The Pharaoh And The Priest is a web novel produced by Boleslaw Prus.
This lightnovel is currently completed.
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“This man,” replied the chief, who was indignant, “belongs to me. I seized him and I shall receive a reward from Prince Rameses.”
Mefres rose and drew forth from under his mantle a gold medal.
“In the name of the supreme council, of which I am a member,” said he, “I command thee to yield this man to us. Remember that his existence is among the highest state secrets, and indeed it would be a hundred times better for thee to forget that thou hast left him here.”
The chief fell again to the pavement, and went out repressing his anger.
“Our lord the prince will repay you when he is the pharaoh!” thought he. “And he will pay you my part–ye will see.”
“Where is the prisoner?” asked the agents standing before the gate.
“In prison,” answered the chief; “the hands of the G.o.ds have rested on him.”
“And our reward?” asked the elder agent.
“The hands of the G.o.ds have rested on your reward also. Imagine then to yourselves that ye saw that prisoner only in a dream, ye will be safer in health and in service.”
The agents dropped their heads in silence. But in their hearts they swore vengeance against the priests, who had taken a handsome reward from them.
After the chief had gone Mefres summoned a number of priests, and whispered something into the ears of the eldest. The priests surrounded the Greek and conducted him out of the chamber. Lykon made no resistance.
“I think,” said Sem, “that this man should be brought before the court as a murderer.”
“Never!” cried Mefres, with decision. “On this man weighs an incomparably greater crime, he is like the heir to the throne.”
“And what wilt thou do with him, worthiness?”
“I will reserve him for the supreme council,” said Mefres. “When the heir to the throne visits pagan temples and steals from them women, when the country is threatened with danger of war, and the power of the priests with rebellion, Lykon may be of service.”
On the following midday the high priest Sem, the nomarch, and the chief of police went to Sarah’s prison. The unfortunate woman had not eaten for a number of days, and was so weak that she did not rise from the bench even in presence of so many dignitaries.
“Sarah,” said the nomarch, whom she had known before, “we bring thee good news.”
“News,” repeated she with a pathetic voice. “My son is not living, that is the news; my breast is full of nourishment, but my heart is full of sadness.”
“Sarah,” said the nomarch, “thou art free. Thou didst not kill thy child.”
Her seemingly dead features revived. She sprang from the bench, and cried,–
“I–I killed him–only I.”
“Consider, Sarah, a man killed thy son, a Greek, named Lykon, the lover of the Phnician Kama.”
“What dost thou say?” whispered she, seizing the nomarch’s hands. “Oh, that Phnician woman! I knew that she would ruin us. But the Greek? I know no Greek. How could my son offend any man?”
“I know not,” continued the nomarch. “That Greek is no longer alive.
But that man was so like Prince Rameses that when he entered thy chamber thou didst think him our lord. And thou hast preferred to accuse thy own self rather than our lord, and thine.”
“Then that was not Rameses?” cried she, seizing her head. “And I, wretched woman, let a strange man take my son from his cradle. Ha! ha!
Then she laughed more and more. On a sudden, as if her legs had been cut from under her, she fell to the floor, her hands hopped a couple of times, and she died in hysteric laughter.
But on her face remained an expression of sorrow which even death could not drive from it.
The western boundary of Egypt for a distance of more than a hundred geographic miles is composed of a wall of naked limestone hills about two hundred metres high, intersected by ravines. They run parallel to the Nile, from which they are sometimes five miles distant, sometimes one kilometre.
Whoso should clamber up one of these hills and turn his face northward would see one of the strangest sights possible. He would have on his right hand the narrow but green plain cut lengthwise by the Nile; on his left he would see an endless yellow open region, varied by spots, white or brick colored.
Monotony, the irritating yellow color of the sand plain, the heat, and, above all, boundless immensity are the most peculiar traits of the Libyan desert, which extends westward from Egypt.
But viewed more nearly the desert is in fact less monotonous. Its sand is not level, but forms a series of swellings which recall immense waves of water. It is like a roused sea solidified on a sudden. But whoso should have the courage to go across that sea for an hour, two hours, a day, directly westward would see a new sight. On the horizon would appear eminences, sometimes cliffs and rocks of the strangest outlines. Under foot the sand would grow thinner, and from beneath it limestone rocks would emerge just like land out of water.
