Uarda by Georg Ebers
During the night which had proved so eventful to our friends, much had occurred in the king's camp, for the troops were to advance to the long-anticipated battle before sunrise.
Paaker had given his false report of the enemy's movements to the Pharaoh with his own hand; a council of war had been held, and each division had received instructions as to where it was to take up its position. The corps, which bore the name of the Sungod Ra, advanced from the south towards Schabatun,
so as to surround the lake on the east, and fall on the enemy's flank; the corps of Seth, composed of men from lower Egypt, was sent on to Arnam to form the centre; the king himself, with the flower of the chariot-guard, proposed to follow the road through the valley, which Paaker's report represented as a safe and open passage to the plain of the Orontes. Thus, while the other divisions occupied the enemy, he could cross the Orontes by a ford, and fall on the rear of the fortress of Kadesh from the north-west. The corps of Amon, with the Ethiopian mercenaries, were to support him, joining him by another route, which the pioneer's false indications represented as connecting the line of operations. The corps of Ptah remained as a reserve behind the left wing.
The soldiers had not gone to rest as usual; heavily, armed troops, who bore in one hand a shield of half a man's height, and in the other a scimitar, or a short, pointed sword, guarded the camp,
where numerous fires burned, round which crowded the resting warriors. Here a wine-skin was passed from hand to hand, there a joint was roasting on a wooden spit; farther on a party were throwing dice for the booty they had won, or playing at morra. All was in eager activity, and many a scuffle occurred amoung the excited soldiers, and had to be settled by the camp-watch.
Near the enclosed plots, where the horses were tethered, the smiths were busily engaged in shoeing the beasts which needed it, and in sharpening the points of the lances; the servants of the chariot-guard were also fully occupied, as the chariots had for the most part been brought over the mountains in detached pieces on the backs of pack-horses and asses, and now had to be put together again, and to have their wheels greased. On the eastern side of the camp stood a canopy, under which the standards were kept, and there numbers of priests were occupied in their office of blessing the warriors, offering sacrifices, and singing hymns and litanies. But these pious sounds were frequently overpowered by the loud voices of the gamblers and revellers, by the blows of the hammers, the hoarse braying of the asses, and the neighing of the horses. From time to time also the deep roar of the king's war-lions
might be heard; these beasts followed him into the fight, and were now howling for food, as they had been kept fasting to excite their fury.
In the midst of the camp stood the king's tent, surrounded by foot and chariot-guards. The auxiliary troops were encamped in divisions according to their nationality, and between them the Egyptian legions of heavy-armed soldiers and archers. Here might be seen the black Ethiopian with wooly matted hair, in which a few feathers were stuck--the handsome, well proportioned "Son of the desert" from the sandy Arabian shore of the Red Sea, who performed his wild war-dance flourishing his lance, with a peculiar wriggle of his--hips pale Sardinians, with metal helmets and heavy swords--light colored Libyans, with tattooed arms and ostrich-feathers on their heads-brown, bearded Arabs, worshippers of the stars, inseparable from their horses, and armed, some with lances, and some with bows and arrows. And not less various than their aspect were the tongues of the allied troops--but all obedient to the king's word of command.
In the midst of the royal tents was a lightly constructed temple with the statues of the Gods of Thebes, and of the king's forefathers; clouds of incense rose in front of it, for the priests were engaged from the eve of the battle until it was over, in prayers, and offerings to Amon, the king of the Gods, to Necheb, the Goddess of victory, and to Menth, the God of war.
The keeper of the lions stood by the Pharaoh's sleeping-tent, and the tent, which served as a council chamber, was distinguished by the standards in front of it; but the council-tent was empty and still, while in the kitchen-tent, as well as in the wine-store close by, all was in a bustle. The large pavilion, in which Rameses and his suite were taking their evening meal, was more brilliantly lighted than all the others; it was a covered tent, a long square in shape, and all round it were colored lamps, which made it as light as day; a body-guard of Sardinians, Libyans, and Egyptians guarded it with drawn swords, and seemed too wholly absorbed with the importance of their office even to notice the dishes and wine-jars, which the king's pages--the sons of the highest families in Egypt--took at the tent-door from the cooks and butlers.
