Part 4 out of 5
"Without doubt a very long arm, my son, since Isis, by whatever name
she is called, is a power that does not die or forget."
"Well, Mother, in this case she can have no reason to remember, since
never again will Amada be her priestess."
"I think not, Shabaka. Yet who can be sure of what a woman will or
will not do, now or hereafter? For my part I am glad that I have
served Amen and not Isis, and that after I was wed."
THE SLAYING OF IDERNES
Whilst I was still talking to my mother I received an urgent summons
to the palace. I went and in a little ante-chamber met Amada alone,
who, I could see, was waiting there for me. She was arrayed in her
secular dress and wore the insignia of royalty, looking exceedingly
beautiful. Moreover, her whole aspect had changed, for now she was no
longer a priestess sworn to mysteries, but just a lovely and a loving
"It is done, Shabaka," she whispered, "and thou art mine and I am
Then I opened my arms and she sank upon my breast and for the first
time I kissed her on the lips, kissed her many times and oh! my heart
almost burst with joy. But all too fleeting was that sweet moment of
love's first fruits, whereon I had sown the seed so many years ago,
for while we yet clung together, whispering sweet things into each
other's ears, I heard a voice calling me and was forced to go away
before I had even time to ask when we might be wed.
Within the Council was gathered. The news before it was that the
Satrap Idernes lay camped upon the Nile with some ten thousand men,
not far from the great pyramids, that is, within striking distance of
Memphis. Moreover his messengers announced that he purposed to visit
the Prince Peroa that day with a small guard only, to inquire into
this matter of the Signet, for which visit he demanded a safe-conduct
sworn in the name of the Great King and in those of the gods of Egypt
and the East. Failing this he would at once attack Memphis
notwithstanding any commands that might be given him under the Signet,
which, until he beheld it with his own eyes, he believed to be a
The question was--what answer should be sent to him? The debate that
followed proved long and earnest. Some were in favour of attacking
Idernes at once although his camp was reported to be strongly
entrenched and flanked on one side by the Nile and on the other by the
rising ground whereon stood the great sphinx and the pyramids. Others,
among whom I was numbered, thought otherwise, for I hold that some
evil god led me to give counsel that day which, if it were good for
Egypt was most ill for my own fortunes. Perchance this god was Isis,
angry at the loss of her votary.
I pointed out that by receiving Idernes Peroa would gain time which
would enable a body of three thousand men, if not more, who were
advancing down the Nile, to join us before they were perhaps cut off
from the city, and thus give us a force as large as his, or larger.
Also I showed that having summoned Idernes under the Signet, we should
put ourselves in the wrong if we refused to receive him and instead
attacked him at once.
A third party was in favour of allowing him to enter Memphis with his
guard and then making him prisoner or killing him. As to this I
pointed out again that not only would it involve the breaking of a
solemn oath, which might bring the curse of the gods upon our cause
and proclaim us traitors to the world, but it would also be foolish
since Idernes was not the only general of the Easterns and if we cut
off him and his escort, it would avail us little for then the rest of
the Easterns would fight in a just cause.
So in the end it was agreed that the safe-conduct should be sent and
that Peroa should receive Idernes that very day at a great feast given
in his honour. Accordingly it was sent in the ancient form, the oaths
being taken before the messengers that neither he nor those with him
who must not number more than twenty men, would be harmed in Memphis
and that he would be guarded on the road back until he reached the
outposts of his own camp.
This done, I was despatched up the Nile bank in a chariot accompanied
only by Bes, to hurry on the march of those troops of which I have
spoken, so that they might reach Memphis by sundown. Before I went,
however, I had some words alone with Peroa. He told me that my
immediate marriage with the lady Amada would be announced at the feast
that night. Thereon I prayed him to deliver to Amada the rope of
priceless rose-hued pearls which was in his keeping, as my betrothal
gift, with the prayer that she would wear them at the feast for my
sake. There was no time for more.
The journey up Nile proved long for the road was bad being covered
with drifted sand in some places and deep in mud from the inundation
waters in others. At length I found the troops just starting forward
after their rest, and rejoiced to see that there were more of them
than I had thought. I told the case to their captains, who promised to
make a forced march and to be in Memphis two hours before midnight.
As we drove back Bes said to me suddenly,
"Do you know why you could not find me this morning?"
I answered that I did not.
"Because a good slave should always run a pace ahead of his master, to
clear the road and tell him of its pitfalls. I was being married. The
Cup of the holy Tanofir is now by law and right Queen of the
Ethiopians. So when you meet her again you must treat her with great
respect, as I do already."
"Indeed, Bes," I said laughing, "and how did you manage that business?
You must have wooed her well during these days which have been so full
for both of us."
"I did not woo her over much, Master; indeed, the time was lacking. I
wooed the holy Tanofir, which was more important."
"The holy Tanofir, Bes?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Master. You see this beautiful Cup of his is after all--his
beautiful Cup. Her mind is the shadow of his mind and from her he
pours out his wisdom. So I told him all the case. At first he was
angry, for, notwithstanding the words he spoke to you and me, when it
came to a point the holy Tanofir, being after all much like other men,
did not wish to lose his Cup. Indeed had he been a few score of years
younger I am not sure but that he would have forgotten some of his
holiness because of her. Still he came to see matters in the true
light at last--for your sake, Master, not for mine, since his wisdom
told him it was needful that I should become King of the Ethiopians
again, to do which I must be married. At any rate he worked upon the
mind of that Cup of his--having first settled that she should procure
a younger sister of her own to fill her place--in such fashion that
when at length I spoke to her on the matter, she did not say no."
"No doubt because she was fond of you for yourself, Bes. A woman would
not marry even to please the holy Tanofir."
"Oh! Master," he replied in a new voice, a very sad voice, "I would
that I could think so. But look at me, a misshapen dwarf, accursed
from birth. Could a fair lady like this Karema wed such a one for his
"Well, Bes, there might be other reasons besides the holy Tanofir," I
"Master, there were no other reasons, unless the Cup, when it is
awake, remembers what it has held in trance, which I do not believe. I
wooed her as I was, not telling her that I am also King of the
Ethiopians, or any more than I seem to be. Moreover the holy Tanofir
told her nothing, for he swore as much to me and he does not lie."
"And what did she say to you, Bes?" I asked, for I was curious.
"She lied fast enough, Master. She said--well, what she said when
first we met her, that there was more in me than the eye saw and that
she who had lived so much with spirits looked to the spirit rather
than to the flesh, and that dwarf or no she loved me and desired
nothing better than to marry me and be my true and faithful wife and
helpmeet. She lied so well that once or twice almost I believed her.
At any rate I took her at her word, not altogether for myself, believe
me, Master, but because without doubt what the holy Tanofir has shown
us will come to pass, and it is necessary to you that I should be
"You married her to help me, Bes?"
"That is so, Master--after all, but a little thing, seeing that she is
beautiful, well born and very pleasant, and I am fond of her. Also I
do her no wrong for she has bought more than she bargained for, and if
she has any that are not dwarfs, her children may be kings. I do not
think," he added reflectively, "that even the faithful Ethiopians
could accept a second dwarf as their king. One is very well for a
change, but not two or three. The stomach of a tall people would turn
I took Bes's hand and pressed it, understanding the depth of his love
and sacrifice. Also some spirit--doubtless it came from the holy
Tanofir--moved me to say,
"Be comforted, Bes, for I am sure of this. Your children will be
strong and straight and tall, more so than any of their forefathers
that went before them."
This indeed proved to be the case, for their father's deformity was
but an accident, not born in his blood.
"Those are good-omened words, Master, for which I thank you, though
the holy Tanofir said the like when he wed us with the sacred words
this morning and gave us his blessing, endowing my wife with certain
gifts of secret wisdom which he said would be of use to her and me."
"Where is she now, Bes?"
"With the holy Tanofir, Master, until I fetch her, training her
younger sister to be a diviner's worthy Cup. Only perhaps I shall
never send, seeing that I think there will be fighting soon."
"Yes, Bes, but being newly married you will do well to leave it to
"No, no, Master. Battle is better than wives. Moreover, could you
think that I would leave you to stand alone in the fray? Why if I did
and harm came to you I should die of shame or hang myself and then
Karema would never be a queen. So both her trades would be gone, since
after marriage she cannot be a Cup, and her heart would break. But
here are the gates of Memphis, so we will forget love and think of
An hour later I and my mother, the lady Tiu, stood in the banqueting
hall of the palace with many others, and learned that the Satrap
Idernes and his escort had reached Memphis and would be present at the
feast. A while later trumpets blew and a glittering procession entered
the hall. At the head of it was Peroa who led Idernes by the hand.
This Eastern was a big, strong man with tired and anxious eyes, such
as I had noted were common among the servants of the Great King who
from day to day never knew whether they would fill a Satrapy or a
grave. He was clad in gorgeous silks and wore a cap upon his head in
which shone a jewel, but beneath his robes I caught the glint of mail.
As he came into the hall and noted the number and quality of the
guests and the stir and the expectant look upon their faces, he
started as though he were afraid, but recovering himself, murmured
some courteous words to his host and advanced towards the seat of
honour which was pointed out to him upon the Prince's right. After
these two followed the wife of Peroa with her son and daughters. Then,
walking alone in token of her high rank, appeared Amada, the Royal
Lady of Egypt, wonderfully arrayed. Now, however, she wore no emblems
of royalty, either because it was not thought wise that these should
be shown in the presence of the Satrap, or because she was about to be
given in marriage to one who was not royal. Indeed, as I noted with
joy, her only ornament was the rope of rose-hued pearls which were
arranged in a double row upon her breast.
She searched me out with her eyes, smiled, touching the pearls with
her finger, and passed on to her place next to the daughters of Peroa,
at one end of the head table which was shaped like a horse's hoof.
After her came the nobles who had accompanied Idernes, grave Eastern
men. One of these, a tall captain with eyes like a hawk, seemed
familiar to me. Nor was I mistaken, for Bes, who stood behind me and
whose business it would be to wait on me at the feast, whispered in my
"Note that man. He was present when you were brought before the Great
King from the boat and saw and heard all that passed."
"Then I wish he were absent now," I whispered back, for at the words a
sudden fear shot through me, of what I could not say.
By degrees all were seated in their appointed places. Mine was by that
of my mother at a long table that stood as it were across the ends of
the high table but at a little distance from them, so that I was
almost opposite to Peroa and Idernes and could see Amada, although she
was too far away for me to be able to speak to her.
