“No living thing was to be seen in the valley, except a great night bird flitting to its haunt. I was parched with thirst, and knowing that in this dry place I soon must perish, I glided from rock to rock towards the mouth of the valley, thinking to find some other grave or cranny where I might lie hid till night came again and I could descend to the plain and drink. But, Olaf, before I had gone many steps I discovered fresh food, milk and water laid upon a rock, and though I feared lest they might be poisoned, ate and drank of them. When I knew that they were wholesome I thought that some friend must have set them there to satisfy my wants, though I knew not who the friend could be. Afterwards I learned that this food was an offering to the ghosts of the dead. Among our forefathers in forgotten generations it was, I know, the custom to make such offerings, since in their blindness they believed that the spirts of their beloved needed sustenance as their bodies once had done. Doubtless the memory of the rite still survives; at least, to this day the offerings are made. Indeed, when it was found that they were not made in vain, more and more of them were brought, so that I have lacked nothing.
“Here then I have dwelt for many moons among the dust of men departed, only now and again wandering out at night. Once or twice folk have seen me when I ventured to the plains, and I have been tempted to speak to them and ask their help. But always they fled away, believing me to be the ghost of some bygone queen. Indeed, to speak truth, Olaf, this companionship with spirits, for spirits do dwell in these tombs—I have seen them, I tell you I have seen them—has so worked upon my soul that at times I feel as though I were already of their company. Moreover, I knew that I could not live long. The loneliness was sucking up my life as the dry sand sucks water. Had you not come, Olaf, within some few days or weeks I should have died.”
Now I spoke for the first time, saying,
“And did you wish to die, Heliodore?”
“No. Before the war between Musa and my father, Magas, news came to us from Byzantium that Irene had killed you. All believed it save I, who did not believe.”
“Why not, Heliodore?”
“Because I could not feel that you were dead. Therefore I fought for my life, who otherwise, after we were conquered and ruined and my father was slain fighting nobly, should have stabbed, not that eunuch, but myself. Then later, in this tomb, I came to know that you were not dead. The other lost ones I could feel about me from time to time, but you never, you who would have been the first to seek me when my soul was open to such whisperings. So I lived on when all else would have died, because hope burned in me like a lamp unquenchable. And at last you came! Oh! at last you came!”
THE CALIPH HARUN