Part 4 out of 6
and, to the number of fifty or more in all, marshalled themselves
behind him, those of each nation standing shoulder to shoulder in
little groups before me.
"Is my question to be answered?" asked Jodd. "Because, if not,
although we be but one against ten, I think that ere the General Olaf
is cut down or taken there will be good fighting this night."
Then I spoke, saying,
"Captain Jodd, and comrades, I will answer your question, and if I
speak wrongly let the Augusta correct me. This is the trouble. The
lady Heliodore here is my affianced wife. We were speaking together in
this garden as the affianced do. The Empress, who, unseen by us, was
hidden behind those trees, overheard our talk, which, for reasons best
known to herself, for in it there was naught of treason or any matter
of the State, made her so angry that she set her servants on to kill
me. Thinking them murderers or robbers, I defended myself, and there
they lie, save one, who fled away wounded. Then the Empress appeared
and ordered me to kill the lady Heliodore. Comrades, look on her whom
the Empress ordered me to kill, and say whether, were she your
affianced, you would kill her even to please the Empress," and,
stepping to one side, I showed them Heliodore in all her loveliness
standing against the tree, the drawn dagger in her hand.
Now from those that Jodd had summoned there went up a roar of "/No/,"
while even the rest were silent. Irene sprang forward and cried,
"Are my orders to be canvassed and debated? Obey! Cut this man down or
take him living, I care not which, and with him all who cling to him,
or to-morrow you hang, every one of you."
Now the soldiers who had gathered also began to form up under their
officers, for they saw that before them was war and death. By this
time they were many, and as the alarm spread minute by minute more
"Yield or we attack," said he who had taken command of them.
"I do not think that we yield," answered Jodd; and just then there
came a sound of men running in ordered companies from the direction of
the Northmen's barracks were Jodd's messenger had told his tale.
"I am /sure/ that we do not yield," continued Jodd, and suddenly
raised the wild northern war-cry, "/Valhalla, Valhalla! Victory or
Instantly from three hundred throats, above the sound of the running
feet that drew ever nearer, came the answering shout of "/Valhalla,
Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!/" Then out of the gloom up dashed the
Now other shouts arose of "Olaf! Olaf! Olaf! Where is our General
Olaf? Where is Red-Sword?"
"Here, comrades!" roared Jodd, and up they came those fierce, bearded
men, glad with the lust of battle, and ranged themselves by companies
before us. Again the great voice of Jodd was heard, calling,
"Empress, do you give us Olaf and his girl and swear by your Christ
that no harm shall come to them? Or must we take them for ourselves?"
"Never!" she cried back. "The only thing I give to you is death. On to
these rebels, soldiers!"
Now, seeing what must come, I strove to speak, but Jodd shouted again,
"Be silent, Olaf. For this hour you are not our general; you are a
prisoner whom it pleases us to rescue. Ring him round, Northmen, ring
him round. Bring the Empress, too; she will serve as hostage."
Now some of them drew behind us. Then they began to advance, taking us
along with them, and I, who was skilled in war, saw their purpose.
They were drawing out into the open glade, where they could see to
fight, and where their flanks would be protected by a stream of water
on the one hand and a dense belt of trees on the other.
In her rage the Empress threw herself upon the ground, but two great
fellows lifted her up by the arms and thrust her along with us.
Marching thus, we reached the point that they had chosen, for the
Greeks were in confusion and not ready to attack. There we halted,
just on the crest of a little rise of ground.
"Augusta," I said, "in the name of God, I pray you to give way. These
Northmen hate your Byzantines, and will take this chance to pay off
their scores. Moreover, they love me, and will die to a man ere they
see me harmed, and then how shall I protect you in the fray?"
She only glared at me and made no answer.
The attack began. By this time fifteen hundred or so of the Imperial
troops had collected, and against them stood, perhaps, four hundred
men in all, so that the odds were great. Still, they had no horsemen
or archers, and our position was very good, also we were Northmen and
they were Grecian scum.
On came the Byzantines, screaming "Irene! Irene!" in a formation of
companies ranged one behind the other, for their object was to break
in our centre by their weight. Jodd saw, and gave some orders; very
good orders, I thought them. Then he sheathed his short-sword, seized
the great battle-axe which was his favourite weapon, and placed
himself in front of our triple line that waited in dead silence.
Up the slope surged the charge, and on the crest of it the battle met.
At first the weight of the Greeks pressed us back, but, oh! they went
down before the Northmen's steel like corn before the sickle, and soon
that rush was stayed. Breast to breast they hewed and thrust, and so
fearful was the fray that Irene, forgetting her rage, clung to me to
The fight hung doubtful. As in a dream, I watched the giant Jodd cut
down a gorgeous captain, the axe shearing through his golden armour as
though it were but silk. I watched a comrade of my own fall beneath a
spear-thrust. I gazed at the face of Heliodore, who stared wide-eyed
at the red scene, and at the white-lipped Irene, who was clinging to
my arm. Now we were being pressed back again, we who at this point had
at most two hundred men, some of whom were down, to bear the onslaught
of twice that number, and, do what I would, my fingers strayed to my
Our triple line bent in like a bow and began to break. The scales of
war hung on the turn, when, from the dense belt of trees upon our
left, suddenly rose the cry of "/Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or
Valhalla!/" for which I, who had overheard Jodd's orders, was waiting.
These were his orders--that half of the Northmen should creep down
behind the belt of trees in their dense shadow, and thus outflank the
Forth they sprang by companies of fifty, the moonlight gleaming on
their mail, and there, three hundred yards away, a new battle was
begun. Now the Greeks in front of us, fearing for their rear, wavered
a moment and fell back, perhaps, ten paces. I saw the opportunity and
could bear no more, who before all things was a soldier.
Shouting to some of our wounded to watch the women, I drew my sword
and leapt forward.
"I come, Northmen!" I cried, and was greeted with a roar of:
"Olaf Red-Sword! Follow Olaf Red-Sword!" for so the soldiers named me.
"Steady, Northmen! Shoulder to shoulder, Northmen!" I cried back. "Now
at them! Charge! /Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!/"
Down the slope they went before our rush. In thirty paces they were
but a huddled mob, on which our swords played like lightnings. We
rolled them back on to their supports, and those supports, outflanked,
began to flee. We swept through and through them. We slew them by
hundreds, we trod them beneath our victorious feet, and--oh! in that
battle a strange thing happened to me. I thought I saw my dead brother
Ragnar fighting at my side; aye, and I thought I heard him cry to me,
in that lost, remembered voice:
"The old blood runs in you yet, you Christian man! Oh! you fight well,
you Christian man. We of Valhalla give you greetings, Olaf Red-Sword.
/Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!/"
It was done. Some were fled, but more were dead, for, once at grips,
the Northman showed no mercy to the Greek. Back we came, those who
were left of us, for many, perhaps a hundred, were not, and formed a
ring round the women and the wounded.
"Well done, Olaf," said Heliodore; but Irene only looked at me with a
kind of wonder in her eyes.
Now the leaders of the Northmen began to talk among themselves, but
although from time to time they glanced at me, they did not ask me to
join in their talk. Presently Jodd came forward and said in his slow
"Olaf Red-Sword, we love you, who have always loved us, your comrades,
as we have shown you to-night. You have led us well, Olaf, and,
considering our small numbers, we have just won a victory of which we
are proud. But our necks are in the noose, as yours is, and we think
that in this case our best course is to be bold. Therefore, we name
you Cęsar. Having defeated the Greeks, we propose now to take the
palace and to talk with the regiments without, many of whom are
disloyal and shout for Constantine, whom after all they hate only a
little less than they do Irene yonder. We know not what will be the
end of the matter and do not greatly care, who set our fortunes upon a
throw of the dice, but we think there is a good chance of victory. Do
you accept, and will you throw in your sword with ours?"
"How can I," I answered, "when there stands the Empress, whose bread I
have eaten and to whom I have sworn fealty?"
"An Empress, it seems, who desires to slay you over some matter that
has to do with a woman. Olaf, the daggers of her assassins have cut
this thread of fealty. Moreover, as it chances she is in our power,
and as we cannot make our crime against her blacker than it is, we
propose to rid you and ourselves of this Empress, who is our enemy,
and who for her great wickedness well deserves to die. Such is our
offer, to take or to leave, as time is short. Should you refuse it, we
abandon you to your fate, and go to make our terms with Constantine,
who also hates this Empress and even now is plotting her downfall."
As he spoke I saw certain men draw near to Irene for a purpose which I
could guess, and stepped between her and them.
"The Augusta is my mistress," I said, "and although I attacked some of
her troops but now, and she has wronged me much, still I defend her to
"Little use in that, Olaf, seeing that you are but one and we are
many," answered Jodd. "Come, will you be Cęsar, or will you not?"
Now Irene crept up behind me and whispered in my ear.
"Accept," she said. "It pleases me well. Be Cęsar as my husband. So
you will save my life and my throne, of which I vow to you an equal
share. With the help of your Northmen and the legions I command and
who cling to me, we can defeat Constantine and rule the world
together. This petty fray is nothing. What matters it if some lives
have been lost in a palace tumult? The world lies in your grasp; take
it, Olaf, and, with it, /me/."
I heard and understood. Now had come the great moment of my life.
Something told me that on the one hand were majesty and empire; on the
other much pain and sorrow yet with these a certain holy joy and
peace. It was the latter that I chose, as doubtless Fate or God had
decreed that I should do.
"I thank you, Augusta," I said, "but, while I can protect her, I will
not seize a throne over the body of one who has been kind to me, nor
will I buy it at the price you offer. There stands my predestined
wife, and I can marry no other woman."
Now Irene turned to Heliodore, and said in a swift, low voice:
"Do you understand this matter, lady? Let us have done with jealousies
and be plain, for the lives of all of us hang upon threads that, for
some, must break within a day or two, and with them those of a
thousand, thousand others. Aye, the destiny of the world is at stake.
You say you love this man, whom I will tell you I love also. Well, if
/you/ win him, and he lives, which he scarce can hope to do, he gets
your kisses in whatever corner of the earth will shelter him and you.
