“We have met again, and again we part,” commented Valthor as he fastened his sandal straps to the ivory guards that encircled his ankles. “I wish that you were going with me to Athne, my friend.”
“I would go with you were it not for the fact that Gemnon’s life would be forfeited should I leave Cathne while he is responsible for me,” replied the ape-man, “but you may rest assured that some day I shall pay you a visit in Athne.”
“I never expected to see you alive again after we were separated by the flood,” continued Valthor, “and when I recognized you in the lion pit I could not believe my own eyes. Four times at least have you saved my life, Tarzan; and you may be assured of a warm welcome in the house of my father at Athne whenever you come.”
“The debt, if you feel that there was one, is wiped out,” Tarzan assured him, “since you saved my life last night.”
“I saved your life! What are you talking about?” demanded Valthor. “How did I save your life?”
“By sleeping in my bed,” explained the lord of the jungle.
Valthor laughed. “A courageous, a heroic act!” he mocked.
“But nevertheless it saved my life,” insisted the ape-man
“What saved whose life?” demanded a voice at the door.
“Good morning, Gemnon!” greeted Tarzan. “My compliments and congratulations!”
“Thanks! But what about?” demanded the Cathnean.
“Upon your notable ability as a sound sleeper,” explained Tarzan, smiling.
Gemnon shook his head dubiously. “Your words are beyond me. What are you talking about?”
“You slept last night through an attempted assassination, the killing of the culprit, and the disposition of his body. Phobeg’s warning was no idle gossip.”
“You mean that someone came here last night to kill you?”
“And almost killed Valthor instead,” and then Tarzan briefly narrated the events of the attempt upon his life.
“Had you ever seen the man before?” asked Gemnon. “Did you recognize him?”
“I paid little attention to him,” admitted Tarzan; “I threw him out of the window; but I do not recall having seen him before.”
“Was he a noble?”
“No, he was a common warrior. Perhaps you will recognize him when you see him.”
“I shall have to have a look at him and report the matter at once,” said Gemnon. “Nemone is going to be furious when she hears this.”
“She may have instigated it herself,” suggested Tarzan; “she is half mad.”
“Hush!” cautioned Gemnon. “It is death even to whisper that thought. No, I do not believe it was Nemone; but were you to accuse Erot, M’duze, or Tomos I could easily agree to that. I must go now, and if I do not return before you leave, Valthor, be assured that I have enjoyed entertaining you. It is unfortunate that we are enemies and that the next time we meet we shall have to endeavor to take one another’s head.”
“It is unfortunate and foolish,” replied Valthor.
“But it is the custom,” Gemnon reminded him.
“Then may we never meet, for I could never take pleasure in killing you.”
“Here’s to it, then,” cried Gemnon, raising his hand as though it held a drinking horn. “May we never meet again!” and with that he turned and left them.
Tarzan and Valthar had but scarcely finished their meal when a noble arrived to tell them that Valthor’s escort was ready to depart, and a moment later, with a brief farewell, the Athnean left.
Tarzan’s liking for Valthor, combined with his curiosity to see the city of ivory, determined him to visit the valley of Thenar before he returned to his own country; but that is a matter apart, having nothing to do with this story, which has seen the last of the likable young noble of Athne.
By Nemone’s command the ape-man’s weapons had been returned to him, and he was engaged in inspecting them, looking to the points and feathers of his arrows, his bowstring, and his grass rope, when Gemnon returned. The Cathnean was quite evidently angry and not a little excited. This was one of the few occasions upon which Tarzan had seen his warder other than smiling and affable.
“I have had a bad half hour with the Queen,” explained Gemnon. “I was lucky to get away with my life. She is furious over this attempt upon your life and blames me for neglect of duty. What am I to do? Sit on your window sill all night?”
Tarzan laughed. “I am an embarrassment,” he said lightly, “and I am sorry; but how can I help it? It was an accident that brought me here; it is perversity that keeps me, the perversity of a spoiled woman.”
“You had better not tell her that, nor let another than me hear you say it,” Gemnon cautioned him.
“I may tell her,” laughed Tarzan; “I am afraid I have never acquired that entirely human accomplishment called diplomacy.”
“She has sent me to summon you; and I warn you to exercise a little judgment, even though you have no diplomacy. She is like a raging lion, and whoever arouses her further will be in for a mauling.”
“What does she want of me?” demanded Tarzan. “Am I to remain in this house, caged up like a pet dog, to run at the beck of a woman?”
