The Ancient Allan
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 5
"I come to give commands, not to receive them, Captain of the King."
"Seize Shabaka and his servants," said the officer briefly, whereon
the soldiers rode forward to surround us.
I waited till they were near at hand. Then suddenly I plunged my hand
beneath my robe and drew out the small, white seal which I held before
the eyes of the officer, saying,
"Who is it that dares to lay a finger upon the holder of the King's
White Seal? Surely that man is ready for death."
The officer stared at it, then leapt from his horse and flung himself
face downwards on the ground, crying,
"It is the ancient signet of the Kings of the East, given to their
first forefather by Samas the Sungod, on which hangs the fortunes of
the Great House! Pardon, my lord Shabaka."
"It is granted," I answered, "because what you did you did in
ignorance. Now go to the Satrap Idernes and say to him that if he
would have speech with the bearer of the King's seal which all must
obey, he will find him at Memphis. Farewell," and with Bes and the six
hunters I rode through the guards, none striving to hinder me.
"That was well done, Master," said Bes.
"Yes," I said. "Those two messengers who went ahead of us brought
orders to the frontier guard of Idernes that I should be taken to him
as a prisoner. I do not know why, but I think because things are
passing in Egypt of which we know nothing and the King did not desire
that I should see the Prince Peroa and give him news that I might have
gathered. Mayhap we have been outwitted, Bes, and the business of the
lady Amada is but a pretext to pick a quarrel suddenly before Peroa
can strike the first blow."
"Perhaps, Master, for these Easterns are very crafty. But, Master,
what happens to those who make a false use of the King's ancient,
sacred signet? I think they have cut the ropes which tie them to
earth," and he looked upwards to the sky rolling his yellow eyes.
"They must find new ropes, Bes, and quickly, before they are caught.
Hearken. You have sat upon a throne and I can speak out to you. Think
you that my cousin, the Prince Peroa, loves to be the servant of this
distant, Eastern king, he who by right is Pharaoh of Egypt? Peroa must
strike or lose his niece and perchance his life. Forward, that we may
"And if he will not strike, Master, knowing the King's might and being
somewhat slow to move?"
"Then, Bes, I think that you and I had best go hunting far away in
those lands you know, where even the Great King cannot follow us."
"And where, if only I can find a woman who does not make me ill to
look on, and whom I do not make ill, I too can once more be a king,
Master, and the lord of many thousand brave armed men. I must speak of
that matter to the holy Tanofir."
"Who doubtless will know what to advise you, Bes; or, if he dies not,
For a while we rode on in silence, each thinking his own thoughts.
Then Bes said,
"Master, before so very long we shall reach the Nile, and having with
us gold in plenty can buy boats and hire crews. It comes into my mind
that we should do well for our own safety and comfort to start at once
on a hunting journey far from Egypt; in the land of the Ethiopians,
Master. There perchance I could gather together some of the wise men
in whose hands I left the rule of my kingdom, and submit to them this
question of a woman to marry me. The Ethiopians are a faithful people,
Master, and will not reject me because I have spent some years seeing
the world afar, that I might learn how to rule them better."
"I have remembered that it cannot be, Bes," I said.
"Why not, Master?"
"For this reason. You left your country because of a woman? I cannot
leave mine again because of a woman."
Bes rolled his eyes around as though he thought to see that woman in
the desert. Not discovering her, he stared upwards and there found
"Is she perchance named the lady Amada, Master?"
"So. The lady Amada who you told the Great King is the most beautiful
one in the whole world, causing the fire of Love to burn up in his
royal heart, and with it many other things of which we do not know at
"/You/ told him, Bes," I said angrily.
"I told him of a beautiful one; I did not tell him her name, Master,
and although I never thought of it at the time, perhaps she will be
angry with him who told her name."
Now fear took hold of me, and Bes saw it in my face.
"Do not be afraid, Master. If there is trouble I will swear that I
told the Great King that lady's name."
"Yes, Bes, but how would that fit in with the story, seeing that I was
brought out of the boat for this very purpose?"
"Quite easily, Master, since I will say that you were led from the
boat to confirm my tale. Oh! she will be angry with me, no doubt, but
in Egypt even a dwarf cannot be killed because he has declared a
certain lady to be the most beautiful in the world. But, Master, tell
me, when did you learn to love her?"
"When we were boy and girl, Bes. We used to play together, being
cousins, and I used to hold her hand. Then suddenly she refused to let
me hold her hand any more, and I being quite grown up then, though she
was younger, understood that I had better go away."
"I should have stopped where I was, Master."
"No, Bes. She was studying to be a priestess and my great uncle, the
holy Tanofir, told me that I had better go away. So I went down south
hunting and fighting in command of the troops, and met you, Bes."
"Which perhaps was better for you, Master, than to stop to watch the
lady Amada acquire learning. Still, I wonder whether the holy Tanofir
is /always/ right. You see, Master, he thinks a great deal of priests
and priestesses, and is so very old that he has forgotten all about
love and that without it there never would have been a holy Tanofir."
"The holy Tanofir thinks of souls, not of bodies, Bes."
"Yes, Master. Still, oil is of no use without a lamp, or a soul
without a body, at least here underneath the sun, or so we were taught
who worship the Grasshopper. But, Master, when you came back from all
your hunting, what happened then?"
"Then I found, Bes, that the lady Amada, having acquired all the
learning possible, had taken her first vows to Isis, which she said
she would not break for any man on earth although she might have done
so without crime. Therefore, although I was dear to her, as a brother
would have been had she had one, and she swore that she had never even
thought of another man, she refused so much as to think of marrying
who dreamed only of the heavenly perfections of the lady Isis."
"Ump!" said Bes. "We Ethiopians have Priestesses of the Grasshopper,
or the Grasshopper's wife, but they do not think of her like that. I
hope that one day something stronger than herself will not cause the
lady Amada to break her vows to the heavenly Isis. Only then, perhaps,
it may be for the sake of another man who did not go off to the East
on account of such fool's talk. But here is a village and the horses
are spent. Let us stop and eat, as I suppose even the lady Amada does
On the following afternoon we crossed the Nile, and towards sunset
entered the vast and ancient city of Memphis. On its white walls
floated the banners of the Great King which Bes pointed out to me,
saying that wherever we went in the whole world, it seemed that we
could never be free from those accursed symbols.
"May I live to spit upon them and cast them into the moat," I answered
savagely, for as I drew near to Amada they grew ten times more hateful
to me than they had been before.
In truth I was nearer to Amada than I thought, for after we had passed
the enclosure of the temple of Ptah, the most wonderful and the
mightiest in the whole world, we came to the temple of Isis. There
near to the pylon gate we met a procession of her priests and
priestesses advancing to offer the evening sacrifice of song and
flowers, clad, all of them, in robes of purest white. It was a day of
festival, so singers went with them. After the singers came a band of
priestesses bearing flowers, in front of whom walked another priestess
shaking a /sistrum/ that made a little tinkling music.
Even at a distance there was something about the tall and slender
shape of this priestess that stirred me. When we came nearer I saw
why, for it was Amada herself. Through the thin veil she wore I could
see her dark and tender eyes set beneath the broad brow that was so
full of thought, and the sweet, curved mouth that was like no other
woman's. Moreover there could be no doubt since the veil parting above
her breast showed the birth-mark for which she was famous, the mark of
the young moon, the sign of Isis.
I sprang from my horse and ran towards her. She looked up and saw me.
At first she frowned, then her face grew wondering, then tender, and I
thought that her red lips shaped my name. Moreover in her confusion
she let the /sistrum/ fall.
I muttered "Amada!" and stepped forward, but priests ran between us
and thrust me away. Next moment she had recovered the /sistrum/ and
passed on with her head bowed. Nor did she lift her eyes to look back.
"Begone, man!" cried a priest, "Begone, whoever you may be. Because
you wear Eastern armour do you think that you can dare the curse of
Then I fell back, the holy image of the goddess passed and the
procession vanished through the pylon gate. I, Shabaka the Egyptian,
stood by my horse and watched it depart. I was happy because the lady
Amada was alive, well, and more beautiful than ever; also because she
had shown signs of joy and confusion at seeing me again. Yet I was
unhappy because I met her still filling a holy office which built a
wall between us, also because it seemed to me an evil omen that I
should have been repelled from her by a priest of Isis who talked of
the curse of the goddess. Moreover the sacred statue, I suppose by
accident, turned towards me as it passed and perhaps by the chance of
light, seemed to frown upon me.
Thus I thought as Shabaka hundreds of years before the Christian era,
but as Allan Quatermain the modern man, to whom it was given so
marvellously to behold all these things and who in beholding them, yet
never quite lost the sense of his own identity of to-day, I was
amazed. For I knew that this lady Amada was the same being though clad
in different flesh, as that other lady with whom I had breathed the
magical /Taduki/ fumes which had power to rend the curtain of the
past, or, perhaps, only to breed dreams of what it might have been.
To the outward eye, indeed she was different, as I was different,
taller, more slender, larger-eyed, with longer and slimmer hands than
those of any Western woman, and on the whole even more beautiful and
alluring. Moreover that mysterious look which from time to time I had
seen on Lady Ragnall's face, was more constant on that of the lady
Amada. It brooded in the deep eyes and settled in a curious smile
about the curves of the lips, a smile that was not altogether human,
such a smile as one might wear who had looked on hidden things and
heard voices that spoke beyond the limits of the world.
Somehow neither then nor at any other time during all my dream, could
I imagine this Amada, this daughter of a hundred kings, whose blood
might be traced back through dynasty on dynasty, as nothing but a
woman who nurses children upon her breast. It was as though something
of our common nature had been bred out of her and something of another
nature whereof we have no ken, had entered to fill its place. And yet
these two women were the same, that I /knew/, or at any rate, much of
them was the same, for who can say what part of us we leave behind as
we flit from life to life, to find it again elsewhere in the abysms of
Time and Change? One thing too was quite identical--the birthmark of
the new moon above the breast which the priests of the Kendah had
declared was always the seal that marked their prophetess, the
guardian of the Holy Child.
