"I am," agreed Zog, "but I cannot help it. I was created part man, part bird, part fish, part beast and part reptile, and such a monstrosity could not be otherwise than wicked. Everybody hates me, and I hate everybody."
"Why don't you kill yourself?" asked Trot.
"I've tried that and failed," he answered. "Only one being in the world has power to destroy me, and that is King Anko, the sea serpent."
"Then you'd better let him do it," advised the little girl.
"No. Much as I long to die, I cannot allow King Anko the pleasure of killing me. He has always been my worst enemy, and it would be such a joy to him to kill me that I really cannot allow him. Indeed, I have always hoped to kill Anko. I have now been three thousand six hundred and forty-two years, eleven months and nine days figuring out a plan to destroy old Anko, and as yet I have not discovered a way."
"I'd give it up, if I were you," advised Trot. "Don't you think you could get some fun out of trying to be good?"
"No!" cried Zog, and his voice was not so soft as before. "Listen, Aquareine, you and your attendants shall be prisoners in this castle until I can manage to stop you from living. Rooms will be placed at your disposal, and I wish you to go to them at o nce, as I am tired of looking at you."
"You're no more tired than we are," remarked Trot. "It's lucky you can't see yourself, Zog."
He turned his glowing eyes full upon her. "The worst of my queer body I keep concealed," he said. "If ever you see it, you will scream with terror." He touched a bell beside him, and the girl was surprised to find how clearly its tones rang out through the water. In an instant the boy Sacho appeared and bowed low before his dreadful master. "Take the mermaids and the child to the Rose Chamber," commanded Zog, "and take the old man-fish to the Peony Room."
Sacho turned to obey. "Are the outer passages well guarded?" asked the monster.
"Yes, as you have commanded," said the boy.
"Then you may allow the prisoners to roam at will throughout the castle. Now, go!"
The prisoners followed Sacho from the room, glad to get away. The presence of this evil being had grown oppressive to them, and Zog had himself seemed ill at ease during the last few minutes. The robe so closely wound around his body moved jerkily, as if something beneath disturbed it, and at such times Zog shifted nervously in his seat.
Sacho's thin little legs trotted through the water and led the way into a different passage from the one by which they had entered. They swam slowly after him and breathed easier when they had left the golden domed chamber where their wicked enemy sat enthroned. "Well, how do you like him?" asked Sacho with a laugh.
"We hate him!" declared Trot emphatically.
"Of course you do," replied Sacho. "But you're wasting time hating anything. It doesn't do you any good, or him any harm. Can you sing?"
"A little," said Trot, "but I don't feel like singing now."
"You're wrong about that," the boy asserted. "Anything that keeps you from singing is foolishness, unless it's laughter. Laughter, joy and song are the only good things in the world."
Trot did not answer this queer speech, for just then they came to a flight of stairs, and Sacho climbed up them while the others swam. And now they were in a lofty, broad corridor having many doors hung with seaweed draperies. At one of these doorways Sacho stopped and said, "Here is the Rose Chamber where the master commands you to live until you die. You may wander anywhere in the castle as you please; to leave it is impossible. Whenever you return to the Rose Chamber, you will know it by this design of roses sewn in pearls upon the hangings. The Peony Room where the man-fish is to live is the next one farther on."
"Thank you," replied Queen Aquareine. "Are we to be fed?"
"Meals will be served in your rooms. If you desire anything, ring the bell and some of the slaves will be sure to answer it. I am mostly in attendance upon my master, but whenever I am at liberty I will look after your comfort myself."
Again they thanked the strange boy, and he turned and left them. They could hear him whistle and sing as he returned along the passage.