Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Featured Chapter--In the Shadow of Sinai by Carole Towriss


Pi-Ramses, Egypt
Late 13th Century BC
First month of Ahket, Season of Inundation

The crash of the drum echoed in Bezalel’s ears as he slipped out from behind his pedestal on the portico and hastened to the throne room. He dared not risk the penalty for being late—again. His tunic still stuck to his wounds from the last beating and ripped them open whenever he moved the wrong way.
He dropped to the cold limestone floor on one knee and lowered his head, raising it just enough to watch pair after pair of bare feet shuffle west toward the dais. The heavy scent of perfumed oil stung his nose.
The old king ascended his throne as the bare-chested attendants silently lined the walls on either side of the spacious hall then turned toward their sovereign and bowed low.
This daily routine was absurd, pretending that Ramses was a god. He was no more a god than Bezalel was, although Bezalel couldn’t say that El Shaddai was doing him much good at the moment either. In fact, he seemed utterly incompetent. Or callous.
Bezalel rose. From the tiled hall that led beyond the throne room to the private quarters beyond the dais, he heard the jingling of bracelets and anklets. A young girl emerged from the entryway be- hind a number of women who had no doubt dressed her, perfumed her, painted her face, and adorned her with the excessive jewelry of a concubine.
She was roughly twenty strides away. As she neared he saw she was Egyptian and quite young, several years younger than he—perhaps no more than fourteen. A vague scent of jasmine hung in the air.
She glanced at Bezalel as she passed and his mouth went as dry as the desert surrounding him. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Even behind the heavy kohl he grasped the misery in her eyes. His chest constricted in a way he had never felt before and an inexplicable urge to grab her and pull her away from the group overwhelmed him. The king used to take consorts often. Why was she different?
Guards led her to the center of the room. The other girls retreated to the rear. She knelt and bowed low to the king, her head nearly touching the floor.
Bezalel’s face grew hot and his breathing became shallow.
The girl—for though she was to be a consort, he could hardly call her a woman—stood.
Ramses stepped off the dais and walked stiffly toward her. He circled her like a vulture, looking her up and down. He lifted her chin with his wrinkled hand and studied her face. Her shoulders tightened beneath his touch.
Bezalel’s hands curled into fists. The others had seemed more than willing to become part of his harem. Why take one by force?
“She is acceptable. Take her to my chambers.”
A guard grasped the girl’s arm and started toward the hallway.
She stumbled along behind him.
“N—!” Bezalel rushed toward her, but a harsh yank on the neck
of his tunic cut off the word as well as his progress. He spun around, putting his hands to his neck and choking.
An older man came toward him, scowling. “Bezalel!”
Forcing his breathing to slow, Bezalel glanced sideways at him then looked at the floor. He put his hand to his throat again and winced.
“Bezalel, you are under my protection here, but I cannot save you from your own foolishness.”
“But Ammon, did you see her? She is but a child!”
“And he is Pharaoh! Her age is irrelevant. He can marry an infant if he wishes.” The man’s voice softened. “You are lucky I was here to stop you.”
Bezalel sighed and turned back toward the private hallway. His stomach revolted as the guards led the girl into the elderly king’s private rooms. He closed his eyes and tried to shut out his own imagination.
Ammon put a hand on Bezalel’s shoulder and led him away. The man looked older than the last time Bezalel had seen him. His paunch had grown, and almost all of his hair had disappeared. Sun- light bounced off the large jeweled ankh hanging around his neck.
“Why don’t you show me what you’ve been working on while I’ve been gone?”
They strolled toward the long, narrow portico that ran along the back of the throne room. Pillars separated the two areas, and the east side of the portico opened onto a large, airy courtyard that let in the sunlight for most of the day, making the portico an excellent place for the artisans to work. Beyond the courtyard, the Nile rushed toward the sea.
They neared a pedestal that stood on the north end of the long workspace.
“Used to people watching you work yet?” Ammon chuckled as he removed a cover from a sculpture nestled in a sandbag.
“That is why I am here, isn’t it?” Bezalel turned up one side of his mouth.
“Ah, finally a smile! Or at least the start of one.”
“Do you like it?” Bezalel searched his teacher’s face for approval as the man scrutinized the work. He craved the old man’s blessing, even after all these years.
Ammon nodded. “It’s a lovely beginning. What a stunning piece of alabaster!” He drew his hand over the stone. “You’ve only roughed out the face, I see.”
“I started the eyes yesterday. I love that part—they bring the life out.” Bezalel rubbed his thumb over the beginnings of an eye.
“You always did. Come, Bezalel, let us go to your workroom.” Bezalel followed his teacher back across the portico toward a whitewashed hall. Opposite it, on the other side of the throne room, the corridor to the private areas extended west. This hallway ran east and contained workrooms and storerooms. Ammon opened a door and entered Bezalel’s room. He pulled a high stool away from a large table and sat down with a sigh. A large, south-facing window set high up on the wall showered sunlight on the table. A bed hugged the wall under the window. Bezalel grabbed two cups from a shelf and filled them with pomegranate juice.
