The murderers were not in sight upon the great highway of the ancients, and I rode swiftly to where the trail drops down upon the north side of the mountains to the great valley that I had seen the day before. There are fewer trees and lower brush upon this side, and below me I could see the trail at intervals as it wound downward, and as I looked I saw the first of a party of horsemen come into sight around the shoulder of a hill as they made their way down into the cañon.
To my right, a short distance, was a ridge leading from the summit downward and along the flank of the cañon into which the riders were descending. A single glance determined me that a few minutes of hard and rather rough riding would permit me to gain the cañon ahead of the riders and unseen by them, unless the brush proved heavier than it appeared or some impassable ravine intervened.
At least the venture was worth essaying, and so, not waiting for a longer inspection of the enemy, I wheeled and rode along the summit and out onto the ridge which I hoped would prove an avenue to such a position as I wished to attain, where I might carry out a species of warfare for which we are justly famous, in that we are adepts at it.
I found along the ridge a faint game trail and this I followed at reckless speed, putting Red Lightning down steep declivities in a manner that must have caused him to think me mad, so careful am I ordinarily of his legs, but to-day I was as inconsiderate of them as I was of my own life.
At one place the thing I most feared occurred—a deep ravine cut directly through the ridge, the side nearer me dropping almost sheer to the bottom. There was some slight footing, however part way down, and Red Lightning never hesitated as I put him over the brink. Squatting on his haunches, his front legs stiff before him, he slid and stumbled downward, gaining momentum as he went, until, about twenty feet from the bottom, we went over a perpendicular dirt cliff together, landing in the soft sand at the foot of it a bit shaken, but unhurt.
There was no time even for an instant’s breathing spell. Before us was the steep acclivity of the opposite side, and like a cat Red Lightning pawed and scrambled his way up, clinging motionless at times for an instant, his toes dug deep into the yielding earth, while I held my breath as fate decided whether he should hold his own or slip back into the ravine; but at last we made it and once more were upon the summit of the ridge.
Now I had to go more carefully, for my trail and the trail of the enemy were converging and constantly the danger increased. I rode now slightly below the brow of the ridge, hidden from whoever might be riding the trail along the opposite side, and presently I saw the mouth of the cañon to my right and below me and across it the trail along which the Kalkars must pass—that they had not already done so I was confident, for I had ridden hard and almost in a straight line, while they had been riding slowly when I saw them and the trail they were following wound back and forth down the cañon side at an easy grade.
Where the ridge ended in a steep declivity to the bottom of the cañon I drew rein and dismounted and, leaving Red Lightning hidden in the brush, made my way to the summit where, below me, the trail lay in full view for a distance of a hundred yards up the cañon and for half a mile below. In my left hand I carried the heavy Kalkar bow and in my right a bundle of arrows, while a score or more others protruded from my right boot. Fitting an arrow to my bow I waited.
Nor did I have long to wait. I heard the clank of accouterments, the thud of horses’ hoofs, the voices of men, and a moment later the head of the little column appeared about the shoulder of a hill.
I had tried my Kalkar bow this morning upon the bucks, and I was surer of it now. It is a good bow, the principal objection to it being that it is too cumbersome for a mounted warrior. It is very powerful, though, and carries its heavy arrows accurately to a great distance. I knew now what I could do with it.
I waited until half a dozen riders had come into view, covering the spot at which they appeared, and as the next one presented himself I loosed my shaft. I caught the fellow in the groin and, coming from above, as it did, passed through and into his horse. The stricken animal reared and threw itself backward upon its rider; but that I only caught with the tail of my eye, for I was loosing another shaft at the man in front of him. He dropped with an arrow through his neck.
By now all was pandemonium. Yelling and cursing, the balance of the troop galloped into sight and with them I saw such a man, as mortal eye may never have rested upon before this time and, let us pray, never may again. He sat on a huge horse, which I instantly recognized as the animal that had made the great imprints in the trail I had been following to the summit, and was himself a creature of such mighty size that he dwarfed the big Kalkars about him.
Instantly I saw in him the giant Raban, whom I had thought but the figment of Saku’s imagination or superstition. On a horse at Raban’s side rode Bethelda. For an instant I was so astonished by the size of Raban that I forgot my business upon the ridge, but only for an instant. I could not let drive at the giant for fear of hitting Bethelda, but I brought down in quick succession the man directly in front of him and one behind.
By now the Kalkars were riding around in circles looking for the foe, and they presented admirable targets, as I had known they would. By the blood of my fathers! but there is no greater sport than this form of warfare. Always outnumbered by the Kalkars, we have been forced to adopt tactics aimed to harass the enemy and wear him down a little at a time. By clinging constantly to his flanks, by giving him no rest, by cutting off detachments from his main body and annihilating them, by swooping down unexpectedly upon his isolated settlements, by roving the country about him and giving battle to every individual we met upon the trails we have driven him two thousand miles across the world to his last stand beside the sea.
