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  Kieran McGovern has been described as 'amongst the best writers of language
learner materials in English. He has published over 20 readers and edits the
website ESL Reading http://continue.to/eslreading.
 
     
     
 
 
     
 
The colour of a man's hair
 
     
 

'What are you going to do, Rudolf?’ said Rose. ‘You're twenty-nine, but you
don't work. You don't do anything! The red-haired Rassendylls are all the
same!’

My brother Robert came into the room. Rose is Robert's wife.

‘Rose wants me to work, Robert,’ I said. I looked at Rose and smiled. ‘And she doesn't like my red hair.’

‘You have red hair and the Elphberg nose, too,’ Robert said.

The story of my red hair is a hundred and fifty years old. In 1733 the young Prince Rudolf Elphberg came to England from Ruritania. The Elphbergs
always had red hair and long noses.

The young man fell in love with an English woman. Her name was Amelia Rassendyll. After a few months Rudolf returned to Ruritania. Some time he became the new King of Ruritania.

Six months after Rudolf left, Amelia had a baby. This baby had red hair and a long nose. Five or six Rassendylls after 1733 also had red hair. I have red hair. My brother’s hair is black.

Rose looked up at the picture of Amelia on the wall. She did not like the
picture. She did not like the Elphberg story.

‘But you don't do anything, Rudolf’ she said.

This was not true. I could speak many languages. I could ride any horse. But I liked Rose. ‘I'll find a job,’ I said. ‘But first I want to go away for six months.’

'Where will you go?'

'I'm not sure. Did you see that story about Ruritania in The Times?'

Robert nodded. 'Young Rudolf the Fifth is about to become King.'

'Perhaps I could go to his coronation in Strelsau.'

Robert and Rose looked at me in horror. No Rassendylls had ever been to Ruritania. ''Rudolf, you can't!'

'I was only joking,' I lied. ‘I'm going to go walking in Austria,’



The Journey to Strelsau

 

I went first to Paris. I stayed a night with my friend George. 'Two of the most famous people in Ruritania have been here in Paris,' he told me. 'The
beautiful Antoinette de Mauban and ‘Black’ Michael of Strelsau.'

'Tell me about them.'

'Antoinette is a rich young woman. She's in love with Black Michael - he's the half- brother of the new King. Many people in Ruritania don't like him.

‘Is Black Michael in Paris now?’ I asked.

‘No. He's in Ruritania for the Coronation,’ said George. ‘But I don't think that Michael will marry Antoinette. He wants to marry the Princess.’

The next day George and I went to the station. I bought my ticket. George
talked to a very beautiful woman. ‘You're lucky!’ he told me after. ‘That's Antoinette de Mauban. She's also going to Dresden.’

But Antoinette did not speak to me on the train. When we crossed into
Ruritania I asked the ticket collector about hotels in Strelsau.

‘You won't find a hotel in Strelsau tonight,’ he said. ‘There are too many
people there for the Coronation.’

I quickly changed my plans, and got off the train at Zenda. Zenda is a quiet
town with a famous castle. It is about fifty miles from Strelsau.

I watched the train move away. Antoinette stayed on the train.

I went into the town. An old lady gave me a room in her hotel. I could see the castle from the hotel. It was about a mile from the town.

I had dinner with the old woman and her daughter. ‘Its Michael of Strelsau castle,’ said the old lady. ‘He lives here in Ruritania. The new King only came back to the country last week.’

‘And now no one knows him,’ said the daughter. ‘My Johan told me.’

‘Johan works for Michael in his forest,’ said the old lady. ‘He has a hunting lodge there. The King is staying in the hunting-lodge now. He only likes
hunting, and drinking and pretty girls. I want Michael to be King.’

‘I donut like Black Michael,’ said the daughter. ‘I want an Elphberg with red hair.’ She looked at me and laughed.

‘Where is Michael now?’ I asked.

‘He's in Strelsau for the Coronation.’-

‘Then why is the King here? Are he and Michael friends?’

‘Yes,’ said the old woman.

