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so history tells us, and the setting represented the protecting
wings of the power of the kings of Lutha spread to the four points
of the compass. Now your majesty must recall the royal ring, I am
sure."

Barney only shook his head, much to Joseph's evident sorrow.

"Never mind the ring, Joseph," said the young man. "Bring your rope
and lead me to the floor above."

"The floor above? But, your majesty, we cannot reach the vaults and
tunnel by going upward!"

"You forget, Joseph, that we are going to fetch the Princess Emma
first."

"But she is not on the floor above us, sire; she is upon the same
floor as we are," insisted the old man, hesitating.

"Joseph, who do you think I am?" asked Barney.

"You are the king, my lord," replied the old man.

"Then do as your king commands," said the American sharply.

Joseph turned with dubious mutterings and approached the tiled panel
at the left of the fireplace. Here he fumbled about for a moment
until his fingers found the hidden catch that held the cunningly
devised door in place. An instant later the panel swung inward
before his touch, and standing to one side, the old fellow bowed low
as he ushered Barney into the Stygian darkness of the space beyond
their vision.

Joseph halted the young man just within the doorway, cautioning him
against the danger of falling into the shaft, then he closed the
panel, and a moment later had found the lantern he had hidden there
and lighted it. The rays disclosed to the American the rough masonry
of the interior of a narrow, well-built shaft. A rude ladder
standing upon a narrow ledge beside him extended upward to lose
itself in the shadows above. At its foot the top of another ladder
was visible protruding through the opening from the floor beneath.

No sooner had Joseph's lantern shown him the way than Barney was
ascending the ladder toward the floor above. At the next landing he
waited for the old man.

Joseph put out the light and placed the lantern where they could
easily find it upon their return. Then he cautiously slipped the
catch that held the panel in place and slowly opened the door until
a narrow line of lesser darkness showed from without.

For a moment they stood in silence listening for any sound from the
chamber beyond, but as nothing occurred to indicate that the
apartment was occupied the old man opened the portal a trifle
further, and finally far enough to permit his body to pass through.
Barney followed him. They found themselves in a large, empty
chamber, identical in size and shape with that which they had just
quitted upon the floor below.

From this the two passed into the corridor beyond, and thence to the
apartments at the far end of the wing, directly over those occupied
by Emma von der Tann.

Barney hastened to a window overlooking the moat. By leaning far
out he could see the light from the princess's chamber shining upon
the sill. He wished that the light was not there, for the window was
in plain view of the guard on the lookout upon the barbican.

Suddenly he caught the sound of voices from the chamber beneath.
For an instant he listened, and then, catching a few words of the
dialogue, he turned hurriedly toward his companion.

"The rope, Joseph! And for God's sake be quick about it."




V

THE ESCAPE

For half an hour the Princess von der Tann succeeded admirably in
immersing herself in the periodical, to the exclusion of her unhappy
thoughts and the depressing influence of the austere countenance of
the Blentz Princess hanging upon the wall behind her.

But presently she became unaccountably nervous. At the slightest
sound from the palace-life on the floor below she would start up
with a tremor of excitement. Once she heard footsteps in the
corridor before her door, but they passed on, and she thought she
discerned the click of a latch a short distance further on along the
passageway.

Again she attempted to gather up the thread of the article she had
been reading, but she was unsuccessful. A stealthy scratching
brought her round quickly, staring in the direction of the great
portrait. The girl would have sworn that she had heard a noise
within her chamber. She shuddered at the thought that it might have
come from that painted thing upon the wall.

What was the matter with her? Was she losing all control of herself
to be frightened like a little child by ghostly noises?

She tried to return to her reading, but for the life of her she
could not keep her eyes off the silent, painted woman who stared and
stared and stared in cold, threatening silence upon this ancient
enemy of her house.

Presently the girl's eyes went wide in horror. She could feel the
scalp upon her head contract with fright. Her terror-filled gaze was
frozen upon that awful figure that loomed so large and sinister
above her, for the thing had moved! She had seen it with her own
eyes. There could be no mistake - no hallucination of overwrought
nerves about it. The Blentz Princess was moving slowly toward her!

