Part 3 out of 6
of a monastery, and in the end elected to a bishopric. But he had
never forgotten the Danish tongue, which his parents taught him as a
child, and so we were able to talk together in that language.
Now it would seem that since that night when the Cęsar Nicephorus
strove to hang himself, I had obtained and studied a copy of the
Christian Scriptures--how I do not know--and therefore was able to
discuss these matters with Barnabas the bishop. Of our arguments I
remember nothing, save that I pointed out to him that whereas the tree
seemed to me to be very good, its fruits were vile beyond imagination,
and I instanced the horrible tumult when he had been wounded almost to
death, not by common men, but by the very leaders of the Christians.
He answered that these things must happen; that Christ Himself had
said He came to bring not peace but a sword, and that only through war
and struggle would the last truth be reached. The spirit was always
good, he added, but the flesh was always vile. These deeds were those
of the flesh, which passed away, but the spirit remained pure and
The end of it was that under the teaching of the holy Barnabas, saint
and martyr (for afterwards he was murdered by the followers of the
false prophet, Mahomet), I became a Christian and a new man. Now at
length I understood what grace it was that had given me courage to
offer battle to the heathen god, Odin, and to smite him down. Now I
saw also where shone the light which I had been seeking these many
years. Aye, and I clasped that light to my bosom to be my lamp in life
So a day came when my beloved master, Barnabas, who would allow no
delay in this matter, baptised me in his cell with water taken from
his drinking vessel, charging me to make public profession before the
Church when opportunity should arise.
It was just at this time that Irene returned from the Baths, and I
sent to her a written report of all that had happened at the prison
since I had been appointed its governor. Also I prayed that if it were
her will I might be relieved of my office, as it was one which did not
A few days later, while I sat in my chamber at the prison writing a
paper concerning a prisoner who had died, the porter at the gate
announced that a messenger from the Augusta wished to see me. I bade
him show in the messenger, and presently there entered no chamberlain
or eunuch, but a woman wrapped in a dark cloak. When the man had gone
and the door was shut, she threw off the cloak and I saw that my
visitor was Martina, the favourite waiting-lady of the Empress. We
greeted each other warmly, who were always friends, and I asked her
"My tidings are, Olaf, that the waters have suited the Augusta very
well. She has lost several pounds in weight and her skin is now like
that of a young child."
"All health to the Augusta!" I said, laughing. "But you have not come
here to tell me of the state of the royal skin. What next, Martina?"
"This, Olaf. The Empress has read your report with her own eyes, which
is a rare thing for her to do. She said she wished to see whether or
no you could write Greek. She is much pleased with the report, and
told Stauracius in my presence that she had done well in choosing you
for your office while she was absent from the city, since thereby she
had saved the lives of the Cęsars and /Nobilissimi/, desiring as she
does that these princes should be kept alive, at any rate for the
present. She accedes also to your prayer, and will relieve you of your
office as soon as a new governor can be chosen. You are to return to
guard her person, but with your rank of general confirmed."
"That is all good news, Martina; so good that I wonder what sting is
hidden in all this honey."
"That you will find out presently, Olaf. One I can warn you of,
however--the sting of jealousy. Advancement such as yours draws eyes
to you, not all of them in love."
I nodded and she went on:
"Meantime your star seems to shine very bright indeed. One might
almost say that the Augusta worshipped it, at least she talks of you
to me continually, and once or twice was in half a mind to send for
you to the Baths. Indeed, had it not been for reasons of State
connected with your prisoners I think she would have done so."
"Ah!" I said, "now I think I begin to feel another sting in the
"Another sting in the honey! Nay, nay, you mean a divine perfume, an
essence of added sweetness, a flavour of the flowers on Mount Ida.
Why, Olaf, if I were your enemy, as I dare say I shall be some day,
for often we learn to hate those whom we have--rather liked, your head
and your shoulders might bid good-bye to each other for such words as
"Perhaps, Martina; and if they did I do not know that it would greatly
"Not greatly matter, when you are driving at full gallop along
Fortune's road to Fame's temple with an Empress for your charioteer!
Are you blind or mad, Olaf, or both? And what do you mean by your
'now'? Olaf, something has happened to you since last we met. Have you
fallen in love with some fair prisoner in this hateful place and been
repulsed? Such a fool as you are might take refusal even from a
captive in his own hands. At least you are different."
"Yes, Martina, something has happened to me. I have become a
"Oh! Olaf, now I see that you are not a fool, as I thought, but very
clever. Why, only yesterday the Augusta said to me--it was after she
had read that report of yours--that if you were but a Christian she
would be minded to lift you high indeed. But as you remained the most
obstinate of heathens she did not see how it could be done without
causing great trouble."
"Now I wish one could be a Christian within and remain a pagan
without," I answered grimly; "though alas! that may not be. Martina,
do you not understand that it was for no such reasons as these that I
kissed the Cross; that in so doing I sought not fortune, but to be its
"By the Saints! you'll be tonsured next, and ill enough it would suit
you," she exclaimed. "Remember, if things grow too--difficult, you can
always be tonsured, Olaf. Only then you will have to give up the hope
of that lady who wears the other half of the necklace somewhere. I
don't mean Irene's sham half, but the real one. Oh! stop blushing and
stammering, I know the story, and all about Iduna the Fair also. An
exalted person told it me, and so did you, although you were not aware
that you had done so, for you are not one who can keep a secret to
himself. May all the guardian angels help that necklace-lady if ever
she should meet another lady whom I will not name. And now why do you
talk so much? Are you learning to preach, or what? If you really do
mean to become a monk, Olaf, there is another thing you must give up,
and that is war, except of the kind which you saw at the Council the
other day. God above us! what a sight it would be to see you battering
another bishop with a hook-shaped staff over a question of images or
the Two Natures. I should be sorry for that bishop. But you haven't
told me who converted you."
"Barnabas of Egypt," I said.
"Oh! I hoped that it had been a lady saint; the story would have been
so much more interesting to the Court. Well, our imperial mistress
does not like Barnabas, because he does not like images, and that may
be a sting in /her/ honey. But perhaps she will forgive him for your
sake. You'll have to worship images."
"What do I care about images? It is the spirit that I seek, Martina,
and all these things are nothing."
"You are thorough, as usual, Olaf, and jump farther than you can see.
Well, be advised and say naught for or against images. As they have no
meaning for you, what can it matter if they are or are not there?
Leave them to the blind eyes and little minds. And now I must be gone,
who can listen to your gossip no longer. Oh! I had forgotten my
message. The Augusta commands that you shall wait on her this evening
immediately after she has supped. Hear and obey!"
Having delivered this formal mandate, to neglect which meant
imprisonment, or worse, she threw her cloak about her, and with a
wondering glance at my face, opened the door and went.
At the hour appointed, or, rather, somewhat before it, I attended at
the private apartments of the palace. Evidently I was expected, for
one of the chamberlains, on seeing me, bowed and bade me be seated,
then left the ante-room. Presently the door opened again, and through
it came Martina, clad in her white official robe.
"You are early, Olaf," she said, "like a lover who keeps a tryst.
Well, it is always wise to meet good fortune half way. But why do you
come clad in full armour? It is not the custom to wait thus upon the
Empress at this hour when you are off duty."
"I thought that I was on duty, Martina."
"Then, as usual, you thought wrong. Take off that armour; she says
that the sight of it always makes her feel cold after supper. I say
take it off; or if you cannot, I will help you."
So the mail was removed, leaving me clad in my plain blue tunic and
"Would you have me come before the Empress thus?" I asked.
By way of answer she clapped her hands and bade the eunuch who
answered the signal to bring a certain robe. He went, and presently
reappeared with a wondrous garment of silk broidered with gold, such
as nobles of high rank wore at festivals. This robe, which fitted as
though it had been made for me, I put on, though I liked the look of
it little. Martina would have had me even remove my sword, but I
"Except at the express order of the Empress, I and my sword are not
"Well, she said nothing about the sword, Olaf, so let it be. All she
said was that I must be careful that the robe matched the colour of
the necklace you wear. She cannot bear colours which jar upon each
other, especially by lamp-light."
"Am I a man," I asked angrily, "or a beast being decked for
"Fie, Olaf, have you not yet forgotten your heathen talk? Remember, I
pray you, that you are now a Christian in a Christian land."
"I thank you for reminding me of it," I replied; and that moment a
chamberlain, entering hurriedly, commanded my presence.
"Good luck to you, Olaf," said Martina as I followed him. "Be sure to
tell me the news later--or to-morrow."
Then the chamberlain led me, not into the audience hall, as I had
expected, but to the private imperial dining chamber. Here, reclining
upon couches in the old Roman fashion, one on either side of a narrow
table on which stood fruits and flagons of rich-hued Greek wine, were
the two greatest people in the world, the Augusta Irene and the
Augustus Constantine, her son.
She was wonderfully apparelled in a low-cut garment of white silk,
over which fell a mantle of the imperial purple, and I noted that on
her dazzling bosom hung that necklace of emerald beetles separated by
golden shells which she had caused to be copied from my own. On her
fair hair that grew low upon her forehead and was parted in the
middle, she wore a diadem of gold in which were set emeralds to match
the beetles of the necklace. The Augustus was arrayed in the festal
garments of a Cęsar, also covered with a purple cloak. He was a heavy-
faced and somewhat stupid-looking youth, dark-haired, like his father
and uncles, but having large, blue, and not unkindly eyes. From his
flushed face I gathered that he had drunk well of the strong Greek
wine, and from the sullen look about his mouth that, as was common, he
had been quarrelling with his mother.
I stood at the end of the table and saluted first the Empress and then
"Who's this?" he asked, glancing at me.
"General Olaf, of my guard," she answered, "Governor of the State
Prison. You remember, you wished me to send for him to settle the
point as to which we were arguing."
"Oh! yes. Well, General Olaf, of my mother's guard, have you not been
told that you should salute the Augustus before the Augusta?"
