Its basket loaded with rock, it had risen at the end of its rope, as four stalwart Sarians payed out on the windlass. Everyone was surprised, none more so than Abner Perry; for this was the first one of his “inventions” that functioned on its initial trial. He would not have been greatly surprised had it instead of going up bored itself into the ground.
“This is a great day for Pellucidar, Dian,” he said. “Won’t David be surprised!”
True enough David was due for a big surprise.
As those who had been left behind in Sari watched the swaying balloon, like little children with a new toy, Ghak the Hairy One and his thousand fighting men sailed on toward Kali.
And Hodon led David Innes to a little canyon into the head of which tumbled a mountain brook in a waterfall of exquisite beauty. Continually watered by the spray and warmed by the never failing sun, lush vegetation swarmed up the side of the cliff and spread out on the floor of the valley. Great sprays of orchids trailed down the rocky face of the cliff, gorgeous corsages pinned to the breast of the mountain. Flowers that withered and died forever on the outer crust eons ago challenged the beauty of the orchids, and hidden behind this mass of greenery and blooms was a little cave—a cave that could be defended by a single warrior against an army of stone age men.
“Beautiful!” exclaimed Innes, “and not far from Kali. We can stay here until Ghak comes. We will take turns watching for him. Really, we should watch by the sea; but I want to be where I can also watch Kali; here my warriors are imprisoned. Perhaps an opportunity will come for us to get them out of the prison caves.”
Fruit and nuts grew in abundance on the trees and shrubs of the little canyon; but fighting men require meat; and one must have weapons to have meat. These two had not even a stone knife between them, but the first men had no weapons originally. They had to make them.
Innes and Hodon went into the little stream and hunted around until they found a large mussel. They pried it open with a sharp stone, and each took a half shell. With these they cut two pieces of bamboo-like arborescent grass to form the hafts of two spears. Searching again they collected a number of stones: soft stones, hard stones, flat stones, stones with sharp edges; and with some of these they chipped and scraped at others until they had fashioned two spear heads and a couple of crude knives. While Hodon was finding the toughest fibers with which to bind the spear heads to the hafts, Innes made a bow and some arrows, for this was one of his favorite weapons.
How long all this took, of course there was no way of telling, only that they ate several times and slept once. All in all, it may have taken them a week of outer earthly time, or half a day, or a year. Occasionally one of them would go to a high point in the hills and look out across the country toward the coast always hoping to see Ghak the Hairy One and his warriors.
Hodon was hunting. He had gone out northeast of Kali a little farther this time than usual; for his luck had not been good. He had seen some game—red deer and orthopi the little primitive three toed horse that once ranged the outer crust—but something had always happened to frighten them away before he could get within spear range.
Of a sudden he heard a terrific roaring, and the crash of a heavy body coming through the undergrowth of the forest. Hodon looked for a tree that could be easily and swiftly scaled. He knew the author of that roar. It was a cave lion and the less business he had with a cave lion the happier he would be and the longer he would live.
He had just found a nice tree when he saw something burst from the underbrush in the direction from which the roaring was coming, but it was not a cave lion. It was O-aa. She was running like a scared, rabbit and right behind her was the cave lion.
Hodon forgot the tree. The lion was not making as good progress through the underbrush as was O-aa. She was leaping as lightly and almost as swiftly as a springbok. Hodon ran to meet her.
“Go back!” she cried. “It is Ta-ho.”
Hodon could see that it was Ta-ho, but he didn’t go back. As O-aa passed him, he knelt and jammed the butt of his spear into the ground, holding the haft at an angle, the stone point ahead of him.
The spear was a little short for the purpose for which he was using it. With a long spear some great hunters had killed the cave lion and the sabertooth tiger thus; but with a short spear such as his, one would be almost sure to be mauled to death before death came to the beast. However, Hodon had never hesitated from the moment that he had seen O-aa.
The great lion rose snarling above him, its face a hideous mask of savagery; and then its momentum hurled it upon the spear point. Instantly Hodon leaped to one side and drew his puny stone knife; then he threw himself upon the back of the pain maddened beast tangling the fingers of one band in its mane while with the other he plunged his knife through the thick bide into the beast’s side.
The lion threw itself from side to side. It turned to seize the man-thing. It rolled upon the ground to dislodge him; and then, quite suddenly, it rolled over on its side. The spear had pierced its heart.
Hodon stood up and looked around him, searching for O-aa. She was nowhere in sight. He called her by name, but there was no answer. So, he had risked his life for her and she had run away from him! At that moment Hodon almost became a misogynist.
He started out to look for her with the intention of giving her a good beating when he found her. Being an excellent tracker it did not take him long to pick up her trail. He followed it as silently as though he were stalking the wariest of game for that he knew she would be.
Beyond the edge of the forest he saw her. Evidently she thought that she had eluded him, for she was walking along quite nonchalantly. The sight of her impertinent little back goaded Hodon to fury. He decided that a beating was far from adequate punishment; so he drew his stone knife from its scabbard and ran quietly after her determined to cut her throat.
After all, Hodon the Fleet One was only a cave man of the stone age. His instincts were primitive and direct, but they were sometimes faulty—as in this instance. He thought that the feeling that he harbored for O-aa was hate, when, as a matter of fact, it was love. Had he not loved her, he would not have cared that she ran away from him while he was risking his life for her. There are few sentiments more closely allied and inextricably intermingled than love and hate, but of this Hodon was not aware. At that moment he hated O-aa with utter single-mindedness and abandon.
He caught up with O-aa and seized her by the hair, spinning her around so that he looked down into her upturned face. That was a mistake, if he really wished to kill her. Only a man with a stone where his heart should have been could have slit O-aa’s throat while looking into her face.
O-aa’s eyes were very wide. “You are going to kill me?” she asked. “When my brother—”
“Why did you run away from me?” demanded Hodon. “I might have been killed.”
“I did not run away until I saw Ta-ho roll over dead,” said O-aa.
“Why did you run away then?” Hodon’s knife hand hung at his side, and he loosened his grasp on O-aa’s hair. Hodon’s rage was oozing out through his eyes as they looked into the eyes of O-aa.
“I ran away because I am afraid of you. I do not wish to mate with you or any other man until I am ready. No man has won me yet.”
“I have fought for you,” Hodon reminded her. “I have killed Ta-ho in your defense.”
“Ta-ho is not a man,” said O-aa, as though that settled the whole matter.
“But I fought Blug for you. Every time I fight for you you run away. Why do you do that?”
“That time, I was running away from Blug. I thought he would kill you and then come after me; and anyway, fighting Blug was nothing—you didn’t kill him. I saw Blug and my father afterward, but they did not see me.”
“So, I shall have to kill a man before you will mate with me?” demanded Hodon.
“Why, of course. I think you will have to kill Blug. I do not understand why he did not kill you when you fought. If I were you I should keep out of Blug’s way. He is a very great fighter. I think he would break you in two. I should like to see that fight.”
Hodon looked at her for a long minute; then he said, “I think you are not worth having for a mate.”
O-aa’s eyes flashed. “It is a good thing for you that my brother did not hear you say that,” she said with asperity.
“There you go,” said Hodon, “dragging in your family again. I am sick and tired of hearing of your family all the time.”
As they talked, unconscious of any but themselves, six strange looking creatures crept toward them through the underbrush.