“Oh! God is great!” she gasped. “God is very great, and to Him I give thanks. But hearken to the end of the tale. I awoke from my swoon and heard noise without, and above it the Northmen’s cry of victory. They had scaled the palace walls or broken in the gates—as yet I know not which—they were on the terrace driving the Greek guards before them. I ran to the window-place and there below me saw Jodd. I screamed till he heard me.
“‘Save me if you would save Olaf,’ I cried. ‘I am prisoned here.’
“They brought one of their scaling ladders and drew me through the window. I told them all I knew. They caught a palace eunuch and beat him till he promised to lead us to this hall. He led, but in the labyrinth of passages fell down senseless, for they had struck him too hard. We knew not which way to turn, till suddenly we heard your voice and ran towards it.
“That is all the story, Olaf.”
OLAF GIVES JUDGMENT
As Martina finished speaking I heard the sound of tramping guards and of a woman’s dress upon the pavement. Then a voice, that of Irene, spoke, and though her words were quiet I caught in them the tremble of smothered rage.
“Be pleased to tell me, Captain Jodd,” she said, “what is happening in my palace, and why I, the Empress, am haled from my apartment hither by soldiers under your command?”
“Lady,” answered Jodd, “you are mistaken. Yesterday you were an empress, to-day you are—well, whatever your son, the Emperor, chooses to name you. As to what has been and is happening in this palace, I scarcely know where to begin the tale. First of all your general and chamberlain Olaf—in case you should not recognise him, I mean that blind man who stands yonder—was being tricked to death by certain servants of yours who called themselves judges, and who stated that they were acting by your orders.”
“Confront me with them,” said Irene, “that I may prove to you that they lie.”
“Certainly. Ho! you, bring the lady Irene here. Now hold her over that hole. Nay, struggle not, lady, lest you should slip from their hands. Look down steadily, and you will see by the light that flows in from the cave beneath, certain heaps lying on the rocks round which the rising waters seethe. There are your judges whom you say you wish to meet. If you desire to ask them any questions, we can satisfy your will. Nay, why should you turn pale at the mere sight of the place that you thought good enough to be the bed of a faithful soldier of your own, one high in your service, whom it has pleased you to blind? Why did it please you to blind him, Lady?”
“Who are you that dare to ask me questions?” she replied, gathering up her courage.
“I’ll tell you, Lady. Now that the General Olaf yonder is blinded I am the officer in command of the Northmen, who, until you tried to murder the said General Olaf a while ago, were your faithful guard. I am also, as it chances, the officer in command of this palace, which we took this morning by assault and by arrangement with most of your Greek soldiers, having learned from your confidential lady, Martina, of the vile deed you were about to work on the General Olaf.”