One long march brought them to a sandstone canyon and the cliff-dwellings of Lo-har, where Daj was received with more show of enthusiasm and affection than von Horst had previously seen exhibited by the humans of Pellucidar. But of von Horst they were wary and suspicious, appraising him with hostile eyes while Daj explained innumerable times that the stranger was a friend who had liberated him from captivity and twice saved his life.
“What does he want in Lo-har?” demanded the sentry who had first halted them at a safe distance from the village, and the question was constantly repeated by others as they advanced.
In reply Daj explained that von Horst was a great warrior from another world who wished to come and live in Lo-har, joining the tribe; and all the while, paying no attention to the muttering and grumbling about him, von Horst searched for La-ja with eager eyes.
“Where is Brun?” demanded Daj. “He will decide whether or not the stranger remains.”
“Brun is not here,” replied a warrior.
“Where is he?”
“Perhaps he is dead. Many sleeps have passed since he went away to search for La-ja, his daughter.”
“Then who is acting chief now?” asked Daj.
“Gaz,” replied the other.
Daj appeared puzzled. “He was chosen by the warriors?” he asked.
The other shook his head. “No; he took the power, threatening to kill any who interfered. Gaz is a mighty man. No one has as yet disputed his right, though many would do so if they were not afraid, for we are not happy under Gaz.”
“Where is he?” Daj’s eyes were wandering about the village.
“He was gone after La-ja.” Van Horst was instantly alert and attentive. “Where has she gone?” he asked.
Both the warrior and Daj looked at him questioning, for Daj knew nothing of von Horst’s love for La-ja. “Why do you want to know, stranger?” demanded the warrior suspiciously.
“If I know where the woman has gone, I shall be able to find the man.”
Daj and the warrior nodded. “That is right,” said the former, and then he asked a question that van Horst had wished to ask but had not dared. “Why has Gaz gone after La-ja? She has been missing for many sleeps, and her father has already gone after her. If Gaz were going after her, why didn’t he go before this?”
“You do not understand.” said the warrior. “La-ja returned a few sleeps ago, and Gaz claimed her as his mate; but she would have nothing to do with him. When he would have taken her to his cave by force, she eluded him and ran away.”
“And Gaz?” asked von Horst.
“He followed her. Doubtless before this he has caught her and she is his mate. It is well for a girl, especially a chiefs daughter, to show spirit. Gaz will like her better for it. Those who are too easy to get are not liked for so long a time as the others. Perhaps La-ja only ran away out of sight of the village and then waited for Gaz. Many a girl has done this.”
“Which way did she go?” demanded von Horst again. His voice was hoarse and dead in his throat.
“If you know what is well for you you will not interfere with Gaz now but wait until he returns. He will be bad enough then. If I were you, stranger, I’d get as far away from Lo-har as I could before Gaz comes back.”
“Which way did he go?” repeated von Horst.
The warrior shook his head. “That way,” he said, pointing up the canyon. “Beyond the divide at the head of the canyon is a beautiful valley. It is such a place as a man might take his woman—or a woman lure her man.”
Von Horst shuddered; then without a word he set off toward the head of the canyon and the beautiful valley to which a woman might lure her man.
The warrior and Daj stood looking after him. The latter shook his head. “It is too bad,” he said; “he is a great warrior and a good friend.”
The warrior shrugged. ‘What difference does it make?” he asked. “Gaz will only kill him a little sooner; that is all.”
As von Horst clambered the steep ascent at the head of the canyon his mind was a turmoil of hopes and fears and passion—of love and hate. The last vestige of centuries of civilization had fallen away, leaving him a stark cave man of the stone age. As some primitive ancestor of the outer crust may have done eons before, he sought his rival with murder in his heart. As for the woman he desired, he would take her now whether she wished it or not.
Beyond the summit he looked down into the most beautiful valley he had ever seen, but he gave it scarcely a glance. What his eyes sought was something far more beautiful. He sought for some sign of the direction in which the two had gone as he dropped down toward the floor of the valley, and at last he found it in a well marked game trail that wound beside a little stream that meandered down toward a larger river that he could faintly distinguish in the haze of the distance. Here was an occasional print of a tiny sandaled foot and often overlapping them those of a large foot that could have belonged only to a huge man.
