XIITHE SEA BATTLETHE great Persian ship was on us. Strive as we would, we could not escape her.She raced upon our beam not a spear’s cast away. I stood upon the high poop ofthe Hapi and saw it all, for the old Arab blood was on fire in me, as it had beenwhen I charged in the battle where my father fell, and I would play no woman’spart. Moreover, my spirit told me that I had not escaped from the hands of Tenesand out of the burning hell of Sidon, to die there upon the sea.Standing thus upon the poop by the side of Philo the cunning captain, Inoted this strange thing, that no arrow was shot and no spear thrown from thePersian’s decks. She raced alongside of us, that was all. I looked at Philo, aquestion in my eyes, and he answered the question briefly between his set lips.“They think the King and Queen are aboard and would take us living. Hark!They shout to us to surrender.”Again I looked at him, wondering what he would do.He issued an order and presently our speed slackened so that we fell a littlebehind the Persian. He issued another order and we leapt forward again under achanged helm. Now I saw that he was minded to ram the Holy Fire. The Persiansaw it also and sheered off. We ran alongside of her, shipping our oars as wecame on that side which was nearest to her. But the Persian had no time to shiphers. Our sharp prow caught her fivefold line of sweeps, smashing the most ofthem as though they were but twigs, and casting the rowers in a broken, tumbledheap within her deep hold.“That was worthy of Philo,” I said, but he, ever a humble man, as are allmasters of their trade, shook his head and answered,“Nay, Lady, I missed my mark and now we must pay for it. Ah! I thoughtso.”As he spoke, from sundry places on the Holy Fire grapnels flew out whichcaught in the rails, ropes and rowing benches of the Hapi, binding the two shipstogether.“They are about to board us,” said Philo. “Now, Lady, pray to Mother Isisto give us aid.”Then he blew two blasts upon his whistle. Instantly rose up upon our deck aband of men, nigh a hundred of them, perhaps, clad in armour and captained bythe Greek, Kallikrates. Also behind these I saw the crew of the royal barge,
armed with such weapons as they could find, and the sailors of the Hapi.The Persians thrust out boards or ladders from one ship to the other, acrosswhich their boarders, most of them Greeks, came on in swarms. The fightingbegan and it was very fierce. Our men cut down many of the foe and drownedothers by casting off the boards and ladders, so that those on them fell into thesea. Still a great number of them won on board of us, and oh! fierce was thatfray. Always in the thickest of it I saw Kallikrates towering a head above theothers, and who now would have dreamed that he was a priest of Isis? For hesmote and smote and man after man went down before him, while as his swordrose and fell he shouted out some old Greek battle cry, such as once his fathersused.On a space of deck ringed round with dead and dying, he came face to facewith the captain of the boarders, a great and burly man, also, as I think, a Greek.They fought terribly, whilst others paused to watch that fray which Homer mighthave sung. Kallikrates was down and my heart stood still. Nay, he was up againbut his bronze sword had broken on the foemen’s mail.That foeman had an axe; he swung it up to make an end. Kallikrates,rushing beneath it, seized him in his arms and they wrestled there upon theslippery deck. The ship lurched; together they staggered to the bulwarks. Thefoeman loosed one arm and drew a dagger; with it he smote Kallikrates againand again. Kallikrates bent, and with his freed hand seized the man beneath theknee. By a mighty effort he lifted him to the bulwark’s edge and there they clungawhile. Then Kallikrates with that same freed hand smote the other on the brow.Thrice he smote and his blows were as those of a hammer falling on an anvil.The grip of the captain of the boarders loosened and his head hung back.Once more Kallikrates smote and behold! his foe rolled down and was crushedto powder between the swelling sides of the two great ships as they ground oneagainst the other, while the servants of Isis cheered and the sullen Persian hordesgave back.I caught sight of Philo thrusting his way along the bulwarks. He held an axein his hand but he was not fighting. Nay, he avoided those who fought. Onceindeed he stood still and gave an order, noting, as I had done, that of a suddenthe wind had begun to blow. Certain sailors who heard this order ran to the mastand I saw the great sail rising slowly.Meanwhile Philo slipped along those bulwarks, taking cover beneath themlike a jackal beneath a wall. But whenever he came to one of the grapnels hestopped and smote with his axe, severing the rope that held it. Three of them didhe sever thus, so that the prows of the vessels swung apart.Now the great sail was up and filled. The Hapi forged ahead, dragging
round the stern of the Holy Fire by those grapnels that remained. The Persiansunderstood and grew frightened. Those who were still alive upon our decksrushed to the planks and ladders, but few gained them, for Kallikrates and themen of Isis were on their heels. They were cut down; they fell from the slidingplanks and ladders, or they leapt into the sea and for the most part drownedthere. Very soon not one of them was left upon our deck.The grapnels were torn away, or the ropes broke. We were free. Yet thePersian was not beaten, for she was full of men of whom those who had beenkilled were but a tithe.She, too, hoisted her sail and thrust out fresh sweeps to continue the pursuit.Her captain, standing on her prow, roared out,“Dogs of Egyptians, I’ll hang you yet.”Philo heard and took up his bow. Now we were sweeping across the bow ofthe Holy Fire; mayhap it was a hundred paces away. Philo aimed and shot. Sotruly did he shoot that his arrow struck the Persian captain beneath his helm anddown he went.His fall seemed to bewilder the crew of the Holy Fire. They hung upon theiroars shouting at each other, as though they knew not what to do. Then their sailbegan to rise and I saw that they were putting about.Philo at my side laughed, a hard little laugh.“Mother Isis is good to us,” he said. “See, the hunter has become thehunted!”Then he gave orders and we came round so that our great sail taken abackflapped against the mast.“Down with the sail and row,” he shouted, “row as never ye rowed before!”Those at the sweeps obeyed. Oh! it was splendid to see them bending theirbroad backs and tugging at the oars till these also bent like bows in the water.Here was no slave work, for they were servants of Isis and free men, every oneof them. Philo rushed to the steering gear and with the aid of another man tookcharge of it himself. We leapt forward like a panther on its prey. The Holy Firesaw and strove to escape. Too late, too late! For presently the sharp prow of theHapi crashed into her side with such a shock that all who stood upon the deckwere thrown down, I among them. I struggled to my feet again and heard Philoscreaming,“Back water! Back! lest she take us with her.”We backed. Slowly the prow appeared again from where it was buried threepaces deep in the foeman’s flank.The Holy Fire reeled over; the water rushed in through the gap. Crippledand helpless she wallowed; aye, she began to sink. From her swarming decks
