“Fetch him here,” directed the young noble, and a moment later a tall Negro was ushered into the apartment.
“Ah, Gemba!” exclaimed Gemnon in a kindly tone, “you have a message for me?”
“Yes, master,” replied the slave, “but it is importantand secret.”
“You may speak before these others, Gemba,” replied Gemnon. “What is it?”
“Doria, the daughter of Thudos, my master, has sent me to tell you that by a ruse the noble Erot gained entrance to her father’s house and spoke with her today. What he said to her was of no importance; only the fact that he saw her is important.”
“The jackal!” exclaimed Gemnon’s father.
Gemnon paled. “That is all?” he inquired.
“That is all, master,” replied Gemba.
Gemnon took a gold coin from his pocket pouch and handed it to the slave. “Return to your mistress, and tell her that I shall come and speak with her father tomorrow.”
After the slave had withdrawn Gemnon looked hopelessly at his father. “What can I do?” he asked. “What can Thudos do? What can anyone do? We are helpless.”
“Perhaps I can do something,” suggested Tarzan. “For the moment I seem to hold the confidence of your Queen; when I see her I shall question her, and if it is necessary I shall intercede in your behalf.”
A new hope sprang to Gemnon’s eyes. “If you willl” he cried. “She will listen to you. I believe that you alone might save Doria; but remember that the Queen must not see her, for should she, nothing can save her—she will be either disfigured or killed.”
Early the next morning a messenger from the palace brought a command to Tarzan to visit the Queen at noon, with instructions to Gemnon to accompany Tarzan with a strong guard as she feared treachery on the part of Tarzan’s enemies.
“They must be powerful enemies that dare attempt to thwart the wishes of Nemone,” commented Gemnon’s father.
“There is only one in all Cathne who dares do that,” replied Gemnon.
The older man nodded. “The old she-devil! Would but that Thoos destroyed her! How shameful it is that Cathne should be ruled by a slave woman!”
“I have seen Nemone look at her as though she wished to kill her,” said Tarzan.
“Yes, but she will never dare,” prophesied Gemnon’s father. “Between the old witch and Tomos a threat of some sort is held over the Queen’s head so that she dares not destroy either one of them, yet I am sure she hates them both; and it is seldom that she permits one to live whom she hates.”
“It is thought that they hold the secret of her birth, a secret that would destroy her if it were announced to the people,” explained Gemnon; “but come, we have the morning to ourselves; I shall not visit Thudos until after you have talked with Nemone; what shall we do in the meantime?”
“I should like to visit the mines of Cathne,” replied Tarzan; “shall we have time?”
“Yes, we shall,” replied Gemnon; “the Mine of the Rising Sun is not far; and as there is little to see after you get there, the trip will not take long.”
On the road from Cathne to the nearer mine, Gemnon pointed out the breeding plant where the war and hunting lions of Cathne are bred; but they did not stop to visit the place, and presently they were winding up the short mountain road to the Gold Mine of the Rising Sun.
As Gemnon had warned him, there was little of interest for Tarzan to see. The workings were open, the mother lode lying practically upon the surface of the ground; and so rich was it that only a few slaves working with crude picks and bars were needed to supply the coffers of Cathne with vast quantities of the precious metal. But it was not the mines nor gold that had caused Tarzan to wish to visit the diggings. He had promised Hafim that he would carry a message to his brother, Niaka; and it was for this purpose that he had suggested the visit.
As he moved about among the slaves, ostensibly inspecting the lode, he finally succeeded in separating himself sufficiently from Gemnon and the warriors who guarded the workers to permit him to speak unnoticed to one of the slaves.
“Which is Niaka?” he asked in Galla, lowering his voice to a whisper.
The black looked up in surprise, but at a warning gesture from Tarzan bent his head again and answered in a whisper, “Niaka is the big man at my right. He is headman; you see that he does not work.”
Tarzan moved then in the direction of Niaka, and when he was close stopped beside him and leaned as though inspecting the lode that was uncovered at his feet. “Listen,” he whispered. “I bring you a message, but let no one know that I am talking to you. It is from your brother, Hafim. He has escaped.”
