Tarzan and the Ant-men

Chapter Sixteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

KOMODOFLORENSAL stood at Tarzan’s side, his weapon ready to take issue with any who might question their presence here; but presently the end of his iron rod dropped to the floor and a broad smile overspread his features.

Tarzan looked at him. “Who are they?” he demanded, “and why have they been killed?”

“They are not dead, my friend,” replied Komodoflorensal. “They are the nobles whose duty it is to prevent the use of wine. They are not dead—they are drunk.”

“But the blood beneath the head of this one at my feet!” demanded the ape-man.

“It is red wine, not blood,” his companion assured him. Then Tarzan smiled.

“They could not have chosen a better night for their orgy,” he said. “Had they remained sober the door through which we entered from the storeroom would have been securely fastened, I imagine.”

“Assuredly, and we would have had a sober guard of warriors to deal with in this chamber, instead of ten drunken nobles. We are very fortunate, Zuanthrol.”

He had scarcely ceased speaking when a door in the opposite side of the room swung open, revealing two warriors, who stepped immediately into the chamber. They eyed the two who faced them and then glanced about the room at the inert forms of its other occupants.

“What do you here, slaves?” demanded one of the newcomers.

“Sh-sh-sh!” cautioned Tarzan, placing a finger to his lips. “Enter and close the door, lest others hear.”

“There is no one near to hear,” snapped one of them, but they entered and he closed the door. “What is the meaning of this?”

“That you are our prisoners,” cried the ape-man, leaping past them and placing himself before the door, his iron rod in readiness.

A sneer twisted the mouth of each of the two Veltopismakusians as they whipped out their rapiers and leaped toward the ape-man, ignoring for the moment the Trohanadalmakusian, who, seizing upon the opportunity thus afforded him, threw aside his iron rod and matched a rapier from the side of one of the drunken nobles—a substitution of weapons that would render Komodoflorensal a dangerous opponent anywhere in Minuni, for there was no better swordsman among all the warlike clans of Trohanadalmakus, whose blades were famed throughout Minuni.

Facing, with only an iron rod, two skilled swordsmen placed Tarzan of the Apes at a disadvantage that might have proved his undoing had it not been for the presence of Komodoflorensal, who, no sooner than he had appropriated a weapon, leaped forward and engaged one of the warriors. The other pressed Tarzan fiercely.

“Your prisoner, eh, slave?” he sneered as he lunged for his opponent; but though less skilled, perhaps, in swordplay than his antagonist, the Lord of the Jungle had not faced Bolgani and Numa for nothing. His movements were as Lightning, his strength as great as before Zoanthrohago had reduced his stature. At the first onslaught of the warriors he had leaped to one side to avoid the thrust of a blade, and as much to his own astonishment as to theirs, what he had intended for a nimble sidestep had carried him the length of the room, and then the man had been at him again, while the other was having his time well occupied with the Zertolosto of Trohanadalmakus.

Twice Tarzan parried cuts with his cumbersome bar and then a thrust but missed him by a hair-breadth, his sidestep coming but in the nick of time. It was a dose call, for the man bad lunged at his abdomen—a close call for Tarzan and death for his opponent, for as the point slipped harmlessly by him the ape-man swung his rod upon the unguarded head of the Veltopismakusian, and with a grunt the fellow slumped to the floor, his skull crushed to the bridge of his nose.

Then Tarzan turned to aid Komodoflorensal, but the son of Adendrohahkis needed no aid. He had his man against the wall and was running him through the heart as Tarzan turned in their direction. As the man fell, Komodoflorensal swung toward the center of the room and as his eye fell upon the ape-man a smile crossed his face.

“With an iron bar you bested a swordsman of Minuni!” he cried. “I would not have believed it possible and so I hastened to dispatch my man that I might come to your rescue before it was too late.”

Tarzan laughed. “I had the same thought in mind concerning you,” he said.

