Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster
by F. Marion Crawford
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"The time has seemed long to me since you rode away, Zoroaster," she said.

Zoroaster, astonished at the manner in which she spoke, turned pale, and looked down coldly at her beautiful face. At that moment Nehushta stepped upon the smooth marble pavement of the balcony.

Still Atossa kept her eyes fixed on Zoroaster's.

"You answer me nothing?" she said in broken tones. Then suddenly, as though acting under an irresistible impulse, she threw her arms wildly about his neck and kissed him passionately again and again.

"Oh Zoroaster, Zoroaster, my beloved!" she cried, "you must never, never leave me again!" And again she kissed him, and fell forward upon his breast, holding him so tightly that, for a moment, he did not know which way to move. He put his hands upon her shoulders, to her waist—to try to push her from him. But it was in vain; she clung to him desperately and sobbed upon his breast.

In the sudden and fearful embarrassment in which he was placed, he did not hear a short, low groan far off behind him, nor the sound of quickly retreating steps upon the stairs. But Atossa heard and rejoiced fiercely; and when she looked up, Nehushta was gone, with the incurable wound in her breast.

Atossa suddenly let her arms fall from the warrior's neck, looked into his eyes once, and then, with a short, sharp cry, she buried her face in her hands and leaned back against the door-post by the heavy striped curtain.

"Oh, my God! What have I done?" she moaned.

Zoroaster stood for one moment in hesitation and doubt. It seemed as though he had received a sudden revelation of numberless things he had never understood. He spoke quietly, at last, with a great effort, and his voice sounded kindly.

"I thank the good powers that I do not love thee—and I would that thou didst not love me. For I am the Great King's servant, faithful to death—and if I loved thee I should be a liar, and a coward, and the basest of all mankind. Forget, I pray thee, that thou hast spoken, and let me depart in peace. For the Great King is at hand, and thou must not suffer that he find thee weeping, lest he think thou fearest to meet Phraortes the Median face to face. Forget, I pray thee—and forgive thy servant if he have done anything amiss."

Atossa looked up suddenly. Her eyes were bright and clear, and there was not a trace of tears in them. She laughed harshly.

"I—weep before the king! You do not know me. Go, if thou wilt. Farewell, Zoroaster,"—her voice softened a little,—"farewell. It may be that you shall live, but it may be that you shall die, because I love you."

Zoroaster bent his head in respectful homage, and turned and went his way. The queen looked after him, and as he disappeared upon the staircase, she began to smooth her head-dress and the locks of her golden hair, and for a moment, she smiled sweetly to herself.

"That was a mortal wound, well dealt," she said aloud. But as she gazed out over the city, her face grew grave and thoughtful. "But I do love him," she added softly, "I do—I do—I loved him long ago." She turned quickly, as though fearing some one had overheard her. "How foolish I am!" she exclaimed impatiently; and she turned and passed away under the heavy curtain, leaving the long balcony once more empty,—save for the rush of a swallow that now and then flew in between the pillars, and hovered for a moment high up by the cornice, and sped out again into the golden sunshine of the summer morning.

Zoroaster left Atossa with the hope of finding some means of seeing Nehushta. But it was impossible. He knew well that he could not so far presume as to go to her apartment by the lower passage where he had last seen her on the day of his departure for Ecbatana, and the slave whom he despatched from the main entrance of the women's part of the palace returned with the brief information that Nehushta was alone in her chamber, and that no one dared disturb her.

Worn out with fatigue and excitement, and scarcely able to think connectedly upon the strange event of the morning, Zoroaster wearily resigned himself to seeing Nehushta at a later hour, and entering his own cool chamber, lay down to rest. It was evening when he awoke.

Meanwhile the king commanded that Phraortes should be fed and refreshed, and immediately brought to the queen's apartment. Half an hour after Zoroaster had left her, Atossa was in the chamber which was devoted to her toilet. She sat alone before her great silver mirror, calmly awaiting the turn of events. Some instinct had told her that she would feel stronger to resist an attack in the sanctuary of her small inner room, where every object was impregnated with her atmosphere, and where the lattices of the two windows were so disposed that she would be able to see the expression of her adversaries without exposing her own face to the light.

She leaned forward and looked closely at herself in the glass, and with a delicate brush of camel's hair smoothed one eyebrow that was a little ruffled. It had touched Zoroaster's tunic when she threw herself upon his breast; she looked at herself with a genuine artistic pleasure, and smiled.

Before long she heard the sound of leathern shoes upon the pavement outside, and the curtain was suddenly lifted. Darius pushed Phraortes into the room by the shoulders and made him stand before the queen. She rose and made a salutation, and then sat down again in her carved chair. The king threw himself upon a heap of thick, hard cushions that formed a divan on one side of the room, and prepared to watch attentively the two persons before him.

Phraortes, trembling with fear and excessive fatigue, fell upon his knees before Atossa, and touched the floor with his forehead.

"Get upon thy feet, man," said the king shortly, "and render an account of the queen's affairs."

"Stay," said Atossa, calmly; "for what purpose has the Great King brought this man before me?"

"For my pleasure," answered Darius. "Speak fellow! Render thy account, and if I like not the manner of thy counting, I will crucify thee."

"The king liveth for ever," said Phraortes feebly, his flaccid cheeks trembling, as his limbs moved uneasily.

"The queen also liveth for ever," remarked Darius. "What is the state of the queen's lands at Ecbatana?"

At this question Phraortes seemed to take courage, and began a rapid enumeration of the goods, cattle and slaves.

"This year I have sown two thousand acres of wheat which will soon be ripe for the harvest. I have sown also a thousand acres with other grain. The fields of water-melons are yielding with amazing abundance since I caused the great ditches to be dug last winter towards the road. As for the fruit trees and the vinelands, they are prospering; but at present we have not had rain to push the first budding of the grapes. The olives will doubtless be very abundant this year, for last year there were few, as is the manner with that fruit. As for the yielding of these harvests of grain and wine and oil and fruit, I doubt not that the whole sales will amount to an hundred talents of gold."

"Last year they only yielded eighty-five," remarked the queen, who had affected to listen to the whole account with the greatest interest. "I am well pleased, Phraortes. Tell me of the cattle and sheep—and of the slaves; whether many have died this year."

"There are five hundred head of cattle, and one hundred calves dropped in the last two months. From the scarcity of rain this year, the fodder has been almost destroyed, and there is little hay from the winter. I have, therefore, sent great numbers of slaves with camels to the farther plains to eastward, whence they return daily with great loads of hay—of a coarse kind, but serviceable. As for the flocks, they are now pasturing for the summer upon the slopes of the Zagros mountains. There were six thousand head of sheep and two thousand head of goats at the shearing in the spring, and the wool is already sold for eight talents. As for the slaves, I have provided for them after a new fashion. There were many young men from the captives that came after the war two years ago. For these I have purchased wives of the dealers from Scythia. These Scythians sell all their women at a low price. They are hideous barbarians, speaking a strange tongue, but they are very strong and enduring, and I doubt not they will multiply exceedingly and bring large profits—"

"Thou art extraordinarily fluent in thy speech," interrupted the king. "But there are details that the queen wishes to know. Thou art aware that in a frontier country like the province of Ecbatana, it is often necessary to protect the crops and the flocks from robbers. Hast thou therefore thought of arming any of these slaves for this purpose?"

"Let not the king be angry with his servant," returned Phraortes, without hesitation. "There are many thousand soldiers of the king in Echatana, and the horsemen traverse the country continually. I have not armed any of the slaves, for I supposed we were safe in the protection of the king's men. Nevertheless, if the Great King command me—"

"Thou couldst arm them immediately, I suppose?" interrupted Darius. He watched Atossa narrowly; her face was in the shadow.

"Nay," replied Phraortes, "for we have no arms. But if the king will give us swords and spearheads—"

"To what end?" asked Atossa. She was perfectly calm since she saw that there was no fear of Phraortes making a mistake upon this vital point. "What need have I of a force to protect lands that are all within a day's journey of the king's fortress? The idea of carrying weapons would make all the slaves idle and quarrelsome. Leave them their spades and their ploughs, and let them labour while the soldiers fight. How many slaves have I now, Phraortes?"

"There were, at the last return, fourteen thousand seven hundred and fifty-three men, ten thousand two hundred and sixteen women, and not less than five thousand children. But I expect—"

"What can you do with so many?" asked Darius, turning sharply to the queen.

"Many of them work in the carpet-looms," answered Phraortes. "The queen receives fifty talents yearly from the sales of the carpets."

"All the carpets in the king's apartments are made in my looms," said Atossa, with a smile. "I am a great merchant."

"I have no doubt I paid you dearly enough for them, too," said the king, who was beginning to be weary of the examination. He had firmly expected that either the Median agent, or the queen herself, would betray some emotion at the mention of arming the slaves, for he imagined that if Atossa had really planned any outbreak, she would undoubtedly have employed the large force of men she had at her disposal, by finding them weapons and promising them their liberty in the event of success.

