It was during the afternoon of the fourth day of their flight that Talaskar suddenly called their attention to a small cloud of dust far to their rear. For a long time all six watched it intently as it increased in size and drew nearer.
“It may be the long-awaited pursuit,” said Zoanthrohago.
“Or some of my own people from Trohanadalmakus,” suggested Komodoflorensal.
“Whoever they are, they greatly outnumber us,” said Jan-zara, “and I think we should find shelter until we know their identity.”
“We can reach the forest before they overtake us,” said Oratharc, “and in the forest we may elude them if it is necessary.”
“I fear the forest,” said Janzara.
“We have no alternative,” said Zoanthrohago; “but even now I doubt that we can reach it ahead of them. Come! We must be quick!”
Never before had Tarzan of the Apes covered ground so rapidly upon the back of an animal. The diadets flew through the air in great bounds. Behind them the nucleus of the dust cloud had resolved itself into a dozen mounted warriors, against whom their four blades would be helpless. Their one hope, therefore, lay in reaching the forest ahead of their pursuers, and now it seemed that they would be successful and now it seemed that they would not.
The recently distant wood seemed rushing toward him as Tarzan watched ahead between the tiny horns of his graceful mount, and, behind, the enemy was gaining. They were Veltopismakusian—they were close enough now for the devices upon their helmets to be seen—and they had recognized their quarry, for they cried aloud upon them to stop, calling several of them by name.
One of the pursuers forged farther ahead than the others. He came now close behind Zoanthrohago, who rode neck and neck with Tarzan, in the rear of their party. A half-length ahead of Zoanthrohago, was Janzara. The fellow called aloud to her.
“Princess!” he cried. “The king’s pardon for you all if you return the slaves to us. Surrender and all will be forgiven.”
Tarzan of the Apes heard and he wondered what the Veltopismakusians would do. It must have been a great temptation and he knew it. Had it not been for Talaskar he would have advised them to fall back among their friends; but he would not see the slave girl sacrificed. He drew his sword then and dropped back beside Zoanthrohago, though the other never guessed his purpose.
“Surrender, and all will be forgiven!” shouted the pursuer again.
“Never!” cried Zoanthrohago.
“Never!” echoed Janzara.
“The consequences are yours,” cried the messenger, and on they rushed, pursuers and pursued, toward the dark forest, while from just within its rim savage eyes watched the mad race and red tongues licked hungry lips in anticipation.
Tarzan had been glad to hear the reply given by both Zoanthrohago and Janzara whom he had found likable companions and good comrades. Janzara’s whole attitude had changed since the very instant she had joined them in their attempted escape. No longer was she the spoiled daughter of a despot; but a woman seeking happiness through the new love that she had found, or the old love that she had just discovered, for she often told Zoanthrohago that she knew now that she always had loved him. And this new thing in her life made her more considerate and loving of others. She seemed now to be trying to make up to Talaskar for the cruelty of her attack upon her when she had first seen her. Her mad infatuation for Tarzan she now knew in its true light—because she had been refused him she wanted him, and she would have taken him as her prince to spite her father, whom she hated.
Komodoflorensal and Talaskar always rode together, but no words of love did the Trohanadalmakusian speak in the ear of the little slave girl. A great resolve was crystallizing in his mind, but it bad as yet taken on no definite form. And Talaskar, seemingly happy just to be near him, rode blissfully through the first days of the only freedom she had ever known; but now all was forgotten except the instant danger of capture and its alternative concomitants, death and slavery.
The six urged their straining mounts ahead. The forest was so near now. Ah, if they could but reach it! There one warrior might be as good as three and the odds against them would be reduced, for in the forest the whole twelve could not engage them at once and by careful maneuvering they doubtless could separate them.
They were going to succeed! A great shout rose to the lips of Oratharc as his diadet leaped into the shadows of the first trees, and the others took it up, for a brief instant, and then it died upon their lips as they saw a giant hand reach down and snatch Oratharc from his saddle. They tried to stop and wheel their mounts, but it was too late. Already they were in the forest and all about them was a horde of the hideous Zertalacolols. One by one they were snatched from their diadets, while their pursuers, who must have seen what was taking place just inside the forest, wheeled and galloped away.
Talaskar, writhing in the grip of a she Alali, turned toward Komodoflorensal.
“Good-bye!” she cried. “This, at last, is the end; but I can die near you and so I am happier dying than I have been living until you came to Veltopismakus.”
“Good-bye, Talaskar!” he replied. “Living, I dared not tell you; but dying, I can proclaim my love. Tell me that you loved me.”
“With all my heart, Komodoflorensal!” They seemed to have forgotten that another existed but themselves. In death they were alone with their love.
Tarzan found himself in the hand of a male and he also found himself wondering, even as he faced certain death, how it occurred that this great band of male and female Alali should be hunting together, and then he noticed the weapons of the male. They were not the crude bludgeon and the slinging-stones that they had formerly carried; but long, trim spears, and bows and arrows.
And now the creature that held him had lifted him even with his face and was scrutinizing him and Tarzan saw a look of recognition and amazement cross the bestial features, and he, in turn, recognized his captor. It was the son of The First Woman. Tarzan did not wait to learn the temper of his old acquaintance. Possibly their relations were altered now. Possibly they were not. He recalled the doglike devotion of the creature when last be had seen him and he put him to the test at once.
“Put me down!” he signed, peremptorily; “and tell your people to put down all of my people. Harm them not!”
