H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 5
Merytra listened, then said,
"You have left out your part of the oath, Friend, namely, that you
promise that I shall be the only wife of Pharaoh's Vizier and hold
equal power with him."
"I forgot," said Kaku, and added the words.
Then they both swore, touching their brows with the book, and as she
looked up again, Merytra saw a strange, flame-like light pulse in the
crystal globe that hung above her head, which became presently
infiltrated with crimson flowing through it as blood might flow from a
wound, till it glowed dull red, out of which redness a great eye
watched her. Then the eye vanished and the blood vanished, and in
place of them Queen Neter-Tua sat in glory on her throne, while the
nations worshipped her, and by her side sat a man in royal robes whose
face was hidden in a cloud.
"What do you see?" asked Kaku, following her gaze to the crystal.
She told him, and he pondered a while, then answered doubtfully:
"I think it is a good omen; the royal consort sits beside her. Only
why was his face hidden?"
"I am sure I do not know," answered Merytra. "I think that strong, red
wine of yours was doctored and has got into my head. But, come, we
have sworn this oath, which I dare say will work in more ways than we
guess, for such accursed swords have two edges to them. Now out with
the plot, and throw a cloth over that crystal for I want to see no
"It seems a pity since you have such a gift of vision," replied Kaku
in the same dubious voice. Yet he obeyed, tying up the shining ball in
a piece of mummy wrapping which he used in his spells.
"Now," he said, "I will be brief. My fat master, Abi, means to be
Pharaoh of Egypt, and it seems that the best way to do so is by
climbing into his niece's throne, where most men would like to sit."
"You mean by marrying her, Kaku."
"Of course. What else? He who marries the Queen, rules in right of the
"Indeed. Do you know anything of Neter-Tua?"
"As much as any other man knows; but what do you mean?"
"I mean that I shall be sorry for the husband who marries her against
her will, however beautiful and high-placed she may be. I tell you
that woman is a flame. She has more strength in her than all the
magicians in Egypt, yourself among them. They say she is a daughter of
Amen, and I believe it. I believe that the god dwells in her, and woe
be to him whom she may chance to hate, if he comes to her as a
"That is Abi's business, is it not? Our business, Merytra, is to get
him there. Now we may take it this will not be with her consent."
"Certainly not, Kaku," she answered. "The gossip goes that she is in
love with young Count Rames, who fought and killed the Prince of Kesh
before her eyes, and now has gone to make amends to the king his
father at the head of an army."
"That may be true, Merytra. Why not? He is her foster-brother and of
royal blood, bold, too, and handsome, they say. Well, queens have no
business to be in love. That is the privilege of humbler folk like you
and me, Merytra. Say, is she suspicious--about Prince Abi, I mean?"
"I do not know, but Asti, her nurse and favourite lady, the wife of
Mermes and mother of Rames, is suspicious enough. She is a greater
magician than you are, Kaku, and if she could have had her way Pharaoh
would never have set foot in Memphis. But I got your letter and over-
persuaded him, the poor fool. You see he thinks me faithful to his
House, and that is why I am allowed to be here to-night, to collect
"Ah! Well, what Asti knows the Queen will know, and she is stronger
than Pharaoh, and notwithstanding all Abi's ships and soldiers, may
break away from Memphis and make war upon him. So it comes to this--
Pharaoh must stay here, for his daughter will not desert him."
"How will you make him stay here, Kaku? Not by----" and she glanced
towards the shrouded crystal.
"Nay, no blood if it can be helped. He must not even seem to be a
prisoner, it is too dangerous. But there are other ways."
"What ways? Poison?"
"Too dangerous again. Now, if he fell sick, and he has been sick
before, and could not stir, it would give us time to bring about the
marriage, would it not? Oh! I know that he is well at present--for
him, but look here, Merytra, I have something to show you."
Then going to a chest Kaku took from it a plain box of cedar wood
which was shaped like a mummy case, and, lifting off its lid, revealed
within it a waxen figure of the length of a hand. This figure was
beautifully fashioned to the living likeness of Pharaoh, and crowned
with the double crown of Egypt.
"What is it?" asked Merytra, shrinking back. "An /ushapti/ to be
placed in his tomb?"
"No, woman, a magic Ka fashioned with many a spell out of yonder
ancient roll, that can bring /him/ to the tomb if it be rightly used,
as you shall use it."
"I!" she exclaimed, starting. "How?"
"Thus: You, as one of Pharaoh's favourite ladies, have charge of the
chamber where he sleeps. Now you must make shift to enter there alone
and lay this figure in his bed, that the breath of Pharaoh may enter
into it. Then take it from the bed and say these words, 'Figure,
figure, I command thee by the power within thee and in the name of the
Lord if Ill, that as thy limbs waste, so shall the limbs of him in
whose likeness thou art fashioned waste also.' Having spoken thus,
hold the legs of the image over the flame of a lamp until it be half
melted, and convey the rest of it away to your own sleeping-place and
hide it there. So it shall come about that during that night the
nerves and muscles in the legs of Pharaoh will wither and grow useless
to him, and he be paralysed and unable to stir. Afterwards, if it be
needful, I will tell you more."
Now, bold though she was, Merytra grew afraid.
"I cannot do it," she said, "it is black sorcery against one who is a
god, and will bring my soul to hell. Find some other instrument, or
place the waxen imp in the bed of Pharaoh yourself, Kaku."
The face of the magician grew fierce and cruel.
"Come with me, Merytra," he said, and taking her by the wrist he led
her to the open window-place whence he observed the stars.
So giddy was the height at the top of this lofty tower that the houses
beneath looked small and far away, and the sky quite near.
"Behold Memphis and the Nile, and the wide lands of Egypt gleaming in
the moonlight, and the Pyramids of the ancient kings. You wish to rule
over all these, like myself--do you not, Merytra?--and if you obey me
you shall do so."
"And if I do not obey?"
"Then I will throw my spell upon you, and your senses shall leave you
and you shall fall headlong to that white line, which is a street, and
before to-morrow morning the dogs will have picked your broken bones,
so that none can know you, for you have heard too much to go hence
alive unless it be to do my bidding. Oh, no! Think not to say 'I will'
and afterwards deceive me, for that image which you take with you is
my servant, and will keep watch on you and make report to me and to
the god, its master. Now choose."
"I will obey," said Merytra faintly, and as she spoke she thought that
she heard a laugh in the air outside the window.
"Good. Now hide the box beneath your cloak and drop it not, for if so
that which is within will call aloud after you, and they will kill you
for a sorceress. Unless my word come to you, lay the figure in
Pharaoh's bed to-morrow evening, and at the hour of moonrise hold its
limbs in the flame in your own chamber, and hide it away, and
afterwards bring it back to me that I may enchant it afresh, if there
be any need. Now come, and I will guard you to the gates of the old
temple of Sekhet, where Pharaoh dwells."
THE DOOM OF PHARAOH
On the morrow when the lady Asti came to dress the Queen for that
day's ceremony, she asked her if Amen had given her the wisdom that
"Not so," answered the young Queen, "all he gave me was very bad
dreams, and in every one of them was mixed up that waiting woman of my
father, Merytra, of whom you spoke to me. If I believed in omens I
should say that she was about to bring some evil upon our House."
"It may well be so, Queen," answered Asti, "and in that case I think
that she is at the work. At any rate, watching from the little window
of my room, by the light of the moon I saw her return across the
temple court at midnight. Moreover, it seemed to me that she was
carrying something beneath her robe."
"Whence did she return?"
"From the city, I suppose. She has Pharaoh's pass, and can go in and
out when she will. I have caused Mermes to question the officer of the
guard, and he says that she came to the gate accompanied by a tall man
wrapped in a dark cloak, who spoke with her earnestly, and left her.
From this description I think it must have been the astrologer, Kaku,
with whom she was talking at the feast."
"That is bad news, Nurse. What else have you to tell?"
"Only this, Queen. The gates are guarded more closely even than we
thought. I tried to send out a man to Thebes this morning with a
message on my own account--never mind what it was--and the sentries
turned him back."
"By the gods!" exclaimed Tua, "before I have reigned a year every gate
in Memphis shall be melted down for cooking vessels, and I will set
their captains to work in the desert mines. Nay, such threats are
foolishness, I'll not threaten, I'll strike when the time comes, but
that is not yet. Can I speak with the Pharaoh?"
"No, Queen. He is up already giving audience to the nobles of Memphis,
and trying cases from the Lower Land with his Counsellors; until it is
time to start for this ceremony of the laying of the foundation-stone
of the temple, whither you accompany him in state. Also it is as well
--by to-night we may learn more. Come, let me set the crown upon your
head that these dogs of Memphis may know their mistress."
The ceremony proved very wearisome. First there was the long chariot
ride through the crowded, shouting streets, Pharaoh and Abi going in
the first chariot, and Tua, attended by Abi's eldest daughter, a
round-eyed lady much older than herself, in the second. Next came the
office of the priests of Amen, over which Neter-Tua as daughter of
Amen and high-priestess, must preside, to dedicate the temple to the
glory of the god. Then the foundation deposit of little vases of
offerings and models of workmen's tools, and a ring drawn from
Pharaoh's hand engraved with his royal name, were blessed and set by
the masons in hollows prepared for them, and the two great corner-
stones let down, hiding them for ever, and declared respectively by
Pharaoh and by Neter-Tua, Morning Star of Amen, Joint Sovereign of
Egypt, to be well and truly laid.
Afterwards architects, those who "drew the line," exhibited plans of
the temple, and received gifts from Pharaoh, and when these things
were done came the mid-day feast and speeches.
At length all was over, and the great procession returned by another
route to the temple of Sekhet, where Pharaoh lodged, a very tedious
journey in the hot sun, since it involved a circuit of the endless
walls of Memphis, with stoppages before all the temples of the gods,
at each of which Pharaoh must make offerings. Nor, weary as he was,
might he rest, for in the outer court of the old shrine thrones had
been set up and seated on them he and Tua must hear petitions till
sunset and give judgment, or postpone them for further consideration.
At last there came to an end, but, as Pharaoh, tired out, rose from
his throne, Abi, his brother, who all this time had not left them,
said that he also had a private petition to prefer. So they went into
an inner court that had been a sanctuary, and sat down again, there
being present besides the scribes only Pharaoh, the Queen, some
councillors, Mermes, captain of the guard, and certain women of the
royal household, among them Asti, the Queen's nurse, and Merytra,
Pharaoh's favourite attendant. With Abi were his astrologer, Kaku, his
two eldest sons, and a few of the great officers of his government,
also the high-priests of the temples of Memphis, and three powerful
chiefs of the Desert tribes.
