WITH THE REALIZATION that the American had gone there came to Tarzan a fuller realization of the potency of Mafka’s necromancy; for he did not for a moment doubt that it was the influence of the Kaji magician that had forced the desertion of the unwilling Wood.
The ape-man conceded admiration to the cunning and the power that had stolen the man from him, for he had taken particular pains to circumvent just such a possibility. When they had lain down to sleep, Tarzan had fastened one end of his grass rope securely to an ankle of the man he had taken under his protection and the other end to one of his own wrists; but that upon which he had depended most was his own preternatural keenness of sense which ordinarily functioned only a little less actively when he slept than when he was awake.
That Wood had been able to free himself and escape could have been due to no powers of his own; but must have been attributable solely to the supernatural machinations of Mafka, constituting in the eyes of the ape-man a direct challenge to his own prowess.
Perhaps this motivated him in part, but it was also a desire to save the young American from an unknown fate that prompted him to turn back in pursuit.
He did not follow the back trail to the Mafa River, but struck out in a south-easterly direction into the mountainous country that forms an almost impregnable protection for the stronghold of the Kaji.
Deep gorges and precipitous cliffs retarded the progress of the ape-man; so that it was over three days before he reached his objective: a point near the headwaters of the Mafa a full day’s march to the east of the City of Kaji.
He had foreseen that Mafka might expect him to follow Wood, which would offer the magician an opportunity to have Tarzan waylaid and destroyed at some point upon the trail where he would be helpless against the onslaught of a well-placed detachment of Kaji warrior-women; and so he had elected to come upon Kaji from an unexpected direction and depend upon his animal cunning and his great strength and agility to carry him into the very presence of the malign power the destruction of which appeared to be the only means whereby Wood and his companions might be set at liberty permanently.
But above all, his success depended upon the verity of his conviction that he was immune to the supernatural powers of Mafka; though upon this point there was one thing that troubled him; it seemed to him that Mafka must have known of his befriending of Wood. The very fact that he had taken Wood from him suggested that. Yet this might have been accomplished by means of spies, which the American had specifically stated were employed by the Kaji. There was also the possibility that Mafka’s power over his victims was so great that he could read their minds even at great distances and thus see through their eyes the things that they saw; so that while Tarzan had been in the company of the American, Mafka had been as well aware of him and his activities as though he had been present in person; but when Wood was no longer with him, the magician could not exercise his telepathic surveillance over him. This was the premise upon which the ape-man based his strategy.
It was late in the afternoon of the third day after Wood’s disappearance that Tarzan paused upon a lofty mountain ridge and surveyed the country about him. In a canyon below and to the south of him raced a turbulent mountain stream. With his eyes he followed its meanderings toward the west where, in the dim and hazy distance, he saw a cleft in the serried range that he knew must be the gorge of the Mafa leading down to its confluence with the Neubari.
He stood, then, near the headwaters of the former stream between the countries of the Kaji and the Zuli.
A west wind blew gently from the lower country toward the summit of the range, carrying to the nostrils of the ape-man evidence of things unseen—of Tongani the baboon, Sheeta the leopard, of the red wolf, and the buffalo; but of the east he had no knowledge except that which his eyes and his ears furnished; and so, facing the west, he was unaware of the eyes that watched him from behind the summit of the ridge above him, eyes that disappeared when the ape-man turned in their direction.
There were a dozen pairs of them, and their owners formed a motley crew of unkempt, savage warriors. Of them, seven were bearded white men and five were blacks. All were similarly garbed in well worn loin-cloths of the skins of wild beasts. They carried bows and arrows and short, heavy spears; and all the blacks and some of the whites wore barbaric ornaments—necklaces of the teeth of animals and armlets and anklets. Upon their backs were small shields of the hide of the buffalo.
They watched Tarzan as he descended into the gorge of the Mafa and slaked his thirst. They saw him take a piece of meat from his quiver and eat, and every move that he made they watched. Sometimes they spoke together in low whispers that could not carry against the wind to the ears of the apeman.
One, who seemed to be the leader, spoke most often. He was a white man whose brown hair had greyed at the temples and whose beard was streaked with grey. He was well built, with the hard leanness of the athlete. His forehead and his eyes denoted intelligence. His companions called him Lord.
Tarzan was tired. For three days he had scaled cliffs and crags, descended into abysses, and clambered to lofty summits; and the previous night his rest had been broken by hunting leopards that had caught his scent and stalked him. He had killed one that had attacked him; but others had kept him constantly on the alert, precluding the possibility of continued rest.
The sun was still an hour high when he lay down to sleep behind a bush on the slope above the Mafa. That he was dog-tired must account for that which followed, for ordinarily nothing could have approached without arousing him.
When he did awaken, it was still daylight; and a dozen warriors formed a close circle about him, the points of their spears directed at his unprotected body. He looked up into the savage, unfriendly eyes of a black man; then he glanced quickly around the circle and noted the composition of the group. He did not speak. He saw that he was outnumbered and a captive. Under the circumstances there was nothing that he could say that would serve him any purpose.
