Morning Star - H. Rider Haggard - ebook

Morning Star ebook

H. Rider Haggard

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The whole story revolves around a strong woman, the great queen of Egypt Neter-Tua, the daughter of the God Amen-Ra. She must overcome many difficulties: the murder of her father and the conspiracies of her uncle. Having overcome these difficulties, she will finally be able to rule Egypt and marry her adoptive brother, Rames. This story combines fantasy and romance, divine and human.

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Contents

Dedication

Author’s Note

Chapter 1. The Plot Of Abi

Chapter 2. The Promise Of The God

Chapter 3. Rames, The Princess, And The Crocodile

Chapter 4. The Summoning Of Amen

Chapter 5. How Rames Fought The Prince Of Kes

Chapter 6. The Oath Of Rames And Of Tua

Chapter 7. Tua Comes To Memphis

Chapter 8. The Magic Image

Chapter 9. The Doom Of Pharaoh

Chapter 10. The Coming Of The Ka

Chapter 11. The Dream Of Abi

Chapter 12. The Royal Marriage

Chapter 13. Abi Learns The Truth

Chapter 14. The Boat Of Ra

Chapter 15. Tua And The King Of Tat

Chapter 16. The Beggar And The King

Chapter 17. Tua Finds Her Lover

Chapter 18. The Judgment Of The Gods

DEDICATION

TO DOCTOR WALLIS BUDGE,KEEPER OF EGYPTIAN AND ASSYRIAN ANTIQUITIES,BRITISH MUSEUM

My Dear Budge,

Only a friendship extending over many years emboldened me, an amateur, to propose to dedicate a Romance of Old Egypt to you, one of the world’s masters of the language and lore of the great people who in these latter days arise from their holy tombs to instruct us in the secrets of history and faith.

With doubt I submitted to you this story, asking whether you wished to accept pages that could not, I feared, be free from error, and with surprise in due course I read, among other kind things, your advice to me to “leave it exactly as it is.” So I take you at your word, although I can scarcely think that in paths so remote and difficult I have not sometimes gone astray.

Whatever may be the shortcomings, therefore, that your kindness has concealed from me, since this tale was so fortunate as to please and interest you, its first critic, I offer it to you as an earnest of my respect for your learning and your labours.

Very sincerely yours,

H. Rider Haggard, Ditchingham.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

It may be thought that even in a story of Old Egypt to represent a “Ka” or “Double” as remaining in active occupation of a throne, while the owner of the said “Double” goes upon a long journey and achieves sundry adventures, is, in fact, to take a liberty with Doubles. Yet I believe that this is scarcely the case. The Ka or Double which Wiedermann aptly calls the “Personality within the Person” appears, according to Egyptian theory, to have had an existence of its own. It did not die when the body died, for it was immortal and awaited the resurrection of that body, with which, henceforth, it would be reunited and dwell eternally. To quote Wiedermann again, “The Ka could live without the body, but the body could not live without the Ka... it was material in just the same was as the body itself.” Also, it would seem that in certain ways it was superior to and more powerful than the body, since the Egyptian monarchs are often represented as making offerings to their own Kas as though these were gods. Again, in the story of “Setna and the Magic Book,” translated by Maspero and by Mr. Flinders Petrie in his “Egyptian Tales,” the Ka plays a very distinct part of its own. Thus the husband is buried at Memphis and the wife in Koptos, yet the Ka of the wife goes to live in her husband’s tomb hundreds of miles away, and converses with the prince who comes to steal the magic book.

Although I know no actual precedent for it, in the case of a particularly powerful Double, such as was given in this romance to Queen Neter- Tua by her spiritual father, Amen, the greatest of the Egyptian gods, it seems, therefore, legitimate to suppose that, in order to save her from the abomination of a forced marriage with her uncle and her father’s murderer, the Ka would be allowed to anticipate matters a little, and to play the part recorded in these pages.

It must not be understood, however, that the fact of marriage with an uncle would have shocked the Egyptian mind, since these people, and especially their royal Houses, made a habit of wedding their own brothers and sisters, as in this tale Mermes wed his half sister Asti.

I may add that there is authority for the magic waxen image which the sorcerer Kaku and his accomplice used to bewitch Pharaoh. In the days of Rameses III, over three thousand years ago, a plot was made to murder the king in pursuance of which such images were used. “Gods of wax... for enfeebling the limbs of people,” which were “great crimes of death, the great abomination of the land.” Also a certain “magic roll” was brought into play which enabled its user to “employ the magic powers of the gods.”