"What is your prayer, my brother?" asked Pharaoh, as soon as the doors
"A great one, your Majesties," answered the Prince, prostrating
himself, "which for the good of Egypt, and for your own good, and for
my good, who reverence you as a loyal subject, I pray that you will be
pleased to grant." Then he drew himself up and said slowly, "I am here
to ask the hand of the glorious Queen Neter-Tua, daughter of Amen, in
Now Pharaoh stared at him, while Tua, who knew well what was coming,
turned her head aside, and asked a councillor who stood near, if in
the history of the land any Queen of Egypt had ever married her uncle.
The councillor who was noted for his historical studies, answered that
at the moment he could recall no such case.
"Then," said Tua coolly, and still addressing him, "it seems that it
would be scarcely wise to create a precedent which other poor young
women of the royal race might be called upon to follow."
Pharaoh caught something of the words, though Abi did not for they
were spoken in a low voice, and bethought him of a way out of his
"The Queen Neter-Tua sits at my side, and is co-regent with me of this
kingdom, her mind is my mind, and what she approves it is probable I
shall approve. Prefer your request to her," he said.
So Abi turned to the Queen, and laying his hands upon his heart,
bowed, ogled, and began:
"A burning love of your most excellent Majesty moves me----"
"I pray you, my Uncle," interrupted Tua, "correct your words, which
should begin 'A burning love of your most excellent Majesty's throne
and power move me,' and so on."
Now Abi frowned while everyone else smiled, not excepting Pharaoh and
the astrologer, Kaku. Again he began his speech, but so confusedly
that presently Tua stopped him for the second time, saying:
"I am not deaf, most noble prince, my Uncle. I heard the words you
used to Pharaoh, and even understood their import. In fact, I have
already consulted our councillor here, a learned master of the law, as
to the legality of such an alliance as you propose, and he gives his
judgment against it."
Now Abi glared at the Councillor, a humble, dusty old man who spent
all his life among rolls and chronicles.
"May it please your Majesty," this lawyer exclaimed in a thin agitated
voice, "I only said there was no record of such a marriage that I can
remember, though once I think a queen adopted a nephew, who afterwards
"It is the same thing, Friend," replied Tua sweetly, "for that of
which there is no record in the long history of Egypt must of
necessity be illegal. Still, if my uncle here wishes to adopt me, I
thank him, though his lawful heirs may not, and the matter is one that
can be considered."
Now, guessing that he was being played with, Abi grew angry.
"I have put a plain question to your Majesty," he said, "and perhaps I
am worthy of a plain answer. As all men know, O Queen, it is time that
you should be wed, and I offer myself as your husband. It is true that
I am somewhat older than you are----"
"In what year was the Prince Abi born, the same as yourself, did you
say?" asked Tua in an audible aside of the aged and learned
Councillor, who thereon vanished behind the throne, and was seen no
"But," went on Abi, taking no notice of this interruption, "on the
other hand I have much to offer. I rule here, your Majesties, who am
also of the royal blood, and there is some disaffection in the North,
especially among the great Bedouin tribes of the Desert who watch the
frontier of the Kingdom. Now if this alliance comes about, and in days
to be I sit upon the double throne as King-Consort of Egypt, they will
be loyal, and north and south will be united more closely than they
ever were before. Whereas if it does not come about----" Here Kaku,
pretending to brush a fly from his face, caught his hand in Abi's
robe, a signal at which his master paused.
"Go on, my Uncle, I pray you," said Tua. "If it does not come about,
"Then, Queen, there may be trouble. Nay, leave me alone, Magician, I
will speak the truth, chance what may. Pharaoh, you have reigned for
many years; yes, forty times has the Nile overflowed its banks since
we laid our divine father in the tomb. Now, during all those years but
one child has been born to you, and that after I came to Thebes to
pray you to name me as your heir. Know, Pharaoh, that there are many
who find this strange, and wonder whether this beautiful queen, who is
called Daughter of Amen, and resembles you so little in body or in
mind, sits rightfully on the throne of Egypt. If I marry her these
questionings will cease. If I do not marry her the whisperings of men
may grow to a wind that will blow the crown from off her head."
Now a grasp of fear and wonder rose from all who heard this bold and
treasonable speech, and Tua, reddening to the eyes, bent forward as
though to answer. But before ever a word had passed her lips Pharaoh
sprang from his seat transformed with rage. All his patient gentleness
was gone, and he looked so fierce and royal that everyone present
there, even Abi himself, quailed before him.
"Is it for this that I have borne with you for so long, my brother?"
he cried, rending at his robes. "Is it for this that I spared you
years ago in Thebes, when your life was forfeit for your treachery? Is
it for this that I have suffered you to rise to great honour, and to
rule here almost as a king in my city of Memphis? Was it not enough
that I should sit quiet, while you, an old man, the son of our
father's barbarian slave, the loose-living despot, dare to ask for the
pure hand of Egypt's Queen in marriage, you, her uncle, who might well
be her grandfather also? Must I also hear your foul mouth beslime her
royal birth, and the honour of her divine mother, and spit sneers at
Amen, Father of the gods? Well, Amen shall deal with you when you come
to the doors of his Eternal House, but here on earth I am his son and
servant. Mermes, call my guards, and arrest this man and hold him
safe. At Thebes, whither we depart to-morrow, he shall be judged
according to our law."
Now Mermes blew a shrill call on the silver whistle that hung about
his neck, and, springing forward, seized the Prince by the arm. Abi
drew his sword to cut him down, and at the sight of the blade, all who
were with him rushed to the door to escape, sweeping before them
certain of Pharaoh's ladies, among them the waiting-woman, Merytra.
But before ever they could pass it, the guards who had heard the
signal of Mermes, ran in with lifted spears, driving them back again.
Leaping upon Abi, they tore the sword from his hand, and threw him to
the ground, huddling the rest together like frightened sheep.
"Bind this traitor and keep him safe, for to-morrow he accompanies us
to Thebes," said Pharaoh.
"What of his sons, and those with him, your Majesty?" asked the
officer of the guard.
"Let them go," answered Pharaoh wearily, "for they have not sinned
against us. Let them go, and take warning from their master's fate."
Now, as it chanced in the confusion, Merytra had been pushed against
"Hearken," whispered the astrologer into the woman's ear. "Do as I bid
you last night, and all will yet be well. Do it or die. Do you hear
"I hear, and I will obey," answered Merytra in the same low voice.
Then they were separated, for the guards took Kaku by the arm and
thrust him out of the temple together with the sons of Abi.
An hour later Mermes and Asti stood before Pharaoh, and prayed him
that he would depart from Memphis that very night, saying that such
was the counsel also of the Queen and of his officers. But Pharaoh was
tired out, and would not listen.
"To-morrow, when I have slept, will be time enough," he answered.
"Moreover, shall I fly from my own city like a thief when naught is
ready for our journey? Why do you press me to such a coward's act?" he
"For this reason, your Majesty," answered Mermes. "We are sure there
is a plot to keep you here. This afternoon you could not have gone,
had you tried, but to-night, Abi, being a prisoner, his people are
dismayed, and having no leader will open the gates. By to-morrow one
may be found, and they will be double-barred and guarded."
"What!" asked the King scornfully, "do you mean that I am a prisoner
also, and here in Egypt, which I rule? Nay, good friends, at Pharaoh's
word those gates will open. Or if they do not, I will pull down
Memphis stone by stone, and drive out its people to share their caves
with jackals. Do they think because I am kind and gentle, that I
cannot lift the sword if there be need? Have they forgotten how I
smote those rebels in my youth, and gave their cities to the flames,
and set my yoke on Syria, that aided them. We march to-morrow, and not
before. I have spoken."
Now Mermes bowed and turned to go, since when those words had passed
Pharaoh's lips it was not lawful to answer them. Yet Asti dared to do
"O Pharaoh," she said, "be not wrath with your servant. Pharaoh, as
you know, I have skill in divination, the spirits of the dead whisper
at times in my ears of things that are to be. It seemed to me just now
when having left the presence of the Queen, my foster-child, I stood a
while alone in the darkness, that the divine Majesty of the great
lady, the royal wife, Ahura, who was my friend and mistress, stood
beside me and said:
"'Go, Asti, to Pharaoh, and say to Pharaoh that great danger threatens
him and our royal daughter. Say to him--Fly from Memphis, lest there
he should be prepared for burial, and the Star of Amen hidden by a
cloud of shame. Bid him beware of one about his throne, and of that
evil magician with whom she made a pact last night.'"
Now Pharaoh looked at Asti and said:
"O dreamer of dreams, interpret your own dream. Who is she about my
throne of whom I should beware, and who is the magician with whom she
made a pact?"
"The divine Queen did not tell me, Pharaoh," answered Asti stubbornly,
"but my own skill tells me. She is Merytra, your favourite, and the
magician is Kaku, whom she visited last night."
"What!" exclaimed Pharaoh, laughing. "That long-legged old astrologer
with the painted cap who ran so fast when his master was taken? Why!
he is nothing but a spy who has been in my pay for years; a charlatan
who pretends to knowledge that he may win the secrets of his Prince.
And Merytra, too, Merytra, who in bygone times warned me of this Abi's
foolish plot. Asti, you are high-born and wise, one whom I love, and
honour much, as does the Queen, my daughter, but you can still be
jealous, as I have noted long. Asti, be not deceived, it was jealousy
of Merytra that whispered in your ears, not the spirit of the divine
Ahura. Now go and take your terrors with you, for this dark
conspirator, Merytra, waits in my chamber to unrobe me, and talk me to
sleep with her pleasant jests and gossip."
"Pharaoh has spoken, I go," said Asti in her quiet voice. "May
Pharaoh's rest be sweet, and his awaking happy."
That night Tua could not sleep. Whenever she shut her eyes visions
rose before her mind, terrifying, fantastic visions in all of which
the fat and hideous Abi played a part. Thus she saw again the scene at
her father's fatal feast to the Priest of Kesh, when Asti by her magic
had caused the likeness of a monkey to come from the juggler's vase.
Only now it was Abi who emerged from the vase, a terrible Abi, with a
red sword in his hand, and Pharaoh's crown upon his head. He leapt
from the mouth of the vase, he devoured her with his greedy eyes, with
stealthy steps he came to seize her, and she could not stir an inch,
something held her fast upon her throne.
She could bear it no more--she opened her eyes, stared at the
darkness, and out of the darkness came voices, telling of death and
war. She thrust her fingers into her ears, and tried to fix her
thoughts on Rames, that bright-eyed, light-footed lover of hers, whom
she so longed to see again, without whom she was so lonely and
Where was Rames? she wondered. What fate had overtaken him? Something
in her seemed to answer--Death. Oh! if Rames were dead, what should
she do? Of what use was it to be Queen of Egypt, the first woman in
the world, if Rames were dead?"
