AS MAGRA sat in her apartment in the palace of Herat musing over the strange series of adventures that had brought her to this half civilized, half barbaric city, and dreaming of the godlike man she had come to love, the door opened; and the King entered.
Magra rose and faced him. “You should not come here,” she said. “It will do you no good and only endanger my life. The Queen knew of the other time. She will know of this, and she will have me killed.”
“Have no fear,” said Herat, “for I am king.”
“You only think you are,” snapped Magra contemptuously.
“I am Herat, the King!” cried the monarch. “No one speaks to me like that, woman.”
“Oh, they don’t, don’t they?” demanded an angry voice behind him; and, turning, he saw the Queen standing in the doorway. “So I have caught you at last!” she cried. “So no one speaks to you like that, eh? You haven’t heard anything yet; wait ’til I get you alone!” She turned her blazing eyes on Magra. “And as for you, trollop; you die tomorrow!”
“But, my dear,” expostulated Herat. “’But’ me nothing!” snapped Mentheb. “Get out of here!”
“I thought that you said you were king,” taunted Magra; then they were both gone, and the girl was left alone. Never in her life had she felt so much alone, so helpless and so hopeless. She threw herself upon a couch; and, had she been another woman, she would have burst into tears; but Magra had never cried for herself. Self-pity was not for her. She had said once that it was like cheating at solitaire, for nobody else knew about it and nobody cared and no one was hurt but herself. How she wished that Tarzan were here! He would have helped her—not with useless commiseration; but with action. He would have found a way to save her. She wondered if he would grieve for her; and then she smiled, for she knew that the philosophy of the wild beast had little place for grief. It was too accustomed to death, held life in such low esteem. But she must do something. She struck a gong that summoned a slave girl.
“Do you know where the prisoners, Gregory and Lavac, are quartered?” she asked.
“Yes, my mistress.”
“Take me to them!”
When she entered Gregory’s apartment, she found Thetan with him. At first she hesitated to talk before the Thobotian, but she recalled that he had befriended them; so she told them all that had just happened.
“I must escape tonight,” she said. “Will you help me?”
“Mentheb is rather a decent sort,” said Thetan. “She may come to realize that the fault is not yours, and of course she knows that it is not, and alter her decision to have you killed; but it would be dangerous to depend on that. I know you are guiltless, and I know that you are a friend of Tarzan; so I am going to help you to escape.”
“Will you help me to go with her?” asked Gregory.
“Yes,” said Thetan. “I got you into this, and I should get you out of it. I shall help you because you are Tarzan’s friends, and Tarzan saved my life. But never return to Thobos, for if you escape her now, Mentheb will never forget. Follow the trail on the west side of the lake south; it will bring you to Ashair and probably to death there—it is the law of Tuen-Baka.”
A half hour later Thetan led Magra and Gregory to a small gate in the city wall and wished them luck as they went out into the night and set their faces toward The Forbidden City.
“Well,” said d’Arnot, “here we are right back where we started from,” as the party of six reached the entrance to the secret passage to the Temple of Brulor on the rocky hillside above Ashair.
“I spent two years trying to get out of that hole,” said Brian, “and now here I am trying to get back in again. That Herat certainly gave you a tough job, Tarzan.”
“It was merely the old boy’s way of condemning us all to death,” said Lavac, “—an example of Thobotian humor. At least it was at first; but after Tarzan disposed of the bad man from Ashair and the two lions, I really believe that Herat came to the conclusion that he might acually bring back Brulor and The Father of Diamonds.”
“Why does he want them so badly?” asked Helen.
“The Father of Diamonds belongs in Thobos,” explained Herkuf, “where the temple of the true god, Chon, is located. It was stolen by Atka’s warriors years ago when they attacked and sank Chon’s galley in which it was being carried during a solemn religious rite. Brulor is a false god. Herat wishes to destroy him.”
“Do you think that there is any possibility that we may be able to recover The Father of Diamonds and kidnap Brulor?” asked d’Arnot.
“Yes,” replied Herkuf, “I do. We have the temple keys that Helen took from Zytheb; and I know where Brulor sleeps and the hours of the day that are supposedly set apart for meditation; but which, in reality, Brulor devotes to sleeping off the effects of the strong drink to which he is addicted. During these periods the throne room is deserted, and all the inmates of the temple are compelled to remain in their own quarters. We can go directly to the throne room and get the casket, and then to Brulor’s room. If we threaten him with death, he will come with us without making any outcry.”
“It all sounds very easy,” said Brian, “—almost too easy.”
“I shall keep my fingers crossed all the time,” said Helen.
