Barney Gaunt’s Story
I stood on the deck of my yacht, the Lady Mira, and gazed off over the Bay of Messara. The full moon had risen over the distant headland, and the water to my right was a welter of mellow, golden lights that seemed to leap and play like an interminable school of flying fish. In front of me, the darker waters stretched off to the shore, a mile or so away, where the hills of Crete rose up, one behind the other, until they reached to snow-capped Ida, in the dim distance.
The boat’s engines, which had throbbed continuously for the past three weeks, were quiet at last and a calm silence ruled over all the vessel. This silence and the beauty of the night had induced a retrospective mood, and one cigarette butt after another had dropped into the water as I stood leaning on the rail and pondering over the events that had brought me to this seldom visited spot in the Mediterranean.
Nathan Shimkin was in the cabin, preparing for the morrow, when we would start our trek across the hills to the ruins. In my mind’s eye, I could see him there, his tall, stoop-shouldered form hunched over the table as he peered through his thick-lensed glasses at the documents that gave us the right to examine the location that we had chosen for our study. If our examination of that location proved satisfactory, there would come weeks of digging, excavating and sifting, and perhaps, if we were lucky, the discovery of another assortment of relics of one of the mightiest civilizations of the past.
It was Nathan Shimkin who was responsible for my interest in archeology. I had first seen his spare, stooped figure when I was a sophomore in college and he was a professor there. “Fuzz ‘n’ Legs” the undergraduates called him then, and perhaps it is as good a description as I can give. The pronounced Semitic cast of his countenance was heightened by the spectacles he wore, and his beard, together with the keen eyes behind his glasses, gave him a remarkable facial resemblance to that other Jewish genius, Charles Steinmetz. He had conceived a great liking for me, for some reason or other, but during my Junior year, he had left the college to undertake an expedition for the Historical Research Bureau and I saw him no more for a couple of years.
But shortly after my graduation from college, I had inherited more money than I could ever hope to use, and had it not been for a most fortunate meeting with this archeologist at this time, I should have probably turned out to be merely another of the many Broadway play-boys whose exploits live only in the Sunday supplements of the more lurid type of newspapers. Shimkin, however, had caught me fresh from college, before I had lost that interest in scientific ideals that the average college youth has, and painting in glowing colors the fame and adventure that beckoned in his own particular branch of science, soon induced me to finance an expedition into Peru. So successful was this attempt that I became enthusiastic, and this journey to Crete was the fourth that I had financed.
It was of these past expeditions that I was thinking now—of the Peruvian expedition, and of that long search through the steaming jungles of Bougainville—and I was wondering if this new enterprise could possibly prove to be half as adventurous as had the other three. Had I been able to look but a short distance into the future, I would have had little to worry about on that score, for this was to be the most adventurous of all my expeditions. And the one who was to make it so was already approaching, as fast as one of the little boats of the native fishermen could carry him.
The first notice I had of the approaching boat was a tiny, ruddy light bobbing up and down on the water, far off toward the hills. I stared at it dreamily, paying little enough attention to it at first; but when I saw that it was coming directly toward us, I began to take a close interest. It was till some hundred yards away when a voice boomed out over the water.
“Ahoy- - the yacht!” it called, and I heard the captain answer from somewhere on the port bow. I wondered who this stranger might be who, in this little traveled spot, called out to us in English. The visitor made no further call, however, and so I stood and watched his boat drawing nearer and nearer. Presently it drew under the side of the yacht and two sailors lowered away a ladder to allow the stranger to come aboard. I tossed away my cigarette and approached the boarding ladder just as he stepped over the rail.
He was one of those long, rangy Irishmen that you occasionally see, loose-jointed, lean-faced, with a thin, hawk-like nose and a tousled crop of graying red hair that the possessor had long since given up all attempts to train. He was a man already past his prime, yet it was clear at a glance that he still retained a steely vigor that many a younger man would have been proud to possess. He glanced about the deck, ran his eyes over me, and then, apparently satisfying himself that I was the man in authority, he spoke up and, without preamble, introduced himself and told his mission, all in a single breath.
“I’m Barney Gaunt,” he said. “I come to borry the loan of your wireless, if so be it’s workin’.”
I held out my hand.
“Harry Moss is my name,” I told him. “The radio’s O.K. and I’ll be glad to let you have the use of it. May I ask what brings you to this out of the way spot?”
“I’m be way of bein’ a scientist of sorts,” he answered, returning my hand-clasp. “An etymologist, I am. Though be me use of the English, ye’d never be thinkin’ it.” He broke into laughter at this reference to his brogue and then went on: “Ye see, when a man spends his time knocking’ about in odd corners of the world, investigatin’ the origin of human languages, he stumbles onto some queer things. It happens that I’ve just made a discovery, a most wonderful discovery, and I want to radio London for some archeologists to come out here and help me with my investigations.”
I was about to answer him when Nathan Shimkin emerged from the cabin. His tall stooped figure towered in the doorway for a moment and then, spying me, he stepped forward.
“Might be we got visitors, Mr. Moss?” he asked. He stood, striving to accustom his eyes to the dimmer light, then his glance fell upon Barney Gaunt and he came closer. He peered out from behind the thick lenses of his spectacles and his crinkly little beard stuck out aggressively as he strove to adjust his glasses so that he could see this stranger. Then he threw up his hands.
“Leib’ Gott im Himmel! It’s Barney Gaunt!” he cried, and the next moment the two had thrown themselves into each others arms and were acting like a pair of comedy Frenchmen. Presently Nathan turned to me.
“A finer man we couldn’t find, Mr. Moss, to accompany us on our expedition,” he said, enthusiastically. “If I can offer a little advice, – see if you can’t persuade him to come with us.”
“Hush ye now, Nathan. I didn’t come here to accompany anybody on their expedition. I’m after lookin; for somebody to help me on a little expedition of me own. That’s why I wanted to wireless London. But I’ll not be callin’ London now. “Tis yourself will do, better than anyone else in the whole wide world, Nathan Shimkin; and when ye’ve heard me story, ye’ll be wild to go with me. What about it; will ye listen and try to believe it’s the solemn truth I’m tellin’ ye? For I’ll be warnin’ ye, ‘tis fair hard to believe.”
I motioned him into the cabin.
“Come on in and make yourself comfortable while you talk, Mr. Gaunt,” I suggested. “I’ve tobacco in there, and I can offer you a little something that will make the words slip out a little better.”
The tousle-haired Irishman grinned and nodded his thanks, and we entered the cabin and seated ourselves around the table. Soon we had lighted our pipes and I poured drinks for the three of us and ere long Shimkin and I were ready for the etymologist to begin his tale.
For a moment, Gaunt scratched his head as though uncertain how to start. At last he cleared his throat and began the introduction to his story.
“I’m a wee bit uncertain just how much ye know of this island of Crete, sir,” he said to me. “But in case ye don’t know it, along the southern shore the whole country-side is honeycombed with caverns and caves. Large and small, there must be hundreds of them, and they have been known to the natives for thousands of years. From the time of Neolithic man, those caves have been used as places of worship, and even down into the times of the Greeks, they were held sacred.
“For instance, ye’ll mind, for sure, the old myth of the birth of Zeus, won’t ye? How Rhea, the wife of old Chronos, hid her son, Zeus, from that child-devourin’ old husband of hers in one of these very caves? And how the child afterward grew to manhood and overcame his father? Well, that’s just one legend in evidence of the sacred character of the caves. We know, too, that the great race of Cretans who antedated the Greeks worshipped in these caverns; and in the days of the Hellenic supremacy, at least a dozen caves were pointed out as being the one which was the cradle of him who afterward became the father of the gods and men.
“And the two largest, the Idaean and the Dyctaean, are already famous for havin’ yielded much valuable archeological treasures.”
“I think you can skip the introductory chapter,” broke in Nathan Shimkin. “Mr. Moss knows it, the most of the archeological history. He has been diligently studying all that he can about Crete for the last six months.”
Barney sipped his liquor for a moment and then began on a new tack.
“Well, ye probably know then, sir, that if a new cave might chance to be found, it might yield treasures as great as those found in the other caves. So when I say that I have found what will certainly be the greatest of all caves, ye’ll realize that it’s worth lookin’ into, to say the least.”
“It certainly is,” I commented, eagerly; and Gaunt beamed as he went on:
“And ‘tis just that that I have found, and more, too! Now listen. Some of the greatest etymologists have speculated on the possibility of a great Pre-Aryan language that stretched across the whole Mediterranean valley, and that united the ancient Basques, on the west, with the Etruscan, the Cretan, and even the Caucasians on the east. Now the Cretan language would probably be the one closest to the old root-language and, were it known, might prove this theory correct. But, unfortunately, the Cretan language is unknown, entirely. There is plenty of Cretan writin’, of whole Cretan inscriptions extant, but, not knowin’ the language, it don’t do us much good. So, for the last year, I’ve been runnin’ around from one museum to another, stickin’ me nose into this tablet and that, studyin’ the various remnants of the language and tryin’ to solve the secret of their alphabet. “Twas a mighty task I’d set for meself, although, at that, I have managed to contribute some little bit to the knowledge we had already. But at last, I wound up here in Crete.”
Nathan Shimkin sat up and began to pay some attention to the proceedings. The preceding introduction had been old stuff to him, but now his interest was becoming aroused.
“I’ve been up to Phaestos,” Barney went on, relighting his pipe. “And Hagia Triada. And ‘twas there that I became convinced that unless further discoveries were made, ‘twould be useless to carry me investigations further. “Twas at that most psychological moment that I heard that the natives were bringin’ in relics from down here on the coast. I determined to look into this, so I rigged up a hiking; outfit and decided to take a wee jaunt along the cost to see what I might be seein’. Thanks, sir, I will take another wee nip.”
He sipped at his refilled glass a moment, then:
“Well, that’s how it happened that, two or three days ago, I was walkin’ along the shore, a few miles east of here, swingin’ a bit of a stick and content with all the world, ye see, savin’ that I hadn’t had any luck yet, in findin’ the origin of the relics. I never have found out where they came from; but I’ve found something a million times better.
“Well, as I say, I was walkin’ along, musin’ a bit, belike, when suddenly I was recalled to me senses be a tremblin’ thrill that ran through me body, a queer little tremor such as ye’ll be feelin’ sometimes when a fever is on ye. In less time than it takes to tell it, it was followed be a rumblin’ under me feet, just as ye’ll feel on a city street when a big truck goes past.
“Now I’ve spent some time in Central America, and I’m no stranger to the feel of a shock. “Earthquake!” I says to meself, and no sooner are the words out of me mouth than the full force of the trembler strikes. “Twas a fair bad place for an earthquake to hit me, too, for I was on a rocky hillside, where the hill sank abruptly down to the sea. I was thrown from me feet, I started to roll down the hill-side, grabbin’ wildly at every grass blade; I came to a steep declivity, – over I went and thump!—on the stones be the water. A fair hard thump it was, I’m tellin’ ye, and ‘tis no wonder that I saw but one great flash of stars and then lost interest in me surroundin’s.”
“I told you, when that tidal wave struck us, day before yesterday, that it was the result of an earthquake,” broke in Shimkin.
I nodded. That wave had caused us some little trouble at the time. I waved for Barney to go on.
“Well, when I opened me eyes again, I didn’t know where I was, for a fact. The earthquake seemed to have changed the entire landscape. I had almost fallen into the sea when I rolled down the hill, but now I was a good fifty feet from the water’s edge. There had evidently been an elevation of land all about, and at this particular spot, I’ll take oath that the land had raised a good eighteen feet higher than it had been.
“I got up. All about me was mud and sand and the bodies of the sea creatures that had been killed in the ‘quake. I was up to me ankles in mud, and it came to me that I was in a particularly bad spot if the tidal wave was to return, sweepin’ the water back. Some little distance away was a rock formation, a ledge of water-worn limestone jutting out into the mud, and I saw that if I could climb to the top of it, I could make my way from there to the higher land and so to safety.
“I started along through the mud, and a foul mood was on me, ye may be sure. But I was soon to forget me humors, for, as I drew near to the rocks, what did I see but the entrance to a cave! I was all excitement in a moment. Here was just what every archeologist has dreamed of, yet so few have seen- - a Cretan cavern that had lain unexplored, undreamed-of, for Lord knows how many centuries. Perhaps at some time in its past it had been above the sea level and had been known to the ancient Cretans. Perhaps- - and then I ceased me speculations, for I had noticed the columns! Yes, sir! A pair of columns, about eight feet high and set in the middle of the entrance. It was as though this entrance had been at one time walled up, leavin’ a big doorway through which entry was made. The doors were gone, long ago, the stones which had formed the wall had been washed away for centuries, yet still these immense columns that formed the doorposts remained.
“As fast as me mud-covered feet could carry me, I hurried over to inspect the columns. Covered with weeds, decayin’, ancient beyond all imagining, they stood there; and though me eyes searched every square inch of them, I was unable to see the faintest sign of carvin’ or tool marks upon them. Old they were, older than Tara, older than the pyramids, perhaps, yet there was no doubt at all that they had been placed here by human hands. I had discovered another sacred cavern of the Cretans!
“I was standin’ up to me ankles in mud, me clothes were slimy with the sea slime in which I had lain unconscious, it was well on toward evenin’ and several miles to the next village, but never a thought was I givin’ to that. Here was a cave that was waitin’ to be explored. And here was an Irishman that was dyin’ to explore a cave. To the divvle and all with everything else. I had a hammer and chisel, a flash-light and a rope; what more could I ask for? Although the floor of the cave dipped down beyond the entrance, and in spite of the cold, musty wind that was blowin; out of it, in I went, into the cave.”
The Glowing Tube
Shimkin’s interest had been growing with every word that Gaunt had said, and now he was leaning forward, his eyes glistening and his beard trembling with excitement. Barney Gaunt stopped to light his pipe again, and I heard my Semitic Mentor mutter softly, under his breath: “Go on, Barney, go on!”
The Celtic linguist puffed at his pipe leisurely, enjoying to the utmost the impatient eagerness which we showed. At last he continued:
The floor of the cave ran downwards for some twenty or thirty yards; and a deep pool of water—just how deep I couldn’t tell—filled the entrance. Inside, some little distance away, where the cave made a turn, I could see the dry floor where it rose up again above the water. There was nothin’ else for it but to plunge into the pool; for a moment I was up to me waist, then I was out on the dry again, and walkin’ along, flashlight swingin’ in me hand, along the risin’ floor of hard-packed earth that probably had not felt the touch of livin’ foot for untold centuries.
For the space of maybe a quarter of a mile, the cavern seemed ordinary enough. A few stalactites hung from the roof, and gleamed as the light struck them, but of any evidence of former human occupancy there was not a sign. The floor continued to rise; evidently the end of the cave was well back under the hill. I saw numerous small branchin’ corridors runnin’ off from either side of the main cavern, so I began to make marks on the wall s to show me the way to return. More and more I was beginnin’ to doubt that this cave had ever been occupied, and I had just about decided to leave the cave in disgust when I cam to the great room.”
Shimkin laid his pipe on the table. He leaned farther forward, rubbing his bald pate and staring at the Irishman s though entranced. If possible, he evinced even greater interest than he had heretofore.
“Now, ‘twas no natural room in the cavern, this,” Barney went on. “’Twas a carven, artificial one, rectangular in shape, hewn out of the livin’ rock be long-dead human hands, hands that had left their mark everywhere, in the form of sculptured pictures and a strange, long forgotten writin’!”
Shimkin could hold himself silent no longer.
“Cretan writing?” he barked out the question. “Minoan? What period, Barney?”
Barney Gaunt looked deadly serious.
“Don’t ye be disbelievin’ me now, Nathan,” he answered, holding an appealing hand out to the archeologist. “I know what I’m goin’ to tell ye will be hard to believe. But ye know me well enough to know that I’d know the Cretan, no matter what period it was from. And—‘twas not the Cretan, Nathan. “Twas somethin’ different, and somethin’ older, I’m thinking’.”
“Older?” Shimkin looked at Barney keenly. “You mean- - hieroglyphics, you mean, Barney?”
“Be no means. “Twas a highly advanced syllabic form, I’ll swear. But- - Oh, I can’t tell ye how I know they were older. Wait till ye see them yourself. Then ye’ll understand.”
Shimkin picked up his pipe again. Knowing him as I did, I could almost read his thoughts. He had been trying to follow, no, to anticipate, Barney’s story. Now he had given that up, he was uncertain, and he had decided to wait until the entire story was told before venturing another question, Barney took up his tale where he had left off.
“I stood lookin’ around that big room in a daze. I could see at once that it had been one of those sacred caves such as the Idaean and the others. But had been preserved by the sealin’ up of the entrance, and so it was almost in the condition in which it had been left, so many centuries before. I can’t begin to tell ye of the wonders of the whole scene at which I was gazin’. ‘Twas Knossos* all over again. I mean that, Nathan. Ye have no idea of the splendors of that room. There’s enough in that cavern to give us all undyin’ fame, a dozen times over.”
*This great city, once the capital of ancient Crete was almost totally unknown until 1900, when Sir Arthur Evans won his own “undyin’ fame” by his discoveries there. It was the, for the first time, that the world realized that on this island there had existed a civilization that was contemporaneous with and quite the peer of that civilization that evolved in Egypt from 4000 to 1000 B.C.
I slapped my hand enthusiastically to my thigh.
“I guess this breaks up the little party we had planned, eh, Nathan? We’ll have to see this cave of yours, Mr. Gaunt.”
Barney smiled, but waved me to silence.
“But wait, sir! I’ve told ye nothin’, yet. That great room is but a prelude to me discoveries.”
“You men, there is more?”
“I haven’t started to tell ye the important part. There is much more. Yet, when I stood and gazed with open-mouthed wonder at the marvels before me, it seemed that there could be nothin’ greater in all the world. In vain, me eyes tried to take in the whole astoundin’ picture at once. I flashed me light from object to object, seein’ nothin’ in me vain attempt to see everything at once. I was chucklin’ insanely to meself, and carryin’ on an imaginary conversation with all me scientific rivals. At last, however, I pulled meself together and tried to examine the room with some air of scientific detachment. Let me see if I can picture it for ye.”
Barney dove into a pocket and brought out a stub of a pencil. He began to sketch a diagram on the back of an envelope.
“Directly in front of ye, as ye enter the room, stands an immense statue of a seated woman. ‘Tis supposed to be a representation of the Mother Goddess, of course, for the Cretans, you’ll remember, worshipped locale deities, almost exclusively. A most unusual statue it is, not all of the Minoan culture, and yet its beauty and excellence of execution could hardly be surpassed even by the artist of the late Minoan. Fully eight feet high it is and made of red granite, trimmed and finished with copper and gold! Do ye know of any quarries in Crete where red granite can be obtained, Nathan? No, ‘tis imported granite, and imported from Egypt, I’ll be bound!”
“And pre-Minoan?” asked Shimkin, incredulously.
“And pre-Minoan!” Barney insisted stoutly. “Wait till you see it. And at the right of the figure stands another one, a small figure of the Son, or perhaps of some king, one of the figures such as often accompanies the Mother Goddess. It is significant that the Son carries in his hand a labrys*, one of the sacred double axes of the Cretans. At the feet of the Mother is what I think is an altar, around which are grouped a large number of cups and vases of various sorts and sizes. And a great number of images, too. I could spend hours describin’ these figures, but ye shall see them yourselves soon, so I’ll go on.
- This symbol, a double bladed axe, was used to a remarkable extent by the ancient Cretans to represent anything sacred. It is found scattered all over the island, wherever a temple, a chapel or a shrine once existed. Even the stones which were used in building a temple sometimes bore this mark.
“The room is square, as I have said, and about eighty feet to a side. Then entire left wall is covered with an immense bas-relief, the central motif of which seems to be a door-way through which the cavern continues on its way. The subject of the carvin’s on this left wall seems to be some sort of legendary battle of the gods, in which human warriors are fightin’ with some strange bird-headed demons, and strivin’ to force them through the doorway. The human warriors seem to be winnin’ and the expressions on their faces are startlin’ in their naturalness. The whole theme of the picture would be turning’ anybody’s face to the doorway, and when I looked at it, ‘twas a ting that would drive you, Nathan, or any other archeologist, wild with delight.
“Hangin’ from green incrusted hinges, there are two immense copper doors—yes, copper, – carved and hammered, the strange reliefs and complicated inscriptions still plainly visible in spite of the thick layer of verdigris that covers them. The double-headed axe is still plainly visible in several places, as it was in the bas-reliefs on the wall. There’s no doubt that the culture that produced this work was Cretan, yet it was not Minoan. I cannot rid meself of the feelin’ that it was pre-Minoan, – an unknown ancient culture of which the Cretans that we know held but a modern, barbaric remnant! I believe that, Nathan.”
Shimkin made no answer, though Gaunt had evidently expected him to dispute this. But I knew Nathan. He would wait, now, until the last bit of evidence was in, before he would commit himself. Gaunt continued:
“No need to tell ye that I spent hours in that room. I sat at the feet of the Mother Goddess and inspected the votive offerin’s, tryin’ in vain to make some sort of classification, and failin’, time and again. ‘Be the sides of the walls I found shards of pottery, Neolithic, I think, and perhaps of that culture which is familiar to us as the pre-Minoan. It was as though the barbarians of that day had brought their offerin’s, in fear and awe, to the still-remembered goddess of a mightier period in the past. At last, I gave up tryin’ to do everything myself; there was enough here to keep a dozen men busy for a year, clasifyin’ and restoring. I tore meself away and decided to make an attempt to investigate the cavern beyond. I have already spoken of the huge copper doors, and I’d like to call your attention to the fact that these doors were copper. The Cretans, ye know, were acquainted with bronze very early in their history, yet these doors were of copper, not of bronze. Well, as I’m sayin’, these doors were ajar, and the cool, musty breeze was still blowin’ out of them, which convinced me that there was still plenty to be explored beyond the doors. So, slippin’ another battery into me flashlight, I pushed the doors open a little wider and worked me way into the corridor beyond. Here the original irregular walls of the cavern vanished, the walls here were perfectly tooled, the cavern became a rectangular passageway; and as I made me journey onward, I noticed at several points, panels of inscriptions in the same unknown characters that I had seen on the walls of the large room.
“Another thing that I noticed about this passage was the fact that from the room of the Mother Goddess, which seemed to be the high point of the cavern, the way led downward, and at a constantly increasing rate of descent. I suppose that I traveled about a thousand yards from the room, and was therefore nearly a mile from the entrance when I came upon the greatest wonder in this whole amazin’ cavern, – the thing that brought me out of the cavern and started me on the wild hunt for archeologists that has just ended.
I came, ye see, to a place where the cavern widened until it was nearly twenty feet across, from wall to wall. And then suddenly it stopped, and there were two more doors, copper doors like the other ones, and these also were green and old and hangin’ from their hinges. And through the cracks between them came a light, – a strange, ruddy, opalescent light that gave me a thrill, just to be lookin’ at it. Ye see, that cave had led continuously down since I left the room of the Goddess, and I knew that I must be a good distance below the surface. What could this light be, then? Filled with wonder, I squeezed between the doors and beheld the most marvelous passage that ever the eyes of man gazed upon.”
With that sense of the dramatic that seemed to be characteristic of him, Barney Gaunt paused again, his eyes twinkling. He ran his hands through his unruly, sandy hair and puffed at his pipe for fully a minute. I do not know what Shimkin’s thoughts were during this interlude, but so marvelous was this tale that I was listening to, that, frankly, I was wondering whether this man was going to prove an Evans or a Munchausen. We waited in silence until he began again:
“’Twas a great circular tube into which I had come, a vast shaft about eight feet in diameter that descended down, down into the earth, never turnin’, never risin’; but maintainin’ what seemed to be a constant ratio of descent. Straight down into the earth it went, its curved sides perfectly smooth, their only irregularity bein’ numerous fine scratches that wound their way spirally around the walls, givin’ the unavoidable suggestion that this vast tube had been bored out of the rock with an incredibly mighty drill! Could ye see that tube, gentlemen, you’d know at once that ‘twas no freak of nature’s work. ‘Tis as artificial as the subways of Manhattan, but no civilization that we know of could have builded it. Not even our own!”
Shimkin breathed a deep sigh, almost a gasp. Barney paid him no attention, he was rapt in the excitement induced by his narration.
“But wait! Most wonderful of all was not the fact that these walls were so smooth, so regular or so suggestive of artificial structure. No, but ‘twas the fact that these very walls themselves were the source of the opalescent glow that lighted up the passage! From every square inch of that vast bore streamed this strange glow, like—well, like a candle light behind opals; and although I could see far, far down the passage, never a dimmin’ of the light could I see, nor ever a bend to the seemin’ly endless shaft. On the wall, immediately to the right of the doors, I saw another group of carvin’s. “Twas a picture not unlike that in the room of the Mother Goddess, again appeared the same groups of humans and bird-headed demons, again they were battlin’, but in this carvin’ the bird-heads were in full flight, speedin’ down the passageway with the humans in full cry after them. Leadin’ the human warriors is the gigantic figure of a man, one arm raised and his forefinger pointin’ down the corridor. His other hand holds the labrys, but, strange to say, he wields it not as a sacred symbol, but as a weapon. And, as though to tantalize me, beneath the outstretched arms are panels of characters in the strange writing’ that I had noticed before.”
Barney looked at his pipe, which was cold again, laid it aside in despair, blew his nose vigorously and continued:
Well, ‘tis fair hard, gentlemen, to be tellin’ ye of the feelin’s I felt. I had seen so much of wonder and importance that I would have felt no more astonishment if the sculptured figures had come to life and sped their way down that immense passage. How long I stood, gazin’ at the glowin’ sculptures, I do not know, but presently I was aware that the stiff breeze that still blew from below was bringin’ something along with it. I could see a small dark object bein’ swept along on the breeze, far down the passage. A leaf, it seemed, or something similar. Sometimes it was in the air, sometimes ‘Twas merely swept along the glowin’ floor, but ever it drew nearer and nearer. At last, I grew so curious that I determined to run down the hallway and get it. A few hundred yards I ran, and then the object fell at me feet and I picked it up. Look!”
Barney reached into his pocket and drew out- - a feather!
“Have ye ever heard of the bird that would be the fit of that?” he asked in a low tone.
I examined the feather closely. It was a pretty big feather, a good ten inches in length, and almost as wide as it was long. It was a rich sulfur yellow in color, save at the edges, which were of a dusty grey.
“I’m no ornithologist,” said Nathan Shimkin, slowly. “But I’ve never heard of a bird with a feather like that. Might be, it had been blown in from the outside, Barney.”
Barney shook his head.
“It came from below, Nathan. From far below. I thought the same thing that you did, as I stood and strained me eyes down the length of that glowin’ passage in a vain attempt to see where the feather came from. And ‘twas while I looked that the strangest thing of all occurred. I’ve mentioned several times that a stiff breeze was blowin’ out of the cave, ye’ll remember. Well- -“
I made bode to interrupt.
“Maybe I’m a little slow at grasping these things, Mr. Gaunt,” I said. “But I’m eternally darned if I see how a breeze could blow out of a cave.”
Barney’s face wrinkled up into a grin.
“Well, now, sir, the explainin’ of that is easy. Ye see, the air of the cavern, sealed up be the water which had covered the entrance, had been at a slightly greater pressure than that of the world outside. “Twas this that had kept the cave from actin’ like a siphon and floodin’ all this tube with the waters of the ocean. Well, when the cavern’s entrance raised above the level of the sea, the pent-up air began to rush forth. It was still rushin’ out of the cavern and ‘twas this that caused the breeze.”
I nodded understandingly. “Go on, Mr. Gaunt.”
“Well, this breeze was still blowin’, as I say, and now, be some strange property of acoustics, borne on this breeze came sounds, sounds from far below me, far down that luminescent tube! At first they were but a confused murmur, wee, dim rustlin’s such as might be heard in a wood or anywhere in the open air. Then I heard what might have been a clash of metal, and then, immediately followin’ it, a voice!
“Far and away it was, so stilly and soft that it might almost have been the voice of conscience. Almost, I felt that it was nothin’ but me imagination; yet never could me imagination picture such a thing as that.
“’Hukiwa-ayo!’ was the call that the voice seemed to cry, and oh! The dismalness it had on it. ‘Hukawa-a-ayo!’ it repeated- - and ended in a jumble of sound and was gone!
“’Twas then that I realized, gentlemen, that I had the hold on somethin’ that was too great for Barney Gaunt to handle alone. Far down below, there at the foot of that might tube, were livin’ people, people who had been cut off from the rest of the world for who knows how many centuries, – people who, may the saints grant it, still speak that ancient Cretan tongue which is their own livin’ language. I turned, I went no farther; the only thought in me mind was to get back to the nearest town, to get in touch with London and get a bunch of archeologists here as quickly as possible.
“Of course, I knew it would be main hard to get across the island, and the nearest cables were at Candia. I determined to return to Hagia Triada, where I could probably hire a mule to take me to the northern coast. But when I had gotten about half-way to that place, I noticed your yacht, and seein’ that it was equipped with wireless, I thanked me stars and made arrangements to visit ye. And now, praise be, when I come out here, I find the archeologists already waitin’ for me.”
Barney Gaunt was silent, his story told. For fully a minute, not a word was spoken. Barney picked up his pipe and put it in his pocket, picked up the feather and pretended to study it, yet his eyes flashed again and again to Shimkin, sitting silent at the end of the table. I too, sat in silence. Frankly, I was awaiting Shimkin’s decision. I had heard a wonderful story, but it was from the mouth of a man of whom I knew nothing. The chances of adventure that it opened up were stupendous. Shimkin knew the man, did he know him for a reputable scientist or for a mere charlatan? I waited for him to speak. At last he removed his pipe from his mouth and knocked out the ashes onto the table.
“Better we should go and see this cavern, Mr. Moss.” Said Nathan Shimkin.
At the End of the Tube
It was a strange party of archeologists that left the Lady Mira the following day. To my mind, we looked a lot more like a trio of hunters about to enter the jungle. Whether it was Celtic intuition or a conviction born of what he had seen or heard, I cannot say; but Barney Gaunt was firm in his insistence that we equip ourselves with rifles and ammunition as well as the other paraphernalia that we carried. We also carried a goodly supply of food, for, if Gaunt’s eyes had not deceived him, the glowing tube was at least several miles long, and we therefore prepared for a tip which might well be of several days duration. As we had no intentions of doing any digging or other work of that type on this preliminary trip of exploration, we carried no spades or picks, and so our party was a little like a party of archeologist as can be imagined.
The yacht, at daybreak, had begun skirting the coast, and before nine o’clock, Barney had sighted the particular spot where the cave’s entrance was. We anchored and were rowed ashore, and after giving the captain instructions to await our return, we strode away in the direction of the cavern.
The entrance we found much as Barney Gaunt had described it. The ancient ruined doorposts were hardly recognizable as such, now that the wind and the sun had combined with the water to destroy them. In the short three days since they had risen above the sea, they had already crumbled almost to destruction. And if the mouth of the cavern had ever been artificially carved, I for one could see no trace of it now.
It was with a queer feeling of expectant awe that we stripped and, making bundles of our clothes, waded into the cave. Shimkin would have hesitated to inspect the old columns, but Barney was frankly impatient and so, once dressed again, we plunged on into the earth. We passed a low spot, and it was evident to me that at flood tide it would be almost impossible to enter this place at all. We journeyed on up the rising floor of the cave; we came to the room of the Mother Goddess, and stopped here while Shimkin went into ecstasies over the splendid statue.
Even my inexperienced eyes could see the beauty of the great effigy, for the work on it showed a freedom from convention that was hardly surpassed by the art of the Greeks. Serene, dignified, with a look on her face that suggested the age-old wisdom that she was supposed to possess, the great Mother sat there, and seemed to look us over as if even the advent of these strange modern creatures was insufficient to break her age-old calm.
“You’re right, Barney,” whispered Shimkin. “No artist of the Minoan culture ever created that. I’m beginning to think that your theory of an entirely different civilization is right.”
“You’ll be more sure of it when ye see the tube,” said Barney, shortly.
Shimkin made no answer for he was engaged in examining the copper doors. He studied the inscriptions that appeared on them, sighed, and turned to the walls. Barney smiled at his apparent perplexity.
“Come on!” he said, impatiently. “Ye couldn’t solve the mysteries of this room in a hundred years. Com on, and see the greater wonders.”
And so we left the room and started on through the cavern. And came at last to that incredible tube that Barney had described to us. Gaunt squeezed through the door first, and stood, awed but triumphant as we followed him and gazed in amazement about us. Even though Barney’s story had prepared us to some extent, nevertheless, the sight of that terrific piece of work left us almost breathless. I know, as I gazed down its glowing golden length, that my own heart beat faster than it had for many a day. We spoke softly to each other as we stood there; I have not a doubt but that each of the others was expecting, as I was, to hear again that mournful call that had startled Barney when he had been here before. But no sound came to our ears; it had been a rare phenomenon that had enabled Barney to hear the cries, and one not likely to be repeated.
I looked about and noticed for the first time the carvings. I had paid but little attention to the ones in the room of the statue. Then I had been anxious to see the tube, but now that I was here, I took the opportunity to examine these more closely. And they were indeed wonderful. Carved with the same freedom from convention that characterized the statue of the Mother, they were remarkable life-like. There were the bird-headed demons fleeing, apparently, down the passage, their weird faces cleverly carved to denote terror and the great crests on their heads streaming backward as if to denote frantic haste. They were not merely bird-headed humans, I noticed, their lower bodies were like kangaroos. Or—wait a minute—like those bipedal dinosaurs such as the iguanadon and the trachodon. And there, too, were the human pursuers, in their midst striding the gigantic figure that represented their chief god. He was clad in nothing but a waist cloth, his waist was narrow, just as the Cretans always depicted their people, and in his back-flung hand swung the sacred double-headed axe. And beneath his out-stretched arms were columns of the strange writing that had puzzled Barney Gaunt. I wondered what lost myth or legend this apparently important scene was supposed to represent, and so wondering, I turned and followed Shimkin and Gaunt.
