Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Emma Dudding, email@example.com
by H. Rider Haggard
My dear Budge,–
Only a friendship extending over many years emboldened me, an amateur, to propose to dedicate a Romance of Old Egypt to you, one of the world’s masters of the language and lore of the great people who in these latter days arise from their holy tombs to instruct us in the secrets of history and faith.
With doubt I submitted to you this story, asking whether you wished to accept pages that could not, I feared, be free from error, and with surprise in due course I read, among other kind things, your advice to me to “leave it exactly as it is.” So I take you at your word, although I can scarcely think that in paths so remote and difficult I have not sometimes gone astray.
Whatever may be the shortcomings, therefore, that your kindness has concealed from me, since this tale was so fortunate as to please and interest you, its first critic, I offer it to you as an earnest of my respect for your learning and your labours.
Very sincerely yours,
H. Rider Haggard.
To Doctor Wallis Budge,
Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, British Museum.
It may be thought that even in a story of Old Egypt to represent a “Ka” or “Double” as remaining in active occupation of a throne, while the owner of the said “Double” goes upon a long journey and achieves sundry adventures, is, in fact, to take a liberty with Doubles. Yet I believe that this is scarcely the case. The /Ka/ or Double which Wiedermann aptly calls the “Personality within the Person” appears, according to Egyptian theory, to have had an existence of its own. It did not die when the body died, for it was immortal and awaited the resurrection of that body, with which, henceforth, it would be reunited and dwell eternally. To quote Wiedermann again, “The /Ka/ could live without the body, but the body could not live without the /Ka/ . . . . . it was material in just the same was as the body itself.” Also, it would seem that in certain ways it was superior to and more powerful than the body, since the Egyptian monarchs are often represented as making offerings to their own /Kas/ as though these were gods. Again, in the story of “Setna and the Magic Book,” translated by Maspero and by Mr. Flinders Petrie in his “Egyptian Tales,” the /Ka/ plays a very distinct part of its own. Thus the husband is buried at Memphis and the wife in Koptos, yet the /Ka/ of the wife goes to live in her husband’s tomb hundreds of miles away, and converses with the prince who comes to steal the magic book.
Although I know no actual precedent for it, in the case of a particularly powerful Double, such as was given in this romance to Queen Neter-Tua by her spiritual father, Amen, the greatest of the Egyptian gods, it seems, therefore, legitimate to suppose that, in order to save her from the abomination of a forced marriage with her uncle and her father’s murderer, the /Ka/ would be allowed to anticipate matters a little, and to play the part recorded in these pages.
It must not be understood, however, that the fact of marriage with an uncle would have shocked the Egyptian mind, since these people, and especially their royal Houses, made a habit of wedding their own brothers and sisters, as in this tale Mermes wed his half sister Asti.
I may add that there is authority for the magic waxen image which the sorcerer Kaku and his accomplice used to bewitch Pharaoh. In the days of Rameses III., over three thousand years ago, a plot was made to murder the king in pursuance of which such images were used. “Gods of wax . . . . . . for enfeebling the limbs of people,” which were “great crimes of death, the great abomination of the land.” Also a certain “magic roll” was brought into play which enabled its user to “employ the magic powers of the gods.”
Still, the end of these wizards was not encouraging to others, for they were found guilty and obliged to take their own lives.
But even if I am held to have stretched the prerogative of the /Ka/, or of the waxen image which, by the way, has survived almost to our own time, and in West Africa, as a fetish, is still pierced with pins or nails, I can urge in excuse that I have tried, so far as a modern may, to reproduce something of the atmosphere and colour of Old Egypt, as it has appeared to a traveller in that country and a student of its records. If Neter-Tua never sat upon its throne, at least another daughter of Amen, a mighty queen, Hatshepu, wore the crown of the Upper and the Lower Lands, and sent her embassies to search out the mysteries of Punt. Of romance also, in high places, there must have been abundance, though the short-cut records of the religious texts of the priests do not trouble themselves with such matters.
At any rate, so believing, in the hope that it may interest readers of to-day, I have ventured to discover and present one such romance, whereof the motive, we may be sure, is more ancient, by far, than the old Egyptians, namely, the triumph of true love over great difficulties and dangers. It is pleasant to dream that the gods are on the side of such lovers, and deign for their sakes to work the miracles in which for thousands of years mankind has believed, although the scientist tells us that they do not happen.
How large a part marvel and magic of the most terrible and exalted kind played in the life of Old Egypt and of the nations with which she fought and traded, we need go no further than the Book of Exodus to learn. Also all her history is full of it, since among the Egyptians it was an article of faith that the Divinity, which they worshipped under so many names and symbols, made use of such mysterious means to influence or direct the affairs of men and bring about the accomplishment of Its decrees.
H. R. H.
by H. Rider Haggard
THE PLOT OF ABI
It was evening in Egypt, thousands of years ago, when the Prince Abi, governor of Memphis and of great territories in the Delta, made fast his ship of state to a quay beneath the outermost walls of the mighty city of Uast or Thebes, which we moderns know as Luxor and Karnac on the Nile. Abi, a large man, very dark of skin, for his mother was one of the hated Hyksos barbarians who once had usurped the throne of Egypt, sat upon the deck of his ship and stared at the setting sun which for a few moments seemed to rest, a round ball of fire, upon the bare and rugged mountains, that ring round the Tombs of the Kings.
He was angry, as the slave-women, who stood on either side fanning him, could see well enough by the scowl on his coarse face and the fire in his large black eyes. Presently they felt it also, for one of them, staring at the temples and palaces of the wonderful city made glorious by the light of the setting sun, that city of which she had heard so often, touched his head with the feathers of her fan. Thereon, as though glad of an excuse to express his ill-humour, Abi sprang up and boxed her ears so heavily that the poor girl fell to the deck.
“Awkward cat,” he cried, “do that again and you shall be flogged until your robe sticks to your back!”
“Pardon, mighty Lord,” she said, beginning to weep, “it was an accident; the wind caught my fan.”
“So the rod shall catch your skin, if you are not more careful, Merytra. Stop that snivelling and go send Kaku the Astrologer here. Go, both, I weary of the sight of your ugly faces.”
The girl rose, and with her fellow slave ran swiftly to the ladder that led to the waist of the ship.
“He called me a cat,” Merytra hissed through her white teeth to her companion. “Well, if so, Sekhet the cat-headed is my godmother, and she is the Lady of Vengeance.”
“Yes,” answered the other, “and he said that we were both ugly–we, whom every lord who comes near the Court admires so much! Oh! I wish a holy crocodile would eat him, black pig!”
“Then why don’t they buy us? Abi would sell his daughters, much more his fan-bearers–at a price.”
“Because they hope to get us for nothing, my dear, and what is more, if I can manage it one of them shall, for I am tired of this life. Have your fling while you can, I say. Who knows at which corner Osiris, Lord of Death, is waiting.”
“Hush!” whispered Merytra, “there is that knave of an astrologer, and he looks cross, too.”
Then, hand in hand, they went to this lean and learned man and humbly bowed themselves before him.
“Master of the Stars,” said Merytra, “we have a message for you. No, do not look at my cheek, please, the marks are not magical, only those of the divine fingers of the glorious hand of the most exalted Prince Abi, son of the Pharaoh happily ruling in Osiris, etc., etc., etc., of the right, royal blood of Egypt–that is on one side, and on the other of a divine lady whom Khem the Spirit, or Ptah the Creator, thought fit to dip in a vat of black dye.”
“Hem!” said Kaku glancing nervously over his shoulder. Then, seeing that there was no one near, he added, “you had better be careful what you say, my dear. The royal Abi does not like to hear the colour of his late mother defined so closely. But why did he slap your face?”
She told him.
“Well,” he answered, “if I had been in his place I would rather have kissed it, for it is pretty, decidedly pretty,” and this learned man forgot himself so far as to wink at Merytra.
“There, Sister,” said the girl, “I always told you that rough shells have sweet nuts inside of them. Thank you for your compliment, Master of learning. Will you tell us our fortune for nothing?”
“Yes, yes,” he answered; “at least the fee I want will cost you nothing. Now stop this nonsense,” he added, anxiously, “I gather that /he/ is cross.”
“I never saw him crosser, Kaku. I am glad it is you who reads the stars, not I. Listen!”
As he spoke an angry roar reached them from the high deck above.
“Where is that accursed astrologer?” said the roar.
“There, what did I tell you? Oh! never mind the rest of the papers, go at once. Your robe is full of rolls as it is.”
“Yes,” answered Kaku as he ran to the ladder, “but the question is, how will he like what is in the rolls?”
“The gods be with you!” cried one of the girls after him, “you will need them all.”
“And if you get back alive, don’t forget your promise about the fortunes,” said the other.
A minute later this searcher of the heavens, a tall, hook-nosed man, was prostrating himself before Abi in his pavilion on the upper deck, so low that his Syrian-shaped cap fell from his bald head.
“Why were you so long in coming?” asked Abi.
“Because your slaves could not find me, royal Son of the Sun. I was at work in my cabin.”
“Indeed, I thought I heard them giggling with you down there. What did you call me? Royal Son of the Sun? That is Pharaoh’s name! Have the stars shown you—-?” and he looked at him eagerly.
“No, Prince, not exactly that. I did not think it needful to search them on a matter which seems established, more or less.”
“More or less,” answered Abi gloomily. “What do you mean by your ‘more or less’? Here am I at the turning-point of my fortunes, not knowing whether I am to be Pharaoh of the Upper and Lower Lands, or only the petty lord of a city and a few provinces in the Delta, and you satisfy my hunger for the truth with an empty dish of ‘more or less.’ Man, what do you mean?”
“If your Majesty will be pleased to tell his servant exactly what you desire to know, perhaps I may be able to answer the question,” replied Kaku humbly.
“Majesty! Well, I desire to know by what warrant you call me ‘Majesty,’ who am only Prince of Memphis. Did the stars give it to you? Have you obeyed me and asked them of the future?”
“Certainly, certainly. How could I disobey? I observed them all last night, and have been working out the results till this moment; indeed, they are not yet finished. Question and I will answer.”
