Opposite this group was another, the center of which was Masanath. She sat in the richest seat in the house of Senci. It was ivory tricked with gold; but small and young as the fan-bearer’s daughter was, there was none in that assembly who might queen it as royally as she from its imperial depths. By her side was the boon companion of Rameses. He was Menes, surnamed “the Bland,” captain of the royal guard, a most amiable soldier and chiefly remarkable because, of all the prince’s world, he was the only one that could tell the truth to Rameses and tell it without offense.
On the floor between Masanath and Menes was the son of Amon-meses, the Prince Siptah. He was a typical Oriental, bronze in hue, lean of frame, brilliant of eye, white of teeth, intense in temperament and fierce in his loves and hates. Religion comforted him through his appetites; in his sight craft was a virtue, intrigue was politics, and love was a fury. His eyes never left Ta-user for long, and his every word seemed to be inspired by some overweening emotion.
Aside from these there were others in the group. Some were sons and daughters of royalty, cousins of the Pharaoh’s sons and of Ta-user and Siptah; many were children of the king’s ministers, and all were noble.
Senci and Hotep’s older sister, the Lady Bettis, a dark-eyed matron of thirty, presided in duenna-like guardianship over the rout. They sat in a diphros apart from the young revelers.
Kenkenes was momently expected. For the past two months he had been seen every evening wherever there was high-class revel in Memphis. But he had laughed perfunctorily and lapsed into preoccupation when none spoke to him, and his song had a sorry note in it, however happy the theme. But these were things apparent only to those that saw deeper than the surface.
“Where is Kenkenes?” Menes demanded. “Hath he forsworn us?”
“I saw him to-day,” Nechutes ventured, without raising his eyes from the game, “when we were fowling on the Nile below the city. He was alone, pulling down-stream, just this side of Masaarah.”
Hotep frowned and gave over any hope that Kenkenes would join the merrymaking that night. But at that moment, Ta-meri, who sat facing the entrance to the chamber, poised the dice-box in air and drew in a long breath. The guests followed her eyes.
Kenkenes stood in the doorway, the curtain thrust aside and above him. His voluminous festal robes were deeply edged with gold, but his arms, bare to the shoulder, and his strong brown neck were without their usual trappings of jewels. The omission seemed intentional, as if the young man had meant to contrast the ornament of young strength and grace with the glitter and magnificence of the other guests. He had succeeded well.
Perhaps to most of those present, the young man’s presence was not unusual, but Hotep was not blind to a manifest alteration in his manner. There was cynicism in the corners of his mouth, and a hint of hurt or temper was evident in the tension of his nostril and the brilliance of his eyes. Hotep had no need of seers and astrologers, for his perception served him in all tangible things. He knew something untoward had set Kenkenes to thinking about himself, and guessing where the young artist had gone that evening, he surmised further how he had been received.