Still, the end of these wizards was not encouraging to others, for they were found guilty and obliged to take their own lives.

But even if I am held to have stretched the prerogative of the Ka, or of the waxen image which, by the way, has survived almost to our own time, and in West Africa, as a fetish, is still pierced with pins or nails, I can urge in excuse that I have tried, so far as a modern may, to reproduce something of the atmosphere and colour of Old Egypt, as it has appeared to a traveller in that country and a student of its records. If Neter- Tua never sat upon its throne, at least another daughter of Amen, a mighty queen, Hatshepu, wore the crown of the Upper and the Lower Lands, and sent her embassies to search out the mysteries of Punt. Of romance also, in high places, there must have been abundance, though the short-cut records of the religious texts of the priests do not trouble themselves with such matters.

At any rate, so believing, in the hope that it may interest readers of to-day, I have ventured to discover and present one such romance, whereof the motive, we may be sure, is more ancient, by far, than the old Egyptians, namely, the triumph of true love over great difficulties and dangers. It is pleasant to dream that the gods are on the side of such lovers, and deign for their sakes to work the miracles in which for thousands of years mankind has believed, although the scientist tells us that they do not happen.

How large a part marvel and magic of the most terrible and exalted kind played in the life of Old Egypt and of the nations with which she fought and traded, we need go no further than the Book of Exodus to learn. Also all her history is full of it, since among the Egyptians it was an article of faith that the Divinity, which they worshipped under so many names and symbols, made use of such mysterious means to influence or direct the affairs of men and bring about the accomplishment of Its decrees.

H.R.H.

CHAPTER 1

THE PLOT OF ABI

It was evening in Egypt, thousands of years ago, when the Prince Abi, governor of Memphis and of great territories in the Delta, made fast his ship of state to a quay beneath the outermost walls of the mighty city of Uast or Thebes, which we moderns know as Luxor and Karnac on the Nile. Abi, a large man, very dark of skin, for his mother was one of the hated Hyksos barbarians who once had usurped the throne of Egypt, sat upon the deck of his ship and stared at the setting sun which for a few moments seemed to rest, a round ball of fire, upon the bare and rugged mountains, that ring round the Tombs of the Kings.

He was angry, as the slave-women, who stood on either side fanning him, could see well enough by the scowl on his coarse face and the fire in his large black eyes. Presently they felt it also, for one of them, staring at the temples and palaces of the wonderful city made glorious by the light of the setting sun, that city of which she had heard so often, touched his head with the feathers of her fan. Thereon, as though glad of an excuse to express his ill-humour, Abi sprang up and boxed her ears so heavily that the poor girl fell to the deck.

“Awkward cat,” he cried, “do that again and you shall be flogged until your robe sticks to your back!”

“Pardon, mighty Lord,” she said, beginning to weep, “it was an accident; the wind caught my fan.”

“So the rod shall catch your skin, if you are not more careful, Merytra. Stop that snivelling and go send Kaku the Astrologer here. Go, both, I weary of the sight of your ugly faces.”

The girl rose, and with her fellow slave ran swiftly to the ladder that led to the waist of the ship.

“He called me a cat,” Merytra hissed through her white teeth to her companion. “Well, if so, Sekhet the cat-headed is my godmother, and she is the Lady of Vengeance.”

“Yes,” answered the other, “and he said that we were both ugly– we, whom every lord who comes near the Court admires so much! Oh! I wish a holy crocodile would eat him, black pig!”

“Then why don’t they buy us? Abi would sell his daughters, much more his fan-bearers–at a price.”

“Because they hope to get us for nothing, my dear, and what is more, if I can manage it one of them shall, for I am tired of this life. Have your fling while you can, I say. Who knows at which corner Osiris, Lord of Death, is waiting.”

“Hush!” whispered Merytra, “there is that knave of an astrologer, and he looks cross, too.”

Then, hand in hand, they went to this lean and learned man and humbly bowed themselves before him.

“Master of the Stars,” said Merytra, “we have a message for you. No, do not look at my cheek, please, the marks are not magical, only those of the divine fingers of the glorious hand of the most exalted Prince Abi, son of the Pharaoh happily ruling in Osiris, etc., etc., etc., of the right, royal blood of Egypt–that is on one side, and on the other of a divine lady whom Khem the Spirit, or Ptah the Creator, thought fit to dip in a vat of black dye.”

