Marzio's Crucifix and Zoroaster
by F. Marion Crawford
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Never had the drunken frenzy reached such a point before. The king had sat motionless and frowning upon his seat until he saw the high priest fall headlong into the receptacle of the sacred Haoma. Then, with a groan, he laid his two hands upon the arms of his carved chair, and rose to his feet in utter disgust and horror. But, as he turned to go, he stood still and shook from head to foot, for he saw beside him a figure that might, at such a moment, have startled the boldest.

A tall man of unearthly looks stood there, whose features he seemed to know, but could not recognise. His face was thin to emaciation, and his long, white hair fell in tangled masses, with his huge beard, upon his half-naked shoulders and bare chest. The torn, dark mantle he wore was falling to the ground as he faced the drunken herd of howling priests and lifted up his thin blanched arms and bony fingers, as though in protest at the hideous sight. His deep-set eyes were blue and fiery, flashing with a strange light. He seemed not to see Darius, but he gazed in deepest horror upon the writhing mass of bestial humanity below.

Suddenly his arms shook, and standing there, against the dark marble screen, like the very figure and incarnation of fate, he spoke in a voice that, without effort, seemed to dominate the hideous din of yelling voices—a voice that was calm and clear as a crystal bell, but having that in it which carried instantly the words he spoke to the ears of the very most besotted wretch that lay among the heaps upon the floor—a voice that struck like a sharp steel blade upon iron.

"I am the prophet of the Lord. Hold ye your peace."

As a wild beast's howling suddenly diminishes and grows less and dies away to silence, when the hunter's arrow has sped close to the heart with a mortal wound, so in one moment, the incoherent din sank down, and the dead stillness that followed was dreadful by contrast. Darius stood with his hand upon the arm of his chair, not understanding the words of the fearful stranger; still less the mastering power those words had upon the drunken priests. But his courage did not desert him, and he feared not to speak.

"How sayest thou that thou art a prophet? Who art thou?" he asked.

"Thou knowest me and hast sent for me," answered the white-haired man, in his calm tones; but his fiery eyes rested on the king's, and Darius almost quailed under the glance. "I am Zoroaster; I am come to proclaim the truth to thee and to these miserable men, thy priests."

The fear they felt had restored the frenzied men to their senses. One by one, they rose and crept back towards the high priest himself, who had struggled to his feet, and stood upon the basement of the mortar above all the rest.

Then Darius looked, and he knew that it was Zoroaster, but he knew not the strange look upon his face, and the light in his eyes was not as the light of other days. He turned to the priests.

"Ye are unworthy priests," he cried angrily, "for ye are drunk with your own sacrifice, and ye defile God's temple with unseemly cries. Behold this man—can ye tell me whether he be indeed a prophet?" Darius, whose anger was fast taking the place of the awe he had felt when he first saw Zoroaster beside him, strode a step forward, with his hand upon his sword-hilt, as though he would take summary vengeance upon the desecrators of the temple.

"He is surely a liar!" cried the high priest from his position beyond the altar, as though hurling defiance at Zoroaster through the flames.

"He is surely a liar!" repeated all the priests together, following their head.

"He is a Magian, a worshipper of idols, a liar and the father of lies! Down with him! Slay him before the altar; destroy the unbeliever that entereth the temple of Ahura Mazda!"

"Down with the Magian! Down with the idolater!" cried the priests, and moved forward in a body toward the thin white-haired man who stood facing them, serene and high.

Darius drew his short sword and rushed before Zoroaster to strike down the foremost of the priests. But Zoroaster seized the keen blade in the air as though it had been a reed, and wrenched it from the king's strong grip, and broke it in pieces like glass, and cast the fragments at his feet. Darius staggered back in amazement, and the herd of angry men, in whose eyes still blazed the drunkenness of the Haoma, huddled together for a moment like frightened sheep.

"I have no need of swords," said Zoroaster, in his cold, clear voice.

Then the high priest cried aloud, and ran forward and seized a brand from the sacred fire.

"It is Angramainyus, the Power of Evil," he yelled fiercely. "He is come to fight with Auramazda in his temple! But the fire of the Lord shall destroy him!"

As the priest rushed upon him, with the blazing brand raised high to strike, Zoroaster faced him and fixed his eyes upon the angry man. The priest suddenly stood still, his hand in mid-air, and the stout piece of burning wood fell to the floor, and lay smouldering and smoking upon the pavement.

"Tempt not the All-Wise Lord, lest he destroy thee," said Zoroaster solemnly. "Harken, ye priests, and obey the word from heaven. Take the brazier from your altar, and scatter the embers upon the floor, for the fire is defiled."

Silent and trembling, the priests obeyed, for they were afraid; but the high priest stood looking in amazement upon Zoroaster.

When the brazier was gone, and the coals were scattered out upon the pavement, and the priests had trodden out the fire with their leathern shoes, Zoroaster went to the black marble altar, and faced the east, looking towards the stone mortar at the end. He laid his long, thin hands upon the flat surface and drew them slowly together; and, in the sight of the priests, a light sprang up softly between his fingers; gradually at first, then higher and higher, till it stood like a blazing spear-head in the midst, emitting a calm, white effulgence that darkened the lamps overhead, and shed an unearthly whiteness on Zoroaster's white face.

He stepped back from the altar, and a low murmur of astonishment rose from all the crowd of white-robed men. Darius stood in silent wonder, gazing alternately upon the figure of Zoroaster, and upon the fragments of his good sword that lay scattered upon the pavement.

Zoroaster looked round upon the faces of the priests with blazing eyes:

"If ye be true priests of Ahura Mazda, raise with me the hymn of praise," he said. "Let it be heard in the heavens, and let it echo beyond the spheres!"

Then his voice rose calm and clear above all the others, and lifting up his eyes and hands, he intoned the solemn chant:

_"He, who by truth ruleth in purity, abideth according to the will of the Lord."

"The Lord All-Wise is the giver of gifts to men for the works which men in the world shall do in the truth of the Lord."

"He who protecteth the poor giveth the kingdom to God."

"Best of all earthly goods is truth."

"Glory, glory on high for ever to him who is best in heaven, and truest in truth on earth!"_

Zoroaster's grand voice rang out, and all the priests sang melodiously together; and upon the place which had been the scene of such frenzy and fury and drunkenness, there descended a peace as holy and calm as the quiet flame that burned without fuel upon the black stone in the midst. One by one, the priests came and fell at Zoroaster's feet; the chief priest first of all.

"Thou art the prophet and priest of the Lord," each said, one after another. "I acknowledge thee to be the chief priest, and I swear to be a true priest with thee."

And last of all, the king, who had stood silently by, came and would have kneeled before Zoroaster. But Zoroaster took his hands, and they embraced.

"Forgive me the wrong I did thee, Zoroaster," said Darius. "For thou art a holy man, and I will honour thee as thou wast not honoured before."

"Thou hast done me no wrong," answered Zoroaster. "Thou hast sent for me, and I am come to be thy faithful friend, as I swore to thee, long ago, in the tent at Shushan."

Then they took Zoroaster's torn clothes, and they clad him in white robes and set a spotless mitre upon his head; and the king, for the second time, took his golden chain from his own neck, and put it about Zoroaster's shoulders. And they led him away into the palace.


When it was known that Zoroaster had returned, there was some stir in the palace. The news that he was made high priest soon reached Nehushta's ears, and she wondered what change had come over him in three years that could have made a priest of such a man. She remembered him young and marvellously fair, a warrior at all points, though at the same time an accomplished courtier. She could not imagine him invested with the robes of priesthood, leading a chorus of singers in the chanting of the hymns.

But it was not only as a chief priest that Darius had reinstalled Zoroaster in the palace. The king needed a counsellor and adviser, and the learned priest seemed a person fitted for the post.

On the following day, Nehushta, as was her wont, went out, in the cool of the evening, to walk in the gardens, attended by her maidens, her fan-girls and the slaves who bore her carpet and cushions in case she wished to sit down. She walked languidly, as though she hardly cared to lift her delicate slippered feet from the smooth walk, and often she paused and plucked a flower, and all her train of serving-women stopped behind her, not daring even to whisper among themselves, for the young queen was in no gentle humour of mind. Her face was pale and her eyes were heavy, for she knew the man she had so loved in other days was near, and though he had so bitterly deceived her, the sound of his sweet promises was yet in her ears; and sometimes, in her dreams, she felt the gentle breath of his mouth upon her sleeping lips, and woke with a start of joy that was but the forerunner of a new sadness.

Slowly she paced the walks of the rose-gardens, thinking of another place in the far north, where there had been roses, and myrtles too, upon a terrace where the moonlight was very fair.

As she turned a sharp corner where the overhanging shrubbery darkened the declining light to a dusky shade, she found herself face to face with the man of whom she was thinking. His tall thin figure, clad in spotless white robes, seemed like a shadow in the gloom, and his snowy beard and hair made a strange halo about his young face, that was so thin and worn. He walked slowly, his hands folded together, and his eyes upon the ground; while a few paces behind him two young priests followed with measured steps, conversing in low tones, as though fearing to disturb the meditations of their master.

Nehushta started a little and would have passed on, although she recognised the face of him she had loved. But Zoroaster lifted his eyes, and looked on her with so strange an expression that she stopped short in the way. The deep, calm light in his eyes awed her, and there was something in his majestic presence that seemed of another world.

"Hail, Nehushta!" said the high priest quietly.

But, at the sound of his voice, the spell was broken. The Hebrew woman lifted her head proudly, and her black eyes flashed again.

"Greet me not," she answered, "for the greeting of a liar is like the sting of the serpent that striketh unawares in the dark."

