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The Regent leaned from his saddle so that his mouth was close to the
ear of Coblich, that none of the troopers might hear.

Coblich nodded his head.

"And, Coblich, the fewer that ride to Tafelberg tonight the surer
the success of the mission. Take Maenck, Stein and one other with
you. I shall keep this man with me, for it may prove but a plot to
lure me to Tafelberg."

Peter scowled at the now frightened hospital attendant.

"Tomorrow I shall be riding through the lowlands, Coblich, and so
you may not find means to communicate with me, but before noon of
the fifth have word at your town house in Lustadt for me of the
success of your venture."

They had reached the point now where the road to Tafelberg branches
from that to Blentz, and the four who were to fetch the king wheeled
their horses into the left-hand fork and cantered off upon their
mission.

The direct road between Lustadt and Tafelberg is but little more
than half the distance of that which Coblich and his companions had
to traverse because of the wide detour they had made by riding
almost to Blentz first, and so it was that when they cantered into
the little mountain town near midnight Barney Custer and Lieutenant
Butzow were but a mile or two behind them.

Had the latter had even the faintest of suspicions that the identity
of the hiding place of the king might come to the knowledge of Peter
of Blentz they could have reached Tafelberg ahead of Coblich and his
party, but all unsuspecting they rode slowly to conserve the energy
of their mounts for the return trip.

In silence the two men approached the grounds surrounding the
sanatorium. In the soft dirt of the road the hoofs of their mounts
made no sound, and the shadows of the trees that border the front of
the enclosure hid them from the view of the trooper who held four
riderless horses in a little patch of moonlight that broke through
the opening in the trees at the main gate of the institution.

Barney was the first to see the animals and the man.

"S-s-st," he hissed, reining in his horse.

Butzow drew alongside the American.

"What can it mean?" asked Barney. "That fellow is a trooper, but I
cannot make out his uniform."

"Wait here," said Butzow, and slipping from his horse he crept
closer to the man, hugging the dense shadows close to the trees.

Barney reined in nearer the low wall. From his saddle he could see
the grounds beyond through the branches of a tree. As he looked his
attention was suddenly riveted upon a sight that sent his heart into
his throat.

Three men were dragging a struggling, half-naked figure down the
gravel walk from the sanatorium toward the gate. One kept a hand
clapped across the mouth of the prisoner, who struck and fought his
assailants with all the frenzy of despair.

Barney leaped from his saddle and ran headlong after Butzow. The
lieutenant had reached the gate but an instant ahead of him when the
trooper, turning suddenly at some slight sound of the officer's foot
upon the ground, detected the man creeping upon him. In an instant
the fellow had whipped out a revolver, and raising it fired
point-blank at Butzow's chest; but in the same instant a figure shot
out of the shadows beside him, and with the report of the revolver a
heavy fist caught the trooper on the side of the chin, crumpling him
to the ground as if he were dead.

The blow had been in time to deflect the muzzle of the firearm, and
the bullet whistled harmlessly past the lieutenant.

"Your majesty!" exclaimed Butzow excitedly. "Go back. He might have
killed you."

Barney leaped to the other's side and grasping him by the shoulders
wheeled him about so that he faced the gate.

"There, Butzow," he cried, "there is your king, and from the looks
of it he never needed a loyal subject more than he does this moment.
Come!" Without waiting to see if the other followed him, Barney
Custer leaped through the gate full in the faces of the astonished
trio that was dragging Leopold of Lutha from his sanctuary.

At sight of the American the king gave a muffled cry of relief, and
then Barney was upon those who held him. A stinging uppercut lifted
Coblich clear of the ground to drop him, dazed and bewildered, at
the foot of the monarch he had outraged. Maenck drew a revolver only
to have it struck from his hand by the sword of Butzow, who had
followed closely upon the American's heels.

Barney, seizing the king by the arm, started on a run for the
gateway. In his wake came Butzow with a drawn sword beating back
Stein, who was armed with a cavalry saber, and Maenck who had now
drawn his own sword.

The American saw that the two were pressing Butzow much too closely
for safety and that Coblich had now recovered from the effects of
the blow and was in pursuit, drawing his saber as he ran. Barney
thrust the king behind him and turned to face the enemy, at Butzow's
side.

