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In The Name Of Family

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The click of his wooden staff against the marble floor filled the cavernous room. The palace was so far removed from the city that even the screams of the injured failed to reach them, and the silence and darkness made it feel as though they were utterly alone in the wide world.

He could feel Rameses resenting his presence even before he reached the statue his brother was perched on. Oddly, it made Moses hopeful. They had acted in such a way constantly in their youth, so it felt like the mess between them might be repaired as easily as it had been any other time. He almost wished for a bowl of wine and priests below, for jokes and laughter.

His first few words were met with a glass smashing at his feet. Moses sighed. “Rameses, please. This fighting is not helping either of us.”

“I fail to see how it is affecting you at all,” the pharaoh snarled. “Your people are not the ones starving and dying.”

“Aren’t they? The loss of the grain is hurting everyone. The damage to the fields and the herds is enough that I wonder how long it will be before they recover. These plagues endanger all of Egypt, Hebrew or not.”

“Then maybe your people should cease their demands and get back to work.” Rameses’ voice was burning ice, no different from the terrible hail tormenting the city.

Moses shook his head. “You must see that is not the answer, Rameses. They deserve freedom, and my task is not done until they are. I do not want to bring further suffering to the place I once called home. This next plague will be the worst yet. Please listen to me, brother. I would not wish this on anyone, and certainly not you.” When the pharaoh was unresponsive, Moses tried again. “Rameses, we must be able to work this out somehow. A deal, something.”

“You have nothing I want,” he said dismissively.

The prophet let out a slow, measured breath, resigning himself to the only solution he could see. He would not bring down the coming plague if he had any other way. “Yes, I do.”

“Oh, really.”

“Really,” Moses confirmed. “You can have your brother back. The prince of Egypt by your side once more, as though I’d never left.”

His brother moved for the first time since the broken goblet, dropping from the god’s lap and facing Moses directly. “And why should I trade my slaves for one ungrateful brother? What exactly makes you think I want that?”

Moses didn’t give up his ground, though he was tempted when Rameses got closer and closer to him with each word. “Don’t you? I saw your expression when you recognized me, how heartbroken you were when you realized why I had come. You even announced me as such when I returned, no matter what I had done. You want things to be the way they were before.”

“We always had slaves before.”

“Then I will be a slave. It makes no difference to me. Only put an end to this wretched business before anything worse happens.”

Rameses let out a hollow laugh. “I really don’t see how your being a slave would be the way things were. And I thought you were here because you were to lead your god’s people out of slavery, not to throw yourself into it.”

Moses slammed the butt of his staff down. “I am here to make this stop before anyone else is hurt. Do you truly not see that this can only get worse? I am your only hope, now, if you want to keep the things you hold dear.”

The pharaoh straightened, a cruel shadow darkening his already severe features. “Is that a threat, Moses? That is something I cannot forgive, not even for you.”

“I am not the one making threats. I take no pleasure in the horrors I have unleashed, but I must do as God has asked. Rameses, the next plague is something more terrible than I could have imagined. I might not have returned at all if I had known it would come to this.”

“If this plague is so terrible, tell me what it is.”

The erstwhile prince closed his eyes as he uttered the curse God was waiting to unleash. “The death of all the firstborns of Egypt.”

“You mean –”

“Your son, yes. And so many other children besides. I will not knowingly spill the blood of family if there is anything I can do to stop it. Let the Hebrews go and this will all be over. I will be whatever it is you need of me.”

“You threaten my son and believe I will be content with a single man in exchange for thousands?! Do you really think so little of my intelligence?!”

 

“It doesn’t matter!” Moses shouted. “Rameses, either we choose to stop this or children will die. I am not going to sit by and let that happen. Whatever you do to me is worth it if it means the horrors end. Do not force me to be an executioner.”

Silence greeted his impassioned declaration. Knowing he’d said all he could, Moses was forced to wait and hope beyond hope he’d finally forced his brother to see reason. The fate of Egypt was out of his hands. God would do as He chose if Moses could not secure freedom for the Hebrew slaves, and his appeal to Rameses had been his last chance.

“Guards!” Rameses called abruptly. Moses flinched at the sudden call, and again when the soldiers grabbed his arms in response to the pharaoh’s gesture. “Take my brother to his chambers and make sure he does not leave.”

“Rameses, wait,” Moses said, panicked, but his brother cut him off with an icy look.

“I will do as you ask, Moses, but it is only for the sake of my son. You and I will have our own reckoning.”

