Zor awoke shortly after I; and we went out together to search for materials for our weapons. We knew exactly what we wanted and it didn’t take us long to find it in the lush vegetation of Pellucidar, notwithstanding the fact that hard woods are more or less scarce.
A species of the genus Taxus is more or less widely distributed throughout Pellucidar; and I had discovered that its wood made the best bows. For arrows I used a straight, hollow reed that becomes very hard when dry. The tips which I inserted in the end of the reeds were of wood, fire-hardened.
A modern archer of the civilized outer world would doubtless laugh at the crude bow I made then at the edge of the Valley of the Jukans. If he uses a yew bow, the wood for it was allowed to season for three years before it was made into a bow, and then the bow was probably not used for two more years; but I could not wait five years before eating; so I hacked the limb I had selected from the tree with my stone knife and took the bark from it and tapered it crudely from the center toward each end. I prefer a six foot, eighty pound bow for a three-foot arrow, because of the great size and formidability of some of the beasts one meets here; but of course my bow did not attain this strength immediately. Every time we had a fire, I would dry it out a little more, so that it gradually attained its full efficiency. The strings for my bows I can make from several long-fibered plants; but even the best of them do not last long, and I am constantly having to renew them.
While I was making my bow and arrows, Zor fashioned a couple of the short, heavy spears such as are used by the warriors of Zoram. They are formidable weapons but only effective under a hundred feet, and only at that distance when hurled by a very powerful man; while my arrows can penetrate to the hearts of the largest beasts at a full hundred yards or more.
While we were working on our weapons we subsisted upon nuts and fruits; but as soon as they were completed we set out after meat; and this took us down into the valley, a large portion of which was thickly forested. We found the game a little wary, which suggested that it had been hunted; and therefore presupposed the presence of man. I finally made a very poor shot and succeeded only in wounding an antelope which made off into the forest, carrying my arrow with it. As I was quite sure that the wound would eventually bring it down, and as I have never liked to abandon a wounded animal and permit it to suffer, we followed the quarry into the forest.
The spoor was plain, for the trail was well marked with blood where the animal passed. Finally we caught up with it, and I dispatched it with another arrow through the heart.
I imagine that we relaxed our vigilance a little while we were cutting off a hind quarter and some of the other choice portions of our kill; for I certainly had no idea that we were not alone until I heard a man speak.
“Greetings,” said a voice; and looking around I saw fully twenty warriors who had come from among the trees behind us.
“Jukans,” whispered Zor.
There was that about their appearance which was rather startling. Their hair, which was rudely trimmed to a length of an inch or more, grew straight out from their scalps; but I think it was their eyes more than any other feature, which gave them their strange appearance. As a rule, the iris was quite small and the whites of the eyeball showed all around it. Their mouths were flabby and loose, those of many of them constantly hanging open.
“Why do you hunt in our forest?” said he who had first spoken.
“Because we are hungry,” I replied.
“You shall be fed then,” he said. “Come with us to the village. You shall be welcome guests in the village of Meeza, our king.”
From what Zor had told me of these people, I was not particularly anxious to go to one of their villages. We had hoped to skirt the forest in which their villages are located, and thus avoid them; but now it looked as though we were in for it after all.
“There is nothing that we would rather do,” I said, “than visit your village; but we are in a great hurry, and we are going in the other direction.”
“You are coming to our village,” said the leader. His voice rose and cracked in sudden excitement, and I could see that even the suggestion had angered him.
“Yes,” said several of the others, “you are coming to our village.” They, too, seemed to be on the verge of losing control of themselves.
“Oh, of course,” I said, “if you wish us to come, we shall be glad to; but we didn’t want to put you to so much trouble.”
“That is better,” said the leader. “Now we shall all go to the village and eat and be happy.”
“I guess we’re in for it,” said Zor, as the warriors gathered around us and conducted us farther into the forest.
“They may continue to be friendly,” he went on; “but one can never tell when their mood will change. All I can suggest is that we humor them as much as possible, for you saw the effect that even the slight suggestion of crossing them had upon them.”
“Well, we won’t cross them then,” I said.
We marched for some little distance until we came at last to a crudely palisaded village that stood in a small clearing. The warriors at the gate recognized our escort and we were immediately admitted.
