Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster
by F. Marion Crawford
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Zoroaster raised the heavy curtain of carpet that hung before the low square door, and came and bowed himself before the teacher of his youth and the friend of his manhood. The prophet looked up keenly, and something like a smile crossed his stern features as his eyes rested on the young officer in his magnificent armour; Zoroaster held his helmet in his hand, and his fair hair fell like a glory to his shoulders, mingling with his silky beard upon his breastplate. His dark blue eyes met his master's fearlessly.

"Hail! and live for ever, chosen of the Lord!" he said in salutation. "I bring tidings of great moment and importance. If it be thy pleasure, I will speak; but if not, I will come at another season."

"Sit upon my right hand, Zoroaster, and tell me all that thou hast to tell. Art thou not my beloved son, whom the Lord hath given me to comfort mine old age?"

"I am thy servant and the servant of thine house, my father," answered Zoroaster, seating himself upon a carved chair at a little distance from the prophet.

"Speak, my son,—what tidings hast thou?"

"There is a messenger come in haste from Shushan, bearing tidings and letters. The seven princes have slain Smerdis in his house, and have chosen Darius the son of Gushtasp to be king."

"Praise be to the Lord who hath chosen a just man!" exclaimed the prophet devoutly. "So may good come out of evil, and salvation by the shedding of blood."

"Even so, my master," answered Zoroaster. "It is also written that Darius, may he live for ever, will establish himself very surely upon the throne of the Medes and Persians. There are letters by the hand of the same messenger, sealed with the signet of the Great King, wherein I am bidden to bring the kinsfolk of Jehoiakim, who was king over Judah, to Shushan without delay, that the Great King may do them honour as is meet and right; but what that honour may be that he would do to them, I know not."

"What is this that thou sayest?" asked Daniel, starting forward from his reclining position, and fixing his dark eyes on Zoroaster. "Will the king take away from me the children of my old age? Art not thou as my son? And is not Nehushta as my daughter? As for the rest, I care not if they go. But Nehushta is as the apple of my eye! She is as a fair flower growing in the desert of my years! What is this that the king hath done to me? Whither will he take her from me?"

"Let not my lord be troubled," said Zoroaster, earnestly, for he was moved by the sudden grief of the prophet. "Let not my lord be troubled. It is but for a space, for a few weeks; and thy kinsfolk will be with thee again, and I also."

"A space, a few weeks! What is a space to thee, child, or a week that thou shouldest regard it? But I am old and full of years. It may be, if now thou takest my daughter Nehushta from me, that I shall see her face no more, neither thine, before I go hence and return not. Go to! Thou art young, but I am now nigh unto a hundred years old."

"Nevertheless, if it be the will of the Great King, I must accomplish this thing," answered the young man. "But I will swear by thy head and by mine that there shall no harm happen to the young princess; and if anything happen to her that is evil, may the Lord do so to me and more also. Behold, I have sworn; let not my lord be troubled any more."

But the prophet bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. Aged and childless, Zoroaster and Nehushta were to him children, and he loved them with his whole soul. Moreover, he knew the Persian Court, and he knew that if once they were taken into the whirl and eddy of its intrigue and stirring life, they would not return to Ecbatana; or returning, they would be changed and seem no more the same. He was bitterly grieved and hurt at the thought of such a separation, and in the grand simplicity of his greatness he felt no shame at shedding tears for them. Zoroaster himself, in the pride of his brilliant youth, was overcome with pain at the thought of quitting the sage who had been a father to him for thirty years. He had never been separated from Daniel save for a few months at a time during the wars of Cambyses; at six-and-twenty years of age he had been appointed to the high position of captain of the fortress of Ecbatana; since which time he had enjoyed the closest intercourse with the prophet, his master.

Zoroaster was a soldier by force of circumstances, and he wore his gorgeous arms with matchless grace, but there were two things that, with him, went before his military profession, and completely eclipsed it in importance.

From his earliest youth he had been the pupil of Daniel, who had inspired him with his own love of the mystic lore to which the prophet owed so much of his singular success in the service of the Assyrian and Persian monarchs. The boy's poetical mind, strengthened and developed by the study of the art of reasoning, and of the profound mathematical knowledge of the Chaldean astronomers, easily grasped the highest subjects, and showed from the first a capacity and lucidity that delighted his master. To attain by a life of rigid ascetic practice to the intuitive comprehension of knowledge, to the understanding of natural laws not discernible to the senses alone, and to the merging of the soul and higher intelligence in the one universal and divine essence, were the objects Daniel proposed to his willing pupil. The noble boy, by his very nature, scorned and despised the pleasures of sense, and yearned ever for the realising of an ideal wherein a sublime wisdom of transcendent things should direct a sublime courage in things earthly to the doing of great deeds.

Year after year the young Persian grew up in the splendid surroundings of the court, distinguished before all those of his age for his courage and fearless honesty, for his marvellous beauty, and for his profound understanding of all subjects, great and small, that came within the sphere of his activity; most of all remarkable, perhaps, for the fact that he cared nothing for the society of women, and had never been known to love any woman. He was a favourite with Cyrus; and even Cambyses, steeped in degrading vice, and surrounded by flatterers, panderers, and priests of the Magians, from the time when he began to suspect his brother, the real Smerdis, of designs upon the throne, recognised the exceptional merits and gifts of the young noble, and promoted him to his position in Echatana, at the time when he permitted Daniel to build his great tower in that ancient fortress. The dissipated king may have understood that the presence of such men as Daniel and Zoroaster would be of greater advantage in an outlying district where justice and moderation would have a good effect upon the population, than in his immediate neighbourhood, where the purity and temperance of their lives contrasted too strongly with the degrading spectacle his own vices afforded to the court.

Here, in the splendid retirement of a royal palace, the prophet had given himself up completely to the contemplation of those subjects which, through all his life, had engrossed his leisure time, and of which the knowledge had so directly contributed to his singular career; and in the many hours of leisure which Zoroaster's position allowed him, Daniel sought to bring the intelligence of the soldier-philosopher to the perfection of its final development. Living, as he did, entirely in his tower, save when, at rare intervals, he caused himself to be carried down to the gardens, the prophet knew little of what went on in the palace below, so that he sometimes marvelled that his pupil's attention wandered, and that his language betrayed occasionally a keener interest in his future, and in the possible vicissitudes of his military life, than he had formerly been wont to show.

For a new element had entered into the current of Zoroaster's thoughts. For years he had seen the lovely child Nehushta growing up. As a boy of twenty summers he had rocked her on his knee; later he had taught her and played with her, and seen the little child turn to the slender girl, haughty and royal in her young ways, and dominating her playfellows as a little lioness might rule a herd of tamer creatures; and at last her sixteenth year had brought with it the bloom of early southern womanhood, and Zoroaster, laughing with her among the roses in the gardens, on a summer's day, had felt his heart leap and sink within him, and his own fair cheek grow hot and cold for the ring of her voice and the touch of her soft hand.

He who knew so much of mankind, who had lived so long at the court, and had coldly studied every stage of human nature, where unbridled human nature ever ruled the hour, knew what he felt; and it was as though he had received a sharp wound that thrust him through, body and heart and soul, and cleft his cold pride in two. For days he wandered beneath the pines and the rhododendron trees alone, lamenting for the fabric of mighty philosophy he had built himself, in which no woman was ever to set foot; and which a woman's hand, a woman's eyes had shattered in a day. It seemed as if his whole life were blasted and destroyed, so that he was become even as other men, to suffer love and eat his heart out for a girl's fair word. He would have escaped from meeting the dark young princess again; but one evening, as he stood alone upon the terrace of the gardens, sorrowing for the change in himself, she found him, and there they looked into each other's eyes and saw a new light, and loved each other fiercely from that day, as only the untainted children of godlike races could love. But neither of them dared to tell the prophet, nor to let those of the palace know that they had pledged each other their troth, down there upon the moonlit terrace, behind the myrtles. Instinctively they dreaded lest the knowledge of their love should raise a storm of anger in Daniel's breast at the idea that his chosen philosopher should abandon the paths of mystic learning and reduce himself to the level of common mankind by marriage; and Zoroaster guessed how painful to the true Israelite would be the thought that a daughter and a princess of Judah should be united in wedlock with one who, however noble and true and wise, was, after all, a stranger and an unbeliever. For Zoroaster, while devoting himself heart and soul to the study of Daniel's philosophy, and of the wisdom the latter had acquired from the Chaldeans, had nevertheless firmly maintained his independence of thought. He was not an Israelite, nor would he ever wish to become one; but he was not an idolater nor a Magian, nor a follower of Gomata, the half-Indian Brahmin, who had endeavoured to pass himself off as Smerdis the son of Cyrus.

Either of these causes alone would have sufficed to raise a serious obstacle to the marriage. Together they seemed insurmountable. During the disorder and anarchy that prevailed in the seven months of the reign of Pseudo-Smerdis, it would have been madness to have married, trusting to the favour of the wretched semi-monarch for fortune and advancement; nor could Nehushta have married and maintained her state as a princess of Judah without the consent of Daniel, who was her guardian, and whose influence was paramount in Media, and very great even at court. Zoroaster was therefore driven to conceal his passion as best he could, trusting to the turn of future events for the accomplishment of his dearest wish. In the meanwhile, he and the princess met daily in public, and Zoroaster's position as captain of the fortress gave him numerous opportunities of meeting Nehushta in the solitude of the gardens, which were jealously guarded and set apart exclusively for the use of Nehushta and her household.