The feast began and at first was somewhat heavy and silent, since,
save for the talk of courtesy, none spoke much. At length wine,
whereof I noted that Idernes drank a good deal, as did his escort, but
Peroa and the Egyptians little, loosened men's tongues and they grew
merrier. For it was the custom of the people of the Great King to
discuss both private and public business when full of strong drink,
but of the Egyptians when they were quite sober. This was well known
to Peroa and many of us, especially to myself who had been among them,
which was one of the reasons why Idernes had been asked to meet us at
a feast, where we might have the advantage of him in debate.
Presently the Satrap noted the splendid cup from which he drank and
asked some question concerning it of the hawk-eyed noble of whom I
have spoken. When it had been answered he said in a voice loud enough
for me to overhear,
"Tell me, O Prince Peroa, was this cup ever that of the Great King
which it so much resembles?"
"So I understand, O Idernes," answered Peroa. "That is, until it
became mine by gift from the lord Shabaka, who received it from the
An expression of horror appeared upon the face of the Satrap and upon
those of his nobles.
"Surely," he answered, "this Shabaka must hold the King's favours
lightly if he passes them on thus to the first-comer. At the least,
let not the vessel which has been hallowed by the lips of the King of
kings be dishonoured by the humblest of his servants. I pray you, O
Prince, that I may be given another cup."
So a new goblet was brought to him, Peroa trying to pass the matter
off as a jest by appealing to me to tell the story of the cup. Then I
said while all listened,
"O Prince, the most high Satrap is mistaken. The King of kings did not
give me the cup, I bought it from him in exchange for a certain famous
bow, and therefore held it not wrong to pass it on to you, my lord."
Idernes made no answer and seemed to forget the matter.
A while later, however, his eye fell upon Amada and the rose-hued
pearls she wore, and again he asked a question of the hawk-eyed
captain, then said,
"Think me not discourteous, O Prince, if I seem to look upon yonder
lovely lady which in our country, where women do not appear in public,
we should think it an insult to do. But on her fair breast I see
certain pearls like to some that are known throughout the world, which
for many years have been worn by those who sit upon the throne of the
East. I would ask if they are the same, or others?"
"I do not know, O Idernes," answered Peroa; "I only know that the lord
Shabaka brought them from the East. Inquire of him, if it be your
"Shabaka again----" began Idernes, but I cut him short, saying,
"Yes, O Satrap, Shabaka again. I won those pearls in a bet from the
Great King, and with them a certain weight of gold. This I think you
knew before, since your messenger of a while ago was whipped for
trying to steal them, which under the rods he said he did by command,
To this bold speech Idernes made no answer. Only his captains frowned
and many of the Egyptians murmured approval.
After this the feast went on without further incident for a while, the
Easterns always drinking more wine, till at length the tables were
cleared and all of the meaner sort departed from the hall, save the
butlers and the personal servants such as Bes, who stood behind the
seats of their masters. There came a silence such as precedes the
bursting of a storm, and in the midst of it Idernes spoke, somewhat
"I did not come here, O Peroa," he said, "from the seat of government
at Sais to eat your meats and drink your wine. I came to speak of high
matters with you."
"It is so, O Satrap," answered Peroa. "And now what may be your will?
Would you retire to discuss them with me and my Councillors?"
"Where is the need, O Peroa, seeing that I have naught to say which
may not be heard by all?"
"As it pleases you. Speak on, O Satrap."
"I have been summoned here, Prince Peroa, by a writing under what
seems to be the Signet of signets--the ancient White Seal that for
generations unknown has been worn by the forefathers of the King of
kings. Where is this Signet?"
"Here," said the Prince, opening his robe. "Look on it, Satrap, and
let your lords look, but let none of you dare to touch it."
Idernes looked long and earnestly, and so did some of his people,
especially the lord with the hawk eyes. Then they stared at each other
bewildered and whispered together.
"It seems to be the very Seal--the White Seal itself!" exclaimed
Idernes at length. "Tell me now, Peroa. How came this sacred thing
that dwells in the East hither into Egypt?"
"The lord Shabaka brought it to me with certain letters from the Great
King, O Satrap."
"Shabaka for the third time, by the holy Fire!" cried Idernes. "He
brought the cup; he brought the famous pearls; he brought the gold,
and he brought the Signet of signets. What is there then that he did
not bring? Perchance he has the person of the King of kings himself in
"Not that, O Satrap, only the commands of the King of kings which are
prepared ready to deliver to you under the White Seal that you
"And what may they be, Egyptian?"
"This, O Satrap: That you and all the army which you have brought with
you retire to Sais and thence out of Egypt as quickly as you may, or
pay for disobedience with your lives."
Now Idernes and his captains gasped.
"Why this is rebellion!" he said.
"No, O Satrap, only the command of the Great King given under the
White Seal," and drawing a roll from his breast, Peroa laid it on his
brow and cast it down before Idernes, adding,
"Obey the writing and the Signet, or by virtue of my commission, as
soon as you are returned to your army and your safe-conduct is
expired, I fall upon you and destroy you."
Idernes looked about him like a wolf in a trap, then asked,
"Do you mean to murder me here?"
"Not so," answered Peroa, "for you have our safe-conduct and Egyptians
are honourable men. But you are dismissed your office and ordered to
Idernes thought a little while, then said,
"If I leave Egypt, there is at least one whom I am commanded to take
with me under orders and writings that you will not dispute, a maiden
named Amada whom the Great King would number among his women. I am
told it is she who sits yonder--a jewel indeed, fair as the pearls
upon her breast which thus will return into the King's keeping. Let
her be handed over, for she rides with me at once."
Now in the midst of an intense silence Peroa answered,
"Amada, the Royal Lady of Egypt, cannot be sent to dwell in the House
of Women of the Great King without the consent of the lord Shabaka,
whose she is."
"Shabaka for the fourth time!" said Idernes, glaring at me. "Then let
Shabaka come too. Or his head in a basket will suffice, since that
will save trouble afterwards, also some pain to Shabaka. Why, now I
remember. It was this very Shabaka whom the Great King condemned to
death by the boat for a crime against his Majesty, and who bought his
life by promising to deliver to him the fairest and most learned woman
in the world--the lady Amada of Egypt. And thus does the knave keep
Now I leapt to my feet, as did most of those present. Only Amada kept
her seat and looked at me.
"You lie!" I cried, "and were it not for your safe-conduct I would
kill you for the lie."
"I lie, do I?" sneered Idernes. "Speak then, you who were present, and
tell this noble company whether I lie," and he pointed to the hawk-
"He does not lie," said the Captain. "I was in the Court of the Great
King and heard yonder Shabaka purchase pardon by promising to hand
over his cousin, the lady Amada, to the King. The pearls were
entrusted to him as a gift to her and I see she wears them. The gold
also of which mention has been made was to provide for her journey in
state to the East, or so I heard. The cup was his guerdon, also a sum
for his own purse."
"It is false," I shouted. "The name of Amada slipped my lips by chance
"So it slipped your lips by chance, did it?" sneered Idernes. "Now, if
you are wise, you will suffer the lady Amada to slip your hand, and
not by chance. But let us have done with this cunning knave. Prince,
will you hand over yonder fair woman, or will you not?"
"Satrap, I will not," answered Peroa. "The demand is an insult put
forward to force us to rebellion, since there is no man in Egypt who
will not be ready to die in defence of the Royal Lady of Egypt."
This statement was received with a shout of applause by every Egyptian
in the hall. Idernes waited until it had died away, then said,
"Prince Peroa and Egyptians, you have conveyed to me certain commands
sealed with the Signet of signets, which I think was stolen by yonder
Shabaka. Now hearken; until this matter is made clear I will obey
those commands thus far. I will return with my army to Sais and there
wait until I have received the orders of the Great King, after report
made to him. If so much as an arrow is shot at us on our march, it
will be open rebellion, as the price of which Egypt shall be crushed
as she was never crushed before, and every one of you here present
shall lose his head, save only the lady Amada who is the property of
the Great King. Now I thank you for your hospitality and demand that
you escort me and those with me back to my camp, since it seems that
here we are in the midst of enemies."
"Before you go, Idernes," I shouted, "know that you and your lying
captain shall pay with your lives for your slander on me."
"Many will pay with their lives for this night's work, O thief of
pearls and seals," answered the Satrap, and turning, left the hall
with his company.
Now I searched for Amada, but she also had gone with the ladies of
Peroa's household who feared lest the feast should end in blows and
bloodshed, also lest she should be snatched away. Indeed of all the
women in the hall, only my mother remained.
"Search out the lady Amada," I said to her, "and tell her the truth."
"Yes, my son," she answered thoughtfully; "but what is the truth? I
understood it was Bes who first gave the name of the lady Amada to the
Great King. Now we learn from your own lips that it was you. Wise
would you have been, my son, if you had bitten out your tongue before
you said it, since this is a matter that any woman may well
"Her name was surprised out of me, Mother. It was Bes who spoke to the
King of the beauty of a certain lady of Egypt."
"And I think, my son, it was Bes who told Peroa and his guests that he
and not you had given the King her name, which you do not seem to have
denied. Well, doubtless both of you are to blame for foolishness, no
more, since well I know that you would have died ten times over rather
than buy your life at the price of the honour of the Lady of Egypt.
This I will say to her as soon as I may, praying that it may not be
too late, and afterwards you shall tell me everything, which you would
have done well to do at first, if Bes, as I think, had not been over
cunning after the fashion of black people, and counselled you
otherwise. See, Peroa calls you and I must go, for there are greater
matters afoot than that of who let slip the name of the lady Amada to
the King of kings."
So she went and there followed a swift council of war, the question
being whether we were to strike at the Satrap's army or to allow it to
retreat to Sais. In my turn I was asked for my judgment of the issue,
"Strike and at once, since we cannot hope to storm Sais, which is far
away. Moreover such strength as we have is now gathered and if it is
idle and perhaps unpaid, will disperse again. But if we can destroy
Idernes and his army, it will be long before the King of kings, who is
sending all his multitudes against the Greeks, can gather another, and
during this time Egypt may again become a nation and able to protect
herself under Peroa her own Pharaoh."
In the end I, and those who thought like me, prevailed, so that before
the dawn I was sailing down the Nile with the fleet, having two
thousand men under my command. Also I took with me the six hunters
whom I had won from the Great King, since I knew them to be faithful,
and thought that their knowledge of the Easterns and their ways might
be of service. Our orders were to hold a certain neck of land between
the river and the hills where the army of Idernes must pass, until
Peroa and all his strength could attack him from behind.