When the procession had quite departed and I could no longer hear the
sound of singing, I remounted and rode on to my house, or rather to
that of my mother, the great lady Tiu, which was situated beneath the
wall of the old palace facing towards the Nile. Indeed my heart was
full of this mother of mine whom I loved and who loved me, for I was
her only child, and my father had been long dead; so long that I could
not remember him. Eight months had gone by since I saw her face and in
eight months who knew what might have happened? The thought made me
cold for she, who was aged and not too strong, perhaps had been
gathered to Osiris. Oh! if that were so!
I shook my tired horse to a canter, Bes riding ahead of me to clear a
road through the crowded street in which, at this hour of sundown, all
the idlers of Memphis seemed to have gathered. They stared at me
because it was not common to see men riding in Memphis, and with
little love, since from my dress and escort they took me to be some
envoy from their hated master, the Great King of the East. Some even
threatened to bar the way; but we thrust through and presently turned
into a thoroughfare of private houses standing in their own gardens.
Ours was the third of these. At its gate I leapt from my horse, pushed
open the closed door and hastened in to seek and learn.
I had not far to go for, there in the courtyard, standing at the head
of our modest household and dressed in her festal robes, was my
mother, the stately and white-haired lady Tiu, as one stands who
awaits the coming of an honoured guest. I ran to her and kneeling,
kissed her hand, saying,
"My mother! My mother, I have come safe home and greet you."
"I greet you also, my son," she answered, bending down and kissing me
on the brow, "who have been in far lands and passed so many dangers. I
greet you and thank the guardian gods who have brought you safe home
again. Rise, my son."
I rose and kissed her on the face, then looked at the servants who
were bowing their welcome to me, and said,
"How comes it, Lady of the House, that all are gathered here? Did you
await some guest?"
"We awaited you, my son. For an hour have we stood here listening for
the sound of your feet."
"Me!" I exclaimed. "That is strange, seeing that I have ridden fast
and hard from the East, tarrying only a few minutes, and those since I
entered Memphis, when I met----" and I stopped.
"Met whom, Shabaka?"
"The lady Amada walking in the procession of Isis."
"Ah! the lady Amada. The mother waits that the son may stop to greet
the lady Amada!"
"But /why/ did you wait, my mother? Who but a spirit or a bird of the
air could have told you that I was coming, seeing that I sent no
messenger before me?"
"You must have done so, Shabaka, since yesterday one came from the
holy Tanofir, our relative who dwells in the desert in the burial-
ground of Sekera. He bore a message from Tanofir to me, telling me to
make ready since before sundown to-night you, my son, would be with
me, having escaped great dangers, accompanied by the dwarf Bes, your
servant, and six strange Eastern men. So I made ready and waited; also
I prepared lodging for the six strange men in the outbuildings behind
the house and sent a thank offering to the temple. For know, my son, I
have suffered much fear for you."
"And not without cause, as you will say when I tell you all," I
answered laughing. "But how Tanofir knew that I was coming is more
than I can guess. Come, my mother, greet Bes here, for had it not been
for him, never should I have lived to hold your hand again."
So she greeted him and thanked him, whereon Bes rolled his eyes and
muttered something about the holy Tanofir, after which we entered the
house. Thence I despatched a messenger to the Prince Peroa saying that
if it were his pleasure I would wait on him at once, seeing that I had
much to tell him. This done I bathed and caused my hair and beard to
be trimmed and, discarding the Eastern garments, clothed myself in
those of Egypt, and so felt that I was my own man again. Then I came
out refreshed and drank a cup of Syrian wine and the night having
fallen, sat down by my mother in the chamber with a lamp between us,
and, holding her hand, told her something of my story, showing her the
sacks of gold that had come with me safely from the East, and the
chain of priceless, rose-hued pearls that I had won in a wager from
the Great King.
Now when she learned how Bes by his wit had saved me from a death of
torment in the boat, my mother clapped her hands to summon a servant
and sent for Bes, and said to him,
"Bes, hitherto I have looked on you as a slave taken by my son, the
noble Shabaka, in one of his far journeys that it pleases him to make
to fight and to hunt. But henceforth I look upon you as a friend and
give you a seat at my table. Moreover it comes into my mind that
although so strangely shaped by some evil god, perhaps you are more
than you seem to be."
Now Bes looked at me to see if I had told my mother anything, and when
I shook my head answered,
"I thank you, O Lady of the House, who have but done my duty to my
master. Still it is true that as a goatskin often holds good wine, so
a dwarf should not always be judged by what can be seen of him."
Then he went away.
"It seems that we are rich again, Son, who have been somewhat poor of
late years," said my mother, looking at the bags of gold. "Also, there
are the pearls which doubtless are worth more than the gold. What are
you going to do with them, Shabaka?"
"I thought of offering them as a gift to the lady Amada," I replied
hesitatingly, "that is unless you----"
"I? No, I am too old for such gems. Yet, Son, it might be well to keep
them for a time, seeing that while they are your own they may give you
more weight in the eyes of the Prince Peroa and others. Whereas if you
gave them the lady Amada and she took them, perchance it might only be
to see them return to the East, whither you tell me she is summoned by
one whose orders may not be disobeyed."
Now I turned white with rage and answered,
"While I live, Mother, Amada shall never go to the East to be the
woman of yonder King."
"While you live, Son. But those who cross the will of a great king,
are apt to die. Also this is a matter which her uncle, the Prince
Peroa, must decide as policy dictates. Now as ever the woman is but a
pawn in the game. Oh! my son," she went on, "do not pin all your heart
to the robe of this Amada. She is very fair and very learned, but is
she one who will love? Moreover, if so she is a priestess and it would
be difficult for her to wed who is sworn to Isis. Lastly, remember
this: If Egypt were free, she would be its heiress, not her uncle,
Peroa. For hers is the true blood, not his. Would he, therefore, be
willing to give her to any man who, according to the ancient custom,
through her would acquire the right to rule?"
"I do not seek to rule, Mother; I only seek to wed Amada whom I love."
"Amada whom you love and whose name you, or rather your servant Bes,
which is the same thing since it will be held that he did it by your
order, gave to the King of the East, or so I understand. Here is a
pretty tangle, Shabaka, and rather would I be without all that gold
and those priceless pearls than have the task of its unravelling."
Before I could answer and explain all the truth to her, the curtain
was swung aside and through it came a messenger from the Prince Peroa,
who bade me come to eat with him at once at the palace, since he must
see me this night.
So my mother having set the rope of rose-hued pearls in a double chain
about my neck, I kissed her and went, with Bes who was also bidden.
Outside a chariot was waiting into which we entered.
"Now, Master," said Bes to me as we drove to the palace, "I almost
wish that we were back in another chariot hunting lions in the East."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because then, although we had much to fear, there was no woman in the
story. Now the woman has entered it and I think that our real troubles
are about to begin. Oh! to-morrow I go to seek counsel of the holy
"And I come with you," I answered, "for I think it will be needed."
We descended at the great gate of the palace and were led through
empty halls that were no longer used now when there was no king in
Egypt, to the wing of the building in which dwelt the Prince Peroa.
Here we were received by a chamberlain, for the Prince of Egypt still
kept some state although it was but small, and had about him men who
bore the old, high-sounding titles of the "Officers of Pharaoh."
The chamberlain led me and Bes to an ante-chamber of the banqueting
hall and left us, saying that he would summon the Prince who wished to
see me before he ate. This, however, was not necessary since while he
spoke Peroa, who as I guessed had been waiting for me, entered by
another door. He was a majestic-looking man of middle age, for grey
showed in his hair and beard, clad in white garments with a purple hem
and wearing on his brow a golden circlet, from the front of which rose
the /urĉus/ in the shape of a hooded snake that might be worn by those
of royal blood alone. His face was full of thought and his black and
piercing eyes looked heavy as though with sleeplessness. Indeed I
could see that he was troubled. His gaze fell upon us and his features
changed to a pleasant smile.
"Greeting, Cousin Shabaka," he said. "I am glad that you have returned
safe from the East, and burn to hear your tidings. I pray that they
may be good, for never was good news more needed in Egypt."
"Greeting, Prince," I answered, bowing my knee. "I and my servant here
are returned safe, but as for our tidings, well, judge of them for
yourself," and drawing the letter of the Great King from my robe, I
touched my forehead with the roll and handed it to him.
"I see that you have acquired the Eastern customs, Shabaka," he said
as he took it. "But here in my own house which once was the palace of
our forefathers, the Pharaohs of Egypt, by your leave I will omit
them. Amen be my witness," he added bitterly, "I cannot bear to lay
the letter of a foreign king against my brow in token of my country's
Then he broke the silk of the seals and read, and as he read his face
grew black with rage.
"What!" he cried, casting down the roll and stamping on it. "What!
Does this dog of an Eastern king bid me send my niece, by birth the
Royal Princess of Egypt, to be his toy until he wearies of her? First
I will choke her with my own hands. How comes it, Shabaka, that you
care to bring me such a message? Were I Pharaoh now I think your life
would pay the price."
"As it would certainly have paid the price, had I not done so. Prince,
I brought the letter because I must. Also a copy of it has gone, I
believe, to Idernes the Satrap at Sais. It is better to face the
truth, Prince, and I think that I may be of more service to you alive
than dead. If you do not wish to send the lady Amada to the King,
marry her to someone else, after which he will seek her no more."
He looked at me shrewdly and said,
"To whom then? I cannot marry her, being her uncle and already
married. Do you mean to yourself, Shabaka?"
"I have loved the lady Amada from a child, Prince," I answered boldly.
"Also I have high blood in me and having brought much gold from the
East, am rich again and one accustomed to war."
"So you have brought gold from the East! How? Well, you can tell me
afterwards. But you fly high. You, a Count of Egypt, wish to marry the
Royal Lady of Egypt, for such she is by birth and rank, which, if ever
Egypt were free again, would give you a title to the throne."
"I ask no throne, Prince. If there were one to fill I should be
content to leave that to you and your heirs."
"So you say, no doubt honestly. But would the children of Amada say
the same? Would you even say it if you were her husband, and would she
say it? Moreover she is a priestess, sworn not to wed, though perhaps
that trouble might be overcome, if she wishes to wed, which I doubt.