“Hem!” said Kaku glancing nervously over his shoulder. Then, seeing that there was no one near, he added, “you had better be careful what you say, my dear. The royal Abi does not like to hear the colour of his late mother defined so closely. But why did he slap your face?”

She told him.

“Well,” he answered, “if I had been in his place I would rather have kissed it, for it is pretty, decidedly pretty,” and this learned man forgot himself so far as to wink at Merytra.

“There, Sister,” said the girl, “I always told you that rough shells have sweet nuts inside of them. Thank you for your compliment, Master of learning. Will you tell us our fortune for nothing?”

“Yes, yes,” he answered; “at least the fee I want will cost you nothing. Now stop this nonsense,” he added, anxiously, “I gather that he is cross.”

“I never saw him crosser, Kaku. I am glad it is you who reads the stars, not I. Listen!”

As he spoke an angry roar reached them from the high deck above.

“Where is that accursed astrologer?” said the roar.

“There, what did I tell you? Oh! never mind the rest of the papers, go at once. Your robe is full of rolls as it is.”

“Yes,” answered Kaku as he ran to the ladder, “but the question is, how will he like what is in the rolls?”

“The gods be with you!” cried one of the girls after him, “you will need them all.”

“And if you get back alive, don’t forget your promise about the fortunes,” said the other.

A minute later this searcher of the heavens, a tall, hook-nosed man, was prostrating himself before Abi in his pavilion on the upper deck, so low that his Syrian-shaped cap fell from his bald head.

“Why were you so long in coming?” asked Abi.

“Because your slaves could not find me, royal Son of the Sun. I was at work in my cabin.”

“Indeed, I thought I heard them giggling with you down there. What did you call me? Royal Son of the Sun? That is Pharaoh’s name! Have the stars shown you -?” and he looked at him eagerly.

“No, Prince, not exactly that. I did not think it needful to search them on a matter which seems established, more or less.”

“More or less,” answered Abi gloomily. “What do you mean by your ‘more or less’? Here am I at the turning-point of my fortunes, not knowing whether I am to be Pharaoh of the Upper and Lower Lands, or only the petty lord of a city and a few provinces in the Delta, and you satisfy my hunger for the truth with an empty dish of ‘more or less.’ Man, what do you mean?”

“If your Majesty will be pleased to tell his servant exactly what you desire to know, perhaps I may be able to answer the question,” replied Kaku humbly.

“Majesty! Well, I desire to know by what warrant you call me ‘Majesty,’ who am only Prince of Memphis. Did the stars give it to you? Have you obeyed me and asked them of the future?”

“Certainly, certainly. How could I disobey? I observed them all last night, and have been working out the results till this moment; indeed, they are not yet finished. Question and I will answer.”

“You will answer, yes, but what will you answer? Not the truth, I fancy, because you are a coward, though if anyone can read the truth, it is you. Man,” he added fiercely, “if you dare to lie to me I will cut your head off and take it to Pharaoh as a traitor’s; and your body shall lie, not in that fine tomb which you have made, but in the belly of a crocodile whence there is no resurrection. Do you understand? Then let us come to the point. Look, the sun sets there behind the Tombs of Kings, where the departed Pharaohs of Egypt take their rest till the Day of Awakening. It is a bad omen for me, I know, who wished to reach this city in the morning when Ra was in the House of Life, the East, and not in the House of Death, the West; but that accursed wind sent by Typhon, held me back and I could not. Well, let us begin at the end which must come after all. Tell me, you reader of the heavens, shall I sleep at last in that valley?”

“I think so, Prince; at least, so says your planet. Look, yonder, it springs to life above you,” and he pointed to an orb that appeared at the topmost edge of the red glow of the sunset.

“You are keeping something back from me,” said Abi, searching Kaku’s face with his fierce eyes. “Shall I sleep in the tomb of Pharaoh, in my own everlasting house that I shall have made ready to receive me?”

“Son of Ra, I cannot say,” answered the astrologer. “Divine One, I will be frank with you. Though you be wrath, yet will I tell you the truth as you command me. An evil influence is at work in your House of Life. Another star crosses and re-crosses your path, and though for a long time you seem to swallow it up, yet at the last it eclipses you–it and one that goes with it.”

“What star?” asked Abi hoarsely, “Pharaoh’s?”

“Nay, Prince, the star of Amen.”

