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Zaphnath Ruler Of The Kemi






Part of: Other World Life
From: Pharaoh's Broker

Two hieroglyph-bearing columns of red sandstone, strong and broad enough
to have supported a Tower of Babel, formed the portals of the outer gate
of the palace. A pair of Terror-birds, whose plumage was a pearly grey,
stood sleepily on guard. Our soldier, who could scarcely have reached to
the backs of the birds, lifted up his cross-bow and tapped upon their
long necks. Acting perfectly in concert, the animals each engaged with
its beak a wooden ring suspended high in front of them, and then,
bending down their necks, the hempen ropes, to which the rings were
fastened, hauled up a ponderous portcullis, made of slabs of stone, and
thus afforded us an entrance.

As this stone gate rumbled slowly down again, we saw that we were shut
into a vast courtyard, surrounded by a colonnade, whence cavernous
passages led circuitously to the various compartments of the palace.
Within the courtyard were drawn up in expectant readiness four companies
of archers and three of slingers, in all, perhaps, seven hundred men,
who gaped and stared at us.

The doctor touched my elbow, and whispered: "We should have landed in
here with the projectile, which would have given us a means of ready
escape."

"Remember the saying of General Grant," I answered. "'When you are
frightened, don't forget that the enemy may be far more so.' These
soldiers have heard enough to make them believe us capable of anything.
They would tear down the very walls, if we were to open fire on them.
Besides, I could leap that courtyard wall and drag you with me."

Unsheathing our swords, as an object lesson to the soldiers, we followed
our guide to the blind end of a long passage, which apparently gave
entrance only to a small stone chamber. Following the soldier and
muleteer, who were now carrying our shields and telescope, we crowded
into this and waited. Presently the entire chamber, operated in some
unseen manner, turned slowly half way round, so that its door now gave
entrance directly to a vast but gloomy and tomb-like audience chamber,
where we were evidently expected.

Upon a massive throne of richly-chiselled stone a youth of scarcely more
than five-and-twenty years (if judged by earthly standards) sat
gorgeously arrayed in vestments of richly coloured feathers, woven
skilfully into the meshes of coarse cloth. Longer plumes of changeable
colours radiated from a wide collar which he wore, covering his breast
and back, and extending over his shoulders. The peach-blow of his fair
cheeks was partly hidden by a heavy false beard, plaited into stubby
braids, which hung to an even line a little below the chin. His own
soft, flaxen hair peeped meekly out from under a wig of tightly curled
grey strands, cropped all round to a level with the beard. His feet and
arms were bare, except for thin ribbons of downy, purple feathers, which
circled the wrists and ankles. No crown was on his head, but among the
stringy wig-curls the sinuous body of an asp bent in and out, and the
curved neck and threatening head surmounted his clear brow.

To his right, round an oval table of highly polished stone, sat twelve
wrinkled men, not one of whom but had seen three times his years. They
wore their own white beards, unplaited, and their feather clothing was
less elaborate and of simple grey, like the plumage of the Terror-bird.

Our soldier placed his right hand upon his cheek, and inclined his head
slightly forward and to the right, as a salutation to the ruler, and,
leaving the woman standing by me, he and the muleteer retired. She
seemed neither surprised at, nor accustomed to, these surroundings. She
made no salutation or obeisance to the ruler or to the old men, and they
made none to her. Withdrawing her hand from mine, she stretched it
toward them, as she had toward the commonest man outside. They paid her
no attention, but the oldest of the men signalled to an attendant, who
led her back and placed her hand in mine again. That soldiers and
counsellors alike should consider this necessary or fitting seemed
strange to me. The doctor jokingly suggested that they wished to keep me
permanently hypnotized, lest I should become dangerous again.

Having laid off our rifles, swords, and outer coats, I lifted my cap and
made a low bow to the youth and to the old men, but the doctor tried the
salute of the right hand upon the cheek, as he had seen the soldier do.
In answer the youth simply looked toward the twelve, waving his hand
towards us in a way which seemed to say to them, "Gentlemen, behold the
enigma!" Then, beginning with the eldest, the twelve jabbered at us in
turn, apparently in different tongues, some sibilant, some guttural, and
others with the musical cadence of frequent vowel sounds. Needless to
say, each was equally incomprehensible to us, and we did not think it
worth while to try German or English upon them. When they had finished,
they looked much vexed, and slowly wagged their beards. Then the youth
spoke something to them with a confident gesture toward himself. He
arose, and began addressing us. I suddenly stopped short in the middle
of a sentence I was whispering to the doctor. It seemed as if the youth
had ceased making mere sounds, and had begun to speak a coherent
language, a tongue which has lived ages while others have languished
into forgetfulness; a language whose words I understood, but yet the
words carried little clear meaning to me.

