Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/14

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the tableau. Speechless, they waited for orders.

"I wish to extend my hospitality in greater measure," continued the king, "when I have returned from my duties as temporary captain of the guard. My former captain appears to have obtained a stronger wine than any of you—by the circumstantial evidence of his absence. I, myself, will make the rounds this night, before a handful of beggars from the city's gutters decide to take Forthe!"

Spurred by the king's anger and shamed before his sarcasm, the guardsman Frake, with hastily procured twine, venomously bound Rald's wrists so tightly that the thief was forced to set his teeth to abstain from wincing. The magician was tied likewise, hand and foot, but handled in a respectful manner not accorded to the other prisoner. In the opinion of the guardsmen the slight figure of Karlk was far more dangerous than the formidable bulk of the fighting-man; it was evident by the clumsy efforts they made to bind the former without touching his person.

"Go, my sister, to your rooms," ordered Thrall. "I will leave these miscreants here until I discover what other sacrileges they may have committed, or if there be accomplices in the gardens. Perhaps I may even be so presumptuous as to awaken a few of my guards and inquire if there is a pilgrimage being made through the palace grounds!"

As Thrine passed through the doorway in the wake of the wrathful king, she glanced hurriedly over her shoulder at the supine figure of the thief. Rald, tightly secured, lay with the manner of a man reposing on his honestly earned couch, his head pillowed against the velvet of the wall. Outrageously, he winked. With a strange mixture of emotions Lady Thrine swept in royal dignity to her rooms, pausing only to break the wine bottle by her door over the slumbering guard's head.

In the chamber of the double throne the two prisoners looked at each other and then at the gleaming jewels upon the wall that were to have given one power and the other a kingdom.

"We are both to blame," Karlk announced presently, in his curiously effeminate tones. "I should have sensed Thrall behind me before his weapon touched my neck. You should have run your sword through the woman's body at once, and seized the Necklace, before you condescended to argue."

"I am a thief!" protested Rald, angrily, "not a murderer!"

"Many have died for a throne before," said Karlk softly. His beady eyes were searching the thief's features, penetrating, it seemed to Rald, his very thoughts. "Many—and quite a number were women!"

For the first time in his careless career Rald was stung by a feeling of patriotism, a sense of dutiful homage to the crown that protected the city and countryside, including himself, from the depredations of mountain bandits and greedy rulers of neighboring domains.

"I am of Forthe! I could not slay die sister of our king!"

"Ha!" The magician shrugged weary shoulders. "I must learn, in dealing with men, that they are prone to sentimentality. I have studied so far above mankind that my thoughts are in the clouds while insects destroy my sandals. Even a thief has scruples!"

"If I had a sword I'd have your ears, also!" murmured Rald, thoughtfully.

The next instant he sustained a shock such as he had never experienced before in all his varied existence—which had been wide, indeed. Karlk had been lying, as motionless as himself, against the