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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter VIII - "TILL ODYSSEUS COMES!"
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The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter VIII - 'TILL ODYSSEUS COMES!' Post by :pravin Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :July 2011 Read :2948

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The World's Desire - BOOK III : Chapter VIII - "TILL ODYSSEUS COMES!"


The Wanderer laughed like a God, though he deemed that the end was near, and the foes within the camp and the friends without looked on him and wondered.

"Slay him!" cried the foes within, speaking in many tongues. "Slay him!" they cried, and yet they feared the task, but circled round like hounds about a mighty boar at bay.

"Spare him!" shouted the host of the Achaeans, watching the fray from far, as they stood behind their inner wall, for as yet they had not mingled in the battle but stayed by their ships to guard them.

"Rescue!" cried the Captains of Pharaoh without, but none came on to force the way.

Then of a sudden, as Fate hung upon the turn, a great cry of fear and wonder rose from the ranks of Pharaoh's host beyond the wall. It swelled and swelled till at length the cry took the sound of a name--the sound of the name of Hathor .

"The Hathor! the Hathor! See, the Hathor comes!"

The Wanderer turned his head and looked swiftly. A golden chariot sped down the slope of sand towards the gate of the camp. The milk-white horses were stained with sweat and splashed with blood. They thundered on towards the gate down the way that was red with blood, as the horses of the dawn rush through the blood-red sky. A little man, withered and old, drove the chariot, leaning forward as he drove, and by his side stood the Golden Helen. The Red Star blazed upon her breast, her hair and filmy robes floated on the wind.

She looked up and forth. Now she saw him, Odysseus of Ithaca, her love, alone, beset with foes, and a cry broke from her. She tore away the veil that hid her face, and her beauty flashed out upon the sight of men as the moon flashes from the evening mists. She pointed to the gate, she stretched out her arms towards the host of Pharaoh, bidding them look upon her and follow her. Then a shout went up from the host, and they rushed onwards in the path of the chariot, for where the Helen leads there men must follow through Life to Death through War to Peace.

On the chariot rushed to the camp, and after it the host of Pharaoh followed. The holders of the gate saw the beauty of her who rode in the chariot; they cried aloud in many tongues that the Goddess of Love had come to save the God of War. They fled this way and that, or stood drunken with the sight of beauty, and were dashed down by the horses and crushed of the chariot wheels. Now she had passed the gates, and after her poured the host of Pharaoh. Now Rei reined up the horses by the broken chariot of the Wanderer, and now the Wanderer, with a shout of joy, had sprung into the chariot of Helen.

"And art thou come to be with me in my last battle?" he whispered in her ear. "Art thou indeed that Argive Helen whom I love, or am I drunk with the blood of men and blind with the sheen of spears, and is this the vision of a man doomed to die?"

"It is no vision, Odysseus, for I am Helen's self," she answered gently. "I have learned all the truth, and knowing thy fault, count it but a little thing. Yet because thou didst forget the words of the immortal Goddess, who, being my foe now and for ever, set this cunning snare for thee, the doom is on thee, that Helen shall not be thine in this space of life. For thou fightest in thy last battle, Odysseus. On! see thy hosts clamour to be led, and there the foe hangs black as storm and shoots out the lightning of his spears. On, Odysseus, on! that the doom may be accomplished, and the word of the Ghost fulfilled!"

Then the Wanderer turned and called to the Captains, and the Captains called to the soldiers and set them in array, and following the blood-red Star they rolled down upon the gathered foe as the tide rolls upon the rocks when the breath of the gale is strong; and as the waters leap and gather till the rocks are lost in the surge, so the host of Pharaoh leapt upon the foe and swallowed them up. And ever in the forefront of the war blazed the Red Star on Helen's breast, and ever the sound of her singing pierced the din of death.

Now the host of the Nine-bow barbarians was utterly destroyed, and the host of Pharaoh came up against the wall that was set about the camp of the Achaeans to guard their ships, and at its head came the golden chariot wherein were the Wanderer and Helen. The Captains of the Achaeans looked wondering from their wall, watching the slaughter of their allies.

"Now, who is this?" cried a Captain, "who is this clad in golden armour fashioned like our own, who leads the host of Pharaoh to victory?"

Then a certain aged leader of men looked forth and answered:

"Such armour I have known indeed, and such a man once wore it. The armour is fashioned like the armour of Paris, Priam's son--Paris of Ilios; but Paris hath long been dead."

