Drinks at The Hungry Crocodile
The hieroglyphics on the wall announced the day’s menu. The menu however, had not changed in over two months; and most of the menu was not available. An old toothless priestess played a melancholy tune on her harp in a dark corner of the hall. Rumor had it that her older brother was killed during the attack of the wild beasts, and she had not played a happy tune ever since.
The tables of the tavern were filled with groups of the higher echelons of Egyptian society talking quietly to themselves, or loners commiserating with their drinks.
One table was filled with muscle-bound black eunuchs from Pharaoh’s palace.
“I was there, I tell you,” big Leras, Royal Eunuch, whispered in his high-pitched voice to his audience around the circular table. “I was there when Moses announced the next plague.”
“So what did he say?” bulky Doigo asked in an equally high voice. “What will the next plague be?”
“Hailstones,” Leras intoned as he scratched the scabs from his receding boils. “Moses said that whoever or whatever will be out in the fields tomorrow, will die from the hailstones. If you are indoors, you will be spared.”
“And you believe that charlatan, Leras?” Fanir, the Priest of Ra, asked from the adjacent table, sitting with other priests. “Have you, and your fellow eunuchs lost faith in the gods of Egypt?”
“I did not realize you were eavesdropping, Fanir,” Leras accused. “Besides, your faith in your gods has blinded you to reality. The god of the Hebrews has proven himself to be more powerful, and there is nothing they or Pharaoh have been able to do to stop him.”
“Be careful, Leras,” Fanir warned. “You speak both blasphemy and treason. Not even your position of Royal Eunuch may save you from punishment.”
“You are a fool, Fanir,” Leras grinned and made a pushing and slicing motion with his hands towards Doigo and the rest of the eunuchs at his table. “Egypt is crumbling before our very eyes and I for one intend to be on the winning side. This Moses is masterful. His presence alone is impressive and the way he stands up to Pharaoh is most inspiring.”
“What? You wish to join with him in their worship in the desert?” Fanir asked.
“You are truly brainless,” Leras grinned even wider. “Do you for a moment believe his god is going through all this trouble merely for a day of worship? They mean to be free and to leave Egypt. Any fool can see that. But you, it seems, are not even a fool!”
Fanir glanced around the tavern, his face turning red from embarrassment. He looked meaningfully at his fellow priests. “I shall not allow such an insult to go unanswered,” Fanir declared to his tablemates. The five priests rose from their chairs as one, and faced the eunuch’s table.
At that moment, the door to the tavern opened and silence reigned throughout the hall. Even the old harpist stopped her playing. Two strangers walked in. Two Hebrews! Their skins were unblemished, with no scars or boils on them. They had the happy demeanor of men who had eaten well – something no Egyptian had experienced for months. They swaggered into the tavern carrying a fresh side of beef between them.
“Ho! Innkeeper!” the taller Hebrew, Datan, called out. “We heard you Egyptians have not had fresh meat for some time.”
“What is that to you, slave?” Parnet, innkeeper of The Hungry Crocodile responded, all eyes watching the exchange.
“Oh, we just thought, you might enjoy something other than the blood-soaked fish you seem to enjoy so much,” Datan teased.
“Yes,” the shorter Hebrew, Aviram, added, “we also heard how popular frogs became on your menu. Boiled frogs, baked frogs, grilled frogs, frog pie, and what was our favorite, Datan? Oh yes! Stuffed frog – with frog stuffing! If the plagues were not enough, your menu would kill you!” Datan and Aviram laughed unkindly.
“You Hebrews think you are funny,” Fanir, the priest called out from his table. “Laugh now, but do not forget that you are still slaves.”
“Slaves?” Datan asked mockingly. “You are behind the times, priest. We will soon be rid of Egyptian taskmasters, assuming there are any left after our God is through with you.”
“Enough talk, Hebrew,” Parnet interrupted. “How much do you want for the meat?”
“200 shekel,” Datan answered slowly.
“200 shekel!?” Parnet shouted. “Are you out of your mind? Why I used to pay no more than 20 shekel for an entire cow, let alone one side.”
“Of course you did,” Aviram responded loudly, “but that was before the wild animals ravaged the herds, and the pestilence decimated them. It is no problem. We are sure that The Wet Hippopotamus down the road would love to offer fresh meat to their more esteemed clientele.”
