IN NO DUNGEON had Magra been incarcerated, but in well appointed apartments with slave women to attend her. She wondered why she had been accorded these luxuries, until the door opened and King Herat entered; then she guessed the reason for her preferment. He wore an ingratiating smile and the self-satisfied look of a cat that has cornered a canary.
“You are being well treated and well served?” asked Herat.
“Yes, Your Majesty,” replied Magra.
“I am glad; I wish you to be happy. You are my guest, you know,” he explained.
“That is very kind of you. I hope you are treating my companions as generously.”
“Scarcely,” he replied, “though I have been very fair and lenient with them; but do you know why I am treating you so well?”
“Because the Thobotians are a kindly people, I suppose,” she replied, “and their King a kindly king.”
“Bosh!” exclaimed Herat. “It is because you are beautiful, my dear; and because you please me. Those who please a king may fair very well indeed.” He came toward her. “I shall see that you live like a queen,” he said, suddenly taking her into his arms.
“I shall not please you for long,” she snapped, “nor will you ever be pleased by anything again if you don’t get out of here and leave me alone,” and as she spoke, she snatched his dagger from its sheath and pressed the point of it against his side.
“You she-devil!” he cried, as he jumped away. “You’ll pay for this.”
“I think not,” said Magra, “but you shall, if you annoy me or try to punish me.”
“You dare threaten me, slave!”
“I certainly do,” Magra assured him; “and it is no idle threat, either.”
“Huh!” sneered Herat. “What can you do, other than threaten?”
“I can see that the Queen learns of this. My slaves have told me that she has a high temper.”
“You win,” said Herat, “but let us be friends.”
While King Herat visited Magra, Queen Mentheb lay on a couch in one of her apartments while slave women enameled her toenails and arranged her hair.
“That story is so old it smells,” said the Queen, peevishly.
“I am sorry, Majesty,” said the woman who had just sought to amuse Mentheb with a story; “but have you heard the one about the farmer’s wife?”
“About a hundred times,” snapped the Queen. “Every time Herat drinks too much wine he tells it. I am the only one who doesn’t have to laugh at it every time he tells it. That is one of the advantages of being a queen.”
“Oh, I know one, Your Majesty,” exclaimed another of the women. “It seems there were two Romans—”
“Shut up!” commanded Mentheb. “You all bore me.”
“Perhaps we could send for an entertainer to amuse Your Majesty,” suggested another.
Mentheb thought for a moment before she replied. “Now, there is one whom it would amuse me to talk with,” she said. “That man who killed the Asharian in the arena. He is a man, indeed. Mesnek, suppose you go fetch him!”
“But, Majesty, what of the King? Other men are not supposed to come to these apartments. Suppose the King should come while he was here?”
“Herat won’t come here tonight,” said the Queen. “He is gaming with his nobles. He told me so, and that he would not be here tonight. Go fetch this super-man, Mesnek; and hurry.”
As Tarzan and Thetan talked in Thetan’s apartments, a dark-skinned slave entered. “Most noble Thetan,” he said, “Her Majesty, Queen Mentheb, commands the presence of him who slew the Asharian in the arena.”
“Where?” asked Thetan.
“In Her Majesty’s apartments.”
“Wait outside the door to guide him to Her Majesty,” Thetan directed the slave; and when the fellow had gone, he turned to Tarzan. “You’ll have to go,” he said, “but be very careful. Get away as quickly as you can, and while you are there be as discreet as you know how to be. Mentheb fancies that she is something of a siren, and Herat is insanely jealous. I think he is more fearful of being made a fool of than anything else.”
“Thanks,” said Tarzan; “I shall be discreet.”
As Tarzan was ushered into the presence of Mentheb, she greeted him with a winning smile. “So you are the man who killed the famous killer of men,” she said. “That was very amusing. I do not know when I have seen anything so amusing or so entertaining.”
“It is amusing to see men die?” asked the ape-man.
