Tanar of Pellucidar

Chapter XVII

Down to the Sea

Edgar Rice Burroughs

“WHAT do you mean?” demanded Stellara.

“Wait and you shall see,” replied Tanar, and drawing his dirk he stooped and turned Bulf over upon his back. Then with the razor-sharp blade of his weapon he commenced to hack off the bushy, black beard of the dead Korsar, while Stellara looked on in questioning wonder.

Spreading Bulf’s headcloth flat upon the floor, Tanar deposited upon it the hair that he cut from the man’s face, and when he had completed his grewsone tonsorial effort he folded the hair into the handkerchief, and, rising, motioned for Stellara to follow him.

Going to the door that led into the tunnel through which he had escaped from the dungeon, Tanar opened it, and, smearing his fingers with the pitch that exuded from the boards upon the inside of the door, he smeared some of it upon the side of his face and then turned to Stellara.

“Put this hair upon my face in as natural a way as you can. You have lived among them all your life, so you should know well how a Korsar’s beard should look.”

Horrible as the plan seemed and though she shrank from touching the hair of the dead man, Stellara steeled herself and did as Tanar bid. Little by little, patch by patch, Tanar applied pitch to his face and Stellara placed the hair upon it until presently only the eyes and nose of the Sarian remained exposed. The expression of the former were altered by increasing the size and bushiness of the eyebrows with shreds of Bulf’s beard that had been left over, and then Tanar smeared his nose with some of Bulf’s blood, for many of the Korsars had large, red noses. Then Stellara stood away and surveyed him critically. “Your own mother would not know you,” she said.

“Do you think I can pass as a Korsar?” he asked.

“No one will suspect, unless they question you closely as you leave the palace.”

“We are going together,” said Tanar.

“But how?” asked Stellara.

“I have been thinking of another plan,” he said. “I noticed when I was living in the barracks that sailors going toward the river had no difficulty in passing through the gate leaving the palace. In fact, it is always much easier to leave the palace than to enter it. On many occasions I have heard them say merely that they were going to their ships. We can do the same.”

“Do I look like a Korsar sailor?” demanded Stellara.

“You will when I get through with you,” said Tanar, with a grin.

“What do you mean?”

“There is Korsar clothing here,” said Tanar; “enough to outfit a dozen and there is still plenty of hair on Bulf’s head.”

The girl drew back with a shudder. “Oh, Tanar! You cannot mean that.”

“What other way is there?” he demanded. “If we can escape together is it not worth any price that we might have to pay?”

“You are right,” she said. “I will do it.” When Tanar completed his work upon her, Stellara had been transformed into a bearded Korsar, but the best that he could do in the way of disguise failed to entirely hide the contours of her hips and breasts.

“I am afraid they will suspect,” he said. “Your figure is too feminine for shorts and a shirt to hide it.”

“Wait,” exclaimed Stellara. “Sometimes the sailors, when they are going on long voyages, wear cloaks, which they use to sleep in if the nights are cool. Let us see if we can find such a one here.”

“Yes, I saw one,” replied Tanar, and crossing the room he returned with a cloak made of wide striped goods.

“That will give you greater height,” he said. But when they draped it about her, her hips were still too much in evidence.

“Build out my shoulders,” suggested Stellara, and with scarfs and handkerchiefs the Sarian built the girl’s shoulders out so that the cloak hung straight and she resembled a short, stocky man, more than a slender, well-formed girl.

“Now we are ready,” said the Sarian. Stellara pointed to the body of Bulf.

“We cannot leave that lying there,” she said. “Someone may come to this room and discover it and when they do every man in the palace—yes, even in the entire city—w ill be arrested and questioned.”

Tanar looked about the room and then he seized the corpse of Bulf and dragged it into a far comer, after which he piled bundles of hides and baskets upon it until it was entirely concealed, and over the blood stains upon the floor he dragged other bales and baskets until all signs of the duel had been erased or hidden.

“And now,” he said, “is as good a time as another to put our disguises to the test.” Together they approached the door. “You know the least frequented passages to the garden,” said Tanar. “Let us make our way from the palace through the garden to the gate that gave us escape before.”

“Then follow me,” replied Stellara, as Tanar opened the door and the two stepped out into the corridor beyond. It was empty. Tanar closed the door behind him, and Stellara led the way down the passage.

They had proceeded but a short distance when they heard a man’s voice in an apartment to the left.

“Where is she?” he demanded.

“I do not know,” replied a woman’s voice. “She was here but a moment ago and Bulf was with her.”

“Find them and lose no time about it,” commanded the man, sternly. And he stepped from the apartment just as Tanar and Stellara were approaching.

It was The Cid. Stellara’s heart stopped beating as the Korsar ruler looked into the faces of Tanar and herself.

“Who are you?’” demanded The Cid.

“We are sailors,” said Tanar, quickly, before Stellara could reply.

“What are you doing here in my palace?” demanded the Korsar ruler.

“We were sent here with packages to the storeroom,” replied Tanar, “and we are but now returning to our ship.”

“Well, be quick about it. I do not like your looks,” growled The Cid as he stamped off down the corridor ahead of them.

Tanar saw Stellara sway and he stepped to her side and supported her, but she quickly gained possession of herself, and an instant later turned to the right and led Tanar through a doorway into the garden.

“God!” whispered the man, as they walked side by side after quitting the building. “If The Cid did not know you, then your disguise must be perfect.”

Stellara-shook her head for even as yet she could not control her voice to speak, following the terror induced by her encounter with The Cid.

There were a number of men and women in the garden close to the palace. Some of these scrutinized them casually, but thy passed by in safety and a moment later the gravel walk they were following wound through dense shrubbery that hid them from view and then they were at the doorway in the garden wall.

Again fortune favored them here and they passed out into the barracks yards without being noticed.

Electing to try the main gate because of the greater number of people who passed to and fro through it, Tanar turned to the right, passed along the full length of the barracks past a dozen men and approached the gate with Stellara at his side.

They were almost through when a stupid looking Korsar soldier stopped them. “Who are you,” he demanded, “and what business takes you from the palace?”

“We are sailors,” replied Tanar. “We are going to our ship.”

“What were you doing in the palace?” demanded the man.

“We took packages there from the captain of the ship to The Cid’s storeroom,” explained the Sarian.

“I do not like the looks of you,” said the man. “I have never seen either one of you before.”

“We have been away upon a long cruise,” replied Tanar.

“Wait here until the captain of the gate returns,” said the man. “He will wish to question you.”

The Sarian’s heart sank. “If we are late in returning to our ship, we shall be punished,” said he.

“That is nothing to me,” replied the soldier.

Stellara reached inside her cloak and beneath the man’s shorts that covered her own apparel and searched until she found a pouch that was attached to her girdle. From this she drew something which she slipped into Tanar’s hands. He understood immediately, and stepping close to the soldier he pressed two pieces of gold into the fellow’s palm. “It will go very hard with us if we are late,” he said.

The man felt the cool gold within his palm. “Very well,” he said, gruffly, “go on about your business, and be quick about it.”

Without waiting for a second invitation Tanar and Stellara merged with the crowd upon the Korsar street. Nor did either speak, and it is possible that Stellara did not even breathe until they had left the palace gate well behind.

“And where now?” she asked at last.

“We are going to sea,” replied the man.

“In a Korsar ship?” she demanded.

“In a Korsar boat,” he replied. “We are going fishing.”

Along the banks of the river were moored many craft, but when Tanar saw how many men were on or around them he realized that the plan he had chosen, which contemplated stealing a fishing boat, most probably would end disastrously, and he explained his doubts to Stellara.

“We could never do it,” she said. “Stealing a boat is considered the most heinous crime that one can commit in Korsar, and if the owner of a boat is not aboard it you may rest assured that some of his friends are watching it for him, even though there is little likelihood that anyone will attempt to steal it since the penalty is death.”

Tanar shook his head. “Then we shall have to risk passing through the entire city of Korsar,” he said, “and going out into the open country without any reasonable excuse in the event that we are questioned.”

“We might buy a boat,” suggested Stellara.

“I have no money,” said Tanar.

“I have,” replied the girl. “The Cid has always kept me well supplied with gold.” Once more she reached into her pouch and drew forth a handful of gold pieces. “Here,” she said, “take these. If they are not enough you can ask me for more, but I think that you can buy a boat for half that sum.”