“And you could have well held it had I not been able to secure this rapier,” Komodoflorensal assured him. “But what now? We have again come much farther than it seems possible we can have. Naught will surprise me hereafter.”

“We are going to trade apparel with these two unfortunate gentlemen,” said Tarzan, divesting himself of the green tunic as he spoke.

Komodoflorensal chuckled as he followed the example of his companion.

“There are other peoples as great as the Minunians,” he declared, “though until I met you, my friend, I should never have believed it.”

A few moments later the two stood garbed in the habiliments of Veltopismakusian warriors and Tarzan was slipping his green tunic upon the corpse of him whom he had slain.

“But why are you doing that?” asked the prince.

“Do likewise with yours and you will see, presently,” Tarzan replied.

Komodoflorensal did as the other bid him and when the change had been completed the ape-man threw one of the corpses across his shoulder and carried it into the storeroom, followed closely by Komodoflorensal with the other. Walking through the window embrasure to the edge of the shaft Tarzan hurled his burden out into space, and reaching back took Komodoflorensal’s from him and pitched it after the first.

“If they do not examine them too closely,” he said, “the ruse may serve to convince them that we died attempting to escape.” As he spoke he detached two of the hooks from the ladder down which they had clambered from the window of their dungeon and dropped them after the corpses. “These will lend color to the suggestion,” he added, in explanation.

Together they returned to the room where the drunken nobles lay, where Komodoflorensal began to rifle the fat money pouches of the unconscious men.

“We shall need all of this that we can get if we are to pose as Veltopismakusian warriors for any length of time,” he said. “I know these people by reputation and that gold will buy many of the things that we may require—the blindness of guards and the complaisance of officials, if they do not guess too close to the truth concerning us.”

“That part of it you must attend to, Komodoflorensal,” said Tarzan, “for I am unfamiliar with the ways of your people; but we may not remain here. These gentlemen have served us well, and themselves, too, for their faithlessness and debauchery saved their lives, while the two who followed in sobriety the path of duty were destroyed.”

“Matters are strangely ordered,” commented Komodoflorensal.

“In Minuni as elsewhere,” agreed Tarzan, leading the way to the door of the chamber which they found opened into a corridor instead of into another chamber as they had rather expected would be the fact at a point thus close to the central shaft.

In silence they proceeded along the passageway, which, at this hour of the morning, was deserted. They passed lighted chambers, where men and women were sleeping peacefully in the glare of many candles. They saw a sentry asleep before the door of a noble’s quarters. No one discovered them and thus they passed down a series of inclined runways and along interminable corridors until they were far from that portion of the royal dome in which they had been incarcerated and where it would be most natural for the search for them to commence in the event that the bodies they had hurled into the shaft were not immediately discovered, or were identified for what they really were, rather than for what the two fugitives had tried to make them appear.

And now a white-tunicked slave was approaching them along the corridor. He passed without paying them any heed, and presently another and another appeared until the two realized that morning was approaching and the corridors would soon he filled with the inhabitants of the dome.

“It will be best,” said Komodoflorensal, “to find a hiding place until there are more people abroad. We shall be safer in a crowd than among just a few where we shall be the more noticeable.”

Nearly all the chambers they passed now were occupied by families, while those that were untenanted were without candles and therefore unsafe as hiding places for any length of time; but presently Komodoflorensal touched Tarzan’s arm and pointed to a hieroglyphic beside a door they were approaching.

“Just the place,” he said.

“What is it?” asked Tarzan, and as they came opposite the open door; “Why, it is filled with men! When they awake we shall be discovered.”

“But not recognized,” returned the Trohanadalmakusian; “or at least the chances are slight that we shall be. This is a common chamber where any man may purchase lodgings over night. Doubtless there are visitors from other domes and strangers will not be particularly remarked on this account.”

He entered the room, followed by Tarzan. A white-tunicked slave approached them. “Candles for two,” demanded Komodoflorensal, handing the slave one of the smaller golden coins he had filched from the sleeping nobles.

