STANLEY WOOD was in high spirits. “It commences to look as though our troubles were about over,” he said. He laid a hand on Gonfala’s tenderly. “You’ve been through a lot, but I can promise you that when we get to civilization you’ll be able to understand for the first time in your life what perfect peace and security mean.”
“Yes,” said Tarzan, “the perfect peace and security of automobile accidents, railroad wrecks, aeroplane crashes, robbers, kidnapers, war, and pestilence.”
Wood laughed. “But no lions, leopards, buffaloes, wild elephants, snakes, nor tsetse flies, not to mention shiftas and cannibals.”
“I think,” said Gonfala, “that neither one of you paints a very pretty picture. You make one almost afraid of life. But after all it is not so much peace and security that I want as freedom. You know, all my life I have been a prisoner except for the few short weeks after you took me away from the Kaji and before Spike and Troll got me. Perhaps you can imagine then how much I want freedom, no matter how many dangers I have to take along with it. It seems the most wonderful thing in the world.”
“It is,” said Tarzan.
“Well, love has its points, too,” suggested Wood.
“Yes,” agreed Gonfala, “but not without freedom.”
“You’re going to have them both,” Wood promised.
“With limitations, you’ll find, Gonfala,” warned Tarzan with a smile.
“Just now I’m interested in food,” said Gonfala.
“And I think it’s coming.” Wood nodded toward the door. Some one was fumbling with the key. Presently the door opened far enough to permit two pots to be shoved inside the room; then it was closed with a bang.
“They are taking no chances,” commented Wood as he crossed the room and carried the two vessels back to his companions. One contained a thick stew; the other, water.
“What, no hardware?” inquired Wood.
“Hardware? What is that?” asked Gonfala; “something to eat?”
“Something to eat with—forks, spoons. No forks, no spoons, no Emily Post—how embarrassing!”
“Here,” said Tarzan, and handed his hunting knife to Gonfala. They took turns spearing morsels of meat with it and drinking the juice and the water directly from the pots, sharing the food with Phoros.
“Not half bad,” commented Wood. “What is it, Phoros?”
“Young wether. There is nothing tastier. I am surprised that Menofra did not send us old elephant hide to chew on. Perhaps she is relenting.” Then he shook his head. “No, Menofra never relents—at least not where I am concerned. That woman is so ornery she thinks indigestion is an indulgence.”
“My!” said Gonfala, drowsily. “I am so sleepy I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“Same here,” said Wood.
Phoros looked at the others and yawned. Tarzan stood up and shook himself.
“You, too?” asked Photos.
The ape-man nodded. Phoros’ lids drooped. “The old she-devil,” he muttered. “We’ve all been drugged—maybe poisoned.”
Tarzan watched his companions fall into a stupor one by one. He tried to fight off the effects of the drug. He wondered if any of them would awaken again; then he sagged to one knee and rolled over on the floor, unconscious.
The room was decorated with barbaric splendor. Mounted heads of animals and men adorned the walls. There were crude murals done in colors that had faded into softness, refined by age. Skins of animals and rugs of wool covered the floor, the benches, and a couch on which Menofra lay, her body raised on one elbow, her bandaged head supported by one huge palm. Four warriors stood by the only door; at Menofra’s feet lay Gonfala and Wood, still unconscious; at her side stood Kandos; at the foot of the couch, bound and unconscious, lay Phoros.
“You sent the wild-man to the slave pen as I directed?” asked Menofra.
Kandos nodded. “Yes, queen; and because he seemed so strong I had him chained to a stanchion.”
“That is well,” said Menofra. “Even a fool does the right thing occasionally.”
“Thank you, queen,” said Kandos.
“Don’t thank me; you make me sick. You are a liar and a cheat and a traitor. Phoros befriended you, yet you turned against him. How much more quickly would you turn against me who has never befriended you and whom you hate! But you won’t, because you are a coward; and don’t even think of it. If I ever get the idea for a moment that you might be thinking of turning against me I’ll have your head hanging on this wall in no time. The man is coming to.”