Mayhap you might discover. Well, you are hungry and worn with long
travelling. Come, let us eat, and afterwards you can tell your story.
Amada and the others will be glad to hear it, as I shall. Follow me,
So we went to the lesser banqueting-hall, I filled with joy because I
should see Amada, and yet, much afraid because of that story which I
must tell. Gathered there, waiting for the Prince, we found the
Princess his wife, a large and kindly woman, also his two eldest
daughters and his young son, a lad of about sixteen. Moreover, there
were certain officers, while at the tables of the lower hall sat
others of the household, men of smaller rank, and their wives, since
Peroa still maintained some kind of a shadow of the Court of old
The Princess and the others greeted me, and Bes also who had always
been a favourite with them, before he went to take his seat at the
lowest table, and I greeted them, looking all the while for Amada whom
I did not see. Presently, however, as we took our places on the
couches, she entered dressed, not as a priestess, but in the beautiful
robes of a great lady of Egypt and wearing on her head the /urĉus/
circlet that signified her royal blood. As it chanced the only seat
left vacant was that next to myself, which she took before she
recognized me, for she was engaged in asking pardon for her lateness
of the Prince and Princess, saying that she had been detained by the
ceremonies at the temple. Seeing suddenly that I was her neighbour,
she made as though she would change her place, then altered her mind
and stayed where she was.
"Greeting, Cousin Shabaka," she said, "though not for the first time
to-day. Oh! my heart was glad when looking up, outside the temple, I
caught sight of you clad in that strange Eastern armour, and knew that
you had returned safe from your long wanderings. Yet afterwards I must
do penance for it by saying two added prayers, since at such a time my
thoughts should have been with the goddess only."
"Greeting, Cousin Amada," I answered, "but she must be a jealous
goddess who grudges a thought to a relative--and friend--at such a
"She is jealous, Shabaka, as being the Queen of women she must be who
demands to reign alone in the hearts of her votaries. But tell me of
your travels in the East and how you came by that rope of wondrous
pearls, if indeed there can be pearls so large and beautiful."
This at the time I had little chance of doing, however, since the
young Princess on the other side of her began to talk to Amada about
some forthcoming festival, and the Prince's son next to me who was
fond of hunting, to question me about sport in the East and when,
unhappily, I said that I had shot lions there, gave me no peace for
the rest of that feast. Also the Princess opposite was anxious to
learn what food noble people ate in the East, and how it was cooked
and how they sat at table, and what was the furniture of their rooms
and did women attend feasts as in Egypt, and so forth. So it came
about that what between these things and eating and drinking, which,
being well-nigh starved, I was obliged to do, for, save a cup of wine,
I had taken nothing in my mother's house, I found little chance of
talking with the lovely Amada, although I knew that all the while she
was studying me out of the corners of her large eyes. Or perhaps it
was the rose-hued pearls she studied, I was not sure.
Only one thing did she say to me when there was a little pause while
the cup went round, and she pledged me according to custom and passed
it on. It was,
"You look well, Shabaka, though somewhat tired, but sadder than you
used, I think."
"Perhaps because I have seen things to sadden me, Amada. But you too
look well but somewhat lovelier than you used, I think, if that be
She smiled and blushed as she replied,
"The Eastern ladies have taught you how to say pretty things. But you
should not waste them upon me who have done with women's vanities and
have given myself to learning and--religion."
"Have learning and religion no vanities of their own?" I began, when
suddenly the Prince gave a signal to end the feast.
Thereon all the lower part of the hall went away and the little tables
at which we ate were removed by servants, leaving us only wine-cups in
our hands which a butler filled from time to time, mixing the wine
with water. This reminded me of something, and having asked leave, I
beckoned to Bes, who still lingered near the door, and took from him
that splendid, golden goblet which the Great King had given me, that
by my command he had brought wrapped up in linen and hidden beneath
his robe. Having undone the wrappings I bowed and offered it to the
"What is this wondrous thing?" asked the Prince, when all had finished
admiring its workmanship. "Is it a gift that you bring me from the
King of the East, Shabaka?"
"It is a gift from myself, O Prince, if you will be pleased to accept
it," I answered, adding, "Yet it is true that it comes from the King
of the East, since it was his own drinking-cup that he gave me in
exchange for a certain bow, though not the one he sought, after he had
"You seem to have found much favour in the eyes of this king, Shabaka,
which is more than most of us Egyptians do," he exclaimed, then went
on hastily, "Still, I thank you for your splendid gift, and however
you came by it, shall value it much."
"Perhaps my cousin Shabaka will tell us his story," broke in Amada,
her eyes still fixed upon the rose-hued pearls, "and of how he came to
win all the beauteous things that dazzle our eyes to-night."
Now I thought of offering her the pearls, but remembering my mother's
words, also that the Princess might not like to see another woman bear
off such a prize, did not do so. So I began to tell my story instead,
Bes seated on the ground near to me by the Prince's wish, that he
might tell his.
The tale was long for in it was much that went before the day when I
saw myself in the chariot hunting lions with the King of kings, which
I, the modern man who set down all this vision, now learned for the
first time. It told of the details of my journey to the East, of my
coming to the royal city and the rest, all of which it is needless to
repeat. Then I came to the lion hunt, to my winning of the wager, and
all that happened to me; of my being condemned to death, of the
weighing of Bes against the gold, and of how I was laid in the boat of
torment, a story at which I noticed Amada turn pale and tremble.
Here I ceased, saying that Bes knew better than I what had chanced at
the Court while I was pinned in the boat, whereon all present cried
out to Bes to take up the tale. This he did, and much better than I
could have done, bringing out many little things which made the scene
appear before them, as Ethiopians have the art of doing. At last he
came to the place in his story where the king asked him if he had ever
seen a woman fairer than the dancers, and went on thus:
"O Prince, I told the Great King that I had; that there dwelt in Egypt
a lady of royal blood with eyes like stars, with hair like silk and
long as an unbridled horse's tail, with a shape like to that of a
goddess, with breath like flowers, with skin like milk, with a voice
like honey, with learning like to that of the god Thoth, with wit like
a razor's edge, with teeth like pearls, with majesty of bearing like
to that of the king himself, with fingers like rosebuds set in pink
seashells, with motion like that of an antelope, with grace like that
of a swan floating upon water, and--I don't remember the rest, O
"Perhaps it is as well," exclaimed Peroa. "But what did the King say
"He asked her name, O Prince."
"And what name did you give to this wondrous lady who surpasses all
the goddesses in loveliness and charm, O dwarf Bes?" inquired Amada
"What name, O High-born One? Is it needful to ask? Why, what name
could I give but your own, for is there any other in the world of whom
a man whose heart is filled with truth could speak such things?"
Now hearing this I gasped, but before I could speak Amada leapt up,
"Wretch! You dared to speak my name to this king! Surely you should be
scourged till your bones are bare."
"And why not, Lady? Would you have had me sit still and hear those fat
trollops of the East exalted above you? Would you have had me so
disloyal to your royal loveliness?"
"You should be scourged," repeated Amada stamping her foot. "My Uncle,
I pray you cause this knave to be scourged."
"Nay, nay," said Peroa moodily. "Poor simple man, he knew no better
and thought only to sing your praises in a far land. Be not angry with
the dwarf, Niece. Had it been Shabaka who gave your name, the thing
would be different. What happened next, Bes?"
"Only this, Prince," said Bes, looking upwards and rolling his eyes,
as was his fashion when unloading some great lie from his heart. "The
King sent his servants to bring my master from the boat, that he might
inquire of him whether he had always found me truthful. For, Prince,
those Easterns set much store by truth which here in Egypt is
worshipped as a goddess. There they do not worship her because she
lives in the heart of every man, and some women."
Now all stared at Bes who continued to stare at the ceiling, and I
rose to say something, I know not what, when suddenly the doors opened
and through them appeared heralds, crying,
"Hearken, Peroa, Prince of Egypt by grace of the Great King. A message
from the Great King. Read and obey, O Peroa, Prince of Egypt by grace
of the Great King!"
As they cried thus from between them emerged a man whose long Eastern
robes were stained with the dust of travel. Advancing without salute
he drew out a roll, touched his forehead with it, bowing deeply, and
handed it to the prince, saying,
"Kiss the Word. Read the Word. Obey the Word, O servant of our Master,
the King of kings, beneath whose feet we are all but dust."
Peroa took the roll, made a semblance of lifting it to his forehead,
opened and read it. As he did so I saw the veins swell upon his neck
and his eyes flash, but he only said,
"O Messenger, to-night I feast, to-morrow an answer shall be given to
you to convey to the Satrap Idernes. My servants will find you food
and lodging. You are dismissed."
"Let the answer be given early lest you also should be dismissed, O
Peroa," said the man with insolence.
Then he turned his back upon the prince, as one does on an inferior,
and walked away, accompanied by the herald.
When they were gone and the doors had been shut, Peroa spoke in a
voice that was thick with fury, saying,
"Hearken, all of you, to the words of the writing."
Then he read it.
"From the King of kings, the Ruler of all the earth, to Peroa, one
of his servants in the Satrapy of Egypt,
"Deliver over to my servant Idernes without delay, the person of
Amada, a lady of the blood of the old Pharaohs of Egypt, who is
your relative and in your guardianship, that she may be numbered
among the women of my house."
Now all present looked at each other, while Amada stood as though she
had been frozen into stone. Before she could speak, Peroa went on,
"See how the King seeks a quarrel against me that he may destroy me
and bray Egypt in his mortar, and tan it like a hide to wrap about his
feet. Nay, hold your peace, Amada. Have no fear. You shall not be sent
to the East; first will I kill you with my own hands. But what answer
shall we give, for the matter is urgent and on it hang all our lives?
Bethink you, Idernes has a great force yonder at Sais, and if I refuse
outright, he will attack us, which indeed is what the King means him
to do before we can make preparation. Say then, shall we fight, or
shall we fly to Upper Egypt, abandoning Memphis, and there make our
Now the Councillors present seemed to find no answer, for they did not
know what to say. But Bes whispered in my ear,
"Remember, Master, that you hold the King's seal. Let an answer be
sent to Idernes under the White Seal, bidding him wait on you."
Then I rose and spoke.