“Amen! What Amen?”

“Amen the god, Prince, the mighty father of the gods.”

“Amen the god,” repeated Abi in an awed voice. “How can a man fight against a god?”

“Say rather against two gods, for with the star of Amen goes the star of Hathor, Queen of Love. Not for many periods of thousands of years have they been together, but now they draw near to each other, and so will remain for all your life. Look,” and Kaku pointed to the Eastern horizon where a faint rosy glow still lingered reflected from the western sky.

As they watched this glow melted, and there in the pure heavens, lying just where it met the distant land, seeming to rest upon the land, indeed, appeared a bright and beautiful star, and so close to it that, to the eye, they almost touched, a twin star. For a few minutes only were they seen; then they vanished beneath the line of the horizon.

“The morning star of Amen, and with it the star of Hathor,” said the astrologer.

“Well, Fool, what of it?” exclaimed Abi. “They are far enough from my star; moreover, it is they that sink, not I, who ride higher every moment.”

“Aye, Prince, but in a year to come they will certainly eclipse that star of yours. Prince, Amen and Hathor are against you. Look, I will show you their journeyings on this scroll and you shall see where they eat you up yonder, yes, yonder over the Valley of dead Kings, though twenty years and more must go by ere then, and take this for your comfort, during those years you shine alone,” and he began to unfold a papyrus roll.

Abi snatched it from him, crumpled it up and threw it in his face.

“You cheat!” he said. “Do you think to frighten me with this nonsense about stars? Here is my star,” and he drew the short sword at his side and shook it over the head of the trembling Kaku. “This sharp bronze is the star I follow, and be careful lest it should eclipse you, you father of lies.”

“I have told the truth as I see it,” answered the poor astrologer with some dignity, “but if you wish, O Prince, that in the future I should indeed prophesy pleasant things to you, why, it can be done easily enough. Moreover, it seems to me that this horoscope of yours is not so evil, seeing that it gives to you over twenty years of life and power, more by far than most men can expect–at your age. If after that come troubles and the end, what of it?”

“That is so,” replied Abi mollified. “It was my ill-temper, everything has gone cross to-day. Well, a gold cup, my own, shall pay the price of it. Bear me no ill-will, I pray you, learned scribe, and above all tell me no falsehood as the message of the stars you serve. It is the truth I seek, the truth. If only she may be seen, and clasped, I care not how ill-favoured is her face.”

Rejoicing at the turn which things had taken, and especially at the promise of the priceless cup which he had long coveted, Kaku bowed obsequiously. He picked up his crumpled roll and was about to retire when through the gloom of the falling night, some men mounted upon asses were seen riding over the mud flats that border the Nile at this spot, towards that bank where the ship was moored.

“The captain of my guard,” said Abi, who saw the starlight gleam upon a bronze helmet, “who brings me Pharaoh’s answer. Nay, go not, bide and hear it, Kaku, and give us your counsel on it, your true counsel.”

So the astrologer stood aside and waited, till presently the captain appeared saluting.

“What says Pharaoh, my brother?” asked the Prince.

“Lord, he says that he will receive you, though as he did not send for you, he thinks that you can scarcely come upon any necessary errand, as he has heard long ago of your victory over the desert-dwelling barbarians, and does not want the offering of the salted heads of their officers which you bring to him.”

“Good,” said Abi contemptuously. “The divine Pharaoh was ever a woman in such matters, as in others. Let him be thankful that he has generals who know how to make war and to cut off the heads of his enemies in defence of the kingdom. We will wait upon him to-morrow.”

“Lord,” added the captain, “that is not all Pharaoh’s message. He says that it has been reported to him that you are accompanied by a guard of three hundred soldiers. These soldiers he refuses to allow within the gates. He directs that you shall appear before his Majesty attended by five persons only.”

“Indeed,” answered Abi with a scornful laugh. “Does Pharaoh fear, then, lest I should capture him and his armies and the great city with three hundred soldiers?”

“No, Prince,” answered the captain bluntly; “but I think he fears lest you should kill him and declare yourself Pharaoh as next in blood.”

“Ah!” said Abi, “as next of blood. Then I suppose that there are still no children at the Court?”

“None, O Prince. I saw Ahura, the royal wife, the Lady of the Two Lands, that fairest of women, and other lesser wives and beautiful slave girls without number, but never a one of them had an infant on her breast or at her knee. Pharaoh remains childless.”

