A STORY OF MOSES
A Hebrew! ~ Chapter III
ART : ‘Moses in the Bulrushes’ ~ A framed porcelain plaque c. 1900 @ ArtArt
Forth went we through the city, leaving the temple behind us to return to our home. Sadly would we have journeyed if we had known that never again would we pass through the golden gates or listen to the wise words of the old priest, except to hear him with the words of our soul in the silence of our hours of slumber. We knew not that we were going forth as strangers in a new land, so we sang and laughed with joy, realising that soon a light would shine upon us; for we would see the smile of her who was the mother to Osarsif and the beloved of my heart.
The boy was now a boy-man and tall beyond the usual height of a man. I was no longer a boy-man but a man who knew many things, for the priests kept not their knowledge to themselves. We were clothed in the simple garments of priests for only such robes could cover now our bodies. The prince’s band of gold were too small for the wrists of Ra-mu-ses. His belt studded with jewels he put around his neck. He laughed as he did so, for once it had encircled his waist. Gladly we went on out way, and without fear, for my father had sent words to the temple saying: “Come, Pharaoh is dead. You may now pass through the gates and none will challenge you, for all come to pay homage to the dead king.” Thus we went homeward. How easy seemed the way to me now that I was a man. Yet once had I trodden the way with dark fearfulness. The places had seemed vast and filled with threats when I had been but a boy who was glad of the spirit of Ket to comfort me. Now the priest had purified my inward vision. I knew that Ket was often with me, in the same way that Ra-mu-ses could speak to the Lord of Light who was his guide, for the inner vision of Ra-mu-ses was strong and clear.
Now once more he was a prince of the court. My tongue had to forget his temple name; the one I had learned to use when I called to Ra, the Giver of all Good, that Ra might bless him whom I loved with light and long years of life.
Strange it was to be once more in the courts of the King. The trumpets were silent. The sistrums made no sound and the courts were as quiet as had been those of the temple. The countenance of my father had become like that of a painted face on which the sun had shone too fiercely, causing many cracks in the paint. His face had many lines I had not seen before. The lines were those of sorrow. Yet when his arms were round my body there was laughter in his voice and tears in his eyes. “My son,” he said. “My son,” and then again: “my son, my son. I never thought to see you again with these eyes of mine.”
ART : ‘Bastet with Aegis Sistrum’ (Right)
A trembling was in my heart such as I had never felt before, and tears in my eyes. I wondered: “Am I a man? I weep like a woman. Am I still but a boy?” My arms were round my father to comfort him. His body trembled as does that of a sick man with fever. But it was not a fever that caused him to tremble. It was the appearance of the prince at whom he looked. Slowly did my father speak, as his hand pointed to the face of the beloved boy.
“A Hebrew” he whispered. “It is true. You are not the son of the King. It is written on your features, in the hair forming on your chin, in the very shape of your nose. The length of your limbs betrays it. You will never be able to claim a place here for your manhood denies your prince-ship. What has she done? How came she by such a child?”
His voice died in my ears, leading to a terrible stillness in which I looked at Ra-mu-ses and he gazed at me. We wondered how my father dared to say such words unless fever touched his brain, making him forget that death could come to him if he dared to call a prince of Egypt an Israelite. To say so made a prince a bondman, and the princess, who was his mother, a whore.
“Let us go to my mother,” said Ra-mu-ses. We went with my father following behind. But the servants did not know us and the guards were not ones which I had not known. Sand lay thickly in the court. The embalmers were still busy with the body of the King. The days of mourning were many. There were none to see that the servants did well their work.
There was she who made my heart sing, slender as a reed, with eyes shining as waters glisten in the rays of the moon. Her slender hands were outstretched to those of Ra-mu-ses. Her lips quivered and great teardrops welled in eyes that showed the tenderness of her soul. Lovely is it to recall the face of the princess as I saw it thus in the long-ago time. Beautiful is it to think of the joy I knew then. From it has swelled the river of happiness in which my soul has been bathed in the land after death. There she has stayed with me and I with her in the peace of the land beyond tears and sorrow.
