Land of Terror

Chapter Twenty-Five

Edgar Rice Burroughs

EVER SINCE I had come to Ruva, I had noticed that U-Val hung around a girl called O-Ra. There were several other young bucks after her, but she showed no preference for any of them. I think O-Ra was something of a paleolithic gold-digger. She wanted a man with a slave; and not one of her suitors owned one. Thus a situation was created which did not tend to increase U-Val’s love for me. I think he spent a great deal of time doing nothing but hating me. I used to catch him glaring at me, and I think he was trying to screw up his courage to a pitch where he could denounce me and claim me as his slave. His fear of me was purely psychological—an unreasoning complex—for he had proved in his encounters with the great saurians which had attacked us during our voyage from the mainland to Ruva that he was no coward. I think we have all seen examples of this type of cowardice many times. I have known men who could face death coolly but were in mortal terror of some little woman half their size, and I have known heroes who were afraid of mice.

Possibly because they didn’t like him, the men of the tribe made U-Val the butt of crude jokes because of his profitless attention to O-Ra; and I may say that Stone Age humor is often raw. However, much of it has come down intact for perhaps a million years to the present day on the outer crust. I recognized in many of the paleolithic jokes old friends with which I had been well acquainted back in Hartford, Connecticut.

Finally the food and tu-mal for the feast were about ready; and Ro-Tai announced that the warriors would retire to their huts and that after the sleep the feast would be served. As Ul-Van had been detailed to keep watch over me, I had to go into his hut with him; and while I was waiting for sleep to come, I overheard a conversation in a nearby hut. A man was speaking, and he was trying to persuade a woman to enter the hut with him, which would have consummated the simple marriage ceremony of the Ruvans; but the woman was adamant in her refusal.

“No,” she said. “I will not mate with a man who has no slave.”

“I have a slave,” replied the man; and I recognized the voice of U-Val.

The woman laughed, scornfully . “You keep your slave well hidden, U-Val,” she said. “What is it—a man or a woman? Or did the brave U-Val capture a little girl?”

“My slave is a great warrior,” replied V-Val. “He is the man called David. Did you not see me bring him to the island?”

“But he said that he was your friend, not your slave; and you did not deny it.”

“I did not deny it because he had threatened to kill me if I claimed him as my slave.”

“When you claim him,” said O-Ra, “I will become your mate, for the man would make a valuable slave.”

“Yes,” assented U-Val; but there was not much conviction in his tone. He had reason to doubt that I would make a very tractable slave.

“When you have your slave, you may ask me again,” said O-Ra; and then she must have gone away, for I heard no more; and presently I fell asleep.

A boy came and awakened us, saying that Ro-Tai was awake and was summoning the warriors to the feast.

I followed Ul-Van out of the hut, and found a place beneath the shade of a tree where I could watch the proceedings. Leaves had been laid on the ground, covering a strip about three feet wide and twenty-five feet long. This was the banquet table, and along the length of it the slaves were piling food and setting great joints of bamboo filled with tu-mal, the warriors arranging themselves along both sides. Ro-Tai, who was standing at the center of one side of the spread, was looking about as though searching for someone. Suddenly his eyes alighted upon me and he called to me.

“Come, David,” he said, “and join the other warriors in the feast.”

It was then that U-Val spoke up, finding his courage at last. “Slaves do not eat with the warriors of Ruva, Ro-Tai,” he said.

“What do you mean?” demanded Ro-Tai.

“I mean that the man, David, is my slave. I captured him on the mainland, and brought him to Ruva. I have let him play at being a free man long enough. Now I claim him as my slave.”

There was a rumble of disapproval, and then Ro-Tai spoke. “Even if David were your slave, by his act he has won his liberty; and I, Ro-Tai, the chief of Ruva, give him his liberty, which it is my right to do. I give him his liberty and I make him a warrior of Ruva.”

“I shall not feast with a white slave!” exclaimed U-Val; and, turning, he stalked away. He took a few steps and then stopped and wheeled about. “If I cannot have him as my slave, I can at least kill him, for he is an enemy of Ruva, and kill him I shall!”

“Have you forgotten that you ate grain and honey with me in the hill of the giant ants, U-Val?” I called to him. “You had better come and eat now. You can kill me afterward, and you will need the tu-mal to give you courage; but don’t forget U-Val, that I have promised to kill you.”

