Golden QuillThe Majesty of God

Chapter Twenty–Two – Moses the Prophet

Zipporah wondered what had made Moses finally decide to return to Egypt. Was it simply because he was getting old and wanted to see who remained of his family before he died, as he had told her father? She remembered that, before he spoke with her father about leaving, he had returned to their tent one day looking shaken and upset. He had been moodier that evening than ever before. What was it that had rattled him so much? She did not ask, as she knew she would never get an answer out of him.

Moses plodded on with Zipporah and his sons, his wife and sons taking turns riding the donkey. When they rested where they could find shade, Moses wandered away out of their sight to kneel and listen to what God would say to him about the great task set before him. It was not reassuring.

Again, God told him that Pharaoh would not give in easily, and that Moses was even going to have to tell him that God would kill his firstborn, if he did not release His people. How he would ever come to say those words and not be siezed and put to death for treason, he did not know. But he had God's assurance that he would not be put to death. Did He not say that Moses would return to Mount Sinai with his nation and worship God there? That promise did not guarantee that he would not be arrested and tortured, though. And what of his sons? What was he leading them into? He had not been given a guarantee that his family would escape this venture unscathed.

They settled in that first night at a khan by the way, bedding down apart from the other travellers. The innkeeper wondered that they were not travelling with their tents and servants and livestock, as they had before for many years on their way between their further grazing lands and Jethro's city. Moses said he was on a pilgrimage to the holy mountain, and his manner did not invite further inquiry. The innkeeper left him to it. He'd not had much to do with this man before, when he encamped near his khan. Apparently, he took his religion seriously, and some religious types tended to be very private about their dealings with their gods.

Moses was glad to lay down. For the past few hours, he had felt a dull pain shooting up his arm, but his gratitude at lying down turned to alarm. It suddenly felt like he had an elephant standing on his chest. What was this? He felt like he was dying, but he had a mission to fulfill. How could it suddenly come to nothing when he was finally on his way to do what he was born to do? Surely this was an attack from satan. As he lay there writhing and groaning, unable to speak, in his mind he began to rebuke satan in the Lord's Name when his inner eyes were opened and he saw, not a demon standing over him, but a shining angel of the Lord with a spear pointed at his heart. The look on his face was severe.

The angel turned and pointed his spear at Eliezer, who knelt at Moses's side with a frightened look on his face. The angel did not point his spear at Zipporah and Gershom, who also hovered over him, loosening his clothes and tearing at their hair in anguish that he was dying. The angel just kept the spear steadily pointing at Eliezer with his other hand stretched above Moses's heart. Moses instantly understood why God was displeased with him. Gasping and moaning, he looked at Zipporah and pointed to their son's loins, and then made a cutting motion, as if he held a sharp flint in his hand.

Zipporah understood what he meant. This was their BIG ISSUE. When Eliezer was born, Moses had been very restless on the day that his tribe normally circumcised their sons, but he had not dared to speak to her about it or make any move toward the child. The warning glare from her eyes had been enough, but a great resentment came over him and stood like a wall between them, in addition to the resentment he already felt towards her for tricking him into telling her his secrets. Eventually, his resentment had turned to resignation. Or so she thought. Could this be some kind of tantrum he was throwing to get his own way? It certainly looked like a genuine medical emergency; his lips were blue.

Zipporah was in too much of a panic to argue. She sensed that Moses was on the verge of finally becoming someone powerful among his people, but he was not going to make it to Egypt, if she did not do what he was insisting that she do. She grabbed Eliezer's hand and a small flint from her travel bag, and told Gershom to follow. She quickly found a place where there was more privacy, so that none of the other travellers would interfere. Her sons urgently asked what she was going to do, and if they should not stay with Father to attend to him.

Zipporah scowled and said to Gershom, "We have to circumcise your brother, or your father's god will kill him. He will probably kill Gershom, too, if he isn't circumcised." Gershom's eyes widened with alarm. He lifted his robe and allowed his mother to cut off his foreskin. Zipporah burned with resentment during the procedure. It was just like Moses to find a way to force her to do this herself, probably to get back at her for how she had screamed and ranted when he'd circumcised Gershom.

When she finished, she left Gershom to attend to his brother and stomped back to where her husband lay, arriving just in time to give pause to other travellers who were skulking forward like hyenas, ready to pilfer the belongings of a helpless man who had been left on his own. Zipporah flung their son's foreskin at him, snarling, "You're a bloody husband to me!" The hyenas backed off and returned to their places, deciding that this was a woman whom they did not want to meddle with.

It was amazing how quickly Moses recovered from his heart attack. Zipporah would have thought he had faked it, if it hadn't been for the colour of his face when he was in the throes of it. Moses sat pondering by the fire now, totally calm, feeling like the heart attack had not even occurred. In fact, he felt healthier than ever before in his life. This was very strange. Surely how strong he felt now was a sign that God was with him.

As Moses stared into the glowing flames of the fire, and thought of his mission that lay ahead, Zipporah sat a short distance away preparing their evening meal, glaring at him. Gershom lay groaning on his sleeping mat, torn between resenting his father for the pain that he was feeling, relief that his father was no longer dying, and pride that he finally was circumcised, as his brother and all their kinsmen had been. Father should have stood up to Mother about this long ago when he was a tiny baby and would now have no memory of this pain. He let her get her own way too much. He wished that his father hadn't had to almost be on the verge of dying to get him circumcised; it seemed unmanly of him that he'd had to wait for a desperate situation before he insisted to Mother that this be done.

Moses felt his shame that this was so. He shook his head as he thought of how he had been chosen to lead his people, but had let this woman he married browbeat him into disobeying God. If a man can't take spiritual leadership in his family, how can he lead a whole nation? How could he possibly stand up to Pharaoh, if he could not stand up to a lone woman? He looked over at Zipporah. She was not a monster. She was just a stubborn woman, one who should have been put in her place long ago. Never again would he let her boss him around.

It would not have been a bad thing, if she merely wanted to his equal, but she had always been determined to control him, first using winsome woman ways to get a hold on him, and then loosing her fierce temper on him when those had not proved sufficient. He heaved a sigh at how his desperate situation had made it seem a good thing to marry this daughter of Jethro, and given him forty years of grief. It was a burden he had to continue to bear; life was not all about having fun and being happy. It is about faithfully doing what God requires of a person, even if it is uncomfortable or dangerous. His course was set for Egypt, and this woman was his responsibility, like it or not.

The next day, they approached Mount Sinai. Zipporah surmised that Moses wanted to commune with his god to receive his blessing on their journey. There was a man in the distance, standing at the base of the mountain. Moses's steps quickened at the sight of him, and then he started to run. Who was this man? Her husband seemed to think he knew him.

Aaron had been waiting at the mountain since the previous day, alternately feeling like a fool, and then sure that he was supposed to stay here and wait for his brother. After many years of never having anything that he would consider an outstanding supernatural experience, he had actually heard the Voice of God. He had been instructed to meet his brother at this mountain. He did not know where his brother had fled all those years ago, but God would surely bring him to this place, if He had to bring him all the way from the other side of the world.

The morning had been wearing on when Aaron spotted a small group of people in the distance. As they drew closer, his heart began to grow sure that the tall, old man with a staff in his hand was his brother. Had he ever seen another man as tall as that one, though he was dressed as an Arab and a long, grey beard flowed down his chest? Soon, the man was running towards him and his own feet took off with more speed than he'd ever thought possible for one his age. In moments they were embracing each other, laughing and kissing and embracing again.

Zipporah and her sons stared in silent wonder at the old man whom Moses greeted with such joy. He was apparently his brother, but how had he come to be here at the mountain? There was no way that Moses could have arranged it. Zipporah and Gershom bowed to the ground before Aaron when Moses finally turned to them and introduced his family. Laying along the donkey's back, Eliezer nodded his head to greet his uncle. Gershom helped his brother dismount and eased him down into the shade of a rock, then helped their mother set up camp while Moses led their uncle up the mountain to where they could have a private conference. When they returned hours later, the family ate together and Moses asked Aaron many questions.

The boys surmised that their grandparents were long dead. It seemed that Uncle Aaron had delivered their last messages to Father when they had spoken privately, for he did not say much about them, but he cheerfully spoke of other family members. Miriam was a grandmother, and Aaron had grandchildren, too. He listed the names in their households, telling them a few things about each one.

Aaron did not make any comments on how Moses had only two children, and the wide difference in their ages, though he wondered at it, and that his oldest had been born apparently so late in life. He also wondered why the younger son, who had been riding the donkey, seemed to be in pain. Once he dismounted, all he did was lay on a mat in the shade. Aaron was surprised later when Moses told him the reason for Eliezer's discomfort. Again, he made no comment, but he wondered that his brother had not had the boy circumcised when he was only eight days old.

Zipporah gave him no clue, for she wanted to give a very good impression of herself to her in–laws, and seemed to be an obedient wife who spoke respectfully to her husband. She also gave out the impression by her manner and remarks that she was close to her husband but, curiously, Moses's responses to her always seemed to be somewhat aloof. Aaron figured that he was reserved around his wife only in public, to maintain his manly dignity. This was probably due to having been raised as a prince.

The family was caught up on the events that had occurred in Egypt since Moses's departure. His sons were absolutely astounded to learn their father's history. They could hardly credit that the man whom Mother nagged and scolded had been a prince and an outstanding general in his younger days. Father also knew the man who was now Pharaoh, though he had been only a boy when Father left Egypt. He seemed appalled this Jannes had become Pharaoh. It certainly took Eliezer's mind off his pain to wonder about these things.

Zipporah heard reference to many things that Moses had never told her about, but situated behind Moses, out of his line of sight, she was not inhibited from exhibiting a look on her face that said that none of these things surprised her, as if she had known all about them all along. Aaron and her sons assumed what she wanted them to assume. They marvelled that Moses had taken her so much into his confidence, and she had never in forty years betrayed any of his secrets. Their respect for her rose to great heights.

Aaron's new relatives took in every aspect of his appearance and nuance in his voice. He was tall, though not nearly as tall as Moses, nor as handsome, but he had a pleasant face and a bright thatch of white hair that was very attractive in the way it was so thick and curled around his face. They could see no blemish on him. His eyes twinkled as he talked and he smiled often; he was not as intense as Moses. His hands were fine, the hands of a scholar, which is what he was, as he had left the goldsmithing business to their nephew Uri to take care of. Uri had more talent and more of a passion for it than Aaron, and Uri's son Bezaleel was already showing quite a talent for design, though he was still just a young lad. Aaron's true passion was serving his brethren as a religious leader. Moses found Aaron to be a gold mine of knowledge about Hebrew beliefs and history, and well–acquainted with the political situation in Egypt. He never had a chance to get to know Aaron much before, but he sure intended to make up for that now.

The family sat by the campfire that night, still catching up on each other's news, and Aaron sang Hebrew songs from time to time, with his strong, beautiful voice. Besides being a rabbi to his people, he led them in singing during their religious services. Moses wanted to learn all of his brother's large repertoire of songs. He lay back comfortably on his mat to listen while Aaron sang the story of Creation.

Moses used to be interested in learning the Chaldean lore of astrology, but he had put every kind of sorcery behind him, knowing that astrology, and the Egyptians' charts of lucky days to determine what to do and when to do it, was wicked, for the steps of a good man are directed by the Lord. His main interest in the heavens since leaving Egypt was to meditate on God's promise to Abraham that Jacob's seed would become as numerous as the stars. He had needed to remember that when his people were being tormented by the Egyptians and their lives held so cheaply by them.

When Aaron was singing of the events of the fourth day, Moses suddenly saw a star that he had been searching for ever since the burning bush experience. Was this the messenger that God had told him He would send? He pointed to it and said to Aaron, "Look, a comet!" Aaron smiled and nodded. He said, "It is a good portent; a confirmation that God is sending you to Pharaoh as His messenger." Moses nodded, and did not say anything more about it for the moment.

He did not want to scare his wife and kids. When it started dumping its cargo, that would be time enough for them to have to deal with its effects. The best way to be prepared for such things was to be in tune with God, so that one had peace in their heart and knew what God wanted them to do. It was a hard pull to try to get Zipporah and his boys in that place. He wasn't sure that Zipporah would ever truly reverence God, but he desperately hoped that his sons would not delay any further to take to heart all that he tried to teach them about the Creator.

The family camped out for a few days at Sinai, to give Eliezer time to get over the worst of his soreness, as well as for Moses and Aaron to spend more time on the mountain, waiting on God. They sure were going to need direction from Him.

Moses recalled all that he could from his Egyptian history lessons about the damage the Earth sustained during the Flood when it was hit by an asteroid, and in Nimrod's day when a close encounter with a heavenly body caused earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic erruptions, and forest fires. Of course, he had learned the Egyptians' take on how and why those things had happened, but he had the perspective now of a child of God, and knew that God uses such things to work good for His people, and destruction to His enemies.

He told Aaron what he thought was about to happen. Aaron was alarmed. Would it really take as big a cataclysm as had occurred the year their father Peleg was born to bring their people out of Egypt? Had the rest of the world really become so wicked that it deserved such a strong rebuke? Well, God knew best, but it was depressing to think of how the Earth was going to be torn up, and how the Hebrews could get caught in the teeth of this frightening machinery, if their leaders did not stay on their toes and in tune with God. Was he really ready for it? Could his brother really manage to fill the place that God had given him?

It awed and scared Moses that he was being led into a leadership position equivalent to that of Shem, the great and godly Orator who had delivered God's people from Nimrod's tyranny. Shem was reviled by the Egyptians and cast into the role of evil Set. Those who worshipped Set, in the manner they did, were participating in a plan to malign Shem's character, whether they were aware of it or not. One of the devil's methods of discrediting God's people is to provoke evil people who pretend to know God to commit all manner of atrocities under His banner. In the case of those who worshipped Set, they did not pretend to know God. They just committed themselves to doing evil, and said there was virtue in it. Either way, it had the same effect of discrediting Shem because their deeds were done in his name.

The priests told the story of how Seth overcame Nimrod, whom they called Osiris, and his queen, whom they called Isis. In their psychotic minds, there was nothing wrong with how Nimrod and his queen murdered thousands of people by offering them up in sacrifices to their gods, and the endless other perversions and cruelties that they practiced. They loved to do these things themselves, and were furious that Shem had given their religion such a setback when he conquered Nimrod's empire and outlawed sorcery, and they were furious against God. He had given the Earth a severe chastening at that time. It restored the fear of God to such an extent that it hindered the adherents of the Mysteries from corrupting Mankind into giving their total allegiance to satan.

The adherents of the Mysteries were working steadily to recover their lost ground. In places where there was an understanding of goodness and justice in effect, they worked secretly, cloaking their doctrines and activities from the common people. Moses reckoned that they must have made so much headway in spreading their poison across the Earth that God now found it necessary to chasten the Earth's inhabitants again. They needed to be slowed down. Their organizations needed to be disrupted. God was going to make a particular example of Pharaoh, for his nation hosted one of the most organized and sophisticated branches of the Mystery religion, and his people persecuted God's chosen people.

Part of the reason the Egyptians were so cruel to the Hebrews was because they were Shem's descendents. The Mystery religion directed them to take vengeance on Shem for executing Nimrod and toppling his empire by setting themselves against the worshippers of the one true God. Many of the Hebrews had red hair like Shem had. It was no longer the novelty that it had been in Joseph's day, but a constant reminder to the Egyptians of Shem and his powerful magic, and they feared the Hebrews when they were reminded this way of what Shem had done. Hebrews with red hair were particularly reviled as devils and chosen as targets of their spite.

Anger against Shem was expressed in slaying a pig, representative to them of God's followers. When the pagans slaughtered a pig, they were either rehearsing what they intended to do to God's people, or they were signalling that they were about to launch an attack on them. Thus, it could be thought of as the abomination of the desolation, for it was God's people who were designated to be desolated.

Some of the adherents of the Mysteries took the vendetta very seriously, and would have slaughtered all of the Hebrews because of their lineage and their worship of God, if they could. Yes, Moses's people had suffered, but he realized that if the hand of God did not hold back their enemies, putting it in their minds that the Hebrews were useful, they would have all been slaughtered long before now.

The common people did not know what it was all about. They had deliberately been kept ignorant of the real history of the world, and groomed to believe that there really were such things as gods and goddesses. The more clever among them, whom logic told that the things that the priests told them were impossible, knew that if they did not pretend to go along with the priests' tales and demands that they worship their phony gods, their livelihoods would be in danger, if not their lives.

The priests had the political power, and they had sophisticated technology that was guarded from the public, presented to them as being magic. Some of the priests had great powers of sorcery, as well. It was hard to tell where demons were at work, and which was just physical science, unless one was learned in their wisdom, as Moses had been. It astounded Moses that, at one time, he had even joined the Egyptians against his own people, and tried to prove his loyalty to their agenda by excelling others in doing evil. What an amazing grace it was that had brought him to his senses and then into the bosom of God.

It had been restful to not engage in sorcery anymore. Jethro messed around with it, but he had not imposed his beliefs or practices on Moses, he was much more benign as a magician than the Egyptians tended to be, and he never offered up people to his gods as sacrifices. Now Moses was going to have to confront dark powers again, to go head to head with them. Well, it was better to oppose those powers, than to be subjected to them, especially now that he was sure that they were no match at all for his God.

Moses was sure that God had designed this delay at Mount Sinai to encourage Aaron in his faith, to help him gain the same assurance that he had that God's power far exceeds satan's and his angels. At least, it was helping to bring it further on its way to a more perfect faith. Aaron was learning better to still his heart and mind, to put his focus on God, and tune in to God's voice, as Moses had been learning all these years. Seeing the mountain of God, while listening to their father tell them some of the things he had learned there, was also helping his boys gain courage for what was ahead, now that they knew why their father was going to Egypt.

As for Zipporah, she never lacked courage. She would have been happier if she had been born a man. She would not have hesitated to charge into battle, swinging a sword, gathering the heads of her enemies for trophies. She would not have needed any greater cause to fight for than the promise of spoil and glory, with the heavier emphasis on glory. Revenge probably would send her forth to battle, too, though she had, in this case, no desire to avenge the Hebrews on their enemies. They were not her people.

Glory was the bait that drew her to Egypt, so that she could be a thorn in Moses's side. She was unaware that satan used her to hinder Moses. She supposed that her harassment was necessary to Moses to get him to fulfill his destiny. Knowing nothing of the part the comet would play in the events ahead of them, Zipporah figured that if it had not been for her pushing at Moses, if there was no danger of his siblings dying of old age before he got to see them again, it would have taken him twice as long to return to Egypt to rescue his people.

So what that he'd been the General of the Generals? He'd had the backing of a royal mother and many friends at court to support him in his endeavors, but when he ran to Midian, all he had was her to urge him to do his duty because he was so determined to keep his identity secret. For one lone woman, trying to get the man to take his rightful place had been like trying to lift an elephant. In her own mind, Zipporah was fast becoming a heroine. She considered herself a sister in the ranks of women who helped make their men be kings. If it had not been for her concern that Eliezer needed time to heal from his circumcision, she would have chafed at the delay caused by Moses hauling his brother up and down that mountain every day in the practice of his religion.

Eliezer healed enough before their water supplies ran out to gain the mastery over his reluctance to get back on the donkey and travel on. They stopped again for a refreshing break at Elim and replenished their water supplies. The journey seemed to pass swiftly for Moses and Aaron because they had so much to talk about. It wasn't all spiritual talk. Aaron told him about events in the family that he had missed, things that their family laughed about together, and some that they wept about. By the time they arrived in Egypt, Moses almost felt that he already knew the other members of his family and he could hardly wait to meet them in person.

Excitement among his family grew as they drew closer to Rowarty, the Hebrew's chief town in the Delta. Aaron had moved there after he gave up the jewellery business. Miriam kept a house there, too, ever since Hur had retired from the jewellery business because his eyes had become too dim. Zipporah sat and stood straighter, as befitted her role as the woman who would be First Lady among the Hebrews, when they realized that Moses was destined to be their leader. Their sons felt that they, too, were long–lost princes returning to their people.

Aaron was excited about telling the people that God had brought his brother to lead them to freedom and showing them the supernatural signs that confirmed this. Moses, in regards to that prospect, felt dread, remembering how they had rejected him before, and knowing far better than he had forty years ago, how unfit he was for the task set before him. During the trip, he had often looked around at his surroundings, fixing in his mind how the landscape looked, appreciating it while he could, for it was soon going to be torn apart. Who knew how many years it would be before things returned to normal? His heart was heavy, also, because he would not see his parents again this side of Paradise.

It was strange how parts of his soul could be eager and excited, and other parts reluctant and depressed, but his mixed feelings were the result of having to face differing situations and needing to get more focussed on God. Some time in prayer would help restore his equilibrium. Spending time with God was really the only thing that kept him sane in this crazy and dangerous world.

It was a great joy to see Miriam. She came running when Aaron arrived at her home with Moses in tow. She had been in almost constant prayer ever since Aaron had told her that God was sending him into the wilderness to meet Moses. She jumped for joy to see that he was home again, and with their little brother and his family at his side. Moses could not have wished for a warmer welcome.

Again, as forty years before, there was hugging and kissing and cries of joy. This was only the second time Miriam had seen her brother close since her mother had taken him to the palace when he was a toddler. He was home, finally, and she was going to spend every moment she could with her little brother. It was disconcerting, though, to discover that he had developed a stutter.

Curiosity was intense among the neighbours. Who did not know that Aaron's and Miriam's brother had been raised in the Egyptian court and had gained further fame as the great General of the Generals? Even if he had failed to deliver his people in that lame–brained attempt forty years before, and had to flee for his life after that, they could at least credit him for having saved them from the Ethiopians.

Some of their partisan leaders had also been saved by his warning of their impending arrests before he left Egypt. They had managed to slip out of the country with their wives and escape to Edom. Their children had been hidden among relatives. Word had been sent that it was now safe to return to their families. Most of them had probably died already, but those who remained would return to their children, and the children who had been born in Edom would return to meet their families. Perhaps they would manage to smuggle their near relatives out of Egypt.

Aaron left it up to Miriam to introduce the rest of the family to Moses. In the meantime, he went to gather the elders of their people together. There was a mixture of excitement and caution among them. Certainly, they were more than ready to cast off the Egyptian yoke, and they supposed that Moses really did feel that he was a Hebrew, rather than an Egyptian, but what did he know of their ways and the worship of their God?

Could Moses lead them out of Egypt without getting them all killed? More importantly, could he lead them out of Egypt without getting any of them killed? That sure would be something to pull off, though it was unrealistic. If some of them were going to give their lives, they wanted to be assured that they would not die in vain, that the venture would ultimately be successful. What guarantee could Moses give them of this?

And what was his motive in coming back? Did he really care about them, or did he just want to be their king because he had grown up expecting to become a king? When he had them in his control, would he then turn to use them to gain Egypt's throne?

The elders were heartily sick of Egypt. They just wanted to return to the land that God had promised to Abraham. Was Moses, who was now such an old man, still capable of leading them into battle against the inhabitants of Canaan's land? Surely, he was too old for the business of soldiering. Why had he not come sooner when he was younger and stronger, and before thousands of his people had died under the lash? How could they be expected to trust a man who had let them down so badly?

Aaron pleaded with them to just give Moses a chance to speak, and to hear him out. In the face of their arguments and complaints, he felt reluctant to tell them about the signs that God had given to Moses. He had not seen them for himself. Moses only told him about them, as God had said they were for when he got to Egypt. What if his brother was delusional or a liar? No, he wouldn't be a liar, though he might be delusional. But Aaron had wondered if he himself was delusional, when he heard God tell him to go to Mount Sinai and wait for Moses, and look how that turned out. He really had found him! Okay, so the signs had to be for real, but he would keep his mouth shut about that and leave it up to Moses to show them.

Zipporah let Miriam fuss over Moses and trim his hair, to get him ready for his introduction to the elders. He wore plain garments, but finely woven, and cut a noble figure when he was presented in the synagogue where the elders were gathered.

Curiously, though, he was silent throughout most of proceedings. He left it all up to Aaron to tell the elders what he had been doing with his life since he left Egypt. They nodded in approval that he had toiled for forty years as a shepherd. This must have given him a good grounding in understanding the lifestyle of his people, who, outside of the camps, were primarily shepherds. Now he could relate to them better and it was good that he'd had the humility to herd sheep, in view of how he had been raised.

Such was the view of some, though others thought that maybe it was merely an indication of how desperate he had been to escape death when he ran from Pharaoh, that he took a job that Pharaoh never would have imagined that Moses would stoop to. Others supposed it was a combination of both humility and cowardice. People are usually a combination of good and bad. Whatever the case, herding sheep had enabled Moses to live fairly close to Egypt without ever being detected by Pharaoh's agents. It was a clever ruse.

Aaron outlined how Moses had come to know God. And here was the proof that God had sent him. Aaron waited for Moses to step forward to explain the signs. He just stayed where he was, standing next to Hur, and stared back at Aaron. After an awkward pause, Aaron realized that Moses was not going to explain anything. Blushing furiously, he said that the first sign was that God would turn Moses's staff into a snake when he threw it down. Aaron looked again at Moses, expecting him to throw the staff down, but, to his alarm, Moses handed the staff to him.

Aaron did not have time to fret whether it would work for him or not. His instant, unthinking reaction was to take the staff and throw it down. The elders nearly had a mass heart attack when the staff turned into a snake at their feet. Aaron nearly had a heart attack himself, but he knew that if he didn't want to see that snake wriggling on the floor, and the elders all dropping dead in front of him, he was going to have to take it by the tail. He reached forth his hand and grasped its tail, and it returned to being a staff. Moses would have laughed at their reaction, if the situation they were in hadn't been so serious and it was imperative that he not offend these people.

Most of the elders were suitably awed by this sign, but some of them muttered that the Egyptian magicians could do the same, both through sleight of hand and sorcery. Aaron cleared his throat and said, "God has given my brother another sign, to confirm that He has sent him." He nodded at Moses; he was going to leave this one all up to him. No way did he want do the leprous hand thing. Moses shook his head and nodded back at him.

Aaron took a deep breath and then tucked his hand into his bosom. When he withdrew it, he felt like throwing up, but he controlled himself. The elders drew back in horror and gasped. Aaron played it cool, acting not the least surprised at the sight of the dead, white flesh. Well, the snake thing had worked, so why not the hand thing, too? He sure hoped Moses was right, though, about being able to get it to go back the way it was before.

Aaron tucked his hand back inside his clothing and pulled it out again. To everyone's relief, it emerged tanned and whole. More elders were nodding now, but one of them asked Moses directly, "What's the point of that, though? Why would God turn a hand leprous? Leprosy is unclean. Our God is not unclean."

Moses attempted to answer, stammering that God was demonstrating that He will visit afflictions upon the Egyptians, but bring healing to His people. The elders listened with their mouths hanging open. What had happened to this man? When he left Egypt, he was famous for his great oratory, and now he could hardly get a sentence out of his mouth. Were they really supposed to put their confidence in a man who lacked confidence in himself so much that he stuttered?

Aaron discerned the direction of their thoughts and quickly interjected. "One more sign that God has sent him. Bring us some water." Water was fetched, with curiosity high about what was going to be done with the water. Did Moses need a drink? Did he stammer because his throat was dry? No, that wasn't it. Aaron did not give the water to his brother.

Aaron hesitated to pour the water onto the floor. If it turned to blood, it would stain the tiles. Moses nodded to encourage him to go ahead. It would mess up the decor, but it would be a reminder to everyone who saw it, of God's power. It was important that they keep that in mind in the days ahead. Aaron poured the water on the floor. It changed from clear to blood in midair, and then oozed across the floor at the elders' feet. One of them stooped and dipped his finger in it. He brought his finger to his nose and smelled the red substance. His eyes widened in horror as he declared, "It's blood!" The other elders crowded around him to smell the blood upon his finger, nodding their heads and muttering in agreement.

They all looked again at Moses for an explanation of the blood. He replied, "I–i–i–it's a sign that God is going to give the Egyptians b–b–b–lood to drink, b–b–b–e–e–cause they have shed so much b–b–b–lood. They t–t–t–ossed our b–b–b–a–a–b–b–ies in the Nile to be eaten by croc, croc, croc–o–diles, so H–h–h–e is going to turn the Nile into b–b–b–lood.

Moses gasped with relief that he had managed to finish getting that sentence out, and the elders sighed with relief that he had Aaron to do his talking for him. From now on, they would direct their questions to Aaron. Then it sunk into them what he had said, and they considered the justice of it. Yes, that would be very fine indeed, particularly as the Egyptians abhorred blood and would be revolted at what their water had become. But what would the Hebrews drink, if the Nile turned to blood?

One of them asked Aaron this question. Aaron replied, "We know about it ahead of time. We will stock water supplies. Moses says that the vessels have to have lids on them. That comet we can see even in the daytime now, is going to come closer still, and drop a red, metallic dust on all the land that will poison the waters. The dust will dissolve in the river and lakes, colouring them red, making them sluggish with its silt, and the waters will taste like blood. We must lay up fodder for our animals, as well, as it won't be good for them to eat the grass when the red dust is on it. It will blow away, but until that happens, our animals should be kept from grazing. God has given this sign of the blood to show that the comet is His messenger, and what Moses has said will happen, will surely happen, to the destruction of the Egyptians, and the deliverance of our people."

The eldest elder then spoke up and said, "What is the Name of the God who has sent your brother to us?" Aaron replied, "He has told him that His Name is I AM and that this is His Name forever." The other elders looked at their eldest to see how he would respond to that. They had never heard God referred to by that name before. Tears sprang to the eldest elder's eyes, as he recognized instantly that this Name was fitting for the Creator. He bowed his head and wept.

The elders were so grateful to learn that the time of their deliverance had finally come that they cried for joy and relief, and bowed their heads together to worship God. Aaron cautioned them afterwards to let no word of the part that the comet would play to leak out from that room, as Pharaoh would consider it blasphemy to say that the comet had come on behalf of the Hebrews. He had announced that it was a sign that ratified his ascension to the throne, and he had called it Ra–uah–ab,1 after one of his royal names. They did not want to give him an excuse to launch a pogrom on them.

Word was restricted among the Hebrews, for the time being, that Moses had returned. He was called by an alias when he was in public. Some of the guerilla leaders were informed that he had returned and they came to meet with him secretly. When the exiles from Edom returned, they met with him also. The younger ones asked him angrily why he had not thought of a way to rescue the Israelites before now. Their families had been separated for decades, many of their people had been killed. Someone reminded them that, if Moses had not warned their fathers to flee, they would have been killed, too.

Moses learned that they had been given refuge by the sons of Job, a wise man of Uz. One of their elders had brought with him a scroll that told the story of Job. It made very interesting reading for Moses and encouraged him to be faithful to God, no matter what he suffered, and keep on trusting God, no matter what happened.

