He sent hunters out to slay dinosaurs—the largest they could find—with orders to bring back only the peritonea of those they killed; and while they were gone he succeeded in capping a gas well which had been blowing millions of cubic feet of natural gas into the air of Pellucidar for—well, who knows for how long?
He had many women braiding rope, and others weaving a large basket—a basket four feet in diameter and three feet high. It was the largest basket the Sarians had ever seen.
While this work was going on, the messenger arrived from Innes instructing Ghak to set forth with many warriors. When they had departed there were few warriors left, and they had to remain in the village as a guard, except for a couple of hunters sent out daily for fresh meat. The village was full of women; but that did not interfere with Perry’s plans, as the warriors had returned with more than enough peritonea.
The peritonea was stretched and dried and rubbed until they were thoroughly cured; then Perry cut them into strange shapes according to a pattern he had fashioned, and the women sewed them together with very fine stitches and sealed the seams with a cement that Perry thought would not be attacked by the constituents of natural gas.
When this work was complete, Perry attached the great bag to the basket with the ropes the women had braided; and to the bottom of the basket he attached a heavier rope that was five or six hundred feet long. No one in Sari had ever seen a rope like that, but they had long since ceased to marvel much at anything that Perry did.
With little ropes, many little ropes, Perry fastened the basket to the ground by means of pegs driven into the earth all around it; then he ran a clay pipe from the gas well into the opening at the small end of the bag. Perry had given birth to balloon! To him it was the forerunner of a fleet of mighty dirigibles which could carry tons of high-explosive bombs, and bring civilization to countless underprivileged cliff dwellers.
Hodon smiled, just A fleeting little smile that vanished almost as it was born; then he stooped before the little cave at the far end of the ledge and leaped upward. Hodon was proud of his legs; so was all Sari. They were the best legs in the Empire of Pellucidar, so far as anyone knew to the contrary; and they were just as marvelous at jumping as they were at running. They easily carried Hodon upward until his fingers could seize the top of the cliff. It was solid limestone. Hodon had determined that when he first examined the cliff. Had there been top soil right up to the edge of the cliff, the thing would not have been so easy—it might, in fact, have been impossible of accomplishment; but there was no top soil, and the hard stone did not crumble. It held magnificently, doing its part to thwart the evil machinations of the wicked Fash.
Sometimes we are annoyed by the studied perversities of inanimate objects, like collar buttons and quail on toast; but we must remember that, after all, some of them are the best friends of man. Take the dollar bill, for instance—but why go on? You can think of as many as I can.
So Hodon the Fleet One clambered over the summit of the cliff of Kali, and no man saw him go. When he had come he had carried a stone knife, but they had taken that from him. Now he must go absolutely unarmed across perhaps forty miles of danger ridden terrain, but he was not afraid. Sometimes I think that the men of the old stone age must have been very brave. They must have had to be very brave, as otherwise they could not have survived. The coward might have survived for a while—just long enough for him to starve to death—but it took a brave man to go out and brave the terrific creatures he must have had to face to find food for himself and his family.
Hodon’s only thought now was to reach David Innes before he ran into the ambush that he was sure Fash had laid for him. He moved swiftly, but he moved silently. Always every sense was alert for danger. His keen eyes ranged far ahead; his sensitive nostrils picked up every scent borne to them by each vagrant breeze. He was glad that he was running up wind, for now he could be warned of almost any danger that lay ahead.
Suddenly he caught a scent which brought a frown of puzzlement to his brow. It told him that there was a woman ahead of him—a lone woman—where there should not have been a woman. His judgment told him that there must be at least one man where there was a woman so far from a village, but his nostrils told him that there was no man.
He kept on in the direction of the woman, for that was the direction in which he was going. Now he went even more warily, if that were possible; and at last he saw her. Her back was toward him. She was moving slowly, looking in all directions. He guessed that she was afraid. She did not know that she was not alone until a hand fell upon her shoulder. She wheeled, a dagger in her hand—a slim dagger laboriously chipped from basalt—and as she wheeled, she struck a vicious blow at Hodon’s breast.
Being a Pellucidarian, he had expected something like this; for one does not accost a strange lady with impunity in the stone age. So he was ready. He seized her wrist, and held it. Then she tried to bite him.
Hodon smiled down into her flashing eyes, for she was young and beautiful. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What are you doing out here so far from your village alone?”
“That is my business,” she said. “Let me go! You cannot keep me, for if you do I’ll surely kill you.”
