Atossa smiled as she said this, and her tears, when she thought of her friends and their sad fate, were quieter, if not less bitter, than before.
A few hours later a messenger arrived from Croesus with news that the innocence of Bartja and his friends had been proved, and that Nitetis was, to all intents and purposes, cleared also.
Kassandane sent at once to the hanging-gardens, with a request that Nitetis would come to her apartments. Atossa, as unbridled in her joy as in her grief, ran to meet her friend’s litter and flew from one of her attendants to the other crying: “They are all innocent; we shall not lose one of them—not one!”
When at last the litter appeared and her loved one, pale as death, within it, she burst into loud sobs, threw her arms round Nitetis as she descended, and covered her with kisses and caresses till she perceived that her friend’s strength was failing, that her knees gave way, and she required a stronger support than Atossa’s girlish strength could give.
The Egyptian girl was carried insensible into the queen-mother’s apartments. When she opened her eyes, her head-more like a marble piece of sculpture than a living head—was resting on the blind queen’s lap, she felt Atossa’s warm kisses on her forehead, and Cambyses, who had obeyed his mother’s call, was standing at her side.
She gazed on this circle, including all she loved best, with anxious, perplexed looks, and at last, recognizing them one by one, passed her hand across her pale fore head as if to remove a veil, smiled at each, and closed her eyes once more. She fancied Isis had sent her a beautiful vision, and wished to hold it fast with all the powers of her mind.
Then Atossa called her by her name, impetuously and lovingly. She opened her eyes again, and again she saw those loving looks that she fancied had only been sent her in a dream. Yes, that was her own Atossa—this her motherly friend, and there stood, not the angry king, but the man she loved. And now his lips opened too, his stern, severe eyes rested on her so beseechingly, and he said: “O Nitetis, awake! you must not—you cannot possibly be guilty!” She moved her head gently with a look of cheerful denial and a happy smile stole across her features, like a breeze of early spring over fresh young roses.
“She is innocent! by Mithras, it is impossible that she can be guilty,” cried the king again, and forgetful of the presence of others, he sank on his knees.
A Persian physician came up and rubbed her forehead with a sweet-scented oil, and Nebenchari approached, muttering spells, felt her pulse, shook his head, and administered a potion from his portable medicine-chest. This restored her to perfect consciousness; she raised herself with difficulty into a sitting posture, returned the loving caresses of her two friends, and then turning to Cambyses, asked: “How could you believe such a thing of me, my King?” There was no reproach in her tone, but deep sadness, and Cambyses answered softly, “Forgive me.”