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Title: Queen of the Dawn
Author: H. Rider Haggard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0200381.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: June 2002
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Title:      Queen of the Dawn
            A Love Tale of Old Egypt
Author:     H. Rider Haggard




CHAPTER I

THE DREAM OF RIMA

There was war in Egypt and Egypt was rent in two. At Memphis in the
north, at Tanis, and in all the rich lands of the Delta where by many
mouths the Nile flows down to the sea, a usurping race held power,
that whose forefathers, generations before, had descended upon Egypt
like a flood, destroyed its temples and deposed its gods, possessing
themselves of the wealth of the land. At Thebes in the south the
descendants of the ancient Pharaohs still ruled precariously, again
and again attempting to drive out the fierce Semitic or Bedouin kings,
named the Shepherds, whose banners flew from the walls of all the
northern cities.

They failed because they were too weak, indeed the hour of their final
victory was yet far away and of it our tale does not tell.

Nefra the Princess, she who was named the Beautiful and afterwards was
known as Uniter of Lands, was the only child of one of these Theban
Antefs, Kheperra, born of his Queen, Rima, daughter of Ditanah, the
King of Babylon, who had given her to him in marriage to strengthen
him in his struggle against the Shepherds, also called the /Aati/ or
"Plague-bearers." Nefra was the first and only child of this marriage,
for shortly after she was born Kheperra the King, her father, with all
the host that he could gather, went down Nile to fight the Aati who
marched to meet him from Tanis and from Memphis. They met in a great
battle in which Kheperra was slain and his army defeated, though not
before it had slaughtered such numbers of the enemy that, abandoning
their advance on Thebes, the generals of the Shepherds returned with
the remnant of their troops whence they came. Yet by this victory
Apepi, the King of the Shepherds, became in fact Pharaoh of all Egypt.
Kheperra was dead, leaving behind him but one infant girl, and so were
numbers of the great Theban lords, others of whom hastened to submit
to the ruler of the North.

The Shepherd people too, like the Egyptians of the South, were weary
of war and would not fight again. Therefore, although they were
defeated, no cruelties were inflicted upon the followers of Kheperra,
nor was great tribute asked of them; also they were allowed to worship
their ancient gods in peace, and this in the northern as well as the
southern lands. Indeed, by now, although the god of the Shepherds was
Baal, to whom they gave the name of Set because already it was well
known upon the Nile, the Shepherd kings re-built the temples of Ra and
Amen and Ptah, of Isis and of Hathor, that their forefathers had
destroyed when first they invaded Egypt, and themselves made offerings
in them, acknowledging these divinities.

Only one thing did Apepi demand of the conquered Thebans, namely that
Rima the Queen of dead Kheperra, and the babe Nefra, his daughter and
lawful heiress of Upper Egypt, should be given up to him, hearing
which Rima hid herself away with the child, as shall be told.



Now of the birth of Nefra the Princess there were strange stories. It
was said that after she came into the world, a very fair babe, gray-
eyed, light-skinned, and black-haired, and the rites had been
accomplished, she was laid upon her mother's bosom. When Rima had
looked upon her and she had been shown to the King her father, in a
weak voice, for she had suffered much, the Queen demanded to be left
alone, so earnestly that the physicians and women thought it best to
appear to obey her and withdrew themselves behind certain curtains
that divided the birth-chamber from another, where they remained
silent.

The night had fallen and the birth-chamber was dark, for as yet Rima
could bear no light near her. Yet of a sudden one of the women, a
priestess of Hathor named Kemmah, who had nursed the King Kheperra
from his birth and now was to fill that office to his child, having
remained awake, saw a light glowing through the curtains, and being
frightened, peeped between them. Behold! in the birth-chamber, looking
down on the Queen, who seemed to be asleep, were two royal and
glorious women or so Kemmah swore and believed, from whose robes and
bodies flowed light and whose eyes shone like stars. Queens they
seemed to be, no less, for there were crowns upon their heads and they
glittered with jewels which only queens could wear. Moreover, one of
them held in her hand the Cross of Life fashioned in gold, and the
other a looped sistrum with gems strung on golden wires, such as is
used to make music when the priestesses walk in procession before the
statues of the gods.

This glorious pair, at the sight of whom the knees of the watcher
trembled and the power of speech left her, so that she could say no
word to wake the others, bent down--first she who held the Cross of
Life and then she who held the sistrum--and whispered into the ear of
the sleeping Queen. Then she who held the Cross of Life very gently
lifted the babe from the mother's breast, kissed it, and laid the
Cross upon its lips. This done she gave it to the other goddess, who
also kissed it and shook above its head the sistrum, which made a
tinkling music ere she laid the infant back upon its mother's breast.

Next instant both were gone and the room that had been filled with
brightness grew black with night, while the priestess who had seen,
being overcome with fear, swooned away until the sun was risen.

Nor was she the first to speak of this matter which she deemed holy
and fearful, being afraid lest she had but dreamed or should be held a
teller of tales who took the names of the gods in vain. Yet on the
morrow the Queen called for her husband and said that a very strange
vision had come to her during the night which she described in these
words:

"It seemed to me that when weak with pain I had fallen asleep, two
glorious ladies appeared to me clothed in the garments and wearing the
emblems of goddesses of Egypt. One of these, who bore in her hand the
symbol of Life, spoke to me in my dream, saying, 'O Daughter of
Babylon, by marriage Queen of Egypt and mother of Egypt's heiress,
hear us. We are Isis and Hathor, ancient goddesses of Egypt, as you
know, who of late, since you came to this land, have worshipped in our
temples and made offerings on our altars. Be not afraid, for although
you were bred to the service of other gods we come to bless her who is
born of you. Know, O Queen, that great troubles await you and bitter
loss that shall leave you desolate, nor with all our strength can we
save you from these, for they are written in the book of fate and must
befall. Nor, for a while, that to mortals must seem long, can we free
Egypt from the bonds with which the Shepherds have bound her, as they
bind the feet of their own sheep for slaughter, though the time shall
come when she shall shake them loose, like a bull breaking through its
net, and grow greater than ever she has been. As every living thing
suffers for its sins, so must Egypt suffer for her sins who has not
been loyal to herself, her faith, or the lessons of the past. Yet in
the end, if only for a while, her troubles shall pass like summer
clouds, and from behind them shall shine out the bright star of her
glory.'

"Now I answered that vision or that goddess, saying: 'These are heavy
words you speak to me, O divine Lady. With Egypt indeed I have little
to do, who am but the wife of one of its kings, a princess sprung from
another land. Egypt must find the fate that she has shaped, but as a
woman I would learn that of my lord whom I love and of the child that
has been given to us.'

"'The fate of this lord of yours shall be glorious,' answered she who
bore the symbol of Life--'and in the end, that of your child shall be
happy.'

"Then she seemed to bend down and to take the babe in her arms and to
kiss it, saying: 'The blessing of Isis the Mother be upon thee. The
strength of Isis be thy strength, and the wisdom of Isis be thy
guiding star. Fear not! Be not faint-hearted, O Royal Child, since
always Isis is at thy side, and however great thy danger, never shalt
thou come to harm. Long shall be thy day and peaceful at the last, and
thou shalt see thy grandchildren playing round thy knees. If only for
a while, thou shalt bind together that which is divided and thy name
shall be Uniter of Lands. Such are the gifts that Isis gives to thee,
O Lady of Egypt.'

"So that goddess spoke, holding out the babe in the hollow of her
shining arm to the divine sister who stood at her side. She took the
child; she too kissed her on the brow and said: 'Behold! I, Hathor,
goddess of Love and Beauty, bestow upon thee, the Princess of Egypt,
all that I have to give. Beautiful exceedingly shalt thou be, and
through love thou shalt make smooth the path of millions. Turning
neither to right nor left, forgetting crookedness and policies,
follow thou Hathor's star and thine own heart, rejoicing in Hathor's
gifts and leaving all else to heaven that sees what thou canst not see
and works to ends thou dost not know. Thus, O Royal Child, shalt thou
sow happiness upon the earth and beyond the earth garner its harvest
to thy breast.'

"Thus in my dream those goddesses seemed to speak, and lo! they were
gone."

Kheperra the King listened to this tale and made light of it.

"A dream indeed," he said, laughing, "and a happy dream since it
prophesies naught but good to this babe of ours, who it seems is to be
beautiful and wise, a very Flower of Love and a Uniter of Egypt, if
only for a while. What more could we wish for her?"

"Yes, Lord," answered Rima, heavily, "it prophesies good to the child,
but, as I fear, ill to others."

"If so, what of it, Wife? One crop must fall before another can be
sown and in every crop there are weeds as well as wheat. Such is the
law to which all that lives must bow. Nay, do not weep over a phantasy
born of pain and darkness. They call me, I must go, for soon the army
starts to fight those Shepherds and to conquer them."

Yet Kheperra thought more of this tale than he chose to say, so much
indeed that he went to the high priests of Isis and of Hathor and
repeated it to them, word for word. These priests, not knowing what to
believe, inquired if any had seen aught in the birth-chamber, and thus
came to learn of the vision of the Lady Kemmah for, to them, as her
superiors, she must tell all.

Now they were astonished indeed, and rejoiced, because they were sure
that such a wonder had happened as was not told of in Egypt for
generations. Moreover, they caused the words of the dream and the
vision of Kemmah to be written down in full and sealed by the Queen
and Kemmah, also by themselves as witnesses, in three different rolls,
one of which was given to the Queen to keep for the Princess Nefra,
while the others were hidden away in the archives of Hathor and Isis.
Yet both they and the magicians whom they consulted were frightened at
that part of the dream which told of great troubles and bitter loss
that were to befall the Queen and leave her desolate.

"What loss," they asked, "could befall her, when happiness and
prosperity were promised to her child, save that of the King her
husband?--unless, indeed, other children were to be born to her whom
Heaven would take away."

Still of these terrors they said nothing, only letting it be known
that Isis and Hathor had appeared and blessed the new-born Princess of
Egypt. Yet they were true enough, for very soon King Kheperra marched
to the war and within two moons came the evil tidings that he was
slain, fighting gallantly in the van of his troops, and that his army,
although not crushed, was too weak from loss of men and generals to
renew the battle and was retreating upon Thebes.

Rima the Queen heard the tidings, which indeed her heart seemed to
have taught her before they were spoken. When she had listened to
them, all she said was:

"That has happened which the great goddesses of Egypt foretold to me,
and so without doubt shall the rest of their words be fulfilled in due
season."

Then, according to the Babylonian fashion she withdrew herself to her
chamber with the child, and there mourned many days for the husband
whom she loved, seeing none save the Lady Kemmah who tended the babe.

At length the army reached Thebes, bringing with it the body of King
Kheperra, that had been embalmed, though rudely, on the field of
battle. She caused the wrappings to be loosed and for the last time
looked upon her lord's face all shattered and marred with wounds.

"The gods have taken him and he died well," she said, "but my heart
tells me that as he has died in blood, in a day to come, so in blood
shall perish that usurper who brought him to his death."

These words were repeated to Apepi and caused him to go in fear
through all his life, for his spirit told him that they were inspired
by the god of Vengeance, as did the magicians whom he consulted.
Indeed, when he remembered that Queen Rima was by birth of the royal
Babylonian House, he grew more afraid than he had been before, because
in his family, the Babylonians, to whom once his forefathers had been
subject, were held to be the greatest wizards in the world. Therefore
he was not surprised at the tale of the vision of Rima which came to
her in the night of the birth of her child, though he could not
understand why the goddesses of Egypt should appear to a Babylonian.

"If Babylon and Old Egypt come together, what chance will there be for
us Shepherd kings who sit astride of the mouths of Nile? Surely our
state will be as that of the corn between the upper and the nether
millstone and we shall be ground to fine flour," he said to his wise
men.

"Those stones grind slowly, and after all flour is the bread of
peoples, O King," answered the chief of them. "Did not the dream of
the wife of dead Kheperra tell--if report be true--that long years
would go by before the Egyptians shake off our yoke, and did it not
say that this Princess of Egypt who has been born to dead Kheperra and
the Babylonian should be a Uniter of Lands? Bring hither the
Babylonian widow and her daughter, the Royal Princess, O King, that
these things may be accomplished in their season, though as yet we
know not how."

"Why should I admit to dwell in my house one who, inspired by the
devils of Babylon, has prophesied that I shall die in blood? Why
should I not rather kill her and be done, and her babe with her?"
asked Apepi.

"Because, O King," answered the chief of the Wise Men, "the dead are
stronger than the living, and the spirit of this royal lady will smite
more shrewdly than can her flesh. Moreover, we think that if the
oracle of those Egyptian goddesses be true, this child of hers cannot
be killed. Make them captives, O King, and hold them fast, but do not
leave them at large to move mighty Babylon and the world against you."

"You are right," said Apepi. "It shall be done. Let Rima, the widow of
King Kheperra, and her daughter Nefra, Princess of Upper Egypt, be
brought to my Court, even if an army must be sent to fetch them. But
first try to lead them hither by peaceful words and promises, or if
these fail, bribe the Thebans to deliver them into my hand."



CHAPTER II

THE MESSENGER

Rima the Queen heard through her spies that Apepi, King of the
Shepherds, purposed to take her and her child and to hold them
captive. Having learned that this was the truth, she summoned a
council of such lords as remained in Upper Egypt, and of the high
priests of the gods, to ask them what she should do.

"Behold," she said, "I am a widow. My lord and yours fell fighting
bravely against the North, leaving his heir, this royal infant. When
it became known that he was dead, his army would fight no more but
fell back on Thebes, and therefore the Shepherds claim the victory.
Now, as I hear, they claim more: namely, that I who was the wife of
your king, and our daughter who is your Royal Princess, should be
delivered up to them, saying that if this is not done, an army shall
be sent to take us. What is your mind, O Lords? Will you defend us
from Apepi, or will you not?"

Now some answered one thing and some another. They showed that the
people would fight no more, since the King of the Shepherds offered
them better terms than ever they could hope to win in battle, and that
after the sight of so much blood they longed for peace whoever might
be called Pharaoh of Egypt.

"I perceive that I and your Princess have naught to hope from you,
Lords, for whom and for whose cause my husband and her father gave his
life," said Rima quietly, adding, "But what say the priests of the
gods he worshipped?"

Now these answered with many smooth words. One declared that the will
of Heaven must be obeyed; another that perchance she and the Princess
would be safer in the court of King Apepi, who swore to treat them
both with all honour; a third, that it might be well if she would
appeal to her mighty father, the King of Babylon, for succour, and so
forth.

When all had finished, Rima laughed bitterly and said:

"I perceive, O Priests, that the gold thrown by the Shepherd king is
so heavy that it can travel many leagues of air into the treasuries of
your temples. Let me be plain. Will you help me and your Princess to
escape from bondage, or will you not? If you will stand by me, I will
stand by you to the last, and so I swear will my daughter when she
comes to the years of knowledge. If you reject us, then we wash our
hands of you, leaving you to go your ways while we go ours, to Babylon
or anywhere, save to a prison in the house of the Shepherd kings,
where certainly your Royal Princess would be done to death that Egypt
might be left without a lawful heir. Now I pray you consult together.
I withdraw myself that you may talk freely. But at noon, that is
within an hour, I will return to you for your answer."

Then she bowed to that company, who bowed back to her, and went away.

At the appointed time of noon, accompanied only by Lady Kemmah, the
nurse who bore the Princess in her arms, she returned to the Council
Hall entering it through the side door by which she had departed. Lo!
it was quite empty. The lords and priests had gone, every one of them.

"Now it seems that I am alone," said Rima the Queen. "Well, such is
often the lot of the fallen."

"Not altogether, Queen," answered the Lady Kemmah, "since the Royal
Princess and I are still the companions of your Majesty. Moreover, I
think that in yonder empty chairs I see the shapes of certain of the
gods of Egypt who perchance will prove better councillors than those
who have deserted us in the hour of need. Now let us talk with them in
our hearts and learn of their wisdom."

So there they sat awhile, gazing at those empty chairs and at the
painted pictures of divinities upon the walls beyond, each of them
putting up supplications in her own fashion for help and guidance. At
length the Lady Kemmah lifted her head and asked:

"Has light come to you, Queen?"

"Nay," answered Rima, "naught but darkness. This only do my gods tell
me--that if we stay here those false lords and priests certainly will
seize us and deliver us into the power of Apepi, as I think that they
have been bribed to do. Have yours aught else to say to you, nurse
Kemmah?"

"Something, Lady. It seems to me that the divine queens of Heaven,
godmothers of this royal babe, Isis and Hathor whom I serve, have been
whispering in my ears. 'Fly,' said the whisper, 'fly fast and far.'"

"Aye, Kemmah, but whither shall we fly? Where can the Queen of the
South and her babe, the Royal Princess of Egypt, be hidden away from
Apepi's spies? Certainly not here in the South where, being fearful or
suborned, all would betray us."

"Nay, Queen, not in the South, but in the North where perhaps none
would search for us, since the lion does not seek for the buck at the
door of its own den. Hearken, Queen. There is a certain aged holy man
named Roy, a brother of my grandfather, sprung from an old line of
Theban kings. This great-uncle of mine, whom, when a girl, I knew
well, was inspired by the gods and became the prophet of a secret
brotherhood called the Order of the Dawn, which has its home by the
pyramids that stand near to Memphis. There he and his brotherhood,
which is very powerful, have dwelt these thirty years or more, since
none now dares to approach those pyramids, and least of all any of the
Shepherds, because they are haunted."

"By whom?" asked Rima.

"It is said by a spirit that appears as a beautiful bare-breasted
woman, though whether she is the /Ka/ of one who is buried in the
tombs where my uncle lives, or a ghost from hell, or the shadow of
Egypt itself shaped like a woman, is not known. At least because of
her no man dares approach those ancient pyramids after night has
fallen."

"Why not? Since when have men been afraid of beautiful unveiled
women?"

"Because, Queen, if any looks upon her loveliness he goes mad and
wanders off to perish miserably in the wilderness. Or perchance he
follows her up to the crest of one of the pyramids, and falling
thence, is crushed to powder."

"An idle tale, as I think, Kemmah. But what of it?"

"This, Queen: that there in those tombs, could we come to them, we
might dwell safely enough with my uncle, the Prophet Roy. No man has
courage to approach the place, save from time to time some young fool
who longs to look upon the loveliness of the ghost and meets his
death, or having seen her goes thence a raving madman. Even the
wildest Bedouin of the desert dare not pitch his tent within a mile or
more of those pyramids, while the Shepherd kings and their subjects
hold the place accursed because two of their princes have found doom
there; nor would they draw near to it for all the gold in Syria. Also
they fear the magic of this brotherhood which is protected by spirits
and have sworn to leave it unharmed. At least, such is the tale that I
have heard, though doubtless there is more of it that I have not
heard."

"Here then it seems we might rest in peace," said Rima with a little
laugh, "at any rate, for a while until we found opportunity to escape
to Babylon, where doubtless the King my father would welcome us. Yet
how can we do so, bearing a babe with us, now when there is war all
along the frontiers and none can cross the Arabian deserts. But,
Kemmah, how are we to know that your uncle would receive us, and if he
will, how are we to reach him?"

"As to the first question, Queen, the answer is easy. Strangely enough
it chances that only this day I have received a message from the holy
Roy. The captain of a corn boat sailing from Memphis to Thebes brought
it to me. He told me that his name is Tau."

"What did he say to you and where did you meet him, Kemmah?"

"Last night, Queen, I could not sleep, being full of fears for you and
the babe, so I rose before the dawn and going out, I stood on the
private quay in the palace garden watching the sun rise, that I might
make my prayer to Ra when he appeared in the heavens. Presently, as
the mist thinned, I saw that I was not alone, for quite close to me a
stalwart man who had the air or at least wore the dress of a seafarer,
was leaning against the trunk of a palm, staring at the Nile beneath,
near to the bank of which was moored a trading ship. He spoke, saying
that he waited for the mist to clear and the wind to rise, that he
might sail on to the trading quay and there deliver his cargo. I asked
him whence he came and he answered--from Memphis of the White Walls,
having permission from the Governor of Thebes and from him of Memphis
to trade between the two cities. I wished him good fortune and was
about to leave to make my prayer elsewhere, telling him my purpose,
when he said:

"'Nay, let us pray together, for I too, whose name is Tau, am a
worshipper of Ra, and see, the god appears,' and he made certain signs
to me which I who am a priestess understood.

"Our prayer finished, again I prepared to go, but he stayed me, asking
me for news as to the state of Thebes and whether it were true that
the Queen Rima had died of grief because of the loss of her husband
Kheperra, who fell in the battle, or as some said, had been killed
with her child. I answered that these things were not true, words at
which he seemed glad, for he thanked the gods and said that without
doubt the Princess Nefra was the lawful heiress of all Egypt, North
and South together. I asked him how he knew the name of this princess.
He replied:

"'A learned man told it to me, a holy hermit to whom I confess my
sins, which alas! are many, who dwells in the wilderness nigh to the
Great Pyramids and among the tombs. He told me also that he knew the
name of this royal child's nurse who was a kinswoman of his, and that
it is Kemmah, a lady of high blood. Yes, and he charged me with a
message for this Lady Kemmah, if I could find her in Thebes, because
he said he dared put nothing in writing.'

"Here this Tau, the captain of the ship, stopped and stared at me and
I stared back at him, wondering whether he were setting any trap for
my feet.

"'It would be very dangerous, O Tau,' I said to him, 'if perchance you
gave this secret message to the wrong woman. There may be many Kemmahs
in Thebes. How will you know that you find the right one, or that she
whom you are told is the nurse of the princess is in truth that
nurse?'

"'It is not so difficult as it seems, Lady. As it chances, the holy
hermit gave to me the half of an amulet of lapis lazuli on which is
cut a charm or spell or prayer. He said that on this half the signs
read, "May the living Ra protect the wearer of this holy thing at the
last nightfall. May that protected one travel in the boat of Ra
and----" Here, Lady, the writing ceases but the holy hermit said that
the Lady Kemmah would know the rest,' and again he looked at me.

"'Does it perchance run,' I asked, '"and may Thoth find the balance
even and may Osiris receive this protected one at his table to feast
with him eternally"?'

"'Yes,' he said, 'I think that those were the words, or something very
like them, that the Holy One repeated to me. Still I cannot be sure
because my memory is bad, especially where prayers or writings about
the gods are concerned. Since you, Lady, a stranger, know the end of
the charm, doubtless it is a common one worn by thousands between
Thebes and the sea. She whom I have to find not only knows the charm,
but wears its other half, and how to seek her out I cannot think. Can
you help me, Lady?'

"'Perhaps,' I answered. 'Show me this amulet, O Tau.'

"He looked round him to see that we were alone. Then he thrust his
hand into his garments and from somewhere drew out the upper half of a
very ancient tablet carven over with writing, that was fastened about
his neck by a woven string of woman's hair. This tablet was broken or
sawn asunder in the middle, not straight across but so as to leave a
jagged edge with many points and hollows. I looked at it and knew it
at once, since years before Roy the Hermit and my great-uncle had
given me its counterpart, bidding me send it to him as a token if ever
I had need of help. Then from where it hung upon my breast, I drew out
that counterpart and set it against the half that Tau the Sailor held
before me. Lo! they fitted exactly, since the stone being very hard
had worn but little during the passage of the years.

"Tau looked and nodded his head.

"'Strange that I should meet you thus, Lady Kemmah, and quite by
chance--oh! quite by chance. Still, the gods know their own business,
so why should we trouble ourselves about such things? Yet there might
be another half that fitted on to this broken charm that has been lent
to me. So before we go farther, tell me the name of the sender and
where he dwells and aught else that you know about him.'

"'His name is Roy,' I answered, 'who in the world was known as Roy the
King's son, though that king died long ago, and as you have said
yourself, he lives beneath the shadow of the pyramids. For the rest he
is the holy Prophet of a great brotherhood, has a long white beard and
hair, is very handsome and pleasant-spoken; can see in the dark like a
cat because he has dwelt so much among shadows, has knees that are
hornier than the feet of a desert man, because of his continual
kneeling in prayer, and when he thinks that he is alone, converses
much with his own double, the /Ka/ that is always at his side, or
perchance with other ghosts, which tell him everything that passes in
Egypt. At least, such were his appearance and custom many years ago
when he gave me this half of the amulet, but what they are now, I
cannot say.'

"'The description will serve, Lady. Yes, it will serve well enough,
though now the holy Roy has lost most of the hair from the top of his
head and is too thin to be called handsome, having something of the
air of an ancient and half-famished halk. Yet without doubt we speak
of the same man, as the joined amulet bears us witness. Therefore,
Lady Kemmah, whom I have met by chance, yes, quite by chance, just by
waiting for you where the holy Roy told me I should do, hearken to my
message!'

"Here, Queen, the manner of this seaman changed, and from being light
and easy like to that of one whose words conceal a jest, became quick
and intent. His pleasant, smiling face changed also, for of a sudden
it seemed to grow fierce and eager, the face of one who has great
things to carry through and whose honour hangs upon their doing.

"'Listen to me, Nurse of Royal Ones,' he said. 'The king whom once you
dandled on your knees lies in his tomb, slain by the Shepherd spears.
Would you see her who is sprung from him and the lady who gave her
birth follow by the same road?'

"'Your question seems foolish, Tau, seeing that where they go, I must
accompany them,' I answered.

"'I know that you would not,' he went on, 'and not for your own sake
only. Yet the danger is great. There is a plan to take all three of
you; it was revealed to the holy Roy. In this city dwell traitors who
are parties to the plot. Soon, to-morrow mayhap, or the next day, they
will come to the Queen and tell her that she is in peril and that they
purpose to hide her away in some safe place. If she is persuaded by
them, soon she will find that this safe place is in the prisons of
Apepi at Tanis, if ever she lives to reach them--and then--do you
understand? Or if she is not persuaded, then they will drag her away
by force with the babe and deliver them up to the Shepherds.'

"I nodded my head and answered:

"'It would seem that time presses. What is your plan, Messenger?'

"'This: Presently I sail on to the city and there deliver a certain
cargo to merchants who await it. Also I have passengers on board,
travellers from Siout, farmer folk flying from the Shepherds. There
are three of them: a woman of middle age not unlike to you in face and
form, Lady Kemmah, who passes as my sister; a fair young woman who
passes as my wife and nurses in her arms a baby girl of some three
months. As such at least I shall describe them to the officers on the
quay, nor will those two women question my words. Yet being
changeable, they will desert me here for other friends and the place
where they slept will be empty. Again, do you understand, Lady
Kemmah?'

"'I understand that you propose that the Queen and I and the babe
should take the place of the three upon your boat. If so, when and
how?'

"'To-night, Lady Kemmah, I am told there is a religious feast in this
city in honour of the god of Nile, to celebrate which hundreds will
row out upon the river bearing lanterns and singing hymns. To avoid
all these craft I purpose to bring my ship back to this wharf, since I
must sail down Nile with the south wind that springs up ere the dawn.
Shall I perchance find two peasant women and a babe waiting among
those palms an hour before the rising of Ra?'

"'Perchance, Messenger. But tell me, if so, where would that journey
end?'

"'In the shadow of the Great Pyramids, Lady, where a certain Holy One
awaits them, since he says that although the lodging be poor, there
alone they will be safe.'

"'That thought has come to me also, Tau. Yet this flight is very
dangerous, and how know I that in it there is not some trap? How know
I that you yourself are not in the pay of the Shepherds, or in that of
the Theban traitors, and sent to tempt us to our doom?'

"'A wise question,' he answered. 'You have the message and you have
the token of the amulet and you have my oath sworn upon the holy name,
to break which will consign me everlastingly to hell. Still, a very
wise question when there is so much at stake, and by the gods, I know
not how to answer it!'

"We stood still awhile, staring at each other, and my heart was full
of doubt and fear. Once we were in this man's power, what might not
befall us? Or rather what might not befall you, O Queen, and the royal
child, since it is true, Queen, that for myself I cared and care
little."

"I know it, Kemmah beloved," answered Rima. "But to your tale. What
happened?"

"This, Queen. Of a sudden Tau the Messenger seemed to grow uneasy.

"'This place is quiet and lonely,' he said, 'yet certainly I feel as
though we were being watched.'

"Now, Queen, we stood back from the private quay by the single palm
that stands in the open place, whither we had withdrawn when we began
to talk, for there we could not be seen from the river and I knew that
none could overhear us. In the hollow to my left stands that old
shrine surmounted by the shattered statue of some god, which once, it
is said, was the gateway of a fallen temple; the same, Queen, in which
you often sit."

"I know it well, Kemmah."

"This shrine, Queen, was still half hidden by the morning mist, and
although it was out of earshot, Tau gazed at it earnestly. As he gazed
the mist departed from it like a lifted veil, and following his
glance, I saw that the shrine was not empty, as I had thought. For
there, Queen, kneeling in it as though lost in prayer, was an aged
man. He lifted his head and the full light fell upon his face. Lo! it
was the face of the holy Roy, my great-uncle, somewhat changed since
last I had seen him many years ago when he gave me the half of the
broken amulet, but without doubt Roy himself.

"'It seems that here also dwells a hermit, Lady Kemmah, as well as in
the shadow of the pyramids,' said Tau, 'and one whom I think I know.
Is yonder man perchance the holy Roy, Lady Kemmah?'

"'The holy Roy and no other. Why did you not tell me that you had
brought him with you on your ship? It would have saved me much trouble
of mind. I will speak to him at once.'

"'Aye, speak with him and satisfy your heart as to whether I be a true
man or a false, Lady Kemmah.'

"I turned and ran to the shrine. It was empty! The holy Roy had gone,
nor was there anywhere that he could have hidden himself.

"'The ways of prophets and hermits are very strange, Lady Kemmah,'
said Tau. 'Alone of all men, they, or some of them, can be in two
places at once. Now perchance I shall find you here to-night, here by
this shrine?'

"'Yes,' I answered, 'I think that you will find us. That is, if the
Queen consents and nothing hinders us, such as death or bonds. But
stay! How can we come by those country women's garments? There are
none such in the palace, and to send out to buy them might awake
doubts, for the Queen is well watched.'

"'The holy Roy is very foreseeing,' said Tau with a smile, 'or I am;
it matters not which.'

"Then he went to where I first met him and from behind a stone drew a
bundle.

"'Take this,' he said. 'In it I think you will find all that is
needful, clean clothes though rough, that it will be safe even for a
royal babe to wear. Farewell, Lady Kemmah; the river is clear of mist
and I must begone. Guided by the spirit of the holy Roy which, as he
can be in two places at once, doubtless will companion you also, I
will return to find--my sister, my wife, and her infant babe--one,
nay, two hours before to-morrow's dawn.'

"Then he went, and I went also, full of thoughts. Yet I determined to
say nothing of the matter to you, O Queen, till I heard what answer
those lords made to your prayer to-day."

"Have you looked in the bundle, Kemmah?" asked the Queen.

"Yes," answered Kemmah, "to find that all is as this Tau said. There
are two cloaks and other garments such as farmer women use in
travelling, suited to your size and mine, also the winter dress of a
little child."

"Let us go to look at them," said the Queen.



CHAPTER III

THE ESCAPE

They stood in the private apartments of the palace. Eunuchs guarded,
or were supposed to guard, the outer gates, for the Queen Rima was
still surrounded by the trappings of royalty, and at the door of her
chamber stood the giant Nubian, Ru, he who had been the body-servant
of King Kheperra, he who after slaying six of the Shepherds with his
own hand had rescued the body of his master, throwing it over his
shoulder and bearing it from the battle as a shepherd bears a lamb.
The Queen Rima and the Lady Kemmah had examined the garments brought
by Tau the Messenger, and hidden them away. Now they were consulting
together, near to a little bed on which the infant princess lay
asleep.

"Your plan is very dangerous," said the Queen, who was much disturbed
and walked to and fro with her eyes fixed upon the sleeping babe. "You
ask me to fly to Memphis, that is, to walk into the jaws of the hyena.
This you do because a messenger is come from an aged uncle of yours
who is a hermit or a high priest, or a prophet of some secret sect,
and who, for aught you know, may have been dead for years and now be
but a bait upon a hook to catch us."

"There is the cut amulet, Queen. See how well the pieces fit and how
that white line in the stone runs on from one to the other."

"Doubtless they fit. Doubtless they are the halves of the same
talisman. But such holy things are famous and so is their story.
Mayhap someone knew that the priest Roy had given you one half of this
charm and took the other from his body, or stole it to be used to
deceive you and to give colour to the offer of a hiding place among
the dead. Who is this Tau of whom you never heard before? How came he
to find you so easily? How is it that he can pass in and out of Thebes
without question, he who comes from Memphis, holding all the threads
of these plots between his fingers, if plots there be?"

"I do not know who he is," said Kemmah. "I know only that when these
same doubts crossed my mind, this messenger showed me the holy Roy
himself in proof of the truth of his message, and that then I
believed."

"Aye, Kemmah, but bethink you. Are you not a priestess, one soaked in
the mysteries and magic of the Egyptians from your childhood, like to
this uncle of yours before you? Did you not see the vision of the
Egyptian goddesses Isis and Hathor blessing my child, which after all
is but an old tale retold of those who spring from the bodies of
kings? How comes it that no one else saw those goddesses?"

"How comes it that you dreamed of them, O Queen?" asked Kemmah drily.

"A dream is a dream. Who can give weight to dreams that come and go by
thousands, flitting round our heads like gnats in sleep to vanish into
the darkness whence they rose? A dream is a dream and of no account,
but a vision seen with the waking eye is another matter, something
that springs from madness--or perchance from truth. And now you have
another vision, that of an old man who, if he lives at all, dwells far
away, and on this unstable cloud you ask me to build a house of hope
and safety. How can I be sure that you are not mad, as indeed the wise
men of my country say that most of us are in this way or in that? You
behold gods, but are there any gods, and if so, why are the gods of
Egypt not the same as those of Babylon, and the gods of Babylon not
the same as those of Tyre? If there be gods, why are they all
different?"

"Because men are different, Queen, and every nation of them clothes
God in its own garments: aye, and every man and woman also."

"May be, may be! Yet a stranger's tale and a vision are poor props to
lean upon when life and safety hang in the balance and with them the
crown of Egypt. I'll not trust myself and the babe to this man and his
boat lest soon both of us should sleep at the bottom of the Nile, or
lie awaiting death in some Shepherd dungeon. Let us bide where we are;
your gods can protect us as well here as by the Pyramids of Memphis,
should we live to reach them. Or if we must go, let these gods send us
some sign; they have still many hours in which to travel from their
heaven."

Thus spoke Queen Rima wildly in her doubt and despair. Kemmah listened
and bowed her head.

"Let it be as the Queen pleases," she said. "If the gods desire,
doubtless they will show us a path of escape. If they should not
desire so to do, then we can remain here and await their will, since
the gods are still the gods. Now, Lady, let us eat and rest, but let
us not sleep till that hour is past when we should have embarked upon
the ship of Tau the Messenger."

So they ate, and afterwards, taking a lamp, Kemmah walked through the
palace and found it strangely silent. All seemed to have departed; as
one weak old slave told her, to attend the feast of the god of the
Nile and to sail in boats upon the river.

"Such things would not have been allowed to happen in the old days,"
he said querulously, "for then, who ever heard of a palace being
deserted by those who were in attendance upon Majesty in order that
they might enjoy themselves elsewhere? But since the good god Kheperra
was killed by those Shepherd dogs in the battle everything seems to
have changed. Nobody thinks anything of service; everybody thinks of
himself and what he can get. And there is money going, Lady Kemmah, I
tell you there is money going. Oh! sitting in my corner I have seen
plenty of it being passed from hand to hand. Where it comes from I do
not know. I was even offered some myself, what for I do not know, but
I refused it, for what do I want with money who am so old and draw my
rations from the stores, as I have done these fifty years, also my
summer and winter garments?"

Kemmah contemplated him with her quiet eyes, then answered:

"No, old Friend, you want nothing with money, since I know that your
tomb is provided. Tell me, you are acquainted with all the palace
doors, are you not, and the gates also?"

"Every one of them, Lady Kemmah, every one of them. When I was
stronger it used to be my office to lock them all, and I still have
the second set of keys, which no one has taken from me, and remember
the tricks of the inner bolts."

"Then, Friend, grow strong again; even if it be for the last time, go
lock those doors and gates and shoot those bolts and bring the keys to
me in the private apartments. It will be a good trick to play upon
those revellers who are absent without leave when they return and find
that they cannot get in to sleep off their drink until after the sun
has risen."

"Yes, yes, Lady Kemmah, a very good trick. I will get the keys and go,
following the round as I used to do and shooting the inner bolts that
I named after all the gods of the Underworld, so that I might never
forget the order in which they came. Oh! I will light my lantern and
go at once, as though I were young again, and my wife and little
children were waiting to receive me at the end of my round."

The half of an hour later the old man reappeared at the private
chambers, announcing that all the gates and doors were locked, and
that strangely enough he had found every one of them open and the keys
missing.

"They forgot that I had their twins," he said, chuckling, "also that I
knew how to shoot the inner bolts; I whom they look upon as a silly
old fool only fit for the embalmer's bath. Here are the keys, Lady
Kemmah, which I shall be glad to be rid of for they are a great
weight. Take them and promise not to tell that it was I who locked the
doors and forced all those idle people to sleep out in the cold. For
if you do they will beat me to-morrow. Now if you had a cup of wine!"

Kemmah fetched drink and gave it to the aged man, mixed with water
that it might not be too strong for him. Then, while he smacked his
lips refreshed by the liquor, she bade him go to the little gatehouse
of the private apartments and watch there, and if he should see any
approaching the gate, to make report to Ru, who kept guard at the door
which was at the foot of the eight stairs that led to the ante-chamber
of the apartments.

This, encouraged by the wine and by a sense that once more he was
taking part in the affairs of life, though what these might be he did
not understand, the old fellow said that he would do and departed to
his station.

Then Kemmah went and talked earnestly with the giant Ru, who listened,
nodding his head and as he did so girt his armour of bull's hide upon
his mighty frame. Moreover, he looked to see that his javelins were
loose in their sheath and that the edge of his great bronze battle-axe
was sharp. Lastly, he set lamps in the niches of the wall in such
fashion that if the door were forced their light would fall upon those
coming up the stair, while he, standing at the head of it, would
remain in shadow.

These things done, Kemmah returned to the Queen, who sat brooding by
the bed of the child, but of them to her she said nothing.

"Why do you carry a spear in your hand, Kemmah?" asked Rima, looking
up.

"Because it makes a good staff to lean upon, Queen, and one that at
need may serve another purpose. This place seems very still and
fateful and who knows but that in the stillness we may hear some god
speaking ere the dawn, telling us whether we should take ship with
Tau, or bide where we are?"

"You are a strange woman, Kemmah," said the Queen, and once more fell
to her brooding till at length she sank to sleep.

But Kemmah did not sleep; she waited and watched the curtains that hid
the stair on which Ru kept guard. At length in the intense silence of
the night that was broken only now and again by the melancholy note of
some dog howling at the moon, for all the inhabitants of the city
seemed to be absent at the festival, Kemmah thought she heard the
sound as of gates or doors being shaken by someone trying to enter
them. Rising softly she went to the curtains beyond which Ru was
seated on the topmost stair.

"Did you note anything?" she asked.

"Aye, Lady," he answered. "Men try to enter by the gates, but find
them closed. The old slave reported to me that they were coming and
has fled to hide himself. Now go up to the top of the little pylon
above this door and tell me if you can see aught."

Kemmah went, climbing a narrow stair in the dark, and presently found
herself on the roof of the pylon some thirty feet above the ground,
where in times of trouble a watchman was stationed. Round it ran a
battlement with openings through which arrows could be shot or spears
thrown. The moon shone brightly, flooding the palace gardens and the
great city beyond them with silver light, but the Nile she could not
see because of the roofs behind her, though she heard the distant
murmur of those who kept festival upon its waters, from which they
would not return until the sun had risen.

Presently in the shadow of one of the great gateways she saw a group
of men standing and, as it seemed to her, taking counsel together.
They moved out of the shadow and she counted them. They were eight in
all, armed every one of them, for the light shone upon their spears.
They came to some decision, for they began to walk across the open
court towards the private door of the royal apartments. Kemmah ran
down the stairs and told Ru what she had seen.

"Now were I standing on that roof perhaps I might put a javelin into
one or more of these night birds before they come to the doors," he
said.

"Nay," answered Kemmah. "They may be messengers of peace, or soldiers
who will guard the Queen. Wait to smite till they show themselves
otherwise."

He nodded and said:

"Yonder door is old and not of the strongest. It can soon be battered
in and then perhaps there will be fighting--one man against eight,
Lady Kemmah. What if aught should happen to me, Lady Kemmah? Is there
any other way by which the Queen and the royal babe may escape?"

"Nay, for the doors into the great hall where the Council are held are
barred; I have tried them. There is no way save by leaping from the
palace wall at the back, and a babe's bones are tender. Therefore, Ru,
nothing must happen to you. Pray the gods to give you strength and
cunning."

"Of the first I have plenty, of the second I feat but little. Still I
will do my best and may Osiris be good to him on whom my axe falls."

"Hearken, Ru. Should you scotch those snakes or cause them to run,
make ready to fly with us and be not astonished if instead of a Queen
and a waiting-lady, you see two peasant women and a peasant's babe."

"I am not easily astonished, Lady, and I weary of this Thebes since
the good god my master fell and all these upstarts began to plot with
Apepi, as plot they do. But whither will you fly?"

"I think that a ship waits us by the private quay, and its captain,
one Tau, will meet us two hours before the dawn, that is before so
very long, in the shadow of the old shrine. You know the place."

"Aye, I know it. Hush! I hear footsteps."

"Parley with them as long as you may, Ru, for there are things to be
done."

"Yes, there is plenty to be done," he answered as she fled back
through the curtains.

The Queen woke at her step.

"Your gods have not come, Kemmah," she said, "or given any sign. So I
suppose it is fated that we should stop here."

"I think that the gods--or devils--are coming, Queen. Now off with
those robes and be swift. Nay, talk not, I pray, but do as I bid you."

Rima glanced at her face and obeyed. Within a very little time, all
being prepared to their hands, the three of them were changed into
farmer women and a farmer's babe. Then Kemmah took a sack and thrust
into it all the ancient priceless jewels, the regalia of the old
Pharaohs of Egypt, and these were not few; also a sum in gold.

"This gear of crowns and sceptres and gems and gold which you have got
together so carefully will be too heavy for us to carry, Kemmah, who
have that which is more precious to bear between us," and she glanced
at the child.

"There is one yonder who will carry it, Queen, one who carried
something else on his shoulder out of the battle. Or if he cannot,
then I think it will not matter who takes the gathered wealth of the
Pharaohs of the South."

"You mean that our lives are at hazard, Kemmah?"

"That is what I mean, no less."

Rima's beautiful but sorrow-stricken face and eyes seemed to take
fire.

"I would that they might be lost," she said. "Have you ever thought,
Friend, of the wonderful things that may lie behind the gates of
death, the glories and the harmonies and the eternities, or failing
these, the rich darkness of everlasting sleep? Life! I weary of life
and would put all to the hazard. Yet there is the babe born of my
body, the Royal Princess of Egypt, and for her sake----"

"Yes," said the quiet Kemmah, "for her sake!"



There came a thunder of noise upon the door beyond the curtains.

"Open!" shouted voices.

"Open for yourselves. But know that death waits those who would
violate her Majesty of Egypt," answered the deep guttural voice of Ru.

"We come to take the Queen and the Princess to those who will guard
them well," cried one without.

"What better guard can they have than death?" asked Ru in answer.

There was a pause. Then came blows upon the door, heavy blows as of
axes, but still it held. Another pause and a tree trunk or some such
weighty thing was brought and driven against it, and presently with a
crash it fell, burst from its hinges. Rima seized the child and ran
into the shadows. Kemmah leapt to the curtains and stood there looking
between them, the spear she carried raised in her right hand. This was
what she saw.

The giant Nubian stood on the topmost stair in the shadow, for the
light of the lamps in the niches struck forward. In his right hand he
held a javelin, in his left he grasped the handle of his battle-axe
and a small shield made of the hide of a river horse. Grim and
terrible looked the Ethiopian giant outlined thus against the shadow.

A tall man with a sword in his hand scrambled over the fallen door,
the moonlight shining on his armour. The javelin flashed and the man
fell in a heap, his mail clattering upon the bronze hinges of the
door. He was dragged aside. Others rushed in, a number of them. Ru
shifted his battle-axe into his right hand, lifted it, leaned forward
and waited, advancing the shield to cover his head. Blows fell upon
the shield. Then the axe crashed down and a man sank in a heap. Ru
began to sing some wild Ethiopian war chant and as he sang he smote,
and as he smote men died beneath the blows of that terrible axe driven
with the weight of his mighty arm. Yet they pressed forward, for they
were desperate. Death might be in front of them, but if they failed
death was also behind at the hands of their confederates.

The stair was too wide for Ru to cover. One ran under his arm and
appeared between the curtains, where he stood staring. Kemmah saw his
face. It was that of a great Theban lord who had fought with Kheperra
in the battle and now had been suborned by the Shepherds. Rage seized
her. She sprang at him and with all her strength drove the spear she
held through his throat. He fell, gasping. She stamped upon his face,
crying, "Die, dog! Die, traitor!" and die he did.

On the stairway the blows grew fewer. Presently Ru appeared, laughing
and red with blood.

"All are dead," he cried, "save one who fled. But where is the knave
who slipped past me?"

"Here," answered Kemmah, pointing to a still form in the shadows.

"Good. Very good!" said Ru. "Now I think better of women than ever I
did before. Yet, hurry, hurry! One dog has escaped and he goes to call
the pack. What is that? Wine? Give me to drink. Aye, give me wine and
a cloak to cover me. I am no seemly sight for queens to look on."

"Are you hurt?" said Kemmah as she brought the goblet.

"Nay, not a scratch; still no seemly sight, though the blood be that
of traitors. Here's to the gods of vengeance! Here's to the hell that
holds them! This garment is scant for one of my size, but it will
serve. What's that sack you drag to me?"

"No matter what it is. Carry it, Ru. You are no warrior now, you are a
porter. Carry it, O glorious Ru, and lose it not, for in it lie the
crowns of Egypt. Come, Queen, the road is clear, thanks to the axe of
Ru."

Rima came, bearing her babe, and at the sight of the red stair and of
those who lay upon it or at its foot, shrank back and said in a
wavering voice, for she was almost bemused with doubts and terror:

"Is this the message of your gods, Kemmah?" and she pointed to the
stains upon the floor and walls. "And are these their messengers? Look
at them! I know their faces. They were the friends and captains of
dead Kheperra, my lord. Why, O Ru, do you slay the friends of him who
was Pharaoh, who came here doubtless to lead me and his child to
safety?"

"Aye, Queen," said Kemmah, "to the safety of death or of the prison of
Apepi."

"I'll not believe it, woman, nor will I go with you," said Rima,
stamping her foot. "Fly if you will, as well you may do with all this
blood upon your hands; here I stay with my child."

Kemmah glanced at her, then as though in thought she looked down at
the ground while Ru whispered in her ear:

"Command me and I will carry her."

The eyes of Kemmah fell upon that great lord whom she had slain with
her own hand, and she noted that from beneath his breastplate there
projected the end of a papyrus roll that had been thrust upwards when
he fell. She bent down and took it. Opening it swiftly she read, as
she who was learned could do well enough. It was addressed to the dead
man and his companions and sealed with the seals of the high priest
and others. This was the writing:


 "In the names of all the gods and for the welfare of Egypt, we
  command you to take Rima the Babylonian, wife of the good god
  Pharaoh who is not, and her child, the Royal Princess Nefra, and
  to bring them to us, living if may be, that they may be delivered
  to King Apepi in fulfilment of our oath. Read and obey."


"Can you read the Egyptian writing, Queen?" asked Kemmah. "If so,
herein is a matter that concerns you."

"Read you. I have little skill," answered Rima indifferently.

So she read, slowly, that the words might sink into the mind of the
Queen.

Rima heard and leaned against her, trembling.

"Why did I ever come to this land of traitors?" she moaned. "Oh! would
that I were dead."

"As you will be if you stay here longer, Queen," said Kemmah bitterly.
"Meanwhile it is the traitors who are dead, or some of them, and now
tell their tale to Kheperra, your lord and mine. Come. Come swiftly,
there are more villains left in Thebes."

But Rima sank to the ground, swooning. As she fell Kemmah snatched the
child from her and looked at Ru.

"It is good," said the giant. "Now she can talk no more and I will
carry her. But what of that sack? Must we leave it behind? Life is
more than crowns."

"Nay, Ru, set it on my head, for thus peasants bear their burdens. I
can hold it with my left hand and clasp the child with my right."

He did so and lifted the Queen in his great arms.

Thus they passed down the stair, stepping over the dead and out into
the night.

Across the open space they went, heading for the palm trees of the
garden. The babe wailed feebly but Kemmah stifled its cries beneath
her cloak. The weight of the treasures in the sack pressed her down
and the sharp edges of the jewelled crowns and sceptres cut into her
brow. Still she staggered on bravely. They reached the shadow of the
palms where she paused for a moment to look back and get her breath.
Behold! Men--numbers of them--were running toward the doors of the
private apartments.

"We did not leave too soon. Forward!" said Ru.

On they went, till at length before them in the glade they saw the
ruined shrine. Kemmah staggered to it and sank to her knees, for she
was spent.

"Now, unless help comes, there is an end," said Ru. "Two half-dead
women I might carry, also the sack upon my head. But how about the
babe? Nay, that babe is the Princess of Egypt. Whoever dies, she must
be saved."

"Aye," said Kemmah faintly. "Leave me, it matters not, but save the
child. Take her and her mother and go to the quay. Perchance the boat
is there."

"Perchance it is not," grumbled Ru, staring about him.

Then help came. For as before from behind a palm appeared the sailor
Tau.

"You are somewhat early, Lady Kemmah," he said, "but fortunately so am
I and so is the down Nile wind. At least here you are, all three of
you. But who is this?" and he stared at the giant Nubian.

"One who can be vouched for," answered Ru. "If you doubt it, go look
at the stair of the royal apartments. One, too, who, if there be need,
can break your bones as a slave breaks sticks."

"That I can well believe," said Tau, "but of bone-breaking we can talk
afterwards. Now follow me, and swiftly."

Then he threw the sack over his shoulder, and putting his arm about
Kemmah, supported her forward to the quay.

At the foot of the steps was a boat, and at a distance on the Nile
appeared a ship riding at anchor, her sail half hoisted. They entered
the boat, and seizing the oars Tau rowed them to the ship. A rope was
cast which he caught and made fast to the prow of the boat, drawing on
it till they came alongside the ship. Hands were stretched out to help
them; soon they were all aboard.

"Up anchor!" cried Tau, "and hoist the sail."

"We hear you, Lord," answered a voice.

Three minutes later that ship was gliding down the Nile before the
strong south wind. Nor was it too soon, for as they passed silently
into the night they caught sight of men, some of whom bore lanterns,
searching the palm grove that they had left. They laid the women and
the child in the cabin. Then Tau said:

"Now, Breaker of Bones, you may have a tale to tell me, and perchance
a cup of wine and a bite of food will loose your tongue."



Thus did Queen Rima, Nefra, Royal Princess of Egypt, and Lady Kemmah
and Ru the Ethiopian escape from Thebes and from the hands of
traitors.



CHAPTER IV

THE TEMPLE OF THE SPHINX

For day after day the ship of Tau journeyed on down Nile. At night, or
when the wind would not serve, it was tied up to the bank, always in
as uninhabited a place as might be but never near a town. Twice this
happened in the neighbourhood of great temples that had been wrecked
by the Shepherds in the first fury of their invasion and not as yet
repaired. Yet after it was dark, out of these desolated fanes or of
the sepulchres around them issued men who brought food and other
things to sell, but who from the signs that they made, Kemmah, being
initiated, well knew to be priests, though of what faith she did not
know. These men would talk with Tau apart, showing him much reverence,
then on this pretext or on that he would bring them into the cabin
where the infant princess lay asleep, whom they would look upon
fearfully, and even adore upon their bended knees as though she were
divine; then rising, depart blessing her in the names of the gods they
worshipped. Moreover, never did they seem to take payment for the food
they brought.

All of these things Kemmah noted, as did Ru, although he appeared so
simple, but of them Rima the Queen took but little heed. Ever since
her lord the Pharaoh Kheperra had been slain in the battle, her spirit
had left her, and the discovery of the treason of the lords who had
been his counsellors and generals, whereof Ru had slain six and Kemmah
one in the fight upon the stairs of the Theban palace, seemed to have
crushed her very soul so that now she cared for nothing save to nurse
her child.

When she woke from her swoon to find herself upon the ship she asked
few questions and from Ru she shrank, although she loved him well,
saying that he smelt of blood. Nor would she speak much to Tau
because, as she declared, she trusted no man any more. To Kemmah only
did she talk freely at times, and then mostly as to how she might
escape out of this accursed Egypt with her child, back to her royal
father, the King of Babylon.

"So far the gods of Egypt have not served you so ill, Queen," said the
Lady Kemmah, "seeing that they brought you and that Royal One"--and
she waved her hand toward the babe--"out of the net of traitors, and
when escape seemed impossible, safe on to this ship, doing this after
you had declared that you had no faith in them."

"Mayhap, Kemmah. Yet those gods decreed that my royal husband should
be killed and that those whom he and I trusted should prove themselves
the foulest of all men who sought to betray his wife and child into
the hands of enemies, whence we were saved only by your wit and the
strength and courage of an Ethiopian. Also it is not for me, a
stranger, that they work, but for Egypt's royal seed that was born of
my body. Nor is this to be wondered at, seeing, although as Pharaoh's
wife I made offerings upon their altars, they are no gods of mine. I
tell you that I would get me back to Babylon and ere I die bow my knee
again in the temples of my forefathers. Take me back to Babylon,
Kemmah, where men are not traitors to the bread they eat and do not
strive to sell the seed of those who died for them into captivity or
death."

"This I will do if I may," answered Kemmah, "but alas! Babylon is far
off and all the lands between are ablaze with war. Therefore take
heart, Queen, and wait with patience."

"I have no heart left," answered Rima, "who desire but one thing--to
find my lord again whether he sits at the table of your Osiris, or
rides the clouds with Bel, or sleeps in the deep darkness. Where he
is, there would I be and nowhere else, and least of all in this
accursed Egypt. Give me my child to nurse, that I may hold her while I
may. We love that most that we must leave the soonest, Kemmah."

Then Kemmah gave her the babe and turned away to hide her tears, since
she was sure that sorrow was eating out the life of this bereaved
widow and daughter of kings.

Once when they were off Memphis which they strove to pass at early
dawn before men were abroad, there was danger. Officers came to their
ship from a boat, bidding it lie to, a command that Tau thought it
best to obey.

"Now play your parts well," he said to Kemmah, "remembering that you
are my sister and that the Queen is my wife who lies sick. Go tell her
to forget her woes and be as crafty as a serpent. As for you, Ru, hide
that great axe of yours, though where you can find it easily,
remembering that you are a slave whom I bought for a great sum in
Thebes that I may make money by showing off your strength in market-
places, and that you can talk little or no Egyptian."

The boat came alongside. In it were two officers, young men who seemed
to be sleepy, for they yawned, and a common fellow who rowed it. The
two officers climbed to the deck and asked for the captain. Tau
appeared, very roughly clad, and in a coarse voice inquired of their
business.

"It is your business that we want to know, Sailor," said one of the
officers.

"That is easy to tell, sir. I am a trader who take corn up Nile and
bring cattle down. There are a number of calves forward there, bred by
the best southern bulls. Are you perchance buyers? If so, you might
like to look at them. There is one that has the 'apis' marks upon it,
or something of the kind."

"Do we look like cattle dealers?" asked the officer haughtily. "Show
me your writings."

"Here they are, sir," and Tau produced a papyrus sealed by the trade
masters at Memphis and other cities.

"A wife and child, a sister--which means another wife grown old--and
so many crew. Well, we seek two women and a child, so perhaps we had
better see them."

"Is it necessary?" asked the other. "This does not look like a queen's
warship such as we were told to search for, and the stench of those
calves is horrible after a night of feasting."

"Warship, sir? Did you talk of a warship? Well, there is one following
us down the river. We saw her once, but being of such deep draught,
she got stuck on a sand bank so that I do not know when she will reach
Memphis. She seemed to be a very fine ship with a multitude of armed
men on board of her. But it was said that she was going to stop at
Siout, the frontier city of the South, or what used to be its frontier
city before we beat those proud-stomached Southerns. But come and look
at the women, if you will; come and look at them."

This information about the warship seemed to interest the two officers
so much that they followed Tau thinking little of the two women. He
took a lantern and thrust it through the curtains into the cabin,
saying;

"May an evil spirit take this thing! How badly it burns."

"An evil stink has taken it already," answered one of the officers,
pinching his nostrils between his finger and thumb as he peered
between the curtains. In the low light the place was very dark and all
that the officers could see was Kemmah in dirty garments seated on a
sack--little did they know that this sack contained the ancient and
priceless royal ornaments of Upper Egypt--and engaged in mixing milk
and water in a gourd, while beyond on a couch lay a woman with
dishevelled hair and holding a bundle to her breast.

Just then the lantern went out and Tau began to talk of finding oil to
relight it.

"It is needless, Friend," said the chief officer, "I think that we
have seen enough. Pursue your voyage in peace and sell the calves at
the best price you can get."

Then he turned to the deck where, as ill luck would have it, he caught
sight of Ru squatted on the boards and trying to look as small as he
could.

"That is a big black man," he said. "Now did not some spy send a
message about a Negro who killed many of our friends up yonder? Stand
up, fellow."

Tau translated, or seemed to do so, and Ru stood up, rolling his big
eyes till the white showed and grinning all over a silly face.

"Ah!" said the officer, "a very big man. By the gods! what a chest and
arms. Now, Captain, who is this giant and what are you doing with him
on board your trading boat?"

"Lords," answered Tau, "he is a venture of mine in which I have put
most of my savings. He is mighty and performs feats of strength, for
the sight of which I hope to get much money down in Tanis."

"Does he?" said the officer, much interested but with suspicion.
"Well, fellow, perform a feat of strength."

Ru shook his head vaguely.

"He does not understand your tongue, sir, who is an Ethiopian. Stay, I
will tell him."

Then he began to address Ru in unknown words. Ru woke up and nodded,
grinning. Next instant he sprang at the two officers, seized one of
them with either hand by the neckbands of their garments and lifted
them from the deck as though they had been infants. Next, roaring with
laughter, he stepped to the side of the ship and held them out over
the Nile as though he were about to drop them into the water. The
officers shouted, Tau swore and tried to drag him back, yelling orders
into his ear. Ru turned round astonished, still holding the two men in
the air before him and looking at the belly of the ship as though he
meant to throw them into it.

