H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 5
"A usurping heir, surely, my father, if there be anything in blood."
"Say not that, Tua," replied Pharaoh sharply, "for then Mermes should
be Pharaoh in our place also."
Tua made no reply, only as they took their seats in the golden chairs
at the head of the hall, she asked carelessly:
"Is this Prince of Kesh also a suitor for my hand, O Pharaoh?"
"What else should he be, my daughter? Did you not know it? Be gracious
to him now, since it is decreed that you shall take him as a husband.
Hush! answer not. He comes."
As he spoke a sound of wild music arose, and at the far end of the
great hall appeared a band of players gorgeously attired, who blew
horns made from small tusks of the elephant, clashed brazen cymbals
and beat gilded drums. These advanced a little way up the hall and
stood there playing, while after them marched a bodyguard of twenty
gigantic Nubian soldiers who carried broad-bladed spears with shields
of hippopotamus hide curiously worked, and were clothed in tunics and
caps of leopard-skin.
Next appeared the Prince of Kesh himself, a short, stout, broad-
shouldered young man, thick-featured, heavy-faced, and having large,
rolling eyes. He was clad in festal garments, and hung about with
heavy chains of gold fastened with clasps of glittering stones, while
from his crisp, black hair rose a tall plume of nodding ostrich
feathers. Fan bearers walked beside him, and the train of his long
cloak was borne by two black and hideous dwarfs, full-grown men but no
taller than a child of eight.
With one swift glance, while he was yet far away, Tua studied the man
from head to foot, and hated him as she had never hated anyone before.
Then she looked over his head, as from her raised seat upon the dais
she was able to do, and saw that behind him came a second guard of
picked Egyptian soldiers, and that in command of them, simply clad in
his scaled armour of bronze, and wearing upon his thigh the golden-
handled sword that Pharaoh had given him, was none other than the
young Count Rames, her playmate and foster-brother, the man whom her
heart loved. At the sight of his tall and noble form and fine-cut face
rising above the coarse, squat figure of the Ethiopian prince, Tua
blushed rosy red, but Pharaoh noting it, only thought, as others did,
that it was because now for the first time her eyes fell upon him who
would be her husband.
Why, Tua wondered, was Rames chosen to attend upon the Prince Amathel?
At once the answer rose in her mind. Doubtless it had been done to
gratify the pride of Amathel, not by Pharaoh, who would know nothing
of such matters, but by some bribed councillor, or steward of the
household. Rames was of more ancient blood than Amathel, and by right
should be the King of Kesh, as he should also be Pharaoh of Egypt;
therefore, to humble him he was set to wait upon Amathel.
Moreover, it was guessed that the young Queen looked kindly upon this
Count Rames with whom she had been nursed, and who, like herself, was
beautiful to behold. Therefore, to abase him in her eyes he had been
commanded to appear walking in the train of Amathel and given charge
over his sacred person at the feast.
In a moment Tua understood it all, and made a vow before her father
Amen that soon or late those who had planned this outrage should pay
its price, nor did she forget that promise in the after days.
Now the Prince had mounted the dais and was bowing low to Pharaoh and
to her, and they must rise and bow in answer. Then Pharaoh welcomed
him to Egypt in few, well-chosen words, giving him all his titles and
speaking meaningly of the ancient ties which had linked their
kingdoms, ties which, he prayed, might yet draw them close again.
He ceased and looked at Tua who, as Queen, had also a speech to
deliver that had been given to her in writing. Although she remembered
this well enough, for the roll lay beside her, never a word would she
read, but turned round and bade one of her waiting-ladies bring her a
So after a pause that seemed somewhat long Amathel delivered his
answer that was learned by rote, for it replied to "gentle words from
the lips of the divine Queen that made his heart to flower like the
desert after rain," not one of which had she spoken. Thereon Tua,
looking over the top of her fan, saw Rames smile grimly, while unable
to restrain themselves, some of the great personages at the feast
broke out laughing, and bowed down their heads to hide their
With an angry scowl the Prince turned and commanded that the gifts
should be brought. Now slaves advanced bearing cups of worked gold,
elephants and other beasts fashioned in gold, and golden vases full of
incense, which he presented to Pharaoh on behalf of his father, the
King of Kesh and himself, saying boastfully that in his country such
things were common, and that he would have brought more of them had it
not been for their weight.
When Pharaoh had thanked him, answering gently that Egypt too was not
poor, as he hoped that he would find upon the morrow, the Prince, on
his own behalf alone, offered to the Queen other presents, among them
pectorals and necklaces without price fashioned of amethysts and
sapphires. Also, because she was known to be the first of musicians
and the sweetest-voiced lady in the land--for these were the greatest
of the gifts that Tua had from Amen--he gave to her a wonderfully
worked harp of ivory with golden strings, the frame of the harp being
fashioned to the shape of a woman, and two black female slaves laden
with ornaments, who were said to be the best singers in the Southern
Now Pharaoh whispered to Tua to put on one of the necklaces, but she
would not, saying that the colour of the stones did not match her
white robe and the blue lotus flowers which she wore. Instead, she
thanked Amathel coldly but courteously, and without looking at his
gifts, told the royal Nurse, Asti, who stood behind her, to bear them
away and to place them at a distance, as the perfumes that had been
poured over them, oppressed her. Only, as though by an afterthought,
she bade them leave the ivory harp.
Thus inauspiciously enough the feast began. At it Amathel drank much
of the sweet wine of Asi or Cyprus, commanding Rames, who stood behind
him, to fill his cup again and again, though whether he did this
because he was nearest to him, or to lower him to the rank of a
butler, Tua did not know. At least, having no choice, Rames obeyed,
though cup-filling was no fitting task for a Count of Egypt and an
officer of Pharaoh's guard.
When the waiting women, clad in net worked with spangles of gold, had
borne away the meats, conjurers appeared who did wonderful feats,
amongst other things causing a likeness of Queen Neter-Tua wearing her
royal robes and having a star upon her brow, to arise out of a vase.
Then, as they had arranged, they strove to do the same for the Prince
Amathel, but Asti who had more magic than all of them, watching behind
Tua's chair, put out her strength and threw a spell upon them.
Behold! instead of the form of the Prince, which these conjurers
summoned loudly and by name, there appeared out of the vase a monkey
wearing a crown and feathers that yet resembled him somewhat, which
black and hideous ape stood there for a while seeming to gibber at
them, then fell down and vanished away.
Now some of the audience laughed and some were silent, but Pharaoh,
not knowing whether this were a plot or an evil omen from the gods,
frowned and looked anxiously at his guest. As it chanced, however, the
Prince, fired with wine, was so engaged in staring at the loveliness
of Tua, that he took no note of the thing, while the Queen looked
upwards and seemed to see nothing. As for the conjurers, they fled
from the hall, fearing for their lives, and wondering what strong
spirit had entered into the vase and spoilt the trick which they had
As they went singers and dancing women hurriedly took their place,
till Tua, wearying of the stare of Amathel, waved her hand and said
that she wished to hear those two Nubian slaves whose voices were said
to be so wonderful. So they were brought forward with their harps, and
having prostrated themselves, began to play and sing very sweetly,
Nubian songs melancholy and wild, whereof few could understand the
meaning. So well did they sing, indeed, that when they had done,
"You have pleased me much, and in payment I give you a royal gift. I
give you your freedom, and appoint that henceforth you shall sing
before the Court, if you think fit to stay here, not as slaves but for
Then the two women prostrated themselves again before her Majesty and
blessed her, for they knew that they could earn wealth by their gift,
and the rich courtiers taking the Queen's cue, flung rings and
ornaments to them, so that in a minute they got more gold than ever
they had dreamed of, who were but kidnapped slaves. But Prince Amathel
grew angry and said:
"Some might have been pleased to keep the priceless gift of the best
singers in the world."
"Do you say that these sweet-voiced women are the best singers in the
world, O Prince?" asked Tua, speaking to him for the first time. "Now
if you will be pleased to listen, you provoke me to make trial of my
own small skill that I may learn how far I fall short of 'the best
singers in the world.'"
Then she lifted up the ivory harp with the strings of gold and swept
her fingers over it, trying its notes and adjusting them with the
agate screws, looking at Amathel all the while with a challenge in her
"Nay, nay, my daughter," said Pharaoh, "it is scarcely fitting that a
queen of Egypt should sing before all this noble company."
"Why not, my father?" she asked. "To-night we all do honour to the
heir of his Majesty of Kesh. Pharaoh receives him, Pharaoh's daughter
accepts his gifts, the highest in the land surround him," then she
paused and added slowly, "one of blood more ancient than his own waits
on him as cup-bearer, one whose race built up the throne his father
fills," and she pointed to Rames, who stood near by holding the vase
of wine. "Why, then, should not Egypt's queen seek to please our royal
guest as best she may--since she has no other gift to give him?"
Then in the dead silence which followed this bold speech, whereof none
could mistake the meaning, Neter-Tua, Morning Star of Amen, rose from
her seat. Pressing the ivory harp against her young breast, she bent
over it, her head crowned with the crown of Upper Egypt whereon
glistened the royal /urĉus/, a snake about to strike, and swept the
Such magic was in her touch that instantly all else was forgotten,
even the Pharaoh leaned back in his golden chair to listen. Softly she
struck at first, then by slow degrees ever louder till the music of
the harp rang through the pillared hall. Now, at length, she lifted up
her heavenly voice and began to sing in a strain so wild and sweet
that it seemed to pierce to the watching stars.
It was a sad and ancient love-tale that she sang, which told how a
priestess of Hathor of high degree loved and was beloved by a simple
scribe whom she might not wed. It told how the scribe, maddened by his
passion, crept at night into the very sanctuary of the temple hoping
to find her there, and for his sacrilege was slain by the angry
goddess. It told how the beautiful priestess, coming alone to make
prayer in the sanctuary for strength to resist her love, stumbled over
the lover's corpse and, knowing it, died of grief. It told how Hathor,
goddess of love, melted by the piteous sight, breathed back life into
their nostrils, and since they might not remain upon earth, wafted
them to the Under-world, where they awoke and embraced and dwell on
for ever and for aye, triumphant and rejoicing.
All had heard this old, old story, but none had ever heard it so
divinely sung. As Tua's pure and lovely voice floated over them the
listeners seemed to see that lover, daring all in his desire, creep
into the solemn sanctuary of the temple. They saw Hathor appear in her
wrath and smite him cold in death. They saw the beauteous priestess
with her lamp, and heard her wail her life away upon her darling's
corpse; saw, too, the dead borne by spirits over the borders of the
Then came that last burst of music thrilling and divine, and its rich,
passionate notes seemed to open the heavens to their sight. There in
the deep sky they perceived the awakening of the lovers and their
embrace of perfect joy, and when a glory hid them, heard the
victorious chant of the priestess of love sighing itself away, faint
and ever fainter, till at length its last distant echoes died in the
utter silence of the place of souls.
