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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter IV - PHARAOH'S DREAM
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The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter IV - PHARAOH'S DREAM Post by :momsapplepie Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :July 2011 Read :3384

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The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter IV - PHARAOH'S DREAM

BOOK III : CHAPTER IV - PHARAOH'S DREAM

Pharaoh slept heavily in his place, for he was wearied with grief and toil. But Meriamun passed into the chamber, and standing at the foot of the golden bed, lifted up her hands and by her art called visions down on Pharaoh, false dreams through the Ivory Gate. So Pharaoh dreamed, and thus his vision went:--

He dreamed that he slept in his bed, and that the statue of Ptah, the Creator, descended from the pedestal by the temple gate and came to him, towering over him like a giant. Then he dreamed that he awoke, and prostrating himself before the God, asked the meaning of his coming. Thereon the God spoke to him:--

"Meneptah, my son, whom I love, hearken unto me. The Nine-bow barbarians overrun the ancient land of Khem; nine nations march up against Khem and lay it waste. Hearken unto me, my son, and I will give thee victory. Awake, awake from sloth, and I will give thee victory. Thou shalt hew down the Nine-bow barbarians as a countryman hews a rotting palm; they shall fall, and thou shalt spoil them. But hearken unto me, my son, thou shalt not thyself go up against them. Low in thy dungeon there lies a mighty chief, skilled in the warfare of the barbarians, a Wanderer who hath wandered far. Thou shalt release him from his bonds and set him over thy armies, and of the sin that he has sinned thou shalt take no heed. Awake, awake, Meneptah; with this bow which I give thee shalt thou smite the Nine-bow barbarians."

Then Meriamun laid the bow of the Wanderer, even the black bow of Eurytus, on the bed beside Pharaoh, and passed thence to her own chamber, and the deceitful dream too passed away.

 

Early in the morning, a waiting-woman came to the Queen saying that Pharaoh would speak with her. She went into the ante-chamber and found him there, and in his hand was the black bow of Eurytus.

"Dost thou know this weapon?" he asked.

"Yea, I know it," she answered; "and thou shouldst know it also, for surely it saved us from the fury of the people on the night of the death of the first-born. It is the bow of the Wanderer, who lies in the place of torment, and waits his doom because of the wrong he would have wrought upon me."

"If he hath wronged thee, yet it is he who shall save Khem from the barbarians," said Pharaoh. "Listen now to the dream that I have dreamed," and he told her all the vision.

"It is indeed evil that he who would have wrought such wickedness upon me should go forth honoured, the first of the host of Pharaoh," quoth Meriamun. "Yet as the God hath spoken, so let it be. Send now and bid them loose the man from the place of torment, and put his armour on him and bring him before thee."

So Pharaoh went out, and the Wanderer was loosed from his bed of stone and clothed again in his golden harness, and came forth glorious to see, and stood before Pharaoh. But no arms were given him. Then Pharaoh told him all his dream, and why he caused him to be released from the grip of the tormentors. The Wanderer hearkened in silence, saying no word.

"Now choose, thou Wanderer," said Pharaoh: "choose if thou wilt be borne back to the bed of torment, there to die beneath the hands of the tormentors, or if thou wilt go forth as the captain of my host to do battle with the Nine-bow barbarians who waste the land of Khem. It seems there is little faith in thine oaths, therefore I ask no more oaths from thee. But this I swear, that if thou art false to my trust, I will yet find means to bring thee back to that chamber whence thou wast led but now."

Then the Wanderer spoke:--

"Of that charge, Pharaoh, which is laid against me I will say nothing, though perchance if I stood upon my trial for the sin that is laid against me, I might find words to say. Thou askest no oath from me, and no oath I swear, yet I tell thee that if thou givest me ten thousand soldiers and a hundred chariots, I will smite these foes of thine so that they shall come no more to Khem, ay, though they be of my own people, yet will I smite them, and if I fail, then may those who go with me slay me and send me down to Hades."

Thus he spoke, and as he spoke he searched the hall with his eyes. For he desired to see Rei the Priest, and charge him with a message to Helen. But he sought him in vain, for Rei had fled, and was in hiding from the anger of Meriamun.

Then Pharaoh bade his officers take the Wanderer, and set him in a chariot and bear him to the city of On, where Pharaoh's host was gathering. Their charge was to watch him night and day with uplifted swords, and if he so much as turned his face from the foe towards Tanis, then they should slay him. But when the host of Pharaoh marched from On to do battle on the foe, then they should give the Wanderer his own sword and the great black bow, and obey him in everything. But if he turned his back upon the foe, then they should slay him; or if the host of Pharaoh were driven back by the foe, then they should slay him.

The Wanderer heard, and smiled as a wolf smiles, but spoke no word. Thereon the great officers of Pharaoh took him and led him forth. They set him in a chariot, and with the chariot went a thousand horsemen; and soon Meriamun, watching from the walls of Tanis, saw the long line of desert dust that marked the passing of the Wanderer from the city which he should see no more.

The Wanderer also looked back on Tanis with a heavy heart. There, far away, he could see the shrine of Hathor gleaming like crystal above the tawny flood of waters. And he must go down to death, leaving no word for Her who sat in the shrine and deemed him faithless and forsworn. Evil was the lot that the Gods had laid upon him, and bitter was his guerdon.

