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- Moon of Israel - 40/49 -
Now Bakenkhonsu and I came before Pharaoh and we saw that he was greatly aged, for his hair had gone grey about his temples and the flesh hung in bags beneath his eyes. Also not for one minute could he stay still.
"Is your lord, and are you also of the servants of this Hebrew prophet whom the Egyptians worship as a god because he has done them so much ill?" he asked. "It may well be so, since I hear that my cousin Seti keeps an Israelitish witch in his house, who wards off from him all the plagues that have smitten the rest of Egypt, and that to him has fled also Ki the Kherheb, my magician. Moreover, I hear that in payment for these wizardries he has been promised the throne of Egypt by many fickle and fearful ones among my people. Let him be careful lest I lift him up higher than he hopes, who already have enough traitors in this land; and you two with him."
Now I said nothing, who saw that the man was mad, but Bakenkhonsu laughed out loud and answered:
"O Pharaoh, I know little, but I know this although I be old, namely, that after men have ceased to speak your name I shall still hold converse with the wearer of the Double Crown in Egypt. Now will you let these Hebrews go, or will you bring death upon Egypt?"
Pharaoh glared at him and answered, "I will not let them go."
"Why not, Pharaoh? Tell me, for I am curious."
"Because I cannot," he answered with a groan. "Because something stronger than myself forces me to deny their prayer. Begone!"
So we went, and this was the last time that I looked upon Amenmeses at Tanis.
As we left the chamber I saw the Hebrew prophet entering the presence. Afterwards a rumour reached us that he had threatened to kill all the people in Egypt, but that still Pharaoh would not let the Israelites depart. Indeed, it was said that he had told the prophet that if he appeared before him any more he should be put to death.
Now we journeyed back to Memphis with all these tidings and made report to Seti. When Merapi heard them she went half mad, weeping and wringing her hands. I asked her what she feared. She answered death, which was near to all of us. I said:
"If so, there are worse things, Lady."
"For you mayhap you are faithful and good in your own fashion, but not for me. Do you not understand, friend Ana, that I am one who has broken the law of the God I was taught to worship?"
"And which of us is there who has not broken the law of the god we were taught to worship, Lady? If in truth you have done anything of the sort by flying from a murderous villain to one who loves you well, which I do not believe, surely there is forgiveness for such sins as this."
"Aye, perhaps, but, alas! the thing is blacker far. Have you forgotten what I did? Dressed in the robes of Isis I worshipped in the temple of Isis with my boy playing the part of Horus on my bosom. It is a crime that can never be forgiven to a Hebrew woman, Ana, for my God is a jealous God. Yet it is true that Ki tricked me."
"If he had not, Lady, I think there would have been none of us left to trick, seeing that the people were crazed with the dread of the darkness and believed that it could be lifted by you alone, as indeed happened," I added somewhat doubtfully.
"More of Ki's tricks! Oh! do you not understand that the lifting of the darkness at that moment was Ki's work, because he wished the people to believe that I am indeed a sorceress."
"Why?" I asked.
"I do not know. Perhaps that one day he may find a victim to bind to the altar in his place. At least I know well that it is I who must pay the price, I and my flesh and blood, whatever Ki may promise," and she looked at the sleeping child.
"Do not be afraid, Lady," I said. "Ki has left the palace and you will see him no more."
"Yes, because the Prince was angry with him about the trick in the temple of Isis. Therefore suddenly he went, or pretended to go, for how can one tell where such a man may really be? But he will come back again. Bethink you, Ki was the greatest magician in Egypt; even old Bakenkhonsu can remember none like to him. Then he matches himself against the prophets of my people and fails."
"But did he fail, Lady? What they did he did, sending among the Israelites the plagues that your prophets had sent among us."
"Yes, some of them, but he was outpaced, or feared to be outpaced at last. Is Ki a man to forget that? And if Ki chances really to believe that I am his adversary and his master at this black work, as because of what happened in the temple of Amon thousands believe to-day, will he not mete me my own measure soon or late? Oh! I fear Ki, Ana, and I fear the people of Egypt, and were it not for my lord beloved, I would flee away into the wilderness with my son, and get me out of this haunted land! Hush! he wakes."
