I do not know when I have been as happy as I was at that moment. My spirits were high, for now it seemed certain to me that we had an excellent chance of escaping from the Valley of the Jukans and returning to our beloved Sari.
When I had made an opening large enough to admit my body, I crawled into the cave backwards and replaced the barrier as best I could, intending to lie down beside Dian and get a little sleep myself.
How surprised she would be when she awakened to find me there beside her. I couldn’t resist the temptation to reach out and touch her. The cave was small, and she could not possibly be more than an arm’s length from me; but though I felt in all directions I did not find her. It was then that the terrible truth dawned upon me—Dian was gone!
To be cast from such heights of hopefulness to such a depth of despair almost unnerved me. More like a maniac than a sane man, I felt over every inch of the floor of the cave. I found some food and water. I found my weapons, too; but no Dian.
No longer was there thought of sleep; no longer thoughts of Zor or Kleeto; only Dian mattered now.
Taking a spear and the bow and arrows that I had made for myself, I pushed away the barrier and came out into the open. For a moment I stood there, undecided. Where was I to look for Dian? Something seemed to tell me, I do not know what, that she had not been taken back into the village; and I decided to go down the ravine, away from the village, which was the direction that we should have taken to leave the Valley of the Jukans on our way towards Sari. That much I knew, because I had asked Dian the direction of our country, and she had told me which way we must go to reach it.
All through the Ravine of the Kings, the ground had recently been walked over by the searching Jukans; so that any possible trace of Dian’s spoor would have been obliterated; but I hoped that if I went far enough I might eventually pick it up, for, not having the homing instinct of the Pellucidarians, I had been forced to develop myself into an excellent tracker. I could follow a spoor that an ordinary man could not detect, and I banked heavily upon this ability to pick the spoor of Dian and whomever had stolen her.
I came to the end of the Jukan forest without meeting man or beast, or finding any trace of Dian.
According to Dian’s directions, I turned right here and skirted the forest. She had told me that this would lead me to the far end of the valley where I should come upon a stream, and that I should follow this stream to a small inland sea into which it emptied; then I was to follow the shore of this sea to the left. Eventually, I would see a lofty mountain peak far ahead of me, which would indicate the direction of Sari. After that, I should have to depend upon my own resourcefulness to find my way, for she could not recall any other outstanding landmark, for she, born with the homing instinct, had not needed to particularly note any of them.
I had reached the lower end of the valley and the river without seeing any trace of Dian, and had just about come to the conclusion that I had been wrong in assuming that she had been brought in this direction, whereas it was equally possible that she might have been captured by the Jukans and returned to the village. Should I return to Meeza’s village or should I go on? That was the question. My better judgment told me that I should turn back; but I finally decided to go on yet a little farther; but eventually I gave it up as hopeless and turned back.
The forest in the Valley of the Jukans stops rather abruptly where it meets the plain; although a few scattered trees dot the latter. For purposes of better concealment, I traveled just inside the edge of the forest where the plain was always visible to me and trees always within easy reach as avenues of escape from the more dangerous carnivores.
From the village of Meeza to the lower end of the valley, where I had turned back, must be about twenty miles. I had been without sleep for some time and, being practically exhausted, I sought out a tree in which I could rig myself up a sleeping platform well concealed by verdure from prying eyes, and far enough above the ground to be safe from hunting beasts; and here I was soon asleep.
I do not know how long I slept; but when I awoke I found that it had rained, for the forest was dripping. with water. That the rain had not awakened me was evidence of how exhausted I must have been; but now I was refreshed, and soon I was on the ground once more, ready to continue my return journey toward the village of Meeza, the king. I was refreshed, and I was also ravenously hungry, which was an approximate index as to the length of time I had slept.
As I did not care to take the time to hunt, I gathered a little fruit with the intention of eating it on the way; but almost immediately after reaching the ground, I discovered that which drove all thought of hunger from my mind, for passing directly beneath my tree were footprints of a man and woman in the rain-soaked earth—a man and a woman who had been walking hurriedly toward the lower end of the valley. Instantly I cast aside all thought of returning to the village, convinced in my own mind that these were the footprints of Dian and her abductor.
