Uarda by Georg Ebers
The king did not return to the great pavilion till after sun-down; the banqueting hall, illuminated with a thousand lamps, was now filled with the gay crowd of guests who awaited the arrival of the king. All bowed before him, as he entered, more or less low, each according to his rank; he immediately seated himself on his throne, surrounded by his children in a wide semicircle, and his officers and retainers all passed before him; for each he had a kindly word or glance, winning respect from all, and filling every one with joy and hope.
"The only really divine attribute of my royal condition," said he to himself, "is that it is so easy to a king to make men happy. My predecessors chose the poisonous Uraeus as the emblem of their authority, for we can cause death as quickly and certainly as the venomous snake; but the power of giving happiness dwells on our own lips, and in our own eyes, and we need some instrument when we decree death."
"Take the Uraeus crown from my head," he continued aloud, as he seated himself at the feast. "Today I will wear a wreath of flowers."
During the ceremony of bowing to the king, two men had quitted the hall--the Regent Ani, and the high-priest Ameni.
Ani ordered a small party of the watch to go and seek out the priest Pentaur in the tents of the wounded by the harbor, to bring the poet quietly to his tent, and to guard him there till his return. He still had in his possession the maddening potion, which he was to have given to the captain of the transport-boat, and it was open to him still to receive Pentaur either as a guest or as a prisoner. Pentaur might injure him, whether Katuti's project failed or succeeded.
Ameni left the pavilion to go to see old Gagabu, who had stood so long in the heat of the sun during the ceremony of receiving the conqueror, that he had been at last carried fainting to the tent which he shared with the high-priest, and which was not far from that of the Regent. He found the old man much revived, and was preparing to mount his chariot to go to the banquet, when the Regent's myrmidons led Pentaur past in front of him. Ameni looked doubtfully at the tall and noble figure of the prisoner, but Pentaur recognized him, called him by his name, and in a moment they stood together, hand clasped in hand. The guards showed some uneasiness, but Ameni explained who he was.
The high-priest was sincerely rejoiced at the preservation and restoration of his favorite disciple, whom for many months he had mourned as dead; he looked at his manly figure with fatherly tenderness, and desired the guards, who bowed to his superior dignity, to conduct his friend, on his responsibility; to his tent instead of to Ani's.
There Pentaur found his old friend Gagabu, who wept with delight at his safety. All that his master had accused him of seemed to be forgotten. Ameni had him clothed in a fresh white robe, he was never tired of looking at him, and over and over again clapped his hand upon his shoulder, as if he were his own son that had been lost and found again.
Pentaur was at once required to relate all that had happened to him, and the poet told the story of his captivity and liberation at Mount Sinai, his meeting with Bent-Anat, and how he had fought in the battle of Kadesh, had been wounded by an arrow, and found and rescued by the faithful Kaschta. He concealed only his passion for Bent-Anat, and the fact that he had preserved the king's life.
"About an hour ago," he added, "I was sitting alone in my tent, watching the lights in the palace yonder, when the watch who are outside brought me an order from the Regent to accompany them to his tent. What can he want with me? I always thought he owed me a grudge."
Gagabu and Ameni glanced meaningly at each other, and the high-priest then hastened away, as already he had remained too long away from the banquet. Before he got into his chariot he commanded the guard to return to their posts, and took it upon himself to inform the Regent that his guest would remain in his tent till the festival was over; the soldiers unhesitatingly obeyed him.
Ameni arrived at the palace before them, and entered the banqueting-hall just as Ani was assigning a place to each of his guests. The high-priest went straight up to him, and said, as he bowed before him:
"Pardon my long delay, but I was detained by a great surprise. The poet Pentaur is living--as you know. I have invited him to remain in my tent as my guest, and to tend the prophet Gagabu."
The Regent turned pale, he remained speechless and looked at Ameni with a cold ghastly smile; but he soon recovered himself.
"You see," he said, "how you have injured me by your unworthy suspicions; I meant to have restored your favorite to you myself to-morrow."
