NIGHT was creeping stealthily out of its lair in the east, bringing its following of mystery and dark deeds and strange beasts that are not seen by day. Though the sun still colored the western sky with a fading tinge of red it was already dark and gloomy in The Pass of the Warriors that leads from the valley of Onthar to the valley of Thenar.
In Onthar is Cathne, the City of Gold; in Thenar is Athne, the City of Ivory; in The Pass of the Warriors was Tarzan of the Apes. Alone, he was going to Athne seeking a clew to the whereabouts of Gonfala.
Gemnon had tried to dissuade him from going without an escort; and so had Thudos, whom he had helped to seat upon the throne of Cathne.
“If you are not back within a reasonable time,” Thudos told him, “I shall send an army to Athne to bring you back.”
“If I am not back in a reasonable time,” suggested the ape-man, “it may be because I shall be dead.”
“Perhaps,” agreed Thudos, “but they will not kill you unless they have to. They are always hard pressed to find enough slaves to carry on the work of the city, and they’d never destroy such a fine specimen as you. Like us, they also need men to fight in the arena.”
“You would like that better than scrubbing elephants,” said Gemnon, smiling.
Tarzan shook his head. “I do not like to fight or to kill, and there are worse things than scrubbing elephants.”
And so he had gone, choosing to travel so that he would not have to cross the valley of Thenar by day, as he wished to approach and reconnoiter Athne unseen. That both valleys, especially Onthar, harbored many wild lions was a hazard he had to accept; but, except for the actual crossing of Thenar, he could take advantage of the protection of forests practically all of the way.
The hazard was great, for the lions of Thenar were not all ordinary lions. Many of them were escaped hunting lions of Cathne which had been often fed with human flesh and trained to hunt men. For generations they had been bred for speed and endurance; so that in all the world there were no such formidable beasts of prey as these.
As night fell, Tarzan heard the roars of the great cats in the valley he had quitted. With every sense alert he passed through The Pass of the Warriors and entered the valley of Thenar. As yet he had heard no lion roar coming from that direction. The wind was in his face. It brought no scent spoor of Numa, but he knew that it was carrying his scent back in the direction of the hunting lions of Cathne.
He increased his speed, for though he had killed many a lion he knew that no living creature could hope to survive an attack by these beasts that often hunted in packs.
He was out now upon the open plain of Thenar. He could still hear the roaring of the lions in Onthar. Suddenly they took on a new note. He knew it well. It told him that they had picked up the trail of some creature and marked it as their quarry. Was it his trail?
A full moon rose above the mountains ahead of him, lighting the floor of the valley, revealing the dark strip of forest far ahead. The savage voices of the lions grew louder, reverberating in the canyon called The Pass of the Warriors, through which he had just come; then Tarzan knew that the hunting lions of Cathne were on his trail.
You or I could not have counted the lions by their voices; but to Tarzan the distinctive quality or character of each voice was discernible, and thus he knew that five lions were loping relentlessly to the kill. Once more he quickened his pace.
He judged that the lions were about a mile in the rear of him, the forest about three miles ahead. If no obstacle intervened he could reach the forest ahead of the lions; but he was crossing an unfamiliar terrain known to him only by the descriptions given him by Gemnon and Thudos, and he knew that there might easily be some peculiarity of the topography of the floor of the valley that would delay him—a deep dry wash with overhanging banks of soft dirt would do it.
On he trotted, his great chest rising and falling regularly, his heartbeats scarcely accelerated by the exertion; but the lions came even more swiftly. He knew from the sound of their voices that they were gaining on him. Knowing them, even as he did, he marvelled at their endurance, so unusual in lions; and was amazed at the results that could be attained by careful breeding. Now, for the first time, he broke into a run; for he knew that the moment they sighted him they would come on much faster than he could run for any great distance. It then would be just a question as to which could maintain the greatest speed for the longest distance.
No washes intervened nor other obstacle, and he came at last to within half a mile of the forest with sufficient distance and time to spare to assure him a reasonable margin of safety; then the unforeseen occurred. From the shadows of the forest a great lion stepped into view before him.
Those who would live long in the jungle must think quickly. Tarzan weighed the entire situation without losing a stride. The forest was his goal; one lion was less of a menace than five, and the one lion was all that stood between him and the forest. With a savage growl he charged the lion.
