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Egyptian nobleman Ra-Met is convinced nothing will cure his headaches--until he meets Lila, a Hebrew shepherdess, in the wilderness. Her singing does what Pharaoh's most skilled physicians have failed to do. When he discovers Lila is as beautiful as she is talented, he wants more than just her voice.
Although anointed with perfumed oils and clothed in fine linen, Lila is determined to remain faithful to her God. She fears and despises her arrogant master, yet is drawn to him against her will. Confused by her conflicting emotions, Lila prays for God to set her free.
When a series of plagues strike Egypt, it appears Lila's prayers are about to be answered. But Lila is no longer certain that she wishes to be free, especially now that Ra-Met's life is in danger. For God has promised to send His death angel throughout the land, killing the firstborn of every family.
And Ra-Met is an only child....
|Product dimensions:||6.18(w) x 8.76(h) x 0.50(d)|
The desert wind whistled past Ra-Met's ears as his chariot rattled across the desolate landscape, fanning his striped headcloth and causing him to press beringed fingers to his throbbing temples. His driver noted the gesture and slowed the horses to a walk.
"Ra dies in the west, Most Noble," he ventured, pointing to the sun setting between rugged mountains, turning the sky into a tapestry of oranges, pinks, and violets.
"Perhaps when he is reborn tomorrow, he will be more merciful," said Ra-Met, more resigned than hopeful. Indeed, what cause had he for hope? Egypt's most skilled physicians had not been able to free him from the headaches that plagued him, nor had her cleverest practitioners of magic. If his frequent offerings to Ra could have persuaded the sun god to take an interest in his mortal namesake, surely they would have done so by now.
"Shall we go back, Most Noble?"
Receiving a nod from his master, the driver turned the sleek black horses in a wide arc. A fresh breeze, cooler now that night was beginning to fall, scattered the cloud of sand in their wake. Ra-Met, the pain in his head forgotten, seized his driver's arm.
"Halt! Do you hear that?"
"What, my lord?" asked the driver, baffled.
The breeze stirred again, and the faint sound of a woman's singing wafted across the desert, a hauntingly beautiful sound made even more unworldly by the fact that it seemed to have no source. Ra-Met scanned the countryside but saw no signs of life, nothing but barren desert broken at intervals by rugged mountains whose shadows cast broad purple stripes across the sand. Yet still the song continued high and sweet, each note dancing on the wind as if beckoning him to follow. His pain momentarily forgotten, Ra-Met resolved to obey to mysterious summons.
"Follow that sound, Masud," he commanded his driver.
"Yes, my lord."
Slowly they made their way around the rock formations, pausing occasionally to listen for further snatches of song to give them direction. As they drew nearer, Ra-Met could distinguish words, although they were foreign words in a language that was unknown to him. The language of Hathor, goddess of love and music, thought Ra-Met, until the otherworldly sound was joined, incongruously, by the bleating of sheep.
A moment later the chariot rounded an outcrop of limestone and he saw a young woman guiding a ragtag flock of sheep with the aid of a long staff. The style of her sandals and the weave of her coarse woolen robe identified her as a Hebrew.
"The voice of a goddess in the mouth of a slave?" Ra-Met marveled aloud to no one in particular. "I would know more of this Hebrew nightingale."
Issuing a curt order to his driver, he stepped down from his chariot and strode in the girl's direction.
"You, Hebrew!" he called imperiously. "Who dares to graze his sheep on Pharaoh's property?"
Her song faltered to a halt as she turned to face him, and the eyes that met his unflinchingly were as black as obsidian from the quarries of Sinai. "Pharaoh has granted this property to Menharat. He allows my family to graze our flock here in exchange for a portion of the fleece and mutton."
"Menharat is your master?"
The dark eyes flashed. "He calls himself so."
Ra-Met's lip curled. The pride of this enslaved race was legendary, and this shepherd-songstress appeared to have inherited more than her share. "I wonder what Menharat would say to hear you speak thus." The girl made no reply, and Ra-Met asked, "What is your name?"
"I am Lila, daughter of Yoel, of the tribe of Benjamin," she replied, her chin held high as if daring him to report her insubordination to her master.
Ra-Met stroked his chin. "I have not seen Menharat in many days. It is time I paid him a visit. I'm sure he would be interested to know how his slaves speak of their betters."