Questioning the first man that he approached at the river side, Tanar learned that there was a small fishing boat for sale a short way down the river, and it was not long before they had found its owner and consummated the purchase.

As they pushed off into the current and floated down stream, Tanar became conscious of a sudden conviction that his escape from Korsar had been effected too easily; that there must be something wrong, that either he was dreaming or else disaster and recapture lay just ahead.

Borne down toward the sea by the slow current of the river, Tanar wielded a single oar, paddlewise from the stern, to keep the boat out in the channel and its bow in the right direction, for he did not wish to make sail under the eyes of Korsar sailors and fishermen, as he was well aware that he could not do so without attracting attention by his bungling to his evident inexperience and thus casting suspicion upon them.

Slowly the boat drew away from the city and from the Korsar raiders anchored in mid-stream and then, at last, he felt that it would be safe to hoist the sail and take advantage of the land breeze that was blowing.

With Stellara’s assistance the canvas was spread and as it bellied to the wind the craft bore forward with accelerated speed, and then behind them they heard shouts and, turning, saw three boats speeding toward them.

Across the waters came commands for them to lay to.

The pursuing boats, which had set out under sail and had already acquired considerable momentum, appeared to be rapidly overhauling the smaller craft. But presently, as the speed of the latter increased, the distance between them seemed not to vary.

The shouts of the pursuers had attracted the attention of the sailors on board the anchored raiders, and presently a heavy shot struck the water just off their starboard bow.

Tanar shook his head. “That is too close,” he said. “I had better come about.”

“Why?” demanded Stellara.

“I do not mind risking capture,” he said, “because in that event no harm will befall you when they discover your identity, but I cannot risk the cannon shots for if one of them strikes us, you will be killed.”

“Do not come about,” cried the girl. “I would rather die here with you than be captured, for capture would mean death for you and then I should not care to live. Keep on, Tanar, we may outdistance them yet. And as for their cannon shots, a small, moving boat like this is a difficult target and their marksmanship is none too good.”

Again the cannon boomed and this time the ball passed over them and struck the water just beyond.

“They are getting our range,” said Tanar.

The girl moved close to his side, where he sat by the tiller. “Put your arm around me, Tanar,” she said. “If we must die, let us die together.”

The Sarian encircled her with his free arm and drew her close to him, and an instant later there was a terrific explosion from the direction of the raider that had been firing on them. Turning quickly toward the ship, they saw what had happened—an overcharged cannon had exploded.

“They were too anxious,” said Tanar.

It was some time before another shot was fired and this one fell far astern, but the pursuing boats were clinging tenaciously to their wake.

“They are not gaining,” said Stellara.

“No,” said Tanar, “and neither are we.” “But I think we shall after we reach the open sea,” said the girl. “We shall get more wind there and this boat is lighter and speedier than theirs. Fate smiled upon us when it led us to this boat rather than to a larger one.” As they approached the sea their pursuers, evidently fearing precisely what Stellara had suggested, opened fire upon them with harquebuses and pistols. Occasionally a missile would come dangerously close, but the range was just a little too great for their primitive weapons and poor powder.

On they sailed out into the open Korsar Az, which stretched onward and upward into the concealing mist of the distance. Upon their left the sea inward forming a great bay, while almost directly ahead of them, though at so great a distance that it was barely discernible, rose the dim outlines of a headland, and toward this Tanar held his course.

The chase had settled down into a dogged test of endurance. It was evident that the Korsars had no intention of giving up their prey even though the pursuit led to the opposite shore of the Korsar Az, and it was equally evident that Tanar entertained no thought of surrender.

On and on they sped, the pursued and the pursuers. Slowly the headland took shape before them, and later a great forest was visible to the left of it—a forest that ran down almost to the sea.

“You are making for land?” asked Stellara.

“Yes,” replied the Sarian. “We have neither food nor water and if we had I am not sufficiently a sailor to risk navigating this craft across the Korsar Az.”

“But if we take to the land, they will be able to trail us,” said the girl.

“You forgot the trees, Stellara,” the man reminded her.