The beast had started to trot toward him; but now he stopped hesitant. Would he hold his ground or would he break? Much depended upon whether he was an ordinary wild lion or a trained hunting lion. From the fact that he hesitated instead of carrying through his charge Tarzan guessed that he was the former.
The five lions from Onthar were gaining rapidly now. In the bright moonlight they must have caught sight of their quarry. Their voices proclaimed that. Now they were charging. Had they been wild lions they would have hunted in silence once their prey was marked, but the earth fairly trembled to their roars. Tarzan thought that they wasted too much energy thus, but he knew that they were trained to it so that the huntsmen could follow them even when they were out of sight.
Tarzan saw that the lion facing him was wavering. He was probably surprised at the tactics of the man-thing, at a quarry that charged him; and the roars of the five lions doubtless added to his nervousness. Only fifty yards separated them, and the lion had not made up his mind, when from the chest of the ape-man burst the savage challenge of the bull ape. It was the last straw—the lion wheeled and bounded back into the forest. A moment later Tarzan swarmed up a friendly tree as five angry lions leaped to seize him.
Finding a comfortable resting place the ape-man broke off dead branches and threw them at the lions, calling them Dango, Ungo, Horta, and other insulting names, ascribing vile tastes and habits to themselves and their ancestors. A quiet, almost taciturn, man, he was as adept in the use of the jungle billingsgate he had acquired from the great apes among which he had been raised. Perhaps the lions understood him; perhaps they did not. Who knows? Anyhow, they were very angry; and leaped high in air in vain efforts to reach him, which only made them angrier. But Tarzan had no time to waste upon them; and, keeping to the trees, he swung away toward the north and Athne.
He had timed himself to reach the city while it slept, and knew how to approach it from information given him by Gemnon and Thudos who had often visited Athne during the yearly truces when the two cities traded with one another. He passed half way around the city to the north side, which was less well guarded than the south.
Here he faced the greatest danger of discovery, for he must scale the wall in the light of a full moon. He chose a place far from the north gate, and crept toward the city on his belly through the garden stuff growing in the cultivated fields. He stopped often to look and listen, but he saw no sign of life on the city wall.
When he had come to within about a hundred feet of the wall, he arose and ran toward it at top speed, scaling it like a cat until his fingers closed upon the coping; then he drew himself up; and, lying flat, looked down upon the other side. A shedlike building abutted against the wall, and beyond this was a narrow street. Tarzan slipped to the roof of the shed, and a moment later dropped into the street.
Instantly a head was thrust from an open window and a man’s voice demanded, “What are you doing there? Who are you?”
“I am Daimon,” replied Tarzan in a husky whisper. Instantly the head was withdrawn and the window slammed shut. Tarzan, quick witted, had profited by something that Gemnon had told him—that the Athneans believed in a bad spirit that was abroad at night seeking whom it might kill. To Daimon they attributed all unexplained deaths, especially those that occurred at night.
Following the directions he had received, Tarzan moved through the narrow, shadowed streets toward the center of the city, coming at last to the walled enclosure where the palace stood. He had been told that here he would find guards only at the north and south gates. Other gates, if there were any, were securely fastened and seldom used.
As Tarzan approached the enclosure from the west, he encountered no gate and no guards. The wall was low compared with that which surrounded the city, and so proved no obstacle to the ape-man. Once over the wall he found himself in a garden of trees, shrubs, and flowers, a lovely place of soft, sweet fragrances; but for these he had no senses at the moment—he was searching for other scents than those of flowers.
Winding among small buildings and other gardens he came to a large building that he knew must be the palace; and here, to his surprise, he saw several rooms brilliantly lighted. He had thought that all would be asleep with the exception of the guards.
A number of old trees grew in the garden court that flanked this side of the palace, and in the security of their shadows Tarzan crossed to the building and looked in at one of the windows. Here he saw a large banquet hall down the length of which ran a long table at which a hundred or more men were seated, most of them in various stages of drunkenness.
There was much loud talk and laughter, and a couple of fights were in progress in which no one took any interest except the contestants. The men were, for the most part, coarse, common appearing fellows, not at all like the nobles of Cathne. The man at the head of the table was quite bestial in appearance. He pounded on the table with a great ham of a fist, and bellowed more like a bull than a man.
Slaves were coming and going, bringing more drink and removing empty goblets and dishes. Some of the guests were still eating, but most of them concentrated their energies and their talents upon the principal business of the evening—drinking.
