Tzav: The Battle of the Sea of Reeds

The Sinai Desert was still pitchy-black when Lt. Djer’s adjutant, Corporal Tem, shook his commander’s shoulder to awaken him. The lieutenant immediately arose—his training at the Royal Egyptian Army Military Academy (Heliopolis) stood him in good stead. He sat on the edge of his cot, blinking and collecting his thoughts.

“The Lieutenant sleeps with one eye open, so he does,” Tem said later to Mariamne, the Jebusite barmaid at the North Sinai Bar & Watering Hole (Special Discounts for Egyptian troopers with our Comfort Women).

            “Do tell,” said Mariamne, leaning over the worn-wooden bar, and bending towards the Corporal, in a way good for business.

            Mariamne’s a good ‘un, thought the Corporal. She don’t talk much, but what she says, I like. I really should spend more off-duty time with her. Hm.

            “And there’s nobody like the Looey for the way he sits a horse, neither,” said the Corporal.

            Mariamne continued her part of the conversation by bending over further—she was a woman of few words. For good measure, she wiggled her considerable rump.

            By the beard of Osiris, thought the Corporal, if she bent over any farther, I could see her navel.

            Tem drained his barley beer and asked Mariamne, “What say ye to another one of these little beauties? And have one, yourself—on me.”

            Mariamne smiled. She was missing a canine.

            The Corporal didn’t care.

Back in his tent, the Lieutenant woke his mind gradually, and contemplated the day: Today, we pull patrol-duty in our Northwestern Sector, he thought, I must set a good example for my troops.

            “It will be blasting-hot today in the wilderness, Sir,” whispered the corporal.

            The lieutenant smiled ruefully. “It’s always hot in this furnace, Corporal,” he said, tersely. “Have the sergeant-major rouse the troops—quietly. We are on full combat alert, as befits us chosen soldiers who guard the Blessed Boundaries of Holy Mother Egypt from any invaders or ravagers.”

            The corporal nodded, saluted, and disappeared into the dark.

            The lieutenant did his morning toilet, dressed in his cotton undergarment, and began buckling on his bronze body armor. Djer’s armor fitted a bit more snugly than usual. He had gained a few pounds on his last leave to his home village. His parents raised sweet dates, plums and figs on a little farm close to the Nile River. Pa’s sweet melons were legendary for their size, heft, and color, and he regularly won first-prize in the farmers’ market. Patting his belly—I really must lay off the sweets for a while—Djer left the tent to inhale the pure, sweet desert air, tinged by a salty breeze from the Sea of Reeds to the north.

            “We await your orders, Sir,” came a voice from the shadows, which he recognized as that of Sergeant-Major Joser, his aide-de-camp in commanding 18th Regiment, Royal Egyptian Cavalry (“Jaws of Anubis”). “Will you be desirous of mounted chariots, Sir? It would not take but a half-hour to ready them for patrol and possible combat.”

            Djer had thought about this the previous evening, and decided. “It will not do for the sake of maintaining mounted silence to take the chariots,” he replied, “on the chance that we encounter a desert tribe of Bedouin, and require a surprise attack. No, Sgt-Major; this day, our troopers will ride their mounts.”

            “Very good, Sir,” said Sgt.-Major Joser, “I will have the troops ready their horses. All will prepare the saddles meant for warfare, not parade.”

            “Do so,” commanded Lt. Djer.

            Less than a hour later, the copper bugles sounded, and the 18th Regiment was under way.

            “Which direction, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major.

            “Let us head towards the Sea of Reeds,” answered the lieutenant, “just to find any stragglers from that escaped mob  of Israelite slaves. We are under orders to—deal with them.”

            “Deal with them by what means, Lieutenant?” asked the Sergeant-Major. He was a grizzled veteran of many encounters with Egypt’s many enemies. An eye-patch gave evidence of the Old War with the Nubians.

