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The Lost Prince Frances Hodgson Burnett

XXXI "The Son of Stefan Loristan"

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``Not the crown!'' he said to the two young Bearers of the Sign as they sat at his feet like schoolboys--``not a throne. `The Life of my life--for Samavia.' That was what I worked for--what we have all worked for. If there had risen a wiser man in Samavia's time of need, it would not have been for me to remind them of their Lost Prince. I could have stood aside. But no man arose. The crucial moment came--and the one man who knew the secret, revealed it. Then--Samavia called, and I answered.''

He put his hand on the thick, black hair of his boy's head.

``There was a thing we never spoke of together,'' he said. ``I believed always that your mother died of her bitter fears for me and the unending strain of them. She was very young and loving, and knew that there was no day when we parted that we were sure of seeing each other alive again. When she died, she begged me to promise that your boyhood and youth should not be burdened by the knowledge she had found it so terrible to bear. I should have kept the secret from you, even if she had not so implored me. I had never meant that you should know the truth until you were a man. If I had died, a certain document would have been sent to you which would have left my task in your hands and made my plans clear. You would have known then that you also were a Prince Ivor, who must take up his country's burden and be ready when Samavia called. I tried to help you to train yourself for any task. You never failed me.''

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``Your Majesty,'' said The Rat, ``I began to work it out, and think it must be true that night when we were with the old woman on the top of the mountain. It was the way she looked at--at His Highness.''

``Say `Marco,' '' threw in Prince Ivor. ``It's easier. He was my army, Father.''

Stefan Loristan's grave eyes melted.

``Say `Marco,' '' he said. ``You were his army--and more--when we both needed one. It was you who invented the Game!''

``Thanks, Your Majesty,'' said The Rat, reddening scarlet. ``You do me great honor! But he would never let me wait on him when we were traveling. He said we were nothing but two boys. I suppose that's why it's hard to remember, at first. But my mind went on working until sometimes I was afraid I might let something out at the wrong time. When we went down into the cavern, and I saw the Forgers of the Sword go mad over him--I KNEW it must be true. But I didn't dare to speak. I knew you meant us to wait; so I waited.''

``You are a faithful friend,'' said the King, ``and you have always obeyed orders!''

A great moon was sailing in the sky that night--just such a moon as had sailed among the torn rifts of storm clouds when the Prince at Vienna had come out upon the balcony and the boyish voice had startled him from the darkness of the garden below. The clearer light of this night's splendor drew them out on a balcony also--a broad balcony of white marble which looked like snow. The pure radiance fell upon all they saw spread before them--the lovely but half-ruined city, the great palace square with its broken statues and arches, the splendid ghost of the unroofed cathedral whose High Altar was bare to the sky.

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The Lost Prince
Frances Hodgson Burnett

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