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The World's Desire by Andrew Lang

Part 4 out of 5

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Amen, the chief of the Treasury of Amen, and a man of repute in this
land of Khem. Now, if indeed thou art the Goddess of this temple, as I
judge by that red jewel which burns upon thy breast, I pray thee be
merciful to thy servant and smite me not in thy wrath, for not by my
own will am I here, but by the command of that hero whom thou hast
named, and for whose coming I await. Be merciful therefore, and hold
thy hand."

"Fear not thou, Rei," said the sweet voice. "Little am I minded to
harm thee, or any man, for though many men have gone down the path of
darkness because of me, who am a doom to men, not by my will has it
been, but by the will of the immortal Gods, who use me to their ends.
Rise thou, Rei, and tell me why thou art come hither, and where is he
whom I have named?"

Then Rei rose, and looking up saw the light of the Helen's eyes
shining on him through her veil. But there was no anger in them, they
shone mildly as stars in an evening sky, and his heart was comforted.

"I know not where the Wanderer is, O thou Immortal," he said. "This I
know only, that he bade me meet him here at one hour before midnight,
and so I came."

"Perchance he too will come anon," said the sweet voice; "but why did
he, whom thou namest the Wanderer, bid thee meet him here?"

"For this reason, O Hathor. He told me that this night he should be
wed to thee, and was minded thereafter to fly from Khem with thee.
Therefore he bade me come, who am a friend to him, to talk with thee
and him as to how thy flight should go, and yet he comes not."

Now as Rei spake, he turned his face upward, and the Golden Helen
looked upon it.

"Hearken, Rei," she said; "but yesterday, after I had stood upon the
pylon tower as the Gods decreed, and sang to those who were ripe to
die, I went to my shrine and wove my web while the doomed men fell
beneath the swords of them who were set to guard my beauty, but who
now are gone. And as I wove, one passed the Ghosts and rent the web
and stood before me. It was he whom I await to-night, and after awhile
I knew him for Odysseus of Ithaca, Laertes' son. But as I looked on
him and spake with him, behold, I saw a spirit watching us, though he
might not see it, a spirit whose face I knew not, for no such man have
I known in my life days. Know then, Rei, that the face of the spirit
was /thy/ face, and its robes /thy/ robes."

Then once more Rei trembled in his fear.

"Now, Rei, I bid thee tell me, and speak the truth, lest evil come on
thee, not at my hands indeed, for I would harm none, but at the hands
of those Immortals who are akin to me. What did thy spirit yonder, in
my sacred shrine? How didst thou dare to enter and look upon my beauty
and hearken to my words?"

"Oh, great Queen," said Rei, "I will tell thee the truth, and I pray
thee let not the wrath of the Gods fall upon me. Not of my own will
did my spirit enter into thy Holy Place, nor do I know aught of what
it saw therein, seeing that no memory of it remains in me. Nay, it was
sent of her whom I serve, who is the mistress of all magic, and to her
it made report, but what it said I know not."

"And whom dost thou serve, Rei? And why did she send thy spirit forth
to spy on me?"

"I serve Meriamun the Queen, and she sent my spirit forth to learn
what befell the Wanderer when he went up against the Ghosts."

"And yet he said naught to me of this Meriamun. Say, Rei, is she
fair?"

"Of all women who live upon the earth she is the very fairest."

"Of /all/, sayest thou, Rei? Look now, and say if Meriamun, whom thou
dost serve, is fairer than Argive Helen, whom thou dost name the
Hathor?" and she lifted her veil so that he saw the face that was
beneath.

Now when he heard that name, and looked upon the glory of her who is
Beauty's self, Rei shrank back till he went nigh to falling on the
earth.

"Nay," he said, covering his eyes with his hand; "nay thou art fairer
than she."

"Then tell me," she said, letting fall her veil again, "and for thine
own sake tell me true, why would Meriamun the Queen, whom thou
servest, know the fate of him who came up against the Ghosts?"

"Wouldst thou know, Daughter of Amen?" answered Rei; "then I will tell
thee, for through thee alone she whom I serve and love can be saved
from shame. Meriamun doth also love the man whom thou wouldst wed."

Now when the Golden Helen heard these words, she pressed her hand
against her bosom.

"So I feared," she said, "even so. She loves him, and he comes not.
Ah! if it be so! Now, Rei, I am tempted to pay this Queen of thine in
her own craft, and send thy spirit forth to spy on her. Nay, that I
will not do, for never shall Helen work by shameful guile or magic.
Nay--but we will hence, Rei, we will go to the Palace where my rival
dwells, there to learn the truth. Fear not, I will bring no ill on
thee, nor on her whom thou servest. Lead me to the Palace, Rei. Lead
me swiftly."

Now the Wanderer slept in the arms of Meriamun, who wore the shape of
Argive Helen. His golden harness was piled by the golden bed, and by
the bed stood the black bow of Eurytus. The night drew on towards the
dawning, when of a sudden the Bow awoke and sang, and thus it sang:

"Wake! wake! though the arms of thy Love are about thee, yet dearer by far
Than her kiss is the sound of the fight;
And more sweet than her voice is the cry of the trumpet, and goodlier far
Than her arms is the battle's delight:
And what eyes are so bright as the sheen of the bronze when the
sword is aloft,
What breast is so fair as the shield?
Or what garland of roses is dear as the helm, and what sleep is so soft
As the sleep of slain men on the field?"

Lo! the Snake that was twined about the form of her who wore the shape
of Helen heard the magic song. It awoke, it arose. It twisted itself
about the body of the Wanderer and the body of her who wore the shape
of Helen, knitting them together in the bond of sin. It grew, and
lifting its woman's head on high, it sang in answer. And thus it sang
of doom:

"Sleep! be at rest for an hour; as in death men believe they shall rest,
But they wake! And thou too shalt awake!
In the dark of the grave do they stir; but about them, on arms and
on breast,
Are the toils and the coils of the Snake:
By the tree where the first lovers lay, did I watch as I watch where
he lies,
Love laid on the bosom of Lust!"

Then the great bow answered the Snake, and it sang:

"Of the tree where the first lovers sinned was I shapen; I bid thee arise,
Thou Slayer that soon shall be dust."

And the Snake sang reply:

"Be thou silent, my Daughter of Death, be thou silent nor wake him from sleep,
With the song and the sound of thy breath."

The Bow heard the song of the Snake. The Death heard the song of the
Sin, and again its thin music thrilled upon the air. For thus it sang:

"Be thou silent, my Mother of Sin, for this watch it is given me to keep
O'er the sleep of the dealer of Death!"

Then the Snake sang:

"Hush, hush, thou art young, and thou camest to birth when the making was done
Of the world: I am older therein!"

And the Bow answered:

"But without me thy strength were as weakness, the prize of thy
strength were unwon.
I am /Death/, and thy Daughter, O Sin!"

Now the song of the Snake and the song of the Bow sunk through the
depths of sleep till they reached the Wanderer's ears. He sighed, he
stretched out his mighty arms, he opened his eyes, and lo! they looked
upon the eyes that bent above him, eyes of flame that lit the face of
a woman--the face of Meriamun that wavered on a serpent's neck and
suddenly was gone. He cried aloud with fear, and sprang from the
couch. The faint light of the dawning crept through the casements and
fell upon the bed. The faint light of the dawning fell upon the golden
bed of Pharaoh's Queen, it gleamed upon the golden armour that was
piled by the bed, and on the polished surface of the great black bow.
It shone upon the face of her who lay in the bed.

Then he remembered. Surely he had slept with the Golden Helen, who was
his bride, and surely he had dreamed an evil dream, a dream of a snake
that wore the face of Pharaoh's Queen. Yea, there lay the Golden
Helen, won at last--the Golden Helen now made a wife to him. Now he
mocked his own fears, and now he bent to wake her with a kiss. Faintly
the new-born light crept and gathered on her face; ah! how beautiful
she was in sleep. Nay, what was this? Whose face was this beneath his
own? Not so had Helen looked in the shrine of her temple, when he tore
the web. Not so had Helen seemed yonder in the pillared hall when she
stood in the moonlit space--not so had she seemed when he sware the
great oath to love her, and her alone. Whose beauty was it then that
now he saw? By the Immortal Gods, it was the beauty of Meriamun; it
was the glory of the Pharaoh's Queen!

He stared upon her lovely sleeping face, while terror shook his soul.
How could this be? What then had he done?

Then light broke upon him. He looked around the chamber--there on the
walls were the graven images of the Gods of Khem, there above the bed
the names of Meneptah and Meriamun were written side by side in the
sacred signs of Khem. Not with the Golden Helen had he slept, but with
the wife of Pharaoh! To her he had sworn the oath, and she had worn
the Helen's shape--and now the spell was broken.

He stood amazed, and as he stood, again the great bow thrilled,
warning him of Death to come. Then his strength came back to him, and
he seized his armour and girt it about him piece by piece till he
lifted the golden helm. It slipped from his hand; with a crash it fell
upon the marble floor. With a crash it fell, and she who slept in the
bed awoke with a cry, and sprang from the bed, her dark hair streaming
down, her night-gear held to her by the golden snake with gemmy eyes
that she must ever wear. But he caught his sword in his hand, and
threw down the ivory sheath.

BOOK III

I

THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI

The Wanderer and Pharaoh's Queen stood face to face in the twilight of
the chamber. They stood in silence, while bitter anger and burning
shame poured into his heart and shone from his eyes. But the face of
Meriamun was cold as the dead, and on it was a smile such as the
carven sphinxes wear. Only her breast heaved tumultuously as though in
triumph, and her limbs quivered like a shaken reed. At length she
spoke.

"Why lookest thou so strangely on me, my Lord and Love; and why hast
thou girded thy harness on thy back? Scarcely doth glorious Ra creep
from the breast of Nout, and wouldest thou leave thy bridal bed,
Odysseus?"

Still he spoke no word, but looked on her with burning eyes. Then she
stretched out her arms and came towards him lover-like. And now he
found his tongue again.

"Get thee from me!" he said, in a voice low and terrible to hear; "get
thee from me. Dare not to touch me, thou, who art a harlot and a
witch, lest I forget my manhood and strike thee dead before me."

"That thou canst not do, Odysseus," she answered soft, "for whatever
else I be I am thy wife, and thou art bound to me for ever. What was
the oath which thou didst swear not five short hours ago?"

"I swore an oath indeed, but not to thee, Meriamun. I swore an oath to
Argive Helen, whom I love, and I wake to find thee sleeping at my
side, thee whom I hate."

