“Yes, Prince, but not of good omen, for now as always she is sure that her doom is at hand, and that you two will meet no more. Still she bade me tell you that all your life long her spirit shall companion you though it be unseen, to receive you at the last on the threshold of the underworld.”
Aziel turned his head away, and said presently:—
“If that be so, may it receive me soon.”
“Have no fear, Prince,” replied Metem with a grim laugh, “look yonder,” and he pointed to the advancing hosts.
“These walls are strong and we shall beat them back,” said Aziel.
“Nay, Prince, for strong walls do not avail without strong hearts to guard them, and those of the womanish citizens of Zimboe and their hired soldiers are white with fear. I tell you that the prophecies of Issachar the Levite, made yonder in the temple on the day of the sacrifice, and again in the hour of his death, have taken hold of the people, and by eating out their valour, fulfil themselves.
“Men hint at them, the women whisper them in closets, and the very children cry them in the streets.
“More—one man last night pointed to the skies and shrieked that in them he saw that fiery sword of doom of which the prophet spoke hanging point downwards above the city, whereon all present vowed they saw it too, though, as I think, it was but a cross of stars. Another tells how that he met the very spirit of Issachar stalking through the market-place, and that peering into the eyes of the wraith, as in a mirror, he saw a great flame wrapping the temple walls, and by the light of it his own dead body. This man was the priest who first struck down the holy Levite yonder in the place of judgment.
“Again, when the lady Mesa did sacrifice last night on behalf of the Baaltis who has fled, the child they offered, an infant of six months, stirred on the altar after it was dead and cried with a loud voice that before three suns had set, its blood should be required at their hands. That is the story, and if I do not believe it, this at least is true, that the priestesses fled fast from the secret chamber of death, for I met them as they ran shrieking in their terror and tearing at their robes. But what need is there to dwell on omens, true or false, when cowards man the walls, and the spears of Ithobal shine yonder like all the stars of heaven? Prince, I tell you that this ancient city is doomed, and in it, as I fear, we must end our wanderings upon earth.”
“So be it, if it must be,” answered Aziel, “at the least I will die fighting.”
“And I also will die fighting, Prince, not because I love it, but because it is better than being butchered in cold blood by a savage with a spear. Oh! why did you ever chance to stumble upon the lady Elissa making her prayer to Baaltis, and what evil spirit was it which filled your brains with this sudden madness of love towards each other? That was the beginning of the trouble, which, but for those eyes of hers, would have held off long enough to see us safe at Tyre, though doubtless soon or late it must have come. But see, yonder marches Ithobal at the head of his guard. Give me a bow, the flight is long, but perchance I can reach his black heart with an arrow.”