“I am glad to see you here this morning,” said the Cathnean.
“And surprised, perhaps,” suggested the lord of the jungle.
“I should not have been surprised had you never returned,” replied Gemnon. “How did she receive you? And Erot? I suppose he was glad to have you there!”
Tarzan smiled. “He did not appear to be, but it did not matter much as the Queen sent him away immediately.”
“And you were alone with her all evening?” Gemnon appeared incredulous.
“Belthar and I,” Tarzan corrected him. “Belthar does not seem to like me any better than Erot does.”
“Yes, Belthar would be there,” commented Gemnon. “She usually has him chained near her. But do not be offended if he does not like you; Belthar likes no one. Perhaps I should qualify that by saying that he likes no one alive, for he is very fond of dead men. Belthar is a man-eater. How did Nemone treat you?”
“She was gracious,” Tarzan assured him, “and that, too, notwithstanding the fact that the first thing that I did offended her royal majesty.”
“And what was that?” demanded Gemnon.
“I remained standing when I should have kneeled,” explained Tarzan.
“But I told you to kneel,” exclaimed Gemnon.
“So did the noble at the door.”
“And you forgot?”
“You refused to kneel? and she did not have you destroyed! It is incredible.”
“But it is true, and she offered to make me a noble and give me a hundred lions.”
Gemnon shook his head. “What enchantment have you worked to so change Nemone?”
“None; it was I who was under a spell. I have told you these things because I do not understand them. You are the only friend I have in Cathne, and I come to you for an explanation of much that was mysterious in my visit to the Queen last night; I doubt that I or another can ever understand the woman herself. She can be tender or terrible, weak or strong within the span of a dozen seconds. One moment she is the autocrat, the next the obedient vassal of a slave.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Gemnon; “so you saw M’duzel I’ll warrant she was none too cordial.”
“No,” admitted the ape-man. “As a matter of fact she did not pay any attention to me; she just ordered Nemone out of the room, and Nemone went. The remarkable feature of the occurrence lies in the fact that, though the Queen did not want to leave and was very angry about it, she obeyed the old black woman meekly.”
“There are many legends surrounding M’duze,” said Gemnon; “but there is one that is whispered more often than the others, though you may rest assured that it is only whispered and, at that, only among trusted friends.
“M’duze has been a slave in the royal family since the days of Nemone’s grandfather; she was only a child then, a few years older than the King’s son, Nemone’s father. The oldsters recall that she was a fine-looking young negress, and the legend that is only whispered is that Nemone is her daughter.
“About a year after Nemone was born, in the tenth year of her father’s reign, the Queen died under peculiar and suspicious circumstances just before she was to have been confined. The child, a son, was born just before the Queen expired. He was named Alextar, and he still lives.”
“Then why is he not king?” demanded Tarzan.
“That is a long story of mystery and court intrigue and murder, perhaps, of which more is surmised than is actually known by more than two now living. Perhaps Nemone knows, but that is doubtful though she must guess close to the truth.
“Immediately following the death of the Queen the influence of M’duze increased and became more apparent. M’duze favored Tomos, a noble of little or no importance at the time; and from that day the influence and power of Tomos grew. Then, about a year after the death of the Queen, the King died. It was so obvious that he had been poisoned that a revolt of the nobles was barely averted; but Tomos, guided by M’duze, conciliated them by fixing the guilt upon a slave woman of whom M’duze was jealous and executing her.
“For ten years Tomos ruled as regent for the boy, Alextar. During this time he had, quite naturally, established his own following in important positions in the palace and in the council. Alextar was adjudged insane and imprisoned in the temple; Nemone, at the age of twelve, was crowned Queen of Cathne.
“Erot is a creature of M’duze and Tomos, a situation that has produced a contretemps that would be amusing were it not so tragic. Tomos wishes to marry Nemone, but M’duze will not permit it, and, if another theory is correct, her objection is well grounded. This theory is that Tomos, and not the old king, is the father of Nemone. M’duze wishes Nemone to marry Erot, but Erot is not a lion man, and, so far, the Queen has refused to break this ancient custom that requires the ruler to marry into this highest class of Cathneans.
“M’duze is insistent upon the marriage because she can control Erot; and she discourages any interest which Nemone may manifest in other men, which undoubtedly accounts for her having interrupted the Queen’s visit with you.