"Sire," I answered humbly, "I have heard nothing of that matter, but
in the land where I was bred I was taught that if a man and a woman
were together I must always bow first to the woman and then to the
"Well said," exclaimed the Empress, clapping her hands; but the
Emperor answered: "Doubtless your mother taught you that, not your
father. Next time you enter the imperial chamber be pleased to forget
the lesson and to remember that Emperors and Empresses are not men and
"Sire," I answered, "as you command I will remember that Emperors and
Empresses are not men and women, but Emperors and Empresses."
At these words the Augustus began to scowl, but, changing his mind,
laughed, as did his mother. He filled a gold cup with wine and pushed
it towards me, saying:
"Drink to us, soldier, for after you have done so, our wits may be
I took the cup and holding it, said:
"I pledge your Imperial Majesties, who shine upon the world like twin
stars in the sky. All hail to your Majesties!" and I drank, but not
"You are clever," growled the Augustus. "Well, keep the cup; you've
earned it. Yet drain it first, man. You have scarce wet your lips. Do
you fear that it is poisoned, as you say yonder fruits are?" And he
pointed to a side-table, where stood a jar of glass in which were
those very figs that had been sent to the princes in the prison.
"The cup you give is mine," interrupted Irene; "still, my servant is
welcome to the gift. It shall be sent to your quarters, General."
"A soldier has no need of such gauds, your Majesties," I began, when
Constantine, who, while we spoke, had swallowed another draught of the
strong wine, broke in angrily:
"May I not give a cup of gold but you must claim it, I to whom the
Empire and all its wealth belong?"
Snatching up the beaker he dashed it to the floor, spilling the wine,
of which I, who wished to keep my head cool, was glad.
"Have done," he went on in his drunken rage. "Shall the Cęsars
huckster over a piece of worked gold like Jews in a market? Give me
those figs, man; I'll settle the matter of this poison."
I brought the jar of figs, and, bowing, set them down before him. That
they were the same I knew, for the glass was labelled in my own
writing and in that of the physician. He cut away the sealed parchment
which was stretched over the mouth of the jar.
"Now hearken you, Olaf," he said. "It is true that I ordered fruit to
be sent to that fool-Cęsar, my uncle, because the last time I saw him
Nicephorus prayed me for it, and I was willing to do him a pleasure.
But that I ordered the fruit to be poisoned, as my mother says, is a
lie, and may God curse the tongue that spoke it. I will show you that
it was a lie," and plunging his hand into the spirit of the jar, he
drew out two of the figs. "Now," he went on, waving them about in a
half-drunken fashion, "this General Olaf of yours says that these are
the same figs which were sent to the Cęsar, I mean the blind priest,
Father Nicephorus. Don't you, Olaf?"
"Yes, Sire," I answered, "they were placed in that bottle in my
presence and sealed with my seal."
"Well, those figs were sent by me, and this Olaf tells us they are
poisoned. I'll show him, and you too, mother, that they are /not/
poisoned, for I will eat one of them."
Now I looked at the Augusta, but she sat silent, her arms folded on
her white bosom, her handsome face turned as it were to stone.
Constantine lifted the fig towards his loose mouth. Again I looked at
the Augusta. Still she sat there like a statue, and it came into my
mind that it was her purpose to allow this wine-bemused man to eat the
fig. Then I acted.
"Augustus," I said, "you must not touch that fruit," and stepping
forward I took it from his hand.
He sprang to his feet and began to revile me.
"You watch-dog of the North!" he shouted. "Do you dare to say to the
Emperor that he shall not do this or that? By all the images my mother
worships I'll have you whipped through the Circus."
"That you will never do," I answered, for my free blood boiled at the
insult. "I tell you, Sire," I went on, leaving out certain words which
I meant to speak, "that the fig is poisoned."
"And I tell you that you lie, you heathen savage. See here! Either you
eat that fig or I do, so that we may know who speaks the truth. If you
won't, I will. Now obey, or, by Christ! to-morrow you shall be shorter
by a head."
"The Augustus is pleased to threaten, which is unnecessary," I
remarked. "If I eat the fig, will the Augustus swear to leave the rest
of them uneaten?"
"Aye," he answered with a hiccough, "for then I shall know the truth,
and for the truth I live, though," he added, "I haven't found it yet."
"And if I do not eat it, will the Augustus do so?"
"By the Holy Blood, yes. I'll eat a dozen of them. Am I one to be
hectored by a woman and a barbarian? Eat, or I eat."
"Good, Sire. It is better that a barbarian should die than that the
world should lose its glorious Emperor. I eat, and when you are as I
soon shall be, as will happen even to an emperor, may my blood lie
heavy on your soul, the blood which I give to save your life."
Then I lifted the fig to my lips.
Before ever it touched them, with a motion swift as that of a panther
springing on its prey, Irene had leapt from her couch and dashed the
fruit from my hand. She turned upon her son.
"What kind of a thing are you," she asked, "who would suffer a brave
man to poison himself that he may save your worthless life? Oh! God,
what have I done that I should have given birth to such a hound?
Whoever poisoned them, these fruits are poisoned, as has been proved
and can be proved again, yes, and shall be. I tell you that if Olaf
had tasted one of them by now he would have been dead or dying."
Constantine drank another cup of wine, which, oddly enough, seemed to
sober him for the moment.
"I find all this strange," he said heavily. "You, my mother, would
have suffered me to eat the fig which you declare is poisoned; a
matter whereof you may know something. But when the General Olaf
offers to eat it in my place, with your own royal hand you dash it
from his lips, as he dashed it from mine. And there is another thing
which is still more strange. This Olaf, who also says the figs are
poisoned, offered to eat one of them if I promised I would not do so,
which means, if he is right, that he offered to give his life for
mine. Yet I have done nothing for him except call him hard names; and
as he is your servant he has nothing to look for from me if I should
win the fight with you at last. Now I have heard much talk of
miracles, but this is the only one I have ever seen. Either Olaf is a
liar, or he is a great man and a saint. He says, I am told, that the
monkey which ate one of those figs died. Well, I never thought of it
before, but there are more monkeys in the palace. Indeed, one lives on
the terrace near by, for I fed it this afternoon. We'll put the matter
to the proof and learn of what stuff this Olaf is really made."
On the table stood a silver bell, and as he spoke he struck it. A
chamberlain entered and was ordered to bring in the monkey. He
departed, and with incredible swiftness the beast and its keeper
arrived. It was a large animal of the baboon tribe, famous throughout
the palace for its tricks. Indeed, on entering, at a word from the man
who led it, it bowed to all of us.
"Give your beast these," said the Emperor, handing the keeper several
of the figs.
The baboon took the fruits and, having sniffed at them, put them
aside. Then the keeper fed it with some sweetmeats, which it caught
and devoured, and presently, when its fears were allayed, threw it one
of the figs, which it swallowed, doubtless thinking it a sweetmeat. A
minute or two later it began to show signs of distress and shortly
afterwards died in convulsions.
"Now," said Irene, "now do you believe, my son?"
"Yes," he answered, "I believe that there is a saint in
Constantinople. Sir Saint, I salute you. You have saved my life and if
it should come my way, by your brother saints! I'll save yours,
although you are my mother's servant."
So speaking, he drank off yet another cup of wine and reeled from the
The keeper, at a sign from Irene, lifted up the body of the dead ape
and also left the chamber, weeping as he went, for he had loved this
OLAF OFFERS HIS SWORD
The Emperor had gone, drunk; the ape had gone, dead; and its keeper
had gone, weeping. Irene and I alone were left in that beautiful place
with the wine-stained table on which stood the jar of poisoned figs
and the bent golden cup lying on the marble floor.
She sat upon the couch, looking at me with a kind of amazement in her
eyes, and I stood before her at attention, as does a soldier on duty.
"I wonder why he did not send for one of my servants to eat those figs
--Stauracius, for instance," she mused, adding with a little laugh,
"Well, if he had, there are some whom I could have spared better than
that poor ape, which at times I used to feed. It was an honest
creature, that ape; the only creature in the palace that would not rub
its head in the dust before the Augusta. Ah! now I remember, it always
hated Constantine, for when he was a child he used to tease it with a
stick, getting beyond the length of its chain and striking it. But one
day, as he passed too near, it caught him and buffeted him on the
cheek and tore out some of his hair. He wanted to kill it then, but I
forbade him. Yet he has never forgotten it, he who never does forget
anything he hates, and that is why he sent for the poor beast."
"The Augusta will remember that the Augustus did not know that the
figs were poisoned."
"The Augusta is sure that the Augustus knew well enough that those
figs were poisoned, at any rate from the moment that I dashed one of
them from your lips, Olaf. Well, I have made a bitterer enemy than
before, that's all. They say that by Nature's rule mother and child
must love each other, but it is a lie. I tell you it's a lie. From the
time he was tiny I hated that boy, though not half as much as he has
hated me. You are thinking to yourself that this is because our
ambitions clash like meeting swords, and that from them spring these
fires of hate. It is not so. The hate is native to our hearts, and
will only end when one of us lies dead at the other's hand."
"Terrible words, Augusta."
"Yes, but true. Truth is always terrible--in Byzantium. Olaf, take
those drugged fruits and set them in the drawer of yonder table; lock
it and guard the key, lest they should poison other honest animals."
I obeyed and returned to my station.
She looked at me and said:
"I grow weary of the sight of you standing there like a statue of the
Roman Mars, with your sword half hid beneath your cloak; and, what's
more, I hate this hall; it reeks of Constantine and his drink and
lies. Oh! he's vile, and for my sins God has made me his mother,
unless, indeed, he was changed at birth, as I've been told, though I
could never prove it. Give me your hand and help me to rise. So, I
thank you. Now follow me. We'll sit a while in my private chamber,
where alone I can be happy, since the Emperor never comes there. Nay,
talk not of duty; you have no guards to set or change to-night. Follow
me; I have secret business of which I would talk with you."
So she went and I followed through doors that opened mysteriously at
our approach and shut mysteriously behind us, till I found myself in a
little room half-lighted only, that I had never seen before. It was a
scented and a beautiful place, in one corner of which a white statue
gleamed, that of a Venus kissing Cupid, who folded one wing about her
head, and through the open window-place the moonlight shone and
floated the murmur of the sea.