“Oh, well, he was only an Asharian,” said the Queen, with a shrug. “What are you called?”
“’Tarzan’! It is a nice name; I like it. Come and sit down beside me and tell me that you will not fight the lion. I wish you to live and remain here.”
“I shall fight the lion,” said Tarzan.
“But the lion will kill you; and I do not wish you to die, Tarzan.” Her tone was almost a caress.
“The lion will not kill me,” replied the ape-man. “If I kill him, will you intercede with the King in behalf of my friends?”
“It would be useless,” she said. “The law is the law, and Herat is just. They will die anyway, but you must live and remain in Thobos.” Suddenly she started up. “Isis!” she cried. “Here comes the King! Hide!”
Tarzan remained standing where he was with arms folded, making no move to hide; and there the King found him when he entered the apartment.
Herat’s face clouded with an angry scowl as he saw the ape-man. “What means this?” he demanded.
“I came in search of you, but found the Queen instead,” replied Tarzan; “and I was just asking her to intercede in behalf of my friends.”
“I think you lie,” said Herat, “for, while I don’t know you, I know my queen. I think I shall let you fight two lions.”
“Her Majesty is blameless,” said the ape-man. “She was very angry because I came.”
“She looked more frightened at my sudden appearance than angry,” observed Herat.
“You are most unfair to me, Herat,” accused Mentheb. “And you are also unfair to this man, who speaks the truth.”
“How am I unfair to him?” demanded the King.
“Because you have already promised that it should be one lion,” she explained.
“I can change my mind,” grumbled the King; “and, anyway, I do not see why you should be so concerned in the matter. You but substantiate my suspicions, and cause me to recall the young warrior whom I had to send to the arena last year. I had hoped that you would permit me to forget him.”
Mentheb subsided into a pout, and Herat ordered Tarzan back to his quarters. “The lions have been starved,” he said. “They will be quite hungry tomorrow.”
“You should not starve your fighting lions, Herat,” said Tarzan. “Starvation weakens them.”
“They will still be able to give a good account of themselves,” replied the King, “for starvation will make them more ravenous and ferocious. Now, go!”
It was near noon the next day that two warriors came to conduct Tarzan to the arena. Thetan had already gone to join the King and Queen in the royal box, after having assured the condemned man of his chagrin at the unfortunate outcome of the whole adventure into Thobos.
As Tarzan walked to the center of the arena and stopped, Herat turned to his Queen. “Your taste is excellent, Mentheb,” he said; “the man is indeed a magnificent specimen. It is too bad that he must die.”
“And I must compliment you on your good taste,” replied the Queen, “for the woman also is a splendid specimen. It is too bad that she must die,” and thus Herat learned that Mentheb had heard about his visit to Magra. The King looked most uncomfortable, for Mentheb had taken no pains to lower her voice; and the nobles about them overheard; so he was very glad as he saw the two lions slink into the arena.
Tarzan saw them, too. They were big lions, and he realized that his visit to Mentheb might cost him his life. One lion he might have conquered, but how could any man withstand the attack of two such mighty beasts? He realized that this was not intended to be a contest, but an execution; yet, as the lions approached, he showed no fear. One lion came directly toward him, while the other stood for a few moments looking about the arena; and when the latter started to follow his companion he was quite some distance behind him. It was this that suggested to Tarzan the only plan that he thought might prove successful against them. Had they charged simultaneously, he felt that there would have been no hope for him.
Suddenly, the leading lion made a rush and reared above the ape-man. Herat leaned forward, his lips parted, his eyes dilated. Above all things he loved a good kill; he liked to see blood spilled and bodies mauled. Mentheb stifled a scream.
Tarzan sprang to one side and leaped behind the lion; then he seized it and swung it above his head, wheeling about again as the second lion charged.
“What strength!” marvelled Thetan.
“I am almost sorry that I pitted him against two lions,” exclaimed Herat. “He really deserved a better fate.”
