The Ancient Allan
H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 5
"and why do you bring them into my presence?"
"May it please the King," answered our guide, knocking his head upon
the ground in a very agony of humiliation, "may it please the
"It would please me better, dog, if you answered my question. Who are
"May it please the King, this is the Egyptian hunter and noble,
"I hear," said his Majesty with a gleam of interest in his tired eyes,
"and what does this Egyptian here?"
"May it please the King, the King bade me bring him to the presence,
but now when the chariots halted."
"I forgot; you are forgiven. But who is that with him? Is it a man or
Here I screwed my head round and saw that my slave in his efforts to
obey the eunuch's instructions and hide his feet, had made himself
into a kind of ball, much as a hedgehog does, except that his big head
appeared in front of the ball.
"O King, that I understand is the Egyptian's servant and charioteer."
Again he looked interested, and exclaimed,
"Is it so? Then Egypt must be a stranger country than I thought if
such ape-men live there. Stand up, Egyptian, and bid your ape stand up
also, for I cannot hear men who speak with their mouths in the dust."
So I rose and saluted by lifting both my hands and bowing as I had
observed others do, trying, however, to keep them covered by my
sleeves. The King looked me up and down, then said briefly,
"Set out your name and the business that brought you to my city."
"May the King live for ever," I replied. "As this lord said," and I
pointed to the eunuch----
"He is not a lord but a dog," interrupted the Monarch, "who wears the
robe of women. But continue."
"As this dog who wears the robe of women said"--here the King laughed,
but the eunuch, Houman, turned green with rage and glowered at me--"my
name is Shabaka. I am a descendant of the Ethiopian king of Egypt of
that same name."
"It seems from all I hear that there are too many descendants of kings
in Egypt. When I visit that land which perhaps soon I must do with an
army at my back," here he stared at me coldly, "it may be well to
lessen their number. There is a certain Peroa for instance."
He paused, but I made no answer, since Peroa was my father's cousin
and of the fallen Royal House; also the protector of my youth.
"Well, Shabaka," he went on, "in Persia royal blood is common also,
though some of us think it looks best when it is shed. What else are
"A slayer of royal beasts, O King of kings, a hunter of lions and of
elephants," (this statement interested me, Allan Quatermain,
intensely, showing me as it did that our tastes are very persistent);
"also when I am at home, a breeder of cattle and a grower of grain."
"Good trades, all of them, Shabaka. But why came you here?"
"Idernes the satrap of Egypt, servant of the King of kings, sought for
one who would travel to the East because the King of kings desired to
hear of the hunting of lions in the lands that lie to the south of
Egypt towards the beginnings of the great river. Then I, who desired
to see new countries, said, 'Here am I. Send me.' So I came and for
three moons have dwelt in the royal city, but till this hour have
scarcely so much as seen the face of the great King, although by many
messengers I have announced my presence, showing them the letters of
Idernes giving me safe-conduct. Therefore I propose to-morrow or the
next day to return to Egypt."
The King said a word and a scribe appeared whom he commanded to take
note of my words and let the matter be inquired of, since some should
suffer for this neglect, a saying at which I saw Houman and certain of
the nobles turn pale and whisper to each other.
"Now I remember," he exclaimed, "that I did desire Idernes to send me
an Egyptian hunter. Well, you are here and we are about to hunt the
lion of which there are many in yonder reeds, hungry and fierce
beasts, since for three days they have been herded in so that they can
kill no food. How many lions have you slain, Shabaka?"
"Fifty and three in all, O King, not counting the cubs."
He stared at me, answering with a sneer,
"You Egyptians have large mouths. I have always heard it of you. Well,
to-day we will see whether you can kill a fifty-fourth. In an hour
when the sun begins to sink, the hounds will be loosed in yonder reeds
and since the water is behind them, the lions will come out, and then
we shall see."
Now I saw that the King thought me to be a liar and the blood rose to
"Why wait till the sun begins to sink, O King of kings?" I said. "Why
not enter the reeds, as is our fashion in the Land of Kush, and rouse
the lions from sleep in their own lair?"
Now the King laughed outright and called in a loud voice to his
"Do ye hear this boasting Egyptian, who talks of entering the reeds
and facing the lions in their lair, a thing that no man dare do where
none can see to shoot? What say ye now? Shall we ask him to prove his
Some great lord stepped forward, one who was a hunter though he looked
little like it, for the scent on his hair reached me from four paces
away and there was paint upon his face.
"Yes, O King," he said in a mincing voice, "let him enter and kill a
lion. But if he fail, then let a lion kill him. There are some hungry
in the palace den and it is not fit that the King's ears should be
filled with empty words by foreigners from Egypt."
"So be it," said the King. "Egyptian, you have brought it on your own
head. Prove that you can do what you say and I will give you great
honour. Fail, and to the lions with him who lies of lions. Still," he
added, "it is not right that you should go alone. Choose therefore one
of these lords to keep you company; he who would put you to the test,
if you will."
Now I looked at the scented noble who turned pale beneath his paint.
Then I looked at the fat eunuch, Houman, who opened his mouth and
gasped like a fish, and when I had looked, I shook my head and said as
though to myself,
"Not so, no woman and no eunuch shall be my companion on this quest,"
whereat the King and all the rest laughed out loud. "The dwarf and I
will go alone."
"The dwarf!" said the King. "Can he hunt lions also?"
"No, O King, but perchance he can smell them, for otherwise how shall
I find them in that thicket within an hour?"
"Perchance they can smell him. How is the ape-man named?" asked the
"Bes, O King, after the god of the Egyptians whom he resembles."
"Dare you accompany your master on this hunt, O Bes?" inquired the
Then Bes looked up, rolling his yellow eyes, and answered in his thick
and guttural voice,
"I am my master's slave and dare I refuse to accompany him? If I did
he might kill me, as the King of kings kills his slaves. It is better
to die with honour by the teeth of a lion, than with dishonour beneath
the whip of a master. So at least we think in Ethiopia."
"Well spoken, dwarf Bes!" exclaimed the King. "So would I have all men
think throughout the East. Let the words of this Ethiop be written
down and copies of them sent to the satraps of all the provinces that
they may be read to the peoples of the earth. I the King have decreed
While the scribes were at their work I bowed before the King and
prayed his leave and I and the dwarf Bes might get to ours.
"Go," he said, "and return here within an hour. If you do not return
tidings of your death shall be sent to the satrap of Egypt to be told
to your wives."
"I thank the King, but it is needless, for I have no wives, which are
ill company for a hunter."
"Strange," he said, "since many women would be glad to name such a man
their husband, at least here among us Easterns."
Walking backwards and bowing as we went, Bes and I returned to our
chariot. There we stripped off our outer garments till Bes was naked
save for his waistcloth and I was clad only in a jerkin. Then I took
my bow, my arrows and my knife, and Bes took two spears, one light for
throwing and the other short, broad and heavy for stabbing. Thus armed
we passed back before the Easterns who stared at us, and advanced to
the edge of the thicket of tall reeds that was full of lions.
Here Bes took dust and threw it into the air that we might learn from
which quarter the light wind blew.
"We will go against the breeze, Lord," he said, "that I may smell the
lions before they smell us."
I nodded, and answered,
"Hearken, Bes. Well may it be that we kill no lions in this place
where it is hard to shoot. Yet I would not return to be thrown to wild
beasts by yonder evil king. Therefore if we fail in this or in any
other way, do you kill me, if you still live."
He rolled his eyes and grinned.
"Not so, Master. Then we will win through the reeds and lie hid in
their edge till darkness comes, for in them those half-men will never
dare to seek for us. Afterwards we will swim the water and disguise
ourselves as jugglers and try to reach the coast, and so back to
Egypt, having learned much. Never stretch out your hand to Death till
he stretches out his to you, which he will do soon enough, Master."
Again I nodded and said,
"And if a lion should kill me, Bes, what then?"
"Then, Master, I will kill that lion if I can and go report the matter
to the King."
"And if he should wish to throw you to the beasts, Bes, what then?"
"Then, first I will drag him down to the greatest of all beasts, he
who waits to devour evil-doers in the Under-world, be they kings or
slaves," and he stretched out his long arms and made a motion as of
clutching a man by the throat. "Oh! have no fear, Master, I can break
him like a stick, and afterwards we will talk the matter over among
the dead, for I shall swallow my tongue and die also. It is a good
trick, Master, which I wish you would learn."
Then he took my hand and kissed it and we entered the reeds, I, who
was a hunter, feeling more happy than I had done since we set foot in
Yet the quest was desperate for the reeds were tall and often I could
not see more than a bow's length in front of me. Presently, however,
we found a path made perchance by game coming down to drink, or by
crocodiles coming up to sleep, and followed it, I with an arrow on my
string and Bes with the throwing spear in his right hand and the
stabbing spear in his left, half a pace ahead of me. On we crept, Bes
drawing in the air through his great nostrils as a hound might do,
till suddenly he stopped and sniffed towards the north.
"I smell lion near," he whispered, searching among the reed stems with
his eyes. "I see lion," he whispered again, and pointed, but I could
see nothing save the stems of the reeds.
"Rouse him," I whispered back, "and I will shoot as he bounds."
Then Bes poised the spear, shook it till it quivered, and threw. There
was a roar and a lioness appeared with the spear fast in her flank. I
loosed the arrow but it cut into the thick reeds and stuck there.
"Forward!" whispered Bes, "for where woman is, there look for man. The
lion will be near."
We crept on, Bes stopping to cut the arrow from a reed and set it back
in the quiver, for it was a good arrow made by himself. But now he
shifted the broad spear to his right hand and in his left held his
knife. We heard the wounded lioness roar not far away.
"She calls her man to help her," whispered Bes, and as the words left
his lips the reeds down wind began to sway, for we were smelt.
They swayed, they parted and, half seen, half hid between their stems,
appeared the head of a great, black-maned lion. I drew the string and
shot, this time not in vain, for I heard the arrow thud upon his hide.
