She had learned that this race of yellow men called themselves Xexots; and that she had come direct from a place called Karana, which was up in the sky somewhere, and that if they were good, she would see that they were sent there when they died; but if they were bad, she could send them to the Molop Az, the flaming sea upon which Pellucidar floats.
She already knew about the Molop Az, as what Pellucidarian does not? The dead who are buried in the ground go there; they are carried down, piece by piece, to the Molop Az by the wicked little men who dwell there. Everyone knows this, because when graves are opened it is always discovered that the bodies have been partially or entirely borne off. That is why many of the peoples of Pellucidar place their dead in trees where the birds may find them and carry them bit by bit to the Dead World that hangs above the Land of Awful Shadow. When people killed an enemy, they always buried his body in the ground; so that it would be sure to go to Molop Az.
She also discovered that being a Noada, was even more important than being an empress. Here in Lolo-lolo, even the king knelt down and covered his eyes when he approached her; nor did he arise again until she had given him permission.
It all puzzled Dian a great deal, but she was learning. People brought her presents of food and ornaments and leather and many, many little pieces of metal, thin and flat and with eight sides. These the priests, who eventually took most of the presents, seemed to value more than anything else; and if there were not a goodly supply left in the temple every day, they became very angry and scolded the people. But no matter how puzzled she was, Dian dared not ask questions; for she was intuitively aware that if they came to doubt that she was all wise, they would doubt that she was really a Noada; and then it would go hard with her. After they had worshipped her so devoutly, they might tear her to pieces if they discovered that she was an imposter.
The king of Lolo-lolo was called a go-sha; his name was Gamba. He came often to worship at the shrine of the Noada. The high priest, Hor, said that he had never come to the temple before except on feast days; when he could get plenty to eat and drink and watch the dancing.
“You are very beautiful, my Noada,” said Hor; “perhaps that is why the go-sha comes more often now.”
“Perhaps he wants to go to Karana when he dies,” suggested Dian.
“I hope that that is all he wants,” said Hor. “He has been a very wicked man, failing to pay due, respect to the priesthood and even deriding them. It is said that he does not believe in Karana or Molop Az or the teachings of Pu and that he used to say that no Noada would ever come to Lolo-lolo because there was no such thing as a Noada.”
“Now he knows better,” said Dian.
Shortly after this conversation, Gamba came to the temple while Hor was asleep; he knelt before Dian and covered his eyes with his hands.
“Arise, Gamba,” said Dian.
She was seated on a little platform upon a carved stool covered with painted leather and studded with bronze; she wore a soft leather robe fastened at the waist with a girdle. The robe was caught over one shoulder, leaving the other bare, and on one side it was slit to her hip and fastened there with a bronze disc. Around her neck were eight strands of carved ivory beads, each strand of a different length, the longest reaching below her waist. Bronze bracelets and anklets adorned her limbs, while surmounting this barbaric splendor was a headdress of feathers.
Dian the Beautiful, who had never before worn more than a sketchy loin cloth, was most uncomfortable in all this finery, not being sufficiently advanced in civilization to appreciate the necessity for loading the feminine form with a lot of useless and silly gew-gaws. She knew that Nature had created her beautiful and that no outward adornment could enhance her charms.
Gamba appeared to be in hearty accord with this view, as his eyes seemed to ignore the robe. Dian did not like the look in them.
“Did the go-sha come to worship?” inquired Dian the Goddess.
Gamba smiled. Was there a suggestion of irony in that smile? Dian thought so.
“I came to visit,” replied Gamba. “I do not have to come here to worship you—that I do always.”
“It is well that you worship your Noada,” said Dian; “Pu will be pleased.”
“It is not the Noada I worship,” said Gamba, boldly; “it is the woman.”
“The Noada is not pleased,” said Dian, icily; “nor is Pu; nor will Hor, the high priest, be pleased.”
Gamba laughed. “Hor may fool the rest of them; but he doesn’t fool me, and I don’t believe that he fools you. I don’t know what accident brought you here, nor what that thing was you came in; but I do know you are just a woman, for there is no such thing as a Noada; and there are a lot of my nobles and warriors who think just as I do.”
“The Noada is not interested,” said Dian, “the go-sha may leave.”
Gamba settled himself comfortably on the edge of the dais. “I am the go-sha,” he said. “I come and go as I please. I please to remain.”
“Then I shall leave,” said Dian, rising.
