“Good. Go to your chambers and prepare. I will join you there presently.”
So we went.
THE HUNT AND THE KILL
We reached our rooms, meeting no one in the passages, and there made our preparations. First we changed our festal robes for those warmer garments in which we had travelled to the city of Kaloon. Then we ate and drank what we could of the victuals which stood in the antechamber, not knowing when we should find more food, and filled two satchels such as these people sling about their shoulders, with the remains of the meat and liquor and a few necessaries. Also we strapped our big hunting knives about our middles and armed ourselves with short spears that were made for the stabbing of game.
“Perhaps he has laid a plot to murder us, and we may as well defend ourselves while we can,” suggested Leo.
I nodded, for the echoes of the Khan’s last laugh still rang in my ears. It was a very evil laugh.
“Likely enough,” I said. “I do not trust that insane brute. Still, he wishes to be rid of us.”
“Yes, but as he said, live men may return, whereas the dead do not.”
“Atene thinks otherwise,” I commented.
“And yet she threatened us with death,” answered Leo.
“Because her shame and passion make her mad,” I replied, after which we were silent.
Presently the door opened, and through it came the Khan, muffled in a great cloak as though to disguise himself.
“Come,” he said, “if you are ready.” Then, catching sight of the spears we held, he added: “You will not need those things. You do not go a-hunting.”
“No,” I answered, “but who can say—we might be hunted.”
“If you believe that perhaps you had best stay where you are till the Khania wearies of Yellow-beard and opens the gates for you,” he replied, eyeing me with his cunning glance.
“I think not,” I said, and we started, the Khan leading the way and motioning us to be silent.
We passed through the empty rooms on to the verandah, and from the verandah down into the courtyard, where he whispered to us to keep in the shadow. For the moon shone very clearly that night, so clearly, I remember, that I could see the grass which grew between the joints of the pavement, and the little shadows thrown by each separate blade upon the worn surface of its stones. Now I wondered how we should pass the gate, for there a guard was stationed, which had of late been doubled by order of the Khania. But this gate we left upon our right, taking a path that led into the great walled garden, where Rassen brought us to a door hidden behind a clump of shrubs, which he unlocked with a key he carried.
Now we were outside the palace wall, and our road ran past the kennels. As we went by these, the great, sleepless death-hounds, that wandered to and fro like prowling lions, caught our wind and burst into a sudden chorus of terrific bays. I shivered at the sound, for it was fearful in that silence, also I thought that it would arouse the keepers. But the Khan went to the bars and showed himself, whereon the brutes, which knew him, ceased their noise.