Not far from the cliff’s edge stood the stump of a great tree that seemed to have been blasted and burned by lightning. It reared its head some ten feet above the ground and from its charred surface protruded the stub end of several broken limbs.
“Follow me,” said Balal, and leaping to the protruding stub, he climbed to the top of the stump and lowered himself into the interior.
Tanar followed and found an opening some three feet in diameter leading down into the bole of the dead tree. Set into the sides of this natural shaft were a series of heavy pegs, which answered the purpose of ladder rungs to the descending Balal.
The noonday sun lighted the interior of the tree for a short distance, but their own shadows, intervening, blotted out everything that lay at a depth greater than six or eight feet.
None too sure that he was not being led into a trap and, therefore, unwilling to permit his guide to get beyond his reach, Tanar hastily entered the hollow stump and followed Balal downward.
The Sarian was aware that the interior of the tree led into a shaft dug in the solid ground and a moment later he felt his feet touch the floor of a dark tunnel.
Along this tunnel Balal led him and presently they emerged into a cave that was dimly lighted through a small opening opposite them and near the floor.
Through this aperture, which was about two feet in diameter and beyond which Tanar could see daylight, Balal crawled, followed closely by the Sarian, who found himself upon a narrow ledge, high up on the face of an almost vertical cliff.
“This,” said Balal, “is the village of Garb.”
“I see no village nor any people,” said Tanar.
“They are here though,” said Balal. “Follow me,” and he led the way a short distance along the ledge, which inclined downward and was in places so narrow and so shelving that the two men were compelled to flatten themselves against the side of the cliff and edge their way slowly, inch by inch, sideways.
Presently the ledge ended and here it was much wider so that Balal could lie down upon it, and, lowering his body over the edge, he clung a moment by his hands and then dropped.
Tanar looked over the edge and saw that Balal had alighted upon another narrow ledge about ten feet below. Even to a mountaineer, such as the Sarian was, the feat seemed difficult and fraught with danger, but there was no alternative and so, lying down, he lowered himself slowly over the edge of the ledge, clung an instant with his fingers, and then dropped.
As he alighted beside the youth he was about to remark upon the perilous approach to the village of Garb, but it was so apparent that Balal took it as a matter of course and thought nothing of it that Tanar desisted, realizing, in the instant, that among cliff dwellers, such as these, the little feat that they had just accomplished was as ordinary and everyday an occurrence as walking on level ground was to him.
As Tanar had an opportunity to look about him on this new level, he saw, and not without relief, that the ledge was much wider and that the mouths of several caves opened upon it. In places, and more especially in front of the cave entrances, the ledge widened to as much as six or eight feet, and here Tanar obtained his first view of any considerable number of Himeans.
“Is it not a wonderful village?” asked Balal, and without waiting for an answer, “Look!” and he pointed downward over the edge of the ledge.
Following the direction indicated by the youth, Tanar saw ledge after ledge scoring the face of a lofty cliff from summit to base, and upon every ledge there were men, women and children.
“Come,” said Balal, “I will take you to my father,” and forthwhile he led the way along the ledge.
As the first people they encountered saw Tanar they leaped to their feet, the men seizing their weapons. “I am taking him to my father, the chief,” said Balal. “Do not harm him,” and with sullen looks the warriors let them pass.
A log into which wooden pegs were driven served as an easy means of descent from one ledge to the next, and after descending for a considerable distance to about midway between the summit and the ground Balal halted at the entrance to a cave, before which sat a man, a woman and two children, a girl about Balal’s age and a boy much younger.
As had all the other villagers they had passed, these, too, leaped to their feet and seized weapons when they saw Tanar.
“Do not harm him,” repeated Balal. “I have brought him to you, Scurv, my father, because he saved my life when it was threatened simultaneously by a snake and a wolf and I promised him that you would receive him and treat him well.”
Scurv eyed Tanar suspiciously and there was no softening of the lines upon his sullen countenance even when he heard that the stranger had saved the life of his son. “Who are you and what are you doing in our country?” he demanded.
“I am looking for one named Jude,” replied Tanar.
“What do you know of Jude?” asked Scurv. “Is he your friend?”
There was something in the man’s tone that made it questionable as to the advisability of claiming Jude as a friend. “I know him,” he said. “We were prisoners together among the Coripies on the island of Amiocap.”
“You are an Amiocapian?” demanded Scurv.
“No,” replied Tanar, “I am a Sarian from a country on a far distant mainland.”
“Then what were you doing on Amiocap?” asked Scurv.
