“Great Sheykh of the Jungle,” he said one day, “by thy kindness thou hast won the undying loyalty of Zeyd who begs that thou wilt grant him one more favor.”
“And what is that?” asked the ape-man.
“Ateja, whom I love, remains here in the savage country in constant danger so long as Fahd be near her. I dare not now return to the menzil of Ibn Jad even could I find it, but later, when the heat of Ibn Jad’s anger will have had time to cool, then I might come again among them and convince him of my innocence, and be near Ateja and protect her from Fahd.”
“What, then, would you do?” demanded Tarzan.
“I would remain in the village to which you are taking me until Ibn Jad returns this way toward el-Guad. It is the only chance that I have to see Ateja again in this life, as I could not cross the Soudan alone and on foot should you compel me to leave your country now.”
“You are right,” replied the ape-man. “You shall remain here six months. If Ibn Jad has not returned in that time I shall leave word that you be sent to my home. From there I can find a way to return you in safety to your own country.”
“May the blessings of Allah be upon thee!” cried Zeyd.
And when they came at last to the village Tarzan received the promise of the chief to keep Zeyd until Ibn Jad returned.
After he had left the village again the ape-man headed north, for he was concerned over the report that Zeyd had given him of the presence of a European prisoner among the ’Aarab. That Stimbol, whom he had sent eastward toward the coast, should be so far north and west as Zeyd had reported appeared inconceivable, and so it seemed more probable that the prisoner was young Blake, for whom Tarzan had conceived a liking. Of course the prisoner might not be either Stimbol or Blake, but who ever he was Tarzan could not readily brook the idea of a white man being permitted to remain a prisoner of the Beduins.
But Tarzan was in no hurry, for Zeyd had told him that the prisoner was to be held for ransom. He would have a look about for Blake’s camp first and then follow up the spoor of the Arabs. His progress, therefore, was leisurely. On the second day he met the apes of Toyat and for two days he hunted with them, renewing his acquaintance with Gayat and Zutho, listening to the gossip of the tribe, often playing with the balus.
Leaving them, he loafed on through the jungle, stopping once for half a day to bait Numa where he lay upon a fresh kill, until the earth trembled to the thunderous roars of the maddened king of beasts as the ape-man taunted and annoyed him.
Sloughed was the thin veneer of civilization that was Lord Greystoke; back to the primitive, back to the savage beast the ape-man reverted as naturally, as simply, as one changes from one suit to another. It was only in his beloved jungle, surrounded by its savage denizens, that Tarzan of the Apes was truly Tarzan, for always in the presence of civilized men there was a certain restraint that was the outcome of that inherent suspicion that creatures of the wild ever feel for man.
Tired of throwing ripe fruit at Numa, Tarzan swung away through the middle terraces of the forest, lay up for the night far away and in the morning, scenting Bara the deer, made a kill and fed. Lazy, he slept again, until the breaking of twigs and the rustle of down tramped grasses awoke him.
He sniffed the air with sensitive nostrils and listened with ears that could hear an ant walk, and then he smiled. Tantor was coming.
For half a day he lolled on the huge back, listening to Manu the Monkey chattering and scolding among the trees. Then he moved on again.
A day or two later he came upon a large band of monkeys. They seemed much excited and at sight of him they all commenced to jabber and chatter.
“Greetings, Manu!” cried the ape-man. “I am Tarzan, Tarzan of the Apes. What happens in the jungle?”
“Gomangani! Gomangani!” cried one.
“Strange Gomangani!” cried another.
“Gomangani with thunder sticks!” chattered a third.
“Where?” asked the ape-man.
“There! There!” they shouted in chorus, pointing toward the northeast.
“Many sleeps away?” asked Tarzan.
“Close! Close!” the monkeys answered.
“There is one Tarmangani with them?”
“No, only Gomangani. With their thunder sticks they kill little Manu and eat him. Bad Gomangani!”
“Tarzan will talk with them,” said the ape-man.
“They will kill Tarzan with their thunder sticks and eat him,” prophesied a graybeard.
The ape-man laughed and swung off through the trees in the direction Manu had indicated. He had not gone far when the scent spoor of blacks came faintly to his nostrils and this spoor he followed until presently he could hear their voices in the distance.
Silently, warily Tarzan came through the trees, noiseless as the shadows that kept him company, until he stood upon a swaying limb directly above a camp of Negroes.
Instantly Tarzan recognized the safari of the young American, Blake, and a second later he dropped to the ground before the astonished eyes of the blacks. Some of them would have rim, but others recognized him.