The walls and slanting roof of this quickly-built and movable banqueting-hall, consisted of a strong, impenetrable carpet-stuff, woven at Thebes, and afterwards dyed purple at Tanis by the Phoenicians. Saitic artists had embroidered the vulture, one of the forms in which Necheb appears, a hundred times on the costly material with threads of silver. The cedar-wood pillars of the tent were covered with gold, and the ropes, which secured the light erection to the tent-pegs, were twisted of silk, and thin threads of silver. Seated round four tables, more than a hundred men were taking their evening meal; at three of them the generals of the army, the chief priests, and councillors, sat on light stools; at the fourth, and at some distance from the others, were the princes of the blood; and the king himself sat apart at a high table, on a throne supported by gilt figures of Asiatic prisoners in chains. His table and throne stood on a low dais covered with panther-skin; but even without that Rameses would have towered above his companions. His form was powerful, and there was a commanding aspect in his bearded face, and in the high brow, crowned with a golden diadem adorned with the heads of two Uraeus-snakes, wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. A broad collar of precious stones covered half his breast, the lower half was concealed by a scarf or belt, and his bare arms were adorned with bracelets. His finely-proportioned limbs looked as if moulded in bronze, so smoothly were the powerful muscles covered with the shining copper-colored skin. Sitting here among those who were devoted to him, he looked with kind and fatherly pride at his blooming sons.
The lion was at rest--but nevertheless he was a lion, and terrible things might be looked for when he should rouse himself, and when the mighty hand, which now dispensed bread, should be clenched for the fight. There was nothing mean in this man, and yet nothing alarming; for, if his eye had a commanding sparkle, the expression of his mouth was particularly gentle; and the deep voice which could make itself heard above the clash of fighting men, could also assume the sweetest and most winning tones. His education had not only made him well aware of his greatness and power, but had left him also a genuine man, a stranger to none of the emotions of the human soul.
Behind Pharaoh stood a man, younger than himself, who gave him his wine-cup after first touching it with his own lips; this was Mena, the king's charioteer and favorite companion. His figure was slight and yet vigorous, supple and yet dignified, and his finely-formed features and frank bright eyes were full at once of self-respect and of benevolence. Such a man might fail in reflection and counsel, but would be admirable as an honorable, staunch, and faithful friend.
Among the princes, Chamus sat nearest to the king;
he was the eldest of his sons, and while still young had been invested with the dignity of high-priest of Memphis. The curly-haired Rameri, who had been rescued from imprisonment--into which he had fallen on his journey from Egypt--had been assigned a place with the younger princes at the lowest end of the table.
"It all sounds very threatening!" said the king. "But though each of you croakers speaks the truth, your love for me dims your sight. In fact, all that Rameri has told me, that Bent-Anat writes, that Mena's stud-keeper says of Ani, and that comes through other channels--amounts to nothing that need disturb us. I know your uncle--I know that he will make his borrowed throne as wide as he possibly can; but when we return home he will be quite content to sit on a narrow seat again. Great enterprises and daring deeds are not what he excels in; but he is very apt at carrying out a ready-made system, and therefore I choose him to be my Regent."
"But Ameni," said Chamus, bowing respectfully to his father, "seems to have stirred up his ambition, and to support him with his advice. The chief of the House of Seti is a man of great ability, and at least half of the priesthood are his adherents."
"I know it," replied the king. "Their lordships owe me a grudge because I have called their serfs to arms, and they want them to till their acres. A pretty sort of people they have sent me! their courage flies with the first arrow. They shall guard the camp tomorrow; they will be equal to that when it is made clear to their understanding that, if they let the tents be taken, the bread, meat and wines-skins will also fall into the hands of the enemy. If Kadesh is taken by storm, the temples of the Nile shall have the greater part of the spoil, and you yourself, my young high-priest of Memphis, shall show your colleagues that Rameses repays in bushels that which he has taken in handfuls from the ministers of the Gods."
"Ameni's disaffection," replied Chamus, "has a deeper root; thy mighty spirit seeks and finds its own way--"
"But their lordships," interrupted Rameses, "are accustomed to govern the king too, and I--I do not do them credit. I rule as vicar of the Lord of the Gods, but--I myself am no God, though they attribute to me the honors of a divinity; and in all humility of heart I willingly leave it to them to be the mediators between the Immortals and me or my people. Human affairs certainly I choose to manage in my own way. And now no more of them. I cannot bear to doubt my friends, and trustfulness is so dear, so essential to me, that I must indulge in it even if my confidence results in my being deceived."
The king glanced at Mena, who handed him a golden cup--which he emptied. He looked at the glittering beaker, and then, with a flash of his grave, bright eyes, he added:
"And if I am betrayed--if ten such as Ameni and Ani entice my people into a snare--I shall return home, and will tread the reptiles into dust."