“She is investigating this attempt upon your life and has summoned others to be questioned,” Gemnon explained.
Gemnon led the way to a large audience chamber where the nobles of the court were congregated before a massive throne on which the Queen sat, her beautiful brows contracted in a frown. As Tarzan and Gemnon entered the room, she looked up; but she did not smile. A noble advanced and led the two men to seats near the foot of the throne.
As Tarzan glanced about the faces of those near him, he saw Tomos, and Erot, and Xerstle. Erot was nervous; he fidgeted constantly upon his bench; he played with his fingers and with the hilt of his sword; occasionally he glanced appealingly up at Nemone, but if she recognized that he was there, her expression did not acknowledge it.
“We have been awaiting you,” said the Queen as Tarzan took his seat. “It appears that you did not exert yourself to hasten in response to our command.”
Tarzan looked up at her with an amused smile. “On the contrary, your majesty, I returned at once with the noble Gemnon,” he explained respectfully.
“We have summoned you to tell the story of what happened in your apartment last night that resulted in the killing of a warrior.” She then turned to a noble standing at her side and whispered a few words in his ear, whereupon the man quit the room. “You may proceed,” she said turning again to Tarzan.
“There is little to tell,” replied the ape-man, rising. “A man came to my room to kill me, but I killed him instead.”
“How did he enter your room?” demanded Nemone. “Where was Gemnon? Did he admit the fellow?”
“Of course not,” replied Tarzan. “Gemnon was asleep in his own room; the man who would have killed me was lowered from the window of the apartment above mine and entered through my window; there was a long rope tied about his body.”
“How did you know he came to kill you? Did he attack you?”
“Valthor, the Athnean, was sleeping in my bed; I was sleeping on the floor. The man did not see me, for the room was dark. He went to the bed where he thought I was sleeping. I awoke as he stood over Valthor, his sword raised in his hand ready to strike. Then I killed him and threw his body out of the window.”
“Did you recognize him? Had you ever seen him before?” asked the Queen.
“I did not recognize him.”
There was a noise at the entrance to the audience chamber that caused Nemone to glance up. Four slaves bore a stretcher into the room and laid it at the foot of the throne; on it was the corpse of a man.
“Is this the fellow who attempted your life?” demanded Nemone.
“It is,” replied Tarzan.
She turned suddenly upon Erot. “Did you ever see this man before?” she demanded.
Erot arose. He was white and trembled a little. “But your majesty, he is only a common warrior,” he countered; “I may have seen him often, yet have forgotten him; that would not be strange, I see so many of them.”
“And you,” the Queen addressed a young noble standing near, “have you ever seen this man before?”
“Often,” replied the noble; “he was a member of the palace guard and in my company.”
“How long has he been attached to the palace?” demanded Nemone.
“Not a month, your majesty.”
“And before that? Do you know anything about his prior service?”
“He was attached to the retinue of a noble, your majesty,” replied the young officer hesitantly.
“What noble?” demanded Nemone.
“Erot,” replied the witness in a low voice.
The Queen looked long and searchingly at Erot. “You have a short memory,” she said presently, an undisguised sneer in her voice, “or perhaps you have so many warriors in your retinue that you cannot recall one who has been out of your service for a month!”
Erot was pale and shaken. He looked long at the face of the dead man before he spoke again. “I do recall him now, your majesty, but he does not look the same. Death has changed him; that is why I did not recognize him immediately.”
“You are lying,” snapped Nemone. “There are some things about this affair that I do not understand; what part you have had in it, I do not know; but I am sure that you had some part, and I am going to find out what. In the meantime you are banished from the palace; there may be others,” she looked meaningly at Tomos, “but I shall find them all out, and when I do it will be the lion pit for the lot!”
Rising, she descended from the throne, and all knelt save Tarzan. As she passed him on her way from the chamber, she paused and looked long and searchingly into his eyes. “Be careful,” she whispered; “your life is in danger. I dare not see you for a while, for there is one so desperate that not even I could protect you should you visit my apartments again. Tell Gemnon to quit the palace and take you to his father’s house. You will be safer there, but even then far from safe. In a few days I shall have removed the obstacles that stand between us; until then, Tarzan, goodbye!”
The ape-man bowed, and the Queen of Cathne passed on out of the audience chamber. The nobles rose. They drew away from Erot and clustered about Tarzan. In disgust the ape-man drew away. “Come, Gemnon,” he said; “there is nothing to keep us here longer.”
