Part 5 out of 6
I heard Martina rise and walk up and down the room for a long time. At
length she returned and sat herself by me again.
"Olaf," she said, "you always had a taste for music. You have told me
that as a boy in your northern home you used to play upon the harp and
sing songs to it of your own making, and now, since you have been
blind, you have practised at this art till you are its master. Also,
my voice is good; indeed, it is my only gift. It was my voice that
first brought me to Irene's notice, when I was but the daughter of a
poor Greek gentleman who had been her father's friend and therefore
was given a small place about the Court. Of late we have sung many
songs together, have we not, certain of them in that northern tongue,
of which you have taught me something?"
"Yes, Martina; but what of it?"
"You are dull, Olaf. I have heard that these Easterns love music,
especially if it be of a sort they do not know. Why, therefore, should
not a blind man and his daughter--no, his orphaned niece--earn an
honest living as travelling musicians in Egypt? These Prophet
worshippers, I am told, think it a great sin to harm one who is maimed
--a poor northern trader in amber who has been robbed by Christian
thieves. Rendered sightless also that he might not be able to swear to
them before the judges, and now, with his sister's child, winning his
bread as best he may. Like you, Olaf, I have skill in languages, and
even know enough of Arabic to beg in it, for my mother, who was a
Syrian, taught it to me as a child, and since we have been here I have
practised. What say you?"
"I say that we might travel as safely thus as in any other way. Yet,
Martina, how can I ask you to tie such a burden on your back?"
"Oh! no need to ask, Olaf, since Fate bound it there when it made me
your--god-mother. Where you go I needs must go also, until you are
married," she added with a laugh. "Afterwards, perhaps, you will need
me no more. Well, there's a plan, for what it is worth, and now we'll
sleep on it, hoping to find a better. Pray to St. Michael to-night,
As it chanced, St. Michael gave me no light, so the end of it was that
I determined to play this part of a blind harper. In those days there
was a trade between Lesbos and Egypt in cedar wood, wool, wine for the
Copts, for the Moslems drank none, and other goods. Peace having been
declared between the island and the Caliph, a small vessel was laden
with such merchandise at my cost, and a Greek of Lesbos, Menas by
name, put in command of it as the owner, with a crew of sailors whom I
could trust to the death.
To these men, who were Christians, I told my business, swearing them
to secrecy by the most holy of all oaths. But, alas! as I shall show,
although I could trust these sailors when they were masters of
themselves, I could not trust them, or, rather, one of them, when wine
was his master. In our northern land we had a saying that "Ale is
another man," and now its truth was to be proved to me, not for the
When all was ready I made known my plans to Jodd alone, in whose hands
I left a writing to say what must be done if I returned no more. To
the other officers and the soldiers I said only that I proposed to
make a journey in this trading ship disguised as a merchant, both for
my health's sake and to discover for myself the state of the
surrounding countries, and especially of the Christians in Egypt.
When he had heard all, Jodd, although he was a hopeful-minded man,
grew sad over this journey, which I could see he thought would be my
"I expected no less," he said; "and yet, General, I trusted that your
saint might keep your feet on some safer path. Doubtless this lady
Heliodore is dead, or fled, or wed; at least, you will never find
"Still, I must search for her, Jodd."
"You are a blind man. How can you search?"
Then an idea came to him, and he added,
"Listen, General. I and the rest of us swore to protect the lady
Heliodore and to be as her father or her brothers. Do you bide here. I
will go to search for her, either with a vessel full of armed men, or
Now I laughed outright and asked,
"What disguise is there that would hide the giant Jodd, whose fame the
Moslem spies have spread throughout the East? Why, on the darkest
night your voice would betray you to all within a hundred paces. And
what use would one shipload of armed men be against the forces of the
Emir of Egypt? No, no, Jodd, whatever the danger I must go and I
alone. If I am killed, or do not return within eight months, I have
named you to be Governor of Lesbos, as already you have been named my
deputy by Constantine, which appointment will probably be confirmed."
"I do not want to be Governor of Lesbos," said Jodd. "Moreover, Olaf,"
he added slowly, "a blind beggar must have his dog to lead him, his
brown dog. You cannot go alone, Olaf. Those dangers of which you speak
must be shared by another."
"That is so, and it troubles me much. Indeed, it is in my mind to seek
some other guide, for I think this one would be safest here in your
charge. You must reason with her, Jodd. One can ask too much, even of
"Of a god-mother! Why not say of a grandmother? By Thor! Olaf, you are
blind indeed. Still, I'll try. Hush! here she comes to say that our
supper is ready."
At our meal several others were present, besides the serving folk, and
the talk was general. After it was done I had an interview with some
officers. These left, and I sat myself down upon a cushioned couch,
and, being tired, there fell asleep, till I was awakened, or, rather,
half awakened by voices talking in the garden without. They were those
of Jodd and Martina, and Martina was saying,
"Cease your words. I and no one else will go on this Egyptian quest
with Olaf. If we die, as I dare say we shall, what does it matter? At
least he shall not die alone."
"And if the quest should fail, Martina? I mean if he should not find
the lady Heliodore and you should happen both to return safe, what
"Why, then--nothing, except that as it has been, so it will be. I
shall continue to play my part, as is my duty and my wish. Do you not
remember that I am Olaf's god-mother?"
"Yes, I remember. Still, I have heard somewhere that the Christian
Church never ties a knot which it cannot unloose--for a proper fee,
and for my part I do not know why a man should not marry one of
different blood because she has been named his god-mother before a
stone vessel by a man in a broidered robe. You say I do not understand
such matters. Perhaps, so let them be. But, Martina, let us suppose
that this strange search were to succeed, and Olaf has a way of
succeeding where others would fail. For instance, who else could have
escaped alive out of the hand of Irene and become governor of Lesbos,
and, being blind, yet have planned a great victory? Well, supposing
that by the help of gods or men--or women--he should find this
beautiful Heliodore, unwed and still willing, and that they should
marry. What then, Martina?"
"Then, Captain Jodd," she answered slowly, "if you are yet of the same
mind we may talk again. Only remember that I ask no promises and make
"So you go to Egypt with Olaf?"
"Aye, certainly, unless I should die first, and perhaps even then. You
do not understand? Oh! of course you do not understand, nor can I stop
to explain to you. Captain Jodd, I am going to Egypt with a certain
blind beggar, whose name I forget at the moment, but who is my uncle,
where no doubt I shall see many strange things. If ever I come back I
will tell you about them, and, meanwhile, good night."
THE STATUES BY THE NILE
The first thing that I remember of this journey to Egypt is that I was
sitting in the warm morning sunshine on the deck of our little trading
vessel, that went by the name of the heathen goddess, Diana. We were
in the port of Alexandria. Martina, who now went by the name of Hilda,
stood by my side describing to me the great city that lay before us.
She told me of the famous Pharos still rising from its rock, although
in it the warning light no longer burned, for since the Moslems took
Egypt they had let it die, as some said because they feared lest it
should guide a Christian fleet to attack them. She described also the
splendid palaces that the Greeks had built, many of them now empty or
burned out, the Christian churches, the mosques, the broad streets and
the grass-grown quays.
As we were thus engaged, she talking and I listening and asking
questions, she said,
"The boat is coming with the Saracen officers of the port, who must
inspect and pass the ship before she is allowed to discharge her
cargo. Now, Olaf, remember that henceforth you are called Hodur." (I
had taken this name after that of the blind god of the northern
peoples.) "Play your part well, and, above all, be humble. If you are
reviled, or even struck, show no anger, and be sure to keep that red
sword of yours close hidden beneath your robe. If you do these things
we shall be safe, for I tell you that we are well disguised."
The boat came alongside and I heard men climbing the ship's ladder.
Then someone kicked me. It was our captain, Menas, who also had his
part to play.
"Out of the road, you blind beggar," he said. "The noble officers of
the Caliph board our ship, and you block their path."
"Touch not one whom God has afflicted," said a grave voice, speaking
in bad Greek. "It is easy for us to walk round the man. But who is he,
captain, and why does he come to Egypt? By their looks he and the
woman with him might well have seen happier days."
"I know not, lord," answered the captain, "who, after they paid their
passage money, took no more note of them. Still they play and sing
well, and served to keep the sailors in good humour when we were
"Sir," I broke in, "I am a Northman named Hodur, and this woman is my
niece. I was a trader in amber, but thieves robbed me and my
companions of all we had as we journeyed to Byzantium. Me, who was the
leader of our band, they held to ransom, blinding me lest I should be
able to swear to them again, but the others they killed. This is the
only child of my sister, who married a Greek, and now we get our
living by our skill in music."
"Truly you Christians love each other well," said the officer. "Accept
the Koran and you will not be treated thus. But why do you come to
"Sir, we heard that it is a rich land where the people love music, and
have come hoping to earn some money here that we may put by to live
on. Send us not away, sir; we have a little offering to make. Niece
Hilda, where is the gold piece I gave you? Offer it to this lord."
"Nay, nay," said the officer. "Shall I take bread out of the mouth of
the poor? Clerk," he added in Arabic to a man who was with him, "make
out a writing giving leave to these two to land and to ply their
business anywhere in Egypt without question or hindrance, and bring it
to me to seal. Farewell, musicians. I fear you will find money scarce
in Egypt, for the land has been stricken with a famine. Yet go and
prosper in the name of God, and may He turn your hearts to the true
Thus it came about that through the good mind of this Moslem, whose
name, as I learned when we met again, was Yusuf, our feet were lifted
over many stumbling-blocks. Thus it seems that by virtue of his office
he had power to prevent the entry into the land of such folk as we
seemed to be, which power, if they were Christians, was almost always
put in force. Yet because he had seen the captain appear to illtreat
me, or because, being a soldier himself, he guessed that I was of the
same trade, whatever tale it might please me to tell, this rule was
not enforced. Moreover, the writing which he gave me enabled me to go
where we wished in Egypt without let or hindrance. Whenever we were
stopped or threatened, which happened to us several times, it was
enough if we presented it to the nearest person in authority who could
read, after which we were allowed to pass upon our way unhindered.