His thoughts were sad enough while the chariot rolled towards the city of On, where the host of Pharaoh was gathering, and the thunder of the feet of horses echoed in his ears, when, as he pondered, it chanced that he looked up. There, on a knoll of sand before him, a bow-shot from the chariot, stood a camel, and on the camel a man sat as though he waited the coming of the host. Idly the Wanderer wondered who this might be, and, as he wondered, the man urged the camel towards the chariot, and, halting before it cried "Hold!" in a loud voice.

"Who art thou?" cried the captain of the chariot, "who darest cry 'hold' to the host of Pharaoh?"

"I am one who have tidings of the barbarians," the man made answer from the camel.

The Wanderer looked on him. He was wondrous little, withered and old; moreover, his skin was black as though with the heat of the sun, and his clothing was as a beggar's rags, though the trappings of the camel were of purple leather and bossed with silver. Again the Wanderer looked; he knew him not, and yet there was that in his face which seemed familiar.

Now the captain of the chariot bade the driver halt the horses, and cried, "Draw near and tell thy tidings."

"To none will I tell my tidings save to him who shall lead the host of Pharaoh. Let him come down from the chariot and speak with me."

"That may not be," said the captain, for he was charged that the Wanderer should have speech with none.

"As thou wilt," answered the aged man upon the camel; "go then, go to thy doom! thou art not the first who hath turned aside a messenger from the Gods."

"I am minded to bid the soldiers shoot thee with arrows," cried the captain in anger.

"So shall my wisdom sink in the sand with my blood, and be lost with my breath. Shoot on, thou fool."

Now the captain was perplexed, for from the aspect of the man he deemed that he was sent by the Gods. He looked at the Wanderer, who took but little heed, or so it seemed. But in his crafty heart he knew that this was the best way to win speech with the man upon the camel. Then the captain took counsel with the captain of the horsemen, and in the end they said to the Wanderer:

"Descend from the chariot, lord, and walk twelve paces forward, and there hold speech with the man. But if thou go one pace further, then we will shoot thee and the man with arrows." And this he cried out also to him who sat upon the camel.

Then the man on the camel descended and walked twelve paces forward, and the Wanderer descended also from the chariot and walked twelve paces forward, but as one who heeds little what he does. Now the two stood face to face, but out of earshot of the host, who watched them with arrows set upon the strings.

"Greetings, Odysseus of Ithaca, son of Laertes," he said who was clothed in the beggar's weeds.

The Wanderer looked upon him hard, and knew him through his disguise.

"Greeting, Rei the Priest, Commander of the Legion of Amen, Chief of the Treasury of Amen."

"Rei the Priest I am indeed," he answered, "the rest I am no more, for Meriamun the Queen has stripped me of my wealth and offices, because of thee, thou Wanderer, and the Immortal whose love thou hast won, and by whom thou hast dealt so ill. Hearken! I learned by arts known to me of the dream of Pharaoh, and of thy sending forth to do battle with the barbarians. Then I disguised myself as thou seest, and took the swiftest camel in Tanis, and am come hither by another way to meet thee. Now I would ask thee one thing. How came it that thou didst play the Immortal false that night? Knowest thou that she waited for thee there by the pylon gate? Ay, there I found her and led her to the Palace, and for that I am stripped of my rank and goods by Meriamun, and now the Lady of Beauty is returned to her shrine, grieving bitterly for thy faithlessness; though how she passed thither I know not."

"Methought I heard her voice as those knaves bore me to my dungeon," said the Wanderer. "And she deemed me faithless! Say, Rei, dost thou know the magic of Meriamun? Dost thou know how she won me to herself in the shape of Argive Helen?"

And then, in as few words as might be, he told Rei how he had been led away by the magic of Meriamun, how he who should have sworn by the Star had sworn by the Snake.

When Rei heard that the Wanderer had sworn by the Snake, he shuddered. "Now I know all," he said. "Fear not, thou Wanderer, not on thee shall all the evil fall, nor on that Immortal whom thou dost love; the Snake that beguiled thee shall avenge thee also."

"Rei," the Wanderer said, "one thing I charge thee. I know that I go down to my death. Therefore I pray thee seek out her whom thou namest the Hathor and tell her all the tale of how I was betrayed. So shall I die happily. Tell her also that I crave her forgiveness and that I love her and her only."

"This I will do if I may," Rei answered. "And now the soldiers murmur and I must be gone. Listen, the might of the Nine-bow barbarians rolls up the eastern branch of Sihor. But one day's march from On the mountains run down to the edge of the river, and those mountains are pierced by a rocky pass through which the foe will surely come. Set thou thy ambush there, Wanderer, there at Prosopis--so shalt thou smite them. Farewell. I will seek out the Hathor if in any way I can come at her, and tell her all. But of this I warn thee, the hour is big with Fate, and soon will spawn a monstrous birth. Strange visions of doom and death passed before mine eyes as I slept last night. Farewell!"

Then he went back to the camel and climbed it, and passing round the army vanished swiftly in a cloud of dust.

The Wanderer also went back to the host, where the captains murmured because of the halt, and mounted his chariot. But he would tell nothing of what the man had said to him, save that he was surely a messenger from the Under-world to instruct him in the waging of the war.

Then the chariot and the horsemen passed on again, till they came to the city of On, and found the host of Pharaoh gathering in the great walled space that is before the Temple of Ra. And there they pitched their camp hard by the great obelisks that stand at the inner gate, which Rei the architect fashioned by Thebes, and the divine Rameses Miamun set up to the glory of Ra for ever.

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