But now that the moment had come when it seemed as though a change were to take place in the destinies of the lovers, they felt constrained. Beyond a few simple questions and answers, they had not discussed the matter of the journey when they were together; for Nehushta was so much surprised and delighted at the idea of again seeing the magnificence of the court at Shushan, which she so well remembered from the period of her childhood, that she feared to let Zoroaster see how glad she was to leave Ecbatana, which, but for him, would have been to her little better than a prison. He, on the contrary, thinking that he foresaw an immediate removal of all obstacle and delay through the favor of Darius, was, nevertheless, too gentle and delicate of tact to bring suddenly before Nehushta's mind the prospect of marrying which presented itself so vividly to his own fancy. But he felt no less disturbed in his heart when face to face with the old prophet's sorrow at losing his foster-daughter; and, for the first time in his life, he felt guilty when he reflected that Daniel was grieved at his own departure almost as deeply as on account of Nehushta. He experienced what is so common with persons of cold and even temperament when brought into close relation with more expansive and affectionate natures; he was overcome with the sense that his old master gave him more love and more thought than he could possibly give in return, and that he was therefore ungrateful; and the knowledge he alone possessed, that he surely intended to marry the princess in spite of the prophet, and by the help of the king, added painfully to his mental suffering.

The silence lasted some minutes, till the old man suddenly lifted his head and leaned back among his cushions, gazing at his companion's face.

"Hast thou no sorrow, nor any regret?" he asked sadly.

"Nay, my lord doth me injustice," answered Zoroaster, his brows contracting in his perplexity. "I should be ungrateful if I repented not leaving thee even for the space of a day. But let my lord be comforted; this parting is not for long, and before the flocks come down from Zagros to take shelter from the winter, we will be with thee."

"Swear to me, then, that thou wilt return before the winter," insisted the prophet half-scornfully.

"I cannot swear," answered Zoroaster. "Behold, I am in the hands of the Great King. I cannot swear."

"Say rather that thou art in the hand of the Lord, and that therefore thou canst not swear. For I say thou wilt not return, and I shall see thy face no more. The winter cometh, and the birds of the air fly towards the south, and I am alone in the land of snow and frost; and the spring cometh also, and I am yet alone, and my time is at hand; for thou comest not any more, neither my daughter Nehushta, neither any of my kinsfolk. And behold, I go down to the grave alone."

The yellow light of the hanging lamp above shone upon the old man's eyes, and there was a dull fire in them. His face was drawn and haggard, and every line and furrow traced by the struggles of his hundred years stood out dark and rugged and tremendous in power. Zoroaster shuddered as he looked on him, and, though he would have spoken, he was awed to silence.

"Go forth, my son," cried the prophet in deep tones, and as he spoke he slowly raised his body till he sat rigidly erect, and his wan and ancient fingers were stretched out towards the young soldier. "Go forth and do thy part, for thou art in the hand of the Lord, and some things that thou wilt do shall be good, and some things evil. For thou hast departed from the path of crystal that leadeth among the stars, and thou hast fallen away from the ladder whereby the angels ascend and descend upon the earth, and thou art gone after the love of a woman which endureth not. And for a season thou shalt be led astray, and for a time thou shalt suffer great things; and after a time thou shalt return into the way; and again a time, and thou shalt perish in thine own imaginations, because thou hast not known the darkness from the light, nor the good from the evil. By a woman shalt thou go astray, and from a woman shalt thou return; yet thou shalt perish. But because there is some good in thee, it shall endure, and thy name also, for generations; and though the evil that besetteth thee shall undo thee, yet at the last thy soul shall live."

Zoroaster buried his face in his hands, overcome by the majesty of the mighty prophet and by the terror of his words.

"Rise and go forth, for the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and no man can hinder that thou doest. Thou shalt look upon the sun and shalt delight in him; and again thou shalt look and the light of the air shall be as darkness. Thou shalt boast in thy strength and in thine armour that there is none like thee, and again thou shalt cast thy glory from thee and say, 'This also is vanity.' The king delighteth in thee, and thou shalt stand before the queen in armour of gold and in fine raiment; and the end is near, for the hand of the Lord is upon thee. If the Lord will work great things by thee, what is that to me? Go forth quickly, and rest not by the way, lest the woman tempt thee and thou perish. And as for me, I go also—not with thee, but before thee. See that thou follow after—for I go. Yea, I see even now light in the darkness of the world, and the glory of the triumph of heaven is over me, triumphing greatly in the majesty of light."

Zoroaster looked up and fell to the ground upon his knees in wonder and amazement at Daniel's feet, while his heavy helmet rolled clanging on the marble pavement. The prophet stood erect as a giant oak, stretching his withered hands to heaven, all the mass of his snow-white hair and beard falling about him to his waist. His face was illuminated as from within with a strange light, and his dark eyes turned upward seemed to receive and absorb the brightness of an open heaven. His voice rang again with the strength of youth, and his whole figure was clothed as with the majesty of another world. Again he spoke:

"Behold, the voice of the ages is in me, and the Lord my God hath taken me up. My days are ended; I am taken up and shall no more be cast down. The earth departeth and the glory of the Lord is come which hath no end for ever."

"The Lord cometh—He cometh quickly. In His right hand are the ages, and the days and the nights are under His feet. His ranks of the Cherubim are beside Him, and the armies of the Seraphim are dreadful. The stars of heaven tremble, and the voice of their moaning is as the voice of the uttermost fear. The arch of the outer firmament is shivered like a broken bow, and the curtain of the sky is rent in pieces as a veil in the tempest. The sun and the moon shriek aloud, and the sea crieth horribly before the Lord."

"The nations are extinct as the ashes of a fire that is gone out, and the princes of the earth are no more. He hath bruised the earth in a mortar, and the dust of it is scattered abroad in the heavens. The stars in their might hath He pounded to pieces, and the foundations of the ages to fine powder. There is nothing of them left, and their voices are dead. There are dim shapes in the horror of emptiness."

"But out of the north ariseth a fair glory with brightness, and the breath of the Lord breatheth life into all things. The beam of the dawn is risen, and there shall again be times and seasons, and the Being of the majesty of God is made manifest in form. From the dust of the earth is the earth made again, and of the beams of His glory shall He make new stars."

"Send up the voices of praise, O ye things that are; cry out in exultation with mighty music! Praise the Lord in whom is Life, and in whom all things have Being! Praise Him and glorify Him that is risen with the wings of the morning of heaven; in whose breath the stars breathe, in whose brightness also the firmament is lightened! Praise Him who maketh the wheels of the spheres to run their courses; who maketh the flowers to bloom in the spring, and the little flowers of the field to give forth their sweetness! Praise Him, winter and summer; praise Him, cold and heat! Praise Him, stars of heaven; praise Him, men and women in the earth! Praise and glory and honour be unto the Most High Jehovah, who sitteth upon the Throne for ever, and ever, and ever...."

The prophet's voice rang out with tremendous force and majestic clearness as he uttered the last words. Throwing up his arms to their height, he stood one moment longer, immovable, his face radiantly illuminated with an unearthly glory. One instant he stood there, and then fell back, straight and rigid, to his length upon the cushioned floor—dead!

Zoroaster started to his feet in amazement and horror, and stood staring at the body of his master and friend lying stiff and stark beneath the yellow light of the hanging lamp. Then suddenly he sprang forward and kneeled again beside the pale noble head that looked so grand in death. He took one of the hands and chafed it, he listened for the beating of the heart that beat no more, and sought for the stirring of the least faint breath of lingering life. But he sought in vain; and there, in the upper chamber of the tower, the young warrior fell upon his face and wept alone by the side of the mighty dead.


Thus died Daniel, and for seven days the women sat apart upon the ground and mourned him, while the men embalmed his body and made it ready for burial. They wrapped him in much fine linen and poured out very precious spices and ointments from the store-houses of the palaces. Round about his body they burned frankincense and myrrh and amber, and the gums of the Indian benzoe and of the Persian fir, and great candles of pure wax; for all the seven days the mourners from the city made a great mourning, ceasing not to sing the praises of the prophet and to cry aloud by day and night that the best and the worthiest and the greatest of all men was dead.

Thus they watched and mourned, and sang his great deeds. And in the lower chamber of the tower the women sat upon the floor, with Nehushta in their midst, and sorrowed greatly, fasting and mourning in raiment of sackcloth, and strewing ashes upon the floor and upon themselves. Nehushta's face grew thin and very pale and her lips white in that time, and she let her heavy hair hang neglected about her. Many of the men shaved their heads and went barefooted, and the fortress and the palaces were filled with the sound of weeping and grief. The Hebrews who were there mourned their chief, and the two Levites sat beside the dead man and read long chapters from their scriptures. The Medes mourned their great and just governor, under the Assyrian name of Belteshazzar, given first to Daniel by Nebuchadnezzar; and from all the town the noise of their weeping and mourning came up, like the mighty groan of a nation, to the ears of those that dwelt in the fortress and the palace.

On the eighth day they buried him, with pomp and state, in a tomb in the garden which they had built during the week of mourning. The two Levites and a young Hebrew and Zoroaster himself, clad in sackcloth and barefooted, raised up the prophet's body upon a bier and bore him upon their shoulders down the broad staircase of the tower and out into the garden to his tomb. The mourners went before, many hundreds of Median women with dishevelled hair, rending their dresses of sackcloth and scattering ashes upon their path and upon their heads, crying aloud in wild voices of grief and piercing the air with their screams, till they came to the tomb and stood round about it while the four men laid their master in his great coffin of black marble beneath the pines and the rhododendrons. And the pipers followed after, making shrill and dreadful music that sounded as though some supernatural beings added their voices to the universal wail of woe. And on either side of the body walked the women, the prophet's kinsfolk; but Nehushta walked by Zoroaster, and ever and anon, as the funeral procession wound through the myrtle walks of the deep gardens, her dark and heavy eyes stole a glance sidelong at her strong fair lover. His face was white as death and set sternly before him, and his dishevelled hair and golden beard flowed wildly over the rough coarseness of his long sackcloth garments. But his step never faltered, though he walked barefooted upon the hard gravel, and from the upper chamber of the tower whence they bore the corpse to the very moment when they laid it in the tomb, his face never changed, neither looked he to the right nor to the left. And then, at last, when they had lowered their beloved master with linen bands to his last resting-place, and the women came near with boxes of nard and ambergris and precious ointments, Zoroaster looked long and fixedly at the swathed head, and the tears rolled down his cheeks and dropped upon his beard and upon the marble of the coffin; till at last he turned in silence, and went away through the multitude that parted before him, as pale as the dead and answering no man's greeting, nor even glancing at Nehushta who had stood at his elbow. And he went away and hid himself for the rest of that day.