            “By any means necessary—including killing,” returned the lieutenant. I hate to think of murdering innocent women and children, even if they are Israelite, he thought. Still, we are under the orders of Capt. Sobek, who is in constant touch with the High Command at Royal Egyptian Army Headquarters. I have no choice.

The soldiers rode along in silence, whispering only when necessary. A blood-red sun was rising in the east. There was no sound, except the creaking of saddlery and the clank of lances against bronze armor.

            “Sir,” said the Sergeant -Major, “We must halt, to allow Siptah, the Jebusite Scout, to study the trail and tell us what to expect.”

            The lieutenant nodded. Siptah, agile and alert despite his advanced years—he was at least forty—practically vaulted over the head of his horse, and, lying on the ground, began sniffing eagerly, like a desert dog. Djer looked on in disgust—how could a human being, made in Osiris’s image, degrade himself into sniffing at the offal of passing animals? Still, he had to grant Siptah some credit—the scout was nearly always correct in his trail-judgment, and—besides an uncomfortable, earthy smell the scout had—Why can’t he wash more often? Djer would ask, holding his breath while he spoke with him—he was a pleasant enough fellow, and a great warrior, besides.

            “What news, Scout?” he asked.

            The elderly Jebusite grinned and rose, not bothering to dust the desert-sand off of his arms and legs. Arms akimbo, he stood before the lieutenant, not bothering to salute.

            “If it please the Lieutenant, Your Worship—” began Siptah.

            “Just Lieutenant will do, Siptah,” said Djer, fanning the air before his face. How can the poltroon live with himself? he thought, breathing through his mouth, “Give your report, please.”

            “Israelites passed by—oh, perhaps one-two hours ago,” said Siptah.

            “Good; we will shadow them, and make certain they are moving well out of Imperial Territory,” answered Lieutenant Djer.

            Siptah raised one gnarly hand. “I have more to report, Lieutenant,” he said, and his grinning face grew grim, “There is also a war-party of Amalekites following the Israelites, perhaps just one-half hour behind.”

            A voice from behind Djer called out gleefully, “What luck! Let the Amalekites finish what we ought to have done to those evil Israelites!”

            Without turning, the lieutenant called out, “At ease, Corporal Henut! I called for silence in ranks!”

            “Begging your pardon, Lieutenant,” returned Henut, “but I have more than a bone to pick with those abominable Israelites—they laid waste to my homeland, including my father’s little idol-shop! That Invisible God of theirs, jealous no doubt of my father’s stock-in-trade, caused it to be crushed beneath the weight of that insidious hailstorm. I hate those Israelites with every fibre of my being.”

            Nodding at the Sergeant-Major, Djer ordered the detachment to halt.

            “Military Police Detail!” ordered the lieutenant, “Apprehend Corporal Henut, and bring him to me.”

            Henut found himself bound in papyrus-ropes, standing before his commander.

            “Corporal Henut,” said the lieutenant, “for speaking out in ranks, and for contravening a direct order—”

            “Begging the lieutenant’s pardon,” interrupted Henut, “What order was that?”

            “Our orders are to shadow the Israelites, not to attack them,” answered the lieutenant, “nor to aid or abet any other people or nation who choose to attack them. We are merely in an observatory capacity.”

            “Yes, Sir,” said Henut, sullenly.

            “And for your outburst,” answerered Djer, “I am reducing you in rank to Private, and fining you your next three weeks’ wages. I run a strong, proud outfit, Private, and I will not have rapscallions such as yourself besmirching our unit’s record. MPs! Keep him under close guard, and, once we return to the Forward Operating Base, he is to go into the stockade for one week.”

            The MPs led Henut away; because the unit was in the field, he was allowed to re-mount his horse, under their watchful guard. The detachment spurred on, again.

            “What is that noise I hear, Sir?” asked Sergeant-Major Joser, “Is it the sound of rejoicing? Are the Israelites observing one of their pagan festivals?”

