Amon pushed away the young man beside him. He shook his head, “No, it was not an accident. I bore the whiplash for this miner. Lord Hardedef, you were talking about the inspector. I assume that refers to me, isn’t it? I’ve already checked the season’s harvest. The yield meets the requirement. I didn’t order the miners to extract more. So I don’t understand what you were talking about just now. Are you implying that it was I who have made you push the miners with your whip? If that is the case, I indeed should bear this whiplash.”
Hardedef’s lie was exposed in front of all the miners in the workshop and the priests. He looked quite embarrassed, but the truth was that he had just hurt the inspector with his whip. He chose to ignore what Amon had just said and continued apologizing, “Please forgive my rudeness, Mister Amon. I was enraged by the clumsiness of these dirty slaves. This lazy slave has just ruined a precious parangon. I was just giving him some whiplashes to wake him up.”
Amon was still angry. He reproached the chief guard, “No one can guarantee success every time when extracting parangon from an ore. It’s completely normal to damage one from time to time. Why does that make you this furious?”
Hardedef pointed to the miners, “My dear inspector, I’m afraid that you don’t know the identity of these people. They are the Pharaoh’s slaves. They come from the town of Duc in Hittite, which is a place rejected by the gods. They are cursed and abandoned by the gods! They, their ancestors and their descendants, are destined to be miners, enslaved by the gods’ people. It’s their honor to receive the whiplashes from a noble hand!”
Amon was about to calm down, but flushed as a spurt of anger flashed through him when he heard Hardedef’s words. He stared at the chief guard with a sharp look and said coldly, “So, I should also feel honored now!”
Hardedef was quite uncomfortable at Amon’s stare, but he failed to discover what was wrong. He replied cautiously, “Mister Amon, though you do not own a noble title at the moment, as the inspector, you are highly respected in Mount Horeb. No one would compare you with these filthy slaves.”
“You have lost your temper, Lord Hardedef. Being a sixth-level warrior, I was still injured by your whiplash. How do you expect a feeble miner like him to withstand that? You might have killed him! They are not criminals but miners. They earn their livings with their strength and skills. They should be honored for their work, not by your whiplashes. You, instead, have done nothing to deserve your title. You are not qualified to call them with those disparaging terms!”
Maria sent Amon to Mount Horeb for a reason. This was where the surviving Ducians were placed. Amon didn’t know why they were here, but he was stung to anger by Hardedef’s words. The young noble was not only insulting these miners but also his clansmen and ancestors, including his father. How could him as a seventeen-year-old put up with this kind of provocation?
However, Hardedef knew nothing about Amon’s background. To him, it was the inspector who was being provocative, seeking trouble from him. He was irritated as well, “Mister Amon, you chose to stand under my whiplash. As a sixth-level warrior, are you complaining that a warrior of the same level can easily injure you? I suggest you to ask yourself, why haven’t you learnt more martial arts to protect yourself. I have to remind you that your previous words are very rude to a noble!”
The tension in the room was palpable. The priests didn’t know what to say. They knew that Hardedef had a bad temper. He was impetuous and irascible, very difficult to get along with. He often scold and punish his servants and the slaves in the mine. The problem was: the Ducians were the Pharaoh’s slaves, not his! And the Pharaoh had given clear orders that these people were the property of the Empire. No one should hurt them without the Pharaoh’s order.
Hardedef often cursed these miners, but had never beaten any of them. No one knew why he flew into a rage today and decided to whip a miner. If ever Moses was killed, he would face serious punishment. Although he was not likely to pay with his own life, he surely would lose his post here, which was already a result of his previous recklessness.
Amon had no idea of Hardedef’s past either. He was filled with rage as well. He turned around and took Moses’ hammer, walked around the workshop and gave a strike onto every anvil. Everyone was shocked, because the inspector had perfectly extracted the parangons from all the ores on the anvils. What amazing technique! Amon didn’t use a staff like a mage. He just extracted the parangons with a hammer, like the other miners here did, which already revealed his identity.
In effect, Amon had done this with difficulty. He walked back to Hardedef, with pinpricks of sweat on his forehead and twitching veins bulging on his hands. He spoke in a stony voice, “Did you see? I’m also a miner from Duc myself! I’d like to ask you: How are you qualified to insult the Ducians and the technique of Duc with those disparaging terms?”
“You insult my family, my ancestors, my father and my teacher. I now request a duel with you, noble warrior. According to the law, I have to ask for your permission and I will take the responsibility of all possible results. Lord Hardedef, you asked me why I haven’t learnt more martial arts to protect myself. Now you may accept my request so you will know what martial arts I have learnt.”
In the Ejyptian laws there were rules regarding duels between the warriors. A commoner was allowed to request a duel with a noble warrior. The duel could only be carried out under the permission of the noble warrior and in the presence of a witness. The commoner was responsible for any injury, even if it was the noble warrior who was hurt. The rules appeared to be unfair, but they at least offered the commoners a decent and legal way to take revenge against a nobleman publicly.
