Cambyses, King of Persia, wished to marry Nitetis, the daughter of the Egyptian king, and sent his brother Bartia with a rich embassy into Egypt to escort the princess back to Persia.
An immense crowd was gathered at the harbor at Sais. Egyptians of every age and rank stood densely packed on the edge of the river. Soldiers and merchants in white robes trimmed with gaudy fringe, whose length indicated the rank of the wearer, mingled themselves with the herd of muscular, half-clothed men the common people. Little children squeezed and pushed for the best places ; women held up their babies that they might not lose the coveted sight. Constables with long staves, whose metal tops bore the name of the king, maintained order and quiet, taking especial care that no one was pushed into the waters of the Nile.
On the broad steps lined with sphinxes, which led down to the water from the garden of the palace, was an assemblage of a very different sort. Here, upon stone benches, sat the most honored of the priests, in long white garments, with gilded fillets on their heads and white staves in their hands. In their midst one could distinguish the chief judge by the waving ostrich feather in his cap (though some of the priests wore smaller ones) and by a costly amulet of sapphires which hung on a golden chain upon his breast. The captains of the Egyptian army wore parti-colored coats and in their belts short swords ; a division of the bodyguard was stationed on the right of the steps ; on the left were Greek soldiers in the Ionic dress.
In front of these, on a silver chair, sat the heir apparent to the throne, Psamtic, dressed in a close-fitting coat embroidered in gold. He was surrounded by the most eminent of the courtiers, chamberlains, councilors, and friends of the king, who carried flabella and wands tipped with golden lotus flowers in their hands.
The crowd vented their impatience by shouting and singing, while the priests and nobles sat in dignified silence on the steps opposite, each in his calmness looking like the great images which sat motionless in their places, gazing solemnly and fixedly on the eternal river.
Suddenly a lateen sail of scarlet and blue silk was seen in the distance. The people shouted with joy, ” There they are ! ” ” Take care, now ! ” ” Nurse, hold the girl higher that she may see something ! ” ” Look out now, Sebak, you’ll push me into the water!” The officers, however, bringing into play their long rods, soon restored quiet.
The huge motley sails, easily distinguished among the hundred blue, white, and brown ones of the smaller Nile boats, came nearer and nearer to the expectant crowd. Then the heir apparent and the grandees rose from their places. The trumpeters of the king sounded a shrill fanfare of welcome as the first of the ships reached the steps. The vessel was richly gilded and bore on its beak the silver image of a sparrow hawk ; in the midst of it stood a golden canopy with a scarlet top ; under this lay large cushions ; in the fore part of the ship, along the bulwarks, sat twelve rowers, their garments fastened by costly braces. Under the canopy were six men gorgeously dressed and noble to look upon.
Before the ship had fairly touched the shore, the first to spring upon the steps was the youngest of them all, a glorious, fair-haired youth. At sight of him, from the lips of many a young Egyptian an ” Oh ” of admiration escaped, and even the solemn expression of some of the dignitaries brightened into a pleasant smile. The cause of all this sensation, Bartia, the brother of the reigning king of Persia, had received from nature all that heart could ask.
From under the blue and white cloth which was woven round his tiara, thick golden hair escaped in wanton profusion ; his blue eyes shone with life and mirth, kindness and mischief ; pride, too, had a place there. His noble face was worthy to be the subject for a Grecian chisel, and his slender, muscular figure showed great strength and activity. His beauty was only equaled by the splendor of his dress. In the middle of the tiara which he wore gleamed a star of diamonds and turquoise. His upper garment of heavy white gold brocade, reaching to his knees, was fastened at the waist by a girdle of blue and white, the royal colors of .Persia. He wore a short golden sword, whose handle and sheath were studded with white opals and blue turquoises ; his pantaloons, gathered in at the ankles, half covered his bright blue leather shoes. His naked, sinewy arms, which the flowing sleeves of his dress allowed to be seen, were adorned with several costly bracelets of gold and precious stones, and from his slender neck a gold chain hung down upon his broad chest.
Following him came Darius, an illustrious young Persian of royal blood, dressed like Bartia but more plainly. The third was an old man with snow-white hair and a mild, pleasant face. He wore a long purple garment and was no other than Croesus, the dethroned king of Lydia, who was now living as a friend and adviser at the court of Cambyses. After him came the special ambassador of the king and two other Persian nobles.
Psamtic descended the steps to welcome the strangers ; the dignitaries who followed him, letting their arms hang down, bowed almost to the ground before the newcomers. The Persians, their arms crossed upon their breasts, prostrated themselves before the Egyptian prince. When the first formalities were over, Bartia, after the custom of his country, kissed the cheek of the Egyptian prince, much to the astonishment of the people not accustomed to such a sight, and then betook himself with his hosts to the litters which were waiting to take him and his suite to the apartments assigned him in the palace.
Part of the crowd followed the foreigners, but most of the people stayed to see the spectacle of the disembarking of the rest of the ships.
Abridged from “An Egyptian Princess ”
Ebers (a bers). Nitetis (ni te’tis). Bartia (bar’sha). Sais (sa is) : an important city of ancient Egypt, in the Nile delta. fillets: bands twisted about the hair. amulet (Am u let): an ornament or gem worn to protect one against evils.Ionic (i on ic): belonging to the district of Ionia. Psamtic (sam’tic).flabella (flabel’la): fans. lotus flowers: Egyptian water lilies. lateen (la ten’) sail : a triangular sail used in small boats in the Mediterranean and its tributaries. Sebak (seb’ak). Darius (da ri’us).Croesus (kre’sus): a very wealthy monarch who made war on Persia.