At length he seemed to understand and dropped them to the deck, on
which they fell flat.

"That is one of his favourite tricks, sirs," said Tau as he helped
them to their feet. "He is so strong that he can carry a third man in
his teeth."

"Is it?" said an officer. "Well, we have had enough of your savage and
his tricks, who, I think, will land you in prison before you have done
with him. Keep him off now while we get into the boat."

Thus was the ship of Tau searched by the officers of Apepi.



When the boat had gone and once more the ship was slipping past the
quays of Memphis unobserved in the mists drawn by the rising sun from
the river, Ru came near to the tiller and said:

"I think, Lord Tau, for a lord or count I hold you to be, although it
pleases you to pass as the owner of a small trading boat, that you
would have done well to let me drop those two fine fellows into the
Nile that tells no stories of those it buries. By and by it will be
found that there is no warship such as you talked of so wonderfully,
and then----?"

"And then, Breaker of Bones, it may go hard with those officers who
chattered of such a ship like finches in the reeds and while they did
so let the real prize slip through their fingers. For this, indeed, I
am sorry, since those young men were not bad fellows in their way. As
for dropping them into the Nile, it might have been well enough,
though cruel, had there not been a witness. What would that boatman
who rowed them to the ship have reported when he found that they
returned from it no more?"

"You are clever," said Ru admiringly. "I never thought of that."

"No, Ru. If my brain were added to your brute strength and
uninstructed honesty, why, you would rule the world of brutes. But
they are not, and therefore you must be content to serve in the yoke,
like a bull, which is as strong as you are, or stronger."

"If it is brains that make a difference, why do you not rule, Lord
Tau, who are also a likely man though not so big as I am? Why are you
carrying fugitives upon a dirty little merchant ship instead of
sitting upon a Pharaoh's throne? Tell me, who am but a simple black
man bred to war and honesty."

Tau with much skill steered his ship through a fleet of barges poling
up Nile laden with fodder. Then calling to a sailor to take his place,
for now the river was open with no craft in sight, he sat himself down
in the low bulwark, and answered:

"Because mayhap, friend Ru, I also choose to serve. Being stupid, like
most honest men, especially if they are strong and one of a simple
race that understands nothing except love from which is born mankind,
and war that keeps down its numbers, you may not believe me when I
tell you that the only true joy in life lies in service of this sort
or of that. Pharaohs are served, which is why they are often so blind
and so satisfied at being but vain bubbles blown along by a wind they
cannot see, springing, although they know it not, from the poisoned
breaths of multitudes; for the most part they do more harm than good
and are themselves the slaves of slaves. With him who serves it is
otherwise, for, setting aside self-seekings and ambitions, he works
humbly for that which is good and in this work finds his reward."

Ru rubbed his brow, then asked:

"But whom does such an one serve, Lord?"

"He serves God, Ru."

"God? There are many gods that I have heard of in Ethiopia, in Egypt,
and in other lands. What god does he serve and where does he find that
god?"

"He finds him in his own heart, Ru, but what his name may be I cannot
tell you. Some call it Justice, some call it Freedom, some call it
Hope, some call it Spirit."

"And what do those call it who serve only themselves and their own
lusts, careless of all those fine things, Lord?"

"I do not know, Ru, and yet I know that name. It is Death."

"Yet they live as long as other men, Lord, and often reap a finer
harvest."

"Aye, Ru, but very soon their day is done and then, if they have not
repented, their souls die."

"So you believe that souls can live on, as the priests seem to teach."

"Yes, Ru, I believe that they can live longer than Ra the sun himself,
longer than the stars, and from age to age reap the fruits of honest
service. Yet of these matters do not ask me but ask one whom you will
soon meet and whose disciple I am."

"I don't wish to, Lord, seeing that my brain swims already, but tell
me, if it please you, to what end is all this service of yours that
causes you to sail up Nile and at great risk to rescue certain ladies
and a certain babe?"

"I am not sure, for true service is its own end. Moreover, it is not
for me to ask of ends, who am sworn to obey without doubt or
question."

"So you also have a master, Lord. Who is he?"

"That you will learn ere long, Ru. Yet do not think to look upon some
king or enthroned high priest surrounded with pomps and ceremonies.
Ru, I will instruct you, who are so ignorant. Doubtless you believe
that Egypt and the world are ruled by the strength you see, by
Pharaohs, by armies, and by wealth. Yet it is not so. There is another
strength you do not see which is its guide and conqueror, and its name
is Spirit. The priests teach that to every man there is given a /Ka/
or a double, an invisible something that is stronger, purer, more
enduring than he is. Something that perhaps from time to time looks
upon the face of God and whispers of God's will. Now if this be a
parable, yet in a sense it is true since always such a spirit is at
the elbow of everyone who lives. Or rather there are two spirits, one
of good and one of evil; one that leads upwards and one that leads
downwards."

"I say again that you make my head swim, Lord. But tell me, where and
to what is your spirit leading you?"

"Towards the gates of peace, Ru; peace for myself and peace for Egypt;
towards a land where you would find little occupation for in it there
is no war. Look, yonder are the Great Pyramids, the homes of the dead,
and mayhap of their souls which do not die. Come, help me lower the
sail since we must drift past them slowly, to return when night has
fallen and land certain passengers. There, perhaps, Ru, you will learn
more of the meaning of all this talk of mine."



Night had come. At its approach he who was called Tau had rowed his
ship back to a certain landing place which now, at the time of the
rising Nile, was not so very far away from the Great Pyramids and the
Sphinx that sits near to them staring eternally into nothingness. Here
they disembarked, all of them, under shelter of the darkness and of a
bed of reeds.

Scarcely were they on shore when they saw boats, which great lanterns
hung at their prow and stern showed to be full of armed men, rowing
down Nile. Tau watched them go by and said:

"I think some messenger has told those officers at Memphis that there
was no warship following us from Thebes and that now they search for a
certain trading boat on which travelled two women and a babe. Well,
let them search, for the birds are out of their hands and where they
nest no Shepherd will dare to come."

Then, having given directions to the mate of the boat, a very quiet,
secret-faced man, as were all those on board of her, he took Rima the
Queen by the hand and led her into the darkness, being followed by
Kemmah, who bore the child, and by Ru the Ethiopian, who carried upon
his shoulder the sack that contained the jewels of the Pharaohs of
Upper Egypt.

For a long while they trudged forward, first between groves of palm
trees and then over desert sands, till at length the waning moon rose
and they saw a wondrous sight. In front of them appeared the enormous
shape of a lion cut from the living rock whose face was not that of a
beast but of a man, wearing the headdress of a god or king, and
staring towards the east with solemn, terrifying eyes.

"What is that?" asked Rima faintly. "Have we reached the Underworld
and is this its god? For surely yonder dreadful smiling countenance
must be that of a god."

"Nay, Lady," answered Tau, "it is but the symbol of a god, the Sphinx
which has sat here for countless ages. Look! Behind it stand the
pyramids outlined against the sky, and beneath it are safety and rest
for you and for your child."

"Safety for the child, perhaps," she said, "and for me, as I think,
the longest rest of all. For know, O Tau, that Death looks at me out
of those solemn smiling eyes."

Tau made no answer; indeed, even his calm spirit seemed to be
frightened at those words of evil omen, as was Kemmah, who muttered:

"We go to dwell among sepulchres and it is as well, for I think that
soon they will be needed."

Even Ru was frightened, though more by the gigantic figure of the
Sphinx towering above him than by the Queen's words, which he scarcely
seemed to understand.

"Here is that which turns my heart to water and loosens my knees," he
said in his savage imagery. "Here is that with which no man, not even
I, can fight, and therefore for the first time I am afraid. Here is
Fate itself, and what can man do in the face of Fate?"

"Obey its decrees, as all must," answered Tau solemnly. "Forward now,
for the temple of this god is open, and leave the rest--to Fate."

They came to some steps about fifty paces from the outstretched paws
of this mighty monument, and descending them, found themselves facing
what seemed to be a huge granite block in a wall. Taking a stone which
lay at hand, Tau knocked upon this block in a peculiar fashion. Thrice
did he repeat this rhythmic series of blows, each time with some
difference. Then he waited, and behold, presently in a silent fashion
the great stone turned, leaving a narrow opening through which he
beckoned them to follow him. They entered to find themselves in dense
darkness and to hear sounds as of passwords being given and received.
Next lamps appeared floating towards them through the darkness and
they perceived that these were borne by men clothed as white-robed
priests who yet carried swords like soldiers and wore knives thrust
through their girdles. There were six of these priests and a seventh
who appeared to be a leader of them, for he walked ahead. To this man
Tau spoke, saying:

"I bring you that I went forth to seek," and he pointed to the royal
child sleeping in the arms of Kemmah and to the Queen and behind her,
to the gigantic Ru on whom the priests looked doubtfully.

Tau began to tell them who he was, but the leader of the priests said:

"It is needless. The Holy Prophet has spoken to me of him. Yet let him
understand that he who reveals the secrets of this place dies
terribly."

"Is it so?" said Ru. "Well, already I feel as though I were dead and
buried."

Then one by one the priests made obeisance to the babe, and this done,
motioned to them to follow.

On they went, down a long passage that seemed to be built of blocks of
alabaster, till they came to a great hall, of which the roof was
supported by huge columns of granite, in which hall sat solemn statues
of gods or kings. Crossing it, they reached a gallery, out of which
opened chambers that served as dwelling rooms, for in them were
window-places, which chambers, it seemed, had been made ready for
them, since they were furnished with beds and all things necessary,
even to clothing such as women wear. Moreover, in one of them a table
was set with good food and wine.

"Eat now and sleep," said Tau. "I go to make report to the Prophet.
To-morrow he will speak with you."



CHAPTER V

THE SWEARING OF THE OATH

Early on the following morning Kemmah was awakened by a ray of
sunshine striking upon her bed through a window-place in the chamber.

At least we are not dwelling in a tomb, she thought to herself with
gratitude, for tombs have no windows; the dead do not need them.

Then she looked at the Queen Rima who lay in another bed with the babe
near by, and saw that she was sitting up, staring before her with rapt
eyes.

"I see that you are awake, Kemmah," she said, "for the sun shines upon
your eyes, for which I thank the gods because it shows me that we are
not in a grave. Hearken, a dream has visited me. I dreamed that the
good god my husband, Kheperra who is dead, came to me, saying:

"'Wife, you have accomplished all things; you have brought our child
to a place where she will be safe, a holy place where the spirits of
those who were great in Egypt before her protect and will protect her.
Fear not for the child who is safe in their keeping and in that of
those about her on the earth. Make ready, Wife beloved, to return to
me, your Husband.'

"'That is my desire,' I answered. 'But tell me, Lord, where shall I
find you?'

"Then, Kemmah, in that dream of mine the spirit of King Kheperra
showed me a wondrous and beautiful place of which the memory has faded
from me, saying:

"'Here shall you find me, where are no wars or fears or troubles, and
here shall we dwell together happily for many an age, though, what
will chance to us in the end I do not know.'

"'But the child. What of the child?' I asked. 'Must we lose the
child?'

"'Nay, Beloved,' he answered, 'presently she will be with us.'

"'Then, Lord, is she also doomed to die to the world before she has
known the world?'

"'Not so, Beloved, but here there is no time, and soon her hour there
will be accomplished and she will be counted of our company.'

"'Yet she will never know us, Lord, who died when she was without
understanding.'

"'The dead know everything; in death all that seems lost is found
again; in death all is forgiven, even those priests and princes who
would have betrayed you to the Shepherds are forgiven, for some of
them whom the axe of Ru sent hither, stand by me and ask pardon of you
as I speak. In death are life and understanding. Therefore come hither
swiftly and without fear.'

"Then I awoke, happy for the first time since Ru bore the body of King
Kheperra out of the battle."

"A strange dream. A very strange dream, Queen. But who can put faith
in such visions of the night?" exclaimed Kemmah, for she was
frightened and knew not what to say, adding:

"Now rise, if it pleases you, and let me dress you in these garments
that have been provided. Afterwards we will call the Lord Tau, for I
am sure that he is no sailor man but a lord, and explore this place,
which it would seem might be worse, for here are good food and light
and friends and dark caverns where we may hope to hide ourselves away
if foes should come."

"Aye, Kemmah, I will rise, though it should be for the last time, for
I would look upon the face of this wondrous Roy the prophet who has
brought us here and then commend my child to him ere I pass farther
than he can follow."

"From all that I have heard of Roy I think that would be far indeed,
Queen," said Kemmah.

A while later, when they were seated at their morning meal that was
served by priestesses who now appeared for the first time, came Tau,
praying them to follow him into the presence of Roy, the prophet and
his master.

They obeyed, Rima leaning on the arm of Tau, for now she seemed too
weak to walk alone, Kemmah bearing the babe, and Ru bringing up the
rear. Presently they heard sounds of singing, and entering a great
hall lit by little window-places set high up near the roof and by an
opening to the East, saw that in it were gathered a number of men and
women, all clad in white robes, the men to the right and the women to
the left. At the head of the hall was an altar and behind the altar,
in a shrine of alabaster, a life-sized statue of Osiris, god of the
dead wrapped in the trappings of the dead. In front of this altar in a
chair of black stone sat an aged man clad in white priestly garments
over which hung strange-shaped, mystical jewels of gold and gems.

He was a wonderful old man, or so thought Ru staring at him with round
eyes, for his beard was long and white as snow, his hands were thin as
those of a mummy, his nose was hooked and his eyes were black,
piercing, and full of fire. Though she had not seen him in the flesh
for many years, Kemmah knew him at once to be none other than the
king's son, her great-uncle, Roy the Prophet, whose fame for holiness,
secret power, and magic was told of throughout Egypt. Indeed, she
remembered that just so had he appeared to her in the ruined shrine
that was in the palace gardens at Thebes when she sought a sign that
Tau was a true messenger and not one who set a trap.

They drew near while all the company stared at them in silence.
Suddenly Roy lifted his head, studying them with his piercing eyes,
then in a strong, clear voice asked of Tau:

"Who are these that you bring into the Chapter of the secret
Brotherhood of the Dawn, to enter which without authority is death?
Answer, O my son in the spirit."

Thrice Tau made reverence and said:

"O Holy One, O Home of Wisdom, greater than all kings, voice of Heaven
upon earth, hear me! On the day of full moon before the last you
commanded me, saying:

"'Priest of our Brotherhood, become a merchant. Sail up Nile to
Thebes, and before dawn on the day that you reach the ancient city
enter the garden of the palace and take your stand behind a palm tree
that grows near to a forgotten shrine. There you will find a woman, a
nurse of kings in whom my blood runs. Speak to her. Show her this half
of a broken talisman, and if she can show its other half, declare to
her that you are my messenger charged with a certain mission. Set out
that mission, and if she doubts, pray to me, sending your prayer
through space, and I will hear you and come to your aid. Then when she
doubts no more, fulfil that mission as shall be made clear to you.'

"I heard your commands, O Holy One, and behold! the mission is
fulfilled. Before you appear Rima the Babylonian, daughter of Ditanah
the King of Babylon and widow of Kheperra, Pharaoh of Upper Egypt;
Lady Kemmah, the royal nurse, your kinswoman, and the royal babe
Nefra, Princess of Egypt."

"I see them, my son, but what of the fourth, the mighty black man, as
to whom I gave no command?"

"This, Father: that without his help sent by the gods none of us would
be here to-day, seeing that he held the door against traitors and with
that axe of his, slew them all, eight in number."

"Not so, my son, unless my spirit told me falsely, the Lady Kemmah, my
kinswoman, slew one of them."

Now Ru, who had been listening amazed, could contain himself no
longer.

"That is right, O Prophet, or O God," he broke in, in his big voice.
"She killed one of them who slipped past me, their captain as I think,
with the shrewdest thrust ever driven by a woman's arm--also another
escaped. But your sight must be very good, O Prophet, if you can see
from here to Thebes and take note of one blow among so many."

A faint smile flickered on the face of Roy.

"Come hither, Ru, for so I think you are named," he said.

The giant obeyed and of his own accord knelt down before Roy, who went
on:

"Hearken, Ru the Ethiopian. You are a gallant man and a true-hearted.
You slew those who slew your King Kheperra and bore his body from the
battle. By your gift of strength and skill in war you saved your
lord's child and the Queen her mother from prison and death. Therefore
I number you among our Brotherhood into whose company hitherto no
black man has ever entered. Afterwards you shall be instructed in its
simpler rites and take the lesser oaths. Yet know, O Ru, that if you
betray the smallest of its secrets or work harm to any of your fellow
servants of the Dawn, you shall die thus," and leaning forward he
whispered fiercely into the Negro's ear.

"Have done, I pray you, Prophet," exclaimed Ru in lively terror and
springing to his feet. "I have seen and heard of many things but never
of such a one as this, in Ethiopia or in Egypt, in war or in peace.
Moreover, such threats are needless, since I never betrayed any one
except myself, and least of all those whose bread I eat and whom I
love," and he glanced towards the Queen and the child.

"I know it, Ru; yet sometimes folly betrays as well as craft. Hearken!
You are appointed bodyservant and guard to the Royal Princess of Egypt
as you were to her father before her. Where she goes, there you go;
when she sleeps your bed is without her door. If she fights you stand
at her side in battle, shielding her with your life. If she wanders by
day or by night, you wander with her, and when at last she dies, you
die also and accompany her to the Underworld. For this shall be your
reward--that the blessing and the strength that are on her shall be on
you also, and that you shall serve her to all eternity. Retire."

"I ask no better fate," muttered Ru as he obeyed.

"Kinswoman, bring me the child," said the Prophet.

Kemmah came forward bearing the sleeping babe and at Roy's bidding
held it up to be seen of all, whereon everyone in that company bowed
the knee and bent the head.

"Brothers and Sisters of the Company of the Dawn, in the person of
this child behold your Queen and Egypt's!" cried Roy, and again they
bent the knee and bowed the head.

Then he breathed upon the babe and blessed it, making over it certain
mystic signs and calling upon gods and spirits to guard it through
life and for ever. This done he kissed the infant and handed it back
to Kemmah, saying:

"Blessed be you also, O faithful woman. Aye, and you shall be blessed,
and later instructed in our mysteries and numbered of our Company. Go
in peace."

Now Roy had spoken to all that company save to the chief of them, Rima
the Queen, who sat in front of him in a chair that had been given to
her, watching him with empty eyes and listening to his words as though
they dealt with far-off matters and moved her not. Yet when he had
finished she lifted her head, saying:

"Words and blessings for the slave. Words and blessings for the nurse.
Words and adoration for the babe in whom run the royal bloods of Egypt
and of Babylon. But what words for the Queen and mother, O Prophet, at
whose bidding she and that which was born of her have been brought to
this darksome place and habitation of conspirators plotting to ends
unknown?"

Now Roy arose from his throne before the altar, a tall, ethereal
shape, and advancing to the stricken queen lifted her hand and kissed
it.

"For your Majesty I have no message," he said, bending his venerable
head, "seeing that already you hold communion with one who is greater
than I," and he turned and bowed to the solemn statue of the god
Osiris which stared at them from beyond the altar.

"I know it," she answered with a sad smile.

"Yet," he went on, "it is reported to me that in this night that is
gone, your Majesty dreamed a dream. Is it not so?"

"It is so, Prophet, though who told you I do not know."

"It matters not who told me. What matters is that I am charged to say
to your Majesty that this dream was no phantasy bred of human hopes
and longings but the very truth. Learn, O Queen, that this world and
its sufferings are but a shadow and a show, and that beyond them, like
the pyramids towering above the sands and palm trees at their base,
stands the eternal verity whose name is Love. The sands are blown away
and having borne their fruit, the palm trees are torn up by the
tempest or grow old and die, but the pyramids remain."

"I understand and I thank you, Prophet. Now lead me hence for I am
weary."



On the third night from this day Rima the Queen, knowing that the
fever which consumed her had done its work and that the time was at
hand for her to bid farewell to the world, sent a messenger to Roy the
Prophet saying that she would speak with him. He came and she
addressed him thus:

"I know not who you are nor what is this Brotherhood of the Dawn of
which you speak, and to what ends it works, nor why you have brought
the Royal Princess hither, nor what gods you serve, I who take but
little count of the gods of Egypt, although it is true that when my
child was born two of them seemed to appear to me in a vision. Yet I
will add this: my heart tells me that you are a most righteous man and
a prophet of power appointed by Fate to fulfil its will; also that you
and those about you plan good and not ill for the Princess, who, if
there is justice in the world, should one day be Queen of Egypt. There
then I leave this matter in the hands of Heaven; I, who, having done
all that I can do, find myself dying, unfortunate and powerless. Those
things will happen which must happen and there is no more to be said.

"Now I demand an oath of you, Roy, and of the priest Tau, and of all
the Brotherhood under you. It is that when I am dead you will embalm
my body with all the skill of the Egyptians, and that afterwards, when
there is opportunity, you will cause it to be conveyed to Ditanah, the
King of Babylon, my father, or to him who sits in his place, with
these my dying words written in a scroll on its breast, accompanied,
if may be, by my daughter, the Royal Princess of Egypt.

"I demand an oath of you, further, that those who bear my body shall
say to the King of Babylon that I, the dead daughter of Babylon,
aforetime wife of the King of Egypt, call upon him in the name of our
gods and by our common blood to avenge the wrongs that I have suffered
in Egypt and the death of my lord beloved, my husband, King Kheperra.
I call upon him under the pain of the curse of my spirit, to roll down
in his might upon Egypt and to smite these Shepherd dogs who slew my
husband and took his heritage, and to establish my daughter, the
Princess Nefra, as Queen of Egypt, and to seize those who were
traitors to her and would have given her to doom and me with her, and
to slay them. This is the oath which I demand of you."

"Yet, Queen," answered Roy, "it is one that is little to my liking,
seeing that if fulfilled it may breed war and that we, the sons and
daughters of the Dawn--for Harmachis whose image is the Sphinx that
watches at our door, is the god of Dawn--seek peace and not war.
Forgiveness, not vengeance, is the law we follow. It is true that if
may be we desire to depose the usurping Shepherd kings and to restore
Egypt to the line of its rightful rulers, of whom the Princess Nefra
is the heir, or if as yet this is refused to us by the gods, to unite
the North and South so that Egypt may grow greater and cease to bleed
from the wounds of war."

"That is what the Shepherds seek also," said Rima faintly.

"Aye, but their ends are other than ours. They would rivet a yoke upon
the neck of Egypt; we would loose that yoke and not by the sword. The
Shepherds are many, but the people of Egypt are more, and if the two
races can be mingled, then the good Nile wheat which we sow will
smother the foreign Shepherd weeds. Already something has been done;
already these Shepherd kings bend the knee to the gods of Egypt whose
altars once they overthrew, and accept Egypt's laws and customs."

"It may be so, Prophet, and in the end all may come about as you
desire. But I am of blood different from that of you soft Egyptians
and I have suffered grievous wrong. My husband has been slain; those
whom he trusted have striven to sell me and my child to slavery and
therefore I seek for the justice that I shall never see. Not with soft
words and far-sighted plottings would I win that justice, but with
spears and arrows. My body is weak and I am near my end, but my soul
is aflame. I know, moreover, that all your hopes are centred on this
child of mine, as are my own, and my spirit tells me how they may best
be brought to harvest. Will you swear the oath? Answer, and quickly.
For if you will not swear, mayhap I may find another counsel. What if
I take the babe with me, Prophet, to plead our cause in the Courts
above, as I think I can still find the means to do?"

Now Roy considered her, reading her mind, and saw that it was
desperate.

"I must take counsel of that which I serve," he answered. "Perchance
It will give me wisdom."

"And what if I and mayhap another die while you are taking counsel,
Prophet? You think that you can remove the babe, who do not know that
a mother's will is very strong and that we Babylonians have secrets of
our own, especially at the hour of death, with which we have the power
to draw after us those who are born of our bodies."

"Fear not, Queen Rima. I, too, have my secrets, and I tell you that
Osiris will not take you yet."

"I believe you, Prophet. On such a matter you would not lie. Go, take
counsel with your gods and come back quickly."

"I go," he said, and went.

A little before the hour of dawn Roy returned to that death chamber
and with him came Tau, also she who was the first priestess of the
Order of the Dawn. Rima awaited him, supported with pillows upon her
bed.

"You spoke truly, Prophet," she said, "seeing that now I am stronger
than when we parted yesterday. Yet be swift, for this strength of mine
is but as the brightness of a dying lamp. Speak, and shortly."

"Queen Rima," he replied, "I have taken counsel of the Power I serve,
who guides my feet here upon the earth. It has been pleased to send an
answer to my prayer."

"What answer, Prophet?" she asked eagerly.

"This, Queen: That I, on behalf of the Order of the Dawn over which I
rule, and in the presence of those who stand next to me in that order"
--and he pointed to Tau and to the priestess--"should take the oath
that you desire, since thus our ends can best be brought about, though
how they will be accomplished was not revealed. I swear, therefore, in
the name of that Spirit who is above all gods, also by your /Ka/ and
mine, and by the child who here and now we take for queen, that when
there is opportunity, which I think will not be for many years, your
body shall be borne to Babylon and your message delivered to its king,
if may be--by your daughter's lips. Moreover, that nothing may be
forgotten, all your desire and this oracle are upon this roll which
shall be read to you and sealed by you as a letter to the King of
Babylon, and with it our oath, sealed by me and by Tau who comes after
me."

"Read," said the Queen. "Nay, let the Lady Kemmah, who is learned,
read."

So with some help from Tau, Kemmah read.

"It is truly written," said Rima. "There on the roll the matter is set
out well and clearly. Yet, add this--that if my father, the royal
Ditanah the King, or he who sits upon his throne after him, denies
this my last prayer, then I call down the curse of all the gods of
Babylon upon his people, and that I, Rima, will haunt him while he
lives and ask account of him when we meet at last in the Underworld."

"So be it," said Roy, "though these words are not gentle. Yet write
them down, O Tau, for the dying must be obeyed."

So Tau sat himself upon the floor and wrote upon his knee. Then wax
mixed with clay was brought and drawing from her wasted finger a ring
on which was cut the figure of a Babylonian god, Rima pressed it on
the wax, while Kemmah took a scarab from her breast and sealed as
witness.

"Set one copy of this roll with the ring among the wrappings of my
mummy that the King of Babylon may find it there, and hide the other
in your most secret place," said Rima.

"It shall be done," said Roy, and waited.

At this moment the first rays of the rising sun shot like arrows
through the window-place. With a strange strength Rima took her child
and held her up so that the golden light fell full upon her.

"The Queen of the Dawn!" she cried. "Behold her kissed and crowned of
the Dawn. O Queen of the Dawn, rule on triumphant through the perfect
day, till night brings you to my breast again."

Then she embraced the child, and beckoning to Kemmah, gave it into her
arms. A moment later, murmuring, "My task is done. My Lord awaits me,"
she fell back and died.



CHAPTER VI

NEFRA CONQUERS THE PYRAMIDS

Strange, very strange indeed was the book of Life as it opened itself
to the child Nefra, Royal Princess of Egypt. Looking back in after
years to those of her infancy, all she could remember was a vision of
great pillared halls, where stone images stared at her and the carved
or painted walls were full of grotesque figures which seemed to pursue
each other everlastingly from darkness into darkness. Then there were
visions of white-robed men and women who from time to time gathered in
these places and sang sad and mellow chants, of which the echoes
haunted her sleep from year to year. Also there was the stately shape
of the Lady Kemmah, her nurse whom she loved well yet feared a little,
and that of the gigantic Ethiopian named Ru, who always seemed to be
about her day and night, carrying a great bronze axe in his hand, whom
she loved entirely and feared not at all.

Foremost among them, too, was the awful apparition of an aged man with
a white beard and black, flashing eyes whom she came to know as the
Prophet and whom all worshipped as though he were a god. She
remembered waking up at night and seeing him bending over her, a
lantern in his hand, or in the daytime meeting her in the dark temple
passages and passing by with words of blessing. To her childish
imagination, indeed, he was not human but a ghost to be fled from; yet
a kindly ghost withal, since sometimes he gave her delicious
sweetmeats or even flowers that a Brother carried in a basket.

Infancy passed by and there came childhood. Still the same halls were
about her, peopled by the same folk, but now, at times, with Kemmah
her nurse and guarded by the giant Ru and others, she was allowed to
wander outside of them, most frequently after night had fallen and
when the full moon shone in the sky. Thus it was that first she came
to know the lion shape of the terrible Sphinx, lying crouched upon the
desert. In the beginning she was afraid of this stone creature with
its human face painted red, its royal headdress, and its bearded chin,
though afterwards, when it grew familiar to her, she learned to love
that face, finding something friendly in its smile and its great calm
eyes that stared at the sky as though they would search out its
secrets. Indeed, at times she would sit on the sand, sending Kemmah
and Ru to a little distance, and tell it her childish troubles and ask
it questions, furnishing the answers for herself, since from the great
lips of the Sphinx none ever came.

Then beyond the Sphinx rose the mighty pyramids, three principal ones
that pierced the very sky, with temples at the base of them wherein
dead kings had once been worshipped, and others that were smaller
which, she fancied, must be their children. She worshipped those
pyramids, believing that the gods had made them, till Tau, her tutor,
told her that they were built by men to be the graves of kings.

"They must have been great kings that had such graves; I should like
to look on them."

"Perhaps you will some day," answered Tau, who was a most learned man
and her instructor in many things.

Besides herself there were other children of the Order, born of the
wedded brothers and sisters. These were formed into a school, Nefra
among them, which school was taught by the Instructed among the
Brotherhood. Indeed, nearly all of them had learning, for the full
members of the Order of the Dawn were no common folk, although their
servants and those who tilled the flat lands not far from the Sphinx
having their habitations upon the borders of the great Necropolis
were, or seemed to be like, any other husbandmen. To look on them,
none would have known that they were partakers in mysteries which they
were sworn by solemn oaths not to reveal, and indeed never did reveal,
even under the fear of death or torture.

Soon Nefra became the head of this school, not because of her rank but
for the reason that she was by far the cleverest of all its pupils,
and her quick mind drank up knowledge as a dry fleece of wool drinks
up the dew. Yet if any visited that school and watched the children
listening to the teacher, or seated on their stools, copying the
picture-writing of the Egyptians upon potsherds or fragments of
papyrus, save that she sat at the head of a line of them and for
something different in her face, they would have found nothing to
distinguish her from the other little maidens who were her companions.
She wore the same plain robe of white, the same simple sandals to
protect her feet from stones and scorpions, while her hair was tied
with a stem of dried grass into a single tress after just the same
fashion. Indeed, it was a rule of the Order that she should carry on
her person no robe or ornament which might reveal that she was not as
other children were.

Yet the instruction of Nefra did not end with her lessons in this
school, for when these were done or in times of holiday she must learn
a deeper lore. Tau, accompanied by Kemmah her nurse, would take her to
a little private room that once had been the sleeping place of a
priest of the temple in ancient days and there teach her many secret
things.

Thus he taught her the Babylonian tongue and writing, or knowledge of
the movements of the stars and planets, or the mysteries of religion,
showing her that all the gods of all the priests were but symbols of
the attributes of an unseen Power, a Spirit that ruled everything and
was everywhere, even in her own heart. He taught her that the flesh
was but the earthly covering of the soul and that between flesh and
soul there reigned eternal war. He taught her that she lived here upon
the earth to fulfil the purposes of this almighty Spirit that created
her, to whom in a day to come she must return, perchance to be sent
out again to this or other worlds; though what those purposes might be
were not known even by the wisest men who breathed. And while he
taught thus and she listened, watching him with eager eyes, sometimes
the old prophet Roy would steal into the chamber and listen also,
adding a word here or there, then hold out his hand in blessing and
steal away.

Thus, though outwardly Nefra was as are other merry children, inwardly
her soul opened like a lotus lily in the sun and she was different
from them all.

So the years went on till from a child she grew into a maiden, tall
and sweet and very fair. It was at this time in her life that Roy
himself and Tau, in the presence of Kemmah only, revealed to her who
she was, namely, none other than the Royal Princess of Egypt by right
of blood and the appointment of Heaven, and told her the story of her
father and her mother and of the kings and queens who went before
them; also of the divisions in the land.

When she heard these things Nefra wept and trembled.

"Alas! that it should be so," she said, "for now no longer can I be
happy. Tell me, holy Father, whom men name Home-of-Spirits that, they
say, hold converse with you in your sleep, what can a poor maid do to
right so many wrongs and to bring peace where there is but bitterness
and bloodshed?"

"Princess of Egypt," said Roy, for the first time giving her her
title, "I do not know because it is not revealed to me or to any. Yet
it is revealed to me and to certain others that in some way unforeseen
you will do these things. Aye, and it was revealed in a dream to your
mother, the Queen Rima, when you were born, for in this dream that
part of the Universal Spirit whom here in Egypt we know as Mother Isis
appeared to her and amongst other gifts gave to you, the royal child,
the high name of Uniter of Lands."

Here Kemmah thought to herself that another goddess appeared as well
as Isis and gave to this same child different gifts, and though she
said nothing Roy seemed to read her thoughts, for he went on:

"As to this dream and certain mysteries by which it was accompanied,
the Lady Kemmah, your nurse and instructress, is commanded to inform
you; also to show to you the record of all these matters which at that
time was written down and sealed, and with it another record of a
certain oath which I and others swore to your mother, the Queen Rima,
upon her deathbed, concerning a journey which you must make at the
appointed time. Enough of these matters. Now I am commanded to tell
you that on a day to come which shall be declared when it is known to
me, it is our purpose with such state as we can compass, to crown you,
standing as you do on the threshold of womanhood, as Queen of Egypt."

"How can that be?" asked Nefra. "Kings and queens are crowned in
temples, or so I have been taught, and in the presence of multitudes
of courtiers, with pomp and shoutings. But here----" and she looked
about her.

"Is not this a temple and one of the most ancient and holiest in
Egypt, Nefra?" asked Roy. "And for the rest, listen. We seem to be but
a humble Brotherhood, the inhabitants of tombs and pyramids which few
dare approach because they hold them haunted and deadly to the life
and soul of any stranger who dares to violate their sanctuary. Yet I
tell you that this Order of the Dawn is more powerful and more far-
reaching than the Shepherd king himself and all those that cling to
him, as you will learn shortly when you are sworn of it. Its disciples
are everywhere, from the Cataracts of the Nile down to the sea; aye,
and in lands beyond the sea, and, as we believe, in Heaven above; and
one and all they obey the commands that issue from these catacombs,
accepting them as the voice of God."

"Then if so, Holy Prophet, why do you not sit at Tanis openly, instead
of in secret in these tombs?"

"Because, Princess, visible power and the trappings of power can only
be won by war, and we are sworn to wage no war, we whose empire is of
the spirit. It may be that in the end it is decreed that war must be
waged and that thus all will be accomplished. Yet it is not our
Brotherhood that will lift its banners or, save in self-defence, bring
men to their deaths, for we are sworn to peace and gentleness."

"I rejoice to hear it," said Nefra, "and now, Master, I pray you let
me go to rest, for I am overwhelmed."



A year or more after this day of the revealing of secrets, but before
the ceremonies which it foretold, a terrible thing happened to Nefra.

Now it was her custom to wander about the great graveyard that
surrounded the pyramids where in their splendid tombs so many of the
ancient nobles and princes of Egypt had been laid to rest a thousand
years or more before her day, so long ago indeed that none remembered
the names of those who slept beneath these monuments. On these
wanderings of hers it was her pleasure to go unaccompanied save by her
body-servant, Ru, for Kemmah, who now grew aged, had no strength for
such rough journeys over tumbled stones and through deep sand.

Moreover, at this time Nefra loved to be alone, that she might find
time to think in solitude over all that had been revealed to her as to
her history and fate, and the unsought greatness that had been thrust
upon her.

Further, being very vigorous in body as she was in mind, she wearied
of being cooped up in the narrow precincts of the temple and its
neighbourhood and longed for exercise and adventure. By nature she was
a climber, one of those who love to scale heights and thence look down
upon the world below. Thus it became her pleasure to scramble to the
top of great monuments and even of some of the smaller pyramids, which
she found she could do with ease, since her feet were sure and no
dizziness ever overtook her.

All of these fancies of hers were reported to Kemmah by Ru and others
who watched her, and to Roy and Tau by Kemmah when she found that the
young princess would not listen to her chidings, but for the first
time in her life turned upon her angrily, reminding her that she was
no more a child to be led by the hand and would have her way.

These consulted of the matter, and, it would seem, according to their
rule, made divination, taking counsel of that Spirit who, as they
declared, guided them in all things.

The end of it was that the Prophet Roy bade his great-niece, the Lady
Kemmah, to trouble the Princess no more about this business, but to
suffer her to walk where it pleased her and to climb what she would,
because it was revealed to him that whoever took harm, she would take
none.

"It is not wise to thwart her as to such a little thing, Niece," he
went on, "seeing that there is no danger to her and none of the
Shepherds or other enemies dare to approach this haunted place. Also,
she goes forth guarded by Ru to talk, not with any man, but only with
her own heart amid the holy company of the dead."

"There are always some who will dare that of which all others are
afraid, and who knows whom she may meet and talk with before all is
done?" answered Kemmah.

"I have spoken, Niece. Withdraw," said Roy.

So, having triumphed, Nefra, who was young and headstrong, continued
her wanderings and indeed did more.

Now there was a family of Arab blood among those who served and were
sworn to the Brotherhood of the Dawn, who from generation to
generation had been climbers of the pyramids. These men alone, by
following certain cracks in their marble casings and clinging to knobs
or hollows that had been worn in them by the blowing of sand during
hundreds or thousands of years, had the art and courage to come to the
crest of every one of them; nor until they had done so were they
counted fit to take a wife. With the Sheik of these men Nefra often
talked, and for her pleasure at different times he and his sons scaled
every one of the pyramids before her eyes, returning safely from their
dizzy journey to her side.

"Why cannot I do as you do?" she asked of this sheik at length. "I am
light and surefooted, and my head does not swim upon a height; also I
have limbs as long as yours."

The Captain of the Pyramids, for so he was commonly called, looked at
her, astonished, and shook his head.

"It is impossible," he said. "No woman has ever climbed those stone
mountains; that is, except the Spirit of the Pyramids herself."

"Who is the Spirit of the Pyramids?"

"Lady, we know not," he answered. "We never ask her, and when we see
her in the full moon upon her journeyings, we veil our faces."

"Why do you veil your faces, Captain?"

"Because if we did not we should go mad, as men have done who looked
into her eyes."

"Why do they go mad?"

"Because too much beauty breeds madness, as perchance you may find out
one day, Lady," he answered; words that brought the colour to Nefra's
brow.

"Who and what is this spirit?" she continued hastily. "And what does
she do?"

"We are not certain, but the story tells that long, long ago there was
a maiden queen of this land who would not marry because she loved some
man of a humble station. Now it came about that strangers invaded
Egypt, which was weak and divided, and conquered. Then the king of the
strangers, seeing the beauty of this queen and that he might build his
throne upon a sure foundation, wished to take her to wife, even by
force. But she fled from him and in her despair climbed the greatest
of the pyramids, he following after her. Reaching its crest she hurled
herself thence and was crushed, seeing which faintness took hold of
the king, so that he, too, fell to the ground and died. After this
they buried both of them in a secret chamber of one of the pyramids--
which is not known, but I think it must have been the second since
there the spirit is most often seen."

"A pretty tale," said Nefra, "but is that the end of it?"

"Not quite, Lady, since to it hangs a prophecy. It is that when
another king follows another Queen of Egypt up the pyramid whence this
one fell, whichever it may have been, and there wins her love, the
avenging spirit of her who threw herself thence will find rest and no
more bring destruction upon men."

"I would see this spirit," said Nefra. "As I am a woman she cannot
make me mad."

"Nor being a woman, Lady, do I think that she will appear to you.
Nevertheless, it may be her pleasure to possess your soul for her own
purposes," he added thoughtfully.

"My soul is my own and no one shall possess it," answered Nefra in
anger. "Nor indeed do I believe that there is such a spirit, who think
that what you and other foolish men have seen was nothing but a moon-
cast shadow travelling among the graves. So tell me no more such idle
tales."

"There are one or two mad fellows living among the tombs who know more
of that moon-cast shadow than I do, Lady. Still it may be as you say,"
replied the Sheik, bowing courteously after the ancient fashion of the
East to a superior. "Yes, maybe you are right. Have it as you will,"
and he turned to go.

"Stay," said Nefra, "it is my wish that you who have more skill and
knowledge of them than any other man, should teach me to climb those
pyramids. Let us begin upon the third, which is the smallest, and at
once. The others we can conquer afterwards when I am more accustomed
to the work."

Now the man stared at her and began to protest.

"Have you not the commands of the holy prophet Roy and of the Council
of the Order to obey me in all things?" asked Nefra presently.

"That is so, Lady, though why we should obey you I do not know."

"Nor do I quite, Captain, seeing that you can climb pyramids and I
cannot, and you are therefore greater than I. Still, there are the
orders and you know what happens to those who break the commands of
the Council. Now let us begin."

The Sheik reasoned and prayed and almost wept, but all that happened
was that Nefra exclaimed at last:

"If you are afraid to go up that pyramid, I will go by myself. Then,
you know, I may fall."

So the end of it was that the afflicted Sheik summoned his son, a
lissom youth who could climb like a goat, bidding him bring with him a
long rope made of twisted palm fibre, which rope he fastened round
Nefra's slender waist. But now there was more trouble, for Ru, who had
been listening to all this talk amazed, asked him what he was doing
binding his lady like a slave.

The Sheik explained, while Nefra nodded assent.

"But it cannot be," said Ru. "My duty is to accompany this Noble One
everywhere."

"Then, friend Ru," said Nefra, "accompany me up the pyramid."

"Up the pyramid!" said Ru, puffing out his cheeks. "Look at me, I pray
you, Mistress, and say whether I am a cat or a monkey that I can climb
up a slope of smooth stone from earth to heaven. Ere we had gone the
length of that rope I should fall and break my neck. Rather would I
fight ten men single-handed than be so mad."

"It is true. I think that you will make no good scaler of stone
mountains, friend Ru," said Nefra, surveying the Ethiopian's mighty
form which had grown no smaller with the passage of the years. "Now
cease from talking, for we waste time. If you cannot go up the
pyramid, stand at the bottom of it, just beneath me, and if I slip and
fall, catch me as I come."

"Catch you as you come! Catch you as you come!" gasped Ru.

Without more words Nefra went to the foot of the third pyramid, up
which the Sheik, who also seemed to be empty of speech, began to mount
by the way he knew, having the end of the rope that was about Nefra
tied round his middle. She followed him, her feet bare and her robe
tucked up about her knees, as he bade her, while after her came his
son watching her every movement.

"Hearken, men," groaned Ru. "If you suffer my Lady to slip, you had
better stop on that pyramid for the rest of your lives, for if you
come down I will kill you both."

"If she slips, we shall slip also. The gods bear me witness that it is
no fault of mine," answered the Sheik, who was lying on his face upon
the slope of the pyramid.

Now it is to be told that Nefra proved an apt pupil at this game. She
had the eye of a hawk, the courage of a lion, and was sure-footed as
an ape. Up she went, setting her hands and feet exactly where her
guide had done, till they had conquered half the height.

"It is enough for to-day," said the Sheik. "No beginner of our race
comes farther at the first trial; that is the rule. Rest here awhile,
and then descend. My son will place your feet where they should go."

"I obey," said Nefra, and turned herself round as her guide had done
above her, to see nothing beneath her save a sheer gulf of space and
Ru, grown small, standing on the sand at the bottom. Then for the
first time she grew dizzy.

"My head swims," she said faintly.

"Turn about again," said the Sheik, nor could his quiet voice quite
conceal the agony of his fear.

She obeyed, and her strength came back to her, her flesh obeying the
will within.

"I am well again," she said.

"Then, Lady, turn once more, for if you do not do so now you never
will."

For the second time she obeyed, and lo! she no longer feared the
height, the spirit within her had conquered her mortal tremblings.
After this the descent was easy, for she could see where to place her
hands and feet in the fissures of that hot and shining marble;
moreover, the young man beneath, who, knowing every one of them, was
able to keep his face to the pyramid, guided her as to where to set
them. So they came safely to the ground, where Nefra sat a little
while, panting and smiling at Ru who mopped his brow with his robe,
his big eyes starting from his head, for never before had he been so
frightened.

"Have you had enough of the pyramids, Lady?" asked the Sheik as he
loosed the rope from about her.

"By no means," answered Nefra, springing up and clapping her sore
hands. "I love the work and never shall I have had enough of them till
I can climb them all alone by moonlight, as it is said that you can
do."

"Isis, Mother of Heaven!" exclaimed the Sheik, throwing up his hands,
"this is no mortal maid; this is a goddess; this is the Spirit of the
Pyramids herself appearing in earthly form."

"Yes," said Nefra, "I think that is what I am--the Spirit of the
Pyramids. Now will it please you to meet me here to-morrow at the same
time, when I hope that we may be able to reach the top of the smallest
of them."

Then having put on her sandals, before the unhappy man could answer,
she departed at a run followed by Ru, who was so astonished that he
could not speak.



This was but a beginning, for what Nefra prophesied, that she
performed. At this time all the strength of her young and burning
nature was directed to one thing only--the mastery of those pyramids.
It was a small ambition, yet to her, in the day of her dawning
womanhood, it was everything. She had been told that by birth she was
Queen of Egypt. It moved her little, for dwelling amid those deserted
temples and tombs the royalty of Egypt seemed to her a dream, or at
least something far away. But the pyramids were near, and what she
desired was to be Queen of the Pyramids which, she was also told, her
far-off ancestors had raised up to be their tombs. Moreover, that
story of a spirit which haunted them had stirred her. She did not
believe in the Spirit, but since youth is credulous over matters that
have to do with love, she believed the story. She saw that fair young
queen, such a one as she was, who had also learned to climb the
pyramids, flying to the top of the tallest of them and thence hurling
herself to doom to escape one whom she hated and who had humbled her
country to the dust, thus bringing conquered and conqueror to a common
doom. Also she found something beautiful, something that touched the
heart in the pendant of this story, namely, that in a day to come
another young and lovely queen would fly up one of those pyramids
pursued by another alien lover, and that there on the verge of dizzy
death, their hate would melt in the fires of passion, thus bringing
blessings on the land for the rule of which they fought.

As yet Nefra knew nothing of love, still Nature was at work in her, as
it is in the smallest child, and she understood something of the
meaning of this beautiful fable, and the dim thoughts that sprang from
it warmed her sleeping soul. Meanwhile she had but one desire--to
achieve that which seemed to be impossible to woman, to conquer the
pyramids, not understanding in those days that the thing was an
allegory and that she, whose strong spirit could enable her to dare so
many dangers and to overcome them with her young body, might also in
time come to meet subtler perils and tread them beneath her conquering
feet.

Moreover, at this time the desire of prayer and the mystery of
communion with That which is above mankind, That which the dwellers
upon earth called God, came home to her, not from any teaching of Roy
or Tau, but, as it were, out of her own soul. Above all things she
yearned for this communion, and there fell upon her one of the strange
fancies, some would call them madnesses, which often enough possess
those who are passing from childhood into the fulness of life, or from
the fulness of life into the twilight that precedes the darkness of
death. This was her particular dream, or illusion, or vision of the
Truth, that she could best make her prayer and come into closest
communion with the Spirit which brooded over her and all the world, in
utter solitude upon the summit of those pyramids. It was a folly,
perhaps, yet a noble folly. At least in the end she reaped its fruit,
for within a year she learned to climb them all and this quite alone.

The Sheik of the Pyramids and his sons who had instructed her, the art
and craft of whose family it had been for generations to scale these
stone mountains for praise and reward on days of festival, were
astonished and abased to see themselves equalled or outpassed in their
peculiar business by a mere maiden.

At the beginning of the adventure they had been summoned before the
Council of the Order, who had grown alarmed at the reports of Ru and
Kemmah as to this vagary which had seized upon one whose life was
precious, and asked as to its peril. They replied that there was none
for those to whom the gift was given, since not for six generations
had a single man among them come to his death from following this
business. Yet, they added, that to those who were not of their family,
it was fatal, since many had tried to share their secret and its
fruits, but all of them had perished miserably, an answer that
frightened the Council. Yet because of the revelations of Roy, they
did nothing to restrain Nefra, who went her way about the matter and
took no harm at all, till at length by day or even by night when the
moon was at its full, she could reach the top of any of the pyramids
as quickly as the Sheik or his sons.

Then that family abased themselves before her and, gathering together,
prayed her to accept the captaincy and leadership of them all, since
she had outpassed them all. But Nefra only laughed and said that it
was nothing and she would not, and ordered that they should be given
rewards such as she had to bestow. Thereafter she had the freedom of
the pyramids and was allowed to climb them when and how she liked
without the attendance of the Sheik or his sons.

Yet of this at last came trouble.



CHAPTER VII

THE PLOT OF THE VIZIER

Nefra, as has been said, when the fancy took her made a custom of
climbing one or other of the pyramids, generally at the hour of the
rising or the setting of the sun, and, standing there upon the topmost
flat coping-stones, of praying in that glorious loneliness. Or
perchance she would not pray but content herself with looking down
upon the world beneath, reflecting the while upon what fortunes it
might have to offer her, or on such other matters as come into a
maiden's mind.

Now this habit of hers became known, not only among the members of the
Order and their dependents, but to many who dwelt or journeyed beyond
the boundaries of what was called the Holy Ground, upon which no
stranger dared to set his foot. Nor was this strange, seeing that her
slender form thus poised between earth and heaven and outlined against
the sky at dawn or sunset could be seen from far away, even from the
Nile itself when it was in flood. Most held it to be that of the
Spirit of the Pyramids herself whose appearance thus heralded trouble
in Egypt, for there were few indeed who believed it to be possible
that any woman could adventure herself in this fashion, or find the
strength and skill to climb up marble like a lizard.

Soon the story of the marvel spread far and wide, and even came to the
Court of King Apepi.

One evening Nefra, having climbed the second pyramid in this fashion,
descended as usual and because the light was failing chose a somewhat
shorter route that brought her to the ground not by the southern face
where Ru was waiting to receive her, but just round the angle on that
face which looked towards the west where the light of the dying day
still shone. Having leapt lightly to the sand, she looked about for Ru
and instead of him saw four men approaching her, of whom at first she
took little note, thinking in the fading light that these were the
Sheik of the Pyramids and his sons who came to inquire of her about
the new road she had found upon the western face of this pyramid. So
she stood still and they drew near, then hesitated a little as though
they were afraid of her, till presently a voice called out:

"Woman or spirit, seize her! Let her not escape us! Think of the great
reward and seize her!"

Thus encouraged, with a bound they came at her. Understanding her
peril Nefra turned to fly up the pyramid again and already was some
feet above the sand when the first of the men caught her by the ankle
and dragged her down.

"Ru!" she cried in a clear and piercing voice. "To my aid, Ru. I am
snared, Ru!"

Now as it chanced Ru was very near, only just round the angle of the
pile indeed, because having lost sight of Nefra in the shadow as she
descended, feeling disturbed, he was advancing to the western face
where the light was better to discover if perchance she were there. He
heard her cry for help; he rushed forward and, turning the corner, saw
Nefra on the ground, while round her were the four men, three of them
binding her with a rope while the fourth was tying a linen bandage
across her face.

With a roar he leapt upon them holding his great axe aloft. He who had
the bandage saw him first, a black, gigantic figure whom doubtless he
took for some terrible guardian spirit and strove to leap past him and
fly. The axe flashed and down he went, dead, cloven through and
through. Then the other men who at first thought that a lion had
roared, saw also, and for a moment stood amazed. Instantly Ru was on
them. Letting fall the axe he gripped the two who were nearest,
seizing each of them by the throat. He dashed their heads together,
and putting out his mighty strength, cast them far away to right and
left in such fashion that where they fell, there they lay, stone dead.
The fourth man had drawn a knife either to stab at Ru or to kill
Nefra; but when he saw the fate of his fellows all courage left him
and, screaming with fear, he let fall the knife and fled away. Ru
snatched the knife from the sand and hurled it after him. A yell of
pain told him that his aim was true, though because of the shadows he
could no longer see the man. Ru would have started in pursuit, but
Nefra, struggling from the ground, cried:

"Nay. Bide here, there may be more of them."

"True," he answered, "and the dog has it."

Then, without more words, snatching up Nefra and holding her to his
breast with his left arm as though she were but a babe, he found his
axe and, without waiting to look at the dead, sped away with her along
the western base of the pyramid, till presently they were among tombs
where they could be seen no more.

"This is the end of those tricks of yours, Lady," he said roughly, for
he was shaking, not with fear, but at the thought of what she had
escaped.

"Had it not been for you, it might have been worse," answered Nefra.
"Still, I have learned my lesson. Set me down now, O most dear Ru, for
my breath has returned to me."

When presently all this tale was told to Kemmah and to the Council of
the Order, fear and dismay took hold of them; even Tau the Wise was
dismayed. Only Roy the Prophet remained undisturbed.

"The maid will take no harm," he said. "I know it from those who
cannot lie, and therefore it is that I have permitted her to follow
her fancy as to the climbing of the pyramids, for it is ill to cross
or to coop up such a one as she, as it is good that she should learn
to look upon the face of dangers and to overcome them. Still,
doubtless this is the beginning of perils and henceforward we must be
upon our guard."

Then he sent out men to bring in the dead whom Ru had slain and to
search for the wounded man and, if he could be found, to capture him
alive. This, however, did not happen, for when the light came again of
that man there remained only certain bloodstains upon the sand which
after a while were lost, showing that he had been able to staunch his
hurt, and, by walking upon stones, to leave no tracks behind him.

The dead, however, told their own story, for they were of the
Shepherds race and two of them wore garments such as were used in the
Court of King Apepi. The third, it would seem, was a guide, though of
what people could not be known, seeing that it was on his head that
the axe of Ru had fallen, and who could tell aught of whence he came
upon whose head the axe of Ru had fallen?

So the bodies of those woman-thieves were thrown to the jackals and
the vultures, that their /Kas/ might find nothing to inhabit, and
their souls with all solemnity were cursed by Roy in a Chapter of the
Order, that from age to age they might find no rest because of their
double crime. For had they not violated the pact of generations and
entered the Holy Ground which was the home of the consecrated Order of
the Dawn, and there striven to steal away or perchance to murder a
certain lady who in the world without was not known by any name?

Thence the matter ended for a space, except that at dawn or sunset
Nefra was no longer seen standing upon the crests of pyramids.

Yet some while later a sick and sorry man with a bandaged back, who
from time to time coughed up blood as though from a pierced lung,
staggered into the Court at Tanis, where his face was known, and being
admitted, told his tale to a great officer, who listened to it
wrathfully and commanded a scribe to write it down word for word. When
it had finished that officer cursed this man because he had failed in
his mission.

"Is it my fault?" asked the man. "Was it right to send those who are
born of women to capture a spirit or a witch?--since no maid in whom
warm blood flows can run up and down pyramids faced with smooth and
shining stone, as flies run up and down a wall, which we saw this one
do. Is it right to expect them to fight and overcome a black devil
from the Underworld, larger than any who walks the earth, whose voice
is the voice of a lion and whose hands can crush skulls as though they
were pomegranates? Is it right to command them to enter a haunted
place peopled by gods and wizards and the ghosts of the dead? A fool
was I to listen to you and your promises of great reward, and fools
were my companions, as doubtless they think in the Underworld to-day,
for who is there in Egypt that does not know that to violate the Holy
Ground of the Order of the Dawn is to court death and damnation? Now
give me my price that I may divide it among my children."

"Your price!" gasped the high officer. "Were you not wounded, it
should be rods. Go, dog, go!"

"Where am I to go," asked the man, "I who am accursed?"

"To the home of all who fail--to hell," replied the officer, making a
sign to his servants.

So they threw him out, and to hell or elsewhere he went very shortly.
For that knife of his which Ru had cast after him with so good an aim
was poisoned. Moreover, it had struck him beneath the shoulder and
pierced his lung.

The officer went into the private chamber where sat King Apepi with
some of his counsellors and his young son, the Prince Khian, the heir
apparent to the throne. This Apepi was a big, fleshy man still in
middle age, with the hooked nose of the Shepherds and black, beady
eyes, one who was violent in his temper, revengeful and fierce-natured
like all his people, yet very anxious-minded, a fearer of evil.

Very different from him was his son Khian, born of an Egyptian mother
with royal blood in her veins, whom Apepi had married for reasons of
policy. More--he had loved her in his fashion, and when she died in
giving birth to her only child, Khian, had taken no other queen in her
place, though of those who were not queens he had many about him. And
now this child Khian had grown up to manhood. He was gentle-natured
and soft-eyed, showing but little trace of the Shepherd blood, strong
and handsome in body and quick in mind, one, too, who thought and
studied, a soldier and a hunter, yet a lover of peace, by nature a
ruler of men who desired to heal the wounds of Egypt and make her
great.

Before these appeared the old Vizier Anath, and told his tale, reading
what had been written down from the lips of the wounded man.

Apepi listened earnestly.

"Do you know, Vizier, who this mad girl is who has a fancy for
climbing the Great Pyramid?" he asked at length.

"No, your Majesty, though perhaps I might hazard a guess," answered
the Vizier in a doubtful voice.

"Then I will tell you, Vizier. She is no other than the only child of
Kheperra, the Pharaoh of the South, who fell in the battle years ago.
I am sure of it. It is known that such a child was born, for as you
may remember, with the help of certain bribed Theban nobles, we tried
to capture her and her mother, the Queen Rima the daughter of the King
of Babylon. It would seem that her gods fought for her, since both of
them escaped, and of those who went to take them only one was left
alive. The rest, he swore, were all killed by a black giant who
guarded them. Now there was such a giant for he fought at the side of
Kheperra and bore his body out of the battle. More, he was seen upon a
trading boat going down the Nile, and with him were two women and a
child, doubtless disguised. By craft these three slipped through the
hands of my officers at Memphis, who afterwards were degraded for
their negligence, and it was reported that they had made their way to
Babylon. Yet our spies tell us nothing of their coming to Babylon,
which is strange if Queen Rima and her daughter, who is called
Princess of Egypt, reached the Court of Ditanah with whom now and
again we have been at war for many years. Therefore, either they are
dead or they are hiding in Egypt."

"It would seem that this is so, Pharaoh," said the Vizier, and the
other councillors nodded assent.

