“We’ll be as crazy as the rest of them, if we don’t get out of here pretty soon,” said Zor.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about it,” I said.
“Perhaps we can persuade Goofo to let us go out into the city,” suggested Zor. “At least that would give us a little exercise and break the monotony of our life here.”
“It might give us an opportunity to escape, as well,” I said.
Zor arose, yawning, and stretched. He was getting fat and loggy. “Let’s go find him.”
As we were about to leave the chamber, we heard a scream—just a single scream, followed by silence.
“Now I wonder what that was?” said Zor.
“It was very close by,” I said. “Perhaps we had better wait. You can never tell what trouble you may run into, if anything happens to excite these people; and it sounded to me as though that scream may have come from Goofo’s office.”
Presently Kleeto entered the room in what was evidently a state of excitement. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “What makes you so nervous?”
“Did you hear the scream?” she asked.
“That was Goofo. Noak just stabbed him in the back.”
“Did he kill him?” I demanded.
“I don’t know; but it is very probable. At any rate, he is badly wounded; and Noak is major-domo of the palace. It will go hard with all of us now. Noak has more brains than Goofo, and a good memory. He won’t forget all about us the way Goofo did.”
“I don’t think he’s ever seen us,” said Zor.
“That won’t make any difference,” said Kleeto. “He’ll commence to investigate now and find out all about everybody in his part of the palace.”
“It’s too bad we aren’t dressed like Jukans,” I said; “then we might make Noak think we were visitors from another village.”
The Jukans’ loin-cloths were of monkey-skin cured with the hair on; and they wore monkey-skin anklets and necklaces of human teeth; and, as I have mentioned before, their hair was cut quite short; so it would have been very difficult for us to pass as Jukans in our present state.
“Couldn’t you find us each an outfit, Kleeto?” asked Zor.
“I know where there is one outfit,” replied the girl. “It belonged to a man who used to serve under Goofo. He suddenly conceived the idea that he shouldn’t wear any apparel at all; so he threw it away and went naked. All the things he discarded were put in one of the storerooms; and, as far as I know, they are still there.”
“Well, let’s hope he hasn’t come back to get his things,” said Zor.
“He hasn’t,” said Kleeto; “and he never will. He came naked into the presence of the king; and Meeza had him destroyed.”
“Now if we could find another outfit,” said Zor, “we might even get out of the palace without being noticed.”
As we talked, I was standing facing the doorway, which was covered by hangings made from a number of softly tanned skins of some small animal. I saw the hanging move slightly; and, guessing that someone was eavesdropping, I stepped quickly to it and drew it aside. Beyond it stood a man with a foul face. His close-set, beady black eyes, his long nose and receding chin, gave him a rat-like appearance. He stood there looking at us for a moment in silence; then he turned and scurried away precisely like a rat.
“I wonder if he heard?” said Kleeto.
“Who was he?” asked Zor.
“That was Ro,” replied the girl. “He is one of Noak’s henchmen.”
“It looks as though we are in for it,” said Zor, “for he certainly must have heard us.”
“Perhaps he’ll forget all about us before he finds anyone to tell it to,” I said.
“Not he,” rejoined Kleeto. “Sometimes it seems as though the meaner they are, the better their memory.”
“Now,” I said, “would be a good time to get out of here, if we could disguise ourselves as Jukans. Suppose you get that one outfit, Kleeto, and we’ll fix Zor up. If he can go around the palace, undetected, he may find an opportunity to get the things necessary to outfit me.”
“But how about my hair?” demanded Zor.
“Can’t you find us a knife, Kleeto?” I asked.
“Yes. We have a number of knives with which we prepare the food. I’ll get you a couple of them right away.”
After Kleeto got the knives, she left us to see if she could find the garments for Zor; and I set about cutting his hair, which had grown quite long. It was quite a job; but at last it was completed.
“Open your eyes wide and let your chin drop,” I told him, laughingly, “and you might pass for a Jukan.”
Zor made a wry face. “Come on,” he said, “and I’ll make an imbecile out of you now.”
He had just about completed hacking off my hair, when Kleeto returned with a Jukan outfit.
