Tarzan and the Ant-men

Chapter Eleven

Edgar Rice Burroughs

TARZAN OF THE APES was led directly from the Royal Dome to the quarries of Veltopismakus, which lie a quarter of a mile from the nearer of the eight domes which constitute the city. A ninth dome was in course of construction and it was toward this that the line of burdened slaves wound from the entrance to the quarry to which the ape-man was conducted. Just below the surface, in a well-lighted chamber, he was turned over to the officer in charge of the quarry guard, to whom the king’s instructions concerning him were communicated.

“Your name?” demanded the officer, opening a large book that lay upon the table at which he was seated.

“He is as dumb as the Zertalacolols,” explained the commander of the escort that had brought him to the quarry. “Therefore he has no name.”

“We will call him The Giant, then,” said the officer, “for as such has he been known since his capture,” and he wrote in his book, Zuanthrol, with Zoanthrohago as the owner, and Trohanadalmakus as the city of his origin, and then he turned to one of the warriors lolling upon a nearby bench.

“Take him to the timbering crew in the extension of tunnel thirteen at the thirty-sixth level and tell the Vental in charge to give him light work and see that no harm befalls him, for such are the commands of the Thagostogol But wait! Here is his number. Fasten it upon his shoulder.”

The warrior took the circular piece of fabric with black hieroglyphics stamped upon it and affixed it with a metal clasp to the left shoulder of Tarzan’s green tunic and then, motioning the ape-man to precede him, quit the chamber.

Tarzan now found himself in a short, dark corridor which presently opened into a wider and lighter one along which innumerable, unladen slaves were moving in the same direction that his guard now escorted him. He noticed that the floor of the corridor had a constant downward gradient and that it turned ever to the right, forming a great spiral leading downward into the earth. The walls and ceiling were timbered and the floor paved with flat stones, worn smooth by the millions of sandaled feet that had passed over them. At sufficiently frequent intervals candles were set in niches in the left-hand wall, and, also at regular intervals, other corridors opened out of it Over each of these openings were more of the strange hieroglyphics of Minuni. As Tarzan was to learn later, these designated the levels at which the tunnels lay and led to circular corridors which surrounded the main spiral runway. From these circular corridors ran the numerous horizontal tunnels loading to the workings at each level. Shafts for ventilation and emergency exit pierced these tunnels at varying distances, running from the surface to the lowest levels of the quarry.

At almost every level a few slaves turned off into these lateral tunnels which were well lighted, though not quite as brilliantly as the spiral. Shortly after they had commenced the descent, Tarzan, accustomed from infancy to keen observation, bad taken note of the numbers of runnel entrances they passed, but he could only conjecture at the difference in the depths of the levels into which they opened. A rough guess placed them at fifteen feet, but before they reached the thirty-sixth, into which they turned, Tarzan felt that there must be an error in his calculations, for he was sure that they could not be five hundred and forty feet below the earth’s surface with open flames and no forced ventilation.

The horizontal corridor they now entered after leaving the spiral curved sharply to the right and then back to the left. Shortly afterward it crossed a wide, circular corridor in which were both laden and unladen slaves, beyond which were two lines, those laden with rock moving back in the direction from which Tarzan had come, while others, bearing lumber moved in the same direction that he did. With both lines there were unladen slaves.

After traversing the horizontal tunnel for a considerable distance they came at last upon the working party, and here Tarzan was turned over to the Vental, a warrior who, in the military organizations of the Minunians, commands ten men.

“So this is The Giant!” exclaimed the Vental. “And we are not to work him too hard.” His tone was sneering and disagreeable. “Such a giant!” he cried. “Why, he is no larger than I and they are afraid to let him do any work into the bargain. Mark you, he will work here or get the lash. Kalfastoban permits no sluggards,” and the fellow struck his chest vauntingly.

He who had brought Tarzan appeared disgusted. “You will do well, Kalfastoban,” he said, as he turned away to retrace his steps to the guard room, “to heed the king’s commands. I should hate to be wearing your harness if aught befell this speechless slave that has set every tongue in Veltopismakus going and made Elkomoelhago so jealous of Zoanthrohagd that he would slip steel between his ribs were it not that he could then no longer steal the great wizard’s applause.”