Four hours later, the wind being very favourable to us, we reached
that place and there took up our station and having made all as ready
as we could, rested.
In the early afternoon Bes awakened me from the heavy sleep into which
I had fallen, and pointed to the south. I looked and through the
desert haze saw the chariots of Idernes advancing in ordered ranks,
and after them the masses of his footmen.
Now we had no chariots, only archers, and two regiments armed with
long spears and swords. Also the sailors on the boats had their slings
and throwing javelins. Lastly the ground was in our favour since it
sloped upwards and the space between the river and the hills was
narrow, somewhat boggy too after the inundation of the Nile, which
meant that the chariots must advance in a column and could not gather
sufficient speed to sweep over us.
Idernes and his captains noted all this also, and halted. Then they
sent a herald forward to ask who we were and to command us in the name
of the Great King to make way for the army of the Great King.
I answered that we were Egyptians, ordered by Peroa to hold the road
against the Satrap who had done affront to Egypt by demanding that its
Royal Lady should be given over to him to be sent to the East as a
woman-slave, and that if the Satrap wished to clear a road, he could
come and do so. Or if it pleased him he could go back towards Memphis,
or stay where he was, since we did not wish to strike the first blow.
I added this,
"I who speak on behalf of the Prince Peroa, am the lord Shabaka, that
same man whom but last night the Satrap and a certain captain of his
named a liar. Now the Easterns are brave men and we of Egypt have
always heard that among them none is braver than Idernes who gained
his advancement through courage and skill in war. Let him therefore
come out together with the lord who named me a liar, armed with swords
only, and I, who being a liar must also be a coward, together with my
servant, a black dwarf, will meet them man to man in the sight of both
the armies, and fight them to the death. Or if it pleases Idernes
better, let him not come and I will seek him and kill him in the
battle, or by him be killed."
The herald, having taken stock of me and of Bes at whom he laughed,
returned with the message.
"Will he come, think you, Master?" asked Bes.
"Mayhap," I answered, "since it is a shame for an Eastern to refuse a
challenge from any man whom he calls barbarian, and if he did so it
might cost him his life afterwards at the hands of the Great King.
Also if he should fall there are others to take his command, but none
who can wipe away the stain upon his honour."
"Yes," said Bes; "also they will think me a dwarf of no account, which
makes the task of killing you easy. Well, they shall see."
Now when I sent this challenge I had more in my mind than a desire to
avenge myself upon Idernes and his captain for the public shame they
had put upon me. I wished to delay the attack of their host upon our
little band and give time for the army of Peroa to come up behind.
Moreover, if I fell it did not greatly matter, except as an omen,
seeing that I had good officers under me who knew all my plans.
We saw the herald reach the Satrap's army and after a while return
towards us again, which made us think my challenge had been refused,
especially as with him was an officer who, I took it, was sent to spy
out our strength. But this was not so, for the man said,
"The Satrap Idernes has sworn by the Great King to kill the thief of
the Signet and send his head to the Great King, and fears that if he
waits to meet him in battle, he may slip away. Therefore he is minded
to accept your challenge, O Shabaka, and put an end to you, and indeed
under the laws of the East he may not refuse. But a noble of the Great
King may not fight against a black slave save with a whip, so how can
that noble accept the challenge of the dwarf Bes?"
"Quite well," answered Bes, "seeing that I am no slave but a free
citizen of Egypt. Moreover, in my own country of Ethiopia I am of
royal blood. Lastly, tell the man this, that if he does not come and
afterwards falls into my hands or into those of the lord Shabaka, he
who talks of whips shall be scourged with them till his life creeps
out from between his bare bones."
Thus spoke Bes, rolling his great eyes and looking so terrible that
the herald and the officer fell back a step or two. Then I told them
that if my offer did not please them, I myself would fight, first
Idernes and then the noble. So they returned.
The end of it was that we saw Idernes and his captain advancing,
followed by a guard of ten men. Then after I had explained all things
to my officers, I also advanced with Bes, followed by a guard of ten
picked men. We met between the armies on a little sandy plain at the
foot of the rise and there followed talk between the captains of our
guards as to arms and so forth, but we four said nothing to each
other, since the time for words was past. Only Bes and I sat down upon
the sand and spoke a little together of Amada and Karema and of how
they would receive the news of our victory or deaths.
"It does not much matter, Master," said Bes at last, "seeing that if
we die we shall never know, and if we live we shall learn for
At length all was arranged and we stood up to face each other, the
four of us being armed in the same way. For as did Idernes and the
hawk-eyed lord, Bes and I wore shirts of mail and helms, those that we
had brought with us from the East. For weapons we had short and heavy
swords, small shields and knives at our girdles.
"Look your last upon the sun, Thieves," mocked Idernes, "for when you
see it again, it shall be with blind eyes from the points of spears
fastened to the gateway pillars of the Great King's palace."
"Liars you have lived and liars you shall die," shouted Bes, but I
Now the agreement was that when the word had been given Idernes and I,
and the noble and Bes, should fight together, but if they killed one
of us, or we killed one of them, the two who survived might fall
together on the remaining man. Remembering this, as he told me
afterwards, at the signal Bes leapt forward like a flash with working
face and foam upon his lips, and before ever I could come to Idernes,
how I know not, had received the blow of the Eastern lord upon his
shield and without striking back, had gripped him in his long arms and
wrapped him round with his bowed legs. In an instant they were on the
ground, Bes uppermost, and I heard the sound of blow upon blow struck
with knife or sword, I knew not which, upon the Eastern's mail,
followed by a shout of victory from the Egyptians which told me that
Bes had slain him.
Now Idernes and I were smiting at each other. He was a taller and a
bigger man than myself, but older and one who had lived too well.
Therefore I thought it wise to keep him at a distance and tire him,
which I did by retreating and catching his sword-cuts on my shield,
only smiting back now and again.
"He runs! He runs!" shouted the Easterns. "O Idernes, beware the
"Stand away, Bes," I called; "this is my game," and he obeyed, as
often he had done when we were hunting together.
Now a shrewd blow from Idernes cut through my helm and staggered me,
and another before I could recover myself, shore the shield from my
hand, whereat the Easterns shouted more loudly than before. Then fear
of defeat entered into me and made me mad, for this Satrap was a great
fighter. With a shout of "Egypt!" I went at him like a wounded lion
and soon it was his turn to stagger back. But alas! I struck too hard,
for my sword snapped upon his mail.
"The knife!" screamed Bes; "the knife!"
I hurled the sword hilt in the Satrap's face and drew the dagger from
my belt. Then I ran in beneath his guard and stabbed and stabbed and
stabbed. He gripped me and we went down side by side, rolling over
each other. The gods know how it ended, for things were growing dim to
me when some thrust of mine found a rent in his mail made when the
sword broke and he became weak. His spirit weakened also, for he
"Spare my life, Egyptian, and my treasure is yours. I swear it by the
"Not for all the treasure in the world, Slanderer," I panted back and
drove the dagger home to the hilt thrice, until he died. Then I
staggered to my feet, and when the armies saw that it was I who rose
while Idernes lay still a roar of triumph went up from the Egyptians,
answered by a roar of rage from the Easterns.
With a cry of "Well done, Master!" Bes leapt upon the dead man and
hewed his head from him, as already he had served the hawk-eyed noble.
Then gripping one head in each hand he held them up for the Easterns
"Men of the Great King," I said, "bear us witness that we have fought
fairly, man to man, when we need not have done so."
The ten of the Satrap's guard stood silent, but my own shouted,
"Back, Shabaka! The Easterns charge!"
I looked and saw them coming like waves of steel, then supported by my
men and preceded by Bes who danced in front shaking the severed heads,
I ran back to my own ranks where one gave me wine to drink and threw
water over my hurts which were but slight. Scarcely was it done when
the battle closed in and soon in it I forgot the deaths of Idernes and
the Eastern liar.
AMADA RETURNS TO ISIS
We fought a very terrible fight that evening there by the banks of
Nile. Our position was good, but we were outnumbered by four or five
to one, and the Easterns and their mercenaries were mad at the death
of the Satrap by my hand. Time upon time they came on furiously,
charging up the slope like wild bulls. For the most part we relied
upon our archers to drive them back, since our half-trained troops
could scarcely hope to stand against the onset of veterans disciplined
in war. So taking cover behind the rocks we rained arrows on them,
shooting the horses in the chariots, and when these were down, pouring
our shafts upon the footmen behind. Myself I took my great black bow
and drew it thrice, and each time I saw a noble fall, for no mail
could withstand the arrows which it sent, and of that art I was a
master. None in Egypt could shoot so far or so straight as I did, save
perhaps Peroa himself. I had no time to do more since always I must be
moving up and down the line encouraging my men.
Three times we drove them back, after which they grew cunning. Ceasing
from a direct onslaught and keeping what remained of their chariots in
reserve, they sent one body of men to climb along the slope of the
hill where the rocks gave them cover from our arrows, and another to
creep through the reeds and growing crops upon the bank of the river
where we could not see to shoot them well, although the slingers in
the ships did them some damage.
Thus they attacked us on either flank, and while we were thus engaged
their centre made a charge. Then came the bitterest of the fighting
for now the bows were useless, and it was sword against sword and
spear against spear. Once we broke and I thought that they were
through. But I led a charge against them and drove them back a little
way. Still the issue was doubtful till I saw Bes rush past me grinning
and leaping, and with him a small body of Greeks whom we held in
reserve, and I think that the sight of the terrible dwarf whom they
thought a devil, frightened the Easterns more than did the Greeks.
At any rate, shouting out something about an evil spirit whom the
Egyptians worshipped, by which I suppose they meant that god after
whom Bes was named, they retreated, leaving many dead but taking their
wounded with them, for they were unbroken.
At the foot of the slope they reformed and took counsel, then sat down
out of bowshot as though to rest. Now I guessed their plan. It was to
wait till night closed in, which would be soon for the sun was
sinking, and then, when we could not see to shoot, either rush through
us by the weight of numbers, or march back to where the cliffs were
lower and climb them, thus passing us on the higher open land.
Now we also took counsel, though little came of it, since we did not
know what to do. We were too few to attack so great an army, nor if we
climbed the cliffs could we hope to withstand them in the desert
sands, or to hold our own against them if they charged in the dark. If
this happened it seemed that all we could do would be to fight as long
as we could, after which the survivors of us must take refuge on our
boats. So it came to this, that we should lose the battle and the
greater part of the Easterns would win back to Sais, unless indeed the
main army under Peroa came to our aid.