Von Horst started along the trail at a trot. He wanted to call the girl’s name aloud; but he knew that she would not reply even though she heard him, for had she not made it plain that a love such as his could arouse no corresponding emotion. He wondered vaguely what had become of his pride, that he could pursue a woman who hated him and have it in his heart to take her by force against her will. He thought that he should be ashamed of himself, but he was not. For a while he was puzzled; and then he realized that he had changed—that he was not the same man who had entered the inner world God only knew how long ago. Environment had metamorphosed him—savage Pellucidar had claimed him as her own.
The very thought of Gaz raised him to a fury. He realized that he had been hating the man for longer than he knew. He had no fear of him, as he had no fear of death. Perhaps it was the latter that kept him from fearing Gaz, for from all that he had heard of the man Gaz spelled death.
At a steady trot he pushed on. How far ahead they were he had no way of knowing. How much of truth or falsity there was in the insinuations of the warrior who had set him on the trail he could not even guess—the very thought of them made him frantic, the thought that he might be too late; but what was even worse was the haunting fear that La-ja had come willing and waited. She had told him that it was her duty to mate with a mighty warrior, and why not Gaz? Von Horst groaned aloud and quickened his pace. If ever a man suffered the tortures of the damned, it was he.
He came upon a place where the trail branched, a smaller, less worn trail running off at right angles toward the stream that lay to his right. After a moment’s careful inspection he determined that the two he sought had taken the smaller trail, and in the mud of both river banks at the crossing he again found the spoor, this time well defined. From there the trail ran directly into the mouth of a small side canyon, and afterward he had only to follow the floor of the canyon upward. Presently he heard a commotion ahead and the hoarse voice of a man shouting. He could not distinguish the words. The voice came from beyond a bend in the canyon which hid the speaker from his sight.
From now on he should have gone cautiously, but he did not. Instead he pushed on even faster, taking no precautions; and thus he came suddenly upon Gaz and La-ja. The latter was clinging precariously to a tiny ledge upon the face of a lofty escarpment. Her feet rested upon this narrow support, her body was flattened against the face of the cliff, her arms were outspread, her palms pressed tightly against the hard stone. Gaz, unable to scale the cliff, stood on the ground below shouting orders for La-ja to descend to him. At sight of the two and their positions that so eloquently told a story, von Horst breathed a sigh of relief—he had not been too late!
Suddenly Gaz picked up a rock and hurled it at La-ja. “Come down!” he roared, “or I’ll knock you down.” The rock struck the face of the cliff close beside La-ja’s head. Gaz stooped to take up another. .
Von Horst shouted at him, and the man wheeled in surprise. The man from the outer crust reached over his shoulder for an arrow to fit to his bow. He had no compunctions whatsoever about shooting down a man armed only with a crude spear and a stone knife. To his astonishment, he found that his quiver was empty. Where could his arrows have gone? He was sure he had had them when he entered the village. Then he recalled how the natives had pulled and hauled him around, milling and pressing against him. It must have been then that someone had taken his arrows.
Gaz was coming toward him belligerently. “Who are you?” he demanded. “What do you want here?”
“I have come for you, Gaz,” replied von Horst. “I have come to kill you and take the girl for myself.”
Gaz roared and came on. He thought it a huge joke that any warrior should challenge his supremacy. La-ja turned her head far enough so that she could look down. What were her feelings when she recognized von Horst, as she must have done immediately? Who may know? As a matter of fact she gave no indication that she even saw him; but once, a moment later, when he glanced away from Gaz momentarily, von Horst saw that the girl was descending. What her intentions he could not even guess. She might be going to help the man of her choice in the impending battle, or she might be going to take advantage of the preoccupation of the two men to run away again.
“Who are you?” demanded Gaz. “I never saw you before.”
“I am von Horst, and La-ja is my woman,” growled the other.
“Do you know who I am?” “You’re the man I’ve crossed a world to kill,” replied von Horst. “You’re Gaz.” “Go away!” shouted La-ja. “Go away before Gaz kills you. I won’t have you—not if you killed a thousand Gazes would I have you. Run! Run while you can.” Von Horst looked at Gaz. He was a monster-man, an enormous, bearded fellow who might have weighed well over three hundred pounds; and he was as gross and repulsive and brutal in appearance as he was large. His snaggle teeth were bared in a snarl as he charged von Horst. The latter had no fear. He had met warriors of the stone age before. They had no skill; and the hairy, massive bodies of some of them, suggested strength far greater than they possessed. Von Horst had discovered that he was stronger than any he had met. They had had only an advantage in weight, nor was that always an advantage; as it lessened their agility.