Part of Moses never thought Rameses would do such a thing. The lack of retaliation for everything he’d done had made him wonder if his brother was even capable of hurting him, or allowing others to. The careless way the guards pulled him from the chamber erased that opinion, and it was all the prophet could do to keep his feet under him, sensing they would simply drag him if he fell. His hand remained around his staff as he prayed he’d done the right thing, offering himself to the man who had stood aside and watched his country suffer rather than giving in.

His rooms in the palace looked unchanged in most ways. His belongings were where he had left them before his frenzied flight into the desert, though the linens had been stripped from his bed and the hangings had been removed. The biggest surprise was in the jewels lying on the bedside table. He crouched next to them and turned a golden armband over and over, waiting for some sign of what was to come.

Dawn tinted the eastern sky with delicate pink hours later, and that sight was enough to soothe his frightened heart. The sun was returning, and so the plagues were at an end. What that meant for Moses hardly mattered. The drag of the day continued, and Moses was not troubled by anything other than his own tortured mind until the sky he had watched grow ever brighter began to darken once more. He had spent the entire day trapped, unknowing of what was to come.

The door finally swung open, and Rameses stepped into the room, still wearing his formal regalia. “They are assembling to leave. Your… wife is asking for you quite insistently.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Nothing. She has no right to address the pharaoh, and her questions went unanswered.”

Moses grimaced at the casual cruelty his brother was displaying. “Will you at least tell her the truth? She must have been frightened when I did not return, and she will need support if she is to lead the people in my stead.”

The pharaoh studied his brother’s hunched form before sighing. “I will have the guards allow her entry tomorrow so you can say your farewells. This will go more smoothly if I do not have to watch for a returning army.”

Moses managed a weak smile. “Thank you.” He got to his feet and stretched, still clasping the armband in the hand not occupied by his staff. “How did you come by these?”

Rameses spared the trinket a quick look. “Father sent out search parties. These were all they recovered of you; we thought you dead.”

“Rameses, I –”

The older man left without another word, leaving him in the room without even a light as night crept across the horizon. With nothing else to do, Moses climbed onto his old bed, wrapped himself in his robe, and slept.

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Exhausted as he was by the previous day’s long vigil, Moses did not wake until he heard Tzipporah berating his guards as she entered. She rushed to him as soon as she spotted him, and they collided into an embrace that brought Moses more comfort than he would have thought possible. He ran a hand down her back, trying to soothe them both with the much-needed caress.

“I’m all right. Really.”

“I was so scared, Moses! You said you were going to talk to the pharaoh again, and you never returned! What were you thinking?!”

The prophet sighed. “It had to end, Tzipporah. I couldn’t let children die because of this fight. Rameses agreed to a deal.” He swallowed hard before continuing. “My people are free, as you know. In return, I have to stay behind.”

“What?”

He pressed his staff into her hands, weaving her fingers around it. “It was the only thing I could offer. I must stay here. You’ll have to lead my people from now on.”

She inhaled sharply. “Moses, no. There has to be another way. God cannot want this.”

“The darkness is gone, and the skies are blue again. God has already accepted.”

“Well, I won’t! You’re my husband, Moses. You don’t belong here, and I refuse to just leave you behind.”

“Then you risk the lives of the people he has sacrificed himself to save,” Rameses said from the door. “I am letting the Hebrews go, but not without cost. They are banished from Egypt, and if they are in my kingdom after tomorrow I will execute them and my brother will still have to uphold his end of the bargain.”

“You monster!” Tzipporah hissed. “I know he did not agree to that!”

Moses caught his wife around the waist before she could lunge, shaking his head. “No, Tzipporah! I didn’t know what he’d done, only that they would go free. Banishment is just as well if you can get them away in time. Please, I know this is hard, but please take them.”

Tears poured down her cheeks as she clutched the staff against her, still staring at the pharaoh. “You are going to destroy him,” she spat before whirling free and flying from the room.

Rameses watched her retreat with narrowed eyes, then turned his attention to his brother. Moses was still standing in the center of the room, but something in his expression made him seem utterly broken. He inhaled several rattling breaths before facing the pharaoh.

“Banishment,” he said dully. “You might have told me.”

“As you were so sharing?” Moses didn’t have a suitable response, and as such remained silent. Rameses bared his teeth. “You got what you wanted, so I hope you are not complaining.”

