Phobeg was moody and thoughtful. The attitude of his fellow prisoner during their examination by the nobles, his seeming indifference to the majesty and power of Nemone, had tended to alter Phobeg’s former estimate of the ape-man’s courage. He realized now that the fellow was either a very brave man or a very great fool; and he hoped that he was the latter, for Phobeg was to be pitted against him upon the Field of the Lions, possibly on the morrow.
Phobeg was stupid, but past experience had taught him something of the psychology of mortal combat. He knew that when a man went into battle fearing his antagonist he was already handicapped and partly defeated. Now Phobeg did not fear Tarzan; he was too stupid and too ignorant to anticipate fear. Facing probable defeat and death, he could be overcome by fear and even cowardice; but he was of too low an order, mentally, to visualize either in imagination, except in a rather vague and hazy way.
Tarzan, on the other hand, was of an entirely different temperament; and though he never knew fear it was for a very different reason. Being intelligent and imaginative, he could visualize all the possibilities of an impending encounter; but he could never know fear, because death held no terrors for him; and he had learned to suffer physical pain without the usually attendant horrors of mental anguish. Therefore, if he thought about the coming combat at all, he was not overconfident nor fearful nor nervous. Could he have known what was in the fellow’s mind when he commenced to speak he would have been amused.
“It will doubtless be tomorrow,” said Phobeg grimly.
“What will be tomorrow?” inquired the ape-man.
“The combat in which I shall kill you,” explained the cheerful Phobeg.
“Oh, so you are going to kill me! Phobeg, I am surprised. I thought that you were my friend.” Tarzan’s tone was serious, though a brighter man than Phobeg might have discovered in it a note of banter; but Phobeg was not bright at all, and he thought that Tarzan was already commencing to throw himself upon his mercy.
“It will soon be over,” Phobeg assured him. “I promise that I shall not let you suffer long.”
“I suppose that you will twist my neck like this,” said Tarzan, pretending to twist something with his two hands.
“M-m-m, perhaps,” admitted Phobeg; “but I shall have to throw you about a bit first. We must amuse Nemone, you know.”
“Surely, by all means!” assented Tarzan. “But suppose you should not be able to throw me about? Suppose that I should throw you about? Would that amuse Nemone? Or perhaps it would amuse you!”
Phobeg laughed. “It amuses me very much just to think about it,” he said, “and I hope that it amuses you to think about it, for that is as near as you will ever come to throwing Phobeg about; have I not told you that I am the strongest man in Cathne?”
“Oh, of course,” admitted Tarzan. “I had forgotten that for the moment.”
“You would do well to try to remember it,” advised Phobeg, “or otherwise our combat will not be interesting at all.”
“And Nemone would not be amused! That would be sad. We should make it as interesting and exciting as possible, and you must not conclude it too soon.”
“You are right about that,” agreed Phobeg. “The better it is the more generous will Nemone feel toward me when it is over; she may even give me a donation in addition to my liberty if we amuse her well.
“By the belly of Thoos!” he exclaimed, slapping his thigh. “We must make a good fight of it and a long one. Now listenl How would this be? At first we shall pretend that you are defeating me; I shall let you throw me about a bit. You see? Then I shall get the better of it for a while, and then you. We shall take turns up to a certain point, and then, when I give you the cue, you must pretend to be frightened, and run away from me. I shall then chase you all over the arena, and that will give them a good laugh. When I catch you at last (and you must let me catch you right in front of Nemone) I shall then twist your neck and kill you, but I will do it as painlessly as possible.”
“You are very kind,” said Tarzan grimly.
“Do you like the plan?” demanded Phobeg. “Is it not a splendid one?”
“It will certainly amuse them,” agreed Tarzan, “if it works.”
“If it works! Why should it not work? It will, if you do your part.”
“But suppose I kill you?” inquired the lord of the jungle.
“There you go again!” exclaimed Phobeg. “I must say that you are a good fellow after all, for you will have your little joke; and I can tell you that there is no one who enjoys a little joke more than Phobeg”
“I hope that you are in the same mood tomorrow,” remarked Tarzan.
When the next day dawned the slave and the guard came with a large breakfast for the two prisoners, the best meal that had been served them since they had been imprisoned.
“Eat well,” advised one of the warriors, “that you may have strength to fight a good fight for the entertainment of the Queen. For one of you it is the last meal; so you had both. better enjoy it to the full, since there is no telling for which one of you it is the last.”
“It is the last for him,” said Phobeg, jerking a thumb in the direction of Tarzan.
