218 THE STORY OF ZOULVISIA
Near the spot where he stood he noticed a large walnut tree, and into this he climbed. Night soon fell, and nothing broke the stillness of the place ; but with the earliest glimpse of dawn a noise of galloping hoofs was heard.
Pushing the branches aside the young man beheld a youth approaching, mounted on a white horse. On reaching the tents the cavalier dismounted, and closely inspected the dead bodies that lay about them. Then, one by one, he dragged them to a ravine close by and threw them into a lake at the bottom. While he was doing this, the servants who had followed him led away the horses of the ill-fated men, and the courtiers were ordered to let loose the deer, which was used as a decoy, and to see that the tables in the tents were covered as before with food and wine.
Having made these arrangements he strolled slowly through the forest, but great was his surprise to come upon a beautiful horse hidden in the depths of a thicket.
' There was a horse for every dead man,' he said to himself. ' Then whose is this ?'
' Mine ! ' answered a voice from a walnut tree close by. ' Who are you that lure men into your power and then poison them? But you shall do so no longer. Return to your house, wherever it may be, and we will fight before it!'
The cavalier remained speechless with anger at these words ; then with a great effort he replied:
' I accept your challenge. Mount, and follow me. I am Zoulvisia.' And, springing on his horse, he was out of sight so quickly that the king had only time to notice that light seemed to flow from himself and his steed, and that the hair under his helmet was like liquid gold.
Clearly, the cavalier was a woman. But who could she be? Was she queen of all the queens? Or was she chief of a band of robbers ? She was neither : only a beautiful maiden.