The Princes and the Shepherd
A tale of conquerors and the conquered, of an avenger’s bitter triumph and a wooing that withstood the siege of a great city
THE old woman stood perplexed, the wrinkles on her face carved into deeper lines by anxiety. The goats and her nephew, Thestor—she glanced up the bare slopes of Szara—were still some distance off. A gleam of veiled anger came into her eyes as she looked down at the fair-haired girl who sat at her feet.
“Let us hasten, Princess,” she said, striving to make her tone conciliatory. “Yonder sun sinks fast.”
The Princess Xanthé paid no heed to her nurse’s words. Girl’s face propped on two white hands, she was staring down the mountain-side. It was a fair, a lovely prospect that lay before her on this day when, two centuries after the power of the Minos of Crete had been shattered and two generations after Troy had fallen, her father ruled in Mycenae, lord of the Achaean Greeks and master of Southern Greece and the Aegean. The plain of Argos that, on her left, stretched southward in a checkerboard of red and green and yellow, owned his sway. Along the white ribbon of the road in the valley beneath her moved black dots that were, she knew, caravans bearing wealth and precious stuffs from the fabled lands across the sea, from Egypt and the Hittites and Phoenicia. And there to the northwest, blocking the valley and levelled by distance to a giant anthill, rose Mycenae.
Mycenae, her lovely city! The girl’s face glowed with pride as, forgetting the importunity of her nurse, she gazed at it. Even from this height the tall battlements were visible, and the afternoon sun struck gold from the glorious palace which crowned the summit of the place.
“Is it not fair?” she cried in childlike enthusiasm. “Is it not fair?”
The nurse, too, looked down on Mycenae. Not pride but sullen hate, the hate of the conquered for the conquerors, filled her face as dark wine fills a cup. Had not her people, the vanquished Minyans, held sway in that proud city before the blue-eyed Achaeans came? Was she herself not sprung from the old Minyan kings; those kings who had been friends of the Minos of Crete and whom the invaders had overthrown? Her lips drew back from yellowed teeth as her glance sought out a cluster of hovels which clustered in the valley close beneath the city’s walls. That was where her people dwelt now; her people who had once been lords in Mycenae.
"Is it not fair, Nysa?” the princess insisted, looking at her.
"Aye,” Nysa mumbled, refusing to meet the girl’s eyes.
But the princess had already turned back to her contemplation of Mycenae.
"By the spears of Ares,” she breathed, “it is a lovely city.”
Nysa’s nostrils dilated with impatience as she watched her sullenly. How long must her tidings wait on this youngster’s whim?
“The hour grows late,” she repeated sharply. “My nephew, Thestor—”
“What need is on thee,” the girl interrupted, glancing up at her quickly, “to see this Thestor, Nysa?”
The nurse’s face was dark and withdrawn.
“Tidings I bear,” she muttered, “for his father, my brother.”
The girl regarded her intently. At fifteen this Achaean princess, for all her childishness, was precociously mature. W'as she not her father’s darling? Had she not sat by his throne while he took counsel with his lords?
“What means this message?” she questioned suddenly and unexpectedly. "Do ye weave plots, ye Minyans, against the king, my father?”
The nurse gasped like a fish that is taken out of water. “Not so/’ she stammered. “Not so. ’Tis but—”
But the princess had burst into laughter.
“By Hera,” she cried, checking her merriment, “a man, though blind, could read thy face. But now”— she got up and put a white hand coaxingly on Nysa’s brown-skinned shoulder—“now shalt thou tell me of it. Plots are as wine to me. Tell me, Nysa.”
The nurse turned away. Anger flooded the princess’ cheeks. She stamped her foot.
“Must I bid thee speak?” she stormed. “Must I—”
C HE stopped abruptly. Over the nurse’s shoulder she ^ saw a boy coming noiselessly down the mountainside. A wolfskin was caught about his loins and in his hand he held a shepherd’s crook. Two or three years older than herself, the girl judged in swift appraisal. And handsome, too—that lean, sun-tanned body, that eagle face.