It also gave him food for thought regarding the Nephilim who now inhabited Canaan. After Jacob left Canaan and his restraining influence was gone, some of the fallen angels had materialized in physical form to make mischief. It had been hard for satan to convince his angels to do this again, as those who had entered into the physical dimension before in physical bodies to impregnate the daughters of men had been put in chains during the Flood. They were now confined until the Day of Judgment, not only unable to do any more mischief themselves, but also prevented from commanding others to do so. The last part was the hardest to bear, for fallen angels have a compulsion to dominate others and give orders. The rest of satan's cohorts were afraid to dare to duplicate their deeds, for surely the angels of God would put them into chains also.

But a few were finally convinced that satan would make it worth it to them, when they gained the advantage over God. He promised that he would raise them in honour above their brethren, for their courage in disobeying God in the face of seeing the horrible penalty that the angelic prisoners in the darkness were suffering. They had entered Canaan to pollute the tribes, as they knew from the prophecy made to Abraham that his descendents would inherit that land, and that one of his descendents would be the Promised Seed. They had not been able to get into the land as long as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in it. Now they wanted to prevent their descendents from inheriting it, by filling it with heavily–demonized giants.

It would be their first line of defense, but if they failed to keep them out, there was always the possibility that the Israelites would intermarry with the normal–looking inhabitants, some of whom carried their genes, and thus their race would be polluted and unable to bring forth the Messiah who could save the human race from everlasting damnation.

Moses had heard before that the Nephilim had returned, but the fallen angels mysteriously disappeared after a very short time, and their offspring had not been able to branch further out than Canaan to pollute the countries around them. He had wondered what had happened, and now he thought he knew. Job must have interceded. The prayers of a righteous man avail much, and God said that Job was a man of exceptional faith in Him and he hated evil.

Moses wondered when it was that Job had prayed and God had sent His angels again, to bind the fallen and place them in darkness with the others who had taken on material form. Had it been before Job's testing? Satan had certainly been trying to get at him, but had been frustrated because God had placed a hedge around him. Or had it been after? Had Job needed to go through that testing to bring his faith to an even higher level where it had been sufficient to have the fallen angels bound? It was an interesting question. There were probably others who had prayed against the fallen angels, as well, such as Job's friends and some of his own people, but Job's prayers had probably been the deciding factor in that battle.

The young men from Edom and the guerilla leaders of Goshen had to be restrained from launching into making plans to attack the Egyptians. They were told, "No, that is not God's plan for delivering His people. We will not have to fight them with weapons, for God Himself is going to fight for us. By all means, prepare weapons and organize our men into fit, fighting units, for such skills and instruments will be needed when we are passing through to Canaan, and when we arrive there, but do not hinder the Deliverer's plans by doing anything without his approval."

The young men wondered when they were going to hear from the Deliverer what his plans were, but the Deliverer did not make speeches, or even consult with them privately. His brother did all his talking for him, which added to his mystique and their awe. They heard of the supernatural signs he could perform, and they saw the stain of blood on the floor, but Moses did not display the signs again. He was saving that up for Pharaoh, apparently. They could hardly wait to hear the outcome of that meeting.

Moses and the elders sought an audience with Pharaoh. It was granted, after making Moses melt under the hot sun a long time in front of the palace steps to remind him of his place. Pharaoh smiled to himself as he thought of how many would see him there, and the humiliation he would feel as people stared at him when they learned who he was. This was the man who would have been king, if he had not fallen out of favour with the court.

This was the man whom the previous king had sought for far and wide when he came to the throne, his childhood rival whom he had sworn to kill. The current king, though, was not inclined to take up his predecessor's enmity. Moses had abandoned all claim to Egypt's throne and nobody considered him worthy or capable of being Egypt's king. He had disqualified himself long ago. But it gave Pharaoh a spiteful satisfaction to humble him.

Where had he been? What did he look like now? Only a young boy when the Pretender had fled the court, Pharaoh recalled what a fine figure the General of the Generals had been. He had been somewhat in awe of him in those days, had even thought he might someday be king, but, ha ha, it had not turned out to be so. It was he who was king now, due to some unfortunate deaths in the family, some of which he'd had a hand in speeding on their way to the Elysian Fields.

Pharaoh had difficulty restraining his burning curiosity, in spite of his desire to annoy Moses to distraction with an interminable wait, and consented to let him into the throne room a bit sooner than he intended. It would amuse him to see the proud General bowing at his feet. He awaited his entrance with a proud smirk.

An old, silver–bearded man entered the court, carrying a shepherd's staff in his hand, at the head of a contingent of Hebrew elders. The Egyptians drew back with haughty disdain that these Hebrews did not shave their beards, as they did to avoid giving lice harbouring places on their bodies. The Hebrews prostrated themselves before Pharaoh, including the old man with the shepherd's staff. Pharaoh had no problem recognizing him, though he was now bearded, burnt by the sun, and his face laced with deep lines. Wherever he had been, life had not been easy on Moses, but he still stood straight, tall, lean, and muscled.

Concealing his admiration for Moses's physical stature, Pharaoh looked down at Moses as if he was a cockroach and sneeringly denounced him as having always been a royal nuisance. Moses made no reply. Pharaoh had too much dignity to ask Moses any of the questions that burned in his brain; he could find out those things later through his agents. He told him to state his business and make it quick.

One of the Hebrew elders, apparently Moses's brother, requested that Pharaoh grant all their people leave to journey three days into the wilderness to make sacrifices to their god. Pharaoh was shocked by the effrontery. Did they think he was stupid? This was nothing more than a bid for the Hebrews to leave Egypt permanently. On the face of it, it seemed like he was requesting to only hold some type of festival apart from the Egyptians, lest they were offended by their religion, but the army would have a tough time to get over a million people to return to their burdens. No, the Hebrews were too valuable a resource in terms of manpower and taxation to lose. They also tended to be a clever people whose ingenuity served the Egyptians, when it could be harnessed.

Anyway, that would be the day that he let them openly make sacrifices to their god. This was the god who had strengthened Set to depose Osiris. To let the Hebrews sacrifice to their god in Egyptian territory would weaken Egypt's gods. Even giving them permission to go into the wilderness to do their sacrifices would weaken their gods, for Pharaoh was their main spokesperson and he owed all his loyalty to the demons who gave him his power to sit upon Egypt's throne. No, no, no; it was not going to happen. The gods had worked hard and long to gain their ground, and they were not going to give up even an inch of it. They would be on his neck, if he took a turn that displeased them. How long would he be still sitting on this throne, if he did not keep up his part of his bargain with satan?

Pharaoh laughed in Moses's face, though Moses himself had not spoken a word. The old man who was his spokesman pleaded, saying that their god had met with them, and if they did not obey him, he would fall on them with pestilence or sword. It was a flimsy ruse. The Hebrew's god could hardly hold them to blame if they did not get permission from their masters to go three days' journey into the wilderness. Already, Pharaoh was unimpressed with a god that would be so unreasonable, if indeed it was so that he would do this. More likely, it was just a silly invention of the old man who was trying to persuade him to let the Hebrews go.

Pharaoh roared, "Get out! Don't waste my time with this! Aaron, why do you and Moses keep the people from their burdens with this nonsense? Go do some useful work instead of stirring up trouble. The people are many and right now all of them are idle. Get back to work, you lazy animals!"

Pharaoh's guards marched forward with their swords drawn and herded the Hebrews out of the court. Moses felt the ignominy of it more keenly than the other elders. They were used to being treated like dogs by the Egyptians. The last time he'd been in the palace, he'd been one of the masters.

It had been strange to approach its doors and have memories sweep over him like a tidal wave. He remembered seeing those doors for the first time, as a small child, and being awed by the size and luxury of the royal residence. He remembered being presented to the painted and jewelled woman who became his mother. He remembered how the place became familiar to him as he grew up in it, ordering servants about, and taking their obeisance as his due.

He still knew the place like the back of his hand; at least, he knew the parts that had been around when he had lived there. A monument now stood inside the gates, around which traffic circled – an obelisk with a little pyramid at the top, representing the cardinal points of the map, and the needle itself was a phallic symbol, representing power. It was a statement of intention to rule the world, as well as a magic talisman to achieve that goal. He recognized the obelisk as being from Thebes, one that the Ethiopians had defaced. It had been transported here and repaired.

The palace itself had been added onto since he had left Egypt, but he was sure that he could find a Hebrew palace servant who could draw him a map of the new additions, and he had to find out what changes had been made to the prisons. They had to get their brethren out of those places and into Goshen before they left Egypt.

He had discussed this with Aaron, and plans were being prepared to spring Pharaoh's political prisoners when the time was right. He was willing to release Hebrews who were incarcerated due to criminal charges, as well. He knew that some of his people enjoyed being evil, but his policy was to give the prisoners the benefit of the doubt that they had turned to crime because their lives under Pharaoh were so hard, and the bullying types the opportunity to turn to God, when they saw Him displaying His power. Any of them who presented problems for their own people would be dealt with according to the Creator's justice.

Rescues would have to be carried out in the brothels, too. Many of the Hebrews in those places had never been given a choice. They were slaves from birth or kidnapped from their families, pressed into serving corrupt lusts, boys as well as girls and women. He had headed some of the round–ups himself to prove his loyalty to the crown. He could still hear the voice of their weeping, the screams of anger and despair from their parents and husbands and brothers. Those poor boys and girls must be long dead now from disease, if not from wounds sustained by torture. The inmates of the brothels tended to age quickly and die young.

Moses could not undo his past, but he could change the future for others. What lives could be salvaged from the stews would be given the opportunity for a future. Men tended to believe that a woman's value was of no worth, if she was not a virgin, even if she had been forced. He did not believe that. God had given him another chance, though he had often engaged in fornication willingly, and even forced himself on others. God would do no less for a woman than what He had done for a man. The stains of Egypt were going to be wiped away, and everyone given a chance to start new.

His head turned as he passed a corridor that led to his old apartments, and a feeling of horror came upon him as he thought of how close he had come to being permanently trapped in this place. He was grateful he was not Pharaoh. He was not jealous of the man who now sat on the throne, but his words had stung. It was not the first time he'd ever been insulted by an Egyptian noble, but this was the first time that such words had ever been said to him publicly. Pharaoh had as much as said that he considered him to be nothing more than just another of his slaves. Moses had not looked at the nobles as he left the court, but he had felt their disdain wash over him like a wave.

He still had friends in the court, though. When he had walked in, he recognized a few faces, former officers from years gone by. There were even a few lovers who had escaped arrest forty years ago, and their painted, wrinkled countenances said that they still thought kindly of him.

The guards who pushed him and the elders along shoved them out onto the front steps of the palace. The old men who could not walk fast were whacked with spears and swords and kicked to help speed them down the stairs. The soldiers spit on them and laughed, and tossed crude jests at their backs as the elders hurried off the palace grounds. Moses waited until the other elders were through the gate before he took his own exit. One last look at the soldiers earned him a gob of spittle in the face.

His friends told him later that, after he left the court, Pharaoh had raged about the Hebrews' impertinence and said that they did not have enough to do, if they could find time to talk about making sacrifices to their god. He ordered his officers to increase their burdens by not giving them the materials to make bricks. The Hebrews were to gather the materials themselves, and not decrease their expected quota.

The Hebrews soon learned of the new order, and they were furious with Moses and Aaron that they had stirred up trouble against them. The Israelites who had been placed over them to enforce the quotas were whipped when their work gangs fell beneath their masters' expectations. Some of the Hebrew officers were psychotic brutes who enjoyed beating and humiliating their brethren. They became more violent, holding their work gang responsible for the Egyptians' displeasure with them at not having their expectations met. For every wound that the Egyptians had inflicted on their bodies, they punished their workers ten times more.

Some bosses had been compassionate to their brethren, whenever possible, but a few of those let their beatings turn them into complete bullies. Sympathy was reserved for those who did not veer from their integrity, despite their suffering, and their men worked themselves into the ground to try to save their officer from the Egyptians' wrath.

Anger rose steadily against Moses and Aaron from the Hebrews, as Pharaoh intended it to when he gave the order to increase the quotas. Why had they not left well enough alone? Now the Egyptians hated them more and treated them worse than ever. Even some of the elders who had seen the signs and heard what he said about the comet wished that Moses had stayed in Midian.

Moses cried out to God in anguish. This was not what he had come to Egypt for. He wanted to bring relief to his people, but he had increased their suffering. When was God going to start opening the gates of their prison? The comet, which he had looked upon before with both hope and dread, did not seem to be moving fast enough in this direction to suit him now.

Zipporah, who had been basking in Moses's reflected glory, was disconcerted at glowering looks directed at her, as well, and bitter remarks from other women who were displeased with her husband. She knew nothing about comets and their effects and Moses's expectations of this one. She just considered it a portent of success relating to her husband's mission.

She could see that he had no easy task ahead of him, and she wondered how he could possibly lead his people out of Egypt. Certainly, there would be some battles and bloodshed. Did he have an arrangement with her father to bring his forces into the fray? Perhaps, but what use would it be if the Hebrews themselves did not back him up? She urged the women to persuade their husbands and sons to follow Moses, reminding them of how he had successfully campaigned against the Ethiopians in days gone by.

The Ethiopian campaign had an effect that soon affected Zipporah personally. Shortly after that first visit to court, a woman arrived at the door of Joseph's mansion, where they were staying. She arrived at night, swathed in a dark cloak, with a guardsman and a woman servant, asking for Prince Moses. Their host found Moses and whispered to him that he had a visitor. Moses wondered at his host's manner, for he did not give him a name, nor did he seem to know the person's name when he was asked. Elishama only said that the visitor was Egyptian. Moses was surprised that the visitor was a woman.

She stood in the foyer flanked by her servants, shrouded in her robes. When he entered the room, she bowed to the floor at first, then stood and slowly peeled back her hood as she stared at him in wonder, her face shining with joy. Moses felt confused. Who was she? Why did she look so happy to see him? The woman shrugged off her cloak and her woman servant took it. The visitor was slim and dark, her hair frizzled and grey, but elaborately styled in thin braids interlaced with small gems. Her ochre– coloured dress was simple, but not sheer, though made of fine cloth, and she wore a heavy collar of lapis lazuli. Had Pharaoh sent this temptress to deter him from his mission? When she breathed his name, he suddenly knew her.

He could not believe it that she was here, the woman who had watched him from Sheba's walls and proposed marriage to him. She flew across the room and his arms moved of their own accord to embrace her, regardless of his suspicions about the motive for her visit. Tharbis shook as she hung from his neck, sobbing with joy, and standing on tiptoe to cover his face with kisses. It felt like she was breaking his neck because he had to stoop so low for her to reach his face, but Tharbis was determined to not to be denied. She whispered, "I waited so long, so long, my beloved. I could hardly believe it when I learned that you had returned. It seemed like it would never happen. God is so good!"

Moses looked down at her. He said, "You believe in my God, Tharbis?" She nodded happily, her cheeks dimpling deeply. His wife was now in her sixties, but she still looked very beautiful; more beautiful than he remembered. Her teeth were still white, none missing, her face had only faint lines, and she wore very little paint. The love he saw shining in her eyes was a miracle. How could it be that she had not forgotten him? He had forgotten her.

Moses turned to his host and then saw Zipporah watching from the doorway, her eyes burning like fire. He whispered to his host that this woman was his wife, and he needed privacy to speak to her. The prince of Ephraim nodded and led him to a chamber, then hurried to distract Zipporah, so that Moses would not be interrupted. Here was a volatile situation indeed.

Moses asked Tharbis how she had come to him. She said that she had been held under ward, but the new Pharaoh had relaxed his guard on her and sent her to a private estate to while away her exile. She and her maid had managed to slip the guards, with the help of a guard who had given his loyalty to her and went with her to protect her on her way. She left as soon as she heard from a friend from court that Moses had returned, before anyone remembered her relationship to him and thought to make her more secure. Tharbis spent a week of hiding in a friend's home before he had managed to slip her and her servants out of the city and into Goshen. Moses asked, "You were not married to another?" She said, "They tried, but having been married to my Moses, how could any other man suffice? No, Moses, I have stayed true to you, and I have learned of your God, and He is my God, too."

Moses wept for the love he saw shining from her eyes could not possibly be faked. She looked too happy, as if she was about to explode from the joy of seeing him again. This was such an unexpected gift, to find that, after so many miserable years of being married to Zipporah, God had given him a wife who truly loved him. But what of her people? Did she have ambitions to set them free of Egyptian rule? Did she intend to use him for that end? Setting the Ethiopians free was not part of his mission.

He put his arm around her as he talked, explaining his purpose for returning to Egypt. Tharbis asked him how he intended to set his people free. He said, "God has not explained it all to me, yet, but it has something to do with our celestial visitor." Tharbis nodded, instantly understanding that he meant the comet. She said, "Yes, there has been great upheaval among Pharaoh and his ministers, trying to figure out what it means. They know from the course it is on that it will bring trouble. They have been laying up stores of food, but it is travelling faster than they reckoned it would. Nonetheless, Pharaoh has given it his name, saying that the gods have sent it as a sign of favour upon his ascension to the throne. He has told the people that it will destroy his enemies. Therefore, anyone who perishes as a result of this comet will be deemed to have been his enemy. There has been a great increase of gifts to him from the superstitious of his people who are trying to prove that they are his loyal subjects, and deeds such as he approves of. If your people have been experiencing greater difficulties with the Egyptians, this is part of the reason for it."

Moses asked her, "How do you think that this will bode for your people?" Tharbis replied, "They will probably take the opportunity to rise up against their masters during the confusion. My people, those who will remain of them, have a good chance to regain their own rule." He asked, "Will you go to rejoin your people?" She shook her head and said, "Not a chance. I have endured more than forty years of separation from you, Moses, and I refuse to be parted from you anymore. I have borne no children to sit on my throne, but I trust that there are those among my people who are fit to take that place. I pray for a good king for them. My destiny is with you."

Tharbis reached for him again to kiss him. After long moments of that bliss, Moses drew back and said, "I took another wife when I was in Midian. She is not friendly to competition." Tharbis arched her brows and said, "Could she be worse than what I have already borne as a prisoner of the Egyptians for forty years?" Moses replied, "She could be, but I will not let her. You are welcome, if you will stay."

Moses emerged from the chamber with Tharbis on his arm. He introduced her to his host as the Queen of Sheba, and his host bowed low, asking to be excused from having neglected to do so already, as he had not known her identity. Moses said that she had escaped the Egyptians' custody. His host, naturally, said that he would consider it an honour to have her in his home, and he would prepare places for her and her servants. He offered refreshments while a suitable place was prepared.

Zipporah and her sons were then presented. Zipporah bowed uncertainly. She would have ripped the woman's hair out, if she could, but this woman outranked her, both by having been married to Moses before she was, and in noble birth. She had been commanding armies when Zipporah had been herding sheep. Zipporah's sons, meanwhile, wondered where this put them in the order of their father's affections. When they asked their mother later, she assured them that the woman had not given Moses any children.

In days to come, Zipporah needled Tharbis relentlessly about that, along with regaling her with stories of her married life with Moses to make her jealous of having spent so much time with him, in sharp contrast to Tharbis's lonely years of exile and imprisonment and childlessness. It nettled Tharbis, as Zipporah hoped it would, though not as much as she hoped. Tharbis knew from how much time her husband spent in her arms that she did not need to waste her time being jealous of Zipporah.

Tharbis was a great comfort to Moses in his continuing afflictions. His kinsmen vehemently reviled him for their troubles, and he turned to God, crying out to Him to do something for his people. God told him step by step what to do and say, but troubles seemed to go on and on, regardless. At the end of the day, however, it was soothing to spend time alone with Tharbis, to hear her speak to him softly, but firmly, encouraging him and assuring him that God would give him strength to lead his people out of Egypt.

It was a further comfort how Tharbis responded when Zipporah was critical of him. Her lip curled with disdain that the woman did not recognize what a good man she was married to, and was not fully supportive of him. If Moses was present during Zipporah's remarks, her eyes met his sympathetically. That look was like balm to his soul.

It stung Zipporah to see the unspoken messages passing between Moses and Tharbis, indicating that the Ethiopian interloper shared greater intimacy with Moses than she did. She was undoubtedly taken into his confidence, whereas Moses never spoke to Zipporah about anything but mundane matters.

It rankled Zipporah most of all that this woman would be the First Lady of the Israelites, having displaced her through earlier marriage, and supported by her education and elegance and rank. Eyes that had looked at Zipporah with eager curiosity when she first arrived now rested on her with amused contempt as they compared the two wives.

Moses's brother and sister were exceptions, though. They felt gauche around the Ethiopian wife, being less educated than her, and unschooled in the protocols of court. They felt they had more in common with Zipporah, who was, after all, of Abraham's seed and her upbringing had more in common with theirs. Zipporah capitalized on this and lamented to them about how she had been cast aside by their brother, after having slaved for him for forty years and borne his children.

It added greatly to Moses's credibility with his people that the Queen of Sheba was at his side. The Hebrews wondered if the Ethiopians would desert from Egyptian rule and go over to them. A score of Ethiopians were now encamped outside the house, refusing to go anywhere else in Goshen to set up their tents. At least they had agreed to stop playing their drums at night. Yes, it looked like it could be a good thing that Moses was reunited with his first wife, but the Pharaohs always kept their Ethiopian troops deployed far from their queen, to prevent them from attempting her rescue. All of the Hebrew leaders were watched; none of them could travel to meet with the Ethiopian generals to persuade them to lend their support. If they could manage it, it would still be almost impossible to coordinate with the Ethiopians for attack.

They could form their own troops, though, and this is what they were now doing in secret. There had always been guerilla leaders among the Hebrews who made trouble for the Egyptians, though with not much support from their own people because it always made trouble for them, too. With Moses here, it was a different story. He was holding back their chain, telling them that they would not have to fight their way out of Egypt, but to train as many men as they could, as long as they could do it without the Egyptians finding out about it. He assured them that their fighting skills would be needed after they left. A number of new recruits were already undergoing training, including some of the Ethiopians camping in Prince Elishama's garden who wanted to fit themselves better as bodyguards for their queen.

The Egyptians were getting set for a major crackdown on suspected trouble–makers and confiscation of anything the Hebrews owned that could be used for weapons. These kind of orders always involved atrocities and plundering. Pharaoh was irritated that the princes of Israel had openly placed guards around their homes, making it risky for small contingents of soldiers to carry out inspections and questioning. The Israelites were getting too full of themselves, now that they had Moses among them. They needed to be taught a lesson. Moses reckoned that Pharaoh was about to make this kind of a move and he was relieved when God gave him the go–ahead to have another audience with Pharaoh to induce him to let the Hebrews go.

On this occasion, Pharaoh demanded that Moses show him why he should listen to him and do as he said. Moses nodded at Aaron and Aaron threw down his rod, whereupon it turned into a serpent. Pharaoh sneered and said, "A very pretty trick, and nothing that I haven't seen before." He nodded to his priests, who all threw down their staffs, and they turned into snakes, also. But Moses's serpent slithered quickly towards them and swallowed up all the other snakes. Then Aaron reached out his hand and took the serpent by its tail; it turned into a rod again.

Pharaoh and his priests stared mutely at Moses and Aaron for a moment. The priests felt naked without their staffs and outraged at the helplessness of that feeling. What was the meaning of it? Did the Hebrews now possess the sorcery that was attached to their staffs? Would their demons now obey them? Would they turn those dark powers against them?

Well, there was more where that came from. They had an advantage over the Hebrews. The Hebrews did not sacrifice humans to their god, and demons were more pleased with human sacrifice than animal sacrifice. They would kill some victims and regain their powers. The High Priest whispered this to Pharaoh, who then sulkily waved to his guards to escort the Hebrews from his presence.

The guards were nervous, after having witnessed what just happened, but they did as they were told. Moses and Aaron were let go without harm, and the plans for beginning a purge of the Hebrews, including taking the Queen of Sheba back into custody, were delayed until after the sacrifice of some victims to ensure maximum success of the venture.

The murders were duly committed within the precincts of the closest temple that night, as the priests were fearful of going further abroad without the protection of their demons. Pharaoh then ventured forth with his priests, some of them bloodied from the murders. A faint taste of human blood and flesh was still in his mouth, in spite of the herbs he had eaten in his morning dressing ceremony. He stood at the brink of the Nile to offer an ode to the river and the rising sun. To his surprise, he saw Moses and Aaron waiting for him there, as God had spoken to Moses and told him what to do next.

Moses scowled when he saw the blood upon the priests, knowing full well that they had offered up humans to try to regain their magic. He considered it justice that since they liked to drink blood, they should drink blood even when they didn't want to. He did not bow, as formerly. Pharaoh noticed, but did not force the issue, though he did not know why. Perhaps it was because when he was a child, he had seen Moses often in the palace, giving orders and being fawned over, and had considered him to be part of his own class, though Moses had gotten into that class through adoption rather than birth.

Besides, only the priests and his bodyguards were present. The priests thoroughly understood that he was not a real god, though it served their interests to promote him as such, and the guards were trained to never question his actions. If he did not choose to have the man struck to his knees, that was his business. Half the time, he believed himself to be a god, but he knew that Moses did not believe it and never would, so it was pointless to create any kind of delay when he was so curious to know what the man had to say.

Moses rebuked Pharaoh for disobeying God in not letting His people go. He was so angry about the murders that Pharaoh and his priests had just committed, that he forgot that he had a stutter, and it did not show up during his speech. He told Pharaoh that God would now turn the waters of Egypt to blood and all the fish in them would die. Then he ordered Aaron to stretch forth his staff over the waters of Egypt.

Aaron did so, waving it first over the river and then all around in a wide arc. Immediately, a sound filled the air, vibrating and yawning over them. It sounded like the name that the Hebrews had given when asked who the god was who had sent them. The priests and guards shook with terror and it terrified Pharaoh, as well, but he schooled himself to conceal his fear. He looked towards the comet that glowed red in the sky, looming nearer than ever before. The sound seemed to be emanating from it. Like unfurled banners, streaks of red were flying off of the orb and a fine, red dust began to fall upon them.

Choking, Pharaoh and his priests and their guards headed back into the temple, while Moses and Aaron wrapped their cloaks about their faces and waited outside to see if the Egyptians would parley with them after they conferred among themselves. "What is it?" Pharaoh asked. The High Priest replied, "It is one of the effects of the comet. Sometimes comets get close enough to deposit an iron dust on the land, and it turns the water red. Let me show you."

The priest gave an order for iron filings to be brought. There was a delay until some rust was found to grind in a mortar, making the filings very fine. Then the priest poured them into water and stirred, took a sip, and passed the tomato–coloured liquid to Pharaoh. Pharaoh took a sip, also, and nodded when he found that it tasted metallic like blood. By his education, Moses knew of this effect from comets and he had made a lucky guess when it would happen. He laughed that Moses would think he would be intimidated by his theatrics and actually believe that his god had turned their waters to blood.

Pharaoh's servants covered him with a cloak to protect him from the dust, and ventured forth outside holding a canopy over his head. Pharaoh stopped in front of Moses and Aaron. He pulled aside his cloak so that they could see his evil smirk. He said in a cryptic manner, "You're not the only one who can turn water to blood, Moses." With a swift turn, he strode away to his palace to await the cessation of the dust storm.

All the water in the river and lakes and ponds were contaminated, as well as in vessels that had been uncovered before the dust fell. The Egyptians were occupied with digging beside the waterways and pools for water, and sieving the muddy water through fine linen to make it potable. The Hebrews, however, had laid up stores of water and food and clean fodder at Moses's command before the plague.

Agents had been sent to the treasure cities and quarries to instruct their brethren when the dust fell. They told them that they did not need to be afraid, for the dust had been sent to God for their salvation. While the taskmasters ran away in confusion, the slaves broke off each other's chains and hurried to Goshen where water had been stored for them. Many of the slaves in households were able to slip into Goshen, too.

Some people chose to stop them, when they could, but not many dared, for the Egyptians were starting to be afraid of the Hebrews. Pharaoh and his ministers could not tell them that the bloodied water was not supernatural. He had told them that the comet had been sent from the gods to increase his splendor, and he could not turn around now and tell them it was just a natural phenomena, and it was only a coincidence that its dust fell exactly at the moment that the Hebrew prophet commanded it. The water situation set back Pharaoh's plans for arrests. His soldiers were too busy looking for drinkable water.

Pharaoh told his people that the gods were testing them, to see who would remain loyal to Pharaoh and who would be complainers. Woe to those who criticized Pharaoh because his comet had sent pollution on their waters. The gods would visit afflictions on them. The Egyptians kept their thoughts to themselves about how strange it was that the slaves had water, but they didn't. Were the Hebrews Pharaoh's most loyal subjects? If their prophet had not caused the plague, as Pharaoh said, they had still better not hinder the Hebrews, lest Pharaoh punish them for interfering with his most loyal subjects.

It was really starting to look to the Hebrews like they had a chance to break free from the Egyptians, and the Egyptians were reluctant to enter Goshen now, unless they were friendly towards the Hebrews. The marsh dwellers found themselves setting up tents for the refugees and entertaining house guests, both of their own kin, and the more sagacious of the Egyptians who wanted to get in on the protection from the comet that was supplied by inside information from their leader, the famous former General of the Generals.

The stench of dead fish in the rivers and lakes and fine, red dust that covered their houses and streets added to the Egyptians' misery. The comet added its heat to that of the sun, and the people thirsted more than usual, but they had less water than usual to quench their thirst. It also offended their fastidious habits of cleanliness that they had no water to spare for bathing. The sight of their river and lakes and garden pools looking like blood made many of them wretch.

The Hebrews bore the plague better because it had not caught them unprepared. The fact that they had been warned ahead of time long enough to make preparations for the plague gave them a great deal of satisfaction. They also thought it fitting that the Egyptians who had spilled so much of their kinsfolks' blood should now have their water supply turned to blood and smell the stench of their sins.

Moses did not share their satisfaction. He had lived among the Egyptians and made friends with many of them. His conscience had been more sensitive towards the people when he was a prince than was usual for princes, though he could dispense with any who got in the way of system that he had been groomed to fit in with. He had not been cruel (for the most part), when he was not forced to be cruel. The common people and his soldiers had loved him because he was inclined to be fair to them, whenever possible. It had been in his interests to make himself popular with the army and the people, for he needed their support in order to gain the throne.

Moses understood that God's love had been working in him, though he did not know God at the time, except as a distant memory of what he had been taught as a little child by his Hebrew parents. His early upbringing had given him a more sensitive understanding of right and wrong than the Egyptians had.

Moses now understood that God loved the Egyptians. For the sake of their fathers who had been kind to the Hebrews in Joseph's day, He had shown the Egyptian populace mercy by placing a Hebrew from a godly family among them as a prince, to give them the opportunity, out of respect for Moses's goodness to them and saving them from the Ethiopians, to let up on their persecution of the Hebrews. If they had shown mercy then, they would experience more mercy now. The Egyptians had not repented of their cruelties, but it did not give God any satisfaction to have to visit misery on them, including the worst of them.