            Lt. Djer listened. “It is not the sound of rejoicing or singing,” he returned, “It is the sound of war—hear the women’s screams!”

            As the cavalry detachment mounted the hill, they beheld a ghastly sight: a band of Amalekite Bedouin marauders were attacking an Israelite refugee line—only, instead of attacking in front of the line, where the soldiers and young men were, the Amalekites were deliberately slaughtering helpless elderly, women, and even children.

            “What shall we do, Sir?” asked the Sergeant-Major, “Our orders are explicitly to shadow the Israelites, and not interfere with their Exodus from our nation.”

            “Still,” mused the lieutenant, “The orders said nothing about the deaths of the innocent.”

            “What are you suggesting, Sir?” asked the old sergeant-major, already guessing what was on his young commander’s mind.

            “Sergeant-Major!” commanded Lt. Djer, himself unstrapping his bronze short sword, as well as his cavalryman’s knife and shield, “I order you to have the bugler sound the ‘charge,’ so that we can redress the imbalance between civilian Israelites and armed desert bandits.”

            “You heard the Lt. Djer,” called out the Sergeant-Major to the young bugler, “Prepare to sound the charge, on his order!”

            “Wait a second,” said Djer, half-turning in his saddle to face his troops.

            “Soldiers of Imperial Egypt,” he said in a stentorian voice, “I am commanding you to join me in defending a group of helpless elderly, women and children from a mob of murderous Amalekites. You know our enemy: he is merciless, and so must we be. If you bear any ill will towards the Israelites, you may remain back here with our Military Police, and there will be no repercussions, given the unusual nature of this military encounter. I will bear full responsibility. I do hope and expect that every man-jack of you will gain great honor for both our Mother Egypt this day, and for Anubis, for whose ferocity and fairness our regiment is named. Will you join me?”

            To their credit and the lieutenant’s satisfaction, the troopers nodded and saluted, to a man.

            “Sergeant-Major Joser!” ordered the lieutenant.

            “Sir! Sergeant-Major Joser reporting. What is your pleasure, Sir?”

            “You know the drill,” replied Lt. Djer.

The Sergeant-Major saluted.

“I want first through third rank arrayed for a charge, with full spears aloft, and khopesh-swords easily at hand. Every man must have his service dagger close to hand, as well—those Amalekites are treacherous, and we must guard ourselves.”

            “Troop of Cavalry, Atten-hut!” called the Sergeant-Major.

            There was the simultaneous clank of war-spears being placed in position astride the horses, and then, the thunk of swords being removed from their scabbards and laid across the saddles, putting them within easy reach. The troopers had small shields, as well, but hardly ever used them; it would have taken an extra pair of hands, and the Royal Armory had never thought of that.

            “Soldiers of the Egyptian Empire!” called Lt. Djer, “If there is among you a man who has no stomach for this fight, then I will personally mount him upon an onager—backwards—“

            The men laughed.

“…And send his cowardly arse back to Egypt, which bore him illegitimately. Let him depart! His passage shall be made, and I will place the coins of passage in his purse. Shame to him, and his family, forever! For we would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us.”

            The men cheered their commander; beneath Mt. Ebarim, the Amalekites ceased their depredations for a second: What manner of men are these?

            “We will remember, with advantages, what feats you will do this day. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today who sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother. And fellow-soldiers barrack-way shall think themselves accused they were not here. We will not heed; we will defend our land.”

            “Troopers, take your positions!” ordered the Sergeant-Major, “and the strength of Ra be with ye.”

           “CHARGE!” called Lt. Djer, as Qir, his enormous midnight-black warhorse, thundered down the slope of Mt. Ebarim, followed by the troopers of the 18th Regiment of Horse (“Rays of Ra in His Glory”). “Charge, my heroes! Charge, charge, charge!” The bugler’s calls matched the lieutenant’s own eagerness for the battle.