If /I/ win him, the empire of the earth is his. Moreover, girl," she
added with meaning, "empresses are not always jealous; sometimes even
they can look the other way. There would be high place for you within
our Court, and, who knows? Your turn might come at length. Also your
father's plans would be forwarded to the last pound of gold in our
treasury and the last soldier in our service. Within five years,
mayhap, he might rule Egypt as our Governor. What say you?"
Heliodore looked at the Empress with that strange, slow smile of hers.
Then she looked at me, and answered:
"I say what Olaf says. There are two empires in the case. One, which
you can give, Augusta, is of the world; the other, which I can give
him here, is only a woman's heart, yet, as I think, of another eternal
world that you do not know. I say what Olaf says. Let Olaf speak,
"Empress," I said slowly, "again I thank you, but it may not be. My
fate lies here," and I laid my hand upon the heart of Heliodore.
"You are mistaken, Olaf," answered the Empress, in a cold and quiet
voice, but seemingly without anger; "your fate lies there," and she
pointed to the ground, then added, "Believe me, I am sorry, for you
are a man of whom any woman might be proud--yes, even an empress. I
have always thought it, and I thought it again just now when I saw you
lead that charge against those curs in armour," and she pointed
towards the bodies of the Greeks. "So, it is finished, as perchance I
am. If I must die, let it be on your sword, Olaf."
"Your answer, Olaf Red-Sword!" called Jodd. "You have talked enough."
"Your answer! Yes, your answer!" the Northmen echoed.
"The Empress has offered to share her crown with me, Jodd, but,
friends, it cannot be, because of this lady to whom I am affianced."
"Marry them both," shouted a rude voice, but Jodd replied:
"Then that is soon settled. Out of our path, Olaf, and look the other
way. When you turn your head again there will be no Empress to trouble
you, except one of your own choosing."
On hearing these words, and seeing the swords draw near, Irene
clutched hold of me, for always she feared death above everything.
"You will not see me butchered?" she gasped.
"Not while I live," I answered. "Hearken, friends. I am the general of
the Augusta's guard, and if she dies, for honour's sake I must die
first. Strike, then, if you will, but through my body."
"Tear her away!" called a voice.
"Comrades," I went on, "be not so mad. To-night we have done that
which has earned us death, but while the Empress lives you have a
hostage in your hands with whom you can buy pardon. As a lump of clay
what worth is she to you? Hark! The regiments from the city!"
As I spoke, from the direction of the palace came a sound of many
voices and of the tread of five thousand feet.
"True enough," said Jodd, with composure. "They are on us, and now it
is too late to storm the palace. Olaf, like many another man, you have
lost your chance of glory for a woman, or, who knows, perhaps you've
won it. Well, comrades, as I take it you are not minded to fly and be
hunted down like rats, only one thing remains--to die in a fashion
they will remember in Byzantium. Olaf, you'd best mind the women; I
will take command. Ring round, comrades, ring round! 'Tis a good place
for it. Set the wounded in the middle. Keep that Empress living for
the present, but when all is done, kill her. We'll be her escort to
the gates of hell, for there she's bound if ever woman was."
Then, without murmur or complaint, almost in silence, indeed, they
formed Odin's Ring, that triple circle of the Northmen doomed to die;
the terrible circle that on many a battlefield has been hidden at last
beneath the heap of fallen foes.
The regiments moved up; there were three of them of full strength.
Irene stared about her, seeking some loophole of escape, and finding
none. Heliodore and I talked together in low tones, making our tryst
beyond the grave. The regiments halted within fifty paces of us. They
liked not the look of Odin's Ring, and the ground over which they had
marched and the fugitives with whom they had spoken told them that
many of them looked their last upon the moon.
Some mounted generals rode towards us and asked who was in command of
the Northmen. When they learned that it was Jodd, they invited him to
a parley. The end of it was that Jodd and two others stepped twenty
paces from our ranks, and met a councillor--it was Stauracius--and two
of the generals in the open, where no treachery could well be
practised, especially as Stauracius was not a man of war. Here they
talked together for a long while. Then Jodd and his companions
returned, and Jodd said, so that all might hear him:
"Hearken. These are the terms offered: That we return to our barracks
in peace, bearing our weapons. That nothing be laid to our charge
under any law, military or civil, by the State or private persons, for
this night's slaying and tumult, and that in guarantee thereof twelve
hostages of high rank, upon whose names we have agreed, be given into
our keeping. That we retain our separate stations in the service of
the Empire, or have leave to quit that service within three months,
with the gratuity of a quarter's pay, and go where we will unmolested.
But that, in return for these boons, we surrender the person of the
Empress unharmed, and with her that of the General Olaf, to whom a
fair trial is promised before a military court. That with her own
voice the Augusta shall confirm all these undertakings before she
leaves our ranks. Such is the offer, comrades."
"And if we refuse it, what?" asked a voice.
"This: That we shall be ringed round, and either starved out or shot
down by archers. Or, if we try to escape, that we shall be overwhelmed
by numbers, and any of us who chance to be taken living shall be
hanged, sound and wounded together."
Now the leaders of the Northmen consulted. Irene watched them for
awhile, then turned to me and asked,
"What will they do, Olaf?"
"I cannot say, Augusta," I answered, "but I think that they will offer
to surrender you and not myself, since they may doubt them of that
fair trial which is promised to me."
"Which means," she said, "that, whether I live or die, all these brave
men will be sacrificed to you, Olaf, who, after all, must perish with
them, as will this Egyptian. Are you prepared to accept that blood-
offering, Olaf? If so, you must have changed from the man I loved."
"No, Augusta," I answered, "I am not prepared. Rather would I trust
myself into your power, Augusta."
The conference of the officers had come to an end. Their leader
advanced and said,
"We accept the terms, except as to the matter of Olaf Red-Sword. The
Empress may go free, but Olaf Red-Sword, our general whom we love, we
will not surrender. First will we die."
"Good!" said Jodd. "I looked for such words from you."
Then he marched out, with his companions, and again met Stauracius and
the two generals of the Greeks. After they had talked a little while
he returned and said,
"Those two officers, being men, would have agreed, but Stauracius, the
eunuch, who seems in command, will not agree. He says that Olaf Red-
Sword must be surrendered with the Empress. We answered that in this
case soon there would be no Empress to surrender except one ready for
burial. He replied that was as God might decree; either both must be
surrendered or both be held."
"Do you know why the dog said that?" whispered Irene to me. "It was
because those Northmen have let slip the offer I made to you but now,
and he is jealous of you, and fears you may take his power. Well, if I
live, one day he shall pay for this who cares so little for my life."
So she spoke, but I made no answer. Instead, I turned to Heliodore,
"You see how matters stand, beloved. Either I must surrender myself,
or all these brave men must perish, and we with them. For myself, I am
ready to die, but I am not willing that you and they should die. Also,
if I yield, I can do no worse than die, whereas perchance after all
things will take another turn. Now what say you?"
"I say, follow your heart, Olaf," she replied steadily. "Honour comes
first of all. The rest is with God. Wherever you go there I soon shall
"I thank you," I answered; "your mind is mine."
Then I stepped forward and said,
"Comrades, it is my turn to throw in this great game. I have heard and
considered all, and I think it best that I should be surrendered, with
the Augusta, to the Greeks."
"We will not surrender you," they shouted.
"Comrades, I am still your general, and my order is that you surrender
me. Also, I have other orders to give to you. That you guard this lady
Heliodore to the last, and that, while one of you remains alive, she
shall be to you as though she were that man's daughter, or mother, or
sister, to help and protect as best he may in every circumstance, seen
or unforeseen. Further, that with her you guard her father, the noble
Egyptian Magas. Will you promise this to me?"
"Aye!" they roared in answer.
"You hear them, Heliodore," I said. "Know that henceforth you are one
of a large family, and, however great your enemies, that you will
never lack a friend. Comrades," I went on, "this is my second order,
and perchance the last that I shall ever give to you. Unless you hear
that I am evilly treated in the palace yonder, stay quiet. But if that
tidings should reach you, then all oaths are broken. Do what you can
"Aye!" they roared again.
Afterwards what happened? It comes back to me but dimly. I think they
swore the Empress on the Blood of Christ that I should go unharmed. I
think I embraced Heliodore before them all, and gave her into their
keeping. I think I whispered into the ear of Jodd to seek out the
Bishop Barnabas, and pray him to get her and her father away to Egypt
without delay--yes, even by force, if it were needful. Then I think I
left their lines, and that, as I went, leading the Augusta by the
hand, they gave to me the general's salute. That I turned and saluted
them in answer ere I yielded myself into the power of my god-father,
Stauracius, who greeted me with a false and sickly smile.
THE TRIAL OF OLAF
I know not what time went by before I was put upon my trial, but that
trial I can still see as clearly as though it were happening before my
eyes. It took place in a long, low room of the vast palace buildings
that was lighted only by window-places set high up in the wall. These
walls were frescoed, and at the end of the room above the seat of the
judges was a rude picture in bright colours of the condemnation of
Christ by Pilate. Pilate, I remember, was represented with a black
face, to signify his wickedness I suppose, and in the air above him
hung a red-eyed imp shaped like a bat who gripped his robe with one
claw and whispered into his ear.
There were seven judges, he who presided being a law-officer, and the
other six captains of different grades, chosen mostly from among the
survivors of those troops whom the Northmen had defeated on the night
of the battle in the palace gardens. As this was a military trial, I
was allowed no advocate to defend me, nor indeed did I ask for any.
The Court, however, was open and crowded with spectators, among whom I
saw most of the great officers of the palace, Stauracius with them;
also some ladies, one of whom was Martina, my god-mother. The back of
the long room was packed with soldiers and others, not all of whom
were my enemies.
Into this place I was brought, guarded by four negroes, great fellows
armed with swords whom I knew to be chosen out of the number of the
executioners of the palace and the city. Indeed, one of them had
served under me when I was governor of the State prison, and been
dismissed by me because of some cruelty which he had practised.
Noting all these things and the pity in Martina's eyes, I knew that I
was already doomed, but as I had expected nothing else this did not
trouble me over much.
I stood before the judges, and they stared at me.