Like one in a trance the girl rose from her chair, her eyes glued
upon the awful apparition that seemed creeping upon her. Slowly she
withdrew toward the opposite side of the chamber. As the painting
moved more quickly the truth flashed upon her - it was mounted on a
door.

The crack of the door widened and beyond it the girl saw dimly, eyes
fastened upon her. With difficulty she restrained a shriek. The
portal swung wide and a man in uniform stepped into the room.

It was Maenck.

Emma von der Tann gazed in unveiled abhorrence upon the leering face
of the governor of Blentz.

"What means this intrusion?" cried the girl.

"What would you have here?"

"You," replied Maenck.

The girl crimsoned.

Maenck regarded her sneeringly.

"You coward!" she cried. "Leave my apartments at once. Not even
Peter of Blentz would countenance such abhorrent treatment of a
prisoner."

"You do not know Peter, my dear," responded Maenck. "But you need not
fear. You shall be my wife. Peter has promised me a baronetcy for
the capture of Leopold, and before I am done I shall be made a
prince, of that you may rest assured, so you see I am not so bad a
match after all."

He crossed over toward her and would have laid a rough hand upon her
arm.

The girl sprang away from him, running to the opposite side of the
library table at which she had been reading. Maenck started to
pursue her, when she seized a heavy, copper bowl that stood upon the
table and hurled it full in his face. The missile struck him a
glancing blow, but the edge laid open the flesh of one cheek almost
to the jaw bone.

With a cry of pain and rage Captain Ernst Maenck leaped across the
table full upon the young girl. With vicious, murderous fingers he
seized upon her fair throat, shaking her as a terrier might shake a
rat. Futilely the girl struck at the hate-contorted features so
close to hers.

"Stop!" she cried. "You are killing me."

The fingers released their hold.

"No," muttered the man, and dragged the princess roughly across the
room.

Half a dozen steps he had taken when there came a sudden crash of
breaking glass from the window across the chamber. Both turned in
astonishment to see the figure of a man leap into the room, carrying
the shattered crystal and the casement with him. In one hand was a
naked sword.

"The king!" cried Emma von der Tann.

"The devil!" muttered Maenck, as, dropping the girl, he scurried
toward the great painting from behind which he had found ingress to
the chambers of the princess.

Maenck was a coward, and he had seen murder in the eyes of the man
rushing upon him. With a bound he reached the picture which still
stood swung wide into the room.

Barney was close behind him, but fear lent wings to the governor of
Blentz, so that he was able to dart into the passage behind the
picture and slam the door behind him a moment before the infuriated
man was upon him.

The American clawed at the edge of the massive frame, but all to no
avail. Then he raised his sword and slashed the canvas, hoping to
find a way into the place beyond, but mighty oaken panels barred his
further progress. With a whispered oath he turned back toward the
girl.

"Thank Heaven that I was in time, Emma," he cried.

"Oh, Leopold, my king, but at what a price," replied the girl. "He
will return now with others and kill you. He is furious - so furious
that he scarce knows what he does."

"He seemed to know what he was doing when he ran for that hole in
the wall," replied Barney with a grin. "But come, it won't pay to
let them find us should they return."

Together they hastened to the window beyond which the girl could see
a rope dangling from above. The sight of it partially solved the
riddle of the king's almost uncanny presence upon her window sill in
the very nick of time.

Below, the lights in the watch tower at the outer gate were plainly
visible, and the twinkling of them reminded Barney of the danger of
detection from that quarter. Quickly he recrossed the apartment to
the wall-switch that operated the recently installed electric
lights, and an instant later the chamber was in total darkness.

Once more at the girl's side Barney drew in one end of the rope and
made it fast about her body below her arms, leaving a sufficient
length terminating in a small loop to permit her to support herself
more comfortably with one foot within the noose. Then he stepped to
the outer sill, and reaching down assisted her to his side.

Far below them the moonlight played upon the sluggish waters of the
moat. In the distance twinkled the lights of the village of Blentz.
From the courtyard and the palace came faintly the sound of voices,
and the movement of men. A horse whinnied from the stables.

