In a world where the sun hangs perpetually at zenith there is no darkness and without darkness there is little opportunity to escape from the clutches of a watchful enemy. Yet never for a moment was the thought of escape absent from the mind of Tanar the Sarian. He studied the sentries and as each one was relieved he tried to enter into conversation with his successor, but all to no avail—the warriors would not talk to him. Sometimes the guards dozed, but the village and the clearing about it were always alive with people so that it appeared unlikely that any opportunity for escape might present itself.
The sentries were changed, food was brought to the prisoners and when they felt so inclined they slept. Thus only might they measure the lapse of time, if such a thing occurred to them, which doubtless it did not. They talked together and sometimes Stellara sang—sang the songs of Amiocap that her mother had taught her, and they were happy and contented, although each knew that the specter of death hovered constantly above them. Presently he would strike, but in the meantime they were happy.
“When I was a youth,” said Tanar, “I was taken prisoner by the black people with tails. They build their villages among the high branches of lofty trees and at first they put me in a small hut as dark as this and much dirtier and I was very miserable and very unhappy for I have always been free and I love my freedom, but now I am again a prisoner in a dark hut and in addition I know that I am going to die and I do not want to die, yet I am not unhappy. Why is it, Stellara, do you know?”
“I have wondered about the same thing myself,” replied the girl. “It seems to me that I have never been so happy before in my life, but I do not know the reason.”
They were sitting close together upon a fiber mat that they had placed near the doorway that they might obtain as much light and air as possible. Stellara’s soft eyes looked thoughtfully out upon the little world framed by the doorway of their prison cell. One hand rested listlessly on the mat between them. Tanar’s eyes rested upon her profile, and slowly his hand went out and covered hers.
“Perhaps,” he said, “I should not be happy if you were not here.”
The girl turned half frightened eyes upon him and withdrew her hand. “Don’t,” she said.
“Why?” he asked. “’
“I do not know, only that it makes me afraid.” The man was about to speak again when a figure darkened the opening in the doorway. A girl had come bringing food. Heretofore it had been a man—a taciturn man who had replied to none of Tanar’s questions. But there was no suggestion of taciturnity upon the beautiful, smiling countenance of the girl.
“Here is food,” she said. “Are you hungry?”
“Where there is nothing else to do but eat I am always hungry,” said Tanar. “But where is the man who brought our food before?”
“That was my father;” replied the girl. “He has gone to hunt and I have brought the food in his stead.”
“I hope that he never returns from the hunt,” said Tanar.
“Why?” demanded the girl. “He is a good father. Why do you wish him harm?”
“I wish him no harm,” replied Tanar, laughing. “I only wish that his daughter would continue to bring our food. She is far more agreeable and much better looking.”
The girl flushed, but it was evident that she was pleased.
“I wanted to come before,” she said, “but my father would not let me. I saw you when they brought you into the village and I have wanted to see you again. I never before saw a man who looked like you. You are different from the Amiocapians. Are all the men of Sari as good looking as you?”
Tanar laughed. “I am afraid I have never given much thought to that subject,” he replied. “In Sari we judge our men by what they do and not by what they look like.”
“But you must be a great hunter,” said the girl. “You look like a great hunter.”
“How do great hunters look?” demanded Stellara with some asperity.
“They look like this man,” replied the girl. “Do you know,” she continued, “I have dreamed about you many times.”
“What is your name?” asked Tanar.
“Letari,” replied the girl.
“Letari,” repeated Tanar. “That is a pretty name. I hope, Letari, that you will bring our food to us often.”
“I shall never bring it again,” she said, sadly.
“And why?” demanded Tanar.
“Because no one will bring it again,” she said.
“And why is that? Are they going to starve us to death?”
“No, the council of the chiefs has decided that you are both Korsars and that you must be destroyed.”
“And when will that be?” asked Stellara.
“As soon as the hunters return with food. We are going to have a great feast and dance, but I shall not enjoy it. I shall be very unhappy for I do not wish to see Tanar die.”
“How are they going to destroy us?” asked the man.