“How?” whispered Niaka.
Briefly, Tarzan explained.
“It was you, then, who saved him?”
The ape-man nodded.
“I am only a poor slave,” said Niaka, “and you are a powerful noble, no doubt; so I can never repay you. But should you ever need any service that Niaka can render, you have but to command; with my life I would serve you. In that little hut below the diggings I live with my woman; because I am headman I am trusted and live thus alone. If you ever want me you will find me there.”
“I ask no return for what I did,” replied Tarzan, “but I shall remember where you live; one never knows what the future holds.”
He moved away then and joined Gemnon; and presently the two turned back toward the city, while in the palace of the Queen Tomos entered the apartment of Nemone and knelt.
“What now?” she demanded. “Is the affair so urgent that I must be interrupted at my toilet?”
“It is, majesty,” replied the councillor, “and I beg that you send your slaves away. What I have to say is for your ears alone.”
There were four Negro girls working on Nemone’s nails, one at each foot and one at each hand, and a white girl arranging her hair. To the last the Queen spoke, “Take the slaves away, Maluma, and send them to their quarters; you may wait in the adjoining room.”
Then she turned to the councillor, who had arisen. “Well, what is it?”
“Your majesty has long had reason to suspect the loyalty of Thudos,” Tomos reminded her, “and in the interest of your majesty’s welfare and the safety of the throne, I am constantly watchful of the activities of this powerful enemy. Spurred on by love and loyalty, the noble Erot has been my most faithful agent and ally; and it is really to him that we owe the information that I bring you.”
Nemone tapped her sandalled foot impatiently upon the mosaic floor. “Have done with the self-serving preamble, and tell me what you have to tell me,” she snapped, for she did not like Tomos and made no effort to hide her feelings.
“Briefly, then, it is this; Gemnon conspires also with Thudos, hoping, doubtless, that his reward will be the beautiful daughter of his chief.”
“That hollow-cheeked strumpet!” exclaimed Nemone. “Who said she was beautiful?”
“Erot tells me that Gemnon and Thudos believe her the most beautiful woman in the world,” replied Tomos.
“Impossible! Did Erot see her?”
“Yes, majesty, he saw her.”
“What does Erot say?” demanded the Queen.
“That she is indeed beautiful,” replied the councillor. “There are others who think so too,” he added.
“One who has been drawn into the conspiracy with Gemnon and Thudos by the beauty of Doria, the daughter of Thudos.”
“Whom do you mean? Speak outl I know you have something unpleasant in your mind that you are suffering to tell me, hoping that it will make me unhappy.”
“Oh, majesty, you wrong mel” cried Tomos. “My only thoughts are for the happiness of my beloved Queen.”
“Your words stink with falseness,” sneered Nemone. “But get to the point; I have other matters to occupy my time.”
“I but hesitated to name the other for fear of wounding your majesty,” said Tomos oilily; “but if you insist, it is the stranger called ‘Tarzan.’”
Nemone sat up very straight. “What fabric of lies is this you and M’duze are weaving?” she demanded.
“It is no lie, majesty. Tarzan and Gemnon were seen coming from the house of Thudas late at night. Erot had followed them there; he saw them go in; they were there a long while; hiding in the shadows across the avenue, he saw them come out. He says that they were quarrelling over Doria, and he believes that it was Gemnon who sought the life of Tarzan because of jealousy.”
Nemone sat straight and stiff upon her couch; her face was pale and tense with fury. “Someone shall die for this,” she said in a low voice. “Go!”
Tomos backed from the room. He was elated until he had time to reflect more fully upon her words; then he reflected that Nemone had not stated explicitly who should die. He had assumed that she meant Tarzan, because it was Tarzan whom he wished to die; but it presently occurred to him that she might have meant another, and he was less elated.
It was almost noon when Tarzan and Gemnon returned to the city, and time for the latter to conduct Tarzan to his audience with Nemone. With a guard of warriors they went to the palace, where the ape-man was immediately admitted alone into, the presence of the Queen.
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
Tarzan looked at her in surprise; then he smiled. “I visited the Mine of the Rising Sun.”