The three men rushed upon the two who stood between them and their
prey. The moonlight was now full in the faces of Butzow and the
American. For the first time Maenck and the others saw who it was
that had interrupted them.

"The impostor!" cried the governor of Blentz. "The false king!"

Imbued with temporary courage by the knowledge that his side had the
advantage of superior numbers he launched himself full upon the
American. To his surprise he met a sword-arm that none might have
expected in an American, for Barney Custer had been a pupil of the
redoubtable Colonel Monstery, who was, as Barney was wont to say,
"one of the thanwhomest of fencing masters."

Quickly Maenck fell back to give place to Stein, but not before the
American's point had found him twice to leave him streaming blood
from two deep flesh wounds.

Neither of those who fought in the service of the king saw the
trembling, weak-kneed figure, which had stood behind them, turn and
scurry through the gateway, leaving the men who battled for him to
their fate.

The trooper whom Barney had felled had regained consciousness and as
he came to his feet rubbing his swollen jaw he saw a disheveled,
half-dressed figure running toward him from the sanatorium grounds.
The fellow was no fool, and knowing the purpose of the expedition as
he did he was quick to jump to the conclusion that this fleeing
personification of abject terror was Leopold of Lutha; and so it was
that as the king emerged from the gateway in search of freedom he
ran straight into the widespread arms of the trooper.

Maenck and Coblich had seen the king's break for liberty, and the
latter maneuvered to get himself between Butzow and the open gate
that he might follow after the fleeing monarch.

At the same instant Maenck, seeing that Stein was being worsted by
the American, rushed in upon the latter, and thus relieved, the
rat-faced doctor was enabled to swing a heavy cut at Barney which
struck him a glancing blow upon the head, sending him stunned and
bleeding to the sward.

Coblich and the governor of Blentz hastened toward the gate, pausing
for an instant to overwhelm Butzow. In the fierce scrimmage that
followed the lieutenant was overthrown, though not before his sword
had passed through the heart of the rat-faced one. Deserting their
fallen comrade the two dashed through the gate, where to their
immense relief they found Leopold safe in the hands of the trooper.

An instant later the precious trio, with Leopold upon the horse of
the late Dr. Stein, were galloping swiftly into the darkness of the
wood that lies at the outskirts of Tafelberg.

When Barney regained consciousness he found himself upon a cot
within the sanatorium. Close beside him lay Butzow, and above them
stood an interne and several nurses. No sooner had the American
regained his scattered wits than he leaped to the floor. The interne
and the nurses tried to force him back upon the cot, thinking that
he was in the throes of a delirium, and it required his best efforts
to convince them that he was quite rational.

During the melee Butzow regained consciousness; his wound being as
superficial as that of the American, the two men were soon donning
their clothing, and, half-dressed, rushing toward the outer gate.

The interne had told them that when he had reached the scene of the
conflict in company with the gardener he had found them and another
lying upon the sward.

Their companion, he said, was quite dead.

"That must have been Stein," said Butzow. "And the others had
escaped with the king!"

"The king?" cried the interne.

"Yes, the king, man - Leopold of Lutha. Did you not know that he who
has lain here for three weeks was the king?" replied Butzow.

The interne accompanied them to the gate and beyond, but everywhere
was silence. The king was gone.




X

ON THE BATTLEFIELD

All that night and the following day Barney Custer and his aide rode
in search of the missing king.

They came to Blentz, and there Butzow rode boldly into the great
court, admitted by virtue of the fact that the guard upon the gate
knew him only as an officer of the royal guard whom they believed
still loyal to Peter of Blentz.

The lieutenant learned that the king was not there, nor had he been
since his escape. He also learned that Peter was abroad in the
lowland recruiting followers to aid him forcibly to regain the crown
of Lutha.

The lieutenant did not wait to hear more, but, hurrying from the
castle, rode to Barney where the latter had remained in hiding in
the wood below the moat - the same wood through which he had stumbled
a few weeks previously after his escape from the stagnant waters of
the moat.

