Uarda by Georg Ebers
Early on the following clay the dwarf Nemu went past the restored hut of Uarda's father--in which he had formerly lived with his wife--with a man in a long coarse robe, the steward of some noble family. They went towards old Hekt's cave-dwelling.
"I would beg thee to wait down here a moment, noble lord," said the dwarf, "while I announce thee to my mother."
"That sounds very grand," said the other. "However, so be it. But stay! The old woman is not to call me by my name or by my title. She is to call me 'steward'--that no one may know. But, indeed, no one would recognize me in this dress."
Nemu hastened to the cave, but before he reached his mother she called out: "Do not keep my lord waiting--I know him well."
Nemu laid his finger to his lips.
"You are to call him steward," said he.
"Good," muttered the old woman. "The ostrich puts his head under his feathers when he does not want to be seen."
"Was the young prince long with Uarda yesterday?"
"No, you fool," laughed the witch, "the children play together. Rameri is a kid without horns, but who fancies he knows where they ought to grow. Pentaur is a more dangerous rival with the red-headed girl. Make haste, now; these stewards must not be kept waiting!"
The old woman gave the dwarf a push, and he hurried back to Ani, while she carried the child, tied to his board, into the cave, and threw the sack over him.
A few minutes later the Regent stood before her. She bowed before him with a demeanor that was more like the singer Beki than the sorceress Hekt, and begged him to take the only seat she possessed.
When, with a wave of his hand, he declined to sit down, she said:
"Yes--yes--be seated! then thou wilt not be seen from the valley, but be screened by the rocks close by. Why hast thou chosen this hour for thy visit?"
"Because the matter presses of which I wish to speak," answered Ani; "and in the evening I might easily be challenged by the watch. My disguise is good. Under this robe I wear my usual dress. From this I shall go to the tomb of my father, where I shall take off this coarse thing, and these other disfigurements, and shall wait for my chariot, which is already ordered. I shall tell people I had made a vow to visit the grave humbly, and on foot, which I have now fulfilled."
"Well planned," muttered the old woman.
Ani pointed to the dwarf, and said politely: "Your pupil."
Since her narrative the sorceress was no longer a mere witch in his eyes. The old woman understood this, and saluted him with a curtsey of such courtly formality, that a tame raven at her feet opened his black beak wide, and uttered a loud scream. She threw a bit of cheese within the cave, and the bird hopped after it, flapping his clipped wings, and was silent.
"I have to speak to you about Pentaur," said Ani. The old woman's eyes flashed, and she eagerly asked, "What of him?"
"I have reasons," answered the Regent, "for regarding him as dangerous to me. He stands in my way. He has committed many crimes, even murder; but he is in favor at the House of Seti, and they would willingly let him go unpunished. They have the right of sitting in judgment on each other, and I cannot interfere with their decisions; the day before yesterday they pronounced their sentence. They would send him to the quarries of Chennu.
"All my objections were disregarded, and now Nemu, go over to the grave of Anienophis, and wait there for me--I wish to speak to your mother alone."
Nemu bowed, and then went down the slope, disappointed, it is true, but sure of learning later what the two had discussed together.
When the little man had disappeared, Ani asked:
"Have you still a heart true to the old royal house, to which your parents were so faithfully attached?" The old woman nodded.
"Then you will not refuse your help towards its restoration. You understand how necessary the priesthood is to me, and I have sworn not to make any attempt on Pentaur's life; but, I repeat it, he stands in my way. I have my spies in the House of Seti, and I know through them what the sending of the poet to Chennu really means. For a time they will let him hew sandstone, and that will only improve his health, for he is as sturdy as a tree. In Chennu, as you know, besides the quarries there is the great college of priests, which is in close alliance with the temple of Seti. When the flood begins to rise, and they hold the great Nile-festival in Chennu, the priests there have the right of taking three of the criminals who are working in the quarries into their house as servants. Naturally they will, next year, choose Pentaur, set him at liberty--and I shall be laughed at."
"Well considered!" said aid Hekt.
"I have taken counsel with myself, with Katuti, and even with Nemu," continued Ani, "but all that they have suggested, though certainly practicable, was unadvisable, and at any rate must have led to conjectures which I must now avoid. What is your opinion?"