“It is Big Bwana!” they cried. “It is Tarzan of the Apes!”
“Where is your head man?” demanded Tarzan.
A stalwart Negro approached him. “I am head man,” he said.
“Where is your master?”
“He is gone, many days,” replied the black.
“We do not know. He hunted with a single askar. There was a great storm. Neither of them ever returned. We searched the jungle for them, but could not find them. We waited in camp where they were to have joined us. They did not come. We did not know what to do. We would not desert the young Bwana, who was kind to us; but we feared that he was dead. We have not provisions to last more than another moon. We decided to return home and tell our story to the friends of the young Bwana.”
“You have done well,” said Tarzan. “Have you seen a company of the desert people in the jungle?”
“We have not seen them,” replied the head man, “but while we were searching for the young Bwana we saw where desert people had camped. It was a fresh camp.”
The black pointed. “It was on the trail to the north Galla country in Abyssinia and when they broke camp they went north.”
“You may return to your village,” said Tarzan, “but first take those things which are the young Bwana’s to his friends to keep for him and send a runner to the home of Tarzan with this message: Send one hundred Waziri to Tarzan in the north Galla country. From the water hole of the smooth, round rocks follow the trail of the desert people.”
“Yes, Big Bwana, it will be done,” said the head man.
“Repeat my message.”
The black boy did as he was bidden.
“Good!” said Tarzan. “I go. Kill not Manu the monkey if you can find other food, for Manu is the cousin of Tarzan and of you.”
“We understand, Big Bwana.”
In the castle of Prince Gobred in the City of Nimmr James Hunter Blake was being schooled in the duties of a Knight of Nimmr. Sir Richard had taken him under his protection and made himself responsible for his training and his conduct.
Prince Gobred, quick to realize Blake’s utter ignorance of even the simplest observances of knighthood, was frankly skeptical, and Sir Malud was almost openly antagonistic, but the loyal Sir Richard was a well beloved knight and so he had his way. Perhaps, too, the influence of the Princess Guinalda was not without its effect upon her sire, for first among the treasurers of the Prince of Nimmr ranked his daughter Guinalda; and Guinalda’s curiosity and interest had been excited by the romance of the coming of this fair stranger knight to the buried and forgotten city of Nimmr.
Sir Richard had clothed Blake from his own wardrobe until a weaver, a cutter of cloth, a seamstress and an armorer could fashion one for him. Nor did it take long. A week found Sir James clothed, armored and horsed as befitted a Knight of Nimmr, and when he spoke to Sir Richard of payment for all this he found that money was almost unknown among them. There were, Sir Richard told him, a few pieces of coin that their ancestors had brought here seven hundred and thirty five years before, but payment was made by service.
The knights served the prince and he kept them. They protected the laborers and the artisans and in return received what they required from them. The slaves received their food and clothing from the prince or from whichever knight they served. Jewels and precious metals often changed hands in return for goods or service, but each transaction was a matter of barter as there were no standards of value.
They cared little for wealth. The knights valued most highly their honor and their courage upon which there could be no price. The artisan found his reward in the high perfection of his handicraft and in the honors that it brought him.
The valley provided food in plenty for all; the slaves tilled the ground; the freedmen were the artisans, the men-at-arms, the herders of cattle; the knights defended Nimmr against its enemies, competed in tourneys and hunted wild game in the valley and its surrounding mountains.
As the days passed Blake found himself rapidly acquiring a certain proficiency in knightly arts under the wise tutorage of Sir Richard. The use of sword and buckler he found most difficult, notwithstanding the fact that he had been proficient with the foils in his college days, for the knights of Nimmr knew naught of the defensive use of their two edged weapons and seldom used the point for other purpose than the coup-de-grace. For them the sword was almost wholly a cutting weapon, the buckler their sole defense; but as Blake practiced with this weapon it dawned upon him that his knowledge of fencing might be put to advantage should the necessity arise, to the end that his awkwardness with the buckler should be outweighed by his nicer defensive handling of his sword and his offensive improved by the judicious use of the point, against which they had developed little or no defense.
The lance he found less difficult, its value being so largely dependent upon the horsemanship of him who wielded it, and that Blake was a splendid horseman was evidenced by his polo rating as an eight goal man.
The ballium, or outer court, which lay between the inner and outer walls of the castle and entirely surrounded it, was, upon the north or valley side, given over entirely to knightly practice and training. Here the ballium was very wide, and against the inner wall was built a wooden grand stand that could be quickly removed in the event of an attack upon the castle.