“I was captured by the Korsars and the ship in which they were taking me to their country was wrecked on Amiocap. All that I ask of you is that you give me food and show me where I can find Jude.”
“I do not know where you can find Jude,” said Scurv.
“His people and my people are always at war.”
“Do you not know where their country or village is?” demanded Tanar.
“Yes, of course I know where it is, but I do not know that Jude is there.”
“Are you going to give him food,” asked Balal, “and treat him well as I promised you would?”
“Yes,” said Scurv, but his tone was sullen and his shifty eyes looked neither at Balal nor Tanar as he replied.
In the center of the ledge, opposite the mouth of the cave, a small fire was burning beneath an earthen bowl, which was supported by three or four small pieces of stone.
Squatting close to this was a female, who, in youth, might have been a fine looking girl, but now her face was lined by bitterness and hate as she glared sullenly into the caldron, the contents of which she was stirring with the rib of some large animal. .
“Tanar is hungry, Sloo,” said Balal, addressing the woman. “When will the food be cooked?”
“Have I not enough to do preparing hides and cooking food for all of you without having to cook for every enemy that you see fit to bring to the cave of your father?”
“This is the first time I ever brought anyone, mother,” said Balal.
“Let it be the last, then,” snapped the woman.
“Shut up, woman,” snapped Scurv, “and hasten with the food.”
The woman leaped to her feet, brandishing the rib above her head. “Don’t tell me what to do, Scurv,” she shrilled. “I have had about enough of you anyway.”
“Hit him, mother!” screamed a lad of about eleven, jumping to his feet and dancing about in evident joy and excitement.
Balal leaped across the cook fire and struck the lad heavily with his open palm across the face, sending him spinning up against the cliff wall. “Shut up, Dhung,” he cried, “or I’ll pitch you over the edge.”
The remaining member of the family party, a girl, just ripening into womanhood, remained silent where she was seated, leaning against the face of the cliff, her large, dark eyes taking in the scene being enacted before her. Suddenly the woman turned upon her. “Why don’t you do something, Gura?” she demanded. “You sit there and let them attack me and never raise a hand in my defense.”
“But no one has attacked you, mother,” said the girl, with a sigh.
“But I will,” yelled Scruv, seizing a short club that lay beside him. “I’ll knock her head off if she doesn’t keep a still tongue in it and hurry with that food.” At this instant a loud scream attracted the attention of all toward another family group before a cave, a little further along the ledge. Here, a man, grasping a woman by her hair, was beating her with a stick, while several children were throwing pieces of rock, first at their parents and then at one another.
“Hit her again!” yelled Scruv.
“Scratch out his eyes!” screamed Sloo, and for the moment the family of the chief forgot their own differences in the enjoyable spectacle of another family row.
Tanar looked on in consternation and surprise. Never had he witnessed such tumult and turmoil in the villages of the Sarians, and coming, as he just had, from Amiocap, the island of love, the contrast was even more appalling.
“Don’t mind them,” said Balal, who was watching the Sarian and had noticed the expression of surprise and disgust upon his face. “If you stay with us long you will get used to it, for it is always like this. Come on, let’s eat, the food is ready,” and drawing his stone knife he fished into the pot and speared a piece of meat.
Tanar, having no knife, had recourse to one of his arrows, which answered the purpose quite as well, and then, one by one, the family gathered around as though nothing unusual had happened, and fell, too, upon the steaming stew with avidity.
During the meal they did not speak other than to call one another vile names, if two chanced to reach into the caldron simultaneously and one interfered with another.
The caldron emptied, Scruv and Sloo crawled into the dark interior of their cave to sleep, where they were presently followed by Balal.
Gura, the daughter, took the caldron and started down the cliff toward the brook to wash out the receptacle and return with it filled with water.
As she made her precarious way down rickety ladders and narrow ledges, little Dhung, her brother, amused himself by hurling stones at her.
“Stop that,” commanded Tanar. “You might hit her.”
“That is what I am trying to do,” said the little imp. “Why else should I be throwing stones at her? To miss her?” He hurled another missile and with that Tanar grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.
Instantly Dhung let out a scream that might have been heard in Amiocap—a scream that brought Sloo rushing from the cave.
“He is killing me,” shrieked Dhung, and at that the cave woman turned upon Tanar with flashing eyes and a face distorted with rage. .
“Wait,” said Tanar, in a calm voice. “I was not hurting the child. He was hurling rocks at his sister and 1 stopped him.”
“What business have you to stop him?” demanded Sloo.
“She is his sister, he has a right to hurl rocks at her if he chooses.”
“But he might have struck her, and if he had she would have fallen to her death below.”