"Nay," she said, "to me thou didst swear the oath, Odysseus, for thou,
of men the most guileful, hast at length been over-mastered in guile.
To me, 'Woman or Immortal,' thou didst swear 'for now and for ever,
for here and hereafter, /in whatever shape thou goest on the earth, by
whatever name thou art known among men/.' Oh, be not wroth, my lord,
but hearken. What matters the shape in which thou seest me? At the
least am I not fair? And what is beauty but a casket that hides the
gem within? 'Tis my love which thou hast won, my love that is
immortal, and not the flesh that perishes. For I have loved thee, ay,
and thou hast loved me from of old and in other lives than this, and I
tell thee that we shall love again and yet again when thou art no more
Odysseus of Ithaca, and when I am no more Meriamun, a Queen of Khem,
but while we walk in other forms upon the world and are named by other
names. I am thy doom, thou Wanderer, and wherever thou dost wander
through the fields of Life and Death I shall be at thy side. For I am
She of whom thou art, and thou art He of whom I am, and though the
Gods have severed us, yet must we float together down the river of our
lives till we find that sea of which the Spirit knows. Therefore put
me not from thee and raise not my wrath against thee, for if I used my
magic to bring thee to my arms, yet they are thy home." And once more
she came towards him.

Now the Wanderer drew an arrow from his quiver, and set the notch
against his breast and the keen barb towards the breast of Meriamun.

"Draw on," he said. "Thus will I take thee to my arms again. Hearken,
Meriamun the witch--Meriamun the harlot: Pharaoh's wife and Queen of
Khem. To thee I swore an oath indeed, and perchance because I suffered
thy guile to overcome my wisdom, because I swore upon That which
circles thee about, and not by the Red Star which gleams upon the
Helen's breast, it may be that I shall lose her whom I love. So indeed
the Queen of Heaven told me, yonder in sea-girt Ithaca, though to my
sorrow I forgot her words. But if I lose her or if I win, know this,
that I love her and her only, and I hate thee like the gates of hell.
For thou hast tricked me with thy magic, thou hast stolen the shape of
Beauty's self and dared to wear it, thou hast drawn a dreadful oath
from me, and I have taken thee to wife. And more, thou art the Queen
of Khem, thou art Pharaoh's wife, whom I swore to guard; but thou hast
brought the last shame upon me, for now I am a man dishonoured, and I
have sinned against the hospitable hearth, and the God of guests and
hosts. And therefore I will do this. I will call together the guard of
which I am chief, and tell them all thy shame, ay, and all my sorrow.
I will shout it in the streets, I will publish it from the temple
tops, and when Pharaoh comes again I will call it into his ear, till
he and all who live in Khem know thee for what thou art, and see thee
in thy naked shame."

She hearkened, and her face grew terrible to see. A moment she stood
as though in thought, one hand pressed to her brow and one upon her
breast. Then she spoke.

"Is that thy last word, Wanderer?"

"It is my last word, Queen," he answered, and turned to go.

Then with the hand that rested on her breast she rent her night robes
and tore her perfumed hair. Past him she rushed towards the door, and
as she ran sent scream on scream echoing up the painted walls.

The curtains shook, the doors were burst asunder, and through them
poured guards, eunuchs, and waiting-women.

"Help," she cried, pointing to the Wanderer. "Help, help! oh, save
mine honour from this evil man, this foreign thief whom Pharaoh set to
guard me, and who guards me thus. This coward who dares to creep upon
me--the Queen of Khem--even as I slept in Pharaoh's bed!" and she cast
herself upon the floor and threw her hair about her, and lay there
groaning and weeping as though in the last agony of shame.

Now when the guards saw how the thing was, a great cry of rage and
shame went up from them, and they rushed upon the Wanderer like wolves
upon a stag at bay. But he leapt backwards to the side of the bed, and
even as he leapt he set the arrow in his hand upon the string of the
great black bow. Then he drew it to his ear. The bow-string sang, the
arrow rushed forth, and he who stood before it got his death. Again
the bow-string sang, again the arrow rushed, and lo! another man was
sped. A third time he drew the bow and the soul of a third went down
the ways of hell. Now they rolled back from him as the waters roll
from a rock, for none dares face the shafts of death. They shot at him
with spears and arrows from behind the shelter of the pillars, but
none of these might harm him, for some fell from his mail and some he
caught upon his buckler.

Now among those who had run thither at the sound of the cries of
Meriamun was that same Kurri, the miserable captain of the Sidonians,
whose life the Wanderer had spared, and whom he had given to the Queen
to be her jeweller. And when Kurri saw the Wanderer's plight, he
thought in his greedy heart of those treasures that he had lost, and
of how he who had been a captain and a rich merchant of Sidon was now
nothing but a slave.

Then a great desire came upon him to work the Wanderer ill, if so he
might. Now all round the edge of the chamber were shadows, for the
light was yet faint, and Kurri crept into the shadows, carrying a long
spear in his hand, and that spear was hafted into the bronze point
which had stood in the Wanderer's helm. Little did the Wanderer glance
his way, for he watched the lances and arrows that flew towards him
from the portal, so the end of it was that the Sidonian passed round
the chamber unseen and climbed into the golden bed of Pharaoh on the
further side of the bed. Now the Wanderer stood with his back to the
bed and a spear's length from it, and in the silken hangings were
fixed spears and arrows. Kurri's first thought was to stab him in the
back, but this he did not; first, because he feared lest he should
fail to pierce the golden harness and the Wanderer should turn and
slay him; and again because he hoped that the Wanderer would be put to
death by torment, and he was fain to have a hand in it, for after the
fashion of the Sidonians he was skilled in the tormenting of men.
Therefore he waited till presently the Wanderer let fall his buckler
and drew the bow. But ere the arrow reached his ear Kurri had
stretched out his spear from between the hangings and touched the
string with the keen bronze, so that it burst asunder and the grey
shaft fell upon the marble floor. Then, as the Wanderer cast down the
bow and turned with a cry to spring on him who had cut the cord, for
his eye had caught the sheen of the outstretched spear, Kurri lifted
the covering of the purple web which lay upon the bed and deftly cast
it over the hero's head so that he was inmeshed. Thereon the soldiers
and the eunuchs took heart, seeing what had been done, and ere ever
the Wanderer could clear himself from the covering and draw his sword,
they rushed upon him. Cumbered as he was, they might not easily
overcome him, but in the end they bore him down and held him fast, so
that he could not stir so much as a finger. Then one cried aloud to
Meriamun:

"The Lion is trapped, O Queen! Say, shall we slay him?"

But Meriamun, who had watched the fray through cover of her hands,
shuddered and made answer:

"Nay, but lock his tongue with a gag, strip his armour from him, and
bind him with fetters of bronze, and make him fast to the dungeon
walls with great chains of bronze. There shall he bide till Pharaoh
come again; for against Pharaoh's honour he hath sinned and shamefully
broken that oath he swore to him, and therefore shall Pharaoh make him
die in such fashion as seems good to him."

Now when Kurri heard these words, and saw the Wanderer's sorry plight,
he bent over him and said:

"It was I, Kurri the Sidonian, who cut the cord of thy great bow,
Eperitus; with the spear-point that thou gavest back to me I cut it,
I, whose folk thou didst slay and madest me a slave. And I will crave
this boon of Pharaoh, that mine shall be the hand to torment thee
night and day till at last thou diest, cursing the day that thou wast
born."

The Wanderer looked upon him and answered: "There thou liest, thou
Sidonian dog, for this is written in thy face, that thou thyself shalt
die within an hour and that strangely."

Then Kurri shrank back scowling. But no more words might Odysseus
speak, for at once they forced his jaws apart and gagged him with a
gag of iron; and thereafter, stripping his harness from him, they
bound him with fetters as the Queen had commanded.

Now while they dealt thus with the Wanderer, Meriamun passed into
another chamber and swiftly threw robes upon her to hide her disarray,
clasping them round her with the golden girdle which now she must
always wear. But her long hair she left unbound, nor did she wash the
stain of tears from her face, for she was minded to seem shamed and
woe-begone in the eyes of all men till Pharaoh came again.

Rei and the Golden Helen passed through the streets of the city till
they came to the Palace gates. And here they must wait till the dawn,
for Rei, thinking to come thither with the Wanderer, who was Captain
of the Guard, had not learned the word of entry.

"Easy would it be for me to win my way through those great gates,"
said the Helen to Rei at her side, "but it is my counsel that we wait
awhile. Perchance he whom we seek will come forth."

So they entered the porch of the Temple of Osiris that looked towards
the gates, and there they waited till the dawn gathered in the eastern
sky. The Helen spoke no word, but Rei, watching her, knew that she was
troubled at heart, though he might not see her face because of the
veil she wore; for from time to time she sighed and the Red Star rose
and fell upon her breast.

At length the first arrow of the dawn fell upon the temple porch and
she spoke.

"Now let us enter," she said; "my heart forebodes evil indeed; but
much of evil I have known, and where the Gods drive me there I must
go."

They came to the gates, and the man who watched them opened to the
priest Rei and the veiled woman who went with him, though he marvelled
at the beauty of the woman's shape.

"Where are thy fellow-guards?" Rei asked of the soldier.

"I know not," he answered, "but anon a great tumult rose in the
Palace, and the Captain of the Gate went thither, leaving me only to
guard the gate."

"Hast thou seen the Lord Eperitus?" Rei asked again.

"Nay, I have not seen him since supper-time last night, nor has he
visited the guard as is his wont."

Rei passed on wondering, and with him went Helen. As they trod the
Palace they saw folk flying towards the hall of banquets that is near
the Queen's chambers. Some bore arms in their hands and some bore
none, but all fled east towards the hall of banquets, whence came a
sound of shouting. Now they drew near the hall, and there at the
further end, where the doors are that lead to the Queen's chambers, a
great crowd was gathered.

"Hide thee, lady--hide thee," said Rei to her who went with him, "for
methinks that death is afoot here. See, here hangs a curtain, stand
thou behind it while I learn what this tumult means."

She stepped behind the curtain that hung between the pillars as Rei
bade her, for now Helen's gentle breast was full of fears, and she was
as one dazed. Even as she stepped one came flying down the hall who
was of the servants of Rei the Priest.

"Stay thou," Rei cried to him, "and tell me what happens yonder."

"Ill deeds, Lord," said the servant. "Eperitus the Wanderer, whom
Pharaoh made Captain of his Guard when he went forth to slay the rebel
Apura--Eperitus hath laid hands on the Queen whom he was set to guard.
But she fled from him, and her cries awoke the guard, and they fell
upon him in Pharaoh's very chamber. Some he slew with shafts from the
great black bow, but Kurri the Sidonian cut the string of the bow, and
the Wanderer was borne down by many men. Now they have bound him and
drag him to the dungeons, there to await judgment from the lips of
Pharaoh. See, they bring him. I must begone on my errand to the keeper
of the dungeons."

The Golden Helen heard the shameful tale, and such sorrow took her
that had she been mortal she had surely died. This then was the man
whom she had chosen to love, this was he whom last night she should
have wed. Once more the Gods had made a mock of her. So had it ever
been, so should it ever be. Loveless she had lived all her life days,
now she had learned to love once and for ever--and this was the fruit
of it! She clasped the curtain lest she should sink to the earth, and
hearing a sound looked forth. A multitude of men came down the hall.
Before them walked ten soldiers bearing a litter on their shoulders.
In the litter lay a man gagged and fettered with fetters of bronze so
that he might not stir, and they bore him as men bear a stag from the
chase or a wild bull to the sacrifice. It was the Wanderer's self, the
Wanderer overcome at last, and he seemed so mighty even in his bonds,
and his eyes shone with so fierce a light, that the crowd shrank from
him as though in fear. Thus did Helen see her Love and Lord again as
they bore him dishonoured to his dungeon cell. She saw, and a moan and
a cry burst from her heart. A moan for her own woe and a cry for the
shame and faithlessness of him whom she must love.

