Now at this bold speech of mine all those nobles and attendants gasped, for never had they heard such words addressed to his Majesty. The King turned red as though with shame, but made no answer, only he asked of those about him.
“What fate for this man?”
“Death, O King!” they cried with one voice.
“What death?” he asked again.
Then his Councillors consulted together and one of them answered,
“The slowest known to our law, death by the boat.”
Hearing this and not knowing what was meant, it came into my mind that I was to be turned adrift in a boat and there left to starve.
“Behold the reward of good hunting!” I mocked in my rage. “O King, because of this deed of shame I call upon you the curse of all the gods of all the peoples. Henceforth may your sleep be ever haunted by evil dreams of what shall follow the last sleep, and in the end may you also die in blood.”
The King opened his mouth as though to answer, but from it came nothing but a low cry of fear. Then guards rushed up and seized me.
THE DOOM OF THE BOAT
The guards led me to my chariot and thrust me into it, and with me Bes. I asked them if they would murder him also, to which the eunuch, Houman, answered No, since he had committed no crime, but that he must go with me to be weighed. Then soldiers took the horses by the bridles and led them, while others, having first snatched away my bow and all our other weapons, surrounded the chariot lest we should escape. So Bes and I were able to talk together in a Libyan tongue that none of them understood, even if they heard our words.
“Your life is spared,” I said to him, “that the King may take you as a slave.”
“Then he will take an ill slave, Master, since I swear by the Grasshopper that within a moon I will find means to kill him, and afterwards come to join you in a land where men hunt fair.”
I smiled and Bes went on,
“Now I wish I had time to teach you that trick of swallowing your own tongue, since perhaps you will need it in this boat of which they talk.”
“Did you not say to me an hour or two ago, Bes, that we are fools to stretch out our hands to Death until he stretches out his to us? I will not die until I must—now.”
“Why ‘now,’ Master, seeing that only this afternoon you bade me kill you rather than let you be thrown to the wild beasts?” he asked peering at me curiously.
“Do you remember the old hermit, the holy Tanofir, who dwells in a cell over the sepulchre of the Apis bulls in the burial ground of the desert near to Memphis, Bes?”
“The magician and prophet who is the brother of your grandfather, Master, and the son of a king; he who brought you up before he became a hermit? Yes, I know him well, though I have seldom been very near to him because his eyes frighten me, as they frightened Cambyses the Persian when Tanofir cursed him and foretold his doom after he had stabbed the holy Apis, saying that by a wound from that same sword in his own body he should die himself, which thing came to pass. As they have frightened many another man also.”