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- The World's Desire - 30/45 -
when he went alone by night, the Wanderer glanced warily down the dusky hall, but he might see little because of the shadows. Nevertheless, the moonlight poured into the centre of the hall from the clerestories in the roof, and lay there shining white as water beneath black banks of reeds. Again the Wanderer glanced with keen, quick eyes, for there was a sense in his heart that he was no more alone in the hall, though whether it were man or ghost, or, perchance, one of the immortal Gods who looked on him, he might not tell. Now it seemed to him that he saw a shape of white moving far away in the shadow. Then he grasped the black bow and laid hand upon his quiver so that the shafts rattled.
Now it would seem that the shape in the shadow heard the rattling of the shafts, or perchance saw the moonlight gleam upon the Wanderer's golden harness--at the least, it drew near till it came to the edge of the pool of light. There it paused as a bather pauses ere she steps into the fountain. The Wanderer paused also, wondering what the shape might be. Half was he minded to try it with an arrow from the bow, but he held his hand and watched.
And as he watched, the white shape glided into the space of moonlight, and he saw that it was the form of a woman draped in white, and that about her shone a gleaming girdle, and in the girdle gems which sparkled like the eyes of a snake. Tall was the shape and lovely as a statue of Aphrodite; but who or what it was he might not tell, for the head was bent and the face hidden.
Awhile the shape stood thus, and as it stood, the Wanderer passed towards it, marvelling much, till he also stood in the pool of moonlight that shimmered on his golden mail. Then suddenly the shape lifted its face so that the light fell full on it, and stretched out its arms towards him, and lo! the face was the face of the Argive Helen--of her whom he went forth to seek. He looked upon its beauty, he looked upon the eyes of blue, upon the golden hair, upon the shining arms; then slowly, very slowly, and in silence--for he could find no words--the Wanderer drew near.
She did not move nor speak. So still she stood that scarce she seemed to breathe. Only the shining eyes of her snake-girdle glittered like living things. Again he stopped fearfully, for he held that this was surely a mocking ghost which stood before him, but still she neither moved nor spoke.
Then at length he found his tongue and spoke:
"Lady," he whispered, "is it indeed thou, is it Argive Helen whom I look upon, or is it, perchance, a ghost sent by Queen Persephone from the House of Hades to make a mock of me?"
Now the voice of Helen answered him in sweet tones and low:
"Did I not tell thee, Odysseus of Ithaca, did I not tell thee, yesterday in the halls of Hathor, after thou hadst overcome the ghosts, that to-night we should be wed? Wherefore, then, dost thou deem me of the number of the bodiless?"
The Wanderer hearkened. The voice was the voice of Helen, the eyes were the eyes of Helen, and yet his heart feared guile.
"So did Argive Helen tell me of a truth, Lady, but this she said, that I should find her by the pylon of the temple, and lead her thence to be my bride. Thither I go but now to seek her. But if thou art Helen, how comest thou to these Palace halls? And where, Lady, is that Red Star which should gleam upon thy breast, that Star which weeps out the blood of men?"
"No more doth the red dew fall from the Star that was set upon my breast, Odysseus, for now that thou hast won me men die no more for my beauty's sake. Gone is the Star of War; and see, Wisdom rings me round, the symbol of the Deathless Snake that signifies love eternal. Thou dost ask how I came hither, I, who am immortal and a daughter of the Gods? Seek not to know, Odysseus, for where Fate puts it in my mind to be, there do the Gods bear me. Wouldst thou, then, that I leave thee, Odysseus?"
"Last of all things do I desire this," he answered, for now his wisdom went a-wandering; now he forgot the words of Aphrodite, warning him that the Helen might be known by one thing only, the Red Star on her breast, whence falls the blood of men; and he no more doubted but that she was the Golden Helen.
Then she who wore the Helen's shape stretched out her arms and smiled so sweetly that the Wanderer knew nothing any more, save that she drew him to her.
Slowly she glided before him, ever smiling, and where she went he followed, as men follow beauty in a dream. She led him through halls and corridors, past the sculptured statues of the Gods, past man- headed sphinxes, and pictures of long-dead kings.
And as she goes, once more it seems to her that she hears them whisper each to each the horror of her sin and the sorrow that shall be. But naught she heeds who ever leads him on, and naught he hears who ever follows after, till at length, though he knows it not, they stand in the bed-chamber of the Queen, and by Pharaoh's golden bed.