Zoroaster's face never changed, only his luminous eyes gazed on hers intently, and she paused again, as though riveted to the spot.

"I lie not, nor have lied to thee ever," he answered calmly. "Go thou hence, ask her whom thou hatest, whether I have deceived thee. Farewell."

He turned his gaze from her and passed slowly on, looking down to the ground, his hands folded before him. He left her standing in the way, greatly troubled and not understanding his saying.

Had she not seen with her eyes how he held Atossa in his arms on that evil morning in Shushan? Had she not seen how, when he was sent away, he had written a letter to Atossa and no word to herself? Could these things which she had seen and known, be untrue? The thought was horrible—that her whole life had perhaps been wrecked and ruined by a mistake. And yet there was not any mistake, she repeated to herself. She had seen; one must believe what one sees. She had heard Atossa's passionate words of love, and had seen Zoroaster's arms go round her drooping body; one must believe what one sees and hears and knows!

But there was a ringing truth in his voice just now when he said: "I lie not, nor have lied to thee ever." A lie—no, not spoken, but done; and the lie of an action is greater than the lie of a word. And yet, his voice sounded true just now in the dusk, and there was something in it, something like the ring of a far regret. "Ask her whom thou hatest," he had said. That was Atossa. There was no other woman whom she hated—no man save him.

She had many times asked herself whether or no she loved the king. She felt something for him that she had not felt for Zoroaster. The passionate enthusiasm of the strong, dark warrior sometimes carried her away and raised her with it; she loved his manliness, his honesty, his unchanging constancy of purpose. And yet Zoroaster had had all these, and more also, though they had shown themselves in a different way. She looked back and remembered how calm he had always been, how utterly superior in his wisdom. He seemed scarcely mortal, until he had one day fallen—and fallen so desperately low in her view, that she loathed the memory of that feigned calmness and wisdom and parity. For it must have been feigned. How else could he have put his arms about Atossa, and taken her head upon his breast, while she sobbed out words of love?

But if he loved Atossa, she loved him as well. She said so, cried it aloud upon the terrace where any one might have heard it. Why then had he left the court, and hidden himself so long in the wilderness? Why, before going out on his wanderings, had he disguised himself, and gone and stood where the procession passed, and hissed out a bitter insult as Nehushta went by? For her sake he had abandoned his brilliant life these three years, to dwell in the desert, to grow so thin and miserable of aspect that he looked like an old man. And his hair and beard were white—she had heard that a man might turn white from sorrow in a day. Was it grief that had so changed him? Grief to see her wedded to the king before his eyes? His voice rang so true: "Ask her whom thou hatest," he had said. In truth she would ask. It was all too inexplicable, and the sudden thought that she had perhaps wronged him three long years ago—even the possibility of the thought that seemed so little possible to her yesterday—wrought strangely in her breast, and terrified her. She would ask Atossa to her face whether Zoroaster had loved her. She would tell how she had seen them together upon the balcony, and heard Atossa's quick, hot words. She would threaten to tell the king; and if the elder queen refused to answer truth, she would indeed tell him and put her rival to a bitter shame.

She walked more quickly upon the smooth path, and her hands wrung each other, and once she felt the haft of that wicked Indian knife she ever wore. When she turned back and went up the broad steps of the palace, the moon was rising above the far misty hills to eastward, and there were lights beneath the columned portico. She paused and looked back across the peaceful valley, and far down below, a solitary nightingale called out a few melancholy notes, and then burst forth into glorious song.

Nehushta turned again to go in, and there were tears in her dark eyes, that had not stood there for many a long day. But she clasped her hands together, and went forward between the crouching slaves, straight to Atossa's apartment. It was not usual for any one to gain access to the eider queen's inner chambers without first obtaining permission, from Atossa herself, and Nehushta had never been there. They met rarely in public, and spoke little, though each maintained the appearances of courtesy; but Atossa's smile was the sweeter of the two. In private they never saw each other; and the queen's slaves would perhaps have tried to prevent Nehushta from entering, but her black eyes flashed upon them in such dire wrath as she saw them before her, that they crouched away and let her pass on unmolested.

Atossa sat, as ever at that hour in her toilet-chamber, surrounded by her tirewomen. The room was larger than the one at Shushan, for she had caused it to be built after her own plans; but her table was the same as ever, and upon it stood the broad silver mirror, which she never allowed to be left behind when she travelled.

Her magnificent beauty had neither changed nor faded in three years. Such strength as hers was not to be broken, nor worn out, by the mere petty annoyances of palace life. She could sustain the constant little warfare she waged against the king, without even so much as looking careworn and pale for a moment, though the king himself often looked dark and weary, and his eyes were heavy with sleeplessness for the trouble she gave him. Yet he could new determine to rid himself of her, even when he began to understand the profound badness of her character. She exercised a certain fascination over him, as a man grows fond of some beautiful, wicked beast he has half-tamed, though it turn and show its teeth at him sometimes, and be altogether more of a care than a pastime. She was so fair and evil that he could not hurt her; it would have seemed a crime to destroy anything so wondrously made. Moreover, she could amuse him and make many an hour pass pleasantly when she was so disposed.

She was fully attired for the banquet that was to take place late in the evening, but her women were still about her, and she looked at herself critically in the mirror, and would have changed the pinning of her tiara, so that her fair hair should fall forward upon one side, instead of backwards over her shoulder. She tried the effect of the change upon her face, and peered into the mirror beneath the bright light of the tall lamps; when, on a sudden, as she looked, she met the reflection of two angry dark eyes, and she knew that Nehushta was behind her.

She rose to her feet, turning quickly, and the sweep of her long robe overthrew the light carved chair upon the marble floor. She faced Nehushta with a cold smile that betrayed surprise at being thus interrupted in her toilet rather than any dread of the interview. Her delicate eyebrows arched themselves in something of scorn, but her voice came low and sweet as ever.

"It is rarely indeed that the queen Nehushta deigns to visit her servant," she said. "Had she sent warning of her coming, she would have been more fittingly received."

Nehushta stood still before her. She hated that cool, still voice that choked her like a tightening bow-string about her neck.

"We have small need of court formalities," answered the Hebrew woman, shortly. "I desire to speak with you alone upon a matter of importance."

"I am alone," returned Atossa, seating herself upon the carved chair, which one of the slaves had instantly set up again, and motioning to Nehushta to be seated. But Nehushta glanced at the serving-women and remained standing.

"You are not alone," she said briefly.

"They are not women—they are slaves," answered Atossa, with a smile.

"Will you not send them away?"

"Why should I?"

"You need not—I will," returned Nehushta. "Begone, and quickly!" she added, turning to the little group of women and slave-girls who stood together, looking on in wonder. At Nehushta's imperious command, they hurried through the door, and the curtains fell behind them. They knew Nehushta's power in the palace too well to hesitate to obey her, even in the presence of their own mistress.

"Strange ways you have!" exclaimed Atossa, in a low voice. She was fiercely angry, but there was no change in her face. She dangled a little chain upon her finger, and tapped the ground with her foot as she sat. That was all.

"I am not come here to wrangle with you about your slaves. They will obey me without wrangling. I met Zoroaster in the gardens an hour since."

"By a previous arrangement, of course?" suggested Atossa, with a sneer. But her clear blue eyes fixed themselves upon Nehushta with a strange and deadly look.

"Hold your peace and listen to me," said Nehushta in a fierce, low voice, and her slender hand stole to the haft of the knife by her side.

Atossa was a brave woman, false though she was; but she saw that the Hebrew princess had her in her power—she saw the knife and she saw the gleam in those black eyes. They were riveted on her face, and she grew grave and remained silent.

"Tell me the truth," pursued Nehushta hurriedly. "Did Zoroaster love you three years ago—when I saw you in his arms upon the terrace the morning when he came back from Ecbatana?"

But she little knew the woman with whom she had to deal. Atossa had found time in that brief moment to calculate her chances of safety. A weaker woman would have lied; but the fair queen saw that the moment had come wherein she could reap a rich harvest of vengeance upon her rival, and she trusted to her coolness and strength to deliver her if Nehushta actually drew the knife she wore.

"I loved him," she said slowly. "I love him yet, and I hate you more than I love him. Do you understand?"

"Speak—go on!" cried Nehushta, half breathless with anger.

"I loved him, and I hated you. I hate you still," repeated the queen slowly and gravely. "The letter I had from him was written to you—but it was brought to me. Nay—be not so angry, it was very long ago. Of course you can murder me, if you please—you have me in your power, and you are but a cowardly Jew, like twenty of my slave-women. I fear you not. Perhaps you would like to hear the end?"

Nehushta had come nearer and stood looking down at the beautiful woman, her arms folded before her. Atossa never stirred as Nehushta approached, but kept her eye steadily fixed on hers. Nehushta's arms were folded, and the knife hung below her girdle in its loose sheath.

Atossa's white arm went suddenly out and laid hold of the haft, and the keen blue steel flashed out of its scabbard with a sheen like dark lightning on a summer's evening.

Nehushta started back as she saw the sharp weapon in her enemy's hand. But Atossa laughed a low sweet laugh of triumph.