“Wait,” said Gamba. “If you are as wise as I think you are, you will see that it is better to have Gamba for a friend than an enemy. The people are dissatisfied; Hor bleeds them for all he can get out of them; and since he has had you with whom to frighten them, he has bled them worse. His priests threaten them with your anger if they do not bring more gifts, especially pieces of bronze; and Hor is getting richer, and the people are getting poorer. They say now that they have nothing left with which to pay taxes; soon the go-sha will not have the leather to cover his nakedness.”
“Of these things, you should speak to Hor,” said Dian.
“By that speech you convict yourself,” exclaimed Gamba, triumphantly, “but yours is a difficult role; I am surprised that you have not tripped before.”
“I do not know what you mean,” said Dian.
“The Noada is the representative of Pu in Pellucidar, according to Hor; she is omnipotent; she decides; she commands—not Hor. When you tell me to speak to Hor of the things of which the people complain, you admit that it is Hor who commands—not you.”
“The Noada does command,” snapped Dian; “she commands you to take your complaints to Hor; just as the common people take their complaints to the lesser priests—they do not burden their Noada with them, nor should you. If they warrant it, Hor will lay them before me.”
Gamba slapped his thigh. “By Pu!” he exclaimed, “but you are a bright girl. You slipped out of that one very cleverly. Come! let us be friends. We could go a long way together in Lolo-lolo. Being the wife of the go-sha would not be so bad, and a lot more fun than being a Noada cooped up in a temple like a prisoner—which you are. Yes, you are a prisoner; and Hor is your jailer. Think it over, Noada; think it over.”
“Think what over?” demanded a voice from the side of the room.
They both turned. It was Hor. He came and knelt before Dian, covering his eyes with his hands; then he rose and glared at Gamba, but he spoke to Dian. “You permit this man to sit upon this holy spot?” he demanded.
Gamba eyed Dian intently, waiting for her reply. It came: “If it pleases him,” she said, haughtily.
“It is against the laws that govern the temple,” said Hor.
“I make the laws which govern the temple,” said Dian; “and I make the laws which govern the people of Lolo-lolo,” and she looked at Gamba.
Hor looked very uncomfortable. Gamba was grinning.
Dian rose. “You are both excused,” she said, and it sounded like a command—it was a command. Then Dian stepped down from the dais and walked toward the door of the temple.
“Where are you going?” demanded Hor.
“I am going to walk in the streets of Lolo-lolo and speak with my people.”
“But you can’t,” cried Hor. “It is against the rules of the temple.”
“Didn’t you just hear your Noada say that she makes the temple laws?” asked Gamba, still grinning.
“Wait, then,” cried Hor, “until I summon the priests and the drums.”
“I wish no priests and no drums,” said Dian. “I wish to walk alone.”
“I will go with you.” Gamba and Hor spoke in unison, as though the line had been rehearsed.
“I said that I wished to go alone,” said Dian; and with that, she passed through the great doorway of the temple out into the eternal sunlight of the square.
“Well,” said Gamba to Hor, “you got yourself a Noada, didn’t you?” and he laughed ironically as he said it.
“I shall pray Pu to guide her,” said Hor, but his expression was more that of an executioner than a suppliant.
“She’ll probably guide Pu,” said Gamba.
As the people saw their Noada walking alone in the square, they were filled with consternation; they fell upon their knees at her approach and covered their eyes with their hands until she bade them arise. She stopped before a man and asked him what he did.
“I work in bronze,” said the man. “I made those bracelets that you are wearing, Noada.”
“You make many pieces for your work?” Dian had never known a money system before she came to Lolo-lolo; but here she had learned that one could get food and other things in exchange for pieces of bronze, often called “pieces” for short. They were brought in quantities to the temple and given to her, but Hor took them.
“I get many pieces for my work,” replied the man, “but—” He hung his head and was silent.
“But what?” asked Dian.
“I am afraid to say,” said the man; “I should not have spoken.”
“I command you to speak,” said Dian.
“The priests demand most of what I make, and the go-sha wants the rest. I have barely enough left to buy food.”
“How much were you paid for these bracelets that I am wearing?” demanded Dian.
“The priests said that I should make them and give them as an offering to the Noada, who would forgive my sins and see that I got into Karana when I died.”
“How much are they worth?”
“They are worth at least two hundred pieces,” said the man; “they are the most beautiful bracelets in Lolo-lolo.”
“Come with me,” said Dian, and she continued across the square.
On the opposite side of the square from the temple was the house of the go-sha. Before the entrance stood a number of warriors on guard duty. They knelt and covered their eyes as Noada approached, but when they arose and Dian saw their faces she saw no reverence there—only fear and hate.
“You are fighting men,” said Dian. “Are you treated well?”
“We are treated as well as the slaves,” said one, bitterly.
