Infomotions, Inc.The Wanderer's Necklace / Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider), 1856-1925



Author: Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider), 1856-1925
Title: The Wanderer's Necklace
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): olaf; steinar; martina; heliodore; jodd; iduna; augusta; irene; empress; lady heliodore; general olaf; olaf red
Contributor(s): Holcroft, Thomas, 1745-1809 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 98,019 words (short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 73 (easy)
Identifier: etext3097
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Title: The Wanderer's Necklace

Author: H. Rider Haggard

Release Date: April 5, 2006 [EBook #3097]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WANDERER'S NECKLACE ***




Produced by John Bickers; Dagny





THE WANDERER'S NECKLACE

by H. Rider Haggard


First Published 1914.




DEDICATION

In memory of Oodnadatta and many wanderings oversea I offer these
pictures from the past, my dear Vincent, to you, a lover of the present
if an aspirant who can look upon the future with more of hope than fear.
Your colleague,

H. Rider Haggard. To Sir Edgar Vincent, K.C.M.G.

Ditchingham,

November, 1913.




NOTE BY THE EDITOR

It chances that I, the Editor of these pages--for, in truth, that is
my humble function--have recovered a considerable knowledge of a bygone
life of mine. This life ended in times that are comparatively recent,
namely, early in the ninth century, as is fixed by the fact that the
Byzantine Empress, Irene, plays a part in the story.

The narrative, it will be observed, is not absolutely consecutive; that
is to say, all the details are not filled in. Indeed, it has returned to
me in a series of scenes or pictures, and although each scene or picture
has to do with every other, there are sometimes gaps between them. To
take one example among several--the journey of Olaf (in those days
my name was Olaf, or Michael after I was baptised) from the North to
Constantinople is not recorded. The curtain drops at Aar in Jutland
and rises again in Byzantium. Only those events which were of the most
importance seem to have burned themselves into my subconscious memory;
many minor details have vanished, or, at least, I cannot find them.
This, however, does not appear to me to be a matter for regret. If every
episode of a full and eventful life were painted in, the canvas would be
overloaded and the eye that studied it bewildered.

I do not think that I have anything more to say. My tale must speak
for itself. So I will but add that I hold it unnecessary to set out the
exact method by which I have been able to dig it and others from the
quarry of my past. It is a gift which, although small at first, I have
been able gradually to develop. Therefore, as I wish to hide my present
identity, I will only sign myself

The Editor.





THE WANDERER'S NECKLACE




BOOK I

AAR



CHAPTER I

THE BETROTHAL OF OLAF

Of my childhood in this Olaf life I can regain but little. There come to
me, however, recollections of a house, surrounded by a moat, situated in
a great plain near to seas or inland lakes, on which plain stood mounds
that I connected with the dead. What the dead were I did not quite
understand, but I gathered that they were people who, having once walked
about and been awake, now laid themselves down in a bed of earth and
slept. I remember looking at a big mound which was said to cover a chief
known as "The Wanderer," whom Freydisa, the wise woman, my nurse, told
me had lived hundreds or thousands of years before, and thinking that so
much earth over him must make him very hot at nights.

I remember also that the hall called Aar was a long house roofed with
sods, on which grew grass and sometimes little white flowers, and that
inside of it cows were tied up. We lived in a place beyond, that was
separated off from the cows by balks of rough timber. I used to watch
them being milked through a crack between two of the balks where a
knot had fallen out, leaving a convenient eyehole about the height of a
walking-stick from the floor.

One day my elder and only brother, Ragnar, who had very red hair, came
and pulled me away from this eyehole because he wanted to look through
it himself at a cow that always kicked the girl who milked it. I howled,
and Steinar, my foster-brother, who had light-coloured hair and blue
eyes, and was much bigger and stronger than I, came to my help, because
we always loved each other. He fought Ragnar and made his nose bleed,
after which my mother, the Lady Thora, who was very beautiful, boxed
his ears. Then we all cried, and my father, Thorvald, a tall man, rather
loosely made, who had come in from hunting, for he carried the skin of
some animal of which the blood had run down on to his leggings, scolded
us and told my mother to keep us quiet as he was tired and wanted to
eat.

That is the only scene which returns to me of my infancy.

The next of which a vision has come to me is one of a somewhat similar
house to our own in Aar, upon an island called Lesso, where we were all
visiting a chief of the name of Athalbrand. He was a fierce-looking
man with a great forked beard, from which he was called Athalbrand
Fork-beard. One of his nostrils was larger than the other, and he had a
droop in his left eye, both of which peculiarities came to him from some
wound or wounds that he had received in war. In those days everybody was
at war with everybody else, and it was quite uncommon for anyone to live
until his hair turned grey.

The reason of our visit to this chief Athalbrand was that my elder
brother, Ragnar, might be betrothed to his only surviving child, Iduna,
all of whose brothers had been killed in some battle. I can see Iduna
now as she was when she first appeared before us. We were sitting at
table, and she entered through a door at the top of the hall. She
was clothed in a blue robe, her long fair hair, whereof she had an
abundance, was arranged in two plaits which hung almost to her knees,
and about her neck and arms were massive gold rings that tinkled as she
walked. She had a round face, coloured like a wild rose, and innocent
blue eyes that took in everything, although she always seemed to look
in front of her and see nothing. Her lips were very red and appeared to
smile. Altogether I thought her the loveliest creature that ever I had
looked on, and she walked like a deer and held her head proudly.

Still, she did not please Ragnar, who whispered to me that she was sly
and would bring mischief on all that had to do with her. I, who at the
time was about twenty-one years of age, wondered if he had gone mad to
talk thus of this beautiful creature. Then I remembered that just before
we had left home I had caught Ragnar kissing the daughter of one of our
thralls behind the shed in which the calves were kept. She was a brown
girl, very well made, as her rough robe, fastened beneath her breast
with a strap, showed plainly, and she had big dark eyes with a sleepy
look in them. Also, I never saw anyone kiss quite so hard as she did;
Ragnar himself was outpassed. I think that is why even the great lady,
Iduna the Fair, did not please him. All the while he was thinking of the
brown-eyed girl in the russet robe. Still, it is true that, brown-eyed
girl or no, he read Iduna aright.

Moreover, if Ragnar did not like Iduna, from the first Iduna hated
Ragnar. So it came about that, although both my father, Thorvald, and
Iduna's father, Athalbrand, stormed and threatened, these two declared
that they would have nothing to do with each other, and the project of
their marriage came to an end.

On the night before we were to leave Lesso, whence Ragnar had already
gone, Athalbrand saw me staring at Iduna. This, indeed, was not
wonderful, as I could not take my eyes from her lovely face, and when
she looked at me and smiled with those red lips of hers I became like a
silly bird that is bewitched by a snake. At first I thought that he was
going to be angry, but suddenly some idea seemed to strike him so that
he called my father, Thorvald, outside the house. Afterwards I was sent
for, and found the two of them seated on a three-cornered, flat stone,
talking in the moonlight, for it was summer-time, when everything looks
blue at night and the sun and the moon ride in the sky together. Near by
stood my mother, listening.

"Olaf," said my father, "would you like to marry Iduna the Fair?"

"Like to marry Iduna?" I gasped. "Aye, more than to be High King of
Denmark, for she is no woman, but a goddess."

At this saying my mother laughed, and Athalbrand, who knew Iduna when
she did not seem a goddess, called me a fool. Then they talked, while I
stood trembling with hope and fear.

"He's but a second son," said Athalbrand.

"I have told you there is land enough for both of them, also the
gold that came with his mother will be his, and that's no small sum,"
answered Thorvald.

"He's no warrior, but a skald," objected Athalbrand again; "a silly
half-man who makes songs and plays upon the harp."

"Songs are sometimes stronger than swords," replied my father, "and,
after all, it is wisdom that rules. One brain can govern many men; also,
harps make merry music at a feast. Moreover, Olaf is brave enough. How
can he be otherwise coming of the stock he does?"

"He is thin and weedy," objected Athalbrand, a saying that made my
mother angry.

"Nay, lord Athalbrand," she said; "he is tall and straight as a dart,
and will yet be the handsomest man in these parts."

"Every duck thinks it has hatched out a swan," grumbled Athalbrand,
while with my eyes I implored my mother to be silent.

Then he thought for awhile, pulling at his long forked beard, and said
at last:

"My heart tells me no good of such a marriage. Iduna, who is the only
one left to me, could marry a man of more wealth and power than this
rune-making stripling is ever likely to be. Yet just now I know none
such whom I would wish to hold my place when I am gone. Moreover, it is
spread far and wide throughout the land that my daughter is to be wed to
Thorvald's son, and it matters little to which son. At least, I will not
have it said that she has been given the go-by. Therefore, let this Olaf
take her, if she will have him. Only," he added with a growl, "let him
play no tricks like that red-headed cub, his brother Ragnar, if he would
not taste of a spear through his liver. Now I go to learn Iduna's mind."

So he went; as did my father and mother, leaving me alone, thinking and
thanking the gods for the chance that had come my way--yes, and blessing
Ragnar and that brown-eyed wench who had thrown her spell over him.

Whilst I stood thus I heard a sound, and, turning, saw Iduna gliding
towards me in the blue twilight, looking more lovely than a dream. At my
side she stopped and said:

"My father tells me you wish to speak with me," and she laughed a little
softly and held me with her beautiful eyes.

After that I know not what happened till I saw Iduna bending towards
me like a willow in the wind, and then--oh, joy of joys!--felt her kiss
upon my lips. Now my speech was unsealed, and I told her the tale that
lovers have always told. How that I was ready to die for her (to which
she answered that she had rather that I lived, since ghosts were no good
husbands); how that I was not worthy of her (to which she answered that
I was young, with all my time before me, and might live to be greater
than I thought, as she believed I should); and so forth.

Only one more thing comes back to me of that blissful hour. Foolishly I
said what I had been thinking, namely, that I blessed Ragnar. At these
words, of a sudden Iduna's face grew stern and the lovelight in her eyes
was changed to such as gleams from swords.

"I do not bless Ragnar," she answered. "I hope one day to see
Ragnar----" and she checked herself, adding: "Come, let us enter, Olaf.
I hear my father calling me to mix his sleeping-cup."

So we went into the house hand in hand, and when they saw us coming
thus, all gathered there burst into shouts of laughter after their rude
fashion. Moreover, beakers were thrust into our hands, and we were made
to drink from them and swear some oath. Thus ended our betrothal.

I think it was on the next day that we sailed for home in my father's
largest ship of war, which was named the _Swan_. I went unwillingly
enough, who desired to drink more of the delight of Iduna's eyes. Still,
go I must, since Athalbrand would have it so. The marriage, he said,
should take place at Aar at the time of the Spring feast, and not
before. Meanwhile he held it best we should be apart that we might learn
whether we still clung to each other in absence.

These were the reasons he gave, but I think that he was already somewhat
sorry for what he had done, and reflected that between harvest and
springtime he might find another husband for Iduna, who was more to
his mind. For Athalbrand, as I learned afterwards, was a scheming and a
false-hearted man. Moreover, he was of no high lineage, but one who had
raised himself up by war and plunder, and therefore his blood did not
compel him to honour.



The next scene which comes back to me of those early days is that of the
hunting of the white northern bear, when I saved the life of Steinar, my
foster-brother, and nearly lost my own.

It was on a day when the winter was merging into spring, but the
coast-line near Aar was still thick with pack ice and large floes which
had floated in from the more northern seas. A certain fisherman who
dwelt on this shore came to the hall to tell us that he had seen a great
white bear on one of these floes, which, he believed, had swum from it
to the land. He was a man with a club-foot, and I can recall a vision
of him limping across the snow towards the drawbridge of Aar, supporting
himself by a staff on the top of which was cut the figure of some
animal.

"Young lords," he cried out, "there is a white bear on the land, such a
bear as once I saw when I was a boy. Come out and kill the bear and win
honour, but first give me a drink for my news."

At that time I think my father, Thorvald, was away from home with most
of the men, I do not know why; but Ragnar, Steinar and I were lingering
about the stead with little or nothing to do, since the time of sowing
was not yet. At the news of the club-footed man, we ran for our spears,
and one of us went to tell the only thrall who could be spared to make
ready the horses and come with us. Thora, my mother, would have stopped
us--she said she had heard from her father that such bears were very
dangerous beasts--but Ragnar only thrust her aside, while I kissed her
and told her not to fret.

Outside the hall I met Freydisa, a dark, quiet woman of middle age,
one of the virgins of Odin, whom I loved and who loved me and, save one
other, me only among men, for she had been my nurse.

"Whither now, young Olaf?" she asked me. "Has Iduna come here that you
run so fast?"

"No," I answered, "but a white bear has."

"Oh! then things are better than I thought, who feared lest it might
be Iduna before her time. Still, you go on an ill errand, from which I
think you will return sadly."

"Why do you say that, Freydisa?" I asked. "Is it just because you love
to croak like a raven on a rock, or for some good reason?"

"I don't know, Olaf," she answered. "I say things because they come to
me, and I must, that is all. I tell you that evil will be born of this
bear hunt of yours, and you had better stop at home."

"To be laughed at by my brethren, Freydisa? Moreover, you are foolish,
for if evil is to be, how can I avoid it? Either your foresight is
nothing or the evil must come."

"That is so," answered Freydisa. "From your childhood up you had the
gift of reason which is more than is granted to most of these fools
about us. Go, Olaf, and meet your fore-ordained evil. Still, kiss me
before you go lest we should not see each other again for a while. If
the bear kills you, at least you will be saved from Iduna."

Now while she said these words I was kissing Freydisa, whom I loved
dearly, but when I understood them I leapt back before she could kiss me
again.

"What do you mean by your talk about Iduna?" I asked. "Iduna is my
betrothed, and I'll suffer no ill speech of her."

"I know she is, Olaf. You've got Ragnar's leavings. Although he is so
hot-headed, Ragnar is a wise dog in some ways, who can tell what he
should not eat. There, begone, you think me jealous of Iduna, as old
women can be, but it's not that, my dear. Oh! you'll learn before all is
done, if you live. Begone, begone! I'll tell you no more. Hark, Ragnar
is shouting to you," and she pushed me away.

It was a long ride to where the bear was supposed to be. At first as we
went we talked a great deal, and made a wager as to which of the three
of us should first drive a spear into the beast's body so deep that the
blade was hidden, but afterwards I grew silent. Indeed, I was musing so
much of Iduna and how the time drew near when once more I should see her
sweet face, wondering also why Ragnar and Freydisa should think so ill
of her who seemed a goddess rather than a woman, that I forgot all about
the bear. So completely did I forget it that when, being by nature very
observant, I saw the slot of such a beast as we passed a certain birch
wood, I did not think to connect it with that which we were hunting or
to point it out to the others who were riding ahead of me.

At length we came to the sea, and there, sure enough, saw a great
ice-floe, which now and again tilted as the surge caught its broad green
flank. When it tilted towards us we perceived a track worn deep into the
ice by the paws of the prisoned bear as it had marched endlessly round.
Also we saw a big grinning skull, whereon sat a raven picking at the
eye-holes, and some fragments of white fur.

"The bear is dead!" exclaimed Ragnar. "Odin's curse be on that
club-footed fool who gave us this cold ride for nothing."

"Yes, I suppose so," said Steinar doubtfully. "Don't you think that it
is dead, Olaf?"

"What is the good of asking Olaf?" broke in Ragnar, with a loud laugh.
"What does Olaf know about bears? He has been asleep for the last
half-hour dreaming of Athalbrand's blue-eyed daughter; or perhaps he is
making up another poem."

"Olaf sees farther when he seems asleep than some of us do when we are
awake," answered Steinar hotly.

"Oh yes," replied Ragnar. "Sleeping or waking, Olaf is perfect in your
eyes, for you've drunk the same milk, and that ties you tighter than a
rope. Wake up, now, brother Olaf, and tell us: Is not the bear dead?"

Then I answered, "Why, of course, a bear is dead; see its skull, also
pieces of its hide?"

"There!" exclaimed Ragnar. "Our family prophet has settled the matter.
Let us go home."

"Olaf said that _a_ bear was dead," answered Steinar, hesitating.

Ragnar, who had already swung himself round in his quick fashion, spoke
back over his shoulder:

"Isn't that enough for you? Do you want to hunt a skull or the raven
sitting on it? Or is this, perchance, one of Olaf's riddles? If so, I am
too cold to guess riddles just now."

"Yet I think there is one for you to guess, brother," I said gently,
"and it is: Where is the live bear hiding? Can't you see that there
were two bears on that ice-head, and that one has killed and eaten the
other?"

"How do you know that?" asked Ragnar.

"Because I saw the slot of the second as we passed the birch wood
yonder. It has a split claw on the left forefoot and the others are all
worn by the ice."

"Then why in Odin's name did you not say so before?" exclaimed Ragnar
angrily.

Now I was ashamed to confess that I had been dreaming, so I answered at
hazard:

"Because I wished to look upon the sea and the floating ice. See what
wondrous colours they take in this light!"

When he heard this, Steinar burst out laughing till tears came into his
blue eyes and his broad shoulders shook. But Ragnar, who cared nothing
for scenery or sunsets, did not laugh. On the contrary, as was usual
with him when vexed, he lost his temper and swore by the more evil of
the gods. Then he turned on me and said:

"Why not tell the truth at once, Olaf? You are afraid of this beast, and
that's why you let us come on here when you knew it was in the wood. You
hoped that before we got back there it would be too dark to hunt."

At this taunt I flushed and gripped the shaft of my long hunting spear,
for among us Northmen to be told that he was afraid of anything was a
deadly insult to a man.

"If you were not my brother----" I began, then checked myself, for I was
by nature easy-tempered, and went on: "It is true, Ragnar, I am not so
fond of hunting as you are. Still, I think that there will be time to
fight this bear and kill or be killed by it, before it grows dark, and
if not I will return alone to-morrow morning."

Then I pulled my horse round and rode ahead. As I went, my ears being
very quick, I heard the other two talking together. At least, I suppose
that I heard them; at any rate, I know what they said, although,
strangely enough, nothing at all comes back to me of their tale of an
attack upon a ship or of what then I did or did not do.

"It is not wise to jeer at Olaf," said Steinar, "for when he is stung
with words he does mad things. Don't you remember what happened when
your father called him 'niddering' last year because Olaf said it was
not just to attack the ship of those British men who had been driven to
our coast by weather, meaning us no harm?"

"Aye," answered Ragnar. "He leapt among them all alone as soon as our
boat touched her side, and felled the steersman. Then the British men
shouted out that they would not kill so brave a lad, and threw him into
the sea. It cost us that ship, since by the time we had picked him up
she had put about and hoisted her large sail. Oh, Olaf is brave enough,
we all know that! Still, he ought to have been born a woman or a priest
of Freya who only offers flowers. Also, he knows my tongue and bears no
malice."

"Pray that we get him home safe," said Steinar uneasily, "for if not
there will be trouble with your mother and every other woman in the
land, to say nothing of Iduna the Fair."

"Iduna the Fair would live through it," answered Ragnar, with a hard
laugh. "But you are right; and, what is more, there will be trouble
among the men also, especially with my father and in my own heart. After
all there is but one Olaf."

At this moment I held up my hand, and they stopped talking.



CHAPTER II

THE SLAYING OF THE BEAR

Leaping from their horses, Ragnar and Steinar came to where I stood, for
already I had dismounted and was pointing to the ground, which just here
had been swept clear of snow by the wind.

"I see nothing," said Ragnar.

"But I do, brother," I answered; "who study the ways of wild things
while you think I am asleep. Look, that moss has been turned over; for
it is frozen underneath and pressed up into little mounds between the
bear's claws. Also that tiny pool has gathered in the slot of the paw;
it is its very shape. The other footprints do not show because of the
rock."

Then I went forward a few paces behind some bushes and called out: "Here
runs the track, sure enough, and, as I thought, the brute has a split
claw; the snow marks it well. Bid the thrall stay with the horses and
come you."

They obeyed, and there on the white snow which lay beyond the bush we
saw the track of the bear stamped as if in wax.

"A mighty beast," said Ragnar. "Never have I seen its like."

"Aye," exclaimed Steinar, "but an ill place to hunt it in," and he
looked doubtfully at the rough gorge, covered with undergrowth, that
some hundred yards farther on became dense birch forest. "I think it
would be well to ride back to Aar, and return to-morrow morning with all
whom we can gather. This is no task for three spears."

By this time I, Olaf, was springing from rock to rock up the gorge,
following the bear's track. For my brother's taunts rankled in me and I
was determined that I should kill this beast or die and thus show Ragnar
that I feared no bear. So I called back to them over my shoulder:

"Aye, go home, it is wisest; but I go on for I have never yet seen one
of these white ice-bears alive."

"Now it is Olaf who taunts in his turn," said Ragnar with a laugh. Then
they both sprang after me, but always I kept ahead of them.

For the half of a mile or more they followed me out of the scrub into
the birch forest, where the snow, lying on the matted boughs of the
trees and especially of some firs that were mingled with the birch, made
the place gloomy in that low light. Always in front of me ran the huge
slots of the bear till at length they brought me to a little forest
glade, where some great whirling wind had torn up many trees which had
but a poor root-hold on a patch of almost soilless rock.

These trees lay in confusion, their tops, which had not yet rotted,
being filled with frozen snow. On the edge of them I paused, having
lost the track. Then I went forward again, casting wide as a hound does,
while behind came Ragnar and Steinar, walking straight past the edge of
the glade, and purposing to meet me at its head. This, indeed, Ragnar
did, but Steinar halted because of a crunching sound that caught
his ear, and then stepped to the right between two fallen birches to
discover its cause. Next moment, as he told me afterwards, he stood
frozen, for there behind the boughs of one of the trees was the huge
white bear, eating some animal that it had killed. The beast saw him,
and, mad with rage at being disturbed, for it was famished after its
long journey on the floe, reared itself up on its hind legs, roaring
till the air shook. High it towered, its hook-like claws outstretched.

Steinar tried to spring back, but caught his foot, and fell. Well for
him was it that he did so, for otherwise the blow which the bear struck
would have crushed him to a pulp. The brute did not seem to understand
where he had gone--at any rate, it remained upreared and beating at
the air. Then a doubt took it, its huge paws sank until it sat like
a begging dog, sniffing the wind. At this moment Ragnar came back
shouting, and hurled his spear. It stuck in the beast's chest and hung
there. The bear began to feel for it with its paws, and, catching the
shaft, lifted it to its mouth and champed it, thus dragging the steel
from its hide.

Then it bethought it of Steinar, and, sinking down, discovered him, and
tore at the birch tree under which he had crept till the splinters flew
from its trunk. Just then I reached it, having seen all. By now the bear
had its teeth fixed in Steinar's shoulder, or, rather, in his leathern
garment, and was dragging him from under the tree. When it saw me it
reared itself up again, lifting Steinar and holding him to its breast
with one paw. I went mad at the sight, and charged it, driving my spear
deep into its throat. With its other paw it struck the weapon from my
hand, shivering the shaft. There it stood, towering over us like a white
pillar, and roared with pain and fury, Steinar still pressed against it,
Ragnar and I helpless.

"He's sped!" gasped Ragnar.

I thought for a flash of time, and--oh! well do I remember that moment:
the huge beast foaming at the jaws and Steinar held to its breast as a
little girl holds a doll; the still, snow-laden trees, on the top of one
of which sat a small bird spreading its tail in jerks; the red light
of evening, and about us the great silences of the sky above and of the
lonely forest beneath. It all comes back to me--I can see it now quite
clearly; yes, even the bird flitting to another twig, and there again
spreading its tail to some invisible mate. Then I made up my mind what
to do.

"Not yet!" I cried. "Keep it in play," and, drawing my short and heavy
sword, I plunged through the birch boughs to get behind the bear. Ragnar
understood. He threw his cap into the brute's face, and then, after it
had growled at him awhile, just as it dropped its great jaws to crunch
Steinar, he found a bough and thrust it between them.

By now I was behind the bear, and, smiting at its right leg below the
knee, severed the tendon. Down it came, still hugging Steinar. I smote
again with all my strength, and cut into its spine above the tail,
paralysing it. It was a great blow, as it need to be to cleave the thick
hair and hide, and my sword broke in the backbone, so that, like Ragnar,
now I was weaponless. The forepart of the bear rolled about in the snow,
although its after half was still.

Then once more it seemed to bethink itself of Steinar, who lay unmoving
and senseless. Stretching out a paw, it dragged him towards its champing
jaws. Ragnar leapt upon its back and struck at it with his knife,
thereby only maddening it the more. I ran in and grasped Steinar, whom
the bear was again hugging to its breast. Seeing me, it loosed Steinar,
whom I dragged away and cast behind me, but in the effort I slipped and
fell forward. The bear smote at me, and its mighty forearm--well for me
that it was not its claws--struck me upon the side of the head and sent
me crashing into a tree-top to the left. Five paces I flew before my
body touched the boughs, and there I lay quiet.

I suppose that Ragnar told me what passed after this while I was
senseless. At least, I know that the bear began to die, for my spear had
pierced some artery in its throat, and all the talk which followed, as
well as though I heard it with my ears. It roared and roared, vomiting
blood and stretching out its claws after Steinar as Ragnar dragged him
away. Then it laid its head flat upon the snow and died. Ragnar looked
at it and muttered:

"Dead!"

Then he walked to that top of the fallen tree in which I lay, and
again muttered: "Dead! Well, Valhalla holds no braver man than Olaf the
Skald."

Next he went to Steinar and once again exclaimed, "Dead!"

For so he looked, indeed, smothered in the blood of the bear and with
his garments half torn off him. Still, as the words passed Ragnar's lips
he sat up, rubbed his eyes and smiled as a child does when it awakes.

"Are you much hurt?" asked Ragnar.

"I think not," he answered doubtfully, "save that I feel sore and my
head swims. I have had a bad dream." Then his eyes fell on the bear, and
he added: "Oh, I remember now; it was no dream. Where is Olaf?"

"Supping with Odin," answered Ragnar and pointed to me.

Steinar rose to his feet, staggered to where I lay, and stared at me
stretched there as white as the snow, with a smile upon my face and in
my hand a spray of some evergreen bush which I had grasped as I fell.

"Did he die to save me?" asked Steinar.

"Aye," answered Ragnar, "and never did man walk that bridge in better
fashion. You were right. Would that I had not mocked him."

"Would that I had died and not he," said Steinar with a sob. "It is
borne in upon my heart that it were better I had died."

"Then that may well be, for the heart does not lie at such a time. Also
it is true that he was worth both of us. There was something more in him
than there is in us, Steinar. Come, lift him to my back, and if you are
strong enough, go on to the horses and bid the thrall bring one of them.
I follow."

Thus ended the fight with the great white bear.



Some four hours later, in the midst of a raging storm of wind and rain,
I was brought at last to the bridge that spanned the moat of the Hall of
Aar, laid like a corpse across the back of one of the horses. They had
been searching for us at Aar, but in that darkness had found nothing.
Only, at the head of the bridge was Freydisa, a torch in her hand. She
glanced at me by the light of the torch.

"As my heart foretold, so it is," she said. "Bring him in," then turned
and ran to the house.

They bore me up between the double ranks of stabled kine to where the
great fire of turf and wood burned at the head of the hall, and laid me
on a table.

"Is he dead?" asked Thorvald, my father, who had come home that night;
"and if so, how?"

"Aye, father," answered Ragnar, "and nobly. He dragged Steinar yonder
from under the paws of the great white bear and slew it with his sword."

"A mighty deed," muttered my father. "Well, at least he comes home in
honour."

But my mother, whose favourite son I was, lifted up her voice and
wept. Then they took the clothes from off me, and, while all watched,
Freydisa, the skilled woman, examined my hurts. She felt my head and
looked into my eyes, and laying her ear upon my breast, listened for the
beating of my heart.

Presently she rose, and, turning, said slowly:

"Olaf is not dead, though near to death. His pulses flutter, the light
of life still burns in his eyes, and though the blood runs from his
ears, I think the skull is not broken."

When she heard these words, Thora, my mother, whose heart was weak,
fainted for joy, and my father, untwisting a gold ring from his arm,
threw it to Freydisa.

"First the cure," she said, thrusting it away with her foot. "Moreover,
when I work for love I take no pay."

Then they washed me, and, having dressed my hurts, laid me on a bed
near the fire that warmth might come back to me. But Freydisa would not
suffer them to give me anything save a little hot milk which she poured
down my throat.



For three days I lay like one dead; indeed, all save my mother held
Freydisa wrong and thought that I was dead. But on the fourth day I
opened my eyes and took food, and after that fell into a natural
sleep. On the morning of the sixth day I sat up and spoke many wild and
wandering words, so that they believed I should only live as a madman.

"His mind is gone," said my mother, and wept.

"Nay," answered Freydisa, "he does but return from a land where they
speak another tongue. Thorvald, bring hither the bear-skin."

It was brought and hung on a frame of poles at the end of the niche in
which I slept, that, as was usual among northern people, opened out of
the hall. I stared at it for a long while. Then my memory came back and
I asked:

"Did the great beast kill Steinar?"

"No," answered my mother, who sat by me. "Steinar was sore hurt, but
escaped and now is well again."

"Let me see him with my own eyes," I said.

So he was brought, and I looked on him. "I am glad you live, my
brother," I said, "for know in this long sleep of mine I have dreamed
that you were dead"; and I stretched out my wasted arms towards him, for
I loved Steinar better than any other man.

He came and kissed me on the brow, saying:

"Aye, thanks to you, Olaf, I live to be your brother and your thrall
till the end."

"My brother always, not my thrall," I muttered, for I was growing tired.
Then I went to sleep again.

Three days later, when my strength began to return, I sent for Steinar
and said:

"Brother, Iduna the Fair, whom you have never seen, my betrothed, must
wonder how it fares with me, for the tale of this hurt of mine will have
reached Lesso. Now, as there are reasons why Ragnar cannot go, and as
I would send no mean man, I pray you to do me a favour. It is that you
will take a boat and sail to Lesso, carrying with you as a present from
me to Athalbrand's daughter the skin of that white bear, which I trust
will serve her and me as a bed-covering in winter for many a year to
come. Tell her, thanks be to the gods and to the skill of Freydisa, my
nurse, I live who all thought must die, and that I trust to be strong
and well for our marriage at the Spring feast which draws on. Say also
that through all my sickness I have dreamed of none but her, as I trust
that sometimes she may have dreamed of me."

"Aye, I'll go," answered Steinar, "fast as horses' legs and sails can
carry me," adding with his pleasant laugh: "Long have I desired to see
this Iduna of yours, and to learn whether she is as beautiful as you
say; also what it is in her that Ragnar hates."

"Be careful that you do not find her too beautiful," broke in Freydisa,
who, as ever, was at my side.

"How can I if she is for Olaf?" answered Steinar, smiling, as he left
the place to make ready for his journey to Lesso.

"What did you mean by those words, Freydisa?" I asked when he was gone.

"Little or much," she replied, shrugging her shoulders. "Iduna is
lovely, is she not, and Steinar is handsome, is he not, and of an age
when man seeks woman, and what is brotherhood when man seeks woman and
woman beguiles man?"

"Peace to your riddles, Freydisa. You forget that Iduna is my betrothed
and that Steinar was fostered with me. Why, I'd trust them for a week at
sea alone."

"Doubtless, Olaf, being young and foolish, as you are; also that is your
nature. Now here is the broth. Drink it, and I, whom some call a wise
woman and others a witch, say that to-morrow you may rise from this bed
and sit in the sun, if there is any."

"Freydisa," I said when I had swallowed the broth, "why do folk call you
a witch?"

"I think because I am a little less of a fool than other women, Olaf.
Also because it has not pleased me to marry, as it is held natural that
all women should do if they have the chance."

"Why are you wiser, and why have you not married, Freydisa?"

"I am wiser because I have questioned things more than most, and to
those who question answers come at last. And I am not married because
another woman took the only man I wanted before I met him. That was my
bad luck. Still, it taught me a great lesson, namely, how to wait and
meanwhile to acquire understanding."

"What understanding have you acquired, Freydisa? For instance, does it
tell you that our gods of wood and stone are true gods which rule the
world? Or are they but wood and stone, as sometimes I have thought?"

"Then think no more, Olaf, for such thoughts are dangerous. If Leif,
your uncle, Odin's high priest, heard them, what might he not say or do?
Remember that whether the gods live or no, certainly the priest lives,
and on the gods, and if the gods went, where would the priest be? Also,
as regards these gods--well, whatever they may or may not be, at least
they are the voices that in our day speak to us from that land whence we
came and whither we go. The world has known millions of days, and each
day has its god--or its voice--and all the voices speak truth to those
who can hear them. Meanwhile, you are a fool to have sent Steinar
bearing your gift to Iduna. Or perhaps you are very wise. I cannot say
as yet. When I learn I will tell you."

Then again she shrugged her shoulders and left me wondering what she
meant by her dark sayings. I can see her going now, a wooden bowl in her
hand, and in it a horn spoon of which the handle was cracked longways,
and thus in my mind ends all the scene of my sickness after the slaying
of the white bear.



The next thing that I remember is the coming of the men of Agger. This
cannot have been very long after Steinar went to Lesso, for he had not
yet returned. Being still weak from my great illness, I was seated
in the sun in the shelter of the house, wrapped up in a cloak of
deerskins--for the northern wind blew bitter. By me stood my father, who
was in a happy mood now he knew that I should live and be strong again.

"Steinar should be back by now," I said to him. "I trust that he has
come by no ill."

"Oh no," answered my father carelessly. "For seven days the wind has
been high, and doubtless Athalbrand fears to let him sail from Lesso."

"Or perhaps Steinar finds Athalbrand's hall a pleasant place to bide
in," suggested Ragnar, who had joined us, a spear in his hand, for he
had come in from hunting. "There are good drink and bright eyes there."

I was about to answer sharply, since Ragnar stung me with his bitter
talk of Steinar, of whom I knew him to be somewhat jealous, because he
thought I loved my foster-brother more than I did him, my brother. Just
then, however, three men appeared through trees that grew about the
hall, and came towards the bridge, whereon Ragnar's great wolfhounds,
knowing them for strangers, set up a furious baying and sprang forward
to tear them. By the time the beasts were caught and quelled, these men,
aged persons of presence, had crossed the bridge and were greeting us.

"This is the hall of Thorvald of Aar, is it not? And a certain Steinar
dwells here with him, does he not?" asked their spokesman.

"It is, and I am Thorvald," answered my father. "Also Steinar has dwelt
here from his birth up, but is now away from home on a visit to the
lord Athalbrand of Lesso. Who are you, and what would you of Steinar, my
fosterling"

"When you have told us the story of Steinar we will tell you who we are
and what we seek," answered the man, adding: "Fear not, we mean him no
harm, but rather good if he is the man we think."

"Wife," called my father, "come hither. Here are men who would know the
story of Steinar, and say that they mean him good."

So my mother came, and the men bowed to her.

"The story of Steinar is short, sirs," she said. "His mother,
Steingerdi, who was my cousin and the friend of my childhood, married
the great chief Hakon, of Agger, two and twenty summers gone. A year
later, just before Steinar was born, she fled to me here, asking shelter
of my lord. Her tale was that she had quarrelled with Hakon because
another woman had crept into her place. Finding that this tale was true,
and that Hakon had treated her ill indeed, we gave her shelter, and here
her son Steinar was born, in giving birth to whom she died--of a broken
heart, as I think, for she was mad with grief and jealousy. I nursed
him with my son Olaf yonder, and as, although he had news of his birth,
Hakon never claimed him, with us he has dwelt as a son ever since. That
is all the tale. Now what would you with Steinar?"

"This Lady. The lord Hakon and the three sons whom that other woman you
tell of bore him ere she died--for after Steingerdi's death he married
her--were drowned in making harbour on the night of the great gale
eighteen days ago."

"That is the day when the bear nearly killed Steinar," I interrupted.

"Well for him, then, young sir, that he escaped this bear, for now, as
it seems to us, he is the lord of all Hakon's lands and people, being
the only male left living of his issue. This, by the wish of the head
men of Agger, where is Hakon's hall, we have come to tell him, if he
still lives, since by report he is a goodly man and brave--one well
fitted to sit in Hakon's place.

"Is the heritage great?" asked my father.

"Aye, very great, Lord. In all Jutland there was no richer man than
Hakon."

"By Odin!" exclaimed my father, "it seems that Steinar is in Fortune's
favour. Well, men of Agger, enter and rest you. After you have eaten we
will talk further of these matters."

It was just then that, appearing between the trees on the road that ran
to Fladstrand and to the sea, I saw a company mounted upon horses. In
front was a young woman, wrapped in a coat of furs, talking eagerly to
a man who rode by her. Behind, clad in armour, with a battle-axe girt
about him, rode another man, big and fork-bearded, who stared about him
gloomily, and behind him again ten or twelve thralls and seamen.

One glance was enough for me. Then I sprang up, crying:

"Iduna's self, and with her my brother Steinar, the lord Athalbrand and
his folk. A happy sight indeed!" And I would have run forward to meet
them.

"Yes, yes," said my mother; "but await them here, I pray you. You are
not yet strong, my son." And she flung her arms about me and held me.

Presently they were at the bridge, and Steinar, springing from his
horse, lifted Iduna from her saddle, a sight at which I saw my mother
frown. Then I would no longer be restrained, but ran forward, crying
greetings as I came, and, seizing Iduna's hand, I kissed it. Indeed, I
would have kissed her cheek also, but she shrank back, saying:

"Not before all these folk, Olaf."

"As you will," I answered, though just then a chill struck me, which,
I thought to myself, came doubtless from the cold wind. "It will be the
sweeter afterwards," I added as gaily as I could.

"Yes," she said hurriedly. "But, Olaf, how white and thin you are. I had
hoped to find you well again, though, not knowing how it fared with you,
I came to see with my own eyes."

"That is good of you," I muttered as I turned to grasp Steinar's hand,
adding: "I know well who it was that brought you here."

"Nay, nay," she said. "I came of myself. But my father waits you, Olaf."

So I went to where the lord Athalbrand Fork-beard was dismounting, and
greeted him, lifting my cap.

"What!" grumbled Athalbrand, who seemed to be in an ill temper, "are
you Olaf? I should scarcely have known you again, lad, for you look more
like a wisp of hay tied on a stick than a man. Now that the flesh is
off you I see you lack bone, unlike some others," and he glanced at the
broad-shouldered Steinar. "Greeting to you, Thorvald. We are come here
through a sea that nearly drowned us, somewhat before the appointed
time, because--well, because, on the whole, I thought it best to come. I
pray Odin that you are more glad to see us than I am to see you."

"If so, friend Athalbrand, why did you not stop away?" asked my father,
firing up, then adding quickly: "Nay, no offence; you are welcome here,
whatever your humour, and you too, my daughter that is to be, and you,
Steinar, my fosterling, who, as it chances, are come in a good hour."

"How's that, Lord?" asked Steinar absently, for he was looking at Iduna.

"Thus, Steinar: These men"--and he pointed to the three
messengers--"have but just arrived from Agger with the news that your
father, Hakon, and your half-brothers are all drowned. They say also
that the folk of Agger have named you Hakon's heir, as, indeed, you are
by right of blood."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Steinar, bewildered. "Well, as I never saw my
father or my brothers, and they treated me but ill, I cannot weep for
them."

"Hakon!" broke in Athalbrand. "Why, I knew him well, for in my youth we
were comrades in war. He was the wealthiest man in Jutland in cattle,
lands, thralls and stored gold. Young friend, your luck is great," and
he stared first at Steinar, then at Iduna, pulling his forked beard and
muttering words to himself that I could not catch.

"Steinar gets the fortune he deserves," I exclaimed, embracing him.
"Not for nothing did I save you from the bear, Steinar. Come, wish my
foster-brother joy, Iduna."

"Aye, that I do with all my heart," she said. "Joy and long life to
you, and with them rule and greatness, Steinar, Lord of Agger," and she
curtsied to him, her blue eyes fixed upon his face.

But Steinar turned away, making no answer. Only Ragnar, who stood by,
burst into a loud laugh. Then, putting his arm through mine, he led me
into the hall, saying:

"This wind is over cold for you, Olaf. Nay, trouble not about Iduna.
Steinar, Lord of Agger, will care for her, I think."

That night there was a feast at Aar, and I sat at it with Iduna by
my side. Beautiful she was indeed in her garment of blue, over which
streamed her yellow hair, bright as the gold rings that tinkled on her
rounded arms. She was kind to me also, and bade me tell her the story of
the slaying of the bear, which I did as best I could, though afterwards
Ragnar told it otherwise, and more fully. Only Steinar said little or
nothing, for he seemed to be lost in dreams.

I thought that this was because he felt sad at the news of the death of
his father and brethren, since, although he had never known them, blood
still calls to blood; and so, I believe, did most there present. At any
rate my father and mother tried to cheer him and in the end bade the men
of Agger draw near to tell him the tale of his heritage.

They obeyed, and set out all their case, of which the sum was that
Steinar must now be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men of the
northern lands.

"It seems that we should all take off our caps to you, young lord," said
Athalbrand when he heard this tale of rule and riches. "Why did you not
ask me for my fair daughter?" he added with a half-drunken laugh, for
all the liquor he had swallowed had got a hold of his brain. Recovering
himself, he went on: "It is my will, Thorvald, that Iduna and this snipe
of an Olaf of yours should be wed as soon as possible. I say that they
shall be wed as soon as possible, since otherwise I know not what may
happen."

Then his head fell forward on the table and he sank to sleep.



CHAPTER III

THE WANDERER'S NECKLACE

On the morrow early I lay awake, for how could I sleep when Iduna rested
beneath the same roof with me--Iduna, who, as her father had decreed,
was to become my wife sooner than I had hoped? I was thinking how
beautiful she looked, and how much I loved her; also of other things
that were not so pleasant. For instance, why did not everybody see her
with my eyes? I could not hide from myself that Ragnar went near to
hating her; more than once she had almost been the cause of a quarrel
between us. Freydisa, too, my nurse, who loved me, looked on her sourly,
and even my mother, although she tried to like her for my sake, had not
yet learned to do so, or thus it appeared to me.

When I asked her why, she replied that she feared the maid was somewhat
selfish, also too fond of drawing the eyes of men, and of the adornment
of her beauty. Of those who were dearest to me, indeed, only Steinar
seemed to think Iduna as perfect as I did myself. This, so far as it
went, was well; but, then, Steinar and I had always thought alike, which
robbed his judgment of something of its worth.

Whilst I was pondering over these things, although it was still so early
that my father and Athalbrand were yet in bed sleeping off the fumes
of the liquor they had drunk, I heard Steinar himself talking to the
messengers from Agger in the hall. They asked him humbly whether he
would be pleased to return with them that day and take possession of
his inheritance, since they must get back forthwith to Agger with their
tidings. He replied that if they would send some or come themselves to
escort him on the tenth day from that on which they spoke, he would go
to Agger with them, but that until then he could not do so.

