She was awakened by Rahna’s growls. She awoke quickly and completely, in full possession of all her faculties. When one is thus awakened in a Stone Age world, one does not lie with closed eyes and stretch luxuriously and then cuddle down for an extra cat nap. One snaps out of sleep and lays hold of one’s weapons.
Thus, did O-aa; and looked quickly around. Rahna was standing with his back toward her, all the hairs along his spine standing on end. Beyond him, creeping toward them, was a tarag, the huge tiger of the Inner World. A jalok is no match for a tarag; but Rahna stood his ground, ready to die in protection of his mistress.
O-aa took in the scene instantly and all its implications. There was but one course to pursue were she to save both Rahna and herself. She pursued it. She swarmed up the tree beneath which she had been sleeping, taking her bow and arrows with her.
“Rahna!” she called, and the jalok looked up and saw her. Then the tarag charged. Freed from the necessity of sacrificing his life to save the girl’s, Rahna bounded out of harm’s way. The tarag pursued him, but Rahna was too quick for him.
Thus thwarted, the savage beast screamed in rage; then he leaped upward and tried to scramble into the tree after O-aa; but the limb he seized was too small to support his great weight, and he fell to the ground upon his back. Rahna rushed in and bit him, and then leaped away. Once more the great cat sprang after the jalok, but Rahna could run much faster. O-aa laughed and described the tarag and its ancestors with such scurrilous, vituperation as she could command and in a loud tone of voice.
The tarag is probably not noted for its patience; but this tarag was very hungry, and when one is hungry one will exercise a little patience to obtain food. The tarag came and lay down under the tree. It glared up at O-aa. It should have been watching Rahna. The jalok crept stealthily behind it; then rushed in and bit it savagely, in the rear, bounding away again instantly. Again the futile pursuit.
And again it came and lay down beneath the tree, but this time it kept its eyes on Rahna. O-aa fitted an arrow to her bow and drove it into the tarag’s back. With a scream of pain and rage, the cat leaped into the air. But it would take more than one puny arrow to do more than infuriate it.
Another arrow. This time the tarag saw from whence it came, and very slowly and methodically it began to climb the bole of the tree. O-aa retreated into the higher branches. Rahna ran in and tore at the tarag’s rump, but the beast continued its upward climb.
O-aa no longer felt like laughing. She guessed what the end would be. The mighty cat would climb after her until their combined weight snapped the tapering stem and carried them both to the ground.
It was upon this scene that Hodon and Utan and the other warriors broke. Utan recognized Rahna and knew that O-aa must be in the tree. Rahna turned on this new menace, and Utan shouted to O-aa to call him off. He did not want to have to kill the courageous animal.
With relief, O-aa heard the voices of men. Any man would have been welcome at that moment, and she shouted the single word, “Padang” to Rahna. Jalu had armed Hodon, and now twenty-one bow strings twanged and twenty-one arrows pierced the body of the tarag. But even these did not kill him. They did bring him down out of the tree and set him upon these enemies.
The men scattered, but they kept pouring arrows into the beast, and each time he charged one of them, jaloks leaped in and tore at him. But at last he died. An arrow reached his savage heart.
O-aa came down from the tree. She just stood and looked at Hodon in wide eyed silence. Then two tears ran down her cheeks, and in front of all the warriors Hodon the Fleet One took her in his arms.