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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter I - THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI
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The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter I - THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI Post by :jdonisthorpe Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :July 2011 Read :2154

Click below to download : The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter I - THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI (Format : PDF)

The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter I - THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI

BOOK III : CHAPTER I - THE VENGEANCE OF KURRI

The Wanderer and Pharaoh's Queen stood face to face in the twilight of the chamber. They stood in silence, while bitter anger and burning shame poured into his heart and shone from his eyes. But the face of Meriamun was cold as the dead, and on it was a smile such as the carven sphinxes wear. Only her breast heaved tumultuously as though in triumph, and her limbs quivered like a shaken reed. At length she spoke.

"Why lookest thou so strangely on me, my Lord and Love; and why hast thou girded thy harness on thy back? Scarcely doth glorious Ra creep from the breast of Nout, and wouldest thou leave thy bridal bed, Odysseus?"

Still he spoke no word, but looked on her with burning eyes. Then she stretched out her arms and came towards him lover-like. And now he found his tongue again.

"Get thee from me!" he said, in a voice low and terrible to hear; "get thee from me. Dare not to touch me, thou, who art a harlot and a witch, lest I forget my manhood and strike thee dead before me."

"That thou canst not do, Odysseus," she answered soft, "for whatever else I be I am thy wife, and thou art bound to me for ever. What was the oath which thou didst swear not five short hours ago?"

"I swore an oath indeed, but not to thee, Meriamun. I swore an oath to Argive Helen, whom I love, and I wake to find thee sleeping at my side, thee whom I hate."

"Nay," she said, "to me thou didst swear the oath, Odysseus, for thou, of men the most guileful, hast at length been over-mastered in guile. To me, 'Woman or Immortal,' thou didst swear 'for now and for ever, for here and hereafter, in whatever shape thou goest on the earth, by whatever name thou art known among men .' Oh, be not wroth, my lord, but hearken. What matters the shape in which thou seest me? At the least am I not fair? And what is beauty but a casket that hides the gem within? 'Tis my love which thou hast won, my love that is immortal, and not the flesh that perishes. For I have loved thee, ay, and thou hast loved me from of old and in other lives than this, and I tell thee that we shall love again and yet again when thou art no more Odysseus of Ithaca, and when I am no more Meriamun, a Queen of Khem, but while we walk in other forms upon the world and are named by other names. I am thy doom, thou Wanderer, and wherever thou dost wander through the fields of Life and Death I shall be at thy side. For I am She of whom thou art, and thou art He of whom I am, and though the Gods have severed us, yet must we float together down the river of our lives till we find that sea of which the Spirit knows. Therefore put me not from thee and raise not my wrath against thee, for if I used my magic to bring thee to my arms, yet they are thy home." And once more she came towards him.

Now the Wanderer drew an arrow from his quiver, and set the notch against his breast and the keen barb towards the breast of Meriamun.

"Draw on," he said. "Thus will I take thee to my arms again. Hearken, Meriamun the witch--Meriamun the harlot: Pharaoh's wife and Queen of Khem. To thee I swore an oath indeed, and perchance because I suffered thy guile to overcome my wisdom, because I swore upon That which circles thee about, and not by the Red Star which gleams upon the Helen's breast, it may be that I shall lose her whom I love. So indeed the Queen of Heaven told me, yonder in sea-girt Ithaca, though to my sorrow I forgot her words. But if I lose her or if I win, know this, that I love her and her only, and I hate thee like the gates of hell. For thou hast tricked me with thy magic, thou hast stolen the shape of Beauty's self and dared to wear it, thou hast drawn a dreadful oath from me, and I have taken thee to wife. And more, thou art the Queen of Khem, thou art Pharaoh's wife, whom I swore to guard; but thou hast brought the last shame upon me, for now I am a man dishonoured, and I have sinned against the hospitable hearth, and the God of guests and hosts. And therefore I will do this. I will call together the guard of which I am chief, and tell them all thy shame, ay, and all my sorrow. I will shout it in the streets, I will publish it from the temple tops, and when Pharaoh comes again I will call it into his ear, till he and all who live in Khem know thee for what thou art, and see thee in thy naked shame."

She hearkened, and her face grew terrible to see. A moment she stood as though in thought, one hand pressed to her brow and one upon her breast. Then she spoke.

"Is that thy last word, Wanderer?"

"It is my last word, Queen," he answered, and turned to go.

Then with the hand that rested on her breast she rent her night robes and tore her perfumed hair. Past him she rushed towards the door, and as she ran sent scream on scream echoing up the painted walls.

The curtains shook, the doors were burst asunder, and through them poured guards, eunuchs, and waiting-women.

"Help," she cried, pointing to the Wanderer. "Help, help! oh, save mine honour from this evil man, this foreign thief whom Pharaoh set to guard me, and who guards me thus. This coward who dares to creep upon me--the Queen of Khem--even as I slept in Pharaoh's bed!" and she cast herself upon the floor and threw her hair about her, and lay there groaning and weeping as though in the last agony of shame.