"Oh, how fallen art thou, Odysseus, who wast of men the very first,"
she cried.

He heard it and knew the voice of her who cried, and he gazed around.
The great veins swelled upon his neck and forehead, and he struggled
so fiercely that he fell from the litter to the ground. But he might
not rise because of the fetters, nor speak because of the gag, so they
lifted him again and bore him thence.

And after him went all the multitude save Rei alone. For Rei was
fallen in shame and grief because of the tale that he had heard and of
the deed of darkness that the man he loved had done. For not yet did
he remember and learn to doubt. So he stood hiding his eyes in his
hand, and as he stood Helen came forth and touched him on the
shoulder, saying:

"Lead me hence, old man. Lead me back to my temple. My Love is lost
indeed, but there where I found it I will abide till the Gods make
their will clear to me."

He bowed, saying no word, and following Helen stepped into the centre
of the hall. There he stopped, indeed, for down it came the Queen, her
hair streaming, all her robes disordered, and her face stained with
tears. She was alone save for Kurri the Sidonian, who followed her,
and she walked wildly as one distraught who knows not where she goes
nor why. Helen saw her also.

"Who is this royal lady that draws near?" she asked of Rei.

"It is Meriamun the Queen; she whom the Wanderer hath brought to
shame."

"Stay then, I would speak with her."

"Nay, nay," cried Rei. "She loves thee not, Lady, and will slay thee."

"That cannot be," Helen answered.

II

THE COMING OF PHARAOH

Presently, as she walked, Meriamun saw Rei the Priest and the veiled
woman at his side, and she saw on the woman's breast a red jewel that
burnt and glowed like a heart of fire. Then like fire burned the heart
of Meriamun, for she knew that this was Argive Helen who stood before
her, Helen whose shape she had stolen like a thief and with the mind
of a thief.

"Say," she cried to Rei, who bowed before her, "say, who is this
woman?"

Rei looked at the Queen with terrified eyes, and spake in a voice of
warning.

"This is that Goddess who dwells in the Temple of Hathor," he said.
"Let her pass in peace, O Queen."

"In peace she shall pass indeed," answered Meriamun. "What saidest
thou, old dotard? That Goddess! Nay, no Goddess have we here, but an
evil-working witch, who hath brought woes unnumbered upon Khem.
Because of her, men die month by month till the vaults of the Temple
of Hathor are full of her slain. Because of her it was that curse upon
curse fell on the land--the curse of water turned to blood, of hail
and of terrible darkness, ay, and the curse of the death of the
firstborn among whom my own son died. And thou hast dared, Rei, to
bring this witch here to my Palace halls! By Amen if I had not loved
thee always thy life should pay the price. And thou," and she
stretched her hand towards the Helen, "thou hast dared to come. It is
well, no more shalt thou bring evil upon Khem. Hearken, slave," and
she turned to Kurri the Sidonian; "draw that knife of thine and plunge
it to the hilt in the breast of yonder woman. So shalt thou win
freedom and all thy goods shall be given thee again."

Then for the first time Helen spake:

"I charge thee, Lady," she said in slow soft tones, "bid not thy
servant do this deed, for though I have little will to bring evil upon
men, yet I may not lightly be affronted."

Now Kurri hung back doubtfully fingering his dagger.

"Draw, knave, draw!" cried Meriamun, "and do my bidding, or presently
thou shalt be slain with this same knife."

When the Sidonian heard these words he cried aloud with fear, for he
well knew that as the Queen said so it would be done to him. Instantly
he drew the great knife and rushed upon the veiled woman. But as he
came, Helen lifted her veil so that her eyes fell upon his eyes, and
the brightness of their beauty was revealed to him; and when he saw
her loveliness he stopped suddenly as one who is transfixed of a
spear. Then madness came upon him, and with a cry he lifted the knife,
and plunging it, not into her heart, but into his own, fell down dead.

This then was the miserable end of Kurri the Sidonian, slain by the
sight of the Beauty.

"Thou seest, Lady," said Helen, turning from the dead Sidonian, "no
man may harm me."

For a moment the Queen stood astonished, while Rei the Priest muttered
prayers to the protecting Gods. Then she cried:

"Begone, thou living curse, begone! Wherefore art thou come here to
work more woe in this house of woe and death?"

"Fear not," answered the Helen, "presently I will begone and trouble
thee no more. Thou askest why I am come hither. I came to see him who
was my love, and whom but last night I should have wed, but whom the
Gods have brought to shame unspeakable, Odysseus of Ithaca, Odysseus,
Laertes' son. For this cause I came, and I have stayed to look upon
the face of her whose beauty had power to drive the thought of me from
the heart of Odysseus, and bring him, who of all men was the greatest
hero and the foremost left alive, to do a dastard deed and make his
mighty name a byword and a scorn. Knowest thou, Meriamun, that I find
the matter strange, since if all else be false, yet is this true, that
among women the fairest are the most strong. Thou art fair indeed,
Meriamun, but judge if thou art more fair than Argive Helen," and she
drew the veil from her face so that the splendour of her beauty shone
out upon the Queen's dark loveliness. Thus for awhile they stood each
facing each, and to Rei it seemed as though the spirits of Death and
Life looked one on another, as though the darkness and the daylight
stood in woman's shape before him.

"Thou art fair indeed," said the Queen, "but in this, witch, has thy
beauty failed to hold him whom thou wouldst wed from the most
shameless sin. Little methinks can that man have loved thee who crept
upon me like a thief to snatch my honour from me."

Then Helen bethought her of what Rei had said, that Meriamun loved the
Wanderer, and she spoke again:

"Now it comes into my heart, Egyptian, that true and false are mixed
in this tale of thine. Hard it is to believe that Odysseus of Ithaca
could work such a coward deed as this, or, unbidden, seek to clasp
thee to his heart. Moreover, I read in thine eyes that thou thyself
dost love the man whom thou namest dastard. Nay, hold thy peace, look
not so wildly on me whom thou canst not harm, but hearken. Whether thy
tale be true or false I know not, who use no magic and learn those
things only that the Gods reveal to me. But this at the least is true,
that Odysseus, whom I should have wed, has looked on thee with eyes of
love, even in that hour when I waited to be made his wife. Therefore
the love that but two days agone bloomed in my heart, dies and
withers; or if it does not, at least I cast it from me and tread its
flowers beneath my feet. For this doom the Gods have laid upon me, who
am of all women the most hapless, to live beloved but loveless through
many years, and at the last to love and be betrayed. And now I go
hence back to my temple shrine; but fear not, Meriamun, not for long
shall I trouble thee or Khem, and men shall die no more because of my
beauty, for I shall presently pass hence whither the Gods appoint; and
this I say to thee--deal gently with that man who has betrayed my
faith, for whatever he did was done for the love of thee. It is no
mean thing to have won the heart of Odysseus of Ithaca out of the hand
of Argive Helen. Fare thee well, Meriamun, who wouldst have slain me.
May the Gods grant thee better days and more of joy than is given to
Helen, who would look upon thy face no more."

Thus she spake, and letting her veil fall turned to go. For awhile the
Queen stood shamed to silence by these gentle words, that fell like
dew upon the fires of her hate. But ere Helen had passed the length of
a spear her fury burned up again. What, should she let this strange
woman go--this woman who alone of all that breathed was more beautiful
than she, by the aid of whose stolen beauty she alone had won her
love, and for whose sake she had endured such bitter words of scorn?
Nay, while Helen yet lived she could find not joy nor sleep. But were
Helen dead, then perchance all might yet be well, and the Wanderer yet
be hers, for when the best is gone men turn them to the better.

"Close the gates and bar them," she cried to the men, who now streamed
back into the hall; and they ran to do her bidding, so that before
Helen reached the Palace doors, they had been shut and the gates of
bronze beyond had clashed like the shields of men.

Now Helen drew near the doors.

"Stay yon witch," cried the Queen to those who guarded them, and in
wonder they poised their spears to bar the way to Helen. But she only
lifted her veil and looked upon them. Then their arms fell from their
hands and they stood amazed at the sight of beauty.

"Open, I beseech you," said the Helen gently, and straightway they
opened the doors and she passed through, followed by those who guarded
them, by the Queen, and by Rei. But one man there was who did not see
her beauty, and he strove in vain to hold back the doors and to clasp
Helen as she passed.

Now she drew near to the gates--

"Shoot the witch!" cried Meriamun the Queen; "if she pass the gates,
by my royal word I swear that ye shall die every man of you. Shoot her
with arrows."

Then three men drew their bows mightily. The string of the bow of one
burst, and the bow was shattered, and the arrow of the second slipped
as he drew it, and passing downwards pierced his foot; and the shaft
of the third swerved ere it struck the breast of Helen, and sunk into
the heart of that soldier who was next to the Queen, so that he fell
down dead. It was the same man who had striven to hold to the doors
and clasp the Helen.

Then Helen turned and spoke:

"Bid not thy guard to shoot again, Meriamun, lest the arrow find /thy/
heart, for, know this, no man may harm me;" and once more she lifted
her veil, and speaking to those at the gates said: "Open, I beseech
you, and let the Hathor pass."

Now their weapons fell from their hands, and they looked upon her
beauty, and they too made haste to open the gates. The great gates
clanged upon their sockets and rolled back. She passed through them,
and all who were there followed after her. But when they looked, lo!
she had mingled with the people who went to and fro and was gone.

Then Meriamun grew white with rage because Helen whom she hated had
escaped her, and turning to those men who had opened the doors and
those who had given passage of the gates, who yet stood looking on
each other with dazed eyes, she doomed them to die.

But Rei, kneeling before her, prayed for their lives:

"Ill will come of it, O Queen!" he said, "as ill came to yonder
Sidonian and to the soldier at thy feet, for none may work evil on
this Goddess, or those who befriended the Goddess. Slay them not, O
Queen, lest ill tidings follow on the deed!"

Then the Queen turned on him madly:

"Hearken thou, Rei!" she said; "speak thus again, and though I have
loved thee and thou hast been the chief of the servants of Pharaoh,
this I swear, that thou shalt die the first. Already the count is long
between thee and me, for it was thou who didst bring yon accursed
witch to my Palace. Now thou hast heard, and of this be sure, as I
have spoken so I will do. Get thee gone--get thee from my sight, I
say, lest I slay thee now. I take back thy honours, I strip thee of
thy offices, I gather thy wealth into my treasury. Go forth a beggar,
and let me see thy face no more!"

Then Rei held his peace and fled, for it were better to stand before a
lioness robbed of her whelps than before Meriamun in her rage. Thereon
the gates were shut again, and the captain of the gates was dragged
before the place where the Queen stood, and asking no mercy and taking
little heed, for still his soul was filled with the beauty of Helen as
a cup with wine, he suffered death, for his head was straightway
smitten from him.