went up a yell of terror and dismay. Still the water rushed in with an ever-gathering flood and still she sank and sank. Men threw up their arms, praying formercy; men sprang into the sea. Then suddenly the Holy Fire reared herglittering prow into the air and stern foremost vanished into the deep. It wasfinished!The Persians swam about us, or clung to wreckage, praying to be takenaboard. But we rowed on coming to the wind again. I know not how it is in theworld to-day, but then in time of war there was little mercy. Egypt alone wasmerciful because age had mellowed her and because of her gentle worship of hergentle gods. But now Egypt was fighting for her life against the Persian. So werowed on, and those barbarians were abandoned to drown and in the worldbelow seek the warmth of the Fire they worshipped.Philo left the helm and came to where I stood. I noted that he was white andshaken and called to one to bring him wine. He drank of it thankfully, notforgetting first to pour a libation at my feet, or rather at those of the goddess towhom I was so near.“Bravely done!” I said. “You understand your trade, Philo.”“Not so ill, Lady, though it might have been better. Had I been at the helmwe should have rammed that swarming hulk before the boarding and saved somelives. Well, Set has her now and Ochus lacks his finest ship.”“It might have been far otherwise,” I said.“Aye, Lady. Had I commanded the Holy Fire it would have been otherwise,for she had two oars and three men to our one, but her captain was wanting insea-craft, and when my arrow found him, there was none to take his place. Theyshould have swept us with their boarders, but that tall Greek captain calledKallikrates, who they tell me was once a priest, handled his soldiers well. He is agallant man and I grieve that we are like to lose him.”“Why?” I asked.“Oh! because in his fight with a fellow whom he flung over the bulwarks,he took a knife-thrust in the vitals, which they think will be mortal. See, they arebearing him to my cabin,” and he pointed to Kallikrates being carried forward byfour men—a sight that stirred my heart.Then Philo was summoned away, for it seemed that when the Hapirammed, she sprang a leak and the carpenters called Philo to consult with themas to how it might be stopped.When they had gone I followed after Kallikrates and found him laid inPhilo’s cabin. They had taken off his armour and the leech, an Egyptian, wascleaning a cut in his thigh whence the blood ran down his ivory skin.“Is it mortal?” I asked.
“I know not, Lady,” answered the leech, “I cannot tell the depth of thethrust. Pray Isis for him, for he has lost much blood.”Now I who was skilled in medicine and in the treatment of wounds which Ihad learned from a great master in my youth among the Arabs, helped thatphysician as best I might, staunching the blood flow and stitching up the cut withsilk before we bandaged it.Moreover, taking from my hand a charmed and ancient amulet that gavehealth and had the power, so it was said, to cause the sick or wounded to recover,I set it on the finger of Kallikrates that it might cure him. This amulet was a ringof brown stone on which were graven certain hieroglyphics that meant RoyalSon of the Sun. He who gave it to me told me that it had been worn by thatgreatest of all healers and magicians, Khæmuas, the eldest son of the mightyRameses. Once only did I see this ring again as shall be told. Then of it I lostsight and knowledge till, after more than two thousand years, I beheld it on thehand of Holly in the caves of Kôr.As I worked thus the pain of the needle awoke Kallikrates from his swoon.He opened his eyes, looked up and saw me, then muttered in Greek so low thatonly I who was bending over him heard his words. They were:“I thank thee, Beloved. I thank thee and the gods who have granted that likemy forefathers I should die no priest, but a soldier and a man. Yea, I thank thee,O royal and beautiful Amenartas.”Then he swooned again and I left him quickly, having learned that it was ofthe Egyptian he dreamed, and doubtless that it was for the sake of this sameEgyptian that he had changed his sacred robe for mail, yes, the EgyptianAmenartas for whom he had mistaken me, Ayesha, in the wanderings of hisweakness.Well, why not? What had I to do with him or any man? Yet of a sudden Igrew weary of the world and almost wished that the Holy Fire had rammed theHapi and not the Hapi the Holy Fire.Yonder behind us a thousand men were now at peace beneath the sea. Beingoverwrought with all that I had endured and seen, almost I could have wishedthat I, too, was at peace beneath the sea, sleeping for ever, or perchance to wakeagain nursed in the holy arms of Isis.In the cabin sat my master, the prophet Noot, staring through the opendoorway at the infinite blue of heaven above, as I knew that he had done duringall that fearsome fight.He smiled when he saw me and asked,“Whence come you, Daughter, and why do your eyes shine like stars?”
“I come from the sight of the death of men, my Father, and my eyes shinewith the light of battle.”“With other lights also, I think, Daughter. O Ayesha, beauty is yours,wisdom is yours, and you are filled with spirit like a cup with wine. But what ofthe cup? What of the cup? I fear me that those fair feet of yours have far to travelbefore they reach their home.”“What is their home, Father?”“Do you not know it after these many years of learning? Hearken. I will tellyou. Your home is God, not this god or that god called by a hundred names, butthe God beyond the gods. Doubtless you will love and you will hate, as you haveloved and hated. And doubtless you are destined to draw up what you love andto come to peace with what you hate. Yet know that above all mortal loves thereis another love in which they must be both lost and found. God is the end ofman, O Ayesha, God or—death. All sin, all stumble on the path, but only thosewho continue on that path or who, having lost it, with tears and broken heartsseek it again and, like the Sisyphus of fable, thrust before them their frozen loadof fleshly error, till at length it melts in the light that shines above; only those, Isay, attain to the eternal peace.”
