Something jolted Beset from the very brink of sleep. In reaction, her thin arms tightened around the bundle, eliciting a muffled whine.
“Shhhhhh. I am here little one. Shhhhhh.” Rocking resumed and the bundle quieted.
Exhaustion had pushed her relentlessly into slumber, but something had brought her back. Something that, once woken, she could not put her finger on. Gauze covering the window waved for attention, but she and her child were alone. She had not been awoken by a person. Ammon’s snores were missing, which was no cause for alarm. Likely the master had called for her husband again - a slave’s work was multiplied in such conditions.
Sleep, however, had most definitely fled from her. And once again Beset’s wide open eyes attempted to pierce the blackness. Nausea tickled her throat with the weight of the darkness surrounding her and the child.
Darkness. After days of harassment, pain and fear.
Earlier the Israelites had trickled into the city, quietly requesting offerings of silver or gold. Some had even visited the humble servant’s quarters, speaking bravely to Ammon’s broad chest. Without hesitation, he had handed over their only gold and then turned abruptly away in shame. A thin bangle that Beset’s grandmother had worn when she wed, it was a trifle. Doubtless the meager offering would not satisfy the wrath of the Hebrew god.
A vial of healing oil sat within Beset’s reach, a few doses left. The scent wafted through her baby’s wrapping, she could only hope his pain would cease before the soothing balm ran out. Her husband’s skin was still raw and painful to the touch, boils angry. Even hulking Ammon had succumbed to her ministrations, muttering all the while about hard-headed men. The child was not so easily comforted. He had been bitten in every tender place imaginable, gnats finding his soft skin irresistible. Beset was exhausted to the point of collapse.
First the Great Nile had become blood and all able hands had dug along her muddy banks for potable water. After that, frogs, flies, locusts had invaded every crevice. Pests became a pestilence. The gnats had bitten and the boils had bubbled. Even the livestock had been struck with death and sickness. All were certain that Pharaoh was losing his glory, caught in something out of his control. Which left the great Egyptian people stumbling and screaming for guidance.
Then, a powerful storm had sent hail to destroy the fields and batter the roofs of homes. Food was scarce. Nerves were taught. Some said that Goshen had been spared the terrors, that miraculously the sun still shone where the Hebrews lived. None knew for sure as each dwelling had held fast its dwellers for days. The blackness was heavy and impeded movement in all but the most dedicated. Ammon was torn between his duty as slave and his desire as a husband and father. Quickly though, he had learned that a frightened, contained master was not an easy one.
Beset’s gaze landed on their household idols. What did this Hebrew god want? Why did the power of Ra not retaliate? Why did Horus not protect his people?
When would it all end?
Her baby stirred and whimpered, drawing her eyes. The sound echoed through the window, lengthening and growing louder somehow. Beset sat straight, rocking stilled and grip tightened.
That sound. It was no echo. And it was cresting with pain, a wave of sorrow headed towards her. Where was Ammon? Who would protect her and the child from whatever punishment the Hebrew god would heap on them next? What was left to take away, to destroy?
Laying the baby down, she fumbled to the window. There a sharp, bitter scent accosted her, overpowering the senses. At the same moment fear’s claws gripped and tore at her. Seeing nothing, but feeling a grave, perilous presence, Beset pounced back towards the baby.
And knew she was too late.
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