Into this place I was brought, guarded by four negroes, great fellows armed with swords whom I knew to be chosen out of the number of the executioners of the palace and the city. Indeed, one of them had served under me when I was governor of the State prison, and been dismissed by me because of some cruelty which he had practised.
Noting all these things and the pity in Martina’s eyes, I knew that I was already doomed, but as I had expected nothing else this did not trouble me over much.
I stood before the judges, and they stared at me.
“Why do you not salute us, fellow?” asked one of them, a mincing Greek captain whom I had seen running like a hare upon the night of the fray.
“Because, Captain, I am of senior rank to any whom I see before me, and as yet uncondemned. Therefore, if salutes are in the question, it is you who should salute me.”
At this speech they stared at me still harder than before, but among the soldiers at the end of the hall there arose something like a murmur of applause.
“Waste no time in listening to his insolence,” said the president of the Court. “Clerk, set out the case.”
Then a black-robed man who sat beneath the judges rose and read the charge to me from a parchment. It was brief and to the effect that I, Michael, formerly known as Olaf or Olaf Red-Sword, a Northman in the service of the Empress Irene, a general in her armies, a chamberlain and Master of the Palace, had conspired against the Empress, had killed her servants, had detained her person, threatening to murder her; had made war upon her troops and slain some hundreds of them by the help of other Northmen, and wounded many more.
I was asked what I pleaded to this charge, and replied,
“I am not guilty.”
Then witnesses were called. The first of these was the fourth man whom Irene had set upon me, who alone escaped with a wound behind. This fellow, having been carried into court, for he could not walk, leaned over a bar, for he could not sit down, and told his story. When he had finished I was allowed to examine him.
“Why did the Empress order you and your companions to attack me?” I asked.
“I think because she saw you kiss the Egyptian lady, General,” at which answer many laughed.
“You tried to kill me, did you not?”
“Yes, General, for the Empress ordered us so to do.”
“Then what happened?”
“You killed or cut down three of us one after the other, General, being too skilful and strong for us. As I turned to fly, me you wounded here,” and, dragging himself round with difficulty, he showed how my sword had fallen on a part where no soldier should receive a wound. At this sight those in the Court laughed again.
“Did I provoke you in any way before you attacked me?”
“No, indeed, General. It was the Empress you provoked by kissing the beautiful Egyptian lady. At least, I think so, since every time you kissed each other she seemed to become more mad, and at last ordered us to kill both of you.”