Then before I could set another he was on us, reared upon his hind
legs and roaring. As I drew my dagger he struck at me, but I bent down
and his paw went over my head. Then his weight came against me and I
fell beneath him, stabbing him in the belly as I fell. I saw his
mighty jaws open to crush my head. Then they shut again and through
them burst a whine like that of a hurt dog.
Bes had driven his spear into the lion's breast, so deep that the
point of it came out through the back. Still he was not dead, only now
it was Bes he sought. The dwarf ran at him as he reared up again, and
casting his great arms about the brute's body, wrestled with him as
man with man.
Then it was, for the first time I think, that I learned all the
Ethiopian's strength. For he, a dwarf, threw that lion on its back and
thrusting his big head beneath the jaws, struggled with it madly. I
was up, the knife still in my hand, and oh! I too was strong. Into the
throat I drove it, dragging it this way and that, and lo! the lion
moaned and died and his blood gushed out over both of us. Then Bes sat
up and laughed, and I too laughed, since neither of us had more than
scratches and we had done what men could scarcely do.
"Do you remember, Master," said Bes when he had finished laughing, as
he wiped his brow with some damp moss, "how, once far away up the Nile
you charged a mad elephant with a spear and saved me who had fallen,
from being trampled to death?"
I, Shabaka, answered that I did. (And I, Allan Quatermain, observing
all these things in my psychic trance in the museum of Ragnall Castle,
reflected that I also remembered how a certain Hans had saved me from
a certain mad elephant, to wit, Jana, not so long before, which just
shows how things come round.)
"Yes," went on Bes, "you saved me from that elephant, though it seemed
death to you. And, Master, I will tell you something now. That very
morning I had tried to poison you, only you would not wait to eat
because the elephants were near."
"Did you?" I asked idly. "Why?"
"Because two years before you captured me in battle with some of my
people, and as I was misshapen, or for pity's sake, spared my life and
made me your slave. Well, I who had been a chief, a very great chief,
Master, did not wish to remain a slave and did wish to avenge my
people's blood. Therefore I tried to poison you, and that very day you
saved my life, offering for it your own."
"I think it was because I wanted the tusks of the elephant, Bes."
"Perhaps, Master, only you will remember that this elephant was a
young cow and had no tusks worth anything. Still had it carried tusks,
it might have been so, since one white tusk is worth many black
dwarfs. Well, to-day I have paid you back. I say it lest you should
forget that had it not been for me, that lion would have eaten you."
"Yes, Bes, you have paid me back and I thank you."
"Master, hitherto I always thought you one who worshipped Maat,
goddess of Truth. Now I see that you worship the god of Lies, whoever
he may be, that god who dwells in the breasts of women and most men,
but has no name. For, Master, it was /you/ who saved /me/ from the
lion and not I you, since you cut its throat at the last. So that debt
of mine is still to pay and by the great Grasshopper which we worship
in my country, who is much better than all the gods of the Egyptians
put together, I swear that I will pay it soon, or mayhap ten thousand
years hence. At the last it shall be paid."
"Why do you worship a grasshopper and why is he better than the gods
of the Egyptians?" I asked carelessly, for I was tired and his talk
amused me while we rested.
"We worship the Grasshopper, Master, because he jumps with men's
spirits from one life to another, or from this world to the next, yes,
right through the blue sky. And he is better than your Egyptian gods
because they leave you to find your own way there, and then eat you
alive, that is if you have tried to poison people, as of course we
have all done. But, Master, we are fresh again now, so let us be
going, for the hour will soon be finished. Also when she has eaten the
spear handle, that lioness may return."
"Yes," I said; "let us go and report to the King of kings that we have
killed a lion."
"Master, it is not enough. Even common kings believe little that they
do not see, wherefore it is certain that a King of kings will believe
nothing and still more certain that he will not come here to look. So
as we cannot carry the lion, we must take a bit of it," and
straightway he cut off the end of the brute's tail.
Following the crocodile path, presently we reached the edge of the
reeds opposite to the camp where the King now sat in state beneath a
purple pavilion that had been reared, eating a meal, with his
courtiers standing at a distance and looking very hungry.
Out of the reeds bounded Bes, naked and bloody, waving the lion's tail
and singing some wild Ethiopian chant, while I, also bloody and half
naked, for the lion's claws had torn my jerkin off me, followed with
The King looked up and saw us.
"What! Do you live, Egyptian?" he asked. "Of a surety I thought that
by now you would be dead."
"It was the lion that died, O King," I answered, pointing to Bes who,
having ceased from his song, was jumping about carrying the beast's
tail in his mouth as a dog carries a bone.
"It seems that this Egyptian has killed a lion," said the King to one
of his lords, him of the painted face and scented hair.
"May be please the King," he answered, bowing, "a tail is not the
whole beast and may have been taken thither, or cut from a lion lying
dead already. The King knows that the Egyptians are great liars."
So he spoke because he was jealous of the deed.
"These men look as though they had met a live one, not one that is
dead," said the King, scanning our blood-stained shapes. "Still, as
you doubt it, you will wish to put the matter to the proof. Therefore,
Cousin, take six men with you, enter the reeds and search. In that
soft ground it will be easy to follow their footmarks."
"It is dangerous, O King," began the prince, for such he was, no less.
"And therefore the task will be the more to your taste, Cousin. Go
now, and be swift."
So six hunters were called and the prince went, cursing me beneath his
breath as he passed us. For he was terribly afraid, and with reason.
Suddenly Bes ceased from his antics and prostrating himself, cried,
"A boon, O King. This noble lord throws doubt upon my master's word.
Suffer that I may lead him to where the lion lies dead, since
otherwise wandering in those reeds the great King's cousin might come
to harm and the great King be grieved."
"I have many cousins," said the King. "Still go if you wish, Dwarf."
So Bes ran after the prince and catching him up, tapped him on the
shoulder with the lion's tail to point out the way. Then they vanished
into the reeds and I went to the chariot to wash off the blood from my
body and clothes. As I fastened my robe I heard a sound of roaring,
then one scream, after which all grew still. Now I drew near to the
reeds and stood between them and the King's camp.
Presently on their edge appeared Bes dancing and singing as before,
but this time he held a lion's tail in either hand. After him came the
six hunters dragging between them the body of the lion we had killed.
They staggered with it towards the King, and I followed.
"I see the dwarf," he said. "I see the dead lion and I see the
hunters. But where is my cousin? Make report, O Bes."
"O King of kings," replied Bes, "the mighty prince your cousin lies
flat yonder beneath the body of that lion's wife. She sprang upon him
and killed him, and I sprang upon her and killed her with my spear.
Here is her tail, O King of kings."
"Is this true?" he asked of the hunters.
"It is true, O King," answered their captain. "The lioness, which was
wounded, leapt upon the prince, choosing him although he was behind us
all. Then this dwarf leapt upon the lioness, being behind the prince
and nearest to him, and drove his spear through her shoulders to her
heart. So we brought the first lion as the King commanded us, since we
could carry no more."
The face of the King grew red with rage.
"Seven of my people and one black dwarf!" he exclaimed. "Yet the
lioness kills my cousin and the dwarf kills the lioness. Such is the
tale that will go to Egypt concerning the hunters of the King of the
world. Seize those men, Guards, and let them be fed to the wild beasts
in the palace dens."
At once the unfortunates were seized and led away. Then the King
called Bes to him, and taking the gold chain he wore about his neck,
threw it over his head, thereby, though I knew nothing of it at the
time, conferring upon him some noble rank. Next he called to me and
"It would seem that you are skilled in the use of the bow and in the
hunting of lions, Egyptian. Therefore I will honour you, for this
afternoon your chariot shall drive with my chariot, and we will hunt
side by side. Moreover, I will lay you a wager as to which of us will
kill the most lions, for know, Shabaka, that I also am skilled in the
use of the bow, more skilled than any among the millions of my
"Then, O King, it is of little use for me to match myself against you,
seeing that I have met men who can shoot better than I do, or, since
in the East all must speak nothing but the truth, not being liars as
the dead prince said we Egyptians are, one man."
"Who was that man, Shabaka?"
"The Prince Peroa, O King."
The King frowned as though the name displeased him, then answered,
"Am I not greater than this Peroa and cannot I therefore shoot
"Doubtless, O King of kings, and therefore how can I who shoot worse
than Peroa, match myself against you?"
"For which reason I will give you odds, Shabaka. Behold this rope of
rose-hued pearls I wear. They are unequalled in the whole world, for
twenty years the merchants sought them in the days of my father; half
of them would buy a satrapy. I wager them"--here the listening nobles
gasped and the fat eunuch, Houman, held up his hands in horror.
"Against what, O King?"
"Your slave Bes, to whom I have taken a fancy."
Now I trembled and Bes rolled his yellow eyes.
"Your pardon, O King of kings," I said, "but it is not enough. I am a
hunter and to such, priceless pearls are of little use. But to me that
dwarf is of much use in my hunting."
"So be it, Shabaka, then I will add to the wager. If you win, together
with the pearls I will give you the dwarf's weight in solid gold."
"The King is bountiful," I answered, "but it is not enough, for even
if I win against one who can shoot better than Peroa, which is
impossible, what should I do with so much gold? Surely for the sake of
it I should be murdered or ever I saw the coasts of Egypt."
"What shall I add then?" asked the King. "The most beauteous maiden in
the House of Women?"
I shook my head. "Not so, O King, for then I must marry who would
"There is no need, you might sell her to your friend, Peroa. A
"Not so, O King, for then I must govern it, which would keep me from
my hunting, until it pleased the King to take my head."
"By the name of the holy ones I worship what then do you ask added to
the pearls and the pure gold?"
Now I tried to bethink me of something that the King could not grant,
since I had no wish for this match which my heart warned me would end
in trouble. As no thought came to me I looked at Bes and saw that he
was rolling his eyes towards the six doomed hunters who were being led
away, also in pretence of driving off a fly, pointing to them with one
of the lion tails. Then I remembered that a decree once uttered by the
King of the East could not be altered, and saw a road of escape.
"O King," I said, "together with the pearls and the gold I ask that
the lives of those six hunters be added to the wager, to be spared if
by chance I should win."
"Why?" asked the King amazed.