“Why have you promised to kill him?” demanded Ro-Tai.

“Because, while I thought he was my friend, he bound my hands behind me while I slept, and when I awoke he told me that I was his slave; and he kicked me in the ribs while I lay on the ground helpless. It was because of that kick that I promised to kill him.”

“You may kill him in self-defense, but not otherwise,” said Ro-Tai. “And see that you don’t pick a quarrel with him,” he added. “I haven’t so many warriors that I can afford to lose even one unnecessarily.”

Now, at a sign from Ro-Tai, the warriors seated themselves cross-legged upon the ground before the feast. There were no knives or forks for each warrior had two good hands, and each made the most of both of them. There was not much conversation for the feasters were too busy eating and drinking.

The women and children and slaves formed a circle about us, hungrily watching us devour the food. When we were through, they would come and finish what remained.

It was not long before the feasters began to get pretty high on tu-mal, and correspondingly noisy. I drank no tu-mal, and when I had satisfied my hunger I got up and strolled away; and no sooner had I left than U-Val came and seated himself at the feast. As I watched him I saw that he ate very little, but that he was drinking quantities of tu-mal; and I knew then that I must be on my guard.

I wanted to go and work on the canoe, which was nearly completed; but I could not because Ul-Van couldn’t go with me. The slaves were all busy; and so I sat apart by myself, for I had learned long since that the less you have to do with the women of primitive men the better you are liked. Many of them even resent an outsider talking to their women; but after awhile O-Ra came over and sat down beside me. While she didn’t belong to anybody, she had several suitors; so that a tete-a-tete with her wasn’t a particularly healthful occupation. I was compensated for this, however, by the fact that I knew it would make U-Val madder than ever.

“U-Val is going to kill you,” she said. “He told me so just before he went to fill up on tu-mal.”

“Why are you warning me?” I asked.

“Because I don’t like U-Val, and I hope you kill him,” she replied; “then he can’t bother me any more.”

“But you would have become his mate if he had owned a slave,” I said. “How could you do that, if you hated him?”

“He could have died suddenly,” she said with a smile; “and then I would have owned the slave. After that I could have mated with the man I want; and then I would have had my man and my slave both.”

“You would have killed him?” I asked.

She shrugged. “He would have died,” she said.

O-Ra was way ahead of her time. She had been born about a million years too soon, or at least on the wrong side of the crust. She had highly advanced ideas for a girl of the Stone Age.

“Well, I hope you get your man, O-Ra,” I said; “but I’d hate to be in his sandals.”

She laughed, and rose. Then she said excitedly in a whisper, “Here comes U-Val now. I think I’ll wait and see the fun.”

“I would if I were you,” I said, “for somebody is going to be killed. You ought to enjoy that.”

U-Val came toward us a little unsteadily. His habitual scowl was even blacker than usual.

“What are you doing trying to steal my woman?” he demanded.

“Is she your woman?” I asked.

“I’ll say I’m not,” said O-Ra.

“She’s going to be,” said U-Val, “and anyway no dirty white slave is going to talk to a Ruvan woman while I’m around.”

I wasn’t going to be tricked into attacking him no matter what he said, for Ro-Tai had made it quite clear that it wouldn’t be safe for me to kill him, other than self-defense.

“Why don’t you fight, you dirty coward?” he shouted.

By this time the attention of others had been attracted, and members of the tribe were gathering to form a circle about us. Some of the men were pretty drunk, and they urged on first U-Val and then me. Like O-Ra, they wanted to see a fight and a killing. Ro-Tai and Ul-Van were among the spectators.

U-Val was applying to me every vile Pellucidarian epithet that he could recall, and he recalled plenty and most of them were pretty raw-fighting words, if there ever were any.

“What’s the matter?” demanded Ul-Van. “Are you afraid of him, David?”

“Ro-Tai told me that I could only kill him in self-defense,” I said, “and he hasn’t attacked me yet. Words can’t kill me; but if I could use my fists on him, that would help some.”

“You can use your fists,” said Ro-Tai; “but don’t either of you draw a weapon.”

“You don’t care, then, what I do to him just so long as I do it with my hands?” I asked.

Ro-Tai nodded; and with permission granted, I stepped in and planted a right on U-Val’s nose. Blood spurted in all directions, and U-Val went practically crazy with rage. He had gone down with the blow, sort of stunned and dazed; but when he regained his senses he leaped up and down like a jumping-jack, beating his breast and screaming; then he came for me.

