I know you will find this with many emotions in your heart - anger, frustration, disappointment – and you can be blamed for none of them. I may only hope that there is some room for grief left among them, as we shall certainly not see one another again.
Time is short, but I will explain as best I can while my army prepares to march. Even as I write, I can hear you cursing “those wretched Hebrews,” as though the actions of their God and ours was within their control. Yes, our gods. My dear, there is more to this tale than you have known. We have talked at length – and volume – of what you have called my “pitiful, tiresome faltering” regarding the Hebrews. I have kept my peace for fear, but no longer. Here, on my final night as Pharaoh, I will have my say.
It started with the boils. I wish I could still feel shame to make such an admission, but after all we have faced, all I have left is a stone where my heart should have been. The truth is, I was unmoved by the first plagues the Hebrew God laid on us. So what if the Nile ran with blood? Our palace was stocked with fresh water. It meant little more to me than an annoyance. How was I to know Hapi took it, and my own disregard to the matter, personally? The frogs were likewise a nuisance, but little more. Heket felt otherwise, as she told me later. It was the same with the lice, the flies, the darkness, and the animals. I should have known the gods would take it personally, but I cannot say my refusal to free the Hebrews was based in peity. I was simply stubborn. I could not bear to have my dynasty marred by bowing to the god of a paltry race of slaves. Even now, I feel as though I could be defended in my actions, if not my motives.
I digress. As I said, it started with the boils. Those awful, putrid, miserable sores, from which we all still bear scars, were the first of the so-called plagues that hurt me – that hurt us personally. We had been sheltered from the previous incidents by our palace, our guards, and our wealth, but nothing could spare us from that torment. That was the first time I decided to let that wretch Moses take his people and go. It was also the first time I met a god face to face.
Isis came to me, in the wake of the sores, even as I was awaiting a messenger to fetch Moses so I could deliver my edict. She is never depicted as angry, but let me assure you, our divine healer has quite the temper. I pleaded with her for healing, but she only raged, furious with me for even thinking of cowing to Yahweh after He had infringed so on her domain. This angered me in turn. I was kneeling before her, suffering thanks to her lack of protection, and she deigned to be angry with me? In my pain and fury I stood before her, as I had stood against the Hebrew God, and demanded she heal our people. This seemed to surprise her, and she offered a deal. She would heal us, if I refused Yahweh’s demand to set his people free. In hindsight, I am certain Isis was angry because she was powerless before the Hebrew God. Does stating this so openly mean I am a dead man? Does it matter? I am dead already. Some would say she held true to her word. My scars tell me that if she did, her results are – excuse me – sorely lacking.
This happened thrice more. Nut came after the hail, but not angry, like Isis. She seemed frustrated, violated even, and complained that Yahweh had sent his fire from beyond her domain to wreak havoc on our land. She was reasonable, understanding my anger, but offered a similar stipulation as Isis. She could not undo the damage done to our lands and crops, but she would assure than no further destruction would come from above, if only I would revoke my decision to relent. I tried to argue, but she persisted beyond my patience. In her soft, patient manner, there was always the threat unspoken that her protection – such as it was – could be revoked. I ask you, does that seem a risk worth taking to you?
Set followed the locusts, stated his demand, and departed. He assumed – correctly – that his visage would terrify me into obeisance, and I declare there is no man or woman in Egypt who would dare do other than what I did.
As awful as Set was, Ra was by far the worst. He came in the midst of the darkness, and even now I cannot comprehend our encounter rightly. He appeared in that horrid, oppressive darkness, but he offered no relief. I could see him, and him alone in that long night, but he offered no relief. How can I explain? He was as a torch with black flames, and the fact that he was clearly burning but illuminated nothing only made our interaction that much more horrifying. Ra positively burned with fury that Yahweh had dared to “steal” his light from us and give it to the Hebrews. I dared not ask why Ra had allowed him to do so. Rather, I needed not ask. How could it not have been clear to all of us, as it was to you, that our gods could not compare to the Hebrews’? Ra demanded I punish the Hebrews further. Terror stricken as I was, I refused, at first, demanding that he return the light before deigning to order Pharaoh to do his bidding. I can say it is the only moment in this whole ordeal I can be proud of, yet it was supremely ineffective. Ra raged all the more, threatening that Egypt would never see the sun again if I did not yield to him. I asked him if that was truly his decision, as Yahweh seemed to be the one in control. I will not speak of what followed. Suffice to say he changed my mind on the matter, so I once again forbade the Hebrews to leave.
Which brings us to this awful, tragic night. Our son, Hatshepsut. Yahweh took our son. It was there, in his room, while I mourned over his still warm body, that our beloved gods came to me again, all of them this time. And do you know what our gods had to offer? Set would not – could not, I say – return him. Isis would not heal him. Heket would not even promise us another heir. The only thing they wanted was vengeance on the Hebrews. I told them if they wanted to punish Yahweh, they should do it themselves. Surely their combined might would be enough. The excuse they offered was pitiful, and yes, I realize the blasphemy of saying so. The best way to hurt Yahweh, Ra offered, was to utterly destroy his people. But of course, none of them dares to lift a hand against Him themselves. That lot falls to Pharaoh.
They came too late, I told them. I had already sent Moses and his vermin away. They even took an untold number of our own people with them. The gods had been so ineffective in shielding us from Yahweh’s wrath that good, upstanding Egyptian men and women had thrown in with slaves! I cannot recount the wrath with which my words were met. But I cared not for their rage. I thought, with my son’s body cooling in my arms, that I had nothing left to lose.
It was Set who proved me wrong.
“What of Hatshepsut?” He whispered this to Ra, intending me to hear it. I can still see the wicked smile on his filthy, canine face.
So, my beloved, you must know this is for you as much as it is for me. I am angry with the Hebrews. I wish with all of my heart those vile people had never set foot in this land, and I hope we may yet see them ruined before this is done. I am angry with their God for the ruin he has brought upon our people and my legacy. I am angry with our gods for failing to move even one of Yahweh’s fingers from our throats. Yet I would gladly leave the Hebrews be if I could. I have no desire left in me to oppose Yahweh, and I know full well He has no patience left with me. I am going to die, and it is likely all Egypt will die with me. I can only hope you may heed this letter now, before all is done. Flee, Hatshepsut. Take whatever and whomever you can, and leave this land. For if Yahweh is truly done with us, you may rest assured the wrath of our own gods will take what little is left.