"Because they are brave men, O King, and I would not see the bones of
such cracked by tame beasts in a cage."
"Is my judgment registered?" asked the King.
"Not yet, O King," answered the head scribe.
"Then it has no weight and can be suspended without the breaking of
the law. Shabaka, thus stands our wager. If I kill more lions than you
do this day, or, should but two be slain, I kill the first, or should
none be slain, I plant more arrows in their bodies, I take your slave,
Bes the dwarf, to be my slave. But should you have the better of me in
any of these ways, then I give to you this girdle of rose pearls and
the weight of the dwarf Bes in gold and the six hunters free of harm,
to do with what you will. Let it be recorded, and to the hunt."
Soon Bes and I were in our chariot which by command took place in line
with that of the King, but at a distance of some thirty steps. Bending
over the dwarf who drove, I spoke with him, saying,
"Our luck is ill to-day, Bes, seeing that before the end of it we may
well be parted."
"Not so, Master, our luck is good to-day seeing that before the end of
it you will be the richer by the finest pearls in the whole world, by
my weight in pure gold (and Master, I am twice as heavy as the king
thought and will stuff myself with twenty pounds of meat before the
weighing, if I have the chance, or at least with water, though in this
hot place that will not last for long), and by six picked huntsmen,
brave men as you thought, who will serve to escort us and our treasure
to the coast."
"First I must win the match, Bes."
"Which you could do with one eye blinded, Master, and a sore finger.
Kings think that they can shoot because all the worms that crawl about
them and are named men, dare not show themselves their betters. Oh! I
have heard tales in yonder city. There have been days when this Lord
of the world has missed six lions with as many arrows, and they seated
smiling in his face, being but tamed brutes brought from far in cages
of wood, yes, smiling like cats in the sun. Look you, Master, he
drinks too much wine and sits up too late in his Women's house--there
are three hundred of them there, Master--to shoot as you and I can. If
you doubt it, look at his eyes and hands. Oh! the pearls and the gold
and the men are yours, and that painted prince who mocked us is where
he ought to be--dead in the mud.
"Did I tell you how I managed that, Master? As you know better than I
do, lions hate those that have on them the smell of their own blood.
Therefore, while I pointed out the way to him, I touched the painted
prince with the bleeding tail of that which we killed, pretending that
it was by chance, for which he cursed me, as well he might. So when we
came to the dead lion and, as I had expected, met there the lioness
you had wounded, she charged through the hunters at him who smelt of
her husband, and bit his head off."
"But, Bes, you smelt of him also, and worse."
"Yes, Master, but that painted cousin of the King came first. I kept
well behind him, pretending to be afraid," and he chuckled quietly,
adding, "I expect that he is now telling an angry tale about me to
Osiris, or to the Grasshopper that takes him there, as it may happen."
"These Easterns worship neither Osiris, nor your Grasshopper, Bes, but
a flame of fire."
"Then he is telling the tale to the fire, and I hope that it will get
tired and burn him."
So we talked merrily enough because we had done great deeds and
thought that we had outwitted the Easterns and the King, not knowing
all their craft. For none had told us that that man who hunted with
the King and yet dared to draw arrow upon the quarry before the King
should be put to death as one who had done insult to his Majesty. This
that royal fox remembered and therefore was sure that he would win the
Now the chariots turned and passing down a path came to an open space
that was cleared of reeds. Here they halted, that of the King and my
own side by side with ten paces between them, and those of the court
behind. Meanwhile huntsmen with dogs entered the great brake far away
to the right and left of us, also in front, so that the lions might be
driven backwards and forwards across the open space.
Soon we heard the hounds baying on all sides. Then Bes made a sucking
noise with his great lips and pointed to the edge of the reeds in
front of us some sixty paces away. Looking, I saw a yellow shape
creeping along between their dark stems, and although the shot was
far, forgetting all things save I was a hunter and there was my game,
I drew the arrow to my ear, aimed and loosed, making allowance for its
fall and for the wind.
Oh! that shot was good. It struck the lion in the body and pierced him
through. Out he came, roaring, rolling, and tearing at the ground. But
by now I had another arrow on the string, and although the King lifted
his bow, I loosed first. Again it struck, this time in the throat, and
that lion groaned and died.
The King looked at me angrily, and from the court behind rose a murmur
of wonder mingled with wrath, wonder at my marksmanship, and wrath
because I had dared to shoot before the King.
"The wager looks well for us," muttered Bes, but I bade him be silent,
for more lions were stirring.
Now one leapt across the open space, passing in front of the King and
within thirty paces of us. He shot and missed it, sending his shaft
two spans above its back. Then I shot and drove the arrow through it
just where the head joins the neck, cutting the spine, so that it died
Again that murmur went up and the King struck the charioteer on the
head with his clenched fist, crying out that he had suffered the
horses to move and should be scourged for causing his hand to shake.
This charioteer, although he was a lord--since in the East men of high
rank waited on the King like slaves and even clipped his nails and
beard--craved pardon humbly, admitting his fault.
"It is a lie," whispered Bes. "The horses never stirred. How could
they with those grooms holding their heads? Nevertheless, Master, the
pearls are as good as round your neck."
"Silence," I answered. "As we have heard, in the East all men speak
the truth; it is only Egyptians who lie. Also in the East men's necks
are encircled with bowstrings as well as pearls, and ears are long."
The hounds continued to bay, drawing nearer to us. A lioness bounded
out of the reeds, ran towards the King's chariot and as though amazed,
sat down like a dog, so near that a man might have hit it with a
stone. The King shot short, striking it in the fore-paw only, whereon
it shook out the arrow and rushed back into the reeds, while the court
"May the King live for ever! The beast is dead."
"We shall see if it is dead presently," said Bes, and I nodded.
Another lion appeared to the right of the King. Again he shot and
missed it, whereon he began to curse and to swear in his own royal
oaths, and the charioteer trembled. Then came the end.
One of the hounds drew quite close and roused the lioness that had
been pricked in the foot. She turned and killed it with a blow of her
paw, then, being mad, charged straight at the King's chariot. The
horses reared, lifting the grooms off their feet. The King shot wildly
and fell backwards out of the chariot, as even Kings of the world must
do when they have nothing left to stand on. The lioness saw that he
was down and leapt at him, straight over the chariot. As she leapt I
shot at her in the air and pierced her through the loins, paralysing
her, so that although she fell down near the King, she could not come
at him to kill him.
I sprang from my chariot, but before I could reach the lioness hunters
had run up with spears and stabbed her, which was easy as she could
The King rose from the ground, for he was unharmed, and said in a loud
"Had not that shaft of mine gone home, I think that the East would
have bowed to another lord to-night."
Now, forgetting that I was speaking to the King of the earth,
forgetting the wager and all besides, I exclaimed,
"Nay, your shaft missed; mine went home," whereon one of the courtiers
"This Egyptian is a liar, and calls the King one!"
"A liar?" I said astonished. "Look at the arrow and see from whose
quiver it came," and I drew one from my own of the Egyptian make and
marked with my mark.
Then a tumult broke out, all the courtiers and eunuchs talking at
once, yet all bowing to the mud-stained person of the King, like ears
of wheat to a tree in a storm. Not wishing to urge my claims further,
for my part I returned to the chariot and the hunting being done, as I
supposed, unstrung my bow which I prized above all things, and set it
in its case.
While I was thus employed the eunuch Houman approached me with a
sickly smile, saying,
"The King commands your presence, Egyptian, that you may receive your
I nodded, saying that I would come, and he returned.
"Bes," I said when he was out of hearing, "my heart sinks. I do not
trust that King who I think means mischief."
"So do I, Master. Oh! we have been great fools. When a god and a man
climb a tree together, the man should allow the god to come first to
the top, and thence tell the world that he is a god."
"Yes," I answered, "but who ever sees Wisdom until she is flying away?
Now perhaps, the god being the stronger, will cast down the man."
Then both together we advanced towards the King, leaving the chariot
in charge of soldiers. He was seated on a gilded chair which served
him as a throne, and behind him were his officers, eunuchs and
attendants, though not all of them, since at a little distance some of
them were engaged in beating the lord who had served as his charioteer
upon the feet with rods. We prostrated ourselves before him and waited
till he spoke. At length he said,
"Shabaka the Egyptian, we made a wager with you, of which you will
remember the terms. It seems that you have won the wager, since you
slew two lions, whereas we, the King, slew but one, that which leapt
upon us in the chariot."
Here Bes groaned at my side and I looked up.
"Fear nothing," he went on, "it shall be paid." Here he snatched off
the girdle of priceless, rose-hued pearls and threw it in my face.
"At the palace too," he went on, "the dwarf shall be set in the scales
and his full weight in pure gold shall be given to you. Moreover, the
lives of the six hunters are yours, and with them the men themselves."
"May the King live for ever!" I exclaimed, feeling that I must say
"I hope so," he answered cruelly, "but, Egyptian, you shall not, who
have broken the laws of the land."
"In what way, O King?" I asked.
"By shooting at the lions before the King had time to draw his bow,
and by telling the King that he lied to his face, for both of which
things the punishment is death."
Now my heart swelled till I thought it would burst with rage. Then of
a sudden, a certain spirit entered into me and I rose to my feet and
"O King, you have declared that I must die and as this is so, I will
kneel to you no more who soon shall sup at the table of Osiris, and
there be far greater than any king, going before him with clean hands.
Is it not your law that he who is condemned to die has first the right
to set out his case for the honour of his name?"
"It is," said the King, I think because he was curious to hear what I
had to say. "Speak on."
"O King, although my blood is as high as your own, of that I say
nothing, for at the wish of your satrap I came to the East from Egypt
as a hunter, to show you how we of Egypt kill lions and other beasts.
For three months I have waited in the royal city seeking admission to
the presence of the King, and in vain. At length I was bidden to this
hunt when I was about to depart to my own land, and being taunted by
your servants, entered the reeds with my slave, and there slew a lion.
Then it pleased you to thrust a wager upon me which I did not wish to
take, as to which of us would shoot the most lions; a wager as I now
understand you did not mean that I should win, whatever might be my
skill, since you thought I knew that I must shoot at nothing till you
had first shot and killed the beasts or scared them away.