Now when the guards saw how the thing was, a great cry of rage and shame went up from them, and they rushed upon the Wanderer like wolves upon a stag at bay. But he leapt backwards to the side of the bed, and even as he leapt he set the arrow in his hand upon the string of the great black bow. Then he drew it to his ear. The bow-string sang, the arrow rushed forth, and he who stood before it got his death. Again the bow-string sang, again the arrow rushed, and lo! another man was sped. A third time he drew the bow and the soul of a third went down the ways of hell. Now they rolled back from him as the waters roll from a rock, for none dares face the shafts of death. They shot at him with spears and arrows from behind the shelter of the pillars, but none of these might harm him, for some fell from his mail and some he caught upon his buckler.

Now among those who had run thither at the sound of the cries of Meriamun was that same Kurri, the miserable captain of the Sidonians, whose life the Wanderer had spared, and whom he had given to the Queen to be her jeweller. And when Kurri saw the Wanderer's plight, he thought in his greedy heart of those treasures that he had lost, and of how he who had been a captain and a rich merchant of Sidon was now nothing but a slave.

Then a great desire came upon him to work the Wanderer ill, if so he might. Now all round the edge of the chamber were shadows, for the light was yet faint, and Kurri crept into the shadows, carrying a long spear in his hand, and that spear was hafted into the bronze point which had stood in the Wanderer's helm. Little did the Wanderer glance his way, for he watched the lances and arrows that flew towards him from the portal, so the end of it was that the Sidonian passed round the chamber unseen and climbed into the golden bed of Pharaoh on the further side of the bed. Now the Wanderer stood with his back to the bed and a spear's length from it, and in the silken hangings were fixed spears and arrows. Kurri's first thought was to stab him in the back, but this he did not; first, because he feared lest he should fail to pierce the golden harness and the Wanderer should turn and slay him; and again because he hoped that the Wanderer would be put to death by torment, and he was fain to have a hand in it, for after the fashion of the Sidonians he was skilled in the tormenting of men. Therefore he waited till presently the Wanderer let fall his buckler and drew the bow. But ere the arrow reached his ear Kurri had stretched out his spear from between the hangings and touched the string with the keen bronze, so that it burst asunder and the grey shaft fell upon the marble floor. Then, as the Wanderer cast down the bow and turned with a cry to spring on him who had cut the cord, for his eye had caught the sheen of the outstretched spear, Kurri lifted the covering of the purple web which lay upon the bed and deftly cast it over the hero's head so that he was inmeshed. Thereon the soldiers and the eunuchs took heart, seeing what had been done, and ere ever the Wanderer could clear himself from the covering and draw his sword, they rushed upon him. Cumbered as he was, they might not easily overcome him, but in the end they bore him down and held him fast, so that he could not stir so much as a finger. Then one cried aloud to Meriamun:

"The Lion is trapped, O Queen! Say, shall we slay him?"

But Meriamun, who had watched the fray through cover of her hands, shuddered and made answer:

"Nay, but lock his tongue with a gag, strip his armour from him, and bind him with fetters of bronze, and make him fast to the dungeon walls with great chains of bronze. There shall he bide till Pharaoh come again; for against Pharaoh's honour he hath sinned and shamefully broken that oath he swore to him, and therefore shall Pharaoh make him die in such fashion as seems good to him."

Now when Kurri heard these words, and saw the Wanderer's sorry plight, he bent over him and said:

"It was I, Kurri the Sidonian, who cut the cord of thy great bow, Eperitus; with the spear-point that thou gavest back to me I cut it, I, whose folk thou didst slay and madest me a slave. And I will crave this boon of Pharaoh, that mine shall be the hand to torment thee night and day till at last thou diest, cursing the day that thou wast born."

The Wanderer looked upon him and answered: "There thou liest, thou Sidonian dog, for this is written in thy face, that thou thyself shalt die within an hour and that strangely."

Then Kurri shrank back scowling. But no more words might Odysseus speak, for at once they forced his jaws apart and gagged him with a gag of iron; and thereafter, stripping his harness from him, they bound him with fetters as the Queen had commanded.

Now while they dealt thus with the Wanderer, Meriamun passed into another chamber and swiftly threw robes upon her to hide her disarray, clasping them round her with the golden girdle which now she must always wear. But her long hair she left unbound, nor did she wash the stain of tears from her face, for she was minded to seem shamed and woe-begone in the eyes of all men till Pharaoh came again.

 

Rei and the Golden Helen passed through the streets of the city till they came to the Palace gates. And here they must wait till the dawn, for Rei, thinking to come thither with the Wanderer, who was Captain of the Guard, had not learned the word of entry.

"Easy would it be for me to win my way through those great gates," said the Helen to Rei at her side, "but it is my counsel that we wait awhile. Perchance he whom we seek will come forth."

