Tanar of Pellucidar, chained below with other prisoners, heard these sounds and smelled the smoke. He heard the rattle of the anchor chain; he felt the straining of the mast to which his shackles were bent and the altered motion of the hull told him that the ship was under way.
Presently the firing ceased and the regular rising and falling of the ship betokened that it was on its course. In the darkness of the hold Tanar could see nothing. Sometimes the prisoners spoke to one another, but their thoughts were not happy ones, and so, for the most part, they remained silent—waiting. For what?
They grew very hungry and very thirsty. By this they knew that the ship was far at sea. They knew nothing of time. They only knew that they were hungry and thirsty and that the ship should be far at sea—far out upon an unknown sea, setting its course for an unknown port.
Presently a hatch was raised and men came with food and water—poor, rough food and water that smelled badly and tasted worse; but it was water and they were thirsty.
One of the men said: “Where is he who is called Tanar?”
“I am Tanar,” replied the son of Ghak.
“You are wanted on deck,” said the man, and with a huge key he unlocked the massive, hand-wrought lock that held Tanar chained to the mast. “Follow me!”
The bright light of Pellucidar’s perpetual day blinded the Sarian as he clambered to the deck from the dark hole in which he had been confined and it was a full minute before his eyes could endure the light, but his guard hustled him roughly along and Tanar was already stumbling up the long stairs leading to the high deck at the ship’s stem before he regained the use of his eyes.
As he mounted the highest deck he saw the chiefs of the Korsar horde assembled and with them were two women. One appeared elderly and ill favored, but the other was young and beautiful, but for neither did Tanar have any eyes—he was interested only in the enemy men, for these he could fight, these he might kill, which was the sole interest that an enemy could hold for Tanar, the Sarian, and being what he was Tanar could not fight women, not even enemy women; but he could ignore them, and did.
He was led before a huge fellow whose bushy whiskers almost hid his face—a great, blustering fellow with a scarlet scarf bound about his head. But for an embroidered, sleeveless jacket, open at the front, the man was naked above the waist, about which was wound another gaudy sash into which were stuck two pistols and as many long knives, while at his side dangled a cutlass, the hilt of which was richly ornamented with inlays of pearl and semiprecious stones.
A mighty man was The Cid, chief of the Korsars—a burly, blustering, bully of a man, whose position among the rough and quarrelsome Korsars might be maintained only by such as he.
Surrounding him upon the high poop of his ship was a company of beefy ruffians of similar mold, while far below, in the waist of the vessel, a throng of lesser cutthroats, the common sailors, escaped from the dangers and demands of an arduous campaign, relaxed according to their various whims.
Stark brutes were most of these, naked but for shorts and the inevitable gaudy sashes and head cloths—an unlovely company, yet picturesque.
At The Cid’s side stood a younger man who well could boast as hideous a countenance as any sun ever shone upon, for across a face that might have taxed even a mother’s love, ran a repulsive scar from above the left eye to below the right hand comer of the mouth, cleaving the nose with a deep, red gash. The left eye was lidless and gazed perpetually upward and outward, as a dead eye might, while the upper lip was permanently drawn upward at the right side in a sardonic sneer that exposed a single fang-like tooth. No, Bohar the Bloody was not beautiful.
Before these two, The Cid and The Bloody One, Tanar was roughly dragged.
“They call you Tanar?” bellowed The Cid.
“And you are the son of a king!” and he laughed loudly.
“With a ship’s company I could destroy your father’s entire kingdom and make a slave of him, as I have of his son.”
“You had many ship’s companies,” replied Tanar; “but I did not see any of them destroying the kingdom of Sari. The army that chased them into the ocean was commanded by my father, under the Emperor.”
The Cid scowled. “I have made men walk the plank for less than that,” he growled.
“I do not know what you mean,” said Tanar.
“You shall,” barked The Cid; “and then, by the beard of the sea god, you’ll keep a civil tongue in your head. Hey!” he shouted to one of his officers, “have a prisoner fetched and the plank run out. We’ll show this son of a king who The Cid is and that he is among real men now.”
“Why fetch another?” demanded Bohar the Bloody. “This fellow can walk and learn his lesson at the same time.”
“But he could not profit by it,” replied The Cid.
“Since when did The Cid become a dry nurse to an enemy?” demanded Bohar, with a sneer.
Without a word The Cid wheeled and swung an ugly blow to Bohar’s chin, and as the man went down the chief whipped a great pistol from his sash and stood over him, the muzzle pointed at Bohar’s head.
“Perhaps that will knock your crooked face straight or bump some brains into your thick head,” roared The Cid.