“Yonder,” shesaid demurely, “comes thy nephewnow.”
Nysa whirled round, her eyes alight.
“Thestor!” she exclaimed.
The boy halted. His dark brows drew together forbiddingly as he looked at the princess, noting the sandals on her feet, the sea-purple robes about her, the amber necklace around her throat.
“What does this maiden here?” he demanded harshly.
The princess stiffened at the cold hostility of his tone.
“I go whither I will,” she answered, lifting her head high. “Am I not the Princess Xanthé?”
“Princess!” Thestor spat contemptuously. “Thou art no princess of mine.”
The girl’s blue eyes flashed in anger. To be spoken to like this; and by a Minyan dog!
“My father, I would have thee know, slave,” she blazed, “is thy king !”
To her surprise he was not impressed.
“King,” he answered, crashing his crook against a stone. “Usurper, thou wouldst say. Were it not for ye Archaeans, my father would be king and I a prince.”
“Thestor,” the nurse commanded, “cease this strife. I bear tidings, tidings that—”
But the princess was laughing scornfully.
“Thou,” she mocked, pointing at the wolfskin,
“thou, a prince!”
The boy flushed. He was even handsomer, she thought irrelevantly, when he was angry. And then, to her shocked amazement, the nurse, forgetting her message in her fury, gripped her by the shoulder.
“’Tis sooth,” she hissed, her servility dropping like a mask. "’Tis sooth. The blood of the old Minyan kings, the kings who ruled ere ye Achaeans came, runs in his veins.”
“And what,” Thestor flung at her fiercely, stepping closer, “what of my sister that thy brother,
Lycophron, took for his
enjoyment some three moons since? What of her I say?”
“Aye,” the nurse cried. “What of her?”
The girl freed herself and shrank back. She cast a frightened glance down at Mycenae. His sister—what had she to do with this boy’s sister? And Nysa—to think that she had dared!
“Vengeance,” Thestor muttered, staring at her fiercely. “Vengeance!”
They were but slaves, she told herself, dogs of Minyans. Was she not an Achaean and a princess? She faced round on them.
“Take heed,” she cried. “’Tis we Achaeans rule, not ye.”
Nysa cringed before her in swift remembrance of the punishment that might be meted out to her at Mycenae. But the boy’s pride and fury rose in full flood.
“By the white horses of Poseidon,” he stormed, towering over her, “we grow weary of the Achaean rule. Tribute—and our women. Thy brother, Lycophron, smote me to the ground on that day when his spearmen stole my sister from the hearth. Take heed thyself. Take heed lest the old kings”—he swept his arm toward Mycenae—“the kings who still lie buried within yon Lion Gate awake to vengeance. They shall awake. And when the Dorians—”
“Be still!” Nysa cried, panic-stricken. “By the Dark
Mother I entreat thee, be still.”
BUT Xanthé’s eyes had narrowed suddenly. The Dorians. Only too often had she heard of them. Down from the North they had come long years be-
fore hér own bronze-armored forebears had rushed to conquer the dark-skinned Minyans and wrest the lordship of Mycenae from them. And now, out of that same Northland, a new wave of blue-eyed barbarians was sweeping, iron swords instead of bronze in their grip. Already Greece north of the Isthmus was in their power. Only last year had they beaten at the gates of Corinth, and her father and Lycophron had been hard pressed to drive them back. This message—her nostrils dilated as she pieced the plot together. The Minyans were as thick as flies in the city and in the villages outside the walls. If they were to league themselves with the Dorians, then even Mycenae, her lovely Mycenae, might be in danger.
These thoughts had rushed through her mind with the speed of an arrow’s flight.
“The Dorians!” she burst out impetuously, forgetting that she was alone on the mountain-side with those two of an alien race. “What traffic have ye with them, ye dogs? Tell me; else will I bear the tidings to my father.” In Thestor’s hand a dagger gleamed as if by magic, an ancient dagger of bronze chased with fleurs de lis in gold. The nurse gasped. The princess stepped back falteringly; then, in a swift rush of pride, lifted steady eyes to the boy’s dark face.
