The dwarf Nemu was brought before the Regent and threw himself on the ground at his feet.
Ani ordered the attendants to leave him, and said to the little man
“You compelled me to put you in prison. Stand up!” The dwarf rose and said, “Be thanked—for my arrest too.”
The Regent looked at him in astonishment; but Nemu went on half humbly, half in fun, “I feared for my life, but thou hast not only not shortened it, but hast prolonged it; for in the solitude of the dungeon time seemed long, and the minutes grown to hours.”
“Keep your wit for the ladies,” replied the Regent. “Did I not know that you meant well, and acted in accordance with the Lady Katuti’s fancy, I would send you to the quarries.”
“My hands,” mumbled the dwarf, “could only break stones for a game of draughts; but my tongue is like the water, which makes one peasant rich, and carries away the fields of another.”
“We shall know how to dam it up.”
“For my lady and for thee it will always flow the right way,” said the dwarf. “I showed the complaining citizens who it is that slaughters their flesh and blood, and from whom to look for peace and content. I poured caustic into their wounds, and praised the physician.”
“But unasked and recklessly,” interrupted Ani; “otherwise you have shown yourself capable, and I am willing to spare you for a future time. But overbusy friends are more damaging than intelligent enemies. When I need your services I will call for you. Till then avoid speech. Now go to your mistress, and carry to Katuti this letter which has arrived for her.”
“Hail to Ani, the son of the Sun!” cried the dwarf kissing the Regent’s foot. “Have I no letter to carry to my mistress Nefert?”
“Greet her from me,” replied the Regent. “Tell Katuti I will visit her after the next meal. The king’s charioteer has not written, yet I hear that he is well. Go now, and be silent and discreet.”
The dwarf quitted the room, and Ani went into an airy hall, in which his luxurious meal was laid out, consisting of many dishes prepared with special care. His appetite was gone, but he tasted of every dish, and gave the steward, who attended on him, his opinion of each.
Meanwhile he thought of the king’s letter, of Bent-Anat, and whether it would be advisable to expose himself to a rejection on her part.
After the meal he gave himself up to his body-servant, who carefully shaved, painted, dressed, and decorated him, and then held the mirror before him.
He considered the reflection with anxious observation, and when he seated himself in his litter to be borne to the house of his friend Katuti, he said to himself that he still might claim to be called a handsome man.
If he paid his court to Bent-Anat—if she listened to his suit—what then?
He would refer it to Katuti, who always knew how to say a decisive word when he, entangled in a hundred pros and cons, feared to venture on a final step.