"The king is not here," said Butzow to him, as soon as the former
reached his side. "Peter is recruiting an army to aid him in seizing
the palace at Lustadt, and king or no king, we must ride for the
capital in time to check that move. Thank God," he added, "that we
shall have a king to place upon the throne of Lutha at noon tomorrow
in spite of all that Peter can do."

"What do you mean?" asked Barney. "Have you any clue to the
whereabouts of Leopold?"

"I saw the man at Tafelberg whom you say is king," replied Butzow.
"I saw him tremble and whimper in the face of danger. I saw him run
when he might have seized something, even a stone, and fought at the
sides of the men who were come to rescue him. And I saw you there
also.

"The truth and the falsity of this whole strange business is beyond
me, but this I know: if you are not the king today I pray God that
the other may not find his way to Lustadt before noon tomorrow, for
by then a brave man will sit upon the throne of Lutha, your
majesty."

Barney laid his hand upon the shoulder of the other.

"It cannot be, my friend," he said. "There is more than a throne at
stake for me, but to win them both I could not do the thing you
suggest. If Leopold of Lutha lives he must be crowned tomorrow."

"And if he does not live?" asked Butzow.

Barney Custer shrugged his shoulders.

It was dusk when the two entered the palace grounds in Lustadt. The
sight of Barney threw the servants and functionaries of the royal
household into wild excitement and confusion. Men ran hither and
thither bearing the glad tidings that the king had returned.

Old von der Tann was announced within ten minutes after Barney
reached his apartments. He urged upon the American the necessity for
greater caution in the future.

"Your majesty's life is never safe while Peter of Blentz is abroad
in Lutha," cried he.

"It was to save your king from Peter that we rode from Lustadt last
night," replied Barney, but the old prince did not catch the double
meaning of the words.

While they talked a young officer of cavalry begged an audience. He
had important news for the king, he said. From him Barney learned
that Peter of Blentz had succeeded in recruiting a fair-sized army
in the lowlands. Two regiments of government infantry and a squadron
of cavalry had united forces with him, for there were those who
still accepted him as regent, believing his contention that the true
king was dead, and that he whose coronation was to be attempted was
but the puppet of old Von der Tann.

The morning of November 5 broke clear and cold. The old town of
Lustadt was awakened with a start at daybreak by the booming of
cannon. Mounted messengers galloped hither and thither through the
steep, winding streets. Troops, foot and horse, moved at the double
from the barracks along the King's Road to the fortifications which
guard the entrance to the city at the foot of Margaretha Street.

Upon the heights above the town Barney Custer and the old Prince von
der Tann stood surrounded by officers and aides watching the advance
of a skirmish line up the slopes toward Lustadt. Behind, the thin
line columns of troops were marching under cover of two batteries of
field artillery that Peter of Blentz had placed upon a wooden knoll
to the southeast of the city.

The guns upon the single fort that, overlooking the broad valley,
guarded the entire southern exposure of the city were answering the
fire of Prince Peter's artillery, while several machine guns had
been placed to sweep the slope up which the skirmish line was
advancing.

The trees that masked the enemy's pieces extended upward along the
ridge and the eastern edge of the city. Barney saw that a force of
men might easily reach a commanding position from that direction and
enter Lustadt almost in rear of the fortifications. Below him a
squadron of the Royal Horse were just emerging from their stables,
taking their way toward the plain to join in a concerted movement
against the troops that were advancing toward the fort.

He turned to an aide de camp standing just behind him.

"Intercept that squadron and direct the major to move due east along
the King's Road to the grove," he commanded. "We will join him
there."

And as the officer spurred down the steep and narrow street the
American, followed by Von der Tann and his staff, wheeled and
galloped eastward.

Ten minutes later the party entered the wood at the edge of town,
where the squadron soon joined them. Von der Tann was mystified at
the purpose of this change in the position of the general staff,
since from the wood they could see nothing of the battle waging upon
the slope. During his brief intercourse with the man he thought king
he had quite forgotten that there had been any question as to the
young man's sanity, for he had given no indication of possessing
aught but a well-balanced mind. Now, however, he commenced to have
misgivings, if not of his sanity, then as to his judgment at least.