"Assa's race must be exterminated!" muttered the old woman hoarsely.
She gazed at the ground, reflecting.
"Let the boat be scuttled," she said at last, "and sink with the chained prisoners before it reaches Chennu."
"No-no; I thought of that myself, and Nemu too advised it," cried Ani. "That has been done a hundred times, and Ameni will regard me as a perjurer, for I have sworn not to attempt Pentaur's life."
"To be sure, thou hast sworn that, and men keep their word--to each other. Wait a moment, how would this do? Let the ship reach Chennu with the prisoners, but, by a secret order to the captain, pass the quarries in the night, and hasten on as fast as possible as far as Ethiopia. From Suan,--[The modern Assuan at the first cataract.]--the prisoners may be conducted through the desert to the gold workings. Four weeks or even eight may pass before it is known here what has happened. If Ameni attacks thee about it, thou wilt be very angry at this oversight, and canst swear by all the Gods of the heavens and of the abyss, that thou hast not attempted Pentaur's life. More weeks will pass in enquiries. Meanwhile do thy best, and Paaker do his, and thou art king. An oath is easily broken by a sceptre, and if thou wilt positively keep thy word leave Pentaur at the gold mines. None have yet returned from thence. My father's and my brother's bones have bleached there."
"But Ameni will never believe in the mistake," cried Ani, anxiously interrupting the witch.
"Then admit that thou gavest the order," exclaimed Hekt. "Explain that thou hadst learned what they proposed doing with Pentaur at Chennu, and that thy word indeed was kept, but that a criminal could not be left unpunished. They will make further enquiries, and if Assa's grandson is found still living thou wilt be justified. Follow my advice, if thou wilt prove thyself a good steward of thy house, and master of its inheritance."
"It will not do," said the Regent. "I need Ameni's support--not for to-day and to-morrow only. I will not become his blind tool; but he must believe that I am."
The old woman shrugged her shoulders, rose, went into her cave, and brought out a phial.
"Take this," she said. "Four drops of it in his wine infallibly destroys the drinker's senses; try the drink on a slave, and thou wilt see how effectual it is."
"What shall I do with it?" asked Ani.
"Justify thyself to Ameni," said the witch laughing. "Order the ship's captain to come to thee as soon as he returns; entertain him with wine--and when Ameni sees the distracted wretch, why should he not believe that in a fit of craziness he sailed past Chennu?"
"That is clever! that is splendid!" exclaimed Ani. "What is once remarkable never becomes common. You were the greatest of singers--you are now the wisest of women--my lady Beki."
"I am no longer Beki, I am Hekt," said the old woman shortly.
"As you will! In truth, if I had ever heard Beki's singing, I should be bound to still greater gratitude to her than I now am to Hekt," said Ani smiling. "Still, I cannot quit the wisest woman in Thebes without asking her one serious question. Is it given to you to read the future? Have you means at your command whereby you can see whether the great stake--you know which I mean--shall be won or lost?"
Hekt looked at the ground, and said after reflecting a short time:
"I cannot decide with certainty, but thy affair stands well. Look at these two hawks with the chain on their feet. They take their food from no one but me. The one that is moulting, with closed, grey eyelids, is Rameses; the smart, smooth one, with shining eyes, is thyself. It comes to this--which of you lives the longest. So far, thou hast the advantage."
Ani cast an evil glance at the king's sick hawk; but Hekt said: "Both must be treated exactly alike. Fate will not be done violence to."
"Feed them well," exclaimed the Regent; he threw a purse into Hekt's lap, and added, as he prepared to leave her: "If anything happens to either of the birds let me know at once by Nemu."
Ani went down the hill, and walked towards the neighboring tomb of his father; but Hekt laughed as she looked after him, and muttered to herself:
"Now the fool will take care of me for the sake of his bird! That smiling, spiritless, indolent-minded man would rule Egypt! Am I then so much wiser than other folks, or do none but fools come to consult Hekt? But Rameses chose Ani to represent him! perhaps because he thinks that those who are not particularly clever are not particularly dangerous. If that is what he thought, he was not wise, for no one usually is so self-confident and insolent as just such an idiot."