Xerstle blocked their way as they were leaving the chamber. “Everything is ready for the grand hunt,” he exclaimed, rubbing his palms together genially. “I thought this tiresome audience would prevent our starting today, but it is still early. The lions and the quarry are awaiting us at the edge of the forest. Get your weapons and join me in the avenue.”
Gemnon hesitated. “Who are hunting with you?” he asked.
“Just you and Tarzan and Pindes,” explained Xerstle; “a small and select company that ensures a good hunt:”
“We will come,” said the ape-man.
As the two returned to their quarters to get their weapons Gemnon appeared worried. “I am not sure that it is wise to go,” he said.
“And why not?” inquired Tarzan.
“This may be another trap for you.”
The ape-man shrugged. “It is quite possible, but I cannot remain cooped up in hiding. I should like to see what a grand hunt is; I have heard the term so often since I came to Cathne. Who is Pindes? I do not recall him.”
“He was an officer of the guard when Erot became the Queen’s favorite, but through Erot he was dismissed. He is not a bad fellow but weak and easily influenced; however, he must hate Erot, and so I think you have nothing to fear from him.”
“I have nothing to fear from anyone,” Tarzan assured him.
“Perhaps you think not, but be on guard.”
“I am always on guard; had I not been I should have been dead long ago.”
“Your self-complacency may be your undoing,” growled Gemnon testily.
Tarzan laughed. “I appreciate both danger and my own limitations, but I cannot let fear rob me of my liberty and the pleasures of life; fear is to be more dreaded than death. You are afraid, Erot is afraid, Nemone is afraid; and you are all unhappy. Were I afraid, I should be unhappy but no safer. I prefer to be simply cautious. And by the way, speaking of caution, Nemone instructed me to tell you to take me from the palace and keep me in your father’s house. She says the palace is no safe place for me. I really think that it is M’duze who is after me.”
“M’duze and Erot and Tomos,” said Gemnon; “there is a triumvirate of greed and malice and duplicity that I should hate to have upon my trail.”
At his quarters, Gemnon gave orders that his and Tarzan’s belongings be moved to the house of his father while the two men were hunting then they went to the avenue where they found Xerstle and Pindes awaiting them. The latter was a man of about thirty, rather good looking but with a weak face and eyes that invariably dropped from a direct gaze. He met Tarzan with great cordiality, and as the four men walked along the main avenue of the city toward the eastern gate he was most affable.
“You have never been on a grand hunt?” he asked Tarzan.
“No; I have no idea what the term means,” replied the apeman.
“We shall not tell you then, but shall let you see for yourself; then you will enjoy it the more. Of course you hunt much in your own country, I presume.”
“I hunt for food only or for my enemies,” replied the ape-man.
“You never hunt for pleasure?” demanded Pindes.
“I take no pleasure in killing.”
“Well, you won’t have to kill today,” Pindes assured him; “the lions will do our killing; and I can promise you that you will enjoy the thrill of the chase, that reaches its highest point in the grand hunt.”
Beyond the eastern gate an open, park-like plain stretched for a short distance to the forest. Near the gate four stalwart slaves held two lions in leash, while a fifth man, naked but for a dirty loin cloth, squatted upon the ground a short distance away.
As the four hunters approached the party Xerstle explained to Tarzan that the leashed beasts were his hunting lions, and as the ape-man’s observant eyes ran over the five men who were to accompany them on the hunt he recognized the stalwart black seated upon the ground apart as the man he had seen upon the auction block in the market place; then Xerstle approached the fellow and spoke briefly with him, evidently giving him orders. When Xerstle had finished, the native started off at a trot across the plain in the direction of the forest. Everyone watched his progress.
“Why is he running ahead?” asked Tarzan. “He will frighten away the quarry.”
Pindes laughed. “He is the quarry.”
“You mean—” demanded Tarzan with a scowl.
“That this is a grand hunt,” cried Xerstle, “where we hunt man, the grandest quarry.”
The ape-man’s eyes narrowed. “I see,” he said; “you are cannibals; you eat the flesh of men.”
Gemnon turned away to hide a smile.
“No!” shouted Pindes and Xerstle in unison. “Of course not.
“Then why do you hunt him, if not to eat him?”
“For pleasure,” explained Xerstle.
“Oh, yes; I forgot. And what happens if you do not get him? Is he free then?”