“I didn’t know you were back from Memphis already.” He handed Ammon a cup.
“I returned last night. I intended to see you this morning, after my visit with the king.”
“You already saw him?”
“Yes. Bezalel, I am afraid I have some news you will not like.” He looked down at his cup and traced the rim with his finger. “I am leaving here. I will no longer be a craftsman for the king. Ramses has awarded me a plot of land ... and I am going to live on it.”
Bezalel furrowed his brow. Surely he didn’t mean right now. “What about the Colossi?”
Ammon drained his cup. “They are far enough along to be finished without me. And the trips to Memphis are too hard on me anymore.”
Bezalel sank to a stool. Air left him as if he’d been punched in the gut. “But why?”
“I am old, Bezalel. You can’t see it because you love me. But I am old and tired.” He stretched the fingers of one hand wide. “My hands ache all night after I carve for even a short time. My back hurts constantly.” He smiled. “But I have accomplished more than I ever dreamed I would. The Colossi are my greatest work, my legacy.
There is nothing left for me to do.”
Bezalel set his cup on the table, stood, and walked toward the door. He whirled around to face Ammon. “But there is always more to do! Ramses needs you. I need you! You can’t leave.” He spread out his arms.
“You don’t need me.”
Bezalel’s head spun. How could Ammon do this to him? “I do!
You are all I have...almost. I have lived in this palace since my eighth summer. You have always been here for me. I have been with you more than my own parents!”
Ammon put down his cup and twisted in his seat. “Yes, I know. And I have loved you like a son, even though you are a slave and a Hebrew. I have trained many artisans, but I have not loved any of them as I have loved you. None of them lived with me here as you have. But it has been twelve years and now you are grown. You are a man. I haven’t even been around much for the last three years, and you have done very well. I heard about you even in Memphis.”
“And Ramses is willing to let you go?”
“He has you. He knows of you and your work, which is the only reason you were not severely punished just now.”
“But I cannot compare to you!”
Ammon stood and crossed the room. He put his hands on Bezalel’s shoulders. “My boy, I have taught you—and you have mastered— everything I know. And before me, you exhausted the knowledge of three other teachers. You have surpassed us all.”
Bezalel closed his eyes and sighed deeply. This could not happen. There must be a way to change Ammon’s mind.
“I have always felt you had a special ability. There have only been a few who can work with so many materials. None had your creativity.
Your work decorates many rooms in this very palace, even the king’s own rooms. I believe Ptah has blessed you.”
Ptah. Bezalel shifted his weight at the mention of the Egyptian god. Why did Ammon always have to bring him up? Bezalel might be angry with Shaddai, but that didn’t mean he worshipped Egypt’s false deities.
Ammon sighed. “I know you do not worship our gods. You have your own gods—”
Bezalel frowned.
“No matter.” Ammon took a deep breath. “I have to leave you now.
I doubt I will see you again. My new home is too far away to come here often.”
Bezalel wrapped his arms around his teacher. He closed his eyes tightly against the tears.
After several moments Ammon pulled away gently, his eyes moist as well, and laid his hands on Bezalel’s face. “Know that you will always be in my heart. And I look forward to hearing many good things about you.” His voice was soft.
He opened the door and left.
Bezalel stared at the empty doorway. Emptiness filled his heart. Just knowing Ammon was there—even if “there” was far away in Memphis—had always been a comfort. Now he was on his own. Alone.
His ability had given him an easier life in the palace, but it had taken him away from home. He knew precious few people in the village other than his family, whom he saw only once a week at most.
Almost all of the Israelites thought of him as a traitor—as if he had a choice of where to work. Now his closest, perhaps only, ally was gone. How would the new chief craftsman treat him?
He walked to the table and reached for his cup. He held it for a few moments then sent it sailing. Red juice exploded onto the wall and trickled down in rivulets as it made its way to the shattered cup. Then he did the only thing he knew to do, the only thing that gave him pleasure. He left his room to return to his art.

In the Shadow of Sinai
Bezalel is a Hebrew slave to Ramses II. An artisan of the highest order, Ramses has kept him in the palace even when all other Israelites have been banned. Bezalel blames El Shaddai for isolating him from his people.

When Moses and Aaron appear one summer, and El Shaddai shakes Egypt to its core, Bezalel must reexamine his anger. Over the course of the next year, Bezalel’s life becomes intertwined with those of an Egyptian child-slave,
the captain of the guard, and especially a beautiful, young concubine.

When spring arrives, all of them escape with the young nation of Israel.
But that’s only the beginning…

Available at Amazon

1 comment:

Carole said...

Patty,

Thanks so much for having me on your blog! So many wonderful authors!

Carole