Loneliness, insufferable loneliness seemed to get a hold of her. She
slipped from her bed, and through the doorway of her little pylon
chamber. Now she was upon the narrow stair, and in face of her was
that other chamber where Asti slept. Someone was talking with her!
Perhaps Mermes was with his wife, and if so she could not enter. No,
it was Asti's voice, and, listening, she could hear her murmuring
prayers or invocations in solemn tones. She pushed open the door and
entered. A little lamp burned in the room, and by its feeble light she
saw the white-robed Asti, whose long hair fell about her, standing
with upturned eyes and arms outstretched to Heaven. Suddenly Asti saw
her also, though but dimly for she stood in the dense shadow, and knew
"Advance, O thou Ghost, and declare thyself, for never was thy help
more needed," she said.
"It is no ghost, but I," said Tua. "What dealings are these that you
have with ghosts at this deadest hour of the night, Asti? Do not
enough terrors encompass us that you must needs call on your familiar
spirits to add to them?"
"I call on the spirits to save us from them, Queen, for, like you, I
think that we are set in the midst of perils. This night is full of
sorcery; I scent it in the air, and strive to match spell with spell.
But why do you not sleep?"
"I cannot, Asti, I cannot. Fear has got hold of me. Oh! I would that
we had never come to this hateful Memphis, or set eyes upon its ill-
omened lord, that foul brute who seeks to make a wife of me."
"Be not afraid, Lady," said Asti, throwing her arms about Tua's slight
and quivering form. "To-morrow morning we march; I have it from
Pharaoh, and already the guard make preparations, while as for the
accursed Abi, he is in prison."
"There is no prison that will hold him, Asti, save the grave. Oh! why
did not my Father command him to be slain, as I would have done? Then,
at least, we should be free of him, and he could never marry me."
"Because it was otherwise decreed, O Neter-Tua, and Pharaoh must
fulfil his fate and ours, for though he is so gentle, none can turn
As she spoke the words, somewhere, far beneath them, arose a cry, a
voice of one in dread or woe, and with it the sound of feet upon the
"What passes?" said Asti, leaping to the door.
"Pharaoh is dead or dying," answered the terrified voice without. "Let
her Majesty come to Pharaoh."
They threw on their garments, they ran down the narrow stair and
across the halls till they came to the chamber of Pharaoh. There upon
his bed he lay and about him were the physicians of his Court. He was
speechless, but his eyes were open, and he knew his daughter, for,
raising his hand feebly, he beckoned to her, and pointed at his feet.
"What is it, man?" she asked of the head physician, who, by way of
answer, lifted the linen on the bed, and showed her Pharaoh's legs and
feet, white and withered as though with fire.
"What sickness is this?" asked Tua again.
"We know not, O Queen," answered the physician, "for in all our lives
we have never seen its like. The flesh is suddenly wasted, and the
limbs are paralysed."
"But I know," broke in Asti. "This is not sickness, it is sorcery.
Pharaoh has been smitten by some foul spell of the Prince Abi, or of
his wizards. Say, who was with him last?"
"It seems that the Lady of the Footstool, Merytra, sang him to sleep,
as was her custom," answered the physician, "and left him about two
hours ago, so say the guard. When I came in to see how his Majesty
rested but now, I found him thus."
Now Tua lifted up her head and spoke, saying:
"My divine Father is helpless, and therefore again I rule alone in
Egypt. Hear me and obey. Let the Prince Abi be brought from his prison
to the inner hall, for I would question him at once. Let the waiting-
woman, Merytra, be brought also under guard with drawn swords."
The officer of the watch bowed and departed to do the bidding of her
Majesty, while others went to light the hall.
Soon he returned to an outer chamber whither Tua had withdrawn herself
while the physicians examined Pharaoh.
"O Queen," he said, with a frightened face, "be not wrath, but the
Prince Abi has gone. He has escaped out of his prison, and the
waiting-woman, Merytra, is gone also."
"How came this about?" asked Tua in a cold voice.
"O Queen, the small gate was open, for people passed in and out of it
continually, making preparation for to-morrow's march. it seems that
about an hour ago the lady Merytra came to the gate and showed
Pharaoh's signet to the officer, saying that she was on Pharaoh's
business. With her went a fat man dressed in the robe of a master of
camels that in the darkness the officer thought was a certain Arab of
the Desert who has been to and fro about the camels. It is believed
that this man was none other than the Prince Abi, dressed in the
Arab's robe, and that he escaped from his cell by some secret passage
which was known to him, a passage of the old priests. The Arab, whose
robes he wore, cannot be found, but perhaps he is asleep in some
"Bar the gates," said Tua, "and let none pass in or out. Asti, take
men with you, and go search the room where Merytra slept. Perchance
she has returned again."
So Asti went, and a while after re-appeared carrying something
enveloped in a cloth.
"Merytra has gone, O Queen," she said in an ominous voice, "leaving
this behind hidden beneath her bed," and she placed the object on a
"What is it? The mummy of a child?" asked Tua, shrinking back.
"Nay, Queen, the image of a man."
Then throwing aside the cloth Asti revealed the waxen figure shaped to
the exact likeness of Pharaoh, or rather what remained of it, for the
legs were molten and twisted, and in them could be seen the bones of
ivory and the sinews of thin wire, about which they had been moulded.
Also beneath the chin where the tongue would be, sharp thorns had been
thrust up to the root of the mouth. The thing was life-like and
horrible, and as it was, so was the dumb and stricken Pharaoh on his
Neter-Tua hid her eyes for a while, and leaned against the wall, then
she drew herself up and said:
"Call the physicians and the members of the Council, and those who can
be spared of the officers of the guard, that everyone of them may see
and bear witness to the hideous crime which has been worked against
Pharaoh by his brother, the Prince Abi, and the wizard Kaku, and their
accomplice, the woman Merytra."
So they were called, and came, and when they saw the dreadful thing
lying in its waxen whiteness before them, they wailed and cursed those
who had wrought this abominable sorcery.
"Curse them not," said Neter-Tua, "who are already accursed, and given
over to the Devourer of Souls when their time shall come. Make a
record of this deed, O Scribes, and do it swiftly."
So the scribes wrote the matter down, and the Queen and others who
were present signed the writings as witnesses. Then Neter-Tua
commanded that they should take the image and destroy it before it
worked more evil, and a priest of Osiris who was present seized it and
But Neter-Tua went to Pharaoh's room and knelt by his bed, watching
him, for he seemed to be asleep. Presently he awoke, and looked round
him wildly, moving his lips. For a while he could not speak, then of a
sudden his voice burst from him in a hoarse, unnatural cry.
"They have bewitched me! I burn, I burn!" he screamed, rolling himself
to and fro upon the bed. "Avenge me, my daughter, and fear nothing,
for the gods are about you. I see their awful eyes. Oh! I burn, I
Then his head fell back, and the peace of death descended on his
Tua kissed his dead brow, and knelt at his side in prayer. After a
little while she rose and said:
"It has pleased Pharaoh, the just and perfect, to depart to his
everlasting habitation in Osiris. Make it known that this god is dead,
and that I rule alone in Egypt. Send hither the priest of Osiris, that
he may repeat the Ritual of Departing, and you, physicians, do your
So the priest came, but at the door Asti caught him by the hand and
"How did you destroy the image of wax?"
"I burned it upon the altar in the old sanctuary of this temple," he
"O, Fool!" said Asti, "you should have buried it. Know that with the
enchanted thing you have burned away the life of Pharaoh also."
Then that priest fell swooning to the ground, and another had to be
summoned to utter the Ritual of Departing.
THE COMING OF THE KA
Now it was morning, and while the physicians embalmed the body of
Pharaoh as best they could, Tua consulted with her officers. Long and
earnest was that council, for all of them felt that their danger was
very great. Abi had escaped, and if he were re-taken, none knew better
than he that his death and that of all his House would be the reward
of his crimes and sorceries which could only be covered up in one way
--by marriage with the Queen of Egypt. Moreover, he had thousands of
soldiers in the city and around it, all of them sworn to his service,
whereas the royal guard was but five companies, each of a hundred men,
trapped in a snare of streets and stone.
One of them suggested that they should break a way through the wall of
the temple, and escape to the royal barges that lay moored on the Nile
beneath them, and this plan was approved. But when they went to set
about the work it was seen that these barges had been seized and were
already sailing away up the river. So but two alternatives remained--
to bide within the fortifications of the old temple, and send out
messengers for help, or to march through the city boldly, break down
the gates if these were shut against them, seize boats, and sail up
the Nile for some loyal town, or if that could not be done, to take
their chance in the open lands.
Now some favoured one scheme, and some the other, so that at last the
decision was left with her Majesty. She thought awhile, then said:
"Here I will not stay, to be starved out as we must ere ever an army
could be gathered to rescue us, and be given into the power of that
vile and wicked man, the murderer of the good god, my father. Better
that I should die fighting in the streets, for then at least I shall
pass undefiled to join him in his eternal habitation beyond the sun.
We march at midnight."
So they bowed beneath her word, and made ready while the women of his
household raised a death-wail for Pharaoh, and criers standing on the
high towers proclaimed the accession of Neter-Tua, Morning-Star of
Amen, Glorious in Ra, Hathor, Strong in Beauty, as sole Lord and
Sovereign of the North and South, and of Egypt's subject lands. Again
and again they proclaimed it, and of the multitudes who listened some
cheered, but the most remained silent, fearing the vengeance of their
Prince, whom the heralds summoned to do homage, but who made no sign.
Night came at last. At a signal the gates were opened, and through
them, borne upon the shoulders of his Councillors, preceded by a small
body of guards, and followed by his women and household, went the
remains of Pharaoh, in a coffin roughly fashioned from the sycamore
timbers of the temple. With solemn step and slow, they went as though
they feared no harm, the priests and singers chanting some ancient,
funeral hymn. Next followed the baggage bearers, and after these the
royal bodyguard in the midst of whom the Queen, clad in mail, as a
man, rode in a chariot, and with her the waiting-lady, Asti, wife of
At first all went well, for the great square in front of the temple
was empty. The procession of the body of Pharaoh passed it, and
vanished down the street that led to the main gate, a mile away. Now
the guard formed into line to enter this street also, when suddenly,
barring the mouth of it, appeared great companies of men who had been
hidden in other streets.
A voice cried "Halt!" and while the guards re-shaped themselves into a
square about the person of the Queen, an embassy of officers, among
whom were recognised the four lawful sons of Abi, advanced and
demanded in the Prince's name that her Majesty should be given over to
them, saying that she would be treated with all honour, and that those
who accompanied her might go free.
"Answer that the Queen of Egypt does not yield herself into the hands
of rebels, and of murderers; then fall on them, and slay them all,"
cried Neter-Tua when Mermes, her captain, had given her this message.