The double doors were shut, for aught I knew locked, and with her own
hands Irene drew the curtains over them. Near the open window, to
which there was no balcony, stood a couch.
"Sit yonder, Olaf," she said, "for here there is no ceremony; here we
are but man and woman."
I obeyed, while she busied herself with the curtains. Then she came
and sat herself down on the couch also, leaning against the end of it
in such a fashion that she could watch me in the moonlight.
"Olaf," she said, after she had looked at me a while, rather
strangely, as I thought, for the colour came and went upon her face,
which in that light seemed quite young again and wonderfully
beautiful, "Olaf, you are a very brave man."
"There are hundreds in your service braver, Empress; cowards do not
take to soldiering."
"I could tell you a different story, Olaf; but it was not of this kind
of courage that I talked. It was of that which made you offer to eat
the poisoned fig in place of Constantine. Why did you do so? It is
true that, as things have happened, he'll remember it in your favour,
for I'll say this of him, he never forgets one who has saved him from
harm, any more than he forgets one who has harmed him. But if you had
eaten you would have died, and then how could he have rewarded you?"
"Empress, when I took my oath of office I swore to protect both the
Augustus and the Augusta, even with my life. I was fulfilling my oath,
that is all."
"You are a strange man as well as a brave man to interpret oaths so
strictly. If you will do as much as this for one who is nothing to
you, and who has never paid you a gold piece, how much, I wonder,
would you do for one whom you love."
"I could offer no more than my life for such a one, Empress, could I?"
"Someone told me--it may have been you, Olaf, or another--that once
you did more, challenging a heathen god for the sake of one you loved,
and defeating him. It was added that this was for a man, but that I do
not believe. Doubtless it was for the sake of Iduna the Fair, of whom
you have spoken to me, whom it seems you cannot forget although she
was faithless to you. It is said that the best way to hold love is to
be faithless to him who loves, and in truth I believe it," she added
"You are mistaken, Empress. It was to be avenged on him for the life
of Steinar, my foster-brother, which he had taken in sacrifice, that I
dared Odin and hewed his holy statue to pieces with this sword; of
Steinar, whom Iduna betrayed as she betrayed me, bringing one to death
and the other to shame."
"At least, had it not been for this Iduna you would never have given
battle to the great god of the North and thus brought his curse upon
you. For, Olaf, those gods live; they are devils."
"Whether Odin is or is not, I do not fear his curse, Empress."
"Yet it will find you out before all is done, or so I think. Look you,
pagan blood still runs in me, and, Christian though I am, I would not
dare one of the great gods of Greece and Rome. I'd leave that to the
priests. Do you fear nothing, Olaf?"
"I think nothing at all, since I hewed off Odin's head and came away
"Then you are a man to my liking, Olaf."
She paused, looking at me even more strangely than before, till I
turned my eyes, indeed, and stared out at the sea, wishing that I were
in it, or anywhere away from this lovely and imperious woman whom I
was sworn to obey in all things.
"Olaf," she said presently, "you have served me well of late. Is there
any reward that you would ask, and if so, what? Anything that I can
give is yours, unless," she added hastily, "the gift will take you
away from Constantinople and from--me."
"Yes, Augusta," I answered, still staring out at the sea. "In the
prison yonder is an old bishop named Barnabas of Egypt, who was set
upon by other bishops at the Council while you were away and wellnigh
beaten to death. I ask that he may be freed and restored to his
diocese with honour."
"Barnabas," she replied sharply. "I know the man. He is an Iconoclast,
and therefore my enemy. Only this morning I signed an order that he
should be kept in confinement till he died, here or elsewhere. Still,"
she went on, "though I would sooner give you a province, have your
gift, for I can refuse you nothing. Barnabas shall be freed and
restored to his see with honour. I have said."
Now I began to thank her, but she stopped me, saying:
"Have done! Another time you can talk to me of heretics with whom you
have made friends, but I, who hear enough of such, would have no more
of them to-night."
So I grew silent and still stared out at the sea. Indeed, I was
wondering in my mind whether I dared ask leave to depart, for I felt
her eyes burning on me, and grew much afraid. Suddenly I heard a
sound, a gentle sound of rustling silk, and in another instant I felt
Irene's arms clasped about me and Irene's head laid upon my knee. Yes,
she was kneeling before me, sobbing, and her proud head was resting on
my knee. The diadem she wore had fallen from it, and her tresses,
breaking loose, flowed to the ground, and lay there gleaming like gold
in the moonlight.
She looked up, and her face was that of a weeping saint.
"Dost understand?" she whispered.
Now despair took me, which I knew full well would soon be followed by
madness. Then came a thought.
"Yes," I said hoarsely. "I understand that you grieve over that matter
of the Augustus and the poisoned figs, and would pray me to keep
silence. Have no fear, my lips are sealed, but for his I cannot
answer, though perhaps as he had drunk so much----"
"Fool!" she whispered. "Is it thus that an Empress pleads with her
captain to keep silence?" Then she drew herself up, a wonderful look
upon her face that had grown suddenly white, a fire in her upturned
eyes, and for the second time kissed me upon the lips.
I took her in my arms and kissed her back. For an instant my mind
swam. Then in my soul I cried for help, and strength came to me.
Rising, I lifted her as though she were a child, and stood her on her
feet. I said:
"Hearken, Empress, before destruction falls. I do understand now,
though a moment ago I did not, who never thought it possible that the
queen of the world could look with favour upon one so humble."
"Love takes no account of rank," she murmured, "and that kiss of yours
upon my lips is more to me than the empire of the world."
"Yet hearken," I answered. "There is another wall between us which may
not be climbed."
"Man, what is this wall? Is it named woman? Are you sworn to the
memory of that Iduna, who is more fair than I? Or is it, perchance,
her of the necklace?"
"Neither. Iduna is dead to me; she of the necklace is but a dream. The
wall is that of your own faith. On this night seven days ago I was
baptised a Christian."
"Well, what of it? This draws us nearer."
"Study the sayings of your sacred book, Empress, and you will find
that it thrusts us apart."
Now she coloured to her hair, and a kind of madness took her.
"Am I to be preached to by you?" she asked.
"I preach to myself, Augusta, who need it greatly, not to you, who
mayhap do not need it."
"Hating me as you do, why should you need it? You are the worst of
hypocrites, who would veil your hate under a priest's robe."
"Have you no pity, Irene? When did I say that I hated you? Moreover,
if I had hated you, should I----" and I ceased.
"I do not know what you would or would not have done," she answered
coldly. "I think that Constantine is right, and that you must be what
is called a saint; and, if so, saints are best in heaven, especially
when they know too much on earth. Give me that sword of yours."
I drew the sword, saluted with it, and gave it to her.
"It is a heavy weapon," she said. "Whence came it?"
"From the same grave as the necklace, Augusta."
"Ah! the necklace that your dream-woman wore. Well, go to seek her in
the land of dreams," and she lifted the sword.
"Your pardon, Augusta, but you are about to strike with the blunt
edge, which may wound but will not kill."
She laughed a little, very nervously, and, turning the sword round in
her hand, said:
"Truly, you are the strangest of men! Ah! I thank you, now I have it
right. Do you understand, Olaf, I mean, Sir Saint, what sort of a
story I must tell of you after I have struck? Do you understand that
not only are you about to die, but that infamy will be poured upon
your name and that your body will be dragged through the streets and
thrown to the dogs with the city offal? Answer, I say, answer!"
"I understand that you must cause these things to be done for your own
sake, Augusta, and I do not complain. Lies matter nothing to me, who
journey to the Land of Truth, where there are some whom I would meet
again. Be advised by me. Strike here, where the neck joins the
shoulder, holding the sword slantwise, for there even a woman's blow
will serve to sever the great artery."
"I cannot. Kill yourself, Olaf."
"A week ago I'd have fallen on the sword; but now, by the rule of our
faith, in such a cause I may not. My blood must be upon your hands,
for which I grieve, knowing that no other road is open to you.
Augusta, if it is worth anything to you, take my full forgiveness for
the deed, and with it my thanks for all the goodness you have shown to
me, but most for your woman's favour. In after years, perhaps, when
death draws near to you also, if ever you remember Olaf, your faithful
servant, you will understand much it is not fitting that I should say.
Give me one moment to make my peace with Heaven as to certain kisses.
Then strike hard and swiftly, and, as you strike, scream for your
guards and women. Your wit will do the rest."
She lifted the sword, while, after a moment's prayer, I bared my neck
of the silk robe. Then she let it fall again, gasping, and said:
"Tell me first, for I am curious. Are you no man? Or have you forsworn
woman, as do the monks?"
"Not I, Augusta. Had I lived, some day I might have married, who would
have wished to leave children behind me, since in our law marriage is
allowed. Forget not your promise as to the Bishop Barnabas, who, I
fear, will weep over this seeming fall of mine."
"So you would marry, would you?" she said, as one who speaks to
herself; then thought awhile, and handed me back the sword.
"Olaf," she went on, "you have made me feel as I never felt before--
ashamed, utterly ashamed, and though I learn to hate you, as it well
may hap I shall, know that I shall always honour you."
Then she sank down upon the couch, and, hiding her face in her hands,
It was at this moment that I went very near to loving Irene.
I think she must have felt something of what was passing in my mind,
for suddenly she looked up and said: "Give me that jewel," and she
pointed to the diadem on the floor, "and help me to order my hair; my
"Nay," I said, as I gave her the crown. "Of that wine I drink no more.
I dare not touch you; you grow too dear."
"For those words," she whispered, "go in safety, and remember that
from Irene you have naught to fear, as I know well I have naught to
fear from you, O Prince among men."
So presently I went.
On the following morning, as I sat in my office at the prison, setting
all things in order for whoever should succeed me, Martina entered, as
she had done before.
"How came you here unannounced?" I asked, when she was seated.
"By virtue of this," she answered, holding up her hand and showing on
it a ring I knew. It was the signet of the Empress. I saluted the
"And for what purpose, Martina? To order me to bonds or death?"
