In the home of his father, Gemnon paced the floor of the patio as he awaited the summons to the evening meal. Tarzan half sat, half reclined upon a stone bench. He saw that his friend was worried; and it troubled him, troubled him most perhaps because he knew that there were grave causes for apprehension; and he was not certain that he could avert the disaster that threatened.
Seeking to divert Gemnon’s mind from his troubles, Tarzan spoke of the ceremony at the temple, but principally of the temple itself, praising its beauty, commenting upon its magnificence. “It is splendid,” he commented; “too splendid for the cruel rites we witnessed there today.”
“The girl was only a slave,” replied Gemnon, “and god must eat. It is no wrong to make offerings to Thoos; but the temple does hide a real wrong. Somewhere within it is hidden Alextar, the brother of Nemone; and while he rots there the corrupt Tomos and the cruel M’duze rule Cathne through the mad Nemone.
“There are many who would have a change and place Alextar on the throne, but they fear the wrath of the terrible triumvirate. So we go on, and nothing is done. Victim after victim succumbs to the malignant jealousy and fear that constantly animate the throne.
“We have little hope today; we shall have no hope if the Queen carries out the plan she is believed to be contemplating and destroys Alextar. There are reasons why it would be to her advantage to do so, the most important being the right of Alextar to proclaim himself king should he ever succeed in reaching the palace.
“If Nemone should die Alextar would become king, and the populace would insist that he take his rightful place. For this reason Tomos and M’duze are anxious to destroy him. It is to Nemone’s credit that she has withstood their importunities for all these years, steadfastly refusing to destroy Alextar; but if ever he seriously threatens her power, he is lost; and rumors that have reached her ears that a plot has been perfected to place him on the throne may already have sealed his doom.”
During the meal that evening Tartan considered plans for visiting Phobeg at the temple. He wished to go alone but knew that he would place Gemnon in an embarrassing position should he suggest such a plan, while to permit the noble to accompany him might not only seal Phobeg’s lips but jeopardize his safety as well; therefore he decided to go secretly.
Following the stratagem he had adopted, he remained in conversation with Gemnon and his parents until almost two hours after the sun had set; then he excused himself, saying that he was tired, and went to the room that had been assigned him. But he did not tarry there. Instead, he merely crossed the room from the door to the window and stepped out into the patio upon which it faced. Here, as throughout the gardens and avenues of the section of the city occupied by the nobility, grew large, old trees; and a moment later the lord of the jungle was swinging through his native element toward the golden temple of Thoos.
He stopped at last in a tree near the rear of the temple where he saw the huge and familiar figure of Phobeg waiting in the shadows below. Soundlessly, the ape-man dropped to the ground in front of the astonished warrior.
“By the great fangs of Thoos!” ejaculated Phobeg, “but you gave me a start.”
“You expected me,” was Tarzan’s only comment.
“But not from the skies,” retorted Phobeg. “However, you are here and it is well; I have much more to tell you than when I asked you to come. I have learned more since.”
“I am listening,” said Tarzan.
“A girl in the service of the Queen overheard a conversation between Nemone and Tomos,” commenced Phobeg. “Tomos accused you and Gemnon and Thudos of conspiring against her. Erot spied upon you and knew of your long visit at the home of Thudos a few nights since; he also managed to enter the house on some pretext the following night and saw Doria, the daughter of Thudos. Tomos told Nemone that Doria was very beautiful and that you were in love with her.
“Nemone is not yet convinced that you love Doria, but to be on the safe side she has ordered Tomos to have the girl abducted and brought to the temple where she will be imprisoned until Nemone decides upon her fate. She may destroy her, or she may be content to have her beauty disfigured.
“But what you must know is this: If you give Nemone the slightest reason to believe that you are conspiring against her or that you are fond of Doria she will have you killed. All that I can do is warn you.”
“You warned me once before, did you not?” asked Tarzan, “the night that Gemnon and I went to the house of Thudos.”
“Yes, that was I,” replied Phobeg.
“Why have you done these things?” asked the ape-man.
“Because I owe my life to you,” replied the warrior, “and because I know a man when I see one. If a man can pick Phobeg up and toss him around as though he were a baby, Phobeg is willing to be his slave.”
“I can only thank you for what you have told me, Phobeg,” said Tarzan. “Now tell me more. If Doria is brought to the temple where will she be imprisoned?”
“That is hard to say. Alextar is kept in rooms beneath the floor of the temple, but there are rooms upon the second and third floors where a prisoner might be safely confined, especially a woman.”
“Could you get word to me if she is arrested?”
“I could try,” replied Phobeg.
“Good! Is there anything further?”
“Then I shall return to Gemnon and warn him. Perhaps we shall find a way to pacify Nemone or outwit her.”
“Either would be difficult,” commented Phobeg, “but goodbye and good luck!”
Tarzan swung into the tree above the warrior’s head and disappeared among the shadows of the night, while Phobeg shook his head in wonderment and returned to his quarters in the temple.
The ape-man made his way to his room by the same avenue he had left it and went immediately to the common living room where the family ordinarily congregated for the evenings. Here he found Gemnon’s father and mother, but Gemnon was not there.