So he went forward and returned the answer, and next moment a flight
of arrows from the Queen's guard laid low the four sons of Abi, and
most of those who were with them.
Then the fight began, one of the fiercest that had been known in Egypt
for many a generation. The royal regiment, it is true, was but small,
but they were picked men, and mad with despair and rage. Moreover, Tua
the Queen played no woman's part that night, for when these charged,
striving to cut a path through the opposing hosts, she charged with
them, and by the moonlight was seen standing like an angry goddess in
her chariot, and loosing arrows from her bow. Also no hurt came to her
or those with her, or even to the horses that drew her. It was as
though she were protected by some unseen strength, that caught the
sword cuts and turned aside the points of spears.
Yet it availed not, for the men of Abi were a multitude, and the royal
guard but very few. Slowly, an ever-lessening band, they were pressed
back, first to the walls of the old temple of Sekhet, and then within
its outer court. Now all who were left of them, not fifty men under
the command of Mermes, strove to hold the gate. Desperately they
fought, and one by one went down to death beneath the rain of spears.
Tua had dismounted from her chariot, and leaning on her bow, for all
her arrows were spent, watched the fray with Asti at her side. With a
yell the troops of Abi rushed through the gate, killing as they came.
Now, surrounded by all who remained to her, not a dozen men, they were
driven back through the inner courts, through the halls, to the pylon
Here the last stand was made. Step by step they held the stairs, till
at length there were left upon their feet only Tua, Asti and Mermes,
her husband, who was sorely wounded in many places. At the little
landing between the rooms of the Queen and Asti while the assailants
paused a moment, the Captain Mermes, mad with grief and pain, turned
and kissed his wife. Next he bowed before the Queen, saying:
"What a man may do, I have done to save your Majesty. Now I go to make
report to Pharaoh, leaving you in charge of Amen, who shall protect
you, and to Rames, my son, the heritage of vengeance. Farewell, O
Daughter of Amen, till I see your star rise in the darkness of the
Under-World, and to you, beloved wife, farewell."
Then, uttering the war-cry of his fathers, those Pharaohs who once had
ruled in Egypt, the tall and noble Mermes grasped his sword in both
his hands, and rushed upon the advancing foe, slaying and slaying
until he himself was slain.
"Come with me, O Wife of a royal hero," said Tua to Asti, who had
covered her eyes with her hand, and was leaning against the wall.
"Widow, not wife, Queen. Did you not see his spirit pass?"
Then Tua led her up more steps to the top of the pylon tower, where
Asti sank down moaning in her misery. Tua walked to the outermost edge
of the tower and stood there waiting the end. It was the moment of
dawn. On the eastern horizon the red rim of the sun arose out of the
desert in a clear sky. There upon that lofty pinnacle, clad in shining
mail, and wearing a helm shaped like the crown of Lower Egypt, Tua
stood in its glorious rays that turned her to a figure of fire set
above a world of shadow. The thousands of the people watching from the
streets below, and from boats upon the Nile, saw her, and raised a
shout of wonder and of adoration.
"The Daughter of Amen-Ra!" they cried. "Behold her clad in the glory
of the god!"
Soldiers crept up the stairs to the pylon roof and saw her also,
while, now that the fray was ended, with them came the Prince Abi.
"Seize her," he panted, for the stairs were steep and robbed him of
But the soldiers looked and shrank back before the Majesty of Egypt,
wrapped in her robe of light.
"We fear," they answered, "the ghost of Pharaoh stands before her."
Then Neter-Tua spoke, saying:
"Abi, once a Prince of Egypt and Hereditary Lord of Memphis, but now
an outcast murderer, black with the blood of your King, and of many a
loyal man, hear me, the anointed Queen of Egypt, hear me, O man upon
whom I decree the judgment of the first and second death. Come but one
step near to my Majesty, and before your eyes, and the eyes of all the
multitude who watch, I hurl myself from this hideous place into the
waters of the Nile. Yet ere I go to join dead Pharaoh, and side by
side with him to lay our plaint against you before the eternal gods,
listen to our curse upon you. From this day forward a snake shall prey
upon your vitals, gnawing upwards to your heart. The spirits of
Pharaoh and of all his servants whom you have slain shall haunt your
sleep; never shall you know one more hour of happy rest. Through life
henceforth you shall fly from a shadow, and if you climb a throne, it
shall be such a one as that on which I stand encircled with the
perilous depths of darkness. Thence you shall fall at last, dying by a
death of shame, and the evil gods shall seize upon you, O Traitor, and
drag you to the maw of the Eater-up of Souls, and therein you shall
vanish for ever for aye, you and all your House, and all those who
cling to you. Thus saith Neter-Tua, speaking with the voice of Amen
who created her, her father and the god of gods."
Now when the soldiers heard these dreadful words, one by one they
turned and crept down the stairs, till at last there were left upon
the pylon roof only the Queen, Asti crouching at her feet, and the
monstrous Abi, her uncle.
He looked at her, and thrice he tried to speak but failed, for the
words choked in his throat. A fourth time he tried, and they came
"Take off your curse, O mighty Queen," he said, "and I will let you
go. I am old, to-night all my lawful sons are dead; take off your
curse, leave me in my Government, and though I desire you more than
the throne of Egypt, O Beautiful, still I will let you go."
"Nay," answered the Queen, "I cannot if I would. It is not I who
spoke, but a Spirit in my mouth. Do your worst, O son of Set. The
curse remains upon you."
Now Abi shook in the fury of his fear, and answered:
"So be it, Star of Amen, having nothing more to dread I will do my
worst. Pharaoh my enemy is dead, and you, his daughter, shall be my
wife of your own free will, or since no man will lay a finger upon
you, here in this tower you shall starve. Death is not yet; I shall
have my day, it is sworn to me. Reign with me if you will, or starve
without me if you will--I tell you, Daughter of Amen, that I shall
have my day."
"And I tell you, Son of Set, that after the day comes the long terror
of that night which knows no morrow."
Then finding no answer, he too turned and went.
When he was gone Neter-Tua stood a while looking down upon the
thousands of people gathered in the great square where the battle had
been fought, who stared up at her in a deadly silence. Then she
descended from the coping-stone, and, taking Asti by the arm, led her
from the roof to the little chamber where she had slept.
Six days had gone by, and Queen Neter-Tua starved in the pylon tower.
Till now the water had held out for there was a good supply of it in
jars, but at last it was done, while, as for food, they had eaten
nothing except a store of honey which Asti took at night from the bees
that hived among the topmost pylon stones. That day the honey was done
also, and if had not been, without water to wash it down they could
have swallowed no more of the sickly stuff. Indeed, although in after
years in memory of its help, Neter-Tua chose the bee as her royal
symbol, never again could she bring herself to eat of the fruit of its
"Come, Nurse," said Tua, "let us go to the roof, and watch the setting
of Ra, perhaps for the last time, since I think that we follow him
through the Western Gates."
So they went, supporting each other up the steps, for they grew weak.
From this lofty place they saw that save on the Nile side of it which
was patrolled by the warships of Abi, all the temple was surrounded by
a double ring of soldiers, while beyond the soldiers, on the square
where the great fight had been, were gathered thousands of the people
who knew that the starving Queen was wont to appear thus upon the
pylon at sunset.
At the sight of her, clad in the mail which she still wore, a murmur
rose from them like the murmur of the sea, followed by a deep silence
since they dared not declare the pity which moved them all. In the
midst of this silence, whilst the sun sank behind the Pyramids of the
ancient kings, Neter-Tua lifted up her glorious voice and sang the
evening hymn to Amen-Ra. As the last notes died away in the still air,
again the murmur rose while the darkness gathered about the pylon,
hiding her from the gaze of men.
Hand in hand as they had come, the two deserted women descended the
stair to their sleeping-place.
"They dare not help us, Asti," said Tua, "let us lie down and die."
"Nay, Queen," answered Asti, "let us turn to one that giveth help to
the helpless. Do you remember the words spoken by the shining spirit
of Ahura the Divine?"
"I remember them, Asti."
"Queen, I have waited long, since the spell she whispered to me may be
used once only, but now I am sure that the moment is at hand when that
which dwells within you must be called forth to save you."
"Then call it forth, Asti," answered Tua wearily, "if you have the
power. If not, oh! let us die. But say, whom would you summon? The
glory of Amen or the ghost of Pharaoh, or Ahura, my mother, or one of
the guardian gods?"
"None of these," answered Asti, "for I have been bidden otherwise. Lie
you down and sleep, my fosterling, for I have much to do in the hours
of darkness. When you awake you shall learn all."
"Aye," said Tua, "when I awake, if ever I do awake. Is it in your mind
to kill me in my sleep, Asti? Is that your command? Well, if so, I
shall not blame you, for then I will break this long fast of mine with
Pharaoh and the divine mother, Ahura, who bore me, and together in the
pleasant Fields of Peace we will wait for Rames, my lover and your
son. Being a queen, they will give my burial in my father's tomb, and
that is all I crave of them, and of this weary world. Sing me to rest,
Nurse, as you were wont to do when I was little, and, if it be your
will, tarry not long behind me."
So she laid herself down upon the bed, and, taking her hand that had
grown so thin, the tall and noble Asti bent over her in the darkness,
and began to sing a gentle chant or lullaby.
Tua's eyes closed, her breath came slow and deep. Then Asti the
magician ceased her song and, gathering up her secret strength, put
out her prayers, prayer after prayer, till at length all her soul was
pure, and she dared to utter the awful spell that Ahura had whispered
in her ear. At the muttered, holy words wild voices cried through the
night, the solid pylon rocked, and in the city the crystal globe into
which Kaku and Merytra gazed was suddenly shattered between them, and,
white with terror at he knew not what, Abi sprang from his couch.
Then Asti also sank into sleep or swoon, and all was silent in that
chamber, silent as the grave.
Neter-Tua awoke. Through the pylon window-place crept the first grey
light of dawn. Her eyes searching the gloom fell first upon the dark-
robed figure of Asti sleeping in a chair, her head resting upon her
hand. Then a brightness drew them to the foot of her bed, and there,
clothed in a faint, white light, that seemed as though it were drawn
from the stars and the moon, wearing the Double Crown, and arrayed in
all the royal robes of Egypt, she saw--/herself/.
Now Tua knew that she dreamed, and for a long while lay still, for it
pleased her, starved and wretched as she was, a prisoner in the hands
of her foes, a netted bird, to let her fancy dwell upon this splendid
image of what she had been before an evil fate, speaking with the
voice of Merytra, Lady of the Footstool, had beguiled dead Pharaoh to
Memphis. If things had gone well with her, she should be as that image
was to-day, that image which wore her crown and robes of state, yes,
and her very jewels. Such were the changes of fortune even in the
lives of princes whose throne seemed to be set upon a rock, princes
whom the god of gods had fathered. Never before in her young life had
the thing come so home to her, for until now, even through the hunger
and the fear, her pride had borne her up. But in this chilly hour that
precedes the dawn, the hour when, as they say, men are wont to die, it
was otherwise with her. Her end was near--she knew it and understood
that between the mightiest monarch in the world and the humblest
peasant maid at the last there is no difference, save perchance a
difference of the soul within.