“Ah!” said Abi again. Then he walked forward out of the pavilion whereof the curtains were drawn back, and stood a while upon the prow of the vessel.

By now night had fallen, and the great moon, rising from the earth as it were, poured her flood of silver light over the desert, the mountains, the limitless city of Thebes, and the wide rippling bosom of the Nile. The pylons and obelisks, glittering with copper and with gold, towered to the tender sky. In the window places of palaces and of ten thousand homes lamps shone like stars. From gardens, streets and the courts of temples floated the faint sound of singing and of music, while on the great embattled walls the watchmen called the hour from post to post.

It was a wondrous scene, and the heart of Abi swelled as he gazed upon it. What wealth lay yonder, and what power. There was the glorious house of his brother, Pharaoh, the god in human form who for all his godship had never a child to follow after him when he ascended to Osiris, as he who was sickly probably must do before so very long.

Yes, but before then a miracle might happen; in this way or in that a successor to the throne might be found and acknowledged, for were not Pharaoh and his House beloved by all the priests of Amen, and by the people, and was not he, Abi, feared and disliked because he was fierce, and the hated savage blood flowed in his veins? Oh! what evil god had put it in his father’s heart to give him a princess of the Hyksos for a mother, the Hyksos, whom the Egyptians loathed, when he had the fairest women of the world from whom to choose? Well, it was done and could not be undone, though because of it he might lose his heritage of the greatest throne in all the earth. Also was it not to this fierce Hyksos blood that he owed his strength and vigour?

Why should he wait? Why should he not set his fortune on a cast? He had three hundred soldiers with him, picked men and brave, children of the sea and the desert, sworn to his House and interests. It was a time of festival, those gates were ill-guarded. Why should he not force them at the dead of night, make his way to the palace, cause Pharaoh to be gathered to his fathers, and at the dawn discover himself seated upon Pharaoh’s throne? At the thought of it Abi’s heart leapt in his breast, his wide nostrils spread themselves, and he erected his strong head as though already he felt upon it the weight of the double crown. Then he turned and walked back to the pavilion.

“I am minded to strike a blow,” he said. “Say now, my officer, would you and the soldiers follow me into the heart of yonder city to-night to win a throne–or a grave? If it were the first, you should be the general of all my army, and you, astrologer, should become vizier, yes, after Pharaoh you two should be the greatest men in all the land.”

They looked at him and gasped.

“A venturesome deed, Prince,” said the captain at length; “yet with such a prize to win I think that I would dare it, though for the soldiers I cannot speak. First they must be told what is on foot, and out of so many, how know we that the heart of one or more would not fail? A word from a traitor and before this time to-morrow the embalmers, or the jackals, would be busy.”

Abi heard and looked from him to his companion.

“Prince,” said Kaku, “put such thoughts from you. Bury them deep. Let them rise no more. In the heavens I read something of this business, but then I did not understand, but now I see the black depths of hell opening beneath our feet. Yes, hell would be our home if we dared to lift hand against the divine person of the Pharaoh. I say that the gods themselves would fight against us. Let it be, Prince, let it be, and you shall have many years of rule, who, if you strike now, will win nothing but a crown of shame, a nameless grave, and the everlasting torment of the damned.”

As he spoke Abi considered the man’s face and saw that all craft had left it. This was no charlatan that spoke to him, but one in earnest who believed what he said.

“So be it,” he answered. “I accept your judgment, and will wait upon my fortune. Moreover, you are both right, the thing is too dangerous, and evil often falls on the heads of those who shoot arrows at a god, especially if they have not enough arrows. Let Pharaoh live on while I make ready. Perhaps to- morrow I may work upon him to name me his heir.”

The astrologer sighed in relief, nor did the captain seem disappointed.

“My head feels firmer on my shoulders than it did just now,” he said: “and doubtless there are times when wisdom is better than valour. Sleep well, Prince; Pharaoh will receive you to-morrow two hours after sunrise. Have we your leave to retire?”

“If I were wise,” said Abi, fingering the hilt of his sword as he spoke, “you would both of you retire for ever who know all the secret of my heart, and with a whisper could bring doom upon me.”

Now the pair looked at each other with frightened eyes, and, like his master, the captain began to play with his sword.

“Life is sweet to all men, Prince,” he said significantly, “and we have never given you cause to doubt us.”

“No,” answered Abi, “had it been otherwise I should have struck first and spoken afterwards. Only you must swear by the oath which may not be broken that in life or death no word of this shall pass your lips.”

