Curving upward along the inside of the arc of a great circle the Korsar fleet ploughed the restless sea. Favorable winds carried the ships onward. The noonday sun hung perpetually at zenith. Men ate when they were hungry, slept when they were tired, or slept against the time when sleep might be denied them, for the people of Pellucidar seem endowed with a faculty that permits them to store sleep, as it were, in times of ease, against the time when sleep might be denied them, against the more strenuous periods of hunting and warfare when there is no opportunity for sleep. Similarly, they eat with unbelievable irregularity.
Tanar had slept and eaten several times since his encounter with Bohar, whom he had seen upon various occasions since without an actual meeting. The Bloody One seemed to be biding his time.
Stellara had kept to her cabin with the old woman, who Tanar surmised was her mother. He wondered if Stellara would look like the mother or The Cid when she was older, and he shuddered when he considered either eventuality.
As he stood thus musing, Tanar’s attention was attracted by the actions of the men on the lower deck. He saw them looking across the port bow and upward and, following the direction of their eyes with his, he saw the rare phenomenon of a cloud in the brilliant sky.
Some one must have notified The Cid at about the same time, for he came from his cabin and looked long and searchingly at the heavens.
In his loud voice The Cid bellowed commands and his wild crew scrambled to their stations like monkeys, swarming aloft or standing by on deck ready to do his bidding.
Down came the great sails and reefed were the lesser ones, and throughout the fleet, scattered over the surface of the shining sea, the example of the Commander was followed.
The cloud was increasing in size and coming rapidly nearer. No longer was it the small white cloud that had first attracted their attention, but a great, bulging, ominous, black mass that frowned down upon the ocean, turning it a sullen gray where the shadow lay.
The wind that had been blowing gently ceased suddenly. The ship fell off and rolled in the trough of the sea. The silence that followed cast a spell of terror over the ship’s company.
Tanar, watching, saw the change. If these rough seafaring men blenched before the threat of the great cloud the danger must be great indeed.
The Sarians were mountain people. Tanar knew little of the sea, but if Tanar feared anything on Pellucidar it was the sea. The sight, therefore, of these savage Korsar sailors cringing in terror was far from reassuring.
Someone had come to the rail and was standing at his side.
“When that has passed,” said a voice, “there will be fewer ships in the fleet of Korsar and fewer men to go home to their women.”
He turned and saw Stellara looking upward at the cloud.
“You do not seem afraid,” he said.
“Nor you,” replied the girl. “We seem the only people aboard who are not afraid.”
“Look down at the prisoners,” he told her. “They show no fear.”
“Why?” she asked.
“They are Pellucidarians,” he replied, proudly.
“We are all of Pellucidar,” she reminded him.
“I refer to The Empire,” he said.
“Why are you not afraid?” she asked. “Are you so much braver than the Korsars?” There was no sarcasm in her tone.
“I am very much afraid,” replied Tanar. “Mine are mountain people—we know little of the sea or its ways.”
“But you show no fear,” insisted Stellara.
“That is the result of heredity and training,” he replied.
“The Korsars show their fear,” she mused. She spoke as one who was of different blood. “They boast much of their bravery,” she continued as though speaking to herself, “but when the sky frowns they show fear.” There seemed a little note of contempt in her voice. “See!” she cried. “It is coming!”
The cloud was tearing toward them now and beneath it the sea was lashed to fury. Shreds of cloud whirled and twisted at the edges of the great cloud mass. Shreds of spume whirled and twisted above the angry waves. And then the storm struck the ship, laying it over on its side.
What ensued was appalling to a mountaineer, unaccustomed to the sea—the chaos of watery mountains, tumbling, rolling, lashing at the wallowing ship; the shrieking wind; the driving, blinding spume; the terror-stricken crew, cowed, no longer swaggering bullies.
Reeling, staggering, clutching at the rail Bohar the Bloody passed Tanar where he clung with one arm about a stanchion and the other holding Stellara, who would have been hurled to the deck but for the quick action of the Sarian.
