“The barbarian!” “Maximus Praeclarus!” cried a score of voices.
“The guard! The guard!” screamed Caesar, as Tarzan leaped from the balcony to one of the tall pillars that supported the roof and slid quickly to the floor, while behind him came six hairy apes.
A dozen swords flashed from their scabbards as Tarzan and the six leaped toward the throne. Women screamed and fainted. Caesar shrank back upon his golden seat, momentarily paralyzed by terror.
A noble with bared blade leaped in front of Tarzan to bar his way, but Go-yad sprang full upon him. Yellow fangs bit once into his neck and, as the great ape arose and standing on the body of his kill roared forth his victory cry, the other nobles shrank back. Fastus, with a scream, turned and fled, and Tarzan leaped to Dilecta’s side. As the apes ascended the steps to the dais, Caesar, jabbering with terror, scuttled from his seat and hid, half-fainting, behind the great throne that was the symbol of his majesty and his power.
But it was not long before the nobles and officers and soldiers in the apartment regained the presence of mind that the sudden advent of this horrid horde had scattered to the four winds, and now, seeing only the wild barbarian and six unarmed beasts threatening them, they pushed forward. Just then a small door beneath the balcony from which Tarzan had descended to the floor of the throne-room was pushed open, giving entrance to Maximus Praeclarus, Cassius Hasta, Caecilius Metellus, Mpingu, and the others who had accompanied Tarzan over the palace wall beneath the shadows of the great trees into which the ape-man and the apes had assisted their less agile fellows.
As Caesar’s defenders sprang forward they were met by some of the best swords in Castra Sanguinarius, as in the fore-front of the fighting were the very gladiators whose exploits they had cheered during the week. Tarzan passed Dilecta to Mpingu, for he and Praeclarus must lend a hand in the fighting.
Slowly, Dilecta’s defenders fell back before the greater number of nobles, soldiers, and guardsmen who were summoned from other parts of the palace. Back toward the little door they fell, while shoulder to shoulder with the gladiators and with Maximus Praeclarus and Hasta and Metellus, Tarzan fought and the great apes spread consternation among all because of their disposition to attack friend as well as foe.
And out upon the Via Principalis the crowd surged and the great gates gave to a shrieking mob that poured into the palace grounds, overwhelming the guards, trampling them—trampling their own dead and their own living.
But the veteran legionaries who composed the palace guard made a new stand at the entrance to the palace. Once more they checked the undisciplined rabble, which had by now grown to such proportions that the revolting troops, who had joined them, were lost in their midst. The guard had dragged an onager to the palace steps and were discharging stones into the midst of the crowd, which continued to rush forward to fall upon the pikes of the palace defenders.
In the distance trumpets sounded from the direction of the Porta Decumana, and from the Porta Principalis Dextra came the sound of advancing troops. At first those upon the outskirts of the mob, who had heard these sounds, did not interpret them correctly. They cheered and shouted. These cowards that hang always upon the fringe of every crowd, letting others take the risks and do the fighting for them, thought that more troops had revolted and that the reinforcements were for them. But their joy was short-lived, for the first century that swung into the Via Principalis from the Porta Decumana fell upon them with pike and sword until those who were not slain escaped, screaming, in all directions.
Century after century came at the double. They cleared the Via Principalis and fell upon the mob within the palace court until the revolt dissolved into screaming individuals fleeing through the darkness of the palace grounds, seeking any shelter that they might find, while terrible legionaries pursued them with flaming torches and bloody swords.
Back into the little room from which they had come fell Tarzan and his followers. The doorway was small and it was not difficult for a few men to hold it, but when they would have retreated through the window they had entered and gone back into the palace grounds to seek escape across the walls in the shadows of the old trees, they saw the grounds swarming with legionaries and realized that the back of the revolt had been broken.
The anteroom in which they had taken refuge would barely accommodate them all, but it offered probably the best refuge they could have found in all the palace of Sublatus, for there were but two openings in it—the single small doorway leading into the throne-room and an even smaller window letting into the palace gardens. The walls were all stone and proof against any weapons at the disposal of the legionaries; yet if the uprising had failed and the legionaries had not joined the people, as they had expected, of what value this temporary sanctuary? The instant that hunger and thirst assailed them this same room would become their prison cell and torture chamber—and perhaps for many of them a vestibule to the grave.