They looked down at Wood whose eyes were opening slowly and whose arms and legs were moving a little as though experimenting with the possibilities of self-control. He was the first to regain consciousness. He opened his eyes and looked about him. He saw Gonfala lying beside him. Her rising and falling bosom assured him that she lived. He looked up at Kandos and the queen.
“So this is the way you keep your word?” he accused; then he looked about for Tarzan. “Where is the other?”
“He is quite safe,” said Kandos. “The queen in her mercy has not killed any of you.”
“What are you going to do with us?” demanded Wood.
“The wild-man goes to the arena,” replied Menofra. “You and the girl will not be killed immediately—not until you have served my purpose.”
“And what is that?”
“You shall know presently. Kandos, send for a priest; Phoros will soon awaken.”
Gonfala opened her eyes and sat up. “What has happened?” she asked. “Where are we?”
“We are still prisoners,” Wood told her. “These people have double-crossed us.”
“Civilization seems very far away,” she said and tears came to her eyes.
He took her hand. “You must be brave, dear.”
“I am tired of being brave; I have been brave for so long. I should like so much to cry, Stanlee.”
Now Phoros regained consciousness, and looked first at one and then at another. When his eyes fell on Menofra he winced.
“Ah, the rat has awakened,” said the queen.
“You have rescued me, my dear!” said Phoros.
“You may call it that, if you wish,” said Menofra coldly; “but I should call it by another name, as you will later.”
“Now, my darling, let us forget the past—let bygones be bygones. Kandos, remove my bonds. How does it look to see the king trussed up like this?”
“It looks all right to me,” Menofra assured him, “but how would you like to be trussed up? It could be done with red hot chains, you know. In fact, it has been done. It’s not a bad idea; I am glad you suggested it.”
“But, Menofra, my dear wife, you wouldn’t do that to me?”
“Oh, you think not? But you would try to kill me with your sword so that you could take this wench here to wife. Well, I’m not going to have you trussed up with red hot chains—not yet. First I am going to remove temptation from your path without removing the object of your temptation. I am going to let you see what you might have enjoyed.”
There was a rap on the door, and one of the warriors said, “The priest is here.”
“Let him in,” ordered Menofra.
Wood had helped Gonfala to her feet, and the two were seated on a bench, mystified listeners to Menofra’s cryptic speech. When the priest had entered the room and bowed before the queen she pointed to them.
“Marry these two,” she commanded.
Wood and Gonfala looked at one another in astonishment. “There’s a catch in this somewhere,” said the former. “The old termagant’s not doing this because she loves us, but I’m not looking any gift horse in the mouth.”
“It’s what we’ve been waiting and hoping for,” said Gonfala, “but I wish it could have happened under different conditions. There is something sinister in this. I don’t believe that any good thought could come out of that woman’s mind.”
The marriage ceremony was extremely simple, but very impressive. It laid upon the couple the strictest obligations of fidelity and condemned to death and damned through eternity whomever might cause either to be unfaithful to the other.
During the ceremony Menofra wore a sardonic smile, while Phoros had difficulty in hiding his chagrin and anger. When it was concluded, the queen turned to her mate. “You know the laws of our people,” she said. “King or commoner, whoever comes between these two must die. You know that don’t you, Phoros? You know you’ve lost her, don’t you—forever? You would try to kill me, would you? Well, I’m going to let you live—I’m going to let you live with this wench; but watch your step, Phoros; for I’ll be watching you.” She turned to the guard. “Now take them away. Take this man to the slave pen, and see that nothing happens to him, and take Phoros and the wench to the room next to mine; and lock them in.”
When Tarzan regained consciousness he found himself chained to a stanchion in a stockaded compound, an iron collar around his neck. He was quite alone; but pallets of musty grass, odd bits of dirty clothing, cooking utensils, and the remains of cooking fires, still smouldering, disclosed the fact that the shed and the yard was the abode of others; and he conjectured correctly that he had been imprisoned in a slave pen.
The position of the sun told him that he had been under the influence of the drug for about an hour. The effects were passing off rapidly leaving only a dull headache and a feeling of chagrin that he had been so easily duped. He was concerned about the fate of Wood and Gonfala, and was at a loss to understand why he had been separated from them. His active mind was occupied with this problem and that of escape when the gate of the compound opened and Wood was brought in by an escort of warriors who merely shoved the American through the gateway and departed after relocking the gate.
