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- The Wanderer's Necklace - 30/53 -
necklace. When I was a child, Olaf, it was taken from the embalmed body of some royal woman, who, by tradition, was of my own race, yes, and by records of which my father can tell you, for he is among the last who can still read the writing of the old Egyptians. Moreover, she was very like me, Olaf, for I remember her well as she lay in her coffin, preserved by arts which the Egyptians had. She was young, not much older than I am to-day, and her story tells that she died in giving birth to a son, who grew up a strong and vigorous man, and although he was but half royal, founded a new dynasty in Egypt and became my forefather. This necklace lay upon her breast, and beneath it a writing on papyrus, which said that when the half of it which was lost should be joined again to that half, then those who had worn them would meet once more as mortals. Now the two halves of the necklace have met, and /we/ have met as God decreed, and it is one and we are one for ever and for ever, let every Empress of the earth do what they will to part us."
"Aye," I answered, embracing her again, "we are one for ever and for ever, though perchance for a while we may be separated from time to time."
VICTORY OR VALHALLA!
A minute later I heard a rustle as of branches being moved by people thrusting their way through them. A choked voice commanded,
"Take him living or dead."
Armed men appeared about us, four of them, and one cried "Yield!"
I sprang up and drew the Wanderer's sword.
"Who orders the General Michael to yield in his own command?" I asked.
"I do," answered the man. "Yield or die!"
Now, thinking that these were robbers or murderers hired by some enemy, I sprang at him, nor was that battle long, for at my first stroke he fell dead. Then the other three set on me. But I wore mail beneath my doublet, as Irene had bade me do, and their swords glanced. Moreover, the old northern rage entered into me, and these easterners were no match for my skill and strength. First one and then another of them went down, whereon the third fled away, taking with him a grizzly wound behind, for I struck him as he fled.
"Now it seems there is an end of that," I gasped to Heliodore, who was crouched upon the seat. "Come, let me take you to your father and summon my guards, ere we meet more of these murderers."
As I spoke a cloaked and hooded woman glided from the shelter of the trees behind and stood before us. She threw back the hood from her head and the moonlight fell upon her face. It was that of the Empress, but oh! so changed by jealous rage that I should scarce have known her. The large eyes seemed to flash fire, the cheeks were white, save where they had been touched with paint, the lips trembled. Twice she tried to speak and failed, but at the third effort words came.
"Nay, all is but begun," she said in a voice that was full of hate. "Know that I have heard your every word. So, traitor, you would tell my secrets to this Egyptian slut and then murder my own servants," and she pointed to the dead and wounded men. "Well, you shall pay for it, both of you, that I swear."
"Is it murder, Augusta," I asked, saluting, "when four assail one man, and, thinking them assassins, he fights for his life and wins the fray?"
"What are four such curs against you? I should have brought a dozen. Yet it was at me you struck. Whate'er they did I ordered them to do."
"Had I known it, Augusta, I would never have drawn sword, who am your officer and obedient to the end."
"Nay, you'd stab me with your tongue, not with your sword," she answered with something like a sob. "You say you are my obedient officer. Well, now we will see. Smite me that bold-faced baggage dead, or smite /me/ dead, I care not which, then fall upon your sword."
"The first I cannot do, Augusta, for it would be murder against one who has done no wrong, and I will not stain my soul with murder."
"Done no wrong! Has she not mocked me, my years, my widowhood, yes, and even my hair, in the pride of her--her youth, me, the Empress of the World?"
Now Heliodore spoke for the first time.
"And has not the Empress of the World called a poor maid of blood as noble as her own by shameful names?" she asked.
"For the second," I went on before Irene could answer, "I cannot do that either, for it would be foul treason as well as murder to lift my sword against your anointed Majesty. But as for the third, as is my duty, that I will do--or rather suffer your servants to do--if it pleases you to repeat the order later when you are calm."