"Of late," went on Apepi, "a wind of rumour has sprung up which blows
from the Cataracts to the sea, and whispers in the ears of men in
every city and village on the Nile. This rumour says that the Queen of
Egypt lives and ere long will appear to take her throne. It says,
moreover, that she shelters among that strange Brotherhood of learned
folk who have their home in the tombs of the old pyramids near Memphis
and who are called the Order of the Dawn. It was to find out the truth
of this matter that, somewhat against my counsel, you, Vizier Anath,
sent certain bold fellows under promise of great reward to spy upon
this Order which has no traitors, and to get sight of this wondrous
maiden who can climb the pyramids and who, rumour says, is none other
than the Princess of Egypt herself, though for aught I know she may be
but a juggler."

"Or a spirit," suggested the Vizier, "since it seems impossible that a
woman can perform such feats, and as to this matter there is a
legend."

"Or even a spirit, though for my part I put little faith in spirits.
Well, the men go; they creep into the Holy Land, as this place is
called; they see the climber descending a pyramid; though I gave no
such order, they seize her, which shows that she is flesh and blood;
she calls aloud, a black giant--mark! again a black giant--rushes
roaring to her rescue. He slays three of these men as though they were
but children and hurls the man's own knife after the fourth, wounding
him sorely, so that the maiden escapes and the Order of the Dawn is
put upon its guard. Now I say that this maiden is no other than Nefra,
Princess of Egypt, still guarded by that Ethiopian who bore her
father's body from the battlefield."

When the murmur of assent had died away, Apepi continued:

"I say also that this business is very dangerous. Let us look it in
the face. What are we Shepherds? We are a race that generations ago
entered Egypt and took possession of its richest lands, driving the
king back to Thebes and usurping the throne of the North. This I still
hold, and the South also in a fashion, for we have corrupted its chief
nobles and its high priests, binding them with chains of gold. Yet we
are in peril, having been much weakened by ceaseless wars with
Babylon; also, many of our people have intermarried with Egyptians, as
indeed I did myself, so that the Shepherds are becoming stained to the
colour of the dwellers on the Nile. Now these Egyptians are a stubborn
and a subtle folk, also they are loyal to their old traditions and to
the blood of the kings that ruled them for thousands of years. If one
day they should learn certainly that a queen of that blood lives, it
well may be that they will rise like the Nile in flood and sweep us
into nothingness. Therefore I say that this queen must be destroyed
and with her the Brotherhood that is called the Order of the Dawn."

In the silence that followed the Prince Khian rose from the chair in
which he was seated below the throne, and making obeisance, spoke for
the first time, saying:

"O King my father, hear me. As is known to you I study many things
that have to do with the traditions and the mysteries of ancient
Egypt, and amongst others from certain instructed men and from old
writings I have learned much of this Order of the Dawn. It is an old
order and its members are peaceful folk who fight with the spirit and
not with the sword, a very powerful order, moreover, for although none
know them, it has adherents by the thousand throughout Egypt, perhaps
even in this Court, and, it is reported, in far lands as well,
especially in Babylonia. Further, it is headed by a mighty prophet, an
ancient man named Roy, if indeed he is a man; one who holds commune
with the gods, and like all those over whom he rules, is protected by
the gods. Lastly, by treaty made with our forefathers, the first of
the Shepherd kings, and renewed by every one of them, even by
yourself, my Father, this Holy Ground of graves where this order
dwells in the shadow of the pyramids, is sacred and inviolate. Under
pain of a dreadful curse, which curse it would seem has fallen swiftly
upon those four who, somewhat against your counsel, and certainly
against mine, broke the pact and entered this land, and there, not
satisfied with spying, tried to do violence to a certain lady or
spirit. Yet under oath and custom it may not be entered, nor may any
harm be worked to the dwellers in the tombs. Therefore, Pharaoh my
father, I pray you think no more of bringing destruction on this order
and on a maiden whom you believe to be the daughter of Kheperra, since
if you attempt it I am sure that you will bring destruction upon
yourself and upon many of those who serve you."

Now the King grew angry.

"Almost might one think, Prince," he said with a sneer, "that you
yourself had been sworn of this Order of the Dawn. What are oaths and
treaties when our throne itself is at stake? There is disaffection in
the land. Babylon harasses us continually, and why? Because she says
that we have worked wrong to one of her princesses who married
Kheperra, or have done her to death. You do not know it, but I have it
in a recent letter from her King. I say that all this nest of plotters
must be destroyed, whether it be your will or not."

The Prince Khian seated himself again and was silent, but Anath the
Vizier said:

"O Pharaoh, a thought has come to me: is there not another way? Can
you not walk a gentler road and gain your ends without breaking faith
with the Order of the Dawn, which indeed is greatly to be feared,
since, like the Prince Khian, I hold that it is protected by Heaven
itself? You believe that this Lady of the Pyramids is the lawful child
of Kheperra, and it may be so. If this can be established, here is my
plan. Send an embassy to Roy the Prophet and demand that this lady
should be given to you in marriage and become your lawful queen, as
she well may do, seeing that now you have none. Thus would you tie all
Egypt together in the bonds of love and keep your hands unstained."

At these words Khian laughed aloud and the councillors smiled. But
Apepi stared at Anath, then dropped his fierce eyes and considered
awhile. At length he lifted them again and said:

"You are wise in your fashion, Anath. A lion's cub can be tamed as
well as killed, although it must be remembered that if tamed, still it
grows at last into a lion and longs to walk the desert and fill itself
with wild meat, as did its begetters from the first of time. Why
should I not wed this maiden--if she lives, as I believe--and thus
unite the House of the Shepherd kings and that of the old Pharaohs of
the land? It would put an end to many differences and thereafter Egypt
might be one and at peace, able also to look Babylon in the face.
Only, what says the Prince Khian? I am not so old but that children
might be born of such a union, undertaken in the hope that the eldest
of them, like to the Pharaohs of old times, should wear the double
Crown of North and South without question or dispute; for ever it was
the law of Egypt that the right to royalty came through the mother
born of the true race of Pharaohs, and thus has dynasty been linked to
dynasty from the beginning."

Now the Vizier and all there present looked at Khian, wondering what
he might answer, because upon this answer in the end might hang his
inheritance to the crown of the North.

For a little while he made none. Then suddenly he laughed again and
said:

"It seems that the case stands thus. /If/ there lives one who is the
heiress of Kheperra, the dead Pharaoh of the South, and therefore of
the ancient royal blood of Egypt that ruled for thousands of years
before we Shepherds seized a portion of their inheritance, and /if/
she consents to wed my royal father, the King, and /if/, having wed
him, a child is born of this marriage, I, the present apparent heir,
under such a solemn treaty of union may be dispossessed of my
heritage. Well, here are many Ifs, and should all of them be fulfilled
a score of years or so hence, does it so greatly matter? Do I so much
desire to be King of the North and the inheritor of wars and troubles,
that for the sake of such a rule I should seek to prevent the healing
of Egypt's wounds and the welding together of her severed crowns?
Man's day is short, and Pharaoh or peasant, soon he is forgot and
perchance, in the end, it will be better for him if he has been a
bringer of peace rather than the wearer of a ravelled robe of power
that he does not seek."

"Truly I was right when I said that you must belong to yonder Order of
the Dawn, for not so in a like case should I have answered the King my
father, Khian," said Apepi, astonished. "Still, let that be, for each
man dreams his own dream and feeds upon his own follies. Therefore I
take you at your word, that as the heir apparent to my throne you have
nothing to say against this plan, to my mind wild enough, yet one of
which trial may be made, even if in the end it should damage you. Now
hearken, Khian, it is my will to send you, the Prince of the North, on
an embassy to this prophet Roy and to the Council of the Order of the
Dawn. Will you, who are wise and politic, undertake such a mission?"

"Before I answer, Pharaoh, tell me what words would be put in the
mouth of your ambassador. Would these be words of peace or war?"

"Both, Khian. He would say to the People of the Dawn that the Pharaoh
of the North was grieved that against his will the pact between him
and them was broken by certain madmen in his service who every one of
them had paid the penalty of their crime, in atonement of which he
brought gifts to be laid as offerings upon the altars of whatever gods
they worship. He would inquire whether it is true that among them
shelters Nefra, the child of Kheperra and of Rima, the daughter of the
King of Babylon, and if he discovers that this is so, which may prove
impossible, for perhaps she might be hidden away and all knowledge of
her denied, he would declare in the presence of their Council, and of
the maiden herself, if may be, that Apepi, King of the North, being
still a man of middle age and one who lacks a lawful queen, offers to
take this maiden, Nefra, to wife with all due solemnities, and having
obtained your consent thereto, to swear that a child of hers, should
she bear any, shall by right of birth after my death wear the double
crown of Egypt as Pharaoh of the Upper and the Lower Lands. All of
these things he would prove by writings sealed with my own seal and
your own, which would be given to him."

"Such are the words of peace, O King, which I hear and understand. Now
let me learn what are those of war."

"Few and simple, it would seem, Khian. If this maiden lives and the
offer is refused by her or on her behalf, then you would say that I,
the King Apepi, tear up all treaties between myself and the People of
the Dawn whom I will destroy as plotters against my throne and the
peace of Egypt."

"And if it should be proved that there is no such maiden, what then?"

"Then uttering no threats, you would return and report to me."

"Life at this Court is wearisome to me since my return from the Syrian
wars, Pharaoh, and here is a new business to which I have a fancy--I
know not why. Therefore, if it pleases you to send me, I will
undertake your mission," said Khian after thinking for a while. "Yet
is it well that I should go as the Prince Khian, seeing that although
the throne is your gift and you can bequeath it to whom you will,
hitherto I have been looked upon as your heir, and this Order of the
Dawn might be mistrustful of such a messenger, or even make strange
use of him? Thus he might remain as a hostage among them."

"Which mayhap I should ask you to do, Khian, as a proof of my good
faith until this marriage is accomplished. For understand one thing.
If the Princess Nefra lives, it is my will to wed her, because, as I
see, she and she alone is the road to safety. He who crosses me in
this matter is my enemy to the death; whether he be the prophet Roy or
any other man, surely he shall die."

"You are quick of decision, my father. An hour ago no such thought had
entered your mind, and now it holds no other."

"Aye, Son, for now, thanks to Anath, I see a ship that will bear me
and Egypt over a rising flood of troubles which soon might overwhelm
us both, and after the fashion of the great, I embark before it be
swept downstream. Vizier, when you espied that ship, you did good
service, and for you there is a chain of gold and much advancement.
Nay, keep your thanks till it has borne us safe to harbour. For the
rest, if you, Khian, think this mission too dangerous--and it has
dangers--I will seek another envoy, though you are the one whom I
should choose. I doubt whether you will deceive these keen-eyed
magicians by taking another name and pretending that you are not
Khian, but an officer of the Court, or a private person. Still, do so
if you will."

"Why not, Pharaoh?" answered Khian, laughing, "seeing that, if all
goes well, it is your purpose to make of me a very private person, for
then I who this morning was the heir apparent, or so it pleased you to
say, shall be but one of many king's sons. If that chances I would ask
whether I who shall have lost much may retain my private estates and
revenues that have come to me through my mother or by the endowment of
your Majesty? For I who do not greatly care for crowns could wish to
remain rich with means to live at ease and follow those pursuits I
love."

"That is sworn to you, Khian, here and now and upon my royal word. Let
it be recorded!"

"I thank the King, and now by permission I will withdraw myself to
talk with that wounded man before he dies, since perhaps he can tell
me much that may be useful upon this business."

Then the Prince Khian prostrated himself and went.

When he had watched him go, King Apepi thought to himself:

Surely this young man has a great heart. Few would not have winced
beneath such a blow, unless indeed they planned treachery, which Khian
could never do. Almost am I grieved. Yet it must be so. If that royal
maiden lives, I will wed her and swear the throne to her children, for
thus only can I and Egypt sleep in peace. Then he said aloud:

"The Council is ended and woe to him that betrays its secrets, for he
shall be thrown to the lions."



CHAPTER VIII

THE SCRIBE RASA

Within thirty days of the holding of this Council, a messenger
appeared on what was acknowledged to be the frontier of the Holy
Ground that was marked by the highest point to which the Nile rose in
times of flood, and called to one who was working in the field that he
had a writing which he prayed him to deliver to the Prophet of the
Order of the Dawn.

The man came and, staring at the messenger stupidly, asked:

"What is the Order of the Dawn and who is its prophet?"

"Perchance, Friend, you might make inquiries," said the messenger,
handing him the roll and with it no small present. "Meanwhile I, who
may always be found at dawn or sunset seated at my prayers in yonder
group of palms, will bide here and await the answer."

The farmer, for such he seemed to be, scratched his head and, taking
the roll and the present, said that he would try to serve one so
generous, though he knew not of whom to ask concerning this order and
its prophet.

On the following day at sunset he appeared again and handed to the
messenger another roll which he declared he had been charged by some
person unknown to give to him for delivery to the King Apepi at his
Court at Tanis. The messenger, mocking this peasant, said that he had
never heard of King Apepi and did not know where Tanis might be; still
out of kindness of heart, he would try to discover and make due
delivery of the roll after which the two smiled at each other and
departed.

Some days later this writing was read to Apepi by his private scribe.
It ran thus:


 "In the name of that Spirit who rules the world, and of his servant
  Osiris, god of the dead, greeting to Apepi, King of the Shepherds,
  now dwelling at the city of Tanis in Lower Egypt.

 "Know, O King Apepi, that we, Roy the Prophet and the Council of
  the Order of the Dawn, who sit in the shadows of the ancient
  pyramids built long ago by certain kings of Egypt, once members of
  our order, to serve as tombs for their bodies and to be monuments
  to their greatness on which all eyes might gaze till the end of
  the world; we who from age to age drink of the wisdom of the
  Sphinx, the Terror of the desert, have received your message and
  given it consideration. Know, O King, that although of late we
  have suffered grievous wrong at the hands of some who seem to have
  been your officers, for which wrong those unhappy ones paid with
  their lives, as all must do who attempt to violate our sanctity
  and to peer into our secrets; in obedience to the precepts of our
  Order, we forgive that wrong and having put it aside as a matter
  of small account, we will receive the ambassador whom you desire
  to send to us to discuss matters of which you do not reveal the
  purport. Know, O King, further, that this ambassador, whoever he
  may be, must come alone, for it is contrary to our rules to admit
  more than one stranger beyond the borders of the Holy Ground. If
  after learning this it be still your pleasure to send that
  ambassador, let him appear before the next full moon in the same
  grove of palms where this roll was delivered to your messenger.
  Here one of those who serve us will find him and guide him to
  where we are, nor shall he suffer any harm at our hands."


When Apepi had heard this letter, he sent for the Prince Khian and
asked him privately whether still he dared to adventure himself
unaccompanied among the people of the Order of the Dawn and in a place
which all men swore was haunted.

"Why not, Father?" asked Khian. "If mischief is meant against me, an
ambassador's guard would be no protection, nor are ghosts and spirits
to be frightened away by numbers. If I go at all I would as soon go
alone as in company. Also it is plain that thus only can this embassy
be carried out, because yonder Brotherhood will not receive more than
a single man."

"As it pleases you, Son," replied Apepi. "Go now and make ready.
To-morrow the writing shall be delivered to you by the Vizier together
with my instructions; also a guard will be waiting to conduct you to
the place appointed by this prophet. Go and return in safety,
remembering our bargain and bringing this maiden with you in charge of
women of her own people, if so it may be, for thus shall you earn my
favour."

"I go," said Khian, "to return, or perchance not to return, as the
gods may direct."

So, everything having been made ready and the roll containing the
offers and the threats of King Apepi given into his keeping, together
with offerings of gold for the gods of the Children of the Dawn and
presents of jewels for the Princess Nefra, if it should be proved that
she was the wondrous maiden who dwelt among them, Khian departed. Yet
he did not travel as the Prince, but rather as a Scribe of the Court,
Rasa by name, whom it had pleased the King to choose to be his envoy
upon a certain business. Leaving Tanis so secretly that few discovered
he had gone, he sailed up Nile in a ship whose sailors had never seen
him, and although they had orders to obey him in everything, took him
to be what he said he was, a messenger, Rasa by name, travelling upon
the royal business. Even the guard that accompanied him, six in
number, were soldiers from a distant city who had never looked upon
his face.

His journey ended, he reached the landing place in the afternoon upon
the day appointed and was escorted by the soldiers who bore the gold
and other gifts, also his travelling gear, to the grove of palms which
the messenger had described, as to which there could be no mistake,
for no other was in sight. Here he dismissed the guard, who left him
doubtfully and yet were glad to go before evening came, for like all
Egypt they believed this place to be haunted by the ghosts of the
mighty dead, also by the Spirit of the Pyramids whose eyes drove men
to madness.

"Now, as we are ordered by Anath the Vizier," said the captain of the
guard, "we and the ship in which you have travelled, my Lord Rasa,
depart to Memphis where we may be found when we are summoned, though
we are not sure that you will ever need a ship again."

"Why not, Captain?" asked Khian, or Rasa.

"Because this place has an evil repute, my Lord Rasa, and it is said
that no stranger who crosses yonder belt of sand ever returns."

"If so, what happens to him, Captain?"

"We do not know, but it is reported that he is walled up in a tomb and
left to perish there. Or, if he escapes this fate and is as young and
well-favoured as you are, perchance he meets the beauteous Spirit of
the Pyramids who wanders about in the moonlight, and becomes her
lover."

"If she is so fair, Captain, worse things might happen to a man."

"Nay, Lord Rasa, for when he kisses her on the lips, she looks into
her eyes and madness takes hold of him, so that he runs after her,
till at last he falls on the sand raving and, should he live at all,
remains thus all his days."

"Why does he not catch her, Captain?"

"Because she leads him to one of the pyramids, up which, being a
spirit, she can glide like a moonbeam but whither he cannot follow.
And when he sees that he has lost her, then his brain boils and he is
no more a man."

"You make me afraid, Captain. This would be a sad fate to happen to a
learned scribe, for such is really my trade, just when he had won
favour at the Court. Still, I have my orders and you know the doom of
him who disobeys, or even does not carry out, the commands of his
Majesty Apepi."

"Aye, Lord Rasa, I know well enough, for this king is very fierce, and
if he has set his mind on anything, ill to cross. Such a one, if he is
lucky, is shortened by a head, or if he is unlucky, is beaten to death
with rods."

"If so, Captain, it would seem better to run the risk of the ghosts,
or even of the terrible eyes of the Spirit of the Pyramids, rather
than to return with you, as I confess that I should wish. About my
neck I have a holy charm which is said to defend its wearer from all
tomb-dwellers and other evil things, and to this and to my prayers I
must trust myself. Soon I hope to see you again upon the ship, but if
you learn that I am dead, I pray of you, lay an offering for my soul
upon the first altar of Osiris that you find."

"I'll not forget it, Lord Rasa, for know that I like you well and
could have wished you a better fate," answered the captain, who was
kind-hearted; adding, as he departed with his company, "Perchance you
have offended Pharaoh or the Vizier, and one or other of them has
chosen this way to be rid of you."

"That man is as cheerful as a bullfrog croaking in a pool in a night
of storm," thought Khian to himself. "Well, perhaps he is right, and
if so, what will it matter when those pyramids have seen the Nile rise
another hundred times?"

Then he sat himself down upon the ground, resting his back against the
bole of one of the palms, and contemplated the mighty outlines of
these same pyramids, which hitherto he had only seen from far away,
thinking to himself, as Nefra had thought, that those who built them
must have been kings indeed. Also he reflected, not without pleasure,
for he was a lover of adventures and new things, upon the strangeness
of his mission and of the manner in which it had been thrust upon him.

If this royal maiden lives, he thought, and I succeed it means that I
lose a crown, and if I do not succeed, then it is also possible that I
shall lose the crown, since my father never forgives those who fail.
Indeed, it would be best for me if there is no such lady, or that I
should not find her. At any rate, there is some girl who climbs
pyramids, because before he died that woman-thief swore to me that he
saw her. He swore to me also that she was very beauteous, the
loveliest lady that ever he beheld, which almost proves to me that she
cannot have been the princess, for as the gods do not give everything,
princesses are always--or almost always--ugly. Moreover, they do not
climb pyramids but lie about and eat sweetmeats. Perhaps after all she
whom the dying thief believed he saw, if he saw any one, is a spirit,
and if so, may it be given to me to behold her, to do which I would
take my chance of madness. Meanwhile, these Children of the Dawn are
strange folk, to judge from all that I can learn concerning them, yet
it is said, most kindly, so perhaps they will not murder me, even if
they guess or know that I am the Prince Khian. What would be the use,
seeing there are so many who are princes, or who can be made princes
by a decree and a touch of a sceptre?

Reflecting thus, Khian fell asleep, for the afternoon was very hot and
he had found little rest upon that crowded boat.

While he was sleeping Roy the Prophet, the lord Tau, and the Princess
Nefra were taking counsel together in a chamber of the temple where
they dwelt.

"The messenger has landed, Prophet," said Tau; "it is reported to me
that he is already seated in the grove of palms."

"Is aught else reported, Tau, that is, as to his business?" asked Roy.
"If so, speak it out, since a command has come to me that the time is
at hand when our Lady of Egypt here"--and he pointed to Nefra--"should
be taken into our full counsel."

"Yes, Prophet. A certain brother of ours who is one of the Court of
King Apepi--look not astonished, Princess, for our brethren are
everywhere--informs me by the fashion that is known to you that this
business is one which concerns a certain lady very closely. To be
brief: When four men strove to carry off this lady, Ru the Ethiopian
made a mistake, for he killed three of them but suffered the fourth to
get away, though wounded to the death. This man reached the Court at
Tanis and before he died made a report which, added to other rumours,
assured King Apepi that a certain babe who escaped from his hands in
Thebes long ago--dwells among us here and is no other than the heiress
of the ancient line of the Pharaohs of Egypt."

"It seems that this king is a shrewd man," said Roy.

"Very shrewd," answered Tau, "and quick to decide; so much so that on
a hint given to him by his Vizier Anath, also a shred man, he
determined at once not to kill a certain lady, as at first he thought
to do, but to make her his queen, and thus, by promising their
heritage to her offspring, to unite the Upper and the Lower Lands
without war or trouble."

Now Nefra started, but before she could speak Roy answered:

"The scheme has merits, great merits, for thus would our ends be
attained and many sorrows and perils melt away like morning mist.
But," he added with a sigh, "what says Nefra our Princess, who after
to-night's ceremony will be our Queen?"

"I say," answered Nefra coldly, "that I am not a woman to be sold for
the price of a crown, or of a hundred crowns. This man, Apepi the
Usurper, is one of the fierce Shepherds who are the enemies of our
race. He is a thief of the desert who has stolen half Egypt and holds
it by force and fraud. He, who is more than old enough to be my
father, slew my father, the Pharaoh Kheperra, and strove to slay me
and my mother, the Queen Rima, the daughter of Babylon. Having failed
in this, now he seeks to buy me whom he has never seen, as an Arab
buys a mare of priceless blood, and for his own purposes to set me at
the head of his household. Prophet, I will have none of him. Rather
than enter his palace as a bride I will hurl myself from the tallest
pyramid and seek refuge with Osiris."

"Here we have the answer that I foresaw," said Roy with a little smile
upon his aged lips; "nor is it one that causes me to grieve, since
whatever its gains, such a union would be unholy. Fear not, Princess.
While the Order of the Dawn has power you are safe from the arms of
Apepi the Wolf. Tell me, Tau, according to the report that has reached
you, is this all that the King of the North has to say to us?"

"Nay, Prophet. When the roll that yonder messenger bears is opened, I
think that in it will be found written, that if the heiress of Egypt
is not delivered to him, then he proposes to take her by force, or if
he cannot do so, to send her down to death, and with her,
notwithstanding his treaties, every one of the Children of the Dawn
from the most aged to the babe in arms."

"Is it so?" said Roy. "Well, if a fool strives to drag a sleeping
snake from its hole, that snake awakes, puffs out its head, and
strikes, as mayhap Apepi will find before all is done. But these
things are not yet; time to talk of them when the royal hand is thrust
into the hole to grip the deadly hooded snake. Meanwhile, this envoy
from Apepi must be granted the hospitality which we have sworn to him,
and brought from the palm grove where he sits alone. Would it please
you, Princess, to throw a man's robe over that woman's dress of yours
and go to lead him here? Ru and the Lady Kemmah would accompany you,
keeping themselves out of sight? If so, being clever, you might learn
something from the man, who finding but a gentle youth sent to guide
him, would fear no trap, and perhaps even speak freely to such a one."

"Yes," answered Nefra, "I think that it would please me; that is, if
you are sure that there is no trap or ambush, since the walk to the
grove is pleasant and I have been cooped up of late."

"There is no ambush, Lady," replied Roy. "Since what happened awhile
ago by the pyramids our frontiers have been well guarded; also your
every step will be watched, although you do not see the watchers.
Therefore fear nothing. Learn all you can from this envoy and bring
him to the Sphinx where he will be blindfolded and led before us."

"I go," said Nefra, laughing. "To-morrow I shall be called a queen and
who knows whether afterwards I shall be suffered to walk alone."

So she went accompanied by Tau who summoned Ru and Kemmah in one of
the courts of the temple and there gave certain orders to them and to
others who seemed to be awaiting him. This done he returned to Roy and
looking him in the face, said in a low voice:

"Do you, O Prophet, who know so much, chance to have learned what may
be the name and quality of this envoy from Apepi?"

Now Roy looked him in the eyes and said:

"It comes into my mind, how or whence does not matter, that although
he travels as a simple officer of the Court, called I know not what,
the man is no other than the Prince Khian, Apepi's heir."

"So I think also," said Tau, "and not without reason. Tell me, holy
Prophet, have you learned aught concerning this Khian?"

"Much, Tau. From his boyhood he has been watched by those at Apepi's
Court who are our friends, and their report of him is very good. He
has his faults like other men in youth, and he is somewhat rash. Had
he not been so, never would he have undertaken this mission under
strange conditions. For the rest he is more Egyptian than Shepherd,
for in him the mother's blood runs strong; and if he worships any gods
at all, of which, he being a philosopher, I am not sure, they are
those of Egypt. Further, he is learned, brave, handsome of body, and
generous in mind; something of a dreamer, one who seeks that which he
will never find upon the earth, one, too, who longs to heal Egypt's
wounds. Indeed, he seems to be such a man as, had I a daughter, I
would choose for her in marriage if I might. This is the report that I
have concerning the Prince Khian. Is yours as good?"

"In all things it is the same, Prophet. Yet why does he come hither
upon such an errand, seeing that, if it succeeds, it may cost him his
succession to the Crown? I fear some trap."

"I think, Tau, that he comes for adventure, and because he seeks new
things; also because he is drawn to our doctrines and would study them
with his own eyes and ears, not knowing that he may find more than he
seeks."

"Is it in the hope that he will do so, Prophet, that you have put it
into the mind of the Princess Nefra to meet him yonder in the palm
grove?"

"It is, Tau. When I said that such a marriage as this Apepi proposes
had many merits, what I meant was, not that she should be thrown to
the Shepherd lion, but that a marriage between her and the Prince
Khian would have those merits. How could Egypt be better tied
together? Even if we were strong enough to wage it, we are haters of
war, and would not attain our ends by death and bloodshed. Yet to
propose such a thing would defeat itself, since, as she told us, this
Lady Nefra is not one to be sold or driven. Her heart and nothing else
is her guide, which she will follow fast and far."

"The heart of woman goes out more readily to princes than it does to
humble messengers. What if this one who sits among the palm trees does
not please her?"

"Then, Tau, all is finished and we must find another road. Let Fate
decide after she has judged, not of the Prince but of the man. We
cannot. Hearken. This envoy, however named, comes to learn what
thousands know already, whether or not the daughter and heiress of
Kheperra shelters among us. We can deny or we can confess. Which shall
we do?"

"If we deny, Prophet, certainly he will discover the truth otherwise
and set us down as liars and cowards. If we confess, he and the world
will know us for true men and brave, and that the oath which we swear
to the goddess of Verity is no empty form. So whatever we may lose, we
shall win honour even from our foes. Therefore, I say confess and face
the issue."

"So say I and the rest of the Council, Tau. To-night before the
delegates from all Egypt and elsewhere, the Princess is to be crowned
its Queen in the great hall of the temple, a matter that cannot be
hid, since the very bats will twitter it throughout the land.
Therefore it seems wise to me that this messenger should be present at
the ceremony and if he will, make open report of it to Apepi. There is
another thing of which he must also make report, Tau: namely, whether
the new-crowned Queen will take this Apepi as a husband."

"Already we know the answer, Prophet, but after it--what?"

"After it--Babylon. Listen, Tau. Apepi will send an army to destroy us
and to capture the Queen, but he will find nothing to destroy, for the
Order has its hiding places, and in Egypt are many tombs and catacombs
where soldiers dare not come, while the Queen will be far away. If
Apepi seeks a curse, let the curse fall upon him, as fall it shall
when a hundred thousand Babylonians pour down on Tanis in answer to
dead Rima's prayer and to right her daughter's wrongs."

"Be it so," said Tau. "Those who seek the face of War must be prepared
to look him in the eyes, for such is the rule of God and man."



Nefra, wrapped in a long cloak, approached the grove of palms,
followed by Ru and the Lady Kemmah, who grumbled at the business.

"The day is hot," she said, "and who but fools would walk so far in
the blaze of the sun? To-night there are ceremonies in which you,
Princess, must play the greatest part. Is it fitting that you and I
should weary ourselves thus when the work of making ready your robes
and jewels is not finished? What is this new madness? What do you
seek?"

"That which, as you have instructed me, is sought of all women, Nurse,
namely--a man," answered Nefra in her sweet, mocking voice. "I believe
that there is a man in yonder palm grove and I go to find him."

"A man, indeed! Are there not men in plenty nearer home, if tombs can
be called a home while one is still living beneath the sun? Still, it
is true that most of them are gray-bearded dotards and the rest but
priests or anchorites who think of nothing but their souls, or
husbandmen who toil all day and dream all night of how much mud Nile
will yield at its next rising. Well, there are the palms and I see no
man, nor can I walk any farther in this accursed sand. Here is the
statue of a god, or perchance of some king whose name no one has heard
for a thousand years. At least, god or king, he gives shade and in it
I will sit as, if you are wise, you will do also while Ru hunts for
this man of yours, though when he sees a black giant grinning at him
with a great axe in his hand I think that he will run away."

"So do I," said Nefra, "yet, Ru, come with me, as indeed you must."

Then walking somewhat to the right she entered the grove of palms at
its end and stepped softly along it, bidding Ru keep himself as much
hidden as possible. Presently, seated against the trunk of one of them
she saw an officer who wore upon his robe the lion badge of the
Shepherd kings, having by his side certain packages, and behold! he
was fast asleep. Now a thought took her and she commanded Ru to
approach him softly, and having carried off the packages, to go and
hide with them behind the statue where Kemmah sat. Then, she said, he
was to follow her with Kemmah and the gear in such fashion, if might
be, that the officer did not see them as she led him toward the statue
of the Sphinx.

This Ru did without awakening Khian, for although he was so large,
like all Ethiopians he could move softly enough at need--an art that
they learn in tracking enemies and game. He vanished with his burden
behind the statue, whence she knew well he was watching her in case of
danger, but Nefra, leaning against another palm, studied the sleeper
closely. At the first glance she was aware that never before had she
beheld such a man as this officer, one at once so handsome and so
refined of face.

If his eyes, which I cannot see, are as good as the rest of him, he is
beautiful, though Nefra. Also he looks like one whose spirit guides
his flesh and not his flesh his spirit; and as she thought, something
new, something she had never felt before stirred her serenity and
frightened her a little, though in what way she was not sure.

So for many minutes they remained, the weary Khian sleeping and Nefra
watching him. At length he stirred, stretched out his arms as though
to clasp a dream, yawned, and opened his eyes.

They /are/ as good as the rest of him! reflected Nefra as she slipped
behind the palm and hid there, which they were, being large, brown,
and somewhat melancholy.

Now Khian remembered the packets which contained the presents and the
gold and began to search for them eagerly.

"By the gods, they are gone!" he said aloud in a voice that, although
anxious, still was soft and pleasant. "How can this have happened and
I not know it, seeing that they lay under my hand? Truly they are
right who say that this place is the home of ghosts."

Nefra stepped forward, closely muffled in her long cloak, and asked:

"Is aught amiss, Sir? And if so, can I aid you?"

"Yes," said Khian, "by restoring to me certain articles which I
suppose you have stolen, young man. That is, if you are a man," he
added doubtfully, "for your voice----"

"--Is breaking, Sir," replied Nefra, trying to make it as hoarse as
possible.

"Then it has broken the wrong way. Breaking voices should grow gruff,
not soft as a girl's. But let that be. Restore to me my goods lest I
should--well, kill you----"

"And perchance thereby lose them and much else for ever, Sir."

"You do not seem very frightened. Tell me, who are you?"

"Sir, I am the guide appointed to lead you--if you be Apepi's officer
--to where you must lodge before you are brought into the presence of
the Council of the Order of the Dawn. Knowing that you were alone and
thinking that you might be alarmed if armed men came, I, as a young
person who can frighten no one, was chosen to fill this office by the
Council."

"That is very kind of the Council. But meanwhile, Young Person, where
are the goods which my servants set by my side before they departed?"

"Sir, they have gone on before you. As you said just now, this is a
home of ghosts and ghosts can carry gold and garments very fast."

"Then they might have carried me also, though on the whole I am glad
they did not, for, Young Person, you amuse me. Well, I suppose that I
must take your word for it, as to the goods, I mean, and if I find
that you have lied, I can always kill you afterwards, or if I don't,
the Order of the Dawn can, since they will have lost their presents.
What next?"

"Be pleased to come with me, Sir."

"Good, Young Person. Lead on, I follow."



CHAPTER IX

THE CROWNING OF NEFRA

So this pair stared upon their long walk, Nefra being careful to lead
her companion wide of that overthrown statue behind which hid Kemmah
and Ru.

"Do you live in this place?" asked Khian presently.

"Yes, Sir, here and hereabouts," replied Nefra with vagueness.

"And might I ask what is your office when you are not escorting
travellers, who must be rare, and arranging for the transport of their
baggage by uncommon means?"

"Oh! anything," replied Nefra still more vaguely, "but generally I run
errands."

"Indeed! And where to?"

"Oh! anywhere. But tell me, Sir, are you acquainted with the
pyramids?"

"Not at all, Friend, except from a distance. The pyramids, it would
appear, are now the private property of that Order you mentioned, to
which, by the way, I, who also run errands, have a message to deliver.
None may approach them. Indeed, I have heard that some unfortunate men
who wished to explore their wonders not long ago, came to a terrible
end. According to the story a black lion rushed out of one of them,
killed three of those men, and mauled the fourth so badly that
afterwards he died. Or it may have been one of your ghosts that rushed
out. At any rate, the men died."

"What a strange tale, Sir. I wonder that we did not hear of it, but
living quite secluded as we do, we hear nothing, or at least very
little. But they are beautiful, those pyramids, are they not, standing
up thus against the evening sky in majesty? Look how their sharp
outlines seem to cut into the heavens. Also from them the great dead
seem to speak to us across the gulfs of Time."

"I perceive, Young Person, that you have imagination, which is unusual
in those who run errands and guide travellers. Yet I dare to differ
from you. These stone heaps undoubtedly are beautiful with a beauty
that crushes the mind, though not so much so as are mountains
chiselled out by Nature and capped with snow, such as I have seen in
Syria. But to me they speak not of the mighty dead whose memories they
glorify, but of the thousands of forgotten ones who perished in the
toil of their uprearing, that in them the bones of kings might find a
house deemed to be eternal and their names preserved among men. Was it
worth while to leave monuments to be the marvel of generations at the
cost of so much doom and misery?"

"I do not know, Sir, who never thought of the matter thus. Yet there
is this to be said. Mankind must suffer, so I have been told who am
but an ignorant----"

"--Young person," suggested Khian.

"And generally it suffers to no end," went on Nefra as though she had
not heard him, "leaving naught behind, not even a record of its pain.
Here at least something remains which the world will admire for
thousands of years after those who caused the suffering and those who
suffered are lost in darkness. Suffering that has purpose, or that
bears fruit, even though we know not the purpose and never see the
fruit, may be borne also with joy, but empty, sterile suffering is a
desert without water and a torment without hope."

Khian looked at the speaker, or rather at her hood, for he could see
nothing else, and remarked:

"The thought is just and finely put. They instruct those who run
errands well in this land."

"The brethren of the Order are learned, so even the young can pick up
crumbs of knowledge from their feasts--if it pleases them to look for
them, Sir--but forgive me, how are you named?"

"Named?--Oh! I am called Rasa the Scribe."

"Is it so? I did not guess your trade because among us scribes carry
palettes at the girdle, not swords; also their hands are different. I
should have thought that you were a soldier and a hunter and a climber
of the mountains of which you spoke, not a copyist of documents in hot
palace rooms."

"Sometimes I am these things also," he replied hastily, "especially a
climber--when I was in Syria. By the way, my guide, I have heard
strange stories of another climber, one who scales these pyramids. It
is said at Tanis and elsewhere that they are haunted by a spirit who
runs up and down their sides at night, and even in the daytime also. I
say by a spirit, for woman she cannot be."

"Why not, Scribe Rasa?"

"Because, or so the tale tells, this climber is so beautiful that
those who look upon her go mad, and who could be made mad by the sight
of any woman? Also what woman could clamber over those smooth and
mighty monuments like a lizard?"

"If you are a scaler of mountains, Scribe Rasa, you will know that
such feats are often not so difficult as they seem. There lives a
family of men in this place that for generations has been able to
conquer the pyramids by day or night," she replied, leaving the first
part of his question unanswered.

"Then if I stay here long enough I will pray them to teach me their
art, in the hope that at the top of them I might meet this spirit and
be made mad by drinking of the Cup of Beauty. But you have not
answered me. Is there such a spirit, and if so, can I see her?--to do
which I would give my--well, a great deal."

"Here before us is the Sphinx which I thought, Scribe Rasa, being one
so curious, you would have noticed as we approached it. Now put your
question to that god, for they say that he solves riddles sometimes,
if he likes the asker, though never yet have /I/ wrung an answer from
those stony, smiling lips."

"Indeed? I have sundry problems that I seek to solve and one of them
is what may be hidden by that long cloak of yours, my young guide with
an instructed mind."

"Then you must propound them at another time, after the needful
prayers and fastings. And now, your pardon, but I am commanded to
blindfold you because we have come to the entrance of the sanctuaries
of the Order of the Dawn, of which no stranger may learn the secret.
Will you be pleased to kneel down, for you are very tall, Scribe Rasa,
and I can scarcely reach your head."

"Oh! why not?" he answered. "First my packages are stolen; then I am
thrown to the crocodiles of curiosity, and now I must be blindfolded,
or perhaps beheaded by a 'young person' who has driven me as mad as
though she were the Spirit of the Pyramids herself. I kneel. Proceed."

"Why do you talk of a poor youth who earns his bread by following the
profession of a guide as 'she,' also as a thief or perhaps a murderer,
and compare him to the Spirit of the Pyramids, Scribe Rasa? Be so good
as to keep your head still and not try to look over your shoulder as
you are doing, lest I should hurt you with the bandage. Fix your eyes
upon the face of the Sphinx in front of you and think of all the
riddles you would like to ask of its divinity. Now all is ready, I
begin"; and very deftly and softly she tied a scented silken cloth,
warm from her own bosom, about his head, saying presently:

"It is finished. You may rise."

"First I will answer your question, knowing that you cannot be wroth
with one who is blinded. I call you 'she' because by accident I forgot
and looked down instead of up and thus saw your hands, which are those
of woman; also the ring you wear, which is an ancient signet; also a
long lock that escaped from beneath your hood while you bent over me;
also----"

"Kemmah," broke in Nefra, "my task is finished and I go to ask my fee
from the gatekeeper. Be pleased to guide this scribe or messenger into
the presence of the holy Prophet and let the man with you bear his
goods, which all the way he has accused me of stealing from him, so
that they may be checked in his presence."



He who was called the Scribe Rasa sat in the presence of the Prophet
Roy, of the Lord Tau, and of the elders of the Council of the Order of
the Dawn, venerable, white-robed men. Roy spoke, saying:

"We have read the roll, O Envoy Rasa, which you bring to us from
Apepi, King of the Shepherds, at this time sitting at Tanis in the
Land of Egypt. Briefly it contains two questions and a threat. The
first question is whether Nefra, Royal Princess of Egypt, the child
and heiress of the Pharaoh Kheperra, now gathered to Osiris whither he
was sent by the spear of Apepi, and of Rima the daughter of the King
of Babylon, lives and is dwelling among us. To that question you will
learn the answer at a certain ceremony this night. The second question
is whether this Royal Nefra, if she still looks upon the sun, will
become the wife of Apepi, King of the Shepherds, as he demands that
she should do. To this doubtless the Royal Nefra, if she lives, will
give her answer when she has considered of the matter, for then there
is a queen in Egypt, and a Queen of Egypt chooses whom she will as
husband.

"After this comes the threat, namely, that should there be a certain
Lady to refuse this offer, and should it be refused, Apepi, King of
the Shepherds, violating all treaties made between his forefathers and
himself with our ancient Brotherhood of the Children of the Dawn, will
in revenge destroy us root and branch. To this we reply at once and
afterwards will write it in a roll, that we do not fear Apepi, and
that should he attempt this evil thing, every stone of the great
pyramids would lie lighter on his head than will the curse of Heaven
that he has earned as a man foresworn. Say to Apepi, O Ambassador,
that we who seem but a weak band of hermits living in solitude far
from the world and there practising our innocent rites, we who have no
armies and who, save to defend our lives, never lift a sword, are yet
far more powerful than he, or any king upon the earth. We do not fight
as kings fight, yet we marshal hosts unseen, since with us goes the
Strength of God. Let him attack if he will to find naught but tombs
peopled with the dead. Then let him set his ear to the ground and
listen to the tread of armies who rush to stamp him down to doom. Such
is our message to Apepi, King of the Shepherds."

"I hear it," said Khian, bowing respectfully, "and glad am I to learn,
O Prophet, that it is your intention to write it in a roll, for
otherwise King Apepi, a violent man who loves not rough words, might
make him who delivered it by word of mouth, shorter by a head. Be
pleased, therefore, to remember, O Prophet and Councillors, that I,
the Scribe Rasa, am but a messenger charged to deliver a writing and
to carry back the answer; also to collect certain information if I
can. Of the matter of treaties between the Shepherd kings and your
Order I know nothing, nor is it one that I am commanded to discuss. Of
threats uttered against you, or what may be the end of these threats,
I know nothing, whatever I may guess. Be pleased, therefore, to write
down at your leisure all you have to say, that it may be delivered to
King Apepi in due season. Meanwhile, grant me safety while I dwell
among you, and with it as much liberty as you can, since, to speak
truth, these temple tombs of yours have something of the air of
prisons, nor do I love bandages upon my eyes, seeing that I am an
ambassador, not a spy charged to report upon the secrets of your
dwelling place."

Roy looked at him with his piercing eyes and answered:

"If you will swear to us upon your soul to reveal nothing that you may
learn of these poor secrets of ours that lie outside the matters of
your commission; also not to attempt to depart from among us until
such time as we think fitting and our written answers are prepared,
we, for our part, will grant you liberty to come and go among us as
you will, O Messenger, who tell us that you are named Rasa and a
scribe by occupation. This we grant because, having gifts of
discernment, we believe you to be an upright man, although perchance
you have been commanded to travel under another name than that by
which you are known at the Court of Tanis, one, too, who has no desire
to bring evil upon the innocent."

"I thank you, Prophet," said Khian, bowing, "and all these things I
swear gladly. And now I am charged to deliver offerings to your gods
in atonement for a crime against you that was wrought recently by
certain evildoers."

"Our god, Scribe Rasa, is the Spirit above all gods who rules the
earth and whose raiment we behold in the stars of heaven, one to whom
we make no offerings save those of the spirit. Nor do we accept
presents for ourselves who being a Brotherhood in which each serves
the other, have no need of gold. Therefore, Ambassador, be pleased to
take back the gifts you bring and on our behalf to pray the King of
the Shepherds that he will distribute them among the widows and
children of those men who came by their death in seeking, at his
command as we suppose, to do violence to one of us and to discover our
secrets."

"As regards this new god of yours," answered Khian, "if it be lawful,
Priest, I would pray of you, or of any whom you may appoint, to
instruct me, a seeker after Truth, in his attributes and mysteries."

"If there is opportunity it shall be done," said Roy.

"As touching the matter of the presents," went on Khian when he had
bowed acknowledgment to this promise, "I have naught to say, save that
I pray that you will return them with your written answer and, if
possible, by another hand than mine. You who are so wise and aged,
Prophet, may have noted that great kings do not love to have gifts
thrown back into their faces with words like to yours, and, in such
cases, are apt to blame their bearer."

Roy smiled a little and without comment on this matter, said:

"This night we invite you to a ceremony, Scribe Rasa. Go now, eat and
rest till, at the appointed hour, you are summoned, if it be your
pleasure to attend."

"Surely it is my pleasure," answered Khian, and was led away.



It was near to midnight, and Khian, having arrayed himself in garments
that he had brought with him, such as scribes wear upon occasions of
festival, lay upon the bed in his chamber, thinking of the strange
place in which he found himself and its still stranger inhabitants. He
thought of the wondrous hawk-eyed old prophet, of his grave-miened
councillors as they had appeared gathered in that tomb-temple, of the
ceremony to which he was to be summoned, if indeed he had not been
forgotten, and what might be its occasion. He thought also of how his
father, Apepi, would receive the proud answer of these anchorites; of
the smile upon the face of the mighty Sphinx which they day he had
seen for the first time, and of other things.

But most of all did he think of the guide who had led him from the
palm grove and afterwards bandaged his eyes. This guide was a woman, a
young woman with beautiful hair and hands, on one of which she wore a
royal ring. That was all he knew of her who for aught he could tell
might be very ugly, as the ring might be one she had found or stolen.
Yet this was certain, that however common her face or humble her
station, her mind was neither. No uninstructed peasant girl could
harbour her thoughts or clothe them in her words. Much indeed did he
long to see that guide unveiled, and to discover the mystery of one
who had so sweet a voice.

At this point a deep, gruff voice asked leave to enter, which he gave.
As he rose from the bed there appeared before him in the lamplight a
black man more gigantic than any he had ever seen, who carried in his
hand an enormous axe.

"I pray you tell me, who are you and what is your business with me?"
Khian inquired, staring at him and rubbing his eyes, for at first he
thought he must be dreaming.

"I am your guide," said the giant, "and I come to take you with me."

"By Set, another guide, and very different from the last!" exclaimed
Khian. "Now I wonder if this ceremony is that of my execution," he
added to himself. "Surely the man and his axe would be well suited to
such a purpose. Or is he but another of the ghosts that haunt these
pyramids?" Then he addressed Ru, for it was he, saying:

"Sir Giant on the Earth, or Sir Spirit from the Underworld, for I know
not which you are, I feel no wish for a journey in your company. I am
tired and prefer to stop where I am. I bid you good-night."

"Sir Envoy, or Sir Scribe, or Sir Prince in disguise, or Sir Soldier,
for that at any rate I am sure that you are because of your bearing
and the scars on you, which were never made with a stylus, however
tired you may be, you cannot remain upon that bed. I am commanded to
lead you elsewhere. Will you come or must I carry you as I did your
baggage?"

"Oh! So you were the thief who stole my parcels and left a smooth-
tongued wench behind you to conduct me across the sand!"

"A wench!" roared Ru. "A wench----" and he lifted his axe.

"Well, Friend, what else was she? Not a man, that I'll swear, and
between man and woman there is no halfway house. Tell me, I pray you,
for I am curious. Sit down and take a cup of wine, for this place is
cramping to one of your stature. These monks of yours seem to have
very good wine. I never tasted better in my--in the King's Court. Try
it."

Ru took the cup which he proffered to him and drained it.

"I thank you," he said. "The worst of dwelling with hermits is that
they are so fond of water, though they have plenty of good stuff
stored away in some grave or other. Now let us be going. I tell you I
am commanded----"

"So you said before, Friend Giant. By whom are you commanded?"

"By her----" began Ru, and stopped.

"Her, who or what? Do you mean the lady who guided and blindfolded me?
Stay. Take one more cup of this excellent wine."

Ru did so, answering as he set it down:

"You are not far from it, but my tongue is tied. Come, Prince."

"Prince!" he exclaimed, holding up his hands. "Friend Giant, that wine
must be getting into your head if it can reach so far in so short a
time. What do you mean?"

"What I say, though I should not have said it. Don't you understand,
Prince, that these tomb dwellers are wizards and know everything
although they pretend to know nothing? They think me a stupid
Ethiopian, just a black fellow who can handle a battle-axe, which
perhaps is all I am. Still, I have ears and I hear, and that is how I
come to know that you are a certain Prince, and a soldier like myself,
though it pleases you to pretend to be a scribe. Still, I have not
mentioned it to any one else, not even to---- But never mind. Be sure
--she knows nothing. She thinks you are just what you say--a fellow
who scribbles on papyrus. Now talk no more; come, come. Time passes.
Afterwards you shall tell me what wars go on in Egypt to-day, for in
this place I hear nothing of battle who before I became a nurse was a
warrior"; and seizing Khian by the hand--he dragged him away down
sundry dark passages, till at length, at the end of one of them, he
saw light gleaming faintly.

They entered a great hall of the temple. It was roofed and the moon's
rays shining through the clerestory windows and the high-set opening
at its end, showed Khian that in it were gathered a multitude of men
or women--he could not see which because they were all draped in white
robes and wore veils upon their faces, that gave them a ghost-like
air. At the head of this hall, on a stage lit with lamps, also white-
robed but unveiled, sat the Council of the Order of the Dawn. In the
centre of their long, curved line was a shrine half hidden by a
curtain and in front of this alabaster shrine stood an empty chair
with sphinx-headed arms. Nothing more could be seen in that dim light.
When Khian entered there was silence in the hall; it was as though his
appearance had been awaited for some rite to be begun.

"We are late," muttered Ru and dragged him forward up a kind of aisle,
all present turning their veiled heads and staring at him as he went
by, through eyeholes cut in the veils. They came to a seat set in
front of the stage or dais, but at a little distance, so that he could
see everything that happened there. Into this seat Ru thrust him,
whispering that he was not to move. Then he departed and presently
reappeared upon the dais where he took his stand upon the left-hand
side of the shrine to the right of which stood the tall, white-haired
Kemmah.

"Let the entrance be shut and guarded," said Roy presently, and
movements behind him told Khian that this was being done. Then Roy
rose and spoke, saying:

"Brethren and Elders of the holy, ancient, and mighty Order of the
Dawn, whereof the Council at this time has its home amid these tombs
and pyramids and is sentinelled by the watching Sphinx, the symbol of
the rising sun, hear me, Roy the Prophet. You are summoned hither from
every nome and city in Egypt, from Tyre, from Babylon and Nineveh,
from Cyprus and from Syria, and from many another land beyond the sea,
being the chosen delegates of our Brotherhood in those towns and
countries, among which it dwells to kindle light in the hearts of men
and to instruct them in the laws of Truth and Gentleness, to overthrow
oppressors by all righteous means and to bind the world together in
the service of that Spirit whom we worship, who, enthroned on high,
makes of all gods its ministers.

"Why have you been called from so far away? I will tell you. It is
that you may take part in the crowning of a Queen of Egypt, the true
descendant of the ancient Pharaohs who for thousands of years have sat
upon her throne, and a sworn neophyte of our Order, vowed to its faith
and to the execution of its duties, the daughter and heiress of King
Kheperra and of Queen Rima of the royal House of Babylon, now both
gathered to Osiris. We, the Council of the Dawn, among whom this Queen
to be has sheltered from her infancy, declare to you upon our oaths
that she who presently will appear before you is none other than
Nefra, the Princess of Egypt, the daughter and only child of Kheperra
and Rima, as her nurse, the Lady Kemmah, who stands before you, can
testify, for she was present at her birth and has dwelt with her till
this hour. Are you content, Councillors and Elders of the Dawn, or do
you demand further proofs?"

"We are content," answered the audience with one voice.

"Then let Nefra, Princess of Egypt and heiress of the Two Lands,
appear before you."

As Roy spoke these words the curtain in front of the alabaster shrine
was drawn, and standing within it, glittering in the lamplight,
appeared Nefra. So lovely did she seem in her coronation robes upon
which shone the royal emblems and jewels of the ancient kings, so
stately in her youthful, slender grace, so fair of form and
countenance, that a sigh of wonder went up from that veiled gathering,
while Khian stared amazed, and as he stared became aware that Love had
gripped him by the heart.

The figure in the shrine stood quite still, so still that for a while
he pondered if she were human, or perchance Hathor, goddess of Love
herself, or a statue fashioned by some great artist. Suddenly his
doubts were ended, for behold! she smiled, then stepped from the
shrine and was led to the carven chair in which she took her seat.
Thrice the veiled company bowed to her, Khian with them, and thrice
she bowed back to them. Then, advancing to the side of the chair, Roy
addressed her.

"Princess of Egypt," he said, "you are brought before this gathering
of true and pure-hearted men from many lands that in their presence
you may be anointed and crowned the Queen of Egypt. Not thus should
this holy rite have been performed, but the times are difficult and
dangerous, and a foreign king of desert blood holds half the land and
rings it round with swords. Therefore here in secret and at midnight
in a place of ghosts and tombs, and not beneath the sun in the
presence of thousands at Memphis or at Thebes, must your hand grasp
the sceptre and Egypt's crown be set upon your brow. Yet know that
presently from the Cataracts to the sea and far away beyond the sea,
aye, and in the Court of the Shepherd King himself, the news will fly
that once more Egypt has a Queen. Do you accept this royalty, great as
may be its burdens and its perils?"

"I accept it," said Nefra in her sweet, clear voice that Khian seemed
to know again. "Unworthy as I am, I accept that which comes to me
unsought and undesired, brought to me by right of blood. Nor do I fear
its perils and its burdens, for the Strength that led me to the throne
will safeguard me there."

There was a faint murmur of applause--even Khian found himself
murmuring applause--and as it died away, Roy took an alabaster vase of
oil and dipping his finger into it, made some sign upon her brow. Then
appeared Kemmah and gave to him a circlet of gold from which rose the
royal uraeus, and an ivory sceptre surmounted with gems. This circlet
he set upon her head and the sceptre he placed in her right hand. Then
he bowed the knee to her, and said:

"In the name of the Spirit that rules the world, I, Roy the ancient,
son of your great-grandsire, appointed prophet of the Spirit during my
life days, before this company of brethren and officers of the Order
of the Dawn, anoint and declare you, Nefra, Princess of Egypt and
sister-elect of the Order of the Dawn, being a woman come to full
estate, Queen by right divine and human of the Upper and the Lower
Lands, and call down upon you the blessings of the Spirit. As yet you
have no Court nor armies and your prerogatives are usurped by others,
yet learn, O Queen, that you are acknowledged in a million hearts and
that if anywhere your glance falls upon five talking together, three
of them in secret are your faithful subjects. Of the future we know
nothing because it is hid from men, yet we believe that in it much joy
awaits you with length of days, and that the crown which now we set
upon your head in secret in time to come shall shine openly before the
multitudes of earth. In the name of Egypt and of the Order of the Dawn
to which you are sworn, O Queen, I, Roy the Prophet, do you homage."

Then kneeling down, while the company prostrated itself before her as
though she were a goddess, Roy touched the new-made queen's fingers
with his lips.

With her sceptre Nefra signed that he and all should rise. Then she
stood upon her feet and said:

"At such a time as this what can I say to so many great ones who have
gathered here to do me honour, and for Egypt's sake to crown me
Egypt's queen, I who am but an untaught maiden? Only one thing, I
think. That I swear I will live and die for Egypt. I have been told
that at my birth Egypt's goddesses appeared in a dream to my mother
and gave me a certain title, that of the Uniter of Lands. May this
dream come true. May I prove to be the Uniter of the Upper and the
Lower Lands, and when I pass to join my fathers, leave Egypt one and
great. Such is my prayer. Now I thank you all and ask of you leave to
go."

"Not yet, O Queen," said Roy. "An ambassador has come to us from the
Court of the Shepherd King at Tanis, he who sits before you, bringing
messages that to-morrow must be considered by you in Council. Yet
there is one of them to which we think an answer should be given here
and now, before all this company. Apepi, King of the Shepherds, being
unwed, demands the hand of your Majesty in marriage, promising to your
children the inheritance of all Egypt. What says your Majesty?"

Now Nefra started and bit her lip as though to keep herself from the
uttering of rash words. Then she answered:

"I thank the King Apepi, but like others, this matter must be
considered with the rest, seeing that it is a great one to Egypt and
to Egypt's Queen. Let King Apepi's envoy"--here she glanced swiftly at
Khian--"be pleased to accept our hospitality in this secret place
until once more the full moon shines above the pyramids, while I take
counsel with myself and with some that dwell far off. Meanwhile, let
messengers be sent to King Apepi to inform him how it comes about that
the return of his ambassador is delayed. Or if it pleases him, let
that ambassador make his own report at once to his master, the King
Apepi."

Now Khian rose, bowed, and said:

"Nay, Lady and Council of the Dawn, the command given to me, Rasa the
Scribe, was that with my own hands I should bear back the answers to
those questions which were written in the roll of my commission. Here
then I bide till these are delivered to me. Meanwhile, if it pleases
you to send messages to King Apepi, it is not in my power to say that
they shall not be sent. Do as you will."

"So be it," said Nefra.

Then she rose, bowed, and departed, led by the Lady Kemmah and
escorted by the Council.



Thus ended the midnight crowning of Nefra as Queen of Egypt.



CHAPTER X

THE MESSAGE

On the morrow Khian slept late, being very weary, and in his sleep was
visited by dreams. They were fantastic dreams of which, when he awoke,
he could remember little, save that they had to do with pyramids and
men with veiled faces and with a giant who bore a great axe, and with
palm trees through which the wind sighed gently, till presently it
changed to the voice of a woman, just such a voice as that of the
messenger who had guided him from the grove, just such a voice as that
of the royal lady who had sat upon the throne in the temple halls.

Yet, alas! he could not understand what this voice said, and in his
dream, growing angry, he turned to the giant with the axe, bidding him
interpret the meaning of the song. Behold! the black giant was changed
into that Sphinx who sat upon the sands, before which he had been
blindfolded. He stared at the Sphinx and the Sphinx stared back at
him. Then of a sudden it opened its great stone lips and spoke, and
the sound of its voice was like to that of the roll of distant
thunder.

"What is it thou wouldst learn of me, the Ancient, O Man?" asked the
rolling voice. Now in his dream Khian grew frightened and answered at
hazard:

"I would learn how old thou art and what thou hast seen, O Sphinx."

