As the two approached, Tarzan saw opposing knights paired off in mortal combat. He saw a Knight of Nimmr go down before an adversary’s lance and then the victor espied Tarzan.
“Have at you, sir knight!” cried he of the Sepulcher, and couched his lance and put spurs to his charger.
This was a new experience for the ape-man, a new adventure, a new thrill. He knew as much about jousting as he did about ping-pong, but from childhood he had wielded a spear, and so he smiled as the knight charged upon him.
Lord Tarzan waited, and the Knight of the Sepulcher was disconcerted to see his adversary awaiting him, motionless, his spear not even couched to receive him.
Lord Bertram had reined in his horse to watch the combat and observe how this English peer accounted for himself in battle and he too was perplexed. Was the man mad, or was he fearful of the issue?
As his antagonist approached him, Tarzan rose in his stirrups and carried his lance hand above and behind his head, and when the tip of the other’s lance was yet five paces from him the ape-man launched the heavy weapon as he had so often launched his hunting spear and his war spear in the chase and in battle.
It was not Viscount Greystoke who faced the Knight of the Sepulcher; it was not the king of the great apes. It was the chief of the Waziri, and no other arm in the world could cast a war spear as could his.
Forward his spear hand shot, straight as an arrow sped the lance. It struck the shield of the Knight of the Sepulcher just above the boss and, splitting the heavy wood, drove into the heart of Tarzan’s foe, and at the same instant the ape-man reined his horse aside as that of his fallen antagonist thundered past.
Sir Bertram shook his head and spurred to meet an antagonist that had just challenged him. He was not sure that the act of Lord Tarzan had been entirely ethical, but he had to admit that it had been magnificent.
The fortunes of the battle carried Tarzan toward the west. His lance gone, he fought with his sword. Luck and his great strength and wondrous agility carried him through two encounters. By this time the battle had drawn off toward the northeast.
Tarzan had accounted for his second man since he had lost his lance and a Knight of the Sepulcher had slain a Knight of Nimmr. Now these two remained alone upon the field, nor did the other lose a moment in shouting his challenge to the ape-man.
Never in his life had Tarzan seen such fierce, bold men, such gluttons for battle. That they gloried in conflict and in death with a fierce lust that surpassed the maddest fanaticism he had ever witnessed filled Tarzan’s breast with admiration. What men! What warriors!
Now the last knight was upon him. Their swords clashed on ready buckler. They wheeled and turned and struck again. They passed and spurred once more to close quarters. Each rose in his stirrups to deliver a terrified cut, each sought to cleave the other’s skull.
The blade of the Knight of the Sepulcher glanced from Tarzan’s buckler and bit into the skull of the ape-man’s charger, but Tarzan’s edge smote true.
As his horse went down Tarzan leaped free, his antagonist falling dead at his feet, while the riderless horse of the slain knight galloped swiftly off in the direction in which lay the City of the Sepulcher.
Tarzan looked about him. He was alone upon the field. Far to the north and east he saw the dust of battle. The City of Nimmr lay across the plain toward the south. When the battle was over it was there that Blake would ride and it was Blake whom Tarzan wanted to find. The sun was sinking behind the western hills as Tarzan turned toward Nimmr.
The chain mail that he wore was heavy, hot and uncomfortable, and Tarzan had not gone far before he discarded it. He had his knife and his rope. These he always kept with him, but he left the sword with the armor and with a sigh of relief continued on his way.
Ibn Jad, as he had come across the valley from the City of the Sepulcher toward the city that he had seen upon the opposite side, had been perturbed by the great clouds of dust that bad been raised by the Knights of the Sepulcher and the pursuing Nimmrians.
Seeing a forest close upon his right hand he had thought it wiser to seek its concealing shadows until he could learn more concerning that which caused so great a dust cloud, which he saw was rapidly approaching.
Within the forest it was cool and here Ibn Jad and his followers rested.
“Let us remain here,” suggested Abd el-Aziz, “until evening, when we may approach the city under cover of darkness.”