“It is thus that the betting goes,” said the warrior, “but even so one cannot always be sure. The stranger is a large man, and he looks strong.”
“There is none so strong as Phobeg,” the former temple guard reminded them.
The warrior shrugged. “Perhaps,” he admitted, “but I am not betting any money on either of you.” “Twenty drachmas to ten that he runs away from me before the fight is over,” offered Phobeg.
“And if he kills you, who will pay me?” demanded the warrior. “No, that is not a good bet,” and he went out and closed and locked the door behind him.
An hour later a large detachment of warriors came and took Tarzan and Phobeg from the prison. They led them through the palace grounds and out into an avenue bordered by old trees. It was a lovely avenue flanked by the white and gold homes of the nobles and the great two-storied palace surmounted by its golden domes.
Here were throngs of people waiting to see the start of the pageant and companies of warriors standing at ease, leaning upon their spears. It was an interesting sight to Tarzan who had been so long confined in the gloomy prison: He noted the dress of the civilians and the architecture of the splendid houses that could be glimpsed between the trees. He saw that the men wore short tunics or jerkins that were quite similar to the habergeons worn by the warriors, except that they were of a solid piece of cloth or light leather rather than of discs of elephant hide. The women wore short skirts of hair or cloth or leather, scant, clinging skirts that terminated just above the knees; a band to confine the breasts, sandals, and ornaments completed their simple attire.
Tarzan and Phobeg were escorted west along the avenue; and as they passed, the crowd commented upon them. There were many who knew Phobeg; some shouted encouragement to him; others taunted and insulted him. It appeared that Phobeg’s popularity was not city wide. They discussed Tarzan freely but with no malice. He interested them; and there was much speculation as to his chances in a fight against the burly temple guard. The ape-man heard many wagers offered and taken; some were on him and some against; but it was evident that Phobeg was the favored of the betters.
At the end of the avenue Tarzan saw the great bridge of gold that spanned the river. It was a splendid structure built entirely of the precious metal. Two golden lions of heroic size flanked the approach from the city, and as he was led across the bridge the ape-man saw two identical lions guarding the western end.
Out upon the plain that is called the Field of the Lions a crowd of spectators was filing toward a point about a mile from the city where many people were congregated, and toward this assemblage the detachment escorted the two gladiators. Here was a large, oval arena excavated to a depth of twenty or thirty feet in the floor of the plain. Upon the excavated earth piled symmetrically around the edges of the pit, and terraced from the plain level to the top, were arranged slabs of stone to serve as seats. At the east end of the arena was a wide ramp descending into it. Spanning the ramp was a low arch surmounted by the loges of the Queen and high nobility.
As Tarzan passed beneath the arch and descended the ramp toward the arena, he saw that nearly half the seats were already taken. The people were eating food that they had brought with them, and there was much laughter and talking. Evidently it was a gala day. He asked Phobeg.
“This is part of the celebration that annually follows the ending of the rainy season,” explained the Cathnean. “There is entertainment of some sort here at least once a month and oftener when the weather permits. You will have an opportunity to see all the events before I kill you, as our combat will undoubtedly be the last event upon the program.”
The warriors conducted the two men to the far end of the arena where a terrace had been cut part way up the sloping side of the arena, a wooden ladder leaning against the wall giving access to it. Here, upon this terrace, Tarzan and Phobeg were installed with a few warriors to serve as guards.
Presently, from the direction of the city, Tarzan heard the music of drums and trumpets.
“Here they come!” cried Phobeg.
“Who?” asked Tarzan.
“The Queen and the lion men,” replied his adversary.
“What are the lion men?” inquired Tarzan.
“They are the nobles,” explained Fhobeg. “Really only the hereditary nobles are members of the clan of lions, but we usually speak of all nobles as lion men. Erot is a noble because Nemone has created him one; but he is not a lion man, as he was not born a noble.”
“Cleave my skull! but I bet he hates that,” commented one of the guard.
“He’d give a right eye to be a lion man,” said Phobeg.
“It’s too late now,” observed the warrior; “he should have picked his parents more carefully.”
“He claims that he did pick a noble father,” explained Phobeg, “but his mother denies it.”
Another warrior laughed. “Son of a noble!” he scoffed. “I know old Tibdos, the husband of Erot’s mother; I know him well. He cleans the lions’ cages at the breeding farm. Erot looks just like him. Son of a noble!”
“Son of a she-jackal!” growled Phobeg. “I wish I were to fight him today instead of this poor fellow.”
