"Do you imagine the despised and conquered Zog has power to destroy them?"
"I do not know," was the quiet answer. "It will be interesting to discover which is the more powerful."
"I challenge you to begin the test at once, vile magician!" exclaimed Aquareine.
"There is no hurry, fair Queen," answered Zog in his softest tones. "I have been so many years in accomplishing your capture that it is foolish to act hastily now. Besides, I am lonely. Here in my forced retirement I see only those uninteresting earth mortals whom I have made my slaves, for all sea dwellers are forbidden to serve me save the sea devils, and they dare not enter my castle. I have saved many mortals from drowning and brought them here to people my castle, but I do not love mortals. Two lovely mermaids are much more interesting, and before I allow you to perish, I shall have much amusement in witnessing your despair and your struggles to escape. You are now my prisoners. By slow degrees I shall wear out your fairy powers and break your hearts, as well as the hearts of these earth dwellers who have no magic powers, and I think it will be a long time before I finally permit you to die."
"That's all right," said Trot cheerfully. "The longer you take, the better I'll be satisfied."
"That's how I feel about it," added Cap'n Bill. "Don't get in a hurry to kill us Zog. It'll be such a wear an' tear on your nerves. Jes' take it easy an' let us live as long as we can."
"Don't you care to die?" asked the magician.
"It's a thing I never longed for," the sailor replied. "You see, we had no business to go on a trip with the mermaids to begin with. I've allus heard tell that mermaids is dangerous, an' no one as met 'em ever lived to tell the tale. Eh, Trot?"
"That's what you said, Cap'n Bill."
"So I guess we're done for, one way 'r 'nother, an' it don't matter much which. But Trot's a good child, an' mighty young an' tender. It don't seem like her time has come to die. I'd like to have her sent safe home to her mother. So I've got this 'ere proposition to make, Zog. If your magic could make ME die twice, or even THREE times fer good measure, why you go ahead an' do it an' I won't complain. All I ask is fer you to send this little girl safe back to dry land again."
"Don't you do it, Zog!" cried Trot indignantly, and turning to Cap'n Bill, she added, "I'm not goin' to leave you down here in all this mess, Cap'n, and don't you think it. If one of us gets out of the muddle we're in, we'll both get out, so don't you make any bargains with Zog to die twice."
Zog listened to this conversation very carefully. "The dying does not amount to much," he said. "It is the thinking about it that hurts you mortals most. I've watched many a shipwreck at sea, and the people would howl and scream for hours before the ship broke up. Their terror was very enjoyable. But when the end came, they all drowned as peacefully as if they were going to sleep, so it didn't amuse me at all."
"I'm not worrying," said Trot.
"Ner me," said Cap'n Bill. "You'll find we can take what comes jes' as easy as anybody."
"I do not expect to get much from you poor mortals," said Zog carelessly. "You are merely a side show to my circus, a sort of dessert to my feast of vengeance. When the time comes, I can find a hundred ways to kill you. My most interesting prisoners are these pretty mermaids, who claim that none of their race has ever yet died or been destroyed. The first mermaid ever created is living yet, and I am told she is none other than Queen Aquareine. So I have a pretty problem before me to invent some way to destroy the mermaids or put them out of existence. And it will require some thought."
"Also, it will require some power you do not possess," suggested the Queen.
"That may be," replied Zog softly. "But I am going to experiment, and I believe I shall be able to cause you a lot of pain and sorrow before I finally make an end of you. I have not lived twenty-seven thousand years, Aquareine, without getting a certain amount of wisdom, and I am more powerful than you suspect."
"You are a monster and a wicked magician," said the Mermaid Queen.