"Listen, Doctor! The boy is speaking Hebrew! Ancient and archaic in
form, but yet Hebrew which I understand!" And this is what he had said:

"Oh ye, who speak among yourselves, but understand only those who speak
not at all, I, Zaphnath, revealer of God's hidden things, will address
ye in my native tongue, which none but me in all the land of Kem hath
any knowledge of."

"There be two of us in Kem, O Zaphnath, who understand that tongue.
Speak on!" I cried.

But the boy stripped off his wig and beard, and, leaving the throne,
hastened toward me and laid his soft right cheek against my own with
gentle pressure.

"Comest thou, then, from the land of my father, a stranger wandering
into Kem, even as I came?" he asked.

"Nay, gentle youth, we came a vastly farther way, from another world, so
distant that thou seest it from here only as a twinkling star in the
night. But if, indeed, thou camest a wandering stranger into Kem, art
thou then the king?" He had resumed his wig and beard, and his proud
seat upon the throne, and after he had translated my words for the
twelve old men, he answered me,--

"I am Zaphnath, ruler over all the land of Kem, without whom the
Pharaoh doeth not, nor sayeth anything. These are his twelve wise men,
who do not believe what thou hast said, for there is no other world
large enough for the abode of two men, except the Day-Giver, whence they
think ye have come. The Pharaoh may believe them, but I will believe
what ye tell me. He hath given me full power to treat with you, and hath
taken refuge with all his women in his tomb, and will not come forth
until ye be appeased. Tell me in truth, then, are ye men, or gods? Ye
look not half so warlike as all the soldiers have described you."

I translated this to the doctor, but replied without waiting to consult
with him,--

"We know but one God, who hath made all the stars, and all who dwell
upon them. We are men to whom it hath been given to travel the infinite
distances which reach from one of His stars to another, and we are come
to this one, not to make war but to find peace. We would have sought
thee peacefully as friends, had not thine armies made war upon us on the
plateau yonder. But our means of warfare proved far more terrible and
dreadful here than on our proper star. Thus have we unwittingly slain
two of thy soldiers and frightened all the army. We have with us the
means to kill them all, but we seek a peaceable life here for a brief
time, that we may learn your ways and test your wisdom, when we shall be
gone again."

"The Pharaoh could have better spared a thousand men than the bird
which thy lightning hath killed. For are not his slaves as the plenteous
grain of a rich harvest, while his birds are but as the fingers of his
hands. If ye came but to learn, 'tis well ye know these wise men,
though, since I came to Kem, their profession hath fallen somewhat into
disrepute. I doubt not but they could learn far more from thee than thou
from them, but they will not do it. Whatever they do not know is not
true in Kem, but what they know continues true long after common men
know better. Now, wilt thou explain to me the mysteries the soldiers
have reported to us? But first tell us which of all the stars it is thou
comest from."

"Know then, O Zaphnath, that we call our star the Earth, and in her
wanderings she hath now approached so near to the great Orb of Day that
her rays are paled by his brighter light; she sets with him, and shines
no more by night. But yet a few days now, and she shall triumph even
over him, and, entering on his glowing disc, she shall be seen at
mid-day, obscuring his light and travelling as a spot across his glory."

The old men wagged their beards as the boy translated, but he sprang to
his feet with no little excitement, and exclaimed,--

"Meanest thou that blue star with its attendant speck of white, which
but a little while ago shone with great brightness as a Twilight Star?"

"That is the Earth, O Zaphnath, the world from whence we came," I
exclaimed; and the youth again threw off his wig and beard, and rushing
toward me, pressed first his right cheek and then his left cheek against
mine, and then against the doctor's.

"Then ye are most welcome to the land of Kem, and we shall be friends
for ever. For ye should know that my mother was barren all the years of
her life until this same Blue Star came to shine wondrously, even in the
presence of the Day-Giver, before his setting. It was then, under the
beneficent influence of this star, that she gave birth to me. And when
the star paled and wandered again I tarried not in the land of my
father, but came strangely hither, to be ruler in a great land which my
people had never known."

When he had resumed his seat again, I said, "All that I have told thee
shalt thou see come to pass, and through this Larger Eye, which we have
made to pierce the deep of space, thou shalt see more clearly that the
Blue Star is indeed a great orb, where many men may dwell, and after she
hath passed the Day-Giver, she will appear as a bright morning star
again to announce his coming."

