The other stared at Peter of Blentz for several seconds while the atrocity of his chief’s plan filtered through his brain.
“My God!” he exclaimed at last. “You mean that you wish me to murder Leopold with my own hands?”
“You put it too crudely, my dear Coblich,” replied the other.
“I cannot do it,” muttered Coblich. “I have never killed a man in my life. I am getting old. No, I could never do it. I should not sleep nights.”
“If it is not done, Coblich, and Leopold comes into his own,” said Peter slowly, “you will be caught and hanged higher than Haman. And if you do not do it, and the imposter is crowned today, then you will be either hanged officially or knifed unofficially, and without any choice in the matter whatsoever. Nothing, Coblich, but the dead body of the true Leopold can save your neck. You have your choice, therefore, of letting him live to prove your treason, or letting him die and becoming chancellor of Lutha.”
Slowly Coblich turned toward the door. “You are right,” he said, “but may God have mercy on my soul. I never thought that I should have to do it with my own hands.”
So saying he left the room and a moment later Peter of Blentz smiled as he heard the pounding of a horse’s hoofs upon the pavement without.
Then the Regent entered the room he had recently quitted and spoke to the nobles of Lutha who were gathered there.
“Coblich has found the body of the murdered king,” he said. “I have directed him to bring it to the cathedral. He came upon the impostor and his confederate, Lieutenant Butzow, as they were bearing the corpse from the hospital at Tafelberg where the king has lain unknown since the rumor was spread by Von der Tann that he had been killed by bandits.
“He was not killed until last evening, my lords, and you shall see today the fresh wounds upon him. When the time comes that we can present this grisly evidence of the guilt of the impostor and those who uphold him, I shall expect you all to stand at my side, as you have promised.”
With one accord the noblemen pledged anew their allegiance to Peter of Blentz if he could produce one-quarter of the evidence he claimed to possess.
“All that we wish to know positively is,” said one, “that the man who bears the title of king today is really Leopold of Lutha, or that he is not. If not then he stands convicted of treason, and we shall know how to conduct ourselves.”
Together the party rode to the cathedral, the majority of the older nobility now openly espousing the cause of the Regent.
At the palace Barney was about distracted. Butzow was urging him to take the crown whether he was Leopold or not, for the young lieutenant saw no hope for Lutha, if either the scoundrelly Regent or the cowardly man whom Barney had assured him was the true king should come into power.