"Why do you not salute us, fellow?" asked one of them, a mincing Greek
captain whom I had seen running like a hare upon the night of the
"Because, Captain, I am of senior rank to any whom I see before me,
and as yet uncondemned. Therefore, if salutes are in the question, it
is you who should salute me."
At this speech they stared at me still harder than before, but among
the soldiers at the end of the hall there arose something like a
murmur of applause.
"Waste no time in listening to his insolence," said the president of
the Court. "Clerk, set out the case."
Then a black-robed man who sat beneath the judges rose and read the
charge to me from a parchment. It was brief and to the effect that I,
Michael, formerly known as Olaf or Olaf Red-Sword, a Northman in the
service of the Empress Irene, a general in her armies, a chamberlain
and Master of the Palace, had conspired against the Empress, had
killed her servants, had detained her person, threatening to murder
her; had made war upon her troops and slain some hundreds of them by
the help of other Northmen, and wounded many more.
I was asked what I pleaded to this charge, and replied,
"I am not guilty."
Then witnesses were called. The first of these was the fourth man whom
Irene had set upon me, who alone escaped with a wound behind. This
fellow, having been carried into court, for he could not walk, leaned
over a bar, for he could not sit down, and told his story. When he had
finished I was allowed to examine him.
"Why did the Empress order you and your companions to attack me?" I
"I think because she saw you kiss the Egyptian lady, General," at
which answer many laughed.
"You tried to kill me, did you not?"
"Yes, General, for the Empress ordered us so to do."
"Then what happened?"
"You killed or cut down three of us one after the other, General,
being too skilful and strong for us. As I turned to fly, me you
wounded here," and, dragging himself round with difficulty, he showed
how my sword had fallen on a part where no soldier should receive a
wound. At this sight those in the Court laughed again.
"Did I provoke you in any way before you attacked me?"
"No, indeed, General. It was the Empress you provoked by kissing the
beautiful Egyptian lady. At least, I think so, since every time you
kissed each other she seemed to become more mad, and at last ordered
us to kill both of you."
Now the laughter grew very loud, for even the Court officers could no
longer restrain themselves, and the ladies hid their faces in their
hands and tittered.
"Away with that fool!" shouted the president of the Court, and the
poor fellow was hustled out. What became of him afterwards I do not
know, though I can guess.
Now appeared witness after witness who told of the fray which I have
described already, though for the most part they tried to put another
colour on the matter. Of many of these men I asked no questions.
Indeed, growing weary of their tales, I said at length to the judges,
"Sirs, what need is there for all this evidence, seeing that among you
I perceive three gallant officers whom I saw running before the
Northmen that night, when with some four hundred swords we routed
about two thousand of you? You yourselves, therefore, are the best
witnesses of what befell. Moreover, I acknowledge that, being moved by
the sight of war, in the end I led the charge against you, before
which charge some died and many fled, you among them."
Now these captains glowered at me and the president said,
"The prisoner is right. What need is there of more evidence?"
"I think much, sir," I answered, "since but one side of the story has
been heard. Now I will call witnesses, of whom the first should be the
Augusta, if she is willing to appear and tell you what happened within
the circle of the Northmen on that night."
"Call the Augusta!" gasped the president. "Perchance, prisoner
Michael, you will wish next to call God Himself on your behalf?"
"That, sir," I answered, "I have already done and do. Moreover," I
added slowly, "of this I am sure, that in a time to come, although it
be not to-morrow or the next day, you and everyone who has to do with
this case will find that I have not called Him in vain."
At these words for a few moments a solemn silence fell upon the Court.
It was as though they had gone home to the heart of everyone who was
present there. Also I saw the curtains that draped a gallery high up
in the wall shake a little. It came into my mind that Irene herself
was hidden behind those curtains, as afterwards I learned was the
case, and that she had made some movement which caused them to
"Well," said the president, after this pause, "as God does not appear
to be your witness, and as you have no other, seeing that you cannot
give evidence yourself under the law, we will now proceed to
"Who says that the General Olaf, Olaf Red-Sword, has no witness?"
exclaimed a deep voice at the end of the hall. "I am here to be his
"Who speaks?" asked the president. "Let him come forward."
There was a disturbance at the end of the hall, and through the crowd
that he seemed to throw before him to right and left appeared the
mighty form of Jodd. He was clad in full armour and bore his famous
battle-axe in his hand.
"One whom some of you know well enough, as others of your company who
will never know anything again have done in the past. One named Jodd,
the Northman, second in command of the guard to the General Olaf," he
answered, and marched to the spot where witnesses were accustomed to
"Take away that barbarian's axe," exclaimed an officer who sat among
"Aye," said Jodd, "come hither, mannikin, and take it away if you can.
I promise you that along with it something else shall be taken away,
to wit your fool's head. Who are you that would dare to disarm an
officer of the Imperial Guard?"
After this there was no more talk of removing Jodd's axe, and he
proceeded to give his evidence, which, as it only detailed what has
been written already, need not be repeated. What effect it produced
upon the judges, I cannot say, but that it moved those present in the
Court was clear enough.
"Have you done?" asked the president at length when the story was
"Not altogether," said Jodd. "Olaf Red-Sword was promised an open
trial, and that he has, since otherwise I and some friends of mine
could not be in this Court to tell the truth, where perhaps the truth
has seldom been heard before. Also he was promised a fair trial, and
that he has not, seeing that the most of his judges are men with whom
he fought the other day and who only escaped his sword by flight.
To-morrow I propose to ask the people of Byzantium whether it is right
that a man should be tried by his conquered enemies. Now I perceive
that you will find a verdict of 'guilty' against Olaf Red-Sword, and
perhaps condemn him to death. Well, find what verdict you will and
pass what sentence you will, but do not dare to attempt to execute
"Dare! Dare!" shouted the president. "Who are you, man, who would
dictate to a Court appointed by the Empress what it shall or shall not
do? Be careful lest we pass sentence on you as well as on your fellow-
traitor. Remember where you stand, and that if I lift my finger you
will be taken and bound."
"Aye, lawyer, I remember this and other things. For instance, that I
have the safe-conduct of the Empress under an oath sworn on the Cross
of the Christ she worships. For instance, also, that I have three
hundred comrades waiting my safe return."
"Three hundred!" snarled the president. "The Empress has three
thousand within these walls who will soon make an end of your three
"I have been told, lawyer," answered Jodd, "that once there lived
another monarch, one called Xerxes, who thought that he would make an
end of a certain three hundred Greeks, when Greeks were different from
what you are to-day, at a place called Thermopylę. He made an end of
them, but they cost him more than he cared to pay, and now it is those
Greeks who live for ever and Xerxes who is dead. But that's not all;
since that fray the other night we Northmen have found friends. Have
you heard of the Armenian legions, President, those who favour
Constantine? Well, kill Olaf Red-Sword, or kill me, Jodd, and you have
to deal first with the Northmen and next with the Armenian legions.
Now here I am waiting to be taken by any who can pass this axe."
At these words a great silence fell upon the Court. Jodd glared about
him, and, seeing that none ventured to draw near, stepped from the
witness-place, advanced to where I was, gave me the full salute of
ceremony, then marched away to the back of the Court, the crowd
opening a path for him.
When he had gone the judges began to consult together, and, as I
expected, very soon agreed upon their verdict. The president said, or
"Prisoner, we find you guilty. Have you any reason to offer why
sentence of death should not be passed upon you?"
"Sir," I answered, "I am not here to plead for my life, which already
I have risked a score of times in the service of your people. Yet I
would say this. On the night of the outbreak I was set on, four to
one, for no crime, as you have heard, and did but protect myself.
Afterwards, when I was about to be slain, the Northmen, my comrades,
protected me unasked; then I did my best to save the life of the
Empress, and, in fact, succeeded. My only offence is that when the
great charge took place and your regiments were defeated, remembering
only that I was a soldier, I led that charge. If this is a crime
worthy of death, I am ready to die. Yet I hold that both God and man
will give more honour to me the criminal than to you the judges, and
to those who before ever you sat in this Court instructed you, whom I
know to be but tools, as to the verdict that you should give."
The applause which my words called forth from those gathered at the
end of the Court died away. In the midst of a great silence the
president, who, like his companions, I could see well, was growing
somewhat fearful, read the sentence in a low voice from a parchment.
After setting out the order by which the Court was constituted and
other matters, it ran:
"We condemn you, Michael, otherwise called Olaf or Olaf Red-Sword, to
death. This sentence will be executed with or without torture at such
time and in such manner as it may please the Augusta to decree."
Now the voice of Jodd was heard crying through the gathering gloom,
for night was near:
"What sort of judgment is this that the judges bring already written
down into the Court? Hearken you, lawyer, and you street-curs, his
companions, who call yourselves soldiers. If Olaf Red-Sword dies,
those hostages whom we hold die also. If he is tortured, those
hostages will be tortured also. Moreover, ere long we will sack this
fine place, and what has befallen Olaf shall befall you also, you
false judges, neither less nor more. Remember it, all you who shall
have charge of Olaf in his bonds, and, if she be within hearing, let
the Augusta Irene remember it also, lest another time there should be
no Olaf to save her life."
Now I could see that the judges were terrified. Hastily, with white
faces, they consulted together as to whether they should order Jodd to
be seized. Presently I heard the president say to his companions:
"Nay, best let him go. If he is touched, our hostages will die.
Moreover, doubtless Constantine and the Armenians are at the back of
him, or he would not dare to speak thus. Would that we were clear of
this business which has been thrust upon us."
Then he called aloud, "Let the prisoner be removed."
Down the long Court I was marched, only now guards, who had been
called in, went in front of and behind me, and with them the four
executioners by whom I was surrounded.
"Farewell, god-mother," I whispered to Martina as I passed.
"Nay, not farewell," she whispered back, looking up at me with eyes
that were full of tears, though what she meant I did not know.
At the end of the Court, where those who dared to sympathise with me
openly were gathered, rough voices called blessings on me and rough
hands patted me on the shoulder. To one of these men whose voice I
recognised in the gloom I turned to speak a word. Thereon the black
executioner who was between us, he whom I had dismissed from the jail
for cruelty, struck me on the mouth with the back of his hand. Next
instant I heard a sound that reminded me of the growl the white bear
gave when it gripped Steinar. Two arms shot out and caught that black
savage by the head. There was a noise as of something breaking, and
down went the man--a corpse.