"You shall hear the end now," she said, holding the knife firmly in her hand. "You shall not escape hearing the end now, and you shall not murder me with your Indian poisoner here." She laughed again as she glanced at the ugly curve of the dagger. "I was talking with Zoroaster," she continued, "when I saw you upon the stairs, and then—oh, it was so sweet! I cried out that he should never leave me again, and I threw my arms about his neck—his lordly neck that you so loved!—and I fell, so that he had to hold me up. And you saw him. Oh, it was sweet! It was the sweetest moment of my life when I heard you groan and hurry away and leave us! It was to hurt you that I did it—that I humbled my queenliness before him; but I loved him, though—and he, he your lover, whom you despised then and cast away for this black-faced king of ours—he thrust me from him, and pushed me off, and drove me weeping to my chamber, and he said he loved me not, nor wished my love. Ay, that was bitter, for I was ashamed—I who never was shamed of man or woman. But there was more sweetness in your torment than bitterness in my shame. He never knew you were there. He screamed out to you from the crowd in the procession his parting curse on your unfaithfulness and went out—but he nearly killed those two strong spearmen who tried to seize him. How strong he was then, how brave! What a noble lover for any woman! So tall and delicate and fair with all his strength! He never knew why you left him—he thought it was to wear the king's purple, to thrust a bit of gold in your hair! He must have suffered—you have suffered too—such delicious torture, I have often soothed myself to sleep with the thought of it. It is very sweet for me to see you lying there with my wound in your heart. It will rankle long; you cannot get it out—you are married to the king now, and Zoroaster has turned priest for love of you. I think even the king would hardly love you if he could see you now—you look so pale. I will send for the Chaldean physician—you might die. I should be sorry if you died, you could not suffer any more then. I could not give up the pleasure of hurting you—you have no idea how delicious it is. Oh, how I hate you!"

Atossa rose suddenly to her feet, with flashing eyes. Nehushta, in sheer horror of such hideous cruelty, had fallen back against the door-post, and stood grasping the curtain with one hand while the other was pressed to her heart, as though to control the desperate agony she suffered. Her face was paler than the dead, and her long, black hair fell forward over her ghastly cheeks.

"Shall I tell you more?" Atossa began again. "Should you like to hear more of the truth? I could tell you how the king——"

But as she spoke, Nehushta threw up her hands and pressed them to her throbbing temples; and with a low wail, she turned and fled through the doorway between the thick curtains, that parted with her weight and fell together again when she had passed.

"She will tell the king," said Atossa aloud, when she was gone. "I care not—but I will keep the knife," she added, laying the keen blade upon the table, amid the little instruments of her toilet.

But Nehushta ran fast through the corridors and halls till she came to her slaves who had waited for her at the entrance to the queen's apartment. Then she seemed to recollect herself, and slackened her pace, and went on to her own chambers. But, her women saw her pale face, and whispered together as they cautiously followed her.

She was wretched beyond all words. In a moment, her doubts and her fears had all been realised, and the stain of unfaithfulness had been washed from the memory of her lover. But it was too late to repent her hastiness. She had been married to Darius now for nearly three years, and Zoroaster was a man so changed that she would hardly have recognised him that evening, had she not known that he was in the palace. He looked more like the aged Daniel whom he had buried at Ecbatana than like the lordly warrior of three years ago. She wondered, as she thought of the sound of his voice in the, garden, how she could ever have doubted him, and the remembrance of his clear eyes was both bitter and sweet to her.

She lay upon her silken pillows and wept hot tears for him she had loved long ago, for him and for herself—most of all for the pain she had made him suffer, for that bitter agony that had turned his young, fair locks to snowy white; she wept the tears for him that she could fancy he must have shed in those long years for her. She buried her face and sobbed aloud, so that even the black fan-girl who stood waving the long palm-leaf over her in the dim light of the bedchamber—even the poor black creature from the farther desert, whom her mistress did not half believe human, felt pity for the royal sorrow she saw, and took one hand from the fan to brush the tears from her small red eyes.

Nehushta's heart was broken, and from that day none saw her smile. In one hour the whole misery of all possible miseries came upon her, and bowed her to the ground, and crushed out the life and the light of her nature. As she lay there, she longed to die, as she had never longed for anything while she lived, and she would have had small hesitation in killing the heart that beat with such agonising pain in her breast—saving that one thought prevented her. She cared not for revenge any more. What was the life of that cold, cruel thing, the queen, worth, that by taking it, she could gain comfort? But she felt and knew that, before she died, she must see Zoroaster once more, and tell him that she knew all the truth—that she knew he had not deceived her, and that she implored his forgiveness for the wrong she had done him. He would let her rest her head upon his breast and weep out her heartful of piteous sorrow once before she died. And then—the quiet stream of the Araxes flowed softly, cold and clear, among the rose-gardens below the palace. The kindly water would take her to its bosom, beneath the summer's moon, and the nightingales she loved would sing her a gentle good-night—good-night for ever, while the cool wave flowed over her weary breast and aching head.


On the next day, in the cool of the evening, Nehushta walked again in the garden. But Zoroaster was not there. And for several days Nehushta came at that hour, and at other hours in the day, but found him not. She saw him indeed from time to time in public, but she had no opportunity of speaking with him as she desired. At last, she determined to send for him, and to see whether he would come, or not.

She went out, attended only by two slaves; the one bearing a fan and the other a small carpet and a cushion—black women from the southern parts of Syria, towards Egypt, who would not understand the high Persian she would be likely to speak with Zoroaster, though her own Hebrew tongue was intelligible to them. When she reached a quiet spot, where one of the walks ended suddenly in a little circle among the rose-trees, far down from the palace, she had her carpet spread, and her cushion was placed upon it, and she wearily sat down. The fan-girl began to ply her palm-leaf, as much to cool the heated summer air as to drive away the swarms of tiny gnats which abounded in the garden. Nehushta rested upon one elbow, her feet drawn together upon the carpet of dark soft colours and waited a few minutes as though in thought. At last she seemed to have decided, and turned to the slave who had brought her cushion, as she stood at a little distance, motionless, her hands folded and hidden under the thickness of the broad sash that girded her tunic at the waist.

"Go thou," said the queen, "and seek out the high priest Zoroaster, and bring him hither quickly."

The black woman turned and ran like a deer down the narrow path, disappearing in a moment amongst the shrubbery.

The breeze of the swinging fan blew softly on Nehushta's pale face and stirred the locks of heavy hair that fell from her tiara about her shoulders. Her eyes were half closed as she leaned back, and her lips were parted in a weary look of weakness that was new to her. Nearly an hour passed and the sun sank low, but Nehushta hardly stirred from her position.

It seemed very long before she heard steps upon the walk—the quick soft step of the slave-woman running before, barefooted and fleet, and presently the heavier tread of a man's leather shoe. The slave stopped at the entrance to the little circle of rose-trees, and a moment later, Zoroaster strode forward, and stood still and made a deep obeisance, a few steps from Nehushta.

"Forgive me that I sent for thee, Zoroaster," said the queen in quiet tones. But, as she spoke, a slight blush overspread her face, and relieved her deadly pallor. "Forgive me—I have somewhat to say which thou must hear."

Zoroaster remained standing before her as she spoke, and his luminous eyes rested upon her quietly.

"I wronged thee three years ago, Zoroaster," said the queen in a low voice, but looking up at him. "I pray thee, forgive me—I knew not what I did."

"I forgave thee long ago," answered the high priest.

"I did thee a bitter wrong—but the wrong I did myself was even greater. I never knew till I went and asked—her!" At the thought of Atossa, the Hebrew woman's eyes flashed fire, and her small fingers clenched upon her palm. But, in an instant, her sad, weary look returned.

"That is all—if you forgive me," she said, and turned her head away. It seemed to her that there was nothing more to be said. He did not love her—he was far beyond love.

"Now, by Ahura Mazda, I have indeed forgiven thee. The blessing of the All-Wise be upon thee!" Zoroaster bent again, as though to take his leave, and he would have gone from her.

But when she heard his first footsteps, Nehushta raised herself a little and turned quickly towards him. It seemed as though the only light she knew were departing from her day.

"You loved me once," she said, and stopped, with an appealing look on her pale face. It was very, weak of her; but oh! she was far spent with sorrow and grief. Zoroaster paused, and looked back upon her, very calmly, very gently.

"Ay—I loved you once—but not now. There is no more love in the earth for me. But I bless you for the love you gave me."

"I loved you so well," said Nehushta. "I love you still," she added, suddenly raising herself and gazing on him with a wild look in her eyes. "Oh, I love you still!" she cried passionately. "I thought I had put you away—forgotten you—trodden out your memory that I so hated I could not bear to hear your name! Ah! why did I do it, miserable woman that I am! I love you now—I love you—I love you with my whole heart—and it is too late!" She fell back upon her cushion, and covered her face with her hands, and her breast heaved with passionate, tearless sobbing.

Zoroaster stood still, and a deep melancholy came over his beautiful, ethereal face. No regret stirred his breast, no touch of the love that had been waked his heart that slept for ever in the peace of the higher life. He would not have changed from himself to the young lover of three years ago, if he had been able. But he stood calm and sorrowful, as an angel from heaven gazing on the grief of the world—his thoughts full of sympathy for the pains of men, his soul still breathing the painless peace of the outer firmament whence he had come and whither he would return.

"Nehushta," he said at last, seeing that her sobbing did not cease, "it is not meet that you should thus weep for anything that is past. Be comforted; the years of life are few, and you are one of the great ones of the earth. It is needful that all should suffer. Forget not that although your heart be heavy, you are a queen, and must bear yourself as a queen. Take your life strongly in your hands and live it. The end is not far and your peace is at hand."

Nehushta looked up suddenly and grew very grave as he spoke. Her heavy eyes rested on his, and she sighed—but the sigh was still broken, by the trembling of her past sobs.

"You, who are a priest and a prophet," she said,—"you, who read the heaven as it were a book—tell me, Zoroaster, is it not far? Shall we meet beyond the stars, as you used to tell me—so long ago?"

