Before one table, whereon the scattered pawns of a game yet lay, Rameses lounged in a deep chair, a semi-recumbent figure in marble and obsidian. Beside him, where she had seated herself at his command, was Masanath.
There was Seti at Ta-user’s side, but Io was not at the feast. She mourned for Kenkenes. Ta-meri was there, the bride of a week to Nechutes, who hovered about her without eye or ear for any other of the company. Siptah, Menes, Har-hat, all of the group save Hotep and Kenkenes, were present and near enough to be of the crown prince’s party, yet scattered sufficiently to talk among themselves.
The game of drafts, prolonged from one to many, had ended disastrously for the prince in spite of his most gallant efforts to win. Masanath, against whom he had played, finally thrust the pawns away and refused to play further with him.
“Thou dost make sport for the Hathors, O Prince,” she said. “Have respect for thyself and indulge their caprice no more.”
“Hast thou not heard that we may compel the gods?” he asked. “Perhaps I do but indulge them, of a truth. But let me set mine own will against fate and there shall be no more losing for me.”
“It is a precarious game. Perchance there is as strong a will as thine, compelling the Hathors contrarily to thine own desires. What, then, O Rameses?”
“By the gambling god, Toth, I shall try it!” he exclaimed. “The opportunity is before me even now.”
He took her hand.
“I catch thy meaning. Beloved of Isis! Thou didst challenge me long ago, and long ago I took it up. Thus far have we fenced behind shields. Down with the bull-hide, now, and bare the heart!”
“Thou dost forget thyself,” she retorted, wrenching her hand from him. “The eyes of thy guests are upon thee.”
He laughed. “The prince’s doings become the fashion. Let me be seen and there shall be no woman’s hand unpossessed in this chamber.”
“Thou shalt set no fashion by me. Neither shalt thou rend the Hathors between thy wishes and mine. Furthermore, if thou dost forget thy princely dignity, thy power will not prevent me if I would remind thee of thy lapse.”
“War!” he exclaimed. “Now, by the battling hosts of Set, never have I met a foe so worthy the overcoming. Listen! Dost thou know that I have sorrows? Dost thou remember that I may have sleepless nights and unhappy days—discontents, heartaches and oppressions? I am not less human because I am royal, but because I am royal I am more unhappy. Sorry indeed is a prince’s lot! Wherefore? Because he is sated with submission; because he hath drunk satiety to its very dregs; because he hath been denied the healing hunger of appetite, ambition, conquest. How hath my miserable heart longed to aspire—to conquer! I have starved for something beyond my reach. But lo! in thee I have found what I sought. Thou hast