With a grim smile Prince Ludwig von der Tann mounted his horse and rode toward the fort. At his side were several of the nobles of Lutha. They looked at him in astonishment.
“You are doing his bidding, although you do not know that he is the true king?” asked one of them.
“Were he an impostor,” replied the old man, “he would have insisted by word of mouth that he is king. But not once has he said that he is Leopold. Instead, he has proved his kingship by his acts.”
A TIMELY INTERVENTION
Nine o’clock found Barney Custer pacing up and down his apartments in the palace. No clue as to the whereabouts of Coblich, Maenck or the king had been discovered. One by one his troopers had returned to Butzow empty-handed, and as much at a loss as to the hiding-place of their quarry as when they had set out upon their search.
Peter of Blentz and his retainers had entered the city and already had commenced to gather at the cathedral.
Peter, at the residence of Coblich, had succeeded in gathering about him many of the older nobility whom he pledged to support him in case he could prove to them that the man who occupied the royal palace was not Leopold of Lutha.
They agreed to support him in his regency if he produced proof that the true Leopold was dead, and Peter of Blentz waited with growing anxiety the coming of Coblich with word that he had the king in custody. Peter was staking all on a single daring move which he had decided to make in his game of intrigue.
As Barney paced within the palace, waiting for word that Leopold had been found, Peter of Blentz was filled with equal apprehension as he, too, waited for the same tidings. At last he heard the pound of hoofs upon the pavement without and a moment later Coblich, his clothing streaked with dirt, blood caked upon his face from a wound across the forehead, rushed in to the presence of the prince regent.
Peter drew him hurriedly into a small study on the first floor.
“Well?” he whispered, as the two faced each other.
“We have him,” replied Coblich. But we had the devil’s own time getting him. Stein was killed and Maenck and I both wounded, and all morning we have spent the time hiding from troopers who seemed to be searching for us. Only fifteen minutes since did we reach the hiding-place that you instructed us to use. But we have him, your highness, and he is in such a state of cowardly terror that he is ready to agree to anything, if you will but spare his life and set him free across the border.”
“It is too late for that now, Coblich,” replied Peter. “There is but one way that Leopold of Lutha can serve me now, and that is—dead. Were his corpse to be carried into the cathedral of Lustadt before noon today, and were those who fetched it to swear that the king was killed by the impostor after being dragged from the hospital at Tafelberg where you and Maenck had located him, and from which you were attempting to rescue him, I believe that the people would tear our enemies to pieces. What say you, Coblich?”