“It is better than being killed and fed to the tarags,” said Dian.
“I am afraid of the tarags,” said Gamba. “I don’t see why they let the terrible things bang around the way they do.”
“They are tame,” said Dian. “Manai told me that they catch them when they are cubs and tame them for hunting and for battle. There is a tribe on the other side of the island, two or three long marches away, with which Hamlar’s tribe is always at war. The name of this tribe is Manat; and as the Tandars have tamed and trained tarags, so the Menats have tamed and trained tahos.”
“What a terrible place,” grumbled Gamba. “Why did we have to be cast ashore here?”
“You do not know when you are well off,” said Dian. “If you had stayed in Lolo-lolo, you would have been killed; and if that woman had not taken you to be her slave, you would have been fed to the tarags. Are you never satisfied? Bovar said that you were very lucky to find a master at all, because nobody likes your yellow skin.”
“And I do not like Bovar,” snapped Gamba.
“Why?” asked Dian.
“Because he is in love with you.”
“Nonsense!” said Dian.
“It is true,” said Gamba. “He is always following you around with his eyes when he is not following you around with his feet.”
“He does not want me,” said Dian; “he wants my bronze knife”; she called the metal androde.
“In the name of Pu!” exclaimed Gamba. “Look what’s coming!”
Dian turned to see three great tarags slinking toward them. She and Gamba were some little distance from the cliff, and the tarags were between the cliff and them, Gamba was terrified, but Dian was not. The great beasts came and rubbed against the girl and nuzzled her hands, while Gamba sat frozen with terror.
“They will not hurt us,” said Dian. “They are my friends. Every time, that I can, I bring them pieces of meat.”
One of the beasts came and smelled of Gamba; and then it bared its terrible fangs and growled, and the man shook as with palsy. Dian came and pushed against the beast’s shoulder to turn it away, at the same time scratching it around one of its ears; then she walked away with her gourd of water, and the three beasts followed her.
For a long time Gamba sat there, wholly unnerved and unable to resume his work. But presently a woman came and spoke to him. “Get to work,” she said, “you lazy ja-lok. What do you suppose I am feeding you for, to sit around and do nothing? Much more of this and you will be tarag meat.”
“I am sick,” said Gamba.
“Well, you had better get well,” said the woman, “for I won’t feed any sick slave.” So Gamba, who had been a king, resumed his washing; and when it was done, he wrung the water out of the loincloths and took them and stretched them on a flat rock, where he rubbed them and rubbed them with a smooth stone to squeeze every remaining drop of water from them and to keep them soft as they dried in the hot sun. While he was doing this, his mistress came by again.
“You have not cleaned the cave since my last sleep,” she said irritably.
“I have been doing the washing,” said Gamba. “When that is done, I intended to clean the cave.”
“You could have done both twice over if you hadn’t been loafing,” said the woman. “I don’t know what to do. It is almost impossible to get a decent slave lately. I have had to feed the last three to the tarags, and it looks as though you would go the same way.”
“I will try to do better,” said Gamba. “I will work very hard.”
“See that you do,” said the woman, whose name was Shrud.
Dian shared a cave with some other slaves on the very lowest level. Such, of course, in a cave village, may be the least desirable, as the lower level is close to the ground and more easily accessible to wild beasts and enemies. She could go into it and sleep when her work was done; but it always seemed that she had no more than closed her eyes before Manai, or Hamlar, or Bovar, called her.
It was Bovar who called her most often, and usually for no other reason than that he wished to talk with her. He had long since given up all thoughts of killing her in order to obtain her bronze dagger, for he had become infatuated with her; but according to the customs of his tribe, he could not take a slave as a mate. However, this fact did not wholly discourage Bovar, for he knew of a cave hidden deep in the jungle; and he toyed with the thought of stealing Dian and taking her there.
Once, after a fitful sleep, Bovar awoke cross and irritable. As he came out on the ledge before his cave he saw Dian walking toward the jungle. Two great tarags paced beside her. Dian was having ideas. She was going to run away, find the beach where her canoe lay, and paddle out upon the Korsar Az in an effort to reach the mainland. She had asked Gamba to go with her, but he had said that they would only be caught and fed to the tarags; so she had decided to go alone.
As Bovar reached the foot of the lowest ladder, one of the great tigers lay stretched in sleep across his path. He gave it a vicious kick in the ribs to make it get out of his way; and the beast sprang up with bared fangs, growling hideously. Bovar prodded it with his long, heavy spear; and it screamed and stepped back; then it slunk away, still growling. Paying no more attention to the tarag, Bovar looked around at the men and women of his tribe, who were down at the foot of the cliff. No one was paying any attention to him. The men were lying around in the shade of trees, half asleep; and the women were working. Bovar walked nonchalantly towards the jungle into which Dian had disappeared. He did not look back; if he had, he would have seen a tarag slinking after him.
Gamba was scrubbing the floor of his mistress’ cave. He had carried up a gourd of water and a smooth flat stone and a bundle of grasses. His knees were raw and bleeding from contact with the sandstone floor. As Shrud passed him on her way out of the cave, she kicked him in the side.
“Work fast, you lazy slave,” she said.
This was more than Gamba could endure; it was the last straw, that he, a king, should be so abused and humiliated. He decided that death were better, but that he would have his revenge before he died, so he reached out and seized Shrud by an ankle, and as she fell forward he dragged her back into the cave. She clawed and struck at him, but he leaped upon her and drove his bronze dagger into her heart again and again.