"Forgive me, then, for having anticipated your plan," said Ameni, taking his seat near the king. Hundreds of slaves hurried to and fro loaded with costly dishes. Large vessels of richly wrought gold and silver were brought into the hall on wheels, and set on the side-boards. Children were perched in the shells and lotus-flowers that hung from the painted rafters; and from between the pillars, that were hung with cloudy transparent tissues, they threw roses and violets down on the company. The sounds of harps and songs issued from concealed rooms, and from an altar, six ells high, in the middle of the hall, clouds of incense were wafted into space.
The king-one of whose titles was "Son of the Sun,"--was as radiant as the sun himself. His children were once more around him, Mena was his cupbearer as in former times, and all that was best and noblest in the land was gathered round him to rejoice with him in his triumph and his return. Opposite to him sat the ladies, and exactly in front of him, a delight to his eyes, Bent-Anat and Nefert. His injunction to Mena to hold the wine cup steadily seemed by no means superfluous, for his looks constantly wandered from the king's goblet to his fair wife, from whose lips he as yet had heard no word of welcome, whose hand he had not yet been so happy as to touch.
All the guests were in the most joyful excitement. Rameses related the tale of his fight at Kadesh, and the high-priest of Heliopolis observed In later times the poets will sing of thy deeds."
"Their songs will not be of my achievements," exclaimed the king, "but of the grace of the Divinity, who so miraculously rescued your sovereign, and gave the victory to the Egyptians over an innumerable enemy."
"Did you see the God with your own eyes? and in what form did he appear to you?" asked Bent-Anat. "It is most extraordinary," said the king, "but he exactly resembled the dead father of the traitor Paaker. My preserver was of tall stature, and had a beautiful countenance; his voice was deep and thrilling, and he swung his battle-axe as if it were a mere plaything."
Ameni had listened eagerly to the king's words, now he bowed low before him and said humbly: "If I were younger I myself would endeavor, as was the custom with our fathers, to celebrate this glorious deed of a God and of his sublime son in a song worthy of this festival; but melting tones are no longer mine, they vanish with years, and the car of the listener lends itself only to the young. Nothing is wanting to thy feast, most lordly Ani, but a poet, who might sing the glorious deeds of our monarch to the sound of his lute, and yet--we have at hand the gifted Pentaur, the noblest disciple of the House of Seti."
Bent-Anat turned perfectly white, and the priests who were present expressed the utmost joy and astonishment, for they had long thought the young poet, who was highly esteemed throughout Egypt, to be dead.
The king had often heard of the fame of Pentaur from his sons and especially from Rameri, and he willingly consented that Ameni should send for the poet, who had himself borne arms at Kadesh, in order that he should sing a song of triumph. The Regent gazed blankly and uneasily into his wine cup, and the high-priest rose to fetch Pentaur himself into the presence of the king.
During the high-priest's absence, more and more dishes were served to the company; behind each guest stood a silver bowl with rose water, in which from time to time he could dip his fingers to cool and clean them; the slaves in waiting were constantly at hand with embroidered napkins to wipe them, and others frequently changed the faded wreaths, round the heads and shoulders of the feasters, for fresh ones.
"How pale you are, my child!" said Rameses turning to Bent-Anat. "If you are tired, your uncle will no doubt allow you to leave the hall; though I think you should stay to hear the performance of this much-lauded poet. After having been so highly praised he will find it difficult to satisfy his hearers. But indeed I am uneasy about you, my child--would you rather go?" The Regent had risen and said earnestly, "Your presence has done me honor, but if you are fatigued I beg you to allow me to conduct you and your ladies to the apartments intended for you."
"I will stay," said Bent-Anat in a low but decided tone, and she kept her eyes on the floor, while her heart beat violently, for the murmur of voices told her that Pentaur was entering the hall. He wore the long white robe of a priest of the temple of Seti, and on his forehead the ostrich-feather which marked him as one of the initiated. He did not raise his eyes till he stood close before the king; then he prostrated himself before him, and awaited a sign from the Pharaoh before he rose again.
But Rameses hesitated a long time, for the youthful figure before him, and the glance that met his own, moved him strangely. Was not this the divinity of the fight? Was not this his preserver? Was he again deluded by a resemblance, or was he in a dream?