The daughter laughed. ‘Two men want to be King. And two men want the same wife.’

‘Who do they want to marry?’ I asked.

‘Princess Flavia. Black Michael - ‘

Suddenly we heard an angry voice. ‘Who said ‘Black Michael’?’

It was Johan. He saw me and stopped.

‘What's the matter, Johan?’ asked the daughter. ‘This young man is from England. He is staying with us. He wants to see the Coronation on Wednesday.’

Johan left the room. The daughter said, ‘Johan doesn't like the colour of your hair.’

I smiled and said, ‘The colour of a man's hair is not important.’

But I was wrong!

The Castle

The next morning I sent my bags to Strelsau. My plan was to catch the train at
a small station on the other side of the forest.

I walked up the hill to the Castle. Behind a very big old building there was a new building. Between the two buildings there was a moat . A drawbridge crossed the moat.

I walked on into the forest. It was very beautiful. After some time I became tired. I sat against a tree and closed my eyes.

Suddenly I heard a voice.

‘It isn't possible! He is the King.’

I opened my eyes and saw two men. One was short and strong. The other was younger and darker. I stood up and smiled. The younger man also smiled

‘This is Sapt. My name is Fritz. We work for the King of Ruritania.’

I took off my hat and answered. ‘I am Rudolf Rassendyll. I come from England.’

Sapt looked at me. Suddenly he said, ‘ Your hair tells me your story. Everyone here in Ruritania knows about Amelia.’

Suddenly we heard a voice. ‘It's the King,’ said Fritz.

A young man came up to us. I looked at him - and it was like looking in a mirror! We were identical! The King of Ruritania was Rudolf Rassendyll. Rudolf Rassendyll was the King.

'‘Sapt - Fritz - who is this man?’

Sapt came between the King and me. He said something in the Kings ear. The King did not speak. Then he began to laugh.

‘What are you doing here in Ruritania?’

‘I am going to the Coronation in Strelsau.’

The King laughed again. ‘What will Michael say? Now he has two brothers.’

‘You mustn't go to Strelsau,’ said Sapt. ‘There is danger there.’

‘I will leave Ruritania today,’ I told the King.

‘No, you must stay have dinner with me ’ he answered. ‘

‘But were leaving early tomorrow,’ said Fritz.

‘I know,’ said the King. ‘But I don't meet a new ‘brother’ every day. Well have dinner tonight.'

A present from Black Michael

We walked to the hunting lodge. It was a small building. A little man met us.
His name was Joseph.

That night we ate a very big dinner. We also drank many bottles of wine. Fritz tried to stop the King. ‘We must leave early tomorrow morning,’ he said.

But the King did not stop. At midnight Joseph came into the room with a very old bottle of wine. ‘This is from Michael of Strelsau,’ said Joseph.

‘Thank you, Black Michael!’ said the King. ‘Open the bottle!’

Joseph opened the bottle. The King drank a glass. Then he took the bottle and drank all the wine. That is all I remember of that night.

 
     
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  A Little More Than mere Teaching  
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A KING GOES TO STRELSAU
 
     
     
 

I opened my eyes. My face, hair and clothes were all wet. Sapt and Fritz were near me. I was very angry.

‘Why did you throw water over me?’

‘Its five o'clock,’ said Sapt. ‘And look at the King.’

The King was on the floor. His face was red. Sapt kicked him. He did not move.

‘We threw water over him, too,’ said Fritz. ‘But it was no good.’

I looked at Sapt and Fritz. We were afraid. I remembered the last bottle - what was in it?’

‘We must get a doctor.’

‘There's no doctor near here,’ said Sapt. ‘And a thousand doctor cannot help us. He will not move for six or seven hours.’

‘What about the Coronation?’

‘The King is ill,’ said Fritz. ‘We must send a message to Strelsau.’

‘Nobody will believe it,’ said Sapt. ‘And Black Michael knows that.’

‘Half the people in Strelsau want Black Michael to be King,’ said Sapt. ‘And now it will happen.’

