Now, too, I remembered how Barnabas had said the Augusta commanded that this Prince Magas and his daughter should come to the palace as her guests. Well, the place was vast, a town in itself, and likely enough I should not see them there. Yet I longed to see one of them as never I had longed for anything before. I was sure, also, that no fears could keep us apart, even though I knew the road before me to be full of dangers and of trials, knew that I went with my life in my hand, the life of which I had been quite careless, but that now had become so dear to me. For did not the world hold another to whom it belonged?
The night passed away. I rose and went about my morning duties. Scarcely were these finished when a messenger summoned me to the presence of the Augusta. I followed him with a sinking heart, certain that those woes which I had foreseen were about to begin. Also, now there was no woman in the whole world whom I less wished to see than Irene, Empress of the Earth.
I was led to the small audience chamber, whereof I have already spoken, that on the floor of which was the mosaic of the goddess Venus making pretence to kill her lover. There I found the Augusta seated in a chair of State, the minister Stauracius, my god-father, who glowered at me as I entered, some secretaries, and Martina, my god-mother, who was the lady in attendance.
I saluted the Empress, who bowed graciously and said:
“General Olaf—nay, I forgot, General Michael, your god-father Stauracius has something to say which I trust will please you as much as it does him and me. Speak, Stauracius.”
“Beloved god-son,” began Stauracius, in a voice of sullen rage, “it has pleased the Augusta to appoint you——”
“On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius,” interrupted the Empress.
“——On the prayer and advice of me, Stauracius,” repeated the eunuch like a talking bird, “to be one of her chamberlains and Master of the Palace, at a salary of” (I forget the sum, but it was a great one) “with all the power and perquisites to that office pertaining, in reward of the services which you have rendered to her and the Empire. Thank the Empress for her gracious favour.”
“Nay,” interrupted Irene again, “thank your beloved god-father Stauracius, who has given me no peace until I offered you this preferment which has suddenly become vacant, Stauracius alone knows why, for I do not. Oh! you were wise, Olaf—I mean Michael—to choose Stauracius for a god-father, though I warn him,” she added archly, “that in his natural love he must not push you forward too fast lest others should begin to show that jealousy which is a stranger to his noble nature. Come hither, Michael, and kiss my hand upon your appointment.”
So I advanced and, kneeling, kissed the Augusta’s hand, according to custom on such occasions, noting, as doubtless Stauracius did also, that she pressed it hard enough against my lips. Then I rose and said: