But they had not let him out the next morning nor the next nor the next. Perhaps he might have made a break for liberty when food was brought; but each time he thought that the next day would bring his release, and waited.
Imprisonment of any nature galled him, but this experience was rendered infinitely more irksome by the presence of Phobeg. The man annoyed Tarzan; he was ignorant, a braggart, and inclined to be quarrelsome. In the interests of peace the ape-man had tolerated more from his cell-mate than he would have under ordinary circumstances; and Phobeg, being what he was, had assumed that the other’s toleration was prompted by fear. Believing this, he became more arrogant and overbearing, ignorant of the fact that he was playing with death.
Phobeg had been imprisoned longer than had Tarzan, and the confinement was making him moody. Sometimes he sat for hours staring at the floor, or, at others, he would mumble to himself, carrying on long conversations which were always acrimonious and that usually resulted in working him up into a rage; then he might seek to vent his spleen upon Tarzan. The fact that Tarzan remained silent under such provocation increased Phobeg’s ire; but it also prevented an actual break between them, for it is still a fact, however trite the saying, that it takes two to make a quarrel; and Tarzan would not quarrel; at least, not yet.
“Nemone won’t get much entertainment out of you,” growled Phobeg this morning after one of his tirades had elicited no response from the ape-man.
“Well, even so,” replied Tarzan, “you should more than make up to her any amusement value that I may lack.”
“That I will,” exclaimed Phobeg. “If it is fighting she wants, she shall see such fighting as she has never seen before when she matches Phobeg with either man or beast; but you! Bah! She will have to pit you against some half-grown child if she wishes to see any fight at all. You have no courage; your veins are filled with water. If she is wise she will dump you into Xarator. By god’s tail! I should like to see you there. I’ll bet my best habergeon they could hear you scream in Athne.”
The ape-man was standing gazing at the little rectangle of sky that he could see through the small, barred opening in the door. He remained silent after Phobeg had ceased speaking, totally ignoring him as though he had not spoken, as though he did not exist. Phobeg became furious. He rose from the bench upon which he had been sitting.
“Coward!” he cried. “Why don’t you answer me? By the yellow fangs of Thoos! I’ve a mind to beat some manners into you, so that you will know enough to answer when your betters speak.” He took a step in the direction of the apeman.
Slowly Tarzan turned toward the angry man, his level gaze fixed upon the other’s eyes, and waited. He said nothing, but his attitude was an open book that even the stupid Phobeg could read. And Phobeg hesitated.
Just what might have happened no man may know, for at that instant four warriors came and swung the door of the cell open. “Come with us,” said one of them, “both of you.”
Phobeg sullenly, Tarzan with the savage dignity of Numa, accompanied the four warriors across the open courtyard and through a doorway that led into a long corridor at the end of which they were ushered into a large room: Here, behind a table, sat seven warriors trapped in ivory and gold. Among them Tarzan recognized the two who had questioned him the night of his capture, old Tomos and the younger Gemnon.
“These are nobles,” whispered Phabeg to Tarzan. “That one at the center of the table is old Tomos, the Queen’s councillor. He would like to marry the Queen, but I guess he is too old to suit her. The one on his right is Erot. He used to be a common warrior like me; but Nemone took a fancy to him, and now he is the Queen’s favorite. She won’t marry him though, for he is not of noble blood. The young fellow on Tomos’ left is Gemnon. He is from an old and noble family. Warriors who have served him say he is a very decent sort.”
As Phobeg gossiped, the two prisoners and their guard had been standing just inside the doorway waiting to be summoned to advance, and Tarzan had had an opportunity to note the architecture and furnishings of the room. The ceiling was low and was supported by a series of engaged columns at regular intervals about the four walls. Between the columns along one side of the room behind the table at which the nobles were seated were unglazed windows, and there were three doorways: that through which Tarzan and Phobeg had been brought, which was directly opposite the windows, and one at either end of the room. The doors themselves were beautifully carved and highly polished, some of the panels containing mosaics of gold and ivory and bits of colored substances.
The floor was of stone, composed of many pieces of different shapes and sizes; but all so nicely fitted that joints were barely discernible. On the floor were a few small rugs either of the skins of lions or of a stiff and heavy wool weave. These latter contained simple designs in several colors and resembled the work of primitive people such as the Navajos of southwestern America.
Upon the walls were paintings depicting battle scenes in which lions and elephants took part with warriors, and always the warriors with the elephants appeared to be suffering defeat, while the warriors with the lions were collecting many heads from fallen foemen. Above these mural paintings was a row of mounted heads encircling the room. These were similar to those Tarzan had seen in the guardroom the night of his coming to Cathne and differed from them only in that they were better specimens and better mounted. Perhaps, too, the heads of men predominated here, scowling down upon their enemies.
But now Tarzan’s examination of the room was interrupted by the voice of Tomos. “Bring the prisoners forward,” he directed the under-officer who was one of the four warriors escorting them.
When the two men had been halted upon the opposite side of the table from the nobles, Tomos pointed at Tarzan’s companion. “Which is this one?” he demanded.
“He is called Phobeg,” replied the under-officer.
“What is the charge against him?”
“He profaned Thoos.”
“Who brought the charge?”
“The high priest.”
“It was an accident,” Phobeg hastened to explain. “I meant no disrespect.”
“Silence!” snapped Tomos. Then he pointed at Tarzan. “And this one?” he demanded. “Who is he?”
“This is the one who calls himself Tarzan,” explained Gemnon. “You will recall that you and I examined him the night he was captured.”
“Yes, yes,” said Tomos; “I recall. He carried some sort of strange weapon.”
“Is he the man of whom you told me,” asked Erot, “the one who came from Athne to assassinate the Queen?”
“This is the one,” replied Tomos; “he came at night during the last storm and succeeded in making his way into the palace grounds after dark before he was discovered and arrested.”
“He does not greatly resemble an Athnean,” commented Erat.
“I am not,” said Tarzan.
“Silence!” commanded Tomos.
“Why should I be silent?” demanded Tarzan. “There is none other to speak for me than myself; therefore I shall speak for myself. I am no enemy of your people, nor are my people at war with yours. I demand my liberty!”
“He demands his liberty,” mimicked Erot and laughed aloud as though it was a good joke; “the slave demands his liberty!”
Tomos half rose from his seat, his face purple with rage. He banged the table with his fist. He pointed a finger at Tarzan. “Speak when you are spoken to, slave, and not otherwise; and when Tomos, the councillor, tells you to be silent, be silent.”
“I have spoken,” said Tarzan; “when I choose to speak again, I shall speak.”
“We have a way of silencing impudent slaves, forever,” sneered Erot.
“It is evident that he is a man from a far country,” interjected Gemnon. “It is not strange that he neither understands our customs nor recognizes the great among us. Perhaps we should listen to him. If he is not an Athnean and no enemy, why should we imprison him or punish him?”
“He came over the palace walls at night,” retorted Tamas. “He could have come for but one purpose, to kill our Queen; therefore he must die. The manner of his death shall be at the pleasure of Nemone, our sweet and gracious Queen.”
“He told us that the river washed him down to Cathne,” persisted Gemnon. “It was a very dark night and he did not know where he was when he finally succeeded in crawling ashore; it was only chance that brought him to the palace.”
“A pretty story but not plausible,” countered Erot.
“Why not plausible?” demanded Gemnon. “I think it quite plausible. We know that no man could have swum the river in the flood that was raging that night, and that this man could not have reached the spot at which he climbed the wall except by swimming the river or crossing the bridge of gold. We know that he did not cross the bridge, because the bridge was well guarded and no one crossed that night. Knowing therefore that he did not cross the bridge and could not have swum the river, we know that the only way he could have reached that particular spot upon the river’s bank was by being swept downstream from above. I believe his story, and I believe that we should treat him as an honorable warrior from same distant kingdom until we have better reasons than we now have for believing otherwise.”
“I should not care to be the one to defend a man who came here to kill the Queen,” sneered Erot meaningly.
“Enough of this!” said Tomos curtly. “The man shall be judged fairly and destroyed as Nemone thinks best.”
As he ceased speaking, a door at one end of the room opened and a noble resplendent in ivory and gold stepped into the chamber. Halting just within the threshold, he faced the nobles at the table.
“The Queen!” he announced in a loud voice and then stepped aside.
All eyes turned in the direction of the doorway and at the same time the nobles rose to their feet and then kneeled upon the floor, facing the doorway through which the Queen would enter. The warriors on guard, including those with Tarzan and Phobeg, did likewise, Phobeg following their example. Everyone in the room kneeled except the noble who had announced the Queen, or rather every Cathnean. Tarzan of the Apes did not kneel.
“Down, jackal!” growled one of the guards in a whisper, and then amidst deathly silence a woman stepped into view and paused, framed in the carved casing of the doorway. Regal, she stood there glancing indolently about the apartment; then her eyes met those of the ape-man and, for a moment, held there on his. A slight frown of puzzlement contracted her straight brows as she continued on into the room, approaching the table and the kneeling men.
Behind her followed a half dozen richly arrayed nobles, resplendent in burnished gold and gleaming ivory, but as they crossed the chamber Tarzan saw only the gorgeous figure of the Queen. She was clothed more simply than her escort; but that form, which her apparel revealed rather than hid, required no embellishments other than those with which nature had endowed it. She was far more beautiful than the crude Phobeg had painted her.
A narrow diadem set with red stones encircled her brow, confining her glossy plack hair; upon either side of her head, covering her ears, a large golden disc depended from the diadem; while from its rear rose a slender filament of gold that curved forward, supporting a large red stone above the center of her head. About her throat was a simple golden band that held a brooch and pendant of ivory in the soft hollow of her neck. Upon her upper arms were similar golden bands supporting triangular, curved ornaments of ivory. A broad band of gold mesh supported her breasts, the band being embellished with horizontal bands of red stones, while from its upper edge depended five narrow triangles of ivory, a large one in the center and two smaller ones on either side.
