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- Moon of Israel - 10/49 -
matter last night, I make a decree----"
"Pardon, O Pharaoh," interrupted the Prince, "my sister spoke to me of no decree last night, save that I should attend at the court here to-day."
"Because I could not, Seti, seeing that another was present with you whom you refused to dismiss," and she let her eyes rest on me.
"It matters not," said Pharaoh, "since now I will utter it with my own lips which perhaps is better. It is my will, Prince, that you forthwith wed the royal Princess Userti, that children of the true blood of the Ramessides may be born. Hear and obey."
Now Userti shifted her eyes from me to Seti, watching him very closely. Seated at his side upon the ground with my writing roll spread across my knee, I, too, watched him closely, and noted that his lips turned white and his face grew fixed and strange.
"I hear the command of Pharaoh," he said in a low voice making obeisance, and hesitated.
"Have you aught to add?" asked Meneptah sharply.
"Only, O Pharaoh, that though this would be a marriage decreed for reasons of the State, still there is a lady who must be given in marriage, and she my half-sister who heretofore has only loved me as a relative. Therefore, I would know from her lips if it is her will to take me as a husband."
Now all looked at Userti who replied in a cold voice:
"In this matter, Prince, as in all others I have no will but that of Pharaoh."
"You have heard," interrupted Meneptah impatiently, "and as in our House it has always been the custom for kin to marry kin, why should it not be her will? Also, who else should she marry? Amenmeses is already wed. There remains only Saptah his brother who is younger than herself----"
"So am I," murmured Seti, "by two long years," but happily Userti did not hear him.
"Nay, my father," she said with decision, "never will I take a deformed man to husband."
Now from the shadow on the further side of the throne, where I could not see him, there hobbled forward a young noble, short in stature, light-haired like Seti, and with a sharp, clever face which put me in mind of that of a jackal (indeed for this reason he was named Thoth by the common people, after the jackal-headed god). He was very angry, for his cheeks were flushed and his small eyes flashed.
"Must I listen, Pharaoh," he said in a little voice, "while my cousin the Royal Princess reproaches me in public for my lame foot, which I have because my nurse let me fall when I was still in arms?"
"Then his nurse let his grandfather fall also, for he too was club- footed, as I who have seen him naked in his cradle can bear witness," whispered old Bakenkhonsu.
"It seems so, Count Saptah, unless you stop your ears," replied Pharaoh.
"She says she will not marry me," went on Saptah, "me who from childhood have been a slave to her and to no other woman."
"Not by my wish, Saptah. Indeed, I pray you to go and be a slave to any woman whom you will," exclaimed Userti.
"But I say," continued Saptah, "that one day she shall marry me, for the Prince Seti will not live for ever."
"How do you know that, Cousin?" asked Seti. "The High-priest here will tell you a different story."
Now certain of those present turned their heads away to hide the smile upon their faces. Yet on this day some god spoke with Saptah's voice making him a prophet, since in a year to come she did marry him, in order that she might stay upon the throne at a time of trouble when Egypt would not suffer that a woman should have sole rule over the land.
But Pharaoh did not smile like the courtiers; indeed he grew angry.
"Peace, Saptah!" he said. "Who are you that wrangle before me, talking of the death of kings and saying that you will wed the Royal princess? One more such word and you shall be driven into banishment. Hearken now. Almost am I minded to declare my daughter, the Royal Princess, sole heiress to the throne, seeing that in her there is more strength and wisdom than in any other of our House."
"If such be Pharaoh's will, let Pharaoh's will be done," said Seti most humbly. "Well I know my own unworthiness to fill so high a station, and by all the gods I swear that my beloved sister will find no more faithful subject than myself."
"You mean, Seti," interrupted Userti, "that rather than marry me you would abandon your right to the double crown. Truly I am honoured. Seti, whether you reign or I, I will not marry you."