“You will answer, yes, but what will you answer? Not the truth, I fancy, because you are a coward, though if anyone can read the truth, it is you. Man,” he added fiercely, “if you dare to lie to me I will cut your head off and take it to Pharaoh as a traitor’s; and your body shall lie, not in that fine tomb which you have made, but in the belly of a crocodile whence there is no resurrection. Do you understand? Then let us come to the point. Look, the sun sets there behind the Tombs of Kings, where the departed Pharaohs of Egypt take their rest till the Day of Awakening. It is a bad omen for me, I know, who wished to reach this city in the morning when Ra was in the House of Life, the East, and not in the House of Death, the West; but that accursed wind sent by Typhon, held me back and I could not. Well, let us begin at the end which must come after all. Tell me, you reader of the heavens, shall I sleep at last in that valley?”
“I think so, Prince; at least, so says your planet. Look, yonder, it springs to life above you,” and he pointed to an orb that appeared at the topmost edge of the red glow of the sunset.
“You are keeping something back from me,” said Abi, searching Kaku’s face with his fierce eyes. “Shall I sleep in the tomb of Pharaoh, in my own everlasting house that I shall have made ready to receive me?”
“Son of Ra, I cannot say,” answered the astrologer. “Divine One, I will be frank with you. Though you be wrath, yet will I tell you the truth as you command me. An evil influence is at work in your House of Life. Another star crosses and re-crosses your path, and though for a long time you seem to swallow it up, yet at the last it eclipses you– it and one that goes with it.”
“What star?” asked Abi hoarsely, “Pharaoh’s?”
“Nay, Prince, the star of Amen.”
“Amen! What Amen?”
“Amen the god, Prince, the mighty father of the gods.”
“Amen the god,” repeated Abi in an awed voice. “How can a man fight against a god?”
“Say rather against two gods, for with the star of Amen goes the star of Hathor, Queen of Love. Not for many periods of thousands of years have they been together, but now they draw near to each other, and so will remain for all your life. Look,” and Kaku pointed to the Eastern horizon where a faint rosy glow still lingered reflected from the western sky.
As they watched this glow melted, and there in the pure heavens, lying just where it met the distant land, seeming to rest upon the land, indeed, appeared a bright and beautiful star, and so close to it that, to the eye, they almost touched, a twin star. For a few minutes only were they seen; then they vanished beneath the line of the horizon.
“The morning star of Amen, and with it the star of Hathor,” said the astrologer.
“Well, Fool, what of it?” exclaimed Abi. “They are far enough from my star; moreover, it is they that sink, not I, who ride higher every moment.”
“Aye, Prince, but in a year to come they will certainly eclipse that star of yours. Prince, Amen and Hathor are against you. Look, I will show you their journeyings on this scroll and you shall see where they eat you up yonder, yes, yonder over the Valley of dead Kings, though twenty years and more must go by ere then, and take this for your comfort, during those years you shine alone,” and he began to unfold a papyrus roll.
Abi snatched it from him, crumpled it up and threw it in his face.
“You cheat!” he said. “Do you think to frighten me with this nonsense about stars? Here is my star,” and he drew the short sword at his side and shook it over the head of the trembling Kaku. “This sharp bronze is the star I follow, and be careful lest it should eclipse /you/, you father of lies.”
“I have told the truth as I see it,” answered the poor astrologer with some dignity, “but if you wish, O Prince, that in the future I should indeed prophesy pleasant things to you, why, it can be done easily enough. Moreover, it seems to me that this horoscope of yours is not so evil, seeing that it gives to you over twenty years of life and power, more by far than most men can expect–at your age. If after that come troubles and the end, what of it?”
“That is so,” replied Abi mollified. “It was my ill-temper, everything has gone cross to-day. Well, a gold cup, my own, shall pay the price of it. Bear me no ill-will, I pray you, learned scribe, and above all tell me no falsehood as the message of the stars you serve. It is the truth I seek, the truth. If only she may be seen, and clasped, I care not how ill-favoured is her face.”
Rejoicing at the turn which things had taken, and especially at the promise of the priceless cup which he had long coveted, Kaku bowed obsequiously. He picked up his crumpled roll and was about to retire when through the gloom of the falling night, some men mounted upon asses were seen riding over the mud flats that border the Nile at this spot, towards that bank where the ship was moored.
“The captain of my guard,” said Abi, who saw the starlight gleam upon a bronze helmet, “who brings me Pharaoh’s answer. Nay, go not, bide and hear it, Kaku, and give us your counsel on it, your true counsel.”
So the astrologer stood aside and waited, till presently the captain appeared saluting.
“What says Pharaoh, my brother?” asked the Prince.
“Lord, he says that he will receive you, though as he did not send for you, he thinks that you can scarcely come upon any necessary errand, as he has heard long ago of your victory over the desert-dwelling barbarians, and does not want the offering of the salted heads of their officers which you bring to him.”
“Good,” said Abi contemptuously. “The divine Pharaoh was ever a woman in such matters, as in others. Let him be thankful that he has generals who know how to make war and to cut off the heads of his enemies in defence of the kingdom. We will wait upon him to-morrow.”
“Lord,” added the captain, “that is not all Pharaoh’s message. He says that it has been reported to him that you are accompanied by a guard of three hundred soldiers. These soldiers he refuses to allow within the gates. He directs that you shall appear before his Majesty attended by five persons only.”
“Indeed,” answered Abi with a scornful laugh. “Does Pharaoh fear, then, lest I should capture him and his armies and the great city with three hundred soldiers?”
“No, Prince,” answered the captain bluntly; “but I think he fears lest you should kill him and declare yourself Pharaoh as next in blood.”
“Ah!” said Abi, “as next of blood. Then I suppose that there are still no children at the Court?”
“None, O Prince. I saw Ahura, the royal wife, the Lady of the Two Lands, that fairest of women, and other lesser wives and beautiful slave girls without number, but never a one of them had an infant on her breast or at her knee. Pharaoh remains childless.”
“Ah!” said Abi again. Then he walked forward out of the pavilion whereof the curtains were drawn back, and stood a while upon the prow of the vessel.
By now night had fallen, and the great moon, rising from the earth as it were, poured her flood of silver light over the desert, the mountains, the limitless city of Thebes, and the wide rippling bosom of the Nile. The pylons and obelisks, glittering with copper and with gold, towered to the tender sky. In the window places of palaces and of ten thousand homes lamps shone like stars. From gardens, streets and the courts of temples floated the faint sound of singing and of music, while on the great embattled walls the watchmen called the hour from post to post.
It was a wondrous scene, and the heart of Abi swelled as he gazed upon it. What wealth lay yonder, and what power. There was the glorious house of his brother, Pharaoh, the god in human form who for all his godship had never a child to follow after him when he ascended to Osiris, as he who was sickly probably must do before so very long.
Yes, but before then a miracle might happen; in this way or in that a successor to the throne might be found and acknowledged, for were not Pharaoh and his House beloved by all the priests of Amen, and by the people, and was not he, Abi, feared and disliked because he was fierce, and the hated savage blood flowed in his veins? Oh! what evil god had put it in his father’s heart to give him a princess of the Hyksos for a mother, the Hyksos, whom the Egyptians loathed, when he had the fairest women of the world from whom to choose? Well, it was done and could not be undone, though because of it he might lose his heritage of the greatest throne in all the earth. Also was it not to this fierce Hyksos blood that he owed his strength and vigour?
Why should he wait? Why should he not set his fortune on a cast? He had three hundred soldiers with him, picked men and brave, children of the sea and the desert, sworn to his House and interests. It was a time of festival, those gates were ill-guarded. Why should he not force them at the dead of night, make his way to the palace, cause Pharaoh to be gathered to his fathers, and at the dawn discover himself seated upon Pharaoh’s throne? At the thought of it Abi’s heart leapt in his breast, his wide nostrils spread themselves, and he erected his strong head as though already he felt upon it the weight of the double crown. Then he turned and walked back to the pavilion.
“I am minded to strike a blow,” he said. “Say now, my officer, would you and the soldiers follow me into the heart of yonder city to-night to win a throne–or a grave? If it were the first, you should be the general of all my army, and you, astrologer, should become vizier, yes, after Pharaoh you two should be the greatest men in all the land.”
They looked at him and gasped.
“A venturesome deed, Prince,” said the captain at length; “yet with such a prize to win I think that I would dare it, though for the soldiers I cannot speak. First they must be told what is on foot, and out of so many, how know we that the heart of one or more would not fail? A word from a traitor and before this time to-morrow the embalmers, or the jackals, would be busy.”
Abi heard and looked from him to his companion.
“Prince,” said Kaku, “put such thoughts from you. Bury them deep. Let them rise no more. In the heavens I read something of this business, but then I did not understand, but now I see the black depths of hell opening beneath our feet. Yes, hell would be our home if we dared to lift hand against the divine person of the Pharaoh. I say that the gods themselves would fight against us. Let it be, Prince, let it be, and you shall have many years of rule, who, if you strike now, will win nothing but a crown of shame, a nameless grave, and the everlasting torment of the damned.”
As he spoke Abi considered the man’s face and saw that all craft had left it. This was no charlatan that spoke to him, but one in earnest who believed what he said.
“So be it,” he answered. “I accept your judgment, and will wait upon my fortune. Moreover, you are both right, the thing is too dangerous, and evil often falls on the heads of those who shoot arrows at a god, especially if they have not enough arrows. Let Pharaoh live on while I make ready. Perhaps to-morrow I may work upon him to name me his heir.”
The astrologer sighed in relief, nor did the captain seem disappointed.
“My head feels firmer on my shoulders than it did just now,” he said: “and doubtless there are times when wisdom is better than valour. Sleep well, Prince; Pharaoh will receive you to-morrow two hours after sunrise. Have we your leave to retire?”
“If I were wise,” said Abi, fingering the hilt of his sword as he spoke, “you would both of you retire for ever who know all the secret of my heart, and with a whisper could bring doom upon me.”
Now the pair looked at each other with frightened eyes, and, like his master, the captain began to play with his sword.
“Life is sweet to all men, Prince,” he said significantly, “and we have never given you cause to doubt us.”
