Tarzan was annoyed. Crowds irritated his nerves. The sound of human voices was obnoxious to him. Through narrowed lids he surveyed the scene. If ever a wild beast looked upon its enemies it was then.
Phobeg was still boasting in a loud voice that was clearly audible to at least a portion of the audience sitting just above the gladiators’ ledge. The attitude of the temple guard was anything but soothing to the lord of the jungle, but by no sign did he intimate that he heard him after his first retort.
Already the betting was running high on this last event of the day, though only a small proportion of the audience had had a fair view of the two contestants by which, they might compare them. Phobeg, however, was known by reputation and was the favorite, the odds running as high as ten to one against Tarzan.
In the royal loge Nemone lay back luxuriously in the great chair that was half a throne and half a couch. She had lost heavily during the day, but she showed no ill humor. However, the nobles surrounding her were ill at ease and hoped that she would win on this last event. Each was determined to bet heavily upon the strange wild man with Nemone, so that she might win back all that she had last to them upon earlier events, for all were assured that Nemone would back Phobeg, it being her custom to bet heavily upon all favorites.
Erot was particularly anxious that the Queen should win back what he had won from her. For some time he had been a trifle uncertain as to his position in the good graces of his sovereign; he had sensed, perhaps, that he was slipping a little; and he had had sufficient experience to know that winning money from Nemone constituted nothing less than a tremendous shove to one who had started to slip.
Therefore Erot, with the other nobles, having determined to let Nemone win their money on Phobeg sent slaves out into the audience secretly to place money enough on Phobeg to reimburse them what they lost to Nemone on Tarzan. The plan was accurately figured and neatly worked, and when the day was over Nemone would be winner and so would they, all of their losses having been more than made up by their winnings on Phobeg, which the common people would have paid.
This large volume of money going suddenly among the audience which was already favoring Phobeg and offering large odds against Tarzan found very little Tarzan money available at ten to one. The natural result was that to place their money at all they had to offer larger odds, and to reimburse themselves of their losses to Nemane, or rather their assumed losses, far no wagers had yet been laid in the royal loge, they were compelled to put up enormous sums as the odds soared upward finally until it took one hundred Phobeg drachmas to cover one of Tarzan’s.
Now a trumpet sounded, and the warriors guarding Tarzan and Phobeg ordered them down into the arena and paraded them once around it that the people might compare the gladiators and choose a favorite. As they passed before the royal loge Nemone leaned forward with half-closed eyes surveying the tall stranger and the squat Cathnean.
Erot, the Queen’s favorite, watched her. “A thousand drachmas on the stranger!” he cried.
“I am betting an the stranger, too,” interjected another noble eagerly.
“So am I,” said Nemone.
Erot and the other nobles were amazed; this upset their plans completely. Of course they would win more money, but one always felt safer losing to Nemone than winning from her.
“You will lose your money,” Erot told her.
“Then why did you offer to bet on the stranger?” demanded the Queen.
“The odds were so attractive that I was tempted into taking a chance,” explained Erot quickly.
“What are the odds now?”
“One hundred to one.”
“And you think the stranger may not have even one chance in a hundred of winning?” demanded Nemone, toying idly with the hilt of her dagger.
“Phobeg is the strongest man in Cathne,” said Erat. “I really think that the stranger has no chance at all against him; he is as good as dead already.”
“Very well then, if you feel that way about it you should bet on Phobeg,” whispered Nemone softly. “I am going to wager 100,000 drachmas on the stranger. How much of this do you wish, my dear Erot?”
“I wish that my Queen would not risk her money on him at all,” said Erot; “I am grieved when my beloved Queen loses.”
“You bore me, Erot “ Nemone gestured impatiently and then, turning to the other nobles, “Is there none here who will cover my drachmas?”
Instantly they were all eager to accomodate her. To win a hundred thousand drachmas from the Queen in addition to all that they would win from the common people was too much for their cupidity; they even forgot Nemone’s possible wrath in their anxiety to accommodate her now that it was certain that her decision could not be altered, and in a few minutes the bets had been recorded.
“He has a fine physique,” commented Nemone, her eyes upon the jungle lord, “and he is taller than the other.”
“But look at Phobeg’s muscles,” Erot reminded her. “This Phobeg has killed many men; they say that he twists their necks and breaks their spines.”
“We shall see,” was the Queen’s only comment.
Erot thought that he would not like to be in Phobeg’s sandals, for if the stranger did not kill him Nemone most certainly would see that he did not long survive, who had robbed her of a hundred thousand drachmas.