So solemnly did he speak, uttering the slow words one by one, and so deepand holy was the lesson that they hid, that I, Ayesha, grew afraid.“What have you seen and what do you know, my Father?” I asked humbly.“Daughter, I have seen you yonder in Sidon rejoicing in vengeance forvengeance’s sake; aye, glad when the vile hound who would have gripped you,gasped out his life before your eyes. You did not slay him, Ayesha, but it wasyour counsel that gave cunning to the thought that planned and strength to thearm that dealt the blow.”“It was so fated, O my father, and otherwise——”“Yes, it was so fated; yet you should not have rejoiced in the hour of yourtriumph. Nay, you should have sorrowed as the gods sorrow when they fulfil thedecrees of Destiny. Again I have seen you burning with the flame of battle, yourheart filled with songs of victory when Philo’s skill and the Grecian courage ofKallikrates sent those mad brutes of Persians to their account. And lastly unless Idream—— What did you but now in Philo’s cabin, Daughter?”“I tended a wounded man, my Father, as I have the skill to do. Also I gavehim an amulet which it is said has virtue to heal the sick.”“Aye, that was right and kind and the just reward of courage. Did he thankyou, Daughter? I thought that in the quiet I heard thanks come from his lips.”“Nay,” I answered sullenly, “his mind wandered and he thanked—anotherwoman who was not there.”Again Noot smiled a little, and answered,“Was it so? Then let her name be. Yet remember that from such wanderingsof a mind distraught ofttimes springs the truth, like water from a shattered rock.Oh! Daughter, Daughter, if this man forgets his vows, must you do the same?For him there is excuse who is a soldier—can we doubt it who have looked uponhis deeds to-day? He became a priest for love’s sake and the shed blood which itbrought. But for you there is none—at least none upon the earth,” he addedhastily. “I pray you, therefore, let this man be, for if you do not, my gift ofwisdom tells me that you will bring much trouble on your head and his. Whywill you seek after vanity? Is it because in the pride of your beauty you cannotbear that another should be preferred before you and that a fruit which it is notlawful for you to pluck, should fall into some other woman’s lap? I say to you,Daughter, that this beauty is your curse, because to it you demand obediencenight and day, although of it you should think nothing, remembering its end. Youare too proud, you are too puffed up. Look upon the stars and learn to be humble,lest you should be humbled by that which is stronger.”“I am still a woman, Father, a woman whose mission it is to love and tobear babes.”
“Then learn to love that which is above and let the babes you bear be thoseof wisdom and good works. Is it your part to suckle sinners like any hedge-sidetroll, you to whom the heavens stretch out their hands? Is it for you in whosebreast springs the tree of life to root it up and in its place to sow the seed of awoman’s common arts, that by their aid you may snatch her lover from a rival?Because he sins, if sin he does, should you cease from being holy? Where isyour greatness? Where are your purity and pride? I pray to you, beloveddaughter of my spirit, swear to me by Heaven which we serve, that with this manyou will have no more to do. Twice have you sinned—once in the sanctuaryyonder at Philæ when his kiss met yours, and now again not an hour gone uponthis ship, when your heart was torn with jealous rage because the name ofanother woman escaped from lips that you thought were about to shape yourown. Twice have you sinned and twice has the goddess turned her head and shuther eyes. But if for a third time you should walk into this pit dug of your ownhands, then know that escape will be hard indeed. I tell you”—here his face andhis low voice hardened—“I tell you that from age to age shall you striveunceasingly to wash the stain of blood from off those hands and that all yourbreath shall become a sigh and your every heart-beat shall be an agony. Swearthen, swear!”I looked at his eyes and saw that they were alight and unearthly, yes, thatsome spirit shining from within caused them to glow like alabaster lamps. Ilooked at the thin hand which he stretched out toward me and saw that ittrembled in his passion.I looked and was moved to obey. Yet ere I did so I asked,“Were you ever young, my Father? Did you ever suffer from this eternalcurse which Nature lays on men and women because she would not die? Did youever take the bribe of sweet madness with which she baits her hook? Or, as onceI think you told me in bygone years, were you always holy and apart?”He covered his eyes with those thin hands, then answered,“I was young. I suffered from that curse. Whatever I may have said to youin the past when you were but a child, I gorged that bait, not once but manytimes, and I have paid the price. Because I have paid it to my ruin, I pray youwhom I love not to empty your heart of its purest virgin gold and fill the voidwith pain and penitence. Easy is it to fall, Daughter, but hard, very hard to riseagain. Will you not swear?”“Aye,” I answered, “I swear by Isis and by your spirit, O Purified.”“You swear,” he said, whispering, “but will you keep the oath? I wonder,aye, I wonder greatly, will you keep that oath, O high-hearted woman whoseblood runs with so red and strong a stream?”
Then bending forward he kissed me on the brow, and rising left me.Kallikrates did not die. Under the care of that cunning leech or ofsomething above the leech, Death was cheated of him, since it seemed that theknife-thrust had not reached his vitals, or at least had not pierced them beyondrepair. Still he was sick for a long while, for his whole body was drained ofblood, so that had he been older, or less vigorous, Osiris would have taken him.Or perchance not in vain had I set upon his finger that scarab-talisman oncecharmed by Khæmuas. I visited him no more, and thus it was not until we werepassing up the Nile and drew near to Memphis that I saw him again. Then, verypale and wasted, yet to my fancy more pleasing than he had been, since now hisface had grown spiritual and his eyes were those of one that had looked closeinto those of Death, he was carried in a bed on to the deck. There I spoke withhim, thanking him in the name of our goddess for the great deeds that he haddone. He smiled and his white face took a little tinge of red as he answered,“I fear me, O Mouth-of-Isis, that it was not of the goddess that I thought inthat fray, but rather of the joy of battle which I, a priest, had never hoped to feelagain. Nay, nor was it for the goddess that I smote as best I could, since in theextremities of war the gates of heaven, which are then in truth so near, seem veryfar away, but rather that after all which you had passed, you, with the rest of us,might not fall into the hands of the heathen fire-worshippers.”Now I smiled back, for the words, if false, were courteous, and replied thatdoubtless also he, who was still young, desired to go on living.