“So it was you who betrayed me, Martina,” gasped Irene; “and I had you in my power. Oh! I had you in my power!”
“I did not betray you, Augusta. I saved my god-son yonder from torture and butchery, as by my oath I was bound to do,” answered Martina.
“Have done with this talk of betrayals,” went on Jodd, “for who can betray a devil? Now, Lady, with your State quarrels we have nothing to do. You can settle them presently with your son, that is, if you still live. But with this matter of Olaf we have much to do, and we will settle that at once. The first part of the business we all know, so let us get to the next. By whose order were you blinded, General Olaf?”
“By that of the Augusta,” I answered.
“For what reason, General Olaf?”
“For one that I will not state,” I answered.
“Good. You were blinded by the Augusta for a reason you will not state, but which is well known to all of us. Now, we have a law in the North which says that an eye should be given for an eye and a life for a life. Would it not then be right, comrades, that this woman should be blinded also?”
“What!” screamed Irene, “blinded! I blinded! I, the Empress!”
“Tell me, Lady, are the eyes of one who was an Empress different from other eyes? Why should you complain of that darkness into which you were so ready to plunge one better than yourself. Still, Olaf shall judge. Is it your will, General, that we blind this woman who put out your eyes and afterwards tried to murder you?”
Now, I felt that all in that place were watching me and hanging on the words that I should speak, so intently that they never heard others entering it, as I did. For a while I paused, for why should not Irene suffer a little of that agony of suspense which she had inflicted upon me and others?
Then I said, “See what I have lost, friends, through no grave fault of my own. I was in the way of greatness. I was a soldier whom you trusted and liked well, one of unstained honour and of unstained name. Also I loved a woman, by whom I was beloved and whom I hoped to make my wife. And now what am I? My trade is gone, for how can a maimed man lead in war, or even do the meanest service of the camp? The rest of my days, should any be granted to me, must be spent in darkness blacker than that of midnight. I must live on charity. When the little store I have is spent, for I have taken no bribe and heaped up no riches, how can I earn a living? The woman whom I love has been carried away, after this Empress tried thrice to murder her. Whether I shall ever find her again in this world I know not, for she has gone to a far country that is full of enemies to Christian men. Nor do I know whether she would be willing to take one who is blind and beggared for a husband, though I think this may be so.”
“Shame on her if she does not,” muttered Martina as I paused.
“Well, friends, that is my case,” I went on; “let the Augusta deny it if she can.”