In the banquet hall of his host, Maximus Praeclarus reclined upon a sofa far down the board from Fastus, the guest of honor. The prince, his tongue loosed by frequent drafts of native wine, seemed in unusually good spirits, radiating self-satisfaction. Several times he had brought the subject of conversation around to the strange white barbarian, who had insulted his sire and twice escaped from the soldiers of Sublatus.
“He would never have escaped from me that day,” he boasted, throwing a sneer in the direction of Maximus Praeclarus, “nor from any other officer who is loyal to Caesar.”
“You had him, Fastus, in the garden of Dion Splendidus,” retorted Praeclarus. “Why did you not hold him?”
Fastus flushed. “I shall hold him this time,” he blurted.
“This time?” queried Praeclarus. “He has been captured again?” There was nothing in either the voice or expression of the young patrician of more than polite interest, though the words of Fastus had come with all the unexpected suddenness of lightning out of a clear sky.
“I mean,” explained Fastus, in some confusion, “that if he is again captured I, personally, shall see that he does not escape,” but his words did not allay the apprehensions of Praeclarus.
All through the long dinner Praeclarus was cognizant of a sensation of foreboding. There was a menace in the air that was apparent in the veiled hostility of his host and several others who were cronies of Fastus.
As early as was seemly he made his excuses and departed. Armed slaves accompanied his litter through the dark avenues of Castra Sanguinarius, where robbery and murder slunk among the shadows hand in hand with the criminal element that had been permitted to propagate itself without restraint; and when at last he came to the doorway at his home and had alighted from his litter he paused and a frown of perplexity clouded his face as he saw that the door stood partially ajar, though there was no slave there to receive him.
The house seemed unusually quiet and lifeless. The night light, which ordinarily a slave kept burning in the forecourt when a member of the household was away, was absent. For an instant Praeclarus hesitated upon the threshold and then, throwing his cloak back from his shoulders to free his arms, he pushed the door open and stepped within.
In the banquet hall of a high court functionary the guests yawned behind their hands from boredom, but none dared leave while Caesar remained, for the Emperor was a guest there that evening. It was late when an officer brought a message to Sublatus—a message that the Emperor read with a satisfaction he made no effort to conceal.
“I have received an important message,” said Sublatus to his host, “upon a matter that interests the noble Senator Dion Splendidus and his wife. It is my wish that you withdraw with the other guests, leaving us three here alone.”
When they had gone he turned to Dion Splendidus. “It has long been rumored, Splendidus,” he remarked, “that you aspire to the purple.”
“A false rumor, Sublatus, as you should well know,” replied the senator.
“I have reason to believe otherwise,” said Sublatus, shortly.
“There cannot be two Caesars, Splendidus, and you well know the penalty for treason.”
“If the Emperor has determined, for personal reasons or for any reason whatever, to destroy me, argument will avail me nothing,” said Splendidus, haughtily.
“But I have other plans,” said Sublatus, “—plans that might be overturned should I cause your death.”
“Yes?” inquired Splendidus, politely.
“Yes”, assented Sublatus. “My son wishes to marry your daughter, Dilecta, and it is also my wish, for thus would the two most powerful families of Castra Sanguinarius be united and the future of the empire assured.”
“But our daughter, Dilecta, is betrothed to another,” said Splendidus.
“To Maximus Praeclarus?” inquired Sublatus.
“Yes,” replied the senator.
“Then let me tell you that she shall never wed Maximus Praeclarus,” said the Emperor.
“Why?” inquired Splendidus.
“Because Maximus Praeclarus is about to die.”
“I do not understand,” said Splendidus.
“Perhaps when I tell you that the white barbarian, Tarzan, has been captured, you will understand why Praeclarus is about to die,” said Sublatus, with a sneer.
Dion Splendidus shook his head negatively. “I regret,” he said, “that I do not follow Caesar.”
“I think you do, Splendidus,” said the Emperor, “but that is neither here nor there, since it is Caesar’s will that there be no breath of suspicion upon the sire of the next Empress of Castra Sanguinarius. So permit me to explain what I am sure that you already know. After the white barbarian escaped from my soldiers he was found by Maximus Praeclarus in your garden. My son, Fastus, witnessed the capture. One of your own slaves acted as interpreter between the barbarian and Maximus, who arranged that the barbarian should escape and take refuge in the home of Maximus. Tonight he was found there and captured, and Maximus Praeclarus has been placed under arrest. They are both in the dungeons beneath the Colosseum. It is improbable that these things should have transpired entirely without your knowledge, but I shall let it pass if you give your word that Dilecta shall marry Fastus.”