We said nothing. Then Sapt spoke to me. ‘You can help us,’ he said. ‘You can go to Strelsau. You can be the King at the coronation.’

‘But it is not possible!’ I said.

‘There is some danger. Are you afraid?’

‘don't say that!’

‘I'm sorry,’ said Sapt. ‘But the King is in great danger.’

I did not answer. Sapt looked at me. ‘Will you go?’

‘Yes, I’ll go,’ I said.

‘Tonight we will be in the Palace,' said Sapt. ' Fritz will keep everyone away from the Kings bedroom. You and I will ride back here.'

'And then what will happen?'

'The King will ride with me to Strelsau. You will leave the country.’

Sapt left the room. He returned with Joseph. A few minutes later they began to cut the hair from my face.

‘What will you do with the King?’ I asked.

‘I’ll leave him in the wine cellar ’

‘What will happen if they find him?’

‘They won't find him. Joseph will stop them. But we can't escape danger.’

Joseph worked on me for half an hour. After Fritz said, ‘Well do it!’

I was the king

I got off the train in Strelsau. Fritz and Sapt walked behind me.

Many important men were at the station. But Black Michael did not come to meet us.

We travelled on horses through Strelsau. Near the palace there were many people on the streets. Some threw flowers at me. I caught one and wore it on my coat.

Now I was not afraid. I was the King. I looked up and saw - Antoinette de Mauban!

She looked at me for a long time. Her mouth moved. I put my hand down to my gun.
But nothing happened.

I walked past the great men and beautiful women. I heard music. After some time we came to a beautiful old church.

But I only remember two things about the coronation. One was the face of a beautiful
girl with red hair. The other was my ‘brother’, Black Michael.

The woman with red hair came to me from her place. Somebody called out, ‘The Princess Flavia!’

She took my hand and kissed it. I kissed her twice on the face. She was very beautiful!

Michael came and kissed my hand. He did not look at me. He was afraid.  

We went back to the palace with Princess Flavia. I heard people call from the street for Black Michael. Someone said , ‘When are you going to marry her?’

Princess Flavia sat beside me. ‘Your face is different today, Rudolf,’ she said suddenly.

I was a little afraid.

‘Its thinner and - nicer.’ She smiled. Then she said quietly. ‘You must be careful about Black Michael. He wants - ‘

‘I know! He wants to be King. He wants to marry a princess. But perhaps I will marry
her one day.’

Princess Flavia looked at me, but she said nothing. Then I heard music and the sound
of guns. We were at the Palace.

Later that night I sat with Fritz and Sapt. We were in one of the Kings rooms. I was
very tired. Sapt and Fritz were happy.

‘You'll remember this day!’ said Fritz. ‘But you must be careful. Black Michael looked very angry. You talked to the Princess for a long time.’

‘She is very beautiful!’ I said.

‘Forget her,’ said Sapt. ‘We must go. Are you ready?’

The road to Zenda

I was ready, but I did not want to go. It was five o’clock.

‘In seven hours I will be Rudolf Rassendyll again.’

‘You will stay here, Fritz,’ said Sapt. ‘Remember, the King is very tired. He does not want to see anybody.’

Sapt then turned to me. ‘Put on this coat and hat. You'll look like one of my men.’

Sapt took me through a secret door in the wall. We came out on a quiet street behind the Palace gardens. A man was there with two horses for us. We rode out of the city and on to the road to Zenda.

Three hours later Sapt suddenly stopped. ‘Listen!’ he said.

I listened and heard the sound of horses. They were only a mile behind us. We rode on and came to the forest of Zenda. We hid the horses and waited behind a tree. Sapt had his gun in his hand.

The horses came nearer. It was Black Michael. A second man was with him. They came very close to us and stopped.

'Which way? asked Black Michael.

'To the Castle, my Lord. We must find out what has happened.'

Black Michael hesitated. 'I thought I heard horses, ’he said.

‘I didn't hear anything,’ said the second man.

‘Why don't we go to the hunting-lodge?’