His silence and his composure set his captors aback. They had expected him to show fear and excitement. He did neither. He just lay there and appraised them through steady, grey eyes.
“Well, Kaji,” said Lord at last, “we’ve got you.”
The truth of the statement was too obvious to require comment; so Tarzan remained silent. He was interested less in what the man said than in the language in which he said it. The fellow appeared definitely Anglo-Saxon, yet he spoke a bastard tongue the base of which was Galla but so intermixed with other tongues that it would have been unintelligible to one less versed in African dialect and European languages than Tarzan. In his brief speech, that could be translated into six English words, he had used as many tongues.
Lord shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Well, Kaji,” he said after a brief silence, “what have you got to say?”
“Nothing,” replied the ape-man.
“Get up!” directed Lord.
Tarzan arose and stretched with the easy indifference of a lion in its own lair.
“Take his weapons,” snapped Lord; and then, half to himself and in English: “By Jove, but he’s a rum ’un.”
Then, indeed, was Tarzan interested. Here was an Englishman. There might be some reason to speak now—to ask questions.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “What makes you think that I’m a Kaji?”
“For the same reason that you know that we are Zuli,” replied Lord. “Because there are no other people in these mountains.” Then he turned to one of his fellows. “Tie his hands behind his back.”
They led him then across the ridge and down the other side of the divide; but it was dark now, and Tarzan saw nothing of the country through which they passed. He knew that they followed a well worn trail that often dropped precipitously down the side of a rocky gorge until it reached a gentler descent and wound tortuously as though following the meanderings of the stream that splashed or purled or gurgled at their right.
It was very dark in the gorge; but at length they came out into open, level country; and there it was lighter; though still no landmarks were visible to give the ape-man a suggestion of the terrain of this unfamiliar land.
A dim, flickering light showed far ahead. For half an hour they approached it before its closer aspect explained it. Then Tarzan saw that it was from an open fire burning behind the stockade of a village.
As they approached the gates, Lord halloed; and when he had identified himself they were admitted, and Tarzan found himself in a village of stone huts thatched with grass. The light from the fire burning in the center of the main street revealed only a portion of the village, which evidently was of considerable size; the rest was lost in the shadows beyond the limit of the firelight.
Before him, built directly across the principal avenue, loomed a large two-storied stone building. At the village gate were several women garbed and armed similarly to his captors. In the none-too-brilliant light of the fire they appeared to be white women; and there were others, like them, lounging in the doorways of huts or about the fire. Among them were a number of white men; and all of them, but especially the women, evinced considerable interest in Tarzan as Lord led him through the village.
“Ai, Kaji!” they yelled at him. “You will soon be dead, Kaji.”
“It is too bad he is a Kaji,” shouted one woman. “He would make a fine husband.”
“Perhaps Woora will give him to you,” bantered another, “when he gets through with him.”
“He will be no good for a husband then. I do not want lion meat for a husband.”
“I hope Woora feeds him to the lions alive. We have had no good sport since before the last rains.”
“He will not turn this one to the lions. The fellow has too good a head. He looks as though he might have brains, and Woora never wastes good brains on the lions.”
Through this barrage of comment, Lord led his captive to the entrance to the big building that dominated the village. At its portals were a dozen warrior-women, barring entrance. One of them advanced to meet Lord, the point of her spear dropped to the level of the man’s abdomen.
Lord halted. “Tell Woora that we bring a Kaji prisoner,” he said.
The woman turned to one of her warriors. “Tell Woora that Lord brings a Kaji prisoner,” she directed; then her eyes travelled over the ape-man appraisingly.
“A good specimen, eh?” said Lord. “What a fine mate he’d make for you, Lorro.”
The woman spat reflectively. “M—m—m, yes,” she agreed; “he has good conformation, but he is a little too dark. Now, if one were sure he had nothing but white blood, he’d be well worth fighting for. Do you suppose he’s all white? But what’s the difference? He’s a Kaji, and that’s the end of him.”
Since his capture Tarzan had spoken only a few words, and these in the Gallic dialect. He had not denied that he was a Kaji for the same reason that he had made no effort to escape: curiosity prompted him to learn more of the Zuli—curiosity and the hope that he might learn something of advantage from these enemies of the Kaji that would aid him in freeing the two Americans and their companions from captivity and releasing them permanently from the malign power of Mafka.
As he waited before the entrance to the palace of Woora he decided that he was rather enjoying the adventure. The frank appraisal of Lorro amused him. The idea of a woman fighting for possession of him appealed to his sense of humor. At the time he did not know exactly what the woman’s words connoted, but he made a shrewd guess based on what Wood had told him of the customs of the Kaji.
Indifferently he appraised the woman. She might have been an octoroon, or she might have been a white woman with a coat of tan. Her features were not Negroid. Except for her dark hair she might have passed easily for a Scandinavian. She was a well-formed woman of about thirty, clean limbed and with the muscular contours of an athlete rendered graceful by femininity. Her features were good, and by any civilized standards she would have been accounted a handsome woman.
