THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE
Suddenly Aziel, looking up from his reverie, saw the Phoenician bowing before him, cap in hand.
“May the Prince live for ever,” he said, “yet if he suffer melancholy to overcome him thus, his life, however long, will be but sad.”
“I was only thinking, Metem,” answered Aziel with a start.
“Of the lady Elissa, whom you rescued, Prince? Ah! I guessed as much. She is beautiful, is she not—I have never seen the equal of those dreamy eyes and that mysterious smile—and learned also, though myself, in a woman I prefer the beauty without the learning. It is a pity now that she should chance to be a priestess of our worship, for that will not please the holy Issachar whom, I fear, Prince, you find a stern guide for the feet of youth.”
“Your business, merchant?” broke in Aziel.
“I crave your pardon, Prince,” answered the Phoenician, spreading out his hands in deprecation. “I struck a good bargain for my wares this morning, and drank wine to seal it, therefore, let me be forgiven if I have spoken too freely in your presence, Prince. This is my business: Yonder in the temple they celebrate a service which it is lawful for strangers to witness, and as the opportunity is rare, I thought that, having heard something of our mysteries in the grove last night, you might wish to see the office. If this be so, I am come to guide you.”
“Aziel’s first impulse was to refuse to go; indeed, the words of dismissal were on his lips when another purpose entered his mind. For this once he would look upon these abominations and learn what part Elissa played in them, and thus be cured for ever of the longings that had seized him.
“What is the ceremony?” he asked.
“A sacrifice for the recovery of the lady Baaltis who is sick, Prince.”
“And what is the sacrifice?” asked Aziel.
“A dove, as I am told,” was the indifferent answer.
“I will come with you, Metem.”
“So be it, Prince. Your retinue awaits you at the gate.”
At the main entrance to the palace Aziel found his guard and other servants gathered there to escort him. With them was Issachar, whom he greeted, asking him if he knew the errand upon which they were bent.
“I do, Prince; it is to witness the abomination of a sacrifice of these heathens.”
“Will you then accompany me there, Issachar?”
“Where my lord goes I go,” answered the Levite gravely. “Moreover, Prince, if you have your reasons for wishing to see this devil-worship, I may have mine.”