“No, brother. It shall be as you have said.” The words were flat, lacking intonation, but Rameses still knew Moses well enough to sense the irony draped over them.

“Are you not at all curious about your own circumstances?” he needled. “Or do you intend to act the martyr, no matter what fate I decide for you?”

“I just had to say goodbye to my wife. I care very little for my fate right now.”

Rameses frowned as a servant entered with a pile of linens, depositing them without ceremony at Moses’ feet. “You offered me my brother. That is what I require, Moses. As though you’d never left. There will be none of this Hebrew nonsense, no mention of a wife you do not have. As far as the world will be concerned, you never discovered the truth of your ancestry and have always dwelled by my side.”

 

“I will not forswear Tzipporah. You can have whatever else you want, but she is still my wife in the eyes of God and you cannot change that.”

“Then speak of her at her peril, Moses. She is a runaway slave and she is in danger if she returns here and you cannot keep to your side of our bargain.” He gestured at the pile of clothing at his brother’s feet. “You had best bathe and change. No one will believe you a prince of Egypt looking like that.”

Moses scooped up the garments without another word and trailed after Rameses to the baths. He felt as if pieces of the man he’d become died with each step into his old life.

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Rameses thought Moses’ reintegration into the court was going better than expected. He had doubted the younger man’s ability to pull it off, but neatly groomed and clothed, Moses was the image of their lost prince. The nobles’ reactions varied from wary acceptance to outright cruelty, but they did as he had commanded and said nothing of the prophet and his plagues.

The cruelty seemed to make no difference to the prince, whose laughter filled the hall for the first time in so long. His jokes and infectious chuckles really made Rameses feel as though he’d never lost his brother without explanation or had to face him as an enemy.

His belief that Moses was little changed vanished when he saw something dark cross his brother’s face as the man hurriedly excused himself, rushing from the banquet. The guards at least were mindful of their task, ensuring Moses could go nowhere alone. The pharaoh waited until his guests had gone before following, ready to tear into Moses for abandoning his side of their agreement so quickly.

The palace soldiers were quick to send him after the errant prince, but the way his steps led was something of a surprise. He had not thought Moses likely to select his favorite refuge, having never known him to seek solitude. Nonetheless, a shadowy figure crouched on the statue’s lap, scarcely visible in the deepening gloom but for the bright white of his clothes.

“My brother,” Rameses said by way of announcing himself, “would not leave a party when there was still enjoyment to be had.”

“Fortunate, then, that there was none. I am in no mood to talk, Rameses.”

“You might have considered that before doing the same to me so many times. Besides, your feelings are hardly a concern to me. We had an accord.”

Moses remained where he was, though he did unfold enough to lean against the statue’s chest rather than curling into a ball. “I did not think you would want your court petitioning me.”

“What do you mean?”

The prophet let out a dry laugh. “You changed your mind and freed the slaves, Rameses. The people think I can persuade you to do whatever I want, and they are more than willing to bribe me to take their side in whatever issue they wish to pursue.”

“They think you have so much power?” He scoffed. “Your attempts at persuasion never amounted to much before.”

“They also never saw me turn the Nile to blood before.” Moses finally returned to the floor in response to the angry sound that rumbled through his brother’s chest. “Deny what God wrought as you wish, but no one will not believe I did not create those things myself, no matter how many times you tell them it never happened. They think I have bewitched you.”

“You have no power here,” Rameses insisted.

“No,” his brother agreed quietly. “I don’t. In truth, I never did, except the little power that let you heed me when there was no other way.”

“That was for my son, not for you.”

“I know.” Moses took a deep breath before fixing a cocky smile on his face. He saluted playfully and walked away, his guards dutifully trailing behind.

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After that night, Moses never spoke of the plagues or his life beyond the palace. Instead, he was so thoroughly the man Rameses remembered that he found himself forgetting it as well, treating Moses as his brother just as he had before he’d left. It seemed as though the dark times had gone and the royal family was whole again.

The only thing that kept Moses’ position in the court insecure was the heir’s vast hatred for him. Everyone knew that had Moses remained all those years, his brother’s son would have adored him to the point of worship. He was so much like his father that the more lighthearted antics his uncle could provide would have been a much-needed respite from being raised to rule. Despite that, the child never forgave Moses for his part in the plagues and made his distaste clear regularly. Any efforts made to appease him were instantly rebuffed.

