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The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller


Some time later the bar rattled down again, and the jailer stood without, a scribe at his side. At a sign from the jailer, the latter made as though to enter, but Kenkenes stopped him.

|I have need of your materials only,| he said, |but the fee shall be yours nevertheless.| The man set his case on the floor and Kenkenes put a ring of silver in the outstretched palm.

|Fail me not in a faithful messenger,| the prisoner repeated to the jailer. The official nodded, and the door was closed again.

Kenkenes sat on the floor beside the case, laid the cover back and taking out materials, wrote thus:

|To my friend, the noble Hotep, greeting:

|This from Kenkenes, whom ill-fortune can not wholly possess, while he may call thee his friend.

|I speak to thee out of the prison at Tape, where I am held for stealing a bondmaiden and for executing a statue against the canons of the sculptor's ritual. The accumulated penalty for these offenses is great -- my plight is most serious.

|The pitying gods have left me one chance for escape. If I fail I shall molder here, for my counsel is mine and the demons of Amenti shall not rend it from me.

|The tale is short and miserable. But for the necessity I would not repeat it, for it publishes the humiliation of sweet innocence.

|Suffice it to say that the offended is she of whom we talked one day on the hill back of Masaarah; the offender is Har-hat who hath buried me here in Tape.

|One morning he saw her at the quarries and, taken with her beauty, asked her at the hands of the Pharaoh, for the hatefullest bondage pure maidenhood ever knew.

|She fled from the minions he sent to take her, and came to me in that spot on the hillside where thou and I did talk.

|There the minions found us, and by the evidence they looked upon, I am further charged with sacrilege.

|Thou dost remember the all-powerful signet, which my father had from the Incomparable Pharaoh. He lost it in the tomb of the king, three years ago, abandoning the search for it before I was assured that it was not to be found.

|So strong was my faith that the signet was in the tomb, that when this disaster overtook her, I came to Tape at once to look again for the treasure. I found it.

|But by some unknowable mischance mine enemy discovered my whereabouts and a third minion, who escaped my wrath before the statue that morning, appeared in the city and caused me to be delivered up to the authorities on the charges already named.

|She is hidden, and I have provided for her protection, as well as I may, against the wishes of the strongest man in the land. For her immediate welfare I am not greatly troubled. But, alas! I would be with her -- thou knowest, O my Hotep, the hunger and heartache of such separation.

|If the Pharaoh honor not the signet herein inclosed, tell my father of my plight, let me know the decision of the king, and then I shall trust to the Hathors for liberty.

|Of this contingency, I would not speak at length. It may be tempting the caprice of the Seven Sisters to presuppose such misfortune.

|Let not my father intervene for me. He shall not endanger himself further than I have already asked of him.

|But remember thou this injunction, most surely. That it shall be last and therefore freshest in thy memory, I put this at the end of the letter.

|Put the petition herein inclosed into the Pharaoh's hands! For my life's sake let it not come into the possession of any other.

|I shall write no more. My scant eloquence must be saved for the king.

|Gods! but it is good to have faith in a friend. I salute thee.


The letter to Hotep complete, Kenkenes took up another roll and wrote thus to Meneptah:

|To Meneptah, Beloved of Ptah, Ambassador of Amen, Vicar of Ra, Lord over Upper and Lower Egypt, greeting:|

At this point he paused. His power of expression, aghast at the magnitude of the stake laid on its successful use, became panic-stricken and fled from him. He feared that words could not be chosen which would justify his sacrilege or prove his claims to Rachel greater than Har-hat's. Meneptah would be hedged about with prejudice against his first cause, and deterred by the prior right of Har-hat, in the second. The last man that talked with the king molded him. Flattery alone might prevail against coercion. It was the one hope.

Kenkenes seized his pen and wrote:

|This from thy subject, Kenkenes, the son of Mentu, thy murket.

|I give thee a true story, O Defender of Women.

|There is a maiden whose kinsmen died of hard labor in the service of Egypt. Not one was left to care for her. Of all her house, she alone remains. They died in ignominy. Shall the last remnant of the unhappy family be stamped out in dishonor?

|If one came before thee seeking to insult innocence, and another begging leave to protect it, thou wouldst choose for him who would keep pure the undefiled. Have I not said, O my King?

|Before thee, even now is such a choice.

|Already thou hast given over the mastership of Rachel, daughter of Maai the Israelite, to thy fan-bearer, Har-hat. By the lips of his own servants, I am informed that he would have put her in his harem.

|She fled from him and I hid her away, for I could not bear to deliver her up to the despoiler.

|I love her -- she loveth me. Wilt thou not give her to me to wife?

|Thine illustrious sire bespeaketh thy favor, out of Amenti. Behold his signet and its injunction.

|Furthermore, I confess to sacrilege against Athor, in carving a statue which ignored the sculptor's ritual. For this, and for hiding the Israelite, am I imprisoned in the city stronghold of Tape.

|I would be free to return to my love and comfort her, but if it shall overtax thy generosity to release me, I pray thee announce my sentence and let me begin to count the hours till I shall come forth again.

|The Israelite hath a nurse, a feeble and sick old woman, Deborah by name, whom the minions of Har-hat abused. She can be of no further use in servitude, and I would have thee set her free to bear company to her love, the white-souled Rachel.

|But if these last prayers imperil the first by strain upon thy indulgence, O Beloved of Ptah, do thou set them aside, and grant only the safety of the oppressed maiden.

|These to thy hand, by the hand of the scribe, Hotep.


The letter complete, he summoned the messenger.

|How swift art thou?| he asked.

|So swift that my service is desired beyond mine opportunities to accept,| was the answer.

|How is it that thou art ready to serve me? Thou seest my plight.|

|The jailer spoke of thee as petitioning the Pharaoh. The king is in the north where I have not been in all the reign of Meneptah. Thou offerest me a pleasure and the fee shall be in proportion to the length of the journey.|

|Nay, but thou art a genius. Thou dost move me to imitate the Hathors, since they add fortune to the already fortunate. Mark me. I will give thee thy fee now. If thou dost return me a letter showing that thou hast carried the message with all faith and speed, I shall give thee another fee on thy home-coming. What thinkest thou?|

The man smiled and nodded. |Naught but the darts of Amenti shall delay me.|

Kenkenes gave him the message, and a handful of rings. The man expressed his thanks, after which he went forth, and the door was barred.

Kenkenes stood for a while, motionless before the tightly fitted portal of stone. Then through the high crevice that was his window the sounds of life outside smote upon his ear. The noise of the city seemed to become all revel. Some one under the walls laughed -- the hearty, raucous laugh of the care-free boor.

He turned about and flung himself face down in the straw of his pallet.

He had begun to wait.

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