“Nay, Thestor,” Nysa cried. “Art mad?”
“Too nearly,” the boy said dangerously, “hath she hit the mark. Shall she live to betray our purpose to the lord of the Achaeans? And did not her brother, the accursed Lycophron, ravish my sister? His sister stands here, alone. The gods have sent a sign. Vengeance!” He raised the dagger slowly. The nurse flung herself upon him and grasped his arm. Fear moved her fear and perchance affection for this child of a hated race “Not so,” she cried. “Stay thy hand.”
The boy wrenched his wrist free and pushed her aside, his eyes still on the princess. Her face was pale. But
her blue eyes still met his dark ones fearlessly, proudly, and the breath of a smile curved her lips. Thestor’s fierce purpose wavered. He tried to recall his sister’s fate, to bring back before his mind the hated face of Lycophron, to remember that, from her words, this princess of the Achaeans had guessed his father’s plot. But he could not. She was so slim, so fearless. With a curse that was like a sob he dropped his hand.
The princess drew in her breath.
“By the shield of the Sun God,” she said, striving to keep her voice cool and casual, “ye have strange ways, ye Minyans. Did those ancient kings, thy ancestors, wage war on maidens, boy?”
Thestor’s face showed shame. He shook his head and put the dagger slowly back into the wolfskin.
“Yet ’twas a pretty dagger,” she commented. “Whence came it, boy? Wrenched from some wayfarer’s lifeless corpse?”
“Nay,” he answered looking at her while a dull fire of anger and of shame smoldered in his eyes. “’Tis from the old kings, my forebears; the kings whose blood runs in my veins.” He turned away and his voice was so low that she could scarcely hear it. “I, a slave!”
As she gazed at his dowmcast face quick sympathy seized on the princess. She strove against it. What was this rough shepherd boy to her? Why should she pity him, even if his forefathers had been kings, even if his sister had been reft from him? And yet, face to face with him, child of the Achaeans though she was, she could comprehend his fierce pride and his abasement, could understand his thirst for vengeance.
“Be not so full of sorrow,” she entreated, stepping close. “My father, the Lord of the Achaeans, hath promised me a gift this night, a gift to grace my natal day. Thy sister, she shall be sent back to thee.”
Thestor glanced at her, touched in spite of himself.
But he shook his head. “ 'Tis useless,” he answered slowly. “She is dead.”
“Oh!” The princess’ eyes filled with tears. She touched his arm impulsively. “Thy
sorrow grieves me, Thestor,” she breathed and, turning, she went down the mountain-side.
The boy stared after her. Conflicting emotions tore at him. He felt that he should hate her, that he must hate her. Was she not an Achaean? And was not Lycophron the fox-faced, her brother? Yet how could he hate one so young, so slender, whose eyes had filled with tears?
Nysa’s voice recalled him from his thoughts, and he swung around, remembering the tidings that she bore.
“Bid thy father, Agenor, beware,” the nurse whispered. “The Achaean dogs grow wary.”
“What sayest thou?”
“They have no certain knowledge. But, like hounds in the forest, they scent mischief in the air. Bid him strike at once.”
Thestor was taut as a bent bow.
“Our kinsfolk in the city?” he questioned swiftly. “Are ready. Let but the signal come and the Lion Gate shall open wide.”
“My father’s counsel,” Thestor muttered, “was to lead the Dorians hither. Let them but come and we will strike.”
“I fear me,” Nysa answered sombrely, “lest the Dorians come too late.”
Thestor snatched up his crook in quick decision. “Bid,” he said over his shoulder, “our kinsfolk in the city keep watch and ward this night. A beacon fire shall blaze from Szara. Then let the Lion Gate swing open. I go to tell my father.”