“Nay,” he answered earnestly, “I think that I desire to die rather than to live,and to pass hence as often my forefathers have done, sword in hand and helm onhead. Life is no boon to a shaven priest, Lady, one who by his vows is cut offfrom all its joys.”“What is a man’s joy in life?” I asked.“Look at yourself in a mirror, Lady, and you will learn,” he answered, andthere was that in his voice which caused me to wonder whether it was possibleafter all that the wrong name came from his lips in the wanderings of his mind.For then I did not know that a man may love two women and at the sametime; one with his spirit and the other with his flesh, since through all things runsthis war between the spirit and the flesh. The spirit of Kallikrates was alwaysmine, having been given to me from the beginning, but with his flesh it wasotherwise, and perchance while he is in the flesh it will so remain.Before we reached Memphis a signal was made for us to anchor. Then abarge, flying the standard of Pharaoh, came off to us from the shore. On board ofit was Nectanebes himself and with him his daughter, the Princess of Egypt, the
lady Amenartas; also certain councillors and Grecian captains in his service.The Pharaoh and the others came aboard to learn tidings of what hadchanced at Sidon, and were received by Philo and by Noot. Presently theydemanded to be led to me and I met them on the deck outside my cabin, notingthat the eyes of Nectanebes were troubled and that his fat cheeks had fallen in.“So you are returned to us, Oracle-of-Isis,” he said in a hesitating voice,scanning my form, for my face he could not see because it was veiled.“I am returned, O Pharaoh,” I answered, bowing before his Majesty. “It haspleased Her whom I serve to deliver me out of the hands of King Tenes of Sidon,to whom Pharaoh offered me as a gift.”“Aye, I remember. It was at that feast when the water in the cup you heldturned to blood. Well, if all I hear is true, there has been blood enough outyonder.”“Yes, Pharaoh, the Sidonian seas run red with it. Tenes, Egypt’s ally,surrendered the city to Ochus the Persian, thinking to find great advancement,which he won by death, whereon the Sidonians burned themselves in theirhouses with their wives and children. So it comes about that all Phœnicia is inthe hands of Ochus who advances upon Egypt with a mighty host.”“The gods have deserted me!” moaned Nectanebes, waving his arms.“Aye, Pharaoh,” I answered in a cold voice, “for the gods are very jealousand seldom forgive those who forsake them and betray their servants into thehands of enemies that hate them.”He understood and answered in a low, babbling voice,“Be not angry with me, Oracle-of-Isis, for what else could I do? ThatSidonian dog, whom may Set devour eternally, was mad for you. Always Imistrusted him and I was sure that if I refused you to him, he would make hispeace with Ochus and bite me in the back, as indeed he threatened at the feast.Also I knew well that Mother Isis would protect you from all harm at his hands,which it seems that she has done.”Now when I heard these words rage filled me and I answered,“Aye, Pharaoh, Mother Isis has done this and more. Have you heard howyour poison worked? Nay? Then I will tell you. Having sacrificed her only sonto Dagon, Tenes would have put away Beltis, his queen, to give her place to me.Mad with hate, Beltis led him into the arms of the Persian and afterward whenhis treachery was accomplished, slew him with her own hand, for I saw the deed.And now, Pharaoh, Sidon has fallen and with it all Phœnicia, and soon, Pharaoh,Egypt will follow Sidon. Aye, I, the Oracle, tell you that because you werepleased to throw the high-priestess of Isis into the arms of Tenes as though shewere some singing woman of whom you had wearied, these things have come
about. Therefore too soon there will no longer be a Pharaoh in Egypt and thePersian will take the Land of Nile and defile the altars of its gods.”He heard. He trembled. He had naught to say. But there was another whoheard also. As I had noted, the Princess Amenartas, when she came on to theship, went straight to where Kallikrates lay upon a couch beneath an awning onthe deck, and there talked with him earnestly. What they said I could not hear forthey spoke together beneath their breath. But their faces I could see, andwatching them I grew sure that the Greek had made no error of a mind distraughtwhen he spoke this royal lady’s name as I tended his wounds. For those faceswere the faces of lovers who met after long separation and the passing of greatdangers.Leaving Kallikrates this Amenartas had returned to her father and stood athis side listening to our talk. Now she broke in fiercely,“Surely, Priestess, you were ever a bird of evil omen croaking of disaster.You fly to Sidon and lo! Sidon burns, yet you escape with wings unscorched.Now you flit back to Egypt and again wail of woe like a night owl of the desert.How is it, O Isis-come-to-Earth, as it pleases you to call yourself, that you aloneescape from Sidon and return here to curdle the blood of men with propheciessuch as those you uttered at the feast when by a trick you turned the water intoblood? Have you perchance made friends with Ochus?”“Ask it of Philo the captain of this ship, Lady,” I answered in a quiet voice.“Or stay. Ask it of yonder priest which perchance will please you better, theGrecian who in the world was named Kallikrates. Ask them how I showedfriendship to Ochus by so working through the strength of Isis and their skill andvalour that the Persian’s finest ship of war with a multitude of his sailors andfighting men lies to-day at the bottom of the deep.”“Perchance because a captain was skilled and a certain priest, or soldier,was brave, that ship is sunk with all she bore, but not, I think, through you oryour prayers, O Oracle. I say to you, Pharaoh, my father, that if I held yoursceptre I would send this Isis-come-to-Earth to seek Isis in Heaven ere she bringmore sorrows on us and Egypt.”“Nay, nay,” muttered Nectanebes, rolling his big eyes, “speak not so madly,Daughter, lest the Mother should hear and once more smite me. Hearken. Lastnight I, who have skill, consulted my spirit, the Dæmon who obeys me. Hecame, he spoke. I heard him with my ears. Yes, he spoke of this prophetess. Hesaid that she drew near to Memphis on a ship. He said that she was great, almosta goddess, that she must be cherished, that to you and me she would be a shelterfrom the storm, that in her is the power of One who sits above. O Oracle, O Isis-come-to-Earth, O Wisdom’s Daughter, forgive the wild words of this royal child
of mine who is distraught with fear, and know that, to the last, Pharaoh is yourfriend and your protector.”“As mayhap, if this Dæmon of yours speaks truth, before all is done I shallbe the protector of Pharaoh and of the Princess of Egypt whom it pleases torevile me,” I replied.Then bowing to him I turned and sought my cabin.