“Yes, the trees,” she cried. “I had forgotten. If we can reach the trees I believe that we shall be safe.”

As they approached the shore inside the headland, they saw great combing rollers breaking among the rocks and the angry, sullen boom of the sea came back to their ears.

“No boat can live in that,” said Stellara.

Tanar glanced up and down the shore-line as far as he could see and then he turned and let his eyes rest sadly upon his companion.

“It looks hopeless,” he said. “If we had time to make the search we might find a safer landing place, but within sight of us one place seems to be as good as another.”

“Or as bad,” said Stellara.

“It cannot be helped,” said the Sarian. “To beat back now around that promontory in an attempt to gain the open sea again, would so delay us that we should be overtaken and captured. We must take our chances in the surf, or turn about and give up.”

Behind them their pursuers had come about and were waiting, rising and falling upon the great billows.

“They think that they have use,” said Stellara. “They believe that we shall tack here and make a run for the open sea around the end of that promontory, and they are ready to head us off.”

Tanar held the boat’s nose straight for the shoreline. Beyond the angry surf he could see a sandy beach, but between lay a barrier of rock upon which the waves broke, hurling their spume far into the air.

“Look!” exclaimed Stellara, as the boat raced toward the smother of boiling water. “Look! There! Right ahead! There may be a way yet!”

“I have been watching that place,” said Tanar. “I have been holding her straight for it, and if it is a break in the rocky wall we shall soon know it, and if it is not—”

The Sarian glanced back in the direction of the Korsars’ boats and saw that they were again in pursuit, for by this time it must have become evident to them that their quarry was throwing itself upon the rocky shoreline in desperation rather than to risk capture by turning again toward the open sea.

Every inch of sail was spread upon the little craft and the taut, bellowing canvas strained upon the cordage until it hummed, as the boat sped straight for the rocks dead ahead.

Tanar and Stellara crouched in the stem, the man’s left arm pressing the girl protectingly to his side. With grim fascination they watched the bowsprit rise and fall as it rushed straight toward what seemed must be inevitable disaster.

They were there! The sea lifted them high in the air and launched them forward upon the rocks. To the right a jagged finger of granite broke through the smother of spume. To the left the sleek, water-worn side of a huge boulder revealed itself for an instant as they sped past. The boat grated and rasped upon a sunken rock, slid over and raced toward the sandy beach.

Tanar whipped out his dirk and slashed the halyards, bringing the sail down as the boat’s keel touched the sand. Then, seizing Stellara in his arms, he leaped into the shallow water and hastened up the shore.

Pausing, they looked back toward the pursuing Korsars and to their astonishment saw that all three boats were making swiftly toward the rocky shore.

“They dare not go back without us,” said Stellara, “or they would never risk that surf.”

“The Cid must have guessed our identity, then, when a search failed to reveal you,” said Tanar.

“It may also be that they discovered your absence from the dungeon, and coupling this with the fact that I, too, was missing, someone guessed the identity of the two sailors who sought to pass through the gate and who paid gold for a small boat at the river,” suggested Stellara.

“There goes one of them on the rocks,” cried Tanar, as the leading boat disappeared in a smother of water.

The second boat shared the same fate as its predecessor, but the third rode through the same opening that had carried Tanar and Stellara to the safety of the beach and as it did the two fugitives turned and ran toward the forest.

Behind them raced a dozen Korsars and amidst the crack of pistols and harquebuses Tanar and Stellara disappeared within the dark shadows of the primeval forest.

The story of their long and arduous journey through unknown lands to the kingdom of Sari would be replete with interest, excitement and adventure, but it is no part of this story.

It is enough to say that they arrived at Sari shortly before Ja and Gura made their appearance, the latter having been delayed by adventures that had almost cost them their lives.

The people of Sari welcomed the Amiocapian mate that the son of Ghak had brought back to his own country. And Gura they accepted, too, because she had befriended Tanar, though the young men accepted her for herself and many were the trophies that were laid before the hut of the beautiful Himean maiden. But she repulsed them all for in her heart she held a secret love that she had never divulged, but which, perhaps, Stellara had guessed and which may have accounted for the tender solicitude which the Amiocapian maid revealed for her Himean sister.

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