"And who is she," cried the Captain, "she on whose breast a Red Star burns, who rides in the chariot of him with the golden armour, whose shape is the shape of Beauty, and who sings aloud while men go down to death?"

Then the aged leader of men looked forth again and answered:

"Such a one have I known, indeed; so she was wont to sing, and hers was such a shape of beauty, and such a Star shone ever on her breast. Helen of Ilios--Argive Helen it was who wore it--Helen, because of whose loveliness the world grew dark with death; but long is Helen dead."

Now the Wanderer glanced from his chariot and saw the crests of the Achaeans and the devices on the shields of men with whose fathers he had fought beneath the walls of Ilios. He saw and his heart was stirred within him, so that he wept there in the chariot.

"Alas! for the fate that is on me," he cried, "that I must make my last battle in the service of a stranger against my own people and the children of my own dear friends."

"Weep not, Odysseus," said Helen, "for Fate drives thee on--Fate that is cruel and changeless, and heeds not the loves or hates of men. Weep not, Odysseys, but go on up against the Achaeans, for from among them thy death comes."

So the Wanderer went on, sick at heart, shooting no shafts and striking no blow, and after him came the remnant of the host of Pharaoh. Then he halted the host, and at his bidding Rei drove slowly down the wall seeking a place to storm it, and as he drove they shot at the chariot from the wall with spears and slings and arrows. But not yet was the Wanderer doomed. He took no hurt, nor did any hurt come to Rei nor to the horses that drew the chariot, and as for Helen, the shafts of Death knew her and turned aside. Now while they drove thus Rei told the Wanderer of the death of Pharaoh, of the burning of the Temple of Hathor, and of the flight of Helen. The Wanderer hearkened and said but one thing, for in all this he saw the hand of Fate.

"It is time to make an end, Rei, for soon will Meriamun be seeking us, and methinks that I have left a trail that she can follow," and he nodded at the piled-up dead that stretched further than the eye could reach.

Now they were come over against that spot in the wall where stood the aged Captain of the Achaeans, who had likened the armour of the Wanderer to the armour of Paris, and the beauty of her at his side to the beauty of Argive Helen.

The Captain loosed his bow at the chariot, and leaning forward watched the flight of the shaft. It rushed straight at Helen's breast, then of a sudden turned aside, harming her not. And as he marvelled she lifted her face and looked towards him. Then he saw and knew her for that Helen whom he had seen while he served with Cretan Idomeneus in the Argive ships, when the leaguer was done and the smoke went up from burning Ilios.

Again he looked, and lo! on the Wanderer's golden shield he saw the White Bull, the device of Paris, son of Priam, as ofttimes he had seen it glitter on the walls of Troy. Then great fear took him, and he lifted up his hands and cried aloud:

"Fly, ye Achaeans! Fly! Back to your curved ships and away from this accursed land. For yonder in the chariot stands Argive Helen, who is long dead, and with her Paris, son of Priam, come to wreak the woes of Ilios on the sons of those who wasted her. Fly, ere the curse smite you."

Then a great cry of fear rose from the host of the Achaeans, as company called to company that the ghosts of Paris of Ilios and Argive Helen led the armies of Pharaoh on to victory. A moment they gazed as frightened sheep gaze upon the creeping wolves, then turning from the wall, they rushed headlong to their ships.

Behind them came the soldiers of Pharaoh, storming the walls and tearing at their flanks as wolves tear the flying sheep. Then the Achaeans turned at bay, and a mighty fray raged round the ships, and the knees of many were loosened. And of the ships, some were burned and some were left upon the bank. But a remnant of them were pushed off into the deep water, and hung there on their oars waiting for the end of the fray.

Now the sun was gone down, so that men could scarce see to slay each other. The Wanderer stood his chariot on the bank, watching the battle, for he was weary, and had little mind to swell the slaughter of the people of his own land.

Now the last ship was pushed off, and at length the great battle was done. But among those on the ship was a man still young, and the goodliest and mightiest among all the host of the Achaeans. By his own strength and valour he had held the Egyptians back while his comrades ran the curved ship down the beach, and the Wanderer, looking on him, deemed him their hardiest warrior and most worthy of the Achaeans.

He stood upon the poop of the ship, and saw the light from the burning vessels gleam on the Wanderer's golden helm. Then of a sudden he drew a mighty bow and loosed an arrow charged with death.