Barney turned his eyes upward. He could see the head and shoulders
of Joseph leaning from the window of the chamber directly above
them.

"Hoist away, Joseph!" whispered the American, and to the girl: "Be
brave. Shut your eyes and trust to Joseph and - and - "

"And my king," finished the girl for him.

His arm was about her shoulders, supporting her upon the narrow
sill. His cheek so close to hers that once he felt the soft velvet
of it brush his own. Involuntarily his arm tightened about the
supple body.

"My princess!" he murmured, and as he turned his face toward hers
their lips almost touched.

Joseph was pulling upon the rope from above. They could feel it
tighten beneath the girl's arms. Impulsively Barney Custer drew the
sweet lips closer to his own. There was no resistance.

"I love you," he whispered. The words were smothered as their lips
met.

Joseph, above, wondered at the great weight of the Princess Emma von
der Tann.

"I love you, Leopold, forever," whispered the girl, and then as
Joseph's Herculean tugging seemed likely to drag them both from the
narrow sill, Barney lifted the girl upward with one hand while he
clung to the window frame with the other. The distance to the sill
above was short, and a moment later Joseph had grasped the
princess's hand and was helping her over the ledge into the room
beyond.

At the same instant there came a sudden commotion from the interior
of the room in the window of which Barney still stood waiting for
Joseph to remove the rope from about the princess and lower it for
him. Barney heard the heavy feet of men, the clank of arms, and
muttered oaths as the searchers stumbled against the furniture.

Presently one of them found the switch and instantly the room was
flooded with light, which revealed to the American a dozen Luthanian
troopers headed by the murderous Maenck.

Barney looked anxiously aloft. Would Joseph never lower that rope!
Within the room the men were searching. He could hear Maenck
directing them. Only a thin portiere screened him from their view.
It was but a matter of seconds before they would investigate the
window through which Maenck knew the king had found ingress.

Yes! It had come.

"Look to the window," commanded Maenck. "He may have gone as he
came."

Two of the soldiers crossed the room toward the casement. From above
Joseph was lowering the rope; but it was too late. The men would be
at the window before he could clamber out of their reach.

"Hoist away!" he whispered to Joseph. "Quick now, my man, and make
your escape with the Princess von der Tann. It is the king's
command."

Already the soldiers were at the window. At the sound of his voice
they tore aside the draperies; at the same instant the pseudo-king
turned and leaped out into the blackness of the night.

There were exclamations of surprise and rage from the soldiers - a
woman's scream. Then from far below came a dull splash as the body
of Bernard Custer struck the surface of the moat.

Maenck, leaning from the window, heard the scream and the splash,
and jumped to the conclusion that both the king and the princess had
attempted to make their escape in this harebrained way. Immediately
all the resources at his command were put to the task of searching
the moat and the adjacent woods.

He was sure that one or both of the prisoners would be stunned by
impact with the surface of the water, and then drowned before they
regained consciousness, but he did not know Bernard Custer, nor the
facility and almost uncanny ease with which that young man could
negotiate a high dive into shallow water.

Nor did he know that upon the floor above him one Joseph was
hastening along a dark corridor toward a secret panel in another
apartment, and that with him was the Princess Emma bound for liberty
and safety far from the frowning walls of Blentz.

As Barney's head emerged above the surface of the moat he shook it
vigorously to free his eyes from water, and then struck out for the
further bank.

Long before his pursuers had reached the courtyard and alarmed the
watch at the barbican, the American had crawled out upon dry land
and hastened across the broad clearing to the patch of stunted trees
that grew lower down upon the steep hillside before the castle.

He shrank from the thought of leaving Blentz without knowing
positively that Joseph had made good the escape of himself and the
princess, but he finally argued that even if they had been retaken,
he could serve her best by hastening to her father and fetching the
only succor that might prevail against the strength of Blentz - armed
men in sufficient force to storm the ancient fortress.

He had scarcely entered the wood when he heard the sound of the
searchers at the moat, and saw the rays of their lanterns flitting
hither and thither as they moved back and forth along the bank.

Then the young man turned his face from the castle and set forth
across the unfamiliar country in the direction of the Old Forest and
the castle Von der Tann.