“It’s funny,” I said, as I caught up with them, “that you specialists in old languages and ruins should take so little interest in such a wonderful carving as that.”
Shimkin looked sheepish, and Barney Gaunt grinned.
“Were that all we expected to find, sir,” he said, “ye’d find us before that carvin’ for the next month. But there’s greater than that at the end of this passage, I’ll be bound.”
I looked down the glowing tube and shuddered slightly at the thought of plunging into its depths. There was something—I don’t know—something fearsome about the seemingly endless bore that sent a little shudder down my back. The others felt nothing of this, or if they did they concealed it. Already they were several paces down the shaft, so, with a shrug, I followed them.
There were no more carvings on the walls. They stretched on before us interminably, and the strange spiral striations were unbroken by any other sign of the work of human hands. Hours passed, and still before us stretched the corridor, its end invisible in the distance. It was tiresome, adapting our gait to this strangely curving floor, and I wondered why they who had dug this great tube had made the walking so inconvenient. And it came to me at last, that it was truly as Barney Gaunt had said—that this shaft had not been dug out of the rock, but had been bored by a mighty drill!
It is useless to tell much of the trip through the tube. It took us two full days! More than once, before that journey was ended, we were tempted to give up and return. But, somehow, we never could all three agree to it. And so, at last, with a kind of fanatic perseverance, we gave up thinking of that. We determined to stick it out if the tube led to the very gates of hell.
There was never a bend in the shaft, never a broken place in the wall; there was not a ting, once the beginning of the shaft was out of sight, to tell us that we were making progress. On and on in front of us, on and on in back of us, stretched the glowing tube. I was borne down with an immense oppression; I had a feeling that we would never leave this tube that we were doomed to wander forever in a great bore that was endless.
It had a queer effect on our eyes, after a while. And we tired easily. I couldn’t begin to guess how far we wandered through that tube. But we did come to the end at last, the passage narrowed, grew smaller and smaller—we had to get down on our hands and knees and crawl for the last hundred yards—the light in the walls grew dimmer and dimmer and finally went out all together. And then we crawled out of the narrow cavern and stood up, gazing with amazement at the scene which confronted us.
We had emerged into an immense cavern whose extent seemed limitless. It was almost as if we had found our way back to the world above; I remember standing dazed and astounded and wondering vaguely if we had somehow or other climbed back to the surface again. For, so huge was this great underground world that I could distinctly see a “horizon” far off in the distance.
We were standing on a hillside at the mouth of the little cave, amid a cluster of low weed-covered ruins. Above us shone a strange “sky”, while below us stretched away the hill, into a flat broad valley whose grassy slope met the forest nearly a mile away. There seemed to be a strange lace of color to the scene, this was the first thing that impressed my mind, and for a moment I was at a loss to understand it. Then it dawned on me that the vegetation here was not of the familiar green of the surface, it was gray! Light grays and dark grays, the foliage of the trees and lesser plants ran a gamut of shade all the way from white to the deepest black. Even the mosses and lichens that covered the tumbled blocks and broken columns were of the same monotonous color.*
*Shimkin and I are still unable to satisfactorily explain this. He holds that the light of the “sky” has an entirely new effect on the vegetation, and that the photosynthesis is caused by a chemical different from the chlorophyll that plants use on the surface. To my mind, this explanation is not necessary, I think that the vegetation appeared colorless due to the different light of this “sky”. - - B G.
A look at the sky gave us some explanation of this phenomenon, for of course it was not a sky at all. It was, we noticed, a smoothly flat ceiling of rock that covered all this vast country, stretching far above our heads and coming to rest on the hills about half a mile behind us.
The hills rose abruptly, back of the ruins and so, where we stood, the “sky” was about a thousand feet over our heads. It must have been a good half mile above the lower part of the valley.
There was no sign of sun or stars in the strange sky above us, of course, yet from the whole of it glowed that strange light that had become familiar to us in our passage through the tube that had brought us here. And by that strange light we gazed down into the plain below us. All of us were looking for the same thing, I think, – some sort of human life– but we were disappointed, for no evidence of either human or animal life was visible. Ahead, the broad silent valley stretched to the forest; on either side, the sloping hills rolled into the distance, carrying the burden of that amazing sky.
We stood for long, our eyes taking in every bit of that amazing, unearthly scene, and then at last we turned to give our attention to the ruins. There was little to interest us here; I fear we had all forgotten our archeological interests in the glory of exploration, but nevertheless we made a brief survey of the ancient decaying piles before beginning at last our descent into the valley.
As we made our way along, the ferns and mosses which clustered about the ruins soon gave way to a short stubby gray grass, which became thicker and thicker until it covered the ground like a carpet, and when we emerged onto the level floor of the valley, the scene was almost park-like. And for a while we walked on through the grass, gradually approaching the forest, and wondering what strange sort of civilization we were to find when we finally came upon the people who had built the ruins on the hill. We had almost reached the forest when Gaunt gave a cry and pointed to the left.
“Look!” he ejaculated. “Some one movin’! See, beyond the two big trees, near the forest, there. Some one- - ‘tis humans, not animals.”
We looked and, sure enough, we could make out the forms of six or eight people, vague in the distance. Shimkin fumbled at his belt and, draggin forth a pair of binoculars, clapped them to his eyes. For the first time, I realized just how seriously he had taken that story of Barney Gaunt’s. I had doubted even the tale of the glowing tube; Shimkin had taken it so seriously that he had brought along binoculars. To explore a cave! And now he had them to his eyes and was staring at the distant party.
For long he stared at them, while I strained my eyes to discern as much as I could without artificial aid. At last Nathan lowered his arms and turned to me. To my surprise, his face was a picture of immense astonishment, and for a moment he struggled, apparently unable to speak. Then:
“Oi, Mr. Moss!” he gasped. “Give a look! See if you see the same things I do. I just can’t believe my eyes.”
Excited by his manner, I seized the glasses and adjusted them to m eyes, expecting to see I know not what strange sight. When the scene finally did stand out clearly before me, I felt a distinct sense of disappointment. To be sure, it was a wonderful thing to realize that humans were living here, so far beneath the surface of the earth, but I had somehow come to expect from the mystery of the glowing tube and from the ruins, that these humans might be the possessors of some ancient wonderful civilization.
But the humans I now gazed at displayed the very antithesis of culture. Dirty, unkempt and hairy, they were, with shaggy matted locks of hair hanging around their faces and clad only in decaying untanned hides of animals. All in all, they were the most miserable specimens that I had ever observed. Each of them held a stone-tipped weapon in the grimy paw, some having axes and some spears, or rather javelins; and they seemed to be engaged in dragging one of their number along in a direction roughly parallel to the way in which we had been going.
It was not possible for me to see the unwilling one whom they were dragging, due to the fact that several of their number were obscuring my view, but in all the scene there was little that I could see to justify Shimkin’s surprise. As I took the glasses from my eyes, however, the archeologist motioned me to give them to Gaunt and again I saw that start of surprise as Barney looked through them.
“But what is it?” I asked. “What are you so astonished about? All I could see was a bunch of savages. What has surprised you so?”
“Himmel, Barney! He doesn’t see. No, might be he just doesn’t understand. Just a minute, Mr. Moss.” Nathan turned from me and, oblivious of my impatience, continued to address himself to Gaunt, who was still gazing, as if fascinated, through the binoculars.
“See the brow ridges, Barney? Note the slouch due to the curved femur? See how they grasp the javelins? And, Got im Himmel, did you ever see anything like those ears? Who would have suspected that they had such enormous ears? Almost like a chimpanzee’s.”
Suddenly he seemed to remember me, and turned.
“Mr. Moss,” he exclaimed. “You got to excuse for this excitement. But these creatures—Oi! They’re enough to make anyone excited. ‘Savages’, you call them. Savages! You bet! And lower in the scale of evolution than any savages you’ll find on the earth today. Mr. Moss, they ain’t even true human beings! By Golly, you are looking at a group of living specimens of Homo Neanderthalensis!”
Neanderthal men! Living representatives of that strange race of sub-men that had inhabited Europe before the coming of the true men, and whose bones are found today, scattered through the caves of that continent! Now my interest was aroused, and I turned with eagerness to take the glasses from Barney’s hands. Once more I looked through them and, with the new knowledge that I had acquired, my interest in the savages became absorbing.
The Neanderthalers apparently had not noticed us yet, and they still dragged their unwilling victim toward the distant trees. The two or three who had obscured my vision before had moved to one side now and with a start I perceived that the one they dragged was a woman. She was of a much lighter color than the males and was clad in an elaborate dress that was startlingly like the evening gowns of thirty or forty years ago. It had the same low breast, the tightly corseted waist, and a full flounced skirt that was torn and spattered with mud where she had been dragged across the ground. I looked long and with deep increasing interest before I lowered the glasses.
“Say!” I exclaimed at last. “It’s a woman they’re dragging. And if you ask me these Neanderthal women are damned good-looking.”
Shimkin smiled in his beard, and Barney Gaunt broke into sardonic laughter.
“Give me back the binoculars, Harry, me lad,” he snorted. “Sorry I’d be to miss a chance to see your idea of beauty, especially if your taste has a way of runnin’ to Neanderthal maidens.”
“All right,” I retorted rather heatedly, as I shoved the lenses at him. “Take a look for yourself.” She’s the prettiest girl I’ve seen since I left America. And that includes a lot of your famous Irish beauties, too.”
Barney already had the glasses to his eyes and was peering at the distant figures. After a moment, he turned to us, the binoculars falling to his sides.
“She is beautiful, Nathan,” he said, soberly. “No Neanderthaler at all. As human as I am and as beautiful as Saint Brigid’s own self. And look at her costume, Nathan,” he extended the glasses as he spoke, “She’s dressed in an outfit that might have been worn in old Minos’ own court. I wonder how she ever got into those brutes’ power.”
Shimkin took the glasses from him and studied the scene in his turn. As he did so, I strained my eyes to see, without the aid of lenses, the distant scene. The news that this girl was human had added greatly to my interest in her and so, when Shimkin finally handed the binoculars to me again, I seized them eagerly. Yes, she certainly was beautiful. A dark “Spanish” type, about eighteen years old, I judged; and what a mass of wavy black hair. It was coiled about her head in some elaborate manner, and beneath it were two great dark eyes in which one could see the beauty in spite of the terror that filled them. She was looking toward me now and– By Heaven, she had seen me!
She had seen us rather, – at that distance, she could hardly make out our separate figures, so closely were we standing. But the sight of us seemed to give her strength and courage. With a cry that came faintly to us, and that seemed strangely weak to me, compared to the nearness to which the glasses brought her, she struggled and suddenly broke away from her captors. She fled toward us.
“She’s got away, Barney!” I cried, suddenly excited. “Look, Nathan, she’s coming this way!”
She was indeed! Fleeing like the very wind, she sped away from her captors who, in less than an instant, were in hot pursuit.
“They’re chasing her!” I babbled in my excitement. “My gosh, fellows, they’re going to get her again. Let’s tackle ‘em! Come on, Barney; let’s see if we can’t help her get away from them!”
Beside myself with excitement, I tossed the glasses to Nathan and sped across the plain, heedless of whether my friends were following, intent only on rescuing a beauty in distress.
Theinah of Kherinth
I sped toward the oncoming girl, unlimbering my rifle from where it was strapped to my back as I ran; and presently I stopped to draw a bead on the foremost of the oncoming pack of subhuman. It was a good distance to my target and I am not the finest shot in the world; so I was not surprised when I missed. I ran on farther and when I fired again, I had the satisfaction of seeing the creature at whom I aimed drop and lie still. He had been quite a bit in advance of his fellows, and with him removed from the scene of action, the girl’s chances of reaching us were measurable increased. She was not far from me now; indeed, the speed with which we were both running had brought me to less than fifty yards from her. I turned to see if Barney and Nathan were following, and the next moment it seemed as if a red hot knife had been laid across my shoulder. I clapped my hand to the spot and winced as I saw a stone-tipped javelin fall at my side.
A dazed unreasoning anger seized me, but before I could compose myself to fire at the approaching demons again, a shot rang out behind my back, and the hurler of the javelin, who still stood with outthrust arm, spun around, and dropped to the ground; there to thrash around and bellow like an angry bull. I turned to find Barney Gaunt at my elbow, his rifle still smoking in his hand, and Shimkin but a short distance away.
I faced the Neanderthalers, cold rage burning in my breast. Slice me, would they, the damned brutes? Steal pretty girls while I was around, eh? I’d show them! I stood, in a moment, calm and cool, and laughed as I dropped two of the sub-men with as many shots. There were only three of them left now, but they were close- - before I could fire again, they were almost upon us. Nathan’s rifle spoke for the first time—there were only two of them now. But now the remaining two, utterly devoid, it seemed, of fear, leaped straight for me- - and reached me, too. I found myself suddenly face to face with the possibility of a hand to hand combat. I lashed out at them, struck one a blow on the jaw that cracked the bone and as he leaped away, flung out my arm in a back-handed slap that caught the other one full in the face.
Now, these creatures seemed to have no fear of death, but when it came to physical pain, there were arrant cowards. The two suddenly seeped to decide that discretion were the better part of valor; almost before I realized it, they were turning and fleeing panic—stricken back to the forest. To my amazement, I saw that the girl was about to turn and flee, too.
“Hey!” I shouted angrily, indignant that she should avoid her would-be rescuers. “Come back here. We won’t hurt you! Hey!”
But the girl, frightened even more by my absurd bellowing, increased her speed, leaving me to stand, staring after her. A moment and Barney Gaunt took a hand. He called after her a single word, a word that caused her to pause and turn uncertainly. Barney repeated the word and threw his gun to the ground, motioning us to likewise. Shimkin and I did so and hesitantly, cautiously, the girl returned, all ready, it seemed to turn and flee at the least false move on our part.
Barney stepped slowly toward her, hands extended, repeating the word. The girl repeated it after him, changing its pronunciation and giving it a rising inflection. Barney answered, spoke the word in her own pronunciation, spoke it positively and raised both hands into the air. The girl threw caution to the winds and ran toward us. All at once we were laughing and jabbering together as though we were lifelong friends and knew just what the other was saying.
“I knew it!” said Barney, greatly satisfied with his venture in philology. “She thought ‘twas her own people we were, that’s why she ran toward us. And when she saw that we were strangers, the like of which she never saw before, she was frightened again, poor thing. She probably speaks some language closely related to the old Cretan, which, as ye know, I believe to be similar in origin to the Basque. Well, I’m right! I called ‘friend’ to her in the Basque tongue, and ‘twas enough like her own language for her to recognize it. She corrected me, and when I repeated the word in her own language, she decided that I meant it. Well, Harry, me lad, ye’re the official adventurer of the party, it seems, so what do we do now?”
“I know what I’m going to do,” I answered, as a smarting twinge reminded me of my cut shoulder. “I’m going to clean out this infernal cut on my shoulder and bind it up.”
Shimkin and Gaunt both were all solicitude in a moment.
“What!” ejaculated the latter. “Did the divvies hurt ye, Harry, me boy?” By the beard of Saint Colum, if I’d know that, I’d have accounted for the other two, if I had to chase them to the other end of this blasted cave!”
Shimkin said nothing, but hastily extracted a bottle of iodine from his pocket and began to remove my jacket. Before I had time to protest, he had poured a goodly portion of the iodine into the wound, and I gritted my teeth as it bit deeply. I would have felt it far more were it not for the attention paid to me by the now friendly girl. She had drawn near to Nathan and now, with many little cluckings of regret and commiseration, she stood, watching every move he made, and getting badly in his way in her efforts to assist him in what was her idea of the proper way to bind a wound. She and I had a perfectly delightful time making signs and wildly exaggerated gestures, in an attempt to understand each other.
“Oh, such a terrible wound!” said the horrified look on her face. “And to think that you were injured protecting me!” (Both hands to her breast.)
“Oh, but that’s nothing. Nothing at all,” said I, with my hands. And shrugged my shoulders—and winced.
“But surely,” her hands came forward hesitantly. “Surely it is very painful.”
“Not at all,” insisted my smile, and we looked into each other’s eyes and laughed.
Shimkin finished binding up my wound and by this time the girl and I were great friends. The old archeologist smiled and turning to Gaunt, broke out: “So much for your etymology, friend Barney. In two minutes, he says more to the lady than you could have contrived to say in a week.”
Barney grinned, and was about to make some reply when the girl began to make signs to attract our attention. She pointed to the dead Neanderthalers, spoke a word and pointed to the forest. She spoke the word again.
“Malgetori!” she said. “Banhu Malgetori!”
“All right, little sister,” I answered, “We’ll call ‘em Malgetori. What about it?”
She caught the word on my lips and smiled. Held up a hand with two fingers up and pointed to the forest. I nodded. Yes, two Malgetori had fled into the forest. Then she frowned fiercely, held up both hands and opened and closed them several times, and then swept her arm from the direction of the forest to us. She pointed to each of us and began to lift her little feet as though running. Well, that was plain enough. Two Malgetori had gone into the forest. Many more were about to emerge from the forest. We had better run.
“Looks like she thinks it’s up to us to get the deuce out of here,” I said to my companions. “Let’s scram, fellows.” I turned to the girl, and motioned in a direction away from the forest. She nodded, corrected me slightly and started to lead the way. We picked up our arms and followed her, and after some half hours hasty walking, we left the grassy meadow-land and entered the wood. Apparently the girl ceased to worry now, and the silence with which she had led us across the grassy land was broken. She began to speak, to attempt to converse with Barney, but apparently with little success. It had been but a coincidence that the word “friend” in her language had been so similar to that in the Basque. We later learned that the languages were certainly from the same root speech, but so long had they been separated that there was no more resemblance than there was, say, between Spanish and Sanskrit.
And so the girl soon lost interest in Barney’s attempt and began to confine her efforts to teaching us her language. She started off by pointing to herself and repeating her name. It was a time-honored system, but it was effective.
“Theinah!” she said, holding her hand to her breast, and then, impressively: “Chana Theinah!”
The pride with which she spoke the name the second time made me pretty positive that the second word was a title of some sort. She was a chana, eh? Well, she should have nothing on me. I would have a title too.
“Harry Moss,” I said, as impressively as she. I slapped my chest. “Big Shot Harry Moss.”
“Herimas,” she repeated the name, throwing the words together and giving them an odd pronunciation. Then she attempted the “Big Shot”, but the consonants gave her trouble and she had less success than she had with my name. The best she could get out was “boekasaut” or something like that. So we both laughed and started on something else. But she had given me a name that was to stick, and it was many days before I was to hear anyone beside Shimkin and Gaunt address me as other than “Herimas”.
For a long time, we walked through the wood, the girl leading and apparently well away of where she was going. We continue to talk, and I was amazed at the progress Barney Gaunt made in the study of the language. One word after another he extracted from her, and it seemed as if, once he heard a word, he never forgot it but immediately added it to his constantly increasing vocabulary. It seemed, too, that he had a way of suggesting the most abstract of ideas. He learned dozens of the commonest nouns and verbs in the first few minutes, words that I was not to become familiar with for many days. And presently the girl was paying more attention to him than she was to me; and I was giving all my attention to an endeavor to again attract her. Shimkin was giving all his attention to a humorous appraisal of my futile attempts. And so it was that the thing occurred which we might have expected, but which was forgotten in our interest in the girl’s language.
There was a sudden bellow from behind a thicket and for a moment it seemed to literally rain Neanderthalers. They leaped from behind thickets, they dropped from trees, it seemed, almost, as if they rose from the very ground. The girl screamed, jerked her hand from mine, and stricken with panic she fled back in the direction from which we had come and in less time than it takes to tell of it, she had disappeared among the trees. I doubt not that Shimkin and I would have felt that the better thing was to follow her, but the Irish etymologist, true to his race, was already standing his ground and preparing to enjoy the fight, and so, perforce, we stood up with him. Gaunt’s rifle was already barking away, and almost before I realized what I was about, I found myself at the lanky Irishman’s side, my own rifle smoking, and right in the midst of as desperate a battle as I had ever imagined.
That the battle was desperate was obvious. There must have been nearly thirty of the Malgetori, and although we were equipped with the most modern of weapons, a rifle-bearing man who has been struck in the head with a three pound stone hammer is no more effective than a savage who has stopped a rifle bullet. And it began to seem a grim certainty that before we could account for all the Neanderthalers, we were certain to succumb to the rocks that were flying around us.
I have often thought since that if any proof were needed to show that we all three bore charmed lives, it was in that battle. A large number of the Neanderthalers were equipped with slings made of hide, and these kept the air full of cherty bits of stone that would certainly have sent us to our last accounting, had any of them struck us. But the slingers, it seemed, knew little of how to direst their missiles, perhaps they lacked sufficient intelligence to direct them properly, and so they were satisfied to hurl them in our general direction and trust to luck for a hit. We avoided them easily; it was the stone hammers and javelins that we had to watch out for, especially the latter.
Barney Gaunt fell, early in the conflict. A hurled hammer struck him a glancing blow on the side of the head, and though even the most superficial of glances convinced me that the blow was not a serious one, yet nevertheless it was enough to put him out of the fighting and to leave the balance of the struggle to Nathan and me. I turned to meet the attack of one of the sub-men at my left; sent him howling back with a jaw broken by a savage blow from the butt of my rifle; turned again an saw a huge Neaderthaler leap over the prostrate from of Barney Gaunt, his hamper upraised to crush his skull. I gave a cry and sprang toward him but before I could even swing my rifle up, Nathan Shimkin’s gun spoke and sent the brute to his fathers.
For several minutes, we stood over the fallen body of Gaunt and picked off the Malgetori as fast as they advanced toward us. They were no cowards, these half-brutes, no, indeed; but they undoubtedly were a little disconcerted by the rifle fire. It was that, and that only, which enabled us to hold our own as long as we did. But when Nathan stopped a huge rock and sank down beside Barney, I began to have a feeling that this battle was not going to last much longer. I knew that now it was but a matter of time until my ammunition would give out and I would take my place with the scientists. There were more cartridges in the back on my back, but I doubted very much that the Malgetori would wait until I got them out. Grimly, I fired the last shot that my rifle contained and then, clubbing the gun, I stood, determined to sell my life as dearly as possible.
Now, up to the present time, I have failed to give the reader any suitable description of myself. This seems a queer time to do it, but it chances that I am blest by Nature with a remarkable physique, and it is necessary to speak of it here in order to explain how I was able to stand against the half-men as long as I did. There must have been nearly twenty sub-men in the crowd that rushed me. I determined to sell my life as dearly as possible, and so, as they surrounded me, I charged into them, swinging, striking with butt and barrel, and sending Malgetori to right and left. I was made with a berserk rage, I discarded all attempts to remain cool, and the result was as startling to me as to the sub-men.
I must have put four or five out of the fight before they knew I was upon them. I remember getting a peculiar satisfaction out of the fact that I broke the jaw of one of them. Those jaws were huge things, fully twice as large and strong as a normal human jaw, but under a good strong punch, they were not immune to cracking. Then there was one fellow who rushed at me and, as I stepped aside, flung out an arm in an attempt to grab me. I snatched the out flung arm, gave it a wrench and heard him give a screech of pain as the bone snapped- - I was giving a good account of myself. Then one, braver than the rest, leaped in as I struck one of his companions, and seized the stock of my rifle. We struggled for a second- - just long enough for another to grasp it- - and another. The gun was torn from my hands and I was facing them with nothing but my bare hands. The daze of red anger that surged over me makes the rest of the fight but a vague memory in my mind. I remember picking up one of the creatures and hurling him bodily at the rest, and then turning and fleeing back to the spot where lay my unconscious companions. My intent was to get Barney’s rifle, but as I stooped to pick it up, I felt a stone hammer glance from the back of my head and, amidst the glory of a million stars, I fell across the unconscious bodies of Shimkin and Gaunt.
For several moments, the world swam dizzily around me. I had not been struck hard enough to render me completely unconscious, but the blow had left me too weak to rise and continue the fight. I lay in a sort of passive wonder, totally without fear or concern, watching the events of the next few minutes like some entirely unconcerned spectator. I saw the Neanderthaler who had struck me rush forward and pick up his hammer to finish me, and then I saw another seize it from him. He whirled about angrily, but seeing this newcomer, he turned sullenly away. This other sub-man had no benign motive in saving me, however, as I at first hoped. It was quite obvious that he was a chief or priest, and he merely felt that it was his prerogative to make the kill of these strange fire-spitting creatures that had invaded his forest. He stood over me for a minute, then planted a foot on my chest and raised his head to the ‘sky’ above.
“Huki-wayo!” he called, loudly and dismally. “Huki-wa-a-ayo!”
And fell, with an arrow quivering in his chest!…
The fact that I was not amazed by this sudden turn of events was due solely to the blow which I had received and which was still causing my head to swim dizzily. I lifted myself on an elbow and turned my head in the direction from which the arrow had come, to behold a dozen mounted warriors riding rapidly toward us. In front of them rode Theinah and it was evident that she, who had fled at the very start of the fight, had run across these friends of hers and led them to our relief.
The horses that the warriors rode were a small breed, shaggy, and with long manes and tails that had been braided and curled until they suggested the head dresses of the old Assyrian kings. The men that rose them were wore little in the way of clothing; I could see at once how strongly they resembled the Cretans whose pictures have been found in the ruins. Under visor less caps of bronze and leather, their long curly hair fell down over their bare shoulders, reaching in some cases even to their chests. Their torsos were bare, in fact, the only clothes they wore beside the cap were a waist cloth of figured purple cloth and high buskins of horse-hide. Around the waist, the waist cloth was held in place by a wide leather belt that was laced until it almost seemed to act as a corset. It gave the warriors an effect of having very narrow waists, and I recalled the pride with which the old Cretans had depicted the extremely narrow waists of their people. And in each of these belts I beheld a copy of that weapon which had been a sacred symbol to the old people in the world above- - the double-headed axe!
That the sub-men feared and respected these warriors was evident from the way they scattered wildly before their advance. I saw them hastily snatching up their precious weapons and fleeing panic-stricken to the safety of the farther trees. By the time the advancing warriors had their axes out of their belts, the Malgetori were gone as though they had never existed.
Shimkin groaned, and I saw that he had returned to a knowledge of things. I rolled off his prone body and sat up, my head pounding dully.
“Himmel, Mr. Moss!” groaned Nathan. “What happened? Haven’t those meshugah apes slaughtered us yet? What- -” his eyes fell on the approaching warriors and he became silent, watching them.
By this time, Theinah had reached us and was bending over me, her eyes wide with solicitude. Forgetful of the fact that I could not understand her language, she chattered away to me, and I began to answer her, quite as volubly, in English. I remembered the word that Barney Gaunt had used when he first spoke to her and I pointed to the warriors, who ere now dismounting from their horses.
“Friends?” I asked, and she nodded, emphatically.
“Yes,” she answered, “Good friends,”- - and I felt immensely satisfied with myself that I had made enough progress in her language to understand these three simple words already.
The warriors had left their horses by this time and were approaching us. Shimkin and I rose to our feet, leaning against each other, and the girl stood in front of us. One of the warriors was evidently the leader, his cap was of gold instead of bronze and he wore a long purple cloak and held an axe that was cleverly inlaid with silver. So while the others halted about ten paces away, he came forward and addressed Theinah. He bowed deeply, letting his arms hang limp from the shoulders*, and then, rising, went into a chatter of rapid talk in which the only words that I could understand were the oft-repeated “chana” and “Malgetori”.
*This method of salutation, strangely enough, was not Cretan, but Egyptian! The Cretan salute was almost identical with that employed in modern military practice. But this salute, and a number of the other things I noticed, seemed to indicate an ancient link with Egypt. – N.S.
Theinah answered him, spoke long and seemingly in great detail. She was telling the story of her capture and rescue, and from the number of ties she pointed tome, one would have thought that I was the sole hero of the adventure. Presently she ended her story with a suggestion with which the chief warrior seemed to disagree. He protested emphatically, but Theinah insisted and presently he agreed reluctantly. Calling to four of his warriors, he gave them some kind of orders, whereupon they led their horses forward, placing the reins in the chiefs hand, and then strode off to the rear where, later, they rode double with four of their companions. Theinah mounted one of the horses and motioned Shimkin and I to do likewise.
But thought of Barney Gaunt now entered my head and I turned to find the grizzled etymologist just staggering to his feet behind me. Briefly I told him what had occurred and after waiting a moment for his head to clear, he turned and addressed Theinah. He spoke half a dozen words and the girl answered him he shook his head and spoke again. Once more she answered, a single word this time,– ?, she said. Barney turned to me.
“I think these people have a town down here,” he said. “It’s called ‘Kherinth’ and they’re wantin’ to take us to it. What say? Shall we go, Harry, me lad? It seems safe enough.”
“You bet we’ll go,” I answered eagerly. “You don’t think I’m going to desert Theinah just when we’re beginning to get acquainted, do you?”
Gaunt and Shimkin both grinned and we turned to retrieve out weapons, which we had dropped during the battle. And I think we all turned cold with apprehension when we realized that eh weapons were gone! Three rifles had been in our possession, but a few moments before, but the fleeing Neanderthalers, in regaining possession of their own weapons, had made a thorough job of it and had taken ours, too. And now, though the packs on our backs were heavy with ammunition, we were no better armed than the barbarian warriors around us. Not so well, in fact, for these men knew how to use the weapons that they had, weapons that would be entirely strange to us.
We spent a while looking around wildly and vainly. It took but a moment, though, to realize the futility of the search, and then we returned to the mounted warriors. We mounted our own horses and stood awaiting further orders.
“Abatta kherinth!”** cried Theinah, and, the chief going first, Theinah and we three next, and last of all the warriors, the party moved off through the forest.
*Evidently this town was named from a town of Kherinth that once existed on the surface. The name is obviously the root of the word Crete, coming through the form “Khereth”. See where Cherethites and Belethites are spoken of. - - B.G.
The ride was not a long one, though it certainly seemed to be to us from the surface. It lay continually through the forest, and the monotony of the colorless vegetation worked on our tattered nerves as much as the unpleasant jolting of the trotting horses. Though my head ached woefully, and seemed to fall apart with every step that my horse took, I believe I nevertheless felt better than either Shimkin or Gaunt, who sat hunched over their horses’ necks, twin pictures of misery and disgust. After riding for what seemed hours, but what I now know to have been not more than half an hour at the most, the chief gave an order and one of the warriors galloped on ahead of us, his intention evidently being to notify the town of our coming. And so, when at last we came to the town, a horde of people were gathered without the gates to greet us.
We emerged from the forest about half a mile from the town, and once more a sense of astonishment swept over me. This was no tiny barbarian village; the builders of this town had created a city that would have been impressive in any country on the surface. It was a walled town, with walls that stood a good forty feet high and with towers that rose to sixty. Clustered about the foot of the walls were groups of wattled huts, with roofs of thatch; and walking about among them were literally hundreds of people. The city must have stretched along the hillside for at least a mile, and in front of it, the ground was cultivated and numbers of farmers could be seen, working in the fields. The city walls were made of huge rocks, so huge that I wondered how they had ever been put in place, and marvelously fitted together, but there seemed to be no attempt at forming the regular rectangular blocks which seem natural to the stone walls and buildings with which we of the surface are acquainted. They were like - - what was the name of the architecture of ancient Mycenae? Cyclopean? That was it, Cyclopean architecture! These people used the same type of building as did those ancient Cretan colonists who built the cities of Mycenae, Tiryns and others in Greece, before the coming of the Aryan Greeks!
Beyond the walls of the city could be seen the tops of a large number of huge stone buildings, and two of them towered far above the rest. It wasn’t hard to imagine that these two buildings were temple and palace. I suspected that as soon as I saw them and subsequent events was to prove that I was right.
The city beyond these two buildings stretched up into the hills, right on up until it reached the very “sky”, so that it was unnecessary for it to have walls in the rear, the walls of the cavern themselves being its protection. In the center of the wall nearest us was a gate, a great gate of bronze, and from this gate, which was open, a huge crowd of people were emerging and advancing to meet us.
They were Cretan, these people, no doubt of that. The women were dressed in the elaborate gowns familiar to archeologists from the many little statuettes that have been found. All the dresses had not the extreme effects that characterized Theinah’s gown, but they were all of them, flounced and low-breasted and dyed with many colors. The men wore more than a waist-cloth and buskins, and most of the waist cloths they wore were made of horse hide or goat skin. It seemed that waist cloths of woven fabric were a prerogative of the soldiers or the nobility.
The last group of people to come out of the gate apparently constituted a band of welcome. They were dressed far more elaborately than the common people, even the men wearing the long flounced skirts and high bejeweled head-dresses. Each of them was playing on some kind of instrument, I noted lyres, flutes and an elaborate sort of hand drum, and the sound produced by the combined efforts of the musicians was bizarre in the extreme. Evidently it was music to these people’s ears, however, and wit many pompous, exaggerated dance steps, the musicians fell in behind us and followed us back to the city.
And so, with band playing and people cheering, with horses prancing and escorted by nobles and warriors, we rode triumphantly into the city of Kherinth.
The People of the Gate
Once within the gates, our procession took a street bearing to the right, and worked its way slowly to that one of the largest buildings which occupied this part of the town. It stopped in front of the huge pile at left, before another great bronze gate. The chief warrior dismounted and aided Theinah to do likewise. Then, at a motion from the girl, Shimkin, Gaunt and I also slid off our stubby chargers and stood awaiting the girl’s next orders.