"Hundreds of millions of years ago," answered the lips of stone, "I
was shaped in the womb of Fire and cast forth in the agony of the
birth of the world. For tens of millions of years I lay beneath deep
water, and grew in their darkness. The waters receded and lo! I was a
mountain of which the point appeared amidst a forest. Great creatures
crept about my flanks, they roared round me in the mists, thousands of
generations of them, now of this shape and now of that. The mists
departed; I looked upon the sun, a huge ball of flaming red that day
by day rose up over against me. In its fierce heat the forests
withered and passed away in fire. Sands appeared out of it that,
driven by great winds, shaped me to my lion's shape. A river rolled at
my feet, the river Nile. New beasts took refuge in my shade in place
of the reptiles that were gone; they fought and ravened and mated and
bore their young about me.

"More millions of years went by and there came yet other beasts, hairy
creatures that ran upon two legs and jabbered. These passed and behold
there were men, now of this colour and now of that. Tribe by tribe
these men butchered each other for food and women, dashing out the
brains of their enemies with stones and devouring them, cooked first
in the rays of the sun, and then with fire which they had learned to
make.

"These passed away and there appeared other men who wore garments of
skins and killed their prey with flint-headed arrows and spears.
Yonder in the cliff you may find their graves covered with flat
stones. These men worshipped the sun and me, the rock upon which his
rays fell at dawn. Thus first I became a god. Again there was war
around me and my worshippers were slain, they and their fair-haired
children were all slain. Still their dark-hued conquerors worshipped
the sun and me. Moreover, they were artists and with hard tools they
fashioned my face and form as these appear to-day. Afterwards they
built pyramids and tombs and in them kings and princes were laid to
rest. For generation after generation I watched them come and go, till
at length there were no more of them, and white-robed priests crept
about the ruins of their temples as still they creep to-day. Such is
my history, O Man, that is yet but begun, for when all the gods are
gone and none pour offerings to me or them, still lost in memories I,
who was from the beginning, shall remain until the end. Yet was it of
this that thou wouldst ask me?"

"Nay, O Sphinx. Tell me, what is the name of that wind among the palm
trees of which the sound is as of the voice of woman? Whence comes it
and whither does it go?"

"That wind, O Man, blew at the begetting of the world and will blow
until its death, for without it no life can be. It came from God and
to God it returns again, and in heaven and earth its name is /Love/."

Now Khian would have asked more questions, but could not for suddenly
all his dream vanished and his eyes opened to behold, not the face of
the Sphinx, mighty and solemn, but the ebon features of the giant Ru.

"What is love, O Ru?" he asked, yawning.

"Love!" answered Ru, astonished. "What do I know about love? There are
so many sorts of love; that of men for women, or of women for men,
which is a curse and a madness sent into the world by Set to be its
torment; that of kings for power which is the father of war; that of
merchants for wealth which breeds theft and misery; that of the
learned for wisdom, a bird which never can be snared; that of the
mother for her child, which is holy; and that of the slave for him or
her he serves, which is the only sort I know. Ask it of Roy the
Prophet, though I think he has forgotten all love save that of the
gods and death."

"It is of the first that I would learn, O Ru, and of it I think that
Roy can tell me nothing, who, as you say, has forgotten all. Whom
shall I ask of this?"

Ru rubbed his black nose and replied:

"Try the first maiden whom you meet when the moon is rising over the
waters of the Nile. Perhaps she can tell you, Lord. Or if that will
not serve to so fine a noble, try her whom you saw seated on the
throne last night, for she has studied many things and perhaps love
may be among them. And now, if it pleases you to rise, the Council
awaits you presently, but not, I think, to talk to you of love."

An hour later Khian stood before Roy and his company.

"Scribe Rasa," said the Prophet, for although Ru in his cups had
revealed that his true dignity was known, this was not given to him,
"we have written in a roll our answers to the letter of the King
Apepi, which are such as we told you they would be. As to the matter
of the marriage that is offered by the King to that royal lady whom
you saw crowned Queen of Egypt but last night, we have added that you,
his messenger, shall learn her answer from her own lips on the night
of the first full moon after that of her crowning, since she must have
time to consider this great business. Now we pray you to add to this
letter of ours any that it pleases you to send, making report of what
you have heard and seen among us, which report shall be borne
faithfully by our messenger to the Court of your master, the King who
sits at Tanis."

"It shall be done, Prophet," said Khian, "though what will chance when
this report reaches the King Apepi, I cannot tell. Meanwhile, is it
still your will that I should abide here among you till that moon
shines, having liberty to move to and fro within your boundaries?"

"Such is the will of the Queen Nefra and of us her councillors, Scribe
Rasa. That is, unless it pleases you to be gone at once."

"It does not please me, Prophet."

"Then remain among us, Scribe Rasa, remembering the oath that you have
sworn, that you will reveal no secret of our hiding places, or our
doctrines, or our company, or aught save of that business with which
you have to do."

"I will remember it," answered Khian, bowing.

For a while he lingered, talking of little things with the Lord Tau
and other members of the Council in the hope that Nefra herself would
appear to take part in their deliberations. At length, as she did not
come, he went away because he must, and was guided back to his chamber
by Ru.

"I am going to write a letter, Friend Giant," he said, "which letter
in the end may bring about my end. However, that is some way off, a
month away indeed, and meanwhile, after it is finished, I desire to
study the pyramids and all the other wonders of this place. Now
yesterday a certain youth was my guide who seemed very intelligent. If
he can be found I should be willing to pay him well to continue in
that office while I remain a guest among these graves."

Ru shook his head and answered:

"Lord, it is impossible. That youth is one of those idlers who stand
about waiting for food to fall into their mouths, and if it does not
come, move elsewhere. He has moved elsewhere, or at least I have not
seen him this morning, and as I do not know his name I cannot inquire
where he has gone."

"So be it," answered Khian, "though, friend Ru, you will forgive me if
I compliment your honesty by saying that you do not lie very well. Now
be pleased to tell me, as this one is lacking, how I can find another
guide."

"That is easy, Lord. When you are ready, put your head out of the door
and clap your hands. In this place there is always someone listening
and watching, and he will summon me."

"That I can well believe. Indeed, here I feel as though the very walls
listened and watched."

"They do," replied Ru candidly, and departed.

Khian wrote his letter. It was but short, yet, although so skilled a
scribe, it took him a long time, since he knew not what to say or
leave unsaid. In the end it ran thus:


 "From the Scribe Rasa to His Majesty, King Apepi, the good God:

 "As commanded I, the Scribe Rasa, have come to the habitations of
  the Order of the Dawn who dwell in certain ruined temples and
  tombs beneath the shadow of the Great Pyramids, and been received
  by their prophet Roy and the members of their Council. I presented
  the letter of your Majesty to this Council, also the gifts your
  Majesty was pleased to send, which gifts they refused for
  religious reasons. I have learned that the royal Nefra, daughter
  of Kheperra who once ruled in the South, is living here in the
  keeping of the Brethren of the Dawn. Last night I saw this
  princess, who is young, crowned with much ceremony as Queen of all
  Egypt before a great company of veiled men who, I was told, were
  gathered from all over the world. The Council of the Dawn send
  herewith an answer to the letter of your Majesty which has not
  been shown to me. As touching your Majesty's proposal of marriage,
  however, the Lady Nefra, seated on a throne and speaking as a
  queen, said to me that she would consider of the matter and give
  me her answer to be handed to your Majesty at the time of the next
  full moon, until when I must abide here and wait in patience. Here
  then I stay, having no choice in the matter, that I may fulfil the
  commands of your Majesty and on the appointed day bear back the
  answer of the Lady Nefra, though whether this will be in writing
  or by message, I do not know.

 "Sealed with the seal of the Envoy of your Majesty,
                                              "Rasa the Scribe."


When Khian had copied this letter and done it up into a roll,
wondering much what Apepi his father would say and do when he read it
and that by which it was accompanied, he ate of the food that was
brought to him and afterwards went to the door of his chamber and
clapped his hands, as he had been directed to do. Instantly from the
recesses of the dark passage appeared Ru accompanied by a white-robed
man whom Khian knew for one of the councillors. To this councillor he
gave the roll that he had written to be despatched together with the
answer of the Council to King Apepi at Tanis. When he was gone Ru led
Khian through the great hall where Nefra had been crowned and thence,
meeting no one, by a secret doorway to the desert beyond.

"Where have all those gone whom we saw last night?" asked Khian.

"Where do the bats go, Lord, when the sun arises? They vanish away and
are no more seen, yet they are not dead but only hidden. So it is with
the Company of the Dawn. Search for them among the fishermen of the
Nile; search for them among the Bedouins of the desert; search for
them in the Courts of foreign kings; search where you will, yet be
sure that neither you nor all the spies of the Shepherd king will find
one of them."

"Truly this is a land of ghosts," said Khian. "Almost could I believe
that those veiled ones were not men but spirits."

"Perhaps," answered Ru enigmatically; "and now, where would it please
you to wander?"

"To the pyramids," said Khian.

So to the pyramids they went, walking round all of them, while Khian
marvelled at their greatness.

"Is it possible that these stone mountains can be climbed?" he said
presently.

Ru led him round the corner of the second pyramid and there, seated on
the sand and playing pipes that made a wild music, were three men, the
Captain of the Pyramids and two of his sons.

"Here are those who can answer your question, Lord," he said, then
turning to the men added, "This lord, who is an envoy and a guest,
desires to know whether the pyramids can be climbed."

"We awaited you," said the Captain gravely, "as we have been commanded
to do. Is it now your pleasure to see this feat performed?"

"It is," answered Khian. "Moreover, the climber will not lack a
present, though I who am a scaler of mountains hold the thing to be
impossible."

"Be pleased to stand back a little way and watch," said the Captain.

Then he and his sons threw off their long robes and clothed only in a
linen garment about their middles ran to that pyramid which was in
front of them and separated. One son disappeared to the north and the
other to the south, while the father began to spring up the eastern
face as a goat springs up a precipice. Up he went, high and higher
yet, while Khian watched amazed, till at last he saw him gain the very
crest. Lo! as he did so there appeared with him the two sons who,
unseen, had travelled thither by other roads. Moreover, presently
there appeared a fourth figure clad in white.

"Who is the fourth?" exclaimed Khian. "But three started to climb, and
now, behold! there are four."

Ru stared at the top of the pyramid, then answered stupidly:

"Surely staring at those polished stones has dazed you, Lord. I see
but three, doubtless the Captain and his two sons."

Khian looked again and said:

"It is true that now I also see but three. Yet there were four," he
added obstinately.

Presently the climbers began to descend, following one another down
the eastern face. At length they reached the ground safely, and having
donned their robes, came to Khian, bowing, and asked him whether he
were now satisfied that the pyramids could be climbed.

"I am satisfied that this pyramid can be climbed, though of the others
I know nothing," he answered. "Yet before I give you the reward you
have earned so well, tell me, Captain, how it comes about that you and
your sons, who were three at its base, became four upon its crest?"

"What does my Lord mean?" asked the Sheik, gravely.

"What I say, Captain; neither more nor less. When you stood upon the
top yonder, with the three of you was a fourth, a slender figure clad
in white. I sweat it by all the gods."

"It may be so," answered the Sheik imperturbably, "only then, as we
saw no one, it must have been given to my Lord to perceive the Spirit
of the Pyramids herself who accompanied us, invisible to our eyes. Had
this chanced when the full moon shines, it would not have been so
wonderful, since then she is apt to wander, or so it is reported, but
that he should have seen her in the light of day is most strange and
portends we know not what."

Now Khian began to ply the man and his sons with questions about this
Spirit of the Pyramids and whether she would be visible if they came
to look for her when the full moon shone, but from them learned
nothing, since to every question they answered that they did not know.
Next he inquired of them whether they would teach him how to climb the
pyramids as they did, if he paid them well. They replied that except
by order of the Council they would not, because the business was very
dangerous, and if aught happened to him, his blood would be on their
hands. So in the end he made them a large present, for which they
thanked him with many bows, and, just as the sun began to set,
departed back to the temple.

As they went side by side, Khian, who was lost in thought and wonder,
heard Ru mutter:

"A second whom the gods have smitten with the desire to climb the
pyramids. Who could have believed that there were two such mad people
in the world? What does it mean? Surely such folly must have a
meaning, for among my people, the Ethiopians, they say that the
maddest are always the most inspired."

Twice or thrice he muttered thus, till at last Khian asked him
suddenly:

"Who, then, was the other fool to whom the gods gave the desire to
climb the pyramids? Was she perchance that one whom I saw standing
with the Sheik and his sons upon yonder crest?"

"No, I think not," answered the startled Ru confusedly. "Indeed, I am
sure not, since to-day she has other business to attend. Also, I
should have known----" Then he remembered and stopped.

"So there is a lady who loves this sport! Well, I have heard as much
before, and, friend Ru, as you seem to know her, if you will arrange
that I can follow it in her company, you will find yourself growing
richer than you are."

"Here is the door to the temple," answered Ru, with a grin, "and, by
the way, the second prophet, Tau, bade me to pray you to eat with him
and others this night."

"I obey," said Khian, hoping in his heart that one of those others
would be the lovely lady whom he had seen crowned as Princess of
Egypt. Yet this was not so, for at that meal were only Tau and with
him three aged councillors, who, when they had partaken sparingly,
slipped away, leaving him and his host together. Then these two began
to talk, each of them seeking knowledge of the other.

Soon Khian learned that this Tau, the second Prophet of the order,
though not Egyptian by blood, had been born to a high station and
great wealth. He had been a warrior and a statesman also, and, it
seemed, might have become a king, either in Cyprus or Syria, where he
would not say. Far and wide he had travelled about the world,
acquiring the languages of many peoples and much learning, and
studying religions and philosophies. Yet in the end he had abandoned
all and become one of the Priesthood of the Dawn.

Khian asked him why he who, as he understood, might have sat upon a
throne and mingled with the great ones of the earth while children
grew up about him had chosen instead to dwell in tombs with the
brethren of a secret order.

"Would you learn? Then I will tell you," answered Tau. "I have done
this because I seek peace, peace for Egypt and the world and peace for
my own soul, and in pomps and governments there is no peace but only
strivings that for the most part end in war to win more wealth and
powers that we do not need. Scribe Rasa," he added, looking at him
keenly, "were you other than you are, a prince, for instance, I think
that perhaps, had you instruction in our philosophy, in the end you
might prove to be such another as I am, or even as is Roy the Prophet,
and turning your back upon what the world calls greatness, might
follow in this same path of peace and service."

"Were I such a one, Priest Tau, it might be so, though other roads run
to peace through service than those that lead there by monasteries or
tombs, and each must follow that which lies open to his feet."

"That is true and well spoken, Scribe Rasa."

"Yet," went on Khian, "being athirst for knowledge I would learn of
these mysteries of yours and of how their servants may attain to this
peace and help to call it down upon the world. Is it possible while I
sojourn here that one could be found to instruct me in them?"

"I think that it is possible, but of this matter we will talk again.
Sleep well, Scribe Rasa, and take counsel with your heart before you
enter on this difficult path."

Then he rose and Ru appeared to lead Khian back to his chamber.



CHAPTER XI

THE FALL

On the following morning Khian was informed by Ru that orders had been
sent to the Captain of the Pyramids to instruct him in the art of
scaling them, should he so desire. So presently, accompanied by Ru, he
went out and at the foot of the smallest of the pyramids found this
man and his sons awaiting him. Awhile later, having been stripped of
most of his garments and removed his sandals, he began his lesson,
much as Nefra had done, with a rope tied about his middle. Like her,
being young, active, and very bold, accustomed to the scaling of
heights moreover, he proved an apt pupil, climbing two thirds of the
height of the pyramid, that is, as far as he was allowed to go,
turning about, as Nefra had done, and descending again with but little
help from his guide. Yet trouble came, for when he was within some
forty feet of the ground, to which the Sheik who was beneath him had
descended already and there stood, talking to Ru, Khian called to him
above who held the rope to throw it down as it was no more needed, and
at the same time undid the noose from about his middle.

Thus freed the rope slid away, but, although Khian did not notice
this, it caught upon the marble but a little below him. Continuing his
descent carelessly enough, in setting his foot upon a certain knob of
this marble, his heel rested upon the rope that twisted round beneath
his weight, causing him to slip and lose his balance.

Next instant he was sliding down the face of the pyramid, and, as he
slid he turned so that now his head pointed towards the ground. The
Sheik saw, as did Ru. Together they bounded forward to catch him in
his fall. In a second he was on them, but the weight of his body
struck between them, forcing them apart although they grasped him as
he came. Do what they would, his head hit the ground, not so very hard
indeed, but, as it chanced, where a stone fallen from the pyramid was
hidden just beneath the sand, and though he never felt the blow, of a
sudden his senses left him, for he was stunned.

When they returned, dimly and as at a great distance he heard a voice
speaking, though who spoke he could not see because his eyelids seemed
to be glued together with blood, and for this, or some other reason,
he was unable to open them.

"I think that he is not dead," said the voice, which in truth was that
of a physician. "The neck does not seem to be broken, nor indeed any
limb. Therefore unless the skull is cracked, which I cannot discover
for the blood from the cut makes search difficult, I hold that he is
but stunned and will come to himself in time."

"The gods send that you are right, Leech," answered another voice, a
woman's voice that was full of doubt and fear. "For three long hours
has he lain senseless in this tomb and so still that almost I
think---- Oh! see, he stirs his hand. He lives! He lives! Feel his
heart again."

The physician did so, and said:

"It beats more strongly. Trouble not, Lady. I believe that he will
recover."

"Pray that he does, all of you," went on the woman's voice, in which
now was hope mingled with anger. "Ill did you pyramid-climbers guard
him who tangled the rope about his feet. As for you, Ru, was not your
great strength enough to hold so light a weight falling from but a
little height?"

"It seems not, Lady," answered the deep voice of Ru, "seeing that this
light weight of his knocked me down and the Sheik with me, and almost
tore my arm out of its socket. Full forty feet he came like a stone
from a sling."

At this moment Khian opened his lips and very faintly asked for water.
It was brought to him. A soft hand lifted his head, a vase was held to
his lips. He drank, sighed, and swooned again.

Once more he awoke or was awakened by the sharp pain that seemed to
stab his head from side to side. Now he could open his eyes and,
looking about him, saw that he was back in his chamber at the temple,
for upon a stool lay possessions of his own. At the foot of the couch
a curtain had been drawn and beyond the curtain he heard two women
talking.

"How goes he, Kemmah? Has he awakened?" asked a sweet voice that he
knew again, for it was the voice of the guide who had led him from the
palm grove, the voice, too, of her whom he had seen crowned as Queen
of Egypt.

Khian strove to lift his head, to look past the end of the curtain,
but could not because his neck was stiff as a stone; so he lay still
and listened, his heart beating for joy because this fair, royal lady
had been at the pains to visit him that she might learn his state.

"Not yet, child," answered the Lady Kemmah, "though it is true that it
is time he did. The learned leech, our brother, said that he can find
no great hurt and that he should wake within twelve hours, but twenty
have gone by and still he sleeps--or swoons."

"Oh! Kemmah, do you think that he will die?" asked Nefra in tones that
were full of fear.

"Nay, nay, I hope not, though when the head is hurt one never can be
sure. It would be most sad, for he is a fine man. Never did I see one
more perfect in body or more comely in his face, though half his blood
is that of the accursed Shepherds."

"Who told you about his blood, Kemmah, and whence it sprang?"

"The birds of the air or the blowing wind. Are you the last to learn
what all here know--that this guest of ours is no palace scribe or
officer, but the Prince Khian himself, who, if you take Apepi as a
husband, will be your stepson?"

"Have done with your talk of Apepi, on whom be the curse of all the
gods of Egypt, and of his own as well. For the rest, I guessed, but I
did not know, though I was sure that this Rasa could be no common man.
Save him, Kemmah! For if he dies--oh! what am I saying? Come, let me
look on him. As he sleeps there can be no harm and I will make the
sign of health upon his brow and pray for his recovery to the Spirit
that we worship."

"Well, then, be swift, for if the leech or Tau should come, they might
think it strange to find the Queen of Egypt in a sick man's chamber.
Still, have your way, but be swift, I will keep watch without."

Now although Khian shut his eyes close so that he could see nothing,
with his ears he heard the curtain drawn aside, heard, too, a light
footfall by his bed. More, he felt soft fingers make a sign upon his
brow, a loop it seemed to be with a line drawn through it, perchance
the Loop of Life. Then she who had drawn the sign seemed to lean over
him and, setting her lips close to his face, to murmur holy words of
which he could not catch the drift or meaning. And as she murmured,
ever those lips drew closer to his own, till at length for one second
they touched his own and swiftly were withdrawn. Then came a sigh and
silence.

Now Khian opened his eyes, to see other eyes gazing down at him, and
in them tears.

"Where am I? What has chanced?" he asked faintly. "I dreamed that I
was dead and that some daughter of the gods breathed new life into me.
Oh! now I remember, my foot turned on that accursed rope and being
careless and over-sure, I fell. It matters not, soon I shall be strong
again and then I swear that I will climb those pyramids one by one
more swiftly than does the spirit who inhabits them."

"Hush! Hush!" murmured Nefra. "Nurse, come here. This sick one is
awake and speaks, though foolishly."

"Soon he will be asleep again for good if you stay at his side talking
of pyramids," answered Kemmah who had entered the place unseen by
either. "Have you not had enough of pyramids, both of you? Would that
those vain fools of kings had never built them to bring trouble to the
greater fools who come after."

"Yet I will climb them," muttered Khian.

"Begone, child, and bid Ru bring the leech, and swiftly," went on
Kemmah.

With one quick glance at Khian, Nefra glided away. Kemmah watched her
go, saying to herself as she turned to minister to him:

"How strange a thing is love that can send so many to their deaths, or
by its strength draw the dying back to life again. But of the love of
these two what will be born?"

Then she gave Khian milk to drink and bade him lie still and silent.

Yet he would not obey who, having drunk, asked her dreamily:

"Think you, good Nurse, that the Spirit of the Pyramids of whom all
talk in this holy land is as fair as that lady who has left us?"

"The Spirit of the Pyramids! Can I never be rid of these pyramids?
Who, then, and what is this Spirit?"

"That is just what I would find out, Nurse, even if I lose my life in
seeking it, as it seems that already almost I have done. My soul is
aflame with desire to look upon this Spirit, for something within
tells me that until I do so never shall I find happiness."

"Here the story runs otherwise," answered Kemmah. "Here it is said
that those who look on her, if there be such a one, find madness."

"Are they not perchance the same thing, Nurse? Are we ever happy
except when we are mad? Can the sane be happy, or the wise? Is your
holy Prophet Roy happy, who is the sanest of the sane and the wisest
of the wise? Are all those death-awaiting Whitebeards who surround him
happy? Have you ever been happy, except perhaps years ago when
sometimes you were mad?"

"If you ask me, I have not," answered Kemmah, remembering certain
things and trembling beneath the thought of them. "Perchance you are
right, young sir. Perchance, as drunkards think, we are only happy
when we are mad. Yet if you will be guided by me, you will cease to
seek a spirit in the skies, or near them, and content yourself with
following after woman upon the earth."

"Who knows, Nurse," replied Khian with all the solemnity of one whose
brain still reels, "that in seeking after the Spirit I may not find
the woman, as in seeking after a woman, some have found a spirit? Who
knows that they are not the same thing? I will tell you--perhaps--when
I have climbed those pyramids by the light of the full moon."

"Which has already shone," interrupted Kemmah angrily.

"There are more full moons to come, Nurse. The sky is as peopled with
full moons unborn as the sea is with oysters that will be eaten, and
the pyramids will stand for a long while to welcome climbers,"
answered Khian faintly.

"To Set with the pyramids and with your silly talk!" burst out Kemmah,
stamping her foot. Then she ceased, noting that Khian had once more
swooned away.

"A fool!" she thought to herself as she ran to find help. "Indeed, the
first of fools who would hunt a ghost when the loveliest of flesh and
blood lies to his hand. Yet were I thirty years younger I think that I
might find it in my heart to go mad with this spirit-seeking fool, as
I think also another is in the way of doing. What did he say? That in
searching for the Spirit he might find the woman? Well, perhaps he
will; perhaps after all this moonstruck prince is not such a fool as
he seems. Perhaps those who climb the pyramids find joy at the top of
them, and joy is better than wisdom. So at least some come to believe
when we grow old and have left it far behind."

Very soon Khian, who was young and strong and though shaken by the
shock of his fall, as the physician said, quite unhurt in his brain or
his bones, rose recovered from his bed. Indeed, within five days, once
more he was climbing the pyramids by the help of the Captain and his
sons, for it would seem that this passion had grown upon him during
his swoon. Also that swoon, when he shook off the last of it, left no
memory of what he had said or done while it endured. From the moment
when he set his foot upon the cord and slipped, until at last he rose
from his bed, he remembered nothing, not even the visit of Nefra to
his chamber or his talk with Kemmah, though it is true that these came
back to him in after days. So where he had left off, there he began
again, namely, on the slope of the pyramid, which very soon he
mastered, as in due time he did the others, like Nefra before him.

Day by day, from dawn until the sun grew too hot for the work, he
laboured at those pyramids, so hard that at last the Captain and his
sons were almost outworn and declared that they had to do with a
devil, not a man. Yet they spoke well of him, as did all others,
holding that he who after such a fall dared to persevere and conquer,
must be great-hearted. For they did not understand that, from the
moment of his slip, of his fall he remembered nothing.

Meanwhile, though he knew it not, at the Court of King Apepi it was
believed that he was dead. The tidings of his fall from the pyramid
and, it was added, of his death, for dead he seemed to be, had
overtaken that messenger, a Brother of the Dawn named Temu, who bore
the answer from the Council of the Dawn and Khian's own letter, as he
embarked upon the Nile, and he had spread it abroad and carried it to
the Court at Tanis. When Apepi heard this news he was grieved in a
fashion, since he had loved his son a little, at least when he was
younger, though not much because in his fierce and selfish heart there
was small room for any love save of himself.

Soon, however, his grief was swallowed up in wrath at that which was
written in the letter from the Brotherhood of the Dawn, which he swore
to destroy root and branch unless Nefra, whom they had dared to crown
Queen of Egypt, were given to him in marriage. Moreover, he believed
that Khian had not come to his end by a chance tumble from the
pyramid, but that he had been done to death at the decree of this
Brotherhood, that the heir to the Crown of the North might be removed
because he stood in the path of her who had been consecrated Queen of
all Egypt. But of all these things Apepi wrote nothing to the Council
of the Dawn. Indeed, he seized their messenger, Temu, and kept him in
a safe place where he could communicate with none, and meanwhile made
certain plans and preparations.



During the weeks which followed his recovery Khian did more than climb
the pyramids. Thus he received instruction in the faith and worship of
the Brotherhood of the Dawn, as it had been promised that he should
do. In the evening, in a little lamp-lit hall, he was taught by Tau,
or by Roy the Prophet, or sometimes by both of them together.
Moreover, he shared this instruction with another pupil, Nefra the
neophyte.

There he sat at one end of a table with ink and papyrus in front of
him, while at the other end, with Kemmah behind her and the gigantic
Ru standing in the shadow as a guard and sentinel, sat the young Queen
simply clothed in white as a neophyte should be, so placed that he
could see her face in the rays of the lamp and she could see his, and
yet too far away for them to talk together. At the centre of the table
in carved seats sat Roy and Tau, or one of them, expounding the secret
mysteries of their Order, and from time to time asking or answering
questions.

So pure and beautiful was the faith they taught that very soon it
possessed the heart of Khian. In its outlines it was simple, that of
the existence of one great Spirit, of whose attributes all the gods
they knew were ministers, a Spirit who for its own purposes sent them
forth into the world, whence in due time it would draw them back
again. Moreover, these holy and learned men taught their pupils of
those purposes, declaring that the greatest of them was to promote
peace upon the earth and to do good to all that breathed. Yet there
were other parts of this doctrine which were not so plain and easy,
for these had to do with the methods by which that Spirit could be
approached of those who still dwelt upon the earth, with forms of
prayer and hidden rites also, that would bring the Worshipped into
communion with the worshipper. Further, there were many rules of life
and great principles of politics and government, all of which were a
part of the law.

Khian hearkened and found this doctrine good, for therein was that
which fed if as yet it did not satisfy his hungry soul. On a certain
day at the end of the last lesson, he rose and said:

"O holy Prophets Roy and Tau, I accept your teaching; I would be sworn
as the humblest of the Brethren of the Order of the Dawn. Only for a
certain reason which I must keep secret, of your temporal politics I
say nothing either good or ill, neither do I bind myself to them. In
the spirit I am yours; in the flesh and for the purposes of the flesh,
as yet I am the slave of others. Is it enough?"

Roy and Tau consulted together while Nefra watched them curiously and
Khian sat lost in thought, his head bowed between his hands. At length
the old prophet spoke, saying:

"Son, the time you can give to study and preparation being short and
your heart being set upon the truth, it is enough. Here in these tombs
also we learn many things, and amongst them that men are not always
what they seem to be. Thus it well may chance that by blood, birth,
and duty you are bound with chains you cannot break, even to satisfy
your soul. It well may chance, moreover, that it is not for you to
take the vows of celibacy and abstinence, or to swear that you will
lift no sword in war, since perhaps it is decreed that your mission in
the world must be otherwise fulfilled. Further, what we say to you, we
say to our sister who with you has listened to the words of Life. Her
feet also are set upon a road that is high and difficult. Therefore,
exempting both of you from much to which others must bow their heads,
to-morrow we will absolve you from your sins, swear you to our
precepts, to break which will bring a curse upon your souls, and
number you among our company in earth and Heaven."

So it came about that on the next day at a great ceremony in the
temple hall, Khian the Prince and Nefra the Queen received at the
hands of Roy the Ancient absolution of all evil that they had thought
or done, and thereafter were sworn as full members of the Order of the
Dawn, vowing themselves to accept its law as their guiding star and to
pursue its holy ends eternally. Separately they knelt before its
white-robed High Priest while far off on the confines of the great
hall and out of hearing of their speech the brethren watched them as
witnesses, and received forgiveness and benediction with words of
whispered counsel, then withdrew and seated themselves side by side
while all that company chanted the ancient hymn of welcome to their
souls reborn. By slow degrees the loud, triumphant music grew less and
died away, as, headed by Roy, those who sang departed from the temple,
till at last there was a great silence, and in the silence they sat
alone.

Khian looked about him and noted that even Ru and Kemmah were gone; in
that great and solemn place they were quite alone, stared at by the
cold statues of gods and ancient kings.

Khian looked at Nefra and asked:

"Of what are you thinking, Sister?"

"I am thinking, Brother, that I have heard wonderful words and
received holy blessings which should have changed me from a sinful
maiden into a saint like Roy, and that yet I feel much the same as I
did before."

"Are you sure that Roy is so great a saint, Sister? I have seen him
once or twice grow wrath like others. Also does the absence of
temptation, of which there can be little after ninety, make a saint?
For the rest, doubtless you feel as you did before, because it is not
possible for snow to grow whiter than snow."

"Or fire hotter than fire. But have done, Brother. Is this a time or
place for pretty speeches? Hearken, for as we are now both bound in
the bonds of the same great oath we can speak our minds to each other,
fearing no betrayal. These rites have changed me little, if at all,
who always have known the doctrines of the Dawn that from childhood
were instilled into my heart, although, until I attained my present
age, under its law I could not be admitted to the full fellowship of
the order. Behold! I am still no spirit but a woman as before, full of
mortal purposes. Thus," she added slowly, considering him with her
large eyes, "my father was slain by one I hold to be the usurper of
his rights; one, too, who, I think, would have murdered me if he
could, and for those deeds I desire to repay him. Also to them of late
he has added deadly insult, for now this slayer of my father and
would-be murderer seeks to take me, the orphaned child, in marriage,
and for that affront, too, I would repay him."

"Bad, very bad, Sister," answered Khian, shaking his head sadly,
perhaps to hide a certain twitching of the corners of his mouth. "But,
if I may ask, did you confess these black sins to the holy prophet
Roy, and if so, what did he say of them, Sister?"

"I did, Brother, who could think of nothing else to confess, or at
least not much, and what he answered makes me believe that you are
right in holding that the holy Roy is still not so holy as he might
be. He said, Brother, that such thoughts were born of my ancient blood
and natural, and that it was right that those who committed great
crimes for cold, base purposes should suffer for the crimes, and that
if I were the means of bringing punishment upon this man, it would be
because it had been so decreed by Heaven. Therefore he did not set me
down as sinful in this matter. But enough. Tell me, Brother, if it
pleases you, do you find yourself changed at heart?"

"I find my feet set upon a better and a higher road, Sister, for now I
know what to worship--I who worshipped nothing because I could believe
in nothing--also, how this new god should be worshipped. For the rest,
no one killed my father or sought to murder me and therefore I do not
wish to be avenged upon any one--at present. Yet, Sister----" and he
paused.

"I am listening, Brother, who feel sure that you cannot be quite so
good as you would have me understand."

"Good! No, I am not good; I only hope to become good if I can find
someone to help me--no, not Roy, or Tau, or Kemmah, or the whole
Council of the Dawn--someone quite different."

"A goddess from on high," suggested Nefra.

"Yes, that is well said--a goddess from on high--we will talk of her
presently. But first what I want to say is that in following after
righteousness I have fallen into a very deep pit."

"What pit, Brother?" asked Nefra, looking up at the roof of the
temple.

"One out of which I think you alone can help me. But I must explain.
First you should know that I am a liar. I am not the Scribe Rasa. The
Scribe Rasa, an excellent man and a master of his trade, died many
years ago when I was a boy. I am----" and he hesitated.

"--The Prince Khian, son of Apepi and heir apparent to the Crown of
the North," suggested Nefra.

"Yes, you have got it quite right, except that I do not think I am any
longer heir apparent, or at any rate I shall soon cease to be so. But
may I ask, Sister, how you came to know my style and title?"

"We know everything in the House of the Dawn, Brother, also, as it
chances, you told me them yourself when you were sick--or was it
Kemmah?"

"Then it was very wrong of you to listen, Sister, and I hope that you
confessed that sin with the others. Well, now perhaps you see the pit.
The Prince Khian, the only lawful son of King Apepi--at present--has
been sworn a member of the Order of the Dawn, which order it is the
purpose of King Apepi to destroy, as is not wonderful, kings being
what they are, seeing that it has just crowned a certain lady Queen of
Egypt and thereby in a sense declared war against him, the usurper.
Now tell me, what can I do who on the one hand am the Prince Khian and
on the other something much higher and better--a brother of the Order
of the Dawn?"

"The answer is simple, Brother. You must make peace between Apepi and
the Order of the Dawn."

"Indeed, and how? By praying a certain sister to become the Queen of
King Apepi? Thus only can such a peace be made, as you know well."

"I never said it," answered Nefra, flushing. "Moreover, it does not
please me to listen to such counsel--even from a brother."

"Nor would it please even a brother to give such counsel, for if it
were taken, that brother would soon be numbered among those who make
their prayers and swing their censers in the heavenly shrine whereof
we are instructed in the mysteries."

"Why?" asked Nefra innocently. "If he gave it not, I could understand,
for then a certain king might be wrath. But if he gave it, why?"

"Because then a certain queen might be wrath, one who, as you, Sister,
have told me, loves vengeance. Or at least, because he himself, if
that counsel were taken, would be so weary of the world that he could
tread it no more."

Now for a while there was silence between them and, beneath the shadow
of their white hoods, each of them sat staring at the ground.

"Sister," said Khian at last, and as she made no answer, repeated in a
louder voice, "Sister!"

"Forgive me, I had almost fallen asleep after last night's vigils.
What is it, Brother?"

"Only this. Would you be minded to help a poor prince out of the pit
of which I have spoken by dragging him up with a silken rope of--well,
of love which all members of this company owe to one another--and
making him a king?"

"A king? A king of what? Of these tombs and the dead in them?"

"Oh, no! Of your heart and the life in it. Hearken, Nefra. Together we
may stand against my father Apepi, but apart we must fall, for when he
comes to learn the truth he will kill me, and if he can lay his hands
on you, drag you whither you do not wish to go. Moreover, I love you,
Nefra. From the moment when I heard your voice yonder by the palm
trees and knew you for a woman beneath your cloak, I loved you, though
then I thought you but some simple girl. What more is there to say?
The future is dark; great dangers lie ahead. Mayhap it will be
necessary to fly to far lands and leave all these pomps behind us. Yet
together would they not be well lost?"

"Then what of Egypt, Prince Khian? What of Egypt and the mission laid
upon me and the oath you heard me swear in this very hall?"

"I do not know," he answered confusedly. "The road is dark. Yet with
love to light our feet we shall find a way. Say that you love me, and
all will be well."

"Say that I love you, the son of him who slew my father, that murderer
who seeks to make me his. How can I say this, Prince Khian?"

"If you love me, Nefra, you can say it, because it will be the truth,
and have we not heard that to hide the truth is the greatest of sins?
Do you love me?"

"I cannot answer. I will not answer. Ask it of the Sphinx. Nay, ask it
of the Spirit of the Pyramids, and by her word I will abide, for that
spirit is my spirit. One day still remains to us. Ask it to-morrow of
the Spirit of the Pyramids, if you dare to seek and find her beneath
the moon."

Then suddenly she rose and fled away, leaving him alone and wondering.



CHAPTER XII

THE SPIRIT OF THE PYRAMIDS

That night Khian slept little; his thoughts would not let him sleep.
They filled his mind with problems and as in a mirror showed him the
pitfalls that lay about his feet. He, the Prince of the North, was
sworn a brother of the Order of the Dawn, which his father, the King,
threatened to destroy, and how did these two offices agree? Could he
smite with the one hand and defend with the other? Nay, it was
impossible. Therefore he must cease either to be a prince, or to be a
brother. There his path was clear. Let the rank go; indeed, had it not
already been taken away from him with his own consent? Therefore, why
should he trouble about it now? Henceforth he was nothing but Brother
Khian of the Order of the Dawn. Nay, he was something more--an
ambassador who awaited a certain answer which must be conveyed to the
King who sent him on his mission. It was as to a matter of marriage;
as to whether a royal lady would become the wife of that king or would
choose to face his wrath.

Here again his task was easy. He must deliver the answer, whatever it
might be, after which his duty came to an end and he would remain
nothing more than a Brother of the Order of the Dawn, and perhaps a
Prince. If that answer were such as the King desired, then doubtless
he, the ambassador, would be allowed to go his ways in peace, though
no more as heir to the throne of the North. But if it were very
different; if, for example, it announced that this lady refused the
King in favour of the ambassador who chanced to be his son--what? Why!
Death--no less--death or flight!

Yet at this thought Khian was not dismayed, he even smiled a little as
it crossed his mind, remembering the teachings of his new philosophy,
that all was in the hands of Heaven and that naught happened save that
which must happen. He did not desire to die who now had so much for
which to live, but if death came that philosophy taught him not to be
afraid. Nor did he write himself down a traitor to his duty, because
he knew that in any case Nefra would have refused this monstrous
marriage, of which she had spoken to him as an insult. Moreover, as
yet he did not know that any thought of him would weigh with her. He
had offered her his love, but she had not accepted this gift. She had
said that she could not answer, that he must ask the "Spirit of the
Pyramids" whether she, Nefra the Queen, loved or did not love him,
Khian the Prince. What could such words mean? There was no Spirit of
the Pyramids; everywhere he had inquired of this legend and learned
that it was built of air. How could he ask of a spirit that which a
woman refused to tell, and where should he find this oracle?

He was told to seek it by the light of the full moon among the ancient
graves. Well, that on his part nothing might be lacking, he would seek
like any simple fool, and if he found nothing, would understand that
Nothing was his answer. Then, seeking no more, he would demand from
Roy the writing that he must bear to King Apepi and depart sore-
hearted to accomplish its delivery. This done he would abide the wrath
of the King and, should he escape, would wander away to such distant
place as Roy or the Council might appoint and there preach the
doctrines of the Dawn or do such things as he was commanded, turning
his heart from woman and the joys of life.

Soon he would know; soon all would be finished in this way or in that,
for on the morrow of the night of full moon the young Queen must give
her answer to the demand of Apepi and he, the ambassador, must bear
that answer back to Tanis. Meanwhile this was certain--he who had
never loved before worshipped the maiden Nefra with body and with
spirit and above all earthly things desired her as his wife; so much
so that if he were to lose her he cared not what else he might lose,
even to life itself.



It was the appointed time and Khian, quite alone, for as an admitted
brother now he could pass where he would, unquestioned and unwatched,
wandered to and fro among the tombs which surrounded the greatest of
the pyramids. He was sad-hearted who believes his to be but a fool's
errand; moreover, all his troubles weighed upon his soul. The vast
solemnity of the place, too, with its endless streets of graves above
which the pyramids towered eternally, crushed him. What a spot was
this for a love quest, here surrounded by the monuments which told of
the end of all human things. Hundreds of years ago those who slept
within these tombs had ceased from mortal loves and hates, and as they
were, soon he would be also, perchance before another full moon shone
in yonder sky. He wondered whether they looked upon him now with calm,
invisible eyes; not one, but ten thousand spirits of the pyramids.

He sat him down upon a stone in the midst of that deep silence which
was only broken from time to time by the melancholy howlings of some
jackal seeking food, and watched the shadows creep across the sand. At
length, growing weary, he covered his face with his hands and brooded
on the mystery of all things, as was natural in such a place, and
whence men came and whither they must go, a problem that not even Roy
could solve.

He heard nothing, yet suddenly, why he did not know, he was moved to
let fall his hands and look about him. Surely something stirred yonder
in the shadow of a great tomb. Perhaps it was a night-haunting beast.
Nay, it seemed too tall. It came out of that shadow and for a moment
could be seen flitting to the shelter of another tomb where it
vanished. Surely it was a white-veiled woman or a ghost.

Khian was frightened, his hair rose upon his head. Yet springing to
his feet he followed it. He came to the tomb where it had disappeared.
It was gone. Nay, there it was far away, shaping a course, it would
seem, toward the second pyramid, that of the Pharaoh Khafra. Again he
followed, but fast as he went, that figure went faster, now hidden and
now seen, so that when at length it reached the north face of the
second pyramid called /Ur-Khafra/, or "Greatest Khafra," it was a
spear's cast in front of him.

Surely, he thought, it would halt there. But it did not. It began to
glide up the face of the pyramid and then, at the height of a tall
palm tree, it disappeared.

Now Khian more than once had climbed this second pyramid by its
northern face and knew that there was no opening in it. Therefore it
would seem that what he had seen was indeed a ghost which had melted
away as ghosts are said to do. Still, to satisfy himself, though
fearfully, he climbed after it and when he had scaled some fifty feet
of the steep side, stopped astonished, for behold! there in the
pyramid was what seemed to be an open door beyond which a passage ran
downwards. Moreover, in that passage lamps were set at a distance from
each other. He hesitated, for he was much afraid, but at length,
thinking to himself that ghosts need no lamps and that but one, man or
woman, had entered in front of him, he grew courageous and followed.

For some five and thirty paces this passage ran downwards steeply
between walls of granite, then for another thirty paces it ran on upon
the level, ending at last in a large chamber hewn from the living rock
and roofed with great painted slabs of stone leaning against each
other to bear the mighty weight of the pyramid above. In this darksome
place, sunk into the rock, stood a sarcophagus of granite and naught
else.

Khian crept down the passages by the light of the lamps, his footsteps
echoing against their walls of stone, and from the shelter of a huge
half-opened granite door peeped into the tomb chamber. It was lit by
one lamp that stood upon the sarcophagus whereof the feeble rays shone
like a star in the black gloom of the vaulted hall. This gloom he
searched with his eyes. In vain; he could see no one, the veiled shape
he had followed was not; or perchance it had departed by some farther
door into the bowels of the pyramid.

Muttering a prayer for protection against the spirit of the Pharaoh
upon whose rest he broke, and drawing his bronze sword lest he should
find that he had been lured into this dreadful place by evildoers,
Khian crept forward through the gloom, very carefully, for there might
be pitfalls in the rocky floor. Coming at length to the sarcophagus he
stood irresolute, for of a sudden his courage seemed to fail him.

What if in truth he had been following a ghost and that ghost should
spring upon him from behind! Nay, he would be brave. Did ghosts set
lamps in niches? Their shapes showed that they were ancient lamps, it
was true; perhaps the same that were used by the builders of the
pyramid a thousand years before, or by those who bore the body of the
king to its last resting place. Yet lamps did not burn eternally,
unless indeed they were ghostly lamps; the oil in them must be new and
set there by human hands. The thought gave him courage and he stood
still who had meditated flight. There was a sound at the far end of
the hall, a rustling sound that checked the beating of his heart. In
the darkness appeared a cloud of white which floated forward. The
ghost was upon him!

He stood where he was--perchance because he could not stir. The white-
veiled shape drew near and halted. Now only the width of the tomb was
between them and he stared at it over the flame of the lamp but could
see nothing because the face was covered, like the face of one new-
dead. In his terror he lifted the sword as though to stab at this
unearthly thing. Then a soft voice spoke, saying:

"O Seeker of the Spirit of the Pyramids, would you greet her with a
sword-thrust, and if so, why?"

"Because I am afraid," he answered. "That which is veiled is always
terrible, especially in such a place as this."

As he spoke the veil fell, and in the lamplight he saw the form and
the beautiful, flushed face of Nefra.

"What is the meaning of this play, O Queen?" he asked faintly.

"Does Khian, the heir of the King of the North, name me Queen?" she
asked in a mocking voice. "Well, if so, he is right, since here above
the bones of him who, history tells, was my forefather and of whose
throne I am the heritor, so I should be called. Prince Khian, you
sought the Spirit of the Pyramids who never was except in fable, and
you have found a queen who is both flesh and spirit. If still you have
aught to say to her, speak on, since time is short and soon she may be
missed."

"I have nothing to say except what I have said already. Nefra, I love
you well and I would learn of you whether you love me. I pray you play
with me no more, but let me hear the truth."

"It is short and simple," she answered, raising her head and looking
straight into his eyes. "Khian, if you love me well, I love you
better, for of this treasure woman has more to give than man."

His mind reeled beneath the weight of her words and his body with it,
so that he must rest his hand upon the stone of the tomb to save
himself from falling. Yet his first thought was angry and broke from
his lips in a sharp question.

"If that be so, Nefra, what need to bring me to this dreadful place of
death to tell me that it is so? What need to make me follow a dream
and a ghost that I might find a woman? Surely the jest is ill-
conceived."

"Not so much so as you think, Khian," she answered gently. "Yesterday
I could not tell you what I longed to speak, because, being what I am,
I must lay the matter before others, I, who am not a mistress of
myself, but the servant of a cause. Therefore I sought time till I had
learned that what I desired was the will of those who are set above me
and, as they declare, of Heaven which is set above them. Had it been
otherwise, you would have seen no Spirit of the Pyramids to-night and
no Queen Nefra ere you departed to-morrow morning, and thus would have
had your answer which I should have been spared the pain of speaking."

"Then Roy and the rest approve, Nefra?"

"Aye, they approve; indeed, it seems that from the first they hoped
for this and therefore brought us together as much as might be,
because they trust that so Egypt may once more be united and that thus
their policy may prosper through our love."

"Much must happen before that can be," said Khian sadly.

"I know it, Khian. Great dangers threaten us. Indeed, I think that
they are near. It is for this reason that, playing the part of a
ghost, I have led you to this ancient sepulchre, believed of all to be
haunted by the dead, that you may learn its secret and at need make of
it your hiding place, Khian. Now I will show you the trick of the door
in the casing of the pyramid, revealed to me by right of birth and to
certain others by right of office, for from generation to generation
this secret has descended as an inheritance in the family of the
Captain of the Pyramids who are sworn not to disclose it, even under
torture. Look, Khian."

Lifting the lamp Nefra held it above her head and pointed to the end
of the tomb chamber, where by its light he saw a large number of great
jars set against the wall.

"Those vessels," she added, "are filled with wine, oil, grain, dried
flesh, corn, and other sorts of food; also, nearer to the entrance, as
I will show you, are more jars of water which from time to time is
renewed, so that here a man, or indeed several men, might live for
months and yet not starve."

"The gods defend me from such a fate!" he said, dismayed.

"Aye, Khian, yet who knows? That jackal is safest which has a hole to
run to when its hunters are afoot."

"Sooner would I be killed in the open than go mad here in the darkness
with the dead for fellowship," he answered doubtfully.

"Nay, Khian, you must not be killed; now you must live on--for me and
Egypt."

She set down the lamp in its place and moved to the foot of the tomb.
He did likewise, so that there they met and stood a little while,
gazing at each other in the midst of a silence that was so deep that
they could hear the beating of their hearts. Speech had left them, as
though they had no more words to say, yet their eyes spoke in a
language of their own. They bent towards each other like wind-swayed
palms, nearer and nearer yet, till of a sudden she lay in his arms and
her lips were pressed upon his own.

"Beloved," he said presently, "swear that while I live you will wed no
man but me."

She lifted her head from his shoulder and looked at him with her large
and beautiful eyes that were aswim with tears.

"Is it needful?" she asked in a new voice, a deep, rich voice. "You
have little faith, Khian, and I ask no such oath from you."

"Because it would be foolish, Nefra, for who, having loved you, could
turn to others? Yet there are many who will seek the fairest lady on
the earth and Egypt's Queen. Indeed, has not one sought her already?
Therefore, I pray you, swear."

"So be it. I swear by the Spirit that we worship, both of us; I swear
by Egypt which, if Roy be right, we shall rule in the days to come;
and I swear by the bones of my forefather who sleeps within this tomb
that I will wed none but you, Khian. While you live I will be faithful
to you, and if you die then swiftly I will follow you, that what we
have lost on earth, we may find in the Underworld. If I break this, my
oath, then may I become as is he who sleeps beneath my hand to-day,"
and she touched the tomb with her fingers. "Aye, may my name be
blotted from the roll of Egypt's royal ones and may Set take my spirit
as his slave. Is it enough, O faithless Khian?"

"Enough and more than enough. Oh! how shall I thank you who have given
life to my heart? How shall I serve you whom I adore?"

She shook her head, making no answer, but he, loosing her from his
arms, sank to his knees before her. He abased himself as a slave; he
lifted the hem of her robe and kissed it, saying:

"Queen of my heart and rightful Queen of Egypt, I, Khian, worship you
and do you homage. Whatever I have or may have, I set beneath your
feet, acknowledging your Majesty. Henceforth I, your lover who hope to
be your husband, am the humblest of your subjects."

She bent down and raised him.

"Nay," she said, smiling, when once more he stood upon his feet, "you
are greater than I and it is the woman who serves the man, not the man
the woman. Well, we will serve each other and thus be equal. But,
Khian, what of Apepi who is your father?"

"I do not know," he answered. "Yet, father or not, I pray that he may
not try to come between us."

"I pray so also, Khian. To-night is happy, never was there so happy a
night; but to-morrow--oh! what of to-morrow?"

"It is in the Hands of God, Nefra, therefore let us fear nothing."

"Aye, Khian, but often the paths of God are steep and rough, or so my
father and my mother found. Like us they loved each other well, yet
this Apepi was their doom. Come, we must go, for alas! all sweet
things have their end."

So once more they clung and kissed, and then hand in hand went down
the darksome ways of that House of Death to the moonlit world without.

When they had climbed the steep ascent and were come to the mouth of
the passage, Nefra stopped and by the light of the last lamp, for she
had extinguished the others as they went, taught Khian how, by
pressing a certain stone which swung upon a pivot, the place could be
closed at will and, if need were, made fast from within by the aid of
a bar and pins of granite, which the builders of the pyramid had used
to shut out the curious while they went about their work upon the
secret burial chambers at its heart. Also she showed him a great
hanging door of granite that those who brought the Pharaoh to his
burial a thousand years before had forgotten or neglected to let fall
as they departed, leaving him to his eternal rest.

"See," she said, "if that wedge of stone were knocked away the great
door would fall. Therefore touch it not, lest we should be shut into
this Pyramid of Ur and lay our bones with those of the mighty Khafra,
its architect. Look, yonder in that niche, where perhaps once stood
the priest or soldier who was guardian of the door, are the jars of
water of which I spoke, and by them oil and lamps and wicks of reed
and fuel and means of raising fire, with other needful things."

Having shown him all and made sure that he understood, Nefra quenched
the last lamp and set it in the niche. Then they crept out on to the
side of the pyramid where thrice she made Khian close and open the
swinging stone, until he had mastered the trick of it, after which,
with a wedge of marble that fitted in a socket hollowed to receive it
and yet could be withdrawn in a moment, she made the stone fast, so
that now none could tell it from those around unless they had the
secret and knew in which course of the casing blocks it lay. This
done, they descended to the ground just by a fallen block that marked
where the seeker for the swinging stone must mount. Crossing the
paving that surrounds the pyramid, they reached the temple of the
Worship of Khafra to the east and kept in its shadow lest they should
be seen by some night wanderer. Here, too, they parted with sweet
murmured words of farewell, Nefra taking one path homewards and Khian
another.

Slowly he made his way through the vast, moonlit wilderness of tombs,
his heart filled with a great joy, for had he not won all that he
desired? Yet with this joy was mingled fear of what the morrow might
bring forth. Then would be handed to him, the ambassador, the written
answer of Nefra to the demand of Apepi, his father, that she should
give herself to him in marriage. Now he knew well what that answer
would be, but what he did not know was how Apepi would receive him
when, as duty demanded, he delivered it to him. There was but one hope
--that he might prove content that his son should wed this queen
without a throne instead of himself, seeing that the reason of such a
marriage was political and nothing else, and he, Khian, was his
father's heir. Had Apepi seen Nefra, almost certainly things would
befall otherwise, for he knew his father's nature and that he would
desire to possess himself of beauty such as hers. Happily, however, he
had not seen her and therefore might be content to let her go, who was
naught to him if he could secure her heritage for the House of the
Shepherd kings.

Yet Khian doubted whether events would thus shape themselves. It well
might be that when he learned, as learn he would certainly through his
spies or otherwise, that his son was betrothed to the high lady whom
he had sought for himself, that he would hold that his son, who was
also his ambassador, had played the traitor to him, which in a sense
was true. If so, he might be very wrath and terrible in his rage, who
was cruel-hearted. Moreover, he might desire vengeance. What
vengeance? Perhaps the death of the traitor, no less, and if still she
would not marry him, the death of Nefra also. For was she not Egypt's
lawful Queen and, while she lived, could he sit safe upon his stolen
throne?

As he picked his way among the tombs by the moonlight Khian knew in
his heart that he and Death were face to face. Dark imaginations
possessed him. Almost could he see that grisly shape stalking ahead of
him while, wrapped in the long, hooded cloak that he used as a
disguise, his shadow, cast by the moonlight on the sand, to his sight
took the very shape of Osiris in his mummy wrappings--yes, of Osiris
the god of death. Yet if so, was not Osiris also the god of
resurrection and the king of life eternal? If indeed doom awaited him
and Nefra, at least beyond the grave lay joy and peace for thousands
of thousands of years.

So Roy taught and so he believed. Still, coming fresh from the lips of
his love, those warm and human lips with her sweet words echoing in
his ears, he shivered at these sad and solemn thoughts. For who could
be sure of what lay over the edge of the world? Oh! who could be quite
sure?



Khian came to the private door of the Temple of the Sphinx. As he
approached it, from beneath its arch appeared the gigantic shape of Ru
who looked at him with curious eyes.

"Have you been seeking the Spirit of the Pyramids, Lord, that you
wander abroad so late?"

"Who else?" asked Khian.

"And did you find her, Lord, and look upon her face that men say is so
beautiful?"

"Yes, Ru, I found her and looked upon her face. Nor does rumour lie as
to her beauty."

"And are you already mad, Lord, as they say those become on whom that
Spirit smiles?"

"Yes, Ru, I am mad--mad with love."

"And being mad, Lord, are you prepared to pay the price of her embrace
and to follow her into the Underworld?"

"If need be, I am prepared, Ru."

The giant stood pondering, his eyes fixed upon the sand. At length he
lifted his head, saying:

"Lord, I am but a fool of a fighting man, yet to us of the Ethiopian
blood foresight comes at times. I tell you because I like you well
that I see it written upon this sand that for your own sake and that
of another, you would be wise this very night to fly fast and far
across the sea to Syria or to Cyprus, or up Nile to the south, and
there lie hid awaiting better days."

"I thank you, Ru. But tell me, at the end of that writing on the sand,
do you see the symbol of Osiris?"

"No, Lord, not that for you or for another. Yet I do see the signs of
blood and many sorrows near at hand."

"Blood dries and sorrows pass, Ru," and leaving the Ethiopian still
staring at the ground, Khian entered the temple and sought his
chamber.



CHAPTER XIII

THE MESSENGER FROM TANIS

The Council of the Order of the Dawn was summoned to meet early in the
morning on the morrow of that night of full moon when the Prince
Khian, in searching for a spirit, had found a woman and a lover. At
daybreak, those who watched the frontier of the Holy Field had
reported that a messenger had come by boat from King Apepi and waited
in the grove of palms to be escorted under safe-conduct into the
presence of the Council. It was added that when he was asked what had
chanced to the priest Temu who had been sent bearing writings from the
Council to the King of the North at Tanis, this messenger replied that
he had died of sickness at the Court, and therefore could return no
more, or so he had heard. Then it was ordered that the man should be
led before the Council at its meeting, there to deliver his message or
the writings that he bore.

At the appointed hour Roy the Prophet and all the Council of the Dawn
assembled in the temple hall, whither came also every member of the
Order to hear the answer of Nefra the Queen to the demands of the King
Apepi, and with them Khian under his name and title of Rasa the
Scribe, the envoy from the King of the North. Lastly, royally arrayed
and for the first time wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt,
appeared Nefra herself attended by the Ethiopian, Ru, for a body-
servant, and Lady Kemmah, her nurse. She took her seat upon the throne
that was set to receive her, the same throne that she had filled upon
the night of her coronation, whereon the Council and the company rose
and made obeisance to her.

At this moment it was announced that the messenger from King Apepi
waited without with the letters of the King. It was ordered that he
should be admitted, and he entered, guarded by two priests.

Khian looked at him as he came up the dusky hall, thinking that he
might know him again as one of the King's Court at Tanis, and saw a
thickset man of middle-height who limped as he walked, and was wrapped
round with shawls that even covered the lower part of his face, as
though to protect himself against the cold of the winter morning.
Suddenly this man's glance fell upon Khian watching him, whereon he
started and turned his head. Next it fell upon Nefra seated in pomp
and youthful beauty upon the throne and illumined by a ray of light
that struck full upon her through one of the high-placed window
openings of the hall. Again the man started as though in wonder, then
limped on towards the dais. Arriving in front of it he bowed humbly,
drew from his robe a papyrus roll which he laid against his forehead
before handing it to one of the priests who mounted the dais and gave
it to Nefra. She received the writing and passed it on to the Prophet
Roy who sat upon her right hand.