"To bonds or death!" she exclaimed innocently. "What can our good Olaf
have done worthy of such woes? Nay, I come to free one from bonds, and
perhaps from death, namely, a certain heretic bishop who is named
Barnabas. Here is the order for his release, signed by the Augusta's
hand and sealed with her seal, under which he is at liberty to bide in
Constantinople while he will and to return to his bishopric in Egypt
when it pleases him. Also, if he holds that any have harmed him, he
may make complaint, and it shall be considered without delay."
I took the parchment, read it, and laid it on the table, saying:
"The commands of the Empress shall be done. Is there aught else,
"Yes. To-morrow morning you will be relieved of your office, and
another governor--Stauracius and Aetius are quarrelling as to his name
--will take your place."
"You will resume your post as captain of the private guard, only with
the rank of a full general of the army. But that I told you yesterday.
It is now confirmed."
I said nothing, but a groan I could not choke broke from my lips.
"You do not seem as pleased as you might be, Olaf. Tell me, now, at
what hour did you leave the palace last night? While waiting for my
mistress to summon me I fell asleep in the vestibule of the ante-room,
and when I awoke and went into that room I found there the gold-
broidered silk robe you wore, cast upon the ground, and your armour
"I know not what was the hour, Martina, and speak no more to me, I
pray, of that accursed womanish robe."
"Which you treated but ill, Olaf, for it is spotted as though with
"The Augustus spilt some wine over it."
"Aye, my mistress told me the story. Also that of how you would have
eaten the poisoned fig, which you snatched from the lips of
"And what else did your mistress tell you, Martina?"
"Not much, Olaf. She was in a very strange mood last night, and while
I combed her hair, which, Olaf, was as tangled as though a man had
handled it," and she looked at me till I coloured to the eyes, "and
undid her diadem, that was set on it all awry, she spoke to me of
"Of marriage!" I gasped.
"Certainly--did I not speak the word with clearness?--of marriage."
"With whom, Martina?"
"Oh! grow not jealous before there is need, Olaf. She made no mention
of the name of our future divine master, for whosoever can rule Irene,
if such a one lives, will certainly rule us also. All she said was
that she wished she could find some man to guide, guard and comfort
her, who grew lonely amidst many troubles, and hoped for more sons
"What sort of a man, Martina? This Emperor Charlemagne, or some other
"No. She vowed that she had seen enough of princes, who were murderers
and liars, all of them; and that what she desired was one of good
birth, no more, brave, honest, and not a fool. I asked her, too, what
she would have him like to look upon."
"And what did she say to that, Martina?"
"Oh! she said that he must be tall, and under forty, fair-haired and
bearded, since she loved not these shaven effeminates, who look half
woman and half priest; one who had known war, and yet was no ruffler;
a person of open mind, who had learnt and could learn more. Well, now
that I think of it, by all the Saints!--yes, much such a man as /you/
"Then she may find them in plenty," I said, with an uneasy laugh.
"Do you think so? Well, she did not, neither did I. Indeed, she
pointed out that this was her trouble. Among the great of the earth
she knew no such man, and, if she sought lower, then would come
jealousies and war."
"Indeed they would. Doubtless you showed her that this was so,
"Not at all, Olaf. I asked her of what use it was to be an Empress if
she could not please her own heart in this matter of a husband, which
is one important to a woman. I said also, as for such fears, that a
secret marriage might be thought of, which is an honest business that
could be declared when occasion came."
"And what did she answer to that, Martina?"
"She fell into high good humour, called me a faithful and a clever
friend, gave me a handsome jewel, told me that she would have a
mission for me on the morrow--doubtless that which I now fulfil, for I
have heard of no other--said, notwithstanding all the trouble as to
the Augustus and his threats, that she was sure she would sleep better
than she had done for nights, kissed me on both cheeks, and flung
herself upon her knees at her praying-stool, where I left her. But why
are you looking so sad, Olaf?"
"Oh! I know not, save that I find life difficult, and full of pitfalls
which it is hard to escape."
Martina rested her elbows on the table and her chin upon her little
hand, staring me full in the face with her quick eyes that pierced
"Olaf," she said, "your star shines bright above you. Keep your eyes
fixed thereon and follow it, and never think about the pitfalls. It
may lead you I know not where."
"To heaven, perhaps," I suggested.
"Well, you did not fear to go thither when you would have eaten the
poisoned fig last night. To heaven, perchance, but by a royal road.
Whatever you may think of some others, marriage is an honourable
estate, my Christian friend, especially if a man marries well. And now
good-bye; we shall meet again at the palace, whither you will repair
to-morrow morning. Not before, since I am engaged in directing the
furnishment of your new quarters in the right wing, and, though the
workmen labour all night, they will not be finished until then. Good-
bye, General Olaf. Your servant Martina salutes you and your star,"
and she curtsied before me until her knees almost touched the ground.
AVE POST SECULA
It comes back to me that on the following day my successor in the
governorship of the jail, who he was I know not now, arrived, and that
to him in due form I handed over my offices and duties. Before I did
so, however, I made it my care to release Barnabas, I think on the
previous evening. In his cell I read the Augusta's warrant to the old
"How was it obtained, son," he asked, "for, know, that having so many
enemies on this small matter of image worship, I expected to die in
this place? Now it seems that I am free, and may even return to my
charge in Egypt."
"The Empress granted it to me as a favour, Father," I answered. "I
told her that you were from the North, like myself."
He studied me with his shrewd blue eyes, and said:
"It seems strange to me that so great and unusual a boon should be
granted for such a reason, seeing that better men than I am have
suffered banishment and worse woes for less cause than I have given.
What did you pay the Empress for this favour, son Olaf?"
"Is it so? Olaf, a dream has come to me about you, and in that dream I
saw you walk through a great fire and emerge unscathed, save for the
singeing of your lips and hair."
"Perhaps they were singed, Father. Otherwise, I am unburned, though
what will happen to me in the future I do not know, for my dangers
"In my dream you triumphed over all of them, Olaf, and also met with
some reward even in this life, though now I know not what it was. Yes,
and triumph you shall, my son in Christ. Fear nothing, even when the
storm-clouds sweep about your head and the lightnings blind your eyes.
I say, fear nothing, for you have friends whom you cannot see. I ask
no more even under the seal of confession, since there are secrets
which it is not well to learn. Who knows, I might go mad, or torture
might draw from me words I would not speak. Therefore, keep your own
counsel, son, and confess to God alone."
"What will you do now, Father?" I asked. "Return to Egypt?"
"Nay, not yet awhile. It comes to me that I must bide here for a
space, which under this pardon I have liberty to do, but to what end I
cannot say. Later on I shall return, if God so wills. I go to dwell
with good folk who are known to me, and from time to time will let you
hear where I may be found, if you should need my help or counsel."
Then I led him to the gates, and, having given him a witnessed copy of
his warrant of release, bade him farewell for that time, making it
known to the guards and certain priests who lingered there that any
who molested him must answer for it to the Augusta.
Thus we parted.
Having handed over the keys of the prison, I walked to the palace
unattended, being minded to take up my duties there unnoticed. But
this was not to be. As I entered the palace gate a sentry called out
something, and a messenger, who seemed to be in waiting, departed at
full speed. Then the sentry, saluting, told me that his orders were
that I must stand awhile, he knew not why. Presently I discovered, for
across the square within the gates marched a full general's guard,
whereof the officer also saluted, and prayed me to come with him. I
went, wondering if I was to be given in charge, and by him, surrounded
with this pompous guard, was led to my new quarters, which were more
splendid than I could have dreamed. Here the guard left me, and
presently other officers appeared, some of them old comrades of my
own, asking for orders, of which, of course, I had none to give. Also,
within an hour, I was summoned to a council of generals to discuss
some matter of a war in which the Empire was engaged. By such means as
these it was conveyed to me that I had become a great man, or, at any
rate, one in the way of growing great.
That afternoon, when, according to my old custom, I was making my
round of the guards, I met the Augusta upon the main terrace,
surrounded by a number of ministers and courtiers. I saluted and would
have passed on, but she bade one of her eunuchs call me to her. So I
came and stood before her.
"We greet you, General Olaf," she said. "Where have you been all this
long while? Oh! I remember. At the State prison, as its governor, of
which office you are now relieved at your own request. Well, the
palace welcomes you again, for when you are here all within know
Thus she spoke, her great eyes searching my face the while, then bowed
her head in token of dismissal. I saluted again, and began to step
backwards, according to the rule, whereon she motioned to me to stand.
Then she began to make a laugh of me to the painted throng about her.
"Say, nobles and ladies," she said, "did any of you ever see such a
man? We address him as best we may--and we have reason to believe that
he understands our language--yet not one word does he vouchsafe to us
in answer. There he stands, like a soldier cut in iron who moves by
springs, with never an 'I thank you' or a 'Good day' on his lips.
Doubtless he would reprove us all, who, he holds, talk too much,
being, as we all have heard, a man of stern morality, who has no
tenderness for human foibles. By the way, General Olaf, a rumour has
reached us that you have forsaken doubt, and become a Christian. Is
"It is true, Augusta."
"Then if as a Pagan you were a man of iron, what will you be as a
Christian, we wonder? One hard as diamond, no less. Yet we are glad of
this tidings, as all good servants of the Church must be, since
henceforth our friendship will be closer and we value you. General,
you must be received publicly into the bosom of the Faith; it will be
an encouragement to others to follow your example. Perhaps, as you
have served us so well in many wars and as an officer of our guard, we
ourselves will be your god-mother. The matter shall be considered by
us. What have you to answer to it?"
"Nothing," I replied, "save that when the Augusta has considered of
the matter, I will consider of my answer."
At this the courtiers tittered, and, instead of growing angry, as I
thought she might, Irene burst out laughing.
"Truly we were wrong," she said, "to provoke you to open your mouth,
General, for when you do so, like that red sword you wear, your tongue
is sharp, if somewhat heavy. Tell us, General, are your new quarters
to your taste, and before you reply know that we inspected them
ourselves, and, having a liking for such tasks, attended to their
furnishment. 'Tis done, you will see, in the Northern style, which we
think somewhat cold and heavy--like your sword and tongue."