“Ah, Dilecta,” cried Praeclarus, in the first moment that he could seize to go to her side, “I have found you only to lose you again. My rashness, perhaps, has brought you death.”
“Your coming saved me from death,” replied the girl, drawing the dagger from her gown and exhibiting it to Praeclarus. “I chose this as husband rather than Fastus,” she said, “so if I die now I have lived longer than I should have, had you not come; and at least I die happy, for we shall die together.”
“This is no time to be speaking of dying,” said Tarzan. “Did you think a few hours ago that you would ever be together again? Well, here you are. Perhaps in a few more hours everything will be changed and you will be laughing at the fears you are now entertaining.”
Some of the gladiators, who were standing near and had overheard Tarzan’s words, shook their heads.
“Any of us who gets out of this room alive” said one, “will be burned at the stake, or fed to lions, or pulled apart by wild buffalo. We are through, but it has been a good fight, and I for one thank this great barbarian for this glorious end.”
Tarzan shrugged and turned away. “I am not dead yet,” he said, “and not until I am dead is it time to think of it—and then it will be too late.”
Maximus Praeclarus laughed. “Perhaps you are right,” he said, “What do you suggest? If we stay here, we shall be slain, so you must have some plan for getting us out.”
“If we can discern no hope of advantage through our own efforts,” replied Tarzan, “we must look elsewhere and await such favors of fortune as may come from without, either through the intervention of our friends beyond the palace grounds or from the carelessness of the enemy himself. I admit that just at present our case appears desperate, but even so I am not without hope; at least we may be cheered by the realization that whatever turn events may take it must be for the better, since nothing could be worse.”
“I do not agree with you,” said Metellus, pointing through the window. “See, they are setting up a small ballista in the garden. Presently our condition will be much worse than it is now.”
“The walls appear substantial,” returned the ape-man. “Do you think they can batter them down, Praeclarus?”
“I doubt it,” replied the Roman, “but every missile that comes through the window must take its toll, as we are so crowded here that all of us cannot get out of range.”
The legionaries that had been summoned to the throne-room had been held at the small doorway by a handful of gladiators and the defenders had been able to close and bar the stout oaken door. For a time there had been silence in the throne-room and no attempt was made to gain entrance to the room upon that side; while upon the garden side two or three attempts to rush the window had been thwarted, and now the legionaries held off while the small ballista was being dragged into place and trained upon the palace wall.
Dilecta having been placed in an angle of the room where she would be safest, Tarzan and his lieutenants watched the operations of the legionaries in the garden.
“They do not seem to be aiming directly at the window,” remarked Cassius Hasta.
“No,” said Praeclarus. “I rather think they intend making a breach in the wall through which a sufficient number of them can enter to overpower us.”
“If we could rush the ballista and take it,” mused Tarzan, “we could make it rather hot for them. Let us hold ourselves in readiness for that, if their missiles make it too hot for us in here. We shall have some advantage if we anticipate their assault by a sortie of our own.”
A dull thud upon the door at the opposite end of the room brought the startled attention of the defenders to that quarter. The oak door sagged and the stone walls trembled to the impact.
Cassius Hasta smiled wryly. “They have brought a ram,” he said.
And now a heavy projectile shook the outer wall and a piece of plaster crumbled to the floor upon the inside—the ballista had come into action. Once again the heavy battering-ram shivered the groaning timbers of the door and the inmates of the room could hear the legionaries chanting the hymn of the ram to the cadence of which they swung it back and heaved it forward.
The troops in the garden went about their duty with quiet, military efficiency. Each time a stone from the ballista struck the wall there was a shout, but there was nothing spontaneous in the demonstration, which seemed as perfunctory as the mechanical operation of the ancient war-engine that delivered its missiles with almost clock-like regularity.
The greatest damage that the ballista appeared to be doing was to the plaster on the inside of the wall, but the battering-ram was slowly but surely shattering the door at the opposite side of the room.
“Look,” said Metellus, “they are altering the line of the ballista. They have discovered that they can effect nothing against the wall.”
“They are aiming at the window,” said Praeclarus.
“Those of you who are in line with the window lie down upon the floor,” commanded Tarzan. “Quickly! the hammer is falling upon the trigger.”
The next missile struck one side of the window, carrying away a piece of the stone, and this time the result was followed by an enthusiastic shout from the legionaries in the garden.