"O Peroa," I said, "as it chances I am the bearer of the private
signet of the Great King, which all men must obey in the north and in
the south, in the east and in the west, wherever the sun shines over
the dominions of the King. Look on it," and taking the ancient White
Seal from about my neck, I handed it to him.
He looked and the Councillors looked. Then they said almost with one
"It is the White Seal, the very signet of the Great Kings of the
East," and they bowed before the dreadful thing.
"How you came by this we do not know, Shabaka," said Peroa. "That can
be inquired of afterwards. Yet in truth it seems to be the old Signet
of signets, that which has come down from father to son for countless
generations, that which the King of kings carries on his person and
affixes to his private orders and to the greatest documents of State,
which afterwards can never be recalled, that of which a copy is
emblazoned on his banner."
"It is," I answered, "and from the King's person it came to me for a
while. If any doubt, let the impress be brought, that is furnished to
all the officers throughout the Empire, and let the seal be set in the
Now one of the officers rose and went to bring the impress which was
in his keeping, but Peroa continued,
"If this be the true seal, how would you use it, Shabaka, to help us
in our present trouble?"
"Thus, Prince," I answered. "I would send a command under the seal to
Idernes to wait upon the holder of the seal here in Memphis. He will
suspect a trap and will not come until he has gathered a great army.
Then he will come, but meanwhile, you, Prince, can also collect an
"That needs gold, Shabaka, and I have little. The King of kings takes
all in tribute."
"I have some, Prince, to the weight of a heavy man, and it is at the
service of Egypt."
"I thank you, Shabaka. Believe me, such generosity shall not go
unrewarded," and he glanced at Amada who dropped her eyes. "But if we
can collect the army, what then?"
"Then you can put Memphis into a state of defence. Then too when
Idernes comes I will meet him and, as the bearer of the seal, command
him under the seal to retreat and disperse his army."
"But if he does, Shabaka, it will only be until he has received fresh
orders from the Great King, whereon he will advance again."
"No, Prince, /he/ will not advance, or that army either. For when they
are in retreat we will fall on them and destroy them, and declare you,
O Prince, Pharaoh of Egypt, though what will happen afterwards I do
When they heard this all gasped. Only Amada whispered,
"Well said!" and Bes clapped his big hands softly in the Ethiopian
"A bold counsel," said Peroa, "and one on which I must have the night
to think. Return here, Shabaka, an hour after sunrise to-morrow, by
which time I can gather all the wisest men in Memphis, and we will
discuss this matter. Ah! here is the impress. Now let the seal be
A box was brought and opened. In it was a slab of wood on which was an
impress of the King's seal in wax, surrounded by those of other seals
certifying that it was genuine. Also there was a writing describing
the appearance of the seal. I handed the signet to Peroa who, having
compared it with the description in the writing, fitted it to the
impress on the wax.
"It is the same," he said. "See, all of you."
They looked and nodded. Then he would have given it back to me but I
refused to take it, saying,
"It is not well that this mighty symbol should hang about the neck of
a private man whence it might be stolen or lost."
"Or who might be murdered for its sake," interrupted Peroa.
"Yes, Prince. Therefore take it and hide it in the safest and most
secret place in the palace, and with it these pearls that are too
priceless to be flaunted about the streets of Memphis at night, unless
indeed----" and I turned to look for Amada, but she was gone.
So the seal and the pearls were taken and locked in the box with the
impress and borne away. Nor was I sorry to see the last of them,
wisely as it happened. Then I bade the Prince and his company good
night, and presently was driving homeward with Bes in the chariot.
Our way led us past some large houses once occupied by officers of the
Court of Pharaoh, but now that there was no Court, fallen into ruins.
Suddenly from out of these houses sprang a band of men disguised as
common robbers, whose faces were hidden by cloths with eye-holes cut
in them. They seized the horses by the bridles, and before we could do
anything, leapt upon us and held us fast. Then a tall man speaking
with a foreign accent, said,
"Search that officer and the dwarf. Take from them the seal upon a
gold chain and a rope of rose-hued pearls which they have stolen. But
do them no harm."
So they searched us, the tall man himself helping and, aided by
others, holding Bes who struggled with them, and searched the chariot
also, by the light of the moon, but found nothing. The tall man
muttered that I must be the wrong officer, and at a sign they left us
and ran away.
"That was a wise thought of mine, Bes, which caused me to leave
certain ornaments in the palace," I said. "As it is they have taken
"Yes, Master," he answered, "though I have taken something from them,"
a saying that I did not understand at the time. "Those Easterns whom
we met by the canal told Idernes about the seal, and he ordered this
to be done. That tall man was one of the messengers who came to-night
to the palace."
"Then why did they not kill us, Bes?"
"Because murder, especially of one who holds the seal, is an ugly
business, that is easily tracked down, whereas thieves are many in
Memphis and who troubles about them when they have failed? Oh! the
Grasshopper, or Amen, or both, have been with us to-night."
So I thought although I said nothing, for since we had come off
scatheless, what did it matter? Well, this. It showed me that the
signet of the Great King was indeed to be dreaded and coveted, even
here in Egypt. If Idernes could get it into his possession, what might
he not do with it? Cause himself to be proclaimed Pharaoh perhaps and
become the forefather of an independent dynasty. Why not, when the
Empire of the East was taxed with a great war elsewhere? And if this
was so why should not Peroa do the same, he who had behind him all Old
Egypt, maddened with its wrongs and foreign rule?
That same night before I slept, but after Bes and I had hidden away
the bags of gold by burying them beneath the clay floor, I laid the
whole matter before my mother who was a very wise woman. She heard me
out, answering little, then said,
"The business is very dangerous, and of its end I will not speak until
I have heard the counsel of your great-uncle, the holy Tanofir. Still,
things having gone so far, it seems to me that boldness may be the
best course, since the great King has his Grecian wars to deal with,
and whatever he may say, cannot attack Egypt yet awhile. Therefore if
Peroa is able to overcome Idernes and his army he may cause himself to
be proclaimed Pharaoh and make Egypt free if only for a time."
"Such is my mind, Mother."
"Not all your mind, Son, I think," she answered smiling, "for you
think more of the lovely Amada than of these high policies, at any
rate to-night. Well, marry your Amada if you can, though I misdoubt me
somewhat of a woman who is so lost in learning and thinks so much
about her soul. At least if you marry her and Egypt should become
free, as it was for thousands of years, you will be the next heir to
the throne as husband of the Great Royal Lady."
"How can that be, Mother, seeing that Peroa has a son?"
"A vain youth with no more in him than a child's rattle. If once Amada
ceases to think about her soul she will begin to think about her
throne, especially if she has children. But all this is far away and
for the present I am glad that neither she nor the thieves have got
those pearls, though perhaps they might be safer here than where they
are. And now, my son, go rest for you need it, and dream of nothing,
not even Amada, who for her part will dream of Isis, if at all. I will
wake you before the dawn."
So I went, being too tired to talk more, and slept like a crocodile in
the sun, till, as it seemed to me, but a few minutes later I saw my
mother standing over me with a lamp, saying that it was time to rise.
I rose, unwillingly enough, but refreshed, washed and dressed myself,
by which time the sun had begun to appear. Then I ate some food and,
calling Bes, made ready to start for the palace.
"My son," said my mother, the lady Tiu, before we parted, "while you
have been sleeping I have been thinking, as is the way of the old.
Peroa, your cousin, will be glad enough to make use of you, but he
does not love you over much because he is jealous of you and fears
lest you should become his rival in the future. Still he is an honest
man and will keep a bargain which he once has made. Now it seems that
above everything on earth you desire Amada on whom you have set your
heart since boyhood, but who has always played with you and spoken to
you with her arm stretched out. Also life is short and may come to an
end any day, as you should know better than most men who have lived
among dangers, and therefore it is well that a man should take what he
desires, even if he finds afterwards that the rose he crushes to his
breast has thorns. For then at least he will have smelt the rose, not
only have looked on and longed to smell it. Therefore, before you hand
over your gold, and place your wit and strength at the service of
Peroa, make your bargain with him; namely, that if thereby you save
Amada from the King's House of Women and help to set Peroa on the
throne, he shall promise her to you free of any priestly curse, you
giving her as dowry the priceless rose-hued pearls that are worth a
kingdom. So you will get your rose till it withers, and if the thorns
prick, do not blame me, and one day you may become a king--or a slave,
Amen knows which."
Now I laughed and said that I would take her counsel who desired Amada
and nothing else. As for all her talk about thorns, I paid no heed to
it, knowing that she loved me very much and was jealous of Amada who
she thought would take her place with me.
SHABAKA PLIGHTS HIS TROTH
Bes and I went armed to the palace, walking in the middle of the road,
but now that the sun was up we met no more robbers. At the gate a
messenger summoned me alone to the presence of Peroa, who, he said,
wished to talk with me before the sitting of the Council. I went and
found him by himself.
"I hear that you were attacked last night," he said after greeting me.
I answered that I was and told him the story, adding that it was
fortunate I had left the White Seal and the pearls in safe keeping,
since without doubt the would-be thieves were Easterns who desired to
"Ah! the pearls," he said. "One of those who handled them, who was
once a dealer in gems, says that they are without price, unmatched in
the whole world, and that never in all his life has he seen any to
equal the smallest of them."
I replied that I believed this was so. Then he asked me of the value
of the gold of which I had spoken. I told him and it was a great sum,
for gold was scarce in Egypt. His eyes gleamed for he needed wealth to
"And all this you are ready to hand over to me, Shabaka?"
Now I bethought me of my mother's words, and answered,
"Yes, Prince, at a price."
"What price, Shabaka?"
"The price of the hand of the Royal Lady, Amada, freed from her vows.
Moreover, I will give her the pearls as a marriage dowry and place at
your service my sword and all the knowledge I have gained in the East,
swearing to stand or fall with you."
"I thought it, Shabaka. Well, in this world nothing is given for
nothing and the offer is a fair one. You are well born, too, as well
as myself, and a brave and clever man. Further, Amada has not taken
her final vows and therefore the high priests can absolve her from her
marriage to the goddess, or to her son Horus, whichever it may be, for
I do not understand these mysteries. But, Shabaka, if Fortune should
chance to go with us and I should became the first Pharaoh of a new
dynasty in Egypt, he who was married to the Royal Princess of the true
blood might become a danger to my throne and family."