“During the entire history of Castra Sanguinarius,” said Dion Splendidus, “it has been our boast that our daughters have been free to choose their own husbands—not even a Caesar might command a free woman to marry against her will.”
“That is true,” replied Sublatus, “and for that very reason I do not command—I am only advising.”
“I cannot answer for my daughter,” said Splendidus. “Let the son of Caesar do his own wooing as becomes the men of Castra Sanguinarius.”
Sublatus arose. “I am only advising,” but his tone belied his words. “The noble senator and his wife may retire to their home and give thought to what Caesar has said. In the course of a few days Fastus will come for his answer.”
By the light of the torch that illuminated the interior of the dungeon into which he was thrust by his captors, Tarzan saw a white man and several Negroes chained to the walls. Among the blacks was Lukedi, but when he recognized Tarzan he evinced only the faintest sign of interest, so greatly had his confinement weighed upon his mind and altered him.
The ape-man was chained next to the only other white in the dungeon, and he could not help but notice the keen interest that this prisoner took in him from the moment that he entered until the soldiers withdrew, taking the torch with them, leaving the dungeon in darkness.
As had been his custom while he was in the home of Maximus Praeclarus, Tarzan had worn only his loincloth and leopard skin, with a toga and sandals out of courtesy for Festivitas when he appeared in her presence. This evening, when he started out with Mpingu, he had worn the toga as a disguise, but in the scuffle that preceded his capture it had been torn from him, with the result that his appearance was sufficient to arouse the curiosity of his fellow prisoners, and as soon as the guards were out of hearing the man spoke to him.
“Can it be,” he asked, “that you are the white barbarian whose fame has penetrated even to the gloom and silence of the dungeon?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes,” replied the ape-man.
“And you carried Sublatus out of his palace above your head and mocked at his soldiers?” exclaimed the other. “By the ashes of my imperial father, Sublatus will see that you die the death.”
Tarzan made no reply.
“They say you run through the trees like a monkey,” said the other. “How then did you permit yourself to be recaptured?”
“It was done by treachery,” replied Tarzan, “and the quickness with which they locked the shackles upon me. Without these,” and he shook the manacles upon his wrists, “they could not hold me. But who are you and what did you do to get yourself in the dungeons of Caesar?”
“I am in the dungeon of no Caesar,” replied the other. “This creature who sits upon the throne of Castra Sanguinarius is no Caesar.”
“Who then is Caesar?” inquired Tarzan.
“Only the Emperors of the East are entitled to be called Caesar,” replied the other.
“I take it that you are not of Castra Sanguinarius then,” suggested the ape-man.
“No,” replied the other, “I am from Castrum Mare.”
“And why are you a prisoner?” asked Tarzan.
“Because I am from Castrum Mare,” replied the other.
“Is that a crime in Castra Sanguinarius?” asked the ape-man.
“We are always enemies,” replied the other. “We trade occasionally under a flag of truce, for we have things that they want and they have things that we must have, but there is much raiding and often there are wars, and then whichever side is victorious takes the things by force that otherwise they would be compelled to pay for.”
“In this small valley what is there that one of you may have that the other one has not already?” asked the ape-man.
“We of Castrum Mare have the iron mines,” replied the other, “and we have the papyrus swamps and the lake, which give us many things that the people of Castra Sanguinarius can obtain only from us. We sell them iron and paper, ink, snails, fish, and jewels, and many manufactured articles.
In their end of the valley they mine gold, and as they control the only entrance to the country from the outside world, we are forced to obtain our slaves through them as well as new breeding-stock for our herds.
“As the Sanguinarians are naturally thieves and raiders and are too lazy to work and too ignorant to teach their slaves how to produce things, they depend entirely upon their gold mine and their raiding and trading with the outer world, while we, who have developed many skilled artisans, have been in a position for many generations that permitted us to obtain much more gold and many more slaves than we need in return for our manufactured articles. Today we are much richer than the Sanguinarians. We live better. We are more cultured. We are happier and the Sanguinarians are jealous and their hatred of us has increased.”
“Knowing these things,” asked Tarzan, “how is it that you came to the country of your enemies and permitted yourself to be captured?”
