It was not yet noon when the detachment of the Royal Horse arrived in Lustadt from Blentz. At their head rode one whom all upon the streets of the capital greeted enthusiastically as king. The party rode directly to the royal palace, and the king retired immediately to his apartments. A half hour later an officer of the king’s household knocked upon the door of the Princess Emma von der Tann’s boudoir. In accord with her summons he entered, saluted respectfully, and handed her a note.
It was written upon the personal stationary of Leopold of Lutha. The girl read and reread it. For some time she could not seem to grasp the enormity of the thing that had overwhelmed her—the daring of the action that the message explained. The note was short and to the point, and was signed only with initials.
The king died of his wounds just before midnight. I shall keep the throne. There is no other way. None knows and none must ever know the truth. Your father alone may suspect; but if we are married at once our alliance will cement him and his faction to us. Send word by the bearer that you agree with the wisdom of my plan, and that we may be wed at once—this afternoon, in fact.
The people may wonder for a few days at the strange haste, but my answer shall be that I am going to the front with my troops. The son and many of the high officials of the Kaiser have already established the precedent, marrying hurriedly upon the eve of their departure for the front.
With every assurance of my undying love, believe me,
The girl walked slowly across the room to her writing table. The officer stood in respectful silence awaiting the answer that the king had told him to bring. The princess sat down before the carved bit of furniture. Mechanically she drew a piece of note paper from a drawer. Many times she dipped her pen in the ink before she could determine what reply to send. Ages of ingrained royalistic principles were shocked and shattered by the enormity of the thing the man she loved had asked of her, and yet cold reason told her that it was the only way.
Lutha would be lost should the truth be known—that the king was dead, for there was no heir of closer blood connection with the royal house than Prince Peter of Blentz, whose great-grandmother had been a Rubinroth princess. Slowly, at last, she wrote as follows:
The king’s will is law.
That was all. Placing the note in an envelope she sealed it and handed it to the officer, who bowed and left the room.
A half hour later officers of the Royal Horse were riding through the streets of Lustadt. Some announced to the people upon the streets the coming marriage of the king and princess. Others rode to the houses of the nobility with the king’s command that they be present at the ceremony in the old cathedral at four o’clock that afternoon.