“No,” answered Abi, “had it been otherwise I should have struck first and spoken afterwards. Only you must swear by the oath which may not be broken that in life or death no word of this shall pass your lips.”
So they swore, both of them, by the holy name of Osiris, the judge and the redeemer.
“Captain,” said Abi, “you have served me well. Your pay is doubled, and I confirm the promise that I made to you–should I ever rule yonder you shall be my general.”
While the soldier bowed his thanks, the prince said to Kaku,
“Master of the stars, my gold cup is yours. Is there aught else of mine that you desire?”
“That slave,” answered the learned man, “Merytra, whose ears you boxed just now—-“
“How do you know that I boxed her ears?” asked Abi quickly. “Did the stars tell you that also? Well, I am tired of the sly hussy–take her. Soon I think she will box yours.”
But when Kaku sought Merytra to tell her the glad tidings that she was his, he could not find her.
Merytra had disappeared.
THE PROMISE OF THE GOD
It was morning at Thebes, and the great city glowed in the rays of the new-risen sun. In a royal barge sat Abi the prince, splendidly apparelled, and with him Kaku, his astrologer, his captain of the guard and three other of his officers, while in a second barge followed slaves who escorted two chiefs and some fair women captured in war, also the chests of salted heads and hands, offerings to Pharaoh.
The white-robed rowers bent to their oars, and the swift boat shot forward up the Nile through a double line of ships of war, all of them crowded with soldiers. Abi looked at these ships which Pharaoh had gathered there to meet him, and thought to himself that Kaku had given wise counsel when he prayed him to attempt no rash deed, for against such surprises clearly Pharaoh was well prepared. He thought it again when on reaching the quay of cut stones he saw foot and horse-men marshalled there in companies and squadrons, and on the walls above hundreds of other men, all armed, for now he saw what would have happened to him, if with his little desperate band he had tried to pierce that iron ring of watching soldiers.
At the steps generals met him in their mail and priests in their full robes, bowing and doing him honour. Thus royally escorted, Abi passed through the open gates and the pylons of the splendid temple dedicated to the Trinity of Thebes, “the House of Amen in the Southern Apt,” where gay banners fluttered from the pointed masts, up the long street bordered with tall houses set in their gardens, till he came to the palace wall. Here more guards rolled back the brazen gates which in his folly of a few hours gone he had thought that he could force, and through the avenues of blooming trees he was led to the great pillared hall of audience.
After the brightness without, that hall seemed almost dark, only a ray of sunshine flowing from an unshuttered space in the clerestory above, fell full on the end of it, and revealed the crowned Pharaoh and his queen seated in state upon their thrones of ivory and gold. Gathered round and about him also were scribes and councillors and captains, and beyond these other queens in their carved chairs and attended, each of them, by beautiful women of the household in their gala dress. Moreover, behind the thrones, and at intervals between the columns, stood the famous Nubian guard of two hundred men, the servants of the body of Pharaoh as they were called, each of them chosen for faithfulness and courage.
The centre of all this magnificence was Pharaoh, on him the sunlight beat, to him every eye was turned, and where his glance fell there heads bowed and knees were bent. A small thin man of about forty years of age with a puckered, kindly and anxious face, and a brow that seemed to sink beneath the weight of the double crown that, save for its royal snake-crest of hollow gold, was after all but of linen, a man with thin, nervous hands which played amongst the embroideries of his golden robe–such was Pharaoh, the mightiest monarch in the world, the ruler whom millions that had never seen him worshipped as a god.
Abi, the burly framed, thick-lipped, dark-skinned, round-eyed Abi, born of the same father, stared at him with wonderment, for years had passed since last they met, and in the palace when they were children a gulf had been set between the offspring of a royal mother and the child of a Hyksos concubine taken into the Household for reasons of state. In his vigour, and the might of his manhood, he stared at this weakling, the son of a brother and a sister, and the grandson of a brother and a sister. Yet there was something in that gentle eye, an essence of inherited royalty, before which his rude nature bowed. The body might be contemptible, but within it dwelt the proud spirit of the descendant of a hundred kings.
Abi advanced to the steps of the throne and knelt there, till after a little pause Pharaoh stretched out the sceptre in his hand for him to kiss. Then he spoke in his light, quick voice.
“Welcome, Prince and my brother,” he said. “We quarrelled long ago, did we not, and many years have passed since we met, but Time heals all wounds and–welcome, son of my father. I need not ask if you are well,” and he glanced enviously at the great-framed man who knelt before him.
“Hail to your divine Majesty!” answered Abi in his deep voice. “Health and strength be with you, Holder of the Scourge of Osiris, Wearer of the Feathers of Amen, Mortal crowned with the glory of Ra.”
“I thank you, Prince,” answered Pharaoh gently, “and that health and strength I need, who fear that I shall only find them when I have yielded up the Scourge of Osiris whereof you speak to him who lent it me. But enough of myself. Let us to business, afterwards we will talk of such matters together. Why have you left your government at Memphis without leave asked, to visit me here in my City of the Gates?”
“Be not wrath with me,” answered Abi humbly. “A while ago, in obedience to your divine command, I attacked the barbarians who threatened your dominions in the desert. Like Menthu, god of war, I fell upon them. I took them by surprise, I smote them, thousands of them bit the dust before me. Two of their kings I captured with their women–they wait without, to be slain by your Majesty. I bring with me the heads of a hundred of their captains and the hands of five hundred of their soldiers, in earnest of the truth of my word. Let them be spread out before you. I report to your divine Majesty that those barbarians are no more, that for a generation, at least, I have made the land safe to your uttermost dominions in the north. Suffer that the heads and the hands be brought in and counted out before your Majesty, that the smell of them may rise like incense to your divine nostrils.”
“No, no,” said Pharaoh, “my officers shall count them without, for I love not such sights of death, and I take your word for the number. What payment do you ask for this service, my brother, for with great gifts would I reward you, who have done so well for me and Egypt?”
Before he answered Abi looked at the beautiful queen, Ahura, who sat at Pharaoh’s side, and at the other royal consorts and women.
“Your Majesty,” he said, “I see here many wives and ladies, but royal children I do not see. Grant–for doubtless they are in their own chambers–grant, O Pharaoh, that they may be led hither that my eyes may feed upon their loveliness, and that I may tell of them, each of them, to their cousins who await me at Memphis.”
At these words a flush as of shame spread itself over the lovely face of Ahura, the royal wife, the Lady of the Two Lands; while the women turned their heads away whispering to each other bitterly, for the insult hurt them. Only Pharaoh set his pale face and answered with dignity.
“Prince Abi, to affront those whom the gods have smitten, be they kings or peasants, is an unworthy deed which the gods will not forget. You know well that I have no children. Why then do you ask me to show you their loveliness?”
“I had heard rumours, O Pharaoh,” answered the Prince, “no more. Indeed, I did not believe them, for where there are so many wives I was certain that there would be some mothers. Therefore I asked to be sure before I proffered a petition which now I will make to you not for my own sake but for Egypt’s and yours, O Pharaoh. Have I your leave to speak here in public?”
“Speak on,” said Pharaoh sternly. “Let aught that is for the welfare of Egypt be heard by Egypt.”
“Your Majesty has told me,” replied Abi bowing, “that the gods, being wrath, have denied you children. Not so much as one girl of your blood have they given to you to fill your throne after you when in due season it pleases you to depart to Osiris. Were it otherwise, were there even but a single woman-child of your divine race, I would say nothing, I would be silent as the grave. But so it is, and though your queens be fair and many, so it would seem that it must remain, since the ears of the gods having been deaf to your pleadings for so long, although you have built them glorious temples and made them offerings without count, will scarcely now be opened. Even Amen your father, Amen, whose name you bear, will perform no miracle for you, O Pharaoh, who are so great that he has decreed that you shall shine alone like the full moon at night, not sharing your glory with a single star.”
Now Ahura the Queen, who all this while had been listening intently, spoke for the first time in a quick angry voice, saying,
“How know you that, Prince of Memphis? Sometimes the gods relent and that which they have withheld for a space, they give. My lord lives, and I live, and a child of his may yet fill the throne of Egypt.”
“It may be so, O Queen,” said Abi bowing, “and for my part I pray that it will be so, for who am I that I should know the purpose of the kings of heaven? If but one girl be born of you and Pharaoh, then I take back my words and give to you that title which for many years has been written falsely upon your thrones and monuments, the title of Royal Mother.”
Now Ahura would have answered again, for this sneering taunt stung her to the quick. But Pharaoh laid his hand upon her knee and said,
“Continue, Prince and brother. We have heard from you that which we already know too well–that I am childless. Tell us what we do not know, the desire of your heart which lies hid beneath all these words.”
“Pharaoh, it is this–I am of your holy blood, sprung of the same divine father—-“
“But of a mother who was not divine,” broke in Ahura; “of a mother taken from a race that has brought many a curse upon Khem, as any mirror will show you, Prince of Memphis.”
“Pharaoh,” went on Abi without heeding her, “you grow weak; heaven desires you, the earth melts beneath you. In the north and in the south many dangers threaten Egypt. Should you die suddenly without an heir, barbarians will flow in from the north and from the south, and the great ones of the land will struggle for your place. Pharaoh, I am a warrior; I am built strong; my children are many; my house is built upon a rock; the army trusts me; the millions of the people love me. Take me then to rule with you and in the hearing of all the earth name me and my sons as your successors, so that our royal race may continue for generation after generation. So shall you end your days in peace and hope. I have spoken.”
Now, as the meaning of this bold request sank into their hearts, all the court there gathered gasped and whispered, while the Queen Ahura in her anger crushed the lotus flower which she held in her hand and cast it to the floor. Only Pharaoh sat still and silent, his head bent and his eyes shut as though in prayer. For a minute or more he sat thus, and when he lifted his pale, pure face, there was a smile upon it.