Wood crossed the compound to Tarzan. “I wondered what they had done with you,” he said. “I was afraid they might have killed you.” Then he told the ape-man what Menofra had decreed for Gonfala. “It is monstrous, Tarzan; the woman is a beast. What are we to do?”
Tarzan tapped the iron collar that encircled his neck. “There is not much that I can do,” he said ruefully.
“Why do you suppose they’ve chained you up and not me?” asked Wood.
“They must have some special form of entertainment in view for me,” suggested the ape-man with a faint smile.
The remainder of the day passed in desultory conversation, principally a monologue; as Tarzan was not given to garrulity. Wood talked to keep from thinking about Gonfala’s situation, but he was not very successful. Late in the afternoon the slaves were returned to the compound, and immediately crowded around Tarzan. One of them pushed his way to the front when he caught a glimpse of the prisoner.
“Tarzan!” he exclaimed. “It is really you?”
“I am afraid it is, Valthor,” replied the ape-man.
“And you are back, I see,” said Valthor to Wood. “I did not expect to see you again. What happened?”
Wood told him the whole story of their misadventure, and Valthor looked grave. “Your friend, Gonfala, may be safe as long as Menofra lives; but she may not live long. Kandos will see to that if he is not too big a coward; then, with Menofra out of the way, Phoros will again come to power. When he does, he will destroy you. After that there would not be much hope for Gonfala. The situation is serious, and I can see no way out unless the king and his party were to return and recapture the city. I believe they could do it now, for practically all of the citizens and most of the warriors are sick of Phoros and the rest of the Erythra.”
A tall black came close to Tarzan. “You do not remember me, master?” he asked.
“Why, yes; of course I do,” replied the ape-man. “You’re Gemba. You were a slave in the house of Thudos at Cathne. How long have you been here?”
“Many moons, master. I was taken in a raid. The work is hard, and often these new masters are cruel. I wish that I were back in Cathne.”
“You would fare well there now, Gemba. Your old master is king of Cathne. I think that if he knew Tarzan was a prisoner here, he would come and make war on Athne.”
“And I think that if he did,” said Valthor, “an army from Cathne would be welcome here for the first time in history; but there is no chance that he will come, for there is no way in which he may learn that Tarzan is here.”
“If I could get this collar off my neck,” said the apeman, “I could soon get out of this slave pen and the city and bring Thudos with his army. He would come for me to save my friends.”
“But you can’t get it off,” said Wood.
“You are right,” agreed Tarzan; “it is idle talk.”
For several days nothing occurred to break the monotony of existence in the slave pen of the king of Athne. No word reached them from the palace of what was transpiring there; no inkling came of the fate that was in store for them. Valthor had told Tarzan that the latter was probably being saved for the arena on account of his appearance of great strength, but when there would be games again he did not know. The new masters of Athne had changed everything, deriding all that had been sacred to custom and the old regime. There was even talk of changing the name of Athne to The City of Phoros. All that prevented was the insistence of the queen that it be renamed The City of Menofra.
Every morning the slaves were taken to work, and all day long Tarzan remained alone, chained like a wild animal. Imprisonment of any nature galled The Lord of the Jungle; to be chained was torture. Yet he gave no sign of the mental suffering he was enduring. To watch him, one might have thought that he was content. Seething beneath that calm exterior was a raging sea of anger.
One afternoon the slaves were returned to the pen earlier than usual. The guards that herded them in were unusually rough with them, and there were several officers not ordinarily present. They followed the slaves into the pen and counted them, checking off their names on a scroll carried by one of the officers; then they questioned them; and from the questions Tarzan gathered that there had been a concerted attempt on the part of a number of slaves to escape, during which a guard had been killed. During the excitement of the melee several slaves had escaped into the bamboo forest that grew close upon the eastern boundary of the cultivated fields of Athne. The check revealed that three were missing. Were they ever recaptured, they would be tortured and killed.
