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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/16

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badly burned wrists. It had not been an easy matter to hold his hands, so awkwardly fastened behind him, over the sputtering flame. If his hand could only hold a sword!

Aye, a sword! The empty scabbard was a mockery. With supple tread and cautious ears he left the chamber of the Necklace with its treasure, still untouched, on the wall. Castle Forthe held plenty of swords; all he must do was find one without an arm behind it!

His wish was instantly, but ominously, granted. A few paces down the dim corridor, in a curiously crumpled position, lay the body of a guard. A shaft of moonlight from an interstice crossed features distorted in violent and horrible death-pangs. Rald shuddered as he remembered the blue sparks and their supernatural force. The dead man's blade was half drawn; the thief appropriated it in a single cat-like gesture. Somewhere in the dark halls of Forthe was a Thing without the need of a sword, but Rald felt courage flowing into his heart through the chilled steel in his hand. Despite the blisters on his palm he clutched the hilt as a drowning man grasps at a rescuing timber.

From somewhere, out of the darkness, came the half -muffled cry of a woman. The slender thread of alarm in Rald's spine flowered into a network of nerve pulsations spreading into his heart regions. Thrine! The voice was unmistakable. Blindly he blundered into stone walls as he encountered a sudden turn in the passageway; recovering, he realized his senses had been blurred by the inner urge driving him forward. He sought to conquer his impulses. A cool head and a strong sword-arm were needed in Forthe this night.

An unexpected twist of the corridor revealed to his eyes a high, unfortified archway of stone leading into the palace gardens. Beyond, and converging toward the aperture, were the numerous torches carried by the guardsmen as they beat the foliage in vain for lurking assassins. Near by, at the very base of the short stairway leading up to the arch, King Thrall advanced before a picked dozen of his retinue. Evidently, the monarch of Forthe was returning to question the apprehended culprits.

But the king was in no position to see what was so clearly visible to the thief. Between Rald and the wavering gleams of the torches, just far enough within the castle archway to be concealed in the shadows from those without, crouched the figure of Karlk in an attitude unmistakably threatening. His face was toward the approaching soldiers led by Thrall; the thief knew a king was walking to his death. On the floor, at the wizard's feet, a bound figure attempted to warn the innocent victims with wild outcries that only ended in faint mews behind the cloth thrust into her mouth. A dynasty neared its end under the thief's gaze.

An animal-like snarl was stifled in Rald's throat. With unreasonable inconsistency he ignored his own capture of Lady Thrine such a short while ago, when he had held his sword-tip to her breast; Karlk had dared to lay hands on this woman!

If the magician would have but glanced over his shoulder he would have seen the torchlight glittering on the naked steel, but his eyes were occupied with the advancing soldiery. Slowly his fingers rose to their chest levels.

Some sixth-sense of premonition awakened in the king. He paused with one foot on the top step, a hand on his sword, and sought to peer into the obscurity of the passage. "Who is there?" he asked, as the guardsmen halted uncertainly behind him.