DUSK was thick in the tiny hovel. The flickering light from the hearth cast shadows on the earthen floor, and on the mud-brick walls, and on Thestor’s crook that leaned near the open square of the back door. By the hearth his mother kneeled, baking cakes of coarse meal on the flat stones about it. And in the centre of the room Thestor argued bitterly with his father.
“Time will grow old,” he said earnestly, “ere the Dorians come. Let us delay no longer. Let us strike at once.”
His father, Agenor, shook his head.
“Nay,” he said slowly, “our people are too unskilled in war. The first rush of armed men would break them as chaff scatters before the wind. Nay, let us await the Dorians. Thus is the counsel of Thyadamas.”
“That twisted potter,” the boy exclaimed heatedly. “I trust him not. I like not his crafty smoothness.”
“He is wise in counsel. But when the Dorians come—” “ ’Twill be too late,” Thestor cried. “Thy sister, Nysa, hath said it. Ere the first Dorian sets foot on yonder mountain the Achaean dogs will have smelled out our purpose. Nay, my father, let us cast the dice. Let us strike home this night.”
Agenor paced away, his square shoulders bowed in thought. Thestor followed him.
“Send messengers along the plain,” he pleaded, his low voice vibrant with eagerness. “Rouse the villagers. Bid me light the beacon fire on Szara. Our kinsfolk in Mycenae”—he flung his hand in the direction of the walls that, he knew, towered so close at hand—“will open wide the Lion Gate. The Achaeans are but few; our people are as many as the leaves that fall when autumn comes. Let us but set foot within yon city, and Mycenae, Mycenae of our fathers, will be ours again.”
Agenor stopped and looked at him, a slow fire kindling in his eyes.
“Nay, Agenor,” his wife begged, looking up from the hearth, “cast these plots aside. No good will come of them. I dreamed a dream last night. And in my dream was blood.”
“The blood,” Thestor burst out impetuously, “of the Achaeans. Must we be slaves forever?”
“By the nether shades,” Agenor exclaimed, “the boy speaks sooth. And thou, cans’t thou forget so soon? Thy daughter—and Lycophron, the accursed. Aye, this night shall we banquet in Mycenae on blood and tears.” He caught up a ragged cloak. “I go to rouse the people. Messengers shall speed out to every village in the plain. And thou, my son—”
He paused in mid-speech as if a hand had closed about his throat. There was a sound in the street, a sound of people scurrying to shelter, and something more—the clank of armor.
“The princess!” Thestor exclaimed, his mind running Continued on page 44
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back swiftly to her words on the mountain-side.
“The Achaeans!” his mother gasped and leaped up from the hearth. “Flee, Agenor. Hasten!”
Agenor turned and sped for the back door. Tripping over the shepherd’s crook, unseen in the shadows, he fell headlong. Thestor ran to help him up, and the room was full of men, their armor glinting in the murky light.
“Seize him,” a strong voice commanded. “Take that man.”
Two spearmen gripped Agenor.
“Nay,” his wife cried, running forward to clasp the captain’s knees in supplication. “Slay him not. By thy beard, I entreat thee.”
The soldier thrust her away roughly so that she was spurned against the wall. With a thick oath, Thestor plucked his dagger from his side and leaped. His stroke did not reach home. A brawny Achaean caught him and with a dexterous twist disarmed the hoy.
“Shall I slay the dog?” he questioned.
“Nay,” the captain ordered. “Bind him and bring him to the palace.”
Thestor had ceased to struggle. The
Itiny room, he noted dully, was filled with the acrid odor of burning cakes.
They marched the captives through the
cowering villagers—in vain did Thestor cry out to them for aid and up to the northwest angle of Mycenae. The great Lion Gate swung open to admit them, the gate through which, this night, they had hoped to sweep for the capture of the city. It was the princess, Thestor told himself, who had betrayed their purpose to the Achaeans. Nysa had said that they had no certain knowledge. Yet swiftly had they come and straight to his father’s home. To think he had believed her when she sorrowed for his sister !
rT'HE boy cursed savagely as he was shepherded up the ramp which led from the Lion Gate to the inner city. Over its low parapet he could see, down there in the lower city, the circle of upright slabs which marked the graves of the old kings, his ancestors. A sense of unreality was on him. So this was the end of his dream, of his father’s dream, of taking vengeance on Lycophron, of striking down the Achaean lords. Yet surely the spirits of those old dead, the spirits that, so the peasants said, still walked on noon-dark nights, might rise, might aid. Wordlessly he prayed as they were driven up the twisting and crowded street that led to the palace.