As the Kalkars milled about in the cañon bottom I drove shaft after shaft among them, but never could I get a fair shot at Raban the giant, for always he kept Bethelda between us after he had located me, guessing, evidently, that it was because of her that I had attacked his party. He roared like a bull as he sought to urge his men up the ridge to attack me, and some did make the attempt, half-heartedly, prompted no doubt by the fear of their master—a fear that must have been a little greater than fear of the unknown enemy above them; but those who started up after me never came far, for they soon discovered that with my heavy bow I could drive arrows through their iron vests as if they had been wool.
Raban, seeing that the battle was going against him, suddenly put spurs to his great mount and went lumbering off down the cañon, dragging Bethelda’s horse after him, while those of his men who remained covered his retreat.
This did not suit me at all. I was not particularly interested in the Kalkars he was leaving behind, but in him and his captive and so I ran to Red Lightning and mounted. As I reined down the flank of the ridge toward the cañon bottom I saw the Kalkars drawing off after Raban. There were but six of them left, and they were strung out along the trail.
As they rode they cast backward glances in my direction as if they were expecting to see a great force of warriors appear in pursuit. When they saw me they did not return to engage me, but continued after Raban.
I had reslung my bow beneath my right stirrup leather and replaced the few arrows in my quiver as Red Lightning descended the side of the ridge, and now I prepared my lance. Once upon the level trail of the cañon bottom I whispered a word into the pointed ear before me, couched my lance, and crouched in the saddle as the splendid animal flattened in swift charge.
The last Kalkar in the retreating column, rather than receive my spear through the small of his unprotected back, wheeled his horse, unslung his spear and awaited me in the middle of the trail. It was his undoing.
No man can meet the subtle tricks of a charging lancer from the back of a standing horse, for he cannot swerve to one side or the other with the celerity oft necessary to elude the point of his foe’s lance, or take advantage of what opening the other may inadvertently leave him, and doubly true was this of the Kalkar upon his clumsy, splay-footed mount.
So awkward were the twain that they could scarcely have gotten out of their own way, much less mine, and so I took him where I would as I crashed into him, which was the chest, and my heavy lance passed through him, carrying him over his horse’s rump, splintering the wood as he fell to earth. I cast the useless stump aside as I reined Red Lightning in and wheeled him about.
I saw the nearer Kalkar halted in the trail to watch the outcome of the battle, and now that he saw his companion go down to death and me without a lance he bore down upon me, and, I assume, he thought that he had me on the run for Red Lightning was indeed racing away from him, back toward the fallen foe, but with a purpose in mind that one better versed in the niceties of combat might have sensed. As I passed the dead Kalkar I swung low from my saddle and picked his lance from where it lay in the dust beside him, and then, never reducing our speed, I circled and came back to meet the rash one riding to his doom.
We came together at terrific speed, and as we approached each other I saw the tactics that this new adversary was bent upon using to my destruction, and I may say that he used judgment far beyond the seeming capacity of his low forehead, for he kept his horse’s head ever straight for Red Lightning’s front with the intention of riding me down and overthrowing my mount, which, considering the disparity in their weights, he would certainly have accomplished had we met full on, but we did not.
My reins lay on Red Lightning’s withers. With a touch of my left knee I swung the red stallion to the right and passed my spear to my left hand, all in a fraction of the time it takes to tell it, and as we met I had the Kalkar helpless, for he was not expecting me upon his left hand, his heavy horse could not swerve with the agility of Red Lightning, and so I had but to pick my target and put the fellow out of his misery—for it must be misery to be a low creature of a Kalkar.
In the throat my point caught him, for I had no mind to break another lance since I saw two more of the enemy riding toward me, and, being of tough wood, the weapon tore out through the flesh as the fellow tumbled backward into the dust of the trail.
There were four Kalkars remaining between me and the giant who, somewhere down the cañon and out of sight now, was bearing Bethelda off, I knew not where or to what fate. The four were strung out at intervals along the trail and appeared undecided as to whether to follow Raban or wait and argue matters out with me. Perhaps they hoped that I would realize the futility of pitting myself against their superior numbers, but when I lowered my lance and charged the nearer of them they must have realized that I was without discretion and must be ridden down and dispatched.
Fortunately for me they were separated by considerable intervals and I did not have to receive them all at once. The nearer, fortified by the sound of his companions’ galloping approach, couched his lance and came halfway to meet me, but I think much of his enthusiasm must have been lost in contemplation of the fate that he had seen overtake the others that had pitted their crude skill against me, for certainly there was neither fire nor inspiration in his attack, which more closely resembled a huge senseless bowlder rolling down a mountainside than a sentient creature of nerves and brain driven by lofty purposes of patriotism and honor.
