Hatshepsut strutted onto the limestone stage in Waset’s town square. All around her, firelight danced to the thundering drums on the huts’ mud-brick walls as the mass of townspeople brandished their torches. The perspiration on her dark brown skin glistened along with her gold jewelry even as the day’s heat faded into twilight’s chill. Not only did the wavering torches cast their warmth onto her, but Hatshepsut knew that soon she would entertain her subjects in the least pleasant way she could.
Nonetheless she strode to the stage’s edge with a smile for the crowd. They all hooted her name while stamping their feet to add to the drums’ rhythm. She pulled out a stone mace caked with dried blood and raised it straight up to the moon. The weapon’s weight pushed down against her arm muscles as she held it.
The drums boomed together for one final time. On this the townspeople fell silent.
“People of Waset, tonight you have the unique privilege of witnessing I, the Pharaoh of all Egypt, deliver my justice before your very eyes,” Hatshepsut announced. “For once in your life, you shall see what I do to those who upset the balance between order and chaos!”
The audience parted to make way for a chariot carrying a naked man with wrists bound behind him. As the chariot advanced to the stafe, people booed towards the captive while children chucked figs and dates at him. He snarled with pain after one fruit crashed into his cheekbone and drew blood. Hatshepsut shut her eyes and winced.
The chariot’s driver shoved the captive off his vehicle onto the dirt road. The people jeered some more once he landed. A couple of soldiers dragged him by the arms onto the stage and dumped him beside Hatshepsut. He tilted his head up to glare at the Pharaoh and bared his teeth like an angry hyena.
The captive’s light olive-brown skin, beaked nose, and wavy black beard represented his eastern race. Hatshepsut stroked his tousled mane with one hand, noting its smoother texture compared to her own people’s frizzy hair. For some reason he did not squirm or jerk away from her touch as most prisoners would. It was unsettling that a rebel like him would show such indifference now.
“Here I present to you the infamous Meshulam, ringleader of the recent Hebrew insurrection,” Hatshepsut said to the crowd. “His insolence has endangered our empire’s stability and cost the lives of hundreds of men, women, and children, Egyptian and Hebrew alike.”
The townspeople booed again. One woman shrieked out her wish that the Pharaoh bash out the captive’s brains.
“Of course Egypt cannot forgive such a blood-soaked trangression against her order,” Hatshepsut continued. “Hereby I will punish him as all trangressors should be punished: with my forefathers’ mace!” She raised the weapon again and the crowd cheered.
“So, Meshulam of the Hebrews, what do you have to say for yourself?” she asked.
Meshulam kept glaring at her, quaking with what could have either been dread or rage. Then he grinned and cackled.
“You say you will punish me,” he said. “In truth you will reward me. Once you smite me with your mace, I will have died in my fight to free my people from the infidel’s clutches. Elohim, our highest god, blesses those who die in his righteous name.”
“I do not know this Elohim,” Hatshepsut said. “As far as I am concerned, you fight in the name of chaos and deserve no blessing.”
“We shall see what happens to me once I leave this world, but I do know this. As long as our race lives, as long as we have faith in Elohim’s mercy, we Hebrews shall never rest. All you will do is inflame my people’s passion even more, and yet more blood shall stain the desert red. We shall not relent until we push all you black devils back into hell’s depths!” Meshulam spat at Hatshepsut.
She let go of his hair and recoiled from him. The gaping citizens of Waset too stepped away from the stage. Men clung onto their wives who in turn hugged their children close by. All their eyes felled on Hatshepsut, shining with tears. As Pharaoh of Egypt, she needed to maintain the balance between order or chaos, but it was even more important that she take care of her people. She would not let any more Egyptians bleed from the Hebrews’ scimitars.
Besides, if the Hebrews really believed that their god would bless their souls if they died in his name, the threat of death could never deter them. They needed a true punishment, not a blessing in the hereafter.
Hatshepsut tossed the mace aside and pulled Meshulam up onto his feet. “You shall not die,” she said. “Egypt cannot afford a glorious death for you. What you deserve instead is a lifetime of suffering. I’ll send you to the gold mines where you shall toil until you break. Take him away!”
The soldiers returned to pull the captive back onto the chariot which rode away. The people of Waset cheered out their Pharaoh’s name again, shaking their torches in the air. The drums’ thunder returned to join their clamor.
Hatshepsut turned her head up to look at the stars which dusted the night sky. Somewhere among them her father Thutmose’s spirit twinkled back at her brighter than the rest.
She hoped she had honored his memory with her justice tonight.