THE SUN is an impartial old devil. He shines with equal brilliance upon the just and the banker, upon the day of a man’s wedding or upon the day of his death. The great African sun, which, after all, is the same sun that shines on Medicine Hat, shone brilliantly on this new day upon which Tarzan was to die. He was to die because Alextar had decreed it—the suggestion had been Tomos’. The sun even shone upon Tomos; but then the sun is ninety-three million miles away, and that is a long way to see what one is shining on.
They came about eleven o’clock in the morning and took Tarzan from his cell. They did not even bother to bring him food or water. What need has a man who is about to die for food or drink? He was very thirsty; and perhaps, if he had asked, the guards would have given him water; for after all they were common soldiers and not a king’s favorites, and therefore more inclined to be generous and humane. The ape-man, however, asked for nothing. It was not because he was consciously too proud; his pride was something instinctive—it inhibited even a suggestion that he might ask a favor of an enemy.
When he was brought out of the palace grounds onto the avenue, the sight that met his eyes apprised him of the fate that had been decreed for him. There was the procession of nobles and warriors, the lion drawn chariot of the king, and a single great lion held in leash by eight stalwart blacks. Tarzan had seen all this before, that time that he had been the quarry in the Queen’s Hunt. Today he was to be the quarry in the King’s Hunt, but today he could expect no such miracle as had saved him from the mighty jaws of Belthar upon that other occasion.
The same crowds of citizens lined the sides of the avenue; and when the procession moved toward the Bridge of Gold and out toward the Field of the Lions, the crowds moved with it. It was a good natured crowd, such as one might see milling toward the gates at a Cub-Giant game or the Army-Navy “classic.” It was no more bloody minded than those who throng to see Man Mountain Dean and the Honorable Mr. Detton or a professional ice hockey game at Madison Square Garden, and who would be so unkind as to suggest that these are looking for trouble and blood? Perish the thought!
They had taken no chances when they brought Tarzan from his cell. Twenty spearmen betokened the respect in which they held him. Now they chained him to Alextar’s chariot, and the triumph was under way.
Out upon the Field of the Lions the procession halted and the long gantlet of warriors was formed down which the quarry was to be pursued by the lion. The ape-man was unchained, the wagers were being laid as to the point in the gantlet at which the lion would overtake and drag down its victim, and the hunting lion was being brought up to scent the quarry. Tomos was gloating. Alextar appeared nervous—he was afraid of lions. He would never have gone on a hunt of his own volition. Tarzan watched him. He saw a young man in his late twenties with nervous, roving eyes, a weak chin and a cruel mouth. There was nothing about him to remind one that he was the brother of the gorgeous Nemone. He looked at Tarzan, but his eyes fell before the steady gaze of the ape-man.
“Hurry!” he snapped querulously. “We are bored.”
They did hurry, and in their haste it happened. In a fraction of a second the comparatively peaceful scene was transformed to one of panic and chaos.
By accident one of the blacks that held the hunting lion in leash slipped the beast’s collar, and with an angry roar the trained killer struck down those nearest him and charged the line of spearmen standing between him and the crowd of spectators. He was met by a dozen spears while the unarmed citizenry fled in panic, trampling the weaker beneath their feet.
The nobles screamed commands. Alextar stood in his chariot, his knees shaking, and begged some one to save him. “A hundred thousand drachmas to the man who kills the beast!” he cried. “More! Anything he may ask shall be granted!”
No one seemed to pay any attention to him. All who could were looking after their own safety. As a matter of fact, he was in no danger at the time; for the lion was engaged elsewhere.
The jabbing spears further enraged the maddened carnivore, yet for some reason he did not follow up his attack upon the warriors; instead, he wheeled suddenly and then charged straight for the chariot of the king. Now, indeed, did Alextar have reason to be terrified. He would have run, but his knees gave beneath him so that he sat down upon the seat of his golden vehicle. He looked about helplessly. He was practically alone. Some of his noble guard had run to join in the attack upon the lion. Tomos had fled in the opposite direction. Only the quarry remained.
Alextar saw the man whip a dagger from his loin cloth and crouch in the path of the charging lion. He heard savage growls roll from human lips. The lion was upon him. Alextar screamed; but, fascinated, his terror-filled eyes clung to the savage scene before him. He saw the lion rise to make the kill, and then what happened happened so quickly that he could scarcely follow it.
