“Our search is ended,” he said in Hebrew, “for here is he whom we seek, and alone with him a heathen woman, robed like a priestess of the Groves.”
“Whom do you seek, Issachar?” asked Aziel hurriedly, for the sudden appearance of the Levite disturbed him.
“Yourself, Prince. Surely you can guess that your absence has been noted. We feared lest harm should have come to you, or that you had lost your path, but it seems that you have found a guide,” and he stared at his companion sternly.
“That guide, Issachar,” answered Aziel, “being none other than the lady Elissa, daughter of Sakon, governor of this city, and our host, whom it has been my good fortune to rescue from a woman-stealer yonder in the grove of the goddess Baaltis.”
“And whom it was my bad fortune to try to rescue in the said grove, as my broken head bears witness,” added Metem, who by now had come up, dragging the two mules after him.
“In the grove of the goddess Baaltis!” broke in the Levite with a kindling eye, and striking the ground with his staff to emphasise his words. “You, a Prince of Israel, alone in the high place of abomination with the priestess of a fiend? Fie upon you, fie upon you! Would you also walk in the sin of your forefathers, Aziel, and so soon?”
“Peace!” said Aziel in a voice of command; “I was not in the grove alone or by my own will, and this is no time or place for insults and wrangling.”
“Between me and those who seek after false gods, or the women who worship them, there is no peace,” replied the old priest fiercely.
Then, followed by all the company, he turned and strode towards the gates of the city.
ITHOBAL THE KING
Two hours had gone by, and the prince Aziel, together with his retinue, the officers of the caravan, and many other guests, were seated at a great feast made in their honour, by Sakon, the governor of the city. This feast was held in the large pillared hall of Sakon’s house, built beneath the northern wall of the temple fortress, and not more than a few paces from its narrow entrance, through which in case of alarm the inhabitants of the palace could fly for safety. All down this chamber were placed tables, accommodating more than two hundred feasters, but the principal guests were seated by themselves upon a raised dais at the head of the hall. Among them sat Sakon himself, a middle-aged man stout in build, and thoughtful of face, his daughter Elissa, some other noble ladies, and a score or more of the notables of the city and its surrounding territories.