But in the evening, when the sun was gone down, he came and stood upon the terrace in the darkness, for there was no moon. He wore again his arms, and his purple cloak was about him, for he had his duty to perform in visiting the fortress. The starlight glimmered faintly on his polished helmet and duskily made visible his marble features and his beard. He stood with his back to the pillars of the balustrade, looking towards the myrtles of the garden, for he knew that Nehushta would come to the wonted tryst. He waited long, but at last he heard a step upon the gravel path and the rustle of the myrtles, and presently in the faint light he could see the white skirt of her garment beneath the dark mantle moving swiftly towards him. He sprang forward to meet her and would have taken her in his arms, but she put him back and looked away from him while she walked slowly to the front of the terrace. Even in the gloom of the starlight Zoroaster could see that something had offended her, and a cold weight seemed to fall upon his breast and chilled the rising words of loving greeting.

Zoroaster followed her and laid his hand upon her shoulder. Unresponsive, she allowed it to remain there.

"My beloved," he said at last, trying in vain to look into her averted face, "have you no word for me to-night?" Still she answered nothing. "Has your sorrow made you forget our love?" he murmured close to her ear. She started back from him a little and looked at him. Even in the dusk he could see her eyes flash as she answered:

"Had not your own sorrow so utterly got the mastery over you to-day that you even refused to look at me?" she asked. "In all that long hour when we were so near together, did you give me one glance? You had forgotten me in the extremity of your grief!" she cried, scornfully. "And now that the first torrent of your tears has dwindled to a little stream, you have time to remember me! I thank my lord for the notice he deigns to give his handmaiden, but—I need it not. Well—why are you here?"

Zoroaster stood up to his height and folded his arms deliberately, facing Nehushta, and he spoke calmly, though there was in his voice the dulness of a great and sudden pain. He knew men well enough, but he knew little of women.

"There is a time to be sorrowful and a time for joy," he said. "There is a time for weeping and a time for the glances of love. I did as I did, because when a man has a great grief for one dead and when he desires to show his sorrow in doing honour to one who has been as a father to him, it is not meet that other thoughts should be in his mind; not even those thoughts which are most dear to him and nearest to his heart. Therefore I looked not at you when we were burying our master, and though I love you and in my heart look ever on your face, yet to-day my eyes were turned from you and I saw you not. Wherefore are you angry with me?"

"I am not angry," said Nehushta, "but think you love me little that you turn from me so easily." She looked down, and her face was quite hidden in the dark shadow. Then Zoroaster put his arm about her neck and drew her to him, and, though she resisted a little, in a moment her head rested on his breast. Then she struggled again.

"Nay, let me go, for you do not love me!" she said, half in a whisper. But he held her close.

"Nay, but you shall not go, for I do love you," he answered tenderly.

"Shall not?" cried she, turning in his arms, half fiercely; then her voice sank and thrilled softly. "Say that I will not," she murmured, and her arms went round him and pressed him passionately to her. "Oh, my beloved, why do you ever seem so cold? so cold—when I so love you?"

"I am not cold," he said fondly, "and I love you beyond all power of words to tell. Said we not that you had your way and I mine? Who shall tell us which is the sweeter music when both unite in so grand a harmony? Only doubt not, for doubting is as the drop that falls from the eaves upon the marble corner-stone, and, by ever falling, wears furrows in the stone that the whole ocean could not soften."

"I will not doubt any more," said Nehushta suddenly, "only—can you not love me a little sometimes in the way I do you? It is so sweet,—my way of loving."

"Indeed I will try, for it is very sweet," answered Zoroaster, and, bending down, he kissed her lips. Far off from the tower the melancholy cry of an owl echoed sadly across the gardens, and a cool damp breeze sprang up suddenly, from the east. Nehushta shuddered slightly, and drew her cloak about her.

"Let us walk upon the terrace," she said, "it is cold to-night—is not this the last night here?"

"Yes; to-morrow we must go hence upon our journey. This is the last night."

Nehushta drew closer to her lover as they paced the terrace together, and each wound one arm about the other. For some minutes they walked in silence, each perhaps recalling the many meetings upon that very terrace since the first time their lips met in love under the ivory moonlight of the month Tammuz, more than a year ago. At last Nehushta spoke.

"Know you this new king?" she asked. "I saw him but for a few moments last year. He was a young prince, but he is not fair."

"A young prince with an old man's head upon his shoulders," answered Zoroaster. "He is a year younger than I—but I would not have his battles to fight; nor, if I had, would I have taken Atossa to be my wife."

"Atossa?" repeated Nehushta.

"Yes. The king has already married her—she was the wife of Cambyses, and also of the false Smerdis, the Magian, whom Darius has slain."

"Is she fair? Have I not seen her?" asked Nehushta quickly.

"Indeed, you must have seen her at the court in Shushan, before we came to Ecbatana. She was just married to Cambyses then, but he regarded her little, for he was ever oppressed with wine and feasting. But you were a child then, and were mostly with the women of your house, and you may not have seen her."

"Tell me—had she not blue eyes and yellow hair? Had she not a cruel face—very cold?"

"Aye, it may be that she had a hard look. I remember that her eyes were blue. She was very unhappy; therefore she helped the Magian. It was not she that betrayed him."

"You pitied her even then, did you not?" asked Nehushta.

"Yes—she deserved pity."

"She will have her revenge now. A woman with a face like hers loves revenge."

"Then she will deserve pity no longer," said Zoroaster, with a slight laugh.

"I hate her!" said the princess, between her teeth.

"Hate her? How can you hate a woman you have never more than seen, and she has done you no evil in the world?"

"I am sure I shall hate her," answered Nehushta. "She is not at all beautiful—only cold and white and cruel. How could the Great King be so foolish as to marry her?"

"May he live for ever! He marries whom he pleases. But I pray you, do not begin by hating the queen overmuch."

"Why not? What have I to gain from the queen?" asked the princess. "Am I not of royal blood as well as she?"

"That is true," returned Zoroaster. "Nevertheless there is a prudence for princesses as well as for other people."

"I would not be afraid of the Great King himself with you beside me," said Nehushta proudly. "But I will be prudent to please you. Only—I am sure I shall hate her."

Zoroaster smiled to himself in the dusk, but he would not have had the princess see he was amused.

"It shall be as you please," he said; "we shall soon know how it will end, for we must begin our journey to-morrow."

"It will need three weeks, will it not?" asked Nehushta.

"Yes—it is at least one hundred and fifty farsangs. It would weary you to travel more than seven or eight farsangs in a day's journey—indeed, that is a long distance for any one."

"We shall always be together, shall we not?" asked the princess.

"I will ride beside your litter, my beloved," said Zoroaster. "But it will be very tedious for you, and you will often be tired. The country is very wild in some parts, and we must trust to what we can take with us for our comfort. Do not spare the mules, therefore, but take everything you need."

"Besides, we may not return," said Nehushta thoughtfully.

Her companion was silent. "Do you think we shall ever come back?" she asked presently.

"I have dreamed of coming back," answered Zoroaster; "but I fear it is to be even as you say."

"Why say you that you fear it! Is it not better to live at the court than here in this distant fortress, so shut off from the world that we might almost as well be among the Scythians? Oh, I long for the palace at Shushan! I am sure it will seem tenfold more beautiful now than it did when I was a child."

Zoroaster sighed. In his heart he knew there was to be no returning to Media, and yet he had dreamed of marrying the princess and being made governor of the province, and bringing his wife home to this beautiful land to live out a long life of quiet happiness. But he knew it was not to be; and though he tried hard to shake off the impression, he felt in his inmost self that the words of the dying prophet foretold truly what would happen to him. Only he hoped that there was an escape, and the passion in his heart scorned the idea that in loving Nehushta he was being led astray, or made to abandon the right path.

The cold breeze blew steadily from the east, with a chill dampness in it, sighing wearily among the trees. The summer was not yet wholly come, and the after-breath of the winter still made itself felt from time to time. The lovers parted, taking leave of the spot they loved so well,—Zoroaster with a heavy foreboding of evil to come; Nehushta with a great longing for the morrow, a mad desire to be on the way to Shushan.

Something in her way of speaking had given Zoroaster a sense of pain. Her interest in the court and in the Great King, the strange capricious hatred that seemed already forming in her breast against Atossa, the evident desire she betrayed to take part in the brilliant life of the capital,—indeed, her whole manner troubled him. It seemed so unaccountable that she should be angry with him for his conduct at the burial of the prophet, that he almost thought she had wished to take advantage of a trifle for the sake of annoying him. He felt that doubt which never comes so suddenly and wounds so keenly as when a man feels the most certain of his position and of himself.