"Ten days! In ten days who knows what may happen?" said their spokesman.
"Such a heritage as yours will not lack for claimants, Lord, especially
as Hakon has left nephews behind him."

"I know not what will or will not happen," answered Steinar, "but until
then I cannot come. Go now, I pray you, if you must, and bear my words
and greetings to the men of Agger, whom soon I hope to meet myself."

So they went, as I thought, heavily enough. A while afterwards my father
rose and came into the hall, where from my bed I could see Steinar
seated on a stool by the fire brooding. He asked where the men of Agger
were, and Steinar told him what he had done.

"Are you mad, Steinar?" he asked, "that you have sent them away with
such an answer? Why did you not consult me first?"

"Because you were asleep, Foster-father, and the messengers said they
must catch the tide. Also I could not leave Aar until I had seen Olaf
and Iduna married."

"Iduna and Olaf can marry without your help. It takes two to make a
marriage, not three. I see well that you owe love and loyalty to Olaf,
who is your foster-brother and saved your life, but you owe something
to yourself also. I pray Odin that this folly may not have cost you your
lordship. Fortune is a wench who will not bear slighting."

"I know it," answered Steinar, and there was something strange in his
voice. "Believe me, I do not slight fortune; I follow her in my own
fashion."

"Then it is a mad fashion," grumbled my father, and walked away.



It comes back to me that it was some days after this that I saw the
ghost of the Wanderer standing on his grave mound. It happened thus.
On a certain afternoon I had been riding alone with Iduna, which was
a great joy to me, though I would sooner have walked, for then I could
have held her hand, and perhaps, if she had suffered it, kissed her. I
had recited to her a poem which I had made comparing her to the goddess
Iduna, the wife of Bragi, she who guarded the apples of immortal youth
whereof the gods must eat or die, she whose garment was the spring,
woven of the flowers that she put on when she escaped from winter's
giant grasp. I think that it was a very good poem of its own sort, but
Iduna seemed to have small taste for poetry and to know little of the
lovely goddess and her apples, although she smiled sweetly and thanked
me for my verses.

Then she began to talk of other matters, especially of how, after we
were wed, her father wished to make war upon another chieftain and to
seize his land. She said that it was for this reason that he had been
so anxious to form an alliance with my father, Thorvald, as such an
alliance would make him sure of victory. Before that time, she told me
that he, Athalbrand, had purposed to marry her to another lord for this
very reason, but unhappily this lord had been killed in battle.

"Nay, happily for us, Iduna," I said.

"Perhaps," she answered with a sigh. "Who knows? At any rate, your House
will be able to give us more ships and men than he who is dead could
have done."

"Yet I love peace, not war," I broke in, "I who hate the slaying of
those who have never harmed me, and do not seek to die on the swords
of men whom I have no desire to harm. Of what good is war when one has
enough? I would be no widow-maker, Iduna, nor do I wish that others
should make you a widow."

Iduna looked at me with her steady blue eyes.

"You talk strangely, Olaf," she said, "and were it not known to be
otherwise, some might hold that you are a coward. Yet it was no coward
who leapt alone on board the battle ship, or who slew the great white
bear to save Steinar's life. I do not understand you, Olaf, you who have
doubts as to the killing of men. How does a man grow great except upon
the blood of others? It is that which fats him. How does the wolf live?
How does the kite live? How does Odin fill Valhalla? By death, always by
death."

"I cannot answer you," I said; "yet I hold that somewhere there is an
answer which I do not know, since wrong can never be the right."

Then, as she did not seem to understand, I began to talk of other
things, but from that moment I felt as though a veil swung between me
and Iduna. Her beauty held my flesh, but some other part in me turned
away from her. We were different.

When we reached the hall we met Steinar, who was lingering near the
door. He ran forward and helped Iduna to dismount, then said:

"Olaf, I know that you must not overtire yourself as yet, but your lady
has told me that she desires to see the sunset from Odin's Mount. Have I
your leave to take her there?"

"I do not yet need Olaf's leave to walk abroad, though some few days
hence it may be different," broke in Iduna, with a merry laugh, before I
could answer. "Come, lord Steinar, let us go and see this sunset whereof
you talk so much."

"Yes, go," I said, "only do not stay too long, for I think a storm comes
up. But who is that has taught Steinar to love sunsets?"

So they went, and before they had been gone an hour the storm broke as I
had foreseen. First came wind, and with it hail, and after that thunder
and great darkness, lit up from time to time by pulsing lightning.

"Steinar and Iduna do not return. I am afraid for them," I said at last
to Freydisa.

"Then why do you not go to seek them?" she asked with a little laugh.

"I think I will," I said.

"If so, I will come with you, Olaf, for you still need a nurse, though,
for my part, I hold that the lord Steinar and the lady Iduna can guard
themselves as well as most folk. No, I am wrong. I mean that the lady
Iduna can guard herself and the lord Steinar. Now, be not angry. Here's
your cloak."

So we started, for I was urged to this foolish journey by some impulse
that I could not master. There were two ways of reaching Odin's Mount;
one, the shorter, over the rocks and through the forest land. The other,
the longer, ran across the open plain, between the many earth tombs of
the dead who had lived thousands of years before, and past the great
mound in which it was said that a warrior of long ago, who was named the
Wanderer, lay buried. Because of the darkness we chose this latter road,
and presently found ourselves beneath the great mass of the Wanderer's
Mount. Now the darkness was intense, and the lightning grew rare, for
the hail and rain had ceased and the storm was rolling away.

"My counsel is," said Freydisa, "that we wait here until the moon rises,
which it should do soon. When the wind has driven away the clouds it
will show us our path, but if we go on in this darkness we shall fall
into some pit. It is not cold to-night, and you will take no harm."

"No, indeed," I answered, "for now I am as strong again as ever I was."

So we stayed till the lightning, flashing for the last time, showed us
a man and a woman standing quite close to us, although we had not heard
them because of the wind. They were Steinar and Iduna, talking together
eagerly, with their faces very near to each other. At the same moment
they saw us. Steinar said nothing, for he seemed confused, but Iduna ran
to us and said:

"Thanks be to the gods who send you, Olaf. The great storm caught us at
Odin's temple, where we were forced to shelter. Then, fearing that you
would grow frightened, we started, and lost our way."

"Is it so?" I answered. "Surely Steinar would have known this road even
in the dark. But what matter, since I have found you?"

"Aye, he knew as soon as we saw this grave mound. But Steinar was
telling me that some ghost haunts it, and I begged him to stay awhile,
since there is nothing I desire so much as to see a ghost, who believe
little in such things. So he stayed, though he says he fears the dead
more than the living. Freydisa, they tell me that you are very wise.
Cannot you show me this ghost?"

"The spirit does not ask my leave to appear, lady," answered Freydisa
in her quiet voice. "Still, at times it does appear, for I have seen it
twice. So let us bide here a little on the chance."

Then she went forward a few steps and began to mutter to herself.

Some minutes later the clouds broke and the great moon was seen riding
low down in a clear sky, illumining the grave mound and all the plain,
save where we stood in the shadow of the mount.

"Do you see aught?" asked Freydisa presently. "If not, let us be gone,
for when the Wanderer comes at all it is at the rising of the moon."

Steinar and Iduna answered, "No," but I, who did see something, said:

"Look yonder among the shadows. Mayhap it is a wolf stirring. Nay, it is
a man. Look, Iduna."

"I look and find nothing," she answered.

"Look again," I said. "He reaches the top of the mount and stands there
staring towards the south. Oh! now he turns, and the moonlight shines
upon his face."

"You dream, Olaf," said Steinar. "If you do not dream, tell us of the
likeness of this spirit."

"Its likeness," I answered, "is that of a tall and noble man, worn as
though with years and sorrows. He wears strange rich armour that
is dinted and soiled; on his head is a cap of mail with two long
ear-pieces, beneath which appears his brown hair lined with grey. He
holds a red-coloured sword which is handled with a cross of gold. He
points the sword at you, Steinar. It is as though he were angry with
you, or warned you."

Now, when Steinar heard these words he shook and groaned, as I
remembered afterwards. But of this I took no note at the time, for just
then Iduna cried out:

"Say, Olaf, does the man wear a necklace? I see a necklace hanging in
the air above the mount, but naught else."

"Yes, Iduna, he wears a necklace above his mail. How does it appear to
you?"

"Oh, beautiful, beautiful!" she answered. "A chain of pale gold, and
hanging from it golden shells inlaid with blue, and between them green
jewels that hold the moon."

"That is what I see also," I said, as indeed I did. "There! All is
gone."

Freydisa returned and there was a strange smile on her dark face, for
she had heard all our talk.

"Who sleeps in that mound, Freydisa?" asked Iduna.

"How can I tell, Lady, seeing that he was laid there a thousand years
ago, or mayhap more? Yet a story, true or false, remains of him that
I have heard. It is that he was a king of these parts, who followed a
dream to the south. The dream was of a necklace, and of one who wore it.
For many years he wandered, and at length returned again to this place,
which had been his home, wearing the necklace. But when he saw its shore
from the sea he fell down and his spirit left him. What happened to him
in his wanderings none know, for the tale is lost. Only it is said that
his people buried him in yonder mound still wearing his armour and the
necklace he had won. There, as Olaf has seen, or thinks that he has seen
but now, he stands at moonrise ere trouble comes to any of his race, and
stares towards the south--always towards the south."

"Is the necklace yet in the mound?" asked Iduna eagerly.

"Without doubt, Lady. Who would dare to touch the holy thing and bring
on him the curse of the Wanderer and his gods, and with it his own
death? No man that ever sailed the seas, I think."

"Not so, Freydisa, for I am sure I know one who would dare it for my
sake. Olaf, if you love me, bring me that necklace as a marriage gift. I
tell you that, having once seen it, I want it more than anything in all
the world."

"Did you hear what Freydisa said?" I asked. "That he who wrought this
sacrilege would bring upon himself evil and death?"

"Yes, I heard; but it is folly, for who need fear dead bones? As for the
shape you saw, why, it is strengthless for good or ill, a shadow
drawn from what has been by the magic moon, or perchance by Freydisa's
witchery. Olaf, Olaf, get me that necklace or I will never kiss you
more."

"That means you will not marry me, Iduna?"

"That means I will only marry the man who gives me that necklace. If you
fear the deed, perhaps there are some others by whom it might be tried."

Now when I heard these words a sudden rage seized me. Was I to be
taunted thus by the fair woman whom I loved?

"Fear is an ill word to use to me," I said sternly. "Know, Iduna, that
if it is put to me thus I fear nothing in life or death. You shall have
the necklace if it can be found in yonder earth, chance what may to the
searcher. Nay, no more words. Steinar will lead you home; I must talk of
this matter with Freydisa."



It was midnight, I know not on what day, since all these things come
back to me in vivid scenes, as flashes of lightning show a landscape,
but are separated from each other by dense darkness. Freydisa and I
stood by the Wanderer's grave, and at our feet lay digging tools, two
lamps, and tinder to light them. We were setting about our grim task at
dead of night, for fear lest the priests should stay us. Also, I did not
wish the people to know that I had done this thing.

"Here is work for a month," I said doubtfully, looking up at the great
mass of the mound.

"Nay," replied Freydisa, "since I can show you the door of the grave,
and perchance the passage still stands. Yet, will you really enter
there?"

"Why not, Freydisa? Must I bear to be taunted by the woman I am to wed?
Surely it would be better to die and have done. Let the ghost slay me if
he will. It comes upon me that if so I shall be spared trouble."

"No bridegroom's talk," said Freydisa, "however true it may be. Yet,
young Olaf, do you take heart, since I think that this ghost has no
desire for your blood. I am wise in my own fashion, Olaf, and much of
the past comes to me, if little of the future, and I believe that this
Wanderer and you have more to do with each other than we can guess.
It may be even that this task is appointed to you and that all these
happenings, which are but begun, work to an end unseen. At the least,
try your fortune, and if you die--why, I who was your nurse from your
mother's knee, love you well enough to die with you. Together we'll
descend to Hela's halls, there to seek out the Wanderer and learn his
story."

Then, throwing her arms about my neck, she drew me to her and kissed me
on the brow.

"I was not your mother, Olaf," she went on, "but, to be honest, I would
have been could I have had my fancy though, strangely enough, I never
felt thus towards Ragnar, your brother. Now, why do you make me talk
foolishness? Come hither, and I will show you the entrance to the grave;
it is where the sun first strikes upon it."

Then she led me to the east of the mound, where, not more than eight or
ten feet from its base, grew a patch of bushes. Among these bushes was
a little hollow, as though at this spot the earth had sunk in. Here, at
her bidding, I began to dig, and with her help worked for the half of an
hour or more in silence, till at length my spade struck against a stone.

"It is the door-stone," said Freydisa. "Dig round it."

So I dug till I made a hole at the edge of the stone large enough for a
man to creep through. After this we paused to rest a while and to allow
the air within the mound to purify.

"Now," she said, "if you are not afraid, we will enter."

"I am afraid," I answered. Indeed, the terror which struck me then
returns, so that even as I write I feel fear of the dead man who lay,
and for aught I know still lies, within that grave. "Yet," I added,
"never will I face Iduna more without the necklace, if it can be found."

So we struck sparks on to the tinder, and from them lit the two lamps
of seal oil. Then I crept into the hole, Freydisa following me, to find
myself in a narrow passage built of rough stones and roofed with flat
slabs of water-worn rock. This tunnel, save for a little dry soil that
had sifted into it through the cracks between the stones, was quite
clear. We crawled along it without difficulty till we came to the tomb
chamber, which was in the centre of the mound, but at a higher level
than the entrance. For the passage sloped upwards, doubtless to allow
for drainage. The huge stones with which it was lined and roofed over,
were not less than ten feet high and set on end side by side. One of
these upright stones was that designed for the door. Had it been in
place, we could not have entered the chamber without great labour and
the help of many men; but, as it chanced, either it had never been set
up after the burial, or this was done so hastily that it had fallen.

"We are in luck's way," said Freydisa, when she noticed this. "No,
I will go first, who know more of ghosts than you do, Olaf. If the
Wanderer strikes, let him strike me," and she clambered over the fallen
slab.

Presently she called back, saying:

"Come; all is quiet here, as it should be in such a place."

I followed her, and sliding down the end of the stone--which I remember
scratched my elbow and made it bleed--found myself in a little room
about twelve feet square. In this place there was but one thing to be
seen: what appeared to be the trunk of a great oak tree, some nine feet
in length, and, standing on it, side by side, two figures of bronze
under a foot in height.

"The coffin in which the Wanderer lies and the gods he worshipped," said
Freydisa.

Then she took up first one and next the other of the bronze figures and
we examined them in the light of the lamps, although I feared to touch
them. They were statues of a man and a woman.

The man, who wore a long and formal beard, was wrapped in what seemed
to be a shroud, through an opening in which appeared his hands. In the
right hand was a scourge with a handle, and in the left a crook such as
a shepherd might use, only shorter. On his head was what I took to be a
helmet, a tall peaked cap ending in a knob, having on either side of it
a stiff feather of bronze, and in front, above the forehead, a snake,
also of bronze.

The woman was clad in a straight and narrow robe, cut low beneath her
breast. Her face was mild and beautiful, and in her right hand she
held a looped sceptre. Her hair descended in many long plaits on to her
shoulders. For head-dress she wore two horns, supporting between them a
burnished disc of gold like to that of the moon when it is full.

"Strange gods!" I muttered.

"Aye," answered Freydisa, "yet maybe true ones to those who worship
them. But we will talk of these later; now for their servant."

Then she dropped the figures into a pouch at her side, and began to
examine the trunk of the oak tree, of which the outer sap wood had been
turned to tinder by age, leaving the heart still hard as iron.

"See," she said, pointing to a line about four inches from the top, "the
tree has been sawn in two length-ways and the lid laid on. Come, help."

Then she took an iron-shod staff which we had brought with us, and
worked its sharp point into the crack, after which we both rested our
weight upon the staff. The lid of the coffin lifted quite easily, for
it was not pegged down, and slid of its own weight over the side of
the tree. In the cavity beneath was a form covered with a purple cloak
stained as though by salt water. Freydisa lifted the cloak, and there
lay the Wanderer as he had been placed a thousand or more of years
before our time, as perfect as he had been in the hour of his death, for
the tannin from the new-felled tree in which he was buried had preserved
him.

Breathless with wonder, we bent down and examined him by the light of
the lamps. He was a tall, spare man, to all appearance of between fifty
and sixty years of age. His face was thin and fine; he wore a short,
grizzled beard; his hair, so far as it could be seen beneath his helmet,
was brown and lightly tinged with grey.

"Does he call anyone to your mind?" asked Freydisa.

"Yes, I think so, a little," I replied. "Who is it, now? Oh! I know, my
mother."

"That is strange, Olaf, since to me he seems much like what you might
become should you live to his years. Yet it was through your mother's
line that Aar came to your race many generations gone, for this much is
known. Well, study him hard, for, look you, now that the air has got to
him, he melts away."

Melt he did, indeed, till presently there was nothing left save a skull
patched here and there with skin and hair. Yet I never forgot that
face; indeed, to this hour I see it quite clearly. When at length it had
crumbled, we turned to other things, knowing that our time in the grave
must be measured by the oil in the simple lamps we had. Freydisa lifted
a cloth from beneath the chin, revealing a dinted breastplate of rich
armour, different from any of our day and land, and, lying on it, such
a necklace as we had seen upon the ghost, a beauteous thing of inlaid
golden shells and emerald stones shaped like beetles.

"Take it for your Iduna," said Freydisa, "since it is for her sake that
we break in upon this great man's rest."

I seized the precious thing and tugged at it, but the chain was stout
and would not part. Again I tugged, and now it was the neck of the
Wanderer that broke, for the head rolled from the body, and the gold
chain came loose between the two.

"Let us be going," said Freydisa, as I hid away the necklace. "The oil
in the lamps burns low, and even I do not care to be left here in the
dark with this mighty one whom we have robbed."

"There's his armour," I said. "I'd have that armour; it is wonderful."

"Then stop and get it by yourself," she answered, "for my lamp dies."

"At least, I will take the sword," I exclaimed, and snatched at the belt
by which it was girt about the body. The leather had rotted, and it came
away in my hand.

Holding it, I clambered over the stone after Freydisa, and followed her
down the passage. Before we reached the end of it the lamps went out, so
that we must finish our journey in the dark. Thankful enough were both
of us when we found ourselves safe in the open air beneath the familiar
stars.

"Now, how comes it, Freydisa," I asked, when we had got our breath
again, "that this Wanderer, who showed himself so threateningly upon the
crest of his grave, lies patient as a dead sheep within it while we rob
his bones?"

"Because we were meant to take it, as I think, Olaf. Now, help me to
fill in the mouth of that hole roughly--I will return to finish this
to-morrow--and let us away to the hall. I am weary, and I tell you,
Olaf, that the weight of things to come lies heavy on my soul. I think
wisdom dwells with that Wanderer's bones. Yes, and foresight of the
future and memories of the past."



CHAPTER IV

IDUNA WEARS THE NECKLACE

I lay sleeping in my bed at Aar, the sword of the Wanderer by my side
and his necklace beneath my pillow. In my sleep there came to me a very
strange and vivid dream. I dreamed that I was the Wanderer, no other
man, and here I, who write this history in these modern days, will say
that the dream was true.

Once in the far past I, who afterwards was born as Olaf, and who am
now--well, never mind my name--lived in the shape of that man who in
Olaf's time was by tradition known as the Wanderer. Of that Wanderer
life, however, for some reason which I cannot explain, I am able to
recover but few memories. Other earlier lives come back to me much more
clearly, but at present the details of this particular existence escape
me. For the purpose of the history which I am setting down this matters
little, since, although I know enough to be sure that the persons
concerned in the Olaf life were for the most part the same as those
concerned in the Wanderer life, their stories remain quite distinct.

Therefore, I propose to leave that of the Wanderer, so far as I know
it, untold, wild and romantic as it seems to have been. For he must have
been a great man, this Wanderer, who in the early ages of the northern
world, drawn by the magnet of some previous Egyptian incarnation, broke
back to those southern lands with which his informing spirit was already
so familiar, and thence won home again to the place where he was born,
only to die. In considering this dream which Olaf dreamed, let it be
remembered, then, that although a thousand, or maybe fifteen hundred, of
our earthly years separated us from each other, the Wanderer, into whose
tomb I broke at the goading of Iduna, and I, Olaf, were really the same
being clothed in different shapes of flesh.

To return to my dream. I, Olaf, or, rather, my spirit, dwelling in the
Wanderer's body, that body which I had just seen lying in the grave,
stood at night in a great columned building, which I knew to be
the temple of some god. At my feet lay a basin of clear water; the
moonlight, which was almost as bright as that of day, showed me my
reflection in the water. It was like to that of the Wanderer as I had
seen him lying in his oak coffin in the mound, only younger than he had
seemed to be in the coffin. Moreover, he wore the same armour that the
man in the coffin wore, and at his side hung the red, cross-handled
sword. There he stood in the temple alone, and looked across a plain,
green with crops, on which sat two mighty images as high as tall pines,
looked to a great river on whose banks grew trees such as I had never
beheld: tall, straight trees, surmounted by a stiff crown of leaves.
Beyond this river lay a white, flat-roofed city, and in it were other
great columned temples.

The man in whom I, Olaf the Dane, seemed to dwell in my dream turned,
and behind him saw a range of naked hills of brown rock, and in them the
mouth of a desolate valley where was no green thing. Presently he became
aware that he was no longer alone. At his side stood a woman. She was
a very beautiful woman, unlike anyone I, Olaf, had ever seen. Her shape
was tall and slender, her eyes were large, dark and soft as a deer's,
her features were small and straight, save the mouth, of which the lips
were somewhat full. The face, which was dark-hued, like her hair and
eyes, was sad, but wore a sweet and haunting smile. It was much such a
face as that upon the statue of the goddess which we had found in the
Wanderer's tomb, and the dress she wore beneath her cloak was like to
the dress of the goddess. She was speaking earnestly.

"My love, my only love," she said, "you must begone this very night;
indeed, the boat awaits you that shall take you down the river to the
sea. All is discovered. My waiting-lady, the priestess, but now has told
me that my father, the king, purposes to seize and throw you into prison
to-morrow, and thereafter to put you on your trial for being beloved
by a daughter of the royal blood, of which, as you are a foreign man,
however noble you may be, the punishment is death. Moreover, if you are
condemned, your doom will be my own. There is but one way in which to
save my life, and that is by your flight, for if you fly it has been
whispered to me that all will be forgotten."

Now, in my dream, he who wore the Wanderer's shape reasoned with her,
saying at length that it was better they both should die, to live on in
the world of spirits, rather than part for ever. She hid her face on his
breast and answered,

"I cannot die. I would stay to look upon the sun, not for my own sake,
but because of our child that will be born. Nor can I fly with you,
since then your boat will be stopped. But if you go alone, the guards
will let it pass. They have their commands."

After this for a while they wept in each other's arms, for their hearts
were broken.

"Give me some token," he murmured; "let me wear something that you have
worn until my death."

She opened her cloak, and there upon her breast hung that necklace which
had lain upon the breast of the Wanderer in his tomb, the necklace of
gold and inlaid shells and emerald beetles, only there were two rows of
shells and emeralds, not one. One row she unclasped and clasped it again
round his neck, breaking the little gold threads that bound the two
strands together.

"Take this," she said, "and I will wear the half which is left of it
even in my grave, as you also shall wear your half in life and death.
Now something comes upon me. It is that when the severed parts of this
necklace are once more joined together, then we two shall meet again
upon the earth."

"What chance is there that I shall return from my northern home, if ever
I win so far, back to this southern land?"

"None," she answered. "In this life we shall kiss no more. Yet there are
other lives to come, or so I think and have learned through the wisdom
of my people. Begone, begone, ere my heart breaks on yours; but never
let this necklace of mine, which was that of those who were long before
me, lie upon another woman's breast, for if so it will bring sorrow to
the giver, and to her to whom it is given no good fortune."

"How long must I wait before we meet again?" he asked.

"I do not know, but I think that when all that jewel once more grows
warm above my immoral heart, this temple which they call eternal will be
but a time-eaten ruin. Hark, the priestess calls. Farewell, you man who
have come out of the north to be my glory and my shame. Farewell, until
the purpose of our lives declares itself and the seed that we have sown
in sorrow shall blossom into an everlasting flower. Farewell. Farewell!"

Then a woman appeared in the background beckoning, and all my dream
vanished away. Yet to my mind came the thought that it was to the lady
who gave the necklace that Death stood near, rather than to him to whom
it was given. For surely death was written in her sad and longing eyes.



So that dream ended. When I, Olaf, awoke in the morning, it was to find
that already everyone was astir, for I had overslept myself. In the
hall were gathered Ragnar, Steinar, Iduna and Freydisa; the elders were
talking together elsewhere on the subject of the forthcoming marriage.
I went to Iduna to embrace her, and she proffered me her cheek, speaking
all the while over her shoulder to Ragnar.

"Where were you last night, brother, that you came in near the dawn,
all covered with mud?" asked Ragnar, turning his back on Iduna, without
making any answer to her words.

"Digging in the Wanderer's grave, brother, as Iduna challenged me to
do."

Now all three of them turned on me eagerly, save Freydisa, who stood by
the fire listening, and with one voice asked if I had found anything.

"Aye," I replied. "I found the Wanderer, a very noble-looking man," and
I began to describe him.

"Peace to this dead Wanderer," broke in Iduna. "Did you find the
necklace?"

"Yes, I found the necklace. Here it is!" And I laid the splendid thing
upon the board.

Then suddenly I lost my speech, since now for the first time I saw
that, twisted round the chain of it, were three broken wires of gold.
I remembered how in my dream I had seen the beautiful woman break such
wires ere she gave half of the jewel to the man in whose breast I had
seemed to dwell, and for a moment grew so frightened that I could say no
more.

"Oh!" exclaimed Iduna, "it is beautiful, beautiful! Oh! Olaf, I thank
you," and she flung her arms about me and kissed me, this time in
earnest.

Then she seized the necklace and fastened it round her throat.

"Stay," I said, awaking. "I think you had best not touch those gems.
Iduna, I have dreamed that they will bring no luck to you or to any
woman, save one."

Here the dark-faced Freydisa looked up at me, then dropped her eyes
again, and stood listening.

"You have dreamed!" exclaimed Iduna. "I care little what you have
dreamed. It is for the necklace I care, and not all the ill-luck in the
world shall stay me from the keeping of it."

Here again Freydisa looked up, but Steinar looked down.

"Did you find aught else?" asked Ragnar, interrupting.

"Aye, brother, this!" and from under my cloak I produced the Wanderer's
sword.

"A wondrous weapon," said Ragnar when he had examined it, "though
somewhat heavy for its length, and of bronze, after the fashion of those
that are buried in the grave mounds. It has seen much wear also, and,
I should say, has loosed many a spirit. Look at the gold work of the
handle. Truly a wondrous weapon, worth all the necklaces in the world.
But tell us your story."

So I told them, and when I came to the images that we had found standing
on the coffin, Iduna, who was paying little heed, stopped from her
fondling of the necklace and asked where they were.

"Freydisa has them," I answered. "Show them the Wanderer's gods,
Freydisa."

"So Freydisa was with you, was she?" said Iduna.

Then she glanced at the gods, laughed a little at their fashion and
raiment, and again fell to fingering the necklace, which was more to her
than any gods.

Afterwards Freydisa asked me what was the dream of which I had spoken,
and I told it to her, every word.

"It is a strange story," said Freydisa. "What do you make of it, Olaf?"

"Nothing save that it was a dream. And yet those three broken wires
that are twisted round the chain, which I had never noted till I saw the
necklace in Iduna's hand! They fit well with my dream."

"Aye, Olaf, and the dream fits well with other things. Have you ever
heard, Olaf, that there are those who say that men live more than once
upon this earth?"

"No," I answered, laughing. "Yet why should they not do so, as they live
at all? If so, perhaps I am that Wanderer, in whose body I seemed to be,
only then I am sure that the lady with the golden shells was not Iduna."
And again I laughed.

"No, Olaf, she was not Iduna, though perchance there was an Iduna, all
the same. Tell me, did you see aught of that priestess who was with the
lady?"

"Only that she was tall and dark, one of middle age. But why waste words
on this midnight madness? Yet that royal woman haunts me. I would that
I could see her again, if only in a dream. Also, Freydisa, I would
that Iduna had not taken the necklace. I fear lest it should bring
misfortune. Where is she now? I will tell her again."

"Wandering with Steinar, I think, and wearing the necklace. Oh! Olaf,
like you I fear it will bring woe. I cannot read your dream--as yet."



It was the day before that of my marriage. I see them moving about,
the shapes of all those long-forgotten men and women, arrayed in their
bravest garments and rude ornaments of gold and silver, for a great
company had been bidden, many of whom came from far. I see my uncle,
Leif, the dark-browed priest of Odin, passing between the hall and the
temple where on the morrow he must celebrate the marriage rites in such
a fashion as would do honour to the god. I see Iduna, Athalbrand and
Steinar talking together apart. I see myself watching all this life
and stir like one who is mazed, and I know that since I had entered
the Wanderer's grave all things had seemed unreal to me. Iduna, whom
I loved, was about to become my wife, and yet between me and Iduna
continually was thrust a vision of the woman of my dream. At times I
thought that the blow from the bear's paw had hurt my brain; that I must
be going mad. I prayed to the gods that this might not be so, and when
my prayers availed me nothing I sought the counsel of Freydisa.

She listened to my story, then said briefly,

"Let be. Things will go as they are fated. You are no madder than the
rest of men. I can say no more."

It was the custom of that time and land that, if possible, the wife to
be should not pass the night before her marriage under the same roof as
her future husband. Therefore Athalbrand, whose mood had been strange
of late, went with Iduna to sleep in his beached ship. At my request
Steinar went with them, in order that he might see that they were
brought back in good time in the morning.

"You will not fail me in this, Steinar?" I said, clasping his hand.

He tried to answer something, but the words seemed to choke in his
throat and he turned away, leaving them unspoken.

"Why," I exclaimed, "one might think you were going to be married, not
I."

"Aye," broke in Iduna hurriedly. "The truth is that Steinar is jealous
of me. How is it that you can make us all love you so much, Olaf?"

"Would that I were more worthy of your love," I answered, smiling, "as
in years to come I hope to show myself."

Athalbrand, who was watching, tugged at his forked beard and muttered
something that sounded like an oath. Then he rode off, kicking his horse
savagely and not noting my outstretched hand, or so it seemed. Of this,
however, I took little heed, for I was engaged in kissing Iduna in
farewell.

"Be not sad," she said, as she kissed me back on the lips. "Remember
that we part for the last time." Again she kissed me and went, laughing
happily.

The morning came. All was prepared. From far and near the guests were
gathered, waiting to do honour to the marriage feast. Even some of the
men of Agger were there, who had come to pay homage to their new lord.
The spring sun shone brightly, as it should upon a marriage morn, and
without the doors the trumpeters blew blasts with their curved horns. In
the temple the altar of Odin was decorated with flowers, and by it, also
decorated with flowers, the offering awaited sacrifice. My mother, in
her finest robe, the same, in truth, in which she herself had been wed,
stood by the door of the hall, which was cleared of kine and set with
tables, giving and returning greetings. Her arm was round me, who, as
bridegroom, was clothed in new garments of woven wool through which ran
a purple streak, the best that could be made in all the land. Ragnar
came up.

"They should be here," he said. "The hour is over past."

"Doubtless the fair bride has been long in decking herself," answered my
father, looking at the sun. "She will come presently."

Still time went on, and the company began to murmur, while a strange,
cold fear seemed to grip my heart. At length a man was seen riding
towards the hall, and one cried,

"At last! Here comes the herald!"

Another answered: "For a messenger of love he rides slowly and sadly."
And a silence fell on all that heard him.

The man, a stranger to us, arrived and said:

"I have a message for the lord Thorvald from the lord Athalbrand, which
I was charged to deliver at this hour, neither before nor after. It is
that he sailed for Lesso at the rising of the moon last night, there
purposing to celebrate the marriage of his daughter, the lady Iduna,
with Steinar, lord of Agger, and is therefore grieved that he and the
lady Iduna cannot be present at your feast this day."

Now, when I heard these words I felt as though a spear had been thrust
through me. "Steinar! Oh! surely not with my brother Steinar," I gasped,
and staggered against the door-post, where I stood like one who has been
struck helpless.

Ragnar sprang at the messenger, and, dragging him from his horse, would
have killed him had not some stayed his hand. My father, Thorvald,
remained silent, but his half-brother, the dark-browed priest of Odin,
lifted his hands to heaven and called down the curse of Odin upon the
troth-breakers. The company drew swords and shouted for vengeance,
demanding to be led against the false Athalbrand. At length my father
called for silence.

"Athalbrand is a man without shame," he said. "Steinar is a viper whom
I have nursed in my breast, a viper that has bitten the hand which saved
him from death; aye, you men of Agger, you have a viper for your lord.
Iduna is a light-of-love upon whom all honest women should spit, who has
broken her oath and sold herself for Steinar's wealth and rule. I swear
by Thor that, with your help, my friends and neighbours, I will be
avenged upon all three of these. But for such vengeance preparations
must be made, since Athalbrand and Steinar are strong. Moreover, they
lie in an island, and can only be attacked by sea. Further, there is
no haste, since the mischief is done, and by now Steinar the Snake and
Iduna the Light-of-love will have drunk their marriage-cup. Come, eat,
my friends, and not too sadly, seeing that if my house has suffered
shame, it has escaped worse shame, that of welcoming a false woman as
a bride of one of us. Doubtless, when his bitterness is past, Olaf, my
son, will find a better wife."

So they sat down and ate the marriage feast. Only the seats of the bride
and bridegroom were empty, for I could not take part in that feast, but
went alone to my sleeping-place and drew the curtains. My mother also
was so overcome that she departed to her own chamber. Alone I sat upon
my bed and listened to the sounds of that marriage feast, which more
resembled such a one as is given at funerals. When it was finished I
heard my father and Ragnar and the head men and chiefs of the company
take counsel together, after which all departed to their homes.

So soon as they were gone Freydisa came to me, bringing food and drink.

"I am a shamed man, Freydisa," I said, "and can no longer stay in this
land where I have been made one for children to mock at."

"It is not you who are shamed," answered Freydisa hotly. "It is Steinar
and that----," and she used a harsh word of Iduna. "Oh! I saw it coming,
and yet I dared not warn you. I feared lest I might be wrong and put
doubts into your heart against your foster-brother and your wife without
cause. May Odin destroy them both!"

"Speak not so roughly, Freydisa," I said. "Ragnar was right about Iduna.
Her beauty never blinded him as it did me, and he read her truly. Well,
she did but follow her nature; and as for Steinar, she fooled him as she
has the power to do by any man, save Ragnar. Doubtless he will repent
bitterly ere all is done. Also I think that necklace from the grave is
an evil magic."

"It is like you, Olaf, to find excuse even for sin that cannot be
forgiven. Not but what I hold with you that Steinar has been led away
against his will, for I read it in his face. Well, his life must pay the
price of it, for surely he shall bleed on Odin's altar. Now, be a man.
Come out and face your trouble. You are not the first that a woman has
fooled, nor will you be the last. Forget love and dream of vengeance."

"I cannot forget love, and I do not wish for vengeance, especially
against Steinar, who is my foster-brother," I answered wearily.



CHAPTER V

THE BATTLE ON THE SEA

On the morrow Thorvald, my father, sent messengers to the head men of
Agger, telling them of all that he and his House had suffered at the
hands of Steinar, whereof those of their folk who had been present at
the feast could bear witness. He added that if they stood by Steinar in
his wickedness and treachery, thenceforward he and the men of the North
would be their foes and work them mischief by land and sea.

In due course these messengers returned with the tale that the head men
of Agger had met together and deposed Steinar from his lordship over
them, electing another man, a nephew of Steinar's father. Also they sent
a present of gold rings in atonement for the wrong which had been done
to the house of Thorvald by one of their blood, and prayed that Thorvald
and the northern men would bear them no ill will for that in which they
were blameless.

Cheered by this answer, which halved the number of their foes,
my father, Thorvald of Aar, and those Over-men of whom he was the
High-lord, began to make their preparations to attack Athalbrand on his
Island of Lesso. Of all these things Athalbrand learned by his spies,
and later, when the warships were being prepared and manned, two
messengers came from him, old men of repute, and demanded to see my
father. This was the substance of his message, which was delivered in my
hearing.

That he, Athalbrand, was little to blame for what had happened, which
was due to the mad passions of two young people who had blinded and
misled him. That no marriage had taken place between Steinar and his
daughter, Iduna, as he was prepared and able to prove, since he had
refused to allow any such marriage. That, therefore, he was ready to
outlaw Steinar, who only dwelt with him as an unwelcome guest, and to
return his daughter, Iduna, to me, Olaf, and with her a fine in gold
rings as compensation for the wrong done, of which the amount was to be
ascertained by judges to be agreed upon.

My father entertained the messengers, but would give them no answer till
he had summoned a council of the Under-lords who stood with him in
this business. At that council, where I was present, some said that the
insult could only be washed out with blood. At length I was called upon
to speak as the man most concerned. While all listened I rose and said:

"These are my words. After what has chanced, not for all the wealth in
Denmark would I take Iduna the Fair to be my wife. Let her stay with
Steinar, whom she has chosen. Still, I do not wish to cause the blood of
innocent men to be spent because of my private wrong. Neither do I wish
to wreak vengeance upon Steinar, who for many years was my brother, and
who has been led away by a woman, as may chance to any one of us and
has chanced to many. Therefore I say that my father should accept
Athalbrand's fine in satisfaction of the insult to our House, and let
all this matter be forgotten. As for myself, I purpose to leave my home,
where I have been put to shame, and to seek my fortune in other lands."

Now, the most of those present thought this a wise saying and were ready
to abide by it. Yet, unluckily enough, it was made of no account by what
had slipped from my lips at its end. Although many held me strange and
fey, all men loved me because I had a kind heart and gentleness, also
because of the wrongs that I had suffered and for something which they
saw in me, which they believed would one day make of me a great skald
and a wise leader. When she heard me announce thus publicly that I was
determined to leave them, Thora, my mother, whispered in the ears of
Thorvald, my father, and Ragnar and others also said to each other that
this might not be. It was Ragnar, the headlong, who sprang up and spoke
the first.

"Is my brother to be driven from us and his home like a thrall caught
in theft because a traitor and a false woman have put him to shame?" he
said. "I say that I ask Athalbrand's blood to wash away that stain,
not his gold, and that if need be I will seek it alone and die upon his
spears. Also I say that if Olaf, my brother, turns his back upon this
vengeance, I name him niddering."

"No man shall name me that," I said, flushing, "and least of all
Ragnar."

So, amidst shouts, for there had been long peace in the land, and all
the fighting men sighed for battle, it was agreed that war should be
declared on Athalbrand, those present pledging themselves and their
dependents to follow it to the end.

"Go back to the troth-breaker, Athalbrand," said my father to the
messengers. "Tell him that we will not accept his fine of gold, who come
to take all his wealth, and with it his land and his life. Tell him also
that the young lord Olaf refuses his daughter, Iduna, since it has
not been the fashion of our House to wed with drabs. Tell Steinar, the
woman-thief, that he would do well to slay himself, or to be sure that
he is killed in battle, since if we take him living he shall be cast
into a pit of vipers or sacrificed to Odin, the god of honour. Begone!"

"We go," answered the spokesman of the messengers; "yet before we go,
Thorvald, we would say to you that you and your folk are mad. Some wrong
has been done to your son, though perhaps not so much as you may think.
For that wrong full atonement has been offered, and with it the hand of
friendship on which you spit. Know then that the mighty lord Athalbrand
does not fear war, since for every man you can gather he numbers two,
all pledged to him until the death. Also he has consulted the oracle,
and its answer is that if you fight with him, but one of your House will
be left living."

"Begone!" thundered my father, "lest presently you should stay here
dead."

So they went.



That day my heart was very heavy, and I sought Freydisa to take counsel
with her.

"Trouble hovers over me like a croaking raven," I said. "I do not like
this war for a woman who is worth nothing, although she has hurt me
sorely. I fear the future, that it may prove even worse than the past
has been."

"Then come to learn it, Olaf, for what is known need no more be feared."

"I am not so sure of that," I said. "But how can the future be learned?"

"Through the voice of the god, Olaf. Am I not one of Odin's virgins,
who know something of the mysteries? Yonder in his temple mayhap he will
speak through me, if you dare to listen."

"Aye, I dare. I should like to hear the god speak, true words or false."

"Then come and hear them, Olaf."

So we went up to the temple, and Freydisa, who had the right of entry,
unlocked its door. We passed in and lit a lamp in front of the seated
wooden image of Odin, that for unnumbered generations had rested there
behind the altar. I stood by the altar and Freydisa crouched herself
before the image, her forehead laid upon its feet, and muttered runes.
After a while she grew silent, and fear took hold of me. The place was
large, and the feeble light of the lamp scarcely reached to the arched
roof; all about me were great formless shadows. I felt that there were
two worlds, one of the flesh and one of the spirit, and that I stood
between the two. Freydisa seemed to go to sleep; I could no longer hear
her breathing. Then she sighed heavily and turned her head, and by the
light of the lamp I noted that her face was white and ghastly.

"What do you seek?" her lips asked, for I saw them moving. Yet the voice
that issued from them was not her own voice, but that of a deep-throated
man, who spoke with a strange accent.

Next came the answer in the voice of Freydisa.

"I, your virgin, seek to know the fate of him who stands by the altar,
one whom I love."

For a while there was quiet; then the first voice spoke, still through
the lips of Freydisa. Of this I was sure, for those of the statue
remained immovable. It was what it had always been--a thing of wood.

"Olaf, the son of Thorvald," said the deep voice, "is an enemy of us the
gods, as was his forefather whose grave he robbed. As his forefather's
fate was, so shall his be, for in both of them dwells the same spirit.
He shall worship that which is upon the hilt of the sword he stole from
the dead, and in this sign shall conquer, since it prevails against us
and makes our curse of none effect. Great sorrow shall he taste, and
great joy. He shall throw away a sceptre for a woman's kiss, and yet
gain a greater sceptre. Olaf, whom we curse, shall be Olaf the Blessed.
Yet in the end shall we prevail against his flesh and that of those who
cling to him preaching that which is upon the sword but not with the
sword, among whom thou shalt be numbered, woman--thou, and another, who
hast done him wrong."

The voice died away, and was followed by a silence so deep that at
length I could bear it no more.

"Ask of the war," I said, "and of what shall happen."

"It is too late," answered the voice of Freydisa. "I sought to know of
you, Olaf, and you alone, and now the spirit has left me."

