Of course I knew at once that this was but another manifestation of Ayesha’s magic powers, which some whim of hers had drawn us from our beds to witness. Yet I confess that I felt frightened. Even the boldest of men, however free from superstition, might be excused should their nerve fail them if, when standing in a churchyard at midnight, suddenly on every side they saw the dead arising from their graves. Also our surroundings were wilder and more eerie than those of any civilized burying-place.
“What new devilment of thine is this?” cried Leo in a scared and angry voice. But Ayesha made no answer. I heard a noise behind me and looked round. The skeletons were springing upon our body-guard, who for their part, poor men, paralysed with terror, had thrown down their weapons and fallen, some of them, to their knees. Now the ghosts began to stab at them with their phantom spears, and I saw that beneath the blows they rolled over. The veiled figure above me pointed with her hand at Leo and said—“Seize him, but I charge you, harm him not.”
I knew the voice; it was that of Atene!
Then too late I understood the trap into which we had fallen.
“Treachery!” I began to cry, and before the word was out of my lips, a particularly able-bodied skeleton silenced me with a violent blow upon the head. But though I could not speak, my senses still stayed with me for a little. I saw Leo fighting furiously with a number of men who strove to pull him down, so furiously, indeed that his frightful efforts caused the blood to gush out of his mouth from some burst vessel in the lungs.
Then sight and hearing failed me, and thinking that this was death, I fell and remembered no more.
Why I was not killed outright I do not know, unless in their hurry the disguised soldiers thought me already dead, or perhaps that my life was to be spared also. At least, beyond the knock upon the head I received no injury.
THE LOOSING OF THE POWERS
When I came to myself again, it was daylight. I saw the calm, gentle face of Qros bending over me as he poured some strong fluid down my throat that seemed to shoot through all my body, and melt a curtain in my mind. I saw also that beside him stood Ayesha.
“Speak, man, speak,” she said in a terrible voice. “What hast chanced here? Thou livest, then where is my lord? Where hast thou hid my lord? Tell me—or die.”
It was the vision that I saw when my senses left me in the snow of the avalanche, fulfilled to the last detail!
“Atene has taken him,” I answered.
“Atene has taken him and thou art left alive?”
“Do not be wrath with me,” I answered, “it is no fault of mine. Little wonder we were deceived after thou hadst said that thou mightest summon us ere dawn.”
Then as briefly as I could I told the story.