Before we left the ship I had a last conversation with the captain,
Menas, telling him that he was to lie in the harbour, always
pretending that he waited for some cargo not yet forthcoming, such as
unharvested corn, or whatever was convenient, until we appeared again.
If after a certain while we did not appear, then he was to make a
trading journey to neighbouring ports and return to Alexandria. These
artifices he must continue to practise until orders to the contrary
reached him under my own hand, or until he had sure evidence that we
were dead. All this the man promised that he would do.
"Yes," said Martina, who was with me, "you promise, Captain, and we
believe you, but the question is, can you answer for the others? For
instance, for the sailor Cosmas there, who, I see, is already drunken
and talking loudly about many things."
"Henceforth, lady, Cosmas shall drink water only. When not in his cups
he is an honest fellow, and I do answer for him."
Yet, alas! as the end showed, Cosmas was not to be answered for by
We went ashore and took up our abode in a certain house, where we were
safe. Whether the Christian owners of that house did or did not know
who we were, I am not certain. At any rate, through them we were
introduced at night into the palace of Politian, the Melchite
Patriarch of Alexandria. He was a stern-faced, black-bearded man of
honest heart but narrow views, of whom the Bishop Barnabas had often
spoken to me as his closest friend. To this Politian I told all under
the seal of our Faith, asking his aid in my quest. When I had finished
my tale he thought a while. Then he said,
"You are a bold man, General Olaf; so bold that I think God must be
leading you to His own ends. Now, you have heard aright. Barnabas, my
beloved brother and your father in Christ, has been taken hence. He
was murdered by some fanatic Moslems soon after his return from
Byzantium. Also it is true that the Prince Magas was killed in war by
the Emir Musa, and that the lady Heliodore escaped out of his
clutches. What became of her afterwards no man knows, but for my part
I believe that she is dead."
"And I believe that she is alive," I answered, "and therefore I go to
"Seek and ye shall find," mused the Patriarch; "at least, I hope so,
though my advice to you is to bide here and send others to seek."
"That I will not do," I answered again.
"Then go, and God be with you. I'll warn certain of the faithful of
your coming, so that you may not lack a friend at need. When you
return, if you should ever return, come to me, for I have more
influence with these Moslems than most, and may be able to serve you.
I can say no more, and it is not safe that you should tarry here too
long. Stay, I forget. There are two things you should know. The first
is that the Emir Musa, he who seized the lady Heliodore, is about to
be deposed. I have the news from the Caliph Harun himself, for with
him I am on friendly terms because of a service I did him through my
skill in medicine. The second is that Irene has beguiled Constantine,
or bewitched him, I know not which. At least, by his own proclamation
once more she rules the Empire jointly with himself, and that I think
will be his death warrant, and perhaps yours also."
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," I said. "Now if I live
I shall learn whether any oaths are sacred to Irene, as will
Then we parted.
Leaving Alexandria, we wandered first to the town of Misra, which
stood near to the mighty pyramids, beneath whose shadow we slept one
night in an empty tomb. Thence by slow marches we made our way up the
banks of the Nile, earning our daily bread by the exercise of our art.
Once or twice we were stopped as spies, but always released again when
I produced the writing that the officer Yusuf had given me upon the
ship. For the rest, none molested us in a land where wandering beggars
were so common. Of money it is true we earned little, but as we had
gold in plenty sewn into our garments this did not matter. Food was
all we needed, and that, as I have said, was never lacking.
So we went on our strange journey, day by day learning more of the
tongues spoken in Egypt, and especially of Arabic, which the Moslems
used. Whither did we journey? We know not for certain. What I sought
to find were those two huge statues of which I had dreamed at Aar on
the night of the robbing of the Wanderer's tomb. We heard that there
were such figures of stone, which were said to sing at daybreak, and
that they sat upon a plain on the western bank of the Nile, near to
the ruins of the great city of Thebes, now but a village, called by
the Arabs El-Uksor, or "the Palaces." So far as we could discover, it
was in the neighbourhood of this city that Heliodore had escaped from
Musa, and there, if anywhere, I hoped to gain tidings of her fate.
Also something within my heart drew me to those images of forgotten
gods or men.
At length, two months or more after we left Alexandria, from the deck
of the boat in which we had hired a passage for the last hundred miles
of our journey, Martina saw to the east the ruins of Thebes. To the
west she saw other ruins, and seated in front of them /two mighty
figures of stone/.
"This is the place," she said, and my heart leapt at her words. "Now
let us land and follow our fortune."
So when the boat was tied up at sunset, to the west bank of the river,
as it happened, we bade farewell to the owner and went ashore.
"Whither now?" asked Martina.
"To the figures of stone," I answered.
So she led me through fields in which the corn was growing, to the
edge of the desert, meeting no man all the way. Then for a mile or
more we tramped through sand, till at length, late at night, Martina
"We stand beneath the statues," she said, "and they are awesome to
look on; mighty, seated kings, higher than a tall tree."
"What lies behind them?" I asked.
"The ruins of a great temple."
"Lead me to that temple."
So we passed through a gateway into a court, and there we halted.
"Now tell me what you see," I said.
"We stand in what has been a hall of many columns," she answered, "but
the most of them are broken. At our feet is a pool in which there is a
little water. Before us lies the plain on which the statues sit,
stretching some miles to the Nile, that is fringed with palms. Across
the broad Nile are the ruins of old Thebes. Behind us are more ruins
and a line of rugged hills of stone, and in them, a little to the
north, the mouth of a valley. The scene is very beautiful beneath the
moon, but very sad and desolate."
"It is the place that I saw in my dream many years ago at Aar," I
"It may be," she answered, "but if so it must have changed, since,
save for a jackal creeping among the columns and a dog that barks in
some distant village, I neither see nor hear a living thing. What now,
"Now we will eat and sleep," I said. "Perhaps light will come to us in
So we ate of the food we had brought with us, and afterwards lay down
to rest in a little chamber, painted round with gods, that Martina
found in the ruins of the temple.
During that night no dreams came to me, nor did anything happen to
disturb us, even in this old temple, of which the very paving-stones
were worn through by the feet of the dead.
Before the dawn Martina led me back to the colossal statues, and we
waited there, hoping that we should hear them sing, as tradition said
they did when the sun rose. Yet the sun came up as it had done from
the beginning of the world, and struck upon those giant effigies as it
had done for some two thousand years, or so I was told, and they
remained quite silent. I do not think that ever I grieved more over my
blindness than on this day, when I must depend upon Martina to tell me
of the glory of that sunrise over the Egyptian desert and those mighty
ruins reared by the hands of forgotten men.
Well, the sun rose, and, since the statues would not speak, I took my
harp and played upon it, and Martina sang a wild Eastern song to my
playing. It seemed that our music was heard. At any rate, a few folk
going out to labour came to see by whom it was caused, and finding
only two wandering musicians, presently went away again. Still, one
remained, a woman, Coptic by her dress, with whom I heard Martina
talk. She asked who we were and why we had come to such a place,
whereon Martina repeated to her the story which we had told a hundred
times. The woman answered that we should earn little money in those
parts, as the famine had been sore there owing to the low Nile of the
previous season. Until the crops were ripe again, which in the case of
most of them would not be for some weeks, even food, she added, must
be scarce, though few were left to eat it, since the Moslems had
killed out most of those who dwelt in that district of Upper Egypt.
Martina replied that she knew this was so, and therefore we had
proposed either to travel on to Nubia or to return north. Still, as I,
her blind uncle, was not well, we had landed from a boat hoping that
we might find some place where we could rest for a week or two until I
"Yet," she continued meaningly, "being poor Christian folk we know not
where to look for such a place, since Cross worshippers are not
welcome among those who follow the Prophet."
Now, when the woman heard that we were Christians her voice changed.
"I also am a Christian," she said; "but give me the sign."
So we made the sign of the Cross on our breasts, which a Moslem will
die rather than do.
"My husband and I," went on the woman, "live yonder at the village of
Kurna, which is situated near to the mouth of the valley that is
called Biban-el-Meluk, or Gate of the Kings, for there the monarchs of
old days, who were the forefathers or rulers of us Copts, lie buried.
It is but a very small village, for the Moslems have killed most of us
in a war that was raised a while ago between them and our hereditary
prince, Magas. Yet my husband and I have a good house there, and,
being poor, shall be glad to give you food and shelter if you can pay
The end of it was that after some chaffering, for we dared not show
that we had much money, a bargain was struck between us and this good
woman, who was named Palka. Having paid her a week's charges in
advance, she led us to the village of Kurna, which was nearly an
hour's walk away, and here made us known to her husband, a middle-aged
man named Marcus, who took little note of anything save his farming.
This he carried on upon a patch of fertile ground that was irrigated
by a spring which flowed from the mountains; also he had other lands
near to the Nile, where he grew corn and fodder for his beasts. In his
house, that once had been part of some great stone building of the
ancients, and still remained far larger than he could use, for this
pair had no children, we were given two good rooms. Here we dwelt in
comfort, since, notwithstanding the scarcity of the times, Marcus was
richer than he seemed and lived well. As for the village of Kurna, its
people all told did not amount to more than thirty souls, Christians
every one of them, who were visited from time to time by a Coptic
priest from some distant monastery in the mountains.
By degrees we grew friendly with Palka, a pleasant, bustling woman of
good birth, who loved to hear of the outside world. Moreover, she was
very shrewd, and soon began to suspect that we were more than mere
Pretending to be weak and ill, I did not go out much, but followed her
about the house while she was working, talking to her on many matters.
Thus I led up the subject of Prince Magas and his rebellion, and
learned that he had been killed at a place about fifty miles south
from Kurna. Then I asked if it were true that his daughter had been
killed with him.
"What do you know of the lady Heliodore?" she asked sharply.
"Only that my niece, who for a while was a servant in the palace at
Byzantium before she was driven away with others after the Empress
fell, saw her there. Indeed, it was her business to wait upon her and
her father the Prince. Therefore, she is interested in her fate."
