Page:Weird Tales volume 31 number 02.djvu/57

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higher mountain passes; it rose and fell with a horrible regularity, and the listeners knew they were hearing something that came not from the earth of mankind but from among the dwellers of the unknown, from the deep caverns into which no human could descend, or from the outer spaces, beyond the skies, which they could not attain. It held a feminine quality but remained inhuman; it possessed an indescribable suggestion of evilness beyond normal comprehension, playing on the nerves of even the least sensitive among them as a musician strikes a rending chord to vibrate the innermost brain-centers of his audience. Perhaps the most soul-freezing attribute of all was the distinctness of the enunciation, the realization of something unearthly pronouncing earthly syllables. The sounds, not the words themselves, pierced the ears with such insidious, mocking, animal-like suggestiveness that in the thoughts of all were born obscene and lewd impulses hitherto unknown by most of them. In the quality and the fluctuation of the tone lay the hidden horrors.

"Rald! Thwaine!" It called as sweetly as a mistress summoning her lover. "Rald! Thwaine! I am waiting!"

One of the guards uttered a low moan and fell on her knees. Others covered their eyes as if fearful of what the increasing flood of moonlight might reveal. Cene, white of face, stood motionless; the two captives looked at each other. It was rarely indeed that they saw fear in a comrade's eyes. But this was no battle-field whereon a clean death could be met honorably; it was a place where helpless, chained sacrifices were offered to some unknown, and therefore more terrifying, elemental born outside of man's knowledge. By a supreme effort Thwaine avoided duplicating the action of the prone guard. Rald felt something drip into one eye and recognized it to be a bead of perspiration.

Only Throal was untouched by the general fear. He moved forward through the ring of guards surrounding the captives, his bald head glistening beneath the lights, and assumed command while the queen was still paralyzed with superstitious awe of tradition.

"Yes, strike the chains from the prisoners–on the edge of the arena! My daughter is silent now. Do not let her grow impatient."

Part of Throal's power was based on the study of the effect of psychology on a mass; he knew when to assume leadership. There was no hesitation among the women now. Rald and Thwaine were hastily jostled to the stone lip of the arena while Cene, powerless in the face of ancient wizardry, followed her guards with uncertain steps and strained features. She had lost.

A score of unsheathed swords poised at the victims' backs as their shackles were loosened and removed; Rald saw that one of the women working on Thwaine's ankles was the ashen-faced Ating and he silently cursed her under his breath. Thwaine had hopes of aid from her!

"Rald! Thwaine!" The eery cry was repeated.

Straining their eyes, the mercenaries strove to detect a moving object on the sands, which were now palely illuminated by the rising moon, but no other form was visible on the gray expanse save the bulky rock, altar, or whatever it was supposed to represent, standing in the center of the amphitheater.

"They come, daughter!" croaked Throal from the background. "They come, O Hess!"

Swords were pressed against the vic-