Then they hurried me away, for now it was not only the judges who were
It comes to me that for some days, three or four, I sat in my cell at
the palace, for here I was kept because, as I learned afterwards, it
was feared that if I were removed to that State prison of which I had
been governor, some attempt would be made to rescue me.
This cell was one of several situated beneath that broad terrace which
looked out on to the sea, where Irene had first questioned me as to
the shell necklace and, against my prayer, had set it upon her own
breast. It had a little barred window, out of which I could watch the
sea, and through this window came the sound of sentries tramping
overhead and of the voice of the officer who, at stated hours, arrived
to turn out the guard, as for some years it had been my duty to do.
I wondered who that officer might be, and wondered also how many of
such men since Byzantium became the capital of the Empire had filled
his office and mine, and what had become of them all. As I knew, if
that terrace had been able to speak, it could have told many bloody
histories, whereof doubtless mine would be another. Doubtless, too,
there were more to follow until the end came, whatever that might be.
In that strait place I reflected on many things. All my youth came
back to me. I marvelled what had happened at Aar since I left it such
long years ago. Once or twice rumours had reached me from men in my
company, who were Danish-born, that Iduna was a great lady there and
still unmarried. But of Freydisa I had heard nothing. Probably she was
dead, and, if so, I felt sure that her fierce and faithful spirit must
be near me now, as that of Ragnar had seemed to be in the Battle of
How strange it was that after all my vision had been fulfilled and it
had been my lot to meet her of whom I had dreamed, wearing that
necklace of which I had found one-half upon the Wanderer in his grave-
mound. Were I and the Wanderer the same spirit, I asked of myself, and
she of the dream and Heliodore the same woman?
Who could tell? At least this was sure, from the moment that first we
saw one another we knew we belonged each to each for the present and
the future. Therefore, as it was with these we had to do, the past
might sleep and all its secrets.
Now we had met but to be parted again by death, which seemed hard
indeed. Yet since we /had/ met, for my part Fate had my forgiveness
for I knew that we should meet again. I looked back on what I had done
and left undone, and could not blame myself overmuch. True, it would
have been wiser if I had stayed by Irene and Heliodore, and not led
that charge against the Greeks. Only then, as a soldier, I should
never have forgiven myself, for how could I stand still while my
comrades fought for me? No, no, I was glad I had led the charge and
led it well, though my life must pay its price. Nor was this so. I
must die, not because I had lifted sword against Irene's troops, but
for the sin of loving Heliodore.
After all, what was life as we knew it? A passing breath! Well, as the
body breathes many million times between the cradle and the grave, so
I believed the soul must breathe out its countless lives, each ending
in a form of death. And beyond these, what? I did not know, yet my
new-found faith gave me much comfort.
In such meditations and in sleep I passed my hours, waiting always
until the door of my cell should open and through it appear, not the
jailer with my food, which I noted was plentiful and delicate, but the
executioners or mayhap the tormentors.
At length it did open, somewhat late at night, just as I was about to
lay myself down to rest, and through it came a veiled woman. I bowed
and motioned to my visitor to be seated on the stool that was in the
cell, then waited in silence. Presently she threw off her veil, and in
the light of the lamp showed that I stood before the Empress Irene.
"Olaf," she said hoarsely, "I am come here to save you from yourself,
if it may be so. I was hidden in yonder Court, and heard all that
passed at your trial."
"I guessed as much, Augusta," I said, "but what of it?"
"For one thing, this: The coward and fool, who now is dead--of his
wounds--who gave evidence as to the killing of the three other cowards
by you, has caused my name to become a mock throughout Constantinople.
Aye, the vilest make songs upon me in the streets, such songs as I
"I am grieved, Augusta," I said.
"It is I who should grieve, not you, who are told of as a man who grew
weary of the love of an Empress, and cast her off as though she were a
tavern wench. That is the first matter. The second is that under the
finding of the Court of Justice----"
"Oh! Augusta," I interrupted, "why stain your lips with those words
"----Under the finding of the Court," she went on, "your fate is left
in my hands. I may kill you or torment your body. Or I may spare you
and raise your head higher than any other in the Empire, aye, and
adorn it with a crown."
"Doubtless you may do any of these things, Augusta, but which of them
do you wish to do?"
"Olaf, notwithstanding all that has gone, I would still do the last. I
speak to you no more of love or tenderness, nor do I pretend that this
is for your sake alone. It is for mine also. My name is smirched, and
only marriage can cover up the stain upon it. Moreover, I am beset by
troubles and by dangers. Those accursed Northmen, who love you so well
and who fight, not like men but like devils, are in league with the
Armenian legions and with Constantine. My generals and my troops fall
away from me. If it were assailed, I am not sure that I could hold
this palace, strong though it be. There's but one man who can make me
safe again, and that man is yourself. The Northmen will do your
bidding, and with you in command of them I fear no attack. You have
the honesty, the wit and the soldier's skill and courage. You must
command, or none. Only this time it must not be as Irene's lover, for
that is what they name you, but as her husband. A priest is waiting
within call, and one of high degree. Within an hour, Olaf, you may be
my consort, and within a year the Emperor of the World. Oh!" she went
on with passion, "cannot you forgive what seem to be my sins when you
remember that they were wrought for love of you?"
"Augusta," I said, "I have small ambition; I am not minded to be an
emperor. But hearken. Put aside this thought of marriage with one so
far beneath you, and let me marry her whom I have chosen, and who has
chosen me. Then once more I'll take command of the Northmen and defend
you and your cause to the last drop of my blood."
Her face hardened.
"It may not be," she said, "not only for those reasons I have told
you, but for another which I grieve to have to tell. Heliodore,
daughter of Magas the Egyptian, is dead.'
"Dead!" I gasped. "Dead!"
"Aye, Olaf, dead. You did not see, and she, being a brave woman, hid
it from you, but one of those spears that were flung in the fight
struck her in the side. For a while the wound went well. But two days
ago it mortified; last night she died and this morning I myself saw
her buried with honour."
"How did you see her buried, you who are not welcome among the
Northmen?" I asked.
"By my order, as her blood was high, she was laid in the palace
"Did she leave me no word or token, Augusta? She swore to me that if
she died she would send to me the other half of that necklace which I
"I have heard of none," said Irene, "but you will know, Olaf, that I
have other business to attend to just now than such death-bed gossip.
These things do not come to my ears."
I looked at Irene and Irene looked at me.
"Augusta," I said, "I do not believe your story. No spear wounded
Heliodore while I was near her, and when I was not near her your
Greeks were too far away for any spears to be thrown. Indeed, unless
you stabbed her secretly, she was not wounded, and I am sure that,
however much you have hated her, this you would not have dared to do
for your own life's sake. Augusta, for your own purposes you are
trying to deceive me. I will not marry you. Do your worst. You have
lied to me about the woman whom I love, and though I forgive you all
the rest, this I do not forgive. You know well that Heliodore still
lives beneath the sun."
"If so," answered the Empress, "you have looked your last upon the sun
and--her. Never again shall you behold the beauty of Heliodore. Have
you aught to say? There is still time."
"Nothing, Augusta, at present, except this. Of late I have learned to
believe in a God. I summon you to meet me before that God. There we
will argue out our case and abide His judgment. If there is no God
there will be no judgment, and I salute you, Empress, who triumph. If,
as I believe and as you say you believe, there is a God, think whom
/you/ will be called upon to salute when that God has heard the truth.
Meanwhile I repeat that Heliodore the Egyptian still lives beneath the
Irene rose from the stool on which she sat and thought a moment. I
gazed through the bars of the window-place in my cell out at the night
above. A young moon was floating in the sky, and near to it hung a
star. A little passing cloud with a dented edge drifted over the star
and the lower horn of the moon. It went by, and they shone out again
upon the background of the blue heavens. Also an owl flitted across
the window-place of my cell. It had a mouse in its beak, and the
shadow of it and of the writhing mouse for a moment lay upon Irene's
breast, for I turned my head and saw them. It came into my mind that
here was an allegory. Irene was the night-hawk, and I was the writhing
mouse that fed its appetite. Doubtless it was decreed that the owl
must be and the mouse must be, but beyond them both, hidden in those
blue heavens, stood that Justice which we call God.
These were the last things that I saw in this life of mine, and
therefore I remember them well, or rather, almost the last. The very
last of which I took note was Irene's face. It had grown like to that
of a devil. The great eyes in it stared out between the puffed and
purple eyelids. The painted cheeks had sunk in and were pallid beneath
and round the paint. The teeth showed in two white lines, the chin
worked. She was no longer a beautiful woman, she was a fiend.
Irene knocked thrice upon the door. Bolts were thrown back, and men
"Blind him!" she said.
THE HALL OF THE PIT
The days and the nights went by, but which was day and which was night
I knew not, save for the visits of the jailers with my meals--I who
was blind, I who should never see the light again. At first I suffered
much, but by degrees the pain died away. Also a physician came to tend
my hurts, a skilful man. Soon I discovered, however, that he had
another object. He pitied my state, so much, indeed, he said, that he
offered to supply me with a drug that, if I were willing to take it,
would make an end of me painlessly. Now I understood at once that
Irene desired my death, and, fearing to cause it, set the means of
self-murder within my reach.
I thanked the man and begged him to give me the drug, which he did,
whereon I hid it away in my garments. When it was seen that I still
lived although I had asked for the medicine, I think that Irene
believed this was because it had failed to work, or that such a means
of death did not please me. So she found another. One evening when a
jailer brought my supper he pressed something heavy into my hand,
which I felt to be a sword.
"What weapon is this?" I asked, "and why do you give it to me?"
"It is your own sword," answered the man, "which I was commanded to
return to you. I know no more."
Then he went away, leaving the sword with me.
I drew the familiar blade from its sheath, the red blade that the
Wanderer had worn, and touching its keen edge with my fingers, wept
from my blinded eyes to think that never again could I hold it aloft
in war or see the light flash from it as I smote. Yes, I wept in my
weakness, till I remembered that I had no longer any wish to be the
death of men. So I sheathed the good sword and hid it beneath my
mattress lest some jailer should steal it, which, as I could not see
him, he might do easily. Also I desired to put away temptation.
