THETAN, with Tarzan, Gregory, Magra, and Lavac, was taken before Herat as a prisoner. Surrounding the throne of the King were black plumed warriors; and at his side sat his queen, Mentheb. Herat was a large man with a black spade beard and a smooth upper lip. His face was hard, arrogant, and cruel. He scowled, as he looked at Thetan.
“You know the laws of Thobos,” he said, “and yet you dared bring strangers here. Even my nephew may not thus break the laws of Thobos with impunity. What have you to say for yourself?”
“I was being attacked by one of the great reptiles of the outer slopes of Tuen-Baka,” explained Thetan. “I should have been killed, had not this man, Tarzan, at the risk of his own life, killed the beast and saved mine. When I found that he and his companions were enemies of the Asharians, I tried to help them, for I owed Tarzan a great debt. I thought, my King, that you would feel even as I. They may be strangers, but they are not enemies—they are my friends, and they should be accepted as friends by my people and my king.”
Herat’s scowl relaxed a little, and he sat in thought for several minutes. “What you tell me,” he said, “lessens your guilt; and I forgive you, but the fact remains that they are strangers and should be destroyed. However, because of the extraordinary circumstances, I shall be lenient and give them a chance to live. Their lives shall depend upon the fulfillment of three conditions; that, in the arena, one of them kills an Asharian warrior. That is the first. The second is that one of them kills a wild lion in the arena, and the third that they bring me The Father of Diamonds from the temple at Ashair.”
Thetan turned to Tarzan. “I am sorry, my friend,” he said, “that I have brought you all here to die. You deserve a better fate.”
“We are not dead yet,” said the ape-man.
“Turn the girl over to the women. They will see that no harm befalls her,” said Herat. “Imprison the men until I send for one of them to meet the Asharian. Take them away.”
Warriors conducted Tarzan, Gregory, and Lavac to a cell in a dungeon and chained them to a wall. The place was damp and cold, and there was not even straw for them to lie upon.
“Hospitable country,” remarked Lavac.
“At least, the King has a sense of humor,” said Tarzan.
“It is reflected in his benign countenance,” said Gregory.
“One of us might kill the Asharian,” reflected Lavac, “but scarcely a wild lion. Well, there are three of us left. I wonder which will be the next to go.”
“And I wonder what will become of Magra,” said Gregory.
“Old Herat couldn’t keep his eyes off her,” said Lavac. “I’ll bet he knows where she is.”
“They turned her over to the women,” said Tarzan. “I hope Thetan will be able to help her.”
“She’s going to need help,” remarked Lavac, “and there will be none.”
In Ashair, Atan Thome and Lal Taask sat in a pleasant room with the noble Akamen. If the wages of sin are death, it must have been that the paymaster was napping, for Atan Thome and Lal Taask seemed launched upon a life of ease and luxury.
“It is fortunate for you,” said Akamen, “that I have influence with the Queen; otherwise, you would both be languishing in the cages of the temple of Brulor; and I can assure you that that is not a pleasant place to be.”
“We owe you a great debt of gratitude, my friend,” replied Atan Thome.
“One which you will be able to repay, perhaps,” said Akamen. “You will recall what I told you.”
Atan Thome nodded. “Yes,” he said; “that you are cousin of the Queen and that when she dies, you will be King.”
“Quite right,” said Akamen; “but the most important to you is that if I were King, your lives would no longer be in danger; and, if you so desired, it might be arranged that you leave Ashair and return to your own country.”
“With your guidance and advice, most noble Akamen,” Atan Thome assured him, “I am sure that it can be accomplished most expeditiously.”
Gregory and Lavac were stiff and lame when they awoke the following morning after a night of fitful slumber. Tarzan, inured to hardships, had fared better.
“Lord, what a night!” groaned Gregory. “If the builders of this place had searched every geological formation of the earth’s crust they couldn’t have found any stone harder than these lava slabs.”
“Nor colder,” added Lavac. “Don’t you suppose there is any way in which we could escape? I’d rather take any risk than stay here. Couldn’t we overpower whomever brings our food?”
“Quiet!” cautioned Tarzan. “Some one is coming.”
The others had heard nothing. It was the keen ears of the ape-man which had caught the faint sound of sandals on the stone floor of the corridor leading to the cell. A moment later a key was turned in the lock, and three warriors entered.
“One of you is to fight an Asharian,” said one. “He is a giant, a famous killer of men. If he wins, and he will, he gets his freedom. Which one of you wishes to be killed first?”
“Let me go,” said Lavac. “I would as soon be dead as here.”
“No,” said Gregory. “Let me go. I am old.”
“I shall go,” said Tarzan, “and I shall not be killed.”
