this country of yours is strange to us and we do not fully understand your customs; so pray forgive us our questions and our apparent lack of intelligence. We mean no offense. Could you tell us why we are prisoners and what crime we may have unknowingly committed?"
"Why–you are men!"
Rald, the irrepressible, roared his mirth. The girl, believing that in some way these barbarians were making sport of her, grew white with anger.
"Faith! It's the first time a woman judge ever condemned me for that!" chuckled the mercenary, his wounds forgotten and his chains rattling a vigorous accompaniment. "Wait until I tell this in the taverns!"
"You may never live to tell it if you are not quiet!" growled Thwaine savagely as he saw that his oily persuasion had been a straw cast to the wind.
"It is against orders to converse with prisoners," stated their guard between set teeth. Her voice had become the flat monotone so frequently employed by officers on the drilling-grounds.
"But wait, please!" begged Thwaine. "Whose orders?"
The girl hesitated, half turned to depart, and paused to regard them thoughtfully. These strange creatures, despite their attitudes toward her, were fascinating, she concluded. And the smaller one spoke respectfully even if the brutish captive did act like a forest beast. She surrendered a technical point.
"And who is Throal?"
"Don't you know?" Her voice expressed extreme astonishment. "Why, everyone knows Throal!" Her eyes bespoke her summation of their intelligence. Of course, they were only men! "Throal is God, the Ancient One, and he and his daughter, Hess, rule all the world!"
Thwaine stared at Rald. "Do you know of this god who appears to have become interested in us?"
"No! I have never fought for him or stolen for him, but if his sacred orders were to shackle me in this underground cage, then I will admit that we must be acquainted."
"You deride Throal?" gasped the horrified guard.
"Better than that!" shouted Rald. "We'll dethrone him!"
Wide-eyed, amazed at the boldness of the barbarians, the girl fled to the post she had abandoned in the corridor.
"You loud-mouthed fool!" cursed Thwaine. "Why did you not allow me to find out something about this place?"
"You haven't made much progress during the two days I lay unconscious!"
The ex-thief began to rub his arm-chains against an edge of the iron cot in an effort to test their strength.
"Ho! Guard! Guard!" shouted Thwaine.
Almost instantly the elfin face reappeared in the doorway, registering both alarm and curiosity.
"Inform your captain, please," requested the smaller man calmly, "that my fellow prisoner is attempting to burst his chains and that I do not wish to anger Throal by permitting him to succeed in his outrageous endeavor–even by remaining silent!"
Frozen in limb and face, Rald gazed at his comrade while their guard ran for aid. Three nerve-shattering notes sounded from a set of alarm cymbals stationed somewhere outside in the passage, and soon a rapid patter of footwear announced the approach of reinforcements. Still the ex-thief stared his amazement.
Thwaine whispered softly: "Pretend to be angered at me! We will be taken to this god or his representative and have a chance to find a way out of these dun-