XIIITHE SHAME OF PHARAOHWHEN Pharaoh and his daughter had gone, though I did not see them go, I badefarewell to Philo, thanking him much and, in reward for all he had done, callingdown on him the blessing of the goddess which he received upon his bendedknees. Moreover, when he had risen from them he swore himself to my service,saying that while he lived he would come even from the ends of the earth to domy will. Also he showed me how I might call him by certain secret ways.So we bade farewell for a while, nor did I let him go empty-handed, sincefrom those jewels that Tenes had heaped upon me, which almost by accident Ihad preserved in my flight, I took certain of great value and gave them to him asa gift from the goddess. Thus we parted though, as both of us were sure, not forthe last time.So soon as our coming was known the priests and priestesses of Isis flockedto the quay in solemn procession to receive Noot, their high-priest, and me theirhigh-priestess, which they did with sacred ceremony and holy chants. By themwe were escorted through the streets of Memphis to the temple of Isisaccompanied by many of the crew of the Hapi that were of our brotherhood.Among them I missed one.“Where is the priest Kallikrates?” I asked of Noot.He smiled and answered,“I think that he has been taken to the palace of Pharaoh to be nursed until herecovers from his wounds. Perchance for a while he is minded, or it is decreedthat he should continue to play a warrior’s part. Yet fear not, Daughter; thoseupon whose brow Isis has laid her hands, in life or death must return to her atlast. They are hawks upon a string which, though it stretches, cannot be broken.”“Aye,” I answered, “in life or death,” and asked no more of this Kallikrates.In the midst of the rejoicings of the city at our safe return, we came to thetemple and made sacrifice. There it was that I set the jewels of Tenes, all savethose that I had given to Philo, upon the alabaster statue of the goddess in herinmost shrine that only I and Noot might enter, and there too by signs andwonders she signified to me her acceptance of the offering. For here while westood alone before the effigy of the goddess in that holy place, a trance fell uponNoot and in his trance he spoke to me with the voice of Isis and out of herinfinite heart. This was the divine message that came to me through the lips of
Noot:“Daughter, I, thy mother, know of all that thou hast passed and of all thatthou must pass. Though the barbarian come and the gods of Egypt are throwndown and ruin smites the land and thou seemest to be left alone, abide thou heretill my word bids thee to depart. By myself and That of which under the name ofIsis I am a minister, I swear that no harm shall befall thee or that place wherethou art, or those of my servants who remain with thee. Therefore await mycommands with patience, doing such things as I inspire thee to do, that thoumayest bring the vengeance of the gods upon those dogs who desecrate theirshrines.”Thus spoke Noot in his trance, not knowing what he had said until I toldhim afterward. He listened earnestly and bade me obey.“Even if I be taken from you for a while, as it comes to me will happen—perchance I learned it in my swoon, Daughter—and you are left unfriended andalone, still I pray you to obey. If so, think not that I am dead, who do but returnto my own place and land, but wait until my message comes. Then obey that alsothough I know not what it will be.”Thus he spoke solemnly and I bowed my head and hid his words within myheart——The war began, Egypt’s last war for life. Nectanebes the Pharaoh, inspiredby his evil Dæmon, thrust aside his captains and declared himself General inChief of his armies, he who had scarce the wit or the courage to command theguard of a harem. At first that Dæmon served him well, since at Barathra, as thegulfs are named which make the Sirbonian bog, the Persians were trapped andlost many thousands of their men who sank through the sand into the marshesand there were drowned or speared. But their numbers were uncountable and therest came on. Pelusium was besieged and for a while held its own against thegiant Nicostratus of Argos, a man as strong as Hercules who, like Hercules,clothed himself in a lion’s skin and for a weapon bore a great club. The Greciancaptain, Kleinios of Cos, he who had been present at the feast when I was givenover to Tenes and whom in my vision at that feast I had seen dead, lying upon aheap of slain, attacked Nicostratus and after a mighty fight was defeated,Kleinios and five thousand men of those who were with him being slain. Thuswas my vision fulfilled.Then his Dæmon departed from Nectanebes taking his heart with him, forof a sudden Pharaoh ceased to be a man and, becoming a coward, fled back toMemphis, leaving his fleet, his cities, and their garrisons to their fate.Rumour ran fast; it told of the fall of city after city, some stormed, some
bribed to surrender; it told that Ochus had sworn to burn Memphis and after itThebes; also to seize Nectanebes and roast him living upon the altar in the greattemple of Ptah here at Memphis, or otherwise to make him fight with the bullApis after the beast had been driven mad by fiery darts. It told that theEgyptians, enraged at the desertion of their armies by Pharaoh, wouldthemselves seize him and give him up to Ochus as a peace-offering. Crowdsgathered and rushed through the streets of Memphis calling imprecations on hisname, or clustered like bees round the altars of the gods, praying for help in theirdespair, yes, round the neglected altars of the gods of Egypt.Then of a sudden came Amenartas, flying to the temple of Isis forsanctuary, since it was reported that Ochus had said that the shrines of Isis hewould spare alone, because she was the Mother of all things and her throne wasin the moon and her husband was Osiris-Ra who was the Father of fire which heworshipped; also because a certain priestess of the goddess had done him greatservice in the war, words that caused me to wonder.So this royal princess came and put on the veil of a novice that it mightprotect her should Ochus take the city. But though this veil changed her face andform to the eyes of men, her heart it did not change.A little later came Kallikrates from the war in the Delta where I learned hehad done great things, fighting bravely. Indeed he told me himself that he hadfought the giant Nicostratus in single combat and wounded him, though thematter was not pressed to an end, since others rushed up and separated them. Hesaid that he was a very terrible man and that when that huge club of his waveredabove him, for the first time in his life he felt afraid. Notwithstanding he ran inbeneath the club and stabbed Nicostratus in the shoulder.Thus it happened that all being lost in war and his service at an end,Kallikrates the captain once more became Kallikrates the priest and again put onthe robes of Isis. Therefore in that temple, serving together before its altars wereAmenartas, Princess of Egypt, and Kallikrates, priest of Isis.Often I, Ayesha, seated in my chair of state as first of that holy company,save the aged Noot alone, watched them from beneath my veil while theyanointed the statue of the goddess or joined in the sacred chants and hymns ofpraise. As I watched I noted this—that always they drew near together as thoughsome strength compelled them; that always their glances thrown from thecorners of their eyes, met and turned away and met again, and that always, ifoccasion served, the robe of the one brushed the robe of the other, or the hand ofthe one touched the hand of the other. These things I noted in silence, wonderingwhat judgment the goddess would call down upon this beauteous pair who daredthus to violate her sanctuary with their earthly passion. Oh! much I wondered,
though little did I guess what it would be and by whose hand it was destined tofall upon them.Lastly came Nectanebes himself, his great eyes full of terror and his fatframe wasted with woe and sleeplessness. He sought audience of me.“O Prophetess,” he said, “all is lost! Ochus Artaxerxes has his foot upon myneck. I fly, seeking shelter beneath the wings of Isis, seeking shelter from you, OIsis-come-to-earth. Help me, Daughter divine, for my Dæmon has deserted me,or if he comes at all it is but to jibber and to mock.”“Strange words from Pharaoh,” I answered in a voice of scorn, “verystrange words from Pharaoh who gave this same prophetess to be the woman ofa vile, Baal-serving king; from Pharaoh who has deserted his army, his country,and his gods, and now seeks only to save his treasure and his life.”“Reproach me not,” he moaned, “Fate has been too strong for me, asperchance one day it may be too strong for you also. At first all went well. In thebygone years I conquered the Persian; I built temples to the gods. Then of asudden Fortune hid her face and now—and now!”“Aye, O fallen Pharaoh,” I answered, “and why did Fortune hide her face? Iwill tell it, to whom it has been revealed. It was because although you builttemples to the gods, you were false to the gods. In secret, following the counselof that Dæmon of yours, you made bloody sacrifice to devils, to Baal, toAshtoreth, and to Aphrodite of the Greeks. Nay, do not start and deny, for I knowall. Lastly, to crown your crimes, you gave me, the high-prophetess of Isis, to thebase, red-handed Tenes, one who offered his own son to idols. What has chancedto Tenes who took me, and say, what shall chance to him who sold me, ONectanebes no more a Pharaoh?”Now I thought that surely he would kill me and cared not if he did. For myheart was sore—oh! because of many things my heart was sore. But like a beatencur he only cowered at my feet, praying me to pardon him, praying me to ceasefrom beating him with my tongue, praying me to counsel him. I listened and pitytook hold of me, who was ever tender-minded though a lover of justice and ahater of traitors.“Hearken,” I said at last. “If Ochus finds you here, O fallen Pharaoh, firsthe will make a mock of you and then he will torture you to death. I have heardwhat he will do. He will bring you to his judgment seat and lay you bound uponyour back and grind his sandals upon your face. Then he will force you tosacrifice to the fire that he worships and one by one to spit upon the effigies ofthe gods of Egypt. Lastly, either he will cause the holy bull Apis to gore you todeath, or he will bind you upon the altar in the temple of Ptah and there slowlywith torments bring you to your end.”