Whilst we talked I caused the wounded to be carried to the ships
before it grew too dark to move them. Bes went with them. Presently he
returned, running swiftly.
"Master," he said, "the evening wind is blowing strong and stirs the
sand, but from a mast-head through it I caught sight of Peroa's
banners. The army comes round the bend of the river not four furlongs
away. Now charge and those Easterns will be caught between the hammer
and the stone, for while they are meeting us they will not look
So I went down the lines of our little force telling them the good
news and showing them my plan. They listened and understood. We formed
up, those who were left of us, not more than a thousand men perhaps,
and advanced. The Easterns laughed when they saw us coming down the
slope, for they thought that we were mad and that they would kill us
every one, believing as they did that Peroa had no other army. When we
were within bowshot we began to shoot, though sparingly, for but few
arrows were left. Galled by our archery they marshalled their ranks to
charge us again. With a shout we leapt forward to meet them, for now
from the higher ground I saw the chariots of Peroa rushing to our
We met, we fought. Surely there had been no such fighting since the
days of Thotmes and Rameses the Great. Still they drove us back till
unseen and unsuspected the chariots and the footmen of Peroa broke on
them from behind, broke on them like a desert storm. They gave, they
fled this way and that, some to the banks of the Nile, some to the
hills. By the light of the setting sun we finished it and ere the
darkness closed in the Great King's army was destroyed, save for the
fugitives whom we hunted down next day.
Yes, in that battle perished ten thousand of the Easterns and their
mercenaries, and upon its field at dawn we crowned Peroa Pharaoh of
Egypt, and he named me the chief general of his army. There, too, fell
over a thousand of my men and among them those six hunters whom I had
won in the wager with the Great King and brought with me from the
East. Throughout the fray they served me as a bodyguard, fighting
furiously, who knew that they could hope for no mercy from their own
people. One by one they were slain, the last two of them in the charge
at sunset. Well, they were brave and faithful to me, so peace be on
their spirits. Better to die thus than in the den of lions.
In triumph we returned to Memphis, I bringing in the rear-guard and
the spoils. Before Pharaoh and I parted a messenger brought me more
good news. Sure tidings had come that the King of kings had been
driven by revolt in his dominions to embark upon a mighty war with
Syria, Greece and Cyprus and other half-conquered countries, in which,
doubtless by agreement, the fires of insurrection had suddenly burned
up. Also already Peroa's messengers had departed to tell them of what
was passing on the Nile.
"If this be true," said Peroa when he had heard all, "the Great King
will have no new army to spare for Egypt."
"It is so, Pharaoh," I answered. "Yet I think he will conquer in this
great war and that within two years you must be prepared to meet him
face to face."
"Two years are long, Shabaka, and in them, by your help, much may be
But as it chanced he was destined to be robbed of that help, and this
by the work of Woman the destroyer.
It happened thus. Amidst great rejoicings Pharaoh reached Memphis and
in the vast temple of Amen laid down our spoils in the presence of the
god, thousands of right hands hewn from the fallen, thousands of
swords and other weapons and tens of chariots, together with much
treasure of which a portion was given to the god. The high priests
blessed us in the name of Amen and of the other gods; the people
blessed us and threw flowers in our path; all the land rejoiced
because once more it was free.
There too that day in the temple with ancient form and ceremonial
Peroa was crowned Pharaoh of Egypt. Sceptres and jewels that had been
hid for generations were brought out by those who knew the secret of
their hiding-places; the crowns that had been worn by old Pharaohs,
were set upon his head; yes, the double crown of the Upper and the
Lower Land. Thus in a Memphis mad with joy at the casting off of the
foreign yoke, he was anointed the first of a new dynasty, and with him
I too received honours, for the story of the slaying of Idernes at my
hands and of how I held the pass had gone abroad, so that next to
Pharaoh, I was looked upon as the greatest man in Egypt. Nor was Bes
forgotten, since many of the common people thought that he was a
spirit in the form of a dwarf whom the gods had sent to aid us with
his strength and cunning. Indeed at the close of the ceremony voices
cried out in the multitude of watchers, demanding that I who was to
marry the Royal Lady of Egypt should be named next in succession to
The Pharaoh heard and glanced first at his son and then at me,
doubtfully, whereon, covered with confusion, I slipped away.
The portico of the temple was deserted, since all, even the guards,
had crowded into the vast court to watch the coronation. Only in the
shadow, seated against the pedestal of one of the two colossal statues
in front of the outer pylon gate and looking very small beneath its
greatness, was a man wrapped in a dark cloak whom noting vaguely I
took to be a beggar. As I passed him, he plucked at my robe, and I
stopped to search for something to give to him but could find naught.
"I have nothing, Father," I said laughing, "except the gold hilt of my
"Do not part with that, Son," answered a deep voice, "for I think you
will need it before all is over."
Then while I stared at him he threw back his hood and I saw that
beneath was the ancient withered face and the long white beard of my
great-uncle, the holy Tanofir, the hermit and magician.
"Great things happen yonder, Shabaka. So great that I have come from
my sepulchre to see, or rather, being blind, to listen, who thrice in
my life days have known the like before," and he pointed to the
glittering throng in the court within. "Yes," he went on, "I have seen
Pharaohs crowned and Pharaohs die--one of them at the hand of a
conqueror. What will happen to this Pharaoh, think you, Shabaka?"
"You should be better able to answer that question than I, who am no
prophet, my Uncle."
"How, my Nephew, seeing that your dwarf has borne away my magic Cup? I
do not grudge her to him for he is a brave dwarf and clever, who may
yet prove a good prop to you, as he has done before, and to Egypt
also. But she has gone and the new vessel is not yet shaped to my
liking. So how can I answer?"
"Out of the store of wisdom gathered in your breast."
"So! my Nephew. Well, my store of wisdom tells me that feasts are
sometimes followed by want and rejoicings by sorrow and victories by
defeat, and splendid sins by repentance and slow climbing back to good
again. Also that you will soon take a long journey. Where is the Royal
Lady Amada? I did not hear her step among those who passed in to the
Crowning. But even my hearing has grown somewhat weak of late, except
in the silence of the night, Shabaka."
"I do not know, my Uncle, who have only been in Memphis one hour. But
what do you mean? Doubtless she prepares herself for the feast where I
shall meet her."
"Doubtless. Tell me, what passes at the temple of Isis? As I crept
past the pylon feeling my way with my beggar's staff, I thought--but
how can you know who have only been in Memphis an hour? Yet surely I
heard voices just now calling out that you, Shabaka, should be named
as the next successor to the throne of Egypt. Was it so?"
"Yes, holy Tanofir. That is why I have left who was vexed and am sworn
to seek no such honour, which indeed I do not desire."
"Just so, Nephew. Yet gifts have a way of coming to those who do not
desire them and the last vision that I saw before my Cup left me, or
rather that she saw, was of you wearing the Double Crown. She said
that you looked very well in it, Shabaka. But now begone, for hark,
here comes the procession with the new-anointed Pharaoh whose royal
robe you won for him yonder in the pass, when you smote down Idernes
and held his legions. Oh! it was well done and my new Cup, though
faulty, was good enough to show me all. I felt proud of you, Shabaka,
but begone, begone! 'A gift for the poor old beggar! A gift, my lords,
for the poor blind beggar who has had none since the last Pharaoh was
crowned in Egypt and finds it hard to live on memories!'"
At our house I found my mother just returned from the Coronation, but
Bes I did not find and guessed that he had slipped away to meet his
new-made wife, Karema. My mother embraced me and blessed me, making
much of me and my deeds in the battle; also she doctored such small
hurts as I had. I put the matter by as shortly as I could and asked
her if she had seen aught of Amada. She answered that she had neither
seen nor heard of her which I was sure she thought strange, as she
began to talk quickly of other things. I said to her what I had said
to the holy Tanofir, that doubtless she was making ready for the feast
since I could not find her at the Crowning.
"Or saying good-bye to the goddess," answered my mother nodding,
"since there are some who find it even harder to fall from heaven to
earth than to climb from earth to heaven, and after all you are but a
man, my son."
Then she slipped away to attire herself, leaving me wondering, because
my mother was shrewd and never spoke at random.
There was the holy Tanofir, too, with his talk about the temple of
Isis, and he also did not speak at random. Oh! now I felt as I had
done when the shadow of the palm-tree fell on me yonder in the palace
The mood passed for my blood still tingled with the glory of that
great fight, and my heart shut its doors to sadness, knowing as I did,
that I was the most praised man in Memphis that day. Indeed had I not,
I should have learned it when with my mother I entered the great
banqueting-hall of the palace somewhat late, for she was long in
The first thing I saw there was Bes gorgeously arrayed in Eastern
silks that he had plundered from the Satrap's tent, standing on a
table so that all might see and hear him, and holding aloft in one
hand the grisly head of Idernes and in the other that of the hawk-eyed
noble whom he had slain, while in his thick, guttural voice he told
the tale of that great fray. Catching sight of me, he called aloud,
"See! Here comes the man! Here comes the hero to whom Egypt owes its
liberty and Pharaoh his crown."
Thereon all the company and the soldiers and servants who were
gathered about the door began to shout and acclaim me, till I wished
that I could vanish away as the holy Tanofir was said to be able to
do. Since this was impossible I rushed at Bes who leapt from the table
like a monkey and, still waving the heads and talking, slipped from
the hall, I know not how, followed by the loud laughter of the guests.
Then heralds announced the coming of Pharaoh and all grew silent. He
and his company entered with pomp and we, his subjects, prostrated
ourselves in the ancient fashion.
"Rise, my guests," he cried. "Rise, my people. Above all do you rise,
Shabaka, my beloved cousin, to whom Egypt and I owe so much."
So we rose and I took my seat in a place of honour having my mother at
my side, and looked about me for Amada, but in vain. There was the
carven chair upon which she should have been among those of the
princesses, but it was empty. At first I thought that she was late,
but when time went by and she did not appear, I asked if she were ill,
a question that none seemed able to answer.
