Just what happened in the corridor without he could not see, but from the growls and screams that receded quickly into the distance he was able to draw a picture that brought a quiet smile to his lips; and an instant later a piercing shriek of agony and terror announced the fate of at least one of the fleeing Oparians.
Realizing that he would gain nothing by remaining where he was, Tarzan decided to leave the cell and seek a way out of the labyrinthine mazes of the pits beneath Opar. He knew that the lion upon its prey would doubtless bar his passage along the route he had been following when his escape had been interrupted by the priests and though, as a last resort, he might face Numa, he was of no mind to invite such an unnecessary risk; but when he sought to open the heavy door he found that he could not budge it, and in an instant he realized what had happened and that he was now in prison once again in the dungeons of Opar.
The bar that secured this particular door was not of the sliding type but, working upon a pin at the inner end, dropped into heavy wrought iron keepers bolted to the door itself and to its frame. When he had entered, he had raised the bar, which had dropped into place of its own weight when the door slammed to, imprisoning him as effectually as though the work had been done by the hand of man.
The darkness of the corridor without was less intense than that of the passage upon which his former cell had been located; and though not enough light entered the cell to illuminate its interior, there was sufficient to show him the nature of the ventilating opening in the door, which he found to consist of a number of small round holes, none of which was of sufficient diameter to permit him to pass his hand through in an attempt to raise the bar.
As Tarzan stood in momentary contemplation of his new predicament, the sound of stealthy movement came to him from the black recesses at the rear of the cell. He wheeled quickly, drawing his hunting knife from its sheath. He did not have to ask himself what the author of this sound might be, for he knew that the only other living creature that might have occupied this cell with its former inmate was another lion. Why it had not joined in the attack upon him, he could not guess, but that it would eventually seize him was a foregone conclusion. Perhaps even now it was preparing to sneak upon him. He wished that his eyes might penetrate the darkness, for if he could see the lion as it charged he might be better prepared to meet it. In the past he had met the charges of other lions, but always before he had been able to see their swift spring and to elude the sweep of their mighty talons as they reared upon their hind legs to seize him. Now it would be different, and for once in his life, Tarzan of the Apes felt death was inescapable. He knew that his time had come.
He was not afraid. He simply knew that he did not wish to die and that the price at which he would sell his life would cost his antagonist dearly. In silence he waited. Again he heard that faint, yet ominous sound. The foul air of the cell reeked with the stench of the carnivores. From somewhere in a distant corridor he heard the growling of a lion at its kill; and then a voice broke the silence.
“Who are you?” it asked. It was the voice of a woman, and it came from the back of the cell in which the ape-man was imprisoned.
“Where are you?” demanded Tarzan.
“I am here at the back of the cell,” replied the woman.
“Where is the lion?”
“He went out when you opened the door,” she replied.
“Yes, I know,” said Tarzan, “but the other one. Where is he?”
“There is no other one. There was but one lion here and it is gone. Ah, now I know you!” she exclaimed. “I know the voice. It is Tarzan of the Apes.”
“La!” exclaimed the ape-man, advancing quickly across the cell. “How could you be here with the lion and still live?”
“I am in an adjoining cell that is separated from this one by a door made of iron bars,” replied La. Tarzan heard metal hinges creak. “It is not locked,” she said. “It was not necessary to lock it, for it opens into this other cell where the lion was.”
Groping forward through the dark, the two advanced until their hands touched one another.
La pressed close to the man. She was trembling. “I have been afraid,” she said, “but I shall not be afraid now.”
“I shall not be of much help to you,” said Tarzan. “I also am a prisoner.”
“I know it,” replied La, “but I always feel safe when you are near.”
“Tell me what has happened,” demanded Tarzan. “How is it that Oah is posing as high priestess and you a prisoner in your own dungeons?”
