come to pick up the sheaves for the gathering into one book and the placing of the seal.
“N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-NO!” Mosheh cried, wagging his finger at the angel as if he were catching a child at mischief.
Azmon said nothing in protest. No mortal in his flesh could command an angel. He stood in the doorway regarding the deliverer of Israel.
Mosheh approached the angel without a shred of fear or wheedling manner. “I did not go to all this work for you to spirit my writing away and scatter it to the winds!”
The angel peered into Mosheh’s fearless eyes. In deference he did not take the sheaves and shoot immediately into the heavens, with a suddenness that would have destroyed the tent of Mosheh and those around it. The delay was causing a certain commotion in the camp as well. A dignitary was paying his respects at the tent of Mosheh and Azmon, deferring to the visitor’s mission, disappeared from view.
A cracked shofar with an hoarse, primeval, low sound was blown at the tent entrance, which gave Mosheh time to draw a curtain dividing the tent where the sheaves lay from where he stood.
Attended by servants shaking pleasing Midianite harmonies out of a strange collection of gilded milkweed pods, painted rattle-gourds, and bells and sistrums of various kinds, Jethro the father of his people entered in full robes and trappings of his office. He carried a chieftain-priest’s carved myrtlewood staff and wore a once sporty, star and pearl-emblazoned purple turban, which had gone well in earlier days with black robes, and silver slippers that curved high at the toe and flat at the back, not to mention a brass girdle and Damascus scimitar with jeweled sheath--an outfit that the Hebrews turned their noses up at because it reminded them of idolatrous Babelite wizards.
Unfortunately, too much wear, too many moths, the rip and tear of Midianite foliage, had reduced magnificence to a tawdry shadow of former glory.
Mildly surprised at a personal visit from so old and rickety a collection of sainted bones, Mosheh was temporarily distracted from the more important matter at hand--keeping his sheaves from the powerful angel.
Decrepit as he was in frame, his mind was still able enough, and Jethro sized up the situation in a flash. His darting eyes fastened on Mosheh’s like two hot bolts, and the flames behind them grew hotter by the moment. It was the elder man’s turn to wag his finger, and Jethro’s finger was a very long instrument, indeed. “Now, son of Amram,” he chided the deliverer of Israel like a small child, “what is this nonsense, eh? Eh? You refuse to release the writing of your hand to the Holy One?”
That was beyond denial the matter. Mosheh, his eyes smitten by the burning coals of Jethro, felt somewhat cowed, though he was still in his lion-prince phase.
Old Jethro’s bent turban began sliding backwards off his nearly hairless head, but he shook his finger vigorously in Mosheh’s face. “Give the writing over! Give it over, I say! You must obey my word, or I will take back my eldest from your bosom, and then how will you fare? You’ll never find another like her, I wager! I gave you the pick of my flock, when you were only a hireling herdsman without herds and prospects.”
Turning to go, the old one seemed to forget his mission in coming. Son-in-law Mosheh, chastened, let him depart without protest. Forgetting Mosheh’s presence almost immediately, Jethro began muttering.
“I remember that one,” old Jethro reminisced to an attendant only his eyes could see. “The prince of Mizraim--he said he was--stumbled onto my fine, green pastures, with the darling lambs of fair Holy Midian dancing round their dams’ bursting udders, and his eyes and face were more like a lion than a lion’s--but we tamed him--oh, we made him meek as a sheep, we did! Yes, meek as a sheep! I believe it was the full skin of fresh ewe milk I made him drink every day before I taught him out of the ancient learning of the Most High. Forsooth, it must have been the milk. It can tame a lion in all his pride--that sweet as honey milk!”
Half-right, Jethro navigated more or less out the door, his arms supported by servants who were old men too, having grown so in long service. Outside, he took a few exploratory steps, then halted and turned to someone that everyone else could not see, and inquired, “Who was that fellow in there? He had the face of a lion, and then when I spoke to him about the Most High it changed to a sheep’s. And what am I doing out of my own tent? What could you be thinking of , dragging an old man like me out into the cold on a night like this? Take me home at once, children, or I’ll thrash the lot of you with my staff!”
Later, comfortable with his aged wives around him, Jethro took ease and his mind returned to the events of the day, rather clearly, too.
“He is doing better, that son-in-law!” he observed. “Why, my beloved pomegranates, I even saw a special sign of it, provided by the hand of the Most High, just when I was departing the tent of Mosheh. It made me stop in my tracks, that sign! For it was most striking. A jewel, it appeared, or a star--but it flew up into the heavens, shooting to the north at great speed. What do you think? Is that not a nice sign for my son-in-law? It says he is doing better, much better!”
Jethro the old fox and priest of Midian had spoken more truly than he knew of a man who was part lion, part lamb, three-flagged and three-countried without any one country truly wanting him, cunning enough to made chariots that flew in the sky and roared like simoons on the ground yet couldn’t tell a ewe from a ram to save his life--nevertheless, Jethro could see there had been noticeable improvement in this hopeless case of a man, improvement that could only be attibuted to the finger of God the Most High.