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He looked into a bare stone corridor, dimly lighted, and a slender, supple figure stood before the door.
‘Your Majesty!’ It was a low, vibrant cry, half in relief and half in fear. The girl sprang to his side, then hesitated as if abashed.
‘You bleed,’ she said. ‘You have been hurt!’
He brushed aside the implication with an impatient hand.
‘Scratches that wouldn’t hurt a baby. Your skewer came in handy, though. But for it Tarascus’ monkey would be cracking my shin-bones for the marrow right now. But what now?’
‘Follow me,’ she whispered. ‘I will lead you outside the city wall. I have a horse concealed there.’
She turned to lead the way down the corridor, but he laid a heavy hand on her naked shoulder.
‘Walk beside me,’ he instructed her softly, passing his massive arm about her lithe waist. ‘You’ve played me fair so far, and I’m inclined to believe in you; but I’ve lived this long only because I’ve trusted no one too far, man or woman. So! Now if you play me false you won’t live to enjoy the jest.’
She did not flinch at sight of the reddened poniard or the contact of his hard muscles about her supple body.
‘Cut me down without mercy if I play you false,’ she answered. ‘The very feel of your arm about me, even in menace, is as the fulfillment of a dream.’
The vaulted corridor ended at a door, which she opened. Outside lay another black man, a giant in turban and silk loin-cloth, with a curved sword lying on the flags near his hand. He did not move.
‘I drugged his wine,’ she whispered, swerving to avoid the recumbent figure. ‘He is the last, and outer, guard of the pits. None ever escaped from them before, and none has ever wished to seek them; so only these black men guard them. Only these of all the servants knew it was King Conan that Xaltotun brought a prisoner in his chariot. I was watching, sleepless, from an upper casement that opened into the court, while the other girls slept; for I knew that a battle was being fought, or had been fought, in the west, and I feared for you….
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