Having opened and studied it, Roy read the writing aloud. It was short
and ran thus:


 "From Apepi the Pharaoh to the Council of the Order of the Dawn:

 "I, the Pharaoh, have received your letter, also one from my envoy,
  the Scribe Rasa. Your messenger, who gave the name of Temu,
  reached this Court sick and after lingering for many days, has
  died. Yet before he died he told my officers that the envoy whom I
  sent to you, Rasa the Scribe, was dead, having fallen from a
  pyramid. I demand to know the circumstances of the death of this
  scribe, my servant, holding that he has been murdered among you.

 "Of what is written in your letter I say nothing till I learn the
  answer of the Lady Nefra to the offer of marriage with me, the
  Pharaoh, which I have made to her, for according to that answer I
  shall act. This roll I send by a faithful man but one who, being
  humble in his station, knows nothing of the matter with which it
  deals, for the reason that I will not trust another of my high
  officers among you. Deliver your answer to this man and let him
  return at once, for if accident overtakes him also, I, the
  Pharaoh, shall smite.

 "Sealed with the seal of Apepi, the good god, Pharaoh of the Upper
  and the Lower Lands, and with the seal of his Vizier Anath."


Having read Roy cast down the writing, for his rage was great, and
motioned to the messenger to fall back. This he did readily, as though
afraid, taking his stand among the shadows of the lower part of the
hall where he leaned against a pillar after the fashion of one who is
lame and weary.

Then Roy spoke, saying:

"The King Apepi sends us no answer to those things that we wrote to
him, but accuses us of the murder of his envoy, the Scribe Rasa, and
tells us that our messenger Temu is dead of sickness, which we do not
believe, to whom it is given to know if aught of ill befalls one of
our brethren. Be pleased to appear, Scribe Rasa, that this messenger
from King Apepi and all here gathered may see that you are not dead,
but living. Come hither, Scribe Rasa, and take your stand by the
throne that all may behold you."

So Khian mounted the dais and stood by the throne, and as he came
Nefra smiled at him, and he smiled at her. Then Roy went on:

"Queen Nefra, the time has come when you must make answer to the
demand of King Apepi that your Majesty should give yourself to him in
marriage. What say you, Queen Nefra?"

"Holy Prophet and Council of the Dawn," answered Nefra in a clear and
quiet voice, "I say that I thank the King Apepi, but that I will not
give myself in marriage to him who brought my father to his death and
by treachery would have taken my mother and myself that he might bring
us also to our deaths. It is enough."

"Let the words of her Majesty be written down that she may seal them
with her seal and that certain of us may seal them as witnesses. Let
them be written down forthwith and given to the envoy of King Apepi,
Rasa the Scribe. Also let a copy of them be given to this messenger,
that thus we may be certain that they come to the eyes of King Apepi."

It was done, Tau writing them with his own hands, after which they
were sealed, copied, and made fast in rolls. Then Roy commanded that
the messenger of King Apepi should advance and receive the copy.

But when they searched for him that messenger was gone. During the
long writing and sealings he had slipped away unnoted, telling those
who guarded the door that he had his answer to the message and was
dismissed. There was talk of following him, but Tau said:

"Let him be. The man grew frightened and ran, thinking that if he
stayed here he might die, as our brother Temu is said to have died at
Tanis. That he has left the roll matters nothing, since what his ears
have heard his tongue can tell."

So that messenger departed and, save Roy, none thought of him more.



Khian was summoned to a private chamber, that of Roy. There he found
the prophet himself and with him the lord Tau, some of the elders of
the Council, and Nefra attended by the Lady Kemmah. When he was seated
Roy spoke, saying:

"Our Queen has told us a story, Prince Khian, for so you are, as we
have known from the first. She says that while wandering among the
tombs last night, as at times it is her fancy to do, she chanced to
meet you, Prince Khian, who were taken with a like desire, and that
you spoke together alone. If so, what did you say to the Queen and
what did she say to you?"

"Holy Prophet, I said that I loved her and desired to be her husband,
which were the truest words that ever passed my lips," answered Khian
boldly. "As to what she said to me, let her tell you if she will."

Now the blood came to the brow of Nefra, and looking down, she
murmured:

"I said to the Prince Khian that I gave gift for gift and love for
love, desiring him and no other man to be my lord. Now I pray your
blessing on this choice of mine, my Master in the spirit, and with it
the consent of the Council of the Order to our betrothal."

"The blessing you have in full measure, Sister and Queen, and the
consent I think will not be withheld. Know that we have hoped and
prayed that so it would befall, and even made the happening easy, in
the trust that thus, without war or bloodshed, Egypt that is severed
in twain may once more become one land, acknowledging one throne.
Moreover, it seemed to us who have watched you both that you two are
well-fitted to each other, and we believe that you were appointed to
come together. That is our answer."

"I thank you, Father," said Khian, and Nefra also murmured, "I thank
you."

"Aye," went on Roy, "doubtless your hearts thank us in their
happiness, yet, Prince and Queen, there is more to be said. Troubles
are ahead of you and us, nor can you be united until these are
overcome. Apepi threatens us. When he learns that he has been
rejected, he will be very wrath, and when he comes to understand why
and for whom his suit has been refused--and such a matter cannot be
long concealed--what then? Is it still your purpose, Prince Khian, to
bear our written answer which that messenger has left behind him, to
your father, King Apepi, or will you choose to bide on with us, or to
fly the land and hide awhile?"

Khian thought a little, then replied:

"Before I knew what fate held in store for me, I accepted this embassy
and, according to custom, swore the envoy's oath of loyal service,
namely, that I would bear my message and return with its answer, if I
lived, making a true report of those to whom it was sent. This oath I
must fulfil or be shamed, and therefore I cannot hide away disguised
here or elsewhere because my task has become dangerous. That I have
adopted the doctrines of the Dawn and am affianced to a certain high
lady are my private matters, or so I hold; but to sail in that ship
which has been summoned from Memphis to await me in the river, and to
deliver your answer to the King Apepi, is my public duty. If ill comes
to me in the performing of that duty, it must be so, but if I left it
unperformed I should be no honest man. I will deliver the letters and,
if need be, tell King Apepi the truth, leaving the end of all to
fortune, or rather to the will of That which we worship."

Now Nefra looked at him proudly, while the others murmured: "Well
spoken."

"These are high-hearted words," said Roy, "and they please me, Prince
Khian, who know from them that our Queen has given her love to no base
man. The danger is great and until it be overcome you may not marry
lest your bride should be widowed almost as soon as she was wed. Yet I
believe that it will be overcome and that in the end the Spirit whom
we serve will guide your feet to joy and safety."

"May it be so," said Khian.

"Hearken both of you," went on Roy. "I am very old and it is revealed
to me that soon I must pass hence, how as yet I do not know. Yes, I,
the seeker after light, must enter into the darkness where, as I
trust, I shall find light. Prince Khian, you look upon my face for the
last time. All my days I have striven to bring about the unity of
Egypt, without bloodshed if that might be. Now perchance in the
persons of you, Prince and Queen, this unity will be accomplished and
Egypt will be one again, if only for a while. That accomplishment I
shall not live to see, though I trust that in after days I may hear of
it from your lips elsewhere. Yet being dead I trust also that my
spirit may still guide you both upon the earth although you see it
not. Come hither, Khian, Prince of the North, and Nefra, anointed
Queen of Egypt, that I may bless you."

They came and knelt before the ancient priest who already seemed more
a spirit than a man. He laid his thin hands upon their heads and
blessed them in the name of Heaven and in his own, calling down joy
and fruitfulness upon them and consecrating them to the service of
Egypt--of the order of the Dawn, and of that universal Soul whom they
worshipped. Then suddenly he rose and left them.

One by one, according to their degree, the members of the Council
followed, and with them went Kemmah and the giant Ru, so that
presently Khian and Nefra found themselves alone.

"The hour of farewell is at hand," said Khian sadly.

"Yes, Beloved," answered Nefra, "but oh! when and where will come the
hour of re-union?"

"I do not know, Nefra. None knows, not even Roy, but be brave, for
assuredly it will come. I must go; but now I saw it in your eyes that,
like myself, you thought that I must go."

"Yes, Khian, so I thought, and think. Therefore go, and swiftly,
before my heart breaks. Remember all, Khian, and every word that has
passed between us. Now one thing more. I charge you by our love that
whatever you may hear concerning me, even if they tell you that I am
wed elsewhere, or faithless, that you believe nothing, save that while
I live, here or in the Underworld, I am yours and yours alone, and
that rather than pass into the hands of another man I will surely die.
Do you swear this, Khian?"

"I swear it, Nefra; also that as you are to me, so I will be to you."

Then with murmured words of love again they clung and kissed till
soon, at a sign, for she could speak no more, Khian loosed her from
his arms. He loosed her, he bowed to her, and she bowed back to him.
Then he went. At the doorway he turned to look on her. There robed in
the virginal white of the Sisters of the Dawn, wearing no ornament or
mark of rank and yet looking most royal, she stood still as a statue,
gazing after him while one by one the heavy tears welled from her deep
eyes. Another instant and like some gate of doom the door swung to
behind him and she was seen no more.



In his chamber Khian found Tau, the second Prophet of the Order,
awaiting him.

"I come to tell you, Prince, that your ship is ready at the river
bank, to which your goods with the presents sent by King Apepi have
been borne," he said, adding, "Ru will escort you thither."

"Yes, Tau, but who will escort me back?" he asked, sighing heavily. "I
feel like one who has dreamed a happy dream and awakened to the world
and know it but a dream which will never be fulfilled."

"Take courage, Prince, for I hold otherwise. Yet I will not hide from
you that the peril of all of us is great. We learn that Apepi masses
troops, as he says, to protect himself against the Babylonians who
threaten him, but who can be certain? I would that we had questioned
that messenger as was my purpose. But he slipped away while we thought
that he was waiting for our letter."

"So would I, Tau, but he is gone and now it is too late."

"Prince," went on Tau in a low voice, "it may be that for a while the
Order of the Dawn, and with it a certain lady, must vanish from Egypt.
Yet if this comes about, do not believe that we are lost or dead who
shall but have gone to seek help, whence as yet I may not reveal even
to you, though perchance you may guess. We hate war and bloodshed,
Prince, but if these are forced upon us, we shall fight, or certainly
I shall fight who in my youth was as you are, a soldier and have
commanded armies. Therefore, remember that while I live and indeed
while a Brother or Sister of the Dawn lives throughout the world, and
as you saw on the night of the Crowning, they are many, dwelling in
many lands, that lady will not lack a defender or a home. And now,
farewell till perchance in a day to come I see you and that lady wed
and afterwards crowned as King and Queen of the Land of the Nile,
reigning from the Cataracts to the sea. Again, Brother, fare you
well."



Once more Khian walked across the stretch of desert that lay between
the Sphinx and the palm grove by the bank of the Nile, but this time
his companion was no hooded youth with the voice and the hands of a
woman, but the Ethiopian Ru who, as he went, addressed him in a kind
of soliloquy, after this sort:

"So, Lord, you really are the Prince Khian, as rumour said and the
Lady Kemmah and I guessed from the first, and now you are affianced to
my Queen, for which I hate you because ever since you came she has
hardly had a look or a word for me. Yet to be honest, as such things
must happen, I would rather it was to you than to any one else,
because you are a soldier and I like you, also a man of courage, as
you showed when you learned to climb those pyramids which I should
never have dared to do. So I shall be glad to serve you when you are
married, though if you do not treat my Queen well, beware of this axe,
for then, if you were fifty Pharaohs and a hundred gods, with it I
would still cleave you to the chin. No doubt you think that you are
very clever to win her love, as certainly you have done, but there you
are mistaken. You did not win her love and she did not win yours. It
was those old priests of the Dawn who arranged everything and by their
magic threw a spell upon both of you because they wished to bring all
this about for purposes of their own. Believe me, that as they have
joined you together, so they can separate you if they choose, and by
their incantations, make you hate each other. Only I don't think they
will as that would not suit them, and you see you are both of you
members of the Order of the Dawn, and therefore will be supported by
them in all things that you may desire."

"I am glad to hear that," interrupted Khian, when at length Ru paused
to take breath.

"Yes, yes. Lord, it is a very good thing to be one of the Order, or
even its servant as I am, because then everywhere you have a friend.
Therefore never be afraid, however desperate your case may be, even if
the hangman is putting his rope about your neck; for certainly Roy, or
another far away, will utter one of the spells, or speak a word of
power, and someone will appear to help you. That is why I am quite
sure that in the end you will marry my Queen if both of you continue
to want each other, and that all of us will escape from the jaws of
that roaring lion, your father the King Apepi, although he does think
that he has our heads in his mouth."

"How will you all escape, Ru?"

"Why, Lord, by finding friends who are stronger than Apepi. There is
the King of Babylon, for instance, our Lady's grandfather who can put
two spearmen in the field for every one of Apepi's, to say nothing of
a multitude of chariots drawn by horses, which Apepi has not got. The
Order has plenty of brothers at the Court of the King of Babylon; some
of them were here on the night of the Crowning, and I know that
messages have been going to them almost every day. Never mind how they
went--that's a secret. I should not wonder if we went, too, before
long, and then perhaps I may see some more fighting before I grow too
old and fat to use my axe. As you are affianced to our Queen, I do not
mind talking of these things to you."

"No, of course you don't," answered Khian.

"Talking of messages reminds me of messengers," went on Ru, "or rather
of one messenger. I mean that fellow who came from Apepi this morning
and slipped away afterwards, which he would never have done had I been
guarding him instead of those silly priests."

"What of him?" asked Khian.

"Oh! only that he was a queer sort of fellow, and more, I think, than
he seemed to be. Did you see his eye, Lord? It was like that of a
hawk, very proud, too, such an eye as a great noble might have, and
when he heard the Queen's answer, it grew full of rage and all his
body shook beneath those shawls. More--there were other strange
things. Thus, when he came to the hall he limped as though he were
very lame, but some people who were working in the fields told me that
they saw him running down to the Nile like a hunted jackal.

"Now how can a lame man run like a jackal? Also I hear that when he
came to the boat which was waiting for him, those who were in the boat
or watching on the shore, prostrated themselves as though he were some
Great One, but he leapt aboard and cursed them, calling them slaves--
as a Great One does. That is why I think he was more than he seemed to
be, just like yourself, Lord, who were announced as the Scribe Rasa
and yet are really the Prince Khian. But here we are at the palm grove
where more than a month ago I stole your baggage while you were
asleep, as the Queen, who was only a princess then, put it into my
head to do, for from childhood she has loved such jests. And look,
there is your ship, the same that brought you hither, and there are
the priests with your packages."

"Yes, Ru, there they all are who I wish were somewhere else. And now
here is a present for you, Ru, a chain of fine gold that I have worn
myself. Keep it in memory of me and hang it about your neck when you
attend upon the Queen, that it may make her think of one who is
absent."

"I thank you, Lord, though it seems that you seek to kill two birds
with this stone of a gift, which I may show but may not sell. Well,
lovers will think of themselves first, and I hope that one day if we
should stand together in war---- Why, look! Here comes the Lady
Kemmah, walking faster than I have seen her do for years. I think she
must have some words for you."

As he spoke Kemmah arrived.

"So I have caught you, Prince," she said, puffing. "A pretty task for
an old woman to toil across that sand in the heat like a cow after a
lost calf, just to please a maiden's fancy."

"What is it, Kemmah?" asked Khian anxiously.

"Oh! little enough. To give you this which a certain one might as well
have done herself, had she thought of it, and to pray you to wear it
always for her sake, remembering that thereby she acknowledges you as
her king as well as her lover, which of course she has no right to do,
any more than she has a right to send you what she does. I told her so
but she flew into a rage and said that if I would not take it, she
would bring it herself as she could trust it to no one else. A pretty
sight indeed that a Queen should be seen tearing across the desert
after a departing scribe, for so the common people still believe you
to be. Therefore come I must or bear her wrath."

"I understand, Lady Kemmah, but what do you bring? You have given me
nothing save words."

"Have I not? Well, here it is," and she produced from her robe some
small object wrapped in papyrus on which was written, "The gift of a
Queen to her King and Lover."

Khian undid the papyrus. There within lay the royal signet of Nefra,
the same which he had seen set upon her hand on the night of
Coronation.

"This is the Queen's ring," said Khian, astonished.

"Aye, Prince, and the King her father's ring before her, that which
was taken from his finger by the embalmers after the battle, and his
father's before him, and so on back and back for ages. Look, on it is
cut the name of Khafra whose tomb I think you saw the other night,
though if he ever wore it I cannot tell. At least it has descended
through countless generations from Pharaoh to Pharaoh, and now it
seems must pass as a love gift to one who is not Pharaoh but yet is
charged to wear it as though he were."

"As perchance he may be yet, by right of another, Lady Kemmah, though
the matter does not trouble him overmuch," answered Khian, smiling.

Then he took the ancient hallowed thing and, having touched it with
his lips, set it on a finger of his right hand that it fitted well,
removing thence, to make place for it, another ring on which was
engraved a crowned and lion-headed sphinx, the symbol of his house.

"A gift for a gift," he said. "Take this to the Lady Nefra and bid her
wear it in token that all I have is hers, as I will wear that she
sends to me. Say to her also that on the day when we are wed each
shall return to the other that ring which belonged to each and with it
all of which it is the symbol."

So Kemmah took the ring and as she hid it away there came that Captain
of the Guard who had accompanied him from Tanis.

"Welcome, my Lord Rasa, who I rejoice to see have not fallen a victim
to the Spirit of the Pyramids of which we talked when we parted here
some five and thirty days ago, or was it more? for time passes quickly
in yonder gay city of Memphis. You seem to have found strange company
in this holy haunted land," and he glanced with awe at the ebon form
of the giant Ru who stood by leaning on his great axe, and at the
white-veiled, stately Lady Kemmah who stood near him. "You look thin
and changed, too, as though you had been keeping company with ghosts.
Well, the steersman says that if you are ready, my Lord Rasa, he
desires to sail before the wind changes, or because the sailors are
afraid of this place, or for both reasons. So if it pleases you,
come."

"I am ready," answered Khian, and while Kemmah bowed to him and Ru
saluted him with the axe in farewell, he turned and went to the river
bank where the sailors bore him through the shallow water to the ship.
Presently he was far out upon the Nile, watching the palm-grove, where
first he had met Nefra, fade in the gathering gloom. Still there he
sat upon the deck till the great moon rose shining upon the pyramids,
and thinking of all the wondrous things that had befallen him in their
shadow, until these at last grew dim and vanished, leaving him
wondering, like one who awakens from a dream.



CHAPTER XIV

THE SENTENCE OF PHARAOH

Khian came to Tanis safely, landing at dawn. Having reached the
palace, he went to his private chambers and, putting off his scribe's
attire, clothed himself in the robes of his rank. As soon as men began
to stir he reported his arrival through an officer to the Vizier, and
waited.

From the window-place of his chamber he saw that troops were moving on
the plain beneath, also that many vessels flying the royal banner were
unmooring from the quays and sailing away up Nile. While he marvelled
what this might mean, the cunning-faced old Vizier, Anath, came and
welcomed him with bows.

"Greeting, Prince," he said. "I rejoice to see that you have
accomplished your mission in safety, for know that here we heard that
you were dead by a fall from a pyramid, which we took to mean that you
had been murdered by those strange zealots of the Dawn."

"I know that story, Anath, for it was written in a letter which was
brought by a messenger from my father, whereon I stepped forward to
show myself alive and well, though it is true that I did fall from a
pyramid and was senseless a while. Has that messenger returned? He
fled away suddenly before I could have speech with him."

"I do not know, Prince," answered Anath. "The man has not been
reported to me, but I have only just risen and he may have come in the
night."

"I hope he has, Anath," said Khian, laughing, "seeing that although he
did not wait for the writing which I bear, he had news that I fear
will scarcely please my father who I prefer should learn it from him,
not from me."

"Is it so, Prince?" asked Anath, eyeing him curiously. "Already there
has come news from these people of the Dawn, enough and more than
enough to make His Majesty very wrath, and should it be added to by
other tidings of the same sort, I think he will be mad with rage.
Would it please you to tell me this news?"

"I think not, Anath, although you are his Vizier and the holder of his
secrets, as you know, Pharaoh my father is strange-tempered and might
take it ill if I reveal to any one what I am charged to deliver to
himself."

Anath bowed and answered:

"As to the temper of his Majesty, you are right, Prince, for since you
went away it has been terrible. Would that some evil god had never
moved me to put a certain thought into his mind: would that we had
never heard of the Order of the Dawn. Because of that thought and them
he has even threatened me with the loss of my office, though he knows
well that if I were driven from it, evil would come to himself, seeing
that for years I have been the shield that has turned arrows from his
head and by my foresight have saved him from conspiracies."

"I know that this is so," answered Khian.

Anath thought a little while, then went on in a low voice:

"Prince, even Pharaohs fall or die at last. The dust awaits their
crowns, the grave their greatness. Prince, I have watched you from a
child and made a study of your heart, which I know to be honest and
true. Now I will ask you a question, promising to believe your answer
as though it were that of a god. Are you friendly towards me and if a
time should come when you sit where another sits to-day, would you
continue me in my offices, especially in that of Vizier of the North?
Weight the matter and tell me, Prince."

Khian reflected for a moment, then answered:

"I think that I would, Anath; indeed I am sure that I would."

"And of the South also if that great land should chance to be added to
your heritage?"

"Yes, I suppose so, Anath, though here another--I mean others--might
claim a voice. Why not? If you have watched me, I have watched you,
and forgive me if I say I know your faults, namely, that you are
cunning and a great seeker after wealth and power. But I know also
that you are faithful to those you serve and to your friends, and in
your own way the cleverest man in Egypt, also the most far-seeing, as
you showed when you schemed that Pharaoh should wed the Princess of
the South, though that plan has bred more trouble than you know. So
there you have my answer, and, as you said, I am not one who breaks
his word."

Anath took the Prince's hand and kissed it, saying:

"I thank you, Prince." Then he paused and added: "The day when you are
Pharaoh of the North and South I may remind you of these words which
from your lips are a decree that may not be broken."

"What does all this mean, Anath?" asked Khian impatiently. "You are
not making me party to some plot against my father, are you?"

"By all the gods of the Shepherds and the Egyptians, no, Prince. Yet
hearken. I have noted that if he is crossed in his will, his Majesty
of late goes mad, and those who go mad seek ruin, especially if they
be kings. Moreover, he is very rash and the rash fall into pits from
which other men escape. Also in his body he is not as strong as he
thinks and rage sometimes stops the heart. If Pharaoh's heart stops,
what is Pharaoh?"

"A good god!" replied Khian, laughing.

"Yes, but one who attends no more to the affairs of earth. A month or
so gone your father asked your consent to his disinheritance of you
and you gave it without a thought. Perchance since then, Prince, you
may have found reason to change your mind upon this matter."

Here he glanced at Khian shrewdly and went on: "But whether you have
changed it or not, know that heirs apparent cannot be so lightly
dispossessed of their acknowledged rights."

"You seemed to agree at the time, Anath; indeed you did more: it was
you who set afoot that new scheme of a certain marriage."

"The rush bends before the wind, Prince, and as to this marriage,
perchance I wished to save the People of the Dawn, of whose doctrines
I think well, or perchance I wished to save Egypt from another war, or
both. The one thing that I did not wish to do was to hurt you, Prince.
And yet this came about, and now that knot must be undone."

"Yes, Anath, it came about, or seemed to, for which the gods be
thanked, since otherwise I should never have been sent upon a certain
mission and certain things would never have happened to me which have
made me the happiest man in all the world. I will tell you of them
afterwards, perhaps--if I dare. Meanwhile, when will my father receive
me? Also, why are those troops gathered yonder and whither do the
ships sail up Nile? Is it to make another war upon the South?"

"His Majesty has been upon some pilgrimage of his own, Prince, as he
said to make a sacrifice in the desert after the custom of our
forefathers, the old Shepherds. He only returned thence last night, so
weary or so angered about I know not what that he would not receive
me. I believe that he still sleeps but there will be a Court before
noon, at which you must appear. As for the soldiers and the ships----"

At this moment there rose a cry without.

"A messenger from Pharaoh!" said the cry. "A messenger from Pharaoh to
the Prince Khian. Way for the messenger of Pharaoh!"

The doors burst open, the curtains were torn apart, and there entered
one of Apepi's heralds clad in his livery and wearing a sheepskin on
his back, after the ancient fashion of the shepherds. He sprang
forward and, prostrating himself before the Prince, said:

"Having heard that your Highness has returned to Tanis Pharaoh Apepi
summons you to his presence in the Hall of Audience instantly,
instantly, instantly! O Prince Khian. And you also He summons, O
Vizier Anath. Come, come, come, O High Prince, and O great Vizier."

"It seems that my father is in a hurry."

"Yes," answered Anath, "in such a hurry that we had best not keep him
waiting. Afterwards we will talk again, Prince. Herald, lead on."

So they followed the man down the passages and across the courtyard to
the door of the Hall of Audience through which were speeding sundry of
the counsellors and nobles who were called "The King's Companions,"
and as it seemed, also had been summoned hastily. At the end of the
hall, seated in a chair of state and surrounded by priests, scribes,
and a guard of soldiers, was Apepi. Glancing at him, Khian noted that
he seemed to be weary and dishevelled in his dress, for he wore no
crown, while in place of the royal mantle and apron of ceremony, a
coloured shawl was thrown round him which reminded Khian of something,
though at the moment he could not remember what it was. Moreover, his
face seemed drawn and thin and his eyes were very fierce.

Khian advanced up the hall and, after uttering the customary
salutation, prostrated himself before the King, while having made
obeisance, Anath the Vizier took his place on the left of the throne.

"Rise," said Apepi, "and tell me, Prince Khian, how it comes about
that you whom I sent upon a certain embassy did not report your return
to me."

"Pharaoh and Father," answered Khian, "I disembarked at dawn and at
once, according to custom, caused the Vizier to be informed of my
arrival. The Vizier Anath rose from his sleep and visited me. He told
me that your Majesty was still resting on your bed after some journey
that you had made."

"It matters not what he told you, and is the Vizier Pharaoh that you
should report yourself to him and not to me, so that I must learn of
your coming from the Captain of the Guard, whom I sent with you?
Surely you lack respect and he takes too much upon himself. Well, what
of your mission to those People of the Dawn? Have you made report of
that also to the Vizier? Know that I thought you dead, as my messenger
may have told you yonder at the pyramids. Should you not therefore
have hastened to advise me that you still lived? Is it thus that a son
should treat his father or a subject his king?"

Once more Khian began to explain but Apepi cut him short.

"I received the letter from the Council of the Dawn, an insolent
letter giving me back threat for threat, and with it another from
yourself, Khian, saying that you had seen this Nefra at some ceremony
when and where she purported to be crowned as Queen of Egypt. But I
have received no answer to my question as to whether this lady accepts
or refuses my offer of marriage. Do you bring that answer, Khian?"

"I do," answered Khian, and drawing out the roll he handed it to the
Vizier who on bended knee passed it on to the King.

Apepi undid the writing and read it through carelessly, like to one
who already knew what was written there. As he read his brow grew
black and his eyes flashed.

"Hearken," he said. "This mock queen refuses to be my wife, as she
says because years ago her father Kheperra was killed in battle with
my armies. Yes, that is what she says. Now, Khian, do you who have
dwelt all this while among the People of the Dawn tell me of her real
reasons."

"How am I to know a woman's reasons in such a matter, your Majesty?"

"In sundry ways, I think, Khian, otherwise you are but a poor envoy.
Yet before you search your mind for them, stretch out your right
hand."

Thinking that he was about to be asked to take some oath, Khian
obeyed. Apepi stared at it, then once more stared at the letter and
asked in a quiet voice:

"How comes it, Khian, that you wear upon your hand, where I remember
used to be a certain ring that I gave to you engraved with the symbol
of our House and your titles as Prince of Egypt, another ring, an
ancient ring inscribed with the name of Khafra, Royal Son of the Sun,
who once a thousand years ago was Pharaoh of Egypt? And how does it
chance that this letter of refusal is sealed with that same ring by
Nefra who describes herself as Queen of Egypt?"

Now all present stared at Khian, while for a moment a little smile
flickered on the withered face of the Vizier Anath.

"It was a parting gift to me," said Khian, looking down.

"Oh! So this puppet queen makes a parting gift of her royal ring to
you, my envoy. And did you perchance make a parting gift to her of the
ring of the heir apparent to the Crown of the North?"

Apepi paused, watching Khian, but he made no answer.

Then the King his father went on in a low, roaring voice like to that
of an angry lion:

"Now I understand all. Know, Son, that /I/ was that messenger who
visited the habitations of the Brethren of the Dawn some few days ago.
Yes, since he could trust no one else, not even his own son, Pharaoh
himself filled that humble office and came for his own answer. See, do
you know him now?" and rising from the throne with a quick motion he
wound the coloured Bedouin shawl about him so that it hid his face up
to the eyes, and limped forward a few paces.

"Yes," answered Khian, "and, my Father, the disguise is as excellent
as the plan was bold, for had you but known it, you ran a great risk
among people who are worshippers of truth and look for it in others."

Apepi returned to his throne and spoke again in the same roaring
voice:

"Aye, I ran a risk because I, too, love truth and desired to know what
was passing yonder by the pyramids, also to behold this daughter of
Kheperra with my own eyes. So I came and saw that she is very fair and
royal, such a one as I desire above all women for my queen. Other
things I saw also, among them that again and again she looked sweetly
at one clad in the white robe of a Brother of the Dawn, one who
presently I discovered to be no other than yourself, my envoy that I
believed was dead. Moreover, I heard from a fisherman that there were
strange sayings in those parts: namely, that the 'Daughter of the
Dawn' had promised herself to the Son of the Sun and that the Spirit
of the Pyramids had been unveiled by a man, of which sayings he swore
he did not know the meaning, though now to me it is clear enough. Tell
me, therefore, Khian, who come from the House of Truth, first--are you
wed or affianced to the Princess Nefra, daughter of Kheperra whose
ring you wear upon your hand? and secondly, are you sworn a Brother of
the Dawn?"

Now his courage came back to Khian and, looking his father in the
eyes, he answered boldly:

"Why should I hide from your Majesty that I am betrothed to the royal
lady, Nefra, whom I love and who loves me, also that after thought and
study I have adopted the pure doctrines of the Dawn and am sworn of
its holy Brotherhood?"

"Why, indeed," asked Apepi with bitter irony, "seeing that these
things have been discovered before it pleased you to announce them.
So, my son Khian, you whom I sent as my ambassador to ask a wife for
me, have stolen that wife for your own, and you whom I set to watch my
enemies, have adopted their doctrines and been sworn of their secret
fellowship. Why have you done these things? I will tell you. You have
broken your trust and robbed me of the woman because, did I marry her,
her son might thrust you from your heirship, whereas, if you marry
her, you keep it, as you think, and add to it whatever claims this
princess may have on the throne of Egypt. It is clever, Khian, very
clever."

"I became affianced to the Lady Nefra because we love each other and
for no other reason," answered the Prince hotly.

"If so, Khian, your love and your advantage go hand in hand, as do her
love and her advantage, wherein I think I see the cunning of that old
prophet, Roy. For the rest, you swear yourself of this Order because
you believe it to be powerful, having friends in many lands, and think
that by their help in days to come you will buttress up your throne or
win mine from me. Khian, I say that you are a thief, a liar, and a
traitor, and that as such I will deal with you."

"Your Majesty knows well that I am none of these. In order to bring
about a certain alliance, your Majesty was pleased to reduce me from
my rank of heir apparent to that of a private person and as such to
send me on an embassy. As envoy I did my duty, but those to whom I was
sent would not listen to your Majesty's proposal which I could not
help. Afterwards, as a private person I chanced to become attached to
a certain lady who, if I had not lived, for reasons of her own would
never have listened to the offer of your Majesty. That is all the
tale."

"That perhaps we shall know when you have ceased to live, Khian. Learn
now how I will deal with these tomb rats of the pyramids who have
defied and insulted me. I will send an army--already it is on its road
--to knock them on the head, all of them. Only one will I spare--the
Lady Nefra; not because she is born of a royal House, but because I
have looked upon her and seen that she is beautiful, for, Khian, you
are not the only man who can worship beauty. Therefore I will bring
her here and make her mine, and for a marriage gift I will give her
your head, Khian; yes, you, the traitor, shall die before her eyes."

Now when they heard this decree the high officers who were named
Companions of the King stared at each other dismayed, for never before
had such a thing been told of, as that a Pharaoh of Egypt should kill
his own son because both of them loved the same woman. Even Anath the
Vizier started and paled; yet all that came from his lips was the
ancient salutation:

"Life! Health! Strength! Pharaoh's word is spoken, let Pharaoh's will
be done!"

As this hideous sentence fell upon his ears and a vision of all it
meant rose before his eyes, for a moment Khian felt his heart stop and
his knees tremble beneath him. He saw his Brethren of the Dawn
slaughtered and lying in their blood wherever they were trapped in
their hiding places. He saw the giant Nubian, Ru, overcome at last and
falling dead upon a mat of foes that he had slain. He saw the Lady
Kemmah butchered and Nefra seized and dragged a prisoner to Tanis,
there to be wed by force to a man she loathed. He saw himself led out
to death before her eyes and his gory head laid at her feet as an
offering. All these things and others he saw with the eye of his mind
and was afraid.

Yet of a sudden that fear passed. It was as though a spirit spoke to
his soul, the spirit of Roy, or so he thought, because for an instant
he seemed to appear before him seated where Apepi sat, venerable,
calm, and holy. Then he was gone, and with him went the terrors of
Khian. Moreover, now he knew what to answer; the words welled up
within him like water welling in a spring.

"Pharaoh and my Father," he said in a bold, clear voice, "speak not so
madly, for I say that you cannot do these things which you have
decreed. Did not the Prophet of the Dawn repeat to you in his letter
his answer to your threat? Did he not say that he had no fear of you
and that should you attempt harm against the Brotherhood, every stone
of the pyramids would lie lighter on your head than will the curse of
Heaven which you would earn as a butcher and one forsworn? Did he not
tell you that the Order of the Dawn marshalled hosts unseen and that
with it goes the Strength of God? If not, I, your son, who am to-day a
Brother of the Dawn and its consecrated priest, deliver to you this,
his message. Try to do the wickedness that you have decreed, O
Pharaoh, and speaking with the voice of the Order of the Dawn, as I am
taught by the Spirit which it worships, I warn you that you will draw
down upon yourself disaster and death on earth, and after you have
left the earth, woe untold in the Underworld. Thus say I, speaking not
with my own voice but with that of the Spirit within me."

When Apepi heard these dreadful words, he bowed his head and with
trembling hands drew the coloured robe more tightly about him, like to
one who in the midst of great heat is struck suddenly by a blast of
icy wind. Then again his rage possessed him and he answered:

"Now, Khian, I am minded to send you, the traitor, to your gods, your
king, your father, and your blood, down to that Underworld of which
you speak, there to discover whether this wizard Roy is or is not a
liar. Yes, I am minded to do this instantly here in the presence of
the Court. And yet I will not, since to you I appoint a punishment
more worthy of your crime. You shall live to see your fellow knaves
dead, every one of them; to see this maiden whom you have beguiled,
not yours but mine. Then, Khian, you shall die and not before."

"Pharaoh has spoken, and I, an ordained Brother and Priest of the
Order of the Dawn, have spoken also," answered Khian in the same clear
and quiet voice. "Now let the Spirit judge between us and show to all
who have heard our words, and to the whole world, in which of us
shines the light of Truth."

Thus said Khian, then bowed to Apepi and was silent.

Pharaoh stared at him awhile, for he was amazed, wondering whence came
the strength that gave his son power to utter such words upon the edge
of doom. Then he turned to Anath and said:

"Vizier, take this evildoer who is no longer Prince of the North or
son of mine, and make him fast in the dungeons of the palace. Let him
be well fed that life may remain in him till all things are
accomplished."

Anath prostrated himself, rose, and clapped his hands. There appeared
soldiers. Khian was set in the midst of them and led away, Anath
walking before them.



CHAPTER XV

BROTHER TEMU

Through long passages and down flights of steps, at the head of which
stood guards, the melancholy procession descended almost to the
foundations of the vast building of the palace. As they went Khian
remembered that, when he was a child, some captain of the guard had
led him by this path to certain cells where, through a grating in the
door, he had looked upon three men who were condemned to die upon the
morrow for the crime of having conspired to murder Pharaoh. These men,
whom he expected to see groaning and in tears, he recalled, were
talking together cheerfully, because, they said, for he heard it
through the grating, their troubles would soon be over and either they
would be justified in the Underworld or fast asleep for ever.

The three of them took different views upon this matter; one of them
believed in the Underworld and redemption through Osiris, one rejected
the gods as fables and expected nothing save eternal sleep, while the
third held that he would be re-born upon the earth and rewarded for
all he had endured by a new and happier life.

The next day Khian heard that all three of them had been hanged and
awhile after he learned from his friend, the captain of the guard,
that they had been proved to be innocent of the offence with which
they were charged. It seemed that a woman of the House of Pharaoh,
having been rejected by one of them, had avenged herself by a false
accusation and for certain reasons had denounced two other men, whom
she hated, as partners in a plot against Pharaoh. Afterwards, when at
the point of death from a sudden sickness, she had revealed all,
though this did not help her victims who were already dead.

The sight of these men and the learning of their story, Khian
recollected as once more he trod those gloomy stairs, had bred in his
mind doubts as to the gods which the Shepherds worshipped and of the
justice decreed by kings and governors, with the result that in the
end he turned his back upon his people's faith and became one of those
who desired to reform the world and to replace that which is bad if
ancient, by that which is good if new. So indeed he had remained until
fate brought him to the Temple of the Dawn, where he found all he
sought, a pure faith in which he could believe and doctrines of peace,
mercy, and justice such as he desired.

Now, as innocent as those forgotten men, he, the proud Prince of the
North, disgraced and doomed, was about to be cast into the same prison
that had hid their sufferings and those of a thousand others before
and after them. He recalled it all--the stone-vaulted place lit only
by a high-set grating of bronze to which none could climb because of
the curve of the walls; the paved floor damp from the overflowings of
the Nile which, in seasons of flood, rose high above the foundations
of the palace; the stools and table, also of stone; the bronze rings
to which the officer had told him prisoners were tied if they became
violent or went mad; the damp heaps of straw whereon they slept, and
the worn skin rugs that they used for covering against the cold; yes,
even the places where each of the three victims lay or stood and the
very aspect of their faces, especially that of the young and comely
man upon whom the rejected woman had avenged herself. Though to this
hour it had never been re-visited by him, his mind pictured that
horrid hole with all its details.

Now they had trodden the last flight. There was the massive door and
in it the grating through which he had looked and listened. The bolts
were drawn by the jailer who had joined them; it opened. There were
the table and the stone stools, the rings of bronze, the coarse
earthenware vessels, and the rest. Only the men were gone--of these
nothing remained.

Khian entered the dreadful place. At a sign from Anath the guards
saluted and withdrew, looking with pity at the young prince under whom
they had served in war and who was beloved of all of them. Anath
lingered to give certain instructions to the jailer, then as they were
both departing he turned back and inquired of the Prince what garments
he required to be sent to him.

"I think such as are thick and warm, Vizier," replied Khian, shivering
as the damp cold of the dungeon got a hold of him.

"They shall be sent to your Highness," said Anath. "May your Highness
forgive me who must fill this sorry office towards you."

"I forgive you as I forgive all men, Vizier. When hope is dead,
forgiveness is easy."

Anath glanced behind him and saw that the jailer was standing at a
distance from the door with his back towards them. Then he bowed
deeply as though in farewell, so that his lips came close to the ear
of Khian.

"Hope is /not/ dead," he whispered. "Trust to me, I will save you if I
can."

Next moment he, too, was gone and the massive door had shut, leaving
Khian alone. He sat himself down upon one of the stools, placing it so
that the faint light from the grating fell upon him. Awhile later, he
did not know how long, the door opened again and the jailer appeared
accompanied by another man who brought garments, among them a dark,
hooded cloak lined with black sheepskin; also food and wine. Khian
thanked him and put on the cloak gratefully, for the cold of the place
was biting, noting as he did so that it was not one of his own, which
made him wonder; also, that in such a cloak a man might go anywhere
and remain unknown.

The jailer set out the food upon the table and prayed his prisoner to
eat, addressing him as Prince.

"That title belongs to me no more, Friend."

"Oh, yes! your Highness," replied the man kindly. "Trouble comes to
all at times but it cannot change the blood in the veins."

"No, Friend, but it can empty the veins of the blood."

"The gods forbid!" said the jailer, shuddering, from which Khian
learned that he had rightly named him friend, and again thanked him.

"It is I who should thank your Highness. Your Highness has forgotten
that when my wife and child were sick in the season of fever three
years ago, you yourself visited them in the servants' huts and brought
them medicines and other things."

"I think I remember," said Khian, "though I am not sure for I have
visited so many sick, who, had I not been what I am, or rather was,
would, I think, have turned physician."

"Yes, your Highness, and the sick do not forget, nor do those to whom
they are dear. I am charged to tell you that you will not be left
alone in this place, lest your mind should fail and you should go mad,
as many here have done before you."

"What! is another unfortunate to be sent to join me, Friend?"

"Yes, but one whose company it is believed will please you. Now I must
go," and he departed before Khian could ask him when this other
prisoner would come. After the door had shut behind him Khian ate and
drank heartily enough, for he was starving, having touched no food
since the afternoon before upon the ship which brought him to Tanis.

When he had finished his meal he fell to thinking and his thoughts
were sad enough, for it was evident that it was in his father's mind
utterly to destroy the Brotherhood of the Dawn, and to drag Nefra away
to be made his wife by violence, for, having by evil fortune looked
upon her beauty, nothing now would turn him from his purpose of making
her his own. This, however, Khian knew would never happen, for the
reason that first Nefra would choose to die. Therefore it would seem
that both of them were doomed to death. Oh! if only he could warn them
by throwing his spirit afar, as it was said that Roy and some of the
higher members of the Order had the power to do. Indeed, had he not
felt the thought of Roy strike upon him that morning when he stood
before the Pharaoh in the hall of audience? He would try, who had been
taught the secrets of the "Sending of the Soul" as it was called,
though he had never practised them before.

Try he did according to the appointed form and with the appointed
prayers as well as he could remember them, saying:

"Hear me, Holy Father. Danger threatens the Queen and all of you. Hide
or fly, for I am in the toils and cannot help you."

Again and again he said it in his heart, fixing the eyes of his mind
upon Roy and Nefra till he grew faint with the soul struggle and even
in that bitter place the sweat burst out upon him. Then of a sudden a
strange calm fell on him to whom it seemed that these arrows of
thought had found their mark, yes, that his warnings had been heard
and understood.

An utter weariness fell upon him and he slept.

He must have slept for long, for when he woke all light had faded from
the grating and he knew that it was night.

The door opened and through it came the jailer bearing more food,
quantities of food, and bringing with him another man clothed like
Khian himself in a dark, hooded cloak. The stranger bowed and without
speaking took his stand in a corner of the cell.

"Behold your servant, Prince, who is appointed to wait upon you. You
will find him a good man and true," said the jailer. Then he removed
the broken meats and went, having first lit lamps which he left
burning in the prison.

Khian looked at the meats and wine; then he looked at the hooded
figure in the corner and said:

"Will you not eat, my brother in misfortune?"

The man threw back his hood:

"Surely," said Khian, "I have seen that face before."

The man made a certain sign, which, by habit as it were, Khian
answered. The man made more signs and Khian answered them all, then
uttered a secret sentence which the man, speaking for the first time,
completed with another sentence still more secret.

"Will you not eat, Priest of the Dawn?" he asked again meaningly.

"In hope of the Food Eternal I eat bread. In hope of the Water of Life
I drink wine," replied the man.

Then Khian was sure, for in these very words those of the Order of the
Dawn were accustomed to consecrate their meat.

"Who are you, Brother?" he asked.

"I am Temu, a priest of the Order of the Dawn whom you saw but once in
the Temple of the Sphinx, Scribe Rasa, when you came thither on a
certain embassy, though then I did not know that you were sworn of the
Brotherhood, Scribe Rasa, if that indeed be your name."

"It is not my name and at that time I was not sworn of the
Brotherhood, Priest Temu, who, I think, are the messenger sent by the
holy Roy with letters for Apepi, King of the North. We heard that you
were dead of sickness, Priest Temu."

"Nay, Brother, it pleased Apepi to keep me prisoner, that is all. Had
I died, my spirit, as it departed, would have whispered in the ear of
Roy."

"I remember now that so the Prophet said. But how come you here, and
why?"

"I come because I am sent to help another in distress, by some Great
One who visited me in my prison. He gave no name, or if he did I have
forgotten it, as we of the Order forget many things. Nor did he tell
me whom I was to help, yet I can guess, as we of the Order guess many
things. I see that you wear a royal ring, Scribe Rasa. It is enough."

"Quite enough, Priest Temu. But tell me, why were you sent to me? In
such a hole as this even a Pharaoh would need no servant."

"No, Brother, yet he might need a companion and--a deliverer."

"Very much indeed, both of them, especially the last. But, Temu, how
could even Roy himself open that door or break through these walls?"

"Quite easily, Scribe Rasa, by means of which we know nothing, and if
only we have faith perhaps I can do the same, though not so easily and
in another fashion. Hearken. During the many days I have spent in
prison, bettering my soul with prayers and meditations, from time to
time I have given instructions to that humble man who is our jailer,
setting his feet in the way of truth. Thus in the end he has become
well affected to those who profess our faith, to which I have promised
that he shall be gathered in days to come. In reward he has imparted a
certain secret to me which, as neither he nor any other will visit
this place again to-night, I will now show to you, Brother Rasa. Help
me, if it pleases you, to move this table."

With difficulty it was dragged aside, for it was of massive stone.
Then Temu took from his robe a piece of papyrus on which were marks
and lines. By aid of these he made certain measurements and at length
in the roughly paved floor found a stone for which he seemed to have
been searching. At this stone he pushed from left to right, for there
was a roughness on it against which he could rest the palm of his
hand, thereby, it would appear, loosing some spring or bolt. Suddenly
a section of the floor, a pace wide or more, tilted up, revealing a
shaft cut in the rock, of which the bottom could not be seen, and
against its side, also cut from the rock, stone bars set at intervals
one above the other, down which it would be possible for an active man
to climb.

"Is it a well?" asked Khian.

"Aye, Brother, a well of death, or so I think, though perhaps of that
we shall learn more later. At least all is as the Great One whose face
was veiled, told me, for it was he who gave me the plan and bade me
trust the jailer and do as he instructed me."

"And what is that, Temu?"

"Descend by this ladder, Brother, until at the foot of it we come to a
tunnel; then follow the tunnel until it ends in what seems to be the
mouth of a drain in the stone embankment of the river. Beneath this
hole or drain-mouth a boat should be waiting, and in it a fisherman
following his trade by night when the largest fish are caught. Into
that boat we must enter and be gone swiftly before it is discovered
that this place is empty."

"Do we fly at once?" asked Khian.

"No, Brother, not for another hour, for so I was instructed; why I do
not know. Help me now to close the trap, but not quite lest the spring
should refuse to work again, and to replace the table over it exactly
as it stood before. Who knows that some officer or spy might not be
moved to pay us a visit, although the jailer said that none would
come."

"Aye, who knows, Temu?"

So they closed the trap, setting a piece of reed from a food basket
between its edges so that it did not shut altogether, and dragged back
the table to its place. Then they sat down to eat. Scarcely had they
done so when Temu pressed Khian's foot and looked towards the door.

He looked also and, though he heard nothing, saw, or thought that he
saw, a white face and two glowing eyes set against the grating and
watching them, a sight that made his blood turn cold. In an instant it
was gone again.

"Was it a man?" whispered Khian.

"A man, or perchance a ghost, Brother, for I heard no footfall, and of
such this place may well be a home."

Then he rose, and taking a linen cloth that had been laid over the
food, he thrust it into the grating.

"Is that not dangerous?" asked Khian.

"Aye, Brother, but to be watched is more dangerous."

To Khian it seemed as though that hour would never end. Moment by
moment he feared lest the door would open and all be discovered. Yet
no one came, and indeed they never learned whether they had seen a
face at the grating or whether its appearance was but a trick of their
minds.

"Whither would you fly, Brother?" asked Temu.

"Up Nile," whispered Khian, "to warn our brethren who are in great
danger."

"I felt it," said Temu. Then he rose and packed the most of the food,
of which, as has been said, there was much more than they could eat,
into two of the baskets wherein it had been brought which were made of
reeds and had handles that could be slipped on to the arm.

"It is time to go, Brother. Faith, have faith!" said Temu.

They rose and for a moment stood still to put up a prayer to the
Spirit they worshipped for help and guidance, as was the custom of
their Brotherhood before they entered on any undertaking.

"I will go first, Brother, carrying one of the lamps in my teeth--the
second we must leave burning--and one basket on my arm. Do you follow
with the other."

Then he stepped to the door, pulled out the food-cloth from the
grating, and having listened awhile, returned, and taking the smaller
of the lamps, set its flat handle between his teeth. Next he crawled
beneath the table, pushed upon the stone so that it tilted up and
stood edge in air, climbed through the hole on to the stone ladder,
and began to descend. Khian followed. As it chanced when he had taken
some three steps down the ladder, the peaked hood of his cloak touched
the stone, disturbing its balance. Instantly it swung to, releasing
the spring or catch, so that now there was no hope of return, since
this could not be opened from beneath. Even then the purpose of this
trap came into Khian's mind. When it was desired to destroy some
unhappy captive, unknown to him the spring or bolt was set back. Then
shortly, as the doomed one tramped that gloomy cave he would tread
upon the swinging stone and vanish into the gulf beneath, for when
this was purposed doubtless the heavy table stood elsewhere. Or if his
secret end was desired very swiftly, jailers would hurl him down the
pit. Khian shuddered as he thought of it, remembering that this fate
might well have been his own. Down, down he climbed, the feeble little
lamp which Temu carried in his teeth lighting his way. It seemed a
long journey, for the pit was deep, but at length Temu called to him
that he had reached its bottom. Presently he was at his side perched
upon a white and moving pile that crackled beneath his feet. He looked
down and by the lamplight perceived that they stood upon a pyramid of
bones, the bones of the victims who in past days had fallen or been
cast down the shaft. Moreover, some of them had fallen not so very
long before, as his senses told him, which caused him to remember
certain friends of his own who had incurred the wrath of Pharaoh and,
as it was said, were banished. Now he guessed to what land they had
been banished.

"Lead on, Temu," he said. "I choke and grow faint."

Temu obeyed, turning to the right as he had been told that he must do,
and holding the lamp near the ground lest there should be pitfalls in
the path, which ran down a tunnel so low and narrow that they must
walk it doubled up with their shoulders brushing against its walls.
For forty or fifty paces they followed this winding burrow, till at
length Temu whispered that he saw light ahead, whereon Khian answered
that it would be well to extinguish the lamp lest it should betray
them. This was done, and creeping forward cautiously for another ten
or twelve paces, they came at last to an opening in the great
embankment wall built of granite blocks, upon which the palace stood,
so small an opening that few would notice it in the roughness of the
blocks, and, twice the height of a man beneath them, saw the waters of
the Nile gleaming blackly in the starlight.

They thrust their heads out of the hole and looked down, also to right
and left.

"Here is the river," said Khian, "but I see no boat."

"As all the rest of the tale has proved true, Brother, doubtless the
boat will appear also. Faith, have faith!" answered Temu to whom the
gods had given a trusting soul, and when they had waited half an hour
or more, he repeated his words.

"I hope so," answered Khian, "since otherwise we must swim before dawn
and hereabout are many crocodiles that feed upon the refuse from the
palace."

As he spoke they heard the sound of oars and in the deep shadow of the
wall saw a small masted boat creeping towards them. This boat came to
a halt beneath their hole. There was a man in it who threw out a
fishing line, looked upwards and whistled very softly. Temu whistled
back, whereon the man began to hum a tune, such as fishers use, then
at the end of it sang softly:

"/Leap into my boat, O Fish./"

Khian scrambled out of the hole and climbed down the surface of the
rough wall, which, being accustomed to such work, was easy to him, and
presently was safe in the boat. Temu, having first thrown the lamp
into the Nile lest it should be found in the tunnel, followed after
him, but more awkwardly; indeed, had not Khian caught him he would
have fallen into the river.

"Help me to hoist the sail. The wind blows strongly from the north,
therefore you must fly southwards; there is no choice," said the man.

As he obeyed, Khian saw his face. It was that of the jailer himself.

"Be swift," he went on. "I see lights moving; perhaps the dungeon has
been found empty. Many spies are about."

Then Khian bethought him of the glowing eyes he had seen at the
grating.

With an oar the jailer pushed the boat away from the wall; the wind
caught the sail and it began to move through the water, so that
presently they were in the middle of the Nile and gliding up it
swiftly.

"Do you come with us?" asked Khian.

"Nay, Prince, I have my wife and child to mind."

"The gods reward you," said Khian.

"I am already rewarded, Prince. Know that for this night's work I have
earned more than I have done in ten long years--never mind who paid.
Fear not for me who have a sure hiding place, though it is not one
that you could share."

As he spoke, with the oar he steered the boat near to the farther
shore of the river, where at this spot were hundreds of mean
dwellings.

"Now go your ways and may your Spirit be your guide," said the jailer.
"There is fishing gear in the boat, also you will find such garments
as men use who live by it. Put them on ere dawn, by which time with
this wind you should be far away from Tanis, for she sails swiftly.
Farewell and pray to your gods for me as I will pray for you. Prince,
take the steering oar and stand out into the middle of the river where
in this stormy night you will not be seen."

As he spoke the man slipped over the stern of the boat. For a moment
they saw his head a dark blot on the water, then he vanished.

"At last I have found one who is good and honest, although of an evil
trade," said Khian.



CHAPTER XVI

THE PASSING OF ROY

All that night Khian and Temu sailed on, for the north wind held
strong and steady, and by daybreak were many leagues from Tanis. Once
they saw lights upon the water behind, such as might have been borne
by following boats, but soon these vanished. At daybreak they found
the fisher's clothes of which the jailer had told them, and put them
on, so that for the rest of that journey all who saw them believed
them to be two fishermen plying their trade; such men as were to be
found by hundreds on the Nile, taking their catch to market, or having
sold it, returning to their homes in some distant village. Thus it
came about that, Khian being accustomed to the handling of boats, they
accomplished their journey safely, though during the second night a
number of great ships passed them going down Nile.

Catching sight of these ships they lowered their sail and rowed
inshore where they hid among some reeds in shallow water until they
were gone by, a whole fleet of them. What these might be they could
not discern because of the darkness, but from the lanterns at their
prow and stern, the words of command that reached them, and the
singing of those on board Khian thought they must be war vessels full
of soldiers, though whence such came he did not know. Only he
remembered what he had heard at Apepi's Court and that on his return
to Tanis he had seen armed vessels sailing up Nile, and remembering,
grew afraid.

"What do you fear, Brother Rasa?" asked Temu, reading his mind.

"I fear lest we should be too late to give a certain warning, Temu.
Oh! let us play no more with words. I, whom you call the Scribe Rasa,
am Khian, once Prince of the North, the affianced of Queen Nefra, whom
my father Apepi would seize to be his wife. When he discovered that I,
his envoy, had become his rival, the King imprisoned and would have
killed me, and that is why we came together in yonder darksome vault."

"All this I have guessed, Prince and Brother, but what now?"

"Now, Temu, I would warn the Queen and our brethren of the dangers
that threaten them; namely, that Apepi would steal her and kill out
the rest of the Order to the last man and woman, for so he has sworn
to me that he will do."

"I think that there is no need to take them that message, Prince,"
answered Temu lightly, "since Roy would learn such tidings quicker
than men could carry it. Still, let us go on, for God is with us
always. Faith, have faith!"

So they sailed forward and shortly after daylight saw the pyramids and
at last came to the strand that was near to the palm grove where first
Khian had met Nefra disguised as a messenger.

Here they hid away their boat as best they could and wearing the long
cloaks that had been given to them in the prison, beneath which were
swords that they had found in the boat, set there doubtless for their
use, made their way across the sand to the Sphinx, and thence to the
temple, meeting no man. Indeed, they noted that those who cultivated
the fertile belt of land were not to be seen and that the crops were
trodden down by men and wandering beasts. Filled with fear they
entered the temple by the secret way they knew and crept down its
passages into the great hall where Nefra had been crowned. It was
silent and empty, or so they thought at first, till suddenly, far away
at the end of the hall Khian perceived a white-robed figure seated in
the throne-like chair upon the dais, behind which stood the ancient
statue of Osiris, god of the dead. They advanced swiftly. Now they
were near and Khian saw that it was the figure of Roy or--the ghost of
Roy. There he sat in his priestly robes, down which flowed his long
white beard, his head bent upon his breast, as though he slept.

"Awake, holy Prophet," said Khian, but Roy did not stir or answer.

Then they went to him, trembling, climbed the dais, and looked into
his face.

Roy was dead. They could see no wound on him, but without doubt he was
dead and cold.

"The holy Prophet has been taken away," said Khian hoarsely, "though I
think that his spirit remains with us. Let us search for the others."

They searched but could find no one. They went into the chamber of
Nefra. It was undisturbed but she was gone; even her garments were
gone, and so it was with all the others.

"Let us go out," said Khian; "perchance they are hidden in the tombs."

They left the temple and wandered far and wide, but all was silence
and desolation. They looked for footprints, but if there were any, the
strong north wind had covered them up with sand. At length in the
shadow of the second pyramid they sat down in despair. Roy was dead
and the rest were gone, Khian could guess why. But whither had they
gone? Were they perchance on board those ships which had passed them
in the night? Or were they slain? If so, how came it that they had
seen no bodies or signs of slaughter? So they asked of themselves and
each other, but found no answer.

"What shall we do, Prince?" asked Temu. "Doubtless all will be well in
the end. Still, our food and water are almost gone, nor can we stay
here without shelter."

"Hide in the temple, I think, Temu, at least for the coming night.
Listen. I am sure that the Brotherhood of the Dawn have fled, being
warned that Apepi was about to fall upon them."

"Yes, but whither?"