The fellow led them to a far corner of the room where there was plenty of space upon the floor, lit two candles and left them. A moment later they were stretched at full length, their faces toward the wall as a further protection against recognition, and were soon asleep.

When Tarzan awoke he saw that he and Komodoflorensal were the only remaining occupants of the chamber, other than the slave who had admitted them, and he awoke his companion, believing that they should do nothing that might even in a slight degree call more than ordinary attention to them. A bucket of water was brought them and they performed their ablutions at a gutter which encircled the chamber, passing along the foot of each wall, as was the custom throughout Minimi, the waste water being carried away in pipes to the fields beyond the cities, where it was used for irrigating the crops. As all the water had to be carried into the domes and to the different levels in buckets, the amount used for ablutions was reduced to the minimum, the warrior and noble class getting the bulk of it, while the white-tunicked slaves depended principally upon the rivers, near which domes are always erected, for their baths. The green slaves fare the worst, and suffer a real hardship through lack of bathing facilities, for the Minunians are a cleanly people; but they manage to alleviate their plight to some extent, where the quarry masters are more kindly disposed, by the use of stagnant seepage water that accumulates in every quarry at the lower levels and which, not being fit for drinking purposes, may be used by the slaves for bathing when they are permitted the time to obtain it.

Having washed, Tarzan and Komodoflorensal passed out into the corridor, a broad thoroughfare of the dome city, where there were now passing two solid lines of humanity moving in opposite directions, the very numbers of the people proving their greatest safeguard against detection. Candles at frequent intervals diffused a brilliant light and purified the air. Open doorways revealed shops of various descriptions within which men and women were bartering for goods, and now Tarzan had his first real glimpse of Veltopismakusian life. The shops were all conducted by white-tunicked slaves, but slaves and warriors intermingled as customers, both sexes of each class being represented. It was Tarzan’s first opportunity, also, to see the women of the warrior class outside their own homes. He had seen the Princess Janzara in the palace quarters and, through the doorways in various portions of the dome, he had seen other women of varying stations in life; but these were the first that he had seen abroad at close hand. Their faces were painted deep vermilion, their ears blue, and their apparel so arranged that the left leg and left arm were bare, though if even so much as the right ankle or wrist became uncovered they hastily readjusted their garments to hide them, giving every evidence of confusion and embarrassment As the ape-man watched them he was reminded of fat dowagers he had seen at home whose evening gowns left them naked to their kidneys, yet who would rather have died than to have exposed a knee.

The front of the shops were covered with brilliant paintings, usually depicting the goods that were on sale, together with hieroglyphics describing the wares and advertising the name of the proprietor. One of these finally held the attention of the Trohunadalmakusian, and he touched Tarzan’s arm and pointed toward it.

“A place where food is served,” he said. “Let us eat.”

“Nothing would suit me better. I am famished,” Tarzan assured him, and so the two entered the little shop where several customers were already sitting upon the floor with small benches pulled close to them, upon which food was being served in wooden dishes. Komodoflorensal found a space near the rear of the shop, not far from a doorway leading into another chamber, which was also a shop of a different character, not all the places of business being fortunately located upon a corridor, but having their entrances, like this one, through another place of business.

Having seated themselves and dragged a bench before them they looked about while waiting to be served. It was evidently a poor shop, Komodoflorensal told Tarzan, catering to the slave caste and the poorer warriors, of which there were several sitting at benches in different parts of the room. By their harness and apparel, which was worn and shabby, one might easily guess at their poverty. In the adjoining shop were several more of the same class of unfortunate warriors mending their own clothes with materials purchased from the poor shopkeeper.

The meal was served by a slave in a white tunic of very cheap material, who was much surprised when payment for the meal and the service was offered in gold.