Pharaoh, having servants to fetch water for him, did not suffer personally from the plague, except for the scent of decayed fish flesh that reached his nostrils and the sight of the dust that offended his eyes. As scarce as water was, and the difficulty of obtaining it, he did not deny himself regular baths, not did his immediate family and the most rich and powerful of his nobles. Besides, it was only a week before the river began to run clear again.

Moses reappeared at the river's brink when Pharaoh was about to perform his morning ritual. What a nuisance he was. Part of Pharaoh's ritual entailed relieving his bladder, which he needed to do anyway after a long night, whether it was part of a ceremony or not. As a god, all his body fluids were considered precious, and the priests told the people that it was beneficial to them for Pharaoh to pee in the river.

There was no scooting around in bushes for Pharaohs. Since they had to have their bodyguards with them all the time, they had to perform these necessities with an audience. They made the most of it by making it out to be something special. Nobles felt privileged if they were intimate and influential enough with Pharoah to be present when he performed his eliminations.

Moses remembered how puzzled he was the first time he was told these outrageous stories about Pharaoh's sacred fluids. Unlike the the children of the Egyptian nobles, he had not been fed these lies along with his milk. His parents had taught him to be fastidious in his personal habits, and that these things were unclean waste products from the body. A few shocked looks and slaps across the mouth from the Egyptians when he ventured doubts about what they told him of Pharaoh's special case deterred him from speaking his thoughts aloud.

For a while, he let the Egyptians convince him of their tales; it made it easier to pretend they were true. Sooner than other children, though, his conviction emerged that it was all a farce, and he had to struggle harder than others to keep a straight face when he witnessed these ceremonies. Other nobles had more years of regarding them as solemn occasions, so it was not as difficult for them to keep a suitable expression on their face out of habit. Moses always thought it was a good joke, and would have burst out in laughter, but he was able to force his rising bubble of amusement to subside by reminding himself that it was likely to get him killed, if he betrayed that he did not believe their hoaxes.

If it would have imperiled only himself, Moses was not sure that he could have restrained himself from finally giving vent to the old urge to laugh, now that he no longer pretended that he thought the priests' stories were true. But there must be some kind of supernatural power keeping him under control because he was now further amused that God liked to send him to Pharaoh at this time and place. He was not unaware that Pharaoh's bladder felt like it was bursting, but that he considered it beneath his dignity to attend to his need to empty it in the presence of infidels who did not consider it a sacred act.

Not that the priests did either, but they had to keep up appearances that there was something special about Pharaoh's pee. This was how they got around Pharaoh's need to urinate and defecate like any other human being. He emptied his bladder into the river as a favour to the people, so that every one who washed and drank from the river could partake of his essence; how noble, generous, and self–sacrificing of him.

This time Moses said that the frogs would come out of the river and other waters and be everywhere, if Pharaoh did not let the Hebrews go. Pharaoh laughed and said, "Do your worst." This Moses really was amusing in how he tried to make him believe that he had control over that comet. Moses nodded at Aaron and Aaron stretched out his staff again towards the waters of Egypt.

This time a dreadful croaking filled the air as frogs leaped out of the river. Pharaoh thought it was a neat trick that Moses knew exactly when the frogs would leave the river and timed his announcement so well, then added the dramatics of having his brother wave his staff around. The rumours he had heard of what a clever scientist and accomplished actor the man had been were certainly true.

He marvelled that there were so many frogs and wondered where they had all come from. The High Priest told him that the comet's heat had increased their breeding. He and his priests muttered incantations and frogs came out of the river at their command, as well. Pharaoh put it down to either sorcery or a lucky coincidence that Moses knew that the frogs would choose, at that time, to leave the river. His magicians could make them leave the river at any time, even when there were no comets to put poisons in the water to drive them out.

If only his priests could send them back into the river, though. They tried, and they should have been able to send at least some of them back or to go somewhere else, but found themselves powerless to send any of the frogs away. No amount of spells and incantations could make their demons hearken to their commands to do that for them. Or perhaps the demons were unable to do it?

Pharaoh did not know, but the constant sound of their croaking kept him awake at night, and his nerves were jumping from the varmints leaping around even in his private apartments, no matter how vigilant his slaves were to try to clear them out. Sometimes the disgusting creatures even plopped into his food. He made sacrifices to the frog goddess to no avail; he was thoroughly disenchanted with that demon for having lost all control over her brood.

The Hebrews, living in the marshes, were not bothered too much by frogs. They were used to the sound of frogs croaking at night, but it was no louder than usual, and the frogs they saw were no more numerous than usual. It seemed that a good many of them gravitated into regions that were occupied mostly by Egyptians. In Goshen, they had enough frogs to help keep the flies down, but not enough to be a nuisance.

As for the Egyptians, their hands were tied. Frogs were sacred to them. They could not kill them. The penalty for doing so was death. Pharaoh wanted to be rid of them, but only an act of nature was permitted to kill a frog. If he ordered the people to kill the frogs, he would be considered a heretic.

After several sleepless days and nights, Pharaoh called for Moses, to test if his god really was behind this plague. He asked Moses to get rid of the frogs. Moses told him to choose the time. Pharaoh reasoned that perhaps Moses expected him to say right now, because he had somehow calculated that the frogs would disappear at this time. It would be the natural response to not put up with this plague a moment longer than he had to.

He said that he wanted them to be gone tomorrow, so that he could expose Moses as a fake. Moses shook his head that Pharaoh was willing to put his people through another day of that torture, but he agreed so that Pharaoh would know that there is no one like God, and left the court immediately afterwards.

Pharaoh thought that Moses shook his head because he was disappointed that he had not gotten the expected reply. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile of amusement on his lips, he told his courtiers, "We will now wait." He waved away the next person who attempted to speak to him and settled back upon his throne. It was obvious that he meant the words literally. Nobody could leave until Pharaoh left. The nobles were puzzled. He wanted them to stand there all night until the frogs went back to the river? They dared not question or disobey, for he was Pharaoh.

He continued to smile, secure in his smugness. He caught the eye of some of his nobles, and they smiled back because they knew what he was thinking. Any minute now, he expected a hurricane to sweep down from the comet and carry the frogs away. They waited. And waited. Not a breeze stirred.

Pharaoh waited an hour, but no hurricane came, nor did the goddess of the frogs decide to herd her troops back to the Nile at this time, which would have exposed Moses as a fake. Those who had guessed his thoughts had discreetly dispatched watchers to report to them if there was any sign of the frogs returning to the Nile.

The croaking continued as loud as ever. Some of the frogs continued to intrude into the throne room, where the guards hurried to catch them and toss them outside. It was useless to take them back to the river, for they never stayed in it, but hopped out immediately. When the priests had failed to return the frogs to the river, they told Pharaoh that the frogs had refused to do it because the waters were poisoned by iron sediment and dead fish, and that this was why they would not stay in it. One could hardly expect the goddess of the frogs to kill her subjects to please them.

Pharaoh understood, but he thought it was annoying that the goddess did not herd them off to Goshen to plague the Hebrews. He would have had his people collect them and dump them on the Hebrews, except that would not have made sense to them. Had they not been taught that frogs were symbols of fertility? Why would their king want to pour blessing on the Hebrews? Pharaoh was finding the Israelites enough of a problem as it was, without there being any more of them. The priest had told the Egyptians that the goddess had sent them the frogs as heralds of her favour, but the people wished that Heqet had thought of a better way to tell them that they were about to have a lot of children.

Finally, Pharaoh could not abide to wait any longer. He had guessed wrong that something would happen right away to remove the frogs, and now he looked like a fool. Everybody in the room were embarrassed, for it had eventually dawned on all of them that Pharaoh expected the frogs to be removed right away, thus proving that it was only a coincidence that the dust had fallen and the frogs had left the river at the same moment that Moses called for these signs. For the first time in years, Pharaoh blushed.

But his pride inspired him as to how he could save face. He rose from his throne and said, "The goddess has spoken. While I was sitting here, she spoke to me that we must make more sacrifices to appease her. She sent them to us to catch our attention because she is angry that we did not give her sufficient attention before now. We must offer victims until she is satisfied, and then she will take away the frogs."

His eyes surveyed the room and some of his nobles began to tremble. He caught sight of a minor lord of obscure family whom he had always hated, as he had an unpleasant appearance and irritating manner of talking. Pharaoh pointed at him and said, "We will start with you. The goddess reveals that you have offended against her subjects. Is it not true that you have mistreated these denizens of the sacred Nile?"

The man's eyes bulged with horror and he fell on his face before Pharaoh, protesting with sobs that he had not. Others spoke up, though, and said that they had grown up with this man, and in childhood had seen him torture frogs. They had said nothing before now, as they had not known when they were children how serious this error was. They had forgotten about the incidents until the goddess brought them back to their memory, so that the criminal could be punished. Out of her great mercy, she had allowed the man to live until now, to see the error of his ways and make restitution to the goddess, but the man was so brutish that he had never perceived his fault, and now he must pay.

Pharaoh took note of the liars who confirmed his accusations; he always rewarded those who supported him. With such as these to confirm Pharaoh's omniscience, nobody would dare say anything even among themselves of what he had expected to happen, but would make excuses for him to preserve his public image. They would put on an act of being shocked about the accused's crimes and speak politically correct platitudes about what an awful thing he had done, and how they must teach their children more diligently to be reverent towards frogs. The man was hauled away by guards.

The night passed with a steady supply of victims being offered. Pharaoh wished he could empty his prisons of his Hebrew captives to supply the altars with victims, but if Moses really was the only one who could take away the plague, he did not dare. Moses might go back on his word, if any of his people were killed.

As a hurricane had not lifted the frogs away, Pharaoh expected that Moses had intended to use sorcery this time to send the frogs back to the river, just as he had used sorcery to summon them. He should have realized before that, though the comet had increased the frogs' breeding, making this a sorely troublesome plague because there were so many of them, their leaving the river could be due to sorcery rather than pollution.

Moses could pull off a few tricks in that line, though he seemed at first to have only three of them. They had seen his staff turn into a snake, but it was also reported that he could turn his hand leprous and convert small amounts of water to actual blood. Apparently, he really could summon frogs out of the river, just as his own sorcerers had, and he possibly could send them back. Pharaoh had his agents in the Prince of Ephraim's house watching Moses as closely as they dared, without giving themselves away, to see if they could discover what incantations he would use to do this.

The reports were disappointing. They could discover nothing. Moses had passed part of the night in prayers, all offered up to the Hebrews' god, crying out to him to take away the frogs. No demons had been called forth, no potions concocted, no sacrifices offered; just words that extolled this god and expressed confidence that he would answer his prayers.

After he prayed, Moses went home and passed the rest of the night with his Ethiopian wife. The priests were unable to project themselves through astral travel to spy on what Moses did. Something always knocked their souls back into their bodies when they came near Goshen and they could not locate Moses in the city when he left Hebrew territory. They'd had to rely on one of their agents to try to listen to what went on in Moses's room. She had not been able to hear anything but the normal sounds of lovemaking and then the soft murmur of voices.

It had irritated Pharaoh to hear the words of Moses's prayers rehearsed to him and he waved the agent away, after confirming that the rest of it was just more of the same. Pharaoh concluded that if Moses was using sorcery, he probably was just putting on a show for his people by offering prayers to their god. He very likely performed his sorcery when he was alone with Tharbis, but they had no access to the room where he slept when he was in it. The spies had searched it, and could not find any evidence that he used spells, but that did not mean to say that he had not discovered some powerful incantations that did not require props.

If the demon that controlled the frogs did not take them away before morning, or if a hurricane did not occur by then and carry them off, and the frogs went when Moses said they would, the priests had a ready answer. They would just tell the people that it happened because the goddess of the frogs had finally been satisfied with their sacrifices. It was a stupid story, but plausible enough. His people wanted to serve their gods because they allowed them more license to indulge their lusts than the Hebrews' god, so they would convince themselves that it made sense.

The next day, the croaking suddenly ceased. Frogs dropped right where they were, whether indoors or outside. It was a marvel and a horror. The marvel was how they all died at the same time, and the horror was that they died. How could they say that the goddess of the frogs had done it? Pharaoh had asked that the sacred frogs be sent away, not that they would be killed, which would be blasphemy. How could this be explained to the people?

It was highly unlikely that the goddess of the frogs would kill every single one of her soldiers, after teaching the Egyptians to revere them. It was a relief that the frogs were gone, and Pharaoh was glad of that, but angry at the method of their removal. This was highly embarrassing. It looked like the Hebrew god had done this, and it was a public relations disaster.

Pharaoh was infuriated at the awkward position Moses had put him in, but the priests made up some story about how the goddess was so pleased with their sacrifices that she had decided to sacrifice her own children for the Egyptians' sake. It was lamer than the other story, but it was the best they could do. The people gathered the frogs up in heaps and burned them. The priests told them that the frogs' ashes floating around in the air would confer blessing on them and make them fertile. Physicians gathered up ashes to make fertility potions for those who needed extra help conceiving. The smell of the burning frog flesh was disgusting, but it was now quiet enough that Pharaoh could finally get some sleep.

Pharaoh asked his priests why the frogs had died so suddenly. They answered that they must have hatched all at the same time, and this was just the end of their natural life cycle. The explanation was full of holes, but the priests were like that. If the real answer did not suit them, they made up plausible–sounding stuff that suited their purposes and soothed their consciences about refusing to submit to God, if they still had any conscience left.

It suited Pharaoh to endorse their explanation, and even to let himself believe it. His lips twisted cynically at how this Moses kept trying to use the comet to force him to release the slaves. Obviously, he had calculated from the frogs' life cycle and their poisoned state when they would die. He must have guessed that Pharaoh would not choose the obvious time, but try to trip him up by asking for them to be removed the next day.

Moses must have shaken his head, pretending disgust with Pharaoh's answer, as part of his scheme to embarrass him into waiting for the frogs to leave right away. The old General of the Generals was still up to his tricks, using Nature to fight war, just as he had so long ago gathered ibises to eat the leaping sand vipers, enabling him to come unawares upon the Ethiopians. Pharaoh deeply resented Moses for getting the better of him, but he thought it would be amusing to see what Moses tried next and how that turned out.

It was lice. Now he said that there would be lice like they had never seen before. Pharaoh laughed and said, "But no doubt you Hebrews have, with your bearded faces and hairy bodies. It seems to me that it is more likely your people will be plagued with it than mine. Be gone with you and your silly threats."

The lice came in a hurricane. A fierce storm blew into Egypt and then suddenly ceased. Shortly after that, lice that had been deposited in the dust of the ground, and was hopping there in swarms, leaped onto the people and the itching began. It seemed that now Geb, the god of the earth, had turned on his people.

It didn't matter if every hair was shaved from their bodies and heads; the lice crawled over them, regardless. Even Pharaoh, for the first time in his life, knew what it was to have lice. It was in all his clothes and the servants couldn't seem to keep them out, though they ironed every piece of his clothing before they put it on him. The lice made fresh assaults on his clothes and body from every surface. It was agony to try to refrain from scratching in public, though he was desperate to portray himself to his people as a god. Could lice plague a god?

Pharaoh asked his priests to duplicate the plague of lice, but they could not. Their demons did not come to them to do their bidding, but remained strangely silent. This was troubling. They depended a lot on their sorcery to keep the people under their control. At least, they did not make the mistake of telling the people that the lice was the gift of Geb, as they had the last time with Heqet.

Pharaoh asked for an explanation of the lice. The High Priest said with a straight face, "It's the finger of God." Pharaoh looked at him sharply. Was Jambres starting to believe the superstitions of the common people? Jambres shook his bald head and said with a cunning smile, "The vulgar masses believe the comet to be the hand of the Hebrews' god, but there is a perfectly logical, scientific explanation for this plague. It is merely yet another effect of the comet; a small one. The comet's heat has increased the breeding of vermin everywhere, and the hurricane was another effect. It lifted the lice from other places and carried them here, dumping them in our soil. There are probably hurricanes happening elsewhere and depositing vermin in other countries, too, where there are no issues involving the Hebrews."

This certainly explained why the Hebrews had lice, as well. The spies reported that it was just as thick in Goshen in some places as it was outside of the marshes. There were some Hebrews whom the lice seemed to avoid. This was probably due to powerful sorcery, but the agents could not see any charms that those people were wearing, or discover what spells they used.

Oddly, the Hebrews who did wear charms and could be discovered using spells to try to keep the lice out of their homes had it worse than the other Hebrews. Pharaoh said, "All that proves is that some of the Hebrews are more adept at magic than others, and they know enough to keep their methods hidden. The ones who are walking about without lice must be the ones who do not truly worship the Hebrew god, as he forbids enchantments. See if you can compromise them into becoming agents for us."

The agents protested, "But they are the ones who support Moses the most. His closest family members are not plagued with lice. There are also a few of the elders who seem to be free of it, though some of the elders are as ridden with it as we are."Pharaoh snapped testily, "Well, don't bother with the ones who are as plagued as we are! Moses has probably cast a spell to protect his family, so we can't tell who among them practices magic and who doesn't. Concentrate on the elders who practice magic!"

It was ironic that the agents were directed to leave alone those among the Hebrews who were weakest in their faith, except those who had someone else's faith covering for them. Nonetheless, it was a testing time for God's people. Many of them could not understand why they were not exempt from this plague, as were some others among them. It was a matter of the purity of their faith in God's goodness and power that determined how much victory they had over the lice, but those whose faith was hindered by doubt and unbelief, or had no faith at all, tended to persecute their brethren who were less bothered by the lice, especially those who were not bothered by the lice at all. They grumbled against Moses, but the fact that he didn't have lice was a great encouragement to him in the face of criticism.

Pharaoh did not bother to call on Moses to rid him of the lice. He was getting tired of his phony pronouncements of doom. When the winds picked up the lice and carried them elsewhere, giving his soldiers respite, he would begin to make arrests. In the meantime, they were all scratching themselves raw. No amount of washing helped because lice hopped out of the dirt onto them as soon as they stepped out of the river.

God again told Moses to go meet Pharaoh at the river. Pharaoh listened in stony silence to the next ultimatum. Now he not only was kept from relieving his bursting bladder, but he itched like mad and dare not scratch in front of the Hebrew. Moses said that he would call for a plague of flies, and they would not enter into Goshen, for the Lord was going to put a division between His people and Pharaoh's.

With tight lips, Pharaoh looked at Moses up and down. It was annoying that he and his brother stood at ease, as if they had no lice on their bodies at all. Indeed, he could not see any in their beards or on their clothes. He'd had to have even his eyebrows shaven to keep them from laying their eggs there.

It seemed as if Geb, the Great Cackler who was represented by a goose, was mocking his own people. A stray thought wandered through Pharaoh's mind that Geb was a stupid goose. Where had that thought come from? Was Moses putting thoughts into his head?

Pharaoh impatiently flicked his switch at a fly and turned his back. With a thrust of his chin, Pharaoh walked away. He could not resist one little twitch of his shoulder blade, though, and it humiliated him that the Hebrews had seen him do it.

Even before he reached the palace, the winds were blowing again. They shrieked around the residence all night, pounding out his royal name that was derived from the sound that hurricanes make. "Taui Thom, Taui Thom!" It sounded like a pronouncement of doom. Thom was the name given to the setting sun, presented in figure as an old man. It seemed that the winds were saying that his life was going to sink into the darkness.

The winds died off by morning, but the air was filled with a loud, buzzing noise. Flies of every sort had been imported into Egypt in the hurricane, which was stronger than the one that brought the lice. Mosquitos, wasps, hornets, bees, flying ants, bluebottles, and every sort of winged nuisance was nipping and stinging and sucking at the Egyptians and the foreigners within their borders, except in Goshen. The restless lord2 had certainly lost control of his soldiers.

One could be beating off this flying armada in a frenzy an inch from the border, and as soon as they stepped over into the territory designated as Goshen, not a fly was found there, regardless of all the humanity gathered in camps on the hillocks. It was like there was an invisible shield all around the territory. Normally mosquitos were found there in the marshes more than anywhere else in Egypt because of its dampness, which was why the Egyptians had been content to leave the area to the Hebrews, but not one was now found in that place.

Elsewhere, homes were clogged with insects buzzing to and fro and swarming on food. Never mind the food; even the very ground seemed to heave as the flies clustered there and their larvae hatched. The people's nerves were ragged from swatting them away and getting no sleep, both from the sound of their droning and their attacks upon their flesh. They scratched at their sores and they became infected. Animals ran about in a frenzy, trying to escape their tiny attackers, and sometimes people got trampled under the hooves of the larger cattle, or bitten by irritable pets and the dogs who haunted the streets. Malaria increased and many died from it.

But in Goshen, people slept as comfortable as babies, and their livestock, too. More people moved into Goshen for refuge. When owners and officers turned up to recover slaves, they were so terrified by the contrast between where they lived and Goshen, there being no flies in the latter place at all, that they either decided to make friends with the Hebrews, or retreat and wait to see what would happen, for it was rumoured that the Hebrew General could send the flies away. It was not wise to do anything that would displease him.

Moses was glad that he and his people did not have to deal with the flies, but he wished that he did not have to deal with his wife and sons, as well. Zipporah was meaner than any hornet that ever visited the Egyptians. Her jealousy of Tharbis was making her discard all sense of dignity and justice. She now harped at her, following her around the house, accusing her of having stolen her husband. She meanly derided Tharbis for not knowing how to do ordinary housekeeping tasks, as Tharbis had always had servants to attend to her. It was reported to him that Zipporah criticized the Ethiopian's slight build, the colour of her skin, the curliness of her hair, the thickness of her lips, and flatness of her nose (relative to Zipporah's), though Moses found Tharbis's features and figure very pleasing.

Zipporah had come to realize that Tharbis was Queen of the Ethiopians no more, having given up that position to abide with Moses. There would be no Ethiopian troops to support them. Why did they need them, when Moses's god was bending Nature to work on the Hebrews' behalf? Moses's looks had more in common with Zipporah's, and, like him, she was descended from Abraham. Zipporah managed to remind Tharbis of this at least once a day, and put her in mind that when they left Egypt, they were going to head into her father's territory for a while, as God had said that Moses would bring them to Mount Sinai to worship Him.

Tharbis discovered that, in addition to having too much dignity to make any reply to her tormentor, her nature had become softer than what it used to be, so she felt no need to complain to Moses about how his other wife behaved towards her. Perhaps it was the humbling effect that being a prisoner for forty years had had on her, as well as an increasingly better acquaintance with the God of the Hebrews, who said that vengeance was His. Moses's host, however, told him what was going on when he was away. His servants had reported it all to him.

Zipporah's attitude coloured their sons' attitudes, too, as always. They felt that their mother had been shortchanged, and they spoke rudely to the other wife. This had to stop. It had to stop for Tharbis's sake, as well as for their host, whose family was becoming increasingly uncomfortable in their own house because of the tension between the two wives. If it had been only himself who was affected by Zipporah's contempt, Moses might have borne it, but, besides having his beloved Tharbis and kind hosts to consider, he had enough to deal with in the person of Pharaoh and his court. He needed to stay on top of that situation and not let himself get worn down by personal family matters.

Additionally, the Ethiopians were now aware of Zipporah's hectoring and his sons' disrespect to Tharbis, regardless that she had told her personal bodyguard and the other servants in the house to say nothing of it to anybody. The Ethiopians were angry on her behalf and Moses was afraid that their regard for him would not be enough to protect his sons or Zipporah from their wrath. He did not want Zipporah to suffer, but he couldn't truthfully say that he would be terribly broken up about losing her. He was working on his attitude towards her, to totally forgive her of her nagging and malice, but he wasn't quite there, yet. He also owed it to her father to protect her, and his sons would be upset if they lost their mother.

Moses was also worried that Zipporah might be approached by Pharaoh's agents to help them capture Tharbis and hold her as a hostage, now that Pharaoh was realizing that he was a serious threat. He did not trust Zipporah to resist the temptation to get rid of her rival, if she could do so undetected, even if it meant that it could sabotage his mission. No, no. Zipporah would figure that, if she reminded him of his duty to his people, he would still go ahead with what he was supposed do, even if the Egyptians tortured Tharbis to death within his sight and hearing. With God's help, he would, but it would rip his heart out. It was time to take action.

Zipporah was shocked when Moses told her that he was sending her and her sons back to her father. At first, he diplomatically said it was for their safety, as Pharaoh was becoming increasingly irritated with him. Zipporah clung to him and said, "But I don't want to go. My beloved, my place is beside you, sharing your hardships and your dangers." Moses impatiently tugged her hands away from his neck and said point blank, "You are the cause of many of my hardships and increasingly a danger to my sanity. I have told you and I have told you to leave Tharbis be, but I always hear reports afterwards that you are still at it. I told you that, if you cannot be polite to her, stay out of her vicinity, and stop running her down to my family. You will not listen, and you have poisoned our sons against her, just as you poisoned them from their infancy against me. Take them and go back to your father. I am sure that he will understand why I have sent you back, as he was so forward about marrying you off to me when I was a stranger and a fugitive, before he knew what I was running from."

Zipporah looked at him like he had slapped her, then ran from the room with loud, racking sobs. She did not have to do a thing to prepare herself for her journey, for her host's servants packed all her baggage for her, and young men stood at the ready within an hour to escort her and her sons back to Midian.

Moses fetched her out, telling herself to pull herself together and act like the daughter of a chief. He hugged his sons and blessed them. They were stiff and sullen under his hands, but they said nothing to embarrass him. They understood by now that their father's people would be shocked to hear them revile their father, and despise them for doing it.

The party headed out of Goshen, and Moses's sons marvelled that when they left that territory, though flies swarmed all around them, none landed on anyone in their group, or even on their animals. They received protection all the way to their grandfather's home, though plagues came and went. In spite of their feelings that their mother had been wronged, it made the boys feel lonesome for their father, for they knew that he could pray powerfully and God was working through him, and they chafed that they were missing out on seeing up close everything that was happening in Egypt.

The plague of flies did not disappear fast enough for Pharaoh's satisfaction, though the priests assured him that eventually another hurricane would come along and pick them up, taking most of them away. Moses barely had time to get settled down to the peace and solace of Tharbis's company when officers arrived at the mansion's door, summoning him to Pharaoh's presence. They presented a miserable picture, in spite of their fine uniforms and weapons, every inch of exposed skin covered in insect bites. They were also apologetic about relaying a demanding message, for it had not escaped their notice that the reports were true that there were no flies whatsoever in the land of Goshen. Prostrating themselves before Moses (Pharaoh choked with rage when he found out that they did that), they delivered the summons.

When Moses arrived at the palace, he discovered (not surprisingly) that Ra–uah–ab was willing to make a concession. The terms were disappointing, though. He agreed to allow the Israelites to hold a festival, but they had to stay within the borders of Egypt. Moses insisted this was not what their God had told them to do, and that their way of worship was so offensive to the Egyptians that they would attack them, if they did it within their sight. Pharaoh admitted the sense of this, so he said that he would let them go into the wilderness, only not very far, if he would pray to his god to take the flies away.

What else could he do? He felt like he had not slept for weeks, what with frogs croaking, lice devouring him, and flies buzzing, buzzing, buzzing and biting constantly. He could not go outside to raise or set the sun because of all these flies. The entire ceremony had to be conducted indoors, without him being able to go outside for the satisfaction of seeing the sun rising.

Not that he really believed that he made the sun rise or set; that was just to keep the populace convinced that he controlled the sun. No, it was a personal superstition that performing the ceremony of the dawn conferred safety on him. He always wished he could hurry it along, instead of having to wait for the priests to do the routine in their plodding way. His murders, especially of his brothers, had instilled a fear of retribution in him.

He was able to trace this fear back to Moses, curse him! Moses could have been Pharaoh, but he would have had to prove his loyalty to satan by sacrificing his Hebrew parents and siblings. This would also prove to all the Egyptians that he had truly made a break with his Hebrew roots. He had refused to do it. Instead, he had attempted to free his people.

Jannes had admired Moses when he was a child. When he was older and learned everything about how Moses had refused a great offer, he had despised him for his weakness towards his people, and gone ahead with taking satan up on his offer to make him Pharaoh. It was not until he gained the throne that he started to feel some treacherous guilt about his deeds.

He knew that Moses had everything that could have made him the ruler of the world, except for his weakness for his flesh and blood. But was it a weakness? Was it not just another example of something in Moses that made him superior to him? Jannes hated himself for his doubts, but there seemed to be nothing he could do about it. Moses's example of integrity convicted him. These signs that Moses was able to perform seemed to say that Moses had made the right choice.

Before he took the throne, Jannes could kill and sleep like a log afterwards. Now he did not sleep well at the best of times. His brothers' faces arose in his dreams like phantoms, accusing him. They were the only murders that bothered him, but they were done and there was nothing he could do about it now. He had to keep on killing to retain his throne; it went with the job.

Pharaoh was usually awake when his servants came to prepare him for the ceremony of getting him dressed and raising the sun. To be assured that the magic he performed in the temple was working, he was always anxious afterwards to head outside to see that the sun was still rising on him, and his fears would disappear for the rest of the day.

Now he could not go outside to watch the dawn appear. He had to urinate in a cup and let a priest take it outside to quickly toss it into the Nile, while he squinted through a screen in a window, trying to see the first rays of daylight. He sang a hymn while waiting, not to coax the sun to rise, but to keep from bursting out into a scream.

Pushing aside his troubling thoughts about his fears, Pharaoh mused that it might be only another coincidence if the flies went away when Moses prayed, but he needed a coincidence like that. His priests had not been able to send them away. In fact, there they were right now, swatting at flies and scratching at their sores and the lice that still plagued them.

Moses prayed and another hurricane swept all the flies, and most of the lice away, except for those trapped beneath clothes and in the houses. Typically, Pharaoh went back on his word. Moses stormed into Pharaoh's presence and announced that, on the following day, God was going to send sores upon Pharaoh's cattle that would be so severe they would kill them, but none of the Hebrews' animals would be affected. This was a judgment against the gods that governed livestock.

He left immediately after delivering his prophecy, when Pharaoh was so busy turning it over in his mind that he did not give an order in time to have him apprehended for speaking to him in such a disrespectful tone of voice and delivering such a distasteful word. Pharaoh thought it was too bad that Moses did not let his brother do all his talking for him, for he always spoke with a note of deference, regardless of what Moses told him to say.

It happened just as the Hebrew prophet said. The animals that had been left outside did indeed break out in sores and die from another deadly deposit of dust from the comet. The priests told Pharaoh that it was a result of the accumulated poison from eating herbage that had residual iron dus on it, with this new pollution added, and the animals had not had sufficient water at all times to cleanse their systems.