The memory of the warm lips that had so recently been pressed to his
urged him on in the service of the wondrous girl who had come so
suddenly into his life, bringing to him the realization of a love
that he knew must alter, for happiness or for sorrow, all the
balance of his existence, even unto death.

He dreaded the day of reckoning when, at last, she must learn that
he was no king. He did not have the temerity to hope that her
courage would be equal to the great sacrifice which the
acknowledgment of her love for one not of noble blood must entail;
but he could not believe that she would cease to love him when she
learned the truth.

So the future looked black and cheerless to Barney Custer as he
trudged along the rocky, moonlit way. The only bright spot was the
realization that for a while at least he might be serving the one
woman in all the world.

All the balance of the long night the young man traversed valley and
mountain, holding due south in the direction he supposed the Old
Forest to lie. He passed many a little farm tucked away in the
hollow of a hillside, and quaint hamlets, and now and then the ruins
of an ancient feudal stronghold, but no great forest of black oaks
loomed before him to apprise him of the nearness of his goal, nor
did he dare to ask the correct route at any of the homes he passed.

His fatal likeness to the description of the mad king of Lutha
warned him from intercourse with the men of Lutha until he might
know which were friends and which enemies of the hapless monarch.

Dawn found him still upon his way, but with the determination fully
crystallized to hail the first man he met and ask the way to Tann.
He still avoided the main traveled roads, but from time to time he
paralleled them close enough that he might have ample opportunity to
hail the first passerby.

The road was becoming more and more mountainous and difficult.
There were fewer homes and no hamlets, and now he began to despair
entirely of meeting any who could give him direction unless he
turned and retraced his steps to the nearest farm.

Directly before him the narrow trail he had been following for the
past few miles wound sharply about the shoulder of a protruding
cliff. He would see what lay beyond the turn - perhaps he would find
the Old Forest there, after all.

But instead he found something very different, though in its way
quite as interesting, for as he rounded the rugged bluff he came
face to face with two evil-looking fellows astride stocky,
rough-coated ponies.

At sight of him they drew in their mounts and eyed him suspiciously.
Nor was there great cause for wonderment in that, for the American
presented aught but a respectable appearance. His khaki motoring
suit, soaked from immersion in the moat, had but partially dried
upon him. Mud from the banks of the stagnant pool caked his legs to
the knees, almost hiding his once tan puttees. More mud streaked his
jacket front and stained its sleeves to the elbows. He was
bare-headed, for his cap had remained in the moat at Blentz, and his
disheveled hair was tousled upon his head, while his full beard had
dried into a weird and tangled fringe about his face. At his side
still hung the sword that Joseph had buckled there, and it was this
that caused the two men the greatest suspicion of this strange
looking character.

They continued to eye Barney in silence, every now and then casting
apprehensive glances beyond him, as though expecting others of his
kind to appear in the trail at his back. And that is precisely what
they did fear, for the sword at Barney's side had convinced them
that he must be an officer of the army, and they looked to see his
command following in his wake.

The young man saluted them pleasantly, asking the direction to the
Old Forest. They thought it strange that a soldier of Lutha should
not know his own way about his native land, and so judged that his
question was but a blind to deceive them.

"Why do you not ask your own men the way?" parried one of the
fellows.

"I have no men, I am alone," replied Barney. "I am a stranger in
Lutha and have lost my way."

He who had spoken before pointed to the sword at Barney's side.

"Strangers traveling in Lutha do not wear swords," he said. "You are
an officer. Why should you desire to conceal the fact from two
honest farmers? We have done nothing. Let us go our way."

Barney looked his astonishment at this reply.

"Most certainly, go your way, my friends," he said laughing. "I
would not delay you if I could; but before you go please be good
enough to tell me how to reach the Old Forest and the ancient castle
of the Prince von der Tann."

For a moment the two men whispered together, then the spokesman
turned to Barney.

"We will lead you upon the right road. Come," and the two turned
their horses, one of them starting slowly back up the trail while
the other remained waiting for Barney to pass him.