Then came another long silence, after which Freydisa sighed thrice and
awoke. We went out of the temple, I bearing the lamp and she resting on
my arm. Near the door I turned and looked back, and it seemed to me that
the image of the god glared upon me wrathfully.

"What has chanced?" asked Freydisa when we stood beneath the light of
the friendly stars. "I know nothing; my mind is a blackness."

I told her word for word. When I had finished she said,

"Give me the Wanderer's sword."

I gave it to her, and she held it against the sky by the naked blade.

"The hilt is a cross," she said; "but how can a man worship a cross and
preach it and conquer thereby? I cannot interpret this rede, yet I do
not doubt but that it shall all come true, and that you, Olaf, and I are
doomed to be joined in the same fate, whatever it may be, and with us
some other who has wronged you, Steinar perchance, or Iduna herself.
Well, of this at least I am glad, for if I have loved the father, I
think that I love the son still more, though otherwise." And, leaning
forward, she kissed me solemnly upon the brow.



After Freydisa and I had sought the oracle of Odin, three long ships
of war sailed by the light of the moon from Fladstrand for Athalbrand's
Isle of Lesso. I do not know when we sailed, but in my mind I can
still see those ships creeping out to sea. In command of the first was
Thorvald, my father; of the second, Ragnar, my brother; and of the third
myself, Olaf; and on each of these ships were fifty men, all of them
stout fighters.

The parting with Thora, my mother, had been sad, for her heart foreboded
ill of this war, and her face could not hide what her heart told her.
Indeed, she wept bitterly, and cursed the name of Iduna the Fair, who
had brought this trouble on her House. Freydisa was sad also. Yet,
watching her opportunity, she glided up to me just before I embarked and
whispered to me,

"Be of good cheer, for you will return, whoever is left behind."

"It will give me little comfort to return if certain others are left
behind," I answered. "Oh, that the folk had hearkened to me and made
peace!"

"Too late to talk of that now," said Freydisa, and we parted.

This was our plan: To sail for Lesso by the moonlight, and when the moon
went down to creep silently towards the shores of the island. Then, just
at the first break of dawn, we proposed to beach the ships on a sandy
strand we knew, and rush to attack Athalbrand's hall, which we hoped to
carry before men were well awake. It was a bold scheme and one full
of dangers, yet we trusted that its very boldness would cause it
to succeed, especially as we had put it about that, owing to the
unreadiness of our ships, no attack would be made until the coming of
the next moon.

Doubtless all might have gone well with us but for a strange chance. As
it happened, Athalbrand, a brave and skilful captain, who from his youth
had seen much war by sea and land, had a design of his own which
brought ours to nothing. It was that he and his people should sail to
Fladstrand, burn the ships of Thorvald, my father, that he knew were
fitting out upon the beach, which he hoped to find unguarded, or at most
only watched by a few men, and then return to Lesso before he could
be fallen upon. By ill luck he had chosen this very night for his
enterprise. So it came about that just as the moon was sinking our
watchmen caught sight of four other ships, which by the shields that
hung over their bulwarks they knew must be vessels of war, gliding
towards them over the quiet sea.

"Athalbrand comes to meet us!" cried one, and in a minute every man
was looking to his arms. There was no time for plans, since in that low
light and mist the vessels were almost bow to bow before we saw each
other. My father's ship ran in between two of Athalbrand's that were
sailing abreast, while mine and that of Ragnar found themselves almost
alongside of the others. On both sides the sails were let down, for none
had any thought of flight. Some rushed to the oars and got enough of
them out to work the ships. Others ran to the grappling irons, and the
rest began to shoot with their bows. Before one could count two hundred
from the time of sighting, the war cry of "_Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory
or Valhalla!_" broke upon the silence of the night and the battle had
begun.

It was a very fierce battle, and one that the gathering darkness made
more grim. Each ship fought without heed to the others, for as the
fray went on they drifted apart, grappled to their foes. My father,
Thorvald's, vessel fared the worst, since it had an enemy on either
bulwark. He boarded one and cleared it, losing many men. Then the crew
of the other rushed on to him as he regained his own ship. The end of it
was that my father and all his folk were killed, but only after they had
slain the most of their foes, for they died fighting very bravely.

Between Ragnar's ship and that of Athalbrand himself the fray was more
even. Ragnar boarded Athalbrand and was driven back. Athalbrand boarded
Ragnar and was driven back. Then for the second time Ragnar boarded
Athalbrand with those men who were left to him. In the narrow waist of
Athalbrand's ship a mighty battle was fought, and here at last Ragnar
and Athalbrand found themselves face to face.

They hacked at each other with their axes, till at length Ragnar, with
a fearful blow, drove in Athalbrand's helmet and clove his skull in two,
so that he died. But even as he fell, a man, it may have been friend
or foe, for the moon was sinking and the darkness grew dense, thrust a
spear into Ragnar's back, and he was carried, dying, to his own vessel
by those who remained to him.

Then that fight ceased, for all Athalbrand's people were dead or wounded
to the death. Meanwhile, on the right, I was fighting the ship that
was commanded by Steinar, for it was fated that we two should be thrown
together. Here also the struggle was desperate. Steinar and his company
boarded at the prow, but I and my men, charging up both boards, drove
them back again. In that charge it is true that I, Olaf, fighting madly,
as was my wont when roused, killed three of the Lesso folk with the
Wanderer's sword. Still I see them falling one by one. Followed by six
of my people, I sprang on to the raised prow of Steinar's ship. Just
then the grapnels parted, and there we were left, defending ourselves
as best we could. My mates got their oars and once more brought our
boat alongside. Grapple they could not, because the irons were lost.
Therefore, in obedience to the order which I shouted to them from the
high prow of the enemy's ship, they began to hurl their ballast stones
into her, and thus stove out her bottom, so that in the end she filled
and sank.

Even while she was down the fray went on. Nearly all my people were
down; indeed but two remained to me when Steinar, not knowing who I was,
rushed up and, having lost his sword, gripped me round the middle.
We wrestled, but Steinar, who was the stronger, forced me back to the
bulwarks and so overboard. Into the sea we went together just as
the ship sank, drawing us down after her. When we rose Steinar was
senseless, but still clinging to me as I caught a rope that was thrown
to me with my right hand, to which the Wanderer's sword was hanging by a
leathern loop.

The end of it was that I and the senseless Steinar were both drawn back
to my own ship just as the darkness closed in.



An hour later came the dawn, showing a sad sight. My father, Thorvald's,
ship and one of Athalbrand's lay helpless, for all, or nearly all, their
crews were dead, while the other had drifted off and was now half a mile
away.

Ragnar's ship was still grappled to its foe. My own was perhaps in the
best case, for here over twenty men were left unhurt, and another ten
whose wounds were light. The rest were dead or dying.

I sat on a bench in the waist of the ship, and at my feet lay the man
who had been dragged from the sea with me. I thought that this man was
dead till the first red rays of dawn lit upon his face, whereon he sat
up, and I saw that he was Steinar.

"Thus we meet again, my brother," I said in a quiet voice. "Well,
Steinar, look upon your work." And I pointed to the dead and dying and
to the ships around, whence came the sound of groans.

Steinar stared at me and asked in a thick voice:

"Was it with you, Olaf, that I fell into the sea?"

"Even so, Steinar."

"I knew it not in the darkness, Olaf. If I had known, never would I have
lifted sword against you."

"What did that matter, Steinar, when you had already pierced my heart,
though not with a sword?"

At these words Steinar moaned aloud, then said:

"For the second time you have saved my life."

"Aye, Steinar; but who knows whether I can do so for a third time? Yet
take comfort, for if I may I will, for thus shall I be best avenged."

"A white vengeance," said Steinar. "Oh, this is not to be borne." And
drawing a knife he wore at his girdle, he strove to kill himself.

But I, who was watching, snatched it away, then gave an order.

"Bind this man and keep him safe. Also bring him drink and a cloak to
cover him."

"Best kill the dog," grumbled the captain, to whom I spoke.

"I kill that one who lays a finger on him," I replied.

Someone whispered into the captain's ear, whereon he nodded and laughed
savagely.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I am a thickhead. I had forgotten Odin and his
sacrifice. Yes, yes, we'll keep the traitor safe."

So they bound Steinar to one of the benches and gave him ale and covered
him with a blood-stained cloak taken from a dead man.

I also drank of the ale and drew a cloak about me, for the air was keen.
Then I said,

"Let us go to the other ships and see what has chanced there."

They got out the oars and rowed to Ragnar's vessel, where we saw men
stirring.

"How went it with you?" I asked of one who stood upon the prow.

"Not so ill, Olaf," he answered. "We won, and but now, with the new
light, have finished the game. They are all quiet yonder," he added,
nodding at the vessel of Athalbrand, to which they were still grappled.

"Where is Ragnar?" I asked.

"Come on board and see," answered the man.

A plank was thrust out and I ran across it, fear gripping at my heart.
Resting against the mast sat Ragnar, dying.

"Good morrow to you, Olaf," he gasped. "I am glad you live, that there
may be one left to sit at Aar."

"What do you mean, my brother?"

"I mean, Olaf, that our father, Thorvald, is dead. They called it to us
from yonder." And he pointed with his red sword to our father's ship,
that lay side by side with one of Athalbrand's. "Athalbrand is dead,
for I slew him, and ere the sun is well clear of the sea I also shall
be dead. Oh, weep not, Olaf; we have won a great fight, and I travel
to Valhalla with a glorious company of friends and foes, there to await
you. I say that had I lived to be old, never could I have found a better
death, who then at last might have died like a cow. Get the ships to
Fladstrand, Olaf, and gather more men to put all Lesso to the sword.
Give us good burial, Olaf, and build a great mound over us, that we may
stand thereon at moonrise and mock the men of Lesso as they row past,
till Valhalla is full and the world dies. Is Steinar dead? Tell me that
Steinar is dead, for then I'll speak with him presently."

"No, Ragnar, I have taken Steinar captive."

"Captive! Why captive? Oh, I understand; that he may lie on Odin's
altar. Friends, swear to me that Steinar shall lie on Odin's altar,
Steinar, the bride-thief, Seiner the traitor. Swear it, for I do not
trust this brother of mine, who has woman's milk in his breasts. By
Thor, he might spare him if he had his way. Swear it, or I'll haunt your
beds o' nights and bring the other heroes with me. Swift now, while my
ears are open."

Then from both ships rose the cry of

"We swear! Fear not, Ragnar, we swear."

"That's well," said Ragnar. "Kiss me now, Olaf. Oh! what is it that I
see in your eyes? A new light, a strange light! Olaf, you are not one of
us. This time is not your time, nor this place your place. You travel to
the end by another road. Well, who knows? At that end we may meet again.
At least I love you."

Then he burst into a wild war song of blood and vengeance, and so
singing sank down and died.



Afterwards, with much labour, I and the men who were left roped
together our vessels, and to them those that we had captured, and when
a favouring wind arose, sailed back for Fladstrand. Here a multitude
awaited us, for a fishing-boat had brought tidings of the great sea
battle. Of the hundred and fifty men who had sailed in my father,
Thorvald's, ships sixty were dead and many others wounded, some of
them to death. Athalbrand's people had fared even worse, since those of
Thorvald had slain their wounded, only one of his vessels having escaped
back to Lesso, there to tell the people of that island and Iduna all
that had happened. Now it was a land of widows and orphans, so that no
man need go wooing there for long, and of Aar and the country round the
same song was sung. Indeed, for generations the folk of those parts
must have told of the battle of Lesso, when the chiefs, Thorvald and
Athalbrand, slew each other upon the seas at night because of a quarrel
about a woman who was known as Iduna the Fair.

On the sands of Fladstrand my mother, the lady Thora, waited with the
others, for she had moved thither before the sailing of the ships. When
mine, the first of them, was beached, I leapt from it, and running to
her, knelt down and kissed her hand.

"I see you, my son Olaf," she said, "but where are your father and
brother?"

"Yonder, mother," I answered, pointing to the ships, and could say no
more.

"Then why do they tarry, my son?"

"Alas! mother, because they sleep and will never wake again."

Now Thora wailed aloud and fell down senseless. Three days later she
died, for her heart, which was weak, could not bear this woe. Once only
did she speak before she died, and then it was to bless me and pray that
we might meet again, and to curse Iduna. Folk noted that of Steinar she
said nothing, either good or ill, although she knew that he lived and
was a prisoner.

Thus it came about that I, Olaf, was left alone in the world and
inherited the lordship of Aar and its subject lands. No one remained
save my dark-browed uncle, Leif, the priest of Odin, Freydisa, the wise
woman, my nurse, and Steinar, my captive foster-brother, who had been
the cause of all this war.

The dying words of Ragnar had been noised abroad. The priest of Odin had
laid them before the oracle of the gods, and this oracle declared that
they must be fulfilled without change.

So all the folk of that land met together at my bidding--yes, even
the women and the children. First we laid the dead in the largest
of Athalbrand's ships, his people and Athalbrand himself being set
undermost. Then on them we set the dead of Thorvald, Thorvald, my
father, and his son Ragnar, my brother, bound to the mast upon their
feet. This done, with great labour we dragged the ship on to high
ground, and above it built a mighty mound of earth. For twenty days
we toiled at the task, till at last it was finished and the dead were
hidden beneath it for ever. Then we separated to our homes and mourned a
while.

But Steinar was carried to the temple of Odin at Aar, and there kept in
the prison of the temple.



CHAPTER VI

HOW OLAF FOUGHT WITH ODIN

It was the eve of the Spring Feast of Odin. It comes back to me that at
this feast it was the custom to sacrifice some beast to Odin and to lay
flowers and other offerings upon the altars of certain other gods that
they might be pleased to grant a fruitful season. On this day, however,
the sacrifice was to be of no beast, but of a man--Steinar the traitor.

That night I, Olaf, by the help of Freydisa, the priestess of the god,
won entrance to the dungeon where Steinar lay awaiting his doom. This
was not easy to do. Indeed, I remember that it was only after I had
sworn a great oath to Leif and the other priests that I would attempt no
rescue of the victim, nor aid him to escape from his prison, that I
was admitted there, while armed men stood without to see that I did not
break my word. For my love of Steinar was known, and in this matter none
trusted me.

That dungeon was a dreadful place. I see it now. In the floor of the
temple was a trap-door, which, when lifted, revealed a flight of steps.
At the foot of these steps was another massive door of oak, bolted
and barred. It was opened and closed behind me, who found myself in a
darksome den built of rough stone, to which air came only through an
opening in the roof, so small that not even a child could pass it. In
the far corner of this hole, bound to the wall by an iron chain fastened
round his middle, Steinar lay upon a bed of rushes, while on a stool
beside him stood food and water. When I entered, bearing a lamp, Steinar
sat up blinking his eyes, for the light, feeble as it was, hurt them,
and I saw that his face was white and drawn, and the hand he held to
shade his eyes was wasted. I looked at him and my heart swelled with
pity, so that I could not speak.

"Why have you come here, Olaf?" asked Steinar when he knew me. "Is it to
take my life? If so, never were you more welcome."

"No, Steinar, it is to bid you farewell, since to-morrow at the feast
you die, and I am helpless to save you. In all things else men will obey
me, but not in this."

"And would you save me if you could?"

"Aye, Steinar. Why not? Surely you must suffer enough with so much blood
and evil on your hands."

"Yes, I suffer enough, Olaf. So much that I shall be glad to die. But
if you are not come to kill me, then it is that you may scourge me with
your tongue."

"Not so, Steinar. It is as I have said, only to bid you farewell and to
ask you a question, if it pleases you to answer me. Why did you do this
thing which has brought about such misery and loss, which has sent my
father, my brother, and a host of brave men to the grave, and with them
my mother, whose breasts nursed you?"

"Is she dead also, Olaf? Oh! my cup is full." He hid his eyes in his
thin hands and sobbed, then went on: "Why did I do it? Olaf, I did not
do it, but some spirit that entered into me and made me mad--mad for the
lips of Iduna the Fair. Olaf, I would speak no ill of her, since her sin
is mine, but yet it is true that when I hung back she drew me on, nor
could I find the strength to say her nay. Do you pray the gods, Olaf,
that no woman may ever draw you on to such shame as mine. Hearken now
to the great reward that I have won. I was never wed to Iduna, Olaf.
Athalbrand would not suffer it till he was sure of the matter of the
lordship of Agger. Then, when he knew that this was gone from me, he
would suffer it still less, and Iduna herself seemed to grow cold.
In truth, I believe he thought of killing me and sending my head as a
present to your father Thorvald. But this Iduna forbade, whether because
she loved me or for other reasons, I cannot say. Olaf, you know the
rest."

"Aye, Steinar, I know the rest. Iduna is lost to me, and for that
perhaps I should thank you, although such a thrust as this leaves the
heart sore for life. My father, my mother, my brother--all are lost to
me, and you, too, who were as my twin, are about to be lost. Night has
you all, and with you a hundred other men, because of the madness that
was bred in you by the eyes of Iduna the Fair, who also is lost to
both of us. Steinar, I do not blame you, for I know yours was a madness
which, for their own ends, the gods send upon men, naming it love. I
forgive you, Steinar, if I have aught to forgive, and I tell you, so
weary am I of this world, which I feel holds little that is good, that,
if I might, I'd yield up my life instead of yours, and go to seek the
others, though I doubt whether I should find them, since I think that
our roads are different. Hark! the priests call me. Steinar, there's no
need to bid you to be brave, for who of our Northern race is not? That's
our one heritage: the courage of a bull. Yet it seems to me that there
are other sorts of courage which we lack: to tread the dark ways of
death with eyes fixed on things gentler and better than we know. Pray
to our gods, Steinar, since they are the best we have to pray to,
though dark and bloody in their ways; pray that we may meet again, where
priests and swords are not and women work no ruin, where we may love as
we once loved in childhood and there is no more sin. Fare you well, my
brother Steinar, yet not for ever, for sure I am that here we did not
begin and here we shall not end. Oh! Steinar, Steinar, who could have
dreamed that this would be the last of all our happy fellowship?"

When I had spoken such words as these to him, I flung my arms about him,
and we embraced each other. Then that picture fades.



It was the hour of sacrifice. The victim lay bound upon the stone in
the presence of the statue of the god, but outside of the doors of the
little temple, that all who were gathered there might see the offering.

The ceremonies were ended. Leif, the head priest, in his robe of office,
had prayed and drunk the cup before the god, dedicating to him the blood
that was about to fall, and narrating in a chant the crimes for which
it was offered up and all the tale of woe that these had brought about.
Then, in the midst of an utter silence, he drew the sacrificial sword
and held it to the lips of Odin that the god might breathe upon it and
make it holy.

It would seem that the god did breathe; at least, that side of the sword
which had been bright grew dull. Leif turned it to the people, crying in
the ancient words:

"Odin takes; who dare deny?"

All eyes were fixed upon him, standing in his black robe, and holding
aloft the gleaming sword that had grown dull. Yes, even the patient eyes
of Steinar, bound upon the stone.

Then it was that some spirit stirred in my heart which drove me on to
step between the priest and his prey. Standing in the doorway of the
chapel, a tall, young shape against the gloom behind, I said in a steady
voice:

"I dare deny!"

A gasp of wonderment went up from all who heard, and Steinar, lifting
himself a little from the stone, stared at me, shook his head as if in
dissent, then let it fall again, and listened.

"Hearken, friends," I said. "This man, my foster-brother, has committed
a sin against me and my House. My House is dead--I alone remain; and on
behalf of the dead and of myself I forgive him his sin, which, indeed,
was less his than another's. Is there any man among you who at some time
has not been led aside by woman, or who has not again and again desired
to be so led aside? If such a one there be, let him say that he has no
forgiveness in his heart for Steinar, the son of Hakon. Let him come
forward and say it."

None stirred; even the women drooped their heads and were silent.

"Then, if this is so," I went on, "and you can forgive, as I do, how
much more should a god forgive? What is a god? Is he not one greater
than man, who must know all the weakness of man, which, for his own
ends, he has bred into the flesh of man? How, then, can he do otherwise
than be pitiful to what he has created? If this be so, how can the
god refuse that which men are willing to grant, and what sacrifice can
please him better than the foregoing of his own vengeance? Would a god
wish to be outdone by a man? If I, Olaf, the man can forgive, who have
been wronged, how much more can Odin the god forgive, who has suffered
no wrong save that of the breaking of those laws which will ever be
broken by men who are as it has pleased him to fashion them? On Odin's
behalf, therefore, and speaking as he would speak, could he have voice
among us, I demand that you set this victim free, leaving it to his own
heart to punish him."

Now, some whom my simple words had touched, I suppose because there was
truth in them, although in those days and in that land none understood
such truths, and others, because they had known and loved the
open-handed Steinar, who would have given the cloak from his back to the
meanest of them, cried:

"Aye, let him go free. There has been enough of death through this
Iduna."

But more stood silent, lost in doubt at this new doctrine. Only Leif,
my uncle, did not stand silent. His dark face began to work as though
a devil possessed him, as, indeed, I think one did. His eyes rolled; he
champed his jaws like an angry hog, and screamed:

"Surely the lord Olaf is mad, for no sane man would talk thus. Man
may forgive while it is within his power; but this traitor has been
dedicated to Odin, and can a god forgive? Can a god spare when his
nostrils are opened for the smell of blood? If so, of what use is it to
be a god? How is he happier than a man if he must spare? Moreover,
would ye bring the curse of Odin upon you all? I say to you--steal his
sacrifice, and you yourselves shall be sacrificed, you, your wives, your
children, aye, and even your cattle and the fruit of your fields."

When they heard this, the people groaned and shouted out:

"Let Steinar die! Kill him! Kill him that Odin may be fed!"

"Aye," answered Leif, "Steinar shall die. See, he dies!"

Then, with a leap like to that of a hungry wolf, he sprang upon the
bound man and slew him.

I see it now. The rude temple, the glaring statue of the god, the
gathered crowd, open mouthed and eyed, the spring sunshine shining
quietly over all, and, running past the place, a ewe calling to the lamb
that it had lost; I see the dying Steinar turn his white face, and
smile a farewell to me with his fading eyes; I see Leif getting to his
horrible rites that he might learn the omen, and lastly I see the red
sword of the Wanderer appear suddenly between me and him, and in my
hand. I think that my purpose was to cut him down. Only a thought arose
within me.

This priest was not to blame. He did no more than he had been taught.
Who taught him? The god he served, through whom he gained honour and
livelihood. So the god was to blame, the god that drank the blood of
men, as a thrall drinks ale, to satisfy his filthy appetite. Could such
a monster be a god? Nay, he must be a devil, and why should free men
serve devils? At least, I would not. I would cast him off, and let him
avenge himself upon me if he could. I, Olaf, would match myself against
this god--or devil.

I strode past Leif and the altar to where the statue of Odin sat within
the temple.

"Hearken!" I said in such a voice that all lifted their eyes from the
scene of butchery to me. "You believe in Odin, do you not?"

They answered "Aye."

"Then you believe that he can revenge himself upon one who rejects and
affronts him?"

"Aye," they answered again.

"If this be so," I went on, "will you swear to leave the matter between
Odin and me, Olaf, to be settled according to the law of single combat,
and give peace to the victor, with promise from all harm save at the
hands of his foe?"

"Aye," they answered, yet scarcely understanding what they said.

"Good!" I cried. "Now, God Odin, I, Olaf, a man, challenge you to single
combat. Strike you first, you, Odin, whom I name Devil and Wolf of the
skies, but no god. Strike you first, bloody murderer, and kill me, if
you can, who await your stroke!"

Then I folded my arms and stared at the statue's stony eyes, which
stared back at me, while all the people gasped.

For a full minute I waited thus, but all that happened was that a wren
settled on the head of Odin and twittered there, then flew off to its
nest in the thatch.

"Now," I cried, "you have had your turn, and mine comes."

I drew the Wanderer's sword, and sprang at Odin. My first stroke sunk up
to the hilt in his hollow belly; my next cut the sceptre from his hand;
my third--a great one--hewed the head from off him. It came rattling
down, and out of it crawled a viper, which reared itself up and hissed.
I set my heel upon the reptile's head and crushed it, and slowly it
writhed itself to death.

"Now, good folk," I cried, "what say you of your god Odin?"

They answered nothing, for all of them were in flight. Yes, even Leif
fled, cursing me over his shoulder as he went.

Presently I was alone with the dead Steinar and the shattered god, and
in that loneliness strange visions came to me, for I felt that I had
done a mighty deed, one that made me happy. Round the wall of the
temple crept a figure; it was that of Freydisa, whose face was white and
scared.

"You are a great man, Olaf," she said; "but how will it end?"

"I do not know," I answered. "I have done what my heart told me, neither
more nor less, and I bide the issue. Odin shall have his chance, for
here I stay till dark, and then, if I live, I leave this land. Go, get
me all the gold that is mine from the hall, and bring it here to me by
moonrise, and with it some garments and my armour. Bring me also my best
horse."

"You leave this land?" she said. "That means that you leave me, who love
you, to go forth as the Wanderer went--following a dream to the South.
Well, it is best that you should go, for whatever they have promised you
but now, it is sure that the priests will kill you, even if you escape
the vengeance of the god." And she looked askance at the shattered
statue which had sat in its place for so many generations that none knew
who had set it there, or when.

"I have killed the god," I answered, pointing to the crushed viper.

"Not quite, Olaf, for, see, its tail still moves."

Then she went, leaving me alone. I sat myself down by the murdered
Steinar, and stared at him. Could he be really dead, I wondered, or did
he live on elsewhere? My faith had taught me of a place called Valhalla
where brave men went, but in that faith and its gods I believed no more.
This Valhalla was but a child's tale, invented by a bloody-minded folk
who loved slaughter. Wherever Steinar and the others were, it was not in
Valhalla. Then, perhaps, they slept like the beasts do after these have
been butchered. Perhaps death was the end of all. It might be so, and
yet I did not believe it. There were other gods besides Odin and his
company, for what were those which we had found in the Wanderer's tomb?
I longed to know.

Yes, I would go south, as the Wanderer went, and search for them.
Perhaps there in the South I should learn the secret truth--and other
things.

I grew weary of these thoughts of gods who could not be found, or who,
if found, were but devils. My mind went back to my childhood's days,
when Steinar and I played together on the meads, before any woman had
come to wreck our lives. I remembered how we used to play until we were
weary, and how at nights I would tell him tales that I had learned or
woven, until at length we sank to sleep, our arms about each other's
necks. My heart grew full of sorrow that in the end broke from my eyes
in tears. Yes, I wept over Steinar, my brother Steinar, and kissed his
cold and gory lips.

The evening gathered, the twilight grew, and, one by one, the stars
sprang out in the quiet sky, till the moon appeared and gathered all
their radiance to herself. I heard the sound of a woman's dress, and
looked up, thinking to see Freydisa. But this woman was not Freydisa; it
was Iduna! Yes, Iduna's self!

I rose to my feet and stood still. She also stood still, on the farther
side of the stone of sacrifice whereon that which had been Steinar was
stretched between us. Then came a struggle of silence, in which she won
at last.

"Have you come to save him?" I asked. "If so, it is too late. Woman,
behold your work."

She shook her beautiful head and answered, almost in a whisper:

"Nay, Olaf, I am come to beg a boon of you: that you will slay me, here
and now."

"Am I a butcher--or a priest?" I muttered.

"Oh, slay me, slay me, Olaf!" she went on, throwing herself upon her
knees before me, and rending open her blue robe that her young breast
might take the sword. "Thus, perchance, I, who love life, may pay some
of the price of sin, who, if I slew myself, would but multiply the debt,
which in truth I dare not do."

Still I shook my head, and once more she spoke:

"Olaf, in this way or in that doubtless my end will find me, for, if you
refuse this office, there are others of sterner stuff. The knife that
smote Steinar is not blunted. Yet, before I die, who am come here but to
die, I pray you hear the truth, that my memory may be somewhat less vile
to you in the after years. Olaf, you think me the falsest of the false,
yet I am not altogether so. Hark you now! At the time that Steinar
sought me, some madness took him. So soon as we were alone together, his
first words were: 'I am bewitched. I love you.'

"Olaf, I'll not deny that his worship stirred my blood, for he was
goodly--well, and different to you, with your dreaming eyes and thoughts
that are too deep for me. And yet, by my breath, I swear that I meant
no harm. When we rode together to the ship, it was my purpose to return
upon the morrow and be made your wife. But there upon the ship my father
compelled me. It was his fancy that I should break with you and be wed
to Steinar, who had become so great a lord and who pleased him better
than you did, Olaf. And, as for Steinar--why, have I not told you that
he was mad for me?"

"Steinar's tale was otherwise, Iduna. He said that you went first, and
that he followed."

"Were those his words, Olaf? For, if so, how can I give the dead the
lie, and one who died through me? It seems unholy. Yet in this matter
Steinar had no reason left to him and, whether you believe me or no, I
tell the truth. Oh! hear me out, for who knows when they will come to
take me, who have walked into this nest of foes that I may be taken?
Pray as I would, the ship was run out, and we sailed for Lesso. There,
in my father's hall, upon my knees, I entreated him to hold his hand.
I told him what was true: that, of you twain, it was you I loved, not
Steinar. I told him that if he forced this marriage, war would come of
it that might mean all our deaths. But these things moved him nothing.
Then I told him that such a deed of shame would mean the loss of
Steinar's lordship, so that by it he would gain no profit. At last he
listened, for this touched him near. You know the rest. Thorvald, your
father, and Ragnar, who ever hated me, pressed on the war despite all
our offerings of peace. So the ships met, and Hela had her fill."

"Aye, Iduna, whatever else is false, this is true, that Hela had her
fill."

"Olaf, I have but one thing more to say. It is this: Only once did those
dead lips touch mine, and then it was against my will. Aye, although it
is shameful, you must learn the truth. My father held me, Olaf, while I
took the betrothal kiss, because I must. But, as you know, there was no
marriage."

"Aye, I know that," I said, "because Steinar told me so."

"And, save for that one kiss, Olaf, I am still the maid whom once you
loved so well."

Now I stared at her. Could this woman lie so blackly over dead Steinar's
corpse? When all was said and done, was it not possible that she spoke
the truth, and that we had been but playthings in the hands of an evil
Fate? Save for some trifling error, which might be forgiven to one who,
as she said, loved the worship that was her beauty's due, what if she
were innocent, after all?

Perhaps my face showed the thoughts that were passing through my mind.
At the least, she who knew me well found skill to read them. She crept
towards me, still on her knees; she cast her arms about me, and, resting
her weight upon me, drew herself to her feet.

"Olaf," she whispered, "I love you, I love you well, as I have always
done, though I may have erred a little, as women wayward and still unwed
are apt to do. Olaf, they told me yonder how you had matched yourself
against the god, with his priests for judges, and smitten him, and I
thought this the greatest deed that ever I have known. I used to think
you something of a weakling, Olaf, not in your body but in your mind,
one lost in music and in runes, who feared to put things to the touch
of war; but you have shown me otherwise. You slew the bear; you overcame
Steinar, who was so much stronger than you are, in the battle of the
ships; and now you have bearded Odin, the All-father. Look, his head
lies there, hewn off by you for the sake of one who, after all, had done
you wrong. Olaf, such a deed as that touches a woman's heart, and he
who does it is the man she would wish to lie upon her breast and be her
lord. Olaf, all this evil past may yet be forgotten. We might go and
live elsewhere for awhile, or always, for with your wisdom and my beauty
joined together what could we not conquer? Olaf, I love you now as I
have never loved before, cannot you love me again?"

Her arms clung about me; her beautiful blue eyes, shimmering with
moonlit tears, held my eyes, and my heart melted beneath her breath as
winter snows melt in the winds of spring. She saw, she understood; she
cast herself upon me, shaking her long hair over both of us, and seeking
my lips. Almost she had found them, when, feeling something hard between
me and her, something that hurt me, I looked down. Her cloak had slipped
or been thrown aside, and my eye caught the glint of gold and jewels. In
an instant I remembered--the Wanderer's necklace and the dream--and with
those memories my heart froze again.

"Nay, Iduna," I said, "I loved you well; there's no man will ever love
you more, and you are very fair. Whether you speak true words or false,
I do not know; it is between you and your own spirit. But this I do
know: that betwixt us runs the river of Steinar's blood, aye, and
the blood of Thorvald, my father, of Thora, my mother, of Ragnar, my
brother, and of many another man who clung to us, and that is a stream
which I cannot cross. Find you another husband, Iduna the Fair, since
never will I call you wife."

She loosed her arms from round me, and, lifting them again, unclasped
the Wanderer's necklace from about her breast.

"This it is," she said, "which has brought all these evils on me. Take
it back again, and, when you find her, give it to that one for whom
it is meant, that one whom you love truly, as, whatever you may have
thought, you never have loved me."

Then she sank upon the ground, and resting her golden head upon dead
Steinar's breast, she wept.



I think it was then that Freydisa returned; at least, I recall her tall
form standing near the stone of sacrifice, gazing at us both, a strange
smile on her face.

"Have you withstood?" she said. "Then, truly, you are in the way of
victory and have less to fear from woman than I thought. All things
are ready as you commanded, my lord Olaf, and there remains but to
say farewell, which you had best do quickly, for they plot your death
yonder."

"Freydisa," I answered, "I go, but perchance I shall return again.
Meanwhile, all I have is yours, with this charge. Guard you yonder
woman, and see her safe to her home, or wherever she would go, and to
Steinar here give honourable burial."



Then the darkness of oblivion falls, and I remember no more save
the white face of Iduna, her brow stained with Steinar's life-blood,
watching me as I went.




BOOK II

BYZANTIUM



CHAPTER I

IRENE, EMPRESS OF THE EARTH

A gulf of blackness and the curtain lifts again upon a very different
Olaf from the young northern lord who parted from Iduna at the place of
sacrifice at Aar.

I see myself standing upon a terrace that overlooks a stretch of quiet
water, which I now know was the Bosphorus. Behind me are a great palace
and the lights of a vast city; in front, upon the sea and upon the
farther shore, are other lights. The moon shines bright above me, and,
having naught else to do, I study my reflection in my own burnished
shield. It shows a man of early middle life; he may be thirty or
five-and-thirty years of age; the same Olaf, yet much changed. For now
my frame is tall and well-knit, though still somewhat slender; my face
is bronzed by southern suns; I wear a short beard; there is a scar
across my cheek, got in some battle; my eyes are quiet, and have lost
the first liveliness of youth. I know that I am the captain of the
Northern Guard of the Empress Irene, widow of the dead emperor, Leo
the Fourth, and joint ruler of the Eastern Empire with her young son,
Constantine, the sixth of that name.

How I came to fill this place, however, I do not know. The story of my
journey from Jutland to Byzantium is lost to me. Doubtless it must have
taken years, and after these more years of humble service, before I rose
to be the captain of Irene's Northern Guard that she kept ever about her
person, because she would not trust her Grecian soldiers.

My armour was very rich, yet I noted about myself two things that were
with me in my youth. One was the necklace of golden shells, divided from
each other by beetles of emeralds, that I had taken from the Wanderer's
grave at Aar, and the other the cross-hilted bronze sword with which
this same Wanderer had been girded in his grave. I know now that because
of this weapon, which was of a metal and shape strange to that land, I
had the byname of Olaf Red-Sword, and I know also that none wished to
feel the weight of this same ancient blade.

When I had finished looking at myself in the shield, I leaned upon the
parapet staring at the sea and wondering how the plains of Aar looked
that night beneath this selfsame moon, and whether Freydisa were dead
by now, and whom Iduna had married, and if she ever thought of me, or if
Steinar came to haunt her sleep.

So I mused, till presently I felt a light touch upon my shoulder, and
swung round to find myself face to face with the Empress Irene herself.

"Augusta!" I said, saluting, for, as Empress, that was her Roman title,
even though she was a Greek.

"You guard me well, friend Olaf," she said, with a little laugh. "Why,
any enemy, and Christ knows I have plenty, could have cut you down
before ever you knew that he was there."

"Not so, Augusta," I answered, for I could speak their Greek tongue
well; "since at the end of the terrace the guards stand night and day,
men of my own blood who can be trusted. Nothing which does not fly could
gain this place save through your own chambers, that are also guarded.
It is not usual for any watch to be set here, still I came myself in
case the Empress might need me."

"That is kind of you, my Captain Olaf, and I think I do need you. At
least, I cannot sleep in this heat, and I am weary of the thoughts of
State, for many matters trouble me just now. Come, change my mind, if
you can, for if so I'll thank you. Tell me of yourself when you were
young. Why did you leave your northern home, where I've heard you were a
barbarian chief, and wander hither to Byzantium?"

"Because of a woman," I answered.

"Ah!" she said, clapping her hands; "I knew it. Tell me of this woman
whom you love."

"The story is short, Augusta. She bewitched my foster-brother, and
caused him to be sacrificed to the northern gods as a troth-breaker, and
I do not love her."

"You'd not admit it if you did, Olaf. Was she beautiful, well, say as I
am?"

I turned and looked at the Empress, studying her from head to foot. She
was shorter than Iduna by some inches, also older, and therefore of a
thicker build; but, being a fair Greek, her colour was much the same,
save that the eyes were darker. The mouth, too, was more hard. For the
rest, she was a royal-looking and lovely woman in the flower of her age,
and splendidly attired in robes broidered with gold, over which she wore
long strings of rounded pearls. Her rippling golden hair was dressed in
the old Greek fashion, tied in a simple knot behind her head, and over
it was thrown a light veil worked with golden stars.

"Well, Captain Olaf," she said, "have you finished weighing my poor
looks against those of this northern girl in the scales of your
judgment? If so, which of us tips the beam?"

"Iduna was more beautiful than ever you can have been, Augusta," I
replied quietly.

She stared at me till her eyes grew quite round, then puckered up
her mouth as though to say something furious, and finally burst out
laughing.

"By every saint in Byzantium," she said, "or, rather, by their relics,
for of live ones there are none, you are the strangest man whom I have
known. Are you weary of life that you dare to say such a thing to me,
the Empress Irene?"

"Am I weary of life? Well, Augusta, on the whole I think I am. It seems
to me that death and after it may interest us more. For the rest, you
asked me a question, and, after the fashion of my people, I answered it
as truthfully as I could."

"By my head, you have said it again," she exclaimed. "Have you not
heard, most innocent Northman, that there are truths which should not be
mentioned and much less repeated?"

"I have heard many things in Byzantium, Augusta, but I pay no attention
to any of them--or, indeed, to little except my duty."

"Now that this, this--what's the girl's name?"

"Iduna the Fair," I said.

"----this Iduna has thrown you over, at which I am sure I do not wonder,
what mistresses have you in Byzantium, Olaf the Dane?"

"None at all," I answered. "Women are pleasant, but one may buy sweets
too dear, and all that ever I saw put together were not worth my brother
Steinar, who lost his life through one of them."

"Tell me, Captain Olaf, are you a secret member of this new society of
hermits of which they talk so much, who, if they see a woman, must hold
their faces in the sand for five minutes afterwards?"

"I never heard of them, Augusta."

"Are you a Christian?"

"No; I am considering that religion--or rather its followers."

"Are you a pagan, then?"

"No. I fought a duel with the god Odin, and cut his head off with this
sword, and that is why I left the North, where they worship Odin."

"Then what are you?" she said, stamping her foot in exasperation.

"I am the captain of your Imperial Majesty's private guard, a little of
a philosopher, and a fair poet in my own language, not in Greek. Also, I
can play the harp."

"You say 'not in Greek,' for fear lest I should ask you to write verses
to me, which, indeed, I shall never do, Olaf. A soldier, a poet, a
philosopher, a harpist, one who has renounced women! Now, why have you
renounced women, which is unnatural in a man who is not a monk? It must
be because you still love this Iduna, and hope to get her some day."

I shook my head and answered,

"I might have done that long ago, Augusta."

"Then it must be because there is some other woman whom you wish to
gain. Why do you always wear that strange necklace?" she added sharply.
"Did it belong to this savage girl Iduna, as, from the look of it, it
might well have done?"

"Not so, Augusta. She took it for a while, and it brought sorrow on her,
as it will do on all women save one who may or may not live to-day."

"Give it me. I have taken a fancy to it; it is unusual. Oh! fear not,
you shall receive its value."

"If you wish the necklace, Augusta, you must take the head as well; and
my counsel to you is that you do neither, since they will bring you no
good luck."

"In truth, Captain Olaf, you anger me with your riddles. What do you
mean about this necklace?"

"I mean, Augusta, that I took it from a very ancient grave----"

"That I can believe, for the jeweller who made it worked in old Egypt,"
she interrupted.

"----and thereafter I dreamed a dream," I went on, "of the woman who
wears the other half of it. I have not seen her yet, but when I do I
shall know her at once."

"So!" she exclaimed, "did I not tell you that, east or west or north or
south, there _is_ some other woman?"

"There was once, Augusta, quite a thousand years ago or more, and there
may be again now, or a thousand years hence. That is what I am trying
to find out. You say the work is Egyptian. Augusta, at your convenience,
will you be pleased to make another captain in my place? I would visit
Egypt."

"If you leave Byzantium without express permission under my own
hand--not the Emperor's or anybody else's hand; mine, I say--and are
caught, your eyes shall be put out as a deserter!" she said savagely.

"As the Augusta pleases," I answered, saluting.

"Olaf," she went on in a more gentle voice, "you are clearly mad; but,
to tell truth, you are also a madman who pleases me, since I weary of
the rogues and lick-spittles who call themselves sane in Byzantium. Why,
there's not a man in all the city who would dare to speak to me as
you have spoken to-night, and like that breeze from the sea, it is
refreshing. Lend me that necklace, Olaf, till to-morrow morning. I want
to examine it in the lamplight, and I swear to you that I will not take
it from you or play you any tricks about it."

"Will you promise not to wear it, Augusta?"

"Of course. Is it likely that I should wish to wear it on my bare breast
after it has been rubbing against your soiled armour?"

Without another word I unhooked the necklace and handed it to her. She
ran to a little distance, and, with one of those swift movements that
were common to her, fastened it about her own neck. Then she returned,
and threw the great strings of pearls, which she had removed to make
place for it, over my head.

"Now have you found the woman of that dream, Olaf?" she asked, turning
herself about in the moonlight.

I shook my head and answered:

"Nay, Augusta; but I fear that _you_ have found misfortune. When
it comes, I pray you to remember that you promised not to wear the
necklace. Also that your soldier, Olaf, Thorvald's son, would have given
his life rather than that you should have done so, not for the sake
of any dream, but for your sake, Augusta, whom it is his business to
protect."

"Would, then, it were your business either to protect me a little more,
or a little less!" she exclaimed bitterly.

Having uttered this dark saying, she vanished from the terrace still
wearing the string of golden shells.



On the following morning the necklace was returned to me by Irene's
favourite lady, who smiled as she gave it to me. She was a dark-eyed,
witty, and able girl named Martina, who had been my friend for a long
while.