Now the two men were posted in the arena a short distance from the royal loge, and the captain of the stadium was giving them their instructions which were extremely simple: they were to remain inside the arena and try to kill one another with their bare hands, though the use of elbows, knees, feet, or teeth was not barred; there were no other rules governing the combat. The winner was to receive his freedom, though even this had been qualified by Nemone.
“When the trumpet sounds you may attack,” said the captain of the stadium. “And may Thoos be with you.”
Tarzan and Phobeg had been placed ten paces apart. Now they stood waiting the signal. Phobeg swelled his chest and beat upon it with his fists; he flexed his arms, swelling the great muscles of his biceps until they stood out like great knotty balls; then he hopped about, warming up his leg muscles. He was attracting all the attention, and that pleased him excessively.
Tarzan stood quietly, his arms folded loosely across his chest, his muscles relaxed. He appeared totally unconscious of the presence of the noisy multitude or even of Phobeg, but he was not unconscious of anything that was transpiring about him. His eyes and his ears were alert; it would be Tarzan who would hear the first note of the trumpet’s signal; Tarzan was ready!
Tarzan cared nothing for the stupid men-things making silly noises in their throats, gathered here to see two fellow creatures that had never harmed them try to kill one another for their pleasure; he did not care what they thought about him; to him they were less than the droppings of lions that the slaves had swept up in the arena.
He did not wish to kill Phobeg, nor did he wish to be killed; but Phobeg disgusted him, and he would have liked to punish the man for his ridiculous egotism. He realized that his antagonist was a mighty man and that it might not be an easy thing to punish him without taking a great deal of punishment himself, but this risk he did not mind so that he could halt his own punishment short of crippling or death. His gaze chanced to cross the royal loge; it halted there; the eyes of Nemone met his and held them. What strange eyes were hers—so beautiful, with fires burning far beneath the surface, so mysterious!
The trumpet pealed, and Tarzan’s eyes swung back to Phobeg. A strange silence fell upon the amphitheater. The two men approached one another, Phobeg strutting and confident, Tarzan with the easy, graceful stride of a lion.
“Say your prayers, fellow!” shouted the temple guard. “I am going to kill you; but first I shall play with you for the amusement of Nemone.”
Phobeg came closer and reached for Tarzan. The apeman let him seize him by the shoulders; then Tarzan cupped his two hands and brought the heels of them up suddenly and with great force beneath Phobeg’s chin and at the same time pushed the man from him. The great head snapped back, and the fellow’s huge bulk hurtled backward a dozen paces, where Phobeg sat down heavily.
A groan of surprise arose from the audience, interspersed with cheers from those who had wagered on Tarzan. Phobeg scrambled to his feet; his face was contorted with rage; in an instant he had gone berserk. With a roar, he charged the ape-man.
“No quarter!” he screamed. “I kill you now!”
“Kill! Kill!” shouted the Phobeg adherents. “Death! Death! Give us a death!”
“Don’t you wish to throw me about a bit first?” asked Tarzan in a low voice, as he lightly side-stepped the other’s mad charge.
“No!” screamed Phobeg, turning clumsily and charging again. “I kill! I kill!”
Tarzan caught the outstretched hands and spread them wide; then a bronzed arm, lightninglike, clamped about Phobeg’s short neck; the ape-man wheeled suddenly about, leaned forward, and hurled his antagonist over his head. Phobeg fell heavily to the sandy gravel of the arena.
Nemone leaned from the royal loge, her eyes flashing, her bosom heaving. Erot was but one of many nobles who experienced a constriction of the diaphragm. Nemone turned to him. “Would you like to bet a little more on the strongest man in Cathne?” she asked.
Erot smiled a sickly smile. “The battle has only commenced,” he said.
“But already it is as good as over,” taunted Nemone. Phobeg arose but this time more slowly, nor did he charge again but approached his antagonist warily; his tactics now were very different from what they had been. He wanted to get close enough to Tarzan to get a hold; that was all he desired, just a hold; then, he knew, he could crush the man with his great strength.
Perhaps the ape-man sensed what was in the mind of his foe, perhaps it was just chance that caused him to taunt Phobeg by holding his left wrist out to the other; but whatever it was, Phobeg seized upon the opportunity and, grasping Tarzan’s wrist, sought to drag the ape-man into his embrace; then Tarzan stepped in quickly, struck Phobeg a terrific blow in the face with his right fist, seized the wrist of the hand that held his, and, again whirling quickly beneath his victim, threw him heavily once more, using Phobeg’s arm as a lever and his own shoulder as a fulcrum.