Instantly the great creature set Tarzan gently upon the ground and immediately signaled his fellows to do the same with their captives. The men did immediately as they were bid, and all of the women but one. She hesitated. The son of The First Woman leaped toward her, his spear raised like a whip, and the female cowered and set Talaskar down upon the ground.
Very proud, the son of The First Woman explained to Tarzan as best he could the great change that had come upon the Alali since the ape-man had given the men weapons and the son of The First Woman had discovered what a proper use of them would mean to the males of his kind. Now each male had a woman cooking for him—at least one, and some of them—the stronger—had more than one.
To entertain Tarzan and to show him what great strides civilization had taken in the land of the Zertalacolols, the son of The First Woman seized a female by the hair and dragging her to him struck her heavily about the head and face with his clenched fist, and the woman fell upon her knees and fondled his legs, looking wistfully into his face, her own glowing with love and admiration.
That night the six slept in the open surrounded by the great Zertalacolols and the next day they started across the plain toward Trohanadalmakus where Tarzan had resolved to remain until he regained his normal size, when he would make a determined effort to cut his way through the thorn forest to his own country.
The Zertalacolols went a short distance out into the plain with them, and both men and women tried in their crude, savage way, to show Tarzan their gratitude for the change that he had wrought among them, and the new happiness he had given them.
Two days later the six fugitives approached the domes of Trohanadalmakus. They had been seen by sentries when they were still a long way off, and a body of warriors rode forth to meet them, for it is always well to learn the nature of a visitor’s business in Minimi before he gets too close to your home.
When the warriors discovered that Komodoflorensal and Tarzan had returned they shouted for joy and a number of them galloped swiftly back to the city to spread the news.
The fugitives were conducted at once to the throne room of Adendrohahkis and there that great ruler took his son in his arms and wept, so great was his happiness at having him returned safely to him. Nor did he forget Tarzan, though it was some time before he or the other Trohanadalmakusians could accustom themselves to the fact that this man, no bigger than they, was the great giant who had dwelt among them a few moons since.
Adendrohahkis called Tarzan to the foot of the throne and there, before the nobles and warriors of Trohanadalmakus, he made him a Zertol, or prince, and he gave him diadets and riches and allotted him quarters fitted to his rank, begging him to stay among them always.
Janzara, Zoanthrohago and Oratharc he gave their liberty and permission to remain in Trohanadalmakus, and then Komodoflorensal drew Talaskar to the foot of the throne.
“And now for myself I ask a boon, Adendrohahkis,” he said. “As Zertolosto I am bound by custom to wed a prisoner princess taken from another city; but in this slave girl have I found the one I love. Let me renounce my rights to the throne and have her instead.”
Talaskar raised her hand as though to demur, but Komodoflorensal would not let her speak, and then Adendrohahkis rose and descended the steps at the foot of which Talaskar stood and taking her by the hand led her to a place beside the throne.
“You are bound by custom only, Komodoflorensal,” he said, “to wed a princess; but custom is not law. A Trohanadalmakusian may wed whom he pleases.”
“And even though he were bound by law,” said Talaskar, “to wed a princess, still might he wed me, for I am the daughter of Talaskhago, king of Mandalamakus. My mother was captured by the Veltopismakusians but a few moons before my birth, which took place in the very chamber in which Komodoflorensal found me. She taught me to take my life before mating with anyone less than a prince; but I would have forgotten her teachings had Komodoflorensal been but the son of a slave. That he was the son of a king I did not dream until the night we left Veltopismakus, and I had already given him my heart long before, though he did not know it.”
Weeks passed and still no change came to Tarzan of the Apes. He was happy in his life with the Minunians, but he longed for his own people and the mate who would be grieving for him, and so he determined to set forth as he was, pass through the thorn forest and make his way toward home, trusting to chance that he might escape the countless dangers that would infest his way, and perhaps come to his normal size somewhere during the long journey.
His friends sought to dissuade him, but he was determined, and at last, brooking no further delay, he set out toward the southeast in the direction that he thought lay the point where he had entered the land of the Minimi. A kamak, a body consisting of one thousand mounted warriors, accompanied him to the great forest and there, after some days’ delay, the son of The First Woman found him. The Minunians bid him good-bye, and as he watched them ride away upon their graceful mounts, something rose in his throat that only came upon those few occasions in his life that Tarzan of the Apes knew the meaning of homesickness.
The son of The First Woman and his savage band escorted Tarzan to the edge of the thorn forest. Further than that they could not go. A moment later they saw him disappear among the thorns, with a wave of farewell to them. For two days Tarzan, no larger than a Minunian, made his way through the thorn forest. He met small animals that were now large enough to be dangerous to him, but he met nothing that he could not cope with. By night he slept in the burrows of the larger burrowing animals. Birds and eggs formed his food supply.
During the second night he awoke with a feeling of nausea suffusing him. A premonition of danger assailed him. It was dark as the grave in the burrow he had selected for the night Suddenly the thought smote him that he might be about to pass through the ordeal of regaining his normal stature. To have this thing happen while he lay buried in this tiny burrow would mean death, for he would be crushed, strangled, or suffocated before he regained consciousness.
Already he felt dizzy, as one might feel who was upon the verge of unconsciousness. He stumbled to his knees and clawed his way up the steep acclivity that led to the surface. Would he reach it in time? He stumbled on and then, suddenly, a burst of fresh night air smote his nostrils. He staggered to his feet He was out! He was free!
Behind him he heard a low growl. Grasping his sword, he lunged forward among the thorn trees. How far he went, or in what direction he did not know. It was still dark when he stumbled and fell unconscious to the ground.