In fact that was a land, or even a country in the midst of a sand ocean. Around the limestone hills were valleys, in them the beds of streams and rivers, farther on a plain, and in the middle of it a lake with a bending line of sh.o.r.es and a sunken bottom.
But on these plains, hills, and heights no blade of gra.s.s grows; in the lake there is no drop of water; along the bed of the river no current moves. That is a landscape, even greatly varied with respect to forms, but a landscape from which all water has departed,–the very last atom of moisture has dried from it; a dead landscape, where not only all vegetation has vanished, but even the fertile stratum of earth has been ground into dust or dried up into rock slabs.
In those places the most ghastly event has taken place of which it is possible to meditate: Nature has died there, and nothing remains but her dust and her skeleton, which heat dissolves to the last degree, and burning wind tosses from spot to spot.
Beyond this dead, unburied region stretches again a sea of sand, on which are seen, here and there, towering up in one and another place, pointed stacks as high as a house of one story. Each summit of such a little hill is crowned by a small bunch of gray, fine, dusty leaves, of which it is difficult to say that they are living; but it may be said that they cannot wither.
One of these strange stacks signifies that water in that place has not dried up altogether, but has hidden from drought beneath the earth, and preserves dampness in some way. On that spot a tamarind seed fell, and the plant has begun to grow with endless effort.
But Typhon, the lord of the desert, has noted this, and begun to stifle it with sand. And the more the little plant pushes upward, the higher rises the stack of sand which is choking it. That tamarind which has wandered into the desert looks like a drowning man raising his arms, in vain, heavenward.
And again the yellow boundless ocean stretches on with its sand waves and those fragments of the plant world which have not the power to perish. All at once a rocky wall is in front, and in it clefts, which serve as gateways.
The incredible is before us. Beyond one of these gateways a broad green plain appears, a mult.i.tude of palms, the blue waters of a lake.
Even sheep are seen pasturing, with cattle and horses. From afar, on the sides of a cliff, towers up a town; on the summit of the cliff are the white walls of a temple.
That is an oasis, or island in the sand ocean.
In the time of the pharaohs there were many such oases, perhaps some tens of them. They formed a chain of islands in the desert, along the western boundary of Egypt. They lay at a distance of ten, fifteen, or twenty geographic miles from the Nile, and varied in size from a few to a few tens of square kilometres in area.
Celebrated by Arab poets, these oases were never really the forecourts of paradise. Their lakes are swamps for the greater part; from their underground sources flow waters which are warm, sometimes of evil odor, and disgustingly brackish; their vegetation could not compare with the Egyptian. Still, these lonely places seemed a miracle to wanderers in the desert, who found in them a little green for the eye, a trifle of coolness, dampness, and some dates also.
The population of these islands in the sand ocean varied from a few hundred persons to numbers between ten and twenty thousand, according to area. These people were all adventurers or their descendants,–Europeans, Libyans, Ethiopians. To the desert fled people who had nothing to lose,–convicts from the quarries, criminals pursued by police, earth-tillers escaping from tribute, or laborers who left hard work for danger. The greater part of these fugitives died on the sand ocean. Some of them, after sufferings beyond description, were able to reach the oases, where they pa.s.sed a wretched life, but a free one, and they were ready at all times to fall upon Egypt for the sake of an outlaw’s recompense.
Between the desert and the Mediterranean extended a very long, though not very wide strip of fruitful soil, inhabited by tribes which the Egyptians called Libyans. Some of these worked at land tilling, others at navigation and fishing; in each tribe, however, was a crowd of wild people, who preferred plunder, theft, and warfare to regular labor.
That bandit population was perishing always between poverty and warlike adventure; but it was also recruited by an influx of Sicilians and Sardinians, who at that time were greater robbers and barbarians than were the native Libyans.
Since Libya touched the western boundary of Lower Egypt, barbarians made frequent inroads on the territory of his holiness, and were terribly punished. Convinced at last that war with Libyans was resultless, the pharaohs, or, more accurately, the priesthood, decided on another system: real Libyan families were permitted to settle in the swamps of Lower Egypt, near the seacoast, while adventurers and bandits were enlisted in the army, and became splendid warriors.
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