The face of Bohar was an ashen mask against which the red gash of his ugly scar stood out in startling contrast. He looked at Tanar and Stellara, but he passed them by, mumbling to himself.
Beyond them was The Cid, screaming orders that no one could hear. Toward him Bohar made his way. Above the storm Tanar heard The Bloody One screaming at his chief.
“Save me! Save me!” he cried. “The boats—lower the boats! The ship is lost.”
It was apparent, even to a landsman, that no small boat could live in such a sea even if one could have been lowered. The Cid paid no attention to his lieutenant, but clung where he was, bawling commands.
A mighty sea rose suddenly above the bow; it hung there for an instant and then rolled in upon the lower deck—tons of crushing, pitiless, insensate sea—rolled in upon the huddled, screaming seamen. Naught but the high prow and the lofty poop showed above the angry waves—just for an instant the great ship strained and shuddered, battling for life.
“It is the end!” cried Stellara.
Bohar screamed like a dumb brute in the agony of death. The Cid knelt on the deck, his face buried in his arms. Tanar stood watching, fascinated by the terrifying might of the elements. He saw man shrink to puny insignificance before a gust of wind, and a slow smile crossed his face.
The wave receded and the ship, floundering, staggered upward, groaning. The smile left Tanar’s lips as his eyes gazed down upon the lower deck. It was almost empty now. A few broken forms lay huddled in the scuppers; a dozen men, clinging here and there, showed signs of life. The others, all but those who had reached safety below deck, were gone.
The girl clung tightly to the man. “I did not think she could live through that,” she said.
“Nor I,” said Tanar.
“But you were not afraid,” she said. “You seemed the only one who was not afraid.”
“Of what use was Bohar’s screaming?” he asked. “Did it save him?”
“Then you were afraid, but you hid it?” He shrugged. “Perhaps,” he said. “I do not know what you mean by fear. I did not want to die, if that is what you mean.” “Here comes another!” cried Stellara, shuddering, and pressing closer to him.
Tanar’s arm tightened about the slim figure of the girl. It was an unconscious gesture of the protective instinct of the male.
“Do not be afraid,” he said.
“I am not—now,” she replied.
At the instant that the mighty comber engulfed the ship the angry hurricane struck suddenly with renewed fury—struck at a new angle—and the masts, already straining even to the minimum of canvas that had been necessary to give the ship headway and keep its nose into the storm, snapped like dry bones and crashed by the board in a tangle of cordage. The ship’s head fell away and she rolled in the trough of the great seas, a hopeless derelict.
Above the screaming of the wind rose Bohar’s screams.
“The boats! The boats!” he repeated like a trained parrot gone mad from terror.
As though sated for the moment and worn out by its own exertions the storm abated, the wind died, but the great seas rose and fell and the great ship rolled, helpless. At the bottom of each watery gorge it seemed that it must be engulfed by the gray green cliff toppling above it and at the crest of each liquid mountain certain destruction loomed inescapable.
Bohar, still screaming, scrambled to the lower deck. He found men, by some miracle still alive in the open, and others cringing in terror below deck. By dint of curses and blows and the threat of his pistol he gathered them together and though they whimpered in fright he forced them to make a boat ready.
There were twenty of them and their gods or their devils must have been with them, for they lowered a boat and got clear of the floundering hulk in safety and without the loss of a man.
The Cid, seeing what Bohar contemplated, had tried to prevent the seemingly suicidal act by bellowing orders at him from above, but they had no effect and at the last moment The Cid had descended to the lower deck to enforce his commands, but he had arrived too late.
Now he stood staring unbelievingly at the small boat riding the great seas in seeming security while the dismasted ship, pounded by the stumps of its masts; seemed doomed to destruction.
From corners where they had been hiding came the balance of the ship’s company and when they saw Bohar’s boat and the seemingly relative safety of the crew they clamored for escape by the other boats. With the idea once implanted in their minds there followed a mad panic as the half-brutes fought for places in the remaining boats.