The feast went on with all the ancient ceremonies that attended the
crowning of a Pharaoh of Egypt, since there were old men who
remembered these, also the scribes and priests had them written in
I took no heed of them and will not set them down. At length Pharaoh
pledged his subjects, and his subjects pledged Pharaoh. Then the doors
were opened and through them came a company of white-robed, shaven
priests bearing on a bier the body of a dead man wrapped in his mummy-
cloths. At first some laughed for this rite had not been performed in
Egypt since she passed into the hands of the Great Kings of the East
and therefore was strange to them. Then they grew silent since after
all it was solemn to see those death-bearing priests flitting in and
out between the great columns, now seen and now lost in the shadows,
and to listen to their funeral chants.
In the hush my mother whispered to me that this body was that of the
last Pharaoh of Egypt brought from his tomb, but whether this were so
I cannot say for certain. At length they brought the mummy which was
crowned with a snake-headed circlet of the royal /urĉus/ and still
draped with withered funeral wreaths, and stood it on its feet
opposite to Peroa just behind and between my mother and me in such a
fashion that it cut off the light from us.
The faint and heavy smell of the embalmer's spices struck upon my
nostrils, a dead flower from the chaplets fell upon my head and,
glancing over my shoulder, I saw the painted or enamelled eyes in the
gilded mask staring at me. The thing filled me with fear, I knew not
of what. Not of death, surely, for that I had faced a score of times
of late and thought nothing of it. Indeed I am not sure that it was
fear I felt, but rather a deep sense of the vanity of all things. It
seemed to come home to me--Shabaka or Allan Quatermain, for in my
dream the inspiration or whatever it might be, struck through the
spirit that animated both of us--as it had never done before, that
everything is /nothing/, that victory and love and even life itself
have no meaning; that naught really exists save the soul of man and
God, of whom perchance that soul is a part sent forth for a while to
do His work through good and ill. The thought lifted me up and yet
crushed me, since for a moment all that makes a man passed away, and I
felt myself standing in utter loneliness, naked before the glory of
God, watched only by the flaming stars that light his throne. Yes, and
at that moment suddenly I learned that all the gods are but one God,
having many shapes and called by many names.
Then I heard the priests saying,
"Pharaoh the Osiris greets Pharaoh the living on the Earth and sends
to him this message--'As I am, so shalt thou be, and where I am, there
thou shalt dwell through all the ages of Eternity.'"
Then Pharaoh the living rose and bowed to Pharaoh the dead and Pharaoh
the dead was taken away back to his Eternal House and I wondered
whether his Ka or his spirit, or whatever is the part of him that
lives on, were watching us and remembering the feasts whereof he had
partaken in his pomp in this pillared hall, as his forefathers had
done before him for hundreds or thousands of years.
Not until the mummy had gone and the last sound of the chanting of the
priests had died, did the hearts of the feasters grow light again. But
soon they forgot, as men alive always forget death and those whom Time
has devoured, for the wine was good and strong and the eyes of the
women were bright and victory had crowned our spears, and for a while
Egypt was once more free.
So it went on till Pharaoh rose and departed, the great gold earrings
in his ears jingling as he walked, and the trumpets sounding before
and after him. I too rose to go with my mother when a messenger came
and bade me wait upon Pharaoh, and with me the dwarf Bes. So we went,
leaving an officer to conduct my mother to our home. As I passed her
she caught me by the sleeve and whispered in my ear,
"My son, whatever chances to you, be brave and remember that the world
holds more than women."
"Yes," I answered, "it holds death and God, or they hold it," though
what put the words into my mind I do not know, since I did not
understand and had no time to ask her meaning.
The messenger led us to the door of Peroa's private chamber, the same
in which I had seen him on my return from the East. Here he bade me
enter, and Bes to wait without. I went in and found two men and a
woman in the chamber, all standing very silent. The men were Pharaoh
who still wore his glorious robe and Double Crown, and the high priest
of Isis clothed in white; the other was the lady Amada also clothed in
the snowy robes of Isis.
At the sight of her thus arrayed my heart stopped and I stood silent
because I could not speak. She too stood silent and I saw that beneath
her thin veil her beautiful face was set and pale as that of an
alabaster statue. Indeed she might have been not a lovely living
woman, but the goddess Isis herself whose symbols she bore about her.
"Shabaka," said Pharaoh at length, "the Royal Lady of Egypt, Amada,
priestess of Isis, has somewhat to say to you."
"Let the Royal Lady of Egypt speak on to her servant and affianced
husband," I answered.
"Count Shabaka, General of the armies," she began in a cold clear
voice like to that of one who repeats a lesson, "learn that you are no
more my affianced husband and that I who am gathered again to Isis the
divine, am no more your affianced wife."
"I do not understand. Will it please you to be more plain?" I said
"I will be more plain, Count Shabaka, more plain than you have been
with me. Since we speak together for the last time it is well that I
should be plain. Hear me. When first you returned from the East, in
yonder hall you told us of certain things that happened to you there.
Then the dwarf your servant took up the tale. He said that he gave my
name to the Great King. I was wroth as well I might be, but even when
I prayed that he should be scourged, you did not deny that it was he
who gave my name to the King, although Pharaoh yonder said that if you
had spoken the name it would have been another matter."
"I had no time," I answered, "for just then the messengers came from
Idernes and afterwards when I sought you you were gone."
"Had you then no time," she asked coldly, "beneath the palms in the
garden of the palace when we were affianced? Oh! there was time in
plenty but it did not please you to tell me that you had bought safety
and great gifts at the price of the honour of the Lady of Egypt whose
love you stole."
"You do not understand!" I exclaimed wildly.
"Forgive me, Shabaka, but I understand very well indeed, since from
your own words I learned at the feast given to Idernes that 'the name
of Amada' slipped your lips by chance and thus came to the ears of the
"The tale that Idernes and his captain told was false, Lady, and for
it Bes and I took their lives with our own hands."
"It had perhaps been better, Shabaka, if you had kept them living that
they might confess that it was false. But doubtless you thought them
safer dead, since dead men cannot speak, and for this reason
challenged them to single combat."
I gasped and could not answer for my mind seemed to leave me, and she
went on in a gentler voice,
"I do not wish to speak angrily to you, my cousin Shabaka, especially
when you have just wrought such great deeds for Egypt. Moreover by the
law I serve I may speak angrily to no man. Know then that on learning
the truth, since I could love none but you according to the flesh and
therefore can never give myself in marriage to another, I sought
refuge in the arms of the goddess whom for your sake I had deserted.
She was pleased to receive me, forgetting my treason. On this very day
for the second time I took the oaths which may no more be broken, and
that I may dwell where I shall never see you more, Pharaoh here has
been pleased, at my request to name me high priestess and prophetess
of Isis and to appoint me as a dwelling-place her temple at Amada
where I was born far away in Upper Egypt. Now all is said and done, so
"All is not said and done," I broke out in fury. "Pharaoh, I ask your
leave to tell the full story of this business of the naming of the
lady Amada to the King of kings, and that in the presence of the dwarf
Bes. Even a slave is allowed to set out his tale before judgment is
passed upon him."
Peroa glanced at Amada who made no sign, then said,
"It is granted, General Shabaka."
So Bes was called into the chamber and having looked about him
curiously, seated himself upon the ground.
"Bes," I said, "you have heard nothing of what has passed." (Here I
was mistaken, for as he told me afterwards he had heard everything
through the door which was not quite closed.) "It is needful, Bes,
that you should repeat truly all that happened at the court of the
King of kings before and after I was brought from the boat."
Bes obeyed, telling the tale very well, so well that all listened
earnestly, without error moreover. When he had finished I also told my
story and how, shaken by all I had gone through and already weak from
the torment of the boat, the name of Amada was surprised from me who
never dreamed that the King would at once make demand of her, and who
would have perished a thousand times rather than such a thing should
happen. I added what I had learned afterwards from our escort, that
this name was already well known to the Great King who meant to make
use of it as a cause of quarrel with Egypt. Further, that he had let
me escape from a death by horrible torments because of some dream that
he had dreamed while he rested before the banquet, in which a god
appeared and told him that it was an evil thing to slay a man because
that man had bested him at a hunting match and one of which heaven
would keep an account. Still because of the law of his land he must
find a public pretext for loosing one whom he had once condemned, and
therefore chose this matter of the lady Amada whom he pretended to
send me to bring to him.
When I had finished, as Amada still remained silent, Pharaoh asked of
Bes how it came about that he told one story on the night of our
return and another on this night.
"Because, O Pharaoh," answered Bes rolling his eyes, "for the first
time in my life I have been just a little too clever and shot my arrow
just a little too far. Hearken, Pharaoh, and Royal Lady, and High
Priest. I knew that my master loves the lady Amada and knew also that
she is quick of tongue and temper, one who readily takes offence even
if thereby she breaks her own heart and so brings her life to ruin,
and with it perchance her country. Therefore, knowing women whom I
have studied in my own land, I saw in this matter just such a cause of
offence as she would lay hold of, and counselled my master to keep
silent as to the story of the naming of her before the King. Some evil
spirit made him listen to this bad counsel, so far at least, that when
I lied as to what had chanced, for which lie the lady Amada prayed
that I might be scourged till my bones broke through the skin, he did
not at once tell all the truth. Nor did he do so afterwards because he
feared that if he did I should in fact be scourged, for my master and
I love each other. Neither of us wishes to see the other scourged,
though such is my lot to-night," and he glanced at Amada. "I have
Then at last Amada spoke.
"Had I known all this story from the first, perhaps I should not have
done what I have done to-day and perhaps I should have forgiven and
forgotten, for in truth even if the dwarf still lies, I believe your
word, O Shabaka, and understand how all came about. But now it is too
late to change. Say, O Priest of the Mother, is it not too late?"
"It is too late," said the priest solemnly, "seeing that if such vows
as yours are broken for the second time, O Prophetess, the curse of
the goddess will pursue you and him for whom they were broken, yes,
through this life and all other lives that perchance may be given to
you upon the earth or elsewhere."
"Pharaoh," I cried in despair, "I made a bond with you. It is recorded
in writing and sealed. I have kept my part of the bond; my treasure
you have spent; your enemies I have slain; your army I have commanded
not so ill. Will you not keep yours and bid the priests release this
lady from her vow and give her to me to whom she was promised? Or must
I believe that you refuse, not because of goddesses and vows, but
because yonder is the Royal Lady of Egypt, the true heiress to the
throne who might perchance bear children, which as prophetess of Isis
she can never do. Yes, because of this and because of certain cries
that came to your ears in the hour of your crowning before Amen-ra and
all the gods?"
