So speaking, he drank off yet another cup of wine and reeled from the room.
The keeper, at a sign from Irene, lifted up the body of the dead ape and also left the chamber, weeping as he went, for he had loved this beast.
OLAF OFFERS HIS SWORD
The Emperor had gone, drunk; the ape had gone, dead; and its keeper had gone, weeping. Irene and I alone were left in that beautiful place with the wine-stained table on which stood the jar of poisoned figs and the bent golden cup lying on the marble floor.
She sat upon the couch, looking at me with a kind of amazement in her eyes, and I stood before her at attention, as does a soldier on duty.
“I wonder why he did not send for one of my servants to eat those figs—Stauracius, for instance,” she mused, adding with a little laugh, “Well, if he had, there are some whom I could have spared better than that poor ape, which at times I used to feed. It was an honest creature, that ape; the only creature in the palace that would not rub its head in the dust before the Augusta. Ah! now I remember, it always hated Constantine, for when he was a child he used to tease it with a stick, getting beyond the length of its chain and striking it. But one day, as he passed too near, it caught him and buffeted him on the cheek and tore out some of his hair. He wanted to kill it then, but I forbade him. Yet he has never forgotten it, he who never does forget anything he hates, and that is why he sent for the poor beast.”
“The Augusta will remember that the Augustus did not know that the figs were poisoned.”
“The Augusta is sure that the Augustus knew well enough that those figs were poisoned, at any rate from the moment that I dashed one of them from your lips, Olaf. Well, I have made a bitterer enemy than before, that’s all. They say that by Nature’s rule mother and child must love each other, but it is a lie. I tell you it’s a lie. From the time he was tiny I hated that boy, though not half as much as he has hated me. You are thinking to yourself that this is because our ambitions clash like meeting swords, and that from them spring these fires of hate. It is not so. The hate is native to our hearts, and will only end when one of us lies dead at the other’s hand.”
“Terrible words, Augusta.”
“Yes, but true. Truth is always terrible—in Byzantium. Olaf, take those drugged fruits and set them in the drawer of yonder table; lock it and guard the key, lest they should poison other honest animals.”
I obeyed and returned to my station.
She looked at me and said: