The cup touched the king’s lips, and at the sign from every throat in that countless multitude sprang the word “King!” and every foot stamped upon the ground, shaking the solid earth. Thrice the monarch drank, and thrice this tremendous salute, the salute of the whole nation to its ruler, was repeated, each time more loudly than the last. Then pouring the rest of the liquor on the ground, Umsuka set aside the cup, and in the midst of a silence that seemed deep after the crash of the great salute, he began to address the multitude:—
“Hearken, Councillors and Captains, and you, my people, hearken. As you know, I have two sons, calves of the Black Bull, princes of the land—my son Hafela, the eldest born, and my son Nodwengo, his half-brother——”
At this point the king began to grow confused. He hesitated, passing his hand over his eyes, then slowly and with difficulty repeated those words which he had already said.
“We hear you, Father,” cried the councillors in encouragement, as for the second time he paused. While they still spoke, the veins in the king’s neck were seen to swell suddenly, foam flecked with blood burst from his lips, and he fell headlong to the ground.
THE RECOVERY OF THE KING
For a moment there was silence, then a great cry arose—a cry of “Our father is dead!” Presently with it were mingled other and angrier shouts of “The king is murdered!” and “He is bewitched, the white wizard has bewitched the king! He prophesied evil upon him, and now he has bewitched him!”
Meanwhile the captains and councillors formed a ring about Umsuka, and Hokosa bending over him examined him.
“Princes and Councillors,” he said presently, “your father yet lives, but his life is like the life of a dying fire and soon he must be dead. This is sure, that one of two things has befallen him: either the heat has caused the blood to boil in his veins and he is smitten with a stroke from heaven, such as men who are fat and heavy sometimes die of; or he has been bewitched by a wicked wizard. Yonder stands one,” and he pointed to Owen, “who not an hour ago prophesied that before the sun was down great evil should overtake the king. The sun is not yet down, and great evil has overtaken him. Perchance, Princes and Councillors, this white prophet can tell us of the matter.”
“Perchance I can,” answered Owen calmly.
“He admits it!” cried some. “Away with him!”
“Peace!” said Owen, holding the crucifix towards those whose spears threatened his life.
They shrank back, for this symbol of a dying man terrified them who could not guess its significance.
“Peace,” went on Owen, “and listen. Be sure of this, Councillors, that if I die, your king will die; whereas if I live, your king may live. You ask me of this matter. Where shall I begin? Shall I begin with the tale of two men seated together some nights ago in a hut so dark that no eyes could see in it, save perchance the eyes of a wizard? What did they talk of in that hut, and who were those men? They talked, I think, of the death of a king and of the crowning of a king. They talked of a price to be paid for a certain medicine; and one of them had a royal air, and one——”