Peroa flushed as he heard me and answered,
"You speak roughly, Cousin, and were you any other man I might be
tempted to answer roughly. But I know that you suffer and therefore I
forgive. Nay, you must believe no such things. Rather must you
remember that in this bond of which you speak, it was set down that I
only promised you the lady Amada with her own consent, and this she
"Then, Pharaoh, hearken! To-morrow I leave Egypt for another land,
giving you back your generalship and sheathing the sword that I had
hoped to wield in its defence and yours when the last great day of
trial by battle comes, as come it will. I tell you that I go to return
no more, unless the lady Amada yonder shall summon me back to fight
for her and you, promising herself to me in guerdon."
"That can never be," said Amada.
Then I became aware of another presence in the room, though how and
when it appeared I do not know, but I suppose that it had crept in
while we were lost in talk. At least between me and Pharaoh, crouched
upon the ground, was the figure of a man wrapped in a beggar's cloak.
It threw back the hood and there appeared the ashen face and snowy
beard of the holy Tanofir.
"You know me, Pharaoh," he said in his deep, solemn voice. "I am
Tanofir, the King's son; Tanofir the hermit, Tanofir the seer. I have
heard all that passes, it matters not how and I come to you with a
message, I who read men's hearts. Of vows and goddesses and women I
say nothing. But this I say to you, that if you break the spirit of
your bond and suffer yonder Shabaka to go hence with a bitter heart,
trouble shall come on you. All the Great King's armies did not die
yonder by the banks of Nile, and mayhap one day he will journey to
bury the bones of those who fell, and with them /yours/, O Pharaoh. I
do not think that you will listen to me to-night, and I am sure that
yonder lady, full of the new-fanned flame of the jealous goddess, will
not listen. Still let her take counsel and remember my words: In the
hour of desperate danger let her send to Shabaka and demand his help,
promising in return what he has asked and remembering that if Isis
loves her, that goddess was born upon the Nile and loves Egypt more."
"Too late, too late, /too late!/" wailed Amada
Then she burst into tears and turning fled away with the high priest.
Pharaoh went also leaving me and Bes alone. I looked for the holy
Tanofir to speak with him, but he too was gone.
"It is time to sleep, Master," said Bes, "for all this talk is more
wearisome than any battle. Why! what is this that has your name upon
it?" and he picked a silk-wrapped package from the floor and opened
Within were the priceless rose-hued pearls!
SHABAKA FIGHTS THE CROCODILE
"Where to?" I said to Bes when we were outside the palace, for I was
so broken with grief that I scarcely knew what I did.
"To the house of the lady Tiu, I think, Master, since there you must
make preparations for your start on the morrow, also bid her farewell.
Oh!" he went on in a kind of rapture which afterwards I knew was
feigned though at the time I did not think about it, "Oh! how happy
should you be who now are free from all this woman-coil, with life new
and fresh before you. Reflect, Master, on the hunting we will have
yonder in Ethiopia. No more cares, no more plannings for the welfare
of Egypt, no more persuading of the doubtful to take up arms, no more
desperate battle-ventures with your country's honour on your sword-
point. And if you must see women--well, there are plenty in Ethiopia
who come and go lightly as an evening breeze laden with the odour of
flowers, and never trouble in the morning."
"At any rate /you/ are not free from such coils, Bes," I said and in
the moonlight I saw his great face fall in.
"No, Master, I am tying them about my throat. See, such is the way of
the world, or of the gods that rule the world, I know not which. For
years I have been happy and free, I have enjoyed adventures and
visited strange countries and have gathered learning, till I think I
am the wisest man upon the Nile, at the side of one whom I loved and
holding nothing at risk, except my own life which mattered no more
than that of a gnat dancing in the sun. Now all is changed. I have a
wife whom I love also, more than I can tell you," and he sighed, "but
who still must be looked after and obeyed--yes, obeyed. Further, soon
I shall have a people and a crown to wear, and councillors and affairs
of state, and an ancient religion to support and the Grasshopper
itself knows what besides. The burden has rolled from your back to
mine, Master, making my heart which was so light, heavy, and oh! I
wish it had stopped where it was."
Even then I laughed, sad as I was, for truth lived in the philosophy
"Master," he went on in a changed voice, "I have been a fool and my
folly has worked you ill. Forgive me since I acted for the best, only
until the end no one ever knows what is the best. Now here is the
house and I go to meet my wife and to make certain arrangements. By
dawn perhaps you will be ready to start to Ethiopia."
"Do you really desire that I should accompany you there, Bes?"
"Certainly, Master. That is unless you should desire that I accompany
you somewhere else instead, by sea southward for instance. If so, I do
not know that I would refuse, since Ethiopia will not run away and
there is much of the world that I should still like to visit. Only
then there is Karema to be thought about, who expects, or, when she
learns all, soon will expect, to be a queen," he added doubtfully.
"No, Bes, I am too tired to make new plans, so let us go to Ethiopia
and not disappoint Karema, who after holding a cup so long naturally
would like to try a sceptre."
"I think that is wisest, Master; at any rate the holy Tanofir thinks
it wisest, and he is the voice of Fate. Oh! why do we trouble who
after all, every one of us, are nothing but pieces upon the board of
Then he turned and left me and I entered the house where I found my
mother sitting, still in her festal robes, like one who waits. She
looked at my face, then asked what troubled me. I sat down on a stool
at her feet and told her everything.
"Much as I thought," she said when I had finished. "These over-learned
women are strange fish to catch and hold, and too much soul is like
too much sail upon a boat when the desert wind begins to blow across
the Nile. Well, do not let us blame her or Bes, or Peroa who is
already anxious for his dynasty and would rather that Amada were a
priestess than your wife, or even the goddess Isis, who no doubt is
anxious for her votaries. Let us rather blame the Power that is behind
the veil, or to it bow our heads, seeing that we know nothing of the
end for which it works. So Egypt shuts her doors on you, my Son, and
whither away? Not to the East again, I trust, for there you would soon
grow shorter by a head."
"I go to Ethiopia, my Mother, where it seems that Bes is a great man
and can shelter me."
"So we go to Ethiopia, do we? Well, it is a long journey for an old
woman, but I weary of Memphis where I have lived for so many years and
doubtless the sands of the south make good burial grounds."
"We!" I exclaimed. "/We?/"
"Surely, my Son, since in losing a wife you have again found a mother
and until I die we part no more."
When I heard this my eyes filled with tears. My conscience smote me
also because of late, and indeed for years past, I had thought so much
of Amada and so little of my mother. And now it was Amada who had cast
me out, unjustly, without waiting to learn the truth, because at the
worst I, who worshipped her, had saved myself from death in slow
torment by speaking her name, while my mother, forgetting all, took me
to her bosom again as she had done when I was a babe. I knew not what
to say, but remembering the pearls, I drew them out and placed them
round my mother's neck.
She looked at the wonderful things and smiled, then said,
"Such gems as these become white locks and withered breasts but ill.
Yet, my Son, I will keep them for you till you find a wife, if not
Amada, then another."
"If not Amada, I shall never find a wife," I said bitterly, whereat
Then she left me to make ready before she slept a while.
Work as we would noon had passed two hours, on the following day,
before we were prepared to start, for there was much to do. Thus the
house must be placed in charge of friends and the means of travel
collected. Also a messenger came from Pharaoh praying me for his and
Egypt's sake to think again before I left them, and an answer sent
that go I must, whither the holy Tanofir would know if at any time
Pharaoh desired to learn. In reply to this came another messenger who
brought me parting gifts from Pharaoh, a chain of honour, a title of
higher nobility, a commission as his envoy to whatever land I
wandered, and so forth, which I must acknowledge. Lastly as we were
leaving the house to seek the boat which Bes had made ready on the
Nile, there came yet another messenger at the sight of whom my heart
leapt, for he was priest of Isis.
He bowed and handed me a roll. I opened it with a trembling hand and
"From the Prophetess of Isis whose house is at Amada, aforetime
Royal Lady of Egypt, to the Count Shabaka,
"I learn, O my Cousin, that you depart from Egypt and knowing the
reason my heart is sore. Believe me, my Cousin, I love you well,
better than any who lives upon the earth, nor will that love ever
change, since the goddess who holds my future in her hands, knows
of what we are made and is not jealous of the past. Therefore she
will not be wroth at the earthly love of one who is gathered to
her heavenly arms. Her blessing and mine be on you and if we see
each other no more face to face in the world, may we meet again in
the halls of Osiris. Farewell, beloved Shabaka. Oh! why did you
suffer that black master of lies, the dwarf Bes, to persuade you
to hide the truth from me?"
So the writing ended and below it were two stains still wet, which I
knew were caused by tears. Moreover, wrapped in a piece of silk and
fastened to the scroll was a little gold ring graven with the royal
/urĉus/ that Amada had always worn from childhood. Only on the
previous night I had noted it on the first finger of her right hand.
I took my stylus and my waxen tablets and wrote on one of them:
"Had you been a man, Amada, and not a woman, I think you would have
judged me differently but, learned priestess and prophetess as you
are, a woman you remain. Perchance a time may come when once more
you will turn to me in the hour of your need; if so and I am
living, I will come. Yea, if I am dead I think that I still shall
come, since nothing can really part us. Meanwhile by day and by
night I wear your ring and whenever I look on it I think of Amada
the woman whose lips have pressed my own, and forget Amada the
priestess who for her soul's sake has been pleased to break the
heart of the man who loved her and whom she misjudged so sorely in
her pride and anger."
This tablet I wrapped up and sealed, using clay and her own ring to
make the seal, and gave it for delivery to the priest.
At length we drew near to the river and here, gathered on the open
land, I found the most of those who had fought with me in the battle
against the Easterns, and with them a great concourse of others from
the city. These collected round me, some of them wounded and hobbling
upon crutches, praying me not to go, as did the others who foresaw
sorrow to Egypt from my loss. But I broke away from them almost in
tears and with my mother hid myself beneath the canopy of the boat.
Here Bes was waiting, also his beautiful wife who, although she seemed
sad at leaving Egypt, smiled a greeting to us while the steersmen and
rowers of the boat, tall Ethiopians every one of them, rose and gave
me a General's salute. Then, as the wind served, we hoisted the sail
and glided away up Nile, till presently the temples and palm-groves of
Memphis were lost to sight.
Of that long, long journey there is no need to tell. Up the Nile we
travelled slowly, dragging the boat past the cataracts till Egypt was
far behind us. In the end, many days after we had passed the mouth of
another river that was blue in colour which flowed from the northern
mountain lands down into the Nile, we came to a place where the rapids
were so long and steep that we must leave the boat and travel
overland. Drawing near to it at sunset I saw a multitude of people
gathered on the sand and beyond them a camp in which were set many
beautiful pavilions that seemed to be broidered with silk and gold, as
were the banners that floated above them whereon appeared the effigy
of a grasshopper, also done in gold with silver legs.