"It is not far," he answered, and a gentle smile illuminated his pale face. "Take courage—for truly it is not far."

He gazed into her eyes for a moment, and it seemed as though some of that steadfast light penetrated into her soul, for as he turned and went his way among the roses, a look of peace descended on her tired face, and she fell back upon her cushion and closed her eyes, and let the breeze of the palm-fan play over her wan cheeks and through her heavy hair.

But Zoroaster returned into the palace, and he was very thoughtful. He had many duties to perform, besides the daily evening sacrifice in the temple, for Darius consulted him constantly upon many matters connected with the state; and on every occasion Zoroaster's keen foresight and knowledge of men found constant exercise in the development of the laws and statutes Darius was forming for his consolidated kingdom. First of all, the question of religion seemed to him of paramount importance; and here Zoroaster displayed all his great powers of organisation, as well as the true and just ideas he held upon the subject. Himself an ascetic mystic, he foresaw the danger to others of attempting to pursue the same course, or even of founding a system of mystical study. The object of mankind must be the welfare of mankind, and a set of priests who should shut themselves off from their fellow-men to pursue esoteric studies and to acquire knowledge beyond the reach of common humanity, must necessarily forget humanity itself in their effort to escape from it. The only possible scheme upon which a religion for the world could be based—especially for such a world as the empire of Darius—must be one where the broad principle of common good living stood foremost, and where the good of all humanity should be the good of each man's soul.

The vast influence of Zoroaster's name grew day by day, as from the palace of Stakhar he sent forth priests to the various provinces, full of his own ideas, bearing with them a simple form of worship and a rigid rule of life, which the iron laws of Darius began at once to enforce to the letter. The vast body of existing hymns, of which many were by no means distinctly Mazdayashnian, were reduced to a limited number containing the best and purest; and the multifarious mass of conflicting caste practices, partly imported from India, and partly inherited by the pure Persians from the Aryan home in Sogdiana, was simplified and reduced to a plain rule. The endless rules of purification were cut down to simple measures of health; the varying practices in regard to the disposal of the dead were all done away with by a great royal edict commanding the building of Dakhmas, or towers of death, all over the kingdom; within which the dead were laid by persons appointed for the purpose, and which were cleansed by them, at stated intervals. Severe measures were taken to prevent the destruction of cattle, for there were evident signs of the decrease of the beasts of the field in consequence of the many internal wars that had waged of late; and special laws were provided for the safety of dogs, which were regarded, for all reasons, as the most valuable companions of men in those times, as a means of protection to the flocks in the wilderness, and as the scavengers and cleansers of the great cities. Human life was protected by the most rigorous laws, and the utmost attention was given to providing for the treatment of women of all classes. It would have been impossible to conceive a system better fitted to develop the resources of a semi-pastoral country, to preserve peace and to provide for the increasing wants and the public health of a multiplying people.

As for the religious rites, they assumed a form and a character which made them seem like simplicity itself by the side of the former systems; and which, although somewhat complicated by the additions and alterations of a later and more superstitious, generation, have still maintained the noble and honourable characteristics imparted to them by the great reformer and compiler of the Mazdayashnian religion.

The days flew quickly by, and Zoroaster's power grew apace. It was as though the whole court and kingdom had been but waiting for him to come and be the representative of wisdom and justice beside the conquering king, who had in so short a time reduced so many revolutions and fought so many fields in the consolidation of his empire. Zoroaster laid hold of all the existing difficulties with a master-hand. His years of retirement seemed to have given him the accumulated force of many men, and the effect of his wise measures was quickly felt in every quarter of the provinces; while his words went forth like fire in the mouths of the priests he sent from Stakhar. He had that strange and rare gift, whereby a man inspires in his followers the profoundest confidence and the greatest energy to the performance of his will. He would have overthrown a world had he found himself resisted and oppressed, but every one of his statutes and utterances was backed by the royal arms and enforced by decrees against which there was no appeal. In a few months his name was spoken wherever the Persian rule was felt, and spoken everywhere with a high reverence; in which there was no fear mixed, such as people felt when they mentioned the Great King, and added quickly: "May he live for ever!"

In a few months the reform was complete, and the half-clad ascetic had risen by his own wisdom and by the power of circumstances into the chiefest position in all Persia. Loaded with dignities, treated as the next to the Great King in all things, wearing the royal chain of office over his white priest's robes, and sitting at the right hand of Darius at the feast, Zoroaster nevertheless excited no envy among the courtiers, nor encroached in any way upon their privileges. The few men whom Darius trusted were indeed rarely at Stakhar,—the princes who had conspired against Smerdis, and Hydarnes and a few of the chief officers of the army,—they were mostly in the various provinces, in command of troops and fortresses, actively employed in enforcing the measures the king was framing with Zoroaster, and which were to work such great changes in the destinies of the empire. But when any of the princes or generals were summoned to the court by the king and learned to know what manner of man this Zoroaster was, they began to love him and to honour him also, as all those did who were near him. And they went away, saying that never king had so wise and just a counsellor as he was, nor one so worthy of trust in the smallest as in the greatest things.

But the two queens watched him, and watched his growing power, with different feelings. Nehushta scarcely ever spoke to him, but gazed at him from her sad eyes when none saw her; pondering over his prophecy that foretold the end so near at hand. She had a pride in seeing her old lover the strongest in the whole land, holding the destinies of the kingdom as in a balance; and it was a secret consolation to her to know that he had been faithful to her after all, and that it was for her sake that he had withdrawn into the desert and given himself to those meditations from which he had only issued to enjoy the highest power. And as she looked at him, she saw how he was much changed, and it hardly seemed as though in his body he were the same man she had so loved. Only when he spoke, and she heard the even, musical tones of his commanding voice, she sometimes felt the blood rise to her cheeks with the longing to hear once more some word of tender love, such as he had been used to speak to her. But though he often looked at her and greeted her ever kindly, his quiet, luminous eyes changed not when they gazed on her, nor was there any warmer touch of colour in the waxen whiteness of his face. His youth was utterly gone, as the golden light had faded from his hair. He was not like an old man—he was hardly like a man at all; but rather like some beautiful, strange angel from another world, who moved among men and spoke with them, but was not of them. She seemed to look upon a memory, to love the shadow cast on earth by a being that was gone. But she loved the memory and the shadow well, and month by month, as she gazed, she grew more wan and weary.

It would not have been like Darius to take any notice of a trouble that did not present itself palpably before him and demand his attention. Nehushta scarcely ever spoke of Zoroaster, and when the king mentioned him to her, it was always in connection with affairs of state. She seemed cold and indifferent, and the hot-blooded soldier monarch no longer looked on Zoroaster as a possible rival. He had white hair—he was therefore an old man, out of all questions of love. But Darius was glad that the Hebrew queen never referred to former times, nor ever seemed to regret her old lover. Had he known of that night meeting in Atossa's toilet chamber, and of what Atossa had said then, his fury would probably have had no bounds. But he never knew. Nehushta was too utterly broken-hearted by the blow she had received to desire vengeance, and though she quietly scorned all intercourse with the woman who had injured her, she cared not to tell the king of the injury. It was too late. Had she known of the cruel deception that had been practised on her, one hour before she had married Darius, Atossa would have been in her grave these three years, and Nehushta would not have been queen. But the king knew none of these things, and rejoiced daily in the wisdom of his chief counsellor and in the favour Auramazda had shown in sending him such a man in his need.

Meanwhile, Atossa's hatred grew apace. She saw with anger that her power of tormenting Nehushta was gone from her, that the spirit she had loved to torture was broken beyond all sensibility, and that the man who had scorned her love was grown greater than she. Against his wisdom and the king's activity, she could do little, and her strength seemed to spend itself in vain. Darius laughed mercilessly at her cunning objections to Zoroaster's reforms; and Zoroaster himself eyed hear coldly, and passed her by in silence when they met.

She bethought herself of some scheme whereby to destroy Zoroaster's power by a sudden and violent shock; and for a time, she affected at more than usual serenity of manner, and her smile was sweeter than ever. If it were possible, she thought, to attract the king's attention and forces to some distant point, it would not be a difficult matter to produce a sudden rising or disturbance in Stakhar, situated as the place was upon the very extreme border of the kingdom, within a few hours' march across the hills from the uncivilised desert country, which was infested at that time with hostile and turbulent tribes. She had a certain number of faithful retainers at her command still, whom she could employ as emissaries in both directions, and in spite of the scene that had taken place at Shushan when Phraortes was brought to her by the king, she knew she could still command his services for a revolution. He was a Magian at heart, and hated the existing monarchy. He was rich and powerful, and unboundedly vain—he could easily be prevailed upon to accept the principality of Media as a reward for helping to destroy the Persian kingdom; and indeed the matter had been discussed between him and the queen long ago.

Atossa revolved her scheme in her mind most carefully for two whole months, and at last she resolved to act. Eluding all vigilance of the king, and laughing to herself at the folly of Darius and Zoroaster in allowing her such liberty, she succeeded without much trouble in despatching a letter to Phraortes, inquiring whether her affairs were now in such a prosperous condition as to admit of their being extended.

On the other hand, she sent a black slave she owned, with gifts, into the country of the barbarian tribes beyond the hills, to discover whether they could be easily tempted. This man she bribed with the promise of freedom and rich possessions, to undertake the dangerous mission. She knew him to be faithful, and able to perform the part he was to play.

In less than two months Phraortes sent a reply, wherein he stated that the queen's affairs were so prosperous that they might with safety be extended as she desired, and that he was ready to undertake any improvements provided she sent him the necessary directions and instructions.