"It seems that you are more interested than your niece, who has never
spoken a word to me concerning her," answered Palka. "Well, since you
are a man, I should not have thought this strange, had you not been
blind, for they say she was the most beautiful woman in Egypt. As for
her fate, you must ask God, since none know it. When the army of Musa
was encamped yonder by the Nile my husband, Marcus, who had taken two
donkey-loads of forage for sale to the camp and was returning by
moonlight, saw her run past him, a red knife in her hand, her face set
towards the Gateway of the Kings. After that he saw her no more, nor
did anyone else, although they hunted long enough, even in the tombs,
which the Moslems, like our people, fear to visit. Doubtless she fell
or threw herself into some hole in the rocks; or perhaps the wild
beasts ate her. Better so than that a child of the old Pharaohs should
become the woman of an infidel."
"Yes," I answered, "better so. But why do folk fear to visit those
tombs of which you speak, Palka?"
"Why? Because they are haunted, that is all, and even the bravest
dread the sight of a ghost. How could they be otherwise than haunted,
seeing that yonder valley is sown with the mighty dead like a field
"Yet the dead sleep quietly enough, Palka."
"Aye, the common dead, Hodur; but not these kings and queens and
princes, who, being gods of a kind, cannot die. It is said that they
hold their revels yonder at night with songs and wild laughter, and
that those who look upon them come to an evil end within a year.
Whether this be so I cannot say, since for many years none have dared
to visit that place at night. Yet that they eat I know well enough."
"How do you know, Palka?"
"For a good reason. With the others in this village I supply the
offerings of their food. The story runs that once the great building,
of which this house is a part, was a college of heathen priests whose
duty it was to make offerings to the dead in the royal tombs. When the
Christians came, those priests were driven away, but we of Kurna who
live in their house still make the offerings. If we did not,
misfortune would overtake us, as indeed has always happened if they
were forgotten or neglected. It is the rent that we pay to the ghosts
of the kings. Twice a week we pay it, setting food and milk and water
upon a certain stone near to the mouth of the valley."
"Then what happens, Palka?"
"Nothing, except that the offering is taken."
"By beggar folk, or perchance by wild creatures!"
"Would beggar folk dare to enter that place of death?" she answered
with contempt. "Or would wild beasts take the food and pile the dishes
neatly together and replace the flat stones on the mouths of the jars
of milk and water, as a housewife might? Oh! do not laugh. Of late
this has always been done, as I who often fetch the vessels know
"Have you ever seen these ghosts, Palka?"
"Yes, once I saw one of them. It was about two months ago that I
passed the mouth of the valley after moonrise, for I had been kept out
late searching for a kid which was lost. Thinking that it might be in
the valley, I peered up it. As I was looking, from round a great rock
glided a ghost. She stood still, with the moonlight shining on her,
and gazed towards the Nile. I, too, stood still in the shadow, thirty
or forty paces away. Then she threw up her arms as though in despair,
turned and vanished."
"She!" I said, then checked myself and asked indifferently: "Well,
what was the fashion of this ghost?"
"So far as I could see that of a young and beautiful woman, wearing
such clothes as we find upon the ancient dead, only wrapped more
loosely about her."
"Had she aught upon her head, Palka?"
"Yes, a band of gold or a crown set upon her hair, and about her neck
what seemed to be a necklace of green and gold, for the moonlight
flashed upon it. It was much such a necklace as you wear beneath your
"And pray how do you know what I wear, Palka?" I asked.
"By means of what you lack, poor man, the eyes in my head. One night
when you were asleep I had need to pass through your chamber to reach
another beyond. You had thrown off your outer garment because of the
heat, and I saw the necklace. Also I saw a great red sword lying by
your side and noted on your bare breast sundry scars, such as hunters
and soldiers come by. All of these things, Hodur, I thought strange,
seeing that I know you to be nothing but a poor blind beggar who gains
his bread by his skill upon the harp."
"There are beggars who were not always beggars, Palka," I said slowly.
"Quite so, Hodur, and there are great men and rich who sometimes
appear to be beggars, and--many other things. Still, have no fear that
we shall steal your necklace or talk about the red sword or the gold
with which your niece Hilda weights her garments. Poor girl, she has
all the ways of a fine lady, one who has known Courts, as I think you
said was the case. It must be sad for her to have fallen so low.
Still, have no fear, Hodur," and she took my hand and pressed it in a
certain secret fashion which was practised among the persecuted
Christians in the East when they would reveal themselves to each
other. Then she went away laughing.
As for me, I sought Martina, who had been sleeping through the heat,
and told her everything.
"Well," she said when I had finished, "you should give thanks to God,
Olaf, since without doubt this ghost is the lady Heliodore. So should
Jodd," I heard her add beneath her breath, for in my blindness my ears
had grown very quick.
THE VALLEY OF THE DEAD KINGS
Martina and I had made a plan. Palka, after much coaxing, took us with
her one evening when she went to place the accustomed offerings in the
Valley of the Dead. Indeed, at first she refused outright to allow us
to accompany her, because, she said, only those who were born in the
village of Kurna had made such offerings since the days when the
Pharaohs ruled, and that if strangers shared in this duty it might
bring misfortune. We answered, however, that if so the misfortune
would fall on us, the intruders. Also we pointed out that the jars of
water and milk were heavy, and, as it happened, there was no one from
the hamlet to help to carry them this night. Having weighed these
facts, Palka changed her mind.
"Well," she said, "it is true that I grow fat, and after labouring all
day at this and that have no desire to bear burdens like an ass. So
come if you will, and if you die or evil spirits carry you away, do
not add yourselves to the number of the ghosts, of whom there are too
many hereabouts, and blame me afterwards."
"On the contrary," I said, "we will make you our heirs," and I laid a
bag containing some pieces of money upon the table.
Palka, who was a saving woman, took the money, for I heard it rattle
in her hand, hung the jars about my shoulders, and gave Martina the
meat and corn in a basket. The flat cakes, however, she carried
herself on a wooden trencher, because, as she said, she feared lest we
should break them and anger the ghosts, who liked their food to be
well served. So we started, and presently entered the mouth of that
awful valley which, Martina told me, looked as though it had been
riven through the mountain by lightning strokes and then blasted with
Up this dry and desolate place, which, she said, was bordered on
either side by walls of grey and jagged rock, we walked in silence.
Only I noted that the dog which had followed us from the house clung
close to our heels and now and again whimpered uneasily.
"The beast sees what we cannot see," whispered Palka in explanation.
At last we halted, and I set down the jars at her bidding upon a flat
rock which she called the Table of Offerings.
"See!" she exclaimed to Martina, "those that were placed here three
days ago are all emptied and neatly piled together by the ghosts. I
told Hodur that they did this, but he would not believe me. Now let us
pack them up in the baskets and begone, for the sun sets and the moon
rises within the half of an hour. I would not be here in the dark for
ten pieces of pure gold."
"Then go swiftly, Palka," I said, "for we bide here this night."
"Are you mad?" she asked.
"Not at all," I answered. "A wise man once told me that if one who is
blind can but come face to face with a spirit, he sees it and thereby
regains his sight. If you would know the truth, that is why I have
wandered so far from my own country to find some land where ghosts may
"Now I am sure that you are mad," exclaimed Palka. "Come, Hilda, and
leave this fool to make trial of his cure for blindness."
"Nay," answered Martina, "I must stay with my uncle, although I am
very much afraid. If I did not, he would beat me afterwards."
"Beat you! Hodur beat a woman! Oh! you are both mad. Or perhaps you
are ghosts also. I have thought it once or twice, who at least am sure
that you are other than you seem. Holy Jesus! this place grows dark,
and I tell you it is full of dead kings. May the Saints guard you; at
the least, you'll keep high company at your death. Farewell; whate'er
befalls, blame me not who warned you," and she departed at a run, the
empty vessels rattling on her back and the dog yapping behind her.
When she had gone the silence grew deep.
"Now, Martina," I whispered, "find some place where we may hide whence
you can see this Table of Offerings."
She led me to where a fallen rock lay within a few paces, and behind
it we sat ourselves down in such a position that Martina could watch
the Table of Offerings by the light of the moon.
Here we waited for a long while; it may have been two hours, or three,
or four. At least I knew that, although I could see nothing, the
solemnity of that place sank into my soul. I felt as though the dead
were moving about me in the silence. I think it was the same with
Martina, for although the night was very hot in that stifling, airless
valley, she shivered at my side. At last I felt her start and heard
"I see a figure. It creeps from the shadow of the cliff towards the
Table of Offerings."
"What is it like?" I asked.
"It is a woman's figure draped in white cloths; she looks about her;
she takes up the offerings and places them in a basket she carries. It
is a woman--no ghost--for she drinks from one of the jars. Oh! now the
moonlight shines upon her face; it is /that of Heliodore!/"
I heard and could restrain myself no longer. Leaping up, I ran towards
where I knew the Table of Offerings to be. I tried to speak, but my
voice choked in my throat. The woman saw or heard me coming through
the shadows. At least, uttering a low cry, she fled away, for I caught
the sound of her feet on the rocks and sand. Then I tripped over a
stone and fell down.
In a moment Martina was at my side.
"Truly you are foolish, Olaf," she said. "Did you think that the lady
Heliodore would know you at night, changed as you are and in this
garb, that you must rush at her like an angry bull? Now she has gone,
and perchance we shall never find her more. Why did you not speak to
"Because my voice choked within me. Oh! blame me not, Martina. If you
knew what it is to love as I do and after so many fears and
"I trust that I should know also how to control my love," broke in
Martina sharply. "Come, waste no more time in talk. Let us search."
Then she took me by the hand and led me to where she had last seen
"She has vanished away," she said, "here is nothing but rock."
"It cannot be," I answered. "Oh! that I had my eyes again, if for an
hour, I who was the best tracker in Jutland. See if no stone has been
stirred, Martina. The sand will be damper where it has lain."
She left me, and presently returned.
"I have found something," she said. "When Heliodore fled she still
held her basket, which from the look of it was last used by the
Pharaohs. At least, one of the cakes has fallen from or through it.
She led me to the cliff, and up it to perhaps twice the height of a
man, then round a projecting rock.
"Here is a hole," she said, "such as jackals might make. Perchance it
leads into one of the old tombs whereof the mouth is sealed. It was on
the edge of the hole that I found the cake, therefore doubtless
Heliodore went down it. Now, what shall we do?"
