ELISSA

第22章

Before Ithobal could reply, Sakon cried out in a loud voice:--

"Enough, enough! Is this a place for brawling, king Ithobal, and would you seek to fix a quarrel upon my guest, the prince Aziel, here in my council chamber, and to bring upon me the wrath of Israel, of Tyre, and of Egypt? Be sure that the prince shall cross no swords with you; no, not if I have to set him under guard to keep him safe. To your business, king Ithobal, or I break up this assembly and send you under escort to our gates."

Now his counsellors plucked Ithobal by the sleeve and whispered to him some advice, which at last he seemed to take with an ill grace, for, turning, he said, "So be it. This is my business, Sakon: For many years I and the countless tribes whom I rule have suffered much at the hands of you Ph?nicians, who centuries ago settled here in my country as traders. That you should trade we are content, but not that you should establish yourselves as a sovereign power, pretending to be my equals who are my servants. Therefore, in the name of my nation, I demand that the tribute which you pay to me for the use of the mines of gold shall henceforth be doubled; that the defences of this city be thrown down; and that you cease to enslave the natives of the land to labour in your service. I have spoken."

Now as these arrogant demands reached their ears, the company assembled in the hall murmured with anger and astonishment, then turned to wait for Sakon's answer.

"And if we refuse these small requests of yours, O King?" asked the governor sarcastically, "what then? Will you make war upon us?"

"First tell me, Sakon, if you do refuse them?"

"In the name of the cities of Tyre and Sidon whom I serve, and of Hiram my master, I refuse them one and all," answered Sakon with dignity.

"Then, Sakon, I am minded to bring up a hundred thousand men against you and to sweep you and your city from the face of earth," said Ithobal. "Yet I remember that I also have Ph?nician blood in my veins mixed with the nobler and more ancient blood at which yonder upstart jeers, and therefore I would spare you. I remember also that for generations there has been peace and amity between my forefathers and the Council of this city, and therefore I would spare you. Behold, then, I build a bridge whereby you may escape, asking but one little thing of you in proof that you are indeed my friend, and it is that you give me your daughter, the lady Elissa, whom I seek to make my queen. Think well before you answer, remembering that upon this answer may hang the lives of all who listen to you, ay, and of many thousand others."

For a while there was silence in the assemblage, and every eye was fixed upon Elissa, who stood neither moving nor speaking, her face still set like that of a Sphinx, and almost as unreadable. Aziel gazed at her with the rest, and his eyes she felt alone of all the hundreds that were bent upon her. Indeed, so strongly did they draw her, that against her own will she turned her head and met them. Then remembering what had passed between herself and the prince that very day, she coloured faintly and looked down, neither the glance nor the blush escaping the watchful Ithobal.

Presently Sakon spoke:--

"King Ithobal," he said, "I am honoured indeed that you should seek my daughter as your queen, but she is my only child, whom I love, and I have sworn to her that I will not force her to marry against her will, whoever be the suitor. Therefore, King, take your answer from her own lips, for whatever it be it is my answer."

"Lady," said Ithobal, "you have heard your father's words; be pleased to say that you look with favour upon my suit, and that you will deign to share my throne and power."

Elissa took a step forward on the da?s and curtseyed low before the king.

"O King!" she said, "I am your handmaid, and great indeed is the favour that you would do your servant. Yet, King, I Pray of you search out some fairer woman of a more royal rank to share your crown and sceptre, for I am all unworthy of them, and to those words on this matter which I have spoken in past days I have none to add." Then again she curtseyed, adding, "King, I am your servant."

Now a murmur of astonishment went up from the audience, for few of them thought it possible that Elissa, who, however beautiful, was but the daughter of a noble, could refuse to become the wife of a king.

Ithobal alone did not seem to be astonished, for he had expected this answer.

"Lady," he said, repressing with an effort the passions which were surging within him, "I think that I have something to offer to the woman of my choice, and yet you put me aside as lightly as though I had neither name, nor power, nor station. This, as it seems to me, can be read in one way only, that your heart is given elsewhere."

"Have it as you will, King," answered Elissa, "my heart is given elsewhere."

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