Congratulating him upon his victory, praising his prowess, asking innumerable questions, they followed him from the arena, and at the top of the ramp another noble accosted him. It was Gemnon.
“The Queen has commanded me to accompany you to the city and look after you,” he explained. “This evening I am to bring you to her in the palace; but in the meantime you will want to bathe and rest, and I imagine that you might welcome some decent food after the prison fare you have been eating recently.”
“I shall be glad of a bath and good food,” replied Tarzan, “but why should I rest? I have been doing nothing else for several days.”
“But you have just come through a terrific battle for your life!” exclaimed Gemnon. “You must be tired.”
Tarzan shrugged his broad shoulders. “Perhaps you had better look after Phobeg instead,” he replied. “It is he who needs rest; I am not tired.”
Gemnon laughed. “Phobeg should consider himself lucky to be alive. If any one looks after him it will be himself.”
They were walking toward the city now. The other nobles had joined their own parties or had dropped behind, and Gemnan and Tarzan were alone, if two may be said to be alone who are surrounded by a chattering mob through which bodies of armed men and lion-drawn chariots are making their slow way. Those near Tarzan were discussing him animatedly, but because of the nobles they kept their distance from him. They commented upon his giant strength and the deceptive appearance of his muscular development, the flowing symmetry of which scarce proclaimed the titanic power of the steel thews of the lord of the jungle.
“You are popular now,” commented Gemnon.
“A few minutes ago they were screaming at Phobeg to kill me,” Tarzan reminded him.
“I am really surprised that they are so friendly,” remarked Gemnon. “You cheated them of a death—the one thing they are all hoping and praying to see when they go to the stadium. It is for this they pay their lepta for admission. Also, most of them lost more money betting on Phobeg; but those who won on you should love you, for they won much; the adds were as high as one hundred to one against you.
“It is the nobles, though, who have the greatest grievance against you,” continued Gemnon, grinning. “Several of them lost their entire fortunes. Those closest to Nemone always have to cover her bets; and, believing that she would bet on Phobeg, they placed large bets an him among the audience to cover their losses to Nemone; then Nemone insisted upon betting on you, and they had to bet more money on Phobeg—ten million drachmas to cover Nemone’s hundred thousand. I estimate that that one small group lost close to twenty million drachmas.”
“And Nemone won ten million?” asked Tarzan.
“Yes,” replied Gemnon; “which may account for the fact that you are alive now.”
“Why should I not be alive?”
“You flouted the Queen; before thousands of her people you refused to obey her direct command. No, not even the ten million drachmas can account for it; there is some other reason why Nemone spared you. Perhaps she is contemplating for you a death that will give her greater satisfaction. Knowing Nemone as I do, I cannot believe that she will let you live; she would not be Nemone if she forgave so serious an affront to her majesty.”
“Phobeg was going to kill me,” Tarzan reminded him.
“But Nemone is not Phobeg. Nemone is Queen, and—”
“And what?” asked the ape-man.
Gemnon shrugged. “I was thinking aloud, which is a bad habit for one who enjoys life. Doubtless you may live long enough to know her better than you do now and then you can do your own thinking—but do not do it aloud.”
“Did you lose much on Phobeg?” inquired Tarzan.
“I won; I bet on you. I met one of Erot’s slaves who was going to place some of his master’s money on Phobeg; I took it all. You know I had seen a little more of you than the other nobles and I believed that you had a chance, but I was backing your intelligence and agility against Phobeg’s strength, stupidity, and awkwardness; even I did not dream that you were stronger than he.”
“And the odds were good!”
Gemnon smiled. “Too good to be overlooked; it was more than a reasonable gamble. But I cannot understand Nemone; she is a great bettor but no gambler. She always puts her money on the favorite, and may Thoos help him if he does not win.”
“A woman’s intuition,” suggested the ape-man.
“I think not; Nemone is too practical and calculating to act on intuition alone; she had some other reason. What it is, none knows but Nemone. The same mysterious motivation saved your life today or, perhaps I should say, prolonged it.”
“I am going to see her this evening,” said Tarzan, “and doubtless I shall affront her again; it seems that I have done so both times that I have seen her.”
