But still the wretch writhed before the draped form and howled for mercy.
“Messenger,” said the high-priest, “with thee the power goes. Declare thy decree.”
Then our guide lifted her hand slowly and pointed to the fire. At once the man turned ghastly white, groaned and fell back, as I think, quite dead, slain by his own terror.
Now many of the people had fled, but some remained, and to these the priest called in cold tones, bidding them approach. They obeyed, creeping towards him.
“Look,” he said, pointing to the man, “look and tremble at the justice of Hes the Mother. Aye, and be sure that as it is with him, so shall it be with every one of you who dares to defy her and to practise sorcery and murder. Lift up that dead dog who was your chief.”
Some of them crept forward and did his bidding.
“Now, cast him into the bed which he had made ready for his victims.”
Staggering forward to the edge of the flaming pit, they obeyed, and the great body fell with a crash amongst the burning boughs and vanished there.
“Listen, you people,” said the priest, “and learn that this man deserved his dreadful doom. Know you why he purposed to kill that woman whom the strangers saved? Because his familiar marked her as a witch, you think. I tell you it was not so. It was because she being fair, he would have taken her from her husband, as he had taken many another, and she refused him. But the Eye saw, the Voice spoke, and the Messenger did judgment. He is caught in his own snare, and so shall you be, every one of you who dares to think evil in his heart or to do it with his hands.
“Such is the just decree of the Hesea, spoken by her from her throne amidst the fires of the Mountain.”
BENEATH THE SHADOWING WINGS
One by one the terrified tribesmen crept away. When the last of them were gone the priest advanced to Leo and saluted him by placing his hand upon his forehead.
“Lord,” he said, in the same corrupt Grecian dialect which was used by the courtiers of Kaloon, “I will not ask if you are hurt, since from the moment that you entered the sacred river and set foot within this land you and your companion were protected by a power invisible and could not be harmed by man or spirit, however great may have seemed your danger. Yet vile hands have been laid upon you, and this is the command of the Mother whom I serve, that, if you desire it, every one of those men who touched you shall die before your eyes. Say, is that your will?”
“Nay,” answered Leo; “they were mad and blind, let no blood be shed for us. All we ask of you, friend—but, how are you called?”
“Name me Oros,” he answered.
“Friend Oros—a good title for one who dwells upon the Mountain—all we ask is food and shelter, and to be led swiftly into the presence of her whom you name Mother, that Oracle whose wisdom we have travelled far to seek.”