His deep voice rang out the words, as if he were a herald proclaiming a victorious deed of arms. Not a word was spoken, not a hand moved, when he ceased speaking. Then he raised his cup, and said:
"It is well before the battle to uplift our hearts! We have done great deeds; distant nations have felt our hand; we have planted our pillars of conquest by their rivers, and graven the record of our deeds on their rocks.
Your king is great above all kings, and it is through the might of the Gods, and your valor my brave comrades. May to-morrow's fight bring us new glory! May the Immortals soon bring this war to a close! Empty your wine cups with me--To victory and a speedy return home in peace!"
"Victory! Victory! Long life to the Pharaoh! Strength and health!" cried the guests of the king, who, as he descended from his throne, cried to the drinkers:
"Now, rest till the star of Isis sets. Then follow me to prayer at the altar of Amon, and then-to battle."
Fresh cries of triumph sounded through the room, while Rameses gave his hand with a few words of encouragement to each of his sons in turn. He desired the two youngest, Mernephtah and Rameri to follow him, and quitting the banquet with them and Mena, he proceeded, under the escort of his officers and guards, who bore staves before him with golden lilies and ostrich-feathers, to his sleeping-tent, which was surrounded by a corps d'elite under the command of his sons. Before entering the tent he asked for some pieces of meat, and gave them with his own hand to his lions, who let him stroke them like tame cats.
Then he glanced round the stable, patted the sleek necks and shoulders of his favorite horses, and decided that 'Nura' and 'Victory to Thebes' should bear him into the battle on the morrow.
When he had gone into the sleeping-tent, he desired his attendants to leave him; he signed Mena to divest him of his ornaments and his arms, and called to him his youngest sons, who were waiting respectfully at the door of the tent.
"Why did I desire you to accompany me?" he asked them gravely. Both were silent, and he repeated his question.
"Because," said Rameri at length, "you observed that all was not quite right between us two."
"And because," continued the king, "I desire that unity should exist between my children. You will have enemies enough to fight with to-morrow, but friends are not often to be found, and are too often taken from us by the fortune of war. We ought to feel no anger towards the friend we may lose, but expect to meet him lovingly in the other world. Speak, Rameri, what has caused a division between you?"
"I bear him no ill-will," answered Rameri. "You lately gave me the sword which Mernephtah has there stuck in his belt, because I did my duty well in the last skirmish with the enemy. You know we both sleep in the same tent, and yesterday, when I drew my sword out of its sheath to admire the fine work of the blade, I found that another, not so sharp, had been put in its place."
"I had only exchanged my sword for his in fun," interrupted Mernephtah. "But he can never take a joke, and declared I want to wear a prize that I had not earned; he would try, he said, to win another and then--"
"I have heard enough; you have both done wrong," said the King. "Even in fun, Mernephtah, you should never cheat or deceive. I did so once, and I will tell you what happened, as a warning.
"My noble mother, Tuaa, desired me, the first time I went into Fenchu--[Phoenicia: on monuments of the 18th dynasty.]--to bring her a pebble from the shore near Byblos, where the body of Osiris was washed. As we returned to Thebes, my mother's request returned to my mind; I was young and thoughtless--I picked up a stone by the way-side, took it with me, and when she asked me for the remembrance from Byblos I silently gave her the pebble from Thebes. She was delighted, she showed it to her brothers and sisters, and laid it by the statues of her ancestors; but I was miserable with shame and penitence, and at last I secretly took away the stone, and threw it into the water. All the servants were called together, and strict enquiry was made as to the theft of the stone; then I could hold out no longer, and confessed everything. No one punished me, and yet I never suffered more severely; from that time I have never deviated from the exact truth even in jest. Take the lesson to heart, Mernephtah--you, Rameri, take back your sword, and, believe me, life brings us so many real causes of vexation, that it is well to learn early to pass lightly over little things if you do not wish to become a surly fellow like the pioneer Paaker; and that seems far from likely with a gay, reckless temper like yours. Now shake hands with each other."
The young princes went up to each other, and Rameri fell on his brother's neck and kissed him. The king stroked their heads. "Now go in peace," he said, "and to-morrow you shall both strive to win a fresh mark of honor."
When his sons had left the tent, Rameses turned to his charioteer and said: "I have to speak to you too before the battle. I can read your soul through your eyes, and it seems to me that things have gone wrong with you since the keeper of your stud arrived here. What has happened in Thebes?" Mena looked frankly, but sadly at the king:
"My mother-in-law Katuti," he said, "is managing my estate very badly, pledging the land, and selling the cattle."