Tua ceased her music. Resting her still quivering harp upon the board,
she sank back in her chair of state, outworn, trembling, while in her
pale face the blue eyes shone like stars. There was stillness in the
hall; the spell of that magical voice lay on the listeners; none
applauded, it seemed even that none dared to move, for men remembered
that this wonderful young Queen was said to be daughter of Amen,
Master of the world, and thought that it had been given to them to
hearken, not to a royal maiden, but to a goddess of the skies.
Quiet they sat as though sleep had smitten them, only every man of
their number stared at the sweet pale face and at those radiant eyes.
Drunk with passion and with wine, Amathel, Prince of Kesh, leaned his
heavy head upon his hand and stared like the rest. But those eyes did
not stay on him. Had he been a stone they could not have noted him
less; they passed over him seeking something beyond.
Slowly he turned to see what it might be at which the Morning Star of
Amen gazed, and perceived that the young captain who waited on him, he
who was said to be of a race more ancient and purer than his own, he
whose house had reigned in the Southern Land when his ancestors were
but traffickers in gold, was also gazing at this royal singer. Yes, he
bent forward to gaze as though a spell drew him, a spell, or the eyes
of the Queen, and there was that upon his face which even a drunken
Nubian could not fail to understand.
In the hands of Rames was the tall, golden vase of wine, and as
Amathel thrust back his chair its topmost ivory bar struck the foot of
the vase and tilted it, so that the red wine poured in a torrent over
the Prince's head and gorgeous robes, staining him from his crest of
plumes to his feet as though with blood. Up sprang the Prince of Kesh
roaring with fury.
"Dog-descended slave!" he shouted. "Hog-headed brother of swine, is it
thus that you wait upon my Royalty?" and with the cup in his hand he
smote Rames on the face, then drew the sword at his side to kill him.
But Rames also wore a sword, that sword hafted with the golden
crocodile which Pharaoh had given him long ago--that sword which Asti
the foresighted had seen red with royal blood. With a wild, low cry he
snatched it from its sheath, and to avoid the blow that Amathel struck
at him before he could guard himself, sprang backwards from the dais
to the open space in the hall that had been left clear for the
dancers. After him leapt Amathel calling him "Coward," and next
instant the pillars echoed, not with Tua's music but with the stern
ringing of bronze upon bronze.
Now in their fear and amaze men looked up to Pharaoh, waiting his
word, but Pharaoh, overcome by the horror of the scene, appeared to
have swooned; at least, he lay back in his chair with his eyes shut
like one asleep. Then they looked to the Queen, but Tua made no sign,
only with parted lips and heaving breast watched, watched and waited
for the end.
As for Rames he forgot everything save that he, a soldier and a noble
of royal race, had been struck across the mouth by a black Nubian who
called himself a prince. His blood boiled up in him, and through a red
haze as it were, he saw Tua's glorious eyes beckoning him on to a
victory. He saw and sprang as springs the lion of the desert, sprang
straight at the throat of Amathel. The blow went high, an ostrich
plume floated to the ground--no more, and Amathel was a sturdy fighter
and had the strength of madness. Moreover, his was the longer weapon;
it fell upon the scales of armour of Rames and beat him back, it fell
again on his shoulder and struck him to his knee. It fell a third
time, and glancing from the mail wounded him in the thigh so that the
blood flowed. Now a soldier of Pharaoh's guard shouted to encourage
his captain, and the Nubians shouted back, crying to their prince to
slit the hog's throat.
Then Rames seemed to awake. He leapt from his knees, he smote and the
blow went home, though the iron which the Nubian wore beneath his robe
stayed it. He smote again more fiercely, and now it was the blood of
Amathel that flowed. Then bending almost to the ground before the
answering stroke, he leapt and thrust with all the strength of young
limbs trained to war. He thrust and behold! between the broad
shoulders of Amathel pierced from breast to back, appeared the point
of the Egyptian's sword. For a moment the prince stood still, then he
fell backwards heavily and lay dead.
Now, with a shout of rage the giants of the Nubian guard rushed at
Rames to avenge their master's death, so that he must fly backwards
before their spears, backwards into the ranks of the Pharaoh's guard.
In a flash the Nubians were on them also and, how none could tell, a
fearful fray began, for these soldiers hated each other, as their
fathers had done before them, and there were none who could come
between them, since at this feast no man bore weapons save the guards.
Fierce was the battle, but the Nubians lacked a captain while Rames
led veterans of Thebes picked for their valour.
The giants began to give. Here and there they fell till at length but
three of them were left upon their feet, who threw down their arms and
cried for mercy. Then it was for the first time that Rames understood
what he had done. With bent head, his red sword in his hand, he
climbed the dais and knelt before the throne of Pharaoh, saying:
"I have avenged my honour and the honour of Egypt. Slay me, O
But Pharaoh made no answer for his swoon still held him.
Then Rames turned to Tua and said:
"Pharaoh sleeps, but in your hand is the sceptre. Slay me, O Queen!"
Now Tua, who all this while had watched like one frozen into stone,
seemed to thaw to life again. Her danger was past. She could never be
forced to wed that coarse, black-souled Nubian, for Rames had killed
him. Yonder he lay dead in all his finery with his hideous giants
about him like fallen trees, and oh! in her rebellious human heart she
blessed Rames for the deed.
But as she, who was trained in statecraft, knew well enough, if he had
escaped the sword of Prince Amathel, it was but to fall into a peril
from which there seemed to be no escape. This dead prince was the heir
of a great king, of a king so great that for a century Egypt had dared
to make no war upon his country, for it was far away, well-fortified
and hard to come at across deserts and through savage tribes.
Moreover, the man had been slain at a feast in Pharaoh's Court, and by
an officer of Pharaoh's guard, which afterwards had killed his escort
under the eyes of Egypt's monarchs, the hand of one of whom he sought
in marriage. Such a deed must mean a bitter war for Egypt, and to
those who struck the blow--death, as Rames himself knew well.
Tua looked at him kneeling before her, and her heart ached. Fiercely,
despairingly she thought, throwing her soul afar to seek out wisdom
and a way of escape for Rames. Presently in the blackness of her mind
there arose a plan and, as ever was her fashion, she acted swiftly.
Lifting her head she commanded that the doors should be locked and
guarded so that none might go in or out, and that those physicians who
were amongst the company should attend to the wounded, and to Pharaoh,
who was ill. Then she called the High Council of the Kingdom, all of
whom were gathered there about her, and spoke in a cold, calm voice,
while the company flocked round to listen.
"Lords and people," she said, "the gods for their own purposes have
suffered a fearful thing to come to pass. Egypt's guest and his guard
have been slain before Egypt's kings, yes, at their feast and in their
very presence, and it will be said far and wide that this has been
done by treachery. Yet you know well, as I do, that it was no
treachery, but a mischance. The divine prince who is dead, as all of
you saw, grew drunken after the fashion of his people, and in his
drunkenness he struck a high-born man, a Count of Egypt and an officer
of Pharaoh, who to do him greater honour was set to wait upon him,
calling him by vile names, and drew his sword upon him to kill him. Am
I right? Did you see and hear these things?"
"Aye," answered the Council and the audience.
"Then," went on Tua, "this officer, forgetting all save his outraged
honour, dared to fight for his life even against the Prince of Kesh,
and being the better man, slew him. Afterwards the servants of the
Prince of Kesh attacked him and Pharaoh's guard, and were conquered
and the most of them killed, since none here had arms wherewith to
part them. Have I spoken truth?"
"Yea, O Queen," they answered again by their spokesman. "Rames and the
royal guard have little blame in the matter," and from the rest of
them rose a murmur of assent.
"Now," went on Tua with gathering confidence, for she felt that all
saw with her eyes, "to add to our woes Pharaoh, my father, has been
smitten by the gods. He sleeps; he cannot speak; I know not whether he
will live or die, and therefore it would seem that I, the duly-crowned
Queen of Egypt, must act for him as was provided in such a case, since
the matter is very urgent and may not be delayed. Is it your will,"
she added, addressing the Council, "that I should so act as the gods
may show me how to do?"
"It is right and fitting," answered the Vizier, the King's companion,
on behalf of all of them.
"Then, priests, lords and people," continued the Queen, "what course
shall we take in this sore strait? Speaking with the voice of all of
you and on your behalf, I can command that the Count Rames and all
those other chosen men whom Pharaoh loves, who fought with him, shall
be slain forthwith. This, indeed," she added slowly, "I should wish to
do, since although Rames had suffered intolerable insult such as no
high-born man can be asked to bear even from a prince, and he and all
of them were but fighting to save their lives and to show the Nubians
that we are not cowards here in Egypt, without doubt they have
conquered and slain the heir of Kesh and his black giants who were our
guests, and for this deed their lives are forfeit."
She paused watching, while although here and there a voice answered
"Yes" or "They must die," from the rest arose a murmur of dissent. For
in their hearts the company were on the side of Rames and Pharaoh's
guards. Moreover, they were proud of the young captain's skill and
courage, and glad that the Nubians, whom they hated with an ancient
hate, had been defeated by the lesser men of Egypt, some of whom were
their friends or relatives.
Now, while they argued among themselves Tua rose from her chair and
went to look at Pharaoh, whom the physicians were attending, chafing
his hands and pouring water on his brow. Presently she returned with
tears standing in her beautiful eyes, for she loved her father, and
said in a heavy voice:
"Alas! Pharaoh is very ill. Set the evil has smitten him, and it is
hard, my people, that he perchance may be taken from us and we must
bear such woe, because of the ill behaviour of a royal foreigner, for
I cannot forget that it was he who caused this tumult."
The audience agreed that it was very hard, and looked angrily at the
surviving Nubians, but Tua, conquering herself, continued:
"We must bear the blows that the fates rain on us, nor suffer our
private grief to dull the sword of justice. Now, as I have said, even
though we love them as our brothers or our husbands, yet the Count
Rames and his brave comrades should perish by a death of shame, such a
death as little befits the flower of Pharaoh's guard."
Again she paused, then went on in the midst of an intense silence, for
even the physicians ceased from their work to hearken to her decree,
as supreme judge of Egypt.