"I shall not be that man, Prince, who am content with my own station,
and to be your servant."
"And my son's, Shabaka? You know that I have but one lawful son."
"And your son's, Prince."
"You are honest, Shabaka, and I believe you. But how about your sons,
if you have any, and how about Amada herself? Well, in great
businesses something must be risked, and I need the gold and the rest
which I cannot take for nothing, for you won them by your skill and
courage and they are yours. But how you won the seal you have not told
us, nor is there time for you to do so now."
He thought a little, walking up and down the chamber, then went on,
"I accept your offer, Shabaka, so far as I can."
"So far as you can, Prince?"
"Yes; I can give you Amada in marriage and make that marriage easy,
but only if Amada herself consents. The will of a Royal Princess of
Egypt of full age cannot be forced, save by her father if he reigns as
Pharaoh, and I am not her father, but only her guardian. Therefore it
stands thus. Are you willing to fulfil your part of the bargain, save
only as regards the pearls, if she does not marry you, and to take
your chance of winning Amada as a man wins a woman, I on my part
promising to do all in my power to help your suit?"
Now it was my turn to think for a moment. What did I risk? The gold
and perhaps the pearls, no more, for in any case I should fight for
Peroa against the Eastern king whom I hated, and through him for
Egypt. Well, these came to me by chance, and if they went by chance
what of it? Also I was not one who desired to wed a woman, however
much I worshipped her, if she desired to turn her back on me. If I
could win her in fair love--well. If not, it was my misfortune, and I
wanted her in no other way. Lastly, I had reason to think that she
looked on me more favourably than she had ever done on any other man,
and that if it had not been for what my mother called her soul and its
longings, she would have given herself to me before I journeyed to the
East. Indeed, once she had said as much, and there was something in
her eyes last night which told me that in her heart she loved me,
though with what passion at the time I did not know. So very swiftly I
made up my mind and answered,
"I understand and I accept. The gold shall be delivered to you to-day,
Prince. The pearls are already in your keeping to await the end."
"Good!" he exclaimed. "Then let the matter be reduced to writing and
at once, that afterwards neither of us may have cause to complain of
So he sent for his secret scribe and dictated to him, briefly but
clearly, the substance of our bargain, nothing being added, and
nothing taken away. This roll written on papyrus was afterwards copied
twice, Peroa taking one copy, I another, and a third being deposited
according to custom, in the library of the temple of Ptah.
When all was done and Peroa and I had touched each other's breasts and
given our word in the name of Amen, we went to the hall in which we
had dined, where those whom the Prince had summoned were assembled.
Altogether there were about thirty of them, great citizens of Memphis,
or landowners from without who had been called together in the night.
Some of these men were very old and could remember when Egypt had a
Pharaoh of its own before the East set its heel upon her neck, of
noble blood also.
Others were merchants who dealt with all the cities of Egypt; others
hereditary generals, or captains of fleets of ships; others Grecians,
officers of mercenaries who were supposed to be in the pay of the King
of kings, but hated him, as did all the Greeks. Then there were the
high priests of Ptah, of Amen, of Osiris and others who were still the
most powerful men in the land, since there was no village between
Thebes and the mouths of the Nile in which they had not those who were
sworn to the service of their gods.
Such was the company representing all that remained or could be
gathered there of the greatness of Egypt the ancient and the fallen.
To these when the doors had been closed and barred and trusty watchmen
set to guard them, Peroa expounded the case in a low and earnest
voice. He showed them that the King of the East sought a new quarrel
against Egypt that he might grind her to powder beneath his heel, and
that he did this by demanding the person of Amada, his own niece and
the Royal Lady of Egypt, to be included in his household like any
common woman. If she were refused then he would send a great army
under pretext of taking her, and lay the land waste as far as Thebes.
And if she were granted some new quarrel would be picked and in the
person of the royal Amada all of them be for ever shamed.
Next he showed the seal, telling them that I--who was known to many of
them, at least by repute--had brought it from the East, and repeating
to them the plan that I had proposed upon the previous night. After
this he asked their counsel, saying that before noon he must send an
answer to Idernes, the King's Satrap at Sais.
Then I was called upon to speak and, in answer to questions, answered
frankly that I had stolen the ancient White Seal from the King's
servant who carried it as a warrant for the King's private vengeance
on one who had bested him. How I did not mention. I told them also of
the state of the Great King's empire and that I had heard that he was
about to enter upon a war with the Greeks which would need all its
strength, and that therefore if they wished to strike for liberty the
time was at hand.
Then the talk began and lasted for two hours, each man giving his
judgment according to precedence, some one way and some another. When
all had done and it became clear that there were differences of
opinion, some being content to live on in slavery with what remained
to them and others desiring to strike for freedom, among whom were the
high priests who feared lest the Eastern heretics should utterly
destroy their worship, Peroa spoke once more.
"Elders of Egypt," he said briefly, "certain of you think one way, and
certain another, but of this be sure, such talk as we have held
together cannot be hid. It will come to the ears of spies and through
them to those of the Great King, and then all of us alike are doomed.
If you refuse to stir, this very day I with my family and household
and the Royal Lady Amada, and all who cling to me, fly to Upper Egypt
and perhaps beyond it to Ethiopia, leaving you to deal with the Great
King, as you will, or to follow me into exile. That he will attack us
there is no doubt, either over the pretext of Amada or some other,
since Shabaka has heard as much from his own lips. Now choose."
Then, after a little whispering together, every man of them voted for
rebellion, though some of them I could see with heavy hearts, and
bound themselves by a great oath to cling together to the last.
The matter being thus settled such a letter was written to Idernes as
I had suggested on the night before, and sealed with the Signet of
signets. Of the yielding up of Amada it said nothing, but commanded
Idernes, under the private White Seal that none dared disobey, to wait
upon the Prince Peroa at Memphis forthwith, and there learn from him,
the Holder of the Seal, what was the will of the Great King. Then the
Council was adjourned till one hour after noon, and most of them
departed to send messengers bearing secret word to the various cities
and nomes of Egypt.
Before they went, however, I was directed to wait upon my relative,
the holy Tanofir, whom all acknowledged to be the greatest magician in
Egypt, and to ask of him to seek wisdom and an oracle from his Spirit
as to the future and whether in it we should fare well or ill. This I
promised to do.
When most of the Council were gone the messengers of Idernes were
summoned, and came proudly, and with them, or rather before them, Bes
for whom I had sent as he was not present at the Council.
"Master," he whispered to me, "the tallest of those messengers is the
man who captained the robbers last night. Wait and I will prove it."
Peroa gave the roll to the head messenger, bidding him bear it to the
Satrap in answer to the letter which he had delivered to him. The man
took it insolently and thrust it into his robe, as he did so revealing
a silver chain that had been broken and knotted together, and asked
whether there were words to bear besides those written in the roll.
Before Peroa could answer Bes sprang up saying,
"O Prince, a boon, the boon of justice on this man. Last night he and
others with him attacked my master and myself, seeking to rob us, but
finding nothing let us go."
"You lie, Abortion!" said the Eastern.
"Oh! I lie, do I?" mocked Bes. "Well, let us see," and shooting out
his long arm, he grasped the chain about the messenger's neck and
broke it with a jerk. "Look, O Prince," he said, "you may have noted
last night, when that man entered the hall, that there hung about his
neck this chain to which was tied a silver key."
"I noted it," said Peroa.
"Then ask him, O Prince, where is the key now."
"What is that to you, Dwarf?" broke in the man. "The key is my mark of
office as chief butler to the High Satrap. Must I always bear it for
"Not when it has been taken from you, Butler," answered Bes. "See,
here it is," and from his sleeve he produced the key hanging to a
piece of the chain. "Listen, O Prince," he said. "I struggled with
this man and the key was in my left hand though he did not know it at
the time, and with it some of the chain. Compare them and judge. Also
his mask slipped and I saw his face and knew him again."
Peroa laid the pieces of the chain together and observed the
workmanship which was Eastern and rare. Then he clapped his hands, at
which sign armed men of his household entered from behind him.
"It is the same," he said. "Butler of Idernes, you are a common
The man strove to answer, but could not for the deed was proved
"Then, O Prince," asked Bes, "what is the punishment of those thieves
who attack passers-by with violence in the streets of Memphis, for
such I demand on him?"
"The cutting off of the right hand and scourging," answered Peroa, at
which words the butler turned to fly. But Bes leapt on him like an ape
upon a bird, and held him fast.
"Seize that thief," said Peroa to his servants, "and let him receive
fifty blows with the rods. His hand I spare because he must travel."
They laid the man down and the rods having been fetched, gave him the
blows until at the thirtieth he howled for mercy, crying out that it
was true and that it was he who had captained the robbers, words which
Peroa caused to be written down. Then he asked him why he, a messenger
from the Satrap, had robbed in the streets of Memphis, and as he
refused to answer, commanded the officer of justice to lay on. After
three more blows the man said,
"O Prince, this was no common robbery for gain. I did what I was
commanded to do, because yonder noble had about him the ancient White
Seal of the Great King which he showed to certain of the Satrap's
servants by the banks of the canal. That seal is a holy token, O
Prince, which, it is said, has descended for twice a thousand years in
the family of the Great King, and as the Satrap did not know how it
had come into the hands of the noble Shabaka, he ordered me to obtain
it if I could."
"And the pearls too, Butler?"
"Yes, O Prince, since those gems are a great possession with which any
Satrap could buy a larger satrapy."
"Let him go," said Peroa, and the man rose, rubbing himself and
weeping in his pain.
"Now, Butler," he went on, "return to your master with a grateful
heart, since you have been spared much that you deserve. Say to him
that he cannot steal the Signet, but that if he is wise he will obey
it, since otherwise his fate may be worse than yours, and to all his
servants say the same. Foolish man, how can you, or your master, guess
what is in the mind of the Great King, or for what purpose the Signet
of signets is here in Egypt? Beware lest you fall into a pit, all of
you together, and let Idernes beware lest he find himself at the very
bottom of that pit."