Bohar lay on his back glaring up at his chief.
“Who is your master?” demanded The Cid.
“You are,” growled Bohar.
“Then get up and keep a civil tongue in your head,” ordered The Cid.
As Bohar arose he turned a scowling face upon Tanar. It was as though his one good eye had gathered all the hate and rage and venom in the wicked heart of the man and was concentrating them upon the Sarian, the indirect cause of his humiliation, and from that instant Tanar knew that Bohar the Bloody hated him with a personal hatred distinct from any natural antipathy that he might have felt for an alien and an enemy.
On the lower deck men were eagerly running a long plank out over the starboard rail and making the inboard end fast to cleats with stout lines.
From an opened hatch others were dragging a strapping prisoner from the kingdom of Thuria, who had been captured in the early fighting in the Land of Awful Shadow.
The primitive warrior held his head high and showed no terror in the presence of his rough captors. Tanar, looking down upon him from the upper deck, was proud of this fellow man of the Empire. The Cid was watching, too.
“That tribe needs taming,” he said.
The younger of the two women, both of whom had stepped to the edge of the deck and were looking down upon the scene in the waist, turned to The Cid.
“They seem brave men; all of them,” she said. “It is a pity to kill one needlessly.”
“Poof! girl,” exclaimed The Cid. “What do you know of such things? It is the blood of your mother that speaks. By the beards of the gods, I would that you had more of your father’s blood in your veins.”
“It is brave blood, the blood of my mother,” replied the girl, “for it does not fear to be itself before all men. The blood of my father dares not reveal its good to the eyes of men because it fears ridicule. It boasts of its courage to hide its cowardice.”
The Cid swore a mighty oath. “You take advantage of our relationship, Stellara,” he said, “but do not forget that there is a limit beyond which even you may not go with The Cid, who brooks no insults.”
The girl laughed. “Reserve that talk for those who fear you,” she said.
During this conversation, Tanar, who was standing near, had an opportunity to observe the girl more closely and was prompted to do so by the nature of her remarks and the quiet courage of her demeanor. For the first time he noticed her hair, which was like gold in warm sunlight, and because the women of his own country were nearly all dark haired the color of her hair impressed him. He thought it very lovely and when he looked more closely at her features he realized that they, too, were lovely, with a sunny, golden loveliness that seemed to reflect like qualities of heart and character. There was a certain feminine softness about her that was sometimes lacking in the sturdy, self-reliant, primitive women of his own race. It was not in any sense a weakness, however, as was evidenced by her fearless attitude toward The Cid and by the light of courage that shone from her brave eyes. Intelligent eyes they were, too—brave, intelligent and beautiful.
But there Tanar’s interest ceased and he was repulsed by the thought that this woman belonged to the uncouth bully, who ruled with an iron hand the whiskered brutes of the great fleet, for The Cid’s reference to their relationship left no doubt in the mind of the Sarian that the woman was his mate.
And now the attention of all was focused on the actors in the tragedy below. Men had bound the wrists of the prisoner together behind his back and placed a blindfold across his eyes.
“Watch below, son of a king,” said The Cid to Tanar, “and you will know what it means to walk the plank.”
“I am watching,” said Tanar, “and I see that it takes many of your people to make one of mine do this thing, whatever it may be.”
The girl laughed, but The Cid scowled more deeply, while Bohar cast a venomous glance at Tanar.
Now men with drawn knives and sharp pikes lined the plank on either side of the ship’s rail and others lifted the prisoner to the inboard end so that he faced the opposite end of the plank that protruded far out over the sea, where great monsters of the deep cut the waves with giant backs as they paralleled the ship’s course—giant saurians, long extinct upon the outer crust.
Prodding the defenseless man with knife and pike they goaded him forward along the narrow plank to the accompaniment of loud oaths and vulgar jests and hoarse laughter.
Erect and proud, the Thurian marched fearlessly to his doom. He made no complaint and when he reached the outer end of the plank and his foot found no new place beyond he made no outcry. Just for an instant he drew back his foot and hesitated and then, silently, he leaped far out, and, turning, dove head foremost into the sea.
Tanar turned his eyes away and it chanced that he turned them in the direction of the girl. To his surprise he saw that she, too, had refused to look at the last moment and in her face, turned toward his, he saw an expression of suffering.
Could it be that this woman of The Cid’s brutal race felt sympathy and sorrow for a suffering enemy? Tanar doubted it. More likely that something she had eaten that day had disagreed with her.
“Now,” cried The Cid, “you have seen a man walk the plank and know what I may do with you, if I choose.”
