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- Moon of Israel - 20/49 -
"Afterwards peace and great reward, if there be justice in earth or heaven, O most noble among women."
"Would that I could think so! Hush, I hear steps. Drink this; I am the chief of your nurses, Scribe Ana, an honourable post, since to-day all Egypt loves and praises you."
"Surely it is you, lady Merapi, whom all Egypt should love and praise," I answered.
Then the Prince Seti entered. I strove to salute him by lifting my less injured arm, but he caught my hand and pressed it tenderly.
"Hail to you, beloved of Menthu, god of war," he said, with his pleasant laugh. "I thought I had hired a scribe, and lo! in this scribe I find a soldier who might be an army's boast."
At this moment he caught sight of Merapi, who had moved back into the shadow.
"Hail to you also, Moon of Israel," he said bowing. "If I name Ana here a warrior of the best, what name can both of us find for you to whom we owe our lives? Nay, look not down, but answer."
"Prince of Egypt," she replied confusedly, "I did but little. The plot came to my ears through Jabez my uncle, and I fled away and, knowing the short paths from childhood, was just in time. Had I stayed to think perchance I should not have dared."
"And what of the rest, Lady? What of the Hebrew who was choking me and of a certain sword thrust that loosed his hands for ever?"
"Of that, your Highness, I can recall nothing, or very little," then, doubtless remembering what she had just said to me, she made obeisance and passed from the chamber.
"She can tell falsehoods as sweetly as she does all else," said Seti, when he had watched her go. "Oh! what a woman have we here, Ana. Perfect in beauty, perfect in courage, perfect in mind. Where are her faults, I wonder? Let it be your part to search them out, since I find none."
"Ask them of Ki, O Prince. He is a very great magician, so great that perhaps his art may even avail to discover what a woman seeks to hide. Also you may remember that he gave you certain warnings before we journeyed to Goshen."
"Yes--he told me that my life would be in danger, as certainly it was. There he was right. He told me also that I should see a woman whom I should come to love. There he was wrong. I have seen no such woman. Oh! I know well what is passing in your mind. Because I hold the lady Merapi to be beautiful and brave, you think that I love her. But it is not so. I love no woman, except, of course, her Highness. Ana, you judge me by yourself."
"Ki said 'come to love,' Prince. There is yet time."
"Not so, Ana. If one loves, one loves at once. Soon I shall be old and she will be fat and ugly, and how can one love then? Get well quickly, Ana, for I wish you to help me with my report to Pharaoh. I shall tell him that I think these Israelites are much oppressed and that he should make them amends and let them go."
"What will Pharaoh say to that after they have just tried to kill his heir?"
"I think Pharaoh will be angry, and so will the people of Egypt, who do not reason well. He will not see that, believing what they do, Laban and his band were right to try to kill me who, however unwittingly, desecrated the sanctuary of their god. Had they done otherwise they would have been no good Hebrews, and for my part I cannot bear them malice. Yet all Egypt is afire about this business and cries out that the Israelites should be destroyed."
"It seems to me, Prince, that whatever may be the case with Ki's second prophecy, his third is in the way of fulfilment--namely that this journey to Goshen may cause you to risk your throne."
He shrugged his shoulders and answered:
"Not even for that, Ana, will I say to Pharaoh what is not in my mind. But let that matter be till you are stronger."
"What chanced at the end of the fight, Prince, and how came I here?"
"The guard killed most of the Hebrews who remained alive. Some few fled and escaped in the darkness, among them Laban their leader, although you had wounded him, and six were taken alive. They await their trial. I was but little hurt and you, whom we thought dead, were but senseless, and senseless or wandering you have remained till this hour. We carried you in a litter, and here you have been these three days."
"And the lady Merapi?"
"We set her in a chariot and brought her to the city, since had we left her she would certainly have been murdered by her people. When Pharaoh heard what she had done, as I did not think it well that she should dwell here, he gave her the small house in this garden that she might be guarded, and with it slave women to attend upon her. So there she dwells, having the freedom of the palace, and all the while has filled the office of your nurse."
At this moment I grew faint and shut my eyes. When I opened them again, the Prince had gone. Six more days went by before I was allowed to leave my bed, and during this time I saw much of Merapi. She was very sad and lived in fear of being killed by the Hebrews. Also she was troubled in her heart because she thought she had betrayed her faith and people.
"At least you are rid of Laban," I said.
"Never shall I be rid of him while we both live," she answered. "I belong to him and he will not loose my bond, because his heart is set on me."
"And is your heart set on him?" I asked.
Her beautiful eyes filled with tears.
"A woman may not have a heart. Oh! Ana, I am unhappy," she answered, and went away.
Also I saw others. The Princess came to visit me. She thanked me much because I had fulfilled my promise to her and guarded the Prince. Moreover she brought me a gift of gold from Pharaoh, and other gifts of fine raiment from herself. She questioned me closely about Merapi, of whom I could see she was already jealous, and was glad when she learned that she was affianced to a Hebrew. Old Bakenkhonsu came too, and asked me many things about the Prince, the Hebrews and Merapi, especially Merapi, of whose deeds, he said, all Egypt was talking, questions that I answered as best I could.
"Here we have that woman of whom Ki told us," he said, "she who shall bring so much joy and so much sorrow to the Prince of Egypt."
"Why so?" I asked. "He has not taken her into his house, nor do I think that he means to do so."
"Yet he will, Ana, whether he means it or not. For his sake she betrayed her people, which among the Israelites is a deadly crime. Twice she saved his life, once by warning him of the ambush, and again by stabbing with her own hands one of her kinsmen who was murdering him. Is it not so? Tell me; you were there."
"It is so, but what then?"
"This: that whatever she may say, she loves him; unless indeed, it is you whom she loves," and he looked at me shrewdly.
"When a woman has a prince, and such a prince to her hand, would she trouble herself to set snares to catch a scribe?" I asked, with some bitterness.
"Oho!" he said, with one of his great laughs, "so things stand thus, do they? Well, I thought it, but, friend Ana, be warned in time. Do not try to conjure down the Moon to be your household lamp lest she should set, and the Sun, her lord, should grow wroth and burn you up. Well, she loves him, and therefore soon or late she will make him love her, being what she is."
"With most men, Ana, it would be simple. A sigh, some half-hidden tears at the right moment, and the thing is done, as I have known it done a thousand times. But this prince being what he is, it may be otherwise. She may show him that her name is gone from him; that because of him she is hated by her people, and rejected by her god, and thus stir his pity, which is Love's own sister. Or mayhap, being also, as I am told, wise, she will give him counsel as to all these matters of the Israelites, and thus creep into his heart under the guise of friendship, and then her sweetness and her beauty will do the rest in Nature's way. At least by this road or by that, upstream or downstream, thither she will come."
"If so, what of it? It is the custom of the kings of Egypt to have more wives than one."
"This, Ana; Seti, I think, is a man who in truth will have but one, and that one will be this Hebrew. Yes, a Hebrew woman will rule Egypt, and turn him to the worship of her god, for never will she worship ours. Indeed, when they see that she is lost to them, her people will use her thus. Or perchance her god himself will use her to fulfil his purpose, as already he may have used her."
"And afterwards, Bakenkhonsu?"
"Afterwards--who knows? I am not a magician, at least not one of any account, ask it of Ki. But I am very, very old and I have watched the world, and I tell you that these things will happen, unless----" and he paused.
He dropped his voice.
"Unless Userti is bolder than I think, and kills her first or, better still, procures some Hebrew to kill her--say, that cast-off lover of hers. If you would be a friend to Pharaoh and to Egypt, you might
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