Janzara had lost her dagger as the two girls had fallen into the shaft and now Talaskar saw it lying on the floor beside her. Releasing her hold upon the princess she seized the weapon and leaped to her feet. Already Tarzan and Komodoflorensal were at her side and the cats were returning to the attack.
Janzara arose slowly and half-bewildered. She looked about, terror disfiguring her marvelous beauty, and as she did so the man in the adjoining chamber saw her.
“Janzara!” he cried. “My Princess, I come!” and seizing the bench upon which he had been sitting, and the only thing within the chamber that might be converted into a weapon, he swung wide the gate and leaped into the chamber where the four were now facing the thoroughly infuriated beasts.
Both animals, bleeding from many wounds, were mad with pain, rage and hunger. Screaming and growling they threw themselves upon the swords of the two men, who had pushed the girls behind them and were backing slowly toward the gate, and then the man with the bench joined Tarzan and Komodoflorensal and the three fought back the charges of the infuriated carnivores.
The bench proved fully as good a weapon of defense as the swords and so together the five drew slowly back, until, quite suddenly and without the slightest warning both cats leaped quickly to one side and darted behind the party as though sensing that the women would prove easier prey. One of them came near to closing upon Janzara had not the man with the bench, imbued apparently with demoniacal fury, leaped upon it with his strange weapon and beaten it back so desperately that it was forced to abandon the princess.
Even then the man did not cease to follow it but, brandishing the bench, pursued it and its fellow with such terrifying cries and prodigious blows that, to escape him, both cats suddenly dodged into the chamber that the man had occupied, and before they could return to the attack he with the bench had slammed the gate and fastened them upon its opposite side. Then he wheeled and faced the four.
“Zoanthrohago!” cried the princess.
“You’re alive!” replied the noble, dropping to one knee and leaning far back, with outstretched arms.
“You have saved my life, Zoanthrohago,” said Janzara, “and after all the indignities that I have heaped upon you! How can I reward you?”
“I love you, Princess, as you have long known,” replied the man; “but now it is too late, for tomorrow I die by the kings will. Elkomoelhago has spoken, and, even though you be his daughter, I do not hesitate to say his very ignorance prevents him ever changing a decision once reached.”
“I know,” said Janzara. “He is my sire but I love him not. He killed my mother in a fit of unreasoning jealousy. He is a fool—the fool of fools.”
Suddenly she turned upon the others. “These slaves would escape, Zoanthrohago,” she cried. “With my aid they might accomplish it. With their company we might succeed in escaping, too, and in finding an asylum in their own land.”
“If any one of them is of sufficient power in his native city,” replied Zoanthrohago.
“This one,” said Tarzan, seeing a miraculous opportunity for freedom, “is the son of Adendrohahkis, King of Trohana—the oldest son, and Zertolosto.”
Janzara looked at Tarzan a moment after he had done speaking. “I was wicked, Zuanthrol,” she said; “but I thought that I wanted you and being the daughter of a king I have seldom been denied aught that I craved,” and then to Talaskar: “Take your man, my girl, and may you be happy with him,” and she pushed Talaskar gently toward the ape-man; but Talaskar drew back.
“You are mistaken, Janzara,” she said, “I do not love Zuanthrol, nor does he love me.”
Komodoflorensa looked quickly at Tarzan as though expecting that he would quickly deny the truth of Talaskar’s tement, but the ape-man only nodded his head in assent.
“Do you mean,” demanded Komodoflorensal, “that you do not love Talaskar?” and he looked straight into the eyes of his friend.
“On the contrary, I love her very much,” replied Tarzan; “but not in the way that you have believed, or should I say feared? I love her because she is a good girl and a kind girl and a loyal friend, and also because she was in trouble and needed the love and protection which you and I alone could give her; but as a man loves his mate, I do not love her, for I have a mate of my own in my country beyond the thorns.”
Komodoflorensal said no more, but he thought a great deal. He thought of what it would mean to return to his own city where he was the Zertolosto, and where, by all the customs of ages, he would be supposed to marry a princess from another city. But he did not want a princess—he wanted Talaskar, the little slave girl of Veltopimakus, who scarcely knew her own mother and most probably had never heard that of her father, if her mother knew it.
He wanted Talaskar, but he could only have her in Trohanadalmakus as a slave. His love for her was real and so he would not insult her by thinking such a thing as that. If he could not make her his princess he would not have her at all, and so Komodoflorensal, the son of Adendrohahkis, was sad.
But he had none too much time to dwell upon his sorrow now, for the others were planning the best means for escape.
“The keepers come down to feed the cats upon this side,” said Zoanthrohago, indicating a small door in the wall of the pit opposite that which led into the chamber in which he had been incarcerated.
“Doubtless it is not locked, either,” said Janzara, “for a prisoner could not reach it without crossing through this chamber where the cats were kept.”
“We will see,” said Tarzan, and crossed to the door.