“That’s what they should have done in the beginning,” commented Hasta. “If they get the walls started at the edge of the window, they can make a breach more quickly there than elsewhere.”
“That is evidently what they are planning on doing,” said Metellus, as a second missile struck in the same place and a large fragment of the wall crumbled.
“Look to the door,” shouted Tarzan, as the weakened timbers sagged to the impact of the ram.
A dozen swordsmen stood ready and waiting to receive the legionaries, whose rush they expected the instant that the door fell. At one side of the room the six apes crouched, growling, and kept in leash only by the repeated assurances of Tarzan that the man-things in the room with them were the friends of the ape-man.
As the door crashed, there was a momentary silence, as each side waited to see what the other would do, and in the lull that ensued there came through the air a roaring sound ominous and threatening, and then the shouts of the legionaries in the throne-room and the legionaries in the garden drowned all other sounds.
The gap around the window had been enlarged. The missiles of the ballista had crumbled the wall from the ceiling to the floor, and as though in accordance with a prearranged plan the legionaries assaulted simultaneously, one group rushing the doorway from the throne-room, the other the breach in the opposite wall.
Tarzan turned toward the apes and pointing in the direction of the breached wall, shouted: “Stop them, Zutho! Kill, Go-yad! Kill!”
The men near him looked at him in surprise and perhaps they shuddered a little as they heard the growling voice of a beast issue from the throat of the giant barbarian, but instantly they realized he was speaking to his hairy fellows, as they saw the apes spring forward with bared fangs and, growling hideously, throw themselves upon the first legionaries to reach the window. Two apes went down, pierced by Roman pikes, but before the beastly rage of the others Caesar’s soldiers gave back.
“After them,” cried Tarzan to Praeclarus. “Follow them into the garden. Capture the ballista and turn it upon the legionaries. We will hold the throne-room door until you have seized the ballista, then we shall fall back upon you.”
After the battling apes rushed the three patricians, Maximus Praeclarus, Cassius Hasta, and Caecilius Metellus, leading gladiators, thieves, murderers, and slaves into the garden, profiting by the temporary advantage the apes had gained for them.
Side by side with the remaining gladiators Tarzan fought to hold the legionaries back from the little doorway until the balance of his party had won safely to the garden and seized the ballista. Glancing back he saw Mpingu leading Dilecta from the room in the rear of the escaped prisoners. Then he turned again to the defense of the doorway, which his little party held stubbornly until Tarzan saw the ballista in the hands of his own men, and, giving step by step across the room, he and they backed through the breach in the wall.
At a shout of command from Praeclarus, they leaped to one side. The hammer fell upon the trigger of the ballista, which Praeclarus had lined upon the window, and a heavy rock drove full into the faces of the legionaries.
For a moment the fates had been kind to Tarzan and his fellows, but it soon became apparent that they were little if any better off here than in the room they had just quitted, for in the garden they were ringed by legionaries. Pikes were flying through the air, and though the ballista and their own good swords were keeping the enemy at a respectful distance, there was none among them who believed that they could for long withstand the superior numbers and the better equipment of their adversaries.
There came a pause in the fighting, which must necessarily be the case in hand-to-hand encounters, and as though by tacit agreement each side rested. The three whites watched the enemy closely. “They are preparing for a concerted attack with pikes,” said Praeclarus.
“That will write finis to our earthly endeavors,” remarked Cassius Hasta.
“May the gods receive us with rejoicing,” said Caecilius Metellus.
“I think the gods prefer them to us,” said Tarzan.
“Why?” demanded Cassius Hasta.
“Because they have taken so many more of them to heaven this night,” replied the ape-man, pointing at the corpses lying about the garden, and Cassius Hasta smiled, appreciatively.
“They will charge in another moment,” said Maximus
Praeclarus, and turning to Dilecta he took her in his arms and kissed her. “Good-by, dear heart,” he said. “How fleeting is happiness! How futile the hopes of mortal man!”
“Not good-by, Praeclarus,” replied the girl, “for where you go I shall go,” and she showed him the slim dagger in her hand.
“No,” cried the man. “Promise me that you will not do that.”
“And why not? Is not death sweeter than Fastus?”
“Perhaps you are right,” he said, sadly.
“They come,” cried Cassius Hasta.
“Ready!” shouted Tarzan. “Give them all we have. Death is better than the dungeons of the Colosseum.”