"The Augusta said that you were to examine this jewel to see that it has
not been changed."

"I never suggested that the Augusta was a thief," I replied, "therefore
it is unnecessary."

"She said also that I was to tell you, in case you should think that it
has been befouled by her wearing of it, that she has had it carefully
cleaned."

"That is thoughtful of her, Martina, for it needed washing. Now, will
you take the Augusta's pearls, which she left with me in error?"

"I have no orders to take any pearls, Captain Olaf, although I did
notice that two of the finest strings in the Empire are missing. Oh! you
great northern child," she added in a whisper, "keep the pearls, they
are a gift, and worth a prince's ransom; and take whatever else you can
get, and keep that too."[*]

     [*] I have no further vision concerning these priceless
     pearls and do not know what became of them. Perhaps I was
     robbed of them during my imprisonment, or perhaps I gave
     them to Heliodore or to Martina. Where are they now, I
     wonder?--Editor.

Then, before I could answer her, she was gone.



For some weeks after this I saw no more of the Augusta, who appeared
to avoid me. One day, however, I was summoned to her presence in her
private apartments by the waiting-lady Martina, and went, to find her
alone, save for Martina. The first thing that I noticed was that she
wore about her neck an exact copy of the necklace of golden shells and
emerald beetles; further, that about her waist was a girdle and on her
wrist a bracelet of similar design. Pretending to see nothing, I saluted
and stood to attention.

"Captain," she began, "yonder"--and she waved her hand towards the city,
so that I could not fail to see the shell bracelet--"the uncles of my
son, the Emperor, lie in prison. Have you heard of the matter, and, if
so, what have you heard?"

"I have heard, Augusta, that the Emperor having been defeated by
the Bulgarians, some of the legions proposed to set his uncle,
Nicephorus--he who has been made a priest--upon the throne. I have
heard further that thereon the Emperor caused the Caesar Nicephorus to
be blinded, and the tongues of the two other Caesars and of their two
brothers, the _Nobilissimi_, to be slit."

"Do you think well of such a deed, Olaf?"

"Augusta," I answered, "in this city I make it my business not to think,
for if I did I should certainly go mad."

"Still, on this matter I command you to think, and to speak the truth of
your thoughts. No harm shall come to you, whatever they may be."

"Augusta, I obey you. I think that whoever did this wicked thing must be
a devil, either returned from that hell of which everyone is so fond of
talking here, or on the road thither."

"Oh! you think that, do you? So I was right when I told Martina that
there was only one honest opinion to be had in Constantinople and I knew
where to get it. Well, most severe and indignant judge, suppose I tell
you it was I who commanded that this deed should be done. Then would you
change your judgment?"

"Not so, Augusta. I should only think much worse of you than ever I did
before. If these great persons were traitors to the State, they should
have been executed. But to torment them, to take away the sight of
heaven and to bring them to the level of dumb beasts, all that their
actual blood may not be on the tormentors' hand--why, the act is vile.
So, at least, it would be held in those northern lands which you are
pleased to call barbarian."

Now Irene sprang from her seat and clapped her hands for joy.

"You hear what he says, Martina, and the Emperor shall hear it too; aye,
and so shall my ministers, Stauracius and Aetius, who supported him in
this matter. I alone withstood him; I prayed him for his soul's sake to
be merciful. He answered that he would no longer be governed by a woman;
that he knew how to safeguard his empire, and what conscience should
allow and what refuse. So, in spite of all my tears and prayers, the
vile deed was done, as I think for no good cause. Well, it cannot
be undone. Yet, Olaf, I fear that it may be added to, and that these
royal-born men may be foully murdered. Therefore, I put you in charge of
the prison where they lie. Here is the signed order. Take with you what
men you may think needful, and hold that place, even should the Emperor
himself command you to open. See also that the prisoners within are
cared for and have all they need, but do not suffer them to escape."

I saluted and turned to go, when Irene called me back.

At that moment, too, in obedience to some sign which she made, Martina
left the chamber, looking at me oddly as she did so. I came and stood
before the Empress, who, I noted, seemed somewhat troubled, for her
breast heaved and her gaze was fixed upon the floor now. It was of
mosaic, and represented a heathen goddess talking to a young man, who
stood before her with his arms folded. The goddess was angry with the
man, and held in her left hand a dagger as though she would stab him,
although her right arm was stretched out to embrace him and her attitude
was one of pleading.

Irene lifted her head, and I saw that her fine eyes were filled with
tears.

"Olaf," she said, "I am in much trouble, and I know not where to find a
friend."

I smiled and answered:

"Need an Empress seek far for friends?"

"Aye, Olaf; farther than anyone who breathes. An Empress can find
flatterers and partisans, but not a single friend. Such love her only
for what she can give them. But, if fortune went against her, I say that
they would fall away like leaves from a tree in a winter frost, so that
she stood naked to every bitter blast of heaven. Yes, and then would
come the foe and root up that tree and burn it to give them warmth and
to celebrate their triumph. So I think, Olaf, it will be with me before
all is done. Even my son hates me, Olaf, my only child for whose true
welfare I strive night and day."

"I have heard as much, Augusta," I said.

"You have heard, like all the world. But what else of ill have you heard
of me, Olaf? Speak out, man; I'm here to learn the truth."

"I have heard that you are very ambitious, Augusta, and that you hate
your son as much as he hates you, because he is a rival to your power.
It is rumoured that you would be glad if he were dead and you left to
reign alone."

"Then a lie is rumoured, Olaf. Yet it is true that I am ambitious, who
see far and would build this tottering empire up afresh. Olaf, it is a
bitter thing to have begotten a fool."

"Then why do you not marry again and beget others, who might be no
fools, Augusta?" I asked bluntly.

"Ah! why?" she answered, flashing a curious glance upon me. "In truth, I
do not quite know why; but from no lack of suitors, since, were she but
a hideous hag, an empress would find these. Olaf, you may have learned
that I was not born in the purple. I was but a Greek girl of good race,
not even noble, to whom God gave a gift of beauty; and when I was young
I saw a man who took my fancy, also of old race, yet but a merchant of
fruits which they grow in Greece and sell here and at Rome. I wished to
marry him, but my mother, a far-seeing woman, said that such beauty
as mine--though less than that of your Iduna the Fair, Olaf--was worth
money or rank. So they sent away my merchant of fruits, who married the
daughter of another merchant of fruits and throve very well in business.
He came to see me some years ago, fat as a tub, his face scored all over
with the marks of the spotted sickness, and we talked about old times.
I gave him a concession to import dried fruits into Byzantium--that
is what he came to see me for--and now he's dead. Well, my mother was
right, for afterwards this poor beauty of mine took the fancy of the
late Emperor, and, being very pious, he married me. So the Greek girl,
by the will of God, became Augusta and the first woman in the world."

"By the will of God?" I repeated.

"Aye, I suppose so, or else all is raw chance. At least, I, who to-day
might have been bargaining over dried fruits, as I should have done had
I won my will, am--what you know. Look at this robe," and she spread her
glittering dress before me. "Hark to the tramp of those guards before my
door. Why, you are their captain. Go into the antechambers, and see the
ambassadors waiting there in the hope of a word with the Ruler of
the Earth! Look at my legions mustered on the drilling-grounds, and
understand how great the Grecian girl has grown by virtue of the face
which is less beauteous than that of--Iduna the Fair!"

"I understand all this, Augusta," I answered. "Yet it would seem that
you are not happy. Did you not tell me just now that you could not find
a friend and that you had begotten a fool?"

"Happy, Olaf? Why, I am wretched, so wretched that often I think the
hell of which the priests preach is here on earth, and that I dwell in
its hottest fires. Unless love hides it, what happiness is there in this
life of ours, which must end in blackest death?"

"Love has its miseries also, Augusta. That I know, for once I loved."

"Aye, but then the love was not true, for this is the greatest curse of
all--to love and not to be beloved. For the sake of a perfect love, if
it could be won--why, I'd sacrifice even my ambition."

"Then you must keep your ambition, Augusta, since in this world you'll
find nothing perfect."

"Olaf, I'm not so sure. Thoughts have come to me. Olaf, I told you that
I have no friend in all this glittering Court. Will you be my friend?"

"I am your honest servant, Augusta, and I think that such a one is the
best of friends."

"That's so; and yet no man can be true friend to a woman unless he
is--more than friend. Nature has writ it so."

"I do not understand," I answered.

"You mean that you will not understand, and perhaps you are wise. Why
do you stare at that pavement? There's a story written on it. The old
goddess of my people, Aphrodite, loved a certain Adonis--so runs the
fable--but he loved not her, and thought only of his sports. Look, she
woos him there, and he rejects her, and in her rage she stabs him."

"Not so," I answered. "Of the end of the story I know nothing, but, if
she had meant to kill him, the dagger would be in her right hand, not in
her left."

"That's true, Olaf; and in the end it was Fate which killed him, not
the goddess whom he had scorned. And yet, Olaf, it is not wise to scorn
goddesses. Oh! of what do I talk? You'll befriend me, will you not?"

"Aye, Augusta, to the last drop of my blood, as is my duty. Do I not
take your pay?"

"Then thus I seal our friendship and here's an earnest of the pay,"
Irene said slowly, and, bending forward, she kissed me on the lips.

At this moment the doors of the chamber were thrown open. Through them,
preceded by heralds, that at once drew back again, entered the great
minister Stauracius, a fat, oily-faced man with a cunning eye, who
announced in a high, thin voice,

"The ambassadors of the Persians wait upon you, Augusta, as you
appointed at this hour."



CHAPTER II

THE BLIND CAESAR

Irene turned upon the eunuch as a she-lion turns upon some hunter that
disturbs it from its prey. Noting the anger in her eyes, he fell back
and prostrated himself. Thereupon she spoke to me as though his entry
had interrupted her words.

"Those are the orders, Captain Olaf. See that you forget none of them.
Even if this proud eunuch, who dares to appear before me unannounced,
bids you to do so, I shall hold you to account. To-day I leave the city
for a while for the Baths whither I am sent. You must not accompany me
because of the duty I have laid upon you here. When I return, be sure
I'll summon you," and, knowing that Stauracius could not see her from
where he lay, for a moment she let her splendid eyes meet my own. In
them there was a message I could not mistake.

"The Augusta shall be obeyed," I answered, saluting. "May the Augusta
return in health and glory and more beautiful than----"

"Iduna the Fair!" she broke in. "Captain, you are dismissed."

Again I saluted, retreating from the presence backwards and staying
to bow at each third step, as was the custom. The process was somewhat
long, and as I reached the door I heard her say to Stauracius,

"Hearken, you dog. If ever you dare to break in upon me thus again, you
shall lose two things--your office and your head. What! May I not give
secret orders to my trusted officer and not be spied upon by you? Now,
cease your grovellings and lead in these Persians, as you have been
bribed to do."

Passing through the silk-clad, bejewelled Persians who waited in an
antechamber with their slaves and gifts, I gained the great terrace of
the palace which looked upon the sea. Here I found Martina leaning on
the parapet.

"Have you more of the Augusta's pearls about you, Olaf?" she asked
mockingly, speaking over her shoulder.

"Not I, Martina," I answered, halting beside her.

"Indeed. I could have sworn otherwise, for they are perfumed, and I
seemed to catch their odour. When did you begin to use the royal scent
upon that yellow beard of yours, Olaf? If any of us women did so, it
would mean blows and exile; but perchance a captain of the guard may be
forgiven."

"I use no scents, girl, as you know well. Yet it is true that these
rooms reek of them, and they cling to armour."

"Yes, and still more to hair. Well, what gift had my mistress for you
to-day?"

"A commission to guard certain prisoners, Martina."

"Ah! Have you read it yet? When you do, I think you'll find that it
names you Governor of the jail, which is a high office, carrying much
pay and place. You are in good favour, Olaf, and I hope that when you
come to greatness you will not forget Martina. It was I who put it into
a certain mind to give you this commission as the only man that could be
trusted in the Court."

"I do not forget a friend, Martina," I answered.

"That is your reputation, Olaf. Oh! what a road is opening to your feet.
Yet I doubt you'll not walk it, being too honest; or, if you do, that it
will lead you--not to glory, but a grave."

"Mayhap, Martina, and to speak truth, a grave is the only quiet place in
Constantinople. Mayhap, too, it hides the only real glory."

"That's what we Christians say. It would be strange if you, who are not
a Christian, alone should believe and keep the saying. Oh!" She went on
with passion, "we are but shams and liars, whom God must hate. Well, I
go to make ready for this journey to the Baths."

"How long do you stay there?" I asked.

"The course of waters takes a month. Less than that time does not serve
to clear the Augusta's skin and restore her shape to the lines of youth
which it begins to need, though doubtless you do not think so. You
were named to come as her officer of the Person; but, Olaf, this other
business rose up of a new governor for the jail in which the Caesars and
_Nobilissimi_ are confined. I saw a chance for you in it, who, although
you have served all these years, have had no real advancement, and
mentioned your name, at which the Augusta leapt. To tell the truth,
Olaf, I was not sure that you would wish to be captain of the guard at
the Baths. Was I right or was I wrong?"

"I think you were right, Martina. Baths are idle places where folk drift
into trouble, and I follow duty. Martina--may I say it to you?--you
are a good woman and a kind. I pray that those gods of yours whom you
worship may bless you."

"You pray in vain, Olaf, for that they will never do. Indeed, I think
that they have cursed me."

Then suddenly she burst into tears, and, turning, went away.

I, too, went away somewhat bewildered, for much had happened to me that
morning which I found it hard to understand. Why had the Augusta kissed
me? I took it that this was some kind of imperial jest. It was known
that I kept aloof from women, and she may have desired to see what I
should do when an Augusta kissed me, and then to make a mock of me. I
had heard that she had done as much with others.

Well, let that be, since Stauracius, who always feared lest a new
favourite should slip between him and power, had settled the matter for
me, for which I blessed Stauracius, although at the moment, being but a
man, I had cursed him. And now why did Martina--the little, dark Martina
with the kind face and the watchful, beady eyes, like to those of a
robin in our northern lands--speak as she had done, and then burst into
tears?

A doubt struck me, but I, who was never vain, pushed it aside. I did not
understand, and of what use was it to try to interpret the meaning of
the moods of women? My business was war, or, at the moment, the service
that has to do with war, not women. Wars had brought me to the rank I
held, though, strangely enough, of those wars I can recall nothing now;
they have vanished from my vision. To wars also I looked to advance me
in the future, who was no courtier, but a soldier, whom circumstances
had brought to Court. Well, thanks to Martina, as she said, or to some
caprice of the Empress, I had a new commission that was of more worth to
me than her random kisses, and I would go to read it.

Read it I did in the little private room upon the palace wall which was
mine as captain of the Augusta's guard, though, being written in
Greek, I found this difficult. Martina had spoken truly. I was made the
Governor of the State prison, with all authority, including that of life
and death should emergency arise. Moreover, this governorship gave me
the rank of a general, with a general's pay, also such pickings as
I chose to take. In short, from captain of the guard, suddenly I had
become a great man in Constantinople, one with whom even Stauracius
and others like him would have to reckon, especially as his signature
appeared upon the commission beneath that of the Empress.

Whilst I was wondering what I should do next, a trumpet blew upon the
ramparts, and a Northman of my company entered, saluted and said that I
was summoned. I went out, and there before me stood a dazzling band
that bowed humbly to me, whom yesterday they would have passed without
notice. Their captain, a smooth-faced Greek, came forward, and,
addressing me as "General," said the imperial orders were that he was to
escort me to the State jail.

"For what purpose?" I asked, since it came to my mind that Irene might
have changed her fancy and issued another kind of commission.

"As its General and Governor, Illustrious," he replied.

"Then I will lead," I answered, "do you follow behind me."

Thus that vision ends.



In the next I see myself dwelling in some stately apartments that formed
the antechambers to the great prison. This prison, which was situated
not far from the Forum of Constantine, covered a large area of ground,
which included a garden where the prisoners were allowed to walk. It was
surrounded by a double wall, with an outer and an inner moat, the outer
dry, and the inner filled with water. There were double gates also, and
by them guard-towers. Moreover, I see a little yard, with posts in it,
where prisoners were scourged, and a small and horrible room, furnished
with a kind of wooden bed, to which they were bound for the punishment
of the putting out of their eyes and the slitting of their tongues.
In front of this room was a block where those condemned to death were
sometimes executed.

There were many prisoners, not common felons, but people who had been
taken for reasons of State or sometimes of religion. Perhaps in all they
numbered a hundred men, and with them a few women, who had a quarter to
themselves. Besides the jailers, three-score guards were stationed there
night and day, and of all of these I was in command.

Before I had held my office three days I found that Irene had appointed
me to it with good reason. It happened thus. The most of the prisoners
were allowed to receive presents of food and other things sent to them
by their friends. All these presents were supposed to be inspected by
the officer in charge of the prison. This rule, which had been much
neglected, I enforced again, with the result that I made some strange
discoveries.

Thus, on the third day, there came a magnificent offering of figs for
the Caesars and _Nobilissimi_, the brothers-in-law of Irene and the
uncles of the young Emperor Constantine, her son. These figs were being
carried past me formally, when something about the appearance of one of
them excited my suspicion. I took it and offered it to the jailer who
carried the basket. He looked frightened, shook his head, and said,

"General, I touch no fruit."

"Indeed," I answered. "That is strange, since I thought that I saw you
eating of it yesterday."

"Aye, General," he replied; "the truth is that I ate too much."

Making no answer, I went to the window, and threw the fig to a
long-tailed, tame monkey which was chained to a post in the yard
without. It caught it and ate greedily.

"Do not go away, friend," I said to the jailer, who was trying to depart
while my back was turned. "I have questions that I would ask you."

So I spoke to him about other matters, and all the while watched the
monkey.

Soon I saw that it was ill at ease. It began to tear at its stomach and
to whimper like a child. Then it foamed at the mouth, was seized with
convulsions, and within a quarter of an hour by the water-clock was
dead.

"It would seem that those figs are poisoned, friend," I said, "and
therefore it is fortunate for you that you ate too much fruit yesterday.
Now, man, what do you know of this matter?"

"Nothing, sir," he answered, falling on his knees. "I swear to you by
Christ, nothing. Only I doubted. The fruits were brought by a woman
whom I thought that once I had seen in the household of the Augustus
Constantine, and I knew----" and he paused.

"Well, what did you know, man? It would be best to tell me quickly, who
have power here."

"I knew, sir, what all the world knows, that Constantine would be rid of
his uncles, whom he fears, though they are maimed. No more, I swear it,
no more."

"Perhaps before the Augusta returns you may remember something more," I
said. "Therefore, I will not judge your case at present. Ho! guard, come
hither."

As he heard the soldiers stirring without in answer to my summons, the
man, who was unarmed, looked about his desperately; then he sprang at
the fruit, and, seizing a fig, strove to thrust it into his mouth. But
I was too quick for him, and within a few seconds the soldiers had him
fast.

"Shut this man in a safe dungeon," I said. "Treat and feed him well, but
search him. See also that he does himself no harm and that none speak
with him. Then forget all this business."

"What charge must be entered in the book, General?" asked the officer,
saluting.

"A charge of stealing figs that belonged to the Caesar Nicephorus and his
royal brethren," I answered, and looked through the window.

He followed my glance, saw the poor monkey lying dead, and started.

"All shall be done," he said, and the man was led away.

When he had gone, I sent for the physician of the jail, whom I knew to
be trustworthy, since I had appointed him myself. Without telling him
anything, I bade him examine and preserve the figs, and also dissect the
body of the monkey to discover why it died.

He bowed and went away with the fruit. A while later he returned, and
showed me an open fig. In the heart of it was a pinch of white powder.

"What is it?" I asked.

"The deadliest poison that is known, General. See, the stalk has been
drawn out, the powder blown in through a straw, and then the stalk
replaced."

"Ah!" I said, "that is clever, but not quite clever enough. They have
mixed the stalks. I noted that the purple fig had the stalk of a green
fig, and that is why I tried it on the monkey."

"You observe well, General."

"Yes, Physician, I observe. I learned that when, as a lad, I hunted game
in the far North. Also I learned to keep silent, since noise frightens
game. Do you as much."

"Have no fear," he answered; and went about his business with the dead
monkey.

When he had gone I thought a while. Then I rose, and went to the chapel
of the prison, or, rather, to a place whence I could see those in the
chapel without being seen. This chapel was situated in a gloomy crypt,
lighted only with oil lamps that hung from the massive pillars and
arches. The day was the Sabbath of the Christians, and when I entered
the little secret hollow in the walls, the sacrament was being
administered to certain of the prisoners.

Truly it was a sad sight, for the ministering priest was none other than
the Caesar Nicephorus, the eldest of the Emperor's uncles, who had been
first ordained in order that he might be unfit to sit upon the throne,
and afterwards blinded, as I have told. He was a tall, pale man, with an
uncertain mouth and a little pointed chin, apparently between forty and
fifty years of age, and his face was made dreadful by two red
hollows where the eyes should have been. Yet, notwithstanding this
disfigurement, and his tonsured crown, and the broidered priest's robes
which hung upon him awkwardly, as he stumbled through the words of his
office, to this poor victim there still seemed to cling some air of
royal birth and bearing. Being blind, he could not see to administer
the Element, and therefore his hand was guided by one of his imperial
brethren, who also had been made a priest. The tongue of this priest had
been slit, but now and again he gibbered some direction into the ear
of Nicephorus. By the altar, watching all, sat a stern-faced monk, the
confessor of the Caesars and of the _Nobilissimi_, who was put there to
spy upon them.

I followed the rite to its end, observing these unhappy prisoners
seeking from the mystery of their faith the only consolation that
remained to them. Many of them were men innocent of any crime, save that
of adherence to some fallen cause, political or religious; victims were
they, not sinners, to be released by death alone. I remember that, as
the meaning of the scene came home to me, I recalled the words of Irene,
who had said that she believed this world to be a hell, and found weight
in them. At length, able to bear no more, I left my hiding-place and
went into the garden behind the chapel. Here, at least, were natural
things. Here flowers, tended by the prisoners, bloomed as they might
have done in some less accursed spot. Here the free birds sang and
nested in the trees, for what to them were the high surrounding walls?

I sat myself down upon a seat in the shade. Presently, as I had
expected, Nicephorus, the priest-Caesar, and his four brethren came into
the garden. Two of them led the blind man by the hand, and the other two
clung close to him, for all these unfortunates loved each other dearly.
The four with the split tongues gabbled in his ears. Now and again,
when he could catch or guess at the meaning of a word, he answered the
speaker gently; or the others, seeing that he had not understood them
aright, painfully tried to explain the error. Oh! it was a piteous thing
to see and hear. My gorge rose against the young brute of an Emperor
and his councillors who, for ambition's sake, had wrought this horrible
crime. Little did I know then that ere long their fate would be his own,
and that a mother's hand would deal it out to him.

They caught sight of me seated beneath the tree, and chattered like
startled starlings, till at length Nicephorus understood.

"What say you, dear brothers?" he asked, "that the new governor of the
prison is seated yonder? Well, why should we fear him? He has been here
but a little while, yet he has shown himself very kind to us. Moreover,
he is a man of the North, no treacherous Greek, and the men of the North
are brave and upright. Once, when I was a free prince, I had some of
them in my service, and I loved them well. Our nephew, the Emperor,
offered a large sum to a Northman to blind or murder me, but he would
not do it, and was dismissed from the service of the Empire because he
spoke his mind and prayed his heathen gods to bring a like fate upon
Constantine himself. Lead me to this governor; I would talk with him."

So they brought Nicephorus to me, though doubtfully, and when he was
near I rose from my seat and saluted him. Thereon they all gabbled again
with their split tongues, till at length he understood and flushed with
pleasure.

"General Olaf," he said to me, "I thank you for your courtesy to a poor
prisoner, forgotten by God and cruelly oppressed by man. General Olaf,
the promise is of little worth, but, if ever it should be in my power, I
will remember this kindness, which pleases me more than did the shouting
of the legions in the short day of my prosperity."

"Sir," I answered, "whatever happens I shall remember your words, which
are more to me than any honours kings can bestow. Now, sir, I will ask
your royal brethren to fall back, as I wish to speak with you."

Nicephorus made a sign with his hand, and the four half-dumb men, all of
whom resembled him strangely, especially in the weakness of their mouths
and chins, obeyed. Bowing to me in a stately fashion, they withdrew,
leaving us alone.

"Sir," I said, "I would warn you that you have enemies whom you may not
suspect, for my duty here wherewith I was charged by the Augusta is not
to oppress but to protect you and your imperial brothers."

Then I told him the story of the poisoned figs.

When he had heard it, the tears welled from his hollow eyes and ran down
his pale cheeks.

"Constantine, my brother Leo's son, has done this," he said, "for never
will he rest until all of us are in the grave."

"He is cruel because he fears you, O Nicephorus, and it is said that
your ambition has given him cause to fear."

"Once, General, that was true," the prince replied. "Once, foolishly, I
did aspire to rule; but it is long ago. Now they have made a priest of
me, and I seek peace only. Can I and my brethren help it if, mutilated
though we are, some still wish to use us against the Emperor? I tell you
that Irene herself is at the back of them. She would set us on high that
afterwards she may throw us down and crush us."

"I am her servant, Prince, and may not listen to such talk, who know
only that she seeks to protect you from your enemies, and for that
reason has placed me here, it seems not in vain. If you would continue
to live, I warn you and your brethren to fly from plots and to be
careful of what you eat and drink."

"I do not desire to live, General," he answered. "Oh! that I might die.
Would that I might die."

"Death is not difficult to find, Prince," I replied, and left him.

These may seem hard words, but, be it remembered, I was no Christian
then, but a heathen man. To see one who had been great and fallen from
his greatness, one whom Fortune had deserted utterly, whining at Fate
like a fretful child, and yet afraid to seek his freedom, moved me to
contempt as well as to pity. Therefore, I spoke the words.

Yet all the rest of that day they weighed upon my mind, for I knew well
how I should have interpreted them were I in this poor Caesar's place. So
heavily did they weigh that, during the following night, an impulse drew
me from my bed and caused me to visit the cells in which these princes
were imprisoned. Four of them were dark and silent, but in that of
Nicephorus burned a light. I listened at the door, and through the
key-place heard that the prisoner within was praying, and sobbing as he
prayed.

Then I went away; but when I reached the end of the long passage
something drew me back again. It was as though a hand I could not see
were guiding me. I returned to the door of the cell, and now through it
heard choking sounds. Quickly I shot the bolts and unlocked it with my
master-key. This was what I saw within:

To a bar of the window-place was fastened such a rope as monks wear for
a girdle; at the end of the rope was a noose, and in that noose the head
of Nicephorus. There he hung, struggling. His hands had gripped the rope
above his head, for though he had sought Death, at the last he tried to
escape him. Of such stuff was Nicephorus made. Yet it was too late, or
would have been, for as I entered the place his hands slipped from the
thin cord, which tightened round his throat, choking him.

My sword was at my side. Drawing it, with a blow I cut the rope and
caught him in my arms. Already he was swooning, but I poured water over
his face, and, as his neck remained unbroken, he recovered his breath
and senses.

"What play is this, Prince?" I asked.

"One that you taught me, General," he answered painfully. "You said that
death could be found. I went to seek him, but at the last I feared.
Oh! I tell you that when I thrust away that stool, my blind eyes were
opened, and I saw the fires of hell and the hands of devils grasping at
my soul to plunge it into them. Blessings be on you who have saved me
from those fires," and seizing my hand he kissed it.

"Do not thank me," I said, "but thank the God you worship, for I think
that He must have put it into my mind to visit you to-night. Now swear
to me by that God that you will attempt such a deed no more, for if you
will not swear then you must be fettered."

Then he swore so fervently by his Christ that I was sure he would never
break the oath. After he had sworn I told him how I could not rest
because of the strange fears which oppressed me.

"Oh!" he said, "without doubt it was God who sent His angel to you that
I might be saved from the most dreadful of all sins. Without doubt it
was God, Who knows you, although you do not know Him."

After this he fell upon his knees, and, having untied the cut rope from
the window bars, I left him.



Now I tell this story because it has to do with my own, for it was these
words of the Prince that first turned me to the study of the Christian
Faith. Indeed, had they never been spoken, I believe that I should have
lived and died a heathen man. Hitherto I had judged of that Faith by the
works of those who practised it in Constantinople, and found it wanting.
Now, however, I was sure that some Power from above us had guided me
to the chamber of Nicephorus in time to save his life, me, who, had he
died, in a sense would have been guilty of his blood. For had he not
been driven to the deed by my bitter, mocking words? It may be said that
this would have mattered little; that he might as well have died by
his own hand as be taken to Athens, there to perish with his brethren,
whether naturally or by murder I do not know. But who can judge of such
secret things? Without doubt the sufferings of Nicephorus had a purpose,
as have all our sufferings. He was kept alive for reasons known to his
Maker though not to man.

Here I will add that of this unhappy Caesar and his brethren I remember
little more. Dimly I seem to recollect that during my period of office
some attack was made upon the prison by those who would have put the
prince to death, but that I discovered the plot through the jailer who
had introduced the poisoned figs, and defeated it with ease, thereby
gaining much credit with Irene and her ministers. If so, of this plot
history says nothing. All it tells of these princes is that afterwards
a mob haled them to the Cathedral of St. Sophia and there proclaimed
Nicephorus emperor. But they were taken again, and at last shipped to
Athens, where they vanished from the sight of men.

God rest their tortured souls, for they were more sinned against than
sinning.



CHAPTER III

MOTHER AND SON

The next vision of this Byzantine life of mine that rises before me is
that of a great round building crowned with men clad in bishops' robes.
At least they wore mitres, and each of them had a crooked pastoral staff
which in most cases was carried by an attendant monk.

Some debate was in progress, or rather raging. Its subject seemed to be
as to whether images should or should not be worshipped in churches.
It was a furious thing, that debate. One party to it were called
Iconoclasts, that was the party which did not like images, and I think
the other party were called Orthodox, but of this I am not sure. So
furious was it that I, the general and governor of the prison, had been
commanded by those in authority to attend in order to prevent violence.
The beginnings of what happened I do not remember. What I do remember
is that the anti-Iconoclasts, the party to which the Empress Irene
belonged, that was therefore the fashionable sect, being, as it seemed
to me, worsted in argument, fell back on violence.

There followed a great tumult, in which the spectators took part, and
the strange sight was seen of priests and their partisans, and even of
bishops themselves, falling upon their adversaries and beating them with
whatever weapon was to hand; yes, even with their pastoral staves. It
was a wonderful thing to behold, these ministers of the Christ of peace
belabouring each other with pastoral staves!

The party that advocated the worship of images was the more numerous
and had the greater number of adherents, and therefore those who thought
otherwise were defeated. A few of them were dragged out into the
street and killed by the mob which waited there, and more were wounded,
notwithstanding all that I and the guards could do to protect them.
Among the Iconoclasts was a gentle-faced old man with a long beard, one
of the bishops from Egypt, who was named Barnabas. He had said little in
the debate, which lasted for several days, and when he spoke his words
were full of charity and kindness. Still, the image faction hated him,
and when the final tumult began some of them set upon him. Indeed,
one brawny, dark-faced bishop--I think it was he of Antioch--rushed at
Barnabas, and before I could thrust him back, broke a jewelled staff
upon his head, while other priests tore his robe from neck to shoulder
and spat in his face.

At last the riot was quelled; the dead were borne away, and orders came
to me that I was to convey Barnabas to the State prison if he still
lived, together with some others, of whom I remember nothing. So thither
I took Barnabas, and there, with the help of the prison physician--he to
whom I had given the poisoned figs and the dead monkey to be examined--I
nursed him back to life and health.

His illness was long, for one of the blows which he had received
crippled him, and during it we talked much together. He was a very
sweet-natured man and holy, a native of Britain, whose father or
grandfather had been a Dane, and therefore there was a tie between us.
In his youth he was a soldier. Having been taken prisoner in some war,
he came to Italy, where he was ordained a priest at Rome. Afterwards he
was sent as a missionary to Egypt, where he was appointed the head of
a monastery, and in the end elected to a bishopric. But he had never
forgotten the Danish tongue, which his parents taught him as a child,
and so we were able to talk together in that language.

Now it would seem that since that night when the Caesar Nicephorus strove
to hang himself, I had obtained and studied a copy of the Christian
Scriptures--how I do not know--and therefore was able to discuss these
matters with Barnabas the bishop. Of our arguments I remember nothing,
save that I pointed out to him that whereas the tree seemed to me to be
very good, its fruits were vile beyond imagination, and I instanced the
horrible tumult when he had been wounded almost to death, not by common
men, but by the very leaders of the Christians.

He answered that these things must happen; that Christ Himself had said
He came to bring not peace but a sword, and that only through war and
struggle would the last truth be reached. The spirit was always good,
he added, but the flesh was always vile. These deeds were those of the
flesh, which passed away, but the spirit remained pure and immortal.

The end of it was that under the teaching of the holy Barnabas, saint
and martyr (for afterwards he was murdered by the followers of the false
prophet, Mahomet), I became a Christian and a new man. Now at length I
understood what grace it was that had given me courage to offer battle
to the heathen god, Odin, and to smite him down. Now I saw also where
shone the light which I had been seeking these many years. Aye, and I
clasped that light to my bosom to be my lamp in life and death.

So a day came when my beloved master, Barnabas, who would allow no
delay in this matter, baptised me in his cell with water taken from his
drinking vessel, charging me to make public profession before the Church
when opportunity should arise.

It was just at this time that Irene returned from the Baths, and I sent
to her a written report of all that had happened at the prison since I
had been appointed its governor. Also I prayed that if it were her will
I might be relieved of my office, as it was one which did not please me.

A few days later, while I sat in my chamber at the prison writing
a paper concerning a prisoner who had died, the porter at the gate
announced that a messenger from the Augusta wished to see me. I bade
him show in the messenger, and presently there entered no chamberlain or
eunuch, but a woman wrapped in a dark cloak. When the man had gone and
the door was shut, she threw off the cloak and I saw that my visitor
was Martina, the favourite waiting-lady of the Empress. We greeted each
other warmly, who were always friends, and I asked her tidings.

"My tidings are, Olaf, that the waters have suited the Augusta very
well. She has lost several pounds in weight and her skin is now like
that of a young child."

"All health to the Augusta!" I said, laughing. "But you have not come
here to tell me of the state of the royal skin. What next, Martina?"

"This, Olaf. The Empress has read your report with her own eyes, which
is a rare thing for her to do. She said she wished to see whether or
no you could write Greek. She is much pleased with the report, and told
Stauracius in my presence that she had done well in choosing you for
your office while she was absent from the city, since thereby she had
saved the lives of the Caesars and _Nobilissimi_, desiring as she does
that these princes should be kept alive, at any rate for the present.
She accedes also to your prayer, and will relieve you of your office
as soon as a new governor can be chosen. You are to return to guard her
person, but with your rank of general confirmed."

"That is all good news, Martina; so good that I wonder what sting is
hidden in all this honey."

"That you will find out presently, Olaf. One I can warn you of,
however--the sting of jealousy. Advancement such as yours draws eyes to
you, not all of them in love."

I nodded and she went on:

"Meantime your star seems to shine very bright indeed. One might almost
say that the Augusta worshipped it, at least she talks of you to me
continually, and once or twice was in half a mind to send for you to the
Baths. Indeed, had it not been for reasons of State connected with your
prisoners I think she would have done so."

"Ah!" I said, "now I think I begin to feel another sting in the honey."

"Another sting in the honey! Nay, nay, you mean a divine perfume, an
essence of added sweetness, a flavour of the flowers on Mount Ida. Why,
Olaf, if I were your enemy, as I dare say I shall be some day, for often
we learn to hate those whom we have--rather liked, your head and your
shoulders might bid good-bye to each other for such words as those."

"Perhaps, Martina; and if they did I do not know that it would greatly
matter--now."

"Not greatly matter, when you are driving at full gallop along Fortune's
road to Fame's temple with an Empress for your charioteer! Are you
blind or mad, Olaf, or both? And what do you mean by your 'now'? Olaf,
something has happened to you since last we met. Have you fallen in love
with some fair prisoner in this hateful place and been repulsed? Such a
fool as you are might take refusal even from a captive in his own hands.
At least you are different."

"Yes, Martina, something has happened to me. I have become a Christian."

"Oh! Olaf, now I see that you are not a fool, as I thought, but very
clever. Why, only yesterday the Augusta said to me--it was after she had
read that report of yours--that if you were but a Christian she would be
minded to lift you high indeed. But as you remained the most obstinate
of heathens she did not see how it could be done without causing great
trouble."

"Now I wish one could be a Christian within and remain a pagan without,"
I answered grimly; "though alas! that may not be. Martina, do you not
understand that it was for no such reasons as these that I kissed the
Cross; that in so doing I sought not fortune, but to be its servant?"

"By the Saints! you'll be tonsured next, and ill enough it would suit
you," she exclaimed. "Remember, if things grow too--difficult, you can
always be tonsured, Olaf. Only then you will have to give up the hope
of that lady who wears the other half of the necklace somewhere. I
don't mean Irene's sham half, but the real one. Oh! stop blushing and
stammering, I know the story, and all about Iduna the Fair also. An
exalted person told it me, and so did you, although you were not aware
that you had done so, for you are not one who can keep a secret to
himself. May all the guardian angels help that necklace-lady if ever she
should meet another lady whom I will not name. And now why do you talk
so much? Are you learning to preach, or what? If you really do mean to
become a monk, Olaf, there is another thing you must give up, and that
is war, except of the kind which you saw at the Council the other day.
God above us! what a sight it would be to see you battering another
bishop with a hook-shaped staff over a question of images or the Two
Natures. I should be sorry for that bishop. But you haven't told me who
converted you."

"Barnabas of Egypt," I said.

"Oh! I hoped that it had been a lady saint; the story would have been so
much more interesting to the Court. Well, our imperial mistress does not
like Barnabas, because he does not like images, and that may be a sting
in _her_ honey. But perhaps she will forgive him for your sake. You'll
have to worship images."

"What do I care about images? It is the spirit that I seek, Martina, and
all these things are nothing."

"You are thorough, as usual, Olaf, and jump farther than you can see.
Well, be advised and say naught for or against images. As they have no
meaning for you, what can it matter if they are or are not there? Leave
them to the blind eyes and little minds. And now I must be gone, who
can listen to your gossip no longer. Oh! I had forgotten my message.
The Augusta commands that you shall wait on her this evening immediately
after she has supped. Hear and obey!"

Having delivered this formal mandate, to neglect which meant
imprisonment, or worse, she threw her cloak about her, and with a
wondering glance at my face, opened the door and went.

At the hour appointed, or, rather, somewhat before it, I attended at the
private apartments of the palace. Evidently I was expected, for one of
the chamberlains, on seeing me, bowed and bade me be seated, then left
the ante-room. Presently the door opened again, and through it came
Martina, clad in her white official robe.

"You are early, Olaf," she said, "like a lover who keeps a tryst. Well,
it is always wise to meet good fortune half way. But why do you come
clad in full armour? It is not the custom to wait thus upon the Empress
at this hour when you are off duty."

"I thought that I was on duty, Martina."

"Then, as usual, you thought wrong. Take off that armour; she says that
the sight of it always makes her feel cold after supper. I say take it
off; or if you cannot, I will help you."

So the mail was removed, leaving me clad in my plain blue tunic and
hose.

"Would you have me come before the Empress thus?" I asked.

By way of answer she clapped her hands and bade the eunuch who answered
the signal to bring a certain robe. He went, and presently reappeared
with a wondrous garment of silk broidered with gold, such as nobles of
high rank wore at festivals. This robe, which fitted as though it
had been made for me, I put on, though I liked the look of it little.
Martina would have had me even remove my sword, but I refused, saying:

"Except at the express order of the Empress, I and my sword are not
parted."

"Well, she said nothing about the sword, Olaf, so let it be. All she
said was that I must be careful that the robe matched the colour of the
necklace you wear. She cannot bear colours which jar upon each other,
especially by lamp-light."

"Am I a man," I asked angrily, "or a beast being decked for sacrifice?"

"Fie, Olaf, have you not yet forgotten your heathen talk? Remember, I
pray you, that you are now a Christian in a Christian land."

"I thank you for reminding me of it," I replied; and that moment a
chamberlain, entering hurriedly, commanded my presence.

"Good luck to you, Olaf," said Martina as I followed him. "Be sure to
tell me the news later--or to-morrow."

Then the chamberlain led me, not into the audience hall, as I had
expected, but to the private imperial dining chamber. Here, reclining
upon couches in the old Roman fashion, one on either side of a narrow
table on which stood fruits and flagons of rich-hued Greek wine, were
the two greatest people in the world, the Augusta Irene and the Augustus
Constantine, her son.

She was wonderfully apparelled in a low-cut garment of white silk, over
which fell a mantle of the imperial purple, and I noted that on her
dazzling bosom hung that necklace of emerald beetles separated by golden
shells which she had caused to be copied from my own. On her fair hair
that grew low upon her forehead and was parted in the middle, she wore
a diadem of gold in which were set emeralds to match the beetles of the
necklace. The Augustus was arrayed in the festal garments of a Caesar,
also covered with a purple cloak. He was a heavy-faced and somewhat
stupid-looking youth, dark-haired, like his father and uncles, but
having large, blue, and not unkindly eyes. From his flushed face I
gathered that he had drunk well of the strong Greek wine, and from the
sullen look about his mouth that, as was common, he had been quarrelling
with his mother.

I stood at the end of the table and saluted first the Empress and then
the Emperor.

"Who's this?" he asked, glancing at me.

"General Olaf, of my guard," she answered, "Governor of the State
Prison. You remember, you wished me to send for him to settle the point
as to which we were arguing."

"Oh! yes. Well, General Olaf, of my mother's guard, have you not been
told that you should salute the Augustus before the Augusta?"

"Sire," I answered humbly, "I have heard nothing of that matter, but in
the land where I was bred I was taught that if a man and a woman were
together I must always bow first to the woman and then to the man."

"Well said," exclaimed the Empress, clapping her hands; but the Emperor
answered: "Doubtless your mother taught you that, not your father. Next
time you enter the imperial chamber be pleased to forget the lesson and
to remember that Emperors and Empresses are not men and women."

"Sire," I answered, "as you command I will remember that Emperors and
Empresses are not men and women, but Emperors and Empresses."

At these words the Augustus began to scowl, but, changing his mind,
laughed, as did his mother. He filled a gold cup with wine and pushed it
towards me, saying:

"Drink to us, soldier, for after you have done so, our wits may be
better matched."

I took the cup and holding it, said:

"I pledge your Imperial Majesties, who shine upon the world like twin
stars in the sky. All hail to your Majesties!" and I drank, but not too
deep.