I could not tell how old the tracks were, for I could not know how long I had slept; but I knew that the rain had been comparatively recent and that the two people had passed either during or after the storm.
This lack of means for measuring time here in Pellucidar can be extremely annoying and aggravating. I might have slept for a week of earthly time, as far as I knew; and these people might be far in advance of me, or they might be but just a short distance ahead, hidden by the trees of the forest.
As the trail remained quite distinct, I could follow it rapidly. In fact, I had adopted a dog-trot which I had learned from experience that I could maintain for great lengths of time, as only thus could I hope to overtake them, as I could see that they had been hurrying.
Near the lower end of the valley, the trail came out of the forest; and then, far ahead; I saw two figures, as yet too far away from me to recognize. Now I no longer trotted; I ran. Often I lost sight of them for a considerable time as one or the other of us dropped down into swales or hollows; but each time that they reappeared I could see that I had gained on them.
At length, after losing sight of them for a short time, I topped a rise and saw them just below me. They were standing in a clearing facing a couple of jaloks, the fierce, wild dogs of Pellucidar; and then it was that I recognized them—Zor and Kleeto. Armed only with their crude, stone knives, they were hopelessly facing the two great brutes that were slinking toward them. Their situation would have been almost hopeless had I not happened upon them in the nick of time; and even now it was none too certain that we should all three escape alive; for the jalok is an animal of great strength and terrible ferocity. They are man-eaters of the worst type, and hunt men in preference to any other game.
As I ran down the hill toward Zor and Kleeto their backs were toward me as they stood facing the brutes; and so they did not see me; nor did they hear my sandaled feet on the soft turf. The jaloks paid no attention to me, as they have little or no fear of man, and probably looked upon me as just another victim.
As I ran, I fitted an arrow to my bow; and when I was quite sure that I was safely in range I stopped a few paces behind Zor and Kleeto and drew a bead on the larger jalok, a huge dog which stood a good six inches higher than his mate. I drew the shaft back until the tip of the arrow touched my left hand. The bow string twanged and the arrow sank deep in the chest of the dog. Simultaneously, Zor and Kleeto wheeled about and recognized me; and both jaloks charged.
With a celerity born of long continued, urgent need of self-preservation, I had fitted another arrow to my bow and driven it into the breast of the she. The shot brought her down; but the dog, growling ferociously, the arrow protruding from his breast, came leaping toward us. It was then, when he was almost upon us, that I hurled my spear, a short, heavy, javelin-like weapon.
Fortunately for us, my aim was true, and this heavier missile brought the great beast down; and a second later I put an arrow through his heart. Similarly, I dispatched the female.
Zor and Kleeto were profuse in the expression of their gratitude. They were mystified as to how it had happened that I had been behind them. They said that they had gone to the cave where Dian had been hidden, and found it empty; and immediately had come to the conclusion that she and I had started on toward Sari.
Then I told them how it had happened that I had been behind them and of my fears that Dian had been stolen; and then when I had not been able to find any trace of her spoor I had become convinced that she had been taken back into the village.
“No,” said Kleeto, “I can assure you that she has not. I should have heard of it immediately, had she been brought into the major-domo’s quarters. I heard the warriors talking as they returned from the search, and it was quite evident from what they said that they had found no trace of her; so I think that you may rest assured that she is not in the village of Meeza.”
Well, it was, of course, something of a relief to know that; but where was she? And who had been her abductor? I recalled that Moko had wanted her to run away with him; and I questioned Kleeto as to the possibility of its having been he who had found her hiding place and taken her away.
“It is possible,” she said.
“But he had been badly wounded. The last time I saw him, he was so weak he could scarcely stand.”
“Oh, he has had plenty of time to recover from that,” she said.