"Follow, I think. Where is it?"
"Nay, I go first. Give me your hand, Olaf, and lie upon your breast."
I did so, and presently felt the weight of Martina swinging on my arm.
"Leave go," she said faintly, like one who is afraid.
I obeyed, though with doubt, and heard her feet strike upon some
"Thanks be the saints, all is well," she said. "For aught I knew this
hole might have been as deep as that in the Chamber of the Pit. Let
yourself down it, feet first, and drop. 'Tis but shallow."
I did so, and found myself beside Martina.
"Now, in the darkness you are the better guide," she whispered. "Lead
on, I'll follow, holding to your robe."
So I crept forward warily and safely, as the blind can do, till
presently she exclaimed,
"Halt, here is light again. I think that the roof of the tomb, for by
the paintings on the walls such it must be, has fallen in. It seems to
be a kind of central chamber, out of which run great galleries that
slope downwards and are full of bats. Ah! one of them is caught in my
hair. Olaf, I will go no farther. I fear bats more than ghosts, or
anything in the world."
Now, I considered a while till a thought struck me. On my back was my
beggar's harp. I unslung it and swept its chords, and wild and sad
they sounded in that solemn place. Then I began to sing an old song
that twice or thrice I had sung with Heliodore in Byzantium. This song
told of a lover seeking his mistress. It was for two voices, since in
the song the mistress answered verse for verse. Here are those of the
lines that I remember, or, rather, the spirit of them rendered into
English. I sang the first verse and waited.
"Dear maid of mine,
I bid my strings
Beat on thy shrine
With music's wings.
Palace or cell
A shrine I see,
If there thou dwell
And answer me."
There was no answer, so I sang the second verse and once more waited.
"On thy love's fire
My passion breathes,
Wind of Desire
Thy incense wreathes.
Greeting! To thee,
Or soon or late,
I, bond or free,
And from somewhere far away in the recesses of that great cave came
the answering strophe.
"O Love sublime
No touch of Time
Upon thee laid.
That that is thine;
Ended the quest!
I seek /my/ shrine
Upon /thy/ breast."
Then I laid down the harp.
At last a voice, the voice of Heliodore speaking whence I knew not,
"Do the dead sing, or is it a living man? And if so, how is that man
"A living man," I replied, "and he is named Olaf, son of Thorvald, or
otherwise Michael. That name was given him in the cathedral at
Byzantium, where first his eyes fell on a certain Heliodore, daughter
of Magas the Egyptian, whom now he seeks."
I heard the sound of footsteps creeping towards me and Heliodore's
"Let me see your face, you who name yourself Olaf, for know that in
these haunted tombs ghosts and visions and mocking voices play strange
tricks. Why do you hide your face, you who call yourself Olaf?"
"Because the eyes are gone from it, Heliodore. Irene robbed it of the
eyes from jealousy of you, swearing that never more should they behold
your beauty. Perchance you would not wish to come too near to an
eyeless man wrapped in a beggar's robe."
She looked--I felt her look. She sobbed--I heard her sob, and then her
arms were about me and her lips were pressed upon my own.
So at length came joy such as I cannot tell; the joy of lost love
A while went by, how long I know not, and at last I said,
"Where is Martina? It is time we left this place."
"Martina!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean Irene's lady, and is she here?
If so, how comes she to be travelling with you, Olaf?"
"As the best friend man ever had, Heliodore; as one who clung to him
in his ruin and saved him from a cruel death; as one who has risked
her life to help him in his desperate search, and without whom that
search had failed."
"Then may God reward her, Olaf, for I did not know there were such
women in the world. Lady Martina! Where are you, lady Martina?"
Thrice she cried the words, and at the third time an answer came from
the shadows at a distance.
"I am here," said Martina's voice with a little yawn. "I was weary and
have slept while you two greeted each other. Well met at last, lady
Heliodore. See, I have brought you back your Olaf, blind it is true,
but otherwise lacking nothing of health and strength and station."
Then Heliodore ran to her and kissed first her hand and next her lips.
In after days she told me that for those of one who had been sleeping
the eyes of Martina seemed to be strangely wet and red. But if this
were so her voice trembled not at all.
"Truly you two should give thanks to God," she said, "Who has brought
you together again in so wondrous a fashion, as I do on your behalf
from the bottom of my heart. Yet you are still hemmed round by dangers
many and great. What now, Olaf? Will you become a ghost also and dwell
here in the tomb with Heliodore; and if so, what tale shall I tell to
Palka and the rest?"
"Not so," I answered. "I think it will be best that we should return
to Kurna. Heliodore must play her part as the spirit of a queen till
we can hire some boat and escape with her down the Nile."
"Never," she cried, "I cannot, I cannot. Having come together we must
separate no more. Oh! Olaf, you do not know what a life has been mine
during all these dreadful months. When I escaped from Musa by stabbing
the eunuch who was in charge of me, for which hideous deed may I be
forgiven," and I felt her shudder at my side, "I fled I knew not
whither till I found myself in this valley, where I hid till the night
was gone. Then at daybreak I peeped out from the mouth of the valley
and saw the Moslems searching for me, but as yet a long way off. Also
now I knew this valley. It was that to which my father had brought me
as a child when he came to search for the burying-place of his
ancestor, the Pharaoh, which records he had read told him was here. I
remembered everything: where the tomb should be, how we had entered it
through a hole, how we had found the mummy of a royal lady, whose face
was covered with a gilded mask, and on her breast the necklace which I
"I ran along the valley, searching the left side of it with my eyes,
till I saw a flat stone which I knew again. It was called the Table of
Offerings. I was sure that the hole by which we had entered the tomb
was quite near to this stone and a little above it, in the face of the
cliff. I climbed; I found what seemed to be the hole, though of this I
could not be certain. I crept down it till it came to an end, and
then, in my terror, hung by my hands and dropped into the darkness,
not knowing whither I fell, or caring over much if I were killed. As
it chanced it was but a little way, and, finding myself unhurt, I
crawled along the cavern till I reached this place where there is
light, for here the roof of the cave has fallen in. While I crouched
amid the rocks I heard the voices of the soldiers above me, heard
their officer also bidding them bring ropes and torches. To the left
of where you stand there is a sloping passage that runs down to the
great central chamber where sleeps some mighty king, and out of this
passage open other chambers. Into the first of these the light of the
morning sun struggles feebly. I entered it, seeking somewhere to hide
myself, and saw a painted coffin lying on the floor near to the marble
sarcophagus from which it had been dragged. It was that in which we
had found the body of my ancestress; but since then thieves had been
in this place. We had left the coffin in the sarcophagus and the mummy
in the coffin, and replaced their lids. Now the mummy lay on the
floor, half unwrapped and broken in two beneath the breast. Moreover,
the face, which I remembered as being so like my own, was gone to
dust, so that there remained of it nothing but a skull, to which hung
tresses of long black hair, as, indeed, you may see for yourself.
"By the side of the body was the gilded mask, with black and staring
eyes, and the painted breast-piece of stiff linen, neither of which
the thieves had found worth stealing.
"I looked and a thought came to me. Lifting the mummy, I thrust it
into the sarcophagus, all of it save the gilded mask and the painted
breast-piece of stiff linen. Then I laid myself down in the coffin, of
which the lid, still lying crosswise, hid me to the waist, and drew
the gilded mask and painted breast-piece over my head and bosom.
Scarcely was it done when the soldiers entered. By now the reflected
sunlight had faded from the place, leaving it in deep shadow; but some
of the men held burning torches made from splinters of old coffins,
that were full of pitch.
"'Feet have passed here; I saw the marks of them in the dust,' said
the officer. 'She may have hidden in this place. Search! Search! It
will go hard with us if we return to Musa to tell him that he has lost
"They looked into the sarcophagus and saw the broken mummy. Indeed,
one of them lifted it, unwillingly enough, and let it fall again,
"'Musa would scarce care for this companion, though in her day she may
have been fair enough.'
"Then they came to the coffin.
"'Here's another,' exclaimed the soldier, 'and one with a gold face.
Allah! how its eyes stare.'
"'Pull it out,' said the officer.
"'Let that be your task,' answered the man. 'I'll defile myself with
no more corpses.'
"The officer came and looked. 'What a haunted hole is this, full of
the ghosts of idol worshippers, or so I think,' he said. 'Those eyes
stare curses at us. Well, the Christian maid is not here. On, before
the torches fail.'
"Then they went, leaving me; the painted linen creaked upon my breast
as I breathed again.
"'Till nightfall I lay in that coffin, fearing lest they should
return; and I tell you, Olaf, that strange dreams came to me there,
for I think I swooned or slept in that narrow bed. Yes, dreams of the
past, which you shall hear one day, if we live, for they seem to have
to do with you and me. Aye, I thought that the dead woman in the
sarcophagus at my side awoke and told them to me. At length I rose and
crept back to this place where we stand, for here I could see the
friendly light, and being outworn, laid me down and slept.
"At the first break of day I crawled from the tomb, followed that same
road by which I had entered, though I found it hard to climb up
through the entrance hole.
"No living thing was to be seen in the valley, except a great night
bird flitting to its haunt. I was parched with thirst, and knowing
that in this dry place I soon must perish, I glided from rock to rock
towards the mouth of the valley, thinking to find some other grave or
cranny where I might lie hid till night came again and I could descend
to the plain and drink. But, Olaf, before I had gone many steps I
discovered fresh food, milk and water laid upon a rock, and though I
feared lest they might be poisoned, ate and drank of them. When I knew
that they were wholesome I thought that some friend must have set them
there to satisfy my wants, though I knew not who the friend could be.
Afterwards I learned that this food was an offering to the ghosts of
the dead. Among our forefathers in forgotten generations it was, I
know, the custom to make such offerings, since in their blindness they
believed that the spirts of their beloved needed sustenance as their
bodies once had done. Doubtless the memory of the rite still survives;
at least, to this day the offerings are made. Indeed, when it was
found that they were not made in vain, more and more of them were
brought, so that I have lacked nothing.
