26 THE FALSE PRINCE AND THE TRUE
alone for a little, she told the young man what he was to do, when the next morning he was brought before the king and the judges.
The hall was full to overflowing when the prisoner entered it, and all marvelled at the brightness of his face. The king inquired if he had any excuse to plead for the high treason he had committed by striking the heir to the throne, and, if so, to be quick in setting it forth. With a low bow the youth made answer in a clear voice :
' 0 my lord and gracious king, and you, nobles and wise men of the land, I leave my cause without fear in your hands, knowing that you will listen and judge rightly, and that you will suffer me to speak to the end, before you give judgment.
' For four years, you, O king, had been married to the queen and yet had no children, which grieved you greatly. The queen saw this, and likewise that your love was going from her, and thought night and day of some plan that might put an end to this evil. At length, when you were away fighting in distant countries, she decided what she would do, and adopted in secret the baby of a poor quarryman, sending a messenger to tell you that you had a son. No one suspected the truth except a priest to whom the queen confessed the truth, and in a few weeks she fell ill and died, leaving the baby to be brought up as became a prince. And now, if your highness will permit me, I will speak of myself.'
' What you have already told me,' answered the king, ' is so strange that I cannot imagine what more there is to tell, but go on with your story.'
' One day, shortly after the death of the queen,' continued the young man, ' your highness was hunting, and outstripped all your attendants while chasing the deer. You were in a part of the country which you did