“This is but a new method of warfare,” he answered. “Instead of going forth with thy foot-soldiers and thy chariots, thy javelins and thy shields, thou sufferest siege within thy borders. Wilt thou fling up thy hands and open thy gates to thine enemy, while yet there is plenty within the realm and men to post its walls? Let it not be written down against thee, O my father, that thou didst so. Losses to Egypt!” the phrase was bitter with scorn. “Dost thou remember how many dead the Incomparable Pharaoh left in Asia? How many perished of thirst in the deserts and of cold in the mountains, and of pestilence in the marshes? Ran not the rivers of the Orient with Egyptian blood, and where shall the souls of those empty bodies dwell which rotted under the sun on the great plains of the East? The Incomparable Pharaoh cast out the word ‘surrender’ from his tongue. Wilt thou restore it and use it first in this short-lived conflict with a mongrel race of shepherds? Nay, if thou dost give over now, it shall not be an injustice to thee if it come to pass that thou shalt bow to a brickmaker as thy sovereign, sacrifice to the Immaterial God and swear by the beard of Abraham!”
Meneptah winced under the acrid reproach of his son.
“It hath ever been mine intent to keep the Hebrews, but I would not act unadvised,” he explained apologetically.
“Wherefore, then, these frequent consultations with the wolf from Midian?” was the quick retort. “Thou art unskilled in the ways of war, my father. The king who would conquer treats not with his enemy. Thou dost risk the respect of thy realm for thee. Strengthen thy fortifications and exhaust the cunning of thy besieger. And if he invade thy lines again with insolence and threats, treat him to the sword or the halter. If thou art a warrior, prove thy deserts to the name. And if Egypt backs thee not in thy stand against the Hebrew, then it is not the same Egypt that followed Rameses the Great to glory!”
The king put up his hand.
“Enough! They shall not go; they shall not go!”
One morning early in March Seti stood beside the parapet on the palace of the king in Tanis. His eyes were fixed on the shimmering line of the northern level, but he did not see it. Some one came with silent footfall and laid a hand on his arm.
He turned and looked into Ta-user’s eyes. His face softened and he took the hand between his own.
“Alas! this day thou returnest into the Hak-heb,” he said.
She nodded. “Would I could take thee with me, but not yet, not yet. Wait till thou art a little older.”
He sighed and looked away again. “What weighty things absorb my prince?” she asked. “What especial labors is he planning?”
His face clouded. “Dost thou mock me, Ta-user?” he returned.