"It seems that my messengers travelled in safety," said Bes to me,
"for know, that yonder are some of my subjects who have come here to
meet us. Now, Master, I must no longer call you master since I fear I
am once more a king. And you must no longer call me Bes, but Karoon.
Moreover, forgive me, but when you come into my presence you must bow,
which I shall like less than you do, but it is the custom of the
Ethiopians. Oh! I would that you were the king and that I were your
friend, for henceforth good-bye to ease and jollity."
I laughed, but Bes did not laugh at all, only turned to his wife who
already ruled him as though he were indeed a slave, and said, "Lady
Karema, make yourself as beautiful as you can and forget that you have
ever been a Cup or anything useful, since henceforth you must be a
queen, that is if you please my people."
"And what happens if I do not please them, Husband?" asked Karema
opening her fine eyes.
"I do not quite know, Wife. Perhaps they may refuse to accept me, at
which I shall not weep. Or perhaps they may refuse to accept you, at
which of course I should weep very much, for you see you are so very
white and, heretofore, all the queens of the Ethiopians have been
"And if they refuse to accept me because I am white, or rather brown,
instead of black like oiled marble, what then, O Husband?"
"Then--oh! then I cannot say, O Wife. Perhaps they will send you back
to your own country. Or perhaps they will separate us and place you in
a temple where you will live alone in all honour. I remember that once
they did that to a white woman, making a goddess of her until she died
of weariness. Or perhaps--well, I do not know."
Then Karema grew angry.
"Now I wish I had remained a Cup," she said, "and the servant of the
holy Tanofir who at least taught me many secret things, instead of
coming to dwell among black barbarians in the company of a dwarf who,
even if he be a king, it seems has no power to protect the wife whom
he has chosen."
"Why will women always grow wroth before there is need?" asked Bes
humbly. "Surely it would be time to rate me when any of these things
"If any of them do happen, Husband, I shall say much worse things than
that," she replied, but the talk went no further, for at this moment
our boat grounded and singing a wild song, many of those who waited
rushed into the water to drag it to the bank.
Then Bes stood up on the prow, waving his bow and there arose a mighty
shout of, "/Karoon! Karoon!/ It is he, it is he returned after many
Twice they shouted thus and then, every one of them, threw themselves
face downwards in the sand.
"Yes, my people," cried Bes, "it is I, Karoon, who having been
miraculously preserved from many dangers in far lands by the help of
the Grasshopper in heaven, and, as my messengers will have told you,
of my beloved friend, lord Shabaka the Egyptian, who has deigned to
come to dwell with us for a while, have at length returned to Ethiopia
that I may shed my wisdom on you like the sun and pour it on your
heads like melted honey. Moreover, mindful of our laws which aforetime
I defied and therefore left you, I have searched the whole world
through till I found the most beautiful woman that it contained, and
made her my wife. She too has deigned to come to this far country to
be your queen. Advance, fair Karema, and show yourself to these my
So Karema stepped forward and stood on the prow of the boat by the
side of Bes, and a strange couple they looked. The Ethiopians who had
risen, considered her gravely, then one of them said,
"Karoon called her beautiful, but in truth she is almost white and
"At least she is a woman," said another, "for her shape is female."
"Yes, and he has married her," remarked a third, "and even a king may
choose his own wife sometimes. For in such matters who can judge
"Cease," said Bes in a lordly way. "If you do not think her beautiful
to-night, you will to-morrow. And now let us land and rest."
So we landed and while I did so I took note of these Ethiopians. They
were great men, black as charcoal with thick lips, white teeth and
flat noses. Their eyes were large and the whites of them somewhat
yellow, their hair curled like wool, their beards were short and on
their faces they wore a continual smile. Of dress most of them had
little, but their elders or leaders wore lion and leopard skins and
some were clad in a kind of silken tunic belted about the middle. All
were armed for war with long bows, short swords and small shields
round in shape and made from the hide of the hippopotamus or of the
unicorn. Gold was plentiful amongst them since even the humblest wore
bracelets of that metal, while about the necks of the chieftains it
was wound in great torques, also sometimes on their ankles. They wore
sandals on their feet and some of them had ostrich feathers stuck in
their hair, a few also had grasshoppers fashioned of gold bound on the
top of their heads, and these I took to be the priests. There were no
women in their number.
As the sun was sinking we were led at once to a very beautiful tent
made of woven flax and ornamented as I have described, where we found
food made ready for us in plenty, milk in bowls and the flesh of sheep
and oxen boiled and roasted. Bes, however, was taken to a place apart,
which made Karema even more angry than she was before.
Scarcely had we finished eating when a herald rushed into the tent
crying, "Prostrate yourselves! Yea, be prostrated, the Grasshopper
comes! Karoon comes."
Here I must say that I found that the title of Karoon meant "Great
Grasshopper," but Karema who did not know this, asked indignantly why
she should prostrate herself to a grasshopper. Indeed she refused to
do so even when Bes entered the pavilion wonderfully attired in a
gorgeous-coloured robe of which the train was held by two huge men. So
absurd did he look that my mother and I must bow very deeply to hide
our laughter while Karema said,
"It would be better, Husband, if you found children to carry your robe
instead of two giants. Moreover, if it is meant to copy the colours of
a grasshopper, 'tis badly done, since grasshoppers are green and you
are gold and scarlet. Also they do not wear feathers set awry upon
Bes rolled his eyes as though in agony, then turning, bade his
attendants be gone. They obeyed, though doubtfully as though they did
not like to leave him alone with us, whereon he let down the flap of
the pavilion, threw off his gorgeous coverings and said,
"You must learn to understand, Wife, that our customs are different
from those of Egypt. There I was happy as a slave and you were held to
be beautiful as the Cup of the holy Tanofir, also learned. Here I am
wretched as a king and you are held to be ugly, also ignorant as a
stranger. Oh! do not answer, I pray you, but learn that all goes well.
For the time you are accepted as my wife, subject to the decision of a
council of matrons, aged relatives of my family, who will decide when
we reach the City of the Grasshopper whether or not you shall be
acknowledged as the Queen of the Ethiopians. No, no, I pray you say
nothing since I must go away at once, as according to the law of the
Ethiopians the time has come for the Grasshopper to sleep, alone,
Karema, as you are not yet acknowledged as my wife. You also can sleep
with the lady Tiu and for Shabaka a tent is provided. Rest sweetly,
Wife. Hark! They fetch me."
"Now, if I had my way," said Karema, "I would rest in that boat going
back to Egypt. What say you, lord Shabaka?"
But I made no answer who followed Bes out of the tent, leaving her to
talk the matter over with my mother. Here I found a crowd of his
people waiting to convey him to sleep and watching, saw them place him
in another tent round which they ranged themselves, playing upon
musical instruments. After this someone came and led me to my own
place where was a good bed in which I lay down to sleep. This however
I could not do for a long while because of my own laughter and the
noise of the drums and horns that were soothing Bes to his rest. For
now I understood why he had preferred to be a slave in Egypt rather
than a king in Ethiopia.
In the morning I rose before the dawn and went out to the river-bank
to bathe. While I was making ready to wash myself, who should appear
but Bes, followed, but at a distance, by a number of his people.
"Never have I spent such a night, Master," he said, "at least not
since you took me prisoner years ago, since by law I may not stop
those horns and musical instruments. Now, however, also according to
the law of the Ethiopians, I am my own lord until the sun rises. So I
have come here to gather some of those blue lilies which she loves as
a present for Karema, because I fear that she is angry and must be
"Certainly she is very angry," I said, "or at least was so when I left
her last night. Oh! Bes, why did you let your people tell her that she
"How can I help it, Master? Have you not always heard that the
Ethiopians are chiefly famous for one thing, namely that they speak
nothing but the truth. To them she, being different, seems to be ugly.
Therefore when they say that she is ugly, they speak the truth."
"If so, it is a truth that she does not like, Bes, as I have no doubt
she will tell you by and by. Do they think me ugly also?"
"Yes, they do, Master; but they think also that you look like a man
who can draw a bow and use a sword, and that goes far with the
Ethiopians. Of your mother they say nothing because she is old and
they venerate the aged whom the Grasshopper is waiting to carry away."
Now I began to laugh again and went with Bes to gather the lilies.
These grew at the end of a mass of reeds woven together by the
pressure of the current and floating on the water. Bes lay down upon
his stomach while his people watched from a distance on the bank
amazed into silence, and stretched out his long arms to reach the blue
lotus flowers. Suddenly the reeds gave way beneath him just as he had
grasped two of the flowers and was dragging at them, so that he fell
into the river.
Next instant I saw a swirl in the brown water and perceived a huge
crocodile. It rushed at Bes open-mouthed. Being a good swimmer he
twisted his body in order to avoid it, but I heard the great teeth
close with a snap on the short leathern garment which he wore about
"The devil has me! Farewell!" he cried and vanished beneath the water.
Now, as I have said, I was almost stripped for bathing, but had not
yet taken off my short sword which was girded round me by a belt. In
an instant I drew it and amidst the yells of horror of the Ethiopians
who had seen all from the bank, I plunged into the river. There are
few able to swim as I could and I had the art of diving with my eyes
open and remaining long beneath the surface without drawing breath,
for this I had practised from a child.
Immediately I saw the great reptile sinking to the mud and dragging
Bes with him to drown him there. But here the river was very deep and
with a few swift strokes I was able to get under the crocodile. Then
with all my strength I stabbed upwards, driving the sword far into the
soft part of the throat. Feeling the pain of the sharp iron the beast
let go of Bes and turned on me. How it happened I do not know but
presently I found myself upon its back and was striking at its eyes.
One thrust at least went home, for the blinded brute rose to the
surface, bearing me with him, and oh! the sweetness of the air as I
Thus we appeared, I riding the crocodile like a horse and stabbing
furiously, while close by was Bes rolling his yellow eyes but
helpless, for he had no weapon. Still the devil was not dead although
blood streamed from him, only mad with pain and rage. Nor could the
shouting Ethiopians help me since they had only bows and dared not
shoot lest their shafts should pierce me. The crocodile began to sink
again, snapping furiously at my legs. Then I bethought me of a trick I
had seen practised by natives on the Nile.