“I was delivered over treacherously into the hands of Sublatus by my uncle, Validus Augustus, Emperor of the East,” replied the other. “My name is Cassius Hasta, and my father was Emperor before Validus. Validus is afraid that I may wish to seize the purple, and for this reason he plotted to get rid of me without assuming any responsibility for the act; so he conceived the idea of sending me upon a military mission, after bribing one of the servants who accompanied me to deliver me into the hands of Sublatus.”
“What will Sublatus do with you?” asked Tarzan.
“The same thing that he will do with you,” replied Cassius Hasta. “We shall be exhibited in the triumph of Sublatus, which he holds annually, and then in the arena we shall amuse them until we are slain.”
“And when does this take place?” asked Tarzan.
“It will not be long now,” replied Cassius Hasta. “Already they have collected so many prisoners to exhibit in the triumph and to take part in the combats in the arena that they are forced to confine Negroes and whites in the same dungeons, a thing they do not ordinarily do.”
“Are these Negroes held here for this purpose?” asked the ape-man.
“Yes,” replied the other.
Tarzan turned in the direction of Lukedi, whom he could not see in the darkness. “Lukedi!” he called.
“What is it?” asked the black, listlessly.
“You are well?” asked Tarzan.
“I am going to die,” replied Lukedi. “They will feed me to lions or burn me upon a cross or make me fight with other warriors, so that it will be all the same for Lukedi. It was a sad day when Nyuto, the chief, captured Tarzan.”
“Are all these men from your village?” asked Tarzan.
“No,” replied Lukedi. “Most of them are from the villages outside the walls of Castra Sanguinarius.”
“Yesterday they called us their own people,” spoke up a man, who understood the language of the Bagego, “and tomorrow they make us kill one another to entertain Caesar.”
“You must be very few in numbers or very poor in spirit,” said Tarzan, “that you submit to such treatment.”
“We number nearly twice as many as the people in the city,” said the man, “and we are brave warriors.”
“Then you are fools,” said Tarzan.
“We shall not be fools forever. Already there are many who would rise against Sublatus and the whites of Castra Sanguinarius.”
“The Negroes of the city as well as those of the outer villages hate Caesar,” said Mpingu, who had been brought to the dungeon with Tarzan.
The statements of the men furnished food for thought to Tarzan. He knew that in the city there must be hundreds and perhaps thousands of African slaves and many thousands of others in the outer villages. If a leader should arise among them, the tyranny of Caesar might be brought to an abrupt end. He spoke of the matter to Cassius Hasta, but the patrician assured him that no such leader would ever arise.
“We have dominated them for so many centuries,” he explained, “that fear of us is an inherited instinct. Our slaves will never rise against their masters.”
“But if they did?” asked Tarzan.
“Unless they had a white leader they could not succeed,” replied Hasta.
“And why not a white leader then?” asked Tarzan.
“That is unthinkable,” replied Hasta.
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a detachment of soldiers, and as they halted before the entrance to the dungeon and threw open the gate Tarzan saw, in the light of their torches, that they were bringing another prisoner. As they dragged the man in, he recognized Maximus Praeclarus. He saw that Praeclarus recognized him, but as the Roman did not address him, Tarzan kept silent, too. The soldiers chained Praeclarus to the wall, and after they had left and the dungeon was in darkness again, the young officer spoke.
“I see now why I am here,” said Praeclarus, “but even when they set upon me and arrested me in the vestibule of my home, I had guessed as much, after piecing together the insinuations of Fastus at the banquet this evening.”
“I have been fearful that by befriending me you would bring disaster upon yourself,” said Tarzan.
“Do not reproach yourself,” said Praeclarus. “Fastus or Sublatus would have found another excuse. I have been doomed from the moment that the attention of Fastus fixed itself upon Dilecta. To attain his end it was necessary that I be destroyed. That is all, my friend, but yet I wonder who it could have been that betrayed me.”
“It was I,” said a voice out of the darkness.
“Who is that that speaks?” demanded Praeclarus.
“It is Mpingu,” said Tarzan. “He was arrested with me when we were on the way to the home of Dion Splendidus to meet you.”
“To meet me!” exclaimed Praeclarus.
“I lied,” said Mpingu, “but they made me.”
“Who made you?” demanded Praeclarus.
