“O Walda Nagasta, deliver up to death the Gentiles who have bewitched you and led you to shed the blood of so many of your people, and with them the officers of the Mountaineers, and the rest shall be spared. You also I will forgive and make my wife. Resist, and all who cling to you shall be put to the sword, and to yourself I promise nothing.
“Written by order of the Council,
“Joshua, Prince of the Abati.”
“What answer shall I send?” she asked, looking at us curiously.
“Upon my word,” replied Orme, shrugging his shoulders, “if it were not for those faithful officers I am not sure but that you would be wise to accept the terms. We are cooped up here, but a few surrounded by thousands, who, if they dare not assault, still can starve us out, as this place is not victualled for a siege.”
“You forget one of those terms, O Oliver!” she said slowly, pointing with her finger to the passage in the letter which stated that Joshua would make her his wife, “Now do you still counsel surrender?”
“How can I?” he answered, flushing, and was silent.
“Well, it does not matter what you counsel,” she went on with a smile, “seeing that I have already sent my answer, also by arrow. See, here is a copy of it,” and she read—
“To my rebellious People of the Abati:
“Surrender to me Joshua, my uncle, and the members of the Council who have lifted sword against me, to be dealt with according to the ancient law, and the rest of you shall go unharmed. Refuse, and I swear to you that before the night of the new moon has passed there shall be such woe in Mur as fell upon the city of David when the barbarian standards were set upon her walls. Such is the counsel that has come to me, the Child of Solomon, in the watches of the night, and I tell you that it is true. Do what you will, people of the Abati, or what you must, since your fate and ours are written. But be sure that in me and the Western lords lies your only hope.
“What do you mean, O Maqueda,” I asked, “about the counsel that came to you in the watches of the night?”
“What I say, O Adams,” she answered calmly. “After we parted at dawn I slept heavily, and in my sleep a dark and royal woman stood before me whom I knew to be my great ancestress, the beloved of Solomon. She looked on me sadly, yet as I thought with love. Then she drew back, as it were, a curtain of thick cloud that hid the future and revealed to me the young moon riding the sky and beneath it Mur, a blackened ruin, her streets filled with dead. Yes, and she showed to me other things, though I may not tell them, which also shall come to pass, then held her hands over me as if in blessing, and was gone.”
“Old Hebrew prophet business! Very interesting,” I heard Higgs mutter below his breath, while in my own heart I set the dream down to excitement and want of food. In fact, only two of us were impressed, my son very much, and Oliver a little, perhaps because everything Maqueda said was gospel to him.