The ape-man’s reflections upon the subject were interrupted by the return of the warrior Lorro had sent to advise Woora of Lord’s return with a prisoner.
“Lord is to take the Kaji to Woora,” she announced. “See that the prisoner bears no weapons, that his hands are tied behind him, and that a strong guard accompanies him and Lord—a guard of women.”
With six of her warriors, Lorro escorted Lord and his prisoner into the palace, a palace only by virtue of its being occupied by a ruler—a palace by courtesy, one might say.
They entered a gloomy hall lighted dimly by a burning wick in a shallow pottery dish, a primitive cresset that gave forth more soot than light. Upon either side of the corridor were doorways, across most of which were drawn hangings fashioned from the pelts of animals, mostly buffaloes.
One uncovered doorway revealed a chamber in which a number of warrior-women were congregated. Some lay on low, skin-covered cots; others squatted in a circle upon the floor intent upon some game they were playing. The walls of the room were hung with spears and shields and bows and arrows. It was evidently a guard-room. Just beyond it, the corridor ended before a massive door guarded by two warriors.
It was evident that the guards were expecting the party and had received their instructions, for as they approached the doors were swung open for them to enter.
Tarzan saw before him a large room at the far end of which a figure was seated upon a dais. Two score or more of smoking cressets lighted the interior, revealing walls hung with a strange array of skins, weapons, rugs, silks, calicoes —a veritable museum, Tarzan conjectured, of the loot of many a safari; but by far the most outstanding and impressive feature of the decorations was the frieze of human heads that encircled the chamber—the mummified heads of women, hanging by their long hair, while from the smoke—darkened beams of the ceiling depended a hundred more.
These things the eyes of the ape-man took in in a sweeping glance; then they returned to the dais and the figure upon it. A score of women warriors flanked the dais where the lone figure sat upon a huge throne chair.
At first glance Tarzan saw only an enormous head thatched with scraggly grey hair; and then, below the head, a shrivelled body that was mostly abdomen—a hideously repulsive figure, naked but for a loin cloth. The skin of the face and head were drawn like yellow parchment over the bones of the skull—a living death’s head in which were set two deep, glowing eyes that smouldered and burned as twin pits of Hell. And Tarzan knew that he was in the presence of Woora.
On a table directly in front of the magician rested an enormous emerald that reflected the lights from the nearer cressets and shot them back in scintillant rays that filled the apartment with their uncanny light.
But it was the man rather than the emerald that interested Tarzan. Woora was no black man, yet it was difficult to determine to what race he might belong. His skin was yellow, yet his features were not those of a Chinese. He might have been almost anything.
For several minutes he sat staring at Tarzan after the latter was halted before the dais. Gradually an expression of puzzlement and frustration overspread his face; then he spoke.
“How is my brother?” he demanded, the words squeaking like a rusty hinge.
The expression on Tarzan’s face revealed no emotion, though inwardly he was greatly puzzled by the question.
“I do not know your brother,” he replied.
“What?” demanded Woora. “You mean to tell me, Kaji, that you do not know that prince of liars, that thief, that murderer, that ingrate, my brother?”
The ape-man shook his head. “I do not know him,” he repeated, “and I am no Kaji.”
“What!” screamed Woora, glaring at Lord. “This is no Kaji? Didn’t you tell me you were bringing a Kaji?”
“We captured him near the headwaters of the Mafa, O Woora; and what other kind of man would be there but a Kaji?”
“He is no Kaji, fool,” said Woora. “I guessed as much the moment I looked into his eyes. He is not as other men. My putrid brother could have no power over this one. You are a fool, Lord; and I have no wish to breed more fools among the Zuli—there are enough already. You will be destroyed. Take his weapons from him, Lorro. He is a prisoner.”
Then he turned to the ape-man. “What were you doing in the country of the Zuli?” he demanded.
“Searching for one of my people who is lost.”
“You expected to find him here?”
“No, I was not coming here. I was going into the country of the Kaji.”
“You are lying,” snapped Woora. “You could not come to the headwaters of the Mafa without coming through the country of the Kaji; there is no other way.”
“I came another way,” replied Tarzan.
“No man could cross the mountains and gorges that surround Kaji and Zuli; there is no trail except that up the Mafa River,” insisted Woora.
“I crossed the mountains and the gorges,” said Tarzan.
“I see it all!” exclaimed Woora. “You are no Kaji; but you are in the service of my loathsome brother, Mafka. He has sent you here to murder me.”
“Well,” he laughed mockingly, “we shall see who is more powerful, Mafka or I. We shall see if he can save his servant from the wrath of Woora. And we’ll give him time.” He turned to Lorro. “Take him away with the other prisoner,” he directed, “and see that neither of them escapes—especially this one; he is a dangerous man. But he will die even as Lord will.”