“I forgave Oah her former treason when she conspired with Cadj to wrest my power from me,” explained La, “but she could not exist without intrigue and duplicity. To further her ambitions, she made love to Dooth, who has been high priest since Jad-bal-ja killed Cadj. They spread stories about me through the city; and as my people have never forgiven me for my friendship for you, they succeeded in winning enough to their cause to overthrow and imprison me. All the ideas were Oah’s, for Dooth and the other priests, as you well know, are stupid beasts. It was Oah’s idea to imprison me thus with a lion for company, merely to make my suffering more terrible, until the time should come when she might prevail upon the priests to offer me in sacrifice to the Flaming God. In that she has had some difficulty, I know, as those who have brought my food have told me.”
“How could they bring food to you here?” asked Tarzan. “No one could pass through the outer cell while the lion was there.”
“There is another opening in the lion’s cell, that leads into a low, narrow corridor into which they can drop meat from above. Thus they would entice the lion from this outer cell, after which they would lower a gate of iron bars across the opening of the small corridor into which he went, and while he was thus imprisoned they brought my food to me. But they did not feed him much. He was always hungry and often growling and pawing at the bars of my cell. Perhaps Oah hoped that some day he would batter them down.”
“Where does this other corridor, in which they fed the lion, lead?” asked Tarzan.
“I do not know,” replied La, “but I imagine that it is only a blind tunnel built in ancient times for this very purpose.”
“We must have a look at it,” said Tarzan. “It may offer a means of escape.”
“Why not escape through the door by which you entered?” asked La; and when the ape-man had explained why this was impossible, she pointed out the location of the entrance to the small tunnel.
“We must get out of here as quickly as possible, if it is possible at all,” said Tarzan, “for if they are able to capture the lion, they will certainly return him to this cell.”
“They will capture him,” said La. “There is no question as to that.”
“Then I had better hurry and make my investigation of the tunnel, for it might prove embarrassing were they to return him to the cell while I was in the tunnel, if it proved to be a blind one.”
“I will listen at the outer door while you investigate,” offered La. “Make haste.”
Groping his way toward the section of the wall that La had indicated, Tarzan found a heavy grating of iron closing an aperture leading into a low and narrow corridor. Lifting the barrier, Tarzan entered and with his hands extended before him moved forward in a crouching position, since the low ceiling would not permit him to stand erect. He had progressed but a short distance when he discovered that the corridor made an abrupt right-angle turn to the left, and beyond the turn he saw at a short distance a faint luminosity. Moving quickly forward, he came to the end of the corridor, at the bottom of a vertical shaft, the interior of which was illuminated by subdued daylight. The shaft was constructed of the usual rough-hewn granite of the foundation walls of the city, but here set with no great nicety or precision, giving the interior of the shaft a rough and uneven surface.
As Tarzan was examining it, he heard La’s voice coming along the tunnel from the cell in which he had left her. Her tone was one of excitement, and her message one that presaged a situation wrought with extreme danger to them both.
“Make haste, Tarzan. They are returning with the lion!”
The ape-man hurried quickly back to the mouth of the tunnel.
“Quick!” he cried to La, as he raised the gate that had fallen behind him after he had passed through.
“In there?” she demanded in an affrighted voice.
“It is our only chance of escape,” replied the ape-man.
Without another word La crowded into the corridor beside him. Tarzan lowered the grating and, with La following closely behind him, returned to the opening leading into the shaft. Without a word, he lifted La in his arms and raised her as high as he could, nor did she need to be told what to do. With little difficulty she found both hand and footholds upon the rough surface of the interior of the shaft, and with Tarzan—just below her, assisting and steadying her, she made her way slowly aloft.
The shaft led directly upward into a room in the tower, which overlooked the entire city of Opar; and here, concealed by the crumbling walls, they paused to formulate their plans.
They both knew that their greatest danger lay in discovery by one of the numerous monkeys infesting the ruins of Opar, with which the inhabitants of the city are able to converse. Tarzan was anxious to be away from Opar that he might thwart the plans of the white men who had invaded his domain. But first he wished to bring about the downfall of La’s enemies and reinstate her upon the throne of Opar, or if that should prove impossible, to insure the safety of her flight.