Still, it was easy for Rameses to set aside everything that happened. The damage done to Egypt had been all but wiped away, and the land was as bountiful as it had ever been. The herds flourished, and other slaves were deftly covering for the lost Hebrews. Indeed, the interruption of their normal lives had been so brief in comparison that most people were willing to pretend it never had occurred.

It wasn’t until Moses slipped from the castle one night that things began to swing out of control once more.

The constant guard on the errant prince had grown lax, and though the pharaoh noticed, he also had no reason to be concerned. Moses had upheld their bargain carefully and there had been no need to watch him. Leaving the palace so late, though, was enough to spark his old anger, and he and a few guardsmen trailed the younger man into the city proper.

What are you up to, Moses?

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Moses silently thanked God that the guard on him had eased with his continued good behavior. Slipping out of the palace unobserved wasn’t the easiest task even if he wasn’t being watched constantly, and someone who lacked his extensive knowledge of the layout would never have been able to manage it. Still, he had no choice but to do it, no matter the risk.

He had meant to keep his promise to Rameses, knowing it was the only thing protecting his people from the pharaoh’s wrath, but seeing Tzipporah in Egypt again was something he couldn’t ignore. He had to investigate, even knowing that she’d wanted him to see her.

There was only one place she would reasonably choose as a rendezvous, having spent little time in the city and being unable to communicate a location to meet. She would go to the shack Miriam and Aaron had claimed as their own, in the warren that had once housed the entire Hebrew community. They had been left abandoned since their exodus, and as such Moses met with no resistance as he hurried through the narrow alleys.

The little house was dark when he reached it, and he hesitated before shoving the door open and stepping inside.

“Tzipporah?” he said quietly.

“Not quite,” a gentle voice responded. Miriam stepped into view from where she had been concealed by the door. “Hello, Moses.”

“Miriam!” He pulled his sister into an embrace without a moment’s hesitation. “But what are you doing here? Where is Tzipporah?”

“Hush, now, it’s all right. Give me a chance to explain.”

“You shouldn’t be here,” he warned. “You know it isn’t safe for any of you to be here.”

“We needed to see you, Moses. We have news.”

“News? What could be so important that the two of you would risk your lives?”

“Tzipporah is fine,” Miriam said firmly. “She already left the city and is on the way to her father’s camp. She’s in no danger.”

“Then why –”

“She had to see you for herself, but I convinced her to let me meet you instead. She is already out of pharaoh’s reach.”

Exasperated, Moses paced the tiny space. “You both took a foolish chance. Nothing could be worth coming here.”

“Moses, your wife is pregnant.”

He stopped so abruptly the sandals on his feet nearly tore. “She – Tzipporah is pregnant? No. That can’t be.”

“It is. She’s expecting your child, Moses. She needs you.”

For a moment, he thought his heart was going to burst from his chest. “There has to be a mistake. Miriam, I have to be here. You know that.”

“I know. You were the deliverer we needed, and you paid dearly to accomplish your task. Aaron took up your staff and led our people across the sea, beyond the reach of Pharaoh. Moses, now you have a new task. You have a wife. You are going to have a child. You need to go after her and be with your family.”

Moses wished it were so simple. He wanted it so desperately he could taste it, could see it like a dream even in the squalor of the tiny shanty. Yet even as the image came to him, a second joined it – of fire, swords, and Egyptian chariots. Of his brother, screaming his name like a curse as innocents died in a senseless slaughter.

“I can’t. Maybe our people are safe now, Miriam, but Rameses would follow me, and he would destroy anything in his way. I… can’t risk that falling on you, or on Tzipporah. You have to go before he finds you. I can’t lose you again.”

“How very sweet.”

Moses’ breath caught in his throat as he slowly turned. There was Rameses lounging in the doorway, half a dozen guards behind him. “No,” he whispered, almost too quietly to hear.

Miriam grabbed his arm. “We have to run!” she said. She pulled with strength that belied her diminutive size, forcing him to move as she vaulted out a window in the opposite wall.

“After her,” Rameses ordered lazily.

Caught in between, for a moment Moses thought that would be it and they would both die. Then, not quite sure what he was doing, his left hand grew warm and he thrust it up against the shutter of the window. It slammed shut, echoed immediately by the door. He and his brother’s men were all trapped inside, but Miriam was out. She would escape.

Incensed, the pharaoh marched forward and grabbed his younger brother by the shoulder, shaking him roughly. “What did you just do?”

“I don’t know,” Moses admitted. He could feel his sister’s presence, somehow, and could feel it receding as she fled. She was too wise to risk being caught a second time. Her sorrow at losing him again hit him, and as it did any sense of her and of the heat in his hand was gone.