"Here then I have dwelt for many moons among the dust of men departed,
only now and again wandering out at night. Once or twice folk have
seen me when I ventured to the plains, and I have been tempted to
speak to them and ask their help. But always they fled away, believing
me to be the ghost of some bygone queen. Indeed, to speak truth, Olaf,
this companionship with spirits, for spirits do dwell in these tombs--
I have seen them, I tell you I have seen them--has so worked upon my
soul that at times I feel as though I were already of their company.
Moreover, I knew that I could not live long. The loneliness was
sucking up my life as the dry sand sucks water. Had you not come,
Olaf, within some few days or weeks I should have died."
Now I spoke for the first time, saying,
"And did you wish to die, Heliodore?"
"No. Before the war between Musa and my father, Magas, news came to us
from Byzantium that Irene had killed you. All believed it save I, who
did not believe."
"Why not, Heliodore?"
"Because I could not feel that you were dead. Therefore I fought for
my life, who otherwise, after we were conquered and ruined and my
father was slain fighting nobly, should have stabbed, not that eunuch,
but myself. Then later, in this tomb, I came to know that you were not
dead. The other lost ones I could feel about me from time to time, but
you never, you who would have been the first to seek me when my soul
was open to such whisperings. So I lived on when all else would have
died, because hope burned in me like a lamp unquenchable. And at last
you came! Oh! at last you came!"
THE CALIPH HARUN
Here there is an absolute blank in my story. One of those walls of
oblivion of which I have spoken seems to be built across its path. It
is as though a stream had plunged suddenly from some bright valley
into the bosom of a mountain side and there vanished from the ken of
man. What happened in the tomb after Heliodore had ended her tale;
whether we departed thence together or left her there a while; how we
escaped from Kurna, and by what good fortune or artifice we came
safely to Alexandria, I know not. As to all these matters my vision
fails me utterly. So far as I am concerned, they are buried beneath
the dust of time. I know as little of them as I know of where and how
I slept between my life as Olaf and this present life of mine; that
is, nothing at all. Yet in this way or in that the stream did win
through the mountain, since beyond all grows clear again.
Once more I stood upon the deck of the /Diana/ in the harbour of
Alexandria. With me were Martina and Heliodore. Heliodore's face was
stained and she was dressed as a boy, such a harlequin lad as singers
and mountebanks often take in their company. The ship was ready to
start and the wind served. Yet we could not sail because of the lack
of some permission. A Moslem galley patrolled the harbour and
threatened to sink us if we dared to weigh without this paper. The
mate had gone ashore with a bribe. We waited and waited. At length the
captain, Menas, who stood by me, whispered into my ear,
"Be calm; he comes; all is well."
Then I heard the mate shout: "I have the writing under seal," and
Menas gave the order to cast off the ropes that held the ship to the
quay. One of the sailors came up and reported to Menas that their
companion, Cosmas, was missing. It seemed that he had slipped ashore
without leave and had not returned.
"There let him bide," said Menas, with an oath. "Doubtless the hog
lies drunk in some den. When he awakes he may tell what tale he
pleases and find his own way back to Lesbos. Cast off, cast off! I
At this moment that same Cosmas appeared. I could not see him, but I
could hear him plainly enough. Evidently he had become involved in
some brawl, for an angry woman and others were demanding money of him
and he was shouting back drunken threats. A man struck him and the
woman got him by the beard. Then his reason left him altogether.
"Am I, a Christian, to be treated thus by you heathen dogs?" he
screamed. "Oh, you think I am dirt beneath your feet. I have friends,
I tell you I have friends. You know not whom I serve. I say that I am
a soldier of Olaf the Northman, Olaf the Blind, Olaf Red-Sword, he who
made you prophet-worshippers sing so small at Mitylene, as he will do
again ere long."
"Indeed, friend," said a quiet voice. It was that of the Moslem
captain, Yusuf, he who befriended us when we arrived at Alexandria,
who had been watching all this scene. "Then you serve a great general,
as some of us have cause to know. Tell me, where is he now, for I hear
that he has left Lesbos?"
"Where is he? Why, aboard yonder ship, of course. Oh! he has fooled
you finely. Another time you'll search beggar's rags more closely."
"Cast off! Cast off!" roared Menas.
"Nay," said the officer, "cast not off. Soldiers, drive away those
men. I must have words with the captain of this ship. Come, bring that
drunken fellow with you."
"Now all is finished," I said.
"Yes," answered Heliodore, "all is finished. After we have endured so
much it is hard. Well, at least death remains to us."
"Hold your hand," exclaimed Martina. "God still lives and can save us
Black bitterness took hold of me. In some few days I had hoped to
reach Lesbos, and there be wed to Heliodore. And now! And now!
"Cut the ropes, Menas," I cried, "and out with the oars. We'll risk
the galley. You, Martina, set me at the mouth of the gangway and tell
me when to strike. Though I be blind I may yet hold them back till we
clear the quay."
She obeyed, and I drew the red sword from beneath my rags. Then,
amidst the confusion which followed, I heard the grave voice of Yusuf
speaking to me.
"Sir," he said, "for your own sake I pray you put up that sword, which
we think is one whereof tales have been told. To fight is useless, for
I have bowmen who can shoot you down and spears that can outreach you.
General Olaf, a brave man should know when to surrender, especially if
he be blind."
"Aye, sir," I answered, "and a brave man should know when to die."
"Why should you die, General?" went on the voice. "I do not know that
for a Christian to visit Egypt disguised as a beggar will be held a
crime worthy of death, unless indeed you came hither to spy out the
"Can the blind spy?" asked Martina indignantly.
"Who can say, Lady? But certainly it seems that /your/ eyes are bright
and quick enough. Also there is another matter. A while ago, when this
ship came to Alexandria, I signed a paper giving leave to a certain
eyeless musician and his niece to ply their trade in Egypt. Then there
were two of you; now I behold a third. Who is that comely lad with a
stained face that stands beside you?"
Heliodore began some story, saying that she was the orphan son of I
forget whom, and while she told it certain of the Moslems slipped past
"Truly you should do well in the singing trade," interrupted the
officer with a laugh, "seeing that for a boy your voice is wondrous
sweet. Are you quite sure that you remember your sex aright? Well, it
can easily be proved. Bare that lad's bosom, soldiers. Nay, 'tis
needless; snatch off that head-dress."
A man obeyed, and Heliodore's beautiful black hair, which I would not
suffer her to cut, fell tumbling to her knees.
"Let me be," she said. "I admit that I am a woman."
"That is generous of you, Lady," the officer answered in the midst of
the laughter which followed. "Now will you add to your goodness by
telling me your name? You refuse? Then shall I help you? In the late
Coptic war it was my happy fortune twice to see a certain noble
maiden, the daughter of Magas the Prince, whom the Emir Musa
afterwards took for himself, but who fled from him. Tell me, Lady,
have you a twin sister?"
"Cease your mockings, sir," said Heliodore despairingly. "I am she you
"'Tis Musa seeks you, not I, Lady."
"Then, sir, he seeks in vain, for know that ere he finds I die. Oh!
sir, I know you have a noble heart; be pitiful and let us go. I'll
tell you all the truth. Olaf Red-Sword yonder and I have long been
affianced. Blind though he is, he sought me through great dangers,
aye, and found me. Would you part us at the last? In the name of the
God we both worship, and of your mother, I pray you let us go."
"By the Prophet, that I would do, Lady, only then I fear me that I
should let my head go from its shoulders also. There are too many in
this secret for it to bide there long if I did as you desire. Nay, you
must to the Emir, all three of you--not Musa, but to his rival,
Obaidallah, who loves him little, and by the decree of the Caliph once
again rules Egypt. Be sure that in a matter between you and Musa you
will meet with justice from Obaidallah. Come now, fearing nothing, to
where we may find you all garments more befitting to your station than
those mummer's robes."
So a guard was formed round us, and we went. As my feet touched the
quay I heard a sound of angry voices, followed by groans and a splash
in the water.
"What is that?" I asked of Yusuf.
"I think, General, that your servants from the /Diana/ have settled
some account that they had with the drunken dog who was so good as to
bark out your name to me. But, with your leave, I will not look to
"God pardon him! As yet I cannot," I muttered, and marched on.
We stood, whether on that day or another I do not know, in some hall
of judgment. Martina whispered to me that a small, dark man was seated
in the chair of state, and about him priests and others. This was the
Emir Obaidallah. Musa, that had been Emir, who, she said, was fat and
sullen, was there also, and whenever his glance fell upon Heliodore I
felt her shiver at my side. So was the Patriarch Politian who pleaded
our cause. The case was long, so long that, being courteous as ever,
they gave us cushions to sit on, also, in an interval, food and
Musa claimed Heliodore as his slave. An officer who prosecuted claimed
that Allah having given me, their enemy and a well-known general who
had done them much damage, into their hands, I should be put to death.
Politian answered on behalf of all of us, saying that we had harmed no
man. He added that as there was a truce between the Christians and the
Moslems, I could not be made to suffer the penalties of war in a time
of peace, who had come to Egypt but to seek a maid to whom I was
affianced. Moreover, that even if it were so, the murder of prisoners
was not one of those penalties.
The Emir listened to all but said little. At length, however, he asked
whether we were willing to become Moslems, since if so he thought that
we might go free. We answered that we were not willing.
"Then it would seem," he said, "that the lady Heliodore, having been
taken in war, must be treated as a prisoner of war, the only question
being to whom she belongs."
Now Musa interrupted angrily, shouting out that as to this there was
no doubt, since she belonged to him, who had captured her during his
tenure of office.
The Emir thought a while, and we waited trembling. At last he gave
"The General Olaf the Blind, who in Byzantium was known as Olaf Red-
Sword or as Michael, and who while in the service of the Empress Irene
often made war against the followers of the Prophet, but who
afterwards lost his eyes at the hands of this same evil woman, is a
man of whom all the world has heard. Particularly have we Moslems
heard of him, seeing that as governor of Lesbos in recent days he
inflicted a great defeat upon our navy, slaying many thousands and
taking others prisoner. But as it chances God, Who bides His time to
work justice, set a bait for him in the shape of a fair woman. On this
bait he has been hooked, notwithstanding all his skill and cunning,
and delivered into our hands, having come into Egypt disguised as a
beggar in order to seek out that woman. Still, as he is so famous a
man, and as at present there is a truce between us and the Empire of
the East, which truce raises certain doubtful points of high policy, I
decree that his case be remitted to the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid, my
master, and that he be conveyed to Baghdad there to await judgment.
