“There is hope”
It was dawn. Ithobal the king stood without the gates of the tomb of Baaltis, the grey light glimmering faintly on his harness, and knocked upon the brazen bars with the handle of his sword.
“Who troubles me now?” said a voice within.
“Lady, it is I, Ithobal, who, as I promised by Metem the Phoenician, am come to learn your will as to the fate of my prisoner, the Prince Aziel. Already he hangs above the gulf, and within one short hour, if you so decree it, he will fall and be dashed to pieces. Or, if you so decree it, he will be set free to return to his own land.”
“At what price will he be set free, king Ithobal?”
“Lady, you know the price; it is yourself. Oh! I beseech you, be wise! spare his life and your own. Listen: spare his life, and I will spare this city which lies in the hollow of my hand, and you shall rule it with me.”
“You cannot bribe me thus, king Ithobal. My father whom I loved is dead, and shall I give myself to you for the sake of a city and a Faith that would have betrayed me into your hands?”
“Nay, but for the sake of the man to whom you are dear, you shall do even this, Elissa. Think: if you refuse, his blood will be upon your head, and what will you have gained?”
“Death, which I seek, for I weary of the struggle of my days.”
“Then end it in my arms, lady. Soon this fancy will escape your mind, and you will remain one of the mightiest queens of men.”
Elissa returned no answer, and for a while there was silence.
“Lady,” said Ithobal at length, “the sun rises and my servants yonder await a signal.”
Then she spoke like one who hesitates.
“Are you not afraid, king Ithobal, to trust your life to a woman won in such a fashion?”
“Nay,” answered Ithobal, “for though you say that their fate does not concern you, the lives of all those penned-up thousands are hostages for my own. Should you by chance find a means to stab me unawares, then to-night fire and sword would rage through the city of Zimboe. Nor do I fear the future, since I know well that you who think you hate me now, very soon will learn to love me.”
“You promise, king Ithobal, that if I yield myself you will set the prince Aziel free; but how can I believe you who twice have tried to murder him?”
“Doubt me if you will, Elissa, at least, you cannot doubt your own eyes. Look, his road to the sea runs beneath this rock. Come from the tomb and take your stand upon it and you shall see him pass; yes, and should you wish, speak with him in farewell that you may be sure that it is he and alive. Further, I swear to you by my head and honour, that no finger shall be laid upon you till he is gone by, and that no pursuit of him shall be attempted. Now choose.”