Jousts and tilts were held here weekly, while the great tourneys that occurred less often were given upon a field outside the castle wall upon the floor of the valley.
Daily many knights and ladies came to watch the practice and training that filled the ballium with life and action and color during the morning hours. Good-natured banter flew back and forth, wagers were laid, and woe betide the contender who was unhorsed during these practice bouts, for the thing that a knight dreaded even more than he dreaded death was ridicule.
In the formal jousts that were held weekly greater decorum was observed by the audience, but during the daily practice their raillery verged upon brutality.
It was before such an audience as this that Blake received his training, and because he was a novelty the audiences were larger than usual, and because the friends of Sir Malud and the friends of Sir Richard had tacitly acknowledged him as an issue both the applause and the ridicule were loud and boisterous.
Even the Prince came often and Guinalda always was there. It was soon apparent that Prince Gobred leaned slightly to the side of Sir Malud, with the natural result that Malud’s party immediately acquired numerous recruits.
The training of the lads who were squires to the knights and who would one day be admitted to the charmed circle of knighthood occupied the earlier hours of the morning. This was followed by practice tilts between knights, during which Sir Richard or one of his friends undertook the training of Blake at the far side of the ballium, and it was during this practice that the American’s outstanding horsemanship became apparent, even Gobred being led to applause.
“’Od’s bodikins,” he exclaimed, “the man be a part of his charger!”
“’Twas but chance that saved him from a fall,” said Malud.
“Mayhap,” agreed Gobred, “but at that me likes the looks of him within a saddle.”
“He doeth not too ill with his lance,” admitted Malud. “But, ’od’s blud! didst ever see a more awkward lout with a buckler? Methinks he hath bad more use for a trencher.” This sally elicited roars of laughter in which the Princess Guinalda did not join, a fact which Malud, whose eyes were often upon her, was quick to note. “Thou still believest this churl to be a knight, Princess Guinalda?” he demanded.
“Have I said aught?” she asked.
“Thou didst not laugh,” he reminded her.
“He is a stranger knight, far from his own country and it seemeth not a knightly nor a gentle thing to ridicule him,” she replied. “Therefore I did not laugh, for I was not amused.”
Later that day as Blake joined the others in the great court, he ran directly into Malud’s party, nor was it at all an accident, as he never made any effort to avoid Malud or his friends and was, seemingly, oblivious to their thinly veiled taunts and insinuations. Malud himself attributed this to the density and ignorance of a yokel, which he insisted Blake to be, but there were others who rather admired Blake for his attitude, seeing in it a studied affront that Malud was too dense to perceive.
Most of the inmates of the grim castle of Nimmr were inclined pleasantly toward the newcomer. He had brought with him an air of freshness and newness that was rather a relief from the hoary atmosphere that had surrounded Nimmr for nearly seven and a half centuries. He had brought them new words and new expressions and new views, which many of them were joyously adopting, and had it not been for the unreasoning antagonism of the influential Sir Malud, Blake had been accepted with open arms.
Sir Richard was far more popular than Malud, but lacked the latter’s wealth in horses, arms and retainers and consequently had less influence with Prince Gobred. However there were many independent souls who either followed Sir Richard because they were fond of him or arrived at their own decisions without reference to the dictates of policy, and many of these were staunch friends to Blake.
Not all of those who surrounded Malud this afternoon were antagonistic to the American, but the majority of them laughed when Malud laughed and frowned when he frowned, for in the courts of kings and princes flourished the first order of “yes men.”
Blake was greeted by many a smile and nod as he advanced and bowed low before the Princess Guinalda who was one of the company and, being of princely blood, entitled to his first devoirs.
“Thou didst well this morning, Sir James,” said the princess, kindly. “It pleases me greatly to see thee ride.”
“Methinketh ’twould be a rarer treat to see him serve a side of venison,” sneered Malud.
This provoked so much laughter that Malud was encouraged to seek further applause.
“Odzooks!” he cried, “arm him with a trencher and carving knife and he would be at home.”
“Speaking of serving,” said Blake, “and Sir Malud’s mind seems to be more occupied with that than with more knightly things, does any of you know what is necessary quickly to serve fresh pig?”
“Nay, fair sir knight,” said Guinalda, “we know not. Prithee tell us.
“Yes, tell us,” roared Malud, “thou, indeed, shouldst know.”
“You said a mouthful, old scout, I do know!”
“And what be necessary that you may quickly serve fresh pig?” demanded Malud, looking about him and winking.
“A trencher, a carving knife and you, Sir Malud,” replied Blake.
