“The Augusta shall be obeyed,” I answered, saluting. “May the Augusta return in health and glory and more beautiful than——”
“Iduna the Fair!” she broke in. “Captain, you are dismissed.”
Again I saluted, retreating from the presence backwards and staying to bow at each third step, as was the custom. The process was somewhat long, and as I reached the door I heard her say to Stauracius,
“Hearken, you dog. If ever you dare to break in upon me thus again, you shall lose two things—your office and your head. What! May I not give secret orders to my trusted officer and not be spied upon by you? Now, cease your grovellings and lead in these Persians, as you have been bribed to do.”
Passing through the silk-clad, bejewelled Persians who waited in an antechamber with their slaves and gifts, I gained the great terrace of the palace which looked upon the sea. Here I found Martina leaning on the parapet.
“Have you more of the Augusta’s pearls about you, Olaf?” she asked mockingly, speaking over her shoulder.
“Not I, Martina,” I answered, halting beside her.
“Indeed. I could have sworn otherwise, for they are perfumed, and I seemed to catch their odour. When did you begin to use the royal scent upon that yellow beard of yours, Olaf? If any of us women did so, it would mean blows and exile; but perchance a captain of the guard may be forgiven.”
“I use no scents, girl, as you know well. Yet it is true that these rooms reek of them, and they cling to armour.”
“Yes, and still more to hair. Well, what gift had my mistress for you to-day?”
“A commission to guard certain prisoners, Martina.”
“Ah! Have you read it yet? When you do, I think you’ll find that it names you Governor of the jail, which is a high office, carrying much pay and place. You are in good favour, Olaf, and I hope that when you come to greatness you will not forget Martina. It was I who put it into a certain mind to give you this commission as the only man that could be trusted in the Court.”
“I do not forget a friend, Martina,” I answered.
“That is your reputation, Olaf. Oh! what a road is opening to your feet. Yet I doubt you’ll not walk it, being too honest; or, if you do, that it will lead you—not to glory, but a grave.”
“Mayhap, Martina, and to speak truth, a grave is the only quiet place in Constantinople. Mayhap, too, it hides the only real glory.”
“That’s what we Christians say. It would be strange if you, who are not a Christian, alone should believe and keep the saying. Oh!” She went on with passion, “we are but shams and liars, whom God must hate. Well, I go to make ready for this journey to the Baths.”
“How long do you stay there?” I asked.