I think that this hour after the bringing of the sword, which stirred
up so many memories, was the most fearful of all my hours, so fearful
that, had it been prolonged, death would have come to me of its own
accord. I had sunk to misery's lowest deep, who did not know that even
then its tide was turning, who could not dream of all the blessed
years that lay before me, the years of love and of such peaceful joy
as even the blind may win.
That night Martina came--Martina, who was Hope's harbinger. I heard
the door of my prison open and close softly, and sat still, wondering
whether the murderers had entered at last, wondering, too, whether I
should snatch the sword and strike blindly till I fell. Next I heard
another sound, that of a woman weeping; yes, and felt my hand lifted
and pressed to a woman's lips, which kissed it again and yet again. A
thought struck me, and I began to draw it back. A soft voice spoke
between its sobs.
"Have no fear, Olaf. I am Martina. Oh, now I understand why yonder
tigress sent me on that distant mission."
"How did you come here, Martina?" I asked.
"I still have the signet, Olaf, which Irene, who begins to mistrust
me, forgets. Only this morning I learned the truth on my return to the
palace; yet I have not been idle. Within an hour Jodd and the Northmen
knew it also. Within three they had blinded every hostage whom they
held, aye, and caught two of the brutes who did the deed on you, and
crucified them upon their barrack walls."
"Oh! Martina," I broke in, "I did not desire that others who are
innocent should share my woes."
"Nor did I, Olaf; but these Northmen are ill to play with. Moreover,
in a sense it was needful. You do not know what I have learned--that
to-morrow Irene proposed to slit your tongue also because you can tell
too much, and afterwards to cut off your right hand lest you, who are
learned, should write down what you know. I told the Northmen--never
mind how. They sent a herald, a Greek whom they had captured, and,
covering him with arrows, made him call out that if your tongue was
slit they would know of it and slit the tongues of all the hostages
also, and that if your hand was cut off they could cut off their
hands, and take another vengeance which for the present they keep
"At least they are faithful," I said. "But, oh! tell me, Martina, what
"This," she whispered into my ear. "Heliodore and her father sailed an
hour after sunset and are now safe upon the sea, bound for Egypt."
"Then I was right! When Irene told me she was dead she lied."
"Aye, if she said that she lied, though thrice she has striven to
murder her, I have no time to tell you how, but was always baffled by
those who watched. Yet she might have succeeded at last, so, although
Heliodore fought against it, it was best that she should go. Those who
are parted may meet again; but how can we meet one who is dead until
we too are dead?"
"How did she go?"
"Smuggled from the city disguised as a boy attending on a priest, and
that priest her father shorn of his beard and tonsured. The Bishop
Barnabas passed them out in his following."
"Then blessings on the Bishop Barnabas," I said.
"Aye, blessings on him, since without his help it could never have
been done. The secret agents at the port stared hard at those two,
although the good bishop vouched for them and gave their names and
offices. Still, when they saw some rough-looking fellows dressed like
sailors approach, playing with the handles of their knives, the agents
thought well to ask no more questions. Moreover, now that the ship has
sailed, for their own sakes they'll swear that no such priest and boy
went aboard of her. So your Heliodore is away unharmed, as is her
father, though his mission has come to naught. Still, his life is left
in him, for which he may be thankful, who on such a business should
have brought no woman. If he had come alone, Olaf, your eyes would
have been left to you, and set by now upon the orb of empire that your
hand had grasped."
"Yet I am glad that he did not come alone, Martina."
"Truly you have a high and faithful heart, and that woman should be
honoured whom you love. What is the secret? There must be more in it
than the mere desire for a woman's beauty, though I know that at times
this can make men mad. In such a business the soul must play its
"I think so, Martina. Indeed, I believe so, since otherwise we suffer
much in vain. Now tell me, how and when do I die?"
"I hope you will not die at all, Olaf. Certain plans are laid which
even here I dare not whisper. To-morrow I hear they will lead you
again before the judges, who, by Irene's clemency, will change your
sentence to one of banishment, with secret orders to kill you on the
voyage. But you will never make that voyage. Other schemes are afoot;
you'll learn of them afterwards."
"Yet, Martina, if you know these plots the Augusta knows them also,
since you and she are one."
"When those dagger points were thrust into your eyes, Olaf, they cut
the thread that bound us, and now Irene and I are more far apart than
hell and heaven. I tell you that for your sake I hate her and work her
downfall. Am I not your god-mother, Olaf?"
Then again she kissed my hand and presently was gone.
On the following morning, as I supposed it to be, my jailers came and
said to me that I must appear before the judges to hear some revision
of my sentence. They dressed me in my soldier's gear, and even allowed
me to gird my sword about me, knowing, doubtless, that, save to
himself, a blind man could do no mischief with a sword. Then they led
me I know not whither by passages which turned now here, now there. At
length we entered some place, for doors were closed behind us.
"This is the Hall of Judgment," said one of them, "but the judges have
not yet come. It is a great room and bare. There is nothing in it
against which you can hurt yourself. Therefore, if it pleases you
after being cramped so long in that narrow cell, you may walk to and
fro, keeping your hands in front of you so that you will know when you
touch the further wall and must turn."
I thanked them and, glad enough to avail myself of this grace for my
limbs were stiff with want of exercise, began to walk joyfully. I
thought that the room must be one of those numberless apartments which
opened on to the terrace, since distinctly I could hear the wash of
the sea coming from far beneath, doubtless through the open window-
Forward I stepped boldly, but at a certain point in my march this
curious thing happened. A hand seemed to seize my own and draw me to
the left. Wondering, I followed the guidance of the hand, which
presently left hold of mine. Thereon I continued my march, and as I
did so, thought that I heard another sound, like to that of a
suppressed murmur of human voices. Twenty steps more and I reached the
end of the chamber, for my outstretched fingers touched its marble
wall. I turned and marched back, and lo! at the twentieth step that
hand took mine again and led me to the right, whereon once more the
murmur of voices reached me.
Thrice this happened, and every time the murmur grew more loud.
Indeed, I thought I heard one say,
"The man's not blind at all," and another, "Some spirit guides him."
As I made my fourth journey I caught the sound of a distant tumult,
the shouts of war, the screams of agony, and above them all the well-
remembered cry of "/Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!/"
I halted where I was and felt the blood rush into my wasted cheeks.
The Northmen, my Northmen, were in the palace! It was at this that
Martina had hinted. Yet in so vast a place what chance was there that
they would ever find me, and how, being blind, could I find them?
Well, at least my voice was left to me, and I would lift it.
So with all my strength I cried aloud, "Olaf Red-Sword is here! To
Olaf, men of the North!"
Thrice I cried. I heard folk running, not to me, but from me,
doubtless those whose whispers had reached my ears.
I thought of trying to follow them, but the soft and gentle hand,
which was like to that of a woman, once more clasped mine and held me
where I was, suffering me to move no single inch. So there I stood,
even after the hand had loosed me again, for it seemed to me that
there was something most strange in this business.
Presently another sound arose, the sound of the Northmen pouring
towards the hall, for feet clanged louder and louder down the marble
corridors. More, they had met those who were running from the hall,
for now these fled back before them. They were in the hall, for a cry
of horror, mingled with rage, broke from their lips.
"'Tis Olaf," said one, "Olaf blinded, and, by Thor, see where he
Then Jodd's voice roared out,
"Move not, Olaf; move not, or you die."
Another voice, that of Martina, broke in, "Silence, you fool, or
you'll frighten him and make him fall. Silence all, and leave him to
Then quiet fell upon the place; it seemed that even the pursued grew
quiet, and I heard the rustle of a woman's dress drawing towards me.
Next instant a soft hand took my own, just such a hand as not long ago
had seemed to guide and hold me, and Martina's voice said,
"Follow where I lead, Olaf."
So I followed eight or ten paces. Then Martina threw her arms about me
and burst into wild laughter. Someone caught her away; next moment two
hair-clad lips kissed me on the brow and the mighty voice of Jodd
"Thanks be to all the gods, dwell they in the north or in the south!
We have saved you! Know you where you stood, Olaf? On the brink of a
pit, the very brink, and beneath is a fall of a hundred feet to where
the waters of the Bosphorus wash among the rocks. Oh! understand this
pretty Grecian game. They, good Christian folk, would not have your
blood upon their souls, and therefore they caused you to walk to your
own death. Well, they shall be dosed with the draught they brewed.
"Bring them hither, comrades, bring them one by one, these devils who
could sit to watch a blind man walk to his doom to make their sport.
Ah! whom have we here? Why, by Thor! 'tis the lawyer knave, he who was
president of the court that tried you, and was angry because you did
not salute him. Well, lawyer, the wheel has gone round. We Northmen
are in possession of the palace and the Armenian legions are gathered
at its gates and do but wait for Constantine the Emperor to enter and
take the empire and its crown. They'll be here anon, lawyer, but you
understand, having a certain life to save, for word had been brought
to us of your pretty doings, that we were forced to strike before the
signal, and struck not in vain. Now we'll fill in the tedious time
with a trial of our own. See here, I am president of the court, seated
in this fine chair, and these six to right and left are my companion
judges, while you seven who were judges are now prisoners. You know
the crime with which you are charged, so there's no need to set it
out. Your defence, lawyer, and be swift with it."
"Oh! sir," said the man in a trembling voice, "what we did to the
General Olaf we were ordered to do by one who may not be named."
"You'd best find the name, lawyer, for were it that of a god we
Northmen would hear it."
"Well, then, by the Augusta herself. She wished the death of the noble
Michael, or Olaf, but having become superstitious about the matter,
would not have his blood directly on her hands. Therefore she
bethought her of this plan. He was ordered to be brought into the
place you see, which is known as the Hall of the Pit, that in old days
was used by certain bloody-minded emperors to rid them of their
enemies. The central pavement swings upon a hinge. At a touch it
opens, and he who has thought it sound and walked thereon, when
darkness comes is lost, since he falls upon the rocks far below, and
at high tide the water takes him."