Somehow Moses must have known that the animals would break out in this infection, if they received any more contamination. Perhaps he had read a medical treatise on how iron dust affects animals, as the phenomenom had not been wholly unknown. It had been observed in various places in small quantities before, as a result of meteorite showers.

Pharaoh sent his agents forth to observe the Hebrews' animals, and they reported that they were thriving. Hmmph. Well, Moses must have warned his people ahead of time and they had taken measures to protect their animals from poisoning. It infuriated him that Moses warned only his own people how to protect themselves from damage from the comet, but not him.

If only Moses was not so set on getting him to let his people go three days into the wilderness, Pharaoh would have offered Moses riches and position to come over to his side, so that he would have access to the things that Moses knew. He had heard of his genius in the old days, of how quick a student he had been, of how wide his knowledge was, and of his clever inventions, but it seemed that the half had not been told. He would, indeed, have been a powerful Pharaoh, if he had not gone back over to his own people.

Jealousy burned in Pharaoh's heart at the thought of how much more popular and efficient than him Moses would have been as Pharaoh. Between that and his anger at having lost so much livestock when Moses could have prevented it (as he thought), Pharaoh was determined more than ever to not give in to his demand to let the Hebrews go.

Moses met him again out of doors, as Pharaoh was about to leave the palace, his priests leading the way. This time Aaron held a vessel of ashes that had been taken from a furnace. This next plague had Thoth, the god of healing, as its target. The priests murdered people on his altars, burning them alive; many Hebrews had been the victims. Then the priests threw the ashes in the air, telling the people that every scattered ash contained a blessing for them. They were about to see what kind of blessing God was going to send on them for their cruel idolatry.

Moses's anger at Pharaoh had totally overcome his reluctance to speak to the Egyptians. He was too angry to take the time to tell Aaron what to say. With each sign, his confidence in God had grown. He saw that God could not only use even someone who had made as many mistakes in his life as he had, but that He was also willing to do so. His stutter was now completely eliminated.

Moses reached into the jar that Aaron held and threw handfuls of ashes in the air towards heaven, furiously telling Pharaoh what to expect next. A very grievous sore would be upon the Egyptians and all their remaining animals, but not on the Hebrews. Pharaoh would have had him arrested then and there, but then the comet began to speak, saying the name of the Hebrew god over and over.

This was frustrating. Pharaoh had given it one of his royal names, telling his people that the heavens were ratifying his splendor, but the comet insisted on touting the Hebrew god. His priests had figured out that when two electrically charged globes approach each other, they make the sounds of a trumpet, varying like the notes of the diatonic scale as they move closer and apart. They needn't have been afraid when they had heard those sounds, except that they told them that the comet was much too close to the Earth.

Moses must be very learned and exceptionally intelligent indeed, to have realized that the comet would make that sound. Had he conducted an experiment on a smaller scale before now? He had gotten the jump on them by saying that this was the name of his god before the comet began spewing forth its effects and making those sounds. The damage was now done. The common people had no knowledge of this scientific fact and they believed that the comet was announcing the Hebrew god.

Pharaoh was wrong. Moses had not known that a comet was going to come close enough to the Earth to follow its orbit when God declared His Name to him. He had not known that the comet would produce this sound, until God confirmed His word with that sign following. As God had said, his fathers had never before known Him by this Name.

Within only moments after Moses flung the ashes in the air, a shimmering, silver swathe was seen trailing from the comet's tail, and tiny, shiny flakes of dust came flittering down. As soon as the flakes landed on skin, they stung and seemed to dig in. Pharaoh was protected in the doorway of his palace and the awning held in readiness to shade him when he went forth, but his priests were exposed. They were breaking out in boils even as they stood there swatting at the flakes, and then they turned and ran into the palace, moaning as they went. Pharaoh and his attendants still standing indoors hastily moved backwards out of their way.

Moses and Aaron remained where they were, for the moment. Nothing alighted on their persons, though their vision was impeded by the dust, as if it was only a fog. They heard the doors of the palace slam shut and saw people running for cover, yelping at how the dust burned, though it did not affect the other Egyptians as quickly as it had the priests, making them break out instantly in boils. In their case, God supernaturally accelerated the damage, as they held greater responsibility for the delay in releasing God's people through the advice they kept giving to their king.

The dust did not cause even so much as a tingle upon Moses's and Aaron's skin, for it never landed on them. It landed around them, and filled their footprints behind them as they passed through the streets, but it did not come upon their skin or clothes, or hinder their breathing. They did not need to cover their noses and mouths with their cloaks to breathe for there seemed to be an invisible shield around them.3

Aaron, in particular was excited about this supernatural protection, but Moses was grieved to see the effect that the dust had on the Egyptians. When they arrived back in Goshen, the air was clear. This comet dust had not fallen there, and the ground was not even reddish anymore because the typhoon that brought the lice had swept all the iron dust away.

The Hebrews thronged the border and watched with interest what was happening to the Egyptians. The shiny smog glittered in the air. Some of the Egyptians headed away from Goshen to find cover, but most of those in the vicinity of their border headed towards the Hebrews, remembering how the flies had stayed away from them. They fell to their knees inside the border, gasping with relief, and rubbing at their eyes. Moses told them to not do that, if they did not want to go blind.

He had clean water fetched to wash out their eyes and rinse off their skin, and offered to let them stay in the refugee camp of foreigners and Egyptians that had sprung up during the last plague. Some of the Egyptians said that they did not need his permission to stay. The young men raised their staffs and forced the Egyptians back to the border where the dust was still falling, until the Egyptians thought better of their attitude and apologized to the Hebrew leader for their insolence. A different day had certainly dawned for the Hebrews.

Pharaoh felt miserable. That horrible dust floated into the palace and got even into his rooms. It made things worse that he always felt obliged to stand by the river every morning to watch the sun rise, if it was possible to go outside. The cinders had stopped falling, but were still floating around and sifted into his clothes, regardless of how well he covered himself, and despite having an awning over him. When he had to raise his kilt to bless the river, the awning proved insufficient to protect him.

He would do that part of his morning routine inside, as he had before when there were so many flies, but going outside to only watch the sun rise might tip off his enemies that he was afraid of the dark. It was better that they think he only had a compulsion to pee in the Nile in the mornings, and that was why he had fretted when he could not go outside at dawn before.

He had boils from head to toe, especially where his skin tended to be more exposed, and was afraid to show his face to anyone. They would wonder how a god could break out into boils. His physicians were making his condition worse with their concoctions and poultices. Sometimes the worst part of being sick was the medicine that was given. He was so desperate to get well, though, that he submitted to every treatment, and wondered if the doctors did not derive a spiteful satisfaction from what they prescribed and did to him.

Only a couple of servants besides his priests (those who were not totally incapacitated by the boils), waited on Pharaoh during those first days of misery, under threat of execution if they told anyone that he was cursed with boils the same as everyone else. His guards were told to turn their faces from him, the better to keep vigilant watch for enemies. Other than these few attendants, he allowed only the Queen into his apartments or to accompany him to the river, but she just wanted to rant bitterly at him for being so stubborn towards the General. She was an ugly sight with her lumpy face and bumpy limbs, but he looked even worse, so what he could say?

Pharaoh knew he could not hide away for long; affairs of state called. Heavy make-up covered his sores, but pus still managed to ooze past that barrier and betray that his misery was as severe as anyone else's. Cushions on his throne did not do much to ease the pain of the boils on his backside; nothing had been able to ease the soreness in his throat from secondary infection that had set into his body. In this sorry state, he conducted his business, talking as little as possible, but he did not call for Moses to give him relief. He was not yet desperate enough to endure having Moses see him so disfigured.

How dared he, how dared he, how dared he cause such pain and deformity to his royal person? It was starting to become impressed upon Pharaoh's mind that these plagues were not all due to natural causes, especially after he saw how instantly his magicians broke out in boils. Even his co–ruler, the High Priest, had taken to his bed for several days, and his absence was explained as having to be occupied with conducting enchantments on the people's behalf, while another priest had the honour of filling in for him. The other priests who were given that honour wished they could stay in bed, too.

Pharaoh could not afford the luxury of total bedrest, for, unless he was on his deathbed, even if he had not had fears prodding him on to do it, he always had to go to the temple to raise the sun. As Pharaoh, it was expected of him. His compulsion to go outside afterwards to watch the sun rise and his vanity at making a big deal out of taking a leak had the benefit of adding to the pageantry of his morning ritual, but now the whole thing was a huge pain. He would not give Moses the satisfaction of seeing him in this condition, or ask favours of him, and he certainly would not let the Hebrews go. When his army recovered from this plague and were back in fighting form, he would make them all pay for his suffering.

The army certainly was not in any condition to fight. Their numbers had been reduced by malaria and now they suffered from these boils. Guards kept watch at their posts under the combined heat of the sun and the comet. Actually their mind was not much on their jobs. They managed to stand leaning against a post and to hold a spear, but their thoughts were feverishly consumed with the wish to lie down and sleep to subdue their pain at least a little. If the Hebrews were so inclined, they could have rushed them and overthrown them with very little loss to their number, but Moses said that God's way was to deliver them all alive and uninjured, so they were to be patient and see what God was going to do further.

He received direction to go forth and meet Pharaoh again. Moses did not know about Pharaoh's fears. He just figured that Pharaoh could be counted on to perform his daily ritual of calling forth the sun to light the day, as if the sun depended on his flattery to coax it to rise. It kept his people subjected to him, to believe that it was by the offices of their glorious god–king that the sun rose and made their crops grow. Moses supposed that it was to demonstrate how committed he was to his duty to his people that Pharaoh made his dawn appearances at the river's side, if it was at all possible to go outside.

The guards had been given their orders to keep people at a distance; Pharaoh did not want the commoners to see his disfigurement; it was bad enough that his courtiers were aware of it. It was hard to be Pharaoh, to walk straight and dignified when he was in so much pain. Boils upon his inner thighs chafed and pus ran down his legs. Now what was this? His guards stood aside to allow Moses and Aaron approach him. They would die for that. He had given orders that his morning ritual was not to be interrupted.

The guards were too terrified of Moses and Aaron to deny them audience with Pharaoh. They had trembled when they saw how the priests had instantly broken out with boils and they trembled more to hear what Moses said to the king. He sternly told Pharaoh that God had raised him (Pharaoh) up to teach the nations a lesson in respect. His words implied that it was not by his own might or cleverness that Pharaoh had come to the throne, but because he was so stubborn and wilfully selfish and downright stupid, so that kings would learn that it does not pay to oppose God or do hurt to His people. The guards knew that Pharaoh would put them to death because they had heard him be rebuked when he was powerless to do anything about it. He would never again be able to look at them without feeling shame that they had heard.

Moses felt sorry for the poor fellows, but he couldn't do anything about Pharaoh's insistence on being accompanied everywhere by guards. He needed guards more than ever now because his people were becoming deeply disenchanted with him. Did Pharaoh think that he had suffered? It was nothing to what he would suffer more, for God was going to bring all His plagues on him and his people, and he was going to end up dead by the hand of God.

Since he hadn't had enough of tormenting God's people by keeping them in slavery, meteorites were going to fall on his land, such as never before had been seen in Egypt. If he knew what was good for him, he would give an order to bring in all the animals and people from outside. Moses then stretched forth his staff and called for meteorites to fall upon Egypt, then departed from Pharaoh's presence unhindered by his guards. They might not be able to prevent their own deaths, but they had the satisfaction of knowing that Pharaoh was going to die, too. Three of the guards, however, made the attempt to preserve their lives by bolting. One of them was able to reach Goshen alive and go into hiding there.

Pharaoh had a warning, but Pharaoh did not give the order. He did not even mention the warning to his people, out of his contempt and anger for Moses and the god he served. The priests said that there was a war going on between their demon lords and the demon lord of the Hebrews. To give heed to the Hebrews' god would give it more power against their own gods. They needed to make more human sacrifices and just hang on until their gods could gain the upper hand again.

Pharaoh did not warn his people, but the Hebrews passed the word along. The guards, in spite of having captured two of the three who had run away, were arrested and painfully executed in sacrificial rituals. The official reason was that they had not prevented Moses and Aaron from entering his presence at their own convenience. The nobles surmised that he was angered that the guards had let them get a close look at his boils, besides interrupt his bathroom activities, and it also leaked out through the priests what Moses had said to him. Certainly the guards deserved to be punished for not arresting Moses after he made a verbal threat on Pharaoh's life, regardless of how afraid they were of the Hebrew prophet.

Some of the Egyptians, those who took Moses's warnings seriously and were starting to consider the possibility that the Hebrews had a just cause against them, brought in their livestock and servants and hunkered down in sturdy shelters to await the meteorite shower.

The comet stretched out the sound of its cry as the Earth passed through its tail. It rained meteorites on Egypt, and on many other places besides. Petroleum flowed from it, igniting and filling the sky with flames until it used up all the oxygen in its vicinity. It became sludge again and fell so copiously that some drowned in its flood. People went insane because there was nothing in their frame of reference to explain to them why the sky was on fire, or what this tide of sticky, black stuff was. Many could not escape the fiery rocks and suffocating, black liquid that burst into flame at the touch of a spark, consuming plains and forests and jungles.

Death by fire, from suffocation by petroleum, smoke, dust from the comet, and gases from volcanoes, suffocation from dirt when the earth opened its mouth to swallow, crushing from tumbling walls and rocks in earthquakes, bludgeoning from huge chunks of burning hail and meteorites, tossing around and smashing by hurricane winds, the speedy flowing of lava, and the crashing of monstrous tidal waves wiped out entire civilizations around the Earth. Most of the places where people ran for refuge became a death trap. Very few survivors lived to tell of the horror. If calamities of Nature did not snuff them out immediately, disease from their wounds and deprivations finished the job.

The plagues were not as severe in Egypt, though the Egyptians got a taste of all them. Out of consideration that God's chosen nation was in the vicinity, and for the Egyptians whom God had chosen to spare to raise up their nation again from the ashes of their chastisement, the catastrophes were held in greater check. Egypt got meteorites, but smaller dumps of petroleum, rather than enough to drown people, as the people of Mexico experienced at that time.

The situation in Egypt was very harsh, though. Pharaoh cowered in his palace, wincing and cringing as he listened to the explosions of the meteorites and their crashing against his walls. If he had not feared earthquakes, he would have preferred to take refuge in a pyramid, but they had been built to house the memorials of the gods and preserve the history and agenda of the New World Order4 against the very type of situation that the Earth was experiencing now, rather than to provide protection for living humans. Their sturdiness was proof against meteorite showers, but they could become a trap in an earthquake.

Pharaoh's servants dared not plead with him verbally to give in to the Hebrews, but their eyes begged him. His priests had warned him long before Moses brought it up that meteorites would probably fall, but none of them had reckoned on anything this severe. It certainly seemed like the heavens were making war on Egypt. They made loud bursts of noise when they fell and their bombardment was so thick that many of them even came whizzing in through the windows, falling right into Pharaoh's own apartments. His servants stood on guard to beat out the flames when combustables caught fire, but sometimes they had to also drag away the bodies of those who were hit by the straying meteorites. Pharaoh figured that enough was enough, if this plague was going to put his own life in danger, and the sky goddess could do nothing about it.

Moses and Aaron had been waiting within the palace, within the apartments of one of Moses's old friends, a former officer of his (now a general), who had been trying to use his influence with the other aristocrats to get them to put pressure on Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, to save Egypt from being destroyed. With each sign, he had been having more and more success. When Pharaoh demanded that Moses be brought to him, his servants left his presence in great fear. How was it possible to go outside in that deadly rain to fetch the Hebrew prophet? Not to worry; there were those in the palace who knew that Moses was within its walls, and they sent a message for him to come.

Pharaoh had moved to a safer location to dress for his audience with Moses and was not even finished having his boils concealed beneath cosmetics, when it was announced that the General awaited him in the throne room. So, he had friends among Pharaoh's nobles and had been awaiting this call. He might let the Hebrews go free, but he was going to have to step up his investigations to find out who among his own people were this man's friends. Their blood would be pleasing to his gods and give them more strength against their opponents. Also, it was good to know that the Hebrew had stayed inside the palace because he was afraid of being smashed by meteorites. He, apparently, did not have total control over all the comet's plagues.

Moses was not afraid of the meteorites. He had waited within the palace because he knew that Pharaoh would call for him, and that his servants could not have ventured outside to get him. He looked into the faces of the nobles who were assembled, waiting for Pharaoh to arrive. Many of them could not look him in the eye and it took all their strength to not shudder at the sound of the meteorites knocking against the roof and walls. Some reasoned that the meteorites would surely not penetrate any room that the General was in, which helped relax them.

Pharaoh entered and gingerly took his seat upon his throne while his courtiers bowed. Moses and Aaron did not bow. They had dispensed with such courtesies several plagues ago. They would pay for that! How he wished he had taken the man more seriously at the outset and had him arrested, when it would have been much easier to do so, and killed him before he could have called these plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh was convinced that, if it was not for this man doing his hocus pocus at the behest of his god, who seemed to make allowances for him to practice sorcery, Egypt would have escaped most of these plagues. They were not everywhere. He had reports that Canaan, the land that the Hebrews wished to take over, was not experiencing any catastrophes at all.

Pharaoh felt like he was caught in a web that was bouncing him back and forth between plagues and relief, and that he was being throttled. Just when he obtained relief, it seemed like an unseen hand closed over his throat and tossed him back into the web, where he was hindered from carrying out his plans for revenge. Pharaoh failed to see that it was his own fault that he was thrown back into the web time and time again. It was standard operating procedure for him to promise anything in a pinch, but not feel obliged to stick to his word. As far as he was concerned, any subterfuge that advanced the fulfillment of his desires was permissible, and even admirable for its cleverness.

A particularly loud explosion boomed overhead and reminded Pharaoh again that he was not in a position to do harm to the Hebrew leaders, putting an appropriately frightened look on his face that could be mistaken for humility. Regardless of the murder of his former guards upon the altars of his gods because they had permitted Moses access to him, the fresh teams were more afraid of the General than they were of Pharoah. They were unlikely to do him any harm. Well, for now, Pharaoh needed Moses to stop this infernal rain of burning stones. When that was done, though, he was going to have to find tougher men to form his guard; men who were completely mentally–armed against the Hebrews to keep them in their place.

Pharaoh said what he knew Moses wanted to hear, that he had sinned, though he admitted only to sinning this one time, and acknowledged that he and his people were evil, and Moses's god had good reason to afflict them. He promised Moses that he would let the people go, if Moses would pray to his god to stop the explosions and meteorites. Then he waited to see how Moses would respond.

Moses heard the sound of the comet calling to him through the racket of the falling stones. Its sound stretched on and on, filling every fibre of his body and every corner of his soul. His face seemed to take on a glow as peace filled his heart, more peace than he had ever experienced before, though God gave him a great sense of peace and assurance of His protection every time a judgment fell.

Moses knew what God wanted him to do, and he boldly announced that he would go outside of the city to call upon God to make the judgment cease. Pharaoh and his courtiers stared. Aaron's eyes bugged out at him, too. His faith faltered at this announcement. Was Moses expecting him to go with him? Of course. He could not very well stay here among the Egyptians; Pharaoh was not good at keeping his word and he would probably take him as a hostage, if he stayed behind. Besides, if he did not go, he would appear to be a coward, but why did his brother have to say that he would go outside and walk through the city? Was his position as God's prophet going to his head, lifting him up in pride, or had he truly received this instruction from God?

Moses turned and headed out of the throne room. Pharaoh decided that he had to see this for himself. He arose from his throne and followed Moses and Aaron through the corridors, his courtiers hurrying in his wake. Aaron was speechless with dismay and could not whisper any protest to his brother. He simply kept up with him, his mind in disarray.

Moses halted at a great double–leaved door that led to the front steps of the palace. The guards opened the doors and everyone paused to take in the scene. The obelisk from Thebes had been smashed; it was lying in pieces on the ground. It was a dismaying portent to Pharaoh and his priests, but their attention was quickly drawn to the scene around the ruins of that symbol of their hopes and beyond the walls.

Meteorites whistled past and plunged into the streets and through the roofs of flimsier dwellings. Black sludge fell in streams from the air and caught fire upon the ground when ignited. Fire rose up in sheets, consuming everything that was not made of stone or brick, scorching the hardier materials, and melting metals. Animals and people lay strewn about, their blood oozing from their bodies, some still writhing in death agony. The air was filled with their screams and the boom of the explosions overhead. The comet was as red as blood and declared the Name of the Hebrew god over and over.

Aaron trembled at the scene, and Moses heard a hissing chuckle behind him. He turned and looked at Pharaoh's gloating, mocking face, then silently took Aaron's hand and stepped outside. At the touch of his brother's hand, Aaron felt peace flood through him and his shaking stopped. He stepped surely and steadily beside Moses as they walked straight ahead through the courtyard into the street, passing through fire, but feeling only a refreshing coolness next to his skin and upon his garments.

Moses looked back after several paces to observe the reaction of Taui Thom and his court. Their jaws hung slack with amazement. Then Pharaoh's mouth snapped shut and he ground his teeth with envy. He and his priests promoted him to the people as a god, but he dared not step outdoors into the firestorm. It was humiliating that Moses and his brother could do it. Now his nobles and the populace would favour him more than ever, and he could not touch either them or him, for they thought he was a god. They would band together in support of him. Maybe Moses was a god, though he did not claim to be one. What had he got himself into to oppose such a man?

Moses walked all the way outside the city with his brother, and experienced not so much as a scratch or a moment of discomfort. He fell to his knees outside the gate and raised his hands to the sky, calling on God to make the plague cease. It stopped instantly.

Pharaoh and his servants calculated how long it would take Moses to reach the city limits at the pace he was walking. A couple of the priests counted off numbers, droning like a pair of flies. Only moments after they reckoned he had reached the nearest gate, the commotion outside was stilled. Not a sound was heard, except the crackling of flames, the moans and cries of injured men and animals, and the receding voice of the comet. Nothing moved except the flickering fires and wreathes of smoke, and the injured who could attempt to crawl down the street, looking for help.

Pharaoh bitterly turned away from the door after viewing the ruin of his city. He returned to his throne and called for a report. The damage was extensive. The crops that had been ready for harvest were burned. It was impossible to let the Hebrews go. They were needed to repair the damage that had been inflicted by their god, and to plant more crops and care for them, so that their masters did not starve.

God sent Moses to Pharaoh again. Pharaoh glowered at the General. No, it was impossible that this man was a god, for all that he was so physically tall and strong, and seemed to look younger now than when he had first laid eyes upon him after his return to Egypt. Indeed, it seemed that many of the lines had faded from his face, and his skin looked fresh, regardless that the sun burned so hot in this troubled season and there was additional radiation from the comet.

The Hebrew seemed to be thriving, while Pharaoh was a sad mess with his scabs and painful boils. His sores healed slowly and left dark, unsightly marks on his brown skin. If it were not for cosmetics, everyone would know just how vulnerable he was to these plagues. It was infuriating that this Moses was so strong and healthy and handsome with his shining mane of silver hair, never troubled by lice, flies, or anything. But if he was a god, then he would not have bowed before him like a mortal man, as he had done during his first visits. Pharaoh was too proud to ever reckon that a supreme god would be either humble or courteous, but he was right that Moses was not a god.

Moses was indignant that Pharaoh refused to let the people go. He called for a judgment of locusts, predicting that they would descend on Egypt tomorrow, and eat every scrap of vegetation in the land. He said that they would be worse than any plague of locusts that the Earth had ever seen. Then he turned his back on Pharaoh and stormed out of the audience hall with Aaron at his side.

Pharaoh's nobles rushed towards him and demanded that he let the Hebrews go. They looked angry as they rebuked him, asking him if he did not realize that Egypt was destroyed. Pharaoh quickly commanded for Moses and Aaron to be brought back. The guards hurried forth and stopped them before they reached the palace steps and escorted them back to the throne room.

Moses looked severe as he waited to hear what Pharaoh had further to say. Pharaoh's breast heaved with fury. The man had turned his own courtiers against him, and now they were trying to tell him what to do. He would show them that he was their superior and did not take orders from them. He might have to make concessions, but he would do it on his own terms.

Pharaoh asked Moses who was supposed to go on this trek into the wilderness. Moses replied that all the Hebrews would go, from youngest to eldest, with all their animals, to hold a feast to their god. Pharaoh shook his head and said, "Not so. You are in great danger from the comet. You have greatly offended my gods, who sent the comet to confirm my rule over Egypt and make my name famous until the end of the world. If I thought that there would be no danger to your children, that your god would protect them, I would let them go. Only the men should take that risk. You want to hold a feast to your god. Take your men and do it. Now get out of here!"

Pharaoh nodded to his new guards and coldly watched as they grimly herded Moses and Aaron out. Emboldened by Pharaoh's declaration that the comet was on his side, and his contemptuous denunciation of the General, they pushed the two men out onto the palace steps and slammed the door shut behind them.

The elders of Israel awaited them there, being assured that there would be no more plagues until the following day, and gaped in dismay at how Moses and Aaron were treated after all this time when God had performed so many signs through them. Moses glared back at the door and then stomped down the steps, refusing to talk to anyone as he strode down the street, Aaron and the elders running to keep up. Egyptians and foreigners bowed before him and backed out of his way to let him pass by. He felt sorry for them. Whatever happened now, Pharaoh had brought it on himself, but it was a shame that his people were going to suffer so much because of his pathological stubbornness.

On his way through the city, a message was pressed into his hand. Moses's Egyptian friend wanted him to meet at a pre–arranged place. Moses turned aside a few streets ahead, went halfway down the street to a sturdy house that had withstood the meteorites, and entered. A tenacious, Syrian jeweller was still able to do some business in his home by selling amulets against the plagues. While the elders thronged around the wares in the front room to block the view from the street, Moses and Aaron passed through the curtains at the back to speak to the man who waited for them. The jeweller left his servant to attend the front of the store and stepped in behind them, to keep watch at the curtain so he could warn them, if anyone else came into the store.

The general begged Moses to stay overnight in the palace, for surely Pharaoh would relent this time when the locusts came and release the Hebrews. He needed to be on hand for that audience, for if the plague was going to be as bad as he said, nobody would be able to venture outdoors. Moses agreed, purchased from the merchant a bracelet that was already wrapped, and returned to the front of the store.

Moses had arranged ahead of time with the jeweller to have on hand for him a gift for Tharbis. He did not want anything with pagan symbols on it, but he needed a cover for his meetings, and purchasing jewellery from this man at more than its value was his way of paying him for his services. The man was happy with the bag of gems he received. The elders created a bit of confusion as they were leaving to cover for Moses and Aaron, while they slipped down an alley to meet a man who was waiting for them, and headed in another direction.

Pharaoh's agents swooped down on the shop to discover what amulets the Hebrew elders and their leader had purchased. The elders had not bought anything, but the jeweller showed them some amulets to Baal, the god of storms, that he said the elders had requested of him and purchased. With a crafty look, he told the agents that, without telling the elders, he had made extras. The agents believed him; he could not be a friend of the Israelites, for he had boils on his face, though not as many as their own.

The agents asked him why he had not come forward with information that the Israelites ordered these amulets made. He said, "What would be the point? Egyptians always ask me to make Egyptian amulets; they have no faith in Syrian magic." He was asked why the Israelites did not make these amulets themselves. He replied that, according to their beliefs, they were not allowed to make charms, and they were not supposed to carry them, but because these plagues were so severe, some of them were willing to make exceptions and buy charms from him.

The agents wanted to know how they worked. He replied that the elders managed to persuade Moses to come into the shop. While he was there, the merchant took note of what he touched and then wiped those areas with a polishing cloth when he wasn't looking. So he was not consenting to the magic? The agent replied that Moses did not even know that the elders had ordered their amulets and prepaid for them. His servant slipped them to the elders, while he distracted Moses in the other room, showing him a beautiful bracelet that the elders had ordered to be made for his wife. When he had enough of the magic in the cloth, he passed the cloth through the curtains to the elders to rub on their amulets. The elders felt that the amulets gave them added assurance of protection.

The merchant, however, had concocted this story himself, as a cover if Moses came into his store. He did not think that if he was questioned, Pharaoh's agents would ever believe that all Moses had done was purchase a bracelet for his wife, even if it was because he had come into some rare stones and would sell them, only if he was allowed to do the work and be paid for that, too. Moses's relatives were better jewellers than he, and who would deny the General anything he wanted, if all he wanted was to purchase the stones?

The agents were not convinced, yet. The ranking officer asked him how the amulet could work against the next predicted plague, which was locusts. The merchant already knew what the next plague would be and had had a few minutes to think of how he would answer this question. He said, "The locusts will not eat anything in your garden." The agent replied, "Some of us don't have gardens, and those that do, not all of them have much in the way of plant foods growing there. What good can such an amulet do them?" The merchant kept his cool and said, "Whether one has a garden or not, it guarantees that the legitimate owner will always be able to find food for themselves." The agents were satisfied.

They were about to scoop up the amulets when the merchant quickly told them that the magic would not work, if they were obtained by doing any kind of harm to the one who had made them. They had to be paid for. This stymied the agents' plans to steal the rest of the jeweller's merchandise and take his food stuffs, as well. The amulets sold out within minutes, except for the one around his neck. He refused to part with it, for he needed protection, too. One of the agents held a dagger to his throat and told him to give it up. He was reminded that the magic would not work, if it was taken from him by force.

The agent lowered his hand for a moment in defeat, then raised his dagger again and told the jeweller that he could make another one for himself. The jeweller replied that, from what he had heard, there would not be enough time for him to fashion another amulet and get Moses to come back to his shop on some pretext, as the magic in the cloth was good only for the number of amulets he had made, and Moses had to be in the store when it was applied for it to work.

At the implacable look in the officer's eyes, he gulped and said with a look of terror, "But I am willing to sell this one for ten times what I sold the others, and take my chances." The agent agreed and paid for the amulet with some gems that he kept on his person for bribes. Then Pharaoh's men swept out of the house, trying to decide if they should resell these amulets at a much higher price, or just keep them for themselves. It made sense that, since the Israelites had come from Syria, they were receiving protection from a Syrian god. How he could exert his power on their soil, they did not know, but it seemed to be working for the Hebrews.

The jeweller settled down to his couch with a satisfied look on his face. What a clever fellow he was to have anticipated all their responses and have ready replies. Smiling made his face hurt, though. He gently touched one of his boils. He had been a hard case. It had taken him until the sixth plague to cast in his lot with his old Hebrew friends. They had never really been competitors, though they were in the same business. Amram's family always refused to make pagan jewelry, and had recommended his services, as well as his father's before him, when they could not oblige their customers.

He had asked to move into Goshen after he broke out with these rotten boils, but Hur had persuaded him that his house was strong enough to withstand the next plague, and asked him to stay in the city to be a contact for a certain man who sometimes needed to meet with Moses. He had obliged on the assurance that Moses would pray for his safety.

