For some inexplicable reason, I was haunted by a presentiment of evil after the mastodons left us; nor was I alone in this. Both Zor and Kleeto shared my depression. As though to further accentuate our mood, the sky became overcast with dark and ominous clouds; and presently there broke upon us a terrific electrical storm. The wind howled about us, almost hurling us to the ground. The air was filled with flying leaves and branches; and the trees of the forest swayed and groaned ominously. Our situation was most precarious, with trees crashing down all about us. The rain fell in great masses which swept against us with staggering force. I had never seen such a storm before in Pellucidar.
Constantly buffeted by wind and water, we staggered on until at last we came to a comparatively open space which we felt would be far safer than the denser forest. Here we huddled together with our backs toward the storm, waiting like dumb creatures for the battle of the elements to subside.
Great animals, which ordinarily would have threatened our very existence, passed close by us as they fled before the storm; but we had no fear of them for we knew that they were even more terrified than we, and that hunting and feeding were far from their thoughts. Aside from the danger from flying branches, we felt comparatively safe; and so were not as alert as customarily, although, as a matter of course, we could have heard or seen little above the storm and the blinding rain. The crashing thunder, following peal after peal, almost continuously, combined with the howling wind to drown out any other sound.
At the very height of the storm we were suddenly seized from behind by powerful fingers. Our weapons were wrenched from us and our hands secured behind our backs; then, at last, we saw our captors. There were fifteen or twenty of them, the largest men I have ever seen. Even the smallest of them stood fully seven feet in height. Their faces were extremely ugly, and a pair of great, tusk-like yellow teeth imparted no additional beauty to them. They appeared to be very-low in the scale of human evolution, being entirely naked and armed only with the most primitive weapons—a very crude stone knife and a club. In addition to these, each of them carried a grass rope.
They paid no more attention to the storm than as though it did not exist; but they seemed mightily pleased over their capture.
“Good,” grunted one, pinching Kleeto’s flesh.
“What do you intend doing with us?” I demanded
One of them leaned close to me, leering and blowing his foul breath in my face. “Eat you,” he said.
“Stay out of Azar, if you do not want to be eaten,” said another.
“Azar!” ejaculated Kleeto. “Oh, now I know. All my life I have heard of the man-eating giants of Azar. There is no hope for us now, David.”
I must admit that the outlook was not very bright; but it has been my custom never to abandon hope. I tried to cheer Kleeto up a bit, and so did Zor; but we were not very successful, not even when the storm passed as quickly as it had broken upon us and the sun shone down again out of a clear sky, suggesting, as I told her, that our storm might clear and our good luck return as had the sun.
The Azarians dragged us along through the forest; and presently we came to a palisaded village, or rather, I should say, a palisaded enclosure, for after we entered it we found there no sign of habitation whatsoever. The storm had wreaked quite a little havoc in the enclosure, several trees having been blown down, one of them having leveled a portion of the palisade.
There were a number of Azarian women and children in the enclosure, all quite as uncouth and repulsive as the males, while tied to individual trees were several human beings like ourselves, evidently prisoners.
Our captors tied us to trees and then set about rebuilding the damaged palisade. The women and children paid very little attention to us. A few of the former came up and pinched our flesh to see what condition we were in, an all too suggestive gesture.
I was tied to a tree close to one of the prisoners who had been there before us, and I got into conversation with him. “How long will it be,” I asked him, “before they eat us?”
He shrugged. “When our flesh is in a condition that suits them,” he replied. “They feed us principally on nuts with a little fruit, and never give us any flesh.”
“Do they abuse you?” I asked.
“No,” he replied, “for that would retard our fattening. They may sleep many times before they eat any of us, for they consider human flesh a rare delicacy, which they do not often enjoy. I have been here for more sleeps than I can remember; and I have seen only two prisoners eaten. That is not a pleasant sight. They break all their bones with clubs, and then roast them alive.”
“Is there no chance to escape?” I asked.
“Not for us,” he said. “Two escaped during the storm. Their trees blew down, breaking their ropes, and they ran off into the forest with their hands still bound behind them. They will not last very long; but their deaths will be easier thus than as though they had remained here to be beaten and roasted. I feel very sorry for one of them. She was a beautiful girl from Sari—Dian the Beautiful, the man called her.”
For a moment I was speechless. The shock was as great as a physical blow. Dian out in that savage forest with her hands bound behind her! I must do something; but what could I do? I started rubbing the rope that bound my wrists against the rough bark of the tree behind me. It was something, no matter how hopeless. Perhaps the man who escaped with her would find a way to free her, I thought. That gave me a little hope.
“You say a man escaped with her?” I asked.
“Who was he? Do you know?” “He was a man from Suvi. His name was Do-gad.” That was another terrific jolt. Of all the men in the world, that it should have been Do-gad. Now, more than ever, I must escape.
The Azarian warriors finished the palisade and lay down to sleep. They, and their women and their children slept on the ground like beasts, their only shelter the shade of the trees beneath which they lay.
When they awoke, the men went out to hunt. They brought back animals, for they always craved flesh. The women and children gathered fruit and nuts, quantities of which were fed to us to fatten us.
Sleep after sleep came and went; and constantly, when I was unobserved, I rubbed my bonds against the rough bark of the tree. I knew that I was making progress; but after I gained my freedom what might I do with it? There were always Azarians inside the palisade; the palisade was too tall for me to scale; and there was but a single gate, which remained closed always; but still there was always the chance that some combination of circumstances might open the way for me. My greatest handicap, however, lay in the fact that I should have to release Zor and Kleeto, for I could not desert them. They, too, were working to cut their bonds; but it was more than could possibly be expected that we should all achieve the desired results simultaneously.
And so time dragged its slow way even in this timeless world; and my thoughts were constantly upon Dian out there somewhere alone, always in tragic danger if not already dead. But was she alone? Yes, even though Do-gad had escaped with her, I was positive that she was alone, if she were still alive, for she would have found some way to escape from him or she would have killed herself.
Such were my unhappy thoughts as, tethered to a tree, I waited there in the compound of the man-eating giants of Azar for a horrible fate that now seemed inevitable.