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HOME > Classical Novels > Otto of the Silver Hand > XII. A Ride For Life.
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XII. A Ride For Life.
 But not yet was Otto safe, and all danger past and gone by. Suddenly, as they stood there, the harsh clangor of a bell broke the silence of the starry night above their heads, and as they raised their faces and looked up, they saw lights flashing from window to window. Presently came the sound of a hoarse voice shouting something that, from the distance, they could not understand.  
One-eyed Hans smote his hand upon his thigh. Look said he, “here is what comes of having a soft heart in one’s bosom. I overcame and bound a watchman up yonder, and forced him to tell me where our young Baron lay. It was on my mind to run my knife into him after he had told me every thing, but then, bethinking how the young Baron hated the thought of bloodshed, I said to myself, ‘No, Hans, I will spare the villain’s life.’ See now what comes of being merciful; here, by hook or by crook, the fellow has loosed himself from his bonds, and brings the whole castle about our ears like a nest of wasps.”
“We must fly,” said the Baron; “for nothing else in the world is left me, now that all have deserted me in this black time of trouble, excepting these six faithful ones.”
His voice was bitter, bitter, as he spoke; then stooping, he raised Otto in his arms, and bearing him gently, began rapidly descending the rocky slope to the level road that ran along the edge of the hill beneath. Close behind him followed the rest; Hans still grimed with soot and in his bare feet. A little distance from the road and under the shade of the forest trees, seven horses stood waiting. The Baron mounted upon his great black charger, seating little Otto upon the saddle in front of him. “Forward!” he cried, and away they clattered and out upon the road. Then—“To St. Michaelsburg,” said Baron Conrad, in his deep voice, and the horses’ heads were turned to the westward, and away they galloped through the black shadows of the forest, leaving Trutz-Drachen behind them.
But still the sound of the alarm bell rang through the beating of the horses’ hoofs, and as Hans looked over his shoulder, he saw the light of torches flashing hither and thither along the outer walls in front of the great barbican.
In Castle Trutz-Drachen all was confusion and uproar: flashing torches lit up the dull gray walls; horses neighed and stamped, and men shouted and called to one another in the bustle of making ready. Presently Baron Henry came striding along the corridor clad in light armor, which he had hastily donned when roused from his sleep by the news that his prisoner had escaped. Below in the courtyard his horse was standing, and without waiting for assistance, he swung himself into the saddle. Then away they all rode and down the steep path, armor ringing, swords clanking, and iron-shod hoofs striking sparks of fire from the hard stones. At their head rode Baron Henry; his triangular shield hung over his shoulder, and in his hand he bore a long, heavy, steel-pointed lance with a pennant flickering darkly from the end.
At the high-road at the base of the slope they paused, for they were at a loss to know which direction the fugitives had taken; a half a score of the retainers leaped from their horses, and began hurrying about hither and thither, and up and down, like hounds searching for the lost scent, and all the time Baron Henry sat still as a rock in the midst of the confusion.
Suddenly a shout was raised from the forest just beyond the road; they had come upon the place where the horses had been tied. It was an easy matter to trace the way that Baron Conrad and his followers had taken thence back to the high-road, but there again they were at a loss. The road ran straight as an arrow eastward and westward—had the fugitives taken their way to the east or to the west?
Baron Henry called his head-man, Nicholas Stein, to him, and the two spoke together for a while in an undertone. At last the Baron’s lieutenant reined his horse back, and choosing first one and then another, divided the company into two parties. The baron placed himself at the head of one band and Nicholas Stein at the head of the other. “Forward!” he cried, and away clattered the two companies of horsemen in opposite directions.
It was toward the westward that Baron Henry of Trutz-Drachen rode at the head of his men.
The early springtide sun shot its rays of misty, yellow light across the rolling tops of the forest trees where the little birds were singing in the glory of the May morning. But Baron Henry and his followers thought nothing of the beauty of the peaceful day, and heard nothing of the multitudinous sound of the singing birds as, with a confused sound of galloping hoofs, they swept along the highway, leaving behind them a slow-curling, low-trailing cloud of dust.
As the sun rose more full and warm, the misty wreaths began to dissolve, until at last they parted and rolled asunder like a white curtain and there, before the pursuing horsemen, lay the crest of the mountain toward which they were riding, and up which the road wound steeply.
“Yonder they are,” cried a sudden voice behind Baron Henry of Trutz-Drachen, and at the cry all looked upward.
Far away upon the mountain-side curled a cloud of dust, from the midst of which came the star-like flash of burnished armor gleaming in the sun.
Baron Henry said never a word, but his lips curled in a grim smile.
And as the mist wreaths parted............
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