As he viewed her now in the light of day he was struck again by the matchlessness of her deathless beauty that neither time, nor care, nor danger seemed capable of dimming, and he wondered what he should do with her; where he could take her; where this savage priestess of the Flaming God could find a place in all the world, outside the walls of Opar, with the environments of which she would harmonize. And as he pondered, he was forced to admit to himself that no such place existed. La was of Opar, a savage queen born to rule a race of savage half-men. As well introduce a tigress to the salons of civilization as La of Opar. Two or three thousand years earlier she might have been a Cleopatra or a Sheba, but today she could be only La of Opar.
For some time they had sat in silence, the beautiful eyes of the high priestess resting upon the profile of the forest god.
“Tarzan!” she said.
The man looked up. “What is it, La?” he asked.
“I still love you, Tarzan,” she said in a low voice.
A troubled expression came into the eyes of the ape-man. “Let us not speak of that.”
“I like to speak of it,” she murmured. “It gives me sorrow, but it is a sweet sorrow—the only sweetness that has ever come into my life.”
Tarzan extended a bronzed hand and laid it upon her slender, tapering fingers. “You have always possessed my heart, La,” he said, “up to the point of love. If my affection goes no further than this, it is through no fault of mine nor yours.”
La laughed. “It is certainly through no fault of mine, Tarzan,” she said, “but I know that such things are not ordered by ourselves. Love is a gift of the gods. Sometimes it is awarded as a recompense; sometimes as a punishment. For me it has been a punishment, perhaps, but I would not have it otherwise. I had nurtured it in my breast since first I met you; and without that love, however hopeless it may be, I should not care to live.”
Tarzan made no reply, and the two relapsed into silence, waiting for night to fall that they might descend into the city unobserved. Tarzan’s alert mind was occupied with plans for reinstating La upon her throne, and presently they fell to discussing these.
“Just before the Flaming God goes to his rest at night,” said La, “the priests and the priestesses all gather in the throne room. There they will be tonight before the throne upon which Oah will be seated. Then may we descend to the city.”
“And then what?” asked Tarzan.
“If we can kill Oah in the throne room,” said La, “and Dooth at the same time, they would have no leaders; and without leaders they are lost.”
“I cannot kill a woman,” said Tarzan.
“I can,” returned La, “and you can attend to Dooth. You certainly would not object to killing him?”
“If he attacked, I would kill him,” said Tarzan, “but not otherwise. Tarzan of the Apes kills only in self-defense and for food, or when there is no other way to thwart an enemy.”
In the floor of the ancient room in which they were waiting were two openings; one was the mouth of the shift through which they had ascended from the dungeons, the other opened into a similar but larger shaft, to the bottom of which ran a long wooden ladder set in the masonry of its sides. It was this shaft which offered them a means of escape from the tower, and as Tarzan sat with his eyes resting idly upon the opening, an unpleasant thought suddenly obtruded itself upon his consciousness.
He turned toward La. “We had forgotten,” he said, “that whoever casts the meat down the shaft to the lion must ascend by this other shaft. We may not be as safe from detection here as we had hoped.”
“They do not feed the lion very often,” said La; “not every day.”
“When did they feed him last?” asked Tarzan.
“I do not recall,” said La. “Time drags so heavily in the darkness of the cell that I lost count of days.”
“S-st!” cautioned Tarzan. “Someone is ascending now.”
Silently the ape-man arose and crossed the floor to the opening, where he crouched upon the side opposite the ladder. La moved stealthily to his side, so that the ascending man, whose back would be toward them, as he emerged from the shaft, would not see them. Slowly the man ascended. They could hear his shuffling progress coming nearer and nearer to the top. He did not climb as the ape-like priests of Opar are wont to climb. Tarzan thought perhaps he was carrying a load either of such weight or cumbersomeness as to retard his progress, but when finally his head came into view the ape-man saw that he was an old man, which accounted for his lack of agility; and then powerful fingers closed about the throat of the unsuspecting Oparian, and he was lifted bodily out of the shaft.
“Silence!” said the ape-man. “Do as you are told and you will not be harmed.”
La had snatched a knife from the girdle of their victim, and now Tarzan forced him to the floor of the room and slightly released his hold upon the fellow’s throat, turning him around so that he faced them.
An expression of incredulity and surprise crossed the face of the old priest as his eyes fell upon La.
“Darus!” exclaimed La.