Rei, watching from afar, groaned aloud, then turned and left the
Palace, but the Queen called to the soldiers to slay on. Even as she
called there came a cry of woe without the Palace gates. Men looked
each on each. Again the cry rose and a voice without called, "Pharaoh
is come again! Pharaoh is come again!" and there rose a sound of
knocking at the gates.

Now for that while Meriamun thought no more of slaying the men, but
bade them open the gates. They opened, and a man entered clad in
raiment stained with travel. His eyes were wild, his hair was
dishevelled, and scarce could his face be known for the face of
Pharaoh Meneptah, it was so marred with grief and fear.

Pharaoh looked on the Queen--he looked upon the dead who lay at her
feet, then laughed aloud:

"What!" he cried, "more dead! Is there then no end to Death and the
number of his slain? Nay, here he doth work but feebly. Perchance his
arm grows weary. Come, where are /thy/ dead, Queen? Bring forth thy
dead!"

"What hath chanced, Meneptah, that thou speakest thus madly?" asked
the Queen. "She whom they name the Hathor hath passed here, and these,
and another who lies yonder, do but mark her path. Speak!"

"Ay, I will speak, Queen. I have a merry tale to tell. Thou sayest
that the Hathor hath passed here and these mark her footsteps. Well, I
can cap thy story. He whom the Apura name Jahveh hath passed yonder by
the Sea of Weeds, and there lie many, lie to mark His footsteps."

"Thy host! Where is thy host?" cried the Queen. "At the least some are
left."

"Yes, Queen, /all/ are left--all--all--save myself alone. They drift
to and fro in the Sea of Weeds--they lie by tens of thousands on its
banks; the gulls tear their eyes, the lion of the desert rends their
flesh; they lie unburied, their breath sighs in the sea gales, their
blood sinks into the salt sands, and Osiris numbers them in the hosts
of hell. Hearken! I came upon the tribes of the Apura by the banks of
the Sea of Weeds. I came at eve, but I might not fall upon them
because of a veil of darkness that spread between my armies and the
hosts of the Apura. All night long through the veil of darkness, and
through the shrieking of a great gale, I heard a sound as of the
passing of a mighty people--the clangour of their arms, the voices of
captains, the stamp of beasts, and the grinding of wheels. The morning
came, and lo! before me the waters of the sea were built up as a wall
on the right hand and the left, and between the walls of water was dry
land, and the Apura passed between the walls. Then I cried to my
captains to arise and follow swiftly, and they did my bidding. But the
chariot wheels drew heavily in the sand, so that before all my host
had entered between the waters, the Apura had passed the sea. Then of
a sudden, as last of all I passed down into the path of the ocean bed,
the great wind ceased, and as it ceased, lo! the walls of water that
were on either side of the sea path fell together with noise like the
noise of thunder. I turned my chariot wheels, and fled back, but my
soldiers, my chariots, and my horses were swallowed; once more they
were seen again on the crest of the black waves like a gleam of light
upon a cloud, once a great cry arose to the heaven; then all was done
and all was still, and of my hosts I alone was left alive of men."

So Pharaoh spoke, and a great groan rose from those who hearkened.
Only Meriamun spoke:

"So shall things go with us while that False Hathor dwells in Khem."

Now as she spoke thus, again there came a sound of knocking at the
gates and a cry of "Open--a messenger! a messenger!"

"Open!" said Meriamun, "though his tidings be ill, scarce can they
match these that have been told."

The gates were opened, and one came through them. His eyes stared wide
in fear, so dry was his throat with haste and with the sand, that he
stood speechless before them all.

"Give him wine," cried Meriamun, and wine was brought. Then he drank,
and he fell upon his knees before the Queen, for he knew not Pharaoh.

"Thy tidings!" she cried. "Be swift with thy tidings."

"Let the Queen pardon me," he said. "Let her not be wrath. These are
my tidings. A mighty host marches towards the city of On, a host
gathered from all lands of the peoples of the North, from the lands of
the Tulisha, of the Shakalishu, of the Liku, and of the Shairdana.
They march swiftly and raven, they lay the country waste, naught is
left behind them save the smoke of burning towns, the flight of
vultures, and the corpses of men."

"Hast done?" said Meriamun.

"Nay, O Queen! A great fleet sails with them up the eastern mouth of
Sihor, and in it are twelve thousand chosen warriors of the Aquaiusha,
the sons of those men who sacked Troy town."

And now a great groan went up to heaven from the lips of those who
hearkened. Only Meriamun spoke thus:

"And yet the Apura are gone, for whose sake, ye say, came the plagues.
They are fled, but the curse remains, and so shall things ever be with
us while yon False Hathor dwells in Khem."

III

THE BED OF TORMENT

It was nightfall, and Pharaoh sat at meat and Meriamun sat by him. The
heart of Pharaoh was very heavy. He thought of that great army which
now washed to and fro on the waters of the Sea of Weeds, of whose
number he alone had lived to tell the tale. He thought also of the
host of the Apura, who made a mock of him in the desert. But most of
all he brooded on the tidings that the messenger had brought, tidings
of the march of the barbarians and of the fleet of the Aquaiusha that
sailed on the eastern stream of Sihor. All that day he had sat in his
council chamber, and sent forth messengers east and north and south,
bidding them gather the mercenaries from every town and in every city,
men to make war against the foe, for here, in his white-walled city of
Tanis, there were left but five thousand soldiers. And now, wearied
with toil and war, he sat at meat, and as he sat bethought him of the
man whom he had left to guard the Queen.

"Where, then, is that great Wanderer, he who wore the golden harness?"
he asked presently.

"I have a tale to tell thee of the man," Meriamun answered slowly, "a
tale which I have not told because of all the evil tidings that beat
about our ears like sand in a desert wind."

"Tell on," said Pharaoh.

Then she bent towards him, whispering in his ear.

As she whispered, the face of Pharaoh grew black as the night, and ere
all the tale was done he sprang to his feet.

"By Amen and by Ptah!" he cried, "here at least we have a foe whom we
may conquer. Thou and I, Meriamun, my sister and my queen, are set as
far each from each as the sky is set from the temple top, and little
of love is there between us. Yet I will wipe away this blot upon thy
honour, which also is a blot upon my own. Sleepless shall this
Wanderer lie to-night, and sorry shall he go to-morrow, but to-morrow
night he shall sleep indeed."

Thereupon he clapped his hands, summoning the guard, and bade them
pass to the dungeon where the Wanderer lay, and lead him thence to the
place of punishment. He bade them also call the tormentors to make
ready the instruments of their craft, and await him in the place of
punishment.

Then he sat for awhile, drinking sullenly, till one came to tell him
that all was prepared. Then Pharaoh rose.

"Comest thou with me?" he asked.

"Nay," said Meriamun, "I would not look upon the man again; and this I
charge thee. Go not down to him this night. Let him be found upon the
bed of torment, and let the tormentors give him food and wine, for so
he shall die more hardly. Then let them light the fires at his head
and at his feet and leave him till the dawn alone in the place of
torment. So he shall die a hundred deaths ere ever his death begins."

"As thou wilt," answered Pharaoh. "Mete out thine own punishment.
To-morrow when I have slept I will look upon his torment." And he
spoke to his servants as she desired.

The Wanderer lay on the bed of torment in the place of torment. They
had taken the gag from his mouth, and given him food and wine as
Pharaoh commanded. He ate and drank and his strength came back to him.
Then they made fast his fetters, lit the braziers at his head and
foot, and left him with mocking words.

He lay upon the bed of stone and groaned in the bitterness of his
heart. Here then was the end of his wanderings, and this was the
breast of the Golden Helen in whose arms Aphrodite had sworn that he
should lie. Oh, that he were free again and stood face to face with
his foes, his harness on his back! Nay, it might not be, no mortal
strength could burst these fetters, not even the strength of Odysseus,
Laertes' son. Where now were those Gods whom he had served? Should he
never again hear the clarion cry of Pallas? Why then had he turned him
from Pallas and worshipped at the shrine of the false Idalian Queen?
Thus it was that she kept her oaths; thus she repaid her votary.

So he thought in the bitterness of his heart as he lay with closed
eyes upon the bed of torment whence there was no escape, and groaned:
"Would, Aphrodite, that I had never served thee, even for one little
hour, then had my lot gone otherwise."

Now he opened his eyes, and lo! a great glory rolled about the place
of torment, and as he wondered at the glory, a voice spoke from its
midst--the voice of the Idalian Aphrodite:

"Blame me not, Odysseus," said the heavenly voice; "blame me not
because thou art come to this pass. Thyself, son of Laertes, art to
blame. What did I tell thee? Was it not that thou shouldst know the
Golden Helen by the Red Star on her breast, the jewel whence fall the
red drops fast, and by the Star alone? And did she not tell thee,
also, that thou shouldst know her by the Star? Yet when one came to
thee wearing no Star but girdled with a Snake, my words were all
forgotten, thy desires led thee whither thou wouldst not go. Thou wast
blinded by desire and couldst not discern the False from the True.
Beauty has many shapes, now it is that of Helen, now that of Meriamun,
each sees it as he desires it. But the Star is yet the Star, and the
Snake is yet the Snake, and he who, bewildered of his lusts, swears by
the Snake when he should have sworn by the Star, shall have the Snake
for guerdon."

She ceased, and the Wanderer spoke, groaning bitterly:

"I have sinned, O Queen!" he said. "Is there then no forgiveness for
my sin?"

"Yea, there is forgiveness, Odysseus, but first there is punishment.
This is thy fate. Never now, in this space of life, shalt thou be the
lord of the Golden Helen. For thou hast sworn by the Snake, and his
thou art, nor mayest thou reach the Star. Yet it still shines on.
Through the mists of death it shall shine for thee, and when thou
wakest again, behold, thine eyes shall see it fitfully.

"And now, this for thy comfort. Here thou shalt not die, nor by
torment, for thy death shall come to thee from the water as the dead
seer foretold, but ere thou diest, once more thou shalt look upon the
Golden Helen, and hear her words of love and know her kiss, though
thine she shall not be. And learn that a great host marches upon the
land of Khem, and with it sails a fleet of thine own people, the
Achans. Go down and meet them and take what comes, where the swords
shine that smote Troy. And this fate is laid upon thee, that thou
shalt do battle against thy own people, even against the sons of them
by whose side thou didst fight beneath the walls of Ilios, and in that
battle thou shalt find thy death, and in thy death, thou Wanderer,
thou shalt find that which all men seek, the breast of the immortal
Helen. For though here on earth she seems to live eternally, it is but
the shadow of her beauty that men see--each as he desires it. In the
halls of Death she dwells, and in the garden of Queen Persephone, and
there she shall be won, for there no more is beauty guarded of Those
that stand between men and joy, and there no more shall the Snake seem
as the Star, and Sin have power to sever those that are one. Now make
thy heart strong, Odysseus, and so do as thy wisdom tells thee.
Farewell!"

Thus the Goddess spoke from the cloud of glory, and lo! she was gone.
But the heart of the Wanderer was filled with joy because he knew that
the Helen was not lost to him for ever, and he no more feared the
death of shame.

