“How did you find me, Martina, and in time?”
“Oh! Olaf, it is a terrible story. Almost I swoon again to think of it. It was thus: Irene discovered that I had visited you in your cell; she grew suspicious of me. This morning I was seized and ordered to surrender the signet; but first I had heard that they planned your death to-day, not a sentence of banishment and murder afar off, as I told you. My last act before I was taken was to dispatch a trusted messenger to Jodd and the Northmen, telling them that if they would save you alive they must strike at once, and not to-night, as had been arranged. Within thirty seconds after he had left my side the eunuchs had me and took me to my chamber, where they barred me in. A while later the Augusta came raging like a lioness. She accused me of treachery, and when I denied it struck me in the face. Look, here are the marks of the jewels on her hands. Oh, alas! what said I? You cannot see. She had learned that the lady Heliodore had escaped her, and that I had some hand in her escape. She vowed that I, your god-mother, was your lover, and as this is a crime against the Church, promised me that after other sufferings I should be burned alive in the Hippodrome before all the people. Lastly she said this, ’Know that your Olaf of whom you are so fond dies within an hour and thus: He will be taken to the Hall of the Pit and there given leave to walk till the judges come. Being blind, you may guess where he will walk. Before this door is unlocked again I tell you he’ll be but a heap of splintered bones. Aye, you may start and weep; but save your tears for yourself,’ and she called me a foul name. ’I have got you fast at length, you night-prowling cat, and God Himself cannot give you strength to stretch out your hand and guide this accursed Olaf from the edge of the Pit of Death.’
“‘God alone knows what He can do, Augusta,’ I answered, for the words seemed to be put into my lips.
“Then she cursed and struck me again, and so left me barred in my chamber.
“When she had gone I flung myself upon my knees and prayed to God to save you, Olaf, since I was helpless; prayed as I had never prayed before. Praying thus, I think that I fell into a swoon, for my agony was more than I could bear, and in the swoon I dreamed. I dreamed that I stood in this place, where till now I have never been before. I saw the judges, the jailers, and a few others watching from that gallery. I saw you walk along the hall towards the great open pit. Then I seemed to glide to you and take your hand and guide you round the pit. And, Olaf, this happened thrice. Afterwards came a tumult while you were on the very edge of the pit and I held you, not suffering you to stir. Then in rushed the Northmen and I with them. Yes, standing there with you upon the edge of the pit, I saw myself and the Northmen rush into the hall.”
“Martina,” I whispered, “a hand that seemed to be a woman’s did guide me thrice round the edge of the pit, and did hold me almost until you and the Northmen rushed in.”