"Yes, yes, we understand the game, lawyer, for there yawns the open
pit. But have you aught more to say?"
"Nothing, sir, nothing, save that we only did what we were driven to
do. Moreover, no harm has come of it, since whenever the noble general
came to the edge of the opened pit, although he was blind, he halted
and went off to right or left as though someone drew him out of
"Well, then, cruel and unjust judges, who could gather to mock at the
murder of a blinded man that you had trapped to his doom----"
"Sir," broke in one of them, "it was not we who tried to trap him; it
was those jailers who stand there. They told the general that he might
exercise himself by walking up and down the hall."
"Is that true, Olaf?" asked Jodd.
"Yes," I answered, "it is true that the two jailers who brought me
here did tell me this, though whether those men are present I cannot
"Very good," said Jodd. "Add them to the other prisoners, who by their
own showing heard them set the snare and did not warn the victim. Now,
murderers all, this is the sentence of the court upon you: That you
salute the General Olaf and confess your wickedness to him."
So they saluted me, kneeling, and kissing my feet, and one and all
made confession of their crime.
"Enough," I said, "I pardon them who are but tools. Pray to God that
He may do as much."
"You may pardon here, Olaf," said Jodd, "and your God may pardon
hereafter, but we, the Northmen, do not pardon. Blindfold those men
and bind their arms. Now," went on Jodd after a pause, "their turn has
come to show us sport. Run, friends, run, for swords are behind you.
Can you not feel them?"
The rest may be guessed. Within a few minutes the seven judges and the
two jailers had vanished from the world. No hand came to save /them/
from the cruel rocks and the waters that seethed a hundred feet below
that dreadful chamber.
This fantastic, savage vengeance was a thing dreadful to hear; what it
must have been to see I can only guess. I know that I wished I might
have fled from it and that I pleaded with Jodd for mercy on these men.
But neither he nor his companions would listen to me.
"What mercy had they on you?" he cried. "Let them drink from their own
"Let them drink from their own cup!" roared his companions, and then
broke into a roar of laughter as one of the false judges, feeling
space before him, leapt, leapt short, and with a shriek departed for
It was over. I heard someone enter the hall and whisper in Jodd's ear;
heard his answer also.
"Let her be brought hither," he said. "For the rest, bid the captains
hold Stauracius and the others fast. If there is any sign of stir
against us, cut their throats, advising them that this will be done
should they allow trouble to arise. Do not fire the palace unless I
give the word, for it would be a pity to burn so fine a building. It
is those who dwell in it who should be burned; but doubtless
Constantine will see to that. Collect the richest of the booty, that
which is most portable, and let it be carried to our quarters in the
baggage carts. See that these things are done quickly, before the
Armenians get their hands into the bag. I'll be with you soon; but if
the Emperor Constantine should arrive first, tell him that all has
gone well, better than he hoped, indeed, and pray him to come hither,
where we may take counsel."
The messenger went. Jodd and some of the Northmen began to consult
together, and Martina led me aside.
"Tell me what has chanced, Martina," I asked, "for I am bewildered."
"A revolution, that is all, Olaf. Jodd and the Northmen are the point
of the spear, its handle is Constantine, and the hands that hold it
are the Armenians. It has been very well done. Some of the guards who
remained were bribed, others frightened away. Only a few fought, and
of them the Northmen made short work. Irene and her ministers were
fooled. They thought the blow would not fall for a week or more, if at
all, since the Empress believed that she had appeased Constantine by
her promises. I'll tell you more later."
"How did you find me, Martina, and in time?"
"Oh! Olaf, it is a terrible story. Almost I swoon again to think of
it. It was thus: Irene discovered that I had visited you in your cell;
she grew suspicious of me. This morning I was seized and ordered to
surrender the signet; but first I had heard that they planned your
death to-day, not a sentence of banishment and murder afar off, as I
told you. My last act before I was taken was to dispatch a trusted
messenger to Jodd and the Northmen, telling them that if they would
save you alive they must strike at once, and not to-night, as had been
arranged. Within thirty seconds after he had left my side the eunuchs
had me and took me to my chamber, where they barred me in. A while
later the Augusta came raging like a lioness. She accused me of
treachery, and when I denied it struck me in the face. Look, here are
the marks of the jewels on her hands. Oh, alas! what said I? You
cannot see. She had learned that the lady Heliodore had escaped her,
and that I had some hand in her escape. She vowed that I, your god-
mother, was your lover, and as this is a crime against the Church,
promised me that after other sufferings I should be burned alive in
the Hippodrome before all the people. Lastly she said this, 'Know that
your Olaf of whom you are so fond dies within an hour and thus: He
will be taken to the Hall of the Pit and there given leave to walk
till the judges come. Being blind, you may guess where he will walk.
Before this door is unlocked again I tell you he'll be but a heap of
splintered bones. Aye, you may start and weep; but save your tears for
yourself,' and she called me a foul name. 'I have got you fast at
length, you night-prowling cat, and God Himself cannot give you
strength to stretch out your hand and guide this accursed Olaf from
the edge of the Pit of Death.'
"'God alone knows what He can do, Augusta,' I answered, for the words
seemed to be put into my lips.
"Then she cursed and struck me again, and so left me barred in my
"When she had gone I flung myself upon my knees and prayed to God to
save you, Olaf, since I was helpless; prayed as I had never prayed
before. Praying thus, I think that I fell into a swoon, for my agony
was more than I could bear, and in the swoon I dreamed. I dreamed that
I stood in this place, where till now I have never been before. I saw
the judges, the jailers, and a few others watching from that gallery.
I saw you walk along the hall towards the great open pit. Then I
seemed to glide to you and take your hand and guide you round the pit.
And, Olaf, this happened thrice. Afterwards came a tumult while you
were on the very edge of the pit and I held you, not suffering you to
stir. Then in rushed the Northmen and I with them. Yes, standing there
with you upon the edge of the pit, I saw myself and the Northmen rush
into the hall."
"Martina," I whispered, "a hand that seemed to be a woman's did guide
me thrice round the edge of the pit, and did hold me almost until you
and the Northmen rushed in."
"Oh! God is great!" she gasped. "God is very great, and to Him I give
thanks. But hearken to the end of the tale. I awoke from my swoon and
heard noise without, and above it the Northmen's cry of victory. They
had scaled the palace walls or broken in the gates--as yet I know not
which--they were on the terrace driving the Greek guards before them.
I ran to the window-place and there below me saw Jodd. I screamed till
he heard me.
"'Save me if you would save Olaf,' I cried. 'I am prisoned here.'
"They brought one of their scaling ladders and drew me through the
window. I told them all I knew. They caught a palace eunuch and beat
him till he promised to lead us to this hall. He led, but in the
labyrinth of passages fell down senseless, for they had struck him too
hard. We knew not which way to turn, till suddenly we heard your voice
and ran towards it.
"That is all the story, Olaf."
OLAF GIVES JUDGMENT
As Martina finished speaking I heard the sound of tramping guards and
of a woman's dress upon the pavement. Then a voice, that of Irene,
spoke, and though her words were quiet I caught in them the tremble of
"Be pleased to tell me, Captain Jodd," she said, "what is happening in
my palace, and why I, the Empress, am haled from my apartment hither
by soldiers under your command?"
"Lady," answered Jodd, "you are mistaken. Yesterday you were an
empress, to-day you are--well, whatever your son, the Emperor, chooses
to name you. As to what has been and is happening in this palace, I
scarcely know where to begin the tale. First of all your general and
chamberlain Olaf--in case you should not recognise him, I mean that
blind man who stands yonder--was being tricked to death by certain
servants of yours who called themselves judges, and who stated that
they were acting by your orders."
"Confront me with them," said Irene, "that I may prove to you that
"Certainly. Ho! you, bring the lady Irene here. Now hold her over that
hole. Nay, struggle not, lady, lest you should slip from their hands.
Look down steadily, and you will see by the light that flows in from
the cave beneath, certain heaps lying on the rocks round which the
rising waters seethe. There are your judges whom you say you wish to
meet. If you desire to ask them any questions, we can satisfy your
will. Nay, why should you turn pale at the mere sight of the place
that you thought good enough to be the bed of a faithful soldier of
your own, one high in your service, whom it has pleased you to blind?
Why did it please you to blind him, Lady?"
"Who are you that dare to ask me questions?" she replied, gathering up
"I'll tell you, Lady. Now that the General Olaf yonder is blinded I am
the officer in command of the Northmen, who, until you tried to murder
the said General Olaf a while ago, were your faithful guard. I am
also, as it chances, the officer in command of this palace, which we
took this morning by assault and by arrangement with most of your
Greek soldiers, having learned from your confidential lady, Martina,
of the vile deed you were about to work on the General Olaf."
"So it was you who betrayed me, Martina," gasped Irene; "and I had you
in my power. Oh! I had you in my power!"
"I did not betray you, Augusta. I saved my god-son yonder from torture
and butchery, as by my oath I was bound to do," answered Martina.
"Have done with this talk of betrayals," went on Jodd, "for who can
betray a devil? Now, Lady, with your State quarrels we have nothing to
do. You can settle them presently with your son, that is, if you still
live. But with this matter of Olaf we have much to do, and we will
settle that at once. The first part of the business we all know, so
let us get to the next. By whose order were you blinded, General
"By that of the Augusta," I answered.
"For what reason, General Olaf?"
"For one that I will not state," I answered.
"Good. You were blinded by the Augusta for a reason you will not
state, but which is well known to all of us. Now, we have a law in the
North which says that an eye should be given for an eye and a life for
a life. Would it not then be right, comrades, that this woman should
be blinded also?"
"What!" screamed Irene, "blinded! I blinded! I, the Empress!"
"Tell me, Lady, are the eyes of one who was an Empress different from
other eyes? Why should you complain of that darkness into which you
were so ready to plunge one better than yourself. Still, Olaf shall
judge. Is it your will, General, that we blind this woman who put out
your eyes and afterwards tried to murder you?"
Now, I felt that all in that place were watching me and hanging on the
words that I should speak, so intently that they never heard others
entering it, as I did. For a while I paused, for why should not Irene
suffer a little of that agony of suspense which she had inflicted upon
me and others?
