lines to tiny feet incased in leather sandals. Her raven-black hair, unbound, framed patrician features before it cascaded in luxurious curls to the slender waist. The level eyes, serene brow and aristocratic lips cried denial to any station of servitude; here was no castle wench.
With a suddenly inspired comprehension Rald knew her, knew also a gleam in his eyes had betrayed his recognition by the lift of her firm chin. On previous occasions he had been permitted to view her stately figure from a distance as the parade of royalty passed in the streets, but now, for the first time in his checkered career, he held private audience with one of the mighty so often described to him as "his betters." But, even as realization brought a twinge of the old awe of royalty to penetrate his unlawful impulses, the thought came to Rald that, after all, this was a woman, a beautiful and brave woman, and one to be desired even if she was the Lady Thrine, sister to the King of Forthe.
Thrine saw a half-naked barbarian, powerfully built and of challenging demeanor, who had broken into the most sacred chamber of the monarchy, and her rage was boundless. She forgot any probable need of assistance from the palace retinue. Sacrilege had been performed.
"What seek you here?" she demanded, imperiously.
The sword-point poised so few inches from her breast had not wavered, she noticed, and a tiny tremor of doubt as to the wisdom of her adventure began to seep into her mind. Had it been really so delightfully intriguing—or wise—not to have alarmed the castle when she discovered the presence of an intruder? Would the temporary thrill derived from tracking the unknown through the black corridors, without summoning her brother's minions, compensate her for the eternity of death? Nerve stimulation of any kind, she decided, was so rare in Castle Forthe that perhaps the exception was worthy of the risk.
"What seek you?" she repeated, and if her voice had become a little choked it was no doubt due to the night drafts of the long passageways.
"Fame, My Lady Thrine! And fortune, too!" His sword wavered a trifle as its circling tip encompassed the Necklace on the wall, but returned almost immediately to its former threatening position.
"You would dare!" gasped Thrine. "The Necklace! No one has ever dared to think of stealing the Necklace!"
"Therefore—fame!" smiled Rald. Receiving the lady's inspired awe, he felt, was the same as if an accolade had been conferred upon him for professional skill.
"You must be an unusual thief," surmised Thrine, with half-closed eyes. "I have heard of one of great dexterity called——"
"Men call you Rald?"
"That—and other things!"
"You—you"—a wave of anger became again obvious in the lady's tones—"you dared, too, to enter my bedchamber?"
"Faith! Was that you?" The sword lowered an inch or two. "I understand the guard now. But I thought you a—a——"
"A very beautiful woman, my Lady! And the suggested aspiration is beyond your humble subject; rare jewels, perhaps, but—the first Lady of Forthe!" Rald rolled his eyeballs skyward in condemnation.
"What a perfect rogue!" commented Thrine as if speaking to an non-existent third person. She was no longer afraid and her tones were smooth again.