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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 6. - 1/12 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN EGYPTIAN PRINCESS, Part 2.
By Georg Ebers
The principal steward of the banquet went forward to meet the guests as they entered, and, assisted by other noble staff-bearers (chamberlains and masters of the ceremonies), led them to their appointed places.
When they were all seated, a flourish of trumpets announced that the king was near. As he entered the hall every one rose, and the multitude received him with a thundering shout of "Victory to the king!" again and again repeated.
The way to his seat was marked by a purple Sardian carpet, only to be trodden by himself and Kassandane. His blind mother, led by Croesus, went first and took her seat at the head of the table, on a throne somewhat higher than the golden chair for Cambyses, which stood by it. The king's lawful wives sat on his left hand; Nitetis next to him, then Atossa, and by her side the pale, plainly-dressed Phaedime; next to this last wife of Cambyses sat Boges, the eunuch. Then came the high-priest Oropastes, some of the principal Magi, the satraps of various provinces (among them the Jew Belteshazzar), and a number of Persians, Medes and eunuchs, all holding high offices under the crown.
Bartja sat at the king's right hand, and after him Croesus, Hystaspes, Gobryas, Araspes, and others of the Achaemenidae, according to their rank and age. Of the concubines, the greater number sat at the foot of the table; some stood opposite to Cambyses, and enlivened the banquet by songs and music. A number of eunuchs stood behind them, whose duty it was to see that they did not raise their eyes towards the men.
Cambyses' first glance was bestowed on Nitetis; she sat by him in all the splendor and dignity of a queen, but looking very, very pale in her new purple robes.
Their eyes met, and Cambyses felt that such a look could only come from one who loved him very dearly. But his own love told him that something had troubled her. There was a sad seriousness about her mouth, and a slight cloud, which only he could see, seemed to veil the usually calm, clear and cheerful expression of her eyes. "I will ask her afterwards what has happened," thought he, "but it will not do to let my subjects see how much I love this girl."
He kissed his mother, sister, brother and his nearest relations on the forehead--said a short prayer thanking the gods for their mercies and entreating a happy new year for himself and the Persians--named the immense sum he intended to present to his countrymen on this day, and then called on the staff bearers to bring the petitioners before his face, who hoped to obtain some reasonable request from the king on this day of grace.
As every petitioner had been obliged to lay his request before the principal staff bearer the day before, in order to ascertain whether it was admissible, they all received satisfactory answers. The petitions of the women had been enquired into by the eunuchs in the same manner, and they too were now conducted before their lord and master by Boges, Kassandane alone remaining seated.
The long procession was opened by Nitetis and Atossa, and the two princesses were immediately followed by Phaedime and another beauty. The latter was magnificently dressed and had been paired with Phaedime by Boges, in order to make the almost poverty-stricken simplicity of the fallen favorite more apparent.
Intaphernes and Otanes looked as annoyed as Boges had expected, on seeing their grandchild and daughter so pale, and in such miserable array, in the midst of all this splendor and magnificence.
Cambyses had had experience of Phaedime's former extravagance in matters of dress, and, when he saw her standing before him so plainly dressed and so pale, looked both angry and astonished. His brow darkened, and as she bent low before him, he asked her in an angry and tyrannical tone: "What is the meaning of this beggarly dress at my table, on the day set apart in my honor? Have you forgotten, that in our country it is the custom never to appear unadorned before the king? Verily, if it were not my birthday, and if I did not owe you some consideration as the daughter of our dearest kinsman, I should order the eunuchs to take you back to the harem, that you might have time to think over your conduct in solitude."
These words rendered the mortified woman's task much easier.... She began to weep loud and bitterly, raising her hands and eyes to her angry lord in such a beseeching manner that his anger was changed into compassion, and he raised her from the ground with the question: "Have you a petition to ask of me?"
"What can I find to wish for, now that the sun of my life has withdrawn his light?" was her faltering answer, hindered by sobs.
Cambyses shrugged his shoulders, and asked again "Is there nothing then that you wish for? I used to be able to dry your tears with presents; ask me for some golden comfort to-day."
"Phaedime has nothing left to wish for now. For whom can she put on jewels when her king, her husband, withdraws the light of his countenance?"