"So I matched myself against you, as hunter against hunter, for in the
field, as before the gods, all are equal, not as a slave against a
king who is determined to avenge defeat by death. We were posted and
the lions came. I shot at those which appeared opposite to me, or upon
my side, leaving those that appeared opposite to you, or on your side
unshot at, as is the custom of hunters. My skill, or my fortune, was
better than yours and I killed, whereas you missed or only wounded. In
the end a lioness sprang at you and I shot it lest it should kill you;
as could easily be proved by the arrow in its body. Now you say that I
must die because I have broken some laws of yours which men should be
ashamed to make, and to save your honour, pay me what I have won,
knowing that pearls and gold and slaves are of no value to a dying man
and can be taken back again. That is all the story.
"Yet I would add one word. You Easterns have two sayings which you
teach to your children; that they should learn to shoot with the bow,
and to tell the truth. O King, they are my last lessons to you. Learn
to shoot with the bow--which you cannot do, and to tell the truth
which you have not done. Now I have spoken and am ready to die and I
thank you for the patience with which you have heard my words, that,
as the King does /not/ live for ever, I hope one day to repeat to you
more fully beyond the grave."
Now at this bold speech of mine all those nobles and attendants
gasped, for never had they heard such words addressed to his Majesty.
The King turned red as though with shame, but made no answer, only he
asked of those about him.
"What fate for this man?"
"Death, O King!" they cried with one voice.
"What death?" he asked again.
Then his Councillors consulted together and one of them answered,
"The slowest known to our law, /death by the boat/."
Hearing this and not knowing what was meant, it came into my mind that
I was to be turned adrift in a boat and there left to starve.
"Behold the reward of good hunting!" I mocked in my rage. "O King,
because of this deed of shame I call upon you the curse of all the
gods of all the peoples. Henceforth may your sleep be ever haunted by
evil dreams of what shall follow the last sleep, and in the end may
you also die in blood."
The King opened his mouth as though to answer, but from it came
nothing but a low cry of fear. Then guards rushed up and seized me.
THE DOOM OF THE BOAT
The guards led me to my chariot and thrust me into it, and with me
Bes. I asked them if they would murder him also, to which the eunuch,
Houman, answered No, since he had committed no crime, but that he must
go with me to be weighed. Then soldiers took the horses by the bridles
and led them, while others, having first snatched away my bow and all
our other weapons, surrounded the chariot lest we should escape. So
Bes and I were able to talk together in a Libyan tongue that none of
them understood, even if they heard our words.
"Your life is spared," I said to him, "that the King may take you as a
"Then he will take an ill slave, Master, since I swear by the
Grasshopper that within a moon I will find means to kill him, and
afterwards come to join you in a land where men hunt fair."
I smiled and Bes went on,
"Now I wish I had time to teach you that trick of swallowing your own
tongue, since perhaps you will need it in this boat of which they
"Did you not say to me an hour or two ago, Bes, that we are fools to
stretch out our hands to Death until he stretches out his to us? I
will not die until I must--now."
"Why 'now,' Master, seeing that only this afternoon you bade me kill
you rather than let you be thrown to the wild beasts?" he asked
peering at me curiously.
"Do you remember the old hermit, the holy Tanofir, who dwells in a
cell over the sepulchre of the Apis bulls in the burial ground of the
desert near to Memphis, Bes?"
"The magician and prophet who is the brother of your grandfather,
Master, and the son of a king; he who brought you up before he became
a hermit? Yes, I know him well, though I have seldom been very near to
him because his eyes frighten me, as they frightened Cambyses the
Persian when Tanofir cursed him and foretold his doom after he had
stabbed the holy Apis, saying that by a wound from that same sword in
his own body he should die himself, which thing came to pass. As they
have frightened many another man also."
"Well, Bes, when yonder king told me that I must die, fear filled me
who did not wish to die thus, and after the fear came a blackness in
my mind. Then of a sudden in that blackness I saw a picture of
Tanofir, my great uncle, seated in a sepulchre looking towards the
East. Moreover I heard him speak, and to me, saying, 'Shabaka, my
foster-son, fear nothing. You are in great danger but it will pass.
Speak to the great King all that rises in your heart, for the gods of
Vengeance make use of your tongue and whatever you prophesy to him
shall be fulfilled.' So I spoke the words you heard and I feared
"Is it so, Master? Then I think that the holy Tanofir must have
entered my heart also. Know that I was minded to leap upon that king
and break his neck, so that all three of us might end together. But of
a sudden something seemed to tell me to leave him alone and let things
go as they are fated. But how can the holy Tanofir who grows blind
with age, see so far?"
"I do not know, Bes, save that he is not as are other men, for in him
is gathered all the ancient wisdom of Egypt. Moreover he lives with
the gods while still upon earth, and like the gods can send his /Ka/,
as we Egyptians call the spirit, or invisible self which companions
all from the cradle to the grave and afterwards, whither he will. So
doubtless to-day he sent it hither to me whom he loves more than
anything on earth. Also I remember that before I entered on this
journey he told me that I should return safe and sound. Therefore,
Bes, I say I fear nothing."
"Nor do I, Master. Yet if you see me do strange things, or hear me
speak strange words, take no note of them, since I shall be but
playing a part as I think wisest."
After this we talked of that day's adventure with the lions, and of
others that we had shared together, laughing merrily all the while,
till the soldiers stared at us as though we were mad. Also the fat
eunuch, Houman, who was mounted on an ass, rode up and said,
"What, Egyptian who dared to twist the beard of the Great King, you
laugh, do you? Well, you will sing a different song in the boat to
that which you sing in the chariot. Think of my words on the eighth
day from this."
"I will think of them, Eunuch," I answered, looking at him fiercely in
the eyes, "but who knows what kind of a song you will be singing
before the eighth day from this?"
"What I do is done under the authority of the ancient and holy Seal of
Seals," he answered in a quavering voice, touching the little cylinder
of white shell which I had noted upon the person of the King, but that
now hung from a gold chain about the eunuch's neck.
Then he made the sign which Easterns use to avert evil and rode off
again, looking very frightened.
So we came to the royal city and went up to a wonderful palace. Here
we were taken from the chariot and led into a room where food and
drink in plenty were given to me as though I were an honoured guest,
which caused me to wonder. Bes also, seated on the ground at a
distance, ate and drank, for his own reasons filling himself to the
throat as though he were a wineskin, until the serving slaves mocked
at him for a glutton.
When we had finished eating, slaves appeared bearing a wooden
framework from which hung a great pair of scales. Also there appeared
officers of the King's Treasury, carrying leather bags which they
opened, breaking the seals to show that the contents were pure gold
coin. They set a number of these bags on one of the scales, and then
ordered Bes to seat himself in the other. So much heavier did he prove
than they expected him to be, that they were obliged to send back to
the Treasury to fetch more bags of gold, for although Bes was so short
in height, his weight was that of a large man. One of the treasurers
grumbled, saying he should have been weighed before he had eaten and
drunk. But the officer to whom he spoke grinned and answered that it
mattered little, since the King was heir to criminals and that these
bags would soon return to the Treasury, only they would need washing
first, a remark that made me wonder.
At length, when the scales were even, the six hunters whose lives I
had won and who had been given to me as slaves, were brought in and
ordered to shoulder the bags of gold. I too was seized and my hands
were bound behind me. Then I was led out in charge of the eunuch
Houman, who informed me with a leer that it would be his duty to
attend to my comfort till the end. With him were four black men all
dressed in the same way. These, he said, were the executioners. Lastly
came Bes watched by three of the king's guards armed with spears, lest
he should attempt to rescue me or to do anyone a mischief.
Now my heart began to sink and I asked Houman what was to happen to
"This, O Egyptian slayer of lions. You will be laid upon a bed in a
little boat upon the river and another boat will be placed over you,
for these boats are called the Twins, Egyptian, in such a fashion that
your head and your hands will project at one end and your feet at the
other. There you will be left, comfortable as a baby in its cradle,
and twice every day the best of food and drink will be brought to you.
Should your appetite fail, moreover, it will be my duty to revive it
by pricking your eyes with the point of a knife until it returns. Also
after each meal I shall wash your face, your hands and your feet with
milk and honey, lest the flies that buzz about them should suffer
hunger, and to preserve your skin from burning by the sun. Thus slowly
you will grow weaker and at length fall asleep. The last one who went
into the boat--he, unlucky man, had by accident wandered into the
court of the House of Women and seen some of the ladies there unveiled
--only lived for twelve days, but you, being so strong, may hope to
last for eighteen. Is there anything more that I can tell you? If so,
ask it quickly for we draw near to the river."
Now when I heard this and understood all the horror of my fate, I
forgot the vision of my great uncle, the holy Tanofir, and his
comfortable prophecies, and my heart failed me altogether, so that I
stood stock still.
"What, Lion-hunter and Bearder of kings, do you think it is too early
to go to bed?" mocked this devilish eunuch. "On with you!" and he
began to beat me about the face with the handle of his fly-whisk.
Then my manhood came back to me.
"When did the King tell you to touch me, you fatted swine?" I roared,
and turning, since I could not reach him with my bound hands, kicked
him in the body with all my strength, so that he fell down, writhing
and screaming with agony. Indeed, had not the executioners leapt upon
me, I would have trampled the life out of him where he lay. But they
held me fast and presently, after he had been sick, Houman recovered
enough to come forward leaning on the shoulders of two guards. Only
now he mocked me no more.
We reached a quay just as the sun was setting. There in charge of a
one-eyed black slave, a little square-ended boat floated at the
river's edge, while on the quay itself lay a similar but somewhat
shorter boat, bottom uppermost. Now the hunters whom I had won in the
wager, with many glances of compassion, for they were brave men and
knew that it was I who had saved their lives, placed the bags of gold
in the bottom of the floating boat, and on the top of these a mattress
stuffed with straw. Then the girdle of rose-hued pearls was made fast
about my middle, my hands were untied, I was seized by the
executioners and laid on my back on the mattress, and my wrists and
ankles were fixed by cords to iron rings that were screwed to the
thwarts of the boat. After this the other, shorter boat was laid over
me in such a manner that it did not touch me, leaving my head, my
hands and my feet exposed as the eunuch had said.
