Uarda by Georg Ebers
Once or twice Pentaur and his companions had had to defend themselves against hostile mountaineers, who rushed suddenly upon them out of the woods. When they were about two days' journey still from the end of their march, they had a bloody skirmish with a roving band of men that seemed to belong to a larger detachment of troops.
The nearer they got to Kadesh, the more familiar Kaschta showed himself with every stock and stone, and he went forward to obtain information; he returned somewhat anxious, for he had perceived the main body of the Cheta army on the road which they must cross. How came the enemy here in the rear of the Egyptian army? Could Rameses have sustained a defeat?
Only the day before they had met some Egyptian soldiers, who had told them that the king was staying in the camp, and a great battle was impending. This however could not have by this time been decided, and they had met no flying Egyptians.
"If we can only get two miles farther without having to fight," said Uarda's father. "I know what to do. Down below, there is a ravine, and from it a path leads over hill and vale to the plain of Kadesh. No one ever knew it but the Mohar and his most confidential servants. About half-way there is a hidden cave, in which we have often stayed the whole day long. The Cheta used to believe that the Mohar possessed magic powers, and could make himself invisible, for when they lay in wait for us on the way we used suddenly to vanish; but certainly not into the clouds, only into the cave, which the Mohar used to call his Tuat. If you are not afraid of a climb, and will lead your horse behind you for a mile or two, I can show you the way, and to-morrow evening we will be at the camp."
Pentaur let his guide lead the way; they came, without having occasion to fight, as far as the gorge between the hills, through which a full and foaming mountain torrent rushed to the valley. Kaschta dropped from his horse, and the others did the same. After the horses had passed through the water, he carefully effaced their tracks as far as the road, then for about half a mile he ascended the valley against the stream. At last he stopped in front of a thick oleander-bush, looked carefully about, and lightly pushed it aside; when he had found an entrance, his companions and their weary scrambling beasts followed him without difficulty, and they presently found themselves in a grove of lofty cedars. Now they had to squeeze themselves between masses of rock, now they labored up and down over smooth pebbles, which offered scarcely any footing to the horses' hoofs; now they had to push their way through thick brushwood, and now to cross little brooks swelled by the winter-rains.
The road became more difficult at every step, then it began to grow dark, and heavy drops of rain fell from the clouded sky.
"Make haste, and keep close to me," cried Kaschta. "Half an hour more, and we shall be under shelter, if I do not lose my way."
Then a horse broke down, and with great difficulty was got up again; the rain fell with increased violence, the night grew darker, and the soldier often found himself brought to a stand-still, feeling for the path with his hands; twice he thought he had lost it, but he would not give in till he had recovered the track. At last he stood still, and called Pentaur to come to him.
"Hereabouts," said he, "the cave must be; keep close to me--it is possible that we may come upon some of the pioneer's people. Provisions and fuel were always kept here in his father's time. Can you see me? Hold on to my girdle, and bend your head low till I tell you you may stand upright again. Keep your axe ready, we may find some of the Cheta or bandits roosting there. You people must wait, we will soon call you to come under shelter."
Pentaur closely followed his guide, pushing his way through the dripping brushwood, crawling through a low passage in the rock, and at last emerging on a small rocky plateau.
"Take care where you are going!" cried Kaschta. "Keep to the left, to the right there is a deep abyss. I smell smoke! Keep your hand on your axe, there must be some one in the cave. Wait! I will fetch the men as far as this."
The soldier went back, and Pentaur listened for any sounds that might come from the same direction as the smoke. He fancied he could perceive a small gleam of light, and he certainly heard quite plainly, first a tone of complaint, then an angry voice; he went towards the light, feeling his way by the wall on his left; the light shone broader and brighter, and seemed to issue from a crack in a door.
By this time the soldier had rejoined Pentaur, and both listened for a few minutes; then the poet whispered to his guide:
"They are speaking Egyptian, I caught a few words."
"All the better," said Kaschta. "Paaker or some of his people are in there; the door is there still, and shut. If we give four hard and three gentle knocks, it will be opened. Can you understand what they are saying?"
"Some one is begging to be set free," replied Pentaur, "and speaks of some traitor. The other has a rough voice, and says he must follow his master's orders. Now the one who spoke before is crying; do you hear? He is entreating him by the soul of his father to take his fetters off. How despairing his voice is! Knock, Kaschta--it strikes me we are come at the right moment--knock, I say."