“Didn’t I tell you to fetch her?” shouted the large man at the head of the table, addressing the assemblage in general.
“Told who to bring what?” inquired another seated farther toward the foot of the table.
“The girl,” shouted the large man.
“What girl, Photos?”
“The girl,” replied Phoros drunkenly.
“Oh the girl,” said some one.
“Well, why don’t you bring her?”
“Bring the girl,” repeated Phoros.
“Who bring her?” asked another.
“You bring her,” ordered Phoros.
The fellow addressed shook his head. “Not me,” he said. “Menofra’d have the hide off me.”
“She won’t know. She’s gone to bed,” Phoros assured him.
“I ain’t takin’ any chances. Send a slave.”
“You’d better not send anyone,” counselled a man sitting next to Phoros, one who did not seem as drunk as the others. “Menofra would cut her heart out and yours too.”
“Who’s king?” demanded Phoros.
“Ask Menofra,” suggested the other.
“I’m king,” asserted Phoros. He turned to a slave. The fellow happened to be looking in another direction. Phoros threw a heavy goblet at him, which barely missed his head. “Here, you! Go fetch the girl.”
“What girl, master?” asked the trembling slave.
“There’s only one girl in Athne, you son of a wart hog! Go get her!”
The slave hurried from the room. Then there ensued a discussion as to what Menofra would do if she found out. Phoros announced that he was tired of Menofra, and that if she didn’t mind her own business he’d take her apart and forget to put her together again. He thought this such a good joke that he laughed immoderately and fell off his bench, but some of the others seemed nervous and looked apprehensively toward the doorway.
Tarzan watched and listened. He felt disgust and shame—shame, because he belonged to the same species as these creatures. Since infancy he had been fellow of the beasts of the forest and the plain, the lower orders; yet he had never seen them sink to the level of man. Most of them had courage and dignity of a sort; seldom did they stoop to buffoonery, with the possible exception of the lesser monkeys, who were most closely allied to man. Had he been impelled to theorize he would doubtless have reversed Darwin’s theory of evolution. But his mind was occupied with another thought—who was “The girl”? He wondered if she might not be Gonfala, but further speculation was discouraged by the coming of a large, masculine looking woman who strode into the room followed by the slave who had just been dispatched to bring the girl. So this was the girl! Tarzan looked at her in mild astonishment. She had large, red hands, a whiskered mole on her chin, and quite a noticeable mustache. In other respects she was quite as unlovely.
“What’s the meaning of this?” she demanded, glaring at Phoros. “Why did you send for me at this time in the morning, you drunken lout?”
Phoros’ jaw dropped; he looked wildly about at his companions as though seeking help; but he got none. Each of those who had not passed out completely was engaged in trying to appear dignified and sober.
“My dear,” explained Phoros ingratiatingly, “we wanted you to join us and help celebrate.”
“ ‘My dear’ nothing!” snapped the woman; then her eyes narrowed. “Celebrate what?” she demanded.
Phoros looked about him helplessly. Bleary eyed and belching, he looked foolishly at the man sitting next him. “What were we celebrating, Kandos?”
Kandos fidgeted, and moistened his dry lips with his tongue.
“Don’t lie to me!” screamed the woman. “The truth is that you never intended to send for me.”
“Now, Menofra!” exclaimed Phoros in what was intended to be a soothing tone.
The woman wheeled on the frightened slave behind her. “Were you told to fetch me?” she demanded.
“Oh, great queen! I thought he meant you,” whimpered the slave, dropping to his knees.
“What did he say to you?” Menofra’s voice was raised almost to a shriek.
“He said ‘Go fetch the girl!’ and when I asked him what girl, he said, ‘There’s only one girl in Athne, you son of a wart hog!’”
Menofra’s eyes narrowed menacingly. “The only girl in Athne, eh? I know who you sent for—it’s that yellow haired hussy that was brought in with the two men. You think you been fooling me, don’t you? Well, you haven’t. You just been waiting for your chance, and tonight you got drunk enough to muster up a little courage. Well, I’ll attend to you; and when I get through with you, I’ll fix the only girl in Athne. I’ll send her to you, if there’s anything left of you—I’ll send her to you in pieces.” She wheeled on the subdued and frightened company. “Get out of here, you swine—all of you!” Then she strode to the head of the table and seized Phoros by an ear. “And you come with me—king!” The title bristled with contumely.