*****

Now it was midnight, and Pharaoh slept. But Meriamun the Queen slept
not. She rose from her bed, she wrapped herself in a dark cloak that
hid her face, and taking a lamp in her hand, glided through the empty
halls till she came to a secret stair down which she passed. There was
a gate at the foot of the stair, and a guard slept by it. She pushed
him with her foot.

He awoke and sprang towards her, but she held a signet before his
eyes, an old ring of great Queen Taia, whereon a Hathor worshipped the
sun. Then he bowed and opened the gate. She swept on through many
passages, deep into the bowels of the earth, till she came to the door
of a little chamber where a light shone. Men talked in the chamber,
and she listened to their talk. They spoke much and laughed gleefully.
Then she entered the doorway and looked upon them. They were six in
number, evil-eyed men of Ethiopia, and seated in a circle. In the
centre of the circle lay the waxen image of a man, and they were
cutting it with knives and searing it with needles of iron and pincers
made red-hot, and many instruments strange and dreadful to look upon.
For these were the tormentors, and they spoke of those pains that
to-morrow they should wreak upon the Wanderer, and practised them.

But Meriamun, who loved him, shivered as she looked, and muttered thus
beneath her breath:

"This I promise you, black ministers of death, that in the same
fashion ye shall die ere another night be sped."

Then she passed into the chamber, holding the signet on high, and the
tormentors fell upon their faces before her majesty. She passed
between them, and as she went she stamped with her sandalled foot upon
the waxen image and brake it. On the further side of the chamber was
another passage, and this she followed till she reached a door of
stone that stood ajar. Here she paused awhile, for from within the
chamber there came a sound of singing, and the voice was the
Wanderer's voice, and thus he sang:

"Endure, my heart: not long shalt thou endure
The shame, the smart;
The good and ill are done; the end is sure;
Endure, my heart!
There stand two vessels by the golden throne
Of Zeus on high,
From these he scatters mirth and scatters moan,
To men that die.
And thou of many joys hast had thy share,
Thy perfect part;
Battle and love, and evil things and fair;
Endure, my heart!
Fight one last greatest battle under shield,
Wage that war well:
Then seek thy fellows in the shadowy field
Of asphodel,
There is the knightly Hector; there the men
Who fought for Troy;
Shall we not fight our battles o'er again?
Were that not joy?
Though no sun shines beyond the dusky west,
Thy perfect part
There shalt thou have of the unbroken rest;
Endure, my heart!"

Meriamun heard and wondered at this man's hardihood, and the greatness
of his heart who could sing thus as he lay upon the bed of torment.
Now she pushed the door open silently and passed in. The place where
she stood was dreadful. It was shaped as a lofty vault, and all the
walls were painted with the torments of those who pass down to Set
after living wickedly on earth. In the walls were great rings of
bronze, and chains and fetters of bronze, wherein the bones of men yet
hung. In the centre of the vault there was a bed of stone on which the
Wanderer was fastened with fetters. He was naked, save only for a
waistcloth, and at his head and feet burned polished braziers that
gave light to the vault, and shone upon the instruments of torment.
Beyond the further braziers grinned the gate of Sekhet, that is shaped
like a woman, and the chains wherein the victim is set for the last
torment by fire, were hanging from the roof.

Meriamun passed stealthily behind the head of the Wanderer, who might
not see her because of the straitness of his bonds. Yet it seemed to
her that he heard somewhat, for he ceased from singing and turned his
ear to hearken. She stood awhile in silence looking on him she loved,
who of all living men was the goodliest by far. Then at length he
spoke craftily:

"Who art thou?" he said. "If thou art of the number of the tormentors,
begin thy work. I fear thee not, and no groan shall thy worst torture
wring from these lips of mine. But I tell thee this, that ere I be
three days dead, the Gods shall avenge me terribly, both on thee and
those who sent thee. With fire and with sword they shall avenge me,
for a great host gathers and draws nigh, a host of many nations
gathered out of all lands, ay, and a fleet manned with the sons of my
own people, of the Achans terrible in war. They rush on like ravening
wolves, and the land is black before them, but the land shall be
stamped red behind their feet. Soon they shall give this city to the
flames, the smoke of it shall go up to heaven, and the fires shall be
quenched at last in the blood of its children--ay, in thy blood, thou
who dost look on me."

Hearing these words Meriamun bent forward to look on the face of the
speaker and to see what was written there; and as she moved, her cloak
slipped apart, showing the Snake's head with the eyes of flame that
was set about her as a girdle. Fiercely they gleamed, and the
semblance of them was shown faintly on the polished surface of the
brazier wherein the fire burned at the Wanderer's feet. He saw it, and
now he knew who stood behind him.

"Say, Meriamun the Queen--Pharaoh's dishonoured wife," he said, "say,
wherefore art thou come to look upon thy work? Nay, stand not behind
me, stand where I may see thee. Fear not, I am strongly bound, nor may
I lift a hand against thee."

Then Meriamun, still speaking no word, but wondering much because he
knew her ere his eyes fell upon her, passed round the bed of torment,
and throwing down her cloak stood before him in her dark and royal
loveliness.

He looked upon her beauty, then spoke again:

"Say, wherefore art thou come hither, Meriamun? Surely, with my ears I
heard thee swear that I had wronged thee. Wouldst thou then look on
him who wronged thee, or art thou come, perchance, to watch my
torments, while thy slaves tear limb from limb, and quench yon fires
with my blood? Oh, thou evil woman, thou hast worked woe on me indeed,
and perchance canst work more woe now that I lie helpless here. But
this I tell thee, that thy torments shall outnumber mine as the stars
outnumber the earth. For here, and hereafter, thou shalt be parched
with such a thirst of love as never may be quenched, and in many
another land, and in many another time, thou shalt endure thine agony
afresh. Again, and yet again, thou shalt clasp and conquer; again, and
yet again, thou shalt let slip, and in the moment of triumph lose. By
the Snake's head I swore my troth to thee, I, who should have sworn by
the Star; and this I tell thee, Meriamun, that as the Star shall shine
and be my beacon through the ages, so through the ages shall the Snake
encircle thee and be thy doom!"

"Hold!" said Meriamun, "pour no more bitter words upon me, who am
distraught of love, and was maddened by thy scorn. Wouldst thou know
then why I am come hither? For this cause I am come, to save thee from
thy doom. Hearken, the time is short. It is true--though how thou
knowest it I may not guess--it is true that the barbarians march on
Khem, and with them sails a fleet laden with the warriors of thine own
people. This also is true, Pharaoh has returned alone: and all his
host is swallowed in the Sea of Weeds. And I, foolish that I am, I
would save thee, Odysseus, thus: I will put it in the heart of Pharaoh
to pardon thy great offence, and send thee forward against the foe;
yes, I can do it. But this thou shalt swear to me, to be true to
Pharaoh, and smite the barbarian host."

"That I will swear," said the Wanderer, "ay, and keep the oath, though
it is hard to do battle on my kin. Is that all thy message, Meriamun?"

"Not all, Odysseus. One more thing must thou swear, or if thou
swearest it not, here thou shalt surely die. Know this, she who in
Khem is named the Hathor, but who perchance has other names, hath put
thee from her because last night thou wast wed to me."

"It may well be so," said the Wanderer.

"She hath put thee from her, and thou--thou art bound to me by that
which cannot be undone, and by an oath that may not be broken; in
whatever shape I walk, or by whatever name I am known among men, still
thou art bound to me, as I am bound to thee. This then thou shalt
swear, that thou wilt tell naught of last night's tale to Pharaoh."

"That I swear," said the Wanderer.

"Also that if Pharaoh be gathered to Osiris, and it should chance that
she who is named the Hathor pass with him to the Underworld, then that
thou, Odysseus, wilt wed me, Meriamun, and be faithful to me for thy
life days."

Now the crafty Odysseus took counsel with his heart, and bethought him
of the words of the Goddess. He saw that it was in the mind of
Meriamun to slay Pharaoh and the Helen. But he cared nothing for the
fate of Pharaoh, and knew well that Helen might not be harmed, and
that though she change eternally, wearing now this shape, and now
that, yet she dies only when the race of men is dead--then to be
gathered to the number of the Gods. This he knew also, that now he
must go forth on his last wandering, for Death should come upon him
from the water. Therefore he answered readily:

"That oath I swear also, Meriamun, and if I break it may I perish in
shame and for ever."

Now Meriamun heard, and knelt beside him, looking upon him with eyes
of love.

"It is well, Odysseus: perchance ere long I shall claim thy oath. Oh,
think not so ill of me: if I have sinned, I have sinned from love of
thee. Long years ago, Odysseus, thy shadow fell upon my heart and I
clasped its emptiness. Now thou art come, and I, who pursued a shadow
from sleep to sleep and dream to dream, saw thee a living man, and
loved thee to my ruin. Then I tamed my pride and came to win thee to
my heart, and the Gods set another shape upon me--so thou sayest--and
in that shape, the shape of her thou seekest, thou didst make me wife
to thee. Perchance she and I are /one/, Odysseus. At the least, not so
readily had /I/ forsaken thee. Oh, when thou didst stand in thy might
holding those dogs at bay till the Sidonian knave cut thy
bowstring----"

"What of him? Tell me, what of Kurri? This would I ask thee, Queen,
that he be laid where I lie, and die the death to which I am doomed."

"Gladly would I give thee the boon," she answered, "but thou askest
too late. The False Hathor looked upon him, and he slew himself. Now I
will away--the night wanes and Pharaoh must dream dreams ere dawn.
Fare thee well, Odysseus. Thy bed is hard to-night, but soft is the
couch of kings that waits thee," and she went forth from him.

"Ay, Meriamun," said the Wanderer, looking after her. "Hard is my bed
to-night, and soft is the couch of the kings of Men that waits me in
the realms of Queen Persephone. But it is not thou who shalt share it.
Hard is my bed to-night, harder shall thine be through all the nights
of death that are to come when the Erinnyes work their will on folk
forsworn."

IV

PHARAOH'S DREAM

Pharaoh slept heavily in his place, for he was wearied with grief and
toil. But Meriamun passed into the chamber, and standing at the foot
of the golden bed, lifted up her hands and by her art called visions
down on Pharaoh, false dreams through the Ivory Gate. So Pharaoh
dreamed, and thus his vision went:--

He dreamed that he slept in his bed, and that the statue of Ptah, the
Creator, descended from the pedestal by the temple gate and came to
him, towering over him like a giant. Then he dreamed that he awoke,
and prostrating himself before the God, asked the meaning of his
coming. Thereon the God spoke to him:--

"Meneptah, my son, whom I love, hearken unto me. The Nine-bow
barbarians overrun the ancient land of Khem; nine nations march up
against Khem and lay it waste. Hearken unto me, my son, and I will
give thee victory. Awake, awake from sloth, and I will give thee
victory. Thou shalt hew down the Nine-bow barbarians as a countryman
hews a rotting palm; they shall fall, and thou shalt spoil them. But
hearken unto me, my son, thou shalt not thyself go up against them.
Low in thy dungeon there lies a mighty chief, skilled in the warfare
of the barbarians, a Wanderer who hath wandered far. Thou shalt
release him from his bonds and set him over thy armies, and of the sin
that he has sinned thou shalt take no heed. Awake, awake, Meneptah;
with this bow which I give thee shalt thou smite the Nine-bow
barbarians."