"That can be remedied," said Rameses kindly. "You know I promised to grant you the fulfilment of a wish, if Nefert trusted you as perfectly as you believe. But it appears to me as if something more nearly concerning you than this were wrong, for I never knew you anxious about money and lands. Speak openly! you know I am your father, and the heart and the eye of the man who guides my horses in battle, must be open without reserve to my gaze."
Mena kissed the king's robe; then he said:
"Nefert has left Katuti's house, and as thou knowest has followed thy daughter, Bent-Anat, to the sacred mountain, and to Megiddo."
"I thought the change was a good one," replied Rameses. "I leave Bent-Anat in the care of Bent-Anat, for she needs no other guardianship, and your wife can have no better protector than Bent-Anat."
"Certainly not!" exclaimed Mena with sincere emphasis. "But before they started, miserable things occurred. Thou knowest that before she married me she was betrothed to her cousin, the pioneer Paaker, and he, during his stay in Thebes, has gone in and out of my house, has helped Katuti with an enormous sum to pay the debts of my wild brother-in-law, and-as my stud-keeper saw with his own eyes-has made presents of flowers to Nefert."
The king smiled, laid his hand on Mena's shoulder, and said, as he looked in his face: "Your wife will trust you, although you take a strange woman into your tent, and you allow yourself to doubt her because her cousin gives her some flowers! Is that wise or just? I believe you are jealous of the broad-shouldered ruffian that some spiteful Wight laid in the nest of the noble Mohar, his father."
"No, that I am not," replied Mena, "nor does any doubt of Nefert disturb my soul; but it torments me, it nettles me, it disgusts me, that Paaker of all men, whom I loathe as a venomous spider, should look at her and make her presents under my very roof."
"He who looks for faith must give faith," said the king. "And must not I myself submit to accept songs of praise from the most contemptible wretches? Come--smooth your brow; think of the approaching victory, of our return home, and remember that you have less to forgive Paaker than he to forgive you. Now, pray go and see to the horses, and to-morrow morning let me see you on my chariot full of cheerful courage--as I love to see you."
Mena left the tent, and went to the stables; there he met Rameri, who was waiting to speak to him. The eager boy said that he had always looked up to him and loved him as a brilliant example, but that lately he had been perplexed as to his virtuous fidelity, for he had been informed that Mena had taken a strange woman into his tent--he who was married to the fairest and sweetest woman in Thebes.
"I have known her," he concluded, "as well as if I were her brother; and I know that she would die if she heard that you had insulted and disgraced her. Yes, insulted her; for such a public breach of faith is an insult to the wife of an Egyptian. Forgive my freedom of speech, but who knows what to-morrow may bring forth--and I would not for worlds go out to battle, thinking evil of you."
Mena let Rameri speak without interruption, and then answered:
"You are as frank as your father, and have learned from him to hear the defendant before you condemn him. A strange maiden, the daughter of the king of the Danaids,
lives in my tent, but I for months have slept at the door of your father's, and I have not once entered my own since she has been there. Now sit down by me, and let me tell you how it all happened. We had pitched the camp before Kadesh, and there was very little for me to do, as Rameses was still laid up with his wound, so I often passed my time in hunting on the shores of the lake. One day I went as usual, armed only with my bow and arrow, and, accompanied by my grey-hounds, heedlessly followed a hare; a troop of Danaids fell upon me, bound me with cords, and led me into their camp.
There I was led before the judges as a spy, and they had actually condemned me, and the rope was round my neck, when their king came up, saw me, and subjected me to a fresh examination. I told him the facts at full length--how I had fallen into the hands of his people while following up my game, and not as an enemy, and he heard me favorably, and granted me not only life but freedom. He knew me for a noble, and treated me as one, inviting me to feed at his own table, and I swore in my heart, when he let me go, that I would make him some return for his generous conduct.
"About a month after, we succeeded in surprising the Cheta position, and the Libyan soldiers, among other spoil, brought away the Danaid king's only daughter. I had behaved valiantly, and when we came to the division of the spoils Rameses allowed me to choose first. I laid my hand on the maid, the daughter of my deliverer and host, I led her to my tent, and left her there with her waiting-women till peace is concluded, and I can restore her to her father."
"Forgive my doubts!" cried Rameri holding out his hand. "Now I understand why the king so particularly enquired whether Nefert believed in your constancy to her."
"And what was your answer?" asked Mena.
"That she thinks of you day and night, and never for an instant doubted you. My father seemed delighted too, and he said to Chamus: 'He has won there!"
"He will grant me some great favor," said Mena in explanation, "if, when she hears I have taken a strange maiden to my tent her confidence in me is not shaken, Rameses considers it simply impossible, but I know that I shall win. Why! she must trust me."