"If the Augusta asks me," I said, "the quarters are too fine for a
single soldier. The two rooms where I dwelt before were sufficient."
"A single soldier! Well, that is a fault which can be remedied. You
should marry, General Olaf."
"When I find any woman who wishes to marry me and whom I wish to
marry, I will obey the Augusta's commands."
"So be it, General, only remember that first we must approve the lady.
Venture not, General, to share those new quarters of yours with any
lady whom we do not approve."
Then, followed by the Court, she turned and walked away, and I went
about my business, wondering what was the meaning of all this guarded
and half-bitter talk.
The next event that returns to me clearly is that of my public
acceptance as a Christian in the great Cathedral of St. Sophia, which
must have taken place not very long after this meeting upon the
terrace. I know that by every means in my power I had striven, though
without avail, to escape this ceremony, pointing out that I could be
publicly received into the body of the Church at any chapel where
there was a priest and a congregation of a dozen humble folk. But this
the Empress would not allow. The reason she gave was her desire that
my conversion should be proclaimed throughout the city, that other
Pagans, of whom there were thousands, might follow my example. Yet I
think she had another which she did not avow. It was that I might be
made known in public as a man of importance whom it pleased her to
On the morning of this rite, Martina came to acquaint me with its
details, and told me that the Empress would be present at the
cathedral in state, making her progress thither in her golden chariot,
drawn by the famed milk-white steeds. I, it seemed, was to ride after
the chariot in my general's uniform, which was splendid enough,
followed by a company of guards, and surrounded by chanting priests.
The Patriarch himself, no less a person, was to receive me and some
other converts, and the cathedral would be filled with all the great
ones of Constantinople.
I asked whether Irene intended to be my god-mother, as she had
"Not so," replied Martina. "On that point she has changed her mind."
"So much the better," I said. "But why?"
"There is a canon of the Church, Olaf, which forbids intermarriage
between a god-parent and his or her god-child," she replied dryly.
"Whether this canon has come to the Augusta's memory or not, I cannot
say. It may be so."
"Who, then, is to be my god-mother?" I asked hurriedly, leaving the
problem of Irene's motives undiscussed.
"I am, by the written Imperial decree delivered to me not an hour
"You, Martina, you who are younger than myself by many years?"
"Yes, I. The Augusta has just explained to me that as we seem to be
such very good friends, and to talk together so much alone, doubtless,
she supposed, upon matters of religion, there could be no person more
suitable than such a good Christian as myself to fill that holy
"What do you mean, Martina?" I asked bluntly.
"I mean, Olaf," she replied, turning away her head, and speaking in a
strained voice, "that, where you are concerned, the Augusta of late
has done me the honour to be somewhat jealous of me. Well, of a god-
mother no one need be jealous. The Augusta is a clever woman, Olaf."
"I do not quite understand," I said. "Why should the Augusta be
jealous of you?"
"There is no reason at all, Olaf, except that, as it happens, she is
jealous of every woman who comes near to you, and she knows that we
are intimate and that you trust me--well, more, perhaps, than you
trust her. Oh! I assure you that of late you have not spoken to any
woman under fifty unnoted and unreported. Many eyes watch you, Olaf."
"Then they might find better employment. But tell me outright,
Martina, what is the meaning of all this?"
"Surely even a wooden-headed Northman can guess, Olaf?"
She glanced round her to make sure that we were alone in the great
apartment of my quarters and that the doors were shut, then went on,
almost in a whisper, "My mistress is wondering whether or no she will
marry again, and, if so, whether she will choose a certain somewhat
over-virtuous Christian soldier as a second husband. As yet she has
not made up her mind. Moreover, even if she had, nothing could be done
at present or until the question of the struggle between her and her
son for power is settled in this way or in that. Therefore, at worst,
or at best, that soldier has yet a while of single life left to him,
say a month or two."
"Then during that month or two perhaps he would be wise to travel," I
"Perhaps, if he were a fool who would run away from fortune, and if he
could get leave of absence, which in his case is impossible; to
attempt such a journey without it would mean his death. No, if he is
wise, that soldier will bide where he is and await events, possessing
his soul in patience, as a good Christian should do. Now, as your god-
mother, I must instruct you in this service. Look not so troubled; it
is really most simple. You know Stauracius, the eunuch, is to be your
god-father, which is very fortunate for you, since, although he looks
on you with doubt and jealousy, to blind or murder his own god-son
would cause too much scandal even in Constantinople. As a special mark
of grace, also, the Bishop Barnabas, of Egypt, will be allowed to
assist in the ceremony, because it was he who snatched your soul from
the burning. Moreover, since the Sacrament is to be administered
afterwards, he has been commanded to attend here to receive your
confession in the chapel of the palace, and within an hour. You know
that this day being the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, you will
be received in the name of Michael, a high one well fitted to a
warlike saint, though I think that I shall still call you Olaf. So
farewell, my god-son to be, until we meet at the cathedral, where I
shall shine in the reflected light of all your virtues."
Then she sighed, laughed a little, and glided away.
In due course a priest of the chapel came to summon me there, saying
that the Bishop Barnabas awaited me. I went and made my confession,
though in truth I had little to tell him that he did not already know.
Afterwards the good old man, who by now was quite recovered from his
hurts and imprisonment, accompanied me to my quarters, where we ate
together. He told me that before he attended in the chapel he had been
received by the Empress, who had spoken to him very kindly, making
light of their difference of opinion as to images and with her own
mouth confirmed him in his bishopric, even hinting at his possible
"This, my son," he added, "I am well aware I owe to your good
I asked him if he would return at once to Upper Egypt, where he had
"No, my son," he answered, "not yet awhile. The truth is that there
have arrived here the chief man in my diocese, and his daughter. He is
a descendant of the old Pharaohs of the Egyptians who lives near the
second cataract of the Nile, almost on the borders of Ethiopia,
whither the accursed children of Mahomet have not yet forced their
way. He is still a great man among the Egyptians, who look upon him as
their lawful prince. His mission here is to try to plan a new war upon
the followers of the Prophet, who, he holds, might be assailed by the
Empire at the mouths of the Nile, while he attacked them with his
Egyptians from the south."
Now I grew interested, who had always grieved over the loss of Egypt
to the Empire, and asked what was this prince's name.
"Magas, my son, and his daughter is named Heliodore. Ah! she is such a
woman as I would see you wed, beautiful indeed, and good and true as
she is beautiful, with a high spirit also, such as befits her ancient
blood. Mayhap you will note her in the cathedral. Nay, I forgot, not
there, but afterwards in this palace, since it is the command of the
Empress, to whom I have been speaking of their matters, that these two
should come to dwell here for a while. After that I hope we shall all
return to Egypt together, though Magas, being on a secret mission,
does not travel under his own name, but as a merchant."
Suddenly he paused, and began to stare at my throat.
"Is aught wrong with my armour, Father?" I asked.
"No, son. I was looking at that trinket which you wear. Of course I
have noted it before, but never closely. It is strange, very strange!"
"What is strange, Father?"
"Only that I have seen another like it."
"I dare say you have," I answered, laughing, "for when I would not
give this to the Augusta, it pleased her to have it copied."
"No, no; I mean in Egypt, and, what is more, a story hung to the
"On whom? Where? What story?" I asked eagerly.
"Oh! I cannot stay to tell you now. Moreover, your mind should be
fixed upon immortal crowns, and not on earthly necklaces. I must be
gone; nay, stay me not, I am already late. Do you get you to your
knees and pray till your god-parents come to fetch you."
Then, in spite of all I could do to keep him, he went, muttering:
"Strange! Exceeding strange!" and leaving me quite unfit for prayer.
An hour later I was riding through the streets of the mighty city,
clad in shining armour. As the season was that of October, in which
the Feast of St. Michael falls, we wore cloaks, although, the day
being warm, they were little needed. Mine was of some fine white
stuff, with a red cross broidered on the right shoulder. Stauracius,
the eunuch and great minister, who had been ordered to act as my god-
father, rode alongside of me on a mule, because he dared not mount a
horse, sweating beneath his thick robe of office, and, as I heard from
time to time, cursing me, his god-son, and all this ceremony beneath
his breath. On my other hand was my god-mother, Martina, riding an
Arab mare, which she did well enough, having been brought up to
horsemanship on the plains of Greece. Her mood was varied, for now she
laughed at the humour of the scene, and now she was sad almost to
The streets were lined with thousands of the pleasure-loving people of
the city, who had come out to see the show of the Empress going in
state to the cathedral. They were gathered even on the flat house-tops
and in the entrances to the public buildings and open places. But the
glory of the sight was centred, not about me, with my escort of guards
and chanting priests, but in Irene's self. Preceded and followed by
glittering regiments of soldiers, she drove in her famous golden
chariot, drawn by eight milk-white steeds, each of which was led by a
bejewelled noble. Her dress was splendid and covered with sparkling
gems, and on her yellow hair she wore a crown. As she went the
multitudes shouted their welcome, and she bowed to right and left in
answer to the shouts. Now and again, however, bands of armed men, clad
in a dress of a peculiar colour, emerged from side streets and hooted,
"Where is the Augustus? Give us the Augustus. We will not be ruled by
a woman and her eunuchs!"
These men were of the party of Constantine, and set on by him. Once,
indeed, there was a tumult, for some of them tried to bar the road,
till they were driven away, leaving a few dead or wounded behind them.
But still the crowds shouted and the Empress bowed as though nothing
had happened, and thus by a somewhat winding route, we came to St.
The Augusta entered, and presently I and those with me followed her
into the wonderful cathedral. I see it now, not in particular, but as
a whole, with its endless columns, its aisles and apses, and its
glittering mosaics shining through the holy gloom, across which shot
bars of light from the high window-places. All the great place was
full of the noblest in the city, rank upon rank of them, come thither
to see the Empress in her glory at the great Feast of St. Michael,
which year by year she attended thus.
