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Queen of the Dawn: A Love Tale of Old Egypt

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Queen of the Dawn: A Love Tale of Old Egypt
Генри Райдер Хаггард

Sir Henry Rider Haggard was an English writer of adventure novels set in exotic locations, predominantly Africa, and the creator of the Lost World literary genre. Queen of the Dawn is about the overthrow of the Hyksos and reinstatement of the rightful pharaonic line.

H. Rider Haggard

Queen of the Dawn: A Love Tale of Old Egypt

© T8RUGRAM, 2018

© Original, 2018

Chapter 1

The Dream of Rima

There was war in Egypt and Egypt was rent in two. At Memphis in the north, at Tanis, and in all the rich lands of the Delta where by many mouths the Nile flows down to the sea, a usurping race held power, that whose forefathers, generations before, had descended upon Egypt like a flood, destroyed its temples and deposed its gods, possessing themselves of the wealth of the land. At Thebes in the south the descendants of the ancient Pharaohs still ruled precariously, again and again attempting to drive out the fierce Semitic or Bedouin kings, named the Shepherds, whose banners flew from the walls of all the northern cities.

They failed because they were too weak, indeed the hour of their final victory was yet far away and of it our tale does not tell.

Nefra the Princess, she who was named the Beautiful and afterwards was known as Uniter of Lands, was the only child of one of these Theban Antefs, Kheperra, born of his Queen, Rima, daughter of Ditanah, the King of Babylon, who had given her to him in marriage to strengthen him in his struggle against the Shepherds, also called the Aati or “Plague-bearers.” Nefra was the first and only child of this marriage, for shortly after she was born Kheperra the King, her father, with all the host that he could gather, went down Nile to fight the Aati who marched to meet him from Tanis and from Memphis. They met in a great battle in which Kheperra was slain and his army defeated, though not before it had slaughtered such numbers of the enemy that, abandoning their advance on Thebes, the generals of the Shepherds returned with the remnant of their troops whence they came. Yet by this victory Apepi, the King of the Shepherds, became in fact Pharaoh of all Egypt. Kheperra was dead, leaving behind him but one infant girl, and so were numbers of the great Theban lords, others of whom hastened to submit to the ruler of the North.

The Shepherd people too, like the Egyptians of the South, were weary of war and would not fight again. Therefore, although they were defeated, no cruelties were inflicted upon the followers of Kheperra, nor was great tribute asked of them; also they were allowed to worship their ancient gods in peace, and this in the northern as well as the southern lands. Indeed, by now, although the god of the Shepherds was Baal, to whom they gave the name of Set because already it was well known upon the Nile, the Shepherd kings re-built the temples of Ra and Amen and Ptah, of Isis and of Hathor, that their forefathers had destroyed when first they invaded Egypt, and themselves made offerings in them, acknowledging these divinities.

Only one thing did Apepi demand of the conquered Thebans, namely that Rima the Queen of dead Kheperra, and the babe Nefra, his daughter and lawful heiress of Upper Egypt, should be given up to him, hearing which Rima hid herself away with the child, as shall be told.

Now of the birth of Nefra the Princess there were strange stories. It was said that after she came into the world, a very fair babe, gray-eyed, light-skinned, and black-haired, and the rites had been accomplished, she was laid upon her mother’s bosom. When Rima had looked upon her and she had been shown to the King her father, in a weak voice, for she had suffered much, the Queen demanded to be left alone, so earnestly that the physicians and women thought it best to appear to obey her and withdrew themselves behind certain curtains that divided the birth-chamber from another, where they remained silent.

The night had fallen and the birth-chamber was dark, for as yet Rima could bear no light near her. Yet of a sudden one of the women, a priestess of Hathor named Kemmah, who had nursed the King Kheperra from his birth and now was to fill that office to his child, having remained awake, saw a light glowing through the curtains, and being frightened, peeped between them. Behold! in the birth-chamber, looking down on the Queen, who seemed to be asleep, were two royal and glorious women or so Kemmah swore and believed, from whose robes and bodies flowed light and whose eyes shone like stars. Queens they seemed to be, no less, for there were crowns upon their heads and they glittered with jewels which only queens could wear. Moreover, one of them held in her hand the Cross of Life fashioned in gold, and the other a looped sistrum with gems strung on golden wires, such as is used to make music when the priestesses walk in procession before the statues of the gods.

