“Men do not have to wait long for trouble on land,” said Ko, the Mezop Third Mate, who leaned against the rail at her side. “It is well that you decided to return by sea, little one.”
O-aa shot a quick glance at him. She did not like the tone of his voice when he called her little one. “My people can take care of themselves,” she said. “If necessary they will kill all the men between here and Sari. And I can take care of myself, too,” she added.
“You will not have to take care of yourself,” said Ko. “I will take care of you.”
“You will mind your own business,” snapped O-aa.
Ko grinned. Like nearly all the red Mezops he was handsome, and like all handsome men he thought that he had a way with the women and was irresistable. “It is a long way to Sari,” he said, “and we shall be much together; so let us be friends, little one.”
“We shall not be much together, we shall not be friends, and don’t call me little one. I do not like you, red man.” Little O-aa’s eyes snapped.
Ko continued to grin. “You will learn to like me—little one,” he said. O-aa slapped him full in the face. Ko’s grin vanished, to be replaced by an ugly snarl. “I’ll teach you,” he growled, reaching for her.
O-aa drew the long, slim steel dagger David had given her after she came aboard the John Tyler; and then a thin, cracked voice cried, “Avast there, you swabs! What goes on?” It was Ah-gilak the skipper.
“This she-tarag was going to knife me,” said Ko.
“That’s only part of it,” said O-aa. “If he ever lays a hand on me I’ll carve his heart out.”
Ja, attracted by the controversy, crossed the deck to them in time to hear Ah-gilak say, “She is a bad one. She needs a lesson.”
“You had better not try to give me a lesson, eater of men,” snapped O-aa, “unless you want your old belly ripped open.”
“What is this all about, O-aa?” asked Ja.
“This,” said O-aa, pointing at Ko, “spoke to me as no one but Hodon may speak to me. And he called me little one—me, the daughter of Oose, King of Kali. And when I slapped him, he would have seized me—had I not had my knife.”
Ja turned on Ko. “You will leave the girl alone,” he said. Ko scowled but said nothing, for Ja is king of the Mezops of Anoroc Island, one whom it is well to obey. Ko turned and walked away.
“Dod-burn it!” exclaimed Ah-gilak. “They’s always trouble when you got a woman aboard. I never did like shippin’ a woman. I got me a good mind to set her ashore.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Ja.
“I’m skipper of this here ship,” retorted Ah-gilak. “I can put her ashore if I’ve a mind to.”
“You talk too much, old man,” said Ja, and, walked away.
“You gol-durned red Indian,” grumbled Ah-gilak. “That’s insubordination. Tarnation! It’s mutiny, by gum. I’ll clap you in irons the fust thing you know,” but he was careful to see that Ja was out of earshot before he voiced his anger and made his threats, for now, except for himself, all the officers and crew of the John Tyler were Mezops and Ja was their king.
The John Tyler beat back along the coast toward the nameless strait; and every waking moment O-aa scanned the surface of the great sea that curved upward, horizonless, to merge in the distant haze with the vault of the heavens. But no sign of another ship rewarded her ceaseless vigil. There was life, the terrible marine life of this young world; but no ship bearing Hodon.
O-aa was very lonely. The Mezops, with the exception of Ko, were not unfriendly; but they are a taciturn people. And, further, she had little in common with them that might have promoted conversation. And she hated the sea, and she was afraid of it. She might cope with enemies among men, but she could not cope with the sea. She had begun to regret that she had not gone overland to Sari with David Innes and his party.
Time dragged heavily. The ship seemed to stand still. There were adverse winds; and once, when she came on deck after sleeping, they were becalmed and a dense fog lay upon the water. O-aa could not see the length of the ship. She could see no ocean. There was only the lapping of little waves against the hull and the gentle movement of the ship to indicate that she was not floating off into space in this new element. It was a little frightening.
Every sail was set and flapping idly. A figure materialized out of the fog. O-aa saw that it was the little old man, and the little old man saw that the figure by the rail was O-aa. He glanced around. There was no one else in sight. He came closer.