Now when Nectanebes heard these things, he wept and I thought that hewould swoon away.“Hearken,” I said again, “I will show you a road whereby although defeatedand disgraced you may yet win glory that shall be told of from age to age.Summon the people while there is yet time. Go to the temple of Ammon, Kingof the gods of Egypt. Stand before the shrine of Ammon and make confession ofyour sins in the ears of all. Then, there in the sight of all, slay yourself, prayingAmmon and all the gods to accept your life as an offering and to spare Egypt andthe people upon whose head you, the hated of the gods, have brought all thesewoes. So can you cause the Persian and the world to marvel and say that thoughaccursed, still you were great, and so perchance you shall turn away the wrath ofheaven from apostate Egypt.”A flash of pride shone in his eyes that had been empty of light and filledwith tears. He lifted his head stiffly as though still it felt the weight of the greatearrings of state, the golden uræus, and the double crown. For a moment helooked as once he had done at Sais reviewing his triumphant army after his firstvictory over the Persians and drinking in the incense of its shouts, yes, he lookedas great Thotmes and the proud Rameses might have done in their day, aPharaoh, the king of all the world he knew.“It would be well to die thus,” he murmured, “it would be very well, andthen, perhaps, the gods I have betrayed would forgive me, the old, old gods towhom thirty dynasties of recorded kings have bowed the knee, and those whowent before them for unnumbered generations. Yes, then perhaps that greatcompany of Pharaohs would not turn their backs on me or spit at me when I jointhem at the table of Osiris. But, Prophetess”—here his face fell in again and hiscrab-like eyes projected and rolled, while his voice sank to a whisper,“Prophetess, I dare not.”“Why, Nectanebes?”“Because—oh! because years ago I struck a bargain with a certain Power ofthe Under-world, a dæmon if you will, at least some spirit of evil that comes Iknow not whence and dwells I know not where, which became manifest to me. Itpromised me glory and success if I would sacrifice to it—nay, I will not tell whatI sacrificed, but once I had a son, yes, like Tenes I had a son——”Here I, Ayesha, shivered, then motioned to him to speak on.“This was the bargain, that though to please the people I might buildtemples to the gods, by certain means I must defile them in their shrines. Aye,and I did defile them, and when the priest dressed me, the Pharaoh, in thetrappings of those gods according to custom, by thought and word and deed Iblasphemed them. Yet one divinity remained outside the pact because my
Dæmon warned me that she was too strong for him and must not be offended,”and he paused.“Was she perchance named Isis?” I asked.“Aye, Prophetess, she was named Isis and therefore I never polluted hershrine and therefore to her alone in my heart I offered prayer. So all went welland I gathered great armies and vast wealth, I hired Greeks by thousands to fightfor me, I made alliances with many kings and was sure that again I should defeatthe Persians and be the master of the world. Then came the evil hour of thataccursed feast at which you, the Mouth of Isis, were summoned to prophesy and,moved by some madness, you unveiled your beauty before Tenes, and I,forgetting whose minister you were, gave you to Tenes, thereby outraging Isis inyour person.”“Did I not warn you, Nectanebes, and did not the holy Noot warn you?”“Aye, you warned me, but in my need I took the risk, or I forgot. From thatmoment all went ill and ruin, like a giant before whom none may stand, hashunted me by night and day.”“Yes, Nectanebes, and Isis is the name of that giant.”“I made error upon error,” he went on. “I trusted to Tenes and Tenesbetrayed me. My Dæmon counselled me to thrust aside the Grecian generals andtake command of the armies, and at first there was victory, then came defeat. Itmight have been retrieved, but of a sudden my courage failed me. It fell like atemple of which the foundations have been washed out by hidden waters. Itcrashed down; in a moment its proud pylons, its tall columns, its massive,honourable walls blazoned with the records of glorious deeds, fell to a shapelessheap hidden in the dust of shame. I am undone. I am what you see, a loathsomeworm, a wounded worm wriggling in the black slime of despair, I who wasPharaoh.”Again pity touched me, Ayesha, and I answered,“There still remains the road that I have pointed out. While we live,however black our record, repentance is always possible, since otherwise therewould be no hope for man the sinner. Moreover, repentance, if it be true, bringsamendment in its train, and this god-born pair struggling upward, hand in hand,over cruel rocks, through swamps and streams, through brakes and briars,blinded with tears and the gross darkness of despair, at length see the sweetshape of Forgiveness shining before them like a holy dawn such as never gleamsupon this world. Hearken, therefore, to one who speaks not with her own voice,or out of the foolishness of her own weak flesh, but as she is commanded of aspirit that is within her. Go to the temple of Ammon and there in the presence ofthe people make confession of your sins and fall, a sacrifice, upon your sword.
