Since childhood Emma von der Tann had ridden these hilly roads. She knew every lane and bypath for miles around. She knew the short cuts, the gullies and ravines. She knew where one might, with a good jumper, save a wide detour, and as she rode toward Blentz she passed in review through her mind each of the many spots where a sudden break for liberty might have the best chance to succeed.
And at last she hit upon the place where a quick turn would take her from the main road into the roughest sort of going for one not familiar with the trail. Maenck and his soldiers had already partially relaxed their vigilance. The officer had come to the conclusion that his prisoner was resigned to her fate and that, after all, the fate of being forced to be queen did not appear so dark to her.
They had wound up a wooded hill and were half way up to the summit. The princess was riding close to the right-hand side of the road. Quite suddenly, and before a hand could be raised to stay her, she wheeled her mount between two trees, struck home her spur, and was gone into the wood upon the steep hillside.
With an oath, Maenck cried to his men to be after her. He himself spurred into the forest at the point where the girl had disappeared. So sudden had been her break for liberty and so quickly had the foliage swallowed her that there was something almost uncanny in it.
A hundred yards from the road the trees were further apart, and through them the pursuers caught a glimpse of their quarry. The girl was riding like mad along the rough, uneven hillside. Her mount, surefooted as a chamois, seemed in his element. But two of the horses of her pursuers were as swift, and under the cruel spurs of their riders were closing up on their fugitive. The girl urged her horse to greater speed, yet still the two behind closed in.
A hundred yards ahead lay a deep and narrow gully, hid by bushes that grew rankly along its verge. Straight toward this the Princess Emma von der Tann rode. Behind her came her pursuers—two quite close and the others trailing farther in the rear. The girl reined in a trifle, letting the troopers that were closest to her gain until they were but a few strides behind, then she put spur to her horse and drove him at topmost speed straight toward the gully. At the bushes she spoke a low word in his backlaid ears, raised him quickly with the bit, leaning forward as he rose in air. Like a bird that animal took the bushes and the gully beyond, while close behind him crashed the two luckless troopers.
Emma von der Tann cast a single backward glance over her shoulder, as her horse regained his stride upon the opposite side of the gully, to see her two foremost pursuers plunging headlong into it. Then she shook free her reins and gave her mount his head along a narrow trail that both had followed many times before.
Behind her, Maenck and the balance of his men came to a sudden stop at the edge of the gully. Below them one of the troopers was struggling to his feet. The other lay very still beneath his motionless horse. With an angry oath Maenck directed one of his men to remain and help the two who had plunged over the brink, then with the others he rode along the gully searching for a crossing.