“What if she did? That is none of your business,” snapped Sloo, and grabbing Dhung by his long hair she cuffed his ears and dragged him into the interior of the cave, where for a long time Tanar could hear blows and screams, mingled with the sharp tongue of Sloo and the curses of Scruv.
But finally these died down to silence, permitting the sounds of other domestic brawls from various parts of the cliff village to reach the ears of the disgusted Sarian.
Far below him Tanar saw the girl, Gura, washing the earthenware vessel in a little stream, after which she filled it with fresh water and lifted the heavy burden to her head. He wondered at the ease with which she carried the great weight and was at a loss to know how she intended to scale the precipitous cliff and the rickety, makeshift ladders with her heavy load. Watching her progress with considerable interest he saw her ascend the lowest ladder, apparently with as great ease and agility as though she was unburdened. Up she came, balancing the receptacle with no evident effort.
As he watched her he saw a man ascending also, but several ledges higher than the girl. The fellow came swiftly and noiselessly to the very ledge where Tanar stood. Paying no attention to the Sarian, he slunk cautiously along the ledge to the mouth of the cave next to that of Scurv. Drawing his stone knife from his loin cloth he crept within, and a moment later Tanar heard the sounds of screams and curses and then two men rolled from the mouth of the cave, locked in a deadly embrace. One of them was the fellow whom Tanar had just seen enter the cave. The other was a younger man and smaller and less powerful than his antagonist. They were slashing desperately at one another with their stone knives, but the duel seemed to be resulting in more noise than damage.
At this juncture, a woman came running from the cave. She was armed with the leg bone of a thag and with this she sought to belabor the older man, striking vicious blows at his head and body.
This attack seemed to infuriate the fellow to the point of madness, and, rather than incapacitating him, urged him onto redoubled efforts.
Presently he succeeded in grasping the knife hand of his opponent and an instant later he had driven his own blade into the heart of his opponent.
With a scream of anguish the woman struck again at the older man’s head, but she missed her target and her weapon was splintered on the stone of the ledge. The victor leaped to his feet and seizing the body of his opponent hurled it over the cliff, and then grabbing the woman by the hair he dragged her about, shrieking and cursing, as he sought for some missile wherewith to belabor her.
As Tanar stood watching the disgusting spectacle he became aware that someone was standing beside him and, turning, he saw that Gura had returned. She stood there straight as an arrow, balancing the water vessel upon her head.
“It is terrible,” said Tanar, nodding toward the battling couple.
Gura shrugged indifferently. “It is nothing,” she said. “Her mate returned unexpectedly. That is all.”
“You mean,” asked Tanar, “that this fellow is her mate and that the other was not?”
“Certainly,” said Gura, “but they all do it. What can you expect where there is nothing but hate,” and walking to the entrance to her father’s cave she set the water vessel down within the shadows just inside the entrance. Then she sat down and leaned her back against the cliff, paying no more attention to the matrimonial difficulties of her neighbor.
Tanar, for the first time, noticed the girl particularly. He saw that she had neither the cunning expression that characterized Jude and all of the other Himeans he had seen; nor were there the lines of habitual irritation and malice upon her face; instead it reflected an innate sadness and he guessed that she looked much like her mother might have when she was Gura’s age.
Tanar crossed the ledge and sat down beside her. “Do your people always quarrel thus?” he asked.
“Always,” replied Gura.
“Why?” he asked.
“I do not know,” she replied. “They take their mates for life and are permitted but one and though both men and women have a choice in the selection of their mates they never seem to be satisfied with one another and are always quarreling, usually because neither one nor the other is faithful. Do the men and women quarrel thus in the land from which you come?”
“No,” replied Tanar. “They do not. If they did they would be thrown out of the tribe.”
“But suppose that they find that they do not like one another?” insisted the girl.
“Then they do not live together,” replied Tanar. “They separate and if they care to they find other mates.”
“That is wicked,” said Gura. “We would kill any of our people who did such a thing.”
Tanar shrugged and laughed.
“At least we are all a very happy people,” he said, “which is more than you can say for yourselves, and, after all, happiness, it seems to me, is everything.”
The girl thought for some time, seemingly studying an idea that was new to her.
“Perhaps you are right,” she said, presently. “Nothing could be worse than the life that we live. My mother tells me that it was not thus in her country, but now she is as bad as the rest.”
“Your mother is not a Himean?” asked Tanar.
“No, she is from Amiocap. My father captured her there when she was young.”
“That accounts for the difference,” mused Tanar.
“What difference?” she asked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you are not like the others, Gura,” he replied. “You neither look like them nor act like them—neither you nor your brother, Balal.”