“You could not sleep?” inquired the mother.
“No,” replied the ape-man. “Where is Gemnon?”
“He was summoned to the palace a short time after you went to your room,” explained Gemnon’s father.
Announcing that he would wait up until the son returned, Tarzan remained in the living room in conversation with the parents. He wondered a little that Gemnon should have been summoned to the palace at such an hour; and the things that Phobeg had told him made him a little apprehensive, but he kept his own council rather than frighten his host and hostess.
Scarcely an hour had passed when they heard a summons at the outer gate, and presently a slave came to announce that a warrior wished to speak to Tarzan upon a matter of urgent necessity.
The ape-man arose. “I will go outside and see him,” he said.
“Be careful,” cautioned Gemnon’s father. “You have bitter enemies who would be glad to see you destroyed.”
“I shall be careful,” Tarzan assured him as he left the room behind the slave.
At the gate two warriors connected with the house were detaining a huge man whom Tarzan recognized even from a distance as Phobeg. “I must speak with you at once and alone,” said the latter.
“This man is all right,” Tarzan told the guards. “Let him enter and I will talk with him in the garden.”
When they had walked a short distance from the guards Tarzan paused and faced his visitor. “What is it?” he asked. “You have brought me bad news?”
“Very bad,” replied Phobeg. “Gemnon, Thudos, and many of their friends have been arrested and are now in the palace dungeons. Doria has been taken and is imprisoned in the temple. I did not expect to find you at liberty, but took the chance that Nemone’s interest in you might have saved you temporarily. If you can escape from Cathne, do so at once; her mood may change at any moment; she is as mad as a monkey.”
“Thank you, Phobeg,” said the ape-man. “Now get back to your quarters before you become embroiled in this affair.”
“And you will escape?” asked the warrior.
“I owe something to Gemnon;’ replied Tarzan, “for his kindness and his friendship; so I shall not go until I have done what I can to help him.”
“No one can help him,” stated Phobeg emphatically. “All that you will do is get yourself in trouble.”
“I shall have to chance it, and now goodbye, my friend; but before you go tell me where Doria is imprisoned.”
“On the third floor of the temple at the rear of the building just above the doorway where I awaited you this evening.”
Tarzan accompanied Phobeg to the gate and out into the avenue. “Where are you going?” demanded the latter.
“To the palace.”
“You, too, are mad,” protested Phobeg, but already the ape-man had left him and was walking rapidly along the avenue in the direction of the palace.
It was late; but Tarzan was now a familiar figure to the palace guards; and when he told them that Nemone had summoned him they let him enter, nor was he stopped until he had reached the anteroom outside the Queen’s apartments. Here a noble on guard protested that the hour was late and that the Queen had retired, but Tarzan insisted upon seeing her.
“Tell her it is Tarzan,” he said.
“I do not dare disturb her,” explained the noble nervously, fearful of Nemone’s wrath should she be disturbed and almost equally fearful of it should he refuse to announce this new favorite who had replaced Erot.
“I dare,” said Tarzan and stepped to the door leading to the ivory room where Nemone had been accustomed to receive him. The noble sought to interfere but the ape-man pushed him aside and attempted to open the door only to find it securely bolted upon the opposite side; then with his clenched fist he pounded pounded loudly upon its carved surface.
Instantly from beyond it came the savage growls of Belthar and a moment later the frightened voice of a woman. “Who is there?” she demanded. “The Queen sleeps. Who dares disturb her?”
“Go and awaken her,” shouted Tarzan through the door. “Tell her that Tarzan is here and wishes to see her at once.” “I am afraid,” replied the girl. “The Queen will be angry. Go away, and come in the morning.”
Then Tarzan heard another voice beyond the door demanding, “Who is it comes pounding on Nemone’s door at such an hour?” and recognized it as the Queen’s.
“It is the noble Tarzan,” replied the slave girl.
“Draw the bolts and admit him,” commanded Nemone and as the door swung open Tarzan stepped into the ivory room, now so familiar to him.
The Queen stood halfway across the apartment, facing him. Her hair was dishevelled, her face slightly flushed. She had evidently arisen from her bed in an adjoining room and thrown a light scarf about her before stepping into the ivory room. She was very beautiful. There was an eager, questioning light in her eyes. She directed the slave to rebolt the door and leave the apartment; then she turned and, walking to the couch, motioned Tarzan to approach. As she sank among the soft cushions she motioned Tarzan to her side.
“I am glad you came,” she said. “I could not sleep. I have been thinking of you. But tell mel why did you come? Had you been thinking of me?”
“I have been thinking of you, Nemone,” replied the apeman; “I have been thinking that perhaps you will help me; that you can help me, I know.”
“You have only to ask,” replied the Queen softly. “There is no favor that you may not have from Nemone for the asking.”
A single cresset shed a soft, flickering light that scarcely dispelled the darkness of the room, at the far end of which the yellow-green eyes of Belthar blazed like twin lamps of Hell. Mingling with the acrid scent of the carnivore and the languorous fumes of incense was the seductive aura of the scented body of the woman. Her warm breath was an Tarzan’s cheek as she drew him dawn beside her.