So they entered the porch of the Temple of Osiris that looked towards the gates, and there they waited till the dawn gathered in the eastern sky. The Helen spoke no word, but Rei, watching her, knew that she was troubled at heart, though he might not see her face because of the veil she wore; for from time to time she sighed and the Red Star rose and fell upon her breast.

At length the first arrow of the dawn fell upon the temple porch and she spoke.

"Now let us enter," she said; "my heart forebodes evil indeed; but much of evil I have known, and where the Gods drive me there I must go."

They came to the gates, and the man who watched them opened to the priest Rei and the veiled woman who went with him, though he marvelled at the beauty of the woman's shape.

"Where are thy fellow-guards?" Rei asked of the soldier.

"I know not," he answered, "but anon a great tumult rose in the Palace, and the Captain of the Gate went thither, leaving me only to guard the gate."

"Hast thou seen the Lord Eperitus?" Rei asked again.

"Nay, I have not seen him since supper-time last night, nor has he visited the guard as is his wont."

Rei passed on wondering, and with him went Helen. As they trod the Palace they saw folk flying towards the hall of banquets that is near the Queen's chambers. Some bore arms in their hands and some bore none, but all fled east towards the hall of banquets, whence came a sound of shouting. Now they drew near the hall, and there at the further end, where the doors are that lead to the Queen's chambers, a great crowd was gathered.

"Hide thee, lady--hide thee," said Rei to her who went with him, "for methinks that death is afoot here. See, here hangs a curtain, stand thou behind it while I learn what this tumult means."

She stepped behind the curtain that hung between the pillars as Rei bade her, for now Helen's gentle breast was full of fears, and she was as one dazed. Even as she stepped one came flying down the hall who was of the servants of Rei the Priest.

"Stay thou," Rei cried to him, "and tell me what happens yonder."

"Ill deeds, Lord," said the servant. "Eperitus the Wanderer, whom Pharaoh made Captain of his Guard when he went forth to slay the rebel Apura--Eperitus hath laid hands on the Queen whom he was set to guard. But she fled from him, and her cries awoke the guard, and they fell upon him in Pharaoh's very chamber. Some he slew with shafts from the great black bow, but Kurri the Sidonian cut the string of the bow, and the Wanderer was borne down by many men. Now they have bound him and drag him to the dungeons, there to await judgment from the lips of Pharaoh. See, they bring him. I must begone on my errand to the keeper of the dungeons."

The Golden Helen heard the shameful tale, and such sorrow took her that had she been mortal she had surely died. This then was the man whom she had chosen to love, this was he whom last night she should have wed. Once more the Gods had made a mock of her. So had it ever been, so should it ever be. Loveless she had lived all her life days, now she had learned to love once and for ever--and this was the fruit of it! She clasped the curtain lest she should sink to the earth, and hearing a sound looked forth. A multitude of men came down the hall. Before them walked ten soldiers bearing a litter on their shoulders. In the litter lay a man gagged and fettered with fetters of bronze so that he might not stir, and they bore him as men bear a stag from the chase or a wild bull to the sacrifice. It was the Wanderer's self, the Wanderer overcome at last, and he seemed so mighty even in his bonds, and his eyes shone with so fierce a light, that the crowd shrank from him as though in fear. Thus did Helen see her Love and Lord again as they bore him dishonoured to his dungeon cell. She saw, and a moan and a cry burst from her heart. A moan for her own woe and a cry for the shame and faithlessness of him whom she must love.

"Oh, how fallen art thou, Odysseus, who wast of men the very first," she cried.

He heard it and knew the voice of her who cried, and he gazed around. The great veins swelled upon his neck and forehead, and he struggled so fiercely that he fell from the litter to the ground. But he might not rise because of the fetters, nor speak because of the gag, so they lifted him again and bore him thence.

And after him went all the multitude save Rei alone. For Rei was fallen in shame and grief because of the tale that he had heard and of the deed of darkness that the man he loved had done. For not yet did he remember and learn to doubt. So he stood hiding his eyes in his hand, and as he stood Helen came forth and touched him on the shoulder, saying:

"Lead me hence, old man. Lead me back to my temple. My Love is lost indeed, but there where I found it I will abide till the Gods make their will clear to me."

He bowed, saying no word, and following Helen stepped into the centre of the hall. There he stopped, indeed, for down it came the Queen, her hair streaming, all her robes disordered, and her face stained with tears. She was alone save for Kurri the Sidonian, who followed her, and she walked wildly as one distraught who knows not where she goes nor why. Helen saw her also.

"Who is this royal lady that draws near?" she asked of Rei.

"It is Meriamun the Queen; she whom the Wanderer hath brought to shame."

"Stay then, I would speak with her."

"Nay, nay," cried Rei. "She loves thee not, Lady, and will slay thee."

"That cannot be," Helen answered.

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