“We are given the leavings from the tables of the go-sha and the nobles, and we have no pieces with which to buy more,” said another.
“Why have you no pieces? Do you fight for nothing?”
“We are supposed to get five pieces every time go-sha sleeps, but we have not been paid for many sleeps.”
“The go-sha says that it is because the priests take all the pieces for you,” said the first warrior, boldly.
“Come with me,” said Dian.
“We are on guard here, and we cannot leave.”
“I, your Noada, command it; come!” said Dian, imperiously.
“If we do as the Noada commands us,” said one, “She will protect us.”
“But Gamba will have us beaten,” said another.
“Gamba will not have you beaten if you always obey me. It is Gamba who will be beaten if he harms you for obeying me.”
The warriors followed her as she stopped and talked with men and women, each of which had a grievance against either the priests or the go-sha. Each one she commanded to follow her; and finally, with quite a goodly procession following her, she returned to the temple.
Gamba and Hor had been standing in the entrance watching her; now they followed her into the temple. She mounted the dais and faced them.
“Gamba and Hor,” she said, “you did not kneel as your Noada passed you at the temple door. You may kneel now.”
The men hesitated. They were being humiliated before common citizens and soldiers. Hor was the first to weaken; he dropped to his knees and covered his eyes. Gamba looked up defiantly at Dian. Just the shadow of a smile, tinged by irony, played upon her lips. She turned her eyes upon the soldiers standing beside Gamba.
“Warriors,” she said, “take this—” She did not have to say more, for Gamba had dropped to his knees; he had guessed what was in her mind and trembling on her lips.
After she had allowed the two to rise, she spoke to Hor. “Have many pieces of bronze brought,” she said.
“What for?” asked Hor.
“The Noada does not have to explain what she wishes to do with her own,” said Dian.
“But Noada,” sputtered Hor; “the pieces belong to the temple.”
“The pieces and the temple, too, belong to me; the temple was built for me, the pieces were brought as gifts for me. Send for them.”
“How many?” asked Hor.
“All that six priests can carry. If I need more, I can send them back.”
With six priests trailing him, Hor left the apartment, trembling with rage; but he got many pieces of bronze, and he had them brought into the throne room of the temple.
“To that man,” said Dian, pointing at the worker in bronze, “give two hundred pieces in payment for these bracelets for which he was never paid.”
“But, Noada,” expostulated Hor, “the bracelets were gift offerings.”
“They were forced offerings—give the man the pieces.” She turned to Gamba. “How many times have you slept since your warriors were last paid?”
Gamba flushed under his yellow skin. “I do not know,” he said, surlily.
“How many?” she asked the warriors.
“Twenty-one times,” said one of them.
“Give each of these men five pieces for each of the twenty-one sleeps,” directed Dian, “and have all the warriors come immediately to get theirs”; then she directed the payment of various sums to each of the others who had accompanied her to the temple.
Hor was furious; but Gamba, as he came to realize what this meant, was enjoying it, especially Hor’s discomfiture; and Dian became infinitely more desirable to him than she had been before. What a mate she would be for a go-sha!
“Now,” said Dian, when all had received their pieces, “hereafter, all offerings to your Noada will be only what you can afford to give—perhaps one piece out of every ten or twenty; and to your go-sha, the same. Between sleeps I shall sit here, and Hor will pay to everyone who comes the number of pieces each has been forced to give. Those who think one piece in ten is fair, may return that amount to Hor. If you have any other grievances, bring them to your Noada; and they will be corrected. You may depart now.”
They looked at her in wonder and adoration, the citizens and the warriors whose eyes had first been filled with fear and hatred of her; and after they had kneeled, they paid to Hor one piece out of every ten they had received. Laughing and jubilant, they left the temple to spread the glad tidings through the city.
“Pu will be angry,” said Hor; “the pieces were Pu’s.”
“You are a fool,” said Dian, “and if you don’t mend your ways I shall appoint a new high priest.”
“You can’t do that,” Hor almost screamed, “and you can’t have any more of my pieces of bronze!”
“You see,” said Gamba to Dian, “that what I told you is true—Hor collects all the pieces for himself.”
“I spoke with many people in the square before the temple,” said Dian, “and I learned many things from them—one of them is that they hate you and they hate me. That is why I called you a fool, Hor; because you do not know that these people are about ready to rise up and kill us all—the robbed citizens and the unpaid warriors. After I return their pieces that have been stolen from them, they will still hate you two; but they will not hate me; therefore, if you are wise, you will always do what I tell you to do—and don’t forget that I am your Noada.”