onds, and still Karlk remained immobile. Then a pale light appeared to spread over the skin of the hand, the digits became phosphorescent and tiny blue sparks emerged suddenly at the fingertips. Five streaks of blue light ran from the outstretched arm to the wall. Portions of the age-old solid stones broke into slivers and rattled to the floor.
Rald's eyes opened a trifle wider, but he grinned and spat again. "Before you could have gotten that devilish power—whatever it is—as far as your elbow I'd have cut your arm off right there had you pointed it at me! You'll get no allegiance from me with threats, oh wizard! Better offer me wine; these accursed dungeons chill me more than they do you. What do you want of me, Karlk?"
"Not to disagree, my friend."
"I am not your friend. You have none."
"For which I am grateful. Friends mean compromises. I deal in bargains—and get better results."
"What bargain do you seek with me?" Rald's eyes were as watchful as the beasts of the jungles, and now his hand stayed on the sword-hilt.
"I wish you to steal something for me."
Rald expelled a mouthful of air derisively. "Then why all this talk of kings and magic? Of course you want me to steal! For what other purpose would you summon Rald? What seek you, wizard, that your magic cannot obtain? Some of Thrall's jewels?—a stone or two from the Inner Temple? No women, mind you! I don't deal in them. What is the bargain and what my reward?"
Rald expanded his chest; he was proud with the pride of an expert in his profession.
Karlk laughed shortly, wickedly. "Jewels? The prizes of the temples? Ha! From the playgrounds for children unlearnt in the mysteries of the skies! I seek a greater prize, something so earthly my unearthly hands cannot touch it without the aid of your nimble fingers, oh Rald! I seek the kingdom of Forthe!"
Shocked, the notorious thief started upright in the stone chair. Bewilderment strained his countenance; incredulity stamped horror on his features as he sought to comprehend blasphemy.
"Forthe!" he exclaimed. "Forthe! Why—none but the Seven Gods could steal Forthe from King Thrall of the Ebon Dynasty!"
"Except Karlk," amended the magician.
"Steal Forthe!" muttered Rald. "Rebellion—treachery—millions to bribe—for what? A powerful kingdom—aye! But who shall rule it, granting you gain it? You with the blood of its peoples on your hands and the terror of yourself in their hearts?"
The magician's voice became a whisper. "King Rald!" he said.
A silent moment passed before the agile brain of the thief encompassed the significance of Karlk's intentions, so utterly bizarre the idea of stealing Forthe appeared, but abruptly the outlaw was himself again as his natural daring and coolness won over the startled instincts of generations.
"I see," he said slowly. "The bargain, eh? And your share?"
"A trifling matter, oh my king!" the magician mocked. "Merely the—shall we say?—voice behind the throne. A whisper now and then. No interference with your politics, understand. I am a scientist. Just a little more freedom for—experiments, a condescension in——"
"For deviltry, which I like not! To Nargarth's pits with you, Karlk!"
The magician's face remained unaltered; one would have thought the dark beard below the piercing eyes only a