While this wicked work was going forward Bes sat on the quay,
watching, till presently, after I had been made fast and covered up,
he burst into shouts of laughter, clapped his hands and began to dance
about as though with joy, till the eunuch, who had now recovered
somewhat from my kick, grew curious and asked him why he behaved thus.
"O noble Eunuch," he answered, "once I was free and that man made me a
slave, so that for many years I have been obliged to toil for him whom
I hate. Moreover, often he has beaten me and starved me, which was why
you saw me eat so much not long ago, and threatened to kill me, and
now at last I have my revenge upon him who is about to die miserably.
That is why I laugh and sing and dance and clap my hands, O most noble
Eunuch, I who shall become the follower and servant of the glorious
King of all the earth, and perhaps your friend, too, O Eunuch of
eunuchs, whose sacred person my brutal master dared to kick."
"I understand," said Houman smiling, though with a twisted face, "and
will make report of all you say to the King, and ask him to grant that
you shall sometimes prick this Egyptian in the eye. Now go spit in his
face and tell him what you think of him."
So Bes waded into the water which was quite shallow here, and spat
into my face, or pretended to, while amid a torrent of vile language,
he interpolated certain words in the Libyan tongue, which meant,
"O my most beloved father, mother, and other relatives, have no fear.
Though things look very black, remember the vision of the holy
Tanofir, who doubtless allows these things to happen to you to try
your faith by direct order of the gods. Be sure that I will not leave
you to perish, or if there should be no escape, that I will find a way
to put you out of your misery and to avenge you. Yes, yes, I will yet
see that accursed swine, Houman, take your place in this boat. Now I
go to the Court to which it seems that this gold chain gives me a
right of entry, or so the eunuch says, but soon I will be back again."
Then followed another stream or most horrible abuse and more spitting,
after which he waded back to land and embraced Houman, calling him his
They went, leaving me alone in the boat save for the guard upon the
quay who, now that darkness had come, soon grew silent. It was lonely,
very lonely, lying there staring at the empty sky with only the
stinging gnats for company, and soon my limbs began to ache. I thought
of the poor wretches who had suffered in this same boat and wondered
if their lot would be my lot.
Bes was faithful and clever, but what could a single dwarf do among
all these black-hearted fiends? And if he could do nothing, oh! if he
could do nothing!
The seconds seemed minutes, the minutes seemed hours, and the hours
seemed years. What then would the days be, passed in torture and agony
while waiting for a filthy death? Where now were the gods I had
worshipped and--was there any god? Or was man but a self-deceiver who
created gods instead of the gods creating him, because he did not love
to think of an eternal blackness in which he would soon be swallowed
up and lost? Well, at least that would mean sleep, and sleep is better
than torment of mind or body.
It came to me, I think, who was so weary. At any rate I opened my eyes
to see that the low moon had vanished and that some of the stars which
I knew as a hunter who had often steered his way by them, had moved a
little. While I was wondering idly why they moved, I heard the tramp
of soldiers on the quay and the voice of an officer giving a command.
Then I felt the boat being drawn in by the cord with which it was
attached to the quay. Next the other boat that lay over me was lifted
off, the ropes that bound we were undone and I was set upon my feet,
for already I was so stiff that I could scarcely stand. A voice which
I recognised as that of the eunuch Houman, addressed me in respectful
tones, which made me think I must be dreaming.
"Noble Shabaka," said the voice, "the Great King commands your
presence at his feast."
"Is it so?" I answered in my dream. "Then my absence from their feast
will vex the gnats of the river," a saying at which Houman and others
with him laughed obsequiously.
Next I heard the bags of gold being removed from the boat, after which
we walked away, guards supporting me by either elbow until I found my
strength again, and Houman following just behind, perhaps because he
feared my foot if he went in front.
"What has chanced, Eunuch," I asked presently, "that I am disturbed
from the bed where I was sleeping so well?"
"I do not know, Lord," he answered. "I only know that the King of
kings has suddenly commanded that you should be brought before him as
a guest clothed in a robe of honour, even if to do so, you must be
awakened from your rest, yes, to his own royal table, for he holds a
feast this night. Lord," he went on in a whining voice, "if perchance
fortune should have changed her face to you, I pray you bear no malice
to those who, when she frowned, were forced, yes, under the private
Seal of Seals, against their will to carry out the commands of the
King. Be just, O Lord Shabaka."
"Say no more. I will try to be just," I answered. "But what is justice
in the East? I only know of it in Egypt."
Now we reached one of the doors of the palace and I was taken to a
chamber where slaves who were waiting, washed and anointed me with
scents, after which they clad me in a beautiful robe of silk, setting
the girdle of rose-hued pearls about me.
When they had finished, preceded by Houman I was led to a great
pillared hall closed in with silk hangings, where many feasted.
Through them I went to a dais at the head of the hall where between
half-drawn curtains surrounded by cup-bearers and other officers, the
King sat in all his glory upon a cushioned golden throne. He had a
glittering wine-cup in his hand and at a glance I saw that he was
drunk, as it is the fashion for these Easterns to be at their great
feasts, for he looked happy and human which he did not do when he was
sober. Or perchance, as sometimes I thought afterwards, he only
pretended to be drunk. Also I saw something else, namely, Bes,
wondrously attired with the gold chain about his neck and wearing a
red headdress. He was seated on the carpet before the throne, and
saying things that made the King laugh and even caused the grave
officers behind to smile.
I came to the dais and at a little sign from Bes who yet did not seem
to see me, such a sign as he often made when he caught sight of game
before I did, I prostrated myself. The King looked at me, then asked,
"Who is this?" adding, "Oh, I remember, the Egyptian whose arrows do
not miss, the wonderful hunter whom Idernes sent to me from Memphis,
which I hope to visit ere long. We quarrelled, did we not, Egyptian,
something about a lion?"
"Not so, King," I answered. "The King was angry and with justice,
because I could not kill a lion before it frightened his horses."
This I said because my hours in the boat had made me humble, also
because the words came to my lips.
"Yes, yes, something like that, or at least you lie well. Whatever it
may have been, it is done with now, a mere hunters' difference," and
taking from his side his long sceptre that was headed with the great
emerald, he stretched it out for me to touch in token of pardon.
Then I knew that I was safe for he to whom the King has extended his
sceptre is forgiven all crimes, yes, even if he had attempted the
royal life. The Court knew it also, for every man who saw bowed
towards me, yes, even the officers behind the King. One of the cup-
bearers too brought me a goblet of the King's own wine, which I drank
thankfully, calling down health on the King.
"That was a wonderful shot of yours, Egyptian," he said, "when you
sent an arrow through the lioness that dared to attack my Majesty.
Yes, the King owes his life to you and he is grateful as you shall
learn. This slave of yours," and he pointed to Bes in his gaudy
attire, "has brought the whole matter to my mind whence it had fallen,
and, Shabaka," here he hiccupped, "you may have noted how differently
things look to the naked eye and when seen through a wine goblet. He
has told me a wonderful story--what was the story, Dwarf?"
"May it please the great King," answered Bes, rolling his big eyes,
"only a little tale of another king of my own country whom I used to
think great until I came to the East and learned what kings could be.
That king had a servant with whom he used to hunt, indeed he was my
own father. One day they were out together seeking a certain elephant
whose tusks were bigger than those of any other. Then the elephant
charged the king and my father, at the risk of his life, killed it and
claimed the tusks, as is the custom among the Ethiopians. But the king
who greatly desired those tusks, caused my father to be poisoned that
he might take them as his heir. Only before he died, my father, who
could talk the elephant language, told all the other elephants of this
wickedness, at which they were very angry, because they knew well that
from the beginning of time their tusks have belonged to him who killed
them, and the elephants are a people who do not like ancient laws to
be altered. So the elephants made a league together and when the king
next went out hunting, taking heed of nothing else they rushed at the
king and tore him into pieces no bigger than a finger, and then killed
the prince his son, who was behind him. That is the tale of the
elephants who love Law, O King."
"Yes, yes," said his Majesty, waking up from a little doze, "but what
became of the great tusks? I should like to have them."
"I inherited them as my father's son, O King, and gave them to my
master, who doubtless will send them to you when he gets back to
"A strange tale," said the King. "A very strange tale which seems to
remind me of something that happened not long ago. What was it? Well,
it does not matter. Egyptian, do you seek any reward for that shot of
yours at the lioness? If so, it shall be given to you. Have you a
grudge against anyone, for instance?"
"O King," I answered, "I do seek justice against a certain man. This
evening I was led to the bank of the river in charge of the eunuch
Houman, who desired to take me for a row in a boat. On the road, for
no offence he struck me on the head with the handle of his fly-whip.
See, here are the marks of it, O King. Unless the King commanded him
to strike me which I do not remember, I seek justice against this
Now the King grew very angry and cried,
"What! Did the dog dare to strike a freeborn noble Egyptian?"
Here Houman threw himself upon his face in terror and began to babble
out I know not what about the punishment of the boat, which was
unlucky for him, for it put the matter into the King's mind.
"The boat!" he cried. "Ah! yes, the boat; being so fat you will fit it
well, Eunuch. To the boat with him, and before he enters it a hundred
blows upon the feet with the rods," and he pointed at him with his
Then guards sprang upon Houman and dragged him away. As he went he
clutched at Bes, but hissing something into his ear, the dwarf bit him
through the hand till he let go. So Houman departed and the King's
guests laughed at the sight, for he had worked mischief to many.
When he had gone the King stared at me and asked,
"But why did I disturb you from your sleep, Egyptian? Oh! I remember.
This dwarf says that he has seen the fairest woman in the whole world,
and the most learned, some lady of Egypt, but that he does not know
her name, that you alone know her name. I disturbed you that you might
tell it to me but if you have forgotten it, you can go back to your
bed and rest there till it returns to you. There are plenty of boats
in the river, Egyptian."
"The fairest and most learned woman in the world?" I said astonished.
