Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/8

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use pits. Closing the violated barrier quietly behind him, he traversed three deserted cellars fragrant with the odors of cold meats and rich wines. A series of stone steps, moonlit through narrow apertures in the castle walls, led him to the upper floors and the long corridors and high arches of the palace halls.

Raid, like many others born in the huts that clustered the hillsides under the protection of their kingdom's castle, knew practically the entire plan of the structure's architecture through generations of village people who had rendered service within its massive walls, servants that would have gasped, terror-stricken, if they could have observed the practical use to which their idle gossip and hearsay comments were being put this night.

But the thief did not know the posts of the palace guards, so he trod carefully, dodging the thin streaks of moonlight from the narrow slits in the walls. Beyond his suppressed breathing all was quiet as the grave. If guarding spirits wished to clamor in warning alarms, they were powerless to do so, though Thrall's throne was in greater danger than it had ever been before and the fate of the Ebon Dynasty was balancing in the palms of the Seven Gods, all because of a slim, powerful, half -naked figure stealing with drawn sword through the empty corridors of Forthe's ancient palace.

At a turning in the hall the intruder suddenly halted and, in animal fashion, hunched his shoulder muscles. The sword quivered in his hand like an animate thing about to make its kill. Before him a dim shadow resolved itself into the figure of a man stretched outright upon the flagging of the paved floor. He wore the uniform of a member of the palace guards. His hands were raised far above his head, far from his sword-hilt, in close proximity to a thin-necked earthenware bottle. He breathed stertorously.

"Drunk!" exulted the thief. "Oh my king! My royal fool!" The bottle gurgled momentarily in Raid's hand. "Fair," he opined, judiciously. "Much better than some I've stolen, King Thrall!"

His eyes fell upon the carven door before which the stupefied guard lay inert. "Perhaps," he whispered softly, "perhaps this is the room!"

A delicate twitch of the door's lever, with an eye on the unconscious form at his feet, and he was peering into the chamber. A beam of moonlight flowed through draped tapestries to illuminate a lengthy couch holding a form undoubtedly female; the outlines were unmistakable. The shape was obvious, but the head of the figure was averted and only a smooth white cheek could be seen among the tumbled confusion of robes and cushions. Raid closed the door as silently as he had opened it.

"A mistress, perhaps. Or a wench. No—a mistress. Or why the guard?"

As noiseless as ever, his lean shadow sped down the corridor; only the appreciatively lowered liquid line of the wine-container testified that the thief of Forthe had ever come or gone.

At length he paused where two huge doors of semicircular design formed an oval indentation in the wall. The portals were plain and unmarked by even the royal heraldry; but a single bar, fitted into protruding slots on either side of the entrance, was covered by a tiny network of cabalistic writings. Raid, stooping to peer at the engraving in the dim moonlight, made out enough of its meaning to comprehend a warning bestowing the curses of the Seven Gods upon the mortal who would dare to lift the bar from its niche unless bidden to do so directly by