“Do not forget that she practically sentenced you to death for the first offense,” Gemnon reminded him. “At that time she must have been certain that Phobeg would kill you. If I were you I should not annoy her.”
When they reached the city, Gemnon took Tarzan to his own quarters in the palace. These consisted of a bedroom and bath in addition to a living roam that was shared with another officer. Here Tarzan found the usual decorations of weapons, shields, and mounted heads in addition to pictures painted on leather. He saw no books, nor any other printed matter; neither was there any sign of writing materials in the rooms. He wanted to question Gemnon on this subject, but he found that he had never learned any word for writing or for a written language.
The bath interested the ape-man. The tub was a coffinlike affair made of clay and baked; the plumbing fixtures were apparently all of solid gold. While questioning Gemnon he learned that the water was brought from the mountains east of the city through clay pipes of considerable size and distributed by means of pressure tanks distributed throughout all of urban Cathne.
Gemnon summoned a slave to prepare the bath, and when Tarzan had finished, a meal was awaiting him in the living room. While he was eating, and Gemnon lounged near in conversation, another young noble entered the apartment. He had a narrow face and rather unpleasant eyes, nor was he overly cordial when Gemnon introduced him to Tarzan.
“Xerstle and I are quartered together,” Gemnon explained.
“I have orders to move out,” snapped Xerstle.
“Why is that?” asked Gemnon.
“To make room for your friend here,” replied Xerstle sourly, and then he went into his own room mumbling something about slaves and savages.
“He does not seem pleased,” remarked Tarzan.
“But I am,” replied Gemnon in a law voice. “Xerstle and I have not gotten along well together. We have nothing in common. He is one of Erot’s friends and was elevated from nothing after Erot became Nemone’s favorite. He is the son of a foreman at the mines. If they had elevated his father he would have been an acquisition to the nobility, for he is a splendid man; but Xerstle is a rat-like his friend, Erot.”
“I have heard something of your nobility,” said Tarzan; “I understand that there are two classes of nobles, and that one class rather looks upon the other with contempt even though a man of the lower class may hold a higher title than many of those in the other class.”
“We do not look upon them with contempt if they are worthy men,” replied Gemnon. “The old nobility, the Lion Men of Cathne, is hereditary; the other is but temporary—for the lifetime of the man who has received it as a special mark of favor from the throne. In one respect at least it reflects greater glory on its possessor than does hereditary nobility, as it is often the deserved reward of merit. I am a noble by accident of birth; had I not been born a noble I might never have become one. I am a lion man because my father was; I may own lions because, beyond the memory of man, an ancient ancestor of mine led the king’s lions to battle.”
“What did Erot do to win his patent of nobility?” inquired the ape-man.
Gemnon grimaced. “Whatever services he has rendered have been personal; he has never served the state with distinction. If he owns any distinction, it is that of being the prince of flatterers, the king of sycophants.”
“Your Queen seems too intelligent a woman to be duped by flattery.”
“No one is, always.”
“There are no sycophants among the beasts,” said Tarzan.
“What do you mean by that?” demanded Gemnon. “Erot is almost a beast.”
“You malign the beasts. Did you ever see a lion that fawned upon another creature to curry favor?”
“But beasts are different,” argued Gemnon.
“Yes; they have left all the petty meannesses to man.”
“You do not think very highly of men.”
“None does who thinks, who compares them with the beasts.”
“We are what we are born,” rejoined Gemnon; “some are beasts, some are men, and some are men who behave like beasts.”
“But none, thank God, are beasts that behave like men,” retorted Tarzan, smiling.
Xerstle, entering from his room, interrupted their conversation. “I have gathered my things together,” he said; “I shall send a slave for them presently.” His manner was short and brusque. Gemnon merely nodded in assent, and Xerstle departed.
“He does not seem pleased,” commented the ape-man.
“May Xarator have him!” ejaculated Gemnon; “though he would serve a better purpose as food for my lions,” he added as an afterthought; “if they would eat him.”
“You own lions?” inquired Tarzan.
“Certainly,” replied Gemnon. “I am a lion man and must own lions. It is a caste obligation: Each lion man must own lions of war to fight in the service of the Queen. I have five. In times of peace I use them for hunting and racing. Only royalty and the lion men may own lions.”