When he realized what he had done, Gamba was terrified. Now he wished that he had gone with Dian, but perhaps she had not gone yet. He washed the blood from his dagger; and dragged Shrud’s body to the very farthest end of the cave, where it was darkest; then he came out onto the ledge. Dian was nowhere in sight.
Gamba hastened down the ladders to the lowest level; and going to Dian’s cave, he called her name; but there was no response. He started to cross the clearing toward the jungle in the direction that he thought Dian would take to reach the cove where their canoe lay; but he had gone only a short distance when Shrud’s mate called to him.
“Where are you going, slave?” he demanded.
“Shrud has sent me into the jungle for fruit,” replied Gamba.
“Well, hurry up about it,” said the man. “I have work for you to do.”
A moment later a runaway slave disappeared into the jungle.
It was noon in the city of Tanga-tanga and in all directions the world curved upward to be lost in the midst of the distance that merged with the blue vault of heaven to form a dome, in the center of which blazed the fiery sun that hung always at zenith.
In the temple a frightened man sat on a bench in the little room, facing his god.
“It will be soon, most gracious Pu,” he said; “and if they find that I have been here, they will kill me, for there are those who know that I know.”
“How will it come?” asked David.
“A great crowd will come to the temple with offerings. There will be warriors among them, and they will press close to the dais; and when one gives the word, they will fall upon you and our Noada and kill you. Furp will not be here, so that no blame may be attached to him by the people; but it is Furp who is directing it.”
David read aloud to the man the names that he had scratched upon the wall of the little room, the names of those who were loyal to him and to O-aa. He read them twice, and then the third time. “Can you remember those names?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the man; “I know them all well.”
“Go to them, then, and tell them that Pu says that the time has come. They will know what you mean.”
“As I do,” said the man; and he knelt, covering his eyes with his hands; and then he arose and left the temple.
David returned to the dais and sat upon his throne; and presently O-aa entered from her apartments, with the lesser priests in their hideous masks and the drums, according to the custom of the temple. She had come to the dais and seated herself beside David Innes.
“The time has come,” he whispered to her.
“I have a sword and a dagger under my robe,” she said.
Ope the high priest had never been able to persuade David to wear any robes of office, nor had David discarded his weapons. He had told Ope that Pu always dressed thus, and that it was only those who served Pu who wore the robes of office.
Time dragged heavily for these two, who might be waiting for death, but presently men commenced to struggle into the temple. David recognized some among these as those who were loyal to him. He held the first two fingers of his right hand across his breast. It was the sign that had been decided upon to recognize friend from foe; and all the men who had come in, even those whom he had not recognized, answered his sign.
They came and knelt before the dais and covered their eyes; and after they had been bidden to arise, they still stayed close to the dais; and so that it might seem reasonable that they should remain there, David preached to them as he imagined a god might preach to his people. He spoke to them of loyalty and the rewards of loyalty, and the terrible fate of those who were untrue to their faith. He spoke slowly, that he might consume time.
More and more men were entering the temple. There were no women, which was unusual; and as each entered David made the sign; and some of them answered and some did not, but those who answered pressed close around the dais until they entirely surrounded the three sides of it, the fourth side being against the wall of the temple.
David continued to talk to them in quiet tones that gave no indication that he anticipated anything unusual, but he watched them carefully; and he noticed that many of those who had not answered this sign were nervous, and now some of them tried to push through closer to the dais; but the loyal ones stood shoulder to shoulder and would not let them pass; and everyone in the temple waited for the signal.
At last it came. A warrior screamed. “Death!” Just the one word he spoke, but it turned the quiet temple into a bedlam of cursing, battling men.
Instantly the signal was given, the loyal ones had wheeled about with drawn swords to face the enemies of their gods; and David had arisen and drawn his sword, too.
The fighting men surged back and forth before the dais. One of Furp’s men broke through and struck at O-aa; and David parried the blow and struck the man down; then he leaped to the floor of the temple and joined his supporters; and his presence beside them gave them courage and strength beyond anything that they had ever dreamed of possessing, and it put the fear of God into the hearts of the enemy.
Twenty of Furp’s men lay bleeding on the floor and the others turned to flee the wrath of Pu, only to find that retreat was cut off; for, according to David’s plan, a solid phalanx of his supporters, armed with bow and arrow, sword, and dagger, barred the way.
“Throw down your arms!” cried David. “Throw down your arms, or die!”
After they had divested themselves of swords and daggers, he told his people to let them go; but he warned them never again to raise their hands against Pu or their Noada.
“And now,” he said, “go back to him who sent you; and tell him that Pu has known all his wicked thoughts and has been prepared for him; and because of what he has done he will be turned over to the people to do with as they see fit; and when you go, take your dead and wounded with you.”
The vanquished warriors passed out of the temple with their dead and wounded, and David noted with a smile that they crossed directly to the house of the go-sha.
“It was easy to defeat the warriors of Furp when Pu was on our side,” said one of David’s supporters. “Now that will be the last of Furp, and Pu and his Noada will rule Tanga-tanga.”
“Don’t be too sure of that,” said David. “Furp sent only a handful of men to the temple, for he did not anticipate any resistance. There will be more fighting before this is settled; and if you know of any more loyal men in the city, see that they are armed and ready to come at any moment. Let one hundred remain here constantly, for I am sure that Furp will attack. He will not give up his power so easily.”
“Nor a chance to get all of our pieces of bronze as he once did,” said one of the men bitterly.
The one hundred men remained and the others left and went through the city searching for new recruits.
David looked at O-aa and smiled and she smiled back. “I wish my eleven brothers had been here,” she said.