“All honor to the Flaming God who has ordered your escape!” exclaimed the priest.
La turned to Tarzan. “You need not fear Darus,” she said; “he will not betray us. Of all the priests of Opar, there never lived one more loyal to his queen.”
“That is right,” said the old man, shaking his head.
“Are there many more loyal to the high priestess, La?” demanded Tarzan.
“Yes, very many,” replied Darus, “but they are afraid. Oah is a she-devil and Dooth is a fool. Between the two of them there is no longer either safety or happiness in Opar.”
“How many are there whom you absolutely know may be depended upon?” demanded La.
“Oh, very many,” replied Darus.
“Gather them in the throne room tonight then, Darus; and as the Flaming God goes to his couch, be ready to strike at the enemies of La, your priestess.”
“You will be there?” asked Darus.
“I shall be there,” replied La. “This, your dagger, shall be the signal. When you see La of Opar plunge it into the breast of Oah, the false priestess, fall upon those who are the enemies of La.”
“It shall be done, just as you say,” Darus assured her, “and now I must throw this meat to the lion and be gone.”
Slowly the old priest descended the ladder, gibbering and muttering to himself, after he had cast a few bones and scraps of meat into the other shaft to the lion.
“You are quite sure you can trust him, La?” demanded Tarzan.
“Absolutely,” replied the girl. “Darus would die for me, and I know that he hates Oah and Dooth.”
The slow remaining hours of the afternoon dragged on, the sun was low in the west, and now the two must take their greatest risk, that of descending into the city while it was still light and making their way to the throne room, although the risk was greatly minimized by the fact that the inhabitants of the city were all supposed to be congregated in the throne room at this time, performing the age-old rite with which they speeded the Flaming God to his night of rest. Without interruption they descended to the base of the tower, crossed the courtyard and entered the temple. Here, through devious and round-about passages, La led the way to a small doorway that opened into the throne room at the back of the dais upon which the throne stood. Here she paused, listening to the services being conducted within the great chamber, waiting for the cue that would bring them to a point when all within the room, except the high priestess, were prostrated with their faces pressed against the floor.
When that instant arrived, La swung open the door and leaped silently upon the dais behind the throne in which her victim sat. Close behind her came Tarzan, and in that first instant both realized that they had been betrayed, for the dais was swarming with priests ready to seize them.
Already one had caught La by an arm, but before he could drag her away Tarzan sprang upon him, seized him by the neck and jerked his head backward so suddenly and with such force that the sound of his snapping vertebra could be heard across the room. Then he raised the body high above his held and cast it into the faces of the priests charging upon him. As they staggered back, he seized La and swung her into the corridor along which they had approached the throne room.
It was useless to stand and fight, for he knew that even though he might hold his own for a while, they must eventually overcome him and that once they laid their hands upon La they would tear her limb from limb.
Down the corridor behind them came the yelling horde of priests, and in their wake, screaming for the blood of her victim, was Oah.
“Make for the outer walls by the shortest route, La,” directed Tarzan, and the girl sped on winged feet, leading him through the labyrinthine corridors of the ruins, until they broke suddenly into the chamber of the seven pillars of gold, and then Tarzan knew the way.
No longer needing his guide, and realizing that the priests were overtaking them, being fleeter of foot than La, he swept the girl into his arms and sped through the echoing chambers of the temple toward the inner wall. Through that, across the courtyard and through the outer wall they passed, and still the priests pursued, urged on by screaming Oah. Out across the deserted valley they fled; and now the priests were losing ground, for their short, crooked legs could not compete with the speed of Tarzan’s clean limbed stride, even though he was burdened by the weight of La.
The sudden darkness of the near tropics that follows the setting of the sun soon obliterated the pursuers from their sight; and a short time thereafter the sounds of pursuit ceased, and Tarzan knew that the chase had been abandoned, for the men of Opar have no love for the darkness of the outer world.
Then Tarzan paused and lowered La to the ground; but as he did so her soft arms encircled his neck and she pressed close to him, her cheek against his breast, and burst into tears.
“Do not cry, La,” he said. “We shall come again to Opar, and when we do you shall be seated upon your throne again.”
“I am not crying for that,” she replied.