“The officers of Caesar and Caesar’s son,” replied Mpingu. “They dragged me to the palace of the Emperor and held me down upon my back and brought tongs to tear out my tongue and hot irons to burn out my eyes. Oh, master, what else could I do? I am only a poor slave and I was afraid and Caesar is very terrible.”
“I understand,” said Praeclarus. “I do not blame you, Mpingu.”
“They promised to give me my liberty,” said the slave, “but instead they have chained me in this dungeon. Doubtless I shall die in the arena, but that I do not fear. It was the tongs and the red-hot irons that made me a coward. Nothing else could have forced me to betray the friend of my master.”
There was little comfort upon the cold, hard stones of the dungeon floor, but Tarzan, inured to hardship from birth, slept soundly until the coming of the jailer with food awakened him several hours after sunrise. Water and coarse bread were doled out to the inmates of the dungeon by slaves in charge of a surly half-caste in the uniform of a legionary.
As he ate, Tarzan surveyed his fellow prisoners. There was Cassius Hasta of Castrum Mare, son of a Caesar, and Maximus Praeclarus, a patrician of Castra Sanguinarius and captain of Legionaries. These, with himself, were the only whites. There was Lukedi, the Bagego who had befriended him in the village of Nyuto, and Mpingu, the slave of Dion Splendidus, who had betrayed him, and now, in the light from the little barred window, he recognized also another Bagego—Ogonyo, who still cast fearful eyes upon Tarzan as one might upon any person who was on familiar terms with the ghost of one’s grandfather.
In addition to these three, there were five strapping warriors from the outer villages of Castra Sanguinarius, picked men chosen because of their superb physiques for the gladiatorial contests that would form so important a part of the games that would shortly take place in the arena for the glorification of Caesar and the edification of the masses.
The small room was so crowded that there was barely space upon the floor for the eleven to stretch their bodies, yet there was one vacant ring in the stone wall, indicating that the full capacity of the dungeon had not been reached.
Two days and night, dragged slowly by. The inmates of the cell amused themselves as best they could, though the Negroes were too downcast to take a lively interest in anything other than their own sad forebodings.
Tarzan talked much with these and especially with the five warriors from the outer villages. From long experience with them he knew the minds and the hearts of these men, and it was not difficult for him to win their confidence and, presently, he was able to instill within them something of his own courageous self-reliance, which could never accept or admit absolute defeat.
He talked with Praeclarus about Castra Sanguinarius and with Cassius Hasta about Castrum Mare. He learned all that they could tell him about the forthcoming triumph and games; about the military methods of their people, their laws and their customs until he, who all his life had been accounted taciturn, might easily have been indicted for loquacity by his fellow prisoners, yet, though they might not realize it, he asked them nothing without a well-defined purpose.
Upon the third day of his incarceration another prisoner was brought to the crowded cell in which Tarzan was chained. He was a young white man in the tunic and cuirass of an officer. He was received in silence by the other prisoners, as seemed to be the custom among them, but after he had been fastened to the remaining ring and the soldiers who had brought him had departed, Cassius Hasta greeted him with suppressed excitement.
“Caecilius Metellus!” he exclaimed.
The other turned in the direction of Hasta’s voice, his eyes not yet accustomed to the gloom of the dungeon.
“Hasta!” he exclaimed. “I would know that voice were I to hear it rising from the blackest depths of Tartarus.”
“What ill fortune brought you here?” demanded Hasta.
“It is no ill fortune that unites me with my best friend,” replied Metellus.
“But tell me how it happened,” insisted Cassius Hasta.
“Many things have happened since you left Castrum Mare,” replied Metellus. “Fulvus Fupus has wormed his way into the favor of the Emperor to such an extent that all of your former friends are under suspicion and in actual danger. Mallius Lepus is in prison. Septimus Favonius is out of favor with the Emperor and would be in prison himself were it not that Fupus is in love with Favonia, his daughter. But the most outrageous news that I have to communicate to you is that Validus Augustus has adopted Fulvus Fupus and has named him as his successor to the imperial purple.”
“Fupus a Caesar!” cried Hasta, in derision. “And sweet Favonia? It cannot be that she favors Fulvus Fupus?”
“No,” replied Metellus, “and that fact lies at the bottom of all the trouble. She loves another, and Fupus, in his desire to possess her, has utilized the Emperor’s jealousy of you to destroy every obstacle that stands in his way.”
“And whom does Favonia love?” asked Cassius Hasta. “It cannot be Mallius Lepus, her cousin?”