"Why now, if this be true, then every one of these old men must die. For
Pharaoh's laws provide that whatsoever wise man faileth to predict such
an appearance, or predicteth one which doth not occur, must lose his
life. These grey-beards, always jealous of me, have said that the Blue
Star, which beareth my destiny, hath disappeared, never to be seen
again. Now, when they are slain, Pharaoh shall appoint you to sit in
their places. Ye shall reign jointly with Zaphnath if it pleaseth you,
and ye may choose what seemeth good to you of everything that is in the
land of Kem and in all the countries which pay tribute unto Pharaoh. And
he will give you as wives all the women ye saw in Long Breath Park, and
an equal part of all the slaves and women taken in war will he give you
also. For hath he not bidden me treat generously with you, even to his
tributary countries and half his women?"

"We come from a star, O Zaphnath, where men desire many things and are
never satisfied. But of all the things thou offerest us, we wish not
one. We make no peace unless these old men be left alive. We do not know
this country or its people, wherefore we are most unfit to rule them. We
wish no slaves, but will pay a hire to one or two good men, who may do
our daily tasks. And as for women, we never choose but one, and then
only when we know her well and find her equally willing."

"Then are ye come from a most strange star indeed! But I must tell thee
that the laws of the Kemi forbid even to the Pharaoh, who hath the first
claim upon all women, to take to wife a woman such as her whose hand
thou clingest to so warmly. What findest thou in her whose dumb tongue
could never tell thy praises, and if 'twere loosened, her mind would
still be dumb and silent?"

"Who is this woman, then, whom thou sentest out to meet us? She alone
hath had no fear, and hath greeted us in a friendly and a welcome
manner. Had it not been for her, we might still have been loosening our
thunder among your soldiers, or flashing this lightning in thy face!" I
said, half drawing my long sword as I spoke.

"She is Thenocris, a poor, unfortunate maiden, dumb of tongue and mind,"
he answered. "In my country we would call her mute and senseless, but
here among the Kemi they revere such ill-starred creatures, thinking
that because they act strangely, and look not upon the world as others
do, their souls must be turned within to the contemplation of hidden and
spiritual things. They think such creatures know the secrets of the
gods, and that the gods have made them mute, or speaking only silly
things, lest those secrets be revealed. The people, therefore, give them
alms, and suppose that they are effectual in intercessions with the
gods. This girl went out at noon, as was her custom, to stand by the
gate and ask alms. A soldier saw thee seize her hand and hold it
strangely long, and he reported this to us. Whereupon these wise men
with one accord decided that ye must have come for women, and we set
about preparing a peace-offering of two thousand maidens for you in the
Park. Afterwards there came another soldier later to say that ye had
landed in the Park, pleased with our offering of the women. Then rose
yon grey-beard and argued most wisely thus: That ye, being such strange
creatures, had understood best what we understand the least; that thou
hadst learned the hidden thought of this dumb woman by long holding of
her hand; that, as ye had been friendly to her, she might be able to
lead you unto us; and lastly, that it would be no breach of our laws if
thou tookest this woman to thine own land and madest her thy wife; that
if we could thus save our city, and the lives of the people, it would be
wisdom to give her to thee, together with all the women in the Park.
Then another grey-beard, wishing to share the credit for a wise idea,
arose and insisted that it would be ill in us to keep the strange white
animal, which one of the men found upon the plateau. We knew that ye
must have brought this, for in all our land we have no four-footed thing
smaller than the useful burden-carrying asses ye have seen. Wherefore,
the wisdom of the grey-beards being now complete, we sent the dumb girl
and the white animal out with the soldier, and they have brought you
hither."

"So you have been falling in love with a queen of your own making, who
is no more than a dumb idiot!" chuckled the doctor.

"Silence!" I shouted hotly, for I was unspeakably sorry for the poor
girl. "There are softer, kinder words than those by which to call a
poor blank soul that's born awry. The Kemi are quite right, for this
girl, having no sense, has yet been wiser to-day than both of us and all
these wise men." Then turning, I addressed the ruler in Hebrew:

"Thou shouldst know that in our land the seizing of the right hand is a
salutation of friendship and welcome, much the same as the pressure of
the cheek is here. We had vainly tried to signal to your soldiers that
we were friendly, and when this woman stretched out her pretty hand I
was pleased to seize it warmly. Call thou a soldier now and send her
safely home. Let the white rabbit belong henceforth to her. She hath
unwittingly been God's messenger in bringing us together. Mayhap she
hath saved the lives of many of the people. Wherefore let them remember
her, and henceforth treat her kindly. And as for those other women in
the Park, bid them all return to their homes, and let it generally be
known that there will be peace, and no further war. The terms of truce
we will arrange with thee and with the Pharaoh somewhat later. We wish
no gifts or offerings of peace. No more do we desire than that the
Pharaoh shall entertain us for a season until we learn your ways, and
then permit us to live quietly in this, your city, obedient to your
laws, and pursuing such careers as our abilities may fit us for."