“At last you have come to me of your own volition,” she whispered. “Ah, Thoos! how I have hungered for this moment!”
Her soft, bare arms slipped quickly about his neck and drew him close. “Tarzan! My Tarzan!” she almost sobbed, and then that same fatal door at the far end of the apartment opened and the tapping of a metal-shod staff upon the stone floor brought them both erect to gaze into the snarling face of M’duze.
“You fool!” cried the old hag in a shrill falsetto. “Send the man away! unless you would see him killed here before your eyes. Send him away at once!”
Nemone sprang to her feet and faced the old woman who was now trembling with rage. “You have gone too far, M’duze,” she said in a cold and level voice. “Go to your room, and remember that I am Queen.”
“Queen! Queen!” cackled the hideous creature with a sharp, sarcastic laugh. “Send your lover away, or I’ll tell him who and what you are.”
Nemone glided quickly toward her, and as she passed a low stand she stooped and seized something that lay there. Suddenly the slave woman shrieked and shrank away, but before she could turn and flee Nemone was upon her and had seized her by the hair. M’duze raised her staff and struck at the Queen, but the blow only aroused the frenzied woman to still greater fury.
“Always you have ruined my life,” cried Nemone, “you and your foul paramour, Tomos. You have robbed me of happiness, and for that, this!” and she drove the gleaming blade of a knife into the withered breast of the screaming woman, “and this, and this, and this!” and each time the blade sank deep to emphasize the venom in the words and the heart of Nemone, the queen.
Presently M’duze ceased shrieking and sank to the floor. Someone was pounding upon the door, to the anteroom, and the terrified voices of nobles and guardsmen could be heard demanding entrance. In his corner Belthar tugged at his chains and roared. Nemone stood looking down upon the death struggles of M’duze with blazing eyes and snarling lip. “Curses upon your black souli” she cried, and then she turned slowly toward the door upon which the pounding of her retainers’ fists resounded. “Have done!” she called imperiously. “I, Nemone, the Queen, am safe. The screams that you heard were those of an impudent slave whom Nemone was correcting.”
The voices beyond the door died away as the guardsmen returned to their posts; then Nemone faced Tarzan. She looked suddenly worn and very tired. “That favor,” she said, “ask it another time; Nemone is unstrung.”
“I must ask it now,” replied Tarzan; “tomorrow may be too late.”
“Very well,” she said; “I am listening. What is it?”
“There is a noble in your court who has been very kind to me since I have been in Cathne,” commenced Tarzan. “Now he is in trouble, and I have come to ask you to save him.”
Nemone’s brow clouded. “Who is he?” she demanded.
“Gemnon,” replied the ape-man. “He has been arrested with Thudos and the daughter of Thudos and several of their friends. It is only a plot to destroy me.”
“You dare come to me to intercede for traitors!” cried the Queen, blazing with sudden fury. “But I know the reason; you love Doria!”
“I do not love her; I have seen her but, once. Gemnon loves her. Let them be happy, Nemone.”
“I am not happy,” she replied; “why should they be happy? Tell me that you love me, Tarzan, and I shall be happy!” Her voice was vibrant with appeal. For a moment she forgot that she was queen.
“A flower does not bloom in the seed,” he replied; “it grows gradually, and thus love grows. The other, that bursts forth spontaneously from its own heat, is not love; it is passion. I have not known you either long or well, Nemone; that is my answer.”
She turned away and buried her face in her arms as she sank to the couch; he saw her shoulders shaken by sobs, and pity filled his heart. He drew nearer to console her, but he had no chance to speak before she wheeled upon him, her eyes flashing through tears. “The girl, Doria, dies!” she cried. “Xarator shall have her tomorrow!”
Tarzan shook his head sadly. “You have asked me to love you,” he said. “Do you expect me to love one who ruthlessly destroys my friends?”
“If I save them will you love me?” demanded Nemone.
“That is a question that I cannot answer. The best that I may say is that I may then respect and admire you; whereas, if you kill them without reason there can be no chance that I shall ever love you.”
She looked at him now out of dull, lowering eyes. “What difference does it make?” she almost growled. “No one loves me. Tomos wanted to be king, Erot wished riches and power, M’duze wished to exercise the majesty that she could never possess; if one of them felt any affection for me it was M’duze, and I have killed her.” She paused, a wild light flamed in her eyes. “I hate them!” she screamed. “I hate them alll I shall kill them! I shall kill every one! I shall kill you!” Then, as swiftly, her mood changed. “Oh, what am I saying?” she cried. She put her palms to her temples. “My head! it hurts.”
“And my friends!” asked Tarzan; “you will not harm them?”
“Perhaps not,” she replied indifferently, and then, as quickly changing again, “The girl dies! If you intercede for her again her sufferings shall be greater; Xarator is merciful—more merciful than Nemone.”
“When will she die?” asked Tarzan.
“She will be sewn into hides tonight and carried to Xarator tomorrow. You shall accompany us; do you understand?”
The ape-man nodded. “And my other friends?” he asked, “they will be saved?”
“You shall come to me tomorrow night,” replied Nemone. “We shall see then how you have decided to treat Nemone; then she will know how to treat your friends.”