"And yet, and yet, my people, even as I was about to pass sentence
upon them, uttering the doom that may not be recalled, some guardian
spirit of our land sent a thought into my heart, on which I think it
right to take your judgment. If we destroy these men, as I desire to
destroy them, will they not say in the Southern Country and in all the
nations around, that first they had been told to murder the Prince of
Kesh and his escort, and then were themselves executed to cover up our
crime? Will it not be believed that there is blood upon the hands of
Pharaoh and of Egypt, the blood of a royal guest who, it is well
known, was welcomed here with love and joy, that he might--oh! forgive
me, I am but a maiden, I cannot say it. Nay, pity me not and answer
not till I have set out all the case as best I may, which I fear me is
but ill. It is certain that this will be said--aye, and believed, and
we of Egypt all called traitors, and that these men, who after all,
however evil has been their deed, are brave and upright, will be
written in all the books of all the lands as common murderers, and go
down to Osiris with that ill name branded on their brows. Yes, and
their shame will cling to the pure hands of Pharaoh and his
Now at this picture the people murmured, and some of the noble women
there began to weep outright.
"But," proceeded Tua with her pleading voice, "how if we were to take
another course? How if we commanded this Count Rames and his
companions to journey, with an escort such as befits the Majesty of
Pharaoh, to the far city of Napata, and there to lay before the great
king of that land by writings and the mouths of witnesses, all the sad
story of the death of his only son? How if we sent letters to this
Majesty of Kesh, saying, 'Thou hast heard our tale, thou knowest all
our woe. Now judge. If thou art noble-hearted and it pleases thee to
acquit these men, acquit them and we will praise thee. But if thou art
wroth and stern and it pleases thee to condemn these men, condemn
them, and send them back to us for punishment, that punishment which
thou dost decree.' Is that plan good, my people? Can his Majesty of
Kesh complain if he is made judge in his own cause? Can the kings and
captains of other lands then declare that in Egypt we work murder on
our guests? Tell me, who have so little wisdom, if this plan is good,
as I dare to say to you, it seems to me."
Now with one voice the Council and all the guests, and especially the
guards themselves who were on their trial, save Rames, who still knelt
in silence before the Queen, cried out that it was very good. Yes;
they clapped their hands and shouted, vowing to each other that this
young Queen of theirs was the Spirit of Wisdom come to earth, and that
her excellent person was filled with the soul of a god.
But she frowned at their praises and, holding up her sceptre, sternly
"Such is your decree, O my Council," she cried, "and the decree of all
you here present, who are the noblest of my people, and I, as I am
bound by my oath of crowning, proclaim and ratify it, I, Neter-Tua,
who am named Star and Daughter of Amen, who am named Glorious in Ra,
who am named Hathor, Strong in Beauty, who am crowned Queen of the
Upper and the Lower Land. I proclaim--write it down, O Scribes, and
let it be registered this night that the decree may stand while the
world endures--that two thousand of the choicest troops of Egypt shall
sail up Nile, forthwith, for Kesh, and that in command of them, so
that all may know his crime, shall go the young Count Rames, and with
him those others who also did the deed of blood."
Now at this announcement, which sounded more like promotion than
disgrace, some started and Rames looked up, quivering in all his
"I proclaim," went on Tua quickly, "that when they are come to Napata
they shall kneel before its king and submit themselves to the judgment
of his Majesty, and having been judged, shall return and report to us
the judgment of his Majesty, that it may be carried out as his Majesty
of Kesh shall appoint. Let the troops and the ships be made ready this
very night, and meanwhile, save when he appears before us to take his
orders as general, in token of our wrath, we banish the Count Rames
from our Court and Presence, and place his companions under guard."
So spoke Tua, and the royal decree having been written down swiftly
and read aloud, she sealed and signed with her sign-manual as Queen,
that it might not be changed or altered, and commanded that copies of
it should be sent to all the Governors of the Nomes of Egypt, and a
duplicate prepared and despatched with this royal embassy, for so she
named it, to be delivered to the King of Kesh with the letters of
condolence, and the presents of ceremony, and the body of Amathel, the
Prince of Kesh, now divine in Osiris.
Then, at length, the doors were thrown open and the company dispersed,
Rames and the guard being led away by the Council and placed in safe
keeping. Also Pharaoh, still senseless but breathing quietly, was
carried to his bed, and the dead were taken to the embalmers, whilst
Tua, so weary that she could scarcely walk, departed to her chambers
leaning on the shoulder of the royal Nurse, Asti, the mother of Rames.
THE OATH OF RAMES AND OF TUA
Still robed Tua lay upon a couch, for she would not seek her bed,
while Asti stood near to her, a dark commanding figure.
"Your Majesty has done strange things to-night," said Asti in her
Tua turned her head and looked at her, then answered:
"Very strange, Nurse. You see, the gods and that troublesome son of
yours and Pharaoh's sudden sickness threw the strings of Fate into my
hand, and--I pulled them. I always had a fancy for the pulling of
strings, but the chance never came my way before."
"It seems to me that for a beginner your Majesty pulled somewhat
hard," said Asti drily.
"Yes, Nurse, so hard that I think I have pulled your son off the
scaffold into a place of some honour, if he knows how to stay there,
though it was the Council and the lords and the ladies, who thought
that /they/ pulled. You see one must commence as one means to go on."
"Your Majesty is very clever; you will make a great Queen--if you do
not overpull yourself."
"Not half so clever as you were, Asti, when you made that monkey come
out of the vase," answered Tua, laughing somewhat hysterically. "Oh!
do not look innocent, I know it was your magic, for I could feel it
passing over my head. How did you do it, Asti?"
"If your Majesty will tell me how you made the lords of Egypt consent
to the sending of an armed expedition to Napata under the command of a
lad, a mere captain who had just killed its heir-apparent before their
eyes, which decree, if I know anything of Rames, will mean a war
between Kesh and Egypt, I will tell you how I made the monkey come out
of the vase."
"Then I shall never learn, Nurse, for I can't because I don't know. It
came into my mind, as music comes into my throat, that is all. Rames
should have been beheaded at once, shouldn't he, for not letting that
black boar tusk him? Do you think he poured the wine over Amathel's
head on purpose?" and again she laughed.
"Yes, I suppose that he should have been killed, as he would have been
if your Majesty had not chanced to be so fond----"
"Talking of wine," broke in Tua, "give me a cup of it. The divine
Prince of Kesh who was to have been my husband--did you understand,
Asti, that they really meant to make that black barbarian my husband?
--I say that the divine Prince, who now sups with Osiris, drank so
much that I could not touch a drop, and I am tired and thirsty, and
have still some things to do to-night."
Asti went to a table where stood a flagon of wine wreathed in vine
leaves, and by it cups of glass, and filling one of them brought it to
"Here's to the memory of the divine prince, and may he have left the
table of Osiris before I come there. And here's to the hand that sent
him thither," said Tua recklessly. Then she drained the wine, every
drop of it, and threw the cup to the marble floor where it shattered
"What god has entered into your Majesty to-night?" asked Asti quietly.
"One that knows his own mind, I think," replied Tua. "There, I feel
strong again, I go to visit Pharaoh. Come with me, Asti."
When Tua arrived at the bedside of Pharaoh she found that the worst of
the danger was over. Fearing for his life the physicians had bled him,
and now the fit had passed away and his eyes were open, although he
was unable to speak and did not know her or anyone. She asked whether
he would live or die, and was told that he would live, or so his
doctors believed, but that for a long while he must lie quite quiet,
seeing as few people as possible, and above all being troubled with no
business, since, if he were wearied or excited, the fit would
certainly return and kill him. So, rejoicing at this news which was
better than she had expected, Tua kissed her father and left him.
"Now will your Majesty go to bed?" asked Asti when she had returned to
her own apartments.
"By no means," answered Tua, "I wear Pharaoh's shoes and have much
business left to do to-night. Summon Mermes, your husband."
So Mermes came and stood before her. He was still what he had been in
the old days when Tua played as an infant in his house, stern, noble-
looking and of few words, but now his hair had grown white and his
face was drawn with grief, both for the sake of Rames, whose hot blood
had brought him into so much danger, and because Pharaoh, who was his
friend, lay between life and death.
Tua looked at him and loved him more than ever, for now that he was
troubled some new likeness to Rames appeared upon his face which she
had never seen before.
"Take heart, noble Mermes," she said gently, "they say that Pharaoh
stays with us yet a while."
"I thank Amen," he answered, "for had he died, his blood would have
been upon the hands of my House."
"Not so, Mermes; it would have been upon the hands of the gods. You
spring from a royal line; say, what would you have thought of your son
if after being struck by that fat Nubian, he had cowered at his feet
and prayed for his life like any slave?"
Mermes flushed and smiled a little, then said:
"The question is rather---What would you have thought, O Queen?"
"I?" answered Tua. "Well, as a queen I should have praised him much,
since then Egypt would have been spared great trouble, but as a woman
and a friend I should never have spoken to him again. Honour is more
than life, Mermes."
"Certainly honour is more than life," replied Mermes, staring at the
ceiling, perhaps to hide the look upon his face, "and for a little
while Rames seems to be in the way of it. But those who are set high
have far to fall, O Queen, and--forgive me--he is my only child. Now
when Pharaoh recovers----"
"Rames will be far away," broke in Tua. "Go, bring him here at once,
and with him the Vizier and the chief scribe of the Council. Take this
ring, it will open all doors," and she drew the signet from her finger
and handed it to him.
"At this hour, your Majesty?" said Mermes in a doubtful voice.
"Have I not spoken," she answered impatiently. "When the welfare of
Egypt is at stake I do not sleep."
So Mermes bowed and went, and while he was gone Tua caused Asti to
smooth her hair and change her robe and ornaments for others which,
although she did not say so, she thought became her better. Then she
sat her down in a chair of state in her chamber of audience, and
waited, while Asti stood beside her asking no questions, but
At length the doors were opened, and through them appeared Mermes and
the Vizier and the chief of the scribes, both of them trying to hide
their yawns, for they had been summoned from their beds who were not
wont to do state business at such hours. After them limped Rames, for
his wound had grown stiff, who looked bewildered, but otherwise just
as he had left the feast.
Now, without waiting for the greetings of ceremony, Tua began to
question the Vizier as to what steps had been taken in furtherance of
her decrees, and when he assured her that the business was on foot,
went into its every detail with him, as to the ships and the officers
and the provisioning of the men, and so forth. Next she set herself to
dictate despatches to the captains and barons who held the fortresses
on the Upper Nile, communicating to them Pharaoh's orders on this
matter, and the commission of Rames, whereby he, whose hands had done
the ill, was put in command of the great embassy that went to make
These being finished, she sent away the scribe to spend the rest of
the night in writing them in duplicate, bidding him bring them to her
in the early morning to be sealed. Next addressing Rames, she
commanded him to start on the morrow with those troops which were
ready to Takensit above the first Cataract of the Nile, which was the
frontier fortress of Egypt, and there wait until the remainder of the
soldiers joined them, bearing with them her presents to the King of
Kesh, and the embalmed body of the Prince Amathel.