‘Because they may be waiting for us there. The message said, ‘All is well.’And we don't want to lose time.’

Michael hesitated a moment longer. Sapt put his hand on his gun.

Finally Black Michael cried To Zenda!’ and they rode away

Is the King Safe?

We waited for ten minutes before coming out. Sapt said, 'They've sent him news that
'all is well'

'But what does that mean?' I asked.

'I don't know,' said Sapt. 'I just hope the King is safe. Let's ride to the lodge as fast as we can.'

We rode on to the lodge in silence. We were both very worried. 'All is well'. What did it mean? Was all well with the King?

At last the lodge came into sight. We rode up to the gate. All was quiet.

We got off our horses. Suddenly Sapt caught me by the arm. 'Look there!' he said pointing to the ground. 'Someone has just been here.

We hurried towards the door. It was unlocked. We went into the room where we had been the night before.. There was food from our dinner and bottles on the table.

We went down the stairs. The door the wine cellar was open. Suddenly Sapt cried out. His face went white. I looked down and saw Joseph on the floor. He was dead.

Sapt looked at me. ‘Where is the King?’ he cried.

‘The King is not here,’ I answered.

3

WHERE IS THE KING?

I helped Sapt up the stairs. For ten minutes we sat in silence. Then Sapt took his
hands from his face and said, ‘They've got the King!’

‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘That was the message to Black Michael. “All is well”. When did he get it?’

‘He had the message before your coronation. But what is he doing now?’

I stood up. ‘We must go back to Strelsau,’ I said. ‘Well get every man in the city. Then well fight Michael.’

Sapt did not answer.

‘We can't stay here,’ I said. ‘The King is in danger. Come on. We must go.’

Again Sapt did not answer. Suddenly he began to laugh. ‘Yes, well go back to Strelsau. The King will be in his Palace again.’

‘I don't understand.’

‘We cannot tell the people our story. They'll be very angry us - and with the King, too. Black Michael will tell his story. And they will believe him.’

Sapt got up. He put his hand on my arm. ‘You can help the King. Go back and be the King.’

‘But Michael knows - ‘

‘Yes, but they can't say anything,’ said Sapt. ‘They cannot say, ‘‘This man is not the King. The King is our prisoner.” But we must have a King in Strelsau.’

‘But will they kill the King?’

‘No, they won’t. Its too dangerous for them. Come back to Strelsau with me.’

Will they try to kill me?

Sapt went and found some new horses. I carried Joseph up the stairs.

‘Come on,’ said Sapt. ‘We must go now.’

We went outside. Far away I could see men on horses. ‘Michael's men are coming here,’ I said. ‘We must do something for poor Joseph.’

We hid with our horses behind the lodge. After a few minutes we heard a voice.

‘Now!’ said Sapt.

We rode to the front of the lodge and fought Michael's men. I killed two men. Sapt killed one. Someone cut my hand.

We rode away fast. ‘That was for little Joseph!’ I said.

We came to Strelsau in the early morning. We rode in the same gate. We were very tired. The streets were very quiet after the coronation.

We went to the Kings rooms in the Palace. We found Fritz. He looked at me. ‘The King!’ he said.

Sapt smiled. ‘You're doing well, boy,’ he said to me.

Fritz looked at me again. ‘Whereas the King?’ he said.

‘He is in the hands of Black Michael.’

Somebody came to the door. Sapt turned to me. ‘Go into the bedroom. Take off
your hat and shoes. Get into bed. Remember, you're now the King!’

A King works very hard. After breakfast I met many important people. For many
hours I could not talk to Fritz and Sapt.

That night they came to my room.

‘We must do something,’ said Fritz. ‘Are we going after Black Michael?’

‘No, we can't,’ said Sapt. ‘We can't tell anybody about Black Michael. And he
can't tell anybody out us.’

‘He'll kill the King,’ said Fritz.

‘He won't,’ said Sapt. ‘Black Michael is back in Strelsau. Half of the ‘Six’ are
with him. Three must be in Zenda with the King.’

