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Arnon laughed softly and pressed her cheek against her father's short, greying beard. 'You have something very serious on your mind, haven't you, father? 'Herod wants me to meet him for a private conference a fortnight hence, in the city of Petra.' 'How fine for you, father! 'You've always said you were going to visit that beautiful city! ' inquired Kedar, implying that his sharp old eyes had observed the royal insignia on the accoutrements of yesterday's courier. 'We will take only the equipment we commonly use when we visit the tribesmen.' Kedar bowed his grey head, his seamed face showing disappointment.
' Quickly noting her father's lack of enthusiasm, she inquired, 'But—you're going, aren't you? He wanted to say that if the event was of high importance the King should make a better show of his royalty.
Surely the wedding would be soon, they thought, for the Princess had recently celebrated her sixteenth birthday. Of course there was nothing strange about the arrival of a courier with a message. But this courier—she had seen him riding away—was apparently from afar.
The tribesmen, who rarely agreed about anything, were unanimous in their approval of this alliance. He was attended by half a dozen servants with a well-laden pack-train. After the courier had departed, the King had retired to his own quarters.
Intertribal jangling and discontent would be reduced to a minimum. Viewed from the main entrance to the King's encampment the undulating plateau was a rich pasture on which a thousand newly shorn sheep, indifferent to the rough nuzzling of their hungry lambs, grazed greedily as if some instinct warned that there might be a famine next season.
Nor was a famine improbable, for the distribution of snow was unpredictable.
Not only was Arnon popular for her beauty and Zendi for his almost foolhardy courage, but—taking a long view of their marriage—there might come a day when Zendi would be their ruler; for if an Arabian king was without male issue the throne passed to the house of the Chief Councillor. If anything were to happen to Aretas, which was not inconceivable, considering how dangerously he lived, the gallant young Zendi might succeed him. It was quite obvious that he did not want to be disturbed. Arnon was released from her father's arms and slipped lightly to the ground. The Councillors will accompany us, and a guard of twenty riders.
Arnon strolled restlessly about under the willows, her thoughts busily at work on the riddle. Dismounting, the King beckoned to old Kedar, as his horse was led away. We may be tented at Petra for one day—or ten: it is not yet determined.
Everyone respected his relentless administration of justice to the rich and poor alike. They all admired his firmness, feared his frown, and—for the most part—obeyed his decrees.
And there was battle-scarred old Kedar, who had taught him to ride when he was a mere lad of ten, who had watched him draw a man's bow to full tension when he was in his early teens, and had followed him worshipfully into all his hazardous adventures as Prince and King.
And there were his twelve Councillors who, in varying degrees, shared his confidence. Slowly lifting his eyes he had stared preoccupiedly at the tent-wall beyond her. At the tent-door he had turned to say, 'I am consulting with Ilderan.
There had been an unusually heavy snowfall in the winter, not only upon the King's land but throughout the country.
It was going to be a prosperous season for everybody.