            Perhaps it was memories of his success in Lance Drill at the Heliopolis Military Academy (Division of Horse), or his many exercises riding with the Heavies (for so did the Royal Egyptian Army term the unit they had prepared him for) but, as Qir raced down the grassy, stony slopes of the mountain (and Ebarim was not large, as mountains go—certainly not so large as that Sinai, where the Israelite rabble were to receive their Laws from their Invisible God, just two weeks later), he could not help but notice his Sergeant-Major, stubbly beard and all, muscles bulging—how old must he be? Asked Djer, foolishly–clinging to his mount, holding his sword’s-point low, as the Sergeant-Major had learned from his own riding-master, Captain Khepesh, so many years ago. Worse yet for the Amalekite beasts, the cavalrymen wielded the khopesh, a monstrous weapon with a curved, hooked blade, which clung to its target and ripped a bloody groove when dragged across human flesh, as the Egyptian troopers were trained to do.

            The Amalekites were surprised, as Djer had known they would be. As he thundered past a large boulder and made for the nearest Amalekite marauder, Djer could not help but notice the man’s garb: dusty, filthy desert robes, his head covered with those dirty keffiyehs they wore. The Amalekite had grabbed an Israelite wench by her long, black, shiny hair—at least, it had been shiny before his dirty hands had besmirched it; Djer slowed his horse enough to level his blade, and inadvertently saw a glance of Israelite breast—but then, he swung his brazen khopesh, and sent the Amalekite’s head spinning off into the brush.

            There’s one less bandit to deal with, thought Lt. Djer. It never crossed his mind that he had killed a man; in the heat of the battle just beginning, he was aware only of Qir’s muscles between  his thighs, and glanced both left and right for further targets. He turned Qir’s head, and made for a big, muscular Amalekite whose arms were covered with golden bracelets—doubtless he had been killing Israelites with his huge, blood-dripping scimitar, and robbing them of the Egyptian gold they had collected for—how long was it?—four hundred years of back pay.

            Djer did not begrudge the Israelites their booty; he was concerned only with the Amalekites, who had attacked the Israelite rearguard in a most cowardly fashion. Keeping his sword’s-point low, as his Riding-Master had taught him in cavalry maneuvers, he gut-ripped the innards of two Amalekites, who realized finally that the gleaming soldiers of Egypt were not there to assist them in despoiling the Israelites. The two hapless marauders fell beneath his blade, rolling off from the shock. Djer turned to look for his next target. Big Qir panted beneath him, but he did not worry: his steed was sufficiently exercised and ready for battle. Suddenly, he heard a cry:

            “Sir—be alert, Sir! Behind you!”

            Djer turned, in time to see Private Hotep, he who had refused to fight the Amalekites, drive a charging-lance’s brazen point into the back of an Amalekite warrior who had been about to eviscerate Djer. Hotep yanked the spear out, and, holding it aloft, seemed mesmerized by its dripping blood:

            “Ho, Bloody Lance!” called the Sergeant-Major, “you have tasted the blood of an enemy—you are now a true warrior!”

            Hotep grinned and waved his weapon above his head.

            Not now, you fool; now is no time to congratulate yourself, thought Djer, and he dug his heels into Qir’s sides and raced to attack the big Amalekite ruffian who was running at Hotep from behind—luckily, the Amalekites had none of their swift dromedaries; they would have been able to give an overwhelming fight to the novice Egyptian cavalry recruits, had they not been on foot and surprised by Djer’s sudden salley on their numbers.

            The Big Amalekite ran, and the point of his scimitar stabbed deep and straight and true: the grin on Hotep’s face suddenly changed to that of searing pain, and he toppled off his horse, still clutching the spear.

