This is Ahmose. An orphan-slave in Ramses’s palace, befriended by Bezalel, in Sinai he finds his forever family. He returns in By the Waters of Kadesh. Below are excerpts from some of our first encounters with him in Sinai.
“Why are you here so late?” Ahmose whispered.
“I had to finish putting the gold on the bracelets. I’m finally done now. Want to see them?”
“No.” Ahmose moaned as he climbed up on the stool.
“Do you want some more milk?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“I can’t stay. I’m late already.” Bezalel cleaned his tools and packed them into a basket. “I want to go home tonight. I haven’t eaten and I’m hungry. I’ll be lucky if Imma lets me eats so late.”
“That’s all right.”
Bezalel stopped his work and leaned on the table. He studied the boy’s face. “Will you come see me tomorrow?”
Bezalel walked to the front of the table and bent down in front of the child, resting his hands on his knees. “You’re awfully quiet tonight. Is something wrong?”
“I’m all right. You better go home.”
“Ready to get down?” Bezalel grasped Ahmose under the arms to pick him up. The boy cried out.
“What’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” Bezalel let go and looked at him.
Tears streamed down the boy’s face.
“I couldn’t have hurt you that much. Something else is wrong. What is it?”
Ahmose sobbed. “I’m not s’posed to say.”
Bezalel thought for a moment then went to latch the door of his workroom. He gently pulled up the short tunic Ahmose wore and turned the child to see his back. The flesh was ripped apart in several places. The bleeding had stopped for the time being, and dried blood had closed the wounds.
Tears came to Bezalel’s eyes.
The boy whimpered.
“Oh, habibi, I’m sorry.” Bezalel hugged him, but avoided his injured back. “I am so sorry,” he repeated.
“You don’t have to be sorry. You didn’t do it.”
Bezalel could not help but smile through his tears at the boy’s innocence. “Come on, hop on my back. You’re going home with me. My imma will fix your back. Put your arms around my neck and your legs around my waist, and I’ll carry you.”
Bezalel considered his choices as he hiked home. He knew severe punishment awaited any slave who ran away, but he could not leave Ahmose behind. A seven-year-old could not have done anything to deserve such a beating. From anyone.
Ahmose was asleep by the time Bezalel stepped inside his house. He hated to wake him up, but he knew his back must be tended to.
Imma came out to the main room from the kitchen beyond it, towel in hand, and her eyes opened wide when she saw the boy on Bezalel’s back.
“This is Ahmose, a servant at the palace.”
Ahmose awakened as Bezalel lowered him to the dirt floor.
“Why on earth would you bring him here? He’s an Egyptian!”
“He’s a little boy, Imma.” Bezalel set him down on the low table and showed her Ahmose’s back.
Imma gasped. “Oh, my! Who did that?”
“I don’t know. But I intend to find out. In the meantime, I hoped he could stay here.”
“Of course he’ll stay here.” Imma headed to the kitchen. “I’ll get some oil.”
Bezalel sat on the floor near the table. His mother returned with oil, honey, and cool, wet cloths and knelt across from him. Ahmose curled up on Bezalel’s lap, his chest to Bezalel’s, his face buried and his arms tight around Bezalel’s neck as Imma tended his wounds. The scents of honey and oil melded and soothed Bezalel’s frayed nerves as much as Ahmose’s back. Occasionally, Imma would hurt him as she removed the dried blood to get to the wound below. He did not cry out, but held more tightly to Bezalel, who marveled at how Imma’s motherly instincts seemed to have overtaken her fear.
“Hush, habibi. We are done. Now it’s time for you to go to sleep.” Bezalel stroked the boy’s hair.
“Have you eaten?” Imma asked him in Egyptian.
“I’ll take him upstairs, then.” Imma took his hand, and Bezalel followed them up to the roof.
Ahmose winced as he lay face down on the sleeping mat.
Imma left Ahmose’s shirt off so that the breezes might cool his back and help ease the pain. She sat next to the exhausted little boy and tenderly rubbed more oil and honey on his back.
She stroked his straight, coal-black hair and gazed at him as he slept.
Bezalel watched his mother’s face as she tended to the abandoned child, and knew the old pain flooded her once again. It was not fair that this little boy should be so unloved and unwanted when she had more than enough love for ten children, but only one on which to bestow it. She blinked back a tear.
“El Shaddai has His ways, however difficult they may be for us to understand,” she whispered to the child. “I pray He will watch out for you, habibi, because surely no one else is.” She stroked his battered back once more, leaned over and kissed his cheek, and left him to the care of El Shaddai for the night.
“What do you intend to do with Ahmose, my son? It has been almost a month.”
Bezalel blew out a long breath. “I haven’t decided yet. I hate to take him back to the palace. They are quite hard on runaways.” He didn’t wish to tell her the whole truth yet about what punishment might await Ahmose.
“But he didn’t run. You brought him home to tend to his back!”
“They don’t know that. Do you think they will care? Besides, I thought I might keep him.” Bezalel winked, and a small smile escaped Imma’s lips. “Where is he, anyway?”
“He went to the river with some of the boys.”
Bezalel grabbed some honey-sweetened bread and dried meat and for the riverbanks to look for Ahmose. He could feel the moisture in the air from the Nile, and the coolness of the breeze felt good on his skin. He finally saw the boy and called to him.
Ahmose skipped over and Bezalel offered him some bread.
Ahmose shook his head. “I ate a long time ago.”
“Why do you get up so early?”
“I’m used to it. My master always made me.” Ahmose dug his bare toes into the dark, wet earth at the edge of the river.
“Jannes? The magician?”
“So that’s how you knew his snake trick.”
“Yes. I know lots of his tricks.”
Bezalel finished his bread and ripped off a piece of dried meat. “Why are you a servant? You are so young; Egyptian children your age aren’t usually servants.”
“I know. Jannes hates me. It has something to do with my mother. She died when I was born. That’s why I’m his slave.”
“Why did he beat you?” Bezalel pulled off his sandals and piled up a mound of soil on Ahmose’s foot with his own.
Ahmose giggled and pulled out his foot. “I spilled a pitcher of water on his potions.” He tried to cover Bezalel’s feet.
“That’s all? You spilled some water?”
“He’s been very mad lately, because of the blood and snakes. Ramses is angry at him, so he’s scared.”
“That’s no reason to beat you.”
Ahmose shrugged. “He doesn’t need a reason.”
“Had he beaten you before?”
“Yes. Many times,” Ahmose answered, matter-of-factly, as if nothing were wrong with that at all.