The soldier knocked first four times, then three times. A shriek rang through the cave, and they could hear a heavy, rusty bolt drawn back, the roughly hewn door was opened, and a hoarse voice asked:
"Is that Paaker?"
"No," answered the soldier, "I am Kaschta. Do not you know me again, Nubi?"
The man thus addressed, who was Paaker's Ethiopian slave, drew back in surprise.
"Are you still alive?" he exclaimed. "What brings you here?"
"My lord here will tell you," answered Kaschta as he made way for Pentaur to enter the cave. The poet went up to the black man, and the light of the fire which burned in the cave fell full on his face.
The old slave stared at him, and drew back in astonishment and terror. He threw himself on the earth, howled like a dog that fawns at the feet of his angry master, and cried out:
"He ordered it--Spirit of my master! he ordered it." Pentaur stood still, astounded and incapable of speech, till he perceived a young man, who crept up to him on his hands and feet, which were bound with thongs, and who cried to him in a tone, in which terror was mingled with a tenderness which touched Pentaur's very soul.
"Save me--Spirit of the Mohar! save me, father!" Then the poet spoke.
"I am no spirit of the dead," said he. "I am the priest Pentaur; and I know you, boy; you are Horus, Paaker's brother, who was brought up with me in the temple of Seti."
The prisoner approached him trembling, looked at him enquiringly and exclaimed:
"Be you who you may, you are exactly like my father in person and in voice. Loosen my bonds, and listen to me, for the most hideous, atrocious, and accursed treachery threatens us the king and all."
Pentaur drew his sword, and cut the leather thongs which bound the young man's hands and feet. He stretched his released limbs, uttering thanks to the Gods, then he cried:
"If you love Egypt and the king follow me; perhaps there is yet time to hinder the hideous deed, and to frustrate this treachery."
"The night is dark," said Kaschita, "and the road to the valley is dangerous."
"You must follow me if it is to your death!" cried the youth, and, seizing Pentaur's hand, he dragged him with him out of the cave.
As soon as the black slave had satisfied himself that Pentaur was the priest whom he had seen fighting in front of the paraschites' hovel, and not the ghost of his dead master, he endeavored to slip past Paaker's brother, but Horus observed the manoeuvre, and seized him by his woolly hair. The slave cried out loudly, and whimpered out:
"If thou dost escape, Paaker will kill me; he swore he would."
"Wait!" said the youth. He dragged the slave back, flung him into the cave, and blocked up the door with a huge log which lay near it for that purpose.
When the three men had crept back through the low passage in the rocks, and found themselves once more in the open air, they found a high wind was blowing.
"The storm will soon be over," said Horus. "See how the clouds are driving! Let us have horses, Pentaur, for there is not a minute to be lost."
The poet ordered Kaschta to summon the people to start but the soldier advised differently.
"Men and horses are exhausted," he said, "and we shall get on very slowly in the dark. Let the beasts feed for an hour, and the men get rested and warm; by that time the moon will be up, and we shall make up for the delay by having fresh horses, and light enough to see the road."
"The man is right," said Horus; and he led Kaschta to a cave in the rocks, where barley and dates for the horses, and a few jars of wine, had been preserved. They soon had lighted a fire, and while some of the men took care of the horses, and others cooked a warm mess of victuals, Horus and Pentaur walked up and down impatiently.
"Had you been long bound in those thongs when we came?" asked Pentaur.
"Yesterday my brother fell upon me," replied Horus. "He is by this time a long way ahead of us, and if he joins the Cheta, and we do not reach the Egyptian camp before daybreak, all is lost."
"Paaker, then, is plotting treason?"
"Treason, the foulest, blackest treason!" exclaimed the young man. "Oh, my lost father!--"
"Confide in me," said Pentaur going up to the unhappy youth who had hidden his face in his hands. "What is Paaker plotting? How is it that your brother is your enemy?"
