Punishment

Trumpets blared like the cries of elephants, and drums cracked louder than a thunderclap. The populace of Waset, capital of Egypt, poured out from their mudbrick houses to gather alongside the city’s main avenue. Fathers hauled their sons onto their shoulders, mothers let their daughters stand beside them, and youths stepped aside to make way for the elders on their walking sticks. Shaded by palm trees and the rearing statues of gods and past rulers, the people waited with buzzing eagerness for the procession’s arrival.

None of them looked behind to notice the white-robed stranger.

His eyes, framed by tawny skin paler than the dark brown Egyptians, peered from the veil over his face. None of the natives would cover themselves as much as he did, with the men preferring linen loincloths and the women gowns that stopped below the breasts. The stranger may have felt hot under his robe, hot as the flames that had devoured his tribe’s goat-hair tents. But he had meant it that way.

The musicians’ drums continued to rumble, joined by the rattling of sistrums, the shrill whine of flutes, and the twanging of bow-shaped harps. Women sang, men chanted, and dancing girls pranced and shook their oiled bodies at the parade’s forefront. On both sides of the avenue, the spectating citizenry clapped, cheered, and stamped their feet, kicking up clouds of dust.

The white-robed stranger lowered his turban over his ears to block out the heathen clamor, to little avail. The noise tortured him even when muffled.

Behind the dancers and musicians marched rows of soldiers, hooting as they beat their hide shields with their spears, axes, and curved khopesh swords. The bronze of their weapons gleamed bright and clean below the late morning sunlight.

The last time the white-robed stranger had seen those weapons, they had been washed red with the blood of his tribe. He clenched a fist around the hilt of his own scimitar which rested under his belt.

Horses crowned with waving ostrich plumes trotted next, drawing the gilded chariots on which Egypt’s elite fighters rode. Clad in bands of leather armor over their chests, they grinned and waved at the audience as they passed. More than a few young maidens in the crowd showered the charioteers with lotus flowers, hoping to receive winking glances in exchange.

The drumming escalated into a booming frenzy when the Crown Prince of Egypt himself rode in on the final chariot. Jewelry of gold and precious stones dazzled all over his lean and muscular body. He did not look at the spectators, but instead had his blue-crowned head tilted up to face the sun, as if basking in both its warmth and the glory he had earned on his last campaign.

Last came the spoils of the Prince’s recent victory. Tan-skinned men, women, and children shuffled in lines yoked to one another, with hands bound behind their backs. The Egyptian onlookers’ cheering gave way to jeering as they pelted the captives with rocks, handfuls of dirt, and epithets too vile to describe.

The white-robed stranger retreated into the shadows of an alleyway. Those were his people being dragged behind like stolen livestock. His cousins, his brothers and sisters, maybe even his mother, unless she had fallen like his father. Half of his entire tribe had already died fighting these Egyptian devils, and he did not even want to find out what fate they had planned for the rest.

He would sooner die than watch his people suffer. But not before inflicting one last blow.

The white-robed stranger glided down the empty streets that ran parallel to the main avenue. He turned and climbed a ladder onto one of the houses’ palm-thatched roofs, crouching behind its parapet. This house overlooked a limestone platform rising from a plaza at the avenue’s end, in front of the Pharaoh’s towering place. On this stage stood the old Pharaoh of Egypt himself, accompanied by his comely Great Wife, a circle of officials, and guards along the rim.

The white-robed stranger unslung his bow and pulled out an arrow from his quiver.

The music silenced at last once the Crown Prince and his procession reached the plaza. As the soldiers and musicians assembled around the stage, the Prince hopped onto it from his chariot and knelt before his father and mother.

“It is good to be home, dear Father, Lord of Upper and Lower Egypt,” the Prince said aloud. “You will be pleased to know that I have crushed the treacherous Israelites as you commanded. Never again will they terrorize our eastern provinces!”

The white-robed stranger bared his teeth in a snarl as he drew the arrow against his bow, pulling the string taut. These Egyptians had convinced themselves that his people, the children of Israel, were terrorizing them. Never mind that it was Egypt that had broken into his homeland like ravenous jackals hungry for territory and tribute. And it was Egypt that would ravage anyone who dared question their tyranny.

Their lies would not go unpunished.

“Elohim be praised!” he hollered as he released the arrow.

It shot through the Crown Prince’s skull, and he crumpled on the stage into a puddle of his own blood and brains. All the Egyptians’ eyes rose to goggle at his assassin on the rooftop.

“I am Hoshea of Israel,” the man in the white robe said. “You have raped, massacred, and enslaved my people. It is you who have terrorized us. So, indeed, I shall repay the favor by terrorizing you in turn!”

Tearing out his scimitar, Hoshea vaulted from the roof onto the plaza with a shrieking battle cry. The Egyptian soldiers and guards charged after him on all sides until they had him fenced in with their weapons. He did not even think of flight. Vengeful wrath blazed throughout his entire brain as he slashed, hacked, and parried his attackers while spinning like a desert whirlwind. His once white robe turned red with blood, both from the Egyptians and his own wounds.

The sharp cold point of a spear plunged through his heart from behind.

Hoshea did not scream from his pain. He had done what he set out to do. Much as the armies of Egypt had terrorized the children of Israel, so too had he struck terror into their hearts. Even the draining of his strength could only soothe him. With his vengeance wrought on behalf of his people, the time had come for his anger to subside and give way to the bliss of Paradise.

The last thing Hoshea would ever hear was the Pharaoh of Egypt announcing that the Israelites’ crime would not go unpunished.

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