“Abi, my brother,” he said in his gentle voice, “listen to me. There are those who filled this throne before me, who on hearing such words would have pointed to you with their sceptres, whereon, Abi, those lips of yours would have grown still for ever, and you and your name and the names of all your House would have been blotted out by death. But, Abi, you were ever bold, and I forgive you for laying open the thoughts of your heart to me. Still, Abi, you have not told us all of them. You have not told us, for instance,” he went on slowly, and in the midst of an intense silence, “that but last night you debated whether it would not be possible with that guard of yours to break into my palace and put me to the sword and name yourself Pharaoh–by right of blood, Abi; yes, by right of blood–my blood shed by you, my brother.”
As these words left the royal lips a tumult arose in the hall, the women and the great officers sprang up, the captains stepped forward drawing their swords to avenge so horrible a sacrilege. But Pharaoh waved his sceptre, and they were still, only Abi cried in a great voice.
“Who has dared to whisper a lie so monstrous?” And he glared first at Kaku and then at the captain of his guard who stood behind him, and choked in wrath, or fear, or both.
“Suspect not your officers, Prince,” went on the Pharaoh, still smiling, “for on my royal word they are innocent. Yet, Abi, a pavilion set upon the deck of a ship is no good place to plot the death of kings. Pharaoh has many spies, also, at times, the gods, to whom as you say he is so near, whisper tidings to him in his sleep. Suspect not your officers, Abi, although I think that to yonder Master of the Stars who stands behind you, I should be grateful, since, had you attempted to execute this madness, but for him I might have been forced to kill you, Abi, as one kills a snake that creeps beneath his mat. Astrologer, you shall have a gift from me, for you are a wise man. It may take the place, perhaps, of one that you have lost; was it not a certain woman slave whom your master gave to you last night– after he had punished her for no fault?”
Kaku prostrated himself before the glory of Pharaoh, understanding at last that it was the lost girl Merytra who had overheard and betrayed them. But heeding him no more, his Majesty went on.
“Abi, Prince and brother, I forgive you a deed that you purposed but did not attempt. May the gods and the spirits of our fathers forgive you also, if they will. Now as to your demand. You are my only living brother, and therefore I will weigh it. Perchance, if I should die without issue, although you are not all royal, although there flows in your veins a blood that Egypt hates; although you could plot the murder of your lord and king, it may be well that when I am gone you should fill my place, for you are brave and of the ancient race on one side, if base-born on the other. But I am not yet dead, and children may still come to me. Abi, will you be a prisoner until Osiris calls me, or will you swear an oath?”
“I will swear an oath,” answered the Prince hoarsely, for he knew his shame and danger.
“Then kneel here, and by the dreadful Name swear that you will lift no hand and plot no plot against me. Swear that if a child, male or female, should be given to me, you will serve such a child truly as your lord and lawful Pharaoh. In the presence of all this company, swear, knowing that if you break the oath in letter or in spirit, then all the gods of Egypt shall pour their curse upon your head in life, and in death shall give you over to the everlasting torments of the damned.”
So, having little choice, Abi swore by the Name and kissed the sceptre in token of his oath.
It was night. Dark and solemn was the innermost shrine of the vast temple, the “House of Amen in the Northern Apt,” which we call Karnak, the very holy of holies where, fashioned of stone, and with the feathered crown upon his head, stood the statue of Amen-ra, father of the gods. Here, where none but the high-priest and the royalties of Egypt might enter, Pharaoh and his wife Ahura, wrapped in brown cloaks like common folk, knelt at the feet of the god and prayed. With tears and supplications did they pray that a child might be given to them.
There in the sacred place, lit only by a single lamp which burned from age to age, they told the story of their grief, whilst high above them the cold, calm countenance of the god seemed to stare through the gloom, as for a thousand years, in joy or sorrow, it had stared at those that went before them. They told of the mocking words of Abi who had demanded to see their children, the children that were not; they told of their terror of the people who demanded that an heir should be declared; they told of the doom that threatened their ancient house, which from Pharaoh to Pharaoh, all of one blood, for generations had worshipped in this place. They promised gifts and offerings, stately temples and wide lands, if only their desire might be fulfilled.
“Let me no more be made a mock among men,” cried the beautiful queen, beating her forehead upon the stone feet of the god. “Let me bear a child to fill the seat of my lord the King, and then if thou wilt, take my life in payment.”
But the god made no answer, and wearied out at length they rose and departed. At the door of the sanctuary they found the high-priest awaiting them, a wizened, aged man.
“The god gave no sign, O High-priest,” said Pharaoh sadly; “no voice spoke to us.”
The old priest looked at the weeping queen, and a light of pity crept into his eyes.
“To me, watching without,” he said, “a voice seemed to speak, though what it said I may not reveal. Go to your palace now, O Pharaoh, and O Queen Ahura, and take your rest side by side. I think that in your sleep a sign will come to you, for Amen is pitiful, and loves his children who love him. According to that sign so speak to the Prince Abi, speak without fear or doubt, since for good or ill it shall be fulfilled.”
Then like shadows, hand in hand, this royal pair glided down the vast, pillared halls till at the pylon gates, which were opened for them, they found their litters, and were borne along the great avenue of ram-headed sphinxes back to a secret door in the palace wall.
It was past midnight. Deep darkness and heavy silence lay upon Thebes, broken only by dogs howling at the stars and the occasional challenge of soldiers on the walls. Side by side in their golden bed the wearied Pharaoh and his queen slept heavily. Presently Ahura woke. She started up in the bed; she stared at the darkness about her with frightened eyes; she stretched out her hand and clasping Pharaoh by the arm, whispered in a thrilling voice,
“Awake, awake! I have that which I must tell you.”
Pharaoh roused himself, for there was something in Ahura’s voice which swept away the veils of sleep.
“What has chanced, Ahura?” he asked.
“O Pharaoh, I have dreamed a dream, if indeed it were but a dream. It seemed to me that the darkness opened, and that standing in the darkness I saw a Glory which had neither shape nor form. Yet a voice spoke from the Glory, a low, sweet voice: ‘Queen Ahura, my daughter,’ it said, ‘I am that Spirit to whom thou and thy husband did pray this night in the sanctuary of my temple. It seemed to both of you that your prayers remained unheard, yet it was not so, as my priest knew well. Queen Ahura, thou and Pharaoh thy husband have put your trust in me these many years, and not in vain. A daughter shall be given to thee and Pharaoh, and my Spirit shall be in that child. She shall be beautiful and glorious as no woman was before her, for I clothe her with health and power and wisdom. She shall rule over the Northern and the Southern Lands; yea, for many years the double crown shall rest upon her brow, and no king that went before her, and no king that follows after her, shall be more great in Egypt. Troubles and dangers shall threaten her, but the Spirit that I give to her shall protect her in them all, and she shall tread her enemy beneath her feet. A royal lover shall come to her also, and she shall rejoice in his love and from it shall spring many kings and princes. Neter-Tua, Morning Star, shall be her name, and high-priestess of Amen–no less–shall be her office, for she is my child whom I have taken from heaven and sent down to earth; the child that I have given to Pharaoh and to thee, and I love her and appoint the good goddesses to be her companions, and command Osiris to receive her at the last.
“‘Behold, in token of these things I lay my symbol on thy breast, and on her breast also shall that symbol be. When I lift it from thee and thou dost open thy eyes, then awaken Pharaoh at thy side and let these my words be written in a roll, so that none of them are forgotten.’
“Then, O Pharaoh,” went on Ahura, “from the Glory there came forth a hand, and in the hand was the Symbol of Life shining as though with fire, and the hand laid it upon my breast and it burned me as though with fire, and I awoke and lo! darkness was all about me, nothing but darkness, and at my side I heard you sleeping.”
Now when Pharaoh had listened to this dream, he kissed the queen and blessed her because of its good omen, and clapped his hands to summon the women of honour who slept without. They ran in bearing lights, and by the lights he saw that beneath the throat of the Queen upon her fair skin, appeared a red mark, and the shape of it was the shape of the Sign of Life; yes, there was the loop, and beneath the loop the cross.
Then Pharaoh commanded that the chief of his scribes should come to him with papyrus and writing tools, and that the high-priest of Amen should be brought swiftly from the temple. So the scribe came to the bed-chamber of the King, and in the presence of the high-priest all the words of Amen were written down, not one of them was omitted, and Pharaoh and the Queen signed the roll, and the high-priest witnessed it and, copies having been made, bore it away to hide it in the secret treasury of Amen. But the mark of the Cross of Life remained upon the breast of the Queen Ahura till the day that she died.
Now in the morning Pharaoh summoned his Court and commanded that the Prince Abi should be brought before him. So the Prince came and Pharaoh addressed him kindly.
“Son of my father,” he said, “I have considered your request that I should take you to rule with me on the throne of Egypt, and name you and your sons to be Pharaohs after me, and it is refused. Know that it has been revealed to me and to the royal wife, Ahura, by the greatest of the gods, that a daughter shall be born to us in due season, who shall be called Morning Star of Amen, and that she and her seed shall be Pharaohs after me. Therefore rejoice with us and return to your government, Prince Abi, and be happy in our love, and in the goods and greatness that the gods have given you.”
Now Abi shook with anger, for he thought that all this tale was a trick and a snare. But knowing that his peril was great there in the hand of Pharaoh, he answered only that when this Morning Star arose, his star should do it reverence, though as the words passed his lips he remembered the prophecy of his astrologer Kaku, that the Morning Star of Amen should blot out that star of his.
“You think that I speak falsely, Prince Abi, yes, that I stain my lips with lies,” said Pharaoh with indignation. “Well, I forgive you this also. Go hence and await the issue and know by this sign that truth is in my heart. When the Princess Neter-Tua is born, upon her breast shall be seen the symbol of the Sign of Life. Depart now, lest I grow angry. The gifts I have promised shall follow you to Memphis.”
So Abi returned to the white-walled city of Memphis and sat there sullenly, putting it about that a plot was on foot to deprive him of his heritage. But Kaku shook his head, saying in secret that the Star, Neter-Tua, would arise, for so it was decreed by Amen, father of the gods.
RAMES, THE PRINCESS, AND THE CROCODILE
At the appointed time to Ahura, the royal wife, was born a child, a girl with a fresh and lovely face and waving hair and eyes that from the first were blue like the summer sky at even. Also on her breast was a mole of the length of a finger nail, which mole was shaped like the holy Sign of Life.