Tarzan stooped and dodged beneath the great forepaws outstretched to seize him; then he closed in and swung to the lion’s back, one great arm encircling the shaggy throat. Mingled with the beast’s horrid growls were the growls of the man-beast upon his back. Alextar went cold with terror. He tried to run, but he could not. Whether he would or not, he must sit and watch that awful spectacle—he must watch the lion kill the man and then leap upon him. Yet the thing that terrified him most was the growls of the man.
They were rolling upon the ground now in the dust of the Field of the Lions, sometimes the man on top, sometimes the lion; and now and again the dagger of Gemnon flashed in the sunlight, flashed as the blade drove into the side of the frantic beast. The two were ringed now by eager spearmen ready to thrust a point into the heart of the lion, but no chance presented that did not endanger the life of the man. But at last the end came. With a final supreme effort to escape the clutches of the ape-man, the lion collapsed upon the ground. The duel was over.
Tarzan leaped to his feet. For a moment he surveyed the surrounding warriors with the blazing eyes of a beast of prey at bay upon its kill; then he placed a foot upon the carcass of the bunting lion, raised his face to the heavens, and from his great chest rose the challenge of the bull ape.
The warriors shrank away as that weird and hideous cry shattered the brief new silence of the Field of the Lions. Alextar trembled anew. He had feared the lion, but he feared the man more. Had he not had him brought here to be killed by the very lion he had himself dispatched? And he was only a beast. His growls and his terrible cry proved that. What mercy could he expect from a beast? The man would kill him!
“Take him away!” he ordered feebly. “Take him away!”
“What shall we do with him?” asked a noble.
“Kill him! Kill him! Take him away!” Alextar was almost screaming now.
“But he saved your life,” the noble reminded.
“Huh? What? Oh, well; take him back to his cell. Later I shall know what to do with him. Can’t you see I am tired and don’t wish to be bothered?” he demanded querulously.
The noble hung his head in shame as he ordered the guard to escort Tarzan back to his cell; and he walked at Tarzan’s side, where a noble does not walk except with one of his own caste.
“What you did,” he remarked on the way back to the city, “deserves better reward than this.”
“I seem to recall hearing him offer anything he wished to the man who killed the lion,” said the ape-man. “That and a hundred thousand drachmas.”
“Yes, I heard him.”
“He seems to have a short memory.”
“What would you have asked him.”
The noble looked at him in surprise. “You would ask for nothing?”
“Is there nothing that you want?”
“Yes; but I wouldn’t ask anything of an enemy.”
“I am not your enemy.”
Tarzan looked at the man, and a shadow of a smile lit his grim visage. “I have had no water since yesterday, nor any food.”
“Well,” remarked the noble, laughing, “you’ll have them both—and without asking for them.”
On their return to the city Tarzan was placed in another cell; this one was on the second floor of a wing of the palace that overlooked the avenue. It was not long before the door was unbolted and a warrior entered with food and water. As he placed them on the end of the bench he looked at Tarzan admiringly.
“I was there and saw you kill the king’s hunting lion,” he said. “It was such a thing as one may see only once in a lifetime. I saw you fight with Phobeg before Nemone, the queen. That, too, was something to have seen. You spared Phobeg’s life when you might have killed him, when all were screaming for the kill. After that he would have died for you.”
“Yes, I know,” replied the ape-man. “Is Phobeg still alive?”
“Oh, very much; and he is still a temple guard.”
“If you see him, tell him that I wish him well.”
“That I will,” promised the warrior. “I shall see him soon. Now I must be going.” He came close to Tarzan then, and spoke in a whisper. “Drink no wine, and whoever comes keep your back to the wall and be prepared to fight.” Then he was gone.
“ ‘Drink no wine,”’ mused Tarzan. Wine, he knew, was the medium in which poison was customarily administered in Cathne; and if he kept his back to the wall no one could stab him from behind. Good advice! The advice of a friend who might have overheard something that prompted it. Tarzan knew that he had many friends among the warriors of the City of Gold.
