In Ancient Egypt, C1200 BCE, bitter contention and resentment, secret coups and assassination attempts may decide the fate of those who would become legends…by any means necessary.
The reign of Ramesses III is failing and even the gods seem to be turning their eyes away from Egypt. When the sun hides its face, crops suffer, throwing the country into famine. Tomb workers go on strike. To avert further disaster, Crown Prince Ramesses acts on his father’s behalf.
The rivalry between Ramesses III’s wives–commoner Tiye and sister/wife Queen Tyti–also comes to a head. Tiye resents not being made queen and can’t abide that her sons have been passed over. She plots to put her own spoiled son Pentaweret on the throne.
The eventual strength of the Ma’at of Re hangs in the balance. Will the rule of Egypt be decided by fate, gods…or treason?
Genre: Historical: Ancient Egypt ISBN: 978-1-925191-59-2 ASIN: B07G47VRPZ Word Count: 142, 584
The island was born in fire, and in fire it lived. For long ages, little existed on the raw lava fields and ash beds of this island thrust up from the seabed by titanic forces, but gradually windborne spores and seeds clothed the lower slopes of the belching volcanoes in vegetation, both forest and grasslands. Insects followed, but the island was too far removed from the mainland, and too cold, for other life to easily colonise it. When the seas froze around its shores, polar bears visited, and arctic foxes followed and stayed, feeding on the huge flocks of seabirds that nested there.
Earth tremors shook the island from time to time, sending the birds squawking into the air, and the arctic foxes bolting for cover, but sometimes these tremors built on each other and one of the volcanoes would erupt in a paroxysm of lava and ash. At a time when men elsewhere in the world wielded bronze weapons and carved out empires, when the kingdoms of Egypt and Hatti maintained an uneasy truce and the Sea Peoples spread over the eastern shores of the Middle Sea, one of these volcanoes erupted, obliterating everything living on its slopes.
The ground shook as paroxysm after paroxysm tore at the fabric of the land. Ash was hurled into the air, climbing up into the stratosphere in an enormous billowing cloud, plunging the south of the island into a choking darkness. The ash cloud grew rapidly and upper level winds spread it in a huge blanketing shroud to the south and east, crossing the ocean and covering the continent of Europe that lay there. Beneath the cloud, sunlight faltered and dimmed, and after a time, temperatures started declining. Animals moved away from the deteriorating conditions, while plants died or became stunted, suffering from the lack of sunlight, poisoned by the acidic ash. Nomadic hunters and herders shifted away, but farmers suffered as their harvests started to fail.
The ash cloud extended over thousands of kilometres, and though it thinned with time, for several years the sunlight that filtered through it was too weak to sustain crops. Temperatures declined further and snow crept down the mountainsides. Wheat and barley crops failed and famine gripped regions normally fertile and productive. Nations became restive, believing their gods had turned their faces from them. The rule of law broke down as people fought to survive, and in this time of trouble, civilisations crumbled and fell.
Year 29 of Usermaatre Ramesses
D’vorah learned at an early age to keep her own counsel and let nobody know what she was thinking. This was necessary because of where she lived and who her parents were. When she was a small girl she had been unable to avoid trouble, but her mother Adara had sat her down and explained matters to her.
“People want others to be like them. If they are not, they sometimes make trouble.”
“Do you want to be like other people, mother?”
Adara sighed. “Yes…and no.” She smiled at the puzzled look on her daughter’s face, and explained. “I want to be like other people so we can all live in peace, but I enjoy being different too.”
D’vorah frowned, trying to make sense of her mother’s words. “Different?”
“My mother and father are Kemetu, though my husband Dov…your father…is Khabiru. Kemetu and Khabiru believe different things…”
“What sort of things?”
“Well…” Adara thought about how to present the main differences between the two cultures. “Kemetu women are allowed a lot of freedom. They can own property, get married, have children, or even become doctors or scribes–whatever they want to do; but Khabiru women are ruled by their husbands or fathers…”
“Dada doesn’t rule you.”
“That’s because I’m Kemetu and he knows better. But that’s just one difference. Another is our worship. Khabiru worship one god who has no face, whereas we Kemetu worship many gods that reflect the many faces of the world around us.”
D’vorah thought about this. “Like Re?”
“That’s right,” Adara said, pointing up at the sun’s disk. D’vorah squinted into the brightness that was veiled as if by thin cloth, but said nothing. “Kemetu worship the sun as Re, the earth as Geb, and the night sky as Nut. Khepri moves the sun around, Asar rules the underworld, and Taweret looks after women in childbirth. Khabiru say their single faceless god does all these things and more.”
“That’s silly,” D’vorah said. “The sun and the earth are so different. How could one god look after both? And…and who wants a male god looking after women in childbirth?”
“Well, that’s why you have to be careful. Your father’s people get very upset when someone believes in a different god. I’ve had people upset at me, and I didn’t like it, but then I found out how to make it all right.”
“I worshipped their Yahweh in public with a smile on my face, as they wanted me to do, but in my heart I worshipped the true gods of Kemet. That way, people never knew what I was thinking and left me alone.”