Amon’s rage had dwindled after extracting the parangons with the hammer. He just calmly stated the request with a sneer. Hardedef was totally incensed. Pointing at the gate, he voiced, “Let’s do it outside. You can pick whatever weapon that suits you.”
Amon shook his head, “I already have one.” He waved the hammer in his hand, which only made Hardedef angrier.
The two walked side by side out through the gate. The priests didn’t dare to stop them. It was Pawara who arrived with his staff and tried to stop the fight. He rushed to them and grabbed their arms, “My dear friends, please be reasonable. You don’t need to fight for these lowlifes from Duc. Why don’t you sit down and have a talk? If any of you got hurt in the fight, it would be a disaster to Mount Horeb!”
Hearing that Amon was hurt, Pawara wasted no time to hurry to the workshop. He didn’t yet understand what was going on. To him, the first thing was to make sure that the inspector was safe. Hardedef didn’t give his superior much respect. He smiled stiffly, “As a noble warrior, I have accepted the request of duel from Mister Amon. I have no right to call it off unless he withdraws his own request. I won’t be the one who goes back on his words.”
Amon pulled away Pawara and said, “My lord, I grew up in Duc. I’m one of the ‘lowlifes’ you mentioned. I requested a duel because he insulted my family. But please don’t worry. I will win him without hurting him. You’ve come just in time. Please be our witness!”
Pawara wanted to slap his own face. What he had just said was adding fuel to the fire instead of putting it out. Before he could say anything else, the two warriors were already standing front to front in the terrain outside the workshop, circled by a crowd. Hardedef already had a khopesh in his hand, whereas Amon just carried the hammer on his shoulder. It was too late to stop the duel.
Pawara found that the only thing he could do was to wait and watch aside as a witness. He also had pulled out his staff. If any of the two was in danger, he would stop the fight immediately before things went completely out of control. He was anxiously planning in his mind, hoping to find a way to cover this up. This affair must be solved inside Mount Horeb. He definitely didn’t want Memfis to know the slightly bit of it.
Before he could figure out a solution, he heard Amon’s voice, “Please announce the duel, Lord Pawara.”
Pawara suddenly realized that he had been in a trance. Without any choice, he raised the staff and sparked a signal. Hardedef jumped up and rushed towards Amon like an arrow. Holding the shining khopesh high, he didn’t chop down or stab, but turned the blade of the khopesh to one side and slapped it down onto Amon’s shoulder.
He didn’t completely lose his mind. He was just trying to flatten Amon within a strike. But the strength and speed of this strike was nothing like the previous whiplash. It was an all-out strike from a sixth-level warrior. The onlookers had hardly had time to marvel. Within the blink of an eye, the khopesh was only inches from Amon’s shoulder.
But the gaping in marvel turned into cries and screams, which were then covered by an echoing, huge clank. Amon stayed where he had been, while Hardedef’s khopesh flew away in two pieces. The chief guard fallen on one knee in front of Amon, whose hammer was right on his shoulder. With a flick of his hand, Amon could have smashed Hardedef’s head like an ore. But he didn’t.
Only a few people saw what had just happened clearly. Hardedef was fast, but Amon was even faster. His reaction was so swift that Hardedef couldn’t even react. Before the khopesh fell onto his shoulder, Amon’s hammer hit Hardedef’s left knee. The chief guard collapsed immediately.
Then Amon swung up the hammer and blocked the khopesh. The blow was so heavy that Hardedef failed to hold on to it anymore. The knocked khopesh was sent flying into the air, then broke in half. Amon then turned the wrist and put the hammer lightly on Hardedef’s shoulder.
Pawara shouted hurriedly, “The duel’s over! Amon wins!”
Hardedef, on one knee, sweated heavily. He was frightened. No one knew better than him how horrible the situation had been. He saw clearly that Amon brought down the hammer onto his left knee. The strike came so suddenly that he didn’t have time to react. At that time, he thought that he was going to live with one leg for the rest of his life. To his surprise, there was no pain, but a bizarre shock that spread over to his whole body in no time. He felt that he had lost all his strength one instant and was on one knee on the ground the next moment.
Then Amon swung up the hammer and hit his khopesh. His hand could no longer hold onto the weapon, sending it flying away immediately. And then there was another bizarre shockwave spread out from his arm to his body. Hardedef had a feeling that Amon could kill him at any moment with the hammer and even Pawara wouldn’t be able to stop him.
The anger was no more. Hardedef was now filled with terror, as if a bucket of ice water had just been poured onto his head. Amon’s voice floated unhurriedly into his ears, “This is called the technique of Duc. It can open the ore without hurting the parangon inside. It can also scatter your strength without hurting your body. Thank Mother Isis I did it well this time. Lord Hardedef, do you admit defeat? Or do you want to keep on fighting?”