The guests gazed in silence at the spellbound king, and at the poet; at last Rameses bowed his head,
Pentaur rose to his feet, and the bright color flew to his face as close to him he perceived Bent-Anat.
"You fought at Kadesh?" asked the king. "As thou sayest," replied Pentaur.
"You are well spoken of as a poet," said Rameses, "and we desire to hear the wonderful tale of my preservation celebrated in song. If you will attempt it, let a lute be brought and sing."
The poet bowed. "My gifts are modest," he said, "but I will endeavor to sing of the glorious deed, in the presence of the hero who achieved it, with the aid of the Gods."
Rameses gave a signal, and Ameni caused a large golden harp to be brought in for his disciple. Pentaur lightly touched the strings, leaned his head against the top of the tall bow of the harp, for some time lest in meditation; then he drew himself up boldly, and struck the chords, bringing out a strong and warlike music in broad heroic rhythm.
Then he began the narrative: how Rameses had pitched his camp before Kadesh, how he ordered his troops, and how he had taken the field against the Cheta, and their Asiatic allies. Louder and stronger rose his tones when he reached the turning-point of the battle, and began to celebrate the rescue of the king; and the Pharaoh listened with eager attention as Pentaur sang:--[A literal translation of the ancient Egyptian poem called "The Epos of Pentaur"]
"Then the king stood forth, and, radiant with courage, He looked like the Sun-god armed and eager for battle. The noble steeds that bore him into the struggle 'Victory to Thebes' was the name of one, and the other Was called 'contented Nura'--were foaled in the stables Of him we call 'the elect,' 'the beloved of Amon,' 'Lord of truth,' the chosen vicar of Ra. Up sprang the king and threw himself on the foe, The swaying ranks of the contemptible Cheta. He stood alone-alone, and no man with him. As thus the king stood forth all eyes were upon him, And soon he was enmeshed by men and horses, And by the enemy's chariots: two thousand five hundred. The foe behind hemmed him in and enclosed him. Dense the array of the contemptible Cheta, Dense the swarm of warriors out of Arad, Dense the Mysian host, the Pisidian legions. Every chariot carried three bold warriors, All his foes, and all allied like brothers. "Not a prince is with me, not a captain, Not an archer, none to guide my horses! Fled the riders! fled my troops and horse By my side not one is now left standing." Thus the king, and raised his voice in prayer. "Great father Amon, I have known Thee well. And can the father thus forget his son? Have I in any deed forgotten Thee? Have I done aught without Thy high behest Or moved or staid against Thy sovereign will? Great am I--mighty are Egyptian kings But in the sight of Thy commanding might, Small as the chieftain of a wandering tribe. Immortal Lord, crush Thou this unclean people; Break Thou their necks, annihilate the heathen. And I--have I not brought Thee many victims, And filled Thy temple with the captive folk? And for thy presence built a dwelling place That shall endure for countless years to come? Thy garners overflow with gifts from me. I offered Thee the world to swell Thy glory, And thirty thousand mighty steers have shed Their smoking blood on fragrant cedar piles. Tall gateways, flag-decked masts, I raised to Thee, And obelisks from Abu I have brought, And built Thee temples of eternal stone. For Thee my ships have brought across the sea The tribute of the nations. This I did-- When were such things done in the former time? For dark the fate of him who would rebel Against Thee: though Thy sway is just and mild. My father, Amon--as an earthly son His earthly father--so I call on Thee. Look down from heaven on me, beset by foes, By heathen foes--the folk that know Thee not. The nations have combined against Thy son; I stand alone--alone, and no man with me. My foot and horse are fled, I called aloud And no one heard--in vain I called to them. And yet I say: the sheltering care of Amon Is better succor than a million men, Or than ten thousand knights, or than a thousand Brothers and sons though gathered into one. And yet I say: the bulwarks raised by men However strong, compared to Thy great works Are but vain shadows, and no human aid Avails against the foe--but Thy strong hand. The counsel of Thy lips shall guide my way; I have obeyed whenever Thou hast ruled; I call on Thee--and, with my fame, Thy glory Shall fill the world, from farthest east to west." Yea, his cry rang forth even far as Hermonthis, And Amon himself appeared at his call; and gave him His hand and shouted in triumph, saying to the Pharaoh: "Help is at hand, O Rameses. I will uphold thee-- I thy father am he who now is thy succor, Bearing thee in my hands. For stronger and readier I than a hundred thousand mortal retainers; I am the Lord of victory loving valor? I rejoice in the brave and give them good counsel, And he whom I counsel certainly shall not miscarry." Then like Menth, with his right he scattered the arrows, And with his left he swung his deadly weapon, Felling the foe--as his foes are felled by Baal. The chariots were broken and the drivers scattered, Then was the foe overthrown before his horses. None found a hand to fight: they could not shoot Nor dared they hurl the spear but fled at his coming Headlong into the river."