The sun was setting behind the mountains that rimmed the western edge of the Field of the Lions as a slave entered the apartment with a lighted cresset which he hung at the end of a chain depending from the ceiling.
“It is time for the evening meal,” announced Gemnon, rising.
“I have eaten,” replied Tarzan.
“Come anyway; it may interest you to meet the other nobles of the palace.”
Tarzan arose. “Very well,” he said and followed Gemnon from the apartment.
Forty nobles were assembled in a large dining room on the main floor of the palace as Gemnon and Tarzan entered. Tomos was there and Erot and, Xerstle; several of the others Tarzan also recognized as having been seen by him before either in the council room or at the stadium. A sudden silence fell upon the assemblage as he entered, as though the men had been interrupted while discussing either him or Gemnon.
“This is Tarzan,” announced Gemnon by way of introduction as he led the ape-man to the table.
Tomos, who sat at the head of the table, did not appear pleased. Erot was scowling; it was he who spoke first. “This table is for nobles,” he said, “not for slaves.”
“By his own prowess and the grace of her majesty, the Queen, this man is here as my guest,” said Gemnon quietly. “If one of my equals takes exception to his presence, I will be glad to discuss the matter, with swords,” and then he turned to Tarzan. “Because this man sits at table with nobles of my own rank I apologize for the inference he intended you to draw from his words. I hope you are not offended.”
“Does the jackal offend the lion?” asked the ape-man.
The meal was not a complete success socially. Erot and Xerstle whispered together. Tomos did not speak but applied himself assiduously to the business of eating. Several of Gemnon’s friends engaged Tarzan in conversation; and he found one or two of them agreeable, but others were inclined to be patronizing. Possibly they would have been surprised and their attitude toward him different had they known that their guest was a peer of England, but then again this might have made little impression upon them inasmuch as none of them had ever heard of England. However, Tarzan did not enlighten them. He did not care what they thought, and so the meal progressed with many silences.
When Tomos arose and the others were free to go, Gemnon conducted Tarzan to the apartments of the Queen after returning to his own apartments to don a more elaborate habergeon, helmet, and equipment.
“Do not forget to kneel when we enter the presence of Nemone,” cautioned Gemnon, “and do not speak until she addresses you.”
A noble received them in a small anteroom where he left them while he went to announce their presence to the Queen, and as they waited Gemnon’s eyes watched the tall stranger standing quietly near him.
“Have you no nerves?” he asked presently.
“What do you mean?” demanded the ape-man.
“I have seen the bravest warriors tremble who had been summoned before Nemone,” explained his companion.
“I have never trembled,” replied Tarzan. “How is it done?”
“Perhaps Nemone will teach you to tremble.”
“Perhaps, but why should I tremble to go where a jackal does not tremble to go?”
“I do not understand what you mean by that,” said Gemnon puzzled.
“Erot is in there.”
Gemnon grinned. “But how do you know that?” he asked.
“I know,” said Tarzan; he did not think it necessary to explain that when the noble had opened the door his sensitive nostrils had caught the scent spoor of the Queen’s favorite.
“I hope not,” said Gemnon, an expression of concern upon his countenance. “If he is there this may be a trap from which you will never come out alive.”
“One might fear the Queen,” replied Tarzan, “but not the jackal.”
“It is the Queen of whom I was thinking.”
The noble returned to the anteroom. He nodded to Tarzan. “Her majesty will receive you now,” he said. “You may go, Gemnon; your attendance will not be required:” Then he turned to the ape-man once more. “When I open the door and announce you, enter the room and kneel. Remain kneeling until the Queen tells you to arise, and do not speak until after her majesty addresses you. Do you hear?”
“I hear,” replied Tarzan. “Open the door!”
Gemnon, just leaving the anteroom by another doorway, heard and smiled; but the noble did not smile. He frowned. The bronzed giant had spoken to him in a tone of command, but the noble did not know what to do about it; so he opened the door. But he got some revenge, or at least he thought that he did.
“The slave, Tarzan!” he announced in a loud voice.
The lord of the jungle stepped into the adjoining chamber, crossed to the center of it, and stood erect, silently regarding Nemone. He did not kneel. Erot was there standing at the foot of a couch upon which the Queen reclined upon fat pillows. The Queen regarded Tarzan from her deep eyes without any change of expression, but Erot scowled angrily.