“I should say not; not if we can capture him again,” cried Xerstle. “Slaves cost too much money to be lightly thrown away like that.”
“Tell me more of the grand hunt,” insisted Tarzan. “I think I am going to get much satisfaction from this one.”
“I hope so,” replied Xerstle. “When the quarry reaches the forest we loose the lions; then the sport commences.”
“If the fellow takes to the trees,” explained Pindes, “we leash the lions and drive him out with sticks and stones or with our spears; then we give him a little start and loose the lions again. Pretty soon they catch him; and it is the aim of the hunters to be in at the kill, for there is where the real thrills come. Have you ever seen two lions kill a man?”
When the black reached the forest, Xerstle spoke a word of command to the keepers and they unleashed the two great beasts. From their actions it was evident that they were trained to the sport. From the moment the native had started out toward the forest the lions had strained and tugged upon their leashes, so that it was only by the use of their spears that the keepers restrained the beasts from dragging them across the plain; and when they were at last set free they bounded away in pursuit of the unfortunate creature who had been chosen to give Xerstle and his guests a few hours of entertainment.
Halfway to the forest the lions settled down to a much slower gait, and the hunters commenced gradually to overhaul them. Xerstle and Pindes appeared excited, far more excited than the circumstances of the hunt warranted; Gemnon was silent and thoughtful; Tarzan was disgusted and bored. But before they reached the forest his interest was aroused, for a plan had occurred to him whereby he might derive some pleasure from the day’s sport.
The wood, which the hunters presently entered a short distance behind the lions, was of extraordinary beauty; the trees were very old and gave evidence of having received the intelligent care of man, as did the floor of the forest. There was little or no deadwood in the trees and only occasional clumps of underbrush upon the ground between them. As far as Tarzan could see among the boles of the trees the aspect was that of a well-kept park rather than of a natural wood, and in answer to a comment he made upon this fact Gemnon explained that for ages his people had given regular attention to the conservation of this forest from the city of gold to the Pass of the Warriors.
Heavy lianas swung in graceful loops from tree to tree; higher up toward the sunlight Tarzan caught glimpses of brilliant tropical blooms; there were monkeys in the trees and gaudy, screaming birds. The scene filled the, ape-man with such a longing for the freedom that was his life that, for the moment, he almost forgot that Gemnon’s life hinged upon his abandoning all thought of escape while the young noble was responsible to the Queen for his safekeeping.
Once within the forest Tarzan dropped gradually to the rear of the party, and then, when none was looking, swung to the branches of a tree. Plain to his nostrils had been the scent spoor of the quarry from the beginning of the chase, and now the ape-man knew, possibly even better than the lions, the direction of the hopeless flight of the doomed black.
Swinging through the trees in a slight detour that carried him around and beyond the hunters without revealing his desertion to them, Tarzan sped through the middle terraces of the forest as only the lord of the jungle can.
Stronger and stronger in his nostrils waxed the scent of the quarry; behind him came the lions and the hunters; and he knew that he must act quickly, for they were no great distance in his rear. A grim smile lighted his grey eyes as he considered the denouement of the project he had undertaken.
Presently, he saw the black running through the forest just ahead of him. The fellow was moving at a dogged trot, casting an occasional glance behind him. He was a splendidly muscled Galla, a perfect type of primitive-manhood, who seemed bent upon giving the best account of himself that he might against the hopeless odds that must eventually win the game in which his life was the stake. There was neither fear nor panic in his flight, merely inflexible determination to surrender to the inevitable only as a last resort.
Tarzan was directly above the man now, and he, spoke to him in the language of his people. “Take to the trees,” he called down.
The native looked up, but he did not stop. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“An enemy of your master, who would help you escape,” replied the ape-man.
“There is no escape; if I take to the trees they will stone me down.”
“They will not find you; I will see to that.”
“Why should you help me?” demanded the native, but he stopped now and looked up again, searching for the man whose voice came down to him in a tongue that gave him confidence in the speaker.
“I have told you that I am an enemy of your master.”
Now the black saw the bronzed figure of the giant above him. “You are a white man!” he exclaimed. “You are trying to trick me. Why should a white man help me?”
“Hurry!” admonished Tarzan, “or it will be too late, and no one can help you.”
For just an instant longer the African hesitated; then he leaped for a low-hanging branch and swung himself up into the tree as Tarzan came down to meet him.
“They will come soon and stone us both down,” he said. There was no hope in his voice nor any fear, only dumb apathy.