A man crept into her apartment on bare feet, and moved silently toward the couch. Dian stirred restlessly; and the man stopped, waiting. Dian dreamed that a tarag was creeping upon David; and she leaped up, awake, to warn him; so that she stood face to face with one of the lesser priests who carried a slim bronze dagger in one hand.
Face to face with Death in that darkened chamber, Dian thought fast. She saw that the man was trembling, as he raised the dagger to the height of his shoulder—in a moment, he would leap forward and strike.
Dian stamped her foot upon the floor. “Kneel!” she commanded, imperiously.
The man hesitated; his dagger hand dropped to his side, and he fell to his knees.
“Drop the dagger,” said Dian. The man dropped it, and Dian snatched it from the floor.
“Confess!” directed the girl. “Who sent you here? but do I need ask? It was Hor?”
The priest nodded. “May Pu forgive me, for I did not wish to come. Hor threatened me; he said he would have me killed if I did not do this thing.”
“You may go now,” said Dian, “and do not come again.”
“You will never see me again, my Noada,” said the priest. “Hor lied; he said you were not the true Noada, but now I know that you are—Pu watches over and protects you.”
After the priest had left the apartment, Dian dressed slowly and went to the temple throne room. As usual, she was ushered in by priests to the accompaniment of drums and chants. The priests, she noticed, were nervous; they kept glancing at her apprehensively. She wondered if they, too, had been commissioned to kill her.
The room was filled with people—priests, citizens, warriors. Gamba was there and Hor. The latter dropped to his knees and covered his eyes long before she was near him. There seemed to be considerable excitement.
By the time she took her place upon the dais everyone in the room was kneeling. After she had bidden them arise, they pressed forward to lay their grievances at her feet. She saw the priests whispering excitedly among themselves.
“What has happened, Hor?” she asked. “Why is everyone so excited?”
Hor cleared his throat. “It was nothing,” he said; “I would not annoy my Noada with it.”
“Answer my question,” snapped Dian.
“One of the lesser priests was found hanging by his neck in his room,” explained Hor. “He was dead.”
“I know,” said Dian; “it was the priest called Saj.”
“Our Noada knows all,” whispered one citizen to another.
After the people had aired their grievances and those who felt that they had been robbed were reimbursed, Dian spoke to all those assembled in the temple.
“Here are the new laws,” she said: “Of all the pieces of bronze which you receive, give one out of ten to the go-sha. These pieces will be used to keep the city clean and in repair and to pay the warriors who defend Lolo-lolo. Give the same number of pieces for the support of my temple. Out of these pieces the temple will be kept in repair, the priests fed and paid, and some will be given to the go-sha for the pay of his warriors, if he does not have enough, for the warriors defend the temple. You will make these payments after each twenty sleeps. Later, I will select an honest citizen to look after the temple pieces.
“Now, one thing more. I want fifty warriors to watch over me at all times. They will be the Noada’s Guard. After every sleep that your Noada sleeps, each warrior will receive ten pieces. Are there fifty among you who would like to serve on the Noada’s guard?”
Every warrior in the temple stepped forward, and from them Dian selected the fifty largest and strongest.
“I shall sleep better hereafter,” she said to Hor. Hor said nothing.
But if Hor said nothing, he was doing a great deal of thinking; for he knew that if he were ever to regain his power and his riches, he must rid himself of the new Noada.
While the temple was still jammed with citizens and warriors, alarm drums, sounded outside in the city; and as the warriors were streaming into the square, a messenger came running from the city gates.
“The Tanga-tangas have come!” he cried; “they have forced the gates and they are in the city!”
Instantly all was confusion; the citizens ran in one direction—away from the gates—and the warriors ran in the other to meet the raiding Tanga-tangas. Gamba ran out with his warriors, just an undisciplined mob with bronze swords. A few had spears, but the bows and arrows of all of them were in their barracks.
The fifty warriors whom Dian had chosen remained to guard her and the temple. The lesser priests fell to praying, repeating over and over, “Our Noada will give us victory! Our Noada will save us!” But Hor was more practical; he stopped their praying long enough to have them close the massive temple doors and bar them securely; then he turned to Dian.
“Turn back the enemy,” he said; “strike them dead with the swords of our warriors, drive them from the city, and let them take no prisoners back into slavery. Only you can save us!”