A girdle about her hips was of gold mesh. It supported another ivory triangle the slender apex of which curved slightly inward between her legs and also her scant skirt of black monkey hair that fell barely to her knees, conforming perfectly to the contours of her body.
About her wrists were numerous bracelets of ivory and gold and around her ankles were vertical strips of ivory held together by leather thongs, identical in form to those worn by Valthor and by the Cathnean men. Her feet were shod with dainty sandals; and as she moved upon them silently across the stone floor, her movements seemed to Tarzan a combination of the seductive languor of the sensualist and the sinuous grace and savage alertness of the tigress.
That she was marvellously beautiful by the standards of any land or any time grew more apparent to the lord of the jungle as she came nearer to him, yet, her presence exhaled a subtle essence that left him wondering if her beauty were the reflection of a nature all good or all evil, for her mien and bearing suggested that there could be no compromise—Nemone, the Queen, was all one or all the other.
She kept her eyes upon him as she crossed the room slowly, and Tarzan did not drop his own from hers. There was neither boldness nor rudeness in his gaze, perhaps there was not even interest—it was the noncommittal, cautious appraisal of the wild beast that watches a creature which it neither fears nor desires.
The quizzical frown still furrowed Nemone’s smooth brow as she reached the end of the table where the nobles kneeled. It was not an angry frown, and there might have been in it much of interest and something of amusement, for unusual things interested and amused Nemone, so rare were they in the monotony of her life; and it was certainly unusual to see one who did not accord her the homage due a queen.
As she halted she turned her eyes upon the kneeling nobles. “Arise!” she commanded, and in that single word the vibrant qualities of her rich, deep voice sent a strange thrill through the ape-man. “Who is this that does not kneel to Nemone?” she demanded, her gaze now returned to the bronzed figure standing impassively before her.
As Tarzan had been standing behind the nobles as they had turned to face Nemone when they kneeled, only two of his guards had been aware of his dereliction; but now as they arose and faced about, their countenances were filled with horror and rage when they discovered that the strange captive had so affronted their Queen.
Tomos went purple again. He spluttered with rage. “He is an ignorant and impudent savage, my Queen,” he said; “but as he is about to die his actions are of no consequence.”
“Why is he about to die?” demanded Nemone, “and how is he to die?”
“He is to die because he came here in the dead of night to assassinate your majesty,” explained Tomos; “the manner of his death rests of course in the hands of our gracious Queen.”
Nemone’s dark eyes, veiled behind long lashes, appraised the ape-man, lingering upon his bronzed skin and the rolling contours of his muscles; then rising to the handsome face until her eyes met his. “Why did you not kneel?” she asked.
“Why should I kneel to you who they have said will have me killed?” demanded Tarzan. “Why should I kneel to you who are not my Queen? Why should I, Tarzan of the Apes, who kneels to no one, kneel to you?”
“Silence!” cried Tomos. “Your impertinence knows no bounds. Do you not realize, ignorant slave, low savage, that you are addressing Nemone, the Queen!”
Tarzan made no reply; he did not even look at Tamos; his eyes were fixed upon Nemone. She fascinated him; but whether as a thing of beauty or a thing of evil, he did not know. He only knew that few women, other than La, the High Priestess of the Flaming God, had ever so wholly aroused his interest and his curiosity. Tomos turned to the under-officer in command of the escort that was guarding Tarzan and Phobeg. “Take them away!” he snapped. “Take them back to their cell until we are ready to destroy them.”
“Wait,” said Nemone. “I would know more of this man,” and then she turned to Tarzan. “So you came to kill me!” Her voice was smooth, almost caressing. At the moment the woman reminded Tarzan of a cat that is playing with its victim: “Perhaps they chose a good man for the purpose; you look as though you might be equal to any feat of arms.”
“Killing a woman is no feat of arms,” replied Tarzan. “I do not kill women. I did not come here to kill you.”
“Then why did you come to Onthar?” inquired the Queen in her silky voice.
“That I have already explained twice to that old man with the red face,” replied Tarzan, nodding in the general direction of Tomos. “Ask him; I am tired of explaining to people who have already decided to kill me.”
Tomos trembled with rage and half drew his slender, dagger-like sword. “Let me destroy, him, my Queen,” he cried. “Let me wipe out the affront he has put upon my beloved ruler.”
Nemone had flushed angrily at Tarzan’s words, but she did not lose control of herself. “Sheathe your sword, Tomos,” she commanded icily; “Nemone is competent to decide when she is affronted and what steps to take. The fellow is indeed impertinent; but it seems to me that if he affronted anyone, it was Tomos he affronted and not Nemone. However, his temerity shall not go unpunished. Who is this other?”
“He is a temple guard named Phobeg,” explained Erot. “He profaned Thoos.”
“It would amuse us,” said Nemone, “to see these two men fight upon the Field of the Lions. Let them fight without other weapons than those which Thoos has given them. To the victor, freedom,” she hesitated momentarily, “freedom within limits. Take them away!”