"I fear, your majesty," he ventured, "that we are putting ourselves
too much out of touch with the main body of the army. We can neither
see nor accomplish anything from this position."

"We were too far away to accomplish much upon the top of that
mountain," replied Barney, "but we're going to commence doing things
now. You will please to ride back along the King's Road and take
direct command of the troops mobilized near the fort.

"Direct the artillery to redouble their fire upon the enemy's
battery for five minutes, and then to cease firing into the wood
entirely. At the same instant you may order a cautious advance
against the troops advancing up the slope.

"When you see us emerge upon the west side of the grove where the
enemy's guns are now, you may order a charge, and we will take them
simultaneously upon their right flank with a cavalry charge."

"But, your majesty," exclaimed Von der Tann dubiously, "where will
you be in the mean time?"

"We shall be with the major's squadron, and when you see us emerging
from the grove, you will know that we have taken Peter's guns and
that everything is over except the shouting."

"You are not going to accompany the charge!" cried the old prince.

"We are going to lead it," and the pseudo-king of Lutha wheeled his
mount as though to indicate that the time for talking was past.

With a signal to the major commanding the squadron of Royal Horse,
he moved eastward into the wood. Prince Ludwig hesitated a moment as
though to question further the wisdom of the move, but finally with
a shake of his head he trotted off in the direction of the fort.

Five minutes later the enemy were delighted to note that the fire
upon their concealed battery had suddenly ceased.

Then Peter saw a force of foot-soldiers deploy from the city and
advance slowly in line of skirmishers down the slope to meet his own
firing line.

Immediately he did what Barney had expected that he would - turned
the fire of his artillery toward the southwest, directly away from
the point from which the American and the crack squadron were
advancing.

So it came that the cavalrymen crept through the woods upon the rear
of the guns, unseen; the noise of their advance was drowned by the
detonation of the cannon.

The first that the artillerymen knew of the enemy in their rear was
a shout of warning from one of the powder-men at a caisson, who had
caught a glimpse of the grim line advancing through the trees at his
rear.

Instantly an effort was made to wheel several of the pieces about
and train them upon the advancing horsemen; but even had there been
time, a shout that rose from several of Peter's artillerymen as the
Royal Horse broke into full view would doubtless have prevented the
maneuver, for at sight of the tall, bearded, young man who galloped
in front of the now charging cavalrymen there rose a shout of "The
king! The king!"

With the force of an avalanche the Royal Horse rode through those
two batteries of field artillery; and in the thick of the fight that
followed rode the American, a smile upon his face, for in his ears
rang the wild shouts of his troopers: "For the king! For the king!"

In the moment that the enemy made their first determined stand a
bullet brought down the great bay upon which Barney rode. A dozen of
Peter's men rushed forward to seize the man stumbling to his feet.
As many more of the Royal Horse closed around him, and there, for
five minutes, was waged as fierce a battle for possession of a king
as was ever fought.

But already many of the artillerymen had deserted the guns that had
not yet been attacked, for the magic name of king had turned their
blood to water. Fifty or more raised a white flag and surrendered
without striking a blow, and when, at last, Barney and his little
bodyguard fought their way through those who surrounded them they
found the balance of the field already won.

Upon the slope below the city the loyal troops were advancing upon
the enemy. Old Prince Ludwig paced back and forth behind them,
apparently oblivious to the rain of bullets about him. Every moment
he turned his eyes toward the wooded ridge from which there now
belched an almost continuous fusillade of shells upon the advancing
royalists.

Quite suddenly the cannonading ceased and the old man halted in his
tracks, his gaze riveted upon the wood. For several minutes he saw
no sign of what was transpiring behind that screen of sere and
yellow autumn leaves, and then a man came running out, and after him
another and another.

The prince raised his field glasses to his eyes. He almost cried
aloud in his relief - the uniforms of the fugitives were those of
artillerymen, and only cavalry had accompanied the king. A moment
later there appeared in the center of his lenses a tall figure with
a full beard. He rode, swinging his saber above his head, and behind
him at full gallop came a squadron of the Royal Horse.

Old von der Tann could restrain himself no longer.

"The king! The king!" he cried to those about him, pointing in the
direction of the wood.

