Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/51

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our boundaries; obviously, they were lost. I have already reprimanded the captain who brought them here."

"You were mistaken, but can be forgiven, of course; for mistakes are the right of royalty."

Rald could see that the queen was uneasy and that something unknown to him was preying on her mind. He had closely observed every mannerism and inflection of voice between these two that appeared to direct the decisions of the kingdom of Ceipe. Now he saw Cene's face pale, growing almost ashen in hue as her eyes gleamed with unmistakable terror at the thought of something he was unable to comprehend.

"The captain did well, my queen," announced Throal as he inspected the two captives from a distance beyond the reach of Rald's sword. "I have slept sixty days. My daughter has rested likewise; no doubt by now she is hungry."

Rald stared at the unwavering line of spears presented before him and, reluctantly, relinquished his grasp on the weapon he had stolen and allowed it to drop, clattering, on the rock at his feet. His stand was hopeless. Angered, he felt he must protest in some way against the inhospitality with which he had been received into this kingdom, and as he was attracted least of all to the priest-like figure of the man called Throal, he chose to vent his spite in the robed one's direction.

"To Nargarth's pits with you, goat-face–and your daughter also!" he said. "By the Seven, I trust you both starve! Captive or not, I will not serve your meals!"

"No, you will not serve them, Rald," answered Throal in a quiet tone, and the ex-thief wondered how this man who had slept for the period of sixty days could know his name. "You shall not serve!" A circle of women with drawn swords, commanded by a single glance from Throal's piercing eyes, surrounded the rebellious prisoner. An order was given by the robed dictator: "Return them to the pits!"

Queen Cene sat upon her throne in a frozen attitude, giving neither commands nor gestures, but watching Throal like a hypnotized bird before a serpent. Her subjects led the two mercenaries back over the ground they had so recently followed, to the tunnel's mouth. Before the group had rounded the edge of the rocky fissure to traverse the ledge surrounding the amphitheater, Rald heard the man who was garbed in black say: "Tonight will do, my queen; the moon will be full. Hess will be delighted–and we, ourselves, will be provided with entertainment."

There was an undercurrent of suppressed savagery, mingled with a note of fierce exultation, in his voice.

"That thing out there on the sand is a stone image of a cat, I think," said Thwaine; "perhaps a statue of their goddess. I can see it plainer now. I wonder–by Nargarth, Rald! Do you imagine we are to be sacrifices?"

"Cene is not without beauty, is she?" inquired Rald, irrelevantly, and his fellow gave him a disgusted stare that silently spoke his mind.

With their wrists and ankles refastened, the mercenaries gloomily slumped on their cots and meditated upon their state. Above Rald's head a torch hissed annoyingly from its niche in the wall, and he could hear the distant and muffled roar of falling water. From the comer of an eye he observed a movement behind the bars of the doorway; he hissed at Thwaine, who lay, disconsolate, on his back. The latter sprang into an erect position, as far as his chains permitted.