Any further musings were interrupted by a fist making contact with his bare stomach. Moses doubled under the blow, desperately trying to suck in air as two of the soldiers yanked his arms behind him painfully. Once he managed to look up, it was straight into his brother’s furious face and cold, cold eyes.

“Bring him back to the palace,” he ordered, “and make sure he does not leave again. You are going to regret this night, Moses.”

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Moses shifted his weight cautiously, trying to find a way to lean against the stone pillar without further aggravating his many injuries. The manacles on his wrists tugged sharply as he did, but the need for additional support outweighed the need to ease the strain on his arms. Once situated as comfortably as he could manage, he tried to shut out his surroundings and relax.

Rameses’ wrath had been terrible upon their return to the palace, and it was doubled by Moses’ inability to explain what he had done and his unwillingness to contribute anything that might have helped the guards locate Miriam. He remained stubbornly close-mouthed about the subject of their discussion as well, only increasing his brother’s ire.

Were it not for the pharaoh’s prior insistence on the masquerade they’d been acting out, where Moses had always been their prince, Moses thought he might have faced a more public punishment, but Rameses’ obsessive need to maintain appearances had at least spared him that. Instead, he was locked in his chambers and chained to one of the pillars, where men he suspected had once been overseers of the Hebrew slaves took turns inflicting the day’s fresh torture.

His head dipped and spun in dizzying circles, and Moses focused on his breathing in an attempt to stave off unconsciousness. Bound as he was, he had been unable to do so much as clean his wounds or wrap himself in a blanket against the cold night. Between that and regular blood loss, he could feel his strength fading, and he knew he had developed a fever at some point. His stomach lurched, but he’d had so little to eat there was nothing else for it to do.

Beyond his line of sight, the doors to his chambers were flung open and slammed shut seconds later. Moses, recognizing the entrance as his brother’s, slowly lifted his head and opened his eyes, keeping as much of his weakness hidden as he could.

“Good evening, brother,” he said with a sarcastic tone he could no longer be bothered to hide. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“You could tell me what I want to know and we could put an end to this charade.”

“I have said more than once that I can’t explain what happened, Rameses. At some point you will have to acknowledge I am telling the truth.”

“As I believed you when you said we would be able to live as though nothing changed?”

Moses sighed and leaned back once more. “I had no choice.” His vision dipped and wavered, but he did his best to keep that from being echoed in his voice. “She’s my sister.”

“That was not part of our agreement. It was to be as if nothing changed, remember? You do not have a sister.”

“I have a sister, and another brother. You might as well accept it, Rameses. We can play pretend as much as we like, but the truth will not change itself to suit us.” A sickening roll of his stomach threatened to choke him. He pressed on despite it. “If this is just going to be the same argument, I have no energy for it now. Leave me alone.”

The dismissal narrowed his brother’s eyes and brought that cold threat back to them. “You do not give the orders here.”

He was trying to suppress his weakness, but it was overwhelming him. The only recourse Moses had left was to remain silent and unmoving, as though Rameses had not spoken at all.

A rough hand seized his chin, jerking his face around and making his gut lurch again. “Look at me when I talk to you, Moses!”

The younger man managed to pry his eyes open again, but that took what was left of his strength. His sight blurred and turned to nothingness as he lost consciousness.

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Much to his surprise, Moses woke to birdsong and comfort. The injuries he remembered so well, while still painful, were almost distant, and his stomach had progressed so far from the horrible nausea that it was gleefully proclaiming its need to be filled as loudly as it could. Unsure of what he would find, Moses slowly opened his eyes.

He was in his bed, and though he couldn’t see much of himself without moving, he did see the edges of white bandages wrapped around his ribs. A vague medicinal taste in his mouth suggested he’d been treated for at least the fever.

There was no way for him to know how many days had passed since he’d passed out in front of his brother, but it was clear there had been a shift in the pharaoh’s attitude toward him. He would have been treated regardless, if only to keep up the pretense, but the comfort and care that had been given far exceeded what had been required.

Gathering what little strength was available to him, Moses inched his way into a seated position, pushing the pillows back to provide support. He was startled to find Rameses in a chair beside the bed, asleep.

His first attempt to speak failed, throat too dry to form the words, so he swallowed hard before trying again. “Rameses?”

The way his brother jerked before whipping his head around to stare at him was almost as surprising as finding him there to begin with. “Moses! You’re awake!”

