When we set out from Sari to search for von Horst, we followed vague clues that led us hither and yon from one country to another until finally we reached Lo-har and found our man1; but returning to Sari it was not necessary to retrace our devious way. Instead, we moved in as nearly a direct line as possible, detouring only where natural obstacles seemed insurmountable.
It was a new world to all of us and, as usual, I found it extremely thrilling to view for the first time these virgin scenes that, perhaps, no human eye had ever looked upon before. This was adventure at its most glorious pinnacle. My whole being was stirred by the spirit of the pioneer and the explorer.
But how unlike my first experiences in Pellucidar, when Perry and I wandered aimlessly and alone in this savage world of colossal beasts, of hideous reptiles and of savage men. Now I was accompanied by a band of my own Sarians armed with rifles fabricated under Perry’s direction in the arsenal that he had built in the land of Sari near the shore of the Lural Az. Even the mighty ryth, the monstrous cave bear that once roamed the prehistoric outer crust, held no terrors for us; while the largest of the dinosaurs proved no match against our bullets.
We made long marches after leaving Lo-har, sleeping quite a number of times, which is the only way by which time may be even approximately measured, without encountering a single human being. The land across which we traveled was a paradise peopled only by wild beasts. Great herds of antelope, red deer, and the mighty Bos roamed fertile plains or lay in the cool shade of the park-like forests. We saw the mighty mammoth and huge Maj, the mastadon; and, naturally, where there was so much flesh, there were the flesh-eaters—the tarag, the mighty sabre-tooth tiger; the great cave lions, and various types of carnivorous dinosaurs. It was an ideal hunters’ paradise; but there were only beasts there to hunt other beasts. Man had not yet come to bring discord to this living idyl.
These beasts were absolutely unafraid of us; but they were inordinately curious, and occasionally we were surrounded by such great numbers of them as to threaten our safety. These, of course, were all herbivorous animals. The flesh-eaters avoided us when their bellies were full; but they were always dangerous at all times.
After we crossed this great plain we entered a forest beyond which we could see mountains in the far distance. We slept twice in the forest, and then came into a valley down which ran a wide river which flowed out of the foothills of the mountains we had seen.
The great river flowed sluggishly past us down toward some unknown sea; and as it was necessary to cross it I set my men at work building rafts.
These Pellucidarian rivers, especially the large ones with a sluggish current, are extremely dangerous to cross because they are peopled more often than not by hideous, carnivorous reptiles, such as have been long extinct upon the outer crust. Many of these are large enough to have easily wrecked our raft; and so we kept a close watch upon the surface of the water as we poled our crude craft toward the opposite shore.
It was because our attention was thus focused that we did not notice the approach of several canoes loaded with warriors, coming downstream toward us from the foothills, until one of my men discovered them and gave the alarm when they were only a matter of a couple of hundred yards from us.
I hoped that they would prove friendly, as I had no desire to kill them, for, primitively armed as they were, they would be helpless in the face of our rifles; and so I gave the sign of peace, hoping to see it acknowledged in kind upon their part; but they made no response.
Closer and closer they came, until I could see them quite plainly. They were heavy-built, stocky warriors with bushy beards, a rather uncommon sight in Pellucidar where most of the pure-blood white tribes are beardless.
When they were about a hundred feet from us, their canoes all abreast, a number of warriors rose in the bow of each boat and opened fire upon us.
I say, “opened fire,” from force of habit. As a matter of fact what they did was to project dart-like missiles at us from heavy sling shots. Some of my men went down, and immediately I gave the order to fire.
I could see by their manner how astonished the bearded warriors were at the sound and effect of the rifles; but I will say for them that they were mighty courageous, for though the sound and the smoke must have been terrifying they never hesitated, but came on toward us even more rapidly. Then they did something that I had never seen done before nor since in the inner world. They lighted torches, made of what I afterward learned to be a resinous reed, and hurled them among us.
These torches gave off volumes of acrid black smoke that blinded and choked us. By the effects that the smoke had upon me, I know what it must have had upon my men; but I can only speak for myself, because, blinded and choking, I was helpless. I could not see the enemy, and so I could not fire at them in self-defense. I wanted to jump into the river and escape the smoke; but I knew that if I did that I should be immediately devoured by the ferocious creatures lurking beneath the surface.