A silence as of the grave reigned in the vast hall, Rameses fixed his eyes on the poet, as though he would engrave his features on his very soul, and compare them with those of another which had dwelt there unforgotten since the day of Kadesh. Beyond a doubt his preserver stood before him.
Seized by a sudden impulse, he interrupted the poet in the midst of his stirring song, and cried out to the assembled guests:
"Pay honor to this man! for the Divinity chose to appear under his form to save your king when he 'alone, and no man with him,' struggled with a thousand."
"Hail to Pentaur!" rang through the hall from the vast assembly, and Nefert rose and gave the poet the bunch of flowers she had been wearing on her bosom.
The king nodded approval, and looked enquiringly at his daughter; Bent-Anat's eyes met his with a glance of intelligence, and with all the simplicity of an impulsive child, she took from her head the wreath that had decorated her beautiful hair, went up to Pentaur, and crowned him with it, as it was customary for a bride to crown her lover before the wedding.
Rameses observed his daughter's action with some surprise, and the guests responded to it with loud cheering.
The king looked gravely at Bent-Anat and the young priest; the eyes of all the company were eagerly fixed on the princess and the poet. The king seemed to have forgotten the presence of strangers, and to be wholly absorbed in thought, but by degrees a change came over his face, it cleared, as a landscape is cleared from the morning mists under the influence of the spring sunshine. When he looked up again his glance was bright and satisfied, and Bent-Anat knew what it promised when it lingered lovingly first on her, and then on her friend, whose head was still graced by the wreath that had crowned hers.
At last Rameses turned from the lovers, and said to the guests:
"It is past midnight, and I will now leave you. To-morrow evening I bid you all--and you especially, Pentaur--to be my guests in this banqueting hall. Once more fill your cups, and let us empty them--to a long time of peace after the victory which, by the help of the Gods, we have won. And at the same time let us express our thanks to my friend Ani, who has entertained us so magnificently, and who has so faithfully and zealously administered the affairs of the kingdom during my absence."
The company pledged the king, who warmly shook hands with the Regent, and then, escorted by his wandbearers and lords in waiting, quitted the hall, after he had signed to Mena, Ameni, and the ladies to follow him.
Nefert greeted her husband, but she immediately parted from the royal party, as she had yielded to the urgent entreaty of Katuti that she should for this night go to her mother, to whom she had so much to tell, instead of remaining with the princess. Her mother's chariot soon took her to her tent.
Rameses dismissed his attendants in the ante-room of his apartments; when they were alone he turned to Bent-Anat and said affectionately.
"What was in your mind when you laid your wreath on the poet's brow?"
"What is in every maiden's mind when she does the like," replied Bent-Anat with trustful frankness.
"And your father?" asked the king.
"My father knows that I will obey him even if he demands of me the hardest thing--the sacrifice of all my--happiness; but I believe that he--that you love me fondly, and I do not forget the hour in which you said to me that now my mother was dead you would be father and mother both to me, and you would try to understand me as she certainly would have understood me. But what need between us of so many words. I love Pentaur--with a love that is not of yesterday--with the first perfect love of my heart and he has proved himself worthy of that high honor. But were he ever so humble, the hand of your daughter has the power to raise him above every prince in the land."
"It has such power, and you shall exercise it," cried the king. "You have been true and faithful to yourself, while your father and protector left you to yourself. In you I love the image of your mother, and I learned from her that a true woman's heart can find the right path better than a man's wisdom. Now go to rest, and to-morrow morning put on a fresh wreath, for you will have need of it, my noble daughter."