With him will go the woman whom he alleges to be his niece, but who,
as we are informed, was one of the waiting-ladies of the Empress
Irene. Against her there is nothing to be said save that she may be a
"Now I come to the matter of the lady Heliodore, who is reported to be
the wife or the lover or the affianced of this General Olaf, a
question of which God alone knows the truth. This lady Heliodore is a
person of high descent and ancient race. She is the only child of the
late Prince Magas, who claimed to have the blood of the old Pharaohs
in his veins, and who within this year was defeated and slain by my
predecessor in office, the Emir Musa. The said Emir, having captured
the lady Heliodore, purposed to place her in his harem, as he had a
right to do, seeing that she refused the blessings of the Faith. As it
chanced, however, she escaped from him, as it is told by stabbing the
eunuch in charge of her. At least it is certain that this eunuch was
found dead, though by whom he was killed is /not/ certain. Now that
she has been taken again, the lord Musa claims the woman as his spoil
and demands that I should hand her over to him. Yet it seems to me
that if she is the spoil of anyone, she belongs to the Emir governing
Egypt at the date of her recapture. It was only by virtue of his
office as Emir, and not by gift, purchase, or marriage contract, that
the lord Musa came into possession of her, which possession was voided
by her flight before she was added to his household and he acquired
any natural rights over her in accordance with our law. Now for my
part, I, as Emir, make no claim to this woman, holding it a hateful
thing before God to force one into my household who has no wish to
dwell there, especially when I know her to be married or affianced to
another man. Still, as here also are involved high questions of law, I
command that the lady Heliodore, daughter of the late Prince Magas,
shall also be conveyed with all courtesy and honour to the Caliph
Harun at Baghdad, there to abide his judgment of her case. The matter
is finished. Let the officers concerned carry out my decree and answer
for the safety of these prisoners with their lives."
"The matter is not finished," shouted the ex-Emir Musa. "You,
Obaidallah, have uttered this false judgment because your heart is
black towards me whom you have displaced."
"Then appeal against it," said Obaidallah, "but know that if you
attempt to lay hands upon this lady, my orders are that you be cut
down as an enemy to the law. Patriarch of the Christians, you sail for
Baghdad to visit the Caliph at his request in a ship that he has sent
for you. Into your hands I give these prisoners under guard, knowing
that you will deal well with them, who are of your false faith. To you
also who have the Caliph's ear, Allah knows why, I will entrust
letters making true report of all this matter. Let proper provision be
made for the comfort of the General Olaf and of those with him. Musa,
may your greetings at the Court of Baghdad be such as you deserve;
meanwhile cease to trouble me."
At the door of that hall I was separated from Heliodore and Martina
and led to some house or prison, where I was given a large room with
servants to wait upon me. Here I slept that night, and on the morrow
asked when we sailed for Beirut on our way to Baghdad. The chief of
the servants answered that he did not know. During that day I was
visited by Yusuf, the officer who had captured us on board the
/Diana/. He also told me that he did not know when we sailed, but
certainly it would not be for some days. Further, he said that I need
have no fear for the lady Heliodore and Martina, as they were well
treated in some other place. Then he led me into a great garden, where
he said I was at liberty to walk whenever I pleased.
Thus began perhaps the most dreadful time of waiting and suspense in
all this life of mine, seeing that it was the longest. Every few days
the officer Yusuf would visit me and talk of many matters, for we
became friends. Only of Heliodore and Martina he could or would tell
me nothing, nor of when we were to set out on our journey to Baghdad.
I asked to be allowed to speak with the Patriarch Politian, but he
answered that this was impossible, as he had been called away from
Alexandria for a little while. Nor could I have audience with the Emir
Obaidallah, for he too had been called away.
Now my heart was filled with terrors, for I feared lest in this way or
in that Heliodore had fallen into the hands of the accursed Musa. I
prayed Yusuf to tell me the truth of the matter, whereon he swore by
the Prophet that she was safe, but would say no more. Nor did this
comfort me much, since for aught I knew he might mean she was safe in
death. I was aware, further, that the Moslems held it no crime to
deceive an infidel. Week was added to week, and still I languished in
this rich prison. The best of garments and food were brought to me; I
was even given wine. Kind hands tended me and led me from place to
place. I lacked nothing except freedom and the truth. Doubt and fear
preyed upon my heart till at length I fell ill and scarcely cared to
walk in the garden. One day when Yusuf visited me I told him that he
would not need to come many more times, since I felt that I was going
"Do not die," he answered, "since then perchance you will find you
have done so in vain," and he left me.
On the following evening he returned and told me that he had brought a
physician to see me, a certain Mahommed, who was standing before me.
Although I had no hope from any physician, I prayed this Mahommed to
be seated, whereon Yusuf left us, closing the door behind him.
"Be pleased to set out your case, General Olaf," said Mahommed in a
grave, quiet voice, "for know that I am sent by the Caliph himself to
minister to you."
"How can that be, seeing that he is in Baghdad?" I answered. Still, I
told him my ailments.
When I had finished he said:
"I perceive that you suffer more from your mind than from your body.
Be so good, now, as to repeat to me the tale of your life, of which I
have already heard something. Tell me especially of those parts of it
which have to do with the lady Heliodore, daughter of Magas, of your
blinding by Irene for her sake, and of your discovery of her in Egypt,
where you sought her disguised as a beggar."
"Why should I tell you all my story, sir?"
"That I may know how to heal you of your sickness. Also, General Olaf,
I will be frank with you. I am more than a mere physician; I have
certain powers under the Caliph's seal, and it will be wise on your
part to open all your heart to me."
Now I reflected that there could be little harm in repeating to this
strange doctor what so many already knew. So I told him everything,
and the tale was long.
"Wondrous! Most wondrous!" said the grave-voiced physician when I had
finished. "Yet to me the strangest part of your history is that played
therein by the lady Martina. Had she been your lover, now, one might
have understood--perhaps," and he paused.
"Sir Physician," I answered, "the lady Martina has been and is no more
than my friend."
"Ah! Now I see new virtues in your religion, since we Moslems do not
find such friends among those women who are neither our mothers nor
our sisters. Evidently the Christian faith must have power to change
the nature of women, which I thought to be impossible. Well, General
Olaf, I will consider of your case, and I may tell you that I have
good hopes of finding a medicine by which it can be cured, all save
your sight, which in this world God Himself cannot give back to you.
Now I have a favour to ask. I see that in this room of yours there is
a curtain hiding the bed of the servant who sleeps with you. I desire
to see another patient here, and that this patient should not see you.
Of your goodness will you sit upon the bed behind that curtain, and
will you swear to me on your honour as a soldier that whatever you may
hear you will in no way reveal yourself?"
"Surely, that is if it is nothing which will bring disgrace upon my
head or name."
"It will be nothing to bring disgrace on your head or name, General
Olaf, though perhaps it may bring some sorrow to your heart. As yet I
"My heart is too full of sorrow to hold more," I answered.
Then he led me down to the guard's bed, on which I sat myself down,
being strangely interested in this play. He drew the curtain in front
of me, and I heard him return to the centre of the room and clap his
hands. Someone entered, saying,
"High Lord, your will?"
"Silence!" he exclaimed, and began to whisper orders, while I wondered
what kind of a physician this might be who was addressed as "High
The servant went, and, after a while of waiting that seemed long, once
more the door was opened, and I heard the sweep of a woman's dress
upon the carpet.
"Be seated, Lady," said the grave voice of the physician, "for I have
words to say to you."
"Sir, I obey," answered another voice, at the sound of which my heart
stood still. It was that of Heliodore.
"Lady," went on the physician, "as my robe will tell you, I am a
doctor of medicine. Also, as it chances, I am something more, namely,
an envoy appointed by the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid, having full powers
to deal with your case. Here are my credentials if you care to read
them," and I heard a crackling as of parchment being unfolded.
"Sir," answered Heliodore, "I will read the letters later. For the
present I accept your word. Only I would ask one question, if it
pleases you to answer. Why have not I and the General Olaf been
conveyed to the presence of the Caliph himself, as was commanded by
the Emir Obaidallah?"
"Lady, because it was not convenient to the Caliph to receive you,
since as it chances at present he is moving from place to place upon
the business of the State. Therefore, as you will find in the writing,
he has appointed me to deal with your matter. Now, Lady, the Caliph
and I his servant know all your story from lips which even you would
trust. You are betrothed to a certain enemy of his, a Northman named
Olaf Red-Sword or Michael, who was blinded by the Empress Irene for
some offence against her, but was afterwards appointed by her son
Constantine to be governor of the Isle of Lesbos. This Olaf, by the
will of God, inflicted a heavy defeat upon the forces of the Caliph
which he had sent to take Lesbos. Then, by the goodness of God, he
wandered to Egypt in search of you, with the result that both of you
were taken prisoner. Lady, it will be clear to you that, having this
wild hawk Olaf in his hands, the Caliph would scarcely let him go
again to prey upon the Moslems, though whether he will kill him or
make of him a slave as yet I do not know. Nay, hear me out before you
speak. The Caliph has been told of your wondrous beauty, and as I see
even less than the truth. Also he has heard of the high spirit which
you showed in the Coptic rising, when your father, the Prince Magas,
was slain, and of how you escaped out of the hand of the Emir Musa the
Fat, and were not afraid to dwell for months alone in the tombs of the
ancient dead. Now the Caliph, being moved in his heart by your sad
plight and all that he has heard concerning you, commands me to make
you an offer.
"The offer is that you should come to his Court, and there be
instructed for a while by his learned men in the truths of religion.
Then, if it pleases you to adopt Islam, he will take you as one of his
wives, and if it does not please you, will add you to his harem, since
it is not lawful for him to marry a woman who remains a Christian. In
either case he will make on you a settlement of property to the value
of that which belonged to your father, the Prince Magas. Reflect well
before you answer. Your choice lies between the memory of a blind man,
whom I think you will never see again, and the high place of one of
the wives of the greatest sovereign of the earth."
