“Now our best chance is to defeat Ithobal if we can, and afterwards in the confusion to fly from Zimboe and join our servants, to whom I have sent word to await us in a secret place beyond the first range of hills. If we cannot—why then we must go a little sooner than we expected to find out who it is that really shapes the destinies of men, and whether or no the sun and moon are the chariots of El and Baaltis. But, Prince, you turn pale.”
“It is nothing,” said Aziel, “bring me some water, the fever still burns in me.”
Metem went to seek for water, while Elissa knelt by the couch and pressed her lover’s hand.
“I dare stay no longer,” she whispered, “and Aziel, I know not how or when we shall meet again, but my heart is heavy, for, alas! I think that doom draws near me. I have brought much sorrow upon you, Aziel, and yet more upon myself, and I have given you nothing, except that most common of all things, a woman’s love.”
“That most perfect of all things,” he answered, “which I am glad to have lived to win.”
“Yes, but not at the price that you have paid for it. I know well what it must have cost you to cast that incense on the flame, and I pray to your God, who has become my God, to visit the sin of it on my head and to leave yours unharmed. Aziel, Aziel! woman or spirit, while I have life and memory, I am yours, and yours only; clean-handed I leave you, and if we may meet again in this or in any other world, clean and faithful I shall come to you again. Glad am I to have lived, because in my life I have known you and you have sworn you love me. Glad shall I be to live again if again I may know you and hear that oath—if not, it is sleep I seek; for life without you to me would be a hell. You grow weak, and I must go. Farewell, and living or dead, forget me not; swear that you will not forget me.”
“I swear it,” he answered faintly; “and Heaven grant that I may die for you, not you for me.”
“That is no prayer of mine,” she whispered; and, bending, kissed him on the brow, for he was too weak to lift his lips to hers.
Then she was gone.
ELISSA TAKES SANCTUARY
Two more hours had passed, and in the evening light a procession of priestesses might be seen advancing slowly towards the holy tomb along a narrow road of rock cut in the mountain face. In front of this procession, wearing a black veil over her broidered robes, walked Elissa with downcast eyes and hair unbound in token of grief, while behind her came Mesa and other priestesses bearing in bowls of alabaster the offerings to the dead, food and wine, and lamps of oil, and vases filled with perfumes. Behind these again marched the mourners, women who sang a funeral dirge and from time to time broke into a wail of simulated grief. Nor, indeed, was their woe as hollow as might be thought, since from that mountain path they could see the outposts of the army of Ithobal upon the plain, and note with a shudder of fear the spear-heads of his countless thousands shining in the gorges of the opposing heights. It was not for the dead Baaltis that they mourned this day, but for the fate which overshadowed them and their city of gold.