Then I said, "See what I have lost, friends, through no grave fault of
my own. I was in the way of greatness. I was a soldier whom you
trusted and liked well, one of unstained honour and of unstained name.
Also I loved a woman, by whom I was beloved and whom I hoped to make
my wife. And now what am I? My trade is gone, for how can a maimed man
lead in war, or even do the meanest service of the camp? The rest of
my days, should any be granted to me, must be spent in darkness
blacker than that of midnight. I must live on charity. When the little
store I have is spent, for I have taken no bribe and heaped up no
riches, how can I earn a living? The woman whom I love has been
carried away, after this Empress tried thrice to murder her. Whether I
shall ever find her again in this world I know not, for she has gone
to a far country that is full of enemies to Christian men. Nor do I
know whether she would be willing to take one who is blind and
beggared for a husband, though I think this may be so."
"Shame on her if she does not," muttered Martina as I paused.
"Well, friends, that is my case," I went on; "let the Augusta deny it
if she can."
"Speak, Lady. Do you deny it?" said Jodd.
"I do not deny that this man was blinded by my order in payment of
crimes for which he might well have suffered death," answered Irene.
"But I do deny that I commanded him to be trapped in yonder pit. If
those dead men said so, then they lied."
"And if the lady Martina says so, what then?" asked Jodd.
"Then she lies also," answered the Empress sullenly.
"Be it so," replied Jodd. "Yet it is strange that, acting on this lie
of the lady Martina's, we found the General Olaf upon the very edge of
yonder hole; yes, with not the breadth of a barleycorn between him and
death. Now, General, both parties have been heard and you shall pass
sentence. If you say that yonder woman is to be blinded, this moment
she looks her last upon the light. If you say that she is to die, this
moment she bids farewell to life."
Again I thought a while. It came into my mind that Irene, who had
fallen from power, might rise once more and bring fresh evil upon
Heliodore. Now she was in my hand, but if I opened that hand and let
Someone moved towards me, and I heard Irene's voice whispering in my
"Olaf," she said, "if I sinned against you it was because I loved you.
Would you be avenged upon one who has burned her soul with so much
evil because she loved too well? Oh! if so, you are no longer Olaf.
For Christ's sake have pity on me, since I am not fit to meet Him.
Give me time to repent. Nay! hear me out! Let not those men drag me
away as they threaten to do. I am fallen now, but who knows, I may
grow great again; indeed, I think I shall. Then, Olaf, may my soul
shrivel everlastingly in hell if I try to harm you or the Egyptian
more--Jesus be my witness that I ask no lesser doom upon my head. Keep
the men back, Martina, for what I swear to him and the Egyptian I
swear to you as well. Moreover, Olaf, I have great wealth. You spoke
of poverty; it shall be far from you. Martina knows where my gold is
hid, and she still holds my keys. Let her take it. I say leave me
alone, but one word more. If ever it is in my power I'll forget
everything and advance you all to great honour. Your brain is not
blinded, Olaf; you can still rule. I swear, I swear, I swear upon the
Holy Blood! Ah! now drag me away if you will. I have spoken."
"Then perchance, Lady, you will allow Olaf to speak, since we, who
have much to do, must finish this business quickly, before the Emperor
comes with the Armenians," said Jodd.
"Captain Jodd and his comrades," I said, "the Empress Irene has been
pleased to make certain solemn vows to me which perchance some of you
may have overheard. At least, God heard them, and whether she keeps
them or no is a matter between her and the God in Whom we both
believe. Therefore I set these vows aside; they draw me neither one
way nor the other. Now, you have made me judge in my own matter and
have promised to abide by my judgment, which you will do. Hear it,
then, and let it be remembered. For long I have been the Augusta's
officer, and of late her general and chamberlain. As such I have bound
myself by great oaths to protect her from harm in all cases, and those
oaths heretofore I have kept, when I might have broken them and not
been blamed by men. Whatever has chanced, it seems that she is still
Empress and I am still her officer, seeing that my sword has been
returned to me, although it is true she sent it that I might use it on
myself. It pleased the Empress to put out my eyes. Under our soldier's
law the monarch who rules the Empire has a right to put out the eyes
of an officer who has lifted sword against her forces, or even to kill
him. Whether this is done justly or unjustly again is a matter between
that monarch and God above, to Whom answer must be made at last.
Therefore it would seem that I have no right to pronounce any sentence
against the Augusta Irene, and whatever may have been my private
wrongs, I pronounce none. Yet, as I am still your general until
another is named, I order you to free the Augusta Irene and to work no
vengeance on her person for aught that may have befallen me at her
hands, were her deeds just or unjust."
When I had finished speaking, in the silence that followed I heard
Irene utter something that was half a sob and half a gasp of
wonderment. Then above the murmuring of the Northmen, to whom this
rede was strange, rose the great voice of Jodd.
"General Olaf," he said, "while you were talking it came into my mind
that one of those knife points which pierced your eyes had pricked the
brain behind them. But when you had finished talking it came into my
mind that you are a great man who, putting aside your private rights
and wrongs and the glory of revenge which lay to your hand, have
taught us soldiers a lesson in duty which I, at least, never shall
forget. General, if, as I trust, we are together in the future as in
the past, I shall ask you to instruct me in this Christian faith of
yours, which can make a man not only forgive but hide his forgiveness
under the mask of duty, for that, as we know well, is what you have
done. General, your order shall be obeyed. Be she Empress or nothing,
this lady's person is safe from us. More, we will protect her to the
best of our power, as you did in the Battle of the Garden. Yet I tell
her to her face that had it not been for those orders, had you, for
example, said that you left judgment to us, she who has spoilt such a
man should have died a death of shame."
I heard a sound as of a woman throwing herself upon her knees before
me. I heard Irene's voice whisper through her tears,
"Olaf, Olaf, for the second time in my life you make me feel ashamed.
Oh! if only you could have loved me! Then I should have grown good
There was a stir of feet and another voice spoke, a voice that should
have been clear and youthful, but sounded as though it were thick with
wine. It did not need Martina's whisper to tell me that it was that of
"Greeting, friends," he said, and at once there came a rattle of
saluting swords and an answering cry of
"You struck before the time," went on the thick, boyish voice. "Yet as
things seem to have gone rather well for us, I cannot blame you,
especially as I see that you hold fast her who has usurped my
Now I heard Irene turn with a swift and furious movement.
"Your birthright, boy," she cried. "What birthright have you save that
which my body gave?"
"I thought that my father had more to do with this matter of imperial
right than the Grecian girl whom it pleased him to marry for her fair
face," answered Constantine insolently, adding: "Learn your station,
mother. Learn that you are but the lamp which once held the holy oil,
and that lamps can be shattered."
"Aye," she answered, "and oil can be spilt for the dogs to lap, if
their gorge does not rise at such rancid stuff. The holy oil forsooth!
Nay, the sour dregs of wine jars, the outscourings of the stews, the
filth of the stables, of such is the holy oil that burns in
Constantine, the drunkard and the liar."
It would seem that before this torrent of coarse invective Constantine
quailed, who at heart always feared his mother, and I think never more
so than when he appeared to triumph over her. Or perhaps he scorned to
answer it. At least, addressing Jodd, he said,
"Captain, I and my officers, standing yonder unseen, have heard
something of what passed in this place. By what warrant do you and
your company take upon yourselves to pass judgment upon this mother of
mine? That is the Emperor's right."
"By the warrant of capture, Augustus," answered Jodd. "We Northmen
took the palace and opened the gates to you and your Armenians. Also
we took her who ruled in the palace, with whom we had a private score
to settle that has to do with our general who stands yonder, blinded.
Well, it is settled in his own fashion, and now we do not yield up
this woman, our prisoner, save on your royal promise that no harm
shall come to her in body. As for the rest, it is your business. Make
a cook-maid of her if you will, only then I think her tongue would
clear the kitchen. But swear to keep her sound in life and limb till
hell calls her, since otherwise we must add her to our company, which
will make no man merrier."
"No," answered Constantine, "in a week she would corrupt you every one
and breed a war. Well," he added with a boisterous laugh, "I'm master
now at last, and I'll swear by any saint that you may name, or all of
them, no harm shall come to this Empress whose rule is done, and who,
being without friends, need not be feared. Still, lest she should
spawn more mischief or murder, she must be kept close till we and our
councillors decide where she shall dwell in future. Ho! guards, take
my royal father's widow to the dower-palace, and there watch her well.
If she escapes, you shall die beneath the rods. Away with the snake
before it begins to hiss again."
"I'll hiss no more," said Irene, as the soldiers formed up round her,
"yet, perchance, Constantine, you may live to find that the snake
still has strength to strike and poison in its fangs, you and others.
Do you come with me, Martina?"
"Nay, Lady, since here stands one whom God and you together have given
me to guard. For his sake I would keep my life in me," and she touched
me on the shoulder.
"That whelp who is called my son spoke truly when he said that the
fallen have no friends," exclaimed Irene. "Well, you should thank me,
Martina, who made Olaf blind, since, being without eyes, he cannot see
how ugly is your face. In his darkness he may perchance mistake you
for the beauteous Egyptian, Heliodore, as I know you who love him
madly would have him do."
With this vile taunt she went.
"I think I'm crazed," said the Emperor, as the doors swung to behind
her. "I should have struck that snake while the stick is in my hand. I
tell you I fear her fangs. Why, if she could, she'd make me as that
poor man is, blind, or even butcher me. Well, she's my mother, and
I've sworn, so there's an end. Now, you Olaf, you are that same
captain, are you not, who dashed the poisoned fig from my lips that
this tender mother of mine would have let me eat when I was in liquor;
yes, and would have swallowed it yourself to save me from my folly?"
"I am that man, Augustus."
"Aye, you are that man, and one of whom all the city has been talking.
They say, so poor is your taste, that you turned your back upon the
favours of an Empress because of some young girl you dared to love.
They say also that she paid you back with a dagger in the eyes, she
who was ready to set you in my place."
"Rumour has many tongues, Augustus," I answered. "At least I fell from
the Empress's favour, and she rewarded me as she held that I
"So it seems. Christ! what a dreadful pit is that. Is this another of
her gifts? Nay, answer not; I heard the tale. Well, Olaf, you saved my
life and your Northmen have set me on the throne, since without them
we could scarcely have won the palace. Now, what payment would you
"Leave to go hence, Augustus," I answered.