He had been alarmed momentarily to see a highly–esteemed Egyptian general sneak into his house through the secret door, but the man gave him the correct password. It could be useful to be on the good side of that man, as Pharaoh was in danger of meeting with an accident through the hand of his own people, who were weary of him. This general would probably survive, as he was such a good friend of the key man who brought down these plagues and then called them off.

It was definitely useful to do favours for the Israelites, seeing as he was going to make his future with them, or at least travel with them until they reached Canaan. He had been born here, but it would be interesting to go on to Syria and see the land of his parents' nativity, if there was anything left of it. Syria was surely taking a beating, too, but he was richer than the Egyptians supposed and his wealth would be kept safe by his association with his Israeli friends. He could live out the rest of his days in his ancestors' land, if he chose.

The merchant dwelt on these pleasant thoughts a moment more, and also congratulated himself for having made a handsome profit on the Egyptians, too. Suddenly, he jumped up to his feet and called to his servant to help him gather his belongings. He had a strong feeling that he ought to not to delay for another moment his plans to head into Goshen to stay with his friends.

Meanwhile, Moses and Aaron followed the general's agent, trusting him to lead them safely into the palace and keep them out of sight until they were called. The elders were hurrying back to Goshen to give their report.

Tharbis received the word that her husband was safe. One of the elders handed her a package Moses had put into his hands for her. She smiled when she opened it. The package held an exquisite gold bracelet set with three flawless emeralds, and a variety of other gems set in floral designs. How thoughtful it was of Moses to think doing something nice for her, even in such stressful times. It fit her dainty wrist perfectly.

Tharbis laid down to sleep while she could, for when the hurricane came that would bring the locusts, there was likely to be too much noise, even if it was distant. To her surprise, she slept soundly the whole night, and awoke refreshed when she was called to see what was happening to the Egyptians. The winds still roared furiously across Egypt and to the north over the Great Sea, and to the east and the west, but there was not the slightest breeze in Goshen.

Clouds were piled like towers around the marshes, as was usual when a hurricane was involved in delivering a plague. The hurricane was a dull roar in the distance, but then it increased. Soon Tharbis could see that the wind was not the only the noise she was hearing. A deep, black cloud seemed to be racing towards them from the east to join the storm that boiled around Goshen, but never touched it. Tharbis stayed calm and waited, standing straight and dignified with her bodyguard of Ethiopians around her. The cloud whipped past Goshen and stretched over Egypt, but before it could pass over its territory, the hurricane suddenly hushed.

The cloud dropped, descending on Egypt like a monstrous,quivering, black mouth. An edge of its lip landed a few yards from the feet of the Hebrews who thronged the southern border of the marsh. The wind had tumbled many things about across the way during the night, but none of that damage could be seen any longer, for every surface outside of Goshen was covered in rustling, black bodies.

People within a short distance who had been tardy to take the warning seriously ran screaming for their lives into Goshen, their faces and bodies scored with bites from the voracious insects, but the locusts dropped off at the Goshen border. The Israelites opened their arms to the shaking, traumatized Egyptians and then handed them over to their foreign guards who kept order among the mixed multitude of refugees who came to Goshen. They led the newcomers away to the camps that others of like mind had set up near the Hebrew villages, in the hope of following the blessed Israelites out of Egypt when the time came.

Most of the Egyptians still in their own precincts huddled inside their homes, not daring to risk their safety to make a run for Goshen. They had boarded up their windows and doors when they heard the news of what the General of the Generals had predicted, and plugged every crack in their homes to keep the insects outside. To let people in or out was an opportunity for the locusts to come billowing into their homes. They had not imagined that the siege would be so bad.

The Egyptians sweltered in the heat from the bodies packed inside the homes, and the sun beating down upon their roofs. Adults cried along with the children at the roaring sound of the locusts' wings, and their crunching and shuffling outside the walls. The stench of the people's overflowing chamber pots and sweat and fear were nauseating, but all they could do was stay inside and wait for their king to make a deal with the Hebrew prophet to send the locusts away.

Pharaoh crouched in a closet in his apartments. He had not allowed his servants to take any precautions to keep the locusts out, as he and his priests had made many sacrifices of high–born nobles who seemed sympathetic towards Moses, as well as hapless souls grabbed off the streets and from slave quarters, to propitiate the locust god. They supposed that their own measures were sufficient to keep the plague at bay, in spite of the pounding of the hurricane against the palace's walls. A few times, he'd had some misgivings, particularly because the sound of his name in the wind seemed to be calling him to his doom. Perhaps it had been. The ritual murders had not worked the expected magic.

He would have had the palace sealed, and the priests would have sealed the temples, too, if they had known through other means that a plague of locusts was on its way. Moses's meddling ruined everything. If they gave any credence to his warnings, it was the same as giving credence to his god, and that just made his god more powerful against the Egyptians' demon lords. At least, that was the way that the Egyptians reckoned it.

Certainly, it would have weakened their demons' hold on them, but that would have been a good thing for the Egyptians. Their gods were cruel and laid threats of many kinds upon them, if they turned away from them, so the Egyptians who loved to do the evils that their gods demanded of them were caught in a bind. Moses's God forbade the pleasures that their demons urged on them, so He was not one whom they wanted to serve. They had locked themselves into defying Him, and were now getting a very unpleasant foretaste of what is in store in the afterlife for people who are determined to defy Him.

Pharaoh was disenchanted with scientific explanations for the catastrophes that troubled his land, and it seemed that sorcery had no answers either. Locusts were flying through his halls, though his servants were belatedly doing what they could to keep them out of the palace. The locusts had come into his apartments and devoured his curtains and his clothes and scrolls and anything laying around that was made of plant fibre.

Fortunately, he had this airtight closet to hide in, that had kept his clothing from being meddled with by moths. It was dark in here, and he hated that, but there was nothing he could do about it. Bringing a lamp in would probably set the dry cedar wood on fire. There was room only for a few people and he did not like to be crowded, so it contained only himself and his best clothes that he did not want to get ruined. The Queen and Crown Prince had been visiting him in his apartments when the locusts started pouring into his rooms. Even they had been told to go and find their own closets to hide in. His servants were beating the locusts away from the door, so that he could occasionally open it to let more air in, but the air was close and stifling at best. Some of the insects always managed to get in and munch on his kilt until they were killed. Sometimes they even took a chunk out of him.

Something had to be done. If they were eating the curtains and cushions and correspondence and clothes, they were surely going to eat all the food. He had ordered the people to ration their food even before the comet started to deposit its venom on Egypt, but he had never stinted himself in his normal selection of food at meal time. Lately, he had even cautioned his wives and concubines and children to exercise some self–control over their appetites and not let themselves get fat, but he had not extended this admonition to himself. Not that he was fat, but he enjoyed his meals and did not want to ever walk away from his table feeling hungry.

If he did not do something about this plague, he was going to know for the first time in his life what it was to be hungry, and not have his appetite satisfied. Oh no. That could not happen. Hunger felt so uncomfortable. He could order his servants, as always, to provide him with the best food to be had, but would they still obey him? Were they not weary with his obstinance, though as their king, if not a god, was he not entitled to be obstinate? Even if they were still inclined to obey, could they obey? Not if there was no food to be had.

Through the door, his servants reported that screens were on his windows and most of the locusts had been chased from his rooms. He screeched at them to get all of the locusts out and then he screamed for Moses. His servants asked him, "You cry for Moses. What do you want us to do? Do you want him arrested?" Taui yelled, "Bring him here!" There was no way that he was going to leave this closet and have locusts gnawing his clothes off of him. Besides that, what he had to say to the General and his brother, he wanted nobody else to hear. It was too embarassing.

The word went around that Moses was wanted in the king's apartments. He was notified. His friend wished him Godspeed, and then he and Aaron wrapped their cloaks around their heads to dash through the clouds of locusts that still whirled through the palace's halls. They needed their cloaks only to save them from the nuisance of having the insects bouncing off of their faces, for they did not fasten themselves on the Hebrews' bodies or clothes. As they dashed past the harem on their way to Pharaoh's chambers, Moses and Aaron could hear the royal babies crying in their nursery, their mothers shrieking and sobbing.

More locusts gusted into the king's apartment as the door was opened to admit Moses and his brother. The king's chamberlain led them to the closet where the king crouched, praying to the Hebrew god to take the locusts away. The chamberlain opened the door only wide enough to let the two Hebrews squeeze through, then shut the door after them. Aaron crushed a couple of locusts under his foot as he shuffled in behind Moses. Tears streamed down Pharaoh's face as he clutched at Moses's robe. He begged, "Save me! I have sinned against the Lord and against you! Forgive me and save me from this death only, and I will let your people go! Pray for me to your god!"

It was pathetic how terrified the man was of starving when he could hardly have even begun to experience hunger. Moses was glad that it was dark in the closet and he did not have to look at the man's scarred, lumpy, purpling face and the strings of snot that were undoubtedly hanging from his nose. It gave him no joy to see even a tyrant like this one begging for his life. It was a shame that the proud sovereign had resisted the Creator so long that he'd had to be reduced to a snivelling heap before he relented and acknowledged that the Creator deserves to be worshipped and obeyed.

What a disgrace it was that he did not come to this place of submission until he had a fear of dying of starvation himself, rather than taking pity his poor people who had been reduced to skin and bone long before now. Moses assured Pharaoh that he would pray for the locusts to be sent away. He could hardly wait to get out of that stuffy closet and away from Pharaoh's whining voice and unmanly sobs. He knocked on the door to alert the chamberlain that they were about to leave, squeezed through the doorway again, and then they made their way through rooms and corridors and up stairs until they reached the roof of the palace.

The locusts swarmed away from them and off the roof as soon as Moses's feet touched its surface. He led Aaron to the parapet and they looked over the city. It was just incredible how it was covered with locusts and the fields beyond for as far as the eye could see, except far off in the distance where Goshen lay. The river moved along black and sluggish, clogged with the drowned bodies of the locusts that the hurricane had dropped there.

Without further delay, Moses lifted his rod and prayed to God to get rid of the locusts. A hurricane from the west immediately blew in and scooped the locusts up and carried them back to the east. The waters of the Nile were whipped up by the wind, releasing its dead. It was an amazing sight to see the locusts being gathered up and swept away, as if God's angels were wielding brooms. It would not surprise him if that was what they were doing in the spiritual realm.

He smiled as he looked over in the direction of Canaan and thought of how his feet would soon be treading over its hills. He put his arm around Aaron as they crouched on the roof, gripping the parapet to keep from being blown off their feet. After a while, Moses and Aaron went back inside the palace, satisfied that no locusts would remain by morning. Moses's heart felt lighter than it had ever before since returning to Egypt. Surely, this time Pharaoh's remorse was real and he would keep his word to let them leave.

Moses and Aaron waited out the rest of the hurricane in the general's quarters, Moses reminiscing with him about the happier moments of the former days they had shared. Aaron marvelled to himself that he was sitting in the palace with an Egyptian aristocrat yet again, the first time having been during the meteorite shower. This occasion was much more relaxed, for the hurricane was carrying a plague away, and it was not as noisy outside as the other time had been.

The luxury of the general's apartment was a striking contrast to the environment he had grown up in. Many times Aaron had envied his brother, thinking of him growing up in the midst of wealth, legions of servants at his command, people prostrating themselves before him. Several times when he'd been in the vicinity as Prince Moses was passing by, he'd had to bow to him, too. His brother had never looked in his direction; he probably would not have known who he was if he did. After several times of seeing his brother pass through the streets, his envy began to disappear, for he saw that Moses's face was becoming increasingly harder. Living among the aristocracy of Egypt was causing him to lose his soul.

He remembered his dismay and anger when he heard that Moses tore into Rowarty in his youth, at the head of a contingent of soldiers, breaking into houses right along with them to gather conscripts for hard labour, smashing property, bringing his club down on his own people, and hauling away even some of their own girl cousins to serve the soldiers in their barracks.5 He had hated him and been bitter for a long time against his brother, as had Miriam, but their parents wore down their walls, pleading with them to forgive their brother and have faith in God that all would turn out well. Eventually, both he and Miriam came to pity their brother, for they realized that he did what the Egyptians expected of him because he was afraid. Suspicion that he would turn back to the Hebrews always hung over him.

Life had been hard for their parents because of the things that Moses did to their people; many of their relatives had reviled them, particularly those who suffered horrible abuse and losses from the Egyptians. Some of them bitterly told Jochebed that it would have been better if her son had been drowned in the Nile with the rest of the male children who had perished there. They deeply resented the protection that was afforded to the home of a Royal Nursemaid, though in truth, Moses was the only child she had ever nursed for the Egyptian nobility.

Nobody was sure how Prince Moses would take it, if they caused harm to his birth parents and siblings. It had not gone unnoticed that he never led his thugs to his parents' neighbourhood when he made raids on the Hebrews. Whether from shame of what his parents would think of him, or from a residue of affection for them, nobody knew. Both Egyptians and Hebrews treaded cautiously there.

Their fellow Hebrews attacked them only with words. Even so, it had been very hard to endure. Thank God for the faithful few who had continued to admire their parents for having the courage to hide their son, and encouraged them when their hearts were weary of being blamed for everything that Moses did against their people. Whether they hated him or pitied him, all the Hebrews watched to see what would become of this prince, whom they believed could possibly help them win their freedom, if he came over to their side.

Hopes had flared when they learned that Moses had finally made a move to help them. The Hebrews waited anxiously to hear from him again after he disappeared. That had been a very troubled time, with Pharaoh's men making frequent raids on the children of Israel, arresting and questioning many. The family thought that they would all be arrested, too, but they were left where they were, as bait to see if Moses would try to make contact with them. Right until the current Pharaoh had come to the throne, they had been watched night and day. Taui, apparently, did not consider Moses any longer a threat to Egypt, even if he should return.

Many years had passed, and most of the Hebrews figured that by this time, Moses was probably dead. Amram and Jochebed had died without ever seeing their son again, but with an unshakeable faith that he would return and fulfill his destiny. It was not so among the rest of their people. The Israelites were sunk into hopeless despair, for nobody among their people had the political stature and military genius that Moses had in his day.

Life was dreary at best, and a living nightmare at worst, under the yoke of the Egyptians. More often than not, mere dreariness was a relief, for they mostly experienced the nightmare side of things. It had been hard as a rabbi to keep on encouraging their people to put their hope in God. Sometimes he felt that he could barely hang on in faith himself; he was right at the end of his tether when God told him to go meet Moses. It was finally safe for him to come back.

Was it because Taui was indifferent towards Moses at that time? Aaron thought that was the most part of it, but there was another element; the element that had caused him to grant them an audience when Moses went to see him the first time, and kept him from having him arrested over the next few meetings, though he was displeased with their discourses, before subsequent events made it risky for him to arrest Moses.

Aaron theorized that Taui Thom, having been a young boy in the palace when Moses returned from the Ethiopian War, held him in high regard as a hero, and had never felt any animosity towards him, though he reviled Moses on frequent occasions before and after Moses's defection because it was expected of him. Sometimes in observing him, Aaron detected what he thought were traces of that old admiration, even in spite of Taui's frustration with his brother.

Aaron's thoughts drifted back to the present. His convictions were that their host would be no more interested in him than in a stray dog, if he had seen him back in the days before Moses returned to Egypt. The fact that he was Moses's brother made the difference. Now he offered him hospitality and spoke friendly, courteously including him in the conversation, asking about Hebrew customs and beliefs. Moses had told him that his brother was a fine scholar and had led their people as a religious teacher for many years. They passed the time pleasantly, looking forward to the morning when Pharaoh would see that all the locusts were gone and tell them that they could take their people and leave.

The hurricane died down just before dawn. Pharaoh's servants brought him the report that there was not even a blade of grass left anywhere, except in Goshen. He had no trouble believing it. When he went to raise the sun, the banks of the Nile were completely denuded. It was strange to see the river like that. The few remaining cattle that the Egyptians had were bawling for food, and the cries of his hungry and despairing people went on all day in the streets and outside his palace.

Pharaoh ordered what food remained was to be distributed only to his key advisors and his army and his livestock. Except for the Queen and his heir and a select few in his harem and of his children, the rest of his concubines and children were denied regular food. The servants were allowed to get food for themselves and the harem where they could, but not from the official storage rooms and houses. Pharaoh felt that he needed to ensure that he, and those who kept him in power, were provided for, but everyone else could fend for themselves.

If this was how he was going to treat his own house, Moses knew it certainly did not bode well for the Hebrews. He was right on that score. Pharaoh burned with shame when he remembered how he had pleaded with the Hebrew to take the plague away. He had even been on his knees before him! The brother had been there, too, to witness his humiliation. His revenge for the moment would be to deny Moses what he and his brother wanted, now that the locusts were gone.

After it was reported that the wind was carrying them away, he had gotten tidied up, worked up the courage to go out in the hurricane, and finally headed to the roof of the palace. He had watched all night by the red glow of the comet, until he saw the the cloud of locusts, much to his relief, drop down over the sea. He could do as he pleased, without fear of their return.

Not surprisingly, an order was given to make a raid on Goshen to confiscate all the food that could be found there. Anticipating this as soon as he heard of Pharaoh's new rationing measures, Moses leapt into a chariot that the general loaned him to get back to Goshen ahead of the raiders. Aaron held on for dear life as his brother raced them through the streets. They arrived in Goshen barely ahead of Pharaoh's officers. Moses reined in the horses inside the border and handed the reins over to Aaron. Jumping to the ground, he stood before the oncoming forces, then raised his staff and called for a thick darkness to come down upon them and all the land of Egypt.

Another hurricane roared forth from the comet and dust fell off from it, dropping like a blanket. The dust was so thick that one could not see their hand if they held it in front of their face. Pharaoh's soldiers headed into the nearest houses on their side of the border and remained there for the next three days, until the winds died down and the dust cleared up.

The Egyptians tried to light fires to see by, but the glow of the flames was dim, clouded by the dust into uselessness. They curled up with cloth to their faces to protect them from the silt in the air and many of them went into a trance, to help them endure the endless minutes that seemed like hours, during the three days of the storm. Their despair was deep, for the Hebrew god had been shaming all their gods, and now he shamed even their mightiest, Ra the sun.

The dust storm swirled over Goshen, blocking the sun, but it did not enter the Hebrew territory. It seemed like there was a dome over the area. Some said that they saw angels hovering wing to wing over the whole expanse. It was a very comforting thought to dwell on. The animals did not seem troubled by the darkness. They just sank down into the fields and slept the whole three days, as if experiencing a long night.

The most exciting thing that happened during that three days is that there was light in the homes of the Hebrews! It was clear like daylight, but filling every corner, casting no shadows. Hearth nor lamp had never cast so much light as this light. It was a holy light that brought with it a kind of glory that felt thick and heavy, like honey or oil, depositing a deep feeling of peace in the heart. There was no natural explanation for why they should have light as clear as day without the sun shining upon them or fires being lit to supply it.6 And though the air outside was fresh, the air inside the Hebrews' homes was even fresher.

Surely this light was a sign from God that they would all be leaving Egypt soon. Even the most casual worshipper of God and the most cynical of the Hebrews bowed themselves to worship the Creator, thanking Him for His assurance of deliverance, though they had been subjected to disappointment time after time when Pharaoh kept refusing to let them go. Perhaps God had sent them this sign because, in spite of how He kept protecting them from the effects of the comet, another refusal to let them leave would have discouraged them too deeply. Solemn songs of praise rose up in the night from the homes of the Hebrews.

Many of the Egyptians and foreigners who had found shelter in the homes of their Hebrew friends wept in awe with them, prostrating themselves alongside the Hebrews to worship their God. In the house of Miriam, the Syrian jeweller knelt with his old friends, tears streaming down his face, as he decided that he no longer wished to make baubles that glorified other gods.

Among the foreigners who joined the Israelites in their homes to worship their God were the children and grandchildren of the Egyptian midwives who had saved the lives of the Hebrews' baby boys, instead of killing them at birth. Those of Shiphrah's and Puah's seed who did not already know the songs of God's people began to learn them that night.7

Not all of the Hebrews' guests loved the light. When some of them saw it, they ran out of the houses screaming. Moses smiled when he saw two of his host's foreign servants and one of his guests race out of the house into the darkness. He turned to his host and said, "God has revealed those who are not truly our friends." The prince looked shocked and said, "But those servants have been with me for years, rendering excellent service without any sign of resentment, and that man saved my life and also donated much money to our poor!" Moses nodded and said, "Yes, the enemy is very clever at appearing to be an angel of light. Now we can speak around freely, which is good, because of the plans that are going forward tonight."

Elishama looked at him sharply and felt a huge sense of relief that he had not discussed those plans with his trusted Egyptian friend, whom he had known since he was a boy, to enlist his help. Moses had been right to insist that this remain a strictly Israeli operation, not even asking assistance from friendly Syrians, who were also Hebrew. His wife's maid, who had just deserted her post, was Syrian. Thank God Moses had also insisted that they were to never speak of their plans, outside of their planning sessions in the synogogue.

The people were urged to keep on singing, and instruments were brought out to accompany them. Moses said that, as they continued to worship God, the angels would be strengthened to help the work that had to be done. A shofar blew and only those who were waiting for its sound knew that it was not just part of the musical accompaniment. One of the prince's Egyptian guests asked, "What is that sound?" Moses replied with a smile, "It is the sound of freedom."

Young men entered Joseph's palace in small groups and Moses laid his hands on the head of each warrior, softly speaking a blessing on them, giving additional orders in a low voice, if they were needed. Most already knew what they were supposed to do and they hurried away swiftly to their tasks.

Guards who were able to see without torches, as their faith in God was high, were sent to the refugee camps. Moses did not want any lights outside that would betray what they were up to, and all the refugees who were outside were to stay in their places. Those who had run out of the houses were to be rounded up and taken to a designated campsite on the border, to keep them far from the commandos' launching point, for Operation Shofar had commenced. It was imperative that the night's activities were not observed. The only lights that could be seen were those that shone from the windows of the Hebrews' homes and when their doors were opened.

Not all of the refugees in the camp could see those lights, but those who could found that it warmed their hearts to look at them, and to listen to the Hebrew's songs, though the singing was too soft to make out the words. They felt so comforted that they did not miss not having campfires or lamps, or find it a hardship that they could not see their neighbours' faces. They just looked at the lights through those three days and nights, enjoying the bliss that they imparted, and had no need of anything else. The darkness, rather than being frightening to them, seemed to wrap around them like a warm cloak. It was so good to have refuge in Goshen. Ever since the plague of lice had passed, Goshen was always in the eye of the hurricanes, and they always lifted away without doing Goshen any harm.

Those who could not see the lights shining from the Hebrews' homes did not stay for even an hour after the darkness fell. They were terrified of what looked like total darkness to them and wanted to go back to their homes. They found the air stifling and did not think that they could be worse off with the Egyptians. Apparently, the Hebrews were no longer protected as they had been before, so why stick around? The people who said that they could not see the lights did not understand that they really could see them, but they appeared to them as darkness because of the evil that was inside their hearts. It was the evil in their hearts that made the fresh, wholesome air of Goshen seem close and suffocating.

The guards asked several times if they were sure that they wanted to leave. Every time they asked, the people who wanted to leave felt more panicky, believing that the guards wanted to keep them in a trap. Yes, yes! They wanted to leave. Nobody could persuade them to stay. The ones who were staying asked if they could not see the lights, and if they did not think that they were wonderful? No, they could not see the lights that they were talking about, and they thought their companions had gone mad. Why did they mock them with their calmness? How could anyone be calm in this frightening darkness?

More than ever they wanted to get out of this crazy place where disembodied voices asked them if they could see lights, when it was plain to see that there were no lights. There was only this deep darkness, a strange babbling noise coming from the direction of the Hebrews' village, rustling noises near by that alarmed them, and they had to grope along blindly when they needed to relieve themselves; they kept tripping over things in the dark. This was not the place for them.

Having made sure that those who wanted to leave were really determined to do so, the guards had them take hold of each other's hands. One of the guards then took hold of the first person's hand and led them all to the border where they found that once they crossed over, they could not return. Too late, they found that the conditions outside of Goshen were far worse than where they had just come from. No matter how hard they looked for the way back, they could not seem to find the border again. They could only stumble along until they found a place to shelter from the wind and dust, if they were not smashed senseless by flying debris before then. Exposed in the open as they were, not many of them survived the hurricane.8

This plague was the opportunity that Moses had been waiting for to release his people who were still in prisons. He had gathered intelligence about the prisons and temples, where prisoners were being held, awaiting the Egyptians to get up the courage to offer them up to their gods as sacrifices.

Not only did they fear to do this because only Moses could make the plagues go away, but also the prisoners seemed to be exempt from the plagues, so the priests had been satisfying themselves by describing to the prisoners tortures that they intended to carry out, and telling them that the screams they heard were from other Hebrews who were being sacrificed. It was hard to scare the Hebrew prisoners, though, with these tales, when they were not being tormented by frogs or flies or boils. Only some of them fell for it and spent their days and nights weeping in fear.

Moses was able to contribute a lot of information from what he remembered of the temples and prisons, drawing out their floorplans. Mines where Hebrew slaves had not yet been sprung were included, as well. The Hebrews compiled lists of prisoners and their descriptions and information about where they were being kept. Moses had his agents study the plans and drill how to get past gates and locks and break off chains, until they could find their way to their targets and do their tasks in the dark. He did not know that it would be this dark when his rescue plan was launched. The immobilizing effect that this darkness had on the Egyptians was going to make the rescues easier and safer than he had reckoned on. This operation was actually fun to conduct because of the advantages God had given them.

Moses cautioned his warriors to not steal anything. They must not give the Egyptians any grounds to accuse them of breaking the law, and they especially must not steal weapons, no matter how badly they felt they were needed. Moses had a hard job keeping the young firebrands under control; many of them saw the plagues as the perfect opportunity to rise up against their tormenters, but if they managed to get out of Egypt by fighting, it would be at the cost of a lot of Hebrew lives. In order for Pharaoh to have confidence in giving his permission for them to hold their feast in the wilderness, he must see them as a docile people. When they were called to account for loosing the Hebrew prisoners, they would say that their God was calling all their people to Goshen to prepare for the feast.

The agents swarmed out of Goshen and into the prisons of Egypt while the darkness lasted. Fortunately, the Israelites had been concentrated in the Delta. Other Egyptian kings had said that they wanted none of Lower Egypt's troubles with them. Slaves were in the copper mines in Sinai, but there did not seem to be anything that they could do for those who were too far away from the marsh.

Some of Moses's agents found it hard to breathe in the dust, but not impossible; others found it as easy to breathe as on a clear day. It depended on the purity of their faith in God's goodness and power. Some groped their way through dark streets and underwent great toil to complete their missions; their determination was commendable. Others found their way lighted and prison doors opening of their own accord. Again, it depended on the purity of their faith.

The Egyptians were too insensible to investigate the sound of footsteps and clanging of gates that might have been heard above the noise of the hurricane that raged outside the walls. If they heard glad voices greeting each other, they figured they must be hallucinating. They could not have investigated to see that their prisoners were all secure, even if they wanted to.

At the end of three days, guards and wardens and priests rose from their places and began to survey the damage that the latest hurricane had left in its wake. Instead of locusts, this time the wind seemed to have scooped up people, for many of the prisoners were missing. In some cases, in the more distant places, Hebrew prisoners were still in the process of making good their escape. They paused only for an instant to look at the dazed and listless guards, and then hurried on their way. Some Hebrew prisoners had found themselves able to make their escape on their own, particularly those whom nobody had known where they had been taken to or if they were still alive. Over the next week, many of the stragglers said that they had come from the Sinai mines.

Nobody tried to stop them from leaving. What was the point? The guards were weak from hunger and quenching their thirst was more vital to them chasing down the Hebrews. They weren't sure how much time had passed. It could have been a week, and this thought made them feel all the more hungry and thirsty. Besides not having the strength to apprehend the escapees and their helpers, it was best to not meddle with that race. There they were stealing about in the dark, like the dark sons of Set that they were, when everyone else was as good as nailed down. Surely no good could come to anyone who interfered with them.

There was great joy in Goshen as families and friends were reunited with the returning prisoners. The rescued were refreshed with food and drink, washed and dressed in good clothes, had their wounds attended to, and were caught up on the news of what was happening. Many of them, rejoicing in the midst of their brethren, exclaimed that they felt like they had been reborn. Who would have thought that they would ever get out of their prisons?

Pharaoh called for Moses soon after the darkness lifted. He had crouched beneath the blankets of his bed, in abject terror as darkness fell. Surely this was a portent of his doom. Ra had forsaken him. Damnation was already overtaking him. His conviction of this did not agree with what he believed; it was more in keeping with what the Israelites apparently believed. Who was to say but their idea of the afterlife for rebels against their god was not correct? They certainly had the upper hand. Their god was commanding a comet to make war on their behalf. His jaws ached with the strain of holding back his screams, trying to maintain some dignity in front of his servants.

He had been able to stifle his crying, but ended up laying in his bed in as much of a stupor as the rest of his people, when the darkness was upon the land. The dust had been so thick and fine that nothing could keep it out of the palace. None of his servants were able to attend him at that time. They had all been struggling to breathe, Pharaoh included.

Humiliatingly, he could not move from his place to take care of his need for a toilet. When the darkness lifted and the servants had started to stir about, they had been hard put to turn their eyes away from his mess and pretend it did not exist until he was out of the room. If he could get his revenge on Moses for that, he would, but these plagues had to stop, and Moses seemed to be the only one who was able to get rid of them.

Pharaoh's servants cleaned him up as best as they could with what they had on hand, and he began to make inquiries about how the Israelites had fared. They had done just fine, apparently. More than fine. They not only had light in their homes, but they had also managed to empty his prisons and mines and the temples of his Hebrew prisoners. It was an outrage, but there was nothing he could do about it. His soldiers refused to go to Goshen to recover them. None of his people or his mercenaries would go there. It was infuriating, but he couldn't kill everyone who refused the order, or he would have nobody left in his kingdom.

Pharaoh sent for Moses and was waiting on his throne when Moses arrived. It was aggravating how fresh the man looked when he felt and looked so sooty. His finery felt tawdry to him, in comparison to the simple and graceful folds of the Hebrew's robes and his waving, silken hair and beard. Even now that he was in his eighties, the man still looked handsome and turned the heads of women young and old, according to his agents' reports.

There were plenty who were willing to try to seduce him, but Pharaoh's intelligence officers were never able to get him to pay any notice to the women they sent his way (when it had been possible to find ones without boils), so that they could learn the secrets of his sorcery. Apparently he was sufficiently enamoured with Tharbis's attractions to not require anyone else's.

If they could lay hold on her, they would have something to hold over him, but Moses never let Tharbis set foot outside of Goshen, every Ethiopian who had been in the city was encamped around the house watching guard over her, and a bodyguard shadowed her even inside the house. In spite of those obstacles, Pharaoh's men almost had her in their hands, but they lost all their agents in Goshen in the last plague.

