that made up his bed. They shrieked in pain and clung to one another.
The Egyptian watched quietly from the corner next to the other commanders.
He despised these filthy Amalekites. They paid well, but most were lazy and undisciplined compared to his old regiment. When he was in Pharaoh’s armies, his warriors would have crushed them in an open war and laughed at their womanly ambush tactics.
Many important preparations for campaign were omitted in favor of needless luxuries, such as this large and cumbersome command tent. Only a fat ruler wishing to look powerful by touring the front lines would make his men carry such an unnecessary burden.
The chieftain appeared to be a skilled fighter; the Egyptian had sparred with him in workouts. But not all effective fighters made good generals. Karak seemed to be here not out of duty to his kings but rather out of a desire to grab as much plunder as he could after years of obeying the bidding of others.
The Egyptian didn’t begrudge the chieftain such a motive. It was what he himself was doing, after all. There were mercenaries from many lands in this army. Most were here as spies, of course — as was the Egyptian himself. They would offer services for hire tothe Amalekites, claiming they had abandoned their homelands, and then promptly return and offer information to their own kings. It was dangerous but highly profitable.
The Egyptian turned away from the scene on the animal skins and stepped out into the night. His white linen robe glowed in the moonlight. He did not care what the chieftain had ordered about subdued garments; he would not stoop to wearing barbaric clothing. The colder he became, the more linen he would drape around his shoulders. Only shepherds and other wretches wore raw animal skins as cloaks.
An Amalekite soldier walked past him, his head coming no higher than the Egyptian’s elbow. The man’s eyes darted toward him quickly, and he picked up his pace. The Egyptian’s great size had been the subject of whispers in the ranks; his elegant grooming, the use of kohl and galena to paint his eyes, and his fine white clothing would have been openly mocked were he not the largest, most intimidating man in the raiding force. He had gleaming bronze skin, bulging oiled muscles that rippled with veins, and a clean-shaven head; there was no hair on his body of any kind.
The Egyptian had overheard the conversation about the Hebrew warrior. It reminded him of the only time he had fought a Hebrew, on the coast of the sea when he was among the pharaoh’s bodyguard. There was a Hebrew mercenary in the bodyguard as well, and on a whim one day while hunting with his falcons along the coast of the sea near Aqaba, the pharaoh had ordered them to fight for his amusement.
And they had fought. Across the sand, under the sun, into the sea. The Hebrew had talent, but he was untrained and rough, wielding his weapons heavily like an infantryman instead of nimbly like a master of arms, and the Egyptian had defeated him. Disgraced, the Hebrew had departed.
The Egyptian walked back to his own small tent, enjoying howhe towered over the other soldiers as he passed them. Once inside, he laid down, resting his head on the wooden pedestal that served as his pillow, and listened to the light breeze moving through the camp.
It would be an interesting report to make to Pharaoh when he returned. The god-king would want to know about Hebrew warlords and skilled fighters before any invasion commenced.
Far to the north, deep in the mountains of Gilboa along the southern side of the Jezreel Valley, a campfire burned. The night was bright and clear and brought an occasional chilly breeze, causing the fire to flicker lazily. A good night for a fire, the soldiers all agreed, and they had been given permission to make one, despite being on the march.
Another, smaller fire burned just inside a small stand of trees on top of the highest ridge, with the commanding view of the Jezreel and