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- Queen Sheba's Ring - 54/54 -

"Not so," I answered; "but in place of that promise I ask of you three things."

"Name them," said Barung.

"They are these: First, that you give me a good horse and five days' food, and let me go where I will. Secondly, that if he still lives you advance one Japhet, a certain Mountaineer who befriended me and brought others to do likewise, to a place of honour under you. Thirdly, that you spare the rest of the Abati people."

"You shall go whither you desire, and I think I know where you will go," answered Barung. "Certain spies of mine last night saw four white men riding on fine camels towards Egypt, and reported it to me as I led my army to the secret pass that Harmac showed me, which you Abati could never find. But I said, 'Let them go; it is right that brave men who have been the mock of the Abati should be allowed their freedom.' Yes, I said this, although one of them was my daughter's husband, or near to it. But she will have no more of him who fled to his father rather than with her, so it was best that he should go also, since, if I brought him back it must be to his death."

"Yes," I answered boldly, "I go after the Western men; I who have done with these Abati. I wish to see new lands."

"And find an old love who thinks ill of you just now," he said, stroking his beard. "Well, no wonder, for here has been a marriage feast. Say, what were you about to do, O Child of Kings? Take the fat Joshua to your breast?"

"Nay, Barung, I was about to take /this/ husband to my breast," and I showed him the knife that was hidden in my marriage robe.

"No," he said, smiling, "I think the knife was for Joshua first. Still, you are a brave woman who could save the life of him you love at the cost of your own. Yet, bethink you, Child of Kings, for many a generation your mothers have been queens, and under me you may still remain a queen. How will one whose blood has ruled so long endure to serve a Western man in a strange land?"

"That is what I go to find out, Barung, and if I cannot endure, then I shall come back again, though not to rule the Abati, of whom I wash my hands for ever. Yet, Barung, my heart tells me I shall endure."

"The Child of Kings has spoken," he said, bowing to me. "My best horse awaits her, and five of my bravest guards shall ride with her to keep her safe till she sights the camp of the Western men. I say happy is he of them who was born to wear the sweet-scented Bud of the Rose upon his bosom. For the rest, the man Japhet is in my hands. He yielded himself to me who would not fight for his own people because of what they had done to his friends, the white men. Lastly, already I have given orders that the slaying should cease, since I need the Abati to be my slaves, they who are cowards, but cunning in many arts. Only one more man shall die," he added sternly, "and that is Joshua, who would have taken me by a trick in the mouth of the pass. So plead not for him, for by the head of Harmac it is in vain."

Now hearing this I did not plead, fearing lest I should anger Barung, and but waste my breath.

At daybreak I started on the horse, having with me the five Fung captains. As we crossed the marketplace I met those that remained alive of the Abati, being driven in hordes like beasts, to hear their doom. Among them was Prince Joshua, my uncle, whom a man led by a rope about his neck, while another man thrust him forward from behind, since Joshua knew that he went to his death and the road was one which he did not wish to travel. He saw me, and cast himself down upon the ground, crying to me to save him. I told him that I could not, though it is the truth, I swear it before God, that, notwithstanding all the evil he had worked toward me, toward Oliver my lord, and his companions, bringing to his end that gallant man who died to protect me, I would still have saved him if I could. But I could not, for although I tried once more, Barung would not listen. So I answered:

"Plead, O Joshua, with him who has the power in Mur to-day, for I have none. You have fashioned your own fate, and must travel the road you chose."

"What road do you ride, mounted on a horse of the plains, Maqueda? Oh! what need is there for me to ask? You go to see that accursed Gentile whom I would I had killed by inches, as I would that I could kill you."

Then calling me by evil names, Joshua sprang at me as though to strike me down, but he who held the rope about his neck jerked him backward, so that he fell and I saw his face no more.

But oh! it was sad, that journey across the great square, for the captive Abati by hundreds--men, women, and children together--with tears and lamentations cried to me to preserve them from death or slavery at the hands of the Fung. But I answered:

"Your sins against me and the brave foreign men who fought so well for you I forgive, but search your hearts, O Abati, and say if you can forgive yourselves? If you had listened to me and to those whom I called in to help us, you might have beaten back the Fung, and remained free for ever. But you were cowards; you would not learn to bear arms like men, you would not even watch your mountain walls, and soon or late the people who refuse to be ready to fight must fall and become the servants of those who are ready."

And now, my Oliver, I have no more to write, save that I am glad to have endured so many things, and thereby win the joy that is mine to-day. Not yet have I, Maqueda, wished to reign again in Mur, who have found another throne.

Queen Sheba's Ring - 54/54

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