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- Moon of Israel - 6/49 -
hermit's cell and dazzle the poor hermit, or rather hermits," and he pointed to me.
"Cease your jests, Seti," she replied in a full, strong voice. "I wear these ornaments because they please me. Also I have supped with our father, and those who sit at Pharaoh's table must be suitably arrayed, though I have noted that sometimes you think otherwise."
"Indeed. I trust that the good god, our divine parent, is well to-night as you leave him so early."
"I leave him because he sent me with a message to you." She paused, looking at me sharply, then asked, "Who is that man? I do not know him."
"It is your misfortune, Userti, but one which can be mended. He is named Ana the Scribe, who writes strange stories of great interest which you would do well to read who dwell too much upon the outside of life. He is from Memphis and his father's name was--I forget what. Ana, what was your father's name?"
"One too humble for royal ears, Prince," I answered, "but my grandfather was Pentaur the poet who wrote of the deeds of the mighty Rameses."
"Is it so? Why did you not tell me that before? The descent should earn you a pension from the Court if you can extract it from Nehesi. Well, Userti, his grandfather's name was Pentaur whose immortal verses you have doubtless read upon temple walls, where our grandfather was careful to publish them."
"I have--to my sorrow--and thought them poor, boastful stuff," she answered coldly.
"To be honest, if Ana will forgive me, so do I. I can assure you that his stories are a great improvement on them. Friend Ana, this is my sister, Userti, my father's daughter though our mothers were not the same."
"I pray you, Seti, to be so good as to give me my rightful titles in speaking of me to scribes and other of your servants."
"Your pardon, Userti. This, Ana, is the first Lady of Egypt, the Royal Heiress, the Princess of the Two Lands, the High-priestess of Amon, the Cherished of the Gods, the half-sister of the Heir-apparent, the Daughter of Hathor, the Lotus Bloom of Love, the Queen to be of-- Userti, whose queen will you be? Have you made up your mind? For myself I know no one worthy of so much beauty, excellence, learning and--what shall I add--sweetness, yes, sweetness."
"Seti," she said stamping her foot, "if it pleases you to make a mock of me before a stranger, I suppose that I must submit. Send him away, I would speak with you."
"Make a mock of you! Oh! mine is a hard fate. When truth gushes from the well of my heart, I am told I mock, and when I mock, all say--he speaks truth. Be seated, Sister, and talk on freely. This Ana is my sworn friend who saved my life but now, for which deed perhaps he should be my enemy. His memory is excellent also and he will remember what you say and write it down afterwards, whereas I might forget. Therefore, with your leave, I will ask him to stay here."
"My Prince," I broke in, "I pray you suffer me to go."
"My Secretary," he answered with a note of command in his voice, "I pray you to remain where you are."
So I sat myself on the ground after the fashion of a scribe, having no choice, and the Princess sat herself on a couch at the end of the table, but Seti remained standing. Then the Princess said:
"Since it is your will, Brother, that I should talk secrets into other ears than yours, I obey you. Still"--here she looked at me wrathfully --"let the tongue be careful that it does not repeat what the ears have heard, lest there should be neither ears nor tongue. My Brother, it has been reported to Pharaoh, while we ate together, that there is tumult in this town. It has been reported to him that because of a trouble about some base Israelite you caused one of his officers to be beheaded, after which there came a riot which still rages."
"Strange that truth should have come to the ears of Pharaoh so quickly. Now, my Sister, if he had heard it three moons hence I could have believed you--almost."
"Then you did behead the officer?"
"Yes, I beheaded him about two hours ago."
"Pharaoh will demand an account of the matter."
"Pharaoh," answered Seti lifting his eyes, "has no power to question the justice of the Governor of Tanis in the north."
"You are in error, Seti. Pharaoh has all power."
"Nay, Sister, Pharaoh is but one man among millions of other men, and though he speaks it is their spirit which bends his tongue, while above that spirit is a great greater spirit who decrees what they shall think to ends of which we know nothing."