Ibn Jad approved the plan and so they camped just within the forest and waited. They watched the dust cloud pass and continue on toward the City of the Sepulcher.
“Billah, it is well we did escape that village before yon host returned,” said Ibn Jad.
They saw a horseman enter the forest, or pass to the south of it—they could not know which—but they were not interested in single horsemen, or in any horseman, so they did not investigate. He seemed to be either carrying another person upon his horse with him, or some great bundle. At a distance they could not see which.
“Perhaps,” said Abd el-Aziz, “we shall find greater treasure in the city to the south.”
“And perhaps the beautiful woman of whom the sahar spoke,” added Ibn Jad, “for she was not within the city we left this morning.”
“There were some there that were beautiful,” said Fahd.
“The one I seek is more beautiful than an houri,” said Ibn Jad.
When they took up their march again just before dark they moved cautiously just within the edge of the forest. They had covered a mile, perhaps, when those in the lead heard voices ahead. Ibn Jad sent one to investigate.
The man was soon back. His eyes were bright with excitement. “Ibn Jad,” he whispered, “thou needst seek no farther—the houri is just ahead!”
Following the suggestion of the scout Ibn Jad, followed by his companions, went deeper into the woods and approached Blake and Guinalda from the west. When Sir Galahad broke loose and Blake drew his forty-five Ibn Jad knew that they could remain in concealment no longer. He called Fahd to him.
“Many of the Nasranys speak the language thou didst learn among the soldiers of the North,” he said. “Speak thou therefore to this one in the same tongue, telling him we are friends and that we are lost.”
When Fahd saw the Princess Guinalda his eyes narrowed and he trembled almost as might a man with ague. Never in his life had Fahd seen so beautiful a woman, never had he dreamed that an houri might be so lovely.
“Do not fire upon us,” he called to Blake from the concealment of some bushes. “We are friends. We are lost.”
“Who are you?” demanded Blake, surprised to hear French spoken in the Valley of the Sepulcher.
“We be poor men from the desert country,” replied Fahd. “We are lost. Help us to find our way and the blessings of Allah shall be upon thee.”
“Come out and let me see you,” said Blake. “If you are friendly you need not fear me. I’ve had all the trouble I’m looking for.”
Fahd and Ibn Jad stepped out into view and at sight of them Guinalda voiced a little scream and seized Blake’s arm. “The Saracens!” she gasped.
“I guess they’re Saracens all right,” said Blake, “but you needn’t worry—they won’t hurt you.”
“Not harm a crusader?” she demanded incredulously.
“These fellows never heard of a crusader.”
“Melikes not the way they look at me,” whispered Guinalda.
“Well, neither do I, but perhaps they mean no harm.”
With many smiles the Arabs gathered around the two and through Fahd Ibn Jad repeated his protestations of friendship and his delight at meeting one who could direct him from the valley. He asked many questions about the City of Nimmr; and all the while his followers pressed closer to Blake.
Of a sudden the smiles vanished from their faces as, at a signal from their sheik, four stalwart Beduins leaped upon the American and bore him to the ground, snatching his gun from him, while simultaneously two others seized the Princess Guinalda.
In a moment Blake was securely bound and the ’Aarab were debating what disposition to make of him. Several wanted to slit his throat, but Ibn Jad counseled against it since they were in a valley filled with the man’s friends and should the fortunes of war decide to throw some of the Beduins into the hands of the enemy such would fare better if they spared this one’s life.
Blake threatened, promised, begged that they give Guinalda her liberty, but Fahd only laughed at him and spit upon him. For a time it seemed almost certain that they were going to kill Blake, as one of the Beduins stood over him with a keen khusa in his hand, awaiting the word from Ibn Jad.
It was then that Guinalda tore free from those who held her and threw herself upon Blake to shield his body from the blade with her own.
“Thou shall not slay him!” she cried. “Take my life an thou must have Christian blood, but spare him.”
