Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/54

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

ter to chance death in the open than to depart this world to Nargarth's pits because of foul drafts or indigestion caused by those measly portions of meat and the rank wine they left us."

There were a dozen members of the guards forming the escort; evidently either Throal or Cene, remembering Rald's desperate bid for freedom just a few hours ago, felt respect for their captive's prowess. The same woman who had acted as captain on the previous trip, her face as grim as ever, ordered the wall shackles to be refastened in their former fashion. Surrounded by a dozen ready blades the mercenaries once again followed the long passage upward toward the amphitheater.

"That waterfall you hear masks the path in and out of this mountain," whispered Thwaine to Rald. "I became conscious when the water fell on my face as they brought us beneath it the night we were taken. I believe it is the only exit! If we could reach it–"

"Perhaps we can ride out on the back of Bubaste after we have tied Throal to her tail!" sneered the other. "Don't you see, fool, we are closer to hell just now than to that waterfall we hear?"

Thwaine relapsed into silence but his cunning eyes continued to rove about, often touching on Ating. The latter was relieved from her station and accompanied the other guards, wearing a curious expression he could not quite define. Was the dancing, impish gleam he saw in her eyes pity for Rald and himself, or was it a smoldering but rapidly growing flame of rage, a rebellion of her spirit against whatever precedent demanded their deaths? She was young and probably had never looked upon able-bodied men of her own race, had seen only the drugged, half-witted males kept under the iron hand of the creature who claimed he had sired a goddess. At intervals, as they passed the brighter of the torches, he endeavored to attract her attention by slight movements of his imprisoned hands, but she continued to pace onward, with a lithe motion the mercenary admired; and if she sensed his efforts, she gave no sign in return.

The thought came to Thwaine's mind, as such things sometimes do with sudden and surprizing clarity, that here was a woman capable of love and loyalty, quite different from the tavern wenches to which he was accustomed. He began to turn over various impressions, as he always did before arriving at a satisfactory conclusion, and remained oblivious of the fact that his life was in jeopardy.

At last the party reached the end of the corridor and again beheld the amphitheater, where shadows gathered now as the light of the burning planet sank with its source beyond the mountain's rim. Darkness fell quickly within the hollow crater with the departure of the sun; twilight writhed in a losing struggle with the lengthening shadows and only survived momentarily because of the thin, reflected rays piercing the skies above.

The captives could see the glitter of armor on the guards standing at equal distances around the entire circle of the enclosure. As they strode through the dusk toward the place of the throne they passed two wooden-faced male slaves who carried iron pots containing live coals. At each of the warriors one of the emaciated figures would halt while the woman thrust an ironwood limb into the pot to ignite it; once the torch burned freely the slave would passively continue to the next guard and duplicate the service. Already half of the pathway was brilliant with flames held by women stationed only ten feet apart, and now the mountain's reflecting quartz began to glitter as if a million fire-flies flickered there. The