He was disappointed at the appearance of the man Phraortes. He had supposed him a strong, determined, man of imperious ways and turbulent instincts, who could be easily led into revolution and sedition from the side of his ambition. He saw before him the traditional cunning, quick-witted merchant of Media, pale-faced and easily frightened; no more capable of a daring stroke of usurpation than a Jewish pedlar of Babylon. He was evidently a mere tool in the hands of the queen; and Darius stamped impatiently upon the floor when he thought that he had perhaps been deceived after all—that the queen had really written to Phraortes simply on account of her property, and that there was no revolution at all to be feared. Impulsive to the last degree, when the king had read the letter to Phraortes, his first thought had been to see the man for himself, to ask him a few questions and to put him at once to death if he found him untruthful. The man had arrived, broken with excessive fatigue and weak from the fearful journey; but under the very eye of the king, he had nevertheless given a clear and concise account of himself; and, though he betrayed considerable fear, he gave no reason for supposing that what he said was not true. As for the queen, she sat calmly by, polishing her nails with a small instrument of ivory, occasionally asking a question, or making a remark, as though it were all the most natural occurrence in the world.

Darius was impetuous and fierce. His intuitive decisions were generally right, and he acted upon them instantly, without hesitation; but he had no cunning and little strategy. He was always for doing and never for waiting; and to the extreme rapidity of his movements he owed the success he had. In the first three years of his reign he fought nineteen battles and vanquished nine self-styled kings; but he never, on any occasion, detected a conspiracy, nor destroyed a revolution before it had broken out openly. He was often, therefore, at the mercy of Atossa and frequently found himself baffled by her power of concealing a subtle lie under the letter of truth, and by her supreme indifference and coldness of manner under the most trying circumstances. In his simple judgment it was absolutely impossible for any one to lie directly without betraying some hesitation, and each time he endeavoured to place Atossa in some difficult position, when she must, he thought, inevitably betray herself, he was met by her inexplicable calm; which he was forced to attribute to the fact that she was in the right—no matter how the evidence might be against her.

The king decided that he had made a mistake in the present instance and that Phraortes was innocent of any idea of revolution. He could not conceive how such a man should be capable of executing a daring stroke of policy. He determined to let him go.

"You ought to be well satisfied with the result of these accounts," he said, staring hard at Atossa. "You see you know more of your affairs, and sooner, than you could have known if you had sent your letter. Let this fellow go, and tell him to send his accounts regularly in future, or he will have the pains of riding hither in haste to deliver them. Thou mayest go now and take thy rest," he added, rising and pushing the willing Phraortes before him out of the room.

"Thou hast done well. I am satisfied with thee, Phraortes," said Atossa coldly.

Once more the beautiful queen was left alone, and once more she looked at herself in the silver mirror, somewhat more critically than before. It seemed to her as she gazed and turned first one side of her face to the light and then the other, that she was a shade paler than usual. The change would have been imperceptible to any one else, but she noticed it with a little frown of disapproval. But presently she smoothed her brow and smiled happily to herself. She had sustained a terrible danger successfully.

She had hoped to have been able to warn Phraortes how to act; but, partly because the meeting had taken place so soon after his arrival, and partly because she had employed a portion of that brief interval with Zoroaster and in the scene she had suddenly invented and acted, she had been obliged to meet her chief agent without a moment's preparation, and she knew enough of his cowardly character to fear lest he should betray her and throw himself upon the king's mercy as a reward for the information he could give. But the crucial moment had passed successfully and there was nothing more to fear. Atossa threw herself upon the couch where the king had sat, and abandoned herself to the delicious contemplation of the pain she must have given in showing herself to Nehushta in Zoroaster's arms. She was sure that as the princess could not have seen Zoroaster's face, she must have thought that it was he who was embracing the queen. She must have suffered horribly, if she really loved him!


When Darius left the queen, he gave over the miserable Phraortes to the guards, to be cared for, and bent his steps towards the gardens. It was yet early, but he wished to be alone, and he supposed that Nehushta would come there before noon, as was her wont. Meanwhile, he wished to be free of the court and of the queen. Slowly he entered the marble gate and walked up the long walk of roses, plucking a leaf now and then, and twisting it in his fingers, scenting the fresh blossoms with an almost boyish gladness, and breathing in all the sweet warmth of the summer morning. He had made a mistake, and he was glad to be away, where he could calmly reflect upon the reason of his being deceived.

He wandered on until he came to the marble pavilion, and would have gone on to stray farther into the gardens, but that he caught sight of a woman's mantle upon the floor as he passed by the open doorway. He went up the few steps and entered.

Nehushta lay upon the marble pavement at her full length, her arms extended above her head. Her face was ghastly pale and her parted lips were white. She looked as one dead. Her white linen tiara had almost fallen from her heavy hair, and the long black locks streamed upon the stone in thick confusion. Her fingers were tightly clenched, and on her face was such an expression of agony, as Darius had never dreamed of, nor seen in those dead in battle.

The king started back in horror as he caught sight of the prostrate figure. He thought she was dead—murdered, perhaps—until, as he gazed, he saw a faint movement of breathing. Then he sprang forward, and kneeled, and raised her head upon his knee, and chafed her temples and her hands. He could reach the little fountain as he knelt, and he gathered some water in his palm and sprinkled it upon her face.

At last she opened her eyes—then closed them wearily again—then opened them once more in quick astonishment, and recognised the king. She would have made an effort to rise, but he checked her, and she let her head sink back upon his knee. Still he chafed her temples with his broad, brown hand, and gazed with anxious tenderness into her eyes, that looked at him for a moment, and then wandered and then looked again.

"What is this?" she asked, vacantly, at last.

"I know not," answered the king. "I found you here—lying upon the floor. Are you hurt?" he asked tenderly.

"Hurt? No—yes, I am hurt—hurt even to death," she added suddenly. "Oh, Darius, I would I could tell you! Are you really my friend?"

She raised herself without his help and sat up. The hot blood rushed back to her cheeks and her eyes regained their light.

"Can you doubt that I am your friend, your best friend?" asked the king.

Nehushta rose to her feet and paced the little hall in great emotion. Her hands played nervously with the golden tassels of her mantle, her head-dress had fallen quite back upon her shoulders, and the masses of her hair were let loose. From time to time she glanced at the king, who eyed her anxiously as he stood beside the fountain.

Presently she stopped before him, and very gravely fixed her eyes on him.

"I will tell you something," she said, beginning in low tones. "I will tell you this—I cannot tell you all. I have been horribly deceived, betrayed, made a sport of. I cannot tell you how—you will believe me, will you not? This man I loved—I love him not—has cast me off as an old garment, as a thing of no price—as a shoe that is worn out and that is not fit for his feet to tread upon. I love him not—I hate him—oh, I love him not at all!"

Darius's face grew dark and his teeth ground hard together, but he stood still, awaiting what she should say. But Nehushta ceased, and suddenly she began again to walk up and down, putting her hand to her temples, as though in pain. Once more she paused, and, in her great emotion laid her two hands upon the shoulder of the king, who trembled at her touch, as though a strong man had struck him.

"You said you loved me, once," said Nehushta, in short, nervous tones, almost under her breath. "Do you love me still?"

"Is it so long since I told you I loved you?" asked Darius, with a shade of bitterness. "Ah! do not tempt me—do not stir my sickness. Love you? Yea—as the earth loves the sun—as man never loved woman. Love you? Ay! I love you, and I am the most miserable of men." He shook from head to foot with strong emotion, and the stern lines of his face darkened as he went on speaking. "Yet, though I love you so, I cannot harm him,—for my great oath's sake I cannot—yet for you, almost I could. Ah Nehushta, Nehushta!" he cried passionately, "tempt me not! Ask me not this, for you can almost make a liar of the Great King if you will!"

"I tempt you not," answered the princess. "I will not that you harm a hair of his head. He is not worthy that you should lift the least of your fingers to slay him. But this I tell you—" she hesitated. The king in his violent excitement, as though foreseeing what she would say, seized her hands and held them tightly while he gazed into her eyes.

"Darius," she said, almost hurriedly, "if you love me, and if you desire it, I will be your wife."

A wild light broke from the king's eyes. He dropped her hands and stepped backwards from her, staring hard. Then, with, a quick motion, he turned and threw himself upon the marble seat that ran around the hall, and buried his face and sobbed aloud.

Nehushta seemed to regain some of her calmness, when once she had said the fatal words. She went and knelt beside him and smoothed his brow and wild, rough hair. The great tears stained his dark cheek. He raised himself and looked at her and put one arm about her neck.

"Nehushta," he whispered, "is it true?"

She bowed her head silently. Darius drew her towards him and laid her cheek upon his breast. His face bent down to hers, most tenderly, as though he would have kissed her. But suddenly he drew back, and turned his eyes away.

"No," he said, as though he had regained the mastery over himself. "It is too much to ask—that I might kiss you! It is too much—too much—that you give me. I am not worthy that you should be my wife. Nay!" he cried, as she would not let him rise from his seat. "Nay, let me go, it is not right—it is not worthy—I must not see you any more. Oh, you have tempted me till I am too weak—"

"Darius, you are the noblest of men, the best and bravest." Then with a sudden impulse it seemed to Nehushta that she really loved him. The majestic strength of Zoroaster seemed cold and meaningless beside the fervour of the brave young king, striving so hard to do right under the sorest temptation, striving to leave her free, even against her will. For the moment she loved him, as such women do, with a passionate impulse. She put her arms about him and drew him down to her.