This time Phobeg had difficulty in arising at all. He came up very slowly. The ape-man was standing over him. The blood froze in the veins of the Cathnean as he heard the low, beastlike growl rumbling in the throat of the stranger.
Suddenly Tarzan stooped and seized Phobeg, and, lifting him bodily, held him above his head. “Shall I run now, Phobeg?” he growled, “or are you too tired to chase me?” Then he hurled the man to the ground again a little nearer to the royal loge where Nemone sat, tense and thrilling.
Like a lion with its prey, the lord of the jungle followed the man who had taunted him and would have killed him; twice again he picked him up and hurled him closer to the end of the arena. Now the fickle crowd was screaming to Tarzan to kill Phobeg; Phoheg, the strongest man in Cathne; Phobeg, who twisted men’s necks until their spines cracked.
Again Tarzan seized his antagonist and held him above his head. Phobeg struggled weakly, but he was quite helpless. Tarzan walked to the side of the arena near the royal loge and hurled the great body up into the audience.
“Take your strong man,” he said; “Tarzan does not want him.” Then he walked away and stood before the ramp, waiting, as though he demanded his freedom.
Amid shrieks and howls that called to Tarzan’s mind only the foulest of wild beasts, the loathsome hyena, the crowd hurled the unhappy Phobeg back into the arena. “Kill him! Kill him!” they screamed.
Nemone leaned from her loge. “Kill him, Tarzan!” she cried.
Tarzan shrugged with disgust and turned away.
“Kill him, slave!” commanded a noble from his luxurious loge.
“I shall not kill him,” replied the ape-man.
Nemone arose in her loge. She was flushed and excited. “Tarzan!” she cried, and when the ape-man glanced up at her, “why do you not kill him?”
“Why should I kill him?” demanded Tarzan. “He cannot harm me, and I kill only in self-defense or for food; but I do not eat human flesh, so why should I kill him?”
Phobeg, bruised, battered, and helpless, arose weakly to his feet and stood reeling drunkenly. He heard the voice of the pitiless mob screaming for his death. He saw his antagonist standing a few paces away in front of the ramp, paying no attention to him, and dimly and as though from a great distance he had heard him refuse to kill him. He had heard, but he did not comprehend. He expected to be killed, for such was the custom and the law of the arena. He had sought to kill this man; he would have shown him no mercy; so he could not understand the mercy of Tarzan’s indifference that had been extended to him.
Phobeg’s bloodshot eyes wandered helplessly about the arena, seeking nothing or no one in particular; sympathy was not to be found there, nor mercy, nor any friend; such were not for the vanquished. The frenzied blood-lust of the mob fascinated him. A few minutes ago it had been acclaiming him; now it condemned him to death. His gaze reached the royal loge as Erot leaned far out and shouted to Tarzan standing below.
“Kill him, fellow!” he cried. “It is the Queen’s command.” Phobeg’s eyes dropped to the figure of the ape-man, and he braced himself for a final effort to delay the inevitable. He knew that he had met one mightier than himself and that he must die when the other wished; but the law of self-preservation compelled him to defend himself, however hopelessly.
The ape-man glanced up at the Queen’s favorite. “Tarzan kills only whom it pleases him to kill.” He spoke in a low voice that yet carried to the royal loge. “I shall not kill Phobeg.”
“You fool,” cried Erot, “do you not understand that it is the Queen’s wish, that it is the Queen’s command, which no one may disobey and live, that you kill the fellow?”
“If the Queen wants him killed, why doesn’t she send you down to do it? She is your Queen, not mine.” There was neither awe nor respect in the voice of the ape-man.
Erot looked horrified. He glanced at the Queen. “Shall I order the guard to destroy the impudent savage?” he asked.
Nemone shook her head. Her countenance remained inscrutable, but a strange light burned in her eyes. “We give them both their lives,” she said.”Set Phobeg free, and bring the other to me in the palace”; then she rose as a sign that the games were over.
Many miles to the south of the Field of the Lions in the valley of Onthar a lion moved restlessly just within the confines of a forest. He paced rapidly first in one direction and then in another; his movements were erratic; sometimes his nose was near the ground and, again, it was in the air as though he were searching for something or some one. Once he raised his head and lifted his great voice in a roar that shook the earth and sent Manu, the monkey, fleeing through the trees with his brothers and sisters. In the distance a bull elephant trumpeted, and then silence fell once more upon the jungle.