"O Prince, I will beware," said the humbled butler, "and whatever is
written over the seal, that I will obey, like many others."
"You are wise," answered Peroa; "I pray for his own sake that the
Satrap Idernes may be as wise. Now begone, thanking whatever god you
worship that your life is whole in you and that your right hand
remains upon your wrist."
So the butler and those with him prostrated themselves before Peroa
and bowed humbly to me and even to Bes because in their hearts now
they believed that we were clothed by the Great King with terrible
powers that might destroy them all, if so we chose. Then they went,
the butler limping a little and with no pride left in him.
"That was good work," said Peroa to me afterwards when we were alone,
"for now yonder knave is frightened and will frighten his master."
"Yes," I answered, "you played that pipe well, Prince. Still, there is
no time to lose, since before another moon this will all be reported
in the East, whence a new light may arise and perchance a new signet."
"You say you stole the White Seal?" he asked.
"Nay, Prince, the truth is that Bes bought it--in a certain fashion--
and I used it. Perhaps it is well that you should know no more at
"Perhaps," he answered, and we parted, for he had much to do.
That afternoon the Council met again. At it I gave over the gold and
by help of it all was arranged. Within a week ten thousand armed men
would be in Memphis and a hundred ships with their crews upon the
Nile; also a great army would be gathering in Upper Egypt, officered
for the most part by Greeks skilled in war. The Greek cities too at
the mouths of the Nile would be ready to revolt, or so some of their
citizens declared, for they hated the Great King bitterly and longed
to cast off his yoke.
For my part, I received the command of the bodyguard of Peroa in which
were many Greeks, and a generalship in the army; while to Bes, at my
prayer, was given the freedom of the land which he accepted with a
smile, he who was a king in his own country.
At length all was finished and I went out into the palace garden to
rest myself before I rode into the desert to see my great uncle, the
holy Tanofir. I was alone, for Bes had gone to bring our horses on
which we were to ride, and sat myself down beneath a palm-tree,
thinking of the great adventure on which we had entered with a merry
heart, for I loved adventures.
Next I thought of Amada and was less merry. Then I looked up and lo!
she stood before me, unaccompanied and wearing the dress, not of a
priestess, but of an Egyptian lady with the little circlet of her rank
upon her hair. I rose and bowed to her and we began to walk together
beneath the palms, my heart beating hard within me, for I knew that my
hour had come to speak.
Yet it was she who spoke the first, saying,
"I hear that you have been playing a high part, Shabaka, and doing
great things for Egypt."
"For Egypt and for you who are Egypt," I answered.
"So I should have been called in the old days, Cousin, because of my
blood and the rank it gives, though now I am but as any other lady of
"And so you shall be called in days to come, Amada, if my sword and
wit can win their way."
"How so, Cousin, seeing that you have promised certain things to my
uncle Peroa and his son?"
"I have promised those things, Amada, and I will abide by my promise;
but the gods are above all, and who knows what they may decree?"
"Yes, Cousin, the gods are above all, and in their hands we will let
these matters rest, provoking them in no manner and least of all by
treachery to our oaths."
We walked for a little way in silence. Then I spoke.
"Amada, there are more things than thrones in the world."
"Yes, Cousin, there is that in which all thrones end--death, which it
seems we court."
"And, Amada, there is that in which all thrones begin--love, which I
court from you."
"I have known it long," she said, considering me gravely, "and been
grateful to you who are more to me than any man has been or ever will
be. But, Shabaka, I am a priestess bound to set the holy One I serve
above a mortal."
"That holy One was wed and bore a child, Amada, who avenged his
father, as I trust that we shall avenge Egypt. Therefore she looks
with a kind eye upon wives and mothers. Also you have not taken your
final vows and can be absolved."
"Yes," she said softly.
"Then, Amada, will you give yourself into my keeping?"
"I think so, Shabaka, though it has been in my mind for long, as you
know well, to give myself only to learning and the service of the
heavenly Lady. My heart calls me to you, it is true, day and night it
calls, how loudly I will not tell; yet I would not yield myself to
that alone. But Egypt calls me also, since I have been shown in a
dream while I watched in the sanctuary, that you are the only man who
can free her, and I think that this dream came from on high. Therefore
I will give myself, but not yet."
"Not yet," I said dismayed. "When?"
"When I have been absolved from my vows, which must be done on the
night of the next new moon, which is twenty-seven days from this.
Then, if nothing comes between us during those twenty-seven days, it
shall be announced that the Royal Lady of Egypt is to wed the noble
"Twenty-seven days! In such times much may happen in them, Amada.
Still, except death, what can come between us?"
"I know of nothing, Shabaka, whose past is shadowless as the noon."
"Or I either," I replied.
Now we were standing in the clear sunlight, but as I said the words a
wind stirred the palm-trees and the shadow from one of them fell full
upon me, and she who was very quick, noted it.
"Some might take that for an omen," she said with a little laugh,
pointing to the line of the shadow. "Oh! Shabaka, if you have aught to
confess, say it now and I will forgive it. But do not leave me to
discover it afterwards when I may not forgive. Perchance during your
journeyings in the East----"
"Nothing, nothing," I exclaimed joyfully, who during all that time had
scarcely spoken to a youthful woman.
"I am glad that nothing happened in the East that could separate us,
Shabaka, though in truth my thought was not your own, for there are
more things than women in the world. Only it seems strange to me that
you should return to Egypt laden with such priceless gifts from him
who is Egypt's greatest enemy."
"Have I not told you that I put my country before myself? Those gifts
were won fairly in a wager, Amada, whereof you heard the story but
last night. Moreover you know the purpose to which they are to be
put," I replied indignantly.
"Yes, I know and now I am sure. Be not angry, Shabaka, with her who
loves you truly and hopes ere long to call you husband. But till that
day take it not amiss if I keep somewhat aloof from you, who must
break with the past and learn to face a future of which I did not
For the rest she stretched out her hand and I kissed it, for while she
was still a priestess her lips she would not suffer me to touch.
Another moment and smiling happily, she had glided away, leaving me
alone in the garden.
Then it was for the first time that I bethought me of the warnings of
Bes and remembered that it was I, not he, who had told the Great King
the name of the most beautiful woman in Egypt, although in all
innocence. Yes, I remembered, and felt as if all the shadows on the
earth had wrapped me round. I thought of finding her, but she had gone
whither I knew not in that great palace. So I determined that the next
time we were alone I would tell her of the matter, explaining all, and
with this thought I comforted myself who did not know that until many
days were past we should be alone no more.
After this I went home and told my mother all my joy, for in truth
there was no happier man in Egypt. She listened, then answered,
smiling a little.
"When your father wished to take me to wife, Shabaka, it was not my
hand that I gave him to kiss, and as you know, I too have the blood of
kings in me. But then I was not a priestess of Isis, so doubtless all
is well. Only in twenty-seven days much may happen, as you said to
Amada. Now I wonder why did she----? Well, no matter, since
priestesses are not like other women who only think of the man they
have won and of naught before or after. The blessing of the gods and
mine be on you both, my son," and she went away to attend to her
As we rode to Sekera to find the holy Tanofir I told Bes also, adding
that I had forgotten to reveal that it was I who had spoken Amada's
name to the king, but that I intended to do so ere long.
Bes rolled his eyes and answered,
"If I were you, Master, as I had forgotten, I should continue to
forget, for what is welcome in one hour is not always welcome in
another. Why speak of the matter at all, which is one hard to explain
to a woman, however wise and royal? I have already said that /I/ spoke
the name to the King and that you were brought from the boat to say
whether I was noted for my truthfulness. Is not that enough?"
While I considered, Bes went on,
"You may remember, Master, that when I told, well--the truth about
this story, the lady Amada asked earnestly that I should be scourged,
even to the bones. Now if you should tell another truth which will
make mine dull as tarnished silver, she will not leave me even my
bones, for I shall be proved a liar, and what will happen to you I am
sure I do not know. And, Master, as I am no longer a slave here in
Egypt, to say nothing of what I may be elsewhere, I have no fancy for
scourgings, who may not kiss the hand that smites me as you can."
"But, Bes," I said, "what is, is and may always be learned in this way
or in that."
"Master, if what is were always learned, I think the world would fall
to pieces, or at least there would be no men left on it. Why should
this matter be learned? It is known to you and me alone, leaving out
the Great King who probably has forgotten as he was drunk at the time.
Oh! Master, when you have neither bow nor spear at hand, it is not
wise to kick a sleeping lion in the stomach, for then he will remember
its emptiness and sup off you. Beside, when first I told you that tale
I made a mistake. I did tell the Great King, as I now remember quite
clearly, that the beautiful lady was named Amada, and he only sent for
you to ask if I spoke the truth."
"Bes," I exclaimed, "you worshippers of the Grasshopper wear virtue
"Easily as an old sandal, Master, or rather not at all, since the
Grasshopper has need of none. For ages they have studied the ways of
those who worship the gods of Egypt, and from them have learned----"
"Amongst other things, Master, that woman, being modest, is shocked at
the sight of the naked Truth."
THE HOLY TANOFIR
We entered the City of Graves that is called Sekera. In the centre
towered pyramids that hid the bones of ancient and forgotten kings,
and everywhere around upon the desert sands was street upon street of
monuments, but save for a priest or two hurrying to patter his paid
office in the funeral chapels of the departed, never a living man. Bes
looked about him and sniffed with his wide nostrils.
"Is there not death enough in the world, Master," he asked, "that the
living should wish to proclaim it in this fashion, rolling it on their
tongues like a morsel they are loth to swallow, because it tastes so
good? Oh! what a waste is here. All these have had their day and yet
they need houses and pyramids and painted chambers in which to sleep,
whereas if they believed the faith they practised, they would have
been content to give their bones to feed the earth they fed on, and
fill heaven with their souls."
"Do your people thus, Bes?"
"For the most part, Master. Our dead kings and great ones we enclose
in pillars of crystal, but we do this that they may serve a double
purpose. One is that the pillars may support the roof of their
successors, and the other, that those who inherit their goods may
please themselves by reflecting how much handsomer they are than those
who went before them. For no mummy looks really nice, Master, at least
with its wrappings off, and our kings are put naked into the crystal."