"Darius, it is truth—I never loved you, but I love you now, for, of all living men, you have the bravest heart." She pressed a kiss hotly upon his forehead and her head sank upon his shoulder. For one moment the king trembled, and then, as though all resistance were gone from him, his arms went round her, locking with hers that held him, and he kissed her passionately.

When Zoroaster awoke from his long sleep it was night. He had dreamed evil dreams, and he woke with a sense of some great disaster impending. He heard unwonted sounds in the hall outside his chamber, and he sprang to his feet and called one of the soldiers of his guard.

"What is happening?" asked Zoroaster quickly.

"The Great King, who lives for ever, has taken a new wife to-day," answered the soldier, standing erect, but eyeing Zoroaster somewhat curiously. Zoroaster's heart sank within him.

"What? Who is she?" he asked, coming nearer to the man.

"The new queen is Nehushta—the Hebrew princess," answered the spearman. "There is a great banquet, and a feast for the guard, and much food and wine for the slaves—"

"It is well," answered Zoroaster. "Go thou, and feast with the rest."

The man saluted, and left the room. Zoroaster remained standing alone, his teeth chattering together and his strong limbs shaking beneath him. But he abandoned himself to no frenzy of grief, nor weeping; one seeing him would have said he was sick of a fever. His blue eyes stared hard at the lamp-light and his face was white, but he did not so much as utter an exclamation, nor give one groan. He went and sat down upon a chair and folded his hands together, as though waiting for some event. But nothing happened; no one came to disturb him in his solitude, though he could hear the tramping feet and the unceasing talk of the slaves and soldiers without. In the vast palace, where thousands dwelt, where all were feasting or talking of the coming banquet, Zoroaster was utterly alone.

At last he rose, slowly, as though with an effort, and paced twice from one end of the room to the other. Upon a low shelf on one side, his garments were folded together, while his burnished cuirass and helmet and other arms which he had not worn upon his rapid journey to Ecbatana, hung upon nails in the wall above. He looked at all these things and turned the clothes over piece by piece, till he had found a great dark mantle and a black hood such as was worn in Media. These he put on, and beneath the cloak he girded a broad, sharp knife about him. Then wrapping himself closely round with the dark-coloured stuff and drawing the hood over his eyes, he lifted the curtain of his door and went out, without casting a look behind him.

In the crowd of slaves he passed unnoticed; for the hall was but dimly lighted by a few torches, and every one's attention was upon the doings of the day and the coming feast.

Zoroaster soon gathered from the words he heard spoken, that the banquet had not yet begun, and he hastened to the columned porch through which the royal party must pass on the way to the great hall which formed the centre of the main building. Files of spearmen, in their bronze breastplates and scarlet and blue mantles, lined the way, which was strewn with yellow sand and myrtle leaves and roses. At every pillar stood a huge bronze candlestick, in which a torch of wax and fir-gum burned, and flared, and sent up a cloud of half pungent, half aromatic smoke. Throngs of slaves and soldiers pressed close behind the lines of spearmen, elbowing each other with loud jests and surly complaints, to get a better place, a sea of moving, shouting, gesticulating humanity. Zoroaster's great height and broad shoulders enabled him easily to push to the front, and he stood there, disguised and unknown, peering between the heads of two of his own soldiers to obtain the first view of the procession as it came down the broad staircase at the end of the porch.

Suddenly the blast of deep-toned trumpets was heard in the distance, and silence fell upon the great multitude. With a rhythmic sway of warlike tone the clangour rose and fell, and rose again as the trumpeters came out upon the great staircase and began to descend. After them came other musicians, whose softer instruments began to be heard in harmony with the resounding bass of the horns, and then, behind them, came singers, whose strong, high voices completed the full burst of music that went before the king.

With measured tread the procession advanced. There were neither priests, nor sacrificers, nor any connected with any kind of temple; but after the singers came two hundred noble children clad in white, bearing long garlands of flowers that trailed upon the ground, so that many of the blossoms were torn off and strewed the sand.

But Zoroaster looked neither on the singers, nor on the children. His eyes were fixed intently on the two figures that followed them—Darius, the king, and Nehushta, the bride. They walked side by side, and the procession left an open spaced ten paces before and ten paces behind the royal pair. Darius wore the tunic of purple and white stripes, the mantle of Tyrian purple on his shoulders and upon his head the royal crown of gold surrounded the linen tiara; his left hand, bare and brown and soldier-like, rested upon the golden hilt of his sword, and in his right, as he walked, he carried a long golden rod surmounted by a ball, twined with myrtle from end to end. He walked proudly forward, and as he passed, many a spearman thought with pride that the Great King looked as much a soldier as he himself.

By his left side came Nehushta, clad entirely in cloth of gold, while a mantle of the royal purple hung down behind her. Her white linen tiara was bound round with myrtle and roses, and in her hands she bore a myrtle bough.

Her face was pale in the torchlight, but she seemed composed in manner, and from time to time she glanced at the king with a look which was certainly not one of aversion.

Zoroaster felt himself growing as cold as ice as they approached, and his teeth chattered in his head. His brain reeled with the smoke of the torches, the powerful, moving tones of the music and the strangeness of the whole sight. It seemed as though it could not be real. He fixed his eyes upon Nehushta, but his face was shaded all around by his dark hood. Nevertheless, so intently did he gaze upon her that, as she came near, she felt his look, as it were, and, searching in the crowd behind the soldiers, met his eyes. She must have known it was he, even under the disguise that hid his features, for, though she walked calmly on, the angry blood rushed to her face and brow, overspreading her features with a sudden, dark flush.

Just as she came up to where Zoroaster stood, he thrust his covered head far out between the soldiers. His eyes gleamed like coals of blue fire and his voice came low, with a cold, clear ring, like the blade of a good sword striking upon a piece of iron.


That was all he said, but all around heard the cutting tone, that neither the voices of the singers, nor the clangour of the trumpets could drown.

Nehushta drew herself up and paused for one moment, and turned upon the dark-robed figure a look of such unutterable loathing and scorn as one would not have deemed could be concentrated in a human face. Then she passed on.

The two spearmen turned quickly upon the man between them, who had uttered the insult against the new queen, and laid hold of him roughly by the shoulders. A moment more and his life would have been ended by their swords. But his strong, white hands stole out like lightning, and seized each soldier by the wrist, and twisted their arms so suddenly and with such furious strength, that they cried aloud with pain and fell headlong at his feet. The people parted for a space in awe and wonder, and Zoroaster turned, with his dark mantle close drawn around him, and strode out through the gaping crowd.

"It is a devil of the mountains!" cried one.

"It is Ahriman himself!" said another.

"It is the soul of the priest of Bel whom the king slew at Babylon!"

"It is the Evil Sprit of Cambyses!"

"Nay," quoth one of the spearmen, rubbing his injured hand, "it was Zoroaster, the captain. I saw his face beneath that hood he wore."

"It may be," answered his fellow. "They say he can break a bar of iron, as thick as a man's three fingers, with his hand. But I believe it was a devil of the mountains."

But the procession marched on, and long before the crowd had recovered enough from its astonishment to give utterance to these surmises, Zoroaster had passed out of the porch and back through the deserted courts, and down the wide staircase to the palace gate, and out into the quiet, starlit night, alone and on foot.

He would have no compromise with his grief; he would be alone with it. He needed not mortal sympathy and he would not have the pity of man. The blow had struck home with deadly certainty and the wound was such as man cannot heal, neither woman. The fabric of happiness, which in a year he had built himself, was shattered to its foundation, and the fall of it was fearful. The ruin of it reached over the whole dominion of his soul and rent all the palace of his body. The temple that had stood so fair, whither his heart had gone up to worship his beloved one, was destroyed and utterly beaten to pieces; and the ruin of it was as a heap of dead bones, so loathsome in decay, that the eyes of his spirit turned in horror and disgust from the inward contemplation of so miserable a sight.

Alone and on foot, he went upon his dreary way, dry-eyed and calm. There was nothing left of all his past life that he cared for. His armour hung in his chamber in the palace and with it he left the Zoroaster he had known—the strong, the young, the beautiful; the warrior, the lover, the singer of sweet songs, the smiter of swift blows, the peerless horseman, the matchless man. He who went out alone into the great night, was a moving sorrow, a horror of grief made visible as a walking shadow among things real, a man familiar already with death as with a friend, and with the angel of death as with a lover.

Alone—it was a beginning of satisfaction to be away from all the crowd of known and unknown faces familiar to his life—but the end and attainment of satisfaction could only come when he should be away from himself, from the heavy body that wearied him, and from the heavier soul that was crushed with itself as with a burden. For sorrow was his companion from that day forth, and grief undying was his counsellor.

Ah God! She was so beautiful and her love was so sweet and strong! Her face had been as the face of an angel, and her virgin-heart as the innermost leaves of the rose that are folded together in the bud before the rising of the sun. Her kiss was as the breath of spring that gladdens the earth into new life, her eyes as crystal wells, from the depths whereof truth rose blushing to the golden light of day. Her lips were so sweet that a man wondered how they could ever part, till, when they parted, her gentle breath bore forth the music of her words, that was sweeter than all created sounds. She was of all earthly women the most beautiful—the very most lovely thing that God had made; and of all mortal women that have loved, her love had been the purest, the gentlest, the truest. There was never woman like to her, nor would be again.