Tanar shrugged. “I hope I may be as indifferent to my fate as was my comrade,” he said, “for you certainly got little enough sport out of him.”
“If I turn you over to Bohar we shall have sport,” replied The Cid. “He has other means of enlivening a dull day that far surpass the tame exercise on the plank.”
The girl turned angrily upon The Cid. “You shall not do that!” she cried. “You promised me that you would not torture any prisoners while I was with the fleet.”
“If he behaves I shall not,” said The Cid, “but if he does not I shall turn him over to Bohar the Bloody. Do not forget that I am Chief of Korsar and that even you may be punished if you interfere.’!
Again the girl laughed. “You can frighten the others, Chief of Korsar,” she said, “but not me.”
“If she were mine,” muttered Bohar threateningly, but the girl interrupted him.
“I am not, nor ever shall be,” she said.
“Do not be too sure of that,” growled The Cid. “I can give you to whom I please; let the matter drop.” He turned to the Sarian prisoner. “What is your name, son of a king?” he asked.
“Listen well, Tanar,” said The Cid impressively. “Our prisoners do not live beyond the time that they be of service to us. Some of you will be kept to exhibit to the people of Korsar, after which they will be of little use to me, but you can purchase life and, perhaps, freedom.”
“How?” demanded Tanar.
“Your people were armed with weapons far better than ours,” explained The Cid; “your powder was more powerful and more dependable. Half the time ours fails to ignite at the first attempt.”
“That must be embarrassing,” remarked Tanar.
“It is fatal,” said The Cid.
“But what has it to do with me?” asked the prisoner.
“If you will teach us how to make better weapons and such powder as your people have you shall be spared and shall have your freedom.”
Tanar made no reply—he was thinking—thinking of the supremacy that their superior weapons gave his people—thinking of the fate that lay in store for him and for those poor devils in the dark, foul hole below deck.
“Well?” demanded The Cid.
“Will you spare the others, too?” he asked.
“Why should I?”
“I shall need their help,” said Tanar. “I do not know all that is necessary to make the weapons and the powder.”
As a matter of fact he knew nothing about the manufacture of either, but he saw here a chance to save his fellow prisoners, or at least to delay their destruction and gain time in which they might find means to escape, nor did he hesitate to deceive The Cid, for is not all fair in war?
“Very well,” said the Korsar chief; “if you and they give me no trouble you shall all live—provided you teach us how to make weapons and powder like your own.”
“We cannot live in the filthy hole in which we are penned,” retorted the Sarian; “neither can we live without food. Soon we shall all sicken and die. We are people of the open air—we cannot be smothered in dark holes filled with vermin and be starved, and live.”
“You shall not be returned to the hole,” said The Cid. “There is no danger that you will escape.”
“And the others?” demanded Tanar.
“They remain where they are!”
“They will all die; and without them I cannot make powder,” Tanar reminded him.
The Cid scowled. “You would have my ship overrun with enemies,” he growled.
“They are unarmed.”
“Then they certainly would be killed,” said The Cid. “No one would survive long among that pack an’ he were not armed;” he waved a hand contemptuously toward the half naked throng below.
“Then leave the hatches off and give them decent air and more and better food.”
“I’ll do it,” said The Cid. “Bohar, have the forward hatches removed, place a guard there with orders to kill any prisoner who attempts to come on deck and any of our men who attempts to go below; see, too, that the prisoners get the same rations as our own men.”
It was with a feeling of relief that amounted almost to happiness that Tanar saw Bohar depart to carry out the orders of The Cid, for he knew well that his people could not long survive the hideous and unaccustomed confinement and the vile food that had been his lot and theirs since they had been brought aboard the Korsar ship.
Presently The Cid went to his cabin and Tanar, left to his own devices, walked to the stem and leaning on the rail gazed into the hazy upcurving distance where lay the land of the Sarians, his land, beyond the haze. Far astern a small boat rose and fell with the great, long billows. Fierce denizens of the deep constantly threatened it, storms menaced it, but on it forged in the wake of the great fleet—a frail and tiny thing made strong and powerful by the wills of three men.
But this Tanar did not see, for the mist hid it. He would have been heartened to know that his Emperor was risking his life to save him.
As he gazed and dreamed he became conscious of a presence near him, but he did not turn, for who was there upon that ship who might have access to this upper deck, whom he might care to see or speak with?
Presently he heard a voice at his elbow, a low, golden voice that brought him around facing its owner. It was the girl.
“You are looking back toward your own country?” she said.
“You will never see it again,” she said, a note of sadness in her voice, as though she understood his feelings and sympathized.