He retired to his apartment in the palace with a burden of unhappiness and evil presentiment that was new to him. It was very different from the sincere sorrow he had felt and still suffered for the death of his master and friend. That misfortune had not affected him as regarded Nehushta. But now he had been separated from her during all the week by the exigencies of the funeral ceremonies, and he had looked forward to meeting her this evening as to a great joy after so much mourning, and he was disappointed. She had affected to be offended with him, yet his reason told him that he had acted naturally and rightly. Could he, the bearer of the prophet's body, the captain of all the fortress, the man of all others upon whom all eyes were turned, have exchanged love glances or spoken soft words to the princess by his side at such a time? It was absurd; she had no right to expect such a thing.

However, he reflected that a new kind of life was to begin on the morrow. For the best part of a month he would ride by her litter all day long, and sit at her table at noonday and evening; he would watch over her and take care of her, and see that her slightest wants were instantly supplied; a thousand incidents would occur whereby he might re-establish all the loving intimacy which seemed to have been so unexpectedly shaken. And so, consoling himself with the hopes of the future, and striving to overlook the present, he fell asleep, wearied with the fatigues and sorrows of the day.

But Nehushta lay all night upon her silken cushions, and watched the flickering little lamp and the strange shadows it cast among the rich, painted carvings of the ceiling. She slept little, but waking she dreamed of the gold and the glitter of Shushan, of the magnificence of the young king, and of the brilliant hard-featured beauty of Atossa, whom she already hated or had determined to hate. The king interested her most. She tried to recall his features and manner as he had appeared when he tarried one night in the fortress a year previous. She remembered a black-browed man in the prime of youth, with heavy brows and an eagle nose; his young beard growing black and square about his strong dark features, which would have seemed coarse saving for his bright eyes that looked every man fearlessly in the face. A short man he seemed in her memory, square built and powerful as a bloodhound, of quick and decisive speech, expecting to be understood before he had half spoken his thoughts; a man, she fancied, who must be untiring and violent of temper, inflexible and brave in the execution of his purpose—a strong contrast outwardly to her tall and graceful lover. Zoroaster's faultless beauty was a constant delight to her eyes; his soft deep voice sounded voluptuously passionate when he spoke to herself, coldly and deliberately dominating when addressing others. He moved with perfect certainty and assurance of purpose, his whole presence breathed a high and superior wisdom and untainted nobility of mind; he looked and acted like a god, like a being from another world, not subject to mortal passions, nor to the temptations of common mankind. She gloried in his perfection and in the secret knowledge that to her alone he was a man simply and utterly dominated by love. As she thought of him she grew proud and happy in the idea that such a man should be her lover, and she reproached herself for doubting his devotion that evening. After all, she had only complained that he had neglected her—as he had really done, she added. She wondered in her heart whether other men would have done the same in his place, or whether this power of coldly disregarding her presence when he was occupied with a serious matter were not due to a real and unconquerable hardness in his nature.

But as she lay there, her dark hair streaming over the yellow silk of her pillows, her mind strayed from her lover to the life before her, and the picture rose quickly in her imagination. She even took up the silver mirror that lay beside her and looked at herself by the dim light of the little lamp, and said to herself that she was beautiful, and that many in Shushan would do her homage. She was glad that Atossa was so fair—it would be a better contrast for her own dark southern beauty.

Towards morning she slept, and dreamed of the grand figure of the prophet, as she had seen him stretched upon his death-bed in the upper chamber of the tower; she thought the dead man stirred and opened his glazed eyes and pointed at her with his bony fingers, and spoke words of anger and reproach. Then she woke with a short cry in her terror, and the light of the dawn shone gray and clear through the doorway of the corridor at the end of her room, where two of her handmaids slept across the threshold, their white cloaks drawn over their heads against the chill air of the night.

Then the trumpets rang out in long-drawn clanging rhythm through the morning air, and Nehushta heard the trampling of the beasts that were being got ready for the journey, in the court without, and the cries of the drivers and of the serving-men. She rose quickly from her bed—a lithe white-clad figure in the dawn light—and pushed the heavy curtains aside and looked out through the lattice; and she forgot her evil dream, for her heart leaped again at the thought that she should no more be shut up in Ecbatana, and that before another month was over she would be in Shushan, in the palace, where she longed to be.


The sun was almost setting, and his light was already turning to a golden glow upon the vast plain of Shushan, as the caravan of travellers halted for the last time. A few stades away the two mounds rose above the royal city like two tables out of the flat country; the lower one surmounted by the marble columns, the towers and turrets and gleaming architraves of the palace; and in front, upon the right, the higher elevation crowned by the dark and massive citadel of frowning walls and battlements. The place chosen for the halt was the point where the road from Nineveh, into which they had turned when about half-way from Ecbatana, joined the broad road from Babylon, near to the bridge. For some time they had followed the quiet stream of the Choaspes, and, looking across it, had watched how the fortress seemed to come forward and overhang the river, while the mound of the palace fell away to the background. The city itself was, of course, completely hidden from their view by the steep mounds, that looked as inaccessible as though they had been built of solid masonry.

Everything in the plain was green. Stade upon stade, and farsang upon farsang, the ploughed furrows stretched away to the west and south; the corn standing already green and high, and the fig-trees putting out their broad green leaves. Here and there in the level expanse of country the rays of the declining sun were reflected from the whitewashed walls of a farmhouse; or in the farther distance lingered upon the burnt-brick buildings of an outlying village. Beyond the river, in the broad meadow beneath the turret-clad mound, half-naked, sunburnt boys drove home the small humped cows to the milking, scaring away, as they went, the troops of white horses that pastured in the same field, clapping their hands and crying out at the little black foals that ran and frisked by the side of their white dams. Here and there a broad-shouldered, bearded fisherman angled in the stream, or flung out a brown casting-net upon the placid waters, drawing it slowly back to the bank, with eyes intent upon the moving cords.

The caravan halted on the turf by the side of the dusty road; the mounted guards, threescore stalwart riders from the Median plains, fell back to make room for the travellers, and, springing to the ground, set about picketing and watering their horses—their brazen armour and scarlet and blue mantles blazing in a mass of rich colour in the evening sun; while their wild white horses, untired by the day's march, plunged and snorted, and shook themselves, and bit each other in play by mane and tail, in the delight of being at least half free.

Zoroaster himself—his purple mantle somewhat whitened with the dust, and his fair face a little browned by the three weeks' journey—threw the bridle of his horse to a soldier and ran quickly forward. A magnificent litter, closed all around with a gilded lattice, and roofed with three awnings of white linen, one upon the other, as a protection against the sun, was being carefully unyoked from the mules that had borne it. Tall Ethiopian slaves lifted it, and carried it to the greenest spot of the turf by the softly flowing river; and Zoroaster himself pushed back the lattice and spread a rich carpet before it. Nehushta took his proffered hand and stepped lightly out, and stood beside him in the red light. She was veiled, and her purple cloak fell in long folds to her feet, and she stood motionless, with her back to the city, looking towards the setting sun.

"Why do we stop here?" she asked suddenly.

"The Great King, may he live for ever, is said not to be in the city," answered Zoroaster, "and it would ill become us to enter the palace before him." He spoke aloud in the Median language that the slaves might hear him; then he added in Hebrew and in a lower voice, "It would be scarcely wise, or safe, to enter Shushan when the king is away. Who can tell what may have happened there in these days? Babylon has rebelled; the empire is far from settled. All Persia may be on the very point of a revolt."

"A fitting time indeed for our journey—for me and my women to be travelling abroad with a score of horsemen for a guard! Why did you bring me here? How long are we to remain encamped by the roadside, waiting the pleasure of the populace to let us in, or the convenience of this new king to return?"

Nehushta turned upon her companion as she spoke, and there was a ring of mingled scorn and disappointment in her voice. Her dark eyes stated coldly at Zoroaster from the straight opening between her veils, and before he could answer, she turned her back upon him and moved a few steps away, gazing out at the setting sun across the fertile meadows. The warrior stood still, and a dark flush overspread his face. Then he turned pale, but whatever were the words that rose to his lips, he did not speak them, but occupied himself with superintending the pitching of the women's tents. The other litters were brought, and set down with their occupants; the long file of camels, some laden with baggage and provisions, some bearing female slaves, kneeled down to be unloaded upon the grass, anxiously craning their long necks the while in the direction of the stream; the tent-pitchers set to work; and at the last another score of horsemen, who had formed the rear-guard of the caravan, cantered up and joined their companions who had already dismounted. With the rapid skill of long practice, all did their share, and in a few minutes all the immense paraphernalia of a Persian encampment were spread out and disposed in place for the night. Contrary to the usual habit Zoroaster had not permitted the tent-pitchers and other slaves to pass on while he and his charges made their noonday halt; for he feared some uprising in the neighbourhood of the city in the absence of the king, and he wished to keep his whole company together as a measure of safety, even at the sacrifice of Nehushta's convenience.

She herself still stood apart, and haughtily turned away from her serving-women, giving them no answer when they saluted her and offered her cushions and cooling drinks. She drew her cloak more closely about her and tightened her veil upon her face. She was weary, disappointed, almost angry. For days she had dreamed of the reception she would have at the palace, of the king and of the court; of the luxury of rest after her long journey, and of the thousand diversions and excitements she would find in revisiting the scenes of her childhood. It was no small disappointment to find herself condemned to another night in camp; and her first impulse was to blame Zoroaster.

In spite of her love for him, her strong and dominating temper often chafed at his calmness, and resented the resolute superiority of his intelligence; and then, being conscious that her own dignity suffered by the storms of her temper, she was even more angry than before, with herself, with him, with every one. But Zoroaster was as impassive as marble, saving that now and then his brow flushed, and paled quickly; and his words, if he spoke at all, had a chilled icy ring in them. Sooner or later, Nehushta's passionate temper cooled, and she found him the same as ever, devoted and gentle and loving; then her heart went out to him anew, and all her being was filled with the love of him, even to overflowing.