"This gift to the Ghost of Paris from Telegonus, son of Circe and of Odysseus, who was Paris' foe," he cried with a loud voice.

And as he cried it, and as the fateful words struck on the ears of Odysseus and the ears of Helen, the shaft, pointed by the Gods, rushed on. It rushed on, it smote the Wanderer with a deadly wound where the golden body-plate of his harness joined the taslets, and pierced him through. Then he knew that his fate was accomplished, and that death came upon him from the water, as the ghost of Tiresias in Hades had foretold. In his pain, for the last time of all, he let fall his shield and the black bow of Eurytus. With one hand he clasped the rail of the chariot and the other he threw about the neck of the Golden Helen, who bent beneath his weight like a lily before the storm. Then he also cried aloud in answer:

"Oh, Telegonus, son of Circe, what wickedness hast thou wrought before the awful Gods that this curse should have been laid upon thee to slay him who begat thee? Hearken, thou son of Circe, I am not Paris, I am Odysseus of Ithaca, who begat thee, and thou hast brought my death upon me from the water, as the Ghost foretold."

When Telegonus heard these words, and knew that he had slain his father, the famed Odysseus, whom he had sought the whole world through, he would have cast himself into the river, there to drown, but those with him held him by strength, and the stream took the curved ship and floated it away. And thus for the first and last time did the Gods give it to Telegonus to look upon the face and hear the voice of his father, Odysseus.

But when the Achaeans knew that it was the lost Odysseus who had led the host of Pharaoh against the armies of the Nine Nations, they wondered no more at the skill of the ambush and the greatness of the victory of Pharaoh.


Now the chariots of Meriamun were pursuing, and they splashed through the blood of men in the pass, and rolled over the bodies of men in the plain beyond the pass. They came to the camps and found them peopled with dead, and lit with the lamps of the blazing ships of the Aquaiusha. Then Meriamun cried aloud:

"Surely Pharaoh grew wise before he died, for there is but one man on the earth who with so small a force could have won so great a fray. He hath saved the crown of Khem, and by Osiris he shall wear it."

Now the chariots of Meriamun had passed the camp of the barbarians, and were come to the inner camp of the Achaeans, and the soldiers shouted as she came driving furiously.

The Wanderer lay dying on the ground, there by the river-bank, and the light of the burning ships flamed on his golden armour, and on the Star at Helen's breast.

"Why do the soldiers shout?" he asked, lifting his head from Helen's breast.

"They shout because Meriamun the Queen is come," Rei answered.

"Let her come," said the Wanderer.

Now Meriamun sprang from her chariot and walked, through the soldiers who made way, bowing before her royalty, to where the Wanderer lay, and stood speechless looking on him.

But the Wanderer lifting his head spake faintly:

"Hail! O Queen!" he said, "I have accomplished the charge that Pharaoh laid upon me. The host of the Nine-bow barbarians is utterly destroyed, the fleet of the Aquaiusha is burned, or fled, the land of Khem is free from foes. Where is Pharaoh, that I may make report to him ere I die?"

"Pharaoh is dead, Odysseus," she answered. "Oh, live on! live on! and thyself thou shalt be Pharaoh."

"Ay, Meriamun the Queen," answered the Wanderer, "I know all. The Pharaoh is dead! Thou didst slay Pharaoh, thinking thus to win me for thy Lord, me, who am won of Death. Heavily shall the blood of Pharaoh lie upon thee in that land whither I go, Meriamun, and whither thou must follow swiftly. Thou didst slay Pharaoh, and Helen, who through thy guile is lost to me, thou wouldst have slain also, but thou couldst not harm her immortality. And now I die, and this is the end of all these Loves and Wars and Wanderings. My death has come upon me from the water."

Meriamun stood speechless, for her heart was torn in two, so that in her grief she forgot even her rage against Helen and Rei the Priest.

Then Helen spoke. "Thou diest indeed, Odysseus, yet it is but for a little time, for thou shalt come again and find me waiting."

"Ay, Odysseus," said the Queen, "and I also will come again, and thou shalt love me then. Oh, now the future opens, and I know the things that are to be. Beneath the Wings of Truth shall we meet again, Odysseus."

"There shall we meet again, Odysseus, and there thou shalt draw the Veil of Truth," said the Helen.

