Uarda : a Romance of Ancient Egypt — Volume 09

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UARDA

Volume 9.

By Georg Ebers

CHAPTER XXXVII.

Once or twice Pentaur and his companions had had to defend themselves
against hostile mountaineers, who rushed suddenly upon them out of the
woods. When they were about two days’ journey still from the end of
their march, they had a bloody skirmish with a roving band of men that
seemed to belong to a larger detachment of troops.

The nearer they got to Kadesh, the more familiar Kaschta showed himself
with every stock and stone, and he went forward to obtain information; he
returned somewhat anxious, for he had perceived the main body of the
Cheta army on the road which they must cross. How came the enemy here in
the rear of the Egyptian army? Could Rameses have sustained a defeat?

Only the day before they had met some Egyptian soldiers, who had told
them that the king was staying in the camp, and a great battle was
impending. This however could not have by this time been decided, and
they had met no flying Egyptians.

“If we can only get two miles farther without having to fight,” said
Uarda’s father. “I know what to do. Down below, there is a ravine, and
from it a path leads over hill and vale to the plain of Kadesh. No one
ever knew it but the Mohar and his most confidential servants. About
half-way there is a hidden cave, in which we have often stayed the whole
day long. The Cheta used to believe that the Mohar possessed magic
powers, and could make himself invisible, for when they lay in wait for
us on the way we used suddenly to vanish; but certainly not into the
clouds, only into the cave, which the Mohar used to call his Tuat. If
you are not afraid of a climb, and will lead your horse behind you for a
mile or two, I can show you the way, and to-morrow evening we will be at
the camp.”

Pentaur let his guide lead the way; they came, without having occasion to
fight, as far as the gorge between the hills, through which a full and
foaming mountain torrent rushed to the valley. Kaschta dropped from his
horse, and the others did the same. After the horses had passed through
the water, he carefully effaced their tracks as far as the road, then for
about half a mile he ascended the valley against the stream. At last he
stopped in front of a thick oleander-bush, looked carefully about, and
lightly pushed it aside; when he had found an entrance, his companions
and their weary scrambling beasts followed him without difficulty, and
they presently found themselves in a grove of lofty cedars. Now they had
to squeeze themselves between masses of rock, now they labored up and
down over smooth pebbles, which offered scarcely any footing to the
horses’ hoofs; now they had to push their way through thick brushwood,
and now to cross little brooks swelled by the winter-rains.

The road became more difficult at every step, then it began to grow dark,
and heavy drops of rain fell from the clouded sky.

“Make haste, and keep close to me,” cried Kaschta. “Half an hour more,
and we shall be under shelter, if I do not lose my way.”

Then a horse broke down, and with great difficulty was got up again; the
rain fell with increased violence, the night grew darker, and the soldier
often found himself brought to a stand-still, feeling for the path with
his hands; twice he thought he had lost it, but he would not give in till
he had recovered the track. At last he stood still, and called Pentaur
to come to him.

“Hereabouts,” said he, “the cave must be; keep close to me—it is
possible that we may come upon some of the pioneer’s people. Provisions
and fuel were always kept here in his father’s time. Can you see me?
Hold on to my girdle, and bend your head low till I tell you you may
stand upright again. Keep your axe ready, we may find some of the Cheta
or bandits roosting there. You people must wait, we will soon call you
to come under shelter.”

Pentaur closely followed his guide, pushing his way through the dripping
brushwood, crawling through a low passage in the rock, and at last
emerging on a small rocky plateau.

“Take care where you are going!” cried Kaschta. “Keep to the left, to
the right there is a deep abyss. I smell smoke! Keep your hand on your
axe, there must be some one in the cave. Wait! I will fetch the men as
far as this.”

The soldier went back, and Pentaur listened for any sounds that might
come from the same direction as the smoke. He fancied he could perceive
a small gleam of light, and he certainly heard quite plainly, first a
tone of complaint, then an angry voice; he went towards the light,
feeling his way by the wall on his left; the light shone broader and
brighter, and seemed to issue from a crack in a door.

By this time the soldier had rejoined Pentaur, and both listened for a
few minutes; then the poet whispered to his guide:

“They are speaking Egyptian, I caught a few words.”

“All the better,” said Kaschta. “Paaker or some of his people are in
there; the door is there still, and shut. If we give four hard and
three gentle knocks, it will be opened. Can you understand what they are
saying?”

“Some one is begging to be set free,” replied Pentaur, “and speaks of
some traitor. The other has a rough voice, and says he must follow his
master’s orders. Now the one who spoke before is crying; do you hear?
He is entreating him by the soul of his father to take his fetters off.
How despairing his voice is! Knock, Kaschta—it strikes me we are come
at the right moment—knock, I say.”

The soldier knocked first four times, then three times. A shriek rang
through the cave, and they could hear a heavy, rusty bolt drawn back, the
roughly hewn door was opened, and a hoarse voice asked:

“Is that Paaker?”

“No,” answered the soldier, “I am Kaschta. Do not you know me again,

Nubi?”

The man thus addressed, who was Paaker’s Ethiopian slave, drew back in
surprise.

“Are you still alive?” he exclaimed. “What brings you here?”

“My lord here will tell you,” answered Kaschta as he made way for Pentaur
to enter the cave. The poet went up to the black man, and the light of
the fire which burned in the cave fell full on his face.

The old slave stared at him, and drew back in astonishment and terror.
He threw himself on the earth, howled like a dog that fawns at the feet
of his angry master, and cried out:

“He ordered it—Spirit of my master! he ordered it.” Pentaur stood
still, astounded and incapable of speech, till he perceived a young man,
who crept up to him on his hands and feet, which were bound with thongs,
and who cried to him in a tone, in which terror was mingled with a
tenderness which touched Pentaur’s very soul.

“Save me—Spirit of the Mohar! save me, father!” Then the poet spoke.

“I am no spirit of the dead,” said he. “I am the priest Pentaur; and I

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