He walked to one of the windows and looked out upon the avenue. He saw a lion striding majestically toward the center of the city, paying no attention to the pedestrians or being noticed by them. It was one of the many tame lions that roam the streets of Cathne by day. Sometimes they fed upon the corpses thrown out to them, but rarely did they attack a living man.
He saw a small gathering of people upon the opposite side of the avenue. They were talking together earnestly, often glancing toward the palace. Pedestrians stopped to listen and joined the crowd. A warrior came from the palace and stopped and spoke to them; then they looked up at the window where Tarzan stood. The warrior was he who had brought food to Tarzan.
When the crowd recognized the ape-man it commenced to cheer. People were coming from both directions, some of them running. There were many warriors among them. The crowd and the tumult grew. When darkness came torches were brought. A detachment of warriors came from the palace. It was commanded by a noble who sought to disperse the gathering.
Some one yelled, “Free Tarzan!” and the whole crowd took it up, like a chant. A huge man came, bearing a torch. In its light Tarzan recognized the man as Phobeg, the temple guard. He waved his torch at Tarzan, and cried, “Shame, Alextar! Shame!” and the crowd took that cry up and chanted it in unison.
The noble and the guardsmen sought to quiet and disperse them, and then a fight ensued in which heads were broken and men were slashed with swords and run through with spears. By this time the mob had grown until it filled the avenue. Its temper was nasty, and when once blood was spilled it went berserk. Before it the palace guard was helpless, and those who survived were glad to retreat to the safety of the palace.
Now some one shouted, “Down with Tomos! Death to Tomos!” and the hoarse voice of the mob seized upon this new slogan. It seemed to stir the men to new action, for now in a body they moved down upon the palace gates.
As they hammered and shoved upon the sturdy portals, a man at the outer fringe of the mob shouted, “The hunting lions! Alextar has turned his hunting lions upon us! Death to Alextar!”
Tarzan looked down the avenue toward the royal stables; and there, indeed, came fully fifty lions, held in leash by their keepers. Excited by the vast crowd, irritated by the noise, they tugged at their chains, while the night trembled to their thunderous roars; but the crowd, aroused now to demonical madness, was undaunted. Yet what could it do against this show of savage force? It started to fall back, slowly, cursing and growling, shouting defiance, calling for Tarzan’s release.
Involuntarily, a low growl came from the chest of the apeman, a growl of protest that he was helpless to aid those who would befriend him. He tested the bars in the window at which he stood. To his strength and his weight they bent inward a little; then he threw all that he had of both upon a single bar. It bent inward and pulled from its sockets in the frame, the soft iron giving to his giant strength. That was enough! One by one in quick succession the remaining bars were dragged out and thrown upon the floor.
Tarzan leaned from the window and looked down. Below him was an enclosed courtyard. It was empty. A wall screened it from the avenue beyond. He glanced into the avenue and saw that the crowd was still falling back, the lions advancing. So intent were all upon the lions that no one saw the ape-man slip through the window and drop into the courtyard. Opposite him was a postern gate, barred upon the inside. Through it he stepped into the avenue just in front of the retreating crowd, between it and the lions.
A dozen saw and recognized him at once; and a great shout went up, a shout of defiance with a new note in it—a note of renewed confidence and elation.
Tarzan seized a torch from one of the citizens. “Bring your torches!” he commanded. “Torches and spears in the front line!” Then he advanced to meet the lions, and the men with the torches and the spears rushed forward to the front line. All that they had needed was a leader.
All wild animals fear fire. The king of beasts is no exception. The hunting lions of Alextar, king of Cathne, shrank back when blazing torches were pushed into their faces. Their keepers, shouting encouragement, cursing, were helpless. One of the lions, his mane ablaze, turned suddenly to one side, fouling another lion, causing him to wheel in terror and confusion and bolt back toward the stables. In doing so, they crossed the leashes of other lions, became entangled in them, and tore them from the hands of the keepers. The freed lions hesitated only long enough to maul the keepers that chanced to be in their way, and then they too galloped back along the avenue toward the stables.
Emboldened by this success, the torch bearers fell upon the remaining lions, beating them with fire until the beasts were mad with terror; and Tarzan, in the forefront, urged them on. Pandemonium reigned. The hoarse shouts of the mob mingled with the roars of the carnivores and the screams of stricken men. By now the lions were frantic with terror. With leashes entangled, keepers down, manes afire, they could stand no more. Those that had not already broken and run, did so now. The mob was for pursuing, but Tarzan stopped them. With raised hand he quieted them after a moment.