‘Who are the Six?’ I asked.

‘You will meet them soon,’ said Sapt. ‘They are six men. They live in Michael's
house. They will do anything for him. One of the Six is from your country.’

‘Will they try to kill me?’ I asked.

‘Perhaps,’ said Sapt. ‘You must be very careful. But we cannot do anything now.
We must wait.'

Black Michael comes to visit

The next day I went to see the Princess Flavia.

‘The people speak well of their King,’ she said. ‘But what do I call you now?’

‘Please call me by my name.’

‘Thank you, Rudolf.’

‘My brother is back in Strelsau,’ I said. ‘We can - ‘

‘Watch him better?’ We both smiled.

She did not like him! I was very happy. We talked a little more about Michael
and the Six. Suddenly we heard the sound of a horse. Princess Flavia ran to the window.

‘Its Michael of Strelsau!’ she said

I smiled. The Princess went back to her seat. I talked about different things.
Suddenly the Princess said, ‘Are you trying to make him angry?’

‘ What? Who?’

‘Michael is waiting outside.’

‘Why doesn't he come in?’

She looked surprised. ‘You are in the room, Rudolf. Nobody can come in with
you here. You know that!’

‘I'm sorry,’ I said. ‘I never remember these things.’

I opened the door. Michael sat at a table. He looked very angry. Three more
men stood near him.

‘My dear brother,’ I said. ‘Its good to see you.’

‘You cut your hand ,’ he said. ‘How did you do that?’

‘In a game with a dog,’ I said.

Black Michael looked at me. Suddenly he said, ‘Will you meet my friends?’

They came and kissed my hand. The first was De Gautet. He was tall and thin.
The second was a fat man called Bersonin. The third was the English man,
Detchard. He had a red face and short yellow hair .

My brother and his friends left. Soon after I said goodbye to Princess Flavia.

‘Rudolf,’ she said. ‘Be careful!’

‘About what?’

‘You know - I can't say. But remember you're important to Ruritania.’

‘Am I only important to Ruritania?’

‘You're important to your friends, too.

‘Friends?’

‘And to a Princess,’ she said in a quiet voice.

I could not speak. I kissed her hand and left.

 
     
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A MESSAGE FROM THE CASTLE
 
     
     
 

A week later Sapt came to see me. ‘The King is at the Castle of Zenda,’ he said.
‘Three of the Six are there with him. Their names are Lauengram, Kaufstein and
Rupert Hentzau. The drawbridge stays up.

‘Who opens it?’

‘Only Hentzau or Black Michael.’

Sapt gave me a letter. I opened it and read it out to Sap. It was from a woman. She wanted me to meet her at twelve o'clock that night.

Where does she want to meet you?’ asked Sapt.

‘In a garden at the end of New Avenue. There's summerhouse there.’

‘And why does she want to meet you?’

‘She has a message for me. But I must not tell anyone.’

Sapt laughed. ‘Black Michael sent that letter,’ he said.

I turned the letter over. There was more on the other side.

‘It's Antoinette de Mauban!’ I said. I told Sapt the story of Antoinette de Mauban.
Then I said, ‘I'll go. I think that she can help us.’

Sapt did not want me to go. But after some time he said, ‘You can go. But I will
come with you to the garden.’

At half-past eleven that night we rode to the place. It was a very dark night. I carried
a light. I also had a gun and a sword.

We came to the house. A wall went round the garden. We found the door. I got off
my horse.

‘I'll wait here,’ said Sapt. ‘Good luck!’

 

'They'll kill you'

 

I opened the door and walked across the garden to the summer house. I pushed the door open. A woman stood before me.

‘Shut the door,’ she said.

I shut the door and looked at the woman. She was beautiful. Her clothes were
beautiful, too.

‘don't talk,’ she said. ‘I know you, Mr Rassendyll. Michael wrote that letter. In twenty minutes three men will be here. They'll kill you.’

‘Three - the three?’