Poor clod! An instant later the world was a better place in which to live, by at least one less Kalkar; but he cost me another lance and a flesh wound in the upper arm, and left me facing his three fellows, who were now so close upon me that there was no time in which to retrieve the lance fallen from his nerveless fingers.
There was recourse only to the sword, and, drawing, I met the next of them with only a blade against his long lance; but I eluded his point, closed with him and, while he sought to draw, clove him open from his shoulder to the center of his chest.
It took but an instant, yet that instant was my undoing, for the remaining two were already upon me. I turned in time to partly dodge the lance point of the foremost, but it caught me a glancing blow upon the head and that is the last that I remember of immediately ensuing events.
When next I opened my eyes I was jouncing along, lashed to a saddle, belly down across a horse. Within the circumscribed limits of my vision lay a constantly renewed circle of dusty trail and four monotonously moving, gray, shaggy legs. At least I was not on Red Lightning.
I had scarcely regained consciousness when the horse bearing me was brought to a stop and the two accompanying Kalkars dismounted and approached me. Removing the bonds that held me to the saddle they dragged me unceremoniously to the ground, and when I stood erect they were surprised to see that I was conscious.
“Dirty Yank!” cried one and struck me in the face with his open palm.
His companion laid a hand upon his arm. “Hold, Tav,” he expostulated, “he put up a good fight against great odds.” The speaker was a man of about my own height and might have passed as a full-blood Yank, though, as I thought at the time, doubtless he was a half-breed.
The other gestured his disgust. “A dirty Yank,” he repeated. “Keep him here, Okonnor, while I find Raban and ask what to do with him.” He turned and left us.
We had halted at the foot of a low hill upon which grew tremendous old trees and of such infinite variety that I marveled at them. There were pine, cypress, hemlock, sycamore and acacia that I recognized, and many others the like of which I never before had seen, and between the trees grew flowering shrubs. Where the ground was open it was carpeted with flowers—great masses of color; and there were little pools choked with lilies and countless birds and butterflies. Never had I looked upon a place of such wondrous beauty.
Through the trees I could see the outlines of the ruins of one of the stone tents of the ancients sitting upon the summit of the low hill. It was toward this ruined structure that he who was called Tav was departing from us.
“What place is this?” I asked the fellow guarding me, my curiosity overcoming my natural aversion to conversation with his kind.
“It is the tent of Raban,” he replied: “Until recently it was the home of Or-tis the Jemadar—the true Or-tis. The false Or-tis dwells in the great tents of The Capitol. He would not last long in this valley.”
“What is this Raban?” I asked.
“He is a great robber. He preys upon all and to such an extent has he struck terror to the hearts of all who have heard of him that he takes toll as he will, and easily. They say that he eats the flesh of humans, but that I do not know—I have been with him but a short time. After the assassination of the true Or-tis I joined him because he preys upon the Kalkars.
“He lived long in the eastern end of the valley, where he could prey upon the outskirts of the Capitol, and then he did not rob or murder the people of the valley; but with the death of Or-tis he came and took this place and now he preys upon my people as well as upon the Kalkars, but I remain with him since I must serve either him or the Kalkars.”
“You are not a Kalkar?” I asked, and I could believe it because of his good old American name, Okonnor.
“I am a Yank, and you?”
“I am Julian 20th, The Red Hawk,” I replied.
He raised his brows. “I have heard of you in the last few days,” he said. “Your people are fighting mightily at the edge of The Capitol, but they will be driven back—the Kalkars are too many. Raban will be glad of you if the stories they tell of him are true. One is that he eats the hearts of brave warriors that are unfortunate enough to fall into his hands.”
I smiled. “What is the creature?” I asked again. “Where originates such a breed?”
“He is only a Kalkar,” replied Okonnor, “but even a greater monstrosity than his fellows. He was born in The Capitol of ordinary Kalkar parents, they say, and early developed a lust for blood that has increased with the passing years. He boasts yet of his first murder—he killed his mother when he was ten.”
I shuddered. “And it is into the hands of such that a daughter of the Or-tis has fallen,” I said, “and you, an American, aided in her capture.”
He looked at me in startled surprise. “The daughter of an Or-tis?” he cried.
“Of the Or-tis,” I repeated.
“I did not know,” he said. “I was not close to her at any time and thought that she was but a Kalkar woman. Some of them are small, you know—the half-breeds.”
“What are you going to do? Can you save her?” I demanded.
A white flame seemed to illumine his face. He drew his knife and cut the bonds that held my arms behind me.
“Hide here among the trees,” he said, “and watch for Raban until I return. It will be after dark, but I will bring help. This valley is almost exclusively peopled by those who have refused to intermarry with the Kalkars and have brought down their strain unsullied from ancient times. There are almost a thousand fighting men of pure Yank blood within its confines. I should be able to gather enough to put an end to Raban for all time, and if the danger of a daughter of Or-tis cannot move them from their shame and cowardice they are hopeless indeed.”