Now Pharaoh and his house and the priests in every temple, and indeed all Egypt went mad with joy, though there were many who in secret mourned over the sex of the infant, whispering that a man and not a woman should wear the Double Crown. But in public they said nothing, since the story of this child had gone abroad and folk declared that it was sent by the gods, and divine, and that the goddesses, Isis, Nepthys, and Hathor, with Khemu, the Maker of Mankind, were seen in the birth chamber, glowing like gold.
Also Pharaoh issued a decree that wherever the name of the Queen Ahura was graven in all the land, to it should be added the title “By the will of Amen, Mother of his Morning Star,” and that a new hall should be built in the temple of Amen in the Northern Apt, and all about it carved the story of the coming of Prince Abi and of the vision of the Queen.
But Ahura never lived to see this glorious place, since from the hour of her daughter’s birth she began to sink. On the fourteenth day, the day of purification, she bade the nurse bring the beautiful babe, and gazed at it long and blessed it, and spoke with the Ka or Double of the child, which she said she saw lying on her arm beside it, bidding that Ka protect it well through the dangers of life and death until the hour of resurrection. Then she said that she heard Amen calling to her to pay the price which she had promised for the gift of the divine child, the price of her own life, and smiled upon Pharaoh her husband, and died happily with a radiant face.
Now joy was turned to mourning, and during all the days of embalming Egypt wept for Ahura until, at length, the time came when her body was rowed across the Nile to the splendid tomb which she had made ready in the Valley of the Queens, causing masons and artists to labour at it without cease. For Ahura knew from the day of her vision that she was doomed to die, and remembered that the tombs of the dead remain as the live hands leave them, since few waste gold and toil upon the eternal house of one who is dead.
So Ahura was buried with great pomp and all her jewels, and Pharaoh, who mourned her truly, made splendid offerings in the chapel of her tomb, and having laid in the mouth of it the funeral boat in which she was borne across the Nile, he built it up for ever, and poured sand over the rock, so that none should find its place until the Day of Awakening.
Meanwhile, the infant grew and flourished, and when it was six months old, was taken to the college of the priestesses of Amen, there to be reared and taught.
Now on the day of the birth of the Princess Neter-Tua, there happened another birth with which our story has to do. The captain of the guard of the temple of Amen was one Mermes, who had married his own half- sister, Asti, the enchantress. As was well known, this Mermes was by right and true descent the last of that house of Pharaohs which had filled the throne of Egypt until their line was cast down generations before by the dynasty that now ruled the land, whereof the reigning Pharaoh and his daughter Neter-Tua alone remained. A long while past, in the early days of his reign, his council has whispered in Pharaoh’s ear that he should kill Mermes and his sister, lest a day should come when they rebelled against him, proclaiming that they did so by right of blood. But Pharaoh, who was gentle and hated murder, instead of slaying Mermes sent for him and told him all.
Then Mermes, a noble-looking man as became the stock from which he sprang, prostrated himself and said,
“O Pharaoh, why should you kill me? It has pleased the gods to debase my House and to set up yours. Have I ever lifted up my heel against you because my forefathers were kings, or plotted with the discontent to overthrow you! See, I am satisfied with my station, which is that of a noble and a soldier in your army. Therefore let me and my half- sister, the wise lady Asti whom I purpose to marry, dwell on in peace as your true and humble servants. Dip not your hands in our innocent blood, O Pharaoh, lest the gods send a curse upon you and your House and our ghosts come back from the grave to haunt you.”
When Pharaoh heard these words, his heart was moved in him, and he stretched out his sceptre for Mermes to kiss, thereby granting to him life and protection.
“Mermes,” he said, “you are an honourable man, and my equal in blood if not in place. For their own purposes the gods raise up one and cast down another that at last their ends may be fulfilled. I believe that you will work no harm against me and mine, and, therefore, I will work no harm against you and your sister Asti, Mistress of Magic. Rather shall you be my friend and counsellor.”
Then Pharaoh offered high rank and office to him, but Mermes would not take them, answering that if he did, envy would be stirred up against him, and in this way or that bring him to his death, since tall trees are the first to fall. So in the end Pharaoh made Mermes Captain of the Guard of Amen, and gave him land and houses enough to enable him to live as a noble of good estate, but no more. Also he became a friend of Pharaoh and one of his inner Council, to whose voice he always listened, for Mermes was a true-hearted man.
Afterwards Mermes married Asti, but like Pharaoh for a long while he remained childless, since he took no other wives. On the day of the birth of the Princess Tua, the Morning Star of Amen, however, Asti bore a son, a royal-looking child of great strength and beauty and very fair in colour, as tradition said that the kings of his race had been before him, but with black and shining eyes.
“See,” said the midwife, “here is a head shaped to wear a crown.”
Whereon Asti, his mother, forgetting her caution in her joy, or perhaps inspired by the gods, for from her childhood she was a prophetess, answered,
“Yes, and I think that this head and a crown will come close together,” and she kissed him and named him Rames after her royal forefather, the founder of their line.
As it chanced a spy overheard this saying and reported it to the Council, and the Council urged Pharaoh to cause the boy to be put away, as they had urged in the case of his father, Mermes, because of the words of omen that Asti had spoken, and because she had given her son a royal name, naming him after the majesty of Ra, as though he were indeed the child of a king. But Pharaoh would not, asking with his soft smile whether they wished him to baptise his daughter in the blood of another infant who drew his first breath upon the same day, and adding:
“Ra sheds his glory upon all, and this high-born boy may live to be a friend in need to her whom Amen has given to Egypt. Let things befall as the gods decree. Who am I that I should make myself a god and destroy a life that they have fashioned?”
So the boy Rames lived and throve, and Mermes and Asti, when they came to hear of these things, thanked Pharaoh and blessed him.
Now the house of Mermes, as Captain of the Guard, was within the wall of the great temple of Amen, near to the palace of the priestesses of Amen where the Princess Neter-Tua was nurtured. Thus it came about that when the Queen Ahura died, the lady Asti was named as nurse to the Princess, since Pharaoh said that she should drink no milk save that of one in whose veins ran royal blood. So Asti was Tua’s foster mother, and night by night she slept in her arms together with her own son, Rames. Afterwards, too, when they were weaned the babes were taught to walk and speak together, and later, as children, they became playmates.
Thus from the first these two loved each other, as brother and sister love when they are twins. But although the boy was bold and brave, this little princess always had the mastery of him, not because she was a princess and heir to the throne of Egypt–for all the high titles they gave her fell idly on her ears, nor did she think anything of the bowings of courtiers and of priests–but from some strength within herself. She it was that set the games they played, and when she talked he was obliged to listen, for although she was so sound and healthy, this Tua differed from other children.
Thus she had what she called her “silent hours” when she would suffer no one to come near her, not her ladies or her foster-mother, Asti herself, nor even Rames. Then, followed by the women at a distance, she would wander among the great columns of the temple and study the sculptures on the walls; and, since all places were open to her, Pharaoh’s child, enter the sanctuaries, and stare at the gods that sat in them fashioned in granite and in alabaster. This she would do even in the solemn moonlight when mortals were afraid to approach these sacred shrines, and come thence unconcerned and smiling.
“What do you see there, O Morning Star?” asked little Rames of her once. “They are dull things, those stone gods that have never moved since the beginning of the world; also they frighten me, especially when Ra is set.”
“They are not dull, and they do not frighten me,” answered Tua; “they talk to me, and although I cannot understand all they say, I am happy with them.”
“Talk!” he said contemptuously, “how can stones talk?”
“I do not know. I think it is their spirits that talk, telling me stories which happened before I was born and that shall happen after I am dead, yes, and after /they/ seem to be dead. Now be silent–I say that they talk to me–it is enough.”
“For me it would be more than enough,” said the boy, “but then I am not called Child of Amen, who only worship Menthu, God of War.”
When Rames was seven years of age, every morning he was taken to school in the temple, where the priests taught him to write with pens of reed upon tablets of wood, and told him more about the gods of Egypt than he ever wanted to hear again. During these hours, except when she was being instructed by the great ladies of the Court, or by high-priestesses, Tua was left solitary, since by the command of Pharaoh no other children were allowed to play with her, perhaps because there were none in the temple of her age whose birth was noble.
Once when he came back from his school in the evening Rames asked her if she had not been lonely without him. She answered, No, as she had another companion.
“Who is it?” he asked jealously. “Show me and I will fight him.”
“No one that you can see, Rames,” she replied. “Only my own Ka.”
“Your Ka! I have heard of Kas, but I never saw one. What is it like?”
“Just like me, except that it throws no shadow, and only comes when I am quite by myself, and then, although I hear it often, I see it rarely, for it is mixed up with the light.”
“I don’t believe in Kas,” exclaimed Rames scornfully, “you make them up out of your head.”
A little while after this talk something happened that caused Rames to change his mind about Kas, or at any rate the Ka of Tua. In a hidden court of the temple was a deep pool of water with cemented sides, where, it was said, lived a sacred crocodile, an enormous beast that had dwelt there for hundreds of years. Rames and Tua having heard of this crocodile, often talked of it and longed to see it, but could not for there was a high wall round the tank, and in it a door of copper that was kept locked, except when once in every eight days the priests took in food to the crocodile–living goats and sheep, and sometimes a calf, none of which ever came back again.
Now one day Rames watching them return, saw the priest, who was called Guardian of the Door, put his hand behind him to thrust the key with which he had just locked the door, into his wallet, and missing the mouth of the wallet, let it fall upon the sand, then go upon his way knowing nothing of what he had done.
When he had gone in a great hurry, for he was a fat old priest and the dinner hour was at hand, Rames pounced upon the key and hid it in his robe. Then he sought out the princess and said,
“Morning Star, this evening, when I come back from school and am allowed to play with you, we can look at the wonderful beast in the tank, for look, I have the key which that fat priest will not search for till seven days are gone by, before which I can take it to him, saying that I found it in the sand, or perhaps put it back into his wallet.”