“Look,” said the girl, pointing through the open doorway. There, in the distance, the two prisoners saw men setting two stakes into the ground. “There were many who wanted to give you to the Buried People,” said Letari, “but Zural said that it has been so long since we have had a feast and a dance that he thought that we should celebrate the killing of two Korsars rather than let the Buried People have all the pleasure, and so they are going to tie you to those two stakes and pile dry wood and brush around you and burn you to death.”
Stellara shuddered. “And my mother taught me that you were a kindly people,” she said.
“Oh, we do not mean to be unkind,” said Letari, “but the Korsars have been very cruel to us and Zural believes that the gods will take word to the Korsars that you were burned to death and that perhaps it will frighten them and keep them away from Amiocap.”
Tanar arose to his feet and stood very straight and stiff. The horror of the situation almost overwhelmed him. He looked down at Stellara’s golden head and shuddered. “You cannot mean,” he said, “that the men of Amiocap intend to burn this girl alive?”
“Why, yes,” said Letari. “It would do no good to kill her first for then her spirit could not tell the gods that she was burned and they could not tell the Korsars.”
“It is hideous,” cried Tanar; “and you, a girl yourself, have you no sympathy; have you no heart?”
“I am very sorry that they are going to burn you,” said Letari, “but as for her, she is a Korsar and I feel nothing but hatred and loathing for her, but you are different. I know that you are not a Korsar and I wish that I could save you.”
“Will you—would you, if you could?” demanded Tanar.
“Yes, but I cannot.”
The conversation relative to escape had been carried on in low whispers, so that the guard would not overhear, but evidently it had aroused his suspicion for now he arose and came to the doorway of the hut. “What are you talking about?” he demanded. “Why do you stay in here so long, Letari, talking with these Korsars? I heard what you said and I believe that you are in love with this man.”
“What if I am?” demanded the girl. “Do not our gods demand that we love? What else do we live for upon Amiocap but love?”
“The gods do not say that we should love our enemies.”
“They do not say that we should not,” retorted Letari. “If I choose to love Tanar it is my own affair.”
“Clear out!” snapped the warrior. “There are plenty of men in Lar for you to love.”
“Ah!” sighed the girl as she passed through the doorway, “but there is none like Tanar.”
“The hateful little wanton,” cried Stellara after the girl had left.
“She does not hesitate to reveal what is in her heart,” said Tanar. “The girls of Sari are not like that. They would die rather than reveal their love before the man had declared his. But perhaps she is only a child and did not realize what she said.”
“A child nothing,” snapped Stellara. “She knew perfectly well what she was saying and it is quite apparent that you liked it. Very well, when she comes to save you, go with her.”
“You do not think that I intended to go with her alone even though an opportunity for escape presented itself through her, do you?” demanded Tanar.
“She told you that she would not help me to escape,” Stellara reminded him.
“I know that, but it would be only in the hope of helping you to escape that I would take advantage of her help.”
“I would rather be burned alive a dozen times than to escape with her help.”
There was a venom in the girl’s voice that had never been there before and Tanar looked at her in surprise. “I do not understand you, Stellara,” he said.
“I do not understand myself,” said the girl, and burying her face in her hands she burst into tears. .
Tanar knelt quickly beside her and put an arm about her. “Don’t,” he begged, “please don’t.”
She pushed him from her. “Go away,” she cried. “Don’t touch me. I hate you.”
Tanar was about to speak again when he was interrupted by a great commotion at the far end of the village. There were shouts and yells from men, mingled with a thunderous noise that fairly shook the ground, and then the deep booming of drums.
Instantly the men setting the stakes in the ground, where Tanar and Stellara were to be burned, stopped their work, seized their weapons and rushed in the direction from which the noise was coming.
The prisoners saw men, women and children running from their huts and all directed their steps toward the same point. The guard before their door leaped to his feet and stood for a moment looking at the running villagers. Then, without a word or backward glance, he dashed off after them.