“You may rest assured that M’duze is your enemy, and it may be of value to you to recall that whoever has stood in the old hag’s path has died a violent death. Beware of M’duze and Tomos and Erot; and, as a friend, I may say to you in confidence, beware of Nemone, also. And now let us forget the cruel and sordid side of Cathne and go for that walk I promised you for this morning that you may see the beauty of the city and the riches of her citizens.”
Along avenues bordered by old trees Gemnon led Tarzan between the low, white and gold homes of nobles, glimpses of which were discernible only occasionally through grilled gateways in the walls that enclosed their spacious grounds. For a mile they walked along the stone-flagged street. Passing nobles greeted Gemnon, some nodding to his companion; artizans, tradesmen, and slaves stopped to stare at the strange, bronzed giant who had overthrown the strongest man in Cathne.
Then they came to a high wall that separated this section of the city from the next. Massive gates, swung wide now and guarded by warriors, opened into a portion of the city inhabited by better class artizans and tradesmen. Their grounds were less spacious, their houses smaller and plainer; but evidences of prosperity and even affluence were apparent everywhere.
Beyond this was a meaner district, yet even here all was orderly and neat, nor was there any sign of abject poverty in either the people or their homes. Here, as in the other portions of the city, they occasionally met a tame lion either wandering about or lying before the gate of its master’s grounds.
Presently the ape-man’s attention was attracted by a lion a short distance ahead of them; the beast was lying on the body of a man which it was devouring.
“Your streets do not seem to be entirely safe for pedestrians,” commented the lord of the jungle, indicating the feeding lion with a nod of the head.
Gemnon laughed. “You notice that the pedestrians do not seem to be much concerned,” he replied, calling attention to the people passing to and fro past the lion and its prey, merely turning aside enough to avoid them. “The lions must eat.”
“Do they kill many of your citizens?”
“Very few. The man you see there died, and his corpse was thrown into the street for the lions. The lion did not kill him. You see he is naked; that shows that he was dead before the lion got him. When a person dies, if there be no one who can or will pay for a funeral cortege, the body is disposed of in this way if not diseased; those who die of disease and those whose relatives can afford a funeral cortege find their last resting place in Xarator, though there are also many of the latter that are thrown to the lions by preference. You know we think a great deal of lions here in Cathne, and it is no disgrace but rather the contrary to be devoured by one. You see, our god is a lion.”
“Do the lions eat human flesh exclusively?” inquired Tarzan.
“No. We hunt sheep, goats, and elephants in Thenar to provide them with food when there is not enough human flesh to keep them well fed, for we must keep them from hunger if we are to prevent them turning man-eaters.”
“Then they never kill men for food?”
“Oh, yes, occasionally; but a lion that develops that habit is destroyed; and, after all, only a few old pets are turned loose in the streets. There are about five hundred lions inside the city, and all but a few of these are kept in enclosures on their owners’ property. The best racing and hunting lions are kept in private stables.
“The Queen has fully three hundred full grown males; these are the war lions. Some of the Queen’s lions are trained for racing and some for hunting; she likes to hunt, and now that the rainy season is over the hunting lions of Nemone will doubtless soon be in the field.”
“Where do you get all these lions?” asked the ape-man.
“We raise them ourselves,” explained Gemnon. “Outside the, city is a breeding plant where the females are kept. It is maintained by Nemone, and each lion man who owns females pays a stipulated sum for their keep. We raise a great many lions, for there are many killed each year in hunting, during raids, and in war. You see, we hunt elephants with them; and in these hunts many lions are killed. The Atheneans also kill a number each year when we take our lions into Thenar to hunt or raid, and quite a few escape. Most of these are still running wild in the valley or in Thenar, and there are some wild lions that have come in from the mountains. All of these are very ferocious.”
As they talked they continued on toward the center of the city until they came to a large square that was bounded on all sides by shops. Here were many people. All classes from nobles to slaves mingled before the shops and in the great open square of the market place. There were lions held by slaves who were exhibiting them for sale for their noble masters who dickered with prospective purchasers, other nobles.
Near the lion market was the slave block; and as slaves, unlike lions, might be owned by anyone, there was brisk bidding on the part of many wishing to buy. A huge, black Galla was on the block as Tarzan and Gemnon paused to watch the scene. The man was entirely naked that the buyers might examine him for blemishes; his expression was one of unconcern ordinarily, though occasionally he shot a venomous glance at the owner who was expatiating upon his virtues.
“For all the interest he shows,” remarked Tarzan, “one might think that being sold like a piece of merchandise or a bullock was a daily occurrence in his life.”
