Sweating slaves dragged catapults, ballistae, testudones, huge battering-rams, and other ancient engines of war. There were scaling ladders and wall hooks and devices for throwing fire balls into the defenses of an enemy. The heavy engines had delayed the march and Tarzan had chafed at the delay, but he had to listen to Maximus Praeclarus and Cassius Hasta and Caecilius Metellus, all of whom, had assured him that the fort, which defended the only road to Castrum Mare, could not be taken by assault without the aid of these mechanical engines of war.
Along the hot and dusty Via Mare the Waziri swung, chanting the war-songs of their people. The hardened legionaries, their heavy helmets dangling against their breasts from cords that passed about their necks, their packs on forked sticks across their shoulders, their great oblong shields hanging in their leather covers at their backs, cursed and grumbled as become veterans, while the warriors from the outer villages laughed and sang and chattered as might a party of picnickers.
As they approached the fort with its moat and embankment and palisade and towers, slaves were bearing the body of Validus Augustus to his palace within the city, and Fulvus Fupus, surrounded by fawning sycophants, was proclaiming himself Caesar, though he trembled inwardly in contemplation of what fate might lie before him—for though he was a fool he knew that he was not popular and that many a noble patrician with a strong following had a better right to the imperial purple than he.
Throughout the city of Castrum Mare legionaries searched for the escaped prisoners and especially for the slave who had struck down Validus Augustus, though they were handicapped by the fact that no one had recognized Gabula, for there were few in the city and certainly none in the entourage of Caesar who was familiar with the face of the black from distant Urambi.
A few of the thieves and five or six gladiators, who were condemned felons and not freemen, had clung together in the break for freedom and presently they found themselves in hiding in a low part of the city, in a den where wine could be procured and where there were other forms of entertainment for people of their class.
“What sort of a Caesar will this Fulvus Fupus make?” asked one.
“He will be worse than Validus Augustus,” said another, “I have seen him in the Baths where I once worked. He is vain and dull and ignorant; even the patricians hate him.”
“They say he is going to marry the daughter of Septimus Favonius.”
“I saw her in the Colosseum today,” said another. “I know her well by sight, for she used to come to the shop of my father and make purchases before I was sent to the dungeons.”
“Have you ever been to the house of Septimus Favonius?” asked another.
“Yes, I have,” said the youth. “Twice I took goods there for her inspection, going through the forecourt and into the inner garden. I know the place well.”
“If one like her should happen to fall into the hands of a few poor convicts they might win their freedom and a great ransom,” suggested a low-browed fellow with evil, cunning eyes.
“And be drawn asunder by wild oxen for their pains.”
“We must die anyway if we are caught.”
“It is a good plan.”
They drank again for several minutes in silence, evidencing that the plan was milling in their minds.
“The new Caesar should pay an enormous ransom for his bride.”
The youth rose eagerly to his feet. “I will lead you to the home of Septimus Favonius and guarantee that they will open the gate for me and let me in, as I know what to say. All I need is a bundle and I can tell the slave that it contains goods that my father wishes Favonia to inspect.”
“You are not such a fool as you look.”
“No, and I shall have a large share of the ransom for my part in it,” said the youth.
“If there is any ransom, we shall share and share alike.”
Night was falling as Tarzan’s army halted before the defenses of Castrum Mare. Cassius Hasta to whom the reduction of the fort had been entrusted, disposed his forces and supervised the placing of his various engines of war. Within the city Erich von Harben and Mallius Lepus discussed the details of their plans. It was the judgment of Lepus to wait until after midnight before making any move to leave their hiding-place.
“The streets will be deserted then,” said Mallius Lepus, “except for an occasional patrol upon the principal avenue, and these may be easily eluded, since the torches that they carry proclaim their approach long before there is any danger of their apprehending us. I have the key to the gate of my uncle’s garden, which insures that we may enter the grounds silently and unobserved.”
“Perhaps you are right,” said von Harben, “but I dread the long wait and the thought of further inaction seems unbearable.”
“Have patience, my friend,” said Mallius Lepus. “Fulvus Fupus will be too busy with his new Caesarship to give heed to aught else for some time, and Favonia will be safe from him, certainly for the next few hours at least.”
And as they discussed the matter, a youth knocked upon the door of the home of Septimus Favonius. Beneath the shadow of the trees along the wall darker shadows crouched. A slave bearing a lamp came to the door in answer to the knocking and, speaking through a small grille, asked who was without and what the nature of his business.
“I am the son of Tabernarius,” said the youth. “I have brought fabrics from the shop of my father that the daughter of Septimus Favonius may inspect them.”
The slave hesitated.
“You must remember me,” said the youth. “I have been here often,” and the slave held the light a little bit higher and peered through the grille.
“Yes,” he said, “your face is familiar. I will go and ask my mistress if she wishes to see you. Wait here.”
“These fabrics are valuable,” said the youth, holding up a bundle, which he carried under his arm. “Let me stand just within the vestibule lest thieves set upon me and rob me.”
“Very well,” said the slave, and opening the gate he permitted the youth to enter. “Remain here until I return.”
