“Doubtless all will come to pass as you say, Walda Nagasta,” said Roderick with conviction. “The day of the Abati is finished.”
“Why do you say that, Son?” I asked.
“Because, Father, among the Fung people from a child I have two offices, that of Singer to the God and that of Reader of Dreams. Oh! do not laugh. I can tell you many that have come true as I read them; thus the dream of Barung which I read to mean that the head of Harmac would come to Mur, and see, there it sit,” and turning, he pointed through the doorway of the tower to the grim lion-head of the idol crouched upon the top of the precipice, watching Mur as a beast of prey watches the victim upon which it is about to spring. “I know when dreams true and when dreams false; it my gift, like my voice. I know that this dream true, that all,” and as he ceased speaking I saw his eyes catch Maqueda’s, and a very curious glance pass between them.
As for Orme, he only said:
“You Easterns are strange people, and if you believe a thing, Maqueda, there may be something in it. But you understand that this message of yours means war to the last, a very unequal war,” and he looked at the hordes of the Abati gathering on the great square.
“Yes,” she answered quietly, “I understand, but however sore our straits, and however strange may seem the things that happen, have no fear of the end of that war, O my friends.”
THE BURNING OF THE PALACE
Orme was right. Maqueda’s defiance did mean war, “an unequal war.” This was our position. We were shut up in a long range of buildings, of which one end had been burned, that on account of their moat and double wall, if defended with any vigour, could only be stormed by an enemy of great courage and determination, prepared to face a heavy sacrifice of life. This was a circumstance in our favour, since the Abati were not courageous, and very much disliked the idea of being killed, or even injured.
But here our advantage ended. Deducting those whom we had lost on the previous night, the garrison only amounted to something over four hundred men, of whom about fifty were wounded, some of them dangerously. Moreover, ammunition was short, for they had shot away most of their arrows in the battle of the square, and we had no means of obtaining more. But, worst of all, the palace was not provisioned for a siege, and the mountaineers had with them only three days’ rations of sun-dried beef or goat’s flesh, and a hard kind of biscuit made of Indian corn mixed with barley meal. Thus, as we saw from the beginning, unless we could manage to secure more food our case must soon grow hopeless.
There remained yet another danger. Although the palace itself was stone-built, its gilded domes and ornamental turrets were of timber, and therefore liable to be fired, as indeed had already happened. The roof also was of ancient cedar beams, thinly covered with concrete, while the interior containing an enormous quantity of panels, or rather boarding, cut from some resinous wood.