Pawara had come to them, “There’s no need to. As the witness, I claim that Hardedef is defeated in this duel!”
Hardedef, still on one knee, suddenly spoke out, “I yield, Mister Amon!” Then he fell silent, his hands on his knee.
Amon seemed to still be a bit angry. He turned to Pawara and said, “Now that this warrior admitted defeat in the duel, he should acknowledge his mistake and make an apology.”
Before the priest turned to Hardedef and tried persuading him to say something, the chief guard nodded and replied, “I am sorry for what I have said. I apologize to the ones who have been hurt by my insults. I am willing to make up for my mistake. Give me the whip!”
A guard gave him the whip. Hardedef handed it to Amon. Pawara paled. He wanted to say something, but chose to step aside. The young noble turned around and showed his back. Amon didn’t pretend to be magnanimous. He flicked the whip towards Hardedef’s back. The chief guard wasn’t wearing any armor, so the flogging left a long bloody laceration on his back, just like the one he had left on Amon’s.
Pawara went to them and said, “That’s nice, my friends! Problem solved! What do they say? Out of blows friendship grows. Now we can be friends again!”
Amon dropped the whip and said, “Lords, can we find a place to talk? I have some questions to ask you in private.”
Both of them were calm now and a peaceful conversation could begin. The wounds on their backs were treated with ointment. Pawara also performed healing magic on them.
Pawara, as the chief manager of the mine, wanted nothing but peace in Mount Horeb now. He ordered his maids to prepare some good food and tried to persuade Amon to eat some. As to Hardedef, his subordinate, his attitude was less agreeable. He reproached the chief guard, “You should thank Mister Amon! There is a strict order saying that the miners from Duc are not to be hurt. How can you forget it? That young man is their chief. If you had killed him today, you would have been severely punished. Mister Amon has actually saved your life!”
Amon interrupted, “Lord Pawara, I’m also a miner from Duc. I was wondering, how would these people come to Mount Horeb?”
Pawara answered awkwardly, “I have no idea, dear inspector. They were sent by a squadron of soldiers from Cape, with an order from the Pharaoh. Please forgive me for my rudeness. I didn’t know about your origin. I am curious: how would Mister Amon come from Duc?”
Amon replied emotionlessly, “Haven’t you heard? I am the miner who extracted the Gods’ Tear which now crowns the top of the Adoratrice’s scepter. I was exiled to the forests because I offered the Gods’ Tear to the Goddess Isis without the consensus from the Kingdom of Hittite. But I also escaped from the flood that destroyed the town.”
Hardedef was surprised, “You are the one who extracted the Gods’ Tear? No wonder the Adoratrice thinks so highly of you. The technique of Duc is impressive. It defeated me. Please pardon my recklessness.”
Amon could well have finished this topic with some polite words, but he shook his head and continued, “Lord Hardedef, your recklessness can bring disaster to you and to others. It not only made you disobey the order from the Pharaoh, but also reflected a more dangerous preconception which might have led you to a more miserable state.”
Hardedef was startled. Puzzled, he asked, “Please enlighten me! How could that come about?”
Amon asked coldly, “In which deity do you believe?”
Hardedef answered without hesitation, “Of course Horus the almighty, the King of the Gods, the great patron of the Empire of Ejypt. And Mother Isis who… ” He mentioned a list of Ejyptian deities.
Amon waited him to finish, and continued to ask, “You said today that the miners are cursed by the gods. Which gods are they?”
Hardedef was taken by surprise, speechless. Pawara had comprehended something. He braved himself to answer, “Those were just some careless remarks. You don’t have to take them seriously.”
But Amon didn’t stop. He turned to Pawara, “Chief Hardedef might not be serious. But as a priest and the manager of the miners, you of all people should take it seriously. Please answer my question.”
Pawara felt himself sweating badly. He replied, “They are the Anunnaki gods, worshiped by the people of Hittite, Bablon and Assyr. I have to admit that I don’t know quite well of the story about the Ducians. Much of it was just learnt from what other people said.”
Amon turned back to Hardedef with a straight face, “You are treating your miners badly because of the attitude of some alien deities! Do you still have faith in Horus and the other deities you just pledged loyalty to? I was exiled because I offered the Gods’ Tear to the Goddess Isis instead of an Anunnaki god. Does that count as a crime to you?”
Amon was merely posing a question in gentle voice, but to Hardedef, the question was even more terrifying than the strike from the hammer. He couldn’t sit still any longer. He left his seat and prostrated himself, “Thank you for warning me, Mister Amon. I was terribly wrong. I will never say things like that again!”
Amon looked at him and continued, “My noble warrior, you have to remember: even if they were cursed by the gods, you are not those gods, nor their believer. That curse shouldn’t be your curse! Please consider this: What if I, or someone else, were to report this to the Isis Shrine or to the Pharaoh? What would happen to you?”