“Kneel, you fool!” he commanded.
“Silence!” admonished Nemone. “It is I who give commands.”
Erot flushed and fingered the golden hilt of his sword. Tarzan neither spoke nor moved nor took his eyes from the eyes of Nemone. Though he had thought her beautiful before, he realized now that she was even more gorgeous than he had believed it possible for any woman to be.
“I shall not need you again tonight, Erot,” said Nemone; “you may go now.”
Now Erot paled and then turned fiery red. He started to speak but thought better of it; then he backed to the doorway, executed a bow that brought him to one knee, arose, and departed.
As Tarzan had crossed the threshold his observing eyes had noted every detail of the room’s interior almost in a single, sweeping glance. The chamber was not large, but it was magnificent in its conception and its appointments. Columns of solid gold supported the ceiling, the walls were tiled with ivory, the floor a mosaic of colored stones upon which were scattered rugs of colored stuff and the skins of animals, among, which was one that attracted the ape-man’s instant attention—the skin of a man tanned with the head on.
On the walls were paintings, for the most part very crude, and the usual array of heads of animals and men, and at one end of the room a great lion was chained between two of the golden Doric columns. He was a very large lion with a tuft of white hair in his mane directly in the center of the back of his neck. From the instant that Tarzan entered the room the lion eyed him malevolently, and Erot had scarcely passed out and closed the door behind him when the beast sprang to his feet with a terrific roar and leaped at the apeman. The chains stopped him and he dropped down, growling.
“Belthar does not like you,” said Nemane who had remained unmoved when the beast sprang. She noticed, too, that Tarzan had not started nor given any other indication that he had heard the lion or seen him; and she was pleased.
“He but reflects the attitude of all Cathne,” replied Tarzan.
“That is not true,” contradicted Nemone.
“I like you.” Nemone’s voice was low and caressing. “You defied me before my people at the stadium today, but I did not have you destroyed. Do you suppose that I should have permitted you to live if I had not liked you? You do not kneel to me. No one else in the world has ever refused to do that and lived. I have never seen a man like you. I do not understand you. I am beginning to think that I do not understand myself. The leopard does not became a sheep in a few hours, yet it seems to me that I have changed as much as that since I first saw you; but that is not solely because I like you; I think that it is more because there is something mysterious about you that I cannot fathom. You have piqued my curiosity.”
“And when that is satisfied you will kill me, perhaps?” asked Tarzan, a half smile curving his lip.
“Perhaps,” admitted Nemone with a low laugh. “Come here and sit down beside me; I want to talk with you; I want to know more about you.”
“I shall see that you do not learn too much,” Tarzan assured her as he crossed to the couch and seated himself facing her, while Belthar growled and strained at his chains.
“In your own country you are no slave,” said Nemone; “but I do not need to ask that; your every act has proved it. Perhaps you are a king?”
Tarzan shook his head. “I am Tarzan,” he said, as though that explained everything, setting him above kings.
“Are you a lion man? You must be,” insisted the Queen.
“It would not make me better nor worse; so what difference does it make? You might make Erot a king, but he would still be Erot.”
A sudden frown darkened Nemone’s countenance. “What do you mean by that?” she demanded. There was a suggestion of anger in her tone.
“I mean that a title of nobility does not make a man noble, that you may call a jackal a lion; but he will still be a jackal.”
“Do you not know that I am supposed to be very fond of Erot,” she demanded, “or that you may drive my patience too far?”
Tarzan shrugged. “You show execrable taste.”
Nemone sat up very straight. Her eyes flashed. “I should have you killedl” she cried. Tarzan said nothing. He just kept his eyes on hers. She could not tell whether or not he was laughing at her. Finally she sank back on her pillows with a gesture of resignation. “What is the use?” she demanded. “You probably would not let me get any satisfaction from killing you anyway, and by this time I should be accustomed to being affronted.”
“What you are not accustomed to is hearing the truth. Everyone is afraid of you. The reason you are interested in me is because I am not. It might do you goad to hear the truth more often.”
