Uarda by Georg Ebers
While the friends were occupied in restoring Uarda to animation, and in taking affectionate care of her, Katuti was walking restlessly backwards and forwards in her tent.
Soon after she had slipped out for the purpose of setting fire to the palace, Scherau's cry had waked up Nefert, and Katuti found her daughter's bed empty when, with blackened hands and limbs trembling with agitation, she came back from her criminal task.
Now she waited in vain for Nemu and Paaker.
Her steward, whom she sent on repeated messages of enquiry whether the Regent had returned, constantly brought back a negative answer, and added the information that he had found the body of old Hekt lying on the open ground. The widow's heart sank with fear; she was full of dark forebodings while she listened to the shouts of the people engaged in putting out the fire, the roll of drums, and the trumpets of the soldiers calling each other to the help of the king.
To these sounds now was added the dull crash of falling timbers and walls.
A faint smile played upon her thin lips, and she thought to herself: "There--that perhaps fell on the king, and my precious son-in-law, who does not deserve such a fate--if we had not fallen into disgrace, and if since the occurrences before Kadesh he did not cling to his indulgent lord as a calf follows a cow."
She gathered fresh courage, and fancied she could hear the voice of Ethiopian troops hailing the Regent as king--could see Ani decorated with the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, seated on Rameses' throne, and herself by his side in rich though unpretending splendor. She pictured herself with her son and daughter as enjoying Mena's estate, freed from debt and increased by Ani's generosity, and then a new, intoxicating hope came into her mind. Perhaps already at this moment her daughter was a widow, and why should she not be so fortunate as to induce Ani to select her child, the prettiest woman in Thebes, for his wife? Then she, the mother of the queen, would be indeed unimpeachable, and all-powerful. She had long since come to regard the pioneer as a tool to be cast aside, nay soon to be utterly destroyed; his wealth might probably at some future time be bestowed upon her son, who had distinguished himself at Kadesh, and whom Ani must before long promote to be his charioteer or the commander of the chariot warriors.
Flattered by these fancies, she forgot every care as she walked faster and faster to and fro in her tent. Suddenly the steward, whom she had this time sent to the very scene of the fire, rushed into the tent, and with every token of terror broke to her the news that the king and his charioteer were hanging in mid air on a narrow wooden parapet, and that unless some miracle happened they must inevitably be killed. It was said that incendiaries had occasioned the fire, and he, the steward, had hastened forward to prepare her for evil news as the mangled body of the pioneer, which had been identified by the ring on his finger, and the poor little corpse of Nemu, pierced through by an arrow, had been carried past him.
Katuti was silent for a moment.
"And the king's sons?" she asked with an anxious sigh.
"The Gods be praised," replied the steward, "they succeeded in letting themselves down to the ground by a rope made of their garments knotted together, and some were already safe when I came away."
Katuti's face clouded darkly; once more she sent forth her messenger. The minutes of his absence seemed like days; her bosom heaved in stormy agitation, then for a moment she controlled herself, and again her heart seemed to cease beating--she closed her eyes as if her anguish of anxiety was too much for her strength. At last, long after sunrise, the steward reappeared.
Pale, trembling, hardly able to control his voice, he threw himself on the ground at her feet crying out:
"Alas! this night! prepare for the worst, mistress! May Isis comfort thee, who saw thy son fall in the service of his king and father! May Amon, the great God of Thebes, give thee strength! Our pride, our hope, thy son is slain, killed by a falling beam."
Pale and still as if frozen, Katuti shed not a tear; for a minute she did not speak, then she asked in a dull tone:
"The Gods be praised!" answered the servant, "he is safe-rescued by Mena!"
"Burnt!--they found his body disfigured out of all recognition; they knew him again by the jewels he wore at the banquet."
Katuti gazed into vacancy, and the steward started back as from a mad woman when, instead of bursting into tears, she clenched her small jewelled hands, shook her fists in the air, and broke into loud, wild laughter; then, startled at the sound of her own voice, she suddenly became silent and fixed her eyes vacantly on the ground. She neither saw nor heard that the captain of the watch, who was called "the eyes and ears of the king," had come in through the door of her tent followed by several officers and a scribe; he came up to her, and called her by her name. Not till the steward timidly touched her did she collect her senses like one suddenly roused from deep sleep.
"What are you doing in my tent?" she asked the officer, drawing herself up haughtily.
"In the name of the chief judge of Thebes," said the captain of the watch solemnly. "I arrest you, and hail you before the high court of justice, to defend yourself against the grave and capital charges of high treason, attempted regicide, and incendiarism."