Here she lay, a shadow, who must choose between a miserable end by
thirst and hunger, or a loathsome marriage. And what availed it that
she was called Morning-Star of Amen, she the only child of Pharaoh and
of his royal wife, and that when she was dead they would grant her a
state funeral, and inscribe her name among the lists of kings, while
Abi, the foul usurper, sat upon her throne. Here on the bed lay what
she was, there at the foot of it stood what she should be if the gods
had not deserted her.
Her poor heart was filled with bitterness like a cup with vinegar,
bitterness flowed through her in the place of blood. It seemed hard to
die so young, she whom men named a god; to die robbed of her crown,
robbed of her vengeance, and taking with her her deep, unfruitful
love. Would she and Rames meet beyond the grave, she wondered? Would
they wed and bear children there, who should rule as Pharaohs in the
Under-world? Would Osiris redeem her mortal flesh, and Amen the
Father, receive her; or would she rush down into everlasting blackness
where sleep is all in all?
Oh! for one hour of strength and freedom, one short hour while at the
head of her armies she rolled down upon rebellious Memphis in her
might, and trod its high walls flat, and gave its palaces to the
flames, and cast its accursed prince to the jaws of crocodiles. Her
sunk eyes flashed at the thought of it, and her wasted bosom heaved,
and lo! the eyes of that royal queen of her dreams flashed also as
though in answer, and on its breast the jewels rose as though pride or
anger lifted them.
Then this marvel came to pass, for the beautiful face--could her own
ever have been so beautiful?--the imperial face, bent forward a
little, and from the red lips came a soft voice, her own rich voice,
"Speak your will, Queen, and it shall be done. I, who stand here, am
your servant to command, O Morning-Star, O Amen's royal child."
Tua sat up in her bed and laughed at the vision.
"My will!" she said. "O Dream, why do you mock me? Let me think. What
is my will? Well, Dream, it is that of the beggar at the gate--I
desire a drink of water, and a crust of bread."
"They are there," answered the figure, pointing with the crystal
sceptre in her hand to the table beside the couch.
Idly enough Tua looked, and so it was! On the table stood pure water
in a silver cup, and by it cakes of bread upon a golden platter. She
stretched out her hand, for surely this fantasy was pleasant, and took
that ghost of a silver cup, her own cup that Pharaoh had given her as
a child, and brought it to her lips and drank, and lo! water pure and
cold flowed down her throat, until at length even her raging thirst
was satisfied. Then she stretched out her hand again, and took the
loaves of bread, and ate them hungrily till all were gone, and as she
swallowed the last of them, exclaimed in bitter shame:
"Oh! what a selfish wretch am I who have drunk and eaten all, leaving
nothing for my foster-mother, Asti, who lies asleep, and dies of want
as I did."
"Fear not," answered the Dream. "Look, there are more for Asti." And
it was true, for the silver cup brimmed once more with cold water, and
on the golden platter were other cakes.
Now the Dream spoke again:
"Surely," it said, "there were other wishes in your heart, O Morning-
Star, than that for human sustenance?"
"Aye, O Dream, I wished for vengeance upon Abi, the traitor, Abi the
murderer of my father, who would bring me to the last shame of
womanhood. I wished for vengeance upon Abi, and all who cling to him."
The bright figure bowed, stretching out its jewelled hands, and
"I am your servant to obey. It shall be worked, O Queen, such
vengeance as you cannot dream of, vengeance poured drop by drop like
poison in his veins, the torment of disappointed love, the torment of
horrible fear, the torment of power given and snatched away, the
torment of a death of shame, and the everlasting torment of the Eater-
up of Souls--this vengeance shall be worked upon Abi and all who cling
to him. Was there not another wish in your heart, O Morning-Star, O
"Aye," answered Tua, "but I may not speak it all even to myself in
"It shall be given to you, O Morning-Star. You shall find your love
though far away beyond the horizon, and he shall return with you, and
you twain shall rule in the Upper and the Lower Land, and in all the
lands beyond with glory such as has not been known in Egypt."
Now, at length, Tua seemed to awake. She rubbed her eyes and looked.
There was the sleeping Asti; there on the table beside her were the
water and the bread; there at the foot of the couch, glimmering in the
low lights of dawn, was the glorious figure of herself draped in the
"Who, and what are you?" she cried. "Are you a god or a spirit, or are
you but a mocking vision caught in the web of my madness?"
"I am none of these things, O Morning-Star, I am yourself. I am that
Ka whom our father Amen gave to you at birth to dwell with you and
protect you. Do you not remember me when as a child we played
"I remember," answered Tua. "You warned me of the danger of the sacred
crocodile in the Temple tank, but since then I have never seen you.
What gives you the strength to appear in the flesh before me, O
"The magic of Asti with which she has been endowed from on high to
save you, Neter-Tua, that gives me strength. Know that although you
cannot always see me, I am your eternal companion. Through life I go
with you, and when you die I watch in your tomb, perfect,
incorruptible, preserving your wisdom, your loveliness, and all that
is yours, until the day of resurrection. I have power, I have the
secret knowledge which dwells in you, although you cannot grasp it; I
remember the Past, the infinite, infinite Past that you forget, I
foresee the Future, the endless, endless Future that is hidden from
you, to which the life you know is but as a single leaf upon the tree,
but as one grain of sand in the billions of the Desert. I look upon
the faces of the gods, and hear their whisperings; Fate gives me his
book to read; I sleep secure in the presence of the Eternal who sent
me forth, and to whom at last I return again, my journey ended, my
work fulfilled, bearing you in my holy arms. O Morning-Star, the
spells of Asti have clothed me in this magic flesh, the might of Amen
has set me on my feet. I am here, your servant, to obey."
Now, amazed, bewildered, Tua called out:
"Awake, Nurse, awake, for I am mad. It seems to me that a messenger
from on high, robed in my own flesh, stands before me and speaks with
Asti opened her eyes, and, perceiving the beautiful figure, rose and
did obeisance to it, but said no word.
"Be seated," said the Ka, "and hear me, time is short. I awoke at the
summons, I came forth, I am present, I endure until the spell is taken
off me, and I return whence I came. O Interpreter, speak the will of
her of whom I am, that I may do it in my own fashion. There is food--
eat and drink, then speak."
So Asti ate and drank as Tua had done, and when she had finished and
was satisfied, behold! the cup and the platter vanished away. Next in
a slow, quiet voice she spoke, saying:
"O Shadow of this royal Star, by my spells incorporate, this is our
case: Here we starve in misery, and without the gate Abi waits the
end. If the Queen lives, he will take her who hates him to be his
wife; if she dies he will seize her throne. Our wisdom is finished.
What must we do to save this Star that it may shine serene until its
appointed hour of setting?"
"Is that all you seek?" asked the Double, when she had finished.
"Nay," broke in Tua hurriedly, "I would not shine alone, I seek
another Star to share my sky with me."
"Have you faith and will you obey?" asked the Double again. "For
without faith I can do nothing."
Now Asti looked at Tua who bowed her head in assent to an unspoken
question, then she answered:
"We have faith, we will obey."
"So be it," said the Shadow. "Presently Abi will come to ask whether
the Queen consents to be his wife, or whether she will bide here until
she dies. I who wear the fashion of the Queen will go forth and be his
wife, oh! such a wife as man never had before," and as she spoke the
words an awful look swept across her face, and her deep eyes flamed.
"Ill goes it with the mortal man who weds a wraith that hates him and
is commanded to work his woe," she added.
Now Asti and Tua understood and smiled, then the Queen said:
"So you will sit in my seat, O Shadow, and as your lord, Abi will sit
on Pharaoh's throne and find it hard. But what of Egypt and my
"Fear not for Egypt and your people, O Morning Star. With these it
shall go well enough until you come back to claim them."
"And what of my companion and myself?" asked Tua.
The Double raised her sceptre, and pointed to the open window-space
between them, beneath which, hundreds of feet beneath, ran the milky
waters of the river.
"You shall trust yourselves to the bosom of Father Nile," she answered
Now the Queen and Asti stared at each other.
"That means," said Tua, "that we must trust ourselves to Osiris, for
none can fall so far and live."
"Think you so, O Star? Where, then, is that faith you promised,
without which I can do nothing? Nay, I tell no more. Do my bidding, or
let me go, and deal with Abi as it pleases you. Choose now, he draws
near," and as she spoke the words they heard the bronze gates of the
temple clash upon their hinges.
Tua shivered at the sound, then sprang from the couch, and drew
herself to her full height, exclaiming:
"For my part I have chosen. Never shall it be said that Pharaoh's
daughter was a coward. Better the breast of Osiris than the arms of
Abi, or slow death in a dungeon. In Amen and in thee, O Double, I put
The Shadow looked from her to Asti, who answered briefly:
"Where my Lady goes there I follow, knowing that Mermes always waits.
What shall we do?"
The Ka motioned to them to stand together in the narrow winding-place,
and this they did, their arms about each other. Next she lifted her
sceptre and spoke some word.
Then fire flashed before their eyes, a rush of wind beat upon their
brows, and they knew no more.
THE DREAM OF ABI
On the night of the drawing-forth of the Ka of Neter-Tua, Kaku the
wizard, and Merytra the spy, she who had been Lady of the Footstool to
Pharaoh, sat together in that high chamber where Merytra had vowed her
vow, and received the magic image.
"Why do you look so disturbed?" asked the astrologer of his accomplice
who glanced continually over her shoulder, and seemed very ill at
ease. "All has gone well. If Set himself had fashioned that image, it
could not have done its work more thoroughly."
"Thoroughly, indeed," broke in Merytra in an angry voice. "You have
tricked me, Wizard, I promised to help you to lame Pharaoh, not to
"Hush! Beloved," said Kaku nervously, "murder is an ugly word, and
murderers come to ugly ends--sometimes. Is it your fault if an
accursed fool of a priest chose to burn the mannikin upon an altar,
and thus bring this god to his lamented end?"
"No," answered Merytra, "not mine, or the priest's, but yours, and
that hog, Abi's; and Set's the master of both of you. But I shall get
the blame of it, for the Queen and Asti know the truth, and soon or
late it will come out, and they will burn me as a sorceress, sending
me to the Underworld with the blood of Pharaoh upon my hands. Pharaoh
who never did me aught but good. And then, what will happen to me?"
Evidently Kaku did not know, for he rose and stood opposite to her,
scratching his lean chin and smiling in a sickly, indeterminate
fashion that enraged Merytra.