“Kalfastoban fears no king,” blustered the Vental, “least of all the sorry specimen that befouls the throne of Veltopishago. He fools no one but himself. We all know that Zoanthrohago is his brain and Gefasto his sword.”

“However,” warned the other, “be careful of Zuanthrol,” and he departed.

Kalfastoban Vental set the new slave to work upon the timbering of the tunnel as it was excavated from the great moraine that formed the quarry, the line of slaves coming from the surface empty-handed passed down one side of the tunnel to the end, loosened each a rock, or if heavy a rock to two men, and turned back up the tunnel’s opposite side, carrying their burdens back to the spiral runway used by those leaving the workings and so up and out to the new dome. The earth, a light clay, that filled the interstices between the rocks in the moraine was tamped into the opening behind the wall timbers, the tunnel being purposely made sufficiently large to permit of this. Certain slaves were detailed for this work, others carried timbers cut to the right dimensions down to the timbering crew, of which Tarzan was one. It was only necessary for this crew of three to scoop a narrow, shallow trench in which to place the foot of each wall board, set them in place and slip the ceiling board on top of them. At each end of the ceiling boards was a cleat, previously attached at the surface, which kept the wall boards from falling in after being set in place. The dirt tamped behind them fastened them solidly in their places, the whole making a quickly erected and substantial shoring.

The work was light for the ape-man, though he still was weak from the effects of his wounds, and he had opportunities constantly to observe all that went on around him and to gather new information relative to the people in whose power he found himself. Kalfastoban he soon set down as a loudmouthed braggart, from whom one need have nothing to fear during the routine of their everyday work, but who would bear watching if ever opportunity came for him to make a show of authority or physical prowess before the eyes of his superiors.

The slaves about him worked steadily, but seemed not to be overtaxed, while the guards, which accompanied them constantly, in the ratio of about one warrior to every fifty slaves, gave no indications of brutality in the treatment they accorded their charges, insofar as Tarzan was able to observe.

The fact that puzzled him most now as it had since the moment of his first return to consciousness, was the stature of these people. They were no pygmies, but men fully as large as the usual run of Europeans. There was none quite as tall as the ape-man, but there were many who missed it by but the scantiest fraction of an inch. He knew that they were Veltopismakusians, the same people he had seen battling with the Trohanadalmakusians; they spoke of having captured him in the battle that he had seen waged; and they called him Zuanthrol, The Giant, yet they were as large as he, and as he had passed from the Royal Dome to the quarry he had seen their gigantic dome dwellings rising fully four hundred feet above his head. It was all preposterous and impossible, yet he had the testimony of all his faculties that it was true. Contemplation of it but tended to confuse him more and so he gave over all attempts to solve the mystery and set himself to the gathering of information concerning his captors and his prison against that time which he well knew must some day come when the means of escape should offer itself to the alert and cunning instincts of the wild beast that, at heart, he always considered himself.

Wherever he had been in Veltopismakus, whoever he had heard refer to the subject, he had had it borne in upon him that the people were generally dissatisfied with their king and his government, and he knew that among a discontented people efficiency would be at low ebb and discipline demoralized to such an extent that, should he watch carefully, he must eventually discover the opportunity he sought, through the laxity of those responsible for his safekeeping. He did not expect it today or tomorrow, but today and tomorrow were the days upon which to lay the foundation of observation that would eventually reveal an avenue of escape.

When the long working day at last drew to a close the slaves were conducted to their quarters, which, as Tarzan discovered, were always on levels near to those in which they labored. He, with several other slaves, was conducted to the thirty-fifth level and into a tunnel the far end of which had been widened to the proportions of a large chamber, the narrow entrance to which had been walled up with stone except for a small aperture through which the slaves were forced to pass in and out of their chamber upon all fours, and when the last of them was within, this was closed and secured by a heavy door outside which two warriors watched throughout the night.