‘Yes. They'll kill you and leave you in the Old Town. Somebody will find you.
Michael will then send a message to Zenda. The other three will kill the King.
Michael will then become King and marry the Princess.’

‘Its a clever plan. But why are you telling it to me?’

‘I don't want Michael to marry the princess. Now go! And be careful!’

I took her hand and kissed it. ‘You are helping the King tonight,’ I said. ‘Where is
he in the Castle?’

‘Across the drawbridge you come to a heavy door. Behind the door ... Listen!
What's that?’

From outside came the sound of footsteps.

‘They're coming. They're too soon!’ Her face went white.

I went to the door.  

‘Mr Rassendyll, we want to talk to you,’ said the English man, Detchard. ‘Can we
come in? We can help you. Well give you fifty thousand pounds. Well help you
leave Ruritania.’

‘They'll kill you,’ said Antoinette in my ear.

I understood their plan. ‘Give me a minute,’ I said.

I turned to Antoinette. ‘Stand close to the wall,’ I said.  

In the summer house there was a small tea-table. I took it in my hands.

I called out. ‘I will take your money. Open the door.’

The door opened. I saw the three men with their guns ready. I ran at them, with
the table in my hands. They shot at me. I hit them with the table. We all fell down.

I stood up and laughed. Detchard was under the table. He shot at me again. I shot
back. Then I climbed over the garden wall.

'They want the King to marry Princess Flavia quickly'

 

The next day Fritz and Sapt came to see me. ‘Black Michael left Strelsau this
morning,’ he told me. ‘De Gautet, Bersonin and Detchard went with him. They
went on the road to Zenda.’

I laughed. ‘How is my friend Detchard?’

Fritz smiled. ‘He cannot move his arm,’ he said.

‘Good. Did Antoinette de Mauban go with them?’

‘No,’ said Sapt. ‘She left by train at twelve o'clock. She bought a ticket to Dresden.
But the train stops at Zenda.’

‘We are doing well!’

‘No!’ said Sapt. ‘The people here in the city are angry. They want the King to marry Princess Flavia quickly. And the Princess is angry with the King.’

‘What can I do?’

‘There is a dance tonight in the city. You must talk to her.’

‘She loves you,’ said Fritz. ‘And she is very sad. She wants you to show her love.’

That night I danced many times with Princess Flavia. We were happy together. Everybody looked at us.

Later we drank coffee in a small room. I looked at in her eyes. She was very beautiful! What could I do? I forgot the King in Zenda. I forgot everything. I kissed her hand.

Suddenly she pushed me away. ‘Is it true? Do you love me? Or do you only love your country?’

‘It is true!’ I answered. ‘I love you more than anything in the world!’

‘I did not love you before the coronation. But now I do!’

I was very happy. Who won her love? It was not the King. Rudolf Rassendyll won her love.

I took her in my arms. ‘I want to tell you something,’ I said. ‘To you I am the King - ‘

‘I love you, Rudolf,’ said the Princess. ‘I don't love “the King”.’

‘Flavia,’ I said. ‘I am not -’

Suddenly a man came into the room. It was Sapt. He looked angry.

‘I am sorry,’ he said. ‘Everybody is waiting for the King.’

We went back. The dance ended. The Princess looked very happy. But I was very,
very sad.

The next day I went to see Flavia. ‘I am leaving Strelsau for a short time,’ I told her.
‘I'm going hunting.’

‘Is it not interesting here? I am sorry.’

She was angry with me. She did not speak again for a few minutes. Then she began
to cry.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘You were not like this before the coronation. I gave my love to a different King!’

I took her in my arms.

‘My love, this hunt is not .... I am going after Michael.’

Her face became white. She was very afraid.

‘Please, don't go into danger, Rudolf! When will you be back?’

‘I don't know, my love.’

‘Come soon, Rudolf! Please come soon!’

‘I will. I will see you once more!’

 
     
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YOUNG RUPERT HENTZAU
 
     
     
 

Fritz found a house for us. It was in a forest about five miles from Zenda. We told everyone, ‘We are here to hunt,’.