Self-murder is a sin, but occasions come when to live on is a greater sin, since itis better to die for others than to cherish breath that poisons them.”“To die! There you speak it, Prophetess. I say again that I dare not die.When I die I pass to the Dæmon. This was the pact: that for my life he shouldgive me success and glory and that in return after death, I should surrender himmy soul.”“Is it so?” I answered. “Well, the bargain is ancient, as old as the world, Ithink; one also that every human being in his degree seals or refuses to seal inthis way or in that. Still my counsel holds. This Dæmon of yours has broken hisoath, for where now are the success and glory, Nectanebes? Therefore he cannotclaim the fulfilment of your own.”“Nay, Prophetess,” he answered in a wailing voice, “he has not broken it.From the first he told me that I must work no harm to Isis the Mother, since theQueen of Heaven was more powerful than all the denizens of hell, and that ifonce it were spoken, her Word of Strength would pierce and shrivel him like ared-hot sword and cutting his web of spells, would bring his oaths to nothingnessand me with them. And now the web is cut, and I the painted insect that itmeshed, fall from it to where the hell-born spider sits in his hole. Prophetess, Ihave seen him with these eyes, I have seen his orbs of fire, I have seen his snoutand fangs like to those of a crocodile, I have seen his great hairy arms and thesearching talons stretched out to grip me, and I tell you that I dare not die to becast into the jaws of the Devourer and burn eternally in his belly of flames. Showme how to save my life, so that I may continue to look upon the sun. Oh!because you are a tender woman and charitable, though I have sinned againstyou, show me how to save my life.”Now hearing this creature plead with me thus, this coward who at the lastdid not dare go face the indignant gods like a man, saying, as a great soul should,“I have deeply erred, O ye Gods; I repent, pardon me of your nobility, or slay mysoul and make an end,” my pity left me and its place was filled with scorn andloathing.“Those who would live when the Persian dogs are on their heels, must flyfast and far, Nectanebes; they must fly like the deer of the desert on whom thehunters close. The road up Nile is empty, Nectanebes; as yet there are noPersians there. As you would not die, take it and live.”“Aye,” he said as the thought went home, “why not? I have still a vasttreasure; for many years I have hoarded against misfortune, for who can put allhis trust in any Dæmon? With it I can buy friends in the south; with it I mayfound another empire among the Ethiopians or those of Punt. Why should I notfly, Prophetess?”
“I know not,” I answered, “save that Death is always fast and untiring andin the end wears down the swiftest runner.”This I said darkly for at that moment there came into my mind a vision thatonce I had seen of a certain servile slave, aforetime a Pharaoh, that same royalslave who grovelled before me; yea, a vision of him throttling in a rope whileblack men mocked him. Yet of that I said nothing, only added,“If it should please you to go south, Nectanebes, would it please you also totake with you that royal and beautiful lady, Amenartas your daughter, aforetimePrincess of Egypt?”“Nay,” he answered sharply, “since hour by hour she scourges me with hertongue because I am fallen. Let her abide here under the veil of Isis. Yet why doyou ask this, Prophetess?”“Because of Isis. Because, as I think, this lady of the royal blood makesplay with a certain priest who is sworn to Isis, and the goddess does not love thather vowed servitors should desert her for the sake of mortal woman.”“What priest?” he asked dully.“A Greek who is named Kallikrates.”“I know him, Prophetess. A very beauteous man, like to their own Apollo; abrave one too who did good service yonder in the marshes, fighting the giantgeneral whom he wounded. Also I remember that in the past he was a captain ofmy guard before he became a priest and that there was trouble concerning him,though what trouble I forget, save that Amenartas pleaded for him. Well, if hehas offended you, there are still those who do my will. Send for him, and if itpleases you, he shall be killed. I give you his life. Yes, his blood shall flow atyour feet. Indeed I will command it at once, since you tell me he has shamed thegoddess or angered you, her priestess,” and he opened his hands to clap them,summoning the messengers of death.I saw, I thrust my arm between so that they struck not upon each other, butupon my soft flesh, making no sound.“Nay,” I said, “this warrior-priest is a good servant of the Queen Isis, one,moreover, who fought for me, her prophetess, upon the seas. He shall not die forso small a matter. Yet I pray you, Nectanebes, take with you the royal princessAmenartas, when you fly south with your treasure.”“Aye,” he answered wearily, “as it is your desire I’ll take her if she willcome, though if so there will be small rest for me.”Then he went, bowing to me humbly, and this was my farewell toNectanebes, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. I watched him go and wondered whetherI had done well in forbidding him to kill Kallikrates. It came into my mind thatthe death of this man would save me much trouble. Why should he not die as
others did who had sinned against the goddess? An answer rose within me. Itwas that he had sinned, not only against the goddess, but also against me—andthis by preferring another woman before me.Was I then so feeble that I could not hold my own against another womanshould I choose to do so? Nay. Yet my trouble was that I did not choose.Now I saw the truth. My rebellious flesh desired that which my spiritrejected. My spirit was far from this man, yet my flesh would have him near.Aye, my flesh said: “Let him be slain rather than another should take him,” whilemy spirit answered, “What has he to do with one whose soul is set upon thingsabove? Let him go his way, and go you yours. Above all, be not stained with hisblood.”So I let him go, not knowing that it was written in the books of Fate that Imust be stained with his blood, steeped in it to the eyes. Aye, I saved him fromthe sword of Nectanebes and let him go, determining to think of him no more.Yet as it chanced Fate played me an evil trick in this matter. On the morrow,or the next day, I sat in the gloom of the outer sanctuary praying to the goddessto ease me of my sore heart, for alas! strive as I would to hide it, that heart wassore. There came a white-robed priest, Kallikrates himself, but changed indeedfrom that glorious Grecian warrior who had beat back the boarders on the Hapi,or who had fought in single combat with the giant Nicostratus. For now the littlegolden curls were shaven from his head and he was pale with the thin diet of thefruits of the earth and pure water which alone might pass the lips of those whowere sworn to Isis, enough indeed for me who touched no other food, or such aone as the aged Noot, but not for a great-framed man bred to the trade of arms.Moreover, his face was troubled as though with some struggle of the soul.He passed me unseen and going to the statue of the goddess, knelt downbefore it and prayed earnestly, perhaps for help and blessing. Rising at length,once more he passed me and I saw that his gray eyes were full of tears andlonged to comfort him. Also I saw that still he carried on his hand that ringtalisman which I had set there upon the ship Hapi, that it might perchancedefend him from the evil influences which desire and compass the death of men.He went out across the pillared court toward the cloister at its end. Fromthis cloister appeared a woman, the dark and beauteous Amenartas herself. Thiswas easy to see since, I know not why, she had put off the veil of Isis and wasgloriously attired in the robes of a princess—scanty enough I thought them, forthey left bare much of her loveliness—while on her dark and abundant hairshone a golden circlet from which rose the royal uræus, and on her arms andbosom sparkled jewels and necklaces.They meet by plan, thought I to myself. But it was not so, for seeing her,