The slave returned from the land of the dwellers in tents, with the information that they were numerous as the sands of the sea, riding like the whirlwinds across the desert, keen as a race of eagles for prey, devouring as locusts spreading over a field of corn, and greedy as jackals upon the track of a wounded antelope. Nothing but the terror of the Great King's name restrained them within their boundaries; which they would leave at a moment's notice, as allies of any one who would pay them. They dwelt mostly beyond the desert to eastward in the low hill country; and they shaved their beards and slept with their horses in their tents. They were more horrible to look upon than the devils of the mountains, and fiercer than wolves upon the mountain paths.

Allowing for the imagery of her slave's account, Atossa comprehended that the people described could be easily excited to make a hostile descent upon the southern part of the kingdom, and notably upon the unprotected region about Stakhar, where the fortress could afford shelter to a handful of troops and fugitives, but could in no wise defend the whole of the fertile district from a hostile incursion.

Atossa spent much time in calculating the distance from the palace to the fortress, and she came to the conclusion that a body of persons moving with some encumbrance might easily reach the stronghold in half a day. Her plan was a simple one, and easy of execution; though there was no limit to the evil results its success might have upon the kingdom.

She intended that a revolution should break out in Media, not under the leadership of Phraortes, lest she herself should perish, having been already suspected of complicity with him. But a man could be found—some tool of her powerful agent, who could be readily induced to set himself up as a pretender to the principality of the province, and he could easily be crushed at a later period by Phraortes, who would naturally furnish the money and supplies for the insurrection.

As soon as the news reached Stakhar, Darius would, in all probability, set out for Media in haste to arrive at the scene of the disturbance. He would probably leave Zoroaster behind to manage the affairs of state, which had centred in Stakhar during the last year and more. If, however, he took him with him, and left the court to follow on as far as Shushan, Atossa could easily cause an incursion of the barbarous tribes from the desert. The people of the south would find themselves abandoned by the king, and would rise against him, and Atossa could easily seize the power. If Zoroaster remained behind, the best plan would be to let the barbarians take their own course and destroy him. Separated from any armed force of magnitude sufficient to cope with a sudden invasion, he would surely fall in the struggle, or take refuge in an ignominious flight. With the boldness of her nature, Atossa trusted to circumstances to provide her with an easy escape for herself; and in the last instance, she trusted, as she had ever done, to her marvellous beauty to save her from harm. To her beauty alone she owed her escape from many a fit of murderous anger in the time of Cambyses, and to her beauty she owed her salvation when Darius found her at Shushan, the wife and accomplice of the impostor Smerdis. She might again save herself by that means, if by no other, should she, by any mischance, fall into the hands of the barbarians. But she was determined to overthrow Zoroaster, even if she had to destroy her husband's kingdom in the effort. It was a bold and simple plan, and she doubted not of being successful.

During the months while she was planning these things, she was very calm and placid; her eyes met Zoroaster's with a frank and friendly glance that would have disarmed one less completely convinced of her badness; and her smile never failed the king when he looked for it. She bore his jests with unfailing equanimity and gentleness, for she felt that she should not have to bear them long. Even to Nehushta she gave an occasional glance as though of hurt sympathy—a look that seemed to say to the world that she regretted the Hebrew queen's sullen temper and moody ways, so different from her own, but regarded them all the while as the outward manifestation of some sickness, for which she was to be pitied rather than blamed.

But, as the time sped, her heart grew more and more glad, for the end was at hand, and there was a smell of death in the air of the sweet rose-valley.


Once more the spring months had come, and the fields grew green and the trees put forth their leaves. Four years had passed since Daniel had died in Ecbatana, leaving his legacy of wisdom to Zoroaster; and almost a year had gone by since Zoroaster had returned to the court at Stakhar. The time had sped very swiftly, except for Nehushta, whose life was heavy with a great weariness and her eyes hollow with suffering sleeplessness. She was not always the same, saving that she was always unhappy. There were days when she was resigned to her lot and merely hoped that it would soon be over; and she wondered how it was that she did not slip out of the gardens at evening, and go and sink her care and her great sorrow in the cool waves of the Araxes, far down below. But then the thought came over her that she must see his face once more; and it was always once more, so that the last time never came. And again, there were days when she hoped all things, madly, indiscriminately, without sequence—the king might die, Zoroaster might again love her, all might be well. But the mood of a hope that is senseless is very fleet, and despair follows close in its footsteps. Nehushta grew each time more sad, as she grew more certain that for her there was no hope.

At least it seemed as though Atossa had given up loving Zoroaster and thought no more of him than of another. Indeed Atossa seemed more anxious to please the king than formerly, in proportion as Darius seemed less easily pleased by her. But over all, Zoroaster's supremacy was felt in the palace, and though he was never known to be angry with any one, he was more feared than the fierce king himself, for his calm clear eyes were hard to meet and the words that fell from his lips had in them the ring of fate. Moreover, he was known and his power was dreaded from one end of the kingdom to the other, and his name was like the king's signet, which sealed all things, and there was no appeal.

Upon a fair morning in the spring-time, when the sun was shining outside upon the roses still wet with dew, the king sat in an inner hall, half lying upon a broad couch, on which the warm rays of the sun fell through an upper window. He was watching with absorbed attention the tricks of an Indian juggler who had lately arrived at the court, and whom he had summoned that morning to amuse a leisure hour, for when the king was not actively engaged in business, or fighting, he loved some amusement, being of a restless temper and mind that needed constant occupation.

Atossa sat near him, upon a carved chair, turning over and over in her fingers a string of pearls as she gazed at the performances of the juggler. Two spearmen, clad in blue and scarlet and gold, stood motionless by the door, and Darius and Atossa watched the sleight-handed Indian alone.

The man tossed a knife into the air and caught it, then two, then three, increasing the number in rapid succession till a score of bright blades made a shining circle in the air as he quickly tossed them up and passed them from hand to hand and tossed them again. Darius laughed at the man's skill, and looked up at the queen.

"You remind me of that fellow," said Darius.

"The king is very gracious to his handmaiden," answered Atossa, smiling, "I think I am less skilful, but more fair."

"You are fairer, it is true," returned the king; "but as for your skill, I know not. You seem always to be playing with knives, but you never wound yourself any more than he does."

The queen looked keenly at Darius, but her lips smiled gently. The thought crossed her mind that the king perhaps knew something of what had passed between her and Nehushta nearly a year before, with regard to a certain Indian dagger. The knives the juggler tossed in the air reminded her of it by their shape. But the king laughed gaily and she answered without hesitation:

"I would it were true, for then I could be not only the king's wife, but the king's juggler!"

"I meant not so," laughed Darius. "The two would hardly suit one another."

"And yet, I need more skill than this Indian fellow, to be the king's wife," answered the queen slowly.

"Said I not so?"

"Nay—but you meant not so," replied Atossa, looking down.

"What I say, I mean," he returned. "You need all the fairness of your face to conceal the evil in your heart, as this man needs all his skill in handling those sharp knives, that would cut off his fingers if, unawares, he touched the wrong edge of them."

"I conceal nothing," said the queen, with a light laugh. "The king has a thousand eyes—how should I conceal anything from him?"

"That is a question which I constantly ask myself," answered Darius. "And yet, I often think I know your thoughts less well than those of the black girl who fans you when you are hot, and whose attention is honestly concentrated upon keeping the flies from your face—or of yonder stolid spearmen at the door, who watch us, and honestly wish they were kings and queens, to lie all day upon a silken couch, and watch the tricks of a paid conjurer."

As Darius spoke, the guards he glanced at turned suddenly and faced each other, standing on each side of the doorway, and brought their heavy spears to the ground with a ringing noise. In a moment the tall, thin figure of Zoroaster, in his white robes, appeared between them. He stopped respectfully at the threshold, waiting for the king to notice him, for, in spite of his power and high rank, he chose to maintain rigidly the formalities of the court.

Darius made a sign and the juggler caught his whirling knives, one after the other, and thrust them into his bag, and withdrew.

"Hail, Zoroaster!" said the king. "Come near and sit beside me, and tell me your business."

Zoroaster came forward and made a salutation, but he remained standing, as though the matter on which he came were urgent.

"Hail, king, and live for ever!" he said. "I am a bearer of evil news. A rider has come speeding from Ecbatana, escaped from the confusion. Media has revolted, and the king's guards are besieged within the fortress of Ecbatana."

Darius sat upright upon the edge of his couch; the knotted veins upon his temples swelled with sudden anger and his brow flushed darkly.

"Doubtless it is Phraortes who has set himself up as king," he said. Then, suddenly and fiercely, he turned upon Atossa. "Now is your hour come," he cried in uncontrollable anger. "You shall surely die this day, for you have done this, and the powers of evil shall have your soul, which is of them, and of none other."

Atossa, for the first time in her whole life, turned pale to the lips and trembled, for she already seemed to taste death in the air. But even then, her boldness did not desert her, and she rose to her feet with a stateliness and a calmness that almost awed the king's anger to silence.

"Slay me if thou wilt," she said in a low voice, but firmly. "I am innocent of this deed." The great lie fell from her lips with a calmness that a martyr might have envied. But Zoroaster stepped between her and the king. As he passed her, his clear, calm eyes met hers for a moment. He read in her face the fear of death, and he pitied her.

"Let the king hear me," he said. "It is not Phraortes who has headed the revolt, and it is told me that Phraortes has fled from Ecbatana. Let the king send forth his armies and subdue the rebels, and let this woman go; for the fear of death is upon her and it may be that she has not sinned in this matter. And if she have indeed sinned, will the king make war upon women, or redden his hands with the blood of his own wife?"