From this time forward until the sword fell there was great dread in Egypt. None seemed to know exactly what they dreaded, but all thought that it had to do with death. People went about mournfully looking over their shoulders as though someone were following them, and at night they gathered together in knots and talked in whispers. Only the Hebrews seemed to be glad and happy. Moreover, they were making preparations for something new and strange. Thus those Israelitish women who dwelt in Memphis began to sell what property they had and to borrow of the Egyptians. Especially did they ask for the loan of jewels, saying that they were about to celebrate a feast and wished to look fine in the eyes of their countrymen. None refused them what they asked because all were afraid of them. They even came to the palace and begged her ornaments from Merapi, although she was a countrywoman of their own who had showed them much kindness. Yes, and seeing that her son wore a little gold circlet on his hair, one of them begged that also, nor did she say her nay. But, as it chanced, the Prince entered, and seeing the woman with this royal badge in her hand, grew very angry and forced her to restore it.
"What is the use of crowns without heads to wear them?" she sneered, and fled away laughing, with all that she had gathered.
After she had heard that saying Merapi grew even sadder and more distraught than she was before, and from her the trouble crept to Seti. He too became sad and ill at ease, though when I asked him why he vowed he did not know, but supposed it was because some new plague drew near.
"Yet," he added, "as I have made shift to live through nine of them, I do not know why I should fear a tenth."
Still he did fear it, so much that he consulted Bakenkhonsu as to whether there were any means by which the anger of the gods could be averted.
Bakenkhonsu laughed and said he thought not, since always if the gods were not angry about one thing they were angry about another. Having made the world they did nothing but quarrel with it, or with other gods who had a hand in its fashioning, and of these quarrels men were the victims.
"Bear your woes, Prince," he added, "if any come, for ere the Nile has risen another fifty times at most, whether they have or have not been, will be the same to you."
"Then you think that when we go west we die indeed, and that Osiris is but another name for the sunset, Bakenkhonsu."
The old Councillor shook his great head, and answered:
"No. If ever you should lose one whom you greatly love, take comfort, Prince, for I do not think that life ends with death. Death is the nurse that puts it to sleep, no more, and in the morning it will wake again to travel through another day with those who have companioned it from the beginning."
"Where do all the days lead it to at last, Bakenkhonsu?"
"Ask that of Ki; I do not know."
"To Set with Ki, I am angered with him," said the Prince, and went away.
"Not without reason, I think," mused Bakenkhonsu, but when I asked him what he meant, he would not or could not tell me.
So the gloom deepened and the palace, which had been merry in its way, became sad. None knew what was coming, but all knew that something was coming and stretched out their hands to strive to protect that which they loved best from the stroke of the warring gods. In the case of Seti and Merapi this was their son, now a beautiful little lad who could run and prattle, one too of a strange health and vigour for a child of the inbred race of the Ramessids. Never for a minute was this boy allowed to be out of the sight of one or other of his parents; indeed I saw little of Seti in those days and all our learned studies came to nothing, because he was ever concerned with Merapi in playing nurse to this son of his.
When Userti was told of it, she said in the hearing of a friend of mine:
"Without a doubt that is because he trains his bastard to fill the throne of Egypt."
But, alas! all that the little Seti was doomed to fill was a coffin.
It was a still, hot evening, so hot that Merapi had bid the nurse bring the child's bed and set it between two pillars of the great portico. There on the bed he slept, lovely as Horus the divine. She sat by his side in a chair that had feet shaped like to those of an antelope. Seti walked up and down the terrace beyond the portico leaning on my shoulder, and talking by snatches of this or that. Occasionally as he passed he would stay for a while to make sure by the bright moonlight that all was well with Merapi and the child, as of late it had become a habit with him to do. Then without speaking, for fear lest he should awake the boy, he would smile at Merapi, who
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