The Sea Fairies/Chapter 17
"Goodness me!" exclaimed Trot, raising herself by a flirt of her pink-scaled tail and a wave of her fins, "isn't it dreadful hot here?"
The mermaids had risen at the same time, and Cap'n Bill came swimming in from the Peony Room in time to hear the little girl's speech. "Hot!" echoed the sailor. "Why, I feel like the inside of a steam engine!" The perspiration was rolling down his round, red face, and he took out his handkerchief and carefully wiped it away, waving his fish tail gently at the same time. "What we need most in this room," said he, "is a fan."
"What's the trouble, do you s'pose?" inquired Trot.
"It is another trick of the monster Zog," answered the Queen calmly. "He has made the water in our rooms boiling hot, and if it could touch us, we would be well cooked by this time. Even as it is, we are all made uncomfortable by breathing the heated air."
"What shall we do, ma'am?" the sailor man asked with a groan. "I expected to get into hot water afore we've done with this foolishness, but I don't like the feel o' bein' parboiled, jes' the same."
The queen was waving her fairy wand and paid no attention to Cap'n Bill's moans. Already the water felt cooler, and they began to breathe more easily. In a few moments more, the heat had passed from the surrounding water altogether, and all danger from this source was over. "This is better," said Trot gratefully.
"Do you care to sleep again?" asked the Queen.
"No, I'm wide awake now," answered the child.
"I'm afraid if I goes to sleep ag'in, I'll wake up a pot roast," said Cap'n Bill.
"Let us consider ways to escape," suggested Clia. "It seems useless for us to remain here quietly until Zog discovers a way to destroy us."
"But we must not blunder," added Aquareine cautiously. "To fail in our attempt would be to acknowledge Zog's superior power, so we must think well upon our plan before we begin to carry it out. What do you advise, sir?" she asked, turning to Cap'n Bill.
"My opinion, ma'am, is that the only way for us to escape is to get out o' here," was the sailor's vague answer. "How to do it is your business, seein' as I ain't no fairy myself, either in looks or in eddication."
The queen smiled and said to Trot, "What is your opinion, my dear?"
"I think we might swim out the same way we came in," answered the child. "If we could get Sacho to lead us back through the maze, we would follow that long tunnel to the open ocean, and--"
"And there would be the sea devils waitin' for us," added Cap'n Bill with a shake of his bald head. "They'd drive us back inter the tunnel like they did the first time, Trot. It won't do, mate, it won't do."
"Have you a suggestion, Clia?" inquired the Queen.
"I have thought of an undertaking," replied the pretty princess, "but it is a bold plan, your Majesty, and you may not care to risk it."
"Let us hear it, anyway," said Aquareine encouragingly.
"It is to destroy Zog himself and put him out of the world forever. Then we would be free to go home whenever we pleased."
"Can you suggest a way to destroy Zog?" asked Aquareine.
"No, your Majesty," Clia answered. "I must leave the way for you to determine."
"In the old days," said the Queen thoughtfully, "the mighty King Anko could not destroy this monster. He succeeded in defeating Zog and drove him into this great cavern, but even Anko could not destroy him."
"I have heard the sea serpent explain that it was because he could not reach the magician," returned Clia. "If King Anko could have seized Zog in his coils, he would have made an end of the wicked monster quickly. Zog knows this, and that is why he does not venture forth from his retreat. Anko is the enemy he constantly dreads. But with you, my queen, the case is different. You may easily reach Zog, and the only question is whether your power is sufficient to destroy him."
For a while Aquareine remained silent. "I am not sure of my power over him," she said at last, "and for that reason I hesitate to attack him personally. His slaves and his allies, the sea devils, I can easily conquer, so I prefer to find a way to overcome the guards at the entrances rather than to encounter their terrible master. But even the guards have been given strength and power by the magician, as we have already discovered, so I must procure a weapon with which to fight them."
"A weapon, ma'am?" said Cap'n Bill, and then he took a jackknife from his coat pocket and opened the big blade, afterward handing it to the queen. "That ain't a bad weapon," he announced.
"But it is useless in this case," she replied, smiling at the old sailor's earnestness. "For my purpose I must have a golden sword."
"Well, there's plenty of gold around this castle," said Trot, looking around her. "Even in this room there's enough to make a hundred golden swords."
"But we can't melt or forge gold under water, mate," the Cap'n said.
"Why not? Don't you s'pose all these gold roses and things were made under water?" asked the little girl.
"Like enough," remarked the sailor, "but I don't see how."
Just then the gong at the door sounded, and the boy Sacho came in smiling and cheerful as ever. He said Zog had sent him to inquire after their health and happiness. "You may tell him that his water became a trifle too warm, so we cooled it," replied the Queen. Then they told Sacho how the boiling water had made them uncomfortable while they slept.
Sacho whistled a little tune and seemed thoughtful. "Zog is foolish," said he. "How often have I told him that vengeance is a waste of time. He is worried to know how to destroy you, and that is wasting more time. You are worried for fear he will injure you, and so you also are wasting time. My, my! What a waste of time is going on in this castle!"
"Seems to me that we have so much time it doesn't matter," said Trot. "What's time for, anyhow?"
"Time is given us to be happy, and for no other reason," replied the boy soberly. "When we waste time, we waste happiness. But there is no time for preaching, so I'll go."
"Please wait a moment, Sacho," said the Queen.
"Can I do anything to make you happy?" he asked, smiling again.
"Yes," answered Aquareine. "We are curious to know who does all this beautiful gold work and ornamentation."