Long were the hours we spent in the court of the princess; looking towards her gate set in the wall, and telling her all our joys and sorrows. Those who love each other have naught they may not tell.
Silently sat my father with us; his hands folded on his knees, his face radiant with peace. And I was glad, for it seemed he had forgotten the sorrowful words he had spoken to Ra-mu-ses.
In after times, my father told me he could not speak because of the gladness between us. It seemed like a light so radiant and many coloured with strands of love and joy that it engulfed his soul, plunging it into peace and healing. So profound was this peace that all the terrible fears and sorrows he had known in the court of Pharaoh died away. He did but think how good it would be if we could all stay, thus together for many years, linked in mutual love and understanding, with ripples of joyous laughter flowing between us, like waves between rocks in the full flood of the river.
The colour changed in the far sky and the sands turned to gold in the distance. The servants came with flames lit in vessels of silver and offered us fruits and meats such as we had not tasted since we had left the court of the King. Because we were bonded into a close unity we knew not who asked, “what now?” The question was in the atmosphere, hanging like a cloud created by sweet-scented herbs and spices burned as an offering to the Lords of Light.
ART : ‘Pharaoh’s Daughter’ ~ by Konstantin Flavitsky
My father was the one who uttered the words: “What now?” he said. “What now will Ra-mu-ses do? He is nearly a man and must take his place as a prince.” For a moment he was silent, and then he added, “Or a priest.”
As a prisoner must feel when he sees a man who must smite off his head, so did I feel in that moment. Why could we not stay in these hours of joy forever. Why must we think of the future?
The princess set down the food in her hand, for suddenly her hands were shaking. “For what reason do you ask this question?” she said.
“Because there is no record of his birth in the archives,” my father replied. “I hold the seal as keeper of the Royal archives and I know all that is recorded here. Whence came Ra-mu-Ses and who is his father?”
Once I saw a little animal watched by a cobra. The eyes of the creature were filled with terror as it pressed itself against the unyielding rock. So now was my beloved, my queen, who pressed her body against the wall. Her eyes were filled with fear.
Ra-mu-ses put forth his hand and touched her gently. “Speak,” he said, “and know no fear. The priests have taught me so that I dream into the future. I know I am to be a man without a land or a home, although how it shall be I know not. Tell me, who is my father? I will be glad if it is true that the blood of Pharaoh runs not in my veins.”
“It does not”, the princess whispered. “You are no prince of Pharaoh’s seed for I would not yield myself to him. Yet did I long for a child, as other women desire. But Pharaoh would not let any other prince take me in marriage, for his pride was a bitter and cruel thing. He would rather I stayed alone all my years amid the taunts of the favoured women, than let it be known that I had spurned him. Long are the days for childless women. Long are the nights for an unfavoured princess. Lonely are the hours spent thinking and waiting. Hopeless the life that knows no joy.” (And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river, and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and behold the babe wept; Exodus 2,5-6)
“So it was that I came to the hour of my temptation. I walked forth in the morning light when Ra makes all this as new. My woman followed me from the gate over there for often did we walk forth to visit the river and enjoy the freshness of the morning air. There, as if Ra had placed it for me among the rushes, was a woven basket from which came the thin cry of a child’s voice. And when my woman drew it in over the mud, there lay an infant man child. Alone was he, and alone was I. No one saw us save the newly risen sun in the sky.
“Was it wrong of me to think the child was a gift from Ra? Could I, with my lonely woman’s heart, leave the child to die there as the heat of the day increased, or to drown in the water? My heart opened, as does a flower in the light, for as I held the babe his lips sought my breast for food as if he knew me as his mother. Thus it was I brought him here and nurtured him with the milk of a woman my servant found, until he was strong enough for child’s food. I thought to pass him out into court as a prince, because the King could not know how many sons he had fathered; only Onersmut watched the children of the King, and counted them jealously one by one. Had it not been for Onersmut my son would have stayed here at my side in all this lonely time that has passsed away.”
