She thought of Gemnon; and then the tears almost came, not for herself but for him because of the grief that would be his when he learned of her fate. She did not know that he too had fallen into the clutches of the enemies of her father.
Presently she heard the sound of footsteps approaching along the corridor, heard them stop before the door behind which she was locked. The door swung open and the room was illuminated by the light of a torch held in the hand of a man who entered and closed the door behind him.
The girl lying upon the pile of skins recognized Erot. She saw him place the blazing torch in a wall socket designed for the purpose and turn toward her.
“Ah, the lovely Doria!” he exclaimed. “What ill fate has brought you here?”
“Doubtless the noble Erot could answer that question better than I,” she replied.
“Yes, I believe that he could; in fact I know it. It was I who caused you to be brought here; it was I who caused your father to be imprisoned; it was I who sent Gemnon to the same cell with the noble Thudos.”
“Gemnon imprisoned!” cried the girl.
“Yes, with many other conspirators against the throne. Behind his back they used to sneer at Erot because he was not a lion man; they will not sneer for long. Erot has answered them; now they know that Erot is more powerful than they.”
“And what is to be done with me?” asked the girl.
“Nemone has decreed Xarator for you,” replied Erot. “You are even now lying upon the skins in which you are to be sewn. It is for that purpose that I am here. My good friend Tomos, the councillor, sent me to sew you into the bag; but first let us enjoy together your last night on earth. Be generous, and perhaps I can avert the doom that Nemone will doubtless decree for your father and your lover. She is permitting them to live through tomorrow at least, that they may witness your destruction, for thus runs the kindly mind of sweet Nemone.” He laughed harshly. “The hell-cat! May the devil get her in the end!”
“You have not even the decency of gratitude,” said Doria contemptuously. “The Queen has lavished favors upon you, given you power and riches; it is inconceivable that one can be so vile an ingrate as you.”
Erot laughed. “Tomorrow you will be dead,” he said; “so what difference does it make what you think of me? Tonight you shall give me love, though your heart be filled with hate. There is nothing in the world but love and hate, the two most pleasurable emotions that great Thoos has given us; let us enjoy them to the fulll” He came and kneeled at her side and took her in his arms, covering her face and lips with kisses. She struggled to repulse him, but in her bonds she was helpless to protect herself.
He was panting with passion as he untied the thongs that secured her ankles. “You are more beautiful than Nemone,” he cried huskily as he strained her to him.
A low growl sounded from the direction of the window. Erot raised his face from the soft neck of Doria and looked.
He went ashy white as he leaped to his feet and fled toward the door upon the opposite side of the room, his craven heart pounding in terror.
Nemone entered her chariot. She was wrapped in woolen robes and the skins of animals, for the morning air was still chill. At her side walked Tomos, nervous and ill at ease. He knew that M’duze was dead and wondered if he would be next. The Queen’s manner was curt and abrupt, filling him with dread, for now there was no M’duze to protect him from the easily aroused wrath of Nemone.
“Where is Tarzan?” she demanded.
“I do not know, majesty,” replied Tomos. “I have not seen him.”
She looked at him sharply. “Don’t lie to me!” she snapped. “You do know where he is; and if any harm has befallen him, you go to the lion pit.”
“But, majesty,” cried Tomos, “I know nothing about him. I have not seen him since we left the temple yesterday.”
“Produce him,” commanded Nemone sullenly. “It grows late, and Nemone is not accustomed to wait upon any.”
“But, majesty—” began Tomos again.
“Produce him!” interrupted Nemone.
“Here he comes now!” exclaimed Nemone as Tarzan strode up the avenue toward her.
Tomos breathed a sigh of relief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. He did not like Tarzan, but in all his life he had never before been so glad to see anyone alive and well.
“You are late,” said Nemone as Tarzan stopped beside her chariot.
The lord of the jungle made no reply.
“We are not accustomed to being delayed,” she continued a little sharply.
“Perhaps if you placed me in the custody of Erot, as I suggested, he would deliver me on time in future.”
Nemone ignored this and turned to Tomos. “We are ready,” she said.
