The second volume in this stunning series of adventures in the distant past
Rider Haggard is one of the most famous authors of adventure fiction in the English language. Almost everyone has heard of Allan Quatermain—the hero of King Solomon's Mines—and the beautiful, ruthless, magically immortal Ayesha—She 'who must be obeyed.' All of Haggard’s novels and stories featuring both characters are available in handsome Leonaur editions. Haggard was a prolific writer so it is not surprising that only a few of his titles are widely known—and read—by an audience which would enjoy them all. The essential elements of his most famous creations—the great African continent and ancient civilisations, mysterious and exotic, mythical, imagined or real, are combined in a number of his novels and stories and these too have now been collected by Leonaur into a special four volume set—African Adventures. Readers will therefore be unsurprised to learn that Haggard could not resist writing a number of tales about ancient civilisations, or that in these he naturally gravitated towards the most evocative of them all—the world of the Ancient Egyptians and the other peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This is a stunning body of fiction which Leonaur has gathered together into a four volume set—each successive volume following a chronological time-line along the sweeping march of history.
In volume two of this special collection of Rider Haggard’s foray into the fictional ancient world, the first novel and third in the series is Morning Star which takes place in Ancient Egypt around 332 BC. The title of the second novel in this collection—the fourth in the series—leaves no doubt as to its subject: Cleopatra is Queen of the Nile in first century BC Egypt. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.
“Do you say that these sweet-voiced women are the best singers in the world, O Prince?” asked Tua, speaking to him for the first time. “Now if you will be pleased to listen, you provoke me to make trial of my own small skill that I may learn how far I fall short of ‘the best singers in the world.’” <br>
Then she lifted up the ivory harp with the strings of gold and swept her fingers over it, trying its notes and adjusting them with the agate screws, looking at Amathel all the while with a challenge in her lovely eyes.<br>
“Nay, nay, my daughter,” said Pharaoh, “it is scarcely fitting that a queen of Egypt should sing before all this noble company.”<br>
“Why not, my father?” she asked. “To-night we all do honour to the heir of his Majesty of Kesh. Pharaoh receives him, Pharaoh’s daughter accepts his gifts, the highest in the land surround him,” then she paused and added slowly, “one of blood more ancient than his own waits on him as cup-bearer, one whose race built up the throne his father fills,” and she pointed to Rames, who stood near by holding the vase of wine. “Why, then, should not Egypt’s queen seek to please our royal guest as best she may—since she has no other gift to give him?”<br>
Then in the dead silence which followed this bold speech, whereof none could mistake the meaning, Neter-Tua, Morning Star of Amen, rose from her seat. Pressing the ivory harp against her young breast, she bent over it, her head crowned with the crown of Upper Egypt whereon glistened the royal uraeus, a snake about to strike, and swept the well-tuned strings.<br>
Such magic was in her touch that instantly all else was forgotten, even the Pharaoh leaned back in his golden chair to listen. Softly she struck at first, then by slow degrees ever louder till the music of the harp rang through the pillared hall. Now, at length, she lifted up her heavenly voice and began to sing in a strain so wild and sweet that it seemed to pierce to the watching stars.<br>
It was a sad and ancient love-tale that she sang, which told how a priestess of Hathor of high degree loved and was beloved by a simple scribe whom she might not wed. It told how the scribe, maddened by his passion, crept at night into the very sanctuary of the temple hoping to find her there, and for his sacrilege was slain by the angry goddess. It told how the beautiful priestess, coming alone to make prayer in the sanctuary for strength to resist her love, stumbled over the lover’s corpse and, knowing it, died of grief. It told how Hathor, goddess of love, melted by the piteous sight, breathed back life into their nostrils, and since they might not remain upon earth, wafted them to the Under-world, where they awoke and embraced and dwell on for ever and for aye, triumphant and rejoicing.<br>
