voice was gentler now; more in keeping with the femininity of the patrician features. "I saw your grandfathers born, oh king, and I cursed them, one and all, as I prepared for this day, upon which I have so badly failed. Trusting, as I did, in a mortal man to lift the bar from the sacred chamber of the Necklace—I allowed my own tool to turn its edge upon me. Oh Nargarth, guardian Demon! To lie here helpless while the powers I hold drain out of me with my life-blood—strength it took centuries to garner!"
"Why? Why covet my kingdom?" asked Thrall. "There are many others."
"But I am of the Ebon blood! I belong, in part, to the double throne! Remember, in your legends, when the great white apes of Sorjoon were so numerous, before the outraged people hunted them down to death from the high crags whereon they dwelt—how at times they even dared to assault the city's walls and drag off screaming wretches to their ghastly feasts? On one terrible day a princess of Forthe became a captive. She did not immediately—participate in the cannibal orgies. She was—my mother."
Karlk's voice grew momentarily weaker; the stunned listeners bent to catch the low whispers as her choked breath struggled in the distorted form.
"The nether arms—are miniature replicas of my father's. You understand?"
Thrine moaned and clung to Rald's bare forearm, forgetting he was a thief and she a royal lady.
"I cursed all men—all human races! I was a monstrosity unfit for existence, of no class or race. I fled the apes as I fled mankind. T hated every living thing, for none was like me. I was alone. In my solitude I learned from the demons of the forests—and the mountains—they did not shun my deformities! If you enter—my house—you will see the results of my well-learned lessons, oh Thrall! I hope they drive you mad!"
"No man shall enter the accursed walls," muttered the king. "Your house will be burned and the remaining stones ground to dust!"
"My—poor—experiments! I had planned—many more. Remember—the one that barked? Ha! And he with the pointed skull—who giggled?"
Thrall half raised his blade to smite the prone ape-woman, but malicious, rasping laughter held him transfixed.
"No need, oh king—and brother! My day is gone—the tide ebbs. Would that—I might—wreak some evil fate upon you—ere Nargarth's minions come for me!"
A cold wind burst forth suddenly amid the quiet night breezes, swirling through the passageway and tugging at the torch flares so hard that several were extinguished. Icy, unseen fingers appeared to wrench at their clothing. Thrine screamed. As abruptly as the chilling gust of air had come, it departed, leaving a numbed cluster of humans and a curiously shriveled and for ever silent Thing crumpled on the stones. Karlk and all her ambitions had passed to the Outer Void.
For a long minute the king and his guards remained in statuesque poses; then Thrall, his warrior spirits gaining! ascendancy as they were freed of supernatural awe, uttered a mighty roar.
"Rald! My friend! My brother! I'll make you a baron! For this night's work you'll own the richest farms of Forthe! I'll—where is Rald?"
Thrine laughed, shakily, and pointed