Dian noticed an exultant note in Hor’s voice, but she guessed that he was not exulting in her power to give victory to the Lolo-lolos. She was on a spot, and she knew it.
They heard the shouting of fighting men and the clash of weapons, the screams of the wounded and the dying. They heard the battle sweep into the square before the temple; there was clamoring before the temple doors and the sound of swords beating upon them.
Hor was watching Dian. “Destroy them, Noada!” he cried with thinly veiled contempt in his voice.
The massive doors withstood the attack, and the battle moved on beyond the temple. Later it swept back, and Dian could hear the victory cries of the Tanga-tangas. After a while the sounds died away in the direction of the city gates; and the warriors opened the temple doors, for they knew that the enemy had departed.
In the square lay the bodies of many dead; they were thick before the temple doors—mute evidence of the valor with which the warriors of Lolo-lolo had defended their Noada.
When the results of the raid were finally known, it was discovered that over a hundred of Gamba’s warriors had been killed and twice that number wounded; that all the Tanga-tangan slaves in the city had been liberated and that over a hundred men and women of Lolo-lolo had been taken away into slavery; while the Lolo-loloans had taken but a single prisoner.
This prisoner was brought to the temple and questioned in the presence of Dian and Gamba and Hor. He was very truculent and cocky.
“We won the great victory,” he said; “and if you do not liberate me the warriors of our Noada will come again, and this time they will leave not a single Lolo-loloan alive that they do not take back into slavery.”
“You have no Noada,” said Gamba. “There is one Noada, and she is here.”
The prisoner laughed derisively. “How then did we win such a glorious victory?” he demanded. “It was with the help of our Noada, the true Noada—this one here is a false Noada; our victory proves it.”
“There is only one Noada,” said Hor, but he didn’t say which one.
“You are right,” agreed the prisoner; “there is only one Noada, and she is in Tanga-tanga. She came in a great temple that floated upon the water, and she leaped into the sea and swam to the shore where we were waiting to receive her. She swam through the waters that are infested with terrible monsters, but she was unharmed; only Pu or a Noada could do that—and now she has given us this great victory.”
The people of Lolo-lolo were crushed; scarcely a family but had had a member killed, wounded, or taken into slavery. They had no heart for anything; they left the dead lying in the square and in the streets until the stench became unbearable, and all the time the lesser priests, at the instigation of Hor, went among them, whispering that their Noada was a false Noada, or otherwise this catastrophe would never have befallen them.
Only a few came to the temple now to worship, and few were the offerings brought. One, bolder than another, asked Dian why she had let this disaster overwhelm them. Dian knew that she must do something to counteract the effects of the gossip that the lesser priests were spreading, or her life would not be worth a single piece of bronze. She knew of the work of Hor and the priests, for one of the warriors who guarded her had told her.
“It was not I who brought this disaster upon you,” she answered the man; “it was Pu. He was punishing Lolo-lolo because of the wickedness of those who robbed and cheated the people of Lolo-lolo.”
It was not very logical; but then the worshippers of Pu were not very logical, or they would not have worshipped him; and those who heard her words, spread them through the city; and there arose a faction with which Hor and the lesser priests were not very popular.
Dian sent for Gamba and commanded him to have the dead removed from the city and disposed of, for the stench was so terrible that one could scarcely breathe.
“How can I have them removed?” he asked; “no longer have we any slaves to do such work.”
“The men of Lolo-lolo can do it, then,” said Dian.
“They will not,” Gamba told her.
“Then take warriors and compel them to do it,” snapped the Noada.
“I am your friend,” said Gamba, “but I cannot do that for you the people would tear me to pieces.”
“Then I shall do it,” said Dian, and she summoned her warrior guard and told them to collect enough citizens to remove the dead from the city; “and you can take Hor and all the other priests with you, too,” she added.
Hor was furious. “I will not go,” he said.
“Take him!” snapped Dian, and a warrior prodded him in the small of the back with his spear and forced him out into the square.
Gamba looked at her with admiration. “Noada or not,” he said, “you are a very brave woman. With you as my mate, I could defy all my enemies and conquer Tanga-tanga into the bargain.”
“I am not for you,” said Dian.