“Our mother is an Amiocapian,” she replied. “Perhaps we inherited something from her and then again, and most important, we are young and, as yet, have no mates. When that time comes we shall grow to be like the others, just as our mother has grown to be like them.”
“Do many of your men take their mates from Amiocap?” asked Tanar.
“Many try to, but few succeed for as a rule they are driven away or killed by the Amiocapian warriors. They have a landing place upon the cost of Amiocap in a dark cave beneath a high cliff and of ten Himean warriors who land there scarce one returns, and he not always with an Amiocapian mate. There is a tribe living along our coast that has grown rich by crossing to Amiocap and bringing back the canoes of the warriors, who have crossed for mates and have died at the hands of the Amiocapian warriors.”
For a few moments she was silent, absorbed in thought. “I should like to go to Amiocap,” she mused, presently.
“Why?” asked Tanar.
“Perhaps I should find there a mate with whom I might be happy,” she said.
Tanar shook his head sadly. “That is impossible, Gura,” he said.
“Why?” she demanded. “Am I not beautiful enough for the Amiocapian warriors?”
“Yes,” he replied, “you are very beautiful, but if you went to Amiocap they would kill you.”
“Why?” she demanded again.
“Because, although your mother is an Amiocapian, your father is not,” explained Tanar.
“That is their law?” asked Gura, sadly.
“Yes,” replied Tanar.
“Well,” she said with a sigh, “then I suppose I must remain here and seek a mate whom I shall learn to hate and bring children into the world who will hate us both.”
“It is not a pleasant outlook,” said Tanar.
“No,” she said, and then after a pause, “unless—”
“Unless, what?” asked the Sarian.
“Nothing,” said Gura.
For a time they sat in silence, each occupied with his own thoughts, Tanar’s being filled to the exclusion of all else by the face and figure of Stellara.
Presently the girl looked up at him. “What are you going to do after you find Jude?” she asked.
“I am going to kill him,” replied Tanar.
“And then?” she queried. .
“I do not know,” said the Sarian. “If I find the one whom I believe to be with Jude we shall try to return to Amiocap.”
“Why do you not remain here?” asked Gura. “I wish that you would.”
Tanar shuddered. “I would rather die,” he said.
“I do not blame you much,” said the girl, “but I believe there is a way in which you might be happy even in Hime.”
“How?” asked Tanar.
Gura did not answer and he saw tears come to her eyes. Then she arose hurriedly and entered the cave.
Tanar thought that Scurv would never be done with his sleep. He wanted to talk to him and arrange for a guide to the village of Jude, but it was Sloo who first emerged from the cave.
She eyed him sullenly. “You still here?” she demanded.
“I am waiting for Scurv to send a guide to direct me to the village of Jude,” replied the Sarian.. “I shall not remain here an instant longer than is necessary.”
“That will be too long,” growled Sloo, and turning on her heels she reentered the cave.
Presently Balal emerged, rubbing his eyes. “When will Scurv send me on my way?” demanded Tanar.
“I do not know,” replied the youth. “He has just awakened. When he comes out you should speak to him about it. He has just sent me to fetch the skin of the codon you killed. He was very angry to think that I left it lying in the forest.”
After Balal departed, Tanar sat with his own thoughts for a long while.
Presently Gura came from the cave. She appeared frightened and excited. She came close to Tanar and, kneeling, placed her lips close to his ear. “You must escape at once,” she said, in a low whisper. “Scurv is going to kill you. That is why he sent Balal away.”
“But why does he want to kill me?” demanded Tanar.
“I saved the life of his son and I have only asked that he direct me to the village of Jude.”
“He thinks Sloo is in love with you,” explained Gura, “for when he awakened she was not in the cave. She was out here upon the ledge with you.”
Tanar laughed. “Sloo made it very plain to me that she did not like me,” he said, “and wanted me to be gone.”
“I believe you,” said Gura, “but Scurv, filled with suspicion and hatred and a guilty conscience, is anxious to believe anything bad that he can of Sloo, and as he does not wish to be convinced that he is wrong it stands to reason that nothing can convince him, so that your only hope is in flight.”
“Thank you, Gura,” said Tanar. “I shall go at once.”
“No, that will not do,” said the girl. “Scurv is coming out here immediately. He would miss you, possibly before you could get out of sight, and in a moment he could muster a hundred warriors to pursue you, and furthermore you have no proper weapons with which to start out in search of Jude.”
“Perhaps you have a better plan, then,” said Tanar.
