THE SNAKE GOD
I was now to meet with a surprise. The chief deity worshipped by the people of the Island of Gems was a snake god, a monster who at regular, intervals visited a coral cave rising out of a pool of water said to be fathomless, from which I conjectured it was connected with the sea. The water in this pool was of a deep blue colour, salt to the taste, which further convinced me of its link with the ocean. On the first night of each full moon a human sacrifice was offered, with which the monster retreated into the coral cave, where it remained feasting upon its victim three days. During this period the natives continued without sleep, and fasting. At the end of three days the snake god disappeared, nor was it seen again until its next periodical visit.
There ran, a legend among the people of the Island of Gems that if a human sacrifice was not made to the snake god at the time of its coming, the island would be destroyed and its people exterminated, so that great care was taken to provide the monster with its accustomed tribute. Prisoners of war, and all strangers found upon the island, were, in the first place, offered to the snake god, and, failing these, a victim was chosen among the tribe.
It now appeared, so far as I could gather from Ackbau, who made no secret of his intentions regarding me, that had it not been, for the arrival of another stranger upon the island, I myself would have been offered as a sacrifice to the snake god at his next coming, and it was for this reason I had been received with apparent friendship. But a fresh captive being taken soon after I had been washed ashore had caused a change of plan very much to my advantage. Queen Melannie also had interested herself in my favour, and had refused to speak words at the secret council which would have decreed my death. But I might assure myself, said Ackbau, that my fate was only delayed, and at the coming of the snake god, next after the one immediately expected, my death had been decided upon. I appealed to Melannie, but she could only confirm what Ackbau had told me.
“I cannot save you, Peter,” she said, “unless you will become my husband, when, if you are strong, we may overcome Ackbau, and rule as king and queen upon this island. But if that cannot be, let us escape by a means that I know of.”
I put aside the question of marriage, but I eagerly embraced the proposal to escape.
Melannie then led me, secretly, by a path known only to Ackbau, the council, and herself, to a rock cavern close to the water’s edge, in which was kept a ship’s boat, which the queen told me had been washed ashore at the same time when, she was found crying upon the beach. It was a well-built, serviceable cutter, with spare oars, and a sail stowed under the thwarts, just as they had been placed in her when she had put to sea, but there was neither food nor water in the boat, although I discovered a water-tank forward, which could readily be filled from one of the many streams on the island. I became so excited at the prospect of escape that Melannie looked grave.