Rames bowed and said that her orders should be obeyed, and the
audience being finished, still bowing and supported by Mermes, began
to walk backwards towards the door, his eyes fixed upon the face of
Tua, who sat with bent head, clasping the arms of her chair like one
in difficulty and doubt. When he had gone a few steps she seemed to
come to some determination, for with an effort she raised herself and
"Return, Count Rames, I have a message to give you for the King of
Kesh who, unhappy man, has lost his son and heir, and it is one that
no other ears must hear. Leave me a while with this captain, O Mermes
and Asti, and see that none listen to our talk. Presently I will
summon you to conduct him away."
They hesitated, for this thing seemed strange, then noting the look
she gave them, departed through the doors behind the royal seat.
Now Rames and the Queen were left alone in that great, lighted
chamber. With bent head and folded arms he stood before her while she
looked at him intently, yet seemed to find no words to say. At length
she spoke in a sweet, low voice.
"It is many years since we were playmates in the courts of the temple
yonder, and since then we have never been alone together, have we,
"No, Great Lady," answered Rames, "for you were born to be a queen,
and I am but a humble soldier who cannot hope to consort with queens."
"Who cannot hope! Would you wish to then if you could?"
"O Queen," answered Rames, biting his lips, "why does it please you to
make a mock of me?"
"It does not please me to do any such thing, for by my father Amen,
Rames, I wish that we were children once more, for those were happy
days before they separated us and set you to soldiering and me to
"You have learnt your part well, Star of the Morning," said Rames,
glancing at her quickly.
"Not better than you, playmate Rames, if I may judge from your sword-
play this night. So it seems that we both of us are in the way of
becoming masters of our trades."
"What am I to say to your Majesty? You have saved my life when it was
"As once you saved mine when it was forfeit, and at greater risk. Look
at your hand, it will remind you. It was but tit for tat. And, friend
Rames, this day I came near to being eaten by a worse crocodile than
that which dwells in the pool yonder."
"I guessed as much, Queen, and the thought made me mad. Had it not
been for that I should only have thrown him down. Now that crocodile
will eat no more maidens."
"No," answered Tua, rubbing her chin, "he has gone to be eaten by Set,
Devourer of Souls, has he not? But I think there may be trouble
between Egypt and Kesh, and what Pharaoh will say when he recovers I
am sure I do not know. May the gods protect me from his wrath."
"Tell me, if it pleases your Majesty, what is my fate? I have been
named General of this expedition over the heads of many, I who am but
a captain and a young man and an evil-doer. Am I to be killed on the
journey, or am I to be executed by the King of Kesh?"
"If any kill you on the journey, Rames, they shall render me an
account, be it the gods themselves, and as for the vengeance of the
King of Kesh--well, you will have two thousand picked men with you and
the means to gather more as you go. Listen now, for this is not in the
decree or in the letters," she added, bending towards him and
whispering. "Egypt has spies in Kesh, and, being industrious, I have
read their reports. The people there hate the upstart race that rules
them, and the king, who alone is left now that Amathel is dead, is old
and half-witted, for all that family drink too much. So if the worst
comes to the worst, do you think that you need be killed, you," she
added meaningly, "who, if the House of Amathel were not, would by
descent be King of Kesh, as, if I and my House were not, you might be
Pharaoh of Egypt?"
Rames studied the floor for a little, then looked up and asked:
"What shall I do?"
"It seems that is for you to find out," replied Tua, in her turn
studying the ceiling. "Were I in your place, I think that, if driven
to it, /I/ should know what to do. One thing, however, I should /not/
do. Whatever may be the judgment of the divine King of Kesh upon you,
and that can easily be guessed, I should not return to Egypt with my
escort, until I was quite sure of my welcome. No, I think that I
should stop in Napata, which I am told is a rich and pleasant city,
and try to put its affairs in order, trusting that Egypt, to which it
once belonged, would in the end forgive me for so doing."
"I understand," said Rames, "that whatever happens, I alone am to
"Good, and of course there are no witnesses to this talk of ours. Have
you also been taking lessons in statecraft in your spare hours, Rames,
much as I have tried to learn something of the art of war?"
Rames made no answer, only these two strange conspirators looked at
each other and smiled.
"Your Majesty is weary. I must leave your Majesty," he said presently.
"You must be wearier than I am, Rames, with that wound, which I think
has not been dressed, although it is true that we have both fought
to-night. Rames, you are going on a far journey. I wonder if we shall
ever meet again."
"I do not know," he answered with a groan, "but for my sake it is
better that we should not. O Morning Star, why did you save me this
night, who would have been glad to die? Did not that Ka of yours tell
you that I should have been glad to die, or my mother, who is a
"I have seen nothing of my Ka, Rames, since we played together in the
temple--ah! those were happy days, were they not? And your mother is a
discreet lady who does not talk to me about you, except to warn me not
to show you any favour, lest others should be jealous and murder you.
Shall you then be sorry if we do not meet again? Scarcely, I suppose,
since you seem so anxious to die and be rid of me and all things that
Now Rames pressed his hand upon his heart as though to still its
beating, and looked round him in despair. For, indeed, that heart of
his felt as though it must burst.
"Tua," he gasped desperately, "can you for a minute forget that you
are Queen of the Upper and the Lower Land, who perhaps will soon be
Pharaoh, the mightiest monarch in the world, and remember only that
you are a woman, and as a woman hear a secret and keep it close?"
"We have been talking secrets, Rames, as we used to do, you remember,
long ago, and you will not tell mine which deal with the State. Why,
then, should I tell yours? But be short, it grows late, or rather
early, and as you know, we shall not meet again."
"Good," he answered. "Queen Neter-Tua, I, your subject, dare to love
"What of that, Rames? I have millions of subjects who all profess to
He waved his hand angrily, and went on:
"I dare to love you as a man loves a woman, not as a subject loves a
"Ah!" she answered in a new and broken voice, "that is different, is
it not? Well, all women love to be loved, though some are queens and
some are peasants, so why should I be angry? Rames, now, as in past
days, I thank you for your love."
"It is not enough," he said. "What is the use of giving love? Love
should be lent. Love is an usurer that asks high interest. Nay, not
the interest only, but the capital and the interest to boot. Oh, Star!
what happens to the man who is so mad as to love the Queen of Egypt?"
Tua considered this problem as though it were a riddle to which she
was seeking an answer.
"Who knows?" she replied at length in a low voice. "Perhaps it costs
him his life, or perhaps--perhaps he marries her and becomes Pharaoh
of Egypt. Much might depend on whether the queen chanced to care about
such a man."
Now Rames shook like a reed in the evening wind, and he looked at her
with glowing eyes.
"Tua," he whispered, "can it be possible--do you mean that I am
welcome to you, or are you but drawing me to shame and ruin?"
She made no answer to him in words, only with a certain grave
deliberation, laid down the little ivory sceptre that she held, and
suffering her troubled eyes to rest upon his eyes, bent forward and
stretched out her arms towards him.
"Yes, Rames," she murmured into his ear a minute later, "I am drawing
you to whatever may be found upon this breast of mine, love, or
majesty, or shame, or ruin, or the death of one or both of us, or all
of them together. Are you content to take the chances of this high
"Ask it not, Tua. You know, you know!"
She kissed him on the lips, and all her heart and all her youth were
in that kiss. Then, gently enough, she pushed him from her, saying:
"Stand there, I would speak with you, and as I have said, the time is
short. Hearken to me, Rames, you are right; I know, as I have always
known, and as you would have known also had you been less foolish than
you are. You love me and I love you, for so it was decreed where souls
are made, and so it has been from the beginning and so it shall be to
the end. You, a gentleman of Egypt, love the Queen of Egypt, and she
is yours and no other man's. Such is the decree of him who caused us
to be born upon the same day, and to be nursed upon the same kind
breast. Well, after all, why not? If love brings death upon us, as
well may chance, at least the love will remain which is worth it all,
and beyond death there is something."
"Only this, Tua, I seek the woman not a throne, and alas! through me
you may be torn from your high place."
"The throne goes with the woman, Rames, they cannot be separated. But,
say, something comes over me; if that happened, if I were an outcast,
a wanderer, with nothing save this shape and soul of mine, and it were
you that sat upon a throne, would you still love me, Rames?"
"Why ask such questions?" he replied indignantly. "Moreover, your talk
is childish. What throne can I ever sit on?"
A change fell upon her at his words. She ceased to be the melting,
passionate woman, and became once more the strong, far-seeing queen.
"Rames," she said, "you understand why, although it tears my heart, I
am sending you so far away and into so many dangers, do you not? It is
to save your life, for after what has chanced to-night in this fashion
or in that here you would certainly die, as, had it not been for that
plan of mine you must have died two hours ago. There are many who hate
you, Rames, and Pharaoh may recover, as I pray the gods he will, and
over-ride my will, for you have slain his guest who was brought here
to marry me."
"I understand all of these things, Queen."
"Then awake, Rames, look to the future and understand that also, if,
as I think, you have the wit. I am sending you with a strong escort,
am I not? Well, that King of Kesh is old and feeble, and you have a
claim upon his crown. Take it, man, and set it on your head, and as
King of Kesh ask the hand of Egypt's Queen in marriage. Then who would
say you nay--not Egypt's Queen, I think, or the people of Egypt who
hunger for the rich Southern Land which they have lost."
So she spoke, and as these high words passed her lips she looked so
splendid and so royal that, dazzled by the greatness of her majesty.
Rames bowed himself before her as before the presence of a god. Then,
aware that she was trying him in the balance of her judgment, he
straightened himself and spoke to her as prince speaks to prince.
"Star of Amen," he said, "it is true that though here we are but your
humble subjects, the blood of my father and of myself is as high as
yours, and perhaps more ancient, and it is true that now yonder
Amathel is dead, after my father, in virtue of those who went before
us I have more right than any other to the inheritance of Kesh. Queen,
I hear your words, I will take it if I can, not for its own sake, but
to win you, and if I fail you will know that I died doing my best.
Queen, we part and this is a far journey. Perhaps we may never meet
again; at the best we must be separated for long. Queen, you have
honoured me with your love, and therefore I ask a promise of you, not
as a woman only, but as Queen. I ask that however strait may be the
circumstances, whatever reasons of State may push you on, while I live
you will take no other man to husband--no, not even if he offers you
half the world in dower."
"I give it," she answered. "If you should learn that I am wed to any
man upon the earth then spit upon my name as a woman, and as Queen
cast me off and overthrow me if you can. Deal with me, Rames, as in
such a case I will deal with you. Only be sure of your tidings ere you
believe them. Now there is nothing more to say. Farewell to you,
Rames, till we meet again beneath or beyond the sun. Our royal pact is
made. Come, seal it and begone."