Presently the great bronze doors swung open, and with a glad cry, Theinah pushed through, followed more leisurely by the chief warrior, who turned long enough to beckon us imperiously to follow. We trailed along after him, the other people remaining without.
Inside the building, the way led through a long hall and out under a great arch into a sort of patio of inner court. Shimkin’s eyes, which had been glistening with a sort of fanatic fervor ever since he had seen the city, grew even larger, if possible, as he entered this court, for here was one of the most lavish and elaborately furnished of all the spots in this great city. The archeologist was in his chosen element, he was like an astronomer who had been given a rocket ship for a Christmas present or a physicist who had just received a microscope of unlimited power. He stopped, as did the rest of us, at the entrance to the court, but his eyes wandered about, traveling everywhere and seemingly missing nothing. And indeed, I did quite a bit of looking myself.
There was a fountain in the middle of the space, and around its basin grew dozens of queer grey plants with flowers of a dozen strange shades. Statues stood on pedestals, dark statues, cut from some unknown stone, and carved with the same freedom of convention that characterized all the other art-work that we had previously seen. And at the far end of the court were three seats, with high arched backs, of an appearance so modern that I knew at once that they could be but one thing—thrones. A group of resplendently clad nobles were gathered around these benches, only one of which was occupied—the one in the middle.
Seated on this chair was a man who, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, was the ruler of the country. Dignity and majesty hung about him like a cloak, and his once black beard, which was now turning grey as the years brought age upon him, still bristled aggressively as though from the iron will within him.
He was clad in even more elaborate costume than the others around him. He work no armor of any kind, but the quilted robe about him was so long that it touched the ground, and its sleeves came down to his wrists and were trimmed with fur of some sort about the cuffs. Over this tunic he wore a cloak of a red silky material, and on his head was an elaborate ceremonial cap of metal jewels and feathers.
“Aha, the King of Kherinth,” I thought as I gazed at the majestic features of this man; but for once I was to be proved wrong. Akasso* was not the king of this country, but its high-priest, and Theinah was his daughter.
*This name has been a very common one in the history of Kherinth, as it probably was in Crete, in ancient times. Thus, an “Achish” is mentioned in the Bible as a king of the Philistines, and an ancient Egyptian papyrus speaks of a Cretan name as being Ikashau. - - B.G.
But now the warrior and we from the surface were called before him, and Theinah, who was already by his side, was again telling her story. For some time she chattered on and then the one on the throne stopped her, and put a question to the chief warrior. He was answered hotly, and the warrior’s answer was hardly out of his mouth before Theinah had disputed his word. They argued for a moment, and then Theinah made a remark that caused her father to smile discreetly behind his hand, and that brought a dark flush of anger to the face of the warrior. Then she stepped down from her father’s side and joined Shimkin, Gaunt and I where we stood.
There was a pause, while the feeling in the air was tense with unpleasantness; then the high-priest made a suggestion that apparently satisfied the warrior, for he bowed gracefully and after a few more moments of conversation, he left the room. When he was gone, Akasso called to several of the courtiers, gave them some orders and pointed to us. The men came forward, bowed, and motioned for us to leave with them. We hesitated uncertainly, but Theinah hastened forward and, smiling, began to talk with Gaunt. She had a hard time making herself understood, but by a combination of speech, signs and guesswork, she finally put her meaning across and our “interpreter: turned to Shimkin and I.
“There’s a wee bit of minunderstandin’ among our genial hosts,” he said, with a dry sort of grin. As I understand it, we’re to be somethin’ like prisoners on probation. “Ye see,” he scratched his broad chin, reflectively, as though uncertain how to phrase it, “ye see, this chief, Turantho, the warrior who rescued us, is fearin’ we’re spies from some enemy of theirs. But the king, or whatever his is- - ‘raquaminthe’, Theinah calls him, he doesn’t believe it, and so we’re to be treated with honor, because he trusts us, and held as prisoners, because this Turantho don’t. See? But the “raquaminthe’ is to have charge of us, so we haven’t anything to worry about.”
“Suits me,” I said, indifferently. “Let’s go.”
To tell the truth, the several wounds I had received had made me tired and had given me a terrific head-ache, and I wanted nothing so much as to be led to some place where I might lie down and rest. And so, following the officers who were assigned to attend us, we left the court. But not before I had seen a wave of the hand and a reassuring smile from Theinah, who stood by Akasso, her arm around his shoulder, watching us leave.
We walked down a long hallway, turned into another, and then another and I began to appreciate the size of this huge building which we were in. It varied in height from one story to at least four, and covered between five and six acres. Throughout the halls we traversed, the walls were covered with pictures in a dozen different colors, and every now and then we passed doorways with tapestries or great bronze doors covering them. The apartments to which we were taken were full of surprises to me, for I had had no previous experience with the ruins of the Cretan civilization above and so knew little of the astonishing heights to which that civilization had attained.
The rooms were simple, the furnishings were not elaborate, but- - hot and cold running water, scented baths, razors of bronze as sharp as any that I had ever used in America- - these were things that came to me as distinct surprises. There were sleeping couches with thick mattresses of some vegetable fiber, and chairs that could have been placed in any well-appointed home in my own country, without seeming in the least out of place. Since the day I entered that apartment, I have heard much from Nathan Shimkin of the remarkable Minoan civilization that existed in Crete from 4000 to 1000 B.C., and I can now readily see that this refinement was nothing new; but at the time, I was in a constant state of amaze as I went from one discovery to another and marveled at the ingenuity of these people whom I had too hastily rated as barbarians.
After we had made ourselves comfortable, three slave girls entered and with much giggling and gesturing, made it known that the chana Theinah had sent them to teach us the language. Barney got busy at once, and I, too, took as much interest as I could in the task, but it was all Shimkin’s teacher could do to tear him away from the evidences of Cretan culture which he found all around him. Nathan never did entirely learn the language, but long before we were proficient in it, he knew far more than we did of the culture and customs of the people.
I shall not attempt to tell in detail the things that happened to me during the next two weeks, for the days were monotonous in the extreme save when Theinah came to see us. This happened four times while we were ‘imprisoned,” and each time that she called we were able to converse better. And each time our conversation took a more and more intimate turn. I was beginning to like Theinah. Of course, you can readily imagine how I came to look forward to these visits and how diligently I studied my language lessons, that I might be able to make myself better understood by her. And my many questions to my little teacher and to Theinah soon put me in the possession of innumerable facts that I feel that I should now pass on to my readers.
To begin with, these people of Kherinth called themselves the Minu-Pelesqui, a name which, I was to learn, meant the “Keepers of the Great Gate:. And their land was “Pelintho”, that is: “The Place of the Gate.” The significance of these names was ignored by us at the time we learned them; we knew there was some obscure legend connected with them, but we were so busy learning other things that we neglected this apparently unimportant item. As ear as we learned at the time, these people had once held a narrow pass that separated the Cretans above from some enemy of theirs.
These Minu-Pelesqui lived in this cavern in three towns,- - Kherinth, in which we were, and two lesser towns, Pet-Kaftar and Ranthi; and they were ruled over by Akasso, the “raquaminthe” or greatest priest, and by Turantho, the leader of the army, whose title was “minoqua” or great keeper.
For thousands of years, as near as I could gather, these people had lived in this cavern, and all during that time, a sort of spasmodic civil war had been going on, the old battle between priest and king, between the religious and civil forces, as to who should wield the superior power. Just at present, and indeed, for a period of over a hundred years, the priestly class had been in power, but Turantho was an exceedingly popular minoqua and he had gradually been gaining ground ever since his accession to the throne, some twelve years before.
But Akasso’s father had been a very far-seeing man and nearly forty years before had foreseen something of this kind and had organized a red-cloaked army that swore allegiance, not to the minoqua, but to the raquaminthe himself. With this army alone had Akasso been able to keep the peace in the cavern, and up to now Turantho had not ventured to seize the power.
However, the ambitious minoqua constantly disagreed with everything Akasso did, although he wisely refrained from openly challenging him. He still felt that the army of Akasso was superior to his Yuketori, as these warriors of his were called, but he only waited the day when he might strike for the supreme power.
But these intrigues between the two courts affected little the lives of the majority of the people in the city. They continued their ordinary routine, day after day; repeated, of course, and exaggerated, too, the tales of court intrigue; but to most of them, those tales were merely gossip to pass the time away. The farmers worked in the fields without the walls, the fishers and the hunters left the city every morning, returning at night with the spoils of the day while all day long the merchants and the artisans haggled in the market place. And on feast days, they all repaired to the great theatre of the games, where all sorts of contests and combats were held. I attended several of these circuses while I was imprisoned, but as they have nothing to do with my story, I may as well pass over them.
Another thing I learned while imprisoned, and that was the story of how Theinah had come to be captured by the Neanderthal men, or Malgetori, as they were called. These men had never been known to organize themselves to any extent before; in all the thousands of years that the people of Kherinth ad known them, they had never appeared in groups of more than four or five. So it was that the Minu-Pelesqui felt quite safe in the woods if their party consisted of ten or more, and it was for this reason that no worry was felt when the princess, accompanied by fifteen picked warriors, set out from Kherinth to the neighboring town of Pet-Kaftar. But to their surprise and horror, the company was ambushed by a group of nearly fifty Neanderthalers, and the warriors wiped out to a man. Theinah alone was captured alive, for reasons that the reader can guess, and the, as if unable to hold their company together longer than was necessary for the completion of their plans, the Malgetori had separated and scattered through the wood, seven alone remaining in the group that dragged Theinah after them. It was this group which we had come upon and fought with, which resulted in our rescue of Theinah.
Meanwhile, an escort under Turantho had come forth from Pet-Kaftar, to welcome Theinah to that city. They rode farther and farther, without sighting Theinah’s company, until at last they reached the scene of the battle. Noting that Theinah’s body was not among the dead, they rode fiercely after the Malgetori, and had fortunately been passing just when the reformed company of sub-men attacked us. The result of that timely arrival I have already related.
It must not be supposed that I learned all of these facts at one time. They were picked up piece-meal as I gradually acquired an ability to speak the language. And when the time of my “incarceration” came to an end, they were still very vague in my mind, as was, indeed, the language I had learned. Even with the fairest of teachers, one does not learn an entire language in three weeks.
The time came at last when Akasso, at least, was convinced that we meant no harm to Kherinth. He called us again to the court of the thrones and told us that the freedom of the city was ours. He had us directed to a building not far from the palace and explained that this building was to be our home hereafter. Our first act, after we were ensconced in this new home was to set out for a tour of the city. Shimkin had been longing to do this ever since he had first seen the walls and now he was in the seventh heaven of delight. He had brought his little slave-girl along with him and, although he was still unable to make her understand him to any extent, he managed to extract an amazing amount of information, using Barney as interpreter.
The huge palace of Akasso, for instance, he learned was called the Astyrinth, this from the name of the Mother Goddess, which was Astyra. Barney became greatly excited at the mention of this name, insisting that it was the root for the names of all those other Mother Goddesses of Asia Minor, such as Ashtoreth, Astarte and Ishtar. But this was something with which Shimkin disagreed. I don’t know if they ever settled this argument or not, but the telling of the name of the temple led to another fact which was a curious one, I thought. The other great palace that of the minoqua, was named for the symbol of his power, the sacred axe or labrys. Therefore, it was called the Labyrinth! The reader can well imagine the wealth of ancient legend that this name conjured up!
We visited any number of houses that day, we ran from palace to temple, from tomb to hovel, and were I to tell of all that we saw, you would, most likely, throw down this book in impatience. At last we returned to our home near the Astyrinth, and settled down to talk over the discoveries of the day.
Barney was in a furor of enthusiasm over the philological discoveries that he had made. During our trip, Nathan Shimkin had talked himself hoarse over the connection between these people and the Cretans of the surface, now it was Barney’s turn to spout. A dozen, nay, a hundred problems that had perplexed archeologists and etymologists had been answered, and Barney could not refrain from expounding them. He began by analyzing the name of the people and showing us the connection which it had with the legends of the surface.
“This word miner” he said. “It appears again and again in their place names. It is obviously the root of all those words such as Minoa, Minos and so forth. And pelesqui has also been retained in several languages on the surface. Didn’t the Aryan Greeks call the Cretan colonists whom they found in Greece the ‘Pelasgians’? And the Hebrews, ye’ll remember, called those Cretan colonists in Palestine, the ‘Pelishtim’ or Philistines, as we say.” Both of those words were obviously corruptions of the word ‘pelesqui’.
“Still more,” he rambled on, unconscious of the fact that both Nathan and I were both too tired to pay much attention to him. Look at the names of the two rulers of this country. ‘Minoqua’ and ‘raquaminthe!’ ‘Twas from these names that the Greeks got their legends of Minos and Rhadamanthus, the twin kings of Crete. And wasn’t the first Pharaoh of united Egypt a foreigner named Menes? And what is Menes-pero but a corruption of Mino-pelo, which is good Cretan for ‘the keeper of the gate’, almost the same title that our esteemed friend Turantho wears today!”
He continued the excited summary of his discoveries long after Nathan and I had both fallen asleep. The last I remember, he was trying to show us the importance of the title chan (lord) and how it affected the names of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.*
- I cannot refrain from wishing that Mr. Moss had treated these theories with a little more respect in his manuscript. This word chan, for instance, is apparently the root of the names of such gods and goddesses as Diana, Juno, Dionysos and even the Basque moon-god, Jaunikoa! I am aware that the roots dia and dio are believed to be from the Sanskrit Diwa, but my theory is at least as good as the old one. - - B.G.
Turantho Attends to His Business
It was the evening of the next day when the raquaminthe Akasso sent for me. Escorted by two guards, whose red cloaks showed that they were soldiers of the temple, I entered the court of the thrones and stood in the presence of the ruler. He sat in an indolent, informal fashion on the great seat, and his costume, a waist-cloth and a necklace showed me that this meeting was to be as informal as his pose.
I stood waiting at the door and when he noticed me I bowed low, in the custom of the people and awaited his commands. He motioned for me to rise and when I had done so, he called for the courtiers to leave the room. They all did so with the exception of Theinah, who was there, and her ladies-in-waiting. The princess and her ladies withdrew to a discreet distance and stood there in silence.
“Be seated, Herimas,” bade the high-priest, using the name that he had evidently heard from the lips of Theinah. “This is not a formal audience, I have just called you to hear from your lips of that wonderful land from which you say you have come.”
Now, I had made so secret of the fact that I had come from the surface; I had told Theinah, and the girls who had been our teachers, and so I knew that he knew that much, anyway. So I answered, telling him of our discovery of the cavern, and the glowing tube, and finally, of how we had arrived in the cavern of the Minu-Pelesqui.
“Tell me something of the land above,” he suggested. “Our ancestor came from there long ago, so legends tell us, but it was in a time of great trouble and we have never been certain whether anyone was left alive in the world above or not. But we have kept the gate, as it was written that we should. Your people have us to thank for that, Herimas.”
I did not understand his last words—I supposed they referred to some one of the many obscure legends of these people, and so I ignored them. But later I was to learn their full meaning, and today I am truly grateful to these people for their great work. Then, however, I merely answered the first part of his words and began to tell him of the world as it is today.
“Does Pelintho still hold a place among the nations of the upper world, Herimas?” he asked, when I had stopped at last. I was forced to admit that she did not. It was hard to tell the proud priest that the nation which had probably at one time ruled the whole Mediterranean basin was now not even a memory among the men of the world above.
We talked for a long, and through it all, I noticed that Theinah kept a discreet silence, until at last Akasso turned to her.
“Has my daughter aught to say to the stranger from above?” he asked, formally. This apparently constituted an acknowledgement of Theinah’s presence; etiquette now permitted her to speak, and from then on we all talked gaily and freely for a long while, and my feeling of affection and desire for Theinah grew greater and greater. At last, at a motion from Akasso, I arose and prepared to go. The interview was at an end. The soldiers and courtiers began to return to the court and Akasso turned his conversation toward one of them, taking up some business of the temple.
Theinah motioned me to follow her and, together, accompanied by her ladies, we left the court of the thrones. We took our way down the corridor that led to the gates of the palace, and when we reached there, Theinah turned and bade her ladies leave us. Then, when at last we were alone, she turned toward me impulsively.
“My father likes, you, Herimas,” she said. “He has great plans for you. If it is true that you have come down from above, perhaps you are the answer to a very old prophecy of ours. I do not know if that be so or not, but I am glad that my father likes you.”
“And so am I, chana Theinah,” I answered, hesitantly. The fact that we were alone for the first time was causing my heart to beat like a hammer in my throat, and I do not doubt that my words came out haltingly and stumbling, not at all in the romantic way I intended. “And so am I, chana Theinah, and I hope his daughter likes me, too.”
“Oh, I do, Herimas! How ungrateful I would be if I didn’t not love and respect the man who saved my life.”
“It is not as your savior that I would have you care for me, Theinah. It is as your lover- -“
I had leaned toward her as I spoke, and I saw a rosy flush sweep over her face, but she leaned closer to me and I knew that she was pleased with my words. I might have said more but Theinah was young and passionate, as young and passionate as I, and youth will be served, whether in Kherinth or Hoboken. And so I found further words unnecessary for Theinah was in my arms.
If this were a work of fiction, I might thrill the reader with a tender love passage, or suggest that I at once proposed marriage to Theinah, as soon as my lips touched hers. But all you who have loved would know that that was but a concession to modern ideas of literature. And I am attempting to tell the truth in this narrative, and the truth of the matter is that Theinah and I both found the sudden acknowledgment of our mutual love so sweet that it totally removed all thought of anything else from our minds. I did not ask her to be my wife, it sufficed for the time that she loved me. In fact, for the next half hour, I was too busy kissing her and pressing her closer and closer to me to make any attempt to say anything much. I believe we entered into a mock-serious argument as to who had loved the other first.
But enough of this. To you who had loved, it is an old story. And to you who have not loved - I am boring you terribly, am I not? The time came at last when Theinah reluctantly withdrew from my embrace and told me I must go.
“We have been standing here for hours,” she said in a half-shocked tone. People must all be in bed by this time.* Goodbye, dearest. You will come again tomorrow, will you not?”
*In spite of the eternal day that shone on the people of this cavern, the custom of retiring at certain hours still persisted. There were certain hours that were designated as the time of sleep, and during these hours, the entire population closed up their houses and retired.
I assured her with much fervor that I would return to the Astyrinth before the next day had passed, and turning, I left the palace. My heart was singing as I strode down the winding street that led from the palace to the huge building in which my friends and I were quartered. I glowed with a warm contented feeling, such a feeling of contentment as I had not felt for many years. I had hoped for fame, and it was in my grasp. And dimly, almost unconsciously, it seemed, I had longed for love, too, and now even that was mine. Not one thing was lacking, I thought, as I began to whistle gaily. Yes, by George, there was one thing lacking. Why in thunder wasn’t there a moon? How could lovers love properly without a moon? Nothing, it seems, is ever perfect.
Ahead of me, in the narrow street, a figure was lurching uncertainly along. I watched it approach00 some drunken reveler returning late from a party, I suspected. Funny how the deserted streets and closed doors and windows gave one the impression of night during the sleeping hours, in spite of the fact that the light from the “sky” was as bright as ever. And even this staggering stranger added to the illusion.
The uncertain one was abreast of me now, – and abruptly his uncertainty vanished! His hand came out from under his cloak and swung a cudgel viciously at my head. With an involuntary cry, I ducked the club instinctively and then, as he stumbled backward. I rushed at him, determined to finish what I had started, for I felt certain that I had to do with the Cretan equivalent of a highwayman, but before I could reach him, a half dozen men sprang from as many points of concealment and rushed to his aid. It dawned on me that I had stumbled into some kind of an ambush, but why I should be the object of this attack, I was at a loss to understand. I was given little chance to speculate on the motive of the party, however, they were upon me almost before I realized that I had been attacked.
Had I been armed, I certainly should have accounted for several of my attackers, I know; had they intended to slay me, they would have certainly accomplished their purposes before the fight had proceeded very far. But as minute followed minute and no attempt was made to draw an axe, I began to perceive that the object of my opponents was to capture me alive.
A short blue-chinned fellow in the purple and yellow of the minoqua’s guards, stood a little aloof all during the fight. Twice he called a suggestion to one of the men with whom I struggled, suggestions that were not without their effect and that made me long to land a telling blow upon his ugly face even more than I longed to account for those who were evidently his inferiors.
At last it chanced that I managed to battle my way suddenly to his side and had the grim satisfaction of planting a terrific, unexpected blow full on the point of his jaw. I heard a snap and without even a grunt of pain, he sank to the ground; and for a moment his followers gathered around, uncertain of what to do.
“Are you hurt, Kaslo?” one of them asked, foolishly, and as they stood over him, I turned to flee, for already I had a strong suspicion that the minoqua was back of this attack, and I had no desire to mix in with the intrigues of the two courts. I would probably have made good my escape, too, had it not happened that there was one warrior in the crowd that was possessed of average human intelligence. He turned, saw me hastening off and gave a cry that attracted the attention of the others to me.
They turned and sped after me and I fled down the street like a hare from the hounds. I knew I could not reach my home by continuing in the direction I was running; I cast a glance behind me to see how far away my pursuers were, and smiled as I noticed that one big fellow had drawn away from his fellows and was rapidly overhauling me. I turned suddenly and faced him.
I do not know what he expected. He thought, I think, that his companions were directly behind him, he bellowed out an order of some kind and rushed headlong at me; and the next moment he let out a wild cry as I tackled him below the knees and, picking him up bodily, hurled him over my head. His cry was changed suddenly into a grunt as he struck on the hard-packed dirt of the street, he tried feebly to rise, and I, seeing that his companions had drawn perilously close, turned to flee again.
Down the street I went, and I could not refrain from thinking, as I went, of that old Roman legend of Horatius and the Curatii. How many of these warriors, I wondered, would I account for before they finally overcame me? My optimistic speculations ended abruptly as I perceived that the street down which I was now running ended, a short distance away, in a blind alley. I ran to the wall, backed against it and turned to face them.
It was sheer force of numbers that bore me down. I had but two arms and two legs, little enough to cope with five men armed with cudgels and so it is no wonder that before long I was trussed up and carried, bound hand and foot, down the narrow winding street. Butt- - seven men had attacked me, and but three were in condition to carry me when finally I was overcome.
The route taken by my captors led down the narrow winding street, past the house in which I and my friends lived and on, in the direction of the labyrinth. Somehow, I was not surprised at the direction they took. The minoqua Turantho had shown several times that he felt that the honor shown to the three strangers from who knows where was absurd and unnecessary. And although it had not seemed that he had any cause to actively hate us, yet if anyone in Kherinth held a grudge against us, it certainly would be him. I wondered anxiously just what he might intend to do with me.
But I was not to wonder long. I was taken through the huge entrance of the Labyrinth, the gats swung shut, and I was led into a sort of barracks and the ropes about me were removed. I was left in the custody of a group of warriors while the new leader went to announce to Turantho the news of our arrival. Once alone with me, the remaining warriors began to talk. They seemed to bear me no ill will; in fact, they seemed quite impressed with my fighting abilities.
“A glorious battle you gave us, Herimas,” said one. “But for that little trick of mine, we might still be fighting.”
“Of thine, Hankho?” broke in another. “By the Axe! Had it not been for a lucky blow of mine, we would still be fighting yet.”
“Nay, but I say it was I,” insisted the first man. “And I will let Herimas himself answer for it. What say you, Herimas? Was it not my trick of the cudgel that felled you?”
“Nay, then, I know little of what it was that overcame me,” I answered wearily. “Had I know all that was going on about me, I would not be conquered yet.”
“True for you, Herimas,” called a jovial looking man on the edge of the crowd of warriors who were gathered about me. He paused and then chuckled hugely. “Saw you ever such a blow as he gave old Kaslo? I warrant such a blow has not been struck since the impallu Huedrac smote down Barasso.”
The assembled warriors laughed uproariously. It was evident that the leader whom I had injured was little liked by his inferiors. The jovial one looked serious for a moment.
“Take heed, Herimas,” he said, earnestly. “Kaslo is an evil man, to have for an enemy. He never forgets an injury, and there is no sense of fair play in all that ugly carcass of his. Be warned, Herimas, you have made an evil enemy.”
“Tell me of my other enemies when Turantho frees me,” I said, shortly and turned away, for the one who had reported to the minoqua had returned and was leading me to one of the numerous doors that flanked the huge hall in which we stood. We marched down a corridor and entered a patio similar to the open court of the Astyrinth, save that the furnishings were plainer and in stricter taste. At one end of it was a huge jeweled throne and on it sat Turantho, minoqua of Kherinth.
He was not clad in his armor now; he wore a head-dress of feathers and jewels and a voluminous purple cloak that entirely hid his body, indeed, the only part of him that was exposed was his lean sallow face and one slim, white hand. He looked me over keenly for a moment and then addressed me in an abrupt and business-like manner that was free from all formality.
“Do you speak our language yet, stranger?” he asked, enunciating slowly and clearly, as if to help me to understand.
“Not perfectly, Turantho,” I replied. “Yet enough to understand plain words. I would give much to know why I have been honored with this audience.”
“In due time, Herimas,” the minoqua smiled. “I had suspected that you would be well aware of why I had you brought before me.”
“I suspect much,” I said, hotly. “I have heard some little bit of the politics of Kherinth, in the past three weeks, O minoqua!”
He smiled faintly, his thin lips pursing and a twinkle coming into his eye. Evidently he didn’t think much of the amount of politics a man might learn in three weeks.
“And why, then, do you think I have had you brought before me, Herimas?”
Well, of course, I hadn’t the remotest idea of why he had brought me here. But an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head was buzzing around in my brain, and so I answered him:
“Because you hope to become the chief power in Kherinth,” I told him. “Because, knowing that you cannot conquer Akasso, you hope to unite your house with that of the raquaminthe through marriage. And because you have shrewdly suspected the truth, that I am the chosen of the princess Theinah, you have brought me here to put me out of the way in whatever manner you see fit! Well you have me in your power, Turantho. Have your way with me and see how my friends avenge me.”
Well, it was a foolish, melodramatic speech. It was based on my crude ideas of the political intrigues that were going on between the two courts, ideas that had been given to me by my teachers, the giggling, gossiping little slave girls who had taught me the language. I finished my speech and looked to see how my enemy would take it. To my surprise, his eyes filled with amazement, then he leaned back in his jeweled chair and laughed until his eyes were filled with tears.
“Oh, Herimas!” he gasped at last, between peals of laughter. “Truly, you are a man of another world. And so the little Theinah has a champion! A grown princess with a lover. And it seems no more than yesterday that I was courting her mother, and swearing at the successful advances of old Akasso. Listen, Herimas!” he went on, and his voice took on a more serious strain. “It is not for any such slight thing that I have had you brought before me. I am a politician—one whose whole mind is taken up with the affairs of my country. I have no time to waste on petty love affairs. I must attend to my business.
“And it chances that in that business, you are an unfortunate and perhaps an unconscious pawn. There are prophecies, do you see, prophecies that have come down from antiquity, telling of a great minoqua that would come down from the world above, one who would be a reincarnation of that greatest of all minoquas- - Dasu. And now, when Akasso and I are at daggers drawn, it is his intent to proclaim you as the answer to that prophecy. Do you think I am going to allow him to do that? It would cost me my crown, just when my plans are nearing completion, my plans to wear the double crown that Dasu wore.
“I’m sorry, Herimas, sorry for your sake, and the sake of little Theinah. But you are going to remaining my palace, as my prisoner.”
I looked him over speculatively, as he spoke. This man was a gambler, that much was evidenced by the course which he had set for himself. Was he enough of a gambler to give me a chance- -
“Turantho,” I said. “You strike me as a fair-minded man. Will you face me in hand-to-hand combat, with my freedom as the stake?”
He looked me over, and I believe he almost yielded. Then he smiled a rueful smile.
“No, Herimas, I will not. Almost I granted your request. But I must attend to my business, and not yield to pleasures of the moment.”
He clapped his hands and several soldiers entered and took me by the shoulders. Turantho gave orders softly to one of them and I was hustled out of his presence and down a broad flight of stairs into the lover part of the Labyrinth. To my horror, I realized that I was being taken to some subterranean dungeon. I fought off my guards in a fury of desperation, but it was useless. They overpowered me, and hurrying me along, they cam at last to a low bronze door, and this they opened and unceremoniously shoved me through.
A Prisoner of the Minoqua
The cell in which I found myself was not the noisome, dismal place that my imagination had led me to expect. The floor and walls were dry and clean, the table, chair and bed which constituted its furnishings were in good condition and over the door of the cell was a shelf on which were dishes, a huge jug of fresh water and a cruse of oil, this latter to take the place of soap. A small window was set in the ceiling and let a modicum of light through from the floor above, but the majority of the light that illumined the cell came from a good-sized block of stone that was set in the wall. It was the same stone that had lined the tube and that composed the “sky” of the cavern. A curtain was arranged so that it could be drawn over the light when the occupant of the cell wished to sleep. I spent a few minutes inspecting this prison of mine and then threw myself down on the bed and slept the sleep of exhaustion, for my battle with Turantho’s minions had completely worn me out and my entire body ached from the blows that I had received.
When I awoke, it was due to the vigorous shakings that I was receiving from a man that stood over me.
“Ka-van, Herimas,” he addressed me in the Kherinthian form of greeting. “It is high time you were waking. Here is your breakfast, and with it a message from the minoqua. I am instructed to tell you that you need have no fear, as your incarceration will certainly not last more than a few months. Already plans are developing to accomplish that which he desires, and in a few weeks they will be completed. And when he has successfully overcome old Akasso, Turantho bids me say that you will be freed and perhaps even united to your princess.”
I made no answer to this bit of information. Turantho could make his plans as to what he intended to do with me in a few weeks, if he wished; but I certainly had no intention of remaining in his power for that length of time if I could help it. After my jailer left, I ate my breakfast slowly, meditatively, seeking some way in which I might escape. But, rack my brain as I might, I could not think of a single plan to enable me to get my freedom.
I thought of the many tales of fiction I had read,– tales in which the hero had, after a few moments of thought, devised a plan in which he had heroically broken from prison, rescued his sweetheart and vanquished the villain all in the time that it takes to tell about it. But after long hours of thought, nothing more heroic entered my mind than an attempt to bribe my jailer. He was, I supposed, a poor man, I was immensely wealthy, and although most of my fortune was far away, I had on me several articles of jewelry, – a watch, and a ring, a frat pin— enough to amount to several hundred dollars on the surface. And so, cautiously, casually, I began to made friends with my jailer, awaiting the time when I might suggest my escape.
Each time he entered my cell, bringing my food, I entered into a conversation with him. I asked of information from the city, inquired of Theinah’s health, asked about my friends, asked anything I could think of, to make friendly conversation. He kept nothing secret from me, apparently Turantho had no fear that I could harm him with any knowledge that I might possess.
Churrimac, the jailer, got quite a bit of amusement from telling me, each, day, of the progress of the searching parties who were scouring the city in search of me. Angered as I was by the irritable way in which he laughed at my friends’ attempts to find me, I was forced to laugh with him, that he might believe me his friend. And so our “friendship” grew, until the end of the fourth day, when I believed that it had progressed far enough for me to offer him a gift. He entered my cell to give me my dinner and as he did so, stopped as usual for a few moments’ conversation.
“There is talk, Herimas, of a searching party leaving the city to hunt for you in the forest,” he said with a grin, as he set the food on the table before me. “They have apparently decided that if you are not in the city, then you must be without the city. By the axe! It is too bad they did not search well enough below the city!” and he went off into a gale of laughter in which I was forced to join.
He sobered at last, and settled down to tell me more news.
“Kaslo, the lieutenant of the guards who captured you, appeared before Turantho today with a petition. He desired, it seems to be allowed to visit you with a whip, a weapon in whose use he is very proficient. Turantho refused his petition without even considering it.”
I smiled. This Kaslo was a persistent enemy, to say the least. Then I decided to bring matters to a head at once, between the jailer and me.
“Churrimac,” I said. “You have been my good friend in the days that I have been here. You have turned my sorry to joy with your eternal jokes” (I almost said infernal jokes) “and I desire now to do something for you. Look, here is a ring that I have worn for many years. Do one more thing that I ask, and you may take it as a symbol of our friendship.”
Churrimac seized the ring eagerly, and examined it by the light that shone from the stone.
“By the Doves of the Mother!” he exclaimed. “This is one of the rarest jewels known to the land of the Gate! A man might well sell his soul for such a gift as this.” He turned to me with his right hand outstretched. As of me what you will, Herimas, and if it is in my power to give it to you, it shall be thine.”
I looked at him for a moment without speaking, then in a quiet tone:
“I want my freedom, Churrimac,” I said.
He looked at me, his features changing slowly from joy to disappointment, and then to chagrin. It seemed as though I could see a battle taking place behind his eyes, a battle between a lifelong loyalty and the sudden cupidity that the prospect of wealth had aroused. But, in the end, loyalty won and Churrimac thrust the ring back into my hand.
“The yuketori of Kherinth do not gain their wealth I this manner,” he said, shortly, and turned away.
I followed him to the door, holding up the ring and vainly trying to persuade him, but the battle in his mind was over, he had made his decision and there was no dissuading him.
That night a new jailer brought me my supper and I was never to see Churrimac again. And so my plan of bribing my jailer came to an ignominious end, and I was forced to look about for some more melodramatic means of escape. And at last I found it.