“Let the lions go,” he counselled. “There is bigger game. I am going after Alextar and Tomos.”
“And I am going with you,” a big voice boomed beside him.
Tarzan turned and looked at the speaker. It was Phobeg, the temple guard.
“Good!” said the ape-man.
“We are going after Alextar and Tomos!” cried Phobeg.
A roar of approval rose from the crowd. “The gates!” some cried. “To the gates! To the gates!”
“There is an easier way,” said Tarzan. “Come!”
They followed him to the postern gate that he knew was unbarred and through it into the palace grounds. Here, Tarzan knew his way well; for he had been here both as a prisoner and a guest of Nemone, the queen.
Alextar and a few of his nobles were dining. The king was frightened; for not only could he hear the shouts of the mob, but he was kept constantly informed of all that was occurring outside the palace, and knew that the hunting lions he had been certain would disperse the rioters had been turned back and were in flight. He had sent every available fighting man in the palace to the gates when the shouts of the crowd indicated that it was about to storm them, and though assured by his nobles that the mob could not hope to overcome his warriors, even if the gates failed to hold against them, he was still terrified.
“It is your fault, Tomos,” he whined. “You said to lock the wild-man up, and now look what has happened! The people want to dethrone me. They may even kill me. What shall I do? What can I do?”
Tomos was in no better state of nerves than the king, for he had heard the people calling for his death. He cast about for some plan that might save him, and presently he thought of one.
“Send for the wild-man,” he said, “and set him free. Give him money and honors. Send word at once to the gates that you have done this.”
“Yes, yes,” assented Alextar; and, turning to one of his nobles, “Go at once and fetch the wild-man; and you, go to the gates and tell the people what has been done.”
“Later,” said Tomos “ we can offer him a cup of wine.”
The first noble crossed the room hurriedly and threw open a door leading into a corridor from which he could ascend to the second floor where Tarzan had been imprisoned, but he did not cross the threshold. In dismay he stepped back into the room.
“Here is Tarzan now!” he cried.
Alextar and Tomos and the others sprang to their feet as the opened door let in the murmurings of the crowd that followed the ape-man; then Tarzan stepped into the room, and crowding behind him came Phobeg and the others.
Alextar arose to flee, as did Tomos also; but with a bound Tarzan crossed the room and seized them. No noble drew a sword in defense of the king; like rats fleeing a sinking ship they were ready to desert Alextar. So great was his terror, the man was in a state of collapse. He went to his knees and begged for his life.
“You do not understand,” he cried. “I had just given orders to release you. I was going to give you money—I will give you money—I will make you a lion-man—I will give you a palace, slaves, everything.”
“You should have thought of all this on the Field of the Lions today, now it is too late. Not that I would have what you offer,” the ape-man added, “but it might have saved your life temporarily and your throne, too, because then your people would not have grown so angry and disgusted.”
“What are you going to do to me?” demanded the king.
“I am going to do nothing to you,” replied Tarzan. “What your people do to you is none of my concern, but if they don’t make Thudos king they are fools.”
Now Thudos was the first of the nobles, as Tarzan knew; and in his veins flowed better blood from an older line than the king of Cathne could claim. He was a famous old warrior, loved and respected by the people; and when the crowd in the room heard Tarzan they shouted for Thudos; and those in the corridor carried it back out into the avenue, and the word spread through the city.
Alextar heard, and his face went ashen white. He must have gone quite mad, as his sister before him. He came slowly to his feet and faced Tomos. “You have done this to me,” he said. “For years you kept me in prison. You ruined my sister’s life—you and M’duze. You have ruined my life, and now you have lost me my throne. But you shall never ruin another life,” and with that he drew his sword so quickly that none could stay him and brought the blade down with all his strength on Tomos’s skull, cleaving it to the nose.
As the body slumped to his feet he broke into maniacal laughter, while those in the room stood stunned and silent; then, as quickly as he had done before, he placed the point of his sword at his heart and threw himself forward upon it.
Thus died Alextar, the last of the mad rulers of Cathne.