The city was cleaned up, but too late—an epidemic broke out. Men and women died; and the living were afraid to touch them, nor would Dian’s guard again force the citizens to do this work. Once more the lesser priests went among the people spreading the word that the disasters which had befallen them were all due to the false Noada.
“Pu,” they said, “is punishing us because we have received her.”
Thus things went from bad to worse for Dian the Beautiful; until, at last, it got so bad that crowds gathered in the square before the temple, cursing and reviling her; and then those who still believed in her, incited by the agents of Gamba, fell upon them; and there was rioting and bloodshed.
Hor took advantage of this situation to spread the rumor that Gamba and the false Noada were planning to destroy the temple and rule the city, defying Pu and the priests; and that when this happened, Pu would lay waste the city and hurl all the people into the Molop Az. This was just the sort of propaganda of terror that would influence an ignorant and superstitious people. Remember, they were just simple people of the Bronze Age. They had not yet reached that stage of civilization where they might send children on holy crusades to die by thousands; they were not far enough advanced to torture unbelievers with rack and red hot irons, or burn heretics at the stake; so they believed this folderol that more civilized people would have spurned with laughter while killing all Jews.
At last Gamba came to Dian. “My own warriors are turning against me,” he told her. “They believe the stories that Hor is spreading; so do most of the citizens. There are some who believe in you yet and some who are loyal to me; but the majority have been terrified into believing that Hor speaks the truth and that if they do not destroy us, Pu will destroy them.”
“What are we to do?” asked Dian.
“The only chance we have to live, is to escape from the city,” replied Gamba, “and even that may be impossible. We are too well known to escape detection—your white skin would betray you, and every man, woman, and child in Lolo-lolo knows his go-sha.”
“We might fight our way out,” suggested Dian. “I am sure that my warriors are still loyal to me.”
Gamba shook his head. “They are not,” he said. “Some of my own warriors have told me that they are no longer your protectors, but your jailers. Hor has won them.”
Dian thought a moment, and then she said, “I have a plan—listen.” She whispered for a few minutes to Gamba, and when she had finished, Gamba left the temple; and Dian went to her sleeping apartment—but she did not sleep. Instead, she stripped off her robe of office and donned her own single garment that she had worn when she first came to Lolo-lolo; then she put the long leather robe on over it.
By a back corridor she came to a room that she knew would be used only before and after ceremonies; in it were a number of large chests. Dian sat down on one of them and waited.
A man came into the temple with his head so bandaged that only one eye was visible; he had come, as so many came, to be healed by his Noada. Unless they died, they were always healed eventually.
The temple was almost deserted; only the members of the Noada’s Guard loitered there near the entrance. They were there on Hor’s orders to see that the Noada not escape, Hor having told them that she was planning to join Gamba in his house across the square, from which they were arranging to launch their attack against the temple.
The man wore the weapons of a common warrior, and he appeared very tired and weak, probably from loss of blood. He said nothing; he just went and waited before the throne, waited for his Noada to come—the Noada that would never come again. After a while he commenced to move about the throne room, looking at different objects. Occasionally he glanced toward the warriors loitering near the door. They paid no attention to him. In fact they had just about forgotten him when he slipped through a doorway at the opposite side of the room.
The temple was very quiet, and there were only a few people in the square outside. The noonday sun beat down; and, as always, only those who had business outside were in the streets. Lolo-lolo was lethargic; but it was the calm before the storm. The lesser priests and the other enemies of Gamba and the Noada were organizing the mob that was about to fall upon them and destroy them. In many houses were groups of citizens and warriors waiting for the signal.
Two priests came into the throne room of the temple; they wore their long, leather robes of office and their hideous masks; they passed out of the temple through the group of warriors loitering by the door. Once out in the square, they commenced to cry, “Come, all true followers of Pu! Death to the false Noada! Death to Gamba!” It was the signal!
Warriors and citizens poured from houses surrounding the square. Some of them ran toward the house of the go-sha, and some ran for the temple; and they were all shouting, “Death! Death to Gamba! Death to the false Noada!”
The two priests crossed the square and followed one of the winding streets beyond, chanting their hymn of death; and as they passed, more citizens and warriors ran screaming toward the square, thirsting for the blood of their quarry.