“There are other things, too,” Adara went on. “Your father likes to believe he is the head of our household, so I let him think that. I always defer to him in public, so his Khabiru friends can see the man is in charge; but in private I talk to him and I can usually make him see my point of view. We love each other…and this helps.”
D’vorah threw her arms around her mother and hugged her. “I love you both, too.”
Adara laughed. “And we love you and Elior.”
D’vorah grimaced. “Little brothers are a nuisance.” She considered for a few moments. “But I suppose I love him.”
Adara stroked her daughter’s hair. “I know you love your brother, but I don’t think you’d run around the village yelling that out to everyone, would you?”
“You would keep your feelings to yourself. In the same way, you should keep other things a secret from those around you. I know you believe in the gods of Kemet, but there is no need to make people angry by telling them that. We know that women are the equal of men, but that’s another thing people don’t want to hear, so you keep silent on that. Don’t make trouble for yourself.”
D’vorah nodded slowly. “If people don’t know I think something different from them, they’ll believe I think like they do and won’t get angry with me.”
“It makes life easier. Another thing is reading and writing. I don’t suppose you know I can read and write?”
“My mother taught me, but I keep it secret because that’s another thing Khabiru women aren’t supposed to be able to do. Very few Khabiru men can either,” she added.
“But Kemetu can?”
“Actually, no. Scribes and priests can, of course, and nobles, but generally men and women never need to learn anything more than making a few marks to help with shopping lists or keeping accounts.”
“So how did grandmamma know?”
“Your grandmother Tau was…well, let’s say she was important in Kemet, and was properly educated…even more so than your grandfather Mentak.”
“Poor papa. I miss him.”
“I do too, but he was an old man and sick. He will be reborn eventually.”
“Abrim says the dead are dead.”
“Abrim is Khabiru, but we know the truth, don’t we? Even if we don’t say so out loud.” Adara winked solemnly at her daughter.
“Will you teach me to read and write?”
“If you want. You probably won’t have much use for it here in Kinnereth, but learning is a good discipline for your mind.”
D’vorah applied her mother’s advice in her life and people in the village who had looked askance at the precocious and argumentative child breathed a sigh of relief as she conformed to village life and beliefs. Adara took the time to teach her daughter basic reading and writing in the languages of Kemet and the local tongue, and the little girl soaked it up, quickly outstripping her mother. She even learned some of the priestly language of Kemet from grandmother Tau. What she was careful to do was to keep her knowledge a secret as best she could, though her father became aware of it early on. Her brother Elior learned of it too, and for a time insisted that he be taught as well. He did not display any aptitude for deciphering the strange forms of letters and ideas, or of recreating them on wet clay, so quickly lost interest.
Elior’s interests lay elsewhere. He loved nothing better than following his father round, imitating his every action, and as soon as he grew enough to be able to face the physical challenges, and mature enough to comprehend the reasons behind instructions, was given responsibilities. At first, the tasks were simple, like feeding the ducks or putting fresh hay in with the calves and donkey. Sowing and harvest times were busy for all the family, but if he had a choice, Elior stuck close to his father. While his big sister helped their mother around the house, Elior worked outside and prided himself that he was learning to be a man.
The herds had to be taken out for grazing, and the little boy learned to control herds of stubborn goats and addle-brained sheep, and became sufficiently proficient with a slingshot to see off any small predator. One day when he was eight, a leopard snatched one of the goats in his father’s flock, and the boy ran toward the predator, attempting to drive it off its kill with his slingshot. The leopard snarled and, in the face of Elior’s determined advance, picked up the goat’s carcass and leapt down into a gully, quickly disappearing from sight. His father’s reaction when Elior returned with the tale, surprised and dismayed him. Dov took a stick to his only son’s backside, and then wrapped him in his arms and wept over him.
“W…why?” Elior sobbed. “I tried to save the goat…I really did.”
“Foolish boy, don’t you know that you are worth more than all I own. A goat is nothing, and I would lose them all to leopards rather than let one of them even scratch you. I beat you because you risked your life over nothing. Promise me you will never do that again.”
“I…I promise, father, but…”
Dov held his son at arm’s length and looked at him searchingly. “But what?”
“You want me to be a coward? To run away?”
Dov grimaced, then sat down and put Elior on his knee. The boy squirmed uncomfortably but managed to find a position where his sore bottom was bearable.
“A coward? No. But I want you to learn to use your mind.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You must learn to pick your fights, Elior. You showed courage facing the leopard, but also foolishness, as the leopard could easily have killed you. It would have been better to walk away. The goat was already dead and confronting the leopard was not going to achieve anything.”
“I…I might have hurt it…stopped it coming back.”
“Perhaps, but a slingshot is not much use against a leopard. More likely it would have killed you and then I’d be mourning my only son.”
“So…we just let it take our goats?”
“I’ll take a few men from the village, track it down and kill it.”
“Can I come?”
“But you said I’m brave. Why do you want me to just walk away from what it did?”