This glorious pair, at the sight of whom the knees of the watcher trembled and the power of speech left her, so that she could say no word to wake the others, bent down – first she who held the Cross of Life and then she who held the sistrum – and whispered into the ear of the sleeping Queen. Then she who held the Cross of Life very gently lifted the babe from the mother’s breast, kissed it, and laid the Cross upon its lips. This done she gave it to the other goddess, who also kissed it and shook above its head the sistrum, which made a tinkling music ere she laid the infant back upon its mother’s breast.

Next instant both were gone and the room that had been filled with brightness grew black with night, while the priestess who had seen, being overcome with fear, swooned away until the sun was risen.

Nor was she the first to speak of this matter which she deemed holy and fearful, being afraid lest she had but dreamed or should be held a teller of tales who took the names of the gods in vain. Yet on the morrow the Queen called for her husband and said that a very strange vision had come to her during the night which she described in these words:

“It seemed to me that when weak with pain I had fallen asleep, two glorious ladies appeared to me clothed in the garments and wearing the emblems of goddesses of Egypt. One of these, who bore in her hand the symbol of Life, spoke to me in my dream, saying, ‘O Daughter of Babylon, by marriage Queen of Egypt and mother of Egypt’s heiress, hear us. We are Isis and Hathor, ancient goddesses of Egypt, as you know, who of late, since you came to this land, have worshipped in our temples and made offerings on our altars. Be not afraid, for although you were bred to the service of other gods we come to bless her who is born of you. Know, O Queen, that great troubles await you and bitter loss that shall leave you desolate, nor with all our strength can we save you from these, for they are written in the book of fate and must befall. Nor, for a while, that to mortals must seem long, can we free Egypt from the bonds with which the Shepherds have bound her, as they bind the feet of their own sheep for slaughter, though the time shall come when she shall shake them loose, like a bull breaking through its net, and grow greater than ever she has been. As every living thing suffers for its sins, so must Egypt suffer for her sins who has not been loyal to herself, her faith, or the lessons of the past. Yet in the end, if only for a while, her troubles shall pass like summer clouds, and from behind them shall shine out the bright star of her glory.’

“Now I answered that vision or that goddess, saying: ‘These are heavy words you speak to me, O divine Lady. With Egypt indeed I have little to do, who am but the wife of one of its kings, a princess sprung from another land. Egypt must find the fate that she has shaped, but as a woman I would learn that of my lord whom I love and of the child that has been given to us.’

“‘The fate of this lord of yours shall be glorious,’ answered she who bore the symbol of Life – ’and in the end, that of your child shall be happy.’

“Then she seemed to bend down and to take the babe in her arms and to kiss it, saying: ‘The blessing of Isis the Mother be upon thee. The strength of Isis be thy strength, and the wisdom of Isis be thy guiding star. Fear not! Be not faint-hearted, O Royal Child, since always Isis is at thy side, and however great thy danger, never shalt thou come to harm. Long shall be thy day and peaceful at the last, and thou shalt see thy grandchildren playing round thy knees. If only for a while, thou shalt bind together that which is divided and thy name shall be Uniter of Lands. Such are the gifts that Isis gives to thee, O Lady of Egypt.’

“So that goddess spoke, holding out the babe in the hollow of her shining arm to the divine sister who stood at her side. She took the child; she too kissed her on the brow and said: ‘Behold! I, Hathor, goddess of Love and Beauty, bestow upon thee, the Princess of Egypt, all that I have to give. Beautiful exceedingly shalt thou be, and through love thou shalt make smooth the path of millions. Turning neither to right nor left, forgetting crookedness and policies, follow thou Hathor’s star and thine own heart, rejoicing in Hathor’s gifts and leaving all else to heaven that sees what thou canst not see and works to ends thou dost not know. Thus, O Royal Child, shalt thou sow happiness upon the earth and beyond the earth garner its harvest to thy breast.’

“Thus in my dream those goddesses seemed to speak, and lo! they were gone.”

Kheperra the King listened to this tale and made light of it.

