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The Prince

By Evangelynne Lee

Thirty paces away, I can see the smudged kohl on the hard eyes of the taskmaster. I hear the cries of an old man. The panic in his eyes causes my jaw to clench. His worn linen garments give way to the bloody slashes on his back. Something rises in my chest and my heart begins to pound. I witness more whipping, cruel words, and mocking names. A fire ignites within me. It screams hatred for this taskmaster. The old man cries out in great agony and I wince, almost feeling the stiff leather dig into my own flesh. It’s too much to bear. So, I run straight at him, ready to tackle the old man’s oppressor in front of multiple slaves and taskmasters. But, thirteen soldiers march around the corner in a uniform fashion. Afraid of being recognized, I dive into a narrow alleyway and melt into its shadows. The patrol passes, and the screams of the slave cease. I sink to the ground, exhale, and feel a strange wave of both relief and disappointment wash over me. A few moments pass and my curiosity begs me to see what has happened. I tiptoe to the corner of the alley and scan the street. My gaze settles on the taskmaster. There is a cutting pain in my palm. I look down to find that my nails are digging deep into my palms. My fists close and open repeatedly while my anger rises and falls like the waves of the Nile. I recall how he broke that Hebrew slave without mercy. The taskmaster speaks to another and walks towards the houses near the pyramids being built. The eyes of the slave, filled with pain and fear, flash in my mind’s eye. I follow him, weaving through cramped houses until he turns into an alleyway. I turn into the narrow alley, but I come to a halt. The alley is a dead end and he is facing me, ready to defend.

“Who are you--?” he stops short when he recognizes my face, the same face that has been carved onto so many walls and statues in the palace. Immediately he kneels to salute me and says, “M-my Prince… a-apologies…”

The hatred in my chest burns. Before he can finish, I pounce on the taskmaster. My eyes catch a glint from the sword on his belt. I reach for the blade, a bronze khopesh. Suddenly, his limp body sags from my arms to the ground and I cannot breathe. Horrified, I peer down at my hands and see the crimson stains on my copper skin as well as on the curved khopesh clutched in my left hand. Fear drives my hands to roughly carry the body and go back to where everything began. My forehead is slick with sweat as I plunge my hands into the sand to make room for the corpse. My whole body is tense from thrusting him into the grave I created and from looking all around me. Sand is pushed on top of the dead taskmaster. My eyes search for witnesses. Somewhere in the rafters built around the pyramids, the upper half of the face of a slave stares down at me and the buried taskmaster.

My feet fly through the empty streets. Houses flank me on either side, making me claustrophobic. The streets are empty. Rather than focusing on my steps, my mind converges on one thought: I killed a man. Palm tree shadows sway on every house as the sun begins to set. After what seems like eternity, I spot the entrance to the palace. As a child, I felt safe in this sanctuary. My mind desperately reaches for that safe feeling as I run towards the open entrance hall held up by pillars. I come to a halt and for lack of strength, my body leans on one of the pillars. I’m panting, like a jackal, sucking air in short breaths. My frantic breaths become choked as I begin to sob deeply. The same word keeps whispering in my head: murderer. Someone must have heard me, because footsteps echo through the hall. I dart to my chambers. Upon passing the threshold, I bow my head and dismiss the guards flanking the doorway. Once inside, my eyes glance down at the traditional golden collar resting on my chest as well as the gold rings on my fingers, all signifying my rank. Frustrated, I tear off my collar and throw it down. The gold rings, still stained with blood, are hastily removed and cast on the floor of the palace. The events of the day and sheer exhaustion shake my whole body, so I quickly wash, change to fresh linen, and collapse on my bed.

Remorse takes any hope of restful sleep from me. Instead, I lie on the cold floor, curled up in a ball, shaking. Sluggishly, I stand, dazed and nauseous from the nightmares of the night before. For the rest of the morning, I try to excuse myself from any kind of court matters and my chamber is my refuge. Sweat has soaked my imported linen and my golden collar weighs down my chest, so I escape the palace through the servants’ halls. Safely out, I race to the market, where the sound of people can drown out my pounding heart. I follow the flow of the crowd the whole afternoon until I find myself walking down an empty street lined with houses. The sounds of the market are now in the background and the wind stirs the dust on the street. I’m about to turn back to the busy market street once again, when a middle-aged man and an elderly man walk towards me, arguing. Suddenly, the older man shoves the younger in one swift, angry push. Not wanting to attract the attention of royal guards, I approach them saying, “Wherefore smitest this fellow? Go your own ways, servants of Pharaoh.”

When they turn to look at me, I realize that the elder is the same Hebrew slave that I saw being whipped the day before. The younger man, startled, begins to kneel before me, but the old man recognizes me and barks, “And who placed you as prince and judge over us?”

I feel sweat trickling down my back. To my right, I spot a gap between two people. Letting fear drive me, I dart for the gap and push through the market full of people. I still hear the old man’s voice shout above the crowd, “You intend to slay me, as the Egyptian, False Prince?”

My feet never stop. They never rest. I try to outrun the old man’s words, but I cannot. The sun has already fallen into the warm embrace of the desert horizon. Darkness replaces the amber sky. Stars light my way as I feel the ground turn to sand. The old man’s words echo in my mind. For the first time since the morning, tears flood my face as I recall what the old man called me. He is right. I am no different than he is, because I, too, was born a Hebrew slave.


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