All had heard this old, old story, but none had ever heard it so divinely sung. As Tua’s pure and lovely voice floated over them the listeners seemed to see that lover, daring all in his desire, creep into the solemn sanctuary of the temple. They saw Hathor appear in her wrath and smite him cold in death. They saw the beauteous priestess with her lamp, and heard her wail her life away upon her darling’s corpse; saw, too, the dead borne by spirits over the borders of the world.<br>
Then came that last burst of music thrilling and divine, and its rich, passionate notes seemed to open the heavens to their sight. There in the deep sky they perceived the awakening of the lovers and their embrace of perfect joy, and when a glory hid them, heard the victorious chant of the priestess of love sighing itself away, faint and ever fainter, till at length its last distant echoes died in the utter silence of the place of souls.<br>
Tua ceased her music. Resting her still quivering harp upon the board, she sank back in her chair of state, outworn, trembling, while in her pale face the blue eyes shone like stars. There was stillness in the hall; the spell of that magical voice lay on the listeners; none applauded, it seemed even that none dared to move, for men remembered that this wonderful young Queen was said to be daughter of Amen, Master of the world, and thought that it had been given to them to hearken, not to a royal maiden, but to a goddess of the skies.<br>
Quiet they sat as though sleep had smitten them, only every man of their number stared at the sweet pale face and at those radiant eyes. Drunk with passion and with wine, Amathel, Prince of Kesh, leaned his heavy head upon his hand and stared like the rest. But those eyes did not stay on him. Had he been a stone they could not have noted him less; they passed over him seeking something beyond.<br>
Slowly he turned to see what it might be at which the Morning Star of Amen gazed, and perceived that the young captain who waited on him, he who was said to be of a race more ancient and purer than his own, he whose house had reigned in the Southern Land when his ancestors were but traffickers in gold, was also gazing at this royal singer. Yes, he bent forward to gaze as though a spell drew him, a spell, or the eyes of the Queen, and there was that upon his face which even a drunken Nubian could not fail to understand.<br>
In the hands of Rames was the tall, golden vase of wine, and as Amathel thrust back his chair its topmost ivory bar struck the foot of the vase and tilted it, so that the red wine poured in a torrent over the Prince’s head and gorgeous robes, staining him from his crest of plumes to his feet as though with blood. Up sprang the Prince of Kesh roaring with fury.
“Dog-descended slave!” he shouted. “Hog-headed brother of swine, is it thus that you wait upon my Royalty?” and with the cup in his hand he smote Rames on the face, then drew the sword at his side to kill him.<br>
But Rames also wore a sword, that sword hafted with the golden crocodile which Pharaoh had given him long ago—that sword which Asti the foresighted had seen red with royal blood. With a wild, low cry he snatched it from its sheath, and to avoid the blow that Amathel struck at him before he could guard himself, sprang backwards from the dais to the open space in the hall that had been left clear for the dancers. After him leapt Amathel calling him “Coward,” and next instant the pillars echoed, not with Tua’s music but with the stern ringing of bronze upon bronze.<br>
Now in their fear and amaze men looked up to Pharaoh, waiting his word, but Pharaoh, overcome by the horror of the scene, appeared to have swooned; at least, he lay back in his chair with his eyes shut like one asleep. Then they looked to the Queen, but Tua made no sign, only with parted lips and heaving breast watched, watched and waited for the end.<br>
As for Rames he forgot everything save that he, a soldier and a noble of royal race, had been struck across the mouth by a black Nubian who called himself a prince. His blood boiled up in him, and through a red haze as it were, he saw Tua’s glorious eyes beckoning him on to a victory. He saw and sprang as springs the lion of the desert, sprang straight at the throat of Amathel. The blow went high, an ostrich plume floated to the ground—no more, and Amathel was a sturdy fighter and had the strength of madness. Moreover, his was the longer weapon; it fell upon the scales of armour of Rames and beat him back, it fell again on his shoulder and struck him to his knee. It fell a third time, and glancing from the mail wounded him in the thigh so that the blood flowed. Now a soldier of Pharaoh’s guard shouted to encourage his captain, and the Nubians shouted back, crying to their prince to slit the hog’s throat.