“Not quite daily,” replied Gemnon “but no novelty. He has been sold many times. I know him well; I used to own him.”
“Look at him!” shouted the seller. “Look at those arms; look at those legs; look at that backl He is as strong as an elephant, and not a blemish on him. Sound as a lion’s tooth he is; never ill a day in his life. And docile! a child can handle him.”
“He is so refractory that no one can handle him,” commented Gemnon in a whisper to the ape-man. “That is the reason I had to get rid of him; that is the reason he is up for sale so often.”
“There seem to be plenty of customers interested in him,” observed Tarzan.
“Do you see that slave in the red tunic?” asked Gemnon. “He belongs to Xerstle, and he is bidding on that fellow. He knows all about him, too; he knew him when the man belonged to me.”
“Then why does he want to buy him?” asked the apeman.
“I do not know, but there are other uses to which a slave may be put than labor. Xerstle may not care what sort of a disposition the fellow has or even whether he will work. If he owned lions I might think that he was buying the fellow for lion food as he will probably go cheap.”
It was Xerstle’s slave who bought the Galla as Tarzan and Gemnon moved on to look at the goods displayed in the shops. There were many articles of leather, wood, ivory, or gold; there were dagger-swords, spears, shields, habergeons, helmets, and sandals. One shop displayed nothing but articles of apparel for women; another, perfumes and incense; there were jewelry shops, vegetable shops, and meat shops. The last displayed dried meats and fish and carcasses of goats and sheep. The fronts of these shops were heavily barred to prevent passing lions from raiding them, Gemnon explained.
Wherever Tarzan went he attracted attention; and a small crowd always followed him, for he had been recognized the moment that he had entered the market place. Boys and girls clustered about him gazing at him admiringly, and men and women who had been at the stadium the previous day told those who had not how this stranger giant had lifted Phobeg above his head and hurled him up among the audience.
“Let’s get out of here,” suggested the lord of the jungle; “I do not like crowds.”
“Suppose we go back to the palace and look at the Queen’s lions,” said Gemnon.
“I would rather look at lions than people,” Tarzan assured him.
The war lions of Cathne were kept in stables within the royal grounds at a considerable distance from the palace. The building was of stone neatly laid and painted white; in it each lion had his separate cage; and outside were yards surrounded by high stone walls near the tops of which pointed sticks, set close together and inclined downward on the inside of the walls, kept the lions from escaping. In these yards the lions exercised themselves; there was another, larger arena where they were trained by a corps of keepers under the supervision of nobles; here the racing lions were broken to harness and the hunting lions taught to obey the commands of the hunter, to trail, to charge, to retrieve.
As Tarzan entered the stable a familiar scent spoor impinged upon his nostrils. “Belthar is here,” he remarked to Gemnon.
“It is possible,” replied the noble, “but I don’t understand how you know it.”
As they were walking along in front of the cages inspecting the lions that were inside, Gemnon, who was in advance; suddenly halted. “How do you do it?” he demanded. “Last night you knew that Erot was with Nemone, though you could not see him and no one could have informed you; and now you knew that Belthar was here, and, sure enough, he is!”
Tarzan approached and stood beside Gemnon, and the instant that Belthar’s eyes fell upon him the beast leaped against the bars of his cage in an effort to seize the ape-man, at the same time voicing an angry roar that shook the building.
Instantly keepers came running to the spot, certain that something had gone amiss; but Gemnon assured them that it was only Belthar exhibiting his bad temper.
“He does not like me,” said Tarzan.
“If he ever got you, he would make short work of you,” said a head keeper.
“It is evident that he would like to,” replied the ape-man.
“He is a bad one and a man-killer,” said Gemnon after the keepers had departed, “but Nemone will not have him destroyed. Occasionally he is loosed in the palace arena with someone who has incurred Nemone’s disfavor; thus she derives pleasure from the sufferings of the culprit.
“Formerly he was her best hunting lion, but the last time he was used he killed four men and nearly escaped. He has already eaten three keepers who ventured into the arena with him, and he will eat more before good fortune rids us of him.
“Nemone is supposed to entertain a superstition that in some peculiar way her life and the life of Belthar are linked by some mysterious, supernatural bond and that when one dies the other must die. Naturally, under the circumstances, it is neither politic nor safe to suggest that she destroy the old devil. It is odd that he has conceived such a violent dislike for you.”
“I have met lions before which did not like me,” said Tarzan.
“May you never meet Belthar in the open, my friend!”