"Cease grinning at me like an ape of the rocks," she said, "and tell
me, what is to be the end of this evil business?"
"Why trouble about ends, Fair One?" he asked. "They are always a long
way off; indeed, the best philosophers hold that there is no such
thing as an end. You know the sacred symbol of a snake with its tail
in its mouth that surrounds the whole world, but begins where it ends,
and ends where it begins. It may be seen in any tomb----"
"Cease your talk of snakes and tombs," burst in Merytra. "The thought
of them makes me shudder."
"By all means, Beloved. I have always held that we Egyptians dwell too
much on tombs, and--whatever it may be that lies beyond them, which
after all remains a matter of doubt--fortunately. So let us turn from
tombs and corpses to palaces and life. As I said just now, although we
grieve over the accident of Pharaoh's death, and that of all his guard
--and I may add, of Abi's four legitimate sons, things have gone well
for us. To-day I have received from the Prince, in writing, my
appointment as Vizier, and first King's companion, to come into force
when he mounts the throne as he must do, and to-day you have received
from me, with all the usual public rites and ceremonies, the name of
wife, as I promised that you should. Merytra, you are the wife of the
great Vizier, the pre-eminent lord, the sole Companion of the King of
Egypt, a high position for one who after all during the late reign was
but Pharaoh's favourite, and Lady of the Footstool."
"A footstool of silk is more comfortable to sit on than a state chair
fashioned of blood-stained swords. Hearken you, Kaku! I am afraid. You
say that you are the greatest of seers, and can read the future. Well,
I desire to know the future, so if you are not a charlatan, show it to
"A charlatan! How can you suggest it, Merytra, remembering the
adventure of the image?"
"That may have been an accident. Pharaoh was sickly for years, and had
a stroke before. If you are not a cheat show me the future in that
magic crystal. I would learn the worst, so that I may know how to meet
it when it comes."
"Well, Wife, we will try, though to see such high visions the spirit
should be calm, which I fear yours is not--nay, be not angry. We will
try, we will try. Sit here now, and gaze, and above all be silent
while I say the appropriate spells."
So the ball of crystal having been set upon the table, the pair stared
into it as Kaku muttered his charms and invocations. For a long while
Merytra saw nothing, till suddenly a shadow gathered in the ball,
which slowly cleared away, revealing the image of dead Pharaoh clothed
in his mummy wrappings. As she started back to scream the image seemed
to loose its hands from the cloths that bound them, and strike
outwards, whereon the crystal suddenly shattered, so that the pieces
of it flew about the room, one of which struck her on the mouth,
knocking out two of her front teeth, and gashing her lips.
Merytra uttered a cry, and fell backwards to the floor, while Kaku
sprang from his chair as though to run away, then thought better of
it, and stood still, shivering with fear.
"What was that?" said Merytra, rising from the ground, and wiping the
blood from her cut mouth.
"I do not know," answered Kaku, in a quavering voice. "It would seem
that the gods deny to us that knowledge of the future which you
sought. Be content with the present, Merytra."
"Content with the present," she screamed, infuriated. "Look at what
the present has given me--a mouthful of blood and teeth. I, who was
beautiful, am spoiled for ever; I am become an old hag. Pharaoh burst
the ball with his hand, and threw the pieces at me. I saw him do it,
and you set him there. Wretch, I will pay you back for this evil
trick," and springing at Kaku, she tore of his astrologer's cap, and
the wig beneath it, and beat his bald head with them till he cried for
It was at this moment that the door opened, and through it,
breathless, white with terror, half-clothed, appeared none other than
the Prince Abi.
"What passes here?" he gasped, sinking into a chair. "Is this the way
you conduct your midnight studies, Kaku?"
"Certainly not, most high Lord," replied the astrologer, trying to bow
with his eye fixed on Merytra, who stood by him, the torn wig in her
hand, in the act of striking. "Certainly not, exalted Prince. A
domestic difference, that is all. This wild cat of a woman whom I have
married having met with an accident, gave way to her devilish temper."
"Repeat that," exclaimed Merytra, "and I will throw you from the
window-place to find out whether your sorceries can make paving-stones
as soft as air. See, Lord, what he has done to me by his accursed
wizardry," and she exhibited her two front teeth in her shaking hand.
"I say that he set the spirit of Pharaoh whom he beguiled me to do to
death, in the crystal, for I saw him there wrapped in his mummy
clothes, and caused dead Pharaoh to burst the crystal and stone me
with its fragments."
"Be silent, Woman," shouted Abi, "or I will have you beaten with rods,
till your feet hurt more than your mouth. What is this about the
spirit of Pharaoh, Kaku? Is he everywhere, for know, it is of Pharaoh,
the dweller in Osiris, that I came to speak to you."
"Most exalted Ruler of the North, Son of Royal Blood, Hereditary Count
who shall be King----"
"Cease your titles, Knave," exclaimed Abi, "and listen, for I need
counsel, and if you cannot give it I will find one who can. Just now I
lay on my bed asleep, and a dreadful vision came to me. I dreamed that
I woke up, and feeling a weight on the bed beside me turned to learn
what it was, and saw there the body of my brother, Pharaoh, in his
"As I saw him in the ball," broke in Merytra. "Did he pelt you also, O
"Nay, Woman, he did worse, he spoke to me. He said--'You, my brother,
to whom I forgave all your sins, you and the woman-snake that I
cherished in my bosom, and your servant, the black-souled magician,
her accomplice, have done me miserably to death, and set the Queen of
both the Lands, Amen's royal child, to starve in yonder tower with the
noble lady Asti, until she dies or takes you to be her husband--you,
her uncle, who seek her beauty and my throne. Now I have a message for
you from the gods, who write down these things in their eternal books
against the day of judgment, when we all shall meet and plead our
cause before them, Osiris the Redeemer standing on the right hand, and
the Eater-up of Souls standing on the left.
"'This is the message, O Abi--Go to the Temple of Sekhet at the dawn.
There you shall find that Royal Loveliness which you desire. Take it
to be your wife as you desire, for it shall not say you nay. Be wedded
to that Loveliness with pomp before all the eyes of Egypt, and reign
by right of that Royalty, until you meet one Rames, son of Mermes,
whom you also murdered, and with him a certain Beggar-man who is
charged with another message for you, O Abi. Ascend the Nile to
Thebes, and lay this body of mine in the splendid tomb which I have
made ready and sit in my seat, and do those things which that Royal
Loveliness you have wed, commands to you, for It you shall obey. But
hasten, hasten, Abi, to hollow for yourself a grave, and let it be
near to mine, for when you are dead this my Ka would come to visit
you, as it does to-night.'
"Then the Ka or the body of Pharaoh--I know not which it was--ceased
from speaking, and lay there a while staring at me with its cold eyes,
till at length the spirits of my four sons who are dead entered the
chamber and, lifting up the shape, carried it away. I awoke, shaking
like a reed in the wind, and ran hither up a thousand steps to find
you brawling with this low-born slut, dead Pharaoh's worn-out shoe
that in bygone years I kicked from off my foot."
Now Merytra would have answered, for she loved not such names, but the
two men looked at her so fiercely that her rage died, and she was
"Read me this vision, Man, and be swift, for the torment of it haunts
me," went on Abi. "If you cannot I strip you of your offices, and give
your carcase to the rods until you find wisdom. It was you who set me
on this path, and by the gods you shall keep me safe in it or die by
Now, seeing his great danger, Kaku grew cold and cunning.
"It is true, O Prince," he said, "that I set you on this path, this
high and splendid path, and it is true also that from the beginning I
have kept you safe in it. Had it not been for me and my counsel, long
ago you would have become but a forgotten traitor. Remember that night
at Thebes, when in your pride you desired to smite at the heart of
Pharaoh, and how I held your hand, and remember how, many a time, my
wisdom has been your guide, when left to your own rash folly you must
have failed or perished. It is true also, Prince, that in the future
as in the past, with me and by me you stand or fall. Yet if you think
otherwise, find some wiser man to lead you, and wait the end. All the
rods in Egypt cannot be broken on my back, O Abi. Now shall I speak
who alone have knowledge, or will you seek another counsellor?"
"Speak on," answered Abi sullenly, "we are fish in the same net, and
share each other's fortune to the end, whether it be Set's gridiron or
fat Egypt's pleasure pond. Fear not, what I have promised you shall
have while it is mine to give."
"Just now you promised rods," remarked Kaku, making a wry face and
replacing the remains of his wig upon his bald head, "but let that
pass. Now as to this dream of yours, I find its meaning good. How did
Pharaoh come to you? Not as a living spirit, but in the fashion of a
dead man, and who cares for dead men?"
"I do, for one, when they cut my mouth with broken crystals,"
interrupted Merytra, who was bathing her wounds in a basin of water.
"Would that they had cut your tongue instead of your lips, Woman,"
snarled Abi. "Continue, Kaku, and heed her not."
"And what was his message?" went on the magician. "Why, that you shall
marry the Majesty of Egypt, and rule in her right and sit in the seat
of kings. Are not these the very things that you desire, and have
worked for years to win?"
"Yes, Kaku, but you forget all that about one Rames, and the tomb that
I must hollow, and the rest."
"Rames? Merytra here can tell you of him, Prince. He is the madcap
young Count who killed the Prince of Kesh, and was sent by Neter-Tua
far to the South-lands, that the barbarians there might make an end of
him without scandal. If ever he should come back with the Beggar-man
and his message, which is not likely, you can answer him with the
halter he deserves."
"Aye, Kaku, but how will the Queen answer him? There are stories
"Lies, every one of them, Prince. She would have executed him at once
had it not been for the influence of Mermes, and her foster-mother,
Asti. This Rames has in him the royal blood of the last dynasty, and
the Star of Amen is not one who will share her sky with a rival star,
unless he be her lawful Lord, which is your part. If Rames or the foul
Beggar brings you any message it will be that you are King of Kesh as
well as of Egypt, and then you can kill him and take the heritage. A
fig for Rames and its stalk for the Beggar!"
"Perhaps," replied Abi more cheerfully, "at any rate I do not fear
that risk; but how about all Pharaoh's talk of tombs?"
"Being dead, Prince, it is natural that the mind of his Ka should run
on tombs, and his own royal burial, which as a matter of policy we
must give to him. Besides there the prophesy was safe, since to these
same tombs all must come, especially those of us who have seen the
Nile rise over sixty times--as I have," he added hastily. "When we
reach the tomb it will be time to deal with its affairs; till then let
us be content with life, and the good things it offers, such as
thrones, and find the love of the most beautiful woman in the world,
and the rest. Harvest your corn when it is ripe, Prince, and do not
trouble about next year's crop or whether in his grave Pharaoh's
Double eats white bread or brown. Pharaoh's daughter--or Amen's--is
your business, not his ghost."