Tanar, realizing that for the moment at least they were unguarded, stepped from the dark cell out into the open living apartment and looked in the direction toward which the villagers were running. There he saw the cause of the disturbance and also an explanation of the purpose for which the strange hanging barrier had been erected.
Just beyond the barrier loomed two gigantic mammoths—huge tandors, towering sixteen feet or more in height—their wicked eyes red with hate and rage; their great tusks gleaming in the sunlight; their long, powerful trunks seeking to drag down the barrier from the sharpened stakes of which their flesh recoiled. Facing the mammoths was a shouting horde of warriors, screaming women and children, and above all rose the thundering din of the drums.
Each time the tandors sought to force their way through the barrier, or brush aside its posts, these swung about so that the sharpened stakes threatened their eyes or pricked the tender flesh of their trunks, while bravely facing them the shouting warriors hurled their stone-tipped spears.
But however interesting or inspiring the sight might be, Tanar had no time to spare to follow the course of this strange encounter. Turning to Stellara, he seized her hand. “Come,” he cried. “Now is our chance!” And while the villagers were engrossed with the tandors at the far end of the village, Tanar and Stellara ran swiftly across the clearing and entered the lush vegetation of the forest beyond.
There was no trail and it was with difficulty that they forced their way through the underbrush for a short distance before Tanar finally halted.
“We shall never escape them in this way,” he said. “Our spoor is as plain as the spoor of a dyryth after a rain.”
“How else then may we escape?” asked Stellara.
Tanar was looking upward into the trees examining them closely. “When I was a prisoner among the black people with long tails,” he said, “I had to learn to travel through the trees and this knowledge and the ability have stood me in good stead many times since and I believe that they may prove our salvation now.”
“You go then,” said Stellara, “and save yourself, for certainly I cannot travel through the trees, and there is no reason why we should both be recaptured when one of us can escape.”
Tanar smiled. “You know that I would not do that,” he said.
“But what else may you do?” demanded Stellara. “They will follow the trail we are making and recapture us before we are out of hearing of the village.”
“We shall leave no trail,” said Tanar. “Come,” and leaping lightly to a lower branch he swung himself into the tree that spread above them. “Give me your hand,” he said, reaching down to Stellara, and a moment later he had drawn the girl to his side. Then he stood erect and steadied the girl while she arose to her feet. Before them a maze of branches stretched away to be lost in the foliage.
“We shall leave no spoor here,” said Tanar.
“I am afraid,” said Stellara. “Hold me tightly.” “You will soon become accustomed to it,” said Tanar, “and then you will not be afraid. At first I was afraid, but later I could swing through the trees almost as rapidly as the black men themselves.” “I cannot even take a single step,” said Stellara. “I know that I shall fall.” “You do not have to take a step,” said Tanar. “Put your arms around my neck and hold on tightly,” and then he stooped and lifted her with his left arm while she clung tightly to him, her soft white arms encircling his neck.
“How easily you lifted me!” she said; “how strong you are; but no man living could carry my weight through these trees and not fall.”
Tanar did not reply, but instead he moved off among the branches seeking sure footing and secure handholds as he went. The girl’s soft body was pressed close to his and in his nostrils was the delicate sachet that he had sensed in his first contact with Stellara aboard the Korsar ship and which now seemed a part of her.
As Tanar swung through the forest, the girl marveled at the strength of the man. She had always considered him a weakling by comparison with the beefy Korsars, but now she realized that in those smoothly rolling muscles was concealed the power of a superman.
She found a fascination in watching him. He moved so easily and he did not seem to tire. Once she let her lips fall until they touched his thick, black hair and then, just a little, almost imperceptibly, she tightened her arms about his neck.
Stellara was very happy and then, of a sudden, she recalled Letari and she straightened up and relaxed her hold. “The vile wanton,” she said.
“Who?” demanded Tanar. “What are you talking about?” .
“That creature, Letari,” said Stellara.
“Why she is not vile,” said Tanar. “I thought she was very nice and she is certainly beautiful.”
“I believe you are in love with her,” snapped Stellara.
“That would not be difficult,” said Tanar. “She seemed very lovable.”