“You are a hoo-doo,” he said. “You brought bad winds. Now you have brought calm and fog. As long as you are aboard we’ll have bad luck.” He edged closer. O-aa guessed what was in his mind. She whipped out her dagger.
“Go away, eater of men,” she said. “You are just one step from death.”
Ah-gilak stopped. “Gol-durn it, girl,” he protested, “I ain’t goin’ to hurt you.”
“At least for once you have spoken the truth, evil old man,” said O-aa. “You are not going to hurt me. Not while I have my knife. All that you intended to do was to throw me overboard.”
“Of all the dod-gasted foolishness I ever heard, that there takes the cake, as the feller said.”
“Of all the dod-gasted liars,” O-aa mimicked, “you take the cake, as the feller said. Now go away and leave me alone.” O-aa made a mental note to ask some one what the cake was. There is no cake in the stone age and no word for it.
Ah-gilak walked forward and was lost in the fog. O-aa stood now with her back against the rail, that no one might sneak up on her from behind. She knew that she had two enemies aboard—Ko and Ah-gilak. She must be always on the alert. The outlook was not pleasant. The voyage would be very long, and during it there would be many opportunities for one or the other of them to harm her.
Again she berated herself for not having accompanied David and his party. The sea was not her element. She longed for the feel of solid ground beneath her feet. Even the countless dangers of that savage world seemed less menacing than this vile old man who bragged of his cannibalism. She had seen men look at her with hunger in their eyes, but the hunger look in the watery old eyes of Ah-gilak was different. It connoted hunger for food; and it frightened her more even than would have the blazing eyes of some terrible carnivore, for it was unclean, repulsive.
A little breeze bellied the sails of the John Tyler. It sent the fog swirling about the deck. Now the ship moved again. Looking across the deck, O-aa saw something looming close alongside the John Tyler. It was a land-a great, green clad cliff half hid by the swirling fog. She heard Ah-gilak screaming orders. She heard the deep voice of Ja directing the work of the sailors—a calm, unruffled voice.
O-aa ran across the deck to the opposite rail. The great cliff towered high above, lost in the fog. It was scarcely a hundred feet away. At the waterline was a narrow beach that could scarcely be dignified by the name of beach. It was little more than a foothold at the base of this vertical escarpment.
Here was land—beloved land! Its call was irresistible. O-aa stepped to the top of the rail and dived into the sea. She struck out strongly for the little ledge. A kind Providence protected her. No voracious denizen of this swarming sea attacked her, and she reached her goal safely.
As she drew herself up onto the ledge the fog closed in again, and the John Tyler disappeared from view. But she could still hear the voices of Ah-gilak and Ja.
O-aa took stock of her situation. If the tide was out, then the ledge would be sub-merged at high tide. She examined the face of the cliff in her immediate vicinity, and concluded that the tide was out, for she could see the marks of high tides far above her head.
Because of the fog, she could not see far either to the right or to the left above her. To most, such a situation would have been appalling; but the people of Kali are cliff dwellers. And O-aa, being a Kalian, had spent all of her life scaling cliffs. She had found that there are few cliffs that offer no footholds. This is especially true of cliffs the faces of which support vegetation, and this cliff was clothed in green.
O-aa wished that the fog would go away before the tide came in. She would have liked to examine the cliff more carefully before starting the ascent. She could no longer hear voices aboard the John Tyler. O-aa was alone in a strange world that contained no other living thing. A tiny little world encompassed by fog.
A wave rolled in and lapped her ankles. O-aa looked down. The tide was coming in. Something else was coming in, also. A huge reptile with formidable jaws was swimming toward her, and it was eyeing her quite as hungrily as had Ah-gilak. It was a nameless thing to O-aa, this forty foot monster. It would have advantaged little O-aa nothing to have known that this creature that was intent on reaching up and dragging her down into the sea was Tylosaurus, one of the rulers of the Cretaceous seas of the outer crust, eons ago.