"You are clever," growled the Augustus. "Well, keep the cup; you've
earned it. Yet drain it first, man. You have scarce wet your lips. Do
you fear that it is poisoned, as you say yonder fruits are?" And he
pointed to a side-table, where stood a jar of glass in which were those
very figs that had been sent to the princes in the prison.

"The cup you give is mine," interrupted Irene; "still, my servant is
welcome to the gift. It shall be sent to your quarters, General."

"A soldier has no need of such gauds, your Majesties," I began, when
Constantine, who, while we spoke, had swallowed another draught of the
strong wine, broke in angrily:

"May I not give a cup of gold but you must claim it, I to whom the
Empire and all its wealth belong?"

Snatching up the beaker he dashed it to the floor, spilling the wine, of
which I, who wished to keep my head cool, was glad.

"Have done," he went on in his drunken rage. "Shall the Caesars huckster
over a piece of worked gold like Jews in a market? Give me those figs,
man; I'll settle the matter of this poison."

I brought the jar of figs, and, bowing, set them down before him. That
they were the same I knew, for the glass was labelled in my own writing
and in that of the physician. He cut away the sealed parchment which was
stretched over the mouth of the jar.

"Now hearken you, Olaf," he said. "It is true that I ordered fruit to
be sent to that fool-Caesar, my uncle, because the last time I saw him
Nicephorus prayed me for it, and I was willing to do him a pleasure. But
that I ordered the fruit to be poisoned, as my mother says, is a lie,
and may God curse the tongue that spoke it. I will show you that it was
a lie," and plunging his hand into the spirit of the jar, he drew out
two of the figs. "Now," he went on, waving them about in a half-drunken
fashion, "this General Olaf of yours says that these are the same
figs which were sent to the Caesar, I mean the blind priest, Father
Nicephorus. Don't you, Olaf?"

"Yes, Sire," I answered, "they were placed in that bottle in my presence
and sealed with my seal."

"Well, those figs were sent by me, and this Olaf tells us they are
poisoned. I'll show him, and you too, mother, that they are _not_
poisoned, for I will eat one of them."

Now I looked at the Augusta, but she sat silent, her arms folded on her
white bosom, her handsome face turned as it were to stone.

Constantine lifted the fig towards his loose mouth. Again I looked at
the Augusta. Still she sat there like a statue, and it came into my mind
that it was her purpose to allow this wine-bemused man to eat the fig.
Then I acted.

"Augustus," I said, "you must not touch that fruit," and stepping
forward I took it from his hand.

He sprang to his feet and began to revile me.

"You watch-dog of the North!" he shouted. "Do you dare to say to the
Emperor that he shall not do this or that? By all the images my mother
worships I'll have you whipped through the Circus."

"That you will never do," I answered, for my free blood boiled at the
insult. "I tell you, Sire," I went on, leaving out certain words which I
meant to speak, "that the fig is poisoned."

"And I tell you that you lie, you heathen savage. See here! Either you
eat that fig or I do, so that we may know who speaks the truth. If you
won't, I will. Now obey, or, by Christ! to-morrow you shall be shorter
by a head."

"The Augustus is pleased to threaten, which is unnecessary," I remarked.
"If I eat the fig, will the Augustus swear to leave the rest of them
uneaten?"

"Aye," he answered with a hiccough, "for then I shall know the truth,
and for the truth I live, though," he added, "I haven't found it yet."

"And if I do not eat it, will the Augustus do so?"

"By the Holy Blood, yes. I'll eat a dozen of them. Am I one to be
hectored by a woman and a barbarian? Eat, or I eat."

"Good, Sire. It is better that a barbarian should die than that the
world should lose its glorious Emperor. I eat, and when you are as I
soon shall be, as will happen even to an emperor, may my blood lie heavy
on your soul, the blood which I give to save your life."

Then I lifted the fig to my lips.

Before ever it touched them, with a motion swift as that of a panther
springing on its prey, Irene had leapt from her couch and dashed the
fruit from my hand. She turned upon her son.

"What kind of a thing are you," she asked, "who would suffer a brave man
to poison himself that he may save your worthless life? Oh! God, what
have I done that I should have given birth to such a hound? Whoever
poisoned them, these fruits are poisoned, as has been proved and can be
proved again, yes, and shall be. I tell you that if Olaf had tasted one
of them by now he would have been dead or dying."

Constantine drank another cup of wine, which, oddly enough, seemed to
sober him for the moment.

"I find all this strange," he said heavily. "You, my mother, would
have suffered me to eat the fig which you declare is poisoned; a matter
whereof you may know something. But when the General Olaf offers to eat
it in my place, with your own royal hand you dash it from his lips, as
he dashed it from mine. And there is another thing which is still more
strange. This Olaf, who also says the figs are poisoned, offered to
eat one of them if I promised I would not do so, which means, if he
is right, that he offered to give his life for mine. Yet I have done
nothing for him except call him hard names; and as he is your servant
he has nothing to look for from me if I should win the fight with you at
last. Now I have heard much talk of miracles, but this is the only one I
have ever seen. Either Olaf is a liar, or he is a great man and a saint.
He says, I am told, that the monkey which ate one of those figs died.
Well, I never thought of it before, but there are more monkeys in the
palace. Indeed, one lives on the terrace near by, for I fed it this
afternoon. We'll put the matter to the proof and learn of what stuff
this Olaf is really made."

On the table stood a silver bell, and as he spoke he struck it. A
chamberlain entered and was ordered to bring in the monkey. He departed,
and with incredible swiftness the beast and its keeper arrived. It was
a large animal of the baboon tribe, famous throughout the palace for its
tricks. Indeed, on entering, at a word from the man who led it, it bowed
to all of us.

"Give your beast these," said the Emperor, handing the keeper several of
the figs.

The baboon took the fruits and, having sniffed at them, put them
aside. Then the keeper fed it with some sweetmeats, which it caught and
devoured, and presently, when its fears were allayed, threw it one
of the figs, which it swallowed, doubtless thinking it a sweetmeat.
A minute or two later it began to show signs of distress and shortly
afterwards died in convulsions.

"Now," said Irene, "now do you believe, my son?"

"Yes," he answered, "I believe that there is a saint in Constantinople.
Sir Saint, I salute you. You have saved my life and if it should come
my way, by your brother saints! I'll save yours, although you are my
mother's servant."

So speaking, he drank off yet another cup of wine and reeled from the
room.

The keeper, at a sign from Irene, lifted up the body of the dead ape and
also left the chamber, weeping as he went, for he had loved this beast.



CHAPTER IV

OLAF OFFERS HIS SWORD

The Emperor had gone, drunk; the ape had gone, dead; and its keeper had
gone, weeping. Irene and I alone were left in that beautiful place with
the wine-stained table on which stood the jar of poisoned figs and the
bent golden cup lying on the marble floor.

She sat upon the couch, looking at me with a kind of amazement in her
eyes, and I stood before her at attention, as does a soldier on duty.

"I wonder why he did not send for one of my servants to eat those
figs--Stauracius, for instance," she mused, adding with a little laugh,
"Well, if he had, there are some whom I could have spared better than
that poor ape, which at times I used to feed. It was an honest creature,
that ape; the only creature in the palace that would not rub its head
in the dust before the Augusta. Ah! now I remember, it always hated
Constantine, for when he was a child he used to tease it with a stick,
getting beyond the length of its chain and striking it. But one day, as
he passed too near, it caught him and buffeted him on the cheek and tore
out some of his hair. He wanted to kill it then, but I forbade him. Yet
he has never forgotten it, he who never does forget anything he hates,
and that is why he sent for the poor beast."

"The Augusta will remember that the Augustus did not know that the figs
were poisoned."

"The Augusta is sure that the Augustus knew well enough that those figs
were poisoned, at any rate from the moment that I dashed one of them
from your lips, Olaf. Well, I have made a bitterer enemy than before,
that's all. They say that by Nature's rule mother and child must love
each other, but it is a lie. I tell you it's a lie. From the time he was
tiny I hated that boy, though not half as much as he has hated me. You
are thinking to yourself that this is because our ambitions clash like
meeting swords, and that from them spring these fires of hate. It is not
so. The hate is native to our hearts, and will only end when one of us
lies dead at the other's hand."

"Terrible words, Augusta."

"Yes, but true. Truth is always terrible--in Byzantium. Olaf, take those
drugged fruits and set them in the drawer of yonder table; lock it and
guard the key, lest they should poison other honest animals."

I obeyed and returned to my station.

She looked at me and said:

"I grow weary of the sight of you standing there like a statue of the
Roman Mars, with your sword half hid beneath your cloak; and, what's
more, I hate this hall; it reeks of Constantine and his drink and lies.
Oh! he's vile, and for my sins God has made me his mother, unless,
indeed, he was changed at birth, as I've been told, though I could never
prove it. Give me your hand and help me to rise. So, I thank you. Now
follow me. We'll sit a while in my private chamber, where alone I can be
happy, since the Emperor never comes there. Nay, talk not of duty;
you have no guards to set or change to-night. Follow me; I have secret
business of which I would talk with you."

So she went and I followed through doors that opened mysteriously at
our approach and shut mysteriously behind us, till I found myself in a
little room half-lighted only, that I had never seen before. It was a
scented and a beautiful place, in one corner of which a white statue
gleamed, that of a Venus kissing Cupid, who folded one wing about her
head, and through the open window-place the moonlight shone and floated
the murmur of the sea.

The double doors were shut, for aught I knew locked, and with her own
hands Irene drew the curtains over them. Near the open window, to which
there was no balcony, stood a couch.

"Sit yonder, Olaf," she said, "for here there is no ceremony; here we
are but man and woman."

I obeyed, while she busied herself with the curtains. Then she came and
sat herself down on the couch also, leaning against the end of it in
such a fashion that she could watch me in the moonlight.

"Olaf," she said, after she had looked at me a while, rather strangely,
as I thought, for the colour came and went upon her face, which in that
light seemed quite young again and wonderfully beautiful, "Olaf, you are
a very brave man."

"There are hundreds in your service braver, Empress; cowards do not take
to soldiering."

"I could tell you a different story, Olaf; but it was not of this kind
of courage that I talked. It was of that which made you offer to eat
the poisoned fig in place of Constantine. Why did you do so? It is true
that, as things have happened, he'll remember it in your favour, for
I'll say this of him, he never forgets one who has saved him from harm,
any more than he forgets one who has harmed him. But if you had eaten
you would have died, and then how could he have rewarded you?"

"Empress, when I took my oath of office I swore to protect both the
Augustus and the Augusta, even with my life. I was fulfilling my oath,
that is all."

"You are a strange man as well as a brave man to interpret oaths so
strictly. If you will do as much as this for one who is nothing to you,
and who has never paid you a gold piece, how much, I wonder, would you
do for one whom you love."

"I could offer no more than my life for such a one, Empress, could I?"

"Someone told me--it may have been you, Olaf, or another--that once you
did more, challenging a heathen god for the sake of one you loved, and
defeating him. It was added that this was for a man, but that I do not
believe. Doubtless it was for the sake of Iduna the Fair, of whom you
have spoken to me, whom it seems you cannot forget although she was
faithless to you. It is said that the best way to hold love is to
be faithless to him who loves, and in truth I believe it," she added
bitterly.

"You are mistaken, Empress. It was to be avenged on him for the life
of Steinar, my foster-brother, which he had taken in sacrifice, that
I dared Odin and hewed his holy statue to pieces with this sword; of
Steinar, whom Iduna betrayed as she betrayed me, bringing one to death
and the other to shame."

"At least, had it not been for this Iduna you would never have given
battle to the great god of the North and thus brought his curse upon
you. For, Olaf, those gods live; they are devils."

"Whether Odin is or is not, I do not fear his curse, Empress."

"Yet it will find you out before all is done, or so I think. Look you,
pagan blood still runs in me, and, Christian though I am, I would not
dare one of the great gods of Greece and Rome. I'd leave that to the
priests. Do you fear nothing, Olaf?"

"I think nothing at all, since I hewed off Odin's head and came away
unscathed."

"Then you are a man to my liking, Olaf."

She paused, looking at me even more strangely than before, till I turned
my eyes, indeed, and stared out at the sea, wishing that I were in it,
or anywhere away from this lovely and imperious woman whom I was sworn
to obey in all things.

"Olaf," she said presently, "you have served me well of late. Is there
any reward that you would ask, and if so, what? Anything that I can give
is yours, unless," she added hastily, "the gift will take you away from
Constantinople and from--me."

"Yes, Augusta," I answered, still staring out at the sea. "In the prison
yonder is an old bishop named Barnabas of Egypt, who was set upon by
other bishops at the Council while you were away and wellnigh beaten
to death. I ask that he may be freed and restored to his diocese with
honour."

"Barnabas," she replied sharply. "I know the man. He is an Iconoclast,
and therefore my enemy. Only this morning I signed an order that he
should be kept in confinement till he died, here or elsewhere. Still,"
she went on, "though I would sooner give you a province, have your gift,
for I can refuse you nothing. Barnabas shall be freed and restored to
his see with honour. I have said."

Now I began to thank her, but she stopped me, saying:

"Have done! Another time you can talk to me of heretics with whom you
have made friends, but I, who hear enough of such, would have no more of
them to-night."

So I grew silent and still stared out at the sea. Indeed, I was
wondering in my mind whether I dared ask leave to depart, for I felt her
eyes burning on me, and grew much afraid. Suddenly I heard a sound, a
gentle sound of rustling silk, and in another instant I felt Irene's
arms clasped about me and Irene's head laid upon my knee. Yes, she was
kneeling before me, sobbing, and her proud head was resting on my knee.
The diadem she wore had fallen from it, and her tresses, breaking loose,
flowed to the ground, and lay there gleaming like gold in the moonlight.

She looked up, and her face was that of a weeping saint.

"Dost understand?" she whispered.

Now despair took me, which I knew full well would soon be followed by
madness. Then came a thought.

"Yes," I said hoarsely. "I understand that you grieve over that matter
of the Augustus and the poisoned figs, and would pray me to keep
silence. Have no fear, my lips are sealed, but for his I cannot answer,
though perhaps as he had drunk so much----"

"Fool!" she whispered. "Is it thus that an Empress pleads with her
captain to keep silence?" Then she drew herself up, a wonderful look
upon her face that had grown suddenly white, a fire in her upturned
eyes, and for the second time kissed me upon the lips.

I took her in my arms and kissed her back. For an instant my mind swam.
Then in my soul I cried for help, and strength came to me. Rising, I
lifted her as though she were a child, and stood her on her feet. I
said:

"Hearken, Empress, before destruction falls. I do understand now, though
a moment ago I did not, who never thought it possible that the queen of
the world could look with favour upon one so humble."

"Love takes no account of rank," she murmured, "and that kiss of yours
upon my lips is more to me than the empire of the world."

"Yet hearken," I answered. "There is another wall between us which may
not be climbed."

"Man, what is this wall? Is it named woman? Are you sworn to the memory
of that Iduna, who is more fair than I? Or is it, perchance, her of the
necklace?"

"Neither. Iduna is dead to me; she of the necklace is but a dream.
The wall is that of your own faith. On this night seven days ago I was
baptised a Christian."

"Well, what of it? This draws us nearer."

"Study the sayings of your sacred book, Empress, and you will find that
it thrusts us apart."

Now she coloured to her hair, and a kind of madness took her.

"Am I to be preached to by you?" she asked.

"I preach to myself, Augusta, who need it greatly, not to you, who
mayhap do not need it."

"Hating me as you do, why should you need it? You are the worst of
hypocrites, who would veil your hate under a priest's robe."

"Have you no pity, Irene? When did I say that I hated you? Moreover, if
I had hated you, should I----" and I ceased.

"I do not know what you would or would not have done," she answered
coldly. "I think that Constantine is right, and that you must be what is
called a saint; and, if so, saints are best in heaven, especially when
they know too much on earth. Give me that sword of yours."

I drew the sword, saluted with it, and gave it to her.

"It is a heavy weapon," she said. "Whence came it?"

"From the same grave as the necklace, Augusta."

"Ah! the necklace that your dream-woman wore. Well, go to seek her in
the land of dreams," and she lifted the sword.

"Your pardon, Augusta, but you are about to strike with the blunt edge,
which may wound but will not kill."

She laughed a little, very nervously, and, turning the sword round in
her hand, said:

"Truly, you are the strangest of men! Ah! I thank you, now I have it
right. Do you understand, Olaf, I mean, Sir Saint, what sort of a story
I must tell of you after I have struck? Do you understand that not only
are you about to die, but that infamy will be poured upon your name and
that your body will be dragged through the streets and thrown to the
dogs with the city offal? Answer, I say, answer!"

"I understand that you must cause these things to be done for your own
sake, Augusta, and I do not complain. Lies matter nothing to me, who
journey to the Land of Truth, where there are some whom I would meet
again. Be advised by me. Strike here, where the neck joins the shoulder,
holding the sword slantwise, for there even a woman's blow will serve to
sever the great artery."

"I cannot. Kill yourself, Olaf."

"A week ago I'd have fallen on the sword; but now, by the rule of our
faith, in such a cause I may not. My blood must be upon your hands, for
which I grieve, knowing that no other road is open to you. Augusta, if
it is worth anything to you, take my full forgiveness for the deed, and
with it my thanks for all the goodness you have shown to me, but most
for your woman's favour. In after years, perhaps, when death draws near
to you also, if ever you remember Olaf, your faithful servant, you will
understand much it is not fitting that I should say. Give me one moment
to make my peace with Heaven as to certain kisses. Then strike hard and
swiftly, and, as you strike, scream for your guards and women. Your wit
will do the rest."

She lifted the sword, while, after a moment's prayer, I bared my neck of
the silk robe. Then she let it fall again, gasping, and said:

"Tell me first, for I am curious. Are you no man? Or have you forsworn
woman, as do the monks?"

"Not I, Augusta. Had I lived, some day I might have married, who would
have wished to leave children behind me, since in our law marriage is
allowed. Forget not your promise as to the Bishop Barnabas, who, I fear,
will weep over this seeming fall of mine."

"So you would marry, would you?" she said, as one who speaks to herself;
then thought awhile, and handed me back the sword.

"Olaf," she went on, "you have made me feel as I never felt
before--ashamed, utterly ashamed, and though I learn to hate you, as it
well may hap I shall, know that I shall always honour you."

Then she sank down upon the couch, and, hiding her face in her hands,
wept bitterly.

It was at this moment that I went very near to loving Irene.

I think she must have felt something of what was passing in my mind, for
suddenly she looked up and said: "Give me that jewel," and she pointed
to the diadem on the floor, "and help me to order my hair; my hands
shake."

"Nay," I said, as I gave her the crown. "Of that wine I drink no more. I
dare not touch you; you grow too dear."

"For those words," she whispered, "go in safety, and remember that from
Irene you have naught to fear, as I know well I have naught to fear from
you, O Prince among men."

So presently I went.



On the following morning, as I sat in my office at the prison, setting
all things in order for whoever should succeed me, Martina entered, as
she had done before.

"How came you here unannounced?" I asked, when she was seated.

"By virtue of this," she answered, holding up her hand and showing on
it a ring I knew. It was the signet of the Empress. I saluted the seal,
saying:

"And for what purpose, Martina? To order me to bonds or death?"

"To bonds or death!" she exclaimed innocently. "What can our good Olaf
have done worthy of such woes? Nay, I come to free one from bonds,
and perhaps from death, namely, a certain heretic bishop who is named
Barnabas. Here is the order for his release, signed by the Augusta's
hand and sealed with her seal, under which he is at liberty to bide in
Constantinople while he will and to return to his bishopric in Egypt
when it pleases him. Also, if he holds that any have harmed him, he may
make complaint, and it shall be considered without delay."

I took the parchment, read it, and laid it on the table, saying:

"The commands of the Empress shall be done. Is there aught else,
Martina?"

"Yes. To-morrow morning you will be relieved of your office, and another
governor--Stauracius and Aetius are quarrelling as to his name--will
take your place."

"And I?"

"You will resume your post as captain of the private guard, only with
the rank of a full general of the army. But that I told you yesterday.
It is now confirmed."

I said nothing, but a groan I could not choke broke from my lips.

"You do not seem as pleased as you might be, Olaf. Tell me, now, at what
hour did you leave the palace last night? While waiting for my mistress
to summon me I fell asleep in the vestibule of the ante-room, and when I
awoke and went into that room I found there the gold-broidered silk robe
you wore, cast upon the ground, and your armour gone."

"I know not what was the hour, Martina, and speak no more to me, I pray,
of that accursed womanish robe."

"Which you treated but ill, Olaf, for it is spotted as though with
blood."

"The Augustus spilt some wine over it."

"Aye, my mistress told me the story. Also that of how you would
have eaten the poisoned fig, which you snatched from the lips of
Constantine."

"And what else did your mistress tell you, Martina?"

"Not much, Olaf. She was in a very strange mood last night, and while I
combed her hair, which, Olaf, was as tangled as though a man had handled
it," and she looked at me till I coloured to the eyes, "and undid her
diadem, that was set on it all awry, she spoke to me of marriage."

"Of marriage!" I gasped.

"Certainly--did I not speak the word with clearness?--of marriage."

"With whom, Martina?"

"Oh! grow not jealous before there is need, Olaf. She made no mention of
the name of our future divine master, for whosoever can rule Irene, if
such a one lives, will certainly rule us also. All she said was that she
wished she could find some man to guide, guard and comfort her, who grew
lonely amidst many troubles, and hoped for more sons than Constantine."

"What sort of a man, Martina? This Emperor Charlemagne, or some other
king?"

"No. She vowed that she had seen enough of princes, who were murderers
and liars, all of them; and that what she desired was one of good birth,
no more, brave, honest, and not a fool. I asked her, too, what she would
have him like to look upon."

"And what did she say to that, Martina?"

"Oh! she said that he must be tall, and under forty, fair-haired and
bearded, since she loved not these shaven effeminates, who look half
woman and half priest; one who had known war, and yet was no ruffler; a
person of open mind, who had learnt and could learn more. Well, now that
I think of it, by all the Saints!--yes, much such a man as _you_ are,
Olaf."

"Then she may find them in plenty," I said, with an uneasy laugh.

"Do you think so? Well, she did not, neither did I. Indeed, she pointed
out that this was her trouble. Among the great of the earth she knew no
such man, and, if she sought lower, then would come jealousies and war."

"Indeed they would. Doubtless you showed her that this was so, Martina."

"Not at all, Olaf. I asked her of what use it was to be an Empress if
she could not please her own heart in this matter of a husband, which is
one important to a woman. I said also, as for such fears, that a secret
marriage might be thought of, which is an honest business that could be
declared when occasion came."

"And what did she answer to that, Martina?"

"She fell into high good humour, called me a faithful and a clever
friend, gave me a handsome jewel, told me that she would have a mission
for me on the morrow--doubtless that which I now fulfil, for I have
heard of no other--said, notwithstanding all the trouble as to the
Augustus and his threats, that she was sure she would sleep better than
she had done for nights, kissed me on both cheeks, and flung herself
upon her knees at her praying-stool, where I left her. But why are you
looking so sad, Olaf?"

"Oh! I know not, save that I find life difficult, and full of pitfalls
which it is hard to escape."

Martina rested her elbows on the table and her chin upon her little
hand, staring me full in the face with her quick eyes that pierced like
nails.

"Olaf," she said, "your star shines bright above you. Keep your eyes
fixed thereon and follow it, and never think about the pitfalls. It may
lead you I know not where."

"To heaven, perhaps," I suggested.

"Well, you did not fear to go thither when you would have eaten the
poisoned fig last night. To heaven, perchance, but by a royal road.
Whatever you may think of some others, marriage is an honourable estate,
my Christian friend, especially if a man marries well. And now good-bye;
we shall meet again at the palace, whither you will repair to-morrow
morning. Not before, since I am engaged in directing the furnishment of
your new quarters in the right wing, and, though the workmen labour all
night, they will not be finished until then. Good-bye, General Olaf.
Your servant Martina salutes you and your star," and she curtsied before
me until her knees almost touched the ground.



CHAPTER V

AVE POST SECULA

It comes back to me that on the following day my successor in the
governorship of the jail, who he was I know not now, arrived, and that
to him in due form I handed over my offices and duties. Before I did so,
however, I made it my care to release Barnabas, I think on the previous
evening. In his cell I read the Augusta's warrant to the old bishop.

"How was it obtained, son," he asked, "for, know, that having so many
enemies on this small matter of image worship, I expected to die in this
place? Now it seems that I am free, and may even return to my charge in
Egypt."

"The Empress granted it to me as a favour, Father," I answered. "I told
her that you were from the North, like myself."

He studied me with his shrewd blue eyes, and said:

"It seems strange to me that so great and unusual a boon should be
granted for such a reason, seeing that better men than I am have
suffered banishment and worse woes for less cause than I have given.
What did you pay the Empress for this favour, son Olaf?"

"Nothing, Father."

"Is it so? Olaf, a dream has come to me about you, and in that dream
I saw you walk through a great fire and emerge unscathed, save for the
singeing of your lips and hair."

"Perhaps they were singed, Father. Otherwise, I am unburned, though
what will happen to me in the future I do not know, for my dangers seem
great."

"In my dream you triumphed over all of them, Olaf, and also met with
some reward even in this life, though now I know not what it was. Yes,
and triumph you shall, my son in Christ. Fear nothing, even when the
storm-clouds sweep about your head and the lightnings blind your eyes.
I say, fear nothing, for you have friends whom you cannot see. I ask no
more even under the seal of confession, since there are secrets which it
is not well to learn. Who knows, I might go mad, or torture might draw
from me words I would not speak. Therefore, keep your own counsel, son,
and confess to God alone."

"What will you do now, Father?" I asked. "Return to Egypt?"

"Nay, not yet awhile. It comes to me that I must bide here for a space,
which under this pardon I have liberty to do, but to what end I cannot
say. Later on I shall return, if God so wills. I go to dwell with good
folk who are known to me, and from time to time will let you hear where
I may be found, if you should need my help or counsel."

Then I led him to the gates, and, having given him a witnessed copy of
his warrant of release, bade him farewell for that time, making it
known to the guards and certain priests who lingered there that any who
molested him must answer for it to the Augusta.

Thus we parted.

Having handed over the keys of the prison, I walked to the palace
unattended, being minded to take up my duties there unnoticed. But
this was not to be. As I entered the palace gate a sentry called out
something, and a messenger, who seemed to be in waiting, departed at
full speed. Then the sentry, saluting, told me that his orders were that
I must stand awhile, he knew not why. Presently I discovered, for across
the square within the gates marched a full general's guard, whereof the
officer also saluted, and prayed me to come with him. I went, wondering
if I was to be given in charge, and by him, surrounded with this pompous
guard, was led to my new quarters, which were more splendid than I
could have dreamed. Here the guard left me, and presently other officers
appeared, some of them old comrades of my own, asking for orders,
of which, of course, I had none to give. Also, within an hour, I was
summoned to a council of generals to discuss some matter of a war in
which the Empire was engaged. By such means as these it was conveyed
to me that I had become a great man, or, at any rate, one in the way of
growing great.

That afternoon, when, according to my old custom, I was making my round
of the guards, I met the Augusta upon the main terrace, surrounded by a
number of ministers and courtiers. I saluted and would have passed on,
but she bade one of her eunuchs call me to her. So I came and stood
before her.

"We greet you, General Olaf," she said. "Where have you been all this
long while? Oh! I remember. At the State prison, as its governor, of
which office you are now relieved at your own request. Well, the palace
welcomes you again, for when you are here all within know themselves
safe."

Thus she spoke, her great eyes searching my face the while, then bowed
her head in token of dismissal. I saluted again, and began to step
backwards, according to the rule, whereon she motioned to me to stand.
Then she began to make a laugh of me to the painted throng about her.

"Say, nobles and ladies," she said, "did any of you ever see such a man?
We address him as best we may--and we have reason to believe that he
understands our language--yet not one word does he vouchsafe to us
in answer. There he stands, like a soldier cut in iron who moves by
springs, with never an 'I thank you' or a 'Good day' on his lips.
Doubtless he would reprove us all, who, he holds, talk too much, being,
as we all have heard, a man of stern morality, who has no tenderness for
human foibles. By the way, General Olaf, a rumour has reached us that
you have forsaken doubt, and become a Christian. Is this true?"

"It is true, Augusta."

"Then if as a Pagan you were a man of iron, what will you be as a
Christian, we wonder? One hard as diamond, no less. Yet we are glad
of this tidings, as all good servants of the Church must be, since
henceforth our friendship will be closer and we value you. General, you
must be received publicly into the bosom of the Faith; it will be an
encouragement to others to follow your example. Perhaps, as you have
served us so well in many wars and as an officer of our guard, we
ourselves will be your god-mother. The matter shall be considered by us.
What have you to answer to it?"

"Nothing," I replied, "save that when the Augusta has considered of the
matter, I will consider of my answer."

At this the courtiers tittered, and, instead of growing angry, as I
thought she might, Irene burst out laughing.

"Truly we were wrong," she said, "to provoke you to open your mouth,
General, for when you do so, like that red sword you wear, your tongue
is sharp, if somewhat heavy. Tell us, General, are your new quarters to
your taste, and before you reply know that we inspected them ourselves,
and, having a liking for such tasks, attended to their furnishment. 'Tis
done, you will see, in the Northern style, which we think somewhat cold
and heavy--like your sword and tongue."

"If the Augusta asks me," I said, "the quarters are too fine for a
single soldier. The two rooms where I dwelt before were sufficient."

"A single soldier! Well, that is a fault which can be remedied. You
should marry, General Olaf."

"When I find any woman who wishes to marry me and whom I wish to marry,
I will obey the Augusta's commands."

"So be it, General, only remember that first we must approve the lady.
Venture not, General, to share those new quarters of yours with any lady
whom we do not approve."

Then, followed by the Court, she turned and walked away, and I went
about my business, wondering what was the meaning of all this guarded
and half-bitter talk.

The next event that returns to me clearly is that of my public
acceptance as a Christian in the great Cathedral of St. Sophia, which
must have taken place not very long after this meeting upon the terrace.
I know that by every means in my power I had striven, though without
avail, to escape this ceremony, pointing out that I could be publicly
received into the body of the Church at any chapel where there was a
priest and a congregation of a dozen humble folk. But this the Empress
would not allow. The reason she gave was her desire that my conversion
should be proclaimed throughout the city, that other Pagans, of whom
there were thousands, might follow my example. Yet I think she had
another which she did not avow. It was that I might be made known in
public as a man of importance whom it pleased her to honour.

On the morning of this rite, Martina came to acquaint me with its
details, and told me that the Empress would be present at the cathedral
in state, making her progress thither in her golden chariot, drawn by
the famed milk-white steeds. I, it seemed, was to ride after the chariot
in my general's uniform, which was splendid enough, followed by a
company of guards, and surrounded by chanting priests. The Patriarch
himself, no less a person, was to receive me and some other converts,
and the cathedral would be filled with all the great ones of
Constantinople.

I asked whether Irene intended to be my god-mother, as she had
threatened.

"Not so," replied Martina. "On that point she has changed her mind."

"So much the better," I said. "But why?"

"There is a canon of the Church, Olaf, which forbids intermarriage
between a god-parent and his or her god-child," she replied dryly.
"Whether this canon has come to the Augusta's memory or not, I cannot
say. It may be so."

"Who, then, is to be my god-mother?" I asked hurriedly, leaving the
problem of Irene's motives undiscussed.

"I am, by the written Imperial decree delivered to me not an hour ago."

"You, Martina, you who are younger than myself by many years?"

"Yes, I. The Augusta has just explained to me that as we seem to be such
very good friends, and to talk together so much alone, doubtless,
she supposed, upon matters of religion, there could be no person more
suitable than such a good Christian as myself to fill that holy office."

"What do you mean, Martina?" I asked bluntly.

"I mean, Olaf," she replied, turning away her head, and speaking in a
strained voice, "that, where you are concerned, the Augusta of late has
done me the honour to be somewhat jealous of me. Well, of a god-mother
no one need be jealous. The Augusta is a clever woman, Olaf."

"I do not quite understand," I said. "Why should the Augusta be jealous
of you?"

"There is no reason at all, Olaf, except that, as it happens, she is
jealous of every woman who comes near to you, and she knows that we are
intimate and that you trust me--well, more, perhaps, than you trust her.
Oh! I assure you that of late you have not spoken to any woman under
fifty unnoted and unreported. Many eyes watch you, Olaf."

"Then they might find better employment. But tell me outright, Martina,
what is the meaning of all this?"

"Surely even a wooden-headed Northman can guess, Olaf?"

She glanced round her to make sure that we were alone in the great
apartment of my quarters and that the doors were shut, then went on,
almost in a whisper, "My mistress is wondering whether or no she will
marry again, and, if so, whether she will choose a certain somewhat
over-virtuous Christian soldier as a second husband. As yet she has not
made up her mind. Moreover, even if she had, nothing could be done at
present or until the question of the struggle between her and her son
for power is settled in this way or in that. Therefore, at worst, or
at best, that soldier has yet a while of single life left to him, say a
month or two."

"Then during that month or two perhaps he would be wise to travel," I
suggested.

"Perhaps, if he were a fool who would run away from fortune, and if he
could get leave of absence, which in his case is impossible; to attempt
such a journey without it would mean his death. No, if he is wise, that
soldier will bide where he is and await events, possessing his soul in
patience, as a good Christian should do. Now, as your god-mother, I must
instruct you in this service. Look not so troubled; it is really most
simple. You know Stauracius, the eunuch, is to be your god-father, which
is very fortunate for you, since, although he looks on you with doubt
and jealousy, to blind or murder his own god-son would cause too much
scandal even in Constantinople. As a special mark of grace, also, the
Bishop Barnabas, of Egypt, will be allowed to assist in the ceremony,
because it was he who snatched your soul from the burning. Moreover,
since the Sacrament is to be administered afterwards, he has been
commanded to attend here to receive your confession in the chapel of the
palace, and within an hour. You know that this day being the Feast of
St. Michael and All Angels, you will be received in the name of Michael,
a high one well fitted to a warlike saint, though I think that I shall
still call you Olaf. So farewell, my god-son to be, until we meet at
the cathedral, where I shall shine in the reflected light of all your
virtues."

Then she sighed, laughed a little, and glided away.

In due course a priest of the chapel came to summon me there, saying
that the Bishop Barnabas awaited me. I went and made my confession,
though in truth I had little to tell him that he did not already know.
Afterwards the good old man, who by now was quite recovered from his
hurts and imprisonment, accompanied me to my quarters, where we ate
together. He told me that before he attended in the chapel he had been
received by the Empress, who had spoken to him very kindly, making
light of their difference of opinion as to images and with her own mouth
confirmed him in his bishopric, even hinting at his possible promotion.

"This, my son," he added, "I am well aware I owe to your good offices."

I asked him if he would return at once to Upper Egypt, where he had his
bishopric.

"No, my son," he answered, "not yet awhile. The truth is that there
have arrived here the chief man in my diocese, and his daughter. He is
a descendant of the old Pharaohs of the Egyptians who lives near the
second cataract of the Nile, almost on the borders of Ethiopia, whither
the accursed children of Mahomet have not yet forced their way. He is
still a great man among the Egyptians, who look upon him as their lawful
prince. His mission here is to try to plan a new war upon the followers
of the Prophet, who, he holds, might be assailed by the Empire at the
mouths of the Nile, while he attacked them with his Egyptians from the
south."

Now I grew interested, who had always grieved over the loss of Egypt to
the Empire, and asked what was this prince's name.

"Magas, my son, and his daughter is named Heliodore. Ah! she is such a
woman as I would see you wed, beautiful indeed, and good and true as she
is beautiful, with a high spirit also, such as befits her ancient blood.
Mayhap you will note her in the cathedral. Nay, I forgot, not there, but
afterwards in this palace, since it is the command of the Empress, to
whom I have been speaking of their matters, that these two should come
to dwell here for a while. After that I hope we shall all return to
Egypt together, though Magas, being on a secret mission, does not travel
under his own name, but as a merchant."

Suddenly he paused, and began to stare at my throat.

"Is aught wrong with my armour, Father?" I asked.

"No, son. I was looking at that trinket which you wear. Of course I have
noted it before, but never closely. It is strange, very strange!"

"What is strange, Father?"

"Only that I have seen another like it."

"I dare say you have," I answered, laughing, "for when I would not give
this to the Augusta, it pleased her to have it copied."

"No, no; I mean in Egypt, and, what is more, a story hung to the jewel."

"On whom? Where? What story?" I asked eagerly.

"Oh! I cannot stay to tell you now. Moreover, your mind should be fixed
upon immortal crowns, and not on earthly necklaces. I must be gone; nay,
stay me not, I am already late. Do you get you to your knees and pray
till your god-parents come to fetch you."

Then, in spite of all I could do to keep him, he went, muttering:
"Strange! Exceeding strange!" and leaving me quite unfit for prayer.



An hour later I was riding through the streets of the mighty city, clad
in shining armour. As the season was that of October, in which the Feast
of St. Michael falls, we wore cloaks, although, the day being warm, they
were little needed. Mine was of some fine white stuff, with a red
cross broidered on the right shoulder. Stauracius, the eunuch and great
minister, who had been ordered to act as my god-father, rode alongside
of me on a mule, because he dared not mount a horse, sweating beneath
his thick robe of office, and, as I heard from time to time, cursing me,
his god-son, and all this ceremony beneath his breath. On my other hand
was my god-mother, Martina, riding an Arab mare, which she did well
enough, having been brought up to horsemanship on the plains of Greece.
Her mood was varied, for now she laughed at the humour of the scene, and
now she was sad almost to tears.

The streets were lined with thousands of the pleasure-loving people of
the city, who had come out to see the show of the Empress going in state
to the cathedral. They were gathered even on the flat house-tops and in
the entrances to the public buildings and open places. But the glory
of the sight was centred, not about me, with my escort of guards
and chanting priests, but in Irene's self. Preceded and followed
by glittering regiments of soldiers, she drove in her famous golden
chariot, drawn by eight milk-white steeds, each of which was led by
a bejewelled noble. Her dress was splendid and covered with sparkling
gems, and on her yellow hair she wore a crown. As she went the
multitudes shouted their welcome, and she bowed to right and left in
answer to the shouts. Now and again, however, bands of armed men, clad
in a dress of a peculiar colour, emerged from side streets and hooted,
crying:

"Where is the Augustus? Give us the Augustus. We will not be ruled by a
woman and her eunuchs!"

These men were of the party of Constantine, and set on by him. Once,
indeed, there was a tumult, for some of them tried to bar the road, till
they were driven away, leaving a few dead or wounded behind them. But
still the crowds shouted and the Empress bowed as though nothing had
happened, and thus by a somewhat winding route, we came to St. Sophia.

The Augusta entered, and presently I and those with me followed her
into the wonderful cathedral. I see it now, not in particular, but as
a whole, with its endless columns, its aisles and apses, and its
glittering mosaics shining through the holy gloom, across which shot
bars of light from the high window-places. All the great place was full
of the noblest in the city, rank upon rank of them, come thither to see
the Empress in her glory at the great Feast of St. Michael, which year
by year she attended thus.

At the altar waited the Patriarch in his splendid robes, attended by
many bishops and priests, among them Barnabas of Egypt. The service
began, I and some other converts standing together near to the altar
rail. The details of it do not return to me. Sweet voices sang, censers
gave forth their incense, banners waved, and images of the saints,
standing everywhere, smiled upon us fixedly. Some of us were baptised,
and some who had already been baptised were received publicly into the
fellowship of the Church, I among them. My god-father, Stauracius, a
deacon prompting him, and my god-mother, Martina, spoke certain words on
my behalf, and I also spoke certain words which I had learned.

The splendid Patriarch, a sour-faced man with a slight squint, gave me
his especial blessing. The Bishop Barnabas, upon whom, as I noted, the
Patriarch was always careful to turn his back, offered up a prayer. My
god-father and god-mother embraced me, Stauracius smacking the air at a
distance, for which I was grateful, and Martina touching me gently with
her lips upon the brow. The Empress smiled upon me and, as I passed her,
patted me on the shoulder. Then the Sacrament was celebrated, whereof
the Empress partook first; next we converts, with our god-parents, and
afterwards a number of the congregation.

It was over at last. The Augusta and her attendants marched down the
cathedral towards the great western doors, priests followed, and, among
them, we converts, whom the people applauded openly.

Looking to right and left of me, for I was weary of keeping my gaze
fixed upon the floor, presently I caught sight of a face whilst as yet
it was far away. It seemed to draw me, I knew not why. The face was that
of a woman. She stood by an old and stately-looking man with a white
beard, the last of a line of worshippers next to the aisle along which
the procession passed, and I saw that she was young and fair.

Down the long, resounding aisle the procession marched slowly. Now I was
nearer to the face, and perceived that it was lovely as some rich-hued
flower. The large eyes were dark and soft as a deer's. The complexion,
too, was somewhat dark, as though the sun had kissed it. The lips were
red and curving, and about them played a little smile that was full of
mystery as the eyes were full of thought and tenderness. The figure was
delicate and rounded, but not so very tall. All these things and others
I noted, yet it was not by them that I was drawn and held, but rather
because I _knew this lady_.

She was the woman of whom, years ago, I had dreamed on the night on
which I broke into the Wanderer's tomb at Aar!

Never for one moment did I doubt me of this truth. I was sure. I was
sure. It did not even need, while she turned to whisper something to her
companion, that the cloak she wore should open a little, revealing on
her breast a necklace of emerald beetles separated by inlaid shells of
pale and ancient gold.

She was watching the procession with interest, yet somewhat idly, when
she caught sight of me, whom, from where she stood, she could scarcely
have seen before. Of a sudden her face grew doubtful and troubled, like
to that of one who has just received some hurt. She saw the ornament
about my neck. She turned pale and had she not gripped the arm of the
man beside her, would, I think, have fallen. Then her eyes caught mine,
and Fate had us in its net.

She leaned forward, gazing, gazing, all her soul in those dark eyes,
and I, too, gazed and gazed. The great cathedral vanished with its
glittering crowds, the sound of chanting and of feet that marched died
from my ears. In place of these I saw a mighty columned temple and two
stone figures, taller than pines, seated on a plain, and through the
moonlit silence heard a sweet voice murmuring:

"Farewell. For this life, farewell!"

Now we were near to each other, now I was passing her, I who might not
stay. My hand brushed hers, and oh! it was as though I had drunk a cup
of wine. A spirit entered into me and, bending, I whispered in her ear,
speaking in the Latin tongue, since Greek, which all knew, I did not
dare to use, "_Ave post secula!_" Greeting after the ages!

I saw her bosom heave; yes, and heard her whisper back:

"_Ave!_"

So she knew me also.



CHAPTER VI

HELIODORE

That night there was feasting at the palace, and I, Olaf, now known as
Michael, as a convert was one of the chief guests, so that for me there
was no escape. I sat very silent, so silent that the Augusta frowned,
though she was too far off to speak to me. The banquet came to an end at
last and before midnight I was free to go, still without word from the
Empress, who withdrew herself, as I thought in an ill-humour.

I sought my bed, but in it knew little of sleep. I had found her for
whom during all the long years I had been searching, though I did not
understand that I was searching. After the ages I had found her and she
had found me. Her eyes said it, and, unless I dreamed, her sweet voice
said it also.

Who was she? Doubtless that Heliodore, daughter of Magas, the prince of
whom the Bishop Barnabas had spoken to me. Oh! now I understood what
he meant when he spoke of another necklace like to that I wore, and yet
would explain nothing. It lay upon the breast of Heliodore, Heliodore
who was such a one as he wished that I might wed. Well, certainly I
wished it too; but, alas! how could I wed, who was in Irene's power,
a toy for her to play with or to break? And how would it fare with any
woman whom it was known that I wished to wed? I must be secret until she
was gone from Constantinople, and in this way or in that I could
follow her. I, who had ever been open-minded, must learn to keep my own
counsel.

Now, too, I remembered how Barnabas had said the Augusta commanded that
this Prince Magas and his daughter should come to the palace as her
guests. Well, the place was vast, a town in itself, and likely enough
I should not see them there. Yet I longed to see one of them as never
I had longed for anything before. I was sure, also, that no fears could
keep us apart, even though I knew the road before me to be full of
dangers and of trials, knew that I went with my life in my hand, the
life of which I had been quite careless, but that now had become so dear
to me. For did not the world hold another to whom it belonged?

The night passed away. I rose and went about my morning duties. Scarcely
were these finished when a messenger summoned me to the presence of the
Augusta. I followed him with a sinking heart, certain that those woes
which I had foreseen were about to begin. Also, now there was no woman
in the whole world whom I less wished to see than Irene, Empress of the
Earth.

I was led to the small audience chamber, whereof I have already spoken,
that on the floor of which was the mosaic of the goddess Venus making
pretence to kill her lover. There I found the Augusta seated in a chair
of State, the minister Stauracius, my god-father, who glowered at me
as I entered, some secretaries, and Martina, my god-mother, who was the
lady in attendance.

I saluted the Empress, who bowed graciously and said:

"General Olaf--nay, I forgot, General Michael, your god-father
Stauracius has something to say which I trust will please you as much as
it does him and me. Speak, Stauracius."

"Beloved god-son," began Stauracius, in a voice of sullen rage, "it has
pleased the Augusta to appoint you----"

"On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius," interrupted the Empress.

"----On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius," repeated the eunuch
like a talking bird, "to be one of her chamberlains and Master of the
Palace, at a salary of" (I forget the sum, but it was a great one) "with
all the power and perquisites to that office pertaining, in reward of
the services which you have rendered to her and the Empire. Thank the
Empress for her gracious favour."

"Nay," interrupted Irene again, "thank your beloved god-father
Stauracius, who has given me no peace until I offered you this
preferment which has suddenly become vacant, Stauracius alone knows
why, for I do not. Oh! you were wise, Olaf--I mean Michael--to choose
Stauracius for a god-father, though I warn him," she added archly, "that
in his natural love he must not push you forward too fast lest others
should begin to show that jealousy which is a stranger to his noble
nature. Come hither, Michael, and kiss my hand upon your appointment."

So I advanced and, kneeling, kissed the Augusta's hand, according to
custom on such occasions, noting, as doubtless Stauracius did also, that
she pressed it hard enough against my lips. Then I rose and said:

"I thank the Augusta----"

"And my god-father Stauracius," she interrupted.

"----And my god-father Stauracius," I echoed, "for her and his goodness
towards me. Yet with humility I venture to say that I am a soldier who
knows nothing whatsoever of the duties of a chamberlain and of a Master
of the Palace, and, therefore, I beg that someone else more competent
may be chosen to fill these high offices."

On hearing these words Stauracius stared at me with his round and
owl-like eyes. Never before had he known an officer in Constantinople
who wished to decline power and more pay. Scarcely, indeed, could he
believe his ears. But the Augusta only laughed.

"Baptism has not changed you, Olaf," she said, "who ever were simple,
as I believe your duties will be. At any rate, your god-father and
god-mother will instruct you in them--especially your god-mother. So no
more of such foolish talk. Stauracius, you may be gone to attend to the
affairs of which we have been speaking, as I see you burn to do, and
take those secretaries with you, for the scratching of their pens sets
my teeth on edge. Bide here a moment, General, for as Master of the
Palace it will be your duty to receive certain guests to-day of whom I
wish to speak with you. Bide you also, Martina, that you may remember my
words in case this unpractised officer should forget them."

Stauracius and his secretaries bowed themselves out, leaving the three
of us alone.

"Now, Olaf, or Michael--which do you wish to be called?"

"It is more easy for a man to alter his nature than his name," I
answered.

"Have you altered your nature? If so, your manners remain much what they
were. Well, then, be Olaf in private and Michael in public, for often an
alias is convenient enough. Hark! I would read you a lesson. As the wise
King Solomon said, 'Everything has its place and time.' It is good to
repent you of your sins and to think about your soul, but I pray you do
so no more at my feasts, especially when they are given in your honour.
Last night you sat at the board like a mummy at an Egyptian banquet. Had
your skull stood on it, filled with wine, it could scarce have looked
grimmer than did your face. Be more cheerful, I pray you, or I will have
you tonsured and promoted to be a bishop, like that old heretic Barnabas
of whom you are so fond. Ah! you smile at last, and I am glad to see it.
Now hearken again. This afternoon there comes to the palace a certain
old Egyptian named Magas, whom I place in your especial charge, and with
him his wife--at least, I think she is his wife."

"Nay, Mistress, his daughter," interrupted Martina.

"Oh! his daughter," said the Augusta suspiciously. "I did not know she
was his daughter. What is she like, Martina?"

"I have not seen her, Empress, but someone said that she is a
black-looking woman, such as the Nile breeds."

"Is it so? Then I charge you, Olaf, keep her far from me, for I love not
these ugly black women, whose woolly hair always smells of grease. Yes,
I give you leave to court her, if you will, since thereby you may learn
some secrets," and she laughed merrily.

I bowed, saying that I would obey the Augusta's orders to the best of my
power, and she went on:

"Olaf, I would discover the truth concerning this Magas and his schemes,
which as a soldier you are well fitted to find out. It seems he has a
plan for the recovery of Egypt out of the hands of the followers of that
accursed false prophet whose soul dwells with Satan. Now, I would win
back Egypt, if I may, and thereby add glory to my name and the Empire.
Hear all that he proposes, study it well, and make report to me.
Afterwards I will see him alone, who for the present will send him a
letter by the hand of Martina here bidding him open all his heart to
you. For a week or more I shall have no time to spend upon this Magas,
who must give myself to business upon which hangs my power and perchance
my life."

These words she spoke heavily, then fell into a fit of brooding. Rousing
herself, she went on:

"Did you note yesterday, Olaf, if you had any mind left for the things
of earth, that as I drove in state through the streets many met me with
sullen silence, while others cursed me openly and shouted, 'Where is the
Augustus?' 'Give us Constantine. We will have no woman's rule.'"

"I saw and heard something of these things, Augusta; also that certain
of the soldiers on guard in the city had a mutinous air."

"Aye, but what you did not see and hear was that a plot had been laid
to murder me in the cathedral. I got wind of it in time and if you
were still governor of yonder prison you'd know where the murderers are
to-day. Yet they're but tools; it is their captains whom I want. Well,
torture may make them speak; Stauracius has gone to see to it. Oh! the
strife is fierce and doubtful. I walk blindfold along a precipice. Above
are Fortune's heights, and beneath black ruin. Perhaps you'd be wise
to get you to Constantine, Olaf, and become his man, as many are doing,
since he'd be glad of you. No need to shake your head, for that's not
your way; you are no hound to bite the hand that feeds you, like these
street-bred dogs. Would that I could keep you nearer to me, where hour
by hour you might help me with your counsel and your quiet strength.
But it may not be--as yet. I raise you as high as I dare, but it must be
done step by step, for even now some grow jealous. Take heed to what you
eat, Olaf. See that your guards are Northmen, and beneath your doublet
wear mail, especially at night. Moreover, unless I send for you, do not
come near me too often, and, when we meet, be my humble servant, like
others; aye, learn to crawl and kiss the ground. Above all, keep secret
as the grave.

"Now," she went on after a pause, during which I stood silent, "what is
there more? Oh! with your new offices, you'll retain that of captain
of my guard, for I would be well watched during these next few weeks.
Follow up the matter of the Egyptian; you may find advancement in it.
Perchance one day you will be the general I send against the Moslems--if
I can spare you. On all this matter be secret also, for once rumour
buzzes over it that peach rots. The Egyptian and his swarthy girl come
to the palace to-day, when he will receive my letter. Meet him and see
them well housed, though not too near me; Martina will help you. Now be
gone and leave me to my battles."

So I went, and she watched me to the door with eyes that were full of
tenderness.



Again there is a blank in my memory, or my vision. I suppose that
Magas and his daughter Heliodore arrived at the palace on the day of my
interview with Irene, of which I have told. I suppose that I welcomed
them and conducted them to the guest house that had been made ready for
them in the gardens. Doubtless, I listened eagerly to the first words
which Heliodore spoke to me, save that one in the cathedral, the word
of greeting. Doubtless, I asked her many things, and she gave me many
answers. But of all this nothing remains.

What comes back to me is a picture of the Egyptian prince, Magas, and
myself seated at some meal in a chamber overlooking the moonlit palace
garden. We were alone, and this noble, white-bearded man, hook-nosed
and hawk-eyed, was telling me of the troubles of his countrymen, the
Christian Copts of Egypt.

"Look on me, sir," he said. "As I could prove to you, were it worth
while, and as many could bear witness, for the records have been kept,
I am a descendant in the true line from the ancient Pharaohs of my
country. Moreover, my daughter, through her Grecian mother, is sprung
from the Ptolemies. Our race is Christian, and has been for these three
hundred years, although it was among the last to be converted. Yet,
noble as we are, we suffer every wrong at the hands of the Moslems. Our
goods and lands are doubly taxed, and, if we should go into the towns of
Lower Egypt, we must wear garments on which the Cross is broidered as
a badge of shame. Yet, where I live--near to the first cataract of
the Nile, and not so very far from the city of old Thebes--the
Prophet-worshippers have no real power. I am still the true ruler of
that district, as the Bishop Barnabas will tell you, and at any moment,
were my standard to be lifted, I could call three thousand Coptic spears
to fight for Christ and Egypt. Moreover, if money were forthcoming, the
hosts of Nubia could be raised, and together we might sweep down on the
Moslems like the Nile in flood, and drive them back to Alexandria."

Then he went on to set out his plans, which in sum were that a Roman
fleet and army should appear at the mouths of the Nile to besiege and
capture Alexandria, and, with his help, massacre or drive out every
Moslem in Egypt. The scheme, which he set forth with much detail, seemed
feasible enough, and when I had mastered its particulars I promised to
report it to the Empress, and afterwards to speak with him further.

I left the chamber, and presently stood in the garden. Although it was
autumn time, the night in this mild climate was very warm and pleasant,
and the moonlight threw black shadows of the trees across the paths.
Under one of these trees, an ancient, green-leaved oak, the largest of
a little grove, I saw a woman sitting. Perchance I knew who she was,
perchance I had come thither to meet her, I cannot say. At least, this
was not our first meeting by many, for as I came she rose, lifting her
flower-like face towards my own, and next moment was in my arms.

When we had kissed our full, we began to talk, seated hand in hand
beneath the oak.

"What have you been doing this day, beloved?" she asked.

"Much what I do every day, Heliodore. I have attended to my duties,
which are threefold, as Chamberlain, as Master of the Palace, and as
Captain of the Guard. Also, for a little while, I saw the Augusta, to
whom I had to report various matters. The interview was brief, since a
rumour had reached her that the Armenian regiments refuse to take the
oath of fidelity to her alone, as she has commanded should be done, and
demand that the name of the Emperor, her son, should be coupled with
hers, as before. This report disturbed her much, so that she had little
time for other business."

"Did you speak of my father's matter, Olaf?"

"Aye, shortly. She listened, and asked whether I were sure that I had
got the truth from him. She added that I had best test it by what I
could win from you by any arts that a man may use. For, Heliodore,
because of something that my god-mother, Martina, said to her, it is
fixed in her mind that you are black-skinned and very ugly. Therefore,
the Augusta, who does not like any man about her to care for other
women, thinks I may make love to you with safety. So I prayed for leave
from my duties on the guard this evening that I might sup with your
father in the guest-house, and see what I could learn from one or both
of you."

"Love makes you clever, Olaf. But hearken. I do not believe that the
Empress thinks me black and ugly any longer. As it chanced while I
walked in the inner garden this afternoon, where you said I might go
when I wished to be quite alone, dreaming of our love and you, I looked
up and saw an imperial woman of middle age, who was gorgeous as
a peacock, watching me from a little distance. I went on my way,
pretending to see no one, and heard the lady say:

"'Has all this trouble driven me mad, Martina, or did I behold a woman
beautiful as one of the nymphs of my people's fables wandering yonder
among those bushes?'

"I repeat her very words, Olaf, not because they are true--for,
remember, she saw me at a distance and against a background of rocks and
autumn flowers--but because they were her words, which I think you ought
to hear, with those that followed them."

"Irene has said many false things in her life," I said, smiling, "but by
all the Saints these were not among them."

Then we embraced again, and after that was finished Heliodore, her head
resting on my shoulder, continued her story:

"'What was she like, Mistress?' asked the lady Martina, for by this
time I had passed behind some little trees. 'I have seen no one who is
beautiful in this garden except yourself.'

"'She was clad in a clinging white robe, Martina, that left her arms
and bosom bare'--being alone, Olaf, I wore my Egyptian dress beneath my
cloak, which I had laid down because of the heat of the sun. 'She was
not so very tall, yet rounded and most graceful. Her eyes seemed large
and dark, Martina, like her hair; her face was tinted like a rich-hued
rose. Oh! were I a man she seemed such a one as I should love, who, like
all my people, have ever worshipped beauty. Yet, what did I say, that
she put me in mind of a nymph of Greece. Nay, that was not so. It was of
a goddess of Old Egypt that she put me in mind, for on her face was the
dreaming smile which I have seen on that of a statue of mother Isis whom
the Egyptians worshipped. Moreover, she wore just such a headdress as I
have noted upon those statues.'

"Now the lady Martina answered: 'Surely, you must have dreamed,
Mistress. The only Egyptian woman in the palace is the daughter of the
old Coptic noble, Magas, who is in Olaf's charge, and though I am told
that she is not so ugly as I heard at first, Olaf has never said to me
that she was like a goddess. What you saw was doubtless some image of
Fortune conjured up by your mind. This I take to be the best of omens,
who in these doubtful days grow superstitious.'

"'Would Olaf tell one woman that another was like a goddess, Martina,
even though she to whom he spoke was his god-mother and a dozen years
younger than himself? Come,' she added, 'and let us see if we can find
this Egyptian.'

"Then," Heliodore went on, "not knowing what to do, I stood still there
against the rockwork and the flowers till presently, round the bushes,
appeared the splendid lady and Martina."

Now when I, Olaf, heard all this, I groaned and said:

"Oh! Heliodore, it was the Augusta herself."

"Yes, it was the Augusta, as I learned presently. Well, they came, and I
curtsied to them.

"'Are you the daughter of Magas, the Egyptian?' asked the lady, eyeing
me from head to foot.

"'Yes, Madam,' I answered. 'I am Heliodore, the daughter of Magas.
I pray that I have done no wrong in walking in this garden, but the
General Olaf, the Master of the Palace, gave me leave to come here.'

"'And did the General Olaf, whom we know as Michael, give you that
necklace which you wear, also, O Daughter of Magas? Nay, you must needs
answer me, for I am the Augusta.'

"Now I curtsied again, and said:

"'Not so, O Augusta; the necklace is from Old Egypt, and was found upon
the body of a royal lady in a tomb. I have worn it for many years.'

"'Indeed, and that which the General Michael wears came also from a
tomb.'

"'Yes, he told me so, Augusta,' I said.

"'It would seem that the two must once have been one, Daughter of
Magas?'

"'It may be so, Augusta; I do not know.'

"Now the Empress looked about her, and the lady Martina, dropping
behind, began to fan herself.

"'Are you married, girl?' she asked.

"'No,' I answered.

"'Are you affianced?'

"Now I hesitated a little, then answered 'No' again.

"'You seem to be somewhat doubtful on the point. Farewell for this
while. When you walk abroad in our garden, which is open to you, be
pleased to array yourself in the dress of our country, and not in that
of a courtesan of Egypt.'"

"What did you answer to that saying?" I asked.

"That which was not wise, I fear, Olaf, for my temper stirred me.
I answered: 'Madam, I thank you for your permission to walk in your
garden. If ever I should do so again as your guest, be sure that I will
not wear garments which, before Byzantium was a village, were sacred to
the gods of my country and those of my ancestors the Queens of Egypt.'"

"And then?" I asked.

"The Empress answered: 'Well spoken! Such would have been my own words
had I been in your place. Moreover, they are true, and the robe becomes
you well. Yet presume not too far, girl, seeing that Byzantium is no
longer a village, and Egypt has some fanatic Moslem for a Pharaoh, who
thinks little of your ancient blood.'

"So I bowed and went, and as I walked away heard the Empress rating the
lady Martina about I know not what, save that your name came into the
matter, and my own. Why does this Empress talk so much about you, Olaf,
seeing that she has many officers who are higher in her service, and why
was she so moved about this matter of the necklace of golden shells?"

"Heliodore," I answered, "I must tell now what I have hidden from you.
The Augusta has been pleased--why, I cannot say, but chiefly, I suppose,
because of late years it has been my fancy to keep myself apart from
women, which is rare in this land--to show me certain favour. I gather,
even, that, whether she means it or means it not, she has thought of me
as a husband."

"Oh!" interrupted Heliodore, starting away from me, "now I understand
everything. And, pray, have you thought as a wife of her, who has been a
widow these ten years and has a son of twenty?"

"God above us alone knows what I have or have not thought, but it is
certain that at present I think of her only as one who has been most
kind to me, but who is more to be feared than my worst foe, if I have
any."

"Hush!" she said, raising her finger. "I fancied I heard someone stir
behind us."

"Fear nothing," I answered. "We are alone here, for I set guards of my
own company around the place, with command to admit no one, and my order
runs against all save the Empress in person."

"Then we are safe, Olaf, since this damp would disarrange her hair,
which, I noted, is curled with irons, not by Nature, like my own. Oh!
Olaf, Olaf, how wonderful is the fate that has brought us together. I
say that when I saw you yonder in the cathedral for the first time since
I was born, I knew you again, as you knew me. That is why, when you
whispered to me, 'Greeting after the ages,' I gave you back your
welcome. I know nothing of the past. If we lived and loved before, that
tale is lost to me. But there's your dream and there's the necklace.
When I was a child, Olaf, it was taken from the embalmed body of some
royal woman, who, by tradition, was of my own race, yes, and by records
of which my father can tell you, for he is among the last who can still
read the writing of the old Egyptians. Moreover, she was very like me,
Olaf, for I remember her well as she lay in her coffin, preserved by
arts which the Egyptians had. She was young, not much older than I am
to-day, and her story tells that she died in giving birth to a son, who
grew up a strong and vigorous man, and although he was but half royal,
founded a new dynasty in Egypt and became my forefather. This necklace
lay upon her breast, and beneath it a writing on papyrus, which said
that when the half of it which was lost should be joined again to that
half, then those who had worn them would meet once more as mortals.
Now the two halves of the necklace have met, and _we_ have met as God
decreed, and it is one and we are one for ever and for ever, let every
Empress of the earth do what they will to part us."

"Aye," I answered, embracing her again, "we are one for ever and for
ever, though perchance for a while we may be separated from time to
time."



CHAPTER VII

VICTORY OR VALHALLA!

A minute later I heard a rustle as of branches being moved by people
thrusting their way through them. A choked voice commanded,

"Take him living or dead."

Armed men appeared about us, four of them, and one cried "Yield!"

I sprang up and drew the Wanderer's sword.

"Who orders the General Michael to yield in his own command?" I asked.

"I do," answered the man. "Yield or die!"

Now, thinking that these were robbers or murderers hired by some enemy,
I sprang at him, nor was that battle long, for at my first stroke he
fell dead. Then the other three set on me. But I wore mail beneath my
doublet, as Irene had bade me do, and their swords glanced. Moreover,
the old northern rage entered into me, and these easterners were no
match for my skill and strength. First one and then another of them
went down, whereon the third fled away, taking with him a grizzly wound
behind, for I struck him as he fled.

"Now it seems there is an end of that," I gasped to Heliodore, who was
crouched upon the seat. "Come, let me take you to your father and summon
my guards, ere we meet more of these murderers."

As I spoke a cloaked and hooded woman glided from the shelter of the
trees behind and stood before us. She threw back the hood from her head
and the moonlight fell upon her face. It was that of the Empress, but
oh! so changed by jealous rage that I should scarce have known her. The
large eyes seemed to flash fire, the cheeks were white, save where they
had been touched with paint, the lips trembled. Twice she tried to speak
and failed, but at the third effort words came.

"Nay, all is but begun," she said in a voice that was full of hate.
"Know that I have heard your every word. So, traitor, you would tell my
secrets to this Egyptian slut and then murder my own servants," and she
pointed to the dead and wounded men. "Well, you shall pay for it, both
of you, that I swear."

"Is it murder, Augusta," I asked, saluting, "when four assail one man,
and, thinking them assassins, he fights for his life and wins the fray?"

"What are four such curs against you? I should have brought a dozen. Yet
it was at me you struck. Whate'er they did I ordered them to do."

"Had I known it, Augusta, I would never have drawn sword, who am your
officer and obedient to the end."

"Nay, you'd stab me with your tongue, not with your sword," she answered
with something like a sob. "You say you are my obedient officer. Well,
now we will see. Smite me that bold-faced baggage dead, or smite _me_
dead, I care not which, then fall upon your sword."

"The first I cannot do, Augusta, for it would be murder against one who
has done no wrong, and I will not stain my soul with murder."

"Done no wrong! Has she not mocked me, my years, my widowhood, yes, and
even my hair, in the pride of her--her youth, me, the Empress of the
World?"

Now Heliodore spoke for the first time.

"And has not the Empress of the World called a poor maid of blood as
noble as her own by shameful names?" she asked.

"For the second," I went on before Irene could answer, "I cannot do that
either, for it would be foul treason as well as murder to lift my sword
against your anointed Majesty. But as for the third, as is my duty, that
I will do--or rather suffer your servants to do--if it pleases you to
repeat the order later when you are calm."

"What!" cried Heliodore, "would you go and leave me here? Then, Olaf,
by the gods my forefathers worshipped for ten thousand years, and by
the gods I worship, I'll find a means to follow you within an hour. Oh!
Empress of the World, there is another world you do not rule, and there
we'll call you to account."

Now Irene stared at Heliodore, and Heliodore stared back at her, and the
sight was very strange.

"At least you have spirit, girl. But think not that shall save you, for
there's no room for both of us on earth."

"If I go it may prove wide enough, Augusta," I broke in.

"Nay, you shall not go, Olaf, at least not yet. My orders are that
you do _not_ fall upon your sword. As for this Egyptian witch, well,
presently my people will be here; then we will see."

Now I drew Heliodore to the trunk of the great tree which stood near by
and set myself in front of her.

"What are you about to do?" asked the Empress.

"I am about to fight your eastern curs until I fall, for no northern man
will lift a sword against me, even on your orders, Augusta. When I am
down, this lady must play her own part as God shall guide her."

"Have no fear, Olaf," Heliodore said gently, "I wear a dagger."

Scarcely had she spoken when there was a sound of many feet. The man
whom I had wounded had run shouting towards the palace, rousing the
soldiers, both those on watch and those in their quarters. Now these
began to arrive and to gather in the glade before the clump of trees,
for some guards who had heard the clash of arms guided them to the
place. They were of all races and sundry regiments, Greeks, Byzantines,
Bulgars, Armenians, so-called Romans, and with them a number of Britons
and northern men.

Seeing the Empress and, near by, myself standing with drawn sword
against the tree sheltering the lady Heliodore, also on the ground those
whom I had cut down, they halted. One of their officers asked what they
must do.

"Kill me that man who has slain my servants, or stay--take him living,"
screamed the Augusta.

Now among those who had gathered was a certain lieutenant of my own, a
blue-eyed, flaxen-haired Norwegian giant of the name of Jodd. This man
loved me like a brother, I believe because once it had been my fortune
to save his life. Also often I had proved his friend when he was in
trouble, for in those days Jodd got drunk at times, and when he was
drunk lost money which he could not pay.

Now, when he saw my case, I noted that this Jodd, who, if sober, was no
fool at all, although he seemed so slow and stupid, whispered something
to a comrade who was with him, whereon the man turned and fled away like
an arrow. From the direction in which he went I guessed at once that he
was running to the barracks close at hand, where were stationed quite
three hundred Northmen, all of whom were under my command.

The soldiers prepared to obey the Augusta's orders, as they were bound
to do. They drew their swords and a number of them advanced towards me
slowly. Then it was that Jodd, with a few Northmen, moved between them
and me, and, saluting the Empress, said in his bad Greek,

"Your pardon, Augusta, but why are we asked to kill our own general?"

"Obey my orders, fellow," she answered.

"Your pardon, Augusta," said the stolid Jodd, "but before we kill our
own general, whom you commanded us to obey in all things, we would know
why we must kill him. It is a custom of our country that no man shall
be killed until he has been heard. General Olaf," and drawing his short
sword for the first time, he saluted me in form, "be pleased to explain
to us why you are to be killed or taken prisoner."

Now a tumult arose, and a eunuch in the background shouted to the
soldiers to obey the Empress's orders, whereon again some of them began
to advance.

"If no answer is given to my question," went on Jodd in his slow,
bull-like voice, "I fear that others must be killed besides the General
Olaf. Ho! Northmen. To me, Northmen! Ho! Britons, to me, Britons! Ho!
Saxons, to me, Saxons! Ho! all who are not accursed Greeks. To me all
who are not accursed Greeks!"

Now at each cry of Jodd's men leapt forward from the gathering crowd,
and, to the number of fifty or more in all, marshalled themselves behind
him, those of each nation standing shoulder to shoulder in little groups
before me.

"Is my question to be answered?" asked Jodd. "Because, if not, although
we be but one against ten, I think that ere the General Olaf is cut down
or taken there will be good fighting this night."

Then I spoke, saying,

"Captain Jodd, and comrades, I will answer your question, and if I
speak wrongly let the Augusta correct me. This is the trouble. The lady
Heliodore here is my affianced wife. We were speaking together in this
garden as the affianced do. The Empress, who, unseen by us, was hidden
behind those trees, overheard our talk, which, for reasons best known
to herself, for in it there was naught of treason or any matter of
the State, made her so angry that she set her servants on to kill me.
Thinking them murderers or robbers, I defended myself, and there they
lie, save one, who fled away wounded. Then the Empress appeared and
ordered me to kill the lady Heliodore. Comrades, look on her whom the
Empress ordered me to kill, and say whether, were she your affianced,
you would kill her even to please the Empress," and, stepping to one
side, I showed them Heliodore in all her loveliness standing against the
tree, the drawn dagger in her hand.

Now from those that Jodd had summoned there went up a roar of "_No_,"
while even the rest were silent. Irene sprang forward and cried,

"Are my orders to be canvassed and debated? Obey! Cut this man down or
take him living, I care not which, and with him all who cling to him, or
to-morrow you hang, every one of you."

Now the soldiers who had gathered also began to form up under their
officers, for they saw that before them was war and death. By this time
they were many, and as the alarm spread minute by minute more arrived.

"Yield or we attack," said he who had taken command of them.

"I do not think that we yield," answered Jodd; and just then there came
a sound of men running in ordered companies from the direction of the
Northmen's barracks were Jodd's messenger had told his tale.

"I am _sure_ that we do not yield," continued Jodd, and suddenly raised
the wild northern war-cry, "_Valhalla, Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_"

Instantly from three hundred throats, above the sound of the running
feet that drew ever nearer, came the answering shout of "_Valhalla,
Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_" Then out of the gloom up dashed the
Northmen.

Now other shouts arose of "Olaf! Olaf! Olaf! Where is our General Olaf?
Where is Red-Sword?"

"Here, comrades!" roared Jodd, and up they came those fierce, bearded
men, glad with the lust of battle, and ranged themselves by companies
before us. Again the great voice of Jodd was heard, calling,

"Empress, do you give us Olaf and his girl and swear by your Christ that
no harm shall come to them? Or must we take them for ourselves?"

"Never!" she cried back. "The only thing I give to you is death. On to
these rebels, soldiers!"

Now, seeing what must come, I strove to speak, but Jodd shouted again,

"Be silent, Olaf. For this hour you are not our general; you are a
prisoner whom it pleases us to rescue. Ring him round, Northmen, ring
him round. Bring the Empress, too; she will serve as hostage."

Now some of them drew behind us. Then they began to advance, taking us
along with them, and I, who was skilled in war, saw their purpose. They
were drawing out into the open glade, where they could see to fight, and
where their flanks would be protected by a stream of water on the one
hand and a dense belt of trees on the other.

In her rage the Empress threw herself upon the ground, but two great
fellows lifted her up by the arms and thrust her along with us. Marching
thus, we reached the point that they had chosen, for the Greeks were in
confusion and not ready to attack. There we halted, just on the crest of
a little rise of ground.

"Augusta," I said, "in the name of God, I pray you to give way. These
Northmen hate your Byzantines, and will take this chance to pay off
their scores. Moreover, they love me, and will die to a man ere they see
me harmed, and then how shall I protect you in the fray?"

She only glared at me and made no answer.

The attack began. By this time fifteen hundred or so of the Imperial
troops had collected, and against them stood, perhaps, four hundred
men in all, so that the odds were great. Still, they had no horsemen or
archers, and our position was very good, also we were Northmen and they
were Grecian scum.

On came the Byzantines, screaming "Irene! Irene!" in a formation of
companies ranged one behind the other, for their object was to break in
our centre by their weight. Jodd saw, and gave some orders; very good
orders, I thought them. Then he sheathed his short-sword, seized the
great battle-axe which was his favourite weapon, and placed himself in
front of our triple line that waited in dead silence.

Up the slope surged the charge, and on the crest of it the battle met.
At first the weight of the Greeks pressed us back, but, oh! they went
down before the Northmen's steel like corn before the sickle, and soon
that rush was stayed. Breast to breast they hewed and thrust, and so
fearful was the fray that Irene, forgetting her rage, clung to me to
protect her.

The fight hung doubtful. As in a dream, I watched the giant Jodd cut
down a gorgeous captain, the axe shearing through his golden armour as
though it were but silk. I watched a comrade of my own fall beneath a
spear-thrust. I gazed at the face of Heliodore, who stared wide-eyed
at the red scene, and at the white-lipped Irene, who was clinging to my
arm. Now we were being pressed back again, we who at this point had at
most two hundred men, some of whom were down, to bear the onslaught
of twice that number, and, do what I would, my fingers strayed to my
sword-hilt.

Our triple line bent in like a bow and began to break. The scales of
war hung on the turn, when, from the dense belt of trees upon our left,
suddenly rose the cry of "_Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_"
for which I, who had overheard Jodd's orders, was waiting. These were
his orders--that half of the Northmen should creep down behind the belt
of trees in their dense shadow, and thus outflank the foe.

Forth they sprang by companies of fifty, the moonlight gleaming on their
mail, and there, three hundred yards away, a new battle was begun. Now
the Greeks in front of us, fearing for their rear, wavered a moment and
fell back, perhaps, ten paces. I saw the opportunity and could bear no
more, who before all things was a soldier.

Shouting to some of our wounded to watch the women, I drew my sword and
leapt forward.

"I come, Northmen!" I cried, and was greeted with a roar of:

"Olaf Red-Sword! Follow Olaf Red-Sword!" for so the soldiers named me.

"Steady, Northmen! Shoulder to shoulder, Northmen!" I cried back. "Now
at them! Charge! _Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_"

Down the slope they went before our rush. In thirty paces they were but
a huddled mob, on which our swords played like lightnings. We rolled
them back on to their supports, and those supports, outflanked, began
to flee. We swept through and through them. We slew them by hundreds, we
trod them beneath our victorious feet, and--oh! in that battle a strange
thing happened to me. I thought I saw my dead brother Ragnar fighting
at my side; aye, and I thought I heard him cry to me, in that lost,
remembered voice:

"The old blood runs in you yet, you Christian man! Oh! you fight well,
you Christian man. We of Valhalla give you greetings, Olaf Red-Sword.
_Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_"

It was done. Some were fled, but more were dead, for, once at grips, the
Northman showed no mercy to the Greek. Back we came, those who were left
of us, for many, perhaps a hundred, were not, and formed a ring round
the women and the wounded.

"Well done, Olaf," said Heliodore; but Irene only looked at me with a
kind of wonder in her eyes.

Now the leaders of the Northmen began to talk among themselves, but
although from time to time they glanced at me, they did not ask me to
join in their talk. Presently Jodd came forward and said in his slow
voice:

"Olaf Red-Sword, we love you, who have always loved us, your comrades,
as we have shown you to-night. You have led us well, Olaf, and,
considering our small numbers, we have just won a victory of which we
are proud. But our necks are in the noose, as yours is, and we think
that in this case our best course is to be bold. Therefore, we name you
Caesar. Having defeated the Greeks, we propose now to take the palace and
to talk with the regiments without, many of whom are disloyal and shout
for Constantine, whom after all they hate only a little less than they
do Irene yonder. We know not what will be the end of the matter and do
not greatly care, who set our fortunes upon a throw of the dice, but
we think there is a good chance of victory. Do you accept, and will you
throw in your sword with ours?"

"How can I," I answered, "when there stands the Empress, whose bread I
have eaten and to whom I have sworn fealty?"

"An Empress, it seems, who desires to slay you over some matter that
has to do with a woman. Olaf, the daggers of her assassins have cut this
thread of fealty. Moreover, as it chances she is in our power, and as we
cannot make our crime against her blacker than it is, we propose to rid
you and ourselves of this Empress, who is our enemy, and who for her
great wickedness well deserves to die. Such is our offer, to take or to
leave, as time is short. Should you refuse it, we abandon you to your
fate, and go to make our terms with Constantine, who also hates this
Empress and even now is plotting her downfall."

As he spoke I saw certain men draw near to Irene for a purpose which I
could guess, and stepped between her and them.

"The Augusta is my mistress," I said, "and although I attacked some of
her troops but now, and she has wronged me much, still I defend her to
the last."

"Little use in that, Olaf, seeing that you are but one and we are many,"
answered Jodd. "Come, will you be Caesar, or will you not?"

Now Irene crept up behind me and whispered in my ear.

"Accept," she said. "It pleases me well. Be Caesar as my husband. So you
will save my life and my throne, of which I vow to you an equal share.
With the help of your Northmen and the legions I command and who cling
to me, we can defeat Constantine and rule the world together. This
petty fray is nothing. What matters it if some lives have been lost in
a palace tumult? The world lies in your grasp; take it, Olaf, and, with
it, _me_."

I heard and understood. Now had come the great moment of my life.
Something told me that on the one hand were majesty and empire; on the
other much pain and sorrow yet with these a certain holy joy and peace.
It was the latter that I chose, as doubtless Fate or God had decreed
that I should do.

"I thank you, Augusta," I said, "but, while I can protect her, I will
not seize a throne over the body of one who has been kind to me, nor
will I buy it at the price you offer. There stands my predestined wife,
and I can marry no other woman."

Now Irene turned to Heliodore, and said in a swift, low voice:

"Do you understand this matter, lady? Let us have done with jealousies
and be plain, for the lives of all of us hang upon threads that, for
some, must break within a day or two, and with them those of a thousand,
thousand others. Aye, the destiny of the world is at stake. You say you
love this man, whom I will tell you I love also. Well, if _you_ win him,
and he lives, which he scarce can hope to do, he gets your kisses in
whatever corner of the earth will shelter him and you. If _I_ win him,
the empire of the earth is his. Moreover, girl," she added with meaning,
"empresses are not always jealous; sometimes even they can look the
other way. There would be high place for you within our Court, and, who
knows? Your turn might come at length. Also your father's plans would be
forwarded to the last pound of gold in our treasury and the last soldier
in our service. Within five years, mayhap, he might rule Egypt as our
Governor. What say you?"

Heliodore looked at the Empress with that strange, slow smile of hers.
Then she looked at me, and answered:

"I say what Olaf says. There are two empires in the case. One, which
you can give, Augusta, is of the world; the other, which I can give him
here, is only a woman's heart, yet, as I think, of another eternal world
that you do not know. I say what Olaf says. Let Olaf speak, Augusta."

"Empress," I said slowly, "again I thank you, but it may not be. My fate
lies here," and I laid my hand upon the heart of Heliodore.

"You are mistaken, Olaf," answered the Empress, in a cold and quiet
voice, but seemingly without anger; "your fate lies there," and she
pointed to the ground, then added, "Believe me, I am sorry, for you are
a man of whom any woman might be proud--yes, even an empress. I have
always thought it, and I thought it again just now when I saw you lead
that charge against those curs in armour," and she pointed towards the
bodies of the Greeks. "So, it is finished, as perchance I am. If I must
die, let it be on your sword, Olaf."

"Your answer, Olaf Red-Sword!" called Jodd. "You have talked enough."

"Your answer! Yes, your answer!" the Northmen echoed.

"The Empress has offered to share her crown with me, Jodd, but, friends,
it cannot be, because of this lady to whom I am affianced."

"Marry them both," shouted a rude voice, but Jodd replied:

"Then that is soon settled. Out of our path, Olaf, and look the other
way. When you turn your head again there will be no Empress to trouble
you, except one of your own choosing."

On hearing these words, and seeing the swords draw near, Irene clutched
hold of me, for always she feared death above everything.

"You will not see me butchered?" she gasped.

"Not while I live," I answered. "Hearken, friends. I am the general
of the Augusta's guard, and if she dies, for honour's sake I must die
first. Strike, then, if you will, but through my body."

"Tear her away!" called a voice.

"Comrades," I went on, "be not so mad. To-night we have done that which
has earned us death, but while the Empress lives you have a hostage in
your hands with whom you can buy pardon. As a lump of clay what worth is
she to you? Hark! The regiments from the city!"

As I spoke, from the direction of the palace came a sound of many voices
and of the tread of five thousand feet.

"True enough," said Jodd, with composure. "They are on us, and now it is
too late to storm the palace. Olaf, like many another man, you have lost
your chance of glory for a woman, or, who knows, perhaps you've won it.
Well, comrades, as I take it you are not minded to fly and be hunted
down like rats, only one thing remains--to die in a fashion they will
remember in Byzantium. Olaf, you'd best mind the women; I will take
command. Ring round, comrades, ring round! 'Tis a good place for it. Set
the wounded in the middle. Keep that Empress living for the present, but
when all is done, kill her. We'll be her escort to the gates of hell,
for there she's bound if ever woman was."

Then, without murmur or complaint, almost in silence, indeed, they
formed Odin's Ring, that triple circle of the Northmen doomed to die;
the terrible circle that on many a battlefield has been hidden at last
beneath the heap of fallen foes.

The regiments moved up; there were three of them of full strength. Irene
stared about her, seeking some loophole of escape, and finding none.
Heliodore and I talked together in low tones, making our tryst beyond
the grave. The regiments halted within fifty paces of us. They liked not
the look of Odin's Ring, and the ground over which they had marched
and the fugitives with whom they had spoken told them that many of them
looked their last upon the moon.

Some mounted generals rode towards us and asked who was in command of
the Northmen. When they learned that it was Jodd, they invited him to a
parley. The end of it was that Jodd and two others stepped twenty paces
from our ranks, and met a councillor--it was Stauracius--and two of
the generals in the open, where no treachery could well be practised,
especially as Stauracius was not a man of war. Here they talked together
for a long while. Then Jodd and his companions returned, and Jodd said,
so that all might hear him:

"Hearken. These are the terms offered: That we return to our barracks in
peace, bearing our weapons. That nothing be laid to our charge under
any law, military or civil, by the State or private persons, for
this night's slaying and tumult, and that in guarantee thereof twelve
hostages of high rank, upon whose names we have agreed, be given into
our keeping. That we retain our separate stations in the service of the
Empire, or have leave to quit that service within three months, with the
gratuity of a quarter's pay, and go where we will unmolested. But
that, in return for these boons, we surrender the person of the Empress
unharmed, and with her that of the General Olaf, to whom a fair trial
is promised before a military court. That with her own voice the Augusta
shall confirm all these undertakings before she leaves our ranks. Such
is the offer, comrades."

"And if we refuse it, what?" asked a voice.

"This: That we shall be ringed round, and either starved out or shot
down by archers. Or, if we try to escape, that we shall be overwhelmed
by numbers, and any of us who chance to be taken living shall be hanged,
sound and wounded together."

Now the leaders of the Northmen consulted. Irene watched them for
awhile, then turned to me and asked,

"What will they do, Olaf?"

"I cannot say, Augusta," I answered, "but I think that they will offer
to surrender you and not myself, since they may doubt them of that fair
trial which is promised to me."

"Which means," she said, "that, whether I live or die, all these brave
men will be sacrificed to you, Olaf, who, after all, must perish
with them, as will this Egyptian. Are you prepared to accept that
blood-offering, Olaf? If so, you must have changed from the man I
loved."

"No, Augusta," I answered, "I am not prepared. Rather would I trust
myself into your power, Augusta."

The conference of the officers had come to an end. Their leader advanced
and said,

"We accept the terms, except as to the matter of Olaf Red-Sword. The
Empress may go free, but Olaf Red-Sword, our general whom we love, we
will not surrender. First will we die."

"Good!" said Jodd. "I looked for such words from you."

Then he marched out, with his companions, and again met Stauracius and
the two generals of the Greeks. After they had talked a little while he
returned and said,

"Those two officers, being men, would have agreed, but Stauracius,
the eunuch, who seems in command, will not agree. He says that Olaf
Red-Sword must be surrendered with the Empress. We answered that in this
case soon there would be no Empress to surrender except one ready for
burial. He replied that was as God might decree; either both must be
surrendered or both be held."

"Do you know why the dog said that?" whispered Irene to me. "It was
because those Northmen have let slip the offer I made to you but now,
and he is jealous of you, and fears you may take his power. Well, if I
live, one day he shall pay for this who cares so little for my life."

So she spoke, but I made no answer. Instead, I turned to Heliodore,
saying,

"You see how matters stand, beloved. Either I must surrender myself,
or all these brave men must perish, and we with them. For myself, I am
ready to die, but I am not willing that you and they should die. Also,
if I yield, I can do no worse than die, whereas perchance after all
things will take another turn. Now what say you?"