"To seek the aid of the King of Babylon. The Lord Tau hinted to me, as
did the giant Ru, that if it were needful they might go thither, and
this doubtless they have done. If so we must follow them, though
without guides and beasts to carry food and water, the journey is
desperate."

"Fear not, Prince," answered Temu the hopeful. "Faith, have faith! We
of the Brotherhood are never deserted in our need. Were we deserted in
the prison of Tanis, or on our journey up the Nile? And shall we be
deserted though we travel from one end of the world to the other? I
tell you nay. I tell you that always we shall find friends, since in
every tribe there are Brothers of the Dawn to whom we can make
ourselves known by signs, which friends will give us all they have,
food and beasts of burden and whatever is needful, passing us on to
others. Moreover, I have about me a great sum in gold. It was given to
me by that high One whose face was veiled, he who visited me in my
cell at Tanis and sent me to join you. Yes, and when he gave me the
gold and the jewels, for there are jewels also, he said with meaning
that I and another of my fellowship might be called upon to journey
into far lands, and that if this were so, the treasure would be needed
for our sustenance till we found shelter far from the wrath of a
certain king."

Now as he listened the heart of Khian grew bold again, for it seemed
to him as though this happy-minded Temu had been sent to him as a very
messenger from heaven, which indeed perhaps he was, after a fashion.

"I find your fellowship good in trouble, Temu," he said, "though I
know not whence you win such calm and strength of soul."

"I win it from faith, Prince, as you will do also when you have been
longer of our Brotherhood. Since Apepi seized me yonder at Tanis and
threw me into prison, not once have I been afraid, nor am I now. Never
yet have I known harm to come to a Brother of the Dawn going about his
duty. The prophet Roy is dead, it is true, but that is because his
time had come to die, or perhaps he who was too old to travel chose to
withdraw himself from the world. But his mantle has fallen upon Tau
and others, and with us will go his spirit, and who shall stand
against the freed spirit of the holy prophet Roy who walks with God
to-day?"

Then, having determined that they could do nothing more that day, for
they were weary and first must rest, also get food if they could from
the stores that were hidden away by the Order in case of trouble, of
which Temu knew the secret, they set out to return to the Temple of
the Sphinx where the dead Roy still ruled as he had done when he was
alive. At the edge of the great rock platform upon which was built the
Pyramid of Khafra, Khian halted suddenly, for in the midst of the deep
silence of the tomb he thought that he heard voices. Whilst he was
wondering whence they came, from behind a little neighbouring pyramid
that marked the grave of some king's son or princess appeared a Negro
running with his head bent down and his eyes fixed upon the ground, as
do black people when they track game.

"They have gone this way, both of them, Captain," he called out, "and
not an hour ago."

Then Khian understood that the man was following the footsteps of Temu
and himself, who indeed had come round that same little pyramid.
Whilst he stood wondering what to do, for this discovery seemed to
freeze his blood, round the corner of the small pyramid came a whole
company of men who by their dress and arms he knew to be soldiers of
Pharaoh's guard, forty or fifty of them.

"We have been followed up Nile; they are hunting us, Prince. Now we
must escape from them, or we shall be killed," said Temu calmly.

As he spoke the black tracker caught sight of them and pointed them
out with his spear, whereon the whole company broke into a run,
uttering shouts like hunters when at last they view their game.

Then in his extremity a memory came to Khian.

"Follow me, Temu," he said, and turning, fled back towards the Pyramid
of Khafra, though to do so he must pass even closer to the pursuers.

Temu saw this and stared, then muttering, "Faith! Have faith!" bounded
after him.

For a moment the soldiers halted, thinking that they were coming to
surrender, but when they saw the pair speed past them they began to
run again. Khian, followed by the long-legged Temu, sped along the
south face of the great pile and, as their pursuers reached it from
the west, were just seen turning the corner of the east face. So
swiftly did Khian and Temu run that when the soldiers reached this
east face they lost sight of them, who already were speeding along the
north face, and not knowing which way they had gone, waited till the
tracker came up to guide them by his art.

Meanwhile Khian, rushing along the north face, sought with his eyes
for that fallen block of stone which marked where it must be mounted.
There were many such blocks, but at last he saw this one and knew it
again. Calling to Temu to keep close, he began to scale the pyramid,
which to him was easy.

"Ye gods! am I a goat?" gasped Temu. "Well, faith, faith!" and up he
went as best he could. Once he would have fallen, but Khian, glancing
back, saw and caught him by the hair.

Which was the course of stones? He had found no time to count them as
he climbed and each was like to the other. He thought that he must
have over-shot it and stopped, trying to remember all that Nefra had
told and shown him. Whilst he stood thus, suddenly and as though by
magic a great block of marble stirred and swung round in front of him,
revealing the mouth of the passage beyond, in which he saw a light
burning. Not staying to think how this marvel came about, he leapt
into the hole dragging Temu after him, for now the tracker had rounded
the corner and, though still far away, had caught sight of them on the
side of the pyramid, though this afterwards the soldiers would not
believe. Therefore, guessing by the shouting of the man that they had
been seen, in went Khian, though to what fate he did not know, since
he could not guess how the swinging block had opened of itself and
feared some snare.

Scarcely had they passed the stone when it closed as swiftly and as
silently as it had opened, and he heard the clank of the bar. Then
panting he turned to look about him and by the faint light of the lamp
that was far off, perceived a figure standing in the mouth of the
recess which Nefra had shown him was used as a storehouse. The figure
came forward, bowing.

"Welcome, Lord," it said. "Wonderful is the wisdom of the Prophets of
the Dawn, for they warned me that you might return here thus about
this time, and therefore I kept good watch."

Now as his eyes grew accustomed to the light Khian knew the man again
to be no other than the sheik who had taught him to climb the pyramids
and was called their Captain.

"How could you watch through a stone wall, Friend?" he asked, amazed.

"Oh! easily enough, Lord. Come here and I will show you. Now lie down
on the floor and look through that hole, or if you would see higher
up, through that one."

Khian obeyed and perceived that the holes were tubes which ran
slantwise to the face of the pyramid, so cunningly contrived that a
watcher within could see what was passing at its base, or if he used
others, farther away. Thus Khian saw the soldiers arrive panting and
the black tracker with many wavings of his arms, explaining to them
that the fugitives had run up the pyramid. This tale seemed to make
their captain angry--for clearly he believed it to be a lie--so angry
that he struck the tracker with the handle of his spear, whereon the
man grew sullen, as negroes do who are beaten unjustly, and throwing
himself on to the sand would say no more. After this the soldiers
began to search for themselves. Some of them even began to climb the
side of the pyramid, till one of them rolled down and hurt himself and
was carried away groaning. Then others of them went on and vanished,
to hunt among the tombs beyond, or so Khian supposed. But the Captain
and some officers sat down on the sand at the base and took counsel
together, for they were bewildered. So they remained till nightfall
when they lit a fire and camped there.

Having seen these things, or certain of them, Khian bade the sheik
tell him what had become of the Brotherhood of the Dawn and why he was
here alone inside the pyramid.

"Lord, this is the story," answered the man. "Some hours after you had
sailed away down Nile, bearing letters for the King of the North, news
reached the Council of the Dawn. Whence or how it came I do not know
who am not in their secrets; a spy may have brought it or it may have
been revealed from Heaven, I cannot say. At least this happened: all
of the Brotherhood were gathered together; then the women and children
and some men who were too old to travel far were sent away across the
desert southwards in the direction of the other pyramids where is the
burial-place of the Apis bulls, though whether they were to stay there
or to go further I did not hear. At least they departed quietly that
very night, and next morning had vanished, doubtless to seek shelter
with friends of the Order in some appointed place where they will be
safe."

"But what happened to the Lady Nefra and the rest, Captain?"

"Lord, all that night they made preparations, and the next morning
before the dawn they started eastwards, bearing with them tents and
much provision laden upon asses. Also they took a mummy case from the
burial vault, which I understood contained the embalmed body of that
queen who was the mother of our Lady Nefra. Only one remained behind,
save myself, and that was the holy prophet Roy."

"Why did you not go also, Sheik?"

"For two reasons, Lord. First because the Captain of the Pyramids is
sworn, whatever chances, never to leave them. Here my forefathers have
lived and died for countless generations, and here my descendants will
live and die till the sun ceases to rise or the pyramids crumble into
dust. This is promised to our race so long as we guard them and keep
our trust, but if we break it, then it is promised that our family
will die out."

"You give a good reason for staying where you are, though in danger
and loneliness, Sheik."

"Yes, Lord, and there is a second, just as good. Before she went the
Lady Nefra sent for me and, speaking as Queen, laid her commands upon
me. These were that I should forthwith see to it that the tomb chamber
in this Pyramid of Ur, of which like her I had the secret, was full
provisioned with food, fresh water, wine, oil, means of making fire,
and all other needful things. That this done, I should take up my
abode here and watch all that passed, and if you came, for, Lord, she
seemed to be sure that you would come, that I should hide you in the
pyramid and tend you there, thus protecting you from all foes.
Moreover, she commanded me, as also did the Lord Tau, to tell you that
she with all the Brotherhood had fled to Babylon, there to seek the
aid of her grandsire, the great King Ditanah, who it seems still lives
and had sent messengers to greet her as Queen of Egypt and, if need
were, to guide her and all her company to Babylon where, it is
believed, he will give her a great army to make war upon Apepi and to
establish her upon the throne of Egypt. She said also that I was to
bid you, so soon as you could escape, to fly to Babylon where you
would find shelter from the wrath of Apepi."

"I thank the Queen for her messages and forethought," said Khian,
"though how she learned that I was fated to revisit this place, I
cannot guess."

"I think that the holy prophet Roy knew and told her, Lord, for to him
at the last the future seemed to be as open as the present, the only
difference being that he saw the one with the eyes of his soul and the
other with the eyes of his body."

"Mayhap, Sheik. But how comes it that Roy sits dead in the temple
hall? Do you know aught of his end?"

"Lord, I know everything. I was present when, after the departure of
the aged, the women, and the children, the Prophet summoned all the
Order before him in the great hall, and with them Nefra the Queen and
the Lord Tau. There he addressed them in wonderful words, telling them
that they must make the journey to Babylon without him as now he was
too old to travel. They answered that they would bear him with them in
a litter; but he shook his head, saying:

"'Not so, the time has come for me to die to this world and to pass to
another whence I will watch over you and where I will await you all
when your hours are fulfilled. Here, then, I bide till I am called
away.'

"Then, while they wept he called Tau to him and, causing him to kneel,
with secret and mystical words ordained him to be Prophet of the Order
of the Dawn after him, giving him authority over the bodies and souls
of men, after which he breathed upon and kissed him. Next he summoned
our Lady Nefra, the Queen, and bade her be of a good heart, since it
was given to him to know that all things should befall according to
her desire, and that, however great his dangers, he whom she loved
would be protected and brought back to her at last. Then he kissed and
blessed her also, and after her he blessed all the Order, those of the
Council by name, charging them to guard its secrets and to keep its
doctrines to which they were sworn, pure and undefiled. Moreover,
should they shed blood in pursuit of its righteous aims and in defence
of their Queen and sister, he absolved them of its guilt, saying that
sometimes war was necessary to peace, but that when war was ended,
they must show mercy and become poor and humble as before. After this
he dismissed them, nor would he speak with any of them again, save to
give Tau a writing for the King of Babylon, and another writing
addressed to all the members of the Order throughout the world."

"And what happened then, Sheik?"

"Then, Lord, they bent the knee to him one by one and went away, who
by dawn were marching for Babylon. When all had gone Roy looked up
and, perceiving me left alone, asked why I was not with them. I told
him what I have told you, and he said that it was well and that I must
tend him till his death. After this he left the throne and laid him
down in a chamber near at hand, and there I visited him night and
morning, for all the day I was busy preparing this place to which I
carried food and water and the rest from the temple stores and, lest I
should be seen, hid them here in the hours of darkness. I think it was
on the fourth afternoon from the departure of the Brotherhood that,
all my tasks being finished, I went to the holy Prophet to give him
water to drink, for now he would touch no food. He drank and commanded
me to help him to rise and to array him in all his priestly garments.
Then at his bidding I led him to the hall and sat him down on the
throne with his rod of office in his hand.

"'Hearken,' he said to me. 'Our foes come, thinking to destroy us
according to the command of Apepi. I see them landing on the shore; I
see the shining of their spears. Man and brother, hide you there and
watch, knowing that no harm shall come to you, and afterwards go do as
you were bidden.' Now, as the Brother Temu will know if you do not,
Lord, all the temple yonder is full of places where only fire or
hammers could find a man, into the secrets of which we of the Order
have been instructed in case of need. To one of these I went and hid
myself, but a little way from the platform on which Roy sat, nor would
any have guessed that the calm statue of an ancient god held a living
man who could see all through its hollow eyes of stone.

"A while went by, perhaps an hour, for when I came into the temple the
sun was still high, but now its beams, striking through the western
window-place, began to fall upon Roy and the throne upon which he sat,
in shafts of light that clothed him in a robe of flame. Suddenly the
silence was broken by sounds that grew ever nearer, sounds of running
feet, sounds of rude voices shouting.

"'Here is the path,' they shouted. 'Here is the nest of the white rats
of the Dawn, who soon shall be red. Now let us see if their spells can
turn Pharaoh's spears.'

"Roaring such words as these, a mob of soldiers burst into the hall
through the great entrance, glittering with armour and with lifted
swords. The silence of the ancient place seemed to strike and chill
them, for their tumult ceased, and after a pause they came on slowly,
clinging together like bees. Then it was, Lord, that the red rays of
the westering sun fell full upon Roy, revealing him seated, white-
robed, upon the throne, his golden-headed staff held like a sceptre in
his hand. They stared, they halted.

"'It is a spirit!' cried one.

"'Nay, it is the god Osiris holding the Rod of Power,' answered
another.

"The officers consulted together doubtfully, till some captain who was
bolder than the rest said:

"'Shall we be frightened by magic tricks? Let us look.'

"He marched up the hall followed by others, and halted in front of the
platform.

"'This old god is dead,' he cried. 'Do you fear a dead god, Comrades?'

"Now Roy spoke in a hollow echoing voice, saying:

"'What is life and what is death? And how know you the difference
between a dead and a living god, O Violator of Sanctuaries?'

"The officer heard and fell back, but made no answer, for he was
afraid.

"'What seek you in this holy place, O men of blood, and who sent you
here?' went on Roy.

"Then the officer found courage to answer.

"'Apepi the Pharaoh, whose servants we are, sent us, and our mission
is to capture Nefra, the daughter of Kheperra, once King of the South,
and to put to the sword the company of the Priests of the Dawn.'

"'Capture Nefra, the anointed Queen of the Two Lands, if you can find
her, Man, and put the priests of the Order of the Dawn to the sword,
if you can find them. Search the tombs and search the desert, and when
you find them put them to the sword, and bear back the heads of the
dead to Apepi, the Shepherd dog whom you call a king, and with them
the living beauty of Nefra, her Majesty of Egypt.'

"They made no answer and Roy went on:

"'Search, search, to find naught but wind and sand. Search till the
Sword of God falls upon you, as fall it will.'

"Now, Lord, it would seem as though that officer drew courage out of
the depths of his terrors, for he shouted back:

"'At least, old Prophet, you are neither God nor his Sword, and for
you there is no need to search. You we will take to Pharaoh Apepi,
that, yet living, he may hang you as a cheat and a wizard above the
gates of Tanis.'

"Now Roy arose from this throne and, terrible to behold, stood in the
fierce light of the setting sun. Slowly he raised his wand and pointed
with it at that officer, saying in a cold, clear voice:

"'Prophet you name me, and now at the last, if never before, Prophet I
am. Hearken, Man, and bear back my words to your master, the Shepherd
thief Apepi, and lay them to your own heart. It is you and not I who
shall hang from the pylon gate of Tanis. Yea, I see you swinging in
the wind, you who have suffered that flock to escape on which the
Shepherd dog would feed, and must feel his rage, as this Apepi must
feel the wrath of God. Say to him from Roy, the Prophet of the Order
of the Dawn, that death draws near to him, the breaker of oaths, the
seeker of innocent blood, and that soon he shall talk with Roy, not at
Tanis but before the Judgment seat in the Underworld. Say to him that
his armies shall go down before the sword of the Avenger as corn is
reaped by the sickle, and that one whom he would murder shall sit upon
his throne and cherish her whom he desired. Say to him that when he
stood here in this hall disguised as a messenger, I knew him well, but
spared him because his time was not yet and because the humble
Brethren of the Dawn, unlike to the King of the Shepherd pack,
remember the duties of hospitality and do not seek to stain their
hands with the blood of envoys. Say to him, the oath-breaker who would
practise treachery, that he shall drink of the cup of treachery and
that from the evil he has sown others shall reap the harvest of
righteousness and peace.'

"Thus, Lord, spoke Roy and sank back upon the throne.

"'Seize him!' shouted the officer. 'Beat him with rods; torment him
till he tells us where he has hidden the royal Nefra, for ill will be
our welcome at Tanis if we return without her upon whom the King has
set his heart.'

"Now, Lord, very slowly some of the soldiers crept forward, two paces
forward and one back, for they were much afraid. At length they came
to the platform and climbed it. The first of them, not touching him,
stared into the face of the holy Roy, then reeled back, crying:

"'He is dead! This Prophet is dead; his jaw has fallen!'

"'Aye,' answered one in the hall, 'but his curse lives on. Woe! woe to
Apepi and woe to us who serve him! Woe! Woe!'

"While the cry still echoed from the walls, of a sudden the sun sank
and the hall grew dark. Then, Lord, there arose another cry of 'Flee!
Flee swiftly ere the curse strikes us in this haunted place.'

"Lord, they turned, they fled. The narrow passages were choked with
them. Some fell and were trampled of their fellows, for I heard their
groans, but these they dragged away, dead or living, I know not which.
Presently all were gone. I crept from my hiding place, I lifted the
hand of the holy Roy. It grew cold and, when I loosed it, fell
heavily; I listened at his heart; it did not beat. Then I followed the
soldiers, and hiding as I know how to do, saw them embark upon their
ships, fighting in their mad haste, and push out into the Nile
although a great wind blew. When I came again at dawn they were all
gone, only I think that some boat had been overturned, for on the
shore were three bodies which I thrust back into the water.

"Such, Lord, was the end of Roy our Master, who now sleeps in the
bosom of Osiris."

"A strange tale and a terrible," said Khian.

"Aye," broke in Temu, "but one in which I see the hand of Heaven. But
if such is the beginning, Prince, what of the end? Ill for Apepi, I
think, and for those who cling to him. Faith! Have faith!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE FATE OF THE CLIFF-CLIMBERS

That night, Khian, Temu, and the Sheik of the Pyramids, after they had
eaten and drunk, laid themselves down to sleep in the burial chamber
of the Pharaoh Khafra, Khian lying on one side of his sarcophagus,
Temu on the other, and the Sheik, who said that he would not profane
the sacred place with his humble presence, just outside the doorway.
But as Khian discovered that night, often enough it is one thing to
lie down and another to sleep.

Sleep, indeed, he could not. Perchance he was over-weary, who had
rested little for many nights, for on the boat he had laboured hard
and scarcely dared to shut his eyes. Perchance all the dangers that he
had passed, all that he had suffered, seen, and heard, so filled his
mind that it would not cease from troubling. Perchance the hot, still
air of the tomb lying at the heart of a mountain of stone oppressed
him and took away his breath.

Or there may have been other reasons. Within the great chest against
which he lay, silent and stern, reposed the bones of a Pharaoh, the
builder of this pyramid, who had been mighty in the world uncounted
years before, but of whom now there remained no history and nothing
upon earth, save those bones, the pyramid, and, in the temple without,
certain statues portraying his royal presence. Such a one as this was
no good bedfellow, thought Khian, especially for a man who, as
suddenly he remembered, wore to-day the very ring with which, ages
past, that departed monarch had sealed his documents of state.

Khian wondered in his wakefulness whether the /Ka/ or Double of this
Pharaoh, which, as was well known, or so swore all the priests and
learned men, dwelt with his body in the tomb till the hour of
resurrection, was now looking at that ring and wondering how it came
to be on this stranger's hand. As he remembered, already it had
brought him trouble, since through it his father, Apepi, with all the
cunning of the jealous, had guessed that he and Nefra were lovers, and
thereon cast him into prison. He had escaped from that prison to find
another, but if this was to be shared with the /Ka/ of the mighty
Khafra, the second would be no better than the first, for who could
deceive a /Ka/? Had he thought of the matter, which in his folly he
did not, he might have hidden the ring from Apepi, but where was the
pouch that would hide it from the eyes of a /Ka/? Perhaps, however,
Khafra had given the ring to him who came after him, from whom it had
descended generation by generation, until it came to his hand lawfully
enough, in which case the /Ka/ might pardon him who wore it to-day.

Oh! his brain grew weak and foolish; he would think no more of /Kas/
and rings; he would think of that sweet and lovely lady with whom he
had plighted troth in this very sepulchre. Where was she now, he
wondered, and when should he find her again? The Sheik said that
almost with his last breath Roy had prophesied that they would come
together once more, which were comfortable words. Yet Roy might have
meant that this would chance in another world since to Roy, especially
at the last, there seemed to be little difference between the live and
the dead. But he, Khian, desired the breathing woman, not her ghost,
for who knew how shadows loved, if indeed they loved at all? How
wondrous was the tale of this death of Roy, hurling curses with his
last strength upon Apepi and those who violated the sanctuary of the
Brethren of the Dawn and strove to steal away their sister and their
Queen. He thanked the gods that Roy had not cursed him in such
fashion. Nay, he had blessed him, and Nefra also. Therefore, surely,
they would be blessed, for he was holy, a minister of Heaven who knew
its mind.

Even in that dread habitation and surrounded by so many perils, he
would remember that Roy had blessed them, and that his spirit,
purified eternally, was watching him, stronger than the /Ka/ of Khafra
or than any evil ghost or demon that makes its home in tombs. Yes,
comforted by that blessing he would cease to stare at the wavering
shadow that the lamplight threw upon the arched roof, and sleep.

Sleep he did at last, though fitfully and haunted by bad dreams, for
that place was foul-aired, till at length he was awakened by the sound
of Temu, who stirred upon the farther side of the tomb and yawned
loudly.

"Arise, Prince," said Temu, "for though one would not guess it here,
it must be day."

"What is day to those who live in the eternal blackness of a pyramid
as though already they were dead?" asked Khian gloomily.

"Oh! a great deal," replied Temu cheerfully, "because one knows that
the sun is shining without. Also darkness has its comforts; thus in
it, having nothing else to do, one can pray longer and with a mind
more fixed."

"But that the sun is shining on others does not comfort me in a
stifling gloom, Temu, and I can pray best when I see the heaven above
me."

"As doubtless you will soon again, Prince, for be sure that by now,
having lost us, those soldiers have departed to report to his Majesty
that we have melted away like spirits."

"In which case his Majesty will make /them/ into spirits, Temu, that
they may search for us elsewhere. Certainly, wherever those soldiers
go, it will not be back to Tanis unless they take us with them. Think
now. We have escaped from Pharaoh's strongest dungeon which none has
ever done before. The Queen Nefra and all our brethren, save Roy who
chose to stay behind to die, have escaped his army. What would his
mood be, then, towards those who reported to him that they had tracked
and hunted us, only at the last to let us slip through their fingers?
No, Temu, unless we accompany them, I think that they will not return
to Tanis."

At this moment the Sheik appeared bearing a lamp.

"Have the soldiers gone?" asked Temu.

"Come and see," said the Sheik, and turning, led them down the
passages. "Now look," he added, pointing to the eyeholes.

Khian looked, and when his sight grew accustomed to the bright light
that flowed from without, perceived the soldiers, fifty or more of
them, engaged in building themselves huts or shelters of the loose
stones that lay about. Moreover, by setting his ear to the hole, he
heard an officer call to someone whom he could not see, asking if all
were well with the companies that watched the other faces of the
pyramid. Then understanding that these men were sure that their quarry
lay hid within the pyramid and intended to guard it day and night
until starvation or lack of water forced them to come out, Khian
motioned to Temu to look for himself and sat down upon the passage
floor and groaned.

"Certainly," said Temu after a while, "it seems as though they were
going to stop here a long time, for otherwise they would not be
building themselves houses of stone. Well, we will outwit them
somehow. Faith--have faith!"

"Yes," said Khian, "but meanwhile even faith needs food, so let us
eat."



Thus for these three there began a time of terror. Day added itself to
day and still the soldiers remained, watching as a cat watches; also
others came to join them, and among these, men who were skilled at the
climbing of cliffs and other heights, and set themselves to scale the
pyramid with the aid of ropes and spikes of bronze, hoping thus to
discover the hiding place of the Prince. It was but lost labour, since
although often they crept over it, never did they find the secret
stone, nor if they had, could they have opened it that was barred
within. Still there they remained, believing always that the prisoners
must come out, unless indeed they were already dead.

Khian and his companions slept no more in the tomb chambers; the place
was too close and dreadful; they could not rest there. So after that
first night they laid themselves down in the passage near to the
entrance stone, for there some air reached them through the peepholes,
also a little light. Indeed, by setting his eye to one of these holes
that slanted upwards, apparently to make it possible for any looking
through it from within to see the southern face of another of the
pyramids, Khian found that he could behold a certain star. For hours
at night he would lie watching that star, until at length it passed
from his vision, as the sight of it seemed to give him comfort, though
why he did not know. For the rest they must lie in the dark, or with
the peepholes blocked, lest the lamplight flowing through these should
betray them, and therefore were obliged to eat farther down the
passage. Soon, however, although there was plenty of it, food began to
grow distasteful to them, who must stay still, or nearly so, day after
day. The water, too, became flat, stale, and nauseous to the taste,
and of the wine they dared not drink too much.

Thus it came about that at length courage and spirit began to desert
Khian, who would sit for hour after hour silent, sunk in a gloom as
deep as that of the bowels of the pyramid. Even Temu, though still he
talked much of faith, reminding his companions of Roy and his
prophecy, and prayed for hours at a time, became less happy-hearted
and declared that the prison vaults at Tanis were as a palace compared
to this accursed tomb. The Sheik, also, grew so wild in his manner
that Khian thought that he was going mad. What angered him most was
that strangers should dare to scramble about the pyramid of which he
was the captain, for of this he talked continually. Khian tried to
soothe him by saying that he was sure they dared not climb so very
high, even with the help of their ropes, since never would they know
where to set their feet.

These words made the Sheik thoughtful, for after hearing them he grew
silent, as though he were considering deeply. On the following night,
just before the dawn, he awoke Khian and said:

"Prince, I go on an errand. Ask me not what it is, but to-morrow at
sunset unbar the stone and wait. If I do not return before the dawn,
bar it up again and think of me as dead."

He would say no more, nor did Khian try to turn him from his purpose,
for he knew that then the man would go quite mad. So the stone was
opened a little, and having eaten and drunk some wine, the Sheik
slipped out into the darkness.

The sound of the bar falling into its place again woke Temu, who
sprang up, crying:

"I dreamed that the stone was open and that we were free. Why, where
is the Sheik? He was lying by my side."

"The stone was opened, Temu, but we are not free. As for the Sheik, he
has gone on some wild errand of his own. What it was he would not tell
me. I think that he could bear this place no more and seeks freedom in
death, or otherwise."

"If so, Prince, there will be more water left for us two to drink, and
doubtless all is for the best. Faith! Have faith!" answered Temu, and
lying down went to sleep again.

That day passed as the others had done. Of the Sheik they spoke no
more, for both of them believed that he had fled, or hidden himself
among the stones of the pyramids to get air. Indeed now their miseries
were so great that scarcely could they think of other matters and
talked little, but, like two caged owls, sat staring at the darkness
with large, unnatural eyes. Towards evening Khian, watching through
his peephole, saw that some Bedouins of the desert, who were mounted
upon fine horses, had arrived at the camp of the soldiers who were
chaffering with them for corn or perhaps milk, which others on foot
carried upon their heads in jars or baskets. When the bargaining was
done the soldiers talked with the desert-dwellers, telling them why
they were camped there, or so Khian guessed, for the latter stared at
the pyramids as though the tale moved them, and asked many questions,
as he could see by their eager faces and the movements of their hands.
Whilst they were still talking the sun began to set, sinking swiftly,
as it seems to do in the clear skies of Egypt. Then suddenly one
shouted, pointing upwards:

"Look! Look! Yonder stands the Spirit of the Pyramids, there on its
very crest, clad all in white."

"Nay," answered another, "it is clad in black."

"There must be two of them," called a third, "one in white and one in
black. Without doubt these are no spirits, but those we seek, the
Prince Khian and the priest, who all this while have dwelt not in the
pyramid but on its crest."

"Fool," cried a voice, "how can men live for weeks in such a place?
These are ghosts, I say. Have we not heard that the pyramids are
haunted? Look! The thing mocks us, making signs with its arms."

"Ghosts or men," said the first voice, that of the Captain, "we will
take them to-morrow. To-night it is impossible, for darkness falls."

Then followed tumult, for all the soldiers spoke at once, and at that
distance Khian could not hear their words. He noted, however, that the
desert-dwellers did not speak. They sat still upon their horses at a
little distance and behind the soldiers, while he who seemed to be
their chief made strange signs with his arms, stretching them out
wide, then holding them above his head with his fingers touching.
After this, very swiftly came the darkness, covering all, and the
shoutings died away, though from the encampment below where the
soldiers gathered round their fires, still rose the murmuring of eager
talk.

"Temu," said Khian later, "what does this sign mean among the
Brotherhood of the Dawn?" and first he stretched his arms out wide and
then made them into a loop above his head with the fingers touching.

"That, Prince, is the sign of the Cross of Life which members of the
Order use for a signal when they are too far apart to speak. It is
thus that they know friend from foe or stranger."

"I thought so," said Khian, and was silent. Then he went to the
entrance place and took down the bar that closed it.

An hour later or more he heard a sound and for an instant felt the
night air blowing sweetly on his face, though because of the darkness
he could see nothing. Next he heard the bar fall into its socket and
the voice of the Sheik calling him by name. He answered and together
they crept up the passage till they came to a spot where a lamp burned
and there were food and water.

When the Sheik had drunk deeply Khian asked him where he had been,
though he could guess well enough.

"To the top of the pyramid, Lord. I climbed thither in the dark this
morning. It was very dangerous; so dangerous that although you are as
skilled as I am, I dared not ask you to accompany me. Still, although
I am weak from setting so long stirless in this hole, I did not fear
who know the road well; also no harm ever comes to the Captain of the
Pyramids while he follows his trade of scaling them."

"Why did you go there, Sheik?"

"I will tell you, Lord. First, that I might make those soldier dogs
believe that we were living, not in the pyramid, but on or near its
crest in some cave among the stones; or if they would not believe
this, that I might frighten them, and perhaps cause them to go away.
Doubtless they have heard the tale of the Spirit of the Pyramids and
that those who look upon it are doomed to death or madness, and if so,
having, as they believed, seen it once they will not wish to do so
again. Lastly, I had a reason of my own of which perhaps you will not
think well. Skilled cliff-climbers have been brought here to scale the
pyramid, /my/ pyramid and that of my forefathers, on which none has
set foot unless he was of my blood, except only a certain lady and
yourself by order of the Council of the Dawn. Yet these bunglers have
never yet reached the crest; of that I am sure. Now they will try to
do so, for the soldiers will force them to the task, and I think that
what will happen to them will cause strangers for many a generation to
leave the pyramids to be climbed by my race alone."

"That is revenge which would have been displeasing to Roy," answered
Khian, shaking his head. Then remembering that to this man the
pyramids were as holy as is a temple to its priest, and that to him he
who dared to try to conquer them deserved to die as much as he does
who violates a sanctuary, he said no more of the matter, but bade the
Sheik to continue his tale.

"Lord, I reached the summit in safety just as the dawn began to break,
and there lay flat all day in the little hollow that you know, where
part of the cap stone is broken off. It was very hot there, Lord, with
the sun beating full upon me, nor did I dare to move lest I should be
seen. Yet I endured till at last came the hour of sunset. Then I rose
up and stood upon the very point clad in my white robe, so that all
the soldiers could see me. While they gazed astonished I slipped back
to the hollow and covered up the white robe with my black cloak of
camel hair, and thus clad, appeared again, bending my knees so as to
make it seem as though I were a second man of a different stature.
This I did more than once, Lord, and thus those watchers came to
believe that unless they saw ghosts, both you and the priest Temu were
on the summit of the pyramid."

"A clever trick," said Khian, laughing for the first time for days,
"though I know not how it will serve us."

"Thus, Lord. If the soldiers believe that you are on the summit of the
pyramid, they will cease to search and watch its slopes, and all night
long the eyes of their sentries will be fixed upon that summit. But
listen, there is more to tell. While I stood thus on high I perceived
certain men mounted on very fine horses who seemed to be Arabs of the
desert and who were, or had been, engaged in chaffering with the
soldiers, selling them milk or grain. Now the presence of these men
caused me to wonder, for I knew well that no Arabs dared to set foot
within the boundaries of this, the Holy Ground of Dawn, fearing lest,
if they do so, the curse of Heaven and of the Prophets of the Dawn
should fall upon them. Then a thought came to me, sent as I think from
on high, and seeing him who seemed to be the headman of the Arabs
watching me with uplifted face, with my arms I made certain signs that
are known to our Order, and perhaps, Lord, to you also who now are one
of them."

Khian nodded, and he went on:

"Lord, that man answered the signs and so did another who was near to
him, to show me as I think that this was not done by chance. Then I
knew that they were friends sent here for a purpose and understood why
my Spirit had moved me to climb the pyramid."

"And if so, what of it, Sheik?" asked Khian in a hoarse voice, for his
heart beat high with hope and choked him.

"This, Lord. To-morrow at the sunset once more I shall stand upon the
crest of the pyramid, and if as I think those Arabs still are there, I
shall make other signs to them, showing them where they must wait at
midnight, having horses in readiness. Then I shall return and guide
you to them, for I think that they will know which way to ride."

"It is dangerous," said Khian, "but so be it, for if I bide here much
longer I think that I shall die. Therefore, better meet fate in the
open and swiftly than perish here in this hole by inches."

Then he called Temu and the three of them took counsel together. Also
the Sheik and Temu talked much of the secret signs of the Order, and
practised them by the lamplight.

Next morning ere dawn the Sheik departed again as he had done before.
As soon as it was light, watching through their spyholes, Khian and
Temu saw that there was much disturbance in the camp of the soldiers,
saw also that the skilled cliff-climbers, six or more of them with
their ropes and metal spikes, were collected together, talking with
the officers.

At last, as it seemed to Khian somewhat against their will, they
advanced to the foot of the pyramid, and setting his ear to the hole
Khian heard them scrambling up the face of it. For a long while he
heard no more, but noted the soldiers watching eagerly, talking
together and pointing with their hands, now in this direction and now
in that.

Suddenly there rose a scream of horror. Some of the soldiers stared as
though fascinated, others turned their backs, and others hid their
eyes. The spyhole was obscured for a moment as though by something
passing between it and the light. Then soldiers ran forward and
presently Khian and Temu saw them returning towards the huts bearing
three shapeless things that had been men. A while later they saw the
remainder of the cliff-climbers staggering much as the drunken do,
towards the same huts where they cast down their ropes with the air of
those who have done with them, and departed out of the sight of the
watcher.

"The pyramids are avenged on those who thought that they could master
them, and their captain will rejoice," said Khian sadly, thinking to
himself that had not some power protected him they would have been
avenged upon him also, as indeed very nearly happened.



Once more it was sunset and again the Arabs, mounted on fine horses,
appeared at the camp. Again, too, there were shoutings and pointings
with much disturbance, in the midst of which he who seemed to be the
chief of the Arabs drew a little to one side of, also behind, the
soldiers, so as not to be seen of them, and from time to time made
motions with his arms, as those do who, at its rising or its setting,
worship the sun in the desert. Then followed darkness and in it shone
the fires round which the soldiers were seated.

Presently they stood up holding their hands behind their ears as
though to listen to some sound in the air; then by twos and threes
departed like men who are frightened and hid themselves in the huts or
elsewhere. A while later the stone turned and the Sheik glided into
the passage, but this time he asked for wine, not water.

"I have been near to Osiris," he said, "who slipped upon the blood of
one of those cliff-climbing fools and almost fell. Yet I did not fall
who I think was guarded, and for the rest all goes well."

"Except for the three who are dead," said Khian, sighing.

"If they died, it was by no fault of mine, Lord. Without knowledge of
the road, in their madness, having scaled two-thirds of the height
they came to smooth marble where is no holding place for hands or
feet. Then one slide down, dragging the others with him, for they were
roped together, after which the rest, seeing the fate of their
fellows, gave up the venture and returned. Now, as I think, the
pyramids will be safe from these common cliff-climbers for many a
year."

"What chanced afterwards?" asked Khian.

"I appeared at sunset as before, and making pretence to toss my arms
about, as a ghost or a devil might do, I signalled to him who seems to
be the captain of the Arabs. He answered me. We understood each other.
After dark I shouted curses at the soldiers telling them that I was
the Spirit of Roy the Prophet, and that doom was near to them. They
grew frightened at what they held to be a voice from Heaven, and crept
away to hide themselves from the words of evil omen, nor, as I think,
will they come out of their holes again until the sun is high. Now
drink a cup of wine and follow me, both of you."



CHAPTER XVIII

HOW NEFRA CAME TO BABYLON

After he who was known as the Scribe Rasa, the envoy of Apepi, King of
the North, had received the betrothal ring from his affianced, Nefra
the Queen, and sailed down Nile to Tanis, there to undergo many evil
things, at the Temple of the Dawn all came about as the Captain of the
Pyramids afterwards described to him and the priest Temu.

Scarcely had this Rasa, who was Khian the Prince, departed, than there
arrived at the temple, disguised as Arabs, an embassy from Ditanah,
the old king of Babylon. These men, nobles of Babylon, were received
in secret by the Council, and bowing before Roy the Prophet, presented
to him tablets of clay covered with strange signs.

"Read the writing, Tau," said Roy, "for my sight grows feeble and I
forget this foreign tongue which is your own."

So Tau took the tablets and read:


 "From Ditanah the aged, Lord of Babylon and King of Kings, whose
  glory is as that of the Sun, the Mighty One. To Roy the holy Seer,
  the Friend of Heaven, the Prophet of the Order of the Dawn, and to
  him who sits under Roy, the first of the Brothers of the Dawn, who
  in Egypt is named Tau, but who, as I, Ditanah, have heard, in
  Babylon aforetime was named the High Prince Abeshu, the lawful son
  of my body, with whom I quarrelled because he rebuked my Majesty
  as to a certain vengeance which I took upon a subject people, and
  who thereafter fled away and as I believed was long dead--
  Greetings.

 "Know, O Roy and O Tau or Abeshu, that I have received your letters
  informing me of all that passes in Egypt, and that you, Abeshu,
  still live. Also that it was the desire of my daughter Rima whom I
  gave in marriage to Kheperra, the Pharaoh of the South and by
  right of descent the King of all Egypt, that her bones should be
  brought back for burial to Babylon. Also I have read that her
  daughter Nefra has in secret been crowned Queen of Egypt and seeks
  my help to win her throne out of the hands of my enemy, Apepi the
  Usurper who rules at Tanis.

 "Now I, Ditanah, say to you, Roy the Holy, and to you, Queen Nefra
  my grandchild, 'Come to me at Babylon with all your company.
  Thither I swear you safe-conduct in the name of my god Marduk,
  Ruler of Heaven and Earth, in the name of the gods Nebo and Bel,
  and of all the other gods who are my lords. There, also, you shall
  be guarded from all harm by the strength of my hands, and there we
  will talk together of all these matters.'

 "And to you who are called Tau, I say, 'Come also, and if you can
  prove to me that you are in truth my son, the Prince Abeshu, I
  will give you all things that you desire, who have mourned over
  you for many years, save one thing only, the succession to my
  throne after me which is promised to another. But if you have lied
  to me in this matter, then do not come, for surely you shall die.'

 "To the bones, also, of my daughter Rima, whose husband Kheperra,
  the wolf, Apepi, brought to his death, I will give honourable
  burial in the sepulchre of kings, where it was her desire to lie
  at last. Nor do I think that I shall refuse her death-prayer, if
  Nefra, my grandchild the Queen, will obey me in a certain matter.

 "Sealed with the seal of Ditanah, the Great King and with the seals
  of his Councillors."


When Tau had read he touched his forehead with the tablet and gave it
to Nefra who sat upon her throne in the centre of the Council. She
also laid it against her forehead, then turned to Tau and said:

"How comes it, my Lord Tau, that all these years you have kept this
secret from me, who if the tale that is written here be true, must be
a brother of my mother and my uncle?"--a question which caused the
envoys to stare at him.

Tau smiled and answered:

"O Queen and Niece, the tale is true enough, as should we live to come
at Babylon, I will prove to my royal father Ditanah and his
Councillors. I am Abeshu and the half-brother of Queen Rima. But when
I left Babylon she was but a little child born of another mother whom
I had scarcely seen, since she dwelt with the royal women. Nor did I
reveal myself to her afterwards when we met again and I saved her from
the plots of Apepi at Thebes, or to you when you grew to womanhood,
because of oaths that I had taken when I became a Brother of the Dawn,
which oaths bound me to lay down all my earthly rank and to forget
that I had been a prince. Yet in those oaths there was a loophole--
namely, should it ever become needful to declare myself and my true
name and history thereby to help the Order of the Dawn, I was free to
do so. To all of which our father the Prophet can bear me witness."

"Aye," said Roy, "it is true. Hearken, Queen and Sister, and you, the
envoys of Ditanah. Many years ago a brother of our Order, now long
dead, brought to me a man who said that he desired to become one of
us, a noble-looking warrior man, stalwart and square-bearded, who, I
judged, had drunk of the water of Euphrates. I asked him his name and
country, also why he sought the shelter of the Dawn. He told me, and
proved his words, that he was Abeshu, a Prince of Babylon, who had
quarrelled with his father, Ditanah the Great King, whose General he
had been, over the matter of a subject people whom he had been ordered
to massacre, but would not for mercy's sake, and because of his
disobedience had been banished or left the land. Afterwards he had
served under other kings, those of Cyprus and of Syria, as a captain
of their armies, but in the end grew weary of fighting and ambitions,
of loves who betrayed him also, and determined to bid farewell to the
vanities of the world and in solitude and silence to feed and purify
his soul.

"Therefore, having heard of the Order of the Dawn, he came to knock
upon its gate. I answered to him that among us there was no room for
one who only sought salvation for himself and rest from earthly toil,
since those of our Brotherhood must be the servants of all men and
more particularly of the poor and those bound with the chains of sin,
sworn to bring peace to the world, even at the cost of their own
lives, sworn, too, to poverty and, except for special purposes, to
celibacy and the renouncement of all earthly honours. For thus only,
as we held, could the soul of man come into union with its god.
Therefore, if he became one of us, it must be as the slave of the
humblest and he must forget that he had been a Prince of Babylon and a
General of her hosts, he who henceforward would be but a minister of
Heaven appointed to tasks, mayhap, that the meanest idolator would
refuse.

"In the end, Queen, this suppliant bowed his neck beneath our yoke and
laying down all his titles, became known under the humble name of Tau.
Yet from Tau the Servant he grew to be Tau the spiritual Lord, and
after me, its aged Prophet, the greatest in our Brotherhood, and so
acknowledged throughout the world, though until it became necessary to
proclaim it to the Great King Ditanah but the other day, none knew
that he was Abeshu, the Prince of Babylon."

Now when they heard this strange story the members of the Council rose
and bowed to Tau, as did the envoys from Babylon, setting their hands
upon their hearts. But Nefra did more, for she rose also and kissed
him on the brow, calling him her beloved uncle and saying that now she
understood why she had always loved him from a child.

Then Tau spoke, saying:

"All is as has been told, but because of it I neither seek nor deserve
your praise. What I have done I did for my own soul's sake who came to
know that there is no true joy save in the service of others and in
the seeking to draw near to God. Now for a while it seems that, still
in the service of others, I must once more be known as a prince and
perhaps as a captain in war. If so, let not my royal Father have any
fear lest I should seek to claim the heritage of those whom he has
appointed to succeed him, I whose only hope and purpose is that I may
live and die a Brother of the Dawn."

At this moment he who kept the door advanced and whispered into the
ear of Roy, who said:

"Admit them."

There came in three men, travel-stained and weary, who when they threw
open their cloaks and made the signs, were seen to be Brothers of the
Order.

"Holy Prophet," said one of them, "we come from Tanis and from the
camp of Apepi's army. We have it from those in authority who in secret
are the friends of our Order, that Apepi makes preparation, should a
certain request of his be refused, to attack you here; to put every
one of the Brotherhood to the sword and to drag away yonder royal lady
to be his wife. His troops are gathered and in a few days he will be
upon you."

"I know it well," answered Roy. "Let those mad servants of Apepi come,
for I have words to say to them."

Then he commanded Tau to call together all the people of the Dawn,
that he might take counsel with them.

They gathered together and in their presence Roy the Prophet laid down
his office and consecrated Tau as his successor, as the Sheik of the
Pyramids had told Khian and Temu. Then, too, he bade them farewell and
blessed them, and they departed, weeping, after which all things
happened as the Sheik had said. There were some among the Council--
Nefra the Queen was one of them--who would have seized Roy and borne
him away by force. But he read their minds and forbade it. So at last
they went, leaving him alone according to his commands. Yet that was a
sad parting and at it many tears were shed. Thus Nefra wept much, for
she loved Roy who from her infancy had watched over this orphan child
as though he were her father. He noted her grief and called her to
him:

"Lady of Egypt," he said, "you who to-day are a queen in name and ere
so very long, unless my wisdom fails me, will be so indeed, wide seems
the gulf that is set between you and the old hermit, the Prophet of a
secret faith whose name will vanish away and who ere long will be
utterly forgotten upon the earth. Also between you and me lies the
span of many years, for I am very, very old, while but yesterday you
came to womanhood. Moreover, your lot in life is far different from
that which I have trod and that now is ending, so it would seem as
though there were little in common between us. Yet it is not so,
because we are tied together by the bond of love which, did you but
know it, is the one perfect, eternal thing in Heaven and earth. Time
is nothing; it seems to be and yet is not, for in everlastingness what
place is there for time? Pomp and glories, beauty and desire, wealth
and want, things lost and things achieved, all we seek and all we
gain, our joys and griefs, yes, birth and death themselves, are but
bubbles on the stream of being which appear and disappear. Only love
is real and only love endures. For love is God, and being God, is King
of the world; a King with a thousand faces, who in the end will
conquer all and make of hate a footstool and of evil the oil within
his lamp. Therefore, Child, follow after love, not only that love
which you know to-day, but the love of all, even of those who do you
wrong, for this is the true sacrifice, and through it only shall your
soul be fed. Now for an hour, farewell."

Then he kissed her on the brow and bade her leave him.

Such was the parting of Roy the ancient Prophet and Nefra the royal
maid who all her life through remembered this his last message, though
perhaps its full mystery and meaning never came home to her until at
last she was about to follow him into the shadows. Never did she
forget the sight of him, white-robed and bearded, hawk-nosed and
wrinkled, seated alone upon his chair of state within that dusky hall,
staring with steady eyes out into the farther gloom, as though there
he sought some beckoning hand of light and awaited the signal to
follow whither it might lead.



Ere the dawn they marched, fifty or more of them, besides those who
bore the coffin of Rima the Queen. Swiftly they marched by secret
ways, for already the sick, the young, and the aged had departed to
their appointed hiding places, so swiftly that when the sun rose the
pyramids were already distant. Then it was that Nefra bade farewell to
the Sheik who had accompanied them thus far, and gave him those
commands of which he had spoken afterwards.

For always she believed that Khian would return to seek her there, as
did Tau and others of the Brotherhood, who perchance had received some
message or spiritual instruction on this matter, and bitterly she
grieved that it was not possible to await his coming that he might fly
with her. The Sheik bowed and went his way, swearing to fulfil her
words, and by degrees the pyramids that had been her only home faded
and were lost to sight. Then for the first time Nefra wept a little,
for she loved those pyramids which she had conquered and where her joy
had found her, and did not know whether she would ever see them more.

They came unharmed to the borders of Egypt, and leaving the great gulf
of the Red Sea to the south of them, passed safely into the deserts of
Arabia. Indeed, on all that journey through Egypt, avoiding towns and
villages, they met few in the war-wasted lands, and those few either
fled away or made pretence not to see them. It was almost as though
some command had gone out that they should not be observed, though
whence it came Nefra did not know. Not until she made that journey did
Nefra learn how great was the secret power of the humble Order of the
Dawn.

At length they were out of Egypt and camped one night by a well in the
desert. Next morning when Nefra looked at dawn out of the tent in
which she slept with Kemmah, she perceived a caravan of camels and
horsemen advancing upon them and was afraid.

"Now I think that Apepi has us in his net," she said to Kemmah, who
looked also, then left the tent, making no answer. Soon she returned
accompanied by two of the envoys from Babylon, with whom came the Lord
Tau himself.

"Have no fear, Queen," said Tau, "all has gone well. Those whom you
see are not Shepherds, but troops of your grandsire, the great King
Ditanah, sent by him to escort you to his city of Babylon. Behold the
banner of the Great King blazoned with the symbols of his gods."

"Thanks and praise be to Heaven," answered Nefra. Then a thought took
her and she led Tau aside and said to him: "I believe and you believe
that the Prince Khian will return to the pyramids to seek us and to
give us warning. There he may be driven into hiding, being pursued. If
so he will need help. Cannot some be found to give it to him in his
extremity?"

"I will consider the matter and take counsel; indeed, I have already
begun to do so," answered Tau.

The end of it was that certain high-bred men of the desert, disguised
as Bedouins and mounted on swift horses, Brethren of each other and of
the Dawn every one of them, and sworn to its service to the death,
were sent back to watch the pyramids with certain instructions, of
which men we have already heard.

Then came the General of Ditanah and his officers who kissed the
ground before Nefra, greeting her, she noted, not as Queen of Egypt,
but as a Princess of the House of Babylon. Also they were led to the
tent where rested the body of Queen Rima, before which they knelt
while a priest of their worship made prayers and offerings. These
things done, camels were brought, a great herd of them, on which were
mounted all the Company of the Dawn, and with them a chariot wherein
were set Nefra and the Lady Kemmah. Then they departed, guarded by
squadrons of Babylonian horsemen and led by guides mounted on fleet
camels.

Thus they travelled forward very swiftly across the burning deserts of
Arabia by the great military road, halting where there were wells of
water, or if there were none, carrying it with them in bags of hide.
Moreover, at certain places, oases in the desert, fresh camels and
horses awaited them, so that bearing the mummy of Queen Rima with them
they advanced almost at the speed of the King's post, helped by all
and unharmed by any, and within some five and thirty days beheld
before them the mighty walls of Babylon.

Built upon either side of the great river Euphrates, filled with
towering temples and glittering palaces, there stood the vast city,
the wonder of the world, so huge a place that for a whole day they
journeyed through its outskirts before they came to its inmost walls.
Then brazen gates rolled back, and as night fell they were conducted
down broad, straight streets filled with thousands upon thousands of
people, who stared at them curiously, half seen in the twilight, till
at length they halted before a palace.

Slaves came forward and led Nefra up steps and through doorways
guarded by winged figures of bulls with the heads of men, into a
wonderful place such as she had never seen, whose home had been in
sepulchres and ancient temple halls. Chamberlains received her,
princes bowed before her, eunuchs and women surrounded her and Kemmah,
bringing them to a chamber that was hung with tapestry and furnished
with vessels of gold and silver. Then they were led to a heated marble
bath, welcome indeed after their long journeyings, though never before
had Nefra seen such a place, and when they had bathed and been rubbed
with oils, were brought back again to their chamber where delicate
foods and wines awaited them. Having eaten and being very weary, they
laid themselves down upon silken, broidered beds and slept, watched by
women slaves and guarded by armed eunuchs who stood without the door.

Nefra was awakened at the dawn by the sound of women's voices singing
some hymn to Sames the Sun god, at his rising. For a while she lay
contemplating the splendours by which she was surrounded, and already
hating them in her heart. By rank she was a queen indeed, but by
upbringing only a simple country girl accustomed to the free air of
the desert, to the exercise and dangers of scaling rocks and pyramids,
to narrow sleeping chambers that once perhaps were tombs, and to the
hard, rough fare of the Brethren of the Dawn which she had shared with
the humblest of the Order. These silks and broideries, these gorgeous
chambers, these scented waters, these crowds of obsequious slaves,
these foreign, delicate foods, this pomp and state, crushed and
overwhelmed her; she loathed it all.

"Nurse," she said to Kemmah whose bed was near, "I would that we were
back upon the banks of Nile, watching the first rays of Ra gild the
Sphinx's brow."

"If you were back upon the banks of Nile, Child," answered Kemmah,
"and continued to watch Ra at all, it would be to see his first rays
gilding the gates of your palace prison at Tanis and to hear the voice
of old Apepi calling you by hateful names of love. Therefore be
thankful to find yourself where you are."

"Nurse, I have dreamed a dream. I dreamed that Khian, my betrothed,
lay in danger of his life and called to me to come to save him."

"Doubtless, Child, he calls to you wherever he is and doubtless he is
in danger of his life, as all of us are in this fashion or in that.
But what of it? Have we not the promise of my great-uncle, the
Prophet, that no harm shall come to him? Listen. I, too, dreamed a
dream. It was that Roy himself, clothed in light, as I am sure he is,
for doubtless he has been dead for many days, stood beside me.

"'Bid Nefra,' he seemed to say, 'to calm her heart, for though dangers
are many they shall be driven away like storm clouds by the keen
desert winds, leaving her sky clear and in it twin stars shining.'"

"Those are happy words, Nurse, that is, if you dreamt them at all,
which you know alone; words that give me comfort in this strange and
gorgeous place. But look, here come those fat, large-eyed women,
bearing gifts I think. Nurse, I will not be touched by them. I will
clothe myself or you shall clothe me."

The women came, prostrating themselves almost at every step, and laid
the gifts upon a table of jasper stone: wonderful and gorgeous
garments, royal robes, collars and belts of jewels, and a crown of
gold set with great pearls.

"The gifts of Ditanah the mighty King to his granddaughter, Princess
of Babylon and Queen of Egypt," said the chief of the women, bowing
and speaking in the Egyptian tongue. "Be pleased to array yourself in
them, O Princess of Babylon and Queen of Egypt, that Ditanah, the Lord
of lords, may behold your beauty suitably adorned. We, your slaves,
are here to serve you."

"Then be pleased to bear my thanks to the mighty Ditanah, my
grandsire, and to serve me without the door," answered Nefra, throwing
the coverlet over her face so that she might see no more of them.

When they were gone, with many protestations and even tears, Nefra
arose and by the help of Kemmah, set to clothing herself in these
glittering garments. Yet before all was done that chief of the women
must be called back again to show them how they should be worn.

At length she was attired after the fashion of a Babylonian royal
lady, marvellously attired, and a mirror was brought that she might
behold herself. She looked and cast it down upon the bed, crying:

"Am I Nefra, the Egyptian maid, or the woman of some Sultan of the
East? Look at this outspread hair sprinkled with gems! Look at these
garments in which I can scarcely walk! Smell these unguents with which
my face and flesh are smeared! Nurse, rid me of this truck and give me
back my white robe of a Sister of the Dawn."

"It is too travel-stained, Child," answered Kemmah drily, adding with
satisfaction, "moreover, you look well enough as you are, though
somewhat sunburned, and that crown becomes you. Oh! complain no more;
in the spirit you may be a Sister of the Dawn, but here you are a
Princess of Babylon. Would you anger the Great King from whom you ask
so much? See, they summon us to eat. Come, eat, for you will need
food."

"Mayhap, Nurse. But what is it that the Great King asks of /me/?
Something, as we have heard, of which none will tell us, not even my
Uncle Tau, though I think he knows."

Then, sighing and pouting her lips, Nefra gave way and ate, but to her
question Kemmah made no answer, either because she could not, or for
other reasons.

A while later there came the chief of the eunuchs, a fat, vainglorious
person, and cringing chamberlains wearing tall caps, musicians
fancifully attired, and women of the Household, and officers, and a
guard of swarthy soldiers. All these, gathering together in an
appointed order, set Nefra and the Lady Kemmah in the midst of them
surrounded by the fan-bearers, the women, and the eunuchs and preceded
by the musicians. Then at a word of command they marched and though
they never left the precincts of the palace, that walk was long. Down
sculptured passages they went, through great chambers, across
courtyards where fountains played and gardens that grew beyond them,
till at last they reached a flight of many steps and up these climbed
to the bull-guarded doorway of a vast hall.

This hall was roofless, but at the farther end, for a third of its
length perhaps, awnings were stretched over it, from one side to the
other. The place was filled with people, more people than Nefra had
ever seen; thousands of them there seemed to be, all of whom stared at
her, and as she passed, bowed low. Up a wide pathway between the crowd
to the right and the crowd to the left went Nefra and her company,
till they came to that part of the hall over which was stretched the
awning.

Here the shadow was so deep by contrast with the brilliance without
that at first she could see nothing. Presently, however, her eyes grew
accustomed to the gloom and she perceived that before her was gathered
the glittering Court of the King of Babylon. There were lords; there
were ladies seated together by themselves; there were soldiers in
their armour, there were square-bearded councillors and captains;
there were shaven priests; there were officers of the Household with
wands; there were slaves, black slaves and white slaves, and she knew
not who besides. Moreover, above all this splendour, its centre and
its point, seated on a jewelled throne, was an aged, white-bearded,
wizened man, wearing a strange headdress who, she guessed, must be her
grandsire, Ditanah the Mighty, the King of kings.

As they entered the line of shadow a trumpet blew, whereon all the
Court and all the company about her prostrated themselves before the
majesty of the King and lay with their foreheads touching the
pavement, yes, even Kemmah prostrated herself. But Nefra remained upon
her feet, standing alone like one left living among an army of dead
men; it was as though some spirit within her told her to do so. At
least thus she stood looking at the little wizened man upon the
throne, while he looked back at her.

Again the trumpet blew, whereon all rose, and once more her company
advanced, to halt near to the throne, on either side of which stood
massed a number of gorgeous nobles who afterwards she learned were
kings' sons, princes, and satraps of the subject peoples. For a while
there was silence, then the King upon the throne spoke in a thin,
clear voice, an interpreter rendering his words sentence by sentence
into the Egyptian tongue.

"Does my Majesty behold before me Nefra, the daughter of my daughter
Rima, the Princess, wife of Kheperra, once Pharaoh of Egypt?" he
asked, studying her with his sharp and bird-like eyes.