“Perhaps not, but why should you care? I am an enemy.”
“I do not know why I should care,” replied the girl. “What is your name?”
“Is that all?”
“I am called Tanar the Fleet One.”
“Because in all Sari none can outdistance me.”
“Sari—is that the name of your country?”
“What is it like?”
“It is a high plateau among the mountains. It is a very lovely country, with leaping rivers and great trees. It is filled with game. We hunt the great ryth there and the tarag for meat and for sport and there are countless lesser animals that give us food and clothing.”
“Have you no enemies? You are not a warlike people as are the Korsars.”
“We defeated the warlike Korsars,” he reminded her.
“I would not speak of that too often,” she said “The tempers of the Korsars are short and they love to kill.”
“Why do you not kill me then?” he demanded. “You have a knife and a pistol in your sash, like the others.”
The girl only smiled.
“Perhaps you are not a Korsar,” he exclaimed. “You were captured as I was and are a prisoner.”
“I am no prisoner,” she replied
“But you are not a Korsar,” he insisted.
“Ask The Cid—he will doubtless cutlass you for your impertinence; but why do you think I am not a Korsar?”
“You are too beautiful and too fine,” he replied. “You have shown sympathy and that is a finer sentiment far beyond their mental capability. They are—”
“Be careful, enemy; perhaps I am a Korsar!”
“I do not believe it,” said Tanar.
“Then keep your beliefs to yourself, prisoner,” retorted the girl in a haughty tone.
“What is this?” demanded a rough voice behind Tanar.
“What has this thing said to you, Stellara?” Tanar wheeled to face Bohar the Bloody.
“I questioned that she was of the same race as you,” snapped Tanar before the girl could reply. “It is inconceivable that one so beautiful could be tainted by the blood of Korsar.”
His face flaming with rage, Bohar laid a hand upon one of his knives and stepped truculently toward the Sarian. “It is death to insult the daughter of The Cid,” he cried, whipping the knife from his sash and striking a wicked blow at Tanar.
The Sarian, light of foot, trained from childhood in the defensive as well as offensive use of edged weapons, stepped quickly to one side and then as quickly in again and once more Bohar the Bloody sprawled upon the deck to a well delivered blow.
Bohar was fairly foaming at the mouth with rage as he jerked his heavy pistol from his gaudy sash and aiming it at Tanar’s chest from where he lay upon the deck, pulled the trigger. At the same instant the girl sprang forward as though to prevent the slaying of the prisoner.
It all happened so quickly that Tanar scarcely knew the sequence of events, but what he did know was that the powder failed to ignite, and then he laughed.
“You had better wait until I have taught you how to make powder that will burn before you try to murder me, Bohar,” he said. .
The Bloody One scrambled to his feet and Tanar stood ready to receive the expected charge, but the girl stepped between them with an imperious gesture.
“Enough of this!” she cried. “It is The Cid’s wish that this man live. Would you like to have The Cid know that you tried to pistol him, Bohar?”
The Bloody One stood glaring at Tanar for several seconds, then he wheeled and strode away without a word.
“It would seem that Bohar does not like me,” said Tanar, smiling.
“He dislikes nearly every one,” said Stellara, “but he hates you—now.”
“Because I knocked him down, I suppose. I cannot blame him,”
“That is not the real reason,” said the girl.
“What is, then?”
She hesitated and then she laughed. “He is jealous. Bohar wants me for his mate.”
“But why should he be jealous of me?”
Stellara looked Tanar up and down and then she laughed again. “I do not know,” she said. “You are not much of a man beside our huge Korsars—with your beardless face and your small waist. It would take two of you to make one of them.” To Tanar her tone implied thinly veiled contempt and it piqued him, but why it should he did not know and that annoyed him, too. What was she but the savage daughter of a savage, boorish Korsar? When he had first learned from Bohar’s lips that she was the daughter and not the mate of The Cid he had felt an unaccountable relief, half unconsciously and without at all attempting to analyze his reaction.
Perhaps it was the girl’s beauty that had made such a relationship with The Cid seem repulsive, perhaps it was her lesser ruthlessness, which seemed superlative gentleness by contrast with the brutality of Bohar and The Cid, but now she seemed capable of a refined cruelty, which was, after all, what he might have expected to find in one form or another in the daughter of the Chief of the Korsars.
As one will, when piqued, and just at random, Tanar loosed a bolt in the hope that it might annoy her. “Bohar knows you better than I,” he said; “perhaps he knew that he had cause for jealousy,”
“Perhaps,” she replied, enigmatically, “but no one will ever know, for Bohar will kill you—I know him well enough to know that.”