“When can we make the attempt?” asked d’Arnot.
Herkuf looked up at the sun. “Now,” he said, “would be a good time.”
“Well, how about getting started, Tarzan?” asked Brian.
“Herkuf and I shall go in,” said the ape-man. “The rest of you hide near here and wait for us. If we are not out within an hour, you will know that we have failed; then you must try to save yourselves. Find the trail over the rim. It lies somewhere near Thobos. Get out of Tuen-Baka. It will be useless for you to try to do anything for Herkuf or me or to rescue Magra and Gregory.”
“Am I not to go in with you, Tarzan?” asked d’Arnot.
“No. Too many of us might result in confusion and discovery; and, anyway, your place is with Helen. Come, Herkuf, let’s get started.”
As the two entered the secret passage, a sentinel priest who had been crouching behind a boulder watching the party, turned and ran as fast as he could toward the nearest city gate; while, miles away, the objects of all this now useless risk and sacrifice trudged doggedly along the trail to Ashair in an effort to avert it.
Ignorant of anything that has transpired in Ashair, not knowing that his son and daughter lived and were free, Gregory accompanied Magra rather hopelessly, his only inspiration loyalty to Tarzan and Lavac, whom he knew to be risking their lives in an effort to save his and Magra’s. Magra was inspired by this same loyalty and by love—a love that had done much to change and ennoble her.
“It all seems so utterly hopeless,” said Gregory. “Only four of us left, pitting our puny efforts against two cities filled with enemies. If one of them doesn’t get us, the other will.”
“I suppose you are right,” agreed Magra. “Even the forces of nature are against us. Look up at that towering escarpment of lava, always frowning down upon us, threatening, challenging; and yet how different it would all seem if Tarzan were with us.”
“Yes, I know,” said Gregory. “He inspires confidence. Even the walls of Tuen-Baka would seem less unsurmountable if he were here. I think he has spoiled us all. We have come to depend upon him to such an extent that we are really quite helpless without him.”
“And he is going to almost certain death for us,” said Magra. “Thetan told me that it would be impossible for him to escape alive from Ashair, if he succeeded in getting in; and, knowing Tarzan, we know that he will get in. Oh, if we could only reach him before he does!”
“Look!” exclaimed Gregory. “Here come some men!”
“They have seen us,” said Magra. “We can’t escape them.”
“They look very old and weak,” said Gregory.
“But they carry spears.”
The three surviving fugitives from the cages of the Temple of Brulor who had chosen to go on in search of freedom rather than return to Ashair with Tarzan’s party halted in the trail.
“Who are you?” they demanded.
“Strangers looking for a way out of Tuen-Baka,” replied Gregory.
The three whispered among themselves for a moment; then one of them said, “We, too, are looking for a way out of Tuen-Baka. Perhaps we should go together, for in numbers there is strength.”
“We can’t go until we find our friends,” replied Magra. “They were on their way to Ashair.”
“Perhaps we saw them. Was one of them called Tarzan?”
“Yes. Have you seen him?” demanded Gregory.
“We saw him yesterday. He and his friends went back to Ashair.”
“His friends? There was but one with him,” said Magra.
“There were five with him. Four men and a girl went back to Ashair with him.”
“Whom could they have been, do you suppose?” Gregory asked Magra.
“Do you know who they were?” she inquired of the fugitive who had been acting as spokesman.
“Yes. One was called Herkuf, and one Lavac, and there was d’Arnot, and Brian Gregory was with him and a girl called Helen.”
Gregory turned very pale. Magra caught his arm, for she thought he was going to fall. “I’m stunned,” he said “I can’t believe that they’re all alive. It’s just like having people come back from the grave—I was so sure that they were dead. Think of it, Magra! My son and my daughter both alive—and on their way back to that terrible city. We must hurry on. Maybe we can overtake them. Tell us,” he said to the fugitive, “where we may find them if they have not already been captured by the Asharians.”
The man gave them explicit directions for locating the hidden entrance to the secret passage to the temple. “That is where you will find them,” he said, “if they have not already entered the city; but do not enter. As you value your lives, do not enter the passage. If they have done so, they are lost. You might as well give them up, for you will never see them again.”
“They weren’t very encouraging,” said Magra, as she and Gregory continued on their way; “but perhaps they overestimate the dangers—let’s hope so.”
Gregory shook his head. “I’m afraid they didn’t,” he said. “I doubt if the dangers that lurk in The Forbidden City of Ashair can be overestimated.”
“It is a strange place, this Tuen-Baka,” said Magra. “No wonder that it is taboo.”