“I can’t waste time on you,” said Hodon, “but you are too young and good looking to be left for the first stray tarag to make a meal of. You may come along with me, if you wish. We have only your dagger, but I’ll use it for you.”
“Tell me who you are,” she said, a trifle more amicably.
“I am Hodon of Sari,” he said.
“A Sarian! They are the friends of my father’s people.
“You are a Sarian, you will not harm me.”
“Who said I would. I am a Sarian. Now who are you?”
“I am O-aa, the daughter of Oose, King of Kali.”
“And you are running away because Fash has conquered your people. Am I right?” He released his hold upon her wrist, and she returned her dagger to its sheath.
“Yes, you are right,” she replied. “After Fash had conquered Kali, he took me for himself; but I escaped. It was well for Fash that I did, because I should have killed him. You see, I am the daughter of a king, and my mother was—”
“I have no time to listen to your life history,” said Hodon. “Are you coming with me, or not?”
“Where are you going?”
He told her.
“I do not like your manner; and I shall probably not like you,” said O-aa, “but I will come with you. You are better than nobody. Being the daughter of a king, I am accustomed to being treated with respect. All of my father’s people—”
“Come!” said Hodon. “You talk too much,” and he started off again in the direction of the coast.
O-aa trotted along at his side. “I suppose you will delay me,” grumbled Hodon.
“I can run as fast and as far as you can. My mother’s father was the fastest runner in all his country, and my brother—”
“You are not your mother’s father nor are you your brother,” said Hodon. “I am only interested in how fast and how far you can run. If you cannot keep up with me, you will be left behind. The fate of the Emperor is much more important than yours.”
“You don’t call this running, do you?” demanded O-aa, derisively. “Why, when I was a little girl I used to run down and capture the orthopi. Everyone marveled at my swiftness. Even my mother’s father and my brother could not run down and capture the orthopi.”
“You are probably lying,” said Hodon, increasing his speed.
“For that, my brother will probably kill you,” said O-aa. “He is a mighty warrior. He—”
Hodon was running so fast now that O-aa had not the breath for both running and talking, which was what Hodon had hoped for.
Ghak the Hairy One, King of Sari, embarked a thousand warriors on two ships. They were much larger ships than the Sari which was the first successful ship that Perry had built and now practically obsolete. While the Sari had but two guns, one-pounders, one in the bow and the other in the stern, the newer ships had eight guns, four on each side on a lower deck; and they fired shells which occasionally burst when they were supposed to, but more often did not burst at all or prematurely. However, the cannon made a most satisfactory racket and emitted vast clouds of black smoke.
When Perry’s first one-pounder was fired for the first time, the cannon ball rolled out and fell on the ground in front of the cannon. Innes said that this had its advantages, since there would be no waste of ammunition—they could just pick the balls up and use them over again; but—Perry’s new pieces hurled a shell a full mile. He was very proud of them. The trouble was that the ships never found anyone to shoot at. There was no other known navy in Pellucidar except that of the Korsars, and Korsar is five thousand miles from Sari by water.
As Ghak’s expeditionary force beat up the coast toward Kali, David Innes and his hundred warriors marched inland toward the village. Half of Innes’s men were armed with the Perry musket, a smooth bore, muzzle loading flintlock; the other half carried bows and arrows. All had knives, and many carried the short spear that all Pellucidarians prefer. It hung by a leather thong about their necks and swung down their backs.
These men were all veterans—the corps elite of the Pellucidarian army. Perry had named them The Imperial Guard, and Innes had succeeded in inculcating some ideas of discipline upon their ruggedly individualistic egos. They marched now in a loose column of fours, and there were an advance guard and flankers. A hundred yards in front of the advance guard three warriors formed the point. Innes was taking no chance on an ambush.
They had covered about half the distance to Kali when the point halted at the summit of a little rise; then one of them turned and raced back toward the main body.
He came directly to Innes. “Many warriors are coming this way,” he reported.
Innes disposed his men and advanced slowly. The musketeers were in the first line. As a rule the noise and smoke of one of their ragged volleys would frighten away almost any enemy; which was well; because they seldom hit anybody. After they fired, the archers moved up through their ranks and formed the first line while the musketeers reloaded.
But none of this was necessary now; as a messenger came racing back from the point to say that the force approaching them was friendly—Oose’s warriors coming to welcome them to Kali and escort them to the village, Innes went forward to investigate personally. At the top of the rise he found a hairy caveman waiting for him. Beyond, he saw a large force of warriors.
“Where is Oose?” he demanded.