“Where were you last night?”
“At the house of Gemnon,” he replied.
“You were with Doria!” accused Nemone.
“No,” said the ape-man; “that was the night before.”
He had been surprised by the accusation and the knowledge that it connoted, but he did not let her see that he was surprised. He was not thinking of himself but of Doria and Gemnon, seeking a plan whereby he might protect them. It was evident that some enemy had turned informer and that Nemone already knew of the visit to the house of Thudos; therefore he felt that it would but have aroused the Queen’s suspicions to have denied it; to admit it freely, to show that he sought to conceal nothing, would allay them. As a matter of fact Tarzan’s frank and ready reply left Nemone rather flat.
“Why did you go to the house of Thudos?” she asked, but this time her tone was not accusing.
“You see, Gemnon does not dare to leave me alone for fear that I shall escape or that something may befall me; and so he is forced to take me wherever he goes. It is rather hard on him, Nemone, and I have been intending to ask you to make some one else responsible for me for at least a part of the time.”
“We will speak of that later,” replied the Queen. “Why does Gemnon got to the house of Thudos?” Nemone’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
The ape-man smiled. “What a foolish question for a woman to ask!” he exclaimed. “Gemnon is in love with Doria. I thought all Cathne knew that; he certainly takes enough pains to tell all his acquaintances.”
“You are sure that it is not you who are in love with her?” demanded Nemone.
Tarzan looked at her with disgust he made no effort to conceal. “Do not be a fool, Nemone,” he said. “I do not like foolish women.”
The jaw of the Queen of Cathne dropped. In all her life no one had ever addressed her in words or tones like these. For a moment they left her speechless, but in that moment of speechlessness there came the sudden realization that the very things that shocked her also relieved her mind of gnawing suspicion and of jealousy—Tarzan did not love Doria. And, too, she was compelled to admit that his indifference to her position or her anger increased her respect for him and made him still more desirable in her eyes. She had never known such a man before; none had ever ruled her. Here was one who might if he wished, but she was troubled by the fear that he did not care enough about her to wish to rule her.
When she spoke again, she had regained her calm. “I was told that you loved her,” she explained, “but I did not believe it. Is she very beautiful? I have heard that she is considered the most beautiful woman in Cathne.”
“Perhaps Gemnon thinks so,” replied Tarzan with a laugh, “but you know what love does to the eyes of youth.”
“What do you think of her?” demanded the Queen.
The ape-man shrugged. “She is not bad looking,” he said.
“Is she as beautiful as Nemone?” demanded the Queen.
“As the brilliance of a far star is to the brilliance of the sun.”
The reply appeared to please Nemone. She arose and came closer to Tarzan. “You think me beautiful?” she asked in soft, insinuating tones.
“You are very beautiful, Nemone,” he answered truthfully.
She pressed against him, caressing his shoulder with a smooth, warm palm. “Love me, Tarzan,” she whispered, her voice husky with emotion.
There was a rattling of chains at the far end of the room, followed by a terrific roar as Belthar sprang to his feet. Nemone shrank suddenly away from the ape-man; a shudder ran through her body, and an expression, half fright, half anger, suffused her face.
“It is always something,” she said irritably, trembling a little. “Belthar is jealous. There is a strange bond linking the life of that beast to my life. I do not know what it is; I wish I did.” A light, almost of madness, glittered in her eyes. “I wish I knewl Sometimes I think he is the mate that Thoos intended for me; sometimes I think he is myself in another form; but this I know: When Belthar dies, I die!”
She looked up rather sadly at Tarzan as again her mood changed. “Come, my friend,” she said; “we shall go to the temple together and perhaps Thoos may answer the questions that are in the heart of Nemone.” She struck a bronze disc that depended from the ceiling, and as the brazen notes reverberated in the room a door opened and a noble bowed low upon the threshold.
“The guard!” commanded the Queen. “We are visiting Thoos in his temple.”
The progress to the temple was in the nature of a pageant—marching warriors with pennons streaming from spear tips, nobles resplendent in gorgeous trappings, the Queen in a golden chariot drawn by lions. Tomos walked upon one side of the glittering car, Tarzan upon the other where Erot had previously walked.
