At the altar waited the Patriarch in his splendid robes, attended by many bishops and priests, among them Barnabas of Egypt. The service began, I and some other converts standing together near to the altar rail. The details of it do not return to me. Sweet voices sang, censers gave forth their incense, banners waved, and images of the saints, standing everywhere, smiled upon us fixedly. Some of us were baptised, and some who had already been baptised were received publicly into the fellowship of the Church, I among them. My god-father, Stauracius, a deacon prompting him, and my god-mother, Martina, spoke certain words on my behalf, and I also spoke certain words which I had learned.
The splendid Patriarch, a sour-faced man with a slight squint, gave me his especial blessing. The Bishop Barnabas, upon whom, as I noted, the Patriarch was always careful to turn his back, offered up a prayer. My god-father and god-mother embraced me, Stauracius smacking the air at a distance, for which I was grateful, and Martina touching me gently with her lips upon the brow. The Empress smiled upon me and, as I passed her, patted me on the shoulder. Then the Sacrament was celebrated, whereof the Empress partook first; next we converts, with our god-parents, and afterwards a number of the congregation.
It was over at last. The Augusta and her attendants marched down the cathedral towards the great western doors, priests followed, and, among them, we converts, whom the people applauded openly.
Looking to right and left of me, for I was weary of keeping my gaze fixed upon the floor, presently I caught sight of a face whilst as yet it was far away. It seemed to draw me, I knew not why. The face was that of a woman. She stood by an old and stately-looking man with a white beard, the last of a line of worshippers next to the aisle along which the procession passed, and I saw that she was young and fair.
Down the long, resounding aisle the procession marched slowly. Now I was nearer to the face, and perceived that it was lovely as some rich-hued flower. The large eyes were dark and soft as a deer’s. The complexion, too, was somewhat dark, as though the sun had kissed it. The lips were red and curving, and about them played a little smile that was full of mystery as the eyes were full of thought and tenderness. The figure was delicate and rounded, but not so very tall. All these things and others I noted, yet it was not by them that I was drawn and held, but rather because I knew this lady.
She was the woman of whom, years ago, I had dreamed on the night on which I broke into the Wanderer’s tomb at Aar!
Never for one moment did I doubt me of this truth. I was sure. I was sure. It did not even need, while she turned to whisper something to her companion, that the cloak she wore should open a little, revealing on her breast a necklace of emerald beetles separated by inlaid shells of pale and ancient gold.