"I say, follow your heart, Olaf," she replied steadily. "Honour comes
first of all. The rest is with God. Wherever you go there I soon shall
be."

"I thank you," I answered; "your mind is mine."

Then I stepped forward and said,

"Comrades, it is my turn to throw in this great game. I have heard and
considered all, and I think it best that I should be surrendered, with
the Augusta, to the Greeks."

"We will not surrender you," they shouted.

"Comrades, I am still your general, and my order is that you surrender
me. Also, I have other orders to give to you. That you guard this lady
Heliodore to the last, and that, while one of you remains alive, she
shall be to you as though she were that man's daughter, or mother, or
sister, to help and protect as best he may in every circumstance, seen
or unforeseen. Further, that with her you guard her father, the noble
Egyptian Magas. Will you promise this to me?"

"Aye!" they roared in answer.

"You hear them, Heliodore," I said. "Know that henceforth you are one
of a large family, and, however great your enemies, that you will never
lack a friend. Comrades," I went on, "this is my second order, and
perchance the last that I shall ever give to you. Unless you hear that I
am evilly treated in the palace yonder, stay quiet. But if that tidings
should reach you, then all oaths are broken. Do what you can and will."

"Aye!" they roared again.



Afterwards what happened? It comes back to me but dimly. I think they
swore the Empress on the Blood of Christ that I should go unharmed.
I think I embraced Heliodore before them all, and gave her into their
keeping. I think I whispered into the ear of Jodd to seek out the Bishop
Barnabas, and pray him to get her and her father away to Egypt without
delay--yes, even by force, if it were needful. Then I think I left their
lines, and that, as I went, leading the Augusta by the hand, they gave
to me the general's salute. That I turned and saluted them in answer
ere I yielded myself into the power of my god-father, Stauracius, who
greeted me with a false and sickly smile.



CHAPTER VIII

THE TRIAL OF OLAF

I know not what time went by before I was put upon my trial, but that
trial I can still see as clearly as though it were happening before my
eyes. It took place in a long, low room of the vast palace buildings
that was lighted only by window-places set high up in the wall. These
walls were frescoed, and at the end of the room above the seat of the
judges was a rude picture in bright colours of the condemnation of
Christ by Pilate. Pilate, I remember, was represented with a black face,
to signify his wickedness I suppose, and in the air above him hung a
red-eyed imp shaped like a bat who gripped his robe with one claw and
whispered into his ear.

There were seven judges, he who presided being a law-officer, and the
other six captains of different grades, chosen mostly from among the
survivors of those troops whom the Northmen had defeated on the night
of the battle in the palace gardens. As this was a military trial, I
was allowed no advocate to defend me, nor indeed did I ask for any. The
Court, however, was open and crowded with spectators, among whom I saw
most of the great officers of the palace, Stauracius with them; also
some ladies, one of whom was Martina, my god-mother. The back of the
long room was packed with soldiers and others, not all of whom were my
enemies.

Into this place I was brought, guarded by four negroes, great fellows
armed with swords whom I knew to be chosen out of the number of the
executioners of the palace and the city. Indeed, one of them had served
under me when I was governor of the State prison, and been dismissed by
me because of some cruelty which he had practised.

Noting all these things and the pity in Martina's eyes, I knew that
I was already doomed, but as I had expected nothing else this did not
trouble me over much.

I stood before the judges, and they stared at me.

"Why do you not salute us, fellow?" asked one of them, a mincing Greek
captain whom I had seen running like a hare upon the night of the fray.

"Because, Captain, I am of senior rank to any whom I see before me, and
as yet uncondemned. Therefore, if salutes are in the question, it is you
who should salute me."

At this speech they stared at me still harder than before, but among the
soldiers at the end of the hall there arose something like a murmur of
applause.

"Waste no time in listening to his insolence," said the president of the
Court. "Clerk, set out the case."

Then a black-robed man who sat beneath the judges rose and read the
charge to me from a parchment. It was brief and to the effect that I,
Michael, formerly known as Olaf or Olaf Red-Sword, a Northman in the
service of the Empress Irene, a general in her armies, a chamberlain and
Master of the Palace, had conspired against the Empress, had killed her
servants, had detained her person, threatening to murder her; had made
war upon her troops and slain some hundreds of them by the help of other
Northmen, and wounded many more.

I was asked what I pleaded to this charge, and replied,

"I am not guilty."

Then witnesses were called. The first of these was the fourth man whom
Irene had set upon me, who alone escaped with a wound behind. This
fellow, having been carried into court, for he could not walk, leaned
over a bar, for he could not sit down, and told his story. When he had
finished I was allowed to examine him.

"Why did the Empress order you and your companions to attack me?" I
asked.

"I think because she saw you kiss the Egyptian lady, General," at which
answer many laughed.

"You tried to kill me, did you not?"

"Yes, General, for the Empress ordered us so to do."

"Then what happened?"

"You killed or cut down three of us one after the other, General, being
too skilful and strong for us. As I turned to fly, me you wounded here,"
and, dragging himself round with difficulty, he showed how my sword had
fallen on a part where no soldier should receive a wound. At this sight
those in the Court laughed again.

"Did I provoke you in any way before you attacked me?"

"No, indeed, General. It was the Empress you provoked by kissing the
beautiful Egyptian lady. At least, I think so, since every time you
kissed each other she seemed to become more mad, and at last ordered us
to kill both of you."

Now the laughter grew very loud, for even the Court officers could no
longer restrain themselves, and the ladies hid their faces in their
hands and tittered.

"Away with that fool!" shouted the president of the Court, and the poor
fellow was hustled out. What became of him afterwards I do not know,
though I can guess.

Now appeared witness after witness who told of the fray which I have
described already, though for the most part they tried to put another
colour on the matter. Of many of these men I asked no questions. Indeed,
growing weary of their tales, I said at length to the judges,

"Sirs, what need is there for all this evidence, seeing that among you
I perceive three gallant officers whom I saw running before the Northmen
that night, when with some four hundred swords we routed about two
thousand of you? You yourselves, therefore, are the best witnesses of
what befell. Moreover, I acknowledge that, being moved by the sight of
war, in the end I led the charge against you, before which charge some
died and many fled, you among them."

Now these captains glowered at me and the president said,

"The prisoner is right. What need is there of more evidence?"

"I think much, sir," I answered, "since but one side of the story has
been heard. Now I will call witnesses, of whom the first should be the
Augusta, if she is willing to appear and tell you what happened within
the circle of the Northmen on that night."

"Call the Augusta!" gasped the president. "Perchance, prisoner Michael,
you will wish next to call God Himself on your behalf?"

"That, sir," I answered, "I have already done and do. Moreover," I added
slowly, "of this I am sure, that in a time to come, although it be not
to-morrow or the next day, you and everyone who has to do with this case
will find that I have not called Him in vain."

At these words for a few moments a solemn silence fell upon the Court.
It was as though they had gone home to the heart of everyone who was
present there. Also I saw the curtains that draped a gallery high up
in the wall shake a little. It came into my mind that Irene herself was
hidden behind those curtains, as afterwards I learned was the case, and
that she had made some movement which caused them to tremble.

"Well," said the president, after this pause, "as God does not appear to
be your witness, and as you have no other, seeing that you cannot give
evidence yourself under the law, we will now proceed to judgment."

"Who says that the General Olaf, Olaf Red-Sword, has no witness?"
exclaimed a deep voice at the end of the hall. "I am here to be his
witness."

"Who speaks?" asked the president. "Let him come forward."

There was a disturbance at the end of the hall, and through the crowd
that he seemed to throw before him to right and left appeared the mighty
form of Jodd. He was clad in full armour and bore his famous battle-axe
in his hand.

"One whom some of you know well enough, as others of your company who
will never know anything again have done in the past. One named Jodd,
the Northman, second in command of the guard to the General Olaf," he
answered, and marched to the spot where witnesses were accustomed to
stand.

"Take away that barbarian's axe," exclaimed an officer who sat among the
judges.

"Aye," said Jodd, "come hither, mannikin, and take it away if you can.
I promise you that along with it something else shall be taken away, to
wit your fool's head. Who are you that would dare to disarm an officer
of the Imperial Guard?"

After this there was no more talk of removing Jodd's axe, and he
proceeded to give his evidence, which, as it only detailed what has been
written already, need not be repeated. What effect it produced upon the
judges, I cannot say, but that it moved those present in the Court was
clear enough.

"Have you done?" asked the president at length when the story was
finished.

"Not altogether," said Jodd. "Olaf Red-Sword was promised an open trial,
and that he has, since otherwise I and some friends of mine could not be
in this Court to tell the truth, where perhaps the truth has seldom been
heard before. Also he was promised a fair trial, and that he has not,
seeing that the most of his judges are men with whom he fought the other
day and who only escaped his sword by flight. To-morrow I propose to ask
the people of Byzantium whether it is right that a man should be tried
by his conquered enemies. Now I perceive that you will find a verdict of
'guilty' against Olaf Red-Sword, and perhaps condemn him to death. Well,
find what verdict you will and pass what sentence you will, but do not
dare to attempt to execute that sentence."

"Dare! Dare!" shouted the president. "Who are you, man, who would
dictate to a Court appointed by the Empress what it shall or shall
not do? Be careful lest we pass sentence on you as well as on your
fellow-traitor. Remember where you stand, and that if I lift my finger
you will be taken and bound."

"Aye, lawyer, I remember this and other things. For instance, that I
have the safe-conduct of the Empress under an oath sworn on the Cross of
the Christ she worships. For instance, also, that I have three hundred
comrades waiting my safe return."

"Three hundred!" snarled the president. "The Empress has three thousand
within these walls who will soon make an end of your three hundred."

"I have been told, lawyer," answered Jodd, "that once there lived
another monarch, one called Xerxes, who thought that he would make an
end of a certain three hundred Greeks, when Greeks were different from
what you are to-day, at a place called Thermopylae. He made an end of
them, but they cost him more than he cared to pay, and now it is those
Greeks who live for ever and Xerxes who is dead. But that's not all;
since that fray the other night we Northmen have found friends. Have you
heard of the Armenian legions, President, those who favour Constantine?
Well, kill Olaf Red-Sword, or kill me, Jodd, and you have to deal first
with the Northmen and next with the Armenian legions. Now here I am
waiting to be taken by any who can pass this axe."

At these words a great silence fell upon the Court. Jodd glared about
him, and, seeing that none ventured to draw near, stepped from the
witness-place, advanced to where I was, gave me the full salute of
ceremony, then marched away to the back of the Court, the crowd opening
a path for him.

When he had gone the judges began to consult together, and, as I
expected, very soon agreed upon their verdict. The president said, or
rather gabbled,

"Prisoner, we find you guilty. Have you any reason to offer why sentence
of death should not be passed upon you?"

"Sir," I answered, "I am not here to plead for my life, which already I
have risked a score of times in the service of your people. Yet I would
say this. On the night of the outbreak I was set on, four to one, for no
crime, as you have heard, and did but protect myself. Afterwards, when I
was about to be slain, the Northmen, my comrades, protected me unasked;
then I did my best to save the life of the Empress, and, in fact,
succeeded. My only offence is that when the great charge took place and
your regiments were defeated, remembering only that I was a soldier, I
led that charge. If this is a crime worthy of death, I am ready to
die. Yet I hold that both God and man will give more honour to me the
criminal than to you the judges, and to those who before ever you sat
in this Court instructed you, whom I know to be but tools, as to the
verdict that you should give."

The applause which my words called forth from those gathered at the end
of the Court died away. In the midst of a great silence the president,
who, like his companions, I could see well, was growing somewhat
fearful, read the sentence in a low voice from a parchment. After
setting out the order by which the Court was constituted and other
matters, it ran:

"We condemn you, Michael, otherwise called Olaf or Olaf Red-Sword, to
death. This sentence will be executed with or without torture at such
time and in such manner as it may please the Augusta to decree."

Now the voice of Jodd was heard crying through the gathering gloom, for
night was near:

"What sort of judgment is this that the judges bring already written
down into the Court? Hearken you, lawyer, and you street-curs, his
companions, who call yourselves soldiers. If Olaf Red-Sword dies, those
hostages whom we hold die also. If he is tortured, those hostages will
be tortured also. Moreover, ere long we will sack this fine place, and
what has befallen Olaf shall befall you also, you false judges, neither
less nor more. Remember it, all you who shall have charge of Olaf in his
bonds, and, if she be within hearing, let the Augusta Irene remember it
also, lest another time there should be no Olaf to save her life."

Now I could see that the judges were terrified. Hastily, with white
faces, they consulted together as to whether they should order Jodd to
be seized. Presently I heard the president say to his companions:

"Nay, best let him go. If he is touched, our hostages will die.
Moreover, doubtless Constantine and the Armenians are at the back of
him, or he would not dare to speak thus. Would that we were clear of
this business which has been thrust upon us."

Then he called aloud, "Let the prisoner be removed."

Down the long Court I was marched, only now guards, who had been called
in, went in front of and behind me, and with them the four executioners
by whom I was surrounded.

"Farewell, god-mother," I whispered to Martina as I passed.

"Nay, not farewell," she whispered back, looking up at me with eyes that
were full of tears, though what she meant I did not know.

At the end of the Court, where those who dared to sympathise with me
openly were gathered, rough voices called blessings on me and rough
hands patted me on the shoulder. To one of these men whose voice I
recognised in the gloom I turned to speak a word. Thereon the black
executioner who was between us, he whom I had dismissed from the jail
for cruelty, struck me on the mouth with the back of his hand. Next
instant I heard a sound that reminded me of the growl the white bear
gave when it gripped Steinar. Two arms shot out and caught that black
savage by the head. There was a noise as of something breaking, and down
went the man--a corpse.

Then they hurried me away, for now it was not only the judges who were
afraid.



It comes to me that for some days, three or four, I sat in my cell at
the palace, for here I was kept because, as I learned afterwards, it was
feared that if I were removed to that State prison of which I had been
governor, some attempt would be made to rescue me.

This cell was one of several situated beneath that broad terrace which
looked out on to the sea, where Irene had first questioned me as to the
shell necklace and, against my prayer, had set it upon her own breast.
It had a little barred window, out of which I could watch the sea, and
through this window came the sound of sentries tramping overhead and of
the voice of the officer who, at stated hours, arrived to turn out the
guard, as for some years it had been my duty to do.

I wondered who that officer might be, and wondered also how many of
such men since Byzantium became the capital of the Empire had filled
his office and mine, and what had become of them all. As I knew, if
that terrace had been able to speak, it could have told many bloody
histories, whereof doubtless mine would be another. Doubtless, too,
there were more to follow until the end came, whatever that might be.

In that strait place I reflected on many things. All my youth came back
to me. I marvelled what had happened at Aar since I left it such long
years ago. Once or twice rumours had reached me from men in my company,
who were Danish-born, that Iduna was a great lady there and still
unmarried. But of Freydisa I had heard nothing. Probably she was dead,
and, if so, I felt sure that her fierce and faithful spirit must be near
me now, as that of Ragnar had seemed to be in the Battle of the Garden.

How strange it was that after all my vision had been fulfilled and it
had been my lot to meet her of whom I had dreamed, wearing that necklace
of which I had found one-half upon the Wanderer in his grave-mound. Were
I and the Wanderer the same spirit, I asked of myself, and she of the
dream and Heliodore the same woman?

Who could tell? At least this was sure, from the moment that first we
saw one another we knew we belonged each to each for the present and
the future. Therefore, as it was with these we had to do, the past might
sleep and all its secrets.

Now we had met but to be parted again by death, which seemed hard
indeed. Yet since we _had_ met, for my part Fate had my forgiveness for
I knew that we should meet again. I looked back on what I had done and
left undone, and could not blame myself overmuch. True, it would have
been wiser if I had stayed by Irene and Heliodore, and not led that
charge against the Greeks. Only then, as a soldier, I should never have
forgiven myself, for how could I stand still while my comrades fought
for me? No, no, I was glad I had led the charge and led it well, though
my life must pay its price. Nor was this so. I must die, not because
I had lifted sword against Irene's troops, but for the sin of loving
Heliodore.

After all, what was life as we knew it? A passing breath! Well, as the
body breathes many million times between the cradle and the grave, so I
believed the soul must breathe out its countless lives, each ending in a
form of death. And beyond these, what? I did not know, yet my new-found
faith gave me much comfort.

In such meditations and in sleep I passed my hours, waiting always until
the door of my cell should open and through it appear, not the jailer
with my food, which I noted was plentiful and delicate, but the
executioners or mayhap the tormentors.

At length it did open, somewhat late at night, just as I was about to
lay myself down to rest, and through it came a veiled woman. I bowed and
motioned to my visitor to be seated on the stool that was in the cell,
then waited in silence. Presently she threw off her veil, and in the
light of the lamp showed that I stood before the Empress Irene.

"Olaf," she said hoarsely, "I am come here to save you from yourself, if
it may be so. I was hidden in yonder Court, and heard all that passed at
your trial."

"I guessed as much, Augusta," I said, "but what of it?"

"For one thing, this: The coward and fool, who now is dead--of his
wounds--who gave evidence as to the killing of the three other cowards
by you, has caused my name to become a mock throughout Constantinople.
Aye, the vilest make songs upon me in the streets, such songs as I
cannot repeat."

"I am grieved, Augusta," I said.

"It is I who should grieve, not you, who are told of as a man who grew
weary of the love of an Empress, and cast her off as though she were
a tavern wench. That is the first matter. The second is that under the
finding of the Court of Justice----"

"Oh! Augusta," I interrupted, "why stain your lips with those words 'of
justice'!"

"----Under the finding of the Court," she went on, "your fate is left
in my hands. I may kill you or torment your body. Or I may spare you and
raise your head higher than any other in the Empire, aye, and adorn it
with a crown."

"Doubtless you may do any of these things, Augusta, but which of them do
you wish to do?"

"Olaf, notwithstanding all that has gone, I would still do the last. I
speak to you no more of love or tenderness, nor do I pretend that this
is for your sake alone. It is for mine also. My name is smirched, and
only marriage can cover up the stain upon it. Moreover, I am beset by
troubles and by dangers. Those accursed Northmen, who love you so well
and who fight, not like men but like devils, are in league with the
Armenian legions and with Constantine. My generals and my troops fall
away from me. If it were assailed, I am not sure that I could hold this
palace, strong though it be. There's but one man who can make me safe
again, and that man is yourself. The Northmen will do your bidding, and
with you in command of them I fear no attack. You have the honesty, the
wit and the soldier's skill and courage. You must command, or none. Only
this time it must not be as Irene's lover, for that is what they name
you, but as her husband. A priest is waiting within call, and one of
high degree. Within an hour, Olaf, you may be my consort, and within a
year the Emperor of the World. Oh!" she went on with passion, "cannot
you forgive what seem to be my sins when you remember that they were
wrought for love of you?"

"Augusta," I said, "I have small ambition; I am not minded to be an
emperor. But hearken. Put aside this thought of marriage with one so far
beneath you, and let me marry her whom I have chosen, and who has chosen
me. Then once more I'll take command of the Northmen and defend you and
your cause to the last drop of my blood."

Her face hardened.

"It may not be," she said, "not only for those reasons I have told you,
but for another which I grieve to have to tell. Heliodore, daughter of
Magas the Egyptian, is dead.'

"Dead!" I gasped. "Dead!"

"Aye, Olaf, dead. You did not see, and she, being a brave woman, hid it
from you, but one of those spears that were flung in the fight struck
her in the side. For a while the wound went well. But two days ago it
mortified; last night she died and this morning I myself saw her buried
with honour."

"How did you see her buried, you who are not welcome among the
Northmen?" I asked.

"By my order, as her blood was high, she was laid in the palace
graveyard, Olaf."

"Did she leave me no word or token, Augusta? She swore to me that if she
died she would send to me the other half of that necklace which I wear."

"I have heard of none," said Irene, "but you will know, Olaf, that I
have other business to attend to just now than such death-bed gossip.
These things do not come to my ears."

I looked at Irene and Irene looked at me.

"Augusta," I said, "I do not believe your story. No spear wounded
Heliodore while I was near her, and when I was not near her your Greeks
were too far away for any spears to be thrown. Indeed, unless you
stabbed her secretly, she was not wounded, and I am sure that, however
much you have hated her, this you would not have dared to do for your
own life's sake. Augusta, for your own purposes you are trying to
deceive me. I will not marry you. Do your worst. You have lied to me
about the woman whom I love, and though I forgive you all the rest, this
I do not forgive. You know well that Heliodore still lives beneath the
sun."

"If so," answered the Empress, "you have looked your last upon the sun
and--her. Never again shall you behold the beauty of Heliodore. Have you
aught to say? There is still time."

"Nothing, Augusta, at present, except this. Of late I have learned to
believe in a God. I summon you to meet me before that God. There we will
argue out our case and abide His judgment. If there is no God there will
be no judgment, and I salute you, Empress, who triumph. If, as I believe
and as you say you believe, there is a God, think whom _you_ will be
called upon to salute when that God has heard the truth. Meanwhile I
repeat that Heliodore the Egyptian still lives beneath the sun."

Irene rose from the stool on which she sat and thought a moment. I gazed
through the bars of the window-place in my cell out at the night above.
A young moon was floating in the sky, and near to it hung a star. A
little passing cloud with a dented edge drifted over the star and the
lower horn of the moon. It went by, and they shone out again upon
the background of the blue heavens. Also an owl flitted across the
window-place of my cell. It had a mouse in its beak, and the shadow of
it and of the writhing mouse for a moment lay upon Irene's breast, for
I turned my head and saw them. It came into my mind that here was an
allegory. Irene was the night-hawk, and I was the writhing mouse that
fed its appetite. Doubtless it was decreed that the owl must be and the
mouse must be, but beyond them both, hidden in those blue heavens, stood
that Justice which we call God.

These were the last things that I saw in this life of mine, and
therefore I remember them well, or rather, almost the last. The very
last of which I took note was Irene's face. It had grown like to that of
a devil. The great eyes in it stared out between the puffed and purple
eyelids. The painted cheeks had sunk in and were pallid beneath and
round the paint. The teeth showed in two white lines, the chin worked.
She was no longer a beautiful woman, she was a fiend.

Irene knocked thrice upon the door. Bolts were thrown back, and men
entered.

"Blind him!" she said.



CHAPTER IX

THE HALL OF THE PIT

The days and the nights went by, but which was day and which was night
I knew not, save for the visits of the jailers with my meals--I who was
blind, I who should never see the light again. At first I suffered much,
but by degrees the pain died away. Also a physician came to tend my
hurts, a skilful man. Soon I discovered, however, that he had another
object. He pitied my state, so much, indeed, he said, that he offered to
supply me with a drug that, if I were willing to take it, would make
an end of me painlessly. Now I understood at once that Irene desired my
death, and, fearing to cause it, set the means of self-murder within my
reach.

I thanked the man and begged him to give me the drug, which he did,
whereon I hid it away in my garments. When it was seen that I still
lived although I had asked for the medicine, I think that Irene believed
this was because it had failed to work, or that such a means of death
did not please me. So she found another. One evening when a jailer
brought my supper he pressed something heavy into my hand, which I felt
to be a sword.

"What weapon is this?" I asked, "and why do you give it to me?"

"It is your own sword," answered the man, "which I was commanded to
return to you. I know no more."

Then he went away, leaving the sword with me.

I drew the familiar blade from its sheath, the red blade that the
Wanderer had worn, and touching its keen edge with my fingers, wept from
my blinded eyes to think that never again could I hold it aloft in war
or see the light flash from it as I smote. Yes, I wept in my weakness,
till I remembered that I had no longer any wish to be the death of men.
So I sheathed the good sword and hid it beneath my mattress lest some
jailer should steal it, which, as I could not see him, he might do
easily. Also I desired to put away temptation.

I think that this hour after the bringing of the sword, which stirred up
so many memories, was the most fearful of all my hours, so fearful that,
had it been prolonged, death would have come to me of its own accord.
I had sunk to misery's lowest deep, who did not know that even then its
tide was turning, who could not dream of all the blessed years that lay
before me, the years of love and of such peaceful joy as even the blind
may win.

That night Martina came--Martina, who was Hope's harbinger. I heard
the door of my prison open and close softly, and sat still, wondering
whether the murderers had entered at last, wondering, too, whether I
should snatch the sword and strike blindly till I fell. Next I heard
another sound, that of a woman weeping; yes, and felt my hand lifted
and pressed to a woman's lips, which kissed it again and yet again.
A thought struck me, and I began to draw it back. A soft voice spoke
between its sobs.

"Have no fear, Olaf. I am Martina. Oh, now I understand why yonder
tigress sent me on that distant mission."

"How did you come here, Martina?" I asked.

"I still have the signet, Olaf, which Irene, who begins to mistrust
me, forgets. Only this morning I learned the truth on my return to the
palace; yet I have not been idle. Within an hour Jodd and the Northmen
knew it also. Within three they had blinded every hostage whom they
held, aye, and caught two of the brutes who did the deed on you, and
crucified them upon their barrack walls."

"Oh! Martina," I broke in, "I did not desire that others who are
innocent should share my woes."

"Nor did I, Olaf; but these Northmen are ill to play with. Moreover,
in a sense it was needful. You do not know what I have learned--that
to-morrow Irene proposed to slit your tongue also because you can tell
too much, and afterwards to cut off your right hand lest you, who are
learned, should write down what you know. I told the Northmen--never
mind how. They sent a herald, a Greek whom they had captured, and,
covering him with arrows, made him call out that if your tongue was slit
they would know of it and slit the tongues of all the hostages also, and
that if your hand was cut off they could cut off their hands, and take
another vengeance which for the present they keep secret."

"At least they are faithful," I said. "But, oh! tell me, Martina, what
of Heliodore?"

"This," she whispered into my ear. "Heliodore and her father sailed an
hour after sunset and are now safe upon the sea, bound for Egypt."

"Then I was right! When Irene told me she was dead she lied."

"Aye, if she said that she lied, though thrice she has striven to murder
her, I have no time to tell you how, but was always baffled by those who
watched. Yet she might have succeeded at last, so, although Heliodore
fought against it, it was best that she should go. Those who are parted
may meet again; but how can we meet one who is dead until we too are
dead?"

"How did she go?"

"Smuggled from the city disguised as a boy attending on a priest, and
that priest her father shorn of his beard and tonsured. The Bishop
Barnabas passed them out in his following."

"Then blessings on the Bishop Barnabas," I said.

"Aye, blessings on him, since without his help it could never have been
done. The secret agents at the port stared hard at those two, although
the good bishop vouched for them and gave their names and offices.
Still, when they saw some rough-looking fellows dressed like sailors
approach, playing with the handles of their knives, the agents thought
well to ask no more questions. Moreover, now that the ship has sailed,
for their own sakes they'll swear that no such priest and boy went
aboard of her. So your Heliodore is away unharmed, as is her father,
though his mission has come to naught. Still, his life is left in him,
for which he may be thankful, who on such a business should have brought
no woman. If he had come alone, Olaf, your eyes would have been left to
you, and set by now upon the orb of empire that your hand had grasped."

"Yet I am glad that he did not come alone, Martina."

"Truly you have a high and faithful heart, and that woman should be
honoured whom you love. What is the secret? There must be more in it
than the mere desire for a woman's beauty, though I know that at times
this can make men mad. In such a business the soul must play its part."

"I think so, Martina. Indeed, I believe so, since otherwise we suffer
much in vain. Now tell me, how and when do I die?"

"I hope you will not die at all, Olaf. Certain plans are laid which
even here I dare not whisper. To-morrow I hear they will lead you again
before the judges, who, by Irene's clemency, will change your sentence
to one of banishment, with secret orders to kill you on the voyage. But
you will never make that voyage. Other schemes are afoot; you'll learn
of them afterwards."

"Yet, Martina, if you know these plots the Augusta knows them also,
since you and she are one."

"When those dagger points were thrust into your eyes, Olaf, they cut the
thread that bound us, and now Irene and I are more far apart than
hell and heaven. I tell you that for your sake I hate her and work her
downfall. Am I not your god-mother, Olaf?"

Then again she kissed my hand and presently was gone.



On the following morning, as I supposed it to be, my jailers came and
said to me that I must appear before the judges to hear some revision of
my sentence. They dressed me in my soldier's gear, and even allowed me
to gird my sword about me, knowing, doubtless, that, save to himself, a
blind man could do no mischief with a sword. Then they led me I know
not whither by passages which turned now here, now there. At length we
entered some place, for doors were closed behind us.

"This is the Hall of Judgment," said one of them, "but the judges
have not yet come. It is a great room and bare. There is nothing in it
against which you can hurt yourself. Therefore, if it pleases you after
being cramped so long in that narrow cell, you may walk to and fro,
keeping your hands in front of you so that you will know when you touch
the further wall and must turn."

I thanked them and, glad enough to avail myself of this grace for
my limbs were stiff with want of exercise, began to walk joyfully. I
thought that the room must be one of those numberless apartments which
opened on to the terrace, since distinctly I could hear the wash of the
sea coming from far beneath, doubtless through the open window-places.

Forward I stepped boldly, but at a certain point in my march this
curious thing happened. A hand seemed to seize my own and draw me to the
left. Wondering, I followed the guidance of the hand, which presently
left hold of mine. Thereon I continued my march, and as I did so,
thought that I heard another sound, like to that of a suppressed murmur
of human voices. Twenty steps more and I reached the end of the chamber,
for my outstretched fingers touched its marble wall. I turned and
marched back, and lo! at the twentieth step that hand took mine again
and led me to the right, whereon once more the murmur of voices reached
me.

Thrice this happened, and every time the murmur grew more loud. Indeed,
I thought I heard one say,

"The man's not blind at all," and another, "Some spirit guides him."

As I made my fourth journey I caught the sound of a distant tumult,
the shouts of war, the screams of agony, and above them all the
well-remembered cry of "_Valhalla! Valhalla! Victory or Valhalla!_"

I halted where I was and felt the blood rush into my wasted cheeks. The
Northmen, my Northmen, were in the palace! It was at this that Martina
had hinted. Yet in so vast a place what chance was there that they would
ever find me, and how, being blind, could I find them? Well, at least my
voice was left to me, and I would lift it.

So with all my strength I cried aloud, "Olaf Red-Sword is here! To Olaf,
men of the North!"

Thrice I cried. I heard folk running, not to me, but from me, doubtless
those whose whispers had reached my ears.

I thought of trying to follow them, but the soft and gentle hand, which
was like to that of a woman, once more clasped mine and held me where I
was, suffering me to move no single inch. So there I stood, even
after the hand had loosed me again, for it seemed to me that there was
something most strange in this business.

Presently another sound arose, the sound of the Northmen pouring towards
the hall, for feet clanged louder and louder down the marble corridors.
More, they had met those who were running from the hall, for now these
fled back before them. They were in the hall, for a cry of horror,
mingled with rage, broke from their lips.

"'Tis Olaf," said one, "Olaf blinded, and, by Thor, see where he
stands!"

Then Jodd's voice roared out,

"Move not, Olaf; move not, or you die."

Another voice, that of Martina, broke in, "Silence, you fool, or you'll
frighten him and make him fall. Silence all, and leave him to me!"

Then quiet fell upon the place; it seemed that even the pursued grew
quiet, and I heard the rustle of a woman's dress drawing towards me.
Next instant a soft hand took my own, just such a hand as not long ago
had seemed to guide and hold me, and Martina's voice said,

"Follow where I lead, Olaf."

So I followed eight or ten paces. Then Martina threw her arms about me
and burst into wild laughter. Someone caught her away; next moment
two hair-clad lips kissed me on the brow and the mighty voice of Jodd
shouted,

"Thanks be to all the gods, dwell they in the north or in the south! We
have saved you! Know you where you stood, Olaf? On the brink of a pit,
the very brink, and beneath is a fall of a hundred feet to where the
waters of the Bosphorus wash among the rocks. Oh! understand this pretty
Grecian game. They, good Christian folk, would not have your blood upon
their souls, and therefore they caused you to walk to your own death.
Well, they shall be dosed with the draught they brewed.

"Bring them hither, comrades, bring them one by one, these devils who
could sit to watch a blind man walk to his doom to make their sport.
Ah! whom have we here? Why, by Thor! 'tis the lawyer knave, he who was
president of the court that tried you, and was angry because you did not
salute him. Well, lawyer, the wheel has gone round. We Northmen are in
possession of the palace and the Armenian legions are gathered at its
gates and do but wait for Constantine the Emperor to enter and take the
empire and its crown. They'll be here anon, lawyer, but you understand,
having a certain life to save, for word had been brought to us of your
pretty doings, that we were forced to strike before the signal, and
struck not in vain. Now we'll fill in the tedious time with a trial
of our own. See here, I am president of the court, seated in this fine
chair, and these six to right and left are my companion judges, while
you seven who were judges are now prisoners. You know the crime with
which you are charged, so there's no need to set it out. Your defence,
lawyer, and be swift with it."

"Oh! sir," said the man in a trembling voice, "what we did to the
General Olaf we were ordered to do by one who may not be named."

"You'd best find the name, lawyer, for were it that of a god we Northmen
would hear it."

"Well, then, by the Augusta herself. She wished the death of the noble
Michael, or Olaf, but having become superstitious about the matter,
would not have his blood directly on her hands. Therefore she bethought
her of this plan. He was ordered to be brought into the place you see,
which is known as the Hall of the Pit, that in old days was used by
certain bloody-minded emperors to rid them of their enemies. The central
pavement swings upon a hinge. At a touch it opens, and he who has
thought it sound and walked thereon, when darkness comes is lost, since
he falls upon the rocks far below, and at high tide the water takes
him."

"Yes, yes, we understand the game, lawyer, for there yawns the open pit.
But have you aught more to say?"

"Nothing, sir, nothing, save that we only did what we were driven to do.
Moreover, no harm has come of it, since whenever the noble general came
to the edge of the opened pit, although he was blind, he halted and went
off to right or left as though someone drew him out of danger."

"Well, then, cruel and unjust judges, who could gather to mock at the
murder of a blinded man that you had trapped to his doom----"

"Sir," broke in one of them, "it was not we who tried to trap him; it
was those jailers who stand there. They told the general that he might
exercise himself by walking up and down the hall."

"Is that true, Olaf?" asked Jodd.

"Yes," I answered, "it is true that the two jailers who brought me here
did tell me this, though whether those men are present I cannot say."

"Very good," said Jodd. "Add them to the other prisoners, who by their
own showing heard them set the snare and did not warn the victim. Now,
murderers all, this is the sentence of the court upon you: That you
salute the General Olaf and confess your wickedness to him."

So they saluted me, kneeling, and kissing my feet, and one and all made
confession of their crime.

"Enough," I said, "I pardon them who are but tools. Pray to God that He
may do as much."

"You may pardon here, Olaf," said Jodd, "and your God may pardon
hereafter, but we, the Northmen, do not pardon. Blindfold those men and
bind their arms. Now," went on Jodd after a pause, "their turn has come
to show us sport. Run, friends, run, for swords are behind you. Can you
not feel them?"

The rest may be guessed. Within a few minutes the seven judges and the
two jailers had vanished from the world. No hand came to save _them_
from the cruel rocks and the waters that seethed a hundred feet below
that dreadful chamber.

This fantastic, savage vengeance was a thing dreadful to hear; what it
must have been to see I can only guess. I know that I wished I might
have fled from it and that I pleaded with Jodd for mercy on these men.
But neither he nor his companions would listen to me.

"What mercy had they on you?" he cried. "Let them drink from their own
cup."

"Let them drink from their own cup!" roared his companions, and then
broke into a roar of laughter as one of the false judges, feeling space
before him, leapt, leapt short, and with a shriek departed for ever.



It was over. I heard someone enter the hall and whisper in Jodd's ear;
heard his answer also.

"Let her be brought hither," he said. "For the rest, bid the captains
hold Stauracius and the others fast. If there is any sign of stir
against us, cut their throats, advising them that this will be done
should they allow trouble to arise. Do not fire the palace unless I give
the word, for it would be a pity to burn so fine a building. It is those
who dwell in it who should be burned; but doubtless Constantine will see
to that. Collect the richest of the booty, that which is most portable,
and let it be carried to our quarters in the baggage carts. See that
these things are done quickly, before the Armenians get their hands into
the bag. I'll be with you soon; but if the Emperor Constantine should
arrive first, tell him that all has gone well, better than he hoped,
indeed, and pray him to come hither, where we may take counsel."

The messenger went. Jodd and some of the Northmen began to consult
together, and Martina led me aside.

"Tell me what has chanced, Martina," I asked, "for I am bewildered."

"A revolution, that is all, Olaf. Jodd and the Northmen are the point of
the spear, its handle is Constantine, and the hands that hold it are the
Armenians. It has been very well done. Some of the guards who remained
were bribed, others frightened away. Only a few fought, and of them
the Northmen made short work. Irene and her ministers were fooled. They
thought the blow would not fall for a week or more, if at all, since the
Empress believed that she had appeased Constantine by her promises. I'll
tell you more later."

"How did you find me, Martina, and in time?"

"Oh! Olaf, it is a terrible story. Almost I swoon again to think of it.
It was thus: Irene discovered that I had visited you in your cell;
she grew suspicious of me. This morning I was seized and ordered to
surrender the signet; but first I had heard that they planned your death
to-day, not a sentence of banishment and murder afar off, as I told you.
My last act before I was taken was to dispatch a trusted messenger to
Jodd and the Northmen, telling them that if they would save you alive
they must strike at once, and not to-night, as had been arranged. Within
thirty seconds after he had left my side the eunuchs had me and took me
to my chamber, where they barred me in. A while later the Augusta came
raging like a lioness. She accused me of treachery, and when I denied
it struck me in the face. Look, here are the marks of the jewels on her
hands. Oh, alas! what said I? You cannot see. She had learned that the
lady Heliodore had escaped her, and that I had some hand in her escape.
She vowed that I, your god-mother, was your lover, and as this is a
crime against the Church, promised me that after other sufferings I
should be burned alive in the Hippodrome before all the people. Lastly
she said this, 'Know that your Olaf of whom you are so fond dies within
an hour and thus: He will be taken to the Hall of the Pit and there
given leave to walk till the judges come. Being blind, you may guess
where he will walk. Before this door is unlocked again I tell you he'll
be but a heap of splintered bones. Aye, you may start and weep; but save
your tears for yourself,' and she called me a foul name. 'I have got you
fast at length, you night-prowling cat, and God Himself cannot give you
strength to stretch out your hand and guide this accursed Olaf from the
edge of the Pit of Death.'

"'God alone knows what He can do, Augusta,' I answered, for the words
seemed to be put into my lips.

"Then she cursed and struck me again, and so left me barred in my
chamber.

"When she had gone I flung myself upon my knees and prayed to God to
save you, Olaf, since I was helpless; prayed as I had never prayed
before. Praying thus, I think that I fell into a swoon, for my agony
was more than I could bear, and in the swoon I dreamed. I dreamed that I
stood in this place, where till now I have never been before. I saw the
judges, the jailers, and a few others watching from that gallery. I saw
you walk along the hall towards the great open pit. Then I seemed to
glide to you and take your hand and guide you round the pit. And, Olaf,
this happened thrice. Afterwards came a tumult while you were on the
very edge of the pit and I held you, not suffering you to stir. Then in
rushed the Northmen and I with them. Yes, standing there with you upon
the edge of the pit, I saw myself and the Northmen rush into the hall."

"Martina," I whispered, "a hand that seemed to be a woman's did guide me
thrice round the edge of the pit, and did hold me almost until you and
the Northmen rushed in."

"Oh! God is great!" she gasped. "God is very great, and to Him I give
thanks. But hearken to the end of the tale. I awoke from my swoon and
heard noise without, and above it the Northmen's cry of victory. They
had scaled the palace walls or broken in the gates--as yet I know not
which--they were on the terrace driving the Greek guards before them. I
ran to the window-place and there below me saw Jodd. I screamed till he
heard me.

"'Save me if you would save Olaf,' I cried. 'I am prisoned here.'

"They brought one of their scaling ladders and drew me through the
window. I told them all I knew. They caught a palace eunuch and beat him
till he promised to lead us to this hall. He led, but in the labyrinth
of passages fell down senseless, for they had struck him too hard. We
knew not which way to turn, till suddenly we heard your voice and ran
towards it.

"That is all the story, Olaf."



CHAPTER X

OLAF GIVES JUDGMENT

As Martina finished speaking I heard the sound of tramping guards and of
a woman's dress upon the pavement. Then a voice, that of Irene,
spoke, and though her words were quiet I caught in them the tremble of
smothered rage.

"Be pleased to tell me, Captain Jodd," she said, "what is happening in
my palace, and why I, the Empress, am haled from my apartment hither by
soldiers under your command?"

"Lady," answered Jodd, "you are mistaken. Yesterday you were an empress,
to-day you are--well, whatever your son, the Emperor, chooses to name
you. As to what has been and is happening in this palace, I scarcely
know where to begin the tale. First of all your general and chamberlain
Olaf--in case you should not recognise him, I mean that blind man who
stands yonder--was being tricked to death by certain servants of yours
who called themselves judges, and who stated that they were acting by
your orders."

"Confront me with them," said Irene, "that I may prove to you that they
lie."

"Certainly. Ho! you, bring the lady Irene here. Now hold her over that
hole. Nay, struggle not, lady, lest you should slip from their hands.
Look down steadily, and you will see by the light that flows in from the
cave beneath, certain heaps lying on the rocks round which the rising
waters seethe. There are your judges whom you say you wish to meet. If
you desire to ask them any questions, we can satisfy your will. Nay,
why should you turn pale at the mere sight of the place that you thought
good enough to be the bed of a faithful soldier of your own, one high in
your service, whom it has pleased you to blind? Why did it please you to
blind him, Lady?"

"Who are you that dare to ask me questions?" she replied, gathering up
her courage.

"I'll tell you, Lady. Now that the General Olaf yonder is blinded I am
the officer in command of the Northmen, who, until you tried to murder
the said General Olaf a while ago, were your faithful guard. I am also,
as it chances, the officer in command of this palace, which we took this
morning by assault and by arrangement with most of your Greek soldiers,
having learned from your confidential lady, Martina, of the vile deed
you were about to work on the General Olaf."

"So it was you who betrayed me, Martina," gasped Irene; "and I had you
in my power. Oh! I had you in my power!"

"I did not betray you, Augusta. I saved my god-son yonder from torture
and butchery, as by my oath I was bound to do," answered Martina.

"Have done with this talk of betrayals," went on Jodd, "for who can
betray a devil? Now, Lady, with your State quarrels we have nothing to
do. You can settle them presently with your son, that is, if you still
live. But with this matter of Olaf we have much to do, and we will
settle that at once. The first part of the business we all know, so let
us get to the next. By whose order were you blinded, General Olaf?"