"Some of the slaves here are goldsmiths, having been taught by Zog to forge and work metal under water," explained Sacho. "In parts of the ocean lie many rocks filled with veins of pure gold and golden nuggets, and we get large supplies from sunken ships as well. There is no lack of gold here, but it is not as precious as it is upon the earth because here we have no need of money."
"We would like to see the goldsmiths at work," announced the Queen.
The boy hesitated a moment. Then he said, "I will take you to their room, where you may watch them for a time. I will not ask Zog's permission to do this, for he might refuse. But my orders were to allow you the liberty of the castle, and so I will let you see the goldsmiths' shop."
"Thank you," replied Aquareine quietly, and then the four followed Sacho along various corridors until they came to a large room where a dozen men were busily at work. Lying here and there were heaps of virgin gold, some in its natural state and some already fashioned into ornaments and furniture of various sorts. Each man worked at a bench where there was a curious iron furnace in which glowed a vivid, white light. Although this workshop was all under water and the workmen were all obliged to breathe as fishes do, the furnaces glowed so hot that the water touching them was turned into steam. Gold or other metal held over a furnace quickly softened or melted, when it could be forged or molded into any shape desired.
"The furnaces are electric," explained Sacho, "and heat as well under water as they would in the open air. Let me introduce you to the foreman, who will tell you of his work better than I can."
The foreman was a slave named Agga-Groo, who was lean and lank and had an expression more surly and unhappy than any slave they had yet seen. Yet he seemed willing to leave his work and explain to the visitors how he made so many beautiful things out of gold, for he took much pride in this labor and knew its artistic worth. Moreover, since he had been in Zog's castle these were the first strangers to enter his workshop, so he welcomed them in his own gruff way.
The queen asked him if he was happy, and he shook his head and replied, "It isn't like Calcutta, where I used to work in gold before I was wrecked at sea and nearly drowned. Zog rescued me and brought me here a slave. It is a stupid life we lead, doing the same things over and over every day, but perhaps it is better than being dead. I'm not sure. The only pleasure I get in life is in creating pretty things out of gold."
"Could you forge me a golden sword?" asked the Queen, smiling sweetly upon the goldsmith.
"I could, madam, but I won't unless Zog orders me to do it."
"Do you like Zog better than you do me?" inquired Aquareine.
"No," was the answer. "I hate Zog."
"Then won't you make the sword to please me and to show your skill?" pleaded the pretty mermaid.
"I'm afraid of my master. He might not like it," the man replied.
"But he will never know," said Princess Clia.
"You cannot say what Zog knows or what he doesn't know," growled the man. "I can't take chances of offending Zog, for I must live with him always as a slave." With this he turned away and resumed his work, hammering the leaf of a golden ship.
Cap'n Bill had listened carefully to this conversation, and being a wise old sailor in his way, he thought he understood the nature of old Agga-Groo better than the mermaids did. So he went close to the goldsmith, and feeling in the pockets of his coat drew out a silver compass shaped like a watch. "I'll give you this if you'll make the queen the golden sword," he said.
Agga-Groo looked at the compass with interest and tested its power of pointing north. Then he shook his head and handed it back to Cap'n Bill. The sailor dived into his pocket again and pulled out a pair of scissors, which he placed beside the compass on the palm of his big hand. "You may have them both," he said.
Agga-Groo hesitated, for he wanted the scissors badly, but finally he shook his head again. Cap'n Bill added a piece of cord, an iron thimble, some fishhooks, four buttons and a safety pin, but still the goldsmith would not be tempted. So with a sigh the sailor brought out his fine, big jackknife, and at sight of this Agga-Groo's eyes began to sparkle. Steel was not to be had at the bottom of the sea, although gold was so plentiful. "All right, friend," he said. "Give me that lot of trinkets and I'll make you a pretty gold sword. But it won't be any good except to look at, for our gold is so pure that it is very soft."
"Never mind that," replied Cap'n Bill. "All we want is the sword."
The goldsmith set to work at once, and so skillful was he that in a few minutes he had forged a fine sword of yellow gold with an ornamental handle. The shape was graceful and the blade keen and slender. It was evident to them all that the golden sword would not stand hard use, for the edge of the blade would nick and curl like lead, but the queen was delighted with the prize and took it eagerly in her hand.
Just then Sacho returned to say that they must go back to their rooms, and after thanking the goldsmith, who was so busy examining his newly acquired treasure that he made no response, they joyfully followed the boy back to the Rose Chamber. Sacho told them that he had just come from Zog, who was still wasting time in plotting vengeance. "You must be careful," he advised them, "for my cruel master intends to stop you from living, and he may succeed. Don't be unhappy, but be careful. Zog is angry because you escaped his Yell-Maker and the falling stones and the hot water. While he is angry he is wasting time, but that will not help you. Take care not to waste any time yourselves."
"Do you know what Zog intends to do to us next?" asked Princess Clia.
"No," said Sacho, "but it is reasonable to guess that, being evil, he intends evil. He never intends to do good, I assure you." Then the boy went away.
"I am no longer afraid," declared the Mermaid Queen when they were alone. "When I have bestowed certain fairy powers upon this golden sword, it will fight its way against any who dare oppose us, and even Zog himself will not care to face so powerful a weapon. I am now able to promise you that we shall make our escape."
"Good!" cried Trot joyfully. "Shall we start now?"
"Not yet, my dear. It will take me a little while to charm this golden blade so that it will obey my commands and do my work. There is no need of undue haste, so I propose we all sleep for a time and obtain what rest we can. We must be fresh and ready for our great adventure."
As their former nap had been interrupted, they readily agreed to Aquareine's proposal and at once went to their couches and composed themselves to slumber. When they were asleep, the fairy mermaid charmed her golden sword and then she also lay down to rest herself.