Von Horst’s patience with La-ja was at an end. He wanted to be done with Gaz as quickly as possible so that he could take the girl in hand. He even contemplated giving her a sound beating. He thought that she deserved it. He was thinking in terms of the stone age.
As Gaz charged down upon him, von Horst struck him a heavy blow in the face as he stepped aside out of the path of the huge body. Gaz staggered and let out a bellow of rage, and as he turned to rush von Horst again he drew his stone knife from his G string. He, too, wished to end the duel at once; for he was crazed with chagrin that this smaller man had defied him and had done the first damage in the fight—all in the presence of the woman he had chosen to be his mate. Much more of the same and he would be the laughing stock of the village.
Von Horst saw the weapon in Gaz’s hand and drew his own. This time he waited, and Gaz came in more slowly. When he was quite near von Horst, he leaped in, swinging a terrific knife blow at his antagonist’s chest. Von Horst parried with his left arm, plunged his blade into Gaz’s side, and leaped away; but as he did so, his foot struck a stone protruding above the ground, and he went down. Instantly Gaz was on top of him, hurling his great carcass full upon the body of his fallen antagonist. One great paw reached for von Horst’s throat, the other drove the stone blade down toward his heart.
The European caught the other’s wrist, stopping the descending knife; but with his other hand Gaz was choking the life from him, and at the same time he was trying to wrench his knife hand free and plunge the weapon into von Horst’s heart. As von Horst had fallen he had dropped his own knife. Now, while he held Gaz’s weapon from him he groped for his own on the ground about him. Occasionally he relinquished his search to strike Gaz a heavy blow in the face, which always caused him to loosen his hold upon the other’s throat, giving von Horst an opportunity to gulp in a mouthful of fresh air; but the man from the outer world realized that he was weakening rapidly and that unless he found his knife the end would come quickly.
He had struck Gaz again heavily, and when he reached down again to grope for his weapon his hand contacted it immediately, as though someone had placed it in his grasp. He did not pause then to seek an explanation; in fact the only thing that mattered was that he possessed the knife.
He saw Gaz glance back and heard him curse; then he drove his blade deep into the left side of the caveman. Gaz screamed and, releasing his hold on von Horst’s throat, sought to seize his knife arm; but the other eluded him, and again and again the stone knife was driven into his bleeding side.
Then Gaz tried to get up and away from von Horst, but the latter seized his beard and held him. Relentlessly he struck again and again. Gaz’s roars and screams diminished. His body commenced to slump; then, with a final shudder, it collapsed upon the victor.
Von Horst pushed it aside and rose. Panting, blood-covered, he looked about for the woman—his woman now. He saw her standing there nearby wide-eyed, incredulous. She came slowly toward him. “You have. killed Gaz!” she said in an awed whisper.
“And what of it?” he demanded.
“I didn’t think you could do it. I thought that he would kill you.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he snapped. “I wonder if you realize what it means.”
“I am not disappointed,” she said. “And what does it mean?”
“It means that I am going to take you. You are mine. Do you understand? You are mine!”
A slow smile broke like sunlight through the clouds of doubt.
“I have been yours almost from the first,” she said, “but you were too stupid to realize it.”
“What?” he ejaculated. “What do you mean? You have done nothing but repulse me and try to drive me away from you. When I slept, you ran off and left me after directing me on the wrong trail “
“Yes,” she answered, “I did all those things. I did them because I loved you. I knew that if I told you I returned your love you would follow me to Lo-har, and I thought that if you came here you would be killed. How could I guess that you could kill Gaz, whom no man has ever before been able to kill?”
“La-ja!” he whispered, and took her in his arms.
Together they returned to the village of Lo-har. The warriors and the women clustered about them. “Where is Gaz?” they asked.
“Gaz is dead,” said La-ja.
“Then we have no chief.” “Here is your chief,” replied the girl, laying a hand upon von Horst’s shoulder.
Some of the warriors laughed, others grumbled. “He is a stranger. What has he done that he should be chief?”
“When Brun went away, you let Gaz be chief because you were afraid of him. You hated him; and he was a poor chief, but none of you was brave enough to try to kill him, Von killed Gaz in a fair fight with knives, and he has taken the daughter of your chief as mate. Until Brun returns what warrior among you is better qualified to be chief than Von? If any thinks differently let him step forward and fight Von with his bare hands.”