“It is seldom,” he said, “that warriors rich enough to possess gold come to our poor shop. Pieces of iron and bits of lead, with much wooden money, pass into my coffers; but rarely do I see gold. Once I did, and many of my customers were formerly of the richest of the city. Yonder see that tall man with the heavily wrinkled face. Once he was rich—the richest warrior in his dome. Look at him now! And see them in the next room performing menial services, men who once owned slaves so prosperous that they, in turn, hired other slaves to do the meaner duties for them. Victims, all of them, of the tax that Elkomoelhago has placed upon industry.

“To be poor,” he continued, “assures one an easier life than being rich, for the poor have no tax to pay, while those who work hard and accumulate property have only their labor for their effort, since the government takes all from them in taxes.

“Over there is a man who was very rich. He worked hard all his life and accumulated a vast fortune. For several years after Elkomoelhago’s new tax law was enforced, he struggled to earn enough to insure that his income would be at least equal to his taxes and the cost of his living; but he found that it was impossible. He had one enemy, a man who had wronged him grievously. This man was very poor, and to him he gave all of what remained of his great fortune and his property. It was a terrible revenge. From being a contented man, this victim of another’s spleen is now a haggard wreck, laboring unceasingly eighteen hours each day in a futile attempt to insure himself an income that will defray his taxes.”

Having finished their meal the two fugitives returned to the corridor and continued their way downward through the dome toward the first level, keeping always to the more crowded corridors, where detection seemed least likely. Now, mounted men were more frequently encountered and so rapidly and recklessly did the warriors ride along the narrow corridors that it was with difficulty that the pedestrians avoided being ridden down and trampled, and it seemed to Tarzan but little less than a miracle that any of them arrived at their destinations uninjured. Having at last come to the lowest level, they were engaged in searching for one of the four corridors that would lead them from the dome, when their way was completely blocked by a great throng that had congregated at the intersection of two corridors. Those in the rear were stretching their necks to observe what was going on in the center of the gathering. Everyone was asking questions of his neighbor, but as yet no one upon the outskirts of the mob appeared to know what had occurred, until at last fragments of rumors filtered back to the farthermost. Tarzan and Komodoflorensal dared ask no questions, but they kept their ears open and presently they were rewarded by overhearing repeated what seemed to be an authoritative account of what had transpired to cause this congestion. In answer to a question put by one of the throng a fellow who was elbowing his way out from the center of the jam explained that those in front had halted to view the remains of two slaves who had been killed while trying to escape.

“They were locked in one of Zoanthrohago’s slave cells at the very highest level,” he told his questioner, “and they tried to escape by climbing down an improvised ladder into the central shaft. Their ladder broke and they were precipitated to the roof of the throne room, where their bodies, terribly mangled, were but just found. They are being carried out to the beasts, now. One of them was a great loss to Zoanthrohago as it was the slave Zuanthrol, upon whom he was experimenting.”

“Ah,” exclaimed a listener, “I saw them but yesterday.”

“You would not know them today,” vouchsafed the informer, “so terribly are their faces disfigured.”

When the press of humanity had been relieved Tarzan and Komodoflorensal continued their way, finding that the Slaves’ Corridor lay just before them, and that it was down this avenue that the bodies of their victims of the previous night were being carried.

“What,” asked the ape-man, “did he mean by saying that they were being carried to the beasts?”

“It is the way in which we dispose of the bodies of slaves,” replied the Trohanadalmakusian. “They are carried to the edge of the jungle, where they are devoured by wild beasts. There are old and toothless lions near Trohanadalmakus that subsist entirely upon slave meat. They are our scavengers and so accustomed are they to being fed that they often come to meet the parties who bring out the corpses, pacing beside them, roaring and growling, until the spot is reached where the bodies are to be deposited.”

“You dispose of all your dead in this manner?”

“Only the slave dead. The bodies of warriors and nobles are burned.”

“In a short time, then,” continued Tarzan, “there will be no danger of there ever being a correct identification of those two,” he jerked his thumb along the corridor ahead, where the bodies of the two dead warriors were being bounced and jolted along upon the backs of diadets.

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