Here I was, in a palace from which I could not find my way without a guide, surrounded by maniacs, all of whom were potential enemies; but the most terrifying feature of the situation lay in the fact that Dian would most assuredly be lost were I not able to return to her. I reproached myself for thus jeopardizing her safety for two who really had no hold upon my loyalty, other than that dictated by a sense of decency and common humanity. Right then, I would have sacrificed them both without a single qualm of conscience, could I, by such means, have returned to Dian. I realized that I had over-estimated both my luck and my cunning. The former seemed to have deserted me and the latter was about to be nullified by the still more cunning minds of madmen. Finally, I decided to try to bluff it through. I knew that Zor would be with me if it came to a fight; and I also knew that if we should try to fight our way from the palace, the reactions of the Jukans were unpredictable. I drew my knife and looked Bruma straight in the eyes.
“You are not going to sacrifice me to Ogar,” I said in a loud tone of voice that attracted the attention of all around us, including Meeza, the king.
“Why?” demanded Bruma.
“Because I am a guest of Meeza,” I replied, “and I demand his protection.”
“Who is this man?” cried the king.
“His name is Napolapart,” replied Bruma, “and be comes from Gamba. I shall sacrifice him to Ogar; so that Ogar will tell us what has become of Moko, your son.”
I was facing away from Meeza at the time, because I was looking at Bruma and listening to him. Beyond the crowd I could see the doorway leading into the throne room. The backs of nearly all except those on the dais upon which Meeza sat were toward the door, and the attention of those on the dais was riveted upon Bruma and me; thus I was the only one to see a cadaverous figure stagger from the corridor and lean weakly against the frame of the doorway.
“Will Ogar tell us where Moko is, if you offer this sacrifice to him?” demanded Meeza of Bruma.
“If the sacrifice is acceptable to Ogar, he will tell us,” replied the high priest. “If it is not acceptable, we shall have to try another.”
I turned toward Meeza. “You do not need Ogar to tell you where Moko is,” I said, “for I can tell you. Will you let Zor and me go in peace, if I tell you?”
“Yes,” said the king.
I turned and pointed toward the doorway. “There is Moko,” I said.
All eyes turned in the direction I had pointed to see Moko stagger forward into the room. He looked like a cadaver temporarily endowed with the power of locomotion. His body and his extremities were very thin, and his body was literally covered with blood that had dried and caked upon it from a now partially healed wound below his heart.
So I hadn’t killed Moko, after all; and now, by an ironical trick of Fate, he had come back, perhaps to save me. I watched him stagger across the room to Meeza’s throne, where he sank to the floor, exhausted.
“Where have you been?” demanded the king. There was nothing in his voice that denoted paternal affection or sympathy.
Weak, gasping for breath, Moko replied in a feeble whisper, “He tried to kill me. When I regained consciousness, I was in darkness for he had dragged me into the corridor of which only the king and his son have knowledge. He was gone, and with him the girl from Sari.”
“Who was he?” demanded Meeza.
“I do not know,” replied Moko.
“It must have been the man, David, who escaped from the cell in which he was confined,” suggested Bruma.
“We shall find them,” said Meeza. “Send warriors out to search the forest for them, and search in the great cave in the Ravine of the Kings.”
Immediately warriors started for the door, and Zor and I joined them. I do not believe that Bruma saw us go, as his attention was fixed upon Moko over whom he was chanting some weird jargon, doubtless something in the nature of a healing incantation.
“What shall we do?” asked Zor.
“We must find Kleeto,” I replied; “and then try to leave the village with these warriors, pretending that we are going out to help search for David.”
“You can’t get a woman out of the village,” said Zor. “Don’t you remember what Kleeto told us?”
“That’s right,” I replied. “I had forgotten; but I have another way.”
“What is it?”
“It is the corridor through which I escaped before; but the only trouble is that it leads to the large cave which they are going to search.”
“What became of the girl from Sari?” he asked.
“I took her with me and hid her in another cave near the large one.”
“Of course, you are going to take her with us?” “Absolutely,” I replied, “for when I found her with Moko, I made an amazing discovery.” “What was that?” asked Zor.
“That the girl from Sari was actually my mate, Dian the Beautiful.”
“It was a fortunate chance, then, that caused you to be captured by the Jukans.”