"Who can that be, unless he means the lady Amada?" and I paused,
wishing I had bitten out my tongue before I spoke, for I smelt a trap.
"Yes, Master," said Bes in a clear voice. "That was the name, the lady
"Who is this lady Amada?" asked the King, seeming to grow suddenly
sober. "And what is she like?"
"I can tell you that, O King," said Bes. "She is like a willow shaken
in the wind for slenderness and grace. She has eyes like those of a
buck at gaze; she has lips like rosebuds; she has hair black as the
night and soft as silk, the odour of which floats round her like that
of flowers. She has a voice that whispers like the evening wind, and
yet is rich as honey. Oh! she is beautiful as a goddess and when men
see her their hearts melt like wax in the sun and for a long while
they can look upon no other woman, not till the next day indeed if
they meet her in the evening," and Bes smacked his thick lips and
"By the holy Fire," laughed the King, "I feel my heart melting
already. Say, Shabaka, what do you know of this Amada? Is she married
or a maiden?"
Now I answered because I must, for after all that boat was not far
away, nor did I dare to lie.
"She is married, O King of kings, to the goddess Isis whom she loves
"A woman married to a woman, or rather to the Queen of women," he
answered laughing, "well, that matters little."
"Nay, O King, it matters much since she is under the protection of
Isis and inviolate."
"That remains to be seen, Shabaka. I think that I would dare the wrath
of every false goddess in heaven to win such a prize. Learned also,
you say, Shabaka."
"Aye, O King, full of learning to the finger tips, a prophetess also,
one in whom the divine fire burns like a lamp in a vase of alabaster,
one to whom visions come and who can read the future and the past."
"Still better," said the King. "One, then, who would be a fitting
consort for the King of kings, who wearies of fat, round-eyed,
sweetmeat-sucking fools whereof there are hundreds yonder," and he
pointed towards the House of Women. "Who is this maid's father?"
"He is dead but she is the niece of the Prince Peroa, and by birth the
Royal Lady of Egypt, O King."
"Good, then she is well born also. Hearken, O Shabaka, to-morrow you
start back to Egypt, bearing letters from me to my vassal Peroa, and
to my Satrap Idernes, bidding Peroa to hand over this lady Amada to
Idernes and bidding Idernes to send her to the East with all honour
and without delay, that she may enter my household as one of my
Now I was filled with rage and horror, and about to refuse this
mission when Bes broke in swiftly,
"Will the King of kings be pleased to give command as to my master's
safe and honourable escort to Egypt?"
"It is commanded with all things necessary for Shabaka the Egyptian
and the dwarf his servant, with the gold and gems and slaves he won
from me in a wager, and everything else that is his. Let it be
Scribes sprang forward and wrote the King's words down, while like one
in a dream I thought to myself that they could not now be altered. The
King watched them sleepily for a while, then seemed to wake up and
grow clear-minded again. At least he said to me,
"Fortune has shown you smiles and frowns to-day, Egyptian, and the
smiles last. Yet remember that she has teeth behind her lips wherewith
to tear out the throat of the faithless. Man, if you play me false or
fail in your mission, be sure that you shall die and in such a fashion
that will make you think of yonder boat as a pleasant bed, and with
you this woman Amada and her uncle Peroa, and all your kin and hers;
yes," he added with a burst of shrewdness, "and even that abortion of
a dwarf to whom I have listened because he amused me, but who perhaps
is more cunning than he seems."
"O King of kings," I said, "I will not be false." But I did not add to
whom I would be true.
"Good. Ere long I shall visit Egypt, as I have told you, and there I
shall pass judgment on you and others. Till then, farewell. Fear
nothing, for you have my safe-conduct. Begone, both of you, for you
weary me. But first drink and keep the cup, and in exchange, give me
that bow of yours which shoots so far and straight."
"It is the King's," I answered as I pledged him in the golden,
jewelled cup which a butler had handed to me.
Then the curtain fell in front of the throne and chamberlains came
forward to lead me and Bes back to our lodging, one of whom took the
cup and bore it in front of us. Down the hall we went between the
feasting nobles who all bowed to one to whom the Great King had shown
favour, and so out of the palace through the quiet night back to the
house where I had dwelt while waiting audience of the King. Here the
chamberlains bade me farewell, giving the cup to Bes to carry, and
saying that on the morrow early my gold should be brought to me
together with all that was needed for my journey, also one who would
receive the bow I had promised to the King, which had already been
returned to my lodgings with everything that was ours. Then they bowed
We entered the house, climbing a stair to an upper chamber. Here Bes
barred the door and the shutters, making sure that none could see or
Then he turned, threw his arms about me, kissed my hand and burst into
BES STEALS THE SIGNET
"Oh! my Master," gulped Bes, "I weep because I am tired, so take no
notice. The day was long and during it twice at least there has been
but the twinkling of an eyelid, but the thickness of a finger nail,
but the weight of a hair between you and death."
"Yes," I said, "and you were the eyelid, the finger nail and the
"No, Master, not I, but something beyond me. The tool carves the
statue and the hand holds the tool but the spirit guides the hand. Not
once only since the sun rose has my mind been empty as a drum. Then
something struck on it, perhaps the holy Tanofir, perhaps another, and
it knew what note to sound. So it was when I cursed you in the boat.
So it was when I walked back with the eunuch, meaning to kill him on
the road, and then remembered that the death of one vile eunuch would
not help you at all, whereas alive he could bring me to the presence
of the King, if I paid him, as I did out of the gold in your purse
which I carried. Moreover he earned his hire, for when the King grew
dull, wine not yet having taken a hold on him, it was he who brought
me to his mind as one who might amuse him, being so ugly and different
from others, if only for a few minutes, after the women dancers had
failed to do so."
"And what happened then, Bes?"
"Then I was fetched and did my juggling tricks with that snake I
caught and tamed, which is in my pouch now. You should not hate it any
more, Master, for it played your game well. After this the King began
to talk to me and I saw that his mind was ill at ease about you whom
he knew that he had wronged. So I told him that story of an elephant
that my father killed to save a king--it grew up in my mind like a
toadstool in the night, Master, did this story of an ungrateful king
and what befell him. Then the King became still more unquiet in his
heart about you and asked the eunuch, Houman, where you were, to which
he answered that by his order you were sleeping in a boat and might
not be disturbed. So that arrow of mine missed its mark because the
King did not like to eat his own words and cause you to be brought
from out the boat, whither he had sent you. Now when everything seemed
lost, some god, or perhaps the holy Tanofir who is ever present with
me to see that I have not forgotten him, put it into the King's mouth
to begin to talk about women and to ask me if I had ever seen any
fairer than those dancers whom I met going out as I came in. I
answered that I had not noticed them much because they were so ugly,
as indeed all women had seemed to me since once upon the banks of Nile
I had looked upon one who was as Hathor herself for beauty. The King
asked me who this might be and I answered that I did not know since I
had never dared to ask the name of one whom even my master held to be
as a goddess, although as boy and girl they had been brought up
"Then the King saw his opportunity to ease his conscience and inquired
of an old councillor if there were not a law which gave the king power
to alter his decree if thereby he could satisfy his soul and acquire
knowledge. The councillor answered that there was such a law and began
to give examples of its working, till the King cut him short and said
that by virtue of it he commanded that you should be brought out of
your bed in the boat and led before him to answer a question.
"So you were sent for, Master, but I did not go with the messengers,
fearing lest if I did the King would forget all about the matter
before you came. Therefore I stayed and amused him with tales of
hunting, till I could not think of any more, for you were long in
coming. Indeed I began to fear lest he should declare the feast at an
end. But at the last, just as he was yawning and spoke to one of his
councillors, bidding him send to the House of Women that they might
make ready to receive him there, you came, and the rest you know."
Now I looked at Bes and said,
"May the blessing of all the gods of all the lands be on your head,
since had it not been for you I should now lie in torment in that
boat. Hearken, friend: If ever we reach Egypt again, you will set foot
on it, not as a slave but as a free man. You will be rich also, Bes,
that is, if we can take the gold I won with us, since half of it is
Bes squatted down upon the floor and looked up at me with a strange
smile on his ugly face.
"You have given me three things, Master," he said. "Gold, which I do
not want at present; freedom, which I do not want at present and
mayhap, never shall while you live and love me; and the title of
friend. This I do want, though why I should care to hear it from your
lips I am not sure, seeing that for a long while I have known that it
was spoken in your heart. Since you have said it, however, I will tell
you something which hitherto I have hid even from you. I have a right
to that name, for if your blood is high, O Shabaka, so is mine. Know
that this poor dwarf whom you took captive and saved long years ago
was more than the petty chief which he declared himself to be. He was
and is by right the King of the Ethiopians and that throne with all
its wealth and power he could claim to-morrow if he would."
"The King of the Ethiopians!" I said. "Oh! friend Bes, I pray you to
remember that we no longer stand in yonder court lying for our lives."
"I speak no lie, O Shabaka, I before you am King of the Ethiopians.
Moreover, I laid that kingship down of my own will and should I so
desire, can take it up again when I will, since the Ethiopians are
faithful to their kings."
"Why?" I asked, astonished.
"Master, for so I will still call you who am not yet upon the land of
Egypt where you have promised me freedom, do you remember anything
strange about the people of that tribe from among whom you and the
Egyptian soldiers captured me by surprise, because they wished to
drive you and your following from their country?"
Now I thought and answered,
"Yes, one thing. I saw no women in their camp, nor any sign of
children. This I know because I gave orders that such were to be
spared and it was reported to me that there were none, so I supposed
that they had fled away."
"There were none to fly, Master. That tribe was a brotherhood which
had abjured women. Look on me now. I am misshapen, hideous, am I not?
Born thus, it is said, because before my birth my mother was
frightened by a dwarf. Yet the law of the Ethiopians is that their
kings must marry within a year of their crowning. Therefore I chose a
woman to be the queen whom I had long desired in secret. She scorned
me, vowing that not for all the thrones of all the world would she be
mated to a monster, and that if it were done by force she would kill
herself, a saying that went abroad throughout the land. I said that
she had spoken well and sent her in safety from the country, after
which I too laid down my crown and departed with some who loved me, to
form a brotherhood of women-haters further down the Nile, beyond the
borders of Ethiopia. There the Egyptian force of which you were in
command, attacked us unprepared, and you made me your slave. That is
"But why did you do this, Bes, seeing that maidens are many and all
would not have thought thus?"