“They cannot understand you, Guinalda,” said Blake. “Perhaps they will not kill me, but that does not matter. You must escape them.”
“Oh, they must not kill thee—they shall not! Canst ever forgive me the cruel words I spoke? I did not mean them. My pride was hurt that thou shouldst say of me what Malud told me thou didst say and so I spoke to hurt thee and not from my heart. Canst forgive me?”
“Forgive you? God love you, I could forgive you murder! but what did Malud tell you I had said?”
“Oh, mind not now. I care not what thou said. I tell thee I forgive it! Say to me again thy words that thou didst speak. When I pinned my favor upon thy hauberk and I can forgive thee anything.”
“What did Malud say?” insisted Blake.
“That thou hadst bragged that thou wouldst win me and even cast my love aside,” she whispered.
“The cur! You must know that he lied, Guinalda.”
“Say what I have asked and I shall know he lied,” she insisted.
“I love you! I love you, Guinalda!” cried Blake.
The Arabs laid heavy hands upon the girl and dragged her to her feet. Ibn Jad and the others still argued about the disposition to be made of Blake.
“By Ullah!” exclaimed the sheik, at last, ‘We shall leave the Naarany where he lies and if he dies none can say that the Be-iw did slay him.
“Abd el-Aziz,” he continued, “let thou take men and continue across the valley to that other city. Come, I shall accompany you a way and we will talk out of hearing of this Nasrany who, perchance, understandeth more of our tongue than he would have us guess.”
As they moved away toward the south Guinalda tried to free herself again from the grasp of her captors, but they dragged her with them. Until the last Blake saw her struggling. He saw her dear face turned toward him, and as they passed out of sight among the trees she called back through the falling night three words that meant more to him than all the languages of all the world combined: “I love you!”
At a distance from Blake the ’Aarab halted. “I leave thee here, Abd el-Aziz,” said Ibn Jad. “Go thou and see if the city appears to be a rich place, and if it be too strongly guarded make no attempt to loot it, but return to the menzil that will be just beyond the northern summit where it now is, or, if we move it, we shall make our trail plain that you may follow us.
“I shall hasten from the valley with this rich treasure that we now have, not the least of which is the woman. Billah! in the north she will fetch the ransom of a dozen sheykh.
“Go, Abd el-Aziz, and may Allah be with thee!”
Ibn Jad turned directly north. His belief that the great body of horsemen he had glimpsed amid the distant dust were returning to the city he had sacked argued against his attempting to leave the valley by the same route that he had entered it, and so he had determined to attempt to scale the steep mountains at a point west of the City of the Sepulcher, avoiding the castle and its defenders entirely.
Blake heard the retreating footsteps of the Beduins die away in the distance. He struggled with his bonds, but the camel leather held securely. Then he lay quiet. How silent, how lonely the great, black wood—the Wood of the Leopards! Blake listened. Momentarily he expected to hear the fall of padded feet, the sound of a great, furred body approaching through the underbrush. The slow minutes dragged. An hour had passed.
The moon rose—a great, swollen, red moon that floated silently up from behind distant mountains. This moon was looking down upon Guinalda as it was on him. He whispered a message to it—a message for his princess. It was the first time that Blake ever had been in love and he almost forgot his bonds and the leopards in recalling those three words that Guinalda had called back at the instant of their separation.
What was that? Blake strained his eyes into the darkness of the shadowy wood. Something was moving! Yes, it was the sound of stealthy, padded feet—the scraping of a furred body against leaves and twigs. The leopard of the wood was coming!
Hark! There must be another in a nearby tree, for he was sure that he could see a shadowy form almost above him.
The moonlight, shining from the low moon near the eastern horizon, crept beneath the trees and lighted the ground upon which Blake lay and beyond him for a dozen yards and more.
Presently into this moonlit space stepped a great leopard.
Blake saw the blazing eyes, felt them burning into him like lire. He could not tear his own from the great snarling figure, where they were held in awful fascination.