At the altar waited the Patriarch in his splendid robes, attended by
many bishops and priests, among them Barnabas of Egypt. The service
began, I and some other converts standing together near to the altar
rail. The details of it do not return to me. Sweet voices sang,
censers gave forth their incense, banners waved, and images of the
saints, standing everywhere, smiled upon us fixedly. Some of us were
baptised, and some who had already been baptised were received
publicly into the fellowship of the Church, I among them. My god-
father, Stauracius, a deacon prompting him, and my god-mother,
Martina, spoke certain words on my behalf, and I also spoke certain
words which I had learned.
The splendid Patriarch, a sour-faced man with a slight squint, gave me
his especial blessing. The Bishop Barnabas, upon whom, as I noted, the
Patriarch was always careful to turn his back, offered up a prayer. My
god-father and god-mother embraced me, Stauracius smacking the air at
a distance, for which I was grateful, and Martina touching me gently
with her lips upon the brow. The Empress smiled upon me and, as I
passed her, patted me on the shoulder. Then the Sacrament was
celebrated, whereof the Empress partook first; next we converts, with
our god-parents, and afterwards a number of the congregation.
It was over at last. The Augusta and her attendants marched down the
cathedral towards the great western doors, priests followed, and,
among them, we converts, whom the people applauded openly.
Looking to right and left of me, for I was weary of keeping my gaze
fixed upon the floor, presently I caught sight of a face whilst as yet
it was far away. It seemed to draw me, I knew not why. The face was
that of a woman. She stood by an old and stately-looking man with a
white beard, the last of a line of worshippers next to the aisle along
which the procession passed, and I saw that she was young and fair.
Down the long, resounding aisle the procession marched slowly. Now I
was nearer to the face, and perceived that it was lovely as some rich-
hued flower. The large eyes were dark and soft as a deer's. The
complexion, too, was somewhat dark, as though the sun had kissed it.
The lips were red and curving, and about them played a little smile
that was full of mystery as the eyes were full of thought and
tenderness. The figure was delicate and rounded, but not so very tall.
All these things and others I noted, yet it was not by them that I was
drawn and held, but rather because I /knew this lady/.
She was the woman of whom, years ago, I had dreamed on the night on
which I broke into the Wanderer's tomb at Aar!
Never for one moment did I doubt me of this truth. I was sure. I was
sure. It did not even need, while she turned to whisper something to
her companion, that the cloak she wore should open a little, revealing
on her breast a necklace of emerald beetles separated by inlaid shells
of pale and ancient gold.
She was watching the procession with interest, yet somewhat idly, when
she caught sight of me, whom, from where she stood, she could scarcely
have seen before. Of a sudden her face grew doubtful and troubled,
like to that of one who has just received some hurt. She saw the
ornament about my neck. She turned pale and had she not gripped the
arm of the man beside her, would, I think, have fallen. Then her eyes
caught mine, and Fate had us in its net.
She leaned forward, gazing, gazing, all her soul in those dark eyes,
and I, too, gazed and gazed. The great cathedral vanished with its
glittering crowds, the sound of chanting and of feet that marched died
from my ears. In place of these I saw a mighty columned temple and two
stone figures, taller than pines, seated on a plain, and through the
moonlit silence heard a sweet voice murmuring:
"Farewell. For this life, farewell!"
Now we were near to each other, now I was passing her, I who might not
stay. My hand brushed hers, and oh! it was as though I had drunk a cup
of wine. A spirit entered into me and, bending, I whispered in her
ear, speaking in the Latin tongue, since Greek, which all knew, I did
not dare to use, "/Ave post secula!/" Greeting after the ages!
I saw her bosom heave; yes, and heard her whisper back:
So she knew me also.
That night there was feasting at the palace, and I, Olaf, now known as
Michael, as a convert was one of the chief guests, so that for me
there was no escape. I sat very silent, so silent that the Augusta
frowned, though she was too far off to speak to me. The banquet came
to an end at last and before midnight I was free to go, still without
word from the Empress, who withdrew herself, as I thought in an ill-
I sought my bed, but in it knew little of sleep. I had found her for
whom during all the long years I had been searching, though I did not
understand that I was searching. After the ages I had found her and
she had found me. Her eyes said it, and, unless I dreamed, her sweet
voice said it also.
Who was she? Doubtless that Heliodore, daughter of Magas, the prince
of whom the Bishop Barnabas had spoken to me. Oh! now I understood
what he meant when he spoke of another necklace like to that I wore,
and yet would explain nothing. It lay upon the breast of Heliodore,
Heliodore who was such a one as he wished that I might wed. Well,
certainly I wished it too; but, alas! how could I wed, who was in
Irene's power, a toy for her to play with or to break? And how would
it fare with any woman whom it was known that I wished to wed? I must
be secret until she was gone from Constantinople, and in this way or
in that I could follow her. I, who had ever been open-minded, must
learn to keep my own counsel.
Now, too, I remembered how Barnabas had said the Augusta commanded
that this Prince Magas and his daughter should come to the palace as
her guests. Well, the place was vast, a town in itself, and likely
enough I should not see them there. Yet I longed to see one of them as
never I had longed for anything before. I was sure, also, that no
fears could keep us apart, even though I knew the road before me to be
full of dangers and of trials, knew that I went with my life in my
hand, the life of which I had been quite careless, but that now had
become so dear to me. For did not the world hold another to whom it
The night passed away. I rose and went about my morning duties.
Scarcely were these finished when a messenger summoned me to the
presence of the Augusta. I followed him with a sinking heart, certain
that those woes which I had foreseen were about to begin. Also, now
there was no woman in the whole world whom I less wished to see than
Irene, Empress of the Earth.
I was led to the small audience chamber, whereof I have already
spoken, that on the floor of which was the mosaic of the goddess Venus
making pretence to kill her lover. There I found the Augusta seated in
a chair of State, the minister Stauracius, my god-father, who glowered
at me as I entered, some secretaries, and Martina, my god-mother, who
was the lady in attendance.
I saluted the Empress, who bowed graciously and said:
"General Olaf--nay, I forgot, General Michael, your god-father
Stauracius has something to say which I trust will please you as much
as it does him and me. Speak, Stauracius."
"Beloved god-son," began Stauracius, in a voice of sullen rage, "it
has pleased the Augusta to appoint you----"
"On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius," interrupted the Empress.
"----On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius," repeated the eunuch
like a talking bird, "to be one of her chamberlains and Master of the
Palace, at a salary of" (I forget the sum, but it was a great one)
"with all the power and perquisites to that office pertaining, in
reward of the services which you have rendered to her and the Empire.
Thank the Empress for her gracious favour."
"Nay," interrupted Irene again, "thank your beloved god-father
Stauracius, who has given me no peace until I offered you this
preferment which has suddenly become vacant, Stauracius alone knows
why, for I do not. Oh! you were wise, Olaf--I mean Michael--to choose
Stauracius for a god-father, though I warn him," she added archly,
"that in his natural love he must not push you forward too fast lest
others should begin to show that jealousy which is a stranger to his
noble nature. Come hither, Michael, and kiss my hand upon your
So I advanced and, kneeling, kissed the Augusta's hand, according to
custom on such occasions, noting, as doubtless Stauracius did also,
that she pressed it hard enough against my lips. Then I rose and said:
"I thank the Augusta----"
"And my god-father Stauracius," she interrupted.
"----And my god-father Stauracius," I echoed, "for her and his
goodness towards me. Yet with humility I venture to say that I am a
soldier who knows nothing whatsoever of the duties of a chamberlain
and of a Master of the Palace, and, therefore, I beg that someone else
more competent may be chosen to fill these high offices."
On hearing these words Stauracius stared at me with his round and owl-
like eyes. Never before had he known an officer in Constantinople who
wished to decline power and more pay. Scarcely, indeed, could he
believe his ears. But the Augusta only laughed.
"Baptism has not changed you, Olaf," she said, "who ever were simple,
as I believe your duties will be. At any rate, your god-father and
god-mother will instruct you in them--especially your god-mother. So
no more of such foolish talk. Stauracius, you may be gone to attend to
the affairs of which we have been speaking, as I see you burn to do,
and take those secretaries with you, for the scratching of their pens
sets my teeth on edge. Bide here a moment, General, for as Master of
the Palace it will be your duty to receive certain guests to-day of
whom I wish to speak with you. Bide you also, Martina, that you may
remember my words in case this unpractised officer should forget
Stauracius and his secretaries bowed themselves out, leaving the three
of us alone.
"Now, Olaf, or Michael--which do you wish to be called?"
"It is more easy for a man to alter his nature than his name," I
"Have you altered your nature? If so, your manners remain much what
they were. Well, then, be Olaf in private and Michael in public, for
often an alias is convenient enough. Hark! I would read you a lesson.
As the wise King Solomon said, 'Everything has its place and time.' It
is good to repent you of your sins and to think about your soul, but I
pray you do so no more at my feasts, especially when they are given in
your honour. Last night you sat at the board like a mummy at an
Egyptian banquet. Had your skull stood on it, filled with wine, it
could scarce have looked grimmer than did your face. Be more cheerful,
I pray you, or I will have you tonsured and promoted to be a bishop,
like that old heretic Barnabas of whom you are so fond. Ah! you smile
at last, and I am glad to see it. Now hearken again. This afternoon
there comes to the palace a certain old Egyptian named Magas, whom I
place in your especial charge, and with him his wife--at least, I
think she is his wife."
"Nay, Mistress, his daughter," interrupted Martina.
"Oh! his daughter," said the Augusta suspiciously. "I did not know she
was his daughter. What is she like, Martina?"
"I have not seen her, Empress, but someone said that she is a black-
looking woman, such as the Nile breeds."
"Is it so? Then I charge you, Olaf, keep her far from me, for I love
not these ugly black women, whose woolly hair always smells of grease.
Yes, I give you leave to court her, if you will, since thereby you may
learn some secrets," and she laughed merrily.
I bowed, saying that I would obey the Augusta's orders to the best of
my power, and she went on:
"Olaf, I would discover the truth concerning this Magas and his
schemes, which as a soldier you are well fitted to find out. It seems
he has a plan for the recovery of Egypt out of the hands of the
followers of that accursed false prophet whose soul dwells with Satan.