I have already spoken of the shelf above the door of my cell, on which my dishes, water and so forth were kept. Well, it was this shelf that at last gave me my idea of a means of escape. It was a broad shelf; with room enough for a man to lie upon, providing he drew his legs up as much as possible. And it seemed tome that if I could conceal myself on this shelf until my jailer was directly beneath me, it might be possible to leap down on his back and overcome him before he had a chance to draw a weapon. Of course, this would not make my escape sure, for I would still be in Turantho’s palace, but I might secure the jailer’s axe and escape from the cell; and given that start, I would gamble on escaping from the Labyrinth.
And so, next day, as noon drew near, I swung myself up on the narrow shelf, praying that it would be strong enough to hold me. I had been there for but a few minutes when I heard a slight noise and tensed myself to spring on my jailer. To my surprise and dismay, when the noise occurred again, I realized that it came, not from without the door, but from the stone wall in the rear of my cell, at one side of my bed. And as I watched, one of the huge stones was drawn away backward, and in the opening which was thus made, I saw the approaching body of a man!
The next few events passed with such a startling suddenness that I cannot describe them quickly enough. The man raised his head, his eyes blinded by the light for a moment, and I recognized the soldier, Kaslo, whom I had struck so viciously in the fight that led to my capture. Even as I recognized him the cell door swung open and my new jailer entered, bearing a tray of food. There was a cry of hate from Kaslo and before the jailer was even aware of him, he had launched himself at my unfortunate guardian and hurled him to the floor!
That Kaslo, his eyes dazed by the light, thought the jailer was I, I have no doubt. The jailer, I suspect, believed that I was making a desperate effort to escape, and so, just for a moment, they were locked in a fierce struggle; and in that space of a few seconds, I leaped to the floor and through the open door.
I found myself in a hallway that was but faintly familiar. Remember, I had passed down this hallway but once before, and it is little wonder that I did not remember the way through which I had been brought here. I ran uncertainly along, though, wondering what chances I would have to make my way to freedom. That I would have difficulty in escaping, unarmed as I was, was certain. But I determined to trust to the phenomenal luck that had so far attended me, and so I took my way down the hallway in the direction from which, if memory served me rightly, I had been brought when I was first captured.
The corridor was fortunately empty, and to my great good fortune, continued to be so. It was the time of the noon-day meal, and to this reason only must I contribute the fact that I had come so far without meeting any of the soldiers or guards that were to be expected. I passed several dungeons like my own, but their occupants, if indeed they had any, paid me little heed, and so, at last, I came to a place where the corridor ended in a flight of steps. On either side of the stairway was a high bronze door, and I was suddenly confronted with the fact that I had three ways from which to choose my further course.
I stood on the left of the corridor, close to the door, and probably I should have cautiously attempted to find out what lay behind this door, had not what happened which forced me to fling caution to the winds. At the head of the stairs a man suddenly appeared, axe in hand. He turned to call something to an approaching companion, and then started down the stairs. Capture was inevitable if I remained in the hallway, so without a moment’s hesitation, I opened the door just enough to admit my body, and slipped through. I shut the door immediately behind me, and stood there, foolishly, looking into the grinning faces of a good dozen of Turantho’s soldiers!
The Search in the Forest
When Barney Gaunt and Nathan Shimkin missed me, the morning following my abduction, it was but natural that they should believe that Akasso had held me in the temple. They knew little of the undercurrent of politics and policies that flowed through the age-old city, and so they felt that the raquaminthe had imprisoned me for some obscure reason of his own. They at once hurried to the Astyrinth and demanded an interview with the high priest. It was granted at once, and Akasso, himself shocked at the news of my disappearance, hastened to assure my two friends that he knew nothing of my whereabouts.
I think that he suspected Turantho at once, but he hesitated to tell my friends of his intention to use me as a pawn in Kherinthian politics; and so he gave orders that the city be carefully searched for me,–a gesture which he felt sure would satisfy the two scientists, and which, in fact, did. For the next two or three days, parties of the red-cloaked soldiers of the raquaminth combed the city. Every temple and palace, every hut and hovel was thoroughly inspected, but at last they were forced to admit that there was no chance that I could be in the city. Unless—unless I were in the palace of the minoqua!
Theinah stood with Gaunt and Shimkin when they heard the final report of the searchers, and spoke up determinedly to her father when the report was ended.
“They have searched all Kherinth save the palace of the minoqua,” she said, angrily. “Is there any reason to believe that he is not there?”
Akasso raised a diplomatic hand to silence his daughter, but Turantho, who was standing among the courtiers, was before the throne in an instant, demanding that the Labyrinth be searched. The wily minoqua had temporarily walled up the entrance to the group of cells in which I was imprisoned and so, when Akasso took him at his word and sent a group of his most trusted officers to search the place, they were forced to admit that, to the best of their knowledge, I was not within it.
By now, Akasso had decided to acquaint Shimkin and Gaunt with the whole net of intrigue, asking their advice as to their further course of action. He told them of the legend of Dasu, the greatest of all minoquas, who had led the people down into this underworld. He told them of how Dasu had promised to return, and how for hundreds of generations the people had awaited that return. And he told them frankly of his own plans to circumvent the ambitious Turantho by persuading me to act the part of the returned Dasu.
Shimkin and Gaunt looked at each other uncertainly when this admission was made by Akasso. The idea that the raquaminthe had intended to made use of me without consulting any of us was irritating, to say the least. But what could they do about it? Their main idea, now, was to find me.
“Is it fair sure ye are, O Akasso, that Turantho has our friend, Harry, in his power?” asked Barney.
Akasso admitted that he was practically certain of this and after a moment of thought, the lean-faced Irishman continued:
“And a complete search of the city has failed to find him within it. Now let us consider the places beyond the city where he might be hidden.”
The raquaminthe thought a while and shook his head uncertainly.
“I have men in Pet-Kaftar and Ranthi that would report instantly if any party entered the walls of either of those towns. I do not think that we need look for him there. But—“again he paused doubtfully, and Theinah, who was present at the interview, went on: “Father is just a little afraid to accuse Turantho of trafficking with the outlaws of Yankhya. But if there is one place in all the land of the Gate where Turantho would least be expected of hiding Herimas, it is among the outlaws. And Turantho ever does the unexpected. Truly that is the next place to search.”
She went on to explain, for the benefit of Nathan and Barney, just who and what these outlaws were.
“They are escaped slaves and debtors, and some deserters from the armies, who have fled from the city and live in the ruins of and ancient town which lies in the depths of the forest, about a day’s journey from here,” she said. “It would be an easy thing for Turantho to smuggle Herimas out of the city, for the Labyrinth, as you know, lies only a few paces from the city wall, and one could almost leap from the roof of the palace to the top of the wall, at one point. He might easily have captured Herimas, taken him to the roof of his palace, lowered him over the wall to the outside of the city, where the outlaws could have taken charge of him and carried him to Yankhya.”
Akasso struck his thigh.
“Well thought out, my daughter,” he said, and the two scientists enthusiastically agreed. So well had Theinah pictured her idea of the abduction that they felt sure that she was right, and thus it was that they decided to search Yankhya, a decision which was to affect most seriously the lives of all of us for the next few weeks.
So, after a bit more conversation on details, it was arranged that the next day a party consisting of Gaunt, Shimkin and twenty of Akasso’s warriors should go forth into the forest and search for me. Then Theinah dropped a bombshell into the discussion by insisting that she be allowed to go with us. Akasso at first absolutely forbade her, but after the other two interceded for her, pleading that they needed her as an interpreter, as their language was still very poor, he finally agreed to let her go along.
The next day, Shimkin and Gaunt rose early and dressed for the expedition on which they were about to venture. They had both equipped themselves with axes, long before this, and had even paid some small attention to their use, for they had no means of telling when they might be attacked by the same enemies that had captured me, and the unfortunate loss of our rifles forced them to adopt the more primitive weapons as the best substitute. So now, the two buckled on their axes, and Shimkin, absent-minded as usual, carefully inserted into the small knapsack which he still wore, a good half dozen boxes of cartridges. He hardly noticed that he did it, yet the time was to come when his heart was to send up fervent thanks to the God of his fathers that for once he had been absent-minded enough to do the wrong things at the right time.
Dressed in badly wrinkled trousers and jackets, with double-headed bronze axes hanging from jeweled belts, our scientists no doubt made a queer picture as they waited on the princess Theinah at the raquaminthe’s palace. The chana appeared at last, and attended by two dozen of the raquaminthe’s warriors, the party made its way through the gates of the city.
For the best part of the first day, in pursuance of Theinah’s plan, the party searched aimlessly through the forest. This was to confuse any spies that Turantho might have sent after them. Time and again they pretended to dash off on false clues; and at last, when the time of sleep drew near, they decided that they could no longer be followed, and so they started off in the direction of the ruined city. They marched on until the usually time of sleep, and then at last pitched camp and, after posting a guard, snatched a few hours of needed slumber.
When they awoke, they at once resumed the march, and reached the city after about five more hours of walking. It stood in the deepest part of the forest, and the majority of the buildings were crumbling with age and covered with grey moss and dusty colored lichens. While still some distance from them, they beheld the towers rising above the trees, but it was not until they were quite close that the full strangeness of the city burst upon them.
The architecture of the city was the most unearthly that one could imagine. There must have been over a hundred of the ruined buildings, the outer ones low and squat; the central ones high, narrow towers; all of them composed of the same luminous stone of which the “sky” was composed, and all of them cylindrical in shape. The highest must have been at least three hundred feet high, and no more than forty feet in diameter at the most; the lowest, which was nearest to the approaching party, was about thirty feet high, and fully twice as much across.
The cylindrical shape of the buildings was not the only thing which they had in common; in fact the size was about all in which they differed. The window, of which there were many, were circular, the doors were long, slim ovals, and the entire walls of every building were covered with carvings, carvings of what seemed to be an intricate system of vines, their stems intertwining and convolving, returning and repeating the pattern, until it almost seemed that here was some strange systems of writing that had long since been forgotten on the earth. And over all this maze of carven vines, real vines twisted and stretched, in some cases almost entirely hiding the stone beneath.
For awhile, the two scientists sat on their stubby horses, studying these ruins in appreciative awe. A new world had opened before their eyes when they first beheld the land of the Gate, a world that had led them back to a time that had long been forgotten in the world above. But as they looked at these age-worn buildings, crumbling and decaying in the eternally dry air of this windless cavern, and they began to realize what an immensity of time would be required to bring them to this state, their awe began to turn to spell-bound amazement.
It was Gaunt who finally broke the spell.
“Look, Nathan!” he whispered. “Look at that high tower to the left. No, not that one—the third one to the left of the highest. See, the one with the shiny top?”
Shimkin looked; and saw the reason for Barney’s surprise. High above the crumbling stone of the ruins were a dozen feet or more of glistening metal bars. And the arrangement of them and their shape left no doubt but that they were the beams and girders that reinforced the stonework as is done in modern skyscrapers!
“And we think we’re smart!” whispered the bearded archeologist.” whispered the bearded archeologist. “Himmel, Barney! Skyscrapers in this place thousands of years ago. And that metal—never steel, Barney. Steel would have rusted long ago. It looks like a chromium alloy, Barney.”
“And of a different culture than the town of Kherinth!” came Barney’s answer. “There is a mystery here to be solved, Nathan. ‘Tis some pre-Cretan civilization, this. Perhaps the work of that people that bored the glowin’ tube!”
They were close to the city by this time, and the company had halted for though they had seen no signs of life, they hesitated to approach the city closer, for fear that they might be seen sooner than they desired. So far, the trees had managed to keep them hidden from view. And now Theinah rode up to the wondering scientists and spoke softly:
“I took the liberty, my friends, of sending scouts ahead of us, and they have just returned to report. Will you hear them?”
Shimkin and Gaunt put their interest in the city aside and signified that they would hear the report of the scouts. It was no easy thing to abandon their study of the amazing city, but the scientists consoled themselves with the thought that they would soon be in it and able to study it to their hearts content. A moment later, one of the warriors was saluting them and chattering away in Cretan so rapidly that even the etymologist was unable to follow him. Theinah gasped in dismay and hastened to translate his statements.
“He and his friend have been in the city,” she said. “They arrived several hours ago. They found the city deserted, and but two outlaws in the whole town, evidently left there as guards when the rest of the company departed. They overcame these two, who were at opposite ends of the town, and then they proceeded to search the place. For at least two hours they have been seeking in every nook and cranny in Yankhya, but they have seen no sign of Herimas nor of where he might have been hidden. But on the farther side of the city can be seen the tracks of many men, moving off through the forest in the direction of Kherinth.
“I fear that Turantho has forestalled us again; and that the outlaws have left Yankhya, to return Herimas to the city. Shall we follow them, think you?”
Her speech caused the spirits of my two friends to sink very low. They had built their hopes on finding me in Yankhya, little knowing what a wild goose chase the journey to that city really was; and now that it began to seem that they had again been out-maneuvered by the wily minoqua, they felt that the chances of finding me were slim indeed. After some talk with Theinah, they decided to return to Kherinth, following the trail made by the outlaws. They believed that the outlaws were bringing me back to Kherinth and that if they overtook them, they might yet rescue me. The outlaws were journeying to Kherinth, and their real motive will be apparent later, but it is necessary now that I tell of this trail that they left, and of what occurred to Theinah and the scientist as they journeyed along it.
They circled the town, came to a place where the trampled undergrowth and broken twigs showed unmistakably where a large party of men had passed into the woods, and here they turned away from the ruins to follow the clearly marked trail. They moved hurriedly, sending a group in advance to pick out the trail and hoping against hope that they would catch up with the party of outlaws. It was soon evident, though, from a dozen signs, that the outlaws had far too great a start; indeed, it became increasingly evident that they had almost certainly reached Kherinth already. So with sinking hearts, they continued along, feeling that nothing remained but to return to the Astyrinth and report failure.
And then, as they were passing through one of the more thickly wooded portions of the forest, there came a bubbling scream from one of the advance scouts, and as it ended, suddenly cut short, there was a clash of metal on stone, and they suddenly found themselves in an ambush, while around them rose the mangy forms of dozens of the Malgetori.
The Kherinthians, of course, were startled. Not yet were they used to this united front that the Malgetori had recently assumed. For a moment, they were frozen with surprise and indecision; and that moment was the one which decided the tide of the battle that had suddenly been precipitated. The Kherinthians, once recovered from their surprise, fought valiantly; but it was useless, the battle was already decided. One after another, the red-cloaked defenders of Theinah and her friends went down, with two, three and sometimes even more of the savage beast-like sub-men swarming over their horses.
The horses, which had certainly not been trained to such fighting as this, became frightened and reared and kicked, causing almost as much damage to the Kherinthians as did the Malgetori. These latter seemed to look upon the horses as though they were as much enemies as were the men. Time and again a half dozen of them would leave their human enemies to swarm over a horse, their stone axes swinging, their javelins stabbing like knives, until the beast fell bleeding from a dozen wounds. Then the savages would be up again and after some unfortunate Kherinthian.
Shimkin and Gaunt found themselves dismounted early in the battle. Nathan had the bad fortune to be attacked by four Malgetori who seemed to have centered their vicious attention upon his horse. The animal fell and without a doubt, Shimkin would have been the next objective of the group of sub-men, had not Barney Gaunt leaped from his animal and rushed to his protection. For a moment, the axe of the fighting Irishman flashed and struck around his fallen comrade, and then Shimkin was up and able to account for himself. The two backed to the spot where the last of the Kherinthian soldiers were gathered around Theinah, and there they took their stand, too, determined to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
Gaunt fell presently. The attention he was paying to two Neanderthalers in front of him prevented him from seeing one who stole up beside him, taking the place of a fallen Kherinthian. This sub-man was clad as had been that one who had attempted to do for me in the first battle, and was obviously a chief or priest of some sort. Very deliberately, very carefully, he aimed a blow at the thickest part of Barney’s skull, and the next minute the Irishman was out of the fighting. As he fell, Shimkin struck at the chief, and that was the end of that particular Neanderthaler. The Malgetori fought with less spirit after that, but it was impossible for the few Kherinthians to overcome them. It was not long before the last of the brave red-cloaks fell, and then a swarm of the sub-men rushed Nathan and Theinah and in a few moments had them securely trussed up and lying inertly upon the ground.
Barney was tied up too, and when the party of Malgetori started to leave the scene of battle, he was picked up and carried like a sack of meal by one of the huge brutes.
“Where do you suppose they are taking us, Lady Theinah?” asked Nathan, as they tramped along, some time later, led by the blows and grunts of the hairy sub-men.
“I do not know, Nathan,” answered the girl. “Never before in our history have the Malgetori united to fight against us. I cannot believe that they have been able to arrange and carry out that battle that they have just fought. They have a leader somewhere who is wiser than they, and who has inspired them to unite as they have. I am afraid, Nathan.”
“What is your fear, Theinah? Is it your enemy, Turantho? Could he have united the Malgetori?”
“No. I have a greater fear than that.”
Nathan was puzzled, but he did not pursue his questions on the matter of the mysterious leader of the Malgetori. He had just thought of something that, to him, was far more important.
“Chana Theinah,” he said. “Who were the builders of the city of Yankhya?”
She looked at him in amazement. I can readily imagine how absurd his question must have seemed to her, yet I also know that the question was a perfectly natural one for Nathan Shimkin. That question had been bothering him ever since he had first seen the city, and he had probably propounded it the first chance that he saw. When Theinah saw that he was really serious, she answered him:
“That city was not built by my people, Nathan. It was here when the great Dasu led his people into the land of the Gate. It was Dasu that sacked and ruined that city and drove its people out of it and into the Lower Lands beyond the Gate. You can see that the city was not built by such people as we are. No, Yankhya is a city of the Mokibars.”
“But who are the people you call the Mokibars? I have heard nothing of them, Lady Theinah.”
“They are the ones who occupy the Lower Lands, into which they were driven by the great Dasu. It is against them that we hold the Gate.”
Theinah would probably have said more, but at her very next words her captor gave her a sudden blow in the mouth and in unmistakable signs ordered her to be silent. The sub-man leading Nathan served him likewise and the two were carried along in silence after that.
Gaunt regained consciousness a little while after this. He looked around him dazedly and, spying Nathan, called out to him to learn what had happened. Nathan cautioned him to silence, and a moment later, he was thrown to the ground, the withes about his legs removed and he was forced to get up and walk with the other captives.
And after a long while, they came to a rocky valley in the far side of the cavern, where, on the hillside that raised up against the “sky”, there appeared a great group of small caves, a spot which was, quite obviously, a sort of village of the Neanderthalers. Most of the caves had curtains of skin over the doors, and into one of these the three captives were taken. A sharp stone knife was applied to the withes that bound them, and then the sub-men departed and left them to themselves.
Barney rubbed the sore place on his head thoughtfully.
“To the best of me remembrance, Nathan,” he said, “there be two objectives that we should be havin’. One, to rescue our young friend, Harry Moss; the other, to be investigatin’ the archeological and anthropological wonders of this cavern. I fear ‘tis a most inopportune time to try to accomplish either one!”
Shimkin buried his face in his hands.
“So it seems a fine mess we’ve made of things, eh, Barney? I wonder what’ll be next?” A sudden idea struck him. “Say, Lady Theinah, do these fellows ever eat men?”
“They have been known to, Nathan,” was the encouraging answer. “They sometimes kidnap young children, and there is some evidence that they occasionally eat their own people when food is scare.”
“Oi, what a cheerfulness you got, Lady Theinah!” Shimkin sat down on the littered floor of the cave and stared into the gloom. He was in a particularly discouraged mood, and Barney, seeing this, went over and sat down beside him.
“Now don’t ye be feelin’ blue, Nathan, me friend. We’ve been in worse predicaments than this and gotten out of them. D’ye mind the time when we were imprisoned be the rebels in Guayamo, and how ye felt then? And didn’t we come out all right, with the rebels kissin’, our boots before the week was over? Com, now, cheer ye up, Nathan, me boy.”
He would have said more, but the skin that covered the doorway was suddenly thrust aside. Theinah looked up and screamed. Shimkin had his back to the door, and Barney was standing behind him, leaning down with his face at Nathan’s shoulder, and so the two had to rise before they could see the cause of the girl’s fright. When they saw what had entered, it was all these men could do to keep from screaming, too.
Framed in the light of the doorway was a living breathing specimen of one of the strange bird-headed demons whose pictures we had seen in the hall of the glowing tube!
Huedrac of the Yuketori
When I stood with my back to the door, and looked at the dozen purple-clad soldiers upon whom I had burst so unceremoniously, my first thought was that the good fortune which had been attending me had played out, and that nothing remained but to give myself up. This feeling passed almost immediately, for it dawned on me that the soldiers were almost as thunderstruck as I, and that if I moved quickly, I might yet have a small chance of escape. I swung open the door again and leaped out into the hall, just as a huge soldier, with a bellow like that of the well-known bull of Bashan, seized up his axe and, leaping from the table at which he sat, lunged after me. The last sight I had of the room was that of the whole dozen rising from their benches and following him.
In the hall again, I saw that the men whom I had seen coming down the steps had been joined by at least twenty more. The stairs were full; there was no time for me to try the other door, as I had hoped and intended to do, if given the time; and so I beat a hasty retreat back along the way I had come.
The door of the mess-hall, or whatever it was, burst open and the dozen leaped out. I saw the axes of the other men swing in the air, there was a shout of surprise from these whose dinner had been interrupted and before I disappeared around a distant corner, I realized that the two groups of men were engaged in a pitched battle. I paused uncertainly, wondering what it was that caused this battle in the very palace of the minoqua himself. It came to me suddenly that the score or more who had come from above were not clad in the purple and yellow but wore instead coarse waist-cloths of grey or brown. Quite evidently they were not the minoqua’s soldiers, more than likely they were invaders from somewhere without. Yet who could it be that would invade the palace of the redoubtable Turantho, and what on earth could be their object?
I was curious to know the answer to these questions, but it was not curiosity that led me to retrace my steps. The idea had come to me that if I cast my lost with these men, I might have a far better chance to escape than if I continued the flight back to my cell, as I was doing now. I turned and sped back to the stairs, where, by now, the battle had assumed decidedly serious proportions. The minoqua’s guards had been reinforced, the group had almost doubled in size, and the score or so of invaders were now faced by a part as great, if not greater, than their own.
As I approached, one of the strangers leaped out of the melee and rushed toward me. His face was covered with blood from a hideous wound on his scalp but he held in each hand an axe, and one of them he was holding out to me. I seized it and was about to enter the fight when he grasped my arm and held me back.
“No!” he ejaculated. He pointed down the hall. “You must find the chief. We will hold this group until you rescue him! Here are the keys; we overcame the warden of the dungeons before we came down from above– You must go back and rescue the chief. You will know him, he will be calling the word, ‘Yankhya’. Open his cell and release him!”
So that was what it was. Some group attempting a rescue and I had had the good fortune to run upon them. Well, I would cast my lot with them and if their break was successful, then I felt that I could count on my freedom, too. I raced down into the cell chambers again and hurried past the rows of cells, listening for some sign of the password. Several prisoners called out to me, asking what was the matter, but I pad them no attention until suddenly I heard the voice of one of them, calling out to me after I had passed.
“Yankhya! Yankhya!” roared the voice. “Ho! You infernal bungler! If you don’t let me out of here at once, by the Axe and the Wielder, I swear I’ll eat your for my very next meal! Yankhya, you fool!” I turned and approached the cell from which this voice issued. A man stood within it, a man who might have been a brunette counterpart of myself. He had the same heavy eyebrows, the same crop of thick unmanageable hair, the same enormous shoulders, and the same arrogant look in his eyes. Unshaven, he was, and clad in nothing but a waist-cloth of tanned horse-hide and a pair of buskins. He was reaching through the bars for the keys, but his arrogant, boorish manner had irked me not a little and I stood beyond his reach and dangled the keys temptingly.
“Say please,” I suggested. “Say pretty please.”
I had expected to hear him rave and carry on worse than ever. But he was no fool, this fellow, though he was rather hast-tempered; and when he saw that he could not intimidate me by a ferocious manner, he became calm at once.
“All right,” he said, with a sort of dangerous smile. “The chief presents his compliments to the unknown and asks that he please open the cell door – and at once, for even as we chatter here, there may be yuketori seeking for us. Come now hurry, and no more time for foolishness. When we return to Yankhya, if so be we do, then I shall take up this matter again.”
I opened the door as he commanded, and he stepped out at once and glanced hurriedly up and down the hallway. Then with quick catlike steps, he moved silently up the passage. I was amazed at the marvelous physique of the man, as he hurried on before me. I have a rather remarkable body, myself; I was born that way, and I take no credit to myself for what is obviously a gift of nature; but it is seldom that I see a man who equals me physically, and when I do, I am willing to admit that he is an exception, as I myself am. I wondered what a physical contest between us would be like—almost I found myself wishing that I could meet this colossus in hand-to-hand combat.
We had come in sight of the battle, now. More soldiers of the minoqua had arrived, the ones that had been there at first had been forced back until they were between us and our comrades, and it was at once evident that we could not join these others, for at least thirty of the minoqua’s guards barred our way. A sudden idea occurred to me. I called out to the man in front of me:
“Quick!” I cried. “I think I know of another way out of here. We can never break through to your comrades now! Follow me and I may yet get you out.”
He paused uncertainly and then, with a shrug, turned and went with me. I hastened fled down into the cell-chambers again and back to my old cell. We entered it, and saw laying there the dead body of the jailer. The chief of the invaders looked around.
“What is this, some kind of a trick- -“
“Oh, shut up!” I interrupted. “There’s a secret—“I was pushing back the stone that Kaslo had moved, and which he had evidently replaced—“there’s a secret entrance to this cell. I don’t know where it goes, but I hope—I think—we’ll find elbow room, at least, beyond it. Come on!”
I swung feet first into the dark hole that had appeared as I pushed back the stone, and a moment later, I felt the other’s feet dig viciously into my shoulders, and knew that he followed. I uttered a grunt of pain and heard him chuckling happily. “Go on, you slug!” he grunted. “Move quickly. We have much to do when we get our freedom.”
I found myself in a dark tunnel-like hole, and shuffled along as fast as I could. My companion was close in back of me, and he left no doubt that he was following, as we felt our way, feet foremost, through the hole. At last a ray of light began to struggle in, somewhere ahead of me and I knew that we had not much further to go. A moment later, we both emerged from the hole and stood up and looked around.
We were in a narrow sort of alley-way between two immensely towering walls. The alleyway was not more than five feet in width, and the walls were at least forty feet in height. I was at a loss to know where we were, but my companion was quite at home.
“Do you see where we are?” he grinned. Between the Labyrinth and the city’s wall. Excellent, my golden-haired colossus. It remains only to get out of the city at the nearest gate and then to return to rescue my beleaguered companions.” And this time it was he who called: “Come on!” and rushed away with me at his heels.
Now, I had accomplished my objective. I was free from the minoqua’s prison, and I could basically have left this stranger and returned at once to the Astyrinth and thus ended my adventures. But there were two reasons why I did not. One was that I felt that I owed something to this man and his comrades for helping me to escape; the other was- - well, call it plain love of adventure. When this fellow grinned and said, “Come on,” and led the way, it took a mighty mean man to refuse to follow.
We sped through the alley, following the city wall; we left the protecting shadow of the wall of the Labyrinth and hastened toward the city gate that appeared distantly down the street. Several citizens who were passing called to us to find out what was the matter, but we ignored them and hurried on, reaching the gate without adventure. We ran through, my companion shouting something to the guard that I did not catch, but which somehow seemed to assure him of our honesty, and then we were retracing our steps, but this time on the other side of the wall.
We came to a spot where the trees of the forest came right up to the side of the wall. Here a group of men were gathered, around a tall structure, a ladder of wooden branches that had been laid up against the wall. The ex-prisoner strode amongst them, and they recognized him with cries of delight.
“Silence!” he roared in a voice that made their cried seem like whisperings of the leaves. “Yuddo, give me your axe. Calko, your shield. You two, remain here and guard. The rest of you, follow me into the Labyrinth! Our comrades are surrounded in there, and it is up to us to get them out. Follow me!” He turned to me. “You, too, Gold-hair!”
We scrambled up the ladder. We ran along the top of the great wall. We came to a place where two men stood guarding a little bridge of wood that lay across the narrow space that divided the city wall from the reef of the Labyrinth. We crossed, and in a few minutes were rushing down a flight of stairs and into the midst of the still raging battle between the guards of the minoqua and their opponents.
The group of rescuers had been caught between two fires while we were making our journey to the outside. Now, however, the group of purple-clad warriors who fought on this side found themselves surrounded. They fought valiantly, but they were already tired and had suffered quite a few casualties; and after all, it was not for their lives that they were fighting. Before long, their only objective was to get on the other side, where their companions were, away from these new fighters who had just arrived. So it was that before long our two groups joined and the way was clear to fall back to the roof of the building.
We retreated, slowly. Several times we had to halt to take care of new groups of soldiers as they arrived. It was not all fun and frolic on our side, any more than it was amongst the warriors of the minoqua. Man after man went down; there was hardly one left of the original twenty-two or three who had come here to aid their chief; but at last we reached to roof and made our way across the bridge. We hauled away at it, pulled it from the hands of the frantic soldiers on the Labyrinth’ roof; and, with one man still clinging to it and screaming at the top of his lungs, we dropped it into the alley. Then, amidst a shower of bronze-tipped arrows, we fled to the ladder and, slipping and sliding down it, we were soon fleeing away into the forest.
After about five minutes’ running, I heard the chief’s bellow rising above the sounds of the flight.
“Scatter!” he was shouting, “every man to himself now. Let no one join with a companion until the pursuit is abandoned. They will tire of hunting us, in a day or so. Return to Yankhya then!”
I saw the others scatter, as they had been commanded, and run in all directions. I turned, myself, deciding that I had been of as much help as I could to these men; but hardly had I turned my back when an immense, hand descended on my shoulder.
“Oh, no, my golden-haired one! You don’t get away so easily as that. You are the only one my orders do not apply to. You are going with me until I learn more about you. I have much to say to you, and much to do, also!”
That last sounded like a veiled threat, and maybe not so very veiled, either. It began to look as though that half-formed wish of mine to have a battle with this fellow might be granted.
“You can learn about me as well here as in that lair of yours which you call Yankhya,” I said, briskly. “Ask me what you want to know.”
He stopped his walking and stood looking at me speculatively.
“It is long since I have had anyone talk to me like that,” he said. “I don’t know whether I like it or not. Who is it that dares to speak in such a tone to the chief of Yankhya’s men?”
“My name,” I answered him, “is Herimas. Have you, by any chance, heard of me? I have been quite a well-known figure in Kherinth, during the last month.”
The fellow continued to look me over appraisingly.
“Are you the, the stranger who claims that he came from the world above? Yes, I have heard of you, Herimas.”
“And you?” I asked. I have been wondering who you are. Surely you are not a Kherinthian.”
He smiled, a little grimly.
“Never, when I played, as a child, around the walls of the Labyrinth, did I expect that the time would come when I would be taken for other than a Kherinthian. But you are right, Herimas. I am no Kherinthian, now. Once I was Huedrac, Impallu of the Yuketori; now I am but Huedrac, chief of the outlaws of Yankhya.”
Well, of course, I didn’t know then about the outlaws of Yankhya. The reader has already been told of these inhabitants of the ruined city, and so it is not necessary that they be explained again. It might be worth while to mention, though, that it was this attack on the Labyrinth, to rescue their chief, that had caused the outlaws to be absent when Theinah, with Nathan Shimkin and Barney Gaunt, had come to the city, that morning.
But, as I say, of these things I new nothing as I stood and faced Huedrac. He was silent after his speech and I waited for a moment, then:
“Well, Huedrac, chief of the outlaws what more do you know? I must hasten to return to my friends, and, in spite of your insinuating ways, I cannot stay with you much longer.”
He grinned a sinister grin.
“There is one more thing that I would like to know, Herimas, but I doubt if you can tell me. Who is the stronger of us two? Never in my life before have I seen a man who I thought could stand up to me in physical combat. And I have a consuming desire to discover which of us is the greater.”
I turned away.
“Look you, Huedrac,” I said. “I have fought shoulder to shoulder with you, today, in the same cause. I have never seen a man so much like me, and frankly, I wish that we were comrades. But I have friends who have worried over my absence for a week, and it is time that I go to them, to let them know that I am safe. I am going back to Kherinth, now. If you want to know who is the better man, try and detain me.”
I strode off, but in a moment he was at my side.
“Look you here, Herimas; a truce to our ill-feeling. But, truthfully, you cannot attempt to stride haughtily back to Kherinth. It is more than three miles to the town, and the forest is full of dangers. The Malgetori are fighting as never before, the woods swarm with Turantho’ men; and if you were not caught by the one, you would fall foul of the others. Even if you won to the city, it would be an even wager that you would be caught by the minoqua before you could be found by the raquaminthe. Take my advice, Herimas, come with me to Yankhya, and we will get word to your friends to join you there. Then you will be free of the plots of your enemy, and the still more dangerous plans of your friend, the raquaminthe.”
Well, his advice was good, I knew. But I had a sneaking feeling that he was arguing, not so much for my own good as for a chance to satisfy himself on that fight question. Well, if he wanted it, let him have it; I had not asked for it, but I wouldn’t avoid it when the time came.
“I’ll go with you, Huedrac,” I said. “And I will hold you to your word to get in touch with my friends as soon as you can.”
The rest of the day passed comparatively uneventfully. Once we hid ourselves in a thicket while a group of purple-clad soldiers rode by, and once an unfortunate Neanderthaler ran afoul of us, and fled howling; until Huedrac’s axe flew unerringly and brought him down; but aside from this we had no further adventure. We slept, at last, in a thicket, and awoke to take up our journey to the ruined city. And at last, after some ten hours of circuitous traveling, we arrived at Yankhya.