"I do not understand, Seti."
"I never thought you would, Userti, but when you have leisure, ask Ana here to explain the matter to you. I am sure that /he/ understands."
"Oh! I have borne enough," exclaimed Userti rising. "Hearken to the command of Pharaoh, Prince Seti. It is that you wait upon him to-morrow in full council, at an hour before noon, there to talk with him of this question of the Israelitish slaves and the officer whom it has pleased you to kill. I came to speak other words to you also, but as they were for your private ear, these can bide a more fitting opportunity. Farewell, my Brother."
"What, are you going so soon, Sister? I wished to tell you the story about those Israelites, and especially of the maid whose name is--what was her name, Ana?"
"Merapi, Moon of Israel, Prince," I added with a groan.
"About the maid called Merapi, Moon of Israel, I think the sweetest that ever I have looked upon, whose father the dead captain murdered in my sight."
"So there is a woman in the business? Well, I guessed it."
"In what business is there not a woman, Userti, even in that of a message from Pharaoh. Pambasa, Pambasa, escort the Princess and summon her servants, women everyone of them, unless my senses mock me. Good- night to you, O Sister and Lady of the Two Lands, and forgive me--that coronet of yours is somewhat awry."
At last she was gone and I rose, wiping my brow with a corner of my robe, and looking at the Prince who stood before the fire laughing softly.
"Make a note of all this talk, Ana," he said; "there is more in it than meets the ear."
"I need no note, Prince," I answered; "every word is burnt upon my mind as a hot iron burns a tablet of wood. With reason too, since now her Highness will hate me for all her life."
"Much better so, Ana, than that she should pretend to love you, which she never would have done while you are my friend. Women oftimes respect those whom they hate and even will advance them because of policy, but let those whom they pretend to love beware. The time may come when you will yet be Userti's most trusted councillor."
Now here I, Ana the Scribe, will state that in after days, when this same queen was the wife of Pharaoh Saptah, I did, as it chanced, become her most trusted councillor. Moreover, in those times, yes, and even in the hour of her death, she swore from the moment her eyes first fell on me she had known me to be true-hearted and held me in esteem as no self-seeker. More, I think she believed what she said, having forgotten that once she looked upon me as her enemy. This indeed I never was, who always held her in high regard and honour as a great lady who loved her country, though one who sometimes was not wise. But as I could not foresee these things on that night of long ago, I only stared at the Prince and said:
"Oh! why did you not allow me to depart as your Highness said I might at the beginning? Soon or late my head will pay the price of this night's work."
"Then she must take mine with it. Listen, Ana. I kept you here, not to vex the Princess or you, but for a good reason. You know that it is the custom of the royal dynasties of Egypt for kings, or those who will be kings, to wed their near kin in order that the blood may remain the purer."
"Yes, Prince, and not only among those who are royal. Still, I think it an evil custom."
"As I do, since the race wherein it is practised grows ever weaker in body and in mind; which is why, perhaps, my father is not what his father was and I am not what my father is."
"Also, Prince, it is hard to mingle the love of the sister and of the wife."
"Very hard, Ana; so hard that when it is attempted both are apt to vanish. Well, our mothers having been true royal wives, though hers died before mine was wedded by my father, Pharaoh desires that I should marry my half-sister, Userti, and what is worse, she desires it also. Moreover, the people, who fear trouble ahead in Egypt if we, who alone are left of the true royal race born of queens, remain apart and she takes another lord, or I take another wife, demand that it should be brought about, since they believe that whoever calls Userti the Strong his spouse will one day rule the land."
"Why does the Princess wish it--that she may be a queen?"
"Yes, Ana, though were she to wed my cousin, Amenmeses, the son of Pharaoh's elder brother Khaemuas, she might still be a queen, if I chose to stand aside as I would not be loth to do."
"Would Egypt suffer this, Prince?"
"I do not know, nor does it matter since she hates Amenmeses, who is strong-willed and ambitious, and will have none of him. Also he is
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