Once inside and standing upon his feet the ape-man looked about him to discover himself within a chamber so large that it seemed easy to accommodate the great throng of slaves that must have numbered fully five thousand souls of both sexes. The women were preparing food over small fires the smoke of which found its way from the chamber through openings in the ceiling. For the great number of fires the amount of smoke was noticeably little, a fact which was, however, accounted for by the nature of the fuel, a clean, hard charcoal; but why the liberated gases did not asphyxiate them all was quite beyond the ape-man, as was still the riddle of the open flames and the pure air at the depth where the workings lay. Candles burned in niches all about the walls and there were at least half-a-dozen large ones standing upon the floor.

The slaves were of all ages from infancy to middle age, but there were no aged venerables among them. The skins of the women and children were the whitest Tarzan had ever seen and he marveled at them until he came to know that some of the former and all of the latter had never seen daylight since birth. The children who were born here would go up into the daylight some time, when they were of an age that warranted beginning the training for the vocations their masters had chosen for them, but the women who had been captured from other cities would remain here until death claimed them, unless that rarest of miracles occurred—they should be chosen by a Veltopismakusian warrior as his mate; but that was scarce even a remote possibility, since the warriors almost invariably chose their mates from the slaves of the white tunic with whom they came in daily contact in the domes above ground.

The faces of the women bore the imprint of a sadness that brought a spontaneous surge of sympathy to the breast of the savage ape-man. Never in his life had he seen such abject hopelessness depicted upon any face.

As he crossed the room many were the glances that were cast upon him, for it was obvious from his deep tan that he was a newcomer, and, too, there was that about him that marked him of different clay from them, and soon there were whispers running through the throng, for the slaves who had entered with him had passed the word of his identity to the others, and who, even in the bowels of the earth, had not heard of the wondrous giant captured by Zoanthrohago during the battle with the Trohanadalmakusians?

Presently a young girl, kneeling above a brazier over which she was grilling a cut of flesh, caught his eye and motioned him to her. As he came he saw that she was very beautiful, with a pale, translucent skin the whiteness of which was accentuated by the blue-black of a wealth of lustrous hair.

“You are The Giant?” she asked.

“I am Zuanthrol,” he replied.

“He has told me about you,” said the girl. “I will cook for you, too. I cook for him. Unless,” she added with a trace of embarrassment, “there is another you would rather have cook for you.”

“There is no one I would rather have cook for me,” Tarzan told her; “but who are you and who is he?”

“I am Talaskar,” she replied; “but I know him only by his number. He says that while he remains a slave he has no name, but will go always by his number, which is Eight Hundred Cubed, Plus Nineteen. I see that you are Eight Hundred Cubed, Plus Twenty-one.” She was looking at the hieroglyphics that had been fastened upon his shoulder. “Have you a name?”

“They call me Zuanthrol.”

“Ah,” she said, “you are a large man, but I should scarcely call you a giant. He, too, is from Trohanadalmakus and he is about your height. I never heard that there were any giants in Minuni except the people they call Zertalacolols.”

“I thought you were a Zertalacolol,” said a man’s voice at Tarzan’s ear.

The ape-man turned to see one of the slaves with whom he had been working eyeing him quizzically, and smiled.

“I am a Zertalacolol to my masters,” he replied.

The other raised his brows. “I see,” he said. “Perhaps you are wise. I shall not be the one to betray you,” and passed on about his business.

“What did he mean?” asked the girl.

“I have never spoken, until now, since they took me prisoner,” he explained, “and they think I am speechless, though I am sure that I do not look like a Zertalacolol, yet some of them insist that I am one.”

“I have never seen one,” said the girl.

“You are fortunate,” Tarzan told her. “They are neither pleasant to see nor to meet.”

“But I should like to see them,” she insisted. “I should like to see anything that was different from these slaves whom I see all day and every day.”

“Do not lose hope,” he encouraged her, “for who knows but that it may be very soon that you will return to the surface.”

“Return,” she repeated. “I have never been there.”

“Never been to the surf ace! You mean since you were captured.”

“I was born in this chamber,” she told him, “and never have I been out of it.”

“You are a slave of the second generation and are still confined to the quarries—I do not understand it. In all Minunian cities, I have been told, slaves of the second generation are given the white runic and comparative freedom above ground.”