I felt myself losing consciousness, and then hands seized me, and I knew that I was being dragged somewhere just as consciousness left me.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying bound in the bottom of a canoe among the hairy legs of the warriors who had captured me. Above me, and rather close on either hand, I could see rocky cliffs; so I knew that we were paddling through a narrow gorge. I tried to sit up; but one of the warriors kicked me in the face with a sandaled foot and pushed me down again.
They were discussing the battle in loud, gruff voices, shouting back and forth the length of the boat as first one and then another sought to make himself heard and express his individual theory as to the strange weapon that shot fire and smoke with a thunderous noise and dealt death at a great distance. I could easily understand them, as they spoke the language that is common to all human beings in Pellucidar, insofar as I know, for I have never heard another. Why all races and tribes, no matter how far separated, speak this one language, I do not know. It has always been a mystery to both Perry and myself.
Perry suggests that it may be a basic, primitive language that people living in the same environment with identical problems and surroundings would naturally develop to express their thoughts. Perhaps he is right—I do not know; but it is as good an explanation as any.
They kept on arguing about our weapons, and getting nowhere, until finally the warrior who had kicked me in the face said, “The prisoner has got his senses back. He can tell us how sticks can be made to give forth smoke and flame and kill warriors a long way off.”
“We can make him give us the secret,” said another, “and then we can kill all the warriors of Gef and Julok and take all their men for ourselves.”
I was a little puzzled by that remark, for it seemed to me that if they killed all the warriors there would be no men left; and then, as I looked more closely at my bearded, hairy captors, the strange, the astounding truth suddenly dawned upon me. These warriors were not men; they were women.
“Who wants any more men?” said another. “I don’t. Those that I have give me enough trouble—gossiping, nagging, never doing their work properly. After a hard day hunting or fighting, I get all worn out beating them after I get home.”
“The trouble with you, Rhump,” said a third, “you’re too easy with your men. You let them run all over you.”
Rhump was the lady who had kicked me in the face. She may have been a soft-hearted creature; but she didn’t impress me as such from my brief acquaintance with her. She had legs like a pro-football guard, and ears like a cannoneer. I couldn’t imagine her letting anyone get away with anything because of a soft heart.
“Well,” she replied, “all I can say, Fooge, is that if I had such a mean-spirited set of weaklings as your men are, I might not have as much trouble; but I like a little spirit in my men.”
“Don’t say anything about my men,” shouted Fooge, as she aimed a blow at Rhump’s head with a paddle.
Rhump dodged, and sat up in the boat reaching for her slingshot, when a stentorian voice from the stern of the canoe shouted, “Sit down, and shut up.”
I looked in the direction of the voice to see a perfectly enormous brute of a creature with a bushy black beard and close-set eyes. One look at her explained why the disturbance ceased immediately and Rhump and Fooge settled back on their thwarts. She was Gluck, the chief; and I can well imagine that she might have gained her position by her prowess.
Gluck fixed her bloodshot eyes upon me. “What is your name?” she bellowed.
“David,” I replied.
“Where are you from?”
“From the land of Sari.”
“How do you make sticks kill with smoke and a loud noise?” she demanded.
From what I had heard of their previous conversation, I knew that the question would eventually be forthcoming; and I had my answer ready for I knew that they could never understand a. true explanation of rifles and gunpowder.
“It is done by magic known only to the men of Sari,” I replied;
“Hand him your paddle, Rhump,” ordered Gluck.
As I took the paddle, I thought that she was going to make me help propel the canoe; but that was not in her mind at all.
“Now,” she said, “use your magic to make smoke and a loud noise come from that stick; but see that you do not kill anybody.”
“It is the wrong kind of a stick,” I said. “I can do nothing with it;” and handed it back to Rhump.
“What kind of a stick is it, then?” she demanded.
“It is a very strong reed that grows only in Sari,” I replied.
“I think you are lying to me. After we get to Oog, you had better find some of those sticks if you know what’s good for you.”
As they paddled up through the narrow gorge, they got to discussing me. I may say that they were quite unreserved in their comments. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that I was too feminine to measure up to their ideal of what a man should be.
“Look at his arms and legs,” said Fooge. “He’s muscled like a woman.”
“No sex appeal at all,” commented Rhump.
“Well, we can put him to work with the other slaves,” said Gluck. “He might even help with the fighting if the village is raided.”
Fooge nodded. “That’s about all he’ll be good for.”
Presently we came out of the gorge into a large valley where I could see open plains and forests, and on the right bank of the river a village. This was the village of Oog, our destination, the village of which Gluck was the chief.
|1. See “Back to the Stone Age” [back]|