“A gift for you also, Lady Martina. Take this ring from my hand and place it on your own. It seems a small thing, does it not? Yet something lies within its circle. In this city I saw to-day a very beauteous house built by one of your Grecian folk, and behind it lands that a swift horse could scarcely circle twice within an hour, most fruitful lands fed by the waters. That house and those lands are yours, together with rule over all who dwell upon them. There you may live content with whomever you may please, even if he be a Christian, free of tax or tribute, provided only that neither you nor he shall plot against my power. Now, to all three of you farewell, perchance for ever, unless some of us should meet again in war. General Olaf, your ship lies in the harbour; use it when you will. I pray that you will think kindly of Harun-al-Rashid, as he does of you, Olaf Red-Sword. Come, let us leave these two. Lady Martina, I pray you to be my guest this night.”
So they all went, leaving Heliodore and myself alone in the great room, yes, alone at last and safe.
Years had gone by, I know not how many, but only that much had happened in them. For a while Irene and young Constantine were joint rulers of the Empire. Then they quarrelled again, and Constantine, afraid of treachery, fled with his friends in a ship after an attempt had been made to seize his person. He purposed to join his legions in Asia, or so it was said, and make war upon his mother. But those friends of his upon the ship were traitors, who, fearing Irene’s vengeance or perhaps his own, since she threatened to tell him all the truth concerning them, seized Constantine and delivered him up to Irene. She, the mother who bore him, caused him to be taken to the purple Porphyry Chamber in the palace, that chamber in which, as the first-born of an emperor, he saw the light, and there robbed him of light for ever.
Yes, Stauracius and his butchers blinded Constantine as I had been blinded. Only it was told that they drove their knives deeper so that he died. But others say that he lived on, a prisoner, unknown, unheeded, as those uncles of his whom he had blinded and who once were in my charge had lived, till in Greece the assassin’s daggers found their hearts. If so, oh! what a fate was his.
Afterwards for five years Irene reigned alone in glory, while Stauracius, my god-father, and his brother eunuch, Aetius, strove against each other to be first Minister of the Crown. Aetius won, and, not content with all he had, plotted that his relative Nicetas, who held the place of Captain of the Guard, which once I filled, should be named successor to the throne. Then at last the nobles rebelled, and, electing one of their number, Nicephorus, as emperor, seized Irene in her private house of Eleutherius, where she lay sick, and crowned Nicephorus in St. Sophia. Next day he visited Irene, when, fearing the worst and broken by illness, she bought a promise of safety by revealing to him all her hoarded treasure.