I shook my head in despair. This baffling question of elapsed time was maddening. To me, it seemed that not more than two days had elapsed since I saw Moko fall exhausted at the foot of his father’s throne, yet Kleeto assured me that there had been plenty of time for his wound to heal. How was I possibly to know, then, how long it had been since Dian had been taken from the cave? If another than Moko had taken her, it might have been a great many days ago, as measured by outer earthly time. If it were Moko, it might not have been so long ago; but still, he might have had ample time to take her where I should never find her.
The fact that I could find no trace of her spoor was the most disheartening fact of all, yet I realized that she still might have passed this way but so long ago that all traces of her passage had been obliterated.
“What are you going to do?” asked Zor.
“I am going back to Sari,” I replied, “and I am going to bring an army here to the Valley of the Jukans and wipe their accursed race off the face of Pellucidar. Their hereditary taint of insanity is a menace to all mankind; and you?” I asked. “Where are you going?”
“I suppose I shall never find Rana,” he replied. “It seems hopeless now to prosecute the search any further. Kleeto has asked me to come back to Suvi with her,” he added, in what I thought was a rather embarrassed manner.
“Then we can continue on together,” I said, “for Suvi lies in the direction of Sari; and with Kleeto as a guide, my great handicap will be nullified.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“He can’t find his way home,” said Zor, laughing as though it were a huge joke.
Kleeto opened her eyes in amazement. “You mean you could not find your way back to Sari alone?”
“I’m sorry,” I replied; “but I couldn’t.” “I never heard of such a thing,” said Kleeto.
“He says he is from another world,” said Zor. “At first, I did not believe him; but now that I have come to know him, I do not doubt his word.”
“What other world is there?” demanded Kleeto.
“He says that Pellucidar is round like the eggs of one of the great turtles, and hollow, too. Pellucidar, he says, is on the inside, and his world is on the outside.”
“Can’t anyone in your world, then, find his way home, if he gets lost?” asked the girl.
“Yes,” I explained; “but not in the way that you do. Some time I shall explain it to you; but right now we have other things to think about, and the most important, at the moment, is to get as far away from the Valley of the Jukans as we can.”
We started on again, then, on the long trail toward sari; and I should have been very happy and contented, had it not been for my anxiety concerning the fate of Dian. If I only knew in what direction she had been taken. Even to know who had taken her, would have been some satisfaction; but I knew neither, and I could not even guess; and prayed that time would unravel the mystery.
We had passed out of the valley and followed the river down to the shore of the inland sea, of which Dian had told me, when we passed the skeleton of a large deer from which all the flesh had been stripped by the carnivorous creatures of all sizes and descriptions which infest Pellucidar.
So often does one come across these bleaching evidences of tragedy in Pellucidar that they occasion no comment or even a single glance; but as I passed close to this one I saw an arrow lying among the bones. Naturally, I picked it up to put it in my quiver; and, as I did so, I must have exclaimed aloud in astonishment, for both Zor and Kleeto turned questioningly toward me.
“What is the matter?” asked the former.
“I made this arrow,” I said. “I made it for Dian. I always mark our arrows for identification. This one bears her mark.”
“Then she has been this way,” said Kleeto.
“Yes, she is on the way back to Sari,” I said; then I got to thinking. It was odd that it had never occurred to me before, that I had found my weapons in the cave but not Dian’s. Why should her abductor have taken her weapons and not mine? I put the question to Zor and Kleeto.
“Perhaps she came alone,” suggested Kleeto.
“She would never have deserted me,” I said.
Zor shook his head. “I do not understand it,” he said. “Very few of the men of Pellucidar know how to use this strange weapon which you make. The Jukans certainly possess none. Who else could have shot this but Dian the Beautiful, herself?”
“She must have shot it,” I said.
“But if she were stolen, her captor would never permit her to carry weapons,” argued Zor.
“You are right,” I said.
“Then she must be alone,” said Zor, “or—or she came away with someone of her own freewill.”
I couldn’t believe that; but no matter how much I racked my brain, it was impossible for me to arrive at any explanation.