“Only that here we stand not so very far above the city Harmac, of which I chanced to take the level, and that behind yonder chair there was, I think, once a passage which has been built up. But be pleased to say nothing of the matter, Lady, and to ask me no more questions at present, as I cannot answer them with certainty.”
“I see that you are discreet as well as wise,” she replied with some sarcasm. “Well, since I may not be trusted with your counsel, keep it to yourself.”
Oliver bowed and obeyed this curt instruction.
Then we began our return journey, passing many more groups of skeletons which now we scarcely troubled to look at, perhaps because the heavy air filled with dust that once had been the flesh of men, was telling on our energies. Only I noticed, or rather the observant Quick called my attention to the fact, that as we went the kings in their chairs were surrounded by fewer and fewer attendants and women, and that the offerings placed at their feet were of an ever-lessening value. Indeed, after we had passed another five or six of them, their murdered retinues dwindled to a few female skeletons, doubtless those of favourite wives who had been singled out for this particular honour.
At length there were none at all, the poor monarchs, who now were crowded close together, being left to explore the shades alone, adorned merely with their own jewellery and regalia. Ultimately even these were replaced by funeral gold-foil ornaments, and the trays of treasure by earthenware jars which appeared to have contained nothing but food and wine, and added to these a few spears and other weapons. The last of the occupied chairs, for there were empty ones beyond, contained bones which, from their slenderness and the small size of the bracelets among them, I saw at once had belonged to a woman who had been sent to the grave without companions or any offerings at all.
“Doubtless,” said Maqueda, when I pointed this out to her, “at that time the ancients had grown weak and poor, since after so many kings they permitted a woman to rule over them and had no wealth to waste upon her burial. That may have been after the earthquake, when only a few people were left in Mur before the Abati took possession of it.”
“Where, then, are those of your own house buried?” asked Oliver, staring at the empty chairs.
“Oh! not in this place,” she answered; “I have told you it was discovered but a few years ago. We rest in tombs outside, and for my part I will sleep in the simple earth, so that I may live on in grass and flowers, if in no other way. But enough of death and doom. Soon, who can tell how soon? we shall be as these are,” and she shuddered. “Meanwhile, we breathe, so let us make the best of breath. You have seen your fee, say, does it content you?”
“What fee?” he asked. “Death, the reward of Life? How can I tell until I have passed its gate?”