“What?” sneered Mentheb. “Three lions?”
“I don’t mean that,” said Herat, irritably. “I mean that such a man deserves better than death.”
“Name of Isis!” exclaimed Thetan. “Look at him now!”
Tarzan had hurled the first lion into the face of the one that was charging, and both were down on the stone flagging of the arena.
“Incredible!” exclaimed Mentheb. “If he survives, the girl may live.”
“And if he survives, I swear that he shall have his freedom,” cried Herat, “but I’m afraid there’s no hope for him. They’ll both be at him in a moment.”
In her excitement, Mentheb had risen and was leaning over the parapet. “Look! They are fighting one another!”
It was as Tarzan had believed that it would be. One lion, thinking that the other had attacked him, tore into his fellow; and with hideous roars and growls, the two fell upon one another, rending with powerful talons and giant fangs.
“The man has not only marvellous strength but great cunning,” said Herat.
“He is superb,” exclaimed the Queen.
As the two lions fought, they moved nearer and nearer to the royal box, until its occupants had to lean far over the parapet to watch them. Tarzan, too, had moved back; and was standing just below the box. In her excitement, Mentheb lost her balance and toppled over the parapet. At her frightened scream, the ape-man looked up just in time to catch her in his arms as she dropped toward him. Realizing the woman’s danger in the event that one of the lions dispatched the other or the two should cease fighting and turn their savage attention upon their natural enemies, Tarzan started toward the doorway through which he had entered the arena, shouting to Herat to order it opened.
All was confusion and chaos in the royal box. Herat was shouting commands and warriors were rushing down toward the entrance to the arena, but they were to be too late. With a final shake of the dead body of his weaker antagonist, the victorious lion turned with a savage roar and charged after Tarzan and the Queen. There was no time now in which to reach the doorway; and the ape-man, lowering Mentheb to her feet, turned with drawn knife to meet the oncoming carnivore. Growling, he crouched; and Mentheb felt her flesh turn cold in horror.
“That lion will kill them both!” cried Herat—“he is a devil.”
“So is the man,” said Thetan.
Mentheb stood paralyzed by the bestial ferocity of the scene; and before the warriors had reached the doorway to rescue her, the lion was upon Tarzan. Eluding the flailing talons, the ape-man seized the black mane and swung to the beast’s back, driving his knife into the tawny side. Roaring horribly, the lion threw itself about in an endeavor to dislodge the man-thing from its back; and the growls of the ape-man mingled with those of the carnivore, until Mentheb scarcely knew which one to fear the most.
At last the knife found the savage heart, the beast rolled over upon its side, and with a final convulsive shudder, died; then Tarzan placed a foot upon the body of his kill; and, raising his face to the sky, voiced the weird victory cry of the bull ape; and Mentheb, the Queen, stood in helpless fascination as her warrior nobles rushed to her rescue.
“He is a demon,” exclaimed Herat, “—or a god!”
Mentheb commanded Tarzan to accompany her before Herat. She was still too shaken to do more than thank him feebly; and when she reached the box, she sank into a chair.
“You have saved my Queen,” said the King, “and thus won your freedom doubly. You may remain in Thobos or you may go, as you wish.”
“There is still another condition to be fulfilled,” Tarzan reminded the King.
“What is that?” asked Herat.
“I must go to Ashaix and bring you Brulor and his casket,” replied Tarzan.
“You have done enough,” said Herat; “let your friends do that.”
“No,” replied Tarzan. “I shall have to go. Neither of the others could accomplish anything. Perhaps I cannot; but I shall have a better chance, and Gregory’s daughter and my best friend are there.”
“Very well,” assented Herat, “but we’ll give you any assistance you wish. It’s a task that one man cannot accomplish alone.”
“Nor a hundred,” said Mentheb. “We should know, who have tried it so often.”
“I shall go alone,” said Tarzan. “If I need help, I’ll come back for it.”