We were forced to lie quietly in a little vale beyond the city for nearly thirty hours, while we waited for a group of yuketori to search through the ruins. They were remarkably tenacious in their purpose, it was quite evident that they expected the outlaws to return, and they did their best to hide and surprise them. But Huedrac pointed out at least a dozen evidences of their presence and laughed at the idea that any of the outlaws would be caught napping. And indeed, not an outlaw appeared until the soldiers disgustedly broke camp and rode away. But once they were gone, it was not three hours before the outlaws were back in their camp, with the exception of a few who were sent to follow the soldiers to see that they did not unexpectedly return and pay another visit to the ruined city.
When at last the outlaws had gathered again at Yankhya, Huedrac called them together and introduced me, telling them that I had come to live with them for a few days. A big gray-haired, one-eyed fellow lumbered to his feet and looked me over insolently. Then he shrugged his shoulders and laughed a nasty laugh.
“So he has come to live in Yankhya, eh?” Well and good, but I like not your job, Huedrac. Remember the rule of the brotherhood.”
“He comes not as a new member, but as a guest,” he said, and would have said more, but his voice was drowned in a storm of protests.
“Rule of the brotherhood!” “Fight or abdicate!” came the cries. “Does Huedrac fear the stranger?” “By the Doves of the Mother, this will be a battle.”
There would have been much more in the same vein, but Huedrac raised his hand. In a minute or two, the cries died away and there was silence.
“Now, look you!” roared the outlaw chief. “I had expected that this, my guest, might be treated with some consideration while among you. But I might have known better of you, scum of the earth! So Herimas must fight, eh? Well, you know the rule of the brotherhood so well, what do you say to my right o appoint a deputy?” He turned to me, “It is the rule of our band, Herimas, that the leader can only hold his office by overcoming in combat every member of the band who sees fit to challenge him. These rats are spoiling to see a good combat, but I’ll wager there be but a few who will want to take my place.”
He turned again to the crowd.
“Do I hear any volunteers to take my place?” Silence. “Ah, yes! ‘twill be a merry battle to watch, eh!”
The outlaws made no answer. They watched him sullenly. Again he turned to me, and I noted that there was a twinkle in his eye.
“It seems that I have got you into a pretty bad dilemma, Herimas,” he said. “I fear that our combat must take place after all.”
He had tricked me I knew. When he had suggested that I come with him to Yankhya, he had known that this would be the outcome. I felt a surge of anger come over me, and without a word, I began to strip off my jacket and my shirt. The outlaws began to murmur excitedly, and Huedrac watched me like a hawk. No sooner had I stripped to the waist then his hand darted out suddenly as a striking snake – and my head rang with a terrific slap on the jaw. It was a signal to begin, almost simultaneously with the landing of the blow, my arm swung up and caught him below the chin—a blow that has felled many men, it was, yet it hardly phased him; he leaped in at me and I saw his knee come up, and knew that I was not to expect the protection of Queensbury rules in this battle.
I seized his knee before it could strike, tugged and he crashed to the ground; his hand darted out and pulled at my ankle- - and I was down, too, and the fight had fairly begun.
How I wish I could remember all the details of that epoch-making struggle. Truly,– in this cavern, at least,;; it was the battle of a century. I know, if I live to be a hundred, I will never engage in such a combat as that again. It was the battle of my particular lifetime, certainly. I have fought in armed battles where the danger was greater, and I have fought against seemingly greater odds, but never have I stood, bare-handed, and given and taken such blows as I gave and took, then. And I do not think I ever will again.
We were on the ground, wallowing and clawing; I rolled away from him and leaped to my feet, but quick as I was, the outlaw chief was on his feet ahead of me. Roaring like a bull, he rushed wildly at me;–I remembered a dozen stories that I had read, and stepping nimbly aside, I allowed him to pass me, and as he did so, I swung a terrific right to his jaw. It missed! This fellow was no ignorant, bungling giant; he was as well versed in these little tricks as I. He ducked my blow skillfully, flung out an arm, and I felt a terrific smack on the back of my neck as he passed. I turned to face him, but he circled around me, I swung again, felt a sudden jolt that nearly knocked me to the ground– Huedrac had leaped upon my back and bestrode me like an old man of the sea.
In vain I bucked and swung, trying to dislodge him. He clung to me with his knees, raining blow after blow upon my head and neck and shoulders. Presently his fingers fastened themselves upon my throat and in an instant, I felt my wind cut off.
My head was swimming, my eyes were blurred with water, and I knew that it would be but a moment until I dropped if I did not do something to get those gorilla-like fingers from my throat. To pry them loose would require a terrific effort, for, in getting my fingers under his, the pressure on my throat would be still greater– But I did it. I shut my eyes, wheezed as much air as I could into my tortured lungs, and with a might yank, I tore his fingers from my throat, seized his wrists and threw him suddenly forward. His head was, for a second, close to mine, just long enough for me to release his wrists and lock both hands around the back of his head. A jerk- - a might thrust- - and he was sailing through the air, over my head, to land with a crash on the ground in front of me. I stood and breathed a great sigh of relief- - that crash would kill an ordinary man, and certainly it would be sufficient to cause this opponent of mine to lose interest in the fight, temporarily, at least. To my amazement, he staggered to his feet and came at me again!
I met him with a stinging drive to the jaw, he took it like a bronze statue might have taken it, and then he swung at me. Still groggy from the choking I had received, I delayed avoiding it, took his blow even as he had taken mine, and for a while we stood there, each taking what was given, each giving without opposition.
Huedrac was the first to yield, this time. He slipped into a clinch changed it to a wrestling hold and we crashed again to the ground. From here on I have but a vague recollection of what went on for a while. We abandoned all attempts at strategy, we thought of nothing but inflicting as much damage as possible upon the other. We must have scrambled around in the dirt for many minutes before I finally managed to get to my feet again, just a fraction of a second before Huedrac, too, arose.
Huedrac was by now literally covered with blood from the scratches and superficial surface bruises caused by my hands. I was in no better shape, what parts of my body I could see were a mass of blood and I knew that if the fight did not end soon, we were both due to collapse from exhaustion. I began to wish, almost, that I would be conquered, if that were necessary to stop the fight. But some inner something urged me on; if I lay down in this fight, I knew that I would never be satisfied again until I had fought a finish battle, to see which one of us really was the best.
The crowd of outlaws were beside themselves with excitement, now. No longer were their cries entirely for Huedrac, as they had been at the beginning. Some of the, probably pleased by the fight that I was putting up, began to cheer and make wagers on me. It was a foolish thing to do, I really was out on my feet, but I suppose I looked to worse than Huedrac, and no man had ever stood up to him before as I was doing. And so it was no wonder that some of the outlaws began to have a feeling that I would win.
We were growing more cautious now. Neither of us felt that it would do any harm to watch for a favorable opportunity, grasping the chance to get a few needed lungful of air while the other sought for an opening. I watched Huedrac like a hawk as he circled around me, and then suddenly I closed with him again. In a flash I saw the opportunity I had been waiting for– the chance to land a blow that even this colossus could not withstand– my fist came up with a crash,– and then it seemed as if the very sky itself had fallen. Something struck me a terrific blow on the very point of the jaw; I felt my head jerk back, I was literally lifted off my feet. I whirled through miles of dark clouds, I seemed to be falling through a million tiny stars into a chasm of unfathomable darkness– and abruptly I knew no more.
The Game in the Canyon
Someone was speaking in a language I did not understand. My head ached. I ached all over. I- - I did understand that language. It was Kherinthian. Memory returned to me, I lay listening to the chatter of the outlaws who surrounded me.
“Never in all the history of the land of the Gate was there such a battle as that! And to think that it occurred in ruined Yankhya and not in the theater of the games. By the Axe! If either had lasted a minute longer, he would have been the winner! But they fell together, together, mind you, and there they lay still—“These remarks and others were being chattered back and forth about me. Someone evidently saw me move as I turned to find a softer spot to lie on, for:
“Ho, Herimas is returning to consciousness. Herimas is the first to recover. Does that make him the winner of the fight, think you?”
“No!” came a familiar bellow, “By the Axe and the Wielder, no! Who says that Herimas has recovered consciousness before me?”
I opened my eyes to see Huedrac lying not far from me, and as he saw me lift myself on my arm, his ferocious frown turned to a grin and he waved a hand toward me.
“From what I hear, it was no decision,” he called. “Have you a desire to continue the battle, Herimas?”
I stumbled weakly to my feet. Truly, I had no desire to continue this combat. But I couldn’t let these outlaws know that. I staggered over to where Huedrac lay, and signified that I was willing to go on. He shook his head, and a rueful grin overspread his features.
“Don’t be foolish Herimas. You have had enough and so have I.”
He stood up and called to the assembled outlaws.
“Now, look you, men of Yankhya. This day has Herimas the stranger battled with me and I have failed to conquer him. From this day is he as a brother to me, and by the Holy Mother of us both, whatsoever a man does to him, he does it to me! I have not conquered Herimas, but if any man in this band thinks that I am not still capable of being chief, let him speak now, and spent as I am, I will tear him apart with my hands.”
There was silence for several moments among the outlaws, and I wondered what their decision would be. It was obvious, from the serious way in which they whispered among themselves, that if a chief could not be deposed by a single opponent, it was still possible for the entire band to drive him out. I waited with almost as much tense anxiety as did Huedrac himself. But presently one of the outlaws sent up a cry: “Long live Huedrac, chief of the men of Yankhya!” and at once it was taken up by the others until the old ruins rang with the cry, and Huedrac rose, and we leaned against each other and smiled- -
“By the Axe and the Wielder, Herimas!” grinned the ex-officer of Turantho. “There was never such a fight as that. Never in all my life have I been defeated in single combat!”
“Nor have I,” I admitted. “It was truly a battle of the ages, Huedrac.”
“And I meant that oath that I swore to the men, Herimas. You shall be a brother to me as long as you remain in the land of the Gate.”
“And you to me Huedrac,” I answered, and added: “By the Axe and the Wielder!”
He grinned at my use of his favorite oath, and then, turning to the still cheering men he ordered them to be off about their various duties. The men, still cheering, departed; and Huedrac motioned me to follow him, and so, turning, we entered one of the strange ruined buildings.
We found relief in a most refreshing bath, and after that, we repaired to an inner room and at once curled up on the piles of straw that served for beds in Yankhya, aching still in every bone, we were soon sound asleep, and it must have been nearly twelve hours before either of us woke again. When at last I opened my eyes, it was to find Huedrac bending over me and shaking me roughly.
“Ohe, Herimas! Herimas! By the Axe! You are as hard to waken as Dasu himself. Ha! Consciousness returns, eh? Look you now, brother. Here is news for you.”
I struggled to my feet. Huedrac was not the only one in the room. Another was there, a man dressed in the purple and yellow of the minoqua’s guards. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Yes, there was no doubt- - it was one of the yuketori.
“Ah, don’t be surprised, Herimas,” barked Huedrac. Haven’t I told you that I was once an impallu of Turantho’s men” There are quite a few in the minoqua’s army that still have a soft place in their hearts for Huedrac. This fellow has just come bringing me news of the city, and there is something that may interest you. Listen.”
The purple-cloaked one bowed to me.
“It is sad news that I bring you, Herimas. May I speak freely, without fear of punishment?”
I looked at Huedrac uncertainly. “What’s he mean?” I asked. “What’s he mean about that punishment?”
“He brings you bad news. It is the custom of great lords to punish the bearers of bad news. He fears that you will be angered by the news he tells.”
I shook my head briskly.
“Tell me your news,” I commanded. “I am no fool, to visit my anger upon the bearer of ill tidings. What have you to tell?
“This- - that the two other men from the world above, together with the chana Theinah and twenty solders of the raquaminthe ventured into the woods, three days ago, in search of you, Lord Herimas.
“They visited Yankhya, and, finding no one there, they started to return to Kherinth. Yesterday, the soldiers of the minoqua, returning from their chase of the impallu Huedrac’s men, ran across the scene of a terrific battle. Dozens of dead Malgetori lay about, as did the entire twenty soldiers of Akasso, and their horses! But of chana Theinah and your two companions there was no sign! It was plain that the battle had been won by the Malgetori, who had carried off our princess and your friends.
“The soldiers hastened to spread the news through the city. Akasso sent hundreds of his men into the forest at once, to seek for his daughter. They are seeking now; and not more than half of the raquaminthe’s forces are left in Kherinth. Turantho has not missed this chance; he has seen his opportunity and struck! When I left, all Kherinth was engaged in battle, a battle that will only end with victory for either the minoqua or the raquaminthe!”
The soldier was silent. So was I. I was utterly dumbfounded. I had imagined Theinah, Nathan and Barney as being perfectly safe in Kherinth, in the palace of the high-priest. I had imagined Turantho checked in his plans by my escape; and had felt that all that remained for me to do was to wait until the purple-clad soldiers left the forest, and then return to Kherinth and the safe shelter of the Astyrinth. But now- -
“Huedrac,” I turned to the outlaw chief. “You have called yourself my brother. I little thought that I would have need of that friendship so soon but– These men are my good friends, this lady, I hope to marry. And they are in the hands of the savage Malgetori. Is there any chance of our finding the, of rescuing them?”
“What chance there is, we shall take, Herimas. The outlaws of Yankhya will do their best to find your friends for you. And I think I know where they have been taken. Yet there is one thing that I cannot understand. Never, in all the years that have been written of, have the Malgetori united to fight against the Minu-Pelesqui. Something has happened lately; they have a leader, someone to whom they look for orders. It is not natural for the Malgetori to look to a leader,- - I have a fear, Herimas- - “
“A fear? You, Huedrac! What is it that you fear?”
“No, let’s not speak of it. A fear spoken of is two fears.”
He turned and went outside and I heard him calling together his men. I followed him and in about ten more minutes, he had picked a group of the most daring of his outlaws and had returned to me.
“There would be little chance of us overcoming the Malgetori, it they have all united,” he said. “I have picked a group of men here who will be most likely to help us in what I plan. Our only hope lies in strategy, in finding some way to free your friends secretly. Come on. It is a long way to the caves where the Malgetori meet, and we must get there as soon as possible.”
So we started on our journey, but before we left I was armed by Huedrac, given an axe and a shield and clad in the heavy buskins that were more fitted to the trip that the well-worn boots I had been wearing. Then we were off on our mission of rescue, a journey that was to end as unfortunately for Huedrac and me as it had for my companions from above. For a long while we wended our way through the gray, dull-colored wood, and never a sign did we see of Neanderthaler or Kherinthian. We came at last to a trail of sorts, a trail that followed a little stream that trickled along through the woods, and this trail we turned into and followed. For hours we followed it, and my heart beat high with renewed hope when at one place, one of the outlaws came to me with a fragment of cloth that he had found, and which had evidently been torn from a woman’s dress. Huedrac assured me that the material was such as was worn only by the ladies of the court, and I was certain that it would not be long until we found the whereabouts of my companions. It was strange, perhaps, but I never felt a doubt but that we would rescue them easily, once we learned their whereabouts. Perhaps I put too much confidence in the outlaws, or underestimated the abilities of the Malgetori.
We climbed a low hill. Beyond it, we could look down into a valley that lay between this hill and the one that rose up to the edge of the cavern. There was not much vegetation in the valley, and I could see that it and the hillside beyond were dotted with little caves, and that about these caves were piles of litter that told that they had recently been inhabited.
“This is the meeting place of the Malgetori,” whispered Huedrac. “It seems deserted, but never doubt, there are plenty of the cursed savages there. It is probably their sleeping time. If so, luck is with us.”
He called the men together and softly gave them orders, giving each one a place to watch from, and telling them all to scatter through the forest. The men listened carefully to their orders and then hastened away and soon we were the only two left.
“And now for our part,” he whispered, and started off through the wood, with me at this heels.
We hastened for some time through the forest, we left the caves in the distance, and then Huedrac made bold to enter the barren valley. We stumbled along through boulders of rough granite, which grew larger and larger until we reached the floor of the valley. Here Huedrac turned, not toward, but away from, the village. He had a worried look on his face, and I knew from his silence, that something was bothering him mightily. The valley grew narrower and deeper as we continued along it; by the time we had been in it for half an hour, it was a fairly deep canyon, and further progress seemed almost impossible. Presently the canyon, which seemed little more than a great rift in the surface of the cavern now, turned to the left and approached the cavern’s wall. We drew nearer and nearer to the great rampart that constituted the wall of this land of the Gate, and presently I saw a great opening in the wall. The valley had become a huge cavern, leading from this land, still farther down into the bowels of the earth.
And when we came to the mouth of the cavern I saw the most amazing sight of all; Two immense, unbelievably immense bronze gates, sixty feet high if an inch, and they were swinging awry on their hinges, as if some great explosion had recently wrecked them. They were covered with verdigris, which testified to their age, but where the hinges hung twisted and bent, the metal shone dully. These doors had been broken open, and not very long ago, either.
There was a look of terror in Huedrac’s eyes. He turned to me.
“Herimas,” he said. “I have given my promise that I would help you to find your friends and the princess. Now I ask to be relieved of that promise, temporarily. This thing that has happened here affects all the land of the Gate. It is my duty, a duty greater than anything else, to report at once to Kherinth what we have seen here. Relieve me of my promise, brother of mine.”
His eyes were so serious that I could think of nothing to say, other than to grant his request.
“I do relieve you, of course, Huedrac,” I told him. “But what is it that has caused you to make this decision? What’s the mystery?”
“The Mokibars have returned,” he answered. “The great enemy has escaped at last. The Mother only knows whether we can overcome them again. And Kherinth wallows in civil war! Well, this, at least, will unite Turantho and Akasso.”
He turned as he spoke, and started back the way he had come. I was about to follow him when my eye caught sight of a dim form in the shadows beyond the bronze gates. I cried out in alarm, Huedrac whirled and saw the shape even as I did. His hand swung to his axe, it flashed back and I saw it flashed through the air. It struck the bronze door with a clang, and then something hurtled through the air from the dark shape in the doorway, to fall with a “plup!” at our feet. I looked at it, it was a small bladder-like thing filled with some sort of liquid. It had broken and the liquid was pouring from it, a vapor was rising from the liquid and I smelt a queer pungent smell in the air.
“Back, quickly!” Huedrac cried. His voice was already dim and far away, it seemed tome, yet he was not ten feet from me. I turned to follow him, my feet seemed to get tangled up somehow and I fell.
I couldn’t get up again! It was some kind of a gas. Something that was paralyzing me, depriving me of my senses. The last thing I remember was turning my eyes on the door and wondering vaguely if I was delirious. Through the door was emerging something that my good senses told me could not exist. It was a living creature like the bird headed demons that I had seen carved on the walls of the glowing tube! My head swam; I saw a great burst of light– I knew no more.
The Story of The Gate
When Theinah screamed, as the strange bird-headed creature entered the cave, she flung herself into the arms of Barney Gaunt, and the lanky Irishman put an arm about her protectingly and stood staring at the silhouetted figure in the entrance with a look of mingled anger, terror and scientific interest. It was a strange, not utterly unhuman figure that he saw in the dim light, and perhaps it is as well to describe it here as anywhere.
It stood about six feet tall, its head, with high brow and immense beetling eyebrows, was toped by a huge crest of sulphur-yellow feathers, that looked for all the world like an Indian war-bonnet, and was armed with a huge beak not unlike an eagle’s or a vulture’s. Below the head was a neck and shoulders that were remarkable in their similitude to those of humanity; while the creature’s form terminated in a short, stubby tail and legs that were similar to a kangaroo’s, or, rather, a dinosaur’s. The body was covered with short scale-like feathers, but over those the creature wore a garment of some material that seemed to be composed of innumerable fine metal links. It stepped along daintily on three-toes feet, and in its hand, which lacked one finger of being human; it held a rod that proved to be a flashlight, which was almost certainly based on the same principle as the flashlight with which we are familiar.
It flashed this light on the three who stood huddled together, and the amazement of Shimkin and Gaunt turned to skin-pricklin’ horror as they realized that this thing was intelligent, was a reasoning creature, even as they were! The thing looked them over for a moment and then a noise emerged from its throat. Words, clucking sounds that were certainly a language of some sort. Words that—Barney suddenly realized that he knew what the creature said! It was a dialect—the creature’s handicapped attempt to speak Cretan. He listened as it repeated its words for a third time, and knew that he understood what it had said.
“Kelo Uqulanti,” it said, and Barney knew that the thing was trying to say the words: “Pelo upranthe,” that is: “The gate is opened.” It went on:
The gate is opened. Creatures of the Surface, the Mokibars have again begun their endless fight to win their ancient heritage. You are the first prisoners taken in this new war, so we shall take you back to our city of Rarkh, to show our people that the gate is open! Come! Even now, the Mokibars prepare to return to Rarkh.”
This was all spoken in a dead, toneless monotone, but as the creature spoke, it lifted and depressed its crest, danced daintily first on one foot and then on the other; and it dawned on Barney that this thing could not alter the tone of its voice, and so these dance steps took the place that intonation does inhuman speech.
When the speech was over, the speaker stepped to one side in order to let them pass. Barney looked it over speculatively; wondering, probably, what would be the outcome if he suddenly leaped upon the creature and attacked it. There was little promise of victory for the scientist, for the creature’s huge hooked beak was a powerful weapon; nevertheless, the Irishman whispered hoarsely to Theinah: “Shall I be takin’ a smack at him, chana Theinah? Divvle a bit do I like the looks of him; and maybe with him out of the way, these Neanderthalers wouldn’t be so hard to handle.
Theinah shook her head, sadly.
“It would avail nothing, Barney. If the Gate is opened, it matters little whether we go as prisoners now or later. It will not be long, I fear, until all the people of the land of the Gate go down into the Lower Lands as prisoners.”
Shimkin, who had been, apparently, voiceless with surprise all this while, now suddenly recovered his powers of speech.
“So what’s all this Barney/” he demanded. “Did you understand the thing? Is it intelligent? And what is it, this Gate you having been talking so much about, Lady Theinah? And the Lower Lands?”
Theinah was about to answer, but apparently the patience of the creature that was their captor was exhausted. It suddenly gave a screechy squawk and rushed at them, its beak upraised, and they spent no time in hurrying out of the cavern and off in the direction in which it herded them.
Outside there were two other of the Mokibars, and these, evidently inferiors of the one who had entered the cave, hurried forward and seizing the three prisoners, proceeded to bind their hands and, tying them together with long ropes bound around their waists, led them down the hill and away from the caves of the Malgetori.
The way led through a stony valley, the same valley that I was to travel with Huedrac several days later, as I have told in the last chapter. They continued down this valley; they entered the canyon; and at last they came to, and passed through, the great ruined gate. The three prisoners had been silent as they were led along, each busy with his own thoughts; but when, after long hours of tramping, the Mokibars finally halted and made ready for a few hours of sleep, the natural curiosity of the scientists returned and they began to ply Theinah with questions. At last, confused by the hodge-podge of unrelated queries that they hurled at her, the girl raised her hand and said, imploringly:
“Wait, now, Barney and Nathan. I will begin at the beginning and tell you all that I know of the Mokibars, and of the ancient, ancient story of the Great War that they fought with the people of the Gate, in the days when mighty Dasu drove them into the Lower Lands.”
She glanced at the Mokibars—two of them were preparing for slumber; the other, armed with a weapon that looked remarkably like a rifle of some sort, had seated himself by the side of the fire that had been built and was evidently prepared to act as a guard.
“My people have not always lived in this land of the Gate, my friends” the princess began. “Though it has been thousands of years since we have seen the surface, there was a time when my ancestors ruled over a mighty country in the land above. Kaftar, it was called, and its people were further advanced, more civilized, than any other nation on the earth. They thought themselves invincible, and so they were, until, out of the bowels of the earth came an enemy that proved to be as strong as they. That was the race of the Mokibars, and there is much that I must tell you of them, but what I tell you will not be truth that is written in the records of the Minu-Pelesqui, but only the tales that our ancestors heard, long ago, from the mouths of the Mokibars.
“This then is what the Mokibars tell: That in the early days, unnumbered thousands of years ago, all life was in the sea. And out of the sea, there came crawling things, lizards and beasts like great salamanders and these were the highest creatures that lived, for many eons. But the creatures of those days were always changing their forms, and the time came when the crawling things became great, earthshaking monsters, greater than any animal we know of today, and other strange creatures, such as lizards that fly and lizards that lived in the sea.”
“Not a bad guess on the part of the Mokibars,” muttered Shimkin, under his breath. Theinah ignored him and went on:
The Mokibars say that in these days, there were many small creatures that lived in the trees, creatures that were like small copies of the great monsters, and these creatures were of two kinds. The first kind learned to fly, and soon changed into the birds of the air, that live in the trees until today. But from the other kind, which although they had feathers like the birds, remained living on the ground, from these came the Mokibars, the great enemies of man.”
She paused for breath, and Shimkin took the opportunity to interrupt.
“How much paleontology do you know, Barney?”
“Enough, I think, “answered the Irishman. “These Mokibars are no fools, eh, Nathan? ‘Tis plain that they are right in sayin’ that they are descended from the same class of reptiles as the birds. They aren’t birds and they aren’t dinosaurs, they’re a sort of a link between.”
“I didn’t know whether you know of the close relationship between the earliest bird forms and the earliest dinosaurs or not.” Shimkin said. “After looking at these creatures, their position as a link between them is obvious. But go on, Lady Theinah, he went on, apologetically. “Tell us more of these creatures.”
“These things that I tell you” Theinah said again, “are not known for truth among us of Pelintho. Some of these things are mere legends of the heathenish Mokibars, who do not bow to the Holy Mother. Therefore there is doubtless much that is false and blasphemous; but I tell it to you because of those most ancient times, the records of the priests are silent. Well, it is said that thousands of centuries passed before the Mokibars appeared on the earth, but at last, from that group of creatures that remained on the ground, grew up the race of the Mokibars.
“They say that the Mokibars slowly learned the ways of Nature, and doctors and magicians of the Mokibars were wise than men have even been. They built great cities, and cut down vast forests and subdued all the earth and made it for their own. And because the great, earthshaking monsters threatened them, they slew them all in the space of a few hundred years, and so all the earth became the property of the Mokibars. This, they say, was done with wonderful instruments that slew at a distance, and that left nothing at all of the monsters, nothing to show that they had ever existed.”
“And up on the earth,” Barney whispered softly, “the paleontologists are still wondering at the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs and the abrupt termination of the Mesozoic period! Go on, me lady.”
So the time came, these creatures say, when all the earth was the sole property of the Mokibars. Their cities arose, mighty towns of stone and metal, and I have not the time to tell you one-tenth of the wonders that they say their magicians did. They tell of chariots that flew through the air, they tell of people speaking in voices so loud that their voices were heard for thousands of miles, and they tell of medicine men that could cure them of every disease that was ever heard of. And they tell of darker secrets, too. Of doctors who tampered with the very secret of life itself, who made strange creatures such as never were intended to live, and who put life into their people after life had left them once—But enough of these claims we of today are not superstitious enough to believe these things, they are probably mere lies that the Mokibars told to make us believe in their power.”
“I shouldn’t be too sure about them lies, lady Theinah,” interrupted Nathan, dubiously. There’s a lot of truth, might be, in what they say. We, too, fly through the air, we, too, speak over thousands of miles. And of those darker secrets of which you speak—we are beginning to have a faint idea of how to perform them, too. Not five years ago a doctor in the world above grafted the head of one insect onto the body of another– a strange creature it was that he made, albeit a rather small one.”
Theinah looked at him, uncertainly.
“Well, perhaps they told the truth, Nathan. Many people have believed them.” She paused as if reflecting, and then continued:
Many are the tales that the Mokibars have left us of their greatness in those years. But they tell, too, of a later time when all the greatness was to be made as naught. For a time of great cold, cold, cold, and this cold began to creep down, year after year, and all the wisdom of the Mokibars could not stop it. Every year, the snows of the winter stayed longer. And every year, the summers were shorter. Time and again, the Mokibars who lived in the more northern cities were forced to move further to the south. And fewer and fewer returned to the northern cities when the brief summer made them habitable again. Slowly, ever so slowly, the cold lands extended their boundaries.”
“Some post-Cretaceous glacial period, eh, Barney?”
“Right ye are, Nathan. Probably the glacier that ushered in the Cainozoic Period. Go on, Theinah.”
The girl continued:
“Now, in the days before the coming of the cold, when the Mokibars ruled all the world, they had discovered that there were other lands than those that spread over the surface. They had found numerous caverns at one place in the world, caverns that led down into the ground where vast lands, many miles wide, existed. They were crowded on the earth, for there were no wars among the Mokibars, and there were no plagues; and so the creatures multiplied beyond conception. So these new lands were a most wonderful discovery, and they set about at once to make them habitable. They knew how to make a wonderful stone of light, a stone that– I do not know how to tell it, the words are not in my language– but it made a light– like the roof of our lands gives off.
And this stone was made and build into the roof of these great caverns so that the caves became as light as the world above, and then the Mokibars came into this underground world to live. And they built new roads into this underworld and lighted them, too, with the shining stone.”
“Clear as mud,” growled Barney Gaunt. “Her explanation makes the glowin’ stone harder to believe than before. I thought the light might be due to some sort of radioactivity, but any radioactive substance would have been exhausted long before this, if the stone is as old as she makes out.”
“It must be something that absorbs energy from somewhere and releases it as light,” Nathan suggested. “That’s the only way it could last that long.”*
- This theory, which I have elaborated since, is still the only one by which I can account for the glowing stone. If there is a radiation short enough to penetrate this far into the earth (cosmic rays?) and if it is conceivably possible that a material substance could soften these rays or alter them until their length was equal to that of light rays, then the results would almost certainly be similar to the effects noticed. Beyond this rough suggestion, I can still offer no solutions for the glowing stone. N.S.
“Now,” went on Theinah, “when the great cold came, there came a great time of trouble for all the Mokibars. What went on it the upper world, the people of the lower world cannot tell to this day. For the face of the world was changed, and here the sea passed away and the hills appeared, and there the earth shook and hills dropped into the sea. For thousands of years this went on in the land above the caverns, and at last the last opening to the world above was sealed by a great earthquake, and the people knew no more what happened in the world above.
But this they are sure of– that the cold and great trouble caused the last of the Mokibars to pass away in the upper world, and the earth again became the property of the great animals that had not the wisdom nor the power of the Mokibars. And at last came men, and the world was ready for the advent of the Mother.”
“Can you put all that into simple, modern language, Nathan?” asked Barney.
“Well, it wouldn’t be so hard,” answered Shimkin. “Let’s see, now. Sometime during the early Mesozoic period, there were a group of creature’s midway between the dinosaurs and the birds. They were, like the anthropoids that followed them long after, a ground animal descended from a tree dwelling creature. Like the anthropoids, therefore, they were possessed of a grasping hand, and so their evolution roughly paralleled our own, although it covered a vastly greater period of time. By the end of the Cretaceous period they had reached a period of intelligence as great or maybe greater than our own. They had a hand in bringing about the final destruction of the dinosaurs, just as man brought about the destruction of many large and dangerous mammals, during the Pleistocene. And at last they were overcome by a great glacial period at the beginning of the Eocene. Am I right?”
“Right ye are, Nathan, me boy! Savin’ that they weren’t entirely overcome. Remember, some of them were preserved in these caverns. But go on, lady Theinah. Tell us more.”
“What I have told you up to now are legends of the Mokibars. These things we learned from them thousands of years ago, before Dasu led his people down into the caverns. But what I tell from now on, in the story of my own people. These are the words that are preserved in the records of the priests of Astyra, the records which go back to a period eighteen thousand years ago!”
Shimkin’s eyes glistened and Barney leaned forward enthusiastically. Imagine how these seekers after ancient things felt as they realized that they were the first of all scientists of the outer world to hear of these ancient records that went back to a time far beyond the hitherto known dawn of history.
“Our earliest records,” said Theinah, tell of a time when the people of the upper world were little wiser or better than the beasts that dwelled in the forests around them. They warred with each other constantly, and they lived, not in cities, but in the fields, in huts that they built of trees and brush. And for many long centuries they continued to live thus, until the Great Mother, pitying the, determined to come among them and teach them the true way to live. Far to the west, in the Blessed Isles, lived the Mother, Astyra, and from these isles she came with her people, the mighty Huedlans, to teach our people. For many years she lived among us, and taught our people many things. When she departed again to her home, the race of my fathers, who were not called Pelesqui then, but knew themselves as the Kaslar, were wiser far than any of the races around them. They had learned to sail upon the water of the sea which lay to the south of their lands; they had learned to make weapons of metal and houses of stone; they built cities and explored the far places and at last they became the wisest of men.
“This they learned of the world in which they lived– that it was a great body of land surrounded on all sides by the sea, and that in the center of this land were two lesser seas or lakes. Savage, uncouth people, the Malgetori, lived around the shores of the Western Lake, while the Western Lake was the sea about which lived the people that were my ancestors. To the north, beyond the mountains, was a land of eternal cold, to the south was a great desert of heat, where nothing could live.”
Nathan Shimkin waved her to silence again and turned to Barney.
“It sounds familiar, Barney,” he muttered. What do you make of it?”
“Do you remember Wright’s hypothesis of the Mediterranean Valley?” asked the Irishman. “It’s a very popular theory just now, and this story makes be believe that there must be something in it. He supposed, ye know, that durin’ the last Ice Age, the Mediterranean Sea shrunk until a bridge of land stretched from Italy, across Sicily to Africa, due to the fact that the Atlantic’s level had lowered until water could not pour through the Straits of Gibraltar. This led to a great valley bein’ formed, and more than one speculatin’ scientist has imagined that this valley might have been the home of human civilization. But go on, chana Theinah. We have been interruptin’ ye far too much.”