She had been disappointed now, and would speak to no one. She moved still farther from the crowd of slaves and tent-pitchers, followed at a respectful distance by her handmaidens, who whispered together as they went; and again she stood still and looked westward.

As the sun neared the horizon, his low rays caught upon a raising cloud of dust, small and distant as the smoke of a fire, in the plain towards Babylon, but whirling quickly upwards. Nehushta's eye rested on the far-off point, and she raised one hand to shade her sight. She remembered how, when she was a girl, she had watched the line of that very road from the palace above, and had seen a cloud of dust arise out of a mere speck, as a body of horsemen galloped into view. There was no mistaking what it was. A troop of horse were coming—perhaps the king himself. Instinctively she turned and looked for Zoroaster, and started, as she saw him standing at a little distance from her, with folded arms, his eyes bent on the horizon. She moved towards him in sudden excitement.

"What is it?" she asked in low tones.

"It is the Great King—may he live for ever!" answered Zoroaster. "None but he would ride so fast along the royal road."

For a moment they stood side by side, watching the dust cloud; and as they stood, Nehushta's hand stole out from her cloak and touched the warrior's arm, softly, with a trembling of the fingers, as though she timidly sought something she would not ask for. Zoroaster turned his head and saw that her eyes were moistened with tears; he understood, but he would not take her hand, for there were many slaves near, besides Nehushta's kinsfolk, and he would not have had them see; but he looked on her tenderly, and on a sudden, his eyes grew less sad, and the light returned in them.

"My beloved!" he said softly.

"I was wrong, Zoroaster—forgive me," she murmured. She suffered him to lead her to her tent, which was already pitched; and he left her there, sitting at the door and watching his movements, while he called together his men and drew them up in a compact rank by the roadside, to be ready to salute the king.

Nearer and nearer came the cloud; and the red glow turned to purple and the sun went out of sight; and still it came nearer, that whirling cloud-canopy of fine powdered dust, rising to right and left of the road in vast round puffs, and hanging overhead like the smoke from some great moving fire. Then, from beneath it, there seemed to come a distant roar like thunder, rising and falling on the silent air, but rising ever louder; and a dark gleam of polished bronze, with something more purple than the purple sunset, took shape slowly; then with the low roar of sound, came now and then, and then more often, the clank of harness and arms; till at last, the whole stamping, rushing, clanging crowd of galloping horsemen seemed to emerge suddenly from the dust in a thundering charge, the very earth shaking beneath their weight, and the whole air vibrating to the tremendous shock of pounding hoofs and the din of clashing brass.

A few lengths before the serried ranks rode one man alone,—a square figure, wrapped in a cloak of deeper and richer purple than any worn by the ordinary nobles, sitting like a rock upon a great white horse. As he came up, Zoroaster and his fourscore men threw up their hands.

"Hail, king of kings! Hail, and live for ever!" they cried, and as one man, they prostrated themselves upon their faces on the grass by the roadside.

Darius drew rein suddenly, bringing his steed from his full gallop to his haunches in an instant. After him the rushing riders threw up their right hands as a signal to those behind; and with a deafening concussion, as of the ocean breaking at once against a wall of rock, those matchless Persian horsemen halted in a body in the space of a few yards, their steeds plunging wildly, rearing to their height and struggling on the curb; but helpless to advance against the strong hands that held them. The blossom and flower of all the Persian nobles rode there,—their purple mantles flying with the wild motion, their bronze cuirasses black in the gathering twilight, their bearded faces dark and square beneath their gilded helmets.

"I am Darius, the king of kings, on whom ye call," cried the king, whose steed now stood like a marble statue, immovable in the middle of the road. "Rise, speak and fear nothing,—unless ye speak lies."

Zoroaster rose to his feet, then bent low, and taking a few grains of dust from the roadside, touched his mouth with his hand and let the dust fall upon his forehead.

"Hail, and live for ever! I am thy servant, Zoroaster, who was captain over the fortress and treasury of Ecbatana. According to thy word I have brought the kinsfolk of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,—chief of whom is Nehushta, the princess. I heard that thou wast absent from Shushan, and here I have waited for thy coming. I also sent thee messengers to announce that Daniel, surnamed Belteshazzar, who was Satrap of Media from the time of Cambyses, is dead; and I have buried him fittingly in a new tomb in the garden of the palace of Ecbatana."

Darius, quick and impulsive in every thought and action, sprang to the ground as Zoroaster finished speaking, and coming to him, took both his hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

"What thou hast done is well done,—I know thee of old. Auramazda is with thee. He is also with me. By his grace I have slain the rebels at Babylon. They spoke lies, so I slew them. Show me Nehushta, the daughter of the kings of Judah."

"I am thy servant. The princess is at hand," answered Zoroaster; but as he spoke, he turned pale to the lips.

By this time it had grown dark, and the moon, just past the full, had not yet risen from behind the mound of the fortress. The slaves brought torches of mingled wax and fir-gum, and their black figures shone strangely in the red glare, as they pressed toward the door of Nehushta's tent, lighting the way for the king.

Darius strode quickly forward, his gilded harness clanging as he walked, the strong flaring light illuminating his bold dark features. Under the striped curtain, drawn up to form the entrance of the tent, stood Nehushta. She had thrown aside her veil and her women had quickly placed upon her head the linen tiara, where a single jewel shown like a star in the white folds. Her thick black hair fell in masses upon her shoulders, and her mantle was thrown back, displaying the grand proportions of her figure, clad in tunic and close-fitting belt. As the king came near, she kneeled and prostrated herself before him, touching her forehead to the ground, and waiting for him to speak.

He stood still a full minute and his eyes flashed fire, as he looked on her crouching figure, in very pride that so queenly a woman should be forced to kneel at his feet—but more in sudden admiration of her marvellous beauty. Then he bent down, and took her hand and raised her to her feet. She sprang up, and faced him with glowing cheeks and flashing eyes; and as she stood she was nearly as tall as he.

"I would not that a princess of thy line kneeled before me," said he; and in his voice there was a strange touch of softness. "Wilt thou let me rest here awhile before I go up to Shushan? I am weary of riding and thirsty from the road."

"Hail, king of the world! I am thy servant. Rest thee and refresh thee here," answered Nehushta, drawing back into the tent. The king beckoned to Zoroaster to follow him and went in.

Darius sat upon the carved folding-chair that stood in the midst of the tent by the main pole, and eagerly drained the huge golden goblet of Shiraz wine which Zoroaster poured for him. Then he took off his headpiece, and his thick, coarse hair fell in a mass of dark curls to his neck, like the mane of a black lion. He breathed a long breath as of relief and enjoyment of well-earned repose, and leaned back in his chair, letting his eyes rest on Nehushta's face as she stood before him looking down to the ground. Zoroaster remained on one side, holding the replenished goblet in his hand, in case the king's thirst were not assuaged by a single draught.

"Thou art fair, daughter of Jerusalem," said the king presently. "I remember thy beauty, for I saw thee in Ecbatana. I sent for thee and thy kinsfolk that I might do thee honour; and I will also fulfil my words. I will take thee to be my wife."

Darius spoke quietly, in his usual tone of absolute determination. But if the concentrated fury of a thousand storms had suddenly broken loose in the very midst of the tent, the effect could not have been more terrible on his hearers.

Nehushta's face flushed suddenly, and for a moment she trembled in every joint; then she fell on her knees, prostrate before the king's feet, all the wealth of her splendid hair falling loose about her. Darius sat still, as though watching the result of his speech. He might have sat long, but in an instant, Zoroaster sprang between the king and the kneeling woman; and the golden goblet he had held rolled across the thick carpet on the ground, while the rich red wine ran in a slow stream towards the curtains of the door. His face was livid and his eyes like coals of blue fire, his fair locks and his long golden beard caught the torchlight and shone about him like a glory, as he stood up to his grand height and faced the king. Darius never quailed nor moved; his look met Zoroaster's with fearless boldness. Zoroaster spoke first, in low accents of concentrated fury:

"Nehushta the princess is my betrothed bride. Though thou wert king of the stars as well as king of the earth, thou shalt not have her for thy wife."

Darius smiled, not scornfully, an honest smile of amusement, as he stared at the wrathful figure of the northern man before him.

"I am the king of kings," he answered. "I will marry this princess of Judah to-morrow, and thee I will crucify upon the highest turret of Shushan, because thou speakest lies when thou sayest I shall not marry her."

"Fool! tempt not thy God! Threaten not him who is stronger than thou, lest he slay thee with his hands where thou sittest." Zoroaster's voice sounded low and distinct as the knell of relentless fate, and his hand went out towards the king's throat.

Until this moment, Darius had sat in his indifferent attitude, smiling carelessly, though never taking his eye from his adversary. Brave as the bravest, he scorned to move until he was attacked, and he would have despised the thought of calling to his guards. But when Zoroaster's hand went out to seize him, he was ready. With a spring like a tiger, he flew at the strong man's throat, and sought to drag him down, striving to fasten his grip about the collar of his cuirass, but Zoroaster slipped his hand quickly under his adversary's, his sleeve went back and his long white arm ran like a fetter of steel about the king's neck, while his other hand gripped him by the middle; so they held each other like wrestlers, one arm above the shoulder and one below, and strove with all their might.

The king was short, but in his thick-set broad shoulders and knotted arms there lurked the strength of a bull and the quickness of a tiger. Zoroaster had the advantage, for his right arm was round Darius's neck, but while one might count a score, neither moved a hairbreadth, and the blue veins stood out like cords on the tall man's arm. The fiery might of the southern prince was matched against the stately strength of the fair northerner, whose face grew as white as death, while the king's brow was purple with the agony of effort. They both breathed hard between their clenched teeth, but neither uttered a word.