"And what becomes of the rest, Bes?"
"Their bodies go to the earth or the water and the Grasshopper carries
off their souls to--where, Master?"
"I do not know, Bes."
"No, Master, no one knows, except the lady Amada and perhaps the holy
Tanofir. Here I think is the entrance to his hole," and he pulled up
his beast with a jerk at what looked like the doorway of a tomb.
Apparently we were expected, for a tall and proud-looking girl clad in
white and with extraordinarily dark eyes, appeared in the doorway and
asked in a soft voice if we were the noble Shabaka and Bes, his slave.
"I am Shabaka," I answered, "and this is Bes, who is not my slave but
a free citizen of Egypt."
The girl contemplated the dwarf with her big eyes, then said,
"And other things, I think."
"What things?" inquired Bes with interest, as he stared at this
"A very brave and clever man and one perhaps who is more than he seems
"Who has been telling you about me?" exclaimed Bes anxiously.
"No one, O Bes, at least not that I can remember."
"Not that you can remember! Then who and what are you who learn things
you know not how?"
"I am named Karema and desert-bred, and my office is that of Cup to
the holy Tanofir."
"If hermits drink from such a cup I shall turn hermit," said Bes,
laughing. "But how can a woman be a man's cup and what kind of a wine
does he drink from her?"
"The wine of wisdom, O Bes," she replied colouring a little, for like
many Arabs of high blood she was very fair in hue.
"Wine of wisdom," said Bes. "From such cups most drink the wine of
folly, or sometimes of madness."
"The holy Tanofir awaits you," she interrupted, and turning, entered
A little way down the passage was a niche in which stood three lamps
ready lighted. One of these she took and gave the others to us. Then
we followed her down a steep incline of many steps, till at length we
found ourselves in a hot and enormous hall hewn from the living rock
and filled with blackness.
"What is this place?" said Bes, who looked frightened, and although he
spoke in a low whisper, our guide overheard him and turning, answered,
"This is the burial place of the Apis bulls. See, here lies the last,
not yet closed in," and holding up her lamp she revealed a mighty
sarcophagus of black granite set in a niche of the mausoleum.
"So they make mummies of bulls as well as of men," groaned Bes. "Oh!
what a land. But when I have seen the holy Tanofir it was in a brick
cell beneath the sky."
"Doubtless that was at night, O Bes," answered Karema, "for in such a
house he sleeps, spending his days in the Apis tomb, because of all
the evil that is worked beneath the sun."
"Hump," said Bes, "I should have thought that more was worked beneath
the moon, but doubtless the holy Tanofir knows better, or being asleep
does not mind."
Now in front of each of the walled-up niches was a little chapel, and
at the fourth of these whence a light came, the maiden stopped,
"Enter. Here dwells the holy Tanofir. He tended this god during its
life-days in his youth, and now that the god is dead he prays above
"Prays to the bones of a dead bull in the dark! Well, give me a live
grasshopper in the light; he is more cheerful," muttered Bes.
"O Dwarf," cried a deep and resounding voice from within the chapel,
"talk no more of things you do not understand. I do not pray to the
bones of a dead bull, as you in your ignorance suppose. I pray to the
spirit whereof this sacred beast was but one of the fleshly symbols,
which in this haunted place you will do well not to offend."
Then for once I saw Bes grow afraid, for his great jaw dropped and he
"Master," he said to me, "when next you visit tombs where maidens look
into your heart and hermits hear your very thoughts, I pray you leave
me behind. The holy Tanofir I love, if from afar, but I like not his
house, or his----" Here he looked at Karema who was regarding him with
a sweet smile over the lamp flame, and added, "There is something the
matter with me, Master; I cannot even lie."
"Cease from talking follies, O Shabaka and Bes, and enter," said the
tremendous voice from within.
So we entered and saw a strange sight. Against the back wall of the
chapel which was lit with lamps, stood a life-sized statue of Maat,
goddess of Law and Truth, fashioned of alabaster. On her head was a
tall feather, her hair was covered with a wig, on her neck lay a
collar of blue stones; on her arms and wrists were bracelets of gold.
A tight robe draped her body. In her right hand that hung down by her
side, she held the looped Cross of Life, and in her left which was
advanced, a long, lotus-headed sceptre, while her painted eyes stared
fixedly at the darkness. Crouched upon the ground, at the feet of the
statue, scribe fashion, sat my great-uncle Tanofir, a very aged man
with sightless eyes and long hands, so thin that one might see through
them against the lamp-flame. His head was shaven, his beard was long
and white; white too was his robe. In front of him was a low altar, on
which stood a shallow silver vessel filled with pure water, and on
either side of it a burning lamp.
We knelt down before him, or rather I knelt, for Bes threw himself
flat upon his face.
"Am I the King of kings whom you have so lately visited, that you
should prostrate yourselves before me?" said Tanofir in his great
voice, which, coming from so frail and aged a man seemed most
unnatural. "Or is it to the goddess of Truth beyond that you bow
yourselves? If so, that is well, since one, if not both of you,
greatly needs her pardon and her help. Or is it to the sleeping god
beyond who holds the whole world on his horns? Or is it to the
darkness of this hallowed place which causes you to remember the
nearness of the awaiting tomb?"
"Nay, my Uncle," I said, "we would greet you, no more, who are so
worthy of our veneration, seeing we believe, both of us, that you
saved us yonder in the East, from that tomb of which you speak, or
rather from the jaws of lions or a cruel death by torments."
"Perchance I did, I or the gods of which I am the instrument. At least
I remember that I sent you certain messages in answer to a prayer for
help that reached me, here in my darkness. For know that since we
parted I have gone quite blind so that I must use this maiden's eyes
to read what is written in yonder divining-cup. Well, it makes the
darkness of this sepulchre easier to bear and prepares me for my own.
'Tis full a hundred and twenty years since first I looked upon the
light, and now the time of sleep draws near. Come hither, my nephew,
and kiss me on the brow, remembering in your strength that a day will
dawn when as I am, so shall you be, if the gods spare you so long."
So I kissed him, not without fear, for the old man was unearthly. Then
he sent Karema from the place and bade me tell him my story, which I
did. Why he did this I cannot say, since he seemed to know it already
and once or twice corrected me in certain matters that I had
forgotten, for instance as to the exact words that I had used to the
Great King in my rage and as to the fashion in which I was tied in the
boat. When I had done, he said,
"So you gave the name of Amada to the Great King, did you? Well, you
could have done nothing else if you wished to go on living, and
therefore cannot be blamed. Yet before all is finished I think it will
bring you into trouble, Shabaka, since among many gifts, the gods did
not give that of reason to women. If so, bear it, since it is better
to have trouble and be alive than to have none and be dead, that is,
for those whose work is still to do in the world. And you, or rather
Bes, stole the White Signet of signets of which, although it is so
simple and ancient, there is not the like for power in the whole
world. That was well done since it will be useful for a while. And now
Peroa has determined to rebel against the King, which also is well
done. Oh! trouble not to tell me of that business for I know all. But
what would you learn of me, Shabaka?"
"I am instructed to learn from you the end of these great matters, my
"Are you mad, Shabaka, that you should think me a god who can read the
"Not at all, my Uncle, who know that you can if you will."
"Call the maiden," he said.
So Bes went out and brought her in.
"Be seated, Karema, there in front of the altar, and look into my
She obeyed and presently seemed to go to sleep for her head nodded.
Then he said,
"Wake, woman, look into the water in the bowl upon the altar and tell
me what you see."
She appeared to wake, though I perceived that this was not really so,
for she seemed a different woman with a fixed face that frightened me,
and wide and frozen eyes. She stared into the silver bowl, then spoke
in a new voice, as though some spirit used her tongue.
"I see myself crowned a queen in a land I hate," she said coldly, a
saying at which I gasped. "I am seated on a throne beside yonder
dwarf," a saying at which Bes gasped. "Although so hideous, this dwarf
is a great man with a good heart, a cunning mind and the courage of a
lion. Also his blood is royal."
Here Bes rolled his eyes and smiled, but Tanofir did not seem in the
least astonished, and said,
"Much of this is known to me and the rest can be guessed. Pass on to
what will happen in Egypt, before the spirit leaves you."
"There will be war in Egypt," she answered. "I see fightings; Shabaka
and others lead the Egyptians. The Easterns are driven away or slain.
Peroa rules as Pharaoh, I see him on his throne. Shabaka is driven
away in his turn, I see him travelling south with the dwarf and with
myself, looking very sad. Time passes. I see the moons float by; I see
messengers reach Shabaka, sent by Peroa and you O holy Tanofir; they
tell of trouble in Egypt. I see Shabaka and the dwarf coming north at
the head of a great army of black men armed with bows. With them I
come rejoicing, for my heart seems to shine. He reaches a temple on
the Nile about which is camped another great army, a countless army of
Easterns under the command of the King of kings. Shabaka and the dwarf
give battle to that army and the fray is desperate. They destroy it,
they drive it into the Nile; the Nile runs red with blood. The Great
King falls, an arrow from the bow of Shabaka is in his heart. He
enters the temple, a conqueror, and there lies Peroa, dying or dead. A
veiled priestess is there before an image, I cannot see her face.
Shabaka looks on her. She stretches out her arms to him, her eyes burn
with woman's love, her breast heaves, and above the image frowns and
threatens. All is done, for Tanofir, Master of spirits, you die,
yonder in the temple on the Nile, and therefore I can see no more. The
power that comes through you, has left me."
Then once more she became as a woman asleep.
"You have heard, Shabaka and Bes," said Tanofir quietly and stroking
his long white beard, "and what that maiden seemed to read in the
water you may believe or disbelieve as you will."
"What do you believe, O holy Tanofir?" I asked.
"The only part of the story whereof I am sure," he replied, evading a
direct answer, "is that which said that I shall die, and that when I
am dead I shall no longer be able to cause the maiden Karema to see
visions. For the rest I do not know. These things may happen or they
may not. But," he added with a note of warning in his voice, "whether
they happen or not, my counsel to you both is that you say nothing of
"What then shall we report to those who bid me seek the oracle of your
wisdom, O Tanofir?"