But even that hope died when, through golden doors that were framed with silver jambs, they were thrust past the courtyard into the great hall of the king. It blazed with light. Along its walls gleamed rich frescoes of battle and of hunting, and in the centre of the red and blue checkers of the concrete floor rose four pillars set around a brilliantly colored hearth.
In that moment Thestor realized the folly of the plots that his father and he had woven in their dirty hovel. He gazed around the crowded room and in the centre saw the great chair on which sat the Achaean king. On his right hand— and Thestor clenched his teeth in futile rage—was Lycophron, his narrow face of a fox turned toward the captives contemptuously. Against the other side of the throne leaned the Princess Xanthé, her white arms glittering with golden bands, the necklace of amber still about her throat.
The boy stared at her fiercely. She returned his glance gravely, sorrowfully. It infuriated him the more.
“Hail, Lord of the Achaeans,” the captain said. “Here stands Agenor.”
“And yonder lad?” the king asked.
“The whelp had teeth. Behold.” He held up the ancient dagger of bronze.
The princess looked at it.
“I am,” Thestor said, still gazing at the princess, “Agenor’s son. Like him, my lineage springs from the Minyan kings.” “Heed him not,” Agenor broke in swiftly. “The boy is mad.”
A cruel smile curved Lycophron’s lips. He bent over to whisper in his father’s ear.
“His son, sayest thou?” the king commented. “Well, it matters not. They have woven a plot against the Achaean realm. They have leagued themselves with the Dorians. This night the tidings came to us.”
Thestor’s glance darted back to the princess. So it was she who had betrayed them. Why had he spared her, there on the mountain?
“Why do ye linger?” the king asked of the captain. He waved his hand wearily. “Let them be slain.”
“Nay, my father.”
It was the princess who spoke. Every eye was turned toward her as she moved forward. She did not falter.
The old king grasped his sceptre staff as if he would rise.
“Xanthé!” he exclaimed. “Be silent, girl.”
She confronted him steadily.
“This night,” she said in a low, clear voice, “didst thou promise me a boon. Grant me that boon. Grant me their lives.”
The king’s face was stern.
“Art jesting, girl?”
“ ’Tis no jest. Unless the Lord of the Achaeans will foreswear his plighted troth. Nor will it harm thee. Yonder slaves”—there was superb disdain in her tone and Thestor winced—“they cannot harm thee, the Lord of the Achaeans.” She smiled up at him, the smile of a child that has always been indulged. “ ’Twould pleasure me.”
The king sank back, pondering. His lords leaned forward watching what he would do. Thestor cried out suddenly: “Let her not gift me with my life,” he shouted. “I will not—
A brutal hand smote his lips to silence. The princess did not turn her head, but Lycophron leaned forward again and whispered. The king’s face cleared and he sat up.
“ ’Twas one boon I promised thee,” he said, “not two. Thou mayest save one— and one only. Take thy choice.” Agenor’s voice was clear and strong. “Choose my son,” he called.
“Not so,” Thestor cried, straining at his bonds.
But Xanthé had already lifted a white arm toward him. Then, without a backward glance, she turned and walked slowly, gracefully, from the hall. The Achaean king stood up, a regal figure in spite of his years, and crashed his goldstudded sceptre on the floor.
“Hear my doom,” he proclaimed. “Let the man be slain and his body cast over the wall, unburied that all may know the fate that waits for rebels. As for the boy, twelve hours grace I grant him to get from out the Achaean land.”