As the slave disappeared into the interior of the house, the son of Tabernarius turned quickly and withdrew the bolt that secured the door. Opening it quickly, he leaned out to voice a low signal.
Instantly the denser shadows beneath the shadowy trees moved and were resolved into the figures of men. Scurrying like vermin, they hurried through the doorway and into the home of Septimus Favonius, and into the anteroom off the vestibule the son of Tabernarius hustled them. Then he closed both doors and waited.
Presently the slave returned. “The daughter of Septimus Favonius recalls having ordered no goods from Tabernarius,” he said, “nor does she feel in any mood to inspect fabrics this night. Return them to your father and tell him that when the daughter of Septimus Favonius wishes to purchase she will come herself to his shop.”
Now this was not what the son of Tabernarius desired and he racked his crafty brain for another plan, though to the slave he appeared but a stupid youth, staring at the floor in too much embarrassment even to take his departure.
“Come”, said the slave, approaching the door and laying hold of the bolt, “you must be going.”
“Wait,” whispered the youth, “I have a message for Favonia. I did not wish anyone to know it and for that reason I spoke of bringing fabrics as an excuse.”
”Where is the message and from whom?” demanded the slave, suspiciously.
“It is for her ears only. Tell her this and she will know from whom it is.”
The slave hesitated.
“Fetch her here,” said the youth. “It will be better that no other member of the household sees me.”
The slave shook his head. “I will tell her,” he said, for he knew that Mallius Lepus and Erich von Harben had escaped from the Colosseum and he guessed that the message might be from one of these. As he hastened back to his mistress the son of Tabernarius smiled, for though he knew not enough of Favonia to know from whom she might reasonably expect a secret message, yet he knew there were few young women who might not, at least hopefully, expect a clandestine communication. He had not long to wait before the slave returned and with him came Favonia. Her excitement was evident as she hastened eagerly forward toward the youth.
“Tell me,” she cried, “you have brought word from him.”
The son of Tabernarius raised a forefinger to his lip to caution her to silence. “No one must know that I am here,” he whispered, “and no ears but yours may hear my message. Send your slave away.”
“You may go,” said Favonia to the slave. “I will let the young man out when he goes,” and the slave, glad to be dismissed, content to be relieved of responsibility, moved silently away into the shadows of a corridor and thence into that uncharted limbo into which pass slaves and other lesser people when one has done with them.
“Tell me,” cried the girl, “what word do. you bring? Where is he?”
“He is here,” whispered the youth, pointing to the ante-room.
“Here?” exclaimed Favonia, incredulously.
“Yes, here,” said the youth. “Come,” and he led her to the door and as she approached it he seized her suddenly and, clapping a hand over her mouth, dragged her into the dark anteroom beyond.
Rough hands seized her quickly and she was gagged and bound. She heard them converse in low whispers.
“We will separate here,” said one. “Two of us will take her to the place we have selected. One of you will have to leave the note for Fulvus Fupus so the palace guards will find it. The rest of you scatter and go by different routes to the deserted house across from the Colosseum. Do you know the place?”
“I know it well. Many is the night that I have slept there.”
“Very well,” said the first speaker, who seemed to be the leader, “now be off. We have no time to waste.”
“Wait,” said the son of Tabernarius, “the division of the ransom has not yet been decided. Without me you could have done nothing. I should have at least half.”
“Shut up or you will be lucky if you get anything,” growled the leader.
“A knife between his ribs would do him good,” muttered another.
“You will not give me what I asked?” demanded the youth.
“Shut up,” said the leader. “Come along now, men,” and carrying Favonia, whom they wrapped in a soiled and ragged cloak, they left the home of Septimus Favonius unobserved; and as two men carried a heavy bundle through the dark shadows beneath the shadowy trees the son of Tabernarius started away in the opposite direction. . . .
A youth in soiled and ragged tunic and rough sandals approached the gates of Caesar’s palace. A legionary challenged him, holding him at a distance with the point of his pike.
“What do you loitering by the palace of Caesar by night?” demanded the legionary.
“I have a message for Caesar,” replied the youth.
The legionary guffawed. “Will you come in or shall I send Caesar out to you?” he demanded, ironically.
“You may take the message to him yourself, soldier,” replied the other, “and if you know what is good for you, you will not delay.”
The seriousness of the youth’s voice finally compelled the attention of the legionary. “Well,” he demanded, “out with it. What message have you for Caesar?”
“Hasten to him and tell him that the daughter of Septimus Favonius has been abducted and that if he hastens he will find her in the deserted house that stands upon the corner opposite the chariot entrance to the Colosseum.”
“Who are you?” demanded the legionary.
“Never mind,” said the youth. “Tomorrow I shall come for my reward,” and he turned and sped away before the legionary could detain him.
“At this rate midnight will never come,” said von Harben.
Mallius Lepus laid a hand upon the shoulder of his friend.
“You are impatient, but remember that it will be safer for Favonia, as well as for us, if we wait until after midnight, for the streets now must be full of searchers. All afternoon we have heard soldiers passing. It is a miracle that they have not searched this place.”