"He is the elder of us two," said Horus with a trembling voice. "When my father died I had only a short time before left the school of Seti, and with his last words my father enjoined me to respect Paaker as the head of our family. He is domineering and violent, and will allow no one's will to cross his; but I bore everything, and always obeyed him, often against my better judgment. I remained with him two years, then I went to Thebes, and there I married, and my wife and child are now living there with my mother. About sixteen months afterwards I came back to Syria, and we travelled through the country together; but by this time I did not choose to be the mere tool of my brother's will, for I had grown prouder, and it seemed to me that the father of my child ought not to be subservient, even to his own brother. We often quarrelled, and had a bad time together, and life became quite unendurable, when--about eight weeks since--Paaker came back from Thebes, and the king gave him to understand that he approved more of my reports than of his. From my childhood I have always been softhearted and patient; every one says I am like my mother; but what Paaker made me suffer by words and deeds, that is--I could not--" His voice broke, and Pentaur felt how cruelly he had suffered; then he went on again:
"What happened to my brother in Egypt, I do not know, for he is very reserved, and asks for no sympathy, either in joy or in sorrow; but from words he has dropped now and then I gather that he not only bitterly hates Mena, the charioteer--who certainly did him an injury--but has some grudge against the king too. I spoke to him of it at once, but only once, for his rage is unbounded when he is provoked, and after all he is my elder brother.
"For some days they have been preparing in the camp for a decisive battle, and it was our duty to ascertain the position and strength of the enemy; the king gave me, and not Paaker, the commission to prepare the report. Early yesterday morning I drew it out and wrote it; then my brother said he would carry it to the camp, and I was to wait here. I positively refused, as Rameses had required the report at my hands, and not at his. Well, he raved like a madman, declared that I had taken advantage of his absence to insinuate myself into the king's favor, and commanded me to obey him as the head of the house, in the name of my father.
"I was sitting irresolute, when he went out of the cavern to call his horses; then my eyes fell on the things which the old black slave was tying together to load on a pack-horse--among them was a roll of writing. I fancied it was my own, and took it up to look at it, when--what should I find? At the risk of my life I had gone among the Cheta, and had found that the main body of their army is collected in a cross-valley of the Orontes, quite hidden in the mountains to the north-east of Kadesh; and in the roll it was stated, in Paaker's own hand-writing, that that valley is clear, and the way through it open, and well suited for the passage of the Egyptian war-chariots; various other false details were given, and when I looked further among his things, I found between the arrows in his quiver, on which he had written 'death to Mena,' another little roll of writing. I tore it open, and my blood ran cold when I saw to whom it was addressed."
"To the king of the Cheta?" cried Pentaur in excitement.
"To his chief officer, Titure," continued Horus. "I was holding both the rolls in my hand, when Paaker came back into the cave. 'Traitor!' I cried out to him; but he flung the lasso, with which he had been catching the stray horses, threw it round my neck, and as I fell choking on the ground, he and the black man, who obeys him like a dog, bound me hand and foot; he left the old negro to keep guard over me, took the rolls and rode away. Look, there are the stars, and the moon will soon be up."
"Make haste, men!" cried Pentaur. "The three best horses for me, Horus, and Kaschta; the rest remain here."
As the red-bearded soldier led the horses forward, the moon shone forth, and within an hour the travellers had reached the plain; they sprang on to the beasts and rode madly on towards the lake, which, when the sun rose, gleamed before them in silvery green. As they drew near to it they could discern, on its treeless western shore, black masses moving hither and thither; clouds of dust rose up from the plain, pierced by flashes of light, like the rays of the sun reflected from a moving mirror.
"The battle is begun!" cried Horus; and he fell sobbing on his horse's neck.
"But all is not lost yet!" exclaimed the poet, spurring his horse to a final effort of strength. His companions did the same, but first Kaschta's horse fell under him, then Horus's broke down.
"Help may be given by the left wing!" cried Horus. "I will run as fast as I can on foot, I know where to find them. You will easily find the king if you follow the stream to the stone bridge. In the cross-valley about a thousand paces farther north--to the northwest of our stronghold--the surprise is to be effected. Try to get through, and warn Rameses; the Egyptian pass-word is 'Bent-Anat,' the name of the king's favorite daughter. But even if you had wings, and could fly straight to him, they would overpower him if I cannot succeed in turning the left wing on the rear of the enemy."
Pentaur galloped onwards; but it was not long before his horse too gave way, and he ran forward like a man who runs a race, and shouted the pass-word "Bent-Anat"--for the ring of her name seemed to give him vigor. Presently he came upon a mounted messenger of the enemy; he struck him down from his horse, flung himself into the saddle, and rushed on towards the camp; as if he were riding to his wedding.