And yet—scarce ten days had changed her, had so altered and disturbed the pure elements of her wondrous nature that she had lied to herself and lied to her lover the very lie of lies—for what? To wear a piece of purple of a richer dye than other women wore, to bind her hair with a bit of gold, to be called a queen—a queen forsooth! when she had been from her birth up the sovereign queen of all created women!

The very lie of lies! Was there ever such a monstrous lie since the world first learned the untruths of the serpent's wisdom? Had she not sworn and promised, by the holiness of her God, to love Zoroaster for ever? For ever. O word, that had meant heaven, and now meant hell!—that had meant joy without any end and peace and all love!—that meant now only pain eternal, and sorrow, and gnawing torment of a wound that would never heal! O Death, that yesterday would have seemed Life for her! O Life, that to-day, by her, was made the Death of deaths!

Emptiness of emptiness—the whole world one hollow cavern of vanity—lifeless and lightless, where the ghosts of the sorrows of men moan dismally, and the shadows of men's griefs scream out their wild agony upon the ghastly darkness! Night, through which no dawn shall ever gleam, fleet and fair, to touch with rosy fingers the eyes of a dead world and give them sight! Winter, of unearthly cold, that through all the revolving ages of untiring time, shall never see the face of another spring, nor feel its icy veins thawing with the pulses of a forgotten life, quickened from within with the thrilling hope of a new and glorious birth!

Far out upon the southern plain Zoroaster lay upon the dew-wet ground and gazed up into the measureless depths of heaven, where the stars shone out like myriads of jewels set in the dark mantle of night!

Gradually, as he lay, the tempest of his heart subsided, and the calm of the vast solitude descended upon him, even as the dew had descended upon the earth. His temples ceased to throb with the wild pulse that sent lightnings through his brain at every beat, and from the intensity of his sorrow, his soul seemed to float upwards to those cool depths of the outer firmament where no sorrow is. His eyes grew glassy and fixed, and his body rigid in the night-dews; and his spirit, soaring beyond the power of earthly forces to weigh down its flight, rose to that lofty sphere where the morning and the evening are but one eternal day, where the mighty unison of the heavenly chorus sends up its grand plain-chant to God Most High.


Far in the wild mountains of the south, where a primeval race of shepherds pastures its flocks of shaggy goats upon the scanty vegetation of rocky slopes, there is a deep gorge whither men seldom penetrate, and where the rays of the sun fall but for a short hour at noonday. A man may walk, or rather climb, along the side of the little stream that rushes impetuously down among the black rocks, for a full hour and a half before he reaches the end of the narrow valley. Then he will come upon a sunken place, like a great natural amphitheatre, the steep walls of boulders rising on all sides to a lofty circle of dark crags. In the midst of this open space a spring rises suddenly from beneath a mass of black stone, with a rushing, gurgling sound, and makes a broad pool, whence the waters flow down in a little torrent through the gorge till they emerge far below into the fertile plain and empty themselves into the Araxes, which flows by the towers and palaces of lordly Stakhar, more than two days' journey from the hidden circle in the mountains.

It would have been a hard thing to recognise Zoroaster in the man who sat day after day beside the spring, absorbed in profound meditation. His tall figure was wasted almost to emaciation by fasting and exposure; his hair and beard had turned snow-white, and hung down in abundant masses to his waist, and his fair young face was pale and transparent. But in his deep blue eyes there was a light different from the light of other days—the strange calm fire of a sight that looks on wondrous things, and sees what the eyes of men may not see, and live.

Nearly three years had passed since he went forth from the palace of Shushan, to wander southwards in search of a resting-place, and he was but three-and-thirty years of age. But between him and the past there was a great gulf—the interval between the man and the prophet, between the cares of mortality and the divine calm of the higher life.

From time to time indeed, he ascended the steep path he had made among the stones and rocks, to the summit of the mountain; and there he met one of the shepherds of the hills, who brought him once every month a bag of parched grain and a few small, hard cheeses of goats' milk; and in return for these scanty provisions, he gave the man each time a link from the golden chain he had worn and which was still about his neck when he left the palace. Three-and-thirty links were gone since he had come there, and the chain was shorter by more than half its length. It would last until the thousand days were accomplished, and there would still be much left. Auramazda, the All-Wise, would provide.

Zoroaster sat by the spring and watched the crystal waters sparkle in the brief hour of sunshine at noonday, and turn dark and deep again when the light was gone. He moved not through the long hours of day, sitting as he had sat in that place now for three years neither scorched by the short hours of sunlight, nor chilled by winter's frost and snow. The wild long-haired sheep of the mountain came down to drink at noon, and timidly gazed with their stupid eyes at the immovable figure; and at evening the long-bodied, fierce-eyed wolves would steal stealthily among the rocks and come and snuff the ground about his feet, presently raising their pointed heads with a long howl of fear, and galloping away through the dusk in terror, as though at something unearthly.

And when at last the night was come, Zoroaster arose and went to the spot where the rocks, overhanging together, left a space through which one might enter; and the white-haired man gave one long look at the stars overhead, and disappeared within.

There was a vast cave, the roof reaching high up in a great vault; the sides black and polished, as though smoothed by the hands of cunning workmen; the floor a bed of soft, black sand, dry and even as the untrodden desert. In the midst, a boulder of black rock lay like a huge ball, and upon its summit burned a fire that was never quenched, and that needed no replenishing with fuel. The tall pointed flame shed a strangely white light around, that flashed and sparkled upon the smooth black walls of the cavern, as though they were mirrors. The flame also was immovable; it neither flickered, nor rose, nor fell; but stood as it were a spear-head of incandescent gold upon the centre of the dark altar. There was no smoke from that strange fire, nor any heat near it, as from other fires.

Then Zoroaster bent and put forth his forefinger and traced a figure upon the sand, which was like a circle, save that it was cut from north-west to south-east by two straight lines; and from north-east to south-west by two straight lines; and at each of the four small arcs, where the straight lines cut the circumference of the great circle, a part of a smaller circle outside the great one united the points over each other. And upon the east side, toward the altar, the great circle was not joined, but open for a short distance.[5]

[Footnote 5: The Mazdayashnian Dakhma, or place of death. This figure represents the ground-plan of the modern Parsi Tower of Silence.]

When the figure was traced, Zoroaster came out from it and touched the black rock whereon the fire burned; and then he turned back and entered the circle, and with his fingers joined it where it was open on the east side through which he had entered. And immediately, as the circle was completed, there sprung up over the whole line he had traced a soft light; like that of the fire, but less strong. Then Zoroaster lay down upon his back, with his feet to the west and his head toward the altar, and he folded his hands upon his breast and closed his eyes. As he lay, his body became rigid and his face as the face of the dead; and his spirit was loosed in the trance and freed from the bonds of earth, while his limbs rested.

Lying there, separated from the world, cut off within the circle of a symbolised death by the light of the universal agent,[6] Zoroaster dreamed dreams and saw visions.

[Footnote 6: The term "universal agent" has been used in the mysticism of ages, to designate that subtle and all-pervading fluid, of which the phenomena of light, heat, electricity and vitality are considered to be but the grosser and more palpable manifestations.]

His mind was first opened to the understanding of those broader conceptions of space and time of which he had read in the books of Daniel, his master. He had understood the principles then, but he had not realised their truth. He was too intimately connected with the life around him, to be able to see in the clearer light which penetrates with universal truth all the base forms of perishable matter.

Daniel had taught him the first great principles. All men, in their ignorance, speak of the infinities of space and time as being those ideas which man cannot of himself grasp or understand. Man, they say, is limited in capacity; he can, therefore, not comprehend the infinite. A greater fault than this could not be committed by a thinking being. For infinity being unending, it is incapable of being limited; it rejects definition, which belongs, by its nature, to finite things. For definition means the placing of bounds, and that which is infinite can have no bounds. The man, therefore, who seeks to bound what has no bounds, endeavours to define what is, by its nature, undefinable; and finding that the one poor means which he has of conveying fallacious impressions of illusory things to his mind through his deadened senses, is utterly insufficient to give him an idea of what alone is real, he takes refuge in his crass ignorance and coarse grossness of language, and asserts boldly that the human mind is too limited in its nature to conceive of infinite space, or of infinite time.

Not only is the untrammelled mind of man capable of these bolder conceptions, but even the wretched fool who sees in the material world the whole of what man can know, could never get so far as to think even of the delusive objects on which he pins his foolish faith, unless the very mind which he insults and misunderstands, had by its nature that infinite capacity of comprehension which, he says, exists not. For otherwise, if the mind be limited, there must be a definite limit to its comprehensive faculty, and it is easy to conceive that such a limit would soon become apparent to every student; as apparent as it is that a being, confined within three dimensions of space, cannot, without altering his nature, escape from these three dimensions, nor from the laws which govern matter having length, breadth and thickness alone, without the external fourth dimension, with its interchangeability of exterior and interior angles.

The very thought that infinite space cannot be understood, is itself a proof that the mind unconsciously realises the precise nature of such infinity, in attributing to it at once the all-comprehensiveness from which there is no escape, in which all dimensions exist, and by virtue of which all other conceptions become possible; since this infinite space contains in itself all dimensions of existence—transitory, real and potential; and if the capacity of the mind is co-extensive with the capacity of infinite space, since it feels itself undoubtedly capable of grasping any limited idea contained in any portion of the illimitable whole, it follows that the mind is of itself as infinite as the space in which all created things have their transitory form of being, and in which all uncreated truths exist eternally. The mind is aware of infinity by that true sort of knowledge which is an intimate conviction not dependent upon the operation of the senses.