The carnivore crouched and crept closer. Inch by inch it crept upon him as though with the studied cruelty of premeditated torture. He saw the sinuous tail lashing from side to side. Me saw the great fangs bared. He saw the beast flatten against the ground, its muscles tensed. It was about to spring! Helpless, horrified, Blake could not take his eyes from the hideous, snarling face.
He saw it leap suddenly with the lightness and agility of a house cat, and at the same instant he saw something flash through the air. The leopard stopped in mid-leap and was hauled upward into a tree that overhung the spot.
He saw the shadowy form that he had seen before, but now he saw that it was a man and that he was hauling the leopard upward by a rope that had been cast about its neck at the instant that it had risen to leap upon him.
Screaming, pawing with raking talons, Sheeta the leopard was dragged upward. A mighty hand reached out and grasped the great cat by the scruff of the neck and another hand drove a knife blade into the savage heart.
When Sheeta ceased to struggle, and hung quiet, the hand released its grasp and the dead body of the carnivore thudded to the ground beside Blake. Then the god-like figure of an almost naked white man dropped lightly to the leafy mold.
Blake voiced an exclamation of surprised delight “Tarzan of the Apes!” he cried.
“Blake?” demanded the ape-man, and then: “At last! And I didn’t find you much too soon, either.”
“I’ll tell the world you didn’t!” exclaimed Blake.
Tarzan cut the bonds that held the American.
“You’ve been looking for me?” asked Blake.
“Ever since I learned that you had become separated from your safari.”
“By George, that was white of you!”
“Who left you trussed up here?”
“A bunch of Arabs.”
Something like a growl escaped the lips of the ape-man. “That villanious old Ibn Jad here?” he demanded incredulously.
“They took a girl who was with me,” said Blake. “I do not need to ask you to help me rescue her, I know.”
“Which way did they go?” asked Tarzan.
“There.” Blake pointed toward the south.
“About an hour ago.”
“You’d better shed that armor,” advised Tarzan, “it makes walking a punishment—I just tried it.”
With the ape-man’s help Blake got out of his coat of mail and then the two set out upon the plain trail of the Arabs. At the point where Ibn Jad had turned back toward the north they were at a loss to know which of the two spoors to follow, for here the footprints of Guinalda, that the ape-man had been able to pick up from time to time since they left the spot where the girl had been seized, disappeared entirely.
They wondered what had become of them. They could not know that here, when she found that Ibn Jad was going to turn back with her away from Nimmr, she had refused to walk farther. It had been all right as long as they were approaching Nimmr, but she refused absolutely to be a party to her own abduction when it led away from home.
What breeze there was was blowing from the east, nullifying the value of Tarzan’s sense of smell so that even the great ape-man could not know in what direction or with which party Guinalda had been carried off.
“The most reasonable assumption,” said Tarzan, “is that your princess is with the party that has gone north, for I know that Ibn Jad’s menzil must lay in that direction. He did not enter the valley from the south. That I know because I just came in that way myself and Sir Bertram assured me that there are only two entrances—the one through which I came and a pass above the City of the Sepulcher.
“Ibn Jad would want to get the girl out of the valley and into his camp as soon as possible whether he is going to hold her for ransom or take her north to sell her. The party that went south toward Nimmr may have been sent to treat with her people for a ransom; but the chances are that she is not with that party.
“However, it is at best but a matter of conjecture. We must ascertain definitely, and I suggest that you follow the northern spoor, which is, I am certain, the one that will lead to the girl, while I overtake the party to the south.
“I can travel faster than you and if I am right and the girl is with the northern party I’ll turn back and overtake you without much loss of time. If you catch up with the other band and find the girl is not with them, you can turn back and join me; but if she is with them you’d better not risk trying to recover her until you have help, for you are unarmed and those Beduins would think no more of cutting your throat than they would of drinking a cup of coffee.
“Now, good-bye and good luck!” And Tarzan of the Apes set off at a trot upon the trail of the party that had gone in the direction of Nimmr, while Blake turned northward to face a dismal journey through the black depths of the Wood of the leopards.