Nehushta had leaped to her feet in terror at the first sign of the coming strife, but she did not cry out, nor call in the slaves or guards. She stood, holding the tent-pole with one hand, and gathering her mantle to her breast with the other, gazing in absolute fascination at the fearful life and death struggle, at the unspeakable and tremendous strength so silently exerted by the two men before her.

Suddenly they moved and swayed. Darius had attempted to trip Zoroaster with one foot, but slipping on the carpet wet with wine, had been bent nearly double to the ground; then by a violent effort, he regained his footing. But the great exertion had weakened his strength. Nehushta thought a smile nickered on Zoroaster's pale face and his flashing dark blue eyes met hers for a moment, and then the end began. Slowly, and by imperceptible degrees, Zoroaster forced the king down before him, doubling him backwards with irresistible strength, till it seemed as though bone and sinew and muscle must be broken and torn asunder in the desperate resistance. Then, at last, when his head almost touched the ground, Darius groaned and his limbs relaxed. Instantly Zoroaster threw him on his back and kneeled with his whole weight upon his chest,—the gilded scales of the corselet cracking beneath the burden, and he held the king's hands down on either side, pinioned to the floor. Darius struggled desperately twice and then lay quite still. Zoroaster gazed down upon him with blazing eyes.

"Thou who wouldst crucify me upon Shushan," he said through his teeth. "I will slay thee here even as thou didst slay Smerdis. Hast thou anything to say? Speak quickly, for thy hour is come."

Even in the extremity of his agony, vanquished and at the point of death, Darius was brave, as brave men are, to the very last. He would indeed have called for help now, but there was no breath in him. He still gazed fearlessly into the eyes of his terrible conqueror. His voice came in a hoarse whisper.

"I fear not death. Slay on if thou wilt—thou—hast—conquered."

Nehushta had come near. She trembled now that the fight was over, and looked anxiously to the heavy curtains of the tent-door.

"Tell him," she whispered to Zoroaster, "that you will spare him if he will do no harm to you, nor to me."

"Spare him!" echoed Zoroaster scornfully. "He is almost dead now—why should I spare him?"

"For my sake, beloved," answered Nehushta, with a sudden and passionate gesture of entreaty. "He is the king—he speaks truth; if he says he will not harm you, trust him."

"If I slay thee not, swear thou wilt not harm me nor Nehushta," said Zoroaster, removing one knee from the chest of his adversary.

"By the name of Auramazda," gasped Darius, "I will not harm thee nor her."

"It is well," said Zoroaster. "I will let thee go. And as for taking her to be thy wife, thou mayest ask her if she will wed thee," he added. He rose and helped the king to his feet. Darius shook himself and breathed hard for a few minutes. He felt his limbs as a man might do who had fallen from his horse, and then he sat down upon the chair, and broke into a loud laugh.

Darius was well known to all Persia and Media before the events of the last two months, and such was his reputation for abiding by his promise that he was universally trusted by those about him. Zoroaster had known him also, and he remembered his easy familiarity and love of jesting, so that even when he held the king at such vantage that he might have killed him by a little additional pressure of his weight, he felt not the least hesitation in accepting his promise of safety. But remembering what a stake had been played for in the desperate issue, he could not join in the king's laugh. He stood silently apart, and looked at Nehushta who leaned back against the tent-pole in violent agitation; her hands wringing each other beneath her long sleeves, and her eyes turning from the king to Zoroaster, and back again to the king, in evident distress and fear.

"Thou hast a mighty arm, Zoroaster," cried Darius, as his laughter subsided, "and thou hadst well-nigh made an end of the Great King and of Persia, Media, Babylon and Egypt in thy grip."

"Let the king pardon his servant," answered Zoroaster, "if his knee was heavy and his hand strong. Had not the king slipped upon the spilt wine, his servant would have been thrown down."

"And thou wouldst have been crucified at dawn," added Darius, laughing again. "It is well for thee that I am Darius and not Cambyses, or thou wouldst not be standing there before me while my guards are gossiping idly in the road. Give me a cup of wine since thou hast spared my life!" Again the king laughed as though his sides would break. Zoroaster hastily filled another goblet and offered it, kneeling before the monarch. Darius paused before he took the cup, and looked at the kneeling warrior's pale proud face. Then he spoke and his voice dropped to a less mirthful key, as he laid his hand on Zoroaster's shoulder.

"I love thee, prince," he said, "because thou art stronger than I; and as brave and more merciful. Therefore shalt thou stand ever at my right hand and I will trust thee with my life in thy hand. And in pledge hereunto I put my own chain of gold about thy neck, and I drink this cup to thee; and whosoever shall harm a hair of thine head shall perish in torments."

The king drank; and Zoroaster, overcome with genuine admiration of the great soul that could so easily forgive so dire an offence, bent and embraced the king's knees in token of adherence, and as a seal of that friendship which was never to be broken until death parted the two men asunder.

Then they arose, and at Zoroaster's order, the princess's litter was brought, and leaving the encampment to follow after them, they went up to the palace. Nehushta was borne between the litters of her women and her slaves on foot, but Zoroaster mounted his horse and rode slowly and in silence by the right side of the Great King.


Athwart the gleaming colonnades of the eastern balcony, the early morning sun shone brightly, and all the shadows of the white marble cornices and capitals and jutting frieze work were blue with the reflection of the cloudless sky. The swallows now and then shot in under the overhanging roof and flew up and down the covered terrace; then with a quick rush, they sped forth again into the dancing sunshine with clean sudden sweep, as when a sharp sword is whirled in the air. Far below, the soft mist of the dawn still lay upon the city, whence the distant cries of the water-carriers and fruitsellers came echoing up from the waking streets, the call of the women to one another from the housetops, and now and then the neighing of a horse far out upon the meadows; while the fleet swallows circled over all in swift wide curves, with a silvery fresh stream of unceasing twittering music.

Zoroaster paced the balcony alone. He was fully armed, with his helmet upon his head; the crest of the winged wheels was replaced by the ensign Darius had chosen for himself,—the half-figure of a likeness of the king with long straight wings on either side, of wrought gold and very fine workmanship. The long purple mantle hung to his heels and the royal chain of gold was about his neck. As he walked the gilded leather of his shoes was reflected in the polished marble pavement and he trod cautiously, for the clean surface was slippery as the face of a mirror. At one end of the terrace a stairway led down to the lower story of the palace, and at the other end a high square door was masked by a heavy curtain of rich purple and gold stuff, that fell in thick folds to the glassy floor. Each time his walk brought him to this end Zoroaster paused, as though expecting that some one should come out. But as it generally happens when a man is waiting for something or some one that the object or person appears unexpectedly, so it occurred that as he turned back from the staircase towards the curtain, he saw that some one had already advanced half the length of the balcony to meet him—and it was not the person for whom he was looking.

At first, he was dazzled for a moment, but his memory served him instantly and he recognised the face and form of a woman he had known and often seen before. She was not tall, but so perfectly proportioned that it was impossible to wish that she were taller. Her close tunic of palest blue, bordered with a gold embroidery at the neck, betrayed the matchless symmetry of her figure, the unspeakable grace of development of a woman in the fullest bloom of beauty. From her knees to her feet, her under tunic showed the purple and white bands that none but the king might wear, and which even for the queen was an undue assumption of the royal insignia. But Zoroaster did not look at her dress, nor at her mantle of royal sea-purple, nor at the marvellous white hands that held together a written scroll. His eyes rested on her face, and he stood still where he was.

He knew those straight and perfect features, not large nor heavy, but of such rare mould and faultless type as man has not seen since, neither will see. The perfect curve of the fresh mouth; the white forward chin with its sunk depression in the midst, the deep-set, blue eyes and the straight pencilled brows; the broad smooth forehead and the tiny ear half hidden in the glory of sun-golden hair; the milk-white skin just tinged with the faint rose-light that never changed or reddened in heat or cold, in anger or in joy—he knew them all; the features of royal Cyrus made soft and womanly in substance, but unchanging still and faultlessly cold in his great daughter Atossa, the child of kings, the wife of kings, the mother of kings.

The heavy curtains had fallen together behind her, and she came forward alone. She had seen Zoroaster before he had seen her, and she moved on without showing any surprise, the heels of her small golden shoes clicking sharply on the polished floor. Zoroaster remained standing for a moment, and then, removing his helmet in salutation, went to one side of the head of the staircase and waited respectfully for the queen to pass. As she came on, passing alternately through the shadow cast by the columns, and the sunlight that blazed between, her advancing figure flashed with a new illumination at every step. She made as though she were going straight on, but as she passed over the threshold to the staircase, she suddenly stopped and turned half round, and looked straight at Zoroaster.

"Thou art Zoroaster," she said in a smooth and musical voice, like the ripple of a clear stream flowing through summer meadows.

"I am Zoroaster, thy servant," he answered, bowing his head. He spoke very coldly.

"I remember thee well," said the queen, lingering by the head of the staircase. "Thou art little changed, saving that thou art stronger, I should think, and more of a soldier than formerly."

Zoroaster stood turning his polished helmet in his hands, but he answered nothing; he cared little for the queen's praises. But she, it seemed, was desirous of pleasing him in proportion as he was less anxious to be pleased, for she turned again and walked forward upon the terrace.

"Come into the sunlight—the morning air is cold," she said, "I would speak with thee awhile."

A carved chair stood in a corner of the balcony. Zoroaster moved it into the sunshine, and Atossa sat down, smiling her thanks to him, while he stood leaning against the balustrade,—a magnificent figure as the light caught his gilded harness and gold neckchain, and played on his long fair beard and nestled in the folds of his purple mantle.