"Because I wished for that one only, Master; also I feared lest I
should become the father of a breed of twisted dwarfs. So I who was a
king am now a slave, and yet, who knows which way the Grasshopper will
jump? One day from a slave I may again grow into a king. And now let
us seek that wherein kings are as slaves and slaves as kings--sleep."
So we lay down and slept, I thanking the gods that my bed was not
yonder in the boat upon the great river.
When I woke refreshed, though after all I had gone through on the
yesterday my brain still swam a little, the light was pouring through
the carved work of the shuttered windows. By it I saw Bes seated on
the floor engaged in doing something to his bow, which, as I have
said, had been restored to us with our other weapons, and asked him
sleepily what it was.
"Master," he said, "yonder King demanded your bow and therefore a bow
must be sent to him. But there is no need for it to be that with which
you shot the lions, which, too, you value above anything you have,
seeing that it came down to you from your forefather who was a Pharaoh
of Egypt, and has been your companion from boyhood ever since you were
strong enough to draw it. As you may remember I copied that bow out of
a somewhat lighter wood, which I could bend with ease, and it is the
copy that we will give to the King. Only first I must set your string
upon it, for that may have been noted; also make one or two marks that
are on your bow which I am finishing now, having begun the task with
"You are clever," I said laughing, "and I am glad. The holy Tanofir,
looking on my bow, once had a vision. It was that an arrow loosed from
it would drink the blood of a great king and save Egypt. But what king
and when, he did not see."
The dwarf nodded and answered,
"I have heard that tale and so have others. Therefore I play this
trick since it is better that yonder palace dweller should get the
arrow than the bow. There, it is finished to the last scratch, and
none, save you and I, would know them apart. Till we are clear of this
cursed land your bow is mine, Master, and you must find you another of
the Eastern make."
"Master," I repeated after him. "Say, Bes, did I dream or did you in
truth tell me last night that you are by birth and right the king of a
"I told you that, Master and it is true, no dream, since joy and
suffering mixed unseal the lips and from them comes that at times
which the heart would hide. Now I ask a favour of you, that you will
speak no more of this matter either to me or to any other, man or
woman, unless I should speak of it first. Let it be as though it were
indeed a dream."
"It is granted," I said as I rose and clothed myself, not in my own
garments which had been taken from me in the palace, but in the
splendid silken robes that had been set upon me after I was loosed
from the boat. When this was done and I had washed and combed my long,
curling hair, we descended to a lower chamber and called for the woman
of the house to bring us food, of which I ate heartily. As we finished
our meal we heard shouts in the street outside of, "Make way for the
servants of the King!" and looking through the window-place, saw a
great cavalcade approaching, headed by two princes on horseback.
"Now I pray that yonder Tyrant has not changed his mind and that these
do not come to take me back to the boat," I said in a low voice.
"Have no fear, Master," answered Bes, "seeing that you have touched
his sceptre and drunk from his cup which he gave to you. After these
things no harm can happen to you in any land he rules. Therefore be at
ease and deal with these fellows proudly."
A minute later two princes entered followed by slaves who bore many
things, among them those hide bags filled with gold that had been set
beneath me in the boat. The elder of them bowed, greeting me with the
title of "Lord," and I bowed back to him. Then he handed me certain
rolls tied up with silk and sealed, which he said I was to deliver as
the King had commanded to the King's Satrap in Egypt, and to the
Prince Peroa. Also he gave me other letters addressed to the King's
servants on the road and written on tablets of clay in a writing I
could not read, with all of which I touched my forehead in the Eastern
After this he told me that by noon all would be ready for my journey
which I should make with the rank of the King's Envoy, duly
provisioned and escorted by his servants, with liberty to use the
royal horses from post to post. Then he ordered the slaves to bring in
the gifts which the King sent to me, and these were many, including
even suits of flexible armour that would turn any sword-thrust or
I thanked him, saying that I would be ready to start by noon, and
asked whether the King wished to see me before I rode. He replied that
he had so wished, but that as he was suffering in his head from the
effects of the sun, he could not. He bade me, however, remember all
that he had said to me and to be sure that the beauteous lady Amada,
of whom I had spoken, was sent to him without delay. In that case my
reward should be great; but if I failed to fulfil his commands, then
his wrath would be greater and I should perish miserably as he had
I bowed and made no answer, after which he and his companions opened
the bags of gold to show me that it was there, offering to weigh it
again against my servant, the dwarf, so that I could see that nothing
had been taken away.
I replied that the King's word was truer than any scale, whereon the
bags were tied up again and sealed. Then I produced the bow, or rather
its counterfeit, and having shown it to the princes, wrapped it and
six of my own arrows in a linen cloth, to be taken to the King, with a
message that though hard to draw it was the deadliest weapon in the
world. The elder of them took it, bowed and bade me farewell, saying
that perhaps we should meet again ere long in Egypt, if my gods gave
me a safe journey. So we parted and I was glad to see the last of
Scarcely had they gone when the six hunters whom I had won in the
wager and thereby saved from death, entered the chamber and fell upon
their knees before me, asking for orders as to making ready my gear
for the journey. I inquired of them if they were coming also, to which
their spokesman replied that they were my slaves to do what I
"Do you desire to come?" I inquired.
"O Lord Shabaka," answered their spokesman, "we do, though some of us
must leave wives and children behind us."
"Why?" I asked.
"For two reasons, Lord. Here we are men disgraced, though through no
fault of our own and if you were to leave us in this land, soon the
anger of the King would find us out and we should lose not only our
wives and children, but with them our lives. Whereas in another land
we may get other wives and more children, but never shall we get
another life. Therefore we would leave those dear ones to our friends,
knowing that soon the women will forget and find other husbands, and
that the children will grow up to whatever fate is appointed them,
thinking of us, their fathers, as dead. Secondly we are hunters by
trade, and we have seen that you are a great hunter, one whom we shall
always be proud to serve in the chase or in war, one, too, who went
out of his path to save our lives, because he saw that we had been
unjustly doomed to a cruel death. Therefore we desire nothing better
than to be your slaves, hoping that perchance we may earn our liberty
from you in days to come by our good service."
"Is that the wish of all of you?" I asked.
Speaking one by one, they said that it was, though tears rose in the
eyes of some of them who were married at the thought of parting from
their women and their little ones, who, it seemed might not be brought
with them because they were the people of the King and had not been
named in the bet. Moreover, horses could not be found for so many, nor
could they travel fast.
"Come then," I said, "and know that while you are faithful to me, I
will be good to you, men of my own trade, and perhaps in the end set
you free in a land where brave fellows are not given to be torn to
pieces by wild beasts at the word of any kind. But if you fail me or
betray me, then either I will kill you, or sell you to those who deal
in slaves, to work at the oar, or in the mines till you die."
"Henceforth we have no lord but you, O Shabaka," they said, and one
after another took my hand and pressed it to their foreheads, vowing
to be true to me in all things while we lived.
So I bade them begone to bid farewell to those they loved and return
again within half an hour of noon, never expecting, to tell the truth,
that they would come. Indeed I did this to give them the opportunity
of escaping if they saw fit, and hiding themselves where they would.
But as I have often noted, the trade of hunting breeds honesty in the
blood and at the hour appointed all of these men appeared, one of them
with a woman who carried a child in her arms, clinging to him and
weeping bitterly. When her veil slipped aside I saw that she was young
and very fair to look on.
So at noon we left the city of the Great King in the charge of two of
his officers who brought me his thanks for the bow I had sent him,
which he said he should treasure above everything he possessed, a
saying at which Bes rolled his yellow eyes and grinned. We were
mounted on splendid stallions from the royal stables and clad in the
shirts of mail that had been presented to us, though when we were
clear of the city we took these off because of the heat, also because
that which Bes wore chafed him, being too long for his squat shape.
Our goods together with the bags of gold were laden on sumpter horses
which were led by my six hunter slaves. Four picked soldiers brought
up the rear, mighty men from the King's own bodyguard, and two of the
royal postmen who served us as guides. Also there were cooks and
grooms with spare horses.
Thus we started in state and a great crowd watched us go. Our road ran
by the river which we must cross in barges lower down, so that in a
few minutes we came to that quay whither I had been led on the
previous night to die. Yes, there were the watching guards, and there
floated the hateful double boat, at the prow of which appeared the
tortured face of the eunuch Houman, who rolled his head from side to
side to rid himself of the torment of the flies. He caught sight of us
and began to scream for pity and forgiveness, whereat Bes smiled. The
officers halted our cavalcade and one of them approaching me said,
"It is the King's command, O Lord Shabaka, that you should look upon
this villain who traduced you to the King and afterwards dared to
strike you. If you will, enter the water and blind him, that your face
may be the last thing he sees before he passes into darkness."
I shook my head, but Bes into whose mind some thought had come,
whispered to me,
"I wish to speak with yonder eunuch, so give me leave and fear
nothing. I will do him no hurt, only good, if I find the chance."
Then I said to the officer,
"It is not for great lords to avenge themselves upon the fallen. Yet
my slave here was also wronged and would say a word to yonder Houman."
"So be it," said the officer, "only let him be careful not to hurt him
too sorely, lest he should die before the time and escape his
Then Bes tucked up his robes and waded into the river, flourishing a
great knife, while seeing him come, Houman began to scream with fear.
He reached the boat and bent over the eunuch, talking to him in a low
voice. What he did there I could not see because his cloak was spread
out on either side of the man's head. Presently, however, I caught
sight of the flash of a knife and heard yells of agony followed by
groans, whereat I called to him to return and let the fellow be. For
when I remembered that his fate was near to being my own, those sounds
made me sick at heart and I grew angry with Bes, though the cruel
Easterns only laughed.