“Come!” cried Stellara. “We must hurry or they will go without us.” She started to move toward the companionway, but Tanar restrained her.
“Look at them,” he said. “We are safer at the mercy of the sea and the storm.”
Stellara shrank back close to him. She saw men knifing one another—those behind knifing those ahead. Men dragging others from the boats and killing them on deck or being killed. She saw The Cid pistol a seaman in the back and leap to his place in the first boat to be lowered. She saw men leaping from the rail in a mad effort to reach this boat and falling into the sea, or being thrown in if they succeeded in boarding the tossing shell.
She saw the other boats being lowered and men crushed between them and the ship’s side—she saw the depths to which fear can plunge the braggart and the bully as the last of the ship’s company, failing to win places in the last boat, deliberately leaped into the sea and were drowned.
Standing there upon the high poop of the rolling derelict, Tanar and Stellara watched the frantic efforts of the oarsmen in the overcrowded small boats. They saw one boat foul another and both founder. They watched, the drowning men battling for survival. They heard their hoarse oaths and their screams above the roaring of the sea and the shriek of the wind as the storm returned as though fearing that some might escape its fury.
“We are alone,” said Stellara. “They have all gone.”
“Let them go,” replied Tanar. “I would not exchange places with them.”
“But there can be no hope for us,” said the girl.
“There is no more for them,” replied the Sarian, “and at least we are not crowded into a small boat filled with cutthroats.”
“You are more afraid of the men than you are of the sea,” she said.
“For you, yes,” he replied.
“Why should you fear for me?” she demanded. “Am I not also your enemy?”
He turned his eyes quickly upon her and they were filled with surprise. “That is so,” he said; “but, somehow, I had forgotten it—you do not seem like an enemy, as the others do. You do not seem like one of them, even.”
Clinging to the rail and supporting the girl upon the lurching deck, Tanar’s lips were close to Stellara’s ear as he sought to make himself heard above the storm. He sensed the faint aroma of a delicate sachet that was ever after to be a part of his memory of Stellara.
A sea struck the staggering ship throwing Tanar forward so that his cheek touched the cheek of the girl and as she turned her head his lips brushed hers. Each realized that it was an accident, but the effect was none the less surprising. Tanar, for the first time, felt the girl’s body against his and consciousness of contact must have been reflected in his eyes for Stellara shrank back and there was an expression of fear in hers.
Tanar saw the fear in the eyes of an enemy, but it gave him no pleasure. He tried to think only of the treatment that would have been accorded a woman of his tribe had one been at the mercy of the Korsars, but that, too, failed to satisfy him as it only could if he were to admit that he was of the same ignoble clay as the men of Korsar.
But whatever thoughts were troubling the minds of Stellara and Tanar were temporarily submerged by the grim tragedy of the succeeding few moments as another tremendous sea, the most gigantic that had yet assailed the broken ship, hurled its countless tons upon her shivering deck.
To Tanar it seemed, indeed, that this must mark the end since it was inconceivable that the unmanageable hulk could rise again from the smother of water that surged completely over her almost to the very highest deck of the towering poop, where the two clung against the tearing wind and the frightful pitching of the derelict.
But, as the sea rolled on, the ship slowly, sluggishly struggled to the surface like an exhausted swimmer who, drowning, struggles weakly against the inevitability of fate and battles upward for one last gasp of air that will, at best, but prolong the agony of death.
As the main deck slowly emerged from the receding waters, Tanar was horrified by the discovery that the forward hatch had been stove in. That the ship must have taken in considerable water, and that each succeeding wave that broke over it would add to the quantity, affected the Sarian less than knowledge of the fact that it was beneath this hatch that his fellow prisoners were confined.