Silence held our tongues from the speaking of words. Love made our eyes seek out the soul from one another. “He is an Israelite,” my father said. “It is written in his features, in the length of his limbs, in the glance of his eye. You took for your child the infant of an Israelite bondman.”
“Would a slave abandon her child?” The princess flung her question into the silence as a man throws a weapon at an enemy.
“Yes,” my father answered gently. “She would do so to save it from death. You must know that the bondmen increase in their numbers for their women are not like ours who cannot bear the pains of birth too often. Their women bear many children and many sons grow among the Israelites. Pharaoh ordered that male children should not be allowed to live, and were the infants to be found, they were destroyed at birth; but Goshen has many hiding places and the boy children have grown strong all these years. I think Ra-mu-ses was a boy-child hidden until the guards had searched the land. The mother lost her child, not to the sword of the guard, but to the court where now he stands.”
The beloved prince stood straight in his long priest robe. His eyes were turned towards his feet, then to this hands, with which he felt his face, exploring the shape of his brow, lips and nose. “So they are my people,” said he, and his words were heavy and cold like small stones when a boy drops them from a height.
I thought of the slaves and of the bondmen, with dust caked in the sweat of their bodies, their backs ribbed with the marks made by the whips of the overseers. I remembered the hatred that sounded in their voices, as they cursed the guards who took their girl-children before they could be married to their own race. Was this what the priest saw for him when they said he was to be a leader of men? Was my beloved brother to be kin to such as those?
“They are a proud and strong people,” my father spoke softly. I knew then that he loved Ra-mu-ses else would he not have spoken words of comfort. “It is only their slavery that makes them abominable.”
The gentle woman forgot she was a princess and I was but a son of a scribe. In her distress the tears coursed down her face, like the streams that flow in the caked waterways when the Nile begins to flood the land. Her hand reached towards mine. The slender fingers twisted in my grasp as she sought comfort. I pressed the delicate hand to my lips. Its perfume was as the scent of flowers. Her fingertips were as pale rose petals, her skin as the softness of lotus blossoms. I knew then that her heart sang the same song as my heart. The bridge of love was built between us like a slender arch of beaten gold. And as beaten gold endures, so would the love in our hearts.
Ra-mu-ses spoke: “I am a stranger among my people. My tongue speaks not their words. My ways cannot be theirs for I have learned the ancient wisdom, and I have lived as a prince.”
Gently did my father’s voice sound from the shadows, for he sat far from the rays of the lamp, as if he felt himself outside the circle of love and light which bonded us three together.
ART : ‘Nefertem’ ~ Son of Ptah & Sekhmet (Left)
“Pharaoh would be pleased, when he wears the crown, for you can bring to him a tally of the numbers of the Israelites, for their kind still increase in the land. I will send you with my seal to make a record of their tribes, their sons and daughters, and their skills. My son can go with you, for he is my scribe. Perhaps the people will open to you their hearts as you are not an Egyptian, not a soldier of the King but the emissary of the archivist, with features similar to those of their people. It may be that you will find then your own people. If you do so, then can you shape your life according to your own will.”
Wise were his words as well we knew, but sorrowful were they to us, for us to go forth would be to break again the bond with the princess whom we both loved.
Softly, softly, did she speak: “It is wise. It is a good way, for this will take you away from the court and the spying eyes of Onersmut. When you return, you will please the new King. The bondmen are in the land of Goshen. They work in the distant quarries, as well as in the river places. Many days will you be on this labour. When you return the slaughter in the courts will be ended. I know that many princes will die to make firm the throne for the son of the evil queen.”
Thus ended the day. The memory of it is still with me. Bright, unclouded with forgetfulness, and encircled by the golden joy which was around us so strongly that for a little while we seemed to be lifted by the current of mortal living into some bright place of starry light where all was peace, love and happiness.