My sword was at my side. Drawing it, with a blow I cut the rope and caught him in my arms. Already he was swooning, but I poured water over his face, and, as his neck remained unbroken, he recovered his breath and senses.
“What play is this, Prince?” I asked.
“One that you taught me, General,” he answered painfully. “You said that death could be found. I went to seek him, but at the last I feared. Oh! I tell you that when I thrust away that stool, my blind eyes were opened, and I saw the fires of hell and the hands of devils grasping at my soul to plunge it into them. Blessings be on you who have saved me from those fires,” and seizing my hand he kissed it.
“Do not thank me,” I said, “but thank the God you worship, for I think that He must have put it into my mind to visit you to-night. Now swear to me by that God that you will attempt such a deed no more, for if you will not swear then you must be fettered.”
Then he swore so fervently by his Christ that I was sure he would never break the oath. After he had sworn I told him how I could not rest because of the strange fears which oppressed me.
“Oh!” he said, “without doubt it was God who sent His angel to you that I might be saved from the most dreadful of all sins. Without doubt it was God, Who knows you, although you do not know Him.”
After this he fell upon his knees, and, having untied the cut rope from the window bars, I left him.
Now I tell this story because it has to do with my own, for it was these words of the Prince that first turned me to the study of the Christian Faith. Indeed, had they never been spoken, I believe that I should have lived and died a heathen man. Hitherto I had judged of that Faith by the works of those who practised it in Constantinople, and found it wanting. Now, however, I was sure that some Power from above us had guided me to the chamber of Nicephorus in time to save his life, me, who, had he died, in a sense would have been guilty of his blood. For had he not been driven to the deed by my bitter, mocking words? It may be said that this would have mattered little; that he might as well have died by his own hand as be taken to Athens, there to perish with his brethren, whether naturally or by murder I do not know. But who can judge of such secret things? Without doubt the sufferings of Nicephorus had a purpose, as have all our sufferings. He was kept alive for reasons known to his Maker though not to man.
Here I will add that of this unhappy Caesar and his brethren I remember little more. Dimly I seem to recollect that during my period of office some attack was made upon the prison by those who would have put the prince to death, but that I discovered the plot through the jailer who had introduced the poisoned figs, and defeated it with ease, thereby gaining much credit with Irene and her ministers. If so, of this plot history says nothing. All it tells of these princes is that afterwards a mob haled them to the Cathedral of St. Sophia and there proclaimed Nicephorus emperor. But they were taken again, and at last shipped to Athens, where they vanished from the sight of men.