“It was not for me. My mother would not permit it. She would rather I had died than mated with a Veltopismakusian or another slave, as I must do if I go into the city above.”

“But how do you avoid it? Your masters certainly do not leave such things to the discretion of their slaves.”

“Where there are so many one or two may go unaccounted for indefinitely, and women, if they be ill-favored, cause no comment upon the part of our masters. My birth was never reported and so they have no record of me. My mother took a number for me from the tunic of one who died, and in this way I attract no attention upon the few occasions that our masters or the warriors enter our chamber.”

“But you are not ill-favored—your face would surely attract attention anywhere,” Tarzan reminded her.

For just an instant she turned her back upon him, putting her hands to her face and to her hair, and then she faced him again and the ape-man saw before him a hideous and wrinkled hag upon whose crooked features no man would look a second time.

“God!” ejaculated Tarzan.

Slowly the girl’s face relaxed, assuming its normal lines of beauty, and with quick, deft touches she arranged her disheveled hair. An expression that was almost a smile haunted her lips.

“My mother taught me this,” she said, “so that when they came and looked upon me they would not want me.”

“But would it not be better to be mated with one of them and live a life of comfort above ground than to eke out a terrible existence below ground?” he demanded. “The warriors of Veltopismakus are, doubtless, but little different from those of your own country.”

She shook her head. “It cannot be, for me,” she said. “My father is of far Mandalamakus. My mother was stolen from him but a couple of moons before I was born in this horrid chamber, far from the air and sunlight that my mother never tired of telling me about.”

“And your mother?” asked Tarzan. “Is she here?”

The girl shook her head sadly. “They came for her over twenty moons since and took her away. I do not know what became of her.”

“And these others, they never betray you?” he inquired.

“Never! Whatever slave betrayed another would be torn to pieces by his fellows. But come, you must be hungry,” and she offered him of the flesh she had been cooking.

Tarzan would have preferred his meat raw, but he did not wish to offend her and so he thanked her and ate that which she offered him, squatting on his haunches across the brazier from her.

“It is strange that Aoponato does not come,” she remarked, using the Minunian form of Eight Hundred Cubed, Plus Nineteen. “Never before has he been so late.”

A brawny slave, who had approached from behind her, had halted and was looking scowlingly at Tarzan.

“Perhaps this is he,” said Tarzan to the girl, indicating the man with a gesture.

Talaskar turned quickly, an almost happy light in her eyes, but when she saw who it was that stood behind her she rose quickly and stepped back, her expression altered to one of disgust.

“No,” she said, “it is not he.”

“You are cooking for him?” demanded the fellow, pointing at Tarzan. “But you would not cook for me,” he accused, not waiting for a reply to his question, the answer to which was all too obvious. “Who is he that you should cook for him? Is he better than I? You will cook for me, also.”

“There are plenty to cook for you, Caraftap,” replied Talaskar, “and I do not wish to. Go to some other woman. Until there are too many men we are permitted to choose those whom we shall cook for. I do not choose to cook for you.”

“If you know what is well for you, you will cook for me,” growled the man. “You will be my mate, too. I have a right to you, because I have asked you many times before these others came. Rather than let them have you I will tell the Vental tomorrow the truth about you and he will take you away. Have you ever seen Kalfastoban?”

The girl shuddered.

“I will see that Kalfastoban gets you,” continued Caraftap. “They will not permit you to remain here when they find that you refuse to produce more slaves.”

“I should prefer Kalfastoban to you,” sneered the girl, “but neither one nor the other shall have me.”

“Do not be too sure of that,” he cried, and stepping forward, quickly, seized her by the arm before she could elude him. Dragging her toward him the man attempted to kiss her—but he did not succeed. Steel fingers closed upon his shoulder, he was torn roughly from his prey and hurled ruthlessly a dozen paces, stumbling and falling to the floor. Between him and the girl stood the gray-eyed stranger with the shock of black hair.

Almost roaring in his rage, Caraftap scrambled to his feet and charged Tarzan—charged as a mad bull charges, with lowered head and bloodshot eyes.

“For this you shall die,” he screamed.

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