"A small boon that you might have taken without asking, if you can
find a dog to lead you, like other blind wretches. And you, Captain
Jodd, and your men, what do you ask?"
"Such donation as it may please the Augustus to bestow, and after that
permission to follow wherever our General Olaf goes, since he is our
care. Here we have made so many enemies that we cannot sleep at
"The Empress of the World falls from her throne," mused Constantine,
"and not even a waiting-maid attends her to her prison. But a blinded
captain finds a regiment to escort him hence in love and honour, as
though he were a new-crowned king. Truly Fortune is a jester. If ever
Fate should rob me of my eyes, I wonder, when I had nothing more to
give them, if three hundred faithful swords would follow me to ruin
and to exile?"
Thus he thought aloud. Afterwards he, Jodd and some others, Martina
among them, went aside, leaving me seated on a bench. Presently they
returned, and Constantine said,
"General Olaf, I and your companions have taken counsel. Listen. But
to-day messengers have come from Lesbos, whom we met outside the
gates. It seems that the governor there is dead, and that the accursed
Moslems threaten to storm the isle as soon as summer comes and add it
to their empire. Our Christian subjects there pray that a new governor
may be appointed, one who knows war, and that with him may be sent
troops sufficient to repel the prophet-worshippers, who, not having
many ships, cannot attack in great force. Now, Captain Jodd thinks
this task will be to the liking of the Northmen, and though you are
blind, I think that you would serve me well as governor of Lesbos. Is
it your pleasure to accept this office?"
"Aye, with thankfulness, Augustus," I answered. "Only, after the
Moslems are beaten back, if it pleases God that it should so befall, I
ask leave of absence for a while, since there is one for whom I must
"I grant it, who name Captain Jodd your deputy. Stay, there's one more
thing. In Lesbos my mother has large vineyards and estates. As part
payment of her debt these shall be conveyed to you. Nay, no thanks; it
is I who owe them. Whatever his faults, Constantine is not ungrateful.
Moreover, enough time has been spent upon this matter. What say you,
Officer? That the Armenians are marshalled and that you have
Stauracius safe? Good! I come to lead them. Then to the Hippodrome to
TIDINGS FROM EGYPT
That curtain of oblivion without rent or seam sinks again upon the
visions of this past of mine. It falls, as it were, on the last of the
scenes in the dreadful chamber of the pit, to rise once more far from
I am blind and can see nothing, for the power which enables me to
disinter what lies buried beneath the weight and wreck of so many ages
tells me no more than those things that once my senses knew. What I
did not hear then I do not hear now; what I did not see then I do not
see now. Thus it comes about that of Lesbos itself, of the shape of
its mountains or the colour of its seas I can tell nothing more than I
was told, because my sight never dwelt on them in any life that I can
It was evening. The heat of the sun had passed and the night breeze
blew through the wide, cool chamber in which I sat with Martina, whom
the soldiers, in their rude fashion, called "Olaf's Brown Dog." For
brown was her colouring, and she led me from place to place as dogs
are trained to lead blind men. Yet against her the roughest of them
never said an evil word; not from fear, but because they knew that
none could be said.
Martina was talking, she who always loved to talk, if not of one
thing, then of another.
"God-son," she said, "although you are a great grumbler, I tell you
that in my judgment you were born under a lucky star, or saint, call
it which you will. For instance, when you were walking up and down
that Hall of the Pit in the palace at Constantinople, which I always
dream of now if I sup too late----"
"And your spirit, or double, or whatever you call it, was kindly
leading me round the edge of the death-trap," I interrupted.
"----and my spirit, or double, making itself useful for once, was
doing what you say, well, who would have thought that before so very
long you would be the governor, much beloved, of the rich and
prosperous island of Lesbos; still the commander, much beloved, of
troops, many of them your own countrymen, and, although you are blind,
the Imperial general who has dealt the Moslems one of the worst
defeats they have suffered for a long while."
"Jodd and the others did that," I answered. "I only sat here and made
"Jodd!" she exclaimed with contempt. "Jodd has no more head for plans
than a doorpost! Although it is true," she added with a softening of
the voice, "that he is a good man to lean on at a pinch, and a very
terrible fighter; also one who can keep such brain as God gave him
cool in the hour of terror, as Irene knows well enough. Yet it was
you, Olaf, not even I, but you, who remembered that the Northmen are
seafolk born, and turned all those trading vessels into war-galleys
and hid them in the little bays with a few of your people in command
of each. It was you who suffered the Moslem fleet to sail unmolested
into the Mitylene harbours, pretending and giving notice that the only
defence would be by land. Then, after they were at anchor and
beginning to disembark, it was you who fell on them at the dawn and
sank and slew till none remained save those of their army who were
taken prisoners or spared for ransom. Yes, and you commanded our ships
in person; and at night who is a better captain than a blind man? Oh!
you did well, very well; and you are rich with Irene's lands, and sit
here in comfort and in honour, with the best of health save for your
blindness, and I repeat that you were born under a lucky star--or
"Not altogether so, Martina," I answered with a sigh.
"Ah!" she replied, "man can never be content. As usual, you are
thinking of that Egyptian, I mean of the lady Heliodore, of whom, of
course, it is quite right that you should think. Well, it is true that
we have heard nothing of her. Still, that does not mean that we may
not hear. Perhaps Jodd has learned something from those prisoners.
Hark! he comes."
As she spoke I heard the guards salute without and Jodd's heavy step
at the door of the chamber.
"Greeting, General," he said presently. "I bring you good news. The
messengers to the Sultan Harun have returned with the ransom. Also
this Caliph sends a writing signed by himself and his ministers, in
which he swears by God and His Prophet that in consideration of our
giving up our prisoners, among whom, it seems, are some great men,
neither he nor his successors will attempt any new attack upon Lesbos
for thirty years. The interpreter will read it to you to-morrow, and
you can send your answering letters with the prisoners."
"Seeing that these heathen are so many and we are so few, we could
scarcely look for better terms," I said, "as I hope they will think at
Constantinople. At least the prisoners shall sail when all is in
order. Now for another matter. Have you inquired as to the Bishop
Barnabas and the Egyptian Prince Magas and his daughter?"
"Aye, General, this very day. I found that among the prisoners were
three of the commoner sort who have served in Egypt and left that land
not three months ago. Of these men two have never heard of the bishop
or the others. The third, however, who was wounded in the fight, had
"What tidings, Jodd?"
"None that are good, General. The bishop, he says, was killed by
Moslems a while ago, or so he had been told."
"God rest him. But the others, Jodd, what of the others?"
"This. It seems that the Copt, as he called him, Magas, returned from
a long journey, as we know he did, and raised an insurrection
somewhere in the south of Egypt, far up the Nile. An expedition was
sent against him, under one Musa, the Governor of Egypt, and there was
much fighting, in which this prisoner took part. The end of it was
that the Copts who fought with Magas were conquered with slaughter,
Magas himself was slain, for he would not fly, and his daughter, the
lady Heliodore, was taken prisoner with some other Coptic women."
"And then?" I gasped.
"Then, General, she was brought before the Emir Musa, who, noting her
beauty, proposed to make her his slave. At her prayer, however, being,
as the prisoner said, a merciful man, he gave her a week to mourn her
father before she entered his harem. Still, the worst," he went on
hurriedly, "did not happen. Before that week was done, as the Moslem
force was marching down the Nile, she stabbed the eunuch who was in
charge of her and escaped."
"I thank God," I said. "But, Jodd, how is the man sure that she was
"Thus: All knew her to be the daughter of Magas, one whom the
Egyptians held in honour. Moreover, among the Moslem soldiers she was
named 'the Lady of the Shells,' because of a certain necklace she
wore, which you will remember."
"What more?" I asked.
"Only that the Emir Musa was very angry at her loss and because of it
caused certain soldiers to be beaten on the feet. Moreover, he halted
his army and offered a reward for her. For two days they hunted, even
searching some tombs where it was thought she might have hidden, but
there found nothing but the dead. Then the Emir returned down the
Nile, and that is the end of the story."
"Send this prisoner to me at once, Jodd, with an interpreter. I would
question him myself."
"I fear he is not fit to come, General."
"Then I will go to him. Lead me, Martina."
"If so, you must go far, General, for he died an hour ago, and his
companions are making him ready for burial."
"Jodd," I said angrily, "those men have been in our hands for weeks.
How comes it that you did not discover these things before? You had my
"Because, General, until they knew that they were to go free none of
these prisoners would tell us anything. However closely they were
questioned, they said that it was against their oath, and that first
they would die. A long while ago I asked this very man of Egypt, and
he vowed that he had never been there."
"Be comforted, Olaf," broke in Martina, "for what more could he have
"Nothing, perchance," I answered; "yet I should have gained many days
of time. Know that I go to Egypt to search for Heliodore."
"Be comforted again," said Martina. "This you could not have done
until the peace was signed; it would have been against your oath and
"That is so," I answered heavily.
"Olaf," said Martina to me that night after Jodd had left us, "you say
that you will go to Egypt. How will you go? Will the blind Christian
general of the Empire, who has just dealt so great a defeat to the
mighty Caliph of the East, be welcome in Egypt? Above all, will he be
welcomed by the Emir Musa, who rules there, when it is known that he
comes to seek a woman who has escaped from that Emir's harem? Why,
within an hour he'd offer you the choice between death and the Koran.
Olaf, this thing is madness."
"It may be, Martina. Still, I go to seek Heliodore."
"If Heliodore still lives you will not help her by dying, and if she
is dead time will be little to her and she can wait for you a while."
"Yet I go, Martina."
"You, being blind, go to Egypt to seek one whom those who rule there
have searched for in vain. So be it. But how will you go? It cannot be
as an open enemy, since then you would need a fleet and ten thousand
swords to back you, which you have not. To take a few brave men,
unless they were Moslems, which is impossible, would be but to give
them to death. How do you go, Olaf?"
"I do not know, Martina. Your brain is more nimble than mine; think,
think, and tell me."