It was several seconds before the thrust penetrated their simple minds and it was the Princess Guinalda who first broke into merry laughter and soon all were roaring, while some explained the quip to others.
No, not all were laughing—not Sir Malud. When he grasped the significance of Blake’s witticism he first turned very red and then went white, for the great Sir Malud liked not to be the butt of ridicule, which is ever the way of those most prone to turn ridicule upon others.
“Sirrah,” he cried, “darest thou affront Malud? ’Od’s blud, fellow I Low born varletl Only thy blood canst atone this affront!”
“Hop to it, old thing!” replied Blake. “Name your poison!”
“I knowest not the meaning of thy silly words,” cried Malud, “but I know that an’ thou doest not meet me in fair tilt upon the morrow I shall whip thee across the Valley of the Holy Scpulcher with a barrel starve.”
“You’re on!” snapped back Blake. “Tomorrow morning in the south ballium with———”
“Thou mayst choose the weapons, sirrah,” said Malud,
“Don’t call me sirrah, I don’t like it,” said Blake very quietly, and now he was not smiling. “I want to tell you something, Malud, that may be good for your soul. You are really the only man in Nimmr who didn’t want to treat me well and give me a chance, a fair chance, to prove that I am all right.”
“You think you are a great knight, but you are not. You have no intelligence, no heart, no chivalry. You are not what we would call in my country a good sport. You have a few horses and a few men-at-arms. That is all you have, for without them you would not have the favor of the Prince, and without his favor you would have no friends.
“You are not so good or great a man in any way as is Sir Richard, who combines all the qualities of chivalry that for centuries have glorified the order of knighthood; nor are you so good a man as I, who, with your own weapons, will best you on the morrow when, in the north ballium, I meet you on horseback with sword and buckler!”
The members of the party, upon seeing Malud’s wrath, had gradually fallen away from Blake until, as he concluded his speech, he stood alone a few paces apart from Malud and those who surrounded him. Then it was that one stepped from among those at Malud’s side and walked to Blake. It was Guinalda.
“Sir James.” she said with a sweet smile, “thou spokest with thy mouth full!” She broke into a merry laugh. “Walk with me in the garden, sir knight,” and taking his arm she guided him toward the south end of the eastern court.
“You’re wonderful!” was all that Blake could find to say.
“Dost really think I be wonderful?” she demanded. “I had to know if men speak the truth to such as I. The truth, as people see it, is spoke more oft to slaves than princes.”
“I hope to prove it by my conduct,” he said.
They had drawn a short distance away from the others now and the girl suddenly laid her hand impulsively upon his.
“I brought thee away, Sir James, that I might speak with thee alone,” she said.
“I do not care what the reason was so long as you did it,” he replied, smiling.
“Thou art a stranger among us, unaccustomed to our ways, unversed in knightly practice—so much so that there are many who doubt thy claims to knighthood. Yet thou art a brave man, or else a very simple one, or thou wouldst never have chosen to meet Sir Malud with sword and buckler, for he be skilled with these while thou art clumsy with them.
“Because I thinkest that thou goest to thy death tomorrow I have brought thee aside to speak with thee.”
“What can be done about it now?” asked Blake.
“Thou art passing fair with thy lance,” she said, “and it is still not too late to change thy selection of weapons. I beg thee to do so.”
“You care?” he asked. There can be a world of meaning in two words.
The girl’s eyes dropped for an instant and then flashed up to his and there was a touch of hauteur in them. “I am the daughter of the Prince of Nimmr,” she said. “I care for the humblest of my father’s subjects.”
“I guess that will hold you for a while, Sir James,” thought Blake, but to the girl he said nothing, only smiled.
Presently she stamped her foot. “Thou hast an impudent smile, sirrah!” she exclaimed angrily. “Meliketh it not. Then thou art too forward with the daughter of a prince.”
“I merely asked you if you cared whether I was killed. Even a cat could ask that.”
“And I replied. Why then didst thou smile?”
“Because your eyes had answered me before your lips had spoken and I knew that your eyes had told the truth.”
Again she stamped her foot angrily. “Thou art indeed a forward boor,” she exclaimed. “I shall not remain to be insulted further.”
Her head held high she turned and walked haughtily away to rejoin the other party.
Blake stepped quickly after her. “Tomorrow,” he whispered, “I meet Sir Malud with sword and buckler. With your favor upon my helm I could overthrow the best sword in Nimmr.”
The Princess Guinalda did not deign to acknowledge that she had heard his words as she walked on to join the others clustered about Sir Malud.