The ape-man was as uneasy as a forest lion as he strode between the lines of gaping citizenry. Crowds annoyed and irritated him; formalities irked him; his thoughts were far away in the distant jungle that he loved. He knew that Gemnon was nearby watching him; but whether he were nearby or not, Tarzan would not attempt to escape while this friend was responsible for him. His mind occupied with such thoughts, he spoke to the Queen.
“At the palace,” he reminded her, “I spoke to you concerning the matter of relieving Gemnon of the irksome job of watching me.”
“Gemnon has acquitted himself well,” she replied. “I see no reason for changing.”
“Relieve him then occasionally,” suggested Tarzan. “Let Erot take his place.”
Nemone looked at him in astonishment. “But Erot hates youl” she exclaimed.
“All the more reason that he would watch me carefully,” argued Tarzan.
“He would probably kill you.”
“He would not dare if he knew that he must pay for my death or escape with his own life,” suggested Tarzan.
“You like Gemnon, do you not?” inquired Nemone innocently.
“Very much,” the ape-man assured her.
“Then he is the man to watch you, for you would not imperil his life by escaping while he is responsible.”
Tarzan smiled inwardly and said no more; it was evident that Nemone was no fool. He would have to devise some other plan of escape that would not jeopardize the safety of his friend.
They were approaching the temple now and his attention was distracted by the approach of a number of priests leading a slave girl in chains. They brought her to the chariot of Nemone, and while the procession halted the priests chanted in a strange gibberish that Tarzan could not understand. Later he learned that no one understood it, not even the priests; but when he asked why they recited something that they could not understand no one could tell him.
Gemnon thought that once the words had meant something, but they had been repeated mechanically for so many ages that at length the original pronunciation had been lost and the meaning of the words forgotten.
When the chant was completed the priests chained the girl to the rear of the Queen’s chariot; and the march was resumed, the priests following behind the girl.
At the entrance to the temple Phobeg was on guard as a girl entered to worship. Recognizing the warrior, she greeted him and paused for a moment’s conversation, the royal party having not yet entered the temple square.
“I have not seen you to talk with for a long time, Phobeg,” she said. “I am glad that you are back again on the temple guard.”
“Thanks to the stranger called Tarzan I am alive and here,” replied Phobeg.
“I should think that you would hate him,” exclaimed the girl.
“Not I,” cried Phobeg. “I know a better man when I see one. I admire him. And did he not grant me my life when the crowd screamed for my death?”
“That is true,” admitted the girl. “And now he needs a friend.”
“What do you mean, Maluma?” demanded the warrior.
“I was in an adjoining room when Tomos visited the Queen this morning,” explained the girl, “and I overheard him tell her that Thudos and Gemnon and Tarzan were conspiring against her and that Tarzan loved Doria, the daughter of Thudos.”
“How did Tomos know these things?” asked Phobeg. “Did he offer proof?”
“He said that Erot had watched and had seen Gemnon and Tarzan visit the house of Thudos,” explained Maluma. “He also told her that Erot had seen Doria and had reported that she was very beautiful.”
Phobeg whistled. “That will be the end of the daughter of Thudos,” he said.
“It will be the end of the stranger, too,” phophesied Maluma; “and I am sorry, for I like him. He is not like the jackal, Erot, whom everyone hates.”
“Here comes the Queen!” exclaimed Phobeg as the head of the procession debouched into the temple square. “Run along now and get a good place, for there will be something to see today; there always is when the Queen comes to worship god.”
Before the temple, Nemone alighted from her chariot and walked up the broad stairway to the ornate entrance. Behind her were the priests with the slave girl, a frightened, wide-eyed girl with tears upon her cheeks. Following them came the nobles of the court, the warriors of the guard remaining in the temple square before the entrance.
The temple was a large three-storied building with a great central dome about the interior of which ran galleries at the second and third stories. The interior of the dome was of gold as were the pillars that supported the galleries, while the walls of the building were embellished with colorful mosaics. Directly opposite the main entrance, on a level with a raised dais, a great cage was built into a niche, and on either side of the cage was an altar supporting a lion carved from solid gold. Before the dais was a stone railing inside of which was a throne and a row of stone benches facing the cage in the niche.