            “Lay your foul hands on a soldier of Egypt, will you?” screamed Djer, and he charged the Amalekite, who—too late—tried to turn and hide behind the massive boulder. Yanking Qir’s bridle to the right, Djer succeeded in racing around the boulder’s circumference without being unhorsed—to be alone and defenseless in the midst of an Amalekite mob of marauders was to be avoided at all costs; they were famous for stripping their prisoners and planting a huge ant-hill on their groins—Djer readied his lance; he had finished first in the Academy riding competitions, and never forgot the day he had chased and lanced a jackrabbit, there on the desert plains.

            The big Amalekite showed courage: he stood, back against the boulder, and beckoned at the young Egyptian officer, crying out words in their infernal patois, and daring him to attack, while the ruffian held his scimitar in both hands, and braced himself to receive Djer’s charge—

            Too late: Djer’s lance took the Amalekite full in the chest, and the enemy’s look changed from foolish courage—what was one man, on foot, to do to resist a charging steed bearing a determined cavalryman?—to glassy-eyed death. Djer, uncaring and unhesitating, planted his boot in the Amalekite corpse and yanked his spear out, ignoring the foolishly-courageous Amalekite as he looked about the battlefield for more targets of opportunity. The corpse toppled and lay, still holding his useless scimitar.

            My Heavies are availing themselves well, he thought; over to the left, Corporal Temnet, his aide, was successfully holding his own against a pair of Amalekites, who were determined to drag him off his horse. The Sergeant-Major, breathing hard, was thundering down on an Amalekite marauder who was trying to drag an Israelite maiden—she could not have been more than fourteen, Djer thought. These wretches!How they take advantage of these weak, exhausted Israelites! Finally, he spied three of his soldiers, long knives in hand, duelling with Amalekites with scimitars. Their sword-reach exceeded that of the Egyptians, but the cavalrymen had youth and training on their side, while the Amalekites, up since early morn, were tiring. Before he turned Qir and raced for a clump of Amalekites, Djer was pleased to see Corp. Karesh gut-stab the Amalekite leader.

            Still, the savage Amalekites had plenty of fight left in them. From the distance of a bow-shot, Djer spied about three dozen of them forming up into a ragged line, the better to charge his cavalrymen, who were clearly tired after hacking and spearing their way into saving the hapless Hebrews.

            “Dismount!” he ordered, “Sheathe your swords, my Boys, and ready bows-and-arrows for action!”

            As well-drilled warriors, his horse soldiers were also skilled in the use of the deadly Egyptian composite bow, a fearsome weapon when used en masse to fire volleys of lethal shafts.

            “Form up!” called the lieutenant, “Form a skirmish line, men, and present arms!” referring to the bows-and-arrows. Tipped with primitive but effective chunks of sharpened glass or volcanic obsidian, the arrows were particularly effective. When the brutes charged, Djer’s men would be prepared to receive them.

            “Steady your line, men!” he called out, while the Sergeant-Major rode along the front of the skirmish-line, to steady and straighten the cavalrymen.

            With blood-curdling screams, the Amalekites charged. No more were their thoughts about seizing booty or women; they wished only to rid themselves of the Egyptians, who had appeared seemingly out of nowhere to ruin their ravaging of innocents and their property. By this time, Djer had ceased to think of the escaped Israelites as a leaderless, troublesome rabble; to his soldier’s eye, they were the innocent victims of a mob of armed peasants. He recalled two years before when, fresh out of Academy, his then-Captain Pramet had ordered him to lead his men into attacking a rear guard of retreating Hyksos.

            “Drive them out, drive them out, 2nd Lieutenant Djer!” the captain had bellowed, “for they have dominated us native Egyptians for the past hundred years! Drive them out, I say!”

            The Hyksos, for all their bluster and overreach, had left the Royal Egyptian Army a significant war-wagon: the chariot. Nonetheless, Djer had led his then-troopers, the 257th Regiment of Horse (“Head of Anubis”), in a final charge, which sent the Hyksos packing, back to Palestine, where these Israelites belonged, as well.

            But that was different, Djer thought quickly, those Hyksos were seasoned warriors, and gave us one hell of a fight, before riding off to quit Egypt for good. These Israelites are but liberated slaves, leaderless and helpless….