Kallikrates started and turned to fly; also he covered his eyes with his hand asthough to hide her beauty from him. She lifted her face like one who pleads, yes,and when he would not hearken, caught him by the hand and drew him into theshadow of the cloister.There they remained a long while, for at this hour the place was deserted byall. At length they appeared again on the edge of the shadow and I saw that herarms were about him and that her head rested on his breast. They separated. Shevanished into the shadows and went her way, while he walked to and fro acrossthe court, muttering to himself like a man who knows not what he does.I came from my place and met him, saying,“Surely you are troubled, Priest. Can it be that the goddess refuses yourprayers? Or is it perchance that you weary of them and would still play the partof a warrior of warriors as you did on the galley Hapi, or but the other dayyonder in the northern marshes? If so, it is too late, Priest, for Egypt is fallen andall is lost. That is, unless, like Mentor and many of your race, you would sellyour sword to Ochus Artaxerxes.”“Aye, Prophetess,” he answered, “Egypt is lost which, being a Greek,should not trouble me over much, and I too am lost, I, the driven of an evil fate.”“Speak on if it pleases you. Or be silent if it pleases you, O Priest. What theprophetess hears, she tells only to the Mother.”Then I turned and went back into the shadow of the shrine where I leanedagainst a pillar—I remember that on it was sculptured the scene of Thothweighing hearts before Osiris. Here I waited, wondering whether he wouldfollow me or go his ways.For a while he stood hesitating, but at length he followed me.“Prophetess,” he said hoarsely, “I speak under the veil of Isis, knowing thatsuch confessions cannot be revealed. Yet it is hard to speak, since the matter hasto do with woman, aye, and with yourself, most holy Prophetess.”“In Isis I have no self,” I answered.“Prophetess, in bygone years, as I think you know, I learned to love a royalmaiden, one set far above me, and it seems that she loved me. That passionbrought a brother’s blood upon my hands, as you also know. I fled to thegoddess, seeking peace and forgiveness. For in me I think there are two selves,the self of my body and the self of my soul.”“As in most that breathe beneath the sun,” I answered, sighing.“I was bred a soldier, one who came from a race of soldiers, men of highblood and good to look upon, as once I was, though in this garb few would guessit.”“I have seen you wearing war-harness and can guess,” I answered, smiling
a little.“That soldier-self, Prophetess, was as are others of the breed. I drank and Irevelled, I bowed the knee to Aphrodite, loving women and for an hour beingloved. I fought, not without honour. Then seeking advancement, with my brotherI entered the service of Pharaoh, and of that story doubtless you know the rest.”I bowed my head and he went on,“I came to Philæ, I made confession, I took the first vows. At night andalone I was led to the sanctuary, there to see the vision of the goddess. I saw thatvision glowing in the darkened shrine, and oh! it was glorious.”Here I started and watched him narrowly, wondering how much he knew orguessed.“Something took hold of me, Prophetess, for now I beheld her whom all mysoul adored, her with whom it would be united. It was as though a memory cameto me from afar, a memory and a promise. That Power which took hold of mecaused me to bend my head as though to kiss the vision and thereby pledge mysoul to the divine. The vision also bent its head and our lips met, and lo! herswere like to those of mortal woman, yet sweeter far.”“The Mother is mistress of all shapes, Priest. Yet think not that she forgetsthe pledge that thus it pleased her to accept. From that moment you were swornto her, and doubtless in a day to come, in this form or in that, she will claim you—should you remain true to her, O Priest.”“The years passed,” he went on, “and true I remained. Fate brought me hereto Memphis and in this temple I saw you, holy Prophetess, and learned toworship you from afar, not with the body, but with the spirit; since to me youwere and are what the vulgar call you, Isis-come-to-Earth, and the sight of youever put me in mind, as it does to-day, of that divine vision whose lips met minein the shrine at Philæ. Perchance you never knew it, but thus with my spirit Iworshipped you.”Now I, Ayesha, remained silent, leaning against the pillar, for weaknesstook hold of me who felt as though I were about to fall. Yet—and let thevengeful gods write this to my honour—yet I made him no sign that I was shewho had played the part of Isis in the sanctuary.“It is well,” I said presently, “and doubtless at the appointed hour thegoddess will thank you. But what then is your trouble, Priest? To love a goddesswith the spirit is no crime.”“Aye, Prophetess. But what if he who loves the goddess with his spirit andis sworn to her alone for ever in a vow of perpetual chastity, should love awoman with his flesh and thus betray both heaven and his own soul?”“Then, Priest,” I answered, speaking very low, “I fear that he is one whose
hope of forgiveness is but small. Yet for those who repent and deny, there ispardon. Only they must deny, they must deny while there is still time.”“Easy to say and hard to do,” he answered, “at least for him who has to dealwith one that will not be denied; with one who holds his heart in the hollow ofher hand and crushes it; with one whose eyes are like star-beacons to which thewanderer must fly; with one whose breath is as roses and whose lips are ashoney; with one who can drive the desires of man as a racer drives his chariot;with one to whom oaths also have been sworn, such oaths as the youth swears tothe maid in the first madness of the flesh, decreed by those who made it.Goddesses are far away, but woman is near; moreover, among men there is a lawwhich even a prophetess may understand, which says that oaths vowed with thelips may not be broken to benefit the vower’s soul.”“These are ancient arguments,” I answered; “from age to age they echofrom the roofs of the temples of Aphrodite and of Ashtoreth, but Isis knowsthem not. The flesh is given to mankind that its wearers may learn to scorn andtrample it; the spirit is given to mankind that its holders may learn to rise uponits wings. Woe to those who choose the flesh and reject the spirit. Repentance isstill possible, and after it comes amendment and after amendment, forgiveness.”He brooded awhile, then said,“Prophetess, I repent who above all things desire at the end—that endwhich again and again I have sought in battle wherever it has passed me by—tobe united with the goddess, shaped like the divine one whom I saw in the shrineat Philæ. Yes, with her and with no other. But how can I amend who am a lion ina net, a net woven of woman’s hair?”Now I searched him with my eyes and learned that although so sore beset,this man spoke nothing but the truth. Then I answered,“The wise bird flies the snare which it sees spread in its sight. To-morrow atthe dawn Noot the Holy sails north to meet certain ambassadors of the Persiansand if he can make terms, to ransom the temples of Isis from the rage of Ochus.Will you go with him, breathing no word of his purpose or of yours? If so,perchance thus at last you shall find that goddess whose lips met yours at Philæ,here—or otherwhere.”He thought awhile, then muttered,“It is hard, very hard, yet I will go; I who would satisfy my soul and not myflesh.”As he spoke a tall priestess flitted past us, passing from shadow intoshadow, but thinking that she was one of those whose duty it was to watch theinner shrine at this hour, I took no note of her. Nor did Kallikrates, lost in his
own thoughts, so much as see her.