It appeared that the Israelites discovered who they were and drove them out of Goshen during the hurricane, and those who remained alive were too afraid to go back. Even slow torture could not persuade them to resume their duties there. They just kept babbling about spirits and darkness right until they drew their last breath. Pharaoh wished he knew what powers Moses was using to create such fear, so that he could turn those powers against the Israelites.

Another thing that Pharaoh didn't know was that a few of his agents had gone over to the Hebrews. They had been thinking about it for some time, dragging their heels on completing their missions, delaying reports, and withholding information. When they saw the lights in the Hebrews' homes during the time of darkness and experienced God's comfort, they finally made up their minds that they wanted to know the Hebrews' God. They told Moses and his cabinet everthing they knew about what was going on behind the scenes. None of it surprised Moses. He was familiar with all those subterfuges, but it was good to be reminded of them and find out which ones were being played, as well as who else not to trust. They found some dead bodies that were marred beyond recognition, dressed them in the agents' clothes, left them where the Egyptians could find them, and put the agents in hiding, so that Pharaoh would think they were dead.

Moses exercised rigid control over himself to not scowl when Pharaoh offered to let all the people go, but the animals had to stay. Pharaoh would not mind being rid of these troublesome Hebrews, but food supplies were low and he needed their livestock. He dared not conduct a raid to confiscate their foodstuffs now, lest another dust storm fall, but would they not be agreeable to giving up their livestock in exchange for their freedom?

They would not. Moses made that clear. He said that they were needed for their sacrifices, and they would not know which of their animals that their god wanted sacrificed to him, until they were out in the wilderness. Likely story. Pharaoh roared at Moses, "Get out! You better stay clear of me because if you ever see my face again, it will be the day you die!" Moses replied, "You're right. I am through with trying to reason with you. I won't be back!" His flowing robes billowed around him as he stormed out of the throne room. Pharaoh's face twisted into a sour sneer at his retreating back.

God told Moses that He had one more plague in store for Pharaoh, and he was to tell the children of Israel to get ready to collect their wages from the Egyptians. He also gave him a new calendar because the Earth had been yanked around so much by the gravitional pull of the comet that its old calendar system was no longer valid. Besides, this next plague upon the Egyptians was going to mark a new life for the Israelites, so this month was to become the beginning of their year.

God instructed the Israelites to set aside a lamb in preparation for their passover. Four days later, they each killed their lamb and sprinkled its blood over the door of their house, and upon its side posts. Moses gave instructions for how the passover meal was to be prepared and eaten, with the Israelites remaining fully dressed throughout the whole night, ready to leave Egypt when the signal was given.

Moses recognized that God was teaching them more about the Redeemer who would come and take away the sins of all those who put their trust in Him, just as He had when He killed animals in the Garden of Eden and put their skins on Adam and his wife. They were to keep this passover feast every year for the generations to come, so that their children would have rehearsed in their ears of how God delivered their fathers out of Egypt, and get some understanding of God's plan of salvation for their souls.

The comet was going to come closer to the Earth than before, and it was going to cause a lot of damage, taking many lives that night. But when the angel in charge of it saw the blood of the lamb upon the doorposts, he would pass over those houses. Likewise, when people put their trust in the Messiah, recognizing Him as their only hope of salvation for their soul, they would not fall under the judgment of God in the day when He called all to account for their deeds and words and thoughts.

The refugees in the camp were told of what was about to happen, and invited to come into covenant with God. Many of them accepted the invitation and the males were circumcised. Moses was relieved that these would be saved, but he wished more had taken the invitation seriously. There were some who believed that just being in the land of Goshen was protection enough, because nothing bad had happened to them before during the other plagues when they were camped there.

Moses went back to Pharaoh, in spite of what he had said before about never showing his face to him again. He warned him that God was sending the death angel at midnight that night, and that all the choicest of Egypt, what remained of them, would die. This included the firstborn of both men and animals. Even Pharaoh's heir would die that night, right down to the firstborn of the lowliest slave and the most worthless criminal in prison, because Pharaoh had refused to let Israel, God's firstborn, leave Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped the firstborn, both of men and animals. The firstborn of Pharaoh was considered to be a god.

Moses declared that none of the Hebrews would suffer any harm that night. A dog would not even make the least move of aggression towards them or their animals because they all were under the supernatural protection of God. He said that after this night, all of Pharaoh's servants would come and bow down to him, and beg the Israelites to leave, whether Pharaoh gave his consent or not. He stated that he was leaving Egypt with his people. His tone implied that there would be no return.

God's additional grant of supernatural protection must have already kicked in, for Pharaoh merely sat grumpily on his throne, making no move to have Moses arrested. Moses glared at Pharaoh, wordlessly waiting for a reply. Did he not have anything to say? Every warning he had given in advance of the plagues had always come true. Was Pharaoh not going to make a move to save his own children? Not even his heir? Well, as he was not his mother's firstborn, he didn't have to worry that his miserable life was at risk, so maybe that was why he did not relent and give the word to let the Israelites leave. Moses turned on his heel and left the throne room, glowering and muttering under his breath.

He felt like crying when he was accosted by his noble friend who had given him refuge in his apartments in the palace. The man was the firstborn in his family, and Moses knew he would die that night. For the last time, he begged his friend to join him and his people, to give his heart and soul to the God of Heaven and Earth, the only true God.

The general smiled and said, "Can I not worship and serve Him here, among my own people? My people need me. Pharaoh has killed many of the flower of Egypt, in his quest to eliminate those who admire you and would help you, but I have always escaped his purges. The priests have never been able to detect anything amiss with me through remote viewing. Their demons have not been able to make them see behind closed doors, or anywhere else they wanted to snoop to do you hurt. When you stayed in my apartments, they saw only me and my servants, and I appeared to be doing nothing unusual. They have never heard me speaking to my agents to make arrangements with you; it has always sounded to them as if we were talking of other things. Does God not already watch out for my welfare? Go, and God be with you and your people. I will be all right."

Moses shook his head with tears in his eyes. He knew his friend would not desert what he considered his post of duty. He could not spend any more time trying to persuade him; he had to oversee his people's preparations. He kissed his friend and clasped him in his arms for a moment, then strode away without looking back.

The trip back to Goshen was heartbreaking. It had not escaped Moses's notice before of the orphans lying in the streets upon heaps of garbage, dying of starvation and disease, frequently savaged by starving dogs as they lay helpless. Some were not orphans, but simply abandoned by their parents. The innocent children among the Egyptians who needed help were too numerous for the Hebrews who would have helped them, if they'd had the means to do so.

Some of the Hebrews were still bitter about their loved ones whom they had lost to Egyptian tyranny because the law gave no protection to Hebrews. These considered it justice that the Egyptians' children were dying, and they would not lift a finger to relieve the suffering of an Egyptian. Moses pointed out that the children in the streets were victims of abuse from their own people. They argued that, if they helped the children to survive, they would turn and bite the hand that fed them when they were grown. There was truth to that, but surely some would learn to be grateful. What did those poor, ignorant children know of right and wrong? They would never know it, unless someone demonstrated goodness.

Moses ordered the rescue of the children9 from the city streets and country lanes, giving the Egyptians money to take them into their homes and nurse them, but for every one that they saw and helped, there were thousands more that he and other compassionate Hebrews and Egyptians did not ever come across, spread out over the country. So much suffering, so much dying, and it could have been prevented. What a waste!

A few of the orphans had recovered enough to come tottering into Goshen, seeking a more permanent refuge, asking to leave Egypt with the Hebrews. They were in the refugee camp, making themselves useful in whatever way they were capable of. Their rescue helped make him very popular with the Egyptians because they saw that, besides being a man of power, he was a compassionate and noble man who wasn't selfishly concerned only for his own people.

Moses wondered what was to become of their friends who wanted to leave Egypt with them, but had declined to be circumcised. Unless circumcised, they would not be permitted to take refuge in the passover houses.10 Some were undoubtedly firstborn in their family and would not live through the night. He was also sure that many more than just the firstborn in the Egyptians' families were going to die.

There was nothing he could do about it. He was not God. He was only one person and could do only what God told him to do, and make sure he did a good job of it. If those who were friendly to the Hebrews still chose to remain outside of covenant with God, after all the many mighty proofs of His power that He had displayed and His goodness in letting them survive to this point, they would have to bear the result of their choices.

The passover lamb was slain in the home of his host when he arrived. The man sprinkled the blood upon his upper door posts and side posts, as instructed. They all ate the meat and the rest of the meal with their shoes on their feet and their staffs in their hands. Even if God had not told them to be alert, the chance to gain freedom was not something that they felt casual about. It had to be grasped when the opportunity was there.

In the villages and Hebrew camps in Goshen, the Hebrews' homes and tents were crammed with guests. Many of the guests were Hebrews who had no home of their own, having been slaves in the homes of the Egyptians and the brothels, and they had run out of tents to house them all. Some of the guests were Egyptian or foreign friends of long–standing who had cast in their lot with them.

Down in the foreign camps, a good many of the other refugees had imitated the Hebrews after a fashion. They had killed some animals and painted their blood on their tents. Some prayed to the Hebrew god, along with prayers to their other gods. A few hung fetishes on their tents for good luck. Several bedded down early, saying that they wanted to get some sleep because Pharaoh was surely going to let the Hebrews go, and they wanted to be feeling fresh when it was time to leave with them.

One of them smiled and said, "I will lie here and think about how warm my heart felt the night I saw the lights during the time of darkness. It always makes me feel happy when I think of that. And I will think about where I will go when I leave Egypt and am no longer a slave. I am a good weaver; I will be able to earn a living and buy my own, little plot of land and build a house on it. I am not the firstborn in my family, so I have nothing to worry about. I am smart, though, and my father always had great hopes for me. He will be so proud of what I will make of my life, if he can see me from wherever it is that he has gone." His friends laughed and nodded in agreement and wished him sweet dreams.

A few people stood outside the Hebrews' homes and wished it was not too late to get circumcised and eat their passover with them. Some of them knelt and prayed along the lines of, "Oh, God of the Hebrews. I know I left it late, but I want You to be my God, too. I will probably die tonight because I did not do what they said we had to do to eat their passover with them, but please forgive my sins through Your Anointed One who is to come, and let me be with You when I die." Several women prayed in their hearts to the Hebrew God, telling Him that, as women, they did not know how they could become as the Hebrews, for only men were circumcised. They hoped that He would accept them, too, and keep them safe, though they were unwed or widowed, or their men had not wanted to be circumcised.

The earth shook at midnight as the comet rolled along overhead and rained meteorites again and again. This was the fourteenth day to the Israelites, for they reckoned a day from sunset to sunset. It was the thirteenth day to the Egyptians, though, for they reckoned from sunrise to sunrise. The horror of this night made such an impression on their minds, that the thirteenth day was always reckoned after that as an unlucky day, but not to those whom God delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt.

Pharaoh was shaken right out of his bed and barely escaped the palace with his life. The walls of his home were collapsing, as were houses everywhere. When people ran out of their homes, so that they would not be buried beneath them, many of them were struck by flaming meteorites. Some were trapped inside their houses and either buried beneath rubble or burned alive.

Pharaoh stood outside and looked up at the comet that was blaring the name of the Hebrew god. He did not see how he could avoid being struck by a meteorite, if he happened to be standing where one was going to fall. There was no way to predict where they were going to land or get out of the way fast enough. He need not have worried, though. Moses had prophesied that only the choicest of Egypt would die, and he was far from being one of the best.

The air was filled with screams of terror, and then of grief as the shaking subsided and the meteorites petered out. He saw the Queen stagger out of the palace and collapse upon their dead son whose crushed body had been brought out and lain on the stairs. Around her, Pharaoh's remaining wives and concubines gathered, also lamenting over their firstborn, and other children who had died in this latest disaster. It was too much; just too much. Most of the children were not important to him, but he had carefully selected his queens for their bloodlines, and he had been fond of some of his offspring. His chief consort had the most desirable genes and this had been her only child, groomed and educated to be a fitting heir for Egypt's throne. He had been turning out to be a fine warrior and politician; his mother had been so proud of him. She bent her shaved head and wept and screamed and tore at her clothes and clawed her face in grief.

Pharaoh looked at his servants who were frantically running to and fro, some dashing up to him to get orders, others running off to see to their own families, having forgotten their duty to their king. One of the concubines forgot her place so much as to stumble towards him with her dead child in her arms. He pushed her away in annoyance and said to an officer, "Find Moses and bring him here." He then went to the Queen and gathered her into his arms as he mourned their son with her.

Meanwhile, Moses was busy encouraging the Israelites to gather their wages. They fanned out and headed for the homes of the aristocrats and wealthy merchants with lists in their hands of treasure that had been noted in their homes by Hebrew servants. A group of elders headed for the palace with their own special list of things they wanted to borrow from Pharaoh's treasury.

When Moses told them that they were going to collect wages from the Egyptians, they asked with a laugh, "Pharaoh, too?" Moses replied, "Of course, Pharaoh, too. The crown offended the most by illegally and ungratefully making slaves of us. Joseph saved Egypt from destruction and brought our fathers here. God blessed Egypt for their sakes, but the crown turned on us, and the Pharaohs benefited more than anybody from the labour they forced out of us. Clean him out. Why should he not share the burden of our wages with his people?" The elders were now headed for the palace, in fear and trembling, but since everything that Moses told them to do worked out, why not at least try it?

The maidservants returned to their mistresses and Hebrew women asked of their Egyptian friends if they could borrow this necklace and that bracelet and their best embroidered gowns, and if they could have jewellery and clothing for their friends, as well. They supposed that the Hebrews wanted them so that they would look their best when they celebrated their festival in the wilderness. The lenders soberly placed the jewellery on the Hebrewesses, asking them to offer up prayers for them at their feast, and they surrendered bundles of costly things to their hands. Each borrower marked the parcels with their sign, and dropped them off into waiting carts to be carried away, then moved on to the next person on their list to get more stuff.

The Egyptians were anxious to give them anything they asked for. It could not be more obvious that the Israelites enjoyed supernatural protection from the disasters that had fallen upon Mizraim's children. Perhaps the Hebrews' god would have mercy on them, if they showed themselves friendly towards the Hebrews. These terrible judgments upon their land had to be stopped before they were all destroyed, and there would be good magic on their things when they were returned to them.

Had they really mistreated the Israelites so badly that they deserved to have these things happen to them? Their parents and teachers had said that the Hebrews could hardly be considered human, and that they deserved nothing better than the rough treatment that it had delighted the Egyptians to deliver.

There were too many Hebrews, they said. They were highly expendable. What did it matter that they were conscripted to build monuments and cities, barely fed and worked to death? If they ran short of them, they could breed their daughters to provide more. It would not be the first time it had been considered.

Eighty years ago, the Hebrews had killed their baby boys at the king's command, if they could not find a way around it, to save their own necks. Certainly there were some who risked it, were caught, and executed for the crime of disobeying Pharaoh, but they were few. Most were trapped in the work camps and had no means of hiding their children. According to the strictest interpretation of the Hebrews' moral code, the whole family should have been willing to give up their lives rather than murder their babies. Therefore the majority of them were not righteous. It was unfathomable that their god, whom they said was absolutely righteous (after their concept of what constitutes righteousness), had chosen these people out of all the nations to be his own special nation, as the Israelites believed, and performed all these mighty acts to obtain their release. It was mind–bending to the Egyptians to understand these Hebrews; most had never attempted it before.

Conscience prodded some to contemplate the differences in Hebrew culture and their own. One did not doubt that having to work hard was distasteful to them; the level of activity required from work gangs is distasteful to everybody, particularly if one doesn't get paid for their work. Where they had previously considered the Hebrews as nothing more than oxen on two legs and had no more say than an animal in what was expected of them, they could now concede that the Hebrews had cause to balk under their burdens.

The puzzling issue was how Hebrew girls screamed and wept when they were wrenched away from their families to serve in brothels, along with the prettiest of the Hebrews' boys. They put up way more fuss than other slaves. It had been put down to just a manipulative display of histrionics; the Hebrews really did not care about their so–called virtue. They could not feel as deeply and finely as an Egyptian, so why would one give credence to them having hysterics over something that was so basic to life, and did not give an Egyptian much pause, if it was required of them? One had to use whatever means they had to get ahead in life, and it was just too bad for slaves that they did not get to choose who bedded them. Some of those slaves had been so willful that they killed themselves, rather than submit to their masters.

One would think that they thought it violated something sacred to render sexual services to their masters, or on their masters' behalf, the way they carried on about it. Was it sacred to them, in a different way than what Mizraim's children thought of it? The Hebrews who practiced the Hebrew religion did not connect it to rituals and increases of spiritual power through various sexual acts. Did the Hebrews have a good reason, after all, to abhor so inordinately being forced to yield their bodies in every way?

It was incredible that the people they had used in this way were now standing at the door, boldly asking for their Egyptian masters to hand over their treasures, but there was no mark upon them of any of the usual diseases that afflicted those who were handed about for sexual purposes. There was no sign of having suffered from the plagues. They looked stronger and healthier than before the plagues. If one wanted a return to health and happiness, like what the Hebrews were now enjoying, one had to please their god. He delivered the Egyptians no promises that this would be the result of their favour towards the slaves, but one could hope that he would benefit them in return.

Pharaoh's officers found Moses with Tharbis at his side, giving out directions to coordinate the collection of treasure, the packing of necessary things to take with them, the removal of the patriarchs' bodies from their tombs behind Joseph's palace, sending the foreigners who had shared the passover with them to give medical aid to the survivors in the refugee camps and help those who wanted to leave Egypt, but could not walk, and confirming how the army was to march.

When the Egyptians soberly announced that he was wanted at the palace, Moses briefly squeezed Tharbis's arm and said, "You will see to things, until I come back?" She nodded and handed a group of young men her list of Ethiopian treasures to be collected, and where they were possibly located. Nobody was going to deny Moses' wife the recovery of her property.

Tharbis didn't care about baubles as much as she used to, but no longer having a kingdom to give to her husband, she wanted to, at least, ensure that he got some treasures. Moses was too busy to attend to it himself, and she was sure that he really didn't care if he got any of them. Their immediate needs were daily taken care of by the congregation, and he felt that this was enough for him personally, but Tharbis knew that Moses was bound to want to leave some kind of inheritance to his sons later on. She also wanted to send some things back to her people, whose welfare she and Moses prayed for daily.

Moses said that the problem with her people was that they did not want to know God, which limited how much He could do for them. They prayed that God would change their attitude about that. It was hard to say if it would happen in this generation, or not until many generations later. Tharbis felt sure that God would preserve her people to bring forth future generations, and that, some day, her people's hearts would be softened towards God.

Moses surveyed the devastation of the land as he returned to Pharaoh. The land of Goshen had been shaken, too, but nothing had even rattled within the homes where the blood of a passover lamb had been applied. It was reported to him that all of the firstborns in the refugee camp, without exception, were dead, and many more besides. The survivors said that the swampy ground shivered, then turned to muck and swallowed up half the people and their possessions. Meteorites followed and killed people as they ran for firmer ground.

Some of the survivors said, "I prayed and Your God heard me." None of them were firstborn; most of them were women. One fellow kissed an amulet and said that his lucky charm had saved him. Moses did not know what to make of that, except to ask for confirmation that the man wasn't a firstborn, and he wasn't. Someone commented that it was too bad that they lost that weaver; he was a really good weaver and hadn't finished the coat he had commissioned from him.

In the city, all the dwellings had collapsed. Fires burned everywhere. Moses had to leap over rifts in some places, and go around piles of rubble. And there was Pharaoh, standing in front of his crumpled house, his wailing wives and concubines gathered around him upon the stairs, while soldiers worked at putting out fires and pulling people from the rubble. The comet was so close to the earth that it made the scene as bright as day.

Pharaoh's servants bowed low before Moses when he arrived, as he predicted they would. Moses did not bow to Pharaoh. He looked him in the eye and waited for him to speak. He really did not need his permission to leave. He had already told Pharaoh that he was going to leave, whether he allowed it or not. On this particular night, the army was too unorganized from its decimations and too busy helping survivors to prevent the Israelites from leaving. Moses supposed that, to give himself the illusion that he was still in control, Pharaoh wanted to show his people that he was giving the Hebrews permission to leave, to avoid the embarrassment of them seeing that the Hebrews were leaving, whether he wanted them to or not.

Indeed, this was what Pharaoh had in mind. In spite of being upset about personal losses, he was still concerned about looking good to his people, still failing to understand that most of his people had several plagues ago realized that he was a burden rather than a blessing. He also wanted to make it clear to the Hebrews that he expected them to come back. They did not have his permission to leave him permanently. Three days' journey, they had said. He wanted to remind them of that, and ask them to pray to their god for him. They owed him that much for letting them have their feast. He needed their god's blessing, as his own gods had not been much help. As far as he was concerned, they had some explaining to do for letting him down when he had served them so faithfully with human sacrifices.

Pharaoh glanced at the body of his heir, still wrapped in the Queen's embrace, and said, "Arise and leave us, you and your people. Go and serve your god, as you have said, and take your livestock with you. And bless me also." Moses nodded and turned away. Officers came forward to escort him back to Goshen. The faster they got him and his people out of there, the better it would be for all of them.

This was the general consensus among the Egyptians. They packed some of the treasures themselves back to Goshen for the Hebrews, and urged them to use their carts to carry their stuff on their trip into the wilderness. Some wondered to their fellows if the Hebrews would return. Others replied, "Not if they have any sense. Why would a slave return to slavery, if they have a chance to be free? It is a sure bet that at least some of them will make a break for it."

Some yelled after the Hebrews to not come back. Others begged them to pray to their god for them. Still others rose up and limped after them with only their clothes on their backs.

Along with the sounds of turning cart wheels, tramping feet, and animals bleating or lowing, the Israelites heard the Egyptians' screams of grief and relentless weeping, their cries of pain, the rumble of the earth groaning beneath their feet with aftershocks, and the comet still declaring the sacred Name. Their excitement over leaving was tempered with the solemn contemplation of all that had passed to gain their exit, and the threat of danger that still hung over them, if Pharaoh suddenly changed his mind and ordered his officers to bring them back immediately.

They passed a skinny, but paunchy, scribe who drifted aimlessly among the rubble, the tools of his trade in hand, staring hollow–eyed with shock at the devastation around him. When he saw the departing Hebrews, Ipuwer recovered enough to glower at them and make a sign to ward off the evil eye, though it was far too late to avoid his misfortunes. He then sat down near a burning pile of rubbish and opened his case that he kept his papyrus in, to add to the melancholy eye–witness records he had already made regarding the plagues. He wrote, "Forsooth: The children of princes are dashed against the walls … the children of princes are cast out into the streets. The prison is ruined."11

Pharaoh sent officers to escort the Israelites on their three day journey into the wilderness, to observe their activities and ensure that they returned when they were over. They hurried the Israelites, telling them that the sooner they finished their business, the sooner they could get back to Pharaoh's.

The soldiers wanted to search the baggage for weapons, but there wasn't time. They didn't see any, but that did not mean that the Israelites did not have them. There probably weren't many, in any case. The Hebrews were mainly shepherds and they carried only sticks in their hands to assist them in walking and to move their animals along. They had been prohibited for decades from carrying weapons, and no weapons had gone missing during the three days of darkness, so if they did have any, they probably had only a few swords and knives.

If the Hebrews were inclined to attack them, they probably would have done it before now. They managed to get around in the three days of darkness, but all they had done was get the rest of their people into Goshen, and then had their ritual with the blood of a lamb on the door of each house. The ritual must be related to what they meant when they said that all their people had to gather in Goshen to prepare for their feast in the wilderness. It kind of made sense. They said they had to do it to save their lives, and, indeed, none of the Hebrews who were inside the houses that had blood on the doorposts died. There would be a lot less of them going to their feast, if they hadn't done that, and that would not be good for their god. The more worshippers the gods had, the better they liked it.

When they saw that the Israelites were headed south, rather than east, the soldiers became more relaxed, as much as they could be relaxed with the sky looking so strange with its low, thick cloud cover, the comet glowing so near with two outstretched tails that made it look like the head of a bull with its horns, whirlwinds spinning about in the desert, the ground still shaking occasionally, and fires flaring up where some of the petroleum that had fallen from the comet had not yet soaked into the sands. Their commanding officer reassured them that, if the Israelites did not intend to return, they would have gone east, where their writings said that they were supposed to settle.

He showed his mottled teeth as he grinned, and added with a cunning light in his eye, "That is where their forefather said they were to go, but they don't have either the guts or the military training to take on even the Philistines, never mind the demon–offspring who are further east and occupy their so–called "Promised Land". Their leader knows that very well, so he is avoiding the Philistines. Did you see how they hightailed it to the south, as soon as they spotted the Philistines' scouts? They are cowards and will not give us any trouble, except for those who try to make a break from them to find refuge elsewhere. No doubt there will be some who will want to try it, because there is nothing to the south except wilderness.

"Just as they said, they are only going into the wilderness and coming back, whether that is what they intended at the start or not. There is no food in the wilderness and they will run out of food soon, even if they kill all their animals for their tables. They have no choice but to return to Egypt. We have to stay on the alert, but everything will turn out all right. Look how they don't even make a protest when we give them orders. They are used to taking orders. They have been doing it for generations. Their god is a god of slaves, and he is helping us because we are letting the slaves make their sacrifices to him."

The other officers noted that the Israelites indeed seemed rather docile, and none of them strapped on weapons, except for when they stood watch around the camp at night. Pharaoh's soldiers stood a distance away, careful to not let the Hebrews get too close to them when they had weapons in their hands. The Hebrews were on guard against intruders, whereas the Egyptians were on guard against anyone trying to slip away from the camp. A few of the Hebrews tried, but their own guards stopped them, tying them up so that they could not run. They were, apparently, very serious about having as many of their own people as possible on hand to participate in offering sacrifices to their god.

The Israelites left it up to the Egyptians to stop the foreigners, who did not take orders very well from the Hebrews, and they didn't want the foreigners to make trouble for them. Some were genuine friends, and some just came along at the last minute for the chance to escape from Egypt. The foreigners and the Egyptians who wanted to leave the camp stopped attempting it because when the Egyptian guards stopped anyone from leaving, they made sure that it was their final attempt.

The only time the Hebrews raised their swords against the Egyptians was when they tried to have some fun with the women or children, or if it looked like any of the multitude who abided by Moses's instructions was in danger of being seriously injured or killed. The Egyptians backed off then, for they were outnumbered. It appeared that the Hebrews had found that they had limits in how much they would let themselves be pushed around, at least while they were out in the desert where they could do something about it.

It would be a different story when they got back to the Delta. The Hebrews might be more of a challenge than what they were before, but one way or another, Pharaoh would find a way to get them to do his repairs. In the meantime (the soldiers reasoned), though a bit harder to deal with, the Hebrews had been slaves so long that they still took abuse fairly well. As long as they respected the Hebrews' new boundaries, while they had to, the soldiers figured that they did not have too much to worry about.

This was how Moses wanted them to feel. Long before they left Goshen, Moses cautioned the Hebrews to not try to leave the camp, and to not make any reply to insults or rough handling, as long as the handling was not too severe. They were not to say or do anything provoking to the Egyptians that would invite their anger. They needed to get as far away from Egypt as possible, before it became apparent to the Egyptians that they were not going to return.

So the people let themselves be pushed around right from the very start of their journey, still adopting the dumb sheep demeanor that they had adopted for decades to avoid being singled out as trouble–makers. They concealed their excitement about leaving Egypt, keeping it toned down to what was expected from just going on a short trip, and the firebrands among them turned their faces away to conceal the resentment in their eyes when they were insulted by the soldiers. The mixed multitude with them took the lead from the Hebrews. Many drooped with disappointment that the Hebrews were apparently not meaning to make a get–away, as they longed for freedom, too, but at least they would be blessed by the Hebrews' God for joining them in worshipping Him.

Apparently, the Hebrew god must have told them to go three days' journey into the wilderness at the fastest speed they could manage. Their General kept urging them on and hardly let them rest. They travelled even in the dark, following a pillar of fire. These pillars were all over in the desert, but the General seemed to have zeroed in on this particular one. During the day, it appeared to be mostly smoke, the glint of the fire within it hard to see. It moved fast and did not sit still for long. Moses had a ram's horn blown when it started to move forward again, in case some had not noticed that it was time to move on.

If the Hebrews' god told them to follow that pillar of cloud, then how could the Egyptians complain about the distance that it was taking them? It was only a three day march out of Egypt, at this swift pace, but it was going to be a long march home. It was annoying and the guards grumbled, but they did not have the nerve to interfere with where the Hebrews' god told them to hold their feast. Telling the Hebrews what to do was one thing, but arguing with their god (the Egyptians had found), was deadly.

Finally, the multitude stopped and built booths for shelters, prepared their feast, placed the food in gold and silver dishes, decorated their camp with borrowed ornaments, and got dressed up in their borrowed finery. Every one of the Hebrews looked like princes and princesses, even the ones who tended to ordinarily look quite plain. Their smooth, fresh skin was a sharp contrast to the scabbed and scarred, oozing hides of the Egyptians.

As for the most beautiful girls and women, the sight of them made the guards' eyes bug out. Hebrew women with beauty played their looks down when Egyptians were around, but for this occasion, they made the most of them, with their hair newly washed and their bodies smelling of ointments. The soldiers took note of those whom they wished to pay a visit to, when they were returned to the Delta, as well as the most handsome of the boys. They would make wonderful additions to the officers' harems and soldiers' barracks. For now, the commander said to not make any trouble.

All in all, it was a fine, glittering and joyful scene. The mixed multitudes assisted where they could and then stood on the outskirts to observe the Hebrews holding their ceremonies. Some of them knelt with the Hebrews to offer prayers to the Hebrew God. The General and his brother offered up their sacrifices, made their speeches, Moses thanked God that Pharaoh had finally let them go and asked Him to have mercy on him, as he had promised Pharaoh he would, and then the Hebrews had their party, inviting the mixed multitude to join in, as long as they abided by their constraints.

It was a pretty good party, though rather staid by Egyptian standards. There was music and dancing, singing and feasting. There was some wine, but nobody got drunk. The Egyptian commander had threatened to kill by his own hand any of his soldiers who drank liquor that night or ate any food offered to them by the Hebrews, in case it was drugged. They were to be on the alert from now on, until the slaves were securely returned to Egypt. All they could see happening, though, was that everybody was having a good time, even if they were not allowed to drink too much. Those who were inclined to be too fond of the grape were deterred from drunkenness in a friendly way that did not give offense.