So they swore, both of them, by the holy name of Osiris, the judge and the redeemer.

“Captain,” said Abi, “you have served me well. Your pay is doubled, and I confirm the promise that I made to you–should I ever rule yonder you shall be my general.”

While the soldier bowed his thanks, the prince said to Kaku,

“Master of the stars, my gold cup is yours. Is there aught else of mine that you desire?”

“That slave,” answered the learned man, “Merytra, whose ears you boxed just now–”

“How do you know that I boxed her ears?” asked Abi quickly. “Did the stars tell you that also? Well, I am tired of the sly hussy–take her. Soon I think she will box yours.”

But when Kaku sought Merytra to tell her the glad tidings that she was his, he could not find her.

Merytra had disappeared.

CHAPTER 2

THE PROMISE OF THE GOD

It was morning at Thebes, and the great city glowed in the rays of the new-risen sun. In a royal barge sat Abi the prince, splendidly apparelled, and with him Kaku, his astrologer, his captain of the guard and three other of his officers, while in a second barge followed slaves who escorted two chiefs and some fair women captured in war, also the chests of salted heads and hands, offerings to Pharaoh.

The white-robed rowers bent to their oars, and the swift boat shot forward up the Nile through a double line of ships of war, all of them crowded with soldiers. Abi looked at these ships which Pharaoh had gathered there to meet him, and thought to himself that Kaku had given wise counsel when he prayed him to attempt no rash deed, for against such surprises clearly Pharaoh was well prepared. He thought it again when on reaching the quay of cut stones he saw foot and horse-men marshalled there in companies and squadrons, and on the walls above hundreds of other men, all armed, for now he saw what would have happened to him, if with his little desperate band he had tried to pierce that iron ring of watching soldiers.

At the steps generals met him in their mail and priests in their full robes, bowing and doing him honour. Thus royally escorted, Abi passed through the open gates and the pylons of the splendid temple dedicated to the Trinity of Thebes, “the House of Amen in the Southern Apt,” where gay banners fluttered from the pointed masts, up the long street bordered with tall houses set in their gardens, till he came to the palace wall. Here more guards rolled back the brazen gates which in his folly of a few hours gone he had thought that he could force, and through the avenues of blooming trees he was led to the great pillared hall of audience.

After the brightness without, that hall seemed almost dark, only a ray of sunshine flowing from an unshuttered space in the clerestory above, fell full on the end of it, and revealed the crowned Pharaoh and his queen seated in state upon their thrones of ivory and gold. Gathered round and about him also were scribes and councillors and captains, and beyond these other queens in their carved chairs and attended, each of them, by beautiful women of the household in their gala dress. Moreover, behind the thrones, and at intervals between the columns, stood the famous Nubian guard of two hundred men, the servants of the body of Pharaoh as they were called, each of them chosen for faithfulness and courage.

The centre of all this magnificence was Pharaoh, on him the sunlight beat, to him every eye was turned, and where his glance fell there heads bowed and knees were bent. A small thin man of about forty years of age with a puckered, kindly and anxious face, and a brow that seemed to sink beneath the weight of the double crown that, save for its royal snake-crest of hollow gold, was after all but of linen, a man with thin, nervous hands which played amongst the embroideries of his golden robe–such was Pharaoh, the mightiest monarch in the world, the ruler whom millions that had never seen him worshipped as a god.

Abi, the burly framed, thick-lipped, dark-skinned, round-eyed Abi, born of the same father, stared at him with wonderment, for years had passed since last they met, and in the palace when they were children a gulf had been set between the offspring of a royal mother and the child of a Hyksos concubine taken into the Household for reasons of state. In his vigour, and the might of his manhood, he stared at this weakling, the son of a brother and a sister, and the grandson of a brother and a sister. Yet there was something in that gentle eye, an essence of inherited royalty, before which his rude nature bowed. The body might be contemptible, but within it dwelt the proud spirit of the descendant of a hundred kings.

Abi advanced to the steps of the throne and knelt there, till after a little pause Pharaoh stretched out the sceptre in his hand for him to kiss. Then he spoke in his light, quick voice.

“Welcome, Prince and my brother,” he said. “We quarrelled long ago, did we not, and many years have passed since we met, but Time heals all wounds and –welcome, son of my father. I need not ask if you are well,” and he glanced enviously at the great-framed man who knelt before him.