“Oose is sick. He has a pain in his belly. He could not come; so he sent me to guide you to Kali.”
“Why did he send so many warriors?”
“Because we are at war with Suvi, and Fash’s warriors may be nearby.”
Innes nodded. The explanation seemed reasonable. “Very well,” he said, “lead the way.”
His warriors advanced. Soon they were in contact with the warriors of the other party, and these offered them food. They seemed to wish to make friends. They moved among the warriors of The Imperial Guard, handing out food, passing rough jokes. They seemed much interested in the muskets, which they took in their hands and examined interestedly. Soon all the muskets of The Imperial Guard were in the hands of these friendly warriors, and four or five of them surrounded each member of the Guard.
Hodon had taken A short cut. He and O-aa had come over a hill through a forest, and now they halted at the edge of the forest and looked down into the little valley below. In the valley were hundreds of warriors. Hodon’s keen eyes picked out David Innes among them; they saw the muskets of the musketeers. Hodon was puzzled. He knew that most of those warriors were the warriors of Fash of Suvi, but there was no battle. The men appeared to be mingling in peace and friendship.
“I cannot understand it,” he said. He was thinking out loud.
“I can,” said O-aa.
“What do you understand?” asked Hodon. “Tell me in a few words without any genealogical notes.”
O-aa bridled. “My brother—” she began.
“Oh, bother your brother!” cried Hodon. “Tell me what you think you understand. You can tell me while we are walking down there to join David Innes.”
“You would be fool enough to do that,” the girl sneered.
“What do you mean?”
“That is one of Fash’s tricks. Wait and see. If you go down, you will soon be back in the prison cave—if they do not kill you instead; which would be good riddance.”
She had scarcely ceased speaking, when the leader of the friendly warriors voiced a war whoop and, with several of his men, leaped upon David Innes and bore him to the ground. At the signal, the rest of the friendly warriors leaped upon the members of The Imperial Guard whom they had surrounded. There was some resistance, but it was futile. A few men were killed and a number wounded, but the outcome was inevitable. Inside of five minutes the survivors of The Imperial Guard had their hands tied behind their backs.
Then Fash came from behind a bush were he had been hiding and confronted David Innes. “You call yourself Emperor,” he said with a sneer. “You would like to be Emperor of all Pellucidar. You are too stupid. It is Fash who should be Emperor.”
“You may have something there,” said David Innes, “at least for the time being. What do you intend doing with us?”
“Those of your men who will promise to obey me shall live; I will kill the others.”
“For every one of my men you kill, five Suvians shall die.”
“You talk big, but you can do nothing. You are through, David Innes. You should have stayed in that other world you are said to have come from. It does not pay to come to Pellucidar and meddle. As for you, I do not know. Perhaps I shall kill you; perhaps I shall hold you and trade you for ships and guns. Now that I am also King of Kali, I can make use of ships with which to conquer the rest of Pellucidar. Now I am Emperor! I shall build a city on the shore of the Lural Az and all Pellucidar shall soon know who is Emperor.”
“You have a big mouth,” said Innes. “Perhaps you are digging your grave with it.”
“I have a big fist, too,” growled Fash, and with that, he knocked David Innes down.
At word from Fash, a couple of warriors yanked Innes to his feet. He stood there, the blood running from his mouth. A shout of anger rose from the men of The Guard.
David Innes looked straight into the shifty eyes of Fash, the king of Suvi. “You had better kill me, Fash,” he said, “before you unbind my wrists.”
Hodon looked on in consternation. There was nothing that he could do. He moved back into the forest, lest some of Fash’s warriors see him. Not that they could have caught him, but he did not wish them to know that their act had been witnessed by a friend of David Innes.
“You were right,” he said to O-aa. “It was a trick of Fash’s.”
“I am always right,” said O-aa. “It used to make my brother very angry.”
“I can well understand that,” said Hodon.
“Yes, yes,” said Hodon; “but haven’t you any other relatives than a brother and a mother’s father?”
“Yes, indeed,” cried O-aa. “I have a sister. She is very beautiful. All the women in my mother’s family have always been very beautiful. They say my mother’s sister was the most beautiful woman in Pellucidar. I look just like her.”
“So you have a mother’s sister!” exclaimed Hodon. “The family tree is growing. I suppose that will give you something more to talk about.”
“That is a peculiar thing about the women of my family,” said O-aa; “they seldom talk, but when they do—”
“They never stop,” said Hodon, sadly.
“I could talk if I had some one of intelligence to listen to me,” said O-aa.