The village inside the palisade presented a strange appearance. It was evidently laid out according to no plan whatever, the houses having been placed according to the caprice of each individual builder. The result was most confusing, for there was no such thing as a street in the sense in which we understand it, for the spaces between the buildings could not be called streets. Sometimes they were only a couple of feet wide, and sometimes as much as twenty feet, and scarcely ever were they straight for more than the length of a couple of houses. The design of the houses was as capricious as their location, apparently no two of them having been built according to the same plan. Some were built of small logs; some of wattle and mud; some of bark; and there were many entirely of grass over a light framework. They were round, or square, or oblong, or conical. I noted one in particular that was a tower fully twenty feet high; while next to it was a woven grass hut that rose no more than three feet above the ground. It had a single opening, just large enough for its occupants to crawl in and out on their hands and knees.
In the narrow alleyways between the buildings, wild-eyed children played, women cooked, and men loafed; so it was with the greatest difficulty our escort forced its way toward the center of the village. We were constantly stepping over or around men, women or children, most of whom paid no attention to us, while others flew into frightful rages if we touched them.
We saw some strange sights during that short journey through the village. One man, sitting before his doorway, struck himself a terrific blow on the head with a rock. “Stop,” he screamed, “or I’ll kill you.” “Oh you will, will you?” he answered himself, and then hit himself again; whereupon he dropped the rock and commenced to choke himself.
I do not know how his altercation with himself turned out, for we turned the corner of his house and lost sight of him.
A little farther on, we came upon a woman who was holding down a screaming child while she attempted to cut its throat with a stone knife. It was more than I could stand, and though I knew the risk I took, I seized her arm and pulled the knife from the child’s throat.
“Why are you doing that?” I demanded.
“This child has never been sick,” she replied; “and so I know there must be something the matter with it. I am putting it out of its misery.” Then, suddenly, her eyes ablaze, she leaped up and struck at me with her knife.
I warded off the blow, and simultaneously one of my escort knocked the woman down with the haft of his spear, while another pushed me roughly forward along the narrow alleyway. “Mind your own business,” he screamed, “or you will get in trouble here.”
“But you are not going to let the woman kill that child, are you?” I demanded.
“Why should I interfere with her? I might want to cut somebody’s throat some day, myself; and I wouldn’t want anyone to interfere with my fun. I might even want to cut yours.”
“Not a bad idea,” remarked another warrior.
We turned the corner of the house, and a moment later I heard the screams of the child again, but I was helpless to do anything about it, and now I had my own throat to think about.
Presently we came to a large open space below a low, rambling, crazy-looking structure. It was the palace of Meeza, the king. In the center of the plaza before the palace was a huge, grotesque, obscene figure representing a creature that was part man and part beast. Circling around it were a number of men turning “cartwheels.” No one seemed to be paying any attention to them, although there were quite a number of people in the square.
As we passed the figure, each member of our escort said, “Greetings, Ogar!” and moved on toward the palace. They made Zor and me salute the hideous thing in the same manner.
“That is Ogar,” said one of our escort. “You must always salute him when you pass. We are all the children of Ogar. We owe everything to him. He made us what we are. He gave us our great intelligence. He made us the most beautiful, the richest, the most powerful people in Pellucidar.
“Who are those men cavorting around him?” I asked.
“Those are the Priests of Ogar,” replied the warrior.
“And what are they doing?” I asked.
“They are praying for the whole village,” he replied.
“They save us the trouble of praying. If they didn’t pray for us, we’d have to; and praying is very strenuous and tiring.”
“I should think it might be,” I said.
We were admitted to the palace, which was as bizarre and mad a structure as I have ever seen; and there the leader of our escort turned us over to another Jukanian, a functionary of the palace.
“Here,” he said, “are some very good friends who have come to visit Meeza and bring him presents. Do not, by any mischance, cut their throats, or permit anyone else to do so, lest they have difficulty in talking with Meeza, who is anxious, I know, to converse with them.”
The palace functionary had been sitting on the floor when we entered, nor did he arise or discontinue his activities. Instead he dismissed our escort and asked Zor and me to sit down and join him.
He had dug a hole in the dirt floor with the point of his knife, and into this hole he poured some water which he mixed with the loose earth he pad excavated until the contents of the hole was of the consistency of soft modeling clay; then he took some in the palm of one hand, shaped it until it was round, patted it flat, and set it carefully on the floor beside him.
He inclined his head toward us and waved an inviting hand toward the hole. “Join me, please,” he said. “You will find this not only exquisitely entertaining but highly enlightening and character building;” so Zor and I joined the palace functionary, and made mud pies.