Thus fell Irene, the mighty Empress of the Eastern Empire!
Now during all these years Heliodore and I were left in peace at Lesbos. I was not deposed from my governorship of that isle, which prospered greatly under my rule. Even Irene’s estates, which Constantine had given me, were not taken away. At the appointed times I remitted the tribute due, yes, and added to the sum, and received back the official acknowledgment signed by the Empress, and with it the official thanks. But with these never came either letter or message. Yet it is evident she knew that I was married, for to Heliodore did come a message, and with it a gift. The gift was that necklace and those other ornaments which Irene had caused to be made in an exact likeness of the string of golden shells separated by emerald beetles, one half of which I had taken from the grave of the Wanderer at Aar and the other half of which was worn by Heliodore.
So much of the gift. The message was that she who owned the necklace might wish to have the rest of the set. To it were added the words that a certain general had been wrong when he prophesied that the wearing of this necklace by any woman save one would bring ill fortune to the wearer, since from the day it hung about Irene’s neck even that which seemed to be bad fortune had turned to good. Thus she had escaped “the most evil thing in the world, namely, another husband,” and had become the first woman in the world.
These words, which were written on a piece of sheepskin, sealed up, and addressed to the Lady Heliodore, but unsigned, I thought of the most evil omen, since boastfulness always seems to be hateful to the Power that decrees our fates. So, indeed, they proved to be.
On a certain day in early summer—it was the anniversary of my marriage in Egypt—Heliodore and I had dined with but two guests. Those guests were Jodd, the great Northman, my lieutenant, and his wife, Martina, for within a year of our return to Lesbos Jodd and Martina had married. It comes back to me that there was trouble about the business, but that when Jodd gave out that either she must marry him or that he would sail back to his northern land, bidding good-bye to us all for ever, Martina gave way. I think that Heliodore managed the matter in some fashion of her own after the birth of our first-born son; how, I held it best never to inquire. At least, it was managed, and the marriage turned out well enough in the end, although at first Martina was moody at times and somewhat sharp of tongue with Jodd. Then they had a baby which died, and this dead child drew them closer together than it might have done had it lived. At any rate, from that time forward Martina grew more gentle with Jodd, and when other children were born they seemed happy together.
Well, we four had dined, and it comes to me that our talk turned upon the Caliph Harun and his wonderful goodness to us, whom as Christians he was bound to despise and hate. Heliodore told me then for the first time how she was glad he had made it clear so soon that what she drank from the gold cup which now stood upon our table was no more than rose water.