“It is Metem with the mules,” said Aziel.
“I hope so,” answered Elissa.
Again there was silence, which, after a while, was broken by a loud knocking at the door.
“Rise,” said Aziel, “Metem comes for us.”
“No, no,” cried Elissa, “it is Doom that knocks, not Metem.”
As the words passed her lips the door was burst open, and through it poured a mob of armed priests, at the head of whom marched the Shadid. By his side was his daughter Mesa, in whose pale face the eyes burned like torches in a wind.
“Did I not tell you so?” she said in a shrill voice, pointing at the three. “Behold the Lady Baaltis and her lover, and with them that priest of a false faith who called down curses upon our city.”
“You told us indeed, daughter,” answered the Shadid; “pardon us if we were loth to believe that such a thing could be.” Then with a cry of rage he added, “Take them.”
Now Aziel drew his sword, and sprang in front of Elissa to protect her, but before he could strike a blow it was seized from behind, and he was gripped by many hands, gagged, bound and blindfolded. Then like a man in a dream he felt himself carried away through long passages, till at length he reached an airless place, where the gag and bandages were removed.
“Where am I?” Aziel asked.
“In the vaults of the temple,” answered the priests as they left the prison, barring its great door behind them.
THE SACRILEGE OF AZIEL
How long he lay in his dungeon, lost in bitter thought and tormented by fears for Elissa, Aziel could not tell, for no light came there to mark the passage of the hours. In the tumult of his mind, one terrible thought grew clear and ever clearer; he and Elissa had been taken red-handed, and must pay the price of their sin against the religious customs of the city. For the Baaltis to be found with any man who was not her husband meant death to him and her, a doom from which there was little chance of escape.
Well, to his own fate he was almost indifferent, but for Elissa and Issachar he mourned bitterly. Truly the Levite and Metem had been wise when they cautioned him, for her sake and his own, to have nothing to do with a priestess of Baal. But he had not listened; his heart would not let him listen—and now, unless they were saved by a miracle—or Metem—in the fulness of their youth and love, the lives of both of them were forfeited.
Worn out with sore fears and vain regrets Aziel fell at length into a heavy sleep. He was awakened by the opening of the door of his dungeon, and the entry of priests—grim, silent men who seized and blindfolded him. Then they led him away up many stairs, and along paths so steep that from time to time they paused to rest, till at length he knew, by the sound of voices, that he had reached some place