With the exception of two or three women and some half-grown children, the Azarians slept. Those who remained awake were busy around the pit in the center of the compound. It was a pit about seven feet long, two feet wide, and some foot and a half or two feet deep. They were removing ashes from it. They worked in a very slovenly manner, scooping the ashes out with their hands and throwing them upon the ground. The children, vicious little beasts, quarreled among themselves. Sometimes a woman would cuff one of them, sending it sprawling. I had never seen any sign of affection among these people, who were much lower than the beasts.
When they had removed all the ashes they made a bed of dry leaves and twigs in the bottom of the pit. Over these they placed larger branches, and finally over all they placed several good-sized logs. Knowing what I did about them, it was all too suggestive. They were preparing for the feast. Who would be the first victim?
A kind of terror that was almost panic gripped me. The horror of such a death was borne in more forcibly upon me now that I actually saw the preparations in progress. Every moment that no eye was turned upon me, I worked frantically to sever my bonds. It was an arduous and fatiguing labor, made more arduous and fatiguing by the conviction that it was futile. I saw that Zor and Kleeto were also working upon their bonds; but with what success I had no way of knowing.
The Azarians had taken my bow-and-arrows and spear away from me at the time we were captured, and had left them lying there upon the ground; but they had neglected to take our knives. I presume that they felt that with our hands bound behind us we could not use our weapons. Perhaps the best reason that they had not taken them, however, was the fact that they are very stupid and unimaginative. Yet, perhaps their indifference was warranted, for what could I accomplish single-handed against these huge creatures?
As these thoughts were passing through my mind, I continued to work upon my bonds and suddenly I felt the last strand part. My hands were free! I still thrill to the memory of that moment; but though my freedom availed me nothing it still imparted to me a new sense of self-confidence. Had I not felt the responsibility of my loyalty to Zor and Kleeto, I should have made a run for it, for I was confident that I could scale the palisade at a point where it was topped by a small tree which the Azarians had leaned against it at an angle of about forty-five degrees; but because of Zor and Kleeto I had to abandon the idea.
Presently the Azarians who had been sleeping began to awaken. Some of the males came and inspected the preparations that the women and children had been making; then one, who appeared to be the chief, came over to us.
He examined us carefully, feeling of our ribs and pinching our thighs. He stopped longest before Kleeto; then he turned to two of the warriors who had accompanied him. “This one,” he said.
The two warriors removed her bonds. From where I stood I could see that she had almost succeeded in wearing them away; but the Azarians did not seem to notice. So Kleeto was to be the next victim! What could I do to prevent it, I with my puny, little stone knife against all those Gargantuan giants? But I determined to do something. I planned it all out carefully. When the attention of the Azarians was distracted from us, I would rush over and cut Zor’s bonds with my knife; then the two of us would throw ourselves upon them, hoping to disconcert them momentarily while at least one of us three escaped over the top of the palisade.
They dragged Kleeto over beside the pit, and here ensued a discussion which I could not overhear; and then something happened which gave me an inspiration. From beyond the palisade I heard the trumpeting of a mastodon. We had seen no signs of the great beasts in this locality other than the three which had followed us. Could that be Old Maj himself out there looking for us? It seemed incredible; and yet there was a chance; and, like a drowning man grasping for a straw, I grasped at that absurdity, and raising my voice I called to the great beast as I had in the past. Instantly every eye was focused upon me; but I called again, and this time louder, and, from the near distance, came a trumpeting reply; but the Azarians did not seem to connect the two, and turned once more to their preparations for their grisly feast. They threw Kleeto to the ground, and while some held her there, others went to fetch clubs with which to break her body; and then I raised my voice again and shouted loudly for Maj; then while every Azarian eye was intent upon Kleeto, I ran quickly to Zor and cut the- remaining strands of his bonds.
“They come,” he whispered. “Listen!” “Yes.” I could plainly hear the crashing of great bodies through the trees. The trumpeting rose to such proportions that the Azarians momentarily turned their attention from Kleeto and looked questioningly in the direction from which the disturbance came. Then, of a sudden, the palisade flew apart like matchwood, and the great bulk of Maj burst into the village.
The astounded Azarians stood in helpless astonishment. Zor and I rushed to Kleeto’s side and snatched her to her feet; and then Maj and his mate and the calf were upon us.
“Maj, Maj,” I cried, hoping that he would recognize us; and I am sure that he did. Some of the Azarians sought to protect their village with their clubs and knives, and these the mastodons lifted with their trunks and threw high into the air; then Old Maj seized me and I thought that he was going to kill me, but instead he charged on through the village and holding me low beneath his tusks he lowered his head and crashed through the palisade on the opposite side of the village from that which he had entered.
He lumbered on with me for a long time, stopping at last close to a river which ran through a broad plain; then he set me down.
I had been saved; but where were Zor and Kleeto? Had they been as fortunate as I, or were they still prisoners of the man-eating giants of Azar?,
I was pretty well shaken by that arduous trip through the forest, for I may say that with all his good intentions Old Maj had handled me rather roughly; so the moment he released me I lay down in the long grass beside the river to rest, and Old Maj stood guard above me, weaving his great bulk to and fro, his little red-rimmed eyes gazing back along the trail we had come. Presently he raised his trunk and trumpeted shrilly, and immediately he was answered from the distance. I recognized the higher note of the cow and the squeal of the calf, and wondered if Zor and Kleeto were with them.
Presently the two mastodons came into view; but they were alone. What had been the fate of my companions? Had they escaped or were they still captives in the village of the Azarians? I was depressed not only because of my apprehension as to them, but as to my own situation as well. Had there been the slightest likelihood that I could have succored them I should have been glad to return to the village and make the attempt; but it was quite unlikely that I could find my way back, and even had I been able to do so there was practically no chance that I might have been able to aid them.
Their loss meant a great deal to me, for more than sentimental reasons even, for I had been depending upon Kleeto to lead me back to the vicinity of Sari. Now, without a guide, and with no course to follow, the chances were very remote that I should ever reach my home again. Still further weighing down my spirits was my concern over the fate of Dian. I had escaped from the Azarians; but I was far from happy, and perhaps some worse fate lay before me in the endless and aimless wandering that lay ahead.