“Well, for many hundreds of years, my ancestors lived in peace on the northern shores of their lake, and their civilization grew greater and greater. They little knew that in the bowels of the earth, far beneath them, there was living an enemy, greater, more powerful, more dangerous than any of the savages with whom they came in contact. But the time came when they had to face this enemy, for there came again a great series of trembling in the earth, some of the caverns that led into the lower world opened up, and presently the Mokibars who still lived in the lands below came up, seeking once more to win their way to the surface of the earth.
Now, men are queer people, as we all know. When the first Mokibars appeared on the earth, the men that beheld them worshipped them as gods. They were given gifts, welcomed to the cities and in every way the men sought to gain their friendship. But as more and more of them emerged from the caverns, familiarity with them soon caused the men to realize that they were no more than other animals, but little different from themselves, and so they soon ceased to fear them, treating them instead much as they treated the other races in the world around them.
The Mokibars of the caverns had lost much, if not all, of the wisdom that was their ancestor’s. No longer did they have the mighty weapons of old; no longer did their doctors and magicians have the mysterious knowledge that they had once possessed. Why this was, I do not know, but it is written that the Mokibars said that culture runs in cycles, and that in one age a race may have great wisdom , while in another the light that leads to knowledge shines but dimly. At any rate, and fortunately, indeed, for the race of man, when the Mokibars emerged from their caverns, they were but little wiser than men.
“For many years, the race of man lived in peace with the Mokibars, and shared the rich, fruitful lands of the great valley. But more and more of the creatures came out of the caverns, more and more took the place of men in the lands north of the great lake, and at last, men saw that if this kept on, men would soon be forced back into the cold northern lands or into the sea.
“And so they tried to limit the numbers of Mokibars who were leaving the cavern, and that brought war, war that both knew, at last, would continue until one or the other races were utterly exterminated.
“Years passed; children grew old, men, and Mokibars, too, died by the thousands, and still the terrible war went on. At first it was small groups of men, here and there, fighting against small groups of Mokibars. But the fighting spread and at last, both races had united their people, and the war became a mighty struggle such as earth had never seen before.
“And then the race of men was blessed by a great hero. The Great Mother must have known that the struggle had reached its climax, for there arose a leader that was to drive the Mokibars back into their cavern and to pursue them even into it. Dasu was his name; our ancient books tell of the miracles that happened at his birth, miracles that led the raquaminthe of that day to prophesy that he was a chosen one of the Mother. And because of these miracles, when he was older he was made the minoqua, in spite of his lowly birth.
When Dasu became Minoqua, the Mokibars had forced our people back into the hills far from the land that they had once called their own. When Dasu had been Minoqua for twenty years, the Mokibars were fighting desperately to retain a place under the sun, and wondering if they would ever be able to survive the terrible driving attacks that Dasu launched against them. Secretly they were planning a terrible revenge on the humans, saving it as a last resort but determined to use it if necessary.
Dasu knew nothing of this. He continued his fight, drove his enemies at last, into the cavern and pursued his offensive even into the lands beneath the surface. The first great caverns below the surface was this land that we now call the land of the Gate; from this the Mokibari were driven and, using this as a base, Dasu and his warriors pursued them into the Lower Lands. And into this land of the Gate came the wives and children of the warriors and their priests and here they settled until the war should be over. Those people were the ancestors of we who live here today, the first Minu-Pelesqui, the first Keepers of the Gate. They were destined never to return to the Surface, but to constitute a perpetual army, to watch forever over the Gate, that the Mokibars should never return to the surface. It was not their own will that kept these people here, through, but the vengeance of the Mokibars.
“For this was the plan of the Mokibars, and this was their revenge: Far down below the lowest cavern, there was a land of might heat and terrible fires. There were no passages passing down to this land, but from their ancient wisdom, the Mokibars knew that it was there, and they laid their plans accordingly. They had long ago begun a great shaft that led down to those lands of fire; they had also dug a mighty tube that led up until it was under the seas above. And now, when it seemed that their defeat at the hands of Dasu was certain, by the arts that they had they caused a great explosion, that caused the sea to pour into the upper shaft and down, down into the lower one and so to the great lake of fire, far, far below.
“Then, truly, the earth rocked, and the sea left its place and climbed into the highest hills, and the mountains left their places and fell into the sea. We of the land of the Gate have never known what terrible things happened on the earth above, for the passages between the surface and the lands below were sealed, and indeed, but a single passage remained between the land of the Gate and the Lower Lands. This land did not escape, hundreds were killed here, and no one knows how the Mokibars survived. But survive they did, some few of them, and it was against them that Dasu reared the Gate.
Now for thousands of years, for ages upon ages, the people of the Gate have dwelled in Kherinth and the lesser cities in peace, and naught has ever been heard of the Mokibars. Almost a legend have they become; and now they have returned, armed with who knows what wisdom, returned at a time when the rulers of Kherinth are quarreling among themselves- -”
Theinah gave a sob, and buried her face in her hands. The two scientists looked at her uncomfortable, silently;- - presently Barney spoke:
“Now how much of that are we to consider truth and how much myth, I wonder,” said Barney. Her story accounts for a good deal of the mysteries of early civilization. But it seems to be mixed up with a lot of myth, too.”
“There has been a great subsidence in the Mediterranean valley in recent geological times,” said Shimkin. If we were to accept the story as truth, we would have plenty of evidence to prove it. Can’t you imagine that great explosion in the vast caverns, and the collapse of the vast dome and the subsequent sinking of the land? Even today, along the hills and mountains that stretch from the Alps to the Atlas, the frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions bear witness to the fires that still burn, deep in the earth. Perhaps this revenge of the Mokibars is the primal cause of the activity of Aetna and Vesuvius.”
They discussed the possibility of this for some time and presently addressed a question to Theinah, only to find that the princess had fallen into a restless sleep.
“And not a bad example for us to follow,” muttered Shimkin, and presently the entire group of prisoners lay slumbering on the hard, dry dirt of the cave.
They were awakened next morning by a series of well-aimed kicks from the feet of the leader of the Mokibars. They struggled to a sitting position, aching in every joint, and were at once jerked to their feet and hustled along on their journey down the great passage. If the trek that they had made the preceding day had been tedious, this one was double so. At times the descent became almost precipitous, and at no time was the going smooth. But it came to an end at last, came to an end before a mighty gate of solid stone that, closed as it was, almost seemed to be a part of the solid rock of the walls.
But their bird-headed captor knew better. He stepped to the side of the passage, and while Shimkin and Gaunt watched with interest, he opened a little cabinet there and disclosed a small hole bored into the wall, at the far end of which a dull blue light glowed dimly. He put his beak as close as possible to the opening and spoke sharply.
“Yokarrh?” was the word he pronounced, and as he spoke, the light flickered, flashed brightly and then went out. And the great door swung away from them, backward and down, and the party looked out through the doorway into the Lower Lands.
Shimkin gave a gasp of surprise, Barney Gaunt burst into a string of muttered oaths and even Theinah, who had probably expected more of the Mokibars than the others, was struck with surprise. The two scientists had been strongly impressed with the cleverness of a gate that opened to a combination of sound waves, and Gaunt had been about to say something to Shimkin about it, but this new wonder drove all thought of that lesser thing from their minds. As the Mokibars led them forward out of the passage, they were silent with the silence of wonder and awe.
For this new world made the cavern of the Gate a tiny place, a land that was little more than a vestibule to this greater land below. The “sky” was a terrific vault, curved from the hills that held it, to a zenith that was miles away and miles above the surface of the land it covered. And this sky shone, not with the ruddy, opalescent light with which the three humans had been so familiar, but with a brilliant white light that, striking their eyes, gave an effect that by contrast made it seem almost blue. Theinah gave a cry of pain when her eyes were first struck by this light and, indeed, it was several hours before she could look about her without discomfort.
Beneath this mighty vault, there was little that suggested the Cretan world above. Vegetation there was, but it was a green vegetation, almost like that of the surface. But it had a tropical look, and before long the two scientist were made aware of the fact that these trees and shrubs were nearly all of the type that had been in existence long ages before man appeared on the earth– tree ferns, cycads and club-mosses– And the green of these plants was not exactly the green of the surface, it was a more brilliant, more poisonous shade. And the trees were planted in meticulously exact geometric patterns, and trimmed like the formal gardens of a hundred years or so ago.
But if the sky and the fields excited their wonder, what can be said to describe their feeling as they looked upon the city? It lay some four or five miles away, in the lower part of this world, and the party could view it as a whole, from the hill on which they stood. It was like ruined Yankhya in its architecture, but like a Yankhya increased a hundred fold. The towers were vaster, there were hundreds of them, and their light was such as would dim Coney Island on a night in summer. And the light had been skillfully toned and blended until it became a part of the design of the buildings. Some of the tower shone with green, some with red, some glowered with dull blues and purples, while a few sparkled with variegated hues, as though they had been built of a million rainbows.
And flying over and between the towers were aircraft- - huge, lighter-than-air machines and tiny one-man planes (or one-Mokibar, rather) - - there must have been hundreds of them, in all.
They might have stood and looked over the wonderful city for hours, these two friends of mine; but the wonder of it was nothing to their captors; and these with a sharp word, led them down into the valley and the city was soon lost to view as they passed among the trees. They soon found themselves in an agricultural district, where fields of growing plants ripened under the eternal light of that strange sky, ripened into great fruits and stalks that were utterly strange to the scientists from the surface.
They came to a road, a road of black, shining stone that stretched in a broad line from where they stood to the city in the distance. The evidence of high culture were again obvious on this road, they passed self-propelled vehicles whose occupants turned and stared at them curiously, as curiously as automobilists would have stared at some strange, captive animals on an American road. And they passed several low, round buildings that were apparently the homes of the farm owners, and saw farming apparatus and machines being operated in the fields which they passed.
The farmlands became fewer as they continued on their way, the houses became closer and closer together and at last they realized that they were in the city of Rarkh. And then they began to wonder what was to become of them in this strange city that seemed in ways so human, and yet had been built by such human creatures. But they were not to wonder for long. They came to a building that glowed a dark blue, entered it through one of the strange oval doorways, and descended a ramp (there seemed to be no stairways in Rarkh), to the floor below. Here they were herded into the interior of the city.
They emerged into a great hall, a sort of Central Station of these underground tubes* and were taken to the upper floor where they stepped out into the street and started off through the crowds to their unknown destination. The hundreds of Mokibars which crowded the streets acted exactly as humans would under similar circumstances. They crowded around the party, staring at the captives, squawking and chattering, asking a hundred questions, no doubt; and pushing and struggling to obtain a better view or to touch the strange prisoners that their explorers had brought back from the land above.
*These were pneumatic tubes, driven by air pressure. The system has been suggested several times in our own country, but it has never been developed to a workable stage. - - N. S
As they walked on, the crowd grew larger, grew louder and harder to handle. They drew closer to the prisoners, shouted what, from the way they stamped their feet, were probably imprecations; and several times even struck at one of the men, but before they got entirely out of hand the party reached its destination. They entered another building a building of shining rose; mounted a great ramp that swept up from its doorway, and stood in what seemed to be the anteroom of some large apartment beyond. Here they were kept waiting for a while, but at last a much over-dressed Mokibar appeared and with elaborate stamping and crest waving, announced what was probably their orders to enter. The Mokibars who were their captors pushed them before them and in a moment they stood in the great room, before what was evidently the ruler of this city, and perhaps of all the Lower Lands also.
He squatted on a dais, with his officers around him, a small specimen of his type and ordinary enough, save for his costume. This was a garment of metal links, just as the other Mokibars wore, but these links were of gold and of metal that had somehow been stained in purple and red and green until their wearer had all iridescent of beauty of a peacock. And, little as the humans knew of Mokibars psychology, it was not difficult to see that he also resembled that bird in vanity and pompous self-importance. The Mokibars who were their captors halted some dozen steps away from the platform and waited respectfully. Presently the ruler motioned them forward and the leader brought them up until they stood before the dais.
For some time thereafter, the prisoners stood silently and uncomfortably while a long conversation took place between the Mokibars. Shimkin spent his time in looking about him; taking in every evidence of strange culture and custom that his eyes could see. Barney Gaunt, too, found plenty to keep him interested; this outlandish language which depended on gesture for its inflection was something utterly new, utterly inhuman. He watched the creatures talking tried to translate the actions they went through and gave it up at last and began to listen to their words. These, too, drove him almost frantic, for the creatures were handicapped, in a way – their huge beaks preventing them from using such consonants as p, b, m, or n, and their lack of teeth from using th, f, and v. Yet this very handicap gave them ability to enunciate a dozen other consonants that would have been impossible to man. Barney turned this attention to other things, utterly despairing of solving even the simplest mysteries of this amazing language.
The captor Mokibar ceased his speaking. The ruler spoke again. The captor turned and addressed the humans. Haltingly, in his strange imperfect Cretan, he questioned them; and with him as interpreter for the ruler, the following conversation took place:
“Khattorrharga, the high lord, who looks upon the Lower Lands benignantly, desires to talk with his prisoners from above. He asks where each of you come from, and the name of your city. It would be well to answer truthfully, for the spies of the Mokibars have learned much of the land of the Gate, and if you lie, you shall suffer!”
Barney Gaunt, the only one who comprehended him, answered for them all.
“The lady comes from the city of Kherinth, in the land of the Gate. My friend and I come from the surface of the world.”
Their captor (whose name, it seemed from the speech of the ruler) was Keekh, who looked at them angrily. He stomped his feet with what seemed to be impatience as he said: “Do not lie! It is well known to the Mokibars that there is no communication between the people of the Gate and the surface; Do not attempt to frighten us with puerile lies!”
“And who are ye callin’ a liar!” snapped Barney, flaring into quick anger. “Perhaps there are many things that ye know nothin’ of, in the lands above. If ye be so wise in the knowledge of what goes on in Kherinth, ye will be knowin’ that three explorers very recently found their way in the land of the Gate from the great world above. We are two of those explorers.”
Keekh turned and spoke to his master. For a little while they talked back and forth, evidently discussing the possibility of this new idea. It was impossible to get any idea of what they thought from their conversation, but that the ruler was excited was obvious. Keekh turned at last and spoke to Barney again.
“Our lord is interested in your statement. Have you any proof that you are from the surface of the earth?”
“The people of the surface are very sensitive about what happens to their explorers.” he bluffed. “I would suggest that ye allow somethin’ to happen to us, and see how long ‘twill be before an army, armed with mighty weapons, invades this cavern. Thus would ye very easily find out whether we speak the truth.”
He waited anxiously as Keekh translated this, and noted that the nervous excitement of Khattorrharga was greater than ever. Either the bluff had worked or the ruler was very angry at his attempt. Keekh turned and said:
“Tell the high lord something of your great civilization. He is very interested.
Barney hesitated. To be frank, he was at a loss just what to say. He did not feel that e cold divulge the exact extent of knowledge that the upper world had attained, for he was not sure just what store of science these creatures, themselves, had. If he unwittingly told them of the limits of human science and then found out that the Mokibars had surpassed us, he might unloose a terror on the earth that would take years to subdue. It might well be that the peace of the earth depended on what he said in the next few minutes. He chose his next words with care, determining that he would bluff a little while longer.
And here is a curious thing, a thing I must speak of in parentheses, as it were, for it tells why Barney answered the way he did and how he was able to answer so. Barney, like a good many scientists, had a hobby to pass his lighter hours, and this hobby was reading of that branch of fiction that has become known as science fiction. He would spend hours poring over a book of Wells or Merritt, and was a subscriber to all the magazines of that type, and had even written a story or two himself. So now he used the weird prophecies that are found in that type of fiction told them as facts toe the Mokibars, and prayed as he did so that he would not betray himself by something that they would know as false.
“’Tis a vast world, the world of the surface,” he began. “I’ll tell ye frankly, it was many hundreds of years before our race recovered from the blow that your people gave us, so long ago. But our recovery, once begun, was surprisin’ly rapid, and today our civilization has almost reached its peak. The oceans are crossed a single night be our huge freight-fliers, heavier than air machines that carry hundreds of tons and that are driven thousands of miles thru the air be the power contained in a tiny block of metal. This is made possible by the destruction of the atom, for in this manner that we obtain all our power.
“Our mighty cities, many of which are far, far larger than this city of Rarkh, are unwalled, for all the peoples of that vast upper world are united into one government, whose capital city lies on the other side of the world from the lands above this cavern. In many or the cities are great space-ports and here great rocket flyers leave and return to the earth, going to and from ton their journey to other worlds, strange worlds whose peoples have formed an alliance with us, and with whom we live in peace and contentment. But there is a legend in the world above, a legend of a people far below, the heart of the earth, a people who are inimical to man, and this legend has led mankind to devise mighty weapons with which to protect himself.
“And terrible are these weapons, too. Think of the ray of light that can cause all that it falls upon to shake itself into the nothin’ness, like the little metal cubes that we use for fuel. Think of a gas that dissolves all livin’ matter which it touches, or of a gun that can fire a shell filled with this gas for a distance greater than the length of this whole lower world! Ah, terrible indeed is the fate of the few races that dare to be the enemies of the wise men of the surface.”
Barney paused for breath, wiped his forehead and muttered to Shimkin: “Pray for me soul, Nathan. I lied in a good cause.”
Keekh turned to translate to his Master. The two talked excitedly back and forth, and it was some time before their captor spoke to Barney again. At last he turned, and in a voice that seemed decidedly softer and accompanied by much less crest waving and stamping, said:
“Khattorrharga, the high lord, is much impressed by your story of the world above. Yet you have spoken to instill fear in the mind of our ruler, and this he does not like. So this is his decision. You shall remain our guests, with all honor, until a party of explorers can prepare for an expedition, and then you shall lead us to the world above and show us these wonders. And if you have spoken truly, the Mokibars will bow to the great human race, and be their friends, but if you have spoken falsely, you shall die, as shall all of your race; and the Mokibars shall come again into their ancient heritage! It is said.”
Barney turned to his friends and explained this last, which they had understood but imperfectly. Shimkin smiled.
“So, Barney, it seems that your bluff worked a little but, anyhow, so what’ll be next I wonder.”
What was to be next, they were soon to find out. The audience was at an end; Keekh led them out of the room and turned them over to another Mokibar, who led them out into the street where they were put into on of the motor vehicles and whisked away. They sped to another part of the city, where the Mokibar in charge of them helped them from the car and led them into a coliseum-like building, whose interior pass ages were a very maze. They traveled through hall after hall and at last stopped before an oval door.
“These shall be your apartments,” he said, in a dialect that was even worse than Keekh’s. “this is where you shall live while you are in the land of the Mokibars.” He swung open the door, bowed them through and swung shut the door behind them. Barney swore sharply as he heard a click and knew that the door was locked. The he looked around him and swore louder and more fluently.
For the apartment was all that could be asked for, save in one particular. There were four rooms, furnished in the Cretan style, tastefully and completely. Three sides of the apartment were stone walls, hung with tapestries in the Kherinthian style, but the fourth side was open- - open to the gaze of the Rarkhian populace- - but the escape of the humans was prevented by large iron bars, closely set together! And a glance around the vast arena on which the apartment opened left little doubt in the minds of the party as tow where they were. They had become exhibits in a Rarkhian Zoo!
For a week, the three humans remained on exhibit in the cage. At first the two scientists took it philosophically, convinced that the Rarkhian ruler meant them no harm and that he would keep his word and release them when the expedition to the surface was ready. Theinah, however, was terribly blue and Shimkin occupied nearly all of this time in attempting to console her. After the third day, she came to look upon her imprisonment as a matter of course, and spent her time in waiting for me to come and rescue her. For Shimkin had pointed out to her that I would surely, sooner or later, come with soldiers to free her. But the scientists knew, in their hearts, how small this chance was, and it soon became Theinah’s turn to attempt to cheer and hearten them.
On the seventh day, they noticed a bustle and tumult in the arena on which their apartment faced. They had long since grown used to the staring multitude that passed by their cage during the waking hours, but this was something different. The place was no longer open to the public, apparently; but was being cleaned and decorated in anticipation of some special event. They, having nothing else to do, took to speculating on what was about to take place, and watched for long hours as the workers toiled busily about. At last the time of sleep came, and they lay down, still wondering what was to take place upon the morrow.
They awoke and already the place without teemed with life. There was no one in the arena itself, but in the great tiers of seats above it hundreds of Mokibars were already making the welkin ring with their raucous cries and continual chatter. More and more were arriving, in an hour or two, the seats were filled and the two scientists had decided long since that they were about to witness some great series of games not unlike the gladiatorial combats of the ancient Romans. And, indeed, it was not surprising that the Mokibars should have these queer forms of entertainment; as Nathan Shimkin has pointed out since, the Romans, an Aryan people, quite evidently got the idea of these games from the dark Mediterranean people who preceded them in Italy, and these people almost certainly got them from the Cretans. Bullfighting, boxing and duels were the chief form of entertainment of these Cretans; they were held in public in arenas of ancient Crete, and it is no stretch of the imagination to realize that the Cretans may have originally gotten the idea of this manner of entertainment from Mokibars.
When at last the arena was full, the games began. There was a bull fight, a battle between several bulls opposed to several Mokibars, a far more equal battle than the bull fights of Spain; and following that, several queer wrestling bouts between Mokibars. Next there was a fight to the death between two reptilian creatures, the like of which neither of the scientists had ever see, and when, after a long while, both of these creatures were hauled away, both nearly dead from their struggles, a Mokibar master of ceremonies stepped into the arena alone and began a long harangue that was followed by a chanting song which was joined in by the entire huge audience.
As its last weird howl died away, a door in the opposite side of the arena opened and two men stepped forth. Yes, men, Kherinthians, apparently, and very obviously prisoners, as were Barney and Shimkin. As they stood there, shielding their eyes from the bright light of the arena, Shimkin looked at them eagerly, pointing them out to Theinah and Barney. They were stark naked, one of them was a huge- - an enormous, broad-shouldered fellow with a great mop of curly black hair, the other- - Shimkin suddenly seized Barney’s shoulder in a grip of iron.
“Himmel, Barney! Give a look! It’s Mr. Moss!” he cried. “Look, I say. It’s Mr. Moss.”
How I Came To Rarkh
Shimkin had been right when he said that it was I whom he saw in the arena at Rarkh; and the account of how I came to be there would be a story in itself. Huedrac and I, you will recall, had been overcome by the gas at the gate to the Lower Lands. How long I was unconscious, I cannot say, but when I was awakened at last, it was due to the persistent ministrations of the chief of the outlaws. I groaned and opened my eyes, to see Huedrac kneeling over me, one finger to his lips in the universal gesture of silence and caution. I stifled a second groan and sat up quietly and looked around inquiringly.
“Silence,” he breathed in my ear. “We are in the passage that leads to the Lower Lands. How far we have come from the Gate, I do not know. The Mokibars are all asleep. Evidently they are more sensitive to the gas than humans are and so they did not expect us to recover consciousness so soon. At any rate, they have all gone to sleep without leaving a guard. So- - quiet, and we may escape them.”
The dim hazy light which pervaded the cavern at this point just barely enabled me to make out his form as he partially arose and began to crawl away. I followed him, keeping as close to his heels as possible, for I could not see more than a yard or two ahead, and I did not want to lose him and be put to the necessity of calling out. For what seemed hours, we crawled along slowly, picking every step with care and using the utmost caution to avoid making the least noise. At last, the outlaw rose to his feet; I at once followed suit and we strode off into the dark, confident that we were out of earshot of the Mokibars.
I kept one hand upon my companion’s shoulder, for the faint light that had been in evidence where we awoke was gone now and the depths of Tartarus could not have been darker than the place where we found ourselves. Huedrac guided himself by feeling along the wall, and thus minute after minute passed and at last hour after hour, until we began to entertain high hopes of soon seeing, once more, the light of our own cavern.
And then, suddenly, we heard a rustling, slithering movement in the cave, ahead of us! We froze to immobility, instantly. The sound was not repeated at once, but we stood there, minute after minute, our hearts in our mouths, hardly daring to breathe for fear the sound would be made again and we would fail to hear it. Finally it came again, just the faintest little scraping sound, like some heavy body being dragged over the ground. I shivered as another simile came to me- - it was like the noise a crocodile makes as it crawls slowly over a flat rock!
This thought added to my fears, if that were possible, and hardly had it gained from in my mind when I saw, at no great distance up the passage, two green, faintly glowing spots phosphorescence. There was no doubt about it now- - some weird, wild creature of the dark was preventing our passage up the cave. I squeezed Huedrac’s shoulder and felt him grasp my arm firmly in answer.
We stood there, uncertain as to how to proceed; but the creature that opposed us was held by no such uncertainty. It gave a whistling grunt of warning, and we heard its feet padding on the stone of the floor as it waddled inquisitively toward us. I was almost panic-stricken, had I been alone I certainly should have fled, and Huedrac has since told me that he was in no better shape, but each of us felt that we must not show fear in the presence of the other, and so we both held our ground and waited for the beast to attack. Nearer and nearer came the sounds of its approach, we could see the glowing orbs of its eyes occasionally, as it turned them in our direction; and then I felt its breath on my face as it smelled at me curiously- - I struck out with my fist and felt it land on soft yielding flesh of some kind, there was a squealing grunt of pain and the thing struck me like a whirlwind.
And then began the strangest battle that I ever fought. Without a spark of light to guide us, without the delicate sense of smell that enables an animal to locate his enemy when sight fails him, aided solely by the sense of feeling, Huedrac and I battled with that monster in the dark. Armed only with the immense sinews that a generous Nature had seen fit to equip us with, we struggled with that unknown creature, vaguely hoping against hope that we two might at least be a match for it. Once my hands clutched wildly into the air and one of them caught a horn- - a horn that, had I not caught it, would certainly have found a place in my stomach or my chest. I seized the horn, felt around for the other one and bent the beast’s head slowly back. A paw, a scaly, clawed paw, clasped me around the waist and drew me toward the thing. I felt the hot breath from its mouth as it attempted to bite my shoulder, and I was glad to be able to release the horns and push myself away. I heard Huedrac give a yell, and for a moment, my heart was in my throat for I was uncertain as to whether the cry had been one of triumph or of panic. He cried again and I rushed at the sound, for it was obvious this time that Huedrac had the upper hand, and a little help now might bring the struggle to a successful end. I rushed forward, as I say, and suddenly collided with the two. One of the thing’s powerful hind legs struck out just as I arrived, and like a stone from a catapult, I was hurled away again. Luckily, I took the blow on my side; I picked myself up unhurt and again launched myself into the fight. This time my groping hands had the good luck to again reach the monster’s horns, this time its forepaws were engaged in trying to pull Huedrac from its back, and so I was able to begin a violent twist on its neck. Huedrac, by some premonition, sensed what I was about to attempt, I felt his hands next to mine and in a moment there was a snapping sound, and the creature fell forward with a broken neck.
We arose and stood over the body, winded with the exertions we had made. Presently I heard Huedrac’s panting whisper: “It is best that we go on, Herimas.”
But I had been seized with a queer idea. This creature of the cavern had horns. That alone was rather strange. I stooped and felt its teeth. They were blunt and heavy, certainly not the teeth of a carnivore. This was graminivorous or herbivorous animal, and what was puzzling me was where it managed to find its food. Certainly not in this cavern; I had not seen the slightest trace of vegetation since I had recovered consciousness. Hastily I outlined these thoughts to Huedrac, and heard him grunt dubiously as I finished.
“We may have lost our way,” he said with a trace of concern in his voice. “Perhaps there are side caverns with vegetation growing in them, cavern of which we know nothing. Perhaps we have wandered into one of them.”
I thought awhile longer.
“We had best go on,” I said at last. “If we can find a place where vegetation grows- -” I let my thought go unspoken and started off, feeling my way along the wall, with Huedrac following me and keeping a tight hold to my belt.
And sure enough, after some half-hour’s walking, we came to a much larger cavern, a cavern where we were again able to distinguish faint forms, due to the light given off by the decaying vegetation which grew there. It was a strange vegetation, and to this day I do not know what kind it was nor how it was able to grow there, with no light save that produced by its own decay, but among the rotting, dead plants on the ground, I found several dry pieces of woody fiber and this was all that I had come here for, anyhow. I picked them up and handed them to Huedrac.
“Think we can make torches of these?” I asked. His eyes glowed.
“Give me twenty minutes, brother of mine, and the darkness will have no more terrors for us.”
He seized two of the sticks and for the first time in my life, I saw accomplished the oft-told miracle of producing fire from rubbing two sticks together. He laid the broader of the two sticks on the ground, first digging a small hole in its soft fiber with his axe-blade. The he looked about and selected a small pliable weed growing close by; trimmed its leaves off and, using the headband which kept his hair in place, soon manufactured a small bow. The string of this he twisted about the smaller of the dry bits of wood and lo a fire-bow- - and a most efficient one, as was soon demonstrated. He placed the end of the smaller stick into the hole in the larger piece and began to draw the bow back and forth like a fiddler. The smaller piece whirled away, and in less than fifteen minutes his efforts were awarded by a faint glow, from which the smoke curled lazily. He blew upon it gently, and before long the dry wood burst into flame. Then, in less time than it takes to tell about it, we were both equipped with blazing torches, and without arms full of wood to use when these torches burned down, we set off in the direction from which we had come.
For nearly an hour, we walked on without incident. If there were other beasts in this part of the cavern, they avoided our light, and we saw nothing of them. We worried quite a bit over the fact that there was no evidence of the main cave from which we were sure that we had wandered, but at the end of an hour’s walk, we came to it and lightheartedly began the journey back to the Gate.
We might have known that our good luck would not hold out. We might have known that the Mokibars would be searching for us. They had indeed missed us, and had started back up the cave looking for us. They had passed the branching corridor while we were within it, had us searched long and fruitlessly in the main corridor, and were now returning, having given up the search, even as we turned into the passage. We saw them before we had gone a dozen yards, saw their light in the distance and hastily retraced our steps. Smothering our torches, we stood back in the cave some little distance, our hearts beating wildly and our breath held in our mouths for fear our beating might betray us. We saw the light in the outer passage grow brighter and brighter and presently a Mokibar appeared, holding high over his head one of the brilliant flashlights such as these creatures possessed. It paused at the entrance uncertainly, and turned to speak a few words with its companions behind. I felt Huedrac tense himself, his hand on my shoulder tightened- - the creature peered into the passage and, crying out something in its own language, darted in. I prepared to leap at it, determined to sell my life as dearly as I could; but from behind me, I felt Huedrac move quickly and a missile hurtled through the air and struck the Mokibar viciously above the beak. It gave a startled squawk that was answered at once by the others, but before it could make further outcry, another stone caught it above the eye and it fell to the ground. Its two companions had entered the passage now and, seeing us, rushed forward with strange squawking cries.
“Their beaks, Herimas! Watch their beaks!” I heard Huedrac cry in warning, and the next moment the Mokibars had leaped upon us.
Now, the reader had no doubt already noticed, in this tale, that I am proud, and justifiably so, of my fighting prowess. But I doubt if any man need be ashamed of confessing to having been overcome by a Mokibar. These animals have been armed by nature; they are descended from creatures far better equipped for the battle of life than the apes that were our ancestors, and they have inherited this equipment and the ability to use it. The mighty beak, the powerful hind legs and the tail- - It was the tail that was my downfall. I had not been at grips with my creature for more than a minute when I felt a terrific blow against the side of my head and amidst the glory of the million stars, I passed into unconsciousness.
…Voices. The harsh, inhuman voices of Mokibars. A sense of lying, bound hand and foot, on sharp hard stones while one of the bird-headed creatures leans over me and watches me anxiously. A sudden return of consciousness, I open my eyes and see a Mokibar holding a sort of a bottle to my nose. A drop of something cold falls on my upper lip. A pungent smell… Darkness. Silence. Oblivion…
These were the only memories that remained to me when I awoke in the cell to which the Mokibars brought me, in their city of the Rarkh. That I was kept under an anesthetic, I have no doubt. Huedrac afterwards told me of similar memories, so he was doubtless kept unconscious even as I was. But once we were safely ensconced in the cell at Rarkh, they allowed the effects of the anesthetic to wear off and we recovered consciousness.
Huedrac was still under the influence of the chemical when I awoke. I looked around me and wondered dully where I was. I remembered vaguely the battle in the cavern, recalled the one time that I had recovered consciousness, but all the rest was a blank. The reader must remember that I had had no such explanation of the Mokibars as Theinah had been able to give Shimkin and Gaunt and so I had not the faintest idea who these creatures were nor to what a high extent had their civilization attained. I knew them only as strange, incredible enemies that had appeared out of nowhere to capture me and interrupt and search for my sweetheart and my friends. That Huedrac knew something, I was sure, and so after a brief survey of the empty stone cell in which I found myself, I set about to bring my friend back to consciousness that he might give me some explanation of the perplexing conditions in which I found myself.
The outlaw chief was not long in opening his eyes. He looked at me blankly for a moment and then grinned vaguely.
“By the Axe!” he swore weakly. “They have a kick to them, these Mokibars! Where are we?”
“I gestured to the walls of the cells. He looked around him and smiled ruefully.
“We have overslept, I fear, brother of mine. I fear that they have gained an advantage that will be hard to overcome. No doubt we are in the Lower Lands already.”
“Where are these Lower Lands,” I demanded. “I have been living in a puzzle ever since I first saw that mighty Gate in the canyon. Remember, Huedrac, I am a stranger and know nothing of the wonders of your land. Who are these Mokibars and what is the mystery of the Lower Lands?”
Huedrac looked at me oddly.
“Hei, Herimas, it is strange to hear a man plead ignorance of the story that Kherinthians hear at their mother’s knee. The legend of the Mokibars and the land of the Gate and the Great War are so much a part of our lives that it seems incredible that all the world does not know it. But listen and I will tell you as well as I can.”
