“Amen, your majesty,” said Barney. “And now I’ll be off for Tann—there must not be a moment lost if we are to bring you to Lustadt in time for the coronation. Herr Kramer will watch over you, but as none here guesses your true identity you are safer here than anywhere else in Lutha. Good-bye, your majesty. Be of good heart. We’ll have you on the road to Lustadt and the throne tomorrow morning.”
After Barney Custer had closed the door of the king’s chamber behind him and hurried down the corridor, the door of the room next the king’s opened quietly and a dark-visaged fellow, sallow and small-eyed, emerged. Upon his lips was a smile of cunning satisfaction, as he hastened to the office of the medical director and obtained a leave of absence for twenty-four hours.
THE CORONATION DAY
Toward dusk of the day upon which the mad king of Lutha had been found, a dust-covered horseman reined in before the great gate of the castle of Prince Ludwig von der Tann. The unsettled political conditions which overhung the little kingdom of Lutha were evident in the return to medievalism which the raised portcullis and the armed guard upon the barbican of the ancient feudal fortress revealed. Not for a hundred years before had these things been done other than as a part of the ceremonials of a fete day, or in honor of visiting royalty.
At the challenge from the gate Barney replied that he bore a message for the prince. Slowly the portcullis sank into position across the moat and an officer advanced to meet the rider.
“The prince has ridden to Lustadt with a large retinue,” he said, “to attend the coronation of Peter of Blentz tomorrow.”
“Prince Ludwig von der Tann has gone to attend the coronation of Peter!” cried Barney in amazement. “Has the Princess Emma returned from her captivity in the castle of Blentz?”
“She is with her father now, having returned nearly three weeks ago,” replied the officer, “and Peter has disclaimed responsibility for the outrage, promising that those responsible shall be punished. He has convinced Prince Ludwig that Leopold is dead, and for the sake of Lutha—to save her from civil strife—my prince has patched a truce with Peter; though unless I mistake the character of the latter and the temper of the former it will be short-lived.
“To demonstrate to the people,” continued the officer, “that Prince Ludwig and Peter are good friends, the great Von der Tann will attend the coronation, but that he takes little stock in the sincerity of the Prince of Blentz would be apparent could the latter have a peep beneath the cloaks and look into the loyal hearts of the men of Tann who rode down to Lustadt today.”
Barney did not wait to hear more. He was glad that in the gathering dusk the officer had not seen his face plainly enough to mistake him for the king. With a parting, “Then I must ride to Lustadt with my message for the prince,” he wheeled his tired mount and trotted down the steep trail from Tann toward the highway which leads to the capital.