THE MARTYRDOM OF ISSACHAR
It was done, and from the mouths of the circle of priests and priestesses leapt a shrill and sudden cry of triumph. For had not their gods conquered? Had not this high-placed servant of the hated Lord of Israel been caught by the bait of a priestess of Baaltis, and seduced by her distress to deny and reject Him? Was not evil once more triumphant, and must not they, its ministers, rejoice?
Again the Shadid raised his wand and they were silent.
“Brother you have, indeed, done well and wisely,” he said, addressing Aziel. “Now take to wife the divine lady who has chosen you,” and he pointed to Elissa, who lay prostrated on the rock. “Yes, take her and be happy in her love, sitting in my seat, which henceforth is yours, as ruler of the priests of El and master of their mysteries, forgetting the follies of your former faith, and spitting on its altars. Hail to you, Shadid, Lord of the Baaltis and chosen of El! Take him, you priests, and with him the divine lady, his wife, to bear them in triumph to their high house.”
“What of the Levite?” asked the woman Mesa.
The Shadid glanced at Issachar, who all this while had stood like one stricken to the soul, woe stamped upon his face, and a stare of horror in his eyes. “Jew,” he said, “I had forgotten you, but you also are on your trial, who dared against the law to hold secret meeting with the lady Baaltis. For this sin the punishment is death, nor, as I think, would any woman name you husband to save you. Still in this hour of joy we will be merciful; therefore do as your master did, cast incense on the altar, uttering the appointed words, and go your way.”
“Before I make my offering on yonder altar according to your command, I have indeed some words to say, O priest of El,” answered Issachar quietly, but in a voice that chilled the blood of those who listened.
“First, I address myself to you, Aziel, and to you, woman,” and he pointed to Elissa, who had risen, and leaned, trembling, upon her father. “My dream is fulfilled. Aziel, you have sinned indeed, and must bear the appointed punishment of your sin. Yet hear a message of mercy spoken through my lips: Because you have sinned through love and pity, your offence is not unto death. Still shall you sorrow for it all your life’s days, and in desolation of heart and bitterness of soul shall creep back to the feet of Him you have forsworn.
“Woman, your spirit is noble and your feet are set in the way of righteousness, yet through you has this offence come. Therefore your love shall bear no fruit, nor shall the blasphemy of your beloved save your flesh from doom. Upon this earth there is no hope for you, daughter of Sakon; set your eyes beyond it, for there alone is hope.
“Yonder she stands who swore our lives away?” and he fixed his burning gaze on Mesa. “Priestess, you plotted this that you might succeed to the throne of Baaltis; now hear your fate: You shall live to sweep the huts and bear the babes of savages. You, priest,” and he pointed to the Shadid, “I read your heart; you design to murder this apostate whom you greet as your successor that you may usurp his place. I show you yours: it lies in the bellies of the jackals of the desert.