"Tell me—you came last night?" she asked, spreading her dainty hands in the sunshine as though to warm them. She never feared the sun, for he was friendly to her nativity and never seemed to scorch her fair skin like that of meaner women.

"Thy servant came last night," answered the prince.

"Bringing Nehushta and the other Hebrews?" added the queen.

"Even so."

"Tell me something of this Nehushta," said Atossa. She had dropped into a more familiar form of speech. But Zoroaster was careful of his words and never allowed his language to relapse from the distant form of address of a subject to his sovereign.

"The queen knoweth her. She was here as a young child a few years since," he replied. He chose to let Atossa ask questions for all the information she needed.

"It is so long ago," she said, with a little sigh. "Is she fair?"

"Nay, she is dark, after the manner of the Hebrews."

"And the Persians too," she interrupted.

"She is very beautiful," continued Zoroaster. "She is very tall." Atossa looked up quickly with a smile. She was not tall herself, with all her Beauty.

"You admire tall women?"

"Yes," said Zoroaster calmly—well knowing what he said. He did not wish to flatter the queen; and besides he knew her too well to do so if he wished to please her. She was one of those women who are not accustomed to doubt their own superiority over the rest of their sex.

"Then you admire this Hebrew princess?" said she, and paused for an answer. But her companion was as cold and calm as she. Seeing himself directly pressed by a suspicion, he changed his tactics and flattered Atossa for the sake of putting a stop to her questions.

"Height is not of itself beauty," he answered with a courteous smile. "There is a kind of beauty which no height can improve,—a perfection which needs not to be set high for all men to acknowledge it."

The queen simply took no notice of the compliment, but it had its desired effect, for she changed the tone of her talk a little, speaking more seriously.

"Where is she? I will go and see her," she said.

"She rested last night in the upper chambers in the southern part of the palace. Thy servant will bid her come if it be thy desire."

"Presently, presently," answered the queen. "It is yet early, and she was doubtless weary of the journey."

There was a pause. Zoroaster looked down at the beautiful queen as she sat beside him, and wondered whether she had changed; and as he gazed, he fell to comparing her beauty with Nehushta's, and his glance grew more intent than he had meant it should be, so that Atossa looked up suddenly and met his eyes resting on her face.

"It is long since we have met, Zoroaster," she said quickly. "Tell me of your life in that wild fortress. You have prospered in your profession of arms—you wear the royal chain." She put up her hand and touched the links as though to feel them. "Indeed it is very like the chain Darius wore when he went to Babylon the other day." She paused a moment as though trying to recall something; then continued: "Yes—now I think of it, he had no chain when he came back. It is his—of course—why has he given it to you?" Her tones had a tinge of uncertainty in the question,—half imperious, as demanding an answer, half persuading, as though not sure the answer would be given. Zoroaster remembered that intonation of her sweet voice, and he smiled in his beard.

"Indeed," he answered, "the Great King who liveth for ever, put this chain about my neck with his own hands last night, when he halted by the roadside, as a reward, I presume, for certain qualities he believeth his servant Zoroaster to possess."

"Qualities—what qualities?"

"Nay, the queen cannot expect me to sing faithfully my own praises. Nevertheless, I am ready to die for the Great King. He knoweth that I am. May he live for ever!"

"It may be that one of the qualities was the successful performance of the extremely difficult task you have lately accomplished," said Atossa, with a touch of scorn.

"A task?" repeated Zoroaster.

"Yes—have you not brought a handful of Hebrew women all the way from Ecbatana to Shushan, through numberless dangers and difficulties, safe and sound, and so carefully prudent of their comfort that they are not even weary, nor have they once hungered or thirsted by the way, nor lost the smallest box of perfume, nor the tiniest of their golden hair-pins? Surely you have deserved to have a royal chain hung about your neck and to be called the king's friend."

"The reward was doubtless greater than my desert. It was no great feat of arms that I had to perform; and yet, in these days a man may leave Media under one king, and reach Shushan under another. The queen knoweth better than any one what sudden changes may take place in the empire," answered Zoroaster, looking calmly into her face as he stood; and she who had been the wife of Cambyses and the wife of the murdered Gomata-Smerdis, and who was now the wife of Darius, looked down and was silent, turning over in her beautiful hands the sealed scroll she bore.

The sun had risen higher while they talked, and his rays were growing hot in the clear air. The mist had lifted from the city below, and all the streets and open places were alive with noisy buyers and sellers, whose loud talking and disputing came up in a continuous hum to the palace on the hill, like the drone of a swarm of bees. The queen rose from her seat.

"It is too warm here," she said, and she once more moved toward the stairway. Zoroaster followed her respectfully, still holding his helmet in his hand. Atossa did not speak till she reached the threshold. Then, as Zoroaster bowed low before her, she paused and looked at him with her clear, deep-blue eyes.

"You have grown very formal in four years," she said softly. "You used to be more outspoken and less of a courtier. I am not changed—we must be friends as we were formerly."

Zoroaster hesitated a moment before he answered:

"I am the Great King's man," he said slowly. "I am, therefore, also the queen's servant."

Atossa raised her delicate eyebrows a little and a shade of annoyance passed for the first time over her perfect face, which gave her a look of sternness.

"I am the queen," she said coldly. "The king may take other wives, but I am the queen. Take heed that you be indeed my servant." Then, as she gathered her mantle about her and put one foot upon the stairs, she touched his shoulder gently with the tips of her fingers and added with a sudden smile, "And I will be your friend." So she passed down the stairs out of sight, leaving Zoroaster alone.

Slowly he paced the terrace again, reflecting profoundly upon his situation. Indeed he had no small cause for anxiety; it was evident that the queen suspected his love for Nehushta, and he was more than half convinced that there were reasons why such an affection would inevitably meet with her disapproval. In former days, before she was married to Cambyses, and afterwards, before Zoroaster had been sent into Media, Atossa had shown so marked a liking for him, that a man more acquainted with the world, would have guessed that she loved him. He had not suspected such a thing, but with a keen perception of character, he had understood that beneath the beautiful features and the frank gentleness of the young princess, there lurked a profound intelligence, an unbending ambition and a cold selfishness without equal; he had mistrusted her, but he had humoured her caprices and been in truth a good friend to her, without in the least wishing to accept her friendship for himself in return. He was but a young captain of five hundred then, although he was the favourite of the court; but his strong arm was dreaded as well as the cutting force of his replies when questioned, and no word of the court gossip had therefore reached his ears concerning Atossa's admiration for him. It was, moreover, so evident that he cared nothing for her beyond the most unaffected friendliness, that her disappointment in not moving his heart was a constant source of satisfaction to her enemies. There had reigned in those days a great and unbridled license in the court, and the fact of the daughter of Cyrus loving and being loved by the handsomest of the king's guards, would not of itself have attracted overmuch notice. But the evident innocence of Zoroaster in the whole affair, and the masterly fashion in which Atossa concealed her anger, if she felt any, caused the matter to be completely forgotten as soon as Zoroaster left Shushan, and events had, since then, succeeded each other too rapidly to give the courtiers leisure for gossiping about old scandals. The isolation in which Gomata had lived during the seven months while he maintained the popular impression that he was not Gomata-Smerdis, but Smerdis the brother of Cambyses, had broken up the court; and the strong, manly character of Darius had checked the license of the nobles suddenly, as a horse-breaker brings up an unbroken colt by flinging the noose about his neck. The king permitted that the ancient custom of marrying as many as four wives should be maintained, and he himself soon set an example by so doing; but he had determined that the whole corrupt fabric of court life should be shattered at one blow; and with his usual intrepid disregard of consequences and his iron determination to maintain his opinions, he had suffered no contradiction of his will. He had married Atossa,—in the first place, because she was the most beautiful woman in Persia; and secondly, because he comprehended her great intelligence and capacity for affairs, and believed himself able to make use of her at his pleasure. As for Atossa herself, she had not hesitated a moment in concurring in the marriage,—she had ruled her former husbands, and she would rule Darius in like manner, she thought, to her own complete aggrandisement and in the face of all rivals. As yet, the king had taken no second wife, although he looked with growing admiration upon the maiden Artystone, who was then but fifteen years of age, the youngest daughter of Cyrus and own sister to Atossa.

All this Zoroaster knew, and he recognised, also from the meeting he had just had with the queen, that she was desirous of maintaining her friendship with himself. But since the violent scene of the previous night, he had determined to be the king's man in truest loyalty, and he feared lest Atossa's plans might, before long, cross her husband's. Therefore he accepted her offer of friendship coldly, and treated her with the most formal courtesy. On the other hand, he understood well enough that if she resented his manner of acting towards her, and ascertained that he really loved Nehushta, it would be in her power to produce difficulties and complications which he would have every cause for fearing. She would certainly discover the king's admiration for Nehushta. Darius was a man almost incapable of concealment; with whom to think was to act instantly and without hesitation. He generally acted rightly, for his instincts were noble and kingly, and his heart as honest and open as the very light of day. He said what he thought and instantly fulfilled his words. He hated a lie as poison, and the only untruth he had ever been guilty of was told when, in order to gain access to the dwelling of the false Smerdis, he had declared to the guards that he brought news of importance from his father. He had justified this falsehood by the most elaborate and logical apology to his companions, the six princes, and had explained that he only lied for the purpose of saving Persia; and when the lot fell to himself to assume the royal authority, he fulfilled most amply every promise he had given of freeing the country from tyranny, religious despotism and, generally, from what he termed "lies." As for the killing of Gomata-Smerdis, it was an act of public justice, approved by all sensible persons as soon as it was known by what frauds that impostor had seized the kingdom.