Nemone advanced and seated herself upon the throne, while the nobles took their places upon the benches. No one paid any attention to Tarzan; so he remained outside the railing, a mildly interested spectator.
He had noticed a change came over Nemone the instant that she had entered the temple. She had shown signs of extreme nervousness, the expression of her face had changed; it was tense and eager; there was a light in her eyes that was like the mad light he had seen there occasionally before, yet different—the light of religious fanaticism.
Tarzan saw the priests lead the girl up onto the dais and then, beyond them, he saw something rise up in the cage. It was an old and mangy lion. The high priest began a meaningless, singsong chant, in which the others joined occasionally as though making responses. Nemone leaned forward eagerly; her eyes were fastened upon the old lion. Her breasts rose and fell to her excited breathing.
Suddenly the chanting ceased and the Queen arose. “O Thoos!” she cried, her hands outstretched toward the mangy old carnivore. “Nemone brings you greetings and an offering. ‘Receive them from Nemone and bless her. Give her life and health and happiness; most of all Nemone prays for happiness. Preserve her friends and destroy her enemies. And, O Thoos, give her the one thing that she most desires—love, the love of the one man in all the world that Nemone has ever loved!” And the lion glared at her through the bars.
She spoke as though in a trance, as though oblivious to all else around her save the god to which she prayed. There were pathos and tragedy in her voice, and a great pity rose in the breast of the ape-man for this poor Queen who had never known love and who never might because of the warped brain that mistook passion for affection and lust for love.
As she sat down weakly upon her golden throne, the priests led the slave girl away through a doorway at one side of the cage; and, as she passed, the lion leaped for her, striking heavily against the bars that restrained him. His growls rolled through the temple, filling the chamber with thunderous sound, echoing and reechoing from the golden dome.
Nemone sat, silent and rigid, upon her throne staring straight ahead at the lion in the cage; the priests and many of the nobles were reciting prayers in monotones. It was evident to Tarzan that they were praying to the lion, for every eye was upon the repulsive beast; and some of the questions that had puzzled him when he had first come to Cathne were answered. He understood now the strange oaths of Phobeg and his statement that he had stepped upon the tail of god.
Suddenly a beam of light shone down directly into the cage from above, flooding the beast-god with its golden rays. The lion, which had been pacing restlessly to and fro, stopped and looked up, his jaws parted, saliva dripping from his jowls. The audience burst in unison into a singsong chant. Tarzan, half guessing what was about to occur, arose from the rail upon which he had been sitting, and started forward.
But whatever his intention may have been, he was too late to prevent the tragedy that followed instantly. Even as he arose the body of the slave girl dropped from above into the clutches of the waiting lion. A single piercing scream mingled with the horrid roars of the man-eater and then died as its author died.
Tarzan turned away in disgust and anger and walked from the temple out into the fresh air and the sunlight, and as he did so a warrior at the entrance hailed him by name in a whisper. There was a cautionary warning in the voice that prompted the ape-man to give no apparent sign of having heard as he turned his eyes casually in the direction from which the words had come, nor did he betray his interest when he discovered that it was Phobeg who had addressed him.
Turning slowly, so that his back was toward the warrior, Tarzan looked back into the temple as though expecting the return of the royal party; then he backed to the side of the entrance as one might who waits and stood so close to Phobeg that the latter might have touched him by moving his spear hand a couple of inches; but neither gave any sign of being aware of the identity or presence of the other.
In a low whisper, through lips that scarcely moved, Phobeg spoke. “I must speak to you! Come to the rear of the temple two hours after the sun has set. Do not answer, but if you hear and will come, turn your head to the right.”
As Tarzan gave the assenting signal the royal party commenced to file from the temple, and he fell in behind Nemone. The Queen was quiet and moody, as she always was after the sight of torture and blood at the temple had aroused her to religious frenzy; the reaction left her weak and indifferent. At the palace, she dismissed her following, including Tarzan, and withdrew to the seclusion of her apartments.