BACK in his apartment with Lal Vak, Thorne notified Vorz that they were leaving. Then he went to the writing board, spread a scroll, and composed a letter. Then he rolled it, placed it in a wooden tube, and handed it to Lal Vak.
“Give this to Neva after I am gone,” he said, “and I shall be grateful to you. I have apologized for my boorish conduct and thanked her for having twice saved my life—a life that has become empty and purposeless without her. But it is, as you have said, the least I can do, and unfortunately, the most I can do, as well.”
Lal Vak thrust the cylinder under his belt. “Ill be glad to deliver this for you,” he said. “Now I’ll go out and arrange for your transportation.”
Presently he returned. “A flying machine awaits you on the roof,” he said, “and his majesty is ready to receive you.” Thorne emptied his pulcho cup and arose. The scientist conducted him to a reception room where Miradon Vil, resplendent in his royal cloak of peacock blue trimmed with gold, was standing on the dais before the throne addressing a number of his nobles. But when the Rad of Takkor was announced, he dismissed them all and stepped down to receive his guest.
“My boy,” he said, “I am happy to see you well, and with your memory and reason restored.”
“And I,” replied Thorne, “am equally happy to see your majesty restored to the throne of your ancestors; but no happier, I am sure, than every citizen, high and low, in Xancibar.”
“Some time ago,” said Miradon, “I rendered you the empty thanks of a deposed Vil. Today I am in a position to show my gratitude more tangibly and practically. First, I free you and Takkor from all allegiance to Xancibar. This makes you the supreme ruler of the raddek, and the collector and dispenser of all Takkor revenues.
“Second, I have conferred with the Vils of the other great powers of Mars, and we have decided that you shall be the arbiter of our destinies. You captured the weapons and the laboratory with which Sel Han sought to conquer Mars. In unscrupulous hands they could do much harm. But we have faith in you. We want you to keep them, to protect us against any other ambitious plotters who may arise, so that we may fight our wars and settle our differences with the weapons of honor and chivalry we have always used. So, in effect, we make you the custodian of our liberty.”
From a taboret which stood beside the dais, he took a golden medal, set with sparkling jewels and hung on a heavy golden chain. “This commemorates our resolution, and is the badge of your high office.”
Inscribed on the medal Thorne read:
The Vil snapped the chain around Thorne’s neck, so the new medal flashed and scintillated on his chest just above the Takkor medallion.
“I am overwhelmed, your majesty,” said Thorne. “The nations of Mars have placed too high a value on my poor services.”
Miradon smiled and stroked his silky golden beard. “There is but one more thing, and I will give you leave to go.”
He raised his hand, and a flourish of trumpets sounded from the doorway. Two heralds entered, trumpets resting on hips. Behind them came six pages, carrying a gold-embroidered cloak of peacock blue like that worn by the Vil. Following the pages was another, bearing a jar of pulcho and a gem-encrusted golden cup.
The heralds separated, and stood, one at each side of the dais. The pages held the cloak spread before the Vil.
“Permit me,” said Miradon, unfastening Thorne’s head straps and removing his cloak of orange and black. He handed the cloak to a slave, and taking the one which the pages had brought, fastened its jeweled straps about Thorne’s head. Then the last page came up with the pulcho and the cup.
Filling the cup, the Vil drank half its contents, then passed it to Thorne. “Drink,” he commanded.
Thorne drained the cup and returned it to the tray.
The Vil raised both hands before his face. “I shield my eyes to the Zovil of Xancibar,” he said.
Thorne raised his hands and responded to the salutation.
“That is all,” said Miradon. “And now, since you insist on leaving us so soon, Lal Vak will conduct you to the roof. I will be there to see you off in a few moments.”
In the company of the scientist Thorne left the presence, and climbed the stairs toward the roof.
“Tell me something, Lal Vak,” said Thorne. “What is the significance of this cloak? And what is a zovil?”
“A zovil,” replied the scientist, “is a vil’s son, just as a zorad is a rad’s son. The cloak, and the ceremony that went with it, made you a prince of the imperial house of Xancibar.”
“I seem to have gotten almost everything on this planet but the one I want the most,” said Thorne morosely.
“I presume that you refer to Neva,” said Lal Vak. “Well, don’t consider her totally lost to you, yet. Women have been known to change their minds, you know.”
On the roof of the palace a great metal flying machine stood waiting. Standing around it was a group of the most exalted nobles and officials of Xancibar.
A moment later the leonine head of Miradon Vil appeared above the top of the stairway. As he stepped out on the roof the courtiers again rendered the imperial salute. He walked up to Thorne and placed his huge hands on his shoulders.
“Farewell, my son,” he said, “and take good care of that which I have entrusted to you.”
As he spoke, it seemed to Thorne that his voice broke slightly, and there was a suspicion of tears in his eyes.
“Farewell, your majesty,” Thorne replied.
The warrior went up to the forward cab with Vorz and the pilot, and closed the door after him. Thorne turned to select a seat. Then he gasped in amazement.
Seated near a window was Neva, clad in a most becoming costume of peacock blue, embroidered with gold. She smiled up at Thorne as he hurried to her side and bent over her. “You!” he exclaimed. “I can’t believe my eyes!”
“Lal Vak brought me your note,” she said. “After I had read it I decided to forgive you.”
“But—but, how came you here, and wearing the colors of royalty?”
“Since I am the only daughter of Miradon Vil, there is no one who has a better right to these colors.”
“But what of Thaine?”
“Thaine,” replied Neva, “is the daughter of Irintz Tel. Miradon Vil—my father—when he went into exile, was determined to insure my safety, and to give me the advantages which were rightfully mine. So he exchanged me for Thaine when we were babies. Thaine doesn’t know, yet, and I only learned the truth five days ago.” “
Looking at her, Thorne decided that he must have been blind not to realize the resemblance between the fair-haired Vil and this girl before.
“Then—then his majesty, your father, knows you have come with me?”
“Of course. Why else should he have performed the ceremony that made you Zovil of Xancibar?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.”
“Because, stupid, he could only make you a prince of his house by making you my husband. There is no other way.”
Full realization suddenly came to him. He caught her in his arms, sought and found her yielding lips. “Neva, beloved!” he murmured. “Are you really my wife?”
“Unto death, Deza help you!” she replied archly.
But there was a starry light in her glorious eyes which he could not fail to understand.