“Do you love her?” demanded Stellara.
“Why shouldn’t I?” asked Tanar.
“Do you?” insisted the girl.
“Would you care if I did?” asked Tanar, softly.
“Most certainly not,” said Stellara.
“Then why do you ask?” “I didn’t ask,” said Stellara. “I do not care.” “Oh,” said Tanar. “I misunderstood,” and he moved on in silence, for the men of Sari are not talkative, and Stellara did not know what was in his mind for his face did not reflect the fact that he was laughing inwardly, and, anyway, Stellara could not see his face.
Tanar moved always in one direction and his homing instinct assured him that the direction lay toward Sari. As far as the land went he could move unerringly toward the spot in Pellucidar where he was born. Every Pellucidarian can do that, but put them on the water, out of sight of land, and that instinct leaves them and they have no more conception of direction than would you or I if we were transported suddenly to a land where there are no points of compass since the sun hangs perpetually at zenith and there is no moon and no stars. Tanar’s only wish at present was to put them as far as possible from the village of Lar. He would travel until they reached the coast for, knowing that Amiocap was an island, he knew that eventually they must come to the ocean. What they should do then was rather vague in his mind. He had visions of building a boat and embarking upon the sea, although he knew perfectly well that this would be madness on the part of a hill dweller such as he.
Presently he felt hungry and he knew that they must have traveled a considerable distance.
Sometimes Tanar kept track of distance by computing the number of steps that he took, for by much practice he had learned to count them almost mechanically, leaving his mind free for other perceptions and. thoughts, but here among the branches of the trees, where his steps were not of uniform length, he had thought it not worth the effort to count them and so he could only tell by the recurrence of hunger that they must have covered considerable distance since they left the village of Lar.
During their flight through the forest they had seen birds and monkeys and other animals and, on several occasions, they had paralleled or crossed game trails, but as the Amiocapians had stripped him of his weapons he had no means of obtaining meat until he could stop long enough to fashion a bow and some arrows and a spear.
How he missed his spear! From childhood it had been his constant companion and for a long time he had felt almost helpless without it. He had never become entirely accustomed or reconciled to carrying firearms, feeling in the bottom of his primitive and savage heart that there was nothing more dependable than a sturdy, stone shod spear.
He had rather liked the bow and arrows that Innes and Perry had taught him to make and use, as the arrows had seemed like little spears. At least one could see them, whereas with the strange and noisy weapons, which belched forth smoke and flame, one could not see the projectile at all. It was most unnatural and uncanny.
But Tanar’s mind was not occupied with such thoughts at this time. Food was dominant.
Presently they came to a small, natural clearing beside a crystal brook and Tanar swung lightly to the ground.
“We shall stop here,” he said, “until I can make weapons and get meat for us.”
With the feel of the ground beneath her feet again Stellara felt more independent. “I am not hungry,” she said.
“I am,” said Tanar.
“There are berries and fruits and nuts in plenty,” she insisted. “We should not wait here to be overtaken by the warriors from Lar.”
“We shall wait here until I have made weapons,” said Tanar, with finality, “and then I shall not only be in a position to make a kill for meat, but I shall be able better to defend you against Zural’s warriors.”
“I wish to go on,” said Stellara. “I do not wish to stay here,” and she stamped her little foot.
Tanar looked at her in Surprise. “What is the matter with you, Stellara? You were never like this before.”
“I do not know what is the matter with me,” said the girl. “I only know that I wish I were back in Korsar, in the house of The Cid. There, at least, I should be among friends. Here I am surrounded only by enemies.”
“Then you would have Bohar the Bloody One as a mate, if he survived the storm, or if not he another like him,” Tanar reminded her.
“At least he loved me,” said Stellara.
“And you loved him?” asked Tanar.
“Perhaps,” said Stellara.
There was a peculiar look on Tanar’s face as his eyes rested upon the girl. He did not understand her, but he seemed to be trying to. She was looking past him, a strange expression upon her face when suddenly she voiced an exclamation of dismay and pointed past him.
“Look!” she cried. “Oh, God, look!”