"I am ready," said the widow, and a scornful smile curled her lips. Then with her usual dignity she pointed to a seat and said:
"Be seated while I dress."
The officer bowed, but remained standing at the door of the tent while she arranged her black hair, set her diadem on her brow, opened her little ointment chest, and took from it a small phial of the rapid poison strychnine, which some months before she had procured through Nemu from the old witch Hekt.
"My mirror!" she called to a maid servant, who squatted in a corner of the tent. She held the metal mirror so as to conceal her face from the captain of the watch, put the little flask to her lips and emptied it at one mouthful. The mirror fell from her hand, she staggered, a deadly convulsion seized her--the officer rushed forward, and while she fixed her dying look upon him she said:
"My game is lost, but Ameni--tell Ameni that he will not win either."
She fell forward, murmured Nefert's name, struggled convulsively and was dead.
When the draught of happiness which the Gods prepare for some few men, seems to flow clearest and purest, Fate rarely fails to infuse into it some drop of bitterness. And yet we should not therefore disdain it, for it is that very drop of bitterness which warns us to drink of the joys of life thankfully, and in moderation.
The perfect happiness of Mena and Nefert was troubled by the fearful death of Katuti, but both felt as if they now for the first time knew the full strength of their love for each other. Mena had to make up to his wife for the loss of mother and brother, and Nefert to restore to her husband much that he had been robbed of by her relatives, and they felt that they had met again not merely for pleasure but to be to each other a support and a consolation.
Rameses quitted the scene of the fire full of gratitude to the Gods who had shown such grace to him and his. He ordered numberless steers to be sacrificed, and thanksgiving festivals to be held throughout the land; but he was cut to the heart by the betrayal to which he had fallen a victim. He longed--as he always did in moments when the balance of his mind had been disturbed--for an hour of solitude, and retired to the tent which had been hastily erected for him. He could not bear to enter the splendid pavilion which had been Ani's; it seemed to him infested with the leprosy of falsehood and treason.
For an hour he remained alone, and weighed the worst he had suffered at the hands of men against that which was good and cheering, and he found that the good far outweighed the evil. He vividly realized the magnitude of his debt of gratitude, not to the Immortals only, but also to his earthly friends, as he recalled every moment of this morning's experience.
"Gratitude," he said to himself, "was impressed on you by your mother; you yourself have taught your children to be grateful. Piety is gratitude to the Gods, and he only is really generous who does not forget the gratitude he owes to men."
He had thrown off all bitterness of feeling when he sent for Bent-Anat and Pentaur to be brought to his tent. He made his daughter relate at full length how the poet had won her love, and though he frequently interrupted her with blame as well as praise, his heart was full of fatherly joy when he laid his darling's hand in that of the poet.
Bent-Anat laid her head in full content on the breast of the noble Assa's grandson, but she would have clung not less fondly to Pentaur the gardener's son.
"Now you are one of my own children," said Rameses; and he desired the poet to remain with him while he commanded the heralds, ambassadors, and interpreters to bring to him the Asiatic princes, who were detained in their own tents on the farther side of the Nile, that he might conclude with them such a treaty of peace as might continue valid for generations to come. Before they arrived, the young princes came to their father's tent, and learned from his own lips the noble birth of Pentaur, and that they owed it to their sister that in him they saw another brother; they welcomed him with sincere affection, and all, especially Rameri, warmly congratulated the handsome and worthy couple.
The king then called Rameri forward from among his brothers, and thanked him before them all for his brave conduct during the fire. He had already been invested with the robe of manhood after the battle of Kadesh; he was now appointed to the command of a legion of chariot-warriors, and the order of the lion to wear round his neck was bestowed on him for his bravery. The prince knelt, and thanked his father; but Rameses took the curly head in his hands and said:
"You have won praise and reward by your splendid deeds from the father whom you have saved and filled with pride. But the king watches over the laws, and guides the destiny cf this land, the king must blame you, nay perhaps punish you. You could not yield to the discipline of school, where we all must learn to obey if we would afterwards exercise our authority with moderation, and without any orders you left Egypt and joined the army. You showed the courage and strength of a man, but the folly of a boy in all that regards prudence and foresight--things harder to learn for the son of a race of heroes than mere hitting and slashing at random; you, without experience, measured yourself against masters of the art of war, and what was the consequence? Twice you fell a prisoner into the hands of the enemy, and I had to ransom you.
"The king of the Danaids gave you up in exchange for his daughter, and he rejoices long since in the restoration of his child; but we, in losing her, lost the most powerful means of coercing the seafaring nations of the islands and northern coasts of the great sea who are constantly increasing in might and daring, and so diminished our chances of securing a solid and abiding peace.