At a word from the councillor a trumpeter at his side raised his instrument to his lips and sounded a call. Slowly the long procession began to move, and like a huge serpent crawled toward the Bridge of Gold. The citizens lining the avenue moved with it, men, women, and children. The women and children carried packages in which food was wrapped, the men bore arms. A journey to Xarator was an event; it took them the length of Onthar where wild lions roamed and where Athnean raiders might set upon them at any moment of the day or night, especially of the night; so the march took on something of the aspects of both a pageant and a military excursion.
Behind the golden chariot of the Queen rolled a second chariot on the floor of which lay a bundle sewn in the skins of lions. Chained to this chariot were Thudos and Gemnon. Following were a hundred chariots driven by nobles in gold and ivory, while other nobles on foot entirely surrounded the chariot of the Queen.
There were columns of marching warriors in the lead; and in the rear were the war lions of Cathne, the royal fighting lions of the Queen. Keepers held them on leashes of gold, and proud nobles of ancient families marched beside them—the lion men of Cathne.
The barbaric splendor of the scene impressed even the ape-man who cared little for display, though he gave no outward sign of interest as he strode at the wheel of Nemone’s chariot drawn by its eight great lions held in leash by twenty-four powerful blacks in tunics of red and gold.
The comments of the crowd came to the ears of Tarzan as they marched through the city and out across the Bridge of Gold onto the road that runs north through the Field of the Lions. “There is the stranger who defeated Phobeg.” “Yes, he has taken Erot’s place in the council.” “He is the Queen’s favorite now.” “Where is Erot?” “I hope he is dead; this other is better.” “He will soon be as bad; they all get alike when they get rich and powerful.” “Had you heard the rumor that M’duze is dead?” “She is dead; my cousin’s husband is a palace guard. He told my cousin.” “What is that?” “M’duze is dead!” “May Thoos be praised!” “Have you heard? M’duze is dead!” and so it ran through the two streams of citizens that hemmed the royal pageant on either side, and always above the other comment rose the half exultant cry, “M’duze is dead!”
Nemone appeared preoccupied; she sat staring straight ahead; if she heard the comments of her people she gave no sign. What was passing behind that beautiful mask that was her face? Chained to the chariot behind her were two enemies; others were in her prisons. A girl who dared vie with her in beauty lay insensible in sack of skins jolting over the rough road in the dust of the Queen’s chariot. Her Nemesis was dead. The man she loved walked at her side. Nemone should have been happy; but she was not.
The sun, climbing into the heavens, was bringing heat. Slaves carrying an umbrella over the Queen adjusted it to fend the hot rays from her; others waved lions’ tails attached to the ends of long poles to and fro about her to drive the insects away; a gentle breeze carried the dust of the long column lazily toward the west.
Nemone sighed and turned to Tarzan. “Why were you late?” she asked.
“Would it be strange that I overslept?” he asked. “It was late when I left the palace, and there was no keeper to awaken me since you took Gemnon away.”
“Had you wished to see me again as badly as I wished to see you, you would not have been late.”
“I was as anxious to be here as you,” he replied.
“You have never seen Xarator?” she asked.
“It is a holy mountain, created by Thoos for the enemies of the kings and queens of Cathne; in all the world there is nothing like it.”
“I am going to enjoy seeing it,” replied the ape-man grimly.
They were approaching a fork in the road. “That road leading to the right runs through the Pass of the Warriors into the valley of Thenar,” she explained. “Some day I shall send you on a raid to Thenar, and you shall bring me back the head of one of Athne’s greatest warriors.”
Tarzan thought of Valthor and wondered if he had reached Athne in safety. He glanced back at Thudos and Gemnon. He had not spoken to them, but it was because of them that he was here. He might easily have escaped had he not determined to remain until he was certain that he could not aid these friends. Their case appeared hopeless, yet the apeman had not given up hope.
At noon the procession stopped for lunch. The populace scattered about seeking the shade of the trees that dotted the plain and that had not already been selected by the Queen and the nobles. The lions were led into shade, where they lay down to rest. Warriors, always on the lookout for danger, stood guard about the temporary encampment. There was always danger on the Field of the Lions.
The halt was brief; in half an hour the cavalcade was on the march again. There was less talking now; silence and the great heat hung over the dusty column. The hills that bounded the valley upon the north were close, and soon they entered them, following a canyon upward to a winding mountain road that led into the hills above.