Now, I would win back Egypt, if I may, and thereby add glory to my
name and the Empire. Hear all that he proposes, study it well, and
make report to me. Afterwards I will see him alone, who for the
present will send him a letter by the hand of Martina here bidding him
open all his heart to you. For a week or more I shall have no time to
spend upon this Magas, who must give myself to business upon which
hangs my power and perchance my life."
These words she spoke heavily, then fell into a fit of brooding.
Rousing herself, she went on:
"Did you note yesterday, Olaf, if you had any mind left for the things
of earth, that as I drove in state through the streets many met me
with sullen silence, while others cursed me openly and shouted, 'Where
is the Augustus?' 'Give us Constantine. We will have no woman's
"I saw and heard something of these things, Augusta; also that certain
of the soldiers on guard in the city had a mutinous air."
"Aye, but what you did not see and hear was that a plot had been laid
to murder me in the cathedral. I got wind of it in time and if you
were still governor of yonder prison you'd know where the murderers
are to-day. Yet they're but tools; it is their captains whom I want.
Well, torture may make them speak; Stauracius has gone to see to it.
Oh! the strife is fierce and doubtful. I walk blindfold along a
precipice. Above are Fortune's heights, and beneath black ruin.
Perhaps you'd be wise to get you to Constantine, Olaf, and become his
man, as many are doing, since he'd be glad of you. No need to shake
your head, for that's not your way; you are no hound to bite the hand
that feeds you, like these street-bred dogs. Would that I could keep
you nearer to me, where hour by hour you might help me with your
counsel and your quiet strength. But it may not be--as yet. I raise
you as high as I dare, but it must be done step by step, for even now
some grow jealous. Take heed to what you eat, Olaf. See that your
guards are Northmen, and beneath your doublet wear mail, especially at
night. Moreover, unless I send for you, do not come near me too often,
and, when we meet, be my humble servant, like others; aye, learn to
crawl and kiss the ground. Above all, keep secret as the grave.
"Now," she went on after a pause, during which I stood silent, "what
is there more? Oh! with your new offices, you'll retain that of
captain of my guard, for I would be well watched during these next few
weeks. Follow up the matter of the Egyptian; you may find advancement
in it. Perchance one day you will be the general I send against the
Moslems--if I can spare you. On all this matter be secret also, for
once rumour buzzes over it that peach rots. The Egyptian and his
swarthy girl come to the palace to-day, when he will receive my
letter. Meet him and see them well housed, though not too near me;
Martina will help you. Now be gone and leave me to my battles."
So I went, and she watched me to the door with eyes that were full of
Again there is a blank in my memory, or my vision. I suppose that
Magas and his daughter Heliodore arrived at the palace on the day of
my interview with Irene, of which I have told. I suppose that I
welcomed them and conducted them to the guest house that had been made
ready for them in the gardens. Doubtless, I listened eagerly to the
first words which Heliodore spoke to me, save that one in the
cathedral, the word of greeting. Doubtless, I asked her many things,
and she gave me many answers. But of all this nothing remains.
What comes back to me is a picture of the Egyptian prince, Magas, and
myself seated at some meal in a chamber overlooking the moonlit palace
garden. We were alone, and this noble, white-bearded man, hook-nosed
and hawk-eyed, was telling me of the troubles of his countrymen, the
Christian Copts of Egypt.
"Look on me, sir," he said. "As I could prove to you, were it worth
while, and as many could bear witness, for the records have been kept,
I am a descendant in the true line from the ancient Pharaohs of my
country. Moreover, my daughter, through her Grecian mother, is sprung
from the Ptolemies. Our race is Christian, and has been for these
three hundred years, although it was among the last to be converted.
Yet, noble as we are, we suffer every wrong at the hands of the
Moslems. Our goods and lands are doubly taxed, and, if we should go
into the towns of Lower Egypt, we must wear garments on which the
Cross is broidered as a badge of shame. Yet, where I live--near to the
first cataract of the Nile, and not so very far from the city of old
Thebes--the Prophet-worshippers have no real power. I am still the
true ruler of that district, as the Bishop Barnabas will tell you, and
at any moment, were my standard to be lifted, I could call three
thousand Coptic spears to fight for Christ and Egypt. Moreover, if
money were forthcoming, the hosts of Nubia could be raised, and
together we might sweep down on the Moslems like the Nile in flood,
and drive them back to Alexandria."
Then he went on to set out his plans, which in sum were that a Roman
fleet and army should appear at the mouths of the Nile to besiege and
capture Alexandria, and, with his help, massacre or drive out every
Moslem in Egypt. The scheme, which he set forth with much detail,
seemed feasible enough, and when I had mastered its particulars I
promised to report it to the Empress, and afterwards to speak with him
I left the chamber, and presently stood in the garden. Although it was
autumn time, the night in this mild climate was very warm and
pleasant, and the moonlight threw black shadows of the trees across
the paths. Under one of these trees, an ancient, green-leaved oak, the
largest of a little grove, I saw a woman sitting. Perchance I knew who
she was, perchance I had come thither to meet her, I cannot say. At
least, this was not our first meeting by many, for as I came she rose,
lifting her flower-like face towards my own, and next moment was in my
When we had kissed our full, we began to talk, seated hand in hand
beneath the oak.
"What have you been doing this day, beloved?" she asked.
"Much what I do every day, Heliodore. I have attended to my duties,
which are threefold, as Chamberlain, as Master of the Palace, and as
Captain of the Guard. Also, for a little while, I saw the Augusta, to
whom I had to report various matters. The interview was brief, since a
rumour had reached her that the Armenian regiments refuse to take the
oath of fidelity to her alone, as she has commanded should be done,
and demand that the name of the Emperor, her son, should be coupled
with hers, as before. This report disturbed her much, so that she had
little time for other business."
"Did you speak of my father's matter, Olaf?"
"Aye, shortly. She listened, and asked whether I were sure that I had
got the truth from him. She added that I had best test it by what I
could win from you by any arts that a man may use. For, Heliodore,
because of something that my god-mother, Martina, said to her, it is
fixed in her mind that you are black-skinned and very ugly. Therefore,
the Augusta, who does not like any man about her to care for other
women, thinks I may make love to you with safety. So I prayed for
leave from my duties on the guard this evening that I might sup with
your father in the guest-house, and see what I could learn from one or
both of you."
"Love makes you clever, Olaf. But hearken. I do not believe that the
Empress thinks me black and ugly any longer. As it chanced while I
walked in the inner garden this afternoon, where you said I might go
when I wished to be quite alone, dreaming of our love and you, I
looked up and saw an imperial woman of middle age, who was gorgeous as
a peacock, watching me from a little distance. I went on my way,
pretending to see no one, and heard the lady say:
"'Has all this trouble driven me mad, Martina, or did I behold a woman
beautiful as one of the nymphs of my people's fables wandering yonder
among those bushes?'
"I repeat her very words, Olaf, not because they are true--for,
remember, she saw me at a distance and against a background of rocks
and autumn flowers--but because they were her words, which I think you
ought to hear, with those that followed them."
"Irene has said many false things in her life," I said, smiling, "but
by all the Saints these were not among them."
Then we embraced again, and after that was finished Heliodore, her
head resting on my shoulder, continued her story:
"'What was she like, Mistress?' asked the lady Martina, for by this
time I had passed behind some little trees. 'I have seen no one who is
beautiful in this garden except yourself.'
"'She was clad in a clinging white robe, Martina, that left her arms
and bosom bare'--being alone, Olaf, I wore my Egyptian dress beneath
my cloak, which I had laid down because of the heat of the sun. 'She
was not so very tall, yet rounded and most graceful. Her eyes seemed
large and dark, Martina, like her hair; her face was tinted like a
rich-hued rose. Oh! were I a man she seemed such a one as I should
love, who, like all my people, have ever worshipped beauty. Yet, what
did I say, that she put me in mind of a nymph of Greece. Nay, that was
not so. It was of a goddess of Old Egypt that she put me in mind, for
on her face was the dreaming smile which I have seen on that of a
statue of mother Isis whom the Egyptians worshipped. Moreover, she
wore just such a headdress as I have noted upon those statues.'
"Now the lady Martina answered: 'Surely, you must have dreamed,
Mistress. The only Egyptian woman in the palace is the daughter of the
old Coptic noble, Magas, who is in Olaf's charge, and though I am told
that she is not so ugly as I heard at first, Olaf has never said to me
that she was like a goddess. What you saw was doubtless some image of
Fortune conjured up by your mind. This I take to be the best of omens,
who in these doubtful days grow superstitious.'
"'Would Olaf tell one woman that another was like a goddess, Martina,
even though she to whom he spoke was his god-mother and a dozen years
younger than himself? Come,' she added, 'and let us see if we can find
"Then," Heliodore went on, "not knowing what to do, I stood still
there against the rockwork and the flowers till presently, round the
bushes, appeared the splendid lady and Martina."
Now when I, Olaf, heard all this, I groaned and said:
"Oh! Heliodore, it was the Augusta herself."
"Yes, it was the Augusta, as I learned presently. Well, they came, and
I curtsied to them.
"'Are you the daughter of Magas, the Egyptian?' asked the lady, eyeing
me from head to foot.
"'Yes, Madam,' I answered. 'I am Heliodore, the daughter of Magas. I
pray that I have done no wrong in walking in this garden, but the
General Olaf, the Master of the Palace, gave me leave to come here.'
"'And did the General Olaf, whom we know as Michael, give you that
necklace which you wear, also, O Daughter of Magas? Nay, you must
needs answer me, for I am the Augusta.'
"Now I curtsied again, and said:
"'Not so, O Augusta; the necklace is from Old Egypt, and was found
upon the body of a royal lady in a tomb. I have worn it for many
"'Indeed, and that which the General Michael wears came also from a
"'Yes, he told me so, Augusta,' I said.
"'It would seem that the two must once have been one, Daughter of
"'It may be so, Augusta; I do not know.'
"Now the Empress looked about her, and the lady Martina, dropping
behind, began to fan herself.
