“’Learn that last night after the holy beasts had been slain and the sacrifice snatched away, the god Harmac spoke to his priests in prophecy. And this was his prophecy; that before the gathering in of the harvest his head should sleep above the plain of Mur. We know not the interpretation of the saying, but this I know, that before the gathering of the harvest I, or those who rule after me, will lie down to sleep within my city of Mur.’
“’Now, choose—surrender forthwith and, save for the dog, Joshua, who the other day tried to entrap me against the custom of peoples, and ten others whom I shall name, I will spare the lives of all of you, though Joshua and these ten I will hang, since they are not worthy to die by the sword. Or resist, and by Harmac himself I swear that every man among the Abati shall die save the white lords whom I honour because they are brave, and that servant of yours who stood with them last night in the den of lions, and that every woman shall be made a slave, save you, O Walda Nagasta, because of your great heart. Your answer, O Lady of the Abati!’”
Now Maqueda looked around the faces of her Council, and saw fear written upon them all. Indeed, as we noted, many of them shook in their terror.
“My answer will be short, ambassadors of Barung,” she replied, “still, I am but one woman, and it is fitting that those who represent the people should speak for the people. My uncle, Joshua, you are the first of my Council, what have you to say? Are you willing to give up your life with ten others whose names I do not know, that there may be peace between us and the Fung?”
“What?” answered Joshua, with a splutter of rage, “do I live to hear a Walda Nagasta suggest that the first prince of the land, her uncle and affianced husband, should be surrendered to our hereditary foes to be hanged like a worn-out hound, and do you, O unknown ten, who doubtless stand in this chamber, live to hear it also?”
“My uncle, you do not. I asked if such was your wish, that is all.”
“Then I answer that it is not my wish, nor the wish of the ten, nor the wish of the Abati. Nay, we will fight the Fung and destroy them, and of their beast-headed idol Harmac we will make blocks to build our synagogues and stones to pave our roads. Do you hear, savages of Fung?” and assisted by his two servants he hobbled towards them, grinning in their faces.
The envoys looked him up and down with their quiet eyes. “We hear and we are very glad to hear,” their spokesman answered, “since we Fung love to settle our quarrels with the sword and not by treaty. But to you, Joshua, we say: Make haste to die before we enter Mur, since the rope is not the only means of death whereof we know.”
Very solemnly the three ambassadors saluted, first the Child of Kings and next ourselves, then turned to go.
“Kill them!” shouted Joshua, “they have threatened and insulted me, the Prince!”