Presently the smell of sulphur fumes came plainly to the nostrils of the ape-man, and a little later the column turned the shoulder of a great mass of volcanic rock and came upon the edge of a huge crater. Far below, molten rock bubbled, sending up spurts of flame, geysers of steam, and columns of yellow smoke. The scene was impressive and awe-inspiring. Before Cathne, before Rome, before Athens, before Babylon, before Egypt Xarator had towered in lonely majesty above the lesser peaks. Beside that mighty cauldron queen and noble shrank to pitiful insignificance though perhaps there was but one in that great throng that realized this. Tarzan stood with folded arms and bent head gazing down into the seething inferno until the Queen touched him on the shoulder. “What do you think of Xarator?” she asked.
He shook his head. “’There are some emotions,” he answered slowly, “for which no words have yet been coined.”
“It was created by Thoos for the kings of Cathne,” she explained proudly.
Tarzan made no reply; perhaps he was thinking that here again the lexicographers had failed to furnish words adequate to the occasion.
On either side of the royal party the people crowded close to the edge of the crater that they might miss nothing of what was about to transpire. The children laughed and played, or teased their mothers for the food that was being saved for the evening meal upon the return journey to Cathne.
Tarzan saw Thudos and Gemnon standing beside the chariot in which lay the still form of the victim. Of what emotions were passing within their minds none appeared through the masks of stern pride that sat upon their countenances, yet Tarzan well knew the suffering of their torn and bleeding hearts. He had not spoken to them once this day, for he had not had an opportunity to speak to them except in the presence of others; and whatever he might have to say to them must be for their ears only. He had not given up the hope of helping them, but he could not conceive that open and unnecessary familiarity with them at this time might accomplish anything more than to still further arouse the suspicions of Nemone and increase the watchfulness of all their enemies.
If Gemnon or Thudos noticed the neglect of their former friend and guest they gave no sign, for neither gave him any greater attention as he walked beside the chariot of the Queen a few paces in advance of them than they gave to the lions drawing the car to which they were secured. Their thoughts were upon the poor, dumb thing jolting upon the hard planks that formed the floor of the springless chariot bearing it to its doom. Not once had they seen the girl move, not once had she uttered a sound; and they hoped that she was either insensible or dead, for thus would she be saved the anguish of these last moments and Nemone be robbed of the essence of her triumph.
The ceremony at Xarator, though it bore the authority of so-called justice, was of a semi-religious nature that required the presence and active participation of priests, two of whom lifted the sack containing the victim from the chariot and placed it at the edge of the crater at the feet of the Queen.
About it, then, gathered a dozen priests, some of whom carried musical instruments; and as they chanted in unison, the beating of their drums rose and fell while the wailing notes of their wind instruments floated out across the inferno of the seething pit like the plaint of a lost soul.
Thudos and Gemnon had been brought nearer the spot that Nemone might enjoy their agony to the full, for this was not only a part of their punishment but a considerable portion of the pleasure of the Queen.
She saw that they were giving no evidences of grief, thus robbing her of much of the satisfaction she had hoped to derive from the destruction of the daughter of one, the sweetheart of the other; and she was vexed. But she was not entirely discouraged; a new plan to further try their fortitude had occurred to her.
As two of the priests lifted the body from the ground and were about to hurl it into the crater, she stopped them with a curt command. “Waitl” she cried. “We would look upon the too great beauty of Doria, the daughter of Thudos, the traitor; we would permit her father and her lover to see her once again that they may better visualize her anguish and appreciate their own; that all may long remember that it is not well to conspire against Nemone. Cut the bag, and expose the body of the sacrifice!”
All eyes were upon the priest who drew his dagger and ripped open the bag along one loosely sewn seam. The eyes of Thudos and Gemnon were fixed upon the still figure outlined beneath the tawny skins of lions; beads of perspiration stood upon their foreheads; their jaws and their fists were clenched. The eyes of Tarzan turned from the activities of the priest to the face of the Queen; between narrowed lids, from beneath stern brows they watched her.
The priests, gathering the bag by one side, raised it and let the body roll out upon the ground where all could see it. There was a gasp of astonishment. Nemone cried out in a sudden fit of rage. The body was that of Erot, and he was dead!