And so he began and told me his version of the story that Theinah had already told to Shimkin and Gaunt. It was not the same story, I can tell you that. Theinah knew the historical facts, the facts that had been preserved by the priestly families, and her story was largely truth. Huedrac knew only the popular version, and though he was wise enough to discredit some of the more incredible miracles, yet his story was filled with all kinds of wonder and myth. Even by merely observing the broad lines of the story, I was unable to get a very good idea of things, for he had no knowledge of the origin of the Mokibars, and his story was largely taken up with the battles between Dasu and the Mokibars.
Huedrac had hardly finished his long account when the door of the cell opened and a Mokibar appeared. He looked us over and then spoke. I did not understand a word he said, and naturally thought he was speaking in his own language, but it was only my comparative ignorance of Kherinthian that made me fail to comprehend him. He was speaking that strange handicapped dialect and Huedrac grasped his meaning at once.
“This one says that hi is Keekh, our captor,” he announced. “He says that he has come to take us before the Master Mokibar.”
I looked the arrogant Mokibar over and then:
“Tell him to go to hell,” I suggested, surlily.
“I doubt, Herimas, if you or he, either, will ever get closer to the lower realms than you are today. Especially in this life.”
He turned to Mokibar and told him something, something that if it was not exactly what I suggested, at least had the same effect. The creature stamped its feet and squawked in anger and then, calling at the door, it barked a command at two other Mokibars that entered and pointed to us. These other Mokibars were armed with weapons, long tubes that looked so much like rifles that I knew better than to oppose them. At Keekh’s command, the two leveled their weapons at us and then Keekh gestured to us to leave the cell. We complied and with one of the guards behind us and one in front, we marched up the hallway, up a ramp and into the open.
My first view of the city of Rarkh left me almost breathless. The high towers, the planes, the automotive vehicles and the crowds gave an appearance to the town which, in spite of the inhuman characteristics, was decidedly familiar. We came at last to the towering structure of shining rose which housed the ruler and his court and in a short time we stood before Khattorrharga and his minions.
The Master Mokibar addressed Keekh, asked him a question and was answered. He spoke again, and with Keekh acting as interpreter, began a conversation with Huedrac, a conversation of which I understood only the outlaw’s side. But that side was enough. I marveled at the man’s cunning. He told of Dasu, asked if the ruler had ever heard of him, recited his many exploits and told of how he had won victory after victory from the Mokibars. He recited- - told in great detail- - of the several times that Dasu had been captured by the Mokibars and how each time he had escaped to visit greater disasters on the bird-headed creatures. He told of his final victory and stressed the passing of Dasu and his prophecy that he would come again. And then he dropped a bombshell into the conversation by telling of how I had come down from the surface, and announcing that I was none other than the long-awaited minoqua! Did the Mokibars desire to again antagonize the demigod who had left them in peace for so many thousands of years? Did they desire to renew the struggle that had ruined them before, he asked.
Well, it certainly created an impression among the Mokibars. They began a furious discussion among themselves. That some of them believed the astounding statements of the outlaw was certain, but others were as obviously in doubt. At last the issue was left to some old Mokibar who was evidently some historical authority. He came over to me, scrutinized me carefully and barked out a question. I looked blankly at Huedrac, who turned to Keekh and asked him to translate. The Mokibar did so, and Huedrac, instead of translating it to me, answered for me. I was glad that he did so for, frankly, I should have been at a loss what to say. But it was well that he did, my aloof and haughty manner seemed to impress the creatures, and so I let Huedrac continue to answer for me, while I folded my arms and tried to look as much like a demigod as possible. At the end of fifteen or twenty minutes, the questioning ceased and Huedrac turned to me.
“I think I’ve got them convinced,” he muttered. “But they’re got some idea that I don’t like. I don’t know whether I did the right thing or not, telling them you were Dasu. We’ll just have to wait and see what they do.”
So wait we did, and presently Khattorrharga spoke to Keekh again. The lesser Mokibar slapped his hands on his thighs and let out a cachinnating crackle that was obviously the Mokibar equivalent for a laugh. Then he turned to Huedrac and spoke to him and I saw Huedrac start slightly and turn a little pale. He turned to me hesitantly.
“They say if you are Dasu, you can accomplish the deeds of Dasu. They say that Dasu, when he was a prisoner, fought in the games of their Great Theater and overcame all his adversaries. And so, they say, you shall fight in the arena, fight with their sacred one, whoever he is; and if you overcome him, you shall be given your freedom and treated honorably, as Dasu should be treated. But if you do not conquer him, they will know that you are not Dasu, wherefore you shall die for the lies that you have told.”
“And what of you, Huedrac?”
“I, too, must fight in their Games,” answered the outlaw. “But of my freedom they say nothing.”
“By the Axe!” I grunted. “If they give you not your freedom, I shall find a way to make them wish they had.”
He would have answered me but the Mokibar called Keekh motioned us out of the presence of the ruler, and soon was leading us through the streets again, away from the tower of rose. We were led to the same immense, coliseum-like building that Theinah and her companions had been brought to, several days before. Though we did not know it at the time, we were placed in cells on the opposite side of the building from those in which my friends were, and the same jailer, with the same execrable dialect, saw to it that we were properly placed. This Mokibar, it was who took me, in charge and proceeded to prepare me to become properly fit to face the Sacred One whom I was to fight.
It was a strange procedure. In the first place, the last remnants of my clothing were removed, carried off, and I saw them no more. Then I was bathed in some kind of an antiseptic that was certainly no deodorant. Then I was given a crest of feathers that had been removed, apparently, from some long-dead Mokibar, and lastly I was given a sword. This weapon I was not allowed to keep, it was strapped to my waist, and the crest was strapped to my head for about an hour, while the jailer and several more Mokibars went through some elaborate ceremonial that evidently made me still more sacred. Then the sword and the cap were taken off, and I was led away to a new cell. I saw no more of Huedrac, that day.
Next day, when I awoke, I was soon made aware of the fact that this was the day of my combat. The entire building was a hive of activity. They brought me out of my cell and placed in a cage near the entrance to the arena. For an hour or two, the bustling and hurrying that was in evidence everywhere continued and then, at last, the games began. I witnessed one fight after another, all the games that Barney and Shimkin were watching from one side of the arena, I watched from the other. And at last my turn came.
I was led out of the cage, bathed again in the foul-smelling antiseptic, crowned with the crest of feathers and given the sword. A half dozen Mokibars began a dismal chant which I could hear the vast crowd begin to echo. Minute after minute it lasted, and as the last note of it died away, I was pushed out into the open.
As my eyes became accustomed to the light, I saw that Huedrac was not far from me, entirely unarmed and as naked as the day he was born. The Mokibar that stood beside him whispered something to him and pointed to one side of the arena, where a huge bull stood pawing the ground. The outlaw winked at me and dashed away to fight the bull, this evidently being his part in the games. Up to now, I had seen no sign of the sacred one who was to be my opponent. There was some sort of commotion in one of the cages on the opposite side of the arena and I directed my attention to it. Imagine my astonishment when I made out the forms of Theinah, Shimkin and Barney! Even as I spied them, I heard Shimkin’s excited cry. I started toward them, but I was stopped by a roar from my right. My opponent had made his appearance.
He was still some distance away, but through the dusty air of the arena I could make out a form that apparently was human. He seemed to be a huge man with some elaborate kind of horned mask upon his head. He drew nearer, snorting and stamping his feet, and pawing at the ground like a bull. He was within a dozen yards of me before I saw to my astonishment that this was no mask that the creature wore. Almost petrified with perplexed incredulity, I realized that I faced the living, breathing counterpart of that creature of legend- - the Minotaur!
Fight and Flight
The Minotaur stopped about six yards from me and stood, snorting ominously. I stood as immovable as he, staring in unbelievable amazement. All my theories of natural history, all the knowledge of comparative anatomy that I had accumulated during my years at college, told me that such a creature could not exist. From the neck down it was an anthropoid, almost a man, in fact- - and from the neck up, it was a bull, no more, no less! It was something in which I could not believe, and yet there it was. And from its actions, it was plain that unless I granted the existence of the thing, and that mighty soon, too, my own existence would become much more problematical.
I looked it over more closely. There was no doubt of its being genuine. No manner of mask could ever be made to look as natural as this monster’s head. Of course, I have since learned more about this creature; I know now that its ancestors were “manufactured” by the ancient Mokibarsin the days of their great wisdom and somehow given the power to reproduce their own kind; it was one of these “strange creatures that were never intended to live” which Theinah had spoken of to the two scientists. But at the time there was no way in which I could account for its existence. I gave the puzzle up; determined to concentrate on the more pressing problem of overcoming the beast, and so I advanced with sword ready to strike.
The creatures eyed me uncertainly. It was a shaggy thing, and apparently its brain-pan contained little more intelligence that that of an ordinary bull. So I thought at the time- - I was soon to alter my opinion. It eyed me uncertainly, as I say, and even backed off a step as I advanced. I dashed forward, swinging my sword over my head, brought it down on the monster’s brow; and felt a thrill of genuine fear as the blade bent almost double. I had been served as Minos, in the legend, was wont to serve those who battled against his own Minotaur! The sword was of lead of some equally soft alley.
I hurled it away with a snort of disgust, jumped wildly to one side as the Minotaur sought to gore me; and then, dashing off the encumbering headdress, turned to fight for my life, totally nude and armed only with the weapons Nature had given me.
The Minotaur was aroused now. It no longer stood off and eyed me; it rushed directly at me and for some time it was all I could do to avoid its frantic rushes. Time and again, I avoided its horns or its reaching hands only by a fraction of an inch, but the fact that I did avoid them soon gave me a confidence that was to gradually allay the puzzled fear that I had experience and enable me to meet the beast on a more equal footing.
Once, as I whirled around, my eyes caught an amazing sight; Huedrac battling with his bull in another part of the arena. As I looked, I saw the bull, head lowered, charging at the outlaw; I saw Huedrac’s arms outstretched, he seized the bull by the horns and the next moment, had vaulted completely over the creature’s back and, sliding off its tail, gave it a resounding smack on its flank with his hand as he landed lightly on the ground. It was but a passing glimpse, my attention was at once recalled to my own battle, but I was assured that I need have no worry for my friend’s safety.
The momentary sight of the feat, however, did give me an idea. If I was ever to conquer this man-beast, almost certainly it would be by that method known to cowboys as “bull-dogging”, getting hold of his horns and twisting his head until- - well, until something happened. I hardly felt that I would be fortunate enough to break this huge creature’s neck, indeed after several minutes of vainly attempting to secure a grasp on his horns, I began to have doubts as to whether I would even be fortunate enough to get a chance to try.
It did not take long for the Minotaur to bring me to the realization that this was no ordinary bull like Huedrac’s that I had to contend with. He kept me busily absorbed in avoiding his horns, and I had almost forgotten that he was equipped with other weapons as well, when a stinging blow on the jaw recalled to me that he had fists and claws that were a dangerous as those of a particularly savage ape. I wheeled as he passed me, my head still ringing from his blow, and had the satisfaction of landing a good blow on his ugly physiognomy, but it affected him not at all, unless it was to infuriate him more, and for a while, I did some neat footwork as I backed around the arena and sparred for a chance to deal him some real damage.
Up to now, the fight had been merely a defensive one, as far as I was concerned. Twice, already, his infernal nails had scratched good-sized strips of skin from my chests as a blow from one of his hands came especially close. The blood from these scratches was smearing my chest and the sight of it seemed to work up the vast Mokibar audience into a frenzy. I could hear their monotonous voices raised now, and their footwork made the entire building roar like thunder. There was no doubt that they approved what the Minotaur was doing to me and I can well imagine that the sight of my blood gave them a comfortable feeling that the Minotaur would soon finish me.
But I was determined that this feeling should not remain with them long. I had begun to have a feeling of restored confidence as the monster’s continual advances failed to have an appreciable success, and the feeling of amaze that I had felt at first had now passed entirely from me. I was cool, quick and self-confident and the chances are that it was this very feeling that was almost my undoing. I became a little too confident, and almost before I knew it, the beast wheeled in one of his rushes, got a grip on me- - and our contest had changed to a wrestling bout.
Now, I happen to know quite a little bit about wrestling. It is natural that I should. But this presumably dumb brute knew all that I know and quite a lot more, too. In a couple of minutes, almost before I knew it, his immense, superhuman strength had enabled him to gain the upper hand; I was pinned across one of his knees and he was bending me back and lowering his head, preparing to disembowel me with one of his horns. Luckily I had one hand free. I seized and held onto a horn like grim death in a seemingly hopeless attempt to prevent him from lowering his head. It was all that was between me and death; when that head got low enough, there would be a sudden twist and the horn would be buried in my abdomen. Helplessly, while every atom of energy in my body was bent toward holding back his head, helplessly, I watched his head descent lower and lower; wildly a struggled to get my other hand free, but in vain, my attempt was hopeless.
Nearer and nearer came the horn- - he could have buried it in my breast even now if he had wanted to. But the beast was no fool, though he could have ended my life with a quick gore, he didn’t want his horns to become entangled in my ribs, and so he continued to lower his head.
Suddenly, my other hand was free. The beasts grip on it had relaxed, for he knew that his heard was too near me for me to be able to offer much opposition now. My freed hand thrashed about, in an attempt to get a grip on him someplace; thrashed about and struck the floor of the arena. It struck- - hardly could I believe it- - a sharp, flinty bit of stone! I seized it, brought it up, and with all my might, I stabbed at the creature’s eye. I made it! With a bellow of pain he released me and leaped roaring to his feet. He turned to flee, but my blood was up now. This creature had brought me to near to death for me to feel any pangs about finishing him. I sprang from where I had fallen, sped after him; and amid the cries and squawks of the Mokibar audience, I leaped to his back and seized him by the horns.
That bit of lint had been the means of saving my life; now it was to be the death of the Minotaur. Riding his plunging back, around and around the arena, while he bellowed and tore at my legs (the only part of me that he could reach well), I held on like grim death with one hand while with the other, I stabbed again and again at the softest parts of the creature’s skull, I stabbed time after time. It was pretty gory work, I tell you; I literally had to chip the life out of him; but at last he fell, and as I leaped off his wildly thrashing body, I realized that the creature had actually been conquered!
If I hoped for rest and praise, I was doomed to disappointment. When I arose to my feet, the whole building was like a bedlam. This conquest of the Minotaur quite evidently had a religious significance far greater than I had been led to expect. The Mokibar audience was in a panic. They were stampeding the exits. They were screaming, all the thousands of them, screaming at the tops of their lungs. They were dropping from their seats into the arena, to storm the exits into the pits in a vain attempt to escape that way. I looked about me in amazement. I was absolutely at a loss to understand their fright—I still am, for that matter—but frightened they certainly were; and their fright was something that was terrible to see.
They stamped over each other, crushed their companions underfoot, and over it all rose their terrified cries, thousands of them squawking at the tops of their lungs. And strangest of all, it began to seem that it was me that they were afraid of! They avoided me like a plague, in spite of all the pushing and struggling, none of them ever came within fifty feet of me. Through all that panic, I stood alone in a great empty circle, stood alone and wondered.
Someone was pulling me from behind. I turned swiftly, and smiled with relief as I beheld Huedrac.
“Your friends, Herimas,” he said. “And the chana Theinah. Here is a chance to the rescue them. Come on!”
I turned and sped with him to the cage where the three still stood, and as I ran, the Mokibars stumbled wildly over each other in their efforts to avoid me. We reached the cage- - Shimkin was clutching the bars and staring out at us, his face bathed in perspiration. He had watched the entire fight, and from the look of him, with Theinah in his arms, her head buried on his breast. The strain of the fight had been too much for the princess and she was sobbing fitfully. I called to her and she turned about:
“Herimas!” she cried joyfully, and the next moment her face was against the bars and I was kissing her passionately. A moment and:
“Quick, Herimas! No time for that now,” came the voice of Huedrac. “We must get them out of this!”
He put a hand to one of the bars and I grasped his meaning. I seized with both hands the bar which he had already gripped and together we strained to our utmost. I dug my feet into the sand of the arena and put every atom of my remaining strength in the job at hand. Second after second we struggled and at last had the satisfaction of seeing the huge bar bend slowly. We increased our efforts- - the bar bent as far as it would go:
“Now for the other one,” Huedrac grunted, and in another minute, it, too, was bent like a bow and my companions were squeezing through.
It was precious moment when I again held Theinah in my arms. But it had to be a short one, for escape was paramount, and it would be a long struggle before we could consider ourselves safe again. Huedrac gave a shout to us and sped off in the direction of the exit to the pits, and with Theinah on my arm I dashed after him, Shimkin and Gaunt at my heels.
The panic and commotion had abated not a whit, as we ran through the passageway. The Mokibars avoided us like a plague, however, in spite of the fact that passageway was crowded with the creatures and we had no difficulty in gaining the street in a short time.
Once out on the street, Barney and Shimkin led the way. Huedrac and I had been unconscious when we were brought to Rarkh, but the two scientists remembered the road well and so we hastened on, out of the city into the farmlands and at last into the hills beyond. And ever, as we ran, the Mokibars fled before us, darting down side streets or into buildings or anywhere- - anywhere where they could get away from us.
But we were not to leave the Lower Lands without a battle. Khattorrharga and his nobles were not the superstitious creatures that his subjects were. Even while we were fleeing the city, his soldiers were searching for us, and it was only the panic that had spread through the city that enabled us to get so far without being recaptured. But the Mokibars well knew the direction we would take and long before we reached the entrance to the cavern of the Gate, we saw signs of pursuit behind us.
“They follow,” muttered Huedrac, nudging me and pointing back down the road. I looked and saw, indeed, a cloud of dust in the distance.
“I’ll say they follow,” I said with a scowl. “And in quantity, too. How long, think you, before they overtake us in those infernal automobiles of theirs?”
“I don’t know what you mean by automobile.” Answered my companion. “But if you mean their chariots, why, these come on foot. I have been watching them for some time.”
We hastened on, and as we gained the higher land, we could see our pursuers more plainly. And we realized then why they had not followed in the automotive vehicles. The Mokibars had feared to send their own soldiers after us,- - there were several Mokibar officers, indeed, but the others were Malgetori- - Neanderthal men.
We turned and sped faster into the hills. In spite of our haste, however, it was soon evident that our enemies would overtake us. One group in particular was dangerous- - a party of about eight Malgetori and two Mokibars who were far ahead of the main group. We soon saw that they would overtake us before we could get to the Gate that stood in plain view far up the hill; nevertheless we hastened on, hoping against hope that we might reach the cavern before they did. At last, however, when only a short distance from the cavern, we were forced to turn face our enemies.
The Mokibar leaders stood well away, evidently they were not entirely above the superstitions that harried their more ignorant brothers, but the Neanderthalers had no such fears, they came on at us, determined to get us or to die in the attempt. Several of them had stone axes, several were armed with clubs, one of them carried a long club that looked like- -
“Oh! For the love of Mike, Nathan,” I cried. “He’s got your Springfield!”
And indeed, he had. This creature was undoubtedly one of those whom we had fought in the woods on the day when we entered the upper cavern, and no doubt he had carried that gun ever since, firmly believing it to be a club endowed with magical powers. Nathan I looked at him in amazement.
“Oi, Mr. Moss!” he cried. “If we could only get it. We simply got to get it. Mr. Moss, I got bullets!”
I looked at him in disbelief. He tore the knapsack on his back, and even as Huedrac and I started off toward the group of approaching sub-men, I heard him cry:
“See, Mr. Moss, see? Bullets!”
And indeed, bullets he had, for, the reader will remember, he had absentmindedly stowed them in his kit on that day when he went to search for me in the forest, and he had been there ever since.
“I’ll get that gun, Nathan,” I shouted over my shoulder, and the next moment we had clashed with the Malgetori.
To tell of the battle would be but a repetition of something that has already been told many times in this tale. Suffice it to say that Huedrac and I bent all our efforts to conquering the Neanderthaler who carried my gun, and when at last we overcame him in spite of his companions’ frantic efforts to save him, I hurled the gun at Shimkin and again turned to the battle. But the fight was not to last long, now. We had already finished one of the Malgetori, now a show rang out and there were six. Another and there were five- - the jingle of the ten little Indians ran absurdly through my head as Shimkin picked them off, one after the other- - I hurled the last one away from me, drew back as I heard Shimkin’s warning cry, one more shot rang out, “and then there were none.”
We looked about the Mokibars. They had departed for parts unknown, probably returned to their companions who, with at least thirty more Malgetori, were now but a few hundred yards away from us. We looked from them to the Gate up on the hill- - yes, we might make it.
“Hurry!” I heard Theinah’s cry, and saw that she had already started for the cavern. We followed as fast as we could, reached the entrance and stood aghast in disappointment. For the first time I saw the great Gate that the Mokibars had built- - and it was closed!
At the very mouth of the cave was a deep pit, and beyond it, the great stone plug that filled the entrance reared its bulk. I turned to my companions in despair and saw to my surprise that Barney Gaunt was smiling.
“One side, quick, now, me bully boys,” he chuckled. In spite of your heroics, and your strength and bravery, old Barney will be will be the savin’ of ye all!”
He stepped to one side of the cavern’s mouth, stood up to a small hole that was bored in the stone and the, strangely, from his mouth came the squawky tones of a Mokibar’s voice
“Yokarrh!” he screamed, and to the utter amazement of Huedrac and me, the great stone at the far end of the cavern moved- - swung out and down and, filling the great hole, left a broad path for us to walk on, into the cavern!
We raced through, and none too soon, for the Mokibars and their Malgetori were now at our very heels. As we reached the other side of the stone “door”, Barney leaped to the side of the wall, and I heard the strange Mokibar word called again. The door swung again, swung up this time, and effectually shut off all pursuit.
“Quick, your rifle, Nathan,” the etymologist commanded, and as Shimkin handed it to him, he seized it and fired directly into the hole into which he had spoken. There was a roar from within the hole, a brilliant flash of light, and the mighty door seemed to settle down more solidly than ever.
“There,” grinned the Irishman. “With all their knowledge, it will be many a moon before the Mokibars move that door again. The land of the Gate is safe for a while at least.
We turned and groped our way up the cavern toward the Upper Lands.
The Return to Kherinth
It was queer quintette that emerged from the great bronze gates at the upper mouth of the cavern, some five days later. Theinah’s elaborately cut dress and the clothing that remained to Simkin and Gaunt were masses of rags. As for Huedrac and myself, we had been quite nude when we fled from Rarkh, and now we wore nothing but waist-cloths that had been made from the two jackets which had formerly been part of the costume worn by Nathan and Barney
We were well fed, however, and our journey had not been entirely without light for Shimkin’s rifle had provided us with fire for our torches as well as food of a sort. And so the latter part of the journey had been accomplished in far less time than we had expected when we first groped our blind way through the mazes of the cavern near Rarkh.
We made our way through the canyon beyond the Gate and plunged into the forest, wending our way to Yankhya. We planned to stop at Yankhya, for conditions in Kherinth had been most uncertain when Huedrac and I had last heard from there and we had no desire to run afoul of the minions of Turantho. We came to Yankhya without incident and great was the rejoicing of the outlaws when they saw Huedrac alive and unharmed.
“By the Axe, Huedrac! You come in goo time,” shouted one of the huge out outlaw’s lieutenants. “A most momentous question has arisen. The town of Kherinth seethes with battle and already both the minoqua and the raquaminthe barter for our aid. Listen while I tell you of the events of the past two weeks.
Listen we did and eagerly, too, as the story fell hastily from his lips. It seemed that the battle which had been in progress when the outlaw chief and I had left the upper lands had gone favorably for Akasso. The minoqua and his cohorts had been driven from the city and scattered in disorder through the forest. Here Turantho managed to reunite his men and marched them to the city of Pet-Kaftar, which went over to him without a struggle. Reinforced by the warriors of this city, he had marched of Kherinth, had met and defeated the army sent by Akasso to capture him and had beaten it back to the walls of Kherinth. And now he had laid siege to that city, and his army formed a well-nigh impassable ring around it.
“And this, Huedrac, is what is most important to us of Yankhya. On the day of the Bull came a spy from Akasso, asking us to aid him and promising amnesty and rewards if we will make his cause our own. And but yesterday came a messenger from Turantho with a request much the same and promising even greater rewards than the raquaminthe offers. Even now, a council had gathered to decide what should be done.”
Huedrac turned and motioned us to follow, and then hastened off to the great old ruin where the council was already in progress. As I strode into the room, following closely the huge form of my brother-in-arms, a cheer rang out through the room and I looked about in a sort of amazed admiration. These men were the leaders of the outlaw band, the men who, under Huedrac, controlled this group of rough-necks and escaped convicts. And truly, I never saw a harder-bitten bunch of characters in my life. They were seated in a circle on the floor, and the amazement that I felt was due to surprise at the thought that even Huedrac had managed to fight his way to the mastery of these brutes. I was glad that I had no ambitions to take his place.
They made room at once for Huedrac and I, but the ignored the others and Theinah and the two scientists were forced to remain standing on the outer part of the circle. Out of deference to Theinah, I remained standing, too, and, somehow, I was glad when I noticed that Huedrac stood also.
Huedrac plunged into the business of the meeting immediately.
“I have been gone longer than a leader of his people should be gone from then,” he stated. “I have heard little of the conditions that have led to the two prepositions that the rulers of Kherinth have offered us. Yet, by the Axe and the Wilder, I like not one of them! What man of you would anger the Great Mother by choosing to align himself with the enemy of her chosen one? Akasso may not wield the Labrys, but he speaks the Word. Unless there is some mighty strong reason, I cast my vote for assisting the raquaminthe.”
At once a veritable babel broke out among the councilors. All talking at once, it sounded a very bedlam. Among the shouts, I could hear words of approval and words of dissent. It seemed, presently, that the dissenters were in the majority. Huedrac was shouting, too, but even his bull’s bellow could hardly be heard, for a while. At last:
“Kaddio!” he cried. “Let Kaddio speak for the dissenters! Speak, Kaddio!”
A grizzled, one-eyed, old fellow stood up. Almost at once there was silence, and, looking about him and seeing the nods of approval from all sides, he presently began to speak.
“I know the chief has no love for the minoqua,” he said. “And he has been away for many days. Had he been among us, I have no doubt that he would see things as we do, in spite of his feud with Turantho. Akasso is the Word of the Mother, that we know. But we are not children, to think that therefore the raquaminthe is infallible. More than once in the long centuries that our people have worshipped the Mother, has the raquaminthe been deserted by the goddess. More than once has the minoqua battled against him and been victorious. It is a saying among the yuketori (and who should know that better than Huedrac), that the goddess favors the strongest axe. If Akasso trusted to the favor of the goddess what need would he have for the red-cloaks?
“And so- - we think little of whether we win the favor of Astyra. Now look you! Akasso’s spy comes offering us gold and amnesty. Gold is good, and so is freedom, but this Turantho promises, too. Yet Turantho knows the heart of the outlaw and he shows it. For he offers us something else, and this, perhaps, our leader does not know. Have you been told, Huedrac, that Turantho offers us women?”
I saw Huedrac start. He muttered to me: “This puts a different complexion on things,” and rose to speak again.
“This, Kaddio, I knew not.” He answered. Yet I think little of it. No doubt have I that Akasso would equal the offer, were he asked. And remember, to aid Akasso would make his victory far surer than would our aid to Turantho help him. For to join Turantho would merely swell his forces, while an attack from the forest would enable Akasso to make a sortie that might well overcome Turantho completely. What think you of the proposal that we ask Akasso for women, before we cast our lot with the minoqua?
Bedlam broke loose again. Again the hard-faced council shouted and argued and stormed, but to my relief, I noticed that the ones who favored Huedrac’s proposal were now in the majority. Huedrac made no effort to quell their tumult this time; he stood silently, with a superior sort of half-smile on his face and let the uproar spend itself. He turned and muttered to me:
“A nice military bunch, eh, Herimas? A nice bunch to bow to one who was once an impallu of the yuketori.”
“He smiled again, a little bitterly, and gazed at the embroiled councilors. Several active combats were being waged now, genuine battles, as sundry of the outlaws sought to impress their ideas on their companions by the method that appealed to them the most. When quiet was at last resumed, more than one bore bloody reminders of the fact it is well to agree with your physical superior, her in Yankhya.
“And now,” said Huedrac, sarcastically, “has the council decided what is to be done about the propositions of the two rulers?”
Kaddio rose again.
“If it is still the will of the chief, we will await a new offer from Akasso,” he said. Meanwhile, the band wants to know what the chief will do with the prisoners he has with him.
“Prisoners?” Huedrac looked about him perplexed. Suddenly it dawned on him that Kaddio was referring to Theinah and the scientists.
“By the Axe and the Wielder!” he roared. “Who dares call the guests of Huedrac, prisoners? I like little your way of speech, today, Kaddio. You had best speak with more caution, or I shall yet find reason to reprimand you.”
Kaddio sat down with a surly growl and Huedrac went on:
“Let all the band know that these men and this woman are the especially guests of the leader. As to what will be done with them- - why, that is their own concern.” He turned to us, questioningly, and for the first time Theinah spoke.
“Truly, Huedrac, if I could, I would return to the city. My father I have no doubt, is greatly worried. Is there not some way in which we could return to the city?”
Huedrac looked at her dubiously.
“I can think of many places that I would rather be than in Kherinth, were I your chana,” he answered. Nevertheless, after a moment’s thought, he slapped his hand to his thigh and ejaculated: “Why not? And your friends can go with you. And my good friend, Herimas, shall bring me back the raquaminthe’s proposition.”
To this we agreed, enthusiastically. Huedrac laid the proposition before the council and they, too agreed. And so the meeting ended with all hands satisfied.
Shimkin, Gaunt and I returned to the rooms provided for us, and for the first time in many a day, reveled in the luxuriousness of a soft bed. Theinah, Huedrac led to his own room and appointed one of his most trusted guards to watch over her while she slept. And so another “night” passed away, and when we awakened, refreshed, we prepared to make the journey to Kherinth
Midday saw us upon our way, with a good dozen of the outlaws as our escort. Huedrac remained behind, for his hold upon the outlaws had been weakened no little by his long absence and he desired to reassert his power. He bade me farewell with a twinkle in the eye:
“Fear not, Herimas,” he said. “When you return, this bunch will be well under my thumb again, and I promise you, they will go over to the raquaminthe without an argument.”
So I said goodbye, and even I was surprised at the pang I felt at leaving him. It was a powerful friendship, indeed, that had sprung up between the outlaw chief and me.
As we walked through the forest, the two scientists found time at last to have a good deep conversation concerning the many wonders that they had seen in this strange land in the heart of the earth. Their talk grew deeper and deeper until it got entirely beyond me, and I ceased to pay any attention to it at all. I devoted my attention to Theinah; spent my time in trying to cheer her up, for the poor girl was worried far more than necessary over the predicament of her father. When we halted, after some five hours marching, and pitched camp, the first thing Theinah asked for was a drink of water.
“There is a little stream, a short distance away, chana,” one of the outlaws announced graciously. “Shall I get water from there?”
Theinah shook her head.
“I would prefer to get it myself,” she said. She took the cup which he extended to her, and started off, with a glance over her shoulder at me. I took the hint and followed eagerly, for Theinah and I had had only too few moments alone, and in a few minutes we were walking slowly toward the stream, totally absorbed in each other.
We reached the stream, drank our fill; and then, instead of returning at once, lingered a while, whispering of our love. We paid little attention to our surroundings. We should have paid more. For when we looked up, ready to return to the camp, we found ourselves surrounded by a good half dozen of the purple-cloaked soldiers of Turantho. Five of them were armed with bows, and with arrows ready, were threatening us. The other was an officer, one hand held a labrys while the other was lifted to his mouth to caution us to silence.
“I started involuntarily as I saw this group of enemies surrounding me; I almost cried out, it was only with an effort that I checked myself.
“That is wise,” whispered the leader, tensely. “Silence and obedience if you wish to live, Herimas.”
He motioned one of his soldiers forward; the fellow held a rope in his hand and in a moment he had bound my arms behind my back and I was a prisoner.
“It is not often that Herimas is taken prisoner without a blow being struck,” I grumbled to the officer as Theinah and I were led away. “Look well to your protection, purple-cloak, if ever I escape again.”
He grinned cheerfully.
“Don’t take it so hard, golden-haired one. Fortunes of war, you know. And Turantho is a generous enemy to those whom he has conquered. You should know that already.”
I shut up. I was this man’s prisoner and I was in a particularly bad mood, perhaps it was just as well that I keep my mouth shut. But I avoided Theinah’s tearful face as we were led away; had I looked at her, I fear I should have been tempted to commence a struggle with these warriors that could have only ended in my death.
The trail that our captors took led well to the left of the city of Kherinth and then doubled back into the hills. We walked for hours and my captor, after several fruitless efforts to strike up conversation with me, decided that he could keep as silent as I, and paid no more attention to me. I must admit that my conduct was none too pleasing, but I was angered at myself for allowing myself and the princess to be captured so easily, and I vented my discomfiture on my captors.
High into the hills we wended our way, skirted a steep cliff not far from the town, and came at last to Turantho’s camp. Down through the rows of tents we marched, past dozens of curious, chattering purple-cloaks, and stood at last before the tent of the minoqua. The officer who had captured us entered and after a while returned and, removing my bonds, herded Theinah and me into the tent. I stood again before the tall sallow-visage minoqua of Kherinth.
He looked me over haughtily, and then turned to Theinah with a smile in his eyes.
“Chana Theinah, it will not please you if I say that I am glad to see you here,” he began. “yet it is true. And not because you are a prisoner- - or perhaps I should say- - a hostage. No, I am glad to see you because I am your friend, Theinah. As I was the friend of your dear mother.”
