An addition to the Leonaur Ancient Adventures series by H. Rider Haggard
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 five volume set—each successive volume following a chronological time-line along the sweeping march of history.
Volume five—an additional volume—in the Rider Haggard series of stories set in the Ancient world contains a single novel, ‘Belshazzar.’ Ramose is the offspring of an Egyptian Pharaoh and a Greek woman. Brought up in a life of luxury he is catapulted into a life of adventure which leads him to the fall of Babylon at the hand of the Persian Empire under Cyrus. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
What happened to that host? I do not know. Thousands of them died, but thousands more wandered off into the desert seeking safety and water, but above all water at the wells in their rear. I can see them now, a motley crowd, elephants, camels, chariots, horse and footmen, all mingled together, till at length they vanished in the distance, except those who fell by the way. Doubtless many of them reached Babylon and told their tale of disaster into the ears of Nebuchadnezzar the Great King. But he was aged and it was said distraught, almost on his deathbed indeed, and had heard many such before. Always his hosts gathered from the myriads of the East, were going forth to battle. Sometimes they conquered, sometimes they were defeated. It mattered little, seeing that there were always more myriads out of which new hosts could be formed. In Babylon and Assyria and the lands around life was plentiful and cheap, for there men bred like flies in the mud and sun, and wealth was great, and when the king commanded they must go out to die.<br>
The victory was won! Now came its fruits, the hour of plunder was at hand. There were the great parks of wagons filled with stores and women; there were the pavilions of the royal prince, the generals and the officers. Amasis himself, riding down our lines his helmet in his hand, laughing as ever, shouted to us to go and take, but to be careful to keep him his share.<br>
We rushed forward without rank or order, for now there was nothing to fear. All the enemy were fled save those who lay dead or wounded, swart, black-bearded men. I, being young and swift of foot, outran my fellows. We came to the pavilion of the prince over which the banners of Babylon hung limply in the still air. The soldiers swarmed into it seeking treasure, but I who cared nothing for golden cups or jewels, ran round to another pavilion in its rear which I guessed would be that of the women. Why I did this I was not sure, for I wanted women even less than the other spoil; but I think it must have been because I was curious and desired to see what these ladies were like and how they were housed.<br>
Thus it came about that I entered this place alone and letting fall the flap of the tent, which was magnificent and lined with silk and embroideries, stared round me till my eyes grew accustomed to the shadowed light and I saw that it was empty. No, not empty, for at its end, seated on a couch was a glittering figure, clad it seemed in silver mail, and beside it something over which a veil was thrown. Thinking that this was a man, I drew my sword which I had sheathed, and advanced cautiously.<br>
Now I was near and the figure of which the head was bowed, looked up and stared at me. Then I saw that the face beneath the silver helm was that of a woman, a very beautiful woman, with features such as the Greeks cut upon their gems, and large dark eyes. I gazed at her and she gazed at me. Then she spoke, first in a tongue which I did not understand, and when I shook my head, in Greek.<br>
“Egyptian, if so you be,” she said, “seek elsewhere after the others who are fled. I am no prize for you.”<br>
She threw aside a broidered cape that hung over her mail, and I saw that piercing the mail was an Egyptian arrow of which the feathered shaft was broken off, also that blood ran to her knees, staining the armour.<br>
I muttered words of pity, saying that I would bring a physician, for suddenly I bethought me of Belus.<br>
“It is useless,” she said, “the hurt is mortal; already I die.”<br>
Not knowing what to do, I made as though to leave her, then stood still, and all the while she watched me.<br>
“You are young and have a kindly face,” said she, “high born too, or so I judge. Look,” and with a swift motion she cast off the veil from that which rested against her.<br>
Behold! it was a child of three or four years of age, a lovely child, beautifully attired.
“My daughter, my only one,” she said. “Save her, O Egyptian Captain.”<br>
I stepped forward and bent down to look at the child. At this moment some soldiers burst into the tent and saw us. Wheeling round I perceived that they were men of my own company.<br>
“Begone!” I cried, whereon one of them called out,<br>
“Why, it is our young captain, the Count Ramose, who woos a captive. Away, comrades, she is his, not ours, by the laws of war. Away! and tell the rest to seek elsewhere.”<br>
Then laughing in their coarse soldier fashion, they departed and presently I heard them shouting that this tent must be left alone. <br>
“Save her, Count Ramose, if such be your name,” repeated the woman. “Hearken. She is no mean child, for I am a daughter of him who once was King of Israel. Now at the last I grow clear-sighted and a voice tells me to trust you whom my God has sent to me to be my friend. Swear to me by him you worship that you will guard this child, yours by spoil of war; that you will not sell her on the market, that you will keep her safe and clean, and when she comes to womanhood, suffer her to wed where she will. Swear this and I, Mysia, of the royal House of Israel, will call down the blessing of Jehovah on you and yours and all your work, as should you fail me, I will call down His curse.”