"All this that ye desire, and more, most gladly shall be done, and a
grand festival shall be appointed for this night to celebrate the peace.
The Pharaoh will entertain you and his royal friends with feasting and
with dancing, and the terms of the compact between us shall then be
ratified."

At this point a grey-beard interrupted the young ruler, and a spirited
conversation took place between them, after which the youth asked,--

"Tell me now, are there not many more such men as ye upon the Blue Star,
who may come to wage a further war with us?"

"Have no fear for that," I answered. "The vessel in which we came is the
sole means of bridging that vast space, and no more can come, unless
indeed we bring them. But all of them shall keep the covenant we make
with thee."

Then Zaphnath held a long consultation with the wise men, which ended by
the summoning of three soldiers--one to take the woman home, another to
carry the news of peace to the Park and to the people, and the third, as
I supposed, to convey a message to the Pharaoh; but before the last was
despatched, Zaphnath said to me,--

"Our messengers reported a third curious person with you, having a much
larger body and long moving horns. What have ye done with him? Is he
left in charge of your travelling house?"

Then I explained this circumstance to them, as well as the incident of
my smoking, which I promised to repeat at the banquet in the evening.
After hearing this they dispatched the third messenger.

"We have heard, not only that ye breathed smoke and carried flames in
your limbs, but that your flesh was of iron, invulnerable to arrows;
that ye were stronger than birds, and carried the thunder and lightnings
of the gods with which to kill; and that ye were able to walk through
the air as well as on the ground."

"'Tis true we are stronger than any birds upon our proper star, and that
we kill with a thunder and a lightning. Our flesh is tougher and more
solid than thine, yet 'tis not of iron. But tell me, what knowest thou
of iron?"

"'Tis a rare, precious metal which we coin for money, but I see thou
carriest much of it. Thy thunderers are made of it."

"And hast thou no metal, bright and yellow, such as this?" I asked,
exhibiting my gold watch.

"In truth, the Pharaoh alone is able to possess such riches, and in all
the land of Kem there is no such huge lump of it as that!" he exclaimed
in wonder, while the sleepy wise men opened their big eyes.

"We have within our belts many coins of this, which we may barter with
the Pharaoh for things more plenteous here."

"Are ye travelling traders then, or what were your occupations on the
Blue Star? Were ye warriors, rulers, wise men, or owners of the soil?"

"My good friend here hath been a wise man, as thou must know from his
grey beard," I answered, smiling at the doctor. "He hath been a teacher
of knowledge to the people, and it was his superior wisdom which
contrived the house in which we travelled hither."

"But hath it not been a folly to teach wisdom to the people? When they
have learned, the wise man turneth fool! Wisdom groweth ripe by being
bottled, but whoso poureth it out for every thirsty drinker wasteth good
wine upon gross beasts!"

"In its youth our star held to these opinions, but now it teacheth
wisdom to every child, and in this manner we have made progress into
many things not even dreamed of here. As for my own profession, I have
been a dealer in wheat, the bread-grain of our star. Hast thou here such
a small grain growing at the bearded end of a tall straw?"

"In truth, the land of Kem raiseth so large a store of such a grain as
to feed all the surrounding countries! Our greatest traffic is in this
wheat. Hast thou not seen the green fields of it lining the banks of the
Nasr-Nil, until the sight tires following it? This season there cometh
such a crop as Kem hath never seen before, and for six years we have
been blest with its plenty----"

Here he was interrupted by the hurried return of the third messenger,
who addressed him in excited tones. As the Kemi use no gestures, and
but little facial expression in their conversation, I could not guess
the import of his message. Therefore when it was translated by the youth
it was all the more surprising.

"The soldier saith that a certain curious man of Kem, anxious to explore
thy travelling house, ventured within it, when presently it rose and
sailed away with him far out of the city, and was lost from sight in the
red distance!"

This was an unforeseen, stupefying development. I left the doctor to
guard our things, and rushing out I leaped the courtyard wall and ran
with all haste to the Park. The projectile was gone! No sign or trace of
it was anywhere to be seen. Willingly or not, we were henceforth chained
to Mars!





Next: The Iron Men From The Blue Star

Previous: The Strange Bravery Of Miss Blank



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