Gradually, too, as Zoroaster fixed his intuition upon the first main principle of all possible knowledge, he became aware of the chief cause—of the universal principal of vivifying essence, which pervades all things, and in which arises motion as the original generator of transitory being. The great law of division became clear to him—the separation for a time of the universal agent into two parts, by the separation and reuniting of which comes light and heat and the hidden force of life, and the prime rules of attractive action; all things that are accounted material. He saw the division of darkness and light, and how all things that are in the darkness are reflected in the light; and how the light which we call light is in reality darkness made visible, whereas the true light is not visible to the eyes that are darkened by the gross veil of transitory being. And as from the night of earth, his eyes were gradually opened to the astral day, he knew that the forms that move and have being in the night are perishable and utterly unreal; whereas the purer being which is reflected in the real light is true and endures for ever.

Then, by his knowledge and power, and by the light that was in him, he divided the portion of the universal agent that was in the cave where he dwelt into two portions, and caused them to reunite in the midst upon the stone that was there; and the flame burned silently and without heat upon his altar, day and night, without intermission; and by the division of the power within him, he could divide the power also that was latent in other transitory beings, according to those laws which, being eternal, are manifested in things not eternal, but perishable.

And further, he meditated upon the seven parts of man, and upon their separation, and upon the difference of their nature.

For the first element of man is perishable matter.

And the second element of man is the portion of the universal agent which gives him life.

And the third element of man is the reflection of his perishable substance in the astral light, coincident with him, but not visible to his earthly eye.

The fourth element of man is made up of all the desires he feels by his material senses. This part is not real being, nor transitory being, but a result.

The fifth element of man is that which says: "I am," whereby a man knows himself from other men; and with it there is an intelligence of lower things, but no intelligence of things higher.

The sixth element is the pure understanding, eternal and co-extensive with all infinity of time and space—real, imperishable, invisible to the eye of man.

The seventh element is the soul from God.

Upon these things Zoroaster meditated long, and as his perishable body became weakened and emaciated with fasting and contemplation, he was aware that, at times, the universal agent ceased to be decomposed and recomposed in the nerves of his material part, so that his body became as though dead, and with, it the fourth element which represents the sense of mortal desires; and he himself, the three highest elements of him,—his individuality, his intelligence and his soul,—became separated for a time from all that weighed them down; and his mind's eyes were opened, and he saw clearly in the astral light, with an intuitive knowledge of true things, and false.

And so, night after night, he lay upon the floor of his cavern, rigid and immovable; his body protected from all outer harmful influences by the circle of light he had acquired the power of producing. For though there was no heat in the flame, no mortal breathing animal could so much as touch it with the smallest part of his body without being instantly destroyed as by lightning. And so he was protected from all harm in his trances; and he left his body at will and returned to it, and it breathed again, and was alive.

So he saw into the past and into the present and into the future, and his soul was purified beyond the purity of man, and soared upwards, and dreamed of the eternal good and of the endless truth; and at last it seemed to him that he should leave his body in its trance, and never return to it, nor let it breathe again. For since it was possible thus to cast off mortality and put on immortality, it seemed to him that it was but a weariness to take up the flesh and wear it, when it was so easy to lay it down. Almost he had determined that he would then let death come, as it were unawares, upon his perishable substance, and remain for ever in the new life he had found.

But as his spirit thought in this wise, he heard a voice speaking to him, and he listened.

"One moment is as another, and there is no difference between one time and another time."

"One moment in eternity is of as great value as another moment, for eternity changes not, neither is one part of it better than another part."

"Though man be immortal as to his soul, he is mortal as to his body, and the time which his soul shall spend in his body is of as great worth to him as the time which he shall spend without it."

"Think not that by wilfully abandoning the body, even though you have the power and the knowledge to do so, you will escape from the state in which it has pleased God to put you."

"Rather shall your pain and the time of your suffering be increased, because you have not done with the body that which the body shall do."

"The life of the soul while it is in the body, has as much value as when it has left it. You shall not shorten the time of dwelling in the flesh."

"Though you know all things, you know not God. For though you know your body which is in the world, and the world which is in time, and time which is in space, yet your knowledge goeth no farther, for space and all that therein is, is in God.[7]"

[Footnote 7: Hermes Trismegistus, Poemandres xi. 2.]

"You have learned earthly things and heavenly things. Learn then that you shall not escape the laws of earth while you are on earth, nor the laws of heaven when you are in heaven. Lift up your heart to God, but do in the body those things which are of the body."

"There are other men put into the world besides you. If you leave the world, what does your knowledge profit other men? And yet it is to profit other men that God has put you into the world."

"And not you only, but every man. The labour of man is to man, and the labour of angels to angels. But the time of man is as valuable in the sight of God, as the time of angels."

"All things that are not accomplished in their time shall be left unaccomplished for ever and ever. If while you are in the flesh, you accomplish not the things of the flesh after the manner of your humanity, you shall enter into the life of the spirit as one blind, or maimed; for your part is not fulfilled."

"Wisdom is this. A man shall not care for the things of the world for himself, and his soul shall be lifted and raised above all that is mean and perishable; but he shall perform his part without murmuring. He shall not forget the perishable things, though he soar to the imperishable."

"For man is to man as one portion of eternity to another; and as eternity would be imperfect if one moment could be removed, so also the earth would be imperfect if one man should be taken from it before his appointed time."

"If a man therefore take himself out of the world, he causes imperfection, and sins against perfection, which is the law of God."

"Though the world be in darkness, the darkness is necessary to the light. Though the world perish, and heaven perish not for ever, yet is the perishable necessary to the eternal."

"For the transitory and the unchangeable exist alike in eternity and are portions of it. And one moment is as another, and there is no difference between one time and another time."

"Go, therefore, and take up your body, and do with it the deeds of the body among men; for you have deeds to do, and unless they are done in their time, which is now, they will be unfulfilled for ever, and you will become an imperfect spirit."

"The imperfect spirit shall be finally destroyed, for nothing that is imperfect shall endure. To be perfect all things must be fulfilled, all deeds done, in the season while the spirit is in darkness with the body. The deeds perish, and the body which doeth them, but the soul of the perfect man is eternal, and the reflection of what he has done, abides for ever in the light."

"Hasten, for your time is short. You have learned all things that are lawful to be learnt, and your deeds shall be sooner accomplished."

"Hasten, for one moment is as another, and there is no difference between the value of one time and of another time."

"The moment which passes returns not, and the thing which a man should do in one time cannot be done in another time."

The voice ceased, and the spirit of Zoroaster returned to his body in the cave, and his eyes opened. Then he rose, and standing within the circle, cast sand upon the portion towards the east; and so soon as the circle was broken, it was extinguished and there remained nothing but the marks Zoroaster had traced with his fingers upon the black sand.

He drew his tattered mantle around him, and went to the entrance of the cave, and passed out. And it was night.

Overhead, the full moon cast her broad rays vertically into the little valley, and the smooth black stones gleamed darkly. The reflection caught the surface of the little pool by the spring, and it was turned to a silver shield of light.

Zoroaster came forward and stood beside the fountain, and the glory of the moon fell upon his white locks and beard and on the long white hand he laid upon the rock.

His acute senses, sharpened beyond those of men by long solitude and fasting, distinguished the step of a man far up the height on the distant crags, and his keen sight soon detected a figure descending cautiously, but surely, towards the deep abyss where Zoroaster stood. More and more clearly he saw him, till the man was near, and stood upon an overhanging boulder within speaking distance. He was the shepherd who, from time to time, brought food to the solitary mystic; and who alone, of all the goatherds in those hills, would have dared to invade the sacred precincts of Zoroaster's retreat. He was a brave fellow, but the sight of the lonely man by the fountain awed him; it seemed as though his white hair emitted a light of its own under the rays of the moon, and he paused in fear lest the unearthly ascetic should do him some mortal hurt.

"Wilt thou harm me if I descend?" he called out timidly.

"I harm no man," answered Zoroaster. "Come in peace."

The active shepherd swung himself from the boulder, and in a few moments he stood among the stones at the bottom, a few paces from the man he sought. He was a dark fellow, clad in goat-skins, with pieces of leather bound around his short, stout legs. His voice was hoarse, perhaps with some still unconquered fear, and his staff rattled as he steadied himself among the stones.

"Art not thou he who is called Zoroaster?" he asked.

"I am he," answered the mystic. "What wouldest thou?"

"Thou knowest that the Great King with his queens and his court are at the palace of Stakhar," replied the man. "I go thither from time to time to sell cheeses to the slaves. The Great King has made a proclamation that whosoever shall bring before him Zoroaster shall receive a talent of gold and a robe of purple. I am a poor shepherd—fearest thou to go to the palace?"

"I fear nothing. I am past fear these three years."

"Will the Great King harm thee, thinkest thou? Thou hast paid me well for my pains since I first saw thee, and I would not have thee hurt."

"No man can harm me. My time is not yet come."

"Wilt thou go with me?" cried the shepherd, in sudden delight. "And shall I have the gold and the robe?"

