“Have you heard?” he said to Noma.
“I have heard.”
“Then speak the message.”
She repeated it word for word, making no fault. “Have no fear,” she added, “I shall forget nothing when I stand before the prince.”
“You are a woman, but your counsel is good. What think you of the plan, Noma?”
“It is deep and well laid,” she answered, “and surely it would succeed were it not for one thing. The white man, Messenger, will be too clever for you, for as you say, he is a reader of the thoughts of men.”
“Can the dead read men’s thoughts, or if they can, do they cry them on the market-place or into the ears of kings?” asked Hokosa. “Have I not told you that, before I see the signal-fire yonder, the Messenger shall sleep sound? I have a medicine, Noma, a slow medicine that none can trace.”
“The Messenger may sleep sound, Hokosa, and yet perchance he may pass on his message to another and, with it, his magic. Who can say? Still, husband, strike on for power and greatness and revenge, letting the blow fall where it will.”
THE BASKET OF FRUIT
Three days later it was announced that according to the custom of the women of the People of Fire, Noma having given birth to a still-born child, was about to start upon a journey to the Mount of Purification. Here she would abide awhile and make sacrifice to the spirits of her ancestors, that they might cease to be angry with her and in future protect her from such misfortunes. This not unusual domestic incident excited little comment, although it was remarked that the four matrons by whom she was to be accompanied, in accordance with the tribal etiquette, were all of them the wives of soldiers who had deserted to Hafela. Indeed, the king himself noticed as much when Hokosa made the customary formal application to him to sanction the expedition.
“So be it,” he said, “though myself I have lost faith in such rites. Also, Hokosa, I think it likely that although your wife goes out with company, she will return alone.”
“Why, King?” asked Hokosa.
“For this reason—that those who travel with her have husbands yonder at the town of the Prince Hafela, and the Mount of Purification is on the road thither. Having gone so far, they may go farther. Well, let them go, for I desire to have none among my people whose hearts turn otherwhere, and it would not be wonderful if they should choose to seek their lords. But perchance, Hokosa, there are some in this town who may use them as messengers to the prince”—and he looked at him keenly.
“I think not, King,” said Hokosa. “None but a fool would make use of women to carry secret words or tidings. Their tongues are too long and their memories too bad, or too uncertain.”