Otho von Reuss was crowned. Helene, the Little Playmate, was avenged.
THE LADY YSOLINDE SAVES HER SOUL
The Duke’s body sank down upon that of the soldier, still further blocking the passage. And as for his head, I know not where that went to. But the rush of his followers was utterly checked by the barrier of dead. With a wild cry, “The Duke is dead! Duke Otho is slain!” they rushed down and out of the Red Tower, eager at once to escape unharmed, and to carry to their companions in the Wolfsberg the startling news.
Nevertheless, I cleared my arm, wiped my axe, and again stood ready.
“Come!” I cried—“come all of you. You desire to kill me? Well, I am still waiting!”
But not a man answered. The stairway was clear, save of the headless dead. And then, sudden as summer thunder, through the dumb and empty silence, I heard clear and loud the clanging of the hammers of Prince Karl upon the gates of Thorn.
At that I felt that I must roar aloud in my fierce joy. I shouted angrily for more and more assailants to come up the stair, that I might kill them all. I yearned to be first at the gate, to see the men whom I had led break their way in to deliver the city. I, more than any other, had brought them there. I had trained them for that work. Best of all, across the stairway beneath me lay dead Otho, Duke of the Wolfmark, beheaded by the Red Axe of his own Justicer.
“Husband! Hugo! Are you wounded?” said a voice behind me, a voice which in a moment recalled me from my bloody imaginings and baresark fury of fighting.
“Helene!” I cried.
She approached, and would have thrown her arms about me. But I held out my hand to keep her off.
“Not now, child,” I said; “touch me not. I am unwounded, but wet!”
And so I was, wet with that which had spouted from the neck of Otho von Reuss, as his trunk stood a moment headless in the stairway ere it fell prone—a hideous thing to see.
“Come, Helene,” I said, “we must away. There is other work for your husband to-night. You I will place with the Bishop Peter. But my place is with the men of Plassenburg and with Karl, my noble Prince.”
And I took her by the hand to lead her out.
“Not that way!” she cried, shrinking back.
For the bodies of the two slain men lay there. And the stairs ran red from step to step in red drips and lappering pools.
So I bethought me of what we should do, and ran forthwith for my father’s cord, with which he was used to bind the malefactors upon the wheel.
“Come, Helene,” said I, and straightway fastened the rope to the iron bar from which I had made so many descents to the pavement in the old days of the White Wolves.
I let myself down, and there in the angle of the tower wall, I waited to catch my wife. She delayed somewhat, and I could not think wherefore.