Through the black menace of his almost hopeless situation had shone a single bright ray of hope that, should the ship weather the storm, there would be aboard her a score of his fellow Pellucidarians and that together they might find the means to rig a makeshift sail and work their way back to the mainland from which they had embarked; but with the gaping hatch and the almost certain conclusion to be drawn from it he realized that it would, indeed, be a miracle if there remained alive aboard the derelict any other than Stellara and himself.
The girl was looking down at the havoc wrought below and now she turned her face toward his.
“They must all be drowned,” she said, “and they were your people. I am sorry.”
“Perhaps they would have chosen it in preference to what might have awaited them in Korsar,” he said.
“And they have been released only a little sooner than we shall be,” she continued. “Do you notice how low the ship rides now and how sluggish she is? The hold must be half filled with water—another such sea as the last one will founder her.”
For some time they stood in silence, each occupied with his own thoughts. The hulk rolled in the trough and momentarily it seemed that she might not roll back in time to avert the disaster of the next menacing comber, yet each time she staggered drunkenly to oppose a high side to the hungry waters.
“I believe the storm has spent itself,” said Tanar.
“The wind has died and there has been no sea like the great one that stove in the forward hatch,” said Stellara, hopefully.
The noonday sun broke from behind the black cloud that had shrouded it and the sea burst into a blaze of blue and silver beauty. The storm had passed. The seas diminished. The derelict rolled heavily upon the great swells, low in the water, but temporarily relieved of the menace of immediate disaster.
Tanar descended the companionway to the lower deck and approached the forward hatch. A single glance below revealed only what he could have anticipated—floating corpses rolling with the roll of the derelict. All below were dead. With a sigh he turned away and returned to the upper deck.
The girl did not even question him for she could read in his demeanor the story of what his eyes had beheld.
“You and I are the only living creatures that remain aboard,” he said.
She waved a hand in a broad gesture that took in the sea about them. “Doubtless we alone of the entire ship’s company have survived,” she said. “I see no other ship nor any of the small boats.”
Tanar strained his eyes in all directions. “Nor I,” said he; “but perhaps some of them have escaped.”
She shook her head. “I doubt it.”
“Yours has been a heavy loss,” sympathized the Sarian. “Besides so many of your people, you have lost your father and your mother.” Stellara looked up quickly into his eyes. “They were not my people,” she said.
“What?” exclaimed Tanar. “They were not your people? But your father, The Cid, was Chief of the Korsars:”
“He was not my father,” replied the girl.
“And the woman was not your mother?”
“May the gods forbid!” she exclaimed.
“But The Cid! He treated you like a daughter.” “He thought I was his daughter, but I am not.” “I do not understand,” said Tanar; “yet I am glad that you are not. I could not understand how you, who are so different from them, could be a Korsar.” “My mother was a native of the island of Amiocap and there The Cid, raiding for women, seized her. She told me about it many times before she died.
“Her mate was absent upon a great tandor hunt and she never saw him again. When I was born The Cid thought that I was his daughter, but my mother knew better for I bore upon my left shoulder a small, red birthmark identical with one upon the left shoulder of the mate from whom she had been stolen—my father.
“My mother never told The Cid the truth, for fear that he would kill me in accordance with the custom the Korsars follow of destroying the children of their captives if a Korsar is not the father.”
“And the woman who was with you on board was not your mother?”
“No, she was The Cid’s mate, but not my mother, who is dead.”
Tanar felt a distinct sense of relief that Stellara was not a Korsar, but why this should be so he did not know, nor, perhaps, did he attempt to analyze his feelings.
“I am glad,” he said again.
“But why?” she asked.
“Now we do not have to be enemies,” he replied.
“Were we before?”
He hesitated and then he laughed. “I was not your enemy,” he said, “but you reminded me that you were mine.”
“It has been the habit of a lifetime to think of myself as a Korsar,” exclaimed Stellara, “although I knew that I was not. I felt no enmity toward you.”
“Whatever we may have been we must of necessity be friends now,” he told her.
“That will depend upon you,” she replied.