"You can tell them that my wisdom declared that the omens were mixed
with good and evil, but that time would show the truth. Hush now, the
maiden is about to awake and must not be frightened. Also it is time
for me to be led from this sepulchre to where I sleep, for I think
that Ra has set and I am weary. Oh! Shabaka, why do you seek to peer
into the future, which from day to day will unroll itself as does a
scroll? Be content with the present, man, and take what Fate gives you
of good or ill, not seeking to learn what offerings he hides beneath
his robe in the days and the years and the centuries to come."
"Yet you have sought to learn those things, O Tanofir, and not in
"Aye and what have they made of me? A blind old hermit weighed down
with the weight of years and holding in my fingers but some few
threads that with pain and grief I have plucked from the fringe of
Wisdom's robe. Be warned by me, Nephew. While you are a man, live the
life of a man, and when you become a spirit, live the life of a
spirit. But do not seek to mix the two together like oil and wine, and
thus spoil both. I am glad to learn, O Bes, that you are going to make
a king's, or a slave's wife, whichever it may be, of this maiden,
seeing that I love her well and hold this trade unwholesome for her.
She will be better bearing babes than reading visions in a diviner's
cup, and I will pray the gods that they may not be dwarfs as you are,
but take on the likeness of their mother, who tells me that she is
fair. Hush! she stirs.
"Karema, are you awake? Good. Then lead me from the sepulchre, that I
may make my evening prayer beneath the stars. Go, Shabaka and Bes, you
are brave men, both of you, and I am glad to have the one for nephew
and the other for pupil. My greetings to your mother, Tiu. She is a
good woman and a true, one to whom you will do well to hearken. To the
lady Amada also, and bid her study her beauteous face in a mirror and
not be holy overmuch, since too great holiness often thwarts itself
and ends in trouble for the unholy flesh. Still she loves pearls like
other women, does she not, and even the statue of Isis likes to be
adorned. As for you, Bes, though I think that is not your name, do not
lie except when you are obliged, for jugglers who play with too many
knives are apt to cut their fingers. Also give no more evil counsel to
your Master on matters that have to do with woman. Now farewell. Let
me hear how fortune favours you from time to time, Shabaka, for you
take part in a great game, such as I loved in my youth before I became
a holy hermit. Oh! if they had listened to me, things would have been
different in Egypt to-day. But it was written otherwise, and as ever,
women were the scribes. Good night, good night, good night! I am glad
that my thought reached you yonder in the East, and taught you what to
say and do. It is well to be wise sometimes, for others' sake, but not
for our own, oh! not for our own."
"Master," said Bes as we ambled homewards beneath the stars, "the holy
Tanofir is a man for thought to feed on, since having climbed to the
topmost peak of holiness, he does not seem to like its cold air and
warns off those who would follow in his footsteps."
"Then he might have spared himself the pains in your case, Bes, or in
my own for that matter, since we shall never come so high."
"No, Master, and I am glad to have his leave to stay lower down, since
that hot place of dead bulls is not one which I wish to inhabit in my
age, making use of a maiden to stare into a pot of water, and there
read marvels, which I could invent better for myself after a jug or
two of wine. Oh! the holy Tanofir is quite right. If these things are
going to happen let them happen, for we cannot change them by knowing
of them beforehand. Who wishes to know, Master, if his throat will be
"Or that he will be married," I suggested.
"Just so, Master, seeing that such prophecies end in becoming truths
because we make them true, feeling that we must. Thus, now I must
marry yonder Karema if she will marry me for fear lest I should prove
the holy Tanofir to be what he called me--a liar."
I laughed and then asked Bes if he had taken note of what the seeress
said of our flight south and our return thence with a great army of
black men armed with bows.
"Yes, Master," he answered gravely, "and I think this army can be none
other than that of the Ethiopians of whom by right I am the King. This
very night I send messengers to tell those who rule in my place that I
still live and am changing my mind on the matter of marriage. Also
that if I do change it I may return to them, the wisest man who ever
wore the crown of Ethiopia, having journeyed all about the world and
collected much knowledge."
"Perhaps, Bes, those who rule in your place may not wish to give it up
to you. Perhaps they will kill you."
"Have no fear, Master; as I have told you, the Ethiopians are a
faithful people. Moreover they know that such a deed would bring the
curse of the Grasshopper on them, since then the locusts would appear
and eat up all their land, and when they were starving their enemies
would attack them. Lastly they are a very tall folk and simple-minded
and would not wish to miss the chance of being ruled over by the
wisest dwarf in all the world, if only because it would be something
new to them, Master."
Again I laughed thinking that Bes was jesting according to his
fashion. But when that night, chancing to go round the corner of the
house, I came upon him with a circlet of feathers round his head and
his big bow in his hand, addressing three great black men who knelt
before him as though he were a god, I changed my mind. As I withdrew
he caught sight of me and said,
"I pray you, my lord Shabaka, stay one moment." Then he spoke to the
three men in his own language, translating sentence by sentence to me
what he said to them. Briefly it was this:--
"Say to the Lords and Councillors of the Ancient Kingdom that I, the
Karoon" (for such it seemed was his title) "have a friend named the
lord Shabaka, he whom you see before you, who again and again has
saved my life, nursing me in his arms as a mother nurses her babe, and
who is, after me, the bravest and the wisest man in all the world. Say
to them that if indeed I double myself by marriage and return having
fulfilled the law, I will beg this mighty prince to accompany me, and
that if he consents that will be the most joyful day which the
Ethiopians have seen for a thousand years, since he will teach them
wisdom and lead their armies in great and glorious battles. Let the
priests of the Grasshopper pray therefore that he may consent to do
so. Now salute the mighty lord Shabaka who can send one arrow through
all three of you and two more behind, and depart, tarrying not day or
night till you reach the land of Ethiopia. Then when you have
delivered the message of Karoon to the Captains and the Councillors,
return, or let others return and seek me out wherever I may be,
bringing of the gold of Ethiopia and other gifts, together with their
answer, seeing that I and the lord Shabaka who have the world beneath
our feet, will not come to a land where we are not welcome."
So these great men saluted me as though I were the King of kings
himself, after which they rubbed their foreheads in the dust before
Bes, said something which I did not understand, leapt to their feet,
crying "Karoon" and sprang away into the night.
"It is good to have been a slave, Master," said Bes when they had
gone, "since it teaches one that it is even better to be a king, at
Here I may add that during the days which followed Bes was often
absent. When I asked him where he had gone, he would answer, to drink
in the wisdom of the holy Tanofir by help of a certain silver vessel
that the maiden Karema held to his lips. From all of which I gathered
that he was wooing the lady who had called herself the Cup of Tanofir,
and wondered how the business went, though as he said no more I did
not ask him.
Indeed I had little time to talk with Bes about such light matters,
since things moved apace in Memphis. Within six days all the great
lords left in Upper Egypt were sworn to the revolt under the
leadership of Peroa, and hour by hour their vassals or hired
mercenaries flowed into the city. These it was my duty to weld into an
army, and at this task I toiled without cease, separating them into
regiments and drilling them, also arranging for the arming and
victualling of the boats of war. Then news came that Idernes was
advancing from Sais with a great force of Easterns, all the garrison
of Lower Egypt indeed, as his messengers said, to answer the summons
conveyed to him under the private Seal of seals.
Of Amada during this time I saw little, only meeting her now and again
at the table of Peroa, or elsewhere in public. For the rest it pleased
her to keep away from me. Once or twice I tried to find her alone,
only to discover that she was engaged in the service of the goddess.
Once, too, as she left Peroa's table, I whispered into her ear that I
wished to speak with her. But she shook her head, saying,
"After the new moon, Shabaka. Then you shall speak with me as much as
Thus it came about that never could I find opportunity to tell her of
that matter of what had happened at the court of the Great King. Still
every morning she sent me some token, flowers or trifling gifts, and
once a ring that must have belonged to her forefathers, since on its
bezel was engraved the royal /urĉus/, together with the signs of long
life and health, which ring I wore hung about my neck but not upon my
finger, fearing lest that emblem of royalty might offend Peroa or some
of his House, if they chanced to see it. So in answer I also sent her
flowers and other gifts, and for the rest was content to wait.
All of which things my mother noted with a smile, saying that the lady
Amada showed a wonderful discretion, such as any man would value in a
wife of so much beauty, which also must be most pleasing to her
mistress, the goddess Isis. To this I answered that I valued it less
as a lover than I might do as a husband. My mother smiled again and
spoke of something else.
Thus things went on while the storm-clouds gathered over Egypt.
One night I could not sleep. It was that of the new moon and I knew
that during those hours of darkness, before the solemn conclave of the
high priests, with pomp and ceremony in the sanctuary of the temple,
Amada had undergone absolution of her vows to Isis and been given
liberty to wed as other women do. Indeed my mother, in virtue of her
rank as a Singer of Amen, had been present at the rite, and returning,
told me all that happened.
She described how Amada had appeared, clad as a priestess, how she had
put up her prayer to the four high priests seated in state, demanding
to be loosed from her vow "for the sake of her heart and of Egypt."
Then one of the high priests, he of Amen, I think, as the chief of
them all, had advanced to the statue of the goddess Isis and whispered
the prayer to it, whereon after a pause the goddess nodded thrice in
the sight of all present, thereby signifying her assent. This done the
high priest returned and proclaimed the absolution in the ancient
words "for the sake of the suppliant's heart and of Egypt" and with it
the blessing of the goddess on her union, adding, however, the
formula, "at thy prayer, daughter and spouse, I, the goddess Isis, cut
the rope that binds thee to me on earth. Yet if thou should'st tie it
again, know that it may never more be severed, for if thou strivest so
to do, it shall strangle thee in whatever shape thou livest on the
earth throughout the generations, and with thee the man thou choosest
and those who give thee to him. Thus saith Isis the Queen of Heaven."
"What does that mean?" I asked my mother.
"It means, my son, that if, having broken her vows to Isis, a woman
should repeat them and once more enter the service of the goddess, and
then for the second time seek to break them, she and the man for whom
she did this thing would be like flies in a spider's web, and that not
only in this life, but in any other that may be given to them in the
"It seems that Isis has a long arm," I said.
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