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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 8. - 11/11 -
"I will accompany you," said Zopyrus, "I want to order some garlands for Rhodopis' house."
"Aha," laughed the Milesian. "I see, you want to talk to the flower- girls again. Come, it's of no use to deny. Well, if you like you can come with me, but don't be so generous as you were yesterday, and don't forget that if certain news of war should arrive, your disguise may prove dangerous."
The Greek then had his sandals fastened on by his slaves and started for the market, accompanied by Zopyrus. In a few hours he returned with such a serious expression on his usually cheerful face, that it was easy to see something very important had happened.
"I found the whole town in great agitation," he said to the two friends who had remained at home; "there is a report that Amasis is at the point of death. We had all met on the place of exchange in order to settle our business, and I was on the point of selling all my stored goods at such high prices as to secure me a first-rate profit, with which, when the prospect of an important war had lowered prices again, I could have bought in fresh goods--you see it stands me in good stead to know your royal brother's intentions so early--when suddenly the Toparch appeared among us, and announced that Amasis was not only seriously ill, but that the physicians had given up all hope, and he himself felt he was very near death. We must hold ourselves in readiness for this at any moment, and for a very serious change in the face of affairs. The death of Amasis is the severest loss that could happen to us Greeks; he was always our friend, and favored us whenever he could, while his son is our avowed enemy and will do his utmost to expel us from the country. If his father had allowed, and he himself had not felt so strongly the importance and value of our mercenary troops, he would have turned us hateful foreigners out long ago. Naukratis and its temples are odious to him. When Amasis is dead our town will hail Cambyses' army with delight, for I have had experience already, in my native town Miletus, that you are accustomed to show respect to those who are not Persians and to protect their rights."
"Yes," said Bartja, "I will take care that all your ancient liberties shall be confirmed by my brother and new ones granted you."
"Well, I only hope he will soon be here," exclaimed the Greek, "for we know that Psamtik, as soon as he possibly can, will order our temples, which are an abomination to him, to be demolished. The building of a place of sacrifice for the Greeks at Memphis has long been put a stop to."
"But here," said Darius, "we saw a number of splendid temples as we came up from the harbor."
"Oh, yes, we have several.--Ah, there comes Zopyrus; the slaves are carrying a perfect grove of garlands behind him. He's laughing so heartily, he must have amused himself famously with the flower-girls. Good-morning, my friend. The sad news which fills all Naukratis does not seem to disturb you much."
"Oh, for anything I care, Amasis may go on living a hundred years yet. But if be dies now, people will have something else to do beside looking after us. When do you set off for Rhodopis' house, friends?"
"Then please, ask her to accept these flowers from me. I never thought I could have been so taken by an old woman before. Every word she says sounds like music, and though she speaks so gravely and wisely it's as pleasant to the ear as a merry joke. But I shan't go with you this time, Bartja; I should only be in the way. Darius, what have you made up your mind to do?"
"I don't want to lose one chance of a conversation with Rhodopis."
"Well, I don't blame you. You're all for learning and knowing everything, and I'm for enjoying. Friends, what do you say to letting me off this evening? You see..."
"I know all about it," interrupted Bartja laughing: "You've only seen the flower-girls by daylight as yet, and you would like to know how they look by lamplight."
"Yes, that's it," said Zopyrus, putting on a grave face. "On that point I am quite as eager after knowledge as Darius."
"Well, we wish you much pleasure with your three sisters."
"No, no, not all three, if you please; Stephanion, the youngest, is my favorite."
Morning had already dawned when Bartja, Darius and Theopompus left Rhodopis' house. Syloson, a Greek noble who had been banished from his native land by his own brother, Polykrates the tyrant, had been spending the evening with them, and was now returning in their company to Naukratis, where he had been living many years.
This man, though an exile, was liberally supplied with money by his brother, kept the most brilliant establishment in Naukratis, and was as famous for his extravagant hospitality as for his strength and cleverness. Syloson was a very handsome man too, and so remarkable for the good taste and splendor of his dress, that the youth of Naukratis prided themselves on imitating the cut and hang of his robes. Being unmarried, he spent many of his evenings at Rhodopis' house, and had been told the secret of her granddaughter's betrothal.