"That is my name, O Grandsire and Great King of Babylon," answered
Nefra.

"Why, then, O Granddaughter, do you not prostrate yourself before my
Majesty as all these great ones are not ashamed to do?"

Now again something within her seemed to tell Nefra what to say, and
while all stared and listened, she answered proudly:

"Because, Grandsire, if you are King of Babylon, I am Queen of Egypt,
and Majesty does not kiss the dust to Majesty."

"Well and proudly said," answered Ditanah. "Yet, Granddaughter, I
think that you are a queen without a throne."

"That is so, and therefore I come to you, O Father of my Mother, O
Mighty King of Kings, O Fount of Justice, seeking your aid. Apepi the
Shepherd usurped my throne as his forefathers did before him, and now
seeks to make a wife of me, the Queen of Egypt, and thereby to gain my
heritage. But by a little I have escaped out of his hands, helped of
your Majesty, and now here I stand and make my prayer to you, the King
of Kings from whose body I am sprung."

"Well spoken again," answered the old monarch. "Yet, my Daughter of
Egypt, you ask much. Apepi I know and hate; for years I have waged a
frontier war against him, yet to cross the waterless deserts with a
mighty host to invade him in his territory and drag the stolen crown
from off his head would be a great venture that might end ill for
Babylon. What have you to promise in return, Lady of Egypt?"

"Nothing, O King, save lord and service."

"Aye, thus it stands: you ask much and have nothing wherewith to pay.
I must take counsel of this matter. Meanwhile Mir-bel, my grandson,
the King of Babylon to be, lead this lady hither and place her where
as a Queen she has a right to sit, near to my throne."

Now from among the throng of princes came forward a tall man of middle
age, gloriously apparelled and wearing a diadem upon his head; a
strong-faced man with black and flashing eyes. He bowed before her,
searching her beauty with those hawk-like eyes in a fashion that
pleased her little, and saying in a smooth, rich voice:

"Greeting, Queen Nefra the Beautiful, my cousin. Glad am I to have
lived to look upon one so fair and royal."

Then he took her by the hand and led her up the steps of the dais to a
chair of state that had been made ready for her upon the right of the
throne. There he bade her be seated and with bows to her and to the
King, returned to his place among the princes.

Nefra sat herself down and for a while there was silence.

At length the old King spoke:

"You say that you have nothing to give, Daughter. Yet it seems to me
that you have much, for you have yourself to give, who are, I hear,
unwed. If the Queen of Egypt," he went on, speaking slowly and in a
fashion which told her that the words had been prepared, "were to take
as her lord the heir of Babylon, so that thereafter, if all went well,
these two great lands were joined into one empire, then perchance
Babylon might be ready to send her armies to conquer Apepi and set
that Queen upon the throne of her forefathers. What say you,
Daughter?"

Now when Nefra heard and understood at length what was sought of her,
the blood left her face and her limbs turned cold. For a moment she
hesitated, in her heart putting up a prayer for guidance, as Roy had
taught her to do when in difficulty or trouble. It seemed to come, for
presently she answered very quietly:

"It may not be, O King and Grandsire, for thus Egypt would be set
under the heel of Babylon, and when I was crowned I swore an oath to
keep her free."

"That trouble might be overcome, Daughter, in a fashion pleasing to
both our countries of which we can speak hereafter. Have you any other
reason against this alliance? He who is offered to you is not only the
heir to the greatest kingdom in the world; he is also, as you have
seen, a man among men, in the flower of his age, a soldier, and one
who, as I know, is both wise and kind of heart."

"I have another reason, King. Already I am affianced."

"To whom, Daughter?"

"To the Prince Khian, King."

"The Prince Khian! Why, he is Apepi's heir, and yet you told me that
Apepi would have married you."

"Yes, Sire, and therefore Apepi and Khian do not love each other, but"
--here she looked down--"but Khian loves me and I love Khian."

At these words a whisper went round the Court and old Ditanah smiled a
little, as did many others. Only Mir-bel did not smile; indeed, he
looked angry.

"Is it thus?" said the King. "And where, now, is the Prince Khian?
Have you brought him here in your company?"

"Nay, Sire. When last I heard of him he was at the Court of Tanis,
and, it was said, in prison."

"Where I think he will certainly remain, if, as I doubt not, your
story be true, Child," answered Ditanah, and was silent.

Just then, when Nefra thought that all was finished and that her
prayer for succour was about to be refused, swelling sweet and solemn
she heard a familiar sound, that of a certain funeral chant of the
Order of the Dawn. She looked to discover whence it came and perceived
Tau followed by all the Brotherhood who had accompanied her from
Egypt, and certain others who were strangers to her, clad in simple
white robes, every one of them, advancing into the hall by a side
entrance to the right. Nor did they come alone, for in the centre of
their company, borne upon a bier by eight of the brethren, was a
coffin which Nefra knew covered the mummy of her mother, Queen Rima.
The coffin was brought and set down before the throne. Then suddenly
the lid, which had been loosened in readiness, was lifted, revealing a
second coffin within. This also was opened by the priests who very
reverently took from it the embalmed and bandaged body of Queen Rima
and stood it on its feet before the King, holding it thus, a sight
from which all that saw shrank away, for the Babylonians did not love
to look upon the dead.

"Whose corpse is this and why is it brought into my presence?" asked
the King in a low voice.

"Surely your Majesty should know," answered Tau, "seeing that this
dead flesh sprang from your flesh and that here before you, within
these wrappings, stands all that is left of Rima your daughter,
aforetime Princess of Babylon and Queen of Egypt, who thus comes home
again."

Ditanah stared at the mummy, then turned his head aside, saying:

"What is that which hangs about the neck of this royal companion of
the gods, as doubtless she is to-day?"

"A letter to you, O King, sealed with her seal while she was still one
of the company of the living."

"Read it," said Ditanah.

Then Tau cut the fastenings and unrolled the writing from which fell a
ring. This ring he took, and gave it to the King, who sighed when he
looked upon it, for well he remembered that he had set it upon his
daughter's finger when she left him to journey into Egypt, swearing to
her that he would refuse to her no request which was sealed with this
seal.

Next Tau read from the scroll in the Babylonian tongue thus:


 "From Rima, aforetime Princess of Babylon, aforetime wife of
  Kheperra, Pharaoh of Egypt, to her sire Ditanah, the King of
  Babylon, or to him who sits upon his throne. Know, O King, that I
  call upon you in the name of our gods and by our common blood, to
  avenge the wrongs that I have suffered in Egypt, and the slaying
  of my lord beloved, the King Kheperra. I call upon you to roll
  down in your might upon Egypt and to smite the Shepherd dogs who
  slew my husband and took his heritage, and to establish my
  daughter, the Princess Nefra, as Queen of Egypt, and to slay those
  who were traitors to her and would have given her and me to doom.
  Know also that if you, my father, Ditanah the King, or you, that
  King my kinsman, who sit upon his throne after him, deny this my
  prayer, then I call down the curse of all the gods of Babylon and
  Egypt upon you and upon your people, and I, Rima, will haunt you
  while you live, and ask account of you when we meet at last in the
  Underworld.

 "Sealed by me Rima with my seal upon my deathbed."


These solemn words which seemed almost as though they were spoken by
the royal woman whose corpse was set upon its feet before the throne,
went to the hearts of all who heard them. For a while there was deep
silence. Then Ditanah the King lifted his eyes which had been fixed
upon the ground, and it was seen that his withered face was white and
that his lips quivered.

"Terrible words!" he said, "and a terrible curse decreed against us if
we shut our ears to them. She who spoke the words and sealed them with
this seal that once I gave to her together with a certain solemn
promise, she who stands there dead before me, was my beloved daughter
whom I wed to the lawful Pharaoh of Egypt. Can I refuse the last
prayer of my daughter, who suffered so many wrongs at the hand of
Apepi the Accursed, and who doubtless stands among us now awaiting its
answer?"

He paused and from all who heard him there went up a murmur of "You
cannot, O King."

"It is true, I cannot who soon must be as is the royal Rima; whate'er
the cost, I cannot. Hearken, priests, councillors, princes, satraps,
officers, and people. I, Ditanah the King, make a decree. In the name
of the Empire of Babylon I declare war by Babylon upon Apepi the
Shepherd usurper who rules in Egypt; war to the end! Let my decree
that cannot be changed be recorded and proclaimed in Babylon and all
her provinces."

Again rose the murmur of assent. When it had died away the King turned
to Nefra, saying:

"Fair Queen and grandchild, your prayer and that of your mother who
begat you is granted. Therefore rest you here in peace and honour till
all things are made ready for this war, and then go forth to conquer."

Nefra heard. Rising from her seat, she cast herself upon her knees
before the King and, seizing his hand, pressed it with her lips, for
speak she could not. Drawing her to her feet, he bent forward, touched
her with his sceptre, and kissed her on the brow.

"I add to my words," he said. "Knowing your errand, Child, I made a
plan that as a price for the aid of Babylon you should give yourself
in marriage to Mir-bel, the heir of my throne. Now I put aside that
plan, for so my heart is moved to do, whether because you ask it or
for other reasons. You tell me that you are affianced to the Prince
Khian of whom I have heard good report, although on his father's side
he comes of an evil stock. Mayhap the Prince is dead already at the
hands of Apepi, or thus will die. If so, mayhap also you will turn to
Mir-bel because it is my wish and his, though on this matter I make no
bargain with you. Yet if Khian lives and you live to find him, then
wed him if you will and take my blessing on you both. Look not wrath,
Mir-bel, for in the end who knows what the gods may bring to pass.
Learn also from this thwarting of your desire that they do not give
everything to any man, who to you have given so much. Should this
Queen slip through your hands, the heir to Babylon can find another to
share his throne. It is my will, Prince Mir-bel, that when the army
marches against Apepi, you bide here to guard me, lest some evil god
should tempt you to do wrong."

When Mir-bel heard this command, knowing that it could not be altered
under the ancient law of Babylon, he bowed first to the King and next
to Nefra. Then he turned and left the Court followed by his officers.
Nor did Nefra see him again till after many years; for at once he took
horse and rode for his own Governorship far away, where he remained
till all was finished.

When he had gone the King fixed his gaze upon Tau, considering him.

"Who are you, Priest?" he asked.

"I am named Tau, a prophet of the Order of the Dawn, O King."

"I have heard of that Order and I think that certain of its brethren
dwell in Babylon and even in my Court. I have heard also that it gave
shelter to my dead daughter, Rima the Queen, and to this lady, her
child, for which I thank it. But tell me, Prophet Tau, have you any
other name?"

"Yes, O King. Once I was named Abeshu, the eldest lawful son of his
Majesty of Babylon. Yet many years ago I quarrelled with his Majesty
and went into exile."

"I thought it! And now, Prince Abeshu, do you return out of exile to
claim your place as the eldest born of his Majesty of Babylon?"

"Not so, O King, I claim nothing, as your envoys may have told your
Majesty, save perchance the forgiveness of the King. I am but a
Brother of the Dawn and as such dead to the world and all its
glories."

Now Ditanah stretched out his sceptre to Tau in token of peace and
pardon, and Tau touched it according to the custom of Babylon.

"I would hear more of this faith of yours which can kill ambition in
the heart of man. Wait upon me, Prophet, in my private chamber, and we
will talk together."

Then waving Tau aside, Ditanah addressed himself to a gorgeous high
priest, saying:

"Let this dust that once was my daughter and a Queen, be re-coffined
and borne hence to the sepulchre of kings, where to-morrow we will
give it royal burial."

Presently it was done, and as the coffin passed away Ditanah stood up
and bowed towards it, as did all in that great place. When it had gone
he waved his sceptre and a herald blew upon his trumpet, signifying
that the Court was ended. Next the King descended from the throne and,
taking Nefra by the hand, led her away with him, beckoning to Tau to
follow them.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FOUR BROTHERS

Very carefully the Sheik of the Pyramids undid the swinging stone and
crept out, followed by Khian and Temu, wrapped, all three of them, in
their dark cloaks. They closed the stone again and waited, watching.
Save one man, a sentry who sat by the embers of a fire, all the
soldiers, frightened by what they had seen upon the crest of the
pyramid, were gone into the huts that they had built. Whilst this man
remained there they dared not descend, fearing lest he should see or
hear them and give warning to the others. So there they crouched,
among the stones on the slope of the pyramid, drawing in the sweet air
in great gasps and gazing at the stars with dark-widened eyes, while
Khian wondered what they should do.

"Bide here," said the Sheik, "I will return."

He crept away into the darkness and presently from somewhere above
them arose a sound of hideous howling, such as a ghost or a demon
might make, that in the darkness of that solemn place might well
curdle a listener's blood. The sentry heard it echoing among the tombs
behind him. He rose, hesitated, then of a sudden fled away affrighted
and vanished into the huts.

The Sheik reappeared.

"Follow me," he whispered. "Be swift and silent."

They descended the pyramid, Temu, who was no climber, half-blinded,
moreover, by many days of dwelling in the gloom, awkwardly enough, and
reached the ground in safety. The Sheik turned to the right and ran
along its base where the shadows were thick. Now they were clear and
darting across an open space towards some tombs. As they reached the
tombs a shout told them that they had been seen, by whom they did not
know. Following the Sheik, who turned this way and that, they ran on.
They came to a hollow in the drifted sand behind a little ruined
pyramid, where stood four Arabs holding six horses. Khian felt himself
seized and thrown rather than helped on to one of the horses. Glancing
round he saw Temu upon another horse, also the Arabs leaping to their
saddles. The horses began to move forward, as it seemed to him at some
word of command; the Sheik was running at his side.

"What of you?" asked Khian.

"I bide here, as is my duty; fear not, I have hiding places. Say to
the Lady Nefra that I have fulfilled her command. Ride fast, for you
have been seen; these men know the road. They are our brethren and may
be trusted. Prince, farewell!" he said, or rather gasped, and loosing
the horse's mane, vanished into the shadows.

They came to open desert and rode on at great speed. All that night
they rode, scarcely drawing rein, and at the dawn halted among some
palm trees, a place where there was a well of water and hidden away
beneath stones, food and forage for the horses. Very glad was Khian to
dismount, since, after weeks spent in that tunnel, he was in poor case
for hard riding, while that of Temu, at the best no horseman, was
worse. They ate a little food, dates for the most part, and drank much
water.

"Surely, Brother," said Temu, as he emptied his fourth cup, "we should
thank Heaven and our guardian spirits for these mercies. How beautiful
is the rising sun; how sweet the fresh air after the heavy heat and
blackness of that accursed grave hole. Oh! I pray that I may never
again look upon even the outside of a pyramid, and much less upon its
tomb chambers. Now we have done with them, thanks to my prayers, and
all will be well."

Thus spoke Temu, cheerful as ever, though already he was so sore and
stiff that it hurt him even to sit upon the ground. Khian thought to
himself that they had more to thank than Brother Temu's prayers;
namely, the wit and courage of the Sheik of the Pyramids, also those,
whoever they might be, that had sent these Arab horsemen to their
succour, if they were Arabs, which as yet he did not know. But he only
answered:

"I trust that you are right, Brother, and that all will be well. Yet
remember that if we were seen as we left the pyramid and that if we
escape a second time heads will pay the price of it. Therefore surely
we shall be followed, even to the end of the world."

"Faith, Brother! Have faith!" exclaimed Temu as he shifted his seat to
find one that was softer.

Just then Khian saw him who seemed to be the leader of the four Arabs,
a tall and noble-looking man, standing at a little distance as though
he desired speech with him, and alone.

He rose to go to him, and as he came the Arab bowed humbly in
salutation and made a certain sign which Khian knew.

"I see that you are of the Brotherhood. Tell me your name and those of
your companions; also who sent you in so fortunate an hour to help us,
and whither we go."

"Lord, we are four brethren. I, the eldest, am named /Fire/. He who
stands there is named /Earth/: the next to him is named /Air/, and the
fourth and last is named /Water/. We have no other names, or if there
are any we forgot them when we were sworn Brethren of the Dawn, and
especially when we were despatched upon a certain duty."

Now Khian understood that for their own reasons, or because of some
command laid upon them, these men desired to remain unknown, as was
common among the Brethren when they were sent upon any secret service.

"Is it so, Fire?" he said, smiling. "But what answer to my other
questions?"

"Lord, we were commanded to take six good horses and, disguised as you
see us, to go to the Great Pyramids and there bargain with soldiers,
if we found any, over such wares as Arabs have to sell. Also we must
make ourselves known to the Sheik of the Pyramids, if we could, and
give aid to a scribe, Rasa--perchance you are he, Lord--and to his
companion, a priest whose name was not mentioned, but whom we have
heard you call Temu, if he be the same."

"And then, Fire?"

"Then, Lord, we were to say to the Scribe Rasa that a certain Lady--we
know not and, lest we should be captured and questioned, do not seek
to know, what lady--with all her following, has passed safely out of
Egypt and that the Scribe Rasa and his companion must follow by the
road she took. Lastly, we were sworn to bring both of you safely to
Babylon, or die at the task, which, Lord, we purpose to do. Now, Lord,
we must ride again. These horses are of the most swift and purest
desert blood but we have far to go before we can find others, and
certainly we shall be pursued. Moreover," he added, eyeing Temu
doubtfully, "I think that yonder priest is more wont to travel on two
feet than on four, and until he learns the trick of horsemanship, we
must go with care lest he should fall or faint. Lastly, both of you
are weak who have, I think, lain for many days in an evil prison."

"True words, Fire," said Khian as he sought his horse.



All that day they rode forward, resting while the sun was high and
sleeping at night among some rocks where once more they found food and
water for man and beast, and at length Temu, who was brave and active,
began to lose his soreness and to win something of that trick of
horsemanship of which he who was called Fire had spoken. Also in the
strong and wine-like desert air their tomb-bred weakness and langour
passed away from both of them, and they grew strong again, as young
men do.

One night they slept upon a mound by water where once had stood some
village, both men and horses being well hidden by a grove of thorn and
other trees that flourished in the rich soil of the mound. As the sun
sank behind them, he who was called Fire came to Khian and bade him
look through the trees towards the east. He did so and to their right
saw that at a distance of perhaps a league, a broad canal or natural
sheet of water that may have been the head of a lake was crossed by a
ford, beyond which stood an old and crumbling fort built of sun-dried
bricks, while in front of them there was no ford and the water seemed
to be wide and deep. Beyond this water was a great flat plain that
stretched away and away, till very far off upon the horizon it seemed
to end in a line of stony hills.

"Listen now, Lord," said Fire. "That water is the boundary of Egypt.
That plain is Arabia, and among those hills is the first desert
outpost of the army of the King of Babylon, to reach which will be to
win to safety. But I tell you, Lord, that we are in great danger. I am
certain that yonder old fort is held by the horsemen of King Apepi,
for I have seen their tracks in the sand, a number of them, fifty men
perhaps, and that they watch for us, believing that if we would leave
Egypt, we must do so by this ford."

"Why?" asked Khian. "Can we not find another?"

"There is no other, Lord, since below, this water grows into a gulf,
and above it is deep for many miles, so that to pass round it we must
ride through a peopled country guarded by the border garrisons."

"Then it would seem that we are trapped or must fly back into Egypt."

"Where we should be trapped indeed, Lord, for by now the whole land is
searching for us."

"What then, Fire? Know that I would sooner look upon the face of Death
than upon that of Apepi."

"I have guessed as much. Listen, Lord. All is not lost. These fleet
horses of ours were bred in Arabia, yonder among the mountains, and
they scent their home and the troops of mares that wander there. The
water in front of us will be unwatched because it is so wide and deep
and the current runs so swiftly. Yet I think that the horses will not
fear to face it, and once across, with good fortune we may ride far
before we are seen and perhaps even reach the pass of the hills in
safety. It is a narrow pass, Lord, where one man can hold back a
number for a long while, so that some of us, at least, should win
though to the heart of the hills and find shelter among the scouts of
Babylon," he added slowly and with meaning.

Then speaking very rapidly, he explained to Khian all the details of
the plan which he and his brethren had prepared. He told him, and
Temu, who had joined them, how they must move down to the water edge
before the dawn and at the first light ride the horses into it, and as
soon as it grew deep, slip from the saddles and swim with them,
clinging to their manes.

Here Temu explained that he could not swim, whereon Fire answered that
he must hang to his horse as best he might, or drown. He went on to
say that those of them who lived to reach the farther shore must mount
at once and ride for a certain bay in the hills where the pass began,
which bay would become visible to them before noon. The pass they must
climb, on foot if the horses had failed them, and descend its farther
side to the entrenched camp of the Babylonian company who had orders
to succour all fugitives from Egypt.

Having set out these and other matters, he bade them drink and sleep
while they could, for none knew what might be their resting place on
the morrow.

Khian obeyed, knowing that he must harbour his strength. The last
thing he saw ere his eyes closed was the four strange brethren
grooming the horses and with set faces talking to each other in
whispers as they worked, also, nearer to him, Temu on his knees, lost
in earnest prayer. For with all his faith Temu remembered that this
water was said to be broad and deep, and that--he could not swim.

It seemed that but a few minutes had gone by when one of the brethren
woke Khian, saying that it was time to be stirring. They rose by the
starlight, set the bridles and the saddles on the horses which had
been fed already, mounted them, and followed the brethren down towards
the water. They reached it in safety just at the first glimmer of
dawn, by the light of which Khian saw that it was indeed wide--scarce
could the strongest bowman have shot an arrow from one bank to the
other. Also some tide or current seemed to run very strongly through
it towards the ford below, which was to this water as is the neck of a
wine-skin to the bottle.

"Would it not be safer to risk the ford?" he asked of Fire doubtfully.

"Nay, Lord, for there we should certainly be seen and perhaps killed
upon the bank, whereas here, where no man crosses, they may not note
us from so far away. Follow me now, before the light strengthens."

Then, having patted his horse and whispered into its ear in the Arab
fashion, he rode into the flood. After him came Khian, followed by
another of the brethren and by Temu. Last of all rode the remaining
two brethren, those who were known as Air and Water.

The horses went in bravely enough, and soon Khian saw that Fire's was
swimming while its rider had slipped from its back and floated
alongside, holding fast to the mane or saddle. Presently Khian's horse
also lost foothold and as Fire had done, so did Khian. The swim was
long and rough, for the swiftly running water, chilled by the night
air, drove them downstream and sometimes broke over their heads. Yet
those trained horses held on bravely, smelling the pastures where they
were born beyond the desert, and being, as Fire had said that they
would be, eager to reach them.

At last they touched the farther shore and Khian, still clinging to
the horse, was dragged through the rushes to firm ground. As he came
there he heard a shout of "Help!" and looking round, saw Temu's horse
struggling up the bank, but unaccompanied by Temu, who indeed, having
let go, was floundering in the deep water and being swept down by the
current at a distance from the shore. All this the strengthening light
showed to them, whereon without a word two of the brethren plunged
into the stream and swam to Temu whose shouts grew ever louder. They
reached him and with difficulty between them dragged him to the shore,
much frightened, but unharmed and still calling to gods and men to
save him.

Then one of those strange, fierce brethren drew a knife, saying:

"Will you be silent? Or shall I make you so, who are bringing us all
to death?"

"Your pardon," said Temu when he understood, "but my mother always
taught me that he who drowns in silence, drowns the most quickly; also
I ask you to note that my prayers have saved me."

Muttering words that Temu would have thought evil, Fire helped to
thrust him on to his horse and signed to the others to mount theirs.

"Hearken, Lord Rasa," he said, as they pushed their way through the
thorn bushes that grew on the bank of the water, "ill-fortune is our
companion. The shouts of that mad priest will almost certainly have
been heard. Would that he had choked before his throat shaped them.
Moreover, he has delayed us, so that the morning wind blows away the
mist which I hoped would shroud us for a while. Now there is but one
thing to be done--ride straight for the gap in the hills and through
the pass. Our horses are better than any the Shepherds have, though
theirs will be more fresh, and we, or some of us, may outpace them. At
the least, remember this, Lord Rasa, if so in truth you are named, we
four brethren will do all that men can do to save you, and we pray
you, if we meet no more, so to report to a certain Lady whom we serve,
and to the Prophet and Council of the Dawn, that our memory may be
honoured among men."

Then without waiting for an answer he spoke to his horse which leapt
forward, followed by that of Khian and the others, and sped away.

When they had ridden thus for some minutes and the sun was up, Fire
turned and pointed back towards the ford. Khian turned also and saw
the bright light glancing on the spears of a great company of mounted
men, some of whom were splashing through the ford, whilst others, not
more than the half of a league away, were galloping towards them.

They were pursued, and the race for life began.



On they rode for hour after hour towards those hills that scarcely
seemed to grow more near. Very strong were their horses and well
accustomed to these sandy plains over which they swept at a long and
steady gallop. Yet the way was far, also for days already they had
been ridden across the desert, and that morning they had swum a wide
stretch of rapid water, whereas those of the Shepherd troops were
fresh from the stable. Still throughout the burning heat of the day
those horses held their own, and when it drew towards evening and at
length that pass in the mountains was at hand, still they held their
own. Yes, parched with thirst, panting, thin-bellied, still they held
their own. Long ago most of the Shepherds had fallen out and vanished,
so that when at length the pass was reached, not a score of them
remained, men who had remounted upon led horses when those they rode
were foundered. But now these were hard upon their prey; scarce a
bowshot behind indeed.

Khian and his company stumbled up the pass, for the horses, both of
the pursued and the pursuers, had ceased to gallop and at the best
could but amble forward. Yet step by step the pursuers gained upon the
pursued. The sides of that pass were very steep and the pathway was
very narrow; one horse filled it all and therefore they must ride one
following the other.

Suddenly at a turn in the road, when the first of the Shepherds was
scarcely more than fifty paces away, that Arab or Babylonian, or
Brother of the Dawn, whichever he might be, who was pleased to give
himself the name of Fire, turned and shouted an order. Thereon the
last of those four brethren, he who was called Water, dismounted and
with drawn sword took his stand at the turn of the narrow path, while
his weary horse followed its fellows, as by certain words and signs he
bade it do. Presently those of the party of Khian heard the sound of
clashing arms behind them, followed by silence. Then a while later the
pursuers appeared again, only whereas there had seemed to be fourteen
of them now but eleven could be counted.

Once more they gained, once more they drew near, whereon he who was
named Fire shouted a second order, and that brother of his called Air
dismounted in another narrow place, leaving a second horse without a
rider to follow in the train. Again there was a sound of clashing
arms, and, when the pursuers reappeared, there were but nine of them.
As before, they gained, and as before, at a narrow place the word of
command rang out and the third of the brethren, he who was called
Earth, dismounted, waiting. Followed the clash of arms and the
shoutings, and when the pursuers reappeared there were but six of
them. They gained, they came very near, whereon at a chosen place the
first of the brethren, he who was named Fire, halted and leapt from
his horse, which he drove forward as the others had done.

"Ride on, Lord," he cried. "Should the god we worship give me strength
and skill, for you there is yet a hope of safety. Ride on and forget
not the message I gave you by the water."

"Nay," answered Khian wearily, for his head swam and scarce he knew
what passed about him. "Nay, here I stay to die with you. Let Temu,
who understands nothing, deliver your message."

"Begone, Lord!" cried Fire. "Would you put me to shame and cause me to
fail in my trust, making my name a hissing and a reproach? Begone or I
fall upon my sword before your eyes."

Then as Khian still stayed swaying in the saddle, that most gallant
man called some secret word to the horse he rode and the beast,
understanding, stumbled onwards at a trot, nor could Khian stay it.

Once more there came the clash of arms and the sound of shoutings, and
presently Khian, looking back, saw that of the pursuers but three
remained. He urged his horse but it could do no more. Almost at the
crest of the pass it whinnied and stood still.

The three struggled on grimly, for they were afoot, having left their
spent beasts behind them. They were strong, soldier-like men, black
with dust and sweat, and one of them had been wounded for blood ran
down his face and robe, he who seemed to be an officer.

"We are commanded to take you dead or living, Prince Khian, for so you
are. Shall we slay you or will you yield?" asked this man hoarsely.

Now when he heard these words Khian's spirit came back to him, and
with it some of his lost strength.

"Neither," he answered in a low tone.

Then, changing his sword from the right hand to the left, from his
belt he snatched his short javelin and hurled it with all his
strength. The officer saw it coming and shrank aside, but in that
narrow place it caught the man who stood behind him, piercing him
through from breast to back, so that he fell down and died. Then the
officer sprang at him and they fought with swords, a well-matched
pair, though both were very weary, while the third man who could not
come at Khian strove to drag the javelin from the breast of him who
had fallen. The officer smote, somewhat wildly, perhaps the blood from
his wound had run into his eyes. Khian parried, then bending himself,
thrust forward and upward with all his strength, a trick of
swordsmanship that he had learned in the Syrian wars. The bronze blade
caught the officer in the throat just beneath the chin, and piercing
to the neck bone, severed it, so that down he went like a stunned ox,
in his fall twisting the sword from Khian's sweating hand. Then it was
that the third man, having recovered the javelin, cast it at him,
though with no good aim, for it struck him, not in the body, but above
the left knee, piercing the leg from front to back.

Khian reeled against the rocky side of the pass, supporting himself
there, helpless and unarmed. He who had cast the spear, seeing his
state, rushed at him. Perhaps he hoped to take him living, or perhaps
he, too, had lost his weapons. At least he seized him with his hands
whereon Khian fell backward to the ground with the man above him. Now
those hands had him by the throat and were choking the life out of
him.

"All is finished," thought Khian.

It was then, just as his senses were leaving him, that he heard the
sound of running feet and of a voice crying:

"Faith! Have faith!"

Next there followed the thud of a heavy blow and the grip upon his
throat loosened. He lay still, regaining his breath, then sat up and
looked about him. There at his side lay the soldier, dead, his head
broken like a crushed egg, while over him stood the tall Temu, holding
in both hands a great smooth stone.

"None of them will move any more," said Temu in the voice of one who
marvels. "Who would have thought that I should live to kill a man in
such a fashion, I, a Brother of the Dawn sworn to shed no blood? My
brain swam; cooked in the sun; my mind was almost gone; that accursed
horse--oh! may I never see another horse--jolted on with me, when I
heard a noise, looked over my shoulder, and saw. I could not stop the
horse, so I slid over its tail and ran back towards you. I had no
weapon--I think I lost the sword in the river; at least, when I looked
for it there was nothing but the scabbard. Still I ran, praying, and
as I prayed, my eye fell upon that stone. I think that the holy Roy
must have sent it there from Heaven. I picked it up and brought it
down upon the head of that man of blood, as I used to bring down a
flail on corn, and my arms being still strong--well, you see, Brother,
the stroke was great and well aimed."

"Very well aimed, most excellent Temu," answered Khian faintly. "Now,
if you can, pull this bronze out of my leg, for it pains me."

Temu pulled with goodwill and Khian fainted.

When he came to his mind again, it was to see himself surrounded by
tall square-bearded warriors clad in the Babylonian uniform, one of
whom supported his head upon his knee and poured water down his throat
from a gourd.

"Have no fear, Lord," said the soldier. "We are friends who were
warned that fugitives might reach us from Egypt and hearing sounds of
war ran towards them, though little we thought to find you thus. Now
we will bear you to our camp beyond the pass, there to recover of your
wound."

Then Khian fainted again, for he had lost much blood. Yet they carried
him to the camp where he was doomed to lie for many a day, for his
hurt festered so that he could not be moved and it was thought that he
must lose his leg. Moreover, this camp was beleaguered by desert men
in the pay of Apepi so that escape from it was impossible.



CHAPTER XX

THE MARCH FROM BABYLON

Long must Nefra wait in that scented palace at Babylon before the
great army, gathered to set her on her throne, was ready for its work.
From all parts of the vast empire troops must be collected, hillsmen
and plainsmen and men from the borders of the sea; archers, drivers of
chariots, infantry, spearmen, and those who rode upon camels. Slowly
they came together and then must be exercised and welded to a whole;
also provisions and water for so huge a force must be provided, and
companies sent forward with these and to prepare the road. Thus it
came about that three full moons went by before ever the vanguard
marched out of the brazen gates of Babylon.

To Nefra soon that city grew hateful. She loathed its pomps and
ceremonies and its staring crowds. Its religion was not hers, and,
unlike her mother, to its gods she put up no prayer; indeed, scarcely
could she bring herself to bow when her grandsire led her with him to
rituals in its enormous terraced temples, she, the pupil of Roy and
the Sister of the Dawn who was sworn to a purer faith.

The unending ceremonies of that ancient Court, the adulation accorded
to its king, and even to her, his granddaughter who was known to be a
queen; the prostrations, the shouts of "May the King live for ever!"
addressed to one who soon must die, wearied and revolted her.
Moreover, the confinement and the hot airlessness of the place where
she could only move in palace courts or in formal gardens, told upon
the spirits of this free daughter of the desert, till Kemmah, watching
her, noted that she turned from her food and grew pale and thin.

Lastly her spirit was tormented with fear and doubt. Through the
secret service of the Brethren of the Dawn, news reached Babylon that
the Prince Khian and the priest Temu had escaped from Tanis and
repaired to the pyramids, whence they had again escaped towards
Arabia, guided by certain men who had been deputed to aid them.

Then after a while came other news, namely, that both of them,
together with those guides, had been cut off by Apepi's outposts
beyond the borders of Egypt and either killed or taken captive, as it
was thought the former, because the bodies of some of their company
were reported to have been seen. After this there was silence which,
had Nefra but known it, was not strange.

When the Shepherd captain of the border fort learned that those whom
he had been commanded to watch for and snare had slipped from his
hand, and having killed certain of his people, had, it was believed,
reached the Babylonian outpost in the hills alive, although he did not
dare to attack that outpost, which was very strongly placed, first
because he had not sufficient strength, and secondly because, in a
time of truce, it would be an open act of war upon Babylon for which
he had no warrant, still he surrounded it with skirmishers with orders
to kill or capture any who set foot on the desert roads. Thus it came
about that when messengers were sent bearing news that Khian lay sick
and wounded at this camp, they were cut off. Thrice this chanced, and
when at last, owing to the recall of the skirmishers at the opening of
the war, a letter came in safety to Babylon, the army had marched
already by another road to attack Egypt, and with it Nefra and the
Brethren of the Dawn. Therefore the letters must be sent after it and
never came to Nefra's hands till she was far upon her path.

Meanwhile, when first she heard these rumours at Babylon telling her
that Khian was dead or captured, her heart seemed to break within her.
For a while she sat silent with a face of stone. Then she bade Kemmah
bring Tau to her and when he had come, said to him:

"You have heard, my uncle. Khian is dead."

"No, Niece, I have heard a report that he may be dead or captured."

"If Roy were alive he would tell us the truth, he whose soul could see
afar," said Nefra bitterly. "But he is gone and only men remain whose
eyes are set upon the ground and whose hearts are filled with matters
of the world."

"As it seems that yours is, Niece. Yet Roy being dead, leaving me, all
unworthy in his place, still speaks. Did he not tell you that however
great your troubles, you and Khian would come together at the last,
and was the holy Roy an utterer of empty prophecies?"

"Aye, he said that, but he to whom flesh and spirit were much the
same, may have meant that we should come together in the Underworld.
Oh! why did you ever suffer the Prince to return to the Court at
Tanis? Although I could not say it, it was my desire that he should
bide with us at the pyramids. Then he might have fled safely with us
to Babylon and by now, perchance, we should have been wed."

"Or perchance other things would have happened, Niece. If any knew the
decrees of Heaven, that man was Roy, and he held that believing his
honour to be at stake, the Prince, his embassy accomplished, must be
allowed to follow his desire and make report to Apepi his father. So
he departed to fulfil his mission, and since then matters have not
gone so ill for you."

"I think that they have gone very ill," she said stubbornly.

"How so, Niece? We know through our spies that the Prince and the
priest Temu escaped from Tanis and came to the pyramids where they lay
hid a while. We know also that by the help of those high-born warrior
brethren of our Order whom I deputed to the task, they escaped again
from the pyramids and fled safely out of Egypt. It seems that they
were followed and that there was fighting in which it well may be that
those brethren, or some of them, lost their lives, as they were sworn
to do. If so, peace be to their gallant spirits. But of the death of
the Prince, or even of Temu, there is no certain word, nor," he added
slowly, "does a dream or voice tell me or any of us that he is dead."

"As it would have told Roy," interrupted Nefra.

"As mayhap it would have told Roy, and as mayhap Roy, being still
living though elsewhere, would have told me who fill his office.
Niece, be not so rough-tongued and ungrateful. Have not all things
happened according to your desire? Has not the royal Ditanah, my
father, given you a great army to set you on your throne? Has he not
at your prayer, and, as I can tell you now, at mine made in secret,
abandoned his policy of wedding you to his heir, Mir-bel, and sent
that prince far from Babylon to where he cannot molest you? Has he
not--though this has been hid from you--set me in command of that
army, that it may be handled according to your desire and mine,
putting trust in me that when its work is done, I will lay down my
generalship and from a mighty prince of war once more become a priest,
I, who were I evil-hearted might use it to set the crown upon my
head?"

"It seems that he has done all these things, Uncle, but what of them
if Khian is dead? Then I seek no throne; then I seek nothing but a
grave. Nay, first I seek vengeance. I tell you that of Apepi and his
Shepherds I will not leave one living, of his cities not one stone
shall remain upon another."

"Kind words from a Sister of the Dawn, and from her one of whose
titles is Uniter of Lands--not their destroyer!" exclaimed Tau,
shrugging his shoulders, and adding, "O Child, do you not understand
that all life is a trial and that as we pass the trials, so we shall
be rewarded or condemned? You are mad with fear for one whom you love,
and therefore I do not blame you overmuch, though I think that you
will live to grieve over those fierce threats."

"You are right. I am mad, and being mad, I will cause others to drink
of my cup of fear and sorrows, that cup in which they have mixed the
wine. Send Ru to me, my Uncle, that although I be woman he may teach
me how to fight. And bid those Babylonian smiths come measure me for
armour of the best."

Then Tau departed, smiling. Still he sent Ru and with him came the
royal armourer.

So it happened that soon, had there been any to look over the wall of
a certain courtyard of the palace, a strange sight might have been
seen of a lissom maid clad in silver mail cutting and thrusting at a
huge black giant, who often enough cried out beneath the smart of her
blows, and once, stung beyond endurance, smote her so shrewdly on the
helm with the flat of a wooden sword that she fell headlong to the
ground, only to spring up again, while he stood dismayed, and deal him
such a thrust beneath the breast bone, that his breath left him and he
did likewise. Yes, there he lay, grunting out between his gasps:

"The gods help Apepi if this lion's whelp gets him in her claws!"
while she bade him be silent because by all the laws of swordsmanship
he was dead.

At other times she would practise shooting with a bow, an art in which
she had no small skill, or when she wearied of this, at the driving of
chariots in the private circus of the palace, taking with her one of
the slave women, a bold, desert-bred girl, for passenger, because Ru
was too heavy and Kemmah said that she was mad and refused to come.

"So you thought when I began to climb the pyramids, yet they served me
my turn, Nurse," she answered, and went on driving more furiously than
ever woman drove before.

Now when her grandsire, the old King Ditanah, heard of these things,
he was amazed, and caused himself to be hidden in places whence he
could watch her secretly at her warlike exercises. Having done so and
listened to the tale of her conquest of the pyramids, he sent for Tau
and said to him with a curious smile upon his puckered face:

"I think, Son Abeshu, that I should have given the command of my great
army, not to you, who, if once a great warrior, have become a priest,
but to this granddaughter of mine who, if once a priestess, has become
a goddess of war."

"Nay, Sire," answered Tau, "for if you gave her that army, you would
never get it back again. Every man in it would learn to love her and
she would use it to conquer the world."

"Well, why not?" asked Ditanah, and hobbled away, thinking in his
heart that if it had truly pleased the gods to take the Prince Khian
to their bosom, so that Mir-bel might be recalled to Court, his tears
would be hard to weep. For with such a beauteous and royal-hearted
lady for its queen and that of Egypt, surely the glory of Babylon
would fill earth and Heaven. Indeed--was it too late? Then he
remembered that on this matter he had passed his royal word, sighed,
and hobbled on.



These martial exercises served Nefra in two ways: they gave her back
her health which she had begun to lose in the soft life of the
Babylonian palace and they held her mind from brooding upon its fears
--that is, while she was engaged in them. Yet at night these returned
to her, nor indeed were they ever quite absent from her thoughts. She
importuned Tau, and even her grandsire the King, who caused search to
be made all along the Egyptian frontier of his empire. Messages came
back from the searchers that no traces of fugitives could be found.
But among them was another message, namely, that certain hills could
not be approached because they were watched by horsemen of the army of
Apepi. Inquiry was made as to these hills, and it was found that in a
camp among them were stationed a company of Babylonian troops from
which no reports had been received of late. Therefore, as often
happened in so vast an empire, for a while this outpost had been
forgotten by that general in whose command it lay, or if remembered at
all, it was supposed to have been overwhelmed by rebellious, desert-
dwelling tribes.

When Tau heard this news he went to the King his father and gained
leave from him to send a hundred picked horsemen to disperse the
outposts of Apepi and search those hills; also he set spies to work.
But of this business he said nothing to Nefra, fearing lest he should
fill her with false hope.



At length the vast army that had been gathered in the military camps
upon the banks of the Euphrates beyond the walls of Babylon was ready
to advance, two hundred thousand foot-soldiers and horsemen, a
thousand or more of chariots, countless camp followers, and a
multitude of camels and asses bearing provisions, besides those which
were already stacked at the water holes along the line of march.

Then came Nefra's farewell to Babylon. In state, wearing the crown of
Egypt, she visited the Sepulchre of Kings and in its temple laid
offerings upon her mother's grave. This duty done, at the Court in the
great hall of the palace she bade farewell to her grandsire, Ditanah
the Great King, who blessed her, wished her well, and even wept a
little at parting from her whom he could never hope to see again; also
because he was too old to accompany his son upon this war. With Tau
also, now clad in the armour of a General and Prince of Babylon, and
looking like one who had never felt the rubbing of a monk's robe, he
conversed apart, saying sadly:

"Strange lots are ours, beloved son. Many years ago we were dear to
each other. Then we quarrelled, more through my fault than yours, for
in those days my heart was hard, and you went your way to become a
priest of some pure and gentle faith, and your heirship was given to
another. Now for a little hour you are once more a Prince and a
General commanding a great host, who yet purpose, if you live, to lay
down these ranks and titles and, your mission ended, again to seek
some desert cell and wear out your days in prayer. And, I the King of
Kings, your father, remain here awaiting death that soon must overtake
me, and oh! I wonder, Son Abeshu, which of us has chosen the better
lot and done more righteously in the eyes of God. Yes, I wonder much
from whom all these pomps and glories flee away like shadows."

"There is a great taskmaster, Sire," answered Tau, "who portions out
to each of us his place and labours. Man does not choose his lot; it
is chosen for him, to work for good or ill within its appointed round.
Such at least is the teaching of my faith, believing which I seek no
throne or power, but am content to build on that foundation as truly
as I may. So let it be with you, my royal Father."

"Aye, Son, so let it be, since so it must be."

Then very tenderly they bade each other farewell and parted to meet no
more upon the earth, since when that army returned to Babylon another
King of Kings was seated on the throne.

So by proclamation Babylon declared war upon the Shepherds, who long
before had learned that this storm was about to burst upon them and
were making ready to meet it as best they might.

For very many days the great army marched across the plains and
deserts, as the progress of so vast a host was slow, till at length it
drew near to the borders of Egypt. Then it was that Tau heard from his
spies and skirmishers that Apepi with all his strength, a mighty
power, had built a line of forts upon his boundary and in front of
these was preparing to give battle to the Babylonians. These tidings
he took to Nefra who sat in her chariot armed in glittering mail like
some young war goddess, surrounded by a bodyguard under the command of
Ru.

"It is well," she said indifferently. "The sooner we fight the sooner
it will be over and the sooner I shall be avenged upon the Shepherds
of the blood of him whom I have lost." For having received no tidings
of Khian, now she had become almost sure that he was dead.

"Do not run to meet evil, Niece," said Tau sadly. "Is there not enough
of it at hand that you must go to seek out more? Have I not told you
that I believe the Prince to be alive?"

"Then where is he, Uncle? How comes it that you under whose command is
all the might of Babylon cannot spare some few thousands to seek him
out?"

"Perchance I am seeking, Niece," Tau answered gently.

As he spoke a slave ran up, saying:

"Letters from the King of Kings! Letters from Babylon!" and having
touched his forehead with the roll, he gave it to Tau who opened and
read. Within was another roll, a little crumpled roll such as might
have been hidden in a headdress or a shoe.

Tau glanced at the contents of this second roll and gave it to Nefra.

"A writing for you, Niece," he said quietly.

Seizing it, she read. It was brief and ran thus:


 "Again, O Lady, a certain one whose name you may guess writes to
  say that save for a hurt to his leg which cripples him he is well
  in health. This he does because he has learned that the enemies
  who surround the place where he lies may have cut off former
  messengers. Should he who bears this come safely to you at Babylon
  or elsewhere, he will tell you all. More I dare not write.

 "Signed with the sign of the Dawn which you yourself taught me how
  to shape."


Nefra finished reading, then fell rather than leapt from the chariot
into the arms of Tau.

"He lives!" she gasped. "Or he lived. Where is the messenger?"

As she spoke the words a guard appeared escorting an officer who was
travel-stained and weary.

"One who craves audience with you, Prince Abeshu, and at once," said
the leader of the guard.

Tau looked at the officer and knew him again. It was he whom the King
had sent from Babylon to search for the missing outpost.

"Your report," he said, and waited with fear in his heart.

"Prince," answered the man, saluting, "we won through to the outpost
and found all well there, since it is so strongly placed that the
Shepherd skirmishers have not dared attack. Also we found those
travellers who were missing."

Again Nefra paled and leaned against the chariot, for she could not
speak.

"What of them?" asked Tau.

"Prince, the priest is well. Four brethren who travelled with them
were slain one by one in a certain pass; they died nobly defending
those in their charge. The lord whose name is not spoken, who escaped
with the priest, is still sick, that is, he is wounded in the left
knee and the wound runs. He cannot walk, and though now it is believed
that his leg will be saved, always he must be lame, for the knee is
stiff."

"Did you see him?" asked Tau.

"Yes, Prince, I and another of my company saw him. While the rest of
us, pretending to retreat, drew off the Shepherds horsemen, we two won
our way to the camp which is on a plain surrounded by hills, not to be
reached except through two passes, one to the west and one to the
east. There we found the garrison, well though weary, for of food they
have enough, also the priest and the other traveller who is hurt.
These told us how they came to the place and of the death of their
four guides, which is a great story."

"Then repeat it afterwards," said Tau. "It seems that you escaped. Why
did you not bring these travellers with you?"

"Prince, how could the two of us carry a man who cannot walk, down a
mountain path, even with the help of the priest? Moreover, if we could
have brought him to the plain, it was full of enemies all mounted on
good horses through whom it would scarcely have been possible to bear
him safely, while the garrison had received no orders to attempt to
leave its post. Therefore it was determined that he should remain
where he is safe enough, until a sufficient force could be sent to
bring him away."

Then the captain went on to tell how he and his companion had rejoined
their men at night and fought their way through the horsemen of Apepi
who watched the stronghold, though with loss; how also they had
learned from some desert wanderers that the army of the Great King was
marching upon Egypt by a road that ran not more than thirty leagues
from where they were, and how therefore they had ridden for the army,
instead of returning to report at Babylon.

"You have done wisely," said Tau. "Had you attempted to bring that
wounded lord with you, doubtless he would have been killed or
captured."

Then he went away to give certain orders, leaving the officer with
Nefra, who had many questions to put to him.

When Tau returned an hour later Nefra was still questioning him. Tau
looked at them and asked:

"Friend, how long is it since you slept?"

"Four nights, Prince," answered the officer.

"And how long is it since you and your companions ate?"

"Forty-eight hours, Prince. Indeed, if we might crave a cup of water
and a bite of bread, who have ridden hard and done some fighting----"

"These await you, Captain, when it pleases her Majesty of Egypt to
dismiss you."

Then Nefra reddened and turned away ashamed. When the men had gone to
eat and rest, humbly enough she asked Tau what was his plan.

"My plan is, Niece, to send five thousand mounted men, though we can
ill spare them, to clear the desert between this place and the
stronghold where he who was named the Scribe Rasa lies wounded--/not/
dead, as you feared, Niece, and to bring him with our brother Temu and
the garrison of the camp to join the army on its march which,
travelling in a chariot or a litter, he should do within some six
days."

"A good plan," said Nefra, clapping her hands. "I will go with the
five thousand and in command of them. Kemmah can accompany me."

"No, Niece, you shall not go. You stay here with the army."

"Shall not! Shall not!" exclaimed Nefra, biting her lip as was her
fashion when crossed. "Why?"

"For many reasons, Niece, of which the first is that it would not be
safe. We cannot tell how many troops Apepi has between here and that
stronghold, but we know he would risk much to capture his son now that
the great war has begun; also the Lady Kemmah could not bear such a
journey."

"If it is not safe for me who am sound and well, neither is it safe
for Khian who is wounded, and if things be thus then let the whole
army turn and march to the stronghold."

"It cannot be, Niece. This army is a trust placed in my hands and its
business is to push on and give battle to Apepi, not to wander away
into the desert where perhaps it may be overcome by thirst or other
disasters."

"Cannot be! I say it must be, my Uncle, I, the Queen of Egypt, desire
it; it is an order."

Tau looked at her in his calm fashion and answered:

"This army is under my command, not yours, Niece, and having put on
armour the Queen of Egypt is but one officer among thousands," and he
touched her shining mail. "Therefore I must pray even the Queen of
Egypt to obey me. Or if that is not enough, I must pray Nefra, a
Sister of the Dawn, to accept the word of the Prophet of the Dawn
without question, as she is sworn to do. The safety of the Queen of
Egypt is much, as is the safety of the Prince Khian. But the safety
and the triumph of the great host of the King of Kings are more."

Nefra heard and was about to answer furiously, for her high spirit was
aflame. Yet there was that on the strong face and in the quiet eyes of
Tau that stilled her words before they were uttered. She looked at him
a while, then burst into tears and, turning, departed to her tent.



Next morning at the dawn the five thousand horsemen with certain
chariots, guided by that officer and others who had brought tidings,
departed to rescue Khian and his companions from the stronghold where
he was imprisoned.



CHAPTER XXI

TRAITOR OR HERO

The Babylonian host marched on and came in safety to the borders of
Egypt, the mightiest host perhaps that ever had invaded the Land of
Nile. There it encamped, protected in front by water, to rest and
prepare before it attacked Apepi encamped with all his strength some
three leagues away around the forts that he had built. The captains of
the Shepherds, riding out, saw with their own eyes how terrible and
numberless, how well-ordered also, was the army of the King of Kings
with its horsemen, its chariots, its camelry, its footmen, and its
archers that seemed to stretch for miles; no Eastern mob but
disciplined and trained to war. They saw and trembled, and returning,
made report to Apepi at his Council.

"Let Pharaoh hearken!" they said. "For every man we muster, the
Babylonians have two under the command of the Prince Abeshu who is
reported to be a great general, though some say that he was once a
priest and a magician. The spies tell also that with them marches the
Princess Nefra, daughter of Kheperra, she who slipped through
Pharaoh's fingers and is affianced to Pharaoh's son, who also slipped
through his fingers and, if he lives, is hidden we know not where,
unless he, too, be with the Babylonians. It is impossible that Pharaoh
can stand against such a host as this, which will overrun the land
like locusts and devour us like corn."

Apepi heard and rage took hold of him, so that he gnawed at his beard.
Suddenly he turned to Anath, the old Vizier, saying:

"You have heard what these cravens say. Now do you give me your
counsel, you who are cunning as a jackal that has often escaped the
trap. What shall I do?"

Anath turned aside and spoke with certain other of his fellow
councillors. Then he came and bowed before Apepi and said:

"Life! Blood! Strength! O Pharaoh! Such wisdom as the gods have given
us bids us urge Pharaoh, as do the diviners who have consulted with
their spirits, not to join battle but to make peace with Babylon
before it is too late."

"Is it so?" asked Apepi. "What terms then can I offer to the King of
Babylon, who comes to seize Egypt and add it to his empire?"

"We think, Pharaoh," answered Anath, "that Ditanah does not desire to
take Egypt. We have heard from those who serve Pharaoh in secret at
Babylon, that Ditanah is bewitched by Nefra the Beautiful. It seems
that when those wizards of the Dawn, through help of their magic arts,
escaped to Babylon, they took with them the body of the Queen Rima,
the widow of King Kheperra. The tale runs that the coffin of Queen
Rima was opened before the King of Kings, and that at the bidding of
the Princess Nefra and of the head wizards of the Dawn, the body of
Rima or the ghost of Rima spoke to Ditanah who begat it, bidding him
to attack Egypt or bear the curse of the dead. It bade him also to
give Nefra in marriage, not to his grandson and heir, Mir-bel, but to
the son of your Majesty, the Prince Khian, to whom she became
affianced yonder by the pyramids, and to send a great army to avenge
the death of her husband, Kheperra, and her own wrongs by casting your
Majesty from the throne and setting the Princess Nefra and the Prince
Khian in your place. Moreover, the royal Rima, or her spirit, said to
Ditanah, King of Kings, that if he neglected to do her bidding, he and
his country should be everlastingly accursed, but if he obeyed, her
blessings should come upon them. Therefore because of the words of
dead Rima, his daughter, and because of the spells laid upon him by
the Princess Nefra and the wizards of the Dawn, Ditanah has sent this
army against your Majesty to fulfil the commands of Rima upon you and
upon the people of the Shepherds."

"What then must I do to turn aside the wrath of this Babylonian?"
asked Apepi of the Vizier, glaring at him.

"That which the King of Kings demands, or so it seems, O Pharaoh--wed
the Prince Khian, if he still lives and can be found, to the royal
Nefra and give up to them the Crowns of the Upper and the Lower
Lands."

"Is this your counsel, Vizier?"

"Who am I and who are we that we should dare to show a path to be
trodden by the feet of Pharaoh?" asked Anath, cringing before his
master. "Yet, if he takes another and these captains are right,
perchance soon there will be a new Pharaoh, and if the Prince Khian be
dead, as some believe, the People of the Shepherds will be driven from
the Nile back into the desert whence they came centuries ago--and the
King of Kings, or the Princess Nefra under him, will rule Egypt."

Now Apepi leapt to his feet roaring with rage and with the wand-like
sceptre that he carried smote Anath on the head so hard that the blood
came and the Vizier fell to his knees.

"Dog!" he cried, "speak more such words and you shall die a traitor's
death beneath the whips. Long have I suspected that you were in the
pay of Babylon and now I grow sure of it. So I am to surrender my
throne and take Ditanah for my lord, and should he still live, give
the woman whom I had chosen for my wife to be the queen of the son who
has betrayed me. First will I see Egypt devoured by fire and sword and
perish with her. Out of my sight, you white-hearted cur!"

Anath waited for no more. Yet when he turned at the doorway to make
the customary obeisance, though Apepi could not see it in the shadow,
there was a very evil look upon his face.

"Struck!" he murmured to himself. "I the great officer, I, the Vizier,
struck before the Council and the servants! Well, if Apepi has a staff
I have a sword. Now come on, Babylon! I must to my work. Oh! Khian,
where are you?"



Apepi, the Pharaoh of the North, dismissed his councillors and his
generals and sat in the chamber of the fort that he had built,
brooding and alone. Although often he was possessed by that devil of
rage who sleeps so lightly in the breasts of tyrants, also by other
passions, he was a far-seeing statesman and a good general, having
inherited from his forefathers the gifts by help of which they had
conquered Egypt. Thus he knew that Anath, the old Vizier, the clearest
and most cunning thinker in the land, was right when he told him that
he could not stand against all the strength of Babylon, drilled and
martialled as never it had been before, and marching under the
guidance of those wizards of the Dawn who had escaped him, leaving
behind him their high priest to lay upon him ere he died the curse of
the oath-breaker and the seeker of innocent blood. Yet for telling him
this truth he had offered public insult to Anath, smiting him as he
would a slave, such insult as the old noble and officer in whose
veins, it was said, ran the pure blood of Egypt, never would forget.

Would it not be better, then, to follow the blow on the head with a
thrust to the heart and to have done with Anath? Nay, it was not safe;
he was too powerful, he had too many in his pay. They might rise
against him, now when all complained at being forced into a war they
hated; they might destroy him as they believed he had destroyed his
son, Prince Khian, whom they loved. He must send for Anath and crave
pardon for what he had done when beside himself with rage and doubt,
promising him great atonement and more honours, and biding his time to
balance their account.

Yet could he accept this Anath's counsel, and to save his life and the
shattering of the Shepherd's power, bow his neck beneath the yoke of
Babylon? What did it mean? That he must abandon his throne and in
favour of Khian if he still lived, of Khian, who had stolen from him
the woman upon whose beauty he had set his heart, and sent her to call
up the Babylonian hordes against him, his king and father. Or, if
Khian were dead, then this Nefra, Queen of the South and indeed of all
Egypt by right of blood, would take that throne as the vassal of
Babylon and doubtless wed its heir. Therefore what could he gain by
surrender? One thing only--to live on in exile as a private man,
eating out his heart with memories of the glories of the past and
watching the Egyptians and their great ally stamp upon the Shepherd
race.

It was not to be borne. If he must fall, it should be fighting as his
forefathers would have done. How could he succeed against so mighty a
foe? Not in a set battle; there they would overwhelm him, or if he
kept to the walls of his forts, surround them and sweep on to capture
Egypt. Yet generalship and craft might still give him victory. He had
it; he would send all his best horsemen, twenty thousand or more of
them of the old fighting Shepherd blood, to make a circuit in the
desert and fall upon the rear of the Babylonians as they advanced to
give battle, which doubtless according to their custom they would do
while it was still dark; in order that they might attack in the
uncertain light of dawn. By some such unexpected thrust their array
might be confused and broken, so that he would have to deal not with
an army, but with a mob. At least since no other offered, the plan
should be tried.



The five thousand despatched by Tau came safely to the stronghold in
the hills, and reported themselves and their mission to the captain of
the outpost, and to his wounded guest whom all knew to be the Prince
Khian, though none called him by that name. Khian heard their tale and
grew faint with joy when he learned that the great army of Babylon was
near to him and that with it, safe and sound, was Nefra his beloved,
as a writing in her own hand told him. Sad and heavy had been his long
confinement in this place, crippled as he was, but now at length the
night of fear and waiting had passed away and there in front of him
burned the dawn of joy.

