The elfiin features of Ating were pressed between the parallel bars.
"Woman," asked Thwaine, "have you returned to aid us or to mock us?"
"I grieve," sajd the guard soberly, "and I am sorry for you because of the fate that is to be yours."
"Then open this door; break these chains and we'll pick a fate for ourselves!" sneered Rald. "Sympathy is worse than poor company."
He was about to say more but hesitated at the sight of the girl's twisted countenance. She really felt sorry for them, he realized. The fact that she knew more of the destiny intended for them than they did themselves was obviously the reason for her worried attitude.
"Quiet!" whispered Ating. "I want to tell you–I want–"
"You want what?" asked Thwaine, sharply.
"To tell you–warn you. Cene would have allowed you to go, or perhaps have sent you to slave with the other men in the mines below, had Throal not awakened. Always it is like this! He sleeps and sleeps like one of the dead and then, suddenly, he becomes alive again and stalks the halls and the hills in quest of living food for the thing he calls his daughter!"
"Bubaste–in the arena where our ancestors held their games. Long years ago Throal came to our country, coming in the night from some land that lies far to the east, beyond the great mountains where the white apes dwell, and with him he brought Hess. She is the animal-goddess who sleeps upon the sands. She is also known as Bubaste. Throal told the people, upon his arrival, that in the kingdom from which he had come the majority of the gods, the strongest ones, were female divinities. He said there were many more gods and goddesses in his land than the Seven we recognize and that great benefits could be reaped by us if we would but acknowledge these deities of his. Perhaps I speak sacrilege–but I have seen no. We understand, of course, that women are supreme among the human race. But to some of us it seems strange that men should be treated so–fed with Throal's drugs until they become poor, half-witted creatures while they are yet children. And that all visitors must be slain if they are men. Of course, they are men, but still–they are not animals."
Rald snorted, and Thwaine threw him a warning glance.
"Cene does not believe in sacrifices, but there is little she can do," continued Ating in a nervous manner. "She is a queen in title only; Throal is the true ruler of Ceipe. We all fear him-–not only because of Hess but also because of his orgies in the underground chambers where he sleeps or speaks with his strange gods and where we have no permission to go. Sometimes a comrade disappears. We guess who will be the next."
"Then why obey him?" demanded the truculent Rald. "If you don't like his rule, stick him full of those spears that were aimed at me."
"He is a god. We cannot."
"Bah!" exclaimed Rald, eloquently adding several more potent adjectives as he lay back on his cot.
"Give us the keys," begged Thwaine. "We promise to remedy the situation if you only free us!"
"I no longer have them. Throal keeps them until the moon arises, when he will release you both in the pit with his daughter. She must be fed. I am only a guard. Even now I have erred, for I have forsaken my post to tell you of the things you do not understand. I am supposed to be standing forty feet from this door. I must go–now!"