Perhaps it was because of the sense of needing to adhere to the Hebrew god's unwritten code of conduct in order to receive his protection from the comet's effects that the people behaved so tame in their festivities. When one of the friendlier officers asked the General's brother's about it, he confirmed that this was so. He spoke of someone named Noah who had erred by becoming drunk, and then he broke off suddenly, looking uncomfortable. When questioned further how Noah had erred, (mindful that he was talking to a son of Ham), Aaron said hesitatingly, "He got so drunk that he went to bed without any clothes on." The Egyptian guffawed and said, "Is that all? I've done it plenty of times myself, even when I haven't been drunk. You Hebrews have very strict ideas about what's proper." The old man nodded and said, "Yes, perhaps we do," and hurried away to speak to a friend he suddenly spied and said he had been looking for.

The Hebrews' rejoicing over their god's protection went on for the rest of the day after the sacrifices had been offered, and then into half the night. Eventually, the people returned to their booths to get some sleep. Pharaoh's officers allowed that a rest was reasonable. They were feeling rather exhausted themselves. Because they would have been handicapped against the Hebrews if all of them were over–tired, some of the soldiers were allowed to sleep before the watch woke them at dawn. Then Pharaoh's soldiers began to roust the Hebrews, kicking against their booths to awaken them, telling the people to pack up.

A young man named Hoshea, who waited on Moses, hurried to tell him what was happening. The Egyptians' commander was already standing outside the door, pushing Hoshea aside, when Moses came out of his booth. The commander snapped, "Pharaoh graciously granted you permission to offer your sacrifices to your god. The party is over now. It's time for you get your people packed up to return to the Delta." Moses looked at Hoshea, who was glaring angrily at the commander. He calmly said to his assistant, "It's all right. God must think that we've had enough sleep. Look, the pillar is moving."

Everyone in their vicinity turned their heads and saw that he was right. The Egyptian commander roared, "It's going in the wrong direction! It is still heading south! You and your people will head north!" Moses replied, "Our duty does not lie in Egypt. Our God wants us to follow Him to the south." The commander asked, "How do you know you are following the right pillar of smoke? How do you know that you should be following a pillar of smoke? They are all over the desert and any of them could suddenly change their direction and swallow you up. This one could change its direction and destroy a good many of you before you could get this crowd turned around." Moses looked at him evenly and said, "I know that we are supposed to follow this pillar of smoke, and that this is the right pillar, the same way that I knew what plagues were coming next and when they would occur. My God tells me these things. I listen and I obey."

The commander stared speechlessly at Moses for a moment. How could he argue with this? The man told the truth in that he always knew what was going to happen with the comet. He then scowled and said in a threatening tone, "You have to bring back all the treasures and clothing your borrowed from Pharaoh and his people." Moses, in an infuriatingly placid manner, replied, "Our God says that He hasn't finished borrowing them. He wants us to bring them with us as we follow the cloud."

The commander's dark face became flushed with fury and the veins stood out on his neck. A boil burst and pus ran down onto his bare chest. He shouted, "You have spoken to us falsely, Moses! You said you would return after three days!" Moses shook his head. He said, "I said that we needed to go three days' journey into the wilderness. I did not say we would return. We have made our journey and received further instructions. We must obey God, not man, and Pharaoh is just a man."

The officer took exception to hearing Pharaoh referred to as just a man, though he knew that it was the truth. Truth was beside the point, according to his code of conduct. It mattered only when one wanted to harangue their enemies about honesty, to guilt them into submitting to abuse or betraying their secrets, but it did not apply to oneself. The system he served said that Pharaoh was a god, and one tested the obedience of his subjects by insisting that they give lip service to the lie, regardless of logic and facts. Obviously, this Moses had intended all along to rob the king and lead his subjects into rebellion.

The commander had barely drawn his sword when Hoshea's arm flashed forward, knocking the commander's sword from his hand with the sword he'd concealed beneath his cloak. His other hand held a dagger, which he plunged into the Egyptian's heart. At his cry, all the trained guerillas in the camp, and every man and boy and woman who had a will to fight for their freedom, fell upon Pharaoh's men with daggers and swords and anything sharp or heavy that came to their hands. Outnumbered, the soldiers on the perimeter of the camp raced away for their lives. Hordes of men pelted after them, but before all of the soldiers could be chased down, Moses had a ram's horn blown to call them back. He said that they did not have time for that. The pillar of cloud was moving on.

Some of the fighters protested that the soldiers would bring Pharaoh's army down on them all the quicker, if they were allowed to return to him with the news that the Israelites were not coming back. Moses replied, "I know, but it is better to follow God than to follow logic. He knows what is ahead and how best to deal with it. Let's just trust Him and move in the direction that He is leading."

Who were they to argue? This man had been the General of the Generals, more skilled and knowledgeable about war than any of them, and he had guided them safely through the perils of the comet so far. They stripped the bodies of Pharaoh's soldiers of their weapons and items that they had pilfered from the Hebrews' borrowed treasure, and hurried to pack the baggage, so that they could get on their way.

Pharaoh had sulked for days about what the Hebrew god had done to him. Why had it not been as in Shem's day, when the cataclysms had been just natural phenomena that put Osiris at a disadvantage? There was none of this business of calling for specific plagues, bargaining, and sending the plagues away. The only way that El had interfered had been to keep his adherents calm during the cataclysms, so that their language was not confused, and then he came upon Shem with an anointing of oratory that persuaded those faithful to the Creator to take courage and overthrow the emperor. Moses certainly had not displayed any oratory. He did not talk even to his own people, at first, except through his brother. But he had such a bag of tricks that he had not needed to be eloquent or rouse his people to war.

Pharaoh was now in a froth after having discovered one of Moses's latest tricks, and his rage increased when he learned that the Israelites had refused to return and were heading south. He and his nobles asked each other in dismay, "Why did we let them go? Why did we ever trust those sons of Abraham? Do the records not say that he lied to our king in his day, and left Egypt with gifts that he obtained from him under false pretenses? They have our silver and gold, our jewels and clothes, our slaves and traders. They say that one of their princes saved our land from destruction in a time of great famine, so we opened our border to them and let them live on our best grazing land. Look how they repay our hospitality! Their god has ruined the kingdom and they have absconded with our treasures! The worst tortures we can devise will not be enough to repay them for how they have wronged us!"

Pharaoh was not completely surprised by the news that the Hebrews were not coming back. In their position, he would have acted the same, but he was not a Hebrew. He was Pharaoh, and how dare they spurn the privilege of being his slaves? He needed them to rebuild Egypt, and he needed all the other slaves that had managed to slip their masters' leashes and went along with them to sacrifice to the Hebrew god. He needed the craftsmen and merchants, both foreign and Egyptian, who had joined their company. He needed their labour and their taxes.

Moreover, the Hebrews had cleaned him and his nobles out. When they asked for gold and silver, jewels and costly clothes, they had given them everything they asked. What were they thinking of?

Pharaoh knew exactly what he had been thinking of. When the plagues were all over with, he was dead tired and needed to get some sleep after weeks of being denied it. He was waiting for a tent and a bed to be prepared, when a delegation of old, Hebrew codgers approached him. He recognized them as the elders who accompanied Moses sometimes. The one who addressed him had his head bowed and mumbled something in his beard, while trembling from head to toe. He thought that the old man was thanking him for allowing them to leave, and asking if it would be his pleasure that, when they went into the wilderness to make their sacrifices, could they say some prayers on his behalf.

The Overseer of the Treasury, however, had been standing closer to the delegation and heard more clearly. After the old man thanked Pharaoh for letting them leave, the Overseer of the Treasury heard the old man say, "May we take your treasures with us when we go into the wilderness to make our sacrifices, maybe just only half?"

Pharaoh found the elders' fear and humility gratifying, and more fitting than the attitude he got from Moses. He had absent–mindedly nodded to acknowledge their gratitude, said to them, "By all means, as much as you wish; the more, the better," then walked away to where his servants had finished setting up his tent.

While he was sunk into a deep sleep, which he sorely needed after all the stress that he had been through, the stupid Overseer of the Treasury, wanting to hurry the Hebrews on their way to make their prayers on Egypt's behalf, ordered the soldiers to round up everything they could lay their hands on in the treasury and the ruins of the palace, pack it into the carts the elders brought with them, and into some of Pharaoh's own carts, too, because they didn't have enough carts to carry it all away, and he even loaned them some of his horses to pull the carts!

When he arose from his sleep, he was totally unaware of what had happened and assumed that his valuables had been placed somewhere secure where thieves could not get at them. This is what he had just finished telling the Overseer of the Treasury to do before the elders approached him. The fool must have thought that he was obeying two orders at once by giving his treasure to the Israelites!

Pharaoh had only learned about it an hour ago, when the Queen finally stirred from her mourning to make herself more presentable and asked for her jewels to be brought to her, and the Overseer of the Treasury explained where they were. The Queen's scream of fury was nothing compared to Pharaoh's roar when he found out what she was in a lather about. The bodies of the soldiers who had packed his treasures were now hanging on gibbets and the Overseer was warned that, if the Israelites didn't bring back every last item, his body, and those of his whole family right down to his fourth cousins, will be hanging on gibbets, too, after a slow death.

Pharaoh was ready to burst a blood vessel over the news that the Israelites did not intend to bring ANY of his treasure back. He decided that, even if the idiot managed to get it all back, he would hang him anyway, regardless of his family connections. None of the man's powerful relatives would blame him for punishing such an outrageous blunder.

Pharaoh consoled himself that he, at least, had not been so stupid as to knowingly hand over his treasure, but what of his court? When he questioned them how they were asked and why they gave the Hebrews their treasure, they said they had all understood that the Hebrews were asking to borrow their valuables, and they wanted the Hebrews to ask for their god's favour for them. Pharaoh snapped that the fact they had let them go do their sacrifices so that their god did not kill the Hebrews, as well, should have been reason enough for them to pray for their masters. His nobles flushed with shame when they realized that Pharaoh was right and wondered how they could have been such fools.

It must have been another spell that Moses had cast on them with that confounded stick that he always carried around. If it could summon hurricanes that brought all sorts of nasty baggage with them, why could it not have a hypnotic effect on the nobles of Egypt, as well? And to make people hear what it suited Moses for them to hear. Moses was going to pay for this, slowly and painfully. And Pharaoh would have that magic staff in the bargain.

Wait a minute! Why had he not realized this before? The clue was there right from the start when Moses demonstrated how his staff could turn into a snake, and it swallowed up the other magicians' staffs. He had been distracted, thinking about natural explanations for the comet's effects, instead of focussing entirely on the sorcery angle. The priests had been fools! They had underestimated Moses and thought he was just playing the usual cheap tricks that they were accustomed to using.

Pharaoh's eyes widened as he thought, "That staff is the key to the whole thing! It swallowed their magic! And so cleverly, leaving a few minor demons behind to do some minor tricks for them, so that they would not suspect how powerful the staff is! And how fiendishly clever to disguise it as a simple, shepherd's staff! Where did he find that thing? He must have come across it in his travels and discovered that it swallows magic, then set off on a journey to find powerful artifacts for the staff to swallow and add to its power until he had enough to take me on! And my own sorcerers supplied the last infusions of power that he needed!"

Pharaoh ground his teeth in rage at the realization of how Moses had duped him. Indeed, the stories he had heard of how adept Moses had been at magic when he was a priest of the Mysteries had not been exaggerated. As for his cunning for which he had been famed, he was far more cunning than they had ever guessed.

He had more in mind than just rescuing his people. Pharaoh was sure of it. If he knew that he needed Egypt's power to add to his staff, so that he could control that comet, why had he led his people out of Egypt when he could take over Egypt with an instrument like that? Where was he going with them? Not east to Canaan, as one would expect from the Hebrews' writings. His officers thought that he avoided going east because they would run into war, and the Israelites are not ready for it because they have not been trained for war. On the surface, that is a thoroughly plausible reason.

But it's another ruse. He knew where they were going. His mind exploded in a rush of thoughts: "The Israelites are not ready for war because Moses needs that staff to swallow something else in order to defeat the Nephilim! He didn't come back just for the Israelites! He came back for Tharbis! They are going to Ethiopia because there is an artifact there that only she can gain access to!" Pharaoh could barely restrain himself to sit still, he was so excited about what he was realizing, but it was vital that nobody else figure it out. If anyone else realized that Moses's staff could give them the power to rule the world, they would stop at nothing to get their hands on it!

Pharaoh would have given up his firstborn to know where Moses found that magic staff, if the Crown Prince was not already dead. No doubt he'd had dreams of world conquest when he married Tharbis, but they had beaten him to the punch when they brought Tharbis back to the Delta before he could return to her. So he went looking for some other means to achieve his aims, found the staff, got it charged up to be powerful enough to get both his kinsmen and his wife out of Egypt, came back with some story about having been a shepherd for the last forty years, so that nobody would suspect the staff was anything but what it appeared to be, and now they are on their way to Ethiopia.

Watching demons chuckled as a spirit of delusion whispered more suggestions into Pharaoh's mind, to motivate him to go after the Israelites and destroy them, in spite of all the mighty wonders that God had performed.12 It mirrored his doubt and unbelief towards God, and the spite and greed and pride in Pharaoh's heart, as it inserted into his thoughts, "All the hoopla about the Hebrews' god was just a smokescreen. The Hebrew god doesn't approve of magic and forbids them to use it, which is why the Israelites were so powerless before Moses came along. Moses doesn't really believe in their god; he uses magic. But he knew how to give them a good line and manipulate things, so that the Hebrews thought their god was working all those wonders and would follow Moses, and he was using that claptrap about his "holy" god to get me to feel guilty about keeping the Hebrews as my slaves, so that I would let them go. What a master manipulator!"

Pharaoh reasoned further, "Moses and Tharbis probably are trying to put us off the scent by leading the Israelites along a route where they have to cross water to get to Sheba, or wherever she has that relic. We assumed that they will all stay together because we thought that all Moses is interested in is leading his people to a place of safety. Safety does not lie to the east, though, because the Philistines will fight them to get their hands on our treasures. He knew that long before he set out, but we assumed that he made the decision to go south in a panic, after seeing the Philistines' scouts. He had more time to think about that than we did, because we didn't know that he was going to take spoil from us.

"The plagues we've had might be enough to keep other nations from troubling the Hebrews, but carrying our treasures with them will probably cause some of them to throw caution to the winds. The Philistines are a nation of greedy merchants, and Moses does not trust them to not take a chance, if he brings his people close enough to their vicinity where their gods have sway. So, he heads to the south, to the barrens where populations are sparse. Indeed, if we were to catch up with them, they would be in a trap, because there is no way that he will find enough boats for all those people to cross the waters before we catch up with them. But he intended to go south right from the start!

"Moses and Tharbis really only need a small escort and a boat to take them across the water while the Israelites wait for them to get back. The artifact must be concealed near enough that they think they have a chance to return to the Hebrews before we can catch up to them. I have to stop them before they get to the crossing, before they power up that staff anymore. I have to kill Moses and force or entice Tharbis to take me to the artifact that will give me power to conquer even the Nephilim. Then I will use the staff to swallow the Nephilim's power, which is probably what Moses aims to do. Canaan is the only country around here that the comet hasn't ruined. I wonder how the Israelites' prophets knew that it would be unspoiled? Maybe they didn't. Maybe Moses has used the staff to keep the comet's effects off of it. Yes, that is more likely."

Pharaoh thought feverishly of what temples were in the area, in case there was an artifact being kept there. His mind scoured what he knew of the Ethiopian temples closest to their northeastern border, and then berated himself for not thinking outside of the box. Who said it had to be in Ethiopia? Maybe it was only near Ethiopia. What else was in the direction where they were heading? There were some small temples in the area; obscure, little places where one might not suspect that an important artifact was being guarded.

He had to keep in mind that only Tharbis could access what Moses was after. Maybe she was the only one who knew where it was, or the only one who knew how to get past the traps that guarded it, or the only one who it would let use its power. It was annoying that he needed her, but there was nothing he could do about it. If she did not cooperate, he would make her pay dearly for it, and then punch up the staff's power as best he could by unleashing it on the demon powers of every fetish and idol and sacred artifact that he could get access to.

Satisfied that he had it all figured out, Pharaoh gloated about how wealthy and powerful he was going to be when he found out how to use the "Rod of Ra–uah–ab", as he decided to call it. When he had that staff, he would not need the Hebrews for slaves. They could be dispensed with because he could direct the comet to pour its effects on the nations around him until they submitted to making him their king. His new subjects would supply him with all the manpower he needed to rebuild Egypt.

Cheered by these thoughts, Pharaoh said to his nobles, "The Hebrews are headed for a trap. In the direction they are going, they will be entangled in the land, caught between the mountains and the sea when we catch up with them. We will have our revenge on the Hebrews. They have given us so much trouble, that we should finish them off there, rather than bring the evil–doers back with us. It will save us the inconvenience of having to burn their bodies in Egypt and smell their stench."

The nobles thought the plan had merits, but they were not sure that they could sell the soldiers on it, considering the wonders that the Hebrews' god tended to work on their behalf. Frankly, they were concerned about that themselves, especially those among them who would be involved in the chase. Had not the Hebrews' sacrifices primed their power even more?

Pharaoh laughed and said with an evil smile, "No. I figured out what happened when I was sitting here. The gods have illumined me." Lies glibly sprung to his lips, believable to the Egyptians because they fit in with their beliefs and unclean practices. He said, "It's Tharbis who gave Moses his power. You will notice that nothing started to happen until she got back together with him. He had no power, and he couldn't even talk for himself before then.

"They must have made a pact with the gods of Ethiopia when they married, to help them spread the Ethiopians' empire further, but it was ineffective when they were apart. He had to leave her for a time to convince us that he won Ethiopia for us, rather than himself. It is likely that he also came back to try to persuade the Hebrews to throw in their lot with the Ethiopians, but they didn't agree to it. They were so stubbornly set on returning to Canaan. Moses's negotiations with his people went badly and he started making stupid mistakes that caused him to have to run for his life. The pact he made with Ethiopia's gods when he married their queen has a bite; they work for him only if he remains at her side, and confound him if he doesn't. It was clever of Tharbis to find a way to ensure that he would always return to her. He should have found a way to bring her to the Delta with him, perhaps pretend that she was his hostage, instead of bringing her father back as his hostage.

"It is likely that he realized his mistake and headed for the Cushite, both for asylum and to renew his pact, but we got to her before he did and brought her back here, thinking only that we needed her as a hostage so that the Ethiopians would submit to us, and to use her as bait to lure him out of hiding. The gods were smiling on us in how they directed this." The nobles nodded among themselves, wide–eyed at the astute observations of their lord.

Pharaoh continued, "Moses must have been waiting for us to relax our guard on her, and when he heard that we had done that, he returned. Why else would a woman wait forty years for one man, unless she had a good enough reason, such as a chance to win a world empire? We need to separate them again.

"Now that we know the secret of their power, we can direct our attack wisely. I will be in charge of capturing Moses, and Jambres will be in charge of capturing Tharbis. He will take Tharbis a safe distance away and wait for me there, while I take care of Moses – permanently. Then I myself will marry the woman, though she is too old to bear children. I have Geb to be my heir, so it doesn't matter. The Ethiopians will be more accepting of me as their king when I am married to their queen, and they will rebuild Egypt for us. I should have married Tharbis before, but I thought her too old. Now that I know that she is such a powerful sorceress, I have changed my mind. I didn't realize it before because, for forty years, she did not perform any magic. She must have refrained from doing so to deceive us about how dangerous she could be, when paired with the wrong consort, so that we would think that she did not have to be kept so secure."

Most of Pharaoh's nobles now thought that his plans were excellent. If Tharbis was so powerful that her marriage to their king could raise up Egypt again, the Queen would have to do her duty and step aside for this new consort to take her place. The High Priest even smiled and commented, "Jannes, I have always thought you were brilliant, which is why you are Pharaoh, but you have surpassed everything now."

Pharaoh controlled his urge to chuckle when he glanced at the High Priest. Jambres had a suitably awed look on his face, but he knew what the old fox was thinking. He supposed that his lust to torture Moses personally had caused him to forget that it was Tharbis who had the power he needed, and the priest's task of keeping her separated from Moses, for it was expected that only the other most powerful person in the kingdom could handle such an adept as the Queen of Sheba, would give him the opportunity to persuade her to take him as her consort instead. But it was not Tharbis whom Pharaoh could not do without; it was the staff! He would have a fine revenge on Jambres for trying to steal his crown when that staff gave him the means to do it. He doubted that Tharbis would tell Jambres that it was the staff that had given Moses his power, but if she did, it would be too late, for he would have it.

One doubter of the plan asked, "But if their pact is with the gods of Ethiopia because the Hebrew god is against magic, then why would the gods of Ethiopia work wonders to release the Hebrews?"

Pharaoh replied sternly, "Because the Ethiopians need the Hebrews to help them break off our yoke, and to weaken Egypt so that it will be easier for them to take. Moses may not have genuine regard for the Hebrews' god, but he has sentimental feelings for his people. This is why he did not make a pact with Lucifer, though he grew up knowing how greatly the gods can benefit us. Making an irrevokable pact with the highest lord of them all would have entailed turning against his people completely, even offering up his parents to our lord as a sacrifice. He decided to find another way to get the power he wanted. He did not let any of his people risk their lives by obtaining their release by force of arms, even when they could have done it during the days of darkness. To please him, the Ethiopians must go along with this idiosyncratic affection that he has for his people, and they can use the extra manpower. It will be a fine revenge on Moses to make him watch his people suffer a thousand deaths before we kill them.

"You will notice that the Hebrews are not headed for Canaan, but in the direction of Cush. We can't let the Hebrews reach the Ethiopans, or it will be the end of our empire and the revival of the Ethiopian Empire." That clinched it for everybody. The nobles leapt to their feet and said, "We're ready to go after them right now!"

Pharaoh ordered the chariots to be brought, briefly explained to the army that the Hebrews were marching south to join the Ethiopians in an insurrection against Egypt and then pumped the soldiers up with a short, but rousing, speech about the atrocities he wanted to be committed on the Israelites, vividly painting the scenes in his soldiers' minds until their heads were swimming with lustful visions.

Most of all, he said, he wanted Moses and Tharbis to be captured alive and he would build a palace for whoever brought them to him. He would honour two champions, those who brought him those two captives. Moses was to be brought to him for the satisfaction of torturing him personally, and the High Priest was to have the pleasure of the Queen of Sheba.

The army silently agreed that, as Pharaoh's co–ruler, it was only fitting that the High Priest should have the General's wife for a prize. They did not know how vital the nobles thought she was to their plans and regarded the High Priest as the most fit to guard her for Pharaoh. Jambres smiled as he thought of how the army would support him when he took the throne, for Pharaoh himself had said that he could have the queen for his prize. A fatal mistake on his part, in his efforts to conceal her real worth from the army rabble.

Pharaoh finally added, "And I want his staff! I will also give grazing lands in Goshen to whoever brings me that particular staff. When I am finished with Moses, I intend to mount his head on it!" Everyone cheered and Pharaoh felt smug about how cleverly he had disguised his reason for offering a reward for the staff.

His soldiers ran to take their places in the chase. They were eager for rape and blood and plunder, panting with excitement at the thought of amusing themselves with torturing the Hebrews when they caught up with them. And if there was any way possible, they wanted to collect the rewards offered for the General and the Ethiopian queen and the General's staff.

Meanwhile, Moses hurried on with the his flock from where they had made the booths until they came to mouth of the gorges by the sea,13 where the Lord had told him to go. It defied all common sense to come here, but it was where the pillar of cloud stopped and continued to roil on their south side, forbidding them from going further. The people fretted. Anyone could see that, if the Egyptians came upon them there, they were trapped. Nonetheless, Moses told them to camp there. They hoped he knew what he was doing.

The water was a lurid red. The comet had dropped a lot of rust dust in this area recently. The hurricane that swept the locusts away had obviously dumped them here in the sea. Their bodies wafted in large drifts against the shoreline, covered with a thick coat of mucky redness, piling up against the tattered sedge at the waters' edges. Moses was glad that they had been killed before they could devastate anyone else's country. The Israelites were going to need any grasses and shrubs they could find across the water for their livestock to graze on, so it was good for both them and Jethro's people that the locusts fell short of Midian. They were going to need another hurricane, though, to blow away the iron dust over on that side.

Moses and his close associates spent a lot of time in prayer, while his captains worked on getting the people in order to cross the sea. All he told them was that they were going to cross the strait and head into Midian. Mount Sinai14 was not far on the other side, and God had told him that they would worship God at that mountain.

The people wondered if Moses had arranged for boats to come and get them at this point, before he had even arrived in Egypt. The thought that he probably did this calmed them down. He must be waiting for his friends to catch sight of them, and then send messengers to bring the boats and ships he had arranged for.

He could manage to do this. Was he not married to a chieftain's daughter from over there? Undoubtedly her father had helped arrange for a flotilla, using his influence and giving Moses a loan to secure the captains' services. Moses knew that they were going to come out of Egypt with treasure, so they would have the means to pay the debt. They were willing to pay anything the captains asked, for passage across the water.

Of course, they had to be arranged in units to march into the boats. Otherwise, with so many of them, if they tried to get to the head of the line, the people behind them would push them into the water. The people cooperated with getting into their proper places, and anxiously kept as much of their stuff packed as possible, ready to fold up their tents in minutes when the boats arrived.

They kept on watching the opposite shore, but nothing seemed to be happening over there, except for pillars of cloud spinning across the dust. Perhaps the delay was because Moses's friends had experienced difficulties due to the comet. The children did not play. They stayed close to their anxious parents, silently watching with the adults, waiting for boats to appear. In their young lives, they had witnessed atrocities. They knew that, if the Egyptians caught up with them, bad things would happen.

When Moses came out of his tent and stood at the water's edge, everyone looked intently at his face, trying to discern from his expression what was going through his head. His demeanor was calm. He just looked across the strait,15 as if he expected something.

Yes, he expected something, but he didn't know what it was. He wished that God would tell them how they were going to cross that strait. People asked him about boats. He just answered that God would provide. He felt like his grey hair must be turning white with the worry that was upon him.

Moses wished that Jethro would come to their rescue, but he was probably holed up with his people in the burial caves by his city. He thought of Zipporah and his sons over there. It had been a good place to send them, in case of meteorite showers, as long as earthquakes didn't seal them in the caves. Where did that thought come from? He couldn't afford to let himself think such things. He had to have faith in God that He was taking care of his family, keeping them safe.

Even if Jethro had his scouts out, and they saw the Israelites camped on the other side, and Jethro guessed that he was over here with his people, there still wasn't time for Jethro to arrange passage for them across the strait. Unless God did something spectacular, they were sunk. Well, He had been doing all sorts of spectacular things for them, so why would He stop now? Moses just wished he knew what God was going to do.

The camp was stretched across the barren plain by the water's side and scouts stood upon the mountains behind them, keeping watch for signs of Pharaoh's army. They would be slaughtered, if Moses did not do something soon to get them across the water. Their eyes strained, but they could not discern any activity across the water indicating that anyone was coming for them in boats. There were men from another tribe, standing on the mountains to their right, watching the Israelites, but making no moves towards them.

A cry went up. Someone on the rocks further up the wadi had caught sight of plumes of dust in the distance. The Egyptians were coming! The scouts blew their shofars and clambered down from the rocks, then ran across the flat, narrow plain that led down to the sea to get into their places. They did not know what they were going to do when they got into their places, though. There was no sign of any ships to take them across the strait.

The people looked toward the gorge and could see the dust rising like a cloud now from the canyon. They could hear the rumble of the chariots and the horses, and feel vibrations beneath their feet. There were masses of Egyptians coming towards them. The people cried out to Moses, wailing, asking him why he had brought them there. Moses shouted that the Lord would fight their battle. The word was passed on. People were incredulous. How? How? What was God going to do for them? They and their little ones were going to die! Moses repeated that the Lord would fight for them, and to hold their peace.

The women's cries subsided to whimpers and men restricted themselves to groaning. The sound of the camp was as of tabering doves. But some of the people turned expectant eyes on Moses, trusting that he would now come up with some way to get them out of this trap. Moses turned away and looked with frustration at the other side of the water. What did God expect them to do? Walk on the water? He cried out in his heart, "God, what are you going to do to get us out of here? Have you led us through all these troubles to let us perish by the sea?"

In his heart, he heard God rebuke him, saying, "Why are you crying out to me? You do something. Tell the children of Israel to march forward. But lift up your rod and stretch out your hand over the sea, and the children of Israel shall go over on dry land. And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them, and I will get honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten myself honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen."

Moses understood then that God had not led them into a trap, but He had led the Egyptians into a trap. And God had been waiting for him to make a move. He had been coaching him up until now, to the point where Moses should be able to figure it out. He had the key all along to getting them across the water. God had given him authority over Nature, to command it to do God's will. That was what he had been doing all along with the comet, commanding it what to release upon Egypt and when, and when to send something to take the plagues away. God wanted His people to cross the water, so Nature had to help them do it. Nature is God's servant.

The pillar of cloud moved, skirting along a short distance away from the edge of the camp where the people huddled. The people stopped weeping and caught their breaths to watch where the cloud would go. Was it deserting them? It was moving behind them, blocking the mouth of the canyon. The Egyptians couldn't get through!

The people turned again to look at Moses, to see what he would do. He shouted, "Gather up your stuff and get ready to march across the sea!" Their mouths dropped in astonishment. Had Moses really told them that they were going to march on foot across the water? He must be mad!" A few, however, who knew him well, gathered up their stuff. Tharbis didn't have to carry anything, so she smiled at him and waited expectantly.

Moses turned away from the people and stretched the rod in his hand across the water. A hurricane approached from the east, from the direction of the comet, blowing towards them. Then something astonishing happened. There was no frame of reference to tell the people what it was. They had never seen anything like this before, they had never heard of this happening before. They never could have imagined it. Their brains seemed to disconnect for a long moment and think nothing at all. They watched the waters of the strait being pulled up, up, up in thin, quivering walls that reached higher than the mountains. What was this?

This was the magnetic pull of the comet that hovered above them. It happened in seas in many other places in the world, as well, at that time, but here at the Strait of Tiran, it revealed that, right before them, under the waters, there was a landbridge that reached to the other side of the strait.

They didn't notice it, at first. The hurricane was sweeping the waters up, and pulling on their clothes. Their hair was flying straight up, skirts were lifting, the men's beards were flying up in their faces, and anything light that was not tied into bundles was flying off the baggage. People stood there in shock, unable to speak. Except for Moses, whose mind was on the Lord as he stretched his staff over the sea, everybody just gaped at the walls of water, their bundles clutched in their frozen hands.

Miriam and Tharbis were the first to snap out of it. They stood by Moses, laughing and trying to hold down their skirts. Finally, Tharbis reached under and grabbed the back of her skirt, and brought it up between her legs, then tied the ends behind her back like an apron. It now looked like she was wearing a pair of big, billowing pantaloons, and her braids were whipping wildly around her head. She was glad that she hadn't had her maid entwine jewels in them; that would have smarted when they snapped her in the face. Tharbis caught her braids back and looked at Moses. He was wearing breeches under his robes, so he wasn't indecently exposed, but he sure looked funny with his skirts flying up and his cloak flapping above his head.