"I will go with thee. Thou shalt have all thou wouldest," answered Zoroaster. "Art thou ready? I have no goods to burden me."

"But thou art old," objected the shepherd, coming nearer. "Canst thou go so far on foot? I have a beast; I will return with him in the morning, and meet thee upon the height. I came hither in haste, being but just returned from Stakhar with the news."

"I am younger than thou, though my hair is white. I will go with thee. Lead the way."

He stooped and drank of the fountain in the moonlight, from the hollow of his hand. Then he turned, and began to ascend the steep side of the valley. The shepherd led the way in silence, overcome between his awe of the man and his delight at his own good fortune.


It was now three years since Nehushta had been married to Darius, and the king loved her well. But often, in that time, he had been away from her, called to different parts of the kingdom by the sudden outbreaks of revolution which filled the early years of his reign. Each time he had come back in triumph, and each time he had given her some rich gift. He found indeed that he had no easy task to perform in keeping the peace between his two queens; for Atossa seemed to delight in annoying Nehushta and in making her feel that she was but the second in the king's favour, whatever distinctions might be offered her. But Darius was just and was careful that Atossa should receive her due, neither more nor less.

Nehushta was glad when Zoroaster was gone. She had suffered terribly in that moment when he had spoken to her out of the crowd, and the winged word had made a wound that rankled still. In those three years that passed, Atossa never undeceived her concerning the sight she had seen, and she still believed that Zoroaster had basely betrayed her. It was impossible, in her view, that it could be otherwise. Had she not seen him herself? Could any man do such an action who was not utterly base and heartless? She had, of course, never spoken to Darius of the scene upon the terrace. She did not desire the destruction of Atossa, nor of her faithless lover. Amid all the tender kindness the king lavished upon her, the memory of her first love endured still, and she could not have suffered the pain of going over the whole story again. He was gone, perhaps dead, and she would never see him again. He would not dare to set foot in the court. She remembered the king's furious anger against him, when he suspected that the hooded man in the procession was Zoroaster. But Darius had afterwards said, in his usual careless way, that he himself would have done as much, and that for his oath's sake, he would never harm the young Persian. By the grace of Auramazda he swore, he was the king of kings and did not make war upon disappointed lovers!

Meanwhile, Darius had built himself a magnificent palace, below the fortress of Stakhar, in the valley of the Araxes, and there he spent the winter and the spring, when the manifold cares of the state would permit him. He had been almost unceasingly at war with the numerous pretenders who set themselves up for petty kings in the provinces. With unheard-of rapidity, he moved from one quarter of his dominions to another, from east to west, from north to south; but each time that he returned, he found some little disturbance going on at the court, and he bent his brows and declared that a parcel of women were harder to govern than all Media, Persia, and Babylon together.

Atossa wearied him with her suggestions.

"When the king is gone upon an expedition," she said, "there is no head in the palace. Otanes is a weak man. The king will not give me the control of the household, neither will he give it to any one else."

"There is no one whom I can trust," answered Darius. "Can you not dwell together in peace for a month?"

"No," answered Atossa, with her winning smile, "it is impossible; the king's wives will never agree among themselves. Let the king choose some one and make a head over the palace."

"Whom shall I choose?" asked Darius, moodily.

"The king had a faithful servant once," suggested Atossa.

"Have I none now?"

"Yea, but none so faithful as this man of whom I speak, nor so ready to do the king's bidding. He departed from Shushan when the king took Nehushta to wife—"

"Mean you Zoroaster?" asked Darius, bending his brows, and eyeing Atossa somewhat fiercely. But she met his glance with indifference.

"The same," she answered. "Why not send for him and make him governor of the palace? He was indeed a faithful servant—and a willing one."

Still the king gazed hard at her face, as though trying to fathom the reason of her request, or at least to detect some scornful look upon her face to agree with her sneering words. But he was no match for the unparalleled astuteness of Atossa, though he had a vague suspicion that she wished to annoy him by calling up a memory which she knew could not be pleasant, and he retorted in his own fashion.

"If Zoroaster be yet alive I will have him brought, and I will make him governor of the palace. He was indeed a faithful servant—he shall rule you all and there shall be no more discord among you."

And forthwith the king issued a proclamation that whosoever should bring Zoroaster before him should receive a talent of gold and a robe of purple as a reward.

But when Nehushta heard of it she was greatly troubled; for Atossa began to tell her that Zoroaster was to return and to be made governor of the palace; but Nehushta rose and left her forthwith, with such a look of dire hatred and scorn that even the cold queen thought she had, perhaps, gone too far.

There were other reasons why the king desired Zoroaster's return. He had often wondered secretly how the man could so have injured Nehushta as to turn her love into hate in a few moments; but he had never questioned her. It was a subject neither of them could have approached, and Darius was far too happy in his marriage to risk endangering that happiness by any untoward discovery. Nehushta's grief and anger had been so genuine when she told him of Zoroaster's treachery that it had never occurred to him that he might be injuring the latter in marrying the princess, though his generous heart had told him more than once, that Nehushta had married him half from gratitude for his kindness, and half out of anger with her false lover; but, capricious as she was in all other things, towards the king she was always the same, gentle and affectionate, though there was nothing passionate in her love. And now, the idea of seeing the man who had betrayed her installed in an official position in the palace, was terrible to her pride. She could not sleep for thinking how she should meet him, and what she should do. She grew pale and hollow-eyed with the anticipation of evil and all her peace went from her. Deep down in her heart there was yet a clinging affection for the old love, which she smothered and choked down bravely; but it was there nevertheless, a sleeping giant, ready to rise and overthrow her whole nature in a moment, if only she could wash away the stain of faithlessness which sullied his fair memory, and lift the load of dishonour which had crushed him from the sovereign place he had held in the dominion of her soul.

Darius was himself curious to ascertain the truth about Zoroaster's conduct. But another and a weightier reason existed for which he wished him to return. The king was disturbed about a matter of vital importance to his kingdom, and he knew that, among all his subjects, there was not one more able to give him assistance and advice than Zoroaster, the pupil of the dead prophet Daniel.

The religion of the kingdom was of a most uncertain kind. So many changes had passed over the various provinces which made up the great empire that, for generations, there had been almost a new religion for every monarch. Cyrus, inclining to the idolatry of the Phoenicians, had worshipped the sun and moon, and had built temples and done sacrifice to them and to a multitude of deities. Cambyses had converted the temples of his father into places of fire-worship, and had burnt thousands of human victims; rejoicing in the splendour of his ceremonies and in the fierce love of blood that grew upon him as his vices obtained the mastery over his better sense. But under both kings the old Aryan worship of the Magians had existed among the people, and the Magians themselves had asserted, whenever they dared, their right to be considered the priestly caste, the children of the Brahmins of the Aryan house. Gomata—the false Smerdis—was a Brahmin, at least in name, and probably in descent; and during his brief reign the only decrees he issued from his retirement in the palace of Shushan, were for the destruction of the existing temples and the establishment of the Magian worship throughout the kingdom. When Darius had slain Smerdis, he naturally proceeded to the destruction of the Magi, and the streets of Shushan ran with their blood for many days. He then restored the temples and the worship of Auramazda, as well as he was able; but it soon became evident that the religion was in a disorganised state and that it would be no easy matter to enforce a pure monotheism upon a nation of men who, in their hearts, were Magians, nature-worshippers; and who, through successive reigns, had been driven by force to the adoration of strange idols. It followed that the people resisted the change and revolted whenever they could find a leader. The numerous revolutions, which cost Darius no less than nineteen battles, were, almost without exception, brought about in the attempt to restore the Magian worship in various provinces of the kingdom, and it may well be doubted whether, at any time in the world's history, an equal amount of blood was ever shed in so short a period in the defence of religious convictions.

Darius himself was a man who had the strongest belief in the power of Auramazda, the All-Wise God, and who did not hesitate to attribute all the evil in the world to Ahriman, the devil. He had a bitter contempt for all idolatry, nature-worship and superstition generally, and he adhered in his daily life to the simple practices of the ancient Mazdayashnians. But he was totally unfitted to be the head of a religious movement; and, although he had collected such of the priesthood as seemed most worthy, and had built them temples and given them privileges of all kinds, he was far from satisfied with their mode of worship. He could not frame a new doctrine, but he had serious doubts whether the ceremonies his priests performed were as simple and religious as he wished them to be. The chants, long hymns of endless repetition and monotony, were well enough, perhaps; the fire that was kept burning perpetually was a fitting emblem of the sleepless wisdom and activity of the Supreme Being in overcoming darkness with light. But the boundless intoxication into which the priests threw themselves by the excessive drinking of the Haoma, the wild and irregular acts of frenzy by which they expressed their religious fervour when under the influence of the subtle drink, were adjuncts to the simple purity of the bloodless sacrifice which disgusted the king, and he hesitated long as to some reform in these matters. The oldest Mazdayashnians declared that the drinking of Haoma was an act, at once pleasing to God and necessary to stimulate the zeal of the priests in the long and monotonous chanting, which would otherwise soon sink to a mere perfunctory performance of a wearisome task. The very repetition which the hymns contained seemed to prove that they were not intended to be recited by men not under some extraordinary influence. Only the wild madness of the Haoma drinker could sustain such an endless series of repeated prayers with fitting devotion and energy.

