Uarda : a Romance of Ancient Egypt — Volume 03

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UARDA

Volume 3.

By Georg Ebers

CHAPTER IX.

It was noon: the rays of the sun found no way into the narrow shady
streets of the city of Thebes, but they blazed with scorching heat on the
broad dyke-road which led to the king’s castle, and which at this hour
was usually almost deserted.

To-day it was thronged with foot-passengers and chariots, with riders and
litter-bearers.

Here and there negroes poured water on the road out of skins, but the
dust was so deep, that, in spite of this, it shrouded the streets and the
passengers in a dry cloud, which extended not only over the city, but
down to the harbor where the boats of the inhabitants of the Necropolis
landed their freight.

The city of the Pharaohs was in unwonted agitation, for the storm-swift
breath of rumor had spread some news which excited both alarm and hope in
the huts of the poor as well as in the palaces of the great.

In the early morning three mounted messengers had arrived from the king’s
camp with heavy letter-bags, and had dismounted at the Regent’s palace.

[The Egyptians were great letter-writers, and many of their letters
have come down to us, they also had established postmen, and had a
word for them in their language “fai chat.”]

As after a long drought the inhabitants of a village gaze up at the black
thunder-cloud that gathers above their heads promising the refreshing
rain—but that may also send the kindling lightning-flash or the
destroying hail-storm—so the hopes and the fears of the citizens were
centred on the news which came but rarely and at irregular intervals from
the scene of war; for there was scarcely a house in the huge city which
had not sent a father, a son, or a relative to the fighting hosts of the
king in the distant northeast.

And though the couriers from the camp were much oftener the heralds of
tears than of joy; though the written rolls which they brought told more
often of death and wounds than of promotion, royal favors, and conquered
spoil, yet they were expected with soul-felt longing and received with
shouts of joy.

Great and small hurried after their arrival to the Regent’s palace, and
the scribes—who distributed the letters and read the news which was
intended for public communication, and the lists of those who had fallen
or perished—were closely besieged with enquirers.

Man has nothing harder to endure than uncertainty, and generally, when in
suspense, looks forward to bad rather than to good news. And the bearers
of ill ride faster than the messengers of weal.

The Regent Ani resided in a building adjoining the king’s palace. His
business-quarters surrounded an immensely wide court, and consisted of a
great number of rooms opening on to this court, in which numerous scribes
worked with their chief. On the farther side was a large, veranda-like
hall open at the front, with a roof supported by pillars.

Here Ani was accustomed to hold courts of justice, and to receive
officers, messengers, and petitioners. To-day he sat, visible to all
comers, on a costly throne in this hall, surrounded by his numerous
followers, and overlooking the crowd of people whom the guardians of the
peace guided with long staves, admitting them in troops into the court
of the “High Gate,” and then again conducting them out.

What he saw and heard was nothing joyful, for from each group surrounding
a scribe arose a cry of woe. Few and far between were those who had to
tell of the rich booty that had fallen to their friends.

An invisible web woven of wailing and tears seemed to envelope the
assembly.

Here men were lamenting and casting dust upon their heads, there women
were rending their clothes, shrieking loudly, and crying as they waved
their veils “oh, my husband! oh, my father! oh, my brother!”

Parents who had received the news of the death of their son fell on each
other’s neck weeping; old men plucked out their grey hair and beard;
young women beat their forehead and breast, or implored the scribes who
read out the lists to let them see for themselves the name of the beloved
one who was for ever torn from them.

The passionate stirring of a soul, whether it be the result of joy or of
sorrow, among us moderns covers its features with a veil, which it had no
need of among the ancients.

Where the loudest laments sounded, a restless little being might be seen
hurrying from group to group; it was Nemu, Katuti’s dwarf, whom we know.

Now he stood near a woman of the better class, dissolved in tears because
her husband had fallen in the last battle.

“Can you read?” he asked her; “up there on the architrave is the name of
Rameses, with all his titles. Dispenser of life,’ he is called. Aye
indeed; he can create—widows; for he has all the husbands killed.”

Before the astonished woman could reply, he stood by a man sunk in woe,
and pulling his robe, said “Finer fellows than your son have never been
seen in Thebes. Let your youngest starve, or beat him to a cripple, else
he also will be dragged off to Syria; for Rameses needs much good
Egyptian meat for the Syrian vultures.”

The old man, who had hitherto stood there in silent despair, clenched his
fist. The dwarf pointed to the Regent, and said: “If he there wielded
the sceptre, there would be fewer orphans and beggars by the Nile.
To-day its sacred waters are still sweet, but soon it will taste as salt
as the north sea with all the tears that have been shed on its banks.”

It almost seemed as if the Regent had heard these words, for he rose from
his seat and lifted his hands like a man who is lamenting.

Many of the bystanders observed this action; and loud cries of anguish
filled the wide courtyard, which was soon cleared by soldiers to make
room for other troops of people who were thronging in.

While these gathered round the scribes, the Regent Ani sat with quiet
dignity on the throne, surrounded by his suite and his secretaries, and
held audiences.

He was a man at the close of his fortieth year and the favorite cousin of
the king.

Rameses I., the grandfather of the reigning monarch, had deposed the

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