I dropped him again with a body blow to the solar plexus. He was a pretty sick man when he staggered to his feet; but when he saw everyone laughing at him, he lost the last shred of his self-control, whipped out his stone knife, and came for me with murder in his eye.

Now was my opportunity. I could kill him now, according to the rules that Ro-Tai had made; but as he came for me I did not draw my own knife. I wanted to be absolutely in the clear, for I knew that if I killed him there would be some that would insist that I pay with my life. They wouldn’t like the idea of a white man living among them who had killed a black. He might become too arrogant.

“Your knife! Your knife!” cried UI-Van. “Draw your knife, David!” But I didn’t have to draw my knife yet, and I hoped that I would not have to draw it at all. I knew a great many jujitsu tricks and holds, and I felt that U-Val was in for the surprise of his life.

As he closed with me I used a very simple trick for disarming him, and then I got his head beneath one arm and started whirling him around. He was absolutely helpless. His feet flew off the ground and his body described a circle in the air. Faster and faster I whirled; then suddenly I lifted him and let him go. His body flew completely over the heads of the spectators, and lit heavily on the ground beyond.

I hurried through the crowd to his side. He lay with his head bent under, quite motionless. Immediately the crowd followed and formed a new circle about us. I put my ear to U-Val’s chest and listened; then I rose and turned toward Ro-Tai.

“He is dead,” I said. “You will all bear witness that I killed him in self-defense.”

“And with your bare hands!” exclaimed Ul-Van in evident amazement.

“Have slaves take the body down to the ocean,” said Ro-Tai; and turning on his heel he walked away.

The fight seemed to have had a sobering effect upon most of the warriors. Some of them gathered around me and felt of my muscles. “You must be very strong,” said one.

“It doesn’t take a great deal of strength,” I said. “It is just in knowing how.”

Immediately they wanted to be taught; so I showed them a few of the simpler holds—how to disarm a man attacking with a knife; how to throw a man; how to take a prisoner and force him to accompany you, and at the same time render him helpless to harm you.

When I was through they immediately started practicing on one another, and they were still at it when Ul-Van and I started back to the seashore to go to work upon the canoe.

I was anxious to complete the work as I hoped to be able to use the canoe to sail to the mainland and escape from Ruva.

I had a plan which I proceeded to explain to Ul-Van, although I did not tell him that its real purpose was to permit me to escape. ‘”

“When this canoe is finished,” I said, “a party of us can sail to the mainland and get a log from which I can make a better boat. We can tow it back to Ruva and do all the work on it here.”

“That is a good idea,” said Ul-Van; “but we shall have to wait until the islands float within sight of the mainland.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because we could never find the mainland, otherwise.”

“Do you mean to say that you don’t know in what direction the mainland lies?”

“Bandar Az is very large,” he said, “and the islands are constantly drifting. We never go to the mainland unless we can see it. Of course, if makes no difference then how far Ruva drifts away from us, for Ruva is our homeland; and no matter where it lies, we can always return to it.”

“Will it be long before we sight the mainland?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he replied. “Occasionally, there are times when babies grow to manhood without ever sighting the mainland; and then there are times when we are in sight of it constantly for hundreds and hundreds of sleeps.”

My chances of escape looked pretty slim, if I had to wait for twenty years of outer crust time before we sighted the mainland again. I was pretty blue.

Presently Ul-Van exclaimed jubilantly, “Why, of course, we can reach the mainland! Why didn’t we think of it before? Your home is on the mainland. All you would have to do would be to steer a course for your home.”

I shook my head. “That is something I could not do. You see, I am not a Pellucidarian. I am from another world, and I could not steer a straight course to my home as you Pellucidarians can.”

That seemed very strange to Ul-Van. It was beyond his comprehension.

Another hope was blasted! I seemed now irretrievably doomed to a life of exile upon this floating bit of earth. I might never again see my beloved Sari; never renew my search for Dian the Beautiful.

I worked on in silence upon the canoe. Ul-Van helped me as best he could, for this was work such as a warrior might do. We had not spoken for some time when he said, “Oh, by the way, David, that slave-girl I was telling you about had another name. Amar was a name my mate gave her. Her real name was Dian.”

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-Six

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