All this the king heard and was not satisfied. He attended the ceremonies with becoming regularity and sat through the performance of the rites with exemplary patience. But he was disgusted, and he desired a reform. Then he remembered how Zoroaster himself was a good Mazdayashnian, and how he had occupied himself with religious studies from his youth up, and how he had enjoyed the advantage of being the companion of Daniel, the Hebrew governor, whose grand simplicity of faith had descended, to some degree, upon his pupil. The Hebrews, Darius knew, were a sober people of the strongest religious convictions, and he had heard that, although eating formed, in some way, a part of their ceremonies, there was no intoxication connected with their worship. Zoroaster, he thought, would be able to give him advice upon this point, which would be good. In sending for the man he would fulfil the double purpose of seeming to grant the queen's request, and at the same time, of providing himself with a sage counsellor in his difficulties. With his usual impetuosity, he at once fulfilled his purpose, assuring himself that Zoroaster must have forgotten Nehushta by this time, and that he, the king, was strong enough to prevent trouble if he had not.

But many days passed, and though the proclamation was sent to all parts of the kingdom, nothing was heard of Zoroaster. His retreat was a sure one and there was no possibility of his being found.

Atossa, who in her heart longed for Zoroaster's return, both because by his means she hoped to bring trouble upon Nehushta, and because she still felt something akin to love for him, began to fear that he might be dead, or might have wandered out of the kingdom; but Nehushta herself knew not whether to hope that he would return, or to rejoice that she was to escape the ordeal of meeting him. She would have given anything to see him for a moment, to decide, as it were, whether she wished to see him, or not. She was deeply disturbed by the anxiety she felt and longed to know definitely what she was to expect.

She began to hate Stakhar with its splendid gardens and gorgeous colonnades, with its soft southern air that blew across the valley of roses all day long, wafting up a wondrous perfume to the south windows. She hated the indolent pomp in which she lived and the idle luxury of her days. Something in her hot-blooded Hebrew nature craved for the blazing sun and the sand-wastes of Syria, for the breath of the desert and for the burning heat of the wilderness. She had scarcely ever seen these things, for she had sojourned during the one-and-twenty years of her life, in the most magnificent palaces of the kingdom, and amid the fairest gardens the hand of man could plant. But the love of the sun and of the sand was bred in the blood. She began to hate the soft cushions and the delicate silks and the endless flowers scenting the heavy air.

Stakhar[8] itself was a mighty fortress, in the valley of the Araxes, rising dark and forbidding from the banks of the little river, crowned with towers and turrets and massive battlements, that overlooked the fertile extent of gardens, as a stern schoolmaster frowning over a crowd of fair young children. But Darius had chosen the site of his palace at some distance from the stronghold; where the river bent suddenly round a spur of the mountain, and watered a wider extent of land. The spur of the hill ran down, by an easy gradation, into the valley; and beyond it the hills separated into the wide plain of Merodasht that stretched southward many farsangs to the southern pass. Upon this promontory the king had caused to be built a huge platform which was ascended by the broadest flight of steps in the whole world, so easy of gradation that a man might easily have ridden up and then down again without danger to his horse. Upon the platform was raised the palace, a mighty structure resting on the vast columned porticoes and halls, built entirely of polished black marble, that contrasted strangely with the green slopes of the hills above and with the bright colours of the rose-gardens. Endless buildings rose behind the palace, and stretched far down towards the river below it. Most prominent of those above was the great temple of Auramazda, where the ceremonies were performed which gave Darius so much anxiety. It was a massive, square building, lower than the palace, consisting of stone walls surrounded by a deep portico of polished columns. It was not visible from the great staircase, being placed immediately behind the palace and hidden by it.

[Footnote 8: Istakhar, called since the conquest of Alexander, Persepolis.]

The walls and the cornices and the capitals of the pillars were richly sculptured with sacrificial processions, and long trains of soldiers and captives, with great inscriptions of wedge-shaped letters, and with animals of all sorts. The work was executed by Egyptian captives; and so carefully was the hard black marble carved and polished, that a man could see his face in the even surfaces, and they sent back the light like dark mirrors.

The valley above Stakhar was grand in its great outlines of crags and sharp, dark peaks, and the beetling fortress upon its rocky base, far up the gorge, seemed only a jutting fragment of the great mountain, thrown off and separated from the main chain by an earthquake, or some vast accident of nature. But from the palace itself the contrast of the views was great. On one side, the rugged hills, crag-crowned and bristling black against the north-western sky; on the other, the great bed of rose-gardens and orangeries and cultivated enclosures filled the plain, till in the dim distance rose the level line of the soft blue southern hills, blending mistily in the lazy light of a far-off warmth. It seemed as though on one side of the palace were winter, and on the other summer; on the one side cold, and on the other heat; on the one side rough strength, and on the other gentle rest.

But Nehushta gazed northward and was weary of the cold, and southward, and she wearied of the heat. There was nothing—nothing in it all that was worth one moment of the old sweet moonlit evenings among the myrtles at Ecbatana. When she thought, there was nothing of all her royal state and luxury that she would not readily give to have had Zoroaster remain faithful to her. She had put him away from her heart, driven him out utterly, as she believed; but now that he was spoken of again, she knew not whether she loved him a little in spite of all his unfaithfulness, or whether it was only the memory of the love she had felt before which stirred in her breast, and made her unconsciously speak his name when she was alone.

She looked back over the three years that were passed, and she knew that she had done her duty by the king. She knew also that she had done it willingly, and that there had been many moments when she said to herself that she loved Darius dearly. Indeed, it was not hard to find a reason for loving him, for he was brave and honest and noble in all his thoughts and ways; and whatever he had been able to do to show his love for Nehushta, he had done. It was not the least of the things that had made her life pass so easily, that she felt daily how she was loved before her rival, and how, in her inmost heart, Atossa chafed at seeing Darius forsake her society for that of the Hebrew princess. If the king had wearied of her, Nehushta would very likely have escaped from the palace, and gone out to face any misfortunes the world might hold for her, rather than remain to bear the scoffing of the fair smiling woman she so hated. Or, she would have stolen in by night to where Atossa slept, and the wicked-looking Indian knife she wore, would have gone down, swift and sure, to the very haft, into the queen's heart. She would not have borne tamely any slight upon her beauty or her claims. But, as it was, she reigned supreme. The king was just, and showed no difference in the state and attendance of the two queens, but it was to Nehushta he turned, when he drank deep at the banquet and pledged the loving cup. It was to Nehushta that he went when the cares of state were heavy and he needed counsel; and it was upon her lap he laid his weary head, when he had ridden far and fast for many days, returning from some hard-fought field.

But the queens hated each other with a fierce hatred, and when Darius was absent, their divisions broke out sometimes into something like open strife. Their guards buffeted each other in the courts, and their slave-women tore out each other's hair upon the stairways. Then, when the king returned, there reigned an armed peace for a time, which none dared break. But rumours of the disturbances that had taken place often reached the royal ears, and Darius was angry and swore great oaths, but could do nothing; being no wiser than many great men who have had to choose between the caprices of two women who hated each other.

Now the rumour went abroad that Zoroaster would return to the court; and for a space, the two queens kept aloof, for both knew that if he came back, some mortal conflict would of necessity arise between them; and each watched the other, and was cautious.

The days passed by, but no one answered the proclamation. No one had seen or heard of Zoroaster, since the night when he left the palace at Shushan. He had taken nothing with him, and had left no trace behind to guide the search. Many said he had left the kingdom; some said he was dead in the wilderness. But Nehushta sighed and took little rest, for do what she would, she had hoped to see him once more.


The interior of the temple was lighted with innumerable lamps, suspended from the ceiling, of bronze and of the simplest workmanship, like everything which pertained to the worship of Auramazda. In the midst, upon a small altar of black stone, stood a bronze brazier, shaped like a goblet, wherein a small fire of wood burned quietly, sending up little wreaths of smoke, which spread over the flat ceiling and hung like a mist about the lamps; before the altar lay a supply of fuel—fine, evenly-cut sticks of white pine-wood, piled in regular order in a symmetrical heap. At one extremity of the oblong hall stood a huge mortar of black marble, having a heavy wooden pestle, and standing upon a circular base, in which was cut a channel all around, with an opening in the front from which the Haoma juice poured out abundantly when the fresh milkweed was moistened and pounded together in the mortar. A square receptacle of marble received the fluid, which remained until it had fermented during several days, and had acquired the intoxicating strength for which it was prized, and to which it owed its sacred character. By the side of this vessel, upon a low marble table, lay a huge wooden ladle; and two golden cups, short and wide, but made smaller in the middle like a sand-glass, stood there also.

At the opposite end of the temple, before a marble screen which shielded the doorway, was placed a great carved chair of ebony and gold and silver, raised upon a step above the level of the floor.

It was already dark when the king entered the temple, dressed in his robes of state, with his sword by his side, his long sceptre tipped with the royal sphere in his right hand, and the many-pointed crown upon his head. His heavy black beard had grown longer in the three years that had passed, and flowed down over his vest of purple and white half-way to his belt. His face was stern, and the deep lines of his strong features had grown more massive in outline. With the pride of every successive triumph had come also something more of repose and conscious power. His step was slower, and his broad brown hand grasped the golden sceptre with less of nervous energy and more unrelenting force. But his brows were bent, and his expression, as he took his seat before the screen, over against the altar of the fire, was that of a man who was prepared to be discontented and cared little to conceal what he felt.