She rose and stretched out her sceptre to him, which he kissed as her
faithful subject. Next, with a swift movement, she lifted the golden
/urĉus/ circlet from her brow and for a moment set it on his head,
crowning him her king, and while it rested there she, the Queen of
Egypt, bent the knee before him and did him homage. Then she cast down
crown and sceptre, and as woman fell upon her lover's breast while the
bright rays of morning, flowing suddenly through the eastern window-
place of that splendid hall, struck upon them both, clothing them in a
robe of glory and of flame.
Soon, very soon, it was done and Tua, seated there in light, watched
Rames depart into the outer shadow, wondering when and how she would
see him come again. For her heart was heavy within her, and even in
this hour of triumphant love she greatly feared the future and its
TUA COMES TO MEMPHIS
So that day Rames departed for Takensit with what ships and men could
be got together in such haste. There, at the frontier post, he waited
till the rest of the soldiers should join him, bringing with them the
hastily embalmed body of Prince Amathel whom he had slain, and the
royal gifts to the King of Kesh. Then, without a moment's delay, he
sailed southwards with his little army on the long journey, fearing
lest if he tarried, orders might come to him to return to Thebes. Also
he desired to reach Napata before the heavy news of the death of the
King's son, and without warning of the approach of Egypt's embassy.
With Tua he had no more speech, although as his galley was rowed under
the walls of the palace, at a window of the royal apartments he saw a
white draped figure that watched them go by. It was standing in the
shadow so that he could not recognise the face, but his heart told him
that this was none other than the Queen herself, who appeared there to
bid him farewell.
So Rames rose from the chair in which he was seated on account of the
hurt to his leg and saluted with his sword, and ordered the crew to do
likewise by lifting up their oars. Then the slender figure bowed in
answer, and he went on to fulfil his destiny, leaving Neter-Tua,
Morning Star of Amen, to fulfil hers.
Before he sailed, however, Mermes his father and Asti his mother
visited him in a place apart.
"You were born under a strange star, my son," said Mermes, "and I know
not whither it will lead you, who pray that it may not be a meteor
which blazes suddenly in the heavens and disappears to return no more.
All the people talk of the favour the Queen has shown you who, instead
of ordering you to be executed for the deed you did which robbed her
of a royal husband, has set you in command of an army, you, a mere
youth, and received you in secret audience, an honour granted to very
few. Fate that has passed me by gives the dice to your young hand, but
how the cast will fall I know not, nor shall I live to see, or so I
"Speak no such evil-omened words, my father," answered Rames tenderly,
for these two loved each other. "To me it seems more likely that it is
I who shall not live, for this is a strange and desperate venture upon
which I go, to tell to a great king the news of the death of his only
son at my own hand. Mother, you are versed in the books of wisdom and
can see that which is hidden to our eyes. Have you no word of comfort
"My son," answered Asti, "I have searched the future, but with all my
skill it will open little of its secrets to my sight. Yet I have
learned something. Great fortunes lie before you, and I believe that
you and I shall meet again. But to your beloved father bid farewell."
At these words Rames turned his head aside to hide his tears, but
Mermes bade him not to grieve, saying:
"Great is the mystery of our fates, my son. Some there be who tell us
that we are but bubbles born of the stream to be swallowed up by the
stream, clouds born of the sky to be swallowed up by the sky, the
offspring of chance like the beasts and the birds, gnats that dance
for an hour in the sunlight and are gone. But I believe it not, who
hold that the gods clothe us with this robe of flesh for their own
purpose, and that the spirit within us has been from the beginning and
eternally will be. Therefore I love not life and fear not death,
knowing that these are but doors leading to the immortal house that is
prepared for us. The royal blood you have came to you from your mother
and myself, but that our lots should have been humble, while yours,
mayhap, will be splendid, does not move me to envy who perchance have
been that you may be. You go forth to fulfil your fortunes which I
believe are great, I bide here to fulfil mine which lead me to the
tomb. I shall never see you in your power, if power comes to you, nor
will your triumphant footsteps stir my sleep.
"Yet, Rames, remember that though you tread on cloth of gold and the
bowed necks of your enemies, though love be your companion and diadems
your crown, though flatteries float about you like incense in a shrine
till, at length, you deem yourself a god, those footsteps of yours
still lead to that same dark tomb and through it on to Judgment. Be
great if you can, but be good as well as great. Take no man's life
because you have the strength and hate him; wrong no woman because she
is defenceless or can be bought. Remember that the beggar child
playing in the sand may have a destiny more high than yours when all
the earthly count is reckoned. Remember that you share the air you
breathe with the cattle and the worm. Go your road rejoicing in your
beauty and your youth and the good gifts that are given you, but know,
Rames, that at the end of it I, who wait in the shadow of Osiris, I
your father, shall ask an account thereof, and that beyond me stand
the gods of Justice to test the web that you have woven. Now, Rames,
my son, my blessing and the blessing of him who shaped us be with you,
Then Mermes kissed him on the brow and, turning, left the room, nor
did they ever meet again.
But Asti stayed awhile, and coming to him presently, looked Rames in
the eyes, and said:
"Mourn not. Separations are no new thing, death is no new thing; all
these sorrows have been on the earth for millions of years, and for
millions of years yet shall be. Live out your life, rejoicing if the
days be good, content if they be but ill, regretting nothing save your
sins, fearing nothing, expecting nothing, since all things are
appointed and cannot be changed."
"I hear," he answered humbly, "and I will not forget. Whether I
succeed or fail you shall not be ashamed for me."
Now his mother turned to go also, but paused and said:
"I have a gift for you, Rames, from one whose name may not be spoken."
"Give it to me," he said eagerly, "I feared that it was all but a
"Oh!" replied Asti scanning his face, "so there was a dream, was
there? Did it fall upon you last night when the daughter of Amen, my
foster-child, instructed you in secret?"
"The gift," said Rames, stretching out his hand.
Then, smiling in her quiet fashion, his mother drew from the bosom of
her robe some object that was wrapped in linen and, touching her
forehead with the royal seal that fastened it, gave it to Rames. With
trembling fingers he broke the seal and there within the linen lay a
ring which for some years, as Rames knew, Tua had worn upon the first
finger of her right hand. It was massive and of plain gold, and upon
the bezel of it was cut the symbol of the sun, on either side of which
knelt a man and a woman crowned with the double crown of Egypt, and
holding in their right hands the looped Sign of Life which they
stretched up towards the glory of the sun.
"Do you know who wore that ring in long past days?" asked Asti of
Rames who pressed it to his lips.
He shook his head who remembered only that Tua had worn it.
"It was your forefather and mine, Rames, the last of the royal rulers
of our line, who reigned over Egypt and also over the Land of Kesh. A
while ago the embalmers re-clothed his divine body in the tomb, and
the Princess, who was present there with your father and myself, drew
this ring off his dead hand and offered it to Mermes, who would not
take it, seeing that it is a royal signet. So she wore it herself, and
now for her own reasons she sends it to you, perhaps to give you
authority in Kesh where that mighty seal is known."
"I thank the Queen," he murmured. "I shall wear it always."
"Then let it be on your breast till you have passed the frontier, lest
some should ask questions that you find it hard to answer. My son,"
she went on quickly, "you dare to love this queen of ours."
"In truth I do, Mother. Did not you, who know everything, know that?
Also it is your fault who brought us up together."
"Nay, my son, the fault of the gods who have so decreed. But--does she
"You are always with her, Mother, ask her yourself, if you need to
ask. At least, she has sent me her own ring. Oh! Mother, Mother, guard
her night and day, for if harm comes to her, then I die. Mother,
queens cannot give themselves where they will as other women can; it
is policy that thrusts their husbands on them. Keep her unwed, Mother.
Though it should cost her her throne, still I say let her not be cast
into the arms of one she hates. Protect her in her trial, if such
should come; and if strength fails and the gods desert her, then hide
her in the web of the magic that you have, and preserve her undefiled,
for so shall I bless your name for ever."
"You fly at a rare bird, Rames, and there are many stronger hawks
about besides that one you slew; yes, royal eagles who may strike down
the pair of you. Yet I will do my best, who have long foreseen this
hour, and who pray that before my eyes shut in death, they may yet
behold you seated on the throne of your forefathers, crowned with
power and with such love and beauty as have never yet been given to
man. Now hide that ring upon your heart and your secret in it, as I
shall, lest you should return no more to Egypt. Moreover, follow your
royal Star and no other. Whatever counsel she may have given you,
follow it also, stirring not to right or left, for I say that in that
maiden breast of hers there dwells the wisdom of the gods."
Then holding up her hands over his head as though in blessing, Asti,
too, turned and left him.
So Rames went and was no more seen, and by degrees the talk as to the
matter of his victory over the Prince of Kesh, and as to his
appointment by the whim of the maiden Queen to command the splendid
embassy of atonement which she had despatched to the old King, the
dead man's father, died away for lack of anything to feed on.
Tua kept her counsel well, nor was aught known of that midnight
interview with the young Count her general. Moreover, Napata was far
away, so far that starting at the season when it did, the embassy
could scarce return till two years had gone by, if ever it did return.
Also few believed that whoever came back, Rames would be one of them,
since it was said openly that so soon as he was beyond the frontiers
of Egypt, the soldiers had orders to kill him and take on his body as
Indeed, all praised the wit and wisdom of the Queen, who by this
politic device, had rid herself of a troublesome business with as
little scandal as possible, and avoided staining her own hands in the
blood of a foster-brother. Had she ordered his death forthwith, they
said, it would have been supposed also that she had put him away
because he was of a royal race, one who, in the future, might prove a
rival, or at least cause some rebellion.
Meanwhile greater questions filled the mouths of men. Would Pharaoh
die and leave Neter-Tua, the young and lovely, to hold his throne, and
if so, what would happen? It was a thousand years since a woman had
reigned in Egypt, and none had reigned who were not wed. Therefore it
seemed necessary that a husband should be found for her as soon as
But Pharaoh did not die. On the contrary, though very slowly, he
recovered and was stronger than he had been for years, for the fit
that struck him down seemed to have cleared his blood. For some three
months he lay helpless as a child, amusing himself as a child does
with little things, and talking of children whom he had known in his
youth, or when some of these chanced to visit him as old men, asking
them to play with him with tops or balls.
Then one day came a change, and rising from his bed he commanded the
presence of his Councillors, and when they came, inquired of them what
had happened, and why he could remember nothing since the feast.
They put him off with soft words, and soon he grew weary and dismissed
them. But after they had gone and he had eaten he sent for Mermes, the
Captain of the Guard of Amen and his friend, and questioned him.