"'Are you married, girl?' she asked.
"'No,' I answered.
"'Are you affianced?'
"Now I hesitated a little, then answered 'No' again.
"'You seem to be somewhat doubtful on the point. Farewell for this
while. When you walk abroad in our garden, which is open to you, be
pleased to array yourself in the dress of our country, and not in that
of a courtesan of Egypt.'"
"What did you answer to that saying?" I asked.
"That which was not wise, I fear, Olaf, for my temper stirred me. I
answered: 'Madam, I thank you for your permission to walk in your
garden. If ever I should do so again as your guest, be sure that I
will not wear garments which, before Byzantium was a village, were
sacred to the gods of my country and those of my ancestors the Queens
"And then?" I asked.
"The Empress answered: 'Well spoken! Such would have been my own words
had I been in your place. Moreover, they are true, and the robe
becomes you well. Yet presume not too far, girl, seeing that Byzantium
is no longer a village, and Egypt has some fanatic Moslem for a
Pharaoh, who thinks little of your ancient blood.'
"So I bowed and went, and as I walked away heard the Empress rating
the lady Martina about I know not what, save that your name came into
the matter, and my own. Why does this Empress talk so much about you,
Olaf, seeing that she has many officers who are higher in her service,
and why was she so moved about this matter of the necklace of golden
"Heliodore," I answered, "I must tell now what I have hidden from you.
The Augusta has been pleased--why, I cannot say, but chiefly, I
suppose, because of late years it has been my fancy to keep myself
apart from women, which is rare in this land--to show me certain
favour. I gather, even, that, whether she means it or means it not,
she has thought of me as a husband."
"Oh!" interrupted Heliodore, starting away from me, "now I understand
everything. And, pray, have you thought as a wife of her, who has been
a widow these ten years and has a son of twenty?"
"God above us alone knows what I have or have not thought, but it is
certain that at present I think of her only as one who has been most
kind to me, but who is more to be feared than my worst foe, if I have
"Hush!" she said, raising her finger. "I fancied I heard someone stir
"Fear nothing," I answered. "We are alone here, for I set guards of my
own company around the place, with command to admit no one, and my
order runs against all save the Empress in person."
"Then we are safe, Olaf, since this damp would disarrange her hair,
which, I noted, is curled with irons, not by Nature, like my own. Oh!
Olaf, Olaf, how wonderful is the fate that has brought us together. I
say that when I saw you yonder in the cathedral for the first time
since I was born, I knew you again, as you knew me. That is why, when
you whispered to me, 'Greeting after the ages,' I gave you back your
welcome. I know nothing of the past. If we lived and loved before,
that tale is lost to me. But there's your dream and there's the
necklace. When I was a child, Olaf, it was taken from the embalmed
body of some royal woman, who, by tradition, was of my own race, yes,
and by records of which my father can tell you, for he is among the
last who can still read the writing of the old Egyptians. Moreover,
she was very like me, Olaf, for I remember her well as she lay in her
coffin, preserved by arts which the Egyptians had. She was young, not
much older than I am to-day, and her story tells that she died in
giving birth to a son, who grew up a strong and vigorous man, and
although he was but half royal, founded a new dynasty in Egypt and
became my forefather. This necklace lay upon her breast, and beneath
it a writing on papyrus, which said that when the half of it which was
lost should be joined again to that half, then those who had worn them
would meet once more as mortals. Now the two halves of the necklace
have met, and /we/ have met as God decreed, and it is one and we are
one for ever and for ever, let every Empress of the earth do what they
will to part us."
"Aye," I answered, embracing her again, "we are one for ever and for
ever, though perchance for a while we may be separated from time to
VICTORY OR VALHALLA!
A minute later I heard a rustle as of branches being moved by people
thrusting their way through them. A choked voice commanded,
"Take him living or dead."
Armed men appeared about us, four of them, and one cried "Yield!"
I sprang up and drew the Wanderer's sword.
"Who orders the General Michael to yield in his own command?" I asked.
"I do," answered the man. "Yield or die!"
Now, thinking that these were robbers or murderers hired by some
enemy, I sprang at him, nor was that battle long, for at my first
stroke he fell dead. Then the other three set on me. But I wore mail
beneath my doublet, as Irene had bade me do, and their swords glanced.
Moreover, the old northern rage entered into me, and these easterners
were no match for my skill and strength. First one and then another of
them went down, whereon the third fled away, taking with him a grizzly
wound behind, for I struck him as he fled.
"Now it seems there is an end of that," I gasped to Heliodore, who was
crouched upon the seat. "Come, let me take you to your father and
summon my guards, ere we meet more of these murderers."
As I spoke a cloaked and hooded woman glided from the shelter of the
trees behind and stood before us. She threw back the hood from her
head and the moonlight fell upon her face. It was that of the Empress,
but oh! so changed by jealous rage that I should scarce have known
her. The large eyes seemed to flash fire, the cheeks were white, save
where they had been touched with paint, the lips trembled. Twice she
tried to speak and failed, but at the third effort words came.
"Nay, all is but begun," she said in a voice that was full of hate.
"Know that I have heard your every word. So, traitor, you would tell
my secrets to this Egyptian slut and then murder my own servants," and
she pointed to the dead and wounded men. "Well, you shall pay for it,
both of you, that I swear."
"Is it murder, Augusta," I asked, saluting, "when four assail one man,
and, thinking them assassins, he fights for his life and wins the
"What are four such curs against you? I should have brought a dozen.
Yet it was at me you struck. Whate'er they did I ordered them to do."
"Had I known it, Augusta, I would never have drawn sword, who am your
officer and obedient to the end."
"Nay, you'd stab me with your tongue, not with your sword," she
answered with something like a sob. "You say you are my obedient
officer. Well, now we will see. Smite me that bold-faced baggage dead,
or smite /me/ dead, I care not which, then fall upon your sword."
"The first I cannot do, Augusta, for it would be murder against one
who has done no wrong, and I will not stain my soul with murder."
"Done no wrong! Has she not mocked me, my years, my widowhood, yes,
and even my hair, in the pride of her--her youth, me, the Empress of
Now Heliodore spoke for the first time.
"And has not the Empress of the World called a poor maid of blood as
noble as her own by shameful names?" she asked.
"For the second," I went on before Irene could answer, "I cannot do
that either, for it would be foul treason as well as murder to lift my
sword against your anointed Majesty. But as for the third, as is my
duty, that I will do--or rather suffer your servants to do--if it
pleases you to repeat the order later when you are calm."
"What!" cried Heliodore, "would you go and leave me here? Then, Olaf,
by the gods my forefathers worshipped for ten thousand years, and by
the gods I worship, I'll find a means to follow you within an hour.
Oh! Empress of the World, there is another world you do not rule, and
there we'll call you to account."
Now Irene stared at Heliodore, and Heliodore stared back at her, and
the sight was very strange.
"At least you have spirit, girl. But think not that shall save you,
for there's no room for both of us on earth."
"If I go it may prove wide enough, Augusta," I broke in.
"Nay, you shall not go, Olaf, at least not yet. My orders are that you
do /not/ fall upon your sword. As for this Egyptian witch, well,
presently my people will be here; then we will see."
Now I drew Heliodore to the trunk of the great tree which stood near
by and set myself in front of her.
"What are you about to do?" asked the Empress.
"I am about to fight your eastern curs until I fall, for no northern
man will lift a sword against me, even on your orders, Augusta. When I
am down, this lady must play her own part as God shall guide her."
"Have no fear, Olaf," Heliodore said gently, "I wear a dagger."
Scarcely had she spoken when there was a sound of many feet. The man
whom I had wounded had run shouting towards the palace, rousing the
soldiers, both those on watch and those in their quarters. Now these
began to arrive and to gather in the glade before the clump of trees,
for some guards who had heard the clash of arms guided them to the
place. They were of all races and sundry regiments, Greeks,
Byzantines, Bulgars, Armenians, so-called Romans, and with them a
number of Britons and northern men.
Seeing the Empress and, near by, myself standing with drawn sword
against the tree sheltering the lady Heliodore, also on the ground
those whom I had cut down, they halted. One of their officers asked
what they must do.
"Kill me that man who has slain my servants, or stay--take him
living," screamed the Augusta.
Now among those who had gathered was a certain lieutenant of my own, a
blue-eyed, flaxen-haired Norwegian giant of the name of Jodd. This man
loved me like a brother, I believe because once it had been my fortune
to save his life. Also often I had proved his friend when he was in
trouble, for in those days Jodd got drunk at times, and when he was
drunk lost money which he could not pay.
Now, when he saw my case, I noted that this Jodd, who, if sober, was
no fool at all, although he seemed so slow and stupid, whispered
something to a comrade who was with him, whereon the man turned and
fled away like an arrow. From the direction in which he went I guessed
at once that he was running to the barracks close at hand, where were
stationed quite three hundred Northmen, all of whom were under my
The soldiers prepared to obey the Augusta's orders, as they were bound
to do. They drew their swords and a number of them advanced towards me
slowly. Then it was that Jodd, with a few Northmen, moved between them
and me, and, saluting the Empress, said in his bad Greek,
"Your pardon, Augusta, but why are we asked to kill our own general?"
"Obey my orders, fellow," she answered.
"Your pardon, Augusta," said the stolid Jodd, "but before we kill our
own general, whom you commanded us to obey in all things, we would
know why we must kill him. It is a custom of our country that no man
shall be killed until he has been heard. General Olaf," and drawing
his short sword for the first time, he saluted me in form, "be pleased
to explain to us why you are to be killed or taken prisoner."
Now a tumult arose, and a eunuch in the background shouted to the
soldiers to obey the Empress's orders, whereon again some of them
began to advance.
"If no answer is given to my question," went on Jodd in his slow,
bull-like voice, "I fear that others must be killed besides the
General Olaf. Ho! Northmen. To me, Northmen! Ho! Britons, to me,
Britons! Ho! Saxons, to me, Saxons! Ho! all who are not accursed
Greeks. To me all who are not accursed Greeks!"
Now at each cry of Jodd's men leapt forward from the gathering crowd,