"What words are these I hear?" cried Meneptah. "Is there indeed one in this land of Egypt who dares to say that Pharaoh's decree shall be disobeyed? Write it down, Scribes, and you, O Officers, let it be proclaimed from Thebes to the sea, that on the third day from now at the hour of noon in the temple of Hathor in this city, the Prince, the Royal Heir, Seti Meneptah, Beloved of Ra, will wed the Royal Princess of Egypt, Lily of Love, Beloved of Hathor, Userti, Daughter of me, the god."
"Life! Blood! Strength!" called all the Court.
Then, guided by some high officer, the Prince Seti was led before the throne and the Princess Userti was set beside him, or rather facing him. According to the ancient custom a great gold cup was brought and filled with red wine, to me it looked like blood. Userti took the cup and, kneeling, gave it to the Prince, who drank and gave it back to her that she might also drink in solemn token of their betrothal. Is not the scene graven on the broad bracelets of gold which in after days Seti wore when he sat upon the throne, those same bracelets that at a future time I with my own hands clasped about the wrists of dead Userti?
Then he stretched out his hand which she touched with her lips, and bending down he kissed her on the brow. Lastly, Pharaoh, descending to the lowest step of the throne, laid his sceptre, first upon the head of the Prince, and next upon that of the Princess, blessing them both in the name of himself, of his Ka or Double, and of the spirits and Kas of all their forefathers, kings and queens of Egypt, thus appointing them to come after him when he had been gathered to the bosom of the gods.
These things done, he departed in state, surrounded by his court, preceded and followed by his guards and leaning on the arm of the Princess Userti, whom he loved better than anyone in the world.
A while later I stood alone with the Prince in his private chamber, where I had first seen him.
"That is finished," he said in a cheerful voice, "and I tell you, Ana, that I feel quite, quite happy. Have you ever shivered upon the bank of a river of a winter morning, fearing to enter, and yet, when you did enter, have you not been pleased to find that the icy water refreshed you and made you not cold but hot?"
"Yes, Prince. It is when one comes out of the water, if the wind blows and no sun shines, that one feels colder than before."
"True, Ana, and therefore one must not come out. One should stop there till one--drowns or is eaten by a crocodile. But, say, did I do it well?"
"Old Bakenkhonsu told me, Prince, that he had been present at many royal betrothals, I think he said eleven, and had never seen one conducted with more grace. He added that the way in which you kissed the brow of her Highness was perfect, as was all your demeanour after the first argument."
"And so it would remain, Ana, if I were never called upon to do more than kiss her brow, to which I have been accustomed from boyhood. Oh! Ana, Ana," he added in a kind of cry, "already you are becoming a courtier like the rest of them, a courtier who cannot speak the truth. Well, nor can I, so why should I blame you? Tell me again all about your marriage, Ana, of how it began and how it ended."
Whether or no the Prince Seti saw Userti again before the hour of his marriage with her I cannot say, because he never told me. Indeed I was not present at the marriage, for the reason that I had been granted leave to return to Memphis, there to settle my affairs and sell my house on entering upon my appointment as private scribe to his Highness. Thus it came about that fourteen full days went by from that of the holding of the Court of Betrothal before I found myself standing once more at the gate of the Prince's palace, attended by a servant who led an ass on which were laden all my manuscripts and certain possessions that had descended to me from my ancestors with the title-deeds of their tombs. Different indeed was my reception on this my second coming. Even as I reached the steps the old chamberlain Pambasa appeared, running down them so fast that his white robes and beard streamed upon the air.
"Greeting, most learned scribe, most honourable Ana," he panted. "Glad indeed am I to see you, since very hour his Highness asks if you have returned, and blames me because you have not come. Verily I believe that if you had stayed upon the road another day I should have been sent to look for you, who have had sharp words said to me because I did not arrange that you should be accompanied by a guard, as though the Vizier Nehesi would have paid the costs of a guard without the direct order of Pharaoh. O most excellent Ana, give me of the charm which you have doubtless used to win the love of our royal master, and I will pay you well for it who find it easier to earn his wrath."
"I will, Pambasa. Here it is--write better stories than I do instead of telling them, and he will love you more than he does me. But say--
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