Then once more she speaks:
"Odysseus of Ithaca, whom I have loved from the beginning, and whom I shall love till all deaths are done, before thee stands that Loveliness which the Gods predestined to thy arms. Now take thou thy Bride; but first lay thy hand upon this golden Snake, that rings me round, the new bridal gift of the Gods, and swear thy marriage oath, which may not be broken. Swear thus, Odysseus: 'I love thee, Woman or Immortal, and thee alone, and by whatever name thou art called, and in whatever shape thou goest, to thee I will cleave, and to thee alone, till the day of the passing of Time. I will forgive thy sins, I will soothe thy sorrows, I will suffer none to come betwixt thee and me. This I swear to thee, Woman or Immortal, who dost stand before me. I swear it to thee, Woman, for now and for ever, for here and hereafter, in whatever shape thou goest on the earth, by whatever name thou art known among men.'
"Swear thou thus, Odysseus of Ithaca, Laertes' son, or leave me and go thy ways!"
"Great is the oath," quoth the Wanderer; for though now he feared no guile, yet his crafty heart liked it ill.
"Choose, and choose swiftly," she answered. "Swear the oath, or leave me and never see me more!"
"Leave thee I will not, and cannot if I would," he said. "Lady, I swear!" And he laid his hand upon the Snake that ringed her round, and swore the dreadful oath. Yea, he forgot the words of the Goddess, and the words of Helen, and he swore by the Snake who should have sworn by the Star. By the immortal Gods he swore it, by the Symbol of the Snake, and by the Beauty of his Bride. And as he swore the eyes of the Serpent sparkled, and the eyes of her who wore the beauty of Helen shone, and faintly the black bow of Eurytus thrilled, forboding Death and War.
But little the Wanderer thought on guile or War or Death, for the kiss of her whom he deemed the Golden Helen was on his lips, and he went up into the golden bed of Meriamun.
THE WAKING OF THE WANDERER
Now Rei the Priest, as had been appointed, went to the pylon gate of the Temple of Hathor. Awhile he stood looking for the Wanderer, but though the hour had come, the Wanderer came not. Then the Priest went to the pylon and stood in the shadow of the gate. As he stood there a wicket in the gate opened, and there passed out a veiled figure of a woman upon whose breast burned a red jewel that shone in the night like a star. The woman waited awhile, looking down the moonlit road between the black rows of sphinxes, but the road lay white and empty, and she turned and hid herself in the shadow of the pylon, where Rei could see nothing of her except the red star that gleamed upon her breast.
Now a great fear came upon the old man, for he knew that he looked upon the strange and deadly Hathor. Perchance he too would perish like the rest who had looked on her to their ruin. He thought of flight, but he did not dare to fly. Then he too stared down the road seeking for the Wanderer, but no shadow crossed the moonlight. Thus things went for awhile, and still the Hathor stood silently in the shadow, and still the blood-red star shone upon her breast. And so it came to pass that the World's Desire must wait at the tryst like some forsaken village maid.
While Rei the Priest crouched thus against the pylon wall, praying for the coming of him who came not, suddenly a voice spoke to him in tones sweeter than a lute.
"Who art thou that hidest in the shadow?" said the voice.
He knew that it was the Hathor who spoke, and so afraid was he that he could not answer.
Then the voice spoke again:
"Oh, thou most crafty of men, why doth it please thee to come hither to seek me in the guise of an aged priest. Once, Odysseus, I saw thee in beggar's weeds, and knew thee in the midst of thy foes. Shall I not know thee again in peace beneath thy folded garb and thy robes of white?"
Rei heard and knew that he could hide himself no longer. Therefore he came forward trembling, and knelt before her, saying:
"Oh, mighty Queen, I am not that man whom thou didst name, nor am I hid in any wrappings of disguise. Nay, I do avow myself to be named Rei the Chief Architect of Pharaoh, the Commander of the Legion of Amen, the chief of the Treasury of Amen, and a man of repute in this land of Khem. Now, if indeed thou art the Goddess of this temple, as I judge by that red jewel which burns upon thy breast, I pray thee be merciful to thy servant and smite me not in thy wrath, for not by my own will am I here, but by the command of that hero whom thou hast named, and for whose coming I await. Be merciful therefore, and hold thy hand."
"Fear not thou, Rei," said the sweet voice. "Little am I minded to harm thee, or any man, for though many men have gone down the path of darkness because of me, who am a doom to men, not by my will has it been, but by the will of the immortal Gods, who use me to their ends. Rise thou, Rei, and tell me why thou art come hither, and where is he
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