Blinking, not knowing how to respond to the unexpected exuberance, the prophet nodded. “Just a few minutes ago,” he said in a low rasp.

The pharaoh immediately seized a cup from the bedside table and helped Moses take a few sips of what he guessed was medicine-laced fruit juice. “Be careful. The priests say it will be a few days before you’re completely well. How do you feel?”

“Better than I expected,” he answered honestly. “The last thing I remember is passing out. You were angry, but now… Did something happen?”

The way Rameses’ jaw set told the prince that it was still a bit of a sore subject, but he responded without any of the expected rancor. “I didn’t know how bad your condition was. I let my anger get the better of me and I nearly lost you again.”

The thought of dying was almost more than Moses could wrap his mind around. He’d known he was growing weak and ill, but he hadn’t thought it had been too terrible. He supposed, though, that he wasn’t as young as he’d once been. Injuries that could have been handled easily in his youth would have been more threatening to an aging man.

“I’m sorry, Moses,” Rameses said, interrupting his thoughts. “For everything.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Everything?”

“Your…” He hesitated, then pressed on. “Your wife said I would destroy you when she left. She was nearly right. The last three days have been torture, not knowing if you would live or die, and all because my rage was blinding me to what mattered.”

The prophet frowned, baffled. “Rameses, you’re worrying me.”

“I’m hurting you.”

“What?”

“I don’t just mean the last few days, though I never should’ve done such a thing. I meant all of this is hurting you. Everyone knows you do not want to be here. For all that I’ve forbidden it to be discussed, you have a family you long for. In my efforts to rebuild this family, I’ve completely ignored yours.”

“Rameses, you’re my brother. That has always been true.”

“But you’re not a child,” he said tiredly. “Neither of us is, and we’ve been apart for so many years. I wanted that time back, but I never thought of what I was taking from you in the process. I’m letting you go.”

“You’re what? You’re – you’re letting me go?”

“As soon as you’re healed, you can leave. I won’t follow. I don’t need to know where you’re going. You’re free.”

“Rameses –”

Before he could say anything else, before he could shift and reach for his brother, the pharaoh was gone, and Moses was left alone.

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Moses would never forget the look on his wife’s face when he rode into her father’s camp on a fine new camel, wrapped once more in the robe he’d worn since his first day there, barefoot and smiling. Tzipporah was disbelieving at first, like it was a fantasy she’d played out so many times that it couldn’t possibly be real. Then she stepped forward, painfully slowly, and reached for him as he dismounted. He could see that she expected him to not really be there, and he watched the joy that bloomed in her eyes when her fingers met flesh instead of air.

“Moses!” she said, ecstatic, and she flung her arms around him without hesitation.

He nearly staggered; his wife weighed more than he recalled, though he wasn’t foolish enough to say as much. Fortunately, the camel at his back absorbed the impact for the both of them and kept them from tumbling into the sand. He just held on tightly. There were no words to express the feelings racing through him once he finally had her where he’d wanted her all along.

Miriam appeared from another tent, but she didn’t say anything either. She just met her brother’s eyes and smiled that knowing smile before turning away to give them some privacy.

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“My lord pharaoh, a visitor is requesting entrance,” a guard informed Rameses.

The pharaoh just waved a hand in acknowledgement, not indicating whether he would allow it or not. He had been in a dark mood for days, yearning again for the life he should have had and the brother he missed every minute. He knew he had done the right thing by allowing Moses to return to his people, but the fact remained that Moses was the only one who had ever just seen him as himself and not as a prince or king. Surrounded by courtiers and watched with starry eyes by his son, he longed for that simple acceptance.

“You’ve seen better days, I think,” a painfully familiar voice said from the entry.

Rameses stood so quickly that the cup of wine he’d had resting on the arm of his throne was dashed to the floor, but he hardly noticed. “Moses?”

He looked like the man who’d first come to the palace to free the Hebrews, several years ago. His hair had grown back and a short beard hid his chin, but the eyes, as always, gave him away. There was the same smiling familiarity that allowed Rameses to discern his identity then.

“Hello, brother.”

Before he remembered moving, Rameses had his arms around Moses, so tight he almost choked. “I thought I’d never see you again.”

“We’re family. Some things never change.” He gestured to someone behind him, and a boy crept up and pressed himself against Moses’ side, peering past the folds of his robe at the stranger in front of him. “I wanted you to meet my son.”