When she heard this Tua’s eyes shone, since above all things she desired to see this holy monster. But in the evening when the boy came running to her eagerly–for he had thought of nothing but the crocodile all day, and had bought a pigeon from a school-fellow with which to feed the brute–he found Tua in a different mood.
“I don’t think that we will go to see the holy crocodile, Rames,” she said, looking at him thoughtfully.
“Why not?” he asked amazed. “There is no one about, and I have put fat upon the key so that it will make no noise.”
“Because my Ka has been with me, Rames, and told me that it is a bad act and if we do trouble will come to us.”
“Oh! may the fiend Set take your Ka,” replied the lad in a rage. “Show it to me and I will talk with it.”
“I cannot, Rames, for it is /me/. Moreover, if Set took it, he would take me also, and you are wicked to wish such a thing.”
Now the boy began to cry with vexation, sobbing out that she was not to be trusted, and that he had paid away his bronze knife, which Pharaoh had given him when last he visited the temple, for a pigeon to tempt the beast to the top of the water, so that they might see it, although the knife was worth many pigeons, and Pharaoh would be angry if he heard that he had parted with it.
“Why should we take the life of a poor pigeon to please ourselves?” asked Tua, softening a little at the sight of his grief.
“It’s taken already,” he answered. “It fluttered so that I had to sit on it to hide it from the priest, and when he had gone it was dead. Look,” and he opened the linen bag he held, and showed her the dove cold and stiff.
“As you did not mean to kill it, that makes a difference,” said Tua judicially. “Well, perhaps my Ka did not mean that we should not have one peep, and it is a pity to waste the poor pigeon, which then will have died for nothing.”
Rames agreed that it would be the greatest of pities, so the two children slipped away through the trees of the garden into the shadow of the wall, along which they crept till they came to the bronze door. Then guiltily enough Rames put the great key into the lock, and with the help of a piece of wood which he had also made ready, that he set in the ring of the key to act as a lever, the two of them turning together shot back the heavy bolts.
Taking out the key lest it should betray them, they opened the door a little and squeezed themselves through into the forbidden place. No sooner had they done so than almost they wished themselves back again, for there was something about the spot that frightened them, to say nothing of the horrible smell which made Tua feel ill. It was a great tank, with a little artificial island in its centre, full of slimy water that looked almost black because of the shadow of the high walls, and round it ran a narrow stone path. At one spot in this path, however, where grew some dank-looking trees and bushes, was a slope, also of stone, and on the slope with its prow resting in the water a little boat, and in the boat, oars. But of the crocodile there was nothing to be seen.
“It is asleep somewhere,” whispered Tua, “let us go away, I do not like this stench.”
“Stench,” answered Rames. “I smell nothing except the lilies on the water. Let us wake it up, it would be silly to go now. Surely you are not afraid, O Star.”
“Oh, no! I am not afraid,” answered Tua proudly. “Only wake it up quickly, please.”
What Rames did not add was that it would be impossible to retreat as the door had closed behind them, and there was no keyhole on its inner side.
So they walked round the tank, but wherever it might lurk, the sleeping crocodile refused to wake.
“Let us get into the boat and look for it,” suggested Rames. “Perhaps it is hiding on the island.”
So he led her to the stone slope, where to her horror Tua saw the remains of the crocodile’s last meal, a sight that caused her to forget her doubts and jump into the boat very quickly. Then Rames gave it a push and sprang in after her, so that they found themselves floating on the water. Now, standing in the bow, the boy took an oar and paddled round the island, but still there were no signs of the crocodile.
“I don’t believe it is here at all,” he said, recovering his courage.
“You might try the pigeon,” suggested Tua, who, now that there was less smell, felt her curiosity returning.
This was a good thought upon which Rames acted at once. Taking the dead bird from the bag he spread out its wings to make it look as though it were alive, and threw it into the water, exclaiming, “Arise, O Holy Crocodile!”
Then with fearful suddenness, whence they knew not, that crocodile arose. An awful scaly head appeared with dull eyes and countless flashing fangs, and behind the head cubit upon cubit of monstrous form. The fangs closed upon the pigeon and everything vanished.
“That was the Holy Crocodile,” said Rames abstractedly as he stared at the boiling waters, “which has lived here during the reigns of eight Pharaohs, and perhaps longer. Now we have seen it.”
“Yes,” answered Tua, “and I never want to see it again. Get me away quick, or I will tell your father.”
Thus adjured the boy, nothing loth, seized his oar, when suddenly the ancient crocodile, having swallowed the dove, thrust up its snout immediately beneath them and began to follow the boat. Now Tua screamed aloud and said something about her Ka.
“Tell it to keep off the crocodile,” shouted Rames as he worked the oar furiously. “Nothing can hurt a Ka.”
But the crocodile would not be kept off. On the contrary, it thrust its grey snout and one of its claws over the stern of the boat in such a fashion that Rames could no longer work the oar, dragging it almost under water, and snapped with its horrible jaws.
“Oh! it is coming in; we are going to be eaten,” cried Tua.
At that moment the boat touched the landing-place and swung round, so that its bow, where Tua was, struck the head of the crocodile, which seemed to infuriate the beast. At least, it hurled itself upon the boat, causing the fore part to heel over, fill with water, and begin to sink. Then the little lad, Rames, showed the courage that was in him. Shouting to Tua:
“Get on shore, get on shore!” he plunged past her and smote the huge reptile upon the head with the blade of his oar. It opened its hideous mouth, and he thrust the oar into it and held on.
“Leave go,” cried Tua, as she scrambled to land.
But Rames would not leave go, for in his brave little heart he thought that if he did the crocodile would follow Tua and eat her. So he clung to the handle till it was wrenched from him. Indeed he did more, for seeing that the crocodile had bitten the wooden blade in two and, having dropped it, was still advancing towards the slope where it was accustomed to be fed, he leapt into the water and struck it in the eye with his little fist. Feeling the pain of the blow the monster snapped at him, and catching him by the hand began to sink back into deep water, dragging the lad after it.
Rames said nothing, but Tua, who already was at the head of the stage, looked round and saw the agony on his face.
“Help me, Amen!” she cried, and flying back, grasped Rames by his left arm just as he was falling over, then set her heels in a crack of the rock and held on. For one moment she was dragged forward till she thought that she must fall upon her face and be drowned or eaten with Rames, but the next something yielded, and she and the boy tumbled in a heap upon the stones. They rose and staggered together to the terrace. As they went Tua saw that Rames was looking at his right hand curiously; also that it was covered with blood, and that the little finger was torn off it. Then she remembered nothing further, except a sound of shouts and of heavy hammering at the copper door.
When she recovered it was to find herself in the house of Mermes with the lady Asti bending over her and weeping.
“Why do you weep, Nurse?” she asked, “seeing that I am safe?”
“I weep for my son, Princess,” she answered between her sobs.
“Is he dead of his wounds, then, Asti?”
“No, O Morning Star, he lies sick in his chamber. But soon Pharaoh will kill him because he led her who will be Queen of Egypt into great danger of her life.”
“Not so,” said Tua, springing up, “for he saved my life.”
As she spoke the door opened and in came Pharaoh himself, who had been summoned hastily from the palace. His face was white and he shook with fear, for it had been reported to him that his only child was drowned. When he saw that she lived and was not even hurt, he could not contain his joy, but casting his arms about her, sank to his knees giving thanks to the gods and the guardian spirits. She kissed him, and studying his face with her wise eyes, asked why he was so much afraid.
“Because I thought you had been killed, my daughter.”
“Why did you think that, O my father, seeing that the great god, Amen, before I was born promised to protect me always, though it is true that had it not been for Rames—-“
Now at the mention of this name Pharaoh was filled with rage.
“Speak not of that wicked lad,” he exclaimed, “now or ever more, for he shall be scourged till he dies!”
“My father,” answered Tua, springing up, “forget those words, for if Rames dies I will die also. It is I who am to blame, not he, for my Ka warned me not to look upon the beast, but to Rames no Ka spoke. Moreover, when that evil god would have eaten me it was Rames who fought with it and offered himself to its jaws in my place. Listen, my father, while I tell you all the story.”
So Pharaoh listened, and when it was done he sent for Rames. Presently the boy was carried in, for he had lost so much blood that he could not walk, and was placed upon a stool before him.
“Slay me now, O Pharaoh,” he said in a weak voice, “for I have sinned. Moreover, I shall die happy since my spirit gave me strength to beat off the evil beast from the Princess whom I led into trouble.”
“Truly you have done wickedly,” said Pharaoh, shaking his head at him, “and, therefore, perhaps, you will lose your hand and even your life. Yet, child, you have a royal heart, who first saved your playmate and then, even in my presence, take all the blame upon yourself. Therefore I forgive you, son of Mermes; moreover, I see that I was wise not to listen to those who counselled that you should be put away at birth,” and bending over the boy, Pharaoh kissed him on the brow.
Also he gave orders that the greatest physicians in the land should attend upon him and purge the poison of the crocodile’s teeth from his body, and when he recovered–which save for the loss of the little finger of his right hand, he did completely–he sent him a sword with a handle of gold fashioned to the shape of a crocodile, in place of the knife which he had paid away for the pigeon, bidding him use it bravely all his life in defence of her who would be his queen. Further, although he was still so young, he gave to him the high title of Count in earnest of his love and favour, and with it a name that meant Defender of the Royal Lady.
After he had gone Asti the prophetess looked at the sword which Pharaoh had given to her son.
“I see royal blood on it,” she said, and handed it back to Rames.
But Rames and Tua were no more allowed to play together alone, for always after this the Princess was accompanied by women of honour and an armed guard. Also, within a year or two the boy was placed in charge of a general to be brought up as a soldier, a trade that he liked well enough, so that from this time forward he and Neter-Tua met but seldom. Still there was a bond between them which could not be broken by absence, for already they loved each other, and every night and morning when Tua made her petitions to Amen, after praying for Pharaoh her father, and for the spirit of her royal mother, Ahura, she prayed for Rames, and that they might meet soon. For the months when her eyes did not fall upon his face were wearisome to Tua.