"Sir, before I answer I would put a question to you. Why do you say
'the memory of a blind man'?"
"Because, Lady, a rumour has reached me which I desired to hold back
from you, but which now you force me to repeat. It is that this
General Olaf has in truth already passed the gate of death."
"Then, sir," she answered, with a little sob, "it behoves me to follow
him through that gate."
"That will happen when it pleases God. Meanwhile, what is your
"Sir, my answer is that I, a poor Christian prisoner, a victim of war
and fate, thank the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid for the honours and the
benefits he would shower on me, and with humility decline them."
"So be it, Lady. The Caliph is not a man who would wish to force your
inclination. Still, this being so, I am charged to say he bids you
remember that you were taken prisoner in war by the Emir Musa. He
holds that, subject to his own prior right, which he waives, you are
the property of the Emir Musa under a just interpretation of the law.
Yet he would be merciful as God is merciful, and therefore he gives
you the choice of three things. The first of these is that you adopt
Islam with a faithful heart and go free."
"That I refuse, as I have refused it before," said Heliodore.
"The second is," he continued, "that you enter the harem of the Emir
"That I refuse also."
"And the third and last is that, having thrust aside his mercy, you
suffer the common fate of a captured Christian who persists in error,
"That I accept," said Heliodore.
"You accept death. In the splendour of your youth and beauty, you
accept death," he said, with a note of wonder in his voice. "Truly,
you are great-hearted, and the Caliph will grieve when he learns his
loss, as I do now. Yet I have my orders, for which my head must
answer. Lady, if you die, it must be here and now. Do you still choose
"Yes," she said in a low voice.
"Behold this cup," he went on, "and this draught which I pour into
it," and I heard the sound of liquid flowing. "Presently I shall ask
you to drink of it, and then, after a little while, say the half of an
hour, you will fall asleep, to wake in whatever world God has
appointed to the idol worshippers of the Cross. You will suffer no
pain and no fear; indeed, maybe the draught will bring you joy."
"Then give it me," said Heliodore faintly. "I will drink at once and
Then it was that I came out from behind my curtain and groped my way
"Sir Physician, or Sir Envoy of the Caliph Harun," I said; but for the
moment went no further, since, with a low cry, Heliodore cast herself
upon my breast and stopped my lips with hers.
"Hush till I have spoken," I whispered, placing my arm about her; then
continued. "I swore to you just now that I would not reveal myself
unless I heard aught which would bring disgrace on my head or name. To
stand still behind yonder curtain while my betrothed is poisoned at
your hands would bring disgrace upon my head and name so black that
not all the seas of all the world could wash it away. Say, Physician,
does yonder cup hold enough of death for both of us?"
"Yes, General Olaf, and if you choose to share it I think the Caliph
will be glad, since he loves not the killing of brave men. Only it
must be now and without more words. You can talk for a little
afterwards before the sleep takes you."
"So be it," I said. "Since I must die, as I heard you decree but now,
it is no crime to die thus, or at least I'll risk it who have one to
guard upon that road. Drink, beloved, a little less than half since I
am the stronger. Then give me the cup."
"Husband, I pledge you," she said, and drank, thrusting the cup into
I, too, lifted it to my lips. Lo! it was empty.
"Oh! most cruel of thieves," I cried, "you have stolen all."
"Aye," she answered. "Shall I see you swallow poison before my eyes? I
die, but perchance God may save you yet."
"Not so, Heliodore," I cried again, and, turning, began to grope my
way to the window-place, which I knew was far from the ground, since I
had no weapon that would serve my turn.
In an instant, as I thrust the lattice open, I felt two strong arms
cast about me and heard the physician exclaim,
"Come, Lady, help me with this madman, lest he do himself a mischief."
She seized me also, and we struggled together all three of us. The
doors burst open, and I was dragged back into the centre of the room.
"Olaf Red-Sword, the blind General of the Christians," said the
physician in a new voice, one that was full of majesty and command, "I
who speak to you am no doctor of medicine and no envoy. I am Harun-al-
Rashid, Caliph of the Faithful. Is it not so, my servants?"
"It is so, Caliph," pealed the answer from many throats.
"Hearken, then, to the decree of Harun-al-Rashid. Learn both of you
that all which has passed between us was but a play that I have played
to test the love and faithfulness of you twain. Lady Heliodore, be at
ease. You have drunk nothing save water distilled with roses, and no
sleep shall fall on you save that which Nature brings to happiness.
Lady, I tell you that, having seen what I have seen and heard what I
have heard, rather would I stand in the place of that blind man
to-night than be Sovereign of the East. Truly, I knew not that love
such as yours was to be met with in the world. I say that when I saw
you drain the cup in a last poor struggle to drive back the death that
threatened this Olaf my own heart went out in love for you. Yet have
no fear, since my love is of a kind that would not rob you of your
love, but rather would bring it to a rich and glorious blossom in the
sunshine of my favour. Wondrous is the tale of the wooing of you twain
and happy shall be its end. General Olaf, you conquered me in war and
dealt with those of my servants who fell into your hands according to
the nobleness of your heart. Shall I, then, be outdone in generosity
by one whom a while ago I should have named a Christian dog? Not so!
Let the high priest of the Christians, Politian, be brought hither. He
stands without, and with him the lady named Martina, who was the
Empress Irene's waiting-woman."
The messengers went and there followed a silence. There are times when
the heart is too full for words; at least, Heliodore and I found
nothing to say to each other. We only clasped each other's hand and
At length the door opened, and I heard the eager, bustling step of
Politian, also another gliding step, which I knew for that of Martina.
She came to me, she kissed me on the brow, and whispered into my ear,
"So all is well at last, as I knew it would be; and now, Olaf--and
now, Olaf, you are about to be married. Yes, at once, and--I wish you
Her words were simple enough, yet they kindled in my heart a light by
which it saw many things.
"Martina," I said, "if I have lived to reach this hour, under God it
is through you. Martina, they say that each of us has a guardian angel
in heaven, and if that be so, mine has come to earth. Yet in heaven
alone shall I learn to thank her as I ought."
Then suddenly Martina was sobbing on my breast; after which I remember
only that Heliodore helped me to wipe away her tears, while in the
background I heard the Caliph say to himself in his deep voice,
"Wondrous! Wondrous! By Allah! these Christians are a strange folk.
How far wiser is our law, for then he could have married both of them,
and all three would have been happy. Truly he who decreed that it
should be so knew the heart of man and woman and was a prophet sent by
God. Nay, answer me not, friend Politian, since on matters of religion
we have agreed that we will never argue. Do your office according to
your unholy rites, and I and my servants will watch, praying that the
Evil One may be absent from the service. Oh! silence, silence! Have I
not said that we will not argue on subjects of religion? To your
So Politian drew us together to the other end of the chamber, and
there wed us as best he might, with Martina for witness and the solemn
Moslems for congregation.
When it was over, Harun commanded my wife to lead me before him.
"Here is a marriage gift for you, General Olaf," he said; "one, I
think, that you will value more than any other," and he handed me
something sharp and heavy.
I felt it, hilt and blade, and knew it for the Wanderer's sword, yes,
my own red sword from which I took my name, that the Commander of the
Faithful now restored to me, and with it my place and freedom. I took
it, and, saying no word, with that same sword gave to him the triple
salute due to a sovereign.
Instantly I heard Harun's scimitar, the scimitar that was famous
throughout the East, rattle as it left its scabbard, as did the
scimitars of all those who attended on him, and knew that there was
being returned to me the salute which a sovereign gives to a general
in high command. Then the Caliph spoke again.
"A wedding gift to you, Lady Heliodore, child of an ancient and mighty
race, and new-made wife of a gallant man. For the second time to-night
take this cup of gold, but let that which lies within it adorn your
breast in memory of Harun. Queens of old have worn those jewels, but
never have they hung above a nobler heart."
Heliodore took the cup, and in her trembling hand I heard the
priceless gems that filled it clink against its sides. Once more the
"A gift for you also, Lady Martina. Take this ring from my hand and
place it on your own. It seems a small thing, does it not? Yet
something lies within its circle. In this city I saw to-day a very
beauteous house built by one of your Grecian folk, and behind it lands
that a swift horse could scarcely circle twice within an hour, most
fruitful lands fed by the waters. That house and those lands are
yours, together with rule over all who dwell upon them. There you may
live content with whomever you may please, even if he be a Christian,
free of tax or tribute, provided only that neither you nor he shall
plot against my power. Now, to all three of you farewell, perchance
for ever, unless some of us should meet again in war. General Olaf,
your ship lies in the harbour; use it when you will. I pray that you
will think kindly of Harun-al-Rashid, as he does of you, Olaf Red-
Sword. Come, let us leave these two. Lady Martina, I pray you to be my
guest this night."
So they all went, leaving Heliodore and myself alone in the great
room, yes, alone at last and safe.
Years had gone by, I know not how many, but only that much had
happened in them. For a while Irene and young Constantine were joint
rulers of the Empire. Then they quarrelled again, and Constantine,
afraid of treachery, fled with his friends in a ship after an attempt
had been made to seize his person. He purposed to join his legions in
Asia, or so it was said, and make war upon his mother. But those
friends of his upon the ship were traitors, who, fearing Irene's
vengeance or perhaps his own, since she threatened to tell him all the
truth concerning them, seized Constantine and delivered him up to
Irene. She, the mother who bore him, caused him to be taken to the
purple Porphyry Chamber in the palace, that chamber in which, as the
first-born of an emperor, he saw the light, and there robbed him of
light for ever.
Yes, Stauracius and his butchers blinded Constantine as I had been
blinded. Only it was told that they drove their knives deeper so that
he died. But others say that he lived on, a prisoner, unknown,
unheeded, as those uncles of his whom /he/ had blinded and who once
were in my charge had lived, till in Greece the assassin's daggers
found their hearts. If so, oh! what a fate was his.