"Yes, good soothsayer," said Abi, "she is my business. But one more
question. Why did that accursed mummy speak of her as 'It'--in my
dream I mean--as though she were no woman, but something beyond
For a moment Kaku hesitated, for the point was hard to answer, then he
"Because as I believe, Prince, this Queen with whom the gods are
rewarding your deserts is in truth more than woman, being Amen's very
daughter, and therefore in those realms whence the dream came, she is
known not as woman, but by her title of Royal Loveliness. Oh!" went on
Kaku, simulating an enthusiasm that in truth did not glow within his
breast, "great and glorious is your lot, King of the world, and
splendid the path which I have opened to your triumphant feet. It was
I who showed you how Pharaoh might be trapped in Memphis, being but a
poor fool easy to deceive, and it was I--or rather Merytra yonder--who
rid you of him. And now it is I, the Master whom you threatened with
rods, that alone can interpret to you the happy omen of a dream which
you thought fearsome. Think of the end of it, Prince, and banish every
doubt. Who bore away the shape of Pharaoh? Why the spirits of your
sons, thus symbolising the triumph of your House."
"At least they will have no share in it, Kaku, for they are dead,"
said Abi with a groan, for he had loved his sons.
"What of that, Prince? They died bravely, and we mourn them, but here
again Fortune is with you, for had they lived trouble might have
arisen between them and those other sons which the Queen of Egypt
shall bear to you."
"Mayhap, mayhap," replied Abi, waving his hand, for the subject was
painful to him, "but this Queen is not yet my wife. She is starving in
yonder tower, and what am I to do? If I try to force my presence upon
her, she will destroy herself as she swore, and if I leave her there
any longer, being mortal, she must die. Moreover, I dare not, for even
these folk of Memphis, who love me, begin to murmur. Egypt's Queen is
Egypt's Queen, and they will not suffer that she should perish
miserably, being beautiful and young, and one who takes all hearts.
This night at sunset they gathered in tens of thousands round the
tower to hear her sing that evening hymn to Ra, and afterwards marched
past my palace, shouting in the darkness, 'Give food to Her Majesty,
and free her, or we will.' Moreover, by now the news must have come to
Thebes, and there a great army will gather to liberate or avenge her.
What am I to do, Prophet?"
"Do what dead Pharaoh bade you in your dream, Prince. At the hour of
dawn go to the Temple of Sekhet, where you will find the Queen become
obedient to your wishes, for did not the dream declare that she will
not say you nay? Then lead her to your palace, and marry her in the
face of all men, and rule by right of her Majesty and of your own
"It can be tried," said Abi, "for then, at least, we shall learn what
truth there is in dreams. But what of this Asti her companion?"
"Asti has been an ill guide to her Majesty, Prince," replied Kaku,
rubbing his chin as he always did when there was mischief in his mind.
"Moreover, she is advanced in years, and must be weak with grief and
hunger. If she still lives Merytra here will take her in charge and
care for her. You are old friends, are you not, Merytra?"
"Very," answered that lady with emphasis, "like the cat and the bird
which were pets of the same master. Well, we shall have much to say to
each other. Only, beware, Husband, Asti is no weakling. Your magic may
be strong, but hers is stronger, for she is a great priestess and
draws it from gods--not devils."
So it came about that at dawn Prince Abi, clad in magnificent robes,
and accompanied by Councillors, among them Kaku, and by a small guard,
was carried in a litter to the gates of the old temple of Sekhet,
being too heavy to walk so far, and there descended. As there were
none to defend them these gates were opened easily enough, and they
passed through, leaving the guard without. When they came to the inner
court, Abi stopped and asked where they should search.
"In one place only, your Highness," answered Kaku, "that pylon tower
which overlooks the Nile, for there her Majesty starves with Asti."
"Pylon tower," grumbled Abi. "Have I not climbed enough steps this
night? Still, lead on."
So they went to the narrow stair, up which the thin Kaku ran like a
cat, while the officers pushed and led the huge Abi behind him. On the
third landing they all halted at Abi's command.
"Hurry not," he said in a thick whisper. "Her Majesty dwells on the
next floor of this hateful tower, and since Asti is with her she
cannot be surprised. Beware, then, of frightening her by your sudden
appearance, lest she should run to the top of the pylon, and hurl
herself into the Nile, as she has sworn that she will do. Halt now,
and I will call to her when I have got my breath."
So after a while he called, saying:
"O Queen, cease to starve yourself in this miserable abode, and come
down to dwell in plenty with your faithful subject."
He called it once, and twice, and thrice, but there was no answer. Now
Abi grew afraid.
"She must have perished," he said, "and Egypt will demand her blood at
my hands. Kaku, go up and see what has happened. You are a magician,
and have nothing to fear."
But the astrologer thought otherwise, and hesitated, till Abi in a
rage lifted his cedar wand to strike him on the back. Then he went,
step by step, slowly, pausing at each step to address prayers and
praises to her Majesty of Egypt. At length he came to the door of the
Queen's chamber, and kneeling down, peeped into it, to see that it was
quite empty. Next he crawled across the landing to the chamber
opposite, that which had been Asti's, and found it empty also. Then,
made bold by fear, he ascended to the pylon roof. But here, too, there
was no one to be seen. So he returned, and told Abi, who shouted:
"By Ptah, great Lord of Memphis! either she has escaped to raise Egypt
on me, or she has sought death in the Nile to raise the gods upon me,
which is worse. So much for your interpretation of dreams, O Cheat."
"Wait till you are sure before you call me such names, Prince,"
replied Kaku indignantly. "Let us search the temple, she may be
So they searched it court by court, and chamber by chamber, till they
came to that inner hall in front of the Sanctuary where Pharaoh had
set up his throne while he sojourned at Memphis. This hall was a dark
place, into which light flowed only through the gratings in the
clerestory, being roofed in with blocks of granite laid upon its
lotus-shaped columns. Now, at the hour of sunrise, the gloom in it was
still deep, so deep that the searchers felt their way from pillar to
pillar, seeing nothing. Presently, however, a ray of light from the
rising sun sped through the opening shaped like the eye of Osiris in
the eastern wall, and as it had done for thousands of years, struck
upon the shrine of the goddess, and the throne that was set in front
of it, revealing the throne, and seated thereon Neter-Tua, her Majesty
Glorious she looked indeed, a figure of flame set in the midst of
darkness. The royal robe she wore glittered in the sunlight, glittered
her sceptre, her jewels, and the /urĉi/ on her Double Crown, but more
than all of them glittered her fierce and splendid eyes. Indeed, there
was something so terrible in those eyes that the beholders who
discovered them thus suddenly, shrank back, whispering to each other
that here sat a goddess, not a woman. For in her calmness, her proud
beauty and her silence, she seemed like an immortal, one victorious
who had triumphed over death, not a woman who for seven days had
starved within a tower.
They shrank back, they huddled themselves together in the doorway, and
there remained whispering till the growing light fell on them also.
But the figure on the throne took no heed, only stared over their
heads as though it were lost in mystery and thought.
At length Kaku, gathering courage, said to Abi:
"O Prince, there is your bride, such a bride as never man had before.
Go now and take her," and all the others echoed:
"Go now, O Prince, and take her."
Thus adjured for very shame's sake Abi advanced, looking often behind
him, till he came to the foot of the throne, and stood there bowing.
For a long while he stood bowing thus, till he grew weary indeed, for
he knew not what to say. Then suddenly a clear and silvery voice spoke
above him, asking:
"What do you here, Lord of Memphis? Why are you not in the cell where
Pharaoh bound you? Oh! I remember--the footstool-bearer, Merytra, your
paid spy, let you out, did she not? Why is she not here with Kaku the
Sorcerer, who fashioned the enchanted image that did Pharaoh to death?
Is it because she stays to doctor those false lips of hers that were
cut last night before you went to ask yonder Kaku to interpret a
certain dream which came to you?"
"How did you learn these things? Have you spies in my palace, O
"Yes, my uncle, I have spies in your palace and everywhere. What Amen
sees his daughter knows. Now you have come to lead me away to be your
wife, have you not? Well, I await you, I am ready. Do it if you dare!"
"If I dare? Why should I not dare, O Queen?" asked Abi in a doubtful
"Surely that question is one for you to answer, Count of Memphis and
its subject nomes. Yet tell me this--why did the magic crystal burst
asunder without cause in the chamber of Kaku last night, and why do
you suppose that Kaku interpreted to you all the meaning of your dream
--he who will never tell the truth unless it be beneath the rods?"
"I do not know, Queen," answered Abi, "but with Kaku I can speak
later, if need be after the fashion you suggest," and he glanced at
the magician wrathfully.
"No, Prince Abi, you know nothing, and Kaku knows nothing, save that
rods break the backs of snakes, unless they can find a wall to hide
in," and she pointed to the astrologer slinking back into the shadow.
"No one knows anything save me, to whom Amen gives wisdom with sight
of the future, and what I know I keep. Were it otherwise, O Abi, I
could tell you things that would turn your grey hair white, and to
Kaku and Merytra the spy, promise rewards that would make the torture-
chamber seem a bed of down. But it is not lawful, nor would they sound
pleasant in this bridal hour."
Now while Kaku between his chattering teeth muttered the words of
Protection in the shadow, Abi and his courtiers stared at this
terrible queen as boys seeking wild fowls' eggs in the reeds, and
stumbling on a lion, stare ere they fly. Twice, indeed, the Prince
turned looking towards the door and the pleasant light without, for it
seemed to him that he was entering on a dark and doubtful road. Then
"Your words, O Queen, cut like a two-edged sword, and methinks they
leave a poison in the wound. Say now, if you are human, how it comes
about that after seven days of want your flesh is not minished nor has
your beauty waned. Say also who brought to you those glorious robes
you wear here in this empty temple, and where is your foster-mother,
"The gods fed me," answered the Queen gently, "and brought me these
robes that I might seem the more worthy of you, O Prince. And as for
Asti, I sent her to Cyprus to fetch a scent they make there and
nowhere else. No, I forgot, it was yesterday she went to bring the
scent from Cyprus that now is on my hair; to-day she is in Thebes,
seeing to a business of mine. That is no secret, I will tell it you--
it is as to the carving of all the history of his murder and betrayal
in the first chamber of the Pharaoh's tomb."
Now at these magical and ill-omened words the courage of the company
left them, so that they began to walk backwards towards the door, Abi
going with them.