And so Lieutenant Frederich Wilhelm Eric von Mendeldorf und von Horst became chief of the cliff-dwellers of Lo-har. He was a wise chief, for he combined with the psychology of the cave man, that he had acquired, all the valuable knowledge of another environment. He became almost a god to them, so that they no longer regretted the loss of Brun.
And then, after a while, came rumors of a strange people that were reported to have come up out of the south. They had weapons against which neither man nor beast could stand—weapons that made a great noise and vomited smoke and killed at a distance.
When von Horst heard these rumors he thrilled with excitement. Such men could only be members of the company that had come from the outer crust in the giant dirigible O-220—his friends. Doubtless they were searching for him. He called his warriors to him. “I am going out to meet these strangers of whom we have heard rumors. I think they are my friends. But if they are not my friends, they will be able to kill many of us with the weapons they have before we can get near enough to kill them. How many of you wish to go with me?”
They all volunteered, but he took only about fifty warriors. La-ja accompanied them, and when they set out they had only the vaguest of rumors to guide them. But as they went south and talked with men of other tribes, whom they captured along the way, the reports became more definite; and then at last von Horst’s scouts came back from the front and reported that they had seen a body of men camped by a river a short distance away.
Led by von Horst, the cave-men of Lo-har crept close to the camp of the strangers. Here von Horst saw armed men who bore rifles and bandoleers of cartridges. The arrangement and discipline of the camp, the sentries, the military air assured him that these people had had contact with civilization. But he was still too far away to recognize faces if there were any there that he knew. But of one thing he was confident—this was no party from the O-220.
He whispered to his warriors for a moment; then he rose alone and walked slowly down toward the camp. He had taken but a few steps in the open before a sentry discovered him and gave the alarm. Von Horst saw men rise all about the camp and look toward him. He raised both hands above his head as a sign that he came in peace. No one spoke as he crossed the open ground to the very edge of the camp; then a man ran forward with glad cry.
It was a moment before von Horst recognized who it was that spoke his name. It was Dangar, and behind Dangar were Thorek, Lotai, and Mumal. Von Horst was astounded. How had these come together? Who were the armed men?
Presently a tall, fine looking man came forward. “You are Lieutenant von Horst?” he asked.
“Yes; and you?”
“David Innes. When the O-220 returned to the outer crust and Jason Gridley decided to go back with it, he made me promise that I would equip an expedition and make a thorough search for you. I did so immediately I returned to Sari. I had no luck until some of my men met Dangar returning to Sari after a long absence. He guided us to The Forest of Death. Once we had passed through that we had no idea in what direction to search until we came upon Thorek, Lotai, and Mumal escaping from the land of the mammoth-men.
“They told us that they believed that you had escaped, and they thought you might be searching for Lo-har. We had never heard of Lo-har, but we succeeded in taking a prisoner who knew the direction in which the country lay. Later we came upon a man named Skruf whom you had wounded with an arrow. We promised him protection and he directed us to the village of the bison-men. Now we were nearing Lo-har, but still it was difficult to find. These people only knew the general direction in which it lay. Our one hope was to capture a Lo-harian. This we did before the last sleep. He is with us now and guiding us much against his will toward his own country, for he thinks we will turn upon him and his people.”
“Who is he?” asked von Horst.
“Brun, the chief of the Lo-harians,” replied Innes.
Von Horst signaled for his tribesmen to come in to the camp, and asked that Brun be brought. Innes sent for him, telling him that some of his own people had come to meet him. But when Brun came and saw von Horst he drew himself up very proudly and turned his back.
“I do not know this man,” he said. “He is not of Lo-har.”
“Look at those who are coming, Brun,” suggested von Horst. “You will know them all, especially La-ja.”
“La-ja!” exclaimed the chief. “I had given her up for dead. I have searched a world for her.”
The men of Lo-har camped with the men of Sari in friendship, and there was much palaver; and a great deal of food was eaten, and they slept twice in that one camp before they spoke of breaking it.
“You will come back to Sari with us, Lieutenant?” asked Innes. “Gridley may come back on another expedition at any time now; it may be your only chance to return to the outer crust.”
Von Horst glanced at a little, yellow haired cave-girl gnawing on a bone.
“I am not at all sure that I care to return to the outer crust,” he said.