Waiting till its huge jaws were open I thrust my arm between them,
grasping the short sword in such fashion that the hilt rested on its
tongue and the point against the roof of its mouth. It tried to close
its jaws and lo! the good iron was fixed between them, holding them
wide open. Then I withdrew my hand and floated upwards with nothing
worse than a cut upon the wrist from one of its sharp fangs. I
appeared upon the surface and after me the crocodile spouting blood
and wallowing in its death agonies. I remembered no more till I found
myself lying on the bank surrounded by a multitude with Bes standing
over me. Also in the shallow water was the crocodile dead, my sword
still fixed between its jaws.
"Are you harmed, Master" cried Bes in a voice of agony.
"Very little I think," I answered, sitting up with the blood pouring
from my arm.
Bes thrust aside Karema who had come lightly clothed from her tent,
"All is well, Wife. I will bring you the lilies presently."
Then he flung his arms about me, kissed my hands and my brow and
turning to the crowd, shouted,
"Last night you were disputing as to whether this Egyptian lord should
be allowed to dwell with me in the land of Ethiopia. Which of you
disputes it now?"
"No one!" they answered with a roar. "He is not a man but a god. No
man could have done such a deed."
"So it seems," answered Bes quietly. "At least none of you even tried
to do it. Yet he is not a god but only that kind of man who is called
a hero. Also he is my brother, and while I reign in Ethiopia either he
shall reign at my side, or I go away with him."
"It shall be so, Karoon!" they shouted with one voice. And after this
I was carried back to the tent.
In front of it my mother waited and kissed me proudly before them all,
whereat they shouted again.
So ended this adventure of the crocodile, except that presently Bes
went back and recovered the two lilies for Karema, this time from a
boat, which caused the Ethiopians to call out that he must love her
very much, though not as much as he did me.
That afternoon, borne in litters, we set out for the City of the
Grasshopper, which we reached on the fourth day. As we drew near the
place regiments of men to the number of twelve thousand or more, came
out to meet us, so that at last we arrived escorted by an army who
sang their songs of triumph and played upon their musical instruments
until my head ached with the noise.
This city was a great place whereof the houses were built of mud and
thatched with reeds. It stood upon a wide plain and in its centre rose
a natural, rocky hill upon the crest of which, fashioned of blocks of
gleaming marble and roofed with a metal that shone as gold, was the
temple of the Grasshopper, a columned building very like to those of
Egypt. Round it also were other public buildings, among them the
palace of the Karoon, the whole being surrounded by triple marble
walls as a protection from attack by foes. Never had I seen anything
so beautiful as that hill with its edifices of shining white roofed
with gold or copper and gleaming in the sun.
Descending from my litter I walked to those of my mother and Karema,
for Bes in his majesty might not be approached, and said as much to
"Yes, Son," answered my mother, "it is worth while to have travelled
so far to see such a sight. I shall have a fine sepulchre, Son."
"I have seen it all before," broke in Karema.
"When?" I asked.
"I do not know. I suppose it must have been when I was the Cup of the
holy Tanofir. At least it is familiar to me. Already I weary of it,
for who can care for a land or a city where they think white people
hideous and scarcely allow a wife to go near her husband, save between
midnight and dawn when they cease from their horrible music?"
"It will be your part to change these customs, Karema."
"Yes," she exclaimed, "certainly that will be my part," after which I
went back to my litter.
Now at the gates of the City of the Grasshopper we were royally
received. The priests came out to meet us, pushing a colossal image of
their god before them on a kind of flat chariot, and I remember
wondering what would be the value of that huge golden locust, if it
were melted down. Also the Council came, very ancient men all of them,
since the Ethiopians for the most part lived more than a hundred
years. Perhaps that is why they were so glad to welcome Bes since they
were too old to care about retaining power in their own hands as they
had done during his long absence. For save Bes there was no other man
living of the true royal blood who could take the throne.
Then there were thousands of women, broad-faced and smiling whose
black skins shone with scented oils, for they wore little except a
girdle about their waists and many ornaments of gold. Thus their
earrings were sometimes a palm in breadth and many of them had great
gold rings through their noses, such as in Egypt are put in those of
bulls. My mother laughed at them, but Karema said that she thought
them hideous and hateful.
They were a strange people, these Ethiopians, like children, most of
them, being merry and kind and never thinking of one thing for more
than a minute. Thus one would see them weep and laugh almost in the
same breath. But among them was an upper class who had great learning
and much ancient knowledge. These men made their laws wherein there
was always sense under what seemed to be folly, designed the temples,
managed the mines of gold and other metals and followed the arts. They
were the real masters of the land, the rest were but slaves content to
live in plenty, for in that fertile soil want never came near them,
and to do as they were bid.
Thus they passed from the cradle to the grave amidst song and flowers,
carrying out their light, allotted tasks, and for the rest, living as
they would and loving those they would, especially their children, of
whom they had many. By nature and tradition the men were warriors and
hunters, being skilled in the use of the bow and always at war when
they could find anyone to fight. Indeed when we came among them their
trouble was that they had no enemies left, and at once they implored
Bes to lead them out to battle since they were weary of herding kine
and tilling fields.
All of these things I found out by degrees, also that they were a
great people who could send out an army of seventy thousand men and
yet leave enough behind them to defend their land. Of the world beyond
their borders the most of them knew little, but the learned men of
whom I have spoken, a great deal, since they travelled to Egypt and
elsewhere to study the customs of other countries. For the rest their
only god was the Grasshopper and like that insect they skipped and
chirruped through life and when the winter of death came sprang away
to another of which they knew nothing, leaving their young behind them
to bask in the sun of unborn summers. Such were the Ethiopians.
Now of all the ceremonies of the reception of Bes and his re-crowning
as Karoon, I knew little, for the reason that the tooth of the
crocodile poisoned my blood and made me very ill, so that I remained
for a moon or more lying in a fine room in the palace where gold
seemed to be as plentiful as earthen pots are in Egypt, and all the
vessels were of crystal. Had it not been for the skill of the
Ethiopian leeches and above all for the nursing of my mother, I think
that I must have died. She it was who withstood them when they wished
to cut off my arm, and wisely, for it recovered and was as strong as
it had ever been. In the end I grew well again and from the platform
in front of the temple was presented to the people by Bes as his
saviour and the next greatest to him in the kingdom, nor shall I ever
forget the shoutings with which I was received.
Karema also was presented as his wife, having passed the Ordeal of the
Matrons, but only, I think, because it was found that she was in the
way to give an heir to the throne. For to them her beauty was
ugliness, nor could they understand how it came about that their king,
who contrary to the general customs of the land, was only allowed one
wife lest the children should quarrel, could have chosen a lady who
was not black. So they received her in silence with many whisperings
which made Karema very angry.
When in due course, however, the child came and proved to be a son
black as the best of them and of perfect shape, they relented towards
her and after the birth of a second, grew to love her. But she never
forgave and loved them not at all. Nor was she over-fond of these
children of hers because they were so black which, she said, showed
how poisonous was the blood of the Ethiopians. And indeed this is so,
for often I have noticed that if an Ethiopian weds with one of another
colour, their offspring is black down to the third or fourth
generation. Therefore Karema longed for Egypt notwithstanding the
splendour in which she dwelt.
So greatly did she long that she had recourse to the magic lore which
she had learned from the holy Tanofir, and would sit for hours gazing
into water in a crystal bowl, or sometimes into a ball of crystal
without the water, trying to see visions therein that had to do with
what passed in Egypt. Moreover in time much of her gift returned to
her and she did see many things which she repeated to me, for she
would tell no one else of them, not even her husband.
Thus she saw Amada kneeling in a shrine before the statue of Isis and
weeping: a picture that made me sad. Also she saw the holy Tanofir
brooding in the darkness of the Cave of the Bulls, and read in his
mind that he was thinking of us, though what he thought she could not
read. Again she saw Eastern messengers delivering letters to Pharaoh
and knew from his face that he was disturbed and that Egypt was
threatened with calamities. And so forth.
Soon the news of her powers of divination spread abroad, so that all
the Ethiopians grew to fear her as a seeress and thenceforth, whatever
they may have thought, none of them dared to say that she was ugly.
Further, her gift was real, since if she told me of a certain thing
such as that messengers were approaching, in due course they would
arrive and make clear much that she had not been able to understand in
Now from the time that I grew strong again and as soon as Bes was
firmly seated on his throne, he and I set to work to train and drill
the army of the Ethiopians, which hitherto had been little more than a
mob of men carrying bows and swords. We divided it into phalanxes
after the Greek fashion, and armed these bodies with long lances,
swords, and large shields in the place of the small ones they had
carried before. Also we trained the archers, teaching them to advance
in open order and shoot from cover, and lastly chose the best soldiers
to be captains and generals. So it came about that at the end of the
two years that I spent in Ethiopia there was a force of sixty thousand
men or more whom I should not have been afraid to match against any
troops in the world, since they were of great strength and courage,
and, as I have said, by nature lovers of war. Also their bows being
longer and more powerful, they could shoot arrows farther than the
Easterns or the Egyptians.
The Ethiopian lords wondered why their King and I did these things,
since they saw no enemy against which so great an army could be led to
battle. On that matter Bes and I kept our own counsel, telling them
only that it was good for the men to be trained to war, since, hearing
of their wealth, one day the King of kings might attempt to invade
their country. So month by month I laboured at this task, leading
armies into distant regions to accustom them to travelling far afield,
carrying with them what was necessary for their sustenance.
So it went on until a sad thing happened, since on returning from one
of these forays in which I had punished a tribe that had murdered some
Ethiopian hunters and we had taken many thousands of their cattle, I
found my mother dying. She had been smitten by a fever which was
common at that season of the year, and being old and weak had no
strength to throw it off.
As medicine did not help her, the priests of the Grasshopper prayed
day and night in their temple for her recovery. Yes, there they prayed
to a golden locust standing on an altar in a sanctuary that was
surrounded by crystal coffins wherein rested the flesh of former kings
of the land. To me the sight was pitiful, but Bes asked me what was
the difference between praying to a locust and praying to images with
the heads of beasts, or to a dwarf shaped as he was like we did in
Egypt, and I could not answer him.
"The truth is, Brother," he said, for so he called me now, "that all
peoples in the world do not offer petitions to what they see and have
been taught to revere, but to something beyond of which to them it is
a sign. But why the Ethiopians should have chosen a grasshopper as a
symbol of God who is everywhere, is more than I can tell. Still they
have done so for thousands of years."