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They did enjoy the banquet. They had a beautiful bath, which was
delicious, were heavily oiled all over, including their hair, and that
was most unpleasant. Then, they dressed again and were presented
to the King, who was most affable. The banquet was long; there were
all sorts of nice things to eat, and everybody seemed to eat and drink
a good deal. Everyone lay on cushions and couches, ladies on one
side and gentlemen on the other; and after the eating was done each
lady went and sat by some gentleman, who seemed to be her
sweetheart or her husband, for they were very affectionate to each
other. The Court dresses had gold threads woven in them, very
bright and beautiful.
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The Story of the Amulet
The middle of the room was left clear, and different people came and
did amusing things. There were conjurers and jugglers and snake-
charmers, which last Anthea did not like at all.
When it got dark torches were lighted. Cedar splinters dipped in oil
blazed in copper dishes set high on poles.
Then there was a dancer, who hardly danced at all, only just struck
attitudes. She had hardly any clothes, and was not at all pretty. The
children were rather bored by her, but everyone else was delighted,
including the King.
 By the beard of Nimrod! ' he cried,  ask what you like girl, and you
shall have it! '
 I want nothing, ' said the dancer;  the honour of having pleased the
King may-he-live-for-ever is reward enough for me. '
And the King was so pleased with this modest and sensible reply
that he gave her the gold collar off his own neck.
 I say! ' said Cyril, awed by the magnificence of the gift.
 It s all right, ' whispered the Queen,  it s not his best collar by any
means. We always keep a stock of cheap jewellery for these
occasions. And now you promised to sing us something. Would
you like my minstrels to accompany you? '
 No, thank you, ' said Anthea quickly. The minstrels had been
playing off and on all the time, and their music reminded Anthea of
the band she and the others had once had on the fifth of
November with penny horns, a tin whistle, a tea-tray, the tongs, a
policeman s rattle, and a toy drum. They had enjoyed this band very
much at the time. But it was quite different when someone else was
making the same kind of music. Anthea understood now that Father
had not been really heartless and unreasonable when he had told
them to stop that infuriating din.
 What shall we sing? ' Cyril was asking.
 Sweet and low? ' suggested Anthea.
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The Story of the Amulet
 Too soft I vote for  Who will o er the downs . Now then one,
two, three.
 Oh, who will o er the downs so free,
Oh, who will with me ride,
Oh, who will up and follow me,
To win a blooming bride?
Her father he has locked the door,
Her mother keeps the key;
But neither bolt nor bar shall keep
My own true love from me. '
Jane, the alto, was missing, and Robert, unlike the mother of the lady
in the song, never could  keep the key , but the song, even so, was
sufficiently unlike anything any of them had ever heard to rouse the
Babylonian Court to the wildest enthusiasm.
 More, more, ' cried the King;  by my beard, this savage music is a
new thing. Sing again! '
So they sang:
 I saw her bower at twilight gray,
 Twas guarded safe and sure.
I saw her bower at break of day,
 Twas guarded then no more.
The varlets they were all asleep,
And there was none to see
The greeting fair that passed there
Between my love and me. '
Shouts of applause greeted the ending of the verse, and the King
would not be satisfied till they had sung all their part-songs (they
only knew three) twice over, and ended up with  Men of Harlech in
unison. Then the King stood up in his royal robes with his high,
narrow crown on his head and shouted
 By the beak of Nisroch, ask what you will, strangers from the land
where the sun never sets! '
 We ought to say it s enough honour, like the dancer did, ' whispered
Anthea
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The Story of the Amulet
 No, let s ask for IT, ' said Robert.
 No, no, I m sure the other s manners, ' said Anthea. But Robert, who
was excited by the music, and the flaring torches, and the applause
and the opportunity, spoke up before the others could stop him.
 Give us the half of the Amulet that has on it the name UR HEKAU
SETCHEH, ' he said, adding as an afterthought,  O King, live-for-
ever. '
As he spoke the great name those in the pillared hall fell on their
faces, and lay still. All but the Queen who crouched amid her
cushions with her head in her hands, and the King, who stood
upright, perfectly still, like the statue of a king in stone. It was only
for a moment though. Then his great voice thundered out
 Guard, seize them! '
Instantly, from nowhere as it seemed, sprang eight soldiers in bright
armour inlaid with gold, and tunics of red and white. Very splendid
they were, and very alarming.
 Impious and sacrilegious wretches! ' shouted the King.  To the
dungeons with them! We will find a way, tomorrow, to make them
speak. For without doubt they can tell us where to find the lost half
of It. '
A wall of scarlet and white and steel and gold closed up round the
children and hurried them away among the many pillars of the great
hall. As they went they heard the voices of the courtiers loud in
horror.
 You ve done it this time, ' said Cyril with extreme bitterness.
 Oh, it will come right. It MUST. It always does, ' said Anthea
desperately.
They could not see where they were going, because the guard
surrounded them so closely, but the ground under their feet, smooth
marble at first, grew rougher like stone, then it was loose earth and
sand, and they felt the night air. Then there was more stone, and
steps down.
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The Story of the Amulet
 It s my belief we really ARE going to the deepest dungeon below
the castle moat this time, ' said Cyril.
And they were. At least it was not below a moat, but below the river
Euphrates, which was just as bad if not worse. In a most unpleasant
place it was. Dark, very, very damp, and with an odd, musty smell
rather like the shells of oysters. There was a torch that is to say, a
copper basket on a high stick with oiled wood burning in it. By its
light the children saw that the walls were green, and that trickles of
water ran down them and dripped from the roof. There were things
on the floor that looked like newts, and in the dark corners creepy,
shiny things moved sluggishly, uneasily, horribly.
Robert s heart sank right into those really reliable boots of his.
Anthea and Cyril each had a private struggle with that inside
disagreeableness which is part of all of us, and which is sometimes
called the Old Adam and both were victors. Neither of them said to
Robert (and both tried hard not even to think it),  This is YOUR
doing. ' Anthea had the additional temptation to add,  I told you so. ' [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]