“A dream indeed,” he said, laughing, “and a happy dream since it prophesies naught but good to this babe of ours, who it seems is to be beautiful and wise, a very Flower of Love and a Uniter of Egypt, if only for a while. What more could we wish for her?”

“Yes, Lord,” answered Rima, heavily, “it prophesies good to the child, but, as I fear, ill to others.”

“If so, what of it, Wife? One crop must fall before another can be sown and in every crop there are weeds as well as wheat. Such is the law to which all that lives must bow. Nay, do not weep over a phantasy born of pain and darkness. They call me, I must go, for soon the army starts to fight those Shepherds and to conquer them.”

Yet Kheperra thought more of this tale than he chose to say, so much indeed that he went to the high priests of Isis and of Hathor and repeated it to them, word for word. These priests, not knowing what to believe, inquired if any had seen aught in the birth-chamber, and thus came to learn of the vision of the Lady Kemmah for, to them, as her superiors, she must tell all.

Now they were astonished indeed, and rejoiced, because they were sure that such a wonder had happened as was not told of in Egypt for generations. Moreover, they caused the words of the dream and the vision of Kemmah to be written down in full and sealed by the Queen and Kemmah, also by themselves as witnesses, in three different rolls, one of which was given to the Queen to keep for the Princess Nefra, while the others were hidden away in the archives of Hathor and Isis. Yet both they and the magicians whom they consulted were frightened at that part of the dream which told of great troubles and bitter loss that were to befall the Queen and leave her desolate.

“What loss,” they asked, “could befall her, when happiness and prosperity were promised to her child, save that of the King her husband? – unless, indeed, other children were to be born to her whom Heaven would take away.”

Still of these terrors they said nothing, only letting it be known that Isis and Hathor had appeared and blessed the new-born Princess of Egypt. Yet they were true enough, for very soon King Kheperra marched to the war and within two moons came the evil tidings that he was slain, fighting gallantly in the van of his troops, and that his army, although not crushed, was too weak from loss of men and generals to renew the battle and was retreating upon Thebes.

Rima the Queen heard the tidings, which indeed her heart seemed to have taught her before they were spoken. When she had listened to them, all she said was:

“That has happened which the great goddesses of Egypt foretold to me, and so without doubt shall the rest of their words be fulfilled in due season.”

Then, according to the Babylonian fashion she withdrew herself to her chamber with the child, and there mourned many days for the husband whom she loved, seeing none save the Lady Kemmah who tended the babe.

At length the army reached Thebes, bringing with it the body of King Kheperra, that had been embalmed, though rudely, on the field of battle. She caused the wrappings to be loosed and for the last time looked upon her lord’s face all shattered and marred with wounds.

“The gods have taken him and he died well,” she said, “but my heart tells me that as he has died in blood, in a day to come, so in blood shall perish that usurper who brought him to his death.”

These words were repeated to Apepi and caused him to go in fear through all his life, for his spirit told him that they were inspired by the god of Vengeance, as did the magicians whom he consulted. Indeed, when he remembered that Queen Rima was by birth of the royal Babylonian House, he grew more afraid than he had been before, because in his family, the Babylonians, to whom once his forefathers had been subject, were held to be the greatest wizards in the world. Therefore he was not surprised at the tale of the vision of Rima which came to her in the night of the birth of her child, though he could not understand why the goddesses of Egypt should appear to a Babylonian.

“If Babylon and Old Egypt come together, what chance will there be for us Shepherd kings who sit astride of the mouths of Nile? Surely our state will be as that of the corn between the upper and the nether millstone and we shall be ground to fine flour,” he said to his wise men.

“Those stones grind slowly, and after all flour is the bread of peoples, O King,” answered the chief of them. “Did not the dream of the wife of dead Kheperra tell – if report be true – that long years would go by before the Egyptians shake off our yoke, and did it not say that this Princess of Egypt who has been born to dead Kheperra and the Babylonian should be a Uniter of Lands? Bring hither the Babylonian widow and her daughter, the Royal Princess, O King, that these things may be accomplished in their season, though as yet we know not how.”

“Why should I admit to dwell in my house one who, inspired by the devils of Babylon, has prophesied that I shall die in blood? Why should I not rather kill her and be done, and her babe with her?” asked Apepi.