"By that of the Augusta," I answered.

"For what reason, General Olaf?"

"For one that I will not state," I answered.

"Good. You were blinded by the Augusta for a reason you will not state,
but which is well known to all of us. Now, we have a law in the North
which says that an eye should be given for an eye and a life for a life.
Would it not then be right, comrades, that this woman should be blinded
also?"

"What!" screamed Irene, "blinded! I blinded! I, the Empress!"

"Tell me, Lady, are the eyes of one who was an Empress different from
other eyes? Why should you complain of that darkness into which you were
so ready to plunge one better than yourself. Still, Olaf shall judge.
Is it your will, General, that we blind this woman who put out your eyes
and afterwards tried to murder you?"

Now, I felt that all in that place were watching me and hanging on the
words that I should speak, so intently that they never heard others
entering it, as I did. For a while I paused, for why should not Irene
suffer a little of that agony of suspense which she had inflicted upon
me and others?

Then I said, "See what I have lost, friends, through no grave fault of
my own. I was in the way of greatness. I was a soldier whom you trusted
and liked well, one of unstained honour and of unstained name. Also I
loved a woman, by whom I was beloved and whom I hoped to make my wife.
And now what am I? My trade is gone, for how can a maimed man lead in
war, or even do the meanest service of the camp? The rest of my days,
should any be granted to me, must be spent in darkness blacker than that
of midnight. I must live on charity. When the little store I have is
spent, for I have taken no bribe and heaped up no riches, how can I
earn a living? The woman whom I love has been carried away, after this
Empress tried thrice to murder her. Whether I shall ever find her again
in this world I know not, for she has gone to a far country that is full
of enemies to Christian men. Nor do I know whether she would be willing
to take one who is blind and beggared for a husband, though I think this
may be so."

"Shame on her if she does not," muttered Martina as I paused.

"Well, friends, that is my case," I went on; "let the Augusta deny it if
she can."

"Speak, Lady. Do you deny it?" said Jodd.

"I do not deny that this man was blinded by my order in payment of
crimes for which he might well have suffered death," answered Irene.
"But I do deny that I commanded him to be trapped in yonder pit. If
those dead men said so, then they lied."

"And if the lady Martina says so, what then?" asked Jodd.

"Then she lies also," answered the Empress sullenly.

"Be it so," replied Jodd. "Yet it is strange that, acting on this lie
of the lady Martina's, we found the General Olaf upon the very edge of
yonder hole; yes, with not the breadth of a barleycorn between him and
death. Now, General, both parties have been heard and you shall pass
sentence. If you say that yonder woman is to be blinded, this moment
she looks her last upon the light. If you say that she is to die, this
moment she bids farewell to life."

Again I thought a while. It came into my mind that Irene, who had fallen
from power, might rise once more and bring fresh evil upon Heliodore.
Now she was in my hand, but if I opened that hand and let her free----!

Someone moved towards me, and I heard Irene's voice whispering in my
ear.

"Olaf," she said, "if I sinned against you it was because I loved you.
Would you be avenged upon one who has burned her soul with so much
evil because she loved too well? Oh! if so, you are no longer Olaf. For
Christ's sake have pity on me, since I am not fit to meet Him. Give me
time to repent. Nay! hear me out! Let not those men drag me away as they
threaten to do. I am fallen now, but who knows, I may grow great again;
indeed, I think I shall. Then, Olaf, may my soul shrivel everlastingly
in hell if I try to harm you or the Egyptian more--Jesus be my witness
that I ask no lesser doom upon my head. Keep the men back, Martina, for
what I swear to him and the Egyptian I swear to you as well. Moreover,
Olaf, I have great wealth. You spoke of poverty; it shall be far from
you. Martina knows where my gold is hid, and she still holds my keys.
Let her take it. I say leave me alone, but one word more. If ever it is
in my power I'll forget everything and advance you all to great honour.
Your brain is not blinded, Olaf; you can still rule. I swear, I swear,
I swear upon the Holy Blood! Ah! now drag me away if you will. I have
spoken."

"Then perchance, Lady, you will allow Olaf to speak, since we, who have
much to do, must finish this business quickly, before the Emperor comes
with the Armenians," said Jodd.

"Captain Jodd and his comrades," I said, "the Empress Irene has been
pleased to make certain solemn vows to me which perchance some of you
may have overheard. At least, God heard them, and whether she keeps
them or no is a matter between her and the God in Whom we both believe.
Therefore I set these vows aside; they draw me neither one way nor the
other. Now, you have made me judge in my own matter and have promised
to abide by my judgment, which you will do. Hear it, then, and let it be
remembered. For long I have been the Augusta's officer, and of late her
general and chamberlain. As such I have bound myself by great oaths to
protect her from harm in all cases, and those oaths heretofore I have
kept, when I might have broken them and not been blamed by men. Whatever
has chanced, it seems that she is still Empress and I am still her
officer, seeing that my sword has been returned to me, although it is
true she sent it that I might use it on myself. It pleased the Empress
to put out my eyes. Under our soldier's law the monarch who rules the
Empire has a right to put out the eyes of an officer who has lifted
sword against her forces, or even to kill him. Whether this is done
justly or unjustly again is a matter between that monarch and God above,
to Whom answer must be made at last. Therefore it would seem that I
have no right to pronounce any sentence against the Augusta Irene, and
whatever may have been my private wrongs, I pronounce none. Yet, as I
am still your general until another is named, I order you to free the
Augusta Irene and to work no vengeance on her person for aught that may
have befallen me at her hands, were her deeds just or unjust."

When I had finished speaking, in the silence that followed I heard Irene
utter something that was half a sob and half a gasp of wonderment. Then
above the murmuring of the Northmen, to whom this rede was strange, rose
the great voice of Jodd.

"General Olaf," he said, "while you were talking it came into my mind
that one of those knife points which pierced your eyes had pricked the
brain behind them. But when you had finished talking it came into my
mind that you are a great man who, putting aside your private rights and
wrongs and the glory of revenge which lay to your hand, have taught
us soldiers a lesson in duty which I, at least, never shall forget.
General, if, as I trust, we are together in the future as in the past, I
shall ask you to instruct me in this Christian faith of yours, which can
make a man not only forgive but hide his forgiveness under the mask of
duty, for that, as we know well, is what you have done. General, your
order shall be obeyed. Be she Empress or nothing, this lady's person is
safe from us. More, we will protect her to the best of our power, as you
did in the Battle of the Garden. Yet I tell her to her face that had
it not been for those orders, had you, for example, said that you left
judgment to us, she who has spoilt such a man should have died a death
of shame."

I heard a sound as of a woman throwing herself upon her knees before me.
I heard Irene's voice whisper through her tears,

"Olaf, Olaf, for the second time in my life you make me feel ashamed.
Oh! if only you could have loved me! Then I should have grown good like
you."

There was a stir of feet and another voice spoke, a voice that should
have been clear and youthful, but sounded as though it were thick with
wine. It did not need Martina's whisper to tell me that it was that of
Constantine.

"Greeting, friends," he said, and at once there came a rattle of
saluting swords and an answering cry of

"Greeting, Augustus!"

"You struck before the time," went on the thick, boyish voice. "Yet
as things seem to have gone rather well for us, I cannot blame
you, especially as I see that you hold fast her who has usurped my
birthright."

Now I heard Irene turn with a swift and furious movement.

"Your birthright, boy," she cried. "What birthright have you save that
which my body gave?"

"I thought that my father had more to do with this matter of imperial
right than the Grecian girl whom it pleased him to marry for her fair
face," answered Constantine insolently, adding: "Learn your station,
mother. Learn that you are but the lamp which once held the holy oil,
and that lamps can be shattered."

"Aye," she answered, "and oil can be spilt for the dogs to lap, if their
gorge does not rise at such rancid stuff. The holy oil forsooth! Nay,
the sour dregs of wine jars, the outscourings of the stews, the filth
of the stables, of such is the holy oil that burns in Constantine, the
drunkard and the liar."

It would seem that before this torrent of coarse invective Constantine
quailed, who at heart always feared his mother, and I think never more
so than when he appeared to triumph over her. Or perhaps he scorned to
answer it. At least, addressing Jodd, he said,

"Captain, I and my officers, standing yonder unseen, have heard
something of what passed in this place. By what warrant do you and your
company take upon yourselves to pass judgment upon this mother of mine?
That is the Emperor's right."

"By the warrant of capture, Augustus," answered Jodd. "We Northmen took
the palace and opened the gates to you and your Armenians. Also we took
her who ruled in the palace, with whom we had a private score to settle
that has to do with our general who stands yonder, blinded. Well, it is
settled in his own fashion, and now we do not yield up this woman, our
prisoner, save on your royal promise that no harm shall come to her in
body. As for the rest, it is your business. Make a cook-maid of her
if you will, only then I think her tongue would clear the kitchen. But
swear to keep her sound in life and limb till hell calls her, since
otherwise we must add her to our company, which will make no man
merrier."

"No," answered Constantine, "in a week she would corrupt you every one
and breed a war. Well," he added with a boisterous laugh, "I'm master
now at last, and I'll swear by any saint that you may name, or all of
them, no harm shall come to this Empress whose rule is done, and who,
being without friends, need not be feared. Still, lest she should
spawn more mischief or murder, she must be kept close till we and our
councillors decide where she shall dwell in future. Ho! guards, take my
royal father's widow to the dower-palace, and there watch her well. If
she escapes, you shall die beneath the rods. Away with the snake before
it begins to hiss again."

"I'll hiss no more," said Irene, as the soldiers formed up round her,
"yet, perchance, Constantine, you may live to find that the snake still
has strength to strike and poison in its fangs, you and others. Do you
come with me, Martina?"

"Nay, Lady, since here stands one whom God and you together have given
me to guard. For his sake I would keep my life in me," and she touched
me on the shoulder.

"That whelp who is called my son spoke truly when he said that the
fallen have no friends," exclaimed Irene. "Well, you should thank me,
Martina, who made Olaf blind, since, being without eyes, he cannot see
how ugly is your face. In his darkness he may perchance mistake you
for the beauteous Egyptian, Heliodore, as I know you who love him madly
would have him do."

With this vile taunt she went.

"I think I'm crazed," said the Emperor, as the doors swung to behind
her. "I should have struck that snake while the stick is in my hand. I
tell you I fear her fangs. Why, if she could, she'd make me as that
poor man is, blind, or even butcher me. Well, she's my mother, and I've
sworn, so there's an end. Now, you Olaf, you are that same captain,
are you not, who dashed the poisoned fig from my lips that this tender
mother of mine would have let me eat when I was in liquor; yes, and
would have swallowed it yourself to save me from my folly?"

"I am that man, Augustus."

"Aye, you are that man, and one of whom all the city has been talking.
They say, so poor is your taste, that you turned your back upon the
favours of an Empress because of some young girl you dared to love. They
say also that she paid you back with a dagger in the eyes, she who was
ready to set you in my place."

"Rumour has many tongues, Augustus," I answered. "At least I fell from
the Empress's favour, and she rewarded me as she held that I deserved."

"So it seems. Christ! what a dreadful pit is that. Is this another of
her gifts? Nay, answer not; I heard the tale. Well, Olaf, you saved my
life and your Northmen have set me on the throne, since without them we
could scarcely have won the palace. Now, what payment would you have?"

"Leave to go hence, Augustus," I answered.

"A small boon that you might have taken without asking, if you can find
a dog to lead you, like other blind wretches. And you, Captain Jodd, and
your men, what do you ask?"

"Such donation as it may please the Augustus to bestow, and after that
permission to follow wherever our General Olaf goes, since he is our
care. Here we have made so many enemies that we cannot sleep at night."

"The Empress of the World falls from her throne," mused Constantine,
"and not even a waiting-maid attends her to her prison. But a blinded
captain finds a regiment to escort him hence in love and honour, as
though he were a new-crowned king. Truly Fortune is a jester. If ever
Fate should rob me of my eyes, I wonder, when I had nothing more to give
them, if three hundred faithful swords would follow me to ruin and to
exile?"

Thus he thought aloud. Afterwards he, Jodd and some others, Martina
among them, went aside, leaving me seated on a bench. Presently they
returned, and Constantine said,

"General Olaf, I and your companions have taken counsel. Listen. But
to-day messengers have come from Lesbos, whom we met outside the gates.
It seems that the governor there is dead, and that the accursed Moslems
threaten to storm the isle as soon as summer comes and add it to their
empire. Our Christian subjects there pray that a new governor may be
appointed, one who knows war, and that with him may be sent troops
sufficient to repel the prophet-worshippers, who, not having many ships,
cannot attack in great force. Now, Captain Jodd thinks this task will
be to the liking of the Northmen, and though you are blind, I think that
you would serve me well as governor of Lesbos. Is it your pleasure to
accept this office?"

"Aye, with thankfulness, Augustus," I answered. "Only, after the Moslems
are beaten back, if it pleases God that it should so befall, I ask leave
of absence for a while, since there is one for whom I must search."

"I grant it, who name Captain Jodd your deputy. Stay, there's one more
thing. In Lesbos my mother has large vineyards and estates. As part
payment of her debt these shall be conveyed to you. Nay, no thanks; it
is I who owe them. Whatever his faults, Constantine is not ungrateful.
Moreover, enough time has been spent upon this matter. What say you,
Officer? That the Armenians are marshalled and that you have Stauracius
safe? Good! I come to lead them. Then to the Hippodrome to be
proclaimed."




BOOK III

EGYPT



CHAPTER I

TIDINGS FROM EGYPT

That curtain of oblivion without rent or seam sinks again upon the
visions of this past of mine. It falls, as it were, on the last of the
scenes in the dreadful chamber of the pit, to rise once more far from
Byzantium.

I am blind and can see nothing, for the power which enables me to
disinter what lies buried beneath the weight and wreck of so many ages
tells me no more than those things that once my senses knew. What I did
not hear then I do not hear now; what I did not see then I do not see
now. Thus it comes about that of Lesbos itself, of the shape of its
mountains or the colour of its seas I can tell nothing more than I
was told, because my sight never dwelt on them in any life that I can
remember.



It was evening. The heat of the sun had passed and the night breeze blew
through the wide, cool chamber in which I sat with Martina, whom the
soldiers, in their rude fashion, called "Olaf's Brown Dog." For brown
was her colouring, and she led me from place to place as dogs are
trained to lead blind men. Yet against her the roughest of them never
said an evil word; not from fear, but because they knew that none could
be said.

Martina was talking, she who always loved to talk, if not of one thing,
then of another.

"God-son," she said, "although you are a great grumbler, I tell you that
in my judgment you were born under a lucky star, or saint, call it which
you will. For instance, when you were walking up and down that Hall of
the Pit in the palace at Constantinople, which I always dream of now if
I sup too late----"

"And your spirit, or double, or whatever you call it, was kindly leading
me round the edge of the death-trap," I interrupted.

"----and my spirit, or double, making itself useful for once, was doing
what you say, well, who would have thought that before so very long you
would be the governor, much beloved, of the rich and prosperous island
of Lesbos; still the commander, much beloved, of troops, many of them
your own countrymen, and, although you are blind, the Imperial general
who has dealt the Moslems one of the worst defeats they have suffered
for a long while."

"Jodd and the others did that," I answered. "I only sat here and made
the plans."

"Jodd!" she exclaimed with contempt. "Jodd has no more head for plans
than a doorpost! Although it is true," she added with a softening of the
voice, "that he is a good man to lean on at a pinch, and a very terrible
fighter; also one who can keep such brain as God gave him cool in the
hour of terror, as Irene knows well enough. Yet it was you, Olaf, not
even I, but you, who remembered that the Northmen are seafolk born, and
turned all those trading vessels into war-galleys and hid them in the
little bays with a few of your people in command of each. It was you who
suffered the Moslem fleet to sail unmolested into the Mitylene harbours,
pretending and giving notice that the only defence would be by land.
Then, after they were at anchor and beginning to disembark, it was you
who fell on them at the dawn and sank and slew till none remained save
those of their army who were taken prisoners or spared for ransom. Yes,
and you commanded our ships in person; and at night who is a better
captain than a blind man? Oh! you did well, very well; and you are rich
with Irene's lands, and sit here in comfort and in honour, with the best
of health save for your blindness, and I repeat that you were born under
a lucky star--or saint."

"Not altogether so, Martina," I answered with a sigh.

"Ah!" she replied, "man can never be content. As usual, you are thinking
of that Egyptian, I mean of the lady Heliodore, of whom, of course,
it is quite right that you should think. Well, it is true that we have
heard nothing of her. Still, that does not mean that we may not hear.
Perhaps Jodd has learned something from those prisoners. Hark! he
comes."

As she spoke I heard the guards salute without and Jodd's heavy step at
the door of the chamber.

"Greeting, General," he said presently. "I bring you good news. The
messengers to the Sultan Harun have returned with the ransom. Also this
Caliph sends a writing signed by himself and his ministers, in which he
swears by God and His Prophet that in consideration of our giving up our
prisoners, among whom, it seems, are some great men, neither he nor his
successors will attempt any new attack upon Lesbos for thirty years.
The interpreter will read it to you to-morrow, and you can send your
answering letters with the prisoners."

"Seeing that these heathen are so many and we are so few, we could
scarcely look for better terms," I said, "as I hope they will think at
Constantinople. At least the prisoners shall sail when all is in order.
Now for another matter. Have you inquired as to the Bishop Barnabas and
the Egyptian Prince Magas and his daughter?"

"Aye, General, this very day. I found that among the prisoners were
three of the commoner sort who have served in Egypt and left that land
not three months ago. Of these men two have never heard of the bishop or
the others. The third, however, who was wounded in the fight, had some
tidings."

"What tidings, Jodd?"

"None that are good, General. The bishop, he says, was killed by Moslems
a while ago, or so he had been told."

"God rest him. But the others, Jodd, what of the others?"

"This. It seems that the Copt, as he called him, Magas, returned from a
long journey, as we know he did, and raised an insurrection somewhere in
the south of Egypt, far up the Nile. An expedition was sent against him,
under one Musa, the Governor of Egypt, and there was much fighting,
in which this prisoner took part. The end of it was that the Copts
who fought with Magas were conquered with slaughter, Magas himself was
slain, for he would not fly, and his daughter, the lady Heliodore, was
taken prisoner with some other Coptic women."

"And then?" I gasped.

"Then, General, she was brought before the Emir Musa, who, noting her
beauty, proposed to make her his slave. At her prayer, however, being,
as the prisoner said, a merciful man, he gave her a week to mourn her
father before she entered his harem. Still, the worst," he went on
hurriedly, "did not happen. Before that week was done, as the Moslem
force was marching down the Nile, she stabbed the eunuch who was in
charge of her and escaped."

"I thank God," I said. "But, Jodd, how is the man sure that she was
Heliodore?"

"Thus: All knew her to be the daughter of Magas, one whom the Egyptians
held in honour. Moreover, among the Moslem soldiers she was named 'the
Lady of the Shells,' because of a certain necklace she wore, which you
will remember."

"What more?" I asked.

"Only that the Emir Musa was very angry at her loss and because of it
caused certain soldiers to be beaten on the feet. Moreover, he halted
his army and offered a reward for her. For two days they hunted, even
searching some tombs where it was thought she might have hidden, but
there found nothing but the dead. Then the Emir returned down the Nile,
and that is the end of the story."

"Send this prisoner to me at once, Jodd, with an interpreter. I would
question him myself."

"I fear he is not fit to come, General."

"Then I will go to him. Lead me, Martina."

"If so, you must go far, General, for he died an hour ago, and his
companions are making him ready for burial."

"Jodd," I said angrily, "those men have been in our hands for weeks.
How comes it that you did not discover these things before? You had my
orders."

"Because, General, until they knew that they were to go free none
of these prisoners would tell us anything. However closely they were
questioned, they said that it was against their oath, and that first
they would die. A long while ago I asked this very man of Egypt, and he
vowed that he had never been there."

"Be comforted, Olaf," broke in Martina, "for what more could he have
told you?"

"Nothing, perchance," I answered; "yet I should have gained many days of
time. Know that I go to Egypt to search for Heliodore."

"Be comforted again," said Martina. "This you could not have done until
the peace was signed; it would have been against your oath and duty."

"That is so," I answered heavily.



"Olaf," said Martina to me that night after Jodd had left us, "you say
that you will go to Egypt. How will you go? Will the blind Christian
general of the Empire, who has just dealt so great a defeat to the
mighty Caliph of the East, be welcome in Egypt? Above all, will he be
welcomed by the Emir Musa, who rules there, when it is known that he
comes to seek a woman who has escaped from that Emir's harem? Why,
within an hour he'd offer you the choice between death and the Koran.
Olaf, this thing is madness."

"It may be, Martina. Still, I go to seek Heliodore."

"If Heliodore still lives you will not help her by dying, and if she is
dead time will be little to her and she can wait for you a while."

"Yet I go, Martina."

"You, being blind, go to Egypt to seek one whom those who rule there
have searched for in vain. So be it. But how will you go? It cannot be
as an open enemy, since then you would need a fleet and ten thousand
swords to back you, which you have not. To take a few brave men, unless
they were Moslems, which is impossible, would be but to give them to
death. How do you go, Olaf?"

"I do not know, Martina. Your brain is more nimble than mine; think,
think, and tell me."

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, Olaf."

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
first time.

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 last.

"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 her."

"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
alone, disguised."

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 a
god-mother."

"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 then?"

"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
none."

"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."



CHAPTER II

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 becalmed."

"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
Egypt?"

"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 faith."

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
anyone.



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 her."

"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 Constantine."

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 halted.

"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 said.

"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, Olaf?"

"Now we will eat and sleep," I said. "Perhaps light will come to us in
our sleep."

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 grew stronger.

"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 us something."

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
wandering players.

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 with corn?"

"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 well."

"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
robe, Hodur."

"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.



CHAPTER III

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 a curse.

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
be met."

"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 her
whisper:

"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 her?"

"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 sorrows----"

"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
Heliodore.

"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. Come."

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 floor.

"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,
     /   Am dedicate."

And from somewhere far away in the recesses of that great cave came the
answering strophe.

     "O Love sublime
     /   And undismayed,
     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,
asked,

"Do the dead sing, or is it a living man? And if so, how is that man
named?"

"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 voice
say,

"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 found
again.



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 wear.

"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 his toy.'

"They looked into the sarcophagus and saw the broken mummy. Indeed, one
of them lifted it, unwillingly enough, and let it fall again, saying
grimly,

"'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!"



CHAPTER IV

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 say."

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
yet."

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
land."

"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
me.

"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
seek."

"'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 make
sure."

"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 sherbet.

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
judgment, saying:

"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 Byzantine spy.

"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 to die.

"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
cannot say."

"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 Lord."

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 answer?"

"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
Musa."

"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,
and die."

"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 death?"

"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
have done."

Then it was that I came out from behind my curtain and groped my way
towards them.

"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 my
hand.

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 waited.

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 joy."

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 business, man."

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 Caliph spoke.

"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.



CHAPTER V

IRENE'S PRAYER

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 water.

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 refused."

"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 called out,

"A ship! A ship sailing into the harbour, and it flies the Imperial
standard."

"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 tidings.

"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 Lesbos."

"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 the room.

"Do you ride with us to-night, Martina?" I asked, recognising her step.

"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 a
prisoner."

"What prisoner?"

"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,
as follows:

"'To the Excellent Michael, a General of our armies and Governor of the
Isle of Lesbos, Greetings from Nicephorus, by the will of God Emperor.

"'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
attested.

"'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 Jodd."

"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 the guard."



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
forgot, you cannot. Give the copy of the letter to the Lady Irene; the
original she can see afterwards if she wills."

So the paper was given to her by Jodd, and she read it aloud, weighing
each word carefully.

"Oh, what a dog is this!" she said when it was finished. "Know, Olaf,
that of my free will I surrendered the throne to him, yes, and all my
private treasure, he swearing upon the Gospels that I should live in
peace and honour till my life's end. And now he sends me to you to be
blinded and then done to death, for that is what he means. Oh! may God
avenge me upon him! May he become a byword and a scorn, and may his own
end be even worse than that which he has prepared for me. May shame
wrap his memory as in a garment, may his bones be dishonoured and his
burying-place forgotten. Aye, and so it shall be."[*]

     [*] The skull of this Nicephorus is said to have been used
     as a drinking cup by his victorious enemy, the King Krum.--
     Editor.

She paused in her fearful curse, then said in a new voice, that voice in
which she was wont to plead,

"You will not blind me, Olaf. You'll not take from me my last blessing,
the light of day. Think what it means----"

"The General Olaf should know well enough," interrupted Jodd, but I
waved him to be silent, and answered,

"Tell me, Madam, how can I do otherwise? It seems to me that my life and
that of my wife and children hang upon this deed. Moreover, why should
I do otherwise now that by God's justice the wheel has come round at
last?" I added, pointing to the hollows beneath my brows where the eyes
once had been.

"Oh! Olaf," she said, "if I harmed you, you know well it was because I
loved you."

"Then God send that no woman ever loves me in such a fashion," broke in
Jodd.

"Olaf," she continued, taking no note of him, "once you went very near
to loving me also, on that night when you would have eaten the poisoned
figs to save my son, the Emperor. At least, you kissed me. If you
forget, I cannot. Olaf, can you blind a woman whom you have kissed?"

"Kissing takes two, and I know that you blinded him," muttered Jodd,
"for I crucified the brutes you commanded to do the deed to which they
confessed."

"Olaf, I admit that I treated you ill; I admit that I would have killed
you; but, believe me, it was jealousy and naught but jealousy which
drove me on. Almost as soon would I have killed myself; indeed, I
thought of it."

"And there the matter ended," said Jodd. "It was Olaf who walked the
Hall of the Pit, not you. We found him on the brink of the hole."

"Olaf, after I regained my power----"

"By blinding your own son," said Jodd, "for which you will have an
account to settle one day."

"----I dealt well with you. Knowing that you had married my rival, for
I kept myself informed of all you did, still I lifted no hand against
you----"

"What good was a maimed man to you when you were courting the Emperor
Charlemagne?" asked Jodd.

Now at last she turned on him, saying,

"Well is it for you, Barbarian, that if only for a while Fate has reft
power from my hands. Oh! this is the bitterest drop in all my cup,
that I who for a score of years ruled the world must live to suffer the
insults of such as you."

"Then why not die and have done?" asked the imperturbable Jodd. "Or, if
you lack the courage, why not submit to the decree of the Emperor, as
so many have submitted to your decree, instead of troubling the general
here with prayers for mercy? It would serve as well."

"Jodd," I said, "I command you to be silent. This lady is in trouble;
attack those in power, if you will, not those who have fallen."

"There speaks the man I loved," said Irene. "What perverse fate kept us
apart, Olaf? Had you taken what I offered, by now you and I would have
ruled the world."

"Perhaps, Madam; yet it is right I should say that I do not regret my
choice, although because of it I can no longer--look upon the world."

"I know, I know! She of that accursed necklace, which I see you still
wear, came between us and spoiled everything. Now I'm ruined for lack of
you and you are nobody for lack of me, a soldier who will run his petty
course and depart into the universal darkness, leaving never a name
behind him. In the ages to be what man will take count of one of a score
of governors of the little Isle of Lesbos, who might yet have held the
earth in the hollow of his hand and shone a second Caesar in its annals?
Oh! what marplot of a devil rules our destinies? He who fashioned those
golden shells upon your breast, or so I think. Well, well, it is so and
cannot be altered. The Augusta of the Empire of the East must plead
with the man who rejected her, for sight, or rather for her life. You
understand, do you not, Olaf, that letter is a command to you to murder
me?"

"Just such a command as you gave to those who blinded your son
Constantine," muttered Jodd beneath his breath.

"That is what is meant. You are to murder me, and, Olaf, I'm not fit
to die. Great place brings great temptations, and I admit that I have
greatly sinned; I need time upon the earth to make my peace with Heaven,
and if you slay my body now, you will slay my soul as well. Oh! be
pitiful! Be pitiful! Olaf, you cannot kill the woman who has lain upon
your breast, it is against nature. If you did such a thing you'd never
sleep again; you would shudder yourself over the edge of the world!
Being what you are, no pomp or power would ever pay you for the deed. Be
true to your own high heart and spare me. See, I who for so long was
the ruler of many kingdoms, kneel to you and pray you to spare me," and,
casting herself down upon her knees, she laid her head upon my feet and
wept.

All that scene comes back to me with a strange and terrible vividness,
although I had no sight to aid me in its details, save the sight of my
soul. I remember that the wonder and horror of it pierced me through and
through; the stab of the dagger in my eyes was not more sharp. There was
I, Olaf, a mere gentleman of the North, seated in my chair of office,
and there before me, her mighty head bowed upon my feet, knelt the
Empress of the Earth pleading for her life. In truth all history could
show few stranger scenes. What was I to do? If I yielded to her piteous
prayers, it was probable that my own life and those of my wife and
children would pay the price. Yet how could I clap my hands in their
Eastern fashion and summon the executioners to pierce those streaming
eyes of hers? "Rise, Augusta," I said, for in this extremity of her
shame I gave her back her title, "and tell me, you who are accustomed to
such matters, how I can spare you who deal with the lives of others as
well as with my own?"

"I thank you for that name," she said as she struggled to her feet.
"I've heard it shouted by tens of thousands in the circus and from the
throats of armies, but never yet has it been half so sweet to me as now
from lips that have no need to utter it. In times bygone I'd have paid
you for this service with a province, but now Irene is so poor that,
like some humble beggar-woman, she can but give her thanks. Still,
repeat it no more, for next time it will sound bitter. What did you ask?
How you could save me, was it not? Well, the thing seems simple. In all
that letter from Nicephorus there is no direct command that you should
blind me. The fellow says that you are to treat me as I treated you,
and as I treated Constantine, the Emperor--because I must. Well, I
imprisoned both of you. Imprison me and you fulfil the mandate. He says
that if I die you are to report it, which shows that he does not mean
that I _must_ die. Oh! the road of escape is easy, should you desire
to travel it. If you do not so desire, then, Olaf, I pray you as a last
favour not to hand me over to common men. I see that by your side still
hangs that red sword of yours wherewith once I threatened you when you
refused me at Byzantium. Draw it, Olaf, and this time I'll guide its
edge across my throat. So you will please Nicephorus and win the rewards
that Irene can no longer give. Baptised in her blood, what earthly glory
is there to which you might not yet attain, you who had dared to lay
hands upon the anointed flesh that even her worst foes have feared to
touch lest God's sudden curse should strike them dead?"

So she went on pouring out words with the strange eloquence that she
could command at times, till I grew bewildered. She who had lived in
light and luxury, who had loved the vision of all bright and glorious
things, was pleading for her sight to the man whom she had robbed of
sight that he might never more behold the young beauty of her rival. She
who had imagination to know the greatness of her sins was pleading to
be spared the death she dared not face. She was pleading to me, who for
years had been her faithful soldier, the captain of her own guard, sworn
to protect her from the slightest ill, me upon whom, for a while, it had
pleased her to lavish the wild passion of her imperial heart, who once
had almost loved--who, indeed, had kissed her on the lips.

My orders were definite. I was commanded to blind this woman and to kill
her in the blinding, which, in truth, I who had power of life and
death, I who ruled over this island like a king by virtue of the royal
commission, could do without question asked. If I _failed_ to fulfil
those orders, I must be prepared to pay the price, as if I did fulfil
them I might expect a high reward, probably the governorship of some
great province of the Empire. This was no common prisoner. She was the
ex-Empress, a mighty woman to whom tens of thousands or perhaps millions
still looked for help and leadership. It was necessary to those who
had seized her place and power that she should be rendered incapable of
rule. It was desirable to them that she should die. Yet so delicately
were the scales poised between them and the adherents of Irene, among
whom were numbered all the great princes of the Church, that they
themselves did not dare to inflict mutilation or death upon her. They
feared lest it should be followed by a storm of wrath that would shake
Nicephorus from his throne and involve them in his ruin.

So they sent her to me, the governor of a distant dependency, the man
whom they knew she had wickedly wronged, being certain that her tongue,
which it was said could turn the hearts of all men, would never soften
mine. Then afterwards they would declare that the warrant was a forgery,
that I had but wreaked a private vengeance upon an ancient foe, and, to
still the scandal, degrade me from my governorship--into some place of
greater power and profit.

Oh! while Irene pleaded before me and, heedless of the presence of Jodd,
even cast her arms about me and laid her head upon my breast, all these
things passed through my mind. In its scales I weighed the matter out,
and the beam rose against me, for I knew well that if I spared Irene I
condemned myself and those who were more to me than myself, my wife, my
children, and all the Northmen who clung to me, and who would not see me
die without blow struck. I understood it all, and, understanding, of a
sudden made up my mind--to spare Irene. Come what might, I would be no
butcher; I would follow my heart whithersoever it might lead me.

"Cease, Madam," I said. "I have decided. Jodd, bid the messenger summon
hither Heliodore and Martina, my wife and yours."

"Oh!" exclaimed Irene, "if these women are to be called in counsel on
my case all is finished, seeing that both of them love you and are my
enemies. Moreover, I have some pride left. To you I could plead, but not
to them, though they blind me with their bodkins after they have stabbed
me with their tongues. Excellency, a last boon! Call in your guard and
kill me."

"Madam, I said that I had decided, and all the women in the world will
not change my mind in this way or in that. Jodd, do my bidding."

Jodd struck a bell, once only, which was the signal for the messenger.
He came and received his orders. Then followed a pause, since Heliodore
and Martina were in a place close by and must be sent for. During this
time Irene began to talk to me of sundry general matters. She compared
the view that might be seen from this house in Lesbos to that from the
terrace of her palace on the Bosphorus, and described its differences to
me. She asked me as to the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid, whom she understood
I had seen, inquiring as to the estimate I had formed of his character.
Lastly, with a laugh, she dwelt upon the strange vicissitudes of life.

"Look at me," she said. "I began my days as the daughter of a Greek
gentleman, with no dower save my wit and beauty. Then I rose to be a
ruler of the world, and knew all that it has to give of pomp and power.
Nations trembled at my nod; at my smile men grew great; at my frown they
faded into nothingness. Save you, Olaf, none ever really conquered me,
until I fell in the appointed hour. And now! Of this splendour there is
left but a nun's robe; of this countless wealth but one silver crucifix;
of this power--naught."

So she spoke on, still not knowing to what decision I had come; whether
she were to be blinded or to live or die. To myself I thought it was a
proof of her greatness that she could thus turn her mind to such things
while Fate hovered over her, its hand upon a sword. But it may be that
she thought thus to impress me and to enmesh me in memories which would
tie my hands, or even from the character of my answers to draw some
augury of her doom.

The women came at length. Heliodore entered first, and to her Irene
bowed.

"Greeting, Lady of Egypt," she said. "Ah! had you taken my counsel in
the past, that title might have been yours in very truth, and there you
and your husband could have founded a new line of kings independent of
the Empire which totters to its fall."

"I remember no such counsel, Madam," said Heliodore. "It seems to me
that the course I took was right and one pleasing to God, since it has
given me my husband for myself, although, it is true, wickedly robbed of
his eyes."

"For yourself! Can you say so while Martina is always at his side?" she
asked in a musing voice. "Well, it may be, for in this world strange
things happen."

She paused, and I heard both Heliodore and Jodd move as though in anger,
for her bitter shaft had gone home. Then she went on softly,

"Lady, may I tell you that, in my judgment, your beauty is even greater
than it was, though it is true it has grown from bud to flower. Few bear
their years and a mother's burdens so lightly in these hot lands."

Heliodore did not answer, for at that moment Martina entered. Seeing
Irene for the first time, she forgot everything that had passed and
curtseyed to her in the old fashion, murmuring the familiar words,

"Thy servant greets thee, Augusta."

"Nay, use not that title, Martina, to one who has done with the world
and its vanities. Call me 'Mother' if you will, for that is the only
name of honour by which those of my religious order may be known. In
truth, as your mother in God, I welcome you and bless you, from my heart
forgiving you those ills which you have worked against me, being, as
I know well, driven by a love that is greater than any woman bears to
woman. But that eating fire of passion scorned is the heritage of both
of us, and of it we will talk afterwards. I must not waste the time of
the General Olaf, whom destiny, in return for many griefs, has appointed
to be my jailer. Oh! Olaf," she added with a little laugh, "some
foresight of the future must have taught me to train you for the post.
Let us then be silent, ladies, and listen to the judgment which this
jailer of mine is about to pass upon me. Do you know it is no less than
whether these eyes of mine, which you were wont to praise, Martina,
which in his lighter moments even this stern Olaf was wont to praise,
should be torn from beneath my brow, and if so, whether it should be
done in such a fashion that I die of the deed? That and no less is the
matter which his lips must settle. Now speak, Excellency."

"Madam," I said slowly, "to the best of my wit I have considered the
letter sent to me under the seal and sign of the Emperor Nicephorus.
Although it might be so interpreted by some, I cannot find in that
letter any direct command that I should cause you to be blinded, but
only one that I should keep you under strict guard, giving you such
things as are necessary to your sustenance. This then I shall do, and by
the first ship make report of my action to the Emperor at Byzantium."

Now, when she heard these words, at length the proud spirit of Irene
broke.

"God reward you, for I cannot, Olaf," she cried. "God reward you, saint
among men, who can pay back cruel injuries with the gentlest mercy."

So saying, she burst into tears and fell senseless to the ground.

Martina ran to aid her, but Heliodore turned to me and said in her
tender voice,

"This is worthy of you, Olaf, and I would not have you do otherwise.
Yet, husband, I fear that this pity of yours has signed the
death-warrant of us all."



So it proved to be, though, as it chanced, that warrant was never
executed. I made my report to Byzantium, and in course of time the
answer came in a letter from the Emperor. This letter coldly approved
of my act in set and formal phrases. It added that the truth had been
conveyed publicly to those slanderers of the Emperor who announced that
he had caused Irene to be first blinded and then put to death in Lesbos,
whereby their evil tongues had been silenced.

Then came this pregnant sentence:

"We command you, with your wife and children and your lieutenant, the
Captain Jodd, with his wife and children, to lay down your offices and
report yourselves with all speed to Us at our Court of Byzantium, that
we may confer with you on certain matters. If it is not convenient to
you, or you can find no fitting ship in which to sail at once, know that
within a month of your receipt of this letter our fleet will call at
Lesbos and bring you and the others herein mentioned to our Presence."

"That is a death sentence," said Martina, when she had finished reading
out this passage. "I have seen several such sent in my day, when I was
Irene's confidential lady. It is the common form. We shall never reach
Byzantium, Olaf, or, if we do, we shall never leave it more."

I nodded, for I knew that this was so. Then, at some whispered word from
Martina, Heliodore spoke.

"Husband," she said, "foreseeing this issue, Martina, Jodd, and most of
the Northmen and I have made a plan which we now submit to you, praying
that for our sakes, if not for yours, you will not thrust it aside.
We have bought two good ships, armed them and furnished them with all
things needful. Moreover, during the past two months we have sold much
of our property, turning it into gold. This is our plan--that we pretend
to obey the order of the Emperor, but instead of heading for Byzantium,
sail away north to the land in which you were born, where, having rank
and possessions, you may still become a mighty chief. If we go at once
we shall miss the Imperial fleet, and I think that none will follow us."

Now I bowed my head for a while and thought. Then I lifted it and said,

"So let it be. No other road is open."

For my own sake I would not have stirred an inch. I would have gone to
the Court of the Emperor at Byzantium and there argued out the thing in
a gambler's spirit, prepared to win or prepared to lose. There at least
I should have had all the image-worshippers who adored Irene, that is,
the full half of the Empire, upon my side, and if I perished, I should
perish as a saint. But a wife and children are the most terrible gifts
of God, if the most blessed, for they turn our hearts to water. So, for
the first time in my life, I grew afraid, and, for their sakes, fled.

As might be expected, having Martina's brains, Heliodore's love, and the
Northmen's loyalty at the back of it, our plan went well. A letter was
sent to the Emperor saying that we would await the arrival of the fleet
to obey his commands, having some private matters to arrange before we
left Lesbos. Then, on a certain evening, we embarked on two great ships,
about four hundred souls in all.

Before we went I bade farewell to Irene. She was seated outside the
house that had been given to her, employed in spinning, for it was her
fancy to earn the bread she ate by the labour of her hands. Round
her were playing Jodd's children and my own, whom, in order to escape
suspicion, we had sent thither till the time came for us to embark,
since the people of Lesbos only knew of our scheme by rumour.

"Whither do you go, Olaf?" she asked.

"Back to the North, whence I came, Madam," I answered, "to save the
lives of these," and I waved my hand towards the children. "If I bide
here all must die. We have been sent for to Byzantium, as I think _you_
were wont to send for officers who had ceased to please you."

"I understand, Olaf; moreover, I know it is I who have brought this
trouble upon you because you spared me, whom it was meant that you
should kill. Also I know, through friends of mine, that henceforth, for
reasons of policy, my little end of life is safe, and perhaps with it my
sight. All this I owe to you, though now at times I regret that I asked
the boon. From the lot of an Empress to that of a spinning-wife is a
great change, and one which I find it heard to bear. Still, I have my
peace to make with God, and towards that peace I strive. Yet will you
not take me with you, Olaf? I should like to found a nunnery in that
cold North of yours."

"No, Augusta. I have done my best by you, and now you must guard
yourself. We part for ever. I go hence to finish where I began. My
birthplace calls me."

"For ever is a long word, Olaf. Are you sure that we part for ever?
Perchance we shall meet again in death or in other lives. Such, at
least, was the belief of some of the wisest of my people before we
became Christian, and mayhap the Christians do not know everything,
since the world had learnt much before they came. I hope that it may
be so, Olaf, for I owe you a great debt and would repay it to you full
measure, pressed down and running over. Farewell. Take with you the
blessing of a sinful and a broken heart," and, rising, she kissed me on
the brow.



Here ends the story of this life of mine as Olaf Red-Sword, since of
it I can recover no more. The darkness drops. Of what befell me and
the others after my parting with Irene I know nothing or very little.
Doubtless we sailed away north, and, I think, came safely to Aar, since
I have faint visions of Iduna the Fair grown old, but still unwed, for
the stain of Steinar's blood, as it were, still marked her brow in all
men's eyes; and even of Freydisa, white-haired and noble-looking. How
did we meet and how did we separate at last, I wonder? And what were the
fates of Heliodore and of our children; of Martina and of Jodd? Also,
was the prophecy of Odin, spoken through the lips of Freydisa in the
temple at Aar, that he and his fellow gods, or demons, would prevail
against my flesh and that of those who clung to me, fulfilled at last in
the fires of martyrdom for the Faith, as his promise of my happiness was
fulfilled?

I cannot tell. I cannot tell. Darkness entombs us all and history is
dumb.



At Aar there are many graves! Standing among them, not so long ago, much
of this history came back to me.





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