"What!" cried Heliodore, "would you go and leave me here? Then, Olaf, by the gods my forefathers worshipped for ten thousand years, and by the gods I worship, I'll find a means to follow you within an hour. Oh! Empress of the World, there is another world you do not rule, and there we'll call you to account."
Now Irene stared at Heliodore, and Heliodore stared back at her, and the sight was very strange.
"At least you have spirit, girl. But think not that shall save you, for there's no room for both of us on earth."
"If I go it may prove wide enough, Augusta," I broke in.
"Nay, you shall not go, Olaf, at least not yet. My orders are that you do /not/ fall upon your sword. As for this Egyptian witch, well, presently my people will be here; then we will see."
Now I drew Heliodore to the trunk of the great tree which stood near by and set myself in front of her.
"What are you about to do?" asked the Empress.
"I am about to fight your eastern curs until I fall, for no northern man will lift a sword against me, even on your orders, Augusta. When I am down, this lady must play her own part as God shall guide her."
"Have no fear, Olaf," Heliodore said gently, "I wear a dagger."
Scarcely had she spoken when there was a sound of many feet. The man whom I had wounded had run shouting towards the palace, rousing the soldiers, both those on watch and those in their quarters. Now these began to arrive and to gather in the glade before the clump of trees, for some guards who had heard the clash of arms guided them to the place. They were of all races and sundry regiments, Greeks, Byzantines, Bulgars, Armenians, so-called Romans, and with them a number of Britons and northern men.
Seeing the Empress and, near by, myself standing with drawn sword against the tree sheltering the lady Heliodore, also on the ground those whom I had cut down, they halted. One of their officers asked what they must do.
"Kill me that man who has slain my servants, or stay--take him living," screamed the Augusta.
Now among those who had gathered was a certain lieutenant of my own, a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired Norwegian giant of the name of Jodd. This man loved me like a brother, I believe because once it had been my fortune to save his life. Also often I had proved his friend when he was in trouble, for in those days Jodd got drunk at times, and when he was drunk lost money which he could not pay.
Now, when he saw my case, I noted that this Jodd, who, if sober, was no fool at all, although he seemed so slow and stupid, whispered something to a comrade who was with him, whereon the man turned and fled away like an arrow. From the direction in which he went I guessed at once that he was running to the barracks close at hand, where were stationed quite three hundred Northmen, all of whom were under my command.
The soldiers prepared to obey the Augusta's orders, as they were bound to do. They drew their swords and a number of them advanced towards me slowly. Then it was that Jodd, with a few Northmen, moved between them and me, and, saluting the Empress, said in his bad Greek,
"Your pardon, Augusta, but why are we asked to kill our own general?"
"Obey my orders, fellow," she answered.
"Your pardon, Augusta," said the stolid Jodd, "but before we kill our own general, whom you commanded us to obey in all things, we would know why we must kill him. It is a custom of our country that no man shall be killed until he has been heard. General Olaf," and drawing his short sword for the first time, he saluted me in form, "be pleased to explain to us why you are to be killed or taken prisoner."
Now a tumult arose, and a eunuch in the background shouted to the soldiers to obey the Empress's orders, whereon again some of them began to advance.
"If no answer is given to my question," went on Jodd in his slow, bull-like voice, "I fear that others must be killed besides the General Olaf. Ho! Northmen. To me, Northmen! Ho! Britons, to me, Britons! Ho! Saxons, to me, Saxons! Ho! all who are not accursed Greeks. To me all who are not accursed Greeks!"
Now at each cry of Jodd's men leapt forward from the gathering crowd, and, to the number of fifty or more in all, marshalled themselves behind him, those of each nation standing shoulder to shoulder in little groups before me.
"Is my question to be answered?" asked Jodd. "Because, if not, although we be but one against ten, I think that ere the General Olaf is cut down or taken there will be good fighting this night."
Then I spoke, saying,
"Captain Jodd, and comrades, I will answer your question, and if I speak wrongly let the Augusta correct me. This is the trouble. The
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