“You’d better go into your sleeping quarters and change,” she said. “Someone might come in here.”
After Zor left the room, Kleeto returned to her work in the kitchen; and I was left alone. As usual, when I was alone, and my mind not occupied with futile plans to escape, my thoughts went back to Sari and to my mate, Dian the Beautiful. Doubtless she had given me up for lost; and if I never returned, my fate would remain a mystery to her and to my fellow Sarians.
Sari seemed a long way off; and in truth it was; and almost hopeless any thought that I might ever return; for even should I escape from the Jukans, how might I ever hope to find Sari, I who was not endowed with the homing instinct of the Pellucidarians?
Of course, Zor could point the general direction of Sari; but without him, or another Pellucidarian at my side, I might wander for a lifetime in a great circle; or even if I traveled in what I felt to be a straight line, the chances were very remote that I would ever hit upon the relatively tiny spot that is Sari. However, no doubts would deter me from making the attempt to escape should the opportunity ever be presented; nor should I ever cease to try to return to my Dian as long as life remained to me.
Thus was my mind occupied when the hangings of the doorway were thrust aside and a man strode into the apartment. He was a well muscled fellow; but his face was neither that of a man nor a beast. Stiff, upstanding hair grew almost to his eyes, so that he had no forehead whatsoever, or at least only a narrow strip above his brows about an inch wide. His eyes were so close-set as to seem almost one; and his ears were pointed like a beast’s. His nose was not bad; but his lips were thin and cruel. He stood there looking at me in silence for a few moments, a sneer curling his lips.
“So,” he said at last, “you are going to escape, are you?”
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“I am Noak, the major-domo of the palace of Meeza,” he replied:
“So what?” I demanded. Everything about the fellow antagonized me; and I could tell from his attitude that he had come looking for trouble; so I made no effort to appease him. whatever he intended doing, he was going to do no matter what I said or did; and I wanted to get it over with.
“You have even cut your hair so that you will look more like a Jukan. All you need now is a loin-cloth and ornaments of a Jukan, I suppose.”
“That is all,” I said, looking at his loin-cloth.
Suddenly his eyes blazed in maniacal fury. “So you thought you could escape from Noak, did you? Well, I’ll fix you. You’ll never escape from anybody, when I get through with you.” And with-that, he drew his stone knife and came for me.
Now, I had kept one of the knives that Kleeto had obtained for us; and Zor had retained the other; so I was not without some means of defense, and I was ready for him when he came.
I hope that you never have to fight with a madman. It is one of the most frightful experiences that I have ever passed through. Noak was not only mad, but he was a powerful man as well; but really the most harrowing part of the encounter was the horror of that bestial face, the mad light in those terrible eyes, the froth of rage upon those cruel lips, the bared, yellow fangs.
I parried his first blow and struck at his chest with my own weapon; but he partially avoided me, and I succeeded only in inflicting a slight flesh wound. Even this, however, goaded him into an increased fury of rage; and now he struck me again at close quarters, at the same time clutching for my throat with his free hand. Once more I eluded him; and then, with a scream, he sprang into the air and lit full on top of me. I lost my balance then and toppled backward to the floor, with the maniac on top of me. He raised his knife to finish me; but I clutched his wrist and somehow succeeded in tearing the weapon from his grasp. Then he bared those yellow fangs and bit at me, seeking to fasten them upon my jugular.
I was forced to release his wrist then, to push him away from me; and I succeeded in getting my fingers at his throat. I still clung to my knife; and now as we strained and struggled in each other’s grasp I got the point of it beneath his heart; and with all my strength I drove it home.
He screamed and struggled spasmodically for a few seconds; then he relaxed in death.
I pushed his body from me and staggered to my feet, half nauseated by the horror of the encounter and the nearness of that repulsive face to mine.
As I stood there panting for breath, I heard a sound at the doorway behind me. I wheeled about, ready for another enemy; but it was only Kleeto. She stood there, wide-eyed, looking at the corpse upon the floor.
“You have killed Noak,” she said, in a half whisper.
“And I have the outfit of a Jukan,” I replied.