On that evening it had been settled, that in four days the marriage should be celebrated with the greatest privacy. Bartja had formally betrothed himself to Sappho by eating a quince with her, on the same day on which she had offered sacrifices to Zeus, Hera, and the other deities who protected marriage. The wedding-banquet was to be given at the house of Theopompus, which was looked upon as the bridegroom's. The prince's costly bridal presents had been entrusted to Rhodopis' care, and Bartja had insisted on renouncing the paternal inheritance which belonged to his bride and on transferring it to Rhodopis, notwithstanding her determined resistance.
Syloson accompanied the friends to Rhodopis' house, and was just about to leave them, when a loud noise in the streets broke the quiet stillness of the night, and soon after, a troop of the watch passed by, taking a man to prison. The prisoner seemed highly indignant, and the less his broken Greek oaths and his utterances in some other totally unintelligible language were understood by the Egyptian guards, the more violent he became.
Directly Bartja and Darius heard the voice they ran up, and recognized Zopyrus at once.
Syloson and Theopompus stopped the guards, and asked what their captive had done. The officer on duty recognized them directly; indeed every child in Naukratis knew the Milesian merchant and the brother of the tyrant Polykrates by sight; and he answered at once, with a respectful salutation, that the foreign youth they were leading away had been guilty of murder.
Theopompus then took him on one side and endeavored, by liberal promises, to obtain the freedom of the prisoner. The man, however, would concede nothing but a permission to speak with his captive. Meanwhile his friends begged Zopyrus to tell them at once what had happened, and heard the following story: The thoughtless fellow had visited the flower-girls at dusk and remained till dawn. He had scarcely closed their housedoor on his way home, when he found himself surrounded by a number of young men, who had probably been lying in wait for him, as he had already had a quarrel with one of them, who called himself the betrothed lover of Stephanion, on that very morning. The girl had told her troublesome admirer to leave her flowers alone, and had thanked Zopyrus for threatening to use personal violence to the intruder. When the young Achaemenidae found himself surrounded, he drew his sword and easily dispersed his adversaries, as they were only armed with sticks, but chanced to wound the jealous lover, who was more violent than the rest, so seriously, that he fell to the ground. Meanwhile the watch had come up, and as Zopyrus' victim howled "thieves" and "murder" incessantly, they proceeded to arrest the offender. This was not so easy. His blood was up, and rushing on them with his drawn sword, he had already cut his way through the first troop when a second came up. He was not to be daunted, attacked them too, split the skull of one, wounded another in the arm and was taking aim for a third blow, when he felt a cord round his neck. It was drawn tighter and tighter till at last he could not breathe and fell down insensible. By the time he came to his senses he was bound, and notwithstanding all his appeals to his pass and the name of Theopompus, was forced to follow his captors.
When the tale was finished the Milesian did not attempt to conceal his strong disapprobation, and told Zopyrus that his most unseasonable love of fighting might be followed by the saddest consequences. After saying this, he turned to the officer and begged him to accept his own personal security for the prisoner. The other, however, refused gravely, saying he might forfeit his own life by doing so, as a law existed in Egypt by which the concealer of a murder was condemned to death. He must, he assured them, take the culprit to Sais and deliver him over to the Nomarch for punishment. "He has murdered an Egyptian," were his last words, "and must therefore be tried by an Egyptian supreme court. In any other case I should be delighted to render you any service in my power."
During this conversation Zopyrus had been begging his friends not to take any trouble about him. "By Mithras," he cried, when Bartja offered to declare himself to the Egyptians as a means of procuring his freedom, "I vow I'll stab myself without a second thought, if you give yourselves up to those dogs of Egyptians. Why the whole town is talking about the war already, and do you think that if Psamtik knew he'd got such splendid game in his net, he would let you loose? He would keep you as hostages, of course. No, no, my friends. Good-bye; may Auramazda send you his best blessings! and don't quite forget the jovial Zopyrus, who lived and died for love and war."
The captain of the band placed himself at the head of his men, gave the order to march, and in a few minutes Zopyrus was out of sight.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Corpse to be torn in pieces by dogs and vultures He is the best host, who allows his guests the most freedom The past belongs to the dead; only fools count upon the future They praise their butchers more than their benefactors We've talked a good deal of love with our eyes already Wise men hold fast by the ever young present
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