“Because, O King,” answered the chief of the Wise Men, “the dead are stronger than the living, and the spirit of this royal lady will smite more shrewdly than can her flesh. Moreover, we think that if the oracle of those Egyptian goddesses be true, this child of hers cannot be killed. Make them captives, O King, and hold them fast, but do not leave them at large to move mighty Babylon and the world against you.”

“You are right,” said Apepi. “It shall be done. Let Rima, the widow of King Kheperra, and her daughter Nefra, Princess of Upper Egypt, be brought to my Court, even if an army must be sent to fetch them. But first try to lead them hither by peaceful words and promises, or if these fail, bribe the Thebans to deliver them into my hand.”

Chapter 2

The Messenger

Rima the Queen heard through her spies that Apepi, King of the Shepherds, purposed to take her and her child and to hold them captive. Having learned that this was the truth, she summoned a council of such lords as remained in Upper Egypt, and of the high priests of the gods, to ask them what she should do.

“Behold,” she said, “I am a widow. My lord and yours fell fighting bravely against the North, leaving his heir, this royal infant. When it became known that he was dead, his army would fight no more but fell back on Thebes, and therefore the Shepherds claim the victory. Now, as I hear, they claim more: namely, that I who was the wife of your king, and our daughter who is your Royal Princess, should be delivered up to them, saying that if this is not done, an army shall be sent to take us. What is your mind, O Lords? Will you defend us from Apepi, or will you not?”

Now some answered one thing and some another. They showed that the people would fight no more, since the King of the Shepherds offered them better terms than ever they could hope to win in battle, and that after the sight of so much blood they longed for peace whoever might be called Pharaoh of Egypt.

“I perceive that I and your Princess have naught to hope from you, Lords, for whom and for whose cause my husband and her father gave his life,” said Rima quietly, adding, “But what say the priests of the gods he worshipped?”

Now these answered with many smooth words. One declared that the will of Heaven must be obeyed; another that perchance she and the Princess would be safer in the court of King Apepi, who swore to treat them both with all honour; a third, that it might be well if she would appeal to her mighty father, the King of Babylon, for succour, and so forth.

When all had finished, Rima laughed bitterly and said:

“I perceive, O Priests, that the gold thrown by the Shepherd king is so heavy that it can travel many leagues of air into the treasuries of your temples. Let me be plain. Will you help me and your Princess to escape from bondage, or will you not? If you will stand by me, I will stand by you to the last, and so I swear will my daughter when she comes to the years of knowledge. If you reject us, then we wash our hands of you, leaving you to go your ways while we go ours, to Babylon or anywhere, save to a prison in the house of the Shepherd kings, where certainly your Royal Princess would be done to death that Egypt might be left without a lawful heir. Now I pray you consult together. I withdraw myself that you may talk freely. But at noon, that is within an hour, I will return to you for your answer.”

Then she bowed to that company, who bowed back to her, and went away.

At the appointed time of noon, accompanied only by Lady Kemmah, the nurse who bore the Princess in her arms, she returned to the Council Hall entering it through the side door by which she had departed. Lo! it was quite empty. The lords and priests had gone, every one of them.

“Now it seems that I am alone,” said Rima the Queen. “Well, such is often the lot of the fallen.”

“Not altogether, Queen,” answered the Lady Kemmah, “since the Royal Princess and I are still the companions of your Majesty. Moreover, I think that in yonder empty chairs I see the shapes of certain of the gods of Egypt who perchance will prove better councillors than those who have deserted us in the hour of need. Now let us talk with them in our hearts and learn of their wisdom.”

So there they sat awhile, gazing at those empty chairs and at the painted pictures of divinities upon the walls beyond, each of them putting up supplications in her own fashion for help and guidance. At length the Lady Kemmah lifted her head and asked:

“Has light come to you, Queen?”

“Nay,” answered Rima, “naught but darkness. This only do my gods tell me – that if we stay here those false lords and priests certainly will seize us and deliver us into the power of Apepi, as I think that they have been bribed to do. Have yours aught else to say to you, nurse Kemmah?”

“Something, Lady. It seems to me that the divine queens of Heaven, godmothers of this royal babe, Isis and Hathor whom I serve, have been whispering in my ears. ‘Fly,’ said the whisper, ‘fly fast and far.’”
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