Until the following morning the five thousand rested themselves and
their horses; then, taking with them the garrison of the outpost who
were glad enough to bid it good-bye, they started to rejoin the
Babylonian army that they had planned to meet at a certain spot on the
frontier of Egypt. In the centre of their array, in a chariot because
he could not ride, went Khian, followed by Temu in another chariot
because he would not ride, having sworn an oath, unless Fate forced
him, never to mount another horse.

So they passed on safely across the desert, for Apepi's skirmishers
who had hemmed them in for so long had vanished away. They could not
travel fast because of the soldiers of the garrison who must march on
foot; indeed their progress was so slow that Khian, who was on fire to
rejoin Nefra, wished to gallop on to the Babylonian army escorted only
by a few horsemen. But this the officer in command of the five
thousand would not suffer, having been strictly charged by Tau, who
foresaw that such a thing might happen, to keep him who was called the
Scribe Rasa safe in the heart of his force. In vain did Khian plead.
Those, said the officer, were his orders and he must obey them.

On the third afternoon of their march, they learned from desert men
that they drew near to the Babylonian host which was encamped over
against the forts that Apepi had built. As it was still too far away
to be reached that night and those on foot were very weary, its
general halted the five thousand to eat and rest at a place where
there was water, giving orders that the force was to march again at
midnight by the light of the setting moon, which, if all went well,
should bring them to the army shortly after dawn.

This plan was carried out. At midnight they broke camp and went
forward through the hot desert air by the light of the half moon. When
they had marched for about two hours Temu caused his chariot to be
brought alongside that of Khian, and though the Prince was somewhat
silent, talked on to him after his fashion, for none guessed that on
the farther side of a certain rise of ground the five and twenty
thousand horsemen whom Apepi had despatched to fall upon the flank of
the Babylonians were creeping towards them purposing to attack the
camp of the great army at the first break of dawn. Why should it be
guessed, seeing that outposts rode ahead of them to give warning of
any danger? How could they know that those outposts had been
surrounded and captured or killed, when as they thought they were
riding into the fringe of the host of Babylon, thus giving the
Shepherds warning of the approach of foes?

"Brother," said Temu, "during all this while you have been very
impatient, complaining of your wound which will get quite well in
time, though it may leave you stiff-legged and lame for life,
complaining because you were kept yonder in the hills, instead of
thanking the gods that you ever reached them safely by the help of
those rough-tongued but courageous Arab brethren who gave themselves
fanciful names, for which faults as your elder in our Order I have
often reproved you, saying that like myself you should have faith. Now
you see the end of it, namely, that faith has triumphed as it always
does. Within an hour or two we shall reach the mighty host of Babylon
and make obeisance to Tau, the Prophet of the Dawn. All our troubles
are ended, or rather all your troubles, since because of faith /I/
never doubted but that they would melt away----"

At this moment Temu himself melted away, for a javelin or an arrow
pierced his charioteer through the heart so that the man fell dead on
the flanks of the horses, causing them to start forward at full gallop
in their fright, and charging through the ranks to vanish at speed
into the desert, while Temu clung to the chariot rail and grasped
wildly at the reins. The horses were good horses, being indeed two of
those that had borne them on their gallop from the water to the hills,
now fat and strong again. They rushed on up the rise; they came among
the Shepherd troops where the line was thin, they broke through it
unharmed, being scarcely seen in the dim light before they were gone.
They galloped on across the sands, smelling other horses ahead of
them, or perchance it was water that they smelt. At least they rushed
on while Temu, flung to the bottom of the chariot, dragged at the
reins in vain. That is, he dragged once or twice, then let them be,
muttering:

"Faith! Have faith! These accursed beasts must go where Fate drives
them, and I see no more soldiers."

Presently, however, he saw plenty, for now the chariot, heedless of
the challenges of the sentries, was rushing down the central avenue of
the Babylonian camp. At length the feet of one of the horses became
entangled in the ropes of a tent, so that it fell, bringing down its
companion with it, and Temu rolled on to the ground in front of a
general who was giving orders to some officer.

"Who is this?" asked the General testily, "and what does that chariot
here? Take it away."

Then Temu, knowing the voice, sat up and said:

"O Holy Prophet, as I understand that you are now that Roy is dead, O
Father Tau, that is, if a Prophet and Father of the Dawn can be clad
in armour which is against all the rules, I am Temu, a priest of your
Brotherhood, as you may remember, for it was you who sent me on a
certain business to the Court of Apepi, King of the North, since which
time I have suffered many things."

"I remember you, Brother," said Tau. "But whence come you in this
chariot, and why?"

"I do not know, Prophet. One moment I was talking to him who is called
the Scribe Rasa, with whom I have shared many adventures, but who, I
think, has another name, and the next my charioteer pitched forward
with a missile through his breast, and those mad brutes of horses on
which he fell were dragging me away whither I knew not. All I know is
that we passed through a host clad in such armour as the Shepherds
use, for the moonlight shone upon it and upon Apepi's banners, which I
knew well, for I saw enough of them at Tanis. Then the horses,
directed of Heaven, came on here. And that is all the story."

"The Scribe Rasa!" exclaimed a woman's voice, that of Nefra who,
seeing the fall of the horses, had come from her tent, accompanied by
Ru, to learn its cause. "Where did you leave the Scribe Rasa, Priest?"

"Cease from questions, Niece," broke in Tau. "Can you not understand
that the force we sent some days ago to rescue a certain garrison has
been ambushed and that by some accident this brother has escaped to
bring us tidings. Or perchance," he added, as a thought struck him,
"Apepi's army has moved from its defences to attack us from the south
presently when the sun rises."

Then he gave certain orders. Trumpets blew, captains ran up, men by
the thousand, still yawning, took their appointed places; all the
awakened camp burst into active martial life.

Meanwhile, not so very far away, a desperate battle raged. The five
and twenty thousand of the Shepherds, attackers who thought themselves
attacked, hurled themselves upon the five thousand Babylonians who had
marched into their midst. The Babylonians, being alert and well
officered, strove to cut a path through the Shepherds, aye, and did
so, losing many men as they struggled forward. Squadrons rushed on
them, dimly seen in the moonlight, and were beaten back. There was
charge and counter-charge. Horses screamed, men fell and groaned out
their lives.

The moon grew dark, but still the battle went on in the twilight that
precedes the dawn, when it was difficult to distinguish friend from
foe. The light of day began to gather and by it the captain of the
Babylonians saw that he could advance no more. Nor could he fly, for
the cloud of Apepi's Horse was all about him. Therefore he made a
square of those who remained to him, perhaps two thousand or more
sound men and many wounded, and gave orders that none must surrender,
since this was a fight to the death for the honour of Babylon.

When Apepi's captains in the gathering light perceived with how small
a body they had to do, they were dismayed who thought that all this
while they had been attacking the flank of the Babylonian host in the
darkness. And now the dawn had come and their opportunity was gone;
they had failed in their mission and how could they face Apepi with
such a tale? In the fighting they had seized prisoners, some of them
wounded. Those men they questioned. Under threat of death by torment,
or with beatings, from some of these they drew the truth that this was
but a force of Babylonian skirmishers sent to relieve an outpost which
they were bringing back with them to the army.

"Who, then, is the man that sits in a chariot among the horsemen?"
asked Apepi's captain.

The prisoners answered that they did not know, whereon he ordered them
to be flogged a while, and then repeated his question. Thus he learned
that this lord in the chariot was none other than Khian the Prince
whom he himself had been ordered to capture when he was escaping from
Egypt, for though the prisoners gave only the name of Rasa the Scribe,
well he knew that Rasa and Khian were the same man.

Then that captain saw light in the midst of a great darkness. He had
failed, it was true; he had not fallen upon the flank of the army of
Babylon at this hour of dawn, or thrown it into confusion and panic,
as he had hoped to do, but instead had become engaged with a petty
force of which the destruction would help Apepi not at all. But now he
learned that with that force was one whose capture would mean as much,
or more, to Apepi as a great slaughter of the Babylonians. Instantly
he made up his mind; he would not try to attack the army of the great
King; it was too late. No, he would destroy these horsemen and take
the Prince Khian, living or dead, as an offering to Apepi, hoping thus
to assuage his wrath.

Instantly he gave orders and the attack began. Being mounted, neither
side had bows and now javelins were few. Therefore the fray must be
fought out with swords. The Babylonians had picketed their horses in
the centre of the square or given them to the wounded there to hold,
turning themselves into foot-soldiers. Moreover, by command of their
general, with hands and stones and cooking vessels they were heaping
the desert sands into a bank which, with two thousand men or more
labouring at it for their lives, rose as though by magic, for the sand
was soft and easy to handle. At this bank the Shepherds charged from
every side. But the Babylonian square, set on the crest of a desert
sand wave, was small, for its general had drawn up his men three deep,
each line standing behind the other. Therefore only a few of the
clouds of Apepi's horsemen could come at them at once, and at these
the Babylonians stabbed with their swords, or cut at the horse's legs
as they scrambled up the sand slopes, laming them, or causing them to
scream in agony and rush away.

Soon Apepi's captain saw that victory would be slow, which fitted his
plans but ill. Every moment he was in fear lest the outposts of the
great army should discover what was passing not so very far away and
send out a mighty force to destroy him. He feared also that the
wounded man in the chariot whom he guessed to be the Prince Khian
might be killed in the fighting, whereas he desired to take him living
to Apepi. Lastly he feared that even if he were not attacked, soon he
and his horsemen would be cut off from Egypt and driven back into the
desert, to perish there of thirst and hunger. Therefore, ceasing from
his onslaught, he sent officers under a flag of truce to the
Babylonian general, charged to deliver this message:

"Your case is desperate since I outnumber you ten to one. Surrender
and in the name of Apepi I promise you your lives. Fight on and I will
destroy you all."

The Babylonian heard, but being a crafty man, would give no immediate
answer, for he, too, hoped that news of their plight would reach the
great army either through messengers whom he had despatched when they
were first attacked, or otherwise. Therefore desiring to gain time he
replied that he must take counsel with his officers and presently
would let their mind be known. He went to the centre of the square and
coming to Khian, told him all.

"Now what shall we do?" he asked. "If we continue the fight, we must
soon be overwhelmed. Yet surrender we cannot for the honour of
Babylon; indeed, first will I fall upon my sword."

"It seems that you have answered your own question, General," replied
Khian, smiling. "Yet here is my poor counsel. Offer to give me up, for
you know well who I am and it is whom they seek. I think that if you
do this, that captain will let the rest of you go free."

Now even in his sore strait that general laughed aloud, saying:

"Have you bethought you, Prince, for since you have declared yourself
I call you what you are, how I should be greeted by the Prince Abeshu,
also named the Lord Tau, who commands the army of the Great King, and
by a certain lady who marches with that army, if I return to tell them
such a tale? Rather would I die, Prince, with honour upon the field,
than shamed before all the host of Babylon. No, I have another plan. I
will parley with these Shepherds as one who bargains, asking for the
promise of safety in writing, and while I do so all must creep to
their horses, taking the lightly wounded behind them and leaving the
rest to fate. Then suddenly we will charge upon the Shepherds and, now
that we have light, cut our way through or perish."

"So be it," said Khian, but in his heart were thoughts that his lips
did not utter. He knew that such a charge made by weary men upon
wearied horses could not succeed; that if it were attempted all who
remained alive of the Babylonian horsemen would perish, together with
those on foot, among them his hosts of the mountain garrison, and that
the wounded would be slaughtered where they lay. He was sure also that
what the Shepherd captain wanted was himself, not the lives of more
Babylonian horsemen, whose slaying or escape could make no difference
to the issue of the war, and that if he could secure the great prize,
he would turn and ride for Egypt. Therefore certainly it was laid upon
him to offer up himself as a sacrifice. He shivered at the thought,
knowing that this meant death, perhaps death by torture, at the hands
of Apepi, and what was worse, that never more after all that he had
suffered could he hope to look upon the face of Nefra beneath the sun.
Oh! he must choose, and choose at once.

Khian cast down his eyes and with all his soul prayed to that Spirit
whom he had learned to worship, that he might find guidance in his
agony. Lo! it seemed to come. It seemed as though there amidst the
stamp and neighs of horses, the groans of the wounded, the orders of
officers who, having received the General's word, already were making
preparation for that last wild rush for life, he heard the quiet,
well-remembered voice of Roy, saying:

"My son, follow after duty, even down the road of sacrifice, and leave
the rest to God."

Khian hesitated no longer. He was alone in the chariot, for its driver
had descended to give the horses the last of the forage they had
carried with them and a sup of water that remained, and stood at a
distance watching them finish their food as best they could, for the
bits in their mouths hampered them. He seized the reins, he smote the
stallions with the whip, and the beasts sprang forward.

Now they had come to the low bank of sand and were scrambling over it,
dragging the light war chariot after them. Some fifty paces away and
as many perhaps from the first of Apepi's horsemen stood the General
of the Babylonians and one officer talking to the Captain of the
Shepherds, also accompanied by one officer, a man whom he knew well
enough for they had served together in the Syrian wars. They had
turned and did not see him coming or hear the chariot wheels on the
soft sand. Apepi's captain had grown angry and cried in a loud voice:

"Hear my last offer. Give up to me the Prince Khian who is with you,
and you and your soldiers may go free. Refuse, and I will kill you
every one and take him, living or dead, to his father, Apepi the
Pharaoh. Answer. I speak no more."

"/I/ will answer," said Khian from the chariot, whereon they turned in
amaze and stared. "I am the Prince Khian, and you, Friend, know me
well. I, too, know you for a man of honour and accept your promise to
let these Babylonians go their way unharmed, taking their wounded with
them, and in payment I surrender myself to you. Is it sworn?"

"It is sworn, Prince," said the Captain, saluting. "Yet remember that
Apepi is very wrath with your Highness," he added slowly, as though in
warning.

"I remember," answered Khian. Then he turned to the Babylonian
General, who all this while had stood like one transfixed, and said:
"Say to the Lord Tau and to the Lady of Egypt that I have gone where
my duty calls me and that if it be decreed that we should meet no
more, I trust that they will not think ill of me, seeing that what
seems false often is the truth and that sometimes ill deeds are done
for good ends. For the rest, let them judge as they will of me, who
follow my own light."

"Lord," exclaimed the General like one who wakes from sleep, "surely
you do not desert us for the Shepherds?"

"Am I not a Shepherd?" asked Khian, smiling strangely. "Farewell,
Friend. Good fortune go with you and your company, no drop of whose
blood shall be shed for me."

Then he called to the horses and they went forward while the General
wrung his hands and muttered the names of strange Babylonian gods.

"I do not understand your Highness," said Apepi's captain as he walked
by the chariot back towards his horsemen, "which is not strange, since
always you were different from other men, and I am wondering whether
those Babylonians will write you down as a traitor or as a hero.
Meanwhile, I who know you to be honest, ask your promise that even if
you see opportunity you will not escape to them lest I should be
forced to kill you."

"It is yours, Friend. Henceforth, like a certain Temu, I walk by
faith, though whither faith has led him this day I do not know, who
last saw him vanishing into the heart of your host."

"Mad!" muttered the Captain. "Still if he has lost his wits, he will
keep his word, and that may save my head."



CHAPTER XXII

KHIAN RETURNS TO TANIS

Swiftly the Shepherd horsemen galloped back towards Apepi's forts
across the border line of Egypt, leaving their wounded to follow after
them as best they might or perish, and in the centre of their array,
surrounded by a guard, raced the chariot of Khian. Their captain knew
there was no time to lose, for soon those Babylonians whom he had
spared would be at the camp of the Great King--and then----! What he
did not know was that two hours before Temu had reached that camp and
that already a mounted army was sweeping down to cut him off.

Far away in the desert appeared a cloud of dust. It grew nearer and
more near, and now through the dust shone helms and spears and
burnished chariots. Then the Shepherds knew the worst. Their path was
blocked, Babylon was upon them! Flight was impossible. Their case now
was that of the five thousand whom they had surprised not twelve hours
before, and they must charge as these had done, and with as little
hope of victory.

They drew together; they lined up their squadrons to the shape of a
wedge, skilfully enough, as Khian noted, and rushed forward bearing
somewhat to the right, that they might strike the Babylonian line
where it was thinnest. The two armies drew near together, some twenty
thousand of the Shepherds against fifty thousand of their foes who
were massed in dense squadrons divided by companies of chariots. A
roar of triumph went up from the Babylonians, but the doomed Shepherds
were silent.

Apepi's captain appeared by the chariot of Khian.

"Prince," he cried as he galloped, "the gods are against me and I
think that our end is near. Yet I trust to you to remember your oath,
upon faith of which I spared your company, and to make no effort to
escape. If you are captured, it is so decreed, but while you are able,
I repeat I trust to you to head straight for the boundary which is
near, and to surrender yourself to Apepi or his troops. Do I trust in
vain?"

"My honour has never yet been doubted," Khian called back.

Then that captain saluted with his sword and, spurring his horse,
vanished away.

With a shock and a sound like thunder the hordes of horsemen met. Deep
into the Babylonian array cut the Shepherd wedge, throwing men and
steeds to either side of it, as a gale-driven ship throws waves of the
sea. Yet slowly Apepi's squadrons lost their speed as more and more of
the Babylonians poured upon their flank. The point of the wedge,
passing through the first group, became engaged with fresh squadrons
beyond, that escorted a company of chariots which had raced in front
to cut them off.

The fighting grew desperate. Slowly those before him were killed,
scattered, or trodden down, so that Khian found his chariot in the
forefront of the battle. At a little distance he perceived a throng of
the Shepherds, some of them dismounted, attacking a few of the
Babylonians who were gathered round a splendid chariot that had
outraced the rest, whereof the wounded horses were struggling on the
ground. In this chariot, sword in hand, was one clad in mail that
seemed to be fashioned of silver and gold, whom he took to be a
beautiful youth, doubtless some princeling of the royal House of
Babylon sent out to look upon the face of war, while on that side of
it on which the Shepherds, six or eight of them, pressed their attack,
stood a black-faced giant hung about with plates of brazen armour that
clanked as he swung his great axe aloft and brought it crashing down
upon those within its reach. One glance told Khian that this was the
mighty Ethiopian, Ru himself! Then with a sick heart he understood the
figure in the chariot was no noble Babylonian youth but none other
than Nefra, his betrothed.

Oh! she was sore beset. Horsemen were coming to her aid, but the
nearest of them were still a full bow-shot away, for in her fierce
folly she had outdriven them all. Ru smote and smote, but he could not
be everywhere, and while some drew him to the rear of the chariot
which they were striving to enter from behind, others, five or six of
them, ran together at its side, purposing to rush forward and kill or
drag away her who stood therein. It was as if they knew that this was
a prize indeed, one for whose sake all must be risked, and as he came
nearer, Khian perceived how they knew, for now he saw that about her
silver helm she wore the snake-headed coronet, the royal uraeus with
the sparkling eyes that proclaimed her Egypt's queen. The men
gathered, watching Ru as with savage war cries he beat down foe after
foe, and waiting their chance to spring upon their prey and pierce her
through or capture her.

Khian thought for a moment.

"I swore not to escape, but never that I would not fight upon my way
to doom," he said to himself and pulled at the reins, turning the
rushing horses straight upon that knot of men. As he came the first of
them leapt at Nefra. She smote with her sword and the blow fell upon
his thick headdress. He shot out his long arms, for he was a great
fellow, and gripped her round the middle, dragging her to him. The
others stood waiting to seize her as she fell to the ground and carry
her off if they could, or kill her if they could not. So eagerly did
they watch that they never saw or heard the white-horsed war chariot
thunder down upon them from where they knew there were no foes. Khian
called to the stallions, beasts trained to war, and turning neither to
left nor right they rushed on. They smote those men and down they went
beneath the hoofs and wheels. Only one remained standing, he who
dragged Nefra from the chariot. In Khian's hand was a spear. He hurled
it as he passed and it pierced that man through and through, so that,
loosing his grip of Nefra, he fell to the ground and died.

Now Ru had seen and was rushing back. Nefra, freed, stared at her
deliverer--and knew him.

"Khian!" she cried. "Khian! Come to me."

Ru knew him also and shouted:

"Halt, Lord Rasa!"

But Khian only shook his head and galloped on.

Then the Babylonian deliverers came up as a flood comes along a dry
river bed and covered all. But already Khian was far off with the
remnant of the Shepherd Horse.



The battle rolled away. Of the twenty thousand Shepherds or more but
some few hundreds escaped; the rest were cut or hunted down before
they reached the border line of Egypt. But among those who came
unharmed to the army of Apepi was the Prince Khian, for through all
that fray it was as though some god protected him and the horses that
drew his chariot. On he drove till he saw where a general's standard
flew. Then he halted the bloodstained, weary beasts and called aloud:

"I am the Prince Khian. Come, bear me hence for I am hurt and cannot
walk."

The officers who heard him saluted and their men cheered, for they
thought that the Prince Khian whom they loved and who had been their
comrade in the Syrian wars had escaped from the Babylonians that he
might fight against them with his own people. Tenderly they lifted him
from the chariot and gave him wine and food, the best they had, then
placed him in a litter such as they used for wounded men and bore him
to the royal encampment in and around the new-built forts. Over these
forts flew Pharaoh's banners, yet when they came to them they found
confusion and open gates. Pharaoh, heralds announced, had been called
back to Tanis, leaving orders to his armies to follow after him, that
they might re-form there to protect the great city and Egypt.

Now when the captains heard these commands they stared at each other
and murmured. But Khian, looking back across the frontier line,
learned their reason. Yonder the sands were black with all the ordered
hosts of Babylon. On they came, foot and horse and chariots, a mighty
flood of men, before the shock of whose onslaught the army of the
Shepherds must have broken and gone down. Therefore it was that when
he learned that his flank attack had miscarried and saw all the might
of Babylon sweeping down upon him, Apepi had fled to Tanis, leaving
his troops to follow as best they could.

Understanding at last how matters stood, some of the chief officers
came to Khian and prayed him to take command of the army, by right of
his rank and repute in war. But he smiled and remained silent, as they
thought because he was sick and could not stand upon his feet. While
they still pressed him there came that captain to whom he had sworn
the oath and who, like himself, had escaped the slaughter of Apepi's
horsemen. Calling them aside he told his comrades of how he had
captured the Prince among the Babylonians, and the rest. Then they
pressed Khian no more, though had he chosen to put another colour on
the tale perhaps they would still have listened. Or had he offered to
go to the Babylonians and pray the clemency of the Queen of Egypt and
of the Prince Abeshu their General, for Pharaoh's army, perhaps they
would also have listened. But as he did neither of these things, they
yoked fresh horses to his chariot and setting him in it, took him with
them in their flight to Tanis.

Thus it came about that when the Babylonians poured up to the camp of
the Shepherds to give them battle, save for some sick and wounded men,
they found them gone. Learning the truth from these men, who by Tau's
command were spared and cared for, also that the Prince Khian had come
in safety to the camp and been welcomed there and, as some said, was
now in command of the retreating army, at once they started in
pursuit.

At their first bivouac Tau, with some of the generals under him,
waited upon Nefra, there being present also Ru, Temu the priest, and
the Lady Kemmah. By the wish of Tau, Nefra and Ru told all the tale of
their meeting with Khian in the battle of the horsemen and of how he
had driven his horses over those who attacked Nefra, thrust his spear
through him who was dragging her from the chariot, and then, when they
called to him to stay with them, had shaken his head and fled away,
making no attempt to check the horses, as he might have done, thereby
escaping from the Shepherds if he were their captive.

Now when he had heard this strange tale, Tau asked those present to
interpret it. The Babylonian Generals, one and all, answered that
either this Prince was mad, or evidently he was a traitor. It was
clear, they said, that otherwise he would have escaped when he had
opportunity, and it was also clear that being a Shepherd and the son
of their King, he had followed his heart back to the Shepherds and to
his father. Kemmah, who spoke next, held that certainly he was mad,
for how, she asked, could a sane man fly away from the loveliest woman
in the world, to whom he was affianced, and one who was a queen as
well?--Unless, indeed, she added as an afterthought, since they parted
he had met one yet lovelier, words at which Nefra sharply bid her be
silent.

Then Temu, who had been the Prince's companion in his captivities and
flights, was called upon. But all he could do was to mutter, "Faith!
Have faith!" adding that in this matter it was easy because he could
not believe that any one who had once tasted of the palace dungeon at
Tanis or of the tomb chamber in the dark of the pyramid could wish to
return to either of them again. Then he began to set out the tale of
their escapes and of all that he had suffered on horseback and in the
chariot, until an officer pulled him back to his seat.

Then spoke Nefra, asking angrily of the Babylonian Generals:

"Have you ever known, Lords, of a man who wished to play the traitor,
who began his treachery by killing sundry of those to whom he had sold
himself? Do you not understand that if this Prince wished to be rid of
me in order that in future he might lay an undisputed claim to the
double throne of Egypt, all he needed to do was to pass on and leave
those Shepherd knaves to kill me as--Ru, after his fashion, being
elsewhere when he was wanted--doubtless they would have done. Yet he
drives his chariot over four of them and pierces the fifth through
with his spear. Then--the gods alone know why, though I doubt not for
some good reason, other than that advanced by the Lady Kemmah," she
added acidly, "he departs, shaking his head, and so swiftly that he
could not be caught, as yonder priest says, to taste once more of
Apepi's dungeons, or"--here her voice grew faint and her eyes filled
with tears--"of worse things."

When they had finished Tau said:

"All who know the Prince Khian have learned that in some ways he is
different from most men, and it is probable that among those
differences the truth may be found. Indeed I think that I have
discovered it, but if so, as we have talked enough, I will keep it to
myself until I know whether I be right or wrong. Meanwhile, I would
ask you all to listen to the prayer of our brother, Temu, and have
faith, such as that which her Majesty of Egypt showed when she rushed
forth alone into battle against the commands of those set over her,
and now again shows in him who preserved her from death."

Then he rose and departed from the tent, leaving Nefra abashed and yet
indignant.



Those who remained of the army of the Frontier came at length to Tanis
which was strongly held by Apepi's second army of reserve. They were
not many, for the Babylonian pursuit had been sharp and captured
thousands. Moreover, when in this way or in that it became known that
none of these were put to the sword or set aside to be sold as slaves,
but that all asked of them was that they should take an oath of fealty
to Queen Nefra of Egypt and serve under her banner, other thousands
grew weary of that rapid march and lagged behind until they were
overtaken by the Babylonian pickets.

Among the faithful that at length straggled through its gates,
however, were the Prince Khian and that captain to whom he had
surrendered and sworn a certain oath. Together these two, between whom
there was now a bond of lasting friendship, were brought to the palace
and to the wonder of Khian placed in the apartments that had been his
own when he was Prince and heir apparent of the North. Here slaves
waited upon him, his own slaves, and doctors came to treat his knee,
now much inflamed and swollen with so long and rough a journey. Yet,
as Khian noted, with all of these were mingled spies and guards: spies
to watch and note every spoken word and guards to frustrate any effort
at escape. In short, he was now as close a prisoner as he had been in
that dungeon whence he escaped with Temu.

There in his own place Khian, who had been brought to it at dawn,
rested till the third hour after sunset, sleeping the most of this
time, save when he bathed and ate, for he was very weary. At length
came an officer and soldiers with a litter to bear him into the
presence of Apepi, his father. At the head of this company was Anath
the Vizier who, as Khian noted, had grown thinner and more gray and
whose quick black eyes darted from place to place as though everywhere
he expected to see a murderer, and following after him a sharp-faced
scribe whom Khian took to be a spy.

Anath bowed a greeting nicely judged, neither too scanty nor too full,
saying:

"Welcome home, Prince, after long travels and many adventures. Pharaoh
needs your presence. Be pleased to accompany me."

Then he was set in his litter borne by eight soldiers, at the side of
which walked Anath, while the captain followed after. In turning the
corner of one of the passages the long litter tilted and Anath put out
his hands to steady it, or to save himself from being pressed against
the wall, while the spy for a moment was left out of sight and hearing
on the farther side of a corner. Swiftly Anath whispered into Khian's
ear:

"The danger is great. Yet be calm and keep courage, for you have
friends, ready even to die for you, of whom I am the first."

Then the spy appeared and Anath straightened himself and was silent.

They came into the presence of Pharaoh who sat in a low chair clad in
mail with a sword in his hand. The litter was set down and its bearers
helped Khian to a seat that was placed opposite to that of Pharaoh.

"You seem to have taken some hurt, Son," said Apepi in a cold voice.
"Who gave it to you?"

"One of your Majesty's soldiers during a fray in a pass of certain
hills, who overtook me when I was flying from Egypt a while ago,
Pharaoh."

"Oh! I heard some such tale. But why were you flying from Egypt?"

"To save myself and to win another, Pharaoh."

"Yes, again I remember. The one who have done so far, though with
damage; the other you have not done and shall never do," Apepi said
slowly. Then he looked at the captain, who accompanied Khian, and
asked:

"Are you that man whom I sent in command of some five and twenty
thousand horse to fall upon the flank of the Babylonians? If so, tell
me why you failed in your task?"

In brief, soldierlike words the captain told him all the story: how he
had met the body of Babylonian Horse during the night and become
engaged with them; how in the end Khian had bought the lives of those
of them who remained by his surrender of himself; how they had fallen
in with the great force of mounted Babylonians and chariots which in
the end destroyed them nearly all; how the Prince Khian had kept his
word when he might have escaped, and thus was now a prisoner at Tanis,
and the rest.

Apepi listened till he had finished and said:

"Enough, man. You have failed and by your failure have brought me to
the gates of ruin. My army is dispersed and the Babylonians, under the
command of one of the accursed wizards of the Dawn, sweep down on
Tanis to capture it, after which they purpose to seize all Egypt and
set this girl Nefra as their puppet on its throne. All these things
have happened because you failed in the task I laid upon you and
instead of falling upon the Babylonian flank, were trapped and wasted
your strength and time in a petty fight with some few thousand men.
For such as you there is no more place upon the earth. Get you down to
the Underworld and there learn generalship, if you may."

Then he made a sign whereon certain armed slaves ran forward. The
captain, answering nothing to Apepi, turned to Khian and saluted him,
saying:

"Now, Prince, I am sorry that I did not loose you from your oath and
bid you escape while you could. For if I am treated thus, what chance
is there for you? Well, I go to make report of these matters to Osiris
who, I have been told, is a just god and an avenger of innocent blood.
Farewell."

Before Khian could answer the slaves seized the man and dragged him
behind a curtain, whence presently one of them reappeared holding up a
human head to tell Pharaoh that his will was done. At this sight for
the first time Khian hated his father and hoped in his heart that
Apepi himself might be overtaken by the fate which he had brought upon
a loyal servant who had done his best.

Now father and son were left alone and stared at each other in
silence. At length Khian spoke.

"If it be the will of your Majesty that I should follow on the path
that has been trodden by yonder victim, I pray that it may be soon,
since I am weary and would sleep."

Apepi laughed cruelly and answered:

"All in good time, but not yet, I think. Do you not understand, Son,
that you are the only arrow left in my quiver? It seems that by aid of
the arts of these wizards of the Dawn you have bewitched this royal
Egyptian in such fashion that she dotes on you, she, the chosen of
your father, from whom you stole her. Now how do you think it will
please her when she appears before the walls of Tanis with the
Babylonians, as doubtless she will do to-morrow with the light, if she
saw you, her darling, set upon the eastern gate and there about to die
as that fool died or in worse fashion?"

"I do not know," answered Khian, "but I think that if such a thing
chanced, very soon Tanis would be given to fire and all that breathe
within its walls would also die, and with them one--who does not wish
to die."

"You are right, my Son," mocked Apepi. "An angry woman with a hundred
thousand men behind her might commit such crimes upon the helpless.
Therefore I propose to keep your head upon your shoulders, at least
for the present. This is my plan--tell me if you do not think it good.
You shall appear upon the gateway and heralds shall announce, or
perhaps this would best be done by messenger, that you are about to
suffer death for treason in the presence of Pharaoh and his Court, or
as many of them as can find standing room upon that gateway. It will
be announced, however, that Pharaoh, out of his great pity and love,
will spare you upon certain terms. Can you perhaps guess those terms?"

"No," answered Khian hoarsely.

"I think you lie; I think you know them well enough. Still, Son, I
will repeat them to you, that you may never say you have not been
fairly dealt with. They are short and simple. First, that having
surrendered all its treasure and some trappings such as horses and
chariots and signed a perpetual peace with us, the Shepherds, the
Babylonian army retreats whence it came.

"Secondly, that the Princess Nefra gives up herself to me, that in the
presence of both armies and of the holy gods the priests may declare
her my wife and queen, who brings to me as her dower all the rights
and inheritances that are hers by blood in Egypt."

"Never will she consent," said Khian.

"Of course, Son, that is the danger, since no one can tell what a
woman will or will not do. But do you not think that if such should
chance to be her mind and that she should determine that you must be
sacrificed to what she holds her duty, you who otherwise would be set
free among the Babylonians, the sight of a little torture and the
sound of your groans might work the needful change? There are some
clever blacks in this place and by the way, that knee of yours is
still swollen and painful, is it not? They might begin there. Hot
irons--yes, hot irons!"

Khian looked at him and said in a low voice:

"Do your worst, devil who begat me, if indeed I am your son, which now
is hard to believe. You speak of the priests of the Dawn as wizards.
Know that I am a priest of the Dawn who share their wizardry or their
wisdom, and it tells me that all your plots will fail and that your
wickedness will fall back upon your own head."

"Ah! does it? I understand your scheme. You think that you will kill
yourself. Well, this shall not happen, for be sure that you shall be
too well watched. Nor will you escape from the palace for the second
time. Good-night, Son. Rest while you may, for I fear that it will be
necessary to awake you early."



CHAPTER XXIII

THE QUEEN OF THE DAWN

Before the hour of dawn Khian was carried up the pylon stairs to the
top of the eastern gate of Tanis. It was a large flat place where
fifty or more might stand with comfort, and being lame he was seated
in a chair upon its eastern edge. Ra the Sun arose and showed him all.
Beneath him was a wide moat filled with water from the Nile, but the
bridge which spanned it had been hoisted up by the aid of ropes and
pulleys and was made fast to the gateway pillars.

Beyond the moat and almost at its edge, for in their overwhelming
might they seemed to fear nothing from their broken foes, appeared the
heart of the host of Babylon, whereof the wings already encircled the
city of Tanis, cutting off the escape of those who were within its
walls. A little way back from the edge of this moat, though out of the
reach of arrows, pavilions were pitched, over which, side by side,
flew the royal ensigns of Egypt and Babylon, showing to Khian that
there rested Nefra and the Prince Abeshu who was also called the Lord
Tau. For the rest the walls on either flank of the gateway were
garrisoned by Shepherd troops who seemed restless and ill at ease,
while on its top, attended by Anath and other councillors, sat Pharaoh
Apepi gorgeously attired and wearing the double crown of the Upper and
the Lower Lands.

Trumpets blew and guards gathered about the royal pavilions, after
which there was silence. On the farther side of the moat behind the
outposts, the ordered ranks of the marshalled Babylonian soldiers
stood staring up at the gateway crest; wall upon wall of white faces,
every one, as it seemed to Khian, turned towards himself. Presently a
messenger bearing a white flag appeared crossing the moat upon a boat
and from its farther bank was escorted through the lines to the
pavilions where flew the standards of Babylon and Egypt and there
handed a letter to the captain of the General's guard who entered and
delivered it to Tau. Tau opened it and read, then said to Nefra who
stood beside him, large-eyed and haggard-faced:

"These are the terms of Apepi: That having given up all its treasure
and signed a treaty of perpetual peace, the Babylonian army must march
back to Babylon."

"What else, my Uncle?"

"That you, the Queen of Egypt, surrender your person forthwith to
Apepi and with due ceremony be wed to him in front of the gateway and
in sight of the people of the Shepherds and of the armies of Babylon."

"What else, my Uncle?"

"That if these terms be refused, then the Prince Khian will be
tormented before our eyes until they are accepted or until life leaves
him. Now what answer, Niece and Queen?"

Nefra's face grew ashen. She bowed her head until it touched her knees
and rocked her body to and fro; then she straightened herself and
asked:

"What would Khian wish that I should do? I know! I know! He would wish
that I should defy Apepi, leaving his fate in the hand of God."

"Have faith! Have faith!" muttered Temu who was seated behind her with
papyrus on his knee.

"Aye, Brother," went on Nefra, "I have faith, and if it fails me,
well, there is always death behind and in death I shall find Khian.
Shall I of the ancient blood, his sworn betrothed, come to him beyond
the grave, defiled, the woman of that dog of an old Shepherd king?
Never! Shall Babylon, my great ally, bow herself before these runaways
who did not dare to await the battle? Never! Let Khian die if die he
must, and let me die with him. But if so, not one man shall be left
living in Tanis, and not one man of Shepherd blood throughout the
North. Write it down, Temu, as the Prince Abeshu shall tell you, and
let the messenger take it back to that cruel crossbred cur Apepi, and
let heralds call it out to those who stand upon the gateway and the
walls, while the captains bid the attack begin at every other mouth of
Tanis."

Tau heard and smiled in his slow, secret way. Then to officers mounted
on swift horses he issued certain orders on receipt of which presently
thousands of men began to move to the onslaught upon the great city.
This done, he turned to Temu and other scribes, saying to them the
words that they should write. Also he summoned heralds and caused them
to learn those words by heart and depart to shout them out at very
gate.

At length all was ready, and the messenger, having received the roll,
departed to the moat escorted by Ru, who gave him another message on
his own account. It was:

"Tell that Sheep herder who calls himself a king, and tell all his
councillors and the captains who remain to him, that if a finger is
lifted against the Prince Khian, presently I, the Ethiopian Ru, will
twist out their tongues and drive in their eyes with my own fingers,
and afterwards cast them into the desert to starve. Aye, and yours
also, Messenger, if you fail to report this my message so that I can
hear you from this shore of the moat."

Now the messenger looked up at the giant Nubian who glared down at him
grinding his great white teeth and swore that he would do his bidding.
Then he entered his little boat and, crossing the water, was admitted
by a tiny door in the gateway tower, so that presently he appeared
upon its crest and handed the writing to Apepi. Moreover, as he had
sworn to do, he repeated the message of Ru in a loud voice, the words
of which seemed to please those upon the gateway little, for they
gathered into knots debating them fearfully. Heralds also called out
that which had been written in the roll, so that all upon the wall
might learn and understand.

Khian, bound upon the edge of the gateway so that if spears were
thrown or arrows shot these might pierce him first, heard the
proclamation and was glad, because now he knew that not for his life's
sake would Nefra be shamed. Yet he turned his head and spoke over his
shoulder to Apepi who stood behind him, and to Anath and the other
councillors, saying:

"Pharaoh and Lords, what the Prince Abeshu and the royal Nefra have
sworn most certainly they will do. Torture and kill me before their
eyes if you desire, but be sure that it will not change their purpose,
for not with my poor life can you buy their honour. For myself I fear
not death, but I ask of you--is it your will to follow me, every one
of you, and to give all the people of Tanis and the nation of the
Shepherds to the sword? If you spare me and set me free, you and they
will be spared. If you lift a hand against me, you and they will die.
I have spoken; do what you will."

Now, although because of his bonds he could not see what passed, Khian
heard tumult behind him. He heard Anath the Vizier and other
councillors praying Pharaoh to forego his purpose because their case
and the case of the whole city was desperate, beleaguered as they were
by the countless hosts of Babylon, and it seemed mad to die that
Pharaoh might satisfy his hate upon the Prince his son. Moreover,
crowds from the city who had also heard the proclamation were rushing
into the open space behind the gate, sweeping aside the soldiers by
whom it was guarded, and shouting such words as:

"Pharaoh! Spare the Prince Khian! Must we all die because you would
torment and murder him who was born of you?"

Then above the tumult Anath spoke again, saying in a high cold voice,
like one who threatens rather than prays:

"Pharaoh, this is a very evil business. The Prince is beloved in Tanis
and it is not well for kings to kill those whom the people love when
the enemy is at their gates."

Now Apepi answered, hissing like one mad with rage:

"Be silent, Anath and the rest of you, or as I serve this traitor, so
shall you be served. Slaves, to your task!"

Behind Khian arose guttural murmurings. It seemed to him that the
black tormentors shrank from their office. Again the furious Pharaoh
commanded, but still they hung back. Then came the sound of a blow and
groans and Khian knew that he had cut one of them down and guessed
that the others would no longer dare to resist his will. On the
farther side of the moat he saw Ru the giant marching to and fro like
a caged lion and shaking his great axe. Beyond him now were ranged a
company of archers, their arrows set upon the strings, waiting the
word to loose, while behind the archers he perceived Tau, and leaning
on him Nefra clad in her glittering mail. Then he lifted up his voice
and cried:

"Ru! Hear me--Khian. Bid the archers shoot, for thus would I die,
rather than in torment."

He could say no more for Apepi, stepping forward, struck him heavily
upon the face and bade the torturers gag him, a sight at which the
army of Babylon groaned, as did the inhabitants of Tanis who now
packed the Place of the Gateway in thousands. Ru roared out a curse
that sounded like the bellow of a wounded bull, then turning, repeated
Khian's words to the archers who lifted their bows and looked to Tau
for the order to shoot. But Tau gave no order, only motioned to them
to hold their hands, while Nefra sank to her knees as though she
swooned.

Khian became aware of black hands tearing at his garments, then there
was a smell of fire and an agony darted through him. The slow
sacrifice was begun! He shut his eyes, making his soul ready to
depart.

There was a sound behind him, a very strange sound of wrestling and
blows. He opened his eyes and looked. Past him, staggering backwards,
went the form of Pharaoh, and in his breast was fixed a knife. At the
edge of the gateway platform he stopped, clinging to the seat in which
Khian was bound.

"Dog!" he gasped, "Dog of a Vizier! I have spared you too long; it
should have been done last night. But I waited----"

"Aye," answered the voice of Anath, "you over-shot yourself, Pharaoh,
and gave the dog time to bite. Away with you to Set, son-murderer."

A withered form, that of Anath, leapt forward, its black eyes gleaming
in the yellow wrinkled face, a thin arm smote with the tormentor's
hearted iron at the hands that gripped the seat, crushing and burning
them. Apepi loosed his hold and with a cry fell backwards into the
moat beneath.

Ru saw him fall and leaped into the water, swimming with great
strokes. As the Pharaoh rose he seized him with his mighty hands and
dragged him to the bank where he broke him like a stick, then cast him
to the shore.

"Pharaoh Apepi is dead!" piped the thin voice of Anath, "but Pharaoh
Khian lives! Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!"

So he cried as he hacked at Khian's bonds and dragged away the gag,
and all the multitude beneath took up the ancient greeting, shouting:

"Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!"



It was evening. Khian lay upon a couch in the royal pavilion of the
Babylonians, whither by his own command he had been brought, since as
yet Nefra could not enter the city. The Lady Kemmah and a leech bathed
his bruised face and bandaged his swollen knee, while Nefra, who stood
near, shivered at the sight of a long red burn upon his flesh made by
the touch of hot iron.

Then suddenly a question burst from her:

"Tell me, Khian, why did you fly away from me in the battle, when you
might have escaped and spared us all this agony?"

"Did not some two thousand sound men and with them very many wounded
rejoin this army upon that day, Lady," asked Khian, "being the
survivors of the force which was sent to rescue me and the garrison of
the mountain stronghold?"

"They did, and were questioned, but knew nothing except that you drove
out your chariot and surrendered yourself to the Shepherds, after
which the attack upon them ceased."

"Then do you not understand that sometimes it is right that one man
should offer himself up for many?"

"Yes," answered Nefra, colouring, "I understand now--that you are even
nobler than I thought. Yet, when you could have escaped, why did you
fly away, as I saw you do?"

"Ask the Prophet Tau," replied Khian wearily.

"Why did Khian fly away, my Uncle? Tell me if you know, since he will
not."

"Does not the oath sworn of those who enter into the fellowship of the
Dawn demand that they shall never break a promise, Niece? Perchance
our brother here had vowed to deliver himself up in Egypt, and did so,
even when he might have stayed at your side. So at least I have
believed from the first."

"Is that so, Khian?"

"It is so, Nefra. With this oath I bought the lives of those men.
Would you have had me break it even to win my own--and you?"

"I cannot say, but oh! Khian, you are noble, who did this knowing that
if you died, all my life I should have been ignorant /why/ you died,
seeming to desert me."

"Not so, Nefra, since Tau knew and would have told you at his own
time."

"How did you know that which was hid from me, my Uncle?"

"My office has its secrets, Niece. Enough that I knew, as I knew also
that it would never be necessary for me to set out the truth to you."

"So you let me suffer all these things when there was no need, my
Uncle!" exclaimed Nefra angrily.

"Perhaps, Niece, and to your own good. Why should you alone escape
from suffering which is the medicine of the soul, you, who if you be
the Queen of Egypt, are, as I would pray you to remember, first and
foremost a sister of the Dawn and the servant of its laws? Be humble,
Sister. Sacrifice your self-will. Learn to obey if you would command,
and seek, not self-will or glory but the light. For so, when these
little storms have rolled away, you shall find the eternal calm."

"Faith! Have faith!" muttered Temu who stood behind.

"Aye," went on Tau, "have faith and humility, for by faith we climb
and in humility we serve--not ourselves but others, which is the only
true service. I say these things to you now even in the hour of your
joy, for soon we must part, I to my hermitage and you to your throne,
and then who can reprove the Pharaoh on the throne?"

"You could and will, I am sure, my Uncle," Nefra answered, tossing her
head.

Then suddenly her mood changed and, turning, she threw her arms about
him and kissed him on the brow, saying:

"Oh! my most beloved Uncle, what is there that I do not owe to you?
When I was a babe you saved me and my mother from the hands of those
traitorous Theban nobles, with whom soon I hope to talk if they be
still alive."

"I think that the Lady Kemmah and Ru here had something to do with
that, Niece."

"Yes, yet they did but fulfil their offices, whereas you travelled up
Nile to rescue us."

"Fulfilling /my/ orders, Niece."

"Then you brought us to the pyramids and there you watched over my
childhood, teaching me all the little that I know. Afterwards it was
you who led me to Babylon and in secret worked upon the heart of the
Great King, so that, as though at my prayers, he abandoned his plan of
wedding me to Mir-bel and gave me this great army that has brought us
victory and peace."

"God, for His own purposes, changed the heart of my father, Ditanah,
on that matter, not I, Niece."

"Afterwards," she continued, taking no heed of his words, "you
comforted me in a hundred ways; also it was you who held me back from
accompanying the five thousand to the mountain stronghold which, had I
done so, would have brought me to death or shame. Oh! and I know not
what besides. And how have I paid you back? Often enough with pride
and angry words and rebellion against your commands; aye, and
disbelief when you told me that if I found patience all would work for
my good and that of Khian, whom I believed dead, even when you bade me
hope on. Yet," she added in another voice, "if I behaved thus, it was
your fault, not mine, for who was it that spoiled me in my youth,
giving me my way when I should have been taught obedience?"

"The holy Roy, I think; also the Lady Kemmah," answered Tau with his
quiet smile.

At this moment guards challenged without. Then the curtain of the
pavilion was drawn and, heralded by Ru, there entered the old Vizier
Anath and with him others of the councillors and captains of the
Shepherds.

Anath and his company prostrated themselves thrice, to Nefra, to
Khian, and to the Prince Abeshu, the General of the armies of Babylon.

"Queen and Princess," he said, "on behalf of all the Shepherds we come
to surrender to you the city of Tanis and to pray your clemency for
those who have fought against you and for every one who breathes
within its walls. Is it granted?"

"Be my mouth and answer," said Nefra to Tau. "Your mind is my mind and
by your words I will be bound, as I think will his Highness, the
Prince Khian, who is still too sick for ceremonies."

"It is granted," said Tau. "To those who will be loyal to Nefra, Queen
of Egypt, and to Khian, Prince of the North, whom she purposes to take
as husband, all is forgiven. To-morrow we enter Tanis and proclaim the
great peace."

"We hear and thank you, Queen and Princess," said Anath. "Now I have a
word to say to the Prince Khian, I who come before him with the blood
of Pharaoh on my hands, for which deed I crave pardon. Let the Prince
hearken. When the Prince was cast into yonder prison, it was I who
saved him with the help of yonder Brother of the Dawn and a certain
jailer. Being suspected of this deed by Pharaoh I was disgraced and
myself imprisoned. Therefore I could not rescue him when he was shut
up in the pyramid or prevent his pursuit to the mountain outpost of
the Babylonians where he took refuge. Afterwards I regained power
because Pharaoh knew that I alone might perchance save him from the
fangs of the Lion of Babylon. When the great host poured down upon
Egypt I counselled Pharaoh to surrender and, if the Prince still
lived, proclaim a marriage between his son, Khian and the royal Nefra.
For answer he struck me like a dog--see, here are the marks"--and he
touched his head. "Afterwards Pharaoh fled, his attack having failed,
and the Prince Khian, through his own nobleness, fell into his power.
I pleaded for his life in vain, both in the palace and on the gateway,
but Pharaoh was mad with jealousy and hate and would have put the
Prince to death by torment before the very eyes of the royal Nefra and
of the host of Babylon. Then, before it was too late, I smote, and
saved the Prince and the people of the Shepherds. Have I pardon for
this deed?"

Now Tau went to where Khian lay upon his couch and talked with him
apart. Presently he returned and said:

"Anath, what you did must be done. To-morrow make sacrifice in the
temple of your gods and receive the forgiveness of your gods for the
shedding of royal blood to save other royal blood and the lives of
tens of thousands who are innocent. Then appear before us in the
palace of Tanis that there may be given back to you the wand and chain
of office of Vizier of the Upper and the Lower Lands. The word is
spoken. Record it, Scribe Temu. Anath, withdraw!"



Thirty days had passed. Tau handed over the command of the host of
Babylon to the general next in rank to him at a great ceremony, and
putting off his mail and royal emblems, had donned the white robe of
the Prophet of the Dawn and returned to the Temple of the Pyramid,
leaving Temu behind him because such was the will of Nefra and Khian.
Save for a force of ten thousand picked men who remained to guard the
grand-daughter of the Great King until all was accomplished, that army
had marched for Babylon. There were ceremonies at which all who served
his father, now known as "Apepi the Accursed," swore fealty to Khian
his son, but at these Nefra was not present, nor as yet had there been
any coronation, for indeed none knew whether Khian of the North or
Nefra of the South ruled over Egypt. Some grumbled that this should be
so, but others glanced at the encampment of the ten thousand
Babylonian guards and bade them be silent.

Khian recovered but slowly. With skilful tending his leg healed
indeed, though now he knew that all his life he must be lame, but the
sufferings which he had undergone had left him shaken in both mind and
body. First there was the palace dungeon, then the long confinement in
the bowels of the pyramid, then the flight from the pursuers to the
Babylonian outpost; also the wound that would not heal, while for
moons he must lie upon his back among strangers whose tongue as yet he
did not speak, companioned only by Temu with his prayers and maxims,
and ignorant of the fate of Nefra.

Afterwards followed the wild joy of the knowledge that she lived and
was near, the rescue by the five thousand, the desperate battle in the
desert, the surrender and the sacrifice, the sight of Nefra in the
second battle, and her abandonment for honour's sake, knowing that she
would not understand; the coming to Egypt and to Tanis, the meeting
with his father Apepi; the pain of the hot iron and the agony of
suspense upon the pylon top while Nefra watched below. All these
events, young and strong though he was, had broken his body and eaten
into his spirit, so that he must rest and keep himself apart by day,
while at night, when at last sleep found him, he was visited by evil
dreams and tremors, so that at length it was said throughout the city
that soon the Pharaoh to be would join his forefathers in their burial
place.

Anath came to him with reports of affairs, to which he listened
patiently, saying little. Temu read to him from ancient rolls, or
offered up the prayers of the Order of the Dawn at his side, and
talked of faith. Ru visited him also and spoke of battle or of the
wonders of Babylon, and how Nefra there had learned the arts of war, a
tale at which he laughed a little. Lastly, from time to time,
accompanied by Kemmah who stood far off gazing through the window-
place, came Nefra herself and spoke softly of love and marriage when
he should be well again.

Still he did not grow well, so having talked with Tau by messenger,
Nefra took another counsel. Telling Khian that Tanis in the low land
was too hot for him, she set him in a ship and travelled with him
slowly up the Nile, till at last the pyramids appeared. At the first
sight of these pyramids Khian's manner changed; he became alert and
eager as he used to be, even gay, talking to her of all that had
befallen him among them. Rejoicing at this change, that evening she
caused him to be borne ashore to a camp that had been set in the midst
of the palm grove where first she had found him sleeping and whence,
after Ru had taken his goods, disguised as a messenger, she had
conducted him to the secret home of the Brotherhood.

Here that night Khian slept better than he had done since, many months
before, wearing Nefra's betrothal ring upon his finger, he had left
this spot to return to Tanis and make report of his mission to Apepi.

On the following morning, while it was still quite dark, Ru entered
his tent and assisted him to rise. Then he set him in a litter in
which Khian, asking no questions, was borne across the sands till they
came to a great shape outlined against the starry sky, which he knew
to be that of the Sphinx. Here he descended from the litter, which
departed, leaving him alone.

At length the dawn began to break and in its tender light he saw that
he was not alone, for by his side, wrapped in a gray cloak, stood a
hooded figure that might have been that of a lad or a slender woman.

By the gods! he knew this figure: it was that of the "Young Person"
who--oh! years and years ago--had guided him from the palm grove to
the Sphinx and there had tied a bandage about his eyes. The height was
the same, the very cloak and hood seemed to be the same.

"So, Young Person," he said, "you still ply your business of guiding
travellers across the sands."

"That is so, Scribe Rasa," answered the figure in a gruff voice.

"And do you still steal their packages--or hide them? My litter I
think has gone."

"I still take that which I desire, Scribe Rasa, who must live and be
happy if I can."

"And do you still blindfold messengers?"

"Yes, Scribe Rasa, when it is necessary to hide secrets from them.
Indeed, be pleased to suffer that I do so to you for the second time,
and bide here a while alone."

"I obey," he answered, laughing, "for although you may not know it,
Young Person, since first we met I have suffered many things and
learned one great lesson from them, also from the lips of a certain
Temu, namely, to have faith. Therefore blind on and I will submit as
gently as though I were sure that when sight is given back to my eyes
they would behold a vision of heaven come to earth. See, I kneel, or
rather stoop, for kneel I cannot."

The gray-cloaked figure bent over him, the silken kerchief once more
was bound upon his brow--oh! how well he remembered its soft substance
and its odour! Then, leaning on his guide's shoulder, he limped a
little distance till the feigned voice bade him be seated upon a bank
of sand and wait.

Presently voices, men's voices, prayed him to rise. He did so with
their help, and those men supported him down passages in which their
footsteps echoed, to some chamber where they clothed him in new
garments and set a headdress on his brow, what headdress or what
garments he did not know, and when he asked they would not answer.

Again he was helped forth, as he thought into a large place where
whisperings ran as though from a gathered multitude. Someone bade him
to be seated and he sank on to a cushioned chair and waited.

Far away a voice cried:

"Ra is risen!" and from all round him rose a sound of singing.

He knew the sound. It was that of the ancient chant with which on days
of festival the Brotherhood of the Dawn greeted the rising of the sun.
It died away; there was deep silence; he heard a rustling as of robes.
Then suddenly and in unison from a hundred throats there rose a great
cry of:

"The Queen of the Dawn! Hail! Queen of the Dawn! Hail, Light-Bringer!
Hail Life-Giver! Hail, Consecrated Sister! Hail, Heaven-appointed
Uniter of the riven Lands!"

Khian could bear no more. He snatched at the bandage about his eyes.
Perhaps it had been loosened, at least it fell. Lo! there before him
stood Nefra glittering in the rays of the risen sun, wearing the robes
of Egypt's queen and crowned with Egypt's crown, a living loveliness;
a glory to behold.

For a moment she stood thus while the shoutings echoed from the
vaulted roof of the great temple hall. She lifted her sceptre and
there was silence. Then she turned and came to him who, he found, was
seated on a throne. To Kemmah and to Ru she gave the sceptre and her
regal symbols. From her head she lifted the double crown and set it on
his brow. She kneeled and did him homage; yes, with her lips she
touched his hand.

"Egypt's Queen greets Egypt's King!" she said.

Khian stared at her, astonished. Then, though of a sudden pain and
weakness struck him once more, he struggled from the throne, purposing
to offer it to her. But she shook her head and would none of it.
Supporting him with her strong young arm, she led him to where stood
Tau the Prophet in front of the gathered Councillors of the Dawn. Tau
joined their hands. In the presence of the Brotherhood, living and
dead, and in the name of that Spirit whom they worshipped, he blessed
them, giving them to each other, uniting them to all eternity, on
earth and beyond the earth.

So it was finished.



Nefra and Khian stood together gazing by the light of the moon at the
mighty mass of the Pyramid of Ur.

"Our holiday is done, Wife," he said, "and to-morrow, ceasing to be
but a Brother and a Sister of the Dawn, we must become the rulers of
Egypt united at last from the Cataracts to the sea. Strange has been
our lot since first side by side we looked upon yonder pyramid. Yet,
Beloved, I think that the Strength which preserved us through so many
perils and now, from sickness and the gates of death has brought me
with joy to those of health, will be with us in the years to come."

"So Roy the holy prophesied, and in him, if in any man, lived the
spirit of Truth, Husband. At least, thanking the gods for what they
have given us, let us go straight forward in humility, remembering
that though we be King and Queen of Egypt, first and foremost we
remain Brother and Sister of the Dawn, sworn to its holy faith and to
the service of mankind."

At that moment this royal pair heard a sound behind them and, turning,
beheld the lean and withered Sheik of the Pyramids.

"Would your Majesties wish to ascend?" he said, bowing and pointing to
the mass of Ur. "The moon is very clear and there is no wind; also I
desire to show Pharaoh the spot whence those accursed cliff-climbers
rolled to their doom on the day of his escape."

"Nay, Captain," answered Khian, "of Ur I have had enough who am lamed
for life. Henceforth be you its king."

"And its spirit also," added Nefra, "for no more may I stand upon the
crests of pyramids who am doomed to a dizzier pinnacle of power.
Farewell, you gallant man. Our thanks be yours with all you seek and
we can give."

Then Khian and Nefra turned and, hand clasped in hand, wandered back
to where Ru and Kemmah waited with the escort to accompany them to the
vessel that made ready to sail with the night wind.



"Now," said Kemmah the white-haired to Ru the mighty Ethiop, "now I
understand the meaning of the vision that I saw when yonder Queen was
born, and why the goddesses of Egypt gave to her the name of Uniter of
Lands."

"Yes," answered Ru, "and I understand why the gods of Ethiopia gave me
a good axe and the strength to use it well on a certain Theban
stairway."



THE END





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