As the Nile receded and the fertile silt-laden land reappeared, Joseph’s mind became occupied with learning. Tuya found that Potiphar did not care what his slaves did, his concerns were all for Pharaoh, the prison, and his guards. So each morning after bringing Joseph his breakfast of bread and parched corn, she spread before him several shards of broken pottery and a basket filled with flakes of limestone. A papyrus reed made a fine pen, and Joseph often detained her for an hour, asking questions as he practiced his writing and honed his understanding. His brain was like a sponge, always absorbing, always demanding more, and she realized he would master in a few months what the royal scribes took years to learn.
“What is the sign for captive?” Joseph asked one day, looking up from the shards he had covered with scrawlings.
Tuya peered over his shoulder. “It is the sign of a kneeling man that you have drawn, but the hands extend behind him and are bound,” she said. “The sign can also mean ‘enemy’ or ‘rebel.’”
“Another question,” Joseph said, chewing idly on the end of his pen. “What is the sign for Pharaoh? And how may I show it with other signs?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Tuya said, taking a step back. “Pharaoh’s name is sacred; to write it is almost a sacrilege. If it is absolutely necessary to write his name, you must enclose it in a circle, the sign of the sun.”
Joseph turned back to his writing, deep in concentration, and Tuya hurried out the door with the breakfast tray. Distracted by her thoughts, she nearly stepped into a pile of dung in the courtyard. She gritted her teeth, annoyed that someone had left the cattle pen open. She’d have to speak to the stockyard boys.
Donkor’s prosperous household and Potiphar’s estate were like a tree and its reflection upon the Nile, Tuya decided. The former thrived in prosperity, the latter, being insubstantial, only appeared to flourish. Though Potiphar’s estate was large well-situated, his slaves were a disjointed mass of workers, a hive without a queen. After a week of trying to function in total disorganization, Tuya called the servants together, announced that she had come from a nobleman’s house, and assigned her fellow slaves to various stations. She gave orders to the kitchen slaves every morning, saw to it that the bathrooms, cattle yards, and stables were cleaned out, and ordered that the waters of the pool be changed and stocked with fish. Used to the lazy life of fat cats, the slaves obeyed, but grumbled the entire time.
Tuya could not believe that Pharaoh’s captain could live in such a disorderly house. Despite his lionlike reputation as a warrior, the slaves did not fear or respect him, for he apparently did not respect his home or his lands. Discipline did not exist in the household, for as long as Potiphar had an edible meal and a bed to lie upon, he made no demands. He threw no parties, commemorated no feasts or festivals. The captain of the guard found his amusements elsewhere and spent most of his time in the palace.
Tuya took her problems to Joseph, and found that although he had never lived in an Egyptian house, he had strong opinions as to how people should be handled. He had a gift for administration and his diplomatic suggestions about how to handle the balking slaves helped Tuya establish the changes she wanted to make.
When Joseph was strong enough to move about, Tuya took him on a tour of the villa. Potiphar’s house resembled every other Theban nobleman’s except for two things: first, it contained the jail for Pharaoh’s prisoners, and second, it was uncommonly shabby and charmless. Surrounded by a high, crumbling wall of mud-dried brick, the house stood in the midst of an extensive plot of valuable riverfront land. A towered gateway led into the estate, and the prison warden’s lodge rose immediately at the visitor’s left hand. The prison, a collection of solid buildings of stone and iron, lay off to the east, far away from the main house. Tuya assured Joseph that they would have no responsibility for the prison. Potiphar kept a slovenly house, but his guards ran a tight and secure dungeon. Their lives depended upon it.
Angie here again: the computer is up and running, my desk is back to fighting trim, and I’m ready to get back to THE ELEVATOR tomorrow. Oh–my new computer came with Windows Media Edition. The best part? The cute little dancers you can set up in the bottom of your screen. They’re hilarious!