TT WAS six years later. Thestor stood on the edge of the Dorian camp in the valley and looked up with stern lips at beleaguered Mycenae. The six years had filled out his frame and carved lines in his dark face; and in those years he, a man without a city, had won by his ruthless cruelty and his desperate courage a place for himself among the Dorian warriors.
Time, too, had brought his vengeance closer; the vengeance for which alone he had lived since that dark night six years before when, dazed and bewildered by his father’s death, he had been thrust forth from Mycenae. True, the old king of Mycenae was dead, slain on that day when the barbarian Dorians had sacked Corinth. But Lycophron still ruled; and at last, this summer, the Dorians had drawn their might together from the slopes of Delphi and the lake by Orchomenos and the mountains of Doris and
even from far-off Thessaly, to swoop down like ravening kites for the plunder of Mycenae. With grim exultation and a devastating impatience in his heart, Thestor had joined them. The cities in the plain of Argos had fallen like corn before the sickle. But in his mountain fortress of Mycenae, Lycophron still laughed at them.
Thestor frowned up at the walls. Was Lycophron, Lycophron the ravisher of his sister and the slayer of his father, to escape his grip now? Yet the city had defied assault. Three times that very day had the giant Dorians stormed up the causeway to the Lion Gate striving to break in the huge bronze doors. And three times from the city wall on their left, and from the guard wall thrust out along their right and unshielded flank, javelins and arrows and burning oil and cragged rocks had smitten them back. Now, like a bear hurled back on his haunches, the warriors huddled in the valley and licked their wounds. Even now, in the tent of the war king, the Dorian leaders were assembled to discuss retreat.
Cursing, Thestor began to move slowly along the circuit of the walls. There was no way to take the city that he could see. With the gorge to the south and east, the valley to the north, the great walls everywhere, it was, and he clenched his teeth, well nigh impregnable. Lycophron, the fox-faced, after all these years, would escape him.
He paused again to look up at the city. The night was dark, dark as that neverforgotten hour when he had been thrust forth from Mycenae. Was the princess, he wondered suddenly, still within those walls? Was she wedded to some Achaean lord? He crushed the thought of her ruthlessly, as he had crushed it time and time again these past six years. Was she not an Achaean? Had she not betrayed them and caused his father’s death? Yet a small voice whispered to him that she had saved his life, had striven to save his father’s life. Why? he asked himself. Why?
A movement to the right and near to the city caught the corner of his eye. Some spy creeping out from Mycenae? He waited in taut attention. There it was again. Like a falcon unhooded he sped over the stony ground. A shadow rose up and fled before him. He gained on it and seized it.
“Spare me,” a woman’s voice pleaded. “Spare me.”
Thestor uttered an exclamation of unbelief. Roughly he wrenched the woman round and peered into her upturned face.
“Nysa,” he exclaimed, wondering at fate—or chance.
“Spare me. Tidings. I bear tidings to the Dorians.”
“Dost thou not know this voice? I am Thestor.”
“Thestor!” She, too, was unbelieving. She stared at him closely. “Aye,” she whispered, “the old kings themselves have guided me.”
“What,” Thestor demanded quickly, “of my mother?”
“She lives, up yonder on Szara whither the peasants have fled. But now” -she caught his arm—“lead me to the Dorian camp.”
“These tidings,” Thestor said, “what mean they? And by what road” - he flung her off in swift suspicion— “didst thou come hither? The city gates are closed. Too well we know it.”
She stepped closer to him.
“I came,” she said, triumph in her voice, “by a secret way, a passage through yonder walls builded by the old Minyan kings, thy forefathers. ’Tis well hidden. None knows of it, save I.”
“By Poseidon, by Ares, by the Dark Mother herself,” Thestor exulted, every thought but one, the thought of vengeance on Lycophron, obliterated from his mind, “come thou to the Dorian king. Two score men—aye, this night shall the wolves be loosed on the Achaeans.”