Ten men came with us. They all loved the King. Sapt spoke to them about the prisoner at Zenda. ‘This prisoner,’ he said, ‘is a friend of the King. Michael is holding him at the Castle.’

‘What can we do?’ said Fritz to Sapt and me. ‘We cant fight at the Castle - Michael
will kill the King. He knows were here. Hess waiting for us.’

‘Michael thinks that I want to be King,’ I said. ‘He wont kill the King now. He'll kill me first! Then heel kill the King.’

Michael sent three men to see us. They were the other half of the Six - Lauengram, Kaufstein and

Rupert Hentzau

Rupert spoke for the others. He was twenty two or twenty three.

He had a message from Michael. ‘Hess ill,’ said Rupert. ‘And he cannot see anyone.
He is very sorry about that.’

‘I am sorry,’ I said. ‘How is my friend Detchard? Is he ill, too?’

Rupert smiled. ‘He will soon feel better.’

I laughed. I liked Rupert better than the other two. They were all bad, but Rupert was clever. And he was afraid of nothing.

They left soon after. Later that night Fritz and I went to the village of Zenda. I covered
my face with my coat.

We took a room for the night. The old woman did not know me. Later her daughter brought dinner to our room.

‘Are you Ill?’ she asked.

I moved the coat from my face. The girl called out in surprise.

‘It was the King, then! We saw your picture. Oh, I am sorry!’

‘You did nothing wrong. But tonight there is something important. You must say
nothing about the King to anybody. Is Johann here?’

‘No, he is at the Castle. They say there is a woman there now.’

‘You must send Johann a message. He must meet you tomorrow night at ten o'clock
on the road to Zenda. You will walk home with him.’

She was a little afraid. I gave her some money. We finished dinner. I covered my face and we went out again.

 

'Michael will give you gold'

 

The next morning Rupert Hentzau came back to the house. ‘I have a message from Michael,’ he said.

I sent the others away. He sat down next to me.

‘Rassendyll,’ he began. ‘I want to help you. I like you.’

‘What's the message?’

‘Michael will give you gold. But you must leave Ruritania.’

I laughed.

‘Is the answer ‘‘no’’?’ Rupert smiled happily. ‘Then we'll kill you!’

Again I laughed. ‘You'll be dead first. How is you prisoner?’

‘Hess not dead. And how is your pretty Princess? I know you like her very much.
But it's no good. Black Michael will marry her, and - ‘

I got up. ‘Go, or I'll kill you,’ I said.

Rupert turned to his horse. Then he turned to me. I watched his right hand. His left
hand was in his coat.

Suddenly I saw the sword in his left hand. But it was too late. The sword cut my arm.
I called out and fell back.

My friends shot at him. But it was no good. Rupert jumped on his horse and rode
away. He was afraid of nothing.

Sept and Fritz carried me to bed. I slept for some time. Then I heard noise. I opened
my eyes. Fritz was there. ‘We cleaned the cut,’ he said. ‘It'll soon be better. And
weave got Johann here.’

‘Bring him in,’ I said.

Johann came into the room. Sapt walked behind him and pushed a gun in his back. Johann was very afraid. But he wanted to help us.

‘Michael,’ he said, ‘will kill me. I know too much.’

‘We wont kill you,’ I told him.

Johann told us about two rooms below the Castle. Only one room had a small window. This looked out

onto the moat.

‘There are always three of the Six in the outside room. The King is in the inner room. They can kill him at any time. And there is a pipe going from the inner room down into the moat. They will drop the dead King down the pipe into the water. They can also
leave the Castle through the pipe.’

‘Will they kill the King?’

‘Yes. But they must kill you first,’ said Johann.

I looked at Sapt and Fritz. We were all afraid.

‘Does the King know about this plan.

‘Yes,’ Johann answered. ‘I put the pipe there. Rupert Hentzau watched. The King
asked about the pipe. Rupert laughed. ‘‘Its to take you from this world to the next
world!’’ he said.”’

‘How is the King?’