“You feel sorry for him?” inquired a warrior.
“Yes, in a way,” replied Phobeg. “He is not a half bad fellow, and I have nothing against him except that he is stupid. He cannot seem to understand the simplest things. He does not seem to realize that I am the strongest man in Cathne and that I am going to kill him this afternoon, unless they get through with the other events early and I kill him this morning.”
“How do you know that he does not realize these things?” demanded the warrior.
“Because he has never given any sign that he is very much afraid.”
“Possibly he does not believe that you can kill him,” suggested the warrior.
“Then that proves that he is very stupid; but stupid or not, I am going to kill him. I am going to twist his neck until his spine breaks. I can scarcely wait to get my hands on him; of all the things that I love there is no sensation equal to that of killing a man. I love that better than I love women.”
Tarzan glanced at the great hulk squatting beside him. “The French have a word for that,” he remarked.
“I do not know what you are talking about,” growled Phobeg.
“I am not surprised.”
“There he goes again!” exclaimed Phobeg. “What sense is there to that? Did I not tell you that he is stupid?”
Now the blaring of the trumpets and the beating of the drums burst with increased volume upon their ears, and Tarzan saw that the musicians were marching down the ramp into the arena at the far end of the great oval. At the same time the tumult in the stands increased as new thousands surged over the rim of the stadium and sought seats among the thousands already there.
Behind the music marched a company of warriors, and from each spear head fluttered a colored pennon. It was a stirring and colorful picture, but nothing to what followed.
A few yards in rear of the warriors came a chariot of gold drawn by four maned lions, where, half reclining upon a couch draped with furs and gaily colored cloths, rode Nemone, the Queen. Sixteen black slaves held the lions in leash; and at either side of the chariot marched six nobles resplendent in gold and ivory, while a huge black, marching behind, held a great, red parasol over the Queen. Squatting upon little seats above the rear wheels of the chariot were two small blackamoors wielding feathered fans above her.
At sight of the chariot and its royal occupant, the people in the stands arose and then kneeled down in salute to their ruler, while wave after wave of applause rolled round the the amphitheater as the pageant slowly circled the arena.
Behind Nemone’s chariot marched another company of warriors; these were followed by a number of gorgeously decorated wooden chariots, each drawn by two lions and driven by a noble; following these marched a company of nobles on foot, while a third company of warriors brought up the rear.
When the column had circled the arena Nemane quit her chariot and ascended to her loge above the ramp amid the continued cheering of the populace, the chariots driven by the nobles lined up in the center of the arena, the royal guard formed across the entrance to the stadium, and the nobles who had no part in the games went to their private loges.
There followed then in quick succession contests in dagger throwing and in the throwing of spears, feats of strength and skill, and foot races. Upon every event wagers were laid and the whole stadium was a bedlam of shouted wagers and odds, of curses, groans, hoots, laughter, and applause.
In the loges of Nemone and the nobles great sums changed hands upon every event. The Queen was an inveterate gambler, winning or losing a fortune upon the cast of a single dagger. When she won she smiled, and she smiled too when she lost; but men knew that contestants upon whom Nemone won regularly through the year were the recipients of royal favors, while those upon whom she consistently lost often disappeared.
When the minor sports were completed the chariot races began; and upon these the betting dwarfed all the other betting of the day, and men and women acted like maniacs as they encouraged a favorite driver, applauded a winner, or berated an unfortunate loser.
Two drivers raced in each event, the distance being always the same, one lap of the arena, for lions cannot maintain high speed for great distances. After each race the winner received a pennon from the Queen, while the loser drove up the ramp and out of the stadium amid the hoots of those who had lost money on him. Then two more raced, and when the last pair had finished the winners paired off for new events. Thus, by elimination, the contestants were eventually reduced to two, winners in each event in which they had contested. This, then, was the premire racing event of the day, and the noise and the betting that it engendered surpassed all that had gone before.
The winner of this final race was acclaimed champion of the day and was presented with a golden helmet by Nemone herself, and even those who had bet upon his rival and lost their money added their voices to the ovation that the noisy throng accorded him as he drove proudly around the arena and disappeared up the ramp beneath the arch of the Queen, his golden helmet shining bravely in the sun.
“Now,” said Phobeg in a loud voice, “the people are going to see something worth while. It is what they have been waiting for, and they will not be disappointed. If you have a god, fellow, pray to him, for you are about to die.”
“Are you not going to permit me to run around the arena first while you chase me?” demanded Tarzan.