"PORTUNE itself —and Nysa—had guided them through the secret way into the inner city and down its sleeping streets to the gates at the head of the ramp. One rush and the unsuspecting guards fell like trees before the hurricane. Striding through the gates, Thestor mounted the low parapet of the ramp and —with the graves of the old kings, his ancestors, below him—waved a lighted torch twice, thrice to the Dorians in the valley. Then, leaving Dexileos, his second in command, with half the men to keep the ramp, he swept down on the Lion Gate.
The struggle was short and sharp. The great bronze valves creaked open and, to the cries of the Achaeans awakening in the inner city, the Dorians poured in. The black night awoke to clamor. Women shrieked, children screamed. The shouts of the Dorians sounded, and the clash of arms as, here and there, the Achaeans, dazed by sleep and sudden disaster, gathered to sell their lives. Mycenae of the Achaeans was tumbling into ruin.
Thestor did not wait for the fighting in the city. Soon as the gates were opened he sped, his band behind him, straight for the palace. The guards at the door fell where they stood. Over their dead bodies Thestor strode into the great hall where, six years before, his father and he had waited for the judgment of the Achaean king. It still blazed with light. The brilliant frescoes on the walls gleamed out in richer color as if they knew their destruction was close at hand. And there, at the farther end, with a knot of women crouched behind them, stood Lycophron and a half dozen of his lords.
Grim exultation swelled in Thestor’s heart as he gazed at his foe. All the gathered hatred of the years blazed out as he raised a bloody sword and shouted to his men. Like wolves on a herd of goats they leaped on the Achaeans. For a moment the opposing line held. Then, dissolving, it left Thestor at last, at long last, face to face with Lycophron. Fiercely he thrust. Lycophron, his narrow face of a fox set in a ghastly grin, stumbled backward. Thestor leaped upon him and struck home. Crying aloud, the Achaean king fell to the floor. The Minyan wrenched his sword free ajid leaned over the dying man, a deep need for utterance upon him.
“ 'Tis I, Thestor, the shepherd boy of Szara,” he cried. “That blow, ’twas for my sister. This”—he held his blade
before the glazing eyes—“reaps vengeance for my father.” He struck again.
As he turned from the dead body of his enemy a curious sense of emptiness possessed Thestor. The thirst for vengeance on Lycophron had lived with him so long that, with the quenching of it, the very purpose of life seemed to be withdrawn. He glanced around the hall and the feeling was blotted from him. The fight was over.
But there against the wall the women of the court were huddled. All save one. Proudly she stood forth, a golden diadem on her head, a dagger in her hand. For an instant Thestor marvelled at the change the years had wrought in her. His little princess of Szara—now tall, fullbreasted. Yet the eyes were the same, blue and fearless. He strove to recall the hatred he had felt toward her, toward all the Achaeans. But a strange feeling, a new desire, was mingled with it. Then suddenly he realized that his Dorians were gathering, were gazing with hooded eyes at the cowering women. With a shout he leaped between her and the barbarians.
“Back,” he called to them. “Not yet is the city taken. Out and aid our comrades.”
Dexileos stepped out to face him.
“Nay, Outlander,” he said scornfully. “Our comrades have the city in their grip. ’Twill not escape them.” He turned to his fellows. “Loot, comrades !” he shouted, tossing his helmet in the air. “Loot and women!”
With a wild roar, the Dorians rushed. Thestor strove to check them and they pushed him aside as a torrent flings aside a cork. Recovering, he flung himself into the turmoil. Not even at this moment did he admit the fear that maddened him. Thrusting himself forward, he found her, her dagger struck from her hand and struggling in Dexileos’ arms. With a savage oath, Thestor wrenched the Dorian from her.
"Give way, Dexileos,” he said, dangerously.
“Give way thyself, Outlander. Thou art no Dorian. By the sword of Ares, she is mine!”
“Not so,” Thestor answered. “Thy king himself did gift her to me if we should sack Mycenae. ’Tis my guerdon for the secret way. Give way, thou Dorian barbarian. Are there not other women?” Even as he was warned, the savage Dorian rushed. Calmly, relentlessly, Thestor passed his swordpoint through his throat. He turned back to the princess. She had caught up her dagger again and her eyes were wide with horror.