He expected the girl to beg for mercy, and when she made no reply at all, he was not quite sure whether he was annoyed or pleased by her silence. Shrugging off the puzzling thought, he turned aside to bark a command to his driver. Within seconds they were once again rattling across the desert landscape.
It was not until the chariot had traveled many henti that Ra-Met realized his headache was gone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ra-Met awoke early the next morning, a habit left over from his days as a soldier in Pharaoh's army. Though no longer in pain, he lay abed for some time, pondering his encounter with the Hebrew slave girl whose singing had brought about his healing. By the time he arose and summoned his manservant, Ra-Met's mind was made up. She had said she was a slave of Menharat. Well, what could be bought by one man could easily be sold to another. He would have to be careful, though, lest Menharat see how determined he was to have the girl and raise his price accordingly. Though no longer young, Menharat was reputed to be a shrewd bargainer.
After breaking his fast, Ra-Met made the short journey to Menharat's house in a curtained litter borne on the shoulders of four of his sturdiest slaves. Like his own residence, Menharat's dwelling was situated on the east bank of the Nile, and was built along palatial lines. A slave led him to a courtyard overlooking the river, where he found his host watching the rectangular sail of a felukka gliding past as he dined on bread, goat's cheese, almonds, and figs. As Ra-Met strode purposefully into the courtyard, the sunlight picked out the golden threads forming the decorative border of his white kilt and reflected off his wide gold collar. The flash of light caught Menharat's eye, and the old Egyptian looked up.
"Welcome, Most Noble Ra-Met, favored of Pharaoh!" he said, bowing to his guest. "To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure? Do sit down and have a drop of wine."
Ra-Met returned his host's greeting and accepted his invitation to sit, but declined the offer of wine. For what he was about to do, he needed a clear head.
"Most Noble Menharat, you number among your dependents a slave girl, a shepherdess," Ra-Met began, after a general exchange of civilities.
Menharat smiled. "I have many slaves, and therefore many shepherdesses."
"This one is a Hebrew called Lila, daughter of Yoel, of the tribe of Benjamin."
Menharat nodded. "I know the girl. Her father, now deceased, was a shepherd. Her mother is a wool spinner."
Ra-Met unfastened the strings of a small leather pouch tied about his waist. He reached into the pouch and withdrew a handful of gleaming gold bars.
"I will give you four debens of gold in exchange for this slave girl."
Menharat did not trouble to ask what interest a soldier could have in a shepherdess, but leaned back against his stone couch and regarded his visitor steadily. "Make it twelve, and you have a bargain."
"Twelve?" echoed Ra-Met, deeply offended by such piracy. "I would not pay such a sum for any slave, not even a man! Six, then, and not one kite more!"
"This Lila, she is very beautiful," the older man observed.
Ra-Met shrugged. "For a Hebrew, I suppose." It mattered little to him what the girl looked like, as long as her singing could chase away the headaches which had plagued him for so long. He had no intention of allowing Menharat to demand a higher price over a mere triviality.
"She is young and strong," continued Menharat. "If I sell her, I lose many years of labor--not only the girl's, but that of her children as well. I could not possibly give her up for less than ten debens."
"Six debens, then, and the first right of purchase on any sons she might bear."
There was a long silence while Menharat considered this offer. He had assumed that Ra-Met wanted the girl for a concubine, but it appeared he was wrong, for Ra-Met seemed unimpressed with the girl's beauty. Of course, that could be a bluff to make him agree to a lower price. Still, no man would be so willing to barter away his own seed, even if that seed were his illegitimate child by a woman of inferior race.
"She might well prove to be barren," Menharat pointed out, stalling for time while he considered the offer.
"Very well, eight debens, then."
Menharat's face creased in a smile as he reached for a goblet. "Have some wine to seal the bargain," he urged. "You have just bought yourself a shepherdess."
"And may her womb be as fruitful as your vineyards," Ra-Met added as a slave came forward to pour.
Both men drank deeply. Then, his business transaction completed, Ra-Met rose to bid his host a cordial goodbye. "I will send my men for her before Ra dies this evening." Once alone in the street, however, he gave the leather pouch on his hip a satisfied pat. "Foolish old man! I would have given him fifteen debens, if necessary."
Inside the house, Menharat watched his vistor's departure from the window of an upper room. "Reckless young spendthrift!" he scoffed, allowing the curtain to fall back into place. "I would have taken four."