"Yea," quoth the dying Wanderer; "there or otherwhere shall we meet again, and there and otherwhere love and hate shall lose and win, and die to arise again. But not yet is the struggle ended that began in other worlds than this, and shall endure till evil is lost in good, and darkness swallowed up in light. Bethink thee, Meriamun, of that vision of thy bridal night, and read its riddle. Lo! I will answer it with my last breath as the Gods have given me wisdom. When we three are once more twain, then shall our sin be purged and peace be won, and the veil be drawn from the face of Truth. Oh, Helen, fare thee well! I have sinned against thee, I have sworn by the Snake who should have sworn by the Star, and therefore I have lost thee."

"Thou hast but lost to find again beyond the Gateways of the West," she answered low.

Then she bent down, and taking him in her arms, kissed him, whispering in his ear, and the blood of men that fell ever from the Star upon her breast, dropped like dew upon his brow, and vanished as it dropped.

And as she whispered of joy to be, and things too holy to be written, the face of the Wanderer grew bright, like the face of a God.

Then suddenly his head fell back, and he was dead, dead upon the heart of the World's Desire. For thus was fulfilled the oath of Idalian Aphrodite, and thus at the last did Odysseus lie in the arms of the Golden Helen.


Now Meriamun clasped her breast, and her lips turned white with pain. But Helen rose, and standing at the Wanderer's head looked on Meriamun, who stood at his feet.

"My sister," said Helen to the Queen; "see now the end of all. He whom we loved is lost to us, and what hast thou gained? Nay, look not so fiercely on me. I may not be harmed of thee, as thou hast seen, and thou mayest not be harmed of me, who would harm none, though ever thou wilt hate me who hate thee not, and till thou learnest to love me, Sin shall be thy portion and Bitterness thy comfort."

But Meriamun spoke no word.

Then Helen beckoned to Rei and spake to him, and Rei went weeping to do her bidding.

Presently he returned again, and with him were soldiers bearing torches. The soldiers lifted up the body of the Wanderer, and bore it to a mighty pyre that was built up of the wealth of the barbarians, of chariots, spears, and the oars of ships, of wondrous fabrics, and costly furniture. And they laid the Wanderer on the pyre, and on his breast they laid the black bow of Eurytus.

Then Helen spoke to Rei once more, and Rei took a torch and fired the pyre so that smoke and flame burst from it. And all the while Meriamun stood by as one who dreams.

Now the great pyre was a mass of flame, and the golden armour of the Wanderer shone through the flame, and the black bow twisted and crumbled in the heat. Then of a sudden Meriamun gave a great cry, and tearing the snake girdle from her middle hurled it on the flames.

"From fire thou camest, thou Ancient Evil," she said in a dead tongue; "to fire get thee back again, false counsellor."

But Rei the Priest called aloud in the same tongue:

"An ill deed thou hast done, O Queen, for thou hast taken the Snake to thy bosom, and where the Snake passes there thou must follow."

Even as he spoke the face of Meriamun grew fixed, and she was drawn slowly towards the fire, as though by invisible hands. Now she stood on its very brink, and now with one loud wail she plunged into it and cast herself at length on the body of the Wanderer.

And as she lay there on the body, behold the Snake awoke in the fire. It awoke, it grew, it twined itself about the body of Meriamun and the body of the Wanderer, and lifting its head, it laughed.

Then the fire fell in, and the Wanderer and Meriamun the Queen, and the Snake that wrapped them round, vanished in the heart of the flames.

For awhile the Golden Helen stood still, looking on the dying fire. Then she let her veil fall, and turning, wandered forth into the desert and the night, singing as she passed.

And so she goes, wandering, wandering, till Odysseus comes again.


Now this is the tale that I, Rei the Priest, have been bidden to set forth before I lay me down to sleep in my splendid tomb that I have made ready by Thebes. Let every man read it as he will, and every woman as the Gods have given her wit.



Thou that of old didst blind Stesichorus, If e'er, sweet Helen, such a thing befell, We pray thee of thy grace, be good to us, Though little in our tale accordeth well With that thine ancient minstrel had to tell, Who saw, with sightless eyes grown luminous, These Ilian sorrows, and who heard the swell Of ocean round the world ring thunderous, And thy voice break when knightly Hector fell!

And thou who all these many years hast borne To see the great webs of the weaving torn By puny hands of dull, o'er-learned men, Homer, forgive us that thy hero's star Once more above sea waves and waves of war, Must rise, must triumph, and must set again!

Fiction book: The World's Desire, by H. Rider Haggard

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