“Psst!” cautioned von Harben. “What was that?”
“It sounded like the creaking of the gate in front of the house,” said Mallius Lepus.
“They are coming,” said von Harben.
The three men seized the swords with which they had armed themselves, after they had rushed the Colosseum guard, and following a plan they had already decided upon in the event that searchers approached their hiding-place, they scaled the ladder and crept out upon the roof. Leaving the trap-door pushed slightly to one side, they listened to the sounds that were now coming from below, ready to take instant action should there be any indication that the searchers might mount the ladder to the roof.
Von Harben heard voices coming from below. “Well, we made it,” said one, “and no one saw us. Here come the others now,” and von Harben heard the gate creak again on its rusty hinges; then the door of the house opened and he heard several people enter.
“This is a good night’s work,” said one.
“Is she alive? I cannot hear her breathe.”
“Take the gag from her mouth.”
“And let her scream for help?”
“We can keep her quiet. She is worth nothing to us dead.”
“All right, take it out.”
“Listen, you, we will take the gag out of your mouth, but if you scream it will be the worse for you.”
“I shall not scream,” said a woman’s voice in familiar tones that set von Harben’s heart to palpitating, though he knew that it was nothing more than his imagination that suggested the seeming familiarity.
“We shall not hurt you,” said a man’s voice, “if you keep quiet and Caesar sends the ransom.”
“And if he does not send it?” asked the girl.
“Then, perhaps, your father, Septimus Favonius, will pay the price we ask.”
“Heavens!” muttered von Harben. “Did you hear that, Lepus?”
“I heard,” replied the Roman.
“Then come,” whispered von Harben. “Come, Gabula, Favonia is below.”
Casting discretion to the wind, von Harben tore the trap from the opening in the roof and dropped into the darkness below, followed by Mallius Lepus and Gabula.
“Favonia!” he cried. “It is I. Where are you?”
“Here,” cried the girl.
Rushing blindly in the direction of her voice, von Harben encountered one of the abductors. The fellow grappled with him, while, terrified by fear that the legionaries were upon them, the others bolted from the building. As they went they left the door open and the light of a full moon dissipated the darkness of the interior, revealing von Harben struggling with a burly fellow who had seized the other’s throat and was now trying to draw his dagger from its sheath.
Instantly Mallius Lepus and Gabula were upon him, and a quick thrust of the former’s sword put a definite period to the earthly rascality of the criminal. Free from his antagonist, von Harben leaped to his feet and ran to Favonia, where she lay upon a pile of dirty rags against the wall. Quickly he cut her bonds and soon they had her story.
“If you are no worse for the fright,” said Mallius Lepus, “we may thank these scoundrels for simplifying our task, for here we are ready to try for our escape a full three hours earlier than we had hoped.”
“Let us lose no time, then,” said von Harben. “I shall not breathe freely until I am across the wall.”
“I believe we have little to fear now,” said Mallius Lepus.
“The wall is poorly guarded. There are many places where we can scale it, and I know a dozen places where we can find boats that are used by the fishermen of the city. What lies beyond is upon the knees of the gods.”
Gabula, who had been standing in the doorway, closed the door quickly and crossed to von Harben. “Lights are coming down the avenue, Bwana,” he said. “I think many men are coming. Perhaps they are soldiers.”
The four listened intently until they made out distinctly the measured tread of marching men.
“Some more searchers,” said Mallius Lepus. “When they have passed on their way, it will be safe to depart.”
The light from the torches of the legionaries approached until it shone through the cracks in the wooden blinds, but it did not pass on as they had expected. Mallius Lepus put an eye to an opening in one of the blinds.
“They have halted in front of the house,” he said. “A part of them are turning the corner, but the rest are remaining.”
They stood in silence for what seemed a long time, though it was only a few minutes, and then they heard sounds coming from the garden behind the house and the light of torches was visible through the open kitchen door.
“We are surrounded,” said Lepus. “They are coming in the front way. They are going to search the house.”
“What shall we do?” cried Favonia.
“The roof is our only hope,” whispered von Harben, but even as he spoke the sound of sandaled feet was heard upon the roof and the light of torches shone through the open trap.
“We are lost,” said Mallius Lepus. “We cannot defeat an entire century of legionaries.”
“We can fight them, though,” said von Harben.
“And risk Favonia’s life uselessly?” said Lepus.
“You are right,” said von Harben, sadly, and then, “Wait, I have a plan. Come, Favonia, quickly. Lie down here upon the floor and I will cover you with these rags. There is no reason why we should all be taken. Mallius Lepus, Gabula, and I may not escape, but they will never guess that you are here, and when they are gone you can easily make your way to the guard-house in the Colosseum, where the officer in charge will see that you are given protection and an escort to your home.”
“Let them take me,” said the girl. “If you are to be captured, let me be captured also.”
“It will do no good,” said von Harben. “They will only separate us, and if you are found here with us it may bring suspicion upon Septimus Favonius.”
Without further argument she threw herself upon the floor, resigned in the face of von Harben’s argument, and he covered her over with the rags that had been a beggar’s bed.