The Robbers of Egypt

(From The Æthiopica, or Æthiopian Romance, Book I)

At the first smile of day, when the sun was just beginning to shine on the summits of the hills, men whose custom was to live by rapine and violence ran to the top of a cliff and stretched toward that mouth of the Nile which is called Heracleot. Standing awhile, they viewed the sea underneath them, and when they had looked a good season afar off into the same and could see nothing which could put them in the hope of prey, they cast their eyes toward the neighboring shore, where a ship lay moored, without sailors but full-freighted; which thing they who were afar off might easily conjecture, for the cargo brought the water up to the ship’s third loading-line. But on the shore every place was full of men newly slain, some quite dead, some half dead, some whose bodies yet panted and plainly declared that there had been a battle fought of late. There could be seen no signs or tokens of any just quarrel, but only some poor confused remnants of an unlucky banquet which had ended so. For the tables were furnished with delicate dishes, some whereof lay in the hands of those that were slain, having served as weapons in the battle so suddenly begun. Other tables covered such as had crept under them to hide themselves, as they thought. Besides, the cups were overthrown and fallen from the hands, either of them that drank or those who had, instead of stones, used them. For that sudden mischief wrought new devices, and taught them instead of weapons to use their pots. Of those who lay there, one was wounded with an ax, another was hurt with the shells of fishes, whereof on the shore there was great plenty; another was battered with a club, many burnt by fire, and the rest by divers other means, but most of all were slain with arrows. To be brief, God showed a wonderful sight in so small a space, imbruing wine with blood, joining battle with banqueting, mingling indifferently slaughter with drinking, and killing with quaffings, providing such a sight for the thieves of Egypt to gaze at. For they, when they had looked upon these things a good while from the hill, could not understand what that sight meant, forasmuch as they saw some slain there, but the conquerors could they see nowhere. A manifest victory, but no spoils taken away, a ship without mariners, but, as concerning other things, untouched, as if she had been kept with a guard of many men, and lay at road in a peaceful harbor.

But though they knew not what the thing meant, they still had regard for gain, and deeming themselves to be victors, hurried with all speed to seize their booty. They were but a little way from the ship when they saw a sight more perplexing than the rest a great deal. A maid endowed with excellent beauty, who almost might be supposed a goddess, sat upon a rock seeming not a little to be grieved with that present mischance, but for all that of excellent courage. She had a garland of laurel on her head, a quiver on her back; to her left shoulder a bow was fastened, and her left arm hung carelessly down. Her right elbow she rested upon her thigh, holding her cheek in her hand, looking downward without moving her head, beholding a certain young man who lay before her, the which was sore wounded and seemed to lift up himself as if he had been awakened out of a dead sleep, almost of death itself. Yet was he in this case of singular beauty, and although his cheeks were besprinkled with blood, his whiteness did appear so much the more. He was constrained for grief to close his eyes, but the sight of the maiden drew them towards her, and they must needs see, because they saw her. As soon as he came to himself he heaved a deep sigh and uttered these words very faintly, “And are thou safe indeed, my sweetheart?” quoth he. “Or hast thou by thy death augmented the slaughter? Canst thou not endure, even after death, to be separated from me, that now a vision of thy spirit haunts this place of trouble?” “Nay,” answered the maid, “on you doth all my estate depend, for good or ill, for this cause, you see”—showing a knife in her hand—“this has hitherto been waiting, and only by the chance of your recovery was restrained.”

As soon as she had said thus, she leaped from the stone, and they who were on the hill, as well for wonder as also for the fear they had, as if they had been stricken with lightning, ran every man to hide them in the bushes there beside. For she seemed to them a thing of greater price, and more heavenly when she stood upright, and her arrows with the sudden moving of her body gave a clash on her shoulders, her apparel wrought with gold glistened against the sun, and her hair under the garland, blown about with the wind, covered a great part of her back. The thieves were greatly afraid; and even more than what they saw did their ignorance of what had happened before terrify them. Some of them said indeed it was a goddess—Artemis, or Isis, the lady of the land—others declared it was a priestess of the gods who, replenished with divine fury, had made the great slaughter which there appeared. And they every

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