Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/47

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173
THE GODDESS AWAKES

geons–perhaps! At least they will have to remove these chains to move us. Understand?"

As Rald nodded his appreciation of his comrade's strategy, the shuffling of sandals, mingled with the clinking of light mail and a murmur of feminine voices, drew near. A stalwart brunette commanded an abrupt halt in front of their cell. Behind her the interested prisoners saw a line consisting of six similarly attired females all armed in the full panoply of the battlefield.

"Why the alarm, Ating?" queried the leader of their summoner.

"I thought, my captain, it was best. The little one, called Thwaine, warned me that the great one, Rald, was bursting his chains. He said he did not wish to witness such a defiance of Throal's commands!"

The captain's eyes swung to Thwaine, who bowed as abjectly as his chains would permit. "Commendable! I shall recommend him to Cene; perhaps he may be spared to join the other men in the slave-pits. Meanwhile, I have received orders to escort both prisoners to an audience with the queen as soon as the larger one regained consciousness. Ating, unlock the cell!"

Ating was not gifted with the stout caliber possessed by the majority of the soldiers, for her hands shook as she detached the prison's keys from her belt and she obviously experienced difficulty both in unlocking the door and loosening the inmate's chains. So as to discourage any idea of possible escape, the leg-cuff was left fastened and its mate, which had been attached to a ring in the wall, was coupled onto the other ankle. Rald, accustomed to lengthy strides, became indignant, but three sword-points hovering about his breast and throat subdued him to coherency.

"Thwaine, my friend," he said, "it may be that these are only women; by their curves and voices it would seem so, but I think this is an evil place and I detect an unearthly odor!"

"Now who speaks of demons?"

"The prisoners will be quiet!" ordered the captain of the Guards, not even blushing when Rald winked at her.

With two women before them and the rest, including Ating, their former guard, bringing up the rear and warily fingering drawn weapons, the two mercenaries were led out into the corridor.

To their right stretched a low-roofed passage lit at frequent intervals by the ironwood torches that burned for days, the material of which could be found in nearly every land and the usefulness of its lighting facilities being virtually indispensable to many peoples. The flickering flames cast a multitude of shadows, now before and now behind, as the captives and their guards passed the evenly spaced niches in which they were suspended. Rald stumbled occasionally as his long limbs sought to increase the distance between his encumbering shackles, and swore when he staggered; but Thwaine, whose shorter legs did not hinder him so much, strode confidently, wearing a thoughtful air and darting a glance now and then to where Ating formed part of the rear guard.

Rald noted that the corridor sloped gradually upward, and he breathed a sigh; he would be glad to see the sky and feel fresh air again. There was an abrupt twist in the passage; as they rounded it the ex-thief, straining his eyes through the mixture of shadows and light to see what lay before him, perceived a figure advancing along the corridor. As the figure drew near he gasped in amazement. Indubitably, it was a man, the first they had seen. But what a man! Naked except for a short cloth suspended about his loins, with every rib prominent through