It was for the first of these reasons, and, indeed, for the second also, that they had been posted by Joshua at the mouth of the pass, which he knew well they alone could be trusted to defend in the event of serious attack. Moreover, it was desirable, from his point of view, to keep them out of the way while he developed his plans against the person of the Child of Kings, for whom these simple-minded men had a hereditary and almost a superstitious reverence.
As soon as we were within the lines of these Mountaineers we found the difference between them and the rest of the Abati. The other regiments we had passed unchallenged, but here we were instantly stopped by a picket. Japhet whispered something into the ear of its officer that caused him to stare hard at us. Then this officer saluted the veiled figure of the Child of Kings and led us to where the commander of the band and his subordinates were seated near a fire sitting together. At some sign or word that did not reach us the commander, an old fellow with a long grey beard, rose and said:
“Your pardon, but be pleased to show your faces.”
Maqueda threw back her hood and turned so that the light of the moon fell full upon her, whereon the old man dropped to his knee, saying:
“Your commands, O Walda Nagasta.”
“Summon your regiment and I will give them,” she answered, and seated herself on a bench by the fire, we three and Japhet standing behind her.
The commander issued orders to his captains, and presently the Mountaineers formed up on three sides of a square above us, to the number of a little over five hundred men. When all were gathered Maqueda mounted the bench upon which she had been sitting, threw back her hood so that every one could see her face in the light of the fire, and addressed them:
“Men of the mountain-side, this night just after the idol of the Fung had been destroyed, the Prince Joshua, my uncle, came to me demanding my surrender to him, whether to kill me or to imprison me in his castle beyond the end of the lake, for reasons of State as he said, or for other vile purposes, I do not know.”
At these words a murmur rose from the audience.
“Wait,” said Maqueda, holding up her hand, “there is worse to come. I told my uncle, Prince Joshua, that he was a traitor and had best be gone. He went, threatening me and, when I do not know, withdrew the guards that should be stationed at my palace gates. Now, some rumour of my danger had reached the foreigners in my service, and two of them, he who is called Black Windows, whom we rescued from the Fung, and the soldier named Quick, came to watch over me, while the Lord Orme and the Doctor Adams stayed in the cave to send out that spark of fire which should destroy the idol. Nor did they come back without need, for presently arrived a band of Prince Joshua’s men to take me.