‘Very bad. Hess very ill. I don't know how long - ‘

Sapt looked at me. ‘We must do something soon,’ he said.

The next night we went out. It was dark and wet. I carried my sword. Sapt and Fritz brought horses and men. We did not go through the town of Zenda. We climbed up
to he castle.

We stopped near the castle. Three of the men hid. Fritz, Sapt and I went on. We met nobody. We came to the moat.

I climbed down into the moat. It was not cold. I swam round the walls. I could not see much. There were lights in the new building.

I found the pipe. It was very big. I swam closer and looked inside. I could see the light from the Kings room.

Then I heard the King speak, ‘I want my brother to kill me. Anything is better than this!’

A second person spoke. It was Detchard. ‘Michael doesn't want you dead - not now! You must wait! Sleep well!’

The light went. The door closed. The King began to cry.

I did not call to him. It was too dangerous! I could do no more that night!

 

'You'll be King'

 

The next morning I rode out to the forest . After an hour I saw Rupert Hentzau in front
of me. I rode after him. He turned quickly.

‘I don't want to fight,’ I said. ‘I want to talk.’

He slowed his horse

‘You can help the King,’ I said. ‘Bring him to me.’

Rupert smiled. ‘No,’ he said. ‘You listen to me.’ He spoke more quietly. ‘Come with
your men to the castle tomorrow. I'll tell you the time. There'll be a fight. And when
Sapt, Fritz and Michael are all dead - ’

‘What!’

‘ - Well drop the dead prisoner down the pipe into the moat. Then there'll be only two men: Rupert Hentzau and the King of Ruritania.’

Suddenly Rupert was very happy. ‘You'll be King,’ he said. ‘You'll get your princess.
And for me - a little money, perhaps.’

‘You're the worst man in the world!’ I said.

‘Remember this. The Princess is a beautiful girl. I like beautiful girls.

I wanted to kill him. But I started to laugh.

‘You are one of the Michael's men. Are you now against him?’

He said some bad things about Black Michael. Then he said, ‘I almost put a sword in him last night.’

Now I was not angry. I wanted to learn something about Michael and Rupert. ‘Was it about a woman?’ I asked.

‘Yes, a beautiful one. You know her.’

‘Did we meet round the tea table? With your friends?’

‘You were lucky! I wasn't there.’

‘And does Michael wants your girl?’

‘No. That's not it. She likes him better. But perhaps I can change that! Now I m

I rode back to the house. There was a letter there for me. I opened it.

How could I help Antoine? Everyone at the castle was ready to fight us. And there
was very little time left.

The people in Strelsau were angry. They wanted the King back in his palace. They wanted him to marry Princess Flavia. I sent a message to the newspaper in Strelsau. The next day the message was on the front page of the newspaper.

Johann brought us news from the castle. 'I was with Black Michael, Rupert and Antoinette de Mauban when the newspaper arrived.' he told us.

'What happened?'

'Rupert laughed at Michael. He said, "Rassendyll is a better King than you. And the Princess is lucky. She will marry the best man in the country."

'And how is the King?'

'Very bad. He's too ill to move easily. Antoinette de Mauban sees him every day.
He's in great danger.'

We asked Johann many more questions. Then I gave him a message for Antoinette
de Mauban. ‘You must give this to her. Then at two o'clock tomorrow morning go to the front door of the new building. Open the door and then run.’

Johann was very afraid. But he went back to the Castle. I called Sapt and Fritz. I told them my plan.

‘Sapt, you will take some men to the front door. Johann will open the door for you.
At the same time Antoinette de Mauban will call out: “Help! Michael, help!” Then she
will call out the name of Rupert Hentzau. Michael will be very angry with Rupert. He
will run out - and Sapt’s men will get him.

‘Rupert will be in the other building. He'll hear his name and come out. My men will
lower the drawbridge. I'll swim to the drawbridge and meet Rupert. I'll fight Rupert -
I hope I kill him! Then the other men will leave the King and come out.’

 
     
 
 
     
     
     
     
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