            No time for further reminiscing, he thought, Now is the time for one final assault on the Amalekite line—if one could call it even a line.Let our troops totally destroy the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens, and never forget them.

            “Form up, form up, my brave boys—no, today you are men, for certain!” he heard the orders of the Sergeant-Major, “Let us charge this rabble, and drive them away from Mother Egypt for good!”

            As he watched approvingly, his tired but eager soldiers formed a line—

            It would be straighter still, he thought, had they not been so tired from a morning’s fighting. Still, my boys do me proud.

            No more time to think or plan, he thought, seeing the Amalekites, themselves tired but still wielding their deadly slings and war-clubs, and readying for a final charge. O Anubis! Guard Thou Thy namesake soldiers today, and shield them from the weapons of the infidel!

            The Amalekites charged. The Egyptians did not panic; as was customary, they listened for the orders of their commander. Djer kept a weather eye on the lumbering enemy, who was getting closer and closer, eager for the blood of his young troops.

            “Steady, men—steady, steady—let the savages get as close as an arrow can carry for its strongest and most effective result!”

            This was a euphemism; the Egyptians had been known for millennia for the deadly arrows they carried, some dipped into black-adder-oil for a poisonous result.

            “Steady, men—they grow closer—ah, here they have come, to receive our Egyptian welcome—fire, Men! Fire, fire, fire!”

            The arrows sped off straight and true, and Djer heard the deadly thunk as each one found a target. The Amalekites either dropped in their tracks, spilling their stolen gold from pouches or beneath their ragged tunics. Others, only wounded, turned to flee. Djer knew it would take a short while for the poison to do its work.

            Nevertheless, the battle was practically over.

            “D Troop and F Troop!” the Sergeant-Major called, and Djer nodded in satisfaction, “Pursue the enemy closely, and be prepared to give him the edge of your khopesh or spear. Let us discourage him from ever re-entering the boundaries of Holy Mother Egypt!”

            With a shout, the men of those troops spurred up their horses, and set off after the Amalekites—but at a safe distance, in case the wretches should re-form and attempt a final charge. Djer doubted that that would happen, however; the Amalekites had been decimated, and were heading to their lairs in the caves of Mt. Seir.

            These boys are the flower of Egypt, he thought. I am very lucky. Sleep safely in your Royal Bed tonight, Holy God-Pharaoh Merneptah!

            At last, it was over. the Amalekites despaired of stealing any more gold, and left the women they would have raped, where they lay, in various stages of undress. Off they ran, helter-skelter, while the Sergeant-Major despatched Companies C and D to pursue, careful not to fall into an ambush or trap.

            Lt. Djer, his lance still dripping with Amalekite blood, gathered his command staff beneath a tree in an oasis of palms, and asked them to give report. Out of the corner of his eye, he beheld the young Israelite wench approaching; her long black hair blew softly in the desert breeze, and she met his curious glance with a smile.

            View halloo, thought Lt. Djer foolishly, Whose little girl are you?

            The girl made to grasp Qir’s bridle, but the young lieutenant shook his head: “I’m on duty, Miss,” he said.

            The Hebrew girl smiled and tossed her head. “I will wait, General, until you are off duty.”

            “Lieutenant,” mumbled the embarrassed cavalryman, “I am but a Lieutenant.”

            “Lieutenant, then,” said the girl, “How can we ever repay you?” And she fluttered her lashes at Djer.

            For the young Egyptian officer, it had been a successful day of combat against a mortal enemy and harasser of his nation’s camel caravans between the Homeland and Nubia, and points West, into Africa.

            Still, he thought, how to justify an Egyptian military unit protecting a ragtag mob of Israelites? He would have to think about that….

            “I was speaking to you, My Brave Lieutenant,” said the Israelite maiden. Djer looked at her through the scalp-wound he had suffered in combat, “You are wounded. Dismount your noble steed; I will bathe your wound.”