A moment sufficed to force it open, revealing a narrow corridor beyond. One after another the five crawled through the small aperture and following the corridor ascended an acclivity, lighting their way with candles taken from the den of the carnivores. At the top a door opened into a wide corridor, a short distance down which stood a warrior, evidently on guard before a door.
Janzara looked through the tiny crack that Tarzan had opened the door and saw the corridor and the man. “Good!” she exclaimed. “It is my own corridor and the warrior is on guard before my door. I know him well. Through me he has escaped payment of his taxes for the past thirty moons. He would die for me. Come! We have nothing to fear,” and stepping boldly into the corridor she approached the sentry, the others following behind her.
Until he recognized her there was danger that the fellow would raise an alarm, but the moment he saw who it was he was as wax in her hands.
“You are blind,” she told him.
“If the Princess Janzara wishes it,” he replied.
She told him what she wished—five diadets and some heavy, warriors’ wraps. He eyed those who were with her, and evidently recognized Zoanthrohago and guessed who the two other men were.
“Not only shall I be blind for my princess,” he said; “but tomorrow I shall be dead for her.”
“Fetch six diadets, then,” said the princess.
Then she turned to Komodoflorensal “You are Prince Royal of Trohanadalmakus?” she asked.
“I am,” he replied.
“And if we show you the way to liberty you will not enslave us?”
“I shall take you to the city as my own slaves and then liberate you,” he replied.
“It is something that has seldom if ever been done,” she mused; “not in the memory of living man in Veltopismakus. I wonder if your sire will permit it.”
“The thing is not without precedent,” replied Komodoflorensal “It has been done but rarely, yet it has been done. I think you may feel assured of a friendly welcome at the court of Adendrohahkis, where the wisdom of Zoanthrohago will not go unappreciated or unrewarded.”
It was a long time before the warrior returned with the diadets. His face was covered with perspiration and his hands with blood.
“I had to fight for them,” he said, “and we shall have to fight to use them if we do not hurry. Here, Prince, I brought you weapons,” and he handed a sword and dagger to Zoanthrohago.
They mounted quickly. It was Tarzan’s first experience upon one of the wiry, active, little mounts of the Minunians; but he found the saddle well designed and the diadet easily controlled.
“They will be following me from the King’s Corridor,” explained Oratharc, the warrior who had fetched the diadets. “It would be best, then, to leave by one of the others.”
“Trohanadalmakus is east of Veltopismakus,” said Zoanthrohago, “and if we leave by the Women’s Corridor with two slaves from Trohanadalmakus they will assume that we are going there; but if we leave by another corridor they will not be sure and if they lose even a little time in starting the pursuit it will give us just that much of an advantage. If we go straight toward Trohanadalmakus we shall almost certainly be overtaken as the swiftest of diadets will be used in our pursuit. Our only hope lies in deceiving them as to our route or destination, and to accomplish this I believe that we should leave either by the Warriors’ Corridor or the Slaves’ Corridor, cross the hills north of the city, circle far out to the north and east, not turning south until we are well past Trohanadalmakus. In this way we can approach that city from the east while our pursuers are patrolling the country west of Trohanadalmakus to Vetlopismakus.”
“Let us leave by the Warriors’ Corridor then,” suggested Janzara.
“The trees and shrubbery will conceal us while we pass around to the north of the city,” said Komodoflorensal.
“We should leave at once,” urged Oratharc.
“Go first then, with the princess,” said Zoanthrohago, “for there is a possibility that the guard at the entrance will let her pass with her party. We will muffle ourselves well with our warriors’ cloaks. Come, lead the way!”
With Janzara and Oratharc ahead and the others following closely they moved at a steady trot along the circular corridor toward the Warriors’ Corridor, and it was not until they had turned into the latter that any sign of pursuit developed. Even then, though they heard the voices of men behind them, they hesitated to break into a faster gait lest they arouse the suspicions of the warriors in the guard room which they must pass near the mouth of the corridor.
Never had the Warriors’ Corridor seemed so long to any of the Veltopismakusians in the party as it did this night; never had they so wished to race their diadets as now; but they held their mounts to an even pace that would never have suggested to the most suspicious that here were six people seeking escape, most of them from death.
They had come almost to the exit when they were aware that the pursuit had turned into the Warriors’ Corridor behind them and that their pursuers were advancing at a rapid gait.
Janzara and Oratharc drew up beside the sentry at the mouth of the corridor as he stepped out to bar their progress.
“The Princess Janzara!” announced Oratharc. “Aside for the Princess Janzara!”
The princess threw back the hood of the warrior’s cloak she wore, revealing her features, well known to every warrior in the Royal Dome—and well feared. The fellow hesitated.
“Aside, man!” cried the princess, “or I ride you down.”
A great shout arose behind them. Warriors on swiftly galloping diadets leaped along the corridor toward them. The warriors were shouting something, the sense of which was hidden by the noise; but the sentry was suspicious.