At length he came back grinning and washing the blade of his knife in
the water. I spoke fiercely to him in my own language, and still he
grinned on, making no answer. When we were mounted again and riding
away from that horrible boat with its groaning prisoner, watching Bes
whose behaviour and silence I could not understand, I saw him sweep
his hand across his great mouth and thrust it swiftly into his bosom.
After this he spoke readily enough, though in a low voice lest someone
who understood Egyptian should overhear him.
"You are a fool, Master," he said, "to think that I should wish to
waste time in torturing that fat knave."
"Then why did you torture him?" I asked.
"Because my god, the Grasshopper, when he fashioned me a dwarf, gave
me a big mouth and good teeth," he answered, whereon I stared at him,
thinking that he had gone mad.
"Listen, Master. I did not hurt Houman. All I did was to cut his cords
nearly through from the under side, so that when night comes he can
break them and escape, if he has the wit. Now, Master, you may not
have noticed, but I did, that before the King doomed you to death by
the boat yesterday, he took a certain round, white seal, a cylinder
with gods and signs cut on it, which hung by a gold chain from his
girdle, and gave it to Houman to be his warrant for all he did. This
seal Houman showed to the Treasurer whereon they produced the gold
that was weighed in the scales against me, and to others when he
ordered the boat to be prepared for you to lie in. Moreover he forgot
to return it, for when he himself was dragged off to the boat by
direct command of the King, I caught sight of the chain beneath his
robe. Can you guess the rest?"
"Not quite," I answered, for I wished to hear the tale in his own
"Well, Master, when I was walking with Houman after he had put you in
the boat, I asked him about this seal. He showed it to me and said
that he who bore it was for the time the king of all the Empire of the
East. It seems that there is but one such seal which has descended
from ancient days from king to king, and that of it every officer,
great or small, has an impress in all lands. If the seal is produced
to him, he compares it with the impress and should the two agree, he
obeys the order that is brought as though the King had given it in
person. When we reached the Court doubtless Houman would have returned
the seal, but seeing that the King was, or feigned to be drunk, waited
for fear lest it should be lost, and with it his life. Then he was
seized as you saw, and in his terror forgot all about the seal, as did
the King and his officers."
"But, surely, Bes, those who took Houman to the boat would have
"Master, even the most clear-sighted do not see well at night. At any
rate my hope was that they had not done so, and that is why I waded
out to prick the eyes of Houman. Moreover, as I had hoped, so it was;
there beneath his robe I saw the chain. Then I spoke to him, saying,
"'I am come to put out your eyes, as you deserve, seeing how you have
treated my master. Still I will spare you at a price. Give me the
King's ancient white seal that opens all doors, and I will only make a
pretence of blinding you. Moreover I will cut your cords nearly
through, so that when the night comes you can break them, roll into
the river and escape.'
"'Take it if you can,' he said, 'and use it to injure or destroy that
"So you took it, Bes."
"Yes, Master, but not easily. Remember, it was on a chain about the
man's neck, and I could not draw it over his head, for, like his
hands, his throat was tied by a cord, as you remember yours was."
"I remember very well," I said, "for my throat is still sore from the
rope that ran to the same staples to which my hands were fastened."
"Yes, Master, and therefore if I drew the chain off his neck, it would
still have been on the ropes. I thought of trying to cut it with the
knife, but this was not easy because it is thick, and if I had dragged
it up on the blade of the knife it would have been seen, for many eyes
were watching me, Master. Then I took another counsel. While I
pretended to be putting out the eyes of Houman, I bent down and
getting the chain between my teeth I bit it through. One tooth broke--
see, but the next finished the business. I ate through the soft gold,
Master, and then sucked up the chain and the round white seal into my
mouth, and that is why I could not answer you just now, because my
cheeks were full of chain. So we have the King's seal that all the
subject countries know and obey. It may be useful, yonder in Egypt,
and at least the gold is of value."
"Clever!" I exclaimed, "very clever. But you have forgotten something,
Bes. When that knave escapes, he will tell the whole story and the
King will send after us and kill us who have stolen his royal seal."
"I don't think so, Master. First, it is not likely that Houman will
escape. He is very fat and soft and already suffers much. After a day
in the sun also he will be weak. Moreover I do not think that he can
swim, for eunuchs hate the water. So if he gets out of the boat it is
probable that he will drown in the river, since he dare not wade to
the quay where the guards will be waiting. But if he does escape by
swimming across the river, he will hide for his life's sake and never
be seen again, and if by chance he is caught, he will say that the
seal fell into the water when he was taken to the boat, or that one of
the guards had stolen it. What he will not say is that he had
bargained it away with someone who in return, cut his cords, since for
that crime he must die by worse tortures than those of the boat.
Lastly we shall ride so fast that with six hours' start none will
catch us. Or if they do I can throw away the chain and swallow the
As Bes said, so it happened. The fate of Houman I never learned, and
of the theft of the seal I heard no more until a proclamation was
issued to all the kingdoms that a new one was in use. But this was not
until long afterwards when it had served my turn and that of Egypt.
THE LADY AMADA
Now day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute every detail of that
journey appeared before me, but to set it all down is needless. As I,
Allan Quatermain, write the record of my vision, still I seem to hear
the thunder of our horses' hoofs while we rushed forward at full
gallop over the plains, over the mountain passes and by the banks of
rivers. The speed at which we travelled was wonderful, for at
intervals of about forty miles were post-houses and at these, whatever
might be the hour of day or night, we found fresh horses from the
King's stud awaiting us. Moreover, the postmasters knew that we were
coming, which astonished me until we discovered that they had been
warned of our arrival by two King's messengers who travelled ahead of
These men, it would seem, although our officers and guides professed
ignorance of the matter, must have left the King's palace at dawn on
the day of our departure, whereas we did not mount in the city till a
little after noon. Therefore they had six hours good start of us, and
what is more, travelled lighter than we did, having no sumpter beasts
with them, and no cooks or servants. Moreover, always they had the
pick of the horses and chose the three swiftest beasts, leading the
third in case one of their own should founder or meet with accident.
Thus it came about that we never caught them up although we covered
quite a hundred miles a day. Only once did I see them, far off upon
the skyline of a mountain range which we had to climb, but by the time
we had reached its crest they were gone.
At length we came to the desert without accident and crossed it,
though more slowly. But even here the King had his posts which were in
charge of Arabs who lived in tents by wells of water, or sometimes
where there was none save what was brought to them. So still we
galloped on, parched by the burning sand beneath and the burning sand
above, and reached the borders of Egypt.
Here, upon the very boundary line, the two officers halted the
cavalcade saying that their orders were to return thence and make
report to the King. There then we parted, Bes and I with the six
hunters who still chose to cling to me, going forward and the officers
of the King with the guides and servants going back. The good horses
that we rode from the last post they gave to us by the King's command,
together with the sumpter beasts, since horses broken to the saddle
were hard to come by in Egypt where they were trained to draw
chariots. These we took, sending back my thanks to the King, and
started on once more, Bes leading that beast which bore the gold and
the hunters serving as a guard.
Indeed I was glad to see the last of those Easterns although they had
brought us safely and treated us well, for all the while I was never
sure but that they had some orders to lead us into a trap, or perhaps
to make away with us in our sleep and take back the gold and the
priceless, rose-hued pearls, any two of which were worth it all. But
such was not their command nor did they dare to steal them on their
own account, since then, even if they escaped the vengeance of the
King, their wives and all their families would have paid the price.
Now we entered Egypt near the Salt Lakes that are not far from the
head of the Gulf, crossing the canal that the old Pharaohs had dug,
which proved easy for it was silted up. Before we reached it we found
some peasant folk labouring in their gardens and I heard one of them
call to another,
"Here come more of the Easterns. What is toward, think you,
"I do not know," answered the other, "but when I passed down the canal
this morning, I saw a body of the Great King's guards gathering from
the fort. Doubtless it is to meet these men of whose coming the other
two who went by fifty hours ago, have warned the officers."
"Now what does that mean?" I asked of Bes.
"Neither more nor less than we have heard, Master. The two King's
messengers who have gone ahead of us all the way from the city, have
told the officer of the frontier fort that we are coming, so he has
advanced to the ford to meet us, for what purpose I do not know."
"Nor do I," I said, "but I wish we could take another road, if there
"There is none, Master, for above and below the canal is full of water
and the banks are too steep for horses to climb. Also we must show no
doubt or fear."
He thought a while, then added,
"Take the royal seal, Master. It may be useful."
He gave it to me, and I examined it more closely than I had done
before. It was a cylinder of plain white shell hung on a gold chain,
that which Bes had bitten through, but now mended again by taking out
the broken link. On this cylinder were cut figures; as I think of a
priest presenting a noble to a god, over whom was the crescent of the
moon, while behind the god stood a man or demon with a tall spear.
Also between the figures were mystic signs, meaning I know not what.
The workmanship of the carving was grown shallow with time and use for
the cylinder seemed to be very ancient, a sacred thing that had
descended from generation to generation and was threaded through with
a bar of silver on which it turned.
I put the seal which was like no other that I had seen, being the work
of an early and simpler age, round my neck beneath my mail and we went
Descending the steep bank of the canal we came to the ford where the
sand that had silted in was covered by not more than a foot of water.
As we entered it, on the top of the further bank appeared a body of
about thirty armed and mounted men, one of whom carried the Great
King's banner, on which I noted was blazoned the very figures that
were cut upon the cylinder. Now it was too late to retreat, so we rode
through the water and met the soldiers. Their officer advanced,
"In the name of the Great King, greeting, my lord Shabaka!
"In the name of the Great King, greeting!" I answered. "What would you
with Shabaka, Officer of the King?"
"Only to do him honour. The word of the King has reached us and we
come to escort you to the Court of Idernes, the Satrap of the King and
Governor of Egypt who sits at Sais."
"That is not my road, Officer. I travel to Memphis to deliver the
commands of the King to my cousin, Peroa, the ruler of Egypt under the
King. Afterwards, perchance, I shall visit the high Idernes."
"To whom our commands are to take you now, my lord Shabaka, not
afterwards," said the officer sternly, glancing round at his armed
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