The officers and warriors were extremely brutal in their handling of the slaves as they questioned them, trying to force confessions from them that they might ascertain just how far-reaching the plot had been and which slaves were the ring-leaders. After they left the pen the slaves were in a turmoil of restlessness and discontent. The air was surcharged with the static electricity of repressed rebellion that the slightest spark would have ignited, but Valthor counselled them to patience.
“You will only subject yourselves to torture and death,” he told them. “We are only a handful of unarmed slaves. What can we do against the armed warriors of the Erythra? Wait. As sure as Dyaus is in heaven some change must come. There is as much discontent outside the slave pen as within it; and one day Zygo, our king, will come out of the mountains where he is hiding and set us free.”
“But some of us are slaves no matter who is king,” said one. “I am. It would make no difference whether Zygo or Phoros were king—I should still be a slave.”
“No,” said Valthor. “I can promise you all that when Zygo comes into power again you will all be set free. I give you my word that it will be done.”
“Well,” said one, “I might not believe another, but all know that what the noble Valthor says he will do, he will do.”
It was almost dark now, and the cooking fires were alight, and the slaves were cooking their poor meals in little pots. Jerked elephant meat constituted the larger part of their diet; to this was added a very coarse variety of turnip. From the two the men made a stew. Sometimes those who worked in the fields varied this diet with other vegetables they had been able to steal from the fields and smuggle into the pen.
“This stew,” remarked Wood, “should be full of vitamins; it has everything else including elephant hair and pebbles. The elephant hair and the pebbles might be forgiven, but turnips! In the economy of mundane happiness there is no place for the turnip.”
“I take it that you don’t like turnips,” said Valthor.
Since Tarzan had been brought to the slave pen, Troll and Spike had kept to themselves. Spike was very much afraid of the ape-man; and he had managed to impart this fear to Troll, although the latter had forgotten that there was any reason to fear him. Spike was worried for fear that, in the event they were liberated, Tarzan would find some way to keep the great diamond from him. This did not trouble Troll who had forgotten all about the diamond. The only thing that Troll remembered clearly was that Gonfala was his sister and that he had lost her. This worried him a great deal, and he talked about it continually. Spike encouraged him in the delusion and never referred to the diamond, although it was constantly the subject of his thoughts and plannings. His principal hope of retrieving it lay in the possibility that the rightful king of Athne would regain his throne, treat him as a guest instead of a prisoner, and return the Gonfal to him; and he knew from conversations he had had with other prisoners that the return of Zygo was just between a possibility and a probability.
As the slaves were eating their evening meal and discussing the escape of their three fellows an officer entered the compound with a detail of warriors, one of whom carried an iron collar and chain. Approaching the shed, the officer called Valthor.
“I am here,” said the noble, rising.
“I have a present for you, aristocrat,” announced the officer, who until the revolution had been a groom in the elephant stables of Zygo.
“So I see,” replied Valthor, glancing at the collar and chain, “and one which it must give a stable-boy much pleasure to bring me.”
The officer flushed angrily. “Be careful, or I’ll teach you some manners,” he growled. “You are the stable-boy now, and I am the aristocrat.”
Valthor shook his head. “No, stable-boy, you are wrong. You will always be a stable-boy at heart, and way down deep inside you you know it. That is what makes you angry. That is what makes you hate me, or think that you hate me; you really hate yourself, because you know that you will always be a stable-boy no matter what Phoros tells you you are. He has done many strange things since he drove out the king, but he cannot make a lion out of a jackal’s tail.”
“Enough of this,” snapped the officer. “Here you, snap the collar about his neck and chain him to the stanchion beside the wild-man.”
“Why has Phoros thus honored me?” inquired Valthor.
“It was not Phoros; it was Menofra. She is ruling now.”
“Ah, I see,” said the noble. “Her psychology of hate for my class is more deeply rooted than yours, for it springs from filthy soil. Your vocation was at least honorable. Menofra was a woman of the street before Phoros married her.”
“Well, have your say while you can, aristocrat,” said the officer, tauntingly, “for tomorrow you and the wild-man die in the arena, trampled and gored by a rogue elephant.”