"The last thing I remember," he said, "was seeing the drunken Prince
of Kesh fighting with your son, that handsome, fiery-eyed Count Rames
whom some fool, or enemy, had set to wait upon him at table. It was a
dog's trick, Mermes, for after all your blood is purer and more
ancient than that of the present kings of Kesh. Well, the horror of
the sight of my royal guest, the suitor for my daughter's hand,
fighting with an officer of my own guard at my own board, struck me as
a butcher strikes an ox, and after it all was blackness. What chanced,
"This, Pharaoh: My son killed Amathel in fair fight, then those black
Nubian giants in their fury attacked your guard, but led by Rames the
Egyptians, though they were the lesser men, overcame them and slew
most of them. I am an old soldier, but never have I seen a finer
"A finer fray! A finer fray," gasped Pharaoh. "Why this will mean a
war between Kesh and Egypt. And then? Did the Council order Rames to
be executed, as you must admit he deserved, although you are his
"Not so, O Pharaoh; moreover, I admit nothing, though had he played a
coward's part before all the lords of Egypt, gladly would I have slain
him with my own hand."
"Ah!" said Pharaoh, "there speaks the soldier and the parent. Well, I
understand. He was affronted, was he not, by that bedizened black man?
Were I in your place I should say as much. But--what happened?"
"Your Majesty having become unconscious," explained Mermes, "her
Majesty the Queen Neter-Tua, Glorious in Ra, took command of affairs
according to her Oath of Crowning. She has sent an embassy of
atonement of two thousand picked soldiers to the King of Kesh, bearing
with them the embalmed body of the divine Amathel and many royal
"That is good enough in its way," said Pharaoh. "But why two thousand
men, whereof the cost will be very great, when a score would have
sufficed? It is an army, not an embassy, and when my royal brother of
Kesh sees it advancing, bearing with it the ill-omened gift of his
only son's body, he may take alarm."
Mermes respectfully agreed that he might do so.
"What general is in command of this embassy, as it pleases you to call
"The Count Rames, my son, is in command, your Majesty."
Now weak as he was still, Pharaoh nearly leapt from his chair:
"Rames! That young cut-throat who killed the Prince! Rames who is the
last of the old rightful dynasty of Kesh! Rames, a mere captain, in
command of two thousand of my veterans! Oh, I must still be mad! Who
gave him the command?"
"The Queen Neter-Tua, Star of Amen, she gave him the command, O
Pharaoh. Immediately after the fray in the hall she uttered her decree
and caused it to be recorded in the usual fashion."
"Send for the Queen," said Pharaoh with a groan.
So Tua was summoned, and presently swept in gloriously arrayed, and on
seeing her father sitting up and well, ran to him and embraced him and
for a long time refused to listen to his talk of matters of State. At
length, however, he made her sit by him still holding his hand, and
asked her why in the name of Amen she had sent that handsome young
firebrand, Rames, in command of the expedition to Kesh. Then she
answered very sweetly that she would tell him. And tell him she did,
at such length that before she had finished, Pharaoh, whose strength
as yet was small, had fallen into a doze.
"Now, you understand," she said as he woke up with a start. "The
responsibility was thrust upon me, and I had to act as I thought best.
To have slain this young Rames would have been impossible, for all
hearts were with him."
"But surely, Daughter, you might have got him out of the way."
"My father, that is what I have done. I have sent him to Napata, which
is very much out of the way--many months' journey, I am told."
"But what will happen, Tua? Either the King of Kesh will kill him and
my two thousand soldiers, or perhaps he will kill the King of Kesh as
he killed his son, and seize the throne which his own forefathers held
for generations. Have you thought of that?"
"Yes, my father, I thought of it, and if this last should happen
through no fault of ours, would Egypt weep, think you?"
Now Pharaoh stared at Tua, and Tua looked back at Pharaoh and smiled.
"I perceive, Daughter," he said slowly, "that in you are the makings
of a great queen, for within the silken scabbard of a woman's folly I
see the statesman's sword of bronze. Only run not too fast lest you
should fall upon that sword and it should pierce you."
Now Tua, who had heard such words before from Asti, smiled again but
made no answer.
"You need a husband to hold you back," went on Pharaoh; "some great
man whom you can love and respect."
"Find me such a man, my father, and I will wed him gladly," answered
Tua in a sweet voice. "Only," she added, "I know not where he may be
sought now that the divine Amathel is dead at the hand of the Count
Rames, our general and ambassador to Kesh."
So when he grew stronger Pharaoh renewed his search for a husband meet
to marry the Queen of Egypt. Now, as before, suitors were not lacking,
indeed, his ambassadors and councillors sent in their names by twos
and threes, but always when they were submitted to her, Tua found
something against everyone of them, till at last it was said that she
must be destined for a god since no mere mortal would serve her turn.
But when this was reported to her, Tua only answered with a smile that
she was destined to that royal lover of whom Amen had spoken to her
mother in a dream; not to a god, but to the Chosen of the god, and
that when she saw him, she felt sure she would know him at once and
love him much.
After some months had gone by Pharaoh, quite weary of this play, asked
the advice of his Council. They suggested to him that he should
journey through the great cities of Egypt, both because the change
might completely re-establish his divine health, and in the hope that
on her travels the Queen Neter-Tua would meet someone of royal blood
with whom she could fall in love. For by now it was evident to all of
them that unless she did fall in love, she would not marry.
So that very night Pharaoh asked his daughter if she would undertake
such a journey.
She answered that nothing would please her better, as she wearied of
Thebes, and desired to see the other great cities of the land, to make
herself known to those who dwell in them, and in each to be proclaimed
as its future ruler. Also she wished to look upon the ocean whereof
she had heard that it was so big that all the waters of the Nile
flowing into it day and night made no difference to its volume.
Thus then began that pilgrimage which afterwards Tua recorded in the
history of her reign on the walls of the wonderful temples that she
built. Her own wish was that they should sail south to the frontiers
of Egypt, since there she hoped that she might hear some tidings of
Rames and his expedition, whereof latterly no certain word had come.
This project, however, was over-ruled because in the south there were
no great towns, also the inhabitants of the bordering desert were
turbulent, and might choose that moment to attack.
So in the end they went down and not up the Nile, tarrying for a while
at every great city, and especially at Atbu, the holy place where the
head of Osiris is buried, and tens of thousands of the great men of
Egypt have their tombs. Here Tua was crowned afresh in the very shrine
of Osiris amidst the rejoicings of the people.
Then they sailed away to On, the City of the Sun, and thence to make
offerings at the Great Pyramids which were built by some of the early
kings who had ruled Egypt, to serve them as their tombs.
Neter-Tua entered the Pyramids to look upon the bodies of these
Pharaohs who had been dead for thousands of years, and whose deeds
were all forgotten, though her father would not accompany her there
because the ways were so steep that he did not dare to tread them.
Afterwards, with Asti and a small guard of the Arab chiefs of the
desert, she mounted a dromedary and rode round them in the moonlight,
hoping that she would meet the ghosts of those kings, and that they
would talk with her as the ghost of her mother had done. But she saw
no ghosts, nor would Asti try to summon them from their sleep,
although Tua prayed her to do so.
"Leave them alone," said Asti, as they paused in the shadow of the
greatest of the pyramids and stared at its shining face engraved from
base to summit with many a mystic writing.
"Leave them alone lest they should be angry as Amen was, and tell your
Majesty things which you do not wish to hear. Contemplate their mighty
works, such as no monarch can build to-day, and suffer them to rest
therein undisturbed by weaker folk."
"Do you call these mighty works?" asked Tua contemptuously, for she
was angry because Asti would not try to raise the dead. "What are they
after all, but so many stones put together by the labour of men to
satisfy their own vanity? And of those who built them what story
remains? There is none at all save some vain legends. Now if /I/ live
I will rear a greater monument, for history shall tell of me till time
"Perhaps, Neter-Tua, if you live and the gods will it, though for my
part I think that these old stones will survive the story of most
On the morrow of this visit to the Pyramids Pharaoh and the Queen his
daughter made their state entry into the great white-walled city of
Memphis, where they were royally received by Pharaoh's brother, the
Prince Abi, who was still the ruler of all this town and district. As
it chanced these two had not met since Abi, many years before, came to
Thebes, asking a share in the government of Egypt and to be nominated
as successor to the throne.
Like every other lord and prince, he had been invited to be present at
the great ceremony of the Crowning of Neter-Tua, but at the last
moment sent his excuses, saying that he was ill, which seemed to be
true. At any rate, the spies reported that he was confined to his bed,
though whether sickness or his own will took him thither at this
moment, there was nothing to show. At the time Pharaoh and his Council
wondered a little that he had made no proposal for the marriage of one
of his sons, of whom he had four, to their royal cousin, Neter-Tua,
but decided that he had not done so because he was sure that it would
not be accepted. For the rest, during all this period Abi had kept
quiet in his own Government, which he ruled well and strongly,
remitting his taxes to Thebes at the proper time with a ceremonial
letter of homage, and even increasing the amount of them.
So it came about that Pharaoh, who by nature was kindly and
unsuspicious, had long ago put away all mistrust of his brother, whose
ambitions, he was sure, had come to an end with the birth of an
heiress to the throne.
Yet, when escorted only by five hundred of his guard, for this was a
peaceful visit, Pharaoh rode into the mighty city and saw how
impregnable were its walls and how strong its gates; saw also that the
streets were lined with thousands of well-armed troops, doubts which
he dismissed as unworthy, did creep into his heart. But if he said
nothing of them, Tua, who rode in the chariot with him, was not so
"My father," she said in a low voice while the crowds shouted their
welcome, for they were alone in the chariot, the horses of which were
led, "this uncle of mine keeps a great state in Memphis."
"Yes, Daughter, why should he not? He is its governor."
"A stranger who did not know the truth might think he was its king, my
father, and to be plain, if I were Pharaoh, and had chosen to enter
here, it would have been with a larger force."
"We can go away when we like, Tua," said Pharaoh uneasily.
"You mean, my father, that we can go away when it pleases the Prince
your brother to open those great bronze gates that I heard clash
behind us--then and not before."
At this moment their talk came to an end, for the chariot was stayed
at the steps of the great hall where Abi waited to receive his royal
guests. He stood at the head of the steps, a huge, coarse, vigorous
man of about sixty years of age, on whose fat, swarthy face there was
still, oddly enough, some resemblance to the delicate, refined-
Tua summed him up in a single glance, and instantly hated him even
more than she had hated Amathel, Prince of Kesh. Also she who had not
feared the empty-headed, drunken Amathel, was penetrated with a
strange terror of this man whom she felt to be strong and intelligent,
and whose great, greedy eyes rested on her beauty as though they could
not tear themselves away.