The officers gathered there and the soldiery before him heard and
took up the cry, and then from the old man's lips came the command,
"Charge!" and a thousand men tore down the slopes of Lustadt upon
the forces of Peter of Blentz, while from the east the king charged
their right flank at the head of the Royal Horse.

Peter of Blentz saw that the day was lost, for the troops upon the
right were crumpling before the false king while he and his
cavalrymen were yet a half mile distant. Before the retreat could
become a rout the prince regent ordered his forces to fall back
slowly upon a suburb that lies in the valley below the city.

Once safely there he raised a white flag, asking a conference with
Prince Ludwig.

"Your majesty," said the old man, "what answer shall we send the
traitor who even now ignores the presence of his king?"

"Treat with him," replied the American. "He may be honest enough in
his belief that I am an impostor."

Von der Tann shrugged his shoulders, but did as Barney bid, and for
half an hour the young man waited with Butzow while Von der Tann and
Peter met halfway between the forces for their conference.

A dozen members of the most powerful of the older nobility
accompanied Ludwig. When they returned their faces were a picture of
puzzled bewilderment. With them were several officers, soldiers and
civilians from Peter's contingency.

"What said he?" asked Barney.

"He said, your majesty," replied Von der Tann, "that he is confident
you are not the king, and that these men he has sent with me knew
the king well at Blentz. As proof that you are not the king he has
offered the evidence of your own denials - made not only to his
officers and soldiers, but to the man who is now your loyal
lieutenant, Butzow, and to the Princess Emma von der Tann, my
daughter.

"He insists that he is fighting for the welfare of Lutha, while we
are traitors, attempting to seat an impostor upon the throne of the
dead Leopold. I will admit that we are at a loss, your majesty, to
know where lies the truth and where the falsity in this matter.

"We seek only to serve our country and our king but there are those
among us who, to be entirely frank, are not yet convinced that you
are Leopold. The result of the conference may not, then, meet with
the hearty approval of your majesty."

"What was the result?" asked Barney.

"It was decided that all hostilities cease, and that Prince Peter be
given an opportunity to establish the validity of his claim that
your majesty is an impostor. If he is able to do so to the entire
satisfaction of a majority of the old nobility, we have agreed to
support him in a return to his regency."

For a moment there was deep silence. Many of the nobles stood with
averted faces and eyes upon the ground.

The American, a half-smile upon his face, turned toward the men of
Peter who had come to denounce him. He knew what their verdict would
be. He knew that if he were to save the throne for Leopold he must
hold it at any cost until Leopold should be found.

Troopers were scouring the country about Lustadt as far as Blentz in
search of Maenck and Coblich. Could they locate these two and arrest
them "with all found in their company," as his order read, he felt
sure that he would be able to deliver the missing king to his
subjects in time for the coronation at noon.

Barney looked straight into the eyes of old Von der Tann.

"You have given us the opinion of others, Prince Ludwig," he said.
"Now you may tell us your own views of the matter."

"I shall have to abide by the decision of the majority," replied the
old man. "But I have seen your majesty under fire, and if you are
not the king, for Lutha's sake you ought to be."

"He is not Leopold," said one of the officers who had accompanied
the prince from Peter's camp. "I was governor of Blentz for three
years and as familiar with the king's face as with that of my own
brother."

"No," cried several of the others, "this man is not the king."

Several of the nobles drew away from Barney. Others looked at him
questioningly.

Butzow stepped close to his side, and it was noticeable that the
troopers, and even the officers, of the Royal Horse which Barney had
led in the charge upon the two batteries in the wood, pressed a
little closer to the American. This fact did not escape Butzow's
notice.

"If you are content to take the word of the servants of a traitor
and a would-be regicide," he cried, "I am not. There has been no
proof advanced that this man is not the king. In so far as I am
concerned he is the king, nor ever do I expect to serve another more
worthy of the title.

"If Peter of Blentz has real proof - not the testimony of his own
faction - that Leopold of Lutha is dead, let him bring it forward
before noon today, for at noon we shall crown a king in the
cathedral at Lustadt, and I for one pray to God that it may be he
who has led us in battle today."



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