“You will find that there are many times when walking away from a fight is better than being brave. That’s true for both leopards and men.”
“But I am brave,” Elior declared. “You said so, and if anyone wants to fight me, I’ll fight them…and win.”
“What if they have a sword or a spear and you have none?”
“I’ll take it off them.”
“That is a good way to get yourself killed. It would be better to give them no reason to be angry with you.”
Elior frowned. “If I got very good at fighting, I’d always win.”
“There is always someone stronger, faster, and better armed. I’m not saying you should never fight, but what is the point of throwing your life away for nothing?”
“You’ve never got in a fight?”
Dov chuckled. “Many times when I was young and foolish, but only with fists.”
“Did you win?”
“Sometimes, but I soon learned that if the other man was bigger and stronger than me, it was better to try and talk my way out of trouble. It was a lot less painful.”
“So you’d never fight now?”
Dov stroked his beard while he thought about his son’s question. “The head of a household has responsibilities, Elior, as you’ll learn as you get older. I would do whatever I had to, to protect you, your sister and your mother, even if that involved fighting.”
“Would you…would you kill another man?”
“If there was no alternative. Just as I’d give my own life to protect my family.” Dov looked at his son’s serious expression and smiled. “Don’t go looking for bad things to happen. I try to avoid fights and talk my way out of trouble. I want you to learn to do the same.”
For a time it seemed as if Dov’s words had sunk into Elior’s heart. He became more cautious when grazing the flocks and brought them home if he heard a leopard scream in the wilderness. His father and other men had gone out in search of the goat-killer but returned empty handed. They found the remains of the goat and a few pugmarks leading off into broken ground and decided not to follow as none of them were hunters; merely farmers and herders.
Elior distinguished between man and beast, however. He displayed caution when grazing his father’s flock, but none with other boys in the village. A month after his father’s talk, he returned home bruised and bleeding, and at first refused to reveal what had happened. Dov had to coax the truth out of him.
“I had a fight.”
“I can see that. What happened?”
Elior shrugged and tried to avoid looking at his father. “I just had an argument.”
Another shrug, and Elior feigned an interest in the ground, nudging the dirt around with one foot. “Nothing.”
“Elior, look at me.” Dov waited until his son dragged his gaze upward. “I have always brought you up to tell the truth. Keeping silent about something when I ask you, is the same as lying. Are you going to lie to me?”
“So tell me about the argument and the fight.”
The story came out, slowly and monosyllabically at first, of a conversation that had devolved into an argument, then into shouted insults, and at last into blows.
“Who was involved?”
“Danel and Zekiah.”
“They’re both bigger than you.”
“Yes, but I’m quicker.”
“So they’re as bruised and bleeding as you?”
“So why did you fight them?”
“They insulted our family.”
“What did they say?”
“They…they called us uncivilised and…and they said you were a Kemetu lover.”
Dov struggled to maintain a serious demeanour and lost. “Your mother has Kemetu parents, so that last part is correct. As for being uncivilised, we live in the same village, so if we are, so are they.”
“They meant because we have Kemetu blood.”
“Having Kemetu blood is nothing to be ashamed of. As for the degree of culture, you’ve never seen the land of Kemet, and neither have they. Nor me for that matter; but from everything I hear, it is far more civilised than our little tribe and village. So why argue about something that is basically true?”
“But they meant it as something insulting.”
“That is just their ignorance talking. Could their words actually hurt us?”
Elior thought for a few moments. “I suppose not, but they made me angry.”
“Do you remember what I said about the leopard?”
Elior frowned. “To just walk away? I’d be showing them I was afraid.”
“We Khabiru have a saying which you might have heard already–a gentle answer turns away anger. What do you think that means in this context?”
Elior was silent for a time as he considered his father’s words. “That they wouldn’t have got angry if I hadn’t argued? But what about them? Shouldn’t they have given a gentle answer in the first place and not picked an argument?”
“Yes, they should, but perhaps they haven’t been brought up that way. It is up to you to take the lead, Elior. Control your temper, moderate your language, and do not fight unless you have absolutely no alternative.”
“So I let everyone say what they want, or do what they want, and say nothing?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying. Speak to them with reason, show them the truth, and be circumspect with your opinions. If all else fails and they become belligerent, try and walk away. Only as a last resort should you fight.”
“I’m not afraid to fight.”
“I can see that, but look what happened.” Dov hesitated. “There is something else. What if you had argued with somebody not of our village and they had drawn a weapon? You could be dead instead of just bruised. Is your death a price worth paying for any insult?”
Elior grimaced and looked away. “I suppose not.”
“Think about it, my son. That’s all I ask.”
Elior did think about everything his father said, and even took his thoughts to his uncle Jerem. The older man listened to the boy and while he largely agreed with Dov, he did make his nephew a bow and a handful of unfletched arrows. In Jerem’s eyes, the bow was little more than a toy, but he promised to make him a better one when he was older. To Elior, the bow was a means by which he could make his mark on the world and he vowed to master its use. As it turned out, it affected his life much more than he anticipated.