"Thus--through the careless wilfulness of a boy, the great work is endangered which I had hoped to have achieved. It grieves me particularly to humiliate your spirit to-day, when I have had so much reason to encourage you with praise. Nor will I punish you, only warn you and teach you. The mechanism of the state is like the working of the cogged wheels which move the water-works on the shore of the Nile-if one tooth is missing the whole comes to a stand-still however strong the beasts that labor to turn it. Each of you--bear this in mind--is a main-wheel in the great machine of the state, and can serve an end only by acting unresistingly in obedience to the motive power. Now rise! we may perhaps succeed in obtaining good security from the Asiatic king, though we have lost our hostage."
Heralds at this moment marched into the tent, and announced that the representative of the Cheta king and the allied princes were in attendance in the council tent; Rameses put on the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt and all his royal adornments; the chamberlain who carried the insignia of his power, and his head scribe with his decoration of plumes marched before him, while his sons, the commanders in chief, and the interpreters followed him. Rameses took his seat on his throne with great dignity, and the sternest gravity marked his demeanor while he received the homage of the conquered and fettered kings.
The Asiatics kissed the earth at his feet, only the king of the Danaids did no more than bow before him. Rameses looked wrathfully at him, and ordered the interpreter to ask him whether he considered himself conquered or no, and the answer was given that he had not come before the Pharaoh as a prisoner, and that the obeisance which Rameses required of him was regarded as a degradation according to the customs of his free-born people, who prostrated them selves only before the Gods. He hoped to become an ally of the king of Egypt, and he asked would he desire to call a degraded man his friend?
Rameses measured the proud and noble figure before him with a glance, and said severely:
"I am prepared to treat for peace only with such of my enemies as are willing to bow to the double crown that I wear. If you persist in your refusal, you and your people will have no part in the favorable conditions that I am prepared to grant to these, your allies."
The captive prince preserved his dignified demeanor, which was nevertheless free from insolence, when these words of the king were interpreted to him, and replied that he had come intending to procure peace at any cost, but that he never could nor would grovel in the dust at any man's feet nor before any crown. He would depart on the following day; one favor, however, he requested in his daughter's name and his own--and he had heard that the Egyptians respected women. The king knew, of course, that his charioteer Mena had treated his daughter, not as a prisoner but as a sister, and Praxilla now felt a wish, which he himself shared, to bid farewell to the noble Mena, and his wife, and to thank him for his magnanimous generosity. Would Rameses permit him once more to cross the Nile before his departure, and with his daughter to visit Mena in his tent.
Rameses granted his prayer: the prince left the tent, and the negotiations began.
In a few hours they were brought to a close, for the Asiatic and Egyptian scribes had agreed, in the course of the long march southwards, on the stipulations to be signed; the treaty itself was to be drawn up after the articles had been carefully considered, and to be signed in the city of Rameses called Tanis--or, by the numerous settlers in its neighborhood, Zoan. The Asiatic princes were to dine as guests with the king; but they sat at a separate table, as the Egyptians would have been defiled by sitting at the same table with strangers.
Rameses was not perfectly satisfied. If the Danaids went away without concluding a treaty with him, it was to be expected that the peace which he was so earnestly striving for would before long be again disturbed; and he nevertheless felt that, out of regard for the other conquered princes, he could not forego any jot of the humiliation which he had required of their king, and which he believed to be due to himself--though he bad been greatly impressed by his dignified manliness and by the bravery of the troops that had followed him into the field.
The sun was sinking when Mena, who that day had leave of absence from the king, came in great excitement up to the table where the princes were sitting and craved the king's permission to make an important communication. Rameses signed consent; the charioteer went close up to him, and they held a short but eager conversation in a low voice.
Presently the king stood up and said, speaking to his daughter:
"This day which began so horribly will end joyfully. The fair child who saved you to-day, but who so nearly fell a victim to the flames, is of noble origin."
"She cones of a royal house," said Rameri, disrespectfully interrupting his father. Rameses looked at him reprovingly. "My sons are silent," he said, "till I ask them to speak."
The prince colored and looked down; the king signed to Bent-Anat and Pentaur, begged his guests to excuse him for a short time, and was about to leave the tent; but Bent-Anat went up to him, and whispered a few words to him with reference to her brother. Not in vain: the king paused, and reflected for a few moments; then he looked at Rameri, who stood abashed, and as if rooted to the spot where he stood. The king called his name, and beckoned him to follow him.