Now they were ascending the steps, and now Prince Abi was welcoming
them to his "humble house," giving them their throne names, and saying
how rejoiced he was to see them, his sovereigns, within the walls of
Memphis, while all the time he stared at Tua.
Pharaoh, who was tired, made no reply, but the young Queen, staring
back at him, answered:
"We thank you for your greeting, but then, my uncle Abi, why did you
not meet us outside the gates of Memphis where we expected to find its
governor waiting to deliver up the keys of Pharaoh's city to the
officers of Pharaoh?"
Now Abi, who had thought to see some shrinking child clothed in the
emblems of a queen, looked astonished at this tall and royal maiden
who had so sharp a tongue, and found no words to answer her. So she
swept past him and commanded to be shown where she should lodge in
They led her to its greatest palace that had been prepared for Pharaoh
and herself, a place surrounded by palm groves in the midst of the
city, but having studied it with her quick eyes, she said that it did
not please her. So search was made elsewhere, and in the end she chose
another smaller palace that once had been a temple of Sekhet, the
tiger-headed goddess of vengeance and of chastity, whereof the pylon
towers fronted on the Nile which at its flood washed against them.
Indeed, they were now part of the wall of Memphis, for the great
unused gateway between them had been built up with huge blocks of
Surrounding this palace and outside its courts, lay the old gardens of
the temple where the priests of Sekhet used to wander, enclosed within
a lofty limestone wall. Here, saying that the air from the river would
be more healthy for him, Tua persuaded Pharaoh to establish himself
and his Court, and to encamp the guards under the command of his
friend Mermes, in the outer colonnades and gardens.
When it was pointed out to the Queen that, owing to the lack of
dwelling-rooms, none which were fitting were left for her to occupy,
she replied that this mattered nothing, since in the old pylon tower
were two small chambers hollowed in the thickness of its walls, which
were very pleasing to her, because of the prospect of the Nile and the
wide flat lands and the distant Pyramids commanded from the lofty roof
and window-places. So these chambers, in which none had dwelt for
generations, were hastily cleaned out and furnished, and in them Tua
and Asti her foster-mother, took up their abode.
THE MAGIC IMAGE
That night Pharaoh and Tua rested in privacy with those members of
the Court whom they had brought with them, but on the morrow began a
round of festivals such as history scarcely told of in Egypt. Indeed,
the feast with which it opened was more splendid than any Tua had seen
at Thebes even at the time of her crowning, or on that day of blood
and happiness when Amathel and his Nubian guards were slain and she
and Rames declared their love. At this feast Pharaoh and the young
Queen sat in chairs of gold, while the Prince Abi was placed on her
right hand, and not on that of Pharaoh as he should have been as host
"I am too much honoured," said Tua, looking at him sideways. "Why do
you not sit by Pharaoh, my uncle?"
"Who am I that I should take the seat of honour when my sovereigns
come to visit me?" answered Abi, bowing his great head. "Let it be
reserved for the high-priest of Osiris, that Holy One whom, after
Ptah, we worship here above all other deities, for he is clothed with
the majesty of the god of death."
"Of death," said Tua. "Is that why you put him by my father?"
"Indeed not," replied Abi, spreading out his hands, "though if a
choice must be made, I would rather that he sat near one who is old
and must soon be called the 'ever-living,' than at the side of the
loveliest queen that Egypt has ever seen, to whom it is said that Amen
himself has sworn a long life," and again he bowed.
"You mean that you think Pharaoh will soon die. Nay, deny it not,
Prince Abi, I can read your thoughts, and they are ill-omened," said
Tua sharply and, turning her head away, began to watch those about
Soon she noticed that behind Abi amongst his other officers stood a
tall, grizzled man clad in the robes and cap of an astrologer, who
appeared to be studying everything, and especially Pharaoh and
herself, for whenever she looked round it was to find his quick, black
eyes fixed upon her.
"Who is that man?" she whispered presently to Asti, who waited on her.
"The famous astrologer, Kaku, Queen. I have seen him before when he
visited Thebes with the Prince before your birth. I will tell you of
him afterwards. Watch him well."
So Tua watched and discovered several things, among them that Kaku
observed everything that she and Pharaoh did, what they ate, to whom
they spoke, and any words which fell from their lips, such as those
that she had uttered about the god Osiris. All of these he noted down
from time to time on his waxen tablets, doubtless that he might make
use of them afterwards in his interpretation of the omens of the
Now, among the ladies of the Court who fanned Pharaoh and waited on
him was that dancing girl of Abi's who many years before had betrayed
him at Thebes, Merytra, Lady of the Footstool, now a woman of middle
age, but still beautiful, of whom, although Tua disliked her, Pharaoh
was fond because she was clever and witty of speech and amused him.
For this reason, in spite of her history, he had advanced her to
wealth and honour, and kept her about his person as a companion of his
lighter hours. Something in this woman's manner attracted Tua's
attention, for continually she looked at the astrologer, Kaku, who
suddenly awoke to her presence and smiled as though he recognised an
old friend. Then, when it was the turn of another to take her place
behind Pharaoh, Merytra drew alongside of Kaku, and under shelter of
her broad fan, spoke to him quickly, as though she were making some
arrangement with him, and he nodded in assent, after which they
The feast wore on its weary course till, at length, the doors opened
and slaves appeared bearing the mummy of a dead man, which they set
upon its feet in the centre of the hall, whereon a toast-master cried:
"Drink and be merry, all ye great ones of the earth, who know not how
soon ye shall come to this last lowly state."
Now this bringing in of the mummy was a very ancient rite, but one
that had fallen into general disuse, so that as it chanced Tua, who
had never seen it practised before, looked on it with curiosity not
unmingled with disgust.
"Why is a dead king dragged from his sepulchre back into the world of
life, my Uncle?" she asked, pointing to the royal emblems with which
the corpse was clothed.
"It is no king, your Majesty," answered Abi, "but only the bones of
some humble person, or perhaps a block of wood that wears the /urĉus/
and carries the sceptre in honour of Pharaoh, our chief guest."
Now Tua frowned, and Pharaoh, who had overheard the talk, said,
"A somewhat poor compliment, my brother, to one who, like myself, is
old and sickly and not far from his eternal habitation. Yet why should
I grumble at it who need no such reminder of that which awaits me and
all of us?" and he leaned back in his chair and sighed, while Tua
looked at him anxiously.
Then Abi ordered the mummy to be removed, declaring, with many
apologies, that it had been brought there only because such was the
ancient custom of Memphis, which, unlike Thebes, did not change its
fashions. He added that this same body or figure, for he knew not
which it was, having never troubled to inquire, had been looked upon
by at least thirty Pharaohs, all as dead as it to-day, since it was
the same that was used at the royal feasts before, long ago, the seat
of government was moved to Thebes.
"If so," broke in Tua, who was angry, "it is time that it should be
buried, if flesh and bone, or burned if wood. But Pharaoh is wearied.
Have we your leave to depart, my Uncle?"
Without answering, Abi rose, as she thought to dismiss the company.
But it was not so, for he raised a great, golden cup of wine and said:
"Before we part, my guests, let Memphis drink a welcome to the mighty
Lord of the Two Lands who, for the first time in his long and glorious
reign, honours it with his presence here to-day. As he said to me but
now, my royal brother is weak and aged with sickness, nor can we hope
that once his visit is ended, he will return again to the White-walled
City. But as it chances the gods have given him a boon which they
denied for long, the lovely daughter who shares his throne, and who,
as we believe and pray, will reign after him when it pleases him to
ascend into the kingdom of Osiris. Yet, my friends, it is evil that
the safe and lawful government of Egypt should hang on one frail life.
Therefore this is the toast to which I drink--that the Queen Neter-
Tua, Morning Star of Amen, Hathor Strong in Beauty, who has rejected
so many suitors, may before she departs from among us, find one to her
liking, some husband of royal blood, skilled in the art of rule, whose
strength and knowledge may serve to support her woman's weakness and
inexperience in that sad hour when she finds herself alone."
Now the audience, who well understood the inner meaning and objects of
this speech, rose and cheered furiously, as they had been schooled to
do, emptying their cups to Pharaoh and to Tua and shouting:
"We know the man. Take him, glorious Queen, take him, Daughter of
Amen, and reign for ever."
"What do they mean?" muttered Pharaoh, "I do not understand. Thank
them, my daughter, my voice is weak, and let us begone."
So Tua rose when at length there was silence and, looking round her
with flashing eyes, said in her clear voice that reached the furthest
recesses of the hall:
"The Pharaoh, my father, and I, the Queen of the Upper and the Lower
Lands, return thanks to you, our people of this city, for your loyal
greetings. But as for the words that the Prince Abi has spoken, we
understand them not. My prayer is that the Pharaoh may still reign in
glory for many years, but if he departs and I remain, learn, O people,
that you have naught to fear from the weakness and inexperience of
your Queen. Learn also that she seeks no husband, nor when she seeks
will she ever find one within the walls of Memphis. Rest you well, O
people and you, my Uncle Abi, as now with your good leave we will do
Then, turning, she took her father by the hand and went without more
words, leaving Abi staring at his guests while his guests stared back
When Tua had reached the pylon tower, where she lodged, and her ladies
had unrobed her and gone, she called Asti to her from the adjoining
chamber and said:
"You are wise, my nurse, tell me, what did Abi mean?"
"If your Majesty cannot guess, then you are duller than I thought,"
answered Asti in her quick, dry fashion, adding; "however, I will try
to translate. The Prince Abi, your noble uncle, means that he has
trapped you here, and that you shall not leave these walls save as his
Now fury took hold of Tua.
"How dare he speak such words?" she gasped, springing to her feet. "I,
the wife of that old river-hog, my father's brother who might be my
grandfather, that hideous, ancient lump of wickedness who boasts that
he has a hundred sons and daughters; I, the Queen of Egypt, whose
birth was decreed by Amen, I--how dare you?" and she ceased, choking
in her wrath.
"The question is--how he dares, Queen. Still, that is his plot which
he will carry through if he is able. I suspected it from the first,
and that is why I always opposed this visit to Memphis, but you will
remember that you bade me be silent, saying that you had determined to
see the most ancient city in Egypt."
"You should not have been silent. You should have said what was in
your mind, even if I ordered you from my presence. Neither Abi nor any
of his sons proposed for my hand when the others did, therefore /I/
"After the fashion of women who have already given their hearts,
Queen, and forget that they have other things to give--a kingdom, for
instance. The snake does not roar like the lion, yet it is more to be
"Once I am out of this place it is the snake that shall have cause to
fear, Asti, for I will break its back and throw it writhing to the
kites. Nurse, we must leave Memphis."
"That is not easy, Queen, since some ceremony is planned for each of
the next eight days. If Pharaoh were to go away without attending
them, he would anger all the people of the North which he has not
visited since he was crowned."