"You speak as a priest—I feel as a man," returned the king, savagely. "This woman has deserved death many times—let her die. So shall we be free of her."

"It is not lawful to do this thing," returned Zoroaster coldly, and his glance rested upon the angry face of Darius, as he spoke, and seemed to subdue his furious wrath. "The king cannot know whether she have deserved death or not, until he have the rebels of Ecbatana before him. Moreover, the blood of a woman is a perpetual shame to the man who has shed it."

The king seemed to waver, and Atossa, who watched him keenly, understood that the moment had come in which she might herself make an appeal to him. In the suddenness of the situation she had time to ask herself why Zoroaster, whom she had so bitterly injured, should intercede for her. She could not understand his nobility of soul, and she feared some trap, into which she should fall by and by. But, meanwhile, she chose to appeal to the king's mercy herself, lest she should feel that she owed her preservation wholly to Zoroaster. It was a bold thought, worthy of a woman of her strength, in a moment of supreme danger.

With a quick movement she tore the tiara from her head and let it fall upon the floor. The mass of her silken hair fell all about her like a vesture of gold, and she threw herself at the king's feet, embracing his knees with a passionate gesture of appeal. Her face was very pale, and the beauty of it seemed to grow by the unnatural lack of colour, while her soft blue eyes looked up into the king's face with such an expression of imploring supplication that he was fain to acknowledge to himself that she moved his heart, for she had never looked so fair before. She spoke no word, but held his knees, and as she gazed, two beautiful great tears rolled slowly from under her eyelids, and trembled upon her pale, soft cheeks, and her warm, quick breath went up to his face.

Darius tried to push her from him, but she would not go, and he was forced to look at her, and his anger melted, and he smiled somewhat grimly, though his brows were bent.

"Go to," he said, "I jested. It is impossible for a man to slay anything so beautiful as you."

Atossa's colour returned to her cheeks, and bending down, she kissed the king's knees and his hands, and her golden hair fell all about her and upon the king's lap. But Darius rose impatiently, and left her kneeling by the couch. He was already angry with himself for having forgiven her, and he hated his own weakness bitterly.

"I will myself go hence at once with the guards, and I will take half the force from the fortress of Stakhar and go to Shushan, and thence, with the army that is there, I will be in Ecbatana in a few days. And I will utterly crush out these rebels who speak lies and do not acknowledge me. Remain here, Zoroaster, and govern this province until I return in triumph."

Darius glanced once more at Atossa, who lay by the couch, half upon it and half upon the floor, seemingly dazed at what had occurred; and then he turned upon his heel and strode out of the room between the two spearmen of the guard, who raised their weapons as he passed, and followed him with a quick, rhythmical tread down the broad corridor outside.

Zoroaster was left alone with the queen.

As soon as Darius was gone, Atossa rose to her feet, and with all possible calmness proceeded to rearrange her disordered hair and to place her head-dress upon her head. Zoroaster stood and watched her; her hand trembled a little, but she seemed otherwise unmoved by what had occurred. She glanced up at him from under her eyelids as she stood with her head bent down and her hands raised, to arrange her hair.

"Why did you beg the king to spare my life?" she asked. "You, of all men, must wish me dead."

"I do not wish you dead," he answered coldly. "You have yet much evil to do in the world, but it will not be all evil. Neither did I need to intercede for you. Your time is not come, and though the king's hand were raised to strike you, it would not fall upon you, for you are fated to accomplish many things."

"Do you not hate me, Zoroaster?"

It was one of the queen's chief characteristics that she never attempted concealment when it could be of no use, and in such cases affected an almost brutal frankness. She almost laughed as she asked the question—it seemed so foolish, and yet she asked it.

"I do not hate you," answered the priest. "You are beneath hatred."

"And I presume you are far above it?" she said very scornfully, and eyed him in silence for a moment. "You are a poor creature," she pursued, presently. "I heartily despise you. You suffered yourself to be deceived by a mere trick; you let the woman you loved go from you without an effort to keep her. You might have been a queen's lover, and you despised her. And now, when you could have the woman who did you a mortal injury be led forth to death before your eyes, you interceded for her and saved her life. You are a fool. I despise you."

"I rejoice that you do," returned Zoroaster coldly. "I would not have your admiration, if I might be paid for receiving it with the whole world and the wisdom thereof."

"Not even if you might have for your wife the woman you loved in your poor, insipid way—but you loved her nevertheless? She is pale and sorrowful, poor creature; she haunts the gardens like the shadow of death; she wearies the king with her wan face. She is eating her heart out for you—the king took her from you, you could take her from him to-morrow, if you pleased. The greater your folly, because you do not. As for her, her foolishness is such that she would follow you to the ends of the earth—poor girl! she little knows what a pale, wretched, sapless thing you have in your breast for a heart."

But Zoroaster gazed calmly at the queen in quiet scorn at her scoffing.

"Think you that the sun is obscured, because you can draw yonder curtain before your window and keep out his rays?" he asked. "Think you that the children of light feel pain because the children of darkness say in their ignorance that there is no light?"

"You speak in parables—having nothing plain to say," returned the queen, thrusting a golden pin through her hair at the back and through the folds of her linen tiara. But she felt Zoroaster's eyes upon her, and looking up, she was fascinated by the strange light in them. She strove to look away from him, but could not. Suddenly her heart sank within her. She had heard of Indian charmers and of Chaldean necromancers and wise men, who could perform wonders and slay their enemies with a glance. She struggled to take her eyes from his, but it was of no use. The subtle power of the universal agent had got hold upon her, and she was riveted to the spot so long as he kept his eyes upon her. He spoke again, and his voice seemed to come to her with a deafening metallic force, as though it vibrated to her very brain.

"You may scoff at me; shield yourself from me, if you can," said Zoroaster. "Lift one hand, if you are able—make one step from me, if you have the strength. You cannot; you are altogether in my power. If I would, I could kill you as you stand, and there would be no mark of violence upon you, that a man should be able to say you were slain. You boast of your strength and power. See, you follow the motion of my hand, as a dog would. See, you kneel before me, and prostrate yourself in the dust at my feet, at my bidding. Lie there, and think well whether you are able to scoff any more. You kneeled to the king of your own will; you kneel to me at mine, and though you had the strength of a hundred men, you must kneel there till I bid you rise."

The queen was wholly under the influence of the terrible power Zoroaster possessed. She was no more able to resist his will than a drowning man can resist the swift torrent that bears him down to his death. She lay at the priest's feet, helpless and nerveless. He gazed at her for a moment as she crouched before him.

"Rise," he said, "go your way, and remember me."

Relieved from the force of the subtle influence he projected, Atossa sprang to her feet and staggered back a few paces, till she fell upon the couch.

"What manner of man art thou?" she said, staring wildly before her, as though recovering from some heavy blow that had stunned her.

But she saw Zoroaster's white robes disappear through the door, even while the words were on her lips, and she sank back in stupefaction upon the cushions of the couch.

Meanwhile the trumpets sounded in the courts of the palace and the guards were marshalled out at the king's command. Messengers mounted and rode furiously up the valley to the fortress, to warn the troops there to make ready for the march; and before the sun reached the meridian, Darius was on horseback, in his armour, at the foot of the great staircase. The blazing noonday light shone upon his polished helmet and on the golden wings that stood out on either side of it, and the hot rays were sent flashing back from his gilded harness, and from the broad scales of his horse's armour.

The slaves of the palace stood in long ranks before the columns of the portico and upon the broad stairs on each side, and Zoroaster stood on the lowest step, attended by a score of his priests, to receive the king's last instructions.

"I go forth, and in two months I will return in triumph," said Darius. "Meanwhile keep thou the government in thy hand, and let not the laws be relaxed because the king is not here. Let the sacrifice be performed daily in the temple, and let all things proceed as though I myself were present. I will not that petty strifes arise because I am away. There shall be peace—peace—peace forever throughout my kingdom, though I shed much blood to obtain it. And all the people who are evildoers and makers of strife and sedition shall tremble at the name of Darius, the king of kings, and of Zoroaster, the high priest of the All-Wise. In peace I leave you, to cause peace whither I go; and in peace I will come again to you. Farewell, Zoroaster, truest friend and wisest counsellor; in thy keeping I leave all things. Take thou the signet and bear it wisely till I come."

Zoroaster received the royal ring and bowed a low obeisance. Then Darius pressed his knees to his horse's sides and the noble steed sprang forward upon the straight, broad road, like an arrow from a bow. The mounted guards grasped their spears and gathered their bridles in their hands and followed swiftly, four and four, shoulder to shoulder, and knee to knee, their bronze cuirasses and polished helmets blazing in the noonday sun and dashing as they galloped on; and in a moment there was nothing seen of the royal guard but a tossing wave of light far up the valley; and the white dust, that had risen, as they plunged forward, settled slowly in the still, hot air upon the roses and shrubs that hung over the enclosure of the garden at the foot of the broad staircase.

Zoroaster gazed for a moment on the track of the swift warriors; then went up the steps, followed by his priests, and entered the palace.

Atossa and Nehushta had watched the departure of the king from their upper windows, at the opposite ends of the building, from behind the gilded lattices. Atossa had recovered somewhat from the astonishment and fear that had taken possession of her when she had found herself under Zoroaster's strange influence, and as she saw Darius ride away, while Zoroaster remained standing upon the steps, her courage rose. She resolved that nothing should induce her again to expose herself to the chief priest's unearthly power, and she laughed to herself as she thought that she might yet destroy him, and free herself from him for ever. She wondered how she could ever have given a thought of love to such a man, and she summoned her black slave, and sent him upon his last errand, by which he was to obtain his freedom.