“I have,” said the girl. “Listen! Do you see where the stream enters the jungle,” and she pointed across the clearing at the foot of the cliff toward the edge of a dark forest.
“Yes,” said Tanar, “I see.”
“I shall descend now and hide there in a large tree beside the stream. When Scurv comes out, tell him that you saw a deer there and ask him to loan you weapons, so that you may go and kill it. Meat is always welcome and he will postpone his attack upon you until you have returned with the carcass of your kill, but you will not return. When you enter the forest I shall be there to direct you to the village of Jude.”
“Why are you doing this, Gura?” demanded Tanar.
“Never mind about that,” said the girl. “Only do as I say. There is no time to lose as Scurv may come out from the cave at any moment,” and without further words she commenced the descent of the cliff face.
Tanar watched her as, with the agility and grace of a chamois, the girl, oftentimes disdaining ladders, leaped lightly from ledge to ledge. Almost before he could realize it she was at the bottom of the cliff and moving swiftly toward the forest beyond, the foliage of which had scarcely closed about her when Scurv emerged from the cave. Directly behind him were Sloo and Dhung, and Tanar saw that each carried a club.
“I am glad you came out now,” said Tanar, losing no time, for he sensed that the three were bent upon immediate attack.
“Why?” growled Scurv.
“I just saw a deer at the edge of the forest. If you will let me take weapons, perhaps I can repay your hospitality by bringing you the carcass.”
Scurv hesitated, his stupid mind requiring time to readjust itself and change from one line of thought to another, but Sloo was quick to see the advantage of utilizing the unwelcome guest and she willing to delay his murder until he had brought back his kill. “Get weapons;” she said to Dhung, “and let the stranger fetch the deer.”
Scurv scratched his head, still in a quandary, and before he had made up his mind one way or the other, Dhung reappeared with a lance and a stone knife, which, instead of handing to Tanar, he threw at him, but the Sarian caught the weapons, and, without awaiting further permission, clambered down the ladder to the next ledge and from thence downward to the ground. Several of the villagers, recognizing him as a stranger, sought to interfere with him, but Scurv, standing upon the ledge high above watching his descent, bellowed commands that he be left alone, and presently the Sarian was crossing the open towards the jungle.
Just inside the concealing verdure of the forest he was accosted by Gura, who was perched upon the limb of a tree above him.
“Your warning came just in time, Gura,” said the man, “for Scurv and Sloo and Dhung came out almost immediately, armed and ready to kill me.”
“I knew that they would,” she said, “and I am glad that they will be disappointed, especially Dhung—the little beast! He begged to be allowed to torture you.”
“It does not seem possible that he can be your brother,” said Tanar.
“He is just like Scruv’s mother,” said the girl. “I knew her before she was killed. She was a most terrible old woman, and Dhung has inherited all of her venom and none of the kindly blood of the Amiocapians, which flows in the veins of my mother, despite the change that her horrid life has brought over her.”
“And now,” said Tanar, “point the way to Jude’s village and I shall be gone. Never, Gura, can I repay you for your kindness to me—a kindness which I can only explain on the strength of the Amiocapian blood which is in you. I shall never see you again, Gura, but I shall carry the recollection of your image and your kindness always in my heart.”
“I am going with you,” said Gura.
“You cannot do that,” said Tanar.
“How else may I guide you to the village of Jude then?” she demanded.
“You do not have to guide me; only tell me the direction in which it lies and I shall find it,” replied Tanar.
“I am going with you,” said the girl, determinedly. “There is only hate and misery in the cave of my father. I would rather be with you.”
“But that cannot be, Gura,” said Tanar.
“If I went back now to the cave of Scurv he would suspect me of having aided your escape and they would all beat me. Come, we cannot waste time here for if you do not return quickly, Scurv will become suspicious and set out upon your trail.” She had dropped to the ground beside him and now she started off into the forest.
“Have it as you wish, then, Gura,” said Tanar, “but I am afraid that you are going to regret your act—I am afraid that we are both going to regret it.”
“At least I shall have a little happiness in life,” said the girl, “and if I have that I shall be willing to die.”
“Wait,” said Tanar, “in which direction does the village of Jude lie?” The girl pointed. “Very well,” said Tanar, “instead of going on the ground and leaving our spoor plainly marked for Scurv to follow, we shall take to the trees, for after having watched you descend the cliff I know that you must be able to travel as rapidly among the branches as you do upon the ground.”
“I have never done it,” said the girl, “but wherever you go I shall follow.”
Although Tanar had been loath to permit the girl to accompany him, nevertheless he found that her companionship made what would have been otherwise a lonely adventure far from unpleasant.