After 2162 BC, Gibel (Byblos). Kairos 52: Sinuhe, Egyptian Physician
Sinuhe stepped out on the balcony, looked out over the battlements of the city wall, and took a long look across the desert. Not for the first time, he thought he should have run away to Babylon, or Haran, or anywhere but where he was. The berserkers were out there. Hittites, Hurrians, Mitani, Gutians, Dozens of different ‘ites’. Did it really matter what they called themselves? They all wanted land. They all wanted the city, and all the wealth generated over the years of trade and settlement. A port city whose trade would not be interrupted by simple overland routes. That was a rare prize, and a city where the king was sickly, perhaps dying, and the son was said to be an idiot. That city was just aching to be overrun.
“Sinuhe. Husband?” Hellel called from the workroom. “Physician?”
“Out here, Hellel,” Sinuhe raised his voice. “Just taking stock of the state of the world and my unfortunate place in it.”
“I am in your world. Thank you very much, husband,” Hellel said with a fake pout. She stepped on to the balcony, walked up beside him and put her hand out to rub his back in sympathy, if not love. “You should get some rest.”
Sinuhe knew it was not Hellel’s idea to marry him any more than he had in mind to marry her. The king insisted. The king suffered from a bad combination of gout and arthritis. Sinuhe was an Egyptian pharmacist, trained in the medical arts. He made clear to the king that there was no cure, and he would have to do his part by watching his diet, but he relieved the swelling and the pain, and the king was so grateful, he did not want Sinuhe to get out of his sight. The marriage tied him down.
“I’ll be all right, but maybe I should lie down for a bit.”
“You have been working to find a solution since the new plague broke out. That is three days without rest. I would not be a good wife if I didn’t insist.”
“Gabrall busy?” Sinuhe asked. He regretted it the minute it came out of his mouth. He was really enjoying the back rub, but he turned and saw the steam reach up behind Hellel’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m tired,” he excused himself. He knew the rules were different for the king’s daughter. She had Gabrall and several other lovers. He dared not so much as look at a girl the wrong way. She got special treatment, but it was impolite to bring it up.
“I don’t know what he is doing,” Hellel said, curtly, and looked like she was going to spit, or slap him. She was not the worst looking wife by any means, but she had a mean, some might say cruel streak in her. She could be demanding, though generally with her many lovers, Sinuhe was spared the worst of that. But she could be sweet at times, and Sinuhe honestly needed to make the best of those times.
He slipped his arms to her shoulders. “I would be honored to lie down with you,” he said. “After all, when I have finished doing everything I can and fail to cure this plague, I am sure I will lose my head and then I will lie alone for the rest of eternity.”
“No. Don’t say that.” She moved up into his arms. Sinuhe had the passing thought that Hellel would take his head when she was good and ready. She was not about to let him lose his head for something as petty as failing to cure a plague. “Father is not that petty,” she said, as she laid her head against his chest. She changed her mind. “Okay, maybe he is, but I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Sinuhe knew full well how petty the tyrant could be. Worse than that, he knew the son, Hellel’s brother, was no improvement. Zagurt was not only petty like his father, he was as cruel and demanding as his sister. Add to that him being an idiot, and it was a powerful combination of disasters to come if he took the throne. Besides all that, Zagurt was as gay as they came. Sinuhe knew Gabrall was also Zagurt’s lover, though he imagined the man was more accurately Zagurt’s abuser. He figured Gabrall was happy to have the best of both worlds. He imagined when the king died, Gabrall might kill the son and take the throne for himself. Good for the city, but not good for Sinuhe if Gabrall decided her needed to marry Hellel to make his usurpation legitimate.
Sinuhe leaned over and kissed Hellel on the head. He felt her smile, always a good sign. He thought in a short while, they might go lie down. They might even work on a next child. Thus far she had no complaints. Certainly she never suggested removing his manhood.
“And I like you more than you know,” he said what he always said, because it was not entirely untrue. “Still, I know what you mean. Your father could take my head and it would not be so painful, for you, I mean.”
Hellel backed up a bit to look up into his face, but she did not let go. “Why this sudden obsession with cutting heads off?”
Sinuhe reminded himself that after everything else was said, Hellel, unlike her brother Zagurt, had some good functioning brain cells. “Old man Korath died this morning.”
“That is not your fault,” she said. “I am sure you did everything you could.”
Sinuhe shook his head, but looked deeply into her eyes. He felt in that moment like he very much wanted to lie down with her. Maybe he was exhausted, but his body was waking up. He went to kiss her, but after a quick peck on his lips, she turned her head and exclaimed, “That is the strangest looking Caravan I have ever seen.” Sinuhe looked down at the gate as she continued. “Where did they find those big beasts to ride on. I have never seen such a thing. Egyptian, have you ever seen such a thing?”
“Yes,” Sinuhe answered honestly enough as he slipped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and they watched the travelers come into the city. In one sense, Sinuhe felt some relief. Alexis was a great healer, and a registered nurse who might help him stop the spread of this plague, if not find a cure. Then again, he felt their advent could have been better timed. He eyed the horizon for that Syrian berserker army he expected any day, and he voiced his other thought.
Hellel opened her mouth as she thought about it. “Don’t be silly,” she concluded. “He wouldn’t do that.” Sinuhe knew full well that the man might do that. The people looked to the king for all sorts of unrealistic things. If the king could not insure the good health and long life of the people, political expediency suggested he find a convenient scapegoat to blame.