We found Kleeto in the kitchen of the major-domo. She was surprised and delighted to see us; but at first she could scarcely believe that it was I, so greatly had Dian’s handiwork disguised me. She had not recognized me when she met my guide and me in the corridor; but she recalled having seen us pass.
We talked matters over and decided to enter the corridor and go as far as the rear entrance to the cave. There we should wait until the Jukans had completed their investigation and left. We were quite sure that they would not investigate the corridor; but if they did, we should simply have to keep ahead of them so as not to be detected, even if we had to come all the way back to the entrance.
Now, however, another obstacle presented itself. None of us knew how to reach the entrance to the corridor. Neither Zor nor Kleeto had ever been there, and I could not retrace my steps to it, even though my life and Dian’s depended upon it.
“We shall have to attempt to pass out through the city, then,” said Zor.
“You two go, then,” said Kleeto. “I am sure that they would not permit me to pass.”
“There must be some other way,” said Zor.
“There is,” I said. “You and I will go out of the village to search for David. When the Jukans have finished their search in the Ravine of the Kings, we can enter the cave and come back for Kleeto, for after you have found your way from the corridor to these quarters, you could easily retrace your steps, while I could not.”
“It is a good plan,” said Zor, “but it will not be necessary for you to come back with me and leave your mate, for all I shall have to do is guide Kleeto out of the palace; and it will not require two men for that.”
“That is right,” said Kleeto; “but I do not wish you to risk your lives for me. I never expected to escape, anyway; so you might as well go along and make sure of yours.”
“David has already risked his life and that of his mate to come back here to rescue us,” said Zor. “We shall take you with us, if it is possible to do so.”
We left Kleeto and went out into the city, presently finding ourselves at the outer gate. As warriors were still passing through in search of me, we had no trouble in leaving the city.
We found the Ravine of the Kings full of searching warriors; so we joined them in order to be near Dian and learn if she were discovered.
“If she is,” I said, “we shall have to fight, for I shall not permit her to be taken back into the city alive.”
Mingling with the Jukans, and pretending to be hunting for myself, I made my way close to the cave where Dian was hidden. The barricade was still up, and the brush covered it. Nothing had been disturbed. Inside that cave, not ten feet from me, was the woman I loved, the only woman I had ever loved, the only woman I ever should love. She was doubtless worrying as much about my safety as I had worried about hers; and yet I dared not call out to let her know that I was there, close to her and safe, for all about us were the Jukans.
I saw some of them descending from the large cave; so I knew they had made their investigation there and that it would be safe for Zor to enter as soon as the searchers had left the ravine and make his way through the corridor to the interior of the palace.
There may not be any such thing as time in Pellucidar; but I think an eternity must have passed before the Jukans gave up their search in the ravine and left it. Zor and I had managed to conceal ourselves without appearing to do so, so that no one noticed that we remained behind when the others left.
“And now,” I said to Zor, “you can make your attempt to reach Kleeto and bring her back here. The entrance to the corridor is directly opposite the mouth of the cave. After you enter the corridor, always keep your left hand against the wall; and you will be bound to retrace my steps through the palace and the corridor—” I stopped aghast, as a recollection came suddenly to my mind.
“What’s the matter?” demanded Zor, noticing my perturbation.
“How stupid of me to have forgotten!” I exclaimed.
“What are you talking about?” he demanded.
“You will not be able to pass the gate at the farther end of the corridor,” I said. “It was behind that gate that I was imprisoned, and it defied my every effort to batter it down.”
“Is there no other way?” he asked.
“Yes, there is; but I do not know how you can find it.
There is a doorway from the corridor to the room in which I found Moko and Dian. Perhaps you will feel it, and recognize it when you come to it; but as I recall it, it seems only a part and parcel of the wooden wall that faces most of the corridor. It is, I should say, about half way between the cave and the far end of the corridor.”
“If the gate is still locked, I shall find that door,” Zor assured me.
“Your chances will be mighty slim, if you have to go that way,” I told him, “because I am sure that that room lay in the quarters of either Moko or Meeza, for it was near there that they had Dian imprisoned. If you are discovered there, you will certainly be destroyed. Perhaps you had better give up the idea entirely, if the gate at the end of the corridor is still fastened. We shall then have done all that we humanly could to bring Kleeto out.”
“If I am not back at the end of two sleeps,” said Zor, “I shall never be back; and you and your mate may commence your journey to Sari.”
I bade him goodbye, then, with a heavy heart, and watched him climb the tree and enter the mouth of the large cave above.