The American, suspecting nothing, voiced his thanks, and set out
after him who had gone before. As he passed the fellow who waited
the latter moved in behind him, so that Barney walked between the
two. Occasionally the rider at his back turned in his saddle to scan
the trail behind, as though still fearful that Barney had been lying
to them and that he would discover a company of soldiers charging
down upon them.

The trail became more and more difficult as they advanced, until
Barney wondered how the little horses clung to the steep
mountainside, where he himself had difficulty in walking without
using his hand to keep from falling.

Twice the American attempted to break through the taciturnity of his
guides, but his advances were met with nothing more than sultry
grunts or silence, and presently a suspicion began to obtrude itself
among his thoughts that possibly these "honest farmers" were
something more sinister than they represented themselves to be.

A malign and threatening atmosphere seemed to surround them. Even
the cat-like movement of their silent mounts breathed a sinister
secrecy, and now, for the first time, Barney noticed the short, ugly
looking carbines that were slung in boots at their saddle-horns.
Then, prompted to further investigation, he dropped back beside the
man who had been riding behind him, and as he did so he saw beneath
the fellow's cloak the butts of two villainous-looking pistols.

As Barney dropped back beside him the man turned his mount across
the narrow trail, and reining him in motioned Barney ahead.

"I have changed my mind," said the American, "about going to the Old
Forest."

He had determined that he might as well have the thing out now as
later, and discover at once how he stood with these two, and whether
or not his suspicions of them were well grounded.

The man ahead had halted at the sound of Barney's voice, and swung
about in the saddle.

"What's the trouble?" he asked.

"He don't want to go to the Old Forest," explained his companion,
and for the first time Barney saw one of them grin. It was not at
all a pleasant grin, nor reassuring.

"He don't, eh?" growled the other. "Well, he ain't goin', is he?
Who ever said he was?"

And then he, too, laughed.

"I'm going back the way I came," said Barney, starting around the
horse that blocked his way.

"No, you ain't," said the horseman. "You're goin' with us."

And Barney found himself gazing down the muzzle of one of the wicked
looking pistols.

For a moment he stood in silence, debating mentally the wisdom of
attempting to rush the fellow, and then, with a shake of his head,
he turned back up the trail between his captors.

"Yes," he said, "on second thought I have decided to go with you.
Your logic is most convincing."




VI

A KING'S RANSOM

For another mile the two brigands conducted their captor along the
mountainside, then they turned into a narrow ravine near the summit
of the hills - a deep, rocky, wooded ravine into whose black shadows
it seemed the sun might never penetrate.

A winding path led crookedly among the pines that grew thickly in
this sheltered hollow, until presently, after half an hour of rough
going, they came upon a small natural clearing, rock-bound and
impregnable.

As they filed from the wood Barney saw a score of villainous fellows
clustered about a camp fire where they seemed engaged in cooking
their noonday meal. Bits of meat were roasting upon iron skewers,
and a great iron pot boiled vigorously at one side of the blaze.

At the sound of their approach the men sprang to their feet in
alarm, and as many weapons as there were men leaped to view; but
when they saw Barney's companions they returned their pistols to
their holsters, and at sight of Barney they pressed forward to
inspect the prisoner.

"Who have we here?" shouted a big blond giant, who affected
extremely gaudy colors in his selection of wearing apparel, and
whose pistols and knife had their grips heavily ornamented with
pearl and silver.

"A stranger in Lutha he calls himself," replied one of Barney's
captors. "But from the sword I take it he is one of old Peter's
wolfhounds."

"Well, he's found the wolves at any rate," replied the giant, with a
wide grin at his witticism. "And if Yellow Franz is the particular
wolf you're after, my friend, why here I am," he concluded,
addressing the American with a leer.

"I'm after no one," replied Barney. "I tell you I'm a stranger, and
I lost my way in your infernal mountains. All I wish is to be set
upon the right road to Tann, and if you will do that for me you
shall be well paid for your trouble."

The giant, Yellow Franz, had come quite close to Barney and was
inspecting him with an expression of considerable interest.
Presently he drew a soiled and much-folded paper from his breast.
Upon one side was a printed notice, and at the corners bits were


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