Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/43

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169
THE GODDESS AWAKES

dangerous combination and held reputations of note in many widely scattered countries. Their swords were for sale in war against any land but that of Forthe, their native kingdom. Perhaps Rald's vagabond allegiance was a trifle stronger than Thwaine's, as the former owed homage not only to his kingdom but also to a certain lady of the realm, a member of the royal family.

"Any food I can get must be taken as charity," announced the slighter warrior. "That dancing-girl got every last coin of mine two nights ago."

"A lot of use they'll be to her!" laughed Rand. "They were not of gold. Livia is no more, and her currency is not worth the stupid heads imprinted on it!"

"By the Seven, it's so! What a joke on her!"

Sliding, stumbling, limping in pain and weariness over rough boulders and treacherous shale, the two refugees came at last to where the canyon narrowed into a twisting defile barely wide enough to permit them to walk side by side. A thin trickle of water flowed now on one side of their path, then on the other; from somewhere ahead came the dull roar of an unseen waterfall. As they halted to slake their raging thirsts, the moon, now high overhead, flooded the rocky passage with such brilliance that twin shadows flickered and skipped above the reflecting waterflow.

"Wish I was back in Zan's wine-shop," grumbled Thwaine, "with stout ale and a cozy wench! This is a place for ghosts and demons!"

Rald, who constantly sought to contradict his comrade's moods, being gloomy when Thwaine was boisterous and merry when he was despondent, laughed cheerfully. Echoes shattered the far-flung vibrations in a hundred rocky corners and the smaller man grasped his sword-hilt in startled apprehension as the distorted notes conjured up an invisible and surrounding host. But Rald was amused.

"You 'welcomed these concealing cliffs' a short while back," he reminded. "Show me a fleshy demon, if you can, and I'll carve a steak or two for the appetites gnawing our stomachs! I like your phantoms no better than any other man, but, since I forsook thievery for the so-called glory of warfare, it's the ghosts of hunger that plague me most."

" 'Always the orator!' " mimicked Thwaine in his turn.

Suddenly, swiftly serious, Rald snatched his companion's arm, shoved him head-long into the shadow of a protecting boulder and leaped to concealment behind an adjoining projection.

"Look!"

Several yards ahead a slight elevation led to a low wall or mound of rock. Above and behind this natural rampart, boldly outlined in moonlight, was the torso of a human being. From their lower position the fugitives observed the silent menace wearing fighting-girdle and breastplates, with shoulder-length hair bound by a metal clasp behind the ears to keep stray locks from interfering with eyesight at perhaps a crucial moment, and the easily held and naked sword. The newcomer stood alone and bore a confident air, suggesting that other allies were near at hand. The mercenaries saw that, while possibly a foe, here was no minion of Hagar's; for the well-known scarlet emblem of the conquering king was absent from the chest. It was obvious, too, their presence had been discovered already, perhaps detected after Rald's betraying merriment.

Thwaine, with his quick perception, noticed certain distinctive curves and swore: "By the Seven, a woman in fighting-mail!"

"Hold!" came the regulation challenge. Indubitably, it was a woman, but her tone