But Nehushta gazed sadly after the galloping guards, and her eye strove to distinguish the king's crest before the others, till all was mingled in the distance, in an indiscriminate reflection of moving light, and then lost to view altogether in the rising dust. Whether she loved him truly, or loved him not, he had been true and kind to her, and had rested his dark head upon her shoulder that very morning before he went, and had told her that, of all living women, he loved her best. But she had felt a quick sting of pain in her heart, because she knew that she would give her life to lie for one short hour on Zoroaster's breast and sob out all her sorrow and die.


Four days after the king's departure, Nehushta was wandering in the gardens as the sun was going down, according to her daily custom. There was a place she loved well—a spot where the path widened to a circle, round which the roses grew, thick and fragrant with the breath of the coming summer, and soft green shrubs and climbing things that twisted their tender arms about the myrtle trees. The hedge was so high that it cut off all view of the gardens beyond, and only the black north-western hills could just be seen above the mass of shrubbery; beyond the mountains and all over the sky, the glow of the setting sun spread like a rosy veil; and the light tinged the crests of the dark hills and turned the myrtle leaves to a strange colour, and gilded the highest roses to a deep red gold.

The birds were all singing their evening song in loud, happy chorus, as only Eastern birds can sing; the air was warm and still, and the tiny gnats chased each other with lightning quickness in hazy swarms overhead, in the reflected glow.

Nehushta loved the little open space, for it was there that, a year ago, she had sent for Zoroaster to come to her that she might tell him she knew the truth at last. She stood still and listened to the singing of the birds, gazing upwards at the glowing sky, where the red was fast turning to purple; she breathed in the warm air and sighed softly; wishing, as she wished every night, that the sunset might fade to darkness, and there might be no morning for her any more.

She had lived almost entirely alone since Darius had gone to Shushan; she avoided Atossa, and she made no effort to see Zoroaster, who was entirely absorbed by the management of the affairs of the state. In the king's absence there were no banquets, as there used to be when he was in the palace, and the two queens were free to lead whatever life seemed best to them, independently of each other and of the courtiers. Atossa had chosen to shut herself up in the seclusion of her own apartments, and Nehushta rarely left her own part of the palace until the evening. But when the sun was low, she loved to linger among the roses in the garden, till the bright shield of the moon was high in the east, or till the faint stars burned in their full splendour, and the nightingales began to call and trill their melancholy song from end to end of the sweet valley.

So she stood on this evening, looking up into the sky, and her slaves waited her pleasure at a little distance. But while she gazed, she heard quick steps along the walk, and the slave-women sprang aside to let some one pass. Nehushta turned and found herself face to face with Atossa, who stood before her, wrapped in a dark mantle, a white veil of Indian gauze wound about her head, and half-concealing her face. It was a year since they had met in private, and Nehushta drew herself suddenly to her height, and the old look of scorn came over her dark features. She would have asked haughtily what brought Atossa there, but the fair queen was first in her speech. There was hardly even the affectation of friendliness in her tones, as she stood there alone and unattended, facing her enemy.

"I came to ask if you wished to go with me," said Atossa.

"Where? Why should I go with you?"

"I am weary of the palace. I think I will go to Shushan to be nearer the king. To-night I will rest at the fortress."

Nehushta stared coldly at the fair woman, muffled in her cloak and veil.

"What is it to me whether you go to the ends of the earth, or whether you remain here?" she asked.

"I wished to know whether you desired to accompany me, else I should not have asked you the question. I feared that you might be lonely here in Stakhar—will you not come?"

"Again I say, why do you ask me? What have I to do with you?" returned Nehushta, drawing her mantle about her as though to leave Atossa.

"If the king were here, he would bid you go," said Atossa, looking intently upon her enemy.

"It is for me to judge what the king would wish me to do—not for you. Leave me in peace. Go your way if you will—it is nothing to me."

"You will not come?" Atossa's voice softened and she smiled serenely. Nehushta turned fiercely upon her.

"No! If you are going—go! I want you not!"

"You are glad I am going, are you not?" asked Atossa, gently.

"I am glad—with a gladness only you can know. I would you were already gone!"

"You rejoice that I leave you alone with your lover. It is very natural——"

"My lover!" cried Nehushta, her wrath rising and blazing in her eyes.

"Ay, your lover! the thin, white-haired priest, that once was Zoroaster—your old lover—your poor old lover!"

Nehushta steadied herself for a moment. She felt as though she must tear this woman in pieces. But she controlled her anger by a great effort, though she was nearly choking as she drew herself up and answered.

"I would that the powers of evil, of whom you are, might strangle the thrice-accursed lie in your false throat!" she said, in low fierce tones, and turned away.

Still Atossa stood there, smiling as ever. Nehushta looked back as she reached the opposite end of the little plot.

"Are you not yet gone? Shall I bid my slaves take you by the throat and force you from me?" But, as she spoke, she looked beyond Atossa, and saw that a body of dark men and women stood in the path. Atossa had not come unprotected.

"I see you are the same foolish woman you ever were," answered the older queen. Just then, a strange sound echoed far off among the hills above, strange and far as the scream of a distant vulture sailing its mate to the carrion feast—an unearthly cry that rang high in the air from side to side of the valley, and struck the dark crags and doubled in the echo, and died away in short, faint pulsations of sound upon the startled air.

Nehushta started slightly. It might have been the cry of a wolf, or of some wild beast prowling upon the heights, but she had never heard such a sound before. But Atossa showed no surprise, and her smile returned to her lips more sweetly than ever—those lips that had kissed three kings, and that had never spoken truly a kind or a merciful word to living man, or child, or woman.

"Farewell, Nehushta," she said, "if you will not come, I will leave you to yourself—and to your lover. I daresay he can protect you from harm. Heard you that sound? It is the cry of your fate. Farewell, foolish girl, and may every undreamed-of quality of evil attend you to your dying day——"

"Go!" cried Nehushta, turning and pointing to the path with a gesture of terrible anger. Atossa moved back a little.

"It is no wonder I linger awhile—I thought you were past suffering. If I had time, I might yet find some way of tormenting you—you are very foolish——"

Nehushta walked rapidly forward upon her, as though to do her some violence with her own hands. But Atossa, as she gave way before the angry Hebrew woman, drew from beneath her mantle the Indian knife she had once taken from her. Nehushta stopped short, as she saw the bright blade thrust out against her bosom. But Atossa held it up one moment, and then threw it down upon the grass at her feet.

"Take it!" she cried, and in her voice, that had been so sweet and gentle a moment before, there suddenly rang out a strange defiance and a bitter wrath. "Take what is yours—I loathe it, for it smells of you—and you, and all that is yours, I loathe and hate and scorn!"

She turned with a quick movement and disappeared amongst her slaves, who closed in their ranks behind her, and followed her rapidly down the path. Nehushta remained standing upon the grass, peering after her retreating enemy through the gloom; for the glow had faded from the western sky while they had been speaking, and it was now dusk.

Suddenly, as she stood, almost transfixed with the horror of her fearful anger, that strange cry rang again through the lofty crags and crests of the mountains, and echoed and died away.

Nehushta's slave-women, who had hung back in fear and trembling during the altercation between the two queens, came forward and gathered about her.

"What is it?" asked the queen in a low voice, for her own heart beat with the anticipation of a sudden danger. "It is the cry of your fate," Atossa had said—verily it sounded like the scream of a coming death.

"It is the Druksh of the mountains!" said one.

"It is the howling of wolves," said another, a Median woman from the Zagros mountains.

"The war-cry of the children of Anak is like that," said a little Syrian maid, and her teeth chattered with fear.

As they listened, crouching and pressing about their royal mistress in their terror, they heard below in the road, the sound of horses and men moving quickly past the foot of the gardens. It was Atossa and her train, hurrying along the highway in the direction of the fortress.

Nehushta suddenly pushed the slaves aside, and fled down the path towards the palace, and the dark women hurried after. One of them stooped and picked up the Indian knife and hid it in her bosom as she ran.

The whole truth had flashed across Nehushta's mind in an instant. Some armed force was collecting upon the hills to descend in a body upon the palace, to accomplish her destruction. Atossa had fled to a place of safety, after enjoying the pleasure of tormenting her doomed enemy to the last moment, well knowing that no power would induce Nehushta to accompany her. But one thought filled Nehushta's mind in her instantaneous comprehension of the truth; she must find Zoroaster, and warn him of the danger. They would have time to fly together, yet. Atossa must have known how to time her flight, since the plot was hers, and she had not yet been many minutes upon the road.

Through the garden she ran, and up the broad steps to the portico. Slaves were moving about under the colonnade, leisurely lighting the great torches that burned there all night. They had not heard the strange cries from the hills; or, hearing only a faint echo, had paid no attention to the sound.

Nehushta paused, breathless with running. As she realised the quiet that reigned in the palace, where the slaves went about their duties as though nothing had occurred, or were likely to occur, it seemed to her as though she must have been dreaming. It was impossible that if there were any real danger, it should not have become known at least to some one of the hundreds of slaves who thronged the outer halls and corridors. Moreover there were numerous scribes and officers connected with the government; some few nobles whom Darius had left behind when he went to Shushan; there were their wives and families residing in various parts, of the palace and in the buildings below it, and there was a strong detachment of Persian guards. If there were danger, some one must have known it.

