Never had there been such bustling about the royal palace or in the palaces of the nobles of Lutha. The buzz and hum of excited conversation filled the whole town. That the choice of the king met the approval of his subjects was more than evident. Upon every lip was praise and love of the Princess Emma von der Tann. The future of Lutha seemed assured with a king who could fight joined in marriage to a daughter of the warrior line of Von der Tann.
The princess was busy up to the last minute. She had not seen her future husband since his return from Blentz, for he, too, had been busy. Twice he had sent word to her, but on both occasions had regretted that he could not come personally because of the pressure of state matters and the preparations for the ceremony that was to take place in the cathedral in so short a time.
At last the hour arrived. The cathedral was filled to overflowing. After the custom of Lutha, the bride had walked alone up the broad center aisle to the foot of the chancel. Guardsmen lining the way on either hand stood rigidly at salute until she stopped at the end of the soft, rose-strewn carpet and turned to await the coming of the king.
Presently the doors at the opposite end of the cathedral opened. There was a fanfare of trumpets, and up the center aisle toward the waiting girl walked the royal groom. It seemed ages to the princess since she had seen her lover. Her eyes devoured him as he approached her. She noticed that he limped, and wondered; but for a moment the fact carried no special suggestion to her brain.
The people had risen as the king entered. Again, the pieces of the guardsmen had snapped to present; but silence, intense and utter, reigned over the vast assembly. The only movement was the measured stride of the king as he advanced to claim his bride.
At the head of each line of guardsmen, nearest the chancel and upon either side of the bridal party, the ranks were formed of commissioned officers. Butzow was among them. He, too, out of the corner of his eye watched the advancing figure. Suddenly he noted the limp, and gave a little involuntary gasp. He looked at the Princess Emma, and saw her eyes suddenly widen with consternation.
Slowly at first, and then in a sudden tidal wave of memory, Butzow’s story of the fight in the courtyard at Blentz came back to her.
“I saw but little of Mr. Custer,” he had said. “He was slightly wounded in the left leg. The king was wounded in the breast.” But Lieutenant Butzow had not known the true identity of either.
The real Leopold it was who had been wounded in the left leg, and the man who was approaching her up the broad cathedral aisle was limping noticeably—and favoring his left leg. The man to whom she was to be married was not Barney Custer—he was Leopold of Lutha!
A hundred mad schemes rioted through her brain. The wedding must not go on! But how was she to avert it? The king was within a few paces of her now. There was a smile upon his lips, and in that smile she saw the final confirmation of her fears. When Leopold of Lutha smiled his upper lip curved just a trifle into a shadow of a sneer. It was a trivial characteristic that Barney Custer did not share in common with the king.