THE SUMMONING OF AMEN
The years went by and the Princess Neter-Tua, who was called Morning Star of Amen, came at length to womanhood, and went through the ceremonies of Purification. In all Egypt there was no maiden so wise and spirited or so lovely. Tall and slender was her shape, blue as the sea were her eyes, rosy like the dawn were her cheeks, and when she did not wear it in a net of gold, her black and curling hair fell almost to her waist. Also she was very learned, for priests and priestesses taught her all things that she ought to know, together with the arts of playing on the harp and of singing and dancing, while her own excellent Spirit, that Ka which Amen had given her, instructed her in a deeper wisdom which she gathered unconsciously in sleep and waking dreams, as the slumbering earth gathers dew at night.
Moreover, her father, the wise old Pharaoh, opened to her the craft of statesmanship, by help of which she might govern men and overthrow her enemies. Indeed, he did more, for when her education was finished, he joined her with him in the government of Egypt, saying:
“I who always lacked bodily strength, grow aged and feeble. This mighty crown is too heavy for me to bear alone. Daughter, you must share its weight.”
So the young Neter-Tua became a queen, and great was the ceremony of her coronation. The high priests and priestesses, clothed in the robes and symbols of their gods and goddesses, addressed speeches to her and blessed her in their names, giving her every good gift and promising to her eternal life. Princes and nobles made her offerings; foreign chiefs and kings bowed before her by their ambassadors. The Counts and headmen of the Two Lands swore allegiance to her, and, finally, in the presence of all the Court, Pharaoh himself set the double crown upon her brow and gave her her throne-names of “Glorious in Ra and Hathor Strong in Beauty.”
So for a while Tua sat splendid on her golden seat while the people adored her, but in that triumphant hour her eyes searched for one face only, that of the tall and gallant captain, Rames, her foster-brother, and for a moment rested there content. Yes, their eyes met, those of the new-crowned Empress on her throne and of the youthful noble in the throng below. Short was the greeting, for next instant she looked away, yet more full of meaning than whole days of speech.
“The Queen does not forget what the child remembered, the goddess is still a woman,” it seemed to say. And so sweet was that message that Rames staggered from the Court like one stricken by the sun.
Night came at last, and having dismissed her secretaries, scribes and tire-women the weary girl, now clad in simple white, sat in her chamber alone. She thought of all the splendours through which she had passed; she thought of the glories of her imperial state, of the power that she wielded, and of the proud future which stretched before her feet. But most of all she thought of the face of the young Count Rames, the playmate of her childhood, the man she loved, and wondered, ah! how she wondered, if with all her power she could ever draw him to her side. If not, of what use was this rule over millions, this dominion of her world? They called her a goddess, and in truth, at times, she believed that she was half-divine, but if so, why did her heart ache like that of any common maid?
Moreover, was she really set above the misfortunes of her race? Could a throne, however bright with gold, lift her above the sorrows of human kind? She desired to learn the truth, the very truth. Her mind was urgent, it drove her on to search out things to come, to stand face to face with them, even if they were evil. Well, she believed she had the strength, although, as yet, she had never called it to her aid.
Also this thing could not be done alone. Tua thought a while, then going to the door of her chamber she bade a woman who waited without summon to her the Lady Asti, priestess of Amen, Interpreter of Heaven. Presently Asti came, for now, as always, she was in attendance upon the new-crowned queen, a tall and noble-looking woman with fine-cut features and black hair, that although she was fifty years of age, still showed no trace of grey.
“I was in the Sanctuary when your Majesty summoned me,” she said, pointing to the sacred robe she wore. “Let your Majesty pardon me, therefore, if I have been long in coming,” and she bowed low before her.
But the Queen lifted her up and kissed her, saying,
“I am weary of those high titles whereof I have heard more than enough to-day. Call me Tua, O my mother, for so you have ever been to me, from whose breast I drew the milk of life.”
“What ails you, my child?” asked Asti. “Was the crown too heavy for this young head of yours?” she added, stretching out her delicate hand and stroking the black and curling hair.
“Aye, Mother, the weight of it seemed to crush me with its gems and gold. I am weary and yet I cannot sleep. Tell me, why did Pharaoh summon that Council after the feast? Mermes was one of them, so you must know. And why was not I, who henceforth rule with Pharaoh, present with him?”
“Would you learn?” said Asti with a little smile. “Well, as Queen you have the right. It was because they discussed the matter of your marriage.”
For a moment a light shone upon Tua’s face. Then she asked anxiously:
“My marriage, and with whom?”
“Oh! many names were mentioned, Child, since she who rules Egypt does not lack for suitors.”
“Tell me them quick, Asti.”
So she told them, there were seven in all, the Prince of Kesh, the sons of foreign kings, great nobles, and a general of the army who claimed descent from a former Pharaoh.
As each name fell from Asti’s lips Tua waved her hand, saying scornful words, such as “I know him not,” “Too old,” “Fat and hideous,” “A foreign dog who spits upon our gods,” and so forth, adding at last:
“That is all, Lady, no other name was mentioned, and the Council adjourned to consider these.”
“No other name?”
“Do you then miss one, perchance, Tua?”
She made no answer, only her lips seemed to shape themselves to a certain sound that they did not utter. The two women looked each other in the eyes, then Asti shook her head.
“It may not be,” she whispered, “for many reasons, and amongst them that by the solemn decree of long ago whereof I have told you, our blood is barred for ever from the throne. None would dare to break it, not even the Pharaoh himself. You would bring my son to his death, Tua, which such another look as you gave him in yonder hall would surely do.”
“No,” she answered slowly, “I would not bring him to his death, but to life and honour and–love, and one day /I/ shall be Pharaoh. Only, Asti, if you betray me to him I swear that I will bring you to your death, although you are so dear.”
“I shall not betray you,” answered the priestess, smiling again. “In truth, most Beautiful, I do not think there is any need, even if I would. Say now, why did a certain captain turn faint and leave the hall to-day when your eyes chanced to fall on him?”
“The heat,” suggested Tua, colouring.
“Yes, it was hot, but he is stronger than most men and had borne it long–like others. Still there are fires—-“
“Because he was afraid of my majesty,” broke in Tua hurriedly. “You know I looked very royal there, Mother.”
“Yes, doubtless fear moved him–or some other passion. Yet, Beloved, put that thought from your heart as I do. When you are Pharaoh you will learn that a monarch is a slave to the people and to the law. Breathe but his name in love, and never will you see him more till you meet before Osiris.”
Tua hid her eyes in her hands for a moment, then she glanced up and there was another look upon her face, a strange, new look.
“When I am Pharaoh,” she answered, “there are certain matters in which I will be my own law, and if the people do not like it, they may find another Pharaoh.”
Asti started at her words, and a light of joy shone in her deep eyes.
“Truly your heart is high,” she said; “but, oh! if you love me–and another–bury that thought, bury it deep, or he will never live to see you placed alone upon the golden seat. Know, Lady, that already from hour to hour I fear for him–lest he should drink a poisoned cup, lest at night he should chance to stumble against a spear, lest an arrow– shot in sport–should fall against his throat and none know whence it came.”
Tua clenched her hands.
“If so, there should be such vengeance as Egypt has not heard of since Mena ruled.”
“Of what use is vengeance, Child, when the heart is empty and the tomb is sealed?”
Again Tua thought. Then she said:
“There are other gods besides Osiris. Now what do men call me, Mother? Nay, not my royal names.”
“They call you Morning Star of Amen; they call you Daughter of Amen.”
“Is that story true, Asti the Magician?”
“Aye, at least your mother dreamed the dream, for she told it to me and I have read its record, who am a priestess of Amen.”
“Then this high god should love me, should he not? He should hear my prayers and give me power–he should protect those who are dear to me. Mother, they say that you, the Mistress of secret things, can open the ears of the gods and cause their mouths to speak. Mother, I command you as your Queen, call up my father Amen before me, so that I may talk with him, for I have words to which he must listen.”
“Are you not afraid?” asked Asti, looking at her curiously. “He is the greatest of all the gods, and to summon him lightly is a sacrilege.”
“Should a daughter fear her father?” answered Tua.
“When the divine Queen your mother and Pharaoh knelt before him in his shrine, praying that a child might be given to them, Amen did not deign to appear to them, save afterwards in a dream. Will you dare more than they? Lie down and dream, O Star of the Morning.”
“Nay, I trust no dreams which change like summer clouds and pass as soon,” answered the girl boldly. “If the god is my father, in the spirit or the flesh, I know not which, let him appear before me face to face. I ask his wisdom for myself and his favour for another. Call him, if you have the power, Asti. Call him even if he slay me. Better that I should die than—-“
“Hush!” said Asti, laying her hand upon her lips, “speak not that name. Well, I have some skill, and for your sake–and another’s–I will try, but not here. Perchance he may listen, perchance not, or, perchance, if he comes you and I must pay the price. Put on your robes, now, O Queen, and over them this veil, and follow me–if you dare.”
Along narrow passages they crept and down many a secret-stair, till at length they came to a door at the foot of a long slope of rock. This door Asti unlocked and thrust open, then when they had entered, re-locked it behind them.
“What is this place?” whispered Tua.
“The burial crypt of the high priestesses of Amen, where it is said that the god watches. None have entered it for hard on thirty years. See here in the dust run the footsteps of those who bore the last priestess to her rest.”
She held up her lamp, and by the light of it Tua saw that they were in a great cave painted with figures of the gods which had on either side of it recesses. In each of these was set a coffin with a gilded face, and behind it an alabaster statue of her who lay therein, and in front of it a table of offerings. At the head of the crypt stood a small altar of black stone, for the rest the place was empty.
Asti led Tua to a step in front of the altar and bidding her kneel, departed with the lamp which she hid away in some side chapel, so that now the darkness was intense. Presently, through the utter silence, Tua heard her creep back towards her, for although she walked so softly the dust seemed to cry beneath her feet, and her every footstep echoed round the vaulted walls. Moreover, a glow came from her, the glow of her life in that place of death. She passed Tua and knelt by the altar and the echo of her movements died away. Only it seemed to Tua that from each of the tombs to the right and to the left rose the Ka of her who was buried there, and drew near to watch and listen. She could not see them, she could not hear them, yet she knew that they were there and was able to count their number–thirty and two in all– while within herself rose a picture of them, each differing from the other, but all white, expectant, solemn.