Then Meriamun laid the bow of the Wanderer, even the black bow of
Eurytus, on the bed beside Pharaoh, and passed thence to her own
chamber, and the deceitful dream too passed away.

Early in the morning, a waiting-woman came to the Queen saying that
Pharaoh would speak with her. She went into the ante-chamber and found
him there, and in his hand was the black bow of Eurytus.

"Dost thou know this weapon?" he asked.

"Yea, I know it," she answered; "and thou shouldst know it also, for
surely it saved us from the fury of the people on the night of the
death of the first-born. It is the bow of the Wanderer, who lies in
the place of torment, and waits his doom because of the wrong he would
have wrought upon me."

"If he hath wronged thee, yet it is he who shall save Khem from the
barbarians," said Pharaoh. "Listen now to the dream that I have
dreamed," and he told her all the vision.

"It is indeed evil that he who would have wrought such wickedness upon
me should go forth honoured, the first of the host of Pharaoh," quoth
Meriamun. "Yet as the God hath spoken, so let it be. Send now and bid
them loose the man from the place of torment, and put his armour on
him and bring him before thee."

So Pharaoh went out, and the Wanderer was loosed from his bed of stone
and clothed again in his golden harness, and came forth glorious to
see, and stood before Pharaoh. But no arms were given him. Then
Pharaoh told him all his dream, and why he caused him to be released
from the grip of the tormentors. The Wanderer hearkened in silence,
saying no word.

"Now choose, thou Wanderer," said Pharaoh: "choose if thou wilt be
borne back to the bed of torment, there to die beneath the hands of
the tormentors, or if thou wilt go forth as the captain of my host to
do battle with the Nine-bow barbarians who waste the land of Khem. It
seems there is little faith in thine oaths, therefore I ask no more
oaths from thee. But this I swear, that if thou art false to my trust,
I will yet find means to bring thee back to that chamber whence thou
wast led but now."

Then the Wanderer spoke:--

"Of that charge, Pharaoh, which is laid against me I will say nothing,
though perchance if I stood upon my trial for the sin that is laid
against me, I might find words to say. Thou askest no oath from me,
and no oath I swear, yet I tell thee that if thou givest me ten
thousand soldiers and a hundred chariots, I will smite these foes of
thine so that they shall come no more to Khem, ay, though they be of
my own people, yet will I smite them, and if I fail, then may those
who go with me slay me and send me down to Hades."

Thus he spoke, and as he spoke he searched the hall with his eyes. For
he desired to see Rei the Priest, and charge him with a message to
Helen. But he sought him in vain, for Rei had fled, and was in hiding
from the anger of Meriamun.

Then Pharaoh bade his officers take the Wanderer, and set him in a
chariot and bear him to the city of On, where Pharaoh's host was
gathering. Their charge was to watch him night and day with uplifted
swords, and if he so much as turned his face from the foe towards
Tanis, then they should slay him. But when the host of Pharaoh marched
from On to do battle on the foe, then they should give the Wanderer
his own sword and the great black bow, and obey him in everything. But
if he turned his back upon the foe, then they should slay him; or if
the host of Pharaoh were driven back by the foe, then they should slay
him.

The Wanderer heard, and smiled as a wolf smiles, but spoke no word.
Thereon the great officers of Pharaoh took him and led him forth. They
set him in a chariot, and with the chariot went a thousand horsemen;
and soon Meriamun, watching from the walls of Tanis, saw the long line
of desert dust that marked the passing of the Wanderer from the city
which he should see no more.

The Wanderer also looked back on Tanis with a heavy heart. There, far
away, he could see the shrine of Hathor gleaming like crystal above
the tawny flood of waters. And he must go down to death, leaving no
word for Her who sat in the shrine and deemed him faithless and
forsworn. Evil was the lot that the Gods had laid upon him, and bitter
was his guerdon.

His thoughts were sad enough while the chariot rolled towards the city
of On, where the host of Pharaoh was gathering, and the thunder of the
feet of horses echoed in his ears, when, as he pondered, it chanced
that he looked up. There, on a knoll of sand before him, a bow-shot
from the chariot, stood a camel, and on the camel a man sat as though
he waited the coming of the host. Idly the Wanderer wondered who this
might be, and, as he wondered, the man urged the camel towards the
chariot, and, halting before it cried "Hold!" in a loud voice.

"Who art thou?" cried the captain of the chariot, "who darest cry
'hold' to the host of Pharaoh?"

"I am one who have tidings of the barbarians," the man made answer
from the camel.

The Wanderer looked on him. He was wondrous little, withered and old;
moreover, his skin was black as though with the heat of the sun, and
his clothing was as a beggar's rags, though the trappings of the camel
were of purple leather and bossed with silver. Again the Wanderer
looked; he knew him not, and yet there was that in his face which
seemed familiar.

Now the captain of the chariot bade the driver halt the horses, and
cried, "Draw near and tell thy tidings."

"To none will I tell my tidings save to him who shall lead the host of
Pharaoh. Let him come down from the chariot and speak with me."

"That may not be," said the captain, for he was charged that the
Wanderer should have speech with none.

"As thou wilt," answered the aged man upon the camel; "go then, go to
thy doom! thou art not the first who hath turned aside a messenger
from the Gods."

"I am minded to bid the soldiers shoot thee with arrows," cried the
captain in anger.

"So shall my wisdom sink in the sand with my blood, and be lost with
my breath. Shoot on, thou fool."

Now the captain was perplexed, for from the aspect of the man he
deemed that he was sent by the Gods. He looked at the Wanderer, who
took but little heed, or so it seemed. But in his crafty heart he knew
that this was the best way to win speech with the man upon the camel.
Then the captain took counsel with the captain of the horsemen, and in
the end they said to the Wanderer:

"Descend from the chariot, lord, and walk twelve paces forward, and
there hold speech with the man. But if thou go one pace further, then
we will shoot thee and the man with arrows." And this he cried out
also to him who sat upon the camel.

Then the man on the camel descended and walked twelve paces forward,
and the Wanderer descended also from the chariot and walked twelve
paces forward, but as one who heeds little what he does. Now the two
stood face to face, but out of earshot of the host, who watched them
with arrows set upon the strings.

"Greetings, Odysseus of Ithaca, son of Laertes," he said who was
clothed in the beggar's weeds.

The Wanderer looked upon him hard, and knew him through his disguise.

"Greeting, Rei the Priest, Commander of the Legion of Amen, Chief of
the Treasury of Amen."

"Rei the Priest I am indeed," he answered, "the rest I am no more, for
Meriamun the Queen has stripped me of my wealth and offices, because
of thee, thou Wanderer, and the Immortal whose love thou hast won, and
by whom thou hast dealt so ill. Hearken! I learned by arts known to me
of the dream of Pharaoh, and of thy sending forth to do battle with
the barbarians. Then I disguised myself as thou seest, and took the
swiftest camel in Tanis, and am come hither by another way to meet
thee. Now I would ask thee one thing. How came it that thou didst play
the Immortal false that night? Knowest thou that she waited for thee
there by the pylon gate? Ay, there I found her and led her to the
Palace, and for that I am stripped of my rank and goods by Meriamun,
and now the Lady of Beauty is returned to her shrine, grieving
bitterly for thy faithlessness; though how she passed thither I know
not."

"Methought I heard her voice as those knaves bore me to my dungeon,"
said the Wanderer. "And she deemed me faithless! Say, Rei, dost thou
know the magic of Meriamun? Dost thou know how she won me to herself
in the shape of Argive Helen?"

And then, in as few words as might be, he told Rei how he had been led
away by the magic of Meriamun, how he who should have sworn by the
Star had sworn by the Snake.

When Rei heard that the Wanderer had sworn by the Snake, he shuddered.
"Now I know all," he said. "Fear not, thou Wanderer, not on thee shall
all the evil fall, nor on that Immortal whom thou dost love; the Snake
that beguiled thee shall avenge thee also."

"Rei," the Wanderer said, "one thing I charge thee. I know that I go
down to my death. Therefore I pray thee seek out her whom thou namest
the Hathor and tell her all the tale of how I was betrayed. So shall I
die happily. Tell her also that I crave her forgiveness and that I
love her and her only."

"This I will do if I may," Rei answered. "And now the soldiers murmur
and I must be gone. Listen, the might of the Nine-bow barbarians rolls
up the eastern branch of Sihor. But one day's march from On the
mountains run down to the edge of the river, and those mountains are
pierced by a rocky pass through which the foe will surely come. Set
thou thy ambush there, Wanderer, there at Prosopis--so shalt thou
smite them. Farewell. I will seek out the Hathor if in any way I can
come at her, and tell her all. But of this I warn thee, the hour is
big with Fate, and soon will spawn a monstrous birth. Strange visions
of doom and death passed before mine eyes as I slept last night.
Farewell!"

Then he went back to the camel and climbed it, and passing round the
army vanished swiftly in a cloud of dust.

The Wanderer also went back to the host, where the captains murmured
because of the halt, and mounted his chariot. But he would tell
nothing of what the man had said to him, save that he was surely a
messenger from the Under-world to instruct him in the waging of the
war.

Then the chariot and the horsemen passed on again, till they came to
the city of On, and found the host of Pharaoh gathering in the great
walled space that is before the Temple of Ra. And there they pitched
their camp hard by the great obelisks that stand at the inner gate,
which Rei the architect fashioned by Thebes, and the divine Rameses
Miamun set up to the glory of Ra for ever.

V

THE VOICE OF THE DEAD

When Meriamun the Queen had watched the chariot of the Wanderer till
it was lost in the dust of the desert, she passed down from the Palace
roof to the solitude of her chamber.

Here she sat in her chamber till the darkness gathered, as the evil
thoughts gathered in her heart, that was rent with love of him whom
she had won but to lose. Things had gone ill with her, to little
purpose she had sinned after such a fashion as may not be forgiven.
Yet there was hope. He had sworn that he would wed her when Pharaoh
was dead, and when Argive Helen had followed Pharaoh to the Shades.
Should she shrink then from the deed of blood? Nay, from evil to evil
she would go. She laid her hand upon the double-headed snake that
wound her about, and spake into the gloom:

"Osiris waits thee, Meneptah--Osiris waits thee! The Shades of those
who have died for thy love, Helen, are gathering at the gates. It
shall be done. Pharaoh, thou diest to-night. To-morrow night, thou
Goddess Helen, shall all thy tale be told. /Man/ may not harm thee
indeed, but shall fire refuse to kiss thy loveliness? Are there no
/women's/ hands to light thy funeral pile?"

Then she rose, and calling her ladies, was attired in her most
splendid robes, and caused the uraeus crown to be set upon her head,
the snake circlet of power on her brow, the snake girdle of wisdom at
her heart. And now she hid somewhat in her breast, and passed to the
ante-chamber, where the Princes gathered for the feast.