            Still in a post-battle daze, Djer allowed himself to be persuaded: he, like his triumphant soldiers (several of whom were cheering a Song of Victory to the Pharaoh Merneptah) needed some rest after the rigors of their morning.

            He stepped—no, more like falling—from his horse, Qir, and the Israelite girl—was she sixteen? No, seventeen was more like it—

            She caught him as he staggered.

            “Come with me, come with me, Sir Lieutenant,” she smiled, “You and your men are our saviors. Moses is nowhere to be found, and it was Adonai’s will that a troop of brave Egyptians should ride to our rescue. We owe you our lives.”

            Numbly, Djer nodded, letting the girl lead towards the pleasant grottoes near the Sea of Reeds. As his consciousness returned, he saw she was a saucy minx—not at all like the stiff, aristocratic women his parents were always arranging liaisons with. She was short, but, even beneath her black robes, well-proportioned. His head ached, and he needed sleep—just a little sleep….

            She took him by the hand. “We owe you our lives,” she said again, and he nodded.

            “It was nothing—” he said, “Any conscientious soldier would have done exactly what I—what we—did.”

            She stopped, and her dark-brown eyes stared into his.

            “Nay,” she said, “My Lord Officer, I disagree. For, as I said, our God willed that you should save us from death, or worse. I must reward you….”

            In the coolness of the grotto, she was as good as her word. Beneath her robes, she was dirty from the desert, but enticing and full of secrets.

            Afterward, Djer felt better: his Israelite maiden had been as good as her promise.

            “What is your name?” he asked, resting his head on his hand, as he rolled to a side-position.

            “Delilah,” she answered, showing a mouthful of perfect, straight teeth which gleamed pure white in the darkness of the grotto, “My name is Delilah. And yours, My Hero Captain of Cavalry?”

            “Lieutenant,” he corrected her automatically, “’I am but a lieutenant. And my name, My Dear One, is Djer.”

            The girl stretched contentedly, like a desert cat.

            “Djer—Djer,” she repeated, “I think that I—love you. And you know, Lieutenant, that according to the laws of my tribe, our coupling makes us man and wife.”

            Djer was astonished: it was not the first time that a rescued victim had rewarded him in such a way. He quickly rose, dusting the desert sand off his uniform.

            “I am not familiar with your laws, Miss Delilah,” he said stiffly, again becoming the Royal Egyptian Army officer he was and aspired to remain, “but I must disagree. In Egyptian Law, any female captive is fair game for the victors—and the victors must always be the Army and its soldiers.”

            Delilah reached out a hand; he helped her rise. Before he could resist, the little minx wrapped her arms around his body armor, and began kissing him. Protesting, Djer tried to push her away. Unfortunately, her grip was so tight, that, in so doing, he pushed her down.

            Instantly, her expression changed: “You may shove me away, my mighty warrior, but you will not be rid of me so easily. Those other wenches—the Amalekites, the Hivites, and everyone else such—you may dispose of, as easily as a dog rids itself of a flea. But I am different—“

            Djer had had enough. He saluted, and said in a formal tone, “Good day, Madame. I must return to my troop. Thank you for your acquaintance, but it ends here.”

            Before he could resist or protest, the girl flung a handful of red dust in his eyes. Strangely, it did not sting; it melted into his eyes, not affecting them.”

            “Hye, Zye, Hine,” the girl intoned, “Now, you are mine.”

            Djer turned on his heel. “I am my own man, Miss Delilah,” he said angrily, “and our friendship is over.”

            “Think not so,” whispered the girl, “for I will stick to you as bark to a tree; as needles to cactus; as the tapestry which hangs over the Pharaoh’s Royal Throne.”

Djer walked—no, marched away; as he did, he heard the girl laughing—a curious mixture of human laughing, and a cat’s howling. He thought nothing of it.


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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