With regard to Atossa, Darius had abstained from asking her questions about her seven months of marriage with the usurper. She must have known well enough who the man was, but Darius understood her character well enough to know that she would marry whomsoever she saw in the chief place, and that her counsel and courage would be of inestimable advantage to a ruler. She herself never mentioned the past events to the king, knowing his hatred of lies on the one hand, and that on the other, the plain truth would redound to her discredit. He had given her to understand as much from the first, telling her that he took her for what she was, and not for what she had been. Her mind was at rest about the past, and as for the future, she promised herself her full share in her husband's success, should he succeed, and unbounded liberty in the choice of his successor, should he fail.

But all these considerations did not tend to clear Zoroaster's vision in regard to his own future. He saw himself already placed in a position of extreme difficulty between Nehushta and the king. On the other hand, he dreaded lest he should before long fall into disgrace with the king on account of Atossa's treatment of himself, or incur Atossa's displeasure through the great favour he received from Darius. He knew the queen to be an ambitious woman, capable of the wildest conceptions, and possessed of the utmost skill for their execution.

He longed to see Nehushta and talk with her at once,—to tell her many things and to warn her of many possibilities; above all, he desired to discuss with her the scene of the previous night and the strangely sudden determination the king had expressed to make her his wife.

But he could not leave his post. His orders had been to await the king in the morning upon the eastern terrace; and there he must abide until it pleased Darius to come forth; and he knew Nehushta would not venture down into that part of the palace. He wondered that the king did not come, and he chafed at the delay as he saw the sun rising higher and higher, and the shadows deepening in the terrace. Weary of waiting he sat down at last upon the chair where Atossa had rested, and folded his hands over his sword-hilt,—resigning himself to the situation with the philosophy of a trained soldier.

Sitting thus alone, he fell to dreaming. As he gazed out at the bright sky, he forgot his life and his love, and all things of the present; and his mind wandered away among the thoughts most natural and most congenial to his profound intellect. His attention became fixed in the contemplation of a larger dimension of intelligences,—the veil of darkness parted a little, and for a time he saw clearly in the light of a Greater Universe.


Atossa quitted the terrace where she had been talking with Zoroaster, in the full intention of returning speedily, but as she descended the steps, a plan formed itself in her mind, which she determined to put into immediate execution. Instead, therefore, of pursuing her way into the portico of the inner court, when she reached the foot of the staircase, she turned into a narrow passage that led into a long corridor, lighted only by occasional small openings in the wall. A little door gave access to this covered way, and when she entered, she closed it behind her, and tried to fasten it. But the bolt was rusty, and in order to draw it, she laid down the scroll she carried, upon a narrow stone seat by the side of the door; and then, with a strong effort of both her small white hands, she succeeded in moving the lock into its place. Then she turned quickly and hastened down the dusky corridor. At the opposite end a small winding stair led upwards into darkness. There were stains upon the lowest steps, just visible in the half light. Atossa gathered up her mantle and her under tunic, and trod daintily, with a look of repugnance on her beautiful face. The stains were made by the blood of the false Smerdis, her last husband, slain in that dark stairway by Darius, scarcely three months before.

Cautiously the queen felt her way upward till she reached a landing, where a narrow aperture admitted a little light. Higher up there were windows, and she looked carefully to her dress, and brushed away a little dust that her mantle had swept from the wall in passing; and once or twice, she looked back at the dark staircase with an expression of something akin to disgust. At last she reached a door which opened upon a terrace, much like the one where she had left Zoroaster a few moments before, saving that the floor was less polished, and that the spaces between the columns were half filled with hanging plants and creepers. Upon the pavement at one end were spread rich carpets, and half a dozen enormous cushions of soft-coloured silk were thrown negligently one upon the other. Three doors, hung with curtains, opened upon the balcony,—and near to the middle one, two slave-girls, clad in white, crouched upon their heels and talked in an undertone.

Atossa stepped forward upon the marble, and the rustle of her dress and the quick short sound of her heeled shoes, roused the two slave-girls to spring to their feet. They did not know the queen, but they thought it best to make a low obeisance, while their dark eyes endeavoured quickly to scan the details of her dress, without exhibiting too much boldness. Atossa beckoned to one of them to come to her, and smiled graciously as the dark-skinned girl approached.

"Is not thy mistress Nehushta?" she inquired; but the girl looked stupidly at her, not comprehending her speech. "Nehushta," repeated the queen, pronouncing the name very distinctly with a questioning intonation, and pointing to the curtained door. The slave understood the name and the question, and quick as thought, she disappeared within, leaving Atossa in some hesitation. She had not intended to send for the Hebrew princess, for she thought it would be a greater compliment to let Nehushta find her waiting; but since the barbarian slave had gone to call her mistress, there was nothing to be done but to abide the result.

Nehushta, however, seemed in no hurry to answer the summons, for the queen had ample time to examine the terrace, and to glance through the hanging plants at the sunlit meadows and the flowing stream to southward, before she heard steps behind the curtain, and saw it lifted to allow the princess to pass.

The dark maiden was now fully refreshed and rested from the journey, and she came forward to greet her guest in her tunic, without her mantle, a cloud of soft white Indian gauze loosely pinned upon her black hair and half covering her neck. Her bodice-like belt was of scarlet and gold, and from one side there hung a rich-hilted knife of Indian steel in a jewelled sheath. The long sleeves of her tunic were drawn upon her arms into hundreds of minute folds, and where the delicate stuff hung in an oblong lappet over her hands, there was fine needlework and embroidery of gold. She moved easily, with a languid grace of secure motion; and she bent her head a little as Atossa came quickly to meet her.

The queen's frank smile was on her face as she grasped both Nehushta's hands in cordial welcome, and for a moment, the two women looked into each other's eyes. Nehushta had made up her mind to hate Atossa from the first, but she did not belong to that class of women who allow their feelings to show themselves, and afterwards feel bound by the memory of what they have shown. She, too, smiled most sweetly as she surveyed the beautiful fair queen from beneath her long drooping lids, and examined her appearance with all possible minuteness. She remembered her well enough, but so warm was the welcome she received, that she almost thought she had misjudged Atossa in calling her hard and cold. She drew her guest to the cushions upon the carpets, and they sat down side by side.

"I have been talking about you already this morning, my princess," began Atossa, speaking at once in familiar terms, as though she were conversing with an intimate friend. Nehushta was very proud; she knew herself to be of a race as royal as Atossa, though now almost extinct; and in answering, she spoke in the same manner as the queen; so that the latter was inwardly amused at the self-confidence of the Hebrew princess.

"Indeed?" said Nehushta, "there must be far more interesting things than I in Shushan. I would have talked of you had I found any one to talk with."

The queen laughed a little.

"As I was coming out this morning, I met an old friend of mine upon the balcony before the king's apartment,—Zoroaster, the handsome captain. We fell into conversation, how handsome he has grown since I saw him last!" The queen watched Nehushta closely while affecting the greatest unconcern, and she thought the shadows about the princess's eyes turned a shade darker at the mention of the brilliant warrior. But Nehushta answered calmly enough:

"He took the most excellent care of us. I should like to see him to-day, to thank him for all he did. I was tired last night and must have seemed ungrateful."

"What need is there of ever telling men we are grateful for what they do for us?" returned the queen. "I should think there were not a noble in the Great King's guard who would not give his right hand to take care of you for a month, even if you never so much as noticed his existence."

Nehushta laughed lightly at the compliment.

"You honour me too much," she said, "but I suppose it is because most women think as you do that men call us so ungrateful. I think you judge from the standpoint of the queen, whereas I—"

"Whereas you look at things from the position of the beautiful princess, who is worshipped for herself alone, and not for the bounty and favour she may, or may not, dispense to her subjects."

"The queen is dispensing much bounty and favour to one of her subjects at this very moment," answered Nehushta quietly, as though deprecating further flattery.

"How glad you must be to have left that dreadful fortress at last!" cried the queen sympathetically. "My father used to go there every summer. I hated the miserable place, with those tiresome mountains and those endless gardens without the least variety in them. You must be very glad to have come here!"

"It is true," replied Nehushta, "I never ceased to dream of Shushan. I love the great city, and the people, and the court. I thought sometimes that I should have died of the weariness of Ecbatana. The winters were unbearable!"

"You must learn to love us, too," said Atossa, very sweetly. "The Great King wishes well to your race, and will certainly do much for your country. There is, moreover, a kinsman of yours, who is coming soon, expressly to confer with the king concerning the further rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem."

"Zorobabel?" asked Nehushta, quickly.

"Yes—that is his name, I believe. Do you say Zerub-Ebel, or Zerub-Abel? I know nothing of your language."

"His name is Zorob-Abel," answered Nehushta. "Oh, I wish he might persuade the Great King to do something for my people! Your father would have done so much if he had lived."

"Doubtless the Great King will do all that is possible for establishing the Hebrews and promoting their welfare," said the queen; but a distant look in her eyes showed that her thoughts were no longer concentrated on the subject. "Your friend Zoroaster," she added presently, "could be of great service to you and your cause, if he wished."

"I would that he were a Hebrew!" exclaimed Nehushta, with a little sigh, which did not escape Atossa.

"Is he not? I always thought that he had secretly embraced your faith. With his love of study and with his ideas, it seemed so natural."

"No," replied Nehushta, "he is not one of us, nor will he ever be. After all, though, it is perhaps of little moment what one believes when one is so just as he."

"I have never been able to understand the importance of religion," said the beautiful queen, spreading her white hand upon the purple of her mantle, and contemplating its delicate outline tenderly. "For my own part, I am fond of the sacrifices and the music and the chants. I love to see the priests go up to the altar, two and two, in their white robes,—and then to see how they struggle to hold up the bullock's head, so that his eyes may see the sun,—and how the red blood gushes out like a beautiful fountain. Have you ever seen a great sacrifice?"

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