The warriors laughed. “Boast while you may,” said one.
They led Tarzan to a small arena, a courtyard enclosed by the palace buildings that surrounded it. At one end was a gallery for spectators, and here sat King Herat and Queen Mentheb with their court. Tarzan glanced up at them, and saw that Thetan was there, too. A guard of plumed warriors stood behind the King and Queen, and at either end of the gallery a trumpeter was posted. As Tarzan stood waiting in the center of the arena, the trumpeters raised their instruments to their lips and sounded a fanfare; and through a small doorway beneath the royal box a huge man entered the arena.
“Good luck, Tarzan!” shouted Thetan.
“He’ll need it,” said Herat. “A thousand to one he dies.”
“Taken!” said Thetan.
The Asharian approached Tarzan and commenced to circle about him, looking for an opening. “I have killed such men as Memet,” he boasted. “I shall take great pleasure in killing you.”
Tarzan only growled, as early training and environment had taught him to do; but that growl brought a startled look to the face of the Asharian, for it was the growl of a lion. It shook his nerves a little, and he decided to get the thing over as quickly as possible; so he charged at close quarters with the intention of crushing his adversary in his mighty embrace. Thus he had crushed Memet, caving in his chest until his splintered ribs punctured his heart; and Tarzan let him get his hold. It was the hold he wished the other to have. The Asharian applied all the pressure of his great strength, but that mighty chest did not give an inch. He was amazed. It was unbelievable. Then Tarzan, growling, sought his foe’s jugular with his teeth; and the Asharian was frankly terrified. Quickly he broke away and stepped back.
“What are you?” he cried, “man or beast?”
“I am Tarzan of the Apes. I kill!” growled the ape-man.
Like a cornered rat fearing death but forced to fight for self-preservation, the Asharian charged with lowered head; and as Tarzan sought to side step, he slipped; and the other caught him full in the chest with his head, knocking him to the ground; then the Asharian turned and leaped high in air to land upon his fallen foe and crush him. A shout arose from the royal box. “I win!” cried Herat.
“Perhaps,” admitted Thetan; “but not yet—look!”
While the Asharian was in mid-air, Tarzan rolled quickly to one side; and the other landed heavily on the flagging. Both men sprang to their feet instantly; and the Asharian, whipping a dagger from his sash, sprang at the ape-man. He had broken the rules of the contest, but he was too terrified to care about that. His only thought was to kill the beast-man.
As his foe charged with raised dagger, Tarzan leaped to one side, wheeled quickly and seized him from behind; then he swung him high above his head and hurled him to the flagging. He could have killed him then, but he preferred to play with him as a cat plays with a mouse. It was the Asharian’s punishment for attempting to use a dagger; and, too, it was the humor of the jungle, which is grim and terrible.
The man scrambled to his feet; and as Tarzan slunk slowly toward him he turned and fled, begging for mercy. The ape-man pursued him; and, though he could have caught him easily, he remained just a few paces behind him, voicing an occasional growl to add to the terror of his quarry.
“Did you invite us here to watch a foot race?” asked Thetan, laughing.
King Herat smiled. “Something seems to have gone wrong with the famous killer of men,” he said.
Driven to desperation by terror, the Asharian turned at bay. Tarzan stopped and commenced to circle his adversary, low growls rumbling in his throat. Suddenly the terrified man raised his dagger and plunged it into his own heart.
“You lose, Herat,” laughed Thetan.
“But your Tarzan didn’t kill him,” objected the king.
“He frightened him to death,” said Thetan.
Herat laughed. “You win,” he admitted. “Send for the man. I have something to say to him.”
“Never have I seen such a man,” said Queen Mentheb. “Such a one should not be destroyed.”
Tarzan, brought to the royal box, stood before the King and Queen.
“You have won your freedom fairly,” said Herat, “and I am going to change the conditions. You shall be free regardless of the fulfillment of the other two conditions. The others each may win his freedom in turn.”
“And the girl?” asked Tarzan. “How about her?”
Herat looked a bit uncomfortable, shooting a quick glance at his Queen, as he answered. “The girl shall not be harmed,” he said, “and if all the conditions be fulfilled, she shall have her liberty. You shall remain as a guest of Thetan until your companions have either succeeded or failed; then you may leave the country. Decide among yourselves tonight which of the other two is to fight the lion tomorrow.”
“I shall kill the lion, myself,” said Tarzan.
“But you have won your freedom!” exclaimed Queen Mentheb. “You do not have to throw away your life.”
“I shall kill the lion,” reiterated Tarzan.
Herat looked questioningly at the Queen. “If he wishes to be killed, he shall,” he snapped.