Rachel started to come inside, and Lord Horemheb shouted down again. “Mementep. Don’t you have work you should be attending to?”
Meme’s eyes got unaccountably big. “Yes, Lord,” she said, and hiked up her dress to run as fast as she could to get out of sight.
Rachel stepped into the upper room and saw Horemheb sitting at the table, reading the scroll. She got down on her knees and sat with her eyes downcast, waiting to be spoken to. She did not wait long.
“Rachel. Child. You may stand.” His voice sounded kind, so Rachel took the invitation to heart. She got up and stood by the table, opposite the man. “You are an Abramite.” It was a statement that was also a question.
“My fathers were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. So were my parent’s fathers, and their parents before them.” That was important to say, because there were the inevitable mixed marriages.
“And I have been told, a-hem,” he cleared his throat and glanced at the closet curtain. “I have been told that the Abramites may be responsible for the madness that has come upon some of the people.” By people, he meant certain Egyptians. Only Egyptians qualified as people. The rest were Semites, or Hyksos, which meant foreigners, as a general term.
“That cannot be,” Rachel said, firmly. “That would go against everything we believe.”
“The precepts of your one god.”
“Indeed. We do not steal and do not kill. We live honestly and faithfully. We keep our word. Our pledges are sacred to us. We do good and avoid evil. We do good for our neighbors, because after this life, we will come before the judgment seat of God to account for our lives. You Egyptians believe much the same thing. It is appointed to a man once to die, and after that the judgment.”
“I understand. But who is you neighbor?”
“Why, you are. The Semites, Hyksos, and the Egyptians. You are all our neighbors. The children of Abraham are counted in tribes, clans and households, but all of us are like family. And you are our neighbors. It is not in our teaching or our custom or culture to do such evil as has come upon some people. Why, to do such a thing would go contrary to everything we are. It would betray our very souls.”
Horemheb sat quietly for a minute and looked out the window. The sun was going down, and he had much to think about. Rachel stood patiently until he voiced another thought. “I suppose you know nothing about your people wanting their own land.”
“Yes, I do.” She surprised him. “It has been told from the time Joseph came down into Egypt and saved the two lands from starvation, that one day a man would come, a savior, who would lead the people out of hardship and into a promised land, a rich land flowing with milk and honey. I cannot say where that land may be, but I can say assuredly, that land is no part of Egypt.”
“Yes. Prophecy. Fantasy.” He rubbed his hands together, like a chill had come upon him as the sun set. “No, that is not fair. It is a good hope, and better than no hope at all. I might even hope with you that it comes true, only, please, not while I am governor of the delta region.”
“I fear it will be no time soon.” Rachel waited to hear what else he had to say before she asked. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes,” he said. “About my son.” Rachel dropped her eyes to the table and shut her mouth. “I want to know if he ever mistreats you. If he ever takes advantage of you, or forces himself upon you, or touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you must tell me right away. He is my son. He is not too old for a whipping.”
“Oh, no, sir. It’s not like that,” Rachel said, and she showed a warm smile on her face and in her eyes. “We are just best friends, like we have been since we were children, when my mother served in this house, and I came with her. You remember.” Horemheb smiled at his memories, and nodded.
“And will you two marry?” He had to ask. He almost looked disappointed when she shook her head.
“I do not expect that will happen,” she said. “I expect I will end up married to David, a very ordinary kinsman of mine. And I am sure you have a fine young girl from a good house already picked out for Hotep. That is what I expect to happen.” Rachel sounded resigned, but not entirely happy about that prospect. “I am sure the woman you have chosen will give your son many sons to follow in your wise and wonderful steps.”
“I understand,” Horemheb said, without explaining what he understood.
“There is one thing…” Rachel had the affront to speak outside of answering the lord’s questions. It was an impropriety, and she let her voice and eyes fall to the table.
“What is it? You are free to speak.”
Rachel just came out with it. “I pray my lord will not be unhappy if Hotep and I remain the closest of friend for all of our days.”
Horemheb smiled. “I would be honored to have you as my son’s best friend. I have not told you, but I know you have had a deep and lasting influence on him. Young as he is, he is a finer man and a finer son than I ever hoped to have. I thank you, personally, and now we will speak of it no more. You are dismissed.”
“My Lord Horemheb,” Rachel said, and bowed before she left the room. The first thing that crossed her mind was it was a good thing she did not serve in the Pharaoh’s household. She would have to walk backwards out of his presence, and she would surely trip over something or other, daily.