He was busy holding his shepherd's staff over the water, so Tharbis fought the wind for his skirt, finally managed to grab the hem in back, and brought it up between his legs, tying it in front to the belt around his waist. She then grabbed his cloak, pulled it down, and tucked it around in the back of his belt. It now blew out from his back like a sail. Moses fought his beard down with his other hand, trying to see what was happening to the water. Tharbis reached up and parted his beard, then tied the two ends together until it stopped flying around. They would straighten out that mess later.

The rest of the Israelites followed suit, finding ways to keep their skirts from flying up in their faces and get their lashing hair out of the way. Then they kept pointing and jumping in excitement at how the waters were parting.

They parted in several places, but it would be quite a dip to go down the banks anywhere, except right where Moses was standing. If it wasn't for this bridge, it would have been a hard task to climb down into the seabed upon the sides of the banks. Possibly long ago, God had caused a bridge of land to be raised up for His people to cross over, and it had been only a little way below the water. They could have almost waded across in some places on it, if they had only known it was there.

The sun dipped down below the horizon. The fiery comet gleamed through the clouds above. The pillar of cloud glowed behind them, its flames spinning and cheering them, like a fire lit in the night for frightened children to calm them down. On the other side of the pillar, though, it was not so cheerful.

The Egyptians had been tearing through the wadi, approaching the mouth of the canyon. The ones in front saw part of the camp ahead of them through the gap. The drivers in the racing chariots raised an arm to signal to each other their joy at swooping down on their prey.

Then suddenly a dark pillar of cloud loomed in front of them, blocking the mouth of the canyon, casting everything in shadow, spinning out sand and soot towards them. The horses reared up in terror and the drivers struggled to bring them back under control. The army slowed and came to a halt when they saw the confusion of the cavalry and chariots that they had been following.

Pharaoh had been at the back of the charge, in case the Israelites had bowmen hiding among the rocks, but no arrows had come their way as they raced through the canyon. He now pulled up to the front of his army where the chariots had retreated to a safe distance from the pillar of smoke. His eyes looked up the length of the awesome tower that touched the low ceiling of clouds above. A wild wind whipped up and suddenly his eyes widened, for he could see beyond the tops of the mountains something rising above them. It shimmered and there were flickers of fire in it. What was it?

The last of the light from the setting sun faded from the sky beyond the mountains. Darkness fell all around them like a curtain and cinders and sand whirled through the wadi, coating the Egyptians with soot and grit. It got into their eyes and breathing was nearly impossible. The terrible darkness again!

The pillar of cloud ground at the mountains whose gap it blocked, spitting gravel in the Egyptians' direction. Pharaoh and his officers shouted to the soldiers to look after the horses. The soldiers had to rely on the sound of their voices to find their direction.

Pharaoh ran to the rocks for cover and found a crevice to squeeze into, ducking his head to keep sand out of his eyes. From their position in the canyon, the Egyptians could not receive light from the comet's muted glow, for the pillar of smoke blocked it from their view. When they were able to peek, they only saw flickers of flame in various places above the mountains. Were the Israelites being consumed by fire? All the spoil would be burnt! All the fun they had anticipated would be ruined!

For the moment, though, the gods were protecting them in this valley, though it was so dark. Whatever was out there was not getting at them in here. The soldiers found the reins of the horses and struggled to bring them under control. Some of them got bashed with their hooves and bones were broken but, eventually, the soldiers were able to lead them towards the sides of the canyon for shelter.

Pharaoh and his officers huddled into the crevices of the rocks, covering their faces with their cloaks, the horses' flanks giving additional shelter. There was too much sand and gravel flying, and it was too dark to send any scouts up the rocks to get around the pillar of smoke, to see what the Israelites were doing.

The Israelites were getting their tents folded up and baggage tied down. Some were braiding each other's hair and beards, as best they could, to keep it out of their way. But all were keeping an eye on what was happening to the strait.

Moses stood there at the edge, leaning on his staff, watching the ruddy mud in the bottom of the strait bubble from the heat of the comet. The wind that swept towards them from the east was drying off the land bridge. The waters had pulled away from it and stood clear on either side a short distance, as if at attention.

There were several walls of water, all standing up and down the strait, shimmering with the glow of the pillar of fire upon them, particularly the walls directly in front of it. Close to this end, they almost looked like walls of fire. It was fascinating. Further away, on the other side of the strait, the walls dimmed and glimmered beneath the dark sky. It seemed like the comet had sniffed and was drawing the waters up towards its nostrils.

The water walls were as thin as wafers and they stretched so high. The children stared in astonishment, not really caring that their clothes were flapping all around them and their hair was tumbling crazily around their faces. This was a night that they would never forget!

Moses finally gave the signal. The bridge was dry enough that the carts would be able to cross, once the people moving at the front packed down the hardened mud that stippled the crossing, drawn up by the comet's suction. He started across, leaning on his staff. Tharbis moved at his side, hanging on to his other arm. Aaron and Miriam and Hur followed and others fell into line, all of the leaders staggering and stumbling over the small spires of dried mud. It was hard going, but it got easier for those who came behind as the mud got packed down smooth. The carts rumbled over when it got to that point.

Some of the people stared at the majestic, gleaming walls of water as they hurried along. Others found it easier on their nerves to just stare at the back of the person ahead of them. Some prayed desperately for the walls to stay up until everybody was across. Some prayed that they would stay up until they, at least, were across. Others weren't worried at all. They trusted that Moses knew what he was doing.

The crossing might have been a comical sight, if the people had not had an army waiting for a chance to fall on them. They looked like rows of dumplings on legs marching across the landbridge, the hot, wild wind blowing through their tucked–in clothes, making them stand out from their bodies. Scouts from other tribes watched from where they crouched on the mountains, awed at what they were seeing. How did that old man who led these people do such things? They had seen him stretch forth his staff, the waters parted, and now millions of people were marching to the other side.

Moses clambered up the opposite bank when he reached it, his fingers digging into the hardened mud. Younger men scurried up the bank ahead of him, and courteously pulled him up the rest of the way, then reached for Tharbis and the others. Moses stood aside and Tharbis circled around him to his right to stand next to him. They watched the rest of the people march past, heaved up the bank by assistants. They fanned out along the banks. Moses told them to keep moving, to give others more room. The Hebrews' officers directed them along and the marchers passed over the landbridge for several hours.

Finally most of the Hebrews were over, and now came the mixed multitude. Would the walls of water hold for them, as well? The herds of animals were behind them, being driven along as a buffer between the Egyptians and the multitude. A wide band of Hebrews and volunteers from the mixed multitude brought up the rear, with weapons in their hands.

The animals, bleating and lowing, surged up the bank past Moses where he kept his post on the bank of the strait. They were driven off where directed, to be claimed by their owners later. The last of the marchers were almost across to the other side when the pillar of fire moved from the mouth of the gorge. It scurried across the strip where the Israelites had camped and made a stately progress to the middle of the landbridge.

Moses urged the people to move farther along the banks to make room for the pillar of fiery cloud that was coming across. They grabbed their baggage and hurried, driving their animals away from the oncoming column of fire. Moses ran behind the people, hauling Tharbis along by the hand.

The sandstorm died down inside the canyon as the pillar of cloud moved from its mouth. The soldiers on the outer edges of the huddle against the canyon walls looked towards the gap from gritty eyelids when the gravel stopped pelting against their bruised backs. They alerted the rest and heads were raised from cloaks. Hearts pounded as the Egyptians wondered what would happen next. Some were afraid, for they did not think that the long, uncomfortable, and terrifying night they had spent was a sign of good things to come. Others were excited, for riches and pleasures were waiting out there for them on the banks of the strait. There was no reek of burnt flesh on the other side of that gap.

Officers sent scouts to see what was happening beyond the gap. The scouts ran to the exit and then stood still in astonishment at the sight that met their eyes. For several moments they gaped. Their grubby, unmoving figures were silent, until the officers, impatient at being kept waiting, ran to see for themselves what was happening. Then they, too, stood still and stared in wonder.

They moved aside for Pharaoh when he joined them at the canyon's mouth. He couldn't believe what his eyes were seeing. The glimmers in the sky he had seen during the night were walls of water standing in the strait. The banks of the sea on this side were empty, but people thronged the other side of the strait. A dry bridge of land stretched to the other side, pounded flat by millions of feet and the hooves of animals. The pillar of fire lighted the scene. It had moved across the flat strip of land between the mountains and the sea and now stood in the middle of the landbridge, as if daring him to venture over the strait to the Israelites, like a shepherd confronting a wolf that was after his flock.

Pharaoh was astounded that Moses had known there was a bridge of land here. He was leading the people into Midian. That must be where he had found the magic staff, or it might be where the artifact he was seeking was located. Or maybe he had just wanted to get his people to safety before he took a detour into Nubia or Ethiopia with Tharbis, to increase the power of the staff.

Even if the rod did not get powered up any more, he must have it! A magic staff that could command a comet and part a sea was a treasure beyond compare! He must have that rod at all costs! Even if he lost his whole army going after that rod, once it was in his hands, he would call on the comet to destroy his enemies, the Hebrews. And then he would use the rod to get more armies and swarm across the planet until the whole world was his!

Pharaoh ran forward, shaking his fist at the column of fire, yelling, "Get out of my way!" At first, everyone around him thought he had gone mad but, amazingly, the pillar of smoke moved! Pharaoh himself was shocked that the pillar was moving away now, further along the landbridge. Then his heart lifted up higher still at how it had obeyed his command.

The comet was still roaring the name of the Hebrew god. Pharaoh had not seen it during the night, but he had heard it, yawning and yawning that name, terrifying him out of his mind, while the hurricane beat a tattoo of "Taui Thom, Taui Thom. Doom to Taui Thom!"

During the night, the sound of the hurricane had terrified him, but its drums now seemed to be calling to him to pursue his enemies. He turned and shouted to his army, "Our gods are with us. They hold up the waters and make the pillar of smoke obey me, so that we can pass through the sea. The evil–doers have displeased them and they will have their revenge! Remember the rewards! Moses is mine, and his rod! Bring the Queen of Sheba to Lord Jambres! Do as you will to the rest!"

The army roared with admiration that Pharaoh had commanded the pillar of cloud and now it was moving along the bridge again, clearing the way for them to follow. They spilled out of the gorge and found their ranks while the chariots and horses got put into order. Pharaoh was going to lead this charge to victory. They would fall upon the Hebrews and their friends. They would slaughter the men and take the women and children captive. Then they would ravish and torture them in front of the eyes of the man who had given Egypt so much misery, before Pharaoh put him to a slow death. The Queen of Sheba was the only one who would remain alive from this massacre, for whatever special plans their leaders had in mind for her.

In only a short time, their forces were ready to cross. The jostling chariots poured onto the bridge, Pharaoh and the High Priest in the lead, exchanging evil grins as they started out. The soldiers fell in immediately behind the last line of chariots and raced onward towards the pleasure and spoil that awaited them on the opposite banks of the strait.

The column of smoke kept moving in front of them, teasing them to follow, until it stood beyond the far bank, whirling and waiting. The only thought in Pharaoh's mind was, "I will have revenge, and I will have that rod!"

The Israelites had watched the Egyptians pour from the mouth of the gorge like vomit and spread across the narrow plain, getting themselves in order. They saw the charioteers mount up and bring their lines into formation, four lines at the ready to cross the strait at different points. Pharaoh would undoubtedly lead the charge coming over the landbridge.

They watched the tide of Egyptians heading towards them, the pillar steadily moving forward. Even if the pillar stopped moving, the Egyptians could get close enough to swarm down into the seabed and then up the banks. It was what the other battalions on foot further along the strait were intending to do. Their way was not as easy as the landbridge, but they were managing to cross between the other walls of water that still stood at attention.

The sun was rising behind the Israelites, and stretching scarlet bands through the clouds that hung low overhead. It looked like the sky was on fire. The iron sediment on the sea bed looked like blood.

To the multitude's horror, when the cloud finished crossing the bridge, it did not stand still on the bank to block the way, but moved even further away. The Egyptians could get all the way to the end of the bridge and fall on them. Pharaoh grinned at the High Priest again when he saw this.

The High Priest, tearing along beside him, was not looking at the column of smoke. He had already taken note of what was happening, and now his eyes were directed further along the bank of the strait. Red from sleepless nights and gritty assaults of sand, Jambres' eyes burned, but they were still sharp like a vulture's. They zeroed in on the dark, slender woman at the General's side. He would have the Sorceress for his own, and he would rule the world!

Pharaoh grinned to himself, for he knew his rival's thoughts. He relished picturing the moment when Jambres realized that he had been hoodwinked. The High Priest was going to be astonished when he saw him holding aloft the Rod of Ra–uah–ab and causing the stars to change their courses to accommodate his wishes.

The people were wailing again, picturing the horrors that would be perpetrated on them when the Egyptians swarmed up the banks. Braver souls pushed the women and children back, standing with their swords drawn, or bows at the ready to fire off arrows when the Egyptians got close enough. It was a shame for it to end like this, but they would die like men, defending their people.

It was the Egyptians who were doomed, though. The clouds started to move away and the comet appeared again, right at the top of the pillar of smoke. It was like it was taking a peek at the Egyptians, and was astonished at their presumption. Their chances to turn back were past.

Lightning crackled off of the orb, branching from east to west, with smaller discharges branching off the two main arms that arched from horizon to horizon. Discharges of electricity sizzled as they leaped across the air to the metal in the Egyptians' chariots, thrusting their daggers into the spokes, blasting off the wheels. The chariots flew up in the air, tossing their drivers' shocked bodies like cakes being flipped on a grill. The drivers landed with jarring thuds, breaking their bones, totally shattering the spines of some.

The foot soldiers and horsemen stared open–mouthed at what had just happened. Then they screamed to each other,"Back! Back! Go back! Get away from the Israelites! Their god is fighting for them against us!" There was mass confusion as they tried to get themselves turned around. The men at the rear got trampled. Soldiers clambered over heaps of fallen bodies as they hurried to get back to the western bank. The hurricane howled at their backs.

Those who were still conscious after being tossed from their chariots stared uncomprehendingly at the brazen sky, unable to move, wondering what had happened. Neither could their brains make sense of the sudden hush. It seemed like time had stopped. God had told Moses to stretch out his staff again over the sea, to cause the waters to overthrow the Egyptians and their chariots and horses. The comet moved back the moment that Moses obeyed, its gravity losing its grip on the Earth. The standing waters of the Red Sea plunged towards their prey. The casualties were tossed in the air again, this time by the crashing walls.

The multitude on the shore saw Pharaoh's twisted body, recognizable by his royal battle helmet, get thrown above the waves. His brains must have been fried from electrocution because of the metal that held together the leather pieces of the helmet. Some considered his brains to have been fried long before that. How else could one explain his follies?

Pharaoh's shattered body fell into the sea below, was visible for a few moments as it spun around in the whirlpool, and then vanished under the water. The waters looked like blood from having churned up the sediments in the strait. Whirlpools boiled up and down the length of the sea. Even if the soldiers could swim, they didn't have a chance in the midst of that fury. Their cries were soon subdued as they sank to their graves, to be fed on by fish and coral.

The comet rolled away overhead, retreating towards Syria. There the Greeks were able to get a better look at its display. They described in their legends the battle with Typhon, the name they gave the comet. They likened it to a dragon with many heads hissing like snakes. They reckoned it as being cast down from the heavens when its lightning struck the ground, and they said that the earthquakes of the succeeding years was the dragon groaning beneath the earth.

The people stood in stunned silence for several moments, looking at each other. They were gritty with dust, their hair was blown in every direction, their clothes were tucked up around them in outlandish fashion, and they didn't care about any of this in the least. They had just witnessed the destruction of their enemies. Everybody started jumping and shouting there on the banks of the strait. They were saved! Their God had saved them!

Aaron had been standing on the other side of Moses as they watched Pharaoh's demise. He put his hand on Moses's shoulder and shouted in his ear above the noise of the throng,"Well, brother, I guess all your prayers don't work." Moses looked at him quizzically and replied, "I am still waiting for answers to some of my prayers, but what do you mean?" Aaron said, "Well, didn't you pray for Pharaoh that God would bless him? I know you did it because you promised him you would, but didn't you mean it?" Moses answered, "Yes, I meant it, and God blessed him as much as Pharaoh would let him. He cut off his miserable life before he committed any more sins that would make Hell worse for him than what it is going to be already." Aaron replied, "You have a good point," as he turned away to see what was happening to the crowd behind them.

Miriam had been standing at Aaron's other side. She yanked down her tucked–in skirt to cover her legs and shouted to her nearest grandson to go and get her timbrel. They had something to celebrate! Bezaleel ran for their baggage where he had last seen it, and soon everyone was ripping through their bundles, looking for their instruments. Miriam did not wait for the timbrel. She just headed over to an opening in the crowd and started to dance and sing and laugh, flinging her arms wide as she spun around. The women around her clapped their hands and followed her as they formed a circle. Bezaleel thrust a timbrel into her hand and other ones were handed out. The sound of pipes and drums joined the beating of the timbrels.

For the first time in her life, Tharbis joined in with dancing, kicking up her heels in undignified glee. Moses made up verses to a victory song, and Aaron and Miriam sang them back. The other Israelites joined and the refrains went back and forth throughout the congregation to the furthest edges. Women joined hands and danced in circles all through the camp, while the men clapped and played their pipes and drums and blew the shofars. Children jumped around and formed their own rings. It was a party!

Moses paused a moment and watched with joy as his elder sister, a woman in her nineties, no less, spun around and around in the middle of her circle of dancing women. He felt like he had been waiting his whole life for this moment, to see Miriam dance this dance. Tears streamed down his face. She had watched over him by the banks of the river while he had slept unaware of danger. His sister had jumped out of hiding when she saw the Egyptian women could not nurse him, waiting for the opportunity to offer to fetch a midwife.

He thought of the three months he had been hidden in his parents' home, and how often it must have been Miriam who cuddled him and kept him quiet. She had been a brave, little girl, and God had preserved her life, so that she would live to see the fruit of her courage and labour, the deliverance of her people. It was marvellous the energy that God gave her to celebrate this victory. The pillar, now appearing as a cloud, spun where it stood; it had been celebrating victory all along.

Moses never thought to see Tharbis in a dance circle. He had never considered it, imagined it, or thought it possible, considering how strictly she had been brought up to always exude dignity and grace. Her dancing had grace, but it was like the leaping of a gazelle. She was all over the place. The circle dances were too confined for her joy. She had to express herself in the style of her own people, and the Ethiopians in her retinue followed her with similar movement, leaping around the circles.

His people saw Moses laugh for the first time. His mission was not accomplished, yet. He still had to lead them to the Promised Land, but if ever a man deserved a good time, it was him. The young men surrounded him and heaved him to their shoulders, parading him around the camp, while he laughed, and waved his hands in thanksgiving to the Lord, and sang the song of victory.

This chapter is offered, not as a statement of facts, but as a plausible unfolding of the events of the Exodus, based on the writer's understanding of human nature and how the world tends to operate, combined with some historical facts about the Exodus. License has been taken to add details that might never had happened, but COULD have happened. Care has been given to not propose any theories that are contradicted by the Bible. The aim is to encourage readers to think more deeply about what the Bible has to say, and imagine how they might respond in the same situations that God's people faced, and how they would like to respond if similar things were to happen to them.

Writing this chapter in the manner of a novel is intended to drive home the realization that the stories in the Bible are about real people. As the Apostle Paul said when referring to Elijah that, though he was a great man of God who did mighty miracles, he was just a person like us. He had weaknesses just like we do, but God was still able to use him to do fabulous things. The same is true of Moses and all the other heroes of the faith that God has given us a record of. If they can do what they did, we can, too, if we choose to let God use us that way. We might not ever part a literal sea or cause the sun to stand still, but just think of what we could accomplish for the Lord, if we worked towards having that kind of faith.

At the very least, aiming for the stars will help us go from having only sporadic success when praying for people to be healed from colds to being able to cast out cancer. We can see from recent events that God's healing power is going to be needed more than ever to bring relief to poor people who fall victim to the disregard that greedy profiteers have for their health and their lives, such as when they build the world's biggest nuclear reactor in one of the world's worst earthquake zones.

The justifications that the Egyptians used to continue in their sin may not have been the ones I have portrayed, but they are similar to the justifications that are used today. God heals today and grants signs and wonders, including raising the dead, but they are explained away to the public using rationalizations that sound scientific, particularly as psychological phenomena in the case of healing.

In the case of indisputably supernatural events, rebels have another explanation to fall on that does not give glory to God, which is that Christians who are associated with those events are warlocks, even if they don't know it. They have merely tapped into the god within, but because they are not ready to acknowledge that they are gods, in the sense that New Agers believe that they are gods, or God, they use Biblical doctrines to help them focus their energies. They believe that Christians who operate in miracles are not conscious that they are psychic, and they want to impose their world view on others and spoil everybody's fun. Christians must be alert that they do not become lifted up in pride over the miracles that God works through them, and fall into the trap of buying into the lie that the power came from their own selves, casting away their faith, feeling that they do not need to put their trust in Yehoshua any more, for God says that He will not give His glory to another.

Some rebels do not need the rationalizations. They know that they are fighting against God Himself and that Christians really do operate in His power. They bend all their efforts to win people over to giving satan their worship, even if they have to trick them into it by promoting New Age doctrines or just plain old superstitious worship of idols. We can see by how by how witchcraft has increased that many people will be able to rationalize God's miracles away as being sorcery; it is not an error only of the past. Those who serve satan with their eyes wide open know that eventually "scientific" rationalizations for God's miracles are going to fall apart, so they are grooming people towards sorcery to provide reasons for them to discount miracles, and bring them in deeper bondage to satan.

Earth in Upheaval by Immanuel Velikovsky and Ages in Chaos by the same author provide scientific explanations for the plagues of Egypt, though one must bear in mind that Velikovsky's explanations are coloured by his fear that, if he gave full credibility to the Bible, his peers in the antichrist system of the world's scientific community would have considered it proof that he was a total flake. He therefore did not let the Bible speak to him to the extent that he could see that God works through Nature, and He also works supernaturally in His people's behalf, and he could credit the Bible as speaking true when it tells of miracles. Velikovsky fell short of coming into the knowledge of God, but he was more honest than many of his peers, which gave him better powers of logic, and his information certainly sheds more light on the Bible.

Instead of giving references for each sign and information about what was occurring at that time in other parts of the Earth, I recommend the reading of both books, which will make better sense of those events, than references to pages and paragraphs.

For background information about the Egyptian and Babylonian Mysteries that are referred to in this chapter, I recommend reading Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop. The book is online and can be copied to computer.

For an explanation of the possible prophetic significance of the signs, go to The Moses Memoirs.

1This name reads as Rahab in the Bible. When the Bible speaks of Rahab, it is speaking simultaneously of the comet that appeared in Moses's day, as well as the Pharaoh who ruled at that time, and also of satan.

2Beelzebub means "lord of the flies", and also can be translated as "the restless lord", as flies move quick and are restless. As one who brings death, satan is considered their king. Also, as described in the book of Job, when God asked satan what he had been doing, he replied that he had been going to and fro in the Earth. He does that, no doubt, to look for opportunity to stir up trouble, as well as to see how his servants are doing at promoting evil.

One time I had an inner vision where I saw demons. They were brown like mud, probably because Man was made from clay, and their appearance was an allegorical reference to how they tempt people to sin by appealing to their flesh. They moved really fast, like electrons. They move faster than flies, but the swift motion is reminiscent of flies.

Satan makes his slaves restless like himself. They never feel like they have enough of the things they want and they have to strive all the time to get them. Christians, on the other hand, have "the resting Lord", and He gives us what we need as we rest in Him.

3I heard of this type of protection from a friend. She had a son who was prone to catching colds, due to asthma and allergies. He had refused to wear a coat to school one day, as he thought the weather would be fine. It rained later in the day, though, about the time that school was about to be let out. His mother was in prayer just then, and seeing how the rain was falling in sheets, and remembering that her son was without a coat, she prayed that God would not let him get wet. She assumed that someone would give him a ride home. When he came into the house a short time later, he said, "Hey, Mom! Do you see how hard it's raining outside? Look at me; I'm not even wet." When Ruby looked him over, she saw that not even the soles of his shoes were wet.

For a Biblical instance of this type of protection, consider the case of Daniel's friends who were not burned in the fiery furnace. Their clothes were not even singed, nor was the smell of fire upon them.

4The New World is the Earth after the Flood, symbolized by a rainbow. The New World Order was initiated by Cush and Nimrod and Semiramis, to turn people from worshipping Jehovah to serve Lucifer. It appears that the movers and shakers in the NWO believe that the more people they kill at satan's behest, and the more worship that he is given, his powers become stronger, and will eventually enable him and the fallen angels to take God's Throne.

God does not need for us to worship Him, though, to receive power. His power cannnot be diminished. When the Bible speaks in Revelation 5:12, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing, " it is not talking about adding to God's power. It means that if His children are persecuted on His behalf to the extent that they are put in chains, all their property is stolen, their brains are reduced to mush, they are afflicted with disease, they are humiliated in every possible way, their reputation is totally destroyed, and there is not even one good thing of this life on Earth left to them, God is still worthy of everyone's worship and love. He is a good God and cannot do evil.

It is satan and his angels who make people suffer, both those who put themselves in his hands through their sins and the innocent, if he is given the opportunity to afflict them, as well. If you want to get mad at someone because the innocent suffer, then get mad at the devil because he always chooses to afflict them when he is given the choice. The beginning chapters of this series explain why God permits him to do evil.

Our worship of God strengthens us against evil and prepares us to rule with Him. It supplies us with nutrients, not the other way around. When people worship satan or any of his demons, it channels poison into them and eventually destroys them, if they do not repent in time to be released from his bondage. The only way that satan's power is increased through worshipping him is that it gives him more people to work through, and less resistance on their part to his evil suggestions and demands, including people's willingness to let demons physically intrude into the physical realm. I.e. Most UFO experiences might be hallucinations, but not all of them. Fallen angels meddled with the Earth before the Flood, mating with the daughters of men, and Yehoshua said that in the last days, it would be as in Noah's day.

5There is no record of Moses having committed atrocities against his own people, and it is not the writer's intention to malign his character in any way. It is her conviction, however, that the reason that Moses could write of himself as being the most humble man in the world is because he was so wicked in his former life that he believed he was the most wicked man in the world, and he was awed that God had forgiven him of it all. Having some idea of the things that wicked Egyptian aristocrats did in Moses' time, I have proposed a few possibilities of what he might have done, reflecting his conviction that he had been the most wicked man in the world.

6Supernatural light is not beyond the realm of possibility. I read of a Chinese pastor who was thrown into a dark cell for several months. It had only enough room in it for him to crouch. He was never given a light, but as soon as he took his Bible out and set it before him, light shone on its pages. He was kept in that cell until the lice ate the clothes off his body, but the light never failed to shine on his Bible. He said it was a time of great refreshing to his soul of studying the Word.

A Biblical basis for this phenomenom is Micah 7:8 "Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me."

7The midwives were not Hebrews. Pharaoh would not have entrusted Hebrews with the task of murdering their babies. They were called Hebrew in the sense that white men were called Indian agents because they dealt with the Indians. The Bible says that God gave the midwives houses because they feared Him and disobeyed Pharaoh's command. It is not referring to physical dwellings. It is referring to giving them offspring and preserving their offspring, because they had been extraordinarily courageous and compassionate. After they lied to Pharaoh, God rewarded them with the promise of houses, meaning that their children would escape when Egypt was destroyed, and their seed would be preserved all the way to the end of the world. Their offspring intermarried with the Israelites and became part of Israel.

8I cannot say for sure that the three days of darkness sifted the mixed multitude that went up with Moses, but there is Scripture that supports it as a possibility. Isaiah 30:27 – 29 "Behold, the name of the LORD comes from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire: And his breath, as an overflowing stream, shall reach to the midst of the neck, to sift the nations with the sieve of vanity: and there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people, causing them to err. You shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goes with a pipe to come into the mountain of the LORD, to the mighty One of Israel."

Bear in mind that the plagues of Egypt were brought by a comet that came from afar, declaring the Name of the Lord, and everything in the quoted verses is descriptive of a comet's properties and effects. The sieve of vanity is how people rationalize away God's mighty works. The bridle in their jaws is their self–will.

9The Bible implies that Moses was charitable towards the Egyptians; he allowed a mixed multitude to accompany him. It does not say anything about specific acts of charity, but I reason that, as he was a godly man, that a godly man would not look on the suffering of innocent children and do nothing about it. Also, he was hardly likely to have been so highly esteemed by the Egyptians, as the Bible tells us, if all he did was call down plagues on their country.

10Before he left Egypt, God gave Moses brief direction regarding strangers who ate the passover. I am certain that He did this to give those of the mixed multitude who had come to reverence Him the opportunity to escape the last plague. God later gave a written law about being compassionate to strangers, reminding the Israelites that they had been strangers, and the Egyptians had given them generous refuge in Joseph's day, preserving their nation. It is unlikely that God would overlook such a prime opportunity as the first passover for the Israelites to show kindness to strangers.

11Papyrus Ipuwer 5:6; 6:12. Quoted from Earth in Upheaval by Immanuel Velikovsky, page 74, Abacus edition, reprinted September 1974 by Hazell Watson and Viney Ltd., England. Ages in Chaos by Immanuel Velikovsky contains many quotes from Ipuwer of what he witnessed during the plagues.

12The idea that Pharaoh went after Moses for his staff is a plausible explanation for why he was so persistent to chase after the Israelites, in spite of all the indisputable proofs of God's existence and astounding displays of His power. Pharaoh had to have a really huge delusion in order for his common sense to be overcome.

People who practice sorcery believe all kinds of nonsense about artifacts, such as whoever possesses the spear of Longinus that pierced Yehoshua's side will be enabled to rule the world.

They totally miss the point of what God tried to show them when He sent His Son to the cross, and focus instead on a thing and think that it has power. The spear would have had no power to pierce the Lord, unless He had permitted it to, and Moses's rod had no power in itself. Moses's power was in obeying God. If God had said to toss a rock into the sea to part it, and Moses tossed the rock in, the sea would have parted. There would have been nothing special about the rock. Faith in God and obedience to Him were the special things that worked the wonders of Egypt.


14Jabal al Lawz in Saudi Arabia.

15The Strait of Tiran, on the Gulf of Aqaba.

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The Majesty of God, Chapter 24

Chapter 23 is still pending.

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Copyright © April 2011, Lanny Townsend
Page modified by Lanny Townsend on March 23, 2014

Scripture references on this website are closely paraphrased from e–Sword's King James Bible.