She did not know that at that moment the inhabitants of the lower palace were already alarmed, while some were flying, leaving everything behind, in their haste to reach the fortress higher up the valley. Everything seemed quiet where she was, and she determined to go alone in search of Zoroaster, without raising any alarm. Just as she entered the doorway of the great hall, she heard the cry again echoing behind her through the valley. It was as much as she could do to control the terror that again took hold of her at the dreaded sound, as she passed the files of bowing slaves, and went in between the two tall spearmen who guarded the inner entrance, and grounded their spears with military precision as she went by.

She had one slave whom she trusted more than the rest. It was the little Syrian maid, who was half a Hebrew.

"Go," she said quickly, in her own tongue. "Go in one direction and I will go in another, and search out Zoroaster, the high priest, and bring him to my chamber. I also will search, but if I find him not, I will wait for thee there."

The dark girl turned and ran through the halls, swift as a startled fawn, to fulfil her errand, and Nehushta went another way upon her search. She was ashamed to ask for Zoroaster. The words of her enemy were still ringing in her ears—"alone with your lover;" it might be the common talk of the court for all she knew. She went silently on her way. She knew where Zoroaster dwelt. The curtain of his simple chamber was thrown aside and a faint light burned in the room. It was empty; a scroll lay open upon the floor beside a purple cushion, as he had left it, and his long white mantle lay tossed upon the couch which served him for a bed.

She gazed lovingly for one moment into the open chamber, and then went on through the broad corridor, dimly lighted everywhere with small oil lamps. She looked into the council chamber and it was deserted. The long rows of double seats were empty, and gleamed faintly in the light. High upon the dais at the end, a lamp burned above the carved chair of ivory and gold, whereon the king sat when the council was assembled. There was no one there. Farther on, the low entrance to the treasury was guarded by four spearmen, whose arms clanged upon the floor as the queen passed. But she saw that the massive bolts and the huge square locks upon them were in their places. There was no one within. In the colonnade beyond, a few nobles stood talking carelessly together, waiting for their evening meal to be served them in a brightly illuminated hall, of which the doors stood wide open to admit the cool air of the coming night. The magnificently-arrayed courtiers made a low obeisance and then stood in astonishment as the queen went by. She held up her head and nodded to them, trying to look as though nothing disturbed her.

On and on she went through the whole wing, till she came to her own apartment. Not so much as one white-robed priest had she seen upon all her long search. Zoroaster was certainly not in the portion of the palace through, which she had come. Entering her own chambers, she looked round for the little Syrian maid, but she had not returned.

Unable to bear the suspense any longer, she hastily despatched a second slave in search of the chief priest—a Median woman, who had been with her in Ecbatana.

It seemed as though the minutes were lengthened to hours. Nehushta sat with her hands pressed to her temples, that throbbed as though the fever would burst her brain, and the black fan-girl plied the palm-leaf with all her might, thinking that her mistress suffered from the heat. The other women she dismissed; and she sat waiting beneath the soft light of the perfumed lamp, the very figure and incarnation of anxiety.

Something within her told her that she was in great and imminent danger, and the calm she had seen in the palace could not allay in her mind the terror of that unearthly cry she had heard three times from the hills. As she thought of it, she shuddered, and the icy fear seemed to run through all her limbs, chilling the marrow in her bones, and freezing her blood suddenly in its mad course.

"Left alone with your lover"—"it is the cry of your fate"—Atossa's words kept ringing in her ears like a knell—the knell of a shameful death; and as she went over the bitter taunts of her enemy, her chilled pulses beat again more feverishly than before. She could not bear to sit still, but rose and paced the room in intense agitation. Would they never come back, those dallying slave-women?

The fan-girl tried to follow her mistress, and her small red eyes watched cautiously every one of Nehushta's movements. But the queen waved her off and the slave went and stood beside the chair where she had sat, her fan hanging idly in her hand. At that moment, the Median woman entered the chamber.

"Where is he?" asked Nehushta, turning suddenly upon her.

The woman made a low obeisance and answered in trembling tones:

"They say that the high priest left the palace two hours ago, with the queen Atossa. They say——"

"Thou liest!" cried Nehushta vehemently, and her face turned white, as she stamped her foot upon the black marble pavement. The woman sprang back with a cry of terror, and ran towards the door. She had never seen her mistress so angry. But Nehushta called her back.

"Come hither—what else do they say?" she asked, controlling herself as best she could.

"They say that the wild riders of the eastern desert are descending from the hills," answered the slave hurriedly and almost under her breath. "Every one is flying—everything is in confusion—I hear them even now, hurrying to and fro in the courts, the soldiers——"

But, even as she spoke, an echo of distant voices and discordant cries came through the curtains of the door from without, the rapid, uneven tread of people running hither and thither in confusion, the loud voices of startled men and the screams of frightened women—all blending together in a wild roar that grew every moment louder.

Just then, the little Syrian maid came running in, almost tearing the curtains from their brazen rods as she thrust the hangings aside. She came and fell breathless at Nehushta's feet and clasped her knees.

"Fly, fly, beloved mistress," she cried, "the devils of the mountains are upon us—they cover the hills—they are closing every entrance—the people in the lower palace are all slain——"

"Where is Zoroaster?" In the moment of supreme danger, Nehushta grew calm, and her senses were restored to her again.

"He is in the temple with the priests—by this time he is surely slain—he could know of nothing that is going on—fly, fly!" cried the poor Syrian girl in an agony of terror.

Nehushta laid her hand kindly upon the head of the little maid, and turning in the pride of her courage, now that she knew the worst, she spoke calmly to the other slaves who thronged in from the outer hall, some breathless with fear, others screaming in an agony of acute dread.

"On which side are they coming?" she asked.

"Prom the hills, from the hills they are descending in thousands," cried half a dozen of the frightened women at once, the rest huddled together like sheep, moaning in their fear.

"Go you all to the farther window," cried Nehushta, in commanding tones. "Leap down upon the balcony—it is scarce a man's height—follow it to the end and past the corner where it joins the main wall of the garden. Run along upon the wall till you find a place where you can descend. Through the gardens you can easily reach the road by the northern gate. Fly and save yourselves in the darkness. You will reach the fortress before dawn if you hasten. You will hasten," she added with something of disdain in her voice, for before she had half uttered her directions, the last of the slave-women, mad with terror, disappeared through the open window, and she could hear them drop, one after the other, in quick succession upon the marble balcony below. She was alone.

But, looking down, she saw at her feet the little Syrian maid, looking with imploring eyes to her face.

"Why do you not go with the rest?" asked Nehushta, stooping down and laying one hand upon the girl's shoulder.

"I have eaten thy bread—shall I leave thee in the hour of death?" asked the little slave, humbly.

"Go, child," replied Nehushta, very kindly. "I have seen thy devotion and truth—thou must not perish."

But the Syrian leaped to her feet, and there was pride in her small face, as she answered:

"I am a bondwoman, but I am a daughter of Israel, even as thou art. Though all the others leave thee, I will not. It may be I can help thee."

"Thou art a brave child," said Nehushta; and she drew the girl to her and pressed her kindly. "I must go to Zoroaster—stay thou here, hide thyself among the curtains—escape by the window, if any come to harm thee." She turned and went rapidly out between the curtains, as calm and as pale as death.

The din in the palace had partially subsided, and new and strange cries re-echoed through the vast halls and corridors. An occasional wild scream—a momentary distant crash as of a door breaking down and thundering upon the marble pavement; and then again, the long, strange cries, mingled with a dull, low sound as of a great moaning—all came up together, and seemed to meet Nehushta as she lifted the curtains and went out.

But the little Syrian maid grasped the Indian knife in her girdle, and stole stealthily upon her mistress's steps.


Nehushta glided like a ghost along the corridors and dimly-lighted halls. As yet, the confusion seemed to be all in the lower story of the palace, but the roaring din rose louder every moment—the shrieks of wounded women with the moaning of wounded men, the clash of swords and arms, and, occasionally, a quick, loud rattle, as half a dozen arrows that had missed their mark struck the wall together.

Onward she flew, not pausing to listen, lest in a moment more the tide of fight should be forced up the stairs and overtake her. She shuddered as she passed the head of the great staircase and heard, as though but a few steps from her, a wild shriek that died suddenly into a gurgling death hiss.

She passed the treasury, whence the guards had fled, and in a moment more she was above the staircase that led down to the temple behind the palace. There was no one there as yet, as far as she could see in the starlight. The doors were shut, and the massive square building frowned through the gloom, blacker than its own black shadow.

Nehushta paused as she reached the door, and listened. Very faintly through the thick walls she could hear the sound of the evening chant. The priests were all within with Zoroaster, unconscious of their danger and of all that was going on in the palace, singing the hymns of the sacrifice before the sacred fire,—chanting, as it were, a dirge for themselves. Nehushta tried the door. The great bronze gates were locked together, and though she pushed, with her whole strength, they would not move a hair's breadth.

"Press the nail nearest the middle," said a small voice behind her. Nehushta started and looked round. It was the little Syrian slave, who had followed her out of the palace, and stood watching her in the dark. Nehushta put her hand upon the round head of the nail and pressed, as the slave told her to do. The door opened, turning slowly and noiselessly upon its hinges. Both women entered; the Syrian girl looked cautiously back and pushed the heavy bronze back to its place. The Egyptian artisan who had made the lock, had told one of the queen's women whom he loved the secret by which it was opened, and the Syrian had heard it repeated and remembered it.

Once inside, Nehushta ran quickly through the corridor between the walls and rushing into the inner temple, found herself behind the screen and in a moment more she stood before all the priests and before Zoroaster himself. But even as she entered, the Syrian slave, who had lingered to close the gates, heard the rushing of many feet outside, and the yelling of hoarse voices, mixed with the clang of arms.

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