“Then why do you cry?” he asked.
“I am crying for joy,” she said, “joy that perhaps I shall be alone with you now for a long time.” In pity, Tarzan pressed her to him for a moment, and then they set off once more toward the barrier cliff.
That night they slept in a great tree in the forest at the foot of the cliff, after Tarzan had constructed a rude couch for La between two branches, while he settled himself in a crotch of the tree a few feet below her.
It was dawn when Tarzan awoke. The sky was overcast, and he sensed an approaching storm. No food had passed his lips for many hours, and he knew that La had not eaten since the morning of the previous day. Food, therefore, was a prime essential and he must find it and return to La before the storm broke. Since it was meat that he craved, he knew that he must be able to make fire and cook it before La could eat it, though he himself still preferred it raw. He looked into La’s cot and saw that she was still asleep. Knowing that she must be exhausted from all that she had passed through the previous day, he let her sleep on; and swinging to a nearby tree, he set out upon his search for food.
As he moved up wind through the middle terrace, every faculty of his delicately attuned senses was alert. Like the lion, Tarzan particularly relished the flesh of Pacco, the zebra, but either Bara, the antelope, or Horta, the boar, would have proven an acceptable substitute; but the forest seemed to be deserted by every member of the herds he sought. Only the scent spoor of the great cats assailed his nostrils, mingled with the lesser and more human odor of Manu, the monkey.
Time means little to a hunting beast. It meant little to Tarzan, who, having set out in search of meat, would return only when he had fouud meat.
When La awakened, it was some time before she could place her surroundings; but when she did, a slow smile of happiness and contentment parted her lovely lips, revealing an even row of perfect teeth. She sighed, and then she whispered the name of the man she loved. “Tarzan!” she called.
There was no reply. Again she spoke his name, but this time louder, and again the only answer was silence. Slightly troubled, she arose upon an elbow and leaned over the side of her sleeping couch. The tree beneath her was empty.
She thought, correctly, that perhaps he had gone to hunt, but still she was troubled by his absence, and the longer she waited the more troubled she became. She knew that he did not love her and that she must be a burden to him. She knew, too, that he was as much a wild beast as the lions of the forest and that the same desire for freedom, which animated them, must animate him. Perhaps he had been unable to withstand the temptation longer and while she slept, he had left her.
There was not a great deal in the training or ethics of La of Opar that could have found exception to such conduct, for the life of her people was a life of ruthless selfishness, and cruelty. They entertained few of the finer sensibilities of civilized man, or the great nobility of character that marked so many of the wild beasts. Her love for Tarzan had been the only soft spot in La’s savage life, and realizing that she would fair enough to cast no reproaches upon Tarzan for having done the thing that she might have done, nor to her mind did it accord illy with her conception of his nobility of character.
As she descended to the ground, she sought to determine some plan of action for the future, and in this moment of her loneliness and depression she saw no alternative but to return to Opar, and so it was toward the city of her birth that she turned her steps; but she had not gone far before she realized the danger and futility of this plan, which could but lead to certain death while Oah and Dooth ruled in Opar. She felt bitterly toward Darus, who she believed had betrayed her; and accepting his treason as an index of what she might expect from others whom she had believed to be friendly to her, she realized the utter hopelessness of regaining the throne of Opar without outside help. La had no happy life to which she might look forward; but the will to live was yet strong within her, the result more, perhaps, of the courageousness of her spirit than of any fear of death, which, to her, was but another word for defeat.
She paused in the trail that she had reached a short distance from the tree in which she had spent the night; and there, with almost nothing to guide her, she sought to determine in what direction she should break a new trail into the future, for wherever she went, other than back to Opar, it would be a new trail, leading among peoples and experiences as foreign to her as though she had suddenly stepped from another planet, or from the long-lost continent of her progenitors.
It occurred to her that perhaps there might be other people in this strange world as generous and chivalrous as Tarzan. At least in this direction there lay hope. In Opar there was none, and so she turned back away from Opar; and above her black clouds rolled and billowed as the storm king marshalled his forces, and behind her a tawny beast with gleaming eyes slunk through the underbrush beside the trail that she followed.