“Keep back,” she cried. “Stay thy step. Or else—” She pointed the dagger at her own breast.
’ I 'HESTOR cast a swift glance at the turmoil in the hall. This was no place to speak with her. Nor did he yet know what he wished to do with her. An Achaean, the sister of Lycophron—and yet so lovely. He leaped toward her and, catching the dagger, wrenched it from her hand. For an instant she struggled against him, then relaxed limply in his arms. Lifting her up, he carried her from the room. At the threshold of the palace, in the light tossed upward by the burning city, he set her down. She wavered on her feet but faced him proudly.
“Princess,” he said, staring at her darkly, “it is I, Thestor.”
Her eyes widened in amazement.
“Dost thou not remember? The shepherd boy on Szara, and in yonder hall the night my father died?”
"Aye.” There was a catch in her voice. “I do remember.”
“I swore vengeance on that night,” he said, gazing at her while that strange new feeling warred with the memory of her betrayal. “Vengeance for my sister and my father. Through me and Nysa, Achaean Mycenae is no more. Thy brother is dead. ’Twas I who slew him.” “Then,” she said, opening her arms wide, “slay me also.”
Thestor shook his head.
“Nay, I shall not slay thee. Do I not owe my life to thee? Yet my sister—” “Nor will I be a slave,” she interrupted. “Give me back my dagger.”
It was still in Thestor’s hand. He looked at it, still pondering. It was an ancient dagger of bronze, chased with fleurs-de-lis in gold. A cry escaped him.
“My dagger from the ancient kings! Thou—all these years?”
Even in the murky light he could see her white skin flush crimson.
“Give it me,” she repeated. “Let me slay myself.”
"Nay, I will not. Not even if thou didst seem to sorrow for my sister and then didst betray us, six twelvemonths since.”
“Who else? Straight as an arrow’s flight, that night, came the spearmen to my father’s home.”
She looked at him with eyes into which understanding was coming.
“There was,” she said slowly, “a certain potter.”
“Thyadamas!” Thestor exclaimed as if a mighty weight were lifted from him. “That twisted potter. I see it now.” With a sudden movement he flung the dagger into the darkness as if with it he tossed aside all the hate, all the pride, all the black poison of the long years.
“Princess,” he said, stepping closer, his eyes alight, “Achaean Mycenae is no
more. And thou didst keep that dagger, my dagger. ’Tis a swift, a sudden wooing. Yet necessity knows not delay. All these years have I loved thee—and called it hatred. Wilt thou?”
Her eyes were veiled.
“My brother?” she murmured.
“ 'Twas he who ravished my sister. And by his counsel was my father slain.” His voice was pleading. “ ’Twas meet, my vengeance.”
She turned aside and paced forward. Beneath her was the conquered city. Resistance had ceased. But still the crics of women and the shouts of the barbarian Dorians floated up, and the black sky was lurid with tongues of ruddy flame.
“Mycenae,” the princess said suddenly with a sob in her throat and stretched forth her arms. “My city, my lovely city!”
Unexpectedly, as he watched her, Thestor knew regret. Dimly he per-
ceived the passing of a civilization, a civilization that had had its roots in the soil of Minoan Crete. He could not see through the mists to that future day, as yet far distant, when from the wreckage made by the Dorians would rise the white pillars of the Parthenon and the clear brilliance of Periclean Athens. He realized only that he had brought sorrow to his princess, to his loved one. In that moment his vengeance was as potter’s earth in his mouth.
“My princess,” he murmured.
Tears still in her eyes, she smiled at him.
“Mycenae’s road,” she said in her low rich voice, “is ended. Nor can my tears bring back the dead. But our road, my shepherd—look yonder.”
Thestor’s glance followed her outstretched arm. There, over the black bulk of Szara, the sky was rosy with the first faint fingers of the dawn.