“Now, now, now, my dear Hebrews,” Parnet put out his hands in appeasement, “there is no need to drive such a hard bargain. Let us sit in the back room and reach an equitable price, without disturbing the customers.”
“Lead the way, good innkeeper,” Datan replied and winked at Aviram. They followed Parnet behind the counter and into the kitchen still carrying their fresh meat. The eyes of all the Egyptians followed the carcass hungrily.
“You see, Finar,” Leras snickered, pointing at the exiting Hebrews. “This is just the beginning. At the end Egypt may be begging from the Hebrews for more than just some fresh meat. You priests are such a wretched lot. I can not believe you still pray to your pathetic gods for help.”
“Your intransigence is outrageous,” Finar answered, pounding his fist on the table. “The Hebrews may have the upper hand right now, but your rebelliousness is inexcusable. I shall report you to Pharaoh personally and I will be happy to supervise your execution.”
Leras motioned to the other eunuchs. Doigo got up smoothly, turned around and suddenly pushed the priest closest to him. “Hey! Watch it you clumsy fool!” Doigo yelled at him.
The startled priest pushed Doigo back. “What are you doing? I did nothing.”
“Nothing!? You call this nothing!?” Doigo’s shout reverberated throughout the tavern. Doigo then smashed his beefy fist into the priest’s confused face. The impact made a satisfying ‘crunch’ sound as Doigo broke the priest’s nose. A second later a loud crash announced the priest flying into the table.
“Fight!” some customer yelled and the entire tavern was on its feet.
Leras picked up his table and threw it, plates, cups and all towards the priests. Then the fighting started in earnest. Chairs were broken on people’s heads; bodies went flying through the air. There was a high concentration of white priest robes mixed with muscular black bodies in the center of the melee.
Excited by the action and showing more life than she had since her brother’s death, the old priestess played a merry tune.
In the midst of the chaos Leras closed in on Finar. He grabbed Finar by the collar and in his other hand he discretely pulled out a knife. “Say your prayers quickly, priest. You can no longer threaten a man and expect to get away with it.”
“You dare not harm me, eunuch. I am a sanctified priest of the mighty god Ra. You will suffer eternal damnation in the underworld if you harm me.”
“I doubt it,” Leras whispered as he quietly thrust his blade between the priest’s ribs.
Finar crumpled to the floor joining other unconscious priests.
Parnet, followed closely by Datan and Aviram ran out of the kitchen into the main hall.
“What is going on here?” Parnet wailed.
“This is truly pleasant. To see the Egyptians fighting with each other,” Datan commented.
“Yeah, we should come here more often,” Aviram approved. “Perhaps we can even sell tickets for viewing?”
Leras gave a piercing whistle. As quickly as it started, the fighting stopped.
The priestess returned to playing a more subdued tune.
One of the conscious priests examined the wounded.
“He is dead! Fanir is dead! He has been stabbed!”
“I think perhaps he just tripped during the fighting,” Leras explained, showing the blood on his hand. “If anyone wants to make an issue of it,” Leras looked menacingly at the priests, “they may find themselves tripping as well.”
“N-No Leras,” the priest stuttered and took a step back. “This was just an unfortunate accident. Your theological arguments are very persuasive.”
“Ah. So there is some wisdom in the priesthood after all,” Leras nodded.
Datan and Aviram looked apprehensively at the dead priest and Leras standing over him.
“This Leras is dangerous,” Datan whispered. “We have our money. Let us leave this zoo.”
Datan and Aviram made their way to the door, stepping over debris from the fight.
Leras noticing the movement, called out to them. “Hebrews!”
Datan and Aviram turned around before the entrance.
“We – we do not want any trouble,” Datan stammered. “We did not see anything.”
“I have a message for your Moses.”
“And what would that be then,” Aviram breathed out, turning back to the entrance.
“Tell Moses that the palace eunuchs are with him. We support his struggle and will follow him,” Leras raised his bloody hand. “Whether he likes it or not.”
* * * * * *
Exodus, Chapter 9
18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the day it was founded even until now.
19 Now therefore send, hasten in thy cattle and all that thou hast in the field; for every man and beast that shall be found in the field, and shall not be brought home, the hail shall come down upon them, and they shall die.’
20 He that feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made his servants and his cattle flee into the houses;
21 and he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and his cattle in the field.
Exodus, Chapter 12
37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, beside children.
38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.
Mixed multitude: an assembly of idol worshipers from different nations that converted. Rashi, Exodus 12:38