"What!" cried the Queen in a voice of sorrow that yet seemed laden
with mockery. "Would you leave me here alone? Do my power and my
wisdom frighten you? Alas! I cannot help them, for when the full vase
is tilted the wine will run out, and when light is set behind
alabaster, then the white stone must shine. Yet am I one meet to adorn
the palace of the King, even such a king as you shall be, O Abi, whom
Osiris loves. See, now, I will dance and sing to you as once I sang to
the Prince of Kesh before the sword of Rames took away his life, so
that you may judge of me, Abi, you, who have looked upon so many
As she spoke, very slowly, so slowly that they could scarcely see her
move, she glided from the throne, and standing before them, began to
move her feet and body, and to chant a song.
What were the words of that song none could ever remember, but to
every man there present it opened a door in his heart, and brought
back the knowledge of youth. She whom he had loved best danced before
him, her tender hands caressed him; the words she sang were sighs
which the dead had whispered in his ears. Even to Abi, old, unwieldy
and steeped in cunning, these soft visions came, although it is true
that it seemed to him that this lovely singer led him to a precipice,
and that when she ceased her song and appeared to vanish, to seek her
he leapt into the clouds that rushed beneath.
Now the dance was done, and the last echoes of the music died away
against the ancient walls whence the images of Sekhet the cat-headed
watched them with her cruel smile of vengeance. The dance was done,
and the beautiful dancer stood before them unflushed, unheated, but
"Now go, divine Prince," she said, "and you his followers, go, all of
you, and leave me to my lonely house, until Pharaoh sends for me to
share that new realm which he inherits beyond the West."
But they would not go and could not if they would, for some power
bound them to her, while, as for Abi he scarce could take his eyes
from her, but heedless of who heard them, babbled out his passion at
her feet, while the rest glowered on him jealously. She listened
always smiling that same smile that was so sweet, yet so inhuman. Then
when he stopped exhausted, at last she spoke, saying:
"What! do you love now more greatly than you fear, as the divine
Prince of Kesh loved after Amen's Star had sung to him. May your fate
be happier, O noble Abi, but that, since it is not lawful that I
should tell it to you, you shall discover. Abi, there shall be a royal
marriage in Memphis of such joy and feasting as has not been known in
the history of the Northern or the Southern Land, and for your
allotted span you shall sit by the side of Egypt's Queen and shine in
her light. Have you not earned the place by right of blood, O
conqueror of Pharaoh, and did not Pharaoh promise it to you in your
sleep? Come, the sun of this new day shines, let us walk in it, and
bid farewell to shadows."
THE ROYAL MARRIAGE
A strange rumour ran through Memphis. It was said that the Queen had
yielded; it was said that she would marry the Prince Abi, that she was
already at the great White House waiting to be made a bride. Men
wrangled about in the streets. They swore that it could not be true,
for would this high lady, the anointed Pharaoh of Egypt, take her
father's murderer, and her own uncle to husband? Would she not rather
die in her prison tower on which night by night they had seen her
stand and sing? In their hearts they thought that she should die, for
thus they had summed her up, this pure, high-hearted daughter of Amen,
whom Fate had caught in an evil net. Yes, being men they held that she
ought to die, and leave a story in the world, whereof Egypt could be
proud for ever.
But their wives and daughters mocked at them. After all she was but a
woman, they argued, and was it likely that she would throw aside the
pomp of rule and the prospect of long years in order to steal away
into the shadows of a forgotten tomb? Henceforth, it was true, she
must take second place, for Abi would be a stern master to her. Still,
any place was better than a funeral barge. She had felt the pinch of
hunger yonder in that old temple; her fierce spirit had been tamed;
she had kissed the rod, and after long years of waiting, Abi would be
Pharaoh in Egypt.
The dispute grew hot, for even those men who rebelled against her, in
their hearts had set her high, and grieved to think of her, the divine
Lady, bowing her neck to the common yoke of circumstance, and selling
herself for safety, and a seat on the steps of her own throne. But the
women mocked on, and showed them that as they had always said, she was
no better than others of her sex.
Presently the matter was settled, for heralds appeared crying
throughout the city that the marriage would take place in the great
hall of the White House one hour before sundown. Then the women
laughed in triumph, and the men were silent.
It was the appointed hour, and that hall was filled to overflowing by
all who could gain entrance there. Between the towering obelisks that
stood on either side the open cedar doors, folk hung upon its steps
like hiving bees; the vast square without and all the streets that led
to it were black with them. Here, it is true, they could see nothing,
still they fought for the merest foothold, and some of those who fell
never rose again. At the head of the hall were set two thrones, the
greater and the richer throne for Abi the Prince, the lesser throne
for Neter-Tua the Queen. He had arranged it thus since Kaku the
cunning pointed out to him that from the first he should show the
people that it was he who ruled, and not Pharaoh's daughter.
It was the appointed hour, and at some signal from every temple top
rang out the blare of trumpets. Thrice they sounded, and echoed into
silence in that hot, still air, thus announcing that in the temple of
Hathor, and the presence of the priests of all the gods, the hands of
Abi and Neter-Tua had been joined in marriage.
Another rumour began to run among the crowd; like the ring set
circling by a stone in water it spread from mouth to mouth, ever
widening as it went.
Marvels had happened in the temple of Hathor, that was the rumour.
Moreover it gave details: that the High-Priest had handed to the bride
the accustomed lotus-bud, the flower of the goddess, and lo! it opened
in her hand. Also, it was said, that presently the stem of it turned
to a sceptre of gold, and the cup of the bloom to sapphire stones more
perfect far than any from the desert mines.
Nor was this all, so went the tale, for when, as he must, the
bridegroom Abi offered the white dove to Hathor in her shrine, a hawk
swept through the doorway and smote it in his very hand. Yes, there in
the gloom of the shrine smote it and left it dead, blood running from
its beak and breast, dead upon the knees of the goddess; left it and
was gone again!
Now what hawk, asked the people of each other, dare such a deed as
this, unless in truth it was sent by the hawk-headed Horus, the son of
Soon these matters were forgotten for the moment, since now it was
known that the royal pair were entering the great White Hall, there to
show themselves to the people, and receive the homage of the nobles,
chiefs, and captains. First, advancing by the covered way which led
from the temple of Hathor, appeared the priests in their robes,
chanting as they walked, followed by the masters of ceremonies,
butlers, and heralds. Next, surrounded by his officers and guard, came
the Prince Abi himself, accompanied by his vizier, Kaku, he whose
magic was said to have brought Pharaoh to his end.
Not all his pomp nor the splendour of his apparel, whereof the
whiteness, as many noted, was spotted with ill-omened blood, nor even
the royal crown which now, for the first time, was set upon his huge,
round head, could hide from those who watched that this bridegroom was
ill at ease. Even as he stood there, bowing in answer to the
obsequious shouts of the multitude, the sceptre in his fat hand shook,
and his red lips blanched and trembled. Still he smiled and bowed on,
till at length the shouting died away, and quiet fell upon the place.
Abi was forgotten, they waited the coming of the Queen, and though no
herald called her advent, yet every heart of all those thousands felt
that she drew near to them. Look! Yonder she stood. They had watched
closely enough, yet none saw her come, doubtless because the shadows
were thick. But there she stood, quite alone upon the edge of the dais
in front of the two thrones, and, oh! she was different from what they
had expected. Thus now she wore no gorgeous robes, but only a simple
garment of purest white, cut low upon her bosom, where the red rays of
the sinking sun, striking up the hall, revealed to every eye that dark
mole shaped like the Cross of Life, which was her wondrous birthmark.
But two ornaments adorned her, the double snakes of royalty, golden
with red eyes, set in front of her tall white head-dress, which none
but she might wear, the crowns of Upper and of Lower Egypt, and of all
the subject lands, and in her hand a sceptre fashioned of gold, and
surmounted by a lotus-bloom of sapphire, that sceptre of which rumour
had told the magic tale.
Yes, she was different. They had thought to see a woman weak and pale,
her eyes still red with grief, her face still stained with tears, one
who had been tamed by misfortune, hunger, and the fear of death,
whence she had bought herself by marriage with her conqueror. But it
was not so, for never had the Star of Amen shone half so beautiful,
never had they seen such majesty in those deep blue eyes that looked
them through and through as though they read the secret heart of every
one of them. Her tall and lovely form had not wasted, her cheeks were
red with the glow of health; power and dignity flowed from her
presence, fear seemed beneath her feet.
Now no voice was lifted up; they stared at her, and, smiling a little,
she answered them with her calm eyes till their heads sank beneath her
gaze. Then at length in the midst of that dead, oppressive silence
which none dared to break, she turned, and they heard the sweep of her
silken robe upon the alabaster floor.
With an effort two chamberlains stepped forward, their wands of office
in their hands, to lead her to her seat, but she waved them back, and
said in her clear voice:
"Nay, here I am alone; of all the millions who serve her, not one is
left to lead Amen's daughter and Egypt's Queen to her rightful place.
Therefore she takes it of her own strength, now and for evermore."
Then very slowly, still in the midst of silence, she mounted the
greater throne that had been prepared for Abi, and there seated
herself and waited.
Now murmuring rose among the courtiers and Kaku whispered into Abi's
ear, while the multitude held its breath. Abi stamped his foot and
issued orders which all seemed to fear to execute. At length he
stepped forward, addressing the Queen in a hoarse voice.
"Lady," he said, "doubtless you know it not, but that place is mine;
your seat is on my left. Be pleased to take it."
"Why so, Prince Abi?" she asked quietly.
"Lady," he answered, "because the husband takes precedence of the
wife, and," he added with savage meaning, "the conqueror of the
"The conqueror of the conquered?" she repeated after him in a musing
voice. "Should you not have said--the murderer of the murdered and his
seed? Nay, Prince Abi, you are wrong. The sovereign of Egypt by right
divine, takes precedence of her vassal, even though it has pleased the
gods, whose will she has come to execute, to command her to give to
him the name of husband until that will is more fully known. Come now
and do homage to your Queen, and after you those slaves of yours who
dared to lift the sword against her."
Then a great tumult arose, a tumult of rage and of dismay, for well
nigh all in that vast place were partners in this crime, and knew that
if Neter-Tua prevailed death yawned wide for them.
They shouted to Abi to take no heed of her. They shouted to him to
tear her from the throne, to kill her, and seize the crown. They drew
their swords and raged like an angry sea. Those who were loyal among
them to Pharaoh's House, and those who feared turmoil, began to work
their way backwards, and slipped by twos and threes out of the great
open doors, till Tua had no friend left in all that hall. But ever as
they went, others of the turbulent and the rebellious who had been
concerned in the slaughter of Pharaoh's guard, took their place,
pouring in from the mob without.
Wild desert-dwellers of the Bedouin tribes, who for thousands of years
had been the bitter enemies of Egypt; descendants of the Hyksos, whose
forefathers had ruled the land for a dozen generations, and at last
been driven out; those Hyksos whose blood ran in Abi's veins, and who
looked to him to lift them up again; evil-doers who had sought shelter
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