"Then I can do nothing for you," exclaimed Cambyses, turning away angrily from the kneeling woman. Boges had been quite right in advising Phaedime to paint herself with white, for underneath the pale color her cheeks were burning with shame and anger. But, in spite of all, she controlled her passionate feelings, made the same deep obeisance to Nitetis as to the queen-mother, and allowed her tears to flow fast and freely in sight of all the Achaemenidae.
Otanes and Intaphernes could scarcely suppress their indignation at seeing their daughter and grandchild thus humbled, and many an Achaemenidae looked on, feeling deep sympathy with the unhappy Phaedime and a hidden grudge against the favored, beautiful stranger.
The formalities were at last at an end and the feast began. Just before the king, in a golden basket, and gracefully bordered round with other fruits, lay a gigantic pomegranate, as large as a child's head.
Cambyses noticed it now for the first time, examined its enormous size and rare beauty with the eye of a connoisseur, and said: "Who grew this wonderful pomegranate?"
"Thy servant Oropastes," answered the chief of the Magi, with a low obeisance. "For many years I have studied the art of gardening, and have ventured to lay this, the most beautiful fruit of my labors, at the feet of my king."
"I owe you thanks," cried the king: "My friends, this pomegranate will assist me in the choice of a governor at home when we go out to war, for, by Mithras, the man who can cherish and foster a little tree so carefully will do greater things than these. What a splendid fruit! Surely it's like was never seen before. I thank you again, Oropastes, and as the thanks of a king must never consist of empty words alone, I name you at once vicegerent of my entire kingdom, in case of war. For we shall not dream away our time much longer in this idle rest, my friends. A Persian gets low-spirited without the joys of war."
A murmur of applause ran through the ranks of the Achaemenidae and fresh shouts of "Victory to the king" resounded through the hall. Their anger on account of the humiliation of a woman was quickly forgotten; thoughts of coming battles, undying renown and conqueror's laurels to be won by deeds of arms, and recollections of their former mighty deeds raised the spirits of the revellers.
The king himself was more moderate than usual to-day, but he encouraged his guests to drink, enjoying their noisy merriment and overflowing mirth; taking, however, far more pleasure still in the fascinating beauty of the Egyptian Princess, who sat at his side, paler than usual, and thoroughly exhausted by the exertions of the morning and the unaccustomed weight of the high tiara. He had never felt so happy as on this day. What indeed could he wish for more than he already possessed? Had not the gods given him every thing that a man could desire? and, over and above all this, had not they flung into his lap the precious gift of love? His usual inflexibility seemed to have changed into benevolence, and his stern severity into good-nature, as he turned to his brother Bartja with the words: "Come brother, have you forgotten my promise? Don't you know that to-day you are sure of gaining the dearest wish of your heart from me? That's right, drain the goblet, and take courage! but do not ask anything small, for I am in the mood to give largely to- day. Ah, it is a secret! come nearer then. I am really curious to know what the most fortunate youth in my entire kingdom can long for so much, that he blushes like a girl when his wish is spoken of."
Bartja, whose cheeks were really glowing from agitation, bent his head close to his brother's ear, and whispered shortly the story of his love. Sappho's father had helped to defend his native town Phocaea against the hosts of Cyrus, and this fact the boy cleverly brought forward, speaking of the girl he loved as the daughter of a Greek warrior of noble birth. In so saying he spoke the truth, but at the same time he suppressed the facts that this very father had acquired great riches by mercantile undertakings.
[The Persians were forbidden by law to contract debts, because debtors were necessarily led to say much that was untrue. Herod. I. For this reason they held all money transactions m contempt, such occupations being also very uncongenial to their military tastes. They despised commerce and abandoned it to the conquered nations.]
He then told his brother how charming, cultivated and loving his Sappho was, and was just going to call on Croesus for a confirmation of his words, when Cambyses interrupted him by kissing his forehead and saying: "You need say no more, brother; do what your heart bids you. I know the power of love too, and I will help you to gain our mother's consent." Bartja threw himself at his brother's feet, overcome with gratitude and joy, but Cambyses raised him kindly and, looking especially at Nitetis and Kassandane, exclaimed: "Listen, my dear ones, the stem of Cyrus is going to blossom afresh, for our brother Bartja has resolved to put an end to his single life, so displeasing to the gods.
[The Persians were commanded by their religion to marry, and the
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