Now Tua heard Asti murmuring secret invocations that she did not understand. In that place and silence they sounded weird and dreadful, and as she hearkened to them, for the first time fear crept over her. Kneeling there upon her knees she bent her head almost to the dust and put up prayers to Amen that he might be pleased to hear her and to satisfy the longings of her heart. She prayed and prayed till she grew faint and weary, while always Asti uttered her invocations. But no answer came, no deity appeared, no voice spoke. At length Asti rose, and coming to her, whispered in her ear:
“Let us depart ere the watching spirits, whose rest we have broken, grow wrath with us. The god has shut his ears.”
So Tua rose, clinging to Asti, for now, she knew not why, her fear grew and deepened. For a moment she stood upon her feet, then sank to her knees again, for there at the far end of the great tomb, near to the door by which they had entered, appeared a glow upon the darkness. Slowly it took form, the form of a woman clad in the royal robes of Egypt, and bearing in its hand a sceptre. The figure of light advanced towards them, so that presently they saw its face. Tua did not know the face, though it seemed to her to be like her own, but Asti knew it, and at the sight sank to the ground.
Now the figure stood in front of them, a thing of light framed in the thick darkness, and now in a sweet, low voice it spoke.
“Hail! Queen of Egypt,” it said. “Hail! Neter-Tua, Daughter of Amen. Art thou afraid to look on the spirit of her who bore thee, thou that didst dare to summon the Father of the gods to do thy bidding?”
“I am afraid,” answered Tua, shaking in all her limbs.
“And thou, Asti the Magician, art thou afraid also, who but now wast bold enough to cry to Amen-Ra–‘Come from thy high heaven and make answer’?”
“It is even so, O Queen Ahura,” murmured Asti.
“Woman,” went on the voice, “thy sin is great, and great is the sin of this royal one at thy side. Had Amen hearkened, how would the two of you have stood before his glory, who at the sight of this shape of mine that once was mortal like yourselves, crouch choking to the earth? I tell you both that had the god arisen, as in your wickedness ye willed, there where ye knelt, there ye would have died. But he who knows all is merciful, and in his place has sent me his messenger that ye may live to look upon to-morrow’s sun.”
“Let Amen pardon us!” gasped Tua, “it was my sin, O Mother, for I commanded Asti and she obeyed me. On me be the blame, not on her, for I am torn with doubts and fears, for myself and for another. I would know the future.”
“Why, O Queen Neter-Tua, why wouldst thou know the future? If hell yawns beneath thy feet, why wouldst thou peep through its golden doors before the time? The future is hid from mortals because, could they pierce its veil, it would crush them with its terrors. If all the woes of life and death lay open the gaze, who would dare to live and who– oh! who could dare to die?”
“Then woes await me, O thou who wast my mother?”
“How can it be otherwise? Light and darkness make the day, joy and sorrow make the life. Thou art human, be content.”
“Divine also, O Ahura, if all tales be true.”
“Then pay for thy divinity in tears and be satisfied. Content is the guerdon of the beast, but gods are wafted upwards on the wings of pain. How can that gold be pure which has not known the fire?”
“Thou tellest me nothing,” wailed Tua, “and it is not for myself I ask. I am fair, I am Amen’s daughter, and splendid is my heritage. Yet, O Dweller in Osiris, thou who once didst fill the place I hold to-day, I tell thee that I would pay away this pomp, could I but be sure that I shall not live loveless, that I shall not be given as a chattel to one whom I hate, that one–whom I do not hate–will live to call me–wife. Great dangers threaten him–and me, Amen is mighty; he is the potter that moulds the clay of men; if I be his child, if his spirit is breathed into me, oh! let him help me now.”
“Let thine own faith help thee. Are not the words of Amen, which he spake concerning thee, written down? Study them and ask no more. Love is an arrow that does not miss its mark; it is the immortal fire from on high which winds and waters cannot quench. Therefore love on. Thou shalt not love in vain. Queen and Daughter, fare thee well awhile.”
“Nay, nay, one word, Immortal. I thank thee, thou Messenger of the gods, but when these troubles come upon me–and another, when the sea of dangers closes o’er our heads, when shame is near and I am lonely, as well may chance, then to whom shall I turn for succour?”
“Then thou hast one within thee who is strong to aid. It was given to thee at thy birth, O Star of Amen, and Asti can call it forth. Come hither, thou Asti, and swiftly, for I must be gone, and first I would speak with thee.”
Asti crept forward, and the glowing shape in the royal robe bent over her so that the light of it shone upon her face. It bent over her and seemed to whisper in her ear. Then it held out its hands towards Tua as though in blessing, and instantly was not.
Once more the two women stood in Tua’s chamber. Pale and shaken they looked into each other’s eyes.
“You have had your will, Queen,” said Asti; “for if Amen did not come, he sent a messenger, and a royal one.”
“Interpret me this vision,” answered Tua, “for to me, at any rate, that Spirit said little.”
“Nay, it said much. It said that love fails not of its reward, and what more went you out to seek?”
“Then I am glad,” exclaimed Tua joyfully.
“Be not too glad, Queen, for to-night we have sinned, both of us, who dared to summon Amen from his throne, and sin also fails not of its reward. Blood is the price of that oracle.”
“Whose blood, Asti? Ours?”
“Nay, worse, that of those who are dear to us. Troubles arise in Egypt, Queen.”
“You will not leave me when they break, Asti?”
“I may not if I would. The Fates have bound us together till the end, and that I think is far away. I am yours as once you were mine when you lay upon my breast, but bid me no more to summon Amen from his throne.”
HOW RAMES FOUGHT THE PRINCE OF KESH
Now for a whole moon there were great festivals in Thebes, and in all of these Neter-Tua, “Glorious in Ra, Hathor Strong in Beauty, Morning Star of Amen,” must take her part as new-crowned Queen of Egypt. Feast followed feast, and at each of them one of the suitors of her hand was the guest of honour.
Then after it was done, Pharaoh her father and his councillors would wait upon her and ask if this man was pleasing to her. Being wise, Tua would give no direct answer, only of most of them she was rid in this way.
She demanded that the writing of the dream of her mother, Ahura, should be brought and read before her, and when it had been read she pointed out that Amen promised to her a royal lover, and that these chiefs and generals were not royal, therefore it was not of them that Amen spoke, nor did she dare to turn her eyes on one whom the god had forbidden to her.
Of others who declared that they were kings, but who, being unable to leave their countries, were represented by ambassadors, she said that not having seen them she could say nothing. When they appeared at the Court of Egypt, she would consider them.
So at length only one suitor was left, the man whom she knew well Pharaoh and his councillors desired that she should take as husband. This was Amathel, the Prince of Kesh, whose father, an aged king, ruled at Napata, a great city far to the south, situated in a land that was called an island because the river Nile embraced it in its two arms. It was said that after Egypt this country was the richest in the whole world, for there gold was so plentiful that men thought it of less value than copper and iron; also there were mines in which beautiful stones were found, and the soil grew corn in abundance.
Moreover, once in the far past, a race of Pharaohs sprung from this city of Napata, had sat on the throne of Egypt, until at length the people of Egypt, headed by the priests, had risen and overthrown them because they were foreigners and had introduced Nubian customs into the land. Therefore it was decreed by an unalterable law that none of their race should ever again wear the Double Crown. Of the descendants of these Pharaohs, Rames, Tua’s playmate, was the last lawful child.
But although the Egyptians had cast them down, at heart they always grieved over the rich territory of Napata, which was lost to them, for when those Pharaohs fell Kesh declared itself independent and set up another dynasty to rule over it, of which dynasty Amathel Prince of Kesh was the heir.
Therefore they hoped that it might come back to them by marriage between Amathel and the young Queen Neter-Tua. Ever since she was born the great lords and councillors of Egypt, yes, and Pharaoh himself, seeing that he had no son to whom he might marry her after the fashion of the country, had been working to this end. It was by secret treaty that the Prince Amathel was present at the crowning of the Queen, of whose hand he had been assured on the sole condition that he came to dwell with her at Thebes. It is true that there were other suitors, but these, as all of them knew well, were but pawns in a game played to amuse the people.
The king destined to take the great queen captive was Amathel and no other. Tua knew it, for had not Asti told her, and was it not because of her fear of this man and her love for Rames that she had dared to commit the sacrilege of attempting to summon Amen from the skies? Still, as yet, the Pharaoh had not spoken to her of Amathel, nor had she met him. It was said that he had been present at her crowning in disguise, for this proud prince gave out that were she ten times Queen of Egypt, he would not pledge himself to wed as his royal wife, one who was displeasing to him, and that therefore he must see her before he pressed his suit.
Now that he had seen her in her loveliness and glory, he announced that he was well satisfied, which was but half the truth, for, in fact, she had set all his southern blood on fire, and there was nothing that he desired more than to call her wife.
On the night which had been appointed for Amathel to meet his destined bride, a feast had been prepared richer by far than any that went before. Tua, feigning ignorance, on entering the great unroofed hall lit with hundreds of torches down all its length, and seeing the multitudes at the tables, asked of the Pharaoh, her father, who was the guest that he would welcome with such magnificence which seemed worthy of a god rather than of a man.
“My daughter,” answered the old monarch nervously, “it is none other than the Prince of Kesh, who in his own country they worship as divine, as we are worshipped here in Egypt, and who, in truth, is, or will be, one of the greatest of kings.”
“Kesh!” she answered, “I thought that we claimed sovereignty over that land.”
“Once it was ours, Daughter,” said her father with a sigh, “or rather the kings of Kesh were also kings of Egypt, but their dynasty fell before my great-great-grandfather was called to the throne, and now but three of their blood are left, Mermes, Captain of the Guard of Amen; Asti, the Seer and Priestess, his wife, your foster-mother and waiting lady, and the young Count Rames, a soldier in our army, who was your playmate, and as you may remember saved you from the sacred crocodile.”
“Yes, I remember,” said Tua. “But then why is not Mermes King of Kesh?”
“Because the people of the city of Napata raised up another house to rule over them, of whom Amathel is the heir.”