“I am not going to undertake the thankless job of regenerating royalty,” Tarzan assured her with a laugh.
“Let us stop quarreling. Nemone forgives you.”
“I do not quarrel,” said Tarzan; “only the weak and the wrong quarrel.”
“Now answer my question. Are you a lion man in your own country?”
“I am a noble,” replied the ape-man, “but I can tell you that that means little; a ditch digger may become a noble if he control enough votes, or a rich brewer if he subscribe a large amount of money to the political party in power.”
“And which were you,” demanded Nemone, “a ditch digger or a rich brewer?”
“Neither,” laughed Tarzan.
“Then why are you a noble?” insisted the Queen.
“For even less reason than either of those,” admitted the ape-man. “I am a noble through no merit of my own but by an accident of birth; my family for many generations has been noble.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Nemone. “It is just as I thought; you are a lion man!”
“And what of it?” demanded Tarzan.
“It simplifies matters,” she explained, but she did not amplify the explanation nor did Tarzan either understand or inquire as to its implication. As a matter of fact he was not greatly interested in the subject.
Nemone extended a hand and laid it on his, a soft, warm hand that trembled just a little. “I am going to give you your freedom,” she said, “but on one condition.”
“And what is that?” asked the ape-man.
“That you remain here, that you do not try to leave Onthar—or me.” Her voice was eager and just a little husky, as though she spoke under suppressed emotion.
Tarzan remained silent. He would not promise, and so he did not speak. He realized, too, how easy it would be to remain if Nemone bid one do so. She fascinated him; she seemed to exercise a subtle influence, mysterious, hypnotic; yet he was determined to make no promise.
“I will make you a noble of Cathne,” whispered Nemone. She was sitting erect now, her face close to Tarzan’s. He could feel the warmth of her body close to his; the aura of some exotic scent was in his nostrils; her fingers closed upon his arm with a fierceness that hurt. “I will have made for you helmets of gold and habergeons of ivory, the most magnificent in Cathne; I will give you lions, fifty, a hundred; you shall be the richest, the most powerful noble of my court!”
The lord of the jungle felt weak beneath the spell of her burning eyes. “I do not want such things,” he said.
Her soft arm crept up about his neck. A tender light, that was new to them, welled in the eyes of Nemone, the Queen of Cathne. “Tarzan!” she whispered.
And then a door at the far end of the chamber opened and a negress entered. She had been very tall, but now she was old and bent; her scraggly wool was scant and white. Her withered lips were twisted into something that might have been either a snarl or a grin, revealing her toothless gums. She stood in the doorway leaning upon a staff and shaking her head, an ancient, palsied hag.
At the interruption Nemone straightened and looked around. The expression that had transformed and softened her countenance was swept away by a sudden wave of rage, inarticulate but no less terrible.
The old hag tapped upon the floor with her staff; her head nodded ceaselessly like that of some grotesque and horrible doll, and her lips were still contorted in what Tarzan realized now was no smile but a hideous snarl. “Come!” she cackled. “Come! Come! Come!”
Nemone sprang to her feet and faced the woman. “M’duzei” she screamed. “I could kill you! I could tear you to pieces! Get out of here!”
But the old woman only tapped with her staff and cackled, “Come! Come! Come!”
Slowly Nemone approached her. As one drawn by an invisible and irresistible power the Queen crossed the chamber, the old hag stepped aside, and the Queen passed on through the doorway into the darkness of a corridor beyond. The old woman turned her eyes upon Tarzan, and, snarling, backed through the doorway after Nemone. Noiselessly the door closed behind them.
Tarzan had arisen as Nemone arose. For an instant he hesitated and then took a step toward the doorway in pursuit of the Queen and the old hag; then he heard a door open and a step behind him, and turned to see the noble who had ushered him into Nemone’s presence standing just within the threshold.
“You may return to the quarters of Gemnon,” announced the noble politely.
Tarzan shook himself as might a lion; he drew a palm across his eyes as one whose vision has been clouded by a mist; then he drew a deep sigh and moved toward the doorway as the noble stepped aside to let him pass, but whether it was a sigh of relief or regret, who may say?
As the lord of the jungle passed out of the chamber, Belthar sprang to the ends of his chains with a thunderous roar.