"Then let them be angered; Pharaoh can do as he wills."
"Yes, Queen, at least, that is the saying. But do you think that
Pharaoh wishes to bring about a civil war and risk his crown and
yours? Listen: Abi is very strong, and under his command he has a
greater army than Pharaoh can muster in these times of peace, for in
addition to his trained troops, all the thousands of the Bedouin
tribes of the desert look on him as lord, and at his word will fall on
the wealth of Egypt like famished vultures on a fatted ox. Moreover,
here you have but a guard of five hundred men, whereas Abi's
regiments, summoned to do you honour, and his ships of war block the
river and the southern road. How then will you leave Memphis without
his good leave; how will you even send messengers to summon aid which
could not reach you under fifty days?"
Now when she saw the greatness of the danger, Tua grew quite calm and
"You have done wrong, Asti; if you foresaw all these things of which I
never thought, you should have warned Pharaoh and his Council."
"Queen, I did warn them, and Mermes warned them also, but they would
not listen, saying that they were but the idle dreams of one who
strives to peep into the future and sees false pictures there. More,
Pharaoh sent for me himself, and whilst thanking me and Mermes my
husband, told me that he had inquired into the matter and found no
cause to distrust Abi or those under his command. Moreover, he forbade
me to speak to your Majesty about it, lest, being but young and a
woman, you might be frightened and your pleasure spoilt."
"Who was his counsellor?" asked Tua.
"A strange one, I think, Queen. You know his waiting-woman, Merytra,
she of whom he is so fond, and who stood behind him with a fan this
"Aye, I know her," replied Tua, with emphasis. "She was ever
whispering with that tall astrologer at the feast. But does Pharaoh
take counsel with waiting-ladies of his private household?"
"With this waiting-lady, it seems, Queen. Perhaps you have not heard
all her story. in the year before your birth Merytra came up the Nile
with Abi. She was then quite young and very pretty; one of Abi's
women. It seems that the Prince struck her for some fault, and being
clever she determined to be revenged upon him. Soon she got her
chance, for she heard Abi disclose to the astrologer Kaku, that same
man whom you saw to-night talking with her, a plan that he had made to
murder Pharaoh and declare himself king, from which Kaku dissuaded
him. Having this secret and being bold, she fled at once from the ship
of Abi, and that night told Pharaoh everything. But he forgave Abi,
and sent him home again with honour who should have slain him for his
treason. Only Merytra remained in the Court, and from that time
forward Pharaoh, who trusted her and was caught by her wit and beauty,
made it a habit to send for her when he wished to have news of Memphis
where she was born, because she seemed always to know even the most
secret things that were passing in that city. Moreover, often her
information proved true."
"That is not to be wondered at, Nurse, seeing that doubtless it came
from this Kaku, Abi's astrologer and magician."
"No, Queen, it is not to be wondered at, especially as she paid back
secret for secret. Well, I believe that after I had warned Pharaoh of
what I knew, never mind how, he sent for Merytra, who laughed the tale
to scorn, and told him that Abi his brother had long ago abandoned all
ambitions, being well content with his great place and power which one
of his sons would inherit after him. She told him also that the troops
were but assembled to do the greater honour to your Majesties who had
no more loyal or loving subject than the Prince Abi, whom for her part
she hated with good cause, as she loved Pharaoh and his House--with
good cause. If there were any danger, she asked would she dare to put
herself within the reach of Abi, the man that she had once betrayed
because her heart was pure and true, and she was faithful to her king.
So Pharaoh believed her, and I obeyed the orders of Pharaoh, knowing
that if I did not do so he would grow angry and perhaps separate me
from you, my beloved Queen and fosterling, which, now that Rames has
gone, would, I think, have meant my death. Yet I fear that I have
"Yes, I fear also that you have erred, Asti, but everything is
forgiven to those who err through love," answered Tua kindly and
kissing her. "Oh, my father, Pharaoh! What god fashioned you so weak
that an evil spirit in a woman's shape can play the rudder to your
policy! Leave me now, Asti, for I must sleep and call on Amen to aid
his daughter. The snare is strong and cunning, but, perchance, in my
dreams he will show me how it may be broke."
That night when the feast was ended Merytra, Pharaoh's favoured
waiting-maid, did not return with the rest of the royal retinue to the
temple where he lodged. As they went from the hall in state she
whispered a few words into the ear of the chief Butler of the
Household who, knowing that she had the royal pass to come in and out
as she would, answered that the gate should be opened to her, and let
So covering her head with a dark cloak Merytra slipped behind a
certain statue in the ante-hall and waited till presently a tall
figure, also wrapped in a dark cloak, appeared and beckoned to her.
She followed it down sundry passages and up a narrow stair that seemed
almost endless, until, at length, the figure unlocked a massive door,
and when they had passed it, locked it again behind them.
Now Merytra found herself in a very richly furnished room lit by
hanging-lamps, that evidently was the abode of one who watched the
stars and practised magic, for all about were strange-looking brazen
instruments and rolls of papyrus covered with mysterious signs, and
suspended above the table a splendid divining ball of crystal. Merytra
sank into a chair, throwing off her dark cloak.
"Of a truth, friend Kaku," she said, so soon as she had got her
breath, "you dwell very near the gods."
"Yes, dear Merytra," he answered with a dry chuckle, "I keep a kind of
half-way house to heaven. Perched here in my solitude I see and make
note of what goes on above," and he pointed to the skies, "and retail
the information, or as much of it as I think fit, to the groundlings
"At a price, I suppose, Kaku."
"Most certainly at a price, and I may add, a good price. No one thinks
much of the physician who charges low fees. Well, you have managed to
get here, and after all these years I am glad to see you again,
looking almost as young and pretty as ever. Tell me your secret of
eternal youth, dear Merytra."
Merytra, who was vain, smiled at this artful flattery, although, in
truth, it was well deserved, for at an age when many Egyptians are
old, she remained fresh and fair.
"An excellent conscience," she answered, "a good appetite and the
virtuous, quiet life, which is the lot of the ladies of Pharaoh's
Court--there you have the secret, Kaku. I fear that you keep too late
hours, and that is why you grow white and withered like a mummy--not
but that you look handsome enough in those long robes of yours," she
added to gild the pill.
"It is my labours," he replied, making a wry face, for he too was
vain. "My labours for the good of others, also indigestion and the
draughts in this accursed tower where I sit staring at the stars,
which give me rheumatism. I have got both of them now, and must take
some medicine," and filling two goblets from a flask, he handed her
one of them, saying, "drink it, you don't get wine like that in
"It is very good," said Merytra when she had drunk, "but heavy. If I
took much of that I think I should have 'rheumatism,' too. Now tell
me, old friend, am I safe, in this place? No, not from Pharaoh, he
trusts me and lets me go where I will upon his business--but from his
royal brother. He used to have a long memory, and from the look of him
I do not think that his temper has improved. You may remember a
certain slap in the face and how I paid him back for it."
"He never knew it was you, Merytra. Being a mass of self-conceit, he
thought that you ran away because he had banished you from his royal
presence and presented you--to me."
"Oh, he thought that, did he! What a vain fool!"
"It was a very dirty trick you played me, Merytra," went on Kaku with
indignation, for the rich wine coursing through his blood revived the
sting of his loss. "You know how fond I always was of you, and indeed
am still," he added, gazing at her admiringly.
"I felt that I was not worthy of so learned and distinguished a man,"
she replied, looking at him with her dark eyes. "I should only have
hampered your life, dear Kaku, so I went into the household of that
poor creature, Pharaoh, instead--Pharaoh's Nunnery we call it. But you
will not explain the facts to Abi, will you?"
"No, I think not, Merytra, if we continue to get on as well as we do
at present. But now you are rested, so let us come to business, for
otherwise you will have to stop here all night and Pharaoh would be
"Oh, to Set with Pharaoh! Though it is true that he is a good
paymaster, and knows the value of a clever woman. Now, what is this
The old astrologer's face grew hard and cunning. Going to the door he
made sure that it was locked and drew a curtain over it. Then he took
a stool and sat himself down in front of Merytra, in such a position
that the light fell on her face while his own remained in shadow.
"A big business, Merytra, and by the gods I do not know that I should
trust you with it. You tricked me once, you have tricked Pharaoh for
years; how do I know that you will not play the same game once more
and earn me an order to cut my own throat, and so lose life and soul
"If you think that, Kaku, perhaps you will unlock the door and give me
an escort home, for we are only wasting time."
"I don't know what to think, for you are as cunning as you are
beautiful. Listen, woman," he continued in a savage whisper, and
clasping her by the wrist. "If you are false, I tell you that you
shall die horribly, for if the knife and poison fail, I am no
charlatan, I have arts. I can make you turn loathsome to the sight and
waste away, I can haunt you at nights so that you may never sleep a
wink, save in full sunshine, and I will do it all and more. If I die,
Merytra, we go together. Now will you swear to be true, will you swear
it by the oath of oaths?"
The spy looked about her. She knew Kaku's power which was famous
throughout Egypt, and that it was said to be of the most evil sort,
and she feared him.
"It seems that this is a dangerous affair," she replied uneasily, "and
I think that I can guess your aim. Now if I help you, Kaku, what am
/I/ to get?"
"Me," he answered.
"I am flattered, but what else?"
"After Pharaoh the greatest place and the most power in Egypt, as the
wife of Pharaoh's Vizier."
"The wife? Doubtless from what I have heard of you, Kaku, there would
be other wives to share these honours."
"No other wife--upon the oath, none, Merytra."
She thought a moment, looking at the wizened but powerful-faced old
magician, then answered:
"I will take the oath and keep my share of it. See that you keep
yours, Kaku, or it will be the worse for you, for women have their own
"I know it, Merytra, and from the beginning the wise have held that
the spirit dwells, not in the heart or brain or liver, but in the
female tongue. Now stand up."
She obeyed, and from some hidden place in the wall Kaku produced a
book, or rather a roll of magical writings, that was encased in iron,
the metal of the evil god, Typhon.
"There is no other such book as this," he said, "for it was written by
the greatest of wizards who lived before Mena, when the god-kings
ruled in Egypt, and I, myself, took it from among his bones, a
terrible task for his Ka rose up in the grave and threatened me. He
who can read in that book, as I can, has much strength, and let him
beware who breaks an oath taken on that book. Now press it to your
heart, Merytra, and swear after me."
Then he repeated a very terrible oath, for should it be violated it
consigned the swearer to shame, sickness and misfortune in this world,
and to everlasting torments in the next at the claws and fangs of
beast-headed demons who dwell in the darkness beyond the sun,
appointing, by name, those beings who should work the torments, and
summoning them as witnesses to the bond.
Back to Full Books