“No,” replied Metellus, “it is a stranger. One whom you have never known.”
“How can that be?” demanded Cassius Hasta. “Do I not know every patrician in Castrum Mare?”
“He is not of Castrum Mare.”
“Not a Sanguinarian?” demanded Cassius Hasta.
“No, he is a barbarian chieftain from Germania.”
“What nonsense is this?” demanded Hasta.
“I speak the truth,” replied Metellus. “He came shortly after you departed from Castrum Mare, and being a scholar well versed in the history of ancient and modern Rome he won the favor of Validus Augustus, but he brought ruin upon himself and upon Mallius Lepus and upon Septimus Favonius by winning the love of Flavonia and with it the jealous hatred of Fulvus Fupus.”
“What is his name?” asked Cassius Hasta.
“He calls himself Erich von Harben,” replied Metellus.
“Erich von Harben,” repeated Tarzan. “I know him. Where is he now? Is he safe?”
Caecilius Metellus turned his eyes in the direction of the ape-man. “How do you know Erich von Harben, Sanguinarian?” he demanded. “Perhaps then the story that Fulvus Fupus told Validus Augustus is true—that this Erich von Harben is in reality a spy from Castra Sanguinarius.”
“No,” said Maximus Praeclarus. “Do not excite yourself. This Erich von Harben has never been in Castra Sanguinarius, and my friend here is not himself a Sanguinarian. He is a white barbarian from the outer world, and if his story be true, and I have no reason to doubt it, he came here in search of this Erich von Harben.”
“You may believe this story, Metellus,” said Cassius Hasta. “They both are honorable men and since we have been in prison together we have become good friends. What they tell you is the truth.”
“Tell me something of von Harben,” insisted Tarzan. “Where is he now and is he in danger from the machinations of this Fulvus Fupus?”
“He is in prison with Mallius Lepus in Castrum Mare,” replied Metellus, “and if he survives the games, which he will not, Fupus will find some other means to destroy him.”
“When are the games held?” asked Tarzan.
“They start upon the ides of August,” replied Cassius Hasta.
“And it is now about the nones of August,” said Tarzan.
“Tomorrow,” corrected Praeclarus.
“We shall know it then,” said Cassius Hasta, “for that is the date set for the triumph of Sublatus.”
“I am told that the games last about a week,” said Tarzan. “How far is it to Castrum Mare?”
“Perhaps an eight hours’ march for fresh troops,” said Caecilius Metellus; “but why do you ask? Are you planning on making a trip to Castrum Mare?”
Tarzan noted the other’s smile and the ironic tone of his voice. “I am going to Castrum Mare,” he said.
“Perhaps you will take us with you,” laughed Metellus.
“Are you a friend of von Harben?” asked Tarzan.
“I am a friend of his friends and an enemy of his enemies, but I do not know him well enough to say that he is my friend.”
“But you have no love for Validus Augustus, the Emperor?” asked Tarzan.
“No,” replied the other.
“And I take it that Cassius Hasta has no reason to love his uncle, either?” continued Tarzan.
“You are right,” said Hasta.
“Perhaps I shall take you both, then,” said Tarzan.
The two men laughed.
“We shall be ready to go with you when you are ready to take us,” said Cassius Hasta.
“You may count me in on the party, too,” said Maximus Praeclarus, “if Cassius Hasta will remain my friend in Castrum Mare.”
“That I promise, Maximus Praeclarus,” said Cassius Hasta.
“When do we leave?” demanded Metellus, shaking his chain.
“I can leave the moment that these shackles are struck from me,” said the ape-man, “and that they must do when they turn me into the arena to fight.”
“There will be many legionaries to see that you do not escape, you may rest assured of that,” Cassius Hasta reminded him.
“Maximus Praeclarus will tell you that I have twice escaped from the legionaries of Sublatus,” said Tarzan.
“That he has,” declared Praeclarus. “Surrounded by the Emperor’s guard, he escaped from the very throne-room of Sublatus and he carried Caesar above his head through the length of the palace and out into the avenue beyond.”
“But if I am to take you with me, it will be more difficult,” said the ape-man, “and I would take you because it would please me to frustrate the plans of Sublatus and also because two of you, at least, could be helpful to me in finding Erich von Harben in the city of Castrum Mare.”
“You interest me,” said Cassius Hasta. “You almost make me believe that you can accomplish this mad scheme.”