He mounted his horse. “Quick!” he cried. “Get among the trees.”
“Where is my horse?” I called as he was riding away. “He was not killed?”
“No,” he called back, “he ran off when you fell. We did not try to catch him.” A moment later he disappeared around the west end of the hill and I entered the miniature forest that clothed it. Through the gloom of my sorrow broke one ray of happiness—Red Lightning lived.
About me grew ancient trees of enormous size with boles of five to six feet in diameter and their upper foliage waving a hundred and more feet above my head. Their branches excluded the sun where they grew thickest and beneath them baby trees struggled for existence in the wan light, or hoary monsters, long fallen, lay embedded in leaf mould marking the spot where some long dead ancient set out a tiny seedling that was to outlive all his kind.
It was a wonderful place in which to hide, although hiding is an accomplishment that we Julians have little training in and less stomach for. However, in this instance it was in a worthy cause—a Julian hiding from a Kalkar in the hope of aiding an Or-tis! Ghosts of nineteen Julians! to what had I, Julian 20th, brought my proud name?
And yet I could not be ashamed. There was something stubbornly waging war against all my inherited scruples and I knew that it was going to win—had already won. I would have sold my soul for this daughter of my enemy.
I made my way up the hill toward the ruined tent, but at the summit the shrubbery was so dense that I could see nothing. Rose bushes fifteen feet high and growing as thickly together as a wall hid everything from my sight. I could not even penetrate them.
Near me was a mighty tree with a strange, feathery foliage. It was such a tree as I had never seen before, but that fact did not interest me so much as the discovery that it might be climbed to a point that would permit me to see above the tops of the rose bushes.
What I saw included two stone tents, not so badly ruined as most of those one comes across, and between them a pool of water—an artificial pool of straight lines. Some fallen columns of stone lay about it and the vines and creepers fell over its edge into the water, almost concealing the stone rim.
As I watched a group of men came from the ruin to the east through a great archway, the coping of which had fallen away. They were all Kalkars, and among them was Raban. I had my first opportunity to view him closely.
He was a most repulsive appearing creature. His great size might easily have struck with awe the boldest heart, for he stood a full nine feet in height and was very large in proportion about the shoulders, chest and limbs. His forehead was so retreating that one might with truth say he had none, his thick thatch of stiffly erect hair almost meeting his shaggy eyebrows.
His eyes were small and set close to a coarse nose, and all his countenance was bestial. I had not dreamed that a man’s face could be so repulsive. His whiskers appeared to grow in all directions and proclaimed, at best, but hearsay evidence of combing.
He was speaking to that one of my captors who had left me at the foot of the hill to apprise Raban of my taking—that fellow who struck me in the face while my hands were bound and whose name was Tav. The giant spoke in a roaring, bull-like voice which I thought at the time was, like his swaggering walk and his braggadocio, but a pose to strike terror in those about him.
I could not look at the creature and believe that real courage lay within so vile a carcass. I have known many fearless men—The Vulture, The Wolf, The Rock and hundreds like them—and in each courageousness was reflected in some outward physical attribute of dignity and majesty.
“Fetch him!” he roared at Tav. “Fetch him! I will have his heart for my supper,” and after Tav had gone to fetch me the giant stood there with his other followers, roaring and bellowing, and it always was about himself and what he had done and what he would do. He seemed to me an exaggeration of a type I had seen before, wherein gestures simulate action, noise counterfeits courage, and craft passes for brains.
The only impressive thing about him was his tremendous bulk, and yet even that did not impress me greatly—I have known smaller men, whom I respected, that filled me with far greater awe. I did not fear him.
I think only the ignorant could have feared him at all, and I did not believe all the pother about his eating human flesh. I am of the opinion that a man who really intended eating the heart of another would say nothing about it.
Presently Tav came running back up the hill. He was much excited, as I had known he would be.
“He is gone!” he cried to Raban. “They are both gone—Okonnor and the Yank. Look!” he held out the thongs that had fastened my wrists. “They have been cut. How could he cut them with his hands bound behind him? That is what I want to know. How could he have done it? He could not unless—”
“There must have been others with him,” roared Raban. “They followed and set him free, taking Okonnor captive.”
“There were no others,” insisted Tav.
“Perhaps Okonnor freed him,” suggested another.
So obvious an explanation could not have originated in the pea girth brain of Raban and so he said. “I knew it from the first—it was Okonnor. With my own hands I shall tear out his liver and eat it for breakfast.”
Certain insects, toads and men make a lot of unnecessary noise, but the vast majority of other animals pass through life in dignified silence. It is our respect for these other animals that causes us to take their names. Whoever heard a red hawk screeching his intentions to the world? Silently he soars above the treetops and as silently he swoops and strikes.