After him came the chief priest, completely robed in white, with a thick, white linen sash rolled for a girdle about his waist, the fringed ends hanging stiffly down upon one side. Upon his head he wore a great mitre, also of white linen, and a broad fringed stole of the same material fell in two wide bands from each side of his neck to his feet. His beard was black and glossy, fine as silk, and reached almost to his waist. He came and stood with his back to the king and his face to the altar, ten paces from the second fire.

Then, from behind the screen and from each side of it, the other priests filed out, two and two, all clad in white like the chief priest, save that their mitres were smaller and they wore no stole. They came out and ranged themselves around the walls of the temple, threescore and nine men, of holy order, trained in the ancient chanting of the Mazdayashnian hymns; men in the prime and strength of life, black-bearded and broad-shouldered, whose massive brows and straight features indicated noble powers of mind and body.

The two who stood nearest to the chief priest came forward, and taking from his hands a square linen cloth he bore, bound it across his mouth and tied it behind his neck in a firm knot by means of strings. Then, one of them put into his left hand a fan of eagles' feathers, and the other gave him a pair of wrought-iron pincers. Then they left him to advance alone to the altar.

He went forward till he was close to the bronze brazier, and stooping down, he took from the heap of fuel a clean white stick, with the pincers, which he carefully laid upon the fire. Then with his left hand he gently fanned the flames, and his mouth being protected by the linen cloth in such a manner that his breath could not defile the sacred fire, he began slowly and in a voice muffled by the bandage he wore, to recite the beginning of the sacrificial hymn:

"Best of all goods is purity. Glory, glory to him Who is best and purest in purity. For he who ruleth from purity, he abideth according to the will of the Lord. The All-Wise giveth gifts for the works which man doeth in the world for the Lord. He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to Ahura."[9]

[Footnote 9: Probably the oldest hymns in the Avesta language.]

Then all the priests repeated the verses together in chorus, their voices sounding in a unison which, though not precisely song, seemed tending to a musical cadence as the tones rose and fell again upon the last two syllables of each verse. And then again, the chief priest and the other priests together repeated the hymn, many times, in louder and louder chorus, with more and more force of intonation; till the chief priest stepped back from the fire, and delivering up the pincers and the fan, allowed the two assistants to unbind the cloth from his mouth.

He walked slowly up the temple on the left side, and keeping his right hand toward the altar, he walked seven times around it, repeating a hymn alone in low tones; till, after the seventh time, he went up to the farther end of the hall, and stood before the black marble trough in which the fermented Haoma stood ready, having been prepared with due ceremony three days before.

Then, in a loud voice, he intoned the chant in praise of Zaothra and Bareshma, holding high in his right hand the bundle of sacred stalks; which he, from time to time, moistened a little in the water from a vessel which stood ready, and sprinkled to the four corners of the temple. The priests again took up the strain in chorus, repeating over and over the burden of the song.

"Zaothra, I praise thee and desire thee with praise! Bareshma, I praise thee and desire thee with praise! Zaothra, with Bareshma united, I praise you and desire you with praise! Bareshma, with Zaothra united, I praise you and desire you with praise!"

Suddenly the chief priest laid down the Bareshma, and seizing one of the golden goblets, filled it, with the wooden ladle, from the dark receptacle of the juice. As he poured it high, the yellow light of the lamp caught the transparent greenish fluid, and made it sparkle strangely. He put the goblet to his lips and drank.

The king, sitting in silence upon his carved throne at the other extremity of the temple, bent his brows in a dark frown as he saw the hated ceremony begin. He knew how it ended, and grand as the words were which they would recite when the subtle fluid had fired their veins, he loathed to see the intoxication that got possession of them; and the frenzy with which they howled the sacred strains seemed to him to destroy the solemnity and dignity of a hymn, in which all that was solemn and high would otherwise have seemed to be united.

The chief priest drank and then, filling both goblets, gave them to the priests at his right and left hand; who, after drinking, passed each other, and made way for those next them; and so the whole number filed past the Haoma vessel and drank their share till they all had changed places, and those who had stood upon the right, now stood upon the left; and those who were first upon the left hand, were now upon the right. And when all had drunk, the chief priest intoned the great hymn of praise, and all the chorus united with him in high, clear tones:

_"The All-Wise Creator, Ahura Mazda, the greatest, the best, the most fair in glory and majesty,"

"The mightiest in his strength, the wisest in his wisdom, the holiest in his holiness, whose power is of all power the fairest,"

"Who is very wise, who maketh all things to rejoice afar,"

"Who hath made us and formed us, who hath saved us, the holiest among the heavenly ones,"

"Him I adore and praise, unto him I declare the sacrifice, him I invite,"

"I declare the sacrifice to the Protector, the Peace-maker, who maketh the fire to burn, who preserveth the wealth of the earth; the whole earth and the wisdom thereof, the seas and the waters, the land and all growing things, I invite to the sacrifice."

"Cattle and living things, and the fire of Ahura, the sure helper, the lord of the archangels,"

"The nights and the days, I call upon, the purity of all created light,"

"The Lord of light, the sun in his glory, glorious in name and worthy of honour,"

"Who giveth food unto men, and multiplieth the cattle upon the earth, who causeth mankind to increase, I call upon and invite to the sacrifice,"

"Water, and the centre of all waters, given and made of God, that refresheth all things and maketh all things to grow, I call upon and invite."

"The souls of the righteous and pure, the whole multitude of living men and women upon earth, I call upon and invite."

"I call upon the triumph and the mighty strength of God,"

"I call upon the archangels who keep the world, upon the months, upon the pure, new moon, the lordship of purity in heaven,"

"I call upon the feasts of the years and the seasons, upon the years and the months and days,"

"I call upon the star Ahura,[10] and upon the one great and eternal in purity, and upon all the stars, the works of God,"

"Upon the star Tistrya I call, the far-shining, the magnificent—upon the fair moon that shineth upon the young cattle, upon the glorious sun swift in the race of his flight, the eye of the Lord."

"I call upon the spirits and souls of the righteous, on the fire-begotten of the Lord, and upon all fires."

"Mountains and all hills, lightened and full of light."

"Majesty of kingly honour, the Majesty of the king which dieth not, is not diminished,"

"All wisdom and blessings and true promises, all men who are full of strength and power and might,"

"All places and lands and countries beneath the heavens, and above the heavens, light without beginning, existing, and without end,"

"All creatures pure and good, male and female upon the earth."

"All you I invite and call upon to the sacrifice."

"Havani, pure, lord of purity!"

"Shavanghi, pure, lord of purity!"

"Rapithwina, pure, lord of purity!"

"Uzayeirina, pure, lord of purity!"

"Aiwishruthrema, Aibigaya, pure, lord of purity!"

"Ushahina, pure, lord of purity!"

"To Havani, Shavanghi and Vishya, the pure, the lords of purity most glorious, be honour and prayer and fulfilment and praise."

"To the days, and the nights, and the hours, the months and the years and the feasts of years, be honour and prayer and fulfilment and praise before Auramazda, the All-Wise, for ever and ever and ever."_[11]

[Footnote 10: Ahura, Jupiter. Tistrya, Sirius.]

[Footnote 11: Partly a translation, partly a close imitation in a condensed form of Yashna I.]

As the white-robed priests shouted the verses of the long hymn, their eyes flashed and their bodies moved rhythmically from side to side with an ever-increasing motion. From time to time, the golden goblets were filled with the sweet Haoma juice, and passed rapidly from hand to hand along the line, and as each priest drank more freely of the subtle fermented liquor, his eyes gained a new and more unnatural light, and his gestures grew more wild, while the whole body of voices rose together from an even and dignified chant to an indistinguishable discord of deafening yells.

Ever more and more they drank, repeating the verses of the hymn without order or sequence. One man repeated a verse over and over again in ear-piercing shrieks, swaying his body to and fro till he dropped forward upon the ground, foaming at the mouth, his features distorted with a wild convulsion, and his limbs as rigid as stone. Here, a band of five locked their arms together, and, back to back, whirled madly round, screaming out the names of the archangels, in an indiscriminate rage of sound and broken syllables. One, less enduring than the rest, relaxed his hold upon his fellow's arm and fell headlong on the pavement, while the remaining four were carried on by the force of their whirling, and fell together against others who steadied themselves against the wall, swaying their heads and arms from side to side. Overthrown by the fall of their companions, these in their turn fell forward upon the others, and in a few moments, the whole company of priests lay grovelling one upon the other, foaming at the mouth, but still howling out detached verses of their hymn—a mass of raging, convulsed humanity, tearing each other in the frenzy of drunkenness, rolling over and over each otter in the twisted contortions of frenzied maniacs. The air grew thick with the smoke of the fire and of the lamps, and the unceasing, indescribable din of the hoarsely howling voices seemed to make the very roof rock upon the pillars that held it up, as though the stones themselves must go mad and shriek in the universal fury of sound. The golden goblets rolled upon the marble pavement, and the sweet green juice ran in slimy streams upon the floor. The high priest himself, utterly intoxicated and screaming with a voice like a wild beast in agony, fell backwards across the marble vase at the foot of the mortar and his hand and arm plashed into the dregs of the fermented Haoma.

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