Afterwards for five years Irene reigned alone in glory, while
Stauracius, my god-father, and his brother eunuch, Aetius, strove
against each other to be first Minister of the Crown. Aetius won, and,
not content with all he had, plotted that his relative Nicetas, who
held the place of Captain of the Guard, which once I filled, should be
named successor to the throne. Then at last the nobles rebelled, and,
electing one of their number, Nicephorus, as emperor, seized Irene in
her private house of Eleutherius, where she lay sick, and crowned
Nicephorus in St. Sophia. Next day he visited Irene, when, fearing the
worst and broken by illness, she bought a promise of safety by
revealing to him all her hoarded treasure.
Thus fell Irene, the mighty Empress of the Eastern Empire!
Now during all these years Heliodore and I were left in peace at
Lesbos. I was not deposed from my governorship of that isle, which
prospered greatly under my rule. Even Irene's estates, which
Constantine had given me, were not taken away. At the appointed times
I remitted the tribute due, yes, and added to the sum, and received
back the official acknowledgment signed by the Empress, and with it
the official thanks. But with these never came either letter or
message. Yet it is evident she knew that I was married, for to
Heliodore did come a message, and with it a gift. The gift was that
necklace and those other ornaments which Irene had caused to be made
in an exact likeness of the string of golden shells separated by
emerald beetles, one half of which I had taken from the grave of the
Wanderer at Aar and the other half of which was worn by Heliodore.
So much of the gift. The message was that she who owned the necklace
might wish to have the rest of the set. To it were added the words
that a certain general had been wrong when he prophesied that the
wearing of this necklace by any woman save one would bring ill fortune
to the wearer, since from the day it hung about Irene's neck even that
which seemed to be bad fortune had turned to good. Thus she had
escaped "the most evil thing in the world, namely, another husband,"
and had become the first woman in the world.
These words, which were written on a piece of sheepskin, sealed up,
and addressed to the Lady Heliodore, but unsigned, I thought of the
most evil omen, since boastfulness always seems to be hateful to the
Power that decrees our fates. So, indeed, they proved to be.
On a certain day in early summer--it was the anniversary of my
marriage in Egypt--Heliodore and I had dined with but two guests.
Those guests were Jodd, the great Northman, my lieutenant, and his
wife, Martina, for within a year of our return to Lesbos Jodd and
Martina had married. It comes back to me that there was trouble about
the business, but that when Jodd gave out that either she must marry
him or that he would sail back to his northern land, bidding good-bye
to us all for ever, Martina gave way. I think that Heliodore managed
the matter in some fashion of her own after the birth of our first-
born son; how, I held it best never to inquire. At least, it was
managed, and the marriage turned out well enough in the end, although
at first Martina was moody at times and somewhat sharp of tongue with
Jodd. Then they had a baby which died, and this dead child drew them
closer together than it might have done had it lived. At any rate,
from that time forward Martina grew more gentle with Jodd, and when
other children were born they seemed happy together.
Well, we four had dined, and it comes to me that our talk turned upon
the Caliph Harun and his wonderful goodness to us, whom as Christians
he was bound to despise and hate. Heliodore told me then for the first
time how she was glad he had made it clear so soon that what she drank
from the gold cup which now stood upon our table was no more than rose
So strong is the working of the mind that already she had begun to
feel as though poison were numbing her heart and clouding her brain,
and was sure that soon she would have fallen into the sleep which
Harun had warned her would end in death.
"Had he been a true physician, he would have known that this might be
so, and that such grim jests are very dangerous," I said. Then I
added, for I did not wish to dwell longer upon a scene the memory of
which was dreadful to me, although it had ended well,
"Tell us, Martina, is it true that those rich possessions of yours in
Alexandria which the Caliph gave you are sold?"
"Yes, Olaf," she answered, "to a company of Greek merchants, and not
so ill. The contract was signed but yesterday. It was my wish that we
should leave Lesbos and go to live in this place, as we might have
done with safety under Harun's signed /firman/, but Jodd here
"Aye," said Jodd in his big voice. "Am I one to dwell among Moslems
and make money out of trade and gardens in however fine a house? Why,
I should have been fighting with these prophet-worshippers within a
month, and had my throat cut. Moreover, how could I bear to be
separated from my general, and whatever she may think, how could
Martina bear to lose sight of her god-son? Why, Olaf, I tell you that,
although you are married and she is married, she still thinks twice as
much of you as she does of me. Oh! blind man's dog once, blind man's
dog always! Look not so angry, Martina. Why, I wonder, does the truth
always make women angry?" and he burst into one of his great laughs.
At this moment Heliodore rose from the table and walked to the open
window-place to speak to our children and Martina's, a merry company
who were playing together in the garden. Here she stood a while
studying the beautiful view of the bay beneath; then of a sudden
"A ship! A ship sailing into the harbour, and it flies the Imperial
"Then pray God she brings no bad news," I said, who feared that
Imperial standard and felt that we had all been somewhat too happy of
late. Moreover, I knew that no royal ship was looked for from
Byzantium at this time, and dreaded lest this one should bear letters
from the new Emperor dismissing me from my office, or even worse
"What bad news should she bring?" growled Jodd. "Oh! I know what is in
your mind, General, but if this upstart Nicephorus is wise, he'll
leave you alone, since Lesbos does not want another governor, and will
tell him so if there be need. Yes, it will take more than one ship of
war, aye, and more than three, to set up another governor in Lesbos.
Nay, rebuke me not, General, for I at least have sworn no oath of
homage to this Nicephorus, nor have the other Northmen or the men of
"You are like a watchdog, Jodd, barking at you know not what, just
because it is strange. Go now, I pray you, to the quay, and bring back
to us news of this ship."
So he went, and for the next two hours or more I sat in my private
room dictating letters to Heliodore on matters connected with the
duties of my office. The work came to an end at last, and I was
preparing to take my evening ride on a led mule when Martina entered
"Do you ride with us to-night, Martina?" I asked, recognising her
"No, Olaf," she said quickly, "nor I think can you. Here are letters
for you from Byzantium. Jodd has brought them from the ship."
"Where is Jodd?" I said.
"Without, in the company of the captain of the ship, some guards, and
"Perchance the letters will tell you," she replied evasively. "Have I
your command to open and read? They are marked 'Most Secret.'"
I nodded, since Martina often acted as my secretary in high matters,
being from her training skilled in such things. So she broke the seals
and read to myself and to Heliodore, who also was present in the room,
"'To the Excellent Michael, a General of our armies and Governor of
the Isle of Lesbos, Greetings from Nicephorus, by the will of God
"'Know, O Michael, that we, the Emperor, reposing especial faith in
you our trusted servant, with these letters deliver into your keeping
a certain prisoner of State. This prisoner is none other than Irene,
who aforetime was Empress.
"'Because of her many wickednesses in the sight of God and man we by
the decree of the People, of the Army, of the Senate and of the high
Officers of State amidst general rejoicing deposed the said Irene,
widow of the Emperor Leo and mother of the late Emperor Constantine,
and placed ourselves upon the throne. The said Irene, at her own
request, we consigned to the place called the Island of Princes,
setting her in charge of certain holy monks. Whilst there, abusing our
mercy and confidence, she set on foot plots to murder our Person and
repossess herself of the throne.
"'Now our Councillors with one voice urged that she should be put to
death in punishment of her crimes, but we, being mindful of the
teaching of our Lord and Saviour and of His saying that we should turn
the other cheek to those who smite us, out of our gentle pity have
taken another counsel.
"'Learn now, most excellent Michael the Blind, who once were known as
Olaf Red-Sword, that we hand over to your keeping the person of Irene,
aforetime Empress, charging you to deal with her as she dealt with you
and as she dealt also with the late Emperor Constantine, the son of
her body, for thus shall her evil plottings be brought to naught.'"
"By God's Name, he means that I must blind her!" I exclaimed.
Making no answer, Martina went on with the letter----
"'Should the said Irene survive her just punishment, we command you to
make sufficient provision for her daily wants, but no more, and to
charge the same against the sum due Us from the revenues of Lesbos.
Should she die at once, or at any future time, give to her decent
private burial, and report to Us the circumstances of her death duly
"'Keep these Presents secret and do not act upon them until the ship
which brings them and the prisoner to you has sailed for Byzantium,
which it is ordered to do as soon as it has been revictualled. On your
head be it to carry out these our commands, for which you shall answer
with your life and those of your wife and children. This signed and
sealed at our Court of Byzantium on the twelfth day of the sixth month
of the first year of our reign, and countersigned by the high officers
whose names appear beneath.'"
Such was this awful letter that, having read, Martina thrust into my
hand as though she would be rid of it. Then followed a silence, which
at length Martina broke.
"Your commands, Excellency," she said in a dry voice. "I understand
that the--the--prisoner is in the ante-room in charge of the Captain
"Then let her remain in the charge of the Captain Jodd," I exclaimed
angrily, "and in your charge, Martina, who are accustomed to attending
upon her, and know that you are both answerable for her safety with
your lives. Send the captain of the ship to me and prepare a discharge
for him. I will not see this woman till he has sailed, since until
then I am commanded to keep all secret. Send also the head officer of
Three days went by. The Imperial ship had sailed, taking with her my
formal acknowledgment of the Emperor's letter, and the time had come
when once more I must meet Irene face to face.
I sat in the audience chamber of my Great House, and there was present
with me only Jodd, my lieutenant in office. Being blind, I dared not
receive a desperate woman alone, fearing lest she might stab me or do
herself some mischief. At the door of the chamber Jodd took her from
the guards, whom he bade remain within call, and conducted her to
where I sat. He told me afterwards that she was dressed as a nun, a
white hood half hiding her still beautiful face and a silver crucifix
hanging upon her breast.
As I heard her come I rose and bowed to her, and my first words to her
were to pray her to be seated.
"Nay," she answered in that rich, well-remembered voice of hers, "a
prisoner stands before the judge. I greet you, General Olaf, I pray
your pardon--Michael--after long years of separation. You have changed
but little, and I rejoice to see that your health is good and that the
rank and prosperity which I gave have not been taken from you."
"I greet you, Madam," (almost had I said Augusta), I answered, then
continued hurriedly: "Lady Irene, I have received certain commands
concerning you from the Emperor Nicephorus which it is best that you
should hear, so that you shall hold me quit of blame in aught that it
may be my duty to inflict upon you. Read them, Captain Jodd. Nay, I