“Hail to your divine Majesty!” answered Abi in his deep voice. “Health and strength be with you, Holder of the Scourge of Osiris, Wearer of the Feathers of Amen, Mortal crowned with the glory of Ra.”

“I thank you, Prince,” answered Pharaoh gently, “and that health and strength I need, who fear that I shall only find them when I have yielded up the Scourge of Osiris whereof you speak to him who lent it me. But enough of myself. Let us to business, afterwards we will talk of such matters together. Why have you left your government at Memphis without leave asked, to visit me here in my City of the Gates?”

“Be not wrath with me,” answered Abi humbly. “A while ago, in obedience to your divine command, I attacked the barbarians who threatened your dominions in the desert. Like Menthu, god of war, I fell upon them. I took them by surprise, I smote them, thousands of them bit the dust before me. Two of their kings I captured with their women–they wait without, to be slain by your Majesty. I bring with me the heads of a hundred of their captains and the hands of five hundred of their soldiers, in earnest of the truth of my word. Let them be spread out before you. I report to your divine Majesty that those barbarians are no more, that for a generation, at least, I have made the land safe to your uttermost dominions in the north. Suffer that the heads and the hands be brought in and counted out before your Majesty, that the smell of them may rise like incense to your divine nostrils.”

“No, no,” said Pharaoh, “my officers shall count them without, for I love not such sights of death, and I take your word for the number. What payment do you ask for this service, my brother, for with great gifts would I reward you, who have done so well for me and Egypt?”

Before he answered Abi looked at the beautiful queen, Ahura, who sat at Pharaoh’s side, and at the other royal consorts and women.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “I see here many wives and ladies, but royal children I do not see. Grant–for doubtless they are in their own chambers–grant, O Pharaoh, that they may be led hither that my eyes may feed upon their loveliness, and that I may tell of them, each of them, to their cousins who await me at Memphis.”

At these words a flush as of shame spread itself over the lovely face of Ahura, the royal wife, the Lady of the Two Lands; while the women turned their heads away whispering to each other bitterly, for the insult hurt them. Only Pharaoh set his pale face and answered with dignity.

“Prince Abi, to affront those whom the gods have smitten, be they kings or peasants, is an unworthy deed which the gods will not forget. You know well that I have no children. Why then do you ask me to show you their loveliness?”

“I had heard rumours, O Pharaoh,” answered the Prince, “no more. Indeed, I did not believe them, for where there are so many wives I was certain that there would be some mothers. Therefore I asked to be sure before I proffered a petition which now I will make to you not for my own sake but for Egypt’s and yours, O Pharaoh. Have I your leave to speak here in public?”

“Speak on,” said Pharaoh sternly. “Let aught that is for the welfare of Egypt be heard by Egypt.”

“Your Majesty has told me,” replied Abi bowing, “that the gods, being wrath, have denied you children. Not so much as one girl of your blood have they given to you to fill your throne after you when in due season it pleases you to depart to Osiris. Were it otherwise, were there even but a single woman- child of your divine race, I would say nothing, I would be silent as the grave. But so it is, and though your queens be fair and many, so it would seem that it must remain, since the ears of the gods having been deaf to your pleadings for so long, although you have built them glorious temples and made them offerings without count, will scarcely now be opened. Even Amen your father, Amen, whose name you bear, will perform no miracle for you, O Pharaoh, who are so great that he has decreed that you shall shine alone like the full moon at night, not sharing your glory with a single star.”

Now Ahura the Queen, who all this while had been listening intently, spoke for the first time in a quick angry voice, saying,

“How know you that, Prince of Memphis? Sometimes the gods relent and that which they have withheld for a space, they give. My lord lives, and I live, and a child of his may yet fill the throne of Egypt.”

“It may be so, O Queen,” said Abi bowing, “and for my part I pray that it will be so, for who am I that I should know the purpose of the kings of heaven? If but one girl be born of you and Pharaoh, then I take back my words and give to you that title which for many years has been written falsely upon your thrones and monuments, the title of Royal Mother.”

Now Ahura would have answered again, for this sneering taunt stung her to the quick. But Pharaoh laid his hand upon her knee and said,

“Continue, Prince and brother. We have heard from you that which we already know too well–that I am childless. Tell us what we do not know, the desire of your heart which lies hid beneath all these words.”

“Pharaoh, it is this–I am of your holy blood, sprung of the same divine father–”

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