He stopped, broke off in his speech and turned from her. Looked at me. Looked me over as though I were some sort of specimen under observation.
I would give much to know how you managed to escape from your cell, Herimas,” he said musingly. “That passage to the outer wall was never dug from within. I supposed it is useless to ask you who your rescuer was.”
I smiled knowingly. There was no use in telling the minoqua that that passage had been dug by one whose desire was not to rescue, but to slay me. So I smiled and said nothing. Turantho went on:
“Much, too, would I give to know where you and the chana have been in the days that you have been absent from Kherinth. And how it chanced that my yuketori found you in the forest. Is that a secret too, Herimas?”
“Were I to tell you,” I answered, “you would brand me as a liar of the deepest dye. ‘Twere better, Turantho that you find out from other lips than mine, what I have done for all Kherinth, in the days I have been gone.
He turned to Theinah, but she too remained silent, taking her cue from me. Turantho looked us over as we stood silently before him, and then sighed.
“Well,” he murmured at last. “I have tried to show friendship for you. But if you insist on this sullen silence, I can but have due regard for your feelings. Herimas, I will order you to the guard tent until you feel more like talking. And I hope that it will not be long until you realize that I bear no personal ill-will in this war of mine.” He smiled again. “No, not even Akasso is so much my enemy that I wish his death. But- - fortunes of war, you know.”
He clapped his hands and said to the orderly that appeared: “Summon the impallu of the guard tent.”
A moment later the tent-flap was pushed aside and a familiar figure strode into the tent. It was Kaslo. I recognized him in spite of the beard that he had allowed to grow to cover the crooked jaw caused by the blow that I had given him. He saluted before the minoqua, and neither by sign or word did he appear to notice me.
“Impallu,” ordered Turantho, “take this prisoner to the guard tent and keep him there until he expresses a desire to talk to me. Then bring him to me again.”
He turned to Theinah, paid no further attention either to Kaslo or to me, and when the soldier touched my shoulder and motioned me out of the tent, I stepped out, closely followed by my guard.
Outside, Kaslo bellowed an order and several soldiers surrounded me and marched me off through the camp.
We marched to the far end of the camp, left the last tent and came at last to a point where the trail skirted the edge of the cliff. Here Kaslo ordered a halt and turned to me. By the light in his eyes, I saw at last that he knew well who I was and I wondered just what he was going to do about it.
“So, Herimas, we meet again, eh?” He leered at me arrogantly. “Meet again, but not in the same manner as before. Do you remember Kaslo, whose jaw you broke, in Kherinth?”
I said nothing, but my silence seemed to affect him more than the worst insult could have done.
“Look you Herimas, you are in my power now. The minoqua has given you into my charge, and I will see to it that he does not ask for you again. You are mine, do you understand? Mine- - to do with as I please.”
He stuck his ugly face close up to mine, working himself into a fine frenzy of hate for me. I saw no reason to placate his feelings; there was no mercy in this ignorant barbarian, nor would I have accepted it if there was. I looked him over disgustedly and spat squarely in his face.
The effect would have been laughable, had not my situation been so decidedly serious. He sprang back, storming and wiping his eyes:
“Hold him,” he screamed to his soldiers, “Hold him!” The guards seized me, two on each arm, while Kaslo, his face red as a beet with anger, rained blow after blow upon me. At last, his strength spent, he ceased to strike and looked about him. A smile came to him as his eyes fell upon the cliff’s edge. With an effort, he resumed control of his emotions. He affected a lofty, disinterested manner. He pointed to the cliff.
“Throw it over,” he commanded with a fine show of superiority, and turned on his heel and strode a few paces away.
I could see little hope for me now. I struggled- - struggled mightily- - hurled the warriors to right and left, struck out with hands that were suddenly free, saw one of the soldiers drop as I struck; but there were five husky men against me and in a moment or two they had picked me up, still struggling, and bore me to the edge of the cliff. Never, I felt, had I been nearer death at that moment. They swung, swung me out and back, out and back- - their hands released me and I felt my heart leap into my mouth as I spun through the air and fell- - fell down and down- -
It has been said that when a man is drowning or falling, his mind moves faster than at any other time. It is an old belief that in such circumstances, his entire life passes in review before him. Well, my thoughts moved fast enough in the second while I hurtled through the air after Kaslo’s warriors released me. But they were certainly not of my past life. The first thing that entered my mind was, absurdly enough, the title of an old song: “I was Never Nearer Heaven in my Life.” Closely following that was a great feeling of self-pity. Never, I thought, will I see my little Theinah again. Never will I grasp the hand of Nathan Shimkin or bandy words with my good friend Barney Gaunt- - never will I see the lights of old New York- -
Something struck my head. My body struck something. For a second it broke my fall- - then it gave way beneath me and I was falling again. Another blow- - another; it came to me dimly that I was falling through the branches of a huge tree- - I reached a branch that held, and lay across it, every atom of wind knocked out of my lungs, but otherwise practically unharmed.
For a while I lay, struggling to get my breath, struggling to move, and wondering if Kaslo and his warriors had become aware of the fact that I was still alive. Apparently, though, they had taken no further interest in me after throwing me over the cliff, for I saw no signs of them on the top. I rose at last and began a painful descent of the tree. I was not far from the trunk, in a short while I was on the ground again and making my way through the forest. At first I was uncertain as to where I should go, but at last I determined that, in spite of the ignominy of admitting defeat to my friends, my best course would be to return to Yankhya. So I started off, but it was some time before I came to a spot that was familiar. But by skirting the cliff, I reached the trail which the warriors of Turantho had used when they brought Theinah and I into the camp, and from here on, I had no difficulty. A matter five or six hours found me entering the city of Yankhya and demanding of the sentry who challenged me that I be taken to Huedrac.
There was no doubt that the burly chieftain was glad to see me alive and comparatively unharmed, when I was led before him.
“By the Axe and the Wielder, Herimas,” he swore, joyfully. “You are back in good time. How is the chana Theinah, and what news do you bring from Akasso? And tell me, what did you mean by leaving your companions so unceremoniously, in the wood?”
I frowned. He was chaffing me, I thought, being satirical at my expense. No doubt he knew quite well by this time that I had been a prisoner.
“Where are my friends?” I asked. He turned and called, and out of a rear room came Shimkin and Gaunt. Their first words showed me that Huedrac really had been indulging in a little crude sarcasm at my expense.
“Harry!” cried Barney, springing forward and wringing my hand. “How did ye get away from them? And what of the Lady Theinah?”
“I was thrown away,” I answered, briefly but truthfully. “And as for the chana, she is still a prisoner. And before another day has passed, I intended to go to Kherinth to try to rescue her. Is there anyone in Yankhya that will help me?”
I stared around me, challengingly. Huedrac’s hand was over his wide mouth in an obvious and fruitless attempt to conceal a smile. Barney Gaunt stepped toward me with a commiserating look on his lean face and Nathan clucked sympathetically as he stroked my sleeve.
“Now look ye, Harry me boy,” began Barney. “Tis a hard time ye’ve had of it, and no fault of your own, at all. But ye feel blame on yourself for what has happened and ye’re goin’ around with a chip on your shoulder, defyin’ the world to mention the very thing that ye’re repeatin’ over and over to yourself. Now listen, lad. Well we know that it was through no fault of your own that you were captured by the yuketori. And somehow, you have managed to escape them. Well and good. But ye can’t go out there now in a vain attempt to conquer Turantho by yourself. Tis time of sleep, lad and a hard day ye’ve had of it. And a harder day ye’ll have tomorrow, for I promise ye, tomorrow we’ll let ye go seekin’ to rescue your princess and old Barney and Nathan, and the chief here, too, will be at your back!”
Barney seized my hand and squeezed it and Shimkin, looking at me with his small eyes glinting behind their thick lenses, clasped my other hand tightly in his. I felt a lump in my throat at the faithfulness of these two friends. I turned to Huedrac with a question in my eyes but before I could speak, he anticipated me.
“Aye!” he cried. “Huedrac will go- - and by the Mother! His outlaws will follow. No more arguing now. I am master again and where I go they will follow. We will start as soon as we rise from sleep. And those that I leave behind, I will leave for the lizards!”
And so it came about that, the next “morning” found us on our way to Kherinth. The outlaw band made an impressive force as it marched through the forest. There were all of two hundred men, hard-looking characters, every one of them armed to the teeth. I was armed, myself, at last, and right glad I was, too, to feel a trusty weapon in my hand once more, even if it was only one of the double-headed axes. I could have wished for a greater knowledge of its use, but, though the best of arms available was none too good, at least I was grateful that I had the best. I wondered if I, with my great strength, might not, at that, prove a match for some of the less experienced yuketori. Well, only time would tell.
Huedrac approached, after a while, to the place where I marched along with the tow scientists.
“Let me walk with you, Herimas,” he said. “I would question you about the camp of Turantho, and plan our attack. And I want to take over the advisability of warning Akasso our attack.”
“I fear there is little in which I can help you, Huedrac,” I answered. “I am not much of a soldier. And I have failed once in my attempt to get in touch with Akasso.”
He brushed my objections aside.
“Any man can make a mistake,” he said. “The wise man profits by them, only the fool loses heart over them. Now look you, Herimas. Where lies the camp, and how is it situated?”
I told him as well as I could and due to his adroit questioning, I was able to give him far more information than I had deemed possible. Before we had talked for more than half an hour, a smile broke over his countenance and he slapped his thigh.
“I think we’ve got them, Herimas,” he grinned. “Tis a terrible thing to be a warrior and to know more of politics than war. That is where Turantho’s weakness lies. As a politician, he has no peers, but, so much attention has he given to politics that he was neglected the cult of labrys. I doubt not that I am a better warrior than he. Well, we will find out o’er another day had passed.”
He began his quizzing of me again.
“Now concerning the insignia of the soldiers,” he said. “Saw you any of the characteristic insignia?”
“I don’t know,” I answered doubtfully. “What sort of insignia do they wear?”
“Oh, yes. I forgot you didn’t know them. Well, there is the regiment of the Serpent. They wear waistcloths with a characteristic wavy pattern in them- - purple wavy lines crisscrossing the material. And then there is my old regiment, the regiment of the Doves. Has a waistcloth with a V-shaped mark, something like birds flying, you know. And the regiment of the Bull- - all purple waistcloth with white balls on it. And- -“he hesitated and I broke out:
“I do remember the ones with the V-shaped marks on their waistcloths. They held a position not far from the cliff at the extreme end of the camp”
“Did they now?” exclaimed Huedrac is delight. “Did they, indeed? Who says the Mother is not with us in this? By the Axe and the Wielder, I doubt if even strategy is necessary to enable us to win. This is going to be a day of joy to me, I tell you. Oh, Herimas, it will be good to see my old regiment again!”
He strode off, rubbing his hands together and I heard him calling to his two lieutenants, Yudde and Smithe. Presently he approached me again.
“Smithe is on his way to the gates of Kherinth,” he said. “Not for nothing is he named the Mouse. If any man can find a hole in Turantho’s ring around the city, it will be he. If all goes as I have planned, Akasso will make a sortie shortly after we make our attack.”
Now, I would like to tell, and no doubt the reader would like to read of all the details of the battle that followed soon after this. But I have already made it plain that I know little of the strategic aspects of warfare, and so, much that occurred was meaningless to me, and is yet. I can only tell what saw myself and the broader aspects of the battle as they were afterward explained to me by Huedrac.
This much I have gathered however. Turantho’s army quite surrounded the city, from the spot where the walls met the “sky” on the left to where they met it on the right. On the left side, high up in the hills, Turantho had set his camp, for here, where “sky” and wall met, was the place where he had decided to attempt to breach of the walls. Naturally, below the camp was the greatest concentration of forces, yet it was this camp that Huedrac had chosen to attack. He counted on surprise, and on another thing, of which I will speak in a moment, to enable him to overcome the minoqua’s regiments, before the requisite amount of help might come to him from the other companies scattered about the walls.
We drew near to the hill of which the cliff was a part and Huedrac sent spies ahead to inform us of when Turantho’s warriors began their time of sleep. At last our leader gave the order to advance again, and before long we could see distantly through the trees the gray stone walls of Kherinth and the brilliantly colored tents pitched before them. And now Huedrac halted his men, and motioning, called me to him.
“You seem to like perilous ventures, brother of mine,” he begun. “Will you come with me on a journey into the camp of Turantho?”
I looked a little puzzled but nodded my head. He clapped me on the back delightedly.
“Of course you will,” he chuckled. Well, it may not be as serious as it sounds. But if things do not go as I hope- - it may be touch and go for our lives. Come on!”
I started off, but as I went I could not forbear a question.
“I would give much to know just why you are making this trip, Huedrac.”
“Perhaps I wish to visit with an old friend,” he said with a smile. And then, more seriously: “Remember, not far from here are pitched the tents of the regiment of the Doves. And I still have a few friends among my old companions.”
We walked on for a few minutes, left the group of outlaws behind us and presently Huedrac laid a warning hand on my arm. He cautioned me to silence, pointed through the leaves. There, not far away, a sentry leaned idly against the trunk of a tree and whittled at a stick. We approached silently and when a few steps away: “Ruklinthe!” said Huedrac suddenly.
The one named sprang to his feet and his hand darted for his axe like a striking snake. Quick as he was, Huedrac was quicker, he had leaped forward and seized the other’s hand before the axe was half out of his belt.
“By the Axe and the Wielder, Ruklinthe! You seem to bear me little of the affection you once had for me,” he gasped, as he wrenched the weapon from the other’s hand.
“Thou! Huedrac? Nay, then, my affection is as great as ever, but it is not so great as my surprise at seeing you here. What brings you to this spot, of all places?”
“What then, but a desire to know how my old companions do, and to see what they think of their old impallu? What news, Ruklinthe?”
“Not much, in fact. Barasso in still impallu. He grows worse every day. Not a man in the regiment but would gladly have you back again. We all pray to the Mother that something happens to once more bring back our old impallu.”
“It has happened!” announced Huedrac. “I am here, with all the outlaws of Yankhya at my back, to fight for the cause of the raquaminthe.”
“The raquaminthe! By the Axe, but why, Huedrac?”
“Think you I love the minoqua for the way he has served me? And this man, who is my brother-in-arms, is the favored one of the princess, Theinah. And there is to be battle today, and, by the holy one of the Astyrinth, Akasso will win it! So I fight for the raquaminthe!”
Ruklinthe looked dazed. This attitude of Huedrac’s he seemed unable to comprehend. At last he said perplexedly; “Well, Huedrac, it is rather too deep for me. Yet once I followed you without asking why, and I think I can do it again. And I would care little to battle against the raquaminthe, knowing that you were on his side.”
“Nor shall your reward be small for that decision, Ruklinthe. But what think you of the other warriors? Will the regiment of the Doves go with us? To death or to the rich rewards that will be ours if the raquaminthe is victorious? Or will they continue to cower under the thumb of old Barasso?”
Ruklinthe’s eyes had taken on a new glint as Huedrac spoke. Now: “That will fetch them,” he said, joyfully. “That dig about the thumb of old Barasso.” He chuckled. By the Axe, Huedrac, it is good to hear your voice and watch your ways again. There is none like you in all the land of the Gate.”
Huedrac joined in him laugh for a moment and then said sternly: “Now, listen, Ruklinthe. Go you and awaken Thelisso and Gorrimac and their peers. Tell them of what I have told you and then return here. We will wait.”
Ruklinthe sped off, leaving his post without a thought. Huedrac looked after him a moment speculatively.
“Well,” he said, after a moment, “I supposed I would have done the same thing under similar circumstances. But quick, now, Herimas. Get you back to the band and give them the order to march. Tell them to come silently and gather around this place. Then, if there should be a chance that the regiment fears to rebel against Turantho, we’ll have their leaders in a corner, anyway.”
I sped away, retraced the steps we had made and was soon returning with the outlaws.
“What news from the front, Harry, me boy?” queried Barney as we hurried along through the forest.
“I think the battle will begin as soon as we get there,” I answered. “Even now, Huedrac confers with the leaders of his old regiment. And if they decide to follow him- - well, I should not like to be in Turantho’s shoes.
We reached the spot where I had left Huedrac, and scattered out through the forest. I returned to the outlaw chief, reported that his band was near and waited with his through a couple of tense moments. Then we saw Ruklinthe returning with half a dozen warriors. They approached and held their axes high in salute to Huedrac.
“Are you with me, warriors?” shouted Huedrac, making no further attempt at silence.
“The regiment awaits your orders,” came the answer from one of the captains.
“Then why wait longer. Forward. Huedrac for the raquaminthe!” This last was a shout, a war-cry, and it was taken up and hurled from mouth to mouth and in less than a moment the camp was in an uproar. Out of their tents poured the regiment of the Doves, their axes glinting in the light of the sky and Huedrac’s war-cry and a dozen others welling from their lips.
The regiments closer to the walls awakened at the sound to find themselves surrounded by enemies. The roaring outlaws, the cheering regiment of the Doves, poured onto them almost before their eyes were opened. It was complete surprise, but I must say that the Yuketori met it valiantly. In almost less time than it takes to tell it, they were dashing out of their tents and falling into formation to defend the minoqua’s camp. The battle might go with us, it is true, but from the first it could be seen that it was not going to be an easy victory. Indeed, several times the issue was decidedly in doubt.
I hurried after Huedrac as he dashed into the thickest of the fray, and in a moment I found myself engaged in a duel to the death with a captain of that regiment which Huedrac had named the regiment of the Serpent. He was a small, wiry fellow, but quite adept in the use of his labrys; indeed, I began to feel, before we had been engaged a minute, that in spite of my strength he was quite my equal. I watched him carefully- - I had to- - and so it was that I began to perceive several of the tricks he used. I managed to put up a pretty good defense, but presently, when I tried one of his own tricks on him, he parried it with the greatest of ease and I was near split in two by a sudden counterblow.
I parried it as deftly as I could, the axe of my opponent slid off my own and swung out, but the blow was a sudden one and to my horror my own axe was knocked from my hand and fell clattering to the ground. With a grim smile, my little opponent raised his weapon to finish me, I looked about for some means to elude the inevitable blow; but the press of warriors about me was too great- - the axe was descending- - and then I heard the familiar crack of a rifle and the captain of the Serpents spun on his heel and fell to the earth before me.
Shimkin and Gaunt were struggling through the battling warriors toward me. I looked at them dazedly.
“Stick together, Mr. Moss,” cried Nathan. “What we don’t know about axe-fighters, you could write book! Let’s fight with weapons we know about.”
So stick together we did, through almost all the rest of the battle. And before long the yuketori began to avoid us, knowing full well that to get in the way of Shimkin’s rifle meant death. Indeed, it was chiefly through the work of Nathan that, at last, Turantho’s line bent and, presently, broke. We drove a V between the group centered about the minoqua’s camp, high up on the hill, and the other regiments which lay lower in the valley, and then Huedrac separated his men, sending the outlaws toward the camp of Turantho while he, himself, with the Doves, devoted his attentions to the valley. He knew that if reinforcements were to come to Turantho, they would come from the valley, for in this direction lay all the soldiers that had been on watch over the farther walls and the gates of the city
I, myself, chose to go with the outlaws. Theinah, I had no doubt, was still imprisoned in one of the tents near to that of the minoqua, and if I was to rescue here as I had set my heart on doing, it was here that I must be. And so we fought our way up the hill; and you must not think that because of Shimkin’s gun, Barney and I were idle. There was plenty to do, and plenty of risks to take. To be sure, if either the Irishman or I was pressed too close, Nathan’s rifle was sure to save us. But even the boxes of cartridges which Nathan had brought with him on that day when he started in search of me could not last forever. We were not more than a hundred feet from the tent of the minoqua when I heard Nathan cry:
“Only six more bullets, Mr. Moss. Better you should go a little more cautious.”
But caution was the last thing that entered my brain, now. That fever of battle that often seizes a man had me in its clutches and I was thinking of nothing so much as my desire to have hand-to-hand conflict with Turantho, to fight for the freedom of my sweetheart. Cold reason, since the battle, has shown me how easily I might have waited the outcome of the battle and have enforced the surrender of Theinah then. At the time, I saw no way to free her other than by actual combat with the minoqua.
And so I fought my way to where the haughty Lord of the Axe stood, hewing a path through the lesser warriors, men whose ability was probably but little greater than min, and as I crushed through them, laying them to either side of me, I heard the rifle of Shimkin barking behind me, expending its last shells to keep me safe.
I reached the minoqua, shouted for him to defend himself, just as Nathan’s voice cried: “They’re all gone, Mr. Moss. Look out, look out!” Ignoring the warning, I stood up to my enemy.
“For Theinah and the raquaminthe!” I cried, and hurled myself at him. He turned my blow aside almost negligently, I heard him give an order to the warriors and they fell away from me. He looked at me with a supercilious smile.
“Once again we meet, oh Herimas?” Glad would I be know who this mysterious friend of yours is, who manages is release you whenever you are in my power. I thought you safely under guard in the guard tent.”
“I will tell you Turantho. His name is Kaslo. Twice, now, he has given me my freedom. If you do not believe it, ask him.”
“I would hate to think Kaslo a traitor,” he said. “Ah, well, he will not free you again. I fear I must kill you, Herimas.”
And with a cry of “On guard!” he sprang at me.
As though it were a signal, I saw the dozens of individual battles which had ceased as he talked, begin again. From the corner of my eye, I saw Gaunt struggling with a huge Kherinthian; heard Shimkin shout a war-cry in Yiddish and then my attention was taken up by the threat before me.
And Turantho was a threat, never doubt that. I had thought that captain of the Serpents an expert in the use of the labrys- - he was a child in knowledge compared to Turantho. It was not by strength or strategy that I avoided his weapon, but by ignominious retreat. I backed away, farther, farther; my axe was mere defensive implement as I strove desperately to avoid the slashes that Turantho dealt. I could not entirely turn and flee, my pride would not allow that, but I had not stood against the minoqua for more than a moment before I knew that I was doomed. I cursed the fact that I had not studied more carefully the use of the axe during the time that I was in this cavern, but- - well, it was too late now. All that I could do was to struggle vainly to protect myself as long as possible.
Flash, strike- - flash, strike- - the axe of Turantho was like a ring of bronzed about my head, it was only the luck that had accompanied me all through this cavern that enabled me to avoid it as long as I had. Suddenly it swung down on me again; almost unconsciously there sprang into my mind the memory of how the little captain of the Serpents had disarmed me;- - my arm flew out instinctively, my axe glided down the handle of Turantho’s weapon- - it worked! The axe of the minoqua flew from his hand and bounded from a rock, a dozen feet away.
I tossed away my own weapon, and approached him grimly- - ready, nay, anxious now- - to do battle with only the weapons nature had given me.
Hail and Farewell
Huedrac, with his doves, had beaten the yuketori gradually back into the valley. Bawling orders at his men, dashing from one part of the battle to another, performing deeds of valor that almost made him seem a demigod to his men, he had piled up the far flung line of the besiegers until they were not far from the gates of the city. Here the yuketori held, and it began to seem that here they would stay until the Doves were slaughtered. For now fully five regiments of soldiers opposed them, regiments quite as well-trained as they, and quite as well armed.
But now the great gates of the city swung open and Akasso and the red-cloaks emerged. The battle was going on in the open space to the left of the gates, and so, when the cohorts of the raquaminthe came out, they found themselves to the rear of the yuketori, a place most advantageous for attack. The yuketori were caught as between the upper and nether millstones, and the battle, which they had deemed almost won, suddenly swung to the followers of the raquaminthe. By a deft flank movement, Huedrac joined his forces to those of Akasso, and before long, Turantho’s men were fleeing up the hill, in wild disorder. They reached the scene of the other battle just as I sprang at the minoqua, determined to finish him with my bare hands.
Now, Turantho was no mean opponent, by any means. He was, if anything, taller than I, though he lacked by breadth of shoulder. And he was as hard as nails, and there was certain pliability about him that I lacked. And so it was evident that, even if the fight was more even than it had been, it was still a fight. And these Kherinthians had a way of fighting that I have never seen outside of America- - they fought with their fists as well as we do.
When I lunged at Turantho, I found him waiting for me; I parried his blow, feinted and lunged again- - had the satisfaction of feeling my fist strike him- - but it was harmless blow which he took on the shoulder, and then swung at me another blow which I barely dodged in time.
Again I rushed in, throwing fists at him, he clinched, held me tightly, I made an effort to slip into a wrestling hold, he evaded it nicely and stepped back- - it was my turn to take a blow, and I did. And knew it, too, I tell you. He had meat on those arms of him, this fellow. I stepped back, eyed him a little more cautiously. If I wanted to win this fight, I would have to quell this insensate anger that had been welling in me ever since I first saw the minoqua. I stood, watching for a chance and trying to get greater control of myself. For a while, we both waltzed about, each waiting for the other to take the offensive, each watching for the loophole in the other’s defense, while all about us, men forgot their own battles and stood still to watch.
There was cheering farther down the valley. Huedrac and his allies were gradually beating the yuketori closer and closer to where we were. The cheering was taken up by the outlaws, but the minoqua and I had no time for it. Before the cheers had died away, we were at each other’s throats again, swinging and striking like third-raters in a preliminary.
I had used little caution at the beginning of the fight. But I was not long in realizing that I had underestimated the ability of my adversary. I began to put a little more science into my work. Slowly at first, and then, as I gained confidence, more swiftly and surely, I began to gain the upper hand. Turantho had one great weakness; it had evidenced itself in his warfare, now it began to be evident in this hand to hand conflict. He was, in brief, a paper warrior. All his studies had been theoretical. For the greater part of his life had had studied warfare, but never before had he been in an actual battle. And there can be little doubt that this was the first actual hand-to-hand bout in which he had ever been engaged in which his opponent actually tried to conquer him. So it was that in actual practice, he found much that he had never encountered in the bouts that he had engaged in his gymnasium.
Once I realized that I was gaining the ascendancy, I bored in irresistibly and presently he fell to his knees.
“Now, yield thee, Turantho!” I cried, but he shook his head obstinately, and I caught a sudden glint in his eye as he glanced over my shoulder. That sudden glint was all that saved me, it gave me a faint suspicion, and when I heard a whirr in the air, an instant later, I dropped flat on my face.
And again Kaslo’s enmity was the means of giving my victory over the minoqua. That vindictive warrior had managed to climb a tree not far from where battled, and has chosen this most opportune of moments to hurl his axe over the heads of the intervening warriors, squarely at my head. My suddenly drop caused the axe to hurtle harmlessly over me - - to bury itself in the forehead of the minoqua!
And then there was shouting, confusion, tumult and battle again. Someone was pulling Kaslo out of the tree, whether it was outlaw or yuketori, I shall never know, I saw a dozen axes swinging about him and knew that I could depend no more upon his help. But I knew, too, that I would need it no more, for the most powerful of all my enemies was dead. Turantho, the first minoqua in many generations to rebel against the priestly authority, lay dead at my feet; while below me on the hill, the red-cloaked warriors of Akasso beat the yuketori back into the forest…
Somehow or other, the news of Turantho’s death passed quickly down to the yuketori. The retreat became a flight, the flight became rout, and soon there were hardly any soldiers at all on the hill about me. I walked over to where Shimkin and Gaunt stood, leaning on their weapons.
“I’m glad it’s over, I said, disgustedly. “I wasn’t cut out for this sort of thing. I’m afraid I’m too civilized.”
Shimkin smiled and Barney Gaunt could not refrain from bursting into laughter.
“I’d like to see ye after ye’ve been in New York for six months,” he chuckled. “Ye’ll be dyin’ for another adventure.”
“Not me,” I insisted, wearily. “I’m going to marry Theinah and settle down - - Say, where is Theinah? I broke off, anxiously. “I’ve been so darned excited, I almost forgot.”
I hastened to the group of tents which had been Turantho’s headquarters, and called her name. And greatly relieved I was to hear a glad answering cry. I tore aside the do the door-flap of the tent from which her voice had issued and in a moment I had her in my arms.
And now, what little more I have to tell of our adventures must be in the nature of a summary. After all, this account deals primarily with our adventures and not with the scientific aspect of our discovery. If the reader is interested in that end of it, Shimkin’s monumental work or the papers of Barney Gaunt may be studied to great advantage. In them, you will find the story of these people and their customs and language, in a thousand times the detail in which they are told here. But my duty is to relate our personal adventures and this duty I have almost completed.
Huedrac pursued the fleeing yuketori, but not for far. They soon threw down their arms and surrendered, and Huedrac returned victoriously to Kherinth, herding the defeated warriors before him. I had already reached the city when he returned and had restored Theinah to her father, and there was a reunion that caused much rejoicing. And the rejoicing spread throughout the city; one by one, the people joined in the celebration, until all Kherinth roared. Before a day had passed Akasso proclaimed a week of thanksgiving and announced his amnesty to the outlaws. They were loaded with treasure (mostly from the coffers of the dead minoqua), and, as far as women were concerned, - - why, there was not a free woman in all Kherinth who would not have been proud wed with one of them.
Huedrac was called to the palace and made much over. He was the real hero of the whole adventure, and I did my best to make the people see it; but to my surprise, I found that they were giving me the credit for everything. In vain I protested, the rumors that Akasso had started weeks before were no bearing fruit, and I found that I was universally looked upon as a reincarnation of the old hero, Dasu.
I had, at Akasso’s insistence, taken up my quarters in the Astyrinth, and whenever I left the palace to go abroad, my journey became a veritable pageant. I cannot say that this was distasteful to me at first, but after a week a pageants such as this, and banquets and parades as well, it certainly began to pall on me. The climax was reached when, at a great banquet in the Astyrinth, Akasso arose and proposed that I be named the next minoqua. I waited until he had finished his speech and then arose to answer him.
“Akasso has conferred a great honor on me, O nobles of Kherinth. To one who has been amongst you such a small time, it is an honor indeed. And what will you think of me if I refused it? Yet refuse it I must, for I have a homeland, and in that land I have a place, even as each of you has a place here. And I must return to that land, for even as you love this land of the gate, so I love America, and the great city from which I come.
“And yet, my comrades, even as I ungratefully refuse this honor which the raquaminthe bestows on me, I prepare to ask of him another and a greater one. It is difficult, indeed, to ask this honor after refusing what he has offered.”
I hesitated, but Akasso spoke up, with twinkling eyes.
“Ask, Herimas. Yet well you know that the request is granted, even before you ask it”
My face reddened. I had prepared myself some elaborate speech asking Akasso for his daughter’s hand, but now that the time had come. I blushed and stammered like a schoolboy. At last I blurted out:
It is your daughter a hand I wish, Akasso. Already she had signified her willingness to go to America with me.”
“And go she shall, Herimas. But one condition do I lay upon you - - that sometime you return to the land of the Gate. I would not have Kherinth to forget you entirely.”
“We will return, and often,” I assured him. “I have formed friendships here that I could not sever, even if I so desired.”
“Then thus I settle this business of the honor to be bestowed on Herimas,” announced Akasso. “He shall be my son-in-law, and he shall be minoqua, too. And because he will be much absent from the city of Kherinth, he shall appoint whom it pleases him, to act as minoqua in his absence. Speak, Herimas, is there any here that you can trust with the army in our absence?”
Well, it was a very gift of the gods, wasn’t it? I smiled and pointed to a distant table where, among the lesser nobles lay Huedrac, now again in the uniform of the impallu of the yuketori.
“There sits my lieutenant,” I announced. “In my absence, Huedrac shall rule over the yuketori.”
A wild cheer burst forth from the throats of all the yuketori who were present. Not all nobles seemed to approve my choice, but Akasso smiled and the soldiers were in the tumult of joy. And so the business of that particular banquet ended.
One more scene and I am finished with my story. Several days later, a party gathered at the old ruins several miles from Kherinth, those ruins from whose gray, moss covered walls we first-beheld the marvelous sky” of the land of the Gate. Nathan Shimkin was there, and Barney Gaunt and I, ready to start on our long journey up the glowing tube. Theinah was with us, too, her heart already beating faster in anticipation of the wonderful adventure that she was about to undertake. And Huedrac was there, resplendent in the uniform of his new office, and looking more regal than anyone else in the party - - yes, more regal than Akasso’s own self. And Sminthe and Yudde were there, and Gorrimac, who was now impallu of the Doves, and below us on the hill were gathered dozens and dozens of Kherinthians who had followed us out from the town.
I looked out over the congregated people of the city and tears came into my eyes. Almost I gave up the idea of returning to the surface; it was only the thought of what this would mean to Barney and Nathan that held me to my purpose. I turned to hide my emotion and gripped the hand of my friend, Huedrac.
“I had thought to feel lighter of heart as I set my face again to my own country, brother of mine,” I said, huskily. He grinned, a sickly sort of grin.
“I like not your going, any more than you do, Herimas,” he said, slowly. “Forget net to return to us, and soon.”
“Return I shall, certainly… and mayhap to remain longer next time.”
He hesitated a moment, as though in doubt to continue the words that he had planned. I looked about and saw that Akasso was bidding his daughter a last farewell. Huedrac made his decision, put his hand to his belt and drew out his axe. It was not the gleaming new axe of office that he was supposed to wear as my proxy. It was the old axe that he had used in the battle of the hill, the axe that had served him long before when he was impallu of the yuketori.
“Take this,” he said, hoarsely. “Take it. Sort of a memory gift. Keep it, Herimas. I hope your firstborn is a son- - “
He interrupted himself; turned on his heel and strode away, watched him go, a lump in my throat, and then I, too, turned away. I took the arm of my Theinah, called: “Come on, Nathan. Come on, Barney.” The two scientists picked up their heavy bundles, slung them over their shoulders and followed. Silently our party of four crawled into the little cave, worked our way through its narrow mouth, stood up and began our journey to the surface.