“Wait until I call the Novand of the guard, Princess,” he cried. “Something is amiss and I dare let no one pass without authority; but wait! Here he is,” and the party turned in their saddles to see a Novand emerging from the door of the guard room, followed by a number of warriors.
“Ride!” cried Janzara and spurred her diadet straight for the single sentry in their path.
The others lifted their mounts quickly in pursuit. The sentry went down, striking valiantly with his rapier at the legs and bellies of flying diadets. The Novand and his men rushed from the guard room just in time to collide with the pursuers, whom they immediately assumed were belated members of the fleeing party. The brief minutes that these fought, before explanations could be made and understood, gave the fugitives time to pass among the trees to the west side of the city, and, turning north, make for the hills that were dimly visible in the light of a clear, but moonless night.
Oratharc, who said that he knew the hill trails perfectly, led the way, the others following as closely as they could; Knmodoflorensal and Tarzan bringing up the rear. Thus they moved on in silence through the night, winding along precipitous mountain trails, leaping now and again from rock to rock where the trail itself had been able to find no footing; sliding into dank ravines, clambering through heavy brush and timber along tunnel-like trails that followed their windings, or crept up their opposite sides to narrow ridge or broad plateau; and all night long no sign of pursuit developed.
Came the morning at last and with it, from the summit of a lofty ridge, a panorama of broad plain stretching to the north, of distant hills, of forests and of streams. They decided then to descend to one of the numerous park-like glades that they could see nestling in the hills below them, and there rest their mounts and permit them to feed, for the work of the night had been hard upon them.
They knew that in the hills they might hide almost indefinitely, so wild and so little traveled were they and so they went into camp an hour after sunrise in a tiny cuplike valley surrounded by great trees, and watered and fed their mounts with a sense of security greater than they had felt since they left Veltopismakus.
Oratharc went out on foot and killed a number of quail and Tarzan speared a couple of fish in the stream. These they prepared and ate, and then, the men taking turns on guard, they slept until afternoon, for none had had sleep the night before.
Taking up their flight again in mid-afternoon they were well out upon the plain when darkness overtook them. Komodoflorensal and Zoanthrohago were riding far out upon the flanks and all were searching for a suitable camping place. It was Zoanthrohago who found it and when they all gathered about him. Tarzan saw nothing in the waning light of day that appeared any more like a good camping place than any other spot on the open plain. There was a little clump of trees, but they had passed many such clumps, and there was nothing about this one that seemed to offer any greater security than another. As a matter of fact, to Tarzan it appeared anything but a desirable camp-site. There was no water, there was little shelter from the wind and none from an enemy; but perhaps they were going into the trees. That would be better. He looked up at the lofty branches lovingly. How enormous these trees seemed! He knew them for what they were and that they were trees of but average size, yet to him now they reared their heads aloft like veritable giants.
“I will go in first,” he heard Komodoflorensal say, and turned to learn what he referred to.
The other three men were standing at the mouth of a large hole, into which they were looking. Tarzan knew that the opening was the mouth of the burrow of a ratel, the African member of the badger family, and he wondered why any of them wished to enter it. Tarzan had never cared for the flesh of the ratel. He stepped over and joined the others, and as he did so he saw Komodoflorensal crawl into the opening, his drawn sword in his hand.
“Why is he doing that?” he asked Zoanthrohago.
“To drive out, or kill the cambon, if he is there,” replied the prince, giving the ratel its Minunian name.
“And why?” asked Tarzan. “Surely, you do not eat its flesh!”
“No, but we want his home for the night,” replied Zoanthrohago. “I had forgotten that you are not a Minunian. We will spend the night in the underground chambers of the cambon, safe from the attacks of the cat or the lion. It would be better were we there now—this is a bad hour of the night for Minuoians to be abroad on the plain or in the forest, for it is at this hour that the lion hunts.”
A few minutes later Komodoflorensal emerged from the hole. “The cambon is not there,” he said. “The burrow is deserted. I found only a snake, which I killed. Go in, Oratharc, and Janzara and Talaskar will follow you. You have candles?”
They had, and one by one they disappeared into the mouth of the hole, until Tarzan, who had asked to remain until last, stood alone in the gathering night gazing at the mouth of the ratel’s burrow, a smile upon his lips. It seemed ridiculous to him that Tarzan of the Apes should ever be contemplating hiding from Numa in the hole of a ratel, or, worse still, hiding from little Skree, the wildcat, and as he stood there smiling a bulk loomed dimly among the trees; the diadets, standing near, it tethered, snorted and leaped away; and Tarzan wheeled to face the largest lion he ever had seen—a lion that towered over twice the ape-man’s height above him.
How tremendous, how awe-inspiring Numa appeared to one the size of a Minunian!
The lion crouched, its tail extended, the tip moving ever so gently; but the ape-man was not deceived. He guessed what was coming and even as the great cat sprang he turned and dove headforemost down the hole of the ratel and behind him rattled the loose earth pushed into the burrow’s mouth by Numa as he alighted upon the spot where Tarzan had stood.