Pharaoh looked up and saw her loveliness. So glorious she seemed in
her royal beauty that his heart forgot its woes, and once again he
loved her as he had done in years gone by, when she conquered him at
the Game of Pieces, and he had cast his arms about her and she stabbed
him.

She saw the look of love grow on his heavy face, and all her gathered
hate rose in her breast, though she smiled gently with her lips and
spake him fair.

They sat at the feast and Pharaoh drank. And ever as he drank she
smiled upon him with her dark eyes and spake him words of gentlest
meaning, till at length there was nothing he desired more than that
they should be at one again.

Now the feast was done. They sat in the ante-chamber, for all were
gone save Meneptah and Meriamun. Then he came to her and took her
hand, looking into her eyes, nor did she say him nay.

There was a lute lying on a golden table, and there too, as it
chanced, was a board for the Game of Pieces, with the dice, and the
pieces themselves wrought in gold.

Pharaoh took up the gold king from the board and toyed with it in his
hand. "Meriamun," he said, "for these five years we have been apart,
thou and I. Thy love I have lost, as a game is lost for one false
move, or one throw of the dice; and our child is dead and our armies
are scattered, and the barbarians come like flies when Sihor stirs
within his banks. Love only is left to us, Meriamun."

She looked at him not unkindly, as if sorrow and wrong had softened
her heart also, but she did not speak.

"Can dead Love waken, Meriamun, and can angry Love forgive?"

She had lifted the lute and her fingers touched listlessly on the
cords.

"Nay, I know not," she said; "who knows? How did Pentaur sing of
Love's renewal, Pentaur the glorious minstrel of our father, Rameses
Miamun?"

He laid the gold king on the board, and began listlessly to cast the
dice. He threw the "Hathor" as it chanced, the lucky cast, two sixes,
and a thought of better fortune came to him.

"How did the song run, Meriamun? It is many a year since I heard thee
sing."

She touched the lute lowly and sweetly, and then she sang. Her
thoughts were of the Wanderer, but the King deemed that she thought of
himself.

O joy of Love's renewing,
Could Love be born again;
Relenting for thy rueing,
And pitying my pain:
O joy of Love's awaking,
Could Love arise from sleep,
Forgiving our forsaking
The fields we would not reap!

Fleet, fleet we fly, pursuing
The Love that fled amain,
But will he list our wooing,
Or call we but in vain?
Ah! vain is all our wooing,
And all our prayers are vain,
Love listeth not our suing,
Love will not wake again.

"Will he not waken again?" said Pharaoh. "If two pray together, will
Love refuse their prayer?"

"It might be so," she said, "if two prayed together; for if they
prayed, he would have heard already!"

"Meriamun," said the Pharaoh eagerly, for he thought her heart was
moved by pity and sorrow, "once thou didst win my crown at the Pieces,
wilt thou play me for thy love?"

She thought for one moment, and then she said:

"Yes, I will play thee, my Lord, but my hand has lost its cunning, and
it may well be that Meriamun shall lose again, as she has lost all.
Let me set the Pieces, and bring wine for my lord."

She set the Pieces, and crossing the room, she lifted a great cup of
wine, and put it by Pharaoh's hand. But he was so intent on the game
that he did not drink.

He took the field, he moved, she replied, and so the game went between
them, in the dark fragrant chamber where the lamp burned, and the
Queen's eyes shone in the night. This way and that went the game, till
she lost, and he swept the board.

Then in triumph he drained the poisoned cup of wine, and cried,
"Pharaoh is dead!"

"Pharaoh is dead!" answered Meriamun, gazing into his eyes.

"What is that look in thine eyes, Meriamun, what is that look in thine
eyes?"

And the King grew pale as the dead, for he had seen that look before--
when Meriamun slew Hataska.

"Pharaoh is dead!" she shrilled in the tone of women who wail the
dirges. "Pharaoh, great Pharaoh is dead! Ere a man may count a hundred
thy days are numbered. Strange! but to-morrow, Meneptah, shalt thou
sit where Hataska sat, dead on the knees of Death, an Osirian in the
lap of the Osiris. Die, Pharaoh, die! But while thy diest, hearken.
There is one I love, the Wanderer who leads thy hosts. His love I
stole by arts known to me, and because I stole it he would have shamed
me, and I accused him falsely in the ears of men. But he comes again,
and, so sure as thou shalt sit on the knees of Osiris, so surely shall
he sit upon thy throne, Pharaoh. For Pharaoh is dead!"

He heard. He gathered his last strength. He rose and staggered towards
her, striking at the air. Slowly she drew away, while he followed her,
awful to see. At length he stood still, he threw up his hands, and
fell dead.

Then Meriamun drew near and looked at him strangely.

"Behold the end of Pharaoh," she said. "That then was a king, upon
whose breath the lives of peoples hung like a poised feather. Well,
let him go! Earth can spare him, and Death is but the richer by a
weary fool. 'Tis done, and well done! Would that to-morrow's task were
also done--and that Helen lay as Pharaoh lies. So--rinse the cup--and
now to sleep--if sleep will come. Ah, where hath sleep flown of late?
To-morrow they'll find him dead. Well, what of it? So do kings
ofttimes die. There, I will be going; never were his eyes so large and
so unlovely!"

Now the light of morning gathered again on all the temple tops, and
men rose from sleep to go about their labours. Meriamun watched it
grow as she lay sleepless in her golden bed, waiting for the cry that
presently should ring along the Palace walls. Hark! What was that? The
sound of swinging doors, the rush of running feet. And now it came--
long and shrill it rose.

"Pharaoh is dead! Awake! Awake, ye sleepers! Awake! awake! and look
upon that which has come about. Pharaoh is dead! Pharaoh is dead!"

Then Meriamun arose, and followed by the ladies, rushed from her
chamber.

"Who dreams so evilly?" she said. "Who dreams and cries aloud in his
haunted sleep?"

"O Queen, it is no dream," said one. "Pass into the ante-chamber and
see. There lies Pharaoh dead, and with no wound upon him to tell the
manner of his end."

Then Meriamun cried aloud with a great cry, and threw her hair about
her face, while tears fell from her dark eyes. She passed into the
chamber, and there, fallen on his back and cold, lay Pharaoh in his
royal robes. Awhile the Queen looked upon him as one who is dumb with
grief. Then she lifted up her voice and cried:

"Still is the curse heavy upon Khem and the people of Khem. Pharaoh
lies dead; yea, he is dead who has no wound, and this I say, that he
is slain of the witchcraft of her whom men name the Hathor. Oh, my
Lord, my Lord!" and kneeling, she laid her hand upon his breast; "by
this dead heart of thine I swear that I will wreak thy murder on her
who wrought it. Lift him up! Lift up this poor clay, that was the
first of kings. Clothe him in the robes of death, and set him on the
knees of Osiris in the Temple of Osiris. Then go forth through the
city and call out this, the Queen's command; call it from street to
street. This is the Queen's command, that 'every woman in Tanis who
has lost son, or husband, or brother, or kin or lover, through the
witchcraft of the False Hathor, or by the plagues that she hath
wrought on Khem, or in the war with the Apura, whom she caused to fly
from Khem, do meet me at sundown in the Temple of Osiris before the
face of the God and of dead Pharaoh's Majesty.'"

So they took Meneptah the Osirian, and wrapping him in the robes of
death, bore him to the knees of Osiris, where he should sit a day and
a night. And the messengers of Meriamun went forth summoning the women
of the city to meet her at sunset in the Temple of Osiris. Moreover,
Meriamun sent out slaves by tens and by twenties to the number of two
thousand, bidding them gather up all the wood that was in Tanis, and
all the oil and the bitumen, and bundles of reeds by hundreds such as
are used for the thatching of houses, and lay them in piles and stacks
in a certain courtyard near the Temple of Hathor. This they did, and
so the day wore on, while the women wailed about the streets because
of the death of Pharaoh.

Now it chanced that the camel of Rei the Priest fell down from
weariness as it journeyed swiftly back to Tanis. But Rei sped forward
on foot, and came to the gates of Tanis, sorely wearied, towards the
evening of that day. When he heard the wailing of the women, he asked
of a passer-by what new evil had fallen upon Khem, and learned the
death of Pharaoh. Then Rei knew by whose hand Pharaoh was dead, and
grieved at heart, because she whom he had served and loved--Meriamun
the moon-child--was a murderess. At first he was minded to go up
before the Queen and put her to an open shame, and then take his death
at her hands; but when he heard that Meriamun had summoned all the
women of Tanis to meet her in the Temple of Osiris, he had another
thought. Hurrying to that place where he hid in the city, he ate and
drank. Then he put off his beggar's rags, and robed himself afresh,
and over all drew the garment of an aged crone, for this was told him,
that no man should be suffered to enter the Temple. Now the day was
dying, and already the western sky was red, and he hurried forth and
mingled with the stream of women who passed towards the Temple gates.

"Who then slew Pharaoh?" asked one; "and why does the Queen summon us
to meet her?"

"Pharaoh is slain by the witchcraft of the False Hathor," answered
another; "and the Queen summons us that we may take counsel how to be
rid of the Hathor."

"Tell not of the accursed Hathor," said a third; "my husband and my
brother are dead at her hands, and my son died in the death of the
first-born that she called down on Khem. Ah, if I could but see her
rent limb from limb I should seek Osiris happily."

"Some there be," quoth a fourth, "who say that not the Hathor, but the
Gods of those Apura brought the woes on Khem, and some that Pharaoh
was slain by the Queen's own hand, because of the love she bears to
that great Wanderer who came here a while ago."

"Thou fool," answered the first; "how can the Queen love one who would
have wrought outrage on her?"

"Such things have been," said the fourth woman; "perchance he wrought
no outrage, perchance she beguiled him as women may. Yes, yes, such
things have been. I am old, and I have seen such things."

"Yea, thou art old," said the first. "Thou hast no child, no husband,
no father, no lover, and no brother. Thou hast lost none who are dear
to thee through the magic of the Hathor. Speak one more such slander
on the Queen, and we will fall upon thee and tear thy lying tongue
from its roots."

"Hush," said the second woman, "here are the Temple gates. By Isis did
any ever see such a multitude of women, and never a man to cheer them,
a dreary sight, indeed! Come, push on, push on or we shall find no
place. Yea, thou soldier--we are women, all women, have no fear. No
need to bare our breasts, look at our eyes blind with weeping over the
dead. Push on! push on!"

So they passed by the guards and into the gates of the Temple, and
with them went Rei unheeded. Already it was well-nigh filled with
women. Although the sun was not yet dead, torches were set about to
lighten the gloom, and by them Rei saw that the curtains before the
Shrine were drawn. Presently the Temple was full to overflowing, the
doors were shut and barred, and a voice from behind the veil cried:

"/Silence!/"

Then all the multitude of women were silent, and the light of the
torches flared strangely upon their shifting upturned faces, as fires
flare over the white sea-foam. Now the curtains of the Shrine of
Osiris were drawn aside slowly, and the light that burned upon the
altar streamed out between them. It fell upon the foremost ranks of
women, it fell upon the polished statue of the Osiris. On the knees of
Osiris sat the body of Pharaoh Meneptah, his head resting against the
breast of the God. Pharaoh was wrapped about with winding clothes like
the marble statue of the God, and in his cold hands were bound the
crook, the sceptre, and the scourge, as the crook, the sceptre, and
the scourge were placed in the hands of the effigy of the God. As was
the statue of the God, so was the body of Pharaoh that sat upon his
knees, and cold and awful was the face of Osiris, and cold and awful
was the face of Meneptah the Osirian.

At the side, and somewhat in front of the statue of the God, a throne
was placed of blackest marble, and on the throne sat Meriamun the
Queen. She was glorious to look on. She wore the royal robes of Khem,
the double-crown of Khem fashioned of gold, and wreathed with the
uraeus snakes, was set upon her head; in her hand was the crystal
cross of Life, and between her mantle's purple folds gleamed the eyes
of her snake girdle. She sat awhile in silence speaking no word, and
all the women wondered at her glory and at dead Pharaoh's awfulness.
Then at length she spoke, low indeed, but so clearly that every word
reached the limits of the Temple hall.

"Women of Tanis, hear me, the Queen. Let each search the face of each,
and if there be any man among your multitude, let him be dragged forth
and torn limb from limb, for in this matter no man may hear our
counsels, lest following his madness he betray them."

Now every woman looked upon her neighbour, and she who was next to Rei
looked hard upon him so that he trembled for his life. But he crouched
into the shadow and stared back on her boldly as though he doubted if
she were indeed a woman, and said no word. When all had looked, and no
man had been found, Meriamun spoke again.

"Hearken, women of Tanis, hearken to your sister and your Queen. Woe
upon woe is fallen on the head of Khem. Plague upon plague hath
smitten the ancient land. Our first-born are dead, our slaves have
spoiled us and fled away, our hosts have been swallowed in the Sea of
Weeds, and barbarians swarm along our shores like locusts. Is it not
so, women of Tanis?"

"It is so, O Queen," they answered, as with one voice.

"A strange evil hath fallen on the head of Khem. A false Goddess is
come to dwell within the land; her sorceries are great in the land.
Month by month men go up to look upon her deadly beauty, and month by
month they are slain of her sorceries. She takes the husband from his
marriage bed; she draws the lover from her who waits to be a bride;
the slave flies to her from the household of his lord; the priests
flock to her from the altars of the Gods--ay, the very priests of Isis
flock forsworn from the altars of Isis. All look upon her witch-
beauty, and to each she shows an altered loveliness, and to all she
gives one guerdon--Death! Is it not so, women of Tanis?"

"Alas! alas! it is so, O Queen," answered the women as with one voice.

"Woes are fallen on you and Khem, my sisters, but on me most of all
are woes fallen. My people have been slain, my land--the land I love--
has been laid waste with plagues; my child, the only one, is dead in
the great death; hands have been laid on me, the Queen of Khem. Think
on it, ye who are women! My slaves are fled, my armies have been
swallowed in the sea; and last, O my sisters, my consort, my beloved
lord, mighty Pharaoh, son of great Rameses Miamun, hath been taken
from me! Look! look! ye who are wives, look on him who was your King
and my most beloved lord. There he sits, and all my tears and all my
prayers may not summon one single answering sigh from that stilled
heart. The curse hath fallen on him also. He too hath been smitten
silently with everlasting silence. Look! look! ye who are wives, and
weep with me, ye who are left widowed."

Now the women looked, and a great groan went up from all that
multitude, while Meriamun hid her face with the hollow of her hand.
Then again she spoke.

"I have besought the Gods, my sisters; I have dared to call down the
majesty of the Gods, who speak through the lips of the dead, and I
have learnt whence these woes come. And this I have won by my prayers,
that ye who suffer as I suffer shall learn whence they come, not from
my mortal lips, indeed, but from the lips of the dead that speak with
the voice of the Gods."

Then, while the women trembled, she turned to the body of Pharaoh,
which was set upon the knees of Osiris, and spoke to it.

"Dead Pharaoh! great Osirian, ruling in the Underworld, hearken to me
now! Hearken to me now, thou Osiris, Lord of the West, first of the
hosts of Death. Hearken to me, Osiris, and be manifest through the
lips of him who was great on earth. Speak through his cold lips, speak
with mortal accents, that these people may hear and understand. By the
spirit that is in me, who am yet a dweller on the earth, I charge thee
speak. Who is the source of the woes of Khem? Say, Lord of the dead,
who are the living evermore?"

Now the flame on the altar died away, and dreadful silence fell upon
the Temple, gloom fell upon the Shrine, and through the gloom the
golden crown of Meriamun, and the cold statue of the Osiris, and the
white face of dead Meneptah gleamed faint and ghost-like.

Then suddenly the flame of the altar flared as flares the summer
lightning. It flared full on the face of the dead, and lo! the lips of
the dead moved, and from them came the sound of mortal speech. They
spake in awful accents, and thus they spoke:

"/She who was the curse of Achans, she who was the doom of Ilios; she
who sits in the Temple of Hathor, the Fate of man, who may not be
harmed of Man, she calls down the wrath of the Gods on Khem. It is
spoken!/"

The echo of the awful words died away in the silence. Then fear took
hold of the multitude of women because of the words of the Dead, and
some fell upon their faces, and some covered their eyes with their
hands.

"Arise, my sisters!" cried the voice of Meriamun. "Ye have heard not
from my lips, but from the lips of the dead. Arise, and let us forth
to the Temple of the Hathor. Ye have heard who is the fountain of our
woes; let us forth and seal it at its source for ever. Of men she may
not be harmed who is the fate of men, from men we ask no help, for all
men are her slaves, and for her beauty's sake all men forsake us. But
we will play the part of men. Our women's milk shall freeze within our
breasts, we will dip our tender hands in blood, ay, scourged by a
thousand wrongs we will forget our gentleness, and tear this foul
fairness from its home. We will burn the Hathor's Shrine with fire,
her priests shall perish at the altar, and the beauty of the false
Goddess shall melt like wax in the furnace of our hate. Say, will ye
follow me, my sisters, and wreak our shames upon the Shameful One, our
woes upon the Spring of Woe, our dead upon their murderess?"

She ceased, and then from every woman's throat within the great Temple
there went up a cry of rage, fierce and shrill.

"We will, Meriamun, we will!" they screamed. "To the Hathor! Lead us
to the Hathor's Shrine! Bring fire! Bring fire! Lead us to the
Hathor's Shrine!"

VI

THE BURNING OF THE SHRINE

Rei the Priest saw and heard. Then turning, he stole away through the
maddened throng of women and fled with what speed he might from the
Temple. His heart was filled with fear and shame, for he knew full
well that Pharaoh was dead, not at the hand of Hathor, but at the hand
of Meriamun the Queen, whom he had loved. He knew well that dead
Meneptah spake not with the voice of the dread Gods, but with the
voice of the magic of Meriamun, who, of all women that have been since
the days of Taia, was the most skilled in evil magic, the lore of the
Snake. He knew also that Meriamun would slay Helen for the same cause
wherefore she had slain Pharaoh, that she might win the Wanderer to
her arms. While Helen lived he was not to be won away.

Now Rei was a righteous man, loving the Gods and good, and hating
evil, and his heart burned because of the wickedness of the woman that
once he cherished. This he swore that he would do, if time were left
to him. He would warn the Helen so that she might fly the fire if so
she willed, ay, and would tell her all the wickedness of Meriamun her
foe.

His old feet stumbled over each other as he fled till he came to the
gates of the Temple of the Hathor, and knocked upon the gates.

"What wouldst thou, old crone?" asked the priest who sat in the gates.

"I would be led to the presence of the Hathor," he answered.

"No woman hath passed up to look upon the Hathor," said the priest.
"That women do not seek."

Then Rei made a secret sign, and wondering greatly that a woman should
have the inner wisdom, the priest let him pass.

He came to the second gates.

"What wouldst thou?" said the priest who sat in the gates.

"I would go up into the presence of the Hathor."

"No woman hath willed to look upon the Hathor," said the priest.

Then again Rei made the secret sign, but still the priest wavered.

"Let me pass, thou foolish warden," said Rei. "I am a messenger from
the Gods."

"If thou art a mortal messenger, woman, thou goest to thy doom," said
the priest.

"On my head be it," answered Rei, and the priest let him pass
wondering.

Now he stood before the doors of the Alabaster Shrine that glowed with
the light within. Still Rei paused not, only uttering a prayer that he
might be saved from the unseen swords; he lifted the latch of bronze,
and entered fearfully. But none fell upon him, nor was he smitten of
invisible spears. Before him swung the curtains of Tyrian web, but no
sound of singing came from behind the curtains. All was silence in the
Shrine. He passed between the curtains and looked up the Sanctuary. It
was lit with many hanging lamps, and by their light he saw the Goddess
Helen, seated between the pillars of her loom. But she wove no more at
the loom. The web of fate was rent by the Wanderer's hands, and lay on
either side, a shining cloth of gold. The Goddess Helen sat songless
in her lonely Shrine, and on her breast gleamed the Red Star of light
that wept the blood of men. Her head rested on her hand, and her
heavenly eyes of blue gazed emptily down the empty Shrine.

Rei drew near trembling, though she seemed to see him not at all, and
at last flung himself upon the earth before her. Now at length she saw
him, and spoke in her voice of music.

"Who art thou that dares to break in upon my sorrow?" she said
wonderingly. "Art thou indeed a woman come to look on one who by the
will of the Gods is each woman's deadliest foe?"

Then Rei raised himself saying:

"No woman am I, immortal Lady. I am Rei, that aged priest who met thee
two nights gone by the pylon gates, and led thee to the Palace of
Pharaoh. And I have dared to seek thy Shrine to tell thee that thou
art in danger at the hands of Meriamun the Queen, and also to give
thee a certain message with which I am charged by him who is named the
Wanderer."

Now Helen looked upon him wonderingly and spoke:

"Didst thou not but now name me immortal, Rei? How then can I be in
danger, who am immortal, and not to be harmed of men? Death hath no
part in me. Speak not to me of dangers, who, alas! can never die till
everything is done; but tell me of that faithless Wanderer, whom I
must love with all the womanhood that shuts my spirit in, and all my
spirit that is clothed in womanhood. For, Rei, the Gods, withholding
Death, have in wrath cursed me with love to torment my deathlessness.
Oh, when I saw him standing where now thou standest, my soul knew its
other part, and I learned that the curse I give to others had fallen
on myself and him."

"Yet was this Wanderer not altogether faithless to thee, Lady," said
Rei. "Listen, and I will tell thee all."

"Speak on," she said. "Oh, speak, and speak swiftly."

Then Rei told Helen all that tale which the Wanderer had charged him
to deliver in her ear, and keep